27 May 2002 raph   » (Master)

Baseball

A Quaker friend of ours, Ricki Anne Jones, invited us (Heather, the kids, and I) to today's A's game. She gets a luxury box every year because she's such a loyal fan, and she invites a bunch of her friends. It was fun. Alan and Max had another kid to play with, and they avoided melting down, so this was the first time they'd lasted through the entire game.

W3C

Dan Brickley of the W3C showed up on #p2p-hackers tonight. We talked about AaronSw's manifesto, among other things. It was a fairly pleasant conversation, but I still feel that the W3C is pretty badly broken. Dan encouraged me to write up some my Athshe stuff (I was trying to talk about it online). As a result, my next Athshe blog will be "why Athshe will not be based on XML."

New computer

I ordered my new dual-Athlon from KC Computers. I'll keep a running log, especially in case other people want to follow the same recipe.

The final price was about $1600. Picking the absolute bottom price from Pricewatch, the parts add up to around $1000, not including assembly and shipping. I consider it money well spent, because I figure I have a considerably lower risk of something going wrong and eating up lots of my time.

Even so, I've been quite satisfied every time I've bought something off Pricewatch, even when the prices seem too good to be true. Good reputation information about the sellers (not unlike what ebay does) would seem to decrease the risk even more.

There are lots of things that can go wrong. The seller could turn out to be shady. The parts could turn out to be defective, possibly seconds or returned merchandise. The parts could be completely legitimate, but of low quality (like the infamous IBM Deskstar 75GXP drives). They could be individually ok, but subtly incompatible with each other, apparently a very serious problem with early Athlon platforms. They could be just fine, but not well supported by the operating system. This last problem has a wide range of variability, as it varies depending on the OS flavor. Something like recompiling the kernel to update a driver may be perfectly reasonable for a sophisticated user, but out of reach for others.

In all these cases, good metadata could help. If I knew I was getting parts with a good chance of working well in the system, I'd have no problem with going through Pricewatch-style vendors, and wielding the screwdriver myself.

Such a metadata system could be quite high-tech. For one, it could compute total cost including aggregating of shipping, and sales tax. It could take shipping delay into account, as well. Optimizing this sounds like a dramatically scaled-down version of the ITA fare calculation used on Orbitz. It's appealing because it maps to minimizing labor and energy costs in the real world, not just getting the best outcome of a game.

You could also do stuff like autogenerating recipes (select this BIOS option, set hdparm to that, etc), and incorporating feedback from others with similar configurations. Even more extreme would be to customize a distribution. Custom kernels, in particular, seem like a win.

A huge part of the value of a brand (such as IBM or Dell) is the QA work they do, essentially creating metadata about reliability and compatibility as part of building and delivering systems. Even so, the assurance is far from absolute. For example, IBM Thinkpad 600's have a defective battery design, causing them to die too early. Metadata from TP600 owners may be more useful input to a buying decision than "IBM is a good brand".

Another reason to believe that a high-tech metadata is useful is the huge variability in the needs of users who run free software. One size most definitely does not fit all. This, I think, is one reason why companies such as VA Research have had such a difficult time being competitive.

There was a lot of talk about "mass customization" being part of the new economy, but not much follow-through. Most dot-com retailers were little more than mail order outfits that happened to publish their catalog through the Web rather than on paper (in fact, many have since added paper catalogs to their mix).

I'm certainly not going to put this kind of metadata system together myself, but I do think it would make an interesting project for someone. Clearly, this type of service would be worth real money. I'm not alone in believing that metadata is important. Amazon has very high quality metadata about books, and that's why their site is so valuable.

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