October 15, 2003

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Metadata and Desire: Metadata, that most abstract of abstractions, is rooted in human desire.
Why creators shouldn't own what they create: The act of making public also makes a public
Why The Web Has No Leaders: Little d democrats rejoice!
What People Still Don't Get about the Dean Campaign: It's not about bottom up. It's about person to person.! Includes Three Minutes of Dean in Person.
Design by Kafka: Products with devilish gotcha's
Bayesian Fun: Filters that know how spammers talk
Walking the Walk: Surprising metapors
Cool Tool : Guess what Bloglines aggregates
What I'm Playing: Will Rock rocks
Internetcetera: The tiny tidal wave of spam
Political Misc: Warning: Not W friendly material enclosed
Links: You find 'em, we run 'em
Email, Arbitrary Insults, and Suspicious Hacking Coughs: A single letter. Damn weblog comments!
Bogus contest: Look-Unalikes



Three months in the making, I think you'll find this issue especially disappointing! It's got too much about politics because, well, that's what I've been thinking about. What, I should write about what you're interested in??


RageBoy's Moment of Need

RageBoy is broke, as in shut-off-the-phone, sell-your-laptop, no-more-meds broke. It's no joke.

If you want to help, buy some RB-brand stuff (thanks to Gary Turner). RB gets about 75% of the cost of the items you buy. So far, items available include:

2004 Calendar
Men's T-Shirt
Women's T-Shirt
Commemorative Thong

Or, if you prefer to donate more directly, Euan has set up a PayPal account via a link on his homepage.

These are short-term fixes. Long term, has it escaped the world's notice that not only is RB a fabulous writer of manic screeds, he is also a superb Web designer who can help give voice to what's interesting about your company?



Ahoy, Word Pirates!

Dan Gillmor and I have launched a site called WordPirates where you can register and discuss words that you feel have been taken over by commercial and political rapscallions who twist them to their own nefarious purposes. For example, people who share copyright mp3s may be many things, but they are definitely not "pirates." And when you stay in a hotel, you are certainly not their "guest."

So have at it, me hearties! And spread the word.



It's a JOHO World After All

I'm a commentator in the Sept. Harvard Business Review hypothetical case. Surprisingly, I came out in favor of letting people blog about where they work. Who'da figured?

Here and Now has posted the audio file of my 8-minute segment about what emerged at the O'Reilly Emerging Tech conference. I talked about emergence, wikis, social software and the Internet Bookmobile, as I recall.

The Guardian ran a column of mine recently. It's on the DNS mess and Google URLs.



Hello to friends at Digital ID World

Pop!Tech conflicts with DigitalID World, which was terrific last year and looks like it'll be at least as good this year. I really want to go to both, but physics is making that impossible. Damn physics.

Fortunately, blogs defeat physics: Here's live coverage of DigID World.


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Metadata and Desire

This is no longer the Age of Information. It's the Age of Metadata.

It was bound to happen because, well, Hegel was right. As we have produced more and more information, its very abundance has made it less and less manageable. To survive it, we need information about the information. Thus metadata becomes the key to information management. In fact, it sort of always was: 56,000 is only a datum in the HR database because we know information about it, i.e., that it's Caryl Jones' annual salary, that it's expressed in US dollars, that it hasn't increased in 3 years.

But something is different now. First, there's more metadata than ever before: Metadata is the new data. Second, with so much information around, privacy has become a key issue, and it's metadata that determines the rules for the use of information.

But the most important fact about metadata is also its limitation. For metadata to work, it has to be part of a "schema," a set of categories and relationships that computers can make sense of. If the metadata declares some datum "top secret" and pertaining to "Iraq," then you obviously have a schema that has predefined categories for how confidential that data is and what it's relevant to. Further, you're expecting the metadata to consist of words such as "top secret" and "public," although you might have chosen to express them as numbers or — in the case of national security alerts — colors. Without a set of categories and expectations such as those, metadata is meta but not data.

And that means - as we'll see - that metadata doesn't scale. And that means that the Internet will never be a unified "information space" that can be searched and utilized transparently. It's always going to be lumpy, local and tribal. As Cory Doctorow writes in MetaCrap, to presume otherwise would be to presume

that there is a "correct" way of categorizing ideas, and that reasonable people, given enough time and incentive, can agree on the proper means for building a hierarchy. ...

There's no natural taxonomy. Information seems like a property of the world, something that arises from and remains attached to reality. Metadata doesn't have that pretense available to it. It is clearly stuff we've made up in order to accomplish some end. Every ordering we come upon is one that we've made up to suit some purpose. The foods in the grocery are grouped by type (fruits, pastas) but also by type of container (canned fruits next to canned vegetables) and impulse buys (chewing gum and The Weekly World News) not because God has declared this to be the right way but because it happens to accord with the way we use and buy the goods for sale there. Likewise, the order of phyla and species works great if we're trying to understand the genetic relationships among animal lineages but it's of little use if we're trying to figure out which ones will serve twelve on Thanksgiving.

So, while it seems perfectly feasible to map one schema to another, it isn't always possible because they have different purposes in life and thus express life differently. There's no getting over that limitation. Even if there were a natural taxonomy, we'd still have to make lots of artificial ones because we need them to achieve our multifarious aims.

But that means that metadata, an abstraction of an abstraction, is directly and intimately tied to human projects and human desire. And what's desire? Nothing but the way we're pulled into the world, over and over, against our will and in ways that constantly surprise us. So, the increasing need for metadata pulls us out of the world as our desire continuously pulls us into the world.

Welcome to the rhythm of the modern world.

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Why Creators Shouldn't Own What They Create, Part 4

Digital Rights Management offers what seems like an irresistibly appealing proposal: Let artists come up with whatever contract with their market they'd like. If Hermans Hermits wants to let you listen to one of their songs once and only once for $5, DRM will let them. If Beck wants to let you listen as often as you'd like but only make one CD copy, DRM will let him. Artists can come up with whatever creative licenses they want, and DRM will make sure that they're enforced. Can't argue with them apples!

Oh yeah? There's nothing I like better than arguing with apples...

The first three arguments I've made before. First, having silicon enforce rules means that we lose the fuzziness that enables the exceptions that are at the heart of fairness. Second, the dynamics of the current market will prevent the invisible hand from coming up with innovative solutions that re-balance the rights of artists and users. Third, the price for achieving this sort of control is high and will result in the unholy alliance of a software monopolist (Microsoft) and content monopolists (Hollywood).

So, here's a fourth reason: Artists don't and shouldn't own what they create.

Now let me back off that overstatement.

The US Constitution establishes copyright as a temporary monopoly on who gets to make copies of a published work. Why temporary? Why shouldn't an artist have that right in perpetuity? I'm no constitutional scholar, but let me suggest two reasons, one of which I'm pretty sure is what the Founding Patrimonials had in mind.

First, we grant only a temporary monopoly because we want to make sure that the fire of the public domain is kept richly stoked. So, we balance the desire to compensate artists — to be fair to them and to give them an incentive to continue creating — with the public good of having public ideas and melodies floating around freely. The existence of copyright means that we don't think creators have an unimpeachable right to their own creations.

Second, in publishing something, creators are making it public. The work now exists not just in the creator's head but in the hearts and minds of the public that responds. And that's the point. I listen to the song and I take it to heart. It shapes me in some small way — or in the case of some works, it shapes us in a big way. A work is public insofar as it makes us into something we weren't before. The artist doesn't own that shaping. She can't. The work is now out of her hands. She can collect royalties for the term of the copyright, but the work isn't like a good she can rent us and then take back. Works put into the public reshape the public in ways that the artist can't and shouldn't control.

That's what the artist wants and it's what we want from the artist's work.

That's not to say that making something public by publishing it means that the artist should have no control over its use, and it certainly doesn't mean that it should be made public for free. That's why we have copyright. But DRM will tempt us into thinking that in a perfect world, artists get perpetual and complete control over their works. Nope. It is essential by the nature of publishing and essential to the purpose of building a public domain that works escape the control of their creators.

Dan Gillmor makes a similar point.

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Why The Web Has No Leaders

[This is a version of something I wrote in response to a request from a Turkish newspaper. I never heard back from them after sending it in. I've edited out some of the explanatory parts, indicated by ellipses]

Here's a quick way to judge how different leadership is on and off the Web. Name five real-world leaders. You are likely to have listed some elected officials, perhaps an ancient king or emperor, and maybe some prominent businesspeople. Now name five leaders on the Web. I don't know how to begin. Is Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, a leader on the Web? Only sort of. For example, he has been touting a next-generation Web called "the Semantic Web," but while we'll listen to him because his prior achievement shows he's worth listening to, no one follows Berner-Lee's new idea just because it came from him. Who else might be a leader on the Web? Bill Gates? Hah! Many people stay away from his ideas just because they're his.

This is odd. Leadership is an important human virtue, yet we have trouble finding it on the Web. The Web is intensely social, with hundreds of millions of groups already formed, yet this basic virtue is absent. Why? And, more important, what does this mean for leadership in the real world?

The answer to the first question — why are there no leaders on the Web? — has everything to do with the Web's architecture...

The single factor perhaps most important for the success of the Web is precisely the fact that we don't need permission to participate, to create a Web site, to post a page. The Web is a permission-free zone. In this it mirrors the Internet that will move anyone's bits from one point to any other point without needing to get permission first and without having to consult a central routing authority to find out how to do it.


This stands in contrast to the way companies have done business for the past hundred years. Companies have assumed that they are the ones who get to speak about their products. They assume they are the only ones with good information about their products and they use the selective release of that information to control their customers. Markets have become masses of people characterized by demographic data who are just waiting to "consume" the messages being broadcast at them.

The very same model has held for leadership, and it isn't an accident. A leader gets to speak to us, but we are mere followers and thus don't expect to be able to converse as equals with him or her. Like broadcasting and marketing, leadership has been an asymmetric, one-to-many relationship.

The Web isn't like that. And that's perhaps its deepest appeal. A worldwide conversation has begun. On the Web, we get to talk with one another about what matters to us. That's thrilling. It turns out that, put together, we know more about the products we use than the companies that make them; corporate Web sites almost always are far worse sources of information than the most basic of customer discussion sites.

And, put us together and we know more about what our leaders are telling us.


And here's the scary part for leaders who have forgotten how to talk like human beings, who are so used to being in charge that they think they are above the fray of human interest and human passion: as we get used to more humane and egalitarian conversations on the Web, we never want to go back to those leaders and companies who only know how to talk down to us.

So, what lessons do we learn about leadership on the Web? That the people we pay attention to are the ones who speak not at us and not to us but with us. We listen to them carefully because they are so interesting, so wise, and even so funny. We learn that leadership isn't a quality that necessarily spreads across all areas and topics: the person who is worth listening to about, say, technology may be just another jerk when it comes to raising children. And we learn the lesson that is most troubling to marketers, businesses and real-world leaders of all sorts: We learn that we, talking together, are smarter, wiser, and more interesting than any single leader could ever hope to be.

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What People Still Don't Get about the Dean Campaign

[Disclosure: I am Senior Internet Advisor to the Dean campaign, a title that sounds more important than it is. No money changes hands, well, at least not from them to me.]

At BloggerCon, a blogging conference, the people who run the various campaign weblogs were beaten up because the comments on the comment boards do not shape the candidates' policies. That's wrong (in my opinion) for an uninteresting reason and for a more interesting one.

Uninteresting: Presidential candidates are not representatives. They try to attract supporters by holding positions. Especially at this stage in the campaign, they should not be shifting too much to suit their supporters.

More interesting: The Dean campaign in particular has figured out how to crack the nut of mass-ness. How do you connect a single candidate to several million supporters in a meaningful way? You don't. You enable the supporters to connect to one another. And that's exactly what the Dean campaign has been doing brilliantly. They provide a site where people can initiate their own local projects and find other local supporters. They've created open source software to enable groups to form, complete with RSS feeds...all completely decentralized. They provide a facility where you can print up Dean posters with your own message, not theirs. They don't censor the comment boards on the campaign blog; the commenters feel that those boards are their own blog. Even the idea of having identifiable, enthusiastic staffers writing the blog rather than the candidate feels like us getting in touch with us.

Some stats: Over 60,000 people have planned or attended over 6,000 local events, all without any central coordination or control. About 13,000 people belong to DeanLink, social software that lets local people find one another. There are over 500 independent Dean Web sites and blogs. Over 105,000 posters have been designed by individuals using the Dean site's facility. Over 140,000 comments have been published on the Dean blog since commenting began in June. They get over 1,000 comments a day and over 2,000 on a good day. Of those 140,000+ comments, about 5 have been removed. Over 120,000 people have signed up for Dean MeetUps (real world get-togethers), where in the past two meetings over 60,000 personal letters were hand-written to undecided voters in New Hampshire and Iowa; the following week there were significant jumps in support for Dean in those states.

The Dean campaign hasn't merely inverted the broadcast pyramid so now the bottom is "messaging" to the top. It's done away with it to a large extent, relentlessly focusing on giving up control of its message in favor of enabling supporters to organize themselves.

Three Minutes of Howard Dean in Person

I traveled with the Dean campaign on the first leg of its four-day "Sleepless Summer" Tour. I went to a rally in DC, traveled on the plane with the Governor, the staff and the national press, and went to another rally in Milwaukee. Pretty damn exciting. (I am, I believe, the first weblogger to travel as a blogger on a presidential campaign bus or plane. Someone call Guinness!)

I got about three minutes alone with Gov. Dean to talk with him about weblogging. Not a lot of time, granted.

Here's what Howard Dean didn't do: Grip my hand in a manly fashion, look me in the eye, and say "Hey, it's great to meet you! So glad you could travel with us as we campaign to take our country back." Instead, after saying hello, the first thing he said was that he was unhappy with his blogging on the Larry Lessig site. He wasn't expecting the sort of technical questions that readers brought up.

So, here's a presidential candidate who is capable of talking like a human being, engaging on an actual issue. More telling, from my point of view, the very first words out of his mouth pointed to a weakness of his. And then the conversation proceeded. He listened, not in the patronizing "Listening Tour" sense but the way someone with actual curiosity does.

I have to say I really liked the person I met for three minutes.

Could I be wrong? Of course. Dean may have a shady past as a porn star, he may be wanted in Nevada for kidnapping, and his campaign organization may turn out to be a front for the Russian Mafia. Hey, it's American politics and we can never be certain that things are as they seem. But to me he seemed like a real person able to connect with others.

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Design by Kafka

Step-by-step instructions for Outlook XP:

1. Open an email from someone not in your contact list.

2. With the cursor in the person's email address, select "Add new contact"

3. Type in a business phone number

4. Click out of the business phone number field

5. You will get a window called "Location Information" that will ask you for information about your current location. Click "Cancel."

6. You will get a window called "Confirm Cancel" that warns you that failure to enter information into "Location Information" may result in the auto-dial feature not working.

7. Because you don't dial from Outlook, follow the instructions and click "Yes"

8. In "Location Information," click "close

9. Go to step 6

10. Repeat until your fingers are nubbins.

When I bought the extended warrantee on my daughter's HP laptop, I read the contract but failed to notice what wasn't there. I'd seen that laptops were excluded from the on-site service guarantee, but now that her hard drive has died 7 months into the contract, I've discovered that there's nothing in there about how quickly they're required to fix it. So, the company that provides the warrantee services for TigerDirect has just informed me that I will receive a box to ship the laptop within seven days, should expect the repair (slapping in a new hard drive: 5 minutes of work plus 40 minutes to reinstall from the disk image on a CD) to take "a few days" and then should allow another few days for it to be shipped back.

So the "We'll send a technician to your house" promise has turned into a "We'll eventually send you a box and you'll be without your computer for two weeks, assuming the guy at the local shop we're sending it to isn't on vacation."

Life lesson: Remember to read what isn't there.

Note: Since writing that, the keyboard on the HP has started failing. So far, I've been waiting a month for them to ship the carton for me to return the machine in, thus entitling me to state the following: TigerDirect's warrantee service sucks.

I hate it when online documentation tells you everything except how to do what you're trying to do. For example, type "multiple chapters" into Word XP's help box and you'll get taken to listings about "master documents." So far so good. But the explanation of what master documents are and what you can use them for fails to tell you how you create one.

Fortunately, we have the Web where a quick googling turns up a very helpful site. And its advice on master documents is:

How can I best use the Master Document feature?

Answer: Don't use it. It has serious bugs and will corrupt your entire document at the most inconvenient time possible. (This advice to not use Master Documents reported as correct through Word 2000, SR-2.) John McGhie puts it succinctly when he says that there are two kinds of Master Documents: Those that are corrupt and those that will be corrupt soon.

BTW, this is exactly the type of thing Interleaf — where I used to work — was great at handling. Too bad we lost to Word.

Microsoft Word autocorrects "poppish" to "popish", "Of or relating to the popes or the Roman Catholic Church". Doesn't that strike you as a word that probably shouldn't make it onto the Most Frequently Misspelled list. Well, perhaps it's misspelled a high percentage of times, but how often is it used? (Google lists 37,900 hits on popish and 4,780 on poppish. )

The corrections Word makes without asking are not all on the list of AutoCorrections at Tools-> AutoCorrect options. Anyone know where this list is kept?

This 404 was definitely not designed by Kafka. Not a big deal, but a thoughtful and helpful page. (Thanks to Paul Benkovitz for the link)

Ever wonder what your Palm Vx would look like if you backed your car over it?


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Bayesian Fun

As I've reported before, I'm a happy user of Popfile, an open source Bayesian spam filter. Some notes...

I was curious why an email the subject line of which is "Watch these girls flash their racks for each other" got through Popfile. Popfile is remarkably accurate at sniffing out the spammers. In this case, though, the message consisted of a small graphic ("sg-titties-graphic") — with my email address encoded in the link so if I click on it, they know I'm alive and horny — and some invisible text that says:

beefer segregates intrust yardsticks strangles RzneXfrysRzneXrivqrag.pbzRzneX ethel myrtle cruxes ceremonies disbands cooling computable hotly autopilots interrogating commencements halters clarified incidence cavern

Several people have noticed an uptick in spam that includes strings of words unrelated to the topic of the spam or to one another, apparently in an attempt to fool Bayesian spam filters into thinking they're legitimate. (Popfile is nonetheless capturing most of them.)

I don't have any idea what program these randospamos are using, but there are plenty of generators that go the opposite the way, putting together words that (based on a particular corpus) are likely to go together. See Fun with Markov Chains where you'll find Alice in Elsinore, gibberish generated by intersecting Hamlet and Alice in Wonderland.

Popfile lets you query any word to see the probability that it's a spam indicator. Some semi-random scores based on the 700+ spams I receive a day:
Chance it's Spam
Chance it's for my inbox
Sex 0.53 0.71
Viagra 0.91 0.0
Behind -0.10 0.91
Remove 0.90 0.03
Home 0.53 0.73
Becoming 0.0 0.962
Bush -0.61 0.75
AOL 0.58 0.68
Nigeria 0.98 0.0

Middle World Resources

Walking the Walk  

At the TTI Vanguard conference, I heard a presentation by Lucy Nowell about knowledge management at the National Security Administration. She said that she thinks about intelligence analysts as being like people building sand castles.

You don't often hear shoreside, almost pastoral metaphors being used by the NSA so I thought I'd mention it.

Cool Tool
For the Hyperlinked Organization

I've been trying out Bloglines, an on-line, free aggregator. So far, it seems pretty good.

Unlike the other aggregators I've used, this one has no client software. You just got to their site and tell it which blogs you'd like to aggregate. Not a lot of options and preferences, but I'm pretty happy with its defaults. And for reasons I couldn't really articulate, I seem to prefer to read my aggregated blogs in a browser than in a special client. But now we're way down into the subrational.

Anyway, it seems to be worth a look...

What I'm Playing

Will Rock has gotten surprisingly mediocre reviews Sure, it's styled closely on Serious Sam, the Croatian hit. But there are a million games styled on Quake and they don't lose points for it. Will Rock happens to be — IMO — a terrific game. As in Serious Sam, you are an adventurer on some forgettable quest that requires you to mow down wave upon wave of bad guys. As with Serious Sam, the enemies are cleverly conceived and executed. And the rhythm of the game is on the mark: just as you think you've shot down your last arrow-shooting flying tough-guy baby along comes a fleet of flame-enhanced hatchet-throwing gladiators. And, as in Serious Sam, there are small puzzles — usually finding switches, but sometimes figuring out that that Trojan Horse isn't there as decoration — along the way.

The graphics are first rate, the fights are laced with humor, and watch out for the statues of Atlas holding the earth because they aren't what you think.


From an article by David Adams:

A study last year by Rogen International and Goldhaber Research Associates found that in 1995, employees sent an average of three emails a day and received five. By 2002, employees were sending 20 a day and receiving 30. (The same study also found that about half of an email user's time was wasted dealing with spam.)

Oooh, 30 emails a day! It must take hours to go through all that spam!

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Political Misc

Republicans for Sharpton is a pretty funny site. And the video in the upper right of this page is somewhat satisfying to the likes of me. (Thanks to Jean Camp for the latter link.)

The ACLU is backing the Freedom to Read Bill that would tell the government to back off from routinely watching what we take from libraries and buy from bookstores. As Cory says in BoingBoing, "Let's get this bill passed and then take on the rest of the evil PATRIOT act."

The American Library Association celebrates Read Banned Books Week by listing the books by the most frequently challenged authors in 2002 and the 100 most challenged from 1990-2002.

The most challenged books of 2002:

Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling, for its focus on wizardry and magic.
Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, for being sexually explicit, using offensive language and being unsuited to age group.
"The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier (the "Most Challenged" book of 1998), for using offensive language and being unsuited to age group.
"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou, for sexual content, racism, offensive language, violence and being unsuited to age group.
"Taming the Star Runner" by S.E. Hinton, for offensive language.
"Captain Underpants" by Dav Pilkey, for insensitivity and being unsuited to age group, as well as encouraging children to disobey authority.
"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain, for racism, insensitivity and offensive language.
"Bridge to Terabithia" by Katherine Paterson, for offensive language, sexual content and Occult/Satanism.
"Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" by Mildred D. Taylor, for insensitivity, racism and offensive language.
"Julie of the Wolves" by Jean Craighead George, for sexual content, offensive language, violence and being unsuited to age group.

The most distressing thing is that the home page of the ALA is now dominated by politics, demonstrating just how politicized the freedom to read has become.

Mr. Poon, whose blog I found via Ernie the Attorney (nee Ernselor the Counselor), writes about a recent airing of 20/20:

They have a heartwarming story about a "bubble boy" who gets a stem cell transplant to be able to have a better-functioning immune system.

While showing scenes of the baby finally going home from the hospital, the reporter gives us a voice-over question: "So were prayers answered, or was it science?"

Lady, let me explain something: A lot of the people out there who thinks this was prayers being answered want to make sure that stem cell transplants don't happen.

That's some lousy journalism on 20/20's part, and a remarkable lack of a sense of irony.

John Ashcroft had the chutzpah to stage the Boston leg of his pro-PATRIOT Act road show in Faneuil Hall, where Sam Adams proclaimed the liberties he was ready to die for. Apparently, this is the first time Faneuil Hall has been closed to the public for a political event since it was built in 1742.

Here are some of the signs I enjoyed:

The Bill of Rights is the real Patriot Act
Take your empire and shove it
Boston knows patriotism. This is no patriot act.
Hey Mr. Ashcroft, Little Brother is watching you!
Time for another Tea Party
Ashcroft is more evil than Steinbrenner

Here's a slick piece on the scrubbing of the voter roles in Florida. If you like Katherine Harris, you won't like this piece. Note: It is neither fair nor balanced™.

Salon has an article by Farhad Manjoo recounting how the venerable IEEE's committee on electronic voting standards went off the rails:

Is the voting equipment industry trying to silence its opponents in a standards group that has traditionally been committed to openness? That's hard to say definitively ... People have been given conflicting and confusing instructions on how to join the group; some members appear to have been accorded preferential treatment; the committee's leaders have used some technically legal but not very nice parliamentary procedures to prevent opponents from expressing their views; and when critics of the industry have managed to make comments, they appear to have been summarily ignored.

...But some members of the committee are reluctant to put all of the blame on voting industry officials. One person who asked not to be identified said that advocates for strong security systems in voting machines seemed reluctant to work with others in the group and were only interested in pushing a "political agenda."

Here's a page (by David Dill) that clearly explains the difficulties and what a "voter-verifiable" process might look like: the voter gets to see the paper record of her vote before she presses the electronic plunger to record it.

And here's an EFF petition.

According to an article by Anne Geske in the Utne Reader (Sept-Oct):

A map showing percentages of adult movies in the home-video market by state 'bore an eerie resemblance' to the 2000 election, remarked Pete du Pont in a recent Wall Street Journal Web site column. A survey conducted by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States also found that the vast majority of states that voted for George W. Bush are states that are less responsive to issues of sexual rights and sexual health. Criteria used in this survey included the right to engage in sexual behavior in private, the right to express one's sexual orientation, and the right to sexual information and health services.

Scott Rosenberg has written an excellent appreciation of J.S. Mill's On Liberty. Scott gets past the standard "take-away" that one person's liberty ends only where another begins. He writes:

Mill's eloquence on behalf of liberty was inspired by what he saw as a deadening sameness of opinion infecting his contemporaries. He looked around at mid-century England and saw it filled with "conformers to commonplace, or timeservers for truth." His fellow citizens had become containers of received wisdom, receptacles of "dead dogma."

The antidote to such stagnation, he maintained, was not simply toleration of nonconformists but vigorous engagement with "heretical positions"...

I love On Liberty — although I haven't read it in an officially Long Time — because of its elegant and radical reframing of the question of rights. Rather than being legislated by kings, God or nature, they are simply the default, and their limits are defined operationally: how long is your arm and where exactly is my nose?

But I don't share Mill's optimism about rationality. If we were entirely rational creatures, disengaged from our own opinions and committed only to an abstract truth, then every day we could have deep conversations with positions we are convinced are thoroughly wrong. But, we are rooted in our times, in our culture, in our psychology, in our interests, in our voice, in our bodies. We cannot escape those roots to have lofty, toga-clad discussions in which all points of view are welcomed and considered equally.

Scott's essay is subtler than I'm being about this. He reminds us that Mill understood that "every era must accept the inevitability of being revised, corrected and judged by those who come after." Nevertheless, Mill has always struck me, in his views on liberty as well as his utilitarianism's calm calculus of interests, as being overly rationalistic in his proposed methodologies, even while being repudiating of authority and legislated principle.

Scott ends by pointing to the Internet as "the vastest marketplace of ideas that mankind has yet managed to create," an "unbounded and still growing embodiment of Mill's ideals." Lovely point, yet I think Mill would also find the Net vastly disappointing because of its frequent lack of reason and the commonplace of "echo chambers" that exclude views that are one degree to the left or right.

But we should not be disappointed, IMO. Yeah, sure there are appallingly stupid and nasty arguments and gangs that exist simply to think the same thought over and over and over. We are all guilty of this. I certainly am. Now, we could be elitists about this. Mill was, as Scott points out. Heidegger, with his criticism of the inauthentic jibber-jabber of mass man (das Mann) was. But, hell, if history's taught us one thing it's that we're the jibber-jabbering animals. There's no escaping it; there's just better or worse, more or less. The fray of bad ideas passionately expressed and commonplace ideas intersecting at impossible angles is our condition, and it's been made grand by the Internet.

Fittingly, while checking the spelling of "das Mann," I came across a lively debate over Heidegger's Nazism.

Here's a site that lets the world vote in the next US presidential election.

Since the world's vote counts about as much as that of a confused elderly Jewish lady in Dade County, Florida, it's too bad the site is only publishing the results after the US polls close when it can have absolutely no effect. (Thanks to Wiebe de Jager for the link.)


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AKMA has a nice rant about how little the RIAA gets it, in response to my Wired article.

This is an issue that matters so much to so many people that occasionally I have hope that we'll beat the bastards down.

And then the drugs wear off.

Warren St. John has a good article in the NY Times about what blogs are doing to privacy. I get quoted as follows:

"All writing is a form of negotiation between the reader and writer over what constitutes responsibility," said David Weinberger, author of "Small Pieces Loosely Joined," a book about the Internet. "Because blogs are a new form, the negotiation can easily go awry." Mr. Weinberger said the confessional nature of many blogs had "redrawn the line between what's private and public."

On the next page of the article is the following:

Indeed, for many bloggers being noticed seems to be the point. John M. Grohol, a psychologist in the Boston area who has written about bloggers, said they often offered intimate details of their lives as a ploy to build readership.

I believe that except for the use of the word "ploy," we're saying basically the same thing.

JiWire is a directory of hotspots in North America and Europe (so far) with some marked as "certified," meaning that it's been vetted by an actual human being. The directory shows useful info about each hotspot, including whether there's a power outlet nearby. The site is aiming at being the leading place for info of all sorts about wirelessness. And they've snagged Glenn Fleischman as their editor-in-chief, a coup.

By the way, Glenn has a clear explanation of a way to bridge wireless networks, Wireless Distribution System.

What will they think of next!

And who are "they" anyway?

Want to hear something extraordinary?

I was at a small conference/seminar sort of thing where Howard Levy was engaged as the in-house musician. He's a pianist and harmonica player of vast experience. Howard gets a full three octaves — sharps and flats — out of a plain old 20-note harmonica, something no one else does. And it ain't no stinkin' parlor trick: he is a remarkably inventive and expressive musician.

So, after he played a three-minute solo version of Amazing Grace on the harmonica, I asked if he'd let us post the recording the conference had made of it, to be distributed free.

So, here it is, an MP3 of Howard Levy playing Amazing Grace (3.7MB), recorded Sept. 12, 2004.

Here is Howard's home page.

Here's the recording company where you can buy his remarkable music.

My friend Paul English doesn't write a blog. But he does write blog-ish essays on topics which he then aggregates on his site. It's like a blog turned sideways and sorted alphabetically by topic. See, for example, this on judging people by how they treat waiters.

He has an idea about how to turn conspicuous consumption into a good thing....

Jane Black at BusinessWeek has written an article about why Voice over IP isn't normal telephony and shouldn't be regulated in the same way, despite the nefarious intentions of the incumbent telephone companies:

The rush to lump VOIP in with phone services obscures the larger problem: The 100-year-old regulatory structure for telephones is no longer adequate for today's advanced telecom services.

Scott Bradner has written on the same subject, and is particularly scathing about the hook regulators are trying to hang VoIP providers on: They don't offer 911 service. He writes:

Maybe these regulators should insist on truth in advertising, such as requiring ads to say that 911 is not provided, and let customers decide what they want. That seems to work in many other areas.

Jeff Angus, who has written about tech and business for just about everyone, has started a blog called Management by Baseball on a topic suitably odd: The lessons business can learn from baseball. His thesis is that:

Everything You Need to Know About Management You Can Learn From Baseball. It applies lessons I learned as a baseball reporter and management consultant. The work takes those lessons and shows how people can become better managers in any kind of organization by applying lessons learned from the National Pastime.

Find out why Black People Love Sally and Johnny. It's bad taste, it's satire, and it's a little bit funny...sort of like Saturday Night Live.

The always interesting Scott McCloud talks in his graphical column in Computer Gaming World about what it'll take to give characters in games the gift of gab:

We need systems that can understand random sentences, formulate replies, and act accordingly.

Yes, but that leaves out the really hard part: creating characters who know what to care about.

Speaking of Scott McCloud, Akma points us to his online comic. I signed up with BitPass; you use PayPal to give them, say, $5, and they pay McCloud $0.25 for each of the three chapters you read.

Totally worth the quarter.

But then there's the always interesting Clay Shirky's argument about micropayments to consider. Clay take Scott's BitPass comic as his lead example:

This strategy doesn't work, because the act of buying anything, even if the price is very small, creates what Nick Szabo calls mental transaction costs, the energy required to decide whether something is worth buying or not, regardless of price.

Dewayne Hendricks (according to an article from Motorola) is heading up a project partially funded by the state of California to bring 1 gigabit broadband access to every person in the state by the end of the decade. The article says:

Hendricks believes that unless the FCC loosens its spectrum restrictions, other less-regulated countries quickly will exceed U.S. technological innovations.

“You’ll see technologies move to countries where there aren’t incumbency issues,” he says. “Places like Tonga will deploy technology that makes us look like cave people.”

Jon Walz has an amusing blog.

JD Lasica writes about the "We Media" report on participatory journalism and "How audiences are shaping the future of news and information." It's by Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis, edited by JD, with a foreword by Dan Gillmor. I've skimmed it and it looks like it'll be the reference point for any serious discussions of this topic from now on.

The Village Voice reports on Invisiblog, a site for anonymous blogging. It uses as its example dissidents within the Hasidic community. (Thanks to Bill Koslosky for the link.)

Dan Bricklin points to an Appeals Court's opinion on fair use. The court found that it was indeed fair use for a search engine to display thumbnails of copyrighted images in its search results.

Tim "Co-Father of XML" Bray has written a clear, concise and understandable introduction to SOAP and the REST of the ways of talking to a Web server. The question is when it makes sense for a program to ask another program for information by sending it a URL or a more complex bundle of data. And this basic process is central to how we're going to build Web services over the next few years.

I make no pretense of knowing who's right in the issues Tim raises.

Note: Here's Tim's brief piece on why URI is right and URL is wrong.

The latest Denouncement continues the proud Net tradition of mocking AOLers:

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, announced today that the "Blogosphere Purity Act" would in effect ban America Online "from encouraging, facilitating, or otherwise supporting the creation of web logs, or blogs, among its users."

More here.

Hossein Derakhshan lists all the English language Iranian blogs he knows of. (He was unable to get a visa to attend BloggerCon.)

Steve Talbott's fabulous newsletter takes on Rodney Brooks' new book, Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us. In particular, Talbott argues against the idea that humans are "just machines." Talbott's aim in this relatively brief essay is to remind us of how non-machine like we are. It's not just quanta that are non-machine-like; cells themselves cannot be understood solely at the level of molecules:

Moss is one of many researchers looking at the complex chemical dynamics of the cell as a whole, and noting that there is no one-way chain of cause and effect determining the cell's order. This order (which is passed from one generation to the next) is irreducibly manifested in the cell as a whole, with each part (including the DNA) being effect as well as cause.

I like that Talbott then broadens the question to: Why are we so willing to hear that we are machines? He proposes an answer:

In a society where the cry echoes from all sides, "You are nothing but a machine", we can rightly ask whether what we are really hearing is "I sense that I am becoming nothing but a machine and, dammit all, I won't tolerate anyone else being more than I am".

I am a big fan of Talbott's.

Jerry Ash has opened up his Knowledge Management site to anyone who wants to see what's there; previously it had been open only to members.

Isn't it nice to see the world trending in the right direction every now and then?

BoingBoing points to a fabulous site for people who have mastered doing the Cats Cradle.

There's a good article by Elizabeth Armstrong in the Christian Science Monitor about the blogs of the young.

Give this four seconds and it will make you laugh.

Jason Kottke's got a classic example of how a little trust can double your business. It's exactly the sort of math that so many businesses never think of computing. (Thanks to Chris Worth for passing along the link.)

Peter Kaminski points to a site about digiscoping, that is, shooting digital photos through a telescopic device. The difference between the snapshots you're taking now and what you could be doing if you were willing to lug a howitzer-sized scope with you is pretty dramatic.

Peter di Pietro points to Newstran, a service that aggregates and translates world news.

The translation can be pretty rough, although this is from Chinese and thus predictably is sense not much making going to:

?center port politics has the research ?Wang Yaozong ?with the above ?law, ?refers to Hong Kong ??weak ?, ?caused the Beijing port altogether to govern ?, but the port ?entire ?Deputy to the National People's Congress ?strength ?????law owed the principle ?, ??on "?the system" ?is fuzzy is the matter ?, but politics "?the system" ?had ?.

Although you have to love a site that has as an entry in its pull down menu:


It lets you use either Babelfish or WorldLingo as your renderer. Some of the languages are translated well enough to get a sense of the article. And when they don't, you're treated to tantalizing bits such as this from the Berliner Morgenpost:

Hans's acorn field man stands to Josef In the preliminary investigation around compensations with the assumption of man man by Vodafone Hans's placed itself acorn behind German bank chief executive Josef field man

It turns out that Hans Eichel is opposing Josef Ackermann. "Eichel" is German for "acorn," so this is akin to Germans rendering a US headline about a cabinet meeting as "Grain Food advises Small Leafy Plant to Continue Policy towards Actually Exists."

Here's a PDF of a report that argues that:

The presence of this single, dominant operating system in the hands of nearly all end users is inherently dangerous. The increased migration of that same operating system into the server world increases the danger even more.

Dan Gillmor cites a Washington Post story that one of the contributors to the story was sacked and that CIO Magazine refused to rent its subscriber list to the group that sponsored the report once the magazine saw the contents, which the magazine deemed "too one-sided." This feels like the implicit power of Big Advertisers at work. [Disclosure: I'm a columnist for Darwin, a "companion site" of CIO.com.]

Anyway, the report is worth skimming/reading.


Jerry Michalski has a piece in RedHerring about why the explicitness of social networks such as Friendster get in their way. So true. And a theme — the price of explicitness — that's looming larger and larger in my own thinking about stuff. That and confusing clarity with truth.

My new bumpersticker:

Ambiguity sort of rulz!

Copyright Links

Seth Gordon suggests that the metaphors by which we talk about computer security are misleading. It's not war and it's not a disease. It's a con game.

David Isenberg in his excellent new blog comments on the push to charge more for some bits than others. He's right on the mark as usual: "Price discrimination in the middle of the network is a risk to new app discovery and to free speech."

At Darwin, Jonathan Zittrain has a superb article on what's wrong with copyright law. Here's a bit of it:

For example, bars and restaurants that measure no more than 3,750 square feet (not including the parking lot, so long as the parking lot is used exclusively for parking purposes) can contain no more than four TVs of no more than 55 inches diagonally for their patrons to watch, so long as there is only one TV per room. The radio can be played through no more than six loudspeakers, with a limit of four per room. That is, unless the restaurant in question is run by "a governmental body or a nonprofit agricultural or horticultural organization, in the course of an annual agricultural or horticultural fair or exhibition conducted by such body or organization." Then it's OK to use more speakers.


We are in the midst of a cultural war over copyright, in which the salvos show the complete disconnect between the colliding copyright regimes of statute and practicality, law and life. A formal report by a commission chartered by the British Patent and Trademark Office suggests, without a trace of self-consciousness, that we encourage schoolchildren to include the (c) symbol on all their homework. The Business Software Alliance, a commercial software industry group, just unveiled playitcybersafe.com, a website for kids to inculcate the values of Title 17 over those of consumer praxis. There a kid can play Piracy Deepfreeze, becoming a crusading, well, ferret. "Stop the pirates from freezing the city! Throw your ball into the pirates and their stolen software before they hit the ground."


The cost of making no change at all must also be soberly assessed, all the more so because the Internet heralds such a staggering potential for the rapid transformation and evolution of ideas. This is not about the crass ripping-off of CD tracks but about a possible Jazz Age of creation enabled by technology.

IMO, it's a must read.


Michael O'Connor Clarke writes:

Could P2P music sharing actually be considered legal in Canada? This tech journalist thinks so, and he makes an interesting argument. He's not a lawyer, of course - but it's an entertaining thought.

Five years ago Canada may have legalized copying of copyrighted material for private use, levying a fee on blank CDs and audio tapes of of $0.77 CDN and $0.29 respectively to compensate the studios. So far, that's raised $70M. According to the article:

In Canada, if I own a CD and you borrow it and make a copy of it that is legal private copying; however, if I make you a copy of that same CD and give it to you that would be infringement. Odd, but ideal for protecting file sharers.

There's debate over the meaning of this statute. But: Wow.

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Email, Arbitrary Insults, and Suspicious Hacking Coughs

I wrote this:

"Learning from experience is the worst way to learn." That's one of the many right things that Clay Shirky [2] said in his keynote [3] yesterday morning. Learning by reading is far preferable, he said. Absolutely. Yet, he said when it comes to the behavior of groups, we keep making the same mistake: we don't come up with a "constitution" early enough.

Bob "Prof" Morris replies:

The premise of the first part ["Learning from experience is the worst way to learn"] is widely known to be false if stated universally. There's wide agreement among learning specialists that there are learning styles and even for a given thing, some people may learn best by experience, some by reading, some by hearing, some by other visual means. Furthermore, I don't believe for a minute that you can learn many motor tasks by reading about them. I doubt that few if any of even the most literate adults could learn to walk a tightrope or do a head stand by reading instructions for same.

Probably you don't even mean to agree with Shirky categorically and probably he didn't mean it categorically.

Bob is categorically correct.

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Bogus contest: Look-Unalikes

The Boston Globe reports that face recognition software failed 38% of the time in a test at Logan Airport.

On the other hand, it's always seemed to me that there ought to be many more doubles than there are now. There just aren't that many variables to play with. But, apparently I'm wrong since we can almost always tell celebrity look-alikes apart. Nature seems to have made us extra-sensitive to faces.

In fact, here are some snaps from some sites offering look-alikes, including the #1 at google when you search on "celebrity look-alikes". (The other page is lookalike.com.) Can you guess who they're supposed to be? Hold your mouse over the image for a second to see the answer.

Sarah Michelle Gellar
Brad Pitt
Bill Gates
Colin Powell
Jay Leno
Tom Cruise
Steven Spielberg
Leonardo Dicaprio
Jennifer Aniston
Richard Gere
Tony Blair

Ok, so this is more like a quiz than a contest. But you guys never really enter anyway, grumble grumble.

As for those of you who wonder why I don't write JOHO very frequently any more, take a look at my weblog. I'm writing every stinking day. Why? Beats me. Let me know if you figure it out. (And, RageBoy, write if you get work...)

Editorial Lint

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