Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Press Release of My Near Future

First search Google...

Then find a slew of regurgitated results (source organizations first):
Yeah, I have told you before, but specifically after I was cleared to tell my friends, but here's the press machine in action. "Some Nokia employees at an existing Nokia R&D facility in suburban Burlington, Mass. are expected to move to the MIT center." Well, yes, and those of us who aren't -- about half of the department -- and didn't make a transfer otherwise, are getting really good goodbye packages by, I have to say, global standards.

Especially US ones. Geez, the stories... (We have a number of Cabletron refugees in our buildings, and the tales they tell are hair raising. Like being told there were two busses outside, one going a to a team-building and everyone in the other getting layed off, and being assigned a bus and being told only after both busses were rolling which bus was which. I am dead serious, that is just one story they told me. If you ever hear from someone that they worked for Cabletron right before and during the .com boom, throw some liquor into them and start asking. It is likely you'll feel lucky wherever you work now.)

For my new friends here who didn't get this before, I got asked to work on a new item in August or so, just as my previous project at Nokia Research Center [NRC] Burlington was officially going nowhere. It is a system/service that is more of a support function for NRC than a project.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

And All Just So I Can Have A More Active 'Social' Life

Ten years ago, a friend gave me his leftover Mac SE with external monitor and hard disk and modem when I left the house he had so graciously opened to me while I found a place of my own. I got an Unlimited Local Calling Plan (Unlimited! Just like free refills! Would these wonders of the American Way of Consuming ever cease?) and for the first time this Usenet addict could read Usenet at home by dialing in to his provider in Cambridge, SPDCC. I knew the owner.

Then Dean came over and we moved in together and we bought this custom built tricked out PC. It's Intel chip ran over 200MHz, and we splurged on 128Mb of memory and Windows NT 4.0. I still used dial up to be on Usenet, IRC, and Telnet, and I still knew the owner of my dial up.

Then we bought a condo and we moved and we got DSL. Over the years the service was great, but dealing with Verizon was a nightmare. Still on the big computer, which our house guest exercised at night. I think he got the most keyboard time on it.

Then I started to work for Nokia and bought my Toshiba Libretto 110CT to take to work, with a dreadful CDPD card (11Kbps, effectively, bursty, lossy). I wanted wireless surfing at home, so I scored this set of wireless PCMCIA cards for 2Mbps wireless, bought a PCI-to-PCMCIA card so I could shove one of them into the big box that was on DSL, downloaded a program that made Windows 2000 (Windows 2000! It sucked but it rocked after NT 4.0) share the super fast DSL, and now I could surf in the living room. Somewhere in the comingt years I dropped the Libretto and then redecorated it.

Then I realized we were a magnet for intrusions, or soon would be, and I scored off eBay -- I could now do eBay! And get bargains! -- an IBM Butterfly because it was cute with its folding keyboard, and I proceeded to put OpenBSD on it and configure firewall rules. This took 4 solid weeks of me sitting at a desk in the evenings trying to get it to work, mostly because until then I had only been a UNIX user and had no idea what was involved in being a super-user. I got all impressed by terms like hardening and rule-chains and got lost in contradicting HOW-TOs that weren't, because OpenBSD people were supposed to already know OpenBSD. This is where I learned JWZ's lesson the hard way, and that it applies to not just Linux: All open-source and free software is free if your time has no value. But by the end I understood firewalls a lot better and how NAT worked and the house was safe.

Then I bough a set of proper 802.11b cards, and suddenly my laptop, and Dean's laptop, and the big box were all wireless. And so fast -- we could saturate the DSL! The house guest still logged the most keyboard time, usually when Australians were awake. I still have an IRC acquaintance in Canberra from that.

Then I got tired of being a sysadm for the firewall and I bought, for a hundred bucks or so, an Linksys ethernet router with a built-in firewall. I knew what smurf-attacks and Stateful Packet Inspection were, so I could find a tiny consumer-electronics-like box that didn't say on the side that its apex of security was how it implemented NAT. I also scored, off eBay, a wireless access point for 68 bucks -- an eBay bargain! -- while Apple was still selling Airports for 200 or so and Nokia's access point was projected to cost a 1000 bucks, right before they woke up to Apple having changed the rules of the game and canning the whole division. My access point had no brand, came from Taiwan, needed to be configured with an arcane program I was always losing the disk of, but was tiny and just worked. Exit butterfly, and everyone including the TiVo had 802.11 and there were extra network jacks for when the page that purrs was still being served from our bedroom closet. Dean can now do webcam shows from all over the house, like when he used to fold laundry. By now, the indestructable Butterfly had a completely busted hinge from being half-open all the time.

Then we got Comcast digital broadband, and we ditched the house guest and Verizon DSL. One could say telephony was out in our household. Now I have a phone plan that is unlimited everything, not just local, and I've been in the US long enough to not be impressed. And you only get free refills on sodas, which I no longer drink anyway because they either made me fat or tasted like aspartame, so who wants unlimited more of that? I repurposed a broken Sony laptop to run Fedora Core 2 -- you install that on a laptop with a broken screen -- and realized I still know crap all about how to maintain a UNIX box properly, but the installers are way prettier. This box ran an internal caching DNS and DHCP services so as to first of all deal with the fact that Comcast's shiny new digital cable infrastructure had DNS servers that fell over every 5 minutes, and so that the known machines in the house always got the same IP address and I could keep track where everything was. This install took a week or three as well.

Yesterday I got a box from Netgear. It has even faster wireless (B and G), an advanced firewall with the latest SPI rules, a built in DHCP server that also allows me to set fixed addresses for my known boxes, and does almost everything my Linksys box, my Taiwanese no-name access point, and my Sony VAIO DHCP server did, with a single interface that needs no wizards or crap installed. It doesn't cache DNS look-ups, I think, but Comcast has their act together now, so I do not need it. Time to set up, including shiny new 128bit WEP keys: one hour and a half because I was trying every options. Cost: 34 dollars, free Super Saver Shipping.

Friday, October 21, 2005


When Sealab 2020 will be built it won't be to study marine biology. It will be to house the absolutely enormous supercomputer so as to shield it from neutron radiation and to water-cool it.

I don't even want to know what the 2021 crew will do to it...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

You Lookin' At Me?

Deleted Orkut and Friendster. They are of no use.

Especially Orkut. When I logged in today after months of absence, it wanted me to migrate to a Gmail account -- which I have -- but the way in which Google is linking every way I use Google Inc. together doesn't sit right with me. I have many facets to my life, some very professional, some adult, some geeky, some downright illegal. I consider it a failing of mine that I am not ready to integrate them at this time, because I do believe in having an open life. But, my current reality is that I am not, mostly for family reasons, and I do not need Google or any other system to do it for me. I do not need a central repository of all the transgressive things I search for cross-correlated with the papers I wrote for Harvard and then made searchable, for example, even if it is not supposed to be searchable ever ever ever. Because maybe nobody outside the specific agglomerator may be able to get to it, but even the-- no wait, security leaks happen all the time, and at this point I bet the complete list of what you have searched for on Google may be considered by many as more personal and private than their SSN, and those are leaked every two days these days. But let's say Google is totally secure, then even then I do not like Google or another agglomerator knowing. Sure, nobody inside Google, or any other agglomerators may care, and-- no wait, that may be a complete lie too

Here's why I think that: in 1995, when the web started taking off, I started doing work at Children's Hospital Boston in sharing electronic medical records over the web. So I was in the middle of all the disucssions about privacy and confidentiality and access rights that eventually percolated into thinking like the current HIPPA legislation, which, for example, makes throwing a lab result into a standard trash bin that collects into a public landfill a $5000,-- offense for the person managing that record, and in my opinion, rightly so. One of the anecdotes about access rights was that after Kitty Dukakis went public with her substance abuse and alcohol poisoning, suddenly electronic accesses to her medical file inside Mass General Hospital went through the roof. It was then MGH realised they needed more granular access controls on their electronic medical files -- a system MGH was one of the first to have, and arguably pioneered -- because the electronic files were allowing what paper files did not, and it turned out doctors and nurses actually were human and had prurient interestst.

Well, guess what, with every month a new friend of mine is working at Google, and thus I know old foes are too. Are they going to check my complete integrated logs? No. Do I care that they can? In many cases, yes. At some point I need to let that go, because access to much of my information really isn't under my control anymore, and I am deluding myself into thinking it is not leaking and seeping out of agglomerators left and right in ways that can easily be cross-correlated, but I am not ready to give up my illusions yet. So no, I am not signing into anything with my Gmail account but Gmail, and cookies are being purged.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Question About Us

When you are at a website, do you ever hit the link 'About Us' or 'About This Site'? Do you remember ever having done so? What were you looking for, if you did? What did you expect to find?

Or Maybe Not

After my forays into friendser and Orkut -- still need to delete myself from those -- I didn't go into because I already had a journal, a photojournal, webspace, and a set of e-friends, but now that I found out I can get spammed for chat by lonely random US marines, it probably really is time.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Other Blog

My virtual journalclub is being comment-spammed like crazy. 5 new ones every day that I dutifully delete. I worry what would happen if I didn't pay attention to it for two weeks or so.

At my last eval my manager -- soon to no longer be my manager -- made a comment that kinda hit me: "40 papers-- that's a dissertation." Yeah, I read that many, but because they are so all over the field, and I had no idea for a direction other than a very vague one, I don't have an analysis of 40 papers worth a dissertation, I have 40 blurbs. That could have been better. Just reading them because the abstracts were interesting was not enough.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

iTunes Video

Thoughts on the introduction of the iPod/iTunes Store with video capabilities:

  1. For a portable media player [PMP], it has a small screen. However, it is an iPod. It has 81% of the current market. The current ones will be dropped, broken, wear out, and then when Joe and Jane Public go out to replace them, they will get one of the video ones. They will be the best sold PMP in no time.

  2. Two of ABC's top shows are available. They are now in Season 2. You can buy a 'boxed set' of Season 1 for both shows for 35 bucks, but not individual shows from Season 1.

  3. This really confronts you with how much commercials are in a TV show. The single episodes around 43 minutes long. This for an hour of TV.

  4. THis won't be a significant revenue stream for TV. Every episode would have to be downloaded 600.000 times, assuming a 20% cut for Apple and no overhead over a budget of a million bucks per episode for ABC -- which is no way in hell true for their flagship shows -- before ABC has recouped just costs. But for cheaper cult shows...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Just Don't Actually Answer

Feedback always appreciated.

Are you sure?

I always get to happily deal with that question, because every product I am part of of course needs to be seen by all stakeholders, their friends, and random usability departments. And because everyone uses an interface or knows how to read, they all can comment on how it feels to them. I am entering a round of it again, and while I put on a brave face, the same I always put on about now in my development cycle, and say of course feedback is good because it will make a better product or allows us to make text to prepare the user, I always dread it. I do. Less every time, but still. Whenever it comes in I have to first breathe and put on my 'consultant' rational mind. The consultant has a different voice, you know, more soothing, and uses a lot of sentences like "I wouldn't recommend that" or "I am not sure that furthers our goals." Even when I just get into that mindset to deal with feedback my internal voice changes to him. The guy who spent days on end placing everything where it is in endless design mini-cycles needs to not be there. The writer needs to not be there.

But this cycle is necessary. Not getting a response to requests for feedback in this professional setting is only a relief the way chocolate helps a broken heart.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Doubts, Of Course

And as the days advance to release date, I live in abject fear of what I am doing. The notion that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people, over time, will scrutinize my work, is starting to hit. I am not just playing around any more. This thing has cleared all political hurdles, it has increased as a project by 100%, it is real. And it is targetted to my peers. They will see this product like I would scrutinize it.

The prototyping, the ideas, the technical advice, I could do that all. Now I am in execution mode, and I am out of my depth, I think. I am trained to know what goes where in a UI, but now that I have done that I have to face that this system has a very heavy graphic design component. I am not a graphic designer. I have almost no innate talent to compensate for either that lack of training and certification, or my lack of experience that is any more than dabbling on my own websites, a yearbook or two, my pictures. I know in my heart this should be a multi-disciplinary team working together, but alas, when it comes to anything but managing the organization and getting the product organizationally out the door, I am it. Usually I would outsource the minor graphical elements to the outside graphics company, but with this budget, I will have to do. And the funny thing is, the manager approached me not for my technical skills, but because she thought I had good taste, and a commitment to usability to equal her own. She wanted me to do this part.

I will not let her down. Nor myself, since this will be my calling card for next gigs outside Nokia, as my previous two years of research have not really been cleared to delve into the details of during job interviews, and seems to be mostly a huge waste of time anyway. I am working weekends, some nights. Yes, I may think I am out of my depth, but as I have proven to myself before, in the end I make the goddamn systems goddamn work.

First user feedback came back yesterday on part of the system, from a UI designer in another division. "I would never trust this [product] to have good Open Source [stuff]; it is too clean and neat!" I was very amused. Best compliment I ever got for my designs. Yet I spent most of today geeking it up, caught as I am between the need to serve my peers who think absolute tech and shudder at stock photography, and the latest brand guidelines about how we should de-emphasize tech and focus on and show humans in natural settings incidentally using our products.

I'll find my way.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

How Butch Do I Look On This?

Headline on "New scooters: manly & awesome"

Here's a hint for the ages: when needs to tell you a product is manly, guaranteed that it isn't.

Edit: Oooooh, AKIRA on a budget. And 11 inch wheels.