John Gruber on the whole Dashboard/Konfabulator thing. "Bullshit. Dashboard is not a rip-off of Konfabulator." I concur.
Lawsuit alleges that Orkut (the person) stole some of the code to make Orkut (the site) for Google. I bet Orkut didn't tell Google about any of this. I wonder what will happen to his further involvement at Google if the allegations are true?
WebOS, Apple-style JUN 30
His post also hints a couple of times to WebCore changes to faciliate Dashboard features and the RSS/Atom features in Safari: "each widget is just a web page, and so you have the full power of WebKit behind each one... CSS2, DOM2, JS, HTML, XMLHttpRequest, Flash, Quicktime, Java, etc." and "fixes to WebCore to support Safari RSS and Dashboard". This is really quite exciting. RSS/Atom parsing will be built right into the OS. With Webcore, Dashboard, and Apache on OS X, the lines are blurring between apps and Web apps. Nothing new (hello, push), but it's nice to see action in this area.
Threetwoone diagrams of connections between countries, people in the bible, large corporations, etc.. It's like the works of Mark Lombardi displayed in Visio.
Great response in the Watson/Sun thread. "I grow table grapes. Once I sell a box to NY city, it is gone forever. I want to do what Karelia does. Sell the box to NY city and then sell it again to Sun and write a self serving note telling my customer in NY that he got to look (but not eat) at the box for a few days before I re-sold it to Sun."
The Morning News introduces their own text ad system. I'm sure I'll get used to it, but it was a bit jarring to encounter a Gawker ad in there this morning.
EFF decides on 10 patents to fight in their Patent Busting Project. VoIP, personalized subdomains, online testing, and video game emulators are among the patents they're pursuing.
A "the terrorists have already won" randomizer. A favorite: "If a man can't attend a rock concert with a fried chicken bucket on his head, that means the terrorists have already won!"
Dogs for rent in Japan, $25/hr. For more money, overnight rentals are available.
Comparing Atlantas in vintage and contemporary photos. This is darn cool.
UPS to begin repairing laptops for all Toshiba customers in US. "Moving a unit around and getting replacement parts consumes most of the time. The actual service only takes about an hour."
Article about and interview with Plain Layne creator. "It was fiction in a hurry." I've been calling it realtime fiction.
Flickr's calendar view is very very cool. Seen any other neat ways to display photo albums?
Big announcement in the small world of Mac software developers: Karelia Software has sold the technology behind Watson, one of my favorite OS X apps, to an undisclosed "large company" *cough* Sun *cough*. This means Watson will cease to be distributed at the end of July and will cease being supported on October 5, 2004:
As part of the transition, Karelia is planning on having Watson reach its "end of life" on October 5, 2004. After this end-of-life date, Karelia will not be able to fully support and maintain Watson. (Between now and then, Watson will continue to be fully supported.) Hopefully, by that timeframe, the company will have announced a new product that Watson users should be able to migrate to.
Some Web sites that Watson connects to change frequently, so some modules (see below) tend to break frequently. This means that after the end-of-life date for Watson, some tools in Watson will no longer function. Many other tools, connecting to less volatile Web sites, may work for a long time after that date.
I use the movies feature all the time and it will probably cease operation a couple of months after the end-of-life date. But the FAQ offers hope; a new version built by said "large company" is in the works:
Having a large company create and distribute a Watson-like desktop application to access Web services was a great fit for the vision of Watson. Not only can their reincarnation of Watson function on multiple platforms, they will have the resources and clout to bring more and better content to the desktop. And of course, we've worked hard to ensure that the new program will function splendidly on Macs!
And so they are...here's a weblog entry detailing Project Alameda, a rather Watson-esque that does a bit of search, shopping (@ Amazon), and newsreading. Sun missed the whole Web browser thing, but it looks like they're going to give the microcontent browser a go. Very interesting.
Konfabulator developer pissed at Apple, says OS X 10.4's Dashboard is a copy of his program. Haven't there been several Konfabulator-type apps on various OSes before Konf. came along? Anyone remember any of them?
kottke.org reader Andrew sends along this link to an essay called Keep Big Brother's Hands Off the Internet by none other than the reigning US Attorney General, John Ashcroft, then a Senator from the great state of Missouri:
There is a concern that the Internet could be used to commit crimes and that advanced encryption could disguise such activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone jacks outside our homes for unlimited wiretaps. Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?
The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. Two hundred years of court decisions have stood in defense of this fundamental right. The state's interest in effective crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens' Bill of Rights.
That doesn't sound like the John Ashcroft we know and love. To use the charming language of the anti-Kerry folks, that's a big stack of waffles. Two things: 1) the sitting President at the time (Clinton) was a Democrat, and 2) this was before September 11th. In politics, the opposition is always wrong and with terrorists running around, hiding in your carry-on luggage and in Internet chat rooms, everyone is the opposition.
I also found this gem from Ashcroft's remarks on child pornography and peer-to-peer networks:
Peer-to-peer is unlike ordinary use of the Internet, where thousands of users' computers link to a main Internet server. Peer-to-peer networks allow users, through installation of peer-to-peer software, to go online and connect their computers directly to one another.
You know, in the event of a terrorist or nuclear attack that could take out the main Internet server, we should invent a worldwide network of computers such that the network remains robust when individual nodes are taken out. We could call it the Internet. It's so crazy, it just might work.
Nicely designed British fruit and veg postage stamps. They come with stickers to affix to the stamps.
Watch Safari's RSS reader in action. Looks pretty slick. Gosh, who would have thought they would put an RSS reader in Safari?
Sneak preview of Tiger, aka OS X 10.4. Computer-wide search, dashboard widgets, task automation (woo!), smart folders (drool), and a new version of Safari with newsreading capabilities.
Hoefler Type Foundry renamed Hoefler and Frere-Jones. With Tobias's brother Sasha going great guns at the NYer as their pop critic, 2004 is the year of Frere-Jones.
Donate $5 or more to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and qualify to win a Gmail acct.. A good cause. Also, the number of people without Gmail accts. must be approaching zero at this point.
Ronald Reagan's son gives an interview with the NY Times. Sometimes the apple falls far, far from the tree.
kottke.org redesign JUN 27
My long personal nightmare is over. The redesign is live. More or less. You folks in the newsreaders might want to launch a browser and check it out (quaint I know, but humor me).
You wouldn't know it by looking at it, but I've been working on this design for almost two years. You read that correctly. It's ridiculous. There were two major false starts, I moved across the country, freelanced, got distracted by NYC, spent a month in Paris, got a job, updated kottke.org near-daily, and made incremental improvements to the site, most of which are rolled up in the new design. The biggest reason for the delay was kottke.org itself...adding new features to it (photo albums, remaindered links, book & movie reviews), keeping it updated with fresh content, and not really needing to redo what was a perfectly serviceable design (especiallly with the incremental design tweaks). This design has been a very off and on affair to produce and finish...lots of off and very little on.
So anyway, you're probably thinking it's not much to look at. It's spare, not flashy, and looks a lot like the old design, especially the home page. Here are a few of the changes I made and why:
- The only site-wide navigation is at the top of the page (and repeated at the bottom). Most of the site can be reached easily from those four links (home, archives, about, contact). Tried to make it very simple.
- The yellow-green thing at the top is a tag. Like the red tag on Levi's jeans or even the red stripe on Prada shoes. It's small, out of the way, but when you see it on something, you know exactly what you're holding in your hands. Some may recognize the tag's kinship to the one I designed for 0sil8. This is intentional for reasons that will become clear at some point in the (hopefully near) future.
- For transition purposes, the tag is currently that same yellow-green as the header of the last design. It may change color or design at some point.
MostSome pages on the site are valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional. CSS for layout. The ghost of Siegel has been exorcised. The cobbler's children have shoes at last.
- Every page is the front page of the site. People dropping in for the first time from Google or from another weblog should be able to figure out where they are from the contextual information in the right-hand sidebar of most pages (monthly archive pages and individual archive pages especially.)
- New about page. I rolled the "about Jason", "about kottke.org", and FAQ pages into one page. And (bad) photos of me.
- Trackbacks are being accepted going forward and are listed on individual archive pages.
- I mentioned false starts above. Late last year, I had an entire design that I'd been working on for almost 9 months (on and off) done in Photoshop, ready to be cut up and coded. It was boxy, had a tiled background, diagonal stripes, drop shadows, and lots of ornamental finishes. It was pretty, clean, lots of personality, a nice design all the way around. And if there's a dominant visual style (trend? fad?) right now, that's it (some fine examples here, here, here, and Lance beat it over the head here). I just didn't want to go there. So I went in a different direction, partially to avoid the crowd and partially to challenge myself. Do you know how hard it is to design text-heavy Web layouts that don't use boxes? Boxes are the lazy Web designer's best friend. ;) I felt bad enough relying on all the horizontal rules.
- The site may not work in your old browser. Heck, it may not work in your new browser. Bug reports on modern browsers are appreciated. If you can't read this, you're probably using a pile of crap browser like Netscape 4 or Cello or something. Upgrade to something useful. But you're not reading this, so just ignore what I said. (Wha?)
- Link color went from red to blue. Don't know why.
- Tweaked the styles on the remaindered links.
- PC users, you're missing out. This sucker looks great in Safari, Camino, or Firefox on OS X. Lucida Grande. Smooth type. Wundervoll.
- A tour of some of the best/most representative content on the site is available for new visitors or those wishing to peer deep into the guts of the beast.
- The movie section is on hiatus and will return soonish.
Some things I'm not satisfied with yet:
- The archive page. Almost every weblog has one and for the most part, they're useless. People can't easily find things (gosh, maybe that entry was in June 2001), it's not conducive to relaxed exploration...about the only thing that works is the Google search. I've not come up with a satisfying answer to this problem nor have I seen anyone else come up with anything that works well. An area for improvement.
- The tour is not what it could be. Why is there a tour and an archive page? And a front page? Seems like some simplification and/or consolidation could be done here.
And now I'll stop talking. What do you think? Comments, questions, bug reports, and constructive criticism expected and appreciated.
8th grade final exam from 1895, Salina, Kansas. "Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided."
Poor Bodhi. It's storming out and he sure doesn't like the thunder. He was under the tub for awhile and now he's cowering under the coffee table. I hope he thinks his God is punishing him for shitting and throwing up all over the place the other day.
Newly discovered IE browser flaw; experts are telling people not to use Internet Explorer. Step 1: Google "firefox"...
The BBC has virtual replays of Euro 2004 goals as well. Shockwave required, but the animation is more detailed than the Flash version I mentioned earlier. Don't miss all the different camera angles.
Costco keeps labor costs down by paying their employees more. More pay = less employee turnover = more productivity.
A quick update on the Plain Layne situation I wrote about last week. Turns out there's a strong possibility that the whole thing was a hoax after all, as many expected. Mitch of Shot in the Dark writes:
After a little digging and a little dot-connecting - some of the information is public, some known only to me - I figured out who "Layne" was. We spent about four hours talking yesterday.
I learned the whole genesis of Plain Layne. More than that, I learned the story behind the story - which, in the end, is a much more interesting tale than the whole "Layne" phenomenon itself.
For whatever reason, Mitch has decided to sit on the story for awhile. Further down in the thread, someone else proffers a theory as to whom Mitch is referring:
"Layne" was created by Odin Soli, who worked at Aptura and knew Mitch from when they worked together at Integrity Solutions. A certain "Greg" who dug up information on Aptura and presented it on Joshua's blog, mentioned that Odin Soli is a "self-professed novelist." Mitch described the person behind Layne as an "accomplished but frustrated writer."
Turns out that Odin Soli is a novelist, a Latin American specialist (Layne lived in Mexico for a time and spoke Spanish), a database administrator & webmaster (Layne was familiar with both skills), and worked for large Minnesota companies (as did Layne). He's also a lawyer and owns a house in Woodbury (Layne resided there).
If true, this is fantastic. While everyone flounders around clumsily experimenting with fake Friendster profiles and finding their voices on blogs and journals, this guy has created two entirely plausible and entertaining online characters, fleshing them out over a series of months in living, evolving narratives. A round of applause is in order here.
Thanks to Jason for passing this link along.
ps. I've noticed that (entirely unintentionally on my part) the issue of identity, truth, opinion, bias, etc. has come up a lot lately on this site. To wit, the original Plain Layne thread, Fahrenheit 9/11, Capturing the Friedmans, and probably several recent remaindered links. Must be on my mind for some reason.
Update: Who knows if this is legit or not, but here's a confession by the person who wrote both Plain Layne and Acanit. He claims to have been inspired by the Kaycee Nicole happenings:
Those stories were rotting on my hard drive, same as most stuff I write, until I stumbled across an article about Kaycee Nicole, the legendary internet hoax who supposedly died of cancer. That's when the idea of turning Acanit into a "real" character hit me. I was instantly obsessed. What would it be like to act a character instead of merely write one? Would the "realness" of the character improve suspension of belief? Could I maintain a consistently believable female character? And that's how my short stories morphed into an online diary called "The Sex Pistols are Alive and Well and Living in Sohatsenango".
The timeline of events is a little weird -- the Kaycee Nicole story broke in mid May 2001, Acanit's site has stories dating back to January 2001 -- but those entries could have been back-dated seeing as the site really does pick up steam a couple of months after the Kaycee Nicole hits the press.
Using Luftansa's wireless broadband service, Apple product line manager Eric Zelenka videoconferenced with a coworker in Cupertino on the way back from Munich:
Although the wireless Internet connection involved sending data from a Boeing 777 traveling at 500 mph through a satellite receiver in a 20,000 mile earth orbit, conferencing with Zelenka was as easy as clicking his video status button.
Between cheap mobile technology, WiFi, Bluetooth, and software that takes advantage of all that, you've got a scenario where 2 or more people on the same plane can have stealth conversations with each other, possible on-ground coordinators, and even people on other planes, working together to plan and execute hijackings. Someone could be iChatting away to a cohort in 23C without his neighbor suspecting anything was up, sharing notes on the likely positions of onboard guns (armed air marshals are easy to spot) and coordinating their plan of attack. I'm wondering how distant we are from the day when all electronic devices will be banned from commerical flights.
Deceptively simple Flash game: keep the stumbling drunk on his feet. After 5 or 6 games, I could manage 73 meters.
Fahrenheit 9/11 JUN 24
The film, while entertaining -- very funny in parts and at times powerfully moving -- was ultimately disappointing for me. Whether Moore intended it to or not (not quite sure what Moore wants these days...he's plays his cards close to his chest in that regard), this film is not meant to change your mind or sway opinion. It's meant to rally the troops, and it does so well. Fahrenheit 9/11 is ultimately about Michael Moore's view of the world, which is what makes it so entertaining, pleasing to Moore fans, but also what limits its potential.
During the last half of the movie, I thought more than once about The Fog of War, Errol Morris' excellent documentary on Robert McNamara, and how Morris would have done the film. Or how Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans) would have. You certainly can't remove opinion from a documentary, but with Fog and Friedmans, you get a sense of what the filmmakers' opinions are and how they affect the way the story is told. And as with anything in life, you find your own truth in the films based on what you think that bias might be. But Fahrenheit 9/11 is so much about Michael Moore's opinion that it's difficult to go through that process of finding the truth. The frustrating thing is that Moore has a point, but he's unable to get himself out of the way enough to tell us the story so we can make up our own minds about it. One of the charges leveled against Bush -- and probably every other politician in the US -- is that he's constantly putting spin on everything to obscure or manipulate the truth. I can't help but think that Moore is doing exactly the same thing in the opposite direction.
The 1,000 Best Movies Ever Made, compiled by the NY Times. I've seen 201 of these, which is impressive considering I generally don't like films made before 1970.
Clinton couched JUN 23
I know the Lewinsky thing is the most horrible thing a sitting US President has ever done (*cough*), but I love the fact that the leader of the free world, the most powerful person in the world, slept on the couch for months after he told Hillary about the affair. From Slate's Condensed Bill Clinton:
Meanwhile, I was still sleeping on a couch, this one in the small living room that adjoined our bedroom. I slept on that old couch for two months or more. I got a lot of reading, thinking, and work done, and the couch was pretty comfortable, but I hoped I wouldn't be on it forever.
Doesn't matter if you're a prince or a pauper, if you're unfaithful to your partner, you're sleeping on the couch.
Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibits some of his signature creations, but made out of bread. David Gallagher calls it "the most French thing I have seen in France".
When I read this recap of Google's amended S-1 in the NY Times yesterday, the last two paragraphs struck me as a bit strange:
Separately, there was an indication yesterday that Google's vaunted corporate culture may be under stress as a result of competition and the stock offering. As of yesterday afternoon, typing the words "out of touch management" into Google caused the search engine to list as its first result a page describing the company's top management.
A person close to the company said that Google employees had engaged in the practice of "Google bombing." A Google bomb is an attempt by a group of people to cause a particular Web page to become the first result for a search phrase. The Google spokeswoman declined to comment.
The "out of touch management" search indeed works as stated, but how they got from that to "Google's vaunted corporate culture may be under stress as a result of competition and the stock offering" left me baffled. I knew that I'd seen this particular Google bomb before, but couldn't recall where. Chris Sherman, in a thread about the article on John Battelle's site notes that the Google bomb was initiated by Daniel Brandt back in March. It would seem that the "person close to the company" was not as close as the Times thought they were. If this were a sensationalistic news site, I might wonder why the New York Times is "press bombing" Google. But that would be silly, like tacking some ill-conceived speculation onto the end of a story about boring financial statements to juice it up a little. It's a forgivable error, but one that needs correcting. Paging Daniel Okrent.
Soccer and Zidane JUN 22
Overcome by a hankering for soccer**, I tuned into the France v. Switzerland match last night. I don't often watch soccer -- usually only around World Cup time -- but I enjoy it when I do. It's just so hard to find it here on TV...although with TiVo, that's not much of an excuse.
Anyway, there's something about that Zidane, isn't there? Great players on Zidane's level usually make other players look slow, weak, or dimwitted in comparison. Michael Jordan certainly did so, as did Barry Sanders in the NFL, Steffi Graf in tennis, and Wayne Gretzky in hockey. In this case, it's Zidane that appears a step slow. Of course, he's not slow at all...he's just smooth. Very very smooth. He lopes along with the ball, hardly showing any effort, defenders swiftly converging on him from all sides, seemingly screwed, and somehow he pops into the clear and effortlessly flips a pass to a streaking teammate. He looks almost lazy out there. I replayed several of his plays last night, trying to see exactly how he does it, an ultimately futile exercise. Great fun to watch though.
** I'd call it football, but then you'd think I was being pretentious (or anglophilic). But that's what much of the rest of the world calls it. I just wanna do the right thing here. Non-North Americans, just pretend I called it football, ok?
Christopher Hitchens slams Fahrenheit 9/11. Do you get the sense that we're all just yelling right past each other?
Snoop Catty Catt
Sir Meows Alot
Somewhat more pop music-related than the last go 'round.
Ben Affleck wins California State Poker Championship. While J. Lo. is busy pursuing leader Liz Taylor in the failed marriage derby.
Religion and economics JUN 21
Religion and economics. "Religious participation is negatively correlated with economic growth" but religious belief is not.
The patent governing the compression algorithm used for GIF files has expired. Just waiting for them to make it back into the GD library.
Beastie Boys new album installs software on your computer without permission. The record companies are learning the wrong lessons from scumware installers like Kazaa.
The NY Times on Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11. And on the difficulties of presenting truth as the basis for opinion. Or is it vice versa?
The man who brought you the homemade Segway returns with a self-balancing one-wheeler. Trevor, you're looking tres Dukakis-in-a-tank there.
Older versions of MT choke on links to large files with TrackBack auto-discovery turned on. Guess how many *hours* I spent today trying to figure that out?
Cory Doctorow recently gave a talk about DRM (Digital Rights Management) to Microsoft Research. He dedicated the text of his talk to the public domain using a Creative Commons public domain dedication, which means:
Dedicator recognizes that, once placed in the public domain, the Work may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, used, modified, built upon, or otherwise exploited by anyone for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial, and in any way, including by methods that have not yet been invented or conceived.
Using GarageBand and the built-in microphone on my Powerbook, I recorded an audio version of Cory's talk. Andy is hosting an mp3 version of the talk (mirror) and a Bittorrent of the file is available here. (Thx Patrick and Sverrir for mirrors).
It's 36.4 MB and 40 min long. If you want to mirror the mp3, let me know and I'll put a link up. The audio is covered under the same dedication as the original text. If you'd like to do something with it, go nuts. Also, listen for a little easter egg about 8:20 into the audio.
Sort of disclaimer: I make no claim as to the quality of this recording. It may be too quiet or contain too much background noise. You may hear fast-talking, mumbling, my cracking voice, or flubbed pronounciations of difficult names. I do not do justice to Cory's animated passion about the subject...at times, I sound like I'm reading James Joyce on NPR rather than enthusiastically arguing for the hopeful future of media and technology.
But it's out there. You can put it on your iPod, you can listen to it while you have breakfast tomorrow morning, listen to it on your shower mp3 player while scrubbing your bits and pieces, or you can burn it to a CD and listen to it in your car on the way to work. Or whatever. It's not a high-quality professional recording, but as Cory says in his talk, it doesn't have to be because it's got other things going for it.
ps. I'd love to see someone other than Cory give this talk at a conference. Now that would be "exploitation by anyone for any purpose".
The Lakers go supernova: Phil Jackson quits as coach, Kobe opts out of his contract, and Shaq wants to be traded. Shaq back to Orlando for McGrady? To Denver for Carmelo? To Philly for Iverson? To Chicago for the whole team?
A Google search for "blog" returns 46 million items. From 0 to 46 million in 5 years...that's not bad.
After lunch today, I ate a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, which came individually wrapped in a surprisingly thin tin foil wrapper. Using the back of my fingernail, I smoothed the foil out into a perfect square with only the tiniest wrinkles remaining. Then I started folding the foil repeatedly in half, flattening it out between each fold. After 7 foldings, a tiny rectangle remained, unwilling to be further folded. I started to think that if I had a larger piece of foil, I could have folded it again, but then I remembered that old chestnut from adolescence (that was repeated in college as fact): it's impossible to fold a piece of paper in half more than 8 times. Thwarted.
Then I started thinking, why is the limit 8 times? Given an extremely thin, large piece of paper, you should be able to fold it more than that. I figured someone must have debunked this conventional wisdom and sure enough, a quick google revealed that the number of folds depends on the length and thickness of the piece of paper. In practice, the high school student who derived the formula for paper folding limits folded a piece of paper a whopping 12 times. So much for conventional wisdom.
Side note: Given Richard Feynman's interest in flexagons, this paper folding bunkum seems like something he might have solved in his spare time, the solution perhaps lost amongst the many things he never published or even wrote down anywhere.
Amazon is now listing purchase statistics on some of their product pages. "Customers who viewed this page ultimately bought..."
Screenshots please JUN 18
A bit of advice for companies and individuals who make software with a UI:
1. Provide many screenshots of your application in action.
2. Place a clearly named link to those screenshots in a prominent place on your Web site.
If a picture is worth a 1000 words, a screenshot is worth at least 10,000 words.
Salon recently ran an article on the relatively new school of thought about traffic management called second generation traffic calming. It involves improving traffic flow by incorporating, under certain circumstances, automobile traffic back into the flow of other human activities:
Rejecting the idea of separating people from vehicular traffic, it's a concept that privileges multiplicity over homogeneity, disorder over order, and intrigue over certainty. In practice, it's about dismantling barriers: between the road and the sidewalk, between cars, pedestrians and cyclists and, most controversially, between moving vehicles and children at play.
The idea, borrowed in part from behavioral psychology and evolutionary biology disciplines, is that traffic will become safer and move more smoothly if drivers are forced to pay more attention to their driving and be on autopilot less:
Reversing decades of conventional wisdom on traffic engineering, Hamilton-Baillie argues that the key to improving both safety and vehicular capacity is to remove traffic lights and other controls, such as stop signs and the white and yellow lines dividing streets into lanes. Without any clear right-of-way, he says, motorists are forced to slow down to safer speeds, make eye contact with pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers, and decide among themselves when it is safe to proceed.
At the beginning of the article, the author observes traffic working like this in China:
It's rush hour, and I am standing at the corner of Zhuhui and Renmin Road, a four-lane intersection in Suzhou, China. Ignoring the red light, a couple of taxis and a dozen bicycles are headed straight for a huge mass of cyclists, cars, pedicabs and mopeds that are turning left in front of me. Cringing, I anticipate a collision. Like a flock of migrating birds, however, the mass changes formation. A space opens up, the taxis and bicycles move in, and hundreds of commuters continue down the street, unperturbed and fatality free.
In Suzhou, the traffic rules are simple. "There are no rules," as one local told me. A city of 2.2 million people, Suzhou has 500,000 cars and 900,000 bicycles, not to mention hundreds of pedicabs, mopeds and assorted, quainter forms of transportation. Drivers of all modes pay little attention to the few traffic signals and weave wildly from one side of the street to another. Defying survival instincts, pedestrians have to barge between oncoming cars to cross the roads.
But here's the catch: During the 10 days I spent in Suzhou last fall, I didn't see a single accident. Really, not a single one. Nor was there any of the road rage one might expect given the anarchy that passes for traffic policy. And despite the obvious advantages that accrue to cars because of their size, no single transportation mode dominates the streets.
When I was in Bejing a few years ago, I observed the same thing. Traffic was an amazing thing to watch there. One day as we toured a temple a few stories off the ground, my dad and I broke away from the rest of the group to watch traffic on the 5 or 6-way intersection below us for several minutes. It was a marvel of self-organizing behavior, with buses, pedicabs, pedestrians, cyclists, taxis, cars, and motorcycles forming temporary lanes of traffic that would weaken and yield to newly formed lanes of flow.
I've observed this phenomenon in NYC as well, especially in dense areas of Manhattan like Midtown. People are always in the street, crossing against the light or jaywalking across even busy avenues or through stopped traffic. Cyclists run red lights, charge through busy crosswalks, and barrel down one-way streets the wrong way. Everyone pays a lot of attention to what they're doing, regardless of what the signs say or where the crosswalk is marked. And for the most part, it seems to work. New York City has a relatively low pedestrian fatality rate, about half that of the city with the highest rate, a remarkable fact considering the pedestrian density involved and how fast traffic moves in Manhattan sometimes (I saw a cab zipping down 5th Avenue this afternoon doing at least 50 mph, slaloming through jaywalkers as he went).
The Chicago Tribune lists its 50 favorite magazines. Wired tops the list.
No doubt about it, push is back, baby!. Mike Davidson on agents and smart aggregation.
Attempting to retrieve data for gmail.com on Alexa brings up information on catalinaisland.com instead. OMG! OMG!! Is Amazon conspiring against Google?
Pistons beat the Lakers JUN 16
Watching the Pistons beat the Lakers last night to win the NBA championship was a pleasure. No one gave them a chance at the beginning of the series yet they dominated the Lakers with defense, good fundamentals, and team basketball. Some miscellaneous notes:
- The Lakers' age, lack of cohesion, and reliance on luck finally showed in this series. The last few years and especially in these playoffs, whenever the Lakers needed a big bucket or a run to get back in the game, some random player would come off the bench to score 10 points above his average, Kobe would nail an impossible shot, or Shaq would get hot at the free throw line. Except for game 2, that didn't happen in this series. If only Sam Cassell hadn't been hurt and the Lakers had been a little less lucky in the Minnesota series...
- As the Pistons celebrated with the trophy up on the podium, Darko Milicic stood quietly behind his raucous teammates. He's the loneliest championship winner I've ever seen; even some of assorted entourages in attendance were closer to the trophy celebration than Darko. At 18 and the #2 draft pick from Serbia, Darko just doesn't fit in with the rest of the team. You could see it on the bench, when he was on the floor briefly during the playoffs, and after the game.
- Darko's stark separation from his teammates reminded me of the Lakers. As the series started, there was all that talk of Malone being the father figure of the team, bringing them all together. What a load of crap. Neither Malone or Payton ever fit in with the rest of the team, not really. Payton hated the triangle offense. Kobe and Shaq tolerate each other and that's being kind. They had no role players that complemented their strengths. The Lakers prided themselves on being able to "pull together" when they really needed to but were too dysfunctional to do even that much this time.
- Doc Rivers is a fantastic announcer. As an ex-player and an ex-coach, he knows a ton about the game. But unlike many athletes-turned-broadcasters, Rivers is smart, articulate, witty, and outpaced even veteran broadcaster Al Michaels. He is Bill Walton's exact opposite, which is to say he should not be banned from announcing anything other than volleyball for the rest of his life.
ps. Back on May 27th, Ralph Wiley, a writer for Sports Illustrated, nailed the outcome of the Finals before the Lakers/Pistons matchup had even been decided. Further ps. Lots of email about this one...Ralph Wiley passed away recently, right before game 4 of the Finals got underway actually.
Ulysses, one page each day via the Web and RSS. Like Gyford's Pepys and Webb's Da Vinci efforts.
This person has read 112 books so far this year. Including 4 Harry Potter books in 2 days.
Music is everywhere JUN 16
From Niall Kennedy comes a quote from a Walt Mossberg interview with Steve Jobs in the WSJ:
The interesting thing about movies though is that movies are in a very different place than music was. When we introduced the iTunes Music Store there were only two ways to listen to music: One was the radio station and the other was you go out and buy the CD.
Steve, pass around whatever you're smoking because I'd like some. People listen to music at concerts (!!), on television shows & commercials, in movies, on cable music stations, on MTV, in elevators, on hold, on airplanes, in waiting rooms, at friends' houses, at bars & clubs, on my iPod, on old cassette tapes, and most significantly in recent times, people download and listen to tons of music they've downloaded from the Internet. I agree that "movies are in a very different place than music", but I don't think it has much to do with a paucity of ways to listen to music.
Short interview with David Sedaris in Time magazine. "It's the kind of job where you just couldn't take enough baths."
Jet engine that plays CDs JUN 16
Jet engine that plays CDs. Which button activates the afterburner? And wasn't this a prop in The Fifth Element?
In response to constructive feedback from their customers, Six Apart has once again modified the licensing and pricing structure for Movable Type. While the new licensing scheme is not exactly what what I've been suggesting, I'm satisfied with the changes they've made.
The tiered pricing remains, but the three options for the Personal Edition are more flexible and easier to understand:
1. The free version. You can have up to 3 sites and 1 author, no tech support, you need to install it yourself, and a few other small limitations.
2. A $69 version with unlimited sites and 5 authors. You also get technical support, promotion on the MT site, and discounts on future versions of MT.
3. A $99 version with unlimited sites and authors plus all the benefits from option #2.
Pricing for the corporate edition has changed as well, with many tiers depending on the number of users. 6A has also added educational and not-for-profit pricing.
Despite the problems that 6A had with this process, there's a lesson in here for other companies looking to determine pricing and licensing for their products and services. User testing in Web design, once reserved for after a site or application was fully launched, now happens early in the design cycle. Designers get users involved as soon as possible, not answering questionnaires or taking surveys but using functional prototypes or alpha/beta versions of sites. The design is iterated based on feedback. Design, test, iterate, repeat. When you're done, you should have a design that takes into account the initial requirements and what the users are looking for.
Why not do this with pricing? Make your best guess based on the competition's pricing and internal business knowledge and throw the pricing out there. Be prepared to listen to customer feedback. Modify the pricing according to feedback and your business needs. Test it again. Make sure your early customers can get discounts if the later prices are higher in some cases...otherwise everyone might wait it out to get lower pricing. And allow for refunds for early customers if the later pricing or licensing doesn't suit their needs for some reason. Aside from the bad PR that 6A received because of their initial pricing structure, the test/iterate approach worked well in coming up with a pricing/licensing solution that reflects both 6A's business needs and the needs of their customers. (And I'm not even going to mention The Wisdom of Crowds here even though it's pertinent to this whole discussion.)
(Note: the title is a reference to the Kaycee Nicole hoax from 2001.)
About a year and a half ago, I started reading a weblog called Plain Layne (found it on this list of best blogs of 2002), ostensibly written by a young woman from Minnesota named Layne. PL was my soap opera. Some people watch Friends or American Idol, I read Plain Layne.
In the past two years, Layne has discovered she's bisexual; fell in love with a Spanish go-go dancer; made room in her home for her cousin's pregnant girlfriend and now her newborn infant; met up with one of her birth parents for the first time; recounted a fling she had with a former boss (who had a girlfriend at the time); hinted at a rape she endured in Mexico (which turned her into a lesbian); charmed a straight woman co-worker into sleeping with her, becoming her girlfriend and then fiancee (!); broken off the engagement with said co-worker; frequently hooked up with one of the ex-fiancee's friends (another straight girl, if you can believe it); most recently slept with three women in the same week; and somehow, as all this was going on, held down a job at a large corporation working 80 hours a week managing a very successful IT group.
Late last week, her site was taken down and replaced with a bit of Polish text. And that (plus the fantastical series of adventures that Layne was constantly and consistantly embarking on) set people wondering:
Is Layne real? And if so, how real is she?
The main investigation by the people that frequented PL is taking place on a site called "strip mining for whimsy": plain layne and the mystery of the missing sidebar link. It's a long, long thread, so I'll summarize the high points for you:
1. No one seems to have met Layne in real life. Several people (including a close friend of mine) have reported either wanting to make plans with Layne and eventually being rebuffed or making plans with Layne only to be stood up.
2. There are a number of connections between Plain Layne and a noted Web journal from a few years ago written by a woman named Acanit, who won a diarist.net award in 2001 for her writing (archive of Acanit's site). Similar writing styles, similar topics, similar themes, PL contains phrases borrowed from Acanit's site. They both wrote that they lived in the Twin Cities in 2001. Some photos of Layne (or "Layne") (presumably from an early incarnation of Plain Layne) were hosted on the same server (aptura.com) as a version of Acanit's site.
3. The author of PL is highly familiar with Minnesota and the Twin Cities in general (I can attest to that) and is also familiar with what is going on there at any given time (weather, shows, etc.). The author, whether a woman named Layne or not, most likely lived or lives there.
4. There is ample photographic evidence that a young woman matching the description of Layne exists. Photos here and here (these are from old or cached versions of her site). No one knows if the woman pictured is Layne, a model, or an unsuspecting someone.
5. Attempts to track Layne (or anyone she wrote about on her site) down in the real world have failed so far. By her own admission, Layne attended the University of Minnesota, works at a prominant Minnesota-based multinational corporation she nicknamed Minicorp, lives in Woodbury, has a sister named Drew, an ex-fiancee named Lauren who is currently taking architecture classes at the U of M, her parents are from Koochiching county in northern MN, and probably a hundred other little details that could be used to track her down in real life. No luck so far.
There's all kinds of speculation as to what Plain Layne is:
- a group fiction exercise
- Layne is real and so is most of the site; she just used Acanit for inspiration
- Layne and Acanit are the same person, one or both of their sites are fiction
But there's no evidence to support any of those theories conclusively. What's more, most of the people doing the research (former commenters on Layne's site) know each other only online. If one of us (I'm including myself in the research group) says we've met Layne or know where she works or vouches for her in some way, how do we know that person is a) real, and b) telling the truth? What if a long-time commenter on PL is another of Layne/Acanit's alter egos? What if several are? I can vouch for my existance (I think it's pretty clear by now that I exist and am not part of Meg's grand plan to get written up in the New Yorker) and I've met a couple of people IRL who have infrequently commented on PL, but that's about it.
However this plays out, it's fascinating. Many whom now think Layne is fake are pretty pissed about it; they feel betrayed. And I guess I'll be a little disappointed if it all turns out to be a hoax, but all in all, the site was entertaining to read while it lasted. I'm going to open the comments on this one, just in case anyone has any information to offer. I know several folks from the Twin Cities still read my site, as do a few old school journalers that may have some info on Acanit's journal.
Dave Winer shuts down weblogs.com hosting with no warning. The shutdown apparently didn't affect Doc Searls, a friend of Dave's. You know the old saying: keep your friends close and kick everyone else to the curb.
Interesting piece on Reagan's legacy. With minimal right wing cheering or lefty jeering.
OJ Simpson, 10 years later JUN 15
OJ Simpson, 10 years later. Still stunning that he was found not guilty.
Magazine update JUN 15
You're disappointed with me. You don't even know it, but you are. I can feel it, your disappointment, coming at me from the edges of the Internet. Or perhaps it's just all those mashed potatoes I had for dinner last night. There's a simile for all you writers out there: "his disappointment affected me like indigestion brought on by too many mashed potatoes for dinner last night." That's golden.
Which is to say, I've stopped reading magazines, effectively ending my project to read 52 different periodicals over the course of this year. The project ended a couple of months ago actually, but my guilt was such that I only just accepted it. Deep down, I always knew I wouldn't make it. The decision of which magazine to read, the procuring of said material, budgeting the time to read, keeping track of what I'd read so far...it was all too much work, more like a second job than a fun way to spend my time.
"A Wal-Mart Supercenter opens in America approximately every 1.65 days". That's an astonishing rate.
Photo from the recently held Persian Weblog Festival in Tehran. Looks a lot like any other gathering of bloggers, although they're clearly not in the US due to the complete absence of logos on their clothes.
Working draft of Alcoholic Anonymous book by "Bill W." up for auction by Sotheby's. Value estimated at $300-500,000.
Box office economics JUN 14
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban topped the American box office this past weekend, but fell off 63% from its opening weekend gross of $93.6 million. Studios usually aim for less than a 50% drop weekend-to-weekend, so that was obviously disappointing news for Warner Bros. The odd thing is that from the outside, Potter looked poised to do well after opening weekend. Critical response was positive (Azkaban was a much better movie than either of the first two films), word of mouth was good (I liked it more than the first two and everyone I talked to enjoyed it), and it was up against no major new movies this weekend (Chronicles of Riddick didn't open well at all...although Garfield and Stepford Wives did better than I expected).
So what gives? Is the movie too adult? Is it getting bad word of mouth among the tween/teen crowd? Has Hollywood well and truly shot itself in the foot in emphasizing the opening weekend of their blockbuster movies at the possible expense of post-opening returns? (But Shrek is still doing really well...) Instead of seeing the movie again in the theatre, are net-savvy teens downloading the movie from the Internet for a second viewing? Did the diversity of new offerings (Garfield, Stepford, Riddick, continuing strong performance by Shrek, wider opening for Saved!) not leave any audience for Potter? Are people losing interest in Harry Potter in general?
Unfortunately, the media outlets that cover the movie business (many of which are owned by companies that make/produce/distribute movies) tend, for whatever reason, not to ask or answer any of these questions. Which is understandable, I guess. Not as many people are interested in the economics of movies as in multi-millionaires throwing pajama parties on jumbo jets.
Check this out kid!!! JUN 14
A new virus is on the loose and it's hammering my email account. Meg first noticed it a few days ago; she was getting 800+ messages every few hours. I'm not getting quite that many, but my email volume is nearly double what it was last week. W32/Zafi.b@MM or a close variant seems to be the culprit. The good thing is that Mail.app's junk mail filter is handling the virus-generated spam like a champ...almost none of the new messages is reaching my inbox.
More photos of the new Seattle Public Library. These are from the library's Web site.
We went and checked out the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party on Sunday. We sampled five or six of the 'cue vendors. The baby back ribs from pitmaster Mike Mills were my favorite, although the brisket and sausage from The Salt Lick was pretty fine too. The North Carolinian BBQ, flavored with a thin vinegar-based sauce, was not to my personal liking -- give me Memphis or Kansas City style any day -- but others enjoyed it.
On the way out, we sat for a second to listen to a panel on America's "barbeculture". Listening to folks argue about BBQ is right up there with listening to people argue about blogging, but panelist Lolis Eric Elie's use of the phrase "barbecue diaspora" made our short time in the audience worthwhile.
Congrats to Andy and his wife on the birth of baby Eliot. Finally, the kid has a permalink.
Wave Garden by Yusuke Obuchi JUN 13
Back in November, Meg and I went to the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum to check out the Design Triennial. Of course, I meant to write more about what I saw, but never got around it. Yusuke Obuchi's project popped into my head this morning, probably my favorite piece from the show. Obuchi's Wave Garden is a prototype for an ocean-powered power plant. The motion of the ocean causes flexible tiles to bend, the mechanical stress of the bending generates electricity (via the piezoelectric effect), and the electricity is collected to run blenders for making Californians' beloved smoothies.
And that would be fantastic by itself, but if Californians wisely use energy during the week, the power plant becomes a floating public park on the weekends:
Demand for the energy the Wave Garden produces on weekdays determines its function on the weekend, when energy consumption declines. If Californians have consumed little energy, they are rewarded: the tiles rise to the surface to form recreational platforms and swimming ponds. But if weekday demand is too high, the garden remains strictly a power plant. Acting as a barometer of energy use, the Wave Garden makes invisible power visible.
New York Times architectural critic Herbert Muschamp called it Best in Show:
No contest, really. This is the kind of work critics dream of finding. Even as pure sculpture, the project is stunning. But it is also a fine example of green design. Conceived as a power plant to replace a nuclear reactor in Southern California, this floating marine installation would harvest energy from Pacific waves. On weekends, it would surface above the waves to create a public beach and park roughly half the size of Central Park.
How Web sites might learn JUN 13
How Web sites might learn. Lessons of Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn applied to Web design and development
Playing the Two Things game JUN 12
Playing the Two Things game. "For every subject, there are really only two things you really need to know."
Canada briefly invades California to retrieve Internet domain name. Airbag.ca urgently needed for driver safety education site.
The EFF is holding a patent busting contest. "The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Patent Busting Project is here to protect you from dangerously bad patents. And you can help us pick which patents we're going to bust first!"
MoreGoogle plugin for IE adds new features to Google search results. Amazon product info, preview thumnails, etc.
Season premiere of Six Feet Under tomorrow night. The long wait is over.
How newspapers reported Reagan's death. Hundreds of front pages at the Newseum.
Scientists working in Antarctica have extracted an ice core that dates to 740,000 years ago. That's lots of climate information.
Suggestions for TiVo JUN 09
The NY Times announced today that TiVo will be introducing some new features to their service, allowing people to watch content from the Internet on their TiVo. As with Apple's AirTunes & AirPort Express, Slim Devices' Squeezebox, and networked DVD players, the idea behind the new TiVo is that people should be able to play their media, independent of file format, source, or delivery mechanism, on the device or through the interface of their choosing.
Many companies seem to be heading in this general direction, generating lots of buzz about convergence or whatever it's called these days, and I guess it is exciting, but I can't help but feel that TiVo in particular is missing (and has been missing for a couple of years now) an opportunity to expand upon their core business in a more meaningful way for their customers.
First off, TiVo still does not allow you to view or modify your To-Do list over the Web. The TiVo Web Project fills this need for hardcore TiVo hackers, but a consumer-friendly version is needed. I should be able to everything I can do while sitting on the couch in front of the TiVo (short of watching programs) over the Web. And you can imagine other ways in which you could talk to your TiVo: SMS messages from your phone or IM from your computer to the TiVo message center ("hey lazyass, before you watch that six feet under, go pickup groceries for dinner") for starters.
Along with that, TiVo should provide recommendations about what I should watch, displayed both online and on the Tivo. The current recommendations suck, especially if you consider the massive amounts of data that TiVo gathers on their users' viewing habits. They can do better than a list of 50 shows that are vaguely related to ones you may have watched before. Take a page from Amazon's book. When a user views a particular show's details, offer a short list of similar shows ("people who watched this show also watched..."). Break them down by category into recommendations for sports, for movies, for whatever. Along with the collaboratively filtered recommendations, TiVo should publish lists of new and notable shows, categorized appropriately. TiVo has largely abstracted away the idea of television channels and networks and turned the TV experience into watching one big TiVo Channel. With so many shows available on this huge channel, they need to give each of their users many ways to compile their own personal channel.
Above all, television is a social experience for many people. Even if you don't watch sporting events, reality TV, game shows, or even Sesame Street with friends or family, yelling, joking, and laughing at the TV and each other, chances are you're going to talk about it at work or school the next day. Or, TiVo willing, on TiVo's Web site. TiVo needs to more effectively harness the views and opinions of their customers and push them back out to everyone. Create a community...not people interested in TiVo but people interested in watching television. Think Television Without Pity. Or, again, Amazon with their user reviews. Let people share their television watchlists with others, like Apple or Mixmatcher do with music playlists. The social software / online community space is ripe with ideas that could be applied to TiVo and their users.
The 2004 Republican ticket is set for success: Bush and Zombie Reagan. "Zombie Reagan: More Than One Life to Give for his Country."
All about the Brazilian bikini wax. So named for the seven Brazilian sisters that introduced it to the US.
Black and white cookie JUN 09
I read somewhere last week a lament that no one had told the writer about the special magic of the black and white cookie. I, too, lament. Jonesing for a snack last week, I remembered this person's rave about the b&w and purchased one at the bodega on the way home. Whoa, what a dessert! The black and white cookie is, in fact, not a cookie but a flat, thinly frosted cake, like someone has sat on a cupcake. Cookie convenience, cupcake taste. I am hooked.
Being the last person in NYC to learn about this biracial delectable, I need some help in locating the best b&w in the city. New Yorkers, where do you get your black and white cookies?
David Sedaris, literary rock star. He was at Barnes and Noble in NYC last week reading and signing books for almost 5 hours.
OB/GYNs are getting upset when people decide to deliver at home with midwives because it cuts into hospital profits. Maybe we should seek a better way to run a healthcare system.
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner on the economics of bagels. Man distributes bagels to companies, watches payment trends. Small companies are more honest in payment than large ones, bagel crime dropped 15% after 9/11, and people steal more around Xmas.
Michael Lewis on socially responsible business practices. I have so much to write about this issue, but a quick link will have to do for now.
McEconomics JUN 08
The Economist reports on using the McDonald's Big Mac as an economic indicator. By comparing the prices of burgers in different countries, you can come up with an exchange rate and compare that to conventional market exchange rates and determine if a country's currency is over- or under-valued, Mac-wise:
The Big Mac index was never intended as a precise forecasting tool. Burgers are not traded across borders as the PPP theory demands; prices are distorted by differences in the cost of non-tradable goods and services, such as rents.
Yet these very failings make the Big Mac index useful, since looked at another way it can help to measure countries' differing costs of living. That a Big Mac is cheap in China does not in fact prove that the yuan is being held massively below its fair value, as many American politicians claim. It is quite natural for average prices to be lower in poorer countries and therefore for their currencies to appear cheap.
The prices of traded goods will tend to be similar to those in developed economies. But the prices of non-tradable products, such as housing and labour-intensive services, are generally much lower. A hair-cut is, for instance, much cheaper in Beijing than in New York.
One big implication of lower prices is that converting a poor country's GDP into dollars at market exchange rates will significantly understate the true size of its economy and its living standards. If China's GDP is converted into dollars using the Big Mac PPP, it is almost two-and-a-half-times bigger than if converted at the market exchange rate. Meatier and more sophisticated estimates of PPP, such as those used by the IMF, suggest that the required adjustment is even bigger.
The two ways of determining the value of currency (and, eventually, the size of a country's economy) have different results. Using the PPP figures, economies like China and India are much larger than with market exchange rates; China is the 2nd largest world economy by PPP reckoning. As I understand it, a simple way of thinking about this is imagining a Chinese man and an American man meeting and turning out their pockets. The American man would have so much more money than his Chinese counterpart. However, the American lives in the United States and has to purchase products and services at US prices while the Chinese man lives in China and pays Chinese prices. The American may have more to spend, but the Chinese guy can stretch his yuan further.
The Wiki is dead. Long live the Wiki.. First, there will be IP-based banning. Then blacklists. Then shared blacklists. Bayes. Whitelists. Then an authentication system will be proposed. Stop me if this sounds familiar.
Proctor and Gamble to print advertisements on individual Pringles chips. Does this mean the price will go down? (Ha!)
On the naming of residents of the US states. Mainers, Michiganders, and New Mexicans.
Adaptive Path in NYC JUN 07
Jesse James Garrett of Adaptive Path will be in NYC on July 22 to teach a one-day course on The Elements of User Experience. The course will be based on his excellent book of the same name and his essay on The Nine Pillars of Successful Web Teams:
This presentation provides a framework for user-centered Web design with clear explanations and vivid illustrations that you can put to immediate use. During this full-day seminar, Jesse will show you how to apply his concepts to simplify the complex challenges of creating products that meet business goals while satisfying user needs. Along the way, he'll share his insights on the next wave of user experience innovation.
If you're interested in attending, kottke.org readers can register with promotional code AFT38 to get 15% off the cost of the course.
James Surowiecki on executive perks and how they hurt companies. Surowiecki's recent book, The Wisdom of Crowds, is interesting reading.
I should start out by telling you that I live downstairs from
THE MOST ANNOYING PERSON IN THE WORLD!!!!!
Every weekday morning for the last couple of weeks, the woman upstairs, who just recently moved in, has been holding some sort of ballroom dancing function in her bedroom -- which just happens to be above mine -- at 7:15 am. The clomp, clomp, clomp of high heels on hardwood floors directly above your head for 20 fucking minutes is enough to wake the dead and even a heavy sleeper like me. And even when she isn't wearing hard-soled shoes, she's a heavy walker. It sounds as though a 6'8", 350 pound man is jumping rope up there.
To make matters worse, I think she's got a 2.4GHz cordless phone. 802.11b doesn't play well with 2.4GHz cordless phones. Every so often, and only when she's home, stomping around like an elephant, the wifi signal in the apartment goes to shit, usually right when I'm in the middle of something.
Backslider, the browser history scrolling mechanism I posted about recently, gets a bit more thought put into it. With a screenshot of how it might work.
Bubble Fun is yet another one of those addictive games. I could only manage about 25,000.
"The undersea explorer who found the wreck of the Titanic 19 years ago has returned to the North Atlantic site to find out why the luxury liner is decaying more quickly than expected.". Perhaps because it's lying at the bottom of the ocean?
Spelling bee scandal!! JUN 04
The gang over at Coudal Partners has uncovered a mystery concerning the winning word from the 2004 Scripps National Spelling Bee:
We don't often traffic in conspiracy theories around here, but considering there are upwards of 250,000 words in the English language figure the odds of this: The dictionary.com "Word of the Day" for Wednesday, June 2 (as emailed to our own Dave Reidy's inbox at 4:32 AM) was "autochthonous." Less than 36 hours later, autochthonous was also the winning word in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Did someone at the Bee leak the elite championship word list to dictionary.com? Fresh Signals calls for an immediate and thorough investigation.
Congrats to CP for uncovering this and for their restraint in not using any bee puns in the write-up. So, what's going on here? Is this 1) a coincidence; 2) someone from dictionary.com is part of the process for choosing words for the Bee, autochthonous stuck in their memory, and they made it word of the day; c) some fiendish cross-marketing scheme between the Bee and dictionary.com; or 4) a leak from the Bee to dictionary.com?
Update on Spellbound kid Ashley from DC. Became an unwed mother at 18 and was homeless, but is turning it around by making the dean's list at Howard.
An extensive listing of songs that sample Blade Runner. The site has listings for many other movies as well.
Chatted with the creator of Bikes Against Bush at the Parsons MFA Show last night. The thesis (PDF file) is interesting reading.
Dark Age Ahead JUN 03
Some running notes:
What I find most useful about reading Jacobs is how well her arguments scale. They're scale-free arguments. Through her discussion of large cities in The Death and Life of Great American Cities and of entire civilizations in this book, you can see instantly how the problems and solutions she examines could be used to describe smaller entities like towns, families, large corporations, project teams, blogospheres, online communities, etc.
Dark Age Ahead is ultimately another in the this-world-is-going-to-hell genre of media, but Jacobs makes it seem OK somehow. Maybe it's because she's really concerned about it and not selling fear like everyone else?
Several mentions of Canada and Toronto (Jacobs' current place of residence) in the book so far. I wonder about generalizations being made about specific situations in Toronto; something to keep in mind.
Jane Jacobs hates cars. Absolutely can't stand them. I thought this book was about a possible coming dark age, not her dislike of automobiles.
As I'm reading, I'm flipping back to the endnotes. Many of her sources are either the Toronto Star or private conversations she's had with people. One gets the mental picture of an elderly woman sitting at her breakfast table, reading the newspaper to guests, and getting so worked up about it all that she writes a book about the coming dark age.
Best chapter is Dumbed Down Taxes, about how the collection and distribution of funds by the government has become disconnected with the needs of people. Jacobs makes the excellent point that maybe the rules and structure we came up with for governing the county 200 years ago isn't necessarily the best way to go about it now and should be reexamined. Why is New York City part of a state? Does it benefit the state or the city in any way? And what about states? Do they still make sense? (And don't even get me started on the electoral college.)
Before I bought this book, I looked it up on Amazon and read a review by Dr. J. E. Robinson called The Title and Book Jacket Do Not Match the Text Inside (you'll have to scroll for the review...Amazon annoyingly doesn't permalink individual reviews). When I first read the review (2/5 stars), I thought it unfair. Now having finished the book, I still think the review was largely unfair, but Dr. Robinson does have a point. In trying to make her points (which, when she stated them in chapter 1, I thought were excellent), Jacobs is all over the place and seldom manages to clearly support her arguments. Not that the examples she cites aren't eventually relevant (after all, a dark age pretty much affects everything in a culture), but they don't go directly to her main points. I would have loved more focus.
Doing a lot of complaining, but really, there lots of excellent stuff here. The individual stories and passages contained in the book would have made a great series of magazine articles or a fantastic weblog.
One of the spelling bee contestants from Spellbound has started a weblog. Just glad it's not the annoying Emily.
Ray Kurzweil has a new book coming out in October called Fantastic Voyage. "The science behind radical life extension. Live long enough to live forever."
Amazon is blogging JUN 02
If you're logged into Amazon and visit the front page, you're presented with your Plog, or personalized blog. Basically, The Great and Powerful Amazon looks at what you've purchased, looked at, and rated and posts links to other items you might find interesting. It's the same recommendations they've always given people, only more timely (this DVD is out today, we thought you might like to know because you liked this other movie) and in easily digestable chunks. Blog as interface; the content exists and this is just another way of presenting it.
Update: Matt says that he's not seeing his Plog. Maybe they're only testing it for some people, so you may not see it when you hit Amazon's page.
Eyebeam has launched their latest project, ForwardTrack. It's a system for diseminating petitions that not only keeps track of who supports the petition, but how that support has developed. The description from the site:
ForwardTrack is a new system created by Eyebeam R&D designed to promote on-line activism. The system tracks and maps the diffusion of email forwards, political calls-to-action, and petitions. Our goal is to help people understand decentralized networks and see the power of "6 degrees of separation." ForwardTrack technology helps prove that one person can make a difference.
It'll be interesting to see if petitions are more viral when people can see exactly how they've made a difference in spreading the message. The first project they've set up is Tom's Petition, an effort to renew the national Assault Weapons Ban which automatically expires at the end of the summer. If you'd be interested in signing this petition (or in seeing a neat map detailing how I got signed up and how many people I've signed up), you can go to my Personal Petition Page and enter your name, zip, and email address to get the petition sent to you. When you forward that email back to Tom, I'll get credit for introducing you to the petition. You can forward the petition to friends, family, etc. and, if you've got a Web site, also point people toward your Personal Petition Page.
Addicts of fossil fuels JUN 02
Kurt Vonnegut is all over the place in this recent essay for In These Times, but his last two lines find the mark:
Here's what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.
And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we're hooked on.
In the long term, the potential of the West (and the Middle East for that matter) will be limited until we stop relying so heavily on oil. Since few in politics seem to be thinking past the next election (or even the next news cycle), this presents a problem.
Manhattan Timeformations, mapping Manhattan's skyscraper districts through time. Transparent New York is the best one; overlay the 1811 grid on top of the map of farms.
Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 will be out in theatres on June 25th. This will break all sorts of records for a documentary and make Moore a rich(er) white man. Is it time yet for someone to make Michael and Me?
The Taxicab Metric "is equal to the length of all paths connecting [two points] along horizontal and vertical segments, without ever going back, like those described by a car moving in a lattice-like street pattern.". Also known as the "Manhattan distance".
Me talk pretty this morning JUN 01
On the way to work this morning, a man holding a folded subway map motioned to me and then his map. Happy to give directions when I can, I walked over to where he was standing. As I approached, he motioned to the map again and began, "excuse moi..."
Before I could even think about it, I replied, "oui, monsieur?"
That elicited a surprised look and a stream of French dialogue. I think I heard "parlez" and "francais" in there somewhere. "Non, non, non, monsieur. Un peu, un peu." My crude way of saying that I don't speak French very well.
Slightly disappointed in my unwitting deception, he cut to the chase. Rockefeller Center. Good, something easy. I pointed in the general direction, but he seemed skeptical, motioning to it on his map. Reaching back into my memories of high school French, I conjured up the approximate French version of "49th and 5th" and pointed once again in the right direction. Relived that I seemed to know where he wanted to go and that I was able to tell him so in (mangled) French, he gave me a nod, said "merci monsieur," and headed off.
"C'est rien. Au revoir monsieur," I replied after him.
He looked back at me, suspicious, as if to say, "are you sure you don't speak French?"
Timeline of the history of information. From cave paintings to the dissemination of the Starr report on the Internet.
GeekDIY points to all sorts of geeky projects, like building your own Mac or catapult. Or putting Linux on Big Mouth Billy Bass (the talking fish).
Long thread on how Jesus is better than Mohammed because he's more popular or something. I forget the exact details...just tell me which format I should worship!
Chapter on sparklines JUN 01
Tufte has revised his chapter on sparklines. Sparklines are "intense, simple, word-sized graphics".