Monday, September 29, 2003

WiFi-SM: feel the global pain

Too neat - WiFi-SM: feel the global pain

via The Stumbling Tongue

A Stroll Through Patent History

On relative merits of Patent law.

An article in today's NYT A Stroll Through Patent History presents research that shows that countries with weak or absent patent laws, such as Switzerland and Denmark, did as well, or better, than countries with strong ones, like USA or Britain during the Industrial Revolution.The researcher, Petra Moser, is quoted as saying,

We try to force patent laws on developing countries and say, This is best for you," she said. "Then we are surprised when they say they don't want patent laws. But they have a point. Such laws could actually hinder innovation in those countries."

I am not sure what exactly is the contradiction here. It is entirely possible to have plenty of innovations without strong patent law. For thousands of years world functioned just fine without patents. Admittedly, the speed of scientific and technological progress was not always tremendously fast. The crux of what is now patent protection rested on very basic, and reigid, protection of trade secrets. The system did not work as well as patents because it it never encouraged publication of the work, or conferred any legal rights to the innovator. People do not innovate because they can get a patent - they innovate because there is some profit in that - emotional or, preferably, monetary one. Dutch developers of margerine would not have build a successful enterprise if Netherlands prohibited them from profiting by it. As for the French inventor - it is does not seem that being ripped of by the two Dutch invalidated his patent and did not allow him to compete with them in France. Eventually, most countries saw that patents, at least as an idea, are a better way to profit from inventions than trade secrets, not least because they transfer the onus of enforcement from the company itself to the government.

It is conceivable that poorer nations would benefit more by ignoring existing patents and ripping off inventions in which someone else put in R&D money and genius. However, one cannot expect more developed nations ot be happy about this status quo. It will also make it harder for these nations to get the rest of the world to not ignore their own patents, which they will at some point develop. Its worth noting, I think, that Swiss, Dutch, and others did eventually join the patent-abiding world.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Intersting Slate article - Inside the Islamic Mafia - Bernard-Henri Lévy exposes Daniel Pearl's killers.

One thing I am not sure about is the following quote:

...His book was finished before it became clear that the "resistance" in Iraq was also being financed by an extensive mafia, which offers different bonuses for different kamikaze tactics, as it was already doing in Palestine and Kashmir.

Perhaps this is something Hitchens can prove, but certainly not something that has been given wide play. In fact, as time goe s on we receive (which does not mean it is true) more and more reports on how it is rank and file Iraqis that are joining the struggle. Certainly, this would be a good time to show how 90% or more of all Iraqi incidents are financed by those on the outside.

This, however, does ring a bell:

Everything we know about al-Qaida's operations, as of those of Saddam Hussein, suggests that they combine the culture of a crime family or cartel with the worst habits of a bent multinational corporation. Yet the purist critics of "globalization" tend to assume that the spiritual or nationalistic claims of such forces still deserve to be taken at their own valuation, lest Western "insensitivity" be allowed to triumph.

Indeed. If we do not believe our own leaders when they say that a huge tax cut is going to create jobs, why should we believe completely unelected leaders when they say that really, killing all Jews has been a tradition for centuries and thus we should help them, if we respect their culture and religion.

Republishing from the SemiDaily Journal

A very strong essay by Paul Krugman. Too bad this is not how he writes for NYT .

An Unequal Exchange

Paul Krugman

To a naive reader , Edward N. Wolff's Top-Heavy: A study of
the increasing inequality of wealth in America
might seem unlikely
to provoke strong emotional reactions. Wolff , a professor of
economics at New York University, provides a rather dry matter
of fact summary of trends in wealth distribution, followed by
a low-key case for a modest wealth tax. Although Wolff has done
a commendable technical job in combining data from a number of
sources to produce a fuller picture-in particular his book tells
us more about both long term trends and international comparisons
that has previously been available-the rough outlines of this
story have been familiar and uncontroversial among economists
for at least the past five years.

And yet Wolff's book was the target of an astonishing barrage
of conservative attacks: multiple op-eds in the Wall Street Journal,
hostile book reviews, and so on. Why should such a mild-mannered
little volume provoke such rage?

The answer is that this is the subject on much many conservatives
are unable to hold a rational discussion. Make a mere statement
of fact-say, for example, that the top 20 percent of households
in the United States hold 85% of the marketable wealth , and
conservatives will insist that you rephrase it as " 20 percent
of the households have created 85% of the wealth. " try
to assess long-term trends in income distribution using the standard,
apolitical device of comparing incomes at the same stage of successive
business cycles, such as 1973 and 1989, and you'll be accused
of an outrageous attempt to distort Ronald Reagan's record by
mixing in the Carter years.

Conservatives are wrong about wealth inequality, but they
are not irrational. There is a method and political purpose
to their maddened reaction-a determination to deny the facts
that is dramatically illustrated by House Majority Leader Richard
Armey's new book, the Freedom Revolution. Put simply, conservatives
don't want the public to know too much because they fear it would
hurt them politically.

To understand the significance of Wolff's book, consider this
simple parable : there are two societies. In one everyone makes
a living at some occupation-say, fishing-in which the amount
people earn over the course of the year is fairly closely determined
by their skill and effort. Incomes will not be equal in this
society-some people are better at fishing than others, some people
are willing to work harder than others, but the range of incomes
will not be that wide. And there will be a sense that those
who catch a lot of fish have earned their success.

In the other society, the main source of income is gold prospecting.
A few find rich mother lodes and become wealthy. Others find
smaller deposits, and many find themselves working very hard
for very little reward. The result will be a very unequal distribution
of income. Some of this will reflect effort and skill: those
who are especially alert to signs of gold, or willing to put
in longer hours prospecting, will on average do better than those
who are not . But there will be many skilled, industrious prospectors
who do not get rich and a few who become immensely so .

Surely the great majority of Americans , no matter how conservative,
instinctively feel that a nation that resembles the second imaginary
society is a worse place than one that resembles the first.
It is also no question that our nation today is much less like
the benign society of fishermen-and much more like the harsh
society of prospectors-than it was a generation ago. The evidence
is overwhelming, and it comes from many sources-from government
agencies like the Bureau of the Census, from Fortune's annual
survey of executive compensation, and so on. And, of course,
there is the evidence that confronts every one with open eyes.
Tom Wolfe is neither an economist nor a liberal, but he is an
acute observer. When he wanted to portray what was happening
to American society, he wrote the bonfire of the vanities.

Here's a rough ( and reasonably certain) picture of what has
happened: the standard of living of the poorest 10 percent of
American families is significantly lower today than it was a
generation ago. families in the middle are , at best, slightly
better off. Only the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans have
achieved income growth anything like the rates nearly everyone
experience between the 40's and early 70's. Meanwhile the income
of families high in the distribution has risen dramatically with
something like a doubling of real incomes of the top 1%.

These widening disparities are often attributed to the increasing
importance of education. But while it's true that, on average,
workers with a college education have done better than those
without, the bulk of the divergence has been among those with
similar levels of education. High-school teachers have not done
as badly as janitors but they have fallen dramatically behind
corporate CEOs, even though they have about the same amount of

Also, the growth of inequality cannot be described simply
as the rise of some group, such as the college-educated or the
top 20%, compared with the rest; the top 5 percent have gotten
richer compared with the next 15, the top 1 percent compared
with the next four, the top 0.25% compared with the next 0.75,
and onwards all the way up to Bill Gates. The important contribution
of Wolff's book is that it reinforces the evidence that much
of the important action in American inequality has taken place
way up the scale, among the extremely well-off.

Wolff focuses on wealth rather than income-on assets rather
than cash flow. This has some advantages over annual income
as an indicator of a family's economic position, especially among
the rich. Someone with a very high-income may be having an unusually
good year, while it is not unheard of for wealthy families to
have negative income if they make a bad investment; in each case
their assets will be a better clue to where they really fit into
the rankings. More important, however, wealth is in some ways
a better indicator than income data of what is happening to the
very successful-simply because it is so narrowly held: in 1989,
the top 1 percent of families owned 39% of the wealth but received
only ( a still impressive) 16% of the income.

A particularly striking statistic in Wolff's book should put
an end to the still widespread tendency to discuss the growth
of inequality in America by tracking the fortunes of the top
20 percent, or of college-educated workers. Between 1983 and
1989, while the wealth share of the top 20 percent of families
rose substantially, the share of percentiles 80 to 99 actually
fell. In other words when we say that America's rich have gotten
richer, by the " rich " we did not mean the garden
variety yuppies-we mean true plutocrats.

Many conservatives have probably stopped reading by now, or
at least stopped being able to respond to this article with anything
other than blind anger, but for those who are still with me let
me make a crucial point about the statistics: they say nothing
about who, if anyone, is to blame. To say that America was a
far more unequal society in 1989 than it was in 1973 is a simple
statement of fact, not an attack on Ronald Reagan. Think about
the parable of the fishermen and prospectors: the greater inequality
of the latter society did not come about because it has worse
leadership but because it lives in a different environment.
And changes in the environment--in world markets or in technology--might
change a society of middle-class fishermen into a society with
dismaying extremes of wealth and poverty, without necessarily
being the result of deliberate policies.

In fact, it's pretty certain that this is what is happening
in the United States . Ronald Reagan did not single-handedly
cause the incomes of the rich to soar and those of the poor to
decline. He did cut taxes at the top and social programs at
the bottom, but most of the growth in inequality to place in
the marketplace, in the pre-tax incomes of families. ( there
is a wide range of opinion as to just what happened with the
markets, though clearly technology and the changing international
trade scene played key roles. ) furthermore, the upward trend
in inequality began in the 70's under Nixon, Ford, and Carter
and continues in the nineties under Clinton; similar trends,
if not so dramatic, are visible in many other countries.

Yet income distribution is a politicized subject all the same.
The reason is obvious: the question of inequality is relevant
for policy-making. In the fisherman society, for example, people
might feel that only invalids, widows, and orphans deserve public
support. In the vastly unequal prospecting world, however, it
is easy to imagine a broad public demand that those who have
been lucky enough to find gold be required to share a significant
fraction of their winnings with those who have not. Indeed it
is hard to see how such a redistributionist program would not
be popular--if the public understood just what was going on.

It is in the light of this possibility--that a redistributionist
policy would have broad support if people understood reality--that
we should consider Armey's The Freedom Revolution. It
is not, to say the least, a carefully written or argued book
; it consists largely of standard conservative bromides, backed
by number of unsupported assertions. But despite the book's
sloppiness, it is an important document, because of what it says
about the majority leader's intellectual processes. Armey ,
a former economics professor, could've made the case that there's
nothing that can or should be done about growing inequality.
But instead he tries to claim, in essence, that nothing has
happened -that we really are still a society of middle-class

First, Armey denies that the 80's were a period in which the
rich got richer and the poor got poorer. " the statisticians,
" he writes, " break the population into five income
groups, called quintiles . During the eighties they gained in
average real income as follows:

  • Lowest quintile--up 12.2%.
  • Second-lowest--up 10.1%
  • Middle--up 10.7%
  • Second-highest--up 11.6%.
  • Highest--up 18.8%"

The source of the data, not cited, is the Bureau of the Census's
Current Population Report. This is helpful to know, because
if you check Armey's facts you will find he is fibbing a bit.
These figures are not income gains for all of the eighties, but
only from 1983 to 1989. Immediately preceding that recovery,
the economy experienced a savage recession, the worst since the
Great Depression, that affected the poor more severely than the
rich. The first column of the table below gives the percentage
changes for the slump years from 1979 to 1983.

Percentage Income Change by Income Bracket for
the Periods 1979-1983 and 1973-1989

Income Bracket 1979-1983 1973-1989
Lowest quintile -14.2% -3.6%
Second lowest -8.1% 3.1%
Middle -6.2% 9.0%
Second highest -2.9% 14.8%
Highest -1.4% 26.0%

Conservatives will say, "The recession was Carter's fault,
while the recovery proved the success of Reagan's policies."
But put politics aside for a moment and accept this simple fact:
At the end fo the 1983 to 1989 recovery, the bottom quintile
was still worse off than it was in 1979, while the only really
large gains over the decade went to the top quintile. If one
takes the long view, as in the second column of the table (which
measures from the business cycle peak in 1973), one sees an overwhelming
picture of radically growing inequality. And one might correctly
suspect that the pattern continued inside the top quintiles,
i.e., that the top 5 and the top 1 percent did better still.

When Armey (with his Ph.D. in economics) wrote this passage,
he must have had the same table in front of him that I am looking
at now. He must therefore have known that he was, strictly speaking,
lying when he described his data as being what happened during
the "eighties," and could not have failed to notice
that, even at the end of his carefully selected period, incomes
were far more unequal than they had been in the seventies. In
other words, the passage is a deliberate attempt to mislead the

It gets even better. Armey cites a study that shows that there
is huge income mobility in America. The message here is simple:
Don't worry that some people find gold and some don't--next year
you may be the winner. He gives numbers saying that fewer than
15 percent of the "folks" who were in the bottom quintile
in 1979 were still there in 1988. He then asserts that it was
more likely that someone would move from the bottom quintile
to the top than he would stay in place. Again, he doesn't cite
the source, but these are familiar numbers. They come from a
botched 1992 Bush Administration study, a study that was immediately
ridiculed and which its authors would just as soon forget.

This is why: The study tracked a number of people who had
paid income taxes in each of the years from 1979 to 1988. Since
only about half the working population actually paid taxes over
the entire period, this meant that the study was already biased
towards tracking the relatively successful. And these earners
were then compared to the population at large. So the study showed
that in 1979, 28 percent of this studied population was in the
bottom 20 percent of the whole population; by 1988 that figure
was only 7 percent.

This means, Armey asserts, that someone in the lowest quintile
would be more likely to move to the highest than stay in place.
Put kindly, it's a silly argument. For subjects of the study
who moved from the bottom to the top, the typical age in 1979
was only 22. "This isn't your classic income mobility,"
Kevin Murphy of the University of Chicago remarked at the time.
"This is the guy who works in the college bookstore and
has a real job by the time he is in his early thirties."

In reality, moves from the bottom to the top quintile are
extremely rare; a typical estimate is that only about 3 percent
of families who are in the bottom 20 percent in one year will
be in the top 20 percent a decade later. About half will still
be in the bottom quintile. And even those 3 percent that move
aren't necessarily Horatio Alger stories. The top quintile includes
everyone from a $60,000 a year regional manager to Warren Buffett.

Armey is no fool. He cannot be unaware that he is fudging
his numbers. Possibly he regards a small fib as justifiable in
the service of a higher truth. Or possibly he has managed to
achieve a state of doublethink, in which the distinction between
what is politically convenient to believe and the objective facts
no longer exists. The end result is the same: His book is an
effort to obscure the stark realities of growing inequality.

And that is no surprise. After all, the success of free-market
conservatives in seizing the mantle of populism in America, despite
the growing gap between the broad public and a small minority
possessing astonishing wealth, is inherently vulnerable. It took
a combination of brilliant political leadership on the right
and an awesome mixture of political ineptitude, personal arrogance,
and cultural elitism on the part of liberals to give Armey and
their allies their current position of power. (I sometimes think
that the Renaissance Weekend killed the Clinton Administration.)

But despite the triumph of 1994, there is always the risk
that someone will point out that there are now quite a few men
in America who each make more money every year than the entire
House of Representatives, and that it is these men who will be
the most conspicuous beneficiaries of the new majority's politics.

As far as Armey and his allies are concerned, the answer to
this risk is simple: The public must not know how well the rich
have done compared with the rest. If a new study points out just
how much income and wealth have become concentrated, deploy the
forces of the conservative media to attack the data with every
spurious argument imaginable. There are always plenty of places
to publish such attacks and people to write them because the
rich are different from you and me: They have (a lot) more money.
In particular, they own magazines and newspapers, and readily
support think tanks staffed with people whose job, whatever its
formal description, is to support the interests of their donors.
As H.L. Mencken once pointed out, it is difficult to get a man
to understand something when his income depends on his not understanding

The uneasy politics of free-market populism are also probably
a major reason why the Republican majority in Congress seems
determined to mount an assault on economic analysis in general--not
only to eliminate the President's Council of Economic Advisors,
but to eliminate all National Science Foundation funding for
the field, and to slash the budget of the Bureau of Economic
Analysis (which provides the basic data on national income).

The irony is that much of this research provides support for
Republican free market ideology. But the motivation for cutting
the funding is easy enough to understand: If your doctrine depends
on a view of the economy that is flatly contradicted by reality,
then the fewer facts, the better.

Edward Wolff has written a good book, while Richard Armey
has written a terrible one. The real message, however, comes
from the contrast between them--between the mildly liberal economics
professor who is disturbed by the trends in our society and would
like to make a small effort to ameliorate them, and the tough-talking
conservative who is determined to deny the reality of these trends
and to smash anyone who reports on them.

May the better man win.

*Who does, however, still need to profoundly apologize for various unfair comments made about the very, very capable Laura D'A. Tyson in 1992-1993.

New credit card features

It is always good to see your alma mater in the news for good reasons. While I never took Carl Gunter's class, I have heard good things about him. Now, the Marginal Revolution refers to a paper his team presented on new features for credit cards.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have one-upped "smart" credit cards with embedded microchips: They've developed a technique that lets ordinary card users program in their own spending parameters.

Penn computer scientist Carl A. Gunter presented the work at the recent European Conference on Object-Oriented Programming in Darmstadt, Germany. The technology could let employers better manage spending on corporate cards or permit parents to get teenage children emergency credit cards usable only at locations like car repair shops, hotels or pay phones.

"Banks and other card issuers have long been able to set general parameters, such as credit limits," said Gunter, professor of computer and information science at Penn, "but most have little interest in setting finer limits because the process is cumbersome and expensive to manage. We'd like to open up these kinds of additional programming capabilities to ordinary people who'd like to take responsibility for restricting use of a card in some specific way. Users would decide what limits are needed."

It is not immediately clear to me whether the advance is actually in new hardware for the smart cards, or on the software level with the ability for users to program their own cards to some extent. It is also worth noting that this seemingly consumer-related research was done with a grant from Army Research Office, along with NSF.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

My vision of truly personal portable computing is coming a bit closer.

Aha. Mobile computing core (MCC). Just a couple of days ago I wrote about Migo . Now, from John Robb I see a link to Antelope Technologies computing core:

The MCC is like a desktop computer contained within a 3" x 5" x 1" (7.62 x 12.7 x 2.54cm) device — about the same size as a PDA or laptop battery. Low power consumption makes it ideal for portable applications, and it does not need a fan. It automatically identifies, and adapts to, attached devices. Its operating system, power management, thermal, software and user interface behavior will automatically match your attached accessory.

The MCC runs the full Windows XP? Professional operating system, so when you plug it into your current desktop or handheld, you’ll be using the same user interface and applications. It makes possible a broad range of mobile, fixed location, industrial and non-traditional computing experiences.

More specifically, the Mobile Core runs on a 1GHz Transmeta processor with 256MB of RAM and up to 15GB hard drive. It contains a bunch of USB, VGA, and other ports. For more complete specs click here. I am really looking forward to seeing how this is going to take off (or not)

How Green Berets Overcame the Odds at an Iraq Alamo
I am glad that all the guys got out alive. I am also glad that Iraqis were given T55's - tanks that are over 30 years old.
...But it was the start of a disciplined attack following classic Soviet mechanized doctrine, which Army officials now say was one of the Iraqi Army's last coordinated offensives.

The Iraqis fired smoke grenades. Six armored personnel carriers drove out of the fumes, three on each side of the troop trucks, firing. The Green Berets returned fire with .50-caliber machine gun rounds. The Iraqi vehicles slowed and spread out — but only to make way for the next phalanx, four T-55 main battle tanks that rumbled from the smoke at a distance of no more than 900 yards...

One ting I never did get to understand during this conflict is what exactly was the plan for fighting a war with a well-equipped and determined adversary. The M1 tank lit up by a russian made missile prompted angry muterring towards Russia for supplying our enemies with "advanced" weaponry. But is not there a plan for dealing with it? Did not we intend to fight the Soviets? Not a bunch of people hoping to surrender but a 4-10 million army of trained soldiers and dedicated and well-educated officer corps? How would we deal with China or Pakistan or North Korea that undoubtedly have these types of weapons?
This was one aspect of the war that never made much sense. Are we only preparing to fight against vast numbers of woefully unprepared infantrymen? If so, then all the changes make sense. The focus on individual performance, preparing for missions where 20 or so solgiers are expected to hold off a few hundred adversaries would indeed make sense if the Pentagon was pretty sure that it is the throughly outdated T55's that would come rolling through the smoke, and that 17 year-old conscripts would be calling in coordinates to untrained artillery batteries that will be swiftly extinguished by unchalleged air power.
Does not that then negate any kind of threat leverage we might have over N.Korea that actually has a well-trained and reasonably well-equipped army that is 4 times that of the US? We might be able to roll over some country the size of Israel or Kosovo purely because there is only so much land to cover with a thousand or more tanks, but anything larger, like Serbia (or better yet Yugoslavia) or Iran is going to be completely out of reach provided they actually have the armaments and sound war strategy tailored for themselves.
I have been thinking of this since Afganistan of 2001 and have not figured out exactly how we are supposed to deal with challenging opponent. The more I look the more I suspect there is not actually a plan. Mighty annoying.

Generated Assembly instructions.

That could be very interesting - Designing Effective Step-By-Step Assembly Instructions

link via John Robb

Business Week is [kinda] wrong.

BW Online | September 16, 2003 | Needed: A Security Blanket for the Net:

"David Farber, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and a regular speaker at high-tech confabs, has long been a cheerleader for the Internet."

Aghm. Last I checked he has been at University of Pennsylvania for many many years.

update: Apparently he is on sabbatical to CMU for this year. Still considering his long-standing tenure at Penn, it seems misleading and unfair to all of his Penn pupils to refer to him as a CMU professor.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Me mobile - Desktop to go where Migo goes.

A flash memory USB device that will synch. Some of your folders and settings and thus allow you to get access to your files and settings while you use other computers. I have wanted a gadget like this for a while. Well, I wanted something a quite a bit more than this, but this is a start.
The website for the creator of Migo, Forward Solutions , does not explain how exactly one would bypass Windows security and log in to Migo, but still get access to Outlook and all other conveniences of the host Windows machine. The synchronization of various data files and outlook folders also seems a bit weird -- how is this different from the windows-provided synchronization feature? The gadget seems to be a small step up from people just carrying this kind of USB keys and using them like floppies -- to transfer data. The difference seems to be a bit of software and a smarter marketing approach.
For the next step I am looking for some device similar to the ones currently used by digital photographers like a NexVue Digital Album or an iPaq with a 1GB flash card attached. Something that would have enough intelligence to "rent" the monitor and CPU of a host machine, when possible, or run the monitor and keyboard by itself, if necessary. What that would require is a complete different security setup for windows, pervasive connectivity, and application rental on demand.
I have been meaning to describe such a device for a while now. Perhaps if I wait just a bit more some marketing person at a fledging start-up would do a better job looking at a prototype.

From Fast Company blog: so true and obvious who would have thunk it

The "Real" New Economy:

" 'The day-to-day communication between supervisory managers and direct reports has more impact than any other single factor on employee productivity, quality, morale, and retention.'"

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

X marks the spot. er.. spots...

RDK wishes to obtain the following item: eBay item - IBM PS/2 Keyboard -- All X keys

Every character key, almost all the keys on the numpad, the cursors, all of the function keys, and all of the numeric have been replaced. Only the tab, caps-lock, left and right shift, ctrl and alt, windows, return, and backspace keys remain. These keys remain only because they aren't the same size as the 'X' key. All in all, there are 86 keys replaced.


It should be noted that the keys on this come from many used keyboards, and as such some are a bit dirty. There are two keys that occasionally stick (where the '4' and '+' normally would be). The keyboard is in good and working condition, but is being sold as-is, with no expressed or implied warranty. You can, by all means, still use this keyboard to type. Only they keys have been replaced.

You could be the hit of a LAN party!

I'm hoping there is someone out there in Internet land that finds this as amusing as I do. It's a friggin' keyboard with lots of 'X' keys! What's not to love? Hell, I might just keep it for myself. Ah, man, this keyboard makes me laugh just looking at it. But by all means -- don't just look, bid! You could very well own it.


Monday, September 15, 2003

Good, clean, weighty fn with beef numbers -- The Bull About the Beef - Has the Atkins diet really transformed the American economy? By Charles Duhigg

The Research Institute on Livestock Pricing reports that the average American per-capita consumption of beef has increased 1.8 pounds per year since 1997—another 525 million pounds per year. If the 6 million Atkins dieters are consuming all that additional beef, then they are eating 87.5 pounds more meat per year than they previously did, which would mean they're now eating steak and burgers at every meal except breakfast. And that's just beef. Pork, chicken, eggs—if all the increases in Atkins-friendly foods are due to Atkins dieters, it's a wonder anyone has lost weight: They would have to be eating almost nonstop. (And those who note the surge in Atkins-friendly food tend to ignore an equally vigorous countertrend: Sales of Krispy Kreme donuts grew an amazing 25 percent last year, to $492 million, with cookies, potato chips, and other Atkins-verboten products following suit.)

indeed. One would sure lose more weight actually making a taco breakfast from scratch than by eating a low-card steak heated in a microwave.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Philadelphia street food

Slightly inspired by yesterday's NYT article about street food in Singapore I found myself today sampling various delights from Philadelphia, where an absence of work and presence of my wife took me today. While in college, also in Philadelphia, I was a happy camper with the various food trucks around the city. After moving back to NYC I continued to miss the well-prepared cheap treats I used to get at Sophie's, Lee Ang's, not to mention the "Real Lee Ang" and the incomparable Koch's deli. The last one is not really street food, but hey, it is my blog and I will mention whom I want, where I want, as is my want.

I did not get a cheesesteak today which was ok, since I had it on my last visit. I did get hot dogs, marginally better than what I usually end up with in NYC, and an egg-and-cheese on a roll. For some reason I cannot get this incredibly simple dish in NYC. I have tried, but while some are quite good it is just never the same. Perhaps it is the wax paper and the foil, or the strange water Philly has. Maybe it is the fact that vendors seem to actually be glad to serve you, rather than eagerly sizing you up to see if a $2.50 hot dog is affordable for a shaggy guy in a t-shirt, shorts, and amazingly dirty sneakers. Perhaps it is the fact that Philadelphia really seems to be a city that likes food. Greasy, huge-portioned, well-intentioned, and thoroughly unhealthy food more than New York. I do not care, really. I just wanted to enjoy the moment, and I almost succeeded.

Needless to say any such snacking always brings back memories, primarily of eating similar foods at various locales and times of day. That was the partial success mentioned above. The failure to continue the trip down the gastronomical memory lane was not altogether unpleasant. A university classmate called to interrupt my revere with a job proposition. We will see whether it works out or not, but I definitely should have lunch in Philly more often.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Mmmm. Mmmmm. Good -- Snacker's Paradise: Devouring Singapore's Endless Supper

Slurp, slurp. Yum, yum. The clear, aromatic broth, full of tender, close-grained pork, perked up by herbs and whole garlic cloves, was cooked in a hole in the wall next to a busy expressway and eaten at a sidewalk table. Cab drivers, teachers and a few junior executives slurped around us. Bak kut teh is the city's preferred hangover remedy, and Ng Ah Sio makes the best, which is why Mr. Seetoh took me there.

read the rest yourselves. I am getting a snack.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003


My brother and I took our grandma to ER yesterday. She could not breathe. She would not go to the hospital though. Why? Because they torture her there. I do not mean it in a sense that tests are intrusive, or treatment painful. I mean it very literally - ER is set up as a torture room through lack of organization, and absence caring for the suffering patients. There is really nothing more to it. Was the ER overcrowded, definitely. Was it understaffed or underfunded - I do not think so. There were plenty of nurses, doctors, residents, and assorted personnel for her to call. It is just that none of them were willing do any of the basic tasks she asked of them:

    1. Help her sit up

    2. Tell her what is going on or find someone who will

However, she did get her name entered in about 10 different computer systems, and her age asked dozens of times on paper forms and entered into the computer. Yet, every person who would stop by would fill out some new paper with her name, address, and age on it. They would get annoyed if an 80-year old admitted to ER would not answer quickly or clearly enough. They would ask their questions and fly away, ignoring her requests, having no answers for her, nor caring to provide any. They would forget to order her medicine, yet they would not let her take any of her own that she brought from home.

At one point she refused to go through some test, correctly predicting that it involves lying immobile on a tiny board in a machine for 40 minutes. Something she is clearly incapable of physically. They did not mind. They just left her sitting in the corner of ER, not admitting her to the hospital or running a test. This was 7 hours after we brought her in. What if I did not stop by back at ER at 10PM? Would she just sit there without food or medicine. I am sure she would. As she came in with an ambulance at 3PM I was told by her attending physician and her ER physician that she would have to stay overnight. Despite nodding politely to my insistent pleas that they request a bed for her overnight stay they did not do it. At 10PM they finally did. Why did it take so long? Because they are waiting to see if she would need to be admitted. Did not they know? Sure, but they did not have to execute that step until her tests came back. I left ER at 1AM and she still was not transferred to her bed, even though they got one assigned pretty quickly. Still, this is better than her previous trip to the ER when she was stuck there, amid vailing, beeping, and groaning, without food (and she is a diabetic!), or any human concern for her well-being from 9AM till 5AM. Again, both times everyone knew she needed to be admitted, and noone did anything because she is considered "stable".

From a systems standpoint, it is these stable patients who should be the fast movers through the ER. They take up the space, and nothing is really done to them or for them. Moving them either into beds or back home should be the highest priority beyond stabilizing critical patients. However, hospitals turn the ER into a staging area for all arrivals, screw up the process, and fill up the room with people who really need not be there. Once the ER has too many people everyone has an excuse of being overworked and getting nothing done. During the hour and a half I was not allowed into ER she asked for water from at least 5 different ER personnel. They stopped, they listened, they said, "one second" and never brought the water. The water fountain was literally next to her bed.

Is that not torture? Is there some better way to show someone sick and helpless how little you care? Is it impossible to actually educate personnel about the process so they can help calm people down and make them feel like humans? Why does it take a transport crew a few hours to come to ER and move a patient? If I can get FedEx to stop by a random house 'most anywhere in this country and pick up a package within a couple of hour's notice, why cannot a crew from the same building find a patient and take a stretcher to an assigned room? Why is it impossible to actually reach admitting by phone?

Sometime soon I will have to take her in again. She is old and frail so that is an inevitability. This time I got her to go by promising that they will treat her like a human and that otherwise police will fine her and arrest me. I do not think it is going to be enough the next time. She is not going to get to the hospital on time, and it will be due entirely to the fact that they tortured and humiliated her the previous 4 times. It is not going to be because of her condition, or their inability to help her, but because they do not want to treat people humanely if it is going to take any effort on the part of the hospital to improve the process, or personnel to care just a bit more. I honestly, cannot even blame the personnel. It is a tough job, and hospitals just do not want to invest anything into training, or streamlining the process. Clearly, it is just easier to hire a couple of "patient reps" who dress a bit nicer and ignore your requests and complains with the skill of a White House press-secretary.

Me, me, me - Till Pixels Do Us Part (

While I have no intention of giving up the pixels, this did strike pretty close to home:

I went shopping and bought my own digital camera. Plus, I signed up online for not one but two Fotologs -- upgraded "Gold Camera Patron" accounts at that. Let my husband take out his Coolpix, and I'll match him frame for frame.

And wouldn't you know it? As soon as I got involved in digital imaging, he lost interest almost immediately. So now I'll be able to spend a lot more time with him -- if I can just catch him between the blogs that he's now posting every day.

Sadly, I am the "husband".

Monday, September 08, 2003

Paul Bremer on Iraq's Path to Sovereignity

via OxBlog I read an op-ed By Paul Bremer's Iraq's Path to Sovereignty in today's Washington Post. It s a nice, clean, and consice article. One thing; however, really jumped at me as some unexplained. First Bremer says,

"Elections are the obvious solution to restoring sovereignty to the Iraqi people. But at the present elections are simply not possible. There are no election rolls, no election law, no political parties law and no electoral districts.

The current constitution is a Hussein-dictated formula for tyranny. When Hussein loaded two trucks with money and fled the advancing coalition forces, he left behind a vacuum. Electing a government without a permanent constitution defining and limiting government powers invites confusion and eventual abuse. "

I understand it to mean that there are two problems preventing elections: absence of a Constitution that would define the laws for the elected government and absence of election rolls, registrations, etc. - the operational machinery of holding elections. Fair enough so far. A few paragraphs down, he says,

"Step five, popular ratification of the constitution, is indispensable.

Once written, the constitution will be widely circulated, discussed and debated among the Iraqi people. All adult Iraqis will have the opportunity to vote for or against it. For the first time in history, Iraq will have a permanent constitution written by and approved by the Iraqi people."

Did I miss a step? Who is working on getting the operational side of the elections to happen? How is that popular vote going to be conducted without electoral districts or election rolls? It is, admittedly, not a sinking issue by any means. Perhaps it is a small tactical issue that did not find a space in a terse overview of the Iraqi situation. But it would be nice if someone explained that process, because while we need only to be told that such districts and rolls exist, Iraqis have to have the whole system explained to them. They need to understand that they are not choosing parties and leaders to rule over them, but parties and leaders to serve them. And that is an important thing to understand. I hope some of the 80 billion will go towards that purpose. And what could be more important in building a democtractic country than the understanding of this distinction. A distinction that is easily lost and hard to regain.

Interesting post and discussion about spam in comments from Adam Kalsey - Comment spam

There is a benefit over collaborative spam detection on the web over email. Email is essentially private, so a person has to submit a spammer to the blacklist database. Blogs are essentially public, at least the type of blogs that suffer from spam comments. It would be possible to have a pro-active system that could monitor subscribed sites instead of relying on operators to submit each spammer to the blacklist.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Very interesting post in an already interesting blog from Fast Company

Bob Nelson is the guru of employee recognition. It's the simple idea that people perform better when they are recognized and rewarded for their ideas and contributions. It's a shame that we live in a world where someone like Bob can make a living doing this. But it's true, and Bob does a terrific job in advising companies and leaders how to do this extremely well. He's the author of a couple of books, including "1001 Ways to Reward Employees," that burst with great ideas.

The rest is also very interesting. As a manager I always try to get the maximum compensation for my team, sometimes at the expense of my own. That is often worth the effort because with a good team I get to keep my position and my compensation. It is too bad that the pay of managers, especially top managers, is not at all tied to the salary of the people who work for them. Tying CxO compensation to the stock market performance was an idea intended to build a tight correlation between their compensation and company performance. The two miscalculations seem to have been as follows (if they were honest miscalculations at all):

  1. With the tremendous amounts of money being made, Corporate Officers were able to lawyer their way around any significant downsides to their performance, while increasing their potential upsides by seemingly cheap option grants. The obession with paying a CEO an "above industry-average package" spiraled compensation out of this world by the sheer law of averages.
  2. That the stock market performance is the only performance that matters. In some ways it is true - over a course of a hundred or more years. It is probalby true even in a shorter term if one is a shareholder for short and medium term. However, this is not really true for the company itself. Successful companies are running multi-decade marathons, not 2-year sprints. And packages that allow someone to be a chairman or CEO for a year and cash out with 50 or a 100 million dollars encourage just that. "After me, the flood!

Not so many years ago two partners sold their memory firm, Kingston, I believe, to the Japanese. They took half the money they made and gave bonuses to all the employees. Averaging in the thousands, some approaching six figures for regular long-term employees of the company these bonuses were their way of saying, "thanks for your hard work."

Some more chilling quotes from the Fast Company article:

"....these days, merit increases, bonuses, promotional increases and adjustments are minimal...In the minds of senior management, the right to compensation has been replaced by the privilege of having a job. This has actually been verbalized repeatedly within my firm.

"With the right to compensation neatly put aside, senior management grasps onto organizational behaviorial theory catch phrases like "money is not a motivator" and forgets the conditions assumed in that statement..

How bloody true. Money is not a motivator when choosing between two relatively equal and well-paid positions. It is a very important motivator when choosing between two jobs in which one is just not well-paying. But then this problem is solved easily when there are no other jobs available.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Hehe. FsckTV is not coming to an iPod near you

On this show, contestants had sixty seconds to perform on stage and impress a panel of judges selected from Slashdot freaks with low-numbered accounts and high-level karma. One contestant recited the first two hundred digits of PI while juggling Ethernet cards. The winner performed a stand-up comedy routine that started with the line, "A rabbi, a lawyer, and a SCO executive are sitting in a bar and..."


"Who Wants To Hit Somebody Over The Head With A Clue Stick?", a show in which engineers and Pointy Haired Bosses are locked in an office building and must co-exist together for five months without going insane, also didn't fare very well. Focus group sessions revealed that the show was far too realistic and made most viewers uncomfortable.

Karma indeed.

Clay Shirky is always good. A new essay on micropayments

Some quotes:

...The fame vs fortune choice matters because of substitutability, the willingness to accept one thing as a substitute for another. Substitutability is neutralized in perfect markets. For example, if someone has even a slight preference for Pepsi over Coke, and if both are always equally available in all situations, that person will never drink a Coke, despite being only mildly biased.

The soft-drink market is not perfect, but the Web comes awfully close: If InstaPundit and Samizdata are both equally easy to get to, the relative traffic to the sites will always match audience preference. But were InstaPundit to become less easy to get to, Samizdata would become a more palatable substitute. Any barrier erodes the user's preferences, and raises their willingness to substitute one thing for another.

This is made worse by the asymmetry between the author's motivation and the reader's. While the author has one particular thing they want to write, the reader is usually willing to read anything interesting or relevant to their interests. Though each piece of written material is unique, the universe of possible choices for any given reader is so vast that uniqueness is not a rare quality. Thus any barrier to a particular piece of content (even, as the usability people will tell you, making it one click further away) will deflect at least some potential readers... [ed - italics added for emphasis]

I am inclined to believe Clay when it comes to these matters. Even recent experiences and adventures in RSS land show this to be true. Joshua Marshall used to have a bad RSS feed. I stopped reading him because my aggregator would not deliver the content. I am reading Lileks only sporadically, even though his writing is beyond excellent, because he does not have an XML feed that works. As soon as a magazine puts its content behind a pay-per-read wall, I stop using it. So, I will concede that one-time micropayments do not really work, especially for content. It is not even an issue of the mental transaction as much as the inbility to know whether the content I have not yet consumed is going to be worth it. Would I pay $0.10/month to read Lileks as a recurrent monthly payment? Probably. What about Marshall? Perhaps. Would I pay a $1/month to have access to NYT online? Sure. The trick here is that while these transactions are more or less tiny, I would be grouping them into a larger category that will add up for me. Does that lower each transaction cost? I am not sure, but I do know that I am more likely to then sign-up with some syndicator -- similar to NewsIsFree -- which would give me access to all sources I care about for some monthly fee that is well beyond 25 cents. I already have one for TV - it's my cable company.

A new shaker-upper in the digital SLR market - Canon 300D

original notice by DesignTechnica

This is pretty big. Canon has been incredibly aggressive in pushing the price barrier down over the last couple of years, most recently with a jaw-dropping $1500 10D SLR. The 300D is basically the low-end Canon Rebel body, popularized by Angre Agassi-starring commericals, with the same awesome 6.3MP sensor the 10D has. The price is set to be an incredible $899 without a lense and $999 with a new ES-S lense for
18-55mm zoom. This will put incredible pressure on Nikon, Sony, and Olympus that all have similarly priced non-interchangeable and non-SLR cameras. Technically, the Olympus E20 is an SLR, but it still does not have an interchangeable lense. The most interesting competitor is the new Sony F828. It boasts a great Zeiss lense with a great zoom and an 8megapixel sensor. All of these cameras suffer from the same list of maladies -- slow shutter response, slow focus, lack of interchangeable lenses (obviously, all of them have fixed lenses).

The Canon 300D is really going to shake up the place, putting new level of power and versatility into the hands of prosumer digital photographers.

update (09.07.2003): this is a more in depth review of the camera by DPReview

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Interesting article - David Stockman, Working-Class Hero

William Greider reclassifies Reaganomics' onetime poster child. Article by Timothy Noah

Network Solutions to sell domain-backed options.

Just as the furor over black-box hedge-funds is rising, and various figures are calling derivatives a danger to the world economy, Network Solutions is getting into the game.

Introducing NEXT REGISTRATION RIGHTS from Network Solutions(R), the first service that automatically grants you the next registration of the domain name you want if it becomes available during your subscription period.

Next Registration Rights is a superior way to backorder a .com or .net domain name. If that domain name is not renewed and becomes available during your Next Registration Rights subscription period, the domain name will be automatically registered to you.

So, for $39 I can buy a year-long option for a domain name and its registration by Network Solutions. If the domain does not become available during that year the money is gone. Good call for Network Solutions, but it is not clear whether they will knowingly let people buy thee options for domains not set to expire until after the year option covers is up. Interestingly, there is also this notice:

ORDER NOW - Only one pre-order will be accepted for each domain name

Well, one would hope that to be true, otherwise how could they possibly guarantee the option.

ps. How can they actually gurantee this? Can other domain registrars offer a similar service?

My Yahoo page now has a blog module

That is pretty neat. I do not know many people who use my yahoo, but it still pretty neat. Not exactly a full-fledged news aggregator, but a nice middle-step. To add RSS Feeds to your "my yahoo" page go here

assist by Dave Winer viaCrooked Timber

No MSFT for you!

For a couple of days I could not read my hotmail email, nor take advantage of the alerts Slate magazine sends me whenever new features come out. At first, I figured there was some technical problem, even if it was highly unusual for hotmail and all other Microsoft sites to be down for so long without anyone making a fuss. Two days later the service returned. Apparently the reason was some AOL-Microsoft peering spat. As ZDNet reports:
A source close to Microsoft who asked to remain anonymous said the lockout stemmed from changes in a bandwidth "peering" agreement between America Online and Microsoft.

Is not it nice the the information superhighway ramp for millions of people is not hostage to egos, miscommunication, and hardball business tactics.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

This is quite fascinating - entry on Israel from the 1950's Soviet Encyclopedia via Dean's World

...Availing themselves of the weakness of the anti-imperialist movements in Palestine and having received support from American and English imperialists, power in Israel was seized by Jewish bourgeois nationalists-zionists. Anglo-American imperialists, using their agents among reactionary Jewish bourgeoisie and Arab feudal lords [Ed- literal translation], provoked armed conflict among Israel, on the one side and Iraq. Transjordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen on the other (May 1948 – July 1949). The Palestine War, ending with the defeat of the armies of the Arab states and the concluding in an armistice, was used by the American and English imperialists to fight the national liberation movements of the Arab people and Jewish workers of Palestine...

You would think that it would be difficult for an economy that

... retains a colonial character and remains dependent on international capital. Growth of citrus (oranges, grapefruit, etc.), grains. Widespread small and semi-domestic enterprises of light and agricultural industry.

to fight a war that pits

Israel, on the one side and Iraq, Transjordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen on the other

but you would be wrong. Nothing like

a dictatorship of a small group of large Jewish capitalists – proteges of England and the USA.

to encourage Jews to stream towarsd the holy hills of Birobijan

Underpricing and Overstocking

It has been long known that for some types of books amazon was not the best place to go for the lowest price. Now Overstock is throwing down the gauntlet very directly
Online retailer is directly targeting with a new strategy that offers best-selling books priced 25 percent below what Amazon is charging for the same titles. Overstock, a Web-based closeout specialist, reported Tuesday that it would offer 25 percent off Amazon's prices for books currently on The New York Times best-seller Lists, Publisher's Weekly best-seller lists and even those books ranked among Amazon's own 100 best-sellers.

This is the kind of competition that a money-consious shopper like myself wants to see more often.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

University Blues

Yesterday was one of the crispy, strong days of impending autumn where I feel misplaced anywhere but not walking to class. It has been quite a few years since I have gone on the trek from a dorm to a lecture hall, with a backpack full of pristine notebooks, virgin pens, and benign thoughts about how this year is going to be different.
  • I will not spend all my time in a lab.
  • I will not put one deadline above another.
  • I will not ignore classes in favour of paid work

Of course I do. I spend too much time in a lab. I do not spend enough time in a library studying. I never quite care enough about International Finance and, for some reason, care too much about finishing some inconsequential module for my employer. I consistently pull all-nighters because someone was going to the movies, or watched TV, or needed a buddy. What's worse, for these things I remain unrepentant.

And as new school year begins yet again, I yearn to be back in class instead of the office. Especially this year, when some of my very best friends have gone back to school. I again get to listen to classroom woes and fun facts. I realize now that parallel universes do exist. They are called school. Places where real life is almost the same, or almost real. As real as a huge fishtank for a small fish. Decisions seem terribly important, matters are weighted, and contexts assembled. And then we get out of school and see how the context was skewed, weights misplaced, and all that remains in memory are strong autumn days and long winter nights.