Monday, May 28, 2007

Pondering the Meaning of the 'Blog, Again

Writing has never been a consistent practice of mine. It isn't that I don't like it. I do. In theory, I should want to be writing as much as possible to help hone my communications skills for career purposes. But if you follow that theory there are quite a few things that I should be doing to help my career. "Because I should" isn't exactly a good motivator for me. "Because it is interesting" is better. Which brings up the question, is this 'blog interesting to me?

I started this little exercise almost a year and a half ago. This tells me that I'm interested on some level, because if I wasn't I wouldn't still be posting things. Admittedly the posts have been largely quick comments on news stories or other items which interested me. Since I learn best by reading and summarizing, this has served as a memory stimulator. That's great for me, but this 'blog is published on the Internet rather than being stored on my personal computer. That has implications. Or at least it should.

I recently told someone that the problem with public places is that's where the public hangs out. Jeff Atwood has written that without the ability for user comments you can't have a 'blog. I don't think I'm anywhere near ready to try and create and police a community dialog. Bill Harris's blog and those of writers like him are a counterpoint to Mr. Atwood's argument. As are 'blogs such as Mike Wieringo's, where he publishes his warm-up work. These things we call 'blogs may be publicity and self-brand-building, simple hobbies, catharsis, undirected narcissism, or all of the above. Consciously or unconsciously, every 'blog has its purpose. It's high time I spend some energy deciding what will happen in this little corner of the internet.

Ideally, I would write original content on a daily basis for the entertainment, edification, and enlightenment of the denizens of the 'net. Don't hold your breath. As I continue to ponder about these things and others, I may express some of them here. Perhaps this place will become more than just an exercise in helping me remember the trivial links of the day. Perhaps it will not. As Doctor Who is fond of pointing out, "Time will tell. It always does."

Normally, this would be the place where the writer of a real 'blog would ask for your opinions via e-mail. If there is anyone out there reading this but me, feel free to offer any opinions you have. The e-mail address is there for that purpose, and I will read anything I get (eventually). Just remember that at the moment, this is still simply my bit-stream of consciousness...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Force Will Be With You, Always

Star Wars turn thirty this weekend. Slashdot's coverage contains some fun links. And I'm looking forward to the History Channel's look at the legends that informed the Star Wars universe. While Star Wars no longer retains its title as my favorite space opera franchise, its cultural legacy is unquestionable.

Patents, Innovation, and Grills

A key patent on infrared heating technology has expired. The results are an interesting study in market driven innovation and a look at how patents affect the business landscape.

Gene Therapy to Combat Arthritis

Early tests of a new gene therapy could provide hope for a large swath of humanity (and no doubt big bucks for administering companies). The therapy shows promise for nearly eliminating arthritis pain and even a reduction in joint damage. It will be interesting to watch gene therapy spread over time. The Human Genome Project may be complete, but much work remains to be done.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Just When I Thought I was Out, They Drag Me Back In

My computer gaming habit has dwindled greatly in the past couple of years. Consoles still don't do it for me (excepting the wonderful Nintendo GameBoy DS which is the king of thirty minutes of free time gaming). Unfortunately the primary hard drive in my PC failed earlier this year, and Microsoft decided to artificially kill off Windows XP at the end of the year. Suddenly I find that I will have to build a new PC this year. And that's when it hit me.

I thought I was out, but they are going to drag me back in.

Watching the Watchers: North Carolina Style

Unfortunately for my sanity, the political scene is heating up again as the still-distant presidential race begins. John Edwards is closely watched in these parts since he's a fellow North Carolina boy. So far he's managed to make headlines for his haircuts and his spending proposals. Since I'm looking for a little restraint in government these days, neither of those stories endears him to me.

Our state senate has joined a movement to have the North Carolina electoral college voters throw their votes behind the candidate who wins the national popular vote instead of the state's vote. I find this proposal to be clearly insane. To me it is a complete disenfranchisement of the voters of North Carolina. If you want to get rid of the electoral college system, I can understand the arguments. Even if you wish to have the electoral college delegates vote along the same split as the state votes, that's fine (but you might as well get rid of it at that point). But this proposal seems to me to be a complete disenfranchisement of North Carolina voters.

And finally we have a national story that has local implications. North Carolina has one of the fastest growing Latin American immigrant populations in the nation. Those brave people who are trying to immigrate to the U.S. legally have something to say about the President's immigration proposal. And I am totally in agreement. Stop rewarding illegal behavior and start making it easier to join our country completely legally. The current situation is beyond stupid.

It's Amazing What Real Competition Can Do

Compact fluorescent lights are good alternatives to incandescent bulbs, but they have drawbacks. The most obvious of which is their not exactly environmentally friendly mercury content. But the falling out of favor of incandescents has led to a market opportunity that is causing innovation in a long stagnant area. White LEDs are the latest entry into the race, and while they aren't competitive yet the time will come soon where low efficiency lighting goes away.

Speeder's Cars: the Axels of Evil

I hate driving, and it's largely because of the other people on the road. Recently, I had started wondering if I was becoming more of an old codger than I thought because it seems like speeders were everywhere and going faster than ever. It turns out I was not imagining it. Speed kills, but speeding is largely ignored. Everyone who speeds has a dozen reasons why it is OK, and the laws have been skewed to support them. It has gotten to the point where driving at the speed limit is considered dangerous.

I have no idea how to fix the situation, but slowing the nut-jobs down would go a long way toward increasing safety on the roads.

Leading Car Maker to Go All Hybrid?

Toyota continues to bet on its hybrid technology. One executive is being bold enough to predict that all the cars in Toyota's line will be hybrid by the end of the next century. Is it a way of garnering headlines or a sign of a true long term vision? Either way, it's nice to see environmental concerns becoming more and more mainstream.

Corporate Follow Up

The rumors of massive layoffs at IBM I commented on a couple weeks ago are still percolating through the writings of Robert X. Cringely. The past two weeks' columns both contain more on the subject, but it was a quote at the bottom of this week's that really caught my attention. The quote describes almost exactly the situation I face at work at the moment. Sadly this situation seems to be endemic to the large corporate players in the IT field. (With the possible exception of Google.)

As one IBM employee told me, "It is hard to say if it will be worse to be laid off or be stuck working your ass off in a demoralized, understaffed environment in which benefits, training, and pay are shrinking and NEVER increased. The real cuts need to occur at the management and executive levels, which are bloated with clueless business school types whose benefits, training, and pay are constantly increasing. This is really a class issue: the executive class constantly reaps benefits while the bottom feeders do all the work. The bottom line is that the people writing these memos are protected and don't care."

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Enough Serious Stuff, Let's Talk Webshooters

The biggest physical difference between the Spiderman of my childhood the hit movie franchise was the origin of Spidey's web. (Yes, I'm ignoring the translation of fears that moved the spider from being radioactive to being genetically engineered.) Back in the day, Peter used his chemistry skills to invent the web fluid and he used a mechanical delivery system. Apparently the folks responsible for the movies did take a look at the idea, and here is their rather nifty take on the mechanical web shooter.

Wall Street: Optimizing Callousness

While the latest Cringely column has some speculation in it, the analysis of the proposed thesis is a good one. It is a clear indication that businesses are lying to everyone and Wall Street has failed the U.S. worker.

I have had the feeling for a while that the market as it exists today was selecting for the wrong variable. Every time profits soar, but stock prices fall because they didn't soar enough, I wonder. When high tech firms complain of not enough workers, but salary averages stay flat, I wonder. If the story about IBM plays out as Mr. Cringely predicts, I don't know how people will react. The only certainty is that in Big Business today, neither the employees, the product, nor the customers matter. Stock price and perception from an increasingly detached group of economists and business types are all that count. And that can't be good for us in the long run.

The Silent Majority Speaks Again

Perceptions are hugely important in this world. John Amaechi, the former NBA player who publicly announced that he is a homosexual, had his own perceptions of what would happen to him when he came out. He was afraid of "the wrath of a nation under God." He was hoping for some support from his former colleagues. He was baffled by the NBA's non-reporting. He was braced for a wave of hatred, and it never really came. While some people did express the negative side of life, on the whole he said, "I underestimated America."

There are many things about this story that illustrate how the fringes of opinion, politics, and religion have taken over. When did Christianity become known more for its hate than its love? When did America become something to be feared rather than the embodiment of a dream? Our history is full of examples of selfishness, bigotry, and all the demons that haunt humanity. But every once in a while, it's nice to see the Light shining.

The silent majority is still here. We are surrounded by shades of gray, and respond as best we can with common sense and love. And we really, really need to figure out a way to take back the world from the ideologues.

When Home Isn't Where the Heart Is

A government report claims that for the better part of a decade more people have left Mexico for the United States than have died. I can't imagine this is a good thing for Mexico. What we should be asking, but no one seems to, is why is Mexico so much worse a place to be than the U.S. It seems like a chance for the U.S. to generate some actual goodwill and solve two countries' immigration/emigration issues.