31 December 2005

Thinking about GoogleBase

an informal community is
(or should be)

around the shared challenges of the semantic web

and it will behoove us
to consciously, publicly experiment
with the most interesting web2.0
apps and api's (or playgrounds)

del.icio.us for tagging
wikipedia and wikis for collaboration
ning for the new shared vocabulary of
social apps

and googlebase for structuring data

for ggb dares us
to enforce some chosen semantics on
our publishing

so we should explore how we might fit
every other web resource into ggb:

wikipedia articles (everyone their own wikipedia?)
imdb entries
blogs w/comments
google-groups threads
webjay playlists

(i'm assuming that google is thinking
since they already cache the whole web
why not privilege a structured subset
by hosting it outright?)

27 December 2005

Lust on the Tree of Life

the Tree-of-Life paradigm
gains most of its power
from the visualiser's capacity
to 'dream' new details

an example:

you can pick any word/concept
(we'll choose 'lust')
and assign it a color
(violet, duh!)
and begin to 'dream' details
of how that color should be
across the Tree

in the long view:

how early did it get its start?

how quickly did it spread across the globe?

were there eras
when it was denser or less dense?

in the close view:

when does it start
on the individual's lifebranch?

what rhythms can it manifest
(daily, yearly)?

how different are the rhythms
of different individuals?

what patterns-in-space do branches trace
under its influence?

each of these questions can best be addressed
by trying to visualise the patterns of color
on the Tree)

we'll call 'lust'
any point where normal neural activity
is deformed by a temporary sex-goal

so it's as old as neurons

and it can be triggered by
detection of a potential partner

or even by mating-seasonal
'spring in the air'

many species
synchronise their lust
to the seasons
or the time of day

or solitaries may stumble on a mate
without warning
lust suddenly exploding

and are there any other species like humans
where lonely guys wander
in a perpetual miasma of frustrated lust?

or where couples pair for life
and lust withers?
(tell that to Mrs Coolidge)

21 December 2005

'Reality' on the Tree of Life

i once heard tell
of a toddler, overheard
after being put to bed
repeating to himself
a word he'd learned that day

and that's become for me
the prototype of our relationship
with 'reality'
(Nabokov agrees
it should normally be written
in quotes)

sometimes, too,
in the small-font comment-line
under a blog headline
i'll channel Zippy
and repeat a weird phrase three times

just to help it sink in

and this 'sinking in'
feels to me like it involves
the solar plexus

feel it in your belly

which makes the best sense to me
in the light of Kleist's observation
that graceful action
must flow from our centers of gravity

so in our flattened neural maps

the point(s) that represent the solar plexus

may have a special status

addressed by the toddler-Zippy within us

when a pattern is considered 'real'

so that it will in future

shape our grace

at the deepest level

acetylene and hydrogen cyanide

acetylene and hydrogen cyanide

acetylene and hydrogen cyanide

19 December 2005

A tree of life on the Tree of Life

we have flattened each nervous system
on the Tree of Life
down to a network of points and lines
enclosed within the brain-sized circular
of its branch

and we've observed relationships between neurons
in that network
mirroring the relations between
entities in the world

this mirroring growing
more and more precise
as each brain climbs its branch

abstracting symbolic 'shapes'
to represent those relationships
shapes that simplify the paths
of those patterns of matter
embedded in 4-d spacetime

and further using those 4d shapes as metaphors
when a pattern is missing an 'external' shape

testing, then
alternate abstract-shape models
until one stands out
as the best match

and seeking to extend that match
to other entities/ relationships
so that the fewest possible alternate models
match the most possible modeled relationships

(a reduction sought both
by the baby tasting everything it can pick up
and the string theorist trying to unify
gravity with electromagnetism)

ultimately aiming for a single unified 4d model
that can be precisely matched
to every sort of relationship

(like a tree of life model)

18 December 2005

My Firefox tweaks

i'm always disappointed when i read
people's lists of favorite Firefox extensions
because there's almost never
overlap with mine

so here's a horrendously-detailed tour of mine
with links to the extensions
(and notes to myself about which ones
still aren't firefox-1.5-ready)
illustrated with a 1024*768 screencap

and if it helps
also a splitscreen view so you can scroll
the text and the screencap

the titlebar at the top mentions Sage (1.5 ready)
which is my most-used extension, an rss-reader
but i'll hold off describing it
till we get past the toolbars

i've moved the location bar
into the menubar
which i believe is a standard capability
under View - Toolbars - Customize
(just drag it, when in 'Customize' mode)

to the right of the location bar
is a non-Firefox floating utility called TinyResMeter
that warns me when the CPU is maxing out
or when my drive is getting full
(currently ~2Gb free)

hidden behind that is Google Web Accelerator
which i swear by, mostly
because it makes Sage run 2x faster
(i don't use the ridiculous prefetching)

i normally don't go in for themes
but i somehow ended up with Pixelzilla (1.5 ready)

the search bar, next row down
unexpectedly expanded to fill
the empty space left by the location bar
(which i hope to re-shrink
using annoyingly-arcane XUL)

i rearranged my navigation icons
and deleted the ones i don't use
but these are all standard except the sage leaf

(new tab, back, forward, stop, bookmarks-sidebar, sage,
cut, copy, paste, search, go-location, reload...)

...and the 3-d arrow at the far right
(greyed out from its normal yellow)
which is from Browse Images (1.5 ready)
a way-complicated extension for browsing image galleries
that automatically caches a list of image-links
for every page you visit
so the arrow-button will
very conveniently
step you thru that list

(Browse Images has the ugliest toolbar ever imagined
so i just dragged off the one arrow i need)

next we have two bookmarks toolbars
crammed with unlabelled small icons
that comprise most of the sites i visit regularly that
have rss feeds
(Sage handles the rest)

the second toolbar is via the
Multi Bookmarks Toolbars extension (buggy, no 1.5)
and if you need it i recommend the older version
but when you need to edit bookmarks in the 2nd bar
do it in the Bookmarks Manager
not via the popup menus

i customised the icons with Favicon Picker (no 1.5)
so i can find them without having to
subvocalise the site name

they're clustered into groups
based mostly on visiting-schedule

and i can tweak their urls via the context menu
(except the buggy 2nd bar)
via an Update Bookmarks extension (no 1.5)

near the end of the second row
is a little folder labeled 'n'
that pops up a menu of page-titles
which is where i stash temporary bookmarks
that i clean out when it gets towards ten items

and below these is the highly customizable
PrefBar toolbar (no 1.5?)
that lets me toggle on/off for
Javascript, Java, and cookies

and also resize the page font
and clear the cache

(the Flash toggle doesn't work
and the colors-images-animations toggles
i never seem to use)

which brings us to Sage

the magnifying glass finds all rss-feeds on a page
and lets you add the ones you want

the whirly-button scans the whole list
and highlights those with changes

i've turned off the lower pane in the Sage sidebar
that shows article headlines
so when i click on a highlighted feed
the feed displays in the main browser window

and i tweaked the stylesheet (sage.css)
so it's big and plain and easy on the eyes

for busy feeds
i mark the top item as 'read'
using a popup-menu command
added by the LinkVisitor extension (no 1.5)

and then i scan down the list
until i hit the old top one
i'd marked last time

using the popup menu to open interesting articles
in new background tabs
via the Open link in... extension (1.5 ready?)
which offers new menu items for foreground/background
tab-or-window opening

and since the popupmenu is now overloaded with cruft
i use Menu Editor (no 1.5?)
to trim unneeded menu items
and rearrange the ones i use most

i use Tabbrowser Preferences (1.5 coming)
to move the tabs to the bottom
and TabX (no 1.5?) to add closeboxes to each tab

and there's a little Google pagerank extension (1.5 ready)
below the tabs (i haven't explored adblocking options
so i'll omit that)

17 December 2005

Grim Meathook Future of the day

suppose the PATRIOT Act
isn't really about Islamic terror
or even political opponents

but instead anticipates
a near-term future
when the draft will be reinstated
and the mildmannered Left
grows genuinely angry?

15 December 2005

Meditation on the Tree of Life

in the last installment we argued
that the embodiment of a song's mood
may be more or less

but on the Tree of Life these categories
can only be applied to human performances

(we trust) embody their moods
with perfect authenticity

and the origins of human
bad faith
are unknown

(Jaynes thought c1000BC
from city life or literacy

and noted that Socrates
credited his best instincts
to an inner voice of god
or genius)

let's picture the cross-section of any branch on the Tree of Life
to be a circle with a diameter wide enough
to enclose that creature's brain

but since we've flattened the Z dimension

let's flatten the whole nervous system
to fit in that circle
by representing each nerve-cell as a point
and each relationship between nerve-cells
as a line

and when we flatten this network
we can insist that no two cell-points
(but the relationship-lines
must cross like mad)

relationship-changes between the organism-branch
and the surrounding world
will be reflected in (unknown)
relationship changes between nerve cells

and important changes will lead to
more-or-less-appropriate actions

but in humans
since the crisis of faith
these actions may be authentic or inauthentic

and our only duty that matters

is to under-stand
our inauthenticities

for which Gurdjieff prescribed
in the face of our mechanical reflexes

(more generally termed

and our particular challenge
is those kneejerk emotional reactions
when others punch our buttons

(with Karl Rove a punching ace)

with our network of neurons
producing less-than-ideal actions

and meditation focusing on that
instant of reflex

and visualising, say,
a new layer of nerve cells
widening that gap

14 December 2005

Iraq's fate

Sean Paul of the Agonist has written a short think piece on Iraq policy that I think is much too... kind.

The only 'democracy' we'll accept for Iraq is one where we hold all the cards-- we'll call it democracy when they fight us with ballots not bullets, but no matter which they choose, we'll use whatever weapons we have to, to make sure that things come out our way-- not excluding election fraud and assassination.

And we'll stay as long as there's oil that needs protecting-- don't think 2000 dead, think 200,000, over the next 50 years. Don't think $500B, think $500T, because the value of the oil will increase and increase, so we're not going to let anyone take it... no matter who we have to nuke.

12 December 2005

The craft of view-scaling

my recent neologisms
like gWarming
and vshort
and aCock (for Alexander Cockburn)

are admittedly-borderline experiments

in a broader campaign
that might be called 'view scaling'

an illustration:

an online teevee schedule
is a 'view' of a database of shows
with fields for plot-summary
actors, year-made, etc

and in the 'now showing' over-view
you get very-abbreviated entries
for each of the many channels

but you can click on any individual show
to see the full database entry

so an abbreviated movie blurb that appears baffling
becomes clear when you see
in the expanded view
that the first-named actor is jackie chan

that it's a jackie chan movie
is the critical bit of info

but the database drudges
had to put that critical bit in the
'actors' field

so the abbreviated listing
which omits the actors
favoring instead the plot-blurbs
left out the critical bit

sometimes it's the director that's critical
a bergman film
a woody allen film

or the school
a dogma95 film
or french new wave

and this stubbornly human

is universal

we can never say in advance
that one database field will always be
the most important to feature
when only one field can be displayed

and i'll call this the 'view scaling' problem

when you need to cram
five pounds of data-sugar
into a four-pound screen-canvas sack

something's gotta give
and you want the least-important pound
to give first

but often you want this trimming
to happen under robot-control

so databases need a custom-set importance-flag
on each field
to optimize the trimming

and further
as views dwindle down to a precious few characters

you need ways to trim the phat
from individual words

so 'very xxx' becomes vxxx
and jennifer lopez becomes jLo

07 December 2005

Music-perception on the Tree of Life

we postulate, without proof
a color-symbolism for music
along any branch on the Tree of Life

so that creating a new song
means creating a colored branch segment
n minutes long

that listeners can then re-experience
in parallel with their own colormoods

and i'll propose that any song's
to a combined
at any point

which stress-level
is the first aspect we judge

with individuals varying widely
in their preferred stress-level

hormonal teens seeking stress

burntout boomers avoiding it

stress levels transmitted via
beats per minute
(fast or slow)

timbres of instruments and voices
(smooth or rough)

volume (loud or soft)

(so that even if the listener is
the stress-level will impinge
and modulate their mood)

and that next
beneath this overall stress-level

is a mood

which can be any human mood imaginable

but a listener may reject
whole ranges of moods

which implies an immaturity
or vulnerability

the song's
of the chosen mood

can be more
or less successful

more or less original/cliched

more or less
technically accomplished

and further
in this age of sampling

the song can be more or less

(if they repeat that measure
one more time
i'm bailing!)

03 December 2005

Theory of whitespace

is it possible the primary difference
between poetry and prose
is the cost of whitespace?

so in

where whitespace is





there may come a
poetic revival

as the
of whitespace
is re-appreciated

5 years ago i proposed that xml's
hierarchy-of-containers model

reflected nerd-neurosis
more than creative psychology

(what kind of blogger
makes a mental outline
before beginning to write?)

and that text composition is really about
blocks of text
separated by expressively-sized gaps

where whitespace is the cheapest form of
gap-size expression

for my online edition of the legendary
punctuationless last chapter
of Ulysses

i extended Nabokov's advice by adding
not commas but linebreaks

which experience drove home for me
how most punctuation is about pauses

comma short
fullstop medium
paragraph long
sectionbreak longer
chapterbreak longest

Joyce reliably edited
to minimise punctuation
which he distrusted
famously protesting that 'inverted commas
add an air of unreality to a page'

so if he could have afforded the
he might have done away too
with commas and fullstops
and used transparent linebreaks

02 December 2005

The Huffington Post is not a blog

a niche blog on blogging
called the Blog Herald
started a series last week
on starting a blog

but i was distressed to discover
that the original intent
of the expression 'web logging'
(to log your websurfing
with public annotations)
has gone entirely by the boards

as they offer you just two options:
a personal-diary-style blog
or a topical-niche blog

online personal diaries came before blogs

and when the words 'blog' and 'weblog'
started being applied to them
i was flattered at first
(*ahem* having coined the term)

but there's a problem here
that everyone, on or off the Net
knows what an online journal should be
but not-at-all what an
should be

so the former definition is tending to
usurp the latter
through sheer ignorance

so i'd like to take the term back
from online journalling
and make them find their own neologism

the Blog Herald is also
77 days in
to a 100-day project
"100 blogs in 100 days"
(without topical restrictions)

which i'll confess
i haven't even skimmed
(though i'm a faithful fan
of the Herald itself) because

the Herald being itself narrowly topical

even after reading it all year
i still know absolutely nothing
about the Blog Herald editor
(or editors) as people

so why should i trust their judgment
on topics outside their niche?

my primary conscious purpose
on 17 December 1997
in creating (then) Robot Wisdom WebLog

was to 'unify my brand' on the Net

because i was posting widely
on Usenet/netnews
and on my website

but readers in any given newsgroup
or readers of any given webpage

saw only that one limited aspect
of my interests

from the first it was for me
a matter of honor
to link
i found interesting

without censoring the frivolous
or controversial

with John Lennon
beside AnaCam and JenniCam as
role models

(although this ideal is probably
impossible to fully reach)

adding an mp3 jukebox
again extends that ideal

for to segregate
my musical choices
in a separate blog
would make as little sense
as to segregate
into separate mp3-blogs
my mainstream music-favorites
from my esoteric ones

the unit-measure for blogging
is the blogger

and you subscribe or unsubscribe
to the blogger-as-a-whole

based on whether you find them

(i've always wished that someone
would create a partial duplicate or
RWWL Digest
that echoes just my mainstream links)

so my main problem with Slashdot
is that there's no 'them' there

i just don't know who's interested in what
and who understands what

so the news-stream it offers
remains largely unfocused sludge

and now the Huffington Post, too
has become almost unreadable
because it aggregates
100 different windbags
with no common voice

27 November 2005

Origins of music on the Tree of Life

this Tree of Life
is just the branching worldline
of that first DNA molecule

swaddled in RNA, protein, and phospholipids

accumulating encoded behaviors
triggerable by
environmental changes

coordinating these behaviors via
and a nerve net

each environmental trigger
and each behavior
to the rest of the nerve-net
a characteristic aspect
symbolised in neural rhythms

rhythms of alarm
of heightened alert
of desire
of contentment

simpler desires at the root of the Tree

becoming subtler as we rise

and when a pattern like alertness
needed to be maintained even when
all external triggers were hidden
(in the underbrush, in the dark)

a sort of neural
to keep your mood focused
would be invaluable

causing that characteristic aspect
to keep repeating
like a rhythmic phrase

from earliest times
among the trigger-patterns of behaviors
were mechanical/acoustic vibrations

varying in frequency and volume

with the ear emerging as
the primary detector

sifting specific triggers
from the welter

and routing them, ASAP
into responsible behavior

abstracting key sonic features
for disambiguation

laying the groundwork for a mapping
from sounds to feelings

among the ear's assignments
detecting others of the same species
was essential for mating purposes

and the sounds those others made
must have corresponded to similar sounds
made by the listener
under comparable circumstances

so variations in these sounds
corresponded to variations
in their shared repertoire
of inner states
(eg thrashing around when frustrated)

which made
projecting yourself into the other's shoes
by mapping their actions onto
your past feelings

and then choosing to make sounds
that the other will interpret
in a specific way

to frighten a competitor
or charm a potential mate

and these sounds also shape
the inner 'tune' you 'whistle'

and if your species
shows mutual assistance
the inner voice you hear
might be the projected voice
of a helpful other

(cf julian jaynes' theory
that ancient humans
heard in their inner ear
their god-boss's voice
urging them against laziness)

25 November 2005

Flash in ROM?

since casual gaming
has found a true home
in Shockwave Flash

isn't the logical niche
for portable gaming
to put Flash in ROM?

24 November 2005

Videogame music on the Tree of Life

we've considered
(and rejected)
the following representations
for music on the Tree of Life:

kilohertz-level micro-stripes
(impossible to eyeball)

abstract-colorshape animations
(not mathematical enough)

midi performance-encoding
(too instrument-dependent)

pandora musicological analysis
(not descriptive enough of moods)

another domain
that faces a similar problem
is 'scoring' videogames

where a scene may be of any length
and of any, varying mood

and where too-repetitive music
will be a huge turnoff

so the grail, here
is flexible music synthesis

that might begin from pandora-style variables
mapped onto game-plot-complications:

how should the rhythms and harmonies change
when a room is cleared of enemies?

when it's apparently cleared?

when you open a door? or a crate?

our virtual accompanists
on the Tree of Life

start from a broader version
of the same questions

as if the videogame of life
has gradually added more and more
plot complications
requiring more and more
musical subtleties

evolving up the Tree of Life

23 November 2005

Pandora.com on the Tree of Life

the Tree of Life

we looked for visualisations of
any lifebranch's
virtual soundtrack

but found only
because the musical and visual toolkits
are constrained
by archaic invented instruments

pays musicians to characterise songs
using a set of tags
that could theoretically be assigned
by an AI
('quality' is entirely omitted
as subjective)

"modal harmonies"
"chordal patterning"
"melodic part-writing"
"rhythmic syncopation"
"major/minor/mixed key tonality"
"repetitive/meandering melodic phrasing"
"extensive vamping"
"acoustic/synthetic sonority"
"light swing groove"

in listening to the 'radio channels'
generated by subsets of these tags

one notices that genius doesn't rate

kate-bush-ness isn't touched by them

the tags tend to cluster tunes
recorded during the same era

with LP 'filler' more frequent than

and often the dominant mood
can also be undercut

eg trip-hop is 'tag-similar'
to many other possible moods

22 November 2005

Scanned speeches on the Tree of Life

suppose we stripe each human branch
at every point it speaks a syllable

chimp-grunts will count
and bird chirps, mouse squeals

the human pattern is silence when alone,
(stripes wide unto vanishing)
and taking-turns in groups
(rapid stripes jumping branches
speaker to speaker and back)

occasionally groups will
grunt or chant or sing
in unison
stripes aligned in space

often one human
will complete another's thought
stripes halted as if stolen

silent spells, in groups
are often uncomfortable
punctuated by throat-clearings

like the gaping gaps
in a flowing speech
broken up by ums and ers
or likes and y'knows

unison is easiest
at a steady rhythm

but for normal speech
the opposite is practiced


if we measure the average gap
between syllables
we can paint any branch-segment that
spans exactly that average gap
a uniform yellow

shorter spans can be redder
longer, greener

so long spells of silence
are deepest green

and rapid chatter is

but now we again consider
steady rhythms
of any speedcolor
in (almost) unchanging

and where that change is truly zero
in perfectly steady rhythm
we change the color to uniform purple

and where a change speeds up, red

and where it slows down, blue

(the derivative, in calculus)

now the rare human purple passages
will be people speaking
almost robotically

while vivacious humans
will flicker red and blue

music and poetry
have a regular tempo
of notes or syllables

layered with a slower
secondary beat

also regular

21 November 2005

Interface design on the Tree of Life

let the relaxed tool-user
be represented as a green branch

so when the use of a tool
requires moderate effort
the branch turns yellow

and with high effort, red

we (mentally) trim a branch segment
with startingpoint where the tool-user
conceives a subgoal

and with endpoint
where that subgoal is achieved

the yellow-and-redder this segment appears
the lower we rate the
interface design
for this subgoal

(less common subgoals
are allowed to score redly

but the most common
need careful greening)

as the tool-user proceeds

the hi-tech tool
a pc
is streaming music
(say, via Pandora)

but the stone-age digital format (mp3)
frequently changes volume
(sometimes dramatically)

demanding quick response from the user

maybe a dedicated hardware analogue
dial on the cpu box
or on the monitor, or keyboard, or mouse

maybe a custom keyboard macro

or maybe a yellow-branch trip to the Windows tray
and an orange-branch mind-and-eye-squinch
to find the volume-icon
and an orange-red mouse-targetting of that tiny icon
followed by a retargetting on the popup control's slider
and a careful slide
a listening
a re-adjust
and finally a dismissal of the control
(o billg have mercy on us poor users)

since the pc's audio channel
is normally uncorrelated with the desktop's top app

that app needs to afford it
n square-pixels
of dedicated screen real-estate

preferably in a corner of the screen
where the mouse can be 'thrown' in a Fitt

and since volume is the most commonly required tweak
the mousewheel should become a volume control
whenever it hovers near that corner

(perhaps the lower right
is currently least-used?)

18 November 2005

Scan me

the words we speak (and write)
have rhythms that express
our inner states

stronger rhythms
subtler rhythms
broken rhythms

beats we can shape if we bother to

so the syllables dance to your tune

16 November 2005

The president's concubines

the rightwing spin machine
has only itself to blame
for the rise of the blogosphere

because when every public gesture
is made inauthentically
the public will seek authenticity elsewhere

but even so
i've learned to withhold full trust
even from the blogosphere

because the snares of Satan-Rove are subtile

so I take with a grain of salt
Capitol Hill Blues' highly plausible rumors
of W's impending nervous breakdown

or this from Drudge
that he's retreated behind a harem of four forgiving women
his wife, his mother, Condi and Karen Hughes

but the image this suggests is dramatic

W trying to be a Norman Rockwell hero
in easychair, with pipe

four concubines at his feet

while in the dark closet shadows lurk
the greedy evil connivers

and perhaps beyond
glancing worriedly in the windows
Powell and Clinton and GHW
(how far we've fallen
that GHW looks like a ray of hope)

add, too, Nora Ephron's theory
that W exercises to keep depression at bay
in the form of an exercise bike
that he keeps close by
belying the pretense of calm

and remark the absence
of his less-forgiving daughters
who must have taken an ever-increasing burden of crap
from their peers over the last few years

The Ajax factor

when digital computers were a novelty
way back in the Fifties and Sixties
nobody could guess
what they'd be best at

so every human task
that taxed our patience
was auditioned as a programming project

and many flunked that audition
often, with the words
"this is more work
than the old way"

while a favored few
were accepted
with greater or lesser enthusiasm
as simplifying that task
(those tasks)

and as the power of computers
new toolkits were gradually innovated

some new tasks were mastered
and some old tasks were streamlined

but this process of streamlining
has always been
more about inspired design
than gigabytes or megapixels or gigahertz

and most of our current tasks
in most of our current apps
still badly need replacement, as
"the old way"

when microsoft debuted dhtml in 1997
it wafted the stench of
bain de billg

but mozilla felt compelled to support it
and when the inspired designers
of google maps
(just this year)
showed what it can do
there was a collective epiphany

and, rechristened "Ajax"
it entered the collective imagination
as a new toolkit
for simplification


it's easier to program
than to discover inspired design

and most ajax demos
simplify nothing

so to remind us
what the goal is:

we have tasks
that computers can assist

but this assistance requires
user actions

and these actions require
user decisionmaking

so the goal is
to simplify the actions
and the decisionmaking

for example

i maintain a flash mp3 blog
that streams my playlist like a radio station

and just as i reread
several times a day
the latest posts to my linkblog

so i try to listen
once a day (or more)
to my latest mp3-links

and during this listeningtime
certain tasks predictably recur:

i might want song or artist info
i might want host-site info
i might want to edit the playlist
or annotate the accompanying webpage

etc etc etc

so the challenge to future
inspired designers
is simply to simplify
my path to each of these

14 November 2005

Save-the-world social software

poor pakistan
mistimed its earthquake tragedy
too soon after the west was all
disastered out

but any one of us
if we had the reins in hand
would toss what resources we could their way
just on basic principles

which (basic principles) is what's gone walkabout
in the wide wide world

so i'm wondering if it's time yet
to start aggregating people's principles, online
like a political 43 things

with a budget-simulator that lets you

and a crisis-news feed that keeps
shoving the world in our face

with a discussion area for each crisis
sorting out short and longterm solution-strategies


12 November 2005

I'm an idiot... about RDF (GTD edition)

"hi, i'm jorn, and i'm an idiot"
"hi jorn"

1st things 1st
i'll be promoting this essay to the
GettingThingsDone community

the root idea is that the 13th of each month
should be "i'm an idiot" day

where you pick the least embarrassing
of all the embarrassing things
you feel like you should understand
but don't

and post about it

because in the process of admitting
and trying to articulate
your confusion

(or even in the aftermath of that process)

you're likelier to make a breakthru
than if you kept silent

eventually we'd like to become so comfortable
with admitting our idiocy
that we can even interrupt a weighty seminar
with the stupid-sounding question
that everyone is secretly wanting to
but doesn't dare

because this is a large part
of what keeps meetings
deadly dull

and even as we humiliate ourselves
we can keep one finger crossed
in the secret hope that it will turn out
we're not idiots at all
but rather a different (higher) order of thinker

so the patron saint of i'm-an-idiot day
is probably G. Spencer Brown [Wiki]
who firmly defends the independent thinker's right
to enquire according to their own inner light
at their own pace:

"To arrive at the simplest truth,
as Newton knew and practiced,
requires years of contemplation.
Not activity.
Not reasoning.
Not calculating.
Not busy behaviour of any kind.
Not reading.
Not talking.
Not making an effort.
Not thinking.
Simply bearing in mind
what it is one needs to know.

And yet those with the courage to tread this
path to real discovery
are not only offered practically no guidance
on how to do so,
they are actively discouraged
and have to set about it in secret,
pretending meanwhile to be diligently engaged in the
frantic diversions
and to conform with the deadening personal opinions
which are continually being thrust upon them."

most of my own idiot-topics
have something of this flavor for me

where i see a community on the other side of a fence
busily engaged in not-quite-comprehensible activity

but my inner voice holds me back from
submitting to their tutelage

(Candace Bergen memorably compared
co-hosting Saturday Night Live's original cast
to being kidnapped, like Patty Hearst
by the Symbionese Liberation Army)

so i've been suspicious of
the sgml-xml-rdf community
since way back in the mid 90s

they have a sort of true-believer attack
that sees my questions, perhaps, as threats

so every time i try to penetrate their worldview
i find my eyes glazing over, defensively

even though their domain broadly overlaps my own

we're all looking for the
semantic buildingblock

which Lisp finds in cons-cells
and Prolog finds in horn clauses
and Cyc finds in CycL

the Semantic Web
if i understand at all correctly
sees in RDF triples

A and B have relationship C

and if you want to build
you must pile relationships on relationships

as Lisp piles cons-cells on cons-cells

but programs quickly lose their way
in the twisty maze of cons-cells, all alike

when the master-structure
that underlies All Of It
is a Tree in 4D space

all important entities having
at each moment, T
a position, XYZ

and all important stories
having the general form:
at time T, the relationships were R1
at time T+1, the relationships were R2

(when Prolog was considered hot AI, in the mid 80s
i bought Turbo Prolog
and tried to rewrite a little alife sim
in horn clauses

but horn clauses are about logical if-then
not narrative when-next)

so for each entity on the tree
we might fill out a form
describing its state at a given moment
T =
X =
Y =
Z =

and since we're representing heartrate, too
H =

and these can be dissected
into a twisty maze of RDF triples

which grows far twistier
when relationships between two branches
(A loves B, madly)
are required

(my counterproposal)

my counterproposal
is to start with the types
of the two related entities

(the basic types being
person, place, thing, motive, modality)

and to note that an entity of any given type
has one possible set of relationships
with entities of each other type

so (A loves B)
is first and foremost
a statement about a relationship
between a person and a person

and data/knowledge about such relationships
should be clustered at a specific person-person site
in our core data-structure


MIDI on the Tree of Life

my intention
with the Tree-of-Life paradigm
is to explore an increasingly rich
semantic field
while keeping it all grounded in a
mathematically precise

i plan to use
wikipedia biographies
as a test case
exploring simple vs complex biographical stories
and simple vocabulary vs complex vocabulary
assigning primary colors to the commonest
words (or concepts)

but words are treacherous ground
more quicksilver than concrete

so to clear our palates
i want to explore first
the semantics of music

we considered the subTree of
creatures with beating hearts

and striped each branch with black and white lines
revealing that branch's heartrate
at each moment

but to simplify the visualisation
we might substitute green for 'resting' heartrate
and yellow for slight acceleration
red for racing hearts

so a mild startle
appears as a yellowgreen blip
on an otherwise-smooth green line

and a full day of jangling yellow and red
is more than any body should have to bear

we also brought in virtual studio musicians
to jam a musical accompaniment
to any given branch's blips and jangles

which accompaniment
could be graphed on the branch
as sound vibrations
painted black to white and back

but this encoding
is even less satisfactory than the heartbeat stripes
because it can't be abstracted
into red-yellow-green

perhaps instead
to capture the changing emotional tone
we could try animating abstract colored shapes
(we've all seen
approximations of this)

so that when we tap into
a random point on a random branch
we can choose audio improv
or abstract cartoon

and we might then try to classify
the changes of shape and color
for every possible lifestory on the Tree

but music and animation will both derive
from the arbitrary choice of instruments,
of playing styles, of visual elements, of animation styles

while the representation we need
must instead be universal

a music without instruments
animation without any predefined paintbox

so our classification of story-changes
has to look beyond
the arbitrary palette

and ask
for each subsequence
of arbitrary sights or sounds
what emotions does it capture
and which does it deny

so we're now inside the skins
of the improvising accompanists
choosing from all the possible
next actions
the fittest one

which is what composers do

focusing perhaps
on their present lifestory
or something past

or projecting themselves
into another's past or present shoes

with Thelonious Monk the archetype
of farfetched innovation
deliberately expanding the known palette
to articulate moods never before spoken (or sung)

rejecting as cliched
every pattern used even once

so that if we endow
our imaginary accompanists
with Monklike superpower

the score they'll produce
could be beyond everything ever heard
no matter whose branch we tap

(remember Joyce chose an ordinary everyman
in Leopold Bloom
to immortalise with a verbal 'score'
of streaming consciousness
beyond anything yet read)

and whatever cliched reduction we can imagine
constrained by existing instruments and conventions
is surely an offense against the Muse

aka Truth
who senses the infinite detail
of every fluctuation

02 November 2005

Music for the Tree of Life

for a billion years
on the Tree of Life
our ancestors' hearts have been beating

which we can visualise, graphically
as stripes on the Tree
of black and white

closer when the heart beats quickly
wider when it slows

(feel your pulse, now

picture your branch
as it grows)

heartrates as if measured
by a sensor-electrode
listening to your heart

but there's a richer music
to your mood

as if the sensor were moved
from your heartbeat
to your neurons' moody rhythms

tense or relaxed
expansive or introverted

braincells like studio stars
watching the movie of your life
and improvising a soundtrack

and you might move your sensor
anywhere on the Tree
and tap the music there

26 October 2005

Love and hate on the Tree of Life

the last lesson ended with the image
of a lovers' triangle
portrayed geometrically
with the colors of its sides changing
between love-color (green, say)
and hate-color (red)

(realistically, we'd need a more complex way
to show asymmetrical feelings
but we'll postpone that step for now)

these simplified triangles can have three green sides
three red sides
two green and one red
or two red and one green

and the simplified-lovers' relationships
can shift between these variations

on the full Tree of Life the most-common pattern
is probably a small green cluster
connected to a neighboring green cluster by
unneighborly red lines

and for most of human prehistory these clusters
were tribes, about 30 members in size
who wandered within a limited territorial range
and had no relations, friendly or unfriendly
with tribes beyond their nearest neighbors

but with those near neighbors sometimes competing
sometimes providing new husbands or wives

and as we travel down the Tree
past apes to simpler mammals
the tribes probably become less-well-defined

until we reach creatures
who barely recognise their own family-members
with love and hate lasting only as long as
they're within each other's sight

24 October 2005

Lazyweb product-tracking site

when you buy a product
shouldn't there be an rss feed you can subscribe to
that serves as a mini users group for that product
with faqs and updates and tips and gripes
ideally independent from the manufacturer?

ps: maybe a del.icio.us tag would suffice?

22 October 2005

Stories on the Tree of Life

so far we've visualised the Tree of Life
as a stack of yearly layers

and human consciousness as fireflies
on the tips of (some) treebranches

now we consider the six billion fireflies arrayed
on the topmost layer
almost blinding unless we
dim them to faint stars

and between every pair of stars we draw a line
that will represent the relationship between those two humans

so people with (almost) no relationship
can be connected by a line that's vanishingly slight

while a closely related pair
gets a thick/bright/crisp line

but relationships change

and when relationships change, we can start
telling stories

the language we use for telling stories
has hundreds of common words
and tens of thousands of uncommon ones
(not to mention the one-off improvisations
and unrepeatable onomatopoetics)

but to tell the basic story
of a relationship-change
the common-hundreds usually suffice

and can be broken down further into
descriptions of the state before the change
and the state after the change

so we might assign shades of color to
patterns of words
that describe common relationships

and visualise our linked firefly-stars
as linked by lines of those colors
with stories playing out
as changes in relationship-color

so the story of a lovers' triangle
has three stars in a triangle
with the colors of the sides of the triangle
flickering between love-color
and hate-color

21 October 2005

Cnet's ontology browser

A couple of weeks back Cnet debuted a Flash ontology-browser (called "The Big Picture") that occupies a big chunk of the righthand sidebar with some/most/all articles.

I've been meaning to look closer at it, and this random link about how the brain represents habits seemed like a convenient moment... because the ontology-connections are especially bizarre.

It's easier if you jump directly to the fullpane view of the browser (identical url with "?tag=st.bp" at the end, where bp = big picture).

The story-author (or an editor) is supposed to tag each story with topical keywords (green bubbles) and mentioned-companies (red bubbles), but this story doesn't actually have either of these-- the three green and one red bubble you see here are linked via other 'similar' stories (grey bubbles), though you have to look closely to figure this out.

The author/editor has directly specified three 'similar' stories, which can be traced on the browser by following the grey lines from the central story-bubble:

  • One goes NNW to "Are we getting smarter or dumber?" which has no secondary links, for no obvious reason. (If you click on it, you'll see it does have green bubbles for "Internet" and "Education".)

  • One goes due south to "IBM sells Blue Gene for brain research" which has zillions of secondary links. (But if you click on it, you lose the backlink to the original article!? There's a 'Reset' button down there, for this emergency.)

  • One goes SE to "Harvard brain images: Cat vs rat" which is linked only to the green R&D bubble (you may have to click on some whitespace to get this to scroll into view). If you click on this story you'll see it does have more hidden grey and green links, so apparently the due-south link has been arbitrarily favored for expansion (maybe because it has the most links?).

These three similar-story links are appropriate and useful, and as a basic rule of web-design all web-articles should probably offer such a short set at the end, because many readers will at that point be ready to explore. I think Cnet was already doing that in text form, maybe in a sidebar though (which is less effective).

Someone should have added "MIT" as a red-bubble link-- I expect this will become more routine. It needs at least one green bubble for "Neuroscience".

The supposed rationale for using graphics instead of just text is that similar items can be visually clustered, but this isn't what's happening here-- the most similar stories are getting buried in random linkage.

Whenever I see a floating-bubbles interface (and I'm ashamed to say I even programmed an early one, back in 1990), I think of a bad stage magician waving his hands to distract you while he picks your pocket.

Cnet's readers would be much better served if this info was offered in text-outline form, maybe with fast Ajax browsing.

19 October 2005

(You are) a firefly on the Tree of Life

in my last post i sketched a
of the Tree of Life

today i want to start with just the topmost, atom-thick layer
with its imprinted geodesic worldmap
representing this year, 2005

with a dot that stands for you
at the point on the map where you are right now
and a line trailing back across all the meandering points
you've visited this year

and the series of layers below this
one for each year of your existence
(not omitting your first nine months
in a moving womb)
with their connected lines

and below these
four billion more layers you have only
scant and indirect knowledge of

as your knowledge of others' lines is scant
and mostly indirect

and as your knowledge of your own life
has gaps
and fading places

so we might visualise your current point
on the tree
as a light, shining

with those segments of your past you know best
reflecting that shining consciousness

and the segments of others' present and past
and the past you never knew
shining only dimly
to reflect your distant
and relatively dim

Visualising the Tree of Life

this post is simpler groundwork
for longer, subtler
semantic graph-theory

to have any hope of a semantic web
we need a unifying root-model

which i propose is the Tree of Life
four billion years old
mostly confined to the surface of Earth

so to particularise this image
let's print Fuller's flattening
on a sheet of notebook paper one atom thick
representing this year

with four billion more sheets stacked beneath it
representing Earth's history
(continents drifting over the eons)
making a stack a little over one foot tall

within whose three dimensions we can trace
the worldlines
of atoms, molecules, cells, organisms, artifacts, etc

with the full Tree of Life
tracing all dna-based organisms

a single molecule of dna first appearing
somewhere in the bottom half
spreading quickly but thinly across the globe
then thickening
so that trillions of trillions of organisms' lives' lines

15 October 2005


i have a mental list
never written down, so missing forgotten bits

of ways the current pendulum-swing might be reversed

mostly relying on a charismatic leader:
a jfk
a walter cronkite
a martin luther king
an elvis with added politics

but sometimes on a charismatic community-movement:
flash zombie-mobs
chumbawamba drum-corps
bonobo group-marriages

and always falling back on robot wisdom:

a computer model of society
deep enough to guide decisionmaking

but i think there's a nice parallel for robotwisdom
in the 19th century rise of marxism

a (flawed) model that captured the popular imagination
a charismatic model

and how much more charismatic it will be, this time
as a computer game:


George and Harriet

the explanation, i think
of the harriet miers nomination

can only be that w has
stopped listening to his advisers

they surely didn't recommend harriet

he's retreated so far
she's the only one he feels safe with

(and they surely tried to get him
to rehearse the nola hammering
but he refused
unwilling to admit
even to them
it was his first time)

to qualify for facetime with w
you now have to suspend disbelief so perfectly
that he senses no hint of
threatening reality

he craves oblivion

no criticism, ever

and if rove goes

(and when miers goes)

who's going to step into that power vacuum?

14 October 2005

Pinter poems

I got these off a Google newsfeed that appears unstable, so I'll mirror them here:

God Bless America
by Harold Pinter, January 2003

Here they go again,
The Yanks in their armoured parade
Chanting their ballads of joy
As they gallop across the big world
Praising America's God.

The gutters are clogged with the dead
The ones who couldn't join in
The others refusing to sing
The ones who are losing their voice
The ones who've forgotten the tune.

The riders have whips which cut.
Your head rolls onto the sand
Your head is a pool in the dirt
Your head is a stain in the dust
Your eyes have gone out and your nose
Sniffs only the pong of the dead
And all the dead air is alive
With the smell of America's God.

by Harold Pinter, Februrary 2003

There's no escape.
The big pricks are out.
They'll fuck everything in sight.
Watch your back.

American Football
(A Reflection upon the Gulf War)
by Harold Pinter, August 1991

It works.
We blew the shit out of them.

We blew the shit right back up their own ass
And out their fucking ears.

It works.
We blew the shit out of them.
They suffocated in their own shit!

Praise the Lord for all good things.

We blew them into fucking shit.
They are eating it.

Praise the Lord for all good things.

We blew their balls into shards of dust,
Into shards of fucking dust.

We did it.

Now I want you to come over here and kiss me on the mouth.

12 October 2005

I'm-an-Idiot day (CSS)

i proposed below in passing
that the 13th of each month
should be "i'm an idiot day"

and bloggers on that day
should try to think of a question
they've hesitated to ask
for fear of looking stupid

and ask it publicly
in hopes that someone will answer
or that the act of asking will make it clearer
or will inspire the required research effort

so my idiot-question, a day early, is:

back when everyone on comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html
was promoting CSS stylesheets
their promise was that if i didn't like an author's page-design
i'd be able to substitute a different stylesheet

now i've got the latest version of firefox
but i don't see that function anywhere

(there's a page-style submenu under 'view'
but it doesn't offer any subtitutes)

so were we sold a bill of goods [yes]
or is this function still on its way
or what? [workaround]

(don't say greasemonkey-- that's javascript)

(sage does allow it,
globally for all rss-feeds)

08 October 2005

Elmore Leonard's Bulwer-Lytton contender

"The last red reflection of the sun showed in the sky behind them as the wagons rolled down the slope toward the camp-- toward the silent, cold-looking, deserted-looking adobes that were already enveloped in the dull shadow of this slope the wagons were descending." Escape from Five Shadows 1956

05 October 2005

Semantics of person-person relationships

the dream of a semantic web
(and equally, the dream of a vingean singularity)

will require a formalised understanding of human relationships

which is what this vocabulary strives to be

because it's sorted alphabetically
we can't begin to critique it
without re-sorting it into (six) clusters:

1. kinship:

any two living things are in a kinship relation
it's just a question of distance, and direction
so this is really a vector
say +1 for parent, +2 for grandparent, -1 for child, etc
leaving 0 for no direct lineal relationship
and adding more parameters to capture
sibling cousin aunt uncle niece nephew etc etc etc

2. cohousing:

again this is a measure of distance
between where any two animals sleep

same bed, same room, same floor, same house
same street, same neighborhood, same town, same county
same state, same country, same continent

3. degree of acquaintance:

this one is almost more trouble than it's worth

you might try numerical values for:

but these are really graphs over time

and you'd also really need:

4. professional:

how many dimensions does 'professional distance' need?

you can do similar jobs for dissimilar companies

you can work with people outside of any company

you can aspire to a profession
apply to a company, but be rejected or fired or quit...

5. relationship valence:

if we make this independent of degree of acquaintance
then 'wouldLikeToKnow' can have the same value as 'likes'
but with the acquantance-level still zero

but you also need longterm vs shortterm valences:
i love you dearly
i can't be around you until i get some things worked out

6. sex/marriage:

this one is next-most-important
after kinship

and (in humans) involves a stereotypical melodrama of romance
detailed in my Solace

additional numeric relationship needed:

additional unary (non-relationship) parameter:

(zero desire, or even negative desire, is possible)

04 October 2005


This animated nanotech gallery
is the first I've seen
that even attempts to show the effects
of ordinary thermal vibrations
on the nano scale

but I think it lies, still
because each atom's vibration is shown
as if it's locked in crystalline diamond

but the only thing locking it
is its bonds to its neighbors

and since these are springy
the system as a whole will be
wavy as a slinky

ring-shapes will bounce back and forth
between wider and narrower diameter

waves will propagate around their rim
so that tight fits to neighboring 'gears'
will be impossible

if one atom in a ring is hit wrong, so it twists
that twist will propagate around the ring as well

and this is the dynamic world we'll soon see, inside cells

balled threads of amino acids
springing not wildly but in naturally engineered directions

with atp-molecules latching into specific sites
and blasting off their phosphate tip, when triggered,
the blast propagating across the springy ball
and doing useful work somewhere nearby

(to practice getting the picture right
think of a tiny clump of water molecules
falling weightless, spinning slightly
near freezing, molecules clinging not-quite-tight

and realise the vibrations echo
from end to end, and around the flattening rim
until they achieve symmetry
and that geometry demands
the symmetry be sixfold

and that new molecules joining the cluster
add random new vibes
that also settle into sixfold symmetry
jostling every other point on the surface
until all are mirror-matched

a snowflake)

30 September 2005

Idiots Alert: $100 laptop

Nicholas Negroponte of the MIT Media Lab
has been touting a $100 laptop all year
and everybody seems to lap it up
probably because he's from MIT

but MIT's Media Lab is a joke
whose outstanding talent is hype
and whose greatest success is Lego Mindstorms

and the product he's describing
will cost $500 minimum with today's technology

so his $100 boast is whitehot air
a pricepoint chosen not because it was realistic
but because it's barely imaginable

and the fantasy that such a price breakthru
could arrive first via the Media Lab
and be distributed first to the needy

is as believable as UFOs arriving any day now
to take us home to the mothership

27 September 2005

Intermediate Dylan theory

what i don't understand about newport
how could they think they were setting black people free
if the only black music they accepted
was folk and gospel?

way back in 1938
the same john hammond who 'discovered' dylan
had produced a show at carnegie hall
called from spirituals to swing
that included the full range of black music

but somehow by 1965
the folk crowd had been bleached
like mary travers by albert goldman
or like martin luther king by j edgar hoover

so that joanie baez shuddered with horror
at the phrase 'sex drugs and rock'n'roll'
and today's al and tipper gore would have felt at ease

but dylan seems an unlikely galahad
(even with the Band as his roadhouse knights)
to heal that psychic rift

the beatles
inspired by black american r&b
more appreciated in liverpool than white america
had charmed the pants off every sentient being
the year before with 'hard day's night'
but they still wouldn't become respectable until 1967
with the sgt pepper's rave in the new york times

the newport jeers
the principal of hibbing elementary
pulling the curtain on bobby z's little-richard act

he had briefly charmed the world
with timeless acoustic protest folk guitar

but now was on the path of baudelaire
smoking pot
pulling symbols out of the gutter

and revelling in the harshness of his voice

26 September 2005

Dylan theory

here are some reactions
to last night's dylan documentary
(part one only)
with the caveat that i don't know enough dylanology
to say if these ideas are new or old
(i'll do some googling after i post them)

the key to his mystery, i think,
is that he's the farthest thing from a
classic joni-mitchell introspective singer-songwriter

he can't introspect at all in the ordinary way
so he doesn't know himself at all
in the ordinary way

and the first clue in the documentary
was his attempt to play rock for his elementary school
he wanted to perform on stage
and that's still all he wants, on his neverending tour

as banal as the theory sounds
i think his voice closed almost every door

in his duet with baez
and in the singalong of blowin in the wind
it was painfully clear he was a solo artist
whether he chose it so or not

and back in minnesota
he may have fixed on folk
because it was his last best chance to sing

i thought first
he saw the folkie audience as more intelligent and challenging
and fixed his sights on conquering them, one by one
studying the greats, mimicking their styles

but what i saw in the scorsese concert footage
was that the folkie audience bored the shit out of him
and i'm guessing that he went electric
to try to grab a piece of the beatles' vast success
and their power to move, to sway, to rock

and if this was his goal then he probably failed
in his own eyes
and the woodstock retreat
represented a traumatic lowering of his self-expectations
followed by desperate experimentation:

who am i this time?

24 September 2005

Structured search-results

I've been saying for years
that what search-engines ought to do (someday)
is sort thru the results of your search
and compose a page that lays out
all the different types of resources being offered

so if you search for 'james joyce'
the results-page should say:

biographies: url1 url2 etc
timelines: url1 url2 etc

works: ulysses
etexts: url1 url2 etc
reviews: url1 url2 etc
annotations: url1 url2 etc
composition: url1 url2 etc
critical reaction: url1 url2 etc
works-it-influenced: url1 url2 etc

family: url1 url2 etc
friends: url1 url2 etc

maps: url1 url2 etc
history: url1 url2 etc

and so on

Now, is it possible that disciplined use of tags in del.icio.us
could help bootstrap that structuring?

If we agreed on how to choose tags:

jamesjoyce works:ulysses etext
jamesjoyce places:ireland history

So then del.icio.us would just need a template-layer
that sorts by specific, privileged structure-tags...?

PS: Here's an even older, farther-out idea:

Way back when I did an experiment on my blog
intended at the time to cope with linkrot
by adding to each blog-entry
a link to Google (or maybe Altavista, back then)
with pre-selected searchterms
chosen to pull up the closest possible range of matches
to the blogged url's article

Now if del.icio.us added one more field to their database
called "searchterms"
it might overlap the tags field a bit
but would consist only of words and phrases
expected to appear in every relevant article

these could be used by a spider/bot
to search for new fillers for a given slot in the structure-template

del.icio.us vs Google Groups

After dwelling with del.icio.us a little more
I realize that it's a compact competitor to Google Groups
where the bodies of posts are replaced with pointers
leaving a subjectline and a single URL

and the newsgroups are replaced with tagwords
crossposting encouraged
newgrouping accomplished automatically just by mentioning the tag

with no netiquette-presumption that you should
read the 'group' before you post
(or even after)

with approval of a post signalled by dupe-ing it
with or without changing the subjectline
enabling a 'most-popular' view for any tagword

del.icio.us and GgG both sharing a view-by-author
that effectively automatically crossposts each author's posts
into a custom group named for them

but del.icio.us lacking the option of correlating two or more URLs
under a single subjectline
(as when, on my blog, I add a 2nd link for 'pix' or 'def' or 'info')

P.S. So in posting the url of this article to del.icio.us just now
I rewrote the headline to attract total strangers
and I listed as many tags as I could
(recognizing that even if I add more tags later
it may slip past subscribers to those tags
because their main sort is chronological by the time I posted it
not the time I re-tagged it)

22 September 2005

The long tail of Google News

when googlenews debuted in 2002 [wayback]
my two favorite things about it were
1 that its algorithm for picking top stories
took the whole world into account
and not just the usa or the wealthy, and
2 that for each top story
the top article might come from anywhere
in the world or in smalltown america

but people complained, i guess, that unwelcome perspectives
were getting too much prominence
and google tweaked the algorithm
so now the usual suspects: wapo, nyt, etc
dominate again, and i'm bored by their frontpage

but ggn also allows search of the full news database
which i'd use when i knew or suspected a story was out there
and wanted to find more-local coverage, say,
or the same story, but with a picture

but i recently found myself wishing i could access ggn's raw feed
so that every single story would scroll past as it was spidered

and i slapped my forehead to realise that
that capability has always been in ggn-search
if you search for a common word like "the"
and sort the results by date
('the' needs a plus in front: +the
because it's normally a stopword)

so i put an icon for this search
in my toolbar, and hit it when things got boring
and scanned thru tons of me-too dross
occasionally finding a new story or a new source

which drove home how many thousands of sources and stories
are hidden in ggn's 'long tail'

soon after i was playing with ggn's advanced search
and i realised that if i found the right source-keyword
i could create custom feeds for any source or set of sources

(but what i really wanted was a feed
that excluded every AP story
and everything from corporate media
but i haven't got that figured out yet)

now a few weeks ago ggn added rss-feeds
which i'd reluctantly tried last spring
and quickly fallen in love with
because they strip away the webpages' egos
(along with the rest of their personalities)
and because they check semi-automatically for new content

so i started looking for source-keywords
for news sources i liked to check regularly
but that didn't have their own rss-feeds
and i quickly realised that even for sites that offered their own rss-feeds
the ggn feeds were often much better

(newspapers usually don't get
that the rss-feed is supposed to include everything
in reverse chronological order
and they try instead
to make it echo their front page
with only the top stories
and with the 'top' story on top)

i suspect the only reason ggn doesn't advertise this capability
is that they still want some wiggle-room
because they seem to miss a lot of articles from some sources
and if they claimed they were offering feeds
people would have higher expectations
and complain about the missed bits

the feeds they offer are so 'clean'
with only the rarest bizarre visible glitches
that i think their parsing mechanism must be extrememly conservative
and throws out anything it isn't sure it understands

sidebar on screenscraping:

remember that ggn works entirely by 'screen scraping'
which means their software loads, from the news sites
the same html pages that anyone else sees
and uses pattern-matching, probably in python
to suppress all the junk before, beside, and after
the news stories themselves
and to spot new content and identify the headline and the date

which for my money is the right startingpoint for the semantic web

don't make people embalm their pages in xml

start with a science of screen-scraping
that's flexible enough to adjust to the quirky ways
that anyone might code their html

and i hope google releases their screen scraper eventually
because every serious news-hacker ought to run a customised copy

end of sidebar

so now i'm adding more and more ggn versions
of news feeds from different sources
as i discover their magic keywords:
Znet, In These Times, the New Yorker, Weekly World News

but i still haven't recovered the serendipity factor
until i get the idea of adding feeds for abstract concepts
like: prank, mysterious, utopian, sacred
that scan all news sources
for every smalltown prank
and every thirdworld view of what's utopian or sacred

and this really works

(i'm also trying a google blogsearch feed for prank
but what this shows me is that the intellectual level
of the average blog
really is down the tubes, with the splogs)

20 September 2005

vBay = vSkype + eBay

Is it possible that eBay's killer-app for Skype
is video telemarketing via vSkype?

I'll give eBay the benefit of the doubt
that they'll allow only opt-in coldcalls lukewarmcalls
but that still gives them access
to the Home Shopping Network crowd
of lonely shut-ins with too much cash
who'd love nothing more than to teleconference
with a real salesperson

whose goal of course is to tempt them towards
ever more proftable impulse buys
and who drools at the prospect of dangling shiny things
in front of their vSkype webcam...

19 September 2005

Idiots Alert: Dave and Raina

i'm still exploring how to use this expanded forum
and one thing i've been planning
is critiques of links i think are stupid
that get propagated unskeptically

so here's the first:
a longish 1pg autobiographical comic
about a couple getting engaged
which would be a classic if they were writing it 20 years on
but which, coming this soon,
is just bragging, begging for trouble

there's an irish tradition
that's apropos
where the couple calls each other by their last name
"Mr Kelly" and "Mrs Kelly"
because if the leprechauns ever heard the love in their voices
when they spoke each other's first name
they'd be so jealous they'd steal the beloved away

16 September 2005

Napster for URLs, or p2p del.icio.us

This long post should ultimately clarify my "crystal tags" protocol
but it will take a circuitous path getting there

As the title implies, crystal tags can be viewed as Napster-for-URLs
or as a p2p version of del.icio.us
but the same principles will also apply to images (flickr), music, email, etc

To explore del.icio.us in particular
I'll consider what Robot Wisdom Weblog (RWWL) will be like
if I ever start posting it there, item by item, at del.icio.us

But first I want to admit that del.icio.us is still mostly baffling to me

(Could bloggers declare, say, the 13th of each month to be "I'm-an-idiot day"
and try to post that day about some topic that they secretly feel
everyone understands better than they do?)

I could fairly easily let del.icio.us take over the RSS version of RWWL
but it would feel a little like taking my string of pearls
and breaking the string
letting them scatter before strange swine
since most del.icio.us readers will see the items individually
with no context

and it feels too like I'm trusting my pearls to a site
with no visible means of support
who get nothing back from the bandwidth I gobble
except one tiny popularity-vote for each URL I post
and whatever useful tags I trouble to add
so I wonder will they stick around in the same format
or will they add gross ads...

What I'd gain back is the chance to scan my own blog there
and see how many others linked each URL, and who
and so possibly subscribe to their 'blogstreams'
(though so far I feel uneasy about this,
since I don't think most del.icio.us-ers
expect to be subscribed to this way)

This function is sort of a cerebral 'matchmaking system'
and it oughtn't be too hard for del.icio.us-the-site-itself
to find users with similar url-streams
and 'introduce' them

But this means everyone has to be self-conscious about what URLs they post
so maybe there needs to be an optional 'personal del.icio.us'
maybe "Del.icio.us Desktop"
that works the same but keeps less-public URLs offline
(your porn sites,
your secret identities,
your obscure specialties)

Flickr too could offer "Flickr Desktop" for private images
and Google could offer a "Gmail Desktop" that mirrors in synch
your online mail archive
but allows you to delete the online copies of your most sensitive mail

But if all these Web 2.0 online apps are going to be echoed offline
we'll want the possibility of allowing p2p access to friends,
with special permission-levels

so that your secret Olsen-Twins Fanclub can swap urls or pix or posts
or so you can let your new girlfriend explore your more private sides

And once we get this working a lot of the centralised functions of
become secondary
because you can swap directly via your own buddy-lists

On del.icio.us every URL is a (wasted) potential conversation
between everyone who linked it
and this function of hosting chats
on every topic under the sun
is a tricky one
because you generally want to keep the chat as open as possible
but then someone has to police for griefers and spam

But obviously, policing such chats is not a centralised function
it's a distributed one, with each chat having its own moderator(s).

16Sep: [reply]

10 September 2005

Crystal tags via graph theory

graph theory sounds complex but it's not
it's a lot simpler than geometry

mentally picture the world becoming totally transparent
with each person replaced by a vertical beam of light

unwrap and flatten the globe
so these beams are parallel

project a plane around heart-level

picture the line below the plane as holding the person's memories
(each memory a point)

picture the line above holding their values
each value a point
with important values closer to heartlevel

for a given value or set of values
some memories are more relevant than others
(picture the points on the memories-line
re-sorting themselves according to the chosen values
with the most relevant shifting closer to the heart)

when you meet someone new
you compare values
hoping you have important values in common
and then exchange memories relevant to those shared values

some memories you share openly
others you hold back, until you're more sure of the stranger

Transformation, world to web:

replace the people with web-servers
replace the values with 'tags'
replace the memories with data/files/pointers

the crystal-tags protocol should streamline the exchange of memories
as people explore shared values

Recent related posts:

Semantics derived from graph theory

The crystal-tags manifesto 0.1

05 September 2005

Therapy for the Evil One

As a lefty, I hate having to add to my list of heroes, who really might really have helped Nola cope, both the military and the (pre-W) Halliburton/KBR. The day after a hurricane obviously isn't the time for environmental impact studies or self-esteem workshops, and we lefties need to forge a longterm consensus on this, sturdy enough to repel Rush&Rove-style attacks.

But where were the military and KBR when the levee broke? How did the neocons' greatest supposed strength prove their worst Achilles heel?

For some reason, the puppeteers whispering in W's earpiece didn't have a clue how to deal with a real logistic emergency, and didn't even have the sense to stand aside and let a grownup to take the wheel. Is it possible that none of them was glued to the live tv-news coverage-- has this administration deluded themselves into believing they're above the news, that reality is something they can arbitrarily create?

Their past experience had surely given them every reason to expect they could feed the newspeople a restricted diet of lies, and that the newspeople would bob their heads and gobble it down. And if there had been even a one-block physical distance between the reporters and the hurricane victims, this spinning probably would have worked. (In fact I wouldn't be surprised if the neocons recognise this, and look for ways to keep reporters penned up next time.)

W's incompetence has given birth to a White House culture where your title automatically means that others praise your performance, at least in public. The left needs to compile a reel of bureaucrats praising each other's responsiveness, as the live feed is showing hundreds dying.

My title for this post is inspired by Cheney, I think it was, saying that liberals after 9-11 wanted to give al Qaeda therapy... which has that perfect 1% level of truth allowing rightwing talkers to run away with it.

Therapy for Nola's ecology wasn't the prescription the day after the hurricane, but it was the prescription for the decade before. We need to learn to spinframe this.

04 September 2005

The crystal-tags manifesto 0.1

There's a small set of puzzles that are frustrating everyone's ingenuity lately: email spam, web spam, blog discovery, blog search, music discovery, and tagging generally. I propose that they share a common solution that will require a new Net application, which I'll call "crystal tags".

Surprisingly, the closest model for crystal tags is the antique NNTP network-news transfer protocol, substituting today's "tags" for yesterday's "newsgroups". With NNTP, local news servers cached all recent posts on every topic, and users subscribed to the topics that interested them, killfiling the authors they disliked. A session of newsreading in 'trn' was often as simple as pressing the spacebar repeatedly, which took you thru all new posts for all your topics, one by one.

But then the Web hit, and the content got buried in elaborate formatting. And with regard to efficient communication, our sights were lowered. (And whoever Google has assigned to replicating 'trn' via Ajax in Google Groups has so far blown the job entirely...)

RSS is a feeble step in the right direction, unhappily limiting its newsgroups to a single author.

The 'tags' part of "crystal tags" means that every user should be able to subscribe to any tags/newsgroups they like, and the application will help them find, track, and organise relevant content. If one user uses the tag 'mp3' and another uses 'mp3s' the application can handle this easily.

The 'crystal' part is harder to explain. It means that over time everyone's tags should crystallise into a dynamic unity, where everything that should be synched, is quickly synched.

Synching in NNTP required two news servers to connect and compare which articles each had, using unique article-numbers, and to fill each others' gaps.

With crystal tags, you'll get to choose who you synch with, and to what degree. Someone whose judgment you respect, in a given area, will get synched automatically, and someone unknown will get synched only tentatively.

The webpages you publish will be (as now) available to any random stranger, but once ip-number and/or passwords have established a known identity, personalised or private content can also be offered. Your public blog will (as now) display links to new content you recommend to everyone.

MP3 blogs will offer playlists that add new discoveries at the top, and can be linked and subscribed-to like other tagged content, but also played.

Email will follow the same patterns, except that strangers can make 'cold calls' that may or may not get read by the human being approached. If these are followups to public blog posts on a particular topic, it should be clearly stated under what terms they can be published.

Somehow given topic/tag/newsgroups will get associated with particular hosts, who will be responsible for filtering submissions for spam, vandalism, griefing, etc.

Some sort of ping-system should be built-in so that checking for new content is a minimal effort.

01 September 2005

Bush 2005

[This is about the forthcoming Kate Bush double album]

Some thoughts on the titles "Aerial" and "King of the Mountain"

KotM is surely GWB, and the song should be angry, like 1993's Big Stripey Lie (arguably referring to the American flag). From this political angle, 'aerials' are the spy antennae that KotMs are so fond of, trying to get higher than their enemies so that their aerials can hear without being heard. (This is what did Nixon in at the Watergate.)

But the heart of Aerial is Kate's 6yo son Bertie, and I picture him as a faerie Ariel, doing graceful acrobatics on a tightwire, with the birdseye view of a plane or satellite, and with his own antennae tuned to Kate's and to everyone's in the universe.

Emergency planning

The New Orleans fiasco should make it very clear to everyone that the Department of Homeland Security is a sham.

The logistical challenges are exactly what DHS is supposed to be expert about, but the evidence so far is that their expertise and preparedness are literally zero. (Presumably the fiasco in Baghdad has similar roots-- giving another billion to Halliburton would not be an efficient way to fix New Orleans.)

In the aftermath of this, every American needs to confront their local experts to make sure that their community doesn't become the next New Orleans... so we all need to understand the challenges, since DHS doesn't.

Terrorist attacks, weather catastrophes, chemical spills, epidemics-- the challenges are basically the same everywhere.

One of the most useful insights I've seen was on the Huffington Post, pointing out how everything else depends on the communication systems working, especially the radios for police and other emergency responders. You have to think thru where these systems are vulnerable, and what you do if they fail.

Telecom is cheap these days, and there's no reason that a full substitute citywide wireless system couldn't be deployed within hours, if anyone had made the investment beforehand. A stockpile of devices that gets upgraded each year, and exhaustive scenario-testing of how best to put them into use.

One of the unexpected things about New Orleans is that the communication is so devastated that rumors are out of control-- nobody seems to know where the need is greatest. There should be a communication center dominating the cable news coverage, collating reports and squashing false rumors, updating a map that everyone can refer to.

Another obvious problem is local transportation-- New Orleans seems to be relying on helicopters that can't begin to deal with all the stranded people. Why wasn't there an armada standing by, of canoes or rowboats or whatever, that could be going door to door in the flooded areas? Why weren't as many as possible of the blocked navigation routes cleared immediately? (Hindsight is easy, but the point is to use the lessons, to think thru all possible next crises.)

Emergency housing is a vast problem-- we should be ready to turn any empty field into housing for 10,000 refugees in 24 hours. The military knows how-- why isn't this a no-brainer for the DHS?

When the levees survived the first 12 hours, the first priority should have been to monitor their continued integrity, with detailed plans for stopgap repairs, but this seems to have been completely overlooked. Every sort of catastrophe will have comparable critical vulnerabilities, and we have to think them thru in advance.

I suspect the skill that this sort of foresight requires is rare and unfamiliar to most people, and especially to bureaucrats. It seems to me much more like the novelist's skill, and I think composing realistic short stories about possible catastrophes is a valuable exercise that anyone can undertake. (I wrote one in 1996 about an atomic blast under the Sears Tower, and the big lesson that jumped out was that we need a strategy to smother the fires in the aftermath, so the radioactivity doesn't spread. But I doubt anyone in DHS is thinking about this.)