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The personal journal of technology journalist and conference speaker Randall S. Newton.

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Financial Times Gets a Leg Up on Bob Kerrey

The Financial Times isn’t known as a humor publication, but I couldn’t help but laugh this week at an item in the FT’s Observer column—an item that was not written to be humorous.

In “Political no-go” the FT describes former US Senator Bob Kerrey’s brief tryst with the notion of running for mayor of New York City. “It turns out the first hot political story of this year’s New York mayoral race did not have legs.” Why did I laugh? Well, to be honest it was a nervous, "no, you really didn't say that" kind of laugh. Because Bob Kerrey lost a leg (below the knee, to be precise) while serving as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam. For his heroic actions that day, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

When I read that line, and after I stopped laughing, I thought, “Oh, how sad, nobody at the FT knows Kerrey’s background story.” If the writer and editor on that story had known, they would have surely avoided the obvious and awkward “leg” reference. And I was reminded what I was taught over and over in journalism school—what you don’t know can hurt you.

I continued reading; it was pretty straightforward stuff, until the last line. “Kerrey can be a lively figure out on the stump.” And I had to laugh again, at the incredible bad taste the FT was continuing to dish without even knowing it. (When a one-legged man stands to speak, he is always on the stump.) I went back into the item, and now even the more innocuous items were ignorantly loaded with extra meaning. “Kerrey had mused to The New York Times at the weekend about jumping into the race. The prospect of a Kerrey run was intriguing…” Would the FT really have used all this jumping and running imagery (normal political language, of course) if they had know of Kerrey’s disability?

For a discussion of what’s in bad taste and what isn’t when talking about a person’s disabilities, check out what BBC columnist and one-legged comedian Adam Hills has to say on the subject.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Pesky Adware Made Me Think Microsoft Was Up to Something Sneaky

This morning I noticed links in my Hotmail messages, and in message subject lines, that I didn't put there. At first I thought it was something new and unannouced from Microsoft (Hotmail is part of Microsoft's MSN set of Web products). I did a quick Google search and used Icerocket specifically to search blogs on "Hotmail sponsored links" but didn't come up with anything that explained what I was seeing. But as I'm writing, it dawns on me that I've been hit by an adware trojan.

I've had some problems with registry edits ever since I alpha tested a search bar for a friend (I can't tell you who, he knows where I live and it would be just one neck to choke) and moved from Ethernet to USB for my Internet connection. The combination has been just awful (Starband warned me about USB, so I only have myself to blame on that one). Anyway, this morning when Spybot detected several registry changes, I let them go through as usual. Bad call. McAfee noticed immediately; so I did a full scan and found two trojans on my computer. I guess I have some more work to do.

Large Cougar in Loomis Seems to Have Lost Fear of Humans

I've just returned from a week+ on the road, attending first COFES 2005, then the FIATECH Spring conference. They were both great conferences. I'll be writing this week for AECnews.com and this blog from my notes, as relevent to each forum. But I want to share the following while it is fresh in my mind.

Just as I sat down at my desk this morning, I got a call from our neighbor Lisa, across the road. She said that yesterday a large cougar was seen crossing the road from our farm toward her property, around 8 a.m. It was spotted by the local game warden, happened to be driving by. He said (according to Lisa) that it was the largest cougar he had ever seen. As it crossed the road, according to Lisa's retelling, the tail was at the center line and his nose was at the painted line on the road's edge. My cousin-in-law Teri had just jogged past, Lisa said, so the game warden got her attention and she made a beeline home.

Teresa was home yesterday, and also knew of the cougar sighting. She talked to Bart, a local rancher who has hunting dogs and has a license from the state to hunt rogue cougars. He walked across my farm, but the dogs didn't pick up cougar scent.

Let me put some perspective on this sighting. It was around 8 a.m. At 7:30 a.m. all the kids in the area were on the road waiting for the bus. Some of them (including my six) were less than 50 yards from the cougar's path.

Cougars are generally night hunters; daytime sightings happen, but are less common. But for a cougar to be prowling our neighborhood in broad daylight is not a good thing, especially one so large. I live in a remote area far from what most people would consider civilization, but we are part of a community here. I can see perhaps 15 houses from my office window. There are plenty of kids, let alone all the pets and livestock. This sighting is a reason for genuine concern. If a mature cougar has lost its natual fear of humans and is hunting in our yards, he needs to be dispatched. No one around here has to be reminded of the Mom in Princeton, BC (about 60 miles from here) who was killed about five years ago trying to save her small child from a cougar.

Cougars are territorial, and only one can live in any given territory. As the cougar population expands, some cougars move from the high country and into human territory. I am all for conservation and protecting endangered species, but I don't think putting people in mortal danger for the sake of one rogue cougar is acceptable.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Think Tank Report: Open Source Principles to Have Wide Influence

European think tank Demos has just released a report that takes a look at the underlying principles of Open Sourcethe methods and principles behind the Internet's basic development model. Their results echo what I have been telling anybody who will listen:

Other fields have much to learn from open source methods – because they bring principles and working methods which can help to produce better knowledge, goods or services, or make them available on more widely beneficial terms.

From the formulation of public policy to more open forms of academic peer review, setting up mutual support groups for people facing similar health problems to collaborative forms of social innovation, the principles of open source promise to radically alter the way we approach complex social problems.

Click here to download the Demos white paper as a PDF file.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Icerocket is Better for Searching Blogs

I really like Google and use it many times a day in my course of work. But it isn't the only search engine out there, and I think it is important (at least for me) to see what other search engines are doing to stay competitive.

Recently I've found Icerocket to be the best at searching blogs. Using it to search "LoomisBoy" I discovered that the San Francisco Chronicle, and a Ph.D. researcher in Australia, as well as other sites, quoted from my blog entry on Apple and the First Amendment. When I first searched this term, Google didn't have as many hits for "LoomisBoy" as Icerocket did, but checking again today I find it has caught up.

If you need power search capabilities, check out Icerocket's RSS service.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Forcing the River to Run in Reverse: Microsoft and Open Source

A few miles from my home exists an occasional natural wonder. Every Spring we have a period of high water in all the streams, rivers and connected lakes, as the mountain snowpack melts. If conditions are right, a portion of the Similkameen River will run backwards. This happens when the volume of water leaving Palmer Lake, via Palmer Creek, is greater than the volume of river water where creek and river meet. The pressure of the lake water hitting the river forces it to flow in the opposite direction.

I'm reminded of this geological oddity when I note two news items today that connect Microsoft and Open Source processes and methods. These news items, and many more like them in recent weeks, make me wonder if perhaps the pressure of Lake Open Source is pushing so hard against Microsoft River that a radical re-direction is in the making.

The editors of Encarta, Microsoft's general purpose encyclopedia, are asking for reader input on edits and additions. Sound familiar? It should if you've ever used Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that is written and edited by anybody who cares to participate. I know there's a big difference between asking for input and throwing Encarta wide open. But when was the last time Encyclopedia Britannica asked for reader input? Wikipedia is quickly becoming the web's general reference tool of first choice, and it is scaling the heights on the strength of open source methods. The only way Encarta can hope to keep up is to try to use similar methods.

The other news item is a update on Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative. As Information Week reports:

Shared Source is a program that allows Microsoft customers and independent developers to download Microsoft source code, examine it, and copy it for their own use. Academic researchers may go further and tinker with the source code, as open-source-code programmers do. But professional and commercial developers may only look at and use the source code. They can't modify and copy it for distribution or embed it in products without a Microsoft license.

Matusow said the success of open-source projects he has studied is based in part on the development team's ability to listen to users' experience with their code, creating an ongoing feedback loop to the team. "Being receptive is where Microsoft stands most to learn [from the open-source example] and do a better job," Matusow said.

"Being receptive" is only one of the many attributes of success for Open Source, but it is an important one, and it is a good start for a company that has until now been the poster child for proprietary software products and methods. When the biggest name in software realizes there is good reason to adopt open source methods, the rest of the software industry needs to pay attention.

How high's the water, Mama?
It's five feet high and risin'

-- Johnny Cash, "Five Feet High and Rising"

Fact or Legend: Was John Paul II Elected Twice?

Australian blogger "Credo" is reporting a story told to him by an American Roman Catholic Cardinal. According to the story, the conclave that elected John Paul I originally asked another man to become pope, and this man modestly, humbly did not accept. Then when about a month later, the college of cardinals had to meet again to select a successor to John Paul I, they convinced the first man to accept. "Credo" did not use the name John Paul I in his blog, but from the context it is obvious who he is talking about.

Whether or not the story is true, this period of time around the death of John Paul II is doing more to promote unity between Roman Catholic Christians and the rest of us Christ-follwers than anything since the Charismatic Movement of the late 1960's and early 1970's. But the unity found then was only for those believers who were both affected by the Charismatic Movement and were fellowshipping with RC's who were also participating. The recognition of unity now is much more widespread. John Paul II preached Christ as Savior and Lord; so do the rest of us. Of course I have doctrinal/theological issues with Roman Catholics; I have them with Baptists and Pentecostals, too. But that doesn't stop me from seeing any of them as brethren.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Rekindled Love for an Old College Sweetheart

On Monday, Baylor alumnus Steven Stucky won the Pulitzer Prize for music, for his Second Concerto for Orchestra. Yesterday, the Baylor Lady Bears demolished Michigan State to win the NCAA women's national basketball championship. Today, Baylor announces in an email to prospective students that it will have to stop receiving applications for new freshmen on April 15, sooner than usual. Baylor has already received more than 15,000 applications and just won't be able to keep accepting them at the rate they are coming in. To give you a sense of perspective, the current student body is a little over 14,000.

When I attended Baylor in the 1970s, it was a sleepy Baptist university with a student body of about 7,000. I was attracted by the strong academics, the Christian atmosphere, and the offer of scholarship money. But I left with rather ambivalent feelings about my alma mater. I enjoyed my time there, but I thought the university had become even more of an anachronism than it aspired to be.

Fifteen years later I visited for the first time after leaving, and wasn't impressed. I found the facilities lacking detailed attention, and the campus had only grown by one building (an addition to the library that was ready for construction when I left). I tried to ignore that the name of a rather pompous rich Texan whom I had met while attending Baylor was now prominently visible on campus (he had given a rather substantial sum to the university since I graduated). The students seemed cut from the same cloth as my peers in the 1970s.

When my first college-bound child, Amanda, decided she wanted to major in archaeology, it turned out there were only six universities in North America offering an undergraduate degree, and one of them was Baylor. I still loved my college home, and wanted her to consider it, but I wasn't going to push (her mother tells a different story, but she'll have to get her own blog to do it). When Amanda and I arrived for a campus visit in April 2002, I was absolutely surprised by what I saw. Not only had Baylor grown physically, I sensed that it has matured in other ways. A student body that was always politely Baptist was now much more overtly Christian in character. Amanda told me later that she knew five minutes into her first session during the campus visit that "this is the place for me." And I couldn't have agreed more.

I attribute much of the change to the leadership of outgoing president Robert Sloan and his visionary "Baylor 2012" roadmap. Baylor is in the process of emerging onto the national academic landscape as the pre-eminent Protestant university in America. Sloan rightly insists that it is possible--and absolutely necessary--for Baylor to be both a first-rank American university by all relevant benchmarks (research, faculty quality, athletics, student achievement, etc.) and a thoroughly Christian institution.

So, when I whoop it up for the Lady Bears national championship, or point with pride to Baylor related-achievements, please put it into context. I've rekindled a love for my college sweetheart, a love I thought had died. I think I have the right to act just a little bit loopy.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The LoomisBoy Locale as Seen from Space

Google has incorporated satellite images into its location search feature, using technology acquired this spring with the purchase of Keyhole. (You can read what I had to say about that purchase in a commentary for CADwire.net.)

Click this link to see the greater Loomis area. Palmer Lake is the kidney-bean shaped body of water a above and left of the image center. That's our favorite lake for swimming. Spectacle Lake is the long thin lake a little lower and to the right. We are on the valley road, between the two. I'm sorry I can't annotate the image. I'll work on that for another time.

You can drag the image to see more of the area. Notice how many lakes are in our immediate area. Elevations vary in this image from 5167 (Aeneas Mountain, lower center) to 1380 (elevation at Loomis). If you scroll to the left (west), elevations of over 7,000 quickly come into view.

The Countdown for the Extinction of the CD

Dotcom billionnaire Mark Cuban (sold Broadcast.com before the crash) is powerfully explaining the future of popular culture media on his blog ... when he isn't gushing about his basketball team (he owns the NBA Dallas Maverick). In a new post, he starts with the personal and moves to the global perspective to explain why and how CD's will soon be historical artifacts the way LP albums and 45's are today.

Once that first label, or the first organized group of indies goes purely digital at retail, then the countdown for the extinction of the CD begins. T-minus 5 years from that first day, and your CDs will be sitting right next to the LPs your dad and mom collected when they were kids.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Grandfather of Blobjects to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award

The CAD Society has named Ken Versprille, Ph.D., as the winner of its 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award. I note this because he can rightfully be consider the "grandfather" of Blobjects, as described in my blog last month.

Versprille is the first computer scientist or mathematician to describe and formalize what we now call NURBS--Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines (splines being a form of curves). Without this fundamental advancement, most 3D design software today would still be using less-precise or less compact methods to define three-dimensional surfaces of irregular shape.

Add a Major League Baseball Team's Schedule to Your Calendar

Here's a clever little bit of the Web. Calendar Updates offers free schedules of each Major League Baseball team, downloadable to Microsoft Outlook. Follow the instructions carefully, and you can have the entire regular season schedule for your favorite team in our Outlook Calendar.

I was tempted to think "Oh, I know how to do this" and not follow the instruction. That would have been a mistake. But I resisted temptation, and now I have the Mariners schedule on my desktop and in my iPAQ.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Comments are Now Enabled--Be Nice!

I've decided to turn on the ability for readers to add comments. If you want to comment on something I've already written, use the link in the left column to go to the item, then look for the comment link at the end of the item.

This is a test. If we start getting comment spam, I'll remove the capability.

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