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July 29, 2003

Terror futures and "open source intelligence"

Ooooh, cool... I get to write a long post about a topic I really love that I don't think I've ever discussed with any of you! (I talk so much that it's rare to come across a secret passion of mine.)

While the DoD's insta-shitcanned "terror futures" market was pretty stupid and incredibly poorly handled, it stems from a generally reputable idea. Here's hoping the Feds won't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

So here's the baby, as it were: Markets do more than just assign value to goods. Markets represent a form of knowledge, and futures-style trading does consolidate and maximize that knowledge. The Hollywood Stock Exchange is a great example of this. HSX is often far more accurate in predicting opening-weekend grosses than Variety is. Basically, research into this field has proven that people in groups are smarter than any single person in that group; an efficient market (based on accurate and transparent underlying data) magnifies this effect. So as offensive and unsettling as its ramifications may be, a worldwide network of well-read amatuer and professional predictors might be more accurate at assessing and predicting threats than even the sharpest spook in Langley. (This Slate article is a decent half-defense of the Policy Analysis Market, or PAM, that just went down in flames, though it misses the most obvious way to ensure that terrorist don't profit by manipulating the results: make it a "closed-end fund" open only to thoroughly vetted individuals-- a few thousand to start with, sprinkled around the globe.)

The realization that bountiful intelligence information is available in the public sphere but is nonetheless undervalued and underanalyzed has given birth to the idea of "open source intelligence."

And yes, Virginia, people were using this term before Mr. Torvalds unleashed the Penguin Horde upon us. Though its funding by the U.S. government has been fairly miniscule, "OSINT" is recognized as an equal partner to "HUMINT" (human intelligence, from real live spies in other countries) and "SIGINT" (signals intelligence, based on intercepted transmissions). The CIA is focused on HUMINT, the NSA on SIGINT, and to date OSINT has been the bastard child-- in no small part because it intrinsically argues against the need for a massive intelligence bureaucracy. But wow, could we really use its insights now.

The Internet has accelerated interest in this trend, and as an underlying meme it has gained currency in situations like the "yellowcake scandal" with the NYT reporting that the Niger documents could have been revealed as a fraud by "anyone with Google." But it has been in the culture for a while. One of my favorite '70s-paranoia-thrillers is Three Days of the Condor, in which Robert Redford plays a secret government operative tasked with, get this, reading everything printed around the world. (This speaks volumes about the explosion of information, even in our lifetimes--this premise was a stretch even then, but believable.) Anyway, our man "Condor" has his boring-museum-functionary cover blown and someone is out to kill him. The underlying idea is that someone who reads all the world's papers is at least as dangerous as any spy.

Australia's National Open Source Intelligence Centre is a quasi-governmental group (with a fittingly scary logo) that advances OSI. NOSIC defines Open Source Information as "publicly available information (ie any person could lawfully obtain the information by request or observation), as well as other unclassified information that has limited public distribution or access. This latter is referred to as "grey" literature and includes non-proprietary information from companies and other organisations." Open Source Intelligence goes further and "results from the integration of legally and ethically available sources, which require: analysis, collection management, source validation, multi-source fusion and compelling presentation."

If you're really interested, someone has posted the "Open Source Intelligence Professional Handbook 1.0" as presented at the Fifth International Symposium on Global Security and Global Competitiveness (1996).

I ran across this document online a few years ago, and it was kind of a revelation to me. I supposed I had always wanted to be a spy; I will write a long post someday on how this has to do with repressed attraction, and why it is so unsurprising that closeted gays from Yale in the '30s and '40s created the CIA. "But not this year," as Monica's Peter would say.

No, it was a revelation because I realized that a huge part of my job is OSI for my clients: sorting out relevant and actionable competitive information from the Web (and many sales brochures on enterprise solutions ordered surreptitiously), tracking emerging trends, and projecting these trends forward to imagine the market conditions my clients will be competing in five years down the road. So while I may not have the perfectly groomed five-o'clock-shadow of Colin Farrell in that abysmal Al Pacino trainwreck The Recruit, I can claim a legitimate relation to all that sexy "tradecraft."

Anyway, we can all laugh at the Pentagon's terrible PR, but some of the underlying ideas are sound. I, for one, would much prefer a mindset that looks to existing data for intelligence to one that thinks only of more spies, more wiretaps, and more email-reading minions to defend the realm.

ClayKittenShooting

This is simple, straightforward, and immensely satisfying: ClayKittenShooting.

Especially if you dislike cats.

Thanks for this one, Pete! When are we going to hear about your Israel and Poland trip, and see some photos?

Well, I should hope so

Uhm, so the Pentagon suddenly came to the conclusion that their most bizarre scheme in the war on terror, basically betting on future terrorist activities, was a bad idea. Uhm, duh. I'm still puzzling over who the hell thought this could possibly have been a good idea in the first place. Imagine, for example, if the White House chief of staff, suggested that Wednesday afternoons should be reserved for dwarf tossing in the west wing. You'd think he would just be met with blank stares and muttering about what the guy'd been smoking, right? Well, maybe not in this particular administration.

If I seem a little, uh, speechless, THAT'S BECAUSE I AM. What else am I supposed to be upon reading "The Pentagon, in initially defending the program, said such futures trading had proven effective in predicting other events like oil prices, elections and movie ticket sales."

Yeah. Hey, it works for predicting movie ticket sales. That means it should scale well to terrorist activities, right?

Wait. Backup a second. People lay wagers on movie ticket sales?

July 28, 2003

More job ads should be like this

The Toxic Custard Workshop Files (one of the first blogs ever, which I've been reading since, oh, 1991) just pointed me to these two very amusing job ads [ad1] [ad2]. They were originally posted to Australia's monster-equivalent Seek, but found here in less evanescent form. More recruitment should be like this.

July 25, 2003

Genetic Poetry

eyes closed illumines men loved
for jest from quiet neotype
with give fire followers firm
home helmet kind infinite son
sits so still defines so
to be throne revoking of you burning
the occupied front in scene

Any guesses as to who wrote this? No-one: it was computer generated by a clever little application called Darwinian Poetry.

Unlike the Postmodernism Generator, it's not generated randomly: candidate poems are selected by a large pool of viewers: popular poems remain in the "gene pool" and unpopular ones die off. Poems in the gene pool "mate" by transferring words between each other to produce new candidates.

It's a real nice example of directed selection, and shows how order can come from disorder when there's a competing force driving selection. (The initial gene pool was just strings of words randomly selected from classic texts.) It's more akin to the way humans took wolves and then bred them into the huge variety of dogs we have now: not all of them are practical (c'mon -- what use is a Chihuaha for chrissakes?) but all are appealing to a large enough segment of the selecting population -- us -- for them to survive.

There's one major difference with biological directed selection though: two successful poems that mate are highly unlikely to breed a successful child, so I'm surprised the poems have developed as fast as they have. I guess there are biological analogues though: most fish and most insects have thousands of offspring, but only a tiny few survive to enter the gene pool.

July 24, 2003

The Birds

Don't tell Tippi Hedren, but crows are just as smart as we feared. As linked from memepool, the venerable journal Science shows us that they can make and use tools. This is a fairly rare ability among animals; otters use stones to break mussel shells, but this is obviously a far better-developed problem-solving ability.

And we thought Dozer was smart... maybe some trips to Home Depot would help him get more proficient with tools.

"Robotic Nation"

A really interesting link from Slashdot today. While the title is a bit geeky, Marshall Brain makes a very clear argument that advances in robotic technology will have huge impacts on employment patterns within our lifetimes. It sounds terribly sci-fi, until you realize that all those ATMs and self-service kiosks and auto-check-out lines in stores are all basically robots. And they have already eliminated millions of jobs. Brain looks at a number of sectors (manufacturing, food service, construction) that he estimates will be, for simple economic reasons, devoid of human workers by mid-century. It makes me awfully glad to be a member of the creative class--our work is the last field slated for robotic replacement. Let's face it: when the robots start marketing to us, it's all over. As that Jane's Addiction song goes, "We'll make great pets."

Leaving aside Terminator-style doomsday scenarios, having 50% unemployment in developed countries will completely alter all of our assumptions about work, production, and citizenship. Brain's point is that we need to start wrestling with these issues now.

One point he doesn't touch on: perhaps by 2050, with all those robots, Americans will finally get more than 2 lousy weeks off a year. Of course, the Europeans are sure to beat us to the point where humans only have to work two weeks out of the year. Assuming the robots are kind and loving masters, it will be a great vacation.

July 23, 2003

Making me legitimate

I had thought the best thing about the Dads' vacation in Maui was getting spoiled by Aunt Paulette. (That woman can give a belly-rub like nobody's business!) But no-- as you all know, the Dads are getting married.

As a dog, I have always found human politics a little confusing-- we find butt-sniffing and pack behavior so successful that we've never found the need for elections and political parties. Needless to say, I'm completely confused by the Christian Coalition and why they think the Dads shouldn't get married.

Luckily for us, there's Canada. Much like us dogs, the Canadians are humble, loyal, and above all socially tolerant. So while they should really be able to just get married here, and talk a lot about something called "tax benefits" they would get if they could, it's all going to work out fine. Canada also has something called a "favorable exchange rate," which based on context clues I'm guessing is almost as good as a Paulette belly-rub.

But the taller Dad had not taken the time to look up all the details of this-- I heard him twice unable to answer basic questions about what marriage in Canada entails. Well, Tall Dad, here's all the information: Getting Married in Canada. Apparently you two are going to have to decide if you want a civil or religious ceremony. I've also heard you talking a lot about where to have the wedding. I don't care about either of these things, as long as you have it somewhere they like dogs. Because this is a big day for me: I may still be a dog, and will always be a bit of runt, but soon nobody will be able to call me a bastard. And amen to that.

Jumping on my bandwagon

Why is it that every time I get some idea in my head, it seems like before I can spit out the word "copycat", everyone else has suddenly made a mad dash to beat me to the punch? Well, not that it will stop me, but still, this is frustrating.

Ok, the last time it happened they didn't exactly make a mad dash, but it was still frustrating to see a movie about Porn 'n Chicken, the Yale club that nearly got themselves booted out of Old Blue for making a porno flick in the stacks at Sterling Library called Staxx, an idea I first floated back in my days with University Pictures, and which, for some reason, I never managed to get any Sudler Fund sponsorship for.

So now, it was probably about two weeks ago I started making plans to spend a week working on the Jubilee, a salmon boat out of Kodiak, Alaska that belongs to someone I know. Now, suddenly Slate's copy chief Laurie Snyder is sending her dispatches from a southern Alaskan salmon boat?

What gives? Well, I'm still planning on doing this next summer, since it looks like the timing won't likely work out for me going this August, but trust me, the other idea I've been cooking up lately, I'm not breathing a word of, lest some member of Salon's editorial staff take it upon herself to do it first.

F*** the Two-Buck Chuck, says Slate

So after Mike Steinberger, writing in Slate's new wine column, trashes Trader Joe's "Two Buck Chuck," he goes on to list some inexpensive greats that I've mostly not tried. While calling Salice Salentino "the world's greatest pizza wine" could ignite quite a discussion, I can back him up so far as to say it's quite nice with a good gourmet pie. But his apparent fascination with French wines is itself an impediment to finding great cheap wines. By my informal calculation, France's brand equity in the wine world exacts a 20%-40% premium over, say, an Australian wine of similar quality. Plus, you know, dealing with the French still gives me a bit of a bad taste despite the fact that they were (I admit it) basically right about all that war stuff earlier this year.

July 22, 2003

There's a Hole In My Pocket of Resistance

I often think of silly or absurd phrases that I'd like to use for titles, but rarely the text that might follow. Like this one, which came to mind again due to the recent probable death of Uday & Qusai Hussein. Perhaps, though, I'll start posting these little bits, since I seem to rarely get around to doing anything longer.

TiVo killer, qu'est-ce que c'est?

Shortly after I asked David to marry me, I asked him if we could get a TiVo. "Yes," he replied. "I couldn't justify it for just myself." "Me neither." Another benefit of the merger.

But now, I think I want this instead. It's basically the "but wait, there's MORE" digital media product. It does everything but make the popcorn, and that may not be far off.

I'm all for open architecture, and hate the idea of buying something for $400 that will be obsolete in 18 months. I'm not the biggest Linux fan, but it has a real foothold in consumer electronics due to its small size, customizability, and free licensing. But those Free Software geeks are such bad branders. A penguin-- so unexpected, so differentiating!


My Xterra thinks I'm a lesbian

I just discovered that I drive seventh most lesbian car ever. Not the gayest car, mind you -- that honour is reserved for the VW Jetta, closely followed by the rest of VW's product line -- my car is for chicks, it seems. And here I was, thinking I bought an Xterra to get me to the out-of-the-way camping and climbing spots and cart around rugby gear. Apparently I'm just barely repressing desires to wear overalls and shop at Home Depot.

July 21, 2003

Scandinavian Rhapsody/a cultural quiz

(After my trip to Sweden, Finland and Estonia, June 27-July 11, 2003)

Last Friday I returned from an idyllic, adventuresome, fantastic trip to Sweden and Finland. As many of you know, it is often my custom when abroad to send back emails detailing my picaresque mishaps and successes while beyond our American borders. However, the proliferation of WAP-phones and the SMS culture of Scandinavia, combined with the utter non-online-ness of Lapland, prevented me from communicating in any kind of digital fashion. I resorted to keeping an ana-log in a little pink notebook acquired prior to leaving Seattle. It now contains 80 pages of expense tallies, confused language notes regarding Finnish and Estonian, and a daily narrative. I cannot here transcribe it.

You may have many of your own perceptions about Scandinavia - as I had prior to seeing it for myself. I provide a cultural quiz here drawn from my 14 days in the North as a measure of your conjecture against my experiences.

True/False

1. It is warm enough to enjoy your drinks outside the bar on a Swedish evening.
2. The slowdown of the economy makes it impossible for everyone to have a knife at a restaurant.
3. Girls in white dresses ride the Stockholm subway.
4. The family sauna on the overnight Silja ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki is a positive experience.
5. Barhopping on the Silja ferry's 3 bars is fun.
6. The Finnish language is difficult to master, but easy to imitate.
7. I was immediately identified as an American everywhere I went.
8. I was marked as a member of the reindeer herd in a special ceremony by a Lappish shaman.
9. I am somehow related to everyone in the southern Lappish province of Posio.
10. I saw Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer meet an untimely end on the Finnish highway.
11. It seems a horrible fate to be a parent in Scandinavia.
12. Muikku are everywhere.

Answers

1. False. But, perhaps, if you have just survived your 29th winter in Stockholm, it feels warm enough at midnight in June to wear a skimpy top and strappy sandals. I was not of this opinion. I made use instead of the thoughtfully-placed little fleece blankets laid over the back of each bistro chair everywhere I went. It was very "Red Cloud" meets "Stylish Swedish Bar." It was all I could do to not make off with one.

2. True, if your Swedish father says so. My first meal in Stockholm, a well-humored Swedish father sat at the table next to me as his toddler son clambered up to sit. The little boy wanted a knife. "Why can't I have a knife?" he asked. He looked around. "We got here too late to get knives," his father said. "They're not handing them out anymore." The little boy thought about this for a minute. "But *they* have knives!" he cried out, gesturing toward the table where my friend and I were sitting and laughing. "Yes, well." The father shrugged his shoulders. "The economic slowdown makes it impossible for everyone to have a knife these days."

3. True. The Stockholm subway is so clean and non-urban feeling (compared to other subways I have had the pleasure of riding) that three-year- olds in immaculate white cotton dresses hop on and off the cars as though in an IKEA commercial of well-ordered cleanliness.

4. False. I *thought* it sounded very nice at first. However, one accidental glimpse at a window of the helm of the ferry offered an undesireable view of a Finnish father in a Speedo scratching his belly with his arm around his son. I quickly axed the "public sauna" idea (also due to my particularly grandmotherly swimsuit - an article of clothing I have never been proud of) and headed off to my cabin for a nap.

5. False. What would you think if a Malaysian woman who introduced herself as "Ring-Ring, but you can call me Candy - I live in Finland" invited you out for a drink, and proceeded to disdain in high profanity all of Finnish culture, while correctly predicting the arrival of the very boisterously drunk young men at 11 to replace the very dourly older drunk men? And then what if the potbellied older man who was pinching your upper arm and asking you to dance was suddenly replaced by a younger paperback bookmaker from Tampere who spoke in broken English, shattered with wayward elbows almost all the glasses on the bar, drained your new drink, and exhaled vomit-scented puffs of warm air on you? And then everyone went upstairs to a discotheque to dance and watch the Finn pass out? That's right, you might have wished you'd purchased the airfare instead. This experience will henceforth be filed under "Funny, But Not Fun."

6. True. The language was very hard; everyone always says it is very hard; even a fool can, in this linguistically enlightened global village, blurt out "it's part of the Finno-Ugric family" when Finnish is mentioned. The TV programs were very hard to understand when I first arrived. However, immersion is a wonderful thing, and by the end of a week and a half I could hold banal conversations with the sweet Finnish grandmothers who fed and housed me on my journey ("The sun is shining," "the sun isn't shining," "not many mosquitoes now," "is the sauna ready?" &c. &c.) I have always had a theory that my ability to roll r's from an early age derives from imitating my mother's parents on summer visits to Upper Michigan. Baby, just roll those r's and look as stern as Sibelius, and they will understand whatever little phrase you try to eke out.

7. False. Finns and Swedes of all ages approached me speaking their respective languages at a rapid-fire pace. I felt like I did not even get a second look of scrutiny. Usually by the time I broke it to them ("I speak English," "ei suomea!") they were halfway through some complicated discussion of restaurant seating with respect to the arrival of the d.j., or a tirade about my shoddy driving somewhere north of Rovaniemi.

8. True. At the family reunion a very tall, lanky, intimidating Finnish man with piercing blue eyes decked out in a Finnish shaman costume came crashing through the birch trees. Someone had tipped me off as the lone American woman. He seized me and asked me my name. I was dumbstruck by his blue, blue eyes, the large amount of fur atop his head, his leather leggings, and the many hunter-related utensils dangling from his leather belt. He took out a large knife and said he would nick my ears "for the herd." (No, I did not know any of this vocabulary in Finnish. Yes, I had an interpreter speaking English in my ear.) He said his knife was too dull, and that he needed to sharpen it. Out came a massive flint and he sharpened the knife in a shower of yellow sparks. He pretended to nick my ears at the top of each, and then took out a small pot of ashes to smear ash on my forehead - I presume to remind next year's antlers to sprout in time for summer.

It turned out this man was yet another cousin who is also the host of Finland's version of "Survivor," staged in Lapland. My friends in Helsinki were extremely impressed by this piece of information. I, of course, did not know him from Adam, although I suspect he will be visiting me in my dreams, knife dangling, for quite some time.

9. True. And they all want to serve me coffee.

10. True. It happened just south of Kuusamo on our way to Kuopio. I had just seen a "Danger: Reindeer Crossing" sign and the traffic was thick by Finnish standards. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a reindeer bounded out of the ditch, followed by a tiny reindeer. The mother made it across the road but her calf was slower. A red Civic hit it head-on and the baby reindeer circumscribed an arc crosswise over the hood, landing on the pavement. The mama looked back and saw what had happened. She crossed the road again. By this time I was shouting and pulling the car over to the shoulder, paranoid for the demise of an extended reindeer clan. The car who hit the calf pulled over; it is a serious fine in Finland to hit a reindeer and you are required by law to log and report the event. Another car pulled over behind it. I pulled back out onto the road to continue south. The calf twitched on the road. It was horrible. I was very careful to look for reindeer until we were out of the northern provinces, not wanting the bad karma of a baby reindeercide.

11. False. With government-guaranteed stipends and long-term maternity and paternity leave, incredible cultural support for having children, the constant public presence of extremely cute, well-behaved children, and quality government-regulated daycare for a rock-bottom $200 per month, scaled progressively to the number of kids you have, combined with the cooperation of extremely game Scandinavian fathers who are very happy to take the child for a bit, or change it, or whatever, and the prospect of having a family suddenly seems far more attractive than the American "well, good luck to you - hope you find a sitter" model.

12. True. The minnowy, bait-like fish are served fried, smoked, steamed... breaded... in cream sauce ... on toast.... in bowls, on plates.... Every time I shouted "no more muikku!" to the universe, another smiling Finnish matron would appear with a freshly fried batch. At first I ate them, heads, fins, bones, and all, clueless barbarian that I am. I soon noticed that everyone else was surgically removing the spine with a knife and the tine of a fork. I tried this. It moderately improved the muikku experience, but the scratchy tail fins remained to tickle my throat.

July 16, 2003

Frodo on Maui (with apologies to Tolkien)

As I ascended the volcano with my beloved companion by cover of darkest night, I knew what I had to do. It was time-- in my heart, I knew that. We had traveled so far together, and this was right. As we got nearer the top, I could feel the ring, heavier, heavier, weighing on me.

As we waited for the beautiful sunrise, I wondered, is this the time? There are all these orcs and goblins around (okay, tourists in bad outfits). The sun peeked over the glorious clouds... and still I waited.

We looked into the huge crater of the volcano, deep and wide enough to swallow all of Manhattan... and still I waited. The plan was to ask him here, so I could throw the ring in and jump after it if he said no. What's my backup plan if we're not on a crater? This was to have been the time, but fate stilled my hand. The ring would have to wait.

We glided down the mountain on our bicycles, curve by curve, and it burned in my pocket. When? In the garden of protea flowers? In the grove that reminded him of his home across the Western Ocean? Maybe after we saw T3 that afternoon? (It was better than we expected, by the way, and gave my sunburn a chance to heal.)

It was dusk as we made our way back to Little Beach, where the previous day we had frolicked carelessly (and clotheslessly). The full moon shone above, huge as it loomed over the craggy horizon, lighting our way over sharp black rocks to the hidden cove. The ring, again, so heavy. This was its time, its place. {End Tolkien ripoff}

On the almost-deserted beach, under moon, as he spread a towel out, I dropped to one knee.

"David?"

"Yes?"

"Come here."

"What... what's that in your hand?"

"A ring."

"What, baby?"

"David, will you marry me?"

"Yes, yes."

And so it went. We had our moonlight swim, our giddy ramble, our glasses of champagne back in civilization. He loved the ring (thanks Paulette for your invaluable assistance; more later on the experience of being a man shopping for a man's wedding band at the Bellevue E.E. Robbins), and despite my incessant indecisive blathering to all our friends in the weeks before, he was completely surprised.

That night was the highlight of a beautiful, marvelous vacation celebrating our first year-- of many-- together. The rest of the pictures are here. We're thinking about a little trip to the more civilized civil courts of Canada in May (to be followed by some sort of ceremony and one hell of a party), and looking for a little place with a nice back yard for Dozer.

July 15, 2003

I sense a culinary war coming on

Whatever insult you might hurl at an Italian, you best be prepared to defend yourself if you question his culinary originality. I've known of family fueds lasting for decades over a grandmother claiming that a cousin stole her recipe for Sunday gravy and claimed it as her own.

Tony Blair better watch out, lest Berlusconi decide to defend his country's kitchenary honour against this most outrageous claim.

July 09, 2003

$3 wine and good cheap cheese

Yeah, it's just like Spain. Well sort of. I'd still rather return to the Iberian peninsula, but in the meantime, shopping at Trader Joes certainly does bring me happy little moments of gourmet bargain-laden glee. And apparently so to many of my ilk.

I hate when I fit a stereotype.

A Julie Translator!

Ah, cool. Hopefully now I'll be able to figure out what the hell Julie was saying the other night at dinner. Fa' shizzle. Try translating nonfamous. Or at least read the translation of Jay's post this morning:

It's not even 9 am, 'n I've already been asked by my uber-boss's assistant "What time is yo' flight tomorrow?" This is not a question I particularly wanted hear, know what I'm sayin'?

"10 am, know what I'm sayin'? Why?"

"Then yo' ass could do an 8:30 conference call? The time da client wanted this afternoon won't work n' shit. "

Mind yo' ass, this is wit da clients who are pretty much da bane of my existence right at da moment." They are nice 'nuff muthas, 'n gravy clients, but hella, uh, collaborative, know what I'm sayin'? Ten emails 'n 6 phone calls a day collaborative n' shit. Six drafts when da timeline specifies two, wit each draft having mo' substantive comments than da last n' shit. So basically, as they close da cabin door 'n rip da phone out of my hands, I'll hear a low drone intoning something like "." ..what we really need see mo' of would be an example of customers who are integrating they business processes fo' greater operating productivity through enhanced teaming 'n Six Sigma recruiting 'n retention management n' shit. .." And my eyes will roll back into my heezee, 'n when I wake up we'll be in Maui!

Get me on that plane!

It's not even 9 am, and I've already been asked by my uber-boss's assistant "What time is your flight tomorrow?" This is not a question I particularly wanted to hear.

"10 am. Why?"

"Then you could do an 8:30 conference call? The time the client wanted this afternoon won't work."

Mind you, this is with the clients who are pretty much the bane of my existence right at the moment. They are nice enough people, and good clients, but very, uh, collaborative. Ten emails and 6 phone calls a day collaborative. Six drafts when the timeline specifies two, with each draft having more substantive comments than the last. So basically, as they close the cabin door and rip the phone out of my hands, I'll hear a low drone intoning something like "...what we really need to see more of would be an example of customers who are integrating their business processes for greater operating productivity through enhanced teaming and Six Sigma recruiting and retention management..." And my eyes will roll back into my head, and when I wake up we'll be in Maui!

I am so clearly NOT going to tell anyone at work where we are staying!

July 08, 2003

At least David gets his name on the cover

Two years of blood, sweat, and yelling, but hey folks, my books are finally for sale! That's right, the Windows Server 2003 Deployment Kit is hot off the presses and a bargain for you advantage shoppers at only $115.19 on BarnesandNoble.com.

I know you've all been eagerly awaiting this since the publication of the ever popular Windows XP Professional Resource Kit Documentation, my first book as writer and project manager.

Get 'em while they're hot, kids. You know these babies won't last long.

Surowiecki on Patent Insanity

Jamie Surowiecki, who writes "The Financial Page" column for The New Yorker, is absolutely my favorite business writer. This week's installment is no exception, as he writes about a topic that really gets the legal geek in me going: the ever-expanding scope of patent law that threatens innovation in almost every field of endeavor. To wit:


American corporations have thrived on innovative ideas and new business methods, without owning them, for two centuries. In the past decade, the balance has been upset. The scope of patents has been expanded, copyrights have been extended, trademarks have been subjected to bizarre interpretations.

Specifically, he's writing about "business-process patents" that cover the very idea of, say "one-click purchasing" on a web site. Not the code that makes this happen, just the idea of doing it. Read the article to see where this is getting us, and to see how persuasive Surowiecki is in cutting through to the absurdity of the issue.

July 07, 2003

An accidental author

So it turns out (to my considerable surprise) that I'm a published author. And not just dusty-thesis-in-a-university-library published, or dull-article-in-a-refereed-journal published, or even letter-to-the-editor published, but a real author of a real book with a cover and spine and the whole nine yards. You can even buy my book from amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. I'm sure I'll be hearing from the publisher soon about the international book tour and signing events.

I wonder how many other authors are surprised to find they are listed on amazon.com. With the advent of free software came the parallel revolution in free documentation for software. "Free" here does not mean free-as-in-beer: companies are free-as-in-freedom to take these works and publish them for a profit. As a sometimes free-software and free-documentation author, it does give you a warm glow when you make that initial contribution to the world, signing away your future rights under the auspices of the GPL. I know it's not up there with saving poor children from hunger or providing world peace, but it's something, y'know. But that warm glow becomes something of a sour taste when others profit from your work without so much as a by-your-leave.

You might think it's a little ironic that I came to be the author of a book which supports a free-software rival to the company I work for, and you'd be right. The reason is that a couple of years ago I was trying to correct a previous injustice, where work I had written had been appropriated without any acknowledgement whatsoever. Back in my university days, I wrote part of a free guide to a certain commercial software package, and that document became widely distributed. (Since that time, I joined the company that makes that software -- hence the rather obtuse references.) R is a GPL copy of the software my company makes, which emerged a few years ago, and that document I wrote part of was absorbed wholesale to become the manual for R ... without attributing me at all! I wrote several chapters of that document, and as Paulette knows writing software documentation (and especially writing it well) is no mean task. I was miffed enough to demand that my name (and affiliation) was added to the manual, which has become the source of this book. I guess in practical terms it's no different than having the R manual available for download in PDF format, but when it appears in physical book form it just seems to take it up a level.

The original document "Notes on S" contained this copyright notice: "These notes may be freely copied and redistributed for any educational purpose provided the copyright notice remains intact. Where appropriate, a small charge to cover the costs of production and distribution, only, may be made." Purportedly the new publisher, Network Theory in the UK, donates all the profits to Free Software, so it's debatable whether this is a violation. Removing (or changing) a copyright notice certainly is, though, although the blame there probably goes to the R authors. So what am I going to do about it? Probably nothing, except to ask the publisher for the free copy they offer to authors. Let's see if they manage to send it. A proactive gesture would have been a whole lot nicer -- it's not as if I'm that hard to find in cyberspace.

It's incidents like this which have rather soured me to the Free Software movement. (This isn't the only incident that has affected me personally, by the way: I wrote an entire manual to an Emacs extension -- S-mode -- which ran to a few hundred pages and was also appropriated wholesale and without attribution by the subsequent maintainers of the project.) Ideals are all well and good, but it seems they often turn to zealotry which can leave the details of copyright, attribution, and general good manners behind. I strongly feel that there is a role for both free and commercial software in this world, and it behooves both parties to recognize that fact and to play by their own rules.

July 02, 2003

That's Corporal Houseboy to you!

So Slate reports that the Pentagon is sending soldiers to butler school. Not all of them, just the 300 or so who serve 3- and 4-star generals. One imagines these men serving a range of needs quite beyond the average swell: "Your Bunker Buster, Sir." Or, "There's an Iraqi rabble outside, Sir, should I have the troops use tear gas, or bullets?"

Well, I have some needs quite beyond the average general. (Of course I'm talking about cleaning up after Dozer and cleaning my rugby cleats-- nothing nefarious, as all that is, of course, solely David's department. Though I suppose there's not quite as much left in the category of "nefarious" after the Lawrence decision.) I wonder what it would take to get one of these guys for a houseboy after he leaves the service?

I mean, why can't I have a hunky ex-corporal taking out the trash if Anika could, in her SF heyday, have a guy clean the bathroom with a toothbrush while wearing a pink jock strap, with copious verbal abuse his sole recompense? Surely those military guys barter too. But the real question: would the pink jock strap go with the uniform?

July 01, 2003

So long, Kate

Glancing at the list of more than 50 films in which Katharine Hepburn appeared, I realize that I've seen very few of them--six to be exact. And yet, if you'd ask me who my favorite actresses are, I'd have put her right below Ingrid Bergman and Audrey Hepburn at the top of my list. And I can't even say that of those six films, there were more than a couple that I really enjoyed. Sure Philadelphia Story, Holiday and Bringing Up Baby were great films, but, well I am completely incapable of not loving any movie with Cary Grant, so I'm not sure how much I can attribute my inclinations toward those films on the female lead. On Golden Pond, on the other hand, was just an emotionally manipulative Kleenexfest. And as much as I want to love it, The African Queen never left me more than lukewarm.

So, now that I've established that Katharine Hepburn has never been the instrument of my loving a film, I guess the obvious question was why did my eyes fill with tears yesterday morning as I heard on Morning Edition that she'd died. Actually, it's because she looked so much like my paternal grandmother as a young woman. I've got a picture somewhere, taken on a beach, of this beautiful, graceful woman, all legs and cheekbones, holding a baby version of my father. I've had more than one person ask me why I had a framed picture of Katharine Hepburn on my dresser.

My grandmother was a Catharine as well, and between those two commonalities, my image of Katharine and my image of Catharine have always been closely associated in my head. I also think that something of the delicacy with which each of those great women expressed themselves helped strengthen that association. So, even though I can't remember more than a handful of scenes that Katharine played, I have a really strong reaction to seeing her onscreen. It's funny, too, because I felt like growing up, I saw so little of my Granny, and yet I have powerful and strong memories of talking to her. To me, Catharine and Katharine represented a headstrong, graceful, intelligent femininity that I always wanted to develop in myself (and surely never will).

I said goodbye to Catharine a few years ago. I'd like to imagine, if it's not too hokey, that as we say goodbye to Katharine, she'll be greeted by her soul sister with a good strong bourbon and ginger ale and a toast on behalf of those of us who admired them both.

BYODinner?

If you still give thought to whether you should brave airline food or bring your own, you can check out the airline food ratings from those who have flown before you. I have to say, Tajikistan Airlines doesn't look like a bad option, even if the caviar is only served in Business Class. Jay might want to take note that Qantas airlines seems to serve chocolate cake for breakfast (?) and decide to pack his own.

The site is actually kind of interesting, as is reading the comments. Of those I managed to look at Xiaman Airlines, with it's lunch described as "undefinable, maybe egg boiled in soy-sauce" may be tied with Vietnam Airlines' business class snack of "unidentified slice of Processed meat and slice of fish" for the scariest meal. On the other hand, I note that the airlines from the Middle East and north Africa seem to get fairly decent ratings.

I still think one could make a mint providing good box lunches and selling them in the airport terminals.