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March 2007 Archives

March 3, 2007

Going to California

Loading The Orb just before leaving Manhattan last night for TED 2007 where I will be giving a 5 minute talk on the piece and my upcoming work and exhibiting in the conference gallery. As much as presenting, I'm looking forward to soaking in an impressively diverse lineup consisting of people from Bill Clinton and Richard Branson to Tracy Chapman and They Might Be Giants.

March 4, 2007

West of the Mississippi

Crossing the Mississippi River at Alton, IL on a cold winter day.

March 5, 2007

On the Border

Sunny skies frame the scenery on Interstate 40 in western New Mexico.

March 6, 2007

Got there.

The mirror array of a solar power plant off I-40 in Southern California.

Patents 2.0?

There's something beautifully ironic about using an open process for reviewing the protection of intellectual property. But hey, why not? Seeing the USPTO jump on the wiki wagon should be a pretty definitive sign that the rules are indeed changing and that's an exciting thing.

What's really going to be interesting though is seeing if those at the helm of this project has what it takes to finesse a community in the face of the gaming that will inevitably occur in a system where the potential stakes are so high. It's good to hear that Malda et. al. are being consulted, but only time will really tell if they can overcome the outside pressures. I suspect that the fact that what is considered "gaming" on digg.com will legally be considered "fraud" on uspto.gov will help, but clearly legal enforcement can only play part of the solution.

All that aside, most of all I'm impressed with the relative timeliness of the USPTO's experiment, given the usual lag where government and technology overlap. Maybe understaffing isn't always such a bad thing.

From USPTO Peer Review Process To Begin Soon: "An anonymous reader writes 'As we've discussed several times before on Slashdot, the US patent office is looking to employ a Wiki-like process for reviewing patents. It's nowhere near as open as Wikipedia, but there are still numerous comparisons drawn to the well-known project in this Washington Post story. Patent office officials site the huge workload their case officers must deal with in order to handle the modern cycle of product development. Last year some 332,000 applications were handled by only 4,000 employees. 'The tremendous workload has often left examiners with little time to conduct thorough reviews, according to sympathetic critics. Under the pilot project, some companies submitting patent applications will agree to have them reviewed via the Internet. The list of volunteers already contains some of the most prominent names in computing, including Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Oracle, as well as IBM, though other applicants are welcome.''

(Via Slashdot.)

Everything old is new again

Maybe there's a correlation to the fact that I'm not a big Twitter fan and the fact that never in my life have I used wall. And that, on the other hand, find / | grep is always right at my fingertips.

From 'sfearthquakes' on Twitter: By Marc Hedlund

One of my favorite business model suggestions for entrepreneurs is, find an old UNIX command that hasn't yet been implemented on the web, and fix that. talk and finger became ICQ, LISTSERV became Yahoo! Groups, ls became (the original) Yahoo!, find and grep became Google, rn became Bloglines, pine became Gmail, mount is becoming S3, and bash is becoming Yahoo! Pipes. I didn't get until tonight that Twitter is wall for the web. I love that.

(Via O'Reilly Radar.)

March 8, 2007

TED Speakers' Dinner - Monterey Bay Aquarium

What a welcome to TED. The speakers' dinner was attended by an enormous cast of brilliant people and big names in the community. It was truly a fantastic and inspirational event that took place in a beautiful setting, the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The great surprises of Day 1 for me were the optimistic take on the trends of violence in the world, presented by Steven Pinker and the closing act of the day, musician Raul Midon, who blew the audience's mind with solo acoustic guitar, soulful vocals, and trumpet solos without a trumpet. Amazing.

Day two is off to a great start with a stirring first session, starting with a passionate presentation on global warming by engineer-turned-VC John Doerr and closing with yet another enlightening talk by Lawrence Lessig. Anand Agarawala's 5 minute talk on his invention, BumpTop, a physical desktop engine, was also impressive and extremely well received.

Session 4 is underway. More to follow...

March 11, 2007


Billed as a conference unlike any other, TED2007 lives up to the hype. A powerful talk from Bill Clinton and a beautiful performance from Tracy Chapman were among the many highlights of the last two days. It was truly an honor and incredible experience to take the same stage as so many greats. TED is a really dense conference, and it's going to take a few days to digest everything and report in more detail on some of the specific talks. In the meantime, Ethan Zuckerman has been doing a nice job of blogging the event.

Not that TED is all work and no play, however. The TED Grand Party last night, held in a converted jet hangar was an amazing opportunity to talk with such a great number of fascinating people. I'm sure there were so many others that I hope to meet in the future.

I do want to point now to the art of Greg Brotherton, a gifted sculptor from Los Angeles who exhibited two pieces in the TED galleries. A deep history, a strong philosophy, and raw talent combine to create amazing pieces of great beauty.

I leave you now with a few photos from beautiful Monterey, CA:

March 12, 2007

Mountain view

Mountain scenery off I-80 in Nevada.

On stage

On stage at TED2007, presenting The Orb. Photo by Pierre Omidyar, flickr: pmo.

Thanks to Anand Agarawala for the tip.

March 13, 2007

A day late and a dollar short

A truckstop of yesteryear on I-80 in Wyoming.

Where am I?

March 19, 2007

Vista on the MacBook Pro

I recently came across a gifted copy of Windows Vista Ultimate. As it turns out, I needed a copy of Windows for some CAD work on my MacBook Pro, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Vista isn't officially supported by Apple's Boot Camp, but after a bit of Googling, it seemed relatively safe, so I continued.

Installation was flawless. I inserted the Vista CD when Boot Camp asked for XP, and everything proceeded smoothly. It is a big installation though, consuming almost half of the 20GB I allotted to it. I followed these instructions to get the Apple drivers installed (not seamless, but it works) and everything is up and running.

I've only been using it for a few days, but all in all, I'm rather impressed. As a relatively recent Windows to OSX convert, the interface isn't so bad. I still prefer the Mac in terms of usability, but I have to admit, Vista is sort of pretty. It is hard though to miss the tail chasing that's going on here by Microsoft. The new Windows menu file system layout is oddly reminiscent of Finder. Even one of the bundled screensavers is a pretty apparent clone of the default OSX saver. The new desktop modules basically put Dashboard on the desktop, and the new Aero window management features add some 3D eye candy to Expose, albeit at the expense of hot corners — not a good tradeoff for my habits, but admittedly pretty. It almost makes me wonder, do the Windows designers run OSX at home? Either way, to me, a little more Apple flavor in Windows is a welcome addition, but not necessarily a source of honor and pride for Microsoft.

IE7 also copies its killer app from Safari: both are best used to download FireFox. IE7 does have one nice feature that I've noticed in the few minutes I've used it though: you can spawn a new tab by clicking a little stub button on the tab bar. A nice feature, although this Firefox extension does the trick as well.

Performance-wise, I'm satisfied. The new visual effects run smoothly on the MBP, although it should — the Pro has an ATI Radeon X1600 GPU with 256MB of dedicated graphics RAM. CAD apps possibly marginally less snappy than with a barren XP install, but all in all very usable, even in cases where the apps aren't officially Vista-rated.

I first installed Vista under Parallels in Mac OSX. This worked, but in the interest of saving space and not having redundant installs, I deleted the image to install it in a separate Boot Camp partition. After doing this, I found that the current version of Parallels doesn't support booting from a Vista Boot Camp partition. I'm looking forward to this feature, as it's nice to be able to quickly jump into Windows, but have the option for a full boot for more demanding apps like 3D CAD.

Would I pay $400 for Vista Ultimate? Probably not, unless I absolutely had to use a Windows-only application. It's nice, but so is OSX and for that matter Ubuntu, given enough patience and skill in setup and configuration. That leads to what is, for me, really the biggest problem with Windows these days: I miss the UNIX console. Having to download a separate ssh client and install my own scp seems completely unreasonable, especially considering the 9GB+ install footprint with everything but the kitchen sink (and UNIX terminal standards) thrown in.

I look forward to the day when Ubuntu and other Linux distros truly reach consumer-ready status, and that day is coming. Even today though, it blows my mind to see kiosks proudly displaying the blue screen of death. I would never pay thousands of dollars for Windows licenses for something like subway car displays or even Times Square signage when the simple GUI and configuration arguments should realistically be thrown out the window, much like they are in most of the web servers of the world, in favor of reduced cost and increased stability.

To continue to thumb its nose at the Linux community's technology is Microsoft's mistake, and recently I've started to think it would be a fatal one. Vista continues Microsoft's commitment to this grand mistake, but also shows that they still have some fight to bring to the ring.

Maybe the best reason to boot Windows

One of the technological highlights of TED was Microsoft's Photosynth. A way of mapping user-submitted photos to 3D models as a novel way of photo-mapping the world, it was absolutely stunning. The demo, linked above, runs in IE or Firefox, but only on Windows, but it's worth the trouble, both as an actual experience and as a hint of what's to come. The presenters had a great attitude regarding the common anti-MS sentiment of the world ("Who would ever have thought that there would be a Microsoft talk at a session called 'Simplicity'?"), and once they started showing their work, they clearly had no reason for concern. Take a look for yourself and be impressed.

March 28, 2007

The Birth of Expertise

Last July, Scientific American published a fascinating piece called The Expert Mind, an examination of the mental mechanics of expertise and how they develop. The concepts are largely approached through the game of chess, "the Drosophila of cognitive science". Signs point to a diminished significance of "innate talent" and the triumph of practice and effort. Leading the charge are concepts such as chunking, the 10-year rule (it takes a decade of hard work to get really good at anything), and the importance of "effortful study":

From Scientific American: The Expert Mind:

"Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but 'effortful study,' which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time. It is interesting to note that time spent playing chess, even in tournaments, appears to contribute less than such study to a player's progress; the main training value of such games is to point up weaknesses for future study.

Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance--for instance, keeping up with one's golf buddies or passing a driver's exam--most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind's box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields."

(Via Creating Passionate Users.)


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