September 30, 2003

Dean's Open Source Campaign

From who got it the pointer from slashdot:
Build your own Howard Dean website! The Dean campaign has released web site "kits" under the GNU GPL and based on the Drupal codebase, which allow web-based communities to quickly and easily build their own sites to support Dean's campaign. Last night, he held a conference call with over 3,500 "house parties" and individuals to spread the word. If Dean gets the nomination, he'll have technology to thank for it.
I'm not sure who I'm voting for, but at least there's someone who finally gets what Open Source is about (at least partially): when you provide useful open source tools and others adopt them, they're not diminishing yourself, you're enriching it. The trick here would be if competitors to Dean picked up Dean's Open Source code and distributed it to supporters to launch opposing campaigns: would that increase Dean's standings (because his campaign had generated a useful tool for public discourse) or diminish it (because the activity generated by the counter-sites competed for the some of the same voters Dean was after)?

(Is Open Source founded partially on whuffie"?)

Posted by johndan at 07:46 PM | TrackBack

The Guy Responsible For Ctrl-Alt-Del

On Slashdot:
Gannett News is running a story about David Bradley, the IBM engineer who, in 1980, coined Ctrl-Alt-Del. Interestingly, he meant for it to remain a developer-only tool, not something for end users, and certainly not to have Windows users change their passwords or logoff. He also says he chose those keys specifically as it's not a key sequence that can be struck by accident.
Posted by johndan at 04:12 PM | TrackBack

100 Documents That Shaped America hosts an interesting (if somewhat subjective) list of 100 Documents That Shaped America (by which they mean, I supposed, the United States). Ranging from obvious choices like the Declaration of Independence and the Marshall Plan to less commonly read texts such as National Interstate and Defense Highways Act and the Japanese Relocation Order. Each document listed includes an overview of why the document was selected, the plain text of the document, and digital images of the document itself. Oddly, the chronology stops in 1965, with the Voting Rights Act.
Posted by johndan at 07:48 AM | TrackBack

September 28, 2003

Open Source Democracy

From Doug Rushkoff:
I've got a short book coming out next week in the UK called Open Source Democracy. It's being released as a free publication, by a UK thinktank-network called Demos.

You can download the PDF version of the book, here. Please feel free to repost it anywhere you like, or to make an html version - whatever.

I'll be doing a public talk and fundraiser for Cybersalon in London, as well.
Posted by johndan at 06:22 PM | TrackBack

IM as the New Phone

Many decades ago, companies marketing the telephone struggled to find a market. The phone was pitched as the new radio in many cases--monthly subscription fees would allow customers to listen in to live events. At six pm on Sunday evening, for example, the familiy might gather around the telephone and take turns listening to a live symphony broadcast over the phone. In the case of Instant Messaging, the companies already have widespread adoption: millions of users regularly communicate over clients such as MSN's, AOL's, or Yahoo's client. The difficulty with this use pattern, though, is that it doesn't generate enough money. Initially started as free services to encourage subscription to various ad-revenue or fee services, their current ubiquitious use makes them appear as untapped markets to large (and small) corporations. In this c|net interview, David Gurle, former MS exec now working on collaborative technologies such as IM at Reuters, offers some insight into where corporations are attempting to head with IM. And, unsurprisingly, they're rearticulating IM back into earlier technologies with proven markets:
I'm saying that Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo will become the equivalent of phone companies of the future, and with a reach that will go beyond their reach today. That reach will be global and without boundaries. With phone carriers, they can only go where the wire goes.
All of which is fine, except that in the articulation IM = New Phone, users are discouraged from other types of uses and developers are discouraged from offering new potentials for the technologies. At one point, for example, Gurle refers to IM as "the perfect disruptive technology". This is a phrase I've used myself to describe IM use in classrooms and workplaces. But where I'm thinking about disruptions to the power structure of the classroom and workplace, where Gurle positions that disruption as a marketing opportunity: disrupting the telephone industry to allow information companies (Reuters, for example) to claim telephone market share.
Posted by johndan at 11:32 AM | TrackBack

The Revolution Will Be Prepackaged

dogfood.jpgWired reports that Napster has launched a guerilla ad campaign in NYC. Like similar underground projects that hi-jack existing ads and turn them to other purposes, Napster reps plaster the Napster logo on other group's posters, a form of economic-political commentary that relates, I suppose, back to the idea that trading mp3s is a form of economic-political revolution. And I won't comment on whether or not stealing music is revolutionary or not--like most revolutions, there's a whiff of truth that's largely obscured by opportunists.

And do it goes with Napster's guerrila ad campaign: The posters to which the Napster logos are being affixed are actually also Napster posters, making the economic-political commentary a little hollow.


Posted by johndan at 10:51 AM | TrackBack

September 27, 2003

Computer Security (and Job Insecurity)

Dan Gillmor discusses a Washington Post article on a computer security expert who was fired from his job shortly after co-authoring an industry association report critical of Microsoft's complicity in allowing recent virus attacks. The report appears to have been written on the employee's own time, during his participation on a professional trade organization (the type of activity, that is, that we should encourage professionals to participate in). Daniel Geer, the dismissed employee, won't comment on his departure. @Stake, Inc., his former company, offered this explanation: "The values and opinions of the report are not in line with [AtStake's] views." A PDF version [880k] of the report is available. None of the information in the report is surprising--many industry experts have been warning for years about the effects of Microsoft's dominance of the desktop and laptop market, including serious design flaws (which remain open because they also allow Microsoft apps to do some things that are interesting from a marketing point of view).
Posted by johndan at 05:40 PM | TrackBack

Architecture for Programming

Joel Spolsky's weblog has a description of Fog Creek Software's new offices, which were designed to support programmers' ways of working:
  1. Private offices with doors that close were absolutely required and not open to negotiation.
  2. Programmers need lots of power outlets. They should be able to plug new gizmos in at desk height without crawling on the floor.
  3. We need to be able to rewire any data lines (phone, LAN, cable TV, alarms, etc.) easily without opening any walls, ever.
  4. It should be possible to do pair programming.
  5. When you're working with a monitor all day, you need to rest your eyes by looking at something far away, so monitors should not be up against walls.
  6. The office should be a hang out: a pleasant place to spend time.
And so on. I'm amazed that people don't spend more time structuring their workspaces to make the workspaces allow--and even encourage--effective structures and processes for their work. Well, maybe I'm not surprised. As Joel points out, the people making the decisions about how a workspace is laid out are not the people actually using the space.
Posted by johndan at 05:09 PM | TrackBack

Quotes from User Experience 2003

After a week on the road (several thousand miles via American Air and Dollar Rental Cars, three hotels in six days, and a lot of interesting conversations with people at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign). Here are quotes from some sessions at Nielsen Norman Group's User Experience 2003.
"I'm getting email offering to enhance body parts that I don't even have. ( information architect, I forget her name). "This looks like something in my gynecologist's office!" (Woman in a product usabilty video, holding up a really bizarre-looking corkscrew) "I'm not even Jewish. My friends and I bought this for a drinking game!" (Man in a product video, holding up a dreidel)

Optical Illusions

I ended up at this optical illusion site and it took me about fifteen minutes to realize I'd been staring, slack-jawed, at the screen for fifteen minutes. So you've been warned.
Posted by johndan at 04:27 PM | TrackBack

September 22, 2003

Quick Classification Testing on Prototypes

Donna Maurer has a useful piece in Boxes and Arrows on quick methods for getting user feedback on taxonomies during website prototyping: "It is simple, requiring little input from individual users (10 minutes from 20 users is not a significant amount of time for them, but provides me with a significant amount of feedback)."
Posted by johndan at 11:49 AM | TrackBack

Writing in 3D

Brown Alumni Magazine article on author Robert Coover (long influential in hypertext theory circles) and Talan Memmot's experiments with three-dimensional textspaces:
Separated as they have been by generations and geography, it’s a little surprising to see how well these artists fit together. Memmott is a high-octane urbanite. Coover grew up in Iowa and is still every bit the big-hearted Midwesterner. “Our backgrounds are rather different,” Memmott says, “but we’re both committed to the craft of writing, and invested in electronic literature and what it can become.”
Posted by johndan at 10:02 AM | TrackBack

September 17, 2003

"Stutter Things"

I headed to the University of Illinois -- Urbana/Champaign tomorrow, to give a talk on ... it's not clear what yet. I have a title and a description I sent them:
Stutter Things: Composing Time, Space, and Text in the Datacloud Johndan Johnson-Eilola Clarkson University
It's analog. It's right in front of you. They don't need a delay line; they're creating delays with a beat delay line or with moving the fader in certain ways to stagger things and to stutter things and to manipulate time with your hands.

Naut Human,
DJ/Media Artist

The term "text" seems in danger of catching up with its postmodern usage, where any discursive situation became a text to read, resist, revise, and place under erasure. But our idea of what counts as "writing" remains, too frequently, bound to traditional sorts of texts: novels, user manuals, letters, essays. Although hypertext and experimental fiction, among other genres, have challenged some of the ground rules of textuality, in this talk I'll look at a wider range of media in order to think about how we might rearticulate textuality in ways appropriate to contemporary culture. Oscillating between "text" and other media, I'll work through analyses of avant garde and experimental music (ranging from the loop work of Steve Reich to the Parking Lot Experiments of the Flaming Lips) to turntablism (including work by DJ QBert and Cut Chemist) to construct new methods for thinking about textual production, consumption, and articulation.
Then I'm headed to the opposite end of information ideology, Neilsen/Norman Group's User Experience 2003. Should be an interesting transition: chaos to order (perhaps). Or leftists to logicians? Anyway.
Posted by johndan at 12:17 AM | TrackBack

September 13, 2003

100 years of design

table fan 100 years of design.

is a monthly installment of excerpts from a proposed book, 100 Years of Design--A Chronology 1895-1995 , by Carroll Gantz. "This table fan, designed by Peter Behrens, was introduced in 1908 by Allgemeine Elektricitäts Gesellschaft (A.E.G.), the successor to DEG (Deutsche Edison Gesellschaft), a German company originally founded 1883 by Emil Rathenau based on Edison's light bulb. AEG was the German equivalent of General Electric in the US."


Posted by johndan at 07:17 PM | TrackBack

September 12, 2003

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash died today in Nashville. Obits at Google News. Oddly, many of the stories include John Ritter's unexpected death today in the same story. Not that John Ritter's death isn't news, but I thought it was odd to have run both death in the same story, as if they were somehow linked by more than coincidence.
Posted by johndan at 10:09 AM | TrackBack

September 11, 2003

DIY (by Users) Redesigns

Matthew Somerville, the user who has undertaken his own redesign of particularly badly designed sites, is interviewed at luvly. Somerville's made the important connection between overall usability and accessability, the latter topic frequently being thought of, unfortunately, as a specialized issue.
Until last summer, I used an Acorn running RISC OS - a very minority system, whose web browsers are not the most capable in the world, so it often proved frustrating trying to use various websites that did not work. This meant that I wanted any website I created to be accessible to all, no matter what browser they were using.

The redesigns, partially because they began at the accessibility for all level, succeed in understanding information structure and browsing processes in a more fundamentally coherent way than the original design methods.

(via Blackbeltjones Work)

Posted by johndan at 08:22 PM | TrackBack

Blogs in Business

The Washington Post spins blogs as business tools: Making Blogs More Than Just What's for Dinner. (Not that this is really new, but having the Post cover the topic will generate some inertia.)

(via Megnut

Posted by johndan at 07:36 PM | TrackBack

September 10, 2003

pixies return

Completely off topic, but MTV News reports that The Pixies are reuniting. Cool.
Posted by johndan at 11:34 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Stupid by Design

Bad Designs: a Website featuring poorly designed products. Confusing vending machines, doors without discernible handles, a mop sink in a public men's room that looks like a urinal...

(via Cruel Site of the Day)

Posted by johndan at 12:40 PM | TrackBack

More on WIPO, USPTO, & Open Source

The EFF has additional information on protesting the WIPO's stance that Open and Collaborative Development Models (OCDM, which includes Open Source) have no place in their discussions of trade. Initially, WIPO appeared to welcome OCDM as part of their discussions, but shifted positions after the US Patent and Trade Office advised against discussing OCDM. (Tellingly, the USPTO's position on the issue suggests that "patent" and "trade" -- both of which are possible under OCDM -- have less place in the USPTO than "profit".)
Posted by johndan at 09:58 AM | TrackBack

September 08, 2003


Warren Zevon died yesterday. His long battle with terminal cancer was well publicized, but it's still a bummer. Everyone's got an obit, but see chartattack's 10 Reasons Why Warren Zevon Was Cool.
zevon-2.jpg I called up my friend LeRoy on the phone
I said, Buddy, I'm afraid to be alone
I got some weird ideas in my head
About things to do in Denver when you're dead

- Warren Zevon, "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead"

image from the Rolling Stone obit

Posted by johndan at 07:46 PM | TrackBack

Database Protection Legislation

The topic of extending protection to databases rears its complex head again, according to a Yahoo! News article:
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives are circulating a proposed bill that would prevent wholesale copying of school guides, news archives and other databases which do not enjoy copyright protection.
All of which sounds like a good idea, except that such proposed laws end up protecting very broad gatherings of public, factual information such as U.S. Court legal decisions and sports scores:
Information, when not copyrighted, is something that can be shared. Once you start putting fences around information ... there's no freedom of inquiry," said Godwin, who frequently criticizes copyright-protection measures he deems overzealous. "That doesn't make us smarter, it makes us dumber," he said.
Much discussion about this issue centers on (often unstated) assumptions about what counts as creativity: copyrighted works are, by definition, creative acts in which some intangible creativity must be protected for limited periods. Databases are frequently (but not always) based on simple factual data. Earlier court decisions on this topic have rejected claims of creativity for databases because they are not "creative" (see, e.g., HyperLaw v Westlaw). But when we move into a postmodern era, what counts as creativity? We (or at least most of us) don't operate under the notion that creative genius springs from some mysterious, otherworldly place, disconnected from reality. Rather, we've begun to understand that creativity operates within social contexts, as a response to and interaction with the world around the author. And in that realization, "creativity" becomes a very complicated concept: where do ideas come from? Is the author any longer the sole generator of new ideas? Do some forms of authorship depend primarily on the ability to move existing ideas around, to break them apart and recombine them in new and useful ways? Which brings us to databases. As gatherings of small, discrete facts (in themselves uncreative and uninteresting), do databases become creative and interesting at a second level? Much of this is a moot point: Databases are typically covered under license agreements, which sidestep copyright and prevent (legally, anyway) users from merely "cutting and pasting" (as critics say) to pirate it. It's not clear what the people behind the proposed legislation are after, except to make the protection for databases even more broadly based and less open to discussion (which doesn't strike me as a good thing). (See some earlier work I did on this--unfortunately not in web formats: A 330k PowerPoint file of a talk I gave at the 2001 Watson Conference on Rhetoric and a 130k MS Word file of a section of book I co-authored for Utah Press with Anne Wysocki, Cindy Selfe, and Geoff Sirc that's in press.)
Posted by johndan at 07:48 AM | TrackBack

September 07, 2003

Right of reply?

To paraphrase the old saw, "Everyone complains about the web, but no one does anything about it." Except Matthew Somerville. As an Independent story details, Somerville has undertaken dramatic redesigns--and usability improvements--of problematic sites he's found on the web:
Ever got really frustrated with a website? So frustrated that you decided to redesign it by creating your own interface to the information that it offers? Matthew Somerville has.... He's put together simpler, more accessible versions of the Odeon cinemas site, National Rail's online enquiries and live departure boards, BT's directory enquiries, and even the Hutton Inquiry. He's got rid of such time-consuming hi-tech puffery as big graphics, JavaScript, frames, cookies, pop-up windows and drop-down menus. And in each case, his version is faster and easier to use.
Some of the sites have not taken the criticism well:
"Not only is his website an infringement of Odeon's copyright, it is also confusing to Odeon customers." Remarkable, given the huge disclaimers on his site. When pressed, Richard Storton, Odeon's brand manager, retreated somewhat; Odeon will not ask Somerville to take the site down after all. Storton insists that Odeon has sold a million tickets through his site, which he says now accounts for 5 per cent of its cinema admissions.

(via Blackbeltjones)

Posted by johndan at 12:55 PM | TrackBack

September 04, 2003

"Lesson One" on mp3 is gatewaying an mp3 version of turntablist pioneers' Double Dee and Steinski's "Lesson" trilogy:
In 1983, Tommy Boy Records held a remix contest to promote G.L.O.B.E. & Whiz Kid's "Play That Beat (Mr. DJ)." The unanimous winner was Steve "Steinski" Stein & Douglas "Double Dee" DiFranco's "Lesson One: The Payoff Mix." Two more Lessons soon followed: "Lesson Two: The James Brown Mix" and "Lesson Three: The History of Hip-Hop." "Lesson One" became an urban radio hit within days, but was never commercially released because of its extensive and diverse samples. Clearing the sound clips -- a diverse collection ranging from Mae West and Humphrey Bogart to Ed McMahon and Herbie Hancock -- would have been a legal nightmare under copyright law.
Also on this site is a link to Robert Christgau's commentary, "Down By Law: Great Dance Records You Can't Buy."
Half deconstruction and half celebration, this is a message of brotherhood for the age of media overload, disarming "postindustrial" capitalism with humor, know- how, access, and leftfield panculturalism. And like so much optimistic art, it's more utopian--hence more trouble--than it knows.
Posted by johndan at 12:08 AM | TrackBack

September 03, 2003

More Patent Stupidity

From a article on's newest victory in their campaign to exploit loopholes in the patent game:
In its latest patent, the online retailing giant outlined a method for expanding portions of the ordering form, then collapsing that portion of the form and removing the data fields. The content for that particular section of the form would then be displayed again. The patent, filed in September 1997 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, also described a method for editing content on the order form and redisplaying the information in the section after the changes have been made, according to a copy of the patent.
I'm no lawyer, but from what I can tell in the language of the patent itself, Amazon has basically received a patent on the process of letting people fill in a form, submit an order, receive a confirmation screen outlining the order, and confirming the final order. (In other words, the basic ordering procedure used by most shopping carts and common the web for quite some time before the patent applications.)
Posted by johndan at 07:03 PM | TrackBack

September 01, 2003

Increasing Paper Consumption

From Canon Japan, an extensive array of 3D paper models you can download, print, and build:


Posted by johndan at 11:41 AM | TrackBack

Software Customer Bill of Rights

Cem Kaner's Software Customer Bill of Rights:
As the software infrastructure has been going through chaos, reporters (and others) have been called me several times to ask what our legal rights are now and whether we should all be able to sue Microsoft (or other vendors who ship defective software or software that fails in normal use).

Extensive linked resources on case law, Uniform Commercial Code, and background info--very useful. Software liability is a huge and problematic issue, given

  1. The growing complexity of software (at both the system and the user level)
  2. The increasing reach of software into daily life, both institutional and personal,
  3. The marketing drive that pushes software releases with extensive bugs, both known and unknown (and often untested).
(via Hack the Planet)
Posted by johndan at 10:16 AM | TrackBack