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December 13, 2003

Scott Hanselman must live

Scott Hanselman: "Books that should be made into movies before I die."

Please, no. The movie industry has already ruined dozens of perfectly good books with dumbing down, glutinous boilerplate subplots and a hateful conviction that special effects, rather than plot, character and theme are the way to greatness. The savagery meted out to Philip K Dick alone should be enough to convince anybody to be careful what they wish for.

Actually, of Scott's list, I wouldn't mind seeing Ender's Game being ruined since I never much cared for the book, and Ringworld, as a pure Big Dumb Object adventure, would probably make quite a good film if you like blockbusters. But can you imagine what Hollywood would do to The Sparrow or Snow Crash? The former would end up being turned into a sickly piece of moralising (or possibly even turned into a war film -- don't underestimate these Hollywood execs). And the latter would get turned into The Matrix, all the interesting "language is a virus from outer space" background stripped out in favour of action sequences and virtual-reality special effects.

No, these books should never be made into movies. The evil day must never come. Scott Hanselman must live!

December 13, 2003 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 12, 2003

Iraq reconstruction contracts

BBC News: "Mr Di Rita insisted the decision [to ban coalition non-members from bidding] was not meant to punish opponents to the war, but to encourage more countries to join the coalition."

You know, I'd have found the ban less objectionable if the US had stuck to its guns and said, "Sorry, it was coalition members who spent money and risked their citizens' lives, it's only fair that they should get the loot." (Okay, it would have reinforced my concern about the war being a primarily commercial venture rather than a moral one, but I did say less objectionable not unobjectionable.)

Saying "We want more countries to support us and we're willing to give them a slice of the loot if they do" sounds like a blatant attempt at bribery.

December 12, 2003 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 09, 2003

The economics of usability

Robert Scoble: "Every phone call that our support department gets increases costs by about $100. Since the base OS costs less than that for an OEM to buy, if any support call is generated Microsoft loses money overall."

Think about that. If any support call is generated, Microsoft loses money overall. That's one heck of an incentive to invest in usability!

December 9, 2003 in Usability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 05, 2003

When infinities attack

Mark Pilgrim writes up Hilbert's hotel, a classic metaphor for the weird stuff that happens when you start dealing with mathematical infinities.

Infinities are my mathematical first love. I read Ian Stewart's "Concepts of Modern Mathematics" at an impressionable age, and the strange antics of the alephs, the sheer elegance of cardinality proofs and the enigmas of the continuum hypothesis and the large cardinals pretty much settled the core of my mathematical interests for the rest of my life.

What I didn't learn about until much later was the equal strangeness of ordinal infinities. Cardinals deal with "how many." If you can map two sets onto each other, by no matter how distorting a mapping, they have the same cardinality. So, as illustrated by the Hilbert hotel, all countable sets get flattened to the same cardinality, aleph-null.

Ordinals, however, are concerned with the order in which you count. So you can have different countable ordinals, and the rules are quite different from cardinals.

In the cardinal world, for example, aleph-null + 1 = aleph-null (moving one guest into Hilbert's hotel). In the ordinal world, 1 + omega = omega, but omega + 1 does not equal omega.

Why is this? Well, look at the three sets and, more importantly, their orders:

omega = { item1, item2, item3... }

1 + omega = { newitem, item1, item2... }

omega + 1 = { item1, item2... newitem }

We can map between 1 + omega and omega in a way that preserves the order structure. We can't do that with omega + 1, because in omega + 1 newitem is after every other item. omega and 1 + omega have no member with that property.

So the omega (ordinal) family offers a much richer view of countable infinities than the cardinal view, where's it's all just aleph-null. You have omega + n, omega + omega, omega * 2 (but not 2 * omega -- that's { a1, b1, a2, b2, ... } which is just the same as omega (I hope I've got that the right way round)), omega * omega, omega ^ omega, omega ^ omega ^ omega ^ ...

... and it's all still countable. In fact if you go far enough you eventually find ordinals not expressible in terms of omega, and they're still countable. The first such ordinal is known as epsilon-0. I guess there is an epsilon-1 and various epsilon-ns and presumably epsilon-omega and eventually an epsilon-epsilon-0. But, like Mark, I find myself tapped out just thinking about it. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable can educate me further.

December 5, 2003 in Science | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 02, 2003

Longhorn piracy 'coup'?

The BBC is reporting that "pirated versions of Microsoft's next generation computer operating system are on sale in Malaysia, more than a year before the official release date," and quotes "software industry sources" as saying "it was the piracy coup of the decade."

Er, which decade are they living in?

It's clear from the rest of the article that what the pirates are selling are the PDC bits. These are so widely available that getting hold of them is hardly a 'coup.' And anyone who has used the PDC version of Longhorn knows that huge amounts of it just aren't there, and the bits that are run like a three-legged dog. After all, it's a developer preview, intended to get the key technologies in front of programmers. It's not, at this stage, a usable operating system.

So having copies available for $2 is hardly a big deal. People will buy it, no doubt: developers will buy it to play with and users will buy it because they don't know that they're better off with (an equally pirated copy of) XP at this stage. But this won't cut into the eventual Longhorn revenue stream because the pirated PDC version simply isn't good enough to compete with the eventual RTM.

The big deal, of course, comes when they start pirating the release candidates and RTM versions...

December 2, 2003 in PDC, Software | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack