Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sheer magnitude

Let's assume there are 15 million people with California licenses. It feels like a lowball, and I only want to do an order of magnitude approximation.
Let's assume the DMV prints licenses every business day in a year - about 250 days. Let's assume that IDs last for 4 years.

That means, once every 1000 DMV-days, you need a new license. 15 million people * (1 license per person per 1000 dmv days) = 15,000 licenses per DMV day.

That is just plain amazing throughput on new licensing.

I've also been spending a lot of time thinking about the sorting procedures for the US Post Office. I can see roughly how FedEx works by online tracking. But the USPS' magnitude is just staggering. I know lots is handled without human interaction. Still stunning.

In sha Allah

There's a phrase in Arabic that I want to repeat lots of times in real life. "In sha Allah" - "if God wills" (ان شاء الله). It's said all the time in the middle east:

Example 1:
Person 1: "Great: so I'll see you Thursday!"
Person 2: "In sha Allah"

Example 2:
Person 1: "I'm going to Europe next summer, in sha Allah"

I'm not religious, it's just a great phrase to emphasize how sometimes things are out of control, though we'd like to do something. In America, if you say "hopefully", it really means that it's not firm, not that things might prevent it. Hopefully really sounds negative. Hopefully and in sha Allah really don't have the same connotation, and I don't think there is anything that means in sha Allah the same way culturally in English.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Closed for easter

The following were closed for Easter:
  • Frye's
  • Wal-Mart
  • Target
  • Costco
  • In-n-Out
  • Toys'R'Us
I guess when I was in grade school I spent Easter with family, and in college I spent it doing buggy.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mind power

Wikipedia is an amazing exercise in distributed intelligence.
  • People have written bots to try to automatically detect vandalism
  • There's chat rooms where people watch edits and try to see vandalism
  • Vandalism is often cleaned up within 5 minutes
  • Articles that have 'stub' status (need more detail) get recategorized into more specific groups
  • Articles get cleaned up when someone adds something that isn't wikified (an internal link) or if they have extra newlines.
Wikipedia is just a great example of lots of minds helping out a little, and a few helping out a lot, and getting something done. It, to me, is one of the most amazing clusters on earth - all human, all unpaid.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Christians Sue for Right Not to Tolerate Policies

With her lawsuit, the 22-year-old student joins a growing campaign to force public schools, state colleges and private workplaces to eliminate policies protecting gays and lesbians from harassment.

If Carnegie Mellon ever overturns their "we shall not discriminate against race, religion, sexual orientation, etc..." in any way, they're not getting a dime in donations from me, and I'll rail against them. Thankfully, I'm pretty sure we don't have to worry about Carnegie Mellon. It's the schools that are just starting to make the right steps we have to worry about. Doesn't everyone deserve the right to be themselves at work, even if it's not in a trait that's a protected status?

The legal argument is straightforward: Policies intended to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination end up discriminating against conservative Christians. Evangelicals have been suspended for wearing anti-gay T-shirts to high school, fired for denouncing Gay Pride Month at work, reprimanded for refusing to attend diversity training. When they protest tolerance codes, they're labeled intolerant.

Your workplace has decided the company's morals include not discriminating against people based on sexual preference. I believe one should choose to work elsewhere before choosing to speak out at work against being gay.

Your religion gives you the right to believe views outside the social norm, but it doesn't give you the right to start convincing others of your view.

[Gregory S. Baylor] says he supports policies that protect people from discrimination based on race and gender. But he draws a distinction that infuriates gay rights activists when he argues that sexual orientation is different — a lifestyle choice, not an inborn trait.

I don't think people choose a life of feeling different, of being called 'fag', of being abused in high school. Even if it's a lifestyle choice, does that make it right to enforce your religious views on the world when you can't find a natural law argument against it?

In the public schools, an Ohio middle school student last year won the right to wear a T-shirt that proclaimed: "Homosexuality is a sin! Islam is a lie! Abortion is murder!" But a teen-ager in Kentucky lost in federal court when he tried to exempt himself from a school program on gay tolerance on the grounds that it violated his religious beliefs.

In Middle school a child is so hateful to wear a shirt like that? Even the word 'murder' should keep a shirt like that out of the classroom.

The whole article infuriates me. I know many relgious people who think homosexuality is immoral, but they don't speak against it. They don't wear anti-homosexuality shirts. Believe what you believe, but keep it to yourself. But I wish you didn't believe homosexuality was wrong.

Software patents

Last summer at IBM, we filed a few internal IBM patent disclosures.

Finally, yesterday, I received the materials to actually sign for one.

Say what you will about software patents and how stupid/evil/whatever they are, it's pretty cool to apply for my first one.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

If commercial buyers were smart...

TiVo's cool - you can fast forward, and once you see what you want to watch, you press play. It rewinds a bit to account for reaction time, so you press play and see maybe 5 seconds of the last commercial in the break.

If people who bought commercial time were smart, they'd pay more for the first and last slot to advertise better to the TiVo fastforwarding people (and those doing stuff during breaks). I am guessing they already do. But if they were really smart, they'd have the last commercial before a show have a funny punchline. I've rewound TiVo at least twice to see a whole commercial that had a fun ending.

TiVo is actually really cool. I don't watch live TV anymore. I don't discover new shows, but I enjoy the time I'm watching TV more because it's on my schedule and it's the shows I want to watch, not whatever happens to be on..

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The end of an era

The beginning:

And the end:
Maine license plate SC Roach
Today, I retired my old license plates, my Maine plates.

Tomorrow, I request my California license - it takes a week or two to come in the mail.

I know of nothing more on paper that ties me to Maine or Pennsylvania. All mail comes here, I have my own insurance (car/dental/vision/medical), I'm not a dependent, and my car stuff is transferred to Califrnia.

It may have taken 3 months, but I think almost everything is taken care of with moving out here.

[EDIT: I have also registered to vote, and now have a paper California license. In a bit, I'll get my real one - I probably should bring my passport to the airport until I get my new license, since they punched a hole in my old one.]

Monday, April 10, 2006

Using the internet to find cheap car parts

My car needs a new radiator fan motor. Problem is, according to my mechanic, no one sells just the fan motor - they sell the motor + the fan assembly. And it's a spcial order part - to the tune of $480 for just the part.

Just a little searching around today, I found the part for under $200. And by a little searching, I mean 5 minutes with my favorite search engine.

So there's some problem in the car repair industry - car shops look at one or two sources to find a part - they don't hunt around for great prices. Since they mark up a percentage of what they pay, they have an incentive not to look around.

If they did look more, however, I'd create a network of parts buyers & sellers. Buyers get rare parts cheaper, mark them up, but pass on the savings to their customers - who are happier and more loyal to the intelligent mechanics who find cheaper parts and save them money. Sellers don't get quite so much a markup - but they sell their parts more quickly and do more business - if they play ball with prices. And it's easier all around.

Part of the problem, though, when I've searched for parts many aren't really findable without asking "do you have the anti-lock speed sensor for a front passenger brake on a 1990 Ford Thunderbird?" There needs to be a better, more specific part labeling system.

Moral of the story: I'm getting my car back from the shop tomorrow, about $600 poorer on a simple part. The market hasn't become very optimized. It's ripe for the picking.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


I think Coinstar would be smart if they could recognize rare coins, like the wheat sheaf penny. I mean, I'd love part of the added value - but analyzing the resale value realtime is probably really difficult. Every time I bring change to the Coinstar, I know I put in a couple wheat sheaf pennies. Multiply that by 5 people using each machine per day times thousands of machines, and they could definitely make a ton more money through a little hard work.

Maybe they do this - I couldn't tell searching around online.

Netflix for books!

I just thought to myself "wouldn't it be awesome if there were a Netflix for books. You could ship books back and forth, you only need 2 books at a time out because it takes longer to read books than watch movies, and shipping could be a bit slower to save money."

Then I realized: yeah, use a library.

But a big part of the Netflix experience is not simply being a place to get movies. It's having a queue of the next movies I want to see, it's getting recommendations about which movies I might like. I would really enjoy a site like that for books.

I use Amazon for that to some extent - Amazon knows what books I own (both through what I've purchased there, and what I've told it I own). But it's not the same as the Netflix experience.

So, for the moment, I still rely on friends for book recommendations. I wonder when that will end.

[Edit: Apparently it exists at booksfree.com. But I'd love some way for my library to do it for me intelligently - some kind of intelligent system tied into borrowing]