Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Elephant Memory Systems



Elephant Memory Systems was a very popular floppy disk brand from Leading Edge back in the 80's. Elephant eschewed corporate computing's dry and serious pretentions and flaunted a colorful and endearing elephant theme. The strategy worked wonders and Elephant became the top selling brand of disks.


I was going through some old junk the other day and I found a small promotional book from Elephant that contains some cool promotional artwork and some nostalgic text on the power of 5 and 1/4 inch floppy disks. I figured others may enjoy it as much as I have so I've scanned in some pages to share. You can find the cover art, introduction and the first chapter here.



If you're interested in the story of how Leading Edge was pitched the idea for using elephants to market floppy disks, author Ray Welch has made available a chapter from his book Copywriter that describes the encounter.



After that, on the notion that there’s more profit in selling
the blades than the razors, he decided to sell his own line of floppy disks.
He asked me to create a name for the brand. I came up with Elephant.
Elephant. “Never forgets.”


Rollin Binzer designed a West Coast logo of a mythic,
metallic high-tech pachyderm staring at you, a gleam in his third eye,
knowing more than he let on. In bright orange- and yellow-and-black
packages that contrasted stridently with IBM’s safe, sedate silver-and-blue.
Similarly garish ads jumped off the pages of the trade books.


Elephant was conceived as a price-point item, a discount
disk. Instead, because of the outrageous-looking ads and packaging--not to
mention the strange name--it became a premium product, the highest-margin
floppy on the market and the best-selling diskette in history.


When I presented the Elephant concept to Leading Edge,
we went around the conference table taking votes. Besides Michael, there
were five other Leading Edge executives present: brand managers, product
managers, VP/Sales, VP/Marketing…


With only one exception, they hated what they saw.
“Elephants are big and bulky. I don’t think that’s what we
want to convey.”


“Magnetic media integrity is serious stuff to the end-user.
It doesn’t look serious enough.”


“I think of ‘white’ elephants. Obsolete.”


One guy actually said, “Elephants are dinosaurs.”


And so on around the table. Until the buck got passed
around to Michael, who said, “I love it” and went on to make millions
with the brand. Democracy in action is a wonderful thing to behold.



If you're interested in seeing some of Elephant's original packaging you can find scans here.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Optimization

This recent post on JavaLobby has been in my thoughts all day. The post describes an unusual and unintuitive optimization based on the use of the Java String copy constructor. As much as I doubted the claim, the idea intrigued me enough that I wrote a program to test the assertion. Sure enough I was able to reproduce the results but only in the most narrow of cases. So narrow in fact that unless you can measure a benefit I wouldn’t suggest following that pattern.



However, this whole thing’s got me thinking. Programmers worry too much about minutia of execution when they should simply be following some key principles:



1. Be fanatical about your IO. Prefer smaller data sets to large ones but don’t skimp on boundary markers and type data that will allow you to version the software. Write big chunks.


2. Watch your cached and held data like a hawk. Just because you’re only storing a single object or pointer doesn’t mean you just haven’t referenced a giant object tree. Protect your caches from explosive growth. Don’t hold data you don’t need.


3. Worry about data conversions and data copying. Parse, copy, translate or whatever, as few times as possible. Uses references into the raw data blocks rather then duplicate the data if possible.


4. Don’t execute code that’s not needed.



Most performance issues can be addressed by just focusing on these simple principles. There’s seldom any need for magic solutions like the one described at the start of this post. I contend, as well, that following these basic principles isn’t premature optimization; It’s just smart coding.



A favorite mantra of mine is K.I.S.S. - Keep It Simple, Stupid. I believe however that keeping things simple doesn’t necessarily mean simplistic. Rather, I think it means focusing on the core code values such as I’ve stated above.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Headlines

Two Yahoo news headlines this week have been causing me to double take every time I read them. I'm glad the weekend is here.

Wells Not Worried About Spring Performance

This one's been catching me since mid week. Why David Wells, pitcher for the Red Sox, would even be thinking about the performance of an alternate application framework is beyond me.


Australia Scientists Grow Stem Cells from Nose

I read this headline and my brain fills with the image of some tree like coral growing out of the nose of some guy in a lab coat.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Revenge of the <T>

Are Generics a force of the dark side? This funny flash parody of Star Wars, Episode III thinks so. Note: Click on the green triangle when it appears.

Community Auditions

Long before American Idol or even Star Search, Boston had it's own talent showcase called Community Auditions. I was never a big fan of the show but my Sister liked it so I would often have to watch it. For some reason I woke up this morning with its theme song looping in my head. Enjoy....


Star of the day,
Who will it be?
Your vote may hold the key.
It's up to you.
So tell me true.
Who'll be Star of the day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Dark Times for Science

It's bad enough when a scholar can't raise a serious question about gender but when you can't get a film about under sea volcanoes distributed in the south because it features a thread on evolution that's just disturbing. Next thing you know people will be demanding flat earth models instead of globes.


Link: IMAX theaters reject film over evolution

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Beer Church

This is the second post this week that puts a religious theme next to something that we don't normally associate with religion. In this case it's beerchurch.com. I first thought it was a joke but it turns out it's not. Beer Church is an organization that uses peoples general love of beer in order to support charitable, civic and or compassionate causes.



Join us in our mission. Dedicate yourself to making the world a better place one beer at a time. Be nice to people. Care about your community. Don't be offensive in your love of beer. Respect other people who have something different that they believe in or love. Be responsible and use beer as a way to do good things.


You can purchase an ordination certificate from the beer church but this wont allow you to perform weddings or preside over funerals. If that however is what you really want to do, Beer Church's web site includes a link to the Universal Life Church that will legally ordain you for free via the web, and the text of a beer oriented wedding ceremony.


Via Mike Kudla

Axis of Elvis

Dave Delay has started a blog. Dave's a long time friend and co-worker with a wide variety of interests so I look forward to seeing what he has to say.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Fellowship and Flying Kicks.

I find the juxtaposition of Kung Fu and Christianity a bit strange but the people at the Gospel Martial Arts Union seem to think it's a good fit. I know these folks are serious and are trying to do something positive but I keep imagining them in a rivalry with organizations like the Judaeo Judo Front or the Islamic Bare Knuckle Boxing Association.

Thinking Caps

My friend Don builds crazy 'Thinking Caps' to wear when he judges at Destination ImagiNation. He recently posted about them in his blog. Funny stuff.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Women in Science

Given the recent stir raised by the comments of Harvard University President Summers on the topic of women in science, I thought this movie reference would be interesting.


I was watching television with my cereal this morning and AMC was playing an old Gregory Peck movie called The Chairman. I didn't see the whole film but I caught one bit that was quite shocking in a un-pc sort of way. In the movie Peck is an American, Nobel winning, scientist on a visit to China during the height of the Mao's reign. As he steps off the plane (a jet) he is greeted by a Chinese women who introduces herself. Peck responds something like:


"Ah, yes, I read your paper on enzymes. Very good for a women."

and she replies, nodding in deference.

"Thank you, my father helped me with it."


This movie was made in 1969. It's amazing to think such gender bias was present just thirty five years ago.


As much as I disagree that academics should take any questions off the table, just because they're sensitive, seeing how recently gender bias like this was still common makes me understand the rawness of some of the emotions involved.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Old Software for Sale

There's been a lot of press and blog chatter about the pending end of support for VB version 6. If MS would sell the rights to the software or if someone could make a decent clone a small company could do pretty well supporting the user base that didn't want to upgrade. My old employer, Alpha Software, still sells version of the DOS product Alpha Four I worked on almost 20 years ago, albeit updated to run in console mode on Win32. I doubt it's a big part of their business, but its enough that they keep doing it.


A couple of years ago I went to the Alpha developers conference to see some old friends who still work at Alpha or do consulting using Alpha products and they introduced me to some people who still run their businesses using Alpha Four. I remember one gentleman in particular who ran a light aircraft parts supply company who had been using Alpha Four since he founded the company. He built the application himself and understood how it worked so he stuck with it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Groovy beta 10

It's been a long while since I last visited Groovy. A lot has changed since then and it looks great. The command line scripting environment feels a lot leaner and meaner now. You can execute simple scripts very quickly. I will have to spend some more time with it, but this really feels like I could integrate it into my work environment now and find some productive uses for it.


Beyond the basic scripting environment the set of Groovy modules is growing too. I don't know how well baked these are but its encouraging to see a community of developers writing code for it.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Vision Thing

I was reading Richard Schwartz's post on Microsoft's acquisition of Groove and one particular response caught my attention. Concerning Ray being a visionary one responder said:


Who said that Ray is still such a visionary? I think he lost his magic long ago.


I think I understand what the person is saying, Ray's recent work hasn't had as big an impact as some previous stuff. What's been troubling me however is whether it's fair to rank 'visioness' in the first place and if so is success the best way to do it.


Certainly just having an idea isn't enough to be called a visionary, but at the other end of the spectrum, does it really need to be a commercial or popular success too? In Ray's case he has a proven track record for developing interesting ideas into usable tools. He builds great core teams, he gets solid financial backing and he gets people to execute.


Maybe Groove isn't Ray's best idea. Time will be a better judge of that. But is it fair to judge his visionary status on Groove's current market penetration or its current impact on the software zeitgeist?


I don't know Ray personally; even though our times at Iris overlapped some, I only met him a few times and we never had any meaningful interactions. What I know about him comes more from just being in the industry and being an industry observer for a lot of years. If Ray's not a visionary, and a damn good one, I'm not sure who is.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Quick iFilms links

Jim Morrison plays a college kid in a Florida State promotional film. Not very interesting film wise, but worth watching to see the snake rider so youthful and clean cut.



A trailer for a film called Into the Blue that looks like it borrowed heavily from the plot of, one of my favorite movies from the 70's, The Deep.

Poo Poetry

Back in 1999, I contributed two original poems to Damien's orginal Liquid Poop web site. Now many years later they are available again on Poo Poetry.




When you're codeing up some Java
And your ass spits out hot lava
Diarrhea... too much coffee... diarrhea



and




When you're shooting at the hoop
And your shorts fill up with poop
Diarrhea... swoosh... diarrhea



I'm so proud.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Private Islands

It's a popular fantasy, strike it rich and buy your own private island. I've seen it in commercials and movies and I've had the fantasy myself, but I never thought about it enough to wonder how someone actually went about finding and buying an island. Well, I now know the answer, or at least one answer, privateislandsonline.com.


via luxist

Monday, March 07, 2005

Name Voyager

Name Voyager is a neat applet that displays comparative historical graphs of name usage by gender for names that begin with the same set of letters. For example typing in PE will compare Pearl, Pedro, Peggy, Penny, Peter, Perry...Peyton, etc.... According to this tool the name Pearl was once a popular name for boys. Yikes!


via: collision detection

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Flaming Laptop

Doug Ross has posted a very funny and scary story on his blog about a severe laptop malfunction that happened to a mutual friend of ours. It's a cautionary tale about the dangers of after market replacement parts. Knowing Gerry, his final solution to the problem is not an exaggeration.

Shredding

Here's a link to some great videos of industrial shredders chewing up and destroying stuff. They're kind of frightening in a way, mindless teeth of steel chewing the inedible detritus of industry. I really like the steel drum shredding video. It's neat how they deform and dissapear into the shredder like it's some gravity well.


via Don

Saturday, March 05, 2005

ABI-Station's Portrait Illustration Maker

I had to try Portrait Illustration Maker after seeing Ned's recent post about it. What Ned didn't mention was that not only can you make facial portraits but you can make full body pictures as well. Here are a collection of different pictures I made of myself with varying degrees of likeness.



I had to doctor the one where I'm sitting at a desk to give myself a beard, but otherwise they are as-is from ABI-Station.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Rethink Beer

If you live in or are planning to travel to British Columbia, you may want to try Rethink Beer. I said 'may want to' because Rethink is a herbal flavored beer.


Not only is Rethink Beer the world's first herbal charged lager, it is the world's first beverage of any kind to contain extracts of tribulus (unless you count a racehorce's pee, which, rumor had it, can taste quite salty).


Note to marketing, bringing up the taste of horse urine while talking about your beer seems like a really bad idea.


On the other hand, tribulus appears to be quite a popular ingredient for 'natural male enhancement', so maybe the Misses wont be complaining if you down a six pack or two.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Goin' to the Gahden

Just read the news, the arena formerly known as the Fleet Center will now be called the TD BankNorth Garden. It will never replace the old Boston Garden but it's a nice gesture to Boston sports history. Too bad no Bruins games.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Who's the real P.E.T.A.

When people see the acronym PETA, most people think of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals but there's also a counter culture group called People Eating Tasty Animals. The tasty animal organization was brought to my attention by my co-worker Frank who found a reference in a CNN article about a large lobster named Bubba. Doing a Google search turned up two People Eating Tasty Animal sites. The first site has been around since 1996. It actually held the domain peta.org until the animal right folks disputed it's claim. The other is this. The second actually links to the first; It's nice to see there's no animosity between tasty animal eaters.


FYI, Bubba the lobster was spared the pot. As much as I enjoy a good tasty lobster I respect any animal that can survive and thrive long enough to grow into a monster of its species. If I had originally caught Bubba I would have just thrown it back.


Update: Bubba died in the aquarium's quarantine tank. As Frank said when he told me this news, 'Damn, what a waste of tasty lobster flesh'.

Java 6.0 - Mustang

Some quick Java links I hadn't seen before:



An interview with Graham Hamilton, Sun Fellow, from Nov on the future of Java



Because of Mustang's new transparent development process, we get to see the change logs for what's gone into recent snapshot build. Fun to read, but a little too much like real work.



JSR-270, the 'umbrella JSR for J2SE 6.0 "Mustang"' is up on the JCP.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Tales of Future Past


Here's a great website to spend some time with: Tales of Future Past. It's a snarky look at many 20th centuries concepts of the future. Lots of great pictures and very funny and well written commentary. This really should be turned into a coffee table book.


...We certainly live very different lives from that of our fathers and grandfathers. That is not in dispute. But what did not happen is what many expected, though never talked about much. Assuming that we dodged the 1984, Brave New World bullet, our future was supposed to be a sort of technocratic, atomic-powered, computer-controlled, antiseptic, space-travelling Jerusalem that would at last free us from the curse of Eden and original sin. We expected some how, some way that we would be on the road to being freed from the human condition. We expected a sort of bloodless, benign French Revolution with Hugo Gernsback as our Voltaire and Carl Sagan as our Robespierre. And what did we get? The City of Man with Tivo. The fact is, science fiction and popular science had set the bar so high that only the Second Coming with ray guns would have satisfied.


A section on the Thunderbirds. feels slightly off topic, but it's very well done nonetheless. I loved that show.



But the 21st century world of Thunderbirds was one that could only be called an engineer's utopia. This was a world where any idea, no matter how insane, could get the green light and where funding is unlimited. Want to build a giant walking tank? Sure. Send a manned spaceship to the Sun? Why not? Move the Empire State Building? No problem. Deejays in orbit? Why didn't we think of that? Atomic-powered hypersonic passenger-planes? Blank cheques all around!


via near near future, via other places...

Surf's up on Titan

Nasa has recently published a fun article titled Rainbows on Titan about how a lot of earth's atmospheric and aquatic processes may have 'titanic' equivalents.



And watch out for those waves! European scientists John Zarnecki and Nadeem Ghafoor have calculated what methane waves on Titan might be like: seven times taller than typical Earth-waves (mainly because of Titan's low gravity) and three times slower, "giving surfers a wild ride," says Ghafoor.
 
The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism