Archive for June, 2007

Mexico and the iPhone

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

This weekend, we are off to our favorite seaside resort in Mexico, the Estero Beach Resort in Ensenada. We’re off tomorrow with all four of the Temecula Steussy’s, our guests from Budapest (Ferenc, Andrea and Laura), as well as Tunde, Reszo, and Jon. It will be a crowd! I’m very much looking forward to having margaritas and chips on the bar overlooking the sea with everyone.

The infamous iPhone is coming out tomorrow. Even though I was in San Francisco for the launch (and it was the best MacWorld I have ever been to), I’ve decided to forgo buying one at least for now. Price is less a problem than leaving my current service which I’ve grown to tolerate.

Mind you, I hate Verizon just as much as their next customer. They seriously crippled the features of my Motorola v710 in a vain attempt to siphon extra dollars from me. Yes, I have the ability to take photos and video and share them immediately with my wife/family/friends. Do I do it? No – Verizon charges a ridiculous amount of money for using their service, and cripples the phone so I can’t use the internet connection to get around them. Oh, and that fully functional POP3 email client included with the phone by Motorola? Completely deleted by Verizon. I’ll take the very first opportunity to leave Verizon Wireless that I can.

But that doesn’t mean I like AT&T much better. Yes, they opened their system so that the Apple phone can make full use of its technology (it’s about time!). But their coverage is nothing short of abysmal. I used AT&T/Cingular for most of my life in California before moving to Temecula. When I lived across the block from the Directors’ Guild on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, I put up with their complete lack of cell coverage everywhere in that area. No coverage at Disneyland either. I frequently wondered who they thought their customers were? Where did they think their customers lived, worked or used their phones? Certainly not Hollywood Directors/Producers … Certainly not tourists in Anaheim … Certainly not … well, the list goes on.

When I moved to Temecula and tried to use my AT&T/Cingular phone inside my house only to find NO SIGNAL, I decided that enough was enough. I’m a grown man now, dang it!, and I want to call from my easy chair in my own home. I switched to Verizon, the great Satan of abused cellphone technology, because they have a nice clear signal EVERYWHERE. And I mean everywhere. Sailing on the coast, driving in rural Wisconsin and at home in my easy chair in the gazebo, I can use my phone. I can’t do that with AT&T/Cingular.

And I use my Verizon phone to “tether” my laptop while I am on the road. This allows me to make a cellular connection at ISDN speeds from anywhere. And the iPhone doesn’t support that.

*SIGH* I do have some serious geek envy about the iPhone, but I know that these two issues (no signal at my home and other places, can’t use it with my laptop) would make the iPhone feel like a serious step backwards.

Photography by George

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Some more photos by George. These photos were taken on Gabi’s day trip to Burbank this week with the kids. Really some very, very nice work.


Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Congratulations to Gisela and George Grigorian on their pregnancy! Way to go! Three kids, and all closely matched (age-wise) with ours. Oh, and I need to plug George’s Photography business (which the photo above came from).


Monday, June 25th, 2007

Pretty, isn’t she? And smart, too! Loves to read. Favorite animal: Heffalump (a purple elephant). Favorite book: anything from the Magic Treehouse series. Oh, yes. Has Dad wrapped around her little finger.


Sunday, June 24th, 2007

Felix the Dog

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

Felix the dog ate out of the kids’ hands (coldcuts) tonight about 16 hours after surgery. He seems to be doing very well. He should come home tomorrow night.


Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

Are reason and emotion equally necessary in justifying moral decisions?

The above statement was a prompt my TOK students were invited to respond to this year. I have been trying to respond to it for the last 24 hours. My dog is in the hospital.

He’s an old dog, and not a terribly “good” dog. He’s 10, a street pup from the wrong side of the tracks that the vet described as Pit Bull, Shar Pei, and Lab (he was being charitable). My wife and I got him just after we were married. For the first few years he slept in our bed, accompanied her to the woodshop, I took him to the dog park every day, and he sat (rather heavily at 60+lbs) on my lap during my evening drink on the porch.

As the years went on he became a little less the center of our attention. Trips to dog beach or the park were fewer and fewer. Then we bought a house. The house had a big back yard which he had the run of. But, we also had kids, so he didn’t come in the house. No more beach. No more park. We did buy him his own, very nice wooden, painted dog-house, and a bed from Costco.

Then we bought a bigger house, with a smaller yard for him. I did try to take him to the beach but he was so horrible with the other dogs at this point that he had to be kept on a leash (constantly “humping”, and stealing toys). He stayed home. No beach. No park. No house. He was tethered to the fence after he figured out how to run away.

Once I was alone in the house for the weekend. It was the first time in five years. I bought gates to separate the rooms so he could hang out with me in the family room. He never sat down. Sniffing and looking for food were way more interesting than hanging out with me.

He sleeps in the garage, where the garbage is kept, and he’s figured out how to tip over the cans. Now I strap them shut with an old surfboard rack soft-tie. Late one night last week I inadvertently tossed the garbage in the unsecured recycling bin.

The next morning trash was strewn across the garage. There was a ripped frozen blueberry bag on his Costco bed. The dog who lived for food didn’t eat his breakfast. Then he didn’t eat the next day or the next. He was so lethargic he didn’t need his tether. I took him to the vet.

X-rays revealed a bottle cap in his stomach. It was a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale bottle cap no doubt. But there was also a strange black mass around his intestines which she (the Dr.) suggested was the real problem. It could be paper or string or plastic but the only way to get it out would be with $3000 of surgery and care.

Reason and Emotion; 10 years from now I will justify the decision we made. Were reason and emotion equally necessary? I am a public school teacher and richer for it in more ways than I can describe. I am not, however one who you would describe as having great financial means. We have a very nice house, two cars, and no savings. We have great credit but virtually no college funds for our kids. We have very nice furniture (my wife has made much of it) and a cat and a dog. We have a good life, but it would be well described as pay-check to pay-check. It’s that much easier as a public school teacher knowing just what that paycheck will be and knowing our own health is covered.

We have decided to go through with the surgery. The most substantial “way of knowing” (in TOK speak) that I use to justify this decision is introspection. When I ask myself what is right, my answer is that it is right to proceed. Though it is a lot of money compared to our income, I could not face myself, or my children, and say we chose not to proceed because of money. We are not starving. The house is not going to be taken away.

In our decision reason and emotion are both at play. My emotive response of staring at myself in the mirror or facing my seven year old daughter who now loves taking him for walks around the block (since she can hold the leash), is that we must try to save him. My reasonable response says also that he will likely live, and survive and despite his unsociable nature he does provide us with a certain sense of security and serenity at home and a better quality of life.

Now one might say, “reason should dictate”, and that the fact he is ten and grey muzzled now, and of little “value”, in fact considerable work, like hiring a house sitter for the month we are gone this summer, means we should let him go. We should cut our losses. He will not live long. Too much money and not enough benefit. What use is he?

But reason could argue the opposite. He is kind of a big scary looking dog. As such he has provided me and my family with an untold sense of safety and security for years and will likely continue to do so. Reason might further argue that the lessons I want my children to learn about the value of life, will be not better supported than with a decision to try to save the dog. If we back out for money I am afraid the kids would learn lessons we do not want to teach.

If “emotion” should dictate the same dilemma can evolve. I love Felix. He is my first dog that I chose in adulthood. No price is too great to save him. As I type this now I realize he is literally going under the knife. I want to go visit him.

Emotion could also say “no”. Let him go. He is lonely and old. He hasn’t been part of the family in years. Put him out of his misery. How do we know what is in a dog’s head? His head is tethered in a dusty small yard with a house with peeling paint and flies nipping at his ears. He poops and pees and eats and sleeps. Could he possibly be happy?

My decision, the one I will lay down and rest with tonight, whether Felix lives or dies, was to do all we could, despite considerable financial hardship, to save him. Reason and emotion were, in this instance, I think, equally necessary. Neither of them however could provide the “final answer”. It was a combination of reason and emotion combined with introspection which has allowed me to resolve a satisfactory outcome.

I had to look inside myself. Myself, and yourself are made up of history, experience, evidence, logic, and the way I, or you, perceive all of these things. Emotion and reason are there, but in the end moral decisions are made by you, by me, and by us. The truth for each of us lies in our own hearts.

The Singularity

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

…the “hard” science-fiction writers are the ones who try to write specific stories about all that technology may do for us. More and more, these writers felt an opaque wall across the future. Once, they could put such fantasies millions of years in the future. Now they saw that their most diligent extrapolations resulted in the unknowable . . . soon. – Vernor Vinge, NASA’s Vision 21 Symposium 1993

The world is changing quickly, much faster than it has in the past. The rate of change is accelerating. At some point, the rate of change must either decelerate or change will happen faster than we can keep up with.

I stumbled onto the Singularity five years ago when reading Vernor Vinge’s Marooned in Realtime. The basic idea is easy to grasp. We’ve all seen technological change happen in front of us, in some cases very much faster than anyone expected. And with unforeseen effects: the rise of Globalization and the rise of the Internet are entwined events.

The basis of the vision is Moore’s Law – every 24 months, the number of transistors on a microchip will double. This isn’t a natural law, but an empirical observation made in 1965. It has held up now for over forty years and, since future chip designs are well known years in advance, we can easily see that it will continue for at least another ten years.

If we postulate a doubling of computing power per chip every 24 months, at some point computers reach a level of human intelligence. It may well be that computers reach the hardware threshold long before they the software is ready, but it seems inevitable that both will be reached. The natural advantage to the 1) military/espionage power, 2) computer manufacturer, 3) plane/car/spaceship manufacturer, 4) pharmaceutical company or 5) underarm deodorant manufacturer seems obvious. Given the competitive nature of all of these, someone somewhere will create a human-equivalent machine-based intelligence at some point.

When? Predications run the gambit from 2015 (Vernor Vinge) to 2059 (Ray Kurzweil). How much “hardware” is in the human brain? What about the software? How long will it take to develop? This is not an exact science, by any means. Indeed, an intelligent computer might not look or think like a human brain at all. (“The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim.” – Edsgerd Dijkstra.)

A natural chain of events can be imagined. A weakly intelligent computer system might be created, one which is demonstrably intelligent but either slow or not particularly bright. The creators could simply throw more resources at it, building up its speed or connection capacity to improve its intelligence, or harnessing it to create a superior artificial intelligence. And, at the very least, will likely make numerous copies of either or both the weakly or superior intelligence.

From that point on, where do we humans fit in the scheme of things? If machines suddenly become the fountain of intelligence, to the exclusion of humans, where will we be?

I’m going to leave any further discussion to others who do it for a living. And I will give links. Here they are:

Best articles on the Web:

Vernor Vinge’s 1993 essay

Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us, by Bill Joy (a negative view)

David Brin’s Essay: Singularities and Nightmares

Economic Growth Given Machine Intelligence (pdf document) Robin Hanson (Economist at George Mason Univ.)

Marooned in Realtime, by Vernor Vinge. Since there is effectively no math behind the visions of the Singularity, this early work of science fiction on the topic is one of the best possible descriptions.

Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near – This is not a trustworthy author. He is clearly in love with the idea that a Singularity event will push biological research, allowing him (and anyone else who is a Baby Boomer or younger) to live forever. That doesn’t mean he’s not smart or that he doesn’t have good arguments, but he clearly has an agenda.

All that was written above is preamble. My personal position is that a Technological Singularity will likely happen. I think it is inevitable, given the nature of economic and political competition. Early on, it will give a few individuals/companies/countries a strong strategic advantage, but that will quickly (within a few years to a decade at most) devolve to where individual families will have access to the same level of power.

As an entrepreneur in 2007, what should I be doing with these beliefs? Investing my time and money into technology? Buying real estate (one thing which will not change or substantially lose value with a Singularity)? Buying real estate on Second Life? Creating a vast party of level 70 Warcraft characters? Applying to work on near-future mega projects like Lift Port (space elevator concept with big financial problems currently)?

Made a Mistake

Monday, June 18th, 2007

Tech Week is over. All of the machines are up and running. I deleted one post here, since I solved the problem it discussed. And that should be the end of that. Time to go back to normal life, no?

I made a mistake. I was testing the computers using Sid Meier’s Civilization 4. It worked well enough on the new dedicated Vista machine. Too well. Many hours later…

Marc Andreessen

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Marc Andreessen, father of Moziac and Netscape, (his Wikipedia bio is here) has started a blog. And what a blog.

He is now deep into the new Apple architecture, and has a great paradigm for creating Windows virtual machines (plural!) underneath.

Virtualization is the biggest thing to hit the operating system world since protected memory.


Virtualization — in the form of software like Parallels and VMWare Fusion — lets you deal with an individual operating system as if it were an application.

You can install it, copy it, back it up, revert it, and (critically) delete it just like you can do those things to applications.

This is incredibly useful when dealing with normal operating systems like Linux.

This is invaluable when dealing with an operating system like Windows XP that can become easily corrupted or degraded over time.

It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it how much better life gets when you can create one virgin installation of Windows XP and then clone it into multiple instances — for example, one for work, one for play, and one for experimentation — and then toss them around like they were apps and revert or delete them any time they start acting funny, instead of having to reinstall the core OS on the computer itself.

Finally, the answer to Windows rot.


To say nothing of his extended review of science fiction since the year 2000. Below is his comment on Vernor Vinge.

Vinge, a retired San Diego State University professor of mathematics and computer science, is one of the most important science fiction authors ever — with Arthur C. Clarke one of the best forecasters in the world.

First, if you haven’t had the pleasure, be sure to read True Names, Vinge’s 1981 novella that forecast the modern Internet with shocking clarity. (Ignore the essays, just read the story.) Fans of Gibson and Stephenson will be amazed to see how much more accurately Vinge called it, and before Neuromancer’s first page cleared Gibson’s manual typewriter. Quoting a reviewer on Amazon:

When I was starting out as a PhD student in Artificial Intelligence at Carnegie Mellon, it was made known to us first-year students that an unofficial but necessary part of our education was to locate and read a copy of an obscure science-fiction novella called True Names. Since you couldn’t find it in bookstores, older grad students and professors would directly mail order sets of ten and set up informal lending libraries — you would go, for example, to Hans Moravec’s office, and sign one out from a little cardboard box over in the corner of his office. This was 1983 — the Internet was a toy reserved for American academics, “virtual reality” was not a popular topic, and the term “cyberpunk” had not been coined. One by one, we all tracked down copies, and all had the tops of our heads blown off by Vinge’s incredible book.

True Names remains to this day one of the four or five most seminal science-fiction novels ever written, just in terms of the ideas it presents, and the world it paints. It laid out the ideas that have been subsequently worked over so successfully by William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. And it’s well written. And it’s fun.

So what? Well, he’s done it again. Vinge’s new novel, Rainbows End (yes, the apostrophe is deliberately absent), is the clearest and most plausible extrapolation of modern technology trends forward to the year 2025 that you can imagine.

Stop reading this blog right now. Go get it. Read it, and then come back.

I’ll wait.

It’s that good.

I’m busy now setting up base virtual machines for Windows XP and Vista. I can’t contain my glee.