Joho the BlogJanuary 2007 - Page 3 of 10 - Joho the Blog

January 28, 2007

Midomi thinks I’m flat and have no sense of algorithm

I gave Midomi a quick whirl this morning. It searches for songs based on melodies you hum to it. Fun idea, but it took me six tries before it got one right. It thought my rendition of the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth was the 59th St. Bridge song by Simon and Garfunkel, and it thought my rendition of the 59th St. Bridge Song was Oh Daddy by Fleetwood Mac. Midomi offers to play the matched portion of the song (recorded by users, which is rather charming), and in no cases were the match and the matchee recognizably the same, except presumably in some computer algorithmic sense. It did get, “Doe, a Deer” right. Unfortunately, that’s the one song whose name is embedded in its melody.

I’m no Mariah Carey, but I’m within the bell curve of normalcy for singing on key. Even so, I played the opening notes of the 59th Street song on my keyboard, with my mic laid on top of it. That apparently is Only a Dream in Rio by James Taylor. And Beethoven’s Fifth on the keyboard Midomi thinks is the melody to How Deep Is Your Love.

If I’m missing the point, I’m sure you’ll set me straight. [Tags: ]

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Protest video

Andy Carvin has posted the video he shot for Rocketboom of the DC antiwar rally. He managed interviews with some of the Big Names there, including Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, and Dennis Kucinich.

The best line I thought came from Penn: “The death tolls are binding, and we’re going to have counter that with a binding resolution.” [Tags: ]

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January 27, 2007

Social answers

Eric Scheid (in an email) notes that LinkedIn now is enabling users to pose questions to their social network. Only members can respond. They’re also limiting how many questions you can ask per month. Interestingly, you’re only allowed to give one answer to any one question. Lots of interesting results may accrue… [Tags: ]

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January 26, 2007

Divided by software

Seb Schmoller notes a research project by Steve Graham at Durham University exploring how many institutions now routinely use software to sort customers/users/citizens. Stephen writes:

…in the UK, software now organise everything from call centre phone queues, the prioritisation (and stalling) of Internet traffic, the identification and tracking of those deemed ‘risky’ or ‘threatening’ on commercial shopping streets, people’s access to premium (electronically-tolled) areas of urban roads, the allocation of financial and insurance services, the geography of shops and bank branches, and the experience of energy markets.

His project will explore how software is being used to sort us, the social assumptions behind it, how those assumptions are embedded in the code, and the practice’s social and political implications.

Great topic.

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Mozilla Manifesto

Mitchell Baker has posted a draft of the Mozilla Manifesto. (There’s discussion of it here.) Here are the principles:

1. The Internet is an integral part of modern life — a key component in education, communication, collaboration, business, entertainment and society as a whole.2. The Internet is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible.3. The Internet should enrich the lives of individual human beings.

4. Individuals’ security on the Internet is fundamental and cannot be treated as optional.

5. Individuals must have the ability to shape their own experiences on the Internet.

6. The effectiveness of the Internet as a public resource depends upon technological interoperability, innovation and decentralized participation worldwide.7. Free and open source software promotes the development of the Internet as a public resource.8. Transparent community-based development processes promote participation, accountability, and trust.9. Commercial involvement in the development of the Internet brings many benefits; a balance between commercial goals and public benefit is critical.10. Magnifying the public benefit aspects of the Internet is an important goal, worthy of time, attention and commitment.

There isn’t a sentence in it with which I disagree. And that’s the problem. It’s not disagreeable enough. I can imagine all sorts of organizations that I think are doing harm to the Net signing onto the first five principles without even checking with marketing first. The only two that would give anyone pause are #6 and #7 (although the telcos would have to do claim that—as per #5—making international phone calls counts as “decentralized participation worldwide”). Even then, they could say they are happy to have other people doing open source work, because that’s part of the balance that #9 endorses.

So, I guess I’d be more enthusiastic about the principles if they had more bite. Name the threats to principles #1-5. Declare that its openness in process and standards should make open source software the first choice to be considered when organizations serving the public good are making software decisions. Denounce the use of software patents. I hate to be, well, disagreeable about a set of principles I agree with, produced by a group I admire and whose software I use and am grateful for every day, but imo the manifesto needs to be more than a pat on the back and a big group hug. [Tags: ]

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Colbert explains the AT&T merger

Ah comedy! What else is as truthy?

And, on a much smaller scale, here’s someone watching an AT&T repair guy through his window. [Tags: ]

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January 25, 2007

The HBR list

Harvard Business Review’s annual list of big ideas—as well as the rest of the issue—is online for free until Feb. 26. I bat cleanup — does that mean “go last”? — with a critique of “accountabalism,” right after Clay Shirky’s defense of “Ready, Fire, Aim,” and well after Linda Stone’s “Living with Continuous Partial Attention,” and seventeen others. [Tags: ]

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Controlled by control

Hillary announces her campaign is a conversation. But her site looks like a re-direct from www.RiskAvoidance.com. It’s the site of a front-runner thinking the goal is hers if she just doesn’t make any mistakes. Thus, her kick-off conversation (“Let the conversation begin,” as if we were waiting for her) is a TV-style interview answering safe questions with safer answers. Take her very first question: What do you say to someone who says this country isn’t ready for a woman president. Clinton’s answer: “Well, we won’t know until we try.” Whaaaa? Was it too risky to give an unabashed answer even to this question? [An hour later: Aha. I misunderstood. Clinton was answering about electability whereas I took the question to be about competency. It was still an uninspired answer, though.]

Edwards’ site is that of a challenger. It reads like a dare. Anyone can blog there, and the conversation on the site shows it. In last night’s webcast, Edwards seemed so intent on proving that it was unscripted that it wouldn’t have surprised me if he had turned on a sports broadcast to show it was live. And you could see the moment of resolve when he would decide to extend a satisfactory answer onto riskier ground. The devilish little angel on his shoulder kept whispering, “Go for it, John. Sin boldly!”

If Edwards becomes the front-runner and then the nominee, every sane political advisor and every seasoned campaign veteran on his staff will insist that he flick that angel away. Lock in the message, lock down the site. “You’re ahead, John. Nothing between you and the White House but a gaffe.” And the moment a candidate hears the grinding of the infernal machinery in those tempting voices will be an inflection point.

This isn’t about campaign techniques. It’s about democracy, because when a candidate controls her campaign, that means she in fact is being controlled. One coin, two sides. To control is to be controlled. The need to be timid in one’s views, to vette every comment, to make only tested jokes, to say nothing that will diminish the flow of cash, all these enslave the candidate. These forces can turn an outspoken Vietnam war hero into a tight-lipped, humorless, mealy-mouthed tree stump. Really, it can.

But democracy is about how a brawling nation of passionate, outspoken citizens can nevertheless live together. There are lots of ways a citizenry in disagreement can come to governance, including monarchies and tyrannies. What makes democracy different isn’t that it achieves governance but it does so while enabling and encouraging the diversity of thought, behavior and speech.

We all believe that, but you wouldn’t know that from how we run our political campaigns. They’re better models of TV production than of democracy in action. And they will be until a campaign like Edwards’ can move all the way to victory without surrendering to the anti-democratic, fear-based temptation of control.


Before you ask, why do I refer to Sen. Clinton by her first name but to Sen. Edwards by his last? Because “Clinton” is ambiguous in a way that “Edwards” is not.

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January 24, 2007

John Edwards on the State of the Union

I’m watching the John Edwards webcast in which he’s taking questions about the State of the Union address, and I’m liking it a lot. [The following is a choppy account. Sorry.]

He begins by saying that the State of the Union and the media coverage of it was all about theater. We have to get past that, he says. Nor can we can’t look to the president to solve our problems. We the people have to do it. Bottom up.

He immediately talks about our moral obligation as a country. First on the list: Dafur.

Every American should have health care, he says. Universal health care. Period. (Go, JE!) We should build on the existing system, he says, but everyone ought to have it.

It is clear that in this opening statement, he’s speaking from the heart. And the “production values” promote this: It’s him in front of an exposed brick wall, answering questions read by a young woman at a bare table and a Mac.

Congress ought not fund the escalation, he says. “We cannot send 20,000 more men and women into this crossfire.” We shouldn’t treat this as a political question, he says, but as matter of doing the right, moral thing.

The fact that the Sunnis have been locked out of the government is the most powerful foundation of the violence there, he says. The McCain doctrine is that we stabilize conditions and create a better environment for the existing government — Shiite domninated — to bring the Sunnis in. But, says Edwards, the Shiites will only do it if there are consequences. We ought to be leaving Iraq and engaging diplomatically with all parties in the area, even those we’re antagonistic with.

Q: Would you increase funding to fight AIDS globally?

Bush has identified the issue, but is engaging only incrementally with it, Edwards says. The Democratic party has to decide if it’s going to be bold or take baby steps. “We’re going to have an entire new generation of children with AIDS because their mother can’t afford $4 medicine. And we’re the richest country in the world?” Edwards would lead an international effort to eradicate AIDS entirely.

Q: The image of America has suffered substantially under this president. What would you do?

“Our next president needs to travel the world and do what great American presidents have done: To speak not just to leaders but to the peoples of the world.” The message should be that we don’t tolerate diversity, we embrace diversity: different backgrounds, different faiths. And the world needs to see us happening outside our own selfish interests. They see genocide in Sudan and the US standing silently by. “You don’t get to choose when you’re the leader. The world needs to see what our better angels, what the American character is.”

Q: Outsourcing? Globalism?

China is about to become the largest English-speaking country on the planet. They graduate 10x the engineers we do. We need to encourage our kids to study science, math and technology.

Q: What do we do about poverty?

I’ve been running the Poverty Center at UNC Chapel Hill, Edwards says. “I’m not the world’s greatest expert,” but these are the simple things we can do: Raise the minimum wage. Increase the earned income tax credit. Organize workers into unions. Help people save. Help people go to college: “College for everyone.” Our housing policy currently is a disgrace, clustering poor people together, he says. Create a million housing vouchers to create mobility across the economic and racial barriers. We need a million stepping stone jobs. But, it’s not all about the government. If you’re able to work, you ought to be working. Parents need to be responsible for their children.

We can debate what are the right ideas, but we can’t debate doing nothing. Doing nothing is not ok. It says something about our character, Edwards says

[I was very impressed by his substance and style. He has a real-ness, sincerity and a steadiness that would do this country good, and will, by the way, stand him in good stead in comparison to the other Democratic candidates.]

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Jeez, maybe everything actually is miscellaneous!

Richard Sambrook of the BBC is at a Davos meeting that doesn’t permit live blogging. He does report, however, that:

One internet entrepreneur said “The challenge isn’t content anymore. It’s organising it, the architecture of content is the new challenge.” He was referring to sites like Flickr and Facebook.

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