September 30, 2004

Above the monitor


Posted by johndan at 06:39 PM | TrackBack

September 28, 2004

On the Road

Posting will be light or non-existent for then next week and a half, since I'll be on the road, first to my Dad's wedding in Marquette, Michigan, then after a brief run back through Hopkinton, to the Watson Conference on Rhetoric in Louisville (note to self: see if Underdog will drive while I write my talk).

We'll be on the trans-Canada highway for about half the trip, and the tiny mom-and-pop motels we usually stay at on the trans-Canada typically don't offer in-room wifi (hell, one last year didn't have in-room phones). If you're jonesing for a datacloud fix, you can look in the archives or click some of the great resources on the right side of the screen.

Guest-bloggers from my previous offline experiment: feel free to post in the interim (or at any other time...).

Posted by johndan at 05:07 PM

Google & Terrorism

The Connection reports that Iraqi insurgents googled an abducted reporter's name to confirm his identity.

(Not sure if they released him because they discovered he was who he claimed he was, or they held him, at least temporarily, because they figured out who he was. Hey, I don't actually read or listen to these links, I just post them....)

[via Joho the Blog]

Posted by johndan at 04:58 PM

ADA and Websites Ruling

Ars Technica breaks this:

In a ruling released today, the US 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld (PDF) the decision of a lower court which established that web sites do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Major bad news for accessibility.

[via Kairosnews]

Posted by johndan at 12:03 AM

September 27, 2004

Home Office

Home Office
Home Office, originally uploaded by johndan.
Apprently I have too much stuff. And not enough whiteboard space. (This is what it looks like inside my brain, too. Explains a lot, doesn't it?)
Posted by johndan at 11:10 PM | TrackBack

Kevin Kelly -- Cool Tools

Kevin Kelly (not the Irish one) posts a great Meta-review of Review Websites:

My model of the ideal review site then is one built on a broad base of user reviews, in addition to a field of experts conducting uniform and comparative reviews, and ends up with an extract of top picks or other recommendations of what to get. I have not yet seen a perfect site. What doesn't work for me is a site sporting a vast matrix of all products and their features, or a site recommending a few products --ones that they happen to also sell, or a site with evaluations of gear they happen to get free from cooperative manufacturers, or heaven forbid, a site that has a few feeble reviews and is supported by a zillion ads. There are some wonderful review sites. I found the following to be useful. For the most part they have what the weak review sites don't have: a minimal ad environment, no direct connection to sales, a means to extract recommendations and not just feature lists, and users with enough experience to indicate how tools live up to others like it. I've ranked these "best of reviews sites" from 1 to 5 stars, listed here in descending usefulness to me.

Kelly recommends review sites across a great range of categories: not just computer hardware and software, but outdoor gear, flashlights, board games, high-end audio, telescopes, recumbent bikes, digital photography, and many more. Kevin's the coolest tool.

[via Cool Tools]

Posted by johndan at 10:31 PM

Political Smarts of The Daily Show Viewers

The Business Journal reports on a U of Pennsylvania study which claims that viewers of The Daily Show wre better informed about election issues than those who don't watch late-night programming as well as those who watch other late-night shows such as Letterman:
Polling conducted between July 15 and Sept. 19 among 19,013 adults showed that on a six-item political knowledge test people who did not watch any late-night comedy programs in the past week answered 2.62 items correctly, while viewers of Late Night with David Letterman on CBS answered 2.91, viewers of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno answered 2.95, and viewers of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart answered 3.59 items correctly. That meant there was a difference of 16 percentage points between Daily Show viewers and people who did not watch any late-night programming.
Posted by johndan at 09:22 AM | TrackBack

On the Gender Politics of Avatars

As MMORPGs (Massively-multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) like Second Life become ever more complex and detailed, designers and users confront issues about default settings and customization. In "Sitting Pretty," Wagner James Au surveys the intense debate surrounding the issue of how avatars seat themselves in Second Life:

Used to be, when female avatars and male avatars would sit down, in Second Life, they more or less sat the same: Hands loosely laid on the lap, legs slightly apart. (Or as one resident waggishly put it, “Sitting with your junk hanging out.”) This didn’t sit well, so to speak, with many residents, especially some women. (And one assumes, some male residents who play as women.) It just didn’t do to put on a skirt or a dress, and attend an in-world fashion show, for instance, then end up sitting more like a stevedore at a sports bar, than a society lady. Quite a few complained to the [game designer] Lindens.

As Michi Linden points out, one of the interesting things about Second Life's world is that these debates take place, and that the designers actively revise the world based on those discussions.

[via New World Notes]

Posted by johndan at 07:31 AM

September 26, 2004

My Blue State's Bigger Than Your Red State

"Electoral Maps Made Proportional" at The Map Room.

Maps always distort--that's their job, given things like the distortions made intranslating 3D space to 2D display (see this page on the Mercator vs. Peters Projection, for example), let alone all that abstraction maps must do to do their work. We're used to seeing U.S. electoral college maps presented as a simple overlay on the same maps of the US that we saw in our textbooks in school (and continue to see on weather forecasts, atlases, etc.). But what if we tried to make the areas of the map represent each state's weight in the electoral college. (As information design legend Harry Beck showed with his design of The London Underground tube map, sometimes different types of distortions are more productive than our usual methods.)

Posted by johndan at 10:19 PM

Tools, Art, and Innovation

The great NPR program Studio360 this week looks at the relationship between artists and tools:
This week Studio 360 hammers out the artist’s relationship to tools. Kurt Andersen talks with master film editor Walter Murch about the tools he used to edit movies like The Godfather and Cold Mountain. You’ll hear a painter fall in love with some very shapely power drills. A riding lawnmower is customized to dance to the sounds of leaf blowers and weed whackers. And before composers used computers, one created complex music no human could ever play, by using the old-fashioned player piano.
The page with info on this week's show includes links to Real streams, pictures, etc. Also included is a discussion of Phil Kline's musical composition based on Donald Rumsfeld's (apparently) unintentional poetry.
Posted by johndan at 11:24 AM | TrackBack

September 25, 2004

Weapons R Us

As I was deleting a crop of spam from my In Box, I noticed this bizarre piece:
Today special: ******* AIR BOMBS *******
OFAB-500U HE fragmentation air bomb
Fuel-air explosive air bombs -Not in stock
BETAB-500U concrete-piercing air bomb
ZB-500RT incendiary tank
500-KG SIZE RBK-500U unified cluster bomb
RBK-500U OAB-2.5PT loaded with fragmentation submunitions
RBK-500U BETAB-M loaded with concrete-piercing submunitions-Not in stock
RBK-500U OFAB-50UD loaded with HE fragmentation submunitions
Questions, questions. Are they really selling weapons online? (This might offer a solution to discourteous drivers I encounter on my commute to work.) Probably not. There are several URLs in the message, including one that's only an IP number. I was curious, but not curious enough to click through.
Posted by johndan at 01:55 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Funkadelic vs. NWA

Wired reports on a protest against the (ludicrous) legal decision against NWA for sampling three notes from a Funkadelic's "Get Off Your Ass and Jam"--even though a lower court found that the 1.5-second sample had been manipulated beyond recogntion. 3 Notes and Runnin is hosting entries that sample the three notes in question.
To protest this decision, we are creating a forum for sample-based musicians and artists to share their own 30 second songs which have been created using only the sample in question. By doing so, we hope to showcase the potential and diversity of sample based music and sound art, and to call into question the relationship between a sample and its use.
72 entries so far. [via metafilter]
Posted by johndan at 01:45 AM | TrackBack

Campus Life Comes to Second Life

Wired reports on online classes meeting in Second Life.
"I use Second Life for students to explore ideas about public space and what makes a good public space," she said. "Being in Second Life all of a sudden puts them in this different environment, which is similar but different, and it forces them to explore how they think about these things.... When you're in Second Life, because it's similar, but the physics are different, people react differently. And it makes them think more deeply about how one designs public spaces.

[via Wired News]

Posted by johndan at 12:36 AM

NetNewsWire 2 Beta

If you're a Mac user (and if you're not, I know you wish you were), you need to check out the NetNewsWire 2 beta. NNW is my main RSS browser; V.2 improves on an already amazing application. The beta version is pretty solid (at least so far). Among numerous other updates, the RSS feed reader lets you view websites in the app rather than passing off the URL to your browser (you can change that in prefs if you want). I was chuffed to see that the new weblog editor in NNW (now a robust external app called MarsEdit) is supposed to let you post images directly (I currently have to open my MoveableType editing window in a browser, upload an image file, then copy the HTML back off the browser window and paste it into NNW posts to datacloud). Unfortunately, I get errors in ME when I use this function. Hope it gets fixed before the rollout.
Posted by johndan at 12:34 AM | TrackBack

September 24, 2004

Swimming in Syrup

Physicists at the U of Minnesota have demonstrated that swimming in a pool of syrup (guar gum, specifically) is no more difficult or slow than swimming in a pool of water. This question has apparently vexed physicists for centuries, at least as far back as debates about the issue between Isaac Newton and Christiaan Huygens. No news yet, though, from the landmark experiment designed to settle the question about whether or not the light in the fridge actually goes off when the door is shut.Heisenberg wants to know. [via daypop]
Posted by johndan at 11:16 PM | TrackBack


G4TechTV will be airing the 2004-2005 NHL season, replacing the striking teams with videogame-based versions:
LOS ANGELES, CA, September 21, 2004 - The NHL lock out may have postponed the 2004-2005 season, but disappointed hockey fans can still watch the puck drop in more than 50 million U.S. and Canadian homes when the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning face off against the Philadelphia Flyers in the season opener of the video game NHL season on G4techTV. The hard-hitting action begins with highlights, scores and stats, airing daily on the network's sports program "Sweat," premiering October 13 at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT. G4techTV is the only 24-hour television network devoted to games, gear, gadgets and gigabytes.

[via Boing Boing]

Posted by johndan at 08:41 PM

Don't Put Pencils Up Your Nose

Danny Gregory, way-cool illustrator of the Everyday Matters weblog, among other things, was on NPR last week discussing his new book, Change Your Underwear Twice a Week: Lessons from the Golden Age of Classroom Filmstrips. Realstream available from here. (Other interviews are linked to at Gregory's website.) The best part of the interview is that you get to hear that "ping" signalling the operator that they need to move the filmstrip to the next frame. Damn, I miss that ping. If only they could replicate the smell of ditto fluid rising off still-damp, blue-tinged handouts, I'd be all set.
Posted by johndan at 08:04 AM | TrackBack

September 23, 2004

Webloggers as Situationists

Good set of links and context from Metafilter on situationists, the derive, and weblogs:

Moblogisme, or: The Situationist city restored.: "The Situationists famously had their own ideas about cities, and about how to city them; in particular, they held forth the derive, or aimless drift, as the ideal way to encounter and make sense of urban place. It's easy to caricature the derive as an essentially passive mode of experience, but it was intended to be anything but: a playful, lively, engaged, and above all social act.

Now that cities are where most of us live, for better or worse, and we have the ability to document our travels through these conurbations and share them over the Web, might it be safe to say that Situationist psychogeography has gone mainstream? That the moblogged drift, in fact, takes things to an entirely new level, by making the city and its flows not merely more legible to ourselves, but visible to a potentially global audience?"

The discussion thread following the post at metafilter is worth reading as well.


Posted by johndan at 12:02 PM

September 22, 2004

David Foster Wallace

Speaking of David Foster Wallace (see below; he's one of my favorite, relatively established young authors ... if by "young" you can mean someone close to my age, but since I'm a postmodernist, I can be relativist about this), I found this student review of David Foster Wallace as a professor at I've browsed RMP several times, hoping my students would make public how much they hate me (to no avail), and because a Clarkson alumnus purportedly is one of the developers of the site. This has to be one of the most bizarre reviews I've read at RMP, in many respects.


Only one review, but it sort of captures the whole archetype of "twisted and problematic genius" (something I've always aspired to ... I've got "twisted" and "problematic" down, but I'm still struggling with "genius.")
Posted by johndan at 10:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Visualizing Spam & Virii

Bill H-D (occasional datacloud guest-blogger) pointed me to this page at Postini showing data visualizations of spam and virii, by geographic region. (Bill's recently restarted his own weblogging: His current post calls for a much-needed Amazon-based Web app to offer citation info in various academic formats [APA, MLA, ACM, etc.]. I'm like Bill--when I write, I normally don't bother to complete full citation info. During the final stages of revising a paper for publication, the publisher requires me to submit citation info in one off many formats, so I usually hit the web to gather the info, frequently going to Amazon to find out things like cities where a particular book publisher resides. I would love a web app that reformatted Amazon's publication info into whatever different format I needed for that specific paper. Hell, I'd pay for it. Like Bill, I publish a lot in a wide range of interdisciplinary fields, so in the last few years I've had to use APA, MLA, ACM, and several even more obscure styles. So while specialized bibliographic database apps that many academics use can help with some of this, it really seems like the power of the Web would give us a better solution--all those resources are out there, they just need to be reformatted; it's translation problem. This is about the longest parenthetical comment I've ever written. I feel like David Foster Wallace.)
Posted by johndan at 09:44 PM | TrackBack

Without a 'Net

CBS Marketwatch briefly reports on the difficulties of researching the effects of being disconnected--for two weeks--from the Internet: Researchers investigating how people would react to not having access to the Internet had a tough time getting started. "It was incredibly difficult to recruit participants as people weren't willing to be without the Internet for two weeks," explained Wenda Harris Millard, chief sales officer of Yahoo, and a sponsor of the study.

I assume they're talking about people who normally use the Internet heavily. When I was offline last summer, I did find it was difficult to go about my daily life, even for relatively mundane things like quickly getting a weather forecast. And I certainly don't think I could have responsibly gone offline during the school year, given how net-connected most of my teaching and research are. But I did discover that giving up the Internet was a little like giving up TV: It's disconcerting at first, and leaves a huge, empty gap in your daily routine. But then other things start to tumble into that gap, filling it. The experience made me think a lot about the work that I do online, both the sheer amount (currently 6 to 8 or more hours a day) and the sorts of work I use the Internet for. And eventually you get used to being offline, and to some extent I have to say I was happier, overall, offline. (Leading me to also question the status of the Internet as an addiction. Why am I back? Who knows.)

[via MacMinute]

Posted by johndan at 01:21 PM

High Tech as Low Tech

turntable.jpgInCase is getting ready to market iPod mini cases, one of which makes the player look like a turntablist's rig.

I guess it's sort of the iPod equivalent of case-modding. Sort of.

[via Gizmodo]

Posted by johndan at 01:03 PM

September 21, 2004

Thinking A Little Too Far Out of the Box

The CDC is distributing communicable disease trading cards for kids [NSDL link--"Not Safe During Lunch"], viewable online or downloadable as PDF files if you want to print up a bunch for your neighborhood crowd. As Cruel Site of the Day notes, it's likely that the kids swimming on the "Recreational Water Illnesses" card are apparently oblivious to what they're probably swimming in.

[via Cruel Site of the Day]

Posted by johndan at 05:09 PM | TrackBack

Elvis Costello disclaims antipiracy warnings on his own CD

Elvis Costello apparently disagrees with the FBI anti-piracy warnings warnings printed on the back of the case for his new CD. He's added another notice above the FBI's warning:

[via Boing Boing, who got it from Science Fiction Twin]

Posted by johndan at 05:02 PM | TrackBack

September 20, 2004

Webcast: Creative Commons Benefit Concert

From Cinema Minima:
The David Byrne–Gilberto Gil concert for the benefit of Creative Commons will be streamed on the Internet. The concert will happen 2004 September 21 Tuesday night in New York City. It will be webcast live from this page (requires Apple's Quicktime player). [Creative Commons: weblog]
Posted by johndan at 10:41 PM | TrackBack

The Grocer of Despair

Leonard Cohen turns 70 on Tuesday. The Guardian UK offers 70 decontextualized and amusing facts about the songwriter.
45. In 1988, Cohen told Musician magazine: "As you get older, you get less willing to buy the latest version of reality."
Posted by johndan at 08:11 PM | TrackBack

Bad Architecture

Bad Architecture catalogues, among other things, recent construction in Bejing. (Frankly, I sort of like some of them. Although I'm not sure I'd want to live in some of them.)

[via Boing Boing]

Posted by johndan at 07:07 PM | TrackBack

"Hey, Dave, what are you doing?"

HAL.jpg /. points to an interesting ebay auction: The Cinerama 160-degree Fairchild-Curtis lens that played HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The package includes the lens, four letters of authenticity, an original 2001 movie program, a copy of the original script, a videotape of the origins of HAL in the planning of the movie, and more.

Bidding starts at $150k.

[via Slashdot]

Posted by johndan at 06:10 PM | TrackBack

Vintage Tech

At the NY, Juliet Chung surveys the growing movement of retro tech [free reg req'd]:
When most people shop for a cellphone, considerations like aesthetics, size and features usually top the list. For most, the sleeker, the smaller and the more fully loaded the phone, the better.

But when Eugene Auh went trawling at eBay for a cheap cellphone last month, he searched for one with a decidedly anachronistic bent.

"I wanted the biggest cellphone I could find," said Mr. Auh, a 27-year-old investment manager in Philadelphia. His winning bid of $25.95 bought a Motorola DynaTac, a 1980's-era "brick" cellphone that fits more comfortably in a backpack than in a suit pocket.

Rather than subtracting from its charm, the phone's cumbersome size - it is roughly eight by two by three inches - is its main attraction, Mr. Auh said. Indeed, he plans to take the phone to work, to the gym and even to his nighttime haunts.

"Imagine this: I'll walk into a bar and ask for a girl's number, then break out my phone," he said. "How could you say no to that?"

While his attraction to digital relics may seem unusual, Mr. Auh is part of what appears to be a growing group of 20-somethings embracing yesterday's designs. These fans of retro technology are using ingenuity to find or fashion the perfect cellphones, gaming systems and computer cases - in effect ushering back a time they experienced only barely, if at all.

In a postmodernist turn, we've gotten to the point when The Next New Thing doesn't necessarily drive decisions about technology use. There's still some of that next wave feeling in the air, but it's no longer enough to be cutting edge. Armed with a web-hosted product catalogue and a credit card, anyone can own cutting-edge tech. Digging through the scrap heap of last year, last decade, takes a little more discernment and style. (I mean, otherwise tech-savvy people are still using Apple Newtons.)

[via Slashdot]

Posted by johndan at 01:54 PM | TrackBack

September 19, 2004

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

From Quotes of the Day:
Exit, pursued by a bear.

- William Shakespeare, stage direction in The Winter's Tale

[via The Mediaburn Radio Weblog]
Posted by johndan at 10:23 PM | TrackBack

Sky Guide

Heavens Above! provides astronomical info (star maps, comet predictions, constellation maps, instructions for viewing satellites, etc.) specific to your geographical location. The database of available sites is pretty large--it included my hometown, Hopkinton, NY--or you can manually enter your latitude and longitude.


Posted by johndan at 05:21 PM | TrackBack

Project Massive

Project Massive at Carnegie Mellon reports on research into Massively Multiplayer Online Games.

[via Slashdot]

Posted by johndan at 01:24 PM | TrackBack

The Absolute Worst Thing

Seth Carey has ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), which requires him to write using a program called Dasher, which allows him to write by slowly entering letters that Dasher uses to predict potential word choice. In "The Absolute Worst Thing," Carey discusses how ALS has changed his life. After taping a mouse to his hand in order to navigate Dasher's zooming text interface, Carey's words are spoken first by computer-synthesized speech and later by his uncle, because Carey isn't a all happy with the computer's version of his words.
I'm not able to speak clearly on my own so with the help of a computer, this is my new voice. It's the same one Stephen Hawking uses, and the one NOAA radio broadcasts in. I hate it.
[RealAudio and Windows Media streaming versions of his piece from NPR are here.] Apart from all the other issues involved, Carey's story started me thinking about writing processes, and how something like ALS might require different approaches to writing than are normally studied. I would imagine, for example, that experienced Dasher users might opt for words that are in Dasher's vocabulary (because words not in Dasher's vocabulary would require users to enter every letter) and would eschew large-scale revision in favor of simple editing of word choice. (Such technologies are also increasingly used in by larger groups of users in things like cellphones.) Has anyone studied how these technologies affect writing processes?
Posted by johndan at 10:36 AM | TrackBack

September 18, 2004

Man, I feel like a lawyer!

How to Write Right is an article aimed at newly minted law school grads, offering interesting advice about how to do what they must do most often, write:
Don't write like a lawyer. Write as a person unspoiled by the law. Write conversationally. Speak what you write; see how it sounds. Don't try to show off by sounding like a lawyer. Avoid legalisms; avoid Latin phrases. Write to be understood.
It's mostly a littany of advice, often conflicting, and I daresay impossible to put into practice for a host of reasons. I'd tell why, but to get that advice you have to get on my billable hour clock... Oh, but here's a freebie: skip the Shania Twain references. -Bill H-D (uncloaking, just for a moment)
Posted by at 04:42 PM | TrackBack

Spam and Virii: A Visual History

Raymond Chen at Microsoft has kept every piece of spam and email-based virus he's received since April, 1997. Includes interesting charts and analysis.

[via Slashdot]

Posted by johndan at 03:33 PM | TrackBack


Posted by johndan at 12:51 PM | TrackBack

September 16, 2004

"There's a Probability Excess."


NYT, Metro Section, 6.9.04

"That's quite an armband you've got there. What does SIMUVAC stand for? Sounds important." "Short for simulated evacuation. A new state program they're battling over funds for." "But this evacuation isn't simulated. It's real." "We know that. But we thought we could use it as a model." "A form of practice? Are you saying you saw a chance to use the real event in order to rehearse the simulation?" "We took it right to the streets." "How is it going?" I said. "The insertion curve isn't as smooth as we would like. There's a probability excess. Plus we don't have our victims laid out where we'd want them to be if this was an actual simulation. In other words, we're forced to take our victims as we find them. We didn't get a jump on computer traffic. Suddenly, it just spilled out, three-dimensionally, all over the landscape."

Don DeLillo, White Noise, 1985

Posted by johndan at 01:59 PM | TrackBack

Johnny Ramone

ramone2.jpgABC News, among numerous other sites, reports that Johnny Ramone succumbed to cancer on Wednesday. Major bad news. I managed to avoid the temptation to title this post "I Wanna' Be Sedated." [An earlier version of this said Joey Ramone died, which is absolutely true, but that was several years back. I blame underdog. But while I'm making updates, here's a great obit/profile by Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times.] [via underdog]
Posted by johndan at 10:35 AM | TrackBack

September 15, 2004

Outfoxed Interviews Under CC License

The interviews (but not the full version) from Outfoxed, Robert Greenwald's documentary Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism have been released via BitTorrent under a Creative Commons non-commercial license. You can read an overview of the topic at torrentocracy [including a download link] or download the BitTorrent starter file directly.

As Joi Ito notes in his post about the torrent,

Here's some serious substantial non-infringing use of P2P. I bought the DVD and watched Outfoxed. Definitely worth buying the DVD, but being able to download and use the interviews from the documentary is a great contribution to the commons. It will be interesting to see how people remix this stuff.

You can see more info about BitTorrent (including links to installers for Windows, Mac, Debian, RedHat, or the Python source code) at BitTorrent's official site. (I'm currently using TomatoTorrent for the Mac, which I've found has a better interface and a richer feature set. Or maybe it's just that the Tomato icon is cooler, I don't know.)

[via Joi Ito's Web]

Posted by johndan at 06:00 PM | TrackBack

Process vs. Product in the Market

On NPR this morning, I heard an interesting piece about Artistshare, an organization that attempts to connect recording artists directly to their audiences. (NPR has a text summary of the story + streaming audio available.) Selling downloadable music to listeners is all that unique; several sites now provide musicians with this basic service. What's interesting about Artistshare is that what customers purchase isn't the finished music product (although they do get that)--customers are participants in the creative process because they're encouraged to buy "shares" in the artist before the composing process gets off the ground. After purchasing shares, participants have access to material that's being gathered while the artist works through composing, revising, recording, and editing. They can listen to alternative versions, discussions about choices the artist makes as they're working through the process of realizing music. See, for example, Artistshare member Maria Schneider, whose website includes descriptions of the various levels of shares that can be purchased as she works on a new project. The $65 share level includes streaming audio of public lectures/discussions of her ongoing work, score samples, rehearsal sound clips, personal comments about the work (as well as the mixing and editing phases of the project). Varying levels of shares go as low as $16.95 (basically to purchase a limited-edition CD) to $1,000 (at which level participants are basically patrons). Calling shareholders "participants" might be somewhat misleading--they're participants in the musical process in much the same way a small shareholders of any company participate--they don't really have a say in the day-to-day operations, although they benefit from the process. (David Bowie famously sold shares in himself to generate income--the move was largely financial rather than artistic.) One thing that struck me as I listened to the radio piece was the fact that this "process versus product" approach marks much of the debate over things like distance ed and textbooks as intellectual property. Currently, a huge chunk of the financial aspect of education is bound up in these products, and much hand-wringing has taken place about how to control such IP, how to distribute, how much to charge for it, etc. And PR about distance ed, such as MIT's move to put all of their course materials online, freely available, misses the fact that what education sells is not a product, but a process. (This move by MIT was widely lauded as giving an MIT education to anyone for free--but it clearly wasn't. It was, for the most part, giving away what were, in the most case, lecture notes, not even textbooks. Laudable, but not worth the hype it receives.) So enrolling in a course, and learning from that course, requires ongoing participation, not simply paying for a product. (This should be obvious to most people, but in general people miss that fact.) Best quote from the story: "I said, you shouldn't be worried about people downloading your music. You should be worried about people not downloading your music!"
Posted by johndan at 09:13 AM | TrackBack

September 14, 2004

BBEdit 8 Review

In an odd coincidence (giving my recent post about MailSmith and BBEdit, Daring Fireball posts an extensive review of BBEdit 8, including the raising of functionality to an aesthetic.

[I]in addition to those who simply have no need for a serious text editor, or who simply prefer other editors, there are vocal contingents of BBEdit non-believers who profess outright bewilderment at BBEdit’s decade-long dominance of the Mac text editor market.

There are two vectors for such bewilderment, both of which belie a genuine understanding of what it is about BBEdit’s “interface” that makes it so beloved:

One is the conflation of aesthetics with usability. The idea that the quality of an app’s user interface is simply a measure of how good it looks; i.e., that the state of being “Mac-like” implies only adherence to the gestalt of Apple’s recent-vintage Aqua-flavored visual whiz-bangery: gorgeous iconography, anti-aliased type, vibrant primary colors, and visual effects such as transparency, drop shadows, bezel edges, and smooth-gliding animated widgets.

This is not to say that aesthetics are unimportant. To find something aesthetically pleasing is deeply satisfying in a left-brained way. But aesthetic appeal is but one aspect of user interface design, not the whole of it — and for a serious tool, not the most important aspect. Compare and contrast to, say, choosing an office chair. It’s certainly nice to have a chair that looks good; but if you’re going to be sitting in it 8 or more hours every day, ergonomics are much more important than aesthetics.

[via Daring Fireball]

Posted by johndan at 11:12 PM | TrackBack

The Rhetoric of Spam, Part 2

Due to some unresolvable issues with (inexplicably, it stops downloading mail from the pop server, but doesn't display any error messages), I'm testing out BareBones Software's mail client, MailSmith. MailSmith is based on the company's flagship product, high-powered text editing program BBEdit, which I've been using as long as I can remember (it's what I taught myself HTML with, along with "Hello, World" in about a half dozen other languages that I never actually learned). I like MailSmith ok, particularly its unabashedly unpolished approach to handling HTML: It doesn't. Messages sent via email are rendered to ASCII; the HTML is kept as an attachment if you really need to read it. (I've discovered that 99% of the time, I don't really need to see what cool colors someone has formatted their text.) The "no-HTML" policy sometimes triggers little "reminders" by the sender's message. Most commongly, these are spammers, who really want me to load the images in their message so they can do things like track how many actual recipients opened the advertisement. What's interesting to me is the different approaches the spammer's "Please use HTML" messages take.

1. "Hey, Loser! Get With the 21st Century Already!

From Ginger, "Can.adian Do.ctors FILL and SHIP Directly to Your DOORSTEP":
Your mailer does not support HTML messages. Please switch to a better mailer.

2. The Polite and Informative Request

From Robert G Allen, "I was Challenged at Regis Philbin's Studio":
The e-mail original message was not plain text please use html capable e-mail client program. HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) e-mail messages are with the look and feel of Web pages, instead of plain text. Like Web pages, HTML e-mail message can incorporate formatted text, images and other objects. These objects are not embedded in the e-mail message itself; rather the HTML code in the message makes references to images and other files stored on a remote Web site. New generation of e-mail programs has recently become available that simplify the view of HTML messages. HTML e-mails are more visually appealing and are usually easier to read than plain text messages. In fact HTML e-mail messages allows us to use graphics, color and text formatting to add your usability to the e-mail message. When you open your e-mail message, the HTML code loads the image from the specified URL into the message's layout. A wedding of linkable Web pages and regular email, HTML email is a growing medium for Internet communications, and it's getting easier to use. An HTML e-mail is a message that is presented in HTML instead of plain text. This allows control of colors and fonts, and it even allows the inclusion of images in a message. It's easy to send HTML e-mail from your client. The key is to understand how to form MIME messages. Please use a HTML capable email client to view this message.
All of which, of course, is relatively empty rhetoric, since I'm not likely to change email clients just to be able to read spam (even if it does let me add my usability to my email messages). Thanks for playing, though.
Posted by johndan at 08:32 PM | TrackBack

Audiophile Contradictions

Wired News describes an upscale Tokyo store that specializes in iPods and antique radios:
In the back streets of Tokyo's upscale Aoyama district, there's a little antique store quite unlike all the others in the neighborhood.

Located on the second floor of an old apartment building, And Up specializes in selling antique radios and, of all things, iPods.

The store's owner, 50-year-old Takeyuki Ishii, recommends plugging an iPod into an FM transmitter, such as Griffin Technology's iTrip, and listening to music through the speaker of an antique radio.

Ishii believes there is aural magic in the combination of the very old with the very new. Playing an iPod through an old radio or tube-driven amplifier gives it a special warmth and atmosphere, he says.

"What we are suggesting here is an old-and-new way to listen to music," Ishii said. "In electronics stores, you find the latest speakers with crisp, clear and accurate sounds. By contrast, most of the radios we have are not even stereo. The sounds are hardly clear. You might even hear some noises, and radios with tubes change their sounds as the tube warms up."

The audiophile obsession with combining old and new technologies is interesting because it reveals the contradiction in the strive for perfect audio. From a purely technical standpoint, most people think the CD is superior to vinyl. Simultaneously, though, people listening to new, clearer technologies discover that the noise, the unpredictability inherent in the old technologies was actually a good thing. Look at turntablism (which began on vinyl, prior to CDs, but has continued strong after it), vintage tube guitar amps (which typically demand much higher price tags than their digital successors), and high-end audiophile devices like the $949 Pioneer CQ-TX5500D Vacuum Tube CD Receiver for automobile audio. Two years ago, I traded in my POD Spyder digital guitar amp, capable of emulating dozens of earlier amps and effects pedals) for a used Peavey Classic 30 tube amp. Although not as versatile, the tone on the Peavey is richer, more interesting, less predictable.

We've spent, billions of dollars working to make audio "cleaner," and are just now starting to realize that a large part of what we like about audio is its dirtiness.

A similar trend has long been emerging in interface design, where UI designers traditionally argued for more efficient, cleaner, simpler interfaces only to discover that users are starting to like interfaces that are messy: multiple, overlapping windows, streaming audio and video running constantly at the margins, IM windows suddenly popping up during the middle of another task. We used to call this cognitive overload, but it might be better to think about it as potentially useful noise. Other examples include things like the Lomography movement in photography, which relies on cameras that are essentially poorly designed--full of light leaks, shooting analog 35 mm or medium-format film, prone to unintended double exposures, frequently relying on cross-processed developing (developing slide film in chemicals made for negative film, or vice versa) to generate unpredictable but often beautiful images full of wild colors and tones.

We're increasingly discovering that noise is good. Not necessarily a luddite movement, but post-luddite or post-clean. [via Wired News]

Posted by johndan at 08:48 AM | TrackBack

September 13, 2004

The Infinite Cat Project

The Infinte Cat Project. Apparently, a lot of people find this cute. Mostly it just creeps me out. (Some people lack a sense of humor. I lack a sense of cute.) [via CultureCat]
Posted by johndan at 09:29 PM | TrackBack

Dance, Monkeyboy, Dance

monkeyboy.jpgThis is old news, but in working on a textbook project, I re-visited the whole Steve Ballmer/"Dance, Monkeyboy, Dance" issue when I was trying to find interesting examples of inappropriate corporate communication. It's sort of difficult for me to do justice to the video in text (you can download mpg or avi version from this mirror), but basically it involves Microsoft exec Steve Ballmer attempting to whip MS Developer Conference attendees into a frenzy by running around on stage, leaping into the air, waving his arms, and screaming at the top of his lungs. I guess you have to see it to appreciate it. I'm trying to decide whether this was an effective communication strategy. Initially, I was going to use it as an inappropriate example, given that he looks so freaking goofy; the episode generated a whole wave of humorous discussion on the web. But in re-analyzing the footage, it becomes clear that the audience at the conference is really getting into it. In key ways, Ballmer is (a) generating enthusiasm, and (b) portraying himself (and MS by association) as relatively unpredictable and dangerous, in ways that the audience would appreciate. The very inappropriatness of the act functions to give MS an edgyness they don't normally possess. (Similar, I guess, to stories I've heard about Bill Gates showing up to a Microsoft employee picnic wearing Doc Martens, riding a Harley.) The problem--and I'm not sure it is one--comes when the footage began circulating on the net, where secondary audiences view this out of context. Now context, as Derrida argued, is always pretty slippery. But the fact that the viewers on the network aren't physically present at the Developers' Conference tends to encourage them to construct a different set of meanings (particularly given that the phrase "Dance, Monkeyboy, Dance" or some variant was used as the headline for most posts on the topic). But even in the long run, my guess is that the overall effect, even for these secondary viewers, was generally positive for Microsoft. Sometimes self-deprecating humor is worth the risk. (Not that I plan on adopting Ballmer's strategy for my own talks....)
Posted by johndan at 12:35 PM | TrackBack

September 12, 2004

Dead Pigs

A /. post asks how to remove the smell of dead pig from the computers at a data center in a pig "processing" factory:
My company is one of America's largest beef and pork producers. Recently I took a trip to see a new computer room that had been built at one of our abbatoirs. While the new environment is nice and sanitary, the old computer room had air intakes that were adjacent to the rendering portion of the plant, and everything smells in an almost unholy way. Management is curious if there are any cleaning agents or means of deodorizing this equipment before moving it into the nice, new office

I expect that tech support hotlines have no branch in their trouble-shooting script that deals with this.

[via Slashdot]

Posted by johndan at 12:15 AM | TrackBack

September 11, 2004

moss and leaves

moss and leaves
moss and leaves,
originally uploaded by johndan.
Testing new camera + testing flickr's "blog this" function....
Posted by johndan at 10:57 PM | TrackBack

Ernie Ball (RIP)

ernieball.jpgErnie Ball--the Slinky guitar-string maker--died this week. These are about the most popular strings out there. (I use Power Slinky Nickel Round Wounds. They make me sound better than I am. Which isn't actually all that good, but I need all the help I can get.)

[via Boing Boing]

Posted by johndan at 02:56 PM | TrackBack

September 10, 2004

Recipes Popularized by Cardiologists

From the same section of the cookbook that houses Scotch Eggs (hard-boiled eggs, wrapped in sausage, coated with bread crumbs, and deep-fried) and Poutine (french fries topped with cheese curds and chicken gravy): Fried Oreos (a pictorial guide).


Posted by johndan at 10:53 PM | TrackBack

The Non-Expert Answers Computer Q's

At The Morning News this week, The Non-Expert explains how computers work.
Now that you’ve got all this stuff on the hard drive, how do you get to it? Can you simply crack open your hard drive and take a look? You can, but experience tells us you will not see all your photos or emails or spreadsheets, because they are way too tiny.
Posted by johndan at 10:02 PM | TrackBack

Virtual Schizophrenia

A doctor/programmer builds an interesting and unsettling VR world that simulates the experience of schizophrenia. Wagner Adu interviews designer Nash Baldwin (includes screenshots as well):
Things change, as you approach them, but the shift is subtle. A poster suddenly shifts to contain obscenities; a single word in a newspaper headline suddenly becomes the only word you see. A bookshelf seems to contain nothing but volumes about fascism. And most disturbing to me, a bathroom mirror which contains your reflection becomes, when you come closer, a bloody death mask. The man in the mirror is actually a model, but the hallucination is based on the testimony of a schizophrenic who stopped shaving, because when he looked in the mirror, he’d see his corpse staring back at him. (And when you get close enough to the sink, you hear the strains of bagpipes— because this is the music the man heard too, when he glimpsed his own death.)

"You may notice,” Baldwin observes with typical understatement, “it's difficult to concentrate in this environment. Imagine if you had schizophrenia. I can't actually work in this environment; it's so annoying and intrusive, I can't get anything done."

[A ongoing voice in the user's headphones intones,]You're not sick, you're not really unwell. You know this is not the real world--you're dead. Join us in the world of the dead.

[Boing Boing]

Posted by johndan at 07:47 PM | TrackBack

September 09, 2004

AnarchistU, Toronto's wiki-based free school

AnarchistU, a Toronto-based, free university that allows anyone to propose a class via their Wiki site, gather interested students, and start teaching. They don't have a physical campus, but it's not distance ed or online learning--they hold courses in public meeting spaces throughout Toronto.

[via Boing Boing]

Posted by johndan at 11:52 PM | TrackBack

New Tech

I just bought a Canon Powershot S60 to replace the low-end Kodak I've been using for digital photography. This thing is way cool (and way beyond my current abilities to manage all the features it has, but I like being out of my depth with tech). About the size of two stacked iPods, it offers 5 megapixel rez, 15x optial zoom, full control of nearly every aspect of photography (including taking RAW-format images, 640x480 capture of videos, 28-100 mm lens, custom white balance, yadda yadda yadda).


After spending about an hour figuring out what it can do, I realized my life probably isn't interesting enough to take advantage of this much photo tech. To compensate, I've started looking at Lomo LG-A's, which pride themselves on, basically, being flawed cameras that distort what you see in unpredictable ways. The cultish [and now sort of passe] Russian-built compact camera adheres to a lomographic manifesto that includes rules like "lomography is not an interference in your life, but part of it," "try the shot from the hip," and "don't think."
Posted by johndan at 11:45 PM | TrackBack

"Happy Birthday, Pixel"

Collin vs. Blog points to Robert Pinky's poem celebrating the 50th birthday of the pixel. In part,
For all they're worth in 10,000 little knots:
Visible up close as a grid of squarish clots

Where anti-alias threads smooth out the forms;
Visible from afar as texture that blurs but charms -

The coupled Gods embodied in an atmosphere
By the engine of art, the art of the engineer.

[via Collin vs. Blog]

Posted by johndan at 11:05 PM | TrackBack

Aesthetics In Web Design -- An Experiment

asterisk* is running a web design aesthetics experiment.
I’ve been thinking, for a while now, about the value, challenges involved and effects of aesthetics on a Web design. To me “aesthetic details” differ from “design” when it comes to the Web, and while I find them important, I don’t think they’re the most important part of what makes a Web site successful.


What I’d like y’all to do is take a look at a few very well designed, yet visually different, sites and let me know which one you like best and why—based solely on your aesthetic preference.

I thought (and I hope they don’t mind) I’d use the personal sites of the “Design Fab Five” for this one. Mainly because I feel if I’m going to do this I should subject myself and because I love all of these sites visually for different reasons. Oh, and because these guys love to argue about this stuff.

Of course, "aesthetics" is a notoriously difficult design term, and the community has been debating it for a while. At what point does aesthetics edge into function? Still, this should generate some interesting discussion. [via asterisk*]
Posted by johndan at 06:15 PM | TrackBack



Shopping for computer speakers at Amazon today, I noticed that Amazon suggested I'd like the silver JBL Creature II speakers more than the white or black versions. I clicked the "why?" button under the "recommended" link and got the window shown above. I'm not sure what the connection is between the JBL Creature II speakers and Bringhurt's classic text on typography. Sometimes I think Amazon is just messing with me to see if I'm paying attention. (Last year, they recommended several books by cultural conservatives based, I think, on the fact that I'd purchased a bunch of books by leftists.)
Posted by johndan at 02:07 PM | TrackBack

September 08, 2004

More InfoViz

I'm testing out flickr for free hosting of photos (I currently use textamerica). In addition to several useful ways of uploading (both as email attachments and using a Mac or Windows program), they offer keyword tagging. I'm not sure I'll use this, since the keywords you can use are unlimited--you enter any bit of text into the keyword field. I was struggling to figure out what sorts of things I might want to use as keywords. But flickr offers some help--the give a simple information visualization of what keywords other people at the site are using, with the size of each keyword proportional to how often it's used.


My test images are here.
Posted by johndan at 11:17 PM | TrackBack

T-Mobile Message Blocking Update

Boing-Boing posts an update on the RNC protesters who had their SMS blocked as they were coordinating protest movements. T-Mobile now says it was due to the spam filter in the system. According to the T-Mobile network data analyst who investigated the problem, it was due to an overly simplistic rule in the spam filter: The SMTP server being used by the protesters was generating a large amount of messages into the T-Mobile SMS server. If a SMTP server generates more than 100 messages in an hour, the server gets blackisted. As the analyst says, "Stupid but true."

[Boing Boing]

Posted by johndan at 09:33 PM | TrackBack

Flowcharting Ethical Decisions

The London News Review offers a massive flowchart to aid in decisions about whether or not to rip (and then share) music from CDs. [via Boing Boing]
Posted by johndan at 09:01 PM | TrackBack

Eyetracking Data on Web News Sites

Eyetrack III used eye-tracking with 46 people using news websites, in order to monitor what parts of the screen people were actually looking at. They're up front about the fact that this technology has somewhat limited generalizability--factors such as site design, content, color, and individual user interests (among numerous other things) affect how people use web pages. But they do have some provocative findings. For example, they discovered that their users tended to skim text set in large fonts but spent more time reading text in smaller fonts. So, for example, users only read portions of headlines but (apparently) actually took the time to read body text. In addition, underlined text in headlines followed by smaller blurbs tended to encourage people to skim the headline, but skip the blurb.

[via Dan Gillmor's eJournal]

Posted by johndan at 06:55 PM | TrackBack

Amnesty International US Site Redesign

Happy Cog discusses their analysis and redesign of Amnesty International's website. Their report has some interesting, sensible points:
A coherent brand identity was further undercut by random visual variations between sections: one section might use three columns while another used four, and so on. Moreover, the site’s reliance on photography submitted by disparate journalists, while it brought home the urgent realities Amnesty tackles, unfortunately also contributed to the lack of cohension, impairing usability and further diminishing the brand.
Here's what the redesign looks like. The Happy Cog report doesn't include an image of the old site, but here's the March 1, 2004 version of the site from Internet Archives Wayback Machine. (The Wayback Machine is an excellent resource, BTW, for looking at the evolution of websites, and how web design standards have shifted in the last eight years.)

[via Jeffrey Zeldman Presents: The Daily Report]

Posted by johndan at 06:44 PM | TrackBack

Vintage Technologies

Wired is running an article on slide rules. The analog calculation device had fallen out of favor by the time I was in school, but I learned to use one (just because I'm a geek, I guess) and used to have a working slide-rule tie-bar that I got from my dad.

[via Wired News]

Posted by johndan at 01:17 PM | TrackBack

September 07, 2004

The Postmodern Irony of Bonsai

In one of those wonderful moments where postmodern theory (not just practice) bubbles up in unlikely places, I happened upon a surprising thread at BonsaiTalk, a discussion board devoted to (as you might guess), All Things Bonsai. The majority of the discussions (as you also might guess) focus on the intricacies of soil composition, methods for pruning, and occasionally into the aesthetics of the miniaturized trees. (Disclaimer: My wife bought me a bonsai for our anniversary last month, which is how I ended up at BonsaiTalk.) I found this thread: Bonsai Art and Irony," which is a lengthy dialogue on the potential postmodern irony of bonsai. The initial post starts,
In a 1993 essay on the relation between television and contemporary fiction*, David Foster Wallace mentions the recent "wider shift in U.S. perceptions of how art was supposed to work, a transition from art's being a creative instantiation of real values to art's being a creative rejection of bogus values." Wallace goes on to describe how ideas such as "sincerity" and "passion" have been undercut by a new hip and disaffected sensibility. Which brings me to my question. We've been talking a lot about bonsai as art, lately. When I think of bonsai art, I think of "creative instatiation of real values", of "sincerity", and of "passion." I don't think of hip cyncism or cutting irony. So am I missing something?
(The quote is from Wallace's "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.") The discussion ranges through the functions of Romantic art, the possibility of nature as an art forum, the reflexivity of the two in bonsai, sadism, high versus low culture, the philosophy of categories, and more (some of the more pomo among the previous terms were my paraphrases). What's striking about this, to me at least, is that the whole discussion serves well to remind us that postmodern theorists frequently, perhaps unintentionally, position themselves back into that "high versus low culture" category they claim is dead. The BonsaiTalkers show here that everyone can--should--be playing this game. (And I recognize that even this recognition plays back into that binary--"everybody" as if "look, even they can do it. But I'll own up to that bias and move on.) Wallace is great at this--a postmodernist playing within language, but tweaking it in ways that are productive rather than merely being either sensationalist or dense. Intentionally playing the game against itself, one person writes,
Perhaps bonsai can be used as "a neotraditional reaction to, and thus doubly-ironic inversion of, the ironic modernist's creative rejection of bogus values, through a reassertion of a sincere and value-laden paradigm." do I get my degree now?
Sure thing; you can have mine. (Ironically, again, when I attempted to post a follow-up in the discussion, I was told that I hadn't been a member of the board long enough to be permitted to post....)
Posted by johndan at 09:49 PM | TrackBack

Cognitive Maps in Rats and Men

Peter Morville has a useful article on the role and status of research information architecture, including a short list of important research reports available online, going back to the 1940s (Tolman's "Cognitive Maps in Rats and Men").
Posted by johndan at 07:02 PM | TrackBack

Casemods for the Less Technical

Joi Ito notes that a relatively small fraction of people he knows put stickers on their PowerBooks, and wonders what this means.

I normally have stickers on my laptops--on my old Vaio, I covered the MS Windows sticker with a Red Hat one. On my current PowerBook, I have a big "Responsible!" sticker (sort of like the things given to kids to reward them for something; I can't recall who gave this to me, since I'm so rarely responsible). I've also used a red Sharpie to color in the Apple logo on the front cover so that now it glows a dull red in the dark.

Creative? I thought so, but then realized I'd forgotten the whole uber-geeky casemod movement. Stickers? Sort of ... well ... mundane. I guess there's a whole range of mods, starting with changing icons in your OS and setting new wallpaper, through light modifications of the exterior, to turning your computer into a Pink Hello Kitty Laptop (PHKL). (There's "creative" and then there's CREATIVE. I think I'm more of the former than the latter...)

Posted by johndan at 12:14 PM | TrackBack

on hold

I'm on hold with Apple Tech Support right now (estimated wait time: 15 minutes).

What's odd is their muzak. I just listed to something obscure by Roxy Music, and now a Barenaked Ladies tune is playing. These aren't tunes likely to ever show up in my party mix, but it's better than what I normally have to listen to when I'm on hold.

Posted by johndan at 10:36 AM | TrackBack

Wikis, Errors, and Repairs

Joi Ito adds to the debate over the ability of wiki users to collaboratively locate and fix errors in wikis; in the case Ito discusses, experimenters used IBM's History View to track how quickly vandalism in a Wiki was located and fixed by users. History View was (discussed previously at datacloud. (Aside: Wikis are collaborative websites in which users can edit and change information in order to build a large, public resource. The collaborative, online Wikipedia is the most famous example.) There's been a lot of recent discussion about a Syracuse reporters experiment in which he intentionally posted incorrect information to a wiki (see Ito's earlier summary of the debate). As commentators to Ito's current post point out, simple vandalism may be relatively easy to locate and fix, while plausible but incorrect information may be much more difficult to remedy. Interesting nonetheless. Troubleshooting has always been a notoriously difficult project. Even scientific and philosophical communities are often slow to deal with inconsistencies, errors, and contradictions within their own fields. It would be tragic if the overall productive and useful nature of wikis in general were held to some unattainable, error-free standard. Knowledge is, and has always been, a social construction--always tentative, contingent, and changing. That's a good thing. (Hell, I've re-edited and re-posted this entry four times, fixing minor errors and adding additional info. Publish early, publish often.)
Posted by johndan at 08:14 AM | TrackBack

September 06, 2004

Strange Attractors

Strange Attractors, an Australian animated film showcase. Includes short animated films, discussions with animators, and technique workshops, and more.


Posted by johndan at 01:55 PM | TrackBack

Skype Reviews at NYT

James Fallows reviews Skype at the NYT and likes it a lot.
SKYPE illustrates network economics in the purest form: free connections within the network become more valuable to each user as more users sign up. Because of the system's peer-to-peer design, loosely related to the Kazaa file-sharing program that Mr. Zennstrom and Skype's other co-founder, Janus Friis, invented four years ago, the system scales well - that is, it doesn't bog down as more users join. The peer-to-peer design also allows it to work behind most Internet firewalls.


Posted by johndan at 10:55 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 05, 2004


Joho the Blog on the importance of copyediting and good page layout:
Here's how yesterday's front-page NY Times article about Bill Clinton's heart surgery ends before the leap to page 15:
My husband is doing very well, " she [Hillary] said, noting that he had beaten her
After the jump, we get the rest of the sentence:
and their daughter, Chelsea, at card games.
(I fixed an apparent typo in the quote copied from the NYT.) (9.7.04 update: Then I fixed a copyediting error of my own that caused this entry to break all the entries below it (unclosed p tag). How ironic.) [via Joho the Blog]
Posted by johndan at 06:42 PM | TrackBack

Party Mix, Vol 5

War pigs [live], Neil Young, Bridge School Benefit Leg Of Lamb, Queens Of The Stone Age, R Count Me Out, The Del McCoury Band, Del And The Boys Track 18, The Replacements, Please to Meet Me Sessions Take Me Down to the Infirmary, Cracker, Live at the Filmore Where Are The Prawns?, Soft Boys, Underwater Moonlight (Disc 1) Black Cat Bone, Johnny Winter, Lone Star Shootout Eyeball Kid, Tom Waits, Paris, 5/30/99 - Disc 2 Ring of Fire, Social Distortion, Social Distortion Crashin' & Burnin', Fred Eaglesmith, Drive-in Movie Someday, Neil Young, A Perfect Echo - Disc 1 7/7/04 Atropine, Rainer Maria, A Better Version Of Me Masquerade, Joe Pass, Montreux '77 Little Whirl, Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes Don't Talk About My Music (Shut Your Mouth), Violent Femmes, Viva Wisconsin Universal Truths And Cycles, Guided By Voices, Universal Truths And Cycles
Coherence was never my strong suit.
Posted by johndan at 11:55 AM | TrackBack

I Chalk WiFi

Joi Ito posts this bumpersticker, which he got from bumperactive.


(The )( signifies an open wireless node in a public space.) [via Joi Ito's Web]
Posted by johndan at 10:00 AM | TrackBack

7 Deadly Excuses of Software Design

(Excuses? I guess software design's not interesting enough to have "sins".) Dr. Kevin Scorseby on the "Seven Deadly Sins of Software Design", at ZDNet:
4. "Well, it makes sense to me." Translation: "I’m a representative sample of our customer base." Unless you’re developing tools for the project team itself, no one on the project is a true end user. For one thing, it’s rare that the target audience consists of developers or project managers. And even if that were the case, team members still do not qualify, simply because anyone assigned to the project will have a much more intimate knowledge of the system than the average user, and their ideas of how the system should work will always be skewed by that knowledge. The tendency to evaluate designs based on ones own perspective goes hand in hand with point #3. This is because corporate cultures that are inwardly focused when generating requirements also tend to look inward when assessing the value of proposed designs. In these cases, management often becomes the target audience by evaluating the designs and making judgments based on their own needs and expectations—or on what they believe customers to need. However, in my experience, what companies believe their customers need and what they actually need are often two very different things.
[via SIGIA-L]
Posted by johndan at 02:32 AM | TrackBack

September 04, 2004

SMS Blocked to Disrupt Disruptions?

Boing-boing passes on report from reader Kevin Slavin accusing T-Mobile of censoring SMS when a group of activists were using the service to coordinate protests during the Republican National Convention. (Activists are increasingly relying on SMS and other flashmob technologies to coordinate work.)

Right around 5:30 or 6, just as things started to heat up around me, I stopped getting SMS, just like that. I thought it was rather suspicious, but was willing to concede that it could be some technology malfunction. There were more SMSes going out than usual, for the region, and I thought maybe it was an overload. It blew any opportunities I had to effectively co-ordinate with the legal, and civil, RNC protests. So now, as it turns out -- say the txtmob people -- it wasn't technology, it was T-Mobile (my now ex-carrier). Highlighted text below, from the txtmob dispatch: "T-Mobile blocked TXTmob messages during a portion of the RNC. "

My only question is, WTF? Since when does T-Mobile decide which messages are ok, and which aren't? What, in my contract with them, specifies that they can decide which messages I am allowed to get? Who told who to block which messages? I'm no lawyer, but those seem like the kinds of questions that lawyers are interested in.

I don't know of any independent verification of this, but it's a worrying possibility.
Posted by johndan at 08:54 PM | TrackBack

Visualizations of Political Speech Topics

The NYT has constructed a visualization of rhetorical topics [free reg req'd] chosen by republican and democractic speakers during a recent twenty-four-hour period. The graphic is not surprising (republicans mentioned "war," "freedom," and "terrorism" frequently; democrats used "war," "jobs," and "healthcare" a lot), but one interesting point was that while democrats mentioned "bush" five times, republicans mentioned "kerry" thirty-nine times. [via daypop]
Posted by johndan at 11:42 AM | TrackBack

September 03, 2004

Referrer Logs

There are times when I wish I didn't look at the referrer logs to see what people who hit Datacloud are searching for.


Posted by johndan at 09:07 PM | TrackBack

Writing as Remixing

As usual, I have some sort of music or video streaming to the side of my monitor while I'm working. I'm watching a RealPlayer stream of Mocean Worker on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic. MW, aka Adam Dorn, uses a MIDI-equipped PowerBook system to, as he puts it, "remix every show live." Like its related genre, turntablism, these remixes strike me a great examples of performance-based, contingent texts.


Teaching writing, at least for most courses, primarily focuses on the production of new, "original" texts. Even when students are asked to write from research, great emphasis is placed on paraphrasing, with explicit quotation seen as somehow less sophisticated or mature. But from a postmodernist perspective, the "original" texts are just charades: every text is composed of other texts, either explicitly or implicitly. Writing teachers and theorists agree with this notion in principle, but not in practice. What things like Mocean Worker illustrate are the possibilities inherent in understanding writing as remixing. We don't pay enough attention to these things. (MW website + Apple Computer article on Dorn.)
Posted by johndan at 12:34 PM | TrackBack

"The Banality of Google"

Paul Ford's commentary on "The Banality of Google," corporate philosophies, and selling your soul to the devil, among other things.
Of course, you don't arrive at a morally profound motto like “don't be evil” without some serious thought. Here are some of the mottoes [sic] that Google tried out and rejected:
  • Google! Dance with the devil, but go home before it gets serious.
  • Google! We won't commit genocide in most circumstances.
  • Google! Don't eat no babies.
  • Google! We could do good, but we're like, whoa.
  • Google! Begone, demon!
Posted by johndan at 08:27 AM | TrackBack

September 02, 2004

Kill Bill Vol 1. in ASCII

Tarantino reportedly hates CGI, but maybe he'd appreciate this.


[via Boing Boing]

Posted by johndan at 09:44 PM | TrackBack

A Remote to Rule Them All (Maybe)

William Grimes in the NYT [free reg req'd] on the ProntoPro NG, a $1,000 uber-programmable remote.
The price was breathtaking. At $1,000, the ProntoPro costs more than a lot of the equipment it talks to. But factor in the lost hours spent hunting for the DVD remote that someone kicked under a chair or the television remote wedged deep in the sofa, and the ProntoPro might pay for itself in, say, a quarter-century or so.
Usability took a backseat, apparently, in the design of the ProntoPro. Grimes isn't impressed. [via SIGIA-L]
Posted by johndan at 02:13 PM | TrackBack

The Science of Word Recognition

A very readable (obvious but accurate pun) analysis of research on competing cognitive models of reading by Kevin Larson at Microsoft
Given that all the reading research psychologists I know support some version of the parallel letter recognition model of reading, how is it that all the typographers I know say that we read by matching whole word shapes? It appears to be a grand misunderstanding.

[via Slashdot and Kairosnews]

Posted by johndan at 12:43 PM | TrackBack

September 01, 2004

Bonsai Potato


Bonsai Potato. I can't really add anything to this.
Posted by johndan at 06:27 PM | TrackBack

Local Job Ad

General Help
PIZZA PERSON(S) wanted - Must be able to stretch 18" pizzas. Exp. & transp. a must. No day-dreamers please. xxx-xxxx. [via underdog]
Posted by johndan at 12:42 PM | TrackBack