Moving to a new home

December 24, 2007

This blog will be moving to  See you there!


What makes me really mad about Iraq

October 28, 2007

Heaven knows that there are plenty of good reasons to get mad about the War in Iraq.  The incredible incompetence shown by this administration, the way that we surrendered the moral high ground at Abu Ghraib, the stovepiping of intel to find excuses for war – all of those come easily to mind.

But there is one thing that, whenever I think on it, makes me just incredibly angry about our little misadventure in Iraq.

Osama bin Laden is still out there.

I vividly remember September 11, 2001.  I remember how angry I felt about what had been done about this country.  I remember how resolved I was that the people who had launched the greatest attack on this country in my lifetime must be brought to justice.

I still feel that way.

But by going into Iraq, we created a massive diversion.  The only problem was, we diverted only ourselves.  We set up a situation where we had to devote our best and brightest, our most able military forces, our best strategic thinkers, the bulk of our military capability, to a war that had nothing to do with 9/11.  And in the course of doing so, to piss away the diplomatic capital that we needed in dealing with the difficult foreign relations issues that would arise in any concerted effort to go after bin Laden.

Clearly, there’s no way of knowing for certain that, had we made bin Laden our primary focus, we would have him today.  Maybe he’d still be sitting out there somewhere, taunting us with the occasional video, showing the world that you can kill thousands of Americans and get away with it.  We can’t really know how things might have shaped up differently – counter-factual history is never reliable.

But by taking the actions we took, we damn-well increased the chance that he would escape our clutches.  And escape our clutches he has done.

And that makes me profoundly angry.

Make it more like Google!

October 24, 2007

After reading the Randy Falco interview in the Washington Post today, something that made me ever more joyful to be out of AOL, one of the biggest mistakes of the Falco-Grant regime occurred to me.

Grant is notorious amongst those who pay attention to such things for demanding that AOL properties copy the look and feel of Google and Yahoo. Even when told it would cost AOL millions (as happened when they made AOL search a carbon-copy of Google), Grant responded, “What part of make it look like Google don’t you understand?”

But there’s a part of “make it look like Google” that Grant and Falco will never understand. Google is a company that puts decision-making power in the hands of web-savvy engineers. Yahoo is a place where the people who make product decisions are expected to understand the Internet. But Grant and Falco’s AOL will never look like such companies.

It’s sad, truly sad. There’s a lot of great people at AOL, people who understand their industry, who can come up with innovative products and great technologies.

But they are not in charge. Instead, AOL is run by people who just don’t get that achieving the successes of a Google or a Yahoo is not a matter of copying their markup.

We’re up!

September 18, 2007

Well, up in Beta, anyway.

After an intense summer of activity, and a crunch mode that has lasted for the last three weeks or so, we’re now sending sign-ups to our private beta.  You do need an invitation, but that’s easy to come by: just go to and add your email to the list and you’ll soon get your invitation.  Or drop me a note and I’ll get you added to the list.

We’re already generating some discussion, with a nice post on Techcrunch.  It’s here.

And a final note: we’re looking for a good Ruby on Rails developer.  So if you’re interested, or know someone who is, drop me an email at

So what is that thing you’re working on?

August 15, 2007

We’re still in stealth mode, but at least we have something up on the web now.  It’s at:

Go look at the pretty picture and imagine the wonderfulness that is coming.  Or give us your email address and we’ll send you a nice little bit of spam when we’re up for real.


August 15, 2007

Over a month now since I’ve posted. Well, it’s been an incredibly busy month. But I’m at the beach for the next few days, so perhaps I’ll get to catch up.

First off, two weeks ago I had my Day with Dad with my daughter Kate. Day with Dad is a tradition that I have with my kids – something that we’ve been doing for fifteen years now. Once a year, usually in the summer, I spend one day with each kid, individually, doing something appropriate to that child. It’s a great way for me to spend quality one-on-one time with each of my children (something that can be a challenge when you have three), and we’ve generated some great memories over the years. I strongly recommend it to any parents, especially if you have more than one child.

There’s definitely been trends with the different kids. I’ve spent many Days-with-Andy traipsing over Civil War battlefields, including that notable wade across Antietam Creek. (We wanted to see if the Union troops could have just forded near Burnside Bridge instead of charging across into deadly fire. I don’t know if the troops could have done it, but Andy and I had no trouble.) Diana has often meant the Pet Farm and climbing the rocks at Great Falls. Kate’s day has often included the Baltimore Aquarium.

This year with Kate, we did something special. We tried Skydiving.

We went to Skydive Virginia in Louisa, about 1.5 hours south of the beltway. It’s a sleepy little airfield where they spend each weekend shuttling people up into the sky and dumping them out.

First timers do a tandem dive, which means that you are tethered to an instructor. You spend an hour in classroom training (which mostly consists of the instructor telling you all the ways that you might die) and then squeeze into a small plane with ten other skydivers and no seats. You jump out at 12,000 feet (two miles straight up!), spend a minute free-falling down to 6,000 feet, pull the ripcord, and then spend the next ten minutes floating to the ground.

I’m not sure what to say, except wow.

Here’s me:


And here’s Kate:


If you ever get the chance, and you don’t have fear of heights, and you don’t have claustrophobia (because the plane gets really crowded), then give it a try. The minute of freefall goes faster than you can possibly imagine, but it’s incredible.

I love the Internet!

July 7, 2007

It seems like every day has an “I love the Internet” moment.

Yesterday’s was this: I was sitting on my deck at the beach looking out to sea.  There was a large ship out there, heading north.

Hmm, says I, I wonder what ship it is?

It took about two minutes on the Internet to find it.  It was the Asian Chorus, a car carrier owned by Eukor, due in Baltimore the next morning at 6:00 AM.  All the data I wanted was near at hand.

I love the Internet!

The magic of programming

July 4, 2007

It’s the Fourth of July, and I’m enjoying life at the beach.  What better time to muse on my blog!  And so, two posts in one day – enjoy!

For many years now, I’ve thought that programming bears a strong resemblance to the medieval view of magic.  In writing a program, we create strange incantations in arcane languages that channel forces far from normal human experience.  And if we make even a minor mistake in creating our spell, disaster can occur.  We summon demons to do our bidding, but if we make a mistake in the summoning, the demons are unleashed.

A bit of history: the first time the Internet really achieved mainstream recognition was when Robert Tappan Morris released his worm into the world.  It crashed the Internet back in 1988, years before there was a world-wide web, and the Internet made the front pages of the nation’s newspapers for the first time.  To learn more, see the Wikipedia article on the Morris Worm.

But here’s the thing: Robert Tappan Morris did not intend to do all that damage.  He just wanted to write something that would highlight the vulnerability of many of the computers on the net, that would slip into those computers, slowly propagate, and that he could eventually point to and say, “Look at how insecure we are.”

But Morris’s worm had a bug, and it spawned off copies of itself far faster than he intended.  The damage done was not because the worm did anything terrible: it just sucked up all the resources on the computers where it ran because it forked off copies of itself in an out-of-control fashion.  The graduate student Robert Morris had made a minor mistake in his summoning, and the result was an Internet catastrophe.

Does that remind you of anything?  Imagine Morris as played by Mickey Mouse, think of those copies as animated brooms, and pretend that the crashing servers are water levels rising higher and higher.  Pretty quickly have the Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence from “Fantasia.”

Morris is now a tenured professor at MIT.  Mickey is no longer an apprentice – he is now the master wizard, training others.  I have no information on the state of his plumbing.

We are the wizards

July 4, 2007

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. – Arthur C. Clarke

For the vast majority of humanity, we have achieved Clarke’s vision: our technology is now indistinguishable from magic.

Do you understand what happens when you turn the key to start your car?  Do you know why flipping a switch fills your room with light?  Do you know how that little box that you are staring at brings you these words?

You may at that.  There may be no mysteries for you in these technologies.  But if that’s the case, you are one of the wizards.

We engineers are the wizards of the modern world.  Because if our world operates on magic, and it does, then it needs wizards to keep that magic working, wizards who understand the arcane forces, wizards who extend the power of our magic in new ways.

That is our job.

We are not the kings.  We do not generally run the great corporations or governments, we serve them.  We are the Merlins to the Arthurs, to the presidents, senators, and CEO’s.  (Though there is the occasional Wizard-King – Bill Gates springs to mind.  And while some view him as a wizard-king in the mode of Sauron, I’ll admit to a secret joy in the fact that the richest man in the world is one of us.)  We do not command the world.  But we do in a very real sense run it.

It’s a wonderful thing to be a wizard.  It’s a wonderful thing to master these technologies.  We can do great things for the world, and have plenty of fun doing it.  And as people gaze on these wonders with amazement, we smile, knowing that these are our gifts to the world.

What a great time it is to be a geek!

A very geeky family moment

June 16, 2007

My daughter, home from college, plays Dungeons and Dragons.  She is playing in a campaign over this summer with some college friends who happen to live in the area.

My son, who is now living in Charlottesville, used to play with these same people.  But he’s two hours away now, too far to stop by for a nice little game of D&D on the weekend.

Enter technology.  My son got himself a webcam yesterday.  He’s going to play remotely – at his computer in Charlottesville while the group here in NoVa play near a webcam.

We did the test of this last night.  The connection worked great.  (Video over AIM has some problems in my house, for some reason.  But Skype worked just fine.)

At around this time, I got an IM from my wife, who is in New York this week at an art seminar.  She has a Macbook with her, with a built-in webcam.  I IM’d her through installing Skype, and video IM’d with her from my Powerbook.

So, at one time, we had my son vid-conferencing from Charlottesville to my PC, while my wife was vid-conferencing from New York to my Powerbook.  And here I was in the middle, seeing and talking to them both real-time.

What a wonderful world we live in!