March 27, 2008
This is a great article from Mechanix Illustrated magazine, written in November 1968, speculating what life in 2008 would be. I thought this was especially interesting since I was born in 1968.
They were close in a few places:
Of course, there are a few doozies:
And I really wish I had that 21st century commodity -- the intelligence pill.
I think our world is cooler in some ways (PCs, the Internet, and cellphones to name a few), but in many ways, I think we haven't delivered on the hopes of forty years ago. I want my rocket ship!
(Thanks to EricLaw for the pointer.)
March 25, 2008
I admit, I'm an idiot when it comes to the workings of the financial market, so I don't really get what happened with Bear Stearns, the subprime mortgage crisis, etc. Fortunately, I have friends who get this stuff and can explain it.
First, my old high school (and elementary school) friend Chooky has a (long), reasonably plain-English explanation of the collapse of Bear Stearns. Here's a bit to give you a taste.
So what happened with Bear Stearns? Very simply if we think of them as a hedge fund that is massively leveraged then all you need to go wrong is for their assets to go down in value enough that some bad things start to happen. Those assests that went bad started with the securitized mortgages above. Instead of selling all their mortgage tranches off to hedge funds and pension funds Bear Stearns kept some of them. These are called residuals. All the primary investment banks kept some of these tranches. Why? Well, they had good returns. Often the tranches they kept were the worst - the equity tranche. Sometimes they kept them because they couldn't sell them to anyone. They should have known better but again you have people shooting for the moon. They could lose their job but they could also be retired by next year.
My college friend, Adam Nash, added to this with a pointer to the presentation to JP Morgan investors in the JPMorgan/Bear Stearns deal and a link to a rude but funny stick figure explanation of the subprime mess.
Good thing I have smart friends with blogs to explain stuff to me. Check it out.
March 23, 2008
Andrew (10) is normally my nice kid, but he made a cruel, but accurate observation the other day.
Andrew [earnestly]: "Dad, you're big but not tall, if you know what I mean."
Time to diet and work out more, I guess...
March 22, 2008
Aaron Wider, CEO of the HTFC Corp, dropped the F-bomb at least 73 times in a deposition over the mortgage crisis on top of not answering questions and being a general ass. The judge fined him and his attorney $29,000 for violating the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Here's a little snippet for your enjoyment. Mr. Wider is being questioned by opposing counsel:
Q: This is your loan file. What do Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald do for a living?
A: I don't know. Open it up and find it.
Q: Look at your loan file and tell me.
A: Open it up and find it. I'm not your fucking bitch.
Q: Take a look at your loan application.
A: Do it yourself. Do it yourself. You want to do this in front of a judge. Would you prefer to [do] this in front of a judge? Then, shut the fuck up.
Q: Sir, take a look--
A: I'm taking a break. Fuck him. You open up the document. You want me to look at something, you get the document out. Earn your fucking money, asshole. Better get used to it. You'll retire when I'm done.
We've certainly had a bunch of legal missteps historically at Microsoft, but I don't think we've ever been this boneheaded (I'm sure others will disagree). I seem to recall something in our legal training about not being such a doofus in a deposition. Oh wait, they didn't say anything about this because anyone with half a brain would know better.
HTFC's website is equally classy.
Continuing my fascination with super-sized sea life, check out these ginormous seastars found in Antartica.
They're so creepy they almost look fake.
More info here on MSNBC.
March 13, 2008
Oh, baby. I can't believe I hadn't thought of this before...
From Breakfast Blogger
Do-it-yourself instructions on Instructables
See the original here, with links to get t-shirts, etc.
This video is an "abridged history of American-centric war, from World War II to present day, told through the foods of the countries in conflict." It's brilliant and well done.
Visit Tourist Pictures for a breakdown of the battles and the cheat sheet of the foods used.
March 8, 2008
It's been a crazy week. On Wednesday, my team released the first beta of Internet Explorer 8.0, the next version of our web browser. There's always a flurry of activity leading up to a big event like this -- lots of details to get right, last minute fire drills when something doesn't work right, and so on. Because we were announcing the beta during the opening keynote at MIX08 (no, I didn't go this time, but you can read my backstage account from MIX06 here) we had to have everything ready to go by noon on Wednesday. This added to the pressure since we couldn't slip. There were a huge set of coordinated events that had to happen together. Fortunately, the team pulled it off and everything (mostly) went off without a hitch.
The countdown banner in the photo above hangs above the door to the elevators (you can see our nice neon IE logo too). It originally said "IE8 Beta 1 in n Days" but we had to change it because we were keeping the launch date under wraps and didn't want any visitors to see it (there's a press briefing room on our floor that's used by other teams as well).
Anyway, after the signoff, we started blogging about the release (finally!) starting with the announcement of the release. There was the predictable avalanche of blog comments, bugs, and newsgroup questions to respond to. I think it's pretty fun to interact with the community, although I admit I could do with fewer rude commenters. You'll see replies from me in spurts on the IE Blog posts; I try to jump in whenever I have a few free minutes.
Those of us who weren't at MIX watched the keynote in a conference room and had some sparkling wine. Later in the afternoon, we had a bigger shindig with bbq, drinks, IE8 t-shirts, and two Rock Band setups. The team has been crazy about Rock Band lately; we seem to have it at all of our events and even have had some late night office Rock Band action. It's actually a good way to get to know each other, and it's pretty fun seeing who the good singers and drummers are (harder to tell about the guitar/bass players.) Here's Jason, our Test Manager playing drums (he's actually a drummer but was new to Rock Band.) I love the IE team; we have a lot of fun together.
Anyway, it's great to finally be public about IE8 and start talking about it. It's definitely aimed at developers, so we're not showing a lot of cool new end user stuff yet. If you'd like to give it a whirl, you can download it here. On to Beta 2 and release! (And no, I'm not going to say when we're releasing, so don't ask...)
I recently finished reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann. As implied by the title, Mann describes the rich and sophisticated civilizations that existed in the Americas before Columbus. Rather than the small bands of natives that lived in harmony with nature, the world Mann describes had cities that rivaled or even surpassed anything in Europe or Asia in population and development, people who reshaped entire ecosystems to suit their needs, and a refined understanding of technology and nature.
While I was mostly unaware of evidence of these things beyond the Mayan ruins and such, I was particularly interested by the areas Mann points out where the Indians (and he uses this word explicitly) optimized their solutions to problems differently than Europeans or Asians. For instance, rather than domesticate livestock like bison, the Indians in North America simply extended the range of the bison and optimized the forests to allow deer to flourish by regularly setting fires to prairies and the forest undergrowth. At one point, bison ranged as far as Maine and Georgia.
Another example of this difference is the Inka's use of fiber instead of steel or wood for tools. Andean cultures wove reed ships that were easily the size of Spanish caravelles, built rope suspension bridges, and made quilted cloth armor that was almost as strong as European armor at a fraction of the weight (the conquistadors switched from their breastplate and helmets to the Inkan armor.)
A third example I found interesting was the Norte Chico civilization in the Andes. They were unusual in the fact that they developed agriculture not for food like every other civilization in the world, but for cotton. The primary use for this cotton was to make fishing nets to harvest fish. There's almost no evidence of food crops at all.
Like Jared Diamond describes in Collapse and Guns, Germs, and Steel, Mann points to a few factors that brought these great civilizations down. Early contacts (even pre-Plymouth or pre-Cortez) introduced smallpox and other diseases that wiped out huge percentages of the populations. By the time the Pilgrims arrived, scores of Indian villages had already disappeared. In other cases, over-population and bad climactic conditions (usually drought) wiped out civilizations to the point where they were conquered and/or assimilated by their neighbors.
I thought the book was well-written and fascinating. It's great to see more light thrown on these incredible civilizations.
March 3, 2008