Archive for May, 2007

28 tons a year

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

Did some math using the EPA’s Carbon Emissions calculator today. Looks like our household generates about 28 tons of Carbon a year. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Our cars – 10 tons
  • Electricity/gas for our home – 17.5 tons
  • Waste – 0.5 tons

A real eye opener for me.

Its pretty safe to assume that households in third world countries generate nowhere close to this much. I was thinking of my own childhood growing up in India. We did have a car, but it was used mainly for leisure trips and driven nowhere near as much as my family does now. We did not have central air conditioning or heating systems in any of the homes we lived in (we lived in some extreme climes where we could definitely have used these). We used ceiling/table fans for cooling ourselves and blankets/sweaters to warm ourselves. We did not generate even a 100th of the waste my family generates today. We simply did not consume as many goods with elaborate packaging and we did not throw away anything until it had served every ounce of its life. Could I get my family to change so we start living that sort of a simpler lifestyle ? Probably not. But could we do something to reduce our emissions ? I think so – there’s a number of very simple suggestions available here which we are going to try.

I recommend anyone reading this do the math for themselves and look for ways to conserve.

Patents serve middlemen, not inventors

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

I ran into this article today arguing why Patents are a wonderful thing because they reward inventors in a big way and spur more innovation.

I could not disagree more with the author.

Patents reward a whole industry of middlemen way more than the inventors who create them.

Only in rare cases do inventors make big gains. This happens when they have/acquire the business skills needed to translate their invention into commercial success. Someone like Larry Page (quoted in the article) would fall in this category.

The common case is that the inventor receives a small if any reward for his/her invention and the maximum benefit goes to corporate managers, investors and/or lawyers (of course, if it is worth anything in the first place). If the invention is a commercial success, investors and managers reap the rewards. If the invention is used to sue, lawyers reap the rewards.

Inventors are typically driven by passion, the passion to create. On the other hand, Patents are driven by greed, nothing but greed.

Blockbuster scores

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Our family recently decided to get back to renting DVDs after a somewhat long pause (we had a second child and could not find time to watch movies). I consider us pioneers in online renting – angered by a somewhat stiff late fee at the local video store (just like the ad :-)), we signed up for Netflix pretty early on. We loved the online renting model and enjoyed it for a long time until we found we were not really doing justice to the $20+ monthly fee we were paying. So we quit.

This time around, realizing there were other options besides Netflix, I took the opportunity to research all of them and found Blockbuster’s model the best by far. After struggling to find its place when Netflix became a significant player, I think Blockbuster has come back with a virtually unbeatable model – it has cleverly combined its online and in-store rental businesses to offer fantastic value and flexibility to customers. I pay around $10 a month. I get to rent one movie online and whenever I’m done with it, I get to exchange it for a free movie in-store and the next movie on my online queue is immediately shipped to me (no waiting for the movie to get back to their warehouse). Plus, I get to rent a bonus movie free from the store every month. Blockbuster does not come out a loser either; invariably, when I’m in the store, I pick up another movie, paying the normal fee for it – so they get some more revenue from me.

I think this is a great case study on how a company faced with disruption has been able to not only find a way to compete effectively but also get to a position of great strength. Of course, the new disruptor for all of these guys is video over the web …

Evolving notions of trust

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

Historically, when I put my trust in someone, I did it because I believed they would do good by me.

I put my trust in a family member or friend because I believed they cared about me and therefore would do good by me. I put my trust in a business because I believed they had a vested interest in doing good by me (they would benefit from what I had to offer – my talents or my money). I put my trust in institutions (academic or non-profits) because I believed they would do good by everyone. These notions of trust have been developed over centuries and passed down from generation to generation.

In a Web 2.0 world, it seems like my notions of trust have expanded – I’m beginning to trust people using a whole new basis. I’m trusting them because I believe our interests are very well aligned. I have no other basis – I’ve never met these people nor am I ever likely to meet them.

For example, when I use an open source package, I trust the developers and others in the community because I think we all care deeply about the shared asset – the code. As another example, I trust my fellow consumers when they write reviews of products because I think we are all watching out for each other. Sure, there are examples of fraud and abuse of this trust, but they are far and few – they exist even in the traditional models of trust described above (backstabbing friends, businesses that defraud and non-profits that squander).

At first glance, this may seem like simple co-operation; however, I think there are subtle differences. Co-operation involves well-defined upfront expectation of rewards for pursuing a cause. In the Web 2.0 world, there isn’t such an upfront expectation, there is simply a blind trust that everyone who cares about a cause will make a positive contribution …

Java – time to move on

Monday, May 7th, 2007

On the eve of Java One 2007, I for one have decided to move on from Java. I suspect I am somewhat late to the party – there has been a growing trend for some time of developers seeking greener pastures.

I’ve been working with all the major dynamic languages (Python, PHP, Ruby and JavaScript) the past couple of years (I also developed a major Java based system during this time) and have grown to love the huge gains in productivity they offer. In a world that thrives on speed, it is easy to see why this gain in productivity will be immensely valued in the coming years.

While not all of the dynamic language environments are as mature as Java (PHP and Python are definitely very close) in terms of execution speed and availability of tools/libraries, there is a lot of attention being paid to them at this time and I am confident they will mature quickly.

After C, I for one cannot think of a language that has had more impact than Java. In addition to fueling the growth of transactional enterprise web applications, I believe that Java’s portability has really helped fuel the Linux revolution. But all good things must come to an end sooner or later and I believe that we are at that point for Java …

Shadowy world of cookies

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

For a while now, I’ve been using options in Firefox and IE to prompt me before accepting cookies from web sites. Boy, am I surprised to see what goes on …

I would highly recommend that everyone try this and see for themselves. In Firefox 2, use Tools -> Options -> Privacy, check the “Accept cookies from sites” box and select “Ask me everytime” for the “Keep Until” option. In IE 7, use Tools -> Internet Options -> Privacy, select the Advanced button, check the “Override automatic cookie handling” box, select the Prompt option for First party and Third party cookies, check the “Always allow session cookies” box. In both Firefox and IE, there are buttons to clear all cookies, use that to delete all existing cookies. Now sit back and watch the fun!

While I do not generally have a problem with first party cookies that serve a functional purpose (like holding your shopping cart at an e-commerce site), I find third party cookies that track your every move extremely offensive. I’ve come to detest companies like Hitbox that make huge sums of money off data collected in a very shadowy fashion. What is really scary is that when I heard a guy from Hitbox speak at a recent conference (see previous post), he was talking about how they knew the demographics of the people accessing various sites, how many kids they had, their family income and so on – loads of personal data – they are using this personal data in combination with people’s surfing habits to sell all sorts of analysis. Talk about big brother watching …

If you want to personally do something about this – use the browser settings described above to avoid any unwanted cookies (IE has a handy setting to automatically reject third party cookies – but some of them now circumvent this and act like first party cookies) and also clear all cookies periodically (Firefox has a handy option to do this automatically every time you close the browser).

Microhoo and Adoogle

Friday, May 4th, 2007

Looks like Microsoft and Yahoo are getting pretty serious about cozying up. I think everyone quite expected to see these guys join forces, especially after Google purchased Doubleclick. Another marriage I personally see happening fairly quickly is Google and Adobe – Google has to get a significant foothold on the desktop and strong presence in the enterprise to compete with Microhoo. Adobe seems the logical choice with its large Flash and Reader footprints as well as reasonable enterprise footprint (with its forms business).

Be interesting to see how this story plays out over the next few weeks …

No room for Aristocracy

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Was listening to a report on NPR about the Queen of England’s visit to Virginia. The reporter was interviewing someone in the Governor’s office who is responsible for ensuring Virginians followed proper etiquette during the visit. This lady had a real fawning manner when she spoke about how there were so many Anglophiles in Virginia eagerly lapping up the etiquette lessons.

What a total waste of time and money!! I’m sure that set of skills will serve Virginians very well as they compete for livelihoods with folks from all the hungry economies of the world :-)

I cannot believe that in the age of Web 2.0 where meritocracy rules and is quickly threatening bureaucracy, we have a bunch of losers still stuck in the era of aristocracy. IMHO, aristocracy has absolutely no place in today’s society – what has the Queen ever done in her entire life to deserve this level of respect ? Virginians, get a life and quit living in the past.

Silverlight – Not Impressed

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

Spent some time today downloading and trying out Microsoft’s Silverlight.

While the download and install was very impressive (2 MB), it seems like this thing has a very long way to go.

I was expecting to see more developer focused demos – could not find anything. Just a lot of chartware and some videos. Maybe a sign that Microsoft is trying to be a Media company more than a software company … The videos were of pretty poor quality and I had major issues with getting anything to even play without lots of long pauses. Looking at the list of tools required – seems pretty daunting. Almost everything has a fee associated with it.

I think I like Adobe’s Apollo platform much better at this point. The experience is much slicker, the development story is very clean and the desktop integration is powerful.

Ok, I dug around a bit more and I think I just found the developer site for Silverlight – there was an obscure little link from the main site. What is interesting is that this site renders broken in Firefox – oops!


Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

The Joost team showed off their wares at the recent Web 2.0 Expo. It looked really cool. What struck me most was the fantastic picture quality and the seamless integration of social networking features.

Now what would be even cooler is to have a Linux-based appliance that runs a player like Joost and connects to your TV – the next generation Tivo. Things would be kicked up a notch if the box connected into a service like Amazon’s S3 and used it to store all the movies you buy/collect. That way, you and family/friends could have a get together in cyberspace to watch a favorite movie. You could also permit a friend or relative to watch movies from your collection by sharing it with them. Note to movie industry : no copying involved :-)

Hey, wait a minute! Isn’t this a cool startup idea? Damn, shoulda filed one of ’em obveeus invenshun patents before yesterday’s Supreme court ruling