I designed a new product.
I had the parts made.
I sent the parts to our production site in China. "Lo", I said, "Take these parts and deliver unto me a great Product!"
A Chinese engineer built the prototypes.
The engineer gave the prototypes to his shipping department.
The prototypes arrived at my receiving department.
The prototypes were delivered - but to our stock department, not to me.
"Lo," the stock clerk said, "these Products do not meet our Incoming Quality Control Standards."
The prototypes were marked for disposal.
I asked the Chinese engineer, "Didst thou make the prototypes?"
"Verily," the engineer said. "Here is proof that they were delivered one week earlier than scheduled!"
"Dunce!" I said to my receiving department. "To whom didst thou give the prototypes?"
"It is not Recorded," said the foul Clerk, "Read it in thy Tea Leaves, buddy."
"Fellow Engineers," I cried, "Wert my prototypes mistakenly delivered to thee?"
"No," they said, and "wherefore yelleth he?" and "check out this Video."
And so grieved I went unto my Boss. "Lord," I said, "I shall send an angry message to the whole building asking all and sundry to look for my prototypes."
"Check the stock department first," saith milord.
And I did.

And so it was that on the day that $20,000 worth of design, parts, and engineering effort were to be thrown out and a multimillion dollar project was to be set back two months because of a QC FAIL sticker, I got my prototypes.

Why? Because twelve time zones, a language, an ocean, and two shipping clerks stood between me and my engineer. In R&D, ideas are the easy part.

Road hypnosis: Quiet.

From an excellent short piece in Esquire about driving west across North Dakota:
Squinting into orange, I thought about those things that we never let ourselves think about — those things that we actively defend ourselves against thinking about by having so much other stuff to look at and listen to.
We actively defend ourselves against thinking. Doesn't that speak volumes? Sometimes the messages that bubble up from our own minds are unsettling, even painful: will this path take me in a direction I want to go in five years? Am I being genuine? Am I avoiding doing something I'd really enjoy just because it would look stupid or cost too much? What am I earning this money for, anyway? Our possessions, our music, our booze, and yes, our Internet - all these things serve partly to protect us from the pain of these questions.

In A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer goes into some detail about how he brings together groups of people in ways that help them hear what they're thinking. Not what each other are thinking - each individual strives to hear their own motivations and fears. I've written a series of posts here about how I try to use quietness for that purpose. It's my war against myself - a struggle to consciously push aside all the distractions I've put into place to cover up my subconscious. I'm pretty sure it's what Kundera was talking about when he wrote about slowness. (Hi, Matt!)

I'm not sure if driving would work for me, but it certainly did the trick for Chris Jones.

via Jalopnik

Things that are not me

Heidi Cool sent me an invite to check out the blogging platform at I tried to create an account with username "myfuturepast" and was informed that that account already exists.

Um, OK.

The blog, myfuturepast dot wordpress dot com, was created on my birthday in 2008 and never used. I'd like to take this opportunity to formally disavow it. That's why I said "dot" instead of putting in a real URL--I don't want that site associated with me. I've checked my records and there's no way I created it. This could be innocent, for example, the person who used to sell jewelry at www dot myfuturepast dot com (now offline) might have been thinking about blogging. Alternatively, someone may have been toying with the idea of spoofing me. Good luck with that: googling myfuturepast, about 85% of the first few pages of results are me. That's much better saturation than I get googling my name.

Other miscellaneous things that are not me: the female South African blogger at tgfuturepast dot blogspot dot com (who predates me but uses the same template and title!); the livejournal username myfuturepast; and the diaryland account myfuturepast.

But yeah, that is my old gutted myspace account.

Cloud computing, a modern analog to 120VAC electric service

I don't often repost without commenting, but I'll make an exception for this compelling analogy: There's an app(liance) for that. Quote:
...far more important was what companies and individuals did with the cheap and readily available electricity after the grid was constructed. The same, I'm sure, will be true of the infrastructure of cloud computing.
In other words, where today we say "there's an app for that", in the 1900s we said "there's an appliance for that". Decades from now, our lives will be as different from today as today is from the time when light bulbs and electric motors began to proliferate. Imagine that!

Ghost of Christmas Past

Above: Salton Hotray Model H-928 automatic food warmer, "never been used", "$5.00"

I found this in my basement last night while I was looking for something else. Its stained and yellowing box was resealed with packing tape I recognized from two moves ago. The "never been used" and "$5.00" stickers marked it as a yard sale find. It had indeed never been used - when I pulled it out, the cord was still bound with a matching twistie. The sans serif font and self-important prose on the packaging and leaflet are vintage 70s. The handles are real wood, which is to say, they actually used to be TREES. You don't see that too much anymore.

My guess is that Alice's mother bought this for us early in our marriage. And before that, it had been somebody's Christmas present.

So I plugged it in. It worked. I brought it to a party last night and left it plugged in for hours with a casserole on it. And it worked. Actually its "low" setting is a little too warm, but I can live with that.

Solid State Drives (SSDs): Early adoption?

I'm planning my next computer. Normally I wouldn't bore people with the details, but I may become an early adopter of a new technology, so I thought I'd share my research.

What and why?, a well-respected hardware technology site, describes SSDs as a must-have, game-changing upgrade:
"I don’t know how else to say this: it’s an order of magnitude faster than a hard drive. It’s the difference between a hang glider and the space shuttle; both will fly, it’s just that one takes you to space."
A Solid State Drive does the same thing as a hard disk drive in your computer. However, they have no moving parts; they're made of the same flash memory used in USB thumb drives. This gives them a couple of advantages: they're generally faster, and specifically much faster at retrieving many small files. When a hard drive tries to retrieve many small files, its magnetic read/write head has to physically move to each file, which takes time. With no moving parts, an SSD can do this about 50 times faster. Yes, 50. It's a quantum leap in performance. The drawbacks, at present, are capacity and price.

Solid state drives first came into use in early netbooks (cheap ultraportable laptops) because they were lighter, more durable, and used less power than hard drives. They also improved boot times, though the SSDs of the time didn't have room to store much more than the operating system. SSD's didn't spread into other types of computers immediately, but over the past two years, capacity has increased and the technology has matured.

Issue 1: Stuttering
There have been some hurdles to overcome. When used to boot a Windows OS, some drives have suffered from "stuttering", where the computer freezes for several seconds periodically. The roots of this problem seem to lie in the circuitry that manages communication between all those flash memory chips and the rest of the computer. According to Anandtech, stuttering seems to have been overcome in drives using controllers made by Indilinx or Intel, rather than older controllers by JMicron or Samsung. Anandtech's most recent article lists several models with good controllers, and a previous article compares several older drives that are still being sold.

Issue 2: Performance fade
The new controllers are also on the road to addressing problems with performance degradation over time. This is a really complicated issue to describe, but Anandtech covers it. The remedy is either having a capability called TRIM built into all your hardware and software, or periodically running a refreshing tool; for some drives, neither is available.

Issue 3: Bricking
Another issue that I've heard discussed, largely in the user forums of resellers (like Newegg) and drive manufacturers (like Intel), is that the drives occasionally just quit working after weeks or even months of use and they can't be fixed. They are, in Internet parlance, "bricked", like an jailbroken iPhone. This problem is a little murkier, which doesn't give me confidence. It seems to be associated with previous-generation drives (for example, Intel's X25-M G1 as opposed to G2), though that could simply be a matter of how long they've been available for people to talk about them. It is also associated with firmware updates, for example, a bad one Intel relased to enable TRIM and then pulled.

The plan
The drive I'm looking at is the Intel X25-M G2. It currently costs about $260 and has 64GB capacity. That's enough to hold an installation of Windows 7 plus applications and user profiles for the life of the computer, though documents will have to be kept on a hard disk drive. It addresses the stuttering and performance degradation issues, and so far there are not too many complaints of bricking.

My current laptop was cheap when I bought it 3 1/2 years ago, and now strains under the burden of audio, video, and Web 2.0 applications. My hope is that with a multi-core processor (AMD Phenom II X4 or Athlon II X4 or Intel Core 2 Quad), Windows 7 (no way am I touching Vista), and an SSD, I'll have a computer that won't slow to a crawl after a few years of accumulated cruft.


For the past couple weeks I've felt my creative powers retreat. Instead of pulling abstractions out of my observations, I've just observed and moved on, amused. It's happened before. It's an imbalance between RSS feeds and this blog, a correlation between reading more and writing less. I wonder which is the cause and which the effect, or is there a hidden cause?

I've discovered several fun new RSS feeds. Sensing the imbalance, I've also begun to cut some I'd like to follow. But TV lovers know they can't watch every show they'd enjoy. Same here: the Internet is functionally infinite. Several of the feeds I've come across lately are very time-consuming. Consider, as an example, jalopnik. is about cars. All about cars - new models, classics, obscure niche cars, racing, customization, the lot. At over a dozen posts a day, if you're a car guy, Jalopnik will give you all you can handle. In fact, I'm tempted to say that you definitely are a car guy if you keep coming back to Jalopnik. I get Car and Driver and Road & Track in the mail, but that's only once a month. Well, problem solved.

Jalopnik is a Gawker Media site. As Scott Rosenberg noted in "Say Everything", Gawker works their bloggers pretty hard. Here's what you have to do to make a living at blogging: repost press releases with commentary; go to trade shows and post picture galleries of the displays; build a community by moderating and contributing to comment threads; solicit input from your readers in the form of photos and stories; write a long article maybe once a day; and above all, project enthusiasm relentlessly. Whew! I don't read through it all--I couldn't, even if I wanted to or felt I should--but I appreciate the flood of information.

I've also begun reading books again. I think that happened when I cancelled my subscription to the New Yorker. Books, blogs - it's consumption. I guess it's a good first step that I hear the little warning bell to tell me I'm only consuming, not creating. I'd like to keep my balance better, but nobody's perfect. I'm not going to beat myself up about it. I'm just going to try to improve.