Not The Best Week Ever...

Yeah, my week's been a little off...

To start with, it's that time of year when the evil lilac blooms and tries to kill me with pollen. I have to stay indoors to thwart it's plan, which means missing out on some of the best weather of the year.

Stupid purple devil flower.

Anyway, so my laptop's hard drive crashes hard. That was last week to be precise... I'm a little sad because I barely got 18 months out of that thing. Naturally, I have backups, but I was in Seattle and my backups were in Minneapolis! Joy. So I slapped in a new hard drive and installed Ubuntu Linux so I could at least keep up with email.

So I get back, and I'm having one hell of a time restoring my data. It just didn't make any sense. The only uncorrupted backup was a month old! So I had to figure out a way to get the latest data off the fried drive. That's another $100 to download decent recovery software...

Next thing I know, the internet goes out! My cable modem was a bit finicky every since Comcast bought out Road Runner... I was usually able to breath new life into it by power-cycling it, but this time it breathed its last breath.

They sent out a tech to replace it... and he was shocked at the strength of the signal coming in off the cable. That poor modem was suffering quite a lot to get me online... no wonder it died early. He gave me a new modem, but said it probably wouldn't last long either. They needed to figure out what crazy crossed wire was causing such a dirty signal. None of the techs could figure it out...

Well, at least I was back online. So, I'm tap-tap-tapping away again, and then the power goes out! Darkness... for blocks and blocks...


That's it! This is no longer a coincidence! I'm popping some Benadryl and taking to the streets. I'm going to pick every lilac I see, and stomp 'em into the ground! That'll teach them to mess with me...

Stupid purple devil flower.

Microsoft, Lies, and Poetic Justice

As you may have heard, Microsoft recently claimed that Linux violates 240 Microsoft patents. The Linux community in general thought, oh no... another round of SCO-esque lies about Linux. They demanded to know what patents were violated, but Microsoft refused to say.

Well, it turns out, the original author of the patent-infringement report decided to tell his side of the story... and apparently, the original report said exactly the opposite.

The author spoke of potential violations, which is what somebody may claim is a violation, but would never really be able to prove. He found no actual violations, and tried to make that clear. Steve Ballmer decided to gloss over that important fact to the press, however... and claimed that those hundreds of violations were actually infringing. Probably stuff like Linux supports CD-ROM drives, and crazy stuff like that.

Oh well... I guess we can forgive them... its not like Ballmer has ever lied in the past... unless you count inventing numbers to support his crazy ideas.

Such a shame to replace the always honest Bill Gates with this guy. I mean, Bill never lied. Unless you count lying about Vista... or lying to congress, or lying about the shortage of tech workers, or even besmirching the honor of his beloved foundation.

Ok, on second thought, these guys need some help... they should think about joining liars anonymous.

hat tip schestowitz

Open Letter To Sun From NeoOffice

As you may have heard, Sun has announced their intention to port OpenOffice to the Mac. It does currently run on the Mac, but it uses the kludgey X-Windows port, instead of a native UI interface.

Well, perhaps unknown to Sun, such an open-source product already exists: NeoOffice.

In response, NeoOffice has put together an open letter to Sun, and is requesting co-signers from customers and other open source developers. I feel strongly about this matter, and thus am reproducing the letter in full:

attn: Jonathan Schwartz
c/o Sun Microsystems, Inc.
4150 Network Circle
Santa Clara, CA 95054
Return Receipt Requested

Mr. Schwartz:

Send beer.

Edward Peterlin
Chief Visionary,
and The Undersigned

Pithy, aint it?

Profile Your Brain: Are You A Lefty Or A Righty?

I love personality tests... one piece of advice I'd give before starting your own business is to take several of them, especially the Meyers Briggs evaluation. These aren't good at telling you who you are, but they can give you a good idea of your strengths and weaknesses. That helps you know what you will need to outsource in your new business...

Anyway, my buddy CV Rick posted a personality test at MindMedia that tests right/left brain dominance. The site gave me the creeps, but I couldn't resist. So here's my results:

  • Auditory : 52%
  • Visual : 47%
  • Left : 52%
  • Right : 47%

Weird... a near 50/50 split in both categories. According to them, I have no brain dominance! Jeez, I've never failed a personality test before...

Bex, you are one of those rare individuals who are perfectly "balanced" in both your hemispheric tendencies and your sensory learning preferences.

Erm, ok... Case in point, part of me looks at this and says 52/47 is neither perfectly balanced, nor does it add up to 100. The other part of me says close enough for jazz. I was always told that a balance between left- and right-brain thinking would be pretty dang cool... but there's a downside:

A problem with hemispheric balance is that you will tend to feel more conflict than someone who has a clearly established dominance. At times the conflict will be between what you feel and what you think but will also involve how you attack problems and how you perceive information. Details which will seem important to the right hemisphere will be discounted by the left and vice versa, which can present a hindrance to learning efficiently.

In the same vein, you may have a problem with organization. You might organize your time and/or space only to feel the need to reorganize five to ten weeks later.

True... I am occasionally conflicted, but I doubt it effects my learning efficiency... I have too many college degrees to accept that premise. However, they totally nailed me on the organization one. I am a frequent reader of Lifehacker, always looking for better ways to organize my stuff and boost productivity... but I keep changing systems every few months. The only system I've stuck with is writing in my Moleskine notebook... probably because its so free-form.

I was pretty flattered by this next part tho:

On the positive side, you bring resources to problem-solving that others may not have. You can perceive the "big picture" and the essential details simultaneously and maintain the cognitive perspective required. You possess sufficient verbal skills to translate your intuition into a form which can be understood by others while still being able to access ideas and concepts which do not lend themselves to language.

Probably correct... I always found it irritating when detail-oriented people couldn't immediately switch gears and see how their specific implementation was detrimental to the big picture... in retrospect, I guess I was the freak!

Your balanced nature might lead you to second-guess yourself in artistic endeavors, losing some of the fluidity, spontaneity and creativity that otherwise would be yours.

With your balanced sensory styles, you process data alternately, at times visually and other times auditorially. This usage of separate memories may cause you to require more time to integrate information or re-access it. When presented with situations which force purely visual or purely auditory learning, increased anxiety is likely and your learning efficiency will decrease.

Your greatest benefit is that you can succeed in multiple fields due to the great plasticity and flexibility you possess.

Booooooo! Okay, so despite my balance, it takes me longer to access pure logic or pure creative parts of my brain. No big deal, since very little of the real world falls into one of those two categories. Of course, that means I'd have no real success at being an artist or theoretical physicist... I've tried both careers, and I'm forced to agree.

Oh well. I guess I'm stuck with dealing with the messy, messy real world.

No problem... I'm flexible. ;-)

The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point was an interesting look at how epidemics begin... whether its a disease, a crime wave, or a new fashion trend, there are many factors in common. When it comes to trends, these rely a lot on the actions of three types of people:

  • Mavens, who obsessively gather new information about products and services, whether it be cars, cheap groceries, or fashion.
  • Salesmen, who are genuinely interested in solving people problems, so they look for the best product/service fit for their client, and
  • Connectors, the networking masters, who connect mavens to salesmen

There are also very subtle things that effect trends... like how graffitti directly affects criminal behavior. This is also called the broken window theory: if you see a house with a broken window, you assume nobody is in charge, and there are no penalties for criminal behavior. This will trigger people with a tendency towards crime to engage in criminal acts.

Some of the subtle effects in the book call into question the nature of human free will... I've never been a huge advocate of free will, so these theories never bugged me. However, if you feel that you are always in control of your brain and your behavior, this book might shock you a little.

Overall, it was an interesting read. I'd also recommend Made To Stick for a more practical guide at making your idea spread like an epidemic.

Most Fuel Efficient Car Available...

More news against the hybrid hype... apparently the latest version of the diesel Volkswagen Jetta uses less fossil fuels than a Toyota Prius. That is, if you use biodiesel instead of normal diesel. Even if you use standard diesel, the comparison isn't bad...

I can't say I'm surprised. I never liked hybrids or electric cars. Sure, they claim to use far less gasoline, but the side effects are too significant to ignore. They might even be worse than a Hummer when you do all the math.

To top off the good news, this new diesel version will be available in all 50 states in the US.

I'm hoping that this might help people wake up and realize that neither hybrids nor ethanol are the wave of the future... rather, the future is an engine invented in 1891.

Flash, Flex, Silverlight... and now JavaFX?

OK, this seems a little sad... Soon after Microsoft announced Silverlight, their "Adobe Flash Killer", now Sun is in full-blown-gonzo-desperate-me-too-mode, and announced JavaFX at JavaOne today. In theory, its a scriptable Java interface, which allows Flash-like behavior in the web browser.

As usual, Sun was very vague about the details, and had no SDK or decent samples to speak of... According to Jonathan Schwart's blog, JavaFX will run on Java Standard Edition as well as embedded Java... and it will be 100% open sourced. This is opposed to Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight, which are only partially open sourced. He's also still banging that "write once, run anywhere" drum... but insists that he really means it this time!

Forgive me if I don't hold my breath...

In an odd twist, they appear to have ripped off the name! JavaFX is clearly derivative of an unused name for Microsoft Silverlight: .Net FX. Interestingly enough, Sun also ripped off an idea from Microsoft at a JavaOne conference almost 7 years ago: Active Server Pages. Sun servers were losing market share because they couldn't run ASPs, so in a panicked rush they unleashed JSPs on the public. Not a horrible idea, but it was a full 2 years before anybody had a halfway decent framework so JSPs wouldn't suck.

In a nutshell, this is good news. Suffice it to say, now that Sun and Microsoft are muscling in on Adobe's turf, this might mean that Rich Internet Applications may actually have a future. AJAX led people to believe in rich web user interfaces, but AJAX simply can't do what Flash does... as long as this doesn't lead to a format war, this competition can only mean that web UIs will get much nicer, much faster.

Oracle Universal Content Management Download

Ahhh... now this is convenient...

Oracle finally has a download page for their universal content management suite, formerly the Stellent Universal Content Management suite... I had been looking for this download page every once in a while since 10gr3 was released.

The download is free, but you need an Oracle login first to access it. It comes with document management, web content management, digital asset management, and records management. You can even get the Verity integration as a separate download.

I'm a little surprised that they are making Verity available... Oracle typically doesn't like to resell other people's software. That decision probably had something to do with the sheer volume of customers who are still using the Verity search engine. I was chatting with a few other ECM vendors -- like the folks from DAY software -- at the last AIIM conference. Very few people seem to be using Verity these days, its all about FAST for the search engine.

Stellent made a FAST integration a long time ago, but very few folks made the switch... I wonder why?

Oh well, enjoy the downloads...

The Apiary -- A Co-Working Beehive

At MinneBar last weekend (a Minneapolis based geek mini-conference), a few of the guys were interested in something they called Coworking... which in their minds was a group of small businesses or independent developers all sharing the same office space.

The goal is simple: it looks much more professional to bring clients to a real office building, instead of a coffee shop, or your home office. You also get nice big conference rooms... Plus, having so many techies about would help each member boost their knowledge and productivity.

I thought about it for a while, then my friend Michael told me about The Apiary, which is precisely what these guys were looking for! Three buildings, in downtown Minneapolis, that rent out small units for small business.

Not too many spots open at the moment... but if the Apiary can make it work, its probably a good model for the Coworking movement to follow.

This Year, Thus Far, In Your Brain

Slate Magazine has a pretty good list of the top 5 brain-related news stories of 2007. I'd say that's a bit premature, since its only May, but I'm not in the magazine business... They are, in order:

  1. Software that can use a MRI to read your mind 71% of the time,
  2. You can change what people think is moral by altering their brain chemistry,
  3. The ability to genetically predict sexual orientation in mammals,
  4. The sedative Ambien wakes people up from a vegetative coma,
  5. Generally significant progress in artificial intelligence.

Yikes on the mind reading one...

I like number 5... but the full article missed one of my favorite examples: cognitive researchers at IBM have reproduced 10% of a mouse brain in a computer! They created simple software that behaved like neurons, and painstakingly connected them together in a massively parallel application. They've gotten it to behave like 10% of a mouse for about 10 seconds.

However, if these mouse guys succeeded, it makes the Chinese Room Argument in cognitive science a tiny bit problematic... John Searl argued that by definition a computer cannot have human consciousness, since a computer can only do symbol manipulation. A human who knows Chinese know the meaning of the question 怎么样您, which is "how are you?" Whereas a computer would just see the Chinese symbols, and reply with other symbols like 我很好, which would mean "I am well."

In a computational machine there is no context, therefore no true knowledge, therefore no true consciousness.

But... a neural network of computers might not suffer from this limitation. The binary ones and zeros are just the building blocks upon which neurons are created... and the structure of the digital neurons grant context, and perhaps consciousness. I see this as analogous to how physical neurons are composed of atoms and molecules, and consciousness is just an emergent property.

Of course, we could all just be fooling ourselves, and conscious might not really exist... its merely an illusion of an extremely complex system. Philosophers call this reductionism, and the thought makes most people uncomfortable... but that doesn't make it wrong!

Oracle Releases Universal Content Management 10g Release 3

No surprises there... but at least now I can talk about it!

Oracle has released its first new version of the old Stellent product suite today, and labeled it Universal Content Management 10g Release 3. Its got a few nifty features that you wouldn't find in version 7.5.2...

My wife Michelle has been working long hours the past week on media briefings, and she was quoted on several big sites... including a post on

Users now have more choice about how they store their content, according to Michelle Huff, principal product manager for Oracle Content Management, who was formerly with Stellent.

Yep! That's my Michelle! I'd recognize her flair anywhere...

Freeway Wind Farms

Engadget is reporting on a new proposal for wind turbines on freeways... and boy does it look freaky.

The thought of big spinning blades above my car is a little unsettling... in particular because I drive a convertible. Although if these became common practice, it would add another dimension of danger to those high speed chase scenes in movies. Imagine the cops chasing a bad guy on a motorcycle through hilly San Francisco: Whoosh! Boom! Splat!

Alternative designs involve rotating blades on the sides of the freeway. Again... trouble. Imagine hitting one of those instead of the guardrail. Yikes.

I'm all for green energy... but I'm confident we can get there without turning our daily commute into a scene from Indiana Jones.

One Year Anniversary...

Well, I had my first two official posts on this blog about one year ago today, April 29th, 2006... the first was the itty bitty welcome to article, and the second was one about the limitations of RSS feeds.

Since then, I've published a book, my old company was purchased by Oracle, and I started my new company, Bezzotech. My site crashed, I thwarted a hacker, I read a lot of books, had lots of half-baked ideas, and rambled on about technology.

Lots of crazy stuff has happened in the world in the past year... holy crap has a lot of stuff happened. But I try to remain apolitical on this blog, and just focus on technology, lifehacks, and liquor. I must be doing something right, because I'm nearing my 10,000th visitor...

Thanks for reading!

Speaking of Marketing...

Speaking of marketing... I can't think of a better ad for getting new people to join your company than this:

For the Flash-impaired, this is Lip Dub, the soundtrack is Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger. It was thrown together in one take by a group of folks who work at Vimeo, CollegeHumor, Busted Tees, and Defunker.

Pure awesome.

UPDATE: Ze Frank concurs, and links to many other lipdubs on Vimeo.

Marketing A Small Tech Business

So I got a call out of the blue from Derrick Shields 2 weeks ago... he was preparing a presentation on Marketing a Small Tech Business for MinneBar 2007, and was interested in collaborating on it. Maybe I had something to add?

I thought, "sure, sounds like fun!" After I left Stellent I read four books on the subject, and had put some of it into practice, so I felt like sharing what I had learned. Derrick knows a lot about search engine marketing, I spoke mostly about networking, and leveraging word-of-mouth.

We gave the presentation last Saturday, and it was a big hit. We had to switch rooms because ours was overflowing! That meant we had to start 10 minutes late, and didn't cover all of the material... So we placed our notes online for future reference. We thought we'd polish it up a bit more, and maybe submit it to Digg after we pretty up the prose.

Please forgive the spelling errors! Derrick is on vacation at the moment, and the report is hosted on his site... so the errors will stay as they are for a while...

The Cadbury Cover-up

BJ Novak, from The Office, on Conan O'Brien, is mad at the Cadbury creme egg people...

I'm sure John And Jacob are likewise ticked...

Adobe Flex Goes Open Source!

For those who don't know, Flex is an application released by Adobe that allows people to create Adobe Flash animations on the fly. It is based on ActionScript, CSS, and a flavor of XML called MXML. There were quite a few fans of this technology at the MinneBar conference last week...

Anyway, Adobe has just issued a press release that Flex is going to be released as open source!

The boys over at ZDNet are jazzed, because they think this will make Flex the de facto standard for rich internet applications. No more mucking about with broken DHTML libraries, AJAX, or all that jazz...

This might be a preemptive strike against the launch of Silverlight, which is a Microsoft alternative to Adobe Flash. The only advantage that Silverlight could possibly offer is their claim to be indexable and searchable... but with techniques like FAUST from Space 150, you can make Flash data googleable as well.

So its hard to imagine why anybody would use Silverlight at all...

Just in case, if I were Adobe, I'd start immediately writing a cheap or free Flex plug-in to Visual Studio .NET to capture the Microsoft developer market.

Habitable Planet Found Outside Of Our Solar System!

Wired science is reporting about the discovery of a habitable planet outside of our solar system! The star is called Gilese 581, which is in the Libra constellation... and it has 2 known planets. One looks like a big version of Earth! Its about 5 times the mass, and 1.5 times the diameter of our little home.

The details are sketchy at the moment, but our best estimates are that the temperature ranges between 32 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which means liquid water is a possibility! Its orbiting a Red Dwarf, which is typically a lot colder, older, and more stable than our sun. Some theorize that Red Drawfs were made when the universe was very young, like 15-20 billion years ago. In contrast, our sun is only 4.6 billion years old.

If other elements that support life are on the planet -- oxygen, minerals, an ozone layer, perhaps magnetic poles -- odds are that they've been evolving for a lot longer than we have... That doesn't mean that higher life forms exist on the planet, but its certainly a fun possibility!

Unfortunately, its 20 light years away... its one of our 100 closest neighbors, but still too far away for us to visit anytime soon. Although, we sure can point our SETI antennae at it, and see if we can hear anything.

God Takes Visa

Just thought you'd like to know...

And the annual interest rate is 100% deductible against past and future sins. So be sure to max out your card on God while on your deathbed!

hat tip success warrior

Made To Stick

Made To Stick is an interesting and practical book on how to make your ideas catch on... how to take a dull concept laden with boring statistics, and turn it into something that people will remember, and tell their friends.

Its not academic, rather its a down to earth how-to manual. Its a good companion to The Tipping Point, which popularized the concept of stickiness... which is the tendency for a person to remember and pass on an idea. They analyzed marketing campaigns, public service messages, and urban legends to determine what sticky ideas have in common. They came up with this basic framework:

  • Simplicity: the idea must be stripped to its core, and the most important concepts should jump out.
  • Unexpectedness: the idea must destroy preconceived notions about something. This forces people to stop, think, and remember.
  • Concreteness: avoid statistics, use real-world analogies to help people understand complex ideas.
  • Credibility: if people don't trust you, they'll ignore you. In some cases, they will be openly hostile, which means they'll actively try to dispute your message!
  • Emotional: information makes people think, but emotion makes them act. Appeal to emotional needs, sometimes even way up on Maslow's hierarchy.
  • Stores: telling a story tricks people into paying closer attention, and feeling more connected. Remember the Jared Subway commercials?

The book gives some great examples, and even has some brief homework assignments so you can test how to make a message more sticky. This book isn't just for marketing types... I'd recommend it to anybody who communicates with the public at all.

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