Michael J. Radwin

Tales of a software engineer who keeps kosher and hates the web.

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Standing on both sides of the Chasm

Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers I started reading Crossing the Chasm last night, and 30 pages into the book, I’m wondering where I fit along the Technology Adoption Life Cycle bell curve. Until now, I’ve always thought of myself as an innovator or early adopter. After all, I’m a computer guy, and I spend a lot of time thinking about technology. But after reading a bit and thinking about my own consumer behavior, I’m surprised to discover that I’m moving to the right of the curve, more towards the early majority category. Perhaps I’m becoming more risk-averse?

Here’s a sampling of when I adopted various consumer technologies (and my best guess as to where it was on the bell curve when I adopted it):

  • email – 1992 (innovator)
  • web browsing – 1994 (innovator)
  • Linux – 1994 (innovator)
  • web publishing – 1995 (early adopter)
  • e-commerce – 1996 (early adopter)
  • PDA – 1997 (early adopter)
  • vanity email address – 1998 (early adopter)
  • cell phone – 1998 (early majority)
  • snowboarding – 1998 (early majority)
  • MP3 ripping – 1999 (early adopter)
  • electric toothbrush – 2002 (late majority)
  • broadband Internet – 2000 (early majority)
  • P2P file sharing – 2000 (early majority)
  • TiVo – 1999 (early adopter)
  • LCD projector TV – 2001 (early adopter)
  • DVD player – 2001 (early majority)
  • 802.11b wireless network – 2002 (early majority)
  • CD burner – 2002 (late majority)
  • blog – 2002 (early adopter)
  • antilock brakes – 2002 (late majority)
  • digital camera – maybe this year (early majority?)
  • hybrid or electric car – 2005? (early majority?)
  • Lasik eye surgery – never (laggard)
  • digital watch – never (laggard)

I think the key has to do with technology for technology’s sake versus pragmatism. To quote Moore:

The early majority share some of the early adopter’s ability to relate to technology, but ultimately they are driven by a strong sense of practicality. They know that many of these newfangled inventions end up as passing fads, so they are content to wait and see how other people are making out before they buy in themselves.

At this point in my life, I see myself as more of a pragmatist. Six years ago, I bought an Apple Newton PDA because I thought the technology was cool and I couldn’t stand the idea of having to contort my handwriting to the machine. I wanted the machine to recognize my handwriting! After all, the machines are supposed to be working for us, not the other way around.

These days, I’ve settled for a Palm Zire. Why? It’s more practical. It’s way smaller than the Newton, so it fits in my blue jeans pocket. And it gets the job done. Sure, it doesn’t have whiz-bang artificial intelligence handwriting recognition software. But it’s good enough.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

'Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!': Adventures of a Curious Character Richard Feynman’s memory is a blessing to us all.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! is a delightful collection of short stories about Richard Feynman’s life. It’s yet another one of the books on my reading list for 2003.

I’ve been reading this book in small sittings over the past year — on the bus to and from UCLA, on the plane to and from SJC, and sometimes on a Sunday afternoon. Feynman embodies the perfect combination of wit, intellect, and chutzpah.

One of my favorite stories had to do with Feynman’s experiments with ants. On many occasions he would observe (and sometimes interfere with) a line of ants that was crawling through his lab or house. In messing around with the ants, Feynman wasn’t trying to play God; he was trying to study ant behavior and learn what motivated them.

Although I finished the book almost a month ago, I’ve been thinking about it again over the past week. The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster brought back many memories of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster some 17 years earlier. Feynman was a member of NASA’s Rogers Commission and discovered the problem with O-rings that caused the explosion. It was his characteristic curiosity that led him to experiment with rubber O-rings and ice water, solving the mystery of the disaster.

I’m worried about Wesley

Wesley Snipes I’m worried about Wesley Snipes. I think he’s lost his touch.

I recently rented Undisputed, a movie about a prison boxing match. Terrible. In brief, the heavyweight champion (Ving Rhames) ends up in jail, convicted of rape. A typical alpha male, he fights anyone who gets in his way. He learns that another inmate (Wesley Snipes) is a good boxer and vows to fight him. Several training scenes and conversations with bookies later, the two get it on in the right. No surprise, Snipes wins the fight. Hurrah for the underdog, I guess? Uninspired plot, poor acting, and very little action. Not your typical Wesley.

Thinking this was just a fluke, I decided to get another Wesley film: Liberty Stands Still. Even worse. In this film, Wesley plays a psychopath who decides to shoot a lot of people because his daughter was killed at school by some kid with a gun. Equipped with his own sniper rifle, he holds a woman and her lover hostage with a couple of bombs, and shoots at anyone he feels like. The camera occasionally drops into slow-motion shots of Wesley staring blankly at a barrette clipped to his gun. He’s angry. We get it. But are we supposed to believe that he’s righteous for killing the gun company’s executives and random other people? Director Kari Skogland doesn’t give us any reason to care about any of the characters.

What happened to the Wesley that we all know and love? What happened to the man who gave us such classics as New Jack City (the film that invented the concept of the bling bling gangster) and Passenger 57 (about a badass airline security wonk who happens to be on the wrong plane at the right time)?

Where is the actor who gave us mindless but entertaining action hits like Demolition Man (find an excuse to demolish anything you can find), Drop Zone (find an excuse to parachute out of a lot of planes and land on anything you can find) or Blade (find an excuse to kill a lot of vampires and any other beasties you can find)?

I miss you, Wesley. I’m going to cross my fingers when I rent Blade II. I hope I re-discover the real you.

Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman’s Crusade for Free Software

Sam Williams spins a compelling story about a man who is so passionate about a single idea that he ends up alienating most people he meets.

Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software I finished reading Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman’s Crusade for Free Software a couple of weeks ago (it’s on my reading list for 2003). Sam Williams spins a compelling story about a man who is so passionate about a single idea that he ends up alienating most people he meets.

On the whole, the book is well-written and insightful. I found chapters 10 and 11 (“GNU/Linux” and “Open Source”) the most interesting. These chapters are less autobiographical and more historical. They do a good job of explaining why the Open Source movement is important (the Free Software Foundation is a bunch of religious zealots that don’t care to understand or work with the business world).

When I heard RMS interrupt and insult a speaker at the 2002 O’Reilly Open Source Convention because the speaker used the term “Free Software” to refer to “Open Source” software, I didn’t really understand why he would be so rude. The other chapters in the book, as a whole, tell us why he’s such a jerk. They don’t condone his behavior, but they do offer an explanation of how he came to be the person he is today.

The whole St. Ignucius shtick makes me embarassed to be an Emacs user. I can’t code without it, but I hate the pseudo-religion that RMS attaches to its use.

Lastly, a comment about e-books: Although I could’ve read the book for free online, I ended up getting a print edition. It’s so much easier to read in print that I think it’s worth spending the money on the actual book.

(I downloaded Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom to my Palm Zire last week because I’m tickled by the Creative Commons licenses, but I’m having a hard time with the poor contast delivered by an LCD. There ain’t nothing as easy to read as black ink on white paper.)

Reading List for 2003

The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition I finally finished reading Fred Brooks’ The Mythical Man-Month this past week as I was recovering from a nasty chest cold. Even though the book is now 25 years old, it’s still got some fantastic insight on why software projects are perennially late, over budget, and full of bugs.

Still on my software engineering kick, I picked up my copy of Free as in Freedom (which was included in my registration tote bag at the July 2002 O’Reilly Open Source Convention). I’m about halfway through it, and I’m even more convinced than before that RMS is considered harmful. (Apologies to Edsger Dijkstra.) I’m enjoying the book nonetheless; Sam Williams writes well, and the story is fascinating nonetheless.

So since it’s a New Year, I may as well publish my (optimistic) reading list for the upcoming twelve months:

Looking at that list, it seems to be mostly comprised of Computer Science, Judaism, and science fiction. Ariella says that compared to most people, I read way more non-fiction than fiction. I guess she’s right. I wonder what that says about me?

It’s a Wonderful Life

Why buy the DVD when it's on TV every year? Every year around X-mas time I’m sure to mention the story about how It’s a Wonderful Life became a holiday classic due to a snafu with copyright law. Earlier this week, NPR reported on this very story:

NPR’s Rick Karr reports on how a 1946 box office flop became so ubiquitous on television this time of year. It’s a Wonderful Life is a sentimental favorite… in part because of Jimmy Stewart, but also because no one ever bothered to file the papers to extend the copyright on the movie. [NPR Morning Edition]

NPR also aired a Motley Fool Radio Show about the movie.

We like cars, the cars that go boom

Grab It! - L'Trimm My parents bought me an external Firewire CD burner for a birthday present (back in June) but the thing didn’t work. When I met them for dinner last night, they gave me a new one which although is a wimpy USB 1.1 model, at least it’s a name brand (Iomega Zip CD650). Turns out that it actually works. I guess there’s something to be said for buying name brands.

So this morning I finally made the “Car Songs” CD that I’ve been thinking about since this summer! Here’s what’s on the CD:

  • Barenaked Ladies – In the Car
  • Beach Boys – Fun, Fun, Fun
  • Beatles – Drive My Car
  • Billy Ocean – Get Out of My Dreams Get into My Car
  • Don McLean – American Pie
  • Geggy Tah – Whoever You Are
  • L’Trimm – Cars that go boom
  • Prince – Little Red Corvette
  • Roger Miller – King of the Road
  • Rose Royce – Car Wash
  • Sammy Hagar – I Can’t Drive 55
  • Tracy Chapman – Fast Car
  • Trio – Da Da Da
  • Willie Nelson – On The Road Again

Yes, I know that “Da Da Da” isn’t actually a song about cars or driving, but those Volkswagen commercials have infused the song with a whole new set of car imagery. Kinda like I always think of United Airlines when I hear Rhapsody in Blue.

Secret lyrics to the Ashim Theme

I recently got a cell phone that allows you to program custom ring tones.

So I programmed in the first 8 bars of the Ashim Theme that Mike Cafarella and I composed (with apologies to the Norwegian Folk Song) back in 1996.

I can’t reveal the whole set of lyrics to the Ashim Theme due to the blood oath that I swore to Caf back on that overcast day in Providence. But here’s an excerpt:

As I walk through the dark forest,

Swimming through waves of terror.

Oh my goodness, there he is now.

It’s the spirit of Roberto.

I must run, I must flee,

He will kill me (holy cow)!

Have I escaped? Am I free now?

Is this heaven, not hell?

I must try to find Nirvana: Taco Bell.

Now, every time my phone rings I think fondly of Ashim.