|Ken Novak's Weblog
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Ken Novak's Weblog
Friday, April 29, 2005
FT/James Boyle: Deconstructing stupidity
: Well written commentary on the "evidence-free zone" in which IP policy is made, both in the US and Europe. "If we don’t look at the evidence and we ignore the role of the public domain in fostering innovation, how can we possibly hope to make good policy?" Links to other useful articles. 8:23:18 AM
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Juan Cole on how others use Google News and the blogosphere to spread falsehoods and smear (or at least distract) opponents. 12:19:21 AM
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Humanitarian worker in Iraq says things have gotten worse: "This week, Rick McDowell of the American Friends Service Committee visited the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram to talk about his time in Iraq. McDowell and his wife, Mary Trotochaud, were part of an assessment team for a consortium of faith-based humanitarian agencies. .. McDowell's job had been to assess the conditions in Iraq and see how humanitarian resources were being used, as well as to work with new Iraqi non-governmental organizations and help with larger projects such as water sanitation.
What he saw wasn't good. "In the past two years, rather than seeing an improvement in services, (Iraqis are) seeing a continual decline in those services," McDowell said. That's gone hand in hand with a decline in security. ..
On one hand, people were thrilled that Saddam's regime was overthrown. On the other hand, McDowell said, "I don't know anybody that would tell you conditions are better. They are worse. Obviously, there were problems under the regime. But they could walk the streets. Their kids could go to school. They felt safe - as long as they didn't engage in politics." ..
[Iraqi security forces must be built up.] The other thing that should happen, he said, is the United States should clearly announce its intention to leave. McDowell was in Maine to request that Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe include an amendment to the Iraq supplemental appropriations bill that states the United States' intent to pull both its troops and its bases out of Iraq. "The reality is there will always be insurgents in Iraq as long as we have bases there," McDowell said. He's not asking to include a timeline in the statement - just to state intent. The president has already said America plans to withdraw troops, but McDowell said it's worth making the proclamation as well.
"That creates space, not only in Iraq, but in the region, and I think in the world," McDowell said. "It's saying that we do not have imperial designs."" 10:49:48 PM
Neoconning the Media: A Very Short History of Neoconservatism: Good summary by Eric Alterman. After reviewing the think tanks and media outlets, he concludes: "Despite the fact that the collapse of the Soviet Union had demonstrated just how fundamentally wrong had been their analysis of the relative power of both superpowers for most of their existence -- they, nevertheless, were the ones with actionable ideas lying around when it came time to find an appropriately macho-tinged response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. ..
They lost Communism but found terrorism and embraced the unashamed promotion of global empire. .. Their war on Iraq has proven a catastrophe by almost any available measure but they are already planning another adventure in Iran. Every few years, we read of some set of events that imply the "end of Neoconservatism." Don't believe the hype. It would be hard to imagine a more profound rebuke to their world view than the various events that have followed in the wake of the Iraqi invasion.
The United States is now less safe, poorer, more hated and more constrained in its ability to fight terrorism than it was before the tragic loss of blood and treasure the war has demanded. And yet the Neocons have admitted almost no mistakes and continue to be rewarded with plum posts in the Bush administration. What doesn't kill them just makes them stronger. In their example lies many lessons for liberals, alas." 10:00:25 PM
$100 computers are on the way: Interview with Advanced Micro Devices CEO Hector Ruiz. "The PIC was our first attempt to do something different. I think that will continue to morph into a new generation of products. We have a PIC 2 and a PIC 3 on the road map. All those products will improve the (computing) power and value, while at the same time lowering the cost.
Low-price computer design is meant to help provide Internet access to people in emerging markets. I don't think a $100 computer is out of the question in a three-year time frame. A lot of people forget that the first cell phones came out at $3,000 to $4,000 dollars and today are free. I think there's going to be some of that same kind of movement with computing and communications devices.
It's important for us to not lose sight of the segment that today doesn't have any products built for it. The trickle-down effect of desktops and laptops into that segment just doesn't work. I believe that we have an opportunity to use our x86 know-how and capability to really build products for that segment. That will be the PIC at the beginning, and there will be more. I think, within three years, it's not at all unreasonable to think of a $100 laptop for that segment. " 8:42:19 AM
Sunday, April 24, 2005
points to an interesting new programming language called Subtext
, with a cool 17-minute demo
, and quote my favorite professor
from my undergrad years in the process. "Alan Perlis
once said "a programming language that doesn't change the way you think about programming is not worth knowing"... Well, Subtext is not a programming language that you can use today to write your next blog with, but it made me think.'' Two key ideas: building a data structure rather than writing text, and thereby abandoning variables; and always executing code as it's written, like a spreadsheet, shortening the code/test/recode loop. 11:59:23 PM
Monday, April 18, 2005
Breakthrough Technology Accelerates Solid-State Lighting
: "Scientists at the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a method to get significantly more light from white LEDs (light-emitting diodes) without requiring more energy. ..
Commercially available white LEDs combine a light-emitting semiconductor with a phosphor, a rare earth compound, to produce visible white light. However, more than half of the light, or photons, produced by the phosphor is diverted back toward the LED where much of it is lost due to absorption. .. A research group, led by Dr. Narendran, developed a method to extract the backscattered photons by moving the phosphor away from the semiconductor and shaping the LED lens geometry. When combined, these changes allow the photons that would typically be absorbed inside the LED to escape as visible light. ..
Compared to commercial white LEDs, prototypes of the new "scattered photon extraction" (SPE) LED technology produced 30-60 percent more light output and luminous efficacy-light output (lumens) per watt of electricity. This means more visible light is produced without increasing energy consumption. Further research into the SPE technology could result in even higher levels of light output and greater luminous efficacy, according to Narendran.
The industry has set a target for white LEDs to reach 150 lumens per watt (lm/W) by the year 2012. The new SPE LEDs, under certain operating conditions, are able to achieve more than 80 lm/W, compared to today's typical compact fluorescent lamp at 60 lm/W and a typical incandescent lamp at 14 lm/W. " This is reportedly the first LED that is more efficient than a compact flourescent. 10:47:09 AM
Sunday, April 17, 2005
EU vs. USA: Thorough report from Sweden comparing the economies, with interesting results. "IF THE EU WERE A PART of the United States of America, would it belong to the richest or the poorest group of states? .. France, Italy and Germany have less per capita GDP than all but five of the states of the USA .. [Sweden], if it were a part of the USA, would rank as one of the very poorest states in that Union.. the American economy has been growing faster than the economies of many European countries in recent decades, not least those of countries like France, Germany and Sweden... This puts Europeans at a level of prosperity on par with states such as Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia. Only the miniscule country of Luxembourg has higher per capita GDP than the average state in the USA [and that is attributed to an influx of foreign capital]..
Per capita private consumption is far higher in the USA than in most European countries. In the USA the average person spends about $9,700 more on consumption annually, a difference of 77 per cent. The average American,
in other words, spends nearly twice as much (77 per cent more) on consumption as the average EU citizen. This is due to a higher level of GDP but also to taxation policy. Allowance for tax differences would reduce these big differences somewhat, but American consumption would still far outweigh its European counterpart."
Additional info found in an NYT article that constrasts these numbers with the common (faulty) perception of Scandinavian wealth. The biggest factor was the growth rates in the 1990s, with the US adding 2% more GDP every year than the EU. 11:22:45 PM
Mere mortals and great ideas: FT Review of the new book Democratizing Innovation. "[The book] argues that "users are the first to develop many, and perhaps most, new industrial and commercial products". This being so, competitive advantage might be expected to flow to manufacturers who systematically harvest this crop of ideas. For example, 3M, the industrial products group, has had programmes in place since 1996 to harness ideas generated by lead users. After crunching the numbers, von Hippel found that "lead-user-developed product concepts" at 3M were likely to be more novel, enjoy higher market share, have greater potential to develop into an entire product line and be more strategically important.
Mass-producing products developed by lead users is only one possible approach. Alternatives include selling toolkits with which customers can build their own creations, or developing products that complement user innovations.
This latter strategy is useful in circumstances where - to the consternation of economists - lead users give away their innovations. Thus the Linux operating system was developed by members of the open-source software community, many of whom are lead users of computing power. Since Linux is freely available, commercial software companies are unable to sell proprietary versions. Instead, they have responded with software and services that complement Linux.
The toolkits approach has been used by companies including International Flavors & Fragrances, which supplies customers with the tools to design their own food flavours.
These examples turn on its head the traditional division of labour between producer and consumer. .. This has profound implications not only for corporate management but also for public policy. If the goal of policy is to increase social welfare by encouraging innovation - and if user-generated innovation really is more successful than other types - then rules and regulations should encourage this activity. At issue here is patent law, legal constraints on product modification and tax breaks for research and development. Why should manufacturers get all the incentives when users do such valuable work? " 11:02:01 PM
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Folksologies: de-idealizing ontologies: Great short piece from MIT's Stefano Mazzocchi on folksonomies, ontologies, and how the semantic web can work to bridge the two. The philosophical intro is super. "categories are embodied, espression of humanity, not abstract metaphysical entities (Plato's ideas) that we aim to obtain. .. [Ontologies] are just contracts, a (more or less explicit) agreement between different parties. Language is a contract as well. So are categories. So is metadata. So are APIs, protocols, plug shapes and their voltage, meters.... you name it! Many make the mistake of associating an 'ontology' with Plato's metaphysical ideas..
The semantic web is a bad name for an attempt to make data interoperability scale at a web level. Ontology are a bad name to describe relationships between symbols. That's all there is, really.
Now, you use tags to categorize things for yourself, but instead of using a 'controlled vocabulary', taxonomy or ontology (depending on what field you come from, you will like to call them differently... which also is a metaproof of the point, but let's move on), you invent your own." He demonstrates how semantic web markup can distinguish terms that are identical with different meanings, and combine terms that are different with the same meaning. [Thanks for the tip, John] 11:05:12 PM
Enterprise software defined:
Excellent thread on how enterprise software is different. Includes excellent examples of very large databases, almost none of which use "enterprise database" products. 10:43:10 PM
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
5% of Google Visitors Offered Gmail
: Interesting comment on how Google is managing a rollout to maximize control and buzz: "According to this PCWorld.com
story, on a random basis, every twentieth visitor to www.google.com is being offered a Gmail account. It's an interesting phased roll-out that Google is using for their email service. First by invitation only. Then existing users, based on their own usage, got an incremental number of accounts to offer to friends, colleagues etc. Now this. It gives them the ability to scale in a controlled way and address issues with some control. It's also a clever PR mechanism to keep Gmail in the news. Rather than blowing an announcement all at once, they're trading on the industry's media focus on Google which means they get good coverage whatever and whenever they do it." 10:54:17 AM
SWERA assessment of wind and solar in 9 developing countries: "Thousands of megawatts of new renewable energy potential in Africa, Asia, South and Central America have been discovered by a pioneering project to map the solar and wind resource of 13 developing countries. [Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Cuba, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka] .. The Solar and Wind Energy Resource Assessment (SWERA), is proving that the potential for deploying solar panels and wind turbines in these countries is far greater than previously supposed. Since its beginning in 2001 and with substantial support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the US$9.3 million SWERA project has been developing a range of new information tools to stimulate renewable energy development, including detailed maps of wind and solar resources. [Examples:]
- In Nicaragua, for example, SWERA assessments of wind resources demonstrated a much greater potential than the 200 megawatts (MW) estimated in the 1980s. The results prompted the Nicaraguan National Assembly to pass the Decree on Promotion of Wind Energy of Nicaragua 2004 that gives wind generated electricity “first dispatch”, meaning it has the first priority over other options when fed into electricity grids. The US Trade and Development Agency and Inter-American Development Bank have subsequently launched [studies and investments]..
- In Guatemala, wind estimates before SWERA were mostly unknown, but are now estimated at 7000 megawatts, based on SWERA products. The Guatemala Ministry of Energy has established, with support from SWERA, the Centre for Renewable Energy and Investment ..
- In Sri Lanka, the SWERA assessment found a land wind power potential of about 26,000 MW representing more than ten times the country’s installed electrical capacity.
- While an initial assessment in Ghana, reveals more than 2,000 MW of wind energy potential, mainly along the border with Togo. In Africa, this is quite a significant amount, as by some estimates, the continent needs just 40,000 MW of electricity to power its industrialization."
This is a very cheap project -- under $1m per country -- and could significantly change the way developing countries acquire energy. 9:13:20 AM
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Cellular Internet relayed to Wi-Fi: "Enter a little green box, about the size of a videocassette, called the Junxion Box. It grabs a wireless cell connection and turns it into a Wi-Fi signal (it also outputs Ethernet). The result: instant high-speed network." Applications: trade shows; client visits by consulting teams; workers at construction sites; wifi access on public transport. Takes a PC card to adapt to different cell networks. Cost: about $600. 8:47:04 PM
Review: VMWare Workstation 5.0
: One feature I hadn't noticed before: "VMware moved memory-sharing technology from their high-end GSX and ESX products into this workstation release to make teams more feasible for typical developer workstations. With memory-sharing, if you're running, say, two copies of Windows XP with each one allocated 256MB of RAM, you're not likely to take up 512MB of physical RAM. That's because VMware knows what's on every RAM page, and it will only keep one copy of any page that's identical between the two virtual machines. If the two machines diverge for some reason, the page gets cloned and each VM gets its own copy at that point, but in the meantime your physical RAM is used much more sparingly" 4:17:56 PM
Monday, April 11, 2005
Solar Electricity in the Developing World from the Solar Electric Light Fund
: SELF is starting reconstruction projects. In India: "As the Tsunami emergency relief efforts begin to fade for the ravaged coastal villages along Indian Ocean, new sources of funding for the long term reconstruction and stabilization of home and community rebuilding are urgently needed. To help meet these challenges, and to specifically provide the critical renewable energy infrastructure component, SELF, RenewableEnergyAccess.com, and SELCO, have launched the Tsunami Solar Light Fund to serve the Tamil Nadu region along the southeastern coast of India. The initial project will fund 1,500 solar power systems for homes and 25 solar powered community street lights." And in Sri Lanka: "SELF and SELCO are teaming with the Rebuild Sri Lanka Solar Initiative, a program of the Rebuild Sri Lanka Trust, to bring immediate relief to the survivors of the Tsunami disaster. With your help, solar technology will be implemented to power hospitals -- enabling the use of lights, medical equipment, and refrigeration for vital medicines and vaccines, as well as for water pumping and purification systems, dramatically decreasing the risk of water-born illnesses and saving thousands of lives." 4:20:50 PM
ActiveGrid - Grid Application Server
: Interesting take on an application server with grid functions: "The ActiveGrid Grid Application Server is a next-generation application server designed to scale applications across horizontal grids of commodity computers. The ActiveGrid Grid Application Server is built on top of the open source LAMP stack. In contrast to traditional three-tier architectures, where statically defined applications are bound to a particular deployment architecture, the ActiveGrid Grid Application Server interprets applications at runtime and can deploy them using a variety of proven deployment models and multiple data caching patterns. .. The ActiveGrid Grid Application Server extends the open source LAMP stack with grid-aware features such as dynamic node registration, data caching, session management, transaction management and interface fragment caching. These features are implemented as an Apache Module and as libraries that run within ModPHP, ModPython, ModPerl and Tomcat. The ActiveGrid Grid Application Server interprets applications at runtime and can make decisions based on context, such as how to most appropriately cache a set of data across the grid, or how to render a form fragment for a particular type of client and user role." 10:46:23 AM
Thursday, April 07, 2005
How SMS Could Save Your Life: Cell phones are being used "to manage the treatment of HIV/AIDS in [South Africa] where health care systems are overburdened and doctors are scarce. ..
Therapeutic counselors fill a crucial gap at the Gugulethu clinic, where 525 patients taking ARV drugs are served by just two doctors and two nurses. They visit patients at home and count pills. They take note of conditions that interfere with treatment, such as the absence of food in the house. In short, they are the first line of defense against problems with side effects and drug resistance that can develop if treatment isn't managed properly. In the past, this job involved writing out the cumbersome details of each home visit by hand. But as the clinic data accumulated and the number of patients on treatment grew, the system became unmanageable..
They [now] use SMS to send all of this information to a central database, where Sister Mtwisha can instantly view it on her computer screen. With all of the relevant information compiled neatly in front of her, the irregularities stand out. .. "I used to pick up some faults in the system after a week or a month," she says. "Now I send a message and things are sorted out on the spot, without having to wait." ..
The system, which runs on open-source software, is inexpensive and can easily be managed remotely and adapted for various projects. ..
"If a patient in Gugulethu goes to the Eastern Cape and gets sick and goes to a clinic, they would need to know what drug regimen he's been on, what side effects he had, whether he was hospitalized," she says. "We need to get a system like an ATM where you can get money from every bank. We need something like that for HIV." The Cell-Life project, started by civil engineering faculty and students at the University of Cape Town and the Cape Technikon, has enlisted engineers and computer programmers to provide just that.
Meanwhile, a number of other clinics have expressed interest in using the system, but it has been difficult to raise funds to expand the program. Most donors would rather buy drugs than spend money on systems for distributing them, Rivett says. Instead of donating money, however, she maintains that large companies like Coca-Cola could make an even greater contribution by sharing their knowledge in areas like distribution and product management. "You find Coca-Cola in rural villages everywhere, but you don't find drugs," she says. "The Coca-Colas and the Unilevers can make sure their products get to these places. We need to use these guys to help us get drugs into every single clinic." 2:33:50 PM
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Nuclear Plants Are Still Vulnerable, Panel Says: "Three and a half years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the government has failed to address the risk that a passenger plane flying at high speed could be deliberately crashed into a commercial nuclear plant, setting off fires and dispersing large amounts of radiation, a long-awaited report by the National Academy of Sciences has concluded. .. the risk of major attacks could be sufficiently addressed by changing how spent fuel is stored in pools and by installing water sprays to control fires, said the academy's Kevin Crowley, the study coordinator. ..
"We do believe that the possibility of a successful attack using commercial aircraft is very small," [NRC spokesman Scott Burnell] said. It is impractical to ask commercial plants to defend against such attacks, Burnell concluded." How much does one 911 cost? As with chemical plants, this administration considers it "impractical" to impose any costs on the private sector, so nothing will be done. 11:57:50 PM
Google cuts appliance cost:
The Google Search Appliance is "a box containing both hardware and software .. The company cut to $2,995 from $4,995 the license price on the Google Mini -- a search appliance for small businesses that was released in January. That license includes one year of support and allows holders to search up to 100,000 documents versus 50,000 documents previously. .. Google's "licensing and other revenues" accounted for roughly 1 percent of the company's 2004 revenue of $3.19 billion" 9:51:41 PM
It's a Flat World, After All
: Tom Friedman, in a longer treatment of his awakening to globalization. Nice to see him realize the world does not revolve around the middle east. Key point: "we are now in the process of connecting all the knowledge pools in the world together. We've tasted some of the downsides of that in the way that Osama bin Laden has connected terrorist knowledge pools together through his Qaeda network, not to mention the work of teenage hackers spinning off more and more lethal computer viruses that affect us all. But the upside is that by connecting all these knowledge pools we are on the cusp of an incredible new era of innovation, an era that will be driven from left field and right field, from West and East and from North and South. Only 30 years ago, if you had a choice of being born a B student in Boston or a genius in Bangalore or Beijing, you probably would have chosen Boston, because a genius in Beijing or Bangalore could not really take advantage of his or her talent. They could not plug and play globally. Not anymore. [Now] you can innovate without having to emigrate. This is going to get interesting. We are about to see creative destruction on steroids. " 6:14:08 PM
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Monday, April 04, 2005
Patriot Act Changes to Be Proposed: "In addition to the provision on business records, critics are likely to focus on measures that loosened standards for secret intelligence warrants and on a permanent provision that allows delayed notification of searches -- known by critics as "sneak-and-peek warrants." In the latter case, the Justice Department released statistics yesterday showing that investigators have used such warrants 155 times since October 2001. ..
Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances [is] an ad hoc alliance that includes groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Conservative Union. The group was formed last month in an effort to seek changes in the Patriot Act." 10:39:23 PM
Sneaking and peeking: FBI admits secret searches of Mayfield's home:
"In a recent letter to Mayfield's attorneys, the Justice Department admitted that FBI agents conducted secret searches of Mayfield's house under a particularly Orwellian provision of the Patriot Act. .. Brandon Mayfield is the Portland attorney whose life became a screeching nightmare last year after he was jailed in connection with train bombings in Spain. He was released two weeks later after the FBI admitted that it had wrongly accused Mayfield of complicity. ..
During those searches, agents took 10 DNA samples preserved on cotton swabs and removed six cigarette butts for DNA analysis. They took 335 digital photographs of Mayfield's personal effects, his house and property. They inventoried his safe-deposit box. They seized a book that chronicled the history of al-Qaeda, two guns and material that agents say related "to U.S. weapons systems" but that Mayfield's attorneys say was a U.S. Army manual from Mayfield's time in the military. They seized three computer hard drives. They wiretapped his home.
If the Justice Department could so brazenly violate Mayfield's Fourth Amendment right to protection against "unreasonable searches and seizures," it can do the same to other citizens under the Patriot Act. In fact, it probably already has. ..
Mayfield's name was among 20 produced by a computerized fingerprint match, and he says he was singled out because he is a Muslim. .. The FBI did all this under the Patriot Act's "sneak and peek" provision. It allows federal investigators to search suspects' homes and businesses without informing them that the searches have taken place. It's one of several deeply flawed provisions of the Patriot Act that expire at the end of this year and that Congress should eliminate. " 10:33:09 PM
U3 - New USB memory/device standard: "U3 makes the promise of anywhere, anytime, any PC computing a reality. By combining the widely adopted storage capabilities of today’s UFDs (USB Flash Drives) with the ability to transport and run applications from a small UFD, U3 ensures truly personal and portable computing. The U3 standard enables developers to create easy to use applications that minimize the complexities of today’s digital life. From your own email folders to healthcare history to fully functional work applications, U3 makes everything available anywhere without having to access multiple devices or lug around a laptop."
Memorex, Kingston, and Verbatim have promised products: "Called a smart USB flash drive, these drives enable consumers to carry all of their personal computer settings, applications and data for use on any PC wherever they go. The new Verbatim smart Store ‘n’ Go USB flash drives will be availabe worldwide [in 2005]. .. The U3 platform includes three components. U3’s hardware specification gives manufacturers the core technology to build their smart USB flash drives. The U3 software developer kit includes sample code, a standard set of application programming interfaces (APIs), and thorough documentation. The U3 Launchpad is a friendly graphical user interface that is used to access and run applications."
This could improve the utility of internet cafes: users can keep an offline personalized environment and secure information store for a small purchase price. Many of today's UFDs play and record sound; with U3, they could rapidly download and upload voice mail at an internet cafe to extend VOIP services (e.g., in developing countries). The U3 could be added to an entertainment device, like an MP3 player, radio, game machine or camera, making the net cost per user negligible. 9:58:25 AM