Government by and for the people

Dave Winer points to a paper from a new colleague of his. His thesis is that a new super power is coming into existence to hold in check the United States. It’s about time, since it looks like we really need one.

This brings to mind something else I heard on the radio, I forget where. Many people in other countries say, “We don’t hate Americans, we just hate their government.” And it would be nice if we could just shrug off our current administration’s deplorable diplomatic manner so easily. But we can’t, because our government is a government of the people. If you don’t like my government, you don’t like me.

We, the people of the United States, need to take it personally that all these people don’t like our government. If being liked is important to us (and I’d argue that a useful path to domestic security is being liked) then we need to get rid of this government and get ourselves one that we like, and that other people like too.

Stealth Blog

If you have a blog, and no one reads it, is it really a blog? Or is it like the tree that falls in the forest with no one around?

I’ve told exactly one person I have a blog, and even that was by mistake. I didn’t tell him the URL, though he is enterprising enough to find it himself. I’m not keeping it an Official Secret or anything. I guess I’m just trying an experiment to see how long I can be part of the blogosphere without people noticing.

My blog is listed in places like, so it’s not like I am trying to hide from the world.

So if I keep this up for a good long time and no one notices, does that mean I’m a terribly boring person? Hmm. Maybe I should get people to read it some…


There’s a new technology to learn about… TDMoIP.

VoIP (Voice over IP) has been a big disaster. Lots of engineering effort in, little success out. I had a Vonage phone line for a while, and the call quality (mostly due to latentcy) was terrible. I was using my Vonage endpoint under significantly less than ideal circumstances, so it might not have even been their fault. But I’ve seen VoIP stuff take up lots of time and deliver very little value at work too.

The problem for VoIP is that it is competeing against the rock solid, “can hear a pin drop”, telephone network. The way the telephone network makes such reliable, low latentcy, quiet phone calls is that it uses a very inflexible but deteministic system called TDM, or Time Division Multiplexing. TDM is expensive, because it can be wasteful. VoIP strips huge amounts of seemingly antiquated TDM technology away, which seems like a breath of fresh air to Internet-oriented engineers who are asked to implement VoIP. But then it turns out it is really hard to implement reliable telephone service, and throwing away all the work Bell Labs did to make TDM work so well wasn’t such a bright idea.

So, TDMoIP (which really needs a sexier name… “packet telco” maybe?) is basically an attempt to use existing, trusted techniques to pound the sqaure (reliable) peg of TDM into the round (cheap) hole of packet networks.

By the way, another good example of reliable and deterministic technology that beats complex technology is orbit delivery systems. The cheapest way to get to orbit is still on expendible liquid and/or solid rockets, not via the Space Shutte. And rockets are more reliable too, on a chassis-per-chassis basis. We’ve built five shuttles and lost two. We’ve built thousands and thousands of rockets, and lost significantly less than 40% of them (before their designed-in destruction, of course). Yes, I know this is not a fair comparision, but it’s an interesting datapoint to start a conversation with, wouldn’t you say?

Wooden Clockworks

Here’s a collection of links about wooden clockworks.

First, you need to search for “wooden clockworks”, not “wooden clocks”, since lots of people make wooden cases, put a quartz clockworks in them and then list them as “wooden clocks”.

This site would win the awards for both “most irritating website ever”, and “most useful information”.

This site looks really promising, and is what pointed me at the first one.
It even has a beginner’s project, which has only a weight and an escapement which runs for 10 minutes. has everything there is to know about clocks. As a result, it is thin on wooden clocks.

Looks like I need to buy a scroll saw for this adventure.

Some things I’m thinking about doing

I have broad curiousity, which I’ve made the best of, given that it tends to limit my ability to focus on something for long periods of time. I’m currently, though not permanently, at peace with the fact that I tend to progress just past “beginner” in all that I do, then lose interest in making progress.

One way I keep this from being a total character flaw is that I do keep committments, like running a Game, or being in a dance performance. So while you may not be able to count on me to stick with something new more than 6 or 9 months, you can count on me to stick with those things for which I sign up.

Which brings me to the point. I’m out of new things to try since I’ve lost interest in the last crop. Having new things to learn about and do stimulates my mind, and introduces me to people I would not have otherwise met. When I choose well (which is not really very often, it turns out) these people are the right age to be dates, in addition to interesting acquaintances.

Which brings me to the point, again. Really this time.

I’m thinking about taking up one of these things:

  • drumming, perhaps with the hula studio near my house
  • making a clock out of wood, like one I saw at the Musee d’Horlogerie et Emaillerie, in Geneva. Note to self: there is a modern vendor of wooden clocks!
  • getting involved in a Sea Scout post here in Redwood City

Now the relative merits of all these have been swirling around in my head. There’s the “how much time, expense and dedication is this going to cost” axis. And there’s the “finding dates” axis, otherwise known as the “hot chicks” axis.

Picking up hot chicks at Sea Scouts will be problematic. Not for the reason you are probably thinking. Women of all ages are allowed to be involved in Explorer posts (or at least they were when I was a kid). It would just be awkward dating within that group, though not impossible. The odds of finding a suitable date there are very small, in any case.

Picking up hot chicks in my garage while working on a wooden clock alone is also pretty unlikely. Though if I cut myself and have to go to the hospital, I might meet a cute Filipino nurse who’s looking for someone to take care of. That might be nice.

The hula babes have a definite lead here, but I’m just not really sure how you walk into a hula studio and ask to join the drum team. That needs quite a lot more research.

Of course, all of these need more research on the “cost” axis. The “babes” axis is much more entertaining to speculate on, it would seem.

Hmm, re-reading this post makes me think it probably would qualify as one of the “private” ones I was just talking about.

I’m still here

I just haven’t posted in a while, that’s all.

Hmm, why? I haven’t been extraordinately busy. I just haven’t had anything to say. I’m hoping to break the trend by saying something about not saying anything.

One reason I haven’t had anything to say is that some of the things I have to say are not for public consumption. And though I have no readers of this blog that I know of, I know that this is a public space. One reason I decided to start this blog (apart from the simple need to understand this technology) is that I know that to be a good writer, you need to write. I value keeping a broad set of skills in good working order, so I want to be, among (many) other things, a very good writer.

Of course, two rules of thumb to being a good writer are probably to avoid parenthetical remarks (like the “many” above, and (come to think of it) this one too), and to elide “very”. Samuel Clemens said that you should write “damn” every place you are considering writing “very”. Then your editor will remove the “damn” in each sentence replacing it with nothing, and your writing will be as it should have been to start with.

Alas, I don’t have a damn editor.

Another reason I want to keep this blog is that I would like to have a journal I can look back at in the future. I have appreciated the value of keeping a journal since high school when Mrs. Doerner forced me to keep one for a semester. Alas, the habit wore off, almost immediately. Since then, I have started and aborted several journals, each lasting one or two entries. This is my most recent attempt, and this entry is a desperate attempt to keep the habit.

So, at the junction of those two points, lies the problem. I want to have a journal, but the journaling medium I’ve chosen is a blog. I want to have a journal, in part, to record private thoughts, but a blog won’t allow that. Simply adding a feature to mark some posts as private, or keeping them perpetually in “draft” status won’t work either, since I could not write freely knowing that one operator error, or one software bug might publically publish my private thoughts. In fact, I’m familiar enough with the problems of privacy and technology that I probably would only put the private thoughts onto paper.

So, I’m stuck. What self-respecting blogger would stoop to writing a blog on paper? 🙂

Seriously, it’s at once a solveable problem and an unsolveable problem. Working on a blog subtly changes your inner dialog, since there’s always a little voice suggesting, “hey, that might be a good blog entry”. But another little voice chimes in and says, “yeah, but only for a private blog, which you don’t have”. If several days go by where it seems most of your bloggable thoughts should be private, then you don’t post to the public blog, and start losing the hard-won habit of writing daily. And then you risk losing that inner dialog, which points out topics which are blog-worthy, which should be helping with the journaling habit.

So what are all these private thoughts, you ask? Well, if I told you, they wouldn’t be private, now would they? OK, in general, they are thoughts on the war, statements about my state of mind, and behavior of friends. Stuff Jan Woodcock used to call “Heavy, Deep and Real”. Stuff that is too complicated to explain in a few paragraphs, and that I don’t want to be held responsible for.

Thoughts of a man far away

Hong Kong has turned out to be the epicenter of a serious outbreak of SARS.

There is an incredibly moving article in BBC about the silent killer in the midst of the healtch care workers in Hong Kong. I found the e-mail address of the doctor and sent him a note. It is included below.

To: [email protected]
Subject: God bless you

I read your interview in BBC and it really touched me. Tonite I
had been feeling sorry for myself and my country (I'm an
American) because we've gotten ourselves into such a mess in the
mideast. Your interview reminded me that the real fight is
against nature itself.

Good luck to you, take care of yourself. May all your colleagues
recover. You have my thoughts even in this trying time, when
these obscene distractions try to pull my attention from your
very human story.

Jeff Allen
Redwood City, CA, USA

If you feel like it, please send him a note too.

Happy St. Patrick’s day!

I went with Dan to St. Steven’s Green today for lunch. I ordered Chicken Strips with salad. When I got mine, the first chicken strip looked just like the island of Great Britain. I picked it up by Scotland and dipped Wales in Ranch dressing before I noticed the similarity. So I immediately started digging through this pile of chicken to find an Ireland. And I found one! It was so cool to have my own little map on my plate.

Alas, I forgot to look for an Isle of Man, not that I would have recognized it anyway.


I only subscribe to one magazine at a time right now, because otherwise my curiousity would bury me under a pile of magazines every month. I try different ones from year to year, just to see what all is out there. I’m currently subscribed to Atlantic Monthly, as a result of William Langewiesche’s interview on Fresh Air. I also had read a few Atlantic Monthly articles on-line and that was so tedious that I gave up and bought the subscription.

As an aside, the Atlantic Monthly seems a little too, uh, Atlantic for my tastes. I suppose this is what it feels like to New York residents to read Salon. I suppose it would do me some good to learn to appreciate my fellow Americans, even if they do live on the wrong ocean, and are all stuffy.

OK, the one magazine rule is not strictly enforced. Magazines that come as part of professional organizations don’t count against the one magazine rule. But they are pretty boring, so they don’t take much time to get annoyed with and toss. And my grandfather subscribes me to American Inventor or something. It got nifty info in it, but it’s kind of strange reading a magazine with only one advertiser (GM). You always sort of get the feeling that perhaps the editors has sacrificed just a tad too much editorial independence.

And then there’s my Subaru car owner’s magazine, which I just love getting. I allow myself to be suckered completely by marketing from time to time, and the nice people at Subaru have me, hook line and sinker. (News flash: I paid off my car this month! Yippee!)

So the whole point of this posting was to remind myself, if I happen to reread it later, that Mental Floss looks like an interesting magazine to try out next year.