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July 31, 2009

July 30, 2009

Annals of No One Cares But Me: Big pixel drivers

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, I had a peculiar interest in two topics just about no one should or does care about: Drivers for unexpected output devices, and bigpixels. These interests were piqued by my place of employment. I worked at Interleaf, an early innovator in electronic publishing. Back in the day, we had to write our own drivers for the rare and expensive high-resolution printers able to show off the high-res, proportionally printed, typeset-quality, text ‘n’ graphic output our software was able to create. So, I naturally used to care about odd output devices — e.g., eventually our software was used to print low-res codes on soda cans — and output composed of huge pixels.

Therefore, I was delighted to read in the Boston Globe about Artaic, a company that uses a computer to translate images into robotically-created mosaics. It’s got it all: An unusual output device that uses macro-scale pixels.

Yay.

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July 29, 2009

Office hours for non-academics

Academics hold office hours — set periods when they can be found in their on-campus offices, available to talk — because they are not required to be on campus except for when they teach. Since more of the workforce is adopting that work-wherever-you-want approach, I really like Whitney Hess’ idea of establishing of office hours for herself. She’s a user experience designer, and if you want to talk with her, you can count on her being in her office, with a chat client open, on Sunday mornings, 9-10 EDT.

More of us ought to be doing that. I think it’s a keeper of an idea.

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July 28, 2009

Annals of openness in peril

1. The court has rejected Charlie Nesson’s basic defense of Joel Tenenbaum’s sharing of music files. The case is going to jury which may levy the same sort of insanely excessive fines as in the Jammie Thomas-Rassert trial. I hope Charlie’s team can convince the jury that the fines and the entire process are so onerous and disproportionate that the RIAA has been abusing the court system. Of course, IANAL, and IANAOTJ (I am not on the jury).


2. Barnes and Noble has launched its e-book software. It runs on iPhones as well as on PC’s and Mac’s. I’m having trouble finding which formats it supports, but judging from its Open dialogue, not PDF, .doc, .html, .mobi, or text. It does support .PBD books.

After a very very quick session playing with it, it seems quite competitive with the Kindle, and because I’m running it on my Mac and not on the little piece of crippled hardware I bought from Amazon — the Kindle is just barely adequate as a reader, and is still overpriced by more than 100% in terms of its value, imo — having the use of a keyboard and a mouse is a big step up. And, unlike the Kindle, you can use whatever fonts you have on your machine. Still, it’s only incrementally better than the Kindle’s software (again, on a quick look), not a great leap forward for readers.

One of B&N’s big advantages is that it’s hooked into Google Books, enabling you to download public domain books that Google has scanned in. You do this by searching for a book on the B&N site and noticing the “free from Google Books” label. Be sure to sort by price; otherwise B&N lists the for-pay versions first. If B&N wants to be aggressive in this space (= succeed), it should create an easy-to-find section that lets you browse Google’s free books. Get us using the ereader and then sell us the copyrighted books. (If B&N has such a section, I couldn’t find it quickly enough.)

BTW, I presume (and thus may be wrong) that Google did a special deal with B&N to enable this. If so, I find it worrisome. If Google is going to be granted a special right to scan in books without fear of copyright reprisals, it will be the de facto national e-library, discouraging others from undertaking similarly scaled scanning projects, and thus should be making its public domain books equally and maximally freely available. IMO.

2a. [Later that evening:] B&N stores are now providing free Wifi. Yay!


3. Apple is not permitting the Google telephone service into the Apple App store, thus simultaneously and inadvertently making the case for Zittrainian generativity.


4. [Later that day]: On the happy front, Google has open-sourced an implementation of Wave.

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July 26, 2009

The Guardian on miscellaneous bookshelves

The Guardian has fun article on schemes for arranging the books on your shelf, with an interesting set of comments. (It makes me want to send the entire thread a copy of Everything Is Miscellaneous.)

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A tip to the TSA

Here’s an except from a message Gary Stock sent to a mailing list (used with permission):

Works:
http://www.tsa.gov/

Fails:

http://tsa.gov/

Network Timeout
The server at tsa.gov is taking too long to respond.

(Don’t you suppose that’s hundreds of people, or more, every day?)

Presumably, because the underlying address is:

http://tsagov.edgesuite.net/

…which seems awfully damn strange to begin with!

I work in server config only infrequently, but there are at least two
very reliable methods to make “http://tsa.gov” function — some one of
which *should* be invoked. Either add a DNS CNAME record, OR use
.htaccess locally for a 301 redirect. (More obscure DNS record or
server conf alternatives are left as an exercise for the reader ;-)

Anyone at the TSA listening (= ego-surfing) and care to make the change? (PS: The TSA blog continues to be a model. Also, fun.)

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Deval Patrick plummets, and responds with talking points

According to a Boston Globe poll, the popularity of Mass. Gov Deval Patrick has plummeted.

Too bad. I think he’s been doing a good job in an economic and political environment within which success can only be measured by degrees of failure. (Those who worry about one-party control turning into a tyranny have never met Massachusetts Democrats.)

But, I was disappointed to receive an email this morning from Doug Rubin, of the Deval Patrick Committee, containing “talking points” for his supporters, with a form that lets us forward it to ten people. The msg begins:

Friends,

In light of today’s Globe Poll, we know that many of you will be receiving many questions about the Governor and the Commonwealth. Below are some talking points to help with those conversations. We ask that you use these in conversation and distribute them to your friends and family. I’m proud of what we have accomplished, feel confident talking about our work, and I hope you are as well.

Sincerely,
Doug Rubin

Jeez, I really don’t want to be recruited as a spin agent.

Governor Patrick, I know this has to be a sucky day for you. There are lots of us in the Commonwealth who think you’re the right person for the job and that you’re an exceptional person in near impossible circumstances. We want to help. Don’t spin us. Fall back on us. We’ll rise to catch you. Trust us.

One more thing: The email msg and the DevalPatrick.com site it comes from do not explain who Doug Rubin is (Google reports he’s the Governor’s Chief of Staff [NOTE later that day: Doug Rubin says in the comments that he was Patrick’s Chief of Staff but is now part of the Governor’s campaign team] or Deval Patrick’s relationship to the site, other than noting that it is not an official government site. How about a little more transparency than that?

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July 25, 2009

Dan Gillmor’s early blogs found

Scott Rosenberg posts the happy news that Rudolf Ammann has found Dan Gillmor’s missing early bloggage for the San Jose Mercury News.

Scott includes a link to Dan’s first post, in 1999. Here are some snippets:

I’ve been thinking about the new ways of journalism, namely the ways the Internet is imposing on all of us. Internet Time has compressed the lives of all kinds of people in all kinds of businesses, and journalism is no exception. In fact, it may be one of the businesses most affected in the long run, both in the opportunities the Net creates and the threat it represents.

So I’m trying one of those new forms. It’s called a “weblog” — and it’s a combination of styles that could exist only on the Web. Text, pictures, hyperlinks and, soon, audio and video are all part of this new form, and I can’t wait to start experimenting with it.

Why do I like weblogs? Because the best ones are windows into the Web, various topics and people’s minds. Rather than trying to describe the form, let me show you several of the weblogs I look at daily (or even more frequently):

There’s nobody I admire more than Dan, for his integrity and his prescience.

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AP to digitally monitor copyright

The AP has announced it is going to use an automated system to monitor the use of AP content on the Web, looking for copyright violations. The empire is fighting back. From the press release:

The Associated Press Board of Directors today directed The Associated Press to create a news registry that will tag and track all AP content online to assure compliance with terms of use. The system will register key identifying information about each piece of content that AP distributes as well as the terms of use of that content, and employ a built-in beacon to notify AP about how the content is used.

I think there are three possible broad-stroke outcomes:

1. The AP takes an enlightened and generous view of copyright protection and its terms of use, encouraging people to link to and cite its stories, and saving its angry face for commercial thieves, wholesale infringers, and other scum. The AP remains a major source of news, fulfills the social mission of the newspapers who are its members, and our culture is better off for it.

2. The AP’s automated system is set on a hair trigger. The AP protects its copyright so well that no one ever hears from it again.

3. The AP acts inconsistently. It sends scary letters to teenagers who copy three paragraphs about the Jonas Brothers and sics lawyers on a professor teaching a course on media studies. No one understands what the AP is doing, so we all get scared and hate it.

To start with, it’d be great if the AP’s copyright warnings didn’t just tell people what they can’t do, but also told them what they can do, and encouraged us to re-use the material as much as possible. On the other hand, since one of the aims of the new system (according to the press release) is to facilitate the use of pay walls, I expect we’ll see more of the AP’s content making itself irrelevant.

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The racial divide in Internet devices

A Pew Internet report says that while 56% of Americans have accessed the Internet wirelessly, there’s a stark racial divide in the devices we use. About half of the African-American and English-speaking Hispanic population accesses the Net through cellphones and other handheld devices, but only 28% of white Americans have ever done so.

Three bullet points quoted from the report:

* 48% of Africans Americans have at one time used their mobile device to access the internet for information, emailing, or instant-messaging, half again the national average of 32%.

* 29% of African Americans use the internet on their handheld on an average day, also about half again the national average of 19%.

* Compared with 2007, when 12% of African Americans used the internet on their mobile on the average day, use of the mobile internet is up by 141%.

We can read this in many different ways:

  • Mobiles are helping to end the digital racial divide

  • Mobiles are extending the digital racial divide by providing second-class Net access to African Americans

  • For a far greater percentage of African Americans than white Americans, the Net is less generative and participatory

  • We’d better make sure that the carriers become device independent and Net neutral

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