Friday, February 29, 2008


One of the unexpected parts of my time at Linden Lab was public speaking. Lots of public speaking.

It is, of course, Beth Noveck's fault.

When Philip and I spoke at the first State of Play conference, we had the opportunity to write white papers about the talks we gave. I thought it was a great opportunity, so I wrote "Escaping the Gilded Cage," which went on to appear in both the New York Law School Law Journal and in a book from MIT press. When I sent it in to Beth, she liked it enough to invite me to give a talk about it at NYLS. Then Yochai Benkler invited me to speak to his class at Yale Law School. The rest, as they say, is history, as speaking became an important tool for evangelizing Second Life, inspiring new ideas, meeting smart people who could help solve challenging problems, and recruiting new employees.

But speaking is not something of done separate from my time as a Linden, so I am tremendously excited to announce that Washington Speakers Bureau is representing me for speaking engagements. While I continue to learn and consider what will be next, I am thrilled by the chance to continue spreading the word about virtual worlds, their impact on learning and innovation, and how Second Life formed a basic part of our engineering process.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

secrets and lies

One the unexpected bits of feedback from the MetaverseU conference was that a lot of people are convinced that I'm already off working on the next big thing but that I'm just keeping it secret and not telling anyone. Are you kidding me? Let me be clear, when I start working on something I will be talking about it here. Obviously, if I’m working for someone else and they’d prefer secrecy, that’s their choice, but if it is my project, I’ll be yammering on about it.

Being a stealthy startup is tempting, sure, but the awful reality of any startup – much like any game idea – is that if you’ve thought of it, there are two other teams somewhere working on the same project. If your idea or business is only going to succeed because nobody thinks to compete with it, you’d best spend some time coming up with new ideas.

More importantly, you should be thankful other companies are out there evangelizing and experimenting. It is bloody difficult to build a new sector or industry alone, so competitors help raise awareness and attract customers. You also never have the time or resources to try everything you’d like to, so the natural divergence between competing products is free testing.

I think this was one of the most important decisions of early Linden culture and kudos to Philip for introducing it and then supporting it when the rest of us ran with it. It may seem slightly counterintuitive, but once you noodle on it a bit, being open is a tremendously positive and competitive move. It forces your ideas to survive far broader scrutiny, makes it easier to hire, and lets your early employees do what they want to be doing anyway: brag about their cool, new company.

It’s similar to considering how to talk about competitors. Sure, having enemies can be motivational and useful when you are getting started, but you and your competitors are collaboratively shaping the landscape for your new companies. Spending time publicly bashing them makes you look like an ass and hurts your ability to work together down the road. It is rare for any sector to be winner-take-all – even eBay has competitors – and multiple, high-quality products in a space can help ensure the overall business grows far quicker than any one company could on its own.

So, for right now, I’m teaching, consulting, and speaking. When I decide on what’s next, you’ll be the first to know.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

apoc week 7

So, after missing class last week due to the Metaverse Flu, I returned to USC for the 7th APOC class and third faculty seminar. Despite glorious weather, a large number of faculty showed up for a look at innovation and how it interacts with virtual worlds. Innovation can be a vexing topic to discuss. Everybody is pro innovation and claims to "know it when they see it", but few have dug in enough to grok what it means to talk about innovation at the edges of social networks, the tensions between organizational structures optimized for ideas versus execution, or the boundaries between innovation, invention, and improvement. Fortunately, this audience was up to the task and while we started slowly, it evolved into a very active discussion.

The examples from within Second Life demonstrate the general principles we would want to maximize the chances for innovation anywhere. A large, diverse cohort of entrepreneurs exploring design space while cheaply learning from each other. The exciting part for the future is to consider how to build on this approach to innovation within real-world corporations and projects.

Class this week was mostly catch up on their first module papers. The students who hadn't given presentations ended up talking about micro- and niche communities, which is not a surprise given the breadth of communities they've been exposed to in class and through their own careers. What is a surprise is how directly their ideas and challenges echo a piece of reality TV I watched while wiped out by the flu.

I know, I know, reality TV. Shudder. But given the options when fighting off a high fever during the daytime, I found "Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares" to be not only entertaining as hell, but very apropos to anyone thinking about online communities. For those who have not seen the show, it is on BBC America and has the renounced restaurateur going into failing British restaurants, elevating swearing to remarkable heights, and turning them around.

On the surface, it looks like Ramsey is pretty much being a tool, mostly because every third word is bleeped and he ruthlessly identifies weaknesses, but watch for a while and you realize that Ramsey is someone who deeply understands the restaurant business. He gets what the tricks of the trade are and how to use them to best effect. Even better, he has a keen eye for whether employees are playing to their strengths and how to balance skills and weaknesses within the stresses of a restaurant. Finally, he is able to understand the customer -- both the current crop and the customer the restaurant will need to ultimately succeed -- and to provide an experience the customer will happily pay for, tell their friends about, and return to again and again.

Sound like skills you'd need to manage a niche community? Or maybe even a not-so-niche community?

Monday, February 25, 2008

metaverseu or metaverse flu?

A little over a week ago, I left MetaverseU with a full plate of topics to blog about. My panel with Raph and Howard. Some thoughts on why being transparent and positive about competitors pays off in the long run. The latest MacBook Air plot twists. Prep for the upcoming Microsoft conference on Game Development in Computer Science Education. I was really looking forward to the week.

Then the flu hit.

A week later and I’m barely back on my feet, having learned some valuable lessons. Especially the “if you’re getting feverish, don’t fly to LA for your class as the flight home will be very unpleasant”-one.

I missed GDC. All of it. So, if you saw something cool, please let me know because I didn’t get to GDC at all. Nor am I going to make the Microsoft conference, which really sucks.

I’m finally reading email again, so apologies if you are waiting on a response from me. I’ll try to get to you today or tomorrow! After that, this blog will get rolling again.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

brand connection

Reuben Steiger just gave an amazing stat from the "60+" campaigns that Millions of Us have run:

The average user spends 3 to 24 hours engaged with a brand over the course of a campaign
That is an astoundingly large number. It also speaks to how different virtual world marketing will need to be compared to web marketing.

henrik's questions

Henrik has posted 4 questions about the metaverse that he hopes Metaverse U participants will answer. As the day gets underway, here are my thoughts.

What excites you about current metaverse technology?
The diversity of exploration is the most exciting aspect of where virtual worlds are going, especially the wide range of unannounced projects we'll see over the next year, whether a full world approach like Second Life, or the myriad approaches leveraging the web-as-platform that will impact media consumption, production, community formation, and a whole host of not-at-all sexy business uses. Sure, we're seeing a host of social kids games and tiny advertising worlds, but these explorations are good. Like the Web in 1997 (or 1995, or whatever), most of these experiments will fail.

And we will learn from all of them. The fact that people are kvetching about this leads to...
What concerns you about current metaverse technology?
This is less a technological concern than a concern about how virtual worlds are sometimes discussed. There is tremendous technological overlap between mirror worlds, virtual worlds, middleware, and games, equally significant differences exist between use cases, business models, audiences, and interfaces. Buildings may not be as fun to play with as Scrabulous.

Some of the protocols will surely become standards but we should keep in mind Mitch Kapor's statements about the mistake of premature standardization. It is critical to the long-term success of virtual worlds that small commercial worlds and games are starting up in parallel to Google Earth and corporate uses. We are just gaining enough experience to start thinking like virtual world natives rather than tourists, so we have the opportunity to be expansive in our thinking and imagination.
What will be most the surprising impact of metaverse technology on society within the next decade?
Even the dreamers aren't thinking big enough about virtual worlds. The walls between the digital and the real are falling -- personal fabrication, mass customization, alternate reality gaming, crowdsourcing, open spectrum, remote collaboration, increasing access to the Web, pervasive sensor technology, virtual corporations -- and virtual worlds will accelerate these changes. Consider the changing use of information technology from '88 to '98, or '98 to '08. Virtual worlds, metaverses, et al are another step along this path and their impact will be at least as significant.
What barriers will metaverse technology never overcome?
This is like asking what barriers communications technology will never overcome. Or, technology in general. As Linda Stone has discussed, time is the scarce resource that technology is never going to overcome. Or, as she argues, is actually making more scarce.

Virtual worlds, like other technologies that reduces the cost of learning, can help regain some of the time, by reducing travel time or increasing the rate of trust production. Moreover, by improving collaboration and innovation, virtual worlds join the Internet and Web in generally reducing scarcity of goods and services. Until we eliminate sleep and really understand genomics, the 24 hour day and lifespan will be tricky to overcome.

Everything else is fair game.

Friday, February 15, 2008

metaverse roadmap summit

Spent most of today at Stanford at the Metaverse Roadmap workshop. It was a nice chance to catchup with a lot of friends from the space, most of whom I have not seen since leaving Linden. The day was a mix of lightweight presentations and mingling time, which was great. Some of the presentations were very interesting. Sibley of Electric Sheep did a good job concisely explaining the challenges and surprises of selling virtual world experiences to corporations. Outside of the usual set -- compatibility, performance, smaller downloads -- he called out data exporting as a key requirement. Businesses have web services for their data and get frustrated when they can't leverage that data and those systems. Mitch Kapor gave a great talk introducing his current exploration of 3D cameras. Using a mix of technologies, 3D cameras generate good 3D data on their entire field of view, opening up a host of interesting UI opportunities. The most important thought from the talk, I thought, was a point about the distinction between recognizing ideas while remaining agnostic to the which technology or approach wins in the market. Obvious, I suppose, but it is easy to conflate the two when considering projects to work on or invest in. Raph Koster spoke a bit -- claiming he would be cynical :-) -- about the trends toward commercial, small, and advertising worlds. He also raised the good point that we need to remember to read our speculative fiction for inspiration. He called out "Halting State" as a particularly good read.

All-in-all, a useful day, although I personally found the talking-with-others portions of the day the most interesting. As I start zeroing in on what I want to work on next, being able to bounce ideas around with lots of smart people is worth its weight in gold.

apple customer service ftw

Macbook Air acting weird again at a Palo Alto Starbucks this morning, but thanks to prompt and friendly help from Jerry and Paul at Apple, I have a mailing label and Apple is going to replace my Macbook Air. Annoying, certainly, to wait for my new toy -- it would sure be nice to be able to do this at one of the many Apple stores nearby -- but still it seems like a fairly good resolution.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

another class

Last night I visited Lauren Gelman's class at Stanford Law School. Lauren is the Executive Director of the Center for Internet and Society. Fun discussion about law, regulation, and virtual worlds. What stood out for me was how positive the class described their experiences in Second Life, especially when compared to what I saw with the APOC students. However, once we dug in a bit more, we discovered was that the law students' initial reaction was quite similar to those of my students. The difference was that the Stanford students were required to visit Second Life several times over a few weeks. They ended up building enough social connections, knowledge of the world, and interest to overcome the initial challenges.

macbook update

Went to the Apple store, was greeted by friendly staff, was at the genius bar within 20 minutes and -- of course -- the Macbook Air did not reproduce the problem from earlier today. Staff said they didn't have any reports of this problem on the Macbook Air, although they mentioned it sounded a lot like an older bug. They were nice but couldn't help, beyond adding some notes into the trouble ticket. Not too surprising, since the bug wasn't reproducing. As an early adopter -- and, as someone who has, at last count, 9 Mac computers, 3 iPods, and 2 iPhones -- I was hopeful, but no dice.

Got home, started working and, of course, the problem appeared again. Time to call Apple with my case number.

macbook air arrives with buggy trackpad

Arrived home from my week of travels to find my shiny new Macbook Air had been delivered two days ahead of schedule. Joy! I was planning to hold off on a review until I had some significant time with it, but that plan has vanished behind a red haze of frustration and anger .

The bloody trackpad has an intermittent problem. After working for a while, the mouse will start jumping around, randomly clicking, and generally being completely unusable.


Actually, let me be clearer.


There are some rumors of faulty trackpads and grounding problems on the web, but clearly not enough Macbook Airs are in the field for trends to have emerged.

We'll see how the Apple Store handles this after I get done with my 130pm meeting. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

apoc week 5

This week at USC was both my second faculty seminar and 5th APOC class. The students' first significant papers were due and most gave short presentations. For the faculty seminar, since my first talk had generate a fair amount of Second Life-specific interest -- and inspired by James' new book -- I decided to use the history of SL as a backdrop for the themes, behaviors, activities, and topics worthy of further study and exploration. It runs a bit long, but I had a lot of fun doing Google archeology. Sadly, there is very little content from the early Alpha and Beta period, so I hope more of that makes it onto the web.

The student's module papers were their opportunity to focus on the first four weeks -- online communities, niche communities, virtual worlds, and journalism -- and tug on some thread that had caught their interest. I hope more of them end up online, as they are quite good. Lightning round tour of interesting thoughts from students:

  • Until recently, usage time on social networking sites have been declining. Facebook and LinkedIn have still grown. Is this a sign of social network fatigue? Amusingly, Facebook just posted a sharp increase in their usage time, reversing the trend. Political interest perhaps?
  • Is anyone using Twitter for non-business use? Outside of the geekosphere, Twitter and microblogging are not yet making an impact, although some use cases do exist. Twitter, in particular, is losing credibility through outages and lack of transparency around usage.
  • Even as newspapers attempt to shift to online ads, current trend lines indicate 10 years before online revenue grows enough to replace offline. Trends will get worse, because of continued generational shift away from offline reading.
  • Mostly led by the brilliant Jeremy Bailenson's group at Stanford, a ton of research is continuing to support how strongly we connect to our avatar representation. Huge implications for trust, learning, and training online.
  • Whyville makes some good steps toward being a strong learning platform, and tries to offer protections for young users.
  • What happens when hyperlocal meets collective intelligence? Innovative media organizations are trying to find better ways to balance information flow between citizen journalists and media organizations to generate local media options that never existed before, particularly in more rural areas.
We also had a guest speaker, Gregory Markel, the president of Infuse Creative, a SEO/SEM company. Very bright, compelling guy. Plus, he was a rock star. He did a great job of synopsizing current best practices of search engine optimization. We were chatting afterwards about search in Second Life and he thought the direction our new search was going sounded like good steps, although we agreed there is a rich opportunity to add more behavior data into the search mix.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Ze Frank just posted a collection of thoughts on the creative process. They're interesting and make for a fun read. While reading them, however, I was struck by the most meta-geek-fandom moment ever:

< zomg > I'm on the same page as Jonathan Coulton < /zomg >
See, Coulton's music is on all the time in our house because it is my daughter's favorite. Watching a four year old dancing around the house to "shop vac" and "chiron beta prime" is about the cutest thing ever.

Even if some of the lyrics will get me called into a parent-teacher conference.

And, yes, I know, Coulton has done a concert in Second Life but this is cooler.

both sides of the conversation

Last week I posted about a Washington Post Second Life story that wasn't fully thought through. James Au over at New World Notes commented on my post, but disagreed with my comments about Second Life and anti-jihadist narratives, making the argument that Second Life could hurt US-Islamic relations by giving those already disposed to extremism more fodder.

It is an interesting point. I was going to post that while SL may expose people to content they find offensive, unlike other media forms, virtual worlds allow individuals from various communities to reach across boundaries in ways they would be unlikely to in the real world. In addition, virtual worlds make it difficult to remain insulated from outside influence, because individuals literally bump into each other.

However, now I don't need to write that post! James just wrote about the Second Life component of the US-Islamic forum. It sounds like it will be a wonderful event and anything Salman gets involved with is worth attending. More than that, the reasons for the event are almost exactly the points I was going to raise.

Give it a read.

Monday, February 11, 2008

tipjoy is pretty cool

One can make a compelling argument that much of the growth in blogging and experimental web ideas is tied to Google's Adsense and related products. By setting efficiently creating a 4-way transaction between the site creator, site visitor, advertiser, and Google, Adsense created a microtransaction system that worked. I know, you're now thinking "Microtransactions? I thought that was when I would pay the site creator 1/10 of a cent for their content. This is advertising!" It doesn't look like a microtransaction system.

But it is. And unlike the various attempts to create microtransactions in the past, it worked. See, the problem with microtransactions was that even when the amount of money being paid was trivial, the number of steps required to make a micropayment still killed the proce I would happily pay a few pennies to xkcd, but am I willing to do the work to keep my account full, click "I Approve" every time, etc. There were a lot of attempts but nobody seemed to overcome the user experience challenges. Adsense succeeded by piggybacking on something people wanted -- better targeted ads -- and making the payment transparent -- Google splits the payment from the advertiser with the site creator.

The results make everyone happy. Visitors only click on things they want, site creators get subsidized, advertisers reach high quality prospects, and Google makes a zillion dollars. Only downer is that some people don't like ads and want something different. In the real world, this is the National Public Radio model. Online, we're back to microtransactions and one new company -- out of Y Combinator -- is Tipjoy.

Here's a Tipjoy button:

If you click it, it will ask for your email address to leave a tip. No checkout, no big approval process. Eventually, if you go to the Tipjoy site you will be able to create an account and fund your tips via Paypal. Sort of like Digg, but with the added filter of "is noting this site worth 10 cents?" If it takes off at all, it should generate some excellent search and ranking data.

The Tipjoy folks are even doing one other clever thing. To avoid being a money transfer service -- which no small startup wants to be -- your tips can either go to charity or into an Amazon gift card.

chemical warfare

In order to teach my class, I usually fly to LAX Monday morning and spend some time at the United club working waiting for LA traffic to clear. It's comfortable, has decent coffee, and generally on par with working in a Starbucks. However, I am about to pack up and leave because a couple just plunked down next to me wearing so much so perfume and cologne that my eyes are watering. The smell is so strong I can taste it and I'm getting a headache.


Guess I'll get out of LAX and find a Starbucks.

consulting and travel

I got home Sunday night after a last minute consulting trip to Europe. It was a surreal week, because first I got a call Sunday "Could you be in New York tomorrow?" and, when that went well, it became a Wednesday discussion of "We'd like you to fly to Europe on Thursday." In case anyone was wondering, San Francisco to Europe for Friday and Saturday is brutal.

Some random thoughts from the trip. First, it would appear that about 50 people a day go looking for my blog through Google, since that's what my traffic plummets to when I don't post for a while. Second, I flew back to SFO on a 777, where they connect the jetway to two doors to empty the plane faster. Whoever was operating the front door portion of the jetway could not manage to get things lined up. It was like watching the "turn the car around in the narrow tunnel"-scene from Austin Powers. Forward, back, bump the plane, realize it isn't lined up, pull back, rinse and repeat. It was just surreal. Everyone at the front of the plane eventually ran out of patience and left through the other door. I have a mental image of late at night. Everyone's left the airport, the plane's dark, and all you hear is the mechanical noises of the jetway pulling back and forth, punctuated by occasional crunches as it hits the plane and a loud, Homer Simpson "d'oh!" Finally, spent two days talking to bright folks at a neat company. A company with challenges, but one built by passionate people with vision and excitement. I'm enjoying the mental reboot time and the challenges of finding the speaking/consulting/advising gigs, but it sure gave me a moment of "time to go start a company!"

Sunday, February 10, 2008

knowledge acquisition

Recently I was asked how I went about learning new things. The question was in the context of my usual role of "go figure this out" at Linden, where I tended to draw the short straw and thus ended up researching -- among other topics -- intellectual property law, economics, learning theory, and philanthropy. I created a specific approach that served me well.

  1. Identify knowledgeable academics/experts in your field of interest. Games and virtual worlds make this is particularly easy, but a bit of time with Google and social networking and you can usual find a set.
  2. Reach out to them, preferably via mutual acquaintances, but otherwise with a direct, brief email. Explain what you are working on and why you are trying to better understand their field. Ask them for relevant books or articles that would help a motivated lay person understand their domain of expertise.
  3. Collect the list of reaching material from each source, then pick the 4 or 5 most popular and read them. More than that, study them, reading critically and for understanding. Take notes and generate questions from the readings.
  4. When you are done, write back to the people you asked for help. Thank them again, explain that you have read some of their recommended materials, and layout the questions and comments your studying generated.
At that point, you will have demonstrated that you are serious about your research and are willing to think hard about the subject. For most academics, researchers, and experts, having somebody do that much work to learn about their field is a pleasant surprise and, in my experience, they are more often than not willing to help you out with follow on questions, as well as introduce you to students who might be good fits for internships or open job positions.

Plus, you got to read about a new subject and come away with your mind stretched a bit. It is a win-win! You never will know enough to solve all the challenges you face starting businesses and creating new product, so having a network of smart people outside your domain can be an wonderful asset. It certainly was for Second Life development.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

washington post hiding under virtual desk

Yesterday, the Washington Post published a piece about terrorism and virtual worlds, "Spies' Battleground Turns Virtual." For those who might not know a lot about the space, the Post set a calm, measured tone with the subtitle "Intelligence Officials See 3-D Online Worlds as Havens for Criminals." The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity -- I love when committees name things -- released a report about virtual worlds and their purported threats. Unfortunately, I can't find a link to the report online, so I can only comment via the game of telephone. Moreover, while I have briefed experts from many three letter agencies, I have not spoken to anyone from IARPA, which is a little surprising and does make we wonder how much research they've really done. So, what does the report say?

Unfortunately, what started out as a benign environment where people would congregate to share information or explore fantasy worlds is now offering the opportunity for religious/political extremists to recruit, rehearse, transfer money, and ultimately engage in information warfare or worse with impunity.
Wow, this does sound scary. But how valid is it? First of all, let's talk about the money. Linden's Ken Dreifach is quoted in the story, but beyond what he says, let's think about the money issue for just a moment. In order for real world currency to change hands via a virtual world, the real world currency has to change hands. I know, this does seem confusing, but consider the distinction between the Linden Dollar, L$, Second Life's in-world currency and the US$. L$ can be passed between players within SL, but in order for them to escape SL they have to be exchanged for something of value in the real world. Doing that requires one of the following events to happen:
  • People to coordinate a meeting via SL to meet in the real world in order to exchange suitcases full of cash
  • Coordinate in SL to use wire funds between banks
  • Use one of the many L$:US$ exchanges using Pay Pal or credit cards to pay for L$, and then either Pay Pal or wire transfers to disperse the US$ proceeds
Notice anything? In all of these cases, banks or credit card companies get involved. Guess what? Ever since organized crime first started trying to launder money, banks have had to comply with government regulations on transactions, especially large cash transactions. There is no "money transfer with impunity" and asserting there is demonstrates a lack of understanding of the underlying technologies and capabilities.

This is important, because much like previous information and communications technology upheavals, there strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats inherent to virtual worlds that the intel community needs to understand. Poorly researched, headline grabbing reports do not advance their understanding or capabilities. As Jim Dempsey from the Center for Democracy and Technology points out, we have been here before. As a society, we have historical precedent for balancing the economic and social benefits of freedom against the potential harms.

What about the rest of the paragraph? Certainly there plenty of examples of games being used for recruitment and propaganda for extremist groups, both Islamic and Christian. But, if you are going to study how virtual worlds change the dangers and options, you had better understand how attempting to create a training scenario is Second Life is different from building it in the Unreal Engine or leveraging Google Maps. Or, for that matter, through images shared on Flickr and coordinated via one time pads and cell phones. The differences have tremendous implications for both traffic analysis and cryptanalysis.

Think about recruiting. Virtual worlds certainly have different affordances around recruiting than other media. The implications on trust and relationships of embodiment and place are receiving the research the deserve. However, leaping to the conclusion that virtual worlds are therefore perfect recruiting platforms misses the chance of using them to spread the alternate narratives so missing from Jihadist culture. Misses the thought of using them as better platforms for training the analysts and experts. Skips the resource of the thousands of native speakers of Arabic, Urdu, Persian, and other languages currently within SL.

Do intelligence agencies need to use virtual worlds and understand them? Absolutely. But they will only gain understanding by actually learning about virtual worlds. That will take significant time and effort, but there are many of us willing to help.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

oakland honda has the best service department in the universe

So I just had a blowout on the Bay Bridge driving home from SFO. For those who don't know the San Francisco Bay Area pretty much the one thing you hope never happens to you is that you have a blowout on the bridge. Ever. Because, like most modern, heavily trafficked bridges, the Bay Bridge utilizes every square millimeter to accommodate cars, so there is nowhere to stop or pull off. Plus, since there wasn't any traffic yet, everyone was doing the customary "there are no cops on the bridge so how fast can we go?"

That's when the left rear tire went. Boom. As in just enough time to think "What the...?" and then WHUMP WHUMP WHUMP and bits of tire flying all over the place. Immediate decision, since I was at the downslope already, to limp off the bridge. The tire wasn't going to be patched and I'd rather have to replace a rim then be stopped in traffic on the bridge. At the bottom there is a pull out area, so coasted to a stop, waited for my heartrate to stop, and got out to survey the damage.

Amazingly -- and just now slapping head for not taking pictures -- tread was still whole and partially attached to the inner bead, but the rest of the sidewall was gone and parts of the tread torn apart. Popped the trunk and started pulling out the tools. Kudos to Honda for making the jack and spare easily accessible, which on a little car like the S2000 isn't always easy.

Well, except for the "loosen wing nut" step.

See, the spare is bolted into place, which is clever. Unless the bloody bolt was tightened by a gorilla. Sure, I'm a programmer, but I couldn't move it. This is when the swearing really started -- and let me assure you, 6 years in the Navy leaves me well equipped in the swearing department. At this point, one of the huge, orange tow trucks that patrol the bridge showed up. The driver was very nice, and after calling it in, took over.

He couldn't move the wing nut either.

Fortunately, where I had to rely on the power of profanity, he had access to a big pair of pliers. The wing nut finally admitted defeat. Changing the tire then took only a few minutes but home was too far to go on the emergency spare. Fortunately, iPhone to the rescue!

Honda of Oakland
was the closest Honda dealer, so I carefully made my way over. I was greeted by Mike, who looked at the emergency spare, looked at the shredded tire and rim sitting on the passenger seat -- it didn't fit in the trunk -- grinned and asked "so I'm guessing you need a tire?"

I was still thinking that I was hosed, since I have an international trip tomorrow, then LA for USC early next week. I was dreading all the plans that would have to change and people I would miss because of having my car in the shop, when Mike pointed at the door to the waiting area.

"We have free WiFi and we should be able to get it done in a few hours. Or, if you're hungry, there's great sushi just down the street."

So, here I am, typing away. We'll see if they really can get to it in a few hours, but this has been the best service experience I've ever had.

apoc week 4

For this week, the class had to take a look at virtual worlds. WoW,, and of course Second Life. Everyone who develops 3D worlds requiring a download should have the chance to do this. Given a group of a dozen highly intelligent, motivated, connected, reasonably tech savvy people -- whose grades could conceivable be impacted by whether they successfully joined these worlds -- want to take a guess how many had smooth, positive interactions with these products?

Make your guess smaller. Now divide it by 2.

A minority of folks were able to get them running and wrote some insightful commentary on them in their reflection papers. Best line ever came from Er1N's "I'm Too Sexy for My Real Life" post about Virtual MTV's Laguna Beach:

The TV and now this virtual environment lie about what Orange County is like. Lame. I am fake offended.
During the class discussion, students raised good questions about the challenges of moving into 3D and how different the communities felt to the 2D and text communities of previous weeks. In particular, the change from the partial attention of browsing, IM, and email to the demanads of immersive 3D, although more experienced gamer/virtual worlds folks did point out that you can use SL in a partially attentive way. We also spent a big chunk of class talking about the Microhoo! merger, with some good questions around how Microsoft's culture would interact with Yahoo's.

Finally -- and ironically given that we were talking about search -- Karen pointed us towards one of the funniest sites I've seen in a while -- -- which I can't believe I hadn't seen. Makes you think about just how effective social based search could be.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

37signals and getting real

37Signals published -- and posted online -- a book about software development called "Getting Real." It's the type of book that will generate hyperbolic praise -- read Seth Godin's jacket blurb -- and "this isn't new at all" derision. The truth, of course, is somewhere in between. If you are a software developer, manage software developers, need to work with software developers, or want to understand the process of creating software a bit more, you should read it.

The 37Signals folks deserver a ton of credit for writing down the basic tenants of good software and product development. Most good organizations are already doing most of these things and -- like Joel's test -- should be aspiring to do more of them. The authors, again to their credit, also don't claim that much of what they are doing is new, but do present their ideas in a clean, easy to digest manner. It also feels a lot less cultish than a lot of the scrum or xp tomes. They are also cleverly giving it away, since this allows their ideas -- which just happen to mesh nicely with 37Signals' products -- to percolate widely. That's how I found it, which is great.

I also enjoyed reading it from the standpoint of how development is done at Linden Lab. We agree on most of the principles, even if reality and ideal don't alway match perfectly. The one area where their book needs be read carefully is that 37Signals is still a very small team. Communication and coordination challenges scale at least polynomially -- and probably exponentially -- so everything doesn't just get harder as your organization gets bigger, it gets much harder.

But, as I said, their book is a good ideal. So, if you have an hour, go read it.

aviary, fly me into your beta, please

Just stumbled onto Aviary, a collection of online tools for content creation. Basically, the art equivalent of Google Docs. Since I'm not in their beta yet, I have no idea how good they are, but I love this idea. Web as platform -- the more I play with it -- seems like such a smart direction. I wonder if they are using AIR for working offline? Would seem to be a shame if they weren't.

The real question is whether they are really allowing online collaboration. Google Docs lets you share documents and track changes online, but it doesn't allow collaboration in the Second Life sense of simultaneous collaboration. If Aviary's tools allowed wiki-like collaborative editing, diffing, and rollback, it could be an incredible tool for prototyping and brainstorming, as well as tools for art production.

Monday, February 04, 2008


Thanks to my APOC class, nearly every Monday I fly down to LA. This week was a little different because I had an unexpected consulting opportunity in New York City, so last night I caught the redeye, did 8 hours of meetings, and am now waiting at JFK airport for the flight to LA. I got snowed on, which was an unexpected bonus. Plus, I got to read all the Superbowl coverage in local NY papers -- hey, they beat my Packers, so I had to root for them in the big one!

In a second bonus, the "Yes We Can" video I linked to is playing on CNN right now -- I wonder how many people will see it before tomorrow?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

wait a minute

So, how come people who get excited about faces on Mars

or a Martian bigfoot

fail to get as worked up about clear evidence that the universe has a sense of humor?

At the least the other Cory will get properly annoyed when he learns that Mercury is copyrighted...

Of course, if we get over our northern hemispheric bias, maybe RMS has already been to Mercury...
Thanks, Phil!

yes we can

This is an impressive video. Wow. Ever get the feeling that we are just scratching the surface of how people will communicate? How we'll share ideas? Yes, one could view it is simply as a beautiful edit of strong words. But when some words are worth repeating, worth sharing, flexibility in how those words are shared is as important as the words themselves. Thank you for the link, Peter!

Yes we can.

making a hp 3055 all-in-one work with os x leopard over the network

One of the unexpected impacts of being on my own was the need to scan and fax documents. After a bit of research -- not enough, as it turns out -- I grabbed the HP 3055 at the local Staples. I picked the HP because I don't need color printing but do regularly need to scan more than one page. Also, it has an ethernet port, so I could just plug it into my home network.

Alas, while I did peruse Amazon's ratings and comments, I didn't do the critical Google search:

hp 3055 os x
Where the first result is a link to the Apple Support pages where people are complaining that the scan function doesn't work under Leopard. The thread is marked as being solved, but as far as I can determine, they are lying, since the neither solution worked for me.
  1. Use older version of HP scanning software
  2. Run HP Scan under Rosetta
The Rosetta solution didn't work for me and I couldn't find the older HP Scan software. However, I know that something in Bonjour changed for Leopard, since it caused my Infrant Ready NAS problems as well. What if Bonjour changes are impacting the scan function?

So, if you go to System Preferences -> Print & Fax and click on the "+" to add a printer, under the default option, the Bonjour printer pops up right away. However, if you wait for about 15 seconds, the printer will also show up as a Network Printer. Select that one. Then run HP's Setup Assistant and put in the IP address of the Network Printer and voila, everything works.

Me thinks something changed in Bonjour!

So, to recap, to get your HP 3055 to properly scan under OS X 10.5 Leopard:
  1. Use System Preferences -> Print & Fax to remove the Bonjour printer
  2. Click the "+" to add a new printer
  3. Wait until the Network Printer shows up as an option, then select it
  4. Now run HP's setup, reference the printer via IP address
Hopefully this will get fixed for real. Lots of long, angry threads on both HP and Apple's forums.

Friday, February 01, 2008

will microsoft + yahoo! be microhoo! or yahoo!soft?

Other folks are already writing about what Microsoft's proposed $44 billion buyout of Yahoo! could accomplish. Sure, maybe you can sum up their search and add businesses and create a more solid competitor to Google, although history is a bit short on examples of two losing businesses combining to create a Voltron of success. Moreover, what happens to top talent at Yahoo!? Microsoft's offer is a pretty impressive premium on Yahoo!'s current stock price, so folks holding on to complete their vesting may see this as a cashout opportunity. Many employees may have chosen Yahoo! over Microsoft because of -- in my opinion, outdated -- worries about Microsoft's culture, business practice, operating system choices, or whatever.

Worse, it seems like both Microsoft and Yahoo! are still trying to play catchup to Google by copying Google rather than by attacking whatever's next. Sure, when Google is raking in nearly $5 billion a quarter, it may be tempting to just copy them, but does anyone really believe that in a decade current approaches to search and ads will still be dominant? Adwords are the most profitable way to sell online advertising today, but there are 100 (1000?) different approaches being tried in garages and labs all over the world.

Many of those will be better than adwords. By a lot. I'm not sure that Microsoft is more likely to own one of those approaches by buying Yahoo!

Which in now way is a slag on Yahoo! Many friends at Yahoo! are among the smartest folks I know, but they don't seem to be leveraging the advantages they have -- remember, they have the most popular portal and email system on the Web -- to the degree I would have expected, and I doubt being acquired by Microsoft will change that.