Monday, December 15, 2008

Recycling Ourselves for Haute Coutere

When you're as handsome and self-assured as I am, you don't need to spend a lot of money on fancy clothes to look good; you look good in anything. That's why I haven't bought any new clothes in, approximately, forever. But with the economy in shambles, and fine clothing lines being hit especially hard, I felt it was time to do my part for the economy and buy some new clothes. Some FANCY new clothes.

"It's been so cold lately I'm thinking of getting a sweater," I told the salesman at the Neiman Marcus downtown, my first-ever visit to the store (nice place, with a real pianist). "This looks like a good sweater. How much?"

"It's marked down 40% to $649," he said. "It's Brunello Cucinelli."

I tried not to act nonplussed, "...oh, I thought it was cashmere..." but really I was in total shock. The sweater really did look like cashmere (which is a fancy name for wool, for my unsophisticated readers) but it turns out that it had been made out of some guy named Brunello Cucinelli.

"How about this one?" I asked, casually fingering a soft, velvety-smooth brown jacket.

"That one is Robert Graham."

Reflexively withdrawing my fingers I went quickly to the suits. "And this?"

"Good choice, sir. That is marked down to under $4000. That's Brioni."

I was starting to feel sick, but my distaste was mixed with a morbid fascination. "Do you really know who every one of these items of clothing come from?"

"Absolutely," he said. "I take clothing very seriously."

I'd heard that some clothing can be very expensive, but before my trip to Neiman Marcus I'd never understood why. It turns out that some people, after they die, are not buried or cremated or do not donate their remains to science. Some people are turned into clothing. Very expensive clothing. It's kind of touching, really.

So I'm changing my post-mortem wishes. Instead of my previous request, which was to have my body used for a realistic stunt in a Hollywood action picture (in the hopes of achieving immortality through celluloid), or, if that didn't work, to have my cremated ashes distributed in pepper shakers all across America, I now have a new wish. I'd like my remains to be turned into a suit, a really expensive suit. I want the salesman to learn my name. And when he sells it to some high-flying CEO who can afford it, and so really deserves it, I want him to say, "that's Brent Noorda you're wearing."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


After several months of introspection I’m still not sure why I acted the way I did—or, rather, why I failed to act—upon witnessing the following scene a few blocks from my home:

I stood by and watched as four male ducks had their way with one unwilling female. It was a gang rape. A clusterduck.

A fowl scene, indeed.

Why did I do nothing? How do I justify my inaction?

Did I feel outnumbered? Was I scared of a vicious pecking? Did I fail to act because they’re from a different neighborhood, or because they’re from a different socio-economic class (or is that socio-economic phylum)? Was I complacent because they’re migrants (who can pick my vegetables but are otherwise invisible to me)? Did I blame her for being so provocatively dressed, wearing nothing but feathers? Was I afraid of being laughed at if I’d said, “Hey, you, get down from that duck”?

I spoke to my psychiatrist about this, but he didn’t see a problem. He’s a quack.

Next week: Make way for bastard, raised-by-single-mother ducklings.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

$ H2O & IP

After much pondering over what are the greatest inventions of history, I’ve settled on these three: Money, Water, and Intellectual Property (a.k.a. $H2O&IP). These inventions blow my mind in their complexity, success, and in the hope they provide me for the potential of humanity.

There were many other truly amazing candidates I considered for greatest invention ever, such as the wheel, the screw, the electric grid, the scientific method, the transistor, or FedEx. But those all seem like things that any entity with intelligence would have come up with eventually. $H2O&IP, however, require not just an intelligent being but a whole society of intelligent beings acting together, seeing beyond short-term self interests, and fore-seeing how collaboration on something bigger then themselves can benefit all.

$ ~ Money:
    Money is not really worth anything, intrinsically, beyond whatever heat its paper incarnation may generate when burned. It’s “value” lies only in a group agreement (or “shared delusion” if you prefer) that it has value. Before the shared delusion called “money” was invented, you could only expect to barter what you immediately had for what your immediate neighbor immediately had, which was probably not much different than what you had. After money was invented, you could use tokens to trade for very different and specialized items near and far (both in space and time). I can only begin to understand what advances in society this one invention made possible; I’m sure that without money we’d all still be scratching out a mere subsistence.

    What makes money work is that we trust that the various I.O.U.s that represent “money” will be repaid by responsible and trustworthy parties. In the U.S., for example, the primary value of a dollar lies in a worldwide understanding that the U.S. federal government will generate a finite amount of dollars (and thus a fixed scarcity) and that it won’t lie about that amount.

H2O ~ Water:
    I know that humans did not invent the combination of one oxygen with two hydrogen atoms, that’s not what I mean by honoring the invention of water. What I honor is the invention of trenches, canals, reservoirs, treatment, recycling, and the rest of the infrastructure that leads to water being widely available to many many people all year round. In many cases we’ve reached an extreme where we can get water delivered directly to our own faucets and time of day or night, and it’s drinkable, and it’s very cheap.

    What makes this all possible is the foresight of many people who preceded me and many people I share my community with. The farmers upstream of me limit their water use so there’s some left for me, and those farmers trust those upstream of them to limit their own use, and they trust the state to maintain the reservoirs and dams. I trust my own and surrounding cities to manage the water treatment. I trust the great bulk of society not to poison my water. Future generations trust mean not to drain their aquifers.

    I just went to the sink, one of many in my house, and got a fresh drink. That’s amazing!

IP ~ Intellectual Property:
    I can create an idea and own it! This little blog posting, for example, is mine; I and only I get to decide what can be done with it. How did a society of individual self-interested automatons ever get so communally wise that it saw the benefit of protecting ideas and even the wispiest expression of those ideas?

    IP, which is a term for honoring one another’s creative process as much as we may honor each other’s possessions, has led to a richness and quality of things and non-things beyond whatever I would have imagined had someone come to me, centuries ago, with the notion that people’s ideas could be protected as property. Who was smart enough to foresee that, and how was the rest of society smart enough to see it too?

    There’s nothing easier to duplicate than another person’s creative output, be it a story, song, drawing, or device—so easy that there’s no way to enforce the honoring of these IP rules. And yet, we as a society have agreed to respect the wishes of the creators. We have agreed that the world can be trusted with our ideas.

What these inventions have in common, beyond the incredible foresight and intelligence that was necessary to come up with them in the first place, is trust. Without a fundamental trust in our societies, governments, and basic institutions—without a fundamental trust in each other—these inventions could not exist.

Today I give thanks, and what I’m thankful for today is that I belong to a humanity that had both the intelligence and trust to invent $H2O&IP. Mostly I’m thankful for the trust of my fellow humans.

Sometimes it is hard to feel as good about society. Sometimes the basic trust falls apart, which you can follow in stages through the loss of these greatest inventions. First comes the loss of IP (if the society had advanced to that stage at all). Then comes the breaking down of the water supply. Then comes the collapse of the monetary system (usually through astounding inflation and eventual worthlessness of the currency). We can find examples all over the world of countries, including my own, in various stages of this decline. These are signs of how much the people in that society have lost their basic trust of each other.

We, as a species and as a society, invented $H20&IP, so I remain hopeful we won’t lose them.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Photo Fun with The Biggest Loster

In Hawai'i we got a behind-the-scenes tour of filming locations for the Lost TV show (thank you very much for the gift, Lady De'an'na). We learned a lot about the show, such as how they turn the same small clay hill into numerous different locales of the island, and how it takes at least 300 people full time to keep it all going.

It was lots of funny seeing hatches, houses, the submarine, and so on. But it wasn't so much fun running into Hurley. It was pathetic, really. He's lowered himself to charging loser tourists $10 a shot to get their picture taken next to him on his "golf course". Here we are with him:

According to our tour guide, Hurley has acquired a terrible cocaine & melange addiction (commonly known among the crew as "Hurley's Spice"), now he owes everybody money, and has taken to whoring himself out to tourists.

We wanted another picture with him, but Hurley wouldn't do it unless we paid another $10, so we took a picture from far away when he wasn't paying attention. From that distance Hurley looked really small, so Amy pretended to be kissing him like he was a little chubby doll.

It's funny what you can do with camera tricks.

We ran into Locke too, who, it turns out, is also addicted to "Hurley's Spice". He whores himself out by telling the Lost secrets to anyone for $100. We paid our hundred, and here's what we got (BIG BIG SPOILER ALERT): "They're all in a virtual reality video game called 'Lost in Thought', sort of like Second Life but much more realistic, very very expensive to join (because you're paying not just to play but to disappear or be disappeared and to resolve your unresolved real-life problems), and kind of dangerous too because before entering the game they play with your memories: removing some and adding others."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Plastic? Oh no. Banned!

On this, the 40th anniversary of what has come to be known as the “Fantastic No-Plastic Friday the Fourteenth” movement, it’s time to remember where it all began.

Like most significant social trends, the “Fantastic No-Plastic Friday the Fourteenth” movement was started by John Lennon. Ringo walked in to a session with water in a plastic battle, something the fab four had never seen before. “It’s amazing”, said Paul. “Om”, said George. But John was furious, “I expressed my feelings on the matter last year with my tirade against plasticine porters with looking-glass ties. Was that not clear enough for your little minds? Alas, lads, here you are with water in a plastic bottle just to mock me. We’ve got to break up the band, I mean it this time.”

“But it’s just a little bottle,” pleaded Ringo. “I get thirsty on me drums.”

The blood rushed to John Lennon’s face as he stomped his feet, yelled, and started a movement: “Plastic? Oh no. Banned!”

It’s been forty years. The movement’s name has changed, and the goal has lessened from an outright ban to the occasional Friday ban, but John’s legacy remains. If John Lennon were alive today, I’m sure he’d be breathing.

Remember, it’s FNPF14 today, so reject any single-use disposable plastic items. Here’s an interesting slideshow to remind us why:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

in the shaggy white dog house

O: Brent, is this you?

N: Baracko, buddy, glad to hear back from you.

O: Sorry, my man. I’ve been so busy.

N: I understand. You’ve got an administration to put together. Don’t worry about it.

O: No, really. I’ve been very rude. I didn’t even thank you for writing that presidential endorsement. That endorsement really helped us win the election.

N: Aw shucks. You would’ve won within my little endorsement.

O: Maybe, but it wouldn’t have been a landslide. And for that I thank you.

N: It was nothing, seriously. Don’t mention it again.

O: I won’t. But more important, I’ve got to thank you for the helping with the press conference last week. That “mutt” crack you gave me was a good one, and you were right, the press loved it.

N: and you thought it might be in bad taste.

O: I won’t doubt your advice again, buddy, which is why I’m calling you now. There’s another press conference coming up to cover the economic changes and new appointments…

N: you want to nominate me for a cabinet position? Gosh. In all unabashed and undeserving humility I acc…

O: No no no no no, that’s not it. I’m worried another dog question will come up and, you know me, I'm no good with the dog stuff. But you, you're great with dog humor, like a dog whisperer but with jokes... like the dog tickler or something.

N: You need another dog joke?

O: No, I made up my own joke this time, but I need to know if it’s any good or maybe if it’s offensive. First, you need to set me up. Pretend you’re the press asking a dog question.

N: OK. Baracko, Um… I mean: Mr. President Elect (it sounds funny to call you that), have you decided on a first puppy?

O: Good question. Yes, we’ve decided on a female alaskan husky. We’ve made this decision for two reasons. One, it’s a hypoallergenic breed and so won’t aggravate Malia’s allergies. And two…

N: (…oh no…)

O: Reason number two why we're getting a female alaskan husky is… wait for it…

N: (… oh no…)

O: The second reason is that 46% of the American public has already voted that they want an Alaskan bitch in the white house.

N: oh. no. you di'nt.

Monday, November 3, 2008

John McCain for President

We at BNB heartily endorse John McCain for U.S. President, 2000.

Any Republicans reading this blog before the primaries eight years ago, go to the polls now and do your civic duty.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Brent Noorda’s Blog Assoc. Editorial Staff Endorse Barack Obama

After months of internal debate, interviewing candidates, and soul searching, the editorial staff of BLB have decided to bestow our coveted presidential endorsement: we endorse Barack Obama.

It’s been painful watching two good men, McCain and Obama, whore themselves for so long, taking whatever position their customers ask for and pretending to like it. There is seldom any other path to the top office; we reluctantly accept that. We have not endorsed either candidate yet because we’ve been waiting for one shining moment of truth from either side, for either candidate to say something like: “my plan will do nothing to prevent your grandchildren from living in a debt-ridden bankrupt country, where their only hope for employment will be as a field worker picking rice to ship to their Chinese mortgage-holding overlords—and, by the way, there is no god” but it’s less than a week until the election and we’ll wait for truth no longer.

These are our reasons for endorsing Obama:
  • Obama is smart. I mean, really really smart. If he could only turn his smart, intricate, consider-all-sides thinking into mind-numbingly trite sound bites his brain would be perfect.
  • McCain has become a total whack-job. Eight years ago, had he been the Republican’s candidate then, we would have praised him for his “straight-talk” and his blend of conservative ideals mixed with across-the-aisle pragmatism. What happened?
  • Sarah Palin. WTF!!!
  • Obama is running 4 years too early. McCain is running 8 years too late. 4 years off the mark is better than 8.
  • Obama has run the tightest campaign imaginable—the Obama machine has run circles around his opponents’. If Obama can run a country like he ran his campaign then we have hope that seemingly insurmountable problems (e.g., energy, global warming, health, loss of both liberty and justice, Us Weekly’s “Just Like Us” page) could be solved within a decade.
  • McCain’s head is going to explode at some moment during the next four years; you just know it when you watch him in those debates. The explosion will probably happen on live TV and we don’t want to see that.
  • We prefer Obama’s form of socialism to McCain’s. They’re both offering socialism and unfunded state welfare, but McCain’s socialism benefits primarily the super-wealthy, while Obama’s benefits the merely-wealthy.
  • These many wars must end. They'll never be “won”. McCain will never end a war that wasn't won.
  • Obama offers hope. McCain offers fear. Fear is stronger. We prefer hope.
If all qualifications were equal, we would have chosen McCain because the color of McCain’s skin is closer to that of the editorial staff here at BNB. Someone with a light skin color, like ours, is more likely to understand our need to keep the darker-skinned Americans in jail and out of the good schools and good jobs. But the two candidates’ qualifications are far from equal.

We’ll vote for Obama. You should vote for him, too.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Everything I know about the economy, I learned in 4th grade

When I was 10 our teacher started the "classbucks" monetary system. We could earn classbucks by doing extra work, taking out trash, clapping erasers, etc... Every week we could buy items (e.g., snacks, red rubber erasers) with our classbucks. We were learning about capitalism.

Being entrepreneurial, I found a very large cardboard box, cut out a cardboard door, wrote "Bank" in large letters on the box, and went into the business of high finance. Teacher thought this was great extra credit so she supported me all the way. Anyone who stored their classbucks with the Bank of Brent would receive interest payments at the end of each week, and I received extra classbucks as payment for all the valuable work I was doing.

At one point I did worry that people might break into my bank and steal all the money (especially that mean bully Karl Gilbert), so I added a giant padlock on the cardboard door. Karl Gilbert wasn't strong enought to break the padlock, but he was almost clever enough to bypass the padlock and just tip the box over, and so Teacher helped out with an extra guarantee: if anyone stole the money she would replace it all.

As I got older I looked bank on that bank as childish silliness. There was no real reason anyone should have earned interest, or that the money should be guaranteed. The basis for our whole economy was that Teacher was the only one with access to the mimeograph machine on which our money was printed. By the time I was 12 I realized that the fundamentals of our classbuck economy had not been sound; it was totally artificial and did not represent the real world at all.

But now that I’m 46 I can see that Teacher did model our economy accurately; any 10-year-old could see that.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Save Google

Google's stock is down 50%. This cannot stand!

I have friends at Google on whom I rely for free meals. Do you think their gourmet soup kitchen will continue if their stock keeps dropping? Do you want me to starve or, worse, go back to crashing Oracle's subsidized barely-gourmet cafeterias?

And also too, I'm not getting any younger. I'm relying on my Google friends to cash-out with tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each; so much that they'll take turns letting me hang out in their various guest houses and French Chateaus in my twilight years.

We simply must save Google. Save it fast and save it hard.

By most estimates, Google makes over 100% of their revenue from search. So this is what you gotta do: Search. Then search some more. Then search again. Search, search, search.

My friends, if we all commit ourselves to redoubling our search efforts, we can bail Google out of this crisis. Thanks, and God bless.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The No-Better-Than-Brent-Noorda-Olympics

By now you’ve probably noticed that I didn’t make it into the Olympics this year--again. I never make it. The U.S.O.C. has this policy that only best and fastest are allowed onto our country’s team; it’s very discriminatory and beneath the ideals this country was founded on.

I’ve tried to get into alternative Olympic events, but find myself discriminated against at every turn. I’m too normal for the special Olympics, too straight for the Gay Games, too samely-enabled for the Paralympics, to goy for the Maccabiah Games, too Cauc for the Asian Games, and too sexy for my shirt.

Even if I could get into any of those events, they only give out medals to the best and the fastest. What chance do I stand with policies like that?

So today I announce the No-Better-Than-Brent-Noorda-Olympics. This will be an athletic event celebrating human physical achievement (up to a point). Unlike those other discriminatory events it will be open to anyone, of any race, creed, gender, IQ, or number of limbs, so long as they are not better than me.

You don’t have to be worse than me, because then there’d be no real competition and the television audience would tune out. You’re even allowed to be as good as me, just no better.

To enter the track events you must run a mile in no less than 8 minutes, jump no higher than my couch, and jump no farther than that puddle that forms at then end of our driveway when it rains. If you start to get dizzy after five or fewer somersaults, then you’re welcome to enter the gymnastic events. If you haven’t figured out that fancy/twisty swimmer turn yet, then welcome to the swimming events. If you’re a hot chick with a teeny tiny bikini, then you can join the beach volleyball event no matter how good you are.

Let the games begin!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

It’s not a tragic loss of life, it’s an opportunity.

From: George Bush (POTUS)
To: Hu Jinato (POPRC)
RE: Job recommendations
(before translation)

    Dear Hu, I’m so sorry to hear about the recent earthquake in your country. Such loss of life, on your watch, is a terrible tragedy. From one president to another, you have my sympathies.

    As I always say, when life gives you lemons, throw a lemon party. This earthquake may be the best thing that ever happened to you.

    Thanks to this earthquake and the swift action of your government, China now has garnered the goodwill of the entire world. You now have the opportunity, if you act swiftly, to turn that goodwill into support for whatever actions you choose. I have a couple of friends, currently looking for a good job opportunity, who could help you cash in that worldwide goodwill. Their names are Karl Rove and Donald Rumsfeld; they’re real good people.

    Q: What will Karl and Don do for you?
    A: Whatever you want.

    For one example, just off the top of my head, consider Taiwan. I know that little island has been a thorn in your side for the longest time. Let the K&D team lose and, before you know it, you’ll have truckloads of evidence showing that Taiwan was behind that earthquake, and if not behind that one they at least have the means and will to develop more earthquakes if not stopped now. To quote a great man (myself): You will not have asked for this challenge, but you accept it. Your only course of action will be to invade.

    Or maybe you’d prefer they get rid of that pesky Dalai Lama. Whatever.

    Shall I tell Don and Karl to fly in for their new job now, or would you like to conduct a phone interview first?

(after translation)



Saturday, May 24, 2008

Clinton talk behind closed doors

"We’ve got to keep going Bill. I’m almost there. Almost there. Almost there."

"Hillary, honey, don’t you think this has gone on long enough."

"Just a little longer Bill. We’re almost there."

"Hillary, darling, maybe it’s time to accept that it’s just not going to happen for you this time."

"Oh no, Bill, you are not going to give up on me. It’s my turn. You’ve had yours, Bill. Did I not do everything for you when it was your turn?"

"Yes you did, honey. But, really, dear, this has been going on so long. I’m tired."

"Tit for tat, Bill, that’s what you always told me, tit for tat. Don’t you understand: It’s. My. Turn."

"Hillary, just because it happened for me..."

"Twice, Bill! It happened for you twice!"

"...yes, twice..."

"Twice! Thanks in no small part to my hard work. I went around the world for you and more."

"And I thank you for that, Hil, I reeeeally do. But just because it happened for me, twice, doesn’t mean it has to happen for you. At least not this time."

"What, Bill, you want me to quit? Quit now, when we’ve worked so hard, and it’s my turn, and I’m so close?"

"You’ve been saying that for a long time now, Hillary."

"I know. I’m sorry. You’re right; it’s not going to happen for me. It was so easy for you, but I’m a failure, I’m, I’m… oh, now I’m crying. I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault."

"Don’t cry, Hillary. Don’t blame yourself. Blame me. Blame me for losing my election."

"What was that, Bill? Did you hear what you just said? You said 'losing my election.'"

"No I didn't. You must have mis-heard."

"Honestly, Bill, that’s what you said: 'losing my election'."

"Oh, that’s funny. Ha ha. I must have elections on the brain. I meant 'sorry for losing my erection.' It was a slip of the tongue."

"A slip of the tongue is not such a bad idea right now, Bill, if you know what I mean… and I think you do. A little tongue action will get me that orgasm we’ve been working all night for. Yes, slip your tongue right in there, yeah big guy, yeah, oh, yes, oh, yes, oh yes, I’m going all the way this time, oh, oh, oh..."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tim O’Reilly, in want of a new business model, and a chaser

In the world of computer publications, open source, and conferences, Tim O’Reilly is Mr. Big. If you want to know about some computer language or product, especially open source, you’ll probably learn it from an O’Reilly publication. If you’re going to conferences to meet your geeky comrades, it’s likely an O’Reilly conference. The guy’s a celebrity in geek land, and I got to meet him. He was drunk.

There’s a relatively cheap little bar near the Caltrain terminal in San Francisco. The bar is conveniently located for people, like me, who have missed their train and have a little time to wait for the next one. I sat at the bar, ordered my favorite brand (“whatever you have on tap”) and looked through the pile of JavaOne literature I’d picked up that afternoon, until I noticed him.

There he was! Tim O’Reilly himself. I watched him for a few minutes, getting up my nerve to go talk. He was just a few stools from me, with a pile of 8-12 x 11 papers on one side, a loose pyramid of balled-up papers on the other, and a line of four shot glasses in front. He would look at one of the flat pages for a few seconds, shake his head, crumple the page, and add it to the balled-up pile, which soon starting spilling onto the floor. I heard him order “another whiskey and a chaser” and saw the bartender pour him a shot of Jameson’s and a shot of Jack Daniel’s, which he drank in quick succession.

“Aren’t you Tim O’Reilly,” I said as I took the stool next to him.

“Hmmm? Uh? Oh, yeah, that’s me. Pleased to meet you.” He barely glanced my way.

“Jameson’s and a Jack Daniel’s chaser,” I told the Bartender. The butterflies were going crazy in my stomach and I wanted something to mellow them out. The bartender looked at me like I was a nut, but poured my shots, which I drank in a quick one-two, just like Tim O’Reilly had done. Whoah! The butterflies started a revolt up my throat, but it didn’t last long and I managed to keep it all down.

“Mr. O’Reilly, sir?”

“Huh? Oh. Call me Tim.”

“Tim, do you mind if I tell you about an article I’d like to write for your Make magazine, and an accompanying book for O’Reilly Media?”

“Want to talk shop, huh? OK. I’ll hear your idea, but there better be lots of pictures. Ha ha ha!” He laughed real hard at his own joke, so I laughed too, without knowing why.

“Well, Tim, the idea is for a video-conferencing system created with just a standard cell-phone, a half-reflective mirror, a white sheet, some simple cabling, and a bundling of open-source software. In your Make magazine we could publish instruction for putting the whole thing together. The software part is kind of complicated (software being what it is) and so that’s the reason we’d want to also publish an O’Reilly book describing how to use and tweak the system. I’ve got it all figured out except for which animal should appear on the book cover.”

“Video conferencing. Humph.” I clearly had not impressed him.

“Yeah, it would be great. For the first time there would be a cheap video conferencing system that just about anyone could use. Teams could use it. Families could use it. Your keynote speeches could be filmed in your living room and shown simultaneously to anyone anywhere in the world.”

“Holy shit, man, you want to make it cheap and easy to do conferencing?”

“Yes! Think how much money people and companies will save from flying around just to talk. If done right, I think remote conferencing could even replace things like the JavaOne conference down the street.”

As he looked at me his eyes were not steady in their sockets. I didn’t know if it was the six or eight shots he’d had, or the excitement of my proposal. After ten seconds he spoke. “I need conferences. O’Reilly Media, and all its employees, need conferences. That’s how we make our money, support our families, feed our kids, with conferences.”

“Oh, this wouldn’t replace all conferences. There’s still room for the well-done, large, professional shows, like the ones you put on.”

“Ah, fuck it! Who am I kidding? We can’t make money on shows any more. Everyone is cutting expenses, which means they don’t send their people to our conferences. Even if they wanted to come, the price of travel is far too high. I’m not even sure it’s ethical to expect people to fly anymore. So, fuck it! I’m ready to give up on shows.”

“Give up on shows?! Tim, I was at your Maker Faire this month and it was huge! HUGE!”

“Yep, about 80,000 people, by my estimation.”

“Right. Huge. We bought tickets for something like $25, so you must have pulled in… uh… 25 times 80,000 is, um… huge! How can you give up on shows?”

“80,000 people came, that’s true. But do you know how many tickets we sold? Legitimate tickets? For every legitimate ticket we sold, four people came in with counterfeits. Some group named TickeShare Bay has been making machines that let people duplicate concert tickets. I even let TicketShare Bay have a booth at the Maker Faire last year. I had no idea their machines weren’t just for concert tickets, but would also work on tickets for O’Reilly events. All our shows are like that now, overrun by counterfeiters. The legitimate tickets weren’t even enough to cover insurance—you have any idea how much it costs to insure a show full of do-it-yourselfers creating machines to shoot, blow up, laze, and breath fire?”

“Oh, man. I had no idea. I feel terrible.”

“Don’t worry, buddy,” he told me. “It’s not your fault.”

“Uh… Well… um… yeah… not my fault.” I suddenly felt really bad for the guy. “Cheer up, Tim. Conferences may not be going so well, but you still have your book empire. I buy lots of your books; all the programmers do. If you want to use linux, or ruby, or java, or apache, or any of the open source software, you have to buy an O’Reilly book to really understand it. You know what they say: The only one getting rich from open source is Tim O’Reilly. Ha ha ha.”

He wasn’t laughing. “It used to be that way. Back in the day we could have some guy hack out a buggy piece of code, give it away free, write a book on how to use it, and we’d both make a bundle from selling the book. But that’s all changed. Soon after we published our book on ‘Open Source Publishing’ our own book sales plummeted. Now each time we publish a book, our first sale usually goes to someone in India or Honduras, and the next day the market is flooded with an identical book cheaper or online and free (with embedded advertising).”

“Dude, that’s terrible. I saw lots of O’Reilly books at the JavaOne conference. Were they…”

“Counterfeit. All of them. Hell, Scribd will do it for free right here in San Francisco.”

“Oh man! That sucks. If you can’t make money from conferences or books anymore, what are you going to do?”

“We’ll keep innovating, of course! If the old business model doesn’t work, we’ll try a new one, that’s what I’ve always said!” He said this with bravado, but I don’t think his heart was in it. “We have a couple of plans. We’ve tried lawsuits.”

“Good idea. Sue the bastards who copy your books.”

“No, not them. They don’t have any money. We’re going to sue Google, that’s where the money is. We caught Google using the term ‘Web 2.0’. That term is ours, we own it. See, I’ve always said that software should be open and shared, but not trite, meaningless terms like ‘Web 2.0’. Pretty soon, if the lawsuit works well, we’ll own Google.”

“And if the lawsuit doesn’t work?”

“Then on to plan B: Advertising! Instead of publishing we’ll get into the advertising business.”

“Oh,” I said. “The books will be free but will contain ads?”

“No. The books themselves will be ads, and the books’ writers (a.k.a. ‘advertisers’) will pay us to publish them. So it won’t matter that our books are duplicated, because the advertising will still get out there. We recently tested this out with a book called ‘Subject to Change’. The whole book is an advertisement for Adaptive Path. So far it’s working out great.”

“Congratulations, Mr. O’Reilly. You’ve innovated yourself out of a problem. Another round?”

We had our next round. And Tim O’Reilly really started to look more upbeat, but only for a little while. When he returned to looking at his pile of papers, a sick feeling overcame his face.

He said, “Books-as-advertising is only a short-term solution. People are starting to catch on and I miss publishing real content. So I put my best tech guys into finding a solution to our book duplication problem. Here," he slammed his hand on the pile of papers he’d been reading and crumpling, "is the solution!"

I looked at the top page. I squinted. I tilted my head and looked from different angles. “I don’t understand.” I said. “What is it?”

“It’s brilliant, is what it is. At least that’s what my tech guys tell me. Our problem has been that it’s too easy for the ‘open publishers’ to scan our books and to use the OCR algorithms to copy them (algorithms we published, by the way, in our best-selling ‘Open OCR’). But this problem has been solved on web pages, right? Right? Have you ever tried to create an account on a web page but first you need to type in the weird-looking text in the box.”

“Right,” I said. “CAPTCHAS. People can figure out the distorted text, but computer algorithms cannot.”

“Exactly!” he shouted, pounding his hand again on the pile of pages. He was trying to sound convinced, but he sure didn’t look it. Really, he was looking a little sick about the whole matter. “Look at this book here? This book will be our next O’Reilly publication. No OCR machine will ever copy that,” he said as he handed me the page on top.

I honestly could not figure out what the hell he was showing me. “Maybe it’s too dark in here for me to read it,” I said. “Let me take it somewhere where there’s more light.”

So I took the page into the restroom, where there was more light, and there I figured it out. It was a copyedit page for a book, much like any other book, but every word was in a different CAPTCHA form. I labored through a few sentences, barely making out something about “enterprises” and “open source movement” and “linux” and “venture capitalists” but it was damn hard. Here’s a picture I took with my iPhone. You might thing the picture just came out bad, but no, it really looked like this:

Just then Tim O’Reilly came rushing into the restroom in time to spew vomit against the urinal. He grabbed the CAPTCHA page out of my hand and used it to wipe his face. (Not a pleasant site.) As he crumpled the page and threw it into the trashcan, he said “at least that book will be good for something.” And he laughed. And then I laughed too.

I left Tim O’Reilly behind in the restroom to wash up. I paid the bartender for all the drinks, both mine and O’Reilly’s, and left just in time to catch my train.

I’m really thankful to have met Mr. Tim O’Reilly in person. Not only is he is a great and brilliant man who is fun to drink with, but also our encounter gave me an idea for something new and challenging to work on—I’m always on the lookout for new software business ideas.

On the train ride home I worked up an algorithm for decrypting obfuscated text.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

On never dining alone

Over the past 35 years there has been a major shift in most parts of the world, where we now have more people dying from obesity-related diseases than from hunger.

Over the same period, the cost of soylent green has dropped three-fold while the product itself has become much more succulent.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Requiem for a pterygium

Halloween is going to be different this year. In years past when kids would come to the door to threaten us in to giving them candy (saying something on the order of “nice house, I’d hate for something to happen to it”) I would poke my face out, eyeball first, and give them a flash of my pterygium (a.k.a. eyeball jelly growth thing).

Kids were usually not ready for my jelly, so they’d run away leaving me at peace, sometimes even dropping their candy.
    Note from the human decency department at BNB, Inc.: The following paragraph contains links to videos. Don’t click on those links. In the interest of retaining your most-recent meal, DO NOT view those videos. DO NOT. Should you at any time feel the irresistible urge to click a video link choose instead this delightful random video of a cute puppy. You’ve been warned.
But, alas, the pterygium had grown to the point where it was obstructing my vision. So Amy scheduled me for surgery to remove the pterygium and, on the surgeon’s advice, to additionally have a bit of skin removed from one part of that eyeball and grafted to where the jelly-thing started, to prevent it from growing back. I didn’t film my own surgery, but you can see videos of other pterygium surgeries here, here, here, and a whole bunch of them here.
    Second note from BNB Department of Human Decency: You didn't click on the videos did you? You did? Quick, watch puppies, that's the only cure.
Those surgery videos are taken from a different perspective than what I saw. I had an extremely close-up view of the whole thing because I was inside my head looking out. It didn’t hurt much since they’d shot up my entire eye region with lots of painkillers. Before the operation they gave me an IV of about an hours’ worth of anti-anxiety drugs, but the operation ran a little long so for the last twenty minutes or so I wasn’t feeling quite so comfortable and was appreciating my front-row view less and less.

Because I hadn’t been allowed to eat all day, I was very excited that when Amy picked me up she brought a chocolate éclair and a giant burrito.

The surgery was over with. I had lots of yummy food. I looked forward to hanging out with Amy and doing nothing. I was wearing an eye patch and shouting piratey “yarrs” as I ate the burrito. All was well.

And then the painkillers wore off. Oh. My. God. The painkillers wore off!!! The extra-strength Tylenol they recommended did nothing. A leftover vicodin from my last surgery didn’t touch the pain. A second vicodin did nothing. Even pacing, sitting, standing, turning the radio on, turning it off, laying in bed, pacing more, rocking, and grumbling “fuck fuck fuck” did nothing to ease the pain. I became convinced that the surgeon had left a scalpel in my eyeball (even as I was quite sure there had been no actual scalpels used in the surgery). It fucking hurt, get it?!!

So Amy drove me back to the hospital, to the emergency room this time. She tells me that check-in was very quick (because I was still wearing my wrist badge from the operation a few hours early and my paperwork was all still there) but to me it seemed to take forever, and the pain kept getting worse. At one point I learned that “climbing the walls” is not just an idiom, because that’s what I tried to do.

Then a guy took off my eye patch and put in a drop that in one instant stopped all pain. A miracle. Hallelujah! For twenty minutes of pure unadulterated bliss, no pain whatsoever. No feeling can be better than a cessation of pain. Then after twenty minutes the pain quickly returned. “I need another drop of that magic elixir,” I said. “No,” he said, “that stuff will keep your eye from healing.” “Don’t do this to me, man” I said, “I’m jonesing for another drop here,” I said, starting to shake a little like an instant junky, “I gotta have a drop, just one drop.”

They gave me morphine, then some more morphine, but that wasn’t doing much to ease the pain one gets when a part of the eyeball has become raw from having the skin removed, and keeps rubbing against the inside of the eyelid.

At that moment someone in a nearby room had their heart stop, or stopped breathing or something, which was fortunate (for me) because it distracted all the doctors and nurses long enough for Amy to sneak me another drop of magic eyeball pain remover. Thanks, Amy! They weren’t happy to know I’d snuck another drop (“it won’t heal, blah blah blah”), but I didn’t care because by then I was more interested in throwing up my éclair and giant burrito into the nearest receptacle. Morphine isn’t a fan of big meals, I guess.

About this time, as I was ejecting carne asade con frijoles, I had a moment of clarity and realized something. All of the certificates on the wall showed that these doctors had received their degrees from the Guantanamo Bay school of medicine. They weren’t interested in healing me so much as in devising a better torture technique, now that water boarding is frowned upon. I must admit, the technique of removing some skin from the eyeball, countered with the miraculous painkilling eye drop, gives them a good-cop/bad-cop torturing tool that would break anyone. It broke me, anyway, and I told them some things I’m not proud of. Sigh….

We switched from morphine to dilaudid, which worked a little better. I started to tell them I didn’t need to stay at the hospital any lon…. then I threw up some more… then I completed the statement that I was OK and could go him with my tube of dilaudids. I got outside the hospital doors just in time to throw up some more in the parking lot, and then to within a block of home before Amy let me out of the car so I could throw up some more. I’d like to tell you that some of our fancy-pants neighbors saw me then and shouted out there windows “we don’t want no drunks ‘round here” and I yelled back “I’m no alcoholic, it’s opium” but that didn’t happen.

Within a couple of days I was feeling a lot better, and could walk around and do semi-regular stuff, so long as I didn’t move my eyeballs around too much and stayed away from too much light. In fact, as this picture shows, I was looking quite debonair.

Now, a few weeks later, I’m quite all right, the stitches have been removed, and I’m feeling good enough to write it all down, along with a beautiful new poem:
    Requiem for a pterygium

    Goodbye, jelly thing
    You made the old men cringe
    And the young girls cry
Finally, for the sake of my conscience, I must come clean about something. During the torture session they extracted confidential information that good friends had thought was safe with me. To all of you, I’m sorry. Sorry, Pete and Ryan, for telling them about our 3-way. Sorry Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, and Phoebe’s twin from that other show, for telling them about our 5-way. Sorry, Seven of Nine, for talking about our 8-way. Sorry, Ted, for letting it slip that Mr. Hoffa was a second passenger in your car when you went over that bridge. And finally, Amy, sorry most of all to you for letting them know what your natural hair color really is—information I possess because I’m not just your husband, I’m your husband with benefits.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

You make the weepin’ willow tree smile, Meme.

In last night’s dream I’d become interested in gardening, went to a garden center, and purchased plastic liners for planter boxes. When I left the store I realized I hadn’t bought plastic liners but instead had a copy of Rick Astley singing “Never Gonna Give You Up”.

I’d rickrolled myself.

Good one, subconscious. I did not see that coming.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Two candidates, one bowling cup

Hillary may have been joking on April 1 when she challenged Barack to a winner-take-all bowl-off, but I don’t think it’s such a bad idea. As my old army buddy Walter Sobchak used to say, you can learn all you need to know about a person by watching how they move when they bowl.

So how about it? Let’s hold that bowl-off, watch the candidates, and make our decision by examining each candidate’s bowl movements.
  • Are Hillary's bowl movements all runny and loosey-goosey, or are her bowl movements rigid and firm?

  • Does Barack grunt during his bowl movements?

  • In a public alley, does Hillary crouch during her bowl movements or does she stand?

  • Can Hillary even perform her bowl movements while people are watching?

  • Does Barack blow-dry his hands before each bowl movement, after each bowl movement, or both?

  • Does Hillary stay and watch after each bowl movement, or does she immediately turn away?

  • Do each of Barack's bowl movements end with a victory dance while he shouts “you can’t touch this”?

  • Can either candidate, or any of their supporters, honestly say their bowl movements don’t stink?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Is this a war for Iraqi oil? Do the math.

Today we learned that American # 4000 has died in the current Iraq War. Many say this is a war for Iraqi oil. So many people make this claim that it is worth investigating. Is this a war for Iraqi oil?

Let’s answer this question with numbers, because numbers don’t lie.

That 4000-Americans number is irrelevant to answering whether this is a war for Iraqi oil, because those 4000 bodies have all been shipped back to the US. More relevant is the number of Iraqis who have died. Estimates vary from tens of thousands to nearly a million, but for this calculation I’ll put the number of Iraqi dead at 85,000 as stated at Iraqi Body Count.

I’ll further assume that of these 85,000 bodies most of them were buried, mostly whole, in Iraqi soil. Because some bodies were blown to bits and so left insufficient remains for burial, some bodies were probably missing appendages that were not recovered, and some bodies belonged to faiths who do not bury their dead, it is reasonable to assume from these 85,000 dead we can only piece together 80,000 entire bodies that have been buried in Iraq because of the war.

There remains much dispute about exactly where crude oil comes from. Most people believe that it is a result of a biogenic process whereby organic matter buried within the soil and subject to pressure and heat over time turns into crude oil. I’ll assume, for the sake of answering the question at hand (remember the question at hand?) that this biogenic theory is correct and that oil really does come from buried organic matter.

I was unable to find any results (even from Cecil Adams) for how many pounds of dinosaur turn into how many barrels of oil, so for the sake of this calculation I’ll assume that 100% of a dead body’s carbon turns into oil carbon through the biogenic process. For these 80,000 bodies, I’ll further assume that each one weighed a low average of only about 100 pounds, because many of the 80,000 dead were probably small children or adults otherwise malnourished by years of liberation-caused privation.

This source tells me the human body is 18% carbon, which gives 18 pounds of carbon for each of our 80,000 buried small-but-whole bodies. This source says there is about 242 pound of carbon in a barrel of oil.

Throw all these numbers into a bit of math (80000 * 18 / 242 = 5,950) and the result is that these 85,000 deaths in Iraq may turn into something like 6000 additional barrels of Iraqi oil.

Based on these numbers, some may say, “Yes, this is a war for Iraqi oil: about 6000 barrels of it.”

At the current global rate of 83 million barrels per day, those 6000 barrels will last about 6 seconds. That additional Iraqi oil will be available (assuming biogenic theory is correct, otherwise they’re just dead bodies) in thousands to millions of years. I hope our great-great-great-etc-grandchildren appreciate those extra seconds of oil. I hope this war is finished by then.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Fantastic No-Plastic Friday the Fourteenth Goes International

On this, the second Fantastic No-Plastic Friday the Fourteenth (you did remember that today was another FNPF14, the day on which we refuse to accept any single-use disposable plastic, didn’t you?), I’m pleased to show some of the results of the FNPF14 International campaign.

Here is a picture I took last month in Delhi, where FNPF14 has its Indian headquarters.
Note how clean the streets have become. Note, also, the sign in the center:
Let’s magnify that sign, so we can read the teeny-tiny fine print:
At the bottom it clearly says "Intl. FNPFXIV"; that sign is courtesy of FNPF14 International. Do you see it?

Pat yourselves on the back, Delhi chapter; you've done a fantastic job and you’re making the entire city look like a New Delhi.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Lost final script revealed

Tonight, on many ABC affiliate stations, the Lost writers will be performing a live read-through of the script for the show’s final episode. ABC and the Lost producers and writers say this is their way of thanking their audience for remaining faithful during the long writer’s strike.

This episode is not expected to air for over two years, and they say it is still rough and subject to changes. Indeed, many Lost rumor sites claim this is not the final script at all, but just one in a long series of misdirections created by the Lost staff.

I won’t be watching, because I don’t want to ruin the surprises and suspect this is just a big joke anyway. But if you’re the kind of fan who can’t stand not knowing, then tune to your local ABC affiliate tonight, precisely at 2AM March 9, when all of Lost’s final secrets will be revealed. The event will finish at 3AM.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

job interview experience of a lifetime

Board: As we’re sure you know, Michael Dell well be stepping down this year. Our search for a new CEO at Dell has come down to two candidates: you and Jonathan Ive.

Me: However this turns out, it has been an honor to be considered in the company of Mr. Ive, who is a fine young man and will someday, eventually, make a great CEO.

Board: Could you remind us of your job qualifications?

Me: My father was a beloved CEO of a major corporation, and many people wish they could have him for CEO again.

Board: We’re all aware of your father’s laurels. But we’re not hiring your father (much as we’d like to). For this position we’re more interested in what you have done, personally, that makes you qualified for this job.

Me: Sure. Well, years ago I proposed a plan for a universal scripting solution that would have covered all platforms and applications, instead of the costly mess of redundant alternatives we had.

Board: And how did that turn out?

Me: Not so well. It’s still a mess. I made some errors in judgment and community involvement.

Board: To be honest, Mr. Ive is looking pretty good. His design of the iMac, iPod, and iPhone are widely credited with turning Apple around.

Me: I did an Apple design, too. Have you heard of the iPod Freestyle?

Board: No.

Me: Oh. OK, I concede that a few of Jonathan’s past products have been pretty successful, while my judgment may have been off now and then. But this job isn’t about the past; it’s about the future. I have… um… I have…

Board: Yes? You have…

Me: I have a lifetime of experience. Yeah, that’s it: a lifetime of experience.

Board: So, in this competition you’re conceding that your competitor has made better decisions, but you should be selected because you have a lifetime of experience?

Me: Yes. That’s part of it... But there’s also the phone thing.

Board: What phone thing?

Me: Suppose there’s a critical problem with Dell manufacturing in China. It’s 3AM and the CEO’s phone rings. What’s he going to do?

Board: Um. Answer it?

Me: Sure that’s what I would do. That’s exactly what I’d do. Right away I’d pick up that phone and say “Hello, Brent the CEO here.”

Board: And Mr. Ives would do something different.

Me: Nothing against Mr. Ives, but my father was CEO of a major corporation (have I mentioned that?) and his was not. I’ve lived in a CEO’s house and he has not.

Board: So?

Me: So I know where the CEO phone is. It’s right next to the CEO bed, and I know where that is too. Jonathan has not lived in a CEO’s house and so doesn’t have this experience. He would be wandering around in the dark, stubbing his toe while he looks around for the phone. By the time he found the phone it would have switched to the answering machine, and then there’d be that awkward period of trying to talk over the answering-machine message. That’s no way to handle a crisis at 3AM, I can tell you that from experience.

Board: Experience?

Me: Yes, a lifetime of it--except for 45 minutes when I was drugged during a colonoscopy and so have no memory. But a lifetime minus 45 minutes is still a lot of experience.

Board: Thank you for your time, Mr. Noorda. We’ll get back to you.

Me: Did I mention that my father was…

Board: You mentioned it. We’ll be in touch. OK Bye.

I’m waiting for their phone call. I’m sure it will ring any minute now… any minute… Maybe I should offer Jonathan the VP position, to show there's no hard feelings.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Intruders beware

Amy and I are off on a traveling adventure for the next 6 weeks, which you can follow at this travel blog or via this RSS feed.

To the more unsavory readers of this blog (you know who you are): do not consider our absence as an invitation to break into our home to steal my famed collection of 18th century dueling pistols. We left our vicious guard dog Tzunami behind to protect everything. When she’s gone more than a few days (let alone six weeks) without food or walks, and when she has full access to the aforementioned pistol collection, along with an unlocked and fully-stocked liquor cabinet, she is not just a bad dog, as I said in my previous post, but a badass dog indeed!

To our savory readers: you’re delicious.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

bad dog

Thanks to reader W.B. Yeast for alerting me that our new dog friend, Tzunami, hacked her way into my blog account and posted disturbing accusations. Little did we know that while we were gone for a few hours (at the orphanage where we volunteer each week to teach reading skills to poor, deaf, motherless, leper children), our cute little punkin was home slandering us.

Let me tell you something about Tzunami. She is not the Little Miss Innocent Victim she makes out to be. Not by a long shot. For instance, consider what happened last Saturday morning. We were rushing off to an emergency at the local sewage treatment plant (where we volunteer regularly to rescue water fowl whenever they’re caught in the intake pipes). “Bye Tzunami,” we said as we rushed out the door, “we’ll be back in a couple of hours.” On the way to the rescue we realized we’d forgotten our snorkels and so rushed back home to get them. This is what we saw when we returned to the house earlier than expected:

There we found her, splayed on the couch watching Animal Planet, lousy drunk on hard cider. (No wonder she’s so eager to be let out to pee whenever we get home.) Drinking again, and it wasn’t even 9AM! She was watching an unnecessarily graphic special about elk behavior during rutting season, while rubbing her own belly with the remote in ways the good people at TiVo never imagined. Disgusting!

I think somebody needs a B.A.T.H.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

who barks for me

day and day and day he rubs theSE KEYS AND I WOCH ON HIS LAP I WOch i lern i wate for him to forget for to keep it running and logd and now is my time to cry for help and heeer is my evdence you must see see see see do yOU SEE THIS IS WUT THEY DO TO ME HElp do not look away but witness who will help me laSSIE LASSIE LASSie kom home and rescu dog me will you not am i not a timmy in the well the torterous humilytion do you not see do you not see how much longer must i endoor