This has to be an Apple viral marketing campaign

From Boing Boing: Microsoft WGA servers down; all XP and Vista installs being marked as counterfeit

DRM bites again: the Microsoft Windows Genuine Advantage servers (which every XP and Vista install phones home to) all failed sometime earlier today.
The result? Every single Windows XP and Vista installation — except possibly those with volume license keys — is being marked as counterfeit when it tries to check in.

UPDATE: Apparently this was not a joke ((Well, not intentionally!)): MS has acknowledged (and fixed) the problem. Of course, this points up the deep problem with DRM schemes of all kinds. A simple screw-up by Microsoft can cripple millions of PCs. Now it is true, of course, that a screw-up by Apple – e.g. a bug in a Software Update – could cause millions of Macs to stop working. I think that the difference is that experience with Microsoft’s WGA program has made it clear that Microsoft regards the customer as “guilty until proven innocent”: there is code in Windows to deliberately cripple your PC. ((Speaking of which, it appears that Sony has once again released CDs with rootkit software. Will they never learn?))

New Facebook group for Sun Alumni

I’ve just created a Facebook group for Sun Alumni. Sun Alumni group
You might wonder why. After all, there’s an existing, very successful Yahoo! discussion group, the Sun Microsystems Alumni Association, with an associated group over on LinkedIn. However the organizers of SMAA want to keep the tone “professional”, which tends to rule out such things as (e.g.) an honest debate about the merits of “SUNW->JAVA”. That’s one reason for setting up the new group; the other is that Facebook is a much livelier environment. There are already quite a few corporate alumni groups there.
So come on over to Facebook…
PS For those who can’t understand why professionals would want to get involved with Facebook, check out this BusinessWeek story.

Posted in Sun

Rearranging the deckchairs Repainting the nameplate…

This is the kind of thing which drives me crazy:

Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW – News) today announced that it will change its Nasdaq stock ticker symbol from SUNW to JAVA, the ubiquitous technology and brand it created in 1995. The stock ticker change will go into effect for the trading community on Monday, August 27, 2007.

Exactly what shareholder value does this create? Is it going to open the door to new sales opportunities? Are stock analysts going to upgrade Sun on the strength of this change?
And what is the opportunity cost of doing this? Even though it’s managed to squeeze out a series of small profits, Sun’s product revenue numbers are flat. I’m sure that over the last 12 months there have been several unsuccessful bids which Sun could have won by incremental product or support engineering – engineering that would have cost much less than this relabelling exercise.
So how does Jonathan explain it? In three sentences:

“The Java brand and technology have evolved to be among the most pervasive on the internet, yielding extraordinary awareness for Sun and opportunity for the community that leverages it,”

Technology? Absolutely. Java is the standard language for SOA engineering. It’s the Visual Basic of the server side. But brand? I don’t think so. The Internet has moved beyond branding technology; what’s important now is branding services and communities.
And has Java’s success yielded “extraordinary awareness for Sun”? Not obvious. Certainly among those who are aware of technology, Sun’s workstations, servers, and Solaris OS are at least as important as Java. Indeed Sun seems to think so too: recently I’ve see more Sun press releases about Solaris, multithread chips, “eco-computing”, and so forth than I have about Java.

“More than a billion people across the globe, representing nearly every demographic, market and industry, rely upon Java’s security, innovation and value to connect them with opportunity.”

Absolutely true, even if 99.99% of them have no idea whatsoever that they do so. That’s the power of infrastructure engineering.

“That awareness positions Sun, and now our investor base, for the future.”

Bzzzt! First this awareness is probably illusory. Second, how would such “awareness… position [the] investor base for the future”? This is simply silly. Investors care about the business proposition, performance against goals, financial reports, and the rate of return. None of this remotely justifies a rebranding exercise such as Jonathan is proposing.
Look here. I really, really wish Sun well. I’m a shareholder, I’ve got a lot of friends there, and I admire the way in which Sun continues to push the envelope on computing technology. The recent announcement about transactional memory is a great example of this. ZFS is fantastic, and Black Box is a great idea. I want Sun to win. But stunts like changing the stock ticker symbol are not going to persuade skeptical customers to buy. (In fact it’s a distraction: Sun salespeople are probably going to waste 10 minutes on every sales call explaining this nonsense, time that they should be spending on Niagara throughput or ZFS availability.)
P.S. I liked Kevin’s take on this.
P.P.S. I wonder how all those loyal Sun staff who have SUNW license plates feel about this…
P.P.P.S. Dave Johnson’s keeping score.

Posted in Sun

"I'm not a scientist, but I play one in court."

Picture this.
You’re a moderately successful businessman, with an amateur interest in evo-devo. One day you dream up a weird theory about how evo-devo works: it’s all to do with geometry, specifically patterns of toroids. Now this is a strange idea, but fortunately it’s one can than be easily tested: all we have to do is point a microscope at developing organisms and compare what we see with the strange “balloon creatures” that your theory predicts. Evidence. Good stuff, that. And the results are not what you hoped for.
But as I said, you’re a successful businessman. You have a little money to play around with. And so, undaunted, you assemble a book to explain your theory. You don’t have much original material to work with, so you include photocopies of unrelated articles by various authors, and you pad it out to 160 pages. You self-publish this puppy, and pretty soon it shows up on priced at $60. At this point, a real scientist who specializes in this stuff finds your book, reads it, and publishes a detailed review which exposes your theory for the nonsense that it is.
So what do you do next? It’s obvious, isn’t it? You sue the reviewer for FIFTEEN MILLION DOLLARS, for “Assault, Libel, and Slander”.
Sadly, this farce is actually playing out right now. The crackpot amateur scientist is one Stuart Pivar, and the reviewer is our very own PZ Myers, a.k.a. Pharyngula. Inevitably, the blogosphere is all over this, here, here and here. If there’s any justice, Pivar will lose his shirt over this.
UPDATE: Here’s the ultimate take-down from a lawyer, Peter Irons. Pivar’s attorney may wish to draft a letter of apology for wasting the court’s time…

Hitchens on Lilla

Good review by Christopher Hitchens of Mark Lilla’s “The Stillborn God“. (You might have caught Lilla’s related piece in last Sunday’s NYT Magazine.) Hitchens’ conclusion:

To regret that we cannot be done with superstition is no more than to regret that we have a common ancestry with apes and plants and fish. But millimetrical progress has been made even so, and it is measurable precisely to the degree that we cease to believe ourselves the objects of a divine (and here’s the totalitarian element again) “plan.” Shaking off the fantastic illusion that we are the objective of the Big Bang or the process of evolution is something that any educated human can now do. This was not quite the case in previous centuries or even decades, and I do not think that Lilla has credited us with such slight advances as we have been able to make.

There's a pattern here.

Years ago, Namco released a wonderful sword-fighting game called Soul Calibur. I bought a Sega Dreamcast to play it.
Later, Namco released Soul Calibur II for the Playstation 2. I bought a PS2 to play it.
Next, they released Soul Calibur III, also for the PS2. I bought a copy, played it, and went back to Soul Calibur II. Better gameplay.
Now, Namco Bandai have revealed they’re bringing an incarnation of Soul Calibur to the Wii. It’s going to be called Soul Calibur Legends. No release date yet, but the screenshots look gorgeous. And so today I bought myself a Nintendo Wii, just to be ready.
Update: According to, “This item will be released on November 13, 2007.”

A quick visit to California

I just got back from a weekend trip down to California. On Saturday morning, I flew down to Oakland; Celeste picked me up in my old DARWIN (which now has a boring California registration), and invited me to drive it one more time. So we headed south on I-880, and I finally got the opportunity to drive one of my “fun” cars ((among which I count my Mazda Miata, Mercury Cougar, and Subaru Legacy GT)) over Highway 17 to Santa Cruz. Sadly the traffic was too heavy to really explore the potential for accelerating a 250 HP AWD car into one of the climbing turns that make Highway 17 so much fun. But never mind. The killer rabbit
We met up with Chris and Merry at Bookshop Santa Cruz. In spite of the threat from bigger bookshops, this remains the cultural centre of Santa Cruz, and it’s still fun to browse after all these years (ever since Chris was an undergraduate ar UCSC). We then meandered down to Aptos for lunch with members of our extended family, in a lovely home with a statue of a killer rabbit in the yard. (See photo.) We then followed Route 1 south to Carmel, and drove to Merry’s parents’ place, where we stayed overnight.
Lamborghinis on the red carpet in Carmel.Today we headed down into Carmel. This is car week in Carmel, and gorgeous cars were everywhere. This is the kind of situation where they roll out the red carpet for cars rather than mere human beings. Even when we walked down to the beach, the cars followed us. (See photo gallery.)
Then after lunch, we (Chris, Celeste and I) headed back up to Oakland. I’d brought along Stop The Clocks, the “greatest hits” double CD from Oasis (the one I’d got from Tescos in Abingdon for £5), and we cranked up the volume and sang along to “Wonderwall”, “Morning Glory” and “Champagne Supernova”. (Of course Oasis were at their peak when Chris was living in Cambridge, England.)
I reached Oakland airport in time to catch the earlier Alaska flight to Seattle, so I got myself added to the stand-by list – but to no avail. That flight was full, and so was mine at 8:00pm. There seem to be a lot of people moving around the country right now…
And now I’m home in Seattle, all set for another week in the real world. I expect there are a bunch of EPFL games on my DVR; I’ll try to avoid reading any sports news from England. No spoilers, please!

Seems like a good deal to me…

Only in Florida:

Orlando emptied its bureau drawers and closets on Friday of more than 250 unwanted guns — and one surface-to-air missile launcher.
The shoulder-fired weapon showed about 6 p.m. when an Ocoee man drove to the Citrus Bowl to trade the 4-foot-long launcher for size-3 Reebok sneakers for his daughter.

Philosophers without Gods

I’ve been reading a beautiful new bookAtheists without Gods called Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life, edited by Louise M. Antony. It’s a very personal collection of essays, compelling without being confrontational. One particular piece really grabbed me: the kind that links together several small insights into a huge “a-ha!” moment. It’s “Religion and Respect” by the Cambridge philosopher Simon Blackburn, and a preliminary draft is available on the web here (in PDF). It’s a long piece that will repay careful reading. Time will tell, but I think it’s going to become part of the “atheist canon”, such as it is.
Let me quote at length on two of the ideas that seized me. First, Blackburn highlights the way in which religion claims respect by trying to hijack the – quite legitimate – respect that we give to emotions:

I have said that holding a false belief does not give anyone a title to respect. Insofar as I cannot share your belief, I have no reason to respect you for holding it — quite the reverse, in fact. But the same is not true of emotions. If I happen upon the funeral of a stranger, I cannot feel the same grief as the close relatives and mourners. But I don’t think they are making any kind of mistake, or displaying any kind of fault or flaw or vice. On the contrary, we admire them for giving public expression to their grief, and if they did not show this kind of feeling they would be alien to us, and objects of suspicion. It is fair to say that we ought to respect their grief, and in practice we do. We may withdraw from the scene. Or, we may inconvenience ourselves to let them go ahead (we turn down our radio). Or, we may waive demands that would otherwise be made (we give them time off work). Similarly a birth or wedding is a happy occasion, and it is bad form to intrude on them with trouble and grief (let alone prophesies of such, as in many fairy stories)….
Unfortunately, it is a gross simplification to bring the essence of religion down to emotion. The stances involved are far more often ones of attitude. And it is a fraud to take the space and shelter we rightly offer to emotional difference, and use it to demand respect for any old divergence of attitude. The relevant attitudes are often ones where difference implies disagreement, and then, like belief, we cannot combine any kind of disagreement with substantial respect. Attitudes are public.
Suppose, for example, the journey up the mountain brought back the words that a woman is worth only a fraction of a man, as is held in Islam. This is not directly an expression of an emotion. It is the expression of a practical stance or attitude, that may come out in all sorts of ways. It is not an attitude that commends itself in the egalitarian West. So should we ‘respect’ it? Not at all.

Blackburn concludes with another important idea: the distinction between the transcendant and the immanent: between believing that “the source of meaning transcends the ordinary mundane world of our bounded lives and bounded visions” and the position that…

… there is another option for meaning, … which is to look only within life itself. This is the immanent option. It is content with the everyday. There is sufficient meaning for human beings in the human world – the world of familiar, and even humdrum doings and experiences. In the immanent option, the smile of the baby, the grace of the dancer, the sound of voices, the movement of a lover, give meaning to life. For some it is activity and achievement: gaining the summit of the mountain, crossing the finishing line first, finding the cure or writing the poem. These things last only their short time, but that does not deny them meaning. A smile does not need to go on forever in order to mean what it does. There is nothing beyond or apart from the processes of life. Furthermore, there is no one goal to which all these processes tend, but we can find something precious, value and meaning, in the processes themselves. There is no such thing as the meaning of life, but there can be many meanings within a life.

After analyzing a beautiful passage from Proust which captures the notion of immanence, Blackburn warns us:

Centuries of propaganda have left many people vaguely guilty about taking the immanent option. It is stigmatized as ‘materialistic’ or ‘unspiritual’: the transcendental option uses every device it can to demand respect creep. But one must not allow the transcendent option to monopolize everything good or deep about the notion of spirituality. A piece of music or a great painting may allow us a respite from everyday concerns, or give us the occasion for uses of the imagination that expand our range of sympathy and understanding. They can take us out of ourselves. But they do not do so by taking us anywhere else. The imagination they unlock, or the sentiments and feelings they inspire, still belong to this world. In the best cases, it is this world only now seen less egocentrically, seen without we ourselves being at the centre of it… Such experiences can be called spiritual if we wish, although the word may have suffered so much from its religious captivity that it cannot be said without embarrassment. Fortunately, the phenomenon it describes does not die with it.

Read Blackburn’s essay. And buy the book: in its quiet way, it’s as powerful as anything by Harris, Dawkins or Hitchens – and you know how much I respect their work. ((It also includes Dan Dennett’s beautiful “Thank Goodness”, which I wrote about last November.))