Network effects over-rated?

A new book by Stan Liebowitz, called “Re-Thinking the Network Economy“, has some interesting insights. This article discusses one, namely that the principle of “first to market” was completely bogus.

The “network effect” describes the condition that a product’s value increases with the popularity of the product to consumers. The typical example is the telephone; one is useless, and the more people have a telephone, the more useful one is.

First to market is the principle that, because of network effects, the first person to produce a product in a given space wins. Superior late-comers cannot gain market share, because “using what everyone else is using” is more important than a superior product.

In refuting this, Mr Liebowitz emphasises the distinction between two kinds of lock-in. The question of compatibility is central to both. One kind of lock-in arises simply because switching to a new product involves a cost beyond the purchase price: costs of learning how to use it, for instance, or the difficulty of using it alongside products you already own. Mr Liebowitz calls this self-incompatibility, or weak lock-in. But there is also strong lock-in. This arises if a new product is incompatible with the choices of other consumers – and if, because of network effects, this external incompatibility reduces the value of the product.

Liebowitz claims (and I agree) that real strong lock-in is nonexistant. Consumers are capricious beasts, and are perfectly willing to adopt a superior product even in the face of incompatability; witness the ongoing success of the Macintosh platform.

Long before the Internet, consumers had plenty of experience adopting better technologies despite network-effect obstacles: cars (you need petrol stations), telephones, fax machines and, most recently, generation upon rapidly succeeding generation of network-dependent consumer-electronics devices. If a new product offers a clear margin of improvement over a competing one, consumers not only want to take it up themselves, they expect others to do the same. In this way, even where network effects apply, a sufficient margin of improvement achieves the necessary co-ordination among consumers.

I’ve always believed that the “first to market” principle was false; it’s nice that someone agrees with me.

posted at 12:31 pm on Monday, September 30, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Network effects over-rated?

Transit Spin

Apparently the Toronto Transit System is getting flak from commuters. Seems that whenever someone is late for work, they blame it on a TTC delay. The TTC wants to reassure us that the transit system is running just fine…

Today I hear on the radio that (paraphrased): using data up to the end of August, the Bloor Danforth line is running on schedule 95% of the time, and the Yonge University Spadina line is running on time 90% of the time.

What is wrong with this statement, I wonder?

  • This means that the Yonge line is running off schedule 10% of the time. That’s about 15 minutes per *day*. Problems are more likely during the two rush hours, when the system is already at capacity and all of the older, more troublesome trains are operating. 90% uptime sucks, in my experience.
  • The data used in the commentary aren’t relevant. The data runs up to the end of August. Since then, a significant number of working commuters have returned from vacation, and the school year has started, adding a large number of students to the transit system.
  • This simple statistic also doesn’t measure other information. The Yonge line is over capacity during morning rush hour. If standing at Yonge & Bloor, for example, one must often wait for several trains to pass until one with space for passengers arrives. At a minute between trains, this can add up to a personal delay even when the system is “on time”.

PR people make me laugh, or cry. I’m never quite sure which.

posted at 10:58 am on Friday, September 27, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Transit Spin

Banned Books

In celebration of banned books week (September 21 – 28 2002), The American Library Association is encouraging a “Read-Out” – a continuous book reading of books banned and challenged.

They also have the usual lists: The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books and a list of frequently challenged classics.

People are crazy.

posted at 11:32 am on Tuesday, September 24, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Banned Books

Good week for Spin of the Day

Spin of the Day

I am loving this site. Last week was a particularly good one for stories:

  • Operation Successful, But the Patient Died – No, a prostratectomy won’t let you live longer.
  • Slick Ads Won’t Sell US to Arabs – well, duh.
  • Cattlemen Finally Stop Harassing Oprah – after way to much wasted time and money, a judge threw the whole thing out.
  • Pediatricians With a Corporate Logo – apparently it’s ok to put a Similac (formula) logo on a book about breast feeding. Huh?
  • The Big Lie Continues – more on the whole NEA fabricated scandal.
  • Show Me the Science I Agree With – Dubya is eliminating advisory committees that disagree with him, even when they’re right.
  • Coughing Up the Truth – more on the air around the WTC after the collapse. Yes, it really was contaminated, despite the EPA coverup.

And lots of Iraq news, too.

There’s a short summary; both the government and the media lie with impunity these days. What’s a boy to do?

posted at 10:03 am on Monday, September 23, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Good week for Spin of the Day

IPv6 revisited

Since I enabled IPv6 on, I’ve received no IPv6 traffic other than my own, and a couple of curious onlookers from the IPv6 webbug’s log site.

I’ve been having lots of trouble with zebra; several bugs in OSPF6D and RIPNGD continue to plague me, so I can’t keep dynamic routes up-to-date. Static routing is too much work, especially with my laptop which changes networks at least twice per day.

IPv6 on Windows 2000 works ok, but often when I apply an IE service pack, it updates wininet.dll, removing the IPv6 support in the browser. I can re-run the IPv6 installer to put it back, but I wonder what bug fixes I’m stomping on as a result.

PHP for Apache 2 is still experimental, due to the new Apache threading model.

I could have tolerated all of this as a natural side effect of running an experimental network, but the last straw is that the w2k ipv6 and VMware 3.1 are having a feud, causing a BSOD on my computer.

I’m tired of fighting with, and babysitting, IPv6. It’s about to die an ugly death on my network, and good riddance.

posted at 12:23 pm on Friday, September 20, 2002 in General | Comments (2)
  1. Reid says:

    Maybe it’s Windows you should be saying goodbye to? ;-)

  2. Harald says:

    Probably. Is it a mere coincidence that RedHat 8.0 was announced yesterday, and I just found two different versions of WINE that will allow me to run games and run MS Excel, and Windows multimedia browser plugins, under Linux?

    More in a blog entry.


Wow; I’ve been busy this week. Monday night was the moot. Tuesday I joined Weight Watchers, with all of the extra effort that adds to my day. Wednesday was curriculum night at the kids’ school. Tonight we had annual checkups for the kids. I’ve upgraded, and added a new group of users. Things have been hectic at work; the customers are uppity this week.

None of this leaves much time for reading blogs, never mind writing in one…

posted at 9:49 pm on Thursday, September 19, 2002 in Personal | Comments (2)
  1. Reid says:

    Augh! I hate these little post windows. They keep losing my previous text and I can’t go back and fix it!!!

    Okay, last time I’m gong to write this: there was an article in the New York Times — (probably copied without permission, but hey) — about low-fat/calorie diets versus low-carb diets. It’s a good read. There’s always other points of views on things that the majority of people don’t hear very often, as you know very well ;-).

  2. Harald says:


    See What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie? in my weblog :-)

    Thanks for the new URL, though!

Epic Records goes overboard

[via Anders Jacobsen] New Scientist reports:

A US record company has issued reviewers with portable CD players that are glued shut to prevent two new albums from being pirated online before their official releases.

Epic Records Group has taken the drastic step of sealing CD players shut and gluing headphones onto them to stop digital copies being made from promotional albums. The albums involved are Riot Act by Pearl Jam and Scarlet’s Walk by Tori Amos.

A spokeswoman for Epic told New Scientist: “Obviously we have a problem with piracy and this is one of the ways we’re trying to address it. We’re trying lots of things.”

I find it particularly amusing that after all the hype about the Secure Digital Music Initiative, this is the best security they can come up with. A glued shut CD player is hardly tamper-proof. It would be worthwhile for a genuine pirate to purchase a replacement if she damages or destroys the original while removing the CD. Or one could take the CD player apart and tap into the electronics to get a digital playback of the CD direct from the hardware. Or…

posted at 2:12 pm on Tuesday, September 17, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Epic Records goes overboard

Burn Rate

New! It’s BURN RATE: The dot-com card game.

With a simple, fun, and uncannily realistic game system, you and your friends will struggle to keep a dot-com startup afloat as the bad business pours in and the money runs out.

Be the last one in business, and you’ll win the dubious honor of “Best CEO”!

This is scarily familiar; my employer is a member of the 99% club (companies that lost 99% of their value in the dot-com crash), and we’re currently racing to see whether we reach profitability again before our cash runs out.

Thanks to michael newton for the pointer!

posted at 1:51 pm on Monday, September 16, 2002 in General | Comments (1)
  1. Debbie says:

    Oooo. I want.

User Interfaces

Thanks to – michael newton for this one (and for Crash Bonsai):

One of the problems plaguing modern technology is that designers can’t seem to build user interfaces that people understand. Buy a microwave in Canada and try to use the popcorn button; it doesn’t work. Or look at digital watches, VCRs, even cars; the interface sucks. Even worse, they’re all different.

Washington designer Burkey Belser agrees, and has a humorous presentation on the subject. Here’s the quote from michael newton’s blog that caught my eye:

The buttons were marked Chop, Grate, Grind, Stir, Puree, Whip, Mix, Blend, Frappe, Liquefy. Belser found the distinctions absurd.

“If I’m not mistaken,” he said recently to a roomful of colleagues, “you turn this thing on and the blades whir around with a singular purpose, slaughtering everything within reach.”

Belser created his own one-word identifier: Vaporize. For the buttons, he created a scale of speed, from In A Second to Now.

See the Washington Post article for more examples.

posted at 2:08 pm on Thursday, September 12, 2002 in General | Comments Off on User Interfaces


posted at 9:00 am on Wednesday, September 11, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Silence

Crash Bonsai

There’s something wonderful about the concept of wrapping model cars around bonsai trees.

Why do I never think of these things?

posted at 11:30 am on Tuesday, September 10, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Crash Bonsai

Internet vs. Censorship

“The Internet treats censorship as damage, and routes around it.” – John Gilmore

An article in New Scientist shows this phenomenon once again. It describes ‘elgooG‘:

The mirror site, called elgooG, is a parody of the English language version of Google in which all the text on the web pages has been reversed. The text terms used for searches are also entered in reverse. The site, which returns all the same hits as Google, can be accessed from behind China’s “great firewall”.

Apparently, one can read the site fairly easily in a mirror (the letters will be reversed, but humans can easily compensate for that). An unusual way to get around access restrictions, to be sure…

posted at 11:04 am on Monday, September 09, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Internet vs. Censorship

Spam Escalation

I received a message on Friday night claiming to be from SpamCop, telling me that my site was “being watched”. There were no details in the message, which made me suspicious; anti-SPAM organisations are usually quite diligent in pointing out the error of your ways. I think it’s an uber-geek thing; they like to be more standards-compliant than thou.

On the other hand, I thought it no coincidence that I received this shortly after I registered two new domains, and started updating my blog more regularly, so a small part of my brain worried all weekend.

Sunday night I received a notice from NANOG that it was a forgery. Phew!

posted at 9:38 am on Monday, September 09, 2002 in General | Comments (1)
  1. Debbie says:

    I didn’t know you had a blog! I’ve added your link to My Blog/Journal Links page (, hope this is okay.

Permalinks revisited

A common issue discussed in weblogging (and many other WWW environments) is the permalink.

It is often necessary to redesign web pages, or change layouts, in such a way that previous URLs no longer work. I’ll have to do this soon; the initial base URL I chose for my weblog is incorrect. But if I do, I’ll invalidate all of the existing links to my pages, unless I keep the old name or old hierarchy around.

Here’s a potential solution; the Persistent URL from the Online Computer Library Centre.

Functionally, a PURL is a URL. However, instead of pointing directly to the location of an Internet resource, a PURL points to an intermediate resolution service. The PURL resolution service associates the PURL with the actual URL and returns that URL to the client. The client can then complete the URL transaction in the normal fashion. In Web parlance, this is a standard HTTP “redirect”.

In MovableType, for example, the permalink for an entry depends on the default archive format you choose; if you need to change that format, all your permalinks change. I’m currently using Individual as the default, but as my website grows that might require too much disk space (a 512 byte entry wastes 1532 bytes of disk space on my server).

However, every blog entry has a blog ID and a six-digit entry ID. One could conceivably construct a PURL with this information and use it as the permalink; then register with an existing resolver (or run your own) to map the PURLs to your current blog archive layout. That would allow me to change my archive format to a more efficient weekly or monthly page without invalidating permalinks.

I’ll play with the software a bit at CFRQ, and report back.

posted at 9:56 am on Friday, September 06, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Permalinks revisited

Sustainable Development R.I.P.

From Spin of the Day:

Sustainable Development: R.I.P.
“Sustainable Development is dead. It’s demise came, ironically, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development,” CorpWatch’s Kenny Bruno writes in his report from the UN meeting in Johannesburg. “It’s not that the phrase wasn’t invoked. It was, ad nauseum. But it was hardly discussed. Instead, sustainable development was deemed to be whatever compromise governments happen to reach on trade, subsidies, investment and aid, and whatever projects corporations see fit to finance. ‘Sustainable Development’ is now officially meaningless.” Source:, September 4, 2002

I don’t think it’s as bleak as all this. Several world governments are now fighting back against The Evil Corporate Opressors with internal policy initiatives. Some examples: Peru’s OpenSource debate; Brazil’s take on patent medicines; Zimbabwe’s ban on genetically engineered crops. I think there’s a growing catalogue of individual actions that are supporting sustainable development. It may be 0.5%, but growing.

Still, we have a very long way to go, and the nonsense in Johannesburg certainly didn’t help things. I blame George Dubya; it’s fashionable, after all.

posted at 9:34 am on Friday, September 06, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Sustainable Development R.I.P.

Debugging Tools for Today

Today’s software debugging tools, brought to you by IIS, Unicode, and UTF-8:

  • one cross
  • one mallet
  • several wooden stakes
  • one large vial holy water

I think I’ve wiped out another nest.

I’m sure someone will find another soon.

posted at 3:21 pm on Thursday, September 05, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Debugging Tools for Today


Quoted out of context from

Blame is silly and counterproductive: it gets hung up asking “who made this mess?” Responsibility is productive: it says, “time to clean up this mess.”

Personal responsibility is a wonderful philosophy, and one that so few people understand or practice. It means taking responsibility for the consequences of ones actions, even the ones you didn’t expect. It means thinking about the possible outcomes before you do something, instead of afterwards when it’s too late.

It’s damned hard. I try to get a little better at it each day.

posted at 11:36 pm on Wednesday, September 04, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Responsibility

Niggardly and offense

andersja has written more on his Niggardly posting.

ValerieF commented:

“I do empathize with the desire to go to lengths to avoid offending others, especially through a semantic misunderstanding. It seems to be an American behavior.”

To extend this, I believe it’s also an American behaviour to take offense where none exists or is implied. It happens up here in Canada too, but less often (I believe :-).

The movements against discrimination have been productive over the last century. Things that were unthinkable 50 years ago are taken for granted today. But they have also created an environment where people are extremely sensitive to perceived offenses.

I don’t really understand why people are this reactive, but I’ve been guilty of “flying off the handle” myself. I like to think that I’ve learned two lessons in my two decades on the ‘Net:

  1. Read what other people actually write, not what I think they write.
  2. Avoid using deliberately provocative language (“I think you’re mistaken” instead of “You moron!” :-).

But I still don’t think “niggardly” is “provocative language”.

posted at 9:18 pm on Wednesday, September 04, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Niggardly and offense

Trackback timeouts cause problems with my blog

Update: has been upgraded to a Celeron 1000 with 128Mb of memory. There are no more trackback ping problems <grin>

As discussed in the Support Forum, when your MovableType pings mine, the default timeout at your end is 10 seconds. My weblog is on a slow server, which takes around 25 seconds to respond to a ping.

Update: I’ve decreased this to about 18 seconds by modifying the MT source to reply after saving the ping, but before rebuilding the site, but that’s still too long.

Ben plans to increase the timeout in the default MT install. Until then, you can either manually delete pings from your “pings to send” list after pinging my site, or you can change the default on your site: add the line

PingTimeout 30

to your mt.cfg file.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do from my end, at least until I can afford a more powerful server.

posted at 5:34 pm on Wednesday, September 04, 2002 in General | Comments (1)
  1. Another trackback test
    Debbie says my trackback doesn’t work, but I didn’t see any entries in the apache log, so I’m testing. The

McDonald’s jumps on the bandwagon

From Spin of the Day:

Monday, July 29, 2002
Making the World Safe for Obesity

PR giant Golin/Harris is bragging about its new “Global Obesity Task Force.” The Task Force doesn’t seek to fight childhood obesity, but to protect the interests and image of the multibillion dollar Obesity Industry. Their press release states: “With consumers becoming increasingly wary of American ‘big business,’ many companies find themselves under scrutiny. … The increase in childhood obesity has special interest and government groups seeking to hold someone responsible. And, corporate America is the likely target. Golin/Harris International has created its Global Obesity Task Force with proprietary tools to help companies under fire in the obesity debate… Wide ranges of industries are vulnerable and need to act to protect their brands, businesses and reputations. Quick service restaurant companies, snack makers, beverage producers, the television and video game industries… ‘When managed appropriately, companies can withstand issues without public confidence and brand trust eroding,’ said Kathy Weber.” G/H clients include McDonald’s and Tyson Foods. Source: Golin/Harris News Release, July 29, 2002

And yesterday, McDonald’s USA Announces Significant Reduction of Trans Fatty Acids With Improved Cooking Oil:

The new oil will reduce French fry TFA levels by 48%, reduce saturated fat by 16% and dramatically increase polyunsaturated fat by 167%. While the total fat content in the fries remains unchanged, health experts agree that reducing TFAs and saturates while increasing polyunsaturates is beneficial to heart health. Notably, McDonald’s French fries already had the lowest TFA and saturated fat levels in the national quick service restaurant (QSR) industry.

Now, as they point out, the total fat content is the same, which means that a single large McDonald’s fries still has 540 calories, about 1/4 of typical daily requirements. And it still has more than a third of the RDA for fat, although new research has suggested that RDA may be misguided.

With this nutrition initiative, McDonald’s becomes the first national QSR company to set a goal of eliminating TFAs in cooking oil.

Probably strictly true, however:

  • Wendy’s switched from shortening to oil six years ago, to reduce saturated fat and trans-fatty acids.
  • Burger king cut saturated fats by 50% when it switched from an animal/vegetable mix to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in 1990.

Ah, that wonderful ability of PR flacks to mislead with the truth. Be ever on guard against Spin… (Source: a Reuters article at Yahoo)

So the bottom line is this: McDonald’s french fries are still bad for you; they’re still high in fat. Then there was that recent report about fried potatoes containing potential carcinogens. And if new research proves true, the potato part of the fries are even worse than the fat part…

posted at 12:38 pm on Wednesday, September 04, 2002 in General | Comments (1)
  1. dnk says:

    In a speech to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Richard H. Carmona, the surgeon general, urged pediatricians to do more to combat childhood obesity, noting that many overweight children became overweight adults. “We must teach our children to enjoy healthy foods in healthy portions,” he said. Over weight people are more likely to have hypertension, arthritis, stroke, high blood cholesterol levels, diabetes and some kinds of cancer.

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