Saturday, August 14, 2010

Google: Growth company or old news?

Here's a fascinating article from, about Google's future. Will Google transition into a stale, mature company? Or will it find the next big thing and keep growing (like Apple did)? Does it need to?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Valedictorian speaks out!

When I first started reading this, my reaction was one of indignation. This girl has a lot of guts mouthing off like this. But the more I read it, she won me over. She backs up her points well. It is a thoughtful speech, worth considering.

Are we teaching kids to think? Or are we creating robots, packing them full of useless information just so they can pass the next test? Read the article and see what you think.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The acquisition of a very fine ride

I graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1994. I had decided that I was going to buy a bike once I graduated. I had studied the Honda VFR750, and ridden a couple used ones. I loved it. Only debate was whether to get a CBR900RR instead (faster, but not as comfy). In 1994 Honda redesigned the VFR. Not a major redesign, but better in almost every way. I had to have one.

In the week or two before I left Troy, NY I called several dealers back home in Milwaukee and negotiated prices, I called my credit union and arranged a loan, and I called my insurance agent and arranged insurance. During all that time I should have been studying for finals, by the way. Even on the morning of some finals I was focused on motorcycle negotiations.

(tangent alert)

I mean, really. What is more important? School or motorcycle? The answer is obvious. Incidentally, twice while in college I had a choice when making a discretionary purchase: Computer or motorcycle? Motorcycle or computer? I went motorcycle both times! The VFR was the second time. The first time occurred when I was an undergrad at Marquette and I bought a used 1985 Honda V65 Sabre.

I remember that bike purchase like it was yesterday, too. I bought it from the guy who lived in this house. It was the only house on the street with that "half-moon" style window.

Incidentally, when I was looking for used bikes at the time (in 1991 or 1992, I think, when I was a senior at Marquette University) I would ask people why they were selling. There were only two answers: 1) I'm getting a Harley. Or 2) I'm getting married. That's it. No other answers. The guy I bought from was getting married. Poor bastard. :)

I bought the V65 Sabre because I was jealous. My brother had an old Kawasaki SR650 (or KZ650SR? I'm not sure). He let me ride it from time to time, and that was great. But then he bought a used 1985 Kawasaki ZL900 Eliminator. I was SO JEALOUS! I had to have my own bike. A few weeks later, I bought the Sabre.

(end tangent)

Anyway, I graduated from RPI on Friday, May 20, 1994. I drove to Cleveland on Saturday. I drove to Milwaukee on Sunday. I visited a couple dealers to finalize negotiations on Monday. Went to the credit union and to the insurance agent Tuesday morning. And I bought the VFR from Honda Man (now called Sportland 2) at 3 or 4p on Tuesday, May 24, 1994.

Spud, an old friend of mine, still calls my VFR my "sewing machine." Kind of a silly story, but Honda Man used to be located in Cudahy, Wisconsin. When they moved down to Rawson Avenue, in Oak Creek (where they were when I bought my VFR and still are), the old Honda Man building became Quamme's Sewing Center (which has also changed names over the years, apparently). Hence, my bike came from the same place the sewing machines did!

A week and a half later I went back to work at Cooper Power Systems, where I had worked while still at Marquette and in the time after I graduated from Marquette but before I went to RPI. I had stayed in touch with my co-workers while I was at RPI. They knew I wanted a new motorcycle. When I got to work they told me that they were going to set up a pool, in which they were going make their bets on how long it would take me to buy a bike. I told them I bought the new bike two weeks ago! I didn't wait to start the new job! And that was the end of that. Whoever would have guessed "-1.857 weeks" would have won the bet!

P.S. The VFR still kicks ass. It's been all over. Deal's Gap, Blue Ridge Parkway, up to the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. And two summers ago, to the Golden Gate Bridge and many locations in between--including several 10,000' passes in the Rockies. Skyline Drive and all the great roads in the mountains between San Jose and San Francisco. When I took the job at Google, I rode my motorcycle out to California from Atlanta. It was quite a trip. But that will have to be another blog post (if I ever get to it).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Who is Elizabeth Ackland?

Russ Feingold, running for re-election to the Senate from Wisconsin, produced, a campaign ad touting the jobs created by the stimulus bill. At one point the ad shows a nameplate for one "Elizabeth M. Acklund" being added to a cubicle, or possibly an office.

You can see the ad here, on Charlie Sykes' web page:

Naturally, inquisitive people wanted to find out the details about Ms. Ackland, and the nature of the job she got. Turns out there is no such woman. All they found was a death certificate of someone by the same name--except she died over a century ago!

This has made national news. Check out this article from the Washington Examiner:
"Stimulus creates jobs for the dead in Wisconsin"

Ron Johnson, Feingold's opponent in the Senate election, has produced this ad. Listen to Feingold's arrogance at the end of the ad. "Good luck with that claim."

So let's think about this. There are two possibilities:
1. Stimulus worked so well that even dead people are getting jobs.
2. Stimulus was such a total flop that Feingold, with a $15 million war chest, couldn't find a single person in the whole state of Wisconsin who got a job as a result of stimulus.

Which do you think is more likely?

Net Neutrality - Google and Verizon

This is going to be a long, rambling blog post. There are several reasons for this. First of all, net neutrality is a complicated issue. Secondly, I'm not sure where I stand on the issue. The combination of those two factors means that I searched out a lot of information and jammed it all in this post. Enjoy!

Looks like net neutrality is back in the news. According to this story, Google and Verizon are close to making a deal that appears to be at odds with Google's previous position on this subject.

What is "net neutrality"? Is it a good thing, in that it attempts to allow everyone to have equal access to the Internet? Or is it a bad thing, in that it interferes with voluntary exchange between businesses and consumers?

Here is a link to Google's public policy blog, regarding net neutrality. I'm no expert, but there appears to be a lot of nuance to Google's stance.

And here is a specific link to "A joint policy proposal for an open internet" from Google's Public Policy Blog. (If it's not sinking in yet, this is a "must read" blog if you're interested in the internet.)

Based on the net neutrality issue, this article from Mother Jones asks: "Is Google a Little Bit Evil?":

I'll be honest: I don't know what to think about net neutrality. It's a laudable goal to keep the internet free of control from gatekeepers who favor certain content. But let's not kid ourselves. If we enforce net neutrality legislatively, that interferes with our ability to freely contract with each other. Some of us might be okay with paying more for faster service. Or we might be okay with our internet service provider favoring some content providers if, in exchange, we get lower rates.

Sadly, we may not deserve an open internet. Just like we don't deserve honest politicians, bloatware-free phones (long live the Nexus One!), ATMs without fees, cheaper gas if you pay cash, etc. We, as consumers, can insist on all of the above. We can choose to make this happen. But we don't. I don't see how an open internet is any different.

Consider this article, as an example of what may be coming if we allow the government to step in and have too much power over the internet: "Bill would give president emergency control of Internet."

And consider this article on the other side of the issue, which shows us what horrors may be in store if the government does not step in: "Why network neutrality is a big deal."

It is not even clear that the government has the right to step into this issue (not that that would stop them, of course).  The WSJ blog discusses this.  "DC Circuit Takes Hit at Net Neutrality, Ninja"

"It’s long been clear that some net neutrality battles would be waged in court. Today the DC Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in and handed the telecoms a victory against the Federal Communications Commission, which has supported net-neutrality principles.

"The case before the DC circuit stemmed a citation issued by the FCC against Comcast in 2008 for interfering with or blocking its subscribers’ use of peer-to-peer networking applications. Those applications, such as BitTorrent, allow users to share large files directly with one another but consume significant amounts of bandwidth.

"A unanimous three-judge DC Circuit panel ruled the FCC exceeded its authority when it issued the citation, ruling that Congress hadn’t given the FCC the power to regulate an Internet service provider’s network-management practices.

"'The commission has failed to tie its assertion of ancillary authority over Comcast’s Internet service to any statutorily mandated responsibility,' the court said in a 36-page opinion.

"It’s unclear what effect the decision will have on net neutrality. It could, for example, throw into question the FCC’s authority to impose open Internet rules, according to the early WSJ Story and the Hill.

"The court’s move, according to the Hill, could be a major roadblock for the FCC, which drafted its comprehensive National Broadband Plan this year under the assumption that it possesses regulatory power over the Internet and the companies that provide users’ access to it."

There are several good links in the previous article, including this one which has some quotes that illustrate both sides of the issue:

"The Internet as we know it is facing a serious threat. Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody -- no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional -- has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest."  -- Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt

"What if a cable company with a pro-choice board of directors decides that it doesn't like a pro-life organization using its high-speed network to encourage pro-life activities? Under the new rules, they could slow down the pro-life Web site, harming their ability to communicate with other pro-lifers -- and it would be legal."  -- Roberta Combs, president of Christian Coalition of America

"We and the cable companies have made an investment, and for a Google or Yahoo or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes free is nuts."  --AT&T Chief Executive Edward Whitacre

"This is a vigorously competitive marketplace that is working to benefit consumers. There is no need for new laws and regulations."  --David L. Cohen, a Comcast executive vice president

We should also discuss a related topic: edge caching. Here's an older article about edge caching.

"Google's proposed arrangement with network providers, internally called OpenEdge, would place Google servers directly within the network of the service providers, according to documents reviewed by the Journal. The setup would accelerate Google's service for users. Google has asked the providers it has approached not to talk about the idea, according to people familiar with the plans."

"Asked about OpenEdge, Google said only that other companies such as Yahoo and Microsoft could strike similar deals if they desired. But Google's move, if successful, would give it an advantage available to very few."

Google responded to this, in a post that I find accurate and persuasive.

Net neutrality means that everyone should have the same level of access to the internet. Google is a proponent of net neutrality. However, critics denounce their edge caching scheme as a way to get preferential treatment. I don't agree.

An example of something that is NOT net neutral would be if I were an ISP and I said, pay me $10/mo for non-preferred access. Or pay me $25/mo to get preferred access. That is, when the network is clogged, the $25/mo guy's e-mails will go through right away while the $10/mo guy's e-mails won't.

This is different than what Google is talking about. If you go to, say, YouTube your computer connects to your ISP. Then your ISP has to connect to YouTube. Content flows from YouTube to your ISP and then from the ISP to your computer.

Google proposes putting servers in the ISP's facilities. Then when someone wants a YouTube video, it will come directly from the YouTube-owned servers within the ISP. A company that can provide this service will provide the user with a much faster experience. Network congestion between the ISP and YouTube will have no impact because that part of the path is no longer needed.

Critics see this as a way whereby Google will achieve preferential status, and perhaps they're right. But here's the difference: This is not a violation of net neutrality because Google is trying to EARN that preferred position. It costs them money to put those servers there. No matter if you're the $10/mo guy or the $25/mo guy, they're not telling the ISP to treat users any differently. The user-experience will improve for ALL users. Even for non-Google websites, because they just freed up more of the network pipes by not requiring YouTube videos to flow over the network (between YouTube and that ISP). So the experience of connecting to their competitors' sites will also improve (by a little bit--not as much as the experience of connecting to YouTube has).

Point is, Google is spending money to improve the user experience for all customers, to the detriment of their competitors, BUT NOT GIVING ANY PARTICULAR USER ANY PREFERENCE. Focus on the user and all else will follow. That's rule #1 in the Google handbook, by the way.

P.S. Only a day after I posted this, I saw this article from Ars Technica, which portrays the Google and Verizon agreement in a negative light:
"A paper trail of betrayal: Google's net neutrality collapse"

P.P.S. And two days later, this from Wired:
"Why Google Became A Carrier-Humping, Net Neutrality Surrender Monkey"

P.P.P.S. Google's response:
"Facts about our network neutrality policy proposal"

Google's response basically boils down to: Up until now there has been zero progress on net neutrality, "no enforceable provisions." Some progress is better than no progress. "With that in mind, we decided to partner with a major broadband provider on the best policy solution we could devise together. We’re not saying this solution is perfect, but we believe that a proposal that locks in key enforceable protections for consumers is preferable to no protection at all."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Are there ANY limits to Federal power???

Listen to Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) in this video. This is scary stuff.

Here are some key excerpts, plus comments, from

“I think that there are very few constitutional limits that would prevent the federal government from rules that could affect your private life. The basis for that would be how would it affect other people.”

After the questioner asks what possible constitutional limits there are, then, if Obamacare can pass constitutional muster, Stark replies: “The federal government yes, can do most anything in this country.”

The questioner, outraged: “You, sir, and people like you are destroying this nation.”

Stark, smirking: “And I guess you’re here to save it. And that makes me very uncomfortable.”

I've discussed this before on my blog (Health Care Deform, July 13, 2010). William Dale's quote is still the most clear and concise summation of my feelings on this subject:
"Nearly every reform proposal offered to fix 'the health-care crisis' calls for increased governmental control of medicine. These proposals are the logical result of the belief that there is a 'right' to medical care. But there is no such right. Rights, properly understood, do not include an entitlement to the services of others."
- William Dale, "Free Medicine" [1994]

Monday, August 9, 2010

100 Stimulus Projects

Would you spend $1.2 million to renovate this shack?

Senators Tom Coburn and John McCain have released a very good report on the complete waste of money called the Stimulus Bill. In it, they identify and discuss 100 of the most wasteful projects on which my money and yours is being wasted. It's a fun (in a perverse way) read.

Note that the Republicans are not much better than the Democrats on this issue, if they are any better at all. Almost all politicians, regardless of party, love to spend other people's money once they drink the water in the swamp.

Listen to Coburn around 0:37 in the video on his site. "There is no question that this stimulus bill has had a positive effect on the economy, to a certain degree." Really? This guy is supposed to be a fiscal conservative? I usually like Tom Coburn, but he needs to be reminded that government redistribution does not help the economy.

Next, check out McCain's comments starting around 12:25 in the video. "The stimulus package was supposed to create jobs. Unemployment was going to be 8%. That's what the president said. That's what his chief economic adviser said. That's what the Secretary of Treasury said, when they sold this debt to the American people. It does not create jobs."

I don't think McCain is that naive, but with him you never know. (Remember the McCain-Feingold bill, in which he thought he could keep money out of politics by muzzling our First Amendment Rights.) No one with a brain could actually BELIEVE the president and his incompetent, incoherent coterie. Surprising absolutely no one, Pelosi and Reid chose projects to reward their constituencies rather than to stimulate the economy, which they don't know how to do (because it can't be done), and wouldn't do even if they could (as you can see by the projects they chose, they didn't even try).

I'm being a little hard on Coburn and McCain. In fairness to them I should point out that both voted against the Stimulus Bill.

The video can also be found here:!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Economic commentary, from an unlikely source

Here is some astute commentary from an unlikely source:

Aaron Krowne described the video this way (and I agree with him):
"An elegant video articulating how paper money is an extreme hazard to common people today, and showing the practical advantages of gold and silver substitutes. The interview with the muslim gentleman starting around 55 seconds is great. If only more Americans had his basic insights about money and savings and the hazards of a 'normal' fiat banking account. It is ironic hearing someone like this, so far removed from our 'leader of the free world democracy', so powerfully articulate basic facts about freedom and economic justice (when most Americans cannot)."

People are smart enough to figure this stuff out. Why do governments keep watering down the currency? Better yet, why do we let them?