Monday, December 14, 2009


I never much cared for John "Cougar" Mellencamp, but he did pen some memorable lyrics. The line i always recall is:
Oh yeah, life goes on
Long after the thrill of livin' is gone
I hated that line when i was young. I still don't think it's brilliant, but now I get it. I totally get it.

Such is life at 46. I don't have much to complain about, and i've been blessed with great kids, adequate health, etc. But by definition, the older you get the less you have to look forward to. There will be many things to celebrate in my future, but they will mostly be other people's successes.

As much as i love my kids, i've reached the age where i sometimes contemplate life after they've left home. That is the last real transition of your life for which you can anticipate something positive. I don't just mean grandchildren and more disposable income. I view it as a chance to fix some of my regrets, to live a little bit of the lives that i missed. To let go of things i acquired more out of convention than desire.

So fuck you John Mellencamp. Even if you were right.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Living In Interesting Times

It may be that in the future i will look back on this year with some mixture of nostalgia and bemusement; as something that was not much fun but a source of interesting stories to tell. Or, possibly, it will suck just as much in hindsight.

I can't complain too bitterly. Although the economy has been tough on our family, we have survived better than many. As the holiday season approaches, I dread two solid months of socially enforced cheerfulness, but on the plus side i find myself employed at a new start-up about which i am sincerely enthusiastic.

My mood would probably improve considerably if i could run, but since the end of April i have not run regularly. My hip, which was a painful irritation in the spring, is now nearly a disability. There are many days on which i can't even walk without pain. Running was so important to my mental well-being; it not only helped me stay in shape and sleep well, but it was really the only time i had completely to myself. To many people this would probably not matter, but for a deep introvert such as myself solitude is like air to breath.

Under different circumstances, i think it would be fairly easy to feel sorry for myself; and there are some days when it feels like i've accomplished nothing that i set out to when i was young. But the last couple of years have helped me realize that i am more of an optimist than i seem to be. I managed to stay confident after my first-ever layoff. I participated in dismantling a dead company and found some worthwhile experiences and interesting people along the way. I guess i discovered that i am more resilient than i expected, and i actually can deal with change and stress. But, seriously, i have no desire to further test that capacity.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


My older son Nathan has been in the town of Vianden in Luxembourg for a music festival for the last two weeks. He auditioned to go after his cello teacher was asked to teach there. Among other things, he got to play at Vianden castle, accompanying child prodigy Umi Garret in Beethoven's piano trio #1. Although Luxembourg borders a few different countries, he apparently hasn't done much sightseeing as he is occupied with practice several hours per day.

I must admit it has been strange having him away for almost two weeks, especially as school has started already and he would normally be starting classes and going to cross-country practice. We are hoping that this will be a memorable and significant experience for him, whether he chooses to be a musician or not. He has been to Europe a few times before, but this is his first trip of any distance that he has made by himself. We are looking forward to seeing him this weekend.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Nathan Plays Popper Tarantella

This is a video of my son playing David Popper's Tarantella, accompanied by his teacher

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tournament 2009

Sunday was the annual White Dragon tournament. I did reasonably well again this year, but i blew a chance at being in the top three when i lost my final sparring match. This was my first year competing as a black sash, so i felt fairly good that i didn't embarrass myself. My son had a tough year against better competition, but i think it was a good experience for him-- he's used to having things come easy.

Our school won again this year, and one of our kids won the kids' division again, which makes 7 years straight.

Sunday, May 03, 2009


Privacy is not something that i think about much, even though i am by most measures a private person. I have no public visibility beyond a Facebook page; and to be honest i don't do much of anything that would be interesting to the outside world. But privacy is something that i feel strongly about, something that i regard as a fundamental right. I've always thought that threats to privacy would come in the form of government monitoring, something that whether covert or obvious would be done against the will of the parties being monitored.

My recent experience with data marketers makes me realize that we are for the most part passive participants in our greatest privacy threats. Public records, sweepstakes entries, warranty cards, store loyalty programs-- all situations where we volunteer information without much thought about how it will be used. And it is used. It is collected and sold and used to target us for more crap. Other than being exceedingly annoying, there's usually nothing sinister about most of this data collection. The companies collecting it and using it rarely care about the behavior of the individuals beyond the marketing value of a person's particular demographic segment. The potential for abuse is significant, but it is limited by the connections that can be made between various public transactions.

On the other hand, i am less comfortable with the sort of behavioral targeting that happens on the Internet. First, web browsing is nearly ubiquitous and far more frequent than paper transactions. Second, i think relatively few people are familiar with the concept of third-party tracking cookies and how they are used to do behavioral tracking. Again the companies doing the tracking have little interest in individuals, but i think it would freak most people out to realize that there are organizations tracking a good portion of their browsing history and using it to categorize them for ad targeting. Third, i think the potential for abuse is far greater. The data collected is detailed and more personal, and can be more easily correlated to other sources.

There is also little regulation of this industry. The internet standard for specifying privacy practices (P3P) never saw significant adoption, and compliance is voluntary. Of course, opting out of this type of tracking is relatively easy, since you can block the cookies from being set in the first place, or you can use technological solutions like AdBlock that eliminates many of the ads you see on web pages. However, I'd wager that at least 3/4 of Internet users are unaware of behavioral targeting, and of those that are many are comfortable with ad targeting so long as the result is not intrusive (ie, no email spam or cell phone calls). I would have counted myself among the latter until recently, when i began to realize the strong incentives that marketers have to connect behavioral information to ever more detailed personal info (age, address, marital status, number of children, telephone numbers).

The concept of privacy is evolving i believe from "being left alone" to "being in control". Specifically, personal and behavioral information is something that you own, and sharing it should be at your discretion. Also, since you own it, sharing it should be something that you potentially profit from. There are marketing organizations and identity management companies that are working on such ideas, but i sense that making this idea a reality would require legislation that hasn't happened yet.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hard Corps Marathon

Yesterday i ran the inaugural Hard Corps Marathon, on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.  This was my first regular marathon since NYC in 2007, so i was pretty psyched to run.  Ultimately, i had a fairly mediocre result (3:18), but i still enjoyed the event.  Also, because of the relatively small field i had my best overall finish in a marathon (15th).

This marathon is run entirely on the Camp Pendleton grounds, primarily on a road that parallels the coast.  Pendleton is a scenic place and most of the race was in view of the Pacific Ocean, so i'd give high marks to the course.  The weather was decent, but it was a windy day, and the northward part of the run was nearly into a headwind.

I'v been dealing with bursitis in my left hip for a while now, but other than some annoying pain it didn't affect me too much.  The wind though slowed me down.  I had planned to try staying at about 7 minute/mile pace, but the wind in the first half was just too much.  I got through the first half in around 1:35.   After we turned around and headed southward, i was able to speed up a bit but i still couldn't manage much better than about 7:15 or so.  I felt pretty good up to 20 miles, and i figured i could run negative splits and finish in around 3:10.  However, the finishing miles are uphill and it started to take a toll.  Around mile 23 i started to feel nauseous, and i stopped to walk for a while because i thought i was going to throw up.  I didn't, but i had a hard time getting my pace back up.

The finishing hill surprised a lot of people apparently, since despite my slow pace i still passed about 5 people.  Unfortunately, i also got passed a few times.  I was a bit disappointed in my time, but my main goal was to qualify for Boston 2010, which i did comfortably (at my age, i only have to run sub 3:30).

Overall, it was a nice event.  Good course, good organization, good volunteers, and probably the best event shirt other than my 2006 Boston long-sleeve.  The only organizational glitch they had was that the parking was surrounded by the course, so it was hard to leave for those of us trying to get out before the final runners were off the course.

I plan to take a long break from running so that i can finally heal my hip.  I'm not sure *how* long, but i'll probably be on the order of months.  It's gonna suck.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


I used to be an environmentalist-- not quite the deep ecology sort-- but fairly committed. I did the standard recycling, i composted, i contributed money to GreenPeace and the EDF. We replaced our toilets with the low-flush sort, and we had shower heads with manual valves so we could switch the water off and on during a shower. My wife and i managed to share one car for the first twelve years of our marriage even after both kids were born.

But for the last decade or so, i've been more part of the problem than the solution. No change of heart, just a reallocation of my time toward kids and my strange hobbies. Changing houses also had a major effect. My current house is twice the size of the previous, and the water i expend on my landscape has increased several-fold i'd guess. A second car became a necessity when jobs moved to different parts of town and kids moved to separate schools.

I've been thinking more about environmentalism recently because of my new job. Our company automates the process of stopping postal junk mail. I don't know what the success rate of direct mail marketing is, but i know that 90% of the junk that i get doesn't even get a glance before it goes into the recycling bin. The Direct Marketing Association tries to minimize the problem by pointing out that recycling has reduced the amount of junk mail waste so that it accounts for only 2.4% of landfill material. Granted, that means that eliminating junk mail leaves us with 97.6% of a whole lot of crap, but that 2.4% is a substantial, identifiable chunk that really has no reason to exist.

Of course, a lot of people who make a living from direct marketing would disagree with me. My personal feelings about marketers and list compilers aside, it is a large industry that employs many. The point being that i've begun to realize that the key to environmental problems is, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, the economy (stupid). By which i mean the squishy, macroeconomic, USA-today pie-chart sort of economy that involves the subjective trade-offs between clean air and sending one's kids to college. During my lifetime, environmentalism has become a sort of ideological dividing line, where the true believers on both side care more about their influence than reality. But i think most regular folk can pretty much look and see the effect of humanity on the nearby surroundings without a lot of expert opinion. The problem is that most people value their livelihood somewhere just below their family and well above pretty much anything that's not causing immediate harm to their family or their livelihood.

My personal approach to being environmentally aware has become more pragmatic. I think the key concept for me is that you can't ever improve on not creating something in the first place. Product A might be more "green" than product B, but nothing at all will always beat both of them. Repairing will generally beat replacing. All things being equal, i will pay a premium for an item that requires fewer resources to produce, on the theory that we all ultimately pay less for landfill space, transportation, and environmental remediation. The environmentalist/entrepreneur Paul Hawken calls this "source reduction". To me it seems both economically sound, and logically unassailable.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Demeanors, Tonight, 6pm at Metaphor Cafe

The Demeanors are playing a show at Metaphor Cafe in Escondido tonight almost a year after they made their debut at the same place (March 29).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Marathon Plans

My plans to run the LA marathon were changed for me when they decided to move it from February to May.  Fortunately, another race came along-- the Hard Corps Marathon at Camp Pendleton.  I'm psyched to be running the inaugural event, and i'm happy that it's close to home.

Initially, i had hoped to make this another attempt at a sub 3-hr marathon, but my hip has been bothering me so much that i've cut back my training a bit.  Rather than doing the 70 mile/week program that i originally started, i'm following Hal Higdon's Advanced II program, which is 6 days a week but lower mileage.  I'm still training for 6:45/mile pace, but realistically i don't think i can manage that for a full 26 miles.  At this point, i'm hoping to just qualify for Boston in 2010. Since i'm in a new age group, i only have to run 3:30 or better.

If i can magically make my hip better, i hope to run a fall marathon also, but i haven't picked a race.  Ideally, that would be a more serious attempt at sub-3. 

Monday, January 19, 2009


I have a step-uncle who likes to tell a story about something i did when i was very young. I was shooting a basketball behind my house at around three years old and i was trying to get my mom's attention. I kept saying "Vatch me mom! Vatch me" (he always tells the story with the Germanic "W"-- i'm not sure why i talked liked Greta Garbo when i was three). Anyway, at some point i finally got frustrated and yelled "Dammit mom! Vatch me".

My uncle tells this story for a laugh, but it also shows that the desire for attention develops early and is a real human need. Maybe not on a par with food and shelter, but still a need. Of course humans desire praise and affirmation, but the need for attention has taken on new dimensions in the era of social networks. In fact, i'm thinking of pitching "Watch me, dammit" as a new slogan for YouTube.

This idea, that attention is as powerful a motivating force as money, has been building for a while. The open source software movement at first, and Wikipedia recently prove the lengths that people will go to for some recognition. The blogosphere is an attention market, and Facebook and its kin are sort of attention five-and-dimes. These places, where essentially anyone can vie for the eyes and ears of a vast potential audience, are the basis of the attention economy.

The rise of the attention economy is the story of my generation (we Last Analogs). When i was kid there were three TV channels and broadcast radio. Information and entertainment was still fairly hard to distribute and you had to go to libraries to get any sort of expert information. The basic idea of the attention economy (as i understand it) is that information is now so abundant and easily distributed that attention is the scarce good. I guess this also implies that control of one's attention serves in the same capacity as fiscal discipline. So, i think, the winners in the attention economy are those who can draw attention to what they are producing, and those who can allocate their attention wisely enough to profit from it.

The trouble is, i'm not entirely sure how this benefits those of us who are interested primarily in good old-fashioned material goods. It'd be cool if a million people started reading this blog and i could live on the profits from Google Adsense, but given my personality i figure to suck at the producer side of the attention economy (plus, it's sheer fantasy even for the motivated). On the consumer side, i don't yet see how to parlay the power to focus into real gains. Producers can map a greater share of attention directly to ad revenue or something like that, but i don't see the parallels yet on the consumer side beyond the clear similarity between "spending" attention and spending money. In attention terms, what is "saving" (extra time?), what is "investing"? (education?). How do i buy low and sell high?

As a software geek, i think the key thing i've learned from studying the attention economy is that it's pointless to build things that simplify information distribution (Twitter notwithstanding). Even search systems and recommendation systems are probably too coarse grained at this point. We almost need an agent between our real world and the virtual world that filters everything based on an estimate of real value taking into account not only relevance and preference, but our schedules, goals, and plans.

Friday, January 09, 2009


I was gonna entitle this post "Laid On", but that sounds oddly obscene. Anyway, today i finished my first week at a new gig, another Internet start-up called ProQuo. A good friend and former Yahoo! colleague is running the development side there, and so it was an easy transition. I'm doing the same variety of stuff i've been doing for the last few years, though there's no music involved and the scale is smaller. ProQuo's main business is automating the process of stopping junk mail and other types of direct marketing. It was a good first week. I like the people, the technology is nice, and i get to do Python! (geek).

The only big change is that i have a commute for the first time in about 5 years. It's not too bad-- the 56 makes it much better than my former commute into Sorrento Valley. Also, i have a MacBook Pro as my desk machine, which is the first time i've used a Mac regularly since my days at the Supercomputer Center. I spend probably half my time in the bash shell typing commands at Linux boxes, so i'm not taking full advantage of the capabilities.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Winter Rose

Originally uploaded by mikemull
I have six rose bushes in front of my house. They are all trimmed back for the winter, but with the recent cycle of rain and sun, they are reviving. In the last couple of days, a single white rose bloomed on one of the bushes.

White roses have a variety of symbolic associations, but i think this single rose in the midst of the thorns is an interesting omen for the beginning of the year.