Category Archives: Ranting

Google Wave: using the tricks of the insurgency to maintain monopoly

Here’s Google Wave. It’s a crazy casserole of Twitter, IM, email, Facebook… but what it really is fascinates me.

Let’s say you’re a company that wants to compete against Microsoft. First, that’s just not a good idea in general, but the most viable strategy you have is to reduce whatever Microsoft product you’re going up against to a faceless widget and then build around it. You don’t want to fight SQL Server (or Oracle, for that matter). You want to fund open database alternatives, standards, and go build stuff that runs on any database… and hopefully Microsoft doesn’t envelop and destroy your value-add.

If you’re an airline, you want planes to be a commodity that consumers don’t care about. If you’re Boeing, you’d really love it if people demanded to fly on your planes, so instead you’re duking it out with Airbus and the things that compose and service your planes are what you’re trying to reduce to commodities.

If you’re Expedia, where I work, you want to have a huge catalog of shiny things, but if one of those things was soooo amazingly shiny everyone wanted it and only it, you’d be screwed. And that one hotel could charge whatever they wanted and make ridiculous money.

Twitter and Facebook right now both have early eBay like advantages: your friends are there, so if you want to hang out, you have to go there. Any competitor has to either build on or extend them (which is good for the platforms, because it builds their user base and enhances their features), or offer full compatibility and migrate people over, or offer something that doesn’t look like it’s competition until it’s too late.

Like Twitter v Facebook: Twitter’s this dumb, clunky thing, has some users, and then bam, suddenly everyone’s on it so everyone wants to be on it, and soon Facebook’s dumping things it does right to offer an experience closer to Twitter…

Anyway. So say you’re Google, and your business is essentially contextual ads. You don’t get to put those on Twitter feeds, and any revenue sharing with Facebook’s going to have to beat the spread they can get themselves. So why not just take a shot at destroying their entire ecosystem?

Because say Google Wave works. Then, like Gmail, they can try and offer the best interface to this new wonder commodity and slap their super-smart contextual ads on it, and they’re off to the races. Facebook’s built a Facebook platform, Twitter’s built a platform for social media jerks to auto-follow and spam each other continually, but Google Wave puts Twitter in the same bucket as the Twitter competitors, leveling them all, and then it makes your social network home irrelevant, because who cares if you’re using Facebook or MySpace if Wave helps suck up all the interesting stuff in them?

I don’t know if it’ll work… but it’s brilliant as a business move.

Unsettling

I was trying to get Win 7 set up so I could do some… well, it doesn’t matter, but it involved VMware Fusion, the Windows 7 RC, a lot of reboots, and a ton of me staring at Windows config screens and scratching my chin occasionally. Anyway, it felt more and more off, like there was something I just wasn’t getting, and I got a little more anxious each time I’d try and hook up a network resource and get stuck on the domain, or try some setting tweak that didn’t quite make sense.

A good hour in, I realized the sounds just barely audible over my Mac Mini’s almost-silent fan were actually music. iTunes had shuffled to “Absolutego” by Boris (in fact, “Absolutego – Special Low Frequency Version” which is described by allmusic thusly:

And talk about buildups, this thing starts with a full 25 minutes of heavily down-tuned bass rumblings and doom-instilling guitar feedback before the drums and vocals finally kick in with the big payoff. From there, the band moves through about 15 minutes of thick, fuzzed-out trance rock (again, mostly instrumental) before the drums exit again, leaving in their wake a howling, droning mass of layered guitar feedback. The sound of this is truly massive and unsettling. It takes a good 25 more minutes for the wreckage to clear and the track to finally wind down to a close — it seems strange to say it, but anything less would have seemed like an abrupt halt, such is the magnitude of this track.

Kids… don’t attempt troubleshooting while listening to stuff like this. With your concentration focused elsewhere, it’ll seep into things, melting your brain, and will mess you up severely.

This is not about wheelbuilding

I’ve been building wheels. I tend to torque the hell out of my bikes. As much as I’ve tried, my friend Joel will tell you I cause him pain when I push a high gear hard, because riding behind he has to listen to the metal drivetrain complain. Wheels are delicately balanced things: a hub has 32 spokes to the wheel, 16 to each side, and if the tension is uneven from spoke to spoke, it’ll wobble from side to side, rubbing on the brake pads and wasting energy. If the tension is uneven from side, so that the hub is off-center within the rim itself, the wheel goes up and down as it turns, which causes all kinds of problems of its own.

When considerable force is applied unevenly, like through a pedal stroke, that force is applied more to certain spokes, turning the wheel, and over time, the tension of those spokes changes, sending it out of true.

A good wheel will remain true for years if you don’t run into anything. I not only don’t manage that, I run into things. A couple weeks ago, the person I was riding behind stopped unexpectedly, and I ran my spinning wheel into the back of his bike, driving my set of spinning-at-twenty-miles-an-hour spokes into his rear bracket, bending them badly. Which means my wheels need truing more often than they should.

Here’s the condensed version of almost every instruction manual on wheelbuilding:
-Get the right length of spokes
-Thread carefully in this pattern, or this other pattern
-Spin the wheel
-Adjust to fix the left-to-right wobble
-When that looks good, adjust to fix the up-and-down wobble
-Repeat those last two steps until the wheel is so nearly perfect that you strain your eyes to see the wobble

There are many problems with this. Wheels are shipped imperfect, however slightly. Picking the right length of spoke turns out to involve online calculators, or databases, and sometimes I stop and look at the wheel and wonder whether I just threaded in the right direction or not. The best way to replace a rim bent from hitting a pothole is to get exactly the same rim and then, spoke by spoke, swap the old rim out, maintaining the same lacing pattern and everything. That’s not really wheelbuilding though. It feels cheap, like I’m copying someone else’s work without learning anything. Fortunately, I’ve been building wheels with enough differences that there’s nothing to trace.

The worst thing for me is that I can come out of it with a perfectly well-adjusted wheel where the spokes are wildly unevenly tensed. One might be extremely tight, then a quite loose one, just barely past hand-tight, followed by another extremely tight. I’ll sigh, try to get a more uniform tension by doing a series of complicated small balancing adjustments, and it’s rare that that doesn’t create a different, equally obvious shortcoming somewhere else.

It’s extremely frustrating. I’ve been trying to build a new set for the last few weeks, following the collision. Sometimes I’ll watch a Mariners game with the truing stand on my desk and go through making large adjustments, twenty four spokes one full turn tighter each, and finally down to tiny, one-eighth turns.

A truly good wheel-builder can do a wheel with a speed that boggles my mind. They thread the wheel without looking at an example wheel or a chart on a monitor, but by putting the rim in their lap and quickly pushing thirty-two spokes in, lacing them correctly, and then they go through a series of quick adjustments on the truing stand, check whether the hub is off-center, which it isn’t, and set it aside to build the next one.

There’s a moment where the wheel comes together, where it snaps into place, becoming one thing instead of a rub connected to a rim by a network of metal rods. Even imperfect, it’s a wheel. Sometimes, in going through my endless truing, I would pick it out of the stand and see that it wasn’t working, and resign myself to restarting. Or I’d realize that without knowing it, my brainstorm to tighten all the crossing spokes half a turn had brought the whole thing together, and that I could ride it right that moment if I had to.

Tonight I finished the replacement front wheel for the one destroyed. I’ve been riding back and forth to work on a front wheel I took off my training Cannondale, built out parts so old they don’t show up in Google searches. The new wheels are beautiful, quite nice, costly, as good bike parts are. I may have built it with incorrectly sized spokes, which isn’t my fault because I bought it as a set. But it turns out that spoke length calculation isn’t quite an exact science, and there’s always the chance they thought I was going to do a different pattern.

It was ten, and I’d finished up my second restart build happily, using my own set of instructions, which essentially came down to:
-Thread spokes in a two-cross pattern
-Tighten the spokes enough that no spoke’s floppy
-Spin the wheel
-Adjust to fix the left-to-right wobble
-When that looks good, adjust to fix the up-and-down wobble
-Repeat those two steps
-Consider the wheel and how I feel about it
-Adjust the sections I don’t feel good about

I went through this while watching an interview and paying a lot more attention to the interview than my own inadequacies as a wheelbuilder. I spun it with the tolerance so tight that when the wheel rubbed left-to-right I couldn’t tell which side it was on without touching the calipers to feel the vibration when they touched the spinning rim.

I put it on the bike and in my bare feet rode it out on the street in front of my house in the full moon. New wheels sound notes that first time, stressed differently with an inflated tire around the circumference and a rider’s weight squishing them. They twang as they re-sort their positions at each junction in the lacing. It’s like metal strings being plucked, and it always makes me smile. As I pulled back in, walking the bike, I saw that the brake pads rubbed. The wheel would need a little more adjustment, so I pulled it off, deflated the tire, and headed back to the truing stand.

Tomorrow I’ll ride my new wheel to work, and I don’t know how it’ll go.

McDonald’s vs. Starbucks — coffee fight!

Because I’m a total coffee nerd, I’ve been watching the McDonald’s-Starbucks coffee war with great interest. I’ve had the new McDonald’s drinks (road trip + wife likes the shakes) and they’re — erratic. One was good, the others ranged from passable to bad.

I realized, though, that Starbucks has really invited this. Their current espresso machines are entirely push-button: plus button, beep, extra-hot! minus button, beep, add a shot, beep beep — there’s almost nothing to do for the baristas. If they’ve reduced coffee to pushing buttons, well, McDonald’s employees can push buttons too. If it’s about the beans then, it’s tougher to match the Starbucks roast-and-deliver infrastructure, but heck, if they really wanted they could overnight roasted beans from someone good.

Then what? In terms of drip coffee, the Clover potentially gives them a sustainable competitive advantage over everyone else because they’ve got unique machines protected with a moat of patents. But I’d never really considered how much Starbucks’ long move towards machines with greater and greater amounts of automation has opened the door for other people to compete with them on their most central product.

Why would we do that?

I want to believe there’s a special place in Hell for city planners who build light rail and bus systems that don’t include a way for people to get from downtown to the airport.

I envision a portal out of hell within sight of their punishments but separated by impassable obstacles. Various demons offer to take them there, always demanding more money than they have on hand.

These cities should serve as a crushing rebuke to people who don’t think that city governments are all that corrupt.

Weird craigslist scam on cheap Prius listings

There’s a weird Prius ad that keeps running on Craigslist, and it starts

2007 TOYOTA : PRIUS HYBRID 60 MPG US$ 5400

followed by a ridiculous description and then, in huge letters, the email address to contact the person, and a chunk of spam text.

So I searched on the email address — they’re in every Craigslist location. There’s 31 on that location alone, all in the last day.

There are more elaborate variants, with similar spam text at the bottom: you can search for “georgecallum878@gmail.com” too and see the same pattern.
Or chrisgrande898@gmail.com did a ton of them at the start of the month, offering almost exactly the same text as George Callum would a week later.

They’re flagged and removed almost immediately, but I don’t see what the angle is here, unless it’s just an attempt to get people’s addys. And the fact that it’s been run repeatedly makes me think they’ve got to be getting something out of it or they wouldn’t keep trying.

But the spam text is random, torn from Wikipedia I think, the kind of stuff used to get spam email past Bayesian filters:

another Red Sox pitcher hurl a no-hitter and the next Fenway Park no-hitter won’t come untilcoin It originally meant the side of a die with only one mark before it was a term for a playing card Since this was the lowest roll of the die it traditionally meant ‘bad luck’ inin 1977 to become Harris Queensway plc until the company was taken over in 1988 Lord Harris was also a non-executive director of(4 8 15 16 23 and 42) It is also the number of minutes within which these numbers must be entered into the computer and the button must be pushed

— it’s not as if people are searching for that stuff. Randomized post stuffing isn’t going to get a lot of people searching for those terms, seeing a Prius ad, and handing over their email addresses. You’d want to go for Allison Williams or one of those other weird keywords that delivers a bunch of strange traffic to your doorstep.

I don’t get it. Unless it’s all more or less automated so it doesn’t require any effort, it doesn’t seem like the return would be worth it.

Also, the people at Eastlake Auto Brokers post over and over about their cars and it’s really annoying.

One of the finer one-paragraph summaries of corporate DRM attitudes ever

From Dan’s Data:

Embassy couldn’t possibly allow Cartrivision to just be a general purpose record-and-playback system. They were just like today’s split-personality entertainment megacorps, who on the one hand want as many people as possible to pay to “enjoy” their “content”, but on the other hand would rather like it if any customer who even considered copying some of that content for a friend immediately burst into flames.

Simplicity and the downward spiral of knowledge

I used to make coffee with my Aeropress. It was pretty awesome. I got more and more into it, started being able to tell the difference between good and bad cups, started rating the local coffee places, and eventually I bought a nice Rancillio Silvia and a quality grinder to do it at home.

For a while, I was happy. But the more I know about how it’s supposed to go, the more frustrated I am.

There’s a rule for making espresso shots, which is that you want (for a double) 2-2.5 ounces of liquid in 20-25 seconds. Once I get that dialed in, I can pretty consistently make it. Then I bought a nice tamper to replace the awful one that comes with the Silvia, along with this book, this horrible, cursed book from Cafe Vivcace.

It’s a great book, but it’s got all kinds of descriptions about what a shot’s supposed to look like as it pours, coloration, how to tamp, all the variables to control, and I can’t make a good shot now.

Seriously. I’m totally screwed. I’ve been trying to get to their level, and it’s not happening, and now I’m thinking “I really need one of those temperature sensors, no two, and then better… no! no!” They turn out horrible and bitter, none of them look like they’re supposed to when they come out or when they’re done, I’m tinkering with everything and generally unhappy.

I had to do a bunch of work from home this morning, and before I did, I tried to make a cup. It took me five tries this morning to get a decent shot, which I eagerly gulped down. Five tries, and it wasn’t even that good.

And a minute ago I thought “hey, I should go have a cup of coffee”… and I didn’t want to go make it. All I want is a good cup of coffee. Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.

Thinking about trips versus tanks

On the way in to work today, I had to fish out cash because I didn’t have my bus pass, and I realized that with gas this high, even my extremely short trip to work starts to makes economic sense just on the gas. It’s only ~4 miles each way, but it’s all sitting at stop signs and long stop lights. Seriously, from my house to work, it’s eight stops one-way. My 14-year-old Volvo gets well under 20mpg running back and forth (in fact, it might be sub-15, which is totally embarrassing and why I don’t drive to work). I’d always looked at bus fares and figured it to be a wash, but that’s not the case at all.

At $5/gallon for the premium the 1994 Volvo 850’s owners manual tells me it needs, I’m looking at $1.25/trip over four miles, and Metro’s only $.50 more than that.

Atrios mentioned something similar today:

At $4.50 per gallon in many places I guess that changes. If you’re getting 20 mpg, a 50 mile round trip commute will cost you $11.25. The 13.2 mile trip from downtown Minneapolis to the airport, which you can do on the train for $1.50, costs 3 bucks by car.

The point I’m trying to make is that when gas was cheap, people thought in terms of the cost of filling the tank rather than the cost of making a trip. People didn’t really make a marginal cost/benefit calculation because they didn’t really perceive the cost for short trips. That’s changing.

If we were playing football, I’d hit a grand slam

It’s been a while since I ranted about politics, this, from Elenanor Clift, doing a post-mortem on the Clinton campaign:

She did run an extraordinarily close race, and if the Democrats had the same winner-take-all rules as the Republicans, she’d be the nominee. If Obama hadn’t outorganized her in small caucus states like Idaho, which the Democrats have no hope of winning in November, he wouldn’t be the nominee.

This may all be true, but it’s first unknowable and second condescending and manages to miss the point at once.

They both attempted to win the nomination under the rules set at the start (mostly, since Clinton later attempted to change them when it favored her). It’s like watching a baseball game and then saying “if the winner was determined by stolen bases, the Brewers would have won.”

Well, sure, had nothing else about the game changed. But if the winner was determined by stolen bases, both teams would have spent a ton of money on speedy baserunners instead of good fielders, they would have fielded only left-handed pitchers who could deter the runner on first, and they’d have devoted their farm systems to producing cannon-armed catchers who could throw out anyone.

Obama and his campaign showed an absolutely amazing ability to organize without the support of existing party structures, they raised astonishing amounts of money, and they worked the rules to their maximum advantage, and they won and won and won.

Who’s to say that if the rules were different, and both teams played on a different field, under different rules, that they couldn’t have won then as well?

The best we can say is that Obama won the contest at hand, and the rest is unknowable. And it’s okay to leave it at that.