December 20, 2002
Open the Spectrum: It's time
to decentralize the ether.
JOHO Is Broken
You may not have noticed, but it's been about two months since the previous issue. Because I've had writer's block? Hah! I'm writing too much: a daily weblog, a biweekly column for Darwin, a monthly column for KMWorld, occasional other 'zine work (recently in MIT Tech Review), a business white paper now and then, an essay on Open Spectrum and one on Quality of Service, radio spots (see next box) and maybe 6 projects I'm not ready and/or allowed to talk about. Too much!
I'm writing so much that every day when I intend to work on JOHO, I run out of time.
Something is broken here. It's so broken that I know any promise I make to fix it I'm unlikely to be able to keep.
If you were me, what would you do?
It's a JOHO World After All
I seem to be doing bi-weekly spots on The Meaning of Technology for the Here and Now radio program produced by WBUR and carried on about 45 stations.
Last week I wrote something between a white paper and a manifesto on the importance of Open Spectrum. No, this is not something I cared about until recently either. But OS is important way beyond its technical details.
The problem in a nutshell is that we license access to frequencies as if the spectrum of frequencies were land that has to be apportioned. While this may have made sense seventy years ago, it doesn't makes sense technologically or economically now. The metaphor is wrong. We need new metaphors that are closer to reality, and then we need new policies that will open up the ether.
Let's discuss this in two parts, shall we?
The old metaphor thinks of frequencies as pipes. If you want to move content from A to B, you have to assign it a pipe. There's only a limited number of pipes available. And you have to keep the pipes a safe distance from one another because they need goodly buffer zones between them. Because there's a scarcity of pipes, a federal agency (let's call it the FCC) licenses exclusive access to them. The licenses are incredibly valuable because they enable companies to deliver content to the awaiting masses.
Underneath this metaphor is another that is just factually wrong: interference. The fact is that electromagnetic energy is not deformed by coming into contact with another wave of energy. Jeffrey Beir, CEO of eRoom (which just became part of Documentum) and former electrical engineer, explained this to me succinctly: If you shine a red flashlight beam through a yellow beam, making an X of light, neither beam becomes orange. (This is the level at which I can understand physics. Billiard balls get a little too complex for me.)
Once you drop interference out of the picture, the need for pipes goes away. You can flood the ether with electromagnetic energy and it generally will all be fine. Probably. (Yes, I know that "ether" is at best a metaphor, too).
Further, there is a parallel here with the contrast between the phone system and the Internet. The phone system (of old) established a continuous circuit of copper from A to B when C calls D and asks about his old chums E, F and G. The Internet, on the other hand, bundles up some packets, stamps an address on them, and lets the routers figure out how to move them closer to B until they finally arrive. Likewise, we currently act as if the only way to get a wireless message from A to B is to assign the broadcaster a set "circuit" (= pipe). That builds intelligence into the network, which we know (via David Reed and David Isenberg) actually is the wrong way to go. You want the intelligence to exist on the "edges" of the net. And now we can do that. Radios and transmitters can negotiate in real time which frequencies are open at every instant rather than having to have a frequency assigned forever by the FCC. They can hop around, like changing lanes on the highway as space opens up. Further, "software-defined radios" can do more interesting things with the data they receive than just play it through a speaker. They're computers, so they'll do whatever the hell they've been told to do whether it's to convert audio to text, drop another pellet into the fish tank or launch an ordure-laden trebuchet load at Damascus.
So, beyond broadcasters, who cares? We all should. Open access to spectrum will drive a stake into the most basic model that shapes our business, politics, education and more: the broadcast model. Until now, to communicate to the masses, you needed masses of power and money. With open spectrum, we can communicate point to point and we can broadcast to our localities, and other localities can rebroadcast what they want. Everyone becomes Fox...although we of course hope that everyone becomes a lot better than Fox.
Sounds like the Internet effect? Absolutely.
And Open Spectrum is also how we all get over-supply of bits faster than we'd imagined. We don't all have it now because the telephone companies are successfully thwarting access by broadband providers to their phone lines despite the legal requirement that they provide such access. With Open Spectrum, new players can jump in and provide wireless connectivity. No need to lay cable, no need to get towns to grant overrides to string stuff up or bury it. Open Spectrum is how it's going to happen.
The good news is that the FCC is showing signs of Getting It. Yes, I know it doesn't happen often, but this time it may be. And, by the way, that's not an accident: smart people have been talking with the FCC for years about this. And, Michael Powell, the FCC chairman, gets credit for greatly increasing the in-house level of technical understanding.
All this is important because:
Spectrum is ubiquity.
Open Spectrum is freedom.
David Reed has written a typically insightful short piece on the limitations (and inevitability) of scientific metaphors. For example:
Most radio engineers work in a particularly inapt metaphor - but they don't know it. That metaphor still includes the essence of the idea called the luminiferous aether (except they call it the "spectrum"). The metaphor includes the idea that a "bit" is a unit of energy (rather than what Shannon defined it to be - which is something that represents correlated probabilities among parts of a system). This confuses the thing (bit) with one possible instance of the thing (a coded pattern of energy or matter).
Communications regulators work in an even more inapt metaphor....
I've written a piece on Quality of Service, that is, the idea that some bits should be more equal than others. You can read it here.
I got tutored on Open Spectrum by Jock Gill, Dewayne Hendricks and David Reed — a heady bunch — in order to write the white paper mentioned above. What I've gotten wrong is despite their best efforts.
I gave a talk to a library association and pretended I knew something about the history of information.
Among the factoids me and my pal Google dug up:
1. While I knew that Herman Hollerith, inventor of the punch card, had been inspired by the way in which some looms were "programmed," I didn't know he was also inspired by the following:
I was traveling in the West and I had a ticket with what I think was called a punch phonograph. . . [T]he conductor . . . punched out a description of the individual, as light hair, dark eyes, large nose, etc. So you see, I only made a punch photograph of each person.
I like the way this ties holes in a card to the most personal and embodied of the information about us: how we look.
2. Dr. Johnson's Dictionary (1755) defines "information" as follows (according to an interesting academic article by Rafael Capurro):
1. Intelligence given; instruction
2. Charge or accusation exhibited
3. The act of informing or actuation
"Information" at this point wasn't something separable from the human conversational context.
3. The third definition points to the oldest sense of "information" as something more than what is known. Aristotle thought that the form of a thing (its essence, what makes it what it is) impressed itself upon the potential which is the human mind and that is how we come to experience the world. "In-forming" was thus our most basic human relationship to the world, the way in which soul and body met the world itself. That's a lot different than our abstract sense of information today.
Capurro has another article called "Hermeneutics and the Phenomenon of Information." Here's the abstract:
This paper deals with the perspective of interpretation theory or hermeneutics of the process of information storage and retrieval as it was conceived in the early eighties. ... Information is the shape of knowledge at the end of modernity. On the basis of the existential turn of interpretation theory the role of pre-understanding is stressed not only with regard to the information retrieval processes but also to the specific worldly situation in which the inquirers are embedded.
That is, Capurro looks at the lived context in which information researchers deal with information.
Keeping the Gates
I made it all the way into the Q&A session before uttering the word "doomed." We ended up talking about whether there can be librarians without books.
The very first model proposed by the audience was: "We're the gatekeepers of knowledge." This role will only become more important as the amount of bad information on the Internet grows. Supposedly.
But there are two forces working against the gatekeeper idea. First, we seem to be self-organizing our own gatekeepers. Sometimes they're collaborative and sometimes our new gatekeepers emerge from the noise in unpredictable ways. There will certainly still be top-down gatekeepers in the traditional sense, but they are at least becoming less important because there are so many other gates.
Second, when there's true abundance, gatekeeping actually drives down the value of what's being protected: if there's manna everywhere, putting a gatekeeper in front of a storeroom just means that that no one's going to bother with the protected manna. Similarly, if I can find out everything I need about manna by surfing, I'm not going to pay the Britannica a fee to get the same information.
But, reply the librarians, you may not get the best information for free on the Web. No, but I don't need the best information. I just need good enough information. And where I do need information certified as the best, I will be willing to pay for it. But the most important change in all this is indeed a movement away from thinking that there routinely is such a thing as "the best" information that's kept in guarded, temperature-controlled cellars. For better or worse, in an economy of abundance, good enough is good enough.
I received an email recently accusing me of supporting liberal ideas "reflexively." I bristled at the charge only in part because it's true. The rest of the bristling was due to the inaptness of the "reflex" simile.
"By reflex" is a pejorative, meaning "thoughtlessly." But I don't believe it's a matter of operating by reflex or by thoughtfulness. Our aim should be to develop the right reflexes. Even Aristotle — Mr. Rational Animal Guy — thought that the virtuous man (sic) is one who has developed the right habits. In the same way, someone who is politically virtuous has developed the right reflexes.
These reflexes are the result not of random muscle spasms but of having a complex context that gives ideas and experiences a richness they would not have taken in isolation.
Besides, hard-headed rationality — which, of course, has its place — is the signature of the CEO Conservativism that has taken over US politics ... reason enough to suspect it.
I watched Pulp Fiction again the other night. I don't want it to be one of my favorite films, but it is. Unlike movies like The Godfather, Goodfellas and The Sopranos where we're intermittently reminded that the protagonists are capable of violence that makes us morally superior to them, Pulp Fiction accomplishes a true suspension of moral belief. This isn't used for any profound purpose — Tarrantino is no Dostoyevsky — but it does enable us to enter a world where the basic rules have been altered, like science fiction, except instead of removing the law against time travel, the law against murder is removed. Call it "moral fiction."
And that's why against my will Grand Theft Auto 3 is becoming one of my favorite games. In GTA3, you're a hoodlum who succeeds by randomly killing innocent pedestrians and taking their money. Also, you hijack cars, kill policemen, and blow stuff up. Yet GTA3's doesn't bother me nearly as much as the game version of BlackHawk Down where the violence is less and you're a righteous American soldier fighting local warlords who are starving their own people. GTA3 is clearly a type of moral fiction, while BlackHawk Down is parasitic on a real-life situation.
It's no accident that GTA3 and Pulp Fiction are comedies. GTA3 even has its own radio stations playing parodies of various musical styles. ("Ah," says the pretentious classical DJ, "that reminds me of the summer I spent reading Proust ... in the original Italian.") In suspending morality, they keep us so disconnected from the victims that we can laugh at what in real life would be horrific. If we were to connect with our victims, the morality would no longer be suspended; when Nicholson falls for the hitwoman who is to be his victim in Prizzi's Honor, morality — sort of — comes back into play because the human connection is made. Not with GTA3 or Pulp Fiction. Both are unrelentingly disconnected.
In fact, the implicit disconnectedness is itself the source of humor: When in Pulp Fiction Travolta accidentally blows a kid's head off in the back of the car, that it means nothing to him and Jackson except that they have a mess to clean up is funny. The suspension of morality is so obvious and so obviously a literary device that it has no more effect on my actual moral stance than watching Star Wars made me think I can levitate objects by channeling The Force.
I understand why parents are legitimately concerned about GTA3. And I also understand why news magazines make a to-do about it: Show a 5-second snippet in which a player is shooting a cop and you're guaranteed an 8-minute segment with indignant politicians. And I'm queasy enough about it that I don't let my 11 year old son play GTA3 because I don't know what "moral fiction" will feel like to him. But the truth is that I'm more concerned about heroic games like Blackhawk Down where the ultimate moral message is that being right puts you in a zone where everything is permitted. That to me is the most dangerous moral idea.
Salon reviews GTA4. Salon says it's art. I don't know about that, but it sure sounds like it kicks fictitious ass.
If marketers had designed the Web, we'd be measuring transmission speeds not in bits per second but in pages per hour.
The Gartner Group says, according to the Center for Media Research:
More Europeans use short messaging service (SMS) than email... GartnerG2 claims that SMS has therefore become a powerful marketing tool, which can be more important than the web for a range of activities. Around 62 percent of all adults across the major European countries now use a mobile phone, according to the research. Currently, 41 percent of European adults use SMS, compared to 30 percent that use the Internet/email.
Last year, 28 percent of European adults used SMS, as opposed to 29 percent who went online. SMS is particularly popular in the UK where 49 percent of adults use it, compared to 39 percent who are online.
1. Connectedness will happen. How? Every way it can.
2. But it's not as if email and SMS compete. Read Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs to see how the short medium is the short message. (There's a discussion of the book going on now at the InkWell.Vue. It's long form and fascinating. Some great stuff, including a recounting by Dave Hughes of what followed from his boast that he could wifi every farm in Wales "by turning every Welsh pub into a wireless ISP." )
3. I'm looking forward to the day when the announcement of a new type of human connection is not immediately followed by the phrase "powerful marketing tool."
Scott Kirsner writes in the Boston Globe about two Boston-area companies coming out with anti-spam products. The founder of one of the companies, Spamnix, was one of the founders of the other company, InterMute. (InterMute is best known for AdSubtract.) Even though the Spamnix guy signed a non-compete, he claims it only pertains to ad-blocking software, not spam. Nevertheless, it's easy to imagine InterMute suing, if only to slow the launch of competitive software.
"We're both attacking spam because we both hate it," Jaspan says. "There are a zillion people using e-mail, so there's room for lots of [anti-spam] products. If I do pretty well or they do pretty well, maybe one of us will acquire the other."
"My passion against spam is even greater than my competitiveness," says Paul English. "I think there can be lots of good solutions, and I wish him luck."
Now, that's the way it ought to be.
[Disclosure: Paul English at InterMute is an old friend of mine and a sometime business partner. I was a beta for his upcoming spam product, SpamSubtract.]
I learned a lesson from Ernie the Attorney at PopTech.
Which should you bring to a conference if you want to be incredibly popular?
Jonathan Peterson reproduces Peter Chernin's (CEO of Fox) Comdex keynote, interpolating comments disputing not only its accuracy, but its most basic representation of what's going on. Jonathan summarizes his own reaction:
They still see us as consumers only capable of digesting their offerings and handing over money. They really don't seem to understand that the reason we are buying PCs, video cameras, digital cameras, broadband connections and the like is that we want to create and share our creations
I found a few places in the speech that made me see the inside of my own retinas. In particular, Chernin says:
The trumpeters of the Big Bully Theory may also be startled to learn that we have absolutely no problem with viewers shifting our content from their television to their PC, from their living room to their bedroom and to their bathroom and back again as many times and ways as they'd like.
First, "shifting" does not necessarily include copying. Second — and this is what makes my blood boil — he's granting us permission to shift "our content" where "our" refers to the entertainment company? When I buy a DVD, the DVD is mine and I can use it any way I want so long as I'm not reselling it or broadcasting it. I can make a copy for my upstairs TV. I can mold it into a pretty little ashtray. I can roll it in a tube and sell it to Peter Chernin as a home colonoscopy kit.
The speech is long but well worth reading. As are Jonathan's comments, chockablock with links.
The Naval Academy has seized computers from 100 midshipmen looking for "illegally" downloaded copyrighted material according to this article. The Navy plunged into action in response to a letter sent from the RIAA to colleges and universities. Yes, the computers are property of the Academy, but the fact that the Navy is responding to demands from an industry group, much less such well-known digital burglars as the RIAA, should send a chilling effect down our spines.
From Declan McCullagh:
WASHINGTON — A last-minute addition to a proposal for a Department of Homeland Security bill would punish malicious computer hackers with life in prison.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday evening voted 299 to 121 to approve the bill, which would reshape large portions of the federal bureaucracy into new a department combining parts of 22 existing federal agencies, including the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, and the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center.
During closed-door negotiations before the debate began, the House Republican leadership inserted the 16-page Cyber Security Enhancement Act (CSEA) into the Homeland Security bill. CSEA expands the ability of police to conduct Internet or telephone eavesdropping without first obtaining a court order, and offers Internet providers more latitude to disclose information to police...
Seth Johnson points out that two senators"are starting to show some truly helpful cluefulness." Senator Ron Wyden said:
"Digital media simply shouldn't be more restricted than other copyrighted items," Wyden said. "Digital technology is a great step forward, and it would be a shame to take a big step backward on consumers' rights when it comes to using this material."
He and Chris Cox (R-Calif) are sponsoring a bill to make this idea all legal and everything.
(For the record, my wife and I went door-to-door a couple of times for Wyden during his first political campaign in 1979. We thus feel, in a Stallman "Gnu Linux" sort of way, that the bill really ought to be referred to as the Wyden-Cox-Weinberger-Geller Law.)
Googling for People
The debate continues over how to solve the DNS mess. The mess exists because there are more people than there are names. So, who gets davidweinberger.com? (Hint: I didn't.) Not to mention who gets Disney.com, Schwarzenegger.com, and PamelaAnderson.com.
Dan Gillmor a few months ago said that Google had solved the problem, at least for now. If I want to find my pal Bob Smith, the Mulholland furrier, I google him with a query like "bob smith furrier mulholland." Very likely Google will get it right.
So, why not build on this? Google could enable us to fill out a standard form with fields for name, email, web pages, parents, town, high school, college, jobs, employers, hobbies, publications, summer camps, etc. Then add a tab to Google.com called "People." Weight these forms heavily when searching for names, so that if you searched for "david weinberger herricks," the Google engine would notice that "herricks" is listed on my personal form as my high school, and thus would move my web pages (the ones I've listed on the form) way up the list. No one besides me would ever see my form itself.
It might something like this:
Google has the heft to pull this off. If you know someone at Google, wanna pass this along? Alternatively, you might want to point out the gaping hole in my logic that makes this idea not just implausible but actually humiliating.
Either way, thank you.
I blogged recently about a neologism I'd like to see:
Google URL (n) A phrase sufficient to bring a desired Web site to the top of the returns list at Google. E.g., "My real address is weird, so I gave him my Google URL: 'Locke die cast'"; "I couldn't remember the dictionary's web address so I used the Google URL 'American Heritage'"
Peter Kaminski responded:
"Google URLs" are the same as the mechanism behind Robust Hyperlinks (For a joke intro, start here.)
You make a page robust, according to this paper, by running free, open source software that adds to your document a "lexical signature" about five words long, a hash of your document content. People can find your page by searching for its signature, so even if you move the page, Google (or whatever) will find it for you.
The problem is that the signature isn't necessarily memorable. For example, the signature of www.cluetrain.com is "html intranetworked uznajut happytalk stemmens" whereas the Google URL is "cluetrain."
Scary Google (Google Trick #1)
1. Go to google.com
2. Type in your phone number, in quotation marks
3. When it finds your name and address, click on "Maps"
4. You are here.
Googling for Knowledge
Adina Levin makes the case that a sufficiently usable search engine that has indexed a sufficiently large text base — i.e., Google — in effect is a KM system.
Yup. In short: If you know where things are, you don't ever have to clean up.
(One caveat: This works when you know exactly what you're looking for, but browsing a taxonomy is helpful when you don't.)
Finding a Google Rank (Google Trick #2)
Art Medlar writes to a mailing list:
A friend points out that google's raw ordering of pages by rank can be had by searching for "http":
The Google-centric Universe
Craig Allen points us to a science fictionish story by Paul Ford about how Google could become the center of the known universe.
Gary Unblinking Stock points to recent activity at his Gogglewhack site. (A Googlewhack is a word pair that gives one and only one hit when searched for at Google; the pair must not be enclosed in quotation marks.) In submitting a Googlewhack, one must also provide a definition of the pair. On one day alone Gary received (among others):
2 Clinton terms of economic progress & peace-sandwiched by 2 Bush failures.
GW: "Lessee, gotta get this crap out of my system Ah! Blow it on Yellowstone!"
Send Tom DeLay to Iraq. GOP leader missed Nam for law school
Send Rush Limbaugh to Iraq. He missed Nam - anal cysts.
Send Ken Starr to Iraq. He too missed Nam - psoriasis.
Why do you think someone's so eager to go to war in Iraq?
"Phallus" and "overcompensates" are found on only one page on the Net? Shocking! Given that our civilization is built on phallic overcompensation, this is like "Nigerian scam" turning out to be a Googlewhack.
Google Shares (Google Trick #3)
Steven Johnson's excellent new blog (he's the author of Emergence, a book I learned a lot from) has proposed a new Google trick that Rael Dornfest quickly instantiated. You take the number of Google hits on a term, and the number of hits on a second term within that result set, and divide. The result is your "googleshare." To use Steve's example, there are 1,450,000 hits on "emergence" and 5,190 of those mention "Steven Johnson," giving him a .3% googleshare of the term "emergence."
You can run your own experiments using Rael's software. (You will first have to get a Google API key, a painless process.) For example:
Bush has a 7.93% share of "idiot" and 8.89% share of "moron"
Michael Jackson has a 1.24% googleshare of "freak"
Microsoft has about 3.5% share of "satan," handily beating Saddam Hussein's 0.72% share and Osama Bin Laden's 0.84% share.
Cluetrain has a 0.4% share of "hippy-dippy" and an astonishing 23.19% share of "worst book" (with the search term in quotes), while "small pieces loosely joined" (in quotes) has an astronomical 102.35% share of "worst book"!
Now that's an achievement worth noting!
I was at the Newseum, a site that thumbnails newspaper front pages from around the world. (Thanks, Dan Pink.) I clicked on the Australia's Courier Mail and saw their tag line:
Unfortunately, I Freudianly misread it as:
Two letters can make the difference between marketing and truth, eh?
And while we're discussing news about news, J.D. Lasiter has asked various digeratti what they read to keep current. For extra fun, try to guess the answers the ecelebs give; I bet you won't be far wrong. (Kudos to Henry Jenkins for mentioning TheOnion as a news source.)
I usually don't "get" the Zippy comic strip, proving that the effects of drugs do eventually wear off, but one the other day struck me as trenchant. Zippy is talking to a building shaped like a fish.
Zippy: Nothing bad can ever happen in my neighborhood.
Zippy: I live in th' greatest neighborhood in th' world!
Zippy: Bad things happen in other neighborhoods.
Zippy: If I'm so safe, why do I have this feeling of imminent annihilation?
Fish: Can't imagine.
Now, I like that. But I liked it better before I started typing it in because I thought the last line was: "If I'm so safe, why do I have this feeling of immediate alienation?"
Safety and alienation go together like guns and fear.
Freelists.org, which provides free mailing list services to thousands of technology-based 'zines and lists (including JOHO), is starting a for-pay service. The folks at Freelists.org provide a great service for free, and are stand-up folks. Please consider using them. Here's their description of the service:
MailandFiles.com: For 5 bucks a month, you get access to 50MB of email and file storage, a [email protected] email address, access to that email through web mail, POP3, and IMAP, plus access to your files both through the web mail client and FTP. (Software like WebDrive(tm) and Windows 2000+'s "map a network drive" makes it easier on Windows users.) That's it: premium mail and file storage and access, one flat rate.
My son Nathan, 11, yesterday asked:
Why can you sell your soul to the Devil but not to G-d?
He worked out an answer, but I enjoyed the question more. As did he.
I was in the video store today and did a doubletake. I mistook the photo of Sandra Bullock on the cover of Murder by Numbers for, well, take a look.
(I did just a little editing of the photo on the right, trying to match color/tint, and then, what the heck, I cloned in Sandra's hair (left) and cloth thingy (right).)
Gary "Congratulations! She's beautiful!" Turner runs a screen capture of an unfortunate line break in a message from Microsoft, thus giving me an excuse to run the following pointless, unjustified ridicule:
Look at item #14.
The fact that Pinnacle Studio version 7 is still so buggy that it can't compile the videos that you edit is my only excuse for engaging in such pettiness. Yeah, sure.
And a big JOHO welcome to Michael O'Connor Clarke's son as well. We're all better with Gary and Michael's two new ones in the world.
Middle World Resources
|Walking the Walk
According to an article by Elana Varon in CIO magazine (Dec. 1), portals are in. For example, Maids Home Services International uses a portal to distribute corporate documents to its 140 franchises. The usual advantages accrued: everyone is up to date and distribution costs have gone way down.
But, then the Internet worked its magic. One franchise owner in Austin, a retired Air Force colonel, says the portal's most valuable feature is its online forums, replacing an email list that was getting unwieldy. At the new forum, franchise owners discuss advice and tips such as how to repair damaged marble, the most efficient way to wash windows, and how to get moose blood out of shag carpet. At the moment, the Colonel is soliciting reviews of his new house-cleaning Web site. Maids Home Services provides centralized administrative services such as updating addresses and cataloging forum threads. Says the Colonel: "That's what we wanted them to do, take care of the administrative stuff and let us talk."
Sounds like the motto for the Web.
I got a DVD burner ostensibly so I can make discs with clips of me giving speeches. Ah, the egocentricity of marketing! What doesn't it permit?
The software that come with it is pretty good. DVDme is especially nice. It enables you to build screens with menus and then burn the whole enchilada to disk. You create the background graphic in some other application and use DVDme to create hot spots and links. Put your own upbeat musical choice behind the screens. Test it with their virtual DVD remote control. When you're done, set aside an hour or two for DVDme to process the AVI file and write it to disk.
It works and can be mastered by human beings, unlike, say, the DVD copying freeware that's so complex and confusing (don't forget to deMUX, or is that re MUX?) that I have yet to succeed at it even once.
(If you want to see those clips of me speaking, you can go here. Alas, for now it's only for Windows users.)
I'm playing the best first person shooter ever: No One Lives Forever 2. If you played the first one, then you know what this one is like, except notch up the graphics, plot and humor. If you haven't, then this game should be your introduction to the question of how and when games are going to surpass some genres of movies as entertainment. You play Cate Archer, 1960's British secret agent. She battles an evil organization called H.A.R.M. As silly as a Flint movie, NOLF2 is both more exciting and funnier than any James Bond movie I've seen, and I've seen them all (except for the new one).
According to Masha Geller's MediaPost column, a report from WebMergers says that the dot-com failure rate has "declined dramatically":
Geller seems to think this is good news. Sure, and here's some more:
'00s show dramatic reduction in number of returned suits
compared with mid-70s
Bryan Field-Elliot of PingID suggests at NetMeme some proverbs for our times such as:
Googliness is next to Godliness
Blogs of a feather link together
A watched hitlog never scrolls.
This has similarities to Gary Turner's Blogstickers, which I mention primarily so I can say:
Great minds link alike
Greg "LinuxMan" Cavanagh points out this tidbit from the December issue of Linux Journal:
...the PC speaker in post-2.5.31 kernels may now be used as a microphone. This is new and weird. As Jos Hulzink put it on the linux-kernel mailing list, "2.5.32 will go into the history books as the kernel that implemented voice recognition for all AT class computers .."
Greg comments: "Umm, you mean every machine broken into is now a listening device. Wow."
If he's right, this is spooky. Good thing our current administration is so fiercely committed to civil liberties that there's no chance this type of abuse could happen.
Jon Husband has published the text of an ad Sean Penn took out in Washington Post yesterday. It's an open letter to W. After making nice in the first paragraph, Penn writes lays into the W in a surprisingly (and entertainingly) personal way. For example: "You lead, it seems, through a blood-lined sense of entitlement."
Penn paid $56,000 to run the ad and then he didn't post the text on the Web somewhere, as far as I can tell. Someone quick get that actor a weblog!
Eric Raymond reproduces a Microsoft memo assessing their battle against Open Source software. Eric also comments on it. The Register summarizes and comments on the memo also.
The shortest summary: Microsoft's own surveys show that they're making no headway against Open Source.
Garrison Keillor is flaming. As one of our culture's best story tellers ever, and as someone who has trademarked a transparent gentleness and civility, this outburst is remarkable. It's short on particulars because, as the end reveals, it comes not from offended reason but from a broken heart.
(It's available only to Salon premium members. Pay Salon the money, will you? It's an experiment that deserves to succeed.)
Adina Levin discourses on the hyperlinked nature of Judaism's basic texts, saying in a couple of paragraphs what it takes The Talmud and the Internet an entire book to say.
Dave Rogers writes:
This article describes the "Social Web Cockpit" ... that aims at the support of "virtual communities", i.e. often loosely coupled groups of people sharing a common interest or task. The cockpit is a result from our "Social Web Research Program" at Fraunhofer FIT which aims to explore and demonstrate how we can turn information environments into rich communication and interaction environments."
Lots of good ideas. But I'm getting more and more pessimistic about the willingness of people to make even the smallest change in their computing environment, no matter how good it would be for them.
Adina Levin writes:
have you ever read Sources of Power by Gary Klein; the book is badly named; it is not a neomachiavellian business manual; it's fascinating social science research on how people (really) make decisions, in contrast to how we think people make decisions, influenced by our mental models of people as computers.
spoiler: people make and share decisions with stories Blog summary here.
Dan Hughes of TheyBlinked points out a "Total Information Awareness" flowchart by John "Felonious" Poindexter up on the DARPA site. It maps how the government is going to map your every click and every step. Take a look at the list under "transactional data": Financial, education, travel, medical, veterinary, transportation, housing, government, communications...
Pornography for information fascists.
Dan Bricklin writes up his thoughts about his new Toshiba tablet PC. He's excited about it, on the whole. Amy Wohl, on the other hand, thinks that the genre won't take off until they machines are much cheaper and lighter.
I personally am not feeling the familiar surges of technolust when contemplating this device in the privacy of my office. If it had a screen with twice the resolution, I'd feel differently.
David Stephenson has an op-ed in Government Computer News about what the Homeland Security web site could learn from Amazon and eBay.
Vergil Iliescu points us to an interactive Flash (i.e., move your damn mouse) that features pointless but amusing morphings and the like:
Eric Norlin is beginning to think about a taxonomy of trust: 1. You are who you say you are. 2. You do what you say you will do. 3. The combined experience of 1 and 2 builds over time.
And now Eric Norlin is arguing that we need to get more subtle and flexible with our concept of anonymity. I'm sure he's right. We're already working out issues about who we are, who we say we are, who we pretend to be, and who we can prove we are. As the legal requirements become more pressing, we're going to end up with more formal answers.
My only hope is that the practices that are emerging shape the law, rather than the other way 'round.
I always enjoy the weekly sends from Hank Blakely announcing his satiric newsletter. For example, he writes:
We have nothing to fear but fear itself, which, it turns out, is more than sufficient...
And, in an oddly related story from the Department of It's Not Supposed to Be Funny, It's Just Easier to Laugh than Sh*t Your Pants comes this quote from W as reported in the new Bob Woodward book:
"I do not need to explain why I say things. — That's the interesting thing about being the President. — Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
Paul Krassner, editor of The Realist, is being interviewed over at InkVue.
Chip has two suggestions
First, on Google Ads:
The Google article is about their AdWords program: "But AdWords Select's real genius is the unheard-of value it provides to advertisers. They pay for actual clicks on their advertisements, not each appearance of the ad. The price of an ad, as well as its position on the page (top, middle, or bottom), depends in part on how often the ad is clicked by users."
The second link says that the death of the Internet will be caused by "new technologies being developed and embraced that can, in practice, transform today's open Internet into a new industry-regulated system that will prevent or discourage people from using the net for file-sharing, internet radio and video, and peer-to-peer communications."
Beliefnet is back online. Good. It's the type of experiment I personally want to succeed: a shared space for talk about religion that tries to be respectful of differences. Getting that balance right is difficult — or, put technically, impossible — but there's room in the world for lots of attempts.
I found out about the rebirth of Beliefnet because Steve Waldman, the editor in chief, has a diary in Slate, recording his group's comeback from bankruptcy.
I was on a panel with Steve a couple of years ago and liked him immediately. My respect for him has only grown.
Arts and Letters died Philosophy and Literature was born in its place.
Don't forget to test your firewall at Steve Gibson's stalwart site, Gibson Research.
Dan Gillmor has a terrific column on what it'll take to get broadband going in this country. And he even has some words of encouragement for the FCC.
What would we lose by calling the telecom giants' bluff? Maybe a couple of years of rapid broadband deployment, though what they're deploying now — DSL and cable modem connections — runs at such a slow speed that it can only be called broadband if you stretch the definition. In South Korea and other places where deployment is going strong, speeds are much faster and prices much lower...
Another wild card has appeared, and it's the most exciting of all, because we might be able to give the monopolists what they're demanding and still have genuine competition.
According to Teletruth.org's Bruce Kushnick (from a mailing list):
I just went through the "Biannual Review" materials, WC Docket Number 02-313. I've attached below what the Bells' lobbying group and association, the USTA [U.S. Telecom Association], is asking for the removal of all documentation and accounting requirements, just to name a few items.
I consider this entire process an outrage and the FCC should immediately halt this proceeding and start all over again. Record Shredding should be illegal and not sanctioned by the FCC...
Oh, Bruce, I think after all these years we've learned to trust our telephone companies!
Jim Law points us to the Hypergene Media Blog about participatory journalism ("news from the bottom up"). Lots of good information and ideas.
Tom Wilson has a kickass article on knowledge management in Information Research. This is from the abstract:
The conclusion is reached that 'knowledge management' is an umbrella term for a variety of organizational activities, none of which are concerned with the management of knowledge.
Kevin Werbach has an excellent article on decentralization at news.com.
Charlie Green has found a site for college teachers who feel oppressed. In particular, he points to an interview about the (non-)importance of hypertext. It's an "edgy" (= obnoxious) piece, typical of academic squabbles except without the usual pretense of civility. The intro says:
Noted author John Seagrave has been vilified for his criticism of yet another academic literary fad, this time something called "hypertext." The most vicious reaction came recently from Professor Dion Gigo of the MIT Computer and Other Languages Department; Dr. Gigo is one of the nation's foremost proponents of hypertext. Seagrave responds here to Gigo's allegations.
Here's a taste of the tone:
Rojas: Why was Gigo so angry?
Seagrave: Newly minted PhD.
Rojas: The importance of being important.
Seagrave: Yes. She's thirty years old and has spent all but five or so of those thirty working hard for parents or surrogate parents in a meritocracy... now she actually has to do something with her life that may run the risk of someone telling her she’s less than brilliant.
Gen Kanai has a fascinating blog entry asking what the advent of Xbox telephony will mean. Both Xbox and Sony are adding the ability to talk with other online gamers via headsets:
The obvious thought here is that Microsoft and Sony will soon both have international IP telephony networks built around their gaming consoles.
What would it take to publish a "game" CD for these boxes that turn them into free IP phones?
And there are rumors that Microsoft is going to turn the Xbox into a Tivo. Slap some Palladium onto it and you got yourself one fine mofo of a Digital Entertainment Lockdown Strategy.
David Isenberg has published a new issue of his always excellent newsletter. In this one, you can read about "the future of voice telephony," which is not about talking pachyderms but a software product from Global IP Sound that uses the Internet to transmit calls and does so with higher-quality audio than you'll get on a "real" phone.
Complexity Digest remains an excellent source, aggregating links to interesting articles. The archive is here. You can subscribe for free by sending mail to [email protected]
Doc Searls writes:
The kid spotted the galaxy Andromeda straight overhead. I could barely see it. "It's not dark enough to see the arms," he said. I said I had heard that Andromeda and the Milky Way were on a collision course and due to become one galaxy in about three billion years, which was about the same age as most diamonds found on Earth.
In the hands of a good writer, facts can be moving.
Mike O'Dell points us to ThinkGeek.com, a shopping spot for the well-appointed nerd, because under the "Fortunes" tab you can read randomly-selected fortune-cookie style sayings submitted by readers. For reasons we may never understand, Mike was particularly amused by "I still fail to see what this has to do with Morocco." Being a person of highly refined taste, as I believe my obsession with Michael Jackson has demonstrated, it took me 11 tries before I found a fortune I found entertaining: "rotinom ruoy edisni deppart mi pleH"
Even so, it's an admirable marketing ploy.
Let there be no doubt: In Kate Bulkley's article in The Guardian about blogging and wifi, I am Mr. Laptop.
Ian Poynter has found a random techno-idea generator. Nicely done and pretty durn amusing.
Clay Shirky points us to a work of art-or-something by John Simon. The original Mac icon was 32x32 black and white. Simon is systematically and automatically generating every possible icon that could be drawn on such a grid. He started in 1997. As a NYT article at the time said:
Rounded off and expressed mathematically, the total number of conceivable variations within the grid is 1.8 multiplied by 10 to the 308th power (for purposes of comparison, 1 billion is a measly 10 to the 9th). For the grid to become totally black, the last "icon" that the applet is programmed to exhibit, Simon calculated that it would merely take several hundred trillion years.
See for yourself at http://www.numeral.com/appletsoftware/eicon.html
Nathan Cochrane adds lumber to the Palladium bonfire:
The below may explain why Microsoft is happy for music to be played through "normal" media players.
By Nathan Cochrane August 27 2002
Microsoft has unveiled its vision for the future digital media landscape and it's a world where content creators are king.
Version 9 of its Windows Media technology, codenamed "Corona", to be launched in September as part of the Windows.NET server, gives media conglomerates complete control over the way their content is viewed by consumers.
Adina Levin, having read my ramble about Stephen Wolfram's presentation at PopTech, suggests Kurzweil's appreciation of him, which she has summarized here. The Kurzweil piece is well-written and leave us humanities majors behind about a third of the way in.
There's also a good article — again only two-thirds beyond my comprehension — by Steven Weinberg in the NY Review of Books.
Bryan Field-Elliot of NetMeme (and identified above as from PingID — a man of many parts) responds to my discussion of Stephen Wolfram by pointing us to an article by Michael Shermer (editor of Skeptic) in Scientific American that wonders why Wolfram is getting far more attention than an equally implausible-sounding theory from James Carter.
...[Li]ke it or not, in science, as in most human intellectual endeavors, who is doing the saying matters as much as what is being said, at least in terms of getting an initial hearing. ... There needs to be some screening process whereby truly revolutionary ideas are weeded out from ersatz ones.
Yet the article has already pointed to the screening method: Feynman called Wolfram "astonishing" and Wolfram was the youngest person ever to win a MacArthur "genius" award, whereas Carter "has been an abalone diver, gold miner, filmmaker, cave digger, repairman, inventor and owner-operator of a trailer park." That doesn't mean, of course, that his theory of circlons is wrong. But the screening process is probably working pretty well: Carter published and no one paid much attention. If you're going to pay full attention to every publication, you don't have much of a filtering system.
Steve Yost writes pithily about reading Wolfram. He says:
The repetitiveness of Wolfram's style led me to think that near the end he'd reveal that the book was generated using his main thesis as the initial condition of a CA [Cellular Automaton] algorithm. Now that would be a substantial example.
I happen to know for a fact that Wolfram's bodily tissues are made entirely of autonomous cells that manage to self-organize into a living, breathing human. Remarkable proof of concept!
Madeleine "Madkane" Kane responds to the Google URL suggestion way up your scroll bar in this issue:
I checked and "madkane" qualifies as my Google URL, bringing my site to the top Google search spot. But here's the funny part — so does Dubya.
Something tells me the real Dubya wouldn't be pleased.
b!X responds to my plaintive plea that the Left become fun again:
The right just doesn't understand our brand of fun. Or perhaps they understand, but don't want anyone else to understand.
Namely, that while the Right laughs to be mean, we laugh in order to cope. They have their fun because the don't give a flying rat's ass about the damage being done. We liberals and/or leftists on the other hand (real ones, not the pansy faux liberals of the Democratic Leadership Council) are way too aware of the damage. Perhaps too much so. So a lot of the fun we have, much of the humor we find in things, is a kind of gallows humor. It's dark. But it doesn't tend to be mean.
Now hold on a minute. Does this mean that I'm not allowed to make fun of Bush for being a moron anymore? Sign me up for the Right!
Charlie Green responds to my argument in favor of leeway:
...about leeway: how does one decide where "leeway" becomes scofflaw or aiding and abetting?
There isn't a clear line. That's why you need leeway. (Or is that meta-leeway?)
If we need leeway to function, maybe we don't need the rule/law leading up to it. My contention has long been that if a rule/law is not regularly enforced, it should be repealed. Otherwise it is just there for intimidation and harassment, presumably of "undesirables".
If a rule isn't regularly enforced, then, sure, who needs it? And isn't "selective enforcement" grounds for dismissal of a charge? But every rule needs to be enforced with leeway when leeway makes sense.
Jeffrey Stecker writes:
Just read THE NEED FOR LEEWAY. It made me think of something I have been espousing for years, usually to blank or glazed reactions. That is, "You don't need to treat everyone equally, but you do need to treat them fairly". As you illustrated in the article, the confusion and misunderstanding of the differences between these two concepts and how they are applied can lead to truly bizarre results. I also think that this issue is at the root of much of the political/philosophical differences between the pointy headed liberals and the right wing warheads, particularly with respect to domestic programs.
Another, related, way of characterizing the difference between liberals and conservatives is that conservatives want everyone to start equal and discount the importance of the uneven playing field, while liberals are more concerned with the equality of the outcome. (Ironically, classic free-market liberalism takes the current conservative position.)
Kurt Kurosawa also has leeway on the brain:
Anyway, I just learned a whole lot about leeway from a Catholic. Being a non-Catholic American, I had thought Catholic rules were cast in stone. I thought wrong. It was explained to me this way: you pull up to a red light at 2 in the morning in the US with nobody around for miles and you sit there 'til it turns green. In Italy, which flavors much Church thought, that light would just be a suggestion. What you are expected to do is do right by your conscience, which might even mean running the light under certain circumstances. Just thought I'd pass that on FWIW; I found it fascinating.
The Seven Deadly Suggestions? That's not the way I heard it, Kurt....
David Miller writes:
This is pretty damn depressing, but I thought you'd want to see this if you hadn't. An unbelievable example of how the DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] is being turned against us even more than Congress could have imagined. Wal-Mart claims their prices in circulars are copy protected, and use the guilty-until-proven-not provisions of the DMCA to stifle the flow of information to the market:
A good summary of articles at Copyfight:
I've been trying to find a way to email Wal-Mart corporate officers to register a complaint but can't find any yet.
Arrgh! I never thought Sonny Bono would haunt us like this except on oldies radio.
The law is clear: You cannot copyright information, only its expression. So, the next time someone asks you how much you paid for that Wal-Mart brand Elvis bottle-opener, call Wal-Mart and ask permission.
Chris Worth responds to our mention of Steve Himmer's coverage of a lawsuit by the John Cage estate claiming someone else's recording of silence infringes on Cage's copyright.
I'm somewhat disconcerted about it, but I *do* understand the Cage case. It's all about *framing*.
If David Weinberger scribbles a random sentence, then reads it to me in a bar, you've 'released' it and I can quote it, adopt it, perhaps even appropriate it as my own assuming it's just a few words or so. (Remember, leeway.)
If, however, you 'frame' that composition - say 'I am David Weinberger, and I am scribbling this random sentence, which will be the sum total of the next JoHo' - then any use I make of it is definably plagiarism. You've fenced your creative output, provided a chalked square that shows me precisely what you're prepared to defend and the boundaries where I risk harm by stepping inside. 'Git orf my land!'
So ultimately it's not about the crappiness of the creative work; it's about what constitutes the composition.
I can't remember who I'm plagiarising the above from, but I think it's Frank Zappa. And I'm pretty sure Mike Batt is only doing it for a laugh - I met Batt a few years ago, and he's rather an amiable guy.
All that might be true. Let's say it is true. But, Chris, we're talking here about two recordings of silence. This is like suing me because I erased the same words as you.
By the way, I've just composed a piece called "Beethoven's Rests." It consists of all the rest notes in Beethoven's early string quartets. It's available at Amazon for US$16.00. I'm about to release one called "The Beach Boy's Greatest Silences" in which I perform my rendition of the space between the tracks on their recordings. So sue me!
Gotta love this stuff.
David Stephenson reads the text version of this newsletter that begins by suggesting you use a monospaced font and stretch the message until it all makes sense. David reports on his experience:
I used Courier, bought a 60' flat panel display, kept on stretching JOHO, and still nothing makes sense to me...
It's very simple, David: The "cup holder" is really your CD drive.
Peter Tunjic asks, more or less out of the blue:
why does modernity have a love of ideas but a hatred of thoughts? Or am I just making this up?
What, is there something wrong with making things up? Uh oh!
I was at a conference a few months ago that had a big monitor at the front displaying the chat board being used by audience members with wifi connections (i.e., everyone). Whenever a speaker mentioned a person, technology or idea, the board would fill with links to further information. It got to be almost competitive: who could post a link first? (Answer: Peter Kaminski.)
So, imagine an Olympics of the Web. Other than Competitive Linking, what would the events be? For example:
Carrying the Olympic Flame
Volunteers hand off an argument about Microsoft from city to city.
Participants make provocative remarks attempting to get a rise from the judges.
Teams see how quickly they can gather the highest-value blogroll. Extra points are given for sites that link to you that you do not have on your blogroll. (Links to Doc and Dave are gimmes.)
Browse through as many pages as possible while closing popup ads.
Well, that wraps up this bimonthly (ugh) issue of JOHO. Remember the real bogus contest (itself oxymoronic): How do I fix JOHO's royal brokenness? Offers of personal therapy will not necessarily be rejected.
And may we all have a peaceful new year.
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