Thursday, November 17, 2005

11/17/05: Google-Mart

11/17/05: Google-Mart: "Sam Walton Taught Google More About How to Dominate the Internet Than Microsoft Ever Did"

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Seth Godin's Local Max

Understanding Local Max: "My guess is that you've been wrestling with your Local Max. If your organization or even your career is stuck, it may just be because of this chart.

Friday, June 24, 2005


Last week I was asked to submit a proposal for a new project. It involved inventing a new kind of web application; something that doesn't yet exist as far as I know. A lot of ideas had been floating around about how to think about the problem, what the UI should look like, etc. But none of them felt quite right. The people who asked for the proposal took a committee approach to thinking about the problem, and resolving disagreements between the committee members lead to compromised and mediocre ideas. I hadn't planned when I was going to write this proposal, but I happened to begin the day Wednesday with a big jolt of caffeine. I'm a fairly sporadic coffee/cola drinker, mostly because of what the stuff does to my sleep (or lack thereof). Nevertheless, I sometimes drink the drug anyway. Often it backfires and ruins my sleep, but I get some creative things done before that. I knew that writing this proposal was going to require inspiration. I needed to put away all the compromises and politics and just write something totally different that would be better than anybody expected. And that's what happened. Everyone loved it, even though nobody got what they asked for! This has me thinking about art, inspiration, and groups. Most companies, churches, and other organizations tend to make decisions by committees. An initial idea is presented (sometimes good, sometimes bad), and then the group rounds off the corners until everyone is more or less satisfied. It's a perfect recipe for making unremarkable things. It doesn't surprise me at all that most of the great inventions of the modern world were made by a single person, not a group. People can be great artists, but groups usually produce mediocrity Now I just need to figure out how to make great things more consistently, and without the caffeine!

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Looking Back at the TV-Industrial Complex

I used to love watching TV. As a kid, my brothers and I would run down our long driveway after being dropped off by the school bus. Getting home quickly was of utmost importance, because we didn't want to miss Spider-man, Thunder Cats, and all our favorite cartoons. As a teenager, it was Star Trek -- especially The Original Series and The Next Generation. In later years, it became the news, Report on Business TV (RoBTV), and CPAC -- the Canadian political channel, which is similar to C-SPAN in the US. I also grew up with a slight reading disability. It was so slight that it was never diagnosed -- I always got reasonably good grades, went to University, etc. But I never really read anything; reading was too much work for me. It was so much easier to turn on the TV and tune out, letting the onslaught of TV-industrial messages and 20th century advertising fill my open mind. It was only at about age 30 that I truly discovered books. I figured out that reading was actually fun if I concentrated on densely-written material (a la C.S. Lewis). Somehow, my slight reading disability wasn't a factor when I read books that covered advanced topics. Or maybe for the first time I wasn't completely bored. Regardless, for the last few years I've been making up for lost time. I'm even getting into "easier" business and marketing books. Three of my favorite books of the last few months are The ClueTrain Manifesto, All Marketers are Liars, and The Tipping Point. What these books have in common is that they offer a post-TV-industrial-complex way of looking at things. It's refreshing, and it's changing the way I look at the world. Anyway, I've now been TV-free for six months! Actually, that's not quite true... last time I was in the U.S. I switched on Fox News in the hotel room for a bit. Within 20 minutes of watching, they announced not one, but TWO terror threats. The first one was about somebody flying a Cessna into the no-fly zone around Washington D.C. A few minutes later, a passenger jet enroute from Europe to NYC had to be diverted to Boston because one of the passengers was a suspected terrorist. Those of us who don't watch TV know that such stories are simply designed to sell advertising. But it remains extremely scary how many people just take it all in. How can people not know any better!? And what kind of conscience do those advertisers have, who knowingly support such fear-mongering and rubbish? Will truth ever make a breakthrough? I'd say it's not a question of if, but when. The 21st century is profoundly different than the 20th, but most people don't know it yet. That's what this blog is all about.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Google Categories?

Okay, I think I've got the scoop on this one. Google seems to be testing an enhanced "Did you mean" feature. Today I searched for "software developers", and it gave me a few popular categories to choose from (see above). The feature is sporadic; it comes and goes. Earlier this morning it worked for several searches, but minutes later the entire thing disappeared. In the above example, clicking on "software development companies" yielded more detailed categories (including "application development companies"). Clicking on "something else" resulted in a new search with negative keywords based on the categories I rejected. Sweet! But there's actually a bigger thing going on here. In order for Google to create meaningful categories, their system needs to understand concepts, not just keywords. In the past, Google's results have actually been quite dumb--they have relied on things like PageRank to determine which keyword matches are most useful. This is very different. They seem to be developing algorithms that understand higher level concepts. This path quickly gets into the monumentally difficult problem of artificial intelligence (AI).

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Free Gmail Invites

I've got a bunch of extra Gmail invites. If anyone would like a Gmail account, please post your email address in the comments.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Designing to Forget

The internet has a funny way of remembering things forever. I've been really careful about what I write here, because I don't know what's going to happen to the content down the road. It's a problem that I don't know how to deal with. Take the gay marriage issue, for example. I'm terribly tired of talking about it, but I'm also not satisfied with any of my posts on the subject. I'd like to simply remove those posts, or at least continue to write follow-ups. The former strategy is rather un-bloglike, and the latter simply makes me dig into a deeper hole. I cringe at the thought of what might have happened if I had started blogging 10 years ago, in my university years. Would my thoughts still be indexed somewhere by Google? Does the internet really remember everything people say? Today, the answer is mostly yes. I predict that a lot of people (especially bloggers) are going to work themselves into personal PR nightmares over the next few years. Not fully grasping the permanence of the internet, they'll spend their youths and early twenties generating content that embarrasses them for years into the future. But maybe that's part of the point -- why the blogging medium is so great to begin with. We all come from an era (and mindset) where information was very carefully controlled -- network news, company communications, politics, even music & arts. There's a lot of filters to make sure anything potentially embarrassing will never get out. As for me, I'm still too afraid to sign my name to my own blog. But really, would signing my name make the blog any better? I'd argue that you (the reader) don't really care who I am. Hopefully you're interested in my thoughts, and that's the point of all this. Still, it would be nice if the internet could be told to forget things, not simply remember everything.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Civil Joining

Ok, so maybe I'm an idiot when it comes to marriage. It doesn't affect me if two gay people marry. Maybe it would affect their kids, but I'm not touching that one. Anyway, I guess we're supposed to say it's all fine as long as nobody gets hurt, etc. Maybe some of that is true, but this is still fundamentally dumb legislation. The fact that government is involved in marriage (using any definition of the word) is where the dumbness begins. It would be better to dump the idea of civil marriage altogether and replace it with something I call "civil joining". There are three main categories of civil joining.
  1. Single people. These are people who have no legal ties to anyone else.
  2. Joined people. This includes marriages and any other dependent people. Two spinster sisters, for example. Or a gay couple. And yes, poligamists. This one isn't politically correct, but it could easily be argued that it's discriminatory to prevent a group from legally joining themselves.
  3. Joined people with their own children. This one gets a bit messy when people un-join (like a divorce), or with poligamy, but the general point is that the children are legally bound to the biological mother and father in a way the government cares about.
Within this system, any person can choose to legally join with any other person(s). You can't choose to be legally bound to your parents though - that happens automatically. People can also legally un-join if they wish. This system covers the major bases and isn't offensive to anyone. If you're offended, let me know.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Podcasting & BitTorrent

A few weeks ago I bought a portable audio player. After doing some amount of research I decided to go with the iRiver iFP-790. It was the only small player I could find that plays Ogg Vorbis files and stacks up well with other small Flash-based players. I had been thinking about getting one of these players for awhile, but wanted to wait long enough so that my purchase wouldn't immediately be obsolete. What finally convinced me to get in the game was the vague idea that I'd use the player to listen to time-shifted content from In the last few weeks I've discovered what's known as the podcasting revolution. If you don't know what this is, you soon will. 'Nuff said. One fairly obvious concern about podcasting is what might happen when it reaches the mainstream. The bandwidth requirements could easily make distribution costs too high for smaller publishers. That environment could quickly turn the podcasting revolution into yet another lame commercial radio system. I propose the following: The podcasting apps should incorprate BitTorrent functionality. It's easy to imagine how it would work. Publishers post their .torrent files, RSS readers download the .torrent, then download the actual audio file and save to the portable player. Since BitTorrent is Free, I'm surprised this hasn't already been done. It seems like a critical piece of non-commerical podcasting.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Television Is Officially Obsolete

A recent study has shown that people are now spending more time on the web than watching TV. You heard that right; TV is officially obsolete. Seth Godin comments on the study:

It took only ten years to topple the most important, most powerful medium of all time. TV elects Presidents, sells cars, introduces products and changes the culture. It also sucks the initiative and creativity of entire generations down the drain. Ten years is a heartbeat. This is an astonishing change in the way we buy and learn and vote and grow our businesses. I don't think it has really sunk in yet. The second? That the consumers who make the biggest difference (the busy ones, the ones who earn a lot, spend a lot, vote, talk a lot and change things) are the ones most likely to be online and least likely to watch TV.

That's the part I find the most interesting. The term "idiot box" may become increasingly accurate as TV continues to spiral into a lower-brow medium. The content on TV will get worse as the intelligence of its supporters (ad watchers) decreases.

Yes, Oprah is still far more powerful than Yahoo. But at the same time, Drudge and Jeff Bezos and Doc Searls are way more influential than their offline cousins.

Indeed. But to me, part of TV's allure can be attributed precisely to its brain-deadness. Sometimes it takes a good hour of useless political rhetoric to unwind before going to bed. But let's face it--all the real information is on the web.

I should clarify that. The big-media channels are on the web too. But that doesn't mean they get the web. There's a big difference.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

The Google Browser

For awhile, I've been thinking that Google is quite vulnerable by allowing IE be such an important part of their applications (Search, Blogger, GMail, etc). Microsoft is openly going for Google's throat, and IE is probably going to be the weapon of choice. I saw an interesting piece today about the idea of Google partnering with the Mozilla Foundation to create a Google browser. If Google really wants to build the Internet Operating System, they'll eventually need to protect their interests by making sure their platform remains standards-based from end-to-end. In that sense, they should be very interested in helping FireFox a to be a real player. See the article here.

Friday, August 13, 2004

The Open Source Paradigm Shift

Tim O'Reilly has an insightful essay about the open source paradigm shift that's happening. I've been thinking about the idea of the new operating system being the Internet itself. In that view, one can argue that many of the most important features of Microsoft's new operating system releases since Windows 95 have been designed to emulate Internet functionality originally created by open source developers. Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how this pans out.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Open Source Life

What happens when a bio-cracker unleashes a plant virus on all the wheat in North America, and the genetic code to "Wheat 2.0" is closed-source, patented code owned by a corporation? Should life be Open Source?
Lately there's been a lot of debate about the virtues and perils of genetically modified life. A few weeks ago, Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser lost an epic David vs. Goliath- legal battle against Monsanto, the maker of seeds with a patented gene. The court narrowly sided with Monsanto, which sued Schmeiser in 1997 after company agents found a patented gene in canola plants Schmeiser's farm. The farmer argued that the seed had blown into his field from a neighboring farm. One of the central issues to this case is whether a corporation (or other person) has the right to patent the blueprints to life. It's a highly controversial issue, and it ultimately touches on the meaning of life and the course of humanity through the centuries. I'm not a lawyer or biologist, but it may be interesting to compare this issue to what's going on in the software industry. There are some clear similarities between genetic code (the blueprint for lifeforms) and software code (the instructions that define a computer program). The Economist recently published an article on the subject. One could argue that the biggest difference between genetic code and software code is that one is biologically based and the other is based on logic. A few years ago, that argument might have held up, but the biotech and nanotech industries have really blurred the lines. Something could be both a computer and a life form. Perhaps the greatest remaining difference between genetic code and software code is the history of its ownership. Software code is a 20th century invention, while genetic code has surrounded us long before we knew it existed. Software code was freely shared between people until the late 1970's, when corporations discovered they could make money with a proprietary model. In that model, customers can purchase or license a binary product, but not the actual source code. Today, the balance of power is moving to "Open Source", an ownership system where people are forced to share in exchange for the benefits of higher quality software, and more freedom in general. More and more people are discovering that sharing just makes sense, especially when you get into issues of security and reliability. Genetic code has never really been owned. Or has it? Most people believe the universe didn't just pop out of nowhere; that there was/is some form of creator at a higher level or dimension. I happen to believe in God, but my point here is that something other than life created life; We did not create ourselves. Therefore, if genetic code is owned, we are not the owners. We didn't create the prior art. But it goes beyond strictly the ownership. It's clear that the genetic code to, say, an apple tree, has been explicitly shared with me and everyone on the planet. I can plant an apple tree, but it's unfair for me to restrict my neighbor from taking advantage of the same genetic code if a seed falls on his land. If I sell my apples, my customers are free to plant the seeds contained within each apple. I don't own the invention itself, but I'm free to make as many instances (trees) as I want, and I can't prevent others from doing the same. It's a lot like software's GPL license. So what happens when somebody takes that publically-owned (or God-owned, depending on your point of view) invention and patents it? Well, you can't do that in the software industry (not with GPL'd code, anyway). But isn't that exactly what the biotech companies are doing? They start off with publically-owned code, and use it as the basis for a proprietary product. In the early eighties, Richard Stallman started the Free Software Foundation, with the goal of preserving people's rights to use public software. The resulting licensing models were an improvement over the old "public domain" system, which didn't protect code from becoming locked up. If software licenses could be applied to life, I would argue that genetic code was really Open Source all along, not public domain. It originated (or originates) with a creation process, and that higher power explicitly wants the code to be shared among itself. Humans can use life to build proprietary objects, such as a wooden house, but we can't (or shouldn't be able to) build proprietary life itself. We don't own that kind of license. This isn't an argument for or against genetic modification. I'm simply suggesting that genetic modifications shouldn't bypass centuries-old freedoms. In the case of canola, farmers have been improving their seeds for centuries. Farmers always had the expectation that their improvements would remain free. They didn't have a framework for protecting that freedom, because they didn't need it. Today, their work continues to be "improved" upon, but the most important ingredient is missing: Freedom. There are some practical reasons why locking up genetic code can (and probably will) have disasterous consequences. To begin, consider the quality difference between open vs. closed source software. When you've got hundreds or thousands of programmers worldwide who have access to the source code, it tends to get better quickly. Bugs are noticed quickly and the repairs are made available to everyone, without reliance on a profit-motivated entity. Eric Raymond, a leading Open Source advocate, has outlined this phenomenon in his paper, The Cathedral and the Bazaar. When you think about all the computer viruses, worms, and the world's increasing reliance on computers, we should be happy (and, frankly, surprised) that none of these epidemics have done any real damage -- like deleting millions of users' data, shutting down the supply chain, or worse. Terrorists use the Internet too. In software, the silly thing is that practically all of humanity is relying on a single profit-driven corporation to fix their security holes. Should we really be putting global security in the hands of any software company? That's why Free/Open Source is better: Every single user is allowed and encouraged to improve the product, and everyone benefits from the improvements. The question becomes much scarier when applied to life: What happens when a bio-cracker unleashes a plant virus on all the wheat in North America, and the genetic code to "Wheat 2.0" is closed-source, patented code controlled by a corporation? When you think about genetic code as software, it's hard to understand why farmers would willingly subject themselves to the kind of vendor lock-in and licensing that has squelched innovation in the software industry for the past two decades. Maybe they're still in the honeymoon phase of this relationship, or maybe economic factors give them little choice. But the bigger issue is moral. I don't really care that half the software on my computer is proprietary. But for someone to lock up the genetic code to life is, in my opinion, crossing some kind of moral line. Can life be owned, copyrighted, or patented? Should it be Open Source? Maybe we should think about that.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

MS Innovation

Seattle Weekly has an interesting article about the innovation at Microsoft. I guess a lot of companies face similar issues once they reach a certain size.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Can I Help to Render Shrek 3?

Like many people, I enjoy donating my spare CPU cycles to volunteer projects like SETI@Home,, Folding@Home, and others. As satisfying as it is to watch radio signals being analyzed on my screensaver, I often wonder why nobody is doing commercial, consumer-oriented distributed computing. The idea really struck me this week as Shrek 2 was released. The amount of computing power required to render a movie like that is staggering. They've got rooms full of CPU's, and it takes hours to render a tiny clip of the film. But why spend all that time and money on rendering farms when there are millions of fans who'd jump at the opportunity to help render a real movie? All we'd be asking the movie studios for is a free movie pass once in awhile, and we'll give you 24/7 access to a mostly unused high-performance processor. Multiply that by millions of computers, and just imagine the rendering opportunities for Shrek 3! If that isn't a sweet enough deal, the movie companies could use the screensaver for advertising upcoming movies. If I happen to be rendering Shrek, I might actually see the detail being drawn in on my screensaver. Of course, I'd still be motivated to see the whole film, because my computer alone would only be able to render a few seconds at a time.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Finding Focus

After having ignored my blog for several days, I've been thinking about how to make it better. I've decided that I want my blog(s) to be genuinely useful to people who don't know me. In other words, this isn't going to be a chronology of my life; it's going to be a source of news and opinion on a topic (or topics) that happen to interest me. Eventually, there might be enough traffic on my blog to make it worthwhile to set up Google AdWords ads.

Monday, May 17, 2004

The Web in Times of War

During the previous war in Iraq, the WWW was just a cool experiment on Tim Berners Lee's desk. If you wanted to know about the Gulf War, you were pretty much limited to whatever the mass media was saying about it. Today, as I browse websites like and I began to wonder: has the WWW made any difference to the way people form their opinions about major conflicts? Is propaganda reduced because of the Web's ability to spread information at a grassroots level? Is the Web really a force for peace and democracy, or were we all kidding ourselves?

Monday, May 10, 2004

Metallica Sermon

My wife and I attend New Hope Church, just a few blocks from our house. The notion of "attending" church makes me cringe, as does using the word "church" to describe a place or building. Anyway, that's what I did yesterday morning. In a slight departure from a typical Sunday morning, the band started off by playing a few Metallica songs (quite well, I might add) -- Enter Sandman, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Nothing Else Matters, and one more. After the music, pastor John Van Sloten talked about heavy metal, anger, and how it relates to the world around us. Here's the sermon in streaming MP3: broadband dialup

First Post

I've decided to get into blogging. Welcome to my blog -- Download Aborted. I chose Google's Blogger because Google has proven time and again that they really "get" the web. PageRank, Blogger, GMail, Orkut, Local, AdWords/Sense -- what these services have in common is that they're truly networked applications. Eventually, I expect the combination of the new-gen network technologies to become much more than the sum of their parts. Google is one of the few companies that seems to really understand what the web is all about -- networks of people. My one concern at this point is, "who is my audience?" Surely my audience should affect what I write, or how I write. It's not a journal, because it isn't private. It's not a letter to family, because my colleagues might read it. Whatever it is, I'm going to give it a try. Now, on with blogging!