Friday, September 28, 2007

Running MacOS X on a Generic (non-Apple) x86 PC

Uh, nifty. Of course, no one reading this entry would ever do this because it violates Apple's EULA (even if you bought a Mac, deleted its copy of MacOS X, and installed from its media onto your, uh, alternative hardware). Nah, none of you would ever do that. Nope, won't happen.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dying 47-Year-Old Professor, Randy Pausch, Gives Exuberant ‘Last Lecture’

I just finished watching an all around nifty guy, Randy Pausch's, well, probably last lecture. :-( He is currently a professor at CMU. His specialty is human-computer interaction, such as virtual reality. He has done work with Disney and EA. Among other accomplishments, his most recent is Alice, which is an innovative and pragmatic educational programming language[1]. He was recently diagnosed with a dire case of cancer. This lecture was about achieving your childhood dreams -- and helping others achieve theirs. For a guy that knows he is about to die, he's got a great attitude about his life -- and life in general. Certainly, if we're looking for people to draw clues from in living our own lives, he's up there.

His wikipedia entry already has a brief overview and link to the video of the full lecture (1h:45m or so) so no reason for me to re-invent the wheel:

Professor Randy Pausch delivered his "Last Public Lecture", entitled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" at [[Carnegie Mellon University]] on September 18, 2007 [5] (the full version of which is viewable at

During this lecture, Randy Pausch was very upbeat and humorous, rapidly switching between standup comedy, insights on computer science and engineering education, advice on building multi-disciplinary collaborations, working in groups and interacting with other people, offering inspirational life lessons, and doing one-handed push-ups on stage.

This talk was modeled after an existing series of lectures where top academics were asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical "final talk", i.e., "what wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?" And in Randy's case, this was more than an academic exercise.

Before he even started speaking, Randy got a long standing ovation from a large crowd of over 400 colleagues and students. When he motioned them to sit down, saying "make me earn it", some in the audience shouted back "you already did!".

Andries van Dam (a professor from Brown University) followed Randy with a tearful and impassioned speech praising Randy for his courage and leadership, calling him a role model and "a Mensch" (which in Yiddish means "someone to admire and emulate, of noble character").

Electronic Arts Inc. (maker of the popular "Sims" family of computer games with over 100 million copies sold) is now commercializing Randy's Alice system (, and pledged to create in Randy's honor a memorial scholarship for women in computer science, in recognition of Randy's staunch support and mentoring of women in CS and engineering.

The president of CMU (Jared Cohon) spoke emotionally of Randy's humanity, and called Randy's contributions to CMU and to education "remarkable and stunning". He then announced that CMU will celebrate Randy's impact on the world by building and naming after Randy a raised pedestrian bridge that will connect CMU's new Computer Science building with their Center for the Arts, symbolizing the way Randy linked those two disciplines. It will be called the "Randy Pausch Memorial Footbridge".

Professor Pausch was named "Person of the Week" on ABC's World News with Charles Gibson on September 21. His last lecture has also attracted wide attention from the national media.

[1] Alice is designed to appeal to specific subpopulations not normally exposed to computer programming, such as middle school girls, by encouraging storytelling through a simple drag-and-drop interface.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Who Surveys the Surveyors?

(Questions That Every Survey Should Ask)

Four out five times I'll just toss out those surveys that get printed on the receipts from retailers, restaurants, coffeehouses, etc. If I'm looking for a distraction (or remember that I stashed one in my wallet the next time I'm there while I'm standing around in line anyhow) and the freebie I get for doing it entices me, I'll do one.

It's pretty frustrating to be willing to provide feedback only to discover the survey is your main gripe about the establishment. Based on my survey experiences, one of the following queries should be appended to every survey any company ever does. They basically all boil down to: "Did this survey suck?"

Q: On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate the friendliness of this survey?

Q: On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate the length of this survey?

Q: On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate the clarity of this survey?

Q: On a scale of 1 to 5, would you be likely to take a survey like this every again under the same pretenses?

If it's a written, online, or in-person survey (difficult to do with an automated phone survey) they might even ask something like: Do you have any ideas about how we might make this survey better?

If I had a great experience otherwise, well, we can all spell i-r-o-n-y, right?


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Verifying Your Financial Advisors Advice - Service provides watchdog for investors

See article @

This is an interesting idea (follow article link above or see excerpts below). I think there might be some other ways of implementing this that could be even more useful but I certainly agree with the sentiment. And, for the price, it's a cheap second look at things to make sure you are not entirely getting simply "told a line" by your broker, financial advisor, financial planner, etc. while still being more formal than getting your friend "Bob" to take a quick look at your portfolio. Mostly what caught my eye was seeing another way for more folks to easily get a second set of eyes looking at their portfolio, ideally in a quasi-independent and professional manner, especially without the hired trying to take a big bite out of it themselves.

While it's not stated outright, it sounds like he's doing Monte Carlo simulations, so he's contrasting ones existing portfolio with a group of model portfolios of various supposed styles that have been back tested with historical data to supposedly ascertain their "risk". (The more mysterious part, at least to me, is just how to ascertain an individuals "risk" tolerance, which can be taken to mean many different things -- and whether that is even as relevant as the size of their portfolio relative to their overall net worth and their timeline for needing the principal back, but that's a digression for another day).

To compare this with another industry, this service is a bit like the automated security scans from the likings of ScanAlert (with the green "Hacker Safe" shield logo) that IT folks responsible for e-commerce sites have grown accustomed to. The results can be useful, sometimes annoying, but they also just might not mean anything. You still need to know their basis and how to interpret them for your particular environment.

Anyhow, it's not a perfect method but it's a start.


David Donaldson plans to revolutionize the investment industry by bringing accountability to financial advisers.

“I just can’t stand when I see people who are individual investors who get taken advantage of,” Donaldson said. “My goal is to be kind of a watch dog to make sure financial advisers are doing their job.”

On Aug. 27, he announced the launch of Advisor Check, a service that analyzes investment portfolios so that individual investors can see whether their financial advisers and asset managers are addressing their personal investment goals. Donaldson is the managing director and senior portfolio analyst for Advisor Check.


“It turns out what we found is a majority of people really want someone to give them a second look at their portfolio, but are afraid that if they go to someone else like a financial adviser, they’ll just be told what they want to hear,” Donaldson said, adding that he rushed to launch the service officially because of the current volatility of the market.


“I would say that about 79 percent of the portfolios we look at are improperly allocated and expose clients to more risk than they actually need to be taking,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson offers his clients an unbiased, third-party analysis. In order to avoid any conflict-of-interest, he does not offer advice or sell any services beyond a comprehensive portfolio analysis.

“If anything, it gives [investors] the ability to ask the right questions” of their advisers, he said.

“It gives financial advisers – if they do a good job – a lot of kudos for what they do, but if not, it’s a good reality check for them,” Donaldson said.


Monday, September 3, 2007

Musings About Office Space

I've been seriously considering getting some office (or at least desk) space lately. The problems are: (1) I'm cognizant of some folks who have bitten off more than they can chew too soon (2) I'm a bit of a cheapskate (3) I'd like to have more income coming in first.

On the other hand (1) I'm a firm believer in investing when the benefits are identifiable. There is a difference between being cheap and being prudent. (2) I've got several business venture ideas that I'd like to get more serious about (3) I'll always want a bit more income (4) There is reason to believe having dedicated space would allow for more income in and of itself.

For the last ten months or so, I've been working from of my home and a variety of local coffeehouses with wireless Internet. Until recently this has been a Good Thing. No (extra) rent, no commute, and no dress code. Since most of my work during this time period has revolved around one or more of the following this has made a fair amount of sense:

  • freelance technology consulting
  • research
  • business analysis and planning
  • investing
  • reading
  • thinking
  • drinking coffee
I've been teetering on the edge of late though. I'm coming to the realization that it may be starting to be more costly to not have a distinct working environment. Besides the clearer work/home boundary I expect I'd get the following benefits:
  • Greater focus and comfort
  • The ability to yell across the room back and forth with associates/partners
  • In-person brainstorming sessions and greater in-person serendipity
  • A white board
  • Freeing up space at and removing clutter from home
  • The ability to leave what I'm in the middle of working on spread out, on my desk, so that I can jump right back in next time I'm back at my desk
  • And, in a very real sense, a nice constructive kick in the ass to get moving forward (due to the monthly mortgage/rent payment and other obligations related to having the desk/office space)
Ultimately some other benefits will accrue:
  • I'm also nearing a point where I may be involved in several different ventures at once.
    • With others potentially involved, and some resource sharing between the businesses, it would be convenient to have all this together in a single place.
    • The ability to rapidly test out new ideas, which may require some physical space for various reasons
  • Room to build a lab environment
  • Room to have ad-hoc private uninterrupted meetings, including with outside folks
  • Our own espresso and bean roasting machines so we can insure high quality sustenance
  • Wall space to hang up useful stuff
    • reference material
    • motivational / success related quotes
    • posters of hot chicks (I meant pictures of my wife, of course) :-)
And, having entirely my own office space, would allow for some other interesting opportunities to be experimented with:
  • Hosting co-working environments
    • "Coworking is a movement to create a community of cafe-like collaboration spaces for developers, writers and independents."
    • Technology and Media Geeks and other independents/freelancers; Entrepreneurs; Small one to four person start-up launch pad, etc.
    • Accelerating serendipity
    • Networking - business, personal, funding, brainstorming, clients, partners, advice, assistance, support
  • Hosting/supporting interesting social/community events
    • Movies, taco nights, demos, video viewings, book releases, art showings, customer/client parties, coding parties, design parties, etc.
    • Local non-profit and industry events (e.g. Softec)
    • Fundraising events for interesting causes (e.g., SLO Food Bank)