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December 31, 2006

DOEP (Daily Open-Ended Puzzle) (intermittent): Democratic report card

The Democratic Congressional Committee has posted a report card you can fill in. (Thanks for the link, Chip.) It’s a pretty bland set of questions. So, what questions would you add?

For example:

How can the Democrats show they’re as strong on terrorism as the Republicans?
a. Have Howard Dean eat Saddam Hussein’s liver on TV.
b. Reveal that Hillary served as a Navy SEAL for four years.
c. Require the candidates to work the word “pussy” into their stump speeches.
d. Prosecute more teenagers for downloading music.

What phrase would you prefer the Democrats use instead of “surge”?
a. Squander.
b. Operation Incapable of Learning.

What strategy is most likely to lead to a Democratic victory in the 2008 Presidential elections?
a. Run a campaign exactly like John Kerry’s but just 4% better this time.
b. Find a charismatic younger person, perhaps from a mixed racial background, who energizes masses of eligible non-voters with a message of hope.
c. Learn how to program electronic voting machines.

Should we impeach the bastard?
a. Yes.
b. And how!
c. And his little dog, too!

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Miscellaneous Hamlet

One of the chapters of Everything is Miscellaneous uses Hamlet as its example of the difficulty of specifying—and thus providing a unique ID for—a book. There are three established editions of the play, so when you want to point to Hamlet, which one do you point to? Not to mention the various publishers, editions, and versions, from large print to translations to ones with modern spellings to parodies to coloring books. It’s a big stinking problem that cannot be solved once and for all with precision because Hamlet is a cloud, although projects such as the OCLC’s xISBN and LibraryThing’s thingISBN try to solve it with an acknowledged degree of fuzziness..

I’ve been reading Ron Rosenbaum’s The Shakespeare Wars and enjoying it despite his incredibly annoying quirk of turning dependent clauses. Into independent clauses. That distract the reader unnecessarily. Why, Ron, why? And what were his editors thinking? Anyway, the first part is a detailed account of the battles among scholars over the editing and significance of the three early editions of Hamlet. Rosenbaum clearly likes Ann Thompson’s approach of publishing an edition with all three. But her publishers, Arden, at first were reluctant because it would turn it into a 1,000-page volume too expensive for undergrads. She came up with the clever idea of publishing a heavily footnoted volume of the Good Quarto and a second volume containing the other two. Rosenbaum admits that this requires more work from the reader than would a single finished document that does not acknowledge that Hamlet is not a single, canonical work, but, he says, that sort of reader engagement is a good thing. (See pages 75-83 in Rosenbaum wrt Thompson.)

Back when I worked at Interleaf, we introduced a feature we called “effectivity,” a term taken from the airplane manufacturing industry, I believe. Intereleaf had an object-oriented tech doc word processor. Every element of any doc could be tagged with a term and a value. You could specify which elements were in effect and the system would instantly recompose the doc to meet those specs. So, you might tag a repair procedure with the model number of the unit it repairs and be able to dynamically assemble the repair documentation for an airplane based on the model numbers of the units that composed it. Back in 1990, this was a new idea and a very big deal. We called the documents we produced “active documents,” but today we’d call them “a Web page.”

So, when we’re routinely publishing books digitally rather than on paper, we still won’t have a single Hamlet, but we’ll be able to manage the Hamlet cloud in way that does justice to the work and to our interests.

Books will become playlist. [Tags: ]

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December 30, 2006

The Vista suicide note

This has been going around, but it’s important: Peter Gutmann explains how radically Vista has been architected to protect Hollywood’s content, incurring “considerable costs in terms of system performance, system stability, technical support overhead, and hardware and software cost. ” His “executive executive summary” reads: “The Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history.” We can only hope.

Pardon me while I state what’s been dead obvious for years now: Microsoft wants to be—is—in the entertainment business. Microsoft thinks it will win if it can be the preferred player of Hollywood content. So, to persuade Hollywood (and other Big Content providers) to offer their goods in Microsoft proprietary formats, thus locking the audience into the MS platform, Microsoft has spent billions of dollars devising the uncrackable platform. If that means turning your PC into a player rather than a computer, so be it. Vista is all about protecting Hollywood from its audience, even if that means degrading the utility and performance of the PC that runs Vista.

Oh, and Vista also has some eye-candy…like the treats the vet gives your dog to distract it as she wields the scalpel.

Happy freaking new year. Grumble grumble…

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Harold Feld and others on the AT&T Net Neutrality decision

I find the FCC’s decision very hard to parse, but fortunately there are a whole bunch of wicked smart people on the Web to help. (I hesitate to point out that “wicked” is New Englandese for “very,” since these folks are the opposite of wicked in the Wizard of Oz sense.) In fact, Harold Feld points to a whole bunch of them in his careful consideration of what this decision means. Harold would rather that the FCC had rejected the merger, but, he writes:

But we have gained three very significant things:

1) A clear definition of network neutrality that covers the transport chain from the backbone to the final residential end user.Forgive language that would get me an FCC fine, but that’s fucking huge. A number of us have been very worried about the vertical integration of

backbone and residential delivery, and having a definition that covers this issue, one that could be ported into federal legislation, isenormous.

2) Network neutrality will apply to WiMax point to point. This breaks the wireless barrier. We have established that ANY non-mobile platform,regardless of medium of transmission, can be and should be subject to network neutrality. Again, that’s fucking huge.

3) We just took the biggest, baddest player on the block, the most defiant anti-NN company, and made them cry uncle in public. As Matt Stoller explains, we have made Ed Whitacre and his chorus of industry shills eat their words that we can’t define net neutrality or come up with a way to “regulate” the network that doesn’t create impossibly large costs of service or prevent companies from making money. AT&T can hardly turn around an yelp about how accepting net neutrality makes it impossible to do profitable build outs when they just agreed to both net neutrality and universal deployment of broadband. When the telcos and cable cos try to trot out their tired arguments in the next Congress, they will have to explain why the great spokeman for that argument, good old Ed “no using my pipes for free” Whitacre, has shown by his actions that net neutrality and unviersal affordable bradband can happily coexist.

For other views: Tim Karr, Tim Wu, Matt Stoller, Susan Crawford, Jeff Pulver, David Burstein and David Isenberg. In fact, here’s Isenberg summing up:

So, in summary, we have a service, U-verse, that is exempt from Network Neutrality (and specifically, that is exempt from the “Freedom (or entitlement) to attach legal devices of our choosing,” AND we have the customer’s set top box exempt from the scope of the agreement, we have provided AT&T/BS the means to render the proposed Network Neutrality condition on the merger violable, and, if Susan’s interpretation of U-verse is correct, so weak as to be meaningless. Unless, of course, the telco is a good guy, obeys the spirit of the agreement, and would never use the loopholes it engineered into the agreement against the agreement’s spirit.

The agreement is, indeed, a great victory. We just need a few words fixed. How about removing the IPTV restriction, for starters. Or including the customer premises device in the Network Neutrality provisions, so we can, truly, attach any legal device.

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Jimmy Guterman blogs again

Jimmy Guterman—author, editor, music producer—is back in the blogging seat… [Tags:]

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WGBH goes miscellaneous

The WGBH Lab lets anyone download and mash video clips from their archive. And they’ll air and post some of the results. The clips whose rights have been cleared (now licensed via Creative Commons) are here. Click on the categories and you’ll find some pretty cool videos, including of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, scientifical animations, and ants eating a caterpillar.

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Berninger’s Communication Imperative

Daniel Berninger has produced a paper calling for an “Internet Renaissance” by 2010. The idea is that while the printing press brought about the Renaissance (maybe it’d be closer to say it enabled the Enlightenment), the Internet, which is as transformative, has not brought about the equivalent flowering. Dan attributes this to a clash of imperatives: To communicate or to coerce. The old power structure is all about coercion. We need to put our backs behind the communication imperative, says Dan, expanding the Internet’s reach (getting to the next billion means reaching those who make $2 a day, he says) and preserving its openness.

The paper will be a red flag for the Internet pessimists (who view themselves as realists, but I refuse to concede reality to them), but I like its overall framing: We should be working towards something as important as the Renaissance, because the Net gives us that opportunity. And I agree with Dan that it doesn’t mean we can just sit back and enjoy the great art, economic boom and global peace that’s sure to come. There’s lots of work to do. We’re just at the beginning. In fact, as I’ve said before, we’re at a crossroads where we can choose the Enlightenment or a new Dark Ages… [Tags: ]

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Bill K’s high fiber photography

Good luck for 2007



Bill K has posted this obscene photo of beans as way of wishing us all a “happy, healthy and high-fibre 2007.” It’s almost enough to get me back eating meat.

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December 29, 2006

AT&T defines Net Neutrality…and introduces loophole

Part of this story is easy: AT&T came up with a pretty good and serviceable definition of Net neutrality when it had to in order to get a merger through:

AT&T/BellSouth also commits that it will maintain a neutral network and neutral routing in its wireline broadband Internet access service. This’ commitment shall be satisfied by AT&T/BellSouth’s agreement not to provide or to sell to Internet content, application, or service providers, including those affiliated with AT&T/BellSouth, any service that privileges, degrades or prioritizes any packet transmitted over AT&T/BellSouth’s wireline broadband Internet access service based on its source, ownership or destination.

This is a big win. BUT there is apparently a major loophole further down in the proposal. See David Isenberg, Susan Crawford and David Burstein for the details… [Tags: ]

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Jon Udell interviews Paul English

Jon has a podcast interview of Paul English, my old friend and erstwhile partner, about treating customers with the dignity we deserve. Paul is endlessly inventive and good-hearted, as well as being wicked smart.

(Don’t forget to see the video my daughter’s production company did for Paul’s GetHuman.com site. Leah is now a senior at Emerson College. And, yes, that middle aged man in it does look suspiciously like me.) [Tags: ]

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