The Forces of Nature – “Paradise and Hell”.

As the casualties continue to mount after the great Indian Ocean tsunami, with entire families and villages swept away, I found the words of Lars Collmar, a Lutheran pastor at Stockholm’s Adolf Fredriks Church on Wednesday night instructive. “Slowly it is coming to us that we have been hit by a tremendous catastrophe. We live in a world which is at the same time paradise and hell.”

And nature, which gives us so much, also shows us how easily things can be taken away. I wish everyone saddened by this tragedy peace of mind, comfort and closure in the coming year.

I Think I Forgot to Duck

This little item just in from Space Daily. Seems a little 5 meter wide asteroid called 2004 YD5 zoomed “just under the orbits of geostationary satellites, which at 22,300 miles (36,000 kilometers) altitude are the highest manmade objects circling Earth” and no one noticed until after it had passed by. Turns out it approached sunward (right in our blind spot), flew over Antarctica, and continued merrily on its way. Astronomers spotted it after it had passed us by.

Did anyone remember to duck?

What’s All This Stuff About Linux?

Well, after all those rabid attacks on Ken Brown of the Alexis d’Toqueville Society by Linux and free software fanatics over his papers (see Fire in the Hole), I just had to meet him in person. So here I was today at Bucks in Woodside, chatting up the future of open source, , and the next wave of Internet video over french onion soup and burgers.

I must say, Ken is smart, charming and articulate – and very saavy politically. In fact, we spent more time talking about how Internet video is going to change the landscape of education. Ken has some great ideas on bringing in “innovators” to encourage young people to study math and science with monthly virtual forums in video. This is really where things must move according to the Council on Competitiveness, if we are to emphasize regionalism / diversity / education using the Internet.

There has been a lot of concern voiced about our declining engineering and science enrollment (see Momma, Don’t Let Your Kids Grow Up to Be Programmers and Tech Outsourcing and the Dwindling CS Major). But after teaching at Stanford Tech Trek (see Girls Just Want to Have Astro Fun), I know the young people are there. We just need the talent and the will right here in our own backyard to do it.

“Just Dial, Point, Shoot, Oh Drat, I’ve Got a Message”

There is this truly hilarious article on the BBC about sending pics and flics on those fancy cellphones. Any product manager should take notes…

Some precious outtakes:
“More than 167 million handsets were sold globally between July and September 2004, a period that, according to Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi is “seldom strong”. ..In fact, the numbers of people not taking and sending pictures, audio and video is growing.”
– The more they sell, the fewer are used. Since cellphone services underwrite the gadget, looks like they’re losing money, but making it up in volume.

Ah, Those Homebrew Computer Days

Alan Saracevic wrote an amusing piece about Mac Addicts and their antics. I laughed at their stories, but really isn’t it just a continuation of their roots? My husband and business partner of long-standing William Jolitz was a Homebrew Computer Club member in the 1970’s, and remembers how the “two Steve’s” looked then – Steve Wozniak was a “pocketprotector jeans wearing hippie engineer sweating bullets taking too much time off from an HP tech position”. Steve Jobs would have “his back against the wall with one knee cocked sizing up the marks watching Woz work the computer with a cheapo little TV plugged in”. Is it any wonder the crowd they attract nowadays?

Codecs, Codecs, Everywhere, and Nary a Lip to Synch…

Ever wonder what kind of codec the pros use when working with video. Well, first of all, they work with raw uncompressed video for all their production needs. Only when they’re finished do they convert, compress, and otherwise create the format required (and only then does it matter). So actually, the first thing a video pro does not think about is the codec. She thinks “what do I have to do to create a professional-looking video”. Codecs and formats are technical specifications for viewing using specific tools. They’re not the only thing or even the most important thing for an enjoyable viewing experience.

So what if a pro has to go back and fix up a problem, like a synch error in a sound effect? Well, if she needs to go back, she’ll go back to the raw video she’s carefully saved in state, and do her work rapidly and well.

But what if you’re not a video pro? Then this little sad saga of video woe from a Microsoft consultant and Cisco engineer is a good warning of what happens when you don’t do what the pros do…or pay a professional service like MinutePitch by Valux to handle it all for you.

I Guess You Can’t Believe Everything You Read in the NYTimes

The good thing about gadget reviews is that the columnist who writes about them is supposed to be “an ordinary guy” and not a technologist who knows how things should work. But the bad thing about gadget reviews is that the columnist is an ordinary guy and hence will miss the obvious flaws any technologist knows is wrong and would tell folks about. So since Dave Pogue, actually a good columnist for the NYTimes, missed this, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with his digital camera chart this week so you don’t make the mistake of buying a lousy camera…

Fun Friday – accoona matata BSD?

Regarding Saul Hansell’s report on the launch of Accoona, with star power brought to bear by Bill Clinton courtesy of a large undisclosed contribution to his library by the Chinese government yesterday – I am puzzled. If Accoona is a variant on “hakuna”, and is derived from the phrase “hakuna matata” for “no worries”, and if, according to the Swahili English dictionary matata plural of tata means “tangle, mess, difficulty, perplexity”, and hakuna means “there is no, there are no”, does this mean the official 20 year licensed search engine of the Chinese government used to search out even better web pages than google really means “There is no”?

Hmmm. So if I search for “Taiwan independence” will I get back “There is no Taiwan independence”? Subliminal Internet messages, indeed.

Ever notice what’s been going on with OS X? First it was Mac, then it was Mach (yes, that’s why Avi Tevanian moved there from NEXT), and now it’s BSD (of course, we’ve had Mach’s VM system in every version and variant from our first public open source BSD release back in 1992 – a very fine VM system BTW and a favorite of mine). But to actually cut through the Linux hype and mention someone else – Wow! “Then of course there is Darwin, Apple’s version of BSD Unix at the heart of its Mac OS X operating system, which would nicely provide IBM with a non Linux semi-open source alternative…”

Nice to see you say something nice about Berkeley Unix, John. Never thought I’d see the day.

Lean Times for Silicon Valley “Fighting for Every Penny”

Chris O’Brien of the SJMN put together a very good think piece on the state of Silicon Valley’s economy, and it isn’t pretty. “As companies try to cut costs throughout the food chain, the number of tech jobs continues to decline.”

Where are the jobs and the sales? “There are a ton of opportunities overseas” (Christine Heckart, Juniper’s vice president of marketing). And why? Simple – costs. “In the first 20 or so years of the technology age, the vendors held all the cards. But now, the fulcrum of power is not with the vendors or consultants. It’s with the customers” (Gary Beach, publisher of CIO Magazine).

This impacts all levels of our industry – not just IT workers, but sales, marketing, suppliers and manufacturers, and even investors.

While the article is quite gloomy – “They’re all fighting for a pie that isn’t increasing as fast as they’d like to tell their shareholders. Everyone is aggressively trying to cut costs. You’ve got to fight for every penny.” (Martin Reynolds, technology spending analyst for Gartner) – the fundamental assumption by all these experts is that tech needs will remain static, resulting in an ever-shrinking market dominated by a few big players. While that may be true for all those incredibly complicated and expensive enterprise integration companies that CIO’s are obsessing over, these companies are not the tech trend-setters of Silicon Valley and perhaps should rightfully be outsourced. New “takes on tech” are always the beginning, not the end, of the cycle.

Mompreneurs and Tech

OK, most people think that startups are done by 20-something guys who sleep on the floor, talk really fast and don’t use deoderent. Well, that was kind of true 20 years ago, and that is the type of guy who some VCs like to fund thinking “Wow, they’ll work day and night and all I have to do is pay their parking tickets”. But what about those “moms” who are also “entrepreneurs”? Well, according to Marianne Costantinou of the San Francisco Chronicle, a women who has kids and wants to run a business “…has it all, all right: the chaos, the stress, the pressures of being mom and businesswoman all at once, all at the same time.” Yes, she’s a mompreneur!

And I just loved this “Mompreneur” story because it made me laugh. I’ve always been a mom and an entrepreneur. I married into a Silicon Valley startup (my husband got venture funding) back in the early 1980’s. Symmetric Computer Systems. A Unix workstation company with a bunch of Berkeley grads.