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Journal: Microsoft to Pull Out of China for Humanitarian Reasons?

Journal by coupland

I thought this BBC article was fascinating. Apparently Microsoft is considering pulling out of China for humanitarian reasons. Yeah, right. I don't doubt Microsoft is considering the current political climate, but it's got nothing to do with protecting bloggers. After all, why aren't they pulling out of Saudi Arabia or Iran? I think it's obvious the real reason is China's lax IP laws, rampant software piracy, the government's pro-open-source rhetoric, and the Chinese government's general reticence to a) trust matters of national security to proprietary companies based in the USA and b) ship massive amounts of national wealth to the head offices of companies headquartered outside Asia. And it's not just Microsoft that's finding the business climate hostile, lots of other companies are too. But it's easier to make a sound bite out of persecuted bloggers than to argue in favour of stronger IP laws on behalf of one of the most profitable companies in the world.

Media (Apple)

Journal: The IBM / Apple / Sony truimvirate?

Journal by coupland

It's beginning to occur to me that some things that are happening in the industry of late that I've been tracking separately are, quite possibly, directly related. IBM is pushing for Wintel independence. Apple is pushing for video through iTunes. Sony is pushing the PSP and PS3. But really, aren't these things intertwined? And do they hint at some back-room collusion between these three companies?

Why was Sony present at the release of the iPod Shuffle? Doesn't Sony hate Apple? Didn't Apple steal Sony's chance to own the digital music market? Why are they playing nice?

Why is the PSP shipping with a copy of Spiderman 2?

What is the future of PPC? I mean, we all know that IBM sold their PC division to Lenovo so that they could pump Linux on PPC, right? Well, what if we're wrong?

Well, we all know that IBM is frothing at the mouth over the concept of grid computing. Otherwise known as utility computing. "Grid" and "utility" are both terms used by the power industry and it's no coincidence they are being used here. IBM wants you to plug into computing the way you plug in a lamp. Plug and go. No fuss, no muss, you get a bill once a month only for what you use. And IBM wants that bill to always come from them. And the key to this dream? The Cell processor. Grid computing no longer as a concept, but as a concrete solution. An IBM solution. So in the long term, IBM doesn't want wintel independence for Linux/PPC, they want it for Cell. Okay, nothing too surprising here.

Now, Sony is showing up at the release of the iPod Shuffle. As Cringley has already said, this is likely because Apple wants to make a push into selling movies on ITMS. No doubt they would kill to have access to Sony's content, so they start to cozy up. Sure Sony wants to sell content online, so it's smart for them to play along, even in this limited a capacity. But does Sony want the Mac mini to be your digital entertainment hub? Hell, no. They want it to be the PS3. And does Apple want to be in the PC business? Personally, I don't think they want to be anymore. In fact, their introduction of a $499 PC actually serves to reinforce the idea that they've abandoned the PC as a major revenue stream. Would Apple and Sony come to an agreement that would have Sony content offered on ITMS with the Mac mini serving as a temporary platform until PS3 can be finalized and released? I don't think it's far-fetched.

So if the PS3 is intended as your new media hub, why is the PSP being sold with Spiderman 2? Well, a hub implies spokes, and you can rest assured both Apple and Sony want to tap into the media-on-the-go market. Apple owns that market for music, but have nothing on the market for video. Enter the PSP. But is the PSP really where these two companies want media-on-the-go to end up? I don't think so. I think the PSP is a bridge to fill a product gap much the same way as the Mac mini fills a gap before the release of the PS3. I wouldn't be surprised to see Sony and Apple in bed to transition the Mac mini into the PS3, with Apple offering some technology to help make it happen. Conversely, Sony would transition some technology to Apple to help them build out the iPod into a video-capable device. Maybe even a video *and* gaming capable device.

So in summary, where would this hypothetical situation leave us? Well, Sony would become the content provider. Apple would become the store-front through iTunes. Sony would provide the digital hub in the form of the PS3, and Apple would provide the media-on-the-go device in the form of the iPod. Apple would throw in some OS and usability experience to get an OSX derivative running on the PS3 or more likely the PS4, and you've got two companies divvying up the multimedia living room rather deftly.

So where does IBM fit in all this? Well, they make the processors that run all these devices. Yes, including the iPod Video. They power the grid, they send you the monthly bill. They also have powerful support behind the Cell processor which they use to attack wintel on corporate desktops, but more importantly eating away at HP and Sun in high-end computing platforms and services. They continue to rely on Linux as the business OS of choice, and cooperate with Sony and Apple to let them dominate the consumer space.

A long-shot? You betcha. Rest assured that if Apple sees the Mac Mini take off with the success of the iPod, they won't just walk away and let the PS3 become your multimedia hub. And if Sony sees the PSP selling like the Walkman, they won't hand those technologies to Apple for use in the iPod. And if IBM doesn't see huge acceptance of Cell, they'll continue to push their PPC architecture. But these scenarios are probably unlikely. People will adopt slowly, and it's unlikely anything in this first generation will be the "killer app." If not, I think what I've described above could certainly come to pass.

Media (Apple)

Journal: Apple firing on all cylinders 2

Journal by coupland

Yeah, I was one of them. It was me. I'm sorry. I'm one of the people who predicted the demise of Apple in the 90's. It was a guilty pleasure, I watched their downward spiral with anticipation, eagerly awaiting that day they'd finally close their doors and no one would be able to stick their nose up at my PC again. Ha!

Of course, my prediction never came to pass. Love him or lump him, Steve Jobs brought them back from the brink of disaster. The iMac and Powerbooks brought them back to being a very successful niche player in the PC market. Very successful, but with the Mac alone they would always be nothing more than a niche player. Then one day, completely by accident, they stumbled upon the one thing that would be able to rocket them to the forefront of the collective consciousness. I'll avoid the melodrama and just say yes, it's the iPod. 8.2 million sales in 2004? 70% market share for online music sales? And that's against companies like WalMart! These are not the numbers of success, they are the numbers of complete domination.

So where am I going with this? Well, I just wanted to comment on the MacWorld announcements. I've never been an Apple fan (never used a Mac), but this week's announcements genuinely got me excited. Not necessarily in the sense that the products themselves were revolutionary, but rather in the sense that I think this company has finally caught its stride and is about to -- for the first time in its history -- become a real industry powerhouse.

Firstly, the iPod and iTunes sales results blew me away. Apple is now a major media company, and with their market share they're guaranteed to remain one for a long, long time. The iPod shuffle itself didn't amaze me, to me it's just an also-ran. Sure, I think they needed to release it so that they have a product at every end of the spectrum, but I still think iPod is about carrying *every* song you own, and the HD-based models will continue to dominate. But still, they filled a hole in their product line to prevent any surprises by the likes of Creative.

iWork is impressive because I think a lot of people who would love to use a Mac are turned off by the thought of having to use MS-Office on it. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but I mean it. The Mac post-OSX has a lot of geek appeal, but those same geeks don't want to see any Microsoft labels on their toy. They'd gladly run Apple software, but MS-Office? No way! And at $79 the price is right.

Lastly, the announcement that really excited me was the Mac mini. Brilliant. A $500 Mac. A $500 Mac that's as cool and hip and stylish as that $3,000 Mac you've been drooling over but never bought because of the price. A $500 Mac that runs Unix. A $500 Mac that's the perfect accessory to that iPod you love so much. This thing will sell like hotcakes to geeks who've always wanted to dabble on a Mac. It will sell like hotcakes to non-geeks as an iPod accessory. It will sell like hotcakes to Mac enthusiasts who want another PC in the kitchen, or the den, or the family room. It's just plain-old going to sell like hotcakes. And spur more iPod sales. And more software sales. Apple will shortly become a major player in computer sales for the first time, in addition to already being a major media company. So in 5 years we'll all be running Macs and Microsoft will have faded into obscurity? No. But this MacWorld has convinced me that Apple will no longer be just a fringe player, but will soon be a popular and powerful alternative.

I have a confession to make. I love IT. And I love to see companies in my field that are doing well, that are ahead of everyone else, that are planning five years into the future instead of just planning for the next quarterly earnings report. The future of IT now sits in the hands of IBM, Dell, Novell (more on this later, but just trust me here) and now Apple. I'm genuinely enjoying watching this unfold.

United States

Journal: #1 Reason to Hate the Religious Right 3

Journal by coupland

What I love about this election is that when all the political pundits had had their say, they agreed that the deciding factor in this election was "moral issues." The war in Iraq turned into a big red herring, with both candidates promising more of the same, but Kerry promising little more than to feel bad about it. The election came down to gay marriage and abortion.

You heard that right, folks. The "moral issues" in this election were gay marriage and abortion. The illegal invasion of a sovereign state that resulted in the deaths of 100,000 Iraqis never even figured on the morality bill. So what "moral issues" were at stake? Quite simply:

1. Whether or not we can forbid gays from marrying, and
2. Whether or not we can forbid a woman from making choices about her body.

How on earth did veto power over other people's moral choices become a platform advocating morality?

Don't get me wrong, I'm only mildly in support of gay marriage, and I'm very wishy-washy on abortion. I think it's totally warranted in some circumstances, but I'm not fond of it as a replacement for wearing a rubber. But I am not the ultimate power in the land. And I wouldn't presume to force my opinion on others. In situations like this the mature thing to do, the moral thing to do, is to err on the side of tolerance. Yet somehow this election equated "forcing your opinion down other peoples' throats" with "morals" and the murder of 100,000 Iraqis as a mere blip on the radar. I know that God doesn't exist because if he did, he would fry these hypocrites where they stand.

United States

Journal: US Election 7

Journal by coupland

Well, I didn't want to put anything in writing while I was still hopeful that Bush may not win another four years, but now that it seems at least fairly likely I will put my opinion to paper. Or, electrons....

I went into this election with a bittersweet taste in my mouth. I knew that either Bush would be upset and the world would be a bit safer for four more years, or that Bush would win and the fall of the American Empire would be dramatically hastened.

Now, when I use the phrase "American Empire" I don't use it in the traditional sense of "evil American imperialism." I find that very passe. I use it in the sense of a government that is ruled by an omnipotent emperor where right of rule is hereditary. Somehow America has passed the age where they value democratic rule, and are instead looking for a king to rule them. Not unlike Ancient Rome after the rule of Caesar Augustus, but actually identically-so. If you hate to learn from history, please stop reading.

Anyways, Bush has a huge lead at this point. His moronic bumbling, war-mongering, and anti-islamic genocidal policies will be with us another 4 years. One-hundred thousand Iraqis have already died while we "freed" them. Let's stop calling it Iraqi Freedom and call it what it is: Eternal Freedom. If you're an Iraqi we promise to give you an eternity of freedom. When does invading a sovereign state to "free" them become genocide? Does a hundred-thousand deaths count? Surely if you asked them they've had enough "freedom" for one generation. Please call off the bombers.

And yet the downward spiral will continue. International relations will continue to decline. The deficit will balloon out of control. Defense spending will rise unabated and the trade deficit will widen. Blacks will suffer, Hispanics will suffer, everyone but the rich will suffer. The Nazis have taken control and they have done so by popular vote. There is nothing left for us to do.

China, EU, we look to you now for salvation. The fall of a superpower takes decades or centuries, but I want to live to see who ascends in the place of America.


Journal: Why have sciences progressed where social skills haven't?

Journal by coupland

In the seven million years since Homo Sapiens evolved, our grasp of science has increased exponentially. We have mastered fire, the elements, engineering, physics, the atom, and relativity.

However our knowledge of the vagaries of social interaction remain unchanged. Human communities are still ruled by alpha males, popularity is still more about dominance than intelligence, and prominence in the social structure has more to do with social ability than intelligence. It seems that social hierarchies and primitive social structures have deviated only minimally from their evolutionary origins, while knowledge and scientific understanding have increased exponentially.

Why can we not advance socially even while progressing so quickly scientifically? Why does science move so quickly when our own interaction enjoys no huge leaps forward? It's a total mystery to me how we can progress so quickly in the sciences and physics, but not at all in the area of social interaction.


Journal: Smart New Microsoft Approach

Journal by coupland

This article absolutely fascinated me because it was the first really smart thing I've seen from Microsoft to combat the threat of open source. They're planning on offering their developer tools, and other tools as well, as "open source". I put quotes around the phrase "open source" because they obviously won't use the GPL, but I trust them when they say they'll use some form of free license. And why not? It's a brilliant idea.

First of all, expect them to make a tonne of products open source. No really -- they will make them truly open and available and free and compelling. Don't believe me? Well, remember that Microsoft only makes money on Windows and Office. Everything else is a money-loser. They can afford to give almost every product they make away for free (or even Free) and not lose a penny if it keeps people on Windows and Office.

What is even more clever about this is the fact that they are starting with their developer tools. Microsoft got people onto DOS, Windows, NT, because they had great developer relations and great developer tools. They are following this same strategy now, by both wooing developers by appealing to their desire for open source tools, and by giving their tools the benefit of having thousands of people improving them at once. This is a very conscious attempt to use their historically greatest strength -- developer relations -- against free software. If they can lock in developers then they can create better products and can maintain the monopoly.

I still know that Linux and free software is an unstoppable force, and nothing Microsoft does can change that, but this is the first really bright and creative reaction I've seen from Microsoft. Kudos to them for at least bringing something to the party. ;-)


Journal: CBC and Patriotism

Journal by coupland

Today while mowing the lawn I started thinking about the relative absence of good political satire in the US. Sure, there's good satire to be had, but here in Canada you can turn on the TV just about any night of the week and hear our leaders being mocked, sometimes mercilessly, on prime time. For example, there is a show here on the CBC named "This Hour has 22 Minutes" that is absolutely biting political satire. No politician comes out unscathed.

Normally I would just shrug it off and think about something else, but it occurred to me there's something odd about this situation. The CBC. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A Crown Corporation. Government-run. How come our local government-run broadcasting system turns out so much more biting political satire, directed at itself, than all the private stations of the US? Isn't this the opposite of how free market vs. socialism should work? If anyone is reading this I'd like to hear some theories, but I'll throw out a few. I'm not saying I'm endorsing any of them, I'm jut throwing them out for thought:

The Lowest-common-denominator Syndrome - Maybe private companies are so fixated on ratings and popularity that they don't dare say anything controversial for fear of dividing their audience along political boundaries. I suppose that wouldn't help them sell more Tide. Everyone knows the CBC has a lot of cultural programming they couldn't get away with if they were in a race for ratings, no doubt some of this attitude applies to political commentary as well.

Culture and Political History - Perhaps it's the difference in cultural makeup between Canada and the US. Certainly our comedy is noticeably different, and Canadians tend to share the same love of satire as the British. No one can deny that Canadians and Brits love political satire. But the fly in this ointment is that the US and Canada were settled at the same time, so we have the same parentage. However, we embraced British culture longer because of our loyalist history. Certainly the CBC is modelled after the BBC. Perhaps American political satire died a quick death because after the Revolution there was such a sense of pride in the fledgling government, and such a desire to avoid outright criticism of the government in its early years that political satire died a swift death. Just ideas and conjecture, nothing more.

The War Culture - This will be unpopular, but anyone with a remotely objective view of things will admit that the US has been in a war economy since the 40's. In times of war political satire can lead to dissent and is necessarily supressed to some degree. No doubt even through self-censorship. Perhaps the uncertainty of the second world war, the trepidation of the Cold War, the repression of McCarthyism, the political maelstrom of the Vietnam conflict, countless minor wars, and the solidarity of post-9/11 America have all contributed to a culture that avoids criticism, and instead rallies behind the President. The flaw with this argument is that political dissent in America has always been healthy and strong, just not in the media, and not in the form of political satire.

Ultimately the reason may be none of the above, or more likely, a combination of the above and some other factors. I just find it odd that our state broadcasting corporation thrives on brutal political humour, yet the power of the private sector in the US doesn't seem to have any inclination to do the same.


Journal: Humans are the only Highly Evolved Organism in the Galaxy 5

Journal by coupland

Based on my beliefs about evolution, the preceding headline must sound shocking. To clarify, I don't doubt that the Milky Way is teeming with life, however I think it's unlikely that there are any other highly advanced races in our vacinity. While I don't doubt others will appear, I suspect that we're the first. The reason is because of the exponential nature of evolutionary progress. To illustrate, here is a short timeline of history:

20 billion years ago - the Big Bang
4.6 billion years ago - Earth formed
4 billion years ago - origin of life
600 million years ago - Cambrian explosion
7 million years ago - Homo sapiens emerges
~6000 years ago - recorded history begins
200 years ago - man invents the steam locomotive
35 years ago - man walk on the moon

What this illustrates is that by far the vast majority of time spent on the evolutionary ladder is spent evolving into an advanced species. Once this is done, scientific advancement occurs at a frenetic pace. It took us 4 billion years to invent powered locomotion and only 200 years to travel to the moon. Even if it took another thousand years for man to visit another solar system, it would still prove the point that, in the grand scheme of things, interstellar travel occurs very shortly after the evolution of a highly advanced race. Since we've not seen space tourists buzzing about our atmosphere, this proves that no other races have reached this evolutionary stage, at least in our proximity.


Journal: Recent Readings: Summary

Journal by coupland

Dude Where's my Country? - Michael Moore

Michael Moore's books are always entertaining, he's got a good sense of humour and has a great way of sharing his exhuberance in a way that gets you excited with him. That having been said, I think Michael is the CNN of the political left. Sound bites, accusations, preposterous conclusions, and completely baseless accusations filled with venom. And I applaud him for it. It's worked for the right for decades and sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Sure he's no Noam Chomsky, but he's a bright guy with a valid opinion that should be heard. He needs to be heard even if nothing but to counteract the crap you hear on CNN. This book was by far his most potent and targeted. No hidden agenda here, Michael wants nothing more than to get Bush out of the White House at any cost. He does a good job of showing the duplicity of the Bush administration, his complicity with big business, and some very shady dealings. Unfortunately he often will take a single isolated incident and, with a great deal of fanfare, end it with a preposterous conclusion. ("And that is how we know George W. Bush is the devil incarnate!") But he's just giving the right more of their own medicine, and the book itself is an entertaining and thought-provoking read.

Death of a Revolutionary - Richard Harris

What to say here? A story about Che Guevara's last campaign and death in the jungles of Bolivia. He paints the picture of a rabid revolutionary and brilliant guerilla warrior, who rode one victory straight to his grave. The writing could only be described as "unobtrustive" -- it didn't interfere with the story, nor did it have me on the edge of my seat, anxiously awaiting the next page. Che lived in a time when lofty, sentimental ideals were at war with level-headed, practical history. I have a hard time seeing the fall of Che's idealized system of communist revolution as a great tragedy. Marxism was one of the greatest political ideals of all time, but like all ideals it is impossible to realize in its true form. Systemic flaws doomed it from the start. Che lived and died in pursuit of an ideal that never came to fruition.

The Diamond Age - Neal Stephenson

In my mind Neal Stephenson has completely stepped out of the shadow of William Gibson. He lacks Gibson's relentless efficiency in verse, his brilliant power of description through understatement, and his stylistic vision. But hot damn can the man tell a story. Neal's stories carry much more emotional weight, his characters are dignified and fully-realized, even the flawed ones. He pulls history and romance and violence and hope together in a way that Gibson's unyielding technical proficiency cannot. The Diamond Age follows the life of Princess Nell -- a young girl living in an abusive home who through events I won't describe here, comes into possession of The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. An interactive book, or "ractive". The book is a metaphor for life, experience and opportunity, and only Princess Nell is able to translate the lessons learned from the book into the strength to defeat The Fists as popular revolt sweeps through Shanghai, and have herself crowned as Queen Nell. But really this is all incidental. This book is about characters, and Neal Stephenson knows how to create characters that you relate to, empathize with, and long to hear more of. While Neal's books are always filled with historical and moral lessons, he's adept at keeping these in the background, available for you to enjoy if you so please. But they always play second fiddle to engaging characters and a good story, which is as it should be.


Journal: Are complex molecules hard to make?

Journal by coupland

I don't think I agree with the conventional wisdom that it's an incredibly remote possibility that life could appear spontaneously, and that only the most perfect conditions could give rise to it. Nor do I think the Second Law of Thermodynamics is necessarily the sworn enemy of life or complex systems.

Essentially what I think is that given generally positive conditions, complex molecules and life are almost inevitable. My reasoning is that the building blocks of all material are the simplest forms of matter. These simple elements are acted upon by heat, electricity, light, radiation, and pressure and combine into heavier gases, minerals, and metals. These further react with other elements to form alloys, compounds, and molecules. Altogether relatively simple reactions, with the result over billions of years being a veritable petrie dish of varied, albeit simple chemicals. Some of these are highly reactive, others inert, others catalyzing reactions between other chemicals. You see varying concentrations of certain chemicals in eddies, pools, oceans, planets or even solar systems. While the original building blocks are relatively simple and homogeneous, slight variations during galactic or planetary development give rise to countless variations and concentrations of these chemicals. An infinite number of reactions occur with an infinite number of results. From any one reaction you will see one or more chemicals reacting with one or more other chemicals to produce byproducts. Energy or other chemicals. One isolated reaction has little effect on the system, but billions of reactions can have significant impact on the environment. Perhaps hydrogen and oxygen are reacting to form water. If this water molecule is stable and no reactions occur that further modify it, then the molecule will stick around. Over time, more and more water will form and less and less hydrogen and oxygen will exist (provided they are not being actively generated by other forces). In this scenario the environment is more suitable to the more complex chemical: water, than to the two simpler elements: hydrogen and oxygen.

It's very difficult to describe this theory without using language that ascribes some sort of human trait to these chemicals. "Water, oxygen, and hydrogen are in competition with each other and water wins because it is best able to survive and reproduce." However the fact of the matter is that it's simple statistics. There are still far more simple chemicals than complex ones, yet some complex chemicals will form that have a more stable structure that prevents them from breaking down instantly.

The diversity of the system as a whole further increases. More reactions take place. Some chemicals catalyze other reactions, allowing a small quantity of one chemical to cause large quantities of other chemicals to react, producing large quantities of product. Self-catalyzing reactions are self-sustaining provided there are sufficient reactants to feed the reaction. More molecules are generated and, statistically, some of these participate in fewer subsequent reactions and tend to increase in quantity. Others are obliterated almost as soon as they are generated, causing even more reactions.

In fact, to cite the previous, hypothetical example, if hydrogen and oxygen combine to produce water, then you have an even greater opportunity for reactions to take place. Water is an extremely effective solvent, so any large quantity of water will tend to have massive quantities of other elements dissolved in it. This chemical tonic brings more and more chemicals together, encouraging reactions. Currents and convection keep the mixture in flux, generating even more reactions. In fact, this type of action can form complex systems that are self-sustaining. Chemical A reacts with Chemical B at the bottom of a body of water. This generates Chemical C and heat, causing the water to rise. This rising water is bombarded by ultraviolet light as it approaches the surface, generating Chemical A, which subsequently sinks and begins the cycle again. It's this kind of complex system that really kicks things into high gear. Certain chemicals begin to concentrate in certain parts of the system and these high and low concentrations -- and their interactions with each other -- cause even more varied and complex reactions. What we're seeing is that over time, trends will form and statistics dictate that some complex systems will develop and stabilize.

What happens if certain molecules combine or bind? What if a catalyst binds to a product of a reaction? Then that product will carry with it the key to generating even more molecules like it. What if a molecule binds with another molecule that makes the two more stable? What if Molecule A is highly sensitive to ultraviolet light and quickly breaks down in its presence. However Molecule A binds with several molecules of Molecule B which block this ultraviolet radiation and allow Molecule A to remain a part of the system?

We're still talking completely inanimate chemical reactions yet we can see already flashes of how life works. Chemicals thriving under ideal conditions. Ecosystems, cell walls, reproduction. When you bite these things off in little chunks they aren't so hard to digest. As chemicals form into more and more complex systems you see molecules teaming up with other molecules into structures that are more stable and offer more protection. Products bind with catalysts resulting in more reactions. Products combine with catalysts and other molecules which surround and protect them. Over millions of years you find advanced carbon-based molecules surrounded by proteins which protect it. The right combination of chemicals causes this molecule to react with those chemicals in the presence of catalysts, to form an exact replica of itself. This molecule then reacts with other protein molecules which bind to its outside, which creates an exact replica. Cell wall and the precursor to DNA. All after trillions of previous reactions, trillions of failures, and eventually through the magic of statistics, success. Statistics is, after all, the science of magic. Because no matter how improbable an event might be, no matter how many times it fails to happen -- if it's physically possible -- it eventually will happen.

And this improbable new structure, even though it's a single one in a sea of others, has a decent chance of survival because it was built with stable molecules. Molecules that had stood the test of time. And it was surrounded by proteins; proteins that through time had made this molecule more stable and less likely to be broken down by heat or UV radiation. And in the right conditions it could make a duplicate of itself. An exact replica. And this exact replica would, in turn, be able to react with proteins to form a protective coat that would shield it until, it too, could make an exact replica of itself. My theory is that the magic of statistics means that complex systems are virtually inevitable given enough time. Ideal conditions help, but the beauty of statistics is that eventually the right conditions will arise. And then the inevitable will happen. A million compatible systems may be destroyed by a passing comet, or a supernova, or simply a system that reacted itself into stagnance. But statistics dictate that the improbable must happen, given enough time.

And yet cutting through this theory at all levels don't we have the second law of thermodynamics? The great debaser? The guarantor that complex systems cannot arise without external forces? No. The second law neither precludes this, nor is at all at odds with this. In fact, it's the force which prevents this process from spiralling out of control and eventually crashing in on itself.

This theory is based on the concept of hierarchy. That cosmic quantities of light elements form incredible quantities of heavy elements which become enormous quantities of molecules which, in huge numbers of complex systems form giant numbers of molecular systems which combine into many, many living cells which make lots of organisms which eventually leads to quite a few complex organisms culminating in a small quantity of pink creatures called "Homo Sapiens". And if this hierarchical structure sounds familiar, it is. It's the evolutionary chain. But it's also the food chain and I think they're one of the same. And both can be traced all the way back to nebulous clouds of hydrogen.

Cosmic quantities of simplicity interact to form limited quantities of complexity. Yet the system as a whole remains stable. It is the hierarchical nature that is why the second law does not preclude this from ever happening. Statistics make it an inevitability that complexity will arise, while the second law makes it an inevitability that the reaction is self-limiting and cannot spiral out of control until every atom in the universe has evolved into a man. Even though the result is guaranteed, such a small part of the overall system ever reaches this level of complexity that the second law is never violated.

Sun Microsystems

Journal: Sun to cash in on utility computing

Journal by coupland

When I read this article today I decided it was time for another one of my technology predictions. It really surprised me because I saw hard facts, figures, and prices for true utility computing coming from the champion of specialized, high-cost computing, Sun. What's going on here? Pay-per-gigabyte NAS? Sliding price scales for underdeveloped countries? IBM is the company everyone thinks of when it comes to "on demand computing" but what Sun is talking about here is far more tangible and specific than anything I've heard from IBM. Can a leopard change its spots? This is the first time in a couple years that I've heard anything from Sun that genuinely intrigued me.

Now on to the prediction! This is a cohesive message to me. This is something people can latch onto and understand. Utility computing for dummies. HP's message is a confusing mess, a jumble of buzzwords with no discernible meat to it. (If there is something behind it then only the executives at HP understand what that is.) If Sun can keep this kind of clarity around their strategy then I think they will begin to erode HP market share in utility computing. IBM will remain the king, but someone will want an alternative and HP just isn't cutting it. Maybe they've got a good strategy, maybe not. Who knows? They certainly can't explain it to anyone. So Sun whittles away at HP market share and sets up for themselves a nice, sustainable niche in high-quality on-demand computing power. To succeed at this they will need to really work on their brand to make sure it's at the forefront of people's minds, well-defined, trustworthy, and readily associated with computing on demand. Personally I think they've taken the right first steps.


Journal: Antitrust + Linux = Trouble for M$

Journal by coupland

I spend a lot of time thinking about the computer industry. I work in it, so naturally it's on my mind, and the sordid goings-on between Linux, Microsoft, SCO, Novell, IBM, and Oracle make your average soap opera seem boring. I spend a lot of time trying to guess how the whole story will play out (will Darl find out that what he thinks is his baby is really the illegitimate love child of Linus and PJ?!?!) And usually my guesses are pretty close to the mark. Which is why I was so surprised a few minutes ago to realize that there are two important hypotheses I've had in recent years that I mulled over, qualified, classified, and filed -- right next to each other -- without realizing they were directly connected. And that they mean trouble for Microsoft.

Firstly, when the whole anti-trust thing was in full swing and Penfield-Jackson hadn't yet pissed the whole thing down the toilet, I began to think about the antitrust proceedings against IBM. I long thought that the outcome of the antitrust hearings against Microsoft were irrelevant, much like they were with IBM. You see, even though IBM was exhonerated, the antitrust investigation still brought them down. Partners and competitors that had been under their thumb for years realized that the giant was not all-powerful and started to revolt. They started to refuse to do things (even smart things) just because they were asked to by IBM. Look at the failure of the 2.88MB floppy disk -- an entirely good idea that never caught on because it was by IBM. I believed that Microsoft was in the same position: that the outcome of the antitrust lawsuit was immaterial because a lot of companies were waiting for them to get their comeuppance and now was their chance.

Unfortunately the end result of the whole antitrust debacle was that Microsoft essentially received carte blanche to do whatever they like, for however long they like. I was disappointed and walked away feeling like Microsoft had "won".

The second idea I had been batting around was that Linux was the first really credible threat to Microsoft in years. There was no company for them to "beat", there was no price for them to undercut, *and companies were throwing their support behind Linux simple because it's not Microsoft*.

Really, I've been staring the anti-Microsoft backlash in the face for years without recognizing it for what it was. Microsoft is vulnerable, and the industry knows it. They're tired of being pushed around and they're not gonna take it anymore. And supporting Linux, not in spite of Microsoft, but *to* spite them, is their way of lashing out. They don't even care if it hurts them in the short run, they're out to put the hurt on the *new* "Big Blue".

That having been said there are some significant differences between old IBM and Microsoft. For one thing, even at its worst Microsoft is executing far, far, better than old IBM was. old IBM was a farce and a laughing stock. "Weak as kittens, dumb as a sack of hammers." Microsoft is not making the mistakes that IBM did.

Secondly, Microsoft has 50 billion dollars in the bank. As long as they are executing well and have 50 billion dollars from which to draw, there will be no precipitous fall. They could abandon software entirely, switch to athletic shoes, and would probably do well. No really, I mean it. Bill Gates squirreled away 50 billion in cash because he's seen it happen in this industry where your market just *vanishes* overnight. He keeps that cash reserve so that if that ever happens they can recover from it with barely a scar.

So while I'm not predicting the death of Microsoft, what I am predicting is that Linux will continue to grow and prosper, to the detriment of Microsoft. This growth won't even follow the traditional rules of free markets since companies will support it, improve it, and deploy it simply because it's not Microsoft.

And *I've* got to stop leaving these thoughts in my head collecting dust -- some of them are dying to get out and meet each other.

User Journal

Journal: Political leanings

Journal by coupland

If forced to describe myself politically I'd probably be a fiscally-responsible leftist or a republican with a conscience.

I've never really understood how ideas or political ideals can be split into two distinct piles that are the be-all and end-all of belief. Why do I have to clear-cut forests just to appreciate a balanced budget, or waste money on starving artists just to appreciate the value of natural resources? Why can't you choose political ideals without having to sell your conscience?

User Journal

Journal: Whatever happened to free will?

Journal by coupland

In all this nature vs. nurture debate how did free will get lost in the shuffle? Somehow who someone is became either a product of genetics or of the environment. Where the hell did personal choice disappear to?

So if you're gay you were either born that way or something that happened in your life triggered it? If you choose to kill someone it's either a popped fuse in your brain or a bad childhood? Whatever happened to people being gay because they enjoy it or killers choosing to ignore what their morals are warning them against?

Do we have to absolve ourselves of responsibility for everything bad we ever do? "My parents were to blame," "I'm just different," "I had a rough childhood," "I have a mental illness," "I have no moral compass," or even better "I was just temporarily insane." If this is the case then we also have to absolve ourselves of responsibility for every good thing we do as well. After all, you can't claim being good is "free will" but everything that's bad is "nature or nurture."

Either your actions are a matter of free will and you deserve the praise (and punishment) they merit, or your actions are completely beyond your control and you deserve neither. You can't have it both ways, it's a contradiction.

ASHes to ASHes, DOS to DOS.