Friday, September 17, 2010

Web Browsers

It has been exactly one year and one day since my last post here. I just read through my previous post and found that I was remarkably prescient concerning the Rangers 2010 success:

Barring a miraculous comeback, this Rangers team appears to be headed to a 9th consecutive season without a playoff appearance. It appears, however, that they have very good chance to stop that streak before it hits 10.

This isn't my first rodeo in the sports prediction business either. I also predicted that the 2001 Mavericks would make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years and that the 2007 Mavericks would have the best record in the NBA. I have witnesses.

Moving on -- I want to get my dork on and discuss web browsers. With Firefox 4 and Internet Explorer 9 in beta, I am actually excited about the evolution of web browsers going forward for the first time in a very long while. We have come a remarkably long way from the dark days where 90% of the world used Internet Explorer, despite its substantial technical inferiority to just about every other browser on the market.

I have decided to put together a small history of the web browser because I believe the current era of browsers is unique in the short history of the world wide web. Without further adieu, here we go, in awesome, awkward present tense bullet points:

The Netscape Era -- 1994-1998
- Netscape Navigator takes out NCSA Mosaic with innovations like javascript and frames. In 1996, Netscape reaches a dominant market share of nearly 80% at which point innovation stagnates.

The Dark Internet Explorer Era -- 1999-2004
- Microsoft, sensing a threat from Netscape, pours a bunch of money into the development of Internet Explorer. They come up with a few new ideas, but generally just copy Netscape and gain market share by bundling IE with Windows.
- IE eventually grabs 90%+ market share and Microsoft, resting on its laurels, disbands the Internet Explorer development team, effectively putting a halt to all browser innovation for years
- Netscape's browser undergoes a complete rewrite and its new codebase is released as open source. The Mozilla Foundation is formed to manage the open source project. Mozilla begins releasing a new product called "Mozilla Application Suite" which was modeled after Netscape's old Communicator all-in-one browser/email/composer product. Netscape releases versions 6 and 7 based on the Mozilla suite, with version 6 famously based on a pre-release quality version of Mozilla (version 0.6). The public, expecting one last hurrah from Netscape, is disappointed with the pre-release quality of Netscape 6. Netscape 7 is then released based on Mozilla's 1.0 version, but the public takes little notice. Mozilla, meanwhile, continues developing its rendering engine under the radar and makes regular releases of the Mozilla Suite, none of which garner much attention -- that is, until Mozilla changes its tack by creating a new, light-weight browser called Firefox.

The Firefox Era -- 2005-2008
- Firefox 1.0 is released on November 9, 2004 and, due to the fact that IE innovation is virtually non-existent, quickly and easily establishes itself as a vastly superior product. Tech savvy people take notice and Firefox eventually gains 20-25% market share. Despite Mozilla's efforts, IE continues to dominate, albeit to a lesser degree, by virtue of Microsoft's operating system monopoly, but is so clearly inferior that Microsoft engineers even admit as much publicly.
- After reaching ~25% market share, Mozilla's innovation machine seems to run out of steam. Microsoft releases versions 7 and 8 of Internet Explorer, but these are so feeble (especially version 7) that Firefox's superiority isn't really threatened despite Mozilla's relative stagnation.
- Apple launches Safari, but doesn't make much of a splash in terms of market share or innovation. (This is not to say that Safari was bad -- it just wasn't terribly original.) Actually, Safari was released in 2003, but the Windows version didn't launch until 2007. To this day, Safari's primary innovation was acceptable Mac OS X performance (which IE and Firefox did not provide at the time). The Windows version of Safari has never brought much of anything to the table, except for its WebKit rendering engine which became the foundation for Google Chrome.

The Chrome Era -- 2009 - ?
- Google releases Chrome on December 11, 2008, bringing major innovations with their new UI design and super-fast javascript engine. While Chrome's market share doesn't exactly explode, Google is extremely aggressive in Chrome's development. Meanwhile, unlike previous times in history, the existing browsers don't appear to be willing to let Chrome win without a fight. Mozilla and Microsoft are both beta testing new major releases of Firefox and Internet Explorer, each of which takes several of Chrome's ideas and attempts to improve on them. Apple released Safari 5 in June and is probably secretly preparing another release to keep pace.

This is really the first time that there has been more than 1 major company (i.e. not counting Opera) doing the innovating. In the Netscape era, only Netscape innovated. In the Internet Explorer era, nobody innovated. In the Firefox era, only Mozilla innovated. Now, however, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla are all innovating which is pretty exciting. Competition is definitely the driving force behind innovation. If you think about it, it's really amazing that it's taken over 15 years for us to have a healthy, competitive web browser market.

Finally, I would be remiss to discuss the history of the web browser without mentioning Opera. Opera has been a major innovating force in the background during all of the abovementioned eras. Version 1.0 of Opera was released in 1994 around the same time Netscape was founded. Many of the new features credited to mainstream browsers were actually lifted from Opera -- most notably tabbed browsing which most people probably assume was Mozilla's idea. There have been several times since 1994 when Opera arguably had the best browser, but it never really gained much adoption, in large part because they tried to charge for it while IE was free. Opera faces a pretty tall task going forward. In 2001, it was easy to create the best web browser, but now Opera has to compete with the three biggest names in tech (Google, Microsoft, and Apple) all of whom are putting major resources into their respective browsers, plus Mozilla which continues to be the standard-bearer of the free software/open source movement. Despite this onslaught, the latest version of Opera is fairly competitive with the mainstream browsers. It will be interesting to see if they can keep up.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

2009 Rangers (nearly) postmortem

The recent dive by the Rangers likely ends their playoff hopes after a season that has been a breath of fresh air for beleaguered Ranger fans. The plan to develop from within that management committed to a few years ago has really started to pay dividends. The future looks bright.

After all I've seen this year, I'm not going to totally count them out, but, given that young pitchers frequently don't have the stamina to pitch late into September, the prospects are looking pretty grim. So, with that said, here is my review of some of the important players on the team going forward.

Starting Pitchers

Kevin Millwood - What started as a great season for Millwood is flaming out in spectacular fashion. Sabermetricians from all corners predicted a "regression to the mean" for Millwood after the All Star break. His knack for leaving runners on base and ultra-low BABIP (batting average on balls in play) were unsustainable given his career norms. But, instead of a regression, we've gotten an all-out meltdown which, honestly, came as a surprise to me. The guy looks like he ought to be a workhorse, but clearly he's pretty fragile. The team may consider shutting him down, but if they do, they will inspire conspiracy theorists to say that MLB is forcing the Rangers' hand to avoid his $12 million guaranteed option if he reaches 180 IP. Should be interesting, anyway.

Scott Feldman - You think Feldman has a shot at making the rotation out of Spring Training next year? After two years starting the season in the bullpen, Feldman has really established himself as a solid starter. A couple months ago, Bob Sturm pointed out that Feldman's extremely low strikeout rates probably indicated that he will come crashing down to earth at some point, but since that time, he has boosted his strikeouts, including an amazing 11-strikeout performance against Tampa Bay in August. Perhaps Sturm overlooked the fact that Feldman is still evolving as a pitcher. His new cut fastball continues to be the best in baseball (click on the wCT column header twice to sort), but isn't a strikeout pitch (though it does break a ridiculous number of bats). In his latest good stretch, Feldman has started to mix in his other secondary pitches (curveball and changeup) and the strikeouts have risen.

Tommy Hunter - A workhorse in the making, Hunter has been very, very good since being called up. I forsee a 200-inning machine for many years to come. Earlier this year, I heard people comparing Hunter to Rick Helling. That would certainly be nice, but Hunter's numbers this year have been better than anything Helling ever did -- and that's pretty exciting.

Derek Holland - Holland showed a few flashes of brilliance before appearing to run out of steam. He has gotten his feet wet and I expect really big things in the coming years.

Neftali Feliz - Feliz rose through the minors as a starter, so you know the Rangers will eventually try him in the rotation. Whether that happens next year, or the year after, I can't say, but it will happen. At any rate, if he ends up as a super-reliever or a starter, I will make every effort to be watching every time he's on the mound. What a talent!

Brandon McCarthy, Matt Harrison, Dustin Nippert, Eric Hurley - Depth for the rotation. All of those guys have a chance to become quality MLB starters and they will provide a nice insurance policy for the Rangers next year.

Martin Perez - The 18-year-old super-prospect has finished his season in AA Frisco. He was inconsistent after his promotion to AA, but that is to be expected given that he's the youngest player in that league by fully two years. There is an outside chance that Perez could make an appearance in Arlington next year, but we probably won't see him until 2011. His bona fides are as good or better than Feliz and Holland.


Frank Francisco - Injuries slowed what has otherwise been a very good season. If Frankie can stay healthy for an entire season, he could be one the best closers in baseball. (He could help his cause by eating fewer pies in the offseason)

C.J. Wilson - Except for a handful of bad outings, Wilson has been very good this year. He is most useful in a set-up role because he can go multiple innings. (Wilson used to be a starter) If Francisco stays healthy, Wilson can man the 8th and sometimes the 7th as well.

Darren O'Day - Best waiver signing ever.

The rest - Grilli, Guardado, Mathis, Strop, and a few of the starters from above round up the bullpen and they've been pretty good as well. Juaquin Benoit could be in the mix next year, coming off rotator cuff surgery. Guardado will probably retire, so they'll need to track down another lefty from somewhere.


2 - Catcher - Salty held this position for most of the year until he was sidelined with thoracic outlet syndrome (a rare condition unless you play for the Rangers). Salty's defense was adequate (in other words, much improved) and would have been fine if he could hit anything. His line of .233/.290/.371 (BA/OBP/Slugging) is abysmal, especially for a player whose strength was supposedly hitting. After Salty went down, we got a pretty good dose of Taylor Teagarden. Teagarden's defense was inconsistent which is disappointing, given his scouting reports. (He was compared to Pudge defensively in the minors.) Meanwhile, though he probably deserved more at bats to get a rhythm going, his offensive numbers (.212/.273/.376) were actually worse than Salty. So, a position that was supposed to be a strength for the Rangers has turned out to be a major weakness and that leaves the Rangers with some decisions for next year.

The Greatest Catcher of All Time
Happily, the Greatest Catcher of All Time is also on the roster and looks to be a viable option for next season. I say we start Pudge next season and let Salty try to straighten himself out in AAA. It worked for Chris Davis this year, maybe the AAA hitting coach can work his magic on Salty too.

3 - First Base - It looks like Davis has mostly solved his issues from beginning of the season. If he has, he could hold down the fort at first base for a very long time -- especially given his outstanding defense. However, hovering just below in AAA, the Ranger's top hitting prospect Justin Smoak (also a first baseman) figures to be ready for the majors next year. Davis is probably the better defender, but Smoak is no slouch. I expect those two to alternate between 1B and DH much of next year.

DH/1B Hank Blalock's once promising career as a Ranger will almost certainly come to an end in a few weeks.

4 - Second Base - Kinsler had a bit of a down year offensively, though it does seem a little ridiculous to complain when your second baseman has a 30/30 season. Kinsler's defense has been outstanding and he's really cut down on his errors. It helps to have a superior shortstop as a double play partner.

5 - Third Base - Michael Young bounced back from a down year (playing with two broken fingers) with a tour de force season offensively (.322/.375/.523). He was consistently the Rangers best hitter all year long and, with two more homers, he will match his career high. For a player that appeared to be in a decline, it was a pleasant surprise. Defensively, Young is the same as always. He has limited range, but is very sure-handed when he gets to the ball. Overall, the fielding metrics rate Young as a well below average third baseman, but I expect him to improve with more experience at the position. Besides, we aren't in great need for a standout fielding third baseman because we have...

6 - Shortstop - Elvis Andrus has been a revelation at shortstop. Only Jack Wilson has a better UZR rating (a stat that measures fielding -- click on the UZR heading twice to sort) than Andrus. When Andrus cuts down on his errors (and he will with experience) he ought to be the best fielding shortstop in baseball or close to it for years to come. Andrus is the single biggest reason that the team's pitching has improved so much from past seasons. His hitting (.275/.338/.391) has outpaced most of the predictions I heard before the season and he is very much in contention for the AL Rookie of the Year. At 21 years old, his hitting will only improve. As I've heard some commentators say, if Andrus had just played this season in New York, everyone would be calling him the next Derek Jeter. I think we may have just witnessed the beginning of a hall of fame-caliber career.

Utility Infielder - The old man, Omar Vizquel has performed admirably this season. show his defense at 3B and SS to be excellent, and about MLB average at 2B. The numbers are very small samples, but I think they reflect a very strong performance in the field from the future Hall of Famer. Meanwhile, at the plate Vizquel rebounded from a very poor season last year and posted a respectable .273/.324/.354 (right in line with his career average, amazingly). All of that, and he doubles as a personal coach for Elvis Andrus; Vizquel has more than carried his weight this season. If he wants to play next year, I think the Rangers will welcome him back without hesitation despite the fact that he will turn 43 in 2010.

7-8-9 - Outfield
David Murphy - Murphy had a solid season, bouncing back from an 0-23 start. However, the Rangers outfield is so deep that he may be squeezed out next season.

Marlon Byrd - Byrd is a valuable player because he is so flexible. He can play all three outfield positions and he can hit almost anywhere in the lineup. Going forward, I see him as a super-4th outfielder. It will be more difficult to fit him in, however, if Justin Smoak is manning DH.

Nelson Cruz - After two aborted attempts in the majors, Cruz finally broke through in a big, big way this year. After 2006 and 2007, Cruz looked to be the epitome of a "AAAA" player. He scorched AAA pitching, but couldn't seem to hit in the majors. In 2008, the Rangers were naturally skeptical of his strong performance in AAA, but eventually his numbers were too overwhelming (.342/.429/.695) to ignore. When he was promoted to the majors, he finally broke through (.330/.421/.609) against major league pitching over 100+ at bats. This year, as pitchers adjusted to him, his numbers weren't quite as ridiculous as last (if they were, he would be Albert Pujols), but they have been respectable (.268/.342/.547, 32 HRs and counting). And, as an added bonus, his UZR has been the best in the majors among right fielders. Next year, Ron Washington needs to pencil Nelson Cruz at the clean-up spot every time he plays.

Julio Borbon - Borbon is the Rangers lead-off hitter and center fielder of the future. He has given every indication that he is ready take on that role right now. For some reason, the Rangers have been hesitant to play him in center field -- perhaps to let him concentrate on hitting -- but that should change next year. Borbon's elite speed will give opposing teams fits when he gets on base.

Josh Hamilton - And, of course, the biggest wildcard of them all: Hamilton. He set baseball on fire last year with an otherworldly first half, topped off with his fireworks display at the homerun derby in Yankee Stadium. Since then, however, he hasn't been nearly as good. This year, he was one of the Ranger's weakest hitters. Part of me wants to write off Hamilton's 2009 season due to injuries, and pencil the 2008 version of Josh Hamilton in the 3rd spot in the lineup next year. The Rangers, of course, will hedge their bets. That, more than any other reason, may be why David Murphy is a Ranger next year -- as an insurance policy.

Outlook for 2010

Barring a miraculous comeback, this Rangers team appears to be headed to a 9th consecutive season without a playoff appearance. It appears, however, that they have very good chance to stop that streak before it hits 10. The minor league system that produced Cruz, Borbon, Holland, Feliz, Andrus, Hunter, et al. is locked and loaded to produce several more waves in the next few seasons -- especially in terms of pitching. The aforementioned Martin Perez highlights a new crop of young arms that will continue pushing the Rangers into a new era where pitching is a strength instead of a laughingstock as it has been for a very long time. I, for one, am eagerly anticipating April 2010.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Health Care

Below is a response to a Facebook thread. I ran out of space in my comment on Facebook, so I went to a place where I am free to write as much as I want. :) The original thread is here and it references an article from the Washington Post here.

Now, without further adieu, my ramblings:

Small industrialized nations? The article references Japan, Germany, France, Britain which are the Nos. 2, 4, 5, and 6 overall in GDP around the world.

Why does our larger land area affect anything? The hospitals are already in place all over the country. We're just trying to figure out how to pay the doctors.

The fact is that the health insurance industry in this country is woefully inefficient. Around 20 cents of every dollar paid in premiums does not go towards paying medical expenses. That's huge -- the article mentions that other countries are able to get that number between 1.5 and 2. Our insurance industry employs armies of "adjusters" whose job it is to deny claims based on technicalities and loopholes. In other countries, where insurance companies are required to pay claims submitted by doctors, those adjusters are not necessary. By properly regulating the insurance industry, we could eliminate that substantial cost. However, if the insurance companies have to pay every claim, obviously we need to lower our medical costs as well. Perhaps we can't get them as low as Japan (who spends less than half per capita than us), but, as the article's MRI example illustrates, there is no reason we can't implement $98 MRIs here too.

It is a myth that government is inherently more bloated than private industry. Governments all over the world are able to provide insurance at a tiny fraction of the cost that our private industry provides here. Indeed, our own government provides cheaper insurance than the private companies with Medicare. The Democrats' plan (among other things) essentially proposes to expand Medicare to the whole population (the "public option"). The private companies will be forced to compete, but that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned. They're an oligopoly, so there's hardly any competition now.

But that's the plan that's on the table. Frankly, I don't think it goes far enough. Sadly, it is debatable whether even this timid plan is politically feasible. In an ideal world, we would have a single-payer system. (e.g. Medicare for all; no private insurers)

In my opinion profits made from health insurance are inherently immoral. They are literally profiting from the medical expenses of American citizens. Furthermore, they increase their profits by denying the claims of their paying customers.

Shared risk -- that's all insurance is. Why does that need to be a multi-billion dollar, for-profit business? What's wrong with the government handling that job? Clearly, it is capable of it (Medicare). The people who deserve to make money in the medical industry are the doctors and the drug companies. That's where the innovation and talent is. What does the insurance industry bring to the table? As far as I can tell, they perform a task that is better suited for the government while profiting substantially and denying millions of Americans access to health care.

This country isn't so different from the rest of the world that we are the only ones that can't have universal health care. It would certainly cut into the profits of drug and insurance companies, but it would prevent people like Kelly from owing Baylor Hospital tens of thousands of dollars for a 10-day hospital stay. If they had been on vacation in London when Lilly got sick, they would have gotten the same care and they wouldn't owe a dime.

Americans citizens are sick without access to doctors. They can't afford their prescription drugs. They hesitate before going to the emergency room because they're scared it might bankrupt them. Who are we? No other industrialized country does this to its citizens. If anything, we have a moral obligation to fix this problem, and the only thing standing in our way is the entrenched, super-wealthy health insurance industry which is the beneficiary of our misfortune.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lipstick on a pig...

I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the guy I supported and voted for last year. You see, I supported Barack Obama with the impression that he wanted to overturn Bush's most egregious policies. But Bush policies, even when administered by Barack Obama are nothing more than, well, lipstick on a pig as John McCain might say.

The Obama Justice Department retains its power of extrodinary rendition. It continues the policy of show trials. (Only prisoners for whom the government believes it can obtain convictions get trials). It even claims the authority to overturn the result of any trial if it doesn't go the government's way.

Read Glenn Greenwald for the juicy details. (here and here)

Mr. President, this is unacceptable. Please stop.

Not another dead blog...

And you thought I had quit blogging. I was just resting.

My friend Kelly alerted me earlier today about a new technology from Apple called HTTP Live Streaming. The linked AppleInsider article goes into great detail about the history of video streaming over the tubes, but I want to focus on a paragraph towards the end of their piece:

What's next? The obvious followup is to add support for HTTP Live Streaming in Apple TV, allowing for HD streams direct from broadcasters, facilitating the ability to only pay for channels you want to watch, skipping around the local cable monopoly while gaining access to content they don't carry.
That's right. HTTP Live Streaming + Apple TV = Over-the-Internet broadcasting. It could totally replace cable and satellite companies. I'm not saying that it will -- those companies will do anything and everything in their power to prevent that from happening. I'm just saying that the technology is there.

AppleInsider floats the idea of broadcasters (e.g. ESPN or MSNBC) bypassing traditional broadcasting vehicles and launching a HTTP Live Streaming feed. Anybody with a web browser could watch the channel in full HD. Anybody with an AppleTV (or any other HTTP Live Streaming-enabled device) could watch the channel on their existing television set -- no cable companies necessary.

More significantly, it would remove the obstacles of entry for startup TV stations. Under the current system, you have to have either a ton of cash or some really serious connections to start a TV station. Time Warner Cable et al. hold the keys to the empire -- you have to somehow convince them to put your TV station onto their channel lineup. But anybody can throw up a web server and broadcast via HTTP Live Streaming. It cuts out the middle man.

Al Gore had a really good chapter related to this in his book The Assault on Reason. (An excellent, excellent book which I very highly recommend) He talks about how our democracy was healthier before television because the news used to be more interactive. When the country was founded, the major news organizations consisted mainly of people with access to printing presses. You had stuff like Harpers Weekly, and less formal fliers etc. When newspapers came around, they were a little more removed from the readers, but still allow for a fairly high level of interaction. Heck, even I had a letter to the editor published in the New York Times one time.

Television, however, is totally non-interactive. There is virtually no way to contact a TV personality. It is one-way communication, and we're not involved at all. Also, TV triggers an instinctual reaction in humans that makes you focus your eyes on a moving picture. That is a survival instinct in the wild, but TV uses it to grab your attention and not let up. It triggers that instinct on every frame -- 30 times per second. In addition, TV tends to put your brain in a suggestive state, making you more susceptible to believe what you're hearing than you would otherwise. Reading, conversely, engages the brain and makes you more prone to higher level thought and critical thinking. Obviously, that makes TV a perfect tool to implement an Orwellian state and to kill democracy.

As long as TV is the primary way Americans get their news, democracy is in trouble. The vast majority of our nation's discourse is controlled by a very small number of people. That is why Gore founded his TV station "Current TV" which broadcasts viewer-submitted content.

Ultimately, the true hope for democracy, Gore says, is the Internet. It is far more interactive than anything before it with virtually no barriers to entry (anybody can start a blog). HTTP Live Streaming is just the kind of technology that the Internet can use to start whittling away at the traditional TV paradigm. Think how different the world would be if anybody could start their own TV station.

Let's just say that I don't think that it's a coincidence that Al Gore is on Apple's Board of Directors right now.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Whoo hoo!™

Hm... I saw both of the following while I was reading on the Times today.

Whoo hoo™ indeed...

I've been kicking around a blog post on all of this for the past few days. So, consider yourselves (all both of you) warned. I may actually post something on this blog every now and then.

Monday, August 18, 2008

National Alarm Clock

After hearing some of McCain's remarks today speaking to the VFW, I was disappointed to see the rhetoric continue as if the Russia-Georgia affair didn't have any affect on our foreign policy prospects. As my Dad alluded to a few days ago, this ought to be setting off alarm bells: has the Iraq war so weakened us that Russia believes it can invade any of its neighbors with impunity? Does Russia believe it can safely ignore the President of the United States?

Not only has the Iraq war physically weakened our military, it has also forced us to cede the moral high ground -- we can't (with a straight face) demand that Russia not go around unilaterally invading countries.

Furthermore, by putting our military in such an untenable situation, it has given the rest of the world the impression that we are weak. The great United States can't even take care of a country as small and pathetic as Iraq. Had we shown restraint and stayed out of Iraq, no such impression would exist. Perhaps the most important function of our military is its ability to deter other countries from military action. Russia, clearly, doesn't feel deterred by our military at this time.

So, with all of that in mind, it was especially disillusioning to see Senator McCain resume his campaign of calling for "victory" in Iraq and accusing Obama of wanting to "lose" the war, whatever the hell that means.

McCain's advisers are cynically banking that the American people won't notice any of the above. They continue to aim their rhetoric at the lowest common denominator -- Americans whose knowledge of world affairs doesn't go much past the ability to point to Russia on a map and who get their news from People Magazine Television (er... CNN).

We've got to get the American people to wake up. I sure hope Obama has a plan.