Friday, May 30, 2003

So the Weapons of Mass Destruction aren't turning up? But not to worry, of course they're there....somewhere. And, and, even if they weren't -- but of course they are -- but even if they weren't, why, we needed to go into war with Iran, I mean, I mean Iraq, never can keep them straight -- anyway because those guys were Up To No Good, and part of the Quadrangle of Evil. But the WMDs are really there -- why, even Tony Blair says so! And the biological weapons, oh yes, they must exist, too -- somewhere. We found vans that could have been used to do that, and maybe had no other reasonable use except that, so of course, that is proof of intent -- and in the big bad world, intent is enough to convict. At least, if you're George, it is. Heck, Texas is known for its fine legal distinctions.

Geez. Why does the US President lie? Or maybe its an Alice in Wonderland thing -- he believes whatever he needs to believe to support what he wants to do. Yeah, probably that. And I thought that Steve Jobs had a Reality Distortion Field. This guy has a nuclear powered one.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Memorial Day Weekend. Like lots of Americans, I don't pay too much attention to it. I think remembering is a good idea, but I don't get tied up in knots about it. Though I did make a point of flipping to another channel when I realized that the president was speaking. I can't imagine any circumstance where he could be giving a speech on Memorial Day and say anything that I would want to hear. Its wierd, in a way: I think he's an idiot, and I didn't vote for him, and I wouldn't vote for him -- yet I admiire what he's done in the way of military response to 9/11. Well, most of it. Still not sure about this Iraq thing. But the idea that I can admire someone whom I wouldn't vote for -- thats an unusual thought, for me.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

I just had the pleasure of talking for a while about complex adaptive systems, and why small companies wither when big companies absort them. Don't misunderstand; I don't know much about CAS's, and I have no insights about the busines idea -- just some thoughts I've gathered from various places. You know, 'why would one company acquire another? What do they hope to get out of it?' And there are a fair number of buzzwords you can throw into the concept, but the basic idea is, to make the big company's earnings go up, either by just taking the earnings of the smaller company and tacking them onto the bigger company's (though not their debts, oh, no), or because the small company has a skill/ability/resource that the big one thinks would help its profit picture because now they'd have to pay less for the skill/ability/resource. Thats about it, nothing much more to say (unless you're, say, the Harvard Business Review.) But it was nice, for a while, to talk about them anyway. I don't often get that chance. I suppose that sounds arrogant. It's not meant to be.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

I'm still doing a lot of reading on the concept of pervasive computing, aka ubiquitous computing, for the semi-project that I'm on. I say 'semi' because we've had two meetings and nothings happened yet along the lines of saying what our deliverable is. Anyway, the idea of PC or UC is cool. Leaving aside the people who want to tie it to everything, or treat it like the Holy Grail (the people at MIT's Media Lab come to mind), the idea of PC as a way to augment your natural abilities to communicate and retrieve information is intriguing. The idea incorporates things like tools that start when you want them to -- a given time, or a triggering event -- without you explicitly saying for them to do so, tools that are aware of where you are and where the resources you want are, so that you can tell them to act on a resource without actually knowing much about the resource or where it is, and tools that are connected to each other, which are not now, so that they can share information -- your personal organizer talks to the car computer, cell phone talks to the address book in the car, point and click sends document to address in email address book. I'm trying hard to 'see' this functionality in the environment that I work in and that our customers work in. Its challenging because, of course, we tend to accept things as they are; the limits seem natural.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Mother’s Day -- which I like to say is the day when mother’s should make an extra-special effort to do things for their family.

In honor of the day, but mostly because I’ve wanted to, I am baking a cake. Not being a great, or even average, cake baker, I’m not at all sure what it will taste like. Though a part of it has already gotten rave reviews: my daughter is now happily lapping through the remnants of the frosting in the mixing bowl. My family is so hard to please in these things.

Much harder to please is the US Senate, as Bill Frist is finding out, according to the New York Times magazine. It's hard to gainsay his goals, though the sneaky feeling is that while he means what he says, he's also a crafty politician who tries to cloak himself in an aura of disinterested purity by introducing himself to others as Doctor Frist, not Senator, and pointing out that he keeps a stocked medical bag in a cabinet near his desk. It's nice that he has these skills, but they have no bearing on his ability as a Senator, let alone a majority leader. Apparently, he's not as sneaky as his predecessors, so his deals don't work as well as theirs. Trent Lott was quoted as saying that he (Lott) at least made the trains run on time, which is the whole reason for being there. Then again, Frist's probably morally better than those predecessors, so is it a wash? Dunno. I'm glad Frist is the Majority Leader instead of Lott, though.

Hey, if Frist screws up, can I sue him for malpractice?

Saturday, May 10, 2003

I was reading a couple of interesting articles in the latest issue of The Economist. That's why I subscribe to it -- every issue is just about guaranteed to have something in it that will tell me something that I didn't know, usually about someplace or something or some one that I didn't even know existed.

One item, an article titled "cold killer applications", talks about how businesses are beginning to rate the probability of financial return from the Information technology projects that they undertake. Its been no secret for years that IT projects tend to be started and run based almost entirely on the desires of the people who work in that area. It was a big deal when people started pointing out, years ago, that it didn't make sense to let these people (of whom I am one) to decide what to do, without any business oversight; it would be like letting the people who maintain the automotive fleet decide what kind of cars and trucks to buy without ever finding out what they were going to be used for. Well, apparently, that basic concept is now serving as the launching point for a better analysis of IT projects, with projects subject to not only evaluation based on when they will earn back the money spent on them, but also being subject to competition for funding, and periodic reevaluation. This is a good thing, though like any other good thing, it can be overdone -- make a political football out of funding, and unsexy but necessary infrastructure work might never happen; do a periodic review and you might find that many projects start, eat some money, and are canceled. Its not a black and white good thing, but it is still a good thing -- and I'm amazed that its still not common. But it did get me to thinking - briefly - about my own job, and how I would justify the money spent on me. I've heard it say that if you don't earn back your salary every year, then you're a net loss to the company. I know that’s not true, because there are positions -- mine's one of them - that earn no money at all, yet they're needed. But at some point it must be true.

I’m not so sure about a second article, on the large and growing problem in underfunded pensions. The concluding point of the article is that companies should not have to worry about people after they leave the employ of the company. It’s the responsibility of someone else -- possibly the government, possibly the people themselves -- to make those long term decisions, or to hire people to do it for them. I tend to agree, but I see three problems with the ‘let the people do it’ philosophy. First, many people, certainly most in the bottom part of the net-worth and earning scale, don’t have much of a clue how to value pension schemes -- and given the recent and ongoing accounting problems, scheme is frequently exactly the right word. Second, these same people can’t afford to hire someone, unless that someone is very, very cheap -- and you get what you pay for, or, at least, if you don’t pay, you don’t get much. And third, if people do make these decisions, and fail, who will have to step in as fixer of last resort? The government. So it would seem to make sense that they have some degree of involvement up front.

Friday, May 09, 2003

I was just cleaning off the kitchen table, when an analogy occured to me. In fighter aircraft, one of the great advances in detection technology came with the advent of look-down radar, which let the aircraft scan the sky below it as well as what was in front. To evade this, a hostile aircraft might fly low, hoping that it became lost in the ground return, so that the seeking aircraft could not distinguish it. In my case, I almost left the milk out because it was right next to, and about the same color as, a box of cereal. The milk temporarily evaded my look-down, but since I'm sensitive to finding it (heck, the cereal won't spoil if its left out, but the milk will), I found it. It made me think of how the stuff that you want to do sometimes gets lost in the ground clutter of the stuff you have to do -- and how it helps to keep that first group in mind when you're looking over the radar return of your daily life.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

The French have a phrase for it, but since I don't know what the phrase is, I'll put it in English: Things change. The biggest one is that my mother's condition has markedly improved, to the point where 'feeble' can't really be used to describe her condition. Shaky, confused, and needing help, yes, but not feeble. I'm working at home two or three days each week, trading time with my partner, so that each of us works three days in the office, two at home. And tomorrow (maybe) we get a new visitor: a 'companion' that we're hiring one day a week from a local service, who will do what we do so that we can both go into the office at the same time. Who would have thought that we'd want to go into the office?