Saturday, October 30, 2004

from eWeek: Sender ID Rises From the Dead, Spooky Patent and All

an article that mentions a former classmate (and at one point employer) . Always fun. Vicariously basking in other's limilight. That's so me.

data - what is it worth?

A few years ago - let's say 6 - a personal computer was the same $2,000-3,000 it is now. It was not as fast, it was not as flat (as in screen), and it did not come with 160GB drive, but the price per certain "level" of a computer has remained largely stable over the years. What has changed, however, is the value of the personal data located on this computer. Even someone like me, who has been keeping computerized records, typed papers, and archived email would think of the price of the computer as being non-trivial, compared to the value of the data. Largely, I think this stemmed from the fact that so little of our lives really was represtend by the data stored on the silicon insides.

Lately, in the last 2 or 3 years, I think, the paradigm shift that came to Fortune 500 companies 20 years has finally hit home. My pictures are on the computer. My original pictures are on the computer. Records - original and often only records - of a significant portion of my financial transactions are on the computer. Oh, and I need over a hundred CDs just to make a single set of backups of all of my data. Suddenly, I realize that I care a lot more about my data than I do about the hardware and software. Those I can replace, but my memories, held fast in the circuitry, are impossible to get anew.

I believe, and not many people would be surprised by that conclusion, that what drives the incredible growth in purchases of external hard disks, DVD writers, and other data-dissemenating technologies is not the drop in their price, not alone anyway, but the increased preimium we now place on the data stored on our personal PCs. The external and internal hard disks may be very cheap by historical standards - but they are still $200-$300. Yet people who would never spend that amount of money on a dinner, or a new iPod, considering former extravagant and latter frivolous, will plunk down money for a new external drive.

What prompts this ruminations? My desktop power supply seems unable to support my 80GB drive added to the system a few days ago. Before I knew of the problem, I already ordered an external 250GB drive. Now, I wish I also ordered a separate enclosure for the drive my PC won't support...

Thursday, October 28, 2004

images: strange logic

I was looking for a picture of G.W.Bush & V.Putin in St.Petersburg, Russia. I believe there was one during one of the summits. This was the result of the search "g.w.bush and putin" on google image search. How bizarre.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Checks in 21st Century

eWeek has an article describing possible problems with the massive electronic check clearing going into effect soon. It also quotes a trio of experts, including Frank Abagnale Jr., on the dangers of this new procedure if not performed with proper precautions by the banks. Very worthwhile read.

Howard Stern vs. Michael Powell

Got this link from the interesting people mailing list:

(CNN) -- Howard Stern got into a heated exchange with Federal
Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell during a radio
call-in show Tuesday, with the shock jock saying the only reason Powell
is in his position is because of his father, U.S. Secretary of State
Colin Powell.

Read the whole thing for more on the exchange.

Strange webpage tactic by the Bush campaign

from BBC:

"Surfers outside the US have been unable to visit the official re-election site of President George W Bush.
people living outside the US trying to look at the site simply got a message saying "access denied"."

The blocking does not appear to be due to an attack by vandals or malicious hackers, but as a result of a policy decision by the Bush camp.

That just seems a little strange. One possible argument is that:

"...the blocking decision was taken to cut costs, and traffic, in the run-up to the election on 2 November.

He said the site may see no reason to distribute content to people who will not be voting next week.

Managing traffic could also be a good way to ensure that the site stays working in the closing days of the election campaign. "

Nevertheless, I would speculate that it was the almost imminent DoS attacks in the days leading up to the Nov. 2nd vote that Bush staff decided to pre-empt. The last sentence of the quote alludes to that possibility as well.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Merging drives without re-install (update)

More backup thoughts. At this point I have about 70-80GB worth of personal data to backup. That is about 100CDs. I like to put everything on at least 2 CDs, preferably 3. Clearly this is not going to be sustainable to do at once. If I wanted to backup 2GB a night it would take me 40 nights (!!!) - 1.5 months of creating 6-9CDs each evening. The time to break files up into CDs is about 10 minutes per CD for me. Time to write data to a CD is about 10 minutes all told. Moreover, given CD writing error rate at least some of these CDs will be less than perfect. After spending 1-2 hours a night, each night, for 1.5 months I am going to have an imperfect backup.

That's a pretty depressing thought.

Merging drives without re-install

I am embarking on yet another crazy adventure. I am attempting to move from 2 desktops into one. Usually, every 12-20 months I reinstall my desktop because it just gets too cluttered, or is being replaced. However, thanks for a torturously complicated set of circumstances I have ended up with personally-relevant data across 2 desktops and 2 laptops. The data created on these machines spans 2 1/2 years, most of it backed up in bits and pieces.

Problem: I do not want to reformat drives and reinstall the OS. I do not have space to copy the data, and I do not have the time to reinstall the OS and all the applications. I have many. Some of them quite picky about their environment. At the moment, I am not willing to deal with the pain.

Proposed Solution: Move the drive from the older machine (74GB) into the newer one (55GB) and consolidate the files that are copies of each other. Remove all the Windows files and applications from the older drive and use the freed up space to store up another few months worth of data.

Currently evident issues:

not much room for cleaning up. About 5.4 GB of the 5.8 GB used by the Documents and Settings are actually CD images for backup...

I still think I can free up some room on the other drive by deleting redundant files, and on this drive by removing previous backups, compressing old and unused directories, etc. Still, I think I am about to invest into an external high-capacity disk drive and a DVD Writer. Backing files to a CD is just too painful at this point.

Utilities: Diskview

A very handy, very well-made utility is Diskview by Vyooh. The utility indexes your disks (local, removable, and network-attached) and simply summarizes the space usage information. The display is integrated into Windows Explorer app, so it feels very natural in MS Windows. That one piece of data -- amount of space a directory or a file take up -- helps tremendously in managing disk usage. Immediately one finds directories and utilities best compressed or even deleted taking up hundreds of magabytes, or even gigabytes of disk space.

Along with Beyond Compare this is the best windows utility I have stumbled upon in recent years.

An "aha!" moment - build machines

Excellent short note from Mike Clark and The MiddleWare company. The "aha!" moment comes with this paragraph:

If your team spends a total of two hours over the life of the project debugging integration problems (start counting whenever you hear a developer cry "But it works on my machine!"), then you've already paid for a respectable build machine.
[ed - emphasis is added].
Read the whole article. I have been convinced (and actually was able to convince my management as well) a while ago that this is a serious issue easily resolved. I am glad we were not, seemingly, the last to realize that.

My team has been using cruisecontrol for those hourly builds, and it has made a huge difference. It is not that we have failed builds very often, but now whenever the build goes awry - never an hour more since the last code check-in - everyone knows, and the pressure to find and fix the problem is on those who last touched the code. Fixes come fast. It is a pleasure. :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Using Gmail as a network drive

a friend writes:
ok- found a gmail tool -- check out
x-drive for gmail!

That's pretty neat, if inefficient.

Another horror-movie plot comes to life

from BBC :

Ancient fungus 'revived' in lab

Fungus from a deep-sea sediment core that is hundreds of thousands of years old can grow when placed in culture, scientists have discovered.

Fungal hypha, Deep Sea Research
The fungi (blue streak) were isolated from deep sea sediments

Yeah. Like we have not seen this on late-night TV.

Notes of the Conspiracy Theorist

Does anyone think that google, and google mail, and now google desktop
search, is really a set of tools from a corporation that is a front
for some controversial DoD project? Let's consider the facts:

1. No Government project would be approved if it implied knowing what
people search for online, what websites they choose, what mail they
receive and send, and what files they have on their machines.

2. Google appears out of nowhere with a practically ready product and
now churns out software that many dozens of other companies have been
unable to produce for years.

3. Google has now, without scrutiny built the largest general purpose
distributed computer with tens of thousands of CPUs. Again, out of
nothing they build their own devices and call them appliances. Next thing we know they begin embedding them into humans and call them "embedded devices"

coincidence? I think not.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Trending 30-day spam level

Google mail promises to remove items in the spam folder after 30 days. For the last month and change I have been resisting the urge to remove the quota-eating messages manually. I succeeded, and the reward is mine.

After double spam filtering by my personal email provider and google, the total of spam messages over the last 30 days is trending at about 7100 messages and roughly 80 megabytes. That's a lot of junk mail.

Glowing essay on Google's future

Who needs to pay a PR firm, when analysts will do it for you for free. From Forrester research:

Google will marginalize other enterprise search players. As consumers adopt Google Desktop Search--and start using it at work--corporate IT managers will have less of a need to buy solutions that can search across corporate email and desktops. As a result, enterprise search providers like Autonomy and Verity will be relegated to searching secure corporate networks--and open the door for Google Search Appliance as a low-cost solution.

These are pretty strong words. I cannot help but think that exactly this kind of over-the-top praise built too much hype of amazon and eBay in their "teens" as well. Google is a great business, and the fact that in just a couple of years they managed to build an internet company with revenues over $1 billion is impressive indeed. Still, overhyping usually leads to expectations that cannot possibly be fulfilled, and I have yet to see a company that succeeded because, not despite, being hyped by the press.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Network Attached J2EE Processing

Maybe I am late to this, but I have never heard of "Network Attached J2EE Processing". I was tipped off to it by this article in JDJ and got interested enough to check out the maker of the appliance - Azul Systems.

I have heard of XML hardware-based processing before, but never J2EE or .NET. The concept is not really farfetched. Come to think of it, I have been using VMWare software for a crude approximation of this approach. Running multiple VMWare Virtual Machines to create a slow, but large, lab environment out of only a few CPUs available to me. Azul is simply taking the next step and getting rid of VMWare.

If one wants to understand more of what Azul is trying to do it is worthwhile to read their product description. While it raises some questions in my head, there is no doubt that this is an interesting development which I am going to be following closely.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

An article that compares Russian and American men

pointer from a friend:

Ridden with stereotypes, yet quite funny and well-written. I found it worth
a read.

Having just come back from St.Petersburg, I think the article is more insightful than seems at first. Life is different in Russia. Relationships are different. Culture is different. The very first comparison, hits a note of regret in me. I have tried to be more like my elders, even those only a decade older than me are infinitely better at hosting a table than I am. Spending a week with people "my own age" proved that the skill, and the attitude are still present:

Imagine a huge hall. On one side a table of seven American men, on the other seven Russians, all having a rousing good time, with piles of food and batteries of bottles. Which group would I join? I’d make a bee-line for the Russians. Why? It’s my sad experience that in such situations American men often revert to the bravura of the Frat House. They continue talking as if you weren’t there, they hoot at esoteric jokes that you don’t understand (“and then he said: “Home, Jeeves! And make it fast!” followed by howls of laughter). They make it clear that whatever they were talking about was so important that they simply don’t have the time or inclination to deal with you at all.

What would the Russians do? Seven men would fly up out of their chairs, set before me a plate full of food and glasses filled to the brim with wine, water and vodka. They would tell me how glad they were that I showed up to lighten an otherwise dull evening. They would compete with each other to get my attention, each out-doing the others in flattering toasts to my beauty, intelligence, kindness. Of course, it would all be perfect nonsense. They might, in fact, rather resent my presence, since before I arrived they were busy hammering out a deal to corner the market in precious metals or discussing the latest scam to get around—with dubious legality—the tax code. But they’ve been trained to be nice to women, and besides, they really like women. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out which, from the point of view of single woman, the Fun Table is.

indeed. A toast to responsible and the fun.

What Victorians could not do

Patrick Belton of OxBlox points to this article and summarizes:
CHRISTINE BOESE points out that spam filters and spammers have jointly done what Victorianisms never succeeded in doing: removing words such as ‘breast’ and ‘sex’ from written discourse.

Indeed. The article itself manages to rehash the common criticisms of spam-filtering software and to bring in a tangent on how people present themselves online. I like Patrick's summary much better than I like the article.

On a personal note I always enjoy sending out an email, getting a response, replying, etc. 5 or 6 times. After that some word innocuously inserted in the original, like "sale" that gets a relatively minor score by the spam filter when mentioned once becomes mentioned 6 times in the course of multiple replies. Suddenly, what we are dealing with is spam. Voila.

As expected -- google-branded desktop search tool

It was long expected, and now it is here.

The Dullest Blog in the world

Truly impressive. via One Million Footnotes. Sample entry:

Thinking about putting on some music (dull, February 22)

I was in a room carrying out some routine activities. I began to consider playing some music on the stereo system. I looked at some compact discs for a while, but didn't put one on.


EMC continues its acquisitions binge

From eWeek:
EMC Corp. on Tuesday announced the acquisition of Dantz Development Corp., developers of the Retrospect family of backup and restore technology for the SMB (small to midsized business) market.

Dantz Retrospect provides backup and restore data protection for file servers, desktops, notebooks and business-critical applications. Customers include British Telecom, DaimlerChrysler, Motorola, Nortel, Pixar and Walt Disney.

A couple of years ago I owned a lot of their stock, and while I correctly despaired in ever seeing it fly as high as it did in 2000, I was also not sure whether EMC would even survive. But it has, and lately seems to be putting itself into an increasingly powerful position of a gatekeeper for a lot of structured and unstructured data out there. The management made shrewd moves, lowered the profile of the company and its often brash salespeople somewhat, and went on an acquisition run snapping up seemingly unrelated companies such as VMWare and Documentum. With the stated goal of being able to offer a complete "information lifecycle" suite of products - from hardware to software - EMC has now positioned itself to complete in that space with perhaps its only real competitor - IBM. Good for them. In the meantime, I am anxiously looking and waiting for their high-end products to make their way down into the mid-market.

Interesting start-up related post

From the co-founder of Excite and author of the bnoopy blog:

For me, this story always reminds me about the nature of startups and about the value of celebrating your successes. Someone once told me that startups are like qualifying for the olympics. Every time you cross the finish line in first place, it represents a milestone and a victory. But, really all it does is qualify you to compete with companies at a higher level. You may think every milestone is a finsh line -- funding, first product ship, more funding, public offering, etc -- but the truth is that the competition never ends. Every finish line merely qualifies you to walk across the track, get back in the starting blocks and compete against even better competitors.

How's that for a VC sports-analogy?

pretty good. Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

OnDemand Television

After few months of paying for digital cable, 6 HBO, 4 Showtime, and 4 Cinemax channels, I finally got to use the onDemand feature tonight. Really - very nice. I had an hour to kill, and so 2 episodes of Sex in the City were it. Each one a pleasant 29 minutes long. No commercials so no rewinding necessary. I tried it out nevertheless. It worked flawlessly.

I am not a big fan of the show, and have seen maybe a dozen episodes from all the different seasons, but as a light diversion it was quite enjoyable. In my case it was Episodes 75 and 76.

Spam filtering piggyback ride

I am an avid user of gmail - google's email service. However, I have no intention of giving up my personal domain name, or changing my personal email address from that domain. However, my personal email account is inundated with spam - hundreds of letters a day. I accept the fact as stoically as I can. Afterall, I have had the domain for many years, and that just seems to be the price to pay for it.

Of course, I am not completely defenseless. I employ, courtesy of my hosting provider, spamassassin, set to a level that seems to leave all of my real email in my inbox. In the last 3 days spamassassin has put 2500 messages into the junk folder. It also let about 750 through, of which about a 100 were legitimate emails. Raising the spamassassin level seems to put too many of those 100 into the junk folder, from which they have little chance of emerging. I know I could do a better job setting up whitelists, and blacklists, and filters, but given the technology today's spammers employ it seems like a waste of time. Some friends have been using software similar to Outlook Spam Filter, but I do not use Outlook. So I suffered, until I began using Gmail service.

Forwarding emails from my real email to Gmail subjected the ones that already passed the spamassassin filters to Gmail spam filters. The double-distillation works quite well, and I receive hardly and spam in my Inbox on Gmail. However, I still get the extra 250 emails a day on my "main" Inbox at my domain. Until now.

One of the new features on Gmail is a prosaic feature called email forwarding:
  • Automatic forwarding to another email account
    We're testing a new feature that lets you forward new incoming messages to any email account you want. It's free during the test and you can set it up in seconds. Even set up filters to forward only some of your messages. It's your mail. Get it the way you want it. Learn more

Aha. A double spam filter reverse proxy! [ed - talk about technical jargon] At the moment, I do the following:

  • receive mail coming to my real email address and run it through spamassassin filters
  • forward all non-junk mail coming through the filters to my real email address ( onto my email address
  • At the same time archive all of that mail for future reference, since I do not know how I will be able to retrieve email from gmail in the future, were I no longer using it.
  • use gmail filtering to farther reduce spam reaching my sensitive eyes to only 4-10 messages a day. Very manageable.

With support of forwarding from gmail to other accounts I can now add to the process as follows:
  • forward all mail from gmail back to my personal domain
  • filter and store that email on my personal domain practically spam free

Alas. A long post just for the explanation of how I arrived to appreciate the last two bullet points. At least no trees died for this.

ps. This post took 6 hours of interrupted writing. Perhaps in the morning it will prove to be as disjointed and incoherent as I am afraid it is.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Interesting eWeek article

Peter Cofee draws parallels between hiring people today, and "hiring" Web Services in the future:

If Google needs so many people to work on its to-do list, why is it putting so many barriers in front of its "Help Wanted" portal? The answer is that the company would rather turn away a dozen people who might have worked out than hire just one who turns out to be toxic to the organization. As JotSpot CEO Joe Kraus notes in his entrepreneurship blog, Bnoopy, "A players hire A players, B players hire C players, and C players hire losers. Let your standards slip once and you're only two generations away from death."

Should this be the doctrine that informs a Web services marketplace? Is it better, when searching for service candidates, to reject a dozen might-have-beens rather than letting a single unsatisfactory candidate get through? We talk about a vision of Web services enabling a dynamic marketplace of changing needs and competing service offerings, instead of being merely a standards-based technology of static application integration: Are we going to "hire" services in the highly selective style of a Google or, for that matter, a Microsoft? Or are we going to come up with mechanisms of identifying, evaluating, and qualifying and rejecting candidates that are continually open to new entrants?

This seems like an important question, as such major Web presences as Amazon join Google in the competition for the role of next-generation application platform. Amazon itself is building on its own services foundation to enter new markets, as well as offering that foundation to others. The next generation of the Web, it's clear, is going to be defined by the competition among different ways of delivering on this vision.

Good thought worth pondering.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Re: battle of the pump

In today's NYT column [ed - free registration required] , Thomas Friedman writes:
We need to dramatically cut our consumption of oil and bring the price back down to $20 a barrel. Nothing would do more to stimulate reform in the Arab-Muslim world. Oil regimes do not have to modernize or govern well. They just buy off their people and their mullahs. Governments without oil have to reform to create jobs. People do not change when you tell them they should - they change when they tell themselves they must.

I guess I am just a simpleton, because a multitude of "why's" run through my head when I read these type of statements. Why does Mr. Friedman think we [ed - we??? Is the USA the only country buying oil?] have the power to either bring the price down over 50% or the ability to cut the consumption of oil in some magic fashion? The world seems to have plenty of proof that governments without oil have a terrific record of not creating jobs [ed - random link to a country with no oil and no jobs]. The quote above sounds like it makes sense, but to me at least it does not. Certainly the causality is implied, but not demonstrated. It is not as if lack of natural resources makes for a better economy. For every prosperous but resource-poor Japan or South Korea, there is a prosperous and resource-rich Australia and Canada. And there is also Afghanistan, Egypt, Somalia. And there are countries using their natural resources to climb out - like Russia and Angola, or fall farther - like Nigeria or Saudi Arabia. There is no need to go into even the question of whether $20/barrel is going to change anything for anyone. After all, prices were much lower in September of 2001 - hovering around this very magical $20/barrel. [ed - as best as I could find out].

Similar criticisms could be applied to many of the other statements in the op-ed.

When did Jordan begin privatizing and deregulating its economy and upgrading its education system? In 1989 - after oil prices had slumped and the Arab oil states cut off Jordan's subsidies. In 1999, before Jordan signed its U.S. free-trade accord, its exports to America totaled $13 million. This year, Jordan will export over $1 billion worth of goods to the U.S. In the wake of King Abdullah II's reforms, Jordan's economy is growing at an annual rate of over 7 percent, the government is installing computers and broadband Internet links in every school, and it will soon require anyone who wants to study Islamic law and become a mosque preacher to first get a B.A. in something else, so mosque leaders won't just come from those who can't do anything else. "We had to go through a crisis to accept the need for reform," says Jordan's planning minister, Bassem Awadallah.

This actually sounds really interesting. But I am still not sure whether it is the price of oil that is the main driver here. After all, oil is hitting new records every other day now, but Jordan is not getting its subsidies back. Not to nitpick, but why did the exports to US did not change from 1989 to 1999 [ed - or at least changed only to the total of $13million], but then grew rapidly in the next 4 years. After all, $13 million to $1 billion is a huge shift. It could be due to reforms that took 10 years to produce the export boom. Or maybe these reforms found an able champion in the new king - conveniently crowned in 1999.

Friedman has found himself in an uncomfortable position over the last 2 years. His party - Democrats - have clearly not shown any interest in reforming the Middle East. Whatever ideas they may have had, are now co-opted by the White House and are therefore bitter to the Democratic Party. The Republicans made a lot of the moves Friedman advocated, but have not been able to really pull them off. In the end, Mr Friedman decides to lay the blame on the President and Vice-President:

We have the power right now to stimulate similar trends across the Arab world. It's the best way to fight a global war on terrorism. If only we had a president and vice president tough enough to fight this war.

It is not very clear how exactly "We have the power right now to stimulate similar trends across the Arab world." It is not clear how Kerry and Edwards would be able to right the wrongs, and "stimulate similar trends across the Arab world." It is not clear why other poor Arab and Muslim countries that are not awash in oil are nevertheless not prosperous by any means -- Yemen, Oman, Egypt, or even Pakistan.

IMO, this column just regurgitates tired slogans that attempt to pass for wisdom and insight. It is not the price of oil that keeps the "huge population of young people - too many of whom are unemployed or unemployable because their oil-rich regimes are resistant to change and their religious leaders are resisting modernity." If that were the case then low oil prices through the 1990's should have thoroughly modernized the Middle East years ago.

True - it is indeed the leaders of these countries that resists modernity, but, whatever the reasons, the crowds of Syrian, Egyptian, Saudi, and Pakistani men are not seeking reforms to take them forward. They are looking to depose regimes that are not fundamentalist and backward-looking enough. Their solution to lack of employment and income is to even the playing field in the opposite direction - to remove all sources of income. I fail to see how a gasoline tax will fix this problem, except provide farther proof to these people that USA is an enemy that first hooked the Muslims on easy oil money and then, like perfidious drug dealers Americans are, yanked that last support from under them.

I am not pro or against the tax. I am not sure what it would accomplish, and I have not studied its possible implications and their relative probability. However, I do find that a solution this one-dimensional is unlikely to generate much return beyond finding yet another way, yet another Administration is failing to live up to an op-ed writer's expectations.

Book Review: Time Traveler's Wife

Very good book. The book jacket says that this is Audrey Niffenegger's first novel. It is quite a debut. I imagine Ms. Niffenegger spent quite some time working on the book - so well-crafted and thought out it is. Time travel, especially non-trivial time travel as a plot device is notoriously difficult. Most of the authors use time traveling paradoxes to create big set pieces, very few are able to use it as the main character development device.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I would have to say that I found the ending somewhat weaker than the beginning and the middle. Either the author or the editors flinched, and decided to offer a saccharine version, with a non-happy, but less than tragic end. The finish also leaves the possibility of a sequel very much alive. Of course, sequels are rather simple to generate when you deal with time-traveling :-)

Of the various small touches I found the loving descriptions of Chicago landmarks, where the author herself lives, particularly endearing. One can feel the smell of snow in the cold air during the winter months. The love story is touching without being overly melodramatic, and the touchstone of the plot is very, very well presented. The task was not an enviable one. Many books have characters traveling through time, but most of the time it is one, at most two, trips. In this book the character moves through the 4th dimension repeatedly, and violently. Moreover, the book covers over 20 years of "normal" time flow. It is gratifying to see the main characters actually grow as people over that period. Again - something most authors of romance and science-fiction cannot do convincingly.

I strongly recommend reading this book, especially you are able to spend a weekend with it in a ski house with a fireplace.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Book Review: The Emperor of Ocean Park

It is hard to write thrillers. Some people have it and some don't, but certainly if what you want to write is a Philip Roth novel about upper-middle class African-American family, thriller would not be my genre of choice. Stephen Carter almost pulls it off. The story falters every time the James Bond theme begins to play. I did not mind the almost neurotic introspection of the main character, but I did not quite understand the thinly drawn secondary characters. I also did not understand why some very remote details kept getting massive amount of attention. The 30 times a former law school colleague-turned-right wing-radical gets space in the book is the 30 times a poorly defined "dear Dana" character could have been fleshed out a bit more.

In the end, I could not help feeling that the author just did not how to move his plot along without some cheesy external plot. Thus, all of the mind games and action the main character goes through are borne out of authors inability to create a more real environment for Prof. Garland to engage in introspection, to grow as a person. You would think dealing with his life, his wife, his family would be enough. Alas, no. We are forced to deal with a wide range of secondary characters and filler.

The author clearly wanted to show off his grasp of Washington backroom politics, of the Judicial nomination process, and of the bizarre situation our society puts affluent African-American families. Of the three, only the latter is something few authors have had success in bringing to a mass audience. I wish Stephen Carter spent more time on that, rather than on 2nd rate thriller set pieces.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Uploading pictures to blogspot weblogs

I was finally able to get picasa hello program to work by using advice from this forum thread:
If you have been unable to login to Hello because you receive the message that "a network error has occurred", we have a beta build that may help.
This version of Hello has improved abilities to get through firewalls, better error reporting, and should work over a proxy server.

Please keep in mind that this is a BETA- it has not gone through all of the testing that the currently released version has. If you're currently able to login fine, there is no reason to download this. If you haven't been able to login, this is worth a shot.
You can download it here:

This really worked for me. The interface is a little strange and cluttered. I have not yet figured out how to actually insert an image into an existing post, for example. However, if one just creates a new post, then extracts the image URL out of it you can modify existing older posts to heart's content. An example of such meddling can be seen here

Wishing Well: New Camera

That's one camera worth saving up for. From
Mamiya has announced the first medium format digital SLR, the 22 megapixel Mamiya ZD and a digital back of the same name. The ZD has a large 36 x 48mm sensor, is compatible with 645AF lenses and has a 1.8-inch LCD. It stores 12-bit colour images on to either CompactFlash or SD cards. The Mamiya ZD Back realizes full interactive communications through the MSCE (Mamiya Serial Communication for External) to bring out the best of all the advanced functions of these cameras.


Monday, October 04, 2004

Cray - back in the news again

from CNET:
Cray has begun selling its XD1 systems, machines using Opteron processors and the Linux operating system that the supercomputer specialist hopes will give it a better foothold in the lower end of the market.

The XD1 models, which are based on technology from Cray's acquisition of start-up OctigaBay this year, cost as little as $50,000 for a single-chassis system with 12 Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processors, Cray said. Most customers are expected to buy three-chassis systems for about $100,000, though more powerful models will sell for about $2 million.

nice to see Cray in the news again after a long absence.

Trip over

Ok, I am back.
A week went by quickly, full of difficult decisions and fun moments. Nevertheless, I have successuflly navigates the custom lines of Pulkovo, and the INS lines of JFK to arrive at home. Safely. Here my saga of the trip ends. I have some more notes that need to be transcribed and may become posts on this weblog. I will post them in the order to the events occurring in real life. So be on the lookout for posts you have not read appearing farther down the page than usual.


Sunday, October 03, 2004

Helsinki Again

Seven days later, and I am sitting in the same terminal in Helsinki as before. Still no wireless service, nor blackberry service for that matter. My blackberry worked great in St.Petersburg, much to my surprise, and was very useful. A couple of times I was able to get in touch with my hosts via email on a short notice, something that would be otherwise difficult as I did not have a mobile phone while on this visit.

I really should get a GSM phone, or just get a GSM card and service for the blackberry before I go over to Europe the next time. While prosaic to some, I am finding this seamless ability of devices to work in different countries, different continents pretty amazing. "It is because of the GSM standard," I heard repeatedly, but to me it goes to a whole other level. Sure, technically it is "just because of the standard", but that never stopped Russia from making rail width different from those in Europe, or USA not adopting the metric system. It is not the ability to receive my email that pleasantly amazes me, it is the fact that this device, the network it is on, the software it runs on would be pretty inconcievable fifteen, maybe even 10 years ago. The sheer fact that Russia, as in the former Soviet Union repoublic of Russia, now gives one an opportunity to choose among 5 different GSM providers for a Blackberry device without ever having to show your passport is a miracle in its own class.

St.Petersburg is pretty phone crazy. Mobile phone stores are everywhere, many are even open 24 hours a day. As a somewhat indifferent consumer I fail to grasp the reasons for a 24-hour place to sell you mobile phones and service, but I can still wonder at the fact.

Conspiracy Theory: Russian government promotes GSM because it has weaker security than other protocols. I cannot substantiate this at all, but that is what conspiracy theories are for.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Sightseeing today (early morning note)

Today is Saturday. Thrhough a recommendation of a friend I have secured services of a guide to show me some of the sights of the city, and talk about them. At first I was very excited, but have not grown a bit weary about the idea. The guide is not very expensive, but I ended up doing more sightseeing than I expected, and so I have been to almost all of the sites we have planned with thim to tour.

Will see how it goes.