fighting the lack of good ideas

pascal’s pensées

Blaise Pascal, the famous mathematician, philosopher, and part-time theologian, is a fascinating member of history to me.

Several years ago I borrowed a copy of his “Pensées” from a friend, and skimmed it. At the time, I was impressed more with the randomness of the collection than with anything specific he wrote.

A few days ago, I began re-reading the book from the free Kindle edition on my phone.

There are far too many awesome quotes to repost them all here, but I have been heavily highlighting my digital edition for future reference, using in conversation, etc.

Pensées looks like a weird cross between 17th century twittering and a diary – but it’s well-worth the $0.00 investment to have a copy.

  • Writing style: 3/5 – not something you “read” so much as “process”
  • Concision: 5/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5


ip addresses for sale

Microsoft is trying to buy ~650k IPv4 addresses from in-bankruptcy-proceedings Nortel (for $7.5m).

What gets me is that IPv6 has been a standard for over a decade, and yet so few have moved to it. Way back when I was in college the first time – in 2000 – our networking professor told us we should move to IPv6 as soon as feasible. Somehow I don’t think 11 years meets that urging.

oracle discontinuing itanium support

This morning I saw the headline on InfoWorld: “Oracle stopping development on Itanium — slap at HP or obvious decision?

At my previous employer, we were entertained by a couple visits from both HP and Intel folks ballyhooing the Itanium, HP-UX, and the future of the platform – especially in the database arena.

I thought those visits were pretty funny because every company I have seen with any HP-UX installed base has been migrating off to either AIX or Linux for some time, leading me to conclude that HP-UX is a dead platform. The fact that Microsoft and Red Hat both dropped support for Itanium processors with there last OS releases also tells me that Itanium is not here for the long haul – at least not in anything other than specialized platforms (such as some of the Top 500 entrants).

Yes, in Japan Fujitsu and others are shipping Itanium-based products, but they’re not running anywhere outside of Asia.

Intel had the chance 15 years ago to produce the game-changer for the server and home markets. If they had properly implemented an x86 emulation module (or, shoot, put an x86 processor on the die and switched via microcode), AMD’s x64 extensions would never have taken off the way they did, and we wouldn’t be stuck with bizarre functionality that only made sense in a 16bit world – but not anymore.

But between HP and Intel, they horched the platform, delaying it by months then years. In the process, the venerable DEC Alpha was killed-off by HP, as was HP’s own PA-RISC line.

In my opinion, Oracle’s move is brilliant for a couple reasons:

  • HP-UX is dead
  • Itanium has no future with any other OS vendor
  • Larry Ellison wants to push OEL and some form of Solaris (though I’m convinced Solaris is not long for this world either)
  • Larry Ellison doesn’t care what other people think of him
  • Oracle is making more money than they know what to do with – so why support something you don’t want to?

What think ye?

the codebreakers by david kahn

My interest in cryptography has extended, now, for more than 15 years. The first book I read on the topic was David Kahn’s seminal work, The Codebreakers. Several years later, I received a copy of the book for Christmas, which I promptly reread.

Kahn’s writing style is eminently inviting, sucking the reader into an extensive history of code making and breaking over the centuries. Much of his time is spent going over the work of the Bletchley Park researches during WWII. It is truly astounding to see how much was going on “behind the scenes” compared to the popular historical works which only focus on the fighters on the ground, the strategic decisions made, or the technology enabling victory (or drawing it out, as the cases may be).

If you are interested in learning more about the work of the “intellectuals” during WWII, or about codes in general, it is an excellent work. For more of the theoretical aspects of modern cryptography, I’d suggest Applied Cryptography by Bruce Schneier*. But for a general history, in a style sure to appeal to even those who hate nonfiction and histories, David Kahn’s work is unmatched.

  • Quality of writing: 4/5
  • Quality of content:  5/5
  • Entertainment value: 4/5
  • Historicity: 5/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5

* to be covered in a forth-coming review

flatland by edwin a abbott

I have read, and reread, Flatland several times. It’s subtitle, “A Romance of Many Dimensions”, would most likely have been surprising when it was originally published in 1884.

Edwin A Abbot weaves a tale of exploration, heresy, discovery, enlightenment, geometry, and more in a mere 81 pages (in the copy I have). We are introduced to a square who lives in Flatland. He describes for us how his country works – housing, education, mating, religion, etc. Through this all, it is shown that the epitome of existence in Flatland is to become (or produce) a circle – the most true of all beings, the wisest, most endowed, most perfect one can be.

Then we are introduced to a sphere. A sphere who has decided to enter Flatland to enlighten our square as to the limited understanding he has of Flatland in particular, and the world as a whole. The sphere’s arrival in Flatland is shocking, astounding, and a point for immediate assault on the part of the elites who run the country – for they know that being flat is all there is, nothing more, nothing less.

But the sphere whisks our friend the square off to see Pointland and Lineland – the first where the only citizen is king, and the second where the residents’ goal is to move to the center after being born on the ends. Then the sphere takes square to his home of Spaceland, where you can see the “innards” of all lesser creatures (including, of course, our friend the square).

It is, however, the square’s epiphany near the end of his journey that is most intriguing: if there is a world of 0, 1, 2, and 3 dimensions, then certainly there is one of 4, 5, 6, and more – and, if that be so, than certainly enlightenment into those further reaches should be the goal of the perfection of Spaceland, the sphere.

I cannot recommend Flatland highly enough – it is quick to read, and cheap, to boot (a free download for the Kindle)!

Personally, this was a book that opened a line of thinking I explored as a devotional mindwalk a couple years ago regarding the infiniteness of God.

  • Quality of writing: 4/5
  • Entertainment value: 5/5
  • Story engagement: 5/5
  • Mathematical accuracy: 5/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5


the secret fire by martin langfield

I had high hopes for Martin Langfield’s book, The Secret Fire when I purchased it several months ago. The cover headline reads, “the world is under threat… from a weapon launched in 1944”. Sounded good.

The back cover, likewise, sounded pretty good, too:

Sotheby’s, London, 1936

A paper by Sir Isaac Newton is sold at auction to a bookseller’s agent, and within minutes of leaving the auction house he is killed and the paper stolen. For the Nazis are desperate to get their hands on a Newton formula that will unleash the Secret Fire – a weapon beyond all imagining that can wipe their enemies off the face of the earth. And this document is the key … unless the French Resistance and SOE operatives also on its trail can stop them.

Good so far, no? Who doesn’t like some WWII conspiracy craziness? (Though why this “Newton formula” is a secret and not widely known after 300 years is up for intellectual consideration.)

New York, 2007. Katherine Reckliss learns her grandmother’s SOE radio has started picking up disturbing messages from occupied France, warning that a V1 containing the Secret Fire is being launched by the Nazis. Its target? Present day London.

Here I should have had my suspension of disbelief brought into question, but I bought the book anyway.

So begins the desperate race to halt the Secret Fire – both in 1940s Nazi-occupied France and modern-day London. The clock is ticking as history starts to re-write the future in a new and terrifying script …

Alright – so parallel universes can work. So can time travel. So can parallel universes talking to each other. (Anyone see the movie Frequency or The One?)

However, psychics, random “Enemies”, spirits from alternate worlds, and other aspects of the book of which I was not aware when I bought it have done this one in for me. I got a couple pages in, hoping it would improve, and it has not. So I am doing something very rare for me and throwing it out. I can’t recommend this to anyone, personally.

  • Quality of writing: 1/5
  • Entertainment value: 0/5
  • Story engagement: 0/5
  • Overall: 0/5


startups and thinking clearly

I have a great deal of interest in early-stage startups: they’re generally the most interesting to watch, and if they play their cards right, have the best opportunity to Win Bigâ„¢.

Y Combinator is a seed fund organization started by Paul Graham. I first heard about them several years back when a couple friends and I actually went through the process of applying to Y Combinator for seed funding for a potential startup. For various reasons I can no longer recall, that didn’t work out for us, but I still follow them somewhat regularly.

Allen Stern had an article I just found today (though it was published 3 months ago) referencing not only Y Combinator, but the value of the questionnaire that needs to be filled-out before they’ll consider funding you. There was a follow-up posted two days later, that’s well-worth reading, too.

It’s fascinating to see both the idea for Dropbox, a service I use daily, and reddit shown in the early stages. Reddit’s initial application was turned-down, though not because reddit was a Bad Ideaâ„¢, but because the initial idea was just unworkable. Dropbox’s application and the precursor application to reddit. In fact, when you read those stories, you see that while the initial application from the reddit founders was turned down, they were still invited to the first round of startups if they could get a better idea.

There is indeed much truth to the statement that ideas are worthless – it’s only the implementation that counts, and it’s likely to change scores of times before it’s done.

Really makes you want to go start something fun, doesn’t it?