Sunday, December 31, 2006

Curing gay sheep

From this article in the London Times

The technique being developed by American researchers adjusts the hormonal balance in the brains of homosexual rams so that they are more inclined to mate with ewes.

I honestly didn't know sheep could be gay..

Friday, December 29, 2006

John Hodgman

I find it ironic that the de-facto "star" of Apple's PC/Mac spots turns out to be the character behind the PC (John Hodgman) rather than the one behind the Mac (Justin Long). Slate summed it up nicely a while back, criticizing Apple's mean-spirited ad campaign:

Meanwhile, the PC is played by John Hodgman—contributor to The Daily Show and This American Life, host of an amusing lecture series, and all-around dry-wit extraordinaire. Even as he plays the chump in these Apple spots, his humor and likability are evident. (Look at that hilariously perfect pratfall he pulls off in the spot titled "Viruses.") The ads pose a seemingly obvious question—would you rather be the laid-back young dude or the portly old dweeb?—but I found myself consistently giving the "wrong" answer: I'd much sooner associate myself with Hodgman than with Long.

I recently downloaded Hodgman's audiobook, The Areas of my Expertise (available for free via iTunes). It's the funniest thing I've listened to in years. Somehow the more I know of John Hodgman the more I want to buy a PC.

P.S. John Hodgman was also voted one of 2006's sexiest geeks. Right up there with Kari Byron.

A judge, a cleric and a physician walk into an execution..

I'm against the death penalty. But if there was ever an appropriate case for an execution, it's for Saddam Husssein. The world will be a better place after his death.

This New York Times opinion piece, The Rush to Hang Saddam Hussein, succinctly points out the missed opportunities in this case. One can't help but feel that some thing's being swept under the rug in this rush to hang him.

Of course, there's a fascinatingly morbid overview of the method on Slate.

Blogging comes of age

I sneared at Time's "person of the year" publicity that essentially named the blogging culture as the person of the year. There's a lot of hype right now that bloggers have an increasing amount influence and are becoming a powerful media of their own.

But following Scoble's coverage of the Edwards campaign, and in particular this example that Scoble points to at Jake Ludington's blog, puts me in awe of the common person's ability now to capture the content and make it available to millions.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Competing on the basis of speed

Good stuff by Mary Poppendieck (one of the Lean/Software gurus)

I also noticed that Google has a whole section of videos categorized as “engEDU” Worth looking through:

Monday, December 18, 2006


Simplification has been a recent theme in my brain recently--and is coming at me from all sides via the extraordinarily complex electronic environment in which I'm nestled.

This is one of the most thought provoking concepts I've seen recently from this post on how Toyota wants to fundamentally redesign the car

Mr. Watanabe wants kakushin, or revolutionary change. He wants to cut the number of components in a car by half and create a new generation of fast and flexible factories to build these cars. Just think about that challenge for a moment... cutting the number of components by half. Think about your factory's products, or even the computer you're reading this on, and contemplate what that means. Basically a reinvention of the car itself.

What's interesting is the idea that one can set a simplification goal such as cutting the number of components by half. This is a great idea for some of the software and systems that I've built/deployed recently. If I had to cut the number of components by half, how would I go about that? Interesting.

Killer Apps

This list of Killer Apps from eWeek has the usual suspects. The interesting question is, what do they all have in common?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mythbusters Drinking Game

I don't see many candidates for "Mythbusters Drinking Games" out there on the internet. So here's my own version.

Gather with some friends (or, if you're nerd/alcoholic enough, alone), get as many drinks as you're willing to quaff in one sitting, fire up Mythbusters on the TiVo and get started.

Now, there are two schools of thought with drinking games. One is that the object of the game is to drink too much. You've "won" the game when you're too drunk to play any more. The other is that the objective is to stay sober by avoiding drinks, and using your skills to cause other players to drink instead. You have then "won" because you're sober while your friends are having a good time. If you're from the former school (i.e, a State University or Community College), go ahead and just take a drink whenever you notice any of the following events occur during the show. If you're from the latter school (i.e, a private college, Ivy League, or maybe a University of California), then the first person to point out one of the following events has amnesty from taking a drink, and their playing companions must all drink.

Regardless of how you decide to play, everybody takes a warm-up drink at the start of the following episodes:

  • The Mentos special
  • One of the episodes that features firearms myths
  • A "myths revisited" episode

During the episode, take a drink if:

  • Mythbusters cite criticisms of earlier experiments from viewer email.
  • Grant uses some special knowledge of electronics or robotics to build/operate a rig.
  • Myth is plausible.
  • Kari gets dolled up for a visit to some vendor, supplier or outside expert.
  • The fire department or paramedics are on hand, "just in case."
  • There is an AOL product placement.
  • Producers prevent Mythbusters from doing something due to insurance concerns.
  • The episode includes Scottie Chapman.
  • The "Arc of the Covenant" prop is used in the foreground during interviews with the Mythbusters.
  • Jamie loses a "build off."
  • Adam or Jamie get in some humiliating outfit (not including wet suits).
  • A vehicle is crashed. +2 drinks if vehicle is destroyed.
  • A rocket is launched. +1 drink if rocket is a dud.
  • Real human bones are integrated into a prop.
  • Jamie gets all serious and starts talking about safety.
  • A prop is molded from ballistics gel.
  • Pyrotechnics are set by an FBI or ATF agent.
  • Adam mocks Jamie. +1 drink if Adam uses a prop as Jamie's mustache.
  • Adam hurts himself. +1 drink if Adam bleeds.
  • A prop from a previous episode is visible in the background.
  • Something inadvertently caches fire.
  • A rig malfunctions. +1 drink if rig destroys itself.
  • Somebody uses a calculator. +1 drink if it's Kari.
  • Myth is confirmed.
  • Tory bleeds.
  • The rig involves a pig carcass.
  • Jamie freaks out about damage to the shop or his equipment.
  • Adam appears in the episode with a self referential t-shirt.
  • Adam or Jamie's likeness is used in an animation to depict the experiment.
  • Adam and Jamie have a spat.
  • Buster gets busted, burned, dropped or hurled a great distance.
  • Something is exploded. +1 drink if exploded object is made of meat.
  • Myth is busted.

Chug an entire beer, wine, shot, whatever, if:

  • A cement truck is obliterated with explosives.
  • The "JATO car" takes off.
  • Kari is covered in aluminum paint.
  • Buster is launched from the "culvert cannon."
  • The Mythbusters cool a six pack with a fire extinguisher.

Enjoy your, uh, "episode."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The sloth on sake

Watch this and you'll be a more fulfilled human being.

Master: "...your mind is slow like the sloth on sake."
Student: "Oh, man."

Smoking Gun

Note to self: when attempting to poison international spies, do not use a substance that will leave a radioactive trail everywhere you go before and after the dirty deed. From this article:

Investigators believe the poison cocktail was likely to have been manufactured in a guest room at the hotel, a short walk away from the US Embassy. Significant traces of polonium-210 were found in a fourth-floor room, which was occupied by a visiting Russian.

One of the Russian guys here at work says he doesn't believe KGB is responsible because "they're not that stupid."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Then and Now

A few days ago I posted about my experience with medical billing and said that..

Somewhere in between the internet's model and the current state-of-the-art in health information management systems, there's probably an opportunity for Google or some future company like Google.

I wasn't alone. And somebody is giving it a try. I received a nice note from Christopher Parks cluing me in to MedBillManager. This is a pre launch of a web site designed to help you track your medical bills on line. I thought it was crazy at first, but I had a chance to use the system a little last night and I think they have done an excellent job at making a complex problem simple effective and easy to use.

Looking at their about us page, I noticed that they're using Ruby on Rails for the site development. Using the system you can tell this is a classic "web 2.0" application. Lots of AJAX, clean, simple, effective. In a lot of ways it's a stark contrast to the start up of yesteryear.

Let's compare and contrast, shall we?

Funding$10,000,000 Series A Round
From Ventures R Us
Personal funds or Angel Investors
StaffingTwo or three hundred close friends
Including a "Chief Segway Officer"
Four guys who care about what they're doing
InfrastructureA building in San Jose
Server Room full of Sun Gear
The Internet
Maybe a collocated server
Some MacBooks
Application ArchitectureJ2EE (and a $1,000,000 app server)Ruby on Rails for free
Marketing$7,000,000 Superbowl adsThe blog sphere

The problem with the 1999 column is that it's full of things that distracted us from really doing what mattered most--building things that had value. It was the antithesis of "lean." We spent a lot of time and energy on things that didn't matter. Out of that $10,000,000 funding round, a lot of start ups had to spend way too much of their time working on all the overhead that didn't matter in the end. They also signed themselves up for an "exit" that might not have been reasonable. They had to show how they were going to make money right out of the gate, rather than building something that had value to their users, and let the money come where it may.

These MedBillManager type start ups are single mindedly focused on providing the greatest value, and nothing else. Build it and they will come isn't crazy, it's the right thing to do.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Superpowers in you and me

This story on the boy who can "echolocate" and the explanation that you and I can do it as well, reminds me of the story about Richard Feynman's party trick of asking a person to handle an object when he'd left the room, then returning and using his nose to sniff out what they'd touched. A quick search with Google uncovers a similar story