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Archive for October, 2009

Cisco and Copenhagen

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Cisco should offer all delegates of the upcoming Copenhagen Convention [unfccc.int] free telepresence systems. Great publicity for Cisco and how can people discussing how to stop human influenced climate change refuse a technology that allows them to not fly and produce all the carbon associated with that?

the GRID

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

So, Obama is going to give out US$8 billion for a smart grid [whitehouse.gov]. I think we should go one step further: a nationalized grid, and not just for electricity.

A lot of people will hate this idea outright just because I used the n-word (“nationalization”), but hear me out.

Here’s the crux of the idea. The Federal Government is in charge of inter-state commerce issues. This is why it handles the interstate highway system. As a component of national infrastructure the crosses state lines the interstate highways are administered by the Department of Transportation. I think that the national electricity grid, the data communication network deserve the same treatment. As such I would create a new Department, for fun I’m calling it the Government Regulated Infrastructure Department or the GRID.

To start with the GRID would take ownership of all things related to the federally administered roads (and maybe some of the other physical infrastructure the DOT administers.) Then they would start to buy existing electrical transmission infrastructure and date communication network infrastructure. They would also be responsible for upgrading and building new infrastructure (the internet core is getting old and needs to be replaced, the electricity grid is a dinosaur.)

How would this affect the existing power companies and ISPs? Well, the GRID’s remit would only be the big interstate elements not the ‘last mile’. Just like roads the DOT builds (or pays for the building of) the interstate highways but you can’t get to your house just on the interstate highways, you have to use the local roads. Unlike the local road the GRID would lease connectivity to the interstate infrastructure to local service providers, provider A would connect it’s power station to the GRID at one end and then connect it’s local transformers or whatnot to the GRID at the other end before delivering the power the last mile to your house.

This is a half formed idea I admit and I don’t know enough about either electricity transmission or the Internet core to understand all the complexities but the Government could hire those people to work out the details. I just think that having the physical infrastructure owned by the government for electricity and data transmission would improve competition and actually promote capitalism by lowering the barrier to entry for new providers — taking away the regional or local monopolies. So in the end I think the idea is pro-capitalist not socialist, even though you have to pass through the forest of nationalization to get there.

An added bonus today would be the massive investment required to purchase and build out this system — jobs for people and cash flow for businesses.

Google should buy Iceland

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

That’s right. Google should buy Iceland.

Why? ‘Cause they can. Iceland’s broke, Google: Not so much.

But really. Iceland would provide an excellent location for Google to operate from. Once they own the country they could repeal any nasty taxes. They could nationalize the geo-thermal power industry—thus using it to power the great white datacenter they would build to house a googillion servers to power the internet and they’d be the greenest company on Earth. And think how much energy they could save on cooling their servers—just open the doors!

They could also have fun nationalizing the telecoms industry and anything else they thought might be useful or have valuable overseas contracts.

The Googleplex already operates like a small city… expanding to a county is the next logical step.

And think of the colorful passport they could issue to the new legion of Googlers.

On sucking human expression

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

“The mouse is probably the narrowest straw you could try to suck all of human expression through.”

Joy Mountford, quoted by Golan Levin in a TED Talk [ted.com], Feb 2009.

Zoom Zoom

Friday, October 16th, 2009

IMG_0239

Photo of one of the Brawn GP cars during the 2009 Singapore Grand Prix F1 practice session on Friday September 25th. Click the photo to see the whole set.

P.S. you can see a few shots of the 2009 Singapore Grand Prix Formula BMW Pacifica qualifying here [flickr.com]

Address Incomplete

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

I ordered a package from the US a few weeks ago, didn’t pay for fast shipping so I figured it would take some time to get here but I got a bit concerned the other day that I still don’t have it. So I contacted the merchant and they sent back a note that according to the USPS tracking site the package was listed as “delivery attempted” several days ago. The fact that it is listed as delivery attempted and I don’t have it could be innocent enough. Sometimes they will attempt delivery a couple of times before they leave a note to say the package can be picked up at the post office if it’s too big for the post box.

Since I was home today and there was no delivery attempt I decided to call up SingPost to see what is going on. The answer I got from the lady on the phone was totally unacceptable; she said that the package has been shipped back to the US because it was ‘incompletely addressed’, but she could not tell me what was wrong with the address. Best should could come up with was to “make a request”, not that she could tell me what that meant, just that someone would call me who could be of more help.

A few hours later I received a call from another woman at SingPost who said the package was missing the unit number and so they have sent the package back to the US. The only thing she could do was to make a request to the US to have it resent to Singapore once it arrived in the US so they could deliver it now that they had my address.

Now, nothing these people can do if the merchant failed to complete the address. My issue is that it does not appear that SingPost tried very hard to deliver the package. The address on the package may have been missing my unit number but it contained everything else to get the package to the building. That reduces the number of possibilities to about 60 units. Given that my name was on the package and every other piece of properly addressed mail the postman delivers on a daily basis also has my name on it, wouldn’t two minutes of detective work have solved the problem? Maybe the package would have taken a few extra days—it could be taken back to the post office to some department that deals with miss- or incomprehensibly-addressed packages.

Ironically I recently watched a show on TV about how the post works—focused on the US and UK post—and one of the points they made was about how good the post office (in the US and UK) was at getting things delivered. In the case of the US Post Service packages that can’t be read or understood by the machines in the local sorting facility are all sent to a central processing facility in West Virginia to be looked at by humans. And the UK’ Royal Post has a similar process. The told the story of a letter that the Royal Post received that was ‘addressed’ with a hand sketched map showing the Southwest of England and an arrow labeled “Peter O’Leary, Somewhere here” [thesun.co.uk]. Basically the central post facility called the local guys in the area identified by the map and talked to people until someone recognizes the name.

I wish the SingPost guys had that kind of initiative and ingenuity. That my package didn’t get delivered is frustrating, that no one made any effort is infuriating. I chalk it up as yet another example of the complete and utter lack of customer service in Singapore. The government has make everything some business friendly that there is no effort by most local businesses to be consumer friendly at all. From loan contracts to credit card rates, Cable TV service to the post office no one care about the customer—because the government is only concerned with providing for the companies to ensure a good corporate tax base. (If you’re reading this and thing the US is bad drop me a line and I’ll explain just how much consumer protection legislation and competition have made it consumer friendly compared to here.) On the other hand the personal taxes in Singapore is low because all the revenue comes from the corporate taxes… so I guess it’s a trade off.

But that does not make it any less frustrating that my package is on a slow boat back to the US.

Bobblehead

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

IMG_9284

Desire Lines

Monday, October 5th, 2009

Wishing for an ashtray

While waiting near the Lavender MRT stop the other day I stumbled upon this site. This pile of cigarette butts at the base of this tree, just next to the sidewalk is the anonymous public’s way of declaring their desire for a ashtray/trashcan to be near-at-hand. There were actually several of these piles around the tree and at the edge of a small fence nearby.

Putting aside the fact that I think cigarettes aught to be slapped with a punitive littering tax, I can’t think of anything that so many people willfully litter about1, lets consider this pile of butts a cry for help from our anonymous smokers. From this spot the nearest ashtray/trashcan is about 30 meters away at the MRT entrance. You can’t smoke at MRT entrances—or most other public places, good on Singapore for that. So the smokers have to walk away some distance to have their fix. Of course the logical place to up the ashtray/trashcans was at the MRT entrance. Very convenient for anyone who wants to toss a food wrapper (you can’t eat or drink in the MRT) or a advertisement (there are always a dozen people handing out spam at the Lavender MRT…) but this is now a very inconvenient place for the smokers banished to the tree line some distance away.

The pile of cigarette butts represents the smokers equivalent of a ‘desire line‘ [wikipedia.org]. The smokers want an ashtray/trashcan here and the landlords or maintenance crew should put one here—or get the cops to come and ticket the smokers until they learn not the litter here, but that’s not a realistic solution, as much as I like to see people get ticketed.

I first learned about desire lines in a class on software design, in discussions about usability of software and interface design. The idea of desire lines originates from architecture and landscaping. Basically the idea is that no matter how beautiful your building or park, if you failed to provide a convenient way to get from point A to point B people are going to make a shortcut, even if that means walking through your wonderfully manicured flowerbeds. You can’t stop it, only try to anticipate it at design time. By asking yourself “how are users going to actually use my design,” you can mitigate how much damage they do by not following your prescribed paths. This might be done by placing the paths where the users will naturally want them—through the flowerbed—or by building obstacles to remove the temptation to take a shortcut (‘put a fish pond there’).

Of course you can’t predict everything before hand, so you have to study the desire lines that users create after the fact. Then you can improve the existing work and have a better understanding next time. In the case of Lavender MRT the fix for this little ‘desire marker’ is simple, put an additional ashtray/trashcan next to the tree.

1. I know they are biodegradable, it’s the littering habit I want punished in this case… let’s not consider what kind of damage that unholy amalgam of chemicals could do to anything that happens to be in the way when it does biodegrade.