Saturday, June 02, 2007

My Life as an Inventor

I always carry a notebook and have filled up more than I recollect... Ideas and invention has always been a fascination for me.

My work in I.T./Communications - Systems and programming - have always been an outlet for my creativity.


Study at Uni of NSW (Computing Science and some Chemical Engineering), 2 years as Analytical Chemist plus 2 years in mainframe Operations at CSR, 2 years full-time study plus clerical and Computing work.

One of the defining events for me at Uni was being taught "Operating Systems" by John Lions. I was on the second ever Unix kernel course, the first with The Book: the Lions Commentary.  As a matter of passing usefulness, we had to learn 'C' in ~4 weeks.


Worked in I.T./Computer in Communications and National Security.
Demonstrated good design and troubleshooting skills.
Worked on projects, real-time systems maintenance, database development and high-performance/high-availability systems.
Ran the International  email service for O.T.C.

At Softway, with Greg Rose, one of the principals, I put the following 4 ideas to the board:
  • RAID - we were a Unix systems and kernel house and could write drivers.
  • Multi-protocol Routers as an extension to the CSIRO micro-node we were programming
  • Multi-function printer/fax/copier
  • Digital photocopier/printer
The ideas were turned down without comment. 3 out of 4 went on to become major products.
A good hit-rate.

I'd taken it on myself to go off and find contracts to keep the company afloat - around $100k/yr. Enough to pay $30k salary and at least one of the directors. This initiative didn't help my stock there.

In 1988, I got to know Ken Thompson reasonably well when he visited Sydney University and taught for a year.

I'd worked too hard, become 'burnt out' left Softway and moved 'to the country', the South Coast of NSW.

I approached the Telecom Product Development Fund with a proposal to build a single TCP/IP based network, using commodity Intel hardware running Unix, to switch all their 'Text Services" [Telex, Teletex, Fax, email, file transfer].

I'd worked for 7 years on exchanges at O.T.C. and knew a bunch about Telco services and digital networking and messaging. This was before Telecom/Telstra had an email service.

I'd run the O.T.C. commercial  e-mail offering, "Minerva", as well as multiple in-house Unix systems using Sendmail, ACSnet/MHSnet and even some uucp.

My proposal included a store-and-forward network and 3 possible variants of fax machines - that would use DNS-style human readable addresses, not just phone numbers.

For ordinary fax machines, this meant having a human-readable cover-sheet - eliminating wrong numbers.

Telstra's comments were:
  • We don't know what you're proposing. It's not one thing.
  • We don't have any one person who can evaluate this.
  • Nobody else in the world is doing this.
  • Your cost estimates are too low. [commodity hardware vs. 'telco' pricing]
  • Your cost/benefit estimates are wrong. [no help on what would be right]
  • From the chief of Text Services in Melbourne on consolidating all text switching:
    "Why would we want to do that?"
That was the year that AARNET brought the Internet to Australia.

I built the first widely available, complete, Australian daily weather database while at CSIRO.
Created a browsable index, redefined the file structure, performed full-coverage testing on the dodgy code I'd inherited - and got the product released at the annual ABARE 'Outlook' conference admist much fanfare.

Designed a VPN for linux. Implemented by David B Deaves.
Worked between Canberra and Perth offices over public Internet.

Filed, had examined and granted my 'netserver' petty patent.
A domestic router, firewall and internet connection. Also allowed USB devices to be connected.
The petty patent lasted 5 years and was only for Australia.
Unable to find a VC interested in pursuing this.

For Federal Govt. "Business Entry Point" administered the initial ABN registrations.
Forecast peak demand to within 5% and designed the first web 'busy tone' to handle (massively) excessive loads.
Final peak load was 25-times the design load, with consistent 5 second response times.

Filed an international PCT application for a Power Change-over device [allows servers or a rack of equipment to be switched to another power outlet without disruption.]
Examined and granted in Australia.

A new take on Internet Security - probably provable secure.
Introduces a replacement for VPN's:  Virtual Air Gapped Networks and Controlled Secure Links.
By adding other elements it is suitable for Military/Government grade security as well as normal commercial operations and domestic/e-commerce use.
Global market for VPN and related devices is currently estimated around US$25Bn.
Replacing and upgrading VPN technology would probably create a market 10-20 times larger.

Patent application filed in Australia on 27-September-2006.
Refiled in 2007, now lapsed.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Historical Storage Prices - Raw Data

These are the raw data I collected from some Australian PC magazines from 2002-2007.

There are problems with the data:

- these are not 'best retail price' - just what I could find advertised

- inconsistent markup and discount schedule. Couldn't find a single advertiser.

- not same-same. RAM was DDR 3200, then PC133

- Disks. Ignored cache size, and SATA.

- all drives assumed to be 7200rpm

- didn't collect data on 2.5" drives and SCSI/fast drives.







DVD - 50 pieces

YearSize4.7 Gb
2002$135 (guess)


YearBest $/GbYr/Yr Ratio


YearBest $/GbYr/Yr Ratio


YearBest $/GbYr/Yr Ratio


YearBest $/GbYr/Yr Ratio


The Yr/Yr ratios are used for forward projections.

The 'Est Flash' column uses the current 'best price' (MSY) for flash memory and a Yr/Yr ratio of 3.25.

Flash memory is now very much cheaper than RAM - forward projections not done.

YearRAM $/GbFlash $/GbEst Flash $/GbDisk$/GbDVD $/GbMax flashMax Disk
Yr/Yr ratio2.263.251.571.33

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Blogging Tools

Google's 'Blogger' is cheap and cheerful and a reasonable way to get started... But it doesn't work well for me in a number of ways.
  • 'Safari' on Mac isn't well supported
  • The edit window is very small
  • I can't compose off-line and upload previous work simply
  • My articles aren't stored on my computer making it easy for me to re-use and organise them.
  • The dinky little input/edit window isn't resizable
  • Checking final layout is painful - flipping in and out of 'preview' mode
  • Using Blogger and it's AJAX interface kicks up Safari's memory use - and kills my machine

So I went searching for some tools. Their are Mac clients that look good - but it's pay, pay, pay all the way on Mac :-)

Downloaded 'BloGTK' - it might work in the X-11 environment, but that uses too much memory. I 'only' have 512Mb - which once upon a time would've seemed unlimited.

So I found 'flock'. It's a modified Firefox browser which understands blogging and actually has resizable windows and stores new material on my disk... But it doesn't allow me to import what I've already written. And the publish interface is incredibly annoying if you editing/updating.

And there's a Firefox addon 'Firescribe' (formerly Performancing). It does some stuff reasonably well. Not sure about saving posts locally.

Still searching for tools I can work with ;-)

Friday, May 11, 2007


Microsoft Naysayer bandwagon gets crowded:

Sarah Friar of Goldman Sachs:
It's over after Vista.
Microsoft needs markets that can move the revenue needle.
Microsoft will be hurt by Linux, Apple and software as a service.
Microsoft can't be nimble enough to compete with Google.
Microsoft's messaging stinks. [what's "Live"?]

"It all seems a bit premature. Sure Google may be sexier–just ask the Microsoft employees that are defecting and burning bridges on the way out–but can you really say a company with $28.8 billion in cash is on the downswing? I can't."
-> ROE is 35+%. Should be able to repeat that
-> $17B 2006/7 spent on share buy-backs => propping up the share price

Chunks: hidden key to RAID Perf.
* Cache
* Striping
* Chunk Size [size of stripe on each drive]

Web DNA - Attributor:
-> Copyright Control, Monetisation On-line

Typical Linux Desktop User

2008 Year of Mobile Linux?

RedHat takes OLPC knowledge corporate: (one Laptop per child) Global Desktop

New Rules for Software VC.

Here is a list of must-haves to “jump start a startup” today and make it a candidate for venture investing.
* Begin with a first-class, seasoned management team

* Find a market undergoing demand growth where some form of disruption is creating a space for a new business

* Buy the components of the business – technology, distribution, customer base - that you can; only build what you have to (which usually does include building innovative technology

The Enterprise Software “Threatdown” [Top 10 threats]

1. Buyer Ennui
2. Looming Skills Shortage
3. Software Security
4. Usability
5. India’s IT Services Firms
6. Private Equity Plays
7. New ERP Challengers
8. The On-Demand Model
9. Mobile
10. Software Appliances

SandHill: The State of the Software Industry – 2007
Innovation Accelerating as a Top Priority
Internal Funding is Healthy -> revenue growing 9-13%
+ Margins are equally healthy. Megavendors (>$10B Rev) margins 35-40% EBITDA.
+ Margins rest 12-18%
+ software share of the customers’ IT budget will continue to increase
++ 2006: 29.6% expected 35.7% in 2009
External Funding Driven by Private Equity
+ Compound Annual Growth (CAGR) 26% in VC investment
Implications for Software Vendors and Customers
+ Customers: Customers have a paradox in front of them – how can a company that is increasingly spending their budget with the largest software vendors ensure they get access to smaller vendors who are driving innovation?
+ Vendors: Software vendors need to adapt to the bottom-up and center-out diffusion model within this innovation wave.

Sand Hill 30 - The stocks driving the next generation of software and services.

Pure-play software vendors whose every move shakes the industry.

Big Shots
Well-positioned, large vendors in healthy sectors.

Vendors with deep expertise and a strong market position.
Business Objects
Hyperion Solutions
Lawson Software
Tibco Software

New Big 5
The most powerful offshore IT services providers in the world.
Cognizant Technology Solutions
Infosys Technologies Ltd.
Satyam Computer Svcs.
Tata Consultancy Services
Wipro Ltd.

New Agers
Next-generation vendors leveraging new technologies and models.
Red Hat
RightNow Technologies
WebEx Communications

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What Price a Life? II

How do we individually and collectively survive and thrive?
What do we need to know from the past to avoid the mistakes of our forefathers?
How will our future depend on what we do in the present?

Reframing what looks like a question about death and mortality into a much deeper, broader question that can surprise and sometimes delight the viewer but always takes unexpected paths. There is enough variety in the question to make informative, provactive media for more than 10 years. Real information on our collective choices and their consequences will help shape the political debate and agenda in a unique way.

Having a Life

In 1901 Australia had a population of 3.8M. In 2006, it was well over 20M.
In 1911, 30% of the population worked in Agriculture, which accounted for 20+% of GDP. Over 40% of the population lived in rural areas. Most families were >4 children.
In 2006 this was around 4% and 3% of GDP. 90+% of the population lived in urban areas. Families are <=2.
ABS - 2001 Yearbook, "A century of population change in Australia".

AIHW life expectancy data:
1900 M:55 F:58
2000 M:77 F:82

In the 1950's the average family, with 4 children, was supported on a single wage or income:
- the average wage in a city
- 40 acres (16ha) in a 'mixed farm' (dairy, pigs, poultry, crops)
- or an author writing "one book a year" [no citation]

In the 2000's, two above average wages are needed to purchase a house, women are deferring children until age 32, 400ha is not economic for broad-acre or grazing enterprises - and authors need 8-10 books 'in print' at one time to make a living.

We are all better off - we must be. But at what price? Why does it take so much more to pay for our lives? Where does the money go...

Taking a Life

The headline meaning, "what does it cost to end a life?" can be examined in many ways.

For example comparing and contrasting the dollar cost per life in warfare.
  • the monetary cost of killing a person in War over centuries - the American Civil War, The Boer War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I & II.
  • What was the cost the USA of bombing Afganistan "back into the Dark Ages"?
    - and what about the cost to the Taliban and the Afhanhi community there and around the world?
  • And the low-tech version, How much money did it cost in Mogadisheu to wield machtees?
    - and what was the collectve cost of Ethnic Cleansing to their country and the countries that have provided aid for decades?

What is the effect on the global and individual economies of the Arms Suppliers (the USA, UK, France & Germany), the arms users and the Arms trade blackmarket?

But the world doesn't need just another War Documentary, even if it does take a different view.

And their is an individual, personal side to this equation:
What is the time, energy and opportunities passed up for a single man to fight for the US military?

If he does come home in one piece, what are the long-term effects on him, his family, his community?
And for those that increasingly come back as 'damaged goods', what of their lives afterwards?

Saving a Life

Every year hospitals, paramedics and rescue crews save thousands of road accicent victims.

There is a very real dollar cost in saving, or trying to save each of these people. It's part of our culture that we want to offer the same helping hand to everyone. But are we that equitable and elgalitarian? Are there places we quietly just don't serve because the people are somehow 'not as worthy' or 'the costs are too high'. Did the community make those decisions - or have them made for us?

But the victims and their families have to live after 'the accident'. Head injuries are often life-changing. Personalities change - people become violent, abusive and irrational. It's hard for them, and harder for their carers.

How do the paid professionals cope, the families and friends and those that used to depend on them?

And how do we individually and collectively deal with the knowledge that many were preventable?
We are better at not killing people on the roads than China and South Africia. But can we do better?
Commercial Aviation shows what can be done - if there is a will.

But do we want to pay that price? Discipline, rigour and attention to detail. And maybe not everyone automatically has 'the right to drive, to handle a lethal weapon'. How many people are we happy to see die needlessly by our collective inaction?

Politicians won't frame that question. But if they don't, who will?

Supporting us in the lifestyle to which we've become accustomed

We sit on the terrace and sip a nice latte or fine chardonay - but there are consequences for the rest of the world.

All the people who laboured to bring a simple thing together.
And to keep us safe while there and getting there.
We have water to drink, electricity to heat and light, phones to chat upon and buildings that stand up.
But most of all, we are blessed with abundance. We don't toil in the fields or labour in factories. Never before in history have so many had such a fine life. Many things we take for granted - even as a right - were once not even the domain of Kings. Refrigeration, detergents, clean running water, safe food, antibiotics, microsurgery, phones, TV, computers, the 'Net...

These we take for granted... It wasn't always so - and isn't so for the majority of the Earth's population.

And we are borrowing from the future, from our childrens' inheritance, to support this lifestyle.

"Water security" is now Real News. Wasn't it always? Folks in the bush have always been there.
Soon we'll have to consider the consequences of the drought - erosion, loss of soil and unavailability of food and goods.
And the profiteering that will go alongside scarity.

And where do our farmers go when the fertiliser runs out?

Oil is too precious to be burn like trash - look around you and find something that is not composed at least partly of plastics. It is either there because of petro-chemicals used in its production/manufacture or in its transport and use. When Oil runs out, the true cost will not be 'oh no, I can't drive', but 'where's all the consumer products?'.


The concept is to present difficult questions about how we live our lives and the implicit and explicit choices we make - in a sensitive and insightful manner. To ask questions to which there are no simple answers - only choices. Where 'living in the question' is the only right-minded response.

To provoke informed debate. To say things and address issues in areas politicians fear to tread.
And hopefully grab an audience and entrall them. To take them on an unpredictable, exciting journey.

What price a Life?

This is an idea for a probably infinite set of media programs... That could inform, entertain and may provoke (shock, horror!) some thought/introspection.

In 3 or 4 generations we in the Western World have gone from a farming and manufacturing economy and society, to a 'service economy'. Just one generation saw - electricity reticulation, street lighting, radio, automobile, aircraft, the 'production line', industrial scale War [WW I] and the end of domination of European Royalty and Nobels.

We've gone onto create new life forms and manipulating DNA. To knowing most of the building blocks of matter and creating nuclear bombs capable of extinguishing everyone on the planet many times over. And to generations living off social welfare, using drugs and escaping into the 'virtual worlds' of TV, computer games and on the 'Net.

We didn't get here by accident, but we could lose everything in a flash with an accident - or through others intentionally destroying it.
Appreciating what we have and why we have it is essential to preserving our lives.

"What Price a Life?" It's ambiguous and can be taken many, many ways. Such as:


'price' has many dimensions:
  • Dollars
  • Time
  • Energy
  • Resources (animal, mineral, vegetable)
  • Opportunity Cost - the cost of choosing 'this', not something else
  • Environmental
  • Human - personal, family, friends, group, community, town, country, ethic grouping
  • Human - physical, mental, emotional, spiritual
  • Sociological
  • Consequences - what are the on-going results of decisions, actions and inaction?

a Life - I

"What price for Taking a LIfe?" With a gun, a knife, .... Intentionally and accidentally. In War, in peace and at home.

  • Saving a Life - hospital, road safety, industrial safety, nuclear
  • Extending Lives - good health and nutrition
  • Prolonging - last month, 3 months, 12 months
  • Living a Life. e.g. a monk, a celebrity, a cleaner, a guard, a doctor, a teacher, a prostitue, a farmer, ...
  • Creating a Life - IVF, surrogacy, Gene Therapy...
  • Selling/Trading a Life - slave traders, 'black-birding', white slavery, sex slavery, ..
  • Preventing/Containing a Life - jail, detention, ...
  • Seeking a New Life - immigrants, refugees, ...
  • Freedom, Self-Determination, Self-Expression, Creativity
  • Justice, Equity, Fairness

a Life - II

"What Price a Life here and now?"
  • Over time
  • In this town, community, country
  • For this sub-group - aboriginals, Native Red Indians, Inuit
  • By religon/religous belief
  • By Sex (M/F/other)
  • By sub-culture - terrorists, drug-pushers, regime...

a Life - III

"What Price a Human Life?"
  • A wild animal
  • A pet
  • A domestic animal (food, fibre, fleece, milk, eggs, ...)
  • An endangered species
  • A not 'cute and cuddly' thing
  • Insects, parasites, pests...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Request to Twinings Tea Company: Create more business through the Net.

How to INCREASE your profits and keep old fogeys like me happy...

PLEASE bring back your wonderful variety of leaf tea!


Since the early 1970's I've been discovering and drinking your teas. There are other brands - but I like yours :-)

In 1986 at an IT startup company I helped found we collected & drank over 30 varieties of your teas - as well as our own Espresso machine. Wonderful times!

Around 1988 you changed the formulation of "Earl Grey" and the colour of the packaging. Tasted like Burgamont oil from mint not oranges.

And since you've increasingly focused on what can be easily sold in the high-street and supermarkets. Limited range and culling slow-sellers. Migrating to tea-bags.

All great, not merely good, business sense.

New Business Model

How can you increase your profits and cater to old fogeys like me???

A. The Net - direct sales with minimum qty.
B. Regular "speciality packs" into supermarkets.

Internet sales

  • The people who want to buy your specialist leaf tea are buying a luxury item. A higher price marks extra value. And yes, there would be a price-point sales will decline.
  • you already have many national distributors & can supply locally (by mail) to most of the world.
  • You get to charge double for smaller batches that you make less often.
  • Selling direct means you cut out the distributor/reseller - and double your margin again.
  • And you don't have to do anything much different. Every country now has Internet Sales 'Fulfillment' organisations that charge a modest fee and do everything else...
  • minimum quantity sales [like 1Kg or $25] means your profits don't get sucked away by transaction fees.

In the Supermarkets

  • Look at Aldi and their approach to 'special items'. They make them available for a limited period and then swap out the stock for new specials. You can do a different speciality pack every 3 months for 4 weeks. Savvy buyers will stock up.
  • In Australia, well known brands have occasional 'nostalgia' packaging. Tins printed to celebrate an anniversary usually. They aren't real 'collectables' - but a nice promotional vehicle that in today's recycling conscious world don't get trashed for quite some time. They are a long-term in-home promotional display - that you make an upfront profit on!
    [I have a 250g Earl Grey tin bought around 1990 that sits on my counter top & I see everyday.]

Generation X & Y effects

It's true the Baby Boomers [1946-1964] have a lot stronger connection to Ye Olde Teas - and all the ceremony surrounding them. They also have very high purchasing power now, like what they like (are brand loyal) and are generally comforted by links to their 'roots' - especially pleasant/fond memories.

Their children, Gen X, are surprising - they're turning 40 and have taken on many of their parents preferences and patterns. Why do the Beatles and Rolling Stones still sell so well?? Gen X & Y know and share many of their parents preferences.

And you could be tapping that market as well...

Market Testing

Australia is a great place to test :-) Two large supermarket chains with 60%+ coverage, 80%+ internet access/use [home or office] and a bunch of cashed-up baby boomers - and a reliable & cheap parcel post system.
Won't cost you much to market test and establish the vectors/relationships.

I suspect there is a HUGE pent-up demand for some of your now premium product, from a small but loyal band of 'believers'.
Surveys are unreliable - Dollars at the cashpoint are the only survey that matters.


You can have both the new market of limited choice, fast/easy prep., high turnover + lower margins
Ye Olde World "Slow Food"-style premium-product with high-margins and spectacular range.

The Internet has changed everything. Let it change your business too.

Friday, March 23, 2007

New Blogger Interface

Previously, wrote notes on the Blogger Interface. Was it ATOM? (Probably)

These are not meant to be instructions! They are notes on the process of using the API manually

New API doco:

"To get a feed of a blog's entries, you send the following HTTP request to Blogger" [Everything in XML!]
curl -o blog.1

"After you send the GET request, Blogger may return a redirect, depending on various factors. If so, send another GET request to the redirect URL." Curl takes care of this...

Posting: Client Login [URL encoding needs to be done in the POSTS]

Then authenticate the user. To do that, send a POST request to the following URL:


POST /accounts/ClientLogin HTTP/1.0
Content-type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded

[CAPTCHA example]
POST /accounts/ClientLogin HTTP/1.0
Content-type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded


logintoken(optional) Token representing the specific CAPTCHA challenge. Google supplies this token and the CAPTCHA image URL in a login failed response with the error code "CaptchaRequired".
logincaptcha(optional) String entered by the user as an answer to a CAPTCHA challenge.

curl's POST doesn't work... This URL has a working example for calendar using wget...

$ wget --no-check-certificate -O blog.2 --post-data ''
$ grep Auth blog.2

To use the 'Auth' string:
wget -q -O- --header='Authorization: GoogleLogin auth=XXX' http://...

And this piece from the instructions is cracker-jack! You gotta go look at the
Now send the POST request to the appropriate Blogger URL:
Note: This URL is the same as the URL in the <link rel=""> tag that appears in the <head> section of the human-readable version of the blog.

It also appears in the XML downloaded:

And this is how you push it in :-)
In the body of the new POST request, place the Atom element you created above, using the application/atom+xml content type.

Final command:
a=$(grep Auth blog.2)
wget -q -O- --header="Authorization: GoogleLogin $a" --header 'content-type: application/atom+xml' --post-file=blog-entry.xml

List all Blogs owned by user

Save XML description of all users blogs & tags into file 'blog.4'
wget -q -Oblog.4 --header="Authorization: GoogleLogin $a"

neat. Something worked as advertised...

Query a Blog

Save XML of all blog entries made in March, 2007 (in blog.5)
wget -O blog.5 ''

Cute quote from doco (I wonder where to find *that* list?):
To query using other standard GData query parameters, just change the URL to use other parameters. (Note that Blogger doesn't support GData category queries or full-text search queries.)

Which might be here:

Deletes and Update/Edits

Too hard... Not clear. no examples of fully generated URI's. Tried to generate a URI for an item/article - failed.

here's the suggestions. untested...

Note the edit URI's of the events you'd like to delete:
wget ... | tidy -xml -wrap 999 | grep edit

Delete the event by using its edit URI; this is a two step process, because wget does not redirect correctly:

wget -nv -O- --header='Authorization: GoogleLogin auth=XXX' --header='X-HTTP-Method-Override: DELETE' --post-data='' 'URI'

Watch the output and note the redirect URI with gsessionid attached, then execute:

wget -nv -O- --header='Authorization: GoogleLogin auth=XXX' --header='X-HTTP-Method-Override: DELETE' --post-data='' 'URI?gsessionid=YYY'

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Demonacracy - Putting the Demons back into Democracy

In this posting on "Why all Monopolies become Corrupt", I was flying without a parachute - using a browser that didn't support Google's spell-checker.

So I banged it out and published - only to get pinged by a friend on this great typo: "Demoncracy".

I love the term - it does represent what many small-l liberals of both Left and Right think is happening these days with "machine men" politics feed by Big Money Political Parties.

In Australia, we are governed by under the 5% view. With ~10M voters, there are fewer members of the main political parties than your average good sports club. [Described with a little more colour in the last few years in Adelaide, South Australia.]

There are fewer than 500,000 - and probably under 100,000 - members of the main political parties.
The Parties represent themselves and the views of their members, the rest of us have the option of "take the full package - you'll love it" or not... It's often Hobson's Choice - neither is remotely close to what you might want if you had the choice. And professional politicians (an oxymoron?) consistently rank as more disliked/untrusted than any other profession.
Exactly the opposite applies to indepentents elected to Federal Parliment - they are seen are highly principled and ethical.

Australians being "very laid back" (what used to be called apathetic) just go along with this state of affairs. We're not lotus eaters nor univolved and uncaring - just wear the wrong clothes to a weekend football match!

We're mostly 'comfortable' and just getting on with our lives - Politics is often seen as an a three-yearly annonyance. A view I'm sure the people of Eastern Europe that recently put their lives on the line to have a Democracy don't share... We have bills to pay and places to go - and active lives to lead. Politics can take care of itself - it has done so all this time!

Our current Political Party Machine system is a direct result of the statistical work of George Horace Gallup in the 1930's that led to his correct prediction, against all other pundits, of the 1936 US Presidential election by Franklin Roosevelt.

For fascinating, first hand accounts of this, see Alistair Cookes' "Letter from America" of Monday, 7 October, 2002 - What the American people want and Monday, 17 July, 2000- Now read on...

The system of Polls driving elections, speeches and policy results in very little difference between parties. It looks like "Tweedle Dee and Dumber".

All Monoplies tend to become corrupt

This is not about I.T., but we have to work in the real world :-) It does affect us and our work.

That's a Big Statement: ALL Monoplies tend to become corrupt.
The codasyl is, given enought time.

The reasoning/explantion is very simpe - comes from feedback theory.
For any effective control system you need a controller, input and output sensors and two sets of actuators. These form a feedback system that attempts to maintain the system at a 'set-point'. There's the whole open/closed loop control thing. 'Open' means you do no control. 'Closed' systems are what I'm considering here.

The input and output sensors are needed to feed the model embedded in the controller.
- the output is the state you want near the 'set-point'. You have to know if you are on-target or not.
- input levels/rates/values are needed to drive the model the controller embodies.

The actuators adjust the controllable input - one set to increase, another to set decrease. There may be some inputs to the process that you can't control. Such environmental inputs - like air or water. You can't control their pressure, temperature, contaminants, ...

The key here is that you need two or more counter-opposing forces. If you have only one, then you can only hold a system where it is (if it's very stable) or drive it in one direction. The limiting case is the system fails or "max's out" - it goes to a maximum value and stays there. The stuck throttle problem - one that no driver wants to encounter.

Applying Control System Theory to Organisations

Management is supposed to be the internal control sytem for organisations. But who keeps them honest? Who checks the output/operations of any organisation?

The feedback system here is external to the organisation:
How do the behaviour and attitudes/thinking of organisations get held to acceptable values?

There has to be external one or more 'counter-vailing' forces that can enforce change - as well as transparent or obvious 'outputs' of the organisation.

Demoncratic Governments enshrine these principles with the "Separation of Powers". There are at least 3 opposing forces: the Parliment, the Executive and the Judicary. Within the Parliment, there are often two 'houses' - offering the possiblility of opposing forces. Within the process of Government, there are many 'checks and balances' - various bodies, such as the Audit Office, Way and Means committee and Productivity Commission, that can both observe the outputs of agencies and enforce changes.

Outside of both public and private sectors is the Media. Their role, beside pedalling 'shock and awe', is to make the 'outputs' of organisations transparent and visible/open. Democracies then rely on the sensitivity of politicians to 'the ballot box' to enforce change - eventually. Taking away/limiting 'free speech' by fiat or threat (of police/military action) or removing the effectiveness elections removes any consequences - short of armed rebellion/uprising.

Publicly held companies are required to report their financial results - and woe betide any executive that tries to lie about these. This provides some level of 'transparent outcomes' with regulatory control. The counter-vailing forces are the executives versus the regulators.

In a market with many suppliers, customers vote with their feet - they dump suppliers who's cost, quality or service are poor.
The counter-vailing forces are the supplier management versus the customer choice. The customer is free to withdraw from or got to a particular supplier. The management can manipulate the internals of the company to maximise performance against their goals in the context of market preferences and constraints.

In a business monopoly, customers are not free to choose another supplier. The external feedback system, the lose customers actuator, is removed. A commercial monopoly can do what it likes with impunity - until some natural limiter operates or another effect, such as government intervention, occurs.

But there are very large Public Sector monopolies as well:
- Police
- Military
- (public) Health
- (public) Education, primary, secondary, tertiary
- Local Councils
- 'Secret Squirrel' agencies - like Military Intelligence and other "National Interest Classified" organisations.
- Government bureaucrasies

These organisations are notionally audited ('opposed') by Ombudsmen and Auditors.

But the one essential management output is never reviewed independently - managerial decisions.

All these organisations tend to become overtly corrupt - money or power & influence - or covertly - lassitude, perverse behaviours, institutionalised bullying, harrasment and discrimination, structural inefficiences and ineffectiveness, and completely ignoring or disrepecting those whose service they are in (their ultimate employers) - the public.

For secret organisations, the lack of transparent outputs is even worse. The 'independent' reviewers are impossible to find - only people from within the closed community (they are 'cleared') are allowed to view the evidence and ask questions. A free-floating monoculture very different from the enclosing Society and the organisations commission, can and will develop.


Monopolies are bad.
Unrestrainted monopolies are worse - eventually becoming a Law unto Themselves - with either over or covert corruption.
Private Sector monopolies are the worst. There are no effective mechanisims to control them.

Effective, frequent independent external reviews of both managerial decisions and 'Corporate Culture' [the behaviour, values, morals and ethics shown, not espoused] are essential to prevent 'free floating monocultures'.

Ideally, three counter-vailing forces are needed, in case any one becomes too strong or one of the 'checkers' becomes too weak.

Then you are left with the problem of: "Who watches the Watchers?"
Us, via the media, transparent/open government and 'free speech'.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Memory Tags and JVM's

Came up with this talking to my mate Stanley over a coffee...

Why do Java Virtual Machines have a hard time finding/locating pointers? They need to do this as a precursor to doing a "Garbage Collection". At CMGA conference I talked to an admin from a bank (St George?) who said SUN talked about these "Stop The World" events. With more memory, they take longer - e.g. 2-5 seconds of clock time. And nothing can happen in the JVM while garbage collection is going on... The events may not be able to be scheduled, and their occurrence will be unpredictable.

One of the good points is that more CPU's get the job done faster.
Each n-byte block of memory is read to see if it couldbe a pointer, i.e. has the value in the range of the heap addresses. Then that block has to be examined to see if it's an object, and does it contain pointers, and so on. They are looking for objects that are no longer used and can be returned to the 'free pool'... It sounds a very hard way to get things done.

The Burroughs B5000 used Memory Tagsand descriptorsto describe to the hardware the contents/use of each 'word'. Descriptors allowed real Virtual Memory around a decade ahead of IBM 360/370.

And memory 'tags' eliminated a whole class of problems. The 'Mark Stack' tag prevented stack manipulation [negative stack offsets weren't allowed either] and accidental corruptions. A whole class of security problem and coding faults were avoided.

So my question: JVM's are in complete control of their environment. They know when an object is created. Why don't they 'tag' each object and pointers to objects? This makes the garbage problem simple. You know the location of all objects and pointers. I guess it could be extended to a 'reference count', but I don't know enough about implementing these things...

Won't it take memory space?
yes - this is a space/time tradeoff.

Because we don't have hardware memory tags, then we have to do it for ourselves...
Like the 'free block list' in some file systems, a bit-map of each "object sized" memory region need be kept. I'm thinking that objects can't be less than 64-bits and they'd be allocated on those boundaries.

And the same for pointers - when an object pointer is allocated/created, set the tag for it.

No idea if this has already been tried... Just seems like A Good Idea :-)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Test Scan

This is a page scanned from my notebook today.
The image should be on the left. The text on the right. (default)

I orginally uploaded the image to another blog and have copied the HTML here.

They are stored on PIXCA I think.
Have seen mention of 300Mb total.

Some limits on size of individual image to upload. in the 50Kb or Mb range.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Finally - a working expandable summary, but not happy

Not happy with blogspot "help" :-(

In a previous post I wrote of my frustrating experience wasting many hours of my time following (precisely) the instructions on blogspot "help"....

Last night I wasted another 4-5 hours and got something working.

It's really simple - blogspot just can't do it. And there's a post on the Blogger forums that says this...
The help instructions are confusing - they run together instructions for two different types of templates (old and 'layout'), without letting you know how to tell which you've got, nor that you have to 'expand widgets' and with an error in the so called working code... And when you finally get to the end of their example so it parses - it can't be made to work. There is a bug that's been reported to them and they're not fixing...

The really annonying part of the help page - that you cannot send them a message! I'd like to wring their necks... They ask "was this helpful" ? Doesn't matter how ofter you hit 'No', you've got no way to tell 'em what's going on.

Finally found a Blogger forum post that pointed to 'hackoshpere' - in amongst a whole slew of people having exactly the same problems as myself over 6-9 months.

What I don't like about the solution:
It relies on a javascript file pulled of someone elses site. It's a big security hole...

And Google with all their resources, could easily fix this.
I wonder what their business objectives are with 'blogspot'??

NOTE: These URL's are not links. You have to copy and paste them to use them.
That's so you know where they go :-)


Hackosphere notes:

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

RTFM!! or Read Blogger Help :-(

There's a compatibility matrix in Blogger Help for browsers...

Unfortunately, 'Safari', doesn't do a bunch of useful stuff. Like support the wysiwyg editor.

Firefox does. Fired up the version I had (1.5.6?), loaded the update (2.0.1).
Installed and running... With the wysiwyg editor :-)

Have to check whether the auto-install replaces the '.app' in Applications.

Adding summary/full article to a blogspot

Saw this on a blogspot blog and thought I should do it as well :-)

Looked up Blogger Help - and there seemed to be two mechanisims.
Then there is the 'Classic' vs. 'widget' (? - anyway the _new_ format).

Banged on the format, couldn't find the 'style' tags they talk about.
Couldn't see where to modify the 'post template' they refer to.
Couldn't see where to add the 'span type=fulldisplay' tags either.

Didn't break the CSS :-)

Now, where do I go??

Monday, January 08, 2007

So I bought a Palm...

I've had a PSION for maybe a decade. Started with a Series 3 and upgraded to a Series 5 (B/W).
The '5' uses batteries faster than I'd like. It's got lots of great things standard - including external buttons to use as a voice 'note taker', standard "CF" (Compact Flash) cards, sound (play & record), infrared and a touch screen. For most people the price (~A$1,000) was *not* right.

As a 'consultant' for a company, I ran my life from the Psion. It allowed me to separate my work and personal lives, capture critical information (like billing times, tasks, notes) and was pretty much small enough to go with me everywhere. I never did it working with my Nokia 7110. Shoulda, but the replacement handset had old firmware and I baulked at shelling out ~A$100 for the upgrade. I'd rigged up a battery pack for an old land-line modem (Maestro 28.8kbps) and with a few adaptors, actually *did* check my e-mail once or twice when travelling...

My data was well organised and I knew where things were. But I'd stopped using the '5' - it churns 'AA' batteries compared to the '3'
Psion provides an actual operating system - so you have multiple programs (and different instances of them) open at the one time - and you can just put the thing to sleep. I have a standard set of programs open - it's quick to zip around and do regular things. On the '3' I pretty much wore the writing off the 'command' key used for most keyboard shortcuts.

And you need MS-Windows to run the Nokia phone suite *or* the Psion.
Having a serial interface, it's possible to backup & upload/download 'stuff' to the Psion - *iff* you have a serial or IR interface on your box.

This year I moved my working desktop to Mac OS/X (a mac-mini, so I can share KBD/Screen with other computers). I bought an IR-USB interface. Works like a charm on Windows :-) Mac doesn't seem to understand serial over USB. Google-ing didn't show an answer :-(

Early 2006 I started some projects at home, including formal study at the ANU (university). After realising that I don't have the personality/character structure to be an accountant, I found I missed *two* important deadlines. My organisation/processes failed me...

Never happened with the Psion - time to get a new PDA. Rechargable, small & light, 802.11.
Couldn't get another Psion, no longer produced. But the code lives on in Symbian.

Looked at PDA-phones - permium pricing, compromise user interface and poor keyboard.

Wasn't interested in a Windows-CE device. Just don't trust MSFT code to absolutely not let me down.

So it was a Palm...

Generally happy with it - but.

Doesn't provide a real O/S, but 'fast start' applications - and just *one* is running at a time.
The 802.11 is sorta integrated into the applicaitons, but not uniformly.
Bluetook 'works' with the Mac - but is so much slower (10 or more times) than USB, it's painful.

Bought a fold-out keyboard - bit bulky & uses batteries. Billed as 'universal wireless keyboard' - sorta. It's infrared, and you need to download the driver to the Palm, and if your mobile phone has no driver, tough... Have used it to sit and write notes/document. Not entirely a dud :-) Not nearly as effective as the Psion, but close enough.

All the address lists and calendar docs from the Psion - tried to download them...
Mixed success. The Psion program exports in CSV format. It's seen by the Palm Desktop on Mac as Excel files - and the Palm itself says they are Excel, but barfs when opening one. From memory, it requires a hard-reset to recover.

Too many times for my liking, I've found myself being forced to do hard resets...

'palmsource' (?) have announced a Linux for Palms - and it seems to be opensource. No idea on how to convert my T|X :-(
My major concern is giving up the 'graffiti' touch screen input. And 'bricking' it.