Me and Typhoid Mary APR 28
Sam Arbesman has written up an initial analysis (PDF file) of the results of the Memespread Project. In discussing the spread of memes, it's common practice to utilize familiar biological terms: viral, epidemic, contagious, incubation, etc. My favorite quote of the article along those lines is "Jason Kottke is an informational equivalent of Typhoid Mary". Heh. But in this case, MetaFilter turned out more Mary than I:
What seemed most interesting is that the largest spike occurred 10 hours into the experiment, and was due to the website MetaFilter (http://www.metafilter.com). The spread of the meme to this collaborative blog seemed to help give the epidemic another wave of spreading (as can be seen in Figure 5 and Figure 1).
Because of its greater traffic, MeFi exposed more people to the meme than did kottke.org. And I suspect that due to the different audiences of the two sites, the meme was probably also more virulent among MeFi readers than kottke.org readers; that is, MeFi readers were more likely to infect others with the meme than were those of kottke.org.
It would be interesting to run this experiment again under slightly different conditions. Maybe seed a bigger node in the network (MeFi instead of kottke.org). Or seed 50 sites at the same time, each with a different meme marked with a distinct tracking code (e.g. www.example.com/?id=47) and see how each one spreads. Maybe the memes could be mutable; creating a new strain would be as easy as adding a couple digits to the tracking ID.
File format searching APR 28
Andy notes that Google is now indexing Flash files. Search for "skip intro" to try it out. Upon seeing this, the gray-bearded conspiracy theorist in me wondered if Google was unfairly promoting the Flash format over Adobe's competing SVG format in order to crush Adobe into dust. I needn't have worried...you can search Google for SVG files just fine (because they're text files).
Of course, you can search Google for all kinds of filetypes, text and otherwise: .rdf (RSS, FOAF, etc.), .xml (RSS, Atom, etc.), .torrent (BitTorrent), .aspx (.NET), .php (PHP), .csv (comma-delimited data file), .vcf (vCard...look, global address book made easy!), etc.
Apple announces new version of iTunes. iMix and Party Shuffle look interesting.
Restaurant Magazine names French Laundry world's best restaurant for 2004. French Laundry is set to reopen on May 15th.
Paintings by Teresa Margolles made by dipping paper "into the water used to clean human corpses after autopsies". Part of her ''Muerte Sin Fin'' exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt.
Teacher and Meteorologist to Blog Week of Storm Chasing in Tornado Alley. Behold, tornadoblogging is born.
Push! Kiss your browser goodbye: The radical future of media beyond the Web. The original much-maligned article by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly from the March 1997 Wired.
Gary Wolf on The Return of Push. Nothing's being "pushed", but the customization and personalization stuff was right on.
reBlogging APR 26
For the next week or so, I'll be editing Eyebeam's reBlog, "a community site focused on art, technology, and culture". reBlog filters the filterers, with the reBlogger distilling information from many incoming feeds (by bloggers, Eyebeam artists, newspapers, etc.) into a single feed packed with art/tech/culture goodness for the Eyebeam community to consume.
One of my duties as editor is to seek out new sources of information for the site. If you look at the reBlog sidebar under "feeds", there are currently about 60 sources from which to choose stories. Are there any feeds you'd like to see on the list? IMO, an ideal feed would contain items about at least two of the reBlog topics of interest (art, tech, culture).
Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for your suggestions.
Some ideas for customizing the outside of your iBook. Niche business alert: will rich hipsters pay for custom designed iBook exteriors?
The realest real APR 25
So, I'm writing a script for a reality show. In it, a team of fit-but-insecure aspiring actors and models (plus one nerdy, self-confident Asian college student) work together to restore and pimp out a 1974 Winnebago motor home, inside and out, over the course of several weeks. The team will be coached by a custom car aficionado from Southern California and five homosexual gentleman, learning from them not only how to weld, but how to make their bead profiles all they can be.
During the restoration process, the team will be judged and heckled by a panel comprised of Debbie Gibson, Warren Buffett, and a weekly guest panelist of C-list status. Each week, viewers will vote on which judge they liked the least using their cell phones. That judge will have to take a whipped cream shower with Dom DeLuise and marry a random member of the studio audience. The audience member gets $1,000,000 and a phone call to a friend. That friend will choose one of the team members to be "fired" from the show. On the final episode, the last remaining team member wins the Winnebago, drives it across the country with Tara Reid and Brittany Murphy to NY to start their new job at Orange County Choppers. At some point, someone will eat a handful of live earthworms.
It can't miss.
Jerry Orbach shoots his last scenes for Law and Order. Farewell, Lennie.
Tyler Cowen, economist and co-proprietor of the excellent Marginal Revolution, recently gave a talk to the International Association of Culinary Professionals and offered some food-related investment advice:
If sushi restaurants are new to a country, and are succeeding, buy shares in the stocks of that country. Raw fish, of course, can be toxic. Quality can be hard to monitor with the naked eye. Sushi consumption is a sign that people are starting to trust each other.
New logo for TypePad APR 23
New logo for TypePad. I don't think this is an improvement. Pac-Man on a string?
Adam Greenfield takes a crack at redesigning the 1040 tax form. Where's the Comic Sans?!?
SounderCover adds background noise to your cell phone calls, providing you with "hang up" alibis. I'm sorry, I can't hear you. There's a circus parade going by...
Wrap rage - "Extreme anger caused by product packaging that is difficult to open or manipulate". To open a recent DVD purchase, I had to go through a layer of shrink-wrapped plastic, three "security" stickers, and these little plastic tabs they're putting on DVD cases now. Rage!
Redesigning the 1040 tax form. But TurboTax has already redesigned tax forms to the point where they're unnecessary for taxpayers.
Everything is broken APR 20
And yet, people seem to be getting lots of things done on the Internet these days. Curious, that.
Big upgrade for NetNewsWire coming soon. All the newsreaders seem to be iterating towards genuine usefulness. Smart lists/feeds/albums/folders for President!
A not-so-helpful phrasebook APR 20
A not-so-helpful phrasebook. "Si vous allez aux Etats-Unis, vous trouverez que dix cents c'est beaucoup de fric."
Directional intelligence APR 19
I'm one of those people that can't tell their left from their right. Well, it's not that I can't, it's just that I have to think about my left hand making an "L" shape ("L" for left) and then I'm ok. Same with geographical directions, only worse. In my brain, the concept of west is tied to the concept of left, so in order to orient myself on a map or in a physical location, I need to point myself north, think of my left (for "L") hand, associate left with west, and then east must be the opposite way. How I developed this Rube Goldbergian mechanism for wayfinding, I don't know, but it's the best I have.
A recent visit with my mom suggests that I may have inherited my directional difficulties from her. I certainly didn't get it from my dad. He could find due north with his eyes closed. As an IFR-trained pilot, he probably had to. When I was younger, he'd give me directions like, "head north for two miles, turn right at the red barn, veer southwest at the V in the road, and then turn right onto County Road D. It'll be on the east side of the road." I'd blink at him and then retrieve a scrap of paper to translate what he'd said into a consistent terminology (either L/R or NS/EW) and make a map that I could follow. I have accepted that I will never be any good with directions and compensate for my weakness with preparation (I always know where I'm going and how I'm going to get there and if I don't, I stop and think about until I do or let someone else lead the way) and repetition (the concept of "left" is almost natural now). But I still get burned occasionally and it can be frustrating.
Is anyone else out there directionally challenged?
The Internet responds to cheese-cutting lasers. "Dont we have a war going on somewhere and they are slicing cheese"
Dear Flip Saunders,
First, congratulations on your Minnesota Timberwolves capturing the #1 seed for the playoffs in the Western Conference. I have been a fan for many years, and for the first time, I feel good about the team you have assembled and have high hopes for this postseason.
But we need to talk about Wally Szczerbiak. You've got to get rid of him. Can't you see that when he's in the game, he makes the whole team worse? No one wants to pass to him because he's a black hole; the ball goes in and never comes back out. It disrupts the whole offense. All he wants to do is shoot, shoot, shoot. He's a good individual talent, but doesn't play within the offense at all. Please trade him and get someone who's less selfish and can play some defense.
A grand day out with Quentin Tarantino. I didn't know you could have fun at Crate and Barrel.
This NYTimes profile of Wonkette makes me want to take a shower. "I think it's implicit in the way that a Web site is produced that our standards of accuracy are lower." Yuck.
PulpFiction (expect a letter from Miramax soon) looks to do everything a modern newsreader should do. Love the filters. Every single app in the world should save all data it ever sees, data about that data, and have ways to filter and search it.
Send your postcard-sized artwork to the 10,000 Cards project for inclusion in a massive collage. "It's for an exhibition on the modern applications of art and the new society of a new generation of artists."
Indiana University prof takes a crack at Moneyballing the NBA. Top 5 players in NBA according to his stats are Hedo Turkoglu, Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, Brad Miller, and Manu Ginobili.
Wired News report on Julian Dibbell's success as a full-time virtual goods broker. In a year, he could make more selling Ultima Online gold pieces than a teacher or firefighter.
Rael recently noted a shift among Unix folk in pinging google.com instead of yahoo.com when checking for network availability:
It's not, mind you, that yahoo.com has become unreachable or unstable; just the Google has so come to represent the very essence of stability and reachability that it's made its way to our every ping.
While Google rules the ping space, Yahoo is still tops of the Web in terms of porn alternatives with a solid #1 ranking in a search for "exit" and a #1 ranking to Google's #2 for "leave" (that is, when porn sites give you a chance to "exit" or "leave", they're still linking that word to Yahoo more often than Google).
A loud quiet launch APR 15
The first line of the news.com article on A9 says that "Amazon.com has quietly launched a test version of its long-awaited search engine" (emphasis mine). Curious. I wonder if news.com felt slighted at the way A9 chose to initially publicize the site, breaking the story via a weblog instead of a traditional media outlet (like, say, news.com) and the "quietly launched" is a displeased rejoinder to the strategy. Judging from the response so far (233 news stories on Google News, A9-related posts hold the top 3 spots on Blogdex, a very active thread on Battelle's site, a post on Slashdot, an article at Search Engine Watch, and it hasn't been 24 hours yet), the launch wasn't that quiet.
A9 APR 14
A9, a new search service from Amazon, has launched in beta. Amazon chose to break the story through John Battelle so that, in his words, "[the news would] move from the blogosphere out, as opposed the WSJ in". Battelle's got some good thoughts on it in his post. They're using Google's search results, display book search results alongside, have a search toolbar, keeps track of your past search results and what you've visited already, and more. Toolbar includes a diary feature with which you can annotate any Web page you visit (a la E-Quill). My first thought: how about some contrast? The cream background and gray text ain't working for me.
A9 has a generic version of their search service that doesn't track you via cookies or use your data in their analysis.
Steven has whipped up a Firefox search plugin for A9.
Erik Benson, an Amazon employee, has some thoughts on A9.
As an aside, I have to say the idea of a complete, lifetime record of a person's searches and browsing history - which by the way that person can edit - is an extraordinary concept. It's taking the idea of the database of intentions to the utmost granular level of history - the individual. What, I wonder, happens to a person's search history when they die? Do they have a right to own it? Does it get passed down as a keepsake to his or her children?
How to debate Creationists without being boring. "God spoke to me and told me that you are wrong."
NYU prof finds inverse relationship between a CEO's personal use of the corporate jet and their company's stock value. And it's not a simple relationship...the stock value lost far exceeds the cost of the jet/fuel/etc.
Baseblogs, "baseball and blogging are a perfect match". Nice roundup of baseball blogs; Denton clearly missed this lucrative vertical.
"Syndication" (via RSS and Atom) is about to hit the big time. It's getting a lot of coverage in on/offline technical publications and will soon be covered in more mainstream glossy magazines and newspapers. Millions of people are now using RSS and Atom to syndicate their Web sites. Large media organizations like the BBC are syndicating their content via RSS. Amazon is syndicating lists of their bestselling items via RSS. Syndication is booming. Syndication is why RSS and Atom use is skyrocketing. Say it with me: syndication!
But is syndication really what everyone's all excited about? I don't believe so.
When the BBC (for example) provides content (headlines with story summaries, dates, and links back to full stories) for publication on other sites, that's syndication. This is what's happening with RSS on My Yahoo! and the purpose for which RSS was first developed at Netscape. Weather.com syndicates their five-day forecast (for a fee). Offline (where the syndication idea originated), United Media syndicates comics like Dilbert to hundreds of newspapers. Republishing is a distinguishing feature of syndication. When content is syndicated, the reader is getting the content from someone other than the producer. The BBC provides content to an online regional UK newspaper which is then read by that newspaper's readers.
BBC content --> regional UK newspaper --> readers
But things have changed since Netscape introduced RSS. RSS and Atom feeds are now largely read directly by people with newsreaders. The BBC provides their content in RSS format, a reader accesses the file from the BBC's server, and reads it.
BBC content --> readers
Hmm. So, people access documents written in a markup language that have been published on a Web server with a software application. If this seems familiar to you, it should. It's called Web browsing and has nothing to do with syndication. RSS readers and newsreaders are just specialized Web browsers, nascent microcontent browsers if you will**.
If not syndication, then what makes RSS and Atom so compelling in comparison to plain old HTML pages? The data contained in an RSS/Atom file is more specialized and structured than in an HTML file***. An HTML page has a title, maybe a header, some paragraphs, and perhaps a couple of lists. That's all a page can tell the browser about its information. When a newsreader loads an RSS file, it knows quite a bit more about the content contained therein. It knows the file contains 15 items (an item is typically a news story or weblog post) and each of those items has a title, a description, a link, maybe some categories, when the item was published, etc.
Using this information, the newsreader can then display the content in these files in various ways that are helpful to the reader. It can tell you at a glance that you have 68 unread news items; it can aggregate items from several RSS files into a new "feed" (perhaps a feed on biotech); it allows you to skim literally thousands of different items from hundreds of different sources sliced and diced in a myriad of ways. RSS and Atom treat the items contained within a file as first-class citizens.
So, that's the big deal about RSS and Atom, not syndication (although RSS/Atom can be used for syndication). I figure that if we technologists, publishers, and journalists are going to get all excited about this stuff and evangelize it to others, we should make sure we know exactly what we're so excited about.
**As an aside, what are now called RSS readers and newsreaders will eventually evolve into microcontent browsers (bad name for a good idea). I talked about such applications last year in relation to Safari and Sherlock:
A web browser is a tool for people to get information from the web. Much recent effort has gone into developing other interfaces through which to do just that. With Watson, Sherlock, and NetNewsWire, you "browse" the web for specific kinds of information with interfaces custom built for each task. Why the distinction between regular web browsing and web browsing using specialized interfaces for structured data?
With Amazon offering product information and the availability of other non-news information via RSS and Atom, the term newsreader is already a misnomer. When more people start publishing content that doesn't fit the title/description/url format (recipes, movie reviews, photos, music playlists, etc.), "standard" formats will start to spring up (some have already) and the browsers will need to support them in some fashion. (This requires that the publishing tools support these new formats as well, which they eventually will. The whole ecosystem -- readers, publishing software, publishers, browsers -- will move along in fits and starts, just like it did with RSS.)
***This isn't strictly true. Valid XHTML files are XML and there's no reason why you can't make an XHTML file that contains headlines, dates, and summaries and use them like people are using RSS/Atom files. Tantek and co. are discussing something similar with XOXO, using XHTML to "semantically [express] Outlines and Blogroll-like subscriptions in an XML format that is both renderable by browsers and parsable by strict xml engines". But for now, let's assume that RSS/Atom files are more specialized and structured than HTML/XHTML files, if only because of current convention.
American Airlines gives customer data to other companies without the customers' permission. Guess who flew American in June 2002? Me! Yippee!
NYC locksmith says Google is his best source of customers. Yellow Pages are too expensive, he says.
The Memespread Project APR 07
The Memespread Project. An attempt to chart the spread of a meme (in this case, a single Web page) across the Web from a single source (this here remaindered link). Spread the meme by linking to it.
Media artist Jason Corace will play the part of Super Mario in Ctrl-shift, an online game he's developing for release this summer:
Ctrl-shift is a multi player online game that gives its players collaborative control over my freewill. The goal of the game is to fulfill a series of game missions that take place in the real world, in real time. Players attempt to collectively complete these missions by suggesting and voting for actions for me to perform, in response to live streaming video broadcast from wireless hotspots around New York City.
Players will control Jason through a Flash interface, voting on what actions he should take to achieve the game's objectives. Jason, roaming around New York City, will be equipped with a camera & mic to keep players informed of where he is (not sure if GPS is involved), and he'll send data and receive commands with a mobile device (like a laptop or handheld device) using wifi hotspots. According to the site, prototype games will be running this spring with a full-scale 5-day game to be initiated sometime this summer.
Games similar to Ctrl-shift are Noderunner (a race to collect and upload photographic proof of as many wifi hotspots as you can), The Big Urban Game (people vote online to move huge chess pieces around the Twin Cities), EA's Majestic (game sends you email, calls you on the phone, etc. as part of the gameplay; it flopped badly), Can You See Me Now?, and Uncle Roy All Around You (both from Blast Theory, with virtual and real players interacting on the same board).
Prediction: Google will get into IM soon. It's a good guess...they should tie it into Gmail and Orkut. Also on the horizon: Web hosting/backup/services a la Apple's .Mac service.
Friendster for your mobile phone. "Tell us who your friends are, tell us where you are, and we'll let you know when your friends are within 10 blocks of you."
Free Culture in 100 words APR 06
Since no one has the time to read books anymore, I used the text version of Lessig's new book, Free Culture, and Word's AutoSummary feature (like I did with the Matrix thread) to produce a ~100 word summary of the 368 page book:
The copyright warriors are right: A copyright is a kind of property. First, about copyright. That copyright is their property. America copied English copyright law. Actually, we copied and improved English copyright law. In 1790, Congress enacted the first copyright law.
"Copies." Obviously, however, some uses of a copyrighted book are regulated by copyright law. It is therefore regulated by copyright law. The law of copyright is extremely efficient. Obviously, copyright law is not the enemy. Copyright law is one such law.
Extending copyright terms pays.
The law extended the terms of copyright generally.
Copyright is a brake.
I believe in the law of copyright.
Sounds like Rain Man explaining copyright. Here are some other versions of Free Culture, made possible by its release under a Creative Commons license:
Play this page service lets you make MP3 playlists from Kinja public digests. Look at those small pieces joining loosely. So small, so loose.
We're playing around with this USB fingerprint scanner at work. Feels very James Bond to login to your computer with a fingerprint scan.
Top 100 Bay Area restaurants APR 06
Top 100 Bay Area restaurants. I was fortunate enough to dine at several of these places in my two years there.
Great post about what Google is up to by Rich Skrenta. He argues that Google is building a huge computer with a custom operating system that everyone on earth can have an account on. His last few paragraphs are so much more perceptive than anything that's been written about Google by anyone; Skrenta nails the company exactly:
Google is a company that has built a single very large, custom computer. It's running their own cluster operating system. They make their big computer even bigger and faster each month, while lowering the cost of CPU cycles. It's looking more like a general purpose platform than a cluster optimized for a single application.
While competitors are targeting the individual applications Google has deployed, Google is building a massive, general purpose computing platform for web-scale programming.
This computer is running the world's top search engine, a social networking service, a shopping price comparison engine, a new email service, and a local search/yellow pages engine. What will they do next with the world's biggest computer and most advanced operating system?
I was thrilled reading this today because I had been thinking along the same lines as I wondered about Gmail (and the 1GB of storage in particular)...and that Skrenta had made the argument so well. This weekend, as I hacked through a bunch of XHTML and CSS for an upcoming site redesign, I jotted down a few notes for a follow-up on a post I made over a year ago called Google is not a search company. I was going to call it "GooOS, the Google Operating System".
My notes contained two of Skrenta's main points: the importance of the supercomputer and the scores of Ph.Ds being Google's main assets. A third key asset for Google is the data that they're storing on those 100,000 computers. As I said in that post:
Google's money won't be made with search...that's small peanuts compared to selling access to the world's biggest, best, and most cleverly-utilized map of the web.
So. They have this huge map of the Web and are aware of how people move around in the virtual space it represents. They have the perfect place to store this map (one of the world's largest computers that's all but incapable of crashing). And they are clever at reading this map. Google knows what people write about, what they search for, what they shop for, they know who wants to advertise and how effective those advertisements are, and they're about to know how we communicate with friends and loved ones. What can they do with all that? Just about anything that collection of Ph.Ds can dream up.
Tim O'Reilly has talked about various bits from the Web morphing into "the emergent Internet operating system"; the small pieces loosely joining, if you will. Google seems to be heading there already, all by themselves. By building and then joining a bunch of the small pieces by themselves, Google can take full advantage of the economies of scale and avoid the difficulties of interop.
Google isn't worried about Yahoo! or Microsoft's search efforts...although the media's focus on that is probably to their advantage. Their real target is Windows. Who needs Windows when anyone can have free unlimited access to the world's fastest computer running the smartest operating system? Mobile devices don't need big, bloated OSes...they'll be perfect platforms for accessing the GooOS. Using Gnome and Linux as a starting point, Google should design an OS for desktop computers that's modified to use the GooOS and sell it right alongside Windows ($200) at CompUSA for $10/apiece (available free online of course). Google Office (Goffice?) will be built in, with all your data stored locally, backed up remotely, and available to whomever it needs to be (SubEthaEdit-style collaboration on Word/Excel/PowerPoint-esque documents is only the beginning). Email, shopping, games, music, news, personal publishing, etc.; all the stuff that people use their computers for, it's all there.
Even though everyone's down on Google these days, they remain the most interesting company in the world and I'm optimistic about their potential and success (while also apprehensive about the prospect of using Google for absolutely everything someday...I'll be cursing the Google monopoly in 5 years time). If they stay on target with their plans to leverage their three core assets (which, if Gmail is any indication, they will), I predict Google will be the biggest and most important company in the world in 5-8 years.
"When the 40,000 subscribers to Reason, the monthly libertarian magazine, receive a copy of the June issue, they will see on the cover a satellite photo of a neighborhood - their own neighborhood. And their house will be graphically circled.". This should win every design award out there come next year.
I'm pretty sure this is the first ever videogame-themed online greeting card for a lesbian wedding. Who knew Super Mario Brothers could be so poetic?
A friend recommends Before and After magazine. Looks interesting.
Random quotes from Lessig's Free Culture. Reload for another
Sunday dawned windy and cold, a good day to spend a couple of hours at the Natural History Museum. As I walked through the Hall of Advanced Mammals, navigating through crowds of presumably more advanced mammals, two women leading a gaggle of uninterested children passed by me. One of the women started chastising the children in that ridiculous singsong voice that parents use with kids to induce guilt (which seldom works):
"Kids, you're not paying attention. Why aren't you paying attention?"
[absolutely no response from the kids]
"See, the mommies are looking, but the kids aren't looking. Come on, you're missing the dinosaurs."
Gravity Probe B to measure if spacetime "twisting" possible. Einstein's rep on the line again.
A "Heretical" View of File Sharing. NY Times wonders if we (meaning the RIAA) have it all wrong on this whole file-sharing thing, coming to the same conclusion the rest of us arrived at 3 years ago.
Just for fun, I've (temporarily) added a small link after those sites on my "not recommended" list in the sidebar whose editors have Kinja public digests. Just look for the (k) after the site names. That way, visitors to kottke.org who like what I have to say can read sites I recommend and then check out what those recommended people are reading. That's right, all that mumbo jumbo means I've created Friendster for weblogs! Genius! Where's my $30 million in VC money?
(Oh and let me know if you're on the "not recommended" list and you'd like me to add/remove your public digest.)
Kinja launches APR 01
Kinja, the Web app for reading weblogs that Meg and Nick have been working on for the past year +, has launched as a beta. It's still a bit rough around the edges (especially design-wise) and a little schizophrenic as to who/what it's targetted at, but it's neat to play around with. I like that it reads like a weblog...which is not the case with RSS readers...something I never liked about them. A downside is that there's not a whole lot to play around with. One public digest per person? I want more than that, just like my playlists in iTunes.
One neat feature is that I can make my digest public, so you can read all the sites I'm reading. Here's my current digest...I'm still working on it, so all my favorites aren't there, but you get the idea.
Update #2: Meg posts about leaving Kinja at the end of April and points to her public digest. (I love these public digests...it's like you're DJing with weblog posts. Imagine when you can have multiple public digests.)
Google announces Web mail service. May or may not be an April Fools joke