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Our Roomba is currently going
to town in the dining room. We had used it in the hall as a test the
other day, and today we actually got around to picking all the stuff
up to allow it to do some real rooms. It did a darn fine job in our
living room/family room area. The only bit of concern was when the
strings on an area rug got wrapped up in the beaters. We had to trim
all the strings on all four corners to make sure it didn’t happen
again and the one corner is in pretty rough shape (it was before this,
but getting attacked by a robot didn’t help it at all.) Other than
that incident, it did as good a job at getting the floors clean as I
could have expected. We’ve got a little bit of a learning curve about
things like where to place the IR emitter “virtual walls” and such,
but I think this experiment is a success.

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Here’s a news item forward by my punk buddy Jonny X (leader of a
band that was a former band of the day): A story about a
startup that is staying alive by frugality
. The company is Oddpost, a joint that does a web
based e-mail app that is supposedly much more usable than hotmail or
yahoo or the like. What I like about this story is that it is the same
thing I’ve been saying – this is actually a good time to upstart a
startup, despite everyone thinking it is bad. During the boom,
everything was expensive – office space, people, PR. Now all that has
gotten cheaper and the excesses of the past are paring back. For
companies that get rolling now, they have better chances than the ones
starting during the thick of 98-99.

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I just marked my reading in the AlexLit Recommender. I was one of
the early users of this system (can it be over 5 years now? Wow, time
flies!) and like I mentioned a moment ago, it’s a way for the machines
to make a task easier – in this case finding reading that will
interest you. It is spookily accurate, built as it is off of a
collaborative filtering neural network. You rate books and stories you
have read and then it first determines who shares your tastes by
examining people with similar ratings and then uses their ratings of
things you haven’t read to predict what you will like. I have found a
number of great reads this way. My number one pick on the recommender
is currently Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart, with
Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky being number three. The
Hughart books have been up there for a while, so I think I’ll make an
effort to read them. See previous comments about retiring young.

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I just finished A Fire Upon the Deep a few minutes
ago. I really enjoyed it the whole time I read it, but it took almost
three months to finish it. I never stopped reading it but it was just
slow going. It was kind of a relief to finish it, actually. What I
read was the special
annotated eBook version
from Palm Digital. I went
through without reading the annotations and at my leisure I might
browse through later. They are quite fascinating, the way Vinge left
himself notes interspersed through the text as he wrote. He used emacs
as his text editor, the same editor I’m using now to write this blog.

One of the things that fascinated me in the book was the whole
“automation” bits, the various bits of hardware and software that
transparently aided so much of life in the Beyond. This is the same
kind of stuff I like to do. My CRM newsreader, the music automation
system I built for WREK, the scripts I have that automatically
download the WREK programs I want from the MP3 archive, these are all
my halting attempts to make the robots work for me. I want to put this
stuff in my service, not because I think it is cool or sci-fi stuff
but because I have all this power at my fingertips and I want it to
make things easier in my life. Even when the tasks are not supremely
important, like finding things I want in Usenet groups automatically,
if the robots do them for me and well, that’s more of my time I can
devote elsewhere. I’m all about maximizing my throughput.

And as a side note, there’s a web page about the WREK systems we built. I
think I get a little shafted on here, because the bullet point
structure kind of gives equal weighting to us – three guys did four
bullet points. In reality, although Jim Evans work was hugely
important and without it nothing could have happened, it was a
fraction of the actual hours I spent. If I had billed
them at the rate I get when I contract, my work of summer
2001 would have cost them $30,000 and over the whole project more than
$60,0000. This is not whinging or diminishing the important efforts of
everyone else, just pointing out that the simple representation of
tasks hides a lot of complexity. The one line description “Automation music
sequencer/scheduler logic” includes hundreds of hours of programming,
debugging and testing time. Not even included are the other hundreds
of hours I spent in a production studio, digitizing music, doing
voiceovers and doing every bit of the work to make the full integrated
system work. I’m happy that I did it, and the station sounds great and
is in much better shape for it, but when I think about other things I
could have done with that time, I shudder. I could have got my own
startup rolling with that kind of effort! Oh well, no one twisted my
arm. It’s on my resume, and deservedly so.

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Here’s an interesting thing I ran across while reading Slashdot. There is a massively
multiplayer game launching today called A Tale in the Desert. It is
combatless and when you play, you are a character in ancient Egypt
trying to better yourself and civilation. It sounds like a combination
of Civilization and The Sims. I’d be interested but there’s really no
chance of me actually using it to the point that it would justify $14
a month. The last thing I need is one more time wasting thing – I need
to reclaim time from my current time wasting activities. If I were to
retire young though, I could see frittering my time away on stuff like
this and being happy as a clam about it.

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Valentine’s was pretty good. Rather than brave traffic and crowds, it
was carryout pizza and rented movies. We watched the surfer chick
movie Blue Crush which was kind of formula cheese but
which I enjoyed. I kind of liked how different the goals were of the
film from typical guy sports movies. Those are always about acheiving
victory over others, and this movie was more about achieving victory
within yourself. There wasn’t a believable second in it, but I still
had a good time watching it. It made me wish I was in Hawaii right now.