You Got to Be Kidding Me!

What I’m Looking At, and a New Category – 12/8/2008

Posted in Box of Hammers, Computers and Software, Four Wheels by Stacy McMahon on December 9, 2008

* Bailed-out mortgage holders defaulting all over again.

“The results, I confess, were somewhat surprising, and not in a good way,” said John Dugan, head of the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, in prepared remarks for a U.S. housing forum.

You mean bailing out subprime mortgagees didn’t magically make them into responsible citizens who live within their means?

Dugan said recent data showed that after three months, nearly 36 percent of borrowers who received restructured mortgages in the first quarter re-defaulted.

I’m so proud to be an American.

Oh, the new category? “box of hammers”. Should be self-explanatory by now.

* On the other end of the spectrum, the lowly checklist is making a comeback (maybe) in hospitals, where it turns out that there are a few (hundred) too many things per patient to remember during a shift. Based on actual experience, it’s estimated that a $3m investment in creating checklists for standard ICU practices could prevent up to 28,000 deaths a year in the US.

* A guy with some wrenching talent and one hell of a rolodex has built a brand-new Jaguar E-Type from leftover factory parts (and a few aftermarket restoration bits – about 5% of the total) Cool, huh?

* And an interesting discussion about how lawyers (or other companies) do or don’t take advantage of technology in the office. In a nutshell, most people don’t think very far outside the box.


Set As Default Printer?

Posted in Computers and Software, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on September 5, 2008

Ok, this is seriously cool (link via Planetizen) – although some commenters claim it’s the 2nd or 3rd go-round for this idea and have links to that effect.

A researcher at USC is working on a house-sized version of the rapid prototyping (3D printers to you and me) systems that have been commercially available for a few years now. Kind of like the body reconstruction machine in The Fifth Element, the idea is to make the walls of a house one thin layer at a time, with internal galleries (passages) for electrical wire, water and sewer pipes, etc. The system could revolutionize affordable housing.

Something else it could revolutionize is variety in housing. People work more efficiently when they can do ten things over and over the same way, and our subdivisions reflect this. A “house printer” could build a limitless variety of houses one after another, customization just a matter of software. Imagine designing your house in Sketchup and emailing it to the builder. Ok, it’ll always be a little more complicated than that (we like houses to be structurally sound, afterall) but wouldn’t it be nice?

2D Rendering of a 3D Rendering - a House Printer!

2D Rendering of a 3D Rendering - a House Printer!

Polishing the Chrome

Posted in Computers and Software by Stacy McMahon on September 5, 2008

So I’ve been using Google Chrome for a couple days now, and it’s ok. InformationWeek sums up:

Many people are going to want to use Chrome as their primary browser. But others, I think, will want to wait, because Chrome has some rough edges, missing features, and stability problems. Chrome is an early beta, and it shows.

Clint had some problems with video playback, though he’s a power user’s power user and would find every little issue. My only real problems are slowness in switching between tabs, and that it doesn’t play well with the scrollwheel function on my trackpad (grab-and-scroll works fine) Do we need another browser? Not really, but it’s nice to have choices.

Some other thoughts…

InformationWeek –
Is Chrome Right For the Enterprise?

Why Does Google’s Chrome Seem Tarnished?

ars Technica – Hands-on with Chrome: Google’s browser shines (mostly)

Slashdot – Google Chrome, Day 2

Google Chrome – Am I Late to The Party?

Posted in Computers and Software, The Intrawebs by Stacy McMahon on September 2, 2008

So apparently Google announced a new web browser over the weekend while I was busy playing Ticket to Ride. We’ll all be able to take it for a test drive tomorrow, but in the meantime I feel like I’ve heard of this before …is it one of those things that’s been headlined on CNet once a month for the last year?

IBM Opens Green Consulting Practice

Posted in Computers and Software, Economics, Environment, Going Green by Stacy McMahon on August 20, 2008

Information Week is reporting that IBM will market consulting services to help companies manage their resource consumption, with an eye to finding ways of both cutting costs and earning “green” PR cred. This is a lot of the same stuff we could all do in our houses, and a lot of it is low-hanging fruit once you make the effort to keep track of what you use and how you use it:

Typically, IBM will use third-party technology to monitor and meter energy and water use, according to Lubowe. The Carbon and Water Management Dashboard, which measures water use and carbon output, can be displayed on anything from an IBM dashboard like WebSphere Monitor or dashboards from IBM’s Cognos to a third-party dashboard, which IBM can interface with through SOA techniques. By using dashboards, companies can pinpoint particular problem areas and start deciding what can be done about them.

IBM will take that data and, along with the client, determine things like where the water is going and how it is used. Then the companies work on solutions: can the water be recycled? Can it be used as gray water for irrigation on campus? What are the 22 places where water is most used in the building and what can be done to cut that usage? At that stage, IBM will present a company with ROI analysis of the possibilities and implement the changes.

Unsurprisingly, this approach fits in pretty well with the similar type of infrastructure monitoring IBM (and others) provide for IT resources. What’s nice about it is that companies have fairly strong economic and image reasons to want to pursue these strategies, and it’s exactly the kind of specialized expertise that makes sense to outsource. And of course, for a large organization the potential savings would cover a nice fee for the consultant!

Metro WiFi Coming to Alexandria

Posted in Computers and Software, Miscellaneous, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on March 5, 2007

Early last year, Alexandria ran a pilot program called “Wireless Alexandria“, offering free public WiFi at the waterfront end of King Street. The couple times I tried it, it sort of worked. I could connect to the network, but web browsing was a no-go. I didn’t think about it again until this spring when our studio class began work on an inventory of Alexandria’s environment-related programs. It’s a stretch to call WiFi an environmental program, though you could say it promotes public health in the sense of making it more attractive for people to be outdoors.

Anyway, in updating my knowledge of Wireless Alexandria, I found that not only is it still going, but the city has granted a franchise to Earthlink to build a network covering the entire city. Most of this network will be sold as a service, but in exchange for the franchise Earthlink will make it free in certain public areas. This time those will cover not just the waterfront but most of the parks and public buildings throughout the city. That’s a cutting-edge public amenity for the midatlantic.

The technology, though, is cutting-edge for anywhere. The TROPOS wireless routers use a proprietary “self-organizing” protocol that’s claimed to dynamically route based on observed throughput, with predictive self-healing to compensate for interference, dead routers etc. They claim a 100% improvement in throughput compared to other protocols, but the really cool feature is that it sends off-net traffic to a single wired connection (or I imagine they’ll have two for redundancy) as opposed to having a wired backbone connection for every router. Much cheaper.

It also allows regular old WiFi clients to go mobile by handing them off, cellular-style, to the next router. That could have some interesting implications for Vonage users. The new citywide network is supposed to be completed this fall.; I’ll definitely be waiting to compare their pricing to what I’m currently doing for internet access. Ain’t technology grand?

The Next Big Language

Posted in Computers and Software by Stacy McMahon on February 12, 2007

Does Steve Yegge know the future (of programming)? Probably not any more than anyone else, but his prediction is definitely entertaining!

C(++)-like syntax is the standard. Your language’s popularity will fall off as a direct function of how far you deviate from it.There’s plenty of wiggle room in the way you define classes and other OOP constructs, but you’ll need to stick fairly closely to the basic control-flow constructs, arithmetic expressions and operators, and the use of curly-braces for delimiting blocks and function bodies.

This is because programmers are lame, but hey, it’s your target audience. Give the people what they want.

Read The Whole ThingTM


Posted in Computers and Software by Stacy McMahon on January 23, 2007

So I get to the office this morning to find that the network admins have pushed out another hotfix, which rebooted my machine after installation. No big deal, I’m glad I don’t have to think about that stuff along with my actual job responsibilities. But it occurs to me to wonder if getting used to this at work is detrimental to taking good care of my home computers. Of course it’s not for me, but what about non-technical people? Will they eventually be so used to stuff being installed and even rebooting their machine that they won’t notice when spyware or viruses do the same thing at home?


Posted in Computers and Software, Miscellaneous by Stacy McMahon on January 17, 2007

Someone added this picture of my cousin Bridget’s feet as a favorite on FlickR. I first thought “huh, that’s weird” but then got a bad feeling and decided to look at the person’s other favorites. Sure enough, all (women’s) feet

No, Virginia, there’s still no free lunch

Posted in Computers and Software, Economics by Stacy McMahon on June 23, 2006

I read a post on Slashdot today about a guy who got arrested for freeloading on a coffee shop’s free wi-fi. For three months, he consistently parked in their lot for long periods of time and surfed the web. Unsurprisingly, plenty of commenters claimed that hey, the WAP is open and unsecured, so he’s justified in using it. The fact that he never came inside and bought anything is irrelevant.

Well, it’s not irrelevant. One of the comparisons made was to someone sitting on a bench outside the store at night and reading by the light coming from the windows. You wouldn’t have someone arrested for that, would you? Of course it’s absolutely not the same thing. The light coming from the window is there whether anyone’s “using” it or not. You reading your book doesn’t raise the store’s electric bill. You connecting to their WAP however, a.) uses up one of the fixed number of clients and b.) uses up some of their bandwidth, probably a lot of it since they are probably not shelling out for a DS3 in order to give it away. So, unlike the light on the sidewalk, using the WAP costs the store something in the sense that the more people freeload, the more expensive it will be to make sure paying customers can still go online.

Of course that doesn’t stop the people who think the internet is a Star Trek-zone where normal economics doesn’t apply and they should be entitled to get everything net-related for free. Unfortunately, I think this is in part another bad side-effect of the RIAA’s attempt to hold onto its moldy old business model: conventional wisdom at this point has it that any attempt to clamp down on online freeloading is based entirely on the bad motivations of Evil Giant Corporations(tm) and that supply and demand is just a quaint concept from the Old Economy(tm).

And Oceana has always been at war with Eurasia!