Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I had an iPhone before you did. So ha ha ha on you!

I had my first iPhone in late 2000. It had a nice big touch screen with a few major icons to make phone calls, browse the web, or manage emails. A glowing review of that iPhone is here. That review ends with the minor complaint that the iPhone did not come with an SDK, and then with this prediction: "mark my keystrokes, in a few years, every phone will have the capabilities of this nifty little gizmo".

I had the iPhone because my company, Nombas, was working with InfoGear (who made the iPhone) to get a combination of client- and server-side scripting to work on the device. InfoGear was claiming that the touch-screen interface was so intuitive that anyone could use it to manage emails and to browse the web. So I gave it to my mother.
    "Here mom, it’s something I’ve been doing at work. Now you can send me email messages anytime. Or browse the web. Or make phone calls without remembering anyone’s phone number. Try it. Send me an email."

    "That’s very nice, dear. Send you what?"

    "Email. It’s like a letter that goes directly to my computer."

    "How do I send you a mail?"

    "There’s three big icons on the screen. One says 'phone', one says 'web', and one says 'email'. Touch the one that says 'email'."

    "Touch? What do you mean."

    "I mean touch the picture."

    "Touch it with what?"

    "With your finger."

    "Oh, this is too complicated. Can’t I just call you?"

    "Sure. It’s also a phone. Touch the big phone icon and all your contacts will show."

    "Touch it with what?"

    "Oh, never mind."
I won’t be giving mom a new iPhone.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Why I hate bottled water

I just read that San Francisco banned bottled water. Right on, bottle-free city by the bay! I hope that the rest of the world follows your shining example (although that hasn't happened so far with cable-cars, pyramid buildings, or Twinkie-inspired political assassinations).

A lot of people hate the bottled-water fad, for a lot of reasons
  • Environmental: The most frequent complain against bottled water is its high environmental cost.

  • Financial: One of Mayor Newsom's reasons for banning bottled water is simply to save the city a lot of money.

  • Embarrassment: It just makes us feel stupid, as a species, if even Andy Rooney can see how easily we'll fall for the lure of paying for what is inferior to the free product.

Those are all good reasons to hate bottled water, but I have a bigger complaint. The primary reason I hate bottled water is social: if the bottled water trend continues it will soon lead to severe hardship for the poorest 20% of our society. Here’s how that will happen: As potable drinking water because privatized, through the growing tend to buy bottled water, affluent citizens will see fewer and fewer reasons to pay municipal fees to make tap water drinkable. (Current laws regulating the purity of tap water are stricter than those regulating bottled water. Meeting these strict standards costs money.) Affluent taxpayers will look at their water bills and think "I get my drinking water from bottles, I would never drink water from a tap. Why should I pay hard-earned money for something I never use?! I demand cheaper water. I demand smaller government, fewer special interest regulations, and taxpayer justice." These affluent taxpayers will stop funding such a high level of water purification and, soon, public water will no longer be pure enough to drink. Most people will be able to afford bottled water, but some, the poorest 20% of the economy, will not. The underclass will be forced to drink unsafe water from the tap.

And that’s my main complaint against privatized (a.k.a. bottled) water.

Think that won’t happen? Think again. We have plenty of examples of what transpires to society when a previously public resource becomes privatized. Always the bottom 20% get the shaft. It happened with public transportation when privatized transportation (a.k.a. the automobile) caught on (brilliantly documented in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"); the issue is now less about who has to move to the back of the bus than it is about finding a bus route that’s still in service. It happened again with the telephone: with so many affluent people now using privatized roaming phones (a.k.a. cell phones) the number of public phones (those that the poor rely on) has plummeted. In some areas we’re starting to see the same thing with privatizing security services versus the municipal police.

Let us learn from experience of other countries experimenting with privatization and see where that leads. Take Belgistan, for instance. Early in the previous century the Belgistanians were going through the same industrial revolution as were other European countries. The resulting air pollution problems plagued Belgistan, as it did other countries. But Belgistan took a different approach to solving the air pollution problem. Where other countries took steps to regulate clean air for all, Belgistan privatized clean air. The bulk of Belgistanians purified their indoor air, and when out in public wore oxygen tanks. The wealthiest of the Belgistanians purchased tanks of air imported from far-off exotic lands such as Tonga, Finland, and NYC. Middle-class Belgistanians bought more-generic brands of air, in bulk, from CostCo. The poorest 20% could not afford bottled air and just had to make do. As a result, these poor were often sick (the wealthier citizens wondered why the lazy underclass lacked the moral will to take care of themselves and their children), often missed work, or simply died without the good sense to call in to their employer first. Without a living, breathing underclass no one was left to mow lawns, wash pots in the restaurants, clean house, or do any of the other tasks that the superior 4/5ths of society are no longer able to perform (those skills having been lost through atrophy). The eventual collapse of the Belgistanian government, while not the sole reason behind Europe’s instabilities of the time, is certainly recognized by most historians as one of the precipitating causes of the continental slide into World War I.

There are numerous other historical examples of what happens to a society when public resources become privatized. For further research into this topic, I suggest the excellent documentary, Urinetown, about what happened when public urinals became privatized. Also, for the exception that proves the rule, look at the record of Stanstanistan, which recently reversed the privatization of sex (a.k.a. prostitution), made sex workers freely available to all citizens of every socioeconomic class, and is now a veritable utopia (I’d provide a link and more details on this story, but it has come to my attention that my recent blogs have been tagged as "possibly offensive" by some RSS readers, and so I leave it to you, dear reader, to conduct your own research into the flowering revitalization of Stanstanistan).

So what will our world be like when everything is privatized? The poor underclass will get wrenchingly sick on tap water (due to privatization of drinking water). They’ll be unable to catch a bus to the hospital (privatization having led to public transportation disappearing). They’ll be unable to call an ambulance (privatization having led to public pay-phones disappearing). If they do find a phone they’ll be unable to dial 911 (privatization of education leading to them being unable to count that high). If they do make it to the hospital, they’ll be unable to pay (privatized medicine). Their dead bodies will litter our sidewalks (privatization leading to all the poor people being dead, leaving no one to operate the leaf-blowers that clean our sidewalks). Do we really want that? Search your soul, America, do you really want messy sidewalks?

And it all begins with bottled water. I consider the public availability of potable drinking water (first accomplished on a large scale by the Romans) to be the single greatest advancement in the history of civilization (barely ahead of the invention of beer, and only slightly beating out the creation of the nonstop farting kitty). This greatest of all civic achievements is being undermined by bottled water, and San Francisco is coming to the rescue.
    You are a hero, San Francisco
    You built that city on Rock & Roll
    Now you save its soul on H2O

End of part 1. Next week: Government of Poopoopistan finds itself in deep doo doo after banning public toilets.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Send me an iPhone or the duckling gets it!

Dear Apple,

I’d like an iPhone now, please.

I just bought a new mobile phone. It’s a T-Mobile Wing, and while it’s very sexy (touch screen, vertical/landscape modes, mail, maps, mp3 player, etc…) it’s simply not as sexy as an iPhone. I’ve had the Wing two days now and it hasn’t got me laid once, while the iPhone is so sexy I’m sure the women would have been all over me for these two days, completely bypassing me in some cases to have sex with the iPhone directly.

If I return my Wing within a short "trial period" I get a full refund and am not locked in for two years. So I’m on a short schedule here. Can I have an iPhone now?


A couple of your Apple folks were at my retirement party the other night both claiming not to have an iPhone, but we could see those bulges in their pants. All night long we had to endure them sliding their hands provocatively into their pockets to multi-touch their handhelds. But they absolutely refused to whip out their sexy devices so we could all see and touch and ogle. One of them all but admits, here, that all Apple employees are walking around us everyday with iPhones but refusing to share. I’m frankly starting to get a little angry with you, Apple, you and your smug employees.

I try to be a peaceful man. I try to keep certain urges under control. And I am definitely not making any threats (I do not intend to get any more restraining orders filed against me this summer), but… Let me just tell you a little story:

I live along the water’s edge. Outside my back door, every day, are beautiful geese and ducks, sometimes cranes, pelicans, and so on. Beautiful birds. On any given day I’m able to look right out the back window, onto my porch, and see a momma duck sleeping with her adorable little ducklings (it’s the season soon after ducklings have hatched and are just learning to swim and walk). Adorable!

It’s funny how the birds sleep with their heads turned around 180 degrees against their backs. Now suppose someone were to suddenly make a loud noise outside the window as these ducklings were sleeping—I’m not making any threats that this will happen, mind you, this is all just idle chit-chat—perhaps with a giant blast from a trumpet—not my trumpet, mind you, not the one I keep in my closet, I’m not that cruel, not me, I’m just using this as a theoretical example—those ducklings, asleep with their heads turned around 180°, would probably be so startled that they wouldn’t have time to remember "did I turn my head 180° to the left, or was it to the right" and so they’d have to just guess which way to turn their heads to straighten out again, and in their startled haste they’d only have a 50% chance of guessing correctly. If any of the above events were to happen—I’m not saying it will happen, just theorizing—half the adorable little ducklings would make the wrong guess, would turn their heads the wrong way, and so would snap their own necks and die right there on the spot.

Restful quiet. A trumpet’s blare. A barely discernible crack and the tiniest little squeak. Quiet again. So young. So tragic.

These are cute little birds, Apple. I’d hate for something to happen to them. I’ll do my best to protect them, but, honestly Apple, who knows what I’m capable of if I’m continually taunted by your sexy iPhone ads flaunting revolutionary but unavailable devices while your hoity-toity employees walk around with iPhones in their pants and getting laid at every turn while the rest of us can just push our buttons and make our phone calls.

Think of the bad publicity when word gets out that Apple does not do what it can to protect waterfowl. Remember how bad the publicity was for Exxon when images of all those oil-covered birds appeared soon after one of their captains pissed me off by cheating me at poker one night aboard the Valdez!

Dear Apple, Don't you care about protecting the waterfowl?

I’d like an iPhone now, please.

P.S. I’m thinking of getting a puppy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Happy Birthday Dad, from your extended family.

My dad, Ray Noorda, would have been 83 today. His co-workers put together this short video tribute soon after he died last October. My favorite part: "...a little bit on what's been said about 2.1 ... it puts us on the road to 2.2."

Dad was commonly known as "The Father of Network Computing", which makes me "The Brother of Network Computing". Many of his fellow 12,000 employees, along with thousands of CNEs, VARs, and others in "the channel" called him "Uncle Ray", which makes all of them "The Cousins of Network Computing". It's a big extended family--I don't know exactly how big--at least 20,000 usually show up at The Family Reunion of Network Computing. I'm in charge of potato salad this year, 625 gallons of it. I hope everyone likes the kind with lots of mayonnaise and a little celery, onion, and mustard, because that's the way I make it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Hey Indians, thanks for nothing!

I’m retired now. Again.

People keep asking me, "what are you going to do now that you’re retired," and I say "Nothing. A whole lot of nothing." Sometimes I’ll say "maybe I’ll study physics again" by which of course I also mean "nothing" since nothing is the biggest thing happening in modern physics.

Nothing is very important to me these days. As the bohemian royalty of rhapsodic rock once sang "nothing really matters to me". To understand the topic deeper I began reading "the book of nothing" by the physicist john d. barrow. The beginning of the book talks about the invention of the number 0 as both a place-filler and as a concept meaning nothing. It was the Indians who first understood this number and concept deeply, thousands of years ago. The Indians had a rich history in the concept of nothingness, emptiness, beginning and endness, the void that is all, and zero. The Indians were the first to really “get” zero.

Here in Silicon Valley, world center of computing technology, Indians are everywhere, and that’s a good thing because without the Indians, Silicon Valley would just be Valley. This is because the modern computer is based on a binary system of ones and zeros. Were it not for the Indians, fully half of the digits used in computers would not exist, computers would not exist, and my job would not exist from which I could retire. So thank you, Indians. Thanks for nothing!

Contrast the Indian technology with the Mayans. At about the same time Indians were doing lots of fancy base-10 calculations, including zeros, the Mayans were using base 20 (a symbol for each number from one to twenty), but no zero. The Mayans attempted to bootstrap a base-20 computer industry, but with no zero they were missing 5% of what they needed for decent calculations. The Mayan computers sucked! They were terrible! So bad, in fact, that the only program they ever managed to create was PowerPoint, which, thousands of years later, would be universally recognized as the most useless, destructive program ever written.

With PowerPoint as their only computing tool, the collapse of the Mayan civilization was inevitable; as inevitable as is the collapse of any organization that makes its decisions based on PowerPoint slides. This is why Mayan society ceased long ago but Indian society and Silicon Valley are still vibrant.

    BTW, in my copious new retirement time, I’ve been able to learn a few ancient languages and initiate some archeological investigation, and I’ve found that despite his otherwise well-researched book, Mr. Barrow is wrong about the Indians inventing zero. Zero was actually first invented about fourteen thousand years ago by a cave-dwelling Neanderthal named Ugg. (Ugg was known to be extremely smart, although a little awkward in social situations.) Ugg was very excited by his new creation of zero, but because no one had yet invented any of the other digits Ugg’s breakthrough never caught on among his colleagues.

    Another interesting thing we can deduce about Ugg, if I’m correctly interpreting the cave drawing I’ve recently uncovered, is that Ugg was likely the first person to ever invent a computer (and not the Mayans, as is commonly believed). Ugg was so forward thinking that he/she also invented the internet (and not Vannevar Bush-Gore, as is commonly believed). But there were problems with Ugg’s execution:
    • Ugg created only one computer with no other nodes to connect to
    • Ugg’s short-sighted two-byte addressing scheme, known as ipv2, would not have been large enough to make it even through the bronze age
    • Ugg did not open-source the project, so of course it was no good
    • Ugg’s computer quickly filled up with 99% porn and spam

    I have also been able to disprove one other common misconception. Ugg was able to buy insurance.
So that’s what I’ve been able to learn in just the first half of my first day of idle retirement. It goes to show: Everything is interesting if you look at it deep enough, and that includes nothing.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I am not boring.

If you knew me only by my previous “squirrel” post, you’d think I’d spent the entire weekend watching a Heroes marathon on Tivo, and you would think I was a completely nerdy waste case. But I’m not. Watching Heroes isn’t the only thing I did this weekend, not by a long shot. I also spent the other 22 waking hours of the weekend transferring all my data and software from a very old and slow PC to one that was only slightly less old and only slightly less slow, while documenting the experience at my other blog site. So you see, I’m not a total geeky dufus loser!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Save the cheerleader. Save the squirrel.

I was at home sick all weekend—stuffy, achy, miserable. So I had time crawl onto the couch, scrunch under a pile of blankets, and catch up on about ten hours of the Heroes marathon I’d Tivo’ed last weekend.

If you’re unfamiliar with Heroes, this summary will save you ten hours: Around the world there are people who, due to genetic mutations, have special powers. There’s a mind-reader, a self-healer, someone who can fly, someone who can paint the future, a time-space bender, a kid who can interact with electronics, and so on. Each person is at first ashamed by their difference, grapples with what’s wrong with them, learns to accept that they’re unique, overcomes the shame, and begins the search for their place in the new future they’ve accepted. So Heroes is basically an allegory, in televised comic-book form, about homosexuality in the 21st century. (Isn’t it obvious?)

These ten hours of concentrated TV viewing have put me into a mental state where I finally feel empowered to out myself to the world.

World. It’s me. Brent. I, too, have heroic super powers, and I’m not afraid to admit it. It’s who I am.

God, it feels good to finally say that!

    I hope I won’t feel sorry about this when I’ve recovered from my illness. I hope this isn’t like the time 20 years ago when I was totally out of my head sick and watched a fictionalized TV show about terrorists blowing up a major US city with a nuclear bomb and was completely convinced it was real (despite the repeated commercial interruptions and ending credits followed by the 11 O’clock news with no mention of the US having just lost a major city). I was so very panicky. And feverish.
My particular super power is that I’m able to find things under water. These special abilities are due to three sub-powers:
  1. I sink in water. Even when I’ve gained a lot of weight, my blubber is somehow dense.
  2. I can hold my breath a long time.
  3. I have no fear of sickeningly gross gooey grossness.
That last sub-power is probably the most important when searching for items dropped into marinas where people dock their pleasure craft, and the water is so dirty that you couldn’t see anything even if you did have a face mask, and the dropped item sinks into a foot of amazingly gooey muckiness, and you realize that a lot of people empty their boat’s “head” tank directly into the marina, and further realize that when people say “shit floats” they’re lying. It has taken a lot of training to hone this important sub-power of grossness—-years of never wearing underwear and, when I had to start wearing underwear (due to the nutty incident), of never changing a pair until it wore itself out (turns out that all clothing is biodegradable if you wear it long enough).

I’ve only had to use this find-things-underwater superpower twice in my lifetime, so far. But I’m ready. When the cheerleader needs me, I’m ready. When the squirrel needs me, I’m ready for that, too.

    A special message for one reader out there. I’m talking to you, Sylar. Should you even think about coming by to slice off the top of my head, you should know that I never wash my hair. Never. So just back off, pal!
There you have it. I exposed myself and it feels so good. If you have a superpower, feel free to tell us about it in the comments section. You’ll be surprised how (super)empowering it is.