"Hitch 22"

I just posted my review of Christopher Hitchens’ new book “Hitch 22” over at This is what I wrote:

Must read. No excuses.
Let’s get the most important bit out of the way first. You ought to read this book. If you love good, insightful, literate, compelling writing then you must read it. You will not agree with all of it, maybe not even most of it. That’s OK. Echo chambers are sterile places: creativity and energy comes from conflict.
It’s tempting to adopt a personal approach to this book. After all, there are a number of points of commonality between Hitchens’ life and mine – our origins in post-war England, our youthful socialism, our migrations to the United States at the beginning on the 1980s, our uncompromising atheism, and anger at institutionalized mumbo-jumbo. But it would be a mistake for me to try to take this too far. At our cores, we are very different. Hitchens is an actor, a performance artist, a painter. He paints with words. He’s a passionate romantic, with the creative energy and curious myopia which this engenders.
Above all – and even though he is ambivalent about the term – he is a contrarian. He is defined by his oppositions, his targets. Mother Teresa. Henry Kissinger. Bill Clinton. Saddam Hussein. Ayatollah Kohmeini The Pope, and religion in general. And his opponents have to be big, controversial, and deserving of his attention. I searched the book in vain for any opinions of George W. Bush, and eventually concluded that Hitchens didn’t consider him worth comment. (And Hitchens chooses his targets because they trigger his passions – he feels no obligation to be even-handed or consistent.)
This is also an account of friendships of various kinds: the mentor, the partner in crime, the defender and advocate. I came away with the strong impression that for Hitchens, friendship is more important than love, which is an old idea that is rather out of fashion. It is not about intimacy, unless this is taken to include the intellect.
At the end, both I and the author seemed to come to the same conclusion: the memoir is not exactly a natural vehicle for Hitchens’ extraordinary literary talents. How does one end such a work? In my case, I set aside “Hitch 22” and turned to what I regard as his best work: his slim volume on Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man.


The week's twitterings – 2010-04-25

  • 15 minutes before boarding my SFO-JFK flight, there are 4 open seats in business class and I'm #4 on the upgrade list…. #
  • Oh bleep – the biz seat count dropped to 2 #
  • JFK easier than expected: I took the airtrain to Jamaica Station, and I'm now on a LIRR express to Penn Station, two blocks from my hotel #
  • Oracle productizes JEOS – running Weblogic "without an OS" in a VM. Claims 33% better transaction rate, which actually sounds embarrassing #
  • Oracle #CloudExpo keynote was all about PaaS strategy, with a bit of IaaS. Not a peep about cloud storage services. Strange that…. 😉 #
  • Blustering cloud preso by Gross of Unisys, very weak on motivation and all over the map. Main point seems to be to sell fear about security #
  • "Unisys Stealth" data security – end-to-end, RBAC-based. Claims immunity to deep packet inspection. Really? OK, useful but not "a new world" #
  • BTW, Channel 9 was back on my SFO-JFK red-eye on Sunday – first time since pre-Xmas. One more piece of security theatre bites the dust… #
  • I'd hoped that NIST etc. would generate consistency in "cloud" discussions. No such luck. Oracle is particularly guilty of muddying things #
  • What is the maximum number of times a presenter can say "Hands up if you've…" before it gets REALLY tedious? #
  • After patronizing references to Amazon by Navisite speaker, he proudly described some features that are much less impressive than AWS. FAIL #
  • Conference profile: marketers presenting to consultants. Bad fit – consultants ask awkward questions, like real performance numbers #
  • Can't log in to free WiFi here at New Yorker Hotel on my iPad because Safari won't scroll the T&Cs frame. #iPad fail or hotel fail? #
  • Can't read long posts in Google Reader mobile version on my iPad because Safari won't scroll the post. OK, this is definitely #iPad FAIL #
  • How can you hold a Cloud Computing Conference without adequate connectivity?Maybe if they'd attracted a networking vendor as a sponsor…. #
  • Nice Azure presentation by my old friend Yousef Khalidi. Right now MS sounds much, MUCH more open and cloud-savvy than, say, Oracle. #
  • Finally nailed down my RTW itinerary to visit Xi'an and Nice. SFO-PEK-XIY-PEK-AMS-NCE-JFK-SFO. Six different airlines, three weeks. #
  • Useful cloud storage talk at #cloudexpo by the GlusterFS CTO – but not enough tech details of GlusterFS itself! Excessive modesty… #
  • And now a VERY interesting #cloudexpo talk on cloud forensics by Aaron Walters of Terramark. Finally some technical meat!! #
  • RT @chrisbrogan Good initiative. Hannah's looking for a summer internship. Anyone want to help her? – #
  • Enjoying first class service on the Acela from NYC to Boston. An hour and a half gone, two hours to go. Good food and plenty to drink, tho' #
  • Did I really read this, or merely dream about it? #
  • RT @adriana872 RT @andychannelle: We have free movement of capital, and (most) goods. Why not people? <Pre-wired tribal mammal brains #
  • And now a VERY interesting #cloudexpo talk on cloud forensics by Aaron Walters of Terramark. Finally some technical meat!! #
  • UA179 BOS-SFO 100% full, no upgrade, but at least I got 8E. Some of the carry-on bags are simply ridiculous – I miss the x-ray m/c templates #

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The costs of indirection

A friend of mine recently asked me if I’d like to add a badge to my blog, linked to a promotion/monetization system. I thought my email reply was worth sharing here. I’ve anonymized things a bit….

I’m a great example of why badge-based blog monetization is a tough sell. I currently follow 208 different blogs (really – I just checked my OPML file) but I do so almost entirely through Google Reader, or one of the iPhone/iPad apps that transcode my Reader feed into a more suitable format. I only click through to the actual blog website in a few cases a day – where I want to see any comments, or when I need access to the original HTML for some purpose. (And the latter tends to be dictated by the blogging software being used by the author.)
So even though I have a number of favorite blogs, I’m never going to see a badge. [And of course I’m never going to see – or click through – on any advertising, which is a problem for the blogger.] Furthermore, I know that my blog is in the same boat: from blog-related email it’s clear that I have many more readers than those who show up on my site. (Perhaps if I started using Feedburner I could find out exactly how many….)
The only entity that knows what I read, and how much time I spend on each posting, and if and when I click through, is Google. And they’re happy to tell me – see the “Trends” section on the Reader home page. But nobody else gets a look-in.


Here we go again

Half an hour from now I’m starting another burst of travel. Tonight I fly from SFO to JFK (trying out the United p.s. service for the first time), so that I can attend the Cloud Expo at the Javits. On Wednesday I’m taking the Acela up to Boston, where I’ll be staying until Sunday. Back home for a week; then off to Xi’an on May 3 for a couple of weeks, and from there I’ll fly on to Nice to attend the TM Forum Management World conference. By then I hope that either the Icelandic volcano will have subsided, or the airlines will have figured out how to fly me home from France!


The week's twitterings – 2010-04-18

  • Dinner at Vo in Oakland before the Mark Knopfler show at the Paramount. Shaken Beef – mmmmm! #
  • First time at the Paramount Theatre – what a wonderfully over-the-top celebration of Art Deco! #
  • Who was that shy singer from Alabama who opened for @MarkKnopfler? And who was the brilliant guitarist who accompanied her? #
  • 40 years ago I saw Pink Floyd perform "Saucerful of Secrets". Tonight I saw Mark Knopfler perform "Telegraph Road". What more could I want? #
  • Picked up BT keyboard; curious if I could use iPad+KB instead of MacBook on my trip to NYC (CloudExpo) & Boston next week. Verdict: no… #
  • Reason: can't sync *all* my state ( confidential documents) between iPad and cloud storage (? Close isn't good enough #
  • Forget about volcanic ash, global warming, and the War on Terror: here's a real crisis! No more cricket bats!! #
  • Changing travel plans: I'm going to Nice next month for TM Forum, but now I'll spend two weeks in Xi'an before flying to France #RTW #

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Mark Knopfler in Oakland

Last September, my friend Kyle forwarded me an announcement of the US tour dates for Mark Knopfler, which included a show in Oakland, California on April 13, 2010. It seemed a long, long time in the future, and I was worried that I might be traveling in China, but no matter: that very day I ordered two tickets from TicketMa$ter. They arrived. I added the date to my diary. And life went on.
Last week I realized with a shock that the tempus fugit stuff had been doing its thing, and the concert was taking place this week. I hunted for the tickets, and couldn’t find them. Never mind: a quick email to Ti¢ketMa$t€r resulted in the order being converted to “Will Call”. And so this evening I picked up Kate from the apartment and we braved the traffic and spine-crunching pavement of Interstate 880 to drive up to Oakland. We parked without difficulty, picked up the tickets, had a wonderful nouveau-Vietnamese dinner at Vo’s Restaurant, and went to the Paramount Theatre (which is worth a blog entry for itself).
Now I’ve been a huge Dire Straits fan ever since they released their first album in 1978, but I have never seen Mark Knopfler in concert – with D.S. or solo – before tonight. I know the “Alchemy” concert recording so well that I can play every number in my head, note-perfect. (And I was recently delighted to discover that the DVD of “Alchemy” is finally due for release this year!) So it’s fair to say that my expectations were unreasonably high, which also meant that my fears of being disappointed were also spiking up.
I was not disappointed. It was a simply wonderful show.
If you want to understand the lyrics to a Mark Knopfler song, you have to listen to the studio recording. In concert, he often mumbles the words and skips whole phrases. But it really doesn’t matter, because you can supply the words yourself, as you listen to the exquisite musicianship from Mark and his band.
It was a long set. I haven’t found the setlist on the internet yet, but I’m sure I will soon. (UPDATE: Here it is.) They played songs from most of Mark’s solo albums, and of these the standout was a glorious “Sailing To Philadelphia”. And they did five Dire Straits’ numbers: “Romeo and Juliet”, “Sultans of Swing” (yay!), “So Far Away”, “Brothers in Arms” (as powerful as ever), and (be still my beating heart) “Telegraph Road”. Complete. Uncut. Glorious. One of my favourite songs ever.
Forty years ago, I saw Pink Floyd at Essex University, and they played all of the numbers from the “live” disc of “Ummagumma”, which had just been released. I can still remember the quasi-spiritual experience of listening to “A Saucerful of Secrets”, with Dave Gilmour’s wordless “celestial voices” soaring over the mellotron. Today I saw Mark Knopfler and his band play Telegraph Road. It was another almost spiritual experience. What more could I ask for?
Thanks, Kyle!


Quitter! (And about time too.)

I was worried that MrDeity was getting a little stale in Series 3, but they’ve just bounced back with a wonderful piece to finish the season:

Perfect timing, right after Easter, to remind us how illogical (and immoral) the whole Original Sin/Redemption nonsense is.


The week's twitterings – 2010-04-11

  • Must-read (& widely-tweeted) piece by @rlove on iPad/iPhone v. Android approaches to memory allocation and task mgmt: #
  • Just took "Which Crazy Writer Are You?" and got: Edgar Allan Poe! Try it âž” #
  • After four(!) repairs, HP decides to give me a new laptop. But they fix&return the bad one and then send me a box to ship it to recycling… #
  • I've decided to attend Cloud Expo in NYC (even though SYS-CON bugs me). I'll take the opportunity to visit family near Boston after the show #

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iPad thoughts after a few days

Herewith a few of my thoughts about the iPad after living with it for nearly a week:

  • If you only read one review of the iPad, make it this wonderful essay by John Gruber over at Daring Fireball.
  • The KeyNote and Pages apps look beautiful, and work pretty well, but they are going to be useless to me until Apple puts some kind of decent synchronization in place. I don’t care if the iPad is synchronized to the web (via or, or to my desktop (via wifi); it just has to work seamlessly and automatically.
  • We need printing. Via wifi, of course.
  • The most beautiful iPad app is Emerald Observatory.
  • I really need a nice case. As I noted, the Apple-supplied sleeve uses a clingy rubber-like material, which makes it really hard to insert and remove the iPad. (The word “fetish” came up while I was trying to describe it to a Chinese colleague, which provoked an urgent search in my Chinese-English dictionary app!) Right now I’m using the sleeve from my EeePC netbook to protect the iPad, but I need a decent – and attractive – case/stand combo. Twelve South are working on an iPad version of their lovely BookBook cases, but there’s no ETA on that.
  • Right now I mostly use the iPad for web surfing and watching Netflix content. Email is OK, but I’m looking forward to the unified inbox in 4.0. I haven’t found the perfect iPad game, although watching Jim land a 777 at SFO in X-Plane was pretty compelling.
  • I use iPhone apps on the iPad only for convenience, not by choice. At 1x they look odd; at 2x they are too jagged.
  • The future lies in pure iPad apps, that take advantage of Adam Engst’s insight:

    The iPad becomes the app you’re using. That’s part of the magic. The hardware is so understated – it’s just a screen, really – and because you manipulate objects and interface elements so smoothly and directly on the screen, the fact that you’re using an iPad falls away. You’re using the app, whatever it may be, and while you’re doing so, the iPad is that app. Switch to another app and the iPad becomes that app.


The week's twitterings – 2010-04-04

  • Shake, Rattle, Seattle – Good thing I moved – even if I am now a few miles from the San Andreas Fault #
  • If you want to join the iPad party… we will be at the Palo Alto University ave store all night starting at 6 pm Friday. (RT @Scobleizer) #
  • OK, it's April, so it's probably time to schedule my next trip to China at the end of the month. #
  • Bought HP laptop in November; returned for service (same defect) 3 times since then. Got it back today, plugged it in: flash, sizzle, smoke. #
  • RT @Carnage4Life: Love @gruber's response to Doctorow's anti-iPad screed – #
  • Everybody being photographed with everyone else at the iPad party in Palo Alto…. #
  • Sitting in front of a cool iPad sign; all the photographers are asking our names for attribution/release purposes #
  • The no.1 #ipad question: does anyone know of a commercially available USB hub that implements the "Battery Charging Specification"? #
  • Any #ipad users with a Targus ACH81US USB hub? It claims to have two "Always On" ports with "twice the power". Can it charge the iPad? #

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