Wednesday, July 25, 2012

TOLOS Chapter 3: Introduction to Gravity

Introduction to Gravity: Why stuff seems to be universally attracted to other stuff. 
This chapter is part of a much bigger theory about where there is so much stuff and why all that stuff acts the way it does. It's just a theory. Writing things down and sharing it helps me think.

What you read here is the chapter as it existed on this date in 2012. For the live, always-updated version of this chapter, see here.

a universe, infinite and empty

Imagine a simple and traditional model of a universe as an infinite expanse of nothingness extending forever in 3 dimensions.

Here’s a 2-dimensional representation of that empty universe:

a universe, infinite and empty, except for one marble

Now imagine in this universe that there is a single bit of stuff, one very-small and very-solitary marble, surrounded infinitely in 3 dimensions by nothing. We don’t yet care how that marble got there; just imagine that it got there and it’s not going away any time soon.

Here’s our previous picture, with the marble added:

but wait, an infinite universe cannot be empty; it is frothy

Now let’s go back to the pre-marble, infinite-3d-space representation of the universe. In that imagined universe space was empty, but that cannot be an accurate representation of space because it is constantly empty—there is nothing there. Recalling the primary postulates of Chapters 1 & 2 (the totalitarian and homogeneity principles), if there is nothing anywhere, then there is nothing anywhere to prevent anything from just showing up anywhere. In fact, the principles demand that, with nothing anywhere to contradict it, anything has an equal chance of being anywhere.

So let’s update the image of the empty universe to contain a snapshot of a random sampling of particles that have popped in (because nothing was there to stop them from popping in).

In the image (above), various sized particles occupy this space. The particles are represented by waves of varying length, with larger particles having a long wavelength and smaller particles having a shorter wavelength [1]. But this is just an extremely momentary image of empty space, because all of the particles we see here are in contradiction with each other and with other particles that have just as much chance of showing up. This contradiction cannot stand, and so these particles cannot stand. They must go. They are extremely temporary.

And so it goes, ephemeral particles popping in and out, barely there at all. Empty space is never really empty, but is instead a very frothy and never-quite-empty space. [2]

a universe, infinite, empty, and frothy, except for one marble

Let’s take this new image of the empty universe, and put the marble back in.

This looks very much like we took the previous frothy image and just stuck a dot in the middle; but there are other changes: some of the ephemeral particles are no longer drawn. Because there is now a permanent bit of stuff there, its existence conflicts permanently with those now-missing ephemeral particles; those particles aren’t allowed, no matter how briefly, and so don’t show up here. (For simplicity, we are treating this marble as if it would perfectly conflict with, and so prevent, any particle that would occupy its space: an ideal mass. Most bits of stuff, even permanent stuff, don’t have such perfect interaction-with-everything and so would only have prevented some of these ephemeral particles, but not all.)

This animation should make it easier to find the ephemeral particles that are now missing:

effects of an infinite froth on one marble

In the previous image we can see a couple of sample ephemeral particles (a yellow one on the left, and a red one on the right) that are bumping up against our marble. Even though these two representative particles are extremely impermanent, they are still noticed. However briefly they may be considered to exist, they do have a momentum (represented by p) that is inversely proportional to length (aka “wavelength” or λ) of that ephemeral particle and some constant k1 according to the formula:

p = k1 / λ

Consider a sample ephemeral particle of length λ interacting with our marble, and the space sphere (radius r) of all such ephemeral particles around the marble, as represented here:

Let’s define some values:

m:This value represents the probability that this given marble object will interact with the ephemeral particles. A perfect value for m would interact with (and prevent overlap of) all ephemeral particles.

We will begin to refer to this as the “mass” of the marble, and will explore many features of mass in later chapters. In this introduction, a mass of 1.0 would interact with all of the local ephemeral particles (where “interact” means either to be pushed by, or to prevent the existence of, depending on relative location), 0.0 would interact with none of them, and 0.5 would interact with half.
k2:A constant representing how dense are these ephemeral particles in space; i.e., how many ephemeral particles exist in any point of space. (It will be many chapters and a lot of difficult math before we figure out the value of this constant.)

For any ephemeral particles terminating at that point of the sphere, we’d expect that ephemeral particle has an equally-likely chance of being aligned in any direction; and so the density of those that will also terminate on our marble at the center diminishes with the surface area of that sphere (4 π r^2).

What we want to know is the Force (F) of the ephemeral particle on our marble. Force is directly proportional to momentum, and so we’ll take a big shortcut and just treat the Force as a constant (k3) proportional to the momentum. [3]

Finally, the force of that particle on our marble is:


Combining all of the constants (k1, k2, k3, 4, π) into a single constant K simplifies the formula to:


Now consider the combined force in that one direction of all ephemeral particles as the distance from the marble goes from 0 to infinity:


The result seems to be that for any real small marble in an infinite 3-dimensional universe, there is an infinite force pressing down on our marble from all directions, due to the 1/0^2 part of our equation. That’s an impossible amount of force! But consider that this is a very simplified approximation of a universe: we’re assuming that it can be representing by only 3 dimensions [4], and that the 3-dimensional space is identical in all directions and at all distances from the marble [5]—these assumptions become increasingly invalid as we approach distance zero from the marble, and so our formula is less reliable as we get closer to distance zero, which is the cause of the infinity in our final calculation. The most we can say is that there seems to be a lot of pressure on a single item within an infinite empty space.

So it’s not clear what this infinity even means, or if it’s a meaningful value given the gross approximations made in this simple example. In any case it’s not a very useful situation because it’s not until there is at least one other marble in the universe that anything interesting happens. So let’s add another marble.

a universe, infinite, empty, and frothy, except for two marbles

Let’s now add a second marble.

As with the first marble, this second marble has prevented some of the ephemeral particles that were previously in our drawing. The following animation should help highlight the ephemeral particles which no longer have an opportunity to be:

Notice that most of these now-missing ephemeral particles never affected the first marble and so their absence will not be noticed [6]. But there is one long red representative particle that used to impact the first marble and no longer does. It is particles like this, or rather the absence of particles like this, that we’ll explore in the next section.

Before proceeding, we must understand the severe limitations of the above representation of the two marbles and the space around them so that their poor representation does not distort our understanding. For one thing, in this drawing the two marbles are represented as large objects close together, when really they should be understood as point-sized marbles at a very great distance from one another. By drawing the particles as relatively close and large (with one larger than the other), it is easier to artistically represent some density of ephemeral particles that are affected by the marbles. In the math that follows, we’ll treat these as point-sized particles with different values of m and M instead of being different sizes [7].

effects of infinite froth on two marbles

This drawing shows the two marbles nearly point-sized along with a representative sample of the ephemeral particles that effect the marble on the left (m). Notice that the particles surround m uniformly from all sides and distances except for those longer particles that are blocked by the particle on the right (M). This means that there are more ephemeral particles pushing against m from the left than from the right. In the drawing a couple of particles are highlighted: the ones on the left that are not blocked by similar particles on the right. As we’ll see, it is those highlighted particles on the left that have the net effect on m due to M: they will act to push m toward M.

Let’s calculate the total force of those ephemeral particles that push from the left, but are not balanced by similar ephemeral particles pushing from the right.

Where the marbles are r distance apart, some of the ephemeral particles directly to the right of m with a wavelength longer than r are prevented from participating because of the existence of M, while to the left of m no particles of wavelength r or longer are prevented. So the net force on m is the total of all the particles to the left and with wavelength greater than r whose corresponding particle to the right would be prevented by M, where M is the probability that the right marble would be interacting with ephemeral particles.


Let’s define the constant K/2 as a new constant G and rewrite our law of force as:


interpreting the effects of infinite froth on two marbles as gravity

Our final formula probably looks familiar as Newton’s law of universal gravitation. Because of our derivation of the formula, we define it slightly differently:


m:The mass of one of the objects, where “mass” represents the probability that this given object will interact with the ephemeral particles.
M:The mass of the other object.
r:The distance between the objects.
G:The gravitational constant, a constant which is a rollup of other constants and geometric functions.
F:The force pushing the masses together.

The difference between this formula and Newton’s is the interpretation. Newton interprets gravity as a fundamental force of attraction of objects toward each other, while we see gravity as a repulsive force resulting from “empty” space pushing from all directions, but pushing less strongly in the space between two objects. In both views the objects tend to get closer together, where in one view they are pulled together and in the other view they are pushed.

I.E. Even though we often think of gravity as something that attracts objects together, gravity is actually a repulsive force. Gravity is push, not pull.

brief consideration of two marbles in a confined geometry

Let’s briefly explore a differently-modeled universe, and see how a repulsive gravity would effect our two marbles there.

At the beginning of this chapter we assumed an infinite universe. Let’s now change that geometry such that the universe is not infinite but instead has edges. (Don’t ask how the universe may have edges, yet; we didn’t explain then why our assumed universe was infinite, so we won’t explain now why it is not.)

This is a drawing of a finite universe with two marbles, where those two marbles are relatively close to the edge of the universe. The drawing also shows a representative sample of ephemeral particles that are interacting with the marble on the left.

Notice that in this geometry there are a lot more ephemerals particles pushing against our marble from the right (i.e. from the center) than from the left (i.e. the edge).

If you were watching the two marbles in this universe, you would see them moving away from each other. If your complete knowledge of this universe was only what you saw of these two marbles, you would say that all of the objects are moving away from the center and this universe was expanding.

visual aid

This video (taken at the Exploratorium in San Francisco) is of a table containing a couple of slices of PVC tube being pushed around by a bunch of energized little balls that are propelled semi-randomly by the edges of the table.

In this video, the PVC slices represent our two marbles, the silver balls are our ephemeral particles, and the table is the finite universe. If you watch this video using a lot of imagination and pretend that the silver balls are invisible, so that you only see the PVC tubes, you might notice a couple of things:
  1. The PVC tubes tend to get closer to each other over time, as if they are attracted to each other. This is a very jerky attraction, but smoothed out over time they do tend to come together like our two marbles experiencing gravity. [8]
  2. The PVC tube pair tends to move toward the edge of the table, as if they are being pushed away from the center of our “expanding universe”.

Starting with a few fundamental principles, assumptions about the configuration of a universe, and simplifying approximations, an inverse-squared mechanism is proposed that we call gravity. Gravity is a repulsive force. In some geometrical arrangements gravity appears to push together and make the overall configuration grow more compact; in other geometrical arrangements gravity is pushing objects apart and making the overall configuration expand.

questions to explore

Some of these questions will be examined in subsequent chapters. Some are still not understood.
  • What is the value of G and the constituent constants of G. Is it enough to simply measure that value?
  • Can the values for G and its constituent constants be derived from some fundamental principles?
  • So we have a formula for gravity that looks like the formula we already have? So what? Does this different derivation and interpretation of the same old formula change anything for us? Does it provide any new predictions we can test?
  • When we are no longer approximating at great distances, how does the formula change? How does the alteration of the nature of the space near a mass change the calculations for gravity?
  • When 3 dimensions is no longer an accurate approximation (e.g. at small distances) how does the computation change?
  • What about the other fundamental forces? Can they be derived in a similar way? Are they also repulsive?
  • What is the nature of these ephemeral particles? Are they violating other laws, such as conservation of energy?
  • How does this gravitational form of mass mesh with other forms, e.g. inertial, energy? Is there a related description of Newton’s First Law? Conservation of momentum? Conservation of angular momentum?
  • Gravity is a scalar property that acts in a single direction. What about an aspect of matter interaction that uses more dimensions of space?
  • Where did the space and dimensions come from in the first place?
  • If 3 is just an approximation of dimensions, then what are dimensions and how many are there?
  • Mechanical explanations for gravity, many with strong similarities to this theory, have been proposed for centuries, and have been all discredited (by all but a few eccentrics). Also, general relativity has explained the whole field. So why bother?


[1] The drawing shows more small particles than medium particles, more medium than large, and so on. I don’t have a good justification for drawing them that way except that at the time it felt right. It seemed that the larger a particle is, the likelier is the chance that somewhere in the space it occupies a smaller particle has also shown up to occupy that space--at whatever scale we look at it, the larger a particle is the smaller chance it has of showing up where some number of smaller particles have not already shown up. But the math performed later does not justify this assumption, although the longer particles do have a smaller momentum, and it is the momentum that is important to the calculations, so maybe a better drawing would show just as high a density of long particles as shorter ones, but they might appear more faint to represent the impact of each particle.

[2] These particles may be the same as the “virtual particles” commonly described in physics, and allowed by (and subject to) the uncertainty principle. I’m not sure. Maybe this is just a different way to look at it.

[3] Force is generally represented as momentum/time. In subsequent TOLOS chapters we’ll look into much further detail into what is meant by “time”. For the purposes of this calculation just imagine that the time interval is some fixed value: if we choose a longer value then that time divisor is larger, but there will also be proportionally more virtual particles, so the ratio of force to momentum won’t change, and F∝p will suffice.

[4] In other chapters we’ll discuss how our primary postulates limit us from accepting that there’s something special about 3 dimensions (why not 4, or 12, or 2471?) except that at relatively large scales and a scalar force like we’re discussing here, 3 dimensions is the minimum for something interesting to happen and is a valid approximations for higher-dimensions.

[5] The drawing around the single marble is inaccurate in a lot of ways, only one of which is how it portrays the space around the marble. Consider that the drawing does show that some of the ephemeral particals are missing near the marble. A better portrayal would represent the space near the particle being different than the space far away, because the marble has effected by removing the possibilities of what might ephemerally exist there. This might better be conveyed by showing a lightening of the gray (where gray was meant to represent “lots of ephemeral stuff going on here”), or perhaps a stretching of the area around the marble to represent that the stuff that is a thick froth elsewhere has been stretched thinner near the marble. As the drawing become less accurate close to the one bit of permanent stuff, so does the formula become less accurate in this region.

[6] It’s a simplification to say that the missing particles at a distance have no effect at all on the first marble. They do change the nature of the space around that new marble, which will have cascading effects on the first particle. But for the approximations here we’re assuming a large relative distance between the two marbles and so we accept that the effect of the area immediately around the new marble has relatively little effect on our overall calculations.

[7] In a following chapter or exercise, we will show that representing different values of m and M as either single points, or as different size spheres with those single points as their center, are equivalent when calculating the effect of each marble on the other at a great distance. To see this, it may help to picture a real-sized marble as a collection of many point-sized sub-marbles spread around within the marble-sized sphere, where each point-sized sub-marble is itself at a relatively great distance from the others.

[8] This table was probably intended to demonstrate Brownian motion, which is jerky. To redesign this table better for our purposes, the silver balls would need to be much much smaller related to the PVC slices, which should result in a much smoother movement.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The open source process works… eventually

I find this story fascinating, but I suspect that nobody else will.

About a year and a half ago I filed this bug with the open-source chromium project, which is the code behind the Google Chrome browser. (The bug, in case you care, was that this mp3 file was sounding like crap [listen to crap] when played in Chrome on my Mac.)

Here's the long story of this bug fix:
  • 2011-01-14 – I enter bug
  • 2011-03-11 – a chromium developer comments that it’s a duplicate of another bug (btw, turns out not to be)
  • 2011-12-16 – another chromium developer cannot reproduce the problem
  • 2011-12-18 – I further clarify how to demonstrate the problem
  • 2011-12-19 – chromium dev confirms they can reproduce the problem, and confirms my original hint that it’s probably an issue with ffmpeg [a different open source project that is built into chromium]
  • 2011-12-19 – a google engineer has a look
  • 2012-01-04 – the bug is passed from chromium to the ffmpeg open source project
  • 2012-05-16 – the bug is fixed in ffmpeg
  • 2012-05-21 – the ffmpeg bug fix is pulled into chromium
  • 2012-07-?? – sometime in this period my Chrome updates itself with a new version that fixes the bug
Here's the short story:
  • January 2011 – I find and report a bug in my browser
  • July 2012 – the bug is no longer in my browser
So the free and open source process worked. Actually at least two (maybe three) open source projects had to come together to make this happen. I entered a bug, did nothing else (and certainly paid nothing), and the fix just happened. I find that amazing.

On the other hand, it took 18 months for the bug (admittedly not the most important bug in the world) to get fixed. 18 months to fix a bug. I find that amazing, too.

… if you liked that story (you pitiful soul), you’ll really love this poem about open source.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Most Honest Driver in The World

You can call this driver a lot of things, but not a hypocrite.

Shame on me, once again, for using a car, for lacking this driver's honesty, and for taking a picture while I'm driving.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

4 Shame

Shame on Chrysler for creating a car that averages 15.4 MPG.

Shame on Chrysler for using the terms "Fuel Economy" and "ECO" with this car.

Shame on me for driving this car, or any car.

Shame on me for taking a picture of my dashboard while I’m driving.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bergerin Fries

The weight of authority often lays heavy on the Governor, but never so heavy as tonight. Anthony Bergerin is due to be executed in just an hour. The Governor is far from convinced of his guilt but, it being an election year, he is far from sure he can afford to appear soft on crime. A man’s life lies in the balance: Should he stay the execution of Anthony Bergerin?

“I’m so hungry I can’t think,” the Governor says to no one. “Damn this diet, I can’t concentrate with my stomach growling.” So he picks up his phone and calls one of the two speed-dial numbers. “Burger 'n fries; make it quick,” he orders. “Yes Governor, right away,” says the voice on the other end of the line.

“I'll eat first,” the Governor thinks, “and then I’ll decide about the execution.”

Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. The food has not arrived and the execution time is fast approaching. With not a moment to lose, he calls the other number on his speed dial, shouts “Stay the execution!” and collapses in his chair to contemplate the political suicide he’s just committed. His stomach growls.

At the local QuickBurger (motto: “We Deliver”), the late-shift counter-boy puts down the phone, looks at the food order he’s just scribbled, and crumples it. “Another kook call,” he yells to the fry clerk. “’Stay the execution?’ What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How the Multiple Internets Killed the Skaplavian Maldivian Lampreys

About two weeks ago I tried desperately to publicize a new charity via the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google+) with posts like this one:

Trying to figure out how to publicize a new charity, "The Skaplavian Maldivian Lamprey Regurgitation Rehabilitation and Restorative Trust Fund" (aka. SMLRRRTF) via [insert-social-network-here].

My hope was to attract like-minded individuals, and together we could work on the Skaplavian Maldivian Lamprey Regurgitation (SMLR) problem.

Alas, I have failed. Nobody contacted me—nobody--and now Skaplavian Maldivian Lampreys (SMLs) have all died, choking on their own vomit. I’m talking extinction, folks! Bye-bye slimy, toothy, circular-mouthy, oh-so-adorable and noble creatures of the deep.

I was angry and hurt. How could we let this happen? Why did no one contact me? Then I thought, “Maybe they couldn’t find me?”

So using various internet tools I searched for “Skaplavian Maldivian Lamprey Regurgitation” and this is what I found:
  • A link to my Tweet. At least that’s something.
  • if I’m in your circles: The Tweet plus the Google+ post.
  • Only my Google+ post.
  • Nothing. I think it showed up in the first few days, but not now (maybe it depends on how old the tweet is or how busy are the servers?)
  • Nothing. Boo!
  • new (with ties to facebook): Nothing.
  • Nothing.
  • Nothing (but at least it spent some time looking :-)
  • Nothing, since by default FB only searches on names. But then from this link I learned about advanced search and so… Nothing.  Apparently the advanced search only goes back a week (or so it appears to me).
Sad Conclusion: Social Networks are very Anti-Social toward each other. The Internet is becoming a bunch of little internet silos, and they don’t talk to each other, and that sucks, especially if you are a sucker, like the lampreys… were.

Why should we care about this one Skaplavian Maldivian Lamprey extinction? What does one little species matter? We are all just a little bit SML, aren't we?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I dream of skydivers and hillbillies

I had this very cinematic dream. It felt like watching the opening of a movie.

A man and woman are falling in the sky. They’re holding china dinner plates in their hands and even between their feet. I see them from a lot of angles, falling, falling, falling—all the while holding onto their plates. The woman might be pregnant.

Cut to a few hillbilly hicks on the ground, amongst some trees, sitting around not doing much.  Chewing straw. Waiting.  Eventually one says “it’s about time, dontcha think” and another gets up and turns on a water faucet. The faucet causes water to blow up through a spout.  The spout shoots water into the air in a stream pointing straight up.  One of the hicks says, “water pressure seems a little low, dontcha think”.

The hicks are looking up. They’re chewing straw. They’re waiting.

After about half a minute there suddenly comes a crashing of a few plates around the water fountain, the quick thud of a couple of bodies hitting the ground, and a couple of more plates.

And falling through the water spout lands a newborn baby. The water spout was just strong enough to break its fall.

Then I wake.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dear Microsoft, here’s how to get this developer to switch back from Mac to PC

This is a letter to Microsoft. It’s boring. So unless you’re Microsoft I suggest you look at something else, such as the underappreciated post: clusterduck.

Dear Microsoft,

It’s been about five years since I bought a new computer. At that time I made the switch from a Windows PC to a MacBook Pro. That MacBook Pro is looking a little long-in-the-tooth now, and Apple has hinted that their next OS won’t support it, so the time’s coming up when I’ll want to buy a new computer. If I’m going switch back from Mac to PC, now’s your chance. Here’s what you gotta do to make that happen:


First you need to understand why I switched to Mac five years ago. It’s because I’m a developer, and to be a developer had come to mean writing at least as much code for servers as for clients. “Server” had long ago come to mean “Linux”. Face it, part of what nearly any developer does now involves some server code, and when a developer thinks “server” they think “linux”, that’s just the way it is. Accept that!

Since OSX was based on BSD, which is basically the same thing as Linux, by switching to Macintosh my personal machine could have a terminal that acted nearly identical to my servers, and that removed a lot of friction between developing and testing on my laptop and deploying on my servers. I could run the same *nix servers on my Mac as on my Linux servers, I could compile the same tons of open-source tools on my Mac as on my Linux servers, and I could test and debug the same on my Mac as on my Linux servers. Very little friction.

If I wanted to have as frictionless an experience using a Windows machine I had two choices: 1) choose Windows for my servers (“server” == “Windows” is just a contradiction in terms for nearly any developer) or 2) run *nix emulation layers on my PC which remains an annoying pain in the ass (developers spend a lot of time on their asses, so you don’t want to be adding pain there).

So I switched from PC to Mac, felt lost for a few days learning a new set of keystrokes, and then got to work coding.


Give me a text-mode minimal Linux environment built and supported, by default, on my PC. Make all the standard compilers, libraries, paths, and tools, be there by default. Make it use ‘/’ instead of ‘\’. That’s it. That’s all it takes, and it’s not asking very much at all. It doesn’t have to support fancy graphics or user tools or interact with other Windows programs or the Windows API (because my and everyone else’s linux servers are minimal installations and won’t support those either). The basic Linux I need is tiny compared to a full OS like Windows, and will maybe occupy just 1/1000th of the disk space, so it’s no big deal. I don’t much care how you do it (support cygwin, fix interix, use a VM, or your own linux port), just do it and make it frictionless so I can download, build, and run the same tools and commands on my PC as on my Linux server.

That’s all it takes. Do the above and I can get what I need out of a $1000 PC laptop instead of a $3000 Mac laptop. Thanks.

Oh, crap, I almost forgot. With the above I would still need a Mac to develop for iOS clients (iOS clients are important). Figure out a magic fix for that (code? emulation? lawsuit?) Again, thanks.

Oh yeah, another thing. Tell the vendors who make PCs to give us a goddam power connector that won’t break, OK? Want to know how to do that? look at a Mac!


I know, most users won't use the Linux shall. They won't even know it's there. But developers are your most important customers because we lead the way. The computer we get accustomed to using is the one we are gong to innovate for. (repeat after me: developers developers developers)


As long as I have your attention, and we’ve defined how to make a PC as good as a Mac, why not take it one step further and make it better than any Apple device. I’m hearing Windows 8 software may actually be better, now tell your hardware partners to make the computers better too. Way way better. Here’s how:

Start with a tablet. In the simplest view, the next PC (aka, the post-PC PC) should be a tablet, and if I’m futzing around the living room that’s what I might carry with me. Next, add a multipurpose tablet cover that doubles as a keyboard that doubles as a support for the tablet that doubles as the carrying case. This means the computer is also every bit as good as any laptop (when that’s the tool you need for heavy work), but also fixes the tablet problems of 1) screen protection, 2) typing for long-form content creation, and 3) support when you’re lying in bed or sitting on a plane watching a movie (it gets very tiresome holding up a tablet). Finally, provide a wide over-the-shoulder carrying strap that doubles as a power cable. This fixes the laptop problems of 1) hassle of getting into and out of a case, 2) losing the power cable, and 3) the power cable getting tangled. The result is super sweet: a better tablet, a better laptop, and a better lifestyle.


Now. I’ve only got a few months before I start shopping, Microsoft. Can you get this done in time, or will I feel compelled to Mac it up again?

Update Apr. 18, 2011: Just saw a couple of nice posts from Charlie Kindel about how to do unixy stuff on windows here and here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


I have difficult news. My recent Apple-related post, “Apple expands its China market by 1 million overnight,” contained what I like to call “significant fabrications” (I would call them “lies” but “significant fabrications” contains eight times as many syllables).

I take full responsibility. I should have never let myself post a blog without fact checking myself. You can be sure I’m going to give myself a severe spanking.

To set the record straight: No, Apple will NOT be increasing the pay of its Foxconn workers enough so that they can afford to buy the products they make. I just totally made that up.

But that part about Tim Cook wanting to be called “Tim Timinney Tim”; that’s totally true.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

And the on-demand music streaming iPhone app winner is…

I recently held an X-prize-like competition for any application that would stream a playlist of music to my iPhone. To win this prize, an app would have to pass the following strenuous task:

I would start the playlist streaming at home (where I have wifi), then put the iPhone in my shirt pocket while I walked to the coffee shop (through zones of 3G and occasional Edge coverage) and then back home again. Throughout the walk the prize-winning app would need to keep playing my playlist.
In other words, to win the prize the continuously streaming music app would have to continuously stream music. Is that too much to ask?

The coveted award for the winner would be $10/month from my own personal bank account.

The contestants, culled from an elite worldwide list of entrants, were Rhapsody, Spotify, MOG, and Rdio.
  • Rhapsody – Rhapsody was my favorite interface, so I really wanted this one to win and gave it a lot of chances to pass the test (more chances than any other). Unfortunately Rhapsody could stream no more than a few songs without hanging at some point (it would just stop, forever, at some random point within a song), and needed me to press “next song” to kick it into playing again. Sometimes it crashed. Some of the crashes were so bad that I had to reinstall the app.
  • Spotify – Spotify would often get stuck at the beginning of songs. Like Rhapsody I’d have to press the “next song” button to kick-start it into playing again. With all its funding, Spotify is far from the underdog that Rhapsody is so I didn’t give it as many chances. Also, I was annoyed at Spotify for bugging my Facebook friends, so I gave it only two chances to survive the walk-to-the-coffee-shop test.
  • MOG – Even the MOG web page got stuck in songs while I was setting up the playlist, and I really hated the drag-and-drop method of creating the playlist (my palsied hands just can’t do such fine motor control). So MOG didn’t make it to the iphone test. Sorry, MOG. You coulda been a contender.
  • Rdio – Rdio passed the test! I tried it a few times, and Rdio always kept on playing. The worst case was when I walked into a grocery store with zero cell signal, and for a couple of minutes Rdio did pause until I got back outside where there was a weak Edge signal, but Rdio never gave up and it never hung and I never had to interact with it to kick-start it into playing again—Rdio just kept on keeping on.
Congratulations, Rdio, from my tests it appears you’re the only continuously streaming music player that actually continuously streams music. Those other apps seriously should be ashamed. The $10/month prize belongs to Rdio (my check is in the mail).


Bonus For Techies Only: If you’re technically minded, and want to understand the fundamentals behind WHY those other applications don’t work in the real world, it’s because most developers don’t develop in, and therefore don’t understand, the real world. I’ve been trying to understand the issue myself lately, and recently created the first version of a tool to help developers and QA solve the problem (see CrappyNet for a more-generic version of a tool that helped us solve streaming problems for RadioWeave). If you’re into this kind of thing please take a look at CrappyNet and give me some feedback. Thanks.

Monday, February 20, 2012

My final pre-blog blog entry: July 29, 1993

Here is the final blog entry from my pre-blog blogging thought experiment 20 years ago, before I knew blogging would ever exist. (read my first pre-blog blog blog here)


Seven-year law-making/breaking
July 29, 1993

Someone made the mistake of asking me: Why is marijuana an illegal substance?

It is illegal because it was once made illegal, and once something is made illegal it becomes very difficult to make it legal again. This is because we hire law-makers and not law-breakers. It is their job to make laws, and they do their job very well. It is not until we start electing law-breakers that laws can be unmade.

It was relatively easy to make marijuana illegal, and I'm sure many posters can fill you in on the financial, racial, and political reasons why it was made illegal so long ago. Law books are crammed chock full of laws that have been made over the years, and the books get bigGer and bigger but never smaller. There are still abundant laws about where you can't graze your sheep and can't shoe your horse, where you can't spit and where you can't remove your shoes, where you can't keep your slaves, etc... Eventually every imaginable action will be against the law. However, it is only those laws that are enforced that affect us and that we seem to care about. It is already the case that a well-informed cop can almost certainly find some law you're breaking (a local policeman told me this was probably correct as he evicted me from a video store for attempting to rent a video tape while not wearing shoes).

Thomas Jefferson recommended that we have a new revolution every seven years. I think think that a revolution every seven years is going a bit too far. I think it's more reasonable that every law enacted become void after seven years. If it's a good law then the test of time will clearly have shown that it is good and so re-enactment will be simple. If it is a bad law then that too will be obvious. If it is questionable, then it would be up to its proponents show a convincing reason why this questionable law should be re-enacted.

This is what I think, and when the day comes that the world recognizes me as its natural leader, then this is how it will be. So there!

My first pre-blog blog entry: October 13, 1991

I’ve been spelunking through old files on my computer, and found a couple of interesting ones from the early 90’s. They’re not interesting because of their content, but because they remind me that back then it was so difficult to be heard.

At about that time I’d had a letter published in the local Boston Globe newspaper [for you youngsters out there, a “newspaper” used to be daily pile of “paper” that had “news” written on it, although it could hardly be called “news” because the information often was many hours old]. It was quite a thrill to see my name and opinion in print, even though (I was later told) that particular opinion cost me at least one job.

I got to thinking how cool it would be if I could type out a quick little editorial whenever I was in the mood, and just, I don’t know… “publish it”. So I tried a few editorials, but never figured out the “publish it” part. That would have to wait for the invention of the web and blogging platforms.

But, oh my god, how things have changed. Whereas back then I could write something and it may or may not (usuall not) get published (in very truncated form) in the letters-to-the-editor section of the newspaper, these days, with blogging, anyone can write anything and be read by, quite literally, dozens of people who accidentally get misdirected by a search engine.

Anyway, here’s my first blog from over 20 years ago, before I knew blogging would ever exist.


How to Choose a Major Political Affiliation
October 13, 1991

It is no wonder that young people today, as they come of voting age, are choosing not to do so. To vote you must register, and to register you must (or are strongly influenced to) choose a political affiliation with a major political party: Republican or Democrat. How can an eighteen-year-old be expected to decide between the two when for their entire cognizant life there has been no discernible difference, at least not a difference that anyone but a politician would recognize?

It is proper that there be opposing political forces that shape the decisions our government makes. As one force gains too much control, reflecting the temporary majority will of the people, the other force(s) push against that dominant force and keep pit from going too far too fast. Perhaps the weaker force(s) gain greater control as the people see the errors of the dominant. In this way even a nation of extremists will not be a nation of extremes.

There are plenty of reasons to argue against a two-party system in favor of multiple parties. I'm not necessarily in favor of only two parties myself, but it's a whole lot more sensible than what we've got. What we've got is a one party system: The Republicans and the other Republicans, or is it the Dems and the other Dems, or the Growth and Prosperity party vs. the Prosperity and Growth. In less-idiotic days we were choosing between Coke and Pepsi; now we choose between Coke and Diet Coke.

And so, for the near future, I will be satisfied by a nation of two political parties. To regain a separation between our two parties we must define those parties. The young person registering to vote, or the older person contemplating a change in political affiliation, can align or re-align themselves along the line of the party whose definition they prefer. If a party's members know what they value, then that party will itself be forced by its mass of members into working for those values. Politicians will know what they stand for. Voters will know what those politicians stand for, and they won't stand for any crap because as one value loses favor another one will temporarily gain dominance.

"Liberty and Justice for all," is perhaps a contradiction in terms and, in fact, it would make a fine basis for classifying two parties. We could have the Party of Liberty in constant opposition to the Party of Justice, yin-yang pulling us into a stabile oscillation of peace and harmony. However, there is no precedent for giving either party a monopoly over the ideals of either Liberty or Justice. Both parties within themselves have tried to manage the polar ideals of Liberty and Justice. Unfortunately, there is no simple concept--no single word or phrase--that can be used to define either party or to choose which party to join.

Fortunately I have been able, using the magic of conceit, to define a simple quiz that anyone can take to determine their proper political affiliation. The quiz is this: You are shown a newspaper with two articles. Article A is about a person who has been collecting welfare money for years under two different names and so has chosen not to be employed. Article B is about a person who has been unable to find work for just as long and whose children haven't had medical care or new clothes and who is being evicted, family and all, from their apartment. Now you are asked to decide which article really gets your dander up. If you choose A then you should register Republican, if B then register Democrat.

This simple quiz should be taken on a regular basis by everyone, not just by young potential voters, for any person is likely to answer different at any juncture in their life. Depending on changes in age, job, status, health, wealth, and recent random events, one's answer to the quiz is likely to change through the years. At times you will find it difficult to believe one or the other of the newspaper articles and so be very upset that the paper would publish such slander.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How propellers work (a lament for great minds wasted)

In times of yore great scientists formulated brilliant theories and equations for the fundamental laws of fluid dynamics. These principles described everything from how water flows through our water pipes to how an airplane flies.

Given the tools available to them, our scientific forefathers did amazing work. But imagine if the brilliant minds of our past had had the computing power available to us today. Imagine Archimedes, DaVinci, Pascal, Newton, Bernoulli, or Prandtl with the benefit of even the most basic computing power within a standard pocket-sized cell phone.

If Archimedes, in 250BC, had had a cheap camera-equipped cell-phone, he could have filmed for himself the propellers outside his plane window, as we did on a recent flight to Portland.

With the help of modern technology, it would have been immediately obvious to Archimedes how propellers work. Eureka, indeed!

What a shame that computers weren’t available until recently. What a shame for all the time wasted by great minds slowly developing theories, formulas, & calculi.

P.S. More delightful pictures based on CMOS scan lag of cell cameras here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Apple expands its China market by 1 million overnight

In a stunning game-changing announcement, proving once again that Apple is the world leader in business management and innovation, Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook declared:
As a company and as individuals, we are defined by our values. Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple’s values today, and I’d like to address this with you directly. We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain.

This morning the Apple board has agreed to distribute our on-hand cash, of about $100 billion, among the 920,000 Foxconn employees who make our amazing Apple products. That’s over $100,000 for each and every hard-working employee who put together the products that delight us. Put another way, we’ve just given them a 6,000% bonus over their $1,680 yearly salaries.
Within minutes of the announcement, a majority block of Apple shareholders began a lawsuit based on the legal concept Volumus Quod Pecunia, which roughly translates as “Hey, We want that money!”

Tim Cook responded to the irate shareholders:
We would never neglect our fiduciary shareholder responsibility. We are not paying $100,000 per Foxconn employee out of any sense of fairness, or out of the goodness of our hearts. We’re doing this because it just makes good business sense. We’re expanding our customer base.

Each of those employees can now, for the first time in their lives, afford to purchase the products they’re making. In fact, we’re pressuring Foxconn to mandate that every employee buy an iPad and an iPhone (although employees younger than 14 are required to get a parent’s permission).

One more thing: we’re mandating a reduced 90-hour workweek so our Chinese workers now have time to shop for Apple products. That’s how markets are grown.

Follow-up April 19:

Soon after publishing the above post I got a call from Apple's CEO Tim Cook. He was actually a really nice guy, insisting I call him "Tim Timinney Tim" because "that's what all my friends call me." What a sweetie.

He said he read my blog and took it to heart, and decided that I'd gone a little overboard by asking Apple to share $100,000 with each Foxconn worker, but they would be willing to give each worker a $1,000/year raise (that's 60%). “To pay for that we'll have to gut 1% out of our profits, or gouge the consumer by raising the price on each ipad and iphone by about $5, but, hey, we all gotta make sacrifices, right.”

“Right, Tim.”

“Right, what?”

“Right, Tim Timinney Tim.”

“That’s more like it.”

The NYTimes has now reported on the raise. Good for you Apple. Right on!


Follow-up March 18:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Flush with Community Pride

Off in the distance is the flame that burns all night on the local sewage treatment plant. Some call it "our eternal flame". Whatever you call it, it's something we as a community create together.

They say it takes a village. Come see the beautiful children.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Super Simple Job-Killing Calculator

It seems like everyone is talking about job-killing this and job-killing that, but nobody gets into the specifics. Who is killing the jobs and how many jobs are they killing?

Who is killing jobs?

Find a business that is making a profit. That profit represents money the business is bringing in that is NOT being paid to any employees. So if you’ve found a company making a profit, you’ve found a job-killer.

Fortune has listed the top 50 American job-killing companies here (although instead of “job-killing” they use the euphemism “profitable”).

How many jobs are they killing?

Let’s say the cost of a full-time employee (including, wages, benefits, etc..) comes to about $60,000 per year (according to Department of Labor numbers referred to here and some guessing).

Here’s the super simple calculation to determine how many jobs a company has killed:


Using that formula, and Fortune’s list of job-killing companies, here’s a list of how many jobs have been killed by the top 20 American job-killing companies in 2010.
Company# jobs killed
Exxon Mobil507,667
JP Morgan Chase289,500
Johnson & Johnson222,233
Berkshire Hathaway216,116
Proctor & Gamble212,267
Wells Fargo206,033
General Electric194,066
Goldman Sachs139,233

That’s 4,743,480 jobs killed by just the top 20 American companies.

What and where are the jobs being killed?

We’ve seen who is killing jobs, and approximately how jobs many are being killed. That part is super simple. To understand what jobs are being killed you have to know the particulars of the industry. I’m a Silicon Valley computer programmer, so I really understand only two of those companies in Fortune’s list of top-20 job-killers: Apple and Google.

It’s super simple to understand how Google kills jobs. Google is in the advertising business, and have by far the most efficient advertising model ever created. For every advertising dollar that goes into Google, an advertising dollar is not going somewhere else (where the advertising dollar would have been used less efficiently). In other words, each Google employee is replacing multiple people that used to be in the advertising business somewhere else (advertising agencies, advertising artists, pitchmen, newspapers, many levels of middlemen, and so on).

How Apple kills jobs is more complicated only because they’re in more businesses. The iPhone business, for example, is hugely profitable, which is just another way of saying it kills a lot of jobs. What jobs has the iPhone killed? Tons of jobs at Nokia, Motorola, RIM, and everyone else that were making an inferior mobile phone. For another example, Apple is also hugely profitable selling music through iTunes, and again by “profitable” I mean “job-killing” where the jobs are tons of people in the old music-supply chain who are now jobless (everyone from evil music industry executives down to the offbeat employees of record stores that used to exist in every mall and main street).

But aren’t profitable companies the top job creators?

Yes, profitable companies are the ones creating jobs. But for every one job created at profitable company A, there are probably about four jobs lost at companies X, Y, & Z. Again, taking Apple and Google as examples, they each employ about 1 person for every 4 jobs they’ve killed (Apple: 60,000 jobs created versus 233,550 jobs killed; Google: 31,000 jobs created versus 141,750 killed).

Lesson Learned: Do you want to create a profitable business? Figure out how to do something with one person that used to require five.

Why are these job-killing companies the same ones politicians praise as “job creators”?

Because politicians are stupid or hypocritical, or because they know we are.

How about this “tax repatriation holiday” to bring money in to create jobs?

Oh please, that’s hardly even worth a reply! (Who writes these idiotic questions?) These companies use shenanigans to sequester profits offshore, and then ask for a tax holiday to bring the money back to the US to “create jobs”? If the goal of these companies were truly to “create jobs” then they wouldn’t have those profits in the first place. If their true goals were both to create jobs and to avoid taxes on $1 trillion in profits, as they claim, then they would have hired $1 trillion in employees already, and their taxes on profits would be zero.

Who are you to pass judgment?

I’m not passing judgment. I’m just explaining economics and jobs in simple terms. As a computer programmer, I’ve written lots of code that has led to small teams being hired at the expense of large (inefficient) teams being fired. I’m a job killer. That’s why I’m paid the big bucks. I’m not against profit (especially my own), nor am I against replacing lots of workers with a few workers being more efficient.

I’m just against lying about what creates jobs and what kills them. Profits are generated by killing jobs. That's pretty simple.

Update May 1, 2012

For the case of Apple, Business Insider just published an interesting breakdown of exactly where those jobs were killed that correspond with Apple's profits. If you're on the committee determining who should win the Nobel Prize in Economic Science, remember that I published first!

Update July, 2020 (a few months into COVID-19 pandemic)

THE FORMULA is being tested in the COVID economy, at: