Thursday, October 27, 2005

401Ks and other registered plans are not always the best retirement savings vehicles

Disclaimer: I am neither an economist, nor a registered financial planner.  This is not investment advice.

The 401K and other registered vehicles operate under the assumption that future tax rates will be much lower than current. For many, especially comparing income while working to that during retirement, this may be a reasonable assumption.

But consider relatively younger or middle-aged folks with long investment horizons. With a very large federal deficit, underinvested social welfare, and baby boomers leaving the workforce, we seem aimed at a time in which overall tax rates must increase, possibly a lot, in order for the government to continue to deliver social services. If my retirement horizon were 5 years or so this will probably not make much of a difference. In that it is around 20 years, I’m not so comfortable that my marginal tax rate will actually decrease in retirement.

Another factor is deductible mortgage interest. Living on the San Francisco peninsula I have a rather high mortgage (for a modest house, thank you). Itemizing my deductions against income and working through my return, my marginal tax rate drops pretty dramatically despite having a pretty decent income. In retirement I hope I won’t have this high mortgage, but that really means that I won’t have artifically depressed tax rates either.

Add it up. The assumption underlying registered plans such as a 401K are not guarateed to hold. In fact, I'd say they are unlikely to hold for many who are currently working.

In fact, were the US federal government to show any signs of thoughfulness, I might imagine they designed 401Ks with these issues firmly in mind, and that they consider 401Ks an annuity they've purchased in today's dollars to help fund social services in the future.

It may still make sense to invest in a 401K, especially if your employer matches your contributions. But I’ve been directing a good portion of my long-term savings to non-registered plans. YMMV

[Comments from my previous blog]

1. Ralph Galantine left...
Monday, 30 October 2006 8:55 pm ::
The usual advice now is to max out your Roth IRA contribution (contribute after tax dollars, returns and withdrawals are tax free) before you make any contribution to your 401K that isn't matched by your employer. You should also consider maxing out other tax favored accounts, like the education accounts, before contributing to 401K's or traditional IRA's. Regular IRA's and 401K's suffer from the tax issues you mentioned.
Roth IRA's are a good deal unless your income is too high to contribute. Also, if you have a low income year, you can convert some of your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. The amount you convert is "income" so you have to pay taxes on it, but I don't think there is any other penalty although you will hit an income limit. Your retirement advisor can give details.
On a couple of your other points:
-In retirement, you may not have a big mortgage interest deduction but if you own your home clear you get your "rent" tax free. It is a benefit or "income" to you but it doesn't show up as monetary income so it doesn't get taxed.
-The idea that the 401K's could have been created to generate a tax annuity from the retired living off their pre-tax savings and interest is amusing and might actually help tax revenues as boomers retire. However, it would be a mistake to design that kind of program. 401K holders are also voters and clever people. Account holders may succeed in sheltering their accounts through various devices.
2. Jonathan Bruce left...
Wednesday, 6 December 2006 12:48 pm ::
So what do mean by non-registered plans? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this...

Options backdating is not always unreasonable

Stock options as a component of employee compensation are intended to serve a simple purpose: tie the employee's future to the value of the company, so he is rewarded for any increase in value that he contributes to. Motivated thus, an employee frequently chooses behaviors favouring company performance. "Do the right thing."

The challenge is, how do we figure how much the company increased in value? For that matter, what is a company worth?

The easy measure is the current capitalisation of the company. To wit: multiply stock price by the number of outstanding shares. Very simple.

And being simple, arguably wrong, or perhaps more accurately, sometimes wrong. Notably in cases of speculation.   Create a bunch of buzz around future products and the stock price can run up a lot. Stock prices are benchmarked in terms of company earnings, but Price/Earnings (P/E) ratios can vary wildly depending on speculation on future company growth.  And this is only speculation - the company has no new products or technology (yet), no new revenue (yet), and so is at least arguably not worth any more than it was yesterday or last month.

So in compensating an employee to help build the products the industry is speculating on, what is reasonable as the basis for a grant? To value the company for purpose of that grant in terms of the inflated stock price, where the growth in value driven by the new product is already factored? Or the pre-speculation price so he can benefit from the value of the product he builds?  The pre-speculation price seems to me to be more consistent with the rationale behind granting options in the first place. So one might reasonably back-date the options grant (or perhaps more precisely, the grant price) to the stock price several weeks or months ago, when rumour and news started driving the price up.

None of this is to say that there hasn't, isn't and won't be abuse and fraud in the granting of stock options, but that is being covered pretty thoroughly elsewhere. Use your favourite search engine and you'll find as much as you care to read.

Disclaimer: Working in the tech industry, stock options have been a feature of my comp plans for years. None, however, have ever been backdated.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Manuel, the put-upon Porter

This last weekend was the 12th annual Brew-Ha-Ha and All Round Good Time, a homebrew competition with ballon origami that is held yearly in a friend's back yard, and this year I won for the second year running. The winning beer was a Porter I affectionately named Manuel, after the British comedy Fawlty Towers (though scripts refer to Manuel as a waiter, and arguably he dresses as one, he seems equally a Porter in function)(and, Waiter not being a style of beer, the joke (and likely the beer) would fall rather flat were I to change the name of the beer to reflect literary reality).

I think I only won because of the Chicago Rules of Voting that applied, which have been described as:
  • vote early
  • vote often
  • dead people's votes count twice for sheer tenacity to drag themselves to the poll
  • underage voters can vote as well, though presumably they didn't taste. Knowing something about the subject is no more a requirement for our contest than it is for other elections in our experience
This follows because despite winning with my Porter, the weight of the kegs at the end of the day showed that my Pale was actually much more popular, at least in terms of consumption. Go figure.

I'm going to try for 3 years running next year, with a new ale called "Constitutional Challenge", because of course it will take a challenge for me to hold office for three terms.  I'm open to suggestions on what style such a politically important beer should be.

[Comments from my previous blog]

1. Jonathan Bruce left...
Monday, 24 October 2005 12:08 pm ::
Nice work Glen. Are you planning on shipping your brew to the east side?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Is the budget for Shriver's public appearances a legitimate state expense?

I read an article this morning that covers the expense of keeping the first lady of California, Maria Schriver, in speaking opportunities - roughly $500,000 per year. This is reportedly some $100,000 (60 - 180,000 is reported) more than the similar item for the previous first lady.

The defense for this growth in expense?

"To compare Maria Shriver with Sharon Davis," Carbaugh said, is like comparing "Madonna to Jewel. Both are talented women in their own right, but certainly not comparable in terms of notoriety or the sheer number of fans and admirers.''
Well, ok, but notoriety does not constitute a legitimate purpose for the state, or its voters. No doubt Schriver's popularity would create any number of invitations even if she were not the wife of the State Governor. One should instead be asking, and defending, the value of these appearances to the state voters.

I had a look at Schriver's web page, and certainly it includes mention of any number of appearances that have all the hallmarks of worthwhile philanthropy and public service, so Schriver's team has plenty to work with. Though it seems to me that philanthropy is supposed to be a donation - you're not supposed to be compensated for it.

The cynic in me has to wonder when some crafty spinmeister finds a way to defend an unmarried candidate with "s/he'll be cheaper for the state to maintain".

Not that her hubby, Schwarzenegger, is any cheaper ... the report a couple of weeks ago was his events cost $10 - 20,000 a pop, or $622,000 over six months. But even though he's in office, Arnold's expenses are covered by political committees.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Apples to apples: Do comparisons always need to be fair?

I'm becoming increasingly ambivalent about the PC hardware review sites - Tom's Hardware is perhaps one of the better known, but there are a whole bunch of them. This is no doubt partly to do with my changing interests - I'm not quite so involved in hardware as I once was.

But the bigger issue seems to me that the review sites have lost touch with what I do with computers.

Case in point: PC motherboard reviews. I've been playing around with Personal Video Recorder projects for the past 12 or 18 months. In essence, turning a PC into a Tivo workalike. Lots of fun. My latest setup has a big box in a closet with a couple of TV tuners and a big RAID, and a little bitty box beside the TV that has almost no moving parts (there's still one fan I can't seem to shake while still getting decent video output).

It isn't without bugs - but that's what makes it a project.

But one of those bugs seemed, after googling, reading, chatting on email lists and so forth, to be due to DMA issues between a tuner card and the other parts of the system when running large data volume that is generated by a card. in essence, the motherboard or chipset couldn't handle large-volume DMA from multiple sources at once - it caused a reset.

And this got me thinking: if I wanted to pick a great motherboard for home video servers, do the benchmark sites give me any useful information?

The reviews seem to follow a tried and true (and old) formula. Picture of the board. Oh gee, it's green. Isn't that cool. The box is very nice. Look, it has the same slot connectors as everyone. Yup there's room for a large processor heatsink. And so on. Then some benchmarks, which compare this board to others in a raft of performance-critical uses, like spreadsheets, word processing. Okay okay, they do some games as well - very important, the game tests.

But you'll note, no tests at all in which large amounts of bus traffic are driven from an expansion card - all the tests of the system are application-related. And these days, when we're seeing a convergence of home computer and media, application-related use is not the only thing happening.

Another case: I saw a great article - I hate to call it a review - of a couple of desktop PC motherboards designed to take laptop CPUs. The article mentions that these boards are targeting a segment of the market intersted in noise (well, quiet) and power consumption (less of it, that is). Folks like me - I was charmed. "Do processors need to consume over 100 watts?" the author wondered.

Pity was, the article didn't compare any of the boards on the basis of power consumption or noise. The article didn't even report the power consumption or noise of these products. Instead, it included the same old performance comparison.

I think the reason the review folks do this is so they can compare the new product against those they reviewed last week, month, or year. And compare tomorrow's review against this one.

This is nonsensical. In their drive to compare apples to apples, they fail to give the folks for whom these products were built any useful way to select between them.

PS. For those as may be interested, the video server project in question combines MythTV and tuner cards including pcHDTV 3000, AirStar HD5000, and Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-250. The server runs Debian linux and includes a 1.2 TB RAID5 array. The client is a diskless EPIA M10000 based mini-itx system in a Morex 3677 case that boots across the LAN using pxeboot.

[Comments from my previous blog]

1. Sean Kennedy left...
Saturday, 3 December 2005 7:21 am ::
Very good observations. I would be interested to know more about your client setup. Can it display HDTV transport streams? Does it output 5.1 sound?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Product management failures: (almost) great coffee

Here's a story of product management gone awry, taken from one of my more self-indulgent pleasures, coffee.

After we recently replaced our coffee machine (ahem), we also bought a new coffee grinder. Our new Krups Burr Grinder does a really good job, much better than any of our previous grinders. The grind is more consistent, and this has to be the quietest grinder I've ever heard (if that isn't an oxymoron). All in all, I love this grinder.

Not to say it doesn't have its faults, and one glaring fault is that the amount of coffee it grinds varies from time to time. It isn't hard to see why, and that 'why' looks to be a textbook case in failure of market segmentation.
The Krups grinder has a little wheel that you use to specify how many cups you'll be grinding, which sets the grind time. This calculation depends on knowing how many beans it will grind through per second. No doubt it works really well on inexpensive coffees, that is, those that come in cans, where the beans are dry on the outside and so slide steadily into the burr.

Better beans, though, or to be more precise, well-roasted beans that are fairly fresh, have oils on the outside. Those oils can make the beans a little tacky, and in this grinder (and others), this tackiness can mean that the beans hang up a bit and the burrs run idle every now and then. A timing-based measure of how much coffee it has ground thus varies, depending on how sticky the beans were that day and on accidents of bean position and so forth. Longwinded explanation, but you can hear it when it happens.

This would have been easy to solve, though no doubt it would have added cost to the grinder. Some rotating vanes or something in the bean hopper would have removed this tendency of the beans to stick, and they would have flowed more steadily into the burr. The ginder even has the vanes, and I thought from the picture that this is what they'd do, but no, they're decoration.

I can see the segmentation error that led to this. The target market for home burr grinders is a sort of mid-market-and-up coffee drinker. But they forgot this target market when deciding whether the hopper design was adequate. 90% of the beans on the general market will work fine in this grinder. But the beans this target market will use won't work as well.

Requirements definition isn't about taking the top priorities from each of a number of different people. I'm reminded of a very old Dilbert cartoon, sales asking engineering for a 23" monitor that fits in a shirt pocket. Requirements definition is about solving most or all the needs of someone - ideally a someone who has a lot of very similar friends. Define a target customer, and delight all folks like that. Take away all their objections to buying. Don't leave them with anything left to think about, or to weigh between your product and someone else's.

Or to put another way, product management is about markets, not customers.

Coming back to the grinder, I do love it. It is head and shoulders above any other grinder I've used, and the only other grinder on the market today that even tempts me costs well over $200 (and it doesn't tempt me that much).

Monday, September 12, 2005

Outlook sucks at IMAP

I've been running my primary desktop on Debian for years, but recently I switched back to Windows for a while to gain daily access to a couple of things that only work there. One such only works in Outlook, so I switched mail clients too.

Outlook claims to support IMAP, but it really sucks. I assume it is the IMAP support - if Outlook does these things when running against Exchange I can't see how anyone uses it. Here are some of the ways it sucks:

  1. On initial connection, refreshing the mailboxes and sync'ing the message lists takes a long time. Sometimes 3 or 4 minutes for my email on my mail server (Courier) on my laptop. There is a status dialog, but that is frequently hung.While it is sync'ing there is no response from any interactions - heck, you can't even move the windows on your desktop. The whole thing has the symptom of a single-threaded app trying to do too many things in that thread.
  2. Rules. When you open your mail client, it runs your rules against the new messages in Inbox, which for me farm some of the messages off to other folders. In Outlook this doesn't always work for IMAP accounts where the move-to folders are also in IMAP (I haven't tested other cases like local folders). The best way I can figure to explain what is happening is that the mail filtering runs when opening the Inbox, but at this time IMAP hasn't necessarily loaded the complete folder list or sync'd the other folders. Move-to rules show the symptom of failing because the mailbox is invalid, even though the mailboxes exist. You then have to go into the Rules dialog, re-enable the rule (since failing disabled it), and RunRulesNow (across your whole Inbox). This sucks.
  3. Spam filtering is desperately primitive. I'm trying an add-on spam filter SpamBayes now, which seems sorta ok but nowhere near as friendly as the native filtering in Thunderbird.
  4. Every now and then Outlook goes into a Committing local cache mode in which it just sits for a couple of minutes. Other clients don't do this at all.
  5. It is very very slow at negotiating secure SSL connections, compared to other clients I've used.
  6. No doubt there is more I've forgotten. For example, I note that I used to use Outlook for two IMAP account (work and personal) and I gave that up as a bad plan. I can't remember why.

With all these negatives, it would seem reasaonable to wonder where the 'love' is in my relationship with Outlook. I'm wondering that too.

I think the reality is actually a love/hate relationship with those who on occasion drive me to Outlook to gain access to some new app or service. Or perhaps just 'hate'.

As for Outlook itself, well, one wonders whether its support for IMAP is deliberately bad. Meets checkbox requirements, but drives folks to Exchange. I'm frequently told I have to learn to control my cynicism. :)

[Comments left on my previous blog]

1. Alan left...
Monday, 12 September 2005 11:37 am ::

I remember the Outlook IMAP support not to be great even around deleting a message. It would put a big line through it, and you then had to do a separate operation to "Expunge" the messages. Very clunky and the only email client i see do this. I can only imagine this was deliberate.

2. Cedric left...
Monday, 12 September 2005 8:56 pm ::

Remember to expunge your deleted emails regularly, I found that they contribute greatly to IMAP degradation in Outlook. Besides, why keep any emails when you have GMail? :-)

As for your love/hate relationship, I totally share it.

-- Cedric

3. Dmitri Colebatch left...
Tuesday, 13 September 2005 12:02 am ::

Here here - outlook is the best mail client I've ever used when it comes to user interface, but unfortunately its IMAP support is absolute crap. I'm about to switch all my mail to gmail (I've been using it for lists for ages) as I'm fairly happy with that interface and I'm running out of space on my mail server (o:

4. glen martin left...
Wednesday, 14 September 2005 10:37 am

Yeah, Outlook displays deleted emails by default, but there is an option to hide them. Of course the option is pretty obscure, located in View->ArrangeBy->CurrentView (I don't usually think of a display filter as an instance of ArrangeBy).

Another way Outlook sucks at IMAP is be treating it as a second or third class citizen. For example, there's an option to "Save responses in same mailbox as original email, except for Inbox". But this option doesn't apply to the IMAP Inbox. Additionally, sent messages aren't saved to IMAP Sent, but to local Sent.

It all just adds up to this tedious experience for anyone who has the audacity to try to use standard protocols with this application.

So far as having the best user interface ... well, there are indeed things I like about the interface. But there are some real clunks too.

For example, it marks a message read when you leave, not when you open. When I delete a message, the next message is opened automatically. I can't mark it unread while the message itself is open because it is only market read when I leave. If I don't want to read it now, I have to click on some other nearby message, then right-click on the one I want to mark unread and choose that option. Hopefully I have another nearby message I've already read or don't mind reading right now.

5. David left...
Monday, 10 October 2005 4:12 pm

I too am stuck with Outlook because I require its contacts/tasks/calendar/notes/Palm sync capabilities. To be fair, it does these things extremely well, but it's IMAP support is just horrible. If I used a separate mail client it wouldn't be integrated with the contacts and everything else, so at least for now I'll have to live with Outlook.

6. David left...
Tuesday, 19 September 2006 8:51 pm

The reason Outlook deletes imap messages the way it does is because there is not an imap folder with the delete function. So outlook creates is own method of a two-step deletion process (mark for deletion and commit to deletion). Outlook's biggest imap failure IMO is #2 in this post (rules support)

7. Arizona Web Design left...
Tuesday, 28 October 2008 1:04 am ::

Well i was googling for possible Outlook imap fixes and googled "outlook imap sucks" and got to this blog post and I saw it was written in 2005. Rest assured, 2008 now and I have Outlook 2007 installed and it sucks at imap! I wish thunderbird was better :( or there was a better solution. Does entourage have this problems? Maybe i should use get a mac...

8. Andre de Cavaignac left...
Sunday, 9 November 2008 8:27 pm ::


After working with the IMAP protocol, I can totally understand why though... Its not pretty, and implementing a client well means a lot of work on the client end.

And by the way, Outlook is a single threaded application, for the most part... Back in the old days, it was built that way and not much has changed because they don't want to break addins. Access to the mailbox all must be done on the UI thread... Oops!

9. Randy Schumaker left...
Tuesday, 4 May 2010 8:40 am

It looks like IMAP support may be getting better in Outlook 2010. 0.aspx

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Planned obsolescence

Screams aren't a good way to wake up.

Or at least, not one I'd choose.  20 years ago I woke instantly, but nowadays I sort of meander into full attention. Screams from the other end of the house aren't, frankly, all that respectful of my lifestyle. :)

On arrival in the kitchen, I discovered that our coffee machine was on fire. Not smoking, but literally in flames. The plastic was melting, that melted plastic was running across the counter also in flames.

"Things aren't built the way they used to be" has become so commonplace it is more than a little trite. So many products fail pretty much exactly when the warranty runs out that we sometimes talk of planned obsolescence.

I see planned obsolescence as a failure of marketing, or more, as a flawed view of what customer relationship is all about.

Think about it this way. The goal of building a long term relationship is to encourage customers to do business with you again. In essence, to build a sort of annuity of goodwill that continues to generate revenue over time. But if we forget about the word goodwill, and focus on the repeat business, then it starts to make an odd sort of sense to make the product fail and so to force another purchase.

This attitude fails in that early or spectacular product failure doesn't maintain what goodwill the positive experiences with the product may have created.

Without a doubt, I'm not going to buy another of the same coffee machine. And, in fact, my new machine is a completely different brand.

PS. Out of respect the the aforementioend screamer, I'll admit that it was more of a yell than a scream, but I think the text came out

Friday, September 2, 2005

Bayesian filters and infrequent senders

Over 90% of the email I get now is spam. Like many, I've turned to Bayesian filtering to help catch and shunt it aside, but lately I've been thinking about infrequent public correspondents. To whit, Paypal, EBay, and so forth.

At this moment I have 11 messages in my inbox purporting to be from Paypal.  They are all, every one, phishing attempts. By my way of thinking, that's spam.

If I classify them as spam, though, what happens? With no Ham (that is, not spam) from Paypal, how does the learning filter figure out that only a certain class of apparent Paypal messages are Spam? The ones within which there is a 'Click Here' link to a non-paypal IP address? It seems to me as if the filter might just as easily figure that 'From: Paypal' is the culprit. Or emails with <img> links to paypal logos.  When it comes right down to it, the vast majority of the content of this email is quite reasonable, and Paypal could very well send an email that looks a whole lot like this. Which is, of course, the point of phish attempt.  But my filter doesn't necessarily know this.

Next month, or next year, when Paypal really send me an email, will I see it?

What's interesting to me about all this is: what should, can or will Paypal do about it? Skipping the true root cause, that jerks and criminals are sending these phish attempts, as unfixable, the second cause is that I have no Ham from Paypal. The friendly folks at Paypal might reasonably think to send some real messages then, in essence to keep our Bayesian filters 'honest'.  That, of course, requires me to read them, and to ensure the filters know they're not spam or phish attempts. AKA, manual effort on my part.

Another solution might be for me to stop classifying phishes as spam ... but then I'll want another solution to catch phishes.

Or the folks writing trainable (Bayesian or otherwise) filters might figure out a way for me to tell the learning algorithm which bits of any message to disregard.

None of these are great solutions - all require more manual intervention than I appreciate.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Folksonomies vs generated categorizations

Several friends have been pointing me at for quite a while now, which has led me to give some thought to folksonomies.

I'm reminded of a talk at the Web2.0 conference in which Google was demonstrating a research project that performs auto-categorization of search results. The thrust was that when you do a search, rather than just return a flat list of links, Google would examine the context of the search terms within the resulting pages in order to ascertain the category of use. That is, "bismuth" can be a metal or a ship. So Google would return "metal" and "ship" from your search of "bismuth", and you could select the category you meant to get a more precise result.

Folksonomies (aka are really interesting from the point of view of enabling an architecture of participation around categorization, but will result in a somewhat colloquial categorization on which subsequent viewers can't truly depend. At best. I mean, if we listen to George Carlin ("Toledo Window Box"), we might imagine some folks will tag with "bush", some with "hemp", some with "boo", some with "smoke", some with "weed", some with "guage", some with "grass", some with "tea", some with ... you get the idea. We wind up with a number of variously disjoint islands referring to the same concept. And because the terms are colloquial, what I mean by 'tea' won't be the same as what you mean by 'tea', and you will undoubtably be surprised and amused when you visit some places I've tagged thus.

A folksonomie isn't - can't be - very authoritative. This is probably what Blaise Cronin was referring to: "Undoubtedly, these are the same individuals who believe that the free-for-all, communitarian approach of Wikipedia is the way forward. Librarians, of course, know better." Free-for-all classification is, one suspects, precisely the problem the Dewey Decimal Classification System was designed to address.

All this sets up something of a competition between Google category extraction and It'll be fun to watch it play out.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

DIY magazines

Blaise Cronin* seems confused.
Lately, I’ve been wandering around Blogland, and I’m struck by the narcissism and banality of so many personal blogs, of which, if the statistics are to believed, there are millions. ... One wonders for whom these hapless souls blog.

Though he admits
Blogs can keep stories alive, bring them to the surface and propel them into the media mainstream. Take note: a new communicative dynamic is at work in the public sphere.

He closes with:
Undoubtedly, these are the same individuals who believe that the free-for-all, communitarian approach of Wikipedia is the way forward. Librarians, of course, know better.

He's missed making his point apparently by being too concerned with the supply side and not the consumption. He should be talking about the ability of information consumers to create their own magazines.

Many have commented on self-publishing as a democratizer (yup, I'm bastardizing the language again). Blogs, mp3, and other technical advances are reducing the cost of publishing to the point where we mere individuals can publish without the permission of some cigar-smoking executive someplace. It is a great liberator, but it leaves us with the million-monkeys problem. A million monkeys will no doubt produce Shakespeare, but the trick becomes to find the Shakespeare in the volume of material produced.

Librarians, publishers and record companies are filters of information. They choose and organize information to make it more accessible. Because they all try to serve a broad audience, they create filters that aim for a certain breadth. In principle anyway, but more on that in a moment. Without librarians and editors, we use aggregators and Favorites that we set up ourselves to gather information we may want to read.

In effect, we create our own magazine-analogues. DIY magazines.

The challenge in self-selecting content for our private magazines (that is, setting up our own aggregators) is that we can narrowly focus our attention on points of view that we appreciate. How many of us want to read authors we disagree with? With mass-market magazines we can choose to not read an article after seeing the title, or perhaps a call-out box of some sort. We get part of the message anyway, or at least know the message exists.

DIY magazines are our own filters of what content to even become aware of. This can increase the divide between different ideological groups as those groups only read those who think as they do and fail to pull any balancing points of view into their own magazine. Rather than finding common ground, they propel their opinions to extremes by never reading contrary voices. Little groups become their own apparent majorities (at least to themselves) as "everyone says" whatever they want to hear.

Not that there are that many contrary voices anymore anyway. Media consolidation has left us with a few companies (editors in fact), all with similar goals and ideals, controlling our information channels. Read or listen to media outlets around the world (or even just Britain) and you hear many interesting stories about America that somehow American media singularly (pun intended) fail to present. Thank [insert politically correct deity here] for self-publishing.

BTW, Cronin is Indiana University Dean and Rudy Professor of Information Science. I'd be far more impressed if he used this pulpit (well, Chair) to discuss media consolidation vs issues of choice and democracy in a self-publishing world. That is, how to create something better using new technologies, rather than dismiss that which is new out of hand.

PS. Here are a few interesting books in this area. If you look at Breaking The News, be sure to check out the review by Barron Laycock. As I was writing today, I encountered the following quote that provides interesting colour for my point above, from a review of Rich Media, Poor Democracy (emphasis mine):

If your politics lie anywhere to the right of Ralph Nader's, in other words, don't come to this book looking for validation. But for a stimulating, nuanced, and rigorously researched presentation of the case for overhauling the current media regime, look no further.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Development as passion, not obligation

Quote: Open source as a business model is inherently flawed and cannot support the development of truly innovative software.

Larry McVoy went on to say "It costs a huge amount of money to develop a single innovative software product. You have to have a business model that will let you recoup those costs."

I think he's forgetting passion.

You can employ me, and I write what you want. And you can employ others to integrate what I wrote, and still others to test what I wrote and others integrated. And because you've now employed a small army, you need to charge a lot, which leads to outside sales people and whole slew of related expenses.

Or you can find someone who is really intrigued by a problem and wants to write something on his own time, and fiddle, and try different approaches, see what works well. Someone for whom solving the problem is a passion, not just a job.

As a bonus, consider: the product I write as an employee doesn't carry my name. But the work I do for passion, it is my visible resume. It creates my reputation in the community of my friends, peers, and now with ZoomInfo, prospective employers. Guess which one I truly care about.

In a proprietary world, it may well cost a huge amount of money to develop a single innovative software product. But in open source, I think it costs far less. Open source benefits from a saying that was common 15 years ago when I was coding full time: Any good developer throws out at least half a dozen innovations before lunch.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Reverend's Finger - an open source source brew

I've been meaning to post this for a while, ever since winning a homebrew competition last fall.

Reverend's Finger

Recipe for 5 US gallons. All temperatures degrees F

3/4 lb British Crystal 77
1/4 lb Belgian Special B

mashed in at 150 for 40 minutes
165 10 minutes
heated to 175, removed and rinsed grains

added 6 lb amber liquid malt extract
Bittering: 2 oz EK Golding 5.5% (boiled 65 min)
Flavour: 1/2 oz Fuggles 4% (15 min)
1/4 tsp irish moss (10 min)
Aroma: 1/2 oz Fuggles 4% (1 min)

WPL007 Dry English Ale yeast

Fermented at 68 for a few weeks, crash cooled to 34  for another couple of weeks

Kegged and aged under 9 lbs C02 for 2 months or so (fresh beer be damned)

[Comments from my previous blog]

1. tianye left...
Friday, 1 September 2006 1:49 am
2. glen martin left...
Saturday, 24 April 2010 12:29 pm ::
A drunk at a bar had a conversation with me once that went just like that comment. "Hello ...." and then nothing. Thanks for the very topical comment.

Free beer doesn't hurt

I agree that open source is free as in freedom, not free beer. But free beer is good too, so SpikeSource is having an open house this Friday March 18 at 4pm in our Redwood City office.

If you've ever wondered what we're about, this is a great opportunity to catch us all live. We'll be happy to talk about open source testing, our Spike Asset Manager open source inventory tool, give a preview of some upcoming projects, or anything else that's interesting in the open source world these days. I'm interested to hear what you're doing with open source, including what projects or components you're using together.

We're hiring too. You may know a bunch of folks who already work here, such as Kim Polese, Murugan Pal, Alan Williamson and Calvin Austin.  Tim O’Reilly, Brian Behlendorf and Mitchell Baker are on the advisory board. Doc Searls is involved too. We're building a great team, and need some more great developers. And a few more 'overhead' as well.

So if you're in the area, feel free to drop by for an open source brew. If you might come, try to drop me a quick note at <defunct>. I promise I won't use your email for any other purpose - I care about privacy, and I suspect you do too. I'm just thinking headcount and supplies.

SpikeSource Open House, Friday Mar 18 4pm
SpikeSource, Inc.

1. a reader left...
Tuesday, 15 March 2005 8:53 pm
Free beer, and I'm too far away. Damn! Well, have one for me... ;)
2. glen martin left...
Thursday, 7 April 2005 4:13 am
I did.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Nerd God

In case it wasn't apparent to anyone, I'm a nerd. This was officially cemented by an official nerd score, see the bottom of the gutter of this page. For the record, I answered all the questions on the test absolutely truthfully.

This all came about because a friend posted his nerd score and amusing logo to his personal mailing list.

Now, many have known or suspected my nerdiness over the years. I was nicknamed 'Syntax warrior' in high school. For fun, I used to wire-wrap simple little electronics projects (like video cards and SBCs) at home. I have 4 computers in my home office, each running different operating systems, and switch cards etc so often that right now only one has a complete case. The vast majority of my TV viewing involves a hdtv card feeding MythTV on a Debian distro, displayed on the 3rd monitor on my desk. And depite being clearly in Marketing these days, I've programmed in 4 languages within the past month.

The only saving grace in my life: my partner ranked in the 35th percentile on nerdiness.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

In war, are there terrorists?

Interesting report of an Italian case in which terrorism charges were dropped because the alleged acts existed within a context of war. The men were accused of recruiting suicide bombers etc to go to Iraq, seemingly after hostilities had broken out in that country.

Unpalatable as this ruling may seem, taking into account the outrage by Italian politicians who see this potentially gutting anti-terrorism laws put in place after Sept 11 2001, and in no way defending terrorism, this legal position seems thoughtful. I mean, bombing bridges, factories, and flying a plane into the Pentagon may be thought of as terrorist attacks under normal circumstances, but  during a war a clandestine infiltration of enemy territory to destroy war capacity is if not respected (by the victim) it is at least more common tactic. In fact, clandestine missions (performed by our side) enjoy respect and pride in popular culture.

The true irony would be if the declaration of a War on Terror, so useful in galvanizing American popular opinion in favor of military action against those (arguably) uninvolved in Sept 11, were to result in unsuccessful prosecution of those captured because a war permits different standards of behaviour.