Sunday, April 29, 2007

Did a tanker truck really explode in Oakland?

The headline this morning seemed quite dramatic and shocking: "Tanker Explosion Causes East Bay Freeway Collapse." But wait, did a gasoline fuel tanker truck really "explode"? Actually, no.

Yes, there was an accident. Yes, there was a big fire. Yes, the heat of the fire was so intense that it caused a portion of the freeway interchange in the East Bay Area of California to collapse. But, in fact, there was no "explosion."

Even the lead paragraph of that article backs off from the graphic implication of the overly-lurid headline:

A freeway interchange that funnels traffic off the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed onto another highway ramp early Sunday after a gasoline tanker truck overturned and caught fire, authorities said.

Why would they feel that it is "okay" to call this an "explosion" when it was simply an intense fire?

And just to give you an idea of how not an explosion this incident was:

Although heat from the fire was intense enough to weaken the freeway and cause the collapse, the truck's driver walked away from the scene and called a taxi, which took him to a nearby hospital with second-degree burns, Officer Trent Cross of the California Highway Patrol said.

I'm not sure which is more disgusting, when a blogger resorts to such misleading language:

California Tanker Explosion

By Jennifer McMahon
Staff Writer-ToTheCenter.Com

Sunday morning a truck explosion rocked a bridge overpass in Oakland, California. The massive explosion caused much of the bridge to collapse onto the pavement below. A tanker truck carrying 8,600 gallons of
gasoline exploded, triggering the fire and then exploded causing the bridge to burn so hot that it melted.

Or when mainstream media does the same:

Section of Bay Area freeway collapses after truck explosion

That last story suggests that maybe overly-excited law enforcement officers may have "sparked" the exaggeration.

To be sure, not all of the media restored to exaggeration. Here's what Reuters had to say:

Fiery crash collapses vital California highway

By Kimberly White

EMERYVILLE, California (Reuters) - A stretch of vital highway for San Francisco Bay area commuters collapsed on Sunday after a fuel truck crashed and ignited dramatic flames more than 200 feet high, officials said.

Reuters at least knows how to appropriately use dramatic language without exaggerating.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Experiment with Twitter

I finally went ahead and signed up for Twitter. I have no intention of actually wasting my time with it, but I at least wanted to be able to say "Been there, done that." It never hurts to get at least some experience with new technologies. So, now it is an option that is available to me.

If for some bizarre reason you want to be a "friend" or "follower", my user name is JackKrupansky.

One thing you will probably never ever see be post on Twitter: "I'm bored." I am so constantly running around that catching my breath is the closest I ever come to boredom.

-- Jack Krupansky

I'm so optimistic that...

I've finally gotten around to feeling that I have enough spare time to finally dig into reading the responses to John Brockman's Edge question for 2007: What are you optimistic about? I initially figured that I would spend maybe ten to twenty hours reading the material and would be too focused to have time to blog about it. That may still turn out to be the case, but the very first phrase of the first sentence of the first paragraph of the first response was simply too... too... "out there" to not blog about it. That first response is by Professor Daniel Dennett, reknowned atheist who of course rants again about religion in his response entitled "The Evaporation of the Powerful Mystique of Religion", who opens his response with the words "I'm so optimistic that I expect..." The words that follow are not as relevant, since the issue is the nature of optimism itself.

Is optimism really on a sliding scale spectrum or is it a binary, all or nothing state of mind?

My contention is that pessimism and skepticism are on a sliding scale spectrum, but that optimism by its very nature is the complete absence of pessimism and skepticism, or the willingness to sent aside and look beyond all concerns and issues, to try to see what is beyond it all, to sense a vision of where you can go, regardless of what obstacles may lie along the way. Optimism is a focus on the end of the journey, not the journey itself.

Now, whether the Edge respondents share my interpretation of optimism remains to be seen, but I'll read the Edge Question responses from the perspective of my model of optimism.

I would suggest that in the context of optimism, "so" is redundant, kind of like saying that you are 110% optimistic. As a matter of sensible style, and to avoid being characterized as more enamored of rhetoric than meaning, I would suggest that the phrase "I'm so optimistic that I expect..." be replaced with "As an optimistic, I expect..."

The whole point of this post is really about the role of blogging and reading, or about blogging as a medium for criticism of written material. Can one truly read without criticizing? Can one criticize without blogging about it? Is blogging an effective aid to understanding what we read?

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Is it a PC or a personal computer?

In the old days PC was simply an acronym for personal computer. Then came along the IBM PC, and then the clones of the IBM PC. Overnight, PC became synonymous with IBM PC-compatible.

Now that even Mac from Apple is Intel-based, we may be on the verge of a landscape where the hardware distinction between PC and non-PC becomes moot. If I have a notebook computer sitting next to a Mac notebook computer that is running Windows, it seems rather silly and irrelevant to say that one of them is not a "PC."

The unbiquitous "I'm a PC. I'm a Mac." ads from Apple may finally institionalize the Mac vs. PC definition for PC, but I'm not so sure.

For the most part, I try to use the full term personal computer when referring to simply any box regardless of whether it is a "PC" or a "Mac", but I keep running across situations where I would like to simply refer to PC as a shorthand for a non-specific personal computer, such as a web client where the hardware and operating system are simply irrelevant.

Maybe the thing that really bothers me is that PC and Mac are simply not comparable from a categorical perspecitive. "Mac" is a brand name and a registered trademark. "PC" is simply a type of computer (compatible with the IBM PC architecture), a generic term, distinct from whatever brand a particular computer hapens to be.

-- Jack Krupansky

Should the content of a blog post title be repeated in the body of the post?

One blogging style issue that I personally struggle with is whether to repeat the content of the post title in the body of the post. Frequently it is redundant and is extra typing, but my concern is that the body of a blog post should read as a transcription of a conversation that can stand by itself.

I don't mean literally including the title text, but the essential meaning and essential content.

Some day I would expect that automated tools could do textual analysis of the post body, so having the content of the title not be present in the structured natural language of the post body might skew the analysis.

An alternative is to consider a blog post title as if it were the first sentence of the post.

What I am starting to see is a lot of sloppiness and careless wordsmithing of blog posts.

Contriving a post title seems to be an art, which probably means that the average blogger either can't or won't bother. Recrafting the post title in the lead paragraph is then simple adding insult to injury.

-- Jack Krupansky

Moderated comments still suck

Last weekend I wrote about how a comment I made on a mainstream media blog was not posted promptly, and in fact had not yet been posted even two days later. Finally, this past Thursday I received an email from the blogger informing me that my moderated comment was finally posted, six days later.

I know, MSM bloggers have more important things to do, but this delay seemed totally out of character with the "in the moment" character of the Blogosphere.

I would have thought that MSM offices would make arrangements so that comments could be moderated promptly (within an hour or so) by clerical staff if the blogger is not able to do so themselves. The blogger might decide to re-moderate the comment differently later, but at least the "flow" of  "The Conversation" would not be degraded.

Here's the blog post with my comment.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Moderated comments suck

I've stayed out of the recent Blogosphere mini-meltdown scandal over uncivil blog comments. To me, it seemed more like a family quarrel among siblings rather than a matter of global importance. A key fact that seems to be overlooked: most of the squablling was among A-listers. So, being a confirmed Z-lister, the matter is really of no concern to me. What is a concern of mine is that if for some reason I choose to comment on a high-profile blog, my comments, no matter how innocuous, must be "moderated" before being displayed. How annoying. In fact, it really sucks.

In truth, I currently do very little commenting on the blogs of others. In the early stages of my blogging "career" I did a lot of commenting, primarily simply to draw some attention to my own blogs. But now, I'd rather that people read my blogs because they found them via a web search or a feed search or otherwise found some reason to come read me.

When I do see something worth commenting on, my preference is to write my own blog post in response and simply link to the post I am commenting on. I think this is really the way to go. This is the good way to do conversations in the Blogosphere.

That said, I still welcome comments on my own blog posts. I do no moderating and even permit anaonymous comments, provided that you can pass the much-maligned and reviled Google/Blogger "eye test."

As far as why I felt the need write a post that comment moderation sucks, I did see a blog post I wanted to comment on last Friday. I intended to eventually turn that comment into my own post, but figured I could post the comment and then copy the comment to my own blog this weekend. So, I made the comment, was informed that it would be moderated, which I expected, but then I was surprised when I didn't see my comment a few hours later. Then, just a few minutes ago (more than two days after the original comment) I unexpectedly got an OOF email bounce AutoReply message from the blogger explaining that she would be OOF through Tuesday. How annoying. This is why moderation really sucks.

The annoying thing to me is that I considered this possibility and almost emailed the text of the comment to myself, but decided to take my chances with the moderation process. My mistake, compounded with a flawed process. Sigh.

I could try to recreate my comment, but I was so careful and crafted it in such an articulate manner, that it just wouldn't feel right to try to recreate it unless it really is lost.

Anyway, that taught me a lesson, and I will resolve to compose future comments offline and email them to myself before actually posting them. Even better, I'll strive to post my comments on my own blog and link to the original post so that I don't have to suffer through this vile process called "comment moderation."

Not that Google/Blogger's "eye test" is that much less humiliating and insulting.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Edge question for 2007: What are you optimistic about?

I've been so busy and distracted these past few months that I completed forgot to dig into John Brockman's Edge question for 2007: What are you optimistic about?

Edge puts out a new question at the beginning of every year. This one came out on January 1, 2007.

This year there were 160 responses from a wide range of scientists, intellectuals, and other thought leaders.

I've only skimmed a few of the responses and have yet to sit down and do some serious reading of them.

Here's the short response from computer scientist David Gelernter:

The Future of Software

I am optimistic about the future of software, because more and more people are coming out of the closet every month — admitting in public that they hate their computers.

Within the last month I've heard three people shouting (or muttering) curses at their machines. One was a bona fide software virtuoso! These particular three were ticked off about (1) an airline website that was so badly designed it was useless, (2) a commercial web-site-building tool (bought for real money) that made it nearly impossible to build simple structures and (3) a home PC that, despite reasonably sophisticated software counter-measures, was so junked-up with viruses that starting a word processor took five minutes.

The file systems and desktop and spreadsheets, the word processors and mailers and database programs we rely on are vintage 1984 or older. They're as obsolete as a 1984 PC. When I first described the "empty computer" model in the early '90s, people thought I was crazy. Many still do—but fewer each year (and I guess that's progress). There was a larger jump in admitted cases of computer- and software-hatred in '06 than in any previous year I remember.

Technologists who blandly assume that hardware will (somehow) keep getting better while software stays frozen in time are looking wronger every month. In the empty-computer world of the near future, your information assets have all been bundled-up, encrypted and launched into geosynchronous orbit in the Cybersphere; computers are interchangeable devices for tuning in information. (If computers are so cheap, why does everyone need to carry one around with him? We don't make you carry a desk and chairs around with you; we can afford to provide chairs and flat surfaces wherever you need them.)

In the empty computer world it will take five minutes to upgrade to a new machine (throw the old one out, plug the new one in—your information stays in orbit where it's always been); comfortable large-screen public computers will be available all over the place. And instead of expanding into a higher-and-higher-entropy mess, the Web will implode into a "blue hole": a single high-energy information beam that holds all the world's digital assets.

Gelernter's Law: the computer industry revolutionizes itself at least once a decade. We're nearly due for the next revolution.

Actually, now that I read what he wrote, he seems to be describing something similar to what I wrote up as Distributed Virtual Personal Data Storage (DVPDS). I'm certainly optimistic about this concept, but I don't expect it any time soon. Besides, the computer won't actually look or feel "empty" to the user. It's just that the contents can be reproduced at will for little cost.

In any case, there is plenty of good reading and fodder for blogging in the responses to the Edge question.

-- Jack Krupansky

What is the best computer for blogging?

So much of what I do with computers in my personal life (as opposed to my work life at The Evil Empire) is simple text, namely email and basic blogging, plus basic web browsing. So, the question is what type of personal computer would be "best" for these activities. I'm not into podcasting, digital photography, video editing, and that whole nine yards, but simply need a basic information appliance.

Traditionally, I have been content with a mid-range notebook computer, partly due to doing a fair amount of software development tasks as well as basic information appliance tasks, but now that I have a full-time job with dedicated systems for that work, my own personal machine can be dedicated to email, blogging, and web browsing. I do a very modest amount of web page editing as well, but very little in the way of graphics.

I'm thinking that maybe I can pull back and start going with a low-end notebook computer in the $600 range, as opposed to a mid-range notebook computer in the $1,200 to $1,500 range. In truth, some of these basic low-end machines are just as capable as what I am used to.

Since I actually don't even need all the power of my current machine, that means that it will probably be good enough for my needs for another year or two, in which case the question of a new machine is moot for at least the next year.

Nonetheless, the original question remains: What kind of notebook PC is ideal for blogging?

-- Jack Krupansky

Monday, April 09, 2007

What is Web 3.0?

I myself have on occasion used the term Web 3.0 to refer to social networking capabilities well beyond the usual Web 2.0 capabilities such as blogs, podcasts, AJAX programming, Flickr, etc., but the meaning is still up for grabs.

Some people are simply using it as a "version 2" of Web 2.0, or a Web 2.0 that really works and is user-friendly for normal people.

Some people are using Web 3.0 to refer to a much stronger sense of community than we get with a loose network of blogs.

Some people use Web 2.0 to refer to hard-core Semantic Web structures, possibly including artificial intelligence (AI).

Some refer to virtual worlds such as SecondLife.

Some traditionalists use Web 1.0 to refer to pre-ecommerce web sites, Web 2.0 to refer to ecommerce web sites (e.g., Amazon), and Web 3.0 to refer to a little bit more than what most people call Web 2.0 (more intensive collaboration.)

There is actually a Wikipedia article on Web 3.0.

There are a number of capabilities that I have been thinking about for future incarnations of the Web (e.g., a true Knowledge Web), but I honestly am not sure which subset makes sense for the near term Web 3.0.

I do recognize that I should consider the definition more carefully.

Maybe the right thing to do is to consider what might be part of Web 4.0 and use that boundary to define what is doable in the nearer term and call that Web 3.0.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Pricing an Apple notebook computer versus Toshiba, Dell, and Lenovo

Most people know instinctively that an Apple notebook computer is going to be more expensive than a Windows-based notebook PC, but occasionally I hear anecdotes about some Mac configuration being less than Dell or Sony, so this morning I decided to do a price comparison.

Comparing Mac and PC prices is much easier now that Apple is using Intel x86 chips. Previously, it was pure guesswork to try to figure out how to compare x86 and PowerPC.

For the sake of this experiment, I presume that I would be upgrading from my own mid-range Toshiba notebook computer. I don't have the exact specs, but I think it is around 1.6 GHz, 512 MB, 100 GB disk, and 14-inch wide, bright screen.

I visited the Apple online store and see that the MacBook is the only machine in my price range (under $1,500). The MacBook Pro looks interesting, but starting at $1,999 is way too steep for me. I'm a mid-range kind of guy, not an unlimited budget, high-end type.

Unfortunately, I immediately run into a comparison problem: screen size. I like my current 14-inch, but that is no longer offered. Toshiba shifted to 15-inch, and Apple focused the MacBook on 13-inch. Apple also offers the MacBook Pro at 15 and 17-inches. The Pro does offer the higher resolution of 1440 x 900, which I would prefer, but the Toshiba doesn't offer that option for the budget-conscious Satellite.

Personally, 13-inches is too small a screen for my eyes, but I might be willing to tolerate it in exchange for the smaller form factor.

I priced the Toshiba with the $40 extra option for TruBrite.

I priced the Toshiba with Windows Vista Ultimate, which added $150 over Vista Home Basic. I could save $130 by going with Vista Home Premium, but Ultimate has some of the nice UI features that make it more "Mac-like."

My current machine has a 100 GB drive, so upgrading to 120 GB is the sensible thing to do.

I'll use 2.00 GHz as the baseline processor. I do note that the MacBook Pro has a modestly faster 2.16 GHz chip.

I'll use 1 GB as the baseline memory.

The PC prices are all after "rebates."

So, here are the comparisons for a mid-range notebook computer better than my current machine.

So, assuming I went with Vista Ultimate, I would save $191 over the MacBook.

If I went with Vista Home Premium, I would save $287 over the MacBook.

If I were willing to drop back to an 80 GB drive, which is feasible since I don't do any video today, here is the comparison:

So, even with Vista Ultimate, I would save $51 over the MacBook.

With Vista Home Premium, the savings would be $147 over the MacBook.

I also quickly checked out Lenovo and Dell:

In summary, the Toshiba at $1,308, the Lenovo at $1,249 (without Vista Ultimate), or the Dell at $1,293 all seem quite attractively priced compared to the MacBook with the small screen at $1,499 or the MacBook Pro at $1,999.

Personally, I'd probably stick with Toshiba since reliability is a concern and I have had no significant problems with my three Toshibas over the past ten years.

I'm sure that Apple and its supporters honestly believe that the Mac is somehow "worth" the price premium, but the idea that the Mac is somehow price-competitive in the mid-range simply remains untrue, at least for the class of machine that interests me.

-- Jack Krupansky