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.)