Archive for June, 2004

Rare Digital Books

June 26, 2004

I was very happy to notice the other day that Octavo, purveyor of rare digital books, has apparently survived the .COM implosion.

Octavo offers high-quality PDF images of a variety of old and rare books at very reasonable prices. For example, here is a sample from Mercator’s Atlas, published in 1595: [altas sample image]

Among the other volumes available: Newton’s Opticks, Franklin’s Experiments and Observations on Electricity, The Gutenberg Bible, and works by Galileo, Copernicus, Blake, Milton, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, to name several.

I own a (digital) copy of Bodoni’s Tipografico, published in 1818 — of interest to anyone into typography. And a copy of Jones’ The Grammar of Ornament, published in 1856. Here is one beautiful page from this book:

[grammar of ornament]

I’ve found Octavo’s offerings to be a nice way to enjoy beautiful works that I’ll likely never see in person and certainly never have in my library.

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Reading the Internet

June 25, 2004

When I read a book, I buy three copies and keep one in my briefcase and two in my house — one upstairs and one downstairs. Usually, the briefcase copy is a paperback for portability. Having multiple copies is very convenient, but keeping track of where I am in the book is challenging — I have a bookmark in each book, but they of course aren’t in sync and it takes some time to figure out where I last stopped reading.

Well, of course I don’t read books this way — that would be silly. But this is exactly the situation for us people who read the Internet from multiple machines. I have three copies of Mozilla at home — one on my iMac, one on my XP box, one on my Linux box. Each with a different set of bookmarks on them.

This is totally unnecessary. Why not have Mozilla optionally store the bookmarks in a network repository reachable from all of my Mozilla instances? One easy and obvious place would be in a Bookmarks mail folder on my IMAP server. There might be other configuration state that would be usefully stored in the network as well, but I’d be happy to have my bookmarks accessible from any of my clients.

Of course, this idea could be expanded by specifying a standard bookmark representation (XML would do nicely here) and by modifying all of the major browsers to support the format. But why not start with Mozilla?

This blog entry is one in a series on why storing state in the network is superior to keeping it on a client device. If you use multiple clients (cellphone, PDA, laptop, desktop) you should be thinking seriously about this issue.

Ultra Thin and Ultra Cool

June 16, 2004

Hey, I work for Sun. But you knew that. I want to talk about my SunRay and why it is so cool. And why a SunRay is like a TiVo.

What’s a SunRay?

A SunRay is an ultra-thin client desktop system. Let’s unpack that a bit. It’s thin because software doesn’t run on it — that all runs on the server to which the SunRay is attached, which also explains why it is called a client. And it sits on my desk. There are several models, but mine looks like this: [sunray]

The SunRay itself is the funky little guy in the foreground. It has a slot in it for me to insert my JavaCard, which has multiple uses at Sun — it opens doors on our campuses and also identifies me to SunRay systems.

What’s so Cool?

What’s cool is that I can walk into my office, stick my JavaCard into the SunRay and keep working where I left off last time. OR I can walk into the office next door to show something to a coworker by sticking my card in his SunRay and bringing up the same session. If I need to do something from a conference room — same deal — just pop the card in the conference room SunRay and keep working.

Right now this nifty trick works within a Sun campus, but the vision is that I be able to jump on a plane and have my session accessible to me from any Sun campus. Or even from home. How cool is that?

And speaking of cool. The SunRay doesn’t have any fans in it — it is totally silent. I didn’t appreciate that feature until my Ultra 60 workstation had been carted away and replaced by the SunRay. Silence — what a great way to think.

There are other important aspects of this model from a business viewpoint, probably chief among them the massively reduced total cost of ownership you get from having software environments (OS, applications, etc) centrally installed on the server rather than on each and every desktop machine. Important, but that’s not why I’m blogging about my desktop machine. Wow, I’m blogging about my desktop machine.

SunRays and TiVo

So why is Tivo like SunRay? Because no one has figured out how to adequately market either product to effectively communicate their value. In both cases, actually having one to play with can make the sale pretty quickly because the technology is appealing at such a gut level. But that doesn’t scale.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but there are a lot of people out there who would benefit from either of these technologies — if we could just figure out the right way to enlighten them.

Slooh, baby, Slooh

June 15, 2004

If you’ve ever been interested in exploring the cosmos via telescope, but either don’t have the time, the money, or a location conducive to good viewing, then you should check out SLOOH. This subscription service gives you access to a set of remotely controlled telescopes located at 7900 feet on Mount Teide on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

[Mount Teide, Canary Islands]

Subscribers can sign up for an unlimited number of “group missions” — regularly scheduled viewings of interesting celestial objects — and experience the mission in real-time from a browser with the ability to snap photos as the mission progresses. Subscribers also have the right to a limited number of “solo missions,” which allow the subscriber to specify the celestial coordinated to be visited during the mission.

Here’s a shot my friend Monty took on a Venus Transit mission last week: [transit of venus]

I am not affiliated in any way with this service — just speading the cool. Check it out!.

Bravo, MIT!

June 11, 2004

I stumbled across a wonderful website at MIT the other day called MIT World, a free and open site that provides on-demand video of significant public events at MIT.

There are currently 188 videos on the site with more coming and there is an RSS feed available for notifications of new content.

There’s quite an eclectic mix of content available. Subject areas include Technology, Engineering, Architecture, Arts, Science, Economics, Exploration/Travel, History, etc. Do check it out — it is very cool!

One video that I can recommend since I saw the talk in person at a recent MIT Industrial Liaison Program event was Tom Leighton‘s talk, The Akamai Story: From Theory to Practice, which is an engaging description of the birth and trajectory of Akamai, a company involved in the optimized and scalable delivery of web content.

A few other videos that caught my eye:

The Dynamics of Innovation

June 10, 2004

The following diagram is adapted from a truly great book on innovation entitled, Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation by James Utterback of MIT. Hokey title, but well worth reading. For those of you familiar with The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen, know that the latter was based on work done for a PhD while the former is the result of 30 years of research into innovation. Not to denigrate Christensen’s work, which is also well worth reading. In fact, you certainly shouldn’t use the term “disruptive technology” without having read Christensen — the term is so over-used that it is losing much of its real meaning.

Back to Utterback. Here is my version of one of his graphics:

the dynamics of innovation

As time progresses and a market matures, the mix of innovation that is important for a product changes. Product Innovation is what us technologists think of as “innovation” — the next cool thing or next cool feature. But what about the term “Process Innovation”? We don’t often mix those two words in polite company. What’s it mean? It’s about EXECUTION. In the most traditional sense it refers to innovation in the manufacturing process, but there is a more general lesson here for all engineers: How you do things can matter as much as, if not more than, what you are doing.

As is often the case, no one size fits all. Sun has products at various points on this evolutionary curve. Where do your company’s products fall?

How cute is that?

June 10, 2004

Look what showed up in my backyard the other day…

[albino squirrel]

Yes, that is an albino squirrel.

Transit Redux

June 10, 2004

Here are two photos from my attendance at Harvard’s Festival of the Transit of Venus as described here.

Here is the telescope used by John Winthrop to observe the transit in 1761:

[john winthrop's telescope]

For fun, I tried taking a shot of the Sun with my Sony Cybershot DSC-P5 3.2 MP digital camera with 3X optical zoom. I did this by setting the focus to infinity, setting the camera to maximum (optical) zoom, holding my solar filter glasses directly in front of the lens, and snapping the shot. I’ve massively cropped the image and applied level corrections in Photoshop Elements to create the following. It won’t win any awards, but I was gratified to see that even this crude approach caught a glimpse of Venus. It’s the dot near the Sun’s rim at about 3:30 on the dial.

[tiny image of the sun w/venus in transit]

Stay tuned for the next transit in 2012!

Transit of Venus

June 8, 2004

Living in Boston, I had a chance to view the Transit of Venus this morning. It was well worth getting up at 3am to drive into Cambridge to attend Harvard’s Festival of the Transit of Venus.

As the Sun came over the horizon from our vantage point on the 8th floor terrace of the Harvard Science Center, I was amazed that I could actually see Venus on the face of the Sun with the naked eye. It quickly became necessary to use the supplied solar viewing glasses, but I could still clearly see Venus without magnification for the next hour or more.

Several devices were available for magnified viewing — binoculars, telescopes of various sizes and design. One special telescope was available — that used by Harvard’s John Winthrop in 1761 to view the transit from Newfoundland, a trip that required travelling behind enemy lines since the French & Indian War was in progress at the time.

In addition to live viewing, the Sun’s image was bounced off of several mirrors onto a projection screen and then transmitted to Lecture Hall B and projected on one of the lecture hall’s large screens. Several short lectures on topics associated with the transit were delivered by various faculty members and webcasts of transit viewing from around the world were displayed as well.

As a final touch, the Harvard Band performed John Philip Sousa’s “Transit of Venus March.”

I estimate that several hundred people participated in this wonderful event. Hats off to the CHSI staff and to all of the volunteers who made the event possible.

Anomaly Detection

June 7, 2004

I got a call from Apple Computer this morning asking me how I like my iPod. I was somewhat surprised they called since I bought it back in August of 2002, but hey, they were also asking me about new features that I’d like to see in future iPods, which was cool. But it became apparent at some point that I was being asked about an iPod I had supposedly bought this past January. Which I hadn’t. Dismissing that as a glitch, we terminated the call.

But I’ve learned to pay attention to small anomalies like this and to root cause them. As when a bank mailing showed up at my home several months ago, addressed to someone who has never lived at my address. Odd. Throw it out, assuming some silly mistake? Long story short, I did follow up and determined that someone had opened a credit card account against my social security number and run up a bill that was now being sent to collection. Interestingly, while Capital One seemed completely unable to determine at the time they opened the account that the name, sex, and address of the person who opened the account did not match any of my particulars, it was not until they were owed real money that they were able to find my real address for collection purposes. A pox on them.

Back to Apple. A second call to Apple determined that not only was there an iPod on my account, there were two 20″ flat-panel iMacs, too. After being told I’d need to have my police department or credit card company contact Apple’s Security Department, I was eventually able to speak to someone at Apple who determined that no charges for those items had been made against my credit card and, in all probability, there had been some sort of corruption of the AppleCare database that intermixed other customers’ items with my own. So, this one was a false alarm.

But these days, it pays to follow up and check out all of these seemingly small anomalies.