Sunday, April 03, 2005

On Pope John Paul II and Terri Schiavo

Some comments about the deaths of Pope John Paul II and Terri Schiavo in the same week:

When the pope suffered his last medical setback this past week, he decided he didn't want to go to the hospital for more treatment. He must have surmised that he was very close to the end of his life, and no longer wanted to suffer. He basically made a decision not to prolong his life unnecessarily. He invoked a right to die, and he did so on his terms.

Days before, Terri Schiavo died at the crux of a long battle over the right to die, and who should be the rightful custodian of her life. Schiavo, having no explicit legal wishes for her last will, could not voice those wishes in her vegetative state. So the decision was made for her.

I don't know how many others felt the same way, but I saw the pope's decision as fundamental in the right to life controversy.

If the pope should have the right to say he doesn't want another hospital stay when his life was about to end, does that not mean everyone implicitly has a similar right to die?

I don't mean to suggest that the pope's wishes equated with suicide, because that's debatable at best. What he clearly wanted, though, was to ease his suffering and that of his people. He chose to make a moral, personal decision. Death is a part of life, and the choice was his to make.

Pope John Paul II was significant even in the last act of his life.

A postscript:

In life and in death, Terri Schiavo's husband is her legal custodian. Say what you will about Michael Schiavo, but he is legally bound to his wife. Therefore, Terri's parents, however moral their wishes might be, had not the legal basis for assuming Terri's wishes. To be overly pedantic, when Terri was married, her parents did not contest her marriage to Michael, and were therefore bound to "forever hold their peace." Is not their interference in their marriage rights an inherently immoral act?

Los Anaheim Angels

The Freeway series against the Angels was televised Saturday and Sunday.

The Angels swept the series, which included a Friday game. Judging by the Dodgers' performance in the preseason this year, it looks like it will be a "rebuilding year" for them. Just what we expected, considering GM Paul DePodesta's off-season work, dismantling the best infield unit in the majors last year, and ignoring contract negotiations with MVP candidate Adrian Beltre.

The Dodgers looked so inept on Sunday that the team was booed several times. Vin Scully pointed out that the Dodgers had committed seven errors in the three game series.

Finally, I've arrived at a way to think of the Angels' name change. Mind you, I'm not completely against the change, but it's clearly too market-conscious. Anyway, I figure it's easier to refer to them as Los Anaheim Angels. Entirely accurate, too. That way, they can stay the L.A. Angels as long as they like, while staying an hour's drive from Los Angeles.

As a footnote, I don't believe I heard Vin Scully call the Angels by their preferred location name even once all weekend. It seems he calls them the Angels and nothing more. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but it appears that the change has yet to be publicly recognized by the Hall of Fame broadcaster.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

City of the Angels

In a followup to an earlier blog entry about ESPN's graphic for the Los Angeles Dodgers, ESPN is the first national network to recognize the name change of the (previously) Anaheim Angels. During a Tuesday game between the Angels and the Chicago White Sox, ESPN listed the team as the Los Angeles Angels, and the scoring graphic showed the abbreviation "LAA."

Also, Wednesday was the first pre-season game that Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully has worked this spring. For the Dodgers' radio-only broadcast, he announced the first three innings, and then Charley Steiner and Rick Monday took over for the rest of the game.

Predictably, Scully is already in prime, mid-season form. He riffed about the origins of Holman Stadium and Dodger Stadium (they were the first stadiums built into excavated land), and shared a story that when Bob Gibson wasn't pitching well, a young catcher would never assume he could approach him.

One interesting addition to the Dodgers radio broadcast is a tagline added to the "bumper" leading into commercials. It's a gentle reminder that, "You're listening to L.A. baseball."

The Dodgers are marking their territory.

This season's going to be an interesting one for baseball in Los Angeles.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Boeing CEO two-time loser

I'm usually not much for gossip, but I couldn't pass this one up.

Earlier in the week it was reported that Boeing's chief executive officer, Harry Stonecipher, had been forced to resign from the company for having an affair with a Boeing vice president.

According to a Chicago Tribune report by way of the Seattle Times, Stonecipher's wife of fifty years, Joan Stonecipher, has filed for divorce in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago.

The couple had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary just last month, according to another article in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Stonecipher resigned after he showed poor judgment and violated the company's code of conduct, according to a Boeing news release. So why hasn't the company extended the same action to the vice president, Debra Peabody, with whom he had his affair?

Of course, Stonecipher was the company's top executive, so his behavior reflects more directly on the company. But I believe Peabody, as another Boeing executive, should otherwise be judged by the same criteria.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Minardi-FIA feud threatens Australian GP

CNN is reporting that Minardi's dispute with the FIA is getting even more contentious.

After a court ruled that Minardi could run in the Australian GP in a 2004-spec car, the FIA announced that it would consider banning Australia from hosting Formula One events in the future.

Apparently the FIA also threatened to cancel its backing of the Australian GP as early as Saturday, one day short of the Grand Prix, if Minardi did not step down from its legal challenge.

Minardi decided to outfit its F1 cars to 2005 specifications in the face of the FIA's threat.

If the FIA went through with its threat, the Australian Grand Prix would have gone ahead, but as a non-championship race.

Minardi chief Paul Stoddart said the FIA did not follow legal guidelines to change the rules of specification, which forced his challenge in court.

Stoddart claimed the FIA's legal maneuvering was leading the Formula One championship to an eventual destruction.

A minor change on ESPN says a lot

I was watching the Dodgers play preseason baseball against the Atlanta Braves on ESPN yesterday, when something caught my eye.

The scoring graphic at the top-left of the screen showed ATL for Atlanta and LAD for the Dodgers.


On national telecasts, the Dodgers have never been represented on the graphics by anything but LA, until now.

I can't wait to see what graphic ESPN uses when they show an Angels game.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Australian GP wackiness

It's been a few hours now since the first qualifying session for the Formula One Australian Grand Prix.

They had wacky weather, which resulted in a myriad of qualifying craziness. The slowest officially timed qualifier was none other than seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher, who slipped and slid his Ferrari through the heavy rain water on intermediate tires.

Giancarlo Fisichella was certifiably blessed, running the best time of the day as he found the circuit at the driest time and ran his Renault with dry tires. Heavy rain almost immediately followed his hot lap, leaving Felipe Massa in a downpour in his Sauber with dry-weather tires. The circuit stayed wet from that point on and plagued about half the field.

Takuma Sato was the only driver to punt off his car in the wet, damaging the front wing and both left side suspensions of his BAR-Honda.

Provisional podium?

Qualifying, however, won't be completed until tomorrow (Sunday in Aussieland). So then why were the top three provisional qualifiers invited to the interview room after the Saturday session? What have they won to deserve the honor of doing the official post-qual interview?

It didn't take but a moment for this false ceremony to show that the FIA's new qualification schedule, in which final qualifying takes place on race day, is a mistake and should be changed as soon as possible. Hopefully this season. Preferably before the next race.

Earning the pole position should be reserved for Saturday, not Sunday.

I do like the aggregate qualification system, in which drivers have to combine the times of two laps to determine start order for the race. That means drivers can't have just one good hot lap -- they now need two consistently good laps.

But, the first qualification session should take place on either Friday or Saturday, with the final start order determined on Saturday, one day before race day.

Seeing three drivers in the interview room after the first day of qualifying is like handing out a man-of-the-match award to a soccer player at halftime.

It's absurd and it has to end.

Calling Eason Jordan

Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena was released by her Iraqi captors today, and then her convoy was mistakenly attacked by U.S. forces, who killed an Italian intelligence agent and wounded Sgrena as their vehicle sped toward a checkpoint.

Here's a short, unbiased thought. . . .

Sgrena now must be wondering to herself at what point her life was in the most danger: during her captivity or shortly afterward.

Brace yourselves for an avalanche of "I told you sos" by defenders of defrocked CNN executive Eason Jordan, whose job evaporated because of remarks he made accusing U.S. forces of deliberately targeting journalists in Iraq.

Sad irony? Yes. I told you so? Not me.

It's Formula One time again

It's that time again -- time to smell the high octane and burning rubber, feel the surge of adrenaline, and experience the thrill of seeing the world's best drivers in the world's best cars, driving on the greatest motor racing circuits in the world.

No, I'm not talking about NASCAR.

If I told you Formula One is the most popular racing series in the world, you probably wouldn't believe me if you're an American.

Here in the U.S., NASCAR is by far the most popular form of racing, obscuring everything else. You might say NASCAR is the fourth major American sport, and no one would really dispute it -- except maybe some jealous hockey fans.

But NASCAR means little to anyone outside of the United States.

Our only analogy to Formula One is our own open-wheel racing leagues, CART and IRL, also collectively called Champ Car racing. American open-wheel racing has been a sad state of affairs since the IRL was created out of a dispute with CART. The feud split the sport in two in the early 1990s, created two marginalized sports, and fragmented a fanbase. Open-wheel racing has never been the same since, and NASCAR has capitalized on their troubles.

It's hard to believe that with NASCAR's popularity at an all-time high, there's another form of racing that's even bigger, but one in which, like soccer, America isn't a dominant force.

It's the first week of March, and we've already had the first two NASCAR races of the 2005 season. But the NASCAR Nextel Cup cars are off this weekend, and race fans can look forward to the first Formula One race of the 2005 calendar -- the Australian Grand Prix in Albert Park, Melbourne.

Formula One has perhaps the most storied history of racing aside from the Indianapolis 500.

Some of the greatest names in all of racing come from Formula One history -- Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Ayrton Senna, Graham Hill, Michael Schumacher -- the list goes on and on.

Seven-time world driving champion, Ferrari's Michael Schumacher, is the favorite to win the title again this year, and his rivals aren't viewed as challenging his dominance anytime soon.

But F1 does have several rising stars, including Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso, who should all at least make the race for second place interesting.

This season brings a host of rule changes designed to make racing more difficult for the top teams. New rules include the following:
  • Cars will run on harder-compound tires to prevent tire degradation.
  • No tire changes will be allowed except in emergencies (i.e. blown tires and bad weather).
  • Front wings have been raised to take away some downforce.
  • One engine must last for two races. This rule was implemented to prevent the top teams from stockpiling engines (at great cost) for qualification and possible attrition.

These are among a number of rule changes Formula One has brought to bear in the last few years to hold down the cost of competing in the series. The top teams have budgets and logisitical capabilities far outweighing those of lower tier teams, and the race results tend to reflect that disparity. On balance, the rule changes made have been good for the sport, and should help make the racing more contingent on the skill of the drivers than the builders.

The Australian Grand Prix typically provides an unpredictable start to the season, with most teams still trying to dial in their cars, and with drivers tuning their skills for the long season. Although Albert Park is technically a street course, it's very well laid out and isn't claustrophobic. It will make for one of the more interesting races of the year.

If you like racing but haven't seen F1, do yourself a favor and check out the race Saturday night U.S. time. For those of us addicted to speed, Speed Channel is there for our fix.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Michael Gorman and digital books

Librarian Michael Gorman wrote an opinion piece carried in the Los Angeles Times on December 17, 2004 titled "Google and God's Mind," a commentary on Google's plan to digitize books and make them available for online searches.

Gorman is Dean of Library Services at California State University, Fresno, and is president-elect of the American Library Association.

He thinks of Google's efforts to create digital libraries as an act of hubris -- an attempt to gather all the world's information in one medium. Somewhat pedantically, he reminds us that information by itself is not knowledge.

Gorman warns that Google's search of online books will encourage readers to read bits and pieces of books rather than the entire text, thereby reducing the reading experience to a sort of "Cliff's Notes" version. He's afraid the book will become marginalized by a fast food culture.

But the last time I checked, the reader still has the inalienable right to decide how to use a book for his or her own knowledge.

The medium is the message

Marshall McLuhan once said of electronic technology that "the medium is the message," suggesting that the way in which a message is delivered says more about our society than the message itself. The medium may change and evolve, but the message is essentially the same.

Digital media provides the possibility for libraries to be preserved and propagated for future generations, indefinitely. It represents another way to mass produce the written word, and to distribute information and therefore, knowledge.

The medium is the message.

Digital books will never be a perfect substitute for real books, but they can complement each other. No one is suggesting replacing one with the other.

Michael Gorman needs to trust readers to know how to read a book the way they see fit, and not worry about how the book is presented.

He was heavily criticized online for his views, and he wrote a response titled "Revenge of the Blog People!" In the piece, Gorman dismissed his detractors, many of whom were bloggers who characterized him as a Luddite. He also makes several subtle insults at blogging culture and those he believes are obsessed with technology.

The reason Gorman's opinions have a slightly musty odor to them -- something that smells of technophobia -- is because he believes advocates of digital libraries, such as Google, want electronic media to "supplant and obliterate all previous forms," according to his Los Angeles Times article.

His comments are deeply rooted in his profession as a librarian.

I'm not knocking the trade -- I have a lot of respect for librarians as patrons of literature. They have an admirable and often thankless job.

But his suggestion that Google and others like them want to replace brick-and-mortar libraries is the sound of an alarmist.

I'm not an apologist for technology -- I may have a degree in Management Information Systems, but my difference with Gorman is in how information is used, not in what mode it is delivered.

Gorman should remember that the book itself is a technology -- and it remains the greatest technology in human history.

So I chose to make remarks here in a blog -- another technology -- because I think of a blog as another way to deliver information efficiently, nothing more, nothing less.

The medium is the message.

Information and knowledge are only as useful or as destructive as the reader who makes use of them.

Knowledge is power, as they say.

Give Google a chance to show what its project can do before demonizing its ambitions. Ridicule their godlike hubris, if you will, but let their results rise or fall on its own merit.


I love books, because they represent a system to deliver information efficiently. I don't have to wait for it to boot, it doesn't have batteries to burn out, and it has no screen to fade out. It doesn't crash. It's light and portable, and I can even make notes in the margins.

As wonderful as a digital book can be, there's nothing quite like a real book. And there never will be. Books are an indispensible part of human knowledge, and as long as there are books in this world, libraries will always be here, too.

I see digital libraries as a valuable service that will complement real libraries. And unlike Michael Gorman, I don't see anyone threatening to replace real libraries with electronic imitations.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Resizing the ice cream market, the Dreyer's way

Size matters.

If you enjoy ice cream like I do, you probably like getting your ice cream from the store by the half gallon.

Well, not anymore.

In 2002, Dreyer's, the leading producer in the ice cream market, decided to downsize its half-gallon cartons to 1.75 quarts, shaving a half-pint out of every carton.

It was done to save money, said Dreyer's.

In marketing-speak, that means, "We're going to protect our profits."

After hearing of Dreyer's strategy, I decided to mount my own, one-person boycott. I wasn't going to support Dreyer's unilateral attempt to resize the market. There were other, good off-brands available in half-gallon sizes, so I bought those. It made sense. More ice cream for the same or less money. Sure, Dreyer's tasted a little better, but it wasn't enough to level the new playing field.

And for almost three years, I haven't missed Dreyer's.

Many consumers, who weren't aware of the resizing, probably kept buying Dreyer's and couldn't tell the difference. The carton is the same height as the half-gallon size, and is almost imperceptibly slimmer. It takes a sharp eye to spot the smaller carton.

Recently, I've noticed that the market has finally turned. It seems every ice cream maker has jumped on board and adopted Dreyer's resizing strategy. Now, it looks as though the half-gallon carton has been made extinct, gone the way of the dodo.

Maybe I'm taking it too personally.


Food producers resize their products from time to time. It's a part of doing business, and indeed, it is a part of saving production costs. Ice cream makers have been hit hard by the rising cost of milk products, and demand for ice cream has been declining proportionally. So from that perspective, it is possible to see Dreyer's reasoning.

Dreyer's could not have convinced its rivals to adopt its resizing plan if they were the only company seeing declining profits. The rest of the industry has no incentive to change if the market on average is healthy. So it appears the trend was driven by rising costs across the industry.

From a producer's point of view, it makes more sense to cut supply rather than raise prices, because consumer satisfaction tends to be price sensitive. No matter how you slice it, though, we're still paying more.


I readily admit to having an emotional attachment to the issue, but that's an honest part of consumerism. People get used to the things they like, and if that level of comfort is disrupted, a consumer's loyalty can change. Market standards become ingrained and are hard to change without an equal and opposite reaction.

Coca Cola found that out when they replaced its flagship product with "New Coke," a Coke with a new taste, in the early 1980s. Many loyal Coke drinkers were outraged, and reluctantly, Coca Cola was forced to reintroduce the original Coke as "Classic Coke" to satisfy their purist market. As a result, "New Coke" was dead almost from the time it reached the shelves, and "Classic Coke" eventually became good old Coke again.

I'm not saying my rant about the ice cream business is a perfect analogy to the New Coke debacle. Of course it isn't. But the comparison is about product loyalty, and how a company or industry can negatively effect that loyalty.

I grew up drinking milk from half-gallon bottles, and I ate ice cream from half-gallon cartons. If gallon milk bottles were downsized to a 3-liter size at the same price, I'm not sure the market would support it.

The ice cream business is essentially cutting supply while maintaining its price point. And they're hoping demand will at least remain steady to support the supply curve.

Consumers are being asked to spend the same amount of money for less product. Eventually, prices will rise, so we will have to pay more to get less.

I can do the math. If anything gets too expensive to buy in quantity, I will adjust my spending accordingly.

So what am I going to do, as one consumer?

I'm going to buy less ice cream.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Blogging Machine

I have been busily browsing the big, bloated blogosphere.

At the risk of seriously harming whatever newborn karma the blogging gods have allowed me, I just wanted to uncork the bottle and let my feelings out. What I'm learning in my first baby steps into the blogging universe is that there is an incredible, astounding, utterly planet-sized pile of blogging crap out there.

How did I find out this essential, earth-shattering, world-changing, primordial chunk of info?

Simple. I just clicked on "Next Blog."

I wanted to learn about my fellow bloggers, get pointers, and sponge some sage wisdom from grizzled veterans more savvy than me. So I tried Blogger's "Next Blog" button. There it is, right there at the top right hand side of this page. It's like the lever of a slot machine. Drop your change, flick it down, watch the window and see what comes up.

But what did I find?

Well, firstly, the slot machine analogy isn't far off. Not far off at all. In fact, it is apt. As with a slot machine, browsing the blogosphere is frequently, almost always a bust, a colossal waste of time.

  • There are spammers using blogs as impromptu advertising tools. They don't care who you are, they're just glad you've stumbled on them, because they're getting paid by the pageload, and they'll get paid more if you try clicking on a link.

  • Teenagers are discovering the everlasting annoyance of Javascript greeting messages on entrance and exit (all of them in "l33t 5p34k"), that require visitors to click multiple times just for the sublime honor of coming and going.

    On one occasion I had to click OK a half-dozen times just to load a page, and then a half-dozen more just to leave (immediately, I might add) -- I felt trapped by Javascript.

  • Some blogs load with annoying WAV files (something that's actually encouraged by Blogger on the Dashboard), proving that angering your visitors isn't yet a dead art.

    WAVs are only used on a blog by those who have never experienced the aggravation of an involutarily loading sound on a webpage. If you have a WAV on yours, try updating your blog, then do some editing, and then reload your page a few times. Repeat this over and over again. If you're sane, you'll eventually turn the WAVs off.

  • Some bloggers try to reformat their pages in unique, non-vanilla templates. Many become badly broken, with truly awful formatting results. I feel sorry for some of these bloggers, because frequently they are FrontPage templates gone berzerk.

  • A few bloggers must have eyesight better than 20/20, posting blog text with teeny-weeny font sizes (do you really need 6 point Verdana, or is your screen size 640x480?).

  • Some people get carried away linking to other bloggers, listing miles and miles of links, with some of them carelessly repeated. Who cares to browse hundreds of links with so many meaningless names?

  • Many people create blogs only to discover, "I have nothing to say." The funny part of this is how many of these blogs stay on the Web, sharing this realization with every new visitor.

  • Some blogs get launched and don't survive their own IPO. Like a new toy on Christmas morning, they get played with briefly and then are forgotten. (This very blog was guilty of this sin for almost a year.)

  • There are the people with dozens of applet toys dropped into their blogs to satisfy their own short attention spans, attempting to cover up for what they don't have to say.

  • And then there's the quality of blog writing, ranging from truly atrocious to the merely marginal.

Yes, the blogosphere is making it even easier for pretend webmasters to become stumbling wanna-be stylemakers.

Remember those webpages with dark, purple background images that looked like shower curtains in a porn film? Those gaudy green links, or flashing banners, or white text on black backgrounds? The eyesores with no semblance of how to size fonts or how to arrange the contents? Remember the kinds of pages where the links came one by one, from top to bottom, center-formatted, like unrolling a roll of toilet paper?

That's right -- the bad old days of amateur web design are upon us again.

But then, suddenly . . . there's a blog that makes sense -- it seems to mean something. Perhaps it's someone who doesn't even say much, but who is consistently clever or nice. Or there's a niche that was begging to be filled, and it earns a following.

It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, it's as if you've found a friendly port in a bad storm. Something so delicate, so rare, it needs to be saved right now, lest it disappear, never to be found again.

It comes after dropping hundreds of proverbial quarters into the Blogging Machine, browsing and sampling, knowing there has to be one, just one more blog that is worth visiting, maybe even worth bookmarking. It comes after hard time spent watching the dregs of the Net and their detritus. It makes the hardship feel worthwhile, just to find a flake of gold in the pan.

And it is in that spirit that I continue blogging, trying to be interesting and useful, hoping that my efforts will not result in the evil that I have seen, so that I may dwell in the house of the Web, indefinitely ever after, or until I get bored and stop.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

Iris Chang

To my surprise, I found out today that Iris Chang, noted author of The Rape of Nanking, took her own life in November after a battle with depression.

She shot herself to death on the morning of November 9. Chang was found in her car near her home in northern California. She leaves behind a husband and a young son.

The Rape of Nanking was a landmark document of atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in China during the second world war, and the book sparked outrage from conservative Japanese critics. It became a long-time New York Times bestseller, and made Chang a star among historical writers. The book was hailed by many Chinese-Americans and even by the Chinese government.

Her first work was Thread of the Silkworm, which documented the life of Tsien Hsue-shen, who is considered the father of the modern Chinese rocket program.

Tsien is probably more noteworthy to readers of science fiction -- he is the inspiration for a Chinese spacecraft named after him in Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2010: Odyssey Two.

Tsien, an engineer and professor at Cal Tech, was thrown out of the U.S. in 1955 on allegations that he was a former member of the Communist party. Having been forced to resettle in China, Tsien proceeded to build China's rocket program from the ground up, creating one of the largest military rocket programs in the world. His ouster from the United States, which Chang characterized in her book as baseless, casts an extremely ironic light on the American struggle against communism during the McCarthy era.

I have not read any of Chang's books yet. I knew of her fame from The Rape of Nanking, but only learned of her previous book later on. Some reviewers criticized her writing in Thread of the Silkworm for a seeming lack of journalistic focus. But I was attracted to that book because of my interest in spaceflight, and also because as far as I know, it is the only work in English chronicling the life and work of Dr. Tsien.

Chang's death leaves a large void in Chinese-American literature. The Rape of Nanking was widely considered an accomplished piece of historic journalism. And her work on the life of Dr. Tsien in Thread of the Silkworm, while flawed, perhaps, was a necessary and even groundbreaking work, not only of Chinese history but also of American history.

Few, if any, writers would have been interested in telling the story of Tsien, much less someone who could navigate the many sources within China (read: a speaker of Chinese). Thread of the Silkworm may not have even been written in our time if not for Chang's effort.

Her death is unfortunate, if not tragic, because Chang was a leading voice among Chinese-American writers -- like a bridge between two very different histories and societies. She was obviously passionate about her work -- indeed, her books are informed by that passion -- and it is too bad that she could not avoid whatever demons brought an end to her life and her work.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The end of the NHL?

On Wednesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the inevitable: the 2004-05 season has been canceled.

It marks the first time a major North American sport has been shut down for an entire season due to labor strife.

The blame goes both ways, equally with the players and owners, but it comes down to one word -- greed. Owners continued to spend liberally to compete with leading clubs, and the players continued to drive up their values beyond what market forces would bear.

Bettman deserves some of the blame, as well. He presided over league administration while growth escalated, and openly encouraged the expansion of the league when some voices warned years ago that the NHL was getting too big for its britches.

The nightmare isn't over, either.

A number of veteran players are nearing (or past) age 40, and by the time the league finally resumes, many of those players may retire. The exodus of future hall of famers will change hockey forever.

The league still has to resolve the salary cap issue, but there are no signs of talks resuming anytime soon.

And when hockey comes back, there will be serious talk of league contraction. The NHL is now made up of 30 teams, including cities like Miami, Phoenix, Columbus, Charlotte, Nashville, Atlanta, and Anaheim. That's at least four teams too many. The league has almost doubled in size from 1978-79, when there were 17 teams just before the merger with the WHA. The NHL now exists in several cities that wouldn't have had a prayer of hosting a team in the 1970s. The league as it stands today is simply too big to support the kind of market the NHL draws. Supply has far outgrown demand.

Ever wonder why the league average salary was allowed to balloon to $1.8 million, allowing minor-league-quality muckers and grinders to live as millionaires? I've wondered for years.

The NHL will never be able to compete with the top three sports in North America, but salaries and expansion have grown beyond the point of reason. I expect -- no, I demand -- to see several teams fold from the NHL in the coming few years.

The tragedy of the NHL's demise is almost criminal, and Gary Bettman should be liable for aiding and abetting.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Microsoft will release new IE

Microsoft, in an apparent response to losing a few percentage points of its dominant market share among internet browsers, will release an updated version of its Internet Explorer browser sometime this year. It marks the first time a major new version of its ubiquitous browser will be released since the 6.0 version in October 2001.

According to an article in the Times of London, Internet Explorer once held a share of approximately 96 percent of the browser market -- a staggering figure -- and this was as little as two years ago. Today, with IE suffering from persistent security vulnerabilities and emerging competition from open-source browsers such as Firefox and Mozilla, Internet Explorer now holds about a 90 percent share, down about 3 percent in scarcely a year.

While a 90 percent market share is impressive for any company or business sector, the loss of just those six percentage points is what forced Microsoft's hand. The company is finally worried that its dominance in the browser market is eroding, and they want to stem the tide before it becomes a flood.

Open-source browsers are widely considered more secure, and offer features today's Internet Explorer cannot match, such as standards compliance, popup blocking, tabbed browsing, themes, cookie management, and spyware protections, to name just a few.

If IE had not faced this new competition, its version 6.0 browser would have remained unchanged and unchallenged -- a crappy browser without any reason to improve.

Just how significant will IE's improvements be, and will version 7.0 be enough to ease a growing discontent for the product? With its market share still dominant, Microsoft will be able to retain many of its user base, if simply because of reluctance to change.

But Microsoft now feels the challenge to produce a winner, because if version 7.0 isn't a significant enough leap from the previous IE, and can't at least approach the advances of Firefox and Mozilla, IE will see its market share continue to decline.

I, for one, savor the competition.

North Korea down to its last card

North Korea's poker game with the world community may be coming to an end.

But the question is, by doing so, are they about to fold their cards?

The country that continues to follow the script of the film "The Mouse that Roared" -- where a tiny, impoverished, fictional country declares war against the United States simply for the aid that will follow their quick defeat -- is becoming more desperate as its options become ever more limited.

By declaring itself a nuclear state, North Korea is playing the only card it has left in the deck.

It's betting that the United States is so intent on safeguarding itself and its allies from the nuclear threat that it can be drawn to the negotiating table one on one.

In this case, the best thing for the United States to do is tighten the screws of sanctions a little bit tighter, and not allow North Korea's nuclear boast to raise the bid.

North Korea knows that with the United States and China enjoying good relations, the hermitic state can no longer rely on the world's most populous country as a close ally.

So, what is North Korea after by making such a desperate declaration? In their attempts to goad the U.S. alone to the table, what does it have to offer, besides threats?

Perhaps the wildest possible scenario is that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is finally looking for a way to save his nation and to do so with dignity -- at least a domestic dignity. He wants to maintain whatever honor the communist system has with its people. He wants to save his own skin, and preserve the legacy of the crumbling communist state.

Perhaps Kim vainly sees himself as a future hero in a nuclear arms treaty with the United States, recalling Reagan and Gorbachev in 1986. As crazy as that sounds, it is appropriate for a foreign policy as schizophrenic as North Korea's.

If Kim wants to play the same role for his country that Mikhail Gorbachev did for the Soviet Union -- the nuclear threats and demands are a funny way of showing it.

Certainly their intention is not to warn the world community to just leave them alone. If that were the case, they wouldn't be beckoning for the United States.

This is nuclear blackmail, plain and simple. And they must not be allowed to get away with it.

Concession isn't what the North Koreans have in store, or else they could do so quietly. Instead, they want support for their desperate economy, and to do that, they wave a threatening finger at the world's richest, most powerful nation.

But salvation is possible. If North Korea is genuinely looking for a way out of their mess, it need only look south.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Welcome to Project 921

It's the start of something new. I'm successfully blogging on my space-related site, Lagrange 5, and now I'm resurrecting the first blog I attempted. I quickly gave up on this one (on April 16, 2004, at around 4:30 a.m.) when I tried to publish to my homepage on Prohosting and the FTP settings weren't playing nice.

The name for the blog, Project 921, comes from the code word for the Chinese manned space program. The numbers represent the date, September 21, 1992, when Chinese premier Jiang Zemin gave a speech urging a serious effort to pursue a national space program.

So why did I choose this name, Project 921? Well, I'm interested in spaceflight, and I still have a little boy's fascination for forbidden, secret things, and classified military projects are interesting. In war and peace, national secrets are kept, lost, and uncovered, and help decide the balance of power among adversaries.

China's space program is a national interest, a matter of military pride. Its manned space program was classified, but for whatever reason, it wasn't a very well kept secret. Nevertheless, the Chinese worked quietly on their manned space program, insisting on building its own infrastructure and launch hardware without significant outside partnership. They wanted to be able to say they did it on their own. And eventually, they would.

Their national pride still couldn't keep Chinese authorities, in an eleventh hour decision, from preventing live TV coverage of its first manned launch, for fear of a catastrophic, widely public failure. It was about control. They wanted to be able to present a heroic story, or maybe no story at all, just in case the news was grim.

Their first attempt was successful. In October 2003, China sent an astronaut into space, and became only the third country to launch a man into orbit.

Project 921 represented the goal of spaceflight for one country, and the name of this blog merely reflects my interest in a robust spacefaring society around the world.