200th Post: A retrospective

I noticed that this is my 200th blog post. I'm not sure that is a monument of any real significance, but it is a monument. So, I'll take a few moments for reflection.

I guess the question for me is: why blog? It does take effort, and my blog isn't widely read. I doubt that I influence anyone's opinion on, well, anything. I find the stronger reasons for doing something should be internal rather than external. So here are the reasons that blogging works for me: (in no particular order)

Not only suck
When I spend time on the Internet I often feel like I am this great consumer of information. I find all kinds of cool stuff online. From the commercial websites that pay writers, to the guy who happened to write a howto on whatever I happen to be doing. I hate thinking of myself as someone who only consumes the work of others, I want to contribute to the pool that I take from. While I'm not sure that my blog entries are as good as the material I take from the system, I like to feel like I'm giving back something.
Practice Writing
It may seem kinda silly, but I really don't feel like I write anymore. Yeah e-mail to friends, technical documentation, but no real writing. Nothing to make or defend a arguement. I just don't write that much. Not that I was ever very good at it, but how can I expect to get better without practice? I wouldn't consider my blog a literary work, but just the process of putting words on the page helps me not loose all my writing skills.
Get my vote
With Google's Pagerank the relevance of webpages is determined by links to that webpage. Simplistically, every link is a vote for that webpage. So, if I'm not making links, I'm not voting. And there are webpages that I want to vote for, so I need to be making links.
Opt-in Announcements
For a while, I'd send out e-mails when I put various things on my webpage. Every time I'd add a new album of pictures, I'd send out this massive e-mail to seemingly everyone. I don't think that offended anyone, but I would hate for someone to despise getting e-mail from me. This way, people can opt-in to find out about the various things I put up on the Internet. Now, they have to put up with a lot more static, but it is all opt-in.

I'm not sure what good reasons are to blog or not to blog, but those are mine. Now, here are some fun historical links. First post, 50th and 100th.

posted on Tue, 22 Nov 2005 at 01:59 | permanent link

Wal-Mart takes heat

With the showings of "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" this weekend, the blogosphere is all a buzz about Wal-Mart this week. Some interesting posts include the blog entry of Al Norman where he talks about fliers handed out by Wal-Mart at some screenings. And, this one by Stan Fortune where he discusses the fear of Wal-Mart employees to even see the movie. Both are interesting, but I'm not sure that they say anything about Wal-Mart other than they're fearful of the PR disaster that this is leading.

What surprises me as much as anything is that this type of press isn't new for Wal-Mart. Here is a link to the Frontline story on Wal-Mart talking about exporting jobs overseas. You can even watch it online. Wal-Mart's opposition to unions is legendary. I'm not sure why now is important for Wal-Mart except that they want to start getting into larger city markets that are opposing them. Seems like too little too late.

The funny part about the whole thing is that a large part of Wal-Mart's success is due to innovation, not exploitation. Wal-Mart pioneered large scale use of efficient supply chains, popularizing the word. Today every company is thinking about these problems, shortening delivery times, minimizing warehousing. Heck, UPS is even trying to push this technology into smaller and smaller businesses. Wal-Mart has a notably open relationship with it's vendors, giving them sales data near real-time. This allows the vendors to react faster and provide better results for Wal-Mart. They've opened up data that other's held as secret in order to make their pipeline more efficient.

What this has become is a referendum on ruthless efficiency. Wal-Mart has eeked every little piece of fat out of their pipeline, they run very lean. Wall Street just loves this as they are making a "good business". But, in the end, is that what we, as a society, really want? I think the end result is that we want a little fat in our systems, we want to make them more human and less 'perfect'. I don't think we can blame Wal-Mart for making an efficient system, we've defined that as the goal since the industrial revolution. Perhaps we need a different definition, one that takes into account a little more humanity.

posted on Mon, 21 Nov 2005 at 23:24 | permanent link

SVG at LULA

The presentation that I gave at LULA is now up. I've got the slides in a web viewable form and I also have the full SVG slides up.

Title Slide: Dynamic Graphics with SVG

The presentation seemed to go well, I'm a touch worried that it was too technical for some users. I hope they had a good time also. I'm not sold on the template that I used. I wanted some thing that had a lot of straight lines, but also with interesting curves. I apparently was also in a black and white mood. Worked fine, but I'm not sure I'd use it again.

posted on Fri, 18 Nov 2005 at 02:15 | permanent link

The Next Chip Revolution

In his blog Greg Papadopoulos talks about misconceptions of Moore's law. I'm really glad that he wrote down a description of what Moore's law really means as people mistating it bugs me also. Moore's law means that we have more transistors to work with, not that we'll use them better. He argues (deftly I believe) that these will be used for more SoC type designs, increasing speed through integration. We have to remember that the first ICs were designed to reduce the wiring between transistors, not to increase clock speed. Removing system buses is the ultimate expansion of integration.

One part of his entry I found particularly interesting (emphasis added):

...microsystems: my word for the just-starting revolution of server-on-a-chip. What's that? Pretty much what it sounds like. Almost the entire server (sans DRAM) is reduced to a single chip (or a small number of co-designed ones, just as the first micros often had an outboard MMU and/or FPU). These microsystems directly connect to DRAM and to very high speed serialized I/O that are converted to either packet or coherent-memory style network connections.

In his version of a system, the DRAM and the processing will still be distinct elements. While this makes sense from the perspective of the process required to make the two types of chips, it will start to become the bottleneck of any system. When access to your network card is more efficient than your system memory, there is a problem. That leads me to say that the next major revolution in semiconductors will be the ability to integrate large amounts of low power memory on the same die as processing elements.

One solution for this is MRAM. The article I linked to said in 2003 that they would be in production by 2005... so, I think there are still some technical hurtles. Last year, Freescale was sampling 4MB modules, but that's not yet enough to make it truly exciting.

What ever the solution is, it will have to allow for hundreds of megabytes of memory while still allowing for reasonable cost chips. The densities of DRAM have expanded at an impressive speed, no one can imagine having less than 32 MB today. This is an exciting opportunity, now if I only had an idea of how to solve the problem.

posted on Thu, 17 Nov 2005 at 19:44 | permanent link

Veteran's Day Story

Today is Veteran's Day in the United States. While our military has taken a lot of heat over the war in Iraq, it is important to remember that the individuals serving in the military are trying to protect us. They didn't decide who or where this mission should take them. They trusted us to elect leaders that would make wise decisions about where to place their efforts. They deserve our admiration, not disdain. I enjoyed this story about 9 casualties from Praha, TX, a small town never larger than 100, who died in WWII. The story is an excellent one to read, and remember, on Veteran's Day.

posted on Fri, 11 Nov 2005 at 13:33 | permanent link

PGP Works Fine

This might be a little bit of a rant, but I'm tired of companies trying to get me to receive my statements online. Mostly because that's not what they're doing. They're going to send me an e-mail with a link to their website, which has my statement on it. This takes the control from my hands to theirs. If they make a mistake they can "fix it" online, and I have no record of that change. There is no snapshot in time to which I can refer, and that is not acceptable.

I don't believe that this is their motivation, I think they want to save money on processing and stamps. And, the reason that they don't send me my statement by e-mail is that everyone knows e-mail is insecure. Which is true, except that there are solutions to this problem, namely PGP.

Whether you're using GPG or PGP Corp.'s version, PGP is pretty easy to use today. Signing messages is usually just a menu item, and so is encrypting the message. Usually e-mail you receive is checked automatically as it comes in, giving you a thumbs up or down on the mail's authenticity. They aren't difficult for users to use anymore, what is needed now is an education campaign.

I can see the ad now:

Person 1: Why did you send me a virus?
Person 2: I didn't send you a virus. Someone else sent you a virus.
Person 1: The e-mail is from you, it's from your e-mail address.
Person 2: I did not send you that virus. Someone else sent it.
Person 1: Did they hack your account?
Person 2: No, they used my e-mail address.
Person 1: How did they do that? How do I know a message is from you?
Voice over guy talking about how great PGP is.

Of course, the remaining problem is webmail. Webmail has become popular, because you can check your e-mail anywhere, on any computer. If you were required to have your keys with you, your e-mail would be less portable. And, giving your keys to your webmail provider is kinda defeating the point of having them at all, right? Yes, for the case of sending bank statements, but no from the perspective on signing messages. GMail or Yahoo! could still have messages signed from a key that they generate when you create the account, just to verify authenticity. And they could check incoming mail to the public keys available. This would be a huge step in bringing encrypted e-mail to the public conscious. And, I don't think people wouldn't mind the restriction of only reading their bank statements at home.

posted on Fri, 11 Nov 2005 at 13:32 | permanent link

AJAX Based SVG Map

I've been suggesting that this was possible for a while, but someone actually did it (which is much more impressive than talking about it). Here is an SVG map dynamically driven by Javascript. The map loads the data as you zoom and move, giving you more detailed views of the overlays in the areas where you're looking. The Javascript loads the XML asynchronously, and then updates the SVG file. Very cool, using all the same techniques that have been developed for AJAX HTML pages. They've also posted a paper on how they did it!

Link thanks to: downside.ch

posted on Wed, 09 Nov 2005 at 13:03 | permanent link

Speaking on SVG

It's now official that I'll be talking on SVG at LULA next week. It should be fun. If you're in the LA area, and you want to see a little SVG, you should come out. The title of the talk is "Dynamic Graphics with SVG," it is good information for anyone who works with the web.

Of course, I will put the slides online after I'm done. If you have any ideas for slides (because you want to steal them for a talk later) go ahead and e-mail them to me.

posted on Mon, 07 Nov 2005 at 19:29 | permanent link

Liberal Knowledge

Starbucks has started to put philosophical quips on the outside of its cups. These are fun little sayings by different people, and this morning I got one that I particularly enjoyed:

Everywhere, unthinking mobs of "independent thinkers" wield tired cliches like cudgels, pummeling those who dare question "enlightened" dogma. If "violence never solved anything," cops wouldn't have guns and slaves may never have been freed. If it's better that 10 guilty men go free to spare one innocent, why not free 100 or 1,000,000? Cliches begin arguments, they don't settle them.
Jonah Goldberg, Editor-at-large of National Review Online.
Starbucks, The Way I See It # 22

While I agree that cliches don't help arguments, I'd have to say that cliches make arguments memorable. In this sound bite world, you're only going to get a few words of your argument heard. Unfortunately, a few words is too little to define anything of meaning.

I do love the term "mobs of independent thinkers", it's like seeing all the people trying to dress different by wearing clothes from the Gap.

posted on Mon, 07 Nov 2005 at 17:57 | permanent link