Study: Red Light Cameras Increase Crashes

Here’s some interesting news I kind of saw coming. Where I live, some traffic lights are equipped with Red Light Cameras. These cameras automatically photograph the license plate of drivers who run the red light. This seems like a great idea, but perhaps not.

These Red Light Camera equipped intersections have signs warning drivers of the camera’s presence. The general idea is this: Drivers are more careful to avoid running the red light. And, if they do…. a camera snaps their license plate and the image is sent to a server. This license plate’s text (letters and numbers) is extracted from the image using some combination of human reading, and automated optical recognition (a computer extracts characters using optical algorithms). Then… the owner of the vehicle receives a Traffic Ticket in the mail for their red light offense. Cha-ching!

Seems like a good idea because red lights are less often run, right? And, red light accidents also occur less often, right?

A recent study by the University Of South Florida College Of Public Health shows that red light cameras can increase the number of red light accidents, and their severity. Why? Because drivers are more likely to slam on their breaks to avoid running a yellow light. I also imagine in some cases drivers speed way up, to avoid running the red light.

These cameras are an interesting phenomenon: Automatic red light ticketing can cause drivers to artificially increase the importance of not being in the intersection when the light turns red. I say “artificially”, because it can cause people to shut off a real-life priority (avoid accident) and ignore a real-life situation (other driver in their vicinity)…. to avoid the automatic ticket.

I consider cell phone related accidents similar. Drivers talking on cell phones may more likely ignore their surroundings because they’ve artificially increased the importance of something else: their cell phone. This is why some areas have started banning cell phone usage while driving.

Posted in Technology, Transportation | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Vista Usability (Drivers) II

A class action lawsuit is currently ongoing against Microsoft regarding Vista. This lawsuit addresses user experiences with Vista, and how Microsoft misled consumers with cleaver/dishonest marketing.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Bundles of internal Microsoft email have been released to the public, and going by their content: Microsoft executives were aware of Vista problems, dismayed by marketing spin, and upset with: compatibility, drivers, performance, and the final product.

I’ve read through some of this email, and I saw surprisingly negative statements by Microsoft leaders on their Vista experiences. They were confused why Vista didn’t work better (as was/am I), and vocally critical of it. It makes me wonder how these prominent leaders ended up with the product they did. It makes me wonder: Is anyone driving the bus?

A better summary then I could write: The New York Times: They Criticized Vista. And They Should Know

If you want to read the emails, check ’em out:

Part 1 of my Vista Usability (Drivers) post

Posted in Microsoft, Software Development, Technology | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Microsoft Fined $1.35 billion

Microsoft is no stranger to the receiving end of anti-competitive allegations. These may play out into incentives, deal brokering, partnerships, or even more aggressive behavior. Well, not this time.

In 2004 the European Union recognized Microsoft’s practices as anti-competitive and went one step further with an Anti-trust ruling. This 2004 ruling was very serious: 497 million euro fine ($748 million) plus stringent requirements to play fairly with competitors.

As of last Wednesday, the EU recognized Microsoft’s non-compliance with playing fair.  So, the EU decided to take things to the next level: 899 million euro fine ($1.35 billion) plus really play fair. Needless to say this record fine is truly massive.

Microsoft is a very large, successful company.  To remain “competitive”, MSFT seems to have a somewhat ongoing re-org within the company.  From my experience: constant re-orgs, role re-definitions, and business plan changes are ways to lose track of what you just did, what you’re doing, and what’s next.

I wonder if turmoil in upper management (especially within the Live Division), makes it harder to properly follow legal stipulations, while riding that razor-sharp-edge of competing.  I am curious how they will react with the ball again in their court.

Posted in Microsoft, Software Development | 1 Comment

Microsoft Live

When you consider how large and successful Microsoft has become, I’m somewhat dazzled how much trouble they’ve had getting into the Web 2.0 scene. I’m sure Microsoft doesn’t enjoy playing second fiddle to Google, Yahoo, and other Johnny-Come-Latelys. I suspect leadership is working to address online-presence deficit and imagine internal emails flying around: future of our company is at stake!  What I find really interesting is how Microsoft reacts to this, and their attempts at growing online presence.

Side note: In 1995 Microsoft started focusing on the Internet, with Bill Gates’ famous May 26, 1995 Internet Tidal Wave memo, directing executive staff to attack cyberspace and for “…every product plan to try and go overboard on Internet features.”  In this memo he also said: “Now I assign the Internet the highest level of importance”.

The past decade, Microsoft has struggled to leverage desktop market share into the online world, and they’ve had mixed results. Microsoft’s large marketing and distribution arms aren’t fully applicable to online. That critical mass in desktop-software aspects, isn’t easily transferable verbatim into Web 2.0.

One crux of the issue: Microsoft was built on a software sell/license mentality: sell software units (100 here, 1000 there), divide into different segments (Office, Windows, etc), and business segments complete for market share. The result: more money allocated to the more successful segments for Going on twenty years, Microsoft has become a clear expert in developing desktop (non-online) software.

But its a deliberate decision: Is my company a services-company, or software-company? A software-company may generate revenue through selling software units… after a while, you don’t generate revenue from  existing product until you ship a new version (Windows 2000, XP, Vista, etc). This drives: planning, marketing, distribution (Best Buy shelf space), development (C++, VB, .NET, etc), leadership, etc. This drives your company top-to-bottom, from your Steve Ballmer to your Joe Coder.

A software-company can profit by charging for services, but to me, that seems different from building software-as-service company, such as Google. If a company wants to be service-based, then the core revenue model becomes: how much service can I sell, lease, or rent on a monthly basis (which is drastically different from: how many copies of this version of my program can I sell). The longer your software-company has been around… the more software-company infrastructure you have. It can be deadweight when trying to swim in the cool, new, and profitable online-services swimming pool.

I believe before Microsoft can establish a significant online presence, culture and business-model changes may be needed. Such as a Microsoft subsidiary operating completely independently from Microsoft (Skunk Works) and a ground-up online service-company. Otherwise mitosis may be the next best option: divide Microsoft into two separate companies: software-company Microsoft and services-company iMicrosoft. (I think mitosis scenario is about as likely as everyone in the U.S. winning the lottery).

Instead of Skunk Works, or mitosis, Microsoft has chosen: Microsoft Live division. This division is dedicated to the online world, but ends up competing with all Microsoft software-centric divisions. And, from the Microsoft news I’ve read, there’s been an amount of executive turnover in this division. I wonder, if one promising executive after another was wrung-out trying to run a service-company, within a software-company.

On several occasions, Microsoft ventured to buy online market share. Just recently, MSFT submitted a $44.6 billion dollar bid to buy Yahoo. While the results are unknown, I could see Yahoo wanting a lot more money. And, if the sale did go through, I’d hope that MSFT keeps the two companies 99% separate (i.e. Skunk Works) – they could share some branding and technology transfer, but I think pushing Yahoo and Microsoft into one company could result in operation square-peg-in-round-hole.

Since Buying an online presence hasn’t yet yielded Microsoft a major piece of the internet pie. Building is the next best thing. Case in point: Microsoft Office Live, an effort to build a firm foothold in the online world. Simply put, this is an online version of Microsoft Office.

I haven’t had time/incentive to check out Microsoft Office Live. If you have, please drop me a comment and tell me what you think. Personally, I like using the desktop version of Office. I don’t need, nor want, to do that work online – In fact, I don’t see clear benefits to online-izing Microsoft Word. There are plenty of sites doing truly new and innovative things in the online world. Maybe one day Word Processing may go predominantly online. Until then, I’d rather use my traditional desktop version of Microsoft Word (I like the idea of Abiword and Open Office, but I never made the transition)

Since this post is a bit dry (boring), here’s a Microsoft advertisement I just received for Microsoft Office Live. This ad really makes me wonder if Microsoft Office Live is desperately struggling to get people to use Office Live. Maybe I got this impression when the ad called me “chicken” for not trying it. Hey, are we in third grade? Well I double-dog-dare you to make Vista faster and more reliable. OK, I TRIPLE-DOG-DARE YOU!

You calling me Chicken?

Posted in Google, Microsoft, Software Development, Technology | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Vista 4GB

I recently received a comment from a reader who thought Vista didn’t support 4GB of RAM. I was a bit dismayed at first because 32-bit flavors of Window support 4GB, and they always have (nitpickers: I’m mean 32-bit NT, not 9X). I had taken it for granted that people just know this. I google’d around a bit to try and better understand this misconception. After a few minutes I realized there sure is some confusion over how much RAM 32bit Vista actually supports. I hope I can clear up some misconceptions, shed a bit of light, and not bore you too terribly along the way.

Techno-babble disclaimer! A 32-bit number can contain a value between 0 and 4,294,967,295 (this number is calculated as: 2^32 -1). Because that’s a very large and unwieldy number, we divide it by 1024 which gives us 4,194,304 thousand. Dividing again by 1024 gives us 4,096 million. Dividing once more by 1024 gives us 4 billion. What I am trying to get at is this: a 32-bit number can be used to count up to 4 billion, which is needed to read/write 4 billion distinct memory cells (aka bytes).

Because 32-bit Windows addresses memory through a 32-bit memory addressing scheme, in theory you can address 4GB of RAM in 32-bit Windows. I say in theory, because there are other factors that move this number up or down. Useless techno-trivia: A 64-bit memory addressing scheme can theoretically access 64-bit of memory address space: which is 2^64 – 1, this comes out to: 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 or roughly 4 billion GB.

In 32-bit Windows, addressable memory is divided into two different areas (or modes): Kernel and User. By default, Kernel-mode gets half of the maximum addressable memory: 2GB, and User-mode gets the other half: 2GB. Windows dedicates Kernal-mode memory to drivers and internal Windows data. And, Windows applications get access to 2GB of User-mode memory. (nitpickers: simplified).

When it comes to physical hardware, things get more muddy. It’s fairly common for motherboard (aka mainboard) makers to set hardware limitations on how much RAM they actually support. Your computer’s mainboard may limit accessible RAM to: 3GB, 2.5GB 2GB, etc. On server-class machines you can find motherboards that limit accessible RAM to more: 8GB, 16GB, etc. Since a 32-bit number can only address 4GB of RAM, there are various schemes enabling 32-bit Windows to access more than 4GB of RAM. Microsoft, Intel and various server motherboard manufacturers have extended memory addressing schemes.

Intel has PAE, Microsoft has AWE These extended memory access schemes in general work by moving around a virtual window through your physical address space. For example: I can read the memory between addresses 10GB and 14GB by setting my memory window to start at 10GB. Since we’re moving a memory read/write window around, we pay a slight performance fee.

So, 32-bit Windows can theoretically take advantage of 4GB of RAM and 32-bit Vista is no different. What is different is how Vista uses the RAM and reports what’s available. In Vista, if you have 4GB of RAM and 512MB graphics card, then your available RAM can show 3.5 GB or less. You are still using all 4GB of RAM, but Vista is really trying to be honest by saying you only have 3.5 available. If you have other drivers that grab RAM, that will decrease the amount of available RAM even more. I’ve read some peoples complaints where they only see 3 GB available and 4GB is installed. It depends on your motherboard, installed hardware, drivers, and etc.

If you want more info, check out Microsoft’s: Memory Limits for Windows Releases.

Posted in Microsoft, Software Development, Technology | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Windows 7

Depending on what you’ve read or experienced: Windows Vista is really great, really bad, or somewhere in between. For the most part, I’m not too excited about Vista. I think there are a bunch of technological improvements, and lots of potential, but overall I’m just not terribly impressed with the completed product. To say the least, I think some major polish and serious optimization are needed. I’ve heard some other people feel the same way.

This brings us to Windows 7, the next version of Windows. There’s a lot of Windows 7 speculation out in the wild. But, not much official information, or even anything concrete. Microsoft really doesn’t like to release official feature lists, or product information until they’re sure they can deliver. That’s really no different than most software companies. What is different, is Windows is not just any software, and Microsoft is not just any software company. So, Microsoft has extra incentive to keep tight-lipped until they’re ready to present something. Microsoft doesn’t like bad press about features they cut, and I don’t blame them.

Hopefully, some Microsoft insider will drop an opinion here and there (sort of like MiniMicrosoft). Hey, perhaps one has. I’ve recently come across an interesting blog on Windows 7. By outward appearances, this appears to be written by an insider. I hope that over the coming months, this blog continues to increase in relevance. I do like information, and I’m quietly cheering for a much improved version of Windows: Shipping Seven (Random thoughts from somebody working on the next Windows OS)

Posted in Microsoft, Technology | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Did Bill Gates Just Say Windows Sucks?

It appears that Bill Gates thinks Windows Vista could have used noticeable improvement before shipping. As I’ve voiced earlier, I agree with Bill. I think it’s good when the people in charge are actually aware of what they are shipping. I also think its good when executives are honest about significant issues with their products – otherwise they appear somewhat dishonest and aloof. I’m not saying executives should continually speak negatively of their products, but I do think they should be honest.

What follows is the short clip from Gizmodo’s recent billg interview. Please recognize this clip is a small excerpt of their whole interview, so Bill’s thoughts may be slightly incomplete (i.e. possibly a bit out of context).

Gizmodo’s Interview excerpt Holy Crap: Did Bill Gates Just Say Windows Sucks?

Posted in Microsoft, Technology | Tagged | 1 Comment