Sunday, December 21, 2008


Since landing in Brisbane activities have been punctuated by rather unsavoury confrontations with my baser humanity.

The doctors current best guess is Giardia:

but other organisms are also in the running. So of course there's tests.

There's nothing so humbling as visiting Queensland Medical Labs clutching a little specimen jar, with a brown lid.

For some reason my delightful husband has latched onto the idea that its an amoeba, even more quizzical for the fact he'd gotten amoeba confuddled with anemone, and kept asking me if it'd "turned up yet" after every trip I made to the WC.

He had the idea it was sort of lurking in the depths of me, like a sizeable tentacled homunculus (instead of some microscopic beasty).

I suppose its a bit more glamorous to be mortally wounded by some large sea creature, even if it is from the inside, than it is to be struck low by something that is chillingly reminiscent of the Java mascot.

I don't know if he planned to go in there, and take it on, armed with a BBQ fork like a trident, battling it like something out of Herman Melville.

Just for reference, here is a deep sea anemone.

More tips and tricks from my friend Don:
The trick to fighting an amoeba mano-amoeba is to blow its mind with philosophy.
The old "what is love?" gambit works well, but if necessary "this sentence is a lie" is a fan fave from time immemorial.
So its time I think to post this useful guide to determing which of these easilty confused organisms are noxious gastric pests, and which are larger bottom dwelling predators.

An amoeba:

Nasty, green - maybe its just the lighting. I think in society we tend to cast the amoeba in a bad light - no-one ever talks about the great work they do in the community.

Always stained with the stigma of the single-celled organism.

And with that stuff biologists use in their microscopy. What chance do they have.

Not actually single-celled, definitely a pain in the ass.

Be sure to carefully wash hands of any involvement with installing dictators and stay clear of any piles of steaming corporate governance.

Infections can last two full terms if unlucky.

Which reminds me - don't know why - I must go and find an episode of John Stewarts The Daily Show which is of course the only way to get reliable news of the USA, having just departed there and being quite out of touch.

So, I have not been doing much since arriving in Oz. Tho' some friends organized welcome home get-togethers, and I've girded my loins and headed out to these. Can't dissappoint my adoring public.

Plans: still have no good idea what we're doing. Accommodation, cars all that is a bit up in the air. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

USA retrospective

With barely 24 hours left before leaving for the airport I find myself in a reflective mood.

I have done a bit of travelling in my life and I guess for each major trip I've been at a different phase of my life; a different set of circumstances has conspired to bring about the trip; and (at least partly as a result of all that) the experiences have been quite different.

With each trip tho' I think I have never really remembered to see all that I could see.  There were times on all of them I guess where I recall trading off tiredness, overload or some other reason against the injunction that it behoves one to see the sights whilst one can.

And of course its the same here.

I had great memories, pictures I drew and photographs I took from my trip to London.  There I was on a mission to see as much as I could, but somehow there were still days where I didn't do enough and that precious voice archly chastised me for wasting the opportunity.  

Whai don't chew go an' visit the British Museeum, when you really must know that chew might not get another chance?!? 

Tired, jet-lagged and out of energy I said back.

And here I am at the end of this chapter of my time in Silicon Valley, and I did not go to the Computer History Museum, which is only a couple of miles down the road.  And I did not go to a concert at the Amphitheatre, also just down the road.

Alright-alright-already.  But I have the 'flu.  No, no its true.  I do, have the 'flu.  Hack, koff.

And I might be back.  Who knows?

Last night was a lovely going away party thrown by the women of the Google Women in Operations - thanks Sabrina for this, and your hospitality; and to the amazing Sara for making my time at Google a lot more survivable, with that droll perspective you always seem to have on things; and to Liz, Rachel, Cheryl and others.  

And today was a going away lunch by the fighters of the good fight in the Hiring Intergrouplet - you guys rock!  Mamie, I wish I could bottle your upbeatness, and thanks for organizing this.  Seth, your knack for finding the sanest path in almost anything is an enviable gift - perhaps I will get to work with you again someday.  Manpreet, Chao, Candice, everyone - thanks for everything.

I'm fiddling about with stuff, now, prevaricating in the hope that my suitcases will pack themselves.  They stand waiting now, a row of alligator mouths, maws open and insatiable against the side of the room.  

I foolishly carried my clothes from their hangers ready to pack, and laid them on the floor where in just a short hour of neglect their entropy has increased tenfold.

I'm playing around also with using Qt4 to make a D&D4 character editor - just to keep my hand in on C++.  I've put the project so far on Google code so I can pull it down from whatever machine I have to hand, and nicely enough Qt allows me to compile on whatever platform I have.  Witness the fact that I coded it on Linux and just now pulled it down and built in on Mac OSX.

But I must stop playing with fun stuff and go pack.

And then spend a long time on a plane.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Goodbye hussy

Today I waved goodbye to my Ducati 800SS.

That was a tragic scene, taking her back to the dealership I bought her from - a cold day enough to blow a chill into anyones heart, me standing waiting for a taxi with my riding gear in hand.


From For Sale

This is a photo from a ride Ray and I did a few weekends ago up to the Pinnacles, a national park not too far from Silicon Valley. The background is a store front in Hollister, a town on route to the pinnacles known for its bike meets. The Duc' is on the left - Ray's Triumph on the right. Click the pic for more.

A local came up just before Ray shot this and greeted us and chatted about bikes, just as we prepared to head off.

I have many fond memories of riding in California.

Actually when we first got the Ducati, Raymond used to ride it a lot to get up to Oracle, 14 miles North of our Mountain View apartment along the 101.

I used to call her "The Italian Hussy" because he kept choosing the Duc' over our much more sensible Prius. My commute was short enough to do on a bicycle so I didn't mind (much). :-)

Once Raymond got his Triumph Sprint ST the Ducati was exclusively my ride, and by the time I had to part with it I had really become attached to it.

Uncomfortable, uncompromising and very very fast - it may well turn out to be the coolest ride of my life.

We fly back to Australia in 5 days time, with no real knowledge of what lies ahead, so who knows.

We'll see.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sez relocatable -> Brisbane, Australia

I am heading back home to Brisbane, Australia with a likely date for flying out around 15 December.

There's all sorts of why's and wherefore's but the proximal cause is family and health issues.

What does this mean for me and Google? Well the most obvious answer is that Google does not have an office in Brisbane, so Goodbye and Thanks for all the Fish.

But it will be a case of landing in Brisbane, sorting out where we stand and then making firmer plans. At present we are trying to keep all our options open for as long as possible.

Raymond will be taking several months off at first and spending time with family. My plan is to take a couple of weeks, look at options and then get back into work, being the breadwinner for a while.

So its a leap of faith for both of us, and some torrid^H^H^H^Hexciting times ahead.

I'll miss lots about the valley and the amazing Googleplex, but health and family are not things that can be traded against career or monetary concerns, and it will be very good in many ways for me to be back with friends and familiar places in Brisbane.

If you're reading this from Silicon Valley, and you'd like buy our stuff, motorcycles or our Prius car, that would be great!

If you're in Brisbane, look forward to seeing you all soon.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Slow boat home

Airships over the Googleplex.

This awe-inspiring ship of the air sails out of nearby Moffat Airfield, doing tourist and sight-seeing runs in the San Francisco and Bay area.

It moves surprisingly fast, the time between these photo's being less than a minute.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Vote "No on 8" to save marriage

Hi, my name is Sarah Smith.

That's my photo up there at the top of this web page.

My husband's name is Raymond Smith. We've been married since 2005, and things are solid with us.

Nothing is going to break up our marriage.

We're lucky.

Some married couples are not so lucky because there are folks that want to destroy their marriages.

How would you feel about something that wanted to break up marriages?

But that is exactly what is coming down the road towards us.

A change to the Constitution that will break up marriages. Its called Proposition 8.

The change to the Constitution will read:
Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
A choice of "Yes on Prop 8" in the upcoming California vote, will support putting this into the Constitution.

Fact: a vote of "Yes on Prop 8" is a vote for destroying marriages.

Like Heather Gold's marriage.

Real people; their rights - taken away, by this amendment.

The campaign of propagandists supporting prop 8 are afraid that Americans won't vote for it, if those informed voters know about how Proposition 8 will take away rights.

The marriages of gays and lesbians have had no impact on my marriage. Has anyone you know had their "traditional marriage" affected by same-sex marriage?

People who want to amend the Constitution to eliminate these rights say a lot of bizarre things. They say gays and lesbians already have the same rights, because they can have registered domestic partnerships. When your spouse is sick in hospital domestic partnerships mean nothing if you're trying to visit your loved one but the hospital staff will only allow the legal spouse in.

Let me tell you I am happy with my marriage and if I was told I should be satisfied with just a domestic partnership, then my answer is "No!".

Other propaganda claims that ministers and churches will be told they can't use certain language, or that lawsuits will occur because the current right to marry is legally upheld. There are lurid stories and claims of all kinds.

Proposition 8 propaganda is lying to the public about school curriculums, lying about church tax exempt status and lying about freedom of speech. It will stop at nothing, to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt.

So let me just repeat this fact one more time.

Marriages. Annulled. Prevented. Stopped.

Is that what you want?

If No, then say "No on Prop 8".

Even if you're a Californian who stays at home on voting day, and lets the fears and doubts of the poorly informed carry sway - then the rights of your fellow Californians will likely be taken away.

So, please, go and vote No on Prop 8.


Sarah Smith

Friday, September 26, 2008

Think: Mobility as a Service

Wouldn't it be great if you could pay for your car as you go?

My next-door neighbour who is quite lucratively into broadcasting, bless her cotton-socks, has two cars - ones a high-powered late models Mercedes Benz sports, that just says success in a language any entrepreneur would understand.

But the one she drives every day almost is a Prius. Adorned with its government stickers allowing access down the diamond lane on the freeway, she buzzes around in 45mpg comfort for almost all trips - while the Merc languishes until she needs to take a client out somewhere.

A few of my workmates who live in San Francisco are members of car-sharing organizations like ZipCar and they book a car online when they need one. Living in San Francisco means owning a car is a very expensive luxury, and when you're at the hub of everything you mostly don't need one.

Somewhere in between all this service and ownership there has to be a model that fits. Where is the software-as-a-service
for cars? Who is going to invent AJAX for transportation?

Think. That's who.

In the 90's Norwegian company Pivco were shipping cars to the USA for use in car-sharing programs, and while their first cars were sub-standard by US lights, their new Think Citi brought them to the attention of Ford, the US car giant.

California had created its ZEV initiative requiring manufacturers to have a zero-emissions vehicle in its line-up, and as a result in 1999 Ford bought Pivco and pumped $150M into it, writes Todd Woody in a July 2007 article for Under Fords steward-ship Think's designers worked on an updated Think City, but when the ZEV initiative was out-manouvred by the anti-ZEV lobby, Ford dropped Think like a hot potato, citing "poor sales". Think rapidly went into decline.

Woody describes how cashed up green entrepreneur Jan-Olaf Willums, bought Think for a song in 2006, and set about changing it to a new business model.

Their factory in Aurskog, 30 miles from Oslo in Norway, runs on lean, just-in-time manufacturing principles. Cars are built from commoditized components bought from Asia and Europe, some partly assembled. Polymer body panels from Turkey are fitted to alloy chassis from Denmark. Some batteries are supplied by Tesla. Final quality control is done at the environmentally friendly paperless factory, which Willums plans to duplicate whereever their demand is located.

Last week I met Dipender Saluja of automatiks a Silicon Valley startup who are innovating in vehicle navigation and in-car computing. Saluja had with
him two Think models - the new Think Open convertible prototype, and the current model Think City.

There's two really interesting things to notice about the Think.

One: Its a platform for innovation.

The local factory can easily retool to produce a version suited for the local conditions. Vendors can easily make add-ons and high-value integrations - which is where Saluja's company comes in. Different battery options are available depending on climate conditions or load/usage patterns.

Two: Its a conduit for service delivery.

The lightweight panels and chassis are fraction of the cost and weight compared to the batteries, which are the principle cost of the car. So what about replacing them when they wear out?

As Willums says, with the Think you are not buying a "Thing".

You don't replace the batteries - because when you buy the car for under $20,000, the batteries stay the property of Think, and for a monthly fee just like your phone or internet account the batteries are tracked and serviced when needed. You, or the next owner of the Think never has to worry about the battery life, replacement or recycling. Peace of mind, and known costs.

How does Think know about the battery condition? The car is internet enabled. As well as Think factories being able to keep tabs on it, so can you - battery charge levels can be checked remotely, and you can send Google maps to the cars on-board computer to be used in its navigation system.

The vehicle is a mobile technology platform, allowing you to send emails and potentially do anything your internet enabled computing device can do, from the convenience of your drivers seat - not while you're driving of course.

And the City is all about convenience. The glass of the rear hatch goes from the hatch floor up to the hinge, making the tiny car - its shorter than a Mini Cooper and about as punchy - seem much more spacious than you'd expect, and easy to load.

Racing around the carpark, the Think turns on a dime and nips into tiny parking spots that don't exist for other vehicles. As a second car you'll still have most of your second car park available for stashing that old computer junk you're waiting to recycle.

Whether you're newly green and looking for that convenient car to park next to the Mercedes, or a shopping cart and office commuter to complement your already green lifestyle the Think seems to have it all sown up.

Buying your 4-wheeled personal transportation the way you buy your mobile phone - that seems to make so much more web 2.0 21st century sense.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ship of Fuels

Am I the only one that finds it amazing to be on the same side of the spectrum as The Economist, when it comes to climate issues?

September 6th issue, in their Technology briefing:

...carmakers that 10 months ago were lining up to lobby Congress against proposed legislation that would oblige them to achieve a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. It simply could not be done they wailed.

According to the Economist while the grumbling continues the carmakers have woken up to the fact that customers are voting with their wallets, and ditching gas guzzlers because of prices at the pump. No doubt environmental concerns are in the equation too, but its easier to be green when it saves the folding stuff too.

BMW, Daimler and VW (makers of Audi) are leading the charge along with Hyundai, Fiat and Toyota in producing lower-emissions vehicles. These low-polluting foreign cars that are also cheap to run look so good to consumers that USA manufacturers are realizing that their profits are at stake if they don't follow suit.

While the oilmen keep saying "drill, drill, drill", its the volatility of oil as much as its current high prices that has got people moving. Sure we can - maybe - get more oil; and hopefully peak oil maybe won't happen. But I don't know if I'm going to turn up at the pump next week and half my paycheck is gone on fuel, due to some crisis or other.

One interesting thing the Economist says is that the hybrid is just a bridging solution. Its a painless introduction to green, and to electric power. The new hybrids are all plug-ins, says the money magazine, and it will be an easy step for those who are used to their Prius intricacies to find that the 2009 model comes with a 3-pin accessory.

Another recent article (Fall 2008, SWE Magazine, by Charlotte Thomas) discusses the current slew of fuel replacements that tech firms, car manufacturers and universities are working on.

Here the message concurs with what I have been saying - locality is the key. No one solution multiplied wider and deeper is going to work. There are promising new ways to produce fuel-cells, and advances in cellulosic acohol. But for example corn ethanol is not going to provide a country-wide solution, because scale is a deal-breaker.

I loved this quote from MIT Professor Daniel Nocera (quoted in Thomas' article):

Three factors will force governments, industry and consumers to curtail a voracious fossil fuel habit... economics, geopolitical instability, and public awareness of the adverse affects of fuels on the environment.

Fuels are necessarily a tiny part of the end solution because of the massive cost of processing them - many of the processes use much more energy to create the fuel and distribute it than is in the fuel itself. Electricity on the other hand already has a distribution system.

So as interesting as these fuels are they are all bridging solutions too. The hybrid has allowed us to have our long range vehicle - even tho' statistically we never use it.

With alternative fuels, biodiesels and so on, we have an environmentally palatable internal combustion nicotine patch.

So the medicine to break the oil addiction is going to be a lot cheaper on the environment, but its still a stage in the evolution of transportation to a truly sustainable pattern.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hum Cycle

Predictions on this blog have talked about how style, speed and prestige will define the new electric vehicle.

The Hum Cycle is certainly charging into this future - on two wheels.

A small gang of entrepreneurs are kicking the shins of the venture capitalists and blazing the streets of Silicon Valley with their potent new Hum Cycle - an uncompromisingly sportissimo, all-electric motorcycle.

I met with Forrest Deuth, and Jit Bhattacharya - two young guys looking very pleased with themselves - and a small crowd of onlookers to see the new Hum prototype in the flesh.

Deuth - an alumni of Tesla motors - was careful to elaborate that this prototype would vary in many ways from their final product.

But still some of the most obvious features that the prototype has that we're likely to notice in the real thing are that which are missing: no clutch handle, and no gear shifter by the left footpeg. It makes the left-hand side of the bike look decidedly bare.

Apart from that at first approach from the front it looks very much like many other sport bikes - modern full-fairing, stiff trellis frame (which will later be replaced by a fully custom frame, according to Deuth).

Then you notice between the frame and down under the belly of the bike telltale patches of yellow. These are the Lithium-Ion battery packs that power the Hum. Them, and a whacking great electric motor, its cylindrical bulk nestling down where the gearbox would be in a
conventional machine.

The chain sprocket goes directly onto the motor, and drives via an oversize chain and back sprocket to the back wheel. Riders I talked to that day reported plenty of pull from the prototype motor. Plans are afoot for a different drive set-up to elide the oversize gearing, and a more powerful motor.

The bike has regenerative braking - this is configurable, and was dialled down today since conventional riders are not used to their mounts being so very responsive on relinquishing the throttle.

And of course you can't blip the throttle when you're at the lights - not that you'd get any noise if you did.

This machine is almost completely silent. The only thing announcing its approach is the chatter of the chain. The makers are talking about the possibility of a belt drive, if the relative gearing of the drive train allows it.

Deuth and Bhattacharya say they're pitching right at the sports market with their first production machine - it will be a high-performance bike, with a decent range, suitable for the ride to work or short touring/sport riding.

Its something both the green community and the motorcycling community will be eagerly awaiting.

Me too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

RE < C

Earlier this month:

Vapourware in the energy business...

And this:

I think we have vastly oversold the role of the market in the solution to this problem...

This is pretty radical stuff - was it those lefty Unionists again? Some hack in the marginal publications, some opinionated blogger?

This is from no less an august figure in Energy Policy than Professor David Victor, Director of the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development (PESD) based at Stanford University. Professor Victor is also a Law Professor at Stanford, and as it happens very knowledgeable about the action of world markets in coal.

One of the great challenges of the climate change crisis is to make renewable energy cost less than coals and high carbon footprint fuels. This is RE < C.

This can be done by increasing the cost of using such fuels, effectively making polluters pay for the cost of actually putting polluting substances into the environment, for example by schemes such as cap-and-trade.

But the other side of the picture is what is the economic realities affecting trade in coal?

Coal is still plentiful, and surprisingly at least to me is still a massively oversubscribed commodity. The USA are still commisioning new coal fired plants - in spring of 2007, 150 new plants were either in planning or under construction. This is surprising because the news has been full of how planned coal plant projects are being scrapped - but this is 59 or so by some accounts, plenty more are still going ahead.

China has recently become a net importer of coal, despite its massive reserves. To put how amazing this is into context, it is very expensive to ship coal - it can't be pumped and is heavy and difficult to handle, compared to its value. At least until recently - prices have been going up for coal such that there are now markets and trade in coal along routes that would not have been thought viable, according to Professor Victor.

Professor Victor highlighted the failure of the ETS scheme in Europe - one of the early innovators in market based schemes to reduce industry carbon emissions. He pointed out that in recent times the trading prices for carbon were at around 25 euros/ton - but it would need to be twice that to be in parity with gas. Here parity meaning that costs would be sufficient to cause polluters to switch to the next clean fuel alternative, being gas with solar, wind and so on dearer alternatives still.

I am not a political scientist, but I don't believe in strong, heavy government - I would like to believe that a light touch at the helm would result in the best outcomes for our nation states. However I also believe that the state must act to protect its citizens from direct and immediate harm - whether its comets from space, or asbestos in our ceilings; the State fails or succeeds in its duty to the extent that it can react potently and swiftly in the face of widespread imminent harm to its people.

With climate change, droughts, cyclones, and many other nightmare scenarios awaiting, it seems that allowing the market to decide on these matters is such a failure.

Again from Professor Victor:

My own view is that the carbon markets are a mistake - its created a casino. Should be a tax.

My guess which governments of the world will be the first to realize the sense of this? I am betting it will be Russia and China before the USA and the West, precisely because of our blind worship of the market.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


So the move to Googles cloud continues.

There's been lots of disruptions, but its well on the way now.

The big watershed has been getting my Storybridge Redirector app working on Google's AppEngine.

It redirects any URL I want to URL's in the new Google sites/blogger structure.

For example folks who used to go to my blog from can now do that again. Since AppEngine logs any URLs sent to it I can see which ones are not matching and add redirects for them too.

Its not exactly rocket science but its good enough that it might be handy for other folks doing what I am - namely trying to bring over 10 years of internet history (in the form of in-bound links from other sites) over to a new structure.

I have put the code up on Googles code hosting site, and logged a few bugs that I am aware of.

Material on the new sites already include:
Generally I'm pretty happy with the Google Apps for Domains experience. The sites themselves seem like a good product. My main goal was to get something low maintenance and low cost - so scoring a lovely round figure of zero on both those counts has to be a big plus.

But the loss of flexibility is tangible. Hopefully with more uptake Google will add extra features to the Sites product. In particular I miss the ability to add the widgets, url lists, and so on in the margins like you can with Blogger. Sites has very little flexibility in this regard. Maybe I have just not found it yet.

I would love to get some feedback on anything y'all feel like mentioning - speed of loading, look-n-feel, ease of commenting - would like to know how it looks from "the other side of the glass" so to speak.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Did I squeeze this picture in Photoshop?

No, this incredibly space-conscious mighty-mite is the all-electric Tango T600 from Commuter Cars. Tech blogs and the press have been a-buzz with this thing since the first ones were delivered back in late 2005.

As you see here folks are using them to get to work and back. This one is plugged into a bank of solar panels overhead, so its carbon footprint is basically zero.

According to the brochure it uses 4kWh of electricity on a standard commute - that is around what you use to tumble dry your load of laundry: even if you don't have a handy solar-powered carport with electricity at todays rates a weeks commuting is $2.40.

Despite its small size it is no lightweight. Even with its carbon-fiber and kevlar body to offset the weight of the batteries, it weighs in at around 3000lbs.

As far as I know Tango still uses lead-acid batteries - with the latest prismatic Nickel-metal hydride or Lithium ion batteries weight would greatly reduce that figure, and produce better performance, perhaps allowing for more conventional and cheaper materials. Commuter Cars plan to make available two lower spec vehicles the T200 and T100. There is talk of different battery technologies on their website. The other issue with batteries is of course patents.

Still, in this configuration the Tango T600 has blistering performance stats - a claimed 0-60mph in 4 seconds, and the standing quarter in 12 seconds. On the track it corners like its on rails due to its very low center of gravity.


The price tag on the T600 is currently around $100k - similar to the Tesla. And the Tango is a kit - you have to put it together yourself.

So the Tango has got the right performance, the right high-tech credentials, and the right environmental footprint.

But a kit-car? And its so small?

One of my predictions about electric cars is the trend will continue growing for an electric car to be a prestigious status symbol in the same way that turbocharged sports sedans with leather trim from well-known European marques are today.

The hoi-polloi will smile knowingly when lesser mortals talk about their fuel-guzzling internal combustion engined vehicles. The well-to-do will be buying top-of-the-line, completely silent, outrageously fast and very stylish electric vehicles - which all manufacturers still alive will be producing, as they struggle to catch up to market and prestige leaders like Lightning Cars of the UK, and Tesla of California.

Public feeling is changing in a ground-swell about cars.

Admittedly, conspicuous consumption of petrol is still a powerful style statement amongst those with the who hide their credit card statements under the rug.

But high-technology in the form of keyless entry, GPS, electronic traction control, and in fact electronic just-about-everything is really what it takes to impress folks these days.

And lighting a firing up fossil-fuels in the old pot-boiler under the hood somehow just doesn't gel with that trend towards the hi-tech performance model.

This is where Tesla and Lightning are early riders of a gathering wave. Prestige, performance - and saving the planet.

Tango could be up there too, but they need to show how their trademark small size is a luxury bonus; ditch the kit-car angle, and raise their tech level to include new battery technologies, reduce the price tag, and start featuring items like GPS.

I hope that they can beat these niggles because I would love to see more electric cars on the roads.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Starcraft on Wine

No I am not talking about Zerging while on the Cabernet.

At home whenver I want to play this venerable old game, I use Linux, fire up wine and it is all coolness.

Every so often I have to set it all up again and I forget the little tricks and twiddles that I needed.

There are plenty of great HowTo's around for getting starcraft running on wine. Here are the steps I use.

So here we go.

Step one

Get wine working. This should be pretty easy with any of todays new distro's. Use the package manager - Yast for example and install wine.

Step two

Create a mount point for the starcraft CD:

sudo mkdir /mnt/starcraft

Step three

Run winecfg.

If you have wine installed OK, then from a console window just type "winecfg". Note - use winecfg, not winesetup or any other program.

Click on the "Drives" tab and you should see a C: drive already setup. Create a new drive by using the "Add" button, or if there's a drive there with an empty mapping use that. Set the "Path" value to the mountpoint just created, eg "/mnt/starcraft".

This is telling the wine engine that emulates windows that you have a D drive, and when you mount your starcraft CD there, the Starcraft program will be able to find it. If you later get errors about your CD not being inserted, even tho it is mounted, go and check this step again.

Step 4

Set up your audio.

If you run winecfg from the console and see a message about "" - ignore it. We are not going to use jack.

One of alsa or oss should work. Try alsa first. Set it to alsa and come back and change it later if the steps below don't work.

Step 5

Mount the starcraft CD. For this you must have your own genuine starcraft CD.

sudo mount /dev/cdrom /mnt/starcraft

Step 6

Install Starcraft.

wine /mnt/starcraft/setup.exe

This should run the starcraft installer, which will copy the program files into the .wine directory in your home path, eg /home/jo/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/Starcraft

When the installer finishes it should start up starcraft and begin playing the movie.

If you cannot hear sound, exiting out and fix sound.

First check if you have the mixer level turned down - there maybe a level control in the system tray. Try that. If not try running "kmix" or the equivalent.

Try running starcraft again and see if that fixed it.

Still no sound? See if you have a program called artsd running - if so, kill this program by sudo killall artsd. You may also be able to turn off artsd by using the settings console for your Linux distro.

The artsd or equivalent is a sound mixer daemon that grabs hold of the sound device /dev/dsp and won't allow wine to use it. I have found the easiest way to deal with the contention issue is just to turn this process off. If your version of wine has artsd support (or support for whatever other mixer you distro uses) you can try using winecfg to turn that on.

If after trying all of the above doesn't work, try some of the other drivers via winecfg - turn off alsa and give oss a go.

Starcraft should start up in full-screen mode. If it doesn't make sure you have "managed" turned off under the graphics tab of winecfig.

If the mouse is jerky - stop all other unecessary processes running on your machine. For example, web browsers, apache or whatever other servers you might have set up.

If its still jerky, try running starcraft with nice -10 wine .wine/drive_c/Program\ Files/Starcraft/starcraft.exe.

Step 7

Edit the file .wine/user.reg so that you have a key called InstallPath set to the location of Starcraft (ignore the other entries I have below, they're just for context, starcraft install should have created something like this for you):

[Software\\Blizzard Entertainment\\Starcraft] 1217626321
"Game Speed"="Normal"
"Game Subtype"="4 vs 4"
"Game Type"="Top vs Bottom"
"InstallPath"="C:\\Program Files\\Starcraft"

Step 8

Upgrade to Broodwar.

First take out the Starcraft CD and put in the Broodwar CD. Then run the broodwar installer.

sudo mount /mnt/starcraft
sudo mount /dev/cdrom /mnt/starcraft
wine /mnt/starcraft/setup.exe

Step 9

Upgrade to the latest patch level. Go to blizzards website and click the link that says "Starcraft Patch". The patchfile you want will be called something like bw-1152.exe.

For faster downloads, try searching for the name of the patchfile on Google, and find a mirror site near you that hosts the same file. Make sure you check the MD5 sum, or otherwise you might get a virus infected copy.

Once you have the patchfile on your desktop run: wine ~/Desktop/BW-1152.exe to install it.

If you get an error about the patch failing make sure you have the registry key correct as shown above in Step 7.

After successfully installing the patch you now should be up and running with Starcraft under wine.

Step 10


Some HowTo pages show a technique where you run under a seperate xconfig file, and use a different xserver. I don't recommend this - on modern fast machines there is no performance benefit and you are likely to lock up your machine on exit from Starcraft.

If you are keen to do this, try the script below. You will need to create a special xorg.conf file by copying your existing file and editing the default screen section so that it only contains a modeline with "640x480". This is for the brave only.

Playing without the CD. The most recent patchlevel from Blizzard enables play without the CD. This is an official Blizzard thing - not a hack.

They way I do this is to actually copy the entire ISO of the CD to my machine and mount that instead of the cd:

dd if=/dev/cdrom of=~/starcraft.iso bs=8192
sudo mount ~/starcraft.iso /mnt/starcraft

This works quite well. Or you might be able to use the technique described in the article.

Here is a script that a friend wrote that runs starcraft - its not really needed - the commands above are enough, but if it works for you feel free to use it:


if ! test -f /mnt/sc/bw.ico ; then
echo 'Starcraft ISO image is not mounted; trying to mount; may need root password; ...'
sudo mount $SC_ISO /mnt/starcraft -o loop
if test -f /etc/X11/xorg.conf-starcraft ; then
XCONF='-xf86config xorg.conf-starcraft'
xinit /usr/bin/wine "$HOME/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/Starcraft/starcraft.exe" -- :2 $XCONF
if test x$UNMOUNT = x1 ; then
sudo umount /mnt/starcraft

Friday, July 25, 2008

Van Jones and the Green Economy

sketch by SezA few days ago I had the chance to see Van Jones speaking at a forum in Mountain View.

It was very interesting to juxtapose this charismatic black man, with his vibrant and compelling manifesto of the Green Economy and its role in uplifting the poor and marginalised; with the article I recently read in "The Economist" (see my post below).

Over the years I have become pretty good at seeing through emotional pitches and marketing dirty tricks to the truth underneath, and the tenor of Jones presentation primed my BS detectors at first.

But he is presenting some brilliant reasoning, couched in this fluent and mellifluous delivery. Jones is a law graduate, and he has plenty of substance here.

There were a couple of points he made that I wanted to jump up and shout "Amen" to, and here they are:
  • saving the world from global warming through green innovation is not a technological problem alone, it will require a green workforce doing things like making and fitting solar panels;
  • the past centuries pollution-based economies concentrated wealth in the hands of few at the expense of the vulnerable populations;
  • now the new centuries green solution-based economy will help a vulnerable world, while providing jobs and self-determination to many

This is a heart-warming idea with a beautiful vision, of seeing poverty rolled back and diverse peoples joining together in uplifting themselves and their planet.

But it is more than that - it is sound economics and social pragmatics.

As I outline in the previous post - without giving details - the green revolution is a guerilla revolution. It is not be lead from the top, and won by an army of the state.

The key I contend is locality.

What solution is best varies, and it varies largely by locality.

We will never be able to say wind farms are best, cover the globe in those and we'll be right as rain. You can't pick one solution and multiply it wider and deeper.

Instead you need to look around you.

Is there used vegetable oil around that is going to waste? Get a few people together in a co-op, and they can make a small business out of filtering and cleaning the oil for sale as a diesel fuel replacement.

Solar panels work because the electricity from them can be used right where it is generated, minimizing line loss, transformer inefficiencies and infrastructure costs - recharge your electric car from the panels on your carport roof.

Electric cable-cars in the hills over here, bio-diesel and CNG buses on the long flat fast busways over there.

And as the gathering sense of urgency propels more and more of affluent America and the west, the more we realize the shortage we have of the green workforce that Jones talks about.

Jones is looking for help.

I think he will find plenty of people in Silicon Valley who will act locally, even if by doing a few small acts.

I think I just did. :-)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Movin' on up to Blogger

This post just made to my original website, announces the planned move here - to Blogger.

Tell ye a story bout a girl named Sez,
poor ole' blogger,
barely kept her site upkept,

Then one day she was shootin' for some news,
when up thru the 'Net came a bloggin' cruise!

Google, that is.

Net gold - Silicon Valley tea.

Well the first thing you know ole Sez' a bloggin dude,
using cool web UI's with no trouble at all.

They said Californ-i-a's the place you oughta go
and there usin' Blogger's the only way to go.

(With apologies to the Beverly Hillbillies).

So the endless rounds of updating wordpress, fighting off spammers and crackers has finally gotten too much, so I am over the next wee while going to move off my current custom linux box setup, and onto the suite of Google Apps products.

Right now you can access the previous post New New Economy hosted in my new digs on Blogger at

This was pretty simple to achieve by using Bloggers custom domain name feature, and modifying my storybridge DNS so that the CNAME points to bloggers hosts.

Blogger has a lot of other nice features, like just clicking a checkbox to get a captcha that will deter spammers, without having to fiddle with plugins that break on upgrades - which is the Wordpress story.

The big concern is losing many many years of blogging and authoring history.

And losing you - whoever you are. The handful of stalwarts that keep reading.

Please stick with me - keep coming back.

Kick yer shoes off and sit a spell. :-)

If my plans work out the same URL's will keep working. You won't even have to change your bookmarks.

My plan is to write a redirector in Google App Engine and have the main site point to that, and use it to redirect incoming connects to path's like - and to the wiki pages I have created over the years.

And, you know something - I must say the Kool-aid is tasting pretty damn good right now.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The new new economy

In the heyday of the Internet boom, startups were wooing normally sage and conservative investors with crazy on-line get-rich-quick- schemes, all in the name of the New Economy.

"See, its ok that we're not going to make any profit, and that we're going to burn a million bucks a month hiring geeks and paying for their parties and nerf weaponry, because - hey - its the New Economy. You don't need to actually monetize this stuff because everyone can see that this new web-enabled tom-foolery-powered service of ours is going skyward!"

There's a lot to be said about all that, like how it was marketing guys from Harvard and vulture capitalists from Wall Street, that really pushed the bubble skyward, not the geeks who just wanted to write code.

But I don't want to get distracted by the history of the New Economy because I'm only bringing up that old ancient history - so last decade - to make a comparison. A comparison with the New New Economy: Energy.

If you thought the era was crazy, get ready to suspend disbelief and put away your financial sensibilities all over again, because a new cadre of oddball entrepreneurs are coming to Silicon Valley.

The really really irritating thing is that we do desperately need innovation on the energy front.

But there is a lot more chaff than wheat in these biodiesel, fuel-cell, solar, wind and other schemes - and the average joe, the man on the Clapham omnibus, and the investor are going to have a tough time seeing through it.

Remember post-9/11 when there was a need to do something about terrorism, and a million fly-by-night companies and consultants sprung up to dip in the money pot? But there were not just those private sector types; there were also bureaucrats, and public-sector pencil-pushers in newly set up organizations; all because money was being thrown around and someone had to be there to scoop it up. Now this is tax-payers money I'm talking about, as well as investors money.

The same tax-payers waiting in huge long lines at the airport to have our bags searched and take our shoes off in some bizarre ritual designed to make us feel something is being done.

In the New New Economy there will be:
  • Wacky schemes touted as "breakthroughs" designed to scoop up investment cash and venture capital
  • Think-tanks, studies and websites that are actually FUD campaigns from PR companies paid by vested corporate interests, in Old Economy energy sectors like oil, coal and rubber
  • Jumped up government organizations, full of idealism but with no power to do anything except generate press-statements
  • Cynical government organizations, full of fat-cat bureaucrats who have just rotated out of some corporation
  • Some genuine useful and profitable enterprises working with energy technologies that we already know to work well
What? No amazing new breakthroughs that genuinely advance energy technology?

See - its like this. All our energy comes from one place - a big nuclear reactor 93 million miles away. Its called the sun.

From the time before there were people and cars, the sun was putting energy into the Earth that wound up getting stored as coal and oil, but there's only a very small amount of that stuff.

The Sun has been storing it for millions of years.

We've been using it for a hundred years, and its close to gone.

Of course there's geothermal and similar energy sources, but when we talk about fuel, we're on track to use it all up in the next 10 years or so. Maybe you don't believe that, maybe we'll all start driving Prius cars, and maybe the Tooth Fairy is real - maybe it will last 50 years.

That doesn't really matter, because it will all be gone in our lifetimes.

No more oil, no more petrol, for you or I.

And it'll take the sun another bunch of a million years to make more.

Our lifetimes? Great - lets wait until then to develop alternative energy.

Uhhh - except by then it will be too late.

Government and big business already had half-a-century of warnings that we needed to do something.

The first warning signs were back in 1973 when there was a global oil crisis. Here's an excerpt from that linked article, by Brian Trumbore:
When OPEC announced the sharp price rise, the shock waves were immediate. Industrial democracies, accustomed to uninterrupted sources of cheap, imported oil, were suddenly at the mercy of a modern Arab nationalism, standing up to American oil companies that had once held their countries in a vise grip. Many of these "new" Arabs were Harvard educated and familiar with the ways of the West, and to many Americans it was impossible to understand how their standard of living was now being held hostage to obscure border clashes in strange parts of the world.
Later in the 70's more of the "new" Arabs flexing their power over the decadent west, led New Zealand (where I was living at the time) to introduce Carless Days, in an attempt to stem the haemorrhage of petro-dollars. In the USA we began to hear phrases like "strategic reserve" and "energy security".

Remembering Carless Days - Thursday stickerIf you had this sticker on your windscreen, no car for you on Thursday. Get a ride from your friend that has a "Friday" sticker, and then swap the next day.

This stuff affected peoples lives. But big oil, the auto industry, the technologists - what did they do after this big wakeup call? Produce cars that use more petrol, not less.

To find out about the rank bastardry of these companies read:
Both books talk about how National City Lines, a bus company, was setup by Standard Oil of California, General Motors and Firestone tyres in 1936 to scrap the electric public transit system of California. In 1940 by lobbying the government and using financial muscle they achieved this in Fresno, San Jose and Stockton, using their subsidiary Pacific City Lines. In 1944 they followed up by gutting the electric transit system in Los Angeles.

Two weeks ago I went on a trip to Monterey for my 3rd wedding anniversary, and we stayed in the lovely Old St Angela Guest House overlooking Monterey Bay. Sitting in the old brocaded lounge room, I spoke with an elderley gentlemen who recalled those days in Los Angeles.

He had a look of amazement and betrayal on his face, when he talked about how Standard Oil, Firestone tyres and General Motors had gotten away with this.

San Francisco still has its street cars, and these are as ever popular and effective a service as they always were. Why did those companies do what they did? For profit.

So the 1970's came and went and big autos and big oil just went right back to doing what they have always done. Profiting at our expense, and at the expense of our futures.

Now that we're staring down the barrel of a new energy crisis, what do you think those corporate guys are going to do?

More of the same.

They want a system where they control trucks delivering some product to a gas station and lots of obedient consumers queueing up to fork over their cash. They want cars to keep on being sold and folks to keep buying tyres to go on them.

So what can we rely on?

What is the real answer, if we can't rely the answer to come out of a bowser at a gas station?

The final answer is not going to be one magic product that solves everything. There is no magic bullet.

There is no scientific discovery just about to pop out of a test-tube at the HQ of Exxon-Mobil.

The final answer will be a locality-based energy blend of the following:
Because the key to solving this new crisis, and the key simultaneously to tapping into the New New Economy is not to think about "what do we put in our tanks?".

The June 21st-27th 2008 edition of The Economist magazine, a dry publication of conservative British money-men, has a 14 page article on "The Future of Energy". It makes for interesting reading. When I received the paper copy in the mail I was amazed to see how frankly they were approaching the whole issue, and very very interested to see who they were predicting would be striking it rich in this new energy boom.

The old guard Standard Oil, Exxon-Mobile etc - they don't rate much of a mention.

Its the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and the new innovators that The Economist is looking to for taking the lead.

From The Economist:
You don't hear much about the hydrogen economy these days. Nor fuel cells. The buzz-phrase is "plug-in hybrid".
Climate change, has hit all of our consciousnesses now. If Katrina wasn't enough - and you're not watching the international press to learn of environment disasters overseas - then pick up the "City of Moutain View - Water Quality '07" report and read the front page headline: "Drought Declared".
Governor Schwarzenegger declared the first statewide drought in 17 years. March and April 2008 were among the driest in California's recorded history.
Ordinary people are now caring deeply about climate change and looking for answers - they're buying fuel efficient cars, for that reason as well as for reasons of financial economy.

They've heard the FUD about Hummer vs Prius and said "Are you kidding? Buy a gas guzzler when petrol is at these crazy prices?".

Here's the changes ahead:

Electric vehicles
  • 90% of private journeys in vehicles will be made in an all electric vehicle (either private vehicles or public transit systems)
  • All motor-vehicle manufacturers still in business, will have performance and prestige vehicles that are electric powered and zero emission
  • Alternative fuel vehicles will be a small and unpopular minority amongst consumers
  • They will be seen as a backward, noisy, inconvenient and low-prestige option to the electric vehicle
  • Electric cars will be refuelled by points at cafe's, supermarkets, company car parks - everywhere you see wireless internet offered now, free recharge points will be available
  • Electric cars will "top up" via solar panels that add another 10% or more to the time between refuelling stops
  • Compared with this convenience, the new fuel cells, and bio-fuels will be a very low-brow, beta-max option

Alternative Fuels
  • Other vehicles, such as long-haul trade vehicles; and a few passenger trips will be made in vehicles powered by alternative fuels
  • fuels will be different state-to-state, county-to-county, due to cost driven factors such as local by-product availablity, for example sugar cane wastes; and costs of reticulation, storage and transport
  • there will in general be no large scale production and reticulation of fuels by big companies
  • Instead ethanol, and diesel substitutes such as pure vegetable oil will be supplied by an eclectic bunch of localized smaller and larger businesses capitalizing on supply of by-products in their area, for example corn husks, or timber mill waste
  • These businesses will employ local labour and talent to meet the demand, instead of all the profits of the transport industry going to oil and petroleum monopolists
  • aviation and defence will become far and away the biggest users of fossil fuels but both of these will be at a fraction of their current levels for a range of reasons
So there it is. My little bit of a futurism for the day.

Roll on the New New Economy.