Where’s My Flying Car Part I : KABOOM!

“Celebrating Gertsen, we clearly see three generations,
three classes acting in the Russian Revolution. First –
noblemen and landowners, Decembrists and Herzen.
Horribly distant from the people. But their work was not in wain.
Decembrists woke Herzen. Herzen began revolutionary agitation.”
V.I. Lenin

Computers have existed like for 200,000 years in Internet time, yet the innovation in computer technology seems to be a little slow. Brick and mortar slow. Let me present to you an approximate timeline:

In 1945 Dr. Vannevar Bush wrote an article As We May Think about a device called the Memex.

In 1960 Theodor Holm Nelson, inspired by Bush, coined the term “hypertext” and started on Project Xanadu, a vaporware Superinternet.

In 1968 Dr. Douglas Engelbart delivered the MOAD, demonstrating videoconferencing, email, hypertext, copy and paste, as well as some novel input devices including a mouse.

Bush, Nelson and Engelbart show a progression from a dream into reality. Bush was a pure dreamer – he never intended to actually try and build the Memex. Nelson at least tried to build Xanadu, although he failed miserably. He could not even get to the demo stage. Engelbart actually built enough stuff to make very impressive demos, although never to build actual successful products except the mouse. These guys suffered from the RAND Corporation syndrome–the common joke went that RAND stood for Reasearch And No Development.

The problem with these three was that they could not focus on individual problems. Luckily for us, next came Xerox PARC. Xerox corporation had money coming out of its wazoo, decided to invest in a world class R&D center. They used the same approach that Google is using today: spend the extra money on hiring the brightest technologists around and let them run free and wild.

Bush, Nelson and Engelbart were a lot like a character named Manilov in Gogol’s Dead Souls. Manilov was an owner of a large rundown estate. He spent his days dreaming about improving it. Wouldn’t it be nice to build a bridge over the river and on it build little merchant booths so that the peasants could buy stuff there. Of course, none of his projects ever went anywhere, and if they did, they were quickly abandoned.

PARC engineers were men of action. Each concentrated on a particular aspect, and they’ve built working models of many things that we enjoy today: personal computer with GUI interfaces, Ethernet, WYSIWYG text editor, laser printer, and even a computer animation system amongst other things. Sadly, Xerox was able to capitalize mostly on the laser printer, which actually probably paid for all of PARC’s expenses. PARC indirectly influenced Apple and Microsoft in the development of GUI OS. Also Charles Simonyi left PARC to develop Word and Excel for Microsoft, thus creating an enormous amount of wealth. Bob Metcalfe and David Boggs also left PARC, took Ethernet and turned it into 3COM. John Warnock and Charles Geschke left PARC, took PostScript and created a little company called Adobe Systems. Well, you get the picture.

To give you another analogy, the technological revolution of the 60s, 70s and 80s was like a hydrogen bomb. A hydrogen bomb is made of three bombs: a conventional explosive that ignites a fission explosive that in turn ignites a fusion explosion. Semiconductor industry created by William Shockley and the Traitorous Eight was the fuel, Bush and Company–the conventional explosion, PARC–fission, what came after–fusion. KABOOM!

Deadprogrammer Visits Japan or Sakura in Partial Bloom Part II

Part II : Chuck Garabedian sez : “Ya gotta squeeze every penny”

My wife booked our tickets though go-today.com, thriftily opting for the cheapest tickets that do not specify the airline prior to purchase. I was expecting the horrors of Aeroflot, or even worse, flying under the 5-headed eagle flag of Turkmenistan Airlines. On a crop duster or something. But we were pleasantly surprised to become proud holders of All Nippon Airways tickets. And that meant flying on a 747-400 without one of those Pokemon or Hello Kitty paint jobs, but with 4 classes of seats, on demand video monitors in all of them, nice meals and snacks, ultra clean bathrooms, and 20% more bowing.

A flight from JFK to Narita Airport takes about 14 hours non-stop. I found it to be no worse than an extra long day in a cubicle. Except instead of working I read, watched free movies (they had The Incredibles!) ate tasty meals and wondered if one could learn to smile professionally like the Japanese stewardesses. Oh, and I took a nice picture of a circular rainbow. Unfortunately I missed seeing the fish-like Sakhalin Island where my father spent a part of his childhood and my mother earned her college degree. I hope one day I’ll visit it.

Now for some photos (there will be more interesting ones in the next post). Make your own Google maps with Keyhole technology. The whole thing looks like a motherboard, doesn’t it? For some reason Japanese like to paint their towers in red and white.

In stark contrast to the heavily industrial area above, Japan is full of agricultural areas filled with rice paddies that glisten in the sun. I was gonna say like the steel of a samurai’s sword, but did not.

In Narita I came into my first contact with the wonders of Japanese wending machines. My first purchases on the Japanese soil were a $30 Hello Kitty phone card (that was way too much, a $10 one would do, besides they sell them everywhere) and a bottle of a sports drink called “Pocari Sweat”. As it turns out many Japanese products and businesses have strange, but somewhat relevant Engrish names. Overall the vending machines in Japan are way nicer that the ones in the States. I’ll write about them later, but for now I present you with the picture of a small battery of rectangular (or should I say parallelepipedal) sports drink bottles that accumulated on the windowsill of our hotel room.

Go-today.com deal hooked us up with 5 nights in Shinagawa Prince Hotel. It’s a huge complex of a hotel located just next to a major Japan Rail station. Narita express as well as shinkansen trains stop there too. Just like ANA’s jumbo jet, the hotel seems to tailored to serve a number of different classes of customers. There’s the Executive Tower, Main Tower, New Tower and Annex Tower. We got a room in the Annex Tower which is probably like the Fiesta Deck. Still in the good old tradition of the 3rd class on a pre-war cruise ship, the room was tiny, but well designed, clean, and had very nice extras not usually found in American hotels such as yucatas, toothbrushes and razors in the “little shampoo and crap” kit and a washlet in the bathroom.

Japan is one of the last true bastions of smoking, so we could not get a non-smoking room. There was a smell of cigarettes in the air, but fortunately the windows were openable (and with a great view, including a skyscraper with a huge Canon logo) and after a short airing the room was livable. There was no hardwired Ethernet and during my stay I only figured out how to get the key to the wireless network only at the very end (you need to go to the Yahoo! cafe, fill out some paperwork, buy a drink there and ask for the access point password).

Overall it seems that Japanese businesses often treat coach class customers better than American businesses treat their business class and often first class.

Tivo! Tivo! Tivo!

Ok, I am a dork. A dork with a tricked out Tivo.
So far I struggled through:
* Installing TurboNet ethernet card
* Installing a 120 gig drive instead of the two 20 gig drives that came with my Tivo
* Getting telnet to work
and finally, finally!
*Installing Tivo Web

One of the coolest features of Tivo Web is ability to undelete shows.

Here is a list of my “season passes” that I grabbed with Tivo Web.
(I would like to note that I don’t watch “Enterprise”. does.

# | Show Name | Channel
1 Futurama WNYW
2 The Job COMEDY
3 The Sopranos
4 The Job WABC
5 Sex and the City HBO
6 Six Feet Under HBO
8 Friends WNBC
9 That ’70s Show
10 Farscape SCIFI
11 Firefly WNYW
12 Enterprise WWOR
13 The Simpsons WNYW
14 The Man Show COMEDY
15 Antiques Roadshow WNET
16 Malcolm in the Middle WNYW
17 Scrubs WNBC
18 CSI: Crime Scene Investigation WCBS
19 This Old House WNET
20 NYPD Blue TNT
21 Antiques Roadshow UK WLIW
22 Insomniac With Dave Attell COMEDY
23 New Yankee Workshop WNET
24 Samurai Jack TOON
25 Monk USA
26 John Doe WNYW

Tivo Tivo Tivo!

TurboNet card arrived yesterday. It’s an amazing feat of engineering – a tiny little custom-made ethernet card that fits into Tivo’s ISA slot and is powered by the motherboard. Install took 3 minutes (good hearted Tivo engineers included drivers for it with the latest version of software) + 5 minutes to staple cat5 to the wall. Well, and half an hour contemplating Tivo’s insides.

What am I gaining from having an ethernet card in Tivo?

Well, for one, it will not be phoning home every day. 30 calls per month at 5 cents each is not a huge saving, but I will not have to unplug the phone cord during thunderstorms.

I already had a burned out modem once. The nasty thing about it breaking was that it kept phone line “of the hook” so that nobody could call me. I had to send my Tivo to a Texan who goes by the handle Electriclegs. He figured out how to fix Tivo modems by replacing a few parts and even made a repair kit available, but I was not brave enough to solder surface mount components myself. The repair cost me $50 + shipping, but the worst thing was being without Tivo for a couple of weeks. Brrrr.

Things left to do:
1) Install bigger hard drive (not simple because I have a double drive model)
2) Mount the ethernet jack flush in Tivo’s case (cold not do it this time because my nibbling tool broke during cutting a hole for exhaust fan on my computer)
3) Install TivoWeb, other neato hacks
4) Learn to solder surface mount components, install memory kit from Electriclegs

Some quick nerdy news

Ethernet card for my TIVO is on it’s way. I wish it was available when my TIVO’s modem got killed by a surge from a lightning storm (I had to ship it to a guy who fixed it for $50). I’ll probably install TivoWeb because Yahoo! seems to be pretty slow in rolling out online TIVO programming that was promised.

Powershot G3 is available for preorder. I can’t believe they used the same moronic silver color for it. Again. Didn’t they get enough angry letters from photographers (so many that the actually made a black color version of G2).

By the way, it’s interesting to watch the progress of design of G1, G2 and G3. One thing that I noticed is that the grip handle gets progressively bigger and more comfortable.

Brooklyn College Library

Visited Brooklyn College yesterday to take a look at the newly reopened library.

Well, they’ve spent countless millions, and now the insides look like a typical yuppie apartment. Various designer chairs (mostly Aerons and some other expensive looking wooden ones) , desks. The circulation desk looks like a reception desk in a Fortune 100 company. Tons of tables with ethernet hookups. Some crappy Dells with 15 inch flat panel monitors running Win XP are available in “labs”. Lots of air conditioning ducts and eyes-in-the-sky.

Could not find any of the books that I wanted in the horrible mainframe search app (you telnet into it from the workstations). I was looking for some Lee Friedlander photography books , “The Legend of Amdahl”, some real estate books, some books about NYPD. Nada. Oh well, there is abebooks.com and amazon.com. And I have Aerons and fast network connection at home.

I thing that royally pisses me of is that they are using crappy bright fluorescent lamps. I hate those. At work I unhooked one that is right above my cube because it was driving me nuts. Yeah, spend millions on chairs and desks and install lamps that give everyone headaches.

The La Guardia reading room is gorgeous. There were some very nice black and white photos on the walls, a mildly interesting exposition of historical documents and photographs.

If I actually found any good books and did not get a headache from the lamps it would have been a great experience.