“Got kitesurfing on the mind, mixed with some search & classification tech, and a dab of political ranting”

Archive for October, 2006

Who does God love more, Dems or Reps?

Posted by direwolff on October 31, 2006

Boy, do I need to get a life or what? How do I keep running into these bizaro stories. Well, Republican or Democrat, if you live in a Red State, chances are religion is as much of a part of your life as it is for the good people of the Middle East, Iraq and Iran. In other words, you’re probably blind to the concept of separation of Church and State, or taken from the other perspective, you believe that those who adhere to this separation (those damn Constitutionalists) are blind to the ways of mankind. Well, given this Red State of affairs, it’s no wonder that the political debate going on in those cities and states are more about who loves God more, rather than the more mundane political mud slinging. Perhaps we can call this a step up from the personal attacks that are starting to make their way on to our airwaves nationally. Yes, the fight to replace Senator Frist in Tennessee should be a doozy.

I wonder if taken from yet another perspective, could any one claim that they know who God loves more?  Considering that by religious order, one is not supposed to use God’s name in vain, it’s amazing how much this rule is also ignored (generally by the most religious people).  I’d say that God’s probably as frustrated with his name being summoned so baselessly and expediently, as Google is with the use of the verb “to Google” frequently seen as “Googling”.  I once wrote that Google wants to compete with God, guess they may indeed have a lot in common.

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And for my next Act, Martial Law and Usury…and you never saw it coming

Posted by direwolff on October 31, 2006

What the heck is going on, and where is Congress in all of this? Where the hell is the opposition party in all of this? Is there an opposition party?! Seeing this article on how close to Martial Law Bush has gotten us to is enough to scare me pretty good given the insanity that has taken place in this country since his taking office…

In a stealth maneuver, President Bush has signed into law a provision which, according to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), will actually encourage the President to declare federal martial law (1). It does so by revising the Insurrection Act, a set of laws that limits the President’s ability to deploy troops within the United States. The Insurrection Act (10 U.S.C.331 -335) has historically, along with the Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C.1385), helped to enforce strict prohibitions on military involvement in domestic law enforcement. With one cloaked swipe of his pen, Bush is seeking to undo those prohibitions.

This is scary stuff and leads me to believe that this year’s October (or will it be November) surprise may have something to do with exercising these new found rights he has given himself. There are footnotes with links to sources that substantiate the story here. Is this really happening, are there really only two Senators, Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), willing to bring this to our nation’s attention, albeit using none of the mainstream media? And where is the mainstream press on this, shouldn’t they be uncovering this sort of thing on their own? Is this not sufficiently newsworthy to keep CNN, MSNBC, and FOX reporting on it 24/7?

In case you weren’t watching before, it’s time to wake up and fear our government more than we’ve ever feared it before.

Here’s the White House spin on this one. They’re not worried about posting this piece since most people in our country won’t read it anyway, and if it’s not on YouTube you can forget any one under 20 seeing it.

Oh, but if the story were only to stop here we could just be scared and leave it at that. It appears we also need a dose of disgust to go along with our fear. “What more could there be here?” you ask, well how’s this:

President Signs 2007 Defense Authorization Act; Caps Payday Loan Rates To Military Personnel At 36%

The rate cap was authored by Senators Jim Talent (R-MO) and Bill Nelson (D-FL). In addition to the 36% cap on annual interest rates, the amendment prohibits use of a personal check or other method to access the borrower’s bank account, or the title to their vehicle as collateral for a small loan. Congress approved the Talent Nelson amendment in September (see story).

In preparation for the new law, Advance America, the country’s largest cash advance provider, began denying access to payday loans by military personnel last month (see story).

What’s even more insane is that this article appears on the (RTO = Rent To Own) which views this as a negative development (note how Advance America is no longer helping to advance military personnel, afterall, isn’t that what America is all about…sheesh ;-). Forget the fact that a 36% loan is nothing short of usury, but the fact that there’s an industry group actually bemoaning this and suggesting that there should be no limits on loan interest and that the Senate is broken because of it, means that our so-called democracy is more broken than any one realizes. Don’t forget, the people being extended these loans are members of our armed forces, those we’re supposed to be supporting. So much for the Christian way I guess.

Martial Law and usury all in one Act, is it me or is this screwing with people in every State in the Union, not just the Blue or the Red States? If a ridiculous Act like this one doesn’t help bring the nation together, then nothing will. Can you imagine Bush being called a nation builder by pissing every one off so much that they line up against him…I can dream can’t I.

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According to the Prez, half of the world must go

Posted by direwolff on October 30, 2006

I get to say this with the same straight face he has when he says things as ridiculous and divisive as “America loses if Democrats win“, and, “you’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror“.   The former point is the latest rhetoric being deployed by the current administration which clearly tramples on what little sense of ethics it has left.  To even suggest that Democrats winning office is a loss for our nation after being part of the dominating incumbent party that has been able to take our country from being most sympathised with after 9/11 to the becoming the most despised internationally, for having gotten us into 2 wars (Afghanistan and Iraq), for being a lame duck in a the Israeli conflicts with the Palestinians and Lebanon, and for iritating relations with North Korea and Iran among other nations, is to have a very skewed sense of what winning means.

The latter comment basically supports the title of my post, because given that most of the world is aligned against us policy-wise, winning in the context of this administration must mean that every one else must go.   “Go” could mean die or go elsewhere (not sure where exactly), or perhaps it’s simply stay on their side of the fence that will eventually get built around the whole country ;-)

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More entrepreneurial transparency

Posted by direwolff on October 30, 2006

Brad Feld, a VC with Mobius Venture Capital, has a great blog worth watching by any serious entrepreneur as he provides excellent insights a la Union Square Ventures, though his tend to focus on some of the more technical issues around financings. If you have time and are thinking about a starting a new company, it’s worth going through Brad’s archives to look for his posts on breaking down the various subtleties of a term sheet and so on. Brad has also been an entrepreneur so he’s always very thoughtful in his posts to provide the entrepreneur perspective in the matters he discusses. Having spent time with Brad in the past (he also hired a dear friend of mine to work with him), I’d say he’s a darn smart VC and has doen very well for both himself and his investors over the years.

In catching up with his blog today, I found a link to Scott Converse’s blog, an entrepreneur funded by Brad who blogged about being a 40-something entrepreneur. Definitely worth reviewing as it will make you smile or cry depending on what perspective you bring to this post. For my $0.02 on the matter, I have several close friends who are 40-somethings running successful start-ups but have done so with a greater sense of balance. There are plenty of firestorms that keep them from joining in family activities, but they also know when not to make a firestorm out of something and focus on family. I used to shake my head when thinking of the challenges that at least two of them were embarking on, especially after just having a child, but to-date they’ve shown no signs of having their priorities mixed up. A caveat here is probably that they had all been entrepreneurs before so they knew what to expect, but it’s impressive to see how they have pulled it off so far. While I agree with 90% of Scott’s points in his post, I’d say that it’s probably easier to do a start-up at any age if you’re not encumbered by family or other work responsibilities.

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The VeeP is evil, no matter what he says

Posted by direwolff on October 27, 2006

Well, it didn’t take long after Bush signed into law his ability to decide what is torture and what’s not, for us to find out what that would mean. Apparently, Dick Cheney (somehow that surname gets more and more appropriate every day) thinks that waterboarding is OK. While some people may want to argue that the jury is still out on whether that’s really torture or not, it sure seems like the Army feels differently about the matter:

The U.S. Army revised its field manual last month to ban waterboarding and other techniques as “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” outlawed by the Geneva accords. Military officials said experience had shown that abusive techniques do not work in yielding reliable intelligence from prisoners.

But heck, Bush and Cheney are war veterans, right? Well, I can’t believe I’m going to resort to linking to a Lyndon Larouche piece to make this point but here it is. Oops, guess I was wrong, they’re not war veterans. I’m not sure what’s more insane, that this administration talks the tough talk or that conservative groups, who have already been admittedly duped by these guys, actually support this kind of talk in the midst of their own kids going off to war to suffer the indignities that these guys are putting them through. Now I see why I’m not going to the movies quite as much, as there’s no movie that can conjure up the kind of fiction to compete with the reality we’re all having to endure under this current government. I mean when some lowly representative (who has also never been to war) can stand at a podium and accuse a decorated Marine war hero of being a coward what more can you say (“You go Ohio, and way to vote in the right-wingnuts. Is this what you really support?”). Fortunately, in this latter case, it may end with Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) getting kicked out of office as it should be, but until that happens…

*** UPDATE – 10/27/06 later in the day: Looks like Cheney statements which appear in the transcript of his interview on a White House web site have created quite the stir. So much so, that even Lynne is getting in on the action…of course, begging the question is the best they can do because the transcript is out there and he did say it over the radio waves. Will someone tell Lynne that it’s just a little waterboarding, no biggie for an old war horse like Dick.  It’s really interesting to see how they try to deny this one.

Cheney did not back simulated drowning: White House

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The wife of Vice President Dick Cheney leaped to his defense on Friday after he was accused of endorsing simulated drowning by saying a “dunk in water” for terrorism suspects might be useful.

“This is complete distortion. He didn’t say anything of the kind,” Lynne Cheney told CNN’s “The Situation Room” when asked if Cheney was endorsing “water boarding,” an interrogation technique some human rights advocates consider torture.

And will someone award Senator Byron Dorgan (D) from North Dakota the boobie-head prize for master of the obvious comment of the year, it’s like he’s the last one to find out about this…

But North Dakota Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan said Cheney’s remarks showed that the legislation that was eventually approved was too vague.

“I think Vice President Cheney’s remarks make it clear that what was passed by Congress is sufficiently nonspecific to allow the administration to interpret it however they wish,” he told reporters.

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Simple vs. Complex usually wins…are you listening W3C?!

Posted by direwolff on October 26, 2006

Nothing like bringing a large group of smart engineering types together in a standards group to really deliver on new orders of complexity. So it feels when I try to read the GRDDL Primer or the GRDDL Specification by the W3C. I’m not going to claim to be the most technical guy in the world, but I can hold my own reading and understanding technical manuals, protocols and the like. Not that I can implement any of this, just that I’m not uncomfortable reading and understanding APIs or other standards protocols. First off, the name GRDDL should be cause enough for concern. It stands for Gleaning Resource Descriptions from Dialects and Languages.

Let me digress for a moment, as this all reminds me of a start-up I was involved with named Kinecta (previously named ShiftKey, later acquired by Stellent [Nasdaq: STEL]), where in 1999 we were delivering on the vision of widespread syndication by content providers using the Information and Content Exchange (ICE) protocol back when RSS was looking like it might undergo still-birth due to its lack of robustness and security. HA! Look who’s laughing now. In those days, syndicators like Reuters, the Financial Times, Red Herring and other professional content creators would not be caught dead syndicating their content via something as inherently insecure as RSS (Really Simple Syndication). Go figure. ICE had everything one could want in a protocol, a client-server architecture, content delivery scheduling, the ability to secure the syndicated content, delivery confirmation, and a host of other must haves according to the large content providers of the day. Looking back on this, it really was quite humorous. At the time, I was able to construct a very large story about why syndication would take off and grow in a manner similar to the Web. Heck, I used the history of the Web as my example for why ICE would lead the way to the next iteration of content distribution platforms. But alas, I was wrong.

What I forgot in all my excitement about ICE and this brave new world of syndication, was something self-evident in the very example I was using, which was that HTML succeeded in becoming completely ubiquitous where SGML had not. In other words, the same type of complexities that plagued SGML in its fight for supremacy as the standard mark-up language, would also plague ICE in its fight against RSS. What this demonstrated to me is that simplicity always triumphs over complexity. I’d further submit, that simplicity has a way of finding its way to complexity at some point which is why starting with complexity quickly becomes unmanageable and inevitably fails.

My first point in all of this is that the W3C’s GRDDL solution, already sniffs of too much complexity to scale smoothly. The irony is not lost on me that W3C supported ICE too and Vignette was it’s corporate champion.

Seth Goldstein’s blog post today about APIs touches on some history that I want to address further. Specifically he talks about the following:

In a memorandum dated July 15, 1949, Warren Weaver, who held the position of director of the division of natural sciences at the Rockefeller Foundation from 1932 – 1955, wrote about the possibility of language translation by an electronic computer. It was the first suggestion most had seen that such a thing might be possible, and as he draws the memorandum to a close, his words preview the emergence of the API:

Think, by analogy, of individuals living in a series of tall closed towers, all erected over a common foundation. When they try to communicate with one another, they shout back and forth, each from his own closed tower. It is difficult to make the sound penetrate even the nearest towers, and communication proceeds very poorly indeed. But, when an individual goes down his tower, he finds himself in a great open basement, common to all the towers. Here he establishes easy and useful communication with the persons who have also descended from their towers.

Thus may it be true that the way to translate from Chinese to Arabic, or from Russian to Portuguese, is not to attempt the direct route, shouting from tower to tower. Perhaps the way is to descend, from each language, down to the common base of human communication – the real but as yet undiscovered universal language – and then re-emerge by whatever particular route is convenient. Such a program involves a presumably tremendous amount of work in the logical structure of languages before one would be ready for any mechanization.

What struck me about Weaver’s quote was that it really touches on a number of issues related to understanding meaning, that none of the classical theories for categorization technologies (including the efforts around the W3C) or linguistics seem to have ever considered or taken seriously. In those few instances where I’ve heard ideas similar to Weaver’s raised, the linguists have been quick to dismiss this as a possible solution for tackling the problem around identifying meaning in unstructured content.

Now, I’m even less of a linguist than I am a technologist, but I do speak three modern languages fluently and a dialect. OK, for qualifications sake, I also took two years of a 4th modern language, though my vocabulary there is severly stunted. There are a few things I can say. First, translation is not about words, it’s about ideas and concepts. Some times word-for-word translation is easier to do, when explaining to someone what a person speaking another language is saying, but the good translators take their time to understand what is being said because what they are trying to convey is the meaning of what was said not simply provide a word mapping. Second, what people like to talk about in one language, is similar to what people who speak another language like to talk about too. In other words, whether they be from different cultures, different countries, different backgrounds, people still speak about similar concepts.

So what does this have to do with Weaver’s quote? Well, it seems odd to me that way back in 1949, someone of his calibre could suggest the idea of finding the normalized language to tie all languages together, and still the academic, research and professional establishment decided to ignore this and pursue other paths to solving language understanding problems (ie. Bayesian frameworks, keyword search, synonyms mapping, etc.) that could be solved by further investigation into this method. Let me go further and tie this in with the beginning of this post about GRDDL. Today, one of the problems with all of this RDF stuff is that taxonomies address the needs of each problem or industry they were tailored for. In some cases, similar attributes are used but they mean different things relative to the different problems or industries (taxonomies) and in some cases the attributes are different but refer to similar things across the different taxonomies. How does all of this get reconciled? Today, it doesn’t.

Well, when I consider how I learn about new things, it starts with getting an explanation of the new domain in a chosen language based on where I am when I’m learning this. For example, when I worked for U.S. Steel (now part of USX) back in the late ’90s, most of what I learned about steel manufacturing happened in Mexico. There was some new vocabulary to learn, but not because the words were themselves new, but because they were being applied to a domain I was not previously familar with. I later learned a lot of this in English too. In steel mills there are furnaces and ladles and rolling mills and plates. All of these words are English words. In Mexico, they had the Spanish terms for these. What’s important to understand is that the ontology used for describing everything about the domain lied within the language used. In other words, it was tied to the meanings of these words. What’s also important is that ultimately, in either language, people talking in the steel business, were talking about the same things. What I guess I’m basically saying here, is that there is a meta meaning language that both English and Spanish could be linked to, that once understood, could become the ontology by which all things are interrelated.

Consider the idea that for all domains, language, the same language that we use to speak and greet each other with, is used to define the terms of those domains. It’s like the meanings being referred to in any language are the atoms from which any domain’s vocabulary is constructed. Since we already understand the semantic relationship of meanings inherently from our education, there’s no need to define semantics at the domain level as it’s already being taken care of at the atomic or language level.

OK, in a sense I’m teasing with all of this because I have already seen such a technology and am working with it. It’s called Readware, and we hope to soon be demonstrating it in various applications so that others may begin to understand the advantage of using and leveraging simple ideas to solve complex meaning problems. This will not be easy for people to buy into, much like back in the day there were plenty of people that didn’t buy into the fact that HTML and RSS would lead the way to new paradigms, but I do believe that simplicity will triumph over complexity and the W3C needs to (as the Apple commercial espouses) “think different”.

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You gotta love Ev’s guts and humility

Posted by direwolff on October 26, 2006

I’ve heard Evan Williams, founder and Pyra Labs and later Odeo, speak on a few occasions and have read the stuff he writes about.  The guy is just a solid entrepreneur in that he lets it all hang out and provides the sort of transparency, that like Union Square Ventures’ recent posts, helps us all learn something about what it takes and the process that people go through in developing their new ventures.  He recently acquired the assets of Odeo to start Obvious Corp. and talks about discusses his plans for this openly.  It’s worth a read.

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Today China’s dogs, tomorrow could be your kids

Posted by direwolff on October 26, 2006

Don’t mean to sound too sensationalistic with that title, but given our current country’s fear of everything and need to turn everything about our way of life into protecting the kids, I fear that it won’t be long before what China is now doing to dogs will eventually find its way into our kids bodies too. I can see it now, “you must not care about your kids if you wouldn’t implant them with a chip, and that’s grounds for negligence”.

Read on…

Shanghai dogs implanted with chips

SHANGHAI, Oct. 26 (UPI) — About 65,000 Shanghai dogs have been implanted with digital ID chips to assist in dog identification and prevent the spread of rabies.

It’s easy to see how sliperry this slope is going to get really fast. Before you know it, it will be a requirement for all and then RFID chips will be introduced into the mix. The claim will be that lawsuits and crime are getting out of control so our government will need to know what every one is doing and where they are in order to relieve us from having to take responsibility for our actions. While growing up, I always thought that what I read in “1984” was absurd in its likelihood of happening in my lifetime, well, slowly but surely I’m being proven wrong, it just took a few more years than expected.

*** UPDATE 10/27/06: Trust me when I say that we’re really not that far from my speculation, see here:

Meet the lunch lady’s new best friend

ROME, Georgia (AP) — It takes more than a lunch lady to run today’s public school cafeterias. It takes a logistics expert.

Take Rome’s West End Elementary, where two classrooms of students charge into the lunchroom every five minutes, load their trays up with corn dogs, steak nuggets and fresh fruit and pile into cashier Lydia Galego’s line.

Galego, though, has a new tool to help handle the rush. Each student stops at a computer in front of Galego and presses an index finger up to a reader before trotting off to a table.

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A VC to learn from

Posted by direwolff on October 25, 2006

I’ve been an avid reader of Fred Wilson’s “A VC” blog for some time now and also keep up with his and Brad Burham’s Union Square Ventures blog. I’ve known of both of them since my days at Reuters NewMedia back in ’94 when Fred was at Flat Iron Partners and Brad was at AT&T Ventures. Both seemed pretty bright on the various occasions I’d hear them speak at conferences. Through happenstance and by having played in this early stage company space for so long, I had the good fortune of meeting them both. As it turns out, I have a lot of very dear friends in common with them and in whom they have invested, as well as one who has invested in their fund.

Over the past couple of months, Brad and Fred have been openly blogging about the process they go through as VCs vetting and assessing companies to invest in, and it’s been refreshing to read their posts. They’ve brought some transparency to this previously mystifying process, which really helps early stage companies do some benchmarking against how prepared they are to present their case to VCs.

If you haven’t already done so and are a budding entrepreneur or in the throes of that role, you should really read their posts on what they look for. Not all VCs have the same formula or see things the same way, but not many outline their thought process as clearly as these guys have, so it’s worth taking advantage of this information to expand your understanding of VC perspectives. Here’s a list of the specific posts that go over this:

Today’s post on investment ranges that they participate in (“Deal Size”) also brings a sobering view to counter the insanity that we have seen with VCs raising billion dollar funds over the past two years. Such funds put the early stage companies out of reach given the amount of money they need to put to work. It really begs the question of whether such funds are really participating as VCs, or are they more like private equity funds, which generally prefer to play in rounds where the fund’s investment is north of $10-15M.

As far as I’ve always been taught, VCs are supposed to work with entrepreneurs to help them grow businesses and not focus on walking in to businesses that already grown and simply dump a bunch of money in to get a return. The Union Square Ventures really embody the idea that smaller investments, given the times, can still yield positive economics for all involved, and that’s good news for all trying to make a go of it.

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Could Google have eyes for Convera?

Posted by direwolff on October 24, 2006

Over the past year, Convera [Nasdaq: CNVR] has raised private equity funding to the tune of $35M in order to build up a war chest of close to $70M (now closer to $57M or so) with which to pursue its vertical search strategy. Here’s an interesting article about Convera and how the company’s patron and well known investor, Herb Allen, Jr., has stood by them throughout their history. According to the company’s last 10Q at the end of July, it had quarterly revenues of $3M on expenses of $15M for the quarter. A little over a year ago, I began hearing rumblings that one of the company’s previous acquisitions, Excalibur, was going to be the centerpiece for a new strategy they were deploying, vertical search engines. Effectively, they began a massive spidering effort and have so far gathered some 4 billion Web pages in an attempt to reach Google and Yahoo! scale, but with a focus towards providing vertical search engines to publishing sites. Their business model is basically a revenue split on advertising revenue generated by the site with the use of the vertical search engine. It would be up to the site to sell (direct) or establish the advertiser relationships (ad networks) from which they and Convera would share revenue in.

Well, Google’s announcement today would certainly make me mighty nervous if I was working at Convera. Pretty crazy, but Google is now enabling publishers or bloggers or any one really, to create their own custom search engines, similar to Rollyo. It’s pretty easy to create one of these. Here’s my Kitesurfing Search Engine page. Now Convera’s offering is currently a bit more robust but it’s not rocket science to figure out that Google will reach critical mass in this project much faster than Convera because this can be undertaken by people low in any organization who just simply just go out and create one of these. No big contracts to sign up to, and convenient full access to Google’s AdSense program. Imagine all sorts of people in organizations deciding that they could do a better job at selecting quality Web sites from which to apply ordinary Google search capabilities to, in order to provide more solid value to their members or constituents. That’s what Google has enabled here and I’d expect this offering to be well received.

If I was Convera, I’d start thinking of plan E, since plans A through C have yielded lackluster results, and plan D is looking like its headed for a freight train named Google. Heck, they’ve got $70M in cash to mess around with and a patron that’s very smart and supportive, sounds like there’s no lack of opportunities for them to explore given that combination, just not this vertical search engine approach. Actually, a company that I’m an advisor to recently beat them in a head-to-head evaluation process by a publisher in the healthcare arena. Healia, a healthcare focused search engine beat them primarily because of their depth in the healthcare field (read higher quality results) which is not casually entered into by low end search engines given the nature of the, at times, technical vocabulary required in healthcare matters. Convera may need to figure out one vertical market they can dominate as their generalist strategy looks to be doomed before it’s fully launched.

*** UPDATE 10/24/06: Thought this New York Times article would provide additional color on Google’s new offering.

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