Joho the BlogAugust 2009 - Page 3 of 4 - Joho the Blog

August 17, 2009

meta-meta-spam

I received this today:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TWITTER ATTEMPTS TO SHUT DOWN USOCIAL

Twitter has recently moved to shut down web promotions company uSocial.net, by claiming the advertising agency is “spamming”.

According to uSocial CEO Leon Hill, Twitter recently sent accusations via a brand-management organisation that uSocial are using Twitter for spam purposes. Despite this, uSocial say the claims are false.

“The definition of spam is using electronic messaging to send unsolicited communication and as we don’t use Twitter for this, the claims are false.” Said Hill.

uSocial believe the claims are due to a service the company sells which allows clients to purchase packages of followers to increase their viewership on the site.

“The people at Twitter who are sending these claims are just flailing around trying to look for any excuse they can, though it’s going to take much more than this if they want us to pack up shop.” Said Hill. “We’re not going away that easily.”

The service in question can be viewed on uSocial’s site by going to http://usocial.net/twitter_marketing.

Based upon this press release, uSocial is correct: It is not a spammer. Rather, it enables spammers. And then they spammed me to tell me about it.

uSocial also helps companies game sites such as Digg.com by purchasing votes. uSocial is thus explicitly a force out to corrupt human trust. So, screw ’em.

(The uSocial site is down at the moment. Check this post by Eric Lander to read about the site.)

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August 16, 2009

New Mac, and cloning BootCamp XP

Because one of our children needs a new computer, I’ve ordered a brand new 15″ MacBook Pro … for myself. Our child will get my current MacBook 13″. Don’t look at me like that! I’m more of a power user than our child is. And I’m older. Also, I’m paying for it. But mainly it’s a totally rational decision that happens to work out in my favor.

I know that setting up the new Mac will be simple. I’ll plug my old one into the new one (I’m getting a firewire cable that’s 400 on one and 800 on the other, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll connect through the ethernet ports) and the new Mac will suck the life force (= my user directories ‘n’ stuff) out of the old one.

What will really take some time is rebuilding my Bootcamp Windows XP partition: Reinstall XP, and reinstall the few apps I use. (I am still using Microsoft Money, waiting for the new version of Quicken for the Mac, which keeps getting postponed.) I’d much rather clone the old Bootcamp partition onto the new machine. So, I looked around and found Bart PE and YouTube instructions for burning a Bart PE boot disk. I believe I now have to make a disk image of my current Windows partition, save it onto a USB hard drive, and then, well, I don’t exactly know, but I’ll figure it out. Maybe.

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August 14, 2009

Search Pidgin

I know I’m not the only one who’s finding WolframAlpha sometimes frustrating because I can’t figure out the magic words to use to invoke the genii. To give just one example, I can’t figure out how to see the frequency of the surnames Kumar and Weinberger compared side-by-side in WolframAlpha’s signature fashion. It’s a small thing because “surname Kumar” and “surname Weinberger” will get you info about each individually. But over and over, I fail to guess the way WolframAlpha wants me to phrase the question.

Search engines are easier because they have already trained us how to talk to them. We know that we generally get the same results whether we use the stop words “when,” “the,” etc. and questions marks or not. We eventually learn that quoting a phrase searches for exactly that phrase. We may even learn that in many engines, putting a dash in front of a word excludes pages containing it from the results, or that we can do marvelous and magical things with prefaces that end in a colon site:, define:. We also learn the semantics of searching: If you want to find out the name of that guy who’s Ishmael’s friend in Moby-Dick, you’ll do best to include some words likely to be on the same page, so “‘What was the name of that guy in Moby-Dick who was the hero’s friend?'” is way worse than “Moby-Dick harpoonist’.” I have no idea what the curve of query sophistication looks like, but most of us have been trained to one degree or another by the search engines who are our masters and our betters.

In short, we’re being taught a pidgin language — a simplified language for communicating across cultures. In this case, the two cultures are human and computers. I only wish the pidgin were more uniform and useful. Google has enough dominance in the market that its syntax influences other search engines. Good! But we could use some help taking the next step, formulating more complex natural language queries in a pidgin that crosses application boundaries, and that isn’t designed for standard database queries.

Or does this already exist?

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August 13, 2009

Lego hops off the Cluetrain onto the tracks in front of it, wondering what that increasingly loud sound could be

Jake McKee was the Global Community Relations Specialist at Lego. In his essay in the tenth anniversary edition of Cluetrain (subtle product placement, eh?) he tells how Lego learned to engage with its users, and how this was good for everyone. (Josh Bernoff writes about this here.) Lego was a great example of how a business can benefit by getting down off its high horse and playing in the grass with its customers. Thank you, Jake.

Now Jake is gone from the company, and Lego has become an excellent example of how to be a clueless, frightened laughingstock. A 14-year-old user used Legos to create a stop-motion homage to Spinal Tap, which Spinal Tap projected in concert and wanted to include in its DVD. Lego refused to give permission. As a company spokesperson said: “…when you get into a more commercial use, that’s when we have to look into the fact that we are a trademarked brand, and we really have to control the use of our brand, and our brand values.”

First, I am not a lawyer, but: No. The Lego logo wasn’t shown anywhere in the video, and it’s hard to believe that Lego could win a suit.

Second, No. How customer unfriendly can you get? You sell us something that enables us to create what we want, and now you say you get to control what we create? You won’t let us take photos or videos of what we create? Does Crayola get to tell us we can’t post photos of the inappropriate messages I write with their crayons, because it might hurt their image among their target audience of 3-9 year olds and cretinous participants in political debates?

So:

Top Five Inappropriate Items to Construct out of Legosâ„¢ brand Legosâ„¢, owned by Lego Systemsâ„¢, a Lego Groupâ„¢ company

5. Legoâ„¢ Mindstormsâ„¢ dildo

4. Legoâ„¢ ThePiratesBay ship logo

3. Legoâ„¢ world’s most ineffective and uncomfortable condom

2. Legoâ„¢ official Spinal Tapâ„¢ Mud Flaps

1. Legoâ„¢ giant upraised middle finger

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8 ways health care reform helps

From my close, dear, intimate, personal, BFF, David Axelrod (Hi, David, you remember me, I was the one in row 32, on your left, that time you gave that talk…):

8 ways reform provides security and stability to those with or without coverage

1. Ends Discrimination for Pre-Existing Conditions: Insurance companies will be prohibited from refusing you coverage because of your medical history.

2. Ends Exorbitant Out-of-Pocket Expenses, Deductibles or Co-Pays: Insurance companies will have to abide by yearly caps on how much they can charge for out-of-pocket expenses.

3. Ends Cost-Sharing for Preventive Care: Insurance companies must fully cover, without charge, regular checkups and tests that help you prevent illness, such as mammograms or eye and foot exams for diabetics.

4. Ends Dropping of Coverage for Seriously Ill: Insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping or watering down insurance coverage for those who become seriously ill.

5. Ends Gender Discrimination: Insurance companies will be prohibited from charging you more because of your gender.

6. Ends Annual or Lifetime Caps on Coverage: Insurance companies will be prevented from placing annual or lifetime caps on the coverage you receive.

7. Extends Coverage for Young Adults: Children would continue to be eligible for family coverage through the age of 26.

8. Guarantees Insurance Renewal: Insurance companies will be required to renew any policy as long as the policyholder pays their premium in full. Insurance companies won’t be allowed to refuse renewal because someone became sick.

Learn more and get details: http://www.WhiteHouse.gov/health-insurance-consumer-protections/

Yes, I know you’re probably one of the millions of people who got this email also, but I think it’s important to say these things, given that some of those campaigning against health care reform have taken lying to a new level of ridiculousness.

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August 12, 2009

Apple: Totalitarian art

Jason Calacanis has an excellent post making the case against Apple, from an Apple fan’s point of view. I’m basically with him.

Doc Searls has long said that the key to understanding Steve Jobs — and thus to understanding Apple — is that Job’s an artist. We understand when an artist wants to maintain complete, obsessive control over his creations, especially when they are as beautiful as some Apple products are. But it’s not just artistry at work at Apple. Apple tends towards totalitarianism.

You can see why in its computer architectures: Its products work because they’re relatively closed systems that run tightly controlled hardware, unlike Microsoft’s operating system that has to be able to work on just about every piece of hardware that comes along. And Apple’s stuff generally works beautifully. (I switched from Windows to the Mac about three years ago.) But the hardwired connection between the iPod and iTunes — only recently loosened — is there not to benefit users, but to meet the DRM needs of recording companies and to tether users to Apple. The hardwired connection between the iPhone and the App Store represents a disturbing direction for the industry, in which Apple acts in loco parentis to protect users from their own software decisions, and (apparently) to exclude products they believe hurt the business interests of their partners. The App Store’s success makes it particularly threatening; it’s easy to imagine Apple’s rumored tablet adopting the same strategy, then other companies following suit.

It’s not an unmixed picture, of course. The removal of the egregious DRM from iTunes is a step forward, and seems to have been a step Apple eagerly took, and the movement of the Mac’s OS onto Unix added admirable transparency. Plus, Apple makes some beautiful stuff that works beautifully.

I just wish that going forward, I felt more confident that Apple is on our side, not just as customers but as digital citizens.

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August 11, 2009

The universality of names

There’s a terrific article by Carol Kaesuk Yoon in the NY Times about research that shows that humans around the world tend to cluster the natural world in highly similar ways, even using similar-ish names.

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August 10, 2009

Dave Winer serves coffee to four logicians

From Dave Winer:

Four logicians are having breakfast. Waitress asks — Will you all be having coffee? The first logician says “I don’t know.” Second says “I don’t know.” Third says “I don’t know.” Fourth says “No.” The waitress returns with their coffees. Who gets coffee?

It does have a solution. The solution is not a cheat or wordplay or a sort of “lightbulb” joke anything extraneous to the puzzle. For example, it’s not “None of them, because logicians drink tea” or “None, because the first three were saying, “I don’t. No.” or “None, because coffee isn’t axiomatic.”

[HINT:]: Think about how each of the logicians would answer the question if she were going to order coffee or not order coffee.

I’ll put the answer in the first comment. [Actually, I changed my mind. I’ll post the answer in a comment if no one else comments.]

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August 9, 2009

Twitterelevancy

With it’s new Fresh view, Delicious builds on the TweetNews idea of using links in Tweets (and other measures) as a way to find what’s newest and most interesting. As the blog post about it says:

Underneath the hood, Fresh factors several features into the ranking like related bookmark and tweet counts, “eats our own dogfood”  by leveraging BOSS to filter for high quality results, as well as stitches tweets to related articles even if the tweets do not provide matching URLs (as ~81% of tweets do not contain URLs). Try clicking the ‘x Related Tweets’ link for any given story to see the Twitter conversation appear instantly inline.

It’s a welcome reslicing, not a whole new beast, but it seems useful.

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August 8, 2009

Daily (Intermittent) Open Ended Puzzle [DOEP]: Optimal speed

Thirty years ago, we were told that we should drive 55mph (or, in Europe, 42 euros per hectare) on the highway because that was the “optimal” highway speed when it came to squeezing miles out of gallons.

What is the current optimal highway speed?

And, for extra credit, what is the optimal speed on or off the highway? If I want to get maximum miles per gallon but don’t care how fast I go, how fast should I drive? Two caveats: Yes, I know this will be different for different cars in different conditions. And, no, zero mph is not an acceptable answer, no matter how true it is.

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