Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Werner Vogels in the ACM Queue on Amazon's Tech Platform

Tech: I ran across an interesting interview of Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon, in the ACM Queue called A Conversation with werner Vogels. The interview covers a lot of terrain regarding Amazon's technology platform. One interesting aspect of development at Amazon, is that their developers actually operate their systems and are tightly intertwined with the end customers. Vogels states:

Giving developers operational responsibilities has greatly enhanced the quality of the services, both from a customer and a technology point of view. The traditional model is that you take your software to the wall that separates development and operations, and throw it over and then forget about it. Not at Amazon. You build it, you run it. This brings developers into contact with the day-to-day operation of their software. It also brings them into day-to-day contact with the customer. This customer feedback loop is essential for improving the quality of the service.

The idea is intriguing. The wall Vogel mentions is high, and expensive - layers of project management, ops teams, etc all abstract developers away from truly understanding what needs to be done to enhance the end consumer experience. One problem though: how do you get great developers if you tell them they need to be on a 24/7 pager.

Another interesting angle is the freedom Amazon gives their developers. Here's a snippet:

I think part of the chaotic nature—the emerging nature—of Amazon's platform is that there are many tools available, and we try not to impose too many constraints on our engineers. We provide incentives for some things, such as integration with the monitoring system and other infrastructure tools. But for the rest, we allow teams to function as independently as possible. Developers are like artists; they produce their best work if they have the freedom to do so, but they need good tools. As a result of this principle, we have many support tools that are of a self-help nature. The support environment around the service development should never get in the way of the development itself.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Artist Crave Validation

This a test post. Just want to upload a photo for use elsewhere.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Missing Chunks of the English Language

Politics, Search: Ran across this interesting list of words blocked by Google in China. Not sure why on earth most of these words were selected, but alas, here's a snippet of the terms courtesy of Google Blogoscoped:

abreast, abundant, acceptable, accusation, accuse, accused, adjacent, admirable, admiration, admire, admit, admitted, adorable, adult, affected, agree, airline, aisle, alive, allah, allegation, alligator, allow, ally, almost, alphabetical, ambitious, amir, amongst, amour, analogue, ancestry, ancient, anticipate, appeal, appear, appearance, applaud, appoint, appointed, appointment, appreciate, appropriate, approve, arabic, arithmetic, armored, ...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Al Qaeda Fomenting US / Iranian Tension

Politics: An interesting document was found on one of Zarkawi's computers. Some interesting points to keep in mind as we will innevitably hear more about the US / Iranian tension. Here are some snippets from the Christian Science Monitor in the article Picture of a weakened Iraqi Insurgency:

The Al Qaeda document gives a broad assessment, from apparent ordnance shortages to stoking a clash between the US and Iran. It also includes a lengthy list of potential "delegated wars" that would ease pressure on the resistance.

"The best of these wars to be ignited is the one between the Americans and Iran, because it will have many benefits in favor of the Sunni and the resistance," the document reads. Among those benefits are the "possibility of acquiring new weapons from the Iranian side, either after the fall of Iran or during the battles."


Its six suggested methods that read like a how-to guide for creating friction. They include sending out "threatening messages against American interests" and blaming Iran; "executing operations of kidnapping hostages" and blaming Iran; "advertising" that Iran has chemical and nuclear weapons "and is threatening the West."

Bomb attacks against the West would be blamed on Iran "by planting Iranian Shiite fingerprints and evidence"; declaring ties between Iran and "terrorist groups (as termed by the Americans)"; and "disseminating bogus messages" that Iran has weapons of mass destruction and "there are attempts by the Iranian intelligence to undertake terrorist operations in America."

Review of Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Rang De Basanti

Movie Review: People are often asking me for tips on great Bollywood films that don't have annoying singing and dancing - well Rang De Basanti has some singing and dancing, but its totally intertwined with the plot, and the film is beautiful and engaging. First, a bit of the what's it about. From Wikipedia (yes its strange that films now have Wikipedia write ups), but alas:

Struggling British filmmaker Sue (Alice Patten) comes to India after she reads the diary of her grandfather, who served in the British Force during India's struggle for Independence. She comes to India in order to make a short film about some of the heroes of the Indian Independence Movement, men such as Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad. With the help of her friend Sonia (Soha Ali Khan), she sets out to find actors suitable for the roles. Sonia introduces Sue to some of her male friends [...]

Don't get too disappointed - for me, a typical clue that a Bollywood film is going to be terrible: when they start hauling out the whole east meets west theme (think Bride and Prejudice) - the Brit actually speaks Hindi with a not too annoying accent. The shooting is so well done - I especially loved the really grainy scenes shot in dumpy dhabas - all the friends inhaling food, laughing, and most typically Punjabi - picking on each other. There's also not a single motorcycle muscle flexing scene. Here's some more plot-y stuff from Wikipedia:

Sue convinces them to act in her film. Laxman Pandey (Atul Kulkarni), a political party activist, later joins the group though he is initially disliked by the other boys on account of his Hindutva beliefs and contempt of Aslam, who is a Muslim.

As the young men learn their lines and learn more about the history of the Independence movement, they realize that, unlike the men they are playing, they have lived completely for their own pleasures and have ignored India's pressing problems. They lack the spirit of patriotic self-sacrifice.

Strong film. I give it 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Google's Massive New Data Center

Tech, Search - Ran across an interesting article in the New York Times by John Markoff and Saul Hansell called: Hiding in Plain Site, Google Seeks More Power. Here's an excerpt:

On the banks of the windswept Columbia River, Google is working on a secret weapon in its quest to dominate the next generation of Internet computing. But it is hard to keep a secret when it is a computing center as big as two football fields, with twin cooling plants protruding four stories into the sky.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Review of Pixar's First Flop: Cars

Movie Review: Yesterday I took Nayan to go see Cars, the new Pixar film. I should start by saying I'm a huge Pixar fan - I love all their films, and in general, thought they were just out doing themselves with each new release - especially The Incredibles. But alas, maybe Steve Jobs is too busy w/ IPods, perhaps the clueless executives at Disney have gotten there grubby hands on this thing, or perhaps Pixar's talent has been pilfered by the Shrek-makers gang. In any event, this movie is terrible. The first, and foremost problem, is the whole car thing - I mean, every other Pixar movie had such an original story line, but a movie about an arrogant talking car that makes friends with nice cars w/ a bunch of stale jokes targetting the hinterland is certainly not on the same level as the premise behind The Incredibles, Toy Story, Nemo, etc. In addition, how many annoying cars driving around circles w/ CNN like coverage can a sane person take - even if it is spoofed a bit - its so subtle its not that funny. That reminds me, I have a friend who one day showed up in a 70s white camaro with flames swooshing down the sides, he was sporting long mutton chops, poofy hair, cowboy boots, and wearing a skin tight Cinderella tee shirt (not the childrens story character, but the bad hair 80s band). I shook my head, and said something to the effect, "Me thinks you're getting a little too close to the image you're spoofing." Not sure if that is totally related, but anyway, if you have kids, and have limited animation movie options, feel free to check this out, but don't get excited about it, and be forewarned: its on the level of a blah Disney picture more than past Pixars. I really hope this is temporary. 2 stars out of 4 from a company that traditionally gets 4s from me.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Slate's Transhumanist Communion

Politics, Misc: Slate is running a bizarre article by William Saletan called Among the Transhumanists. Here's a snippet:

On a projection screen at Stanford Law School, an auditorium full of nerds stared at a picture of a guy who'd done himself up like a cat—not with makeup, but with tattoos and surgery. The guy's whiskers were implanted. His nose had been converted to a cat nose. His teeth had been filed into the shape of cat teeth. His head has been flattened, and he was looking for a doctor to implant a tail. And that's just the tip of the freakberg.

Not sure what to make of this article, or for that matter, this collection of nut burgers. A colleague of mine was going on a few days ago about how humans will ultimately achieve immortality by being able to digitize their life experience, modelling their thought processes, and dumping it into a gigantic hard drive in, I guess, a hosted server farm in Renton with, I presume, a good emergency preparedness plan. Anyway, perhaps that conversation's why this article is showing up here on CB. Here's another snippet from Saletan's joyous communion with the transhumanists:

The sessions were ... interesting. A panel on religious views consisted of a transhumanist Zen Buddhist priest, an advocate of human enhancement as divine healing, and a pro-cryonics "Christian immortalist." Another panel addressed "the self-demand amputation community." You've heard of a woman trapped in a man's body? Imagine being a one-legged person trapped in a two-legged body, said the speakers. A third panel brought up the "cyborg dialectic": thesis, antithesis, synthesis, prothesis. I have no idea what a prothesis is. I assumed the cyborg dialectic would culminate in a prosthesis.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Spreadsheet Babble - The Media Loves Google and a Good War

Tech: Sometimes I wonder how a hot topic rises in the zeitgeist. Today, on Google news, and just about everywhere for that matter, is coverage about Google's new spreadsheet. I mean really, a lame spreadsheet that runs on the web is somehow huge news? This is 70s technology executed in a cumbersome and highly sluggish environment. I'll admit, I haven't actually seen it (still waiting for the Beta sign up to go through), and I'm sure the Google folks have executed it better than most if not all, but I know a fair amount about Ajax, browser barf, and the world of large delays and they don't make for a great combo in an app like a spreadsheet. Web email works, amongst other reasons, because people are accessing it from many machines, and the portability really matters. But spreadsheets? Who is standing at the Hong Kong airport Internet Cafe and crunching some last minute numbers? An executive with a portable drive who's laptop died? This just seems like a lot of trumped up media hype for something Google is just throwing out there and trying on for size. I can see some niche usage arising, but a direct threat to Excel?

The media seems obsessed w/ creating a new Google verse Microsoft CNN-inspired war zone. Yahoo seems a much more natural enemy of Google, why not cover that? But alas, its less newsworthy. Until Google is a real platform threat, and the two are duking it out over the desktop, which I'm sorry, but a cute little tool bar is not, I'm not buying into this mother-of-all-tech-wars thing. Serious competitors though? Certainly.
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