Thursday, February 22, 2007

How Big Was That Squid?

Sometimes it takes a non-numeric explanation to make numbers hit home. For example:

A fishing crew has caught a colossal squid that could weigh a half-ton and prove to be the biggest specimen ever landed, a fisheries official said Thursday. The squid, weighing an estimated 990 lbs and about 39 feet long, took two hours to land in Antarctic waters, New Zealand Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t easily imagine a 990-lb, 39-foot squid. The numbers are so far off my conceptual squid scale that they don’t mean much beyond “huge.”

I could try to relate the numbers to something more familiar, but a squid expert saved me the effort with this deft analogy: “If calamari rings were made from the squid they would be the size of tractor tires.”

Ah, that big.

[The quotes are from an AP article about the squid in question.]

Monday, February 19, 2007

Why No Single-Letter Domains?

When was the last time you visited a Web site where the second-level domain was a single letter, like “”?

Considering that shorter is sweeter with domain names, I was surprised that I could not recall visiting any such site.

A little searching yielded the reason: In December 1993, the Internet’s governing organization reserved all second-level domains comprising one character or digit. Excepted were six existing domains (,,,,, and

In November 2005, the possibility of reversing the policy was raised. This MSNBC article from the time explains why the single-letter domains were restricted in the first place:

Single-letter names under “.com,” “.net” and “.org” were set aside in 1993 as engineers grew concerned about their ability to meet the expected explosion in demand for domain names. They weren’t sure then whether a single database of names could hold millions — more than 40 million in the case of “.com” today....

One idea was to create a mechanism for splitting a single database into 26 — one corresponding to each letter. So instead of storing the domain name for The Associated Press under “.org,” it would go under “” In other words, “” would become “”

Now, engineers have concluded that won’t be necessary. They have seen the address database grow to hold millions of names without trouble, so they are now willing to let go of the single-letter names they had reserved.

That said, I found no indication that the policy was later changed.

So perhaps the way to look at things is: The original reason there are so few single-letter domain names was technical. When the technical problem went away, it left the political problem of how to allocate the new names, a problem that apparently is still pending a solution.

Monday, February 5, 2007

E Ink: A Tale of Two Applications

Last week, in explaining why I was underwhelmed by the Sony Reader, I mentioned E Ink. It’s a display technology that uses tiny microcapsules that can be controlled like pixels. Once the microcapsules are arrayed into an image, they require no further power; they continue to display using reflective light.

Although E Ink—at least in its current state of development—was not compelling to me in the Sony Reader, I’d like to offer a compare-and-contrast with a simple yet compelling E Ink application: Lexar’s JumpDrive Mercury, a pocket USB flash drive with a percent-full gauge.

Exploiting E Ink’s “powerless display” advantage over other electronic displays, the gauge is readable whether the JumpDrive Mercury is plugged in or not. When you think about it, the only time the display can change (and thus need power) is when the drive is plugged in (and thus has power). Nice.

Also, the JumpDrive Mercury leverages another E Ink advantage over traditional displays: the ability to be packaged very thin and light. For pocket USB flash drives, small is beautiful, and the E Ink display in the JumpDrive Mercury adds precious little mass or volume to the device.

Finally, as important as exploiting E Ink’s advantages, the JumpDrive Mercury’s use of E Ink is not penalized by E Ink’s disadvantages against other display technologies. Lack of color and a slow screen refresh are not a big deal for a gauge on a USB flash drive. In contrast, they are problems for the Sony Reader, which is potentially competing with colorful, instant-refreshing LCD devices that can do a lot more (like multimedia) on top of e-book reading.

So, although the JumpDrive Mercury does less with E Ink than the Sony Reader, what it does it does well.