BBC News has a piece on how the rapidly increasing volume of penny stock spam appears to be affecting stock prices. Ironically (or perhaps predictably, I'm not sure—probably both), the profits go to the spammer.
Here's how it works, according to researches at Purdue and Oxford: Penny stock spammers buy low-priced stock, then flood In boxes with spam touting the stock (stock spam accounts for up to 15% of spam). Enough people respond by purchasing the stock, which drives up the price a bit. The spammers cash out (with a typical return of 5% - 6% profit) while later buyers lose (up to 8% of their purchase within two days—not counting whatever transaction fees they also paid).
Is capitalism great, or what?
[via Boing Boing]
I follow directions well when I agree with the directions.
— Les Claypool (Harp, October 2006)
I learned everything I know about firearms and driving from The Rockford Files. The Rockford Files Homepage has a transcription of the messages left on Jim Rockford's answer machine (a plot device used to open every episode of the show for its six-season run). Here's episode 311 ("The Trouble with Warren"):
Jimmy, it's Phil in Puerto Rico. This is real important. Talked to Mr.[line noise], he'll pay $20,000. Call him at [line noise].
And both from the two-part "Gearjammers" (203-204):
Jimmy, it's Angel. Don't pay no attention to my other message. You're out of it. You're clean, no trouble at all. Just ignore the first message.
Okay, pal, it's Harry. I just checked my car. You kept the battery charged all right, you also put 3500 miles on it.
If you hit the main page at the site, you can hear the greeting half [warning: autoplay audio] on Rockford's answering machine. There's also a huge amount of additional info and discussion about the show. (I thought this was a pretty niche topic, but a google search of "'rockford files' 'answering machine' returned 16,400 hits.)
For those of you (like me) who grew up on analog audio, tapedeck.com has images of nearly 140 blank cassettes from a variety of manufacturers online.
I pitched several hundred of these about five years ago, but I still have a box of them I haven't parted with. That little box came in handy last year when I did a twenty-hour round trip to Pennsylvania in a rental car that only had a cassette deck and FM radio. The nineteen hours I spent listening to Warren Haynes on the Ritz Power Jam cassette beat the single hour I spent trying to find radio stations worth listening to. [Thanks to Pete Sands for the tape.])
Related: See this NPR Talk of the Nation episode with guest Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) on his book, Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture. (I thought I'd posted about the book already, but apparently I didn't. So now I am.) I have to say, as probably only people of my generation will, that sharing iTunes playlists just isn't the same.
I know there's a hyphen in there somewhere.
22 Aug, Tue, 12:28:43 Google: john-dan eilola
Too cool: The Evolution of Speechballoons. 300 AD to 1927.
During the 18th century, British caricaturists changed the shape of speechballoons from gothic speech-bands or flags into fluffy balloons, our modern speechballoons.
I'm using the word speechballoon as the general, inclusive term. (The gothic form of speechballoons are speechbands, flags, scrolls or sheets of paper, the modern form of speechballoons are balloons, but also little rectangles, often rounded at the edges, or simply little blocks of text above the heads of the speaker etc, etc).
NYT has a piece today on moves by industry groups such as the Music Publisher's Association to shut down websites where guitarists share guitar tabulature—the low-tech graphic representations of how to play chords or notes for specific songs for people who don't read music. Sites like olga.net, one of the earliest and largest sites (which currently offers no guitar tab, but does have the text of the take-down letter they received from the NMPA and MPA's lawyers). Industry groups complain that their income is being affected by the free guitar tab sites in the same way that music filesharing has allegedly damaged the recorded music industry:
“People can get it for free on the Internet, and it’s hurting the songwriters,” said Lauren Keiser, who is president of the Music Publishers’ Association and chief executive of Carl Fischer, a music publisher in New York.
If you've used tab sites much, though, you probably know there's one major factor not being discussed here: the extraordinary majority of free guitar tab on the Web is so godawfully bad that it bears only a passing relationship to the notes and chords of the song it's covering. Songs are frequently in the wrong key; complex chords are commonly reduced to their simplest open, major versions; frequently only including a list of three chords with the suggestion, "that's more or less it; listen to the record for the strum pattern." Which is exactly why it's free and a great resource—like training wheels for budding musicians. But once you get very far into it, you'll find you spend as much time figuring out why the tab is wrong and how to fix it as you would just coming up with the tab on your own. Or, for more complex things, actually purchasing the sheet music from the publisher.
The real value of tab sites is that they're not really like filesharing sites; they're more like fan discussion communities. It's akin to shutting down, say, a baking discussion group that included recipes from people trying to replicate a batch of fried chicken that tastes just like Popeyes, or a film discussion group that's deconstructing various homages paid to other directors in Tarantino's Kill Bill.
Many of the best people who are shaping the Web are intelligent, ambitious, barking mad, and apparently blind.
(Briem is a pretty functionalist designer, so the pages are a little old school. But scannable. Cynical always gets bonus points in my book though.))
Crooks and Liars (my favorite filter for YouTube) has Stephen Colbert's interview with Neil Young. And links to an old Coltrane and Miles clip, Kris Kristofferson's new anti-war song, the Schoolhouse Rock "I'm Just a Bill" episode, and lots more, (the above were just added in the last day or so).
11 Aug, Fri, 22:58:26 Google: sombrero background myspace
13 Aug, Sun, 10:43:54 Yahoo: how to steal someone's page or background on myspace
14 Aug, Mon, 13:46:16 Google: mrs.nude america
14 Aug, Mon, 17:04:33 Google: pictures of people spitting
15 Aug, Tue, 23:49:03 Google: mickey mouse doormat
17 Aug, Thu, 21:46:54 Google: utility pole charlotte nc sales
18 Aug, Fri, 20:27:53 Yahoo: side swoop bangs pictures
19 Aug, Sat, 19:54:11 Google: dead mouse in oven
A page of proverbs that are more interesting backwards than forwards:
The cat killed curiosity.
To forgive is human, to err divine.
Don't feed the hand that bites you.
And of course Nick Lowe's (from The Abominable Showman),
Time wounds all heels.
Websites as Graphs will generate a graphic representation of any website from its URL. Dots are color coded based on page contents; see here for the legend (scroll down) as well as a somewhat squiggly version of the above (apparently I took the screenshot before it was done processing, since nodes keep getting added....).
Alan Becker spent three months developing this Flash animation: an artist draws a stick figure in Flash, converts it to a symbol named "victim," and starts knocking it around. The stick figure fights back using tools in the Flash developer's interface.
(As Boing Boing points out, a nice riff on "Duck Amuck," the old WB cartoon that features Daffy battling his animator—the cartoon that I've always thought of as my turning point in understanding postmodernism.)
[via Boing Boing]
Web Zen this week covers writing. Test the market potential of your book title, search for the right cliché, or choose your own choose your own adventure [sic] (which lets you either just follow paths or create your own to add to the pool). The last one is NSFW if you have literate prudes reading over your shoulder: you know all those obscene actions you typed into Zork when you were thirteen years old? Someone was apparently archiving them.
The September issue of Harper's Magazine has a roundtable on videogames and literacy, including some discussion with Raph Koster. I haven't picked up the issue yet (and Harper's Website doesn't appear to mention it, unless I'm missing something), but Koster's weblog has a quote and then some interesting followup.
To me, there’s a question hanging over our conversation, which is: What kind of writing do we hope to teach? We might like to teach kids to write like Proust, but no one writes like Proust anymore. Appropriation and annotation are becoming our new forms of literacy. Think of blogs, for example: most blog posts are reblogs, they’re parasitic on things other people have written. It’s a democratized writing, a democratized literacy.
[via Raph's Website]
Back before the web-thing and wiki-this and iThat, when you wanted to look something up, you went to the Domesday Book.
From the Domesday Book Online FAQ:
Why is it called the 'Domesday' Book?
It was written by an observer of the survey that "there was no single hide nor a yard of land, nor indeed one ox nor one cow nor one pig which was left out". The grand and comprehensive scale on which the Domesday survey took place (see How it was compiled), and the irreversible nature of the information collected led people to compare it to the Last Judgement, or 'Doomsday', described in the Bible, when the deeds of Christians written in the Book of Life were to be placed before God for judgement. This name was not adopted until the late 12th Century.
Yahoo Small Business is apparently letting you register domain names for $1.99. Includes the registration (unlisted registration is $9 extra a year), a starter web page (useful for redirects), and forwarding of email your free Yahoo account. Not bad.
I don't need to register any domains right now, but it's one of the most frequent questions I get asked about setting up a Website (aside from, "Can you copy your Dreamweaver and Photoshop install CDs for me?" and "Can you make that text ?") (answer to last two is "No"). And, yes, I know there's a "!" at the end of "Yahoo," but I don't do that.
PS: www.johndanisgod.com is now taken. You can have the .org and other TLDs. And although www.diepunyhumans.com is already held (not by me), www.diepunyhumansdie.com as well as the extended www.diepunyhumansdiediedie.com are both available.
Visitors to the island in recent seasons may have noticed that a new artist is making his mark as well: Chuggy, a k a Chuck Proper. That mark usually involves a long strip of angry-looking scalded rubber, which can be seen on many of the island’s twisting roads.
For years, those marks and similar ones have left some locals scratching their heads and visitors anxiously clenching the wheel. It turns out that they are a kind of rural car- and truck-made graffiti — a byproduct of a longtime island ritual that gives this central Maine town character and provides some rugged contrast to the pastoral life here.
My career as a tire artist was fleeting. Two years of engine work, a couple of thousand dollars, and about five days in my 1970 LeMans before I blew all gears except reverse and traded it for a motorcycle. I should have gotten an agent.
It's sad that it comes to this, but Leftbrained has a tip on improving navigation on larger-storage iPods: Set up Smart Playlists for each letter of the alphabet (26 if you've been keeping track in the post-literate universe) to sort your collection by artist into the Smart Playlists.
Makes sense, in a hacker sort of way, although I'm hoping someone writes a script to do this automatically (or that Apple modifies the iPod OS to allow this behavior automatically); I'm not looking forward to manually creating the 26 playlists. But if you have 40 or 60 gig iPod, you probably tend to listen to artists that are towards the front of the alphabet—using the scrollwheel to get to that Wilco album you want to hear takes about sixty loops of the wheel. I've taken to just using Shuffle mode a lot so I hear things in the latter part of the alphabet.
This isn't surprising. The iPod wasn't designed for sixty gigs worth of mp3s. That's something on the order of 10,000 songs and, in my case at least, 400 different artists or bands. The original iPod was less than 10% of that. Interfaces need to change when their contexts change.
Juice Analytics posts a quick tip on setting up a formula to display inline bar graphs in Excel spreadsheets using the REPT function. Neat.
Just so people think don't think I hate cats (which I've been accused of), here are some recent ways I've bonded with Underdog and Spork's cats in the last year by talking to them:
I am going to end you.
I know your toy doesn't work, but you tore the head off the mouse. It's dead now. It's an ex-mouse.
Yes, I got up from the desk chair. That doesn't mean I'm going to feed you every time.
Who wants a kick?
Very nice. I don't want the half of a mouse you left on the doormat.
Very nice. I don't want the half of a chipmunk on the doormat.
Very nice. I'm not sure what those tiny internal organs are, but I don't want them, either.
Get off me, you freak.
So, how many stories can you fall from and still land on your feet? This many?
Hear that high lonesome howl? Want to go out and play with the coyotes?
Go play with Underdog. She likes you.
Hey, look, I can open the door to the outside! I have opposable thumbs. Learn to evolve, dude.
Let's play car tag!
Get in! [motions to open clothes dryer]
Get in! [motions to open oven after the damned cat tangles into my legs while trying to put a pizza into a 500-degree oven]
There you go—outside! Don't forget to write!
Look, stop torturing it and just kill it so I can throw it into the field.
And one I said to Underdog today, when she chased off one of the cats sunning itself in the drive as I revved the engine on the XTerra:
You can't do that! It's cheating! It's like a fan leaning over the left-field wall and grabbing the ball before the left-fielder could catch it!
[For the record, I don't physically abuse the cats. And I say all the above with really nice tone in my voice. About half the time.]
An article at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that Amazon has filed a patent application for creating much more detailed, shareable databases of customer information than they currently provide. One of the purposes of the database is to allow Amazon to hone its suggestions about gifts you might purchase for another Amazon user; obviously, there are broader implications, given recent US goverment suits to gain access to online records. Draw your own conclusions.
Such a database would include the gender, date of birth, interests, occupation, education, income level, residence, race and ethnicity of customers for Amazon's "gift clustering" program.
Customers already willingly disclose some personal information on the site -- to create a "wish list" of desired products, for example. The larger potential database would go beyond that.
"Even if a customer does not know demographic information or interests of a possible recipient, the system may be able to access such information from a user profile for the recipient, from past ordering patterns of the recipient, or from publicly accessible databases," the patent application said.
In the article, an Amazon rep denies that Amazon is implementing the program. But the patent makes sense from a business perspective: If you get an idea about an innovative product, patents are a strategic move you can make while you evaluate their worth (patents are relatively cheap for companies). And research has shown that people are alarmingly free with their personal data if you give them an online outlet (see MySpace) or some extremely minor reward for doing so. My guess that if Amazon developed the tech and deployed it, there'd be a relatively small number of protests, and a huge publish rush to embrace it. (Which is too bad, but I've gotten over being amazed by what large numbers of the population will do.)
Says-it.com lets you fill out a form to print custom concert tickets (which you can either download as a jpeg or purchase as a fridge magnet for $5.99). Amaze your friends with stories of that Grateful Dead show at the RFK Stadium in '74 and have tickets to back it up. (I'm not sure they used these at Dead shows in the '70s; I think you were supposed to lick a Mickey Mouse LSD blotter and stick it to your forehead, then they'd wave you through the gates.) Or make up tickets for your own band.
(Use these to scam your way into real concerts at your own risk. My guess is that when the ticket-taker figures out there's no watermark on that Gnarls Barkley ticket, you're going to find out if those soft-looking security guards carry tasers or not.)
The Wilhelm screen [wikipedia link] is an inside joke among movie sound designers. Originally used in a the 1951 movie Distant Drums, the sound effect has been re-used by dozens of other designers who rely on stock sounds for things like men screaming (ranging from the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born to Star Wars (every episode), Reservoir Dogs, Cars, and Sin City (and several television shows and videogames. Check the wikipedia link above for sound samples, a history, and a list of media that the sound effect has been re-used in.
[Don't know where I picked up this link; I flagged the wikipedia page in NetNewsWatcher earlier this week but forgot the source I pulled it from.]
Bulletin, the journal of The American Society for Information Science and Technology, has a special issue on information architecture. Articles cover grounded theory, metatdata, games, and more.
The boing boing post hooks this up to Ballard/Cronenberg's Crash, but Alexis Park's site is mostly devoted to air vehicle crashes, near misses, and low passes (planes, helicopters, etc). Still, it's cool, in that creepy sort of way I like. No steering wheel tattoos, though.
[via Boing Boing]
Meth labs, and all their social fallout, are apparently rife in rural areas (at least that's what I've heard from sensationalist news reports and a Bruce Springsteen song, and that John Leguizamo movie where the girl's teeth rot out).
I believe I've tracked down the root of the problem, at least here in the North Country:
I can't believe they'd be so bold as to put this sign right next to a church. Clearly things are out of hand.
We are too late for the gods
and too early for Being. Being's a poem
just begun, is man
Bjork and PJ Harvey, deconstructing The Stone's "Satisfaction," 1994 Brit Awards (Bjork Television Performances, Vol. 4)
04 Aug, Fri, 12:31:17 Google: quebec fire hydrant
04 Aug, Fri, 15:25:24 Yahoo: how to track water leaking inside the walls of restaurant
06 Aug, Sun, 09:03:04 Yahoo: organizational culture values and nickelodeon
07 Aug, Mon, 21:36:13 Yahoo: pictures os side sweep bangs
And another, since I had to purchase a new copy of Vuescan (HP's drivers for the 6300c don't work on Intel Macs, apparently). [see larger versions] This one's from last June, at the Lake House, on Little Traverse Bay.
Film that's been sitting in the Holga since last October [see larger versions]; I finally sent it out to get it developed. (It takes 120 film, and I can't find any place within 100 miles, so I have to mail it to a place in Vermont and wait 2 - 3 weeks.).
BLDRBLOG gathers together several useful strands in a post about inflatable architecture, US immigration policy, markets, and nations. Here's the conclusion:
The almost Dr. Seussian world of inflatable immigrant-detention camps, as explored by The New York Times, is perhaps evidence of this sovereign clumsiness.
The NYT article, unfortunately, is already behind a pay-per-view wall, but there are several relevant quotes and an image in BLRDRBLOG's post.
The Globe and Mail (Toronto) reports on a high-priced dispute over a comma in a contract between Rogers Communication and Aliant, Inc, a company Rogers hired to run cable wires on utility poles. Many, many utility poles in eastern Canada. The punctuation in question is in the rate contract; it's the second comma in this passage:
[The agreement] shall continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.
Rogers claims the sentence should mean that the per pole rate was frozen for five years, and negotiable after that. Aliant claims they have the right to re-negotiate the contract at any time provided they give one year's prior notice. A judge agreed with Aliant, directing Rogers to pay an additional CDN$2.13 million.
I've always liked illustrations of multi-dimensional space (a) because I'm geeky that way and (b) covering the topic well requires ingenuity since illustrations, by nature, are typically limited to two dimensions.
Imagining the Tenth Dimension is a smart Flash-enabled website that describes dimensions from one to ten, using 2D illustrated animations, audio voiceover, and thought experiments.
There's much more at the site, including songs and a book you can buy.
[via Information Aesthetics]
(Note: Image above from the buyjake.com website. Text in the original.)
There's something both hilariously postmodern and utterly tragic about this (a common set of traits for a lot of postmodern things): Head to buyjake.com to purchase advertising space on sixteen-month-old Jake. Rates are $10,000 per month or $100,000 per year.
Make Internet History!!! What better way to get your company noticed than on me, an adorable 16 month old baby boy! Be the first company to purchase advertising space on a toddling baby boy with his own website! I just started walking and am "toddling" everywhere. With my dark hair and 'big' blue eyes and beautiful complexion, I get the attention of everyone I meet and they always notice my cute clothes! I'm told I have a great personality and am cute as a button. Plus, did you hear my giggle? I am such a happy baby and have many different expressions!
I will dress in your company's provided apparel (and sport a tattoo!) everywhere I go for the amount of time chosen. Want me to do a commercial? How about a public appearance? I'll do that too.** All advertising must be pre-approved by Mom (nothing distasteful). We live in the Charlotte, NC - USA. See below for payment details. All money will go directly into my personal account to be used only by me when I am an adult (great for college, new car!)
Scroll down on the buyjake.com page for his previous exploits, including a stint when he was five months old, earning $1,500 on ebay for ad placement on his onesie. This kid's either going to be really messed up, or a marketing genius. Probably both.
But part of me figures that nearly everyone dresses their kids in logo clothing—for free. Actually, worse: parents buy advertising-laden clothes for their offspring (and themselves). At least someone's learning how to work the system.
I'm a fan of the Lomo (see pic above from my brief flickr lomo set)—basically poorly engineered camera, produced on the cheap, and sold at inflated prices to hipster wannanbes, but they have contrasty lenses, heavy saturation, and relatively sharp optics—what's not to like? Wonkiness is good.
Blackboard (a company I'm all about hating for its immensely bad workflow and interface design) has apparently received a patent for its "Learning Management System." Slashdot has a short but useful roundup of links, including a long post on Michael Feldstein's e-Literate weblog breaking the story, some prior art, and more (as well as the usual /. flaming discussion, some of which is interesting).
Here's a small snip from the Summary section of the patent (there's much more at Feldstein's post—it's an alarmingly wide-ranging patent):
In accordance with these and other objects, provided is a system for providing to a community of users access to a plurality of online courses, comprising a plurality of user computers and a server computer in communication with each of the user computers over a network. Each user computer is associated with a user of the system having predefined characteristics indicative of a predetermined role in the system. Each role provides a level of access to data files associated with a course, and a level of control over data files associated with a course. The server computer has means for storing data files associated with a course, means for assigning a level of access to each file, wherein the level of access is associated with the ability of a user to access the file, means for determining an access level of a user requesting access to a file, and means for allowing access to a file associated with a course as a function of the access level of the user.
There's more text from the patent summary at Feldstein's weblog, although his link to the patent materials at uspto.gov is broken. I hit google news, and the story is being widely reported now, so apparently it's legit—I'll wait for the legal scholars to weigh in on the patent's scope, since sometimes these things look more alarming than they really are. Still, it's worrisome. As I mentioned above, Blackboard is an application with a user interface and workflow mired in 1980s-era applications, prettied up (very slightly). Adding events to a class calendar takes (at last calculation) something like eight clicks plus text entry per item—try creating a syllabus like that. Dialogue boxes are frequently downright perplexing (to the point that it's not clear if clicking "cancel" or "ok" is the choice you want).
There's a backstory to this.
Major thunderstorms here last night (a couple inches of rain, temporary power outages, and much lightning in the sky), and I tried to use a new camera (Canon 350D w/50 mm 1.8 lens) to take some long-exposure shots using the bulb setting to keep the lens open as long as I was pressing down on the button.
Nothing turned out, because the lens kept opening and closing without taking anything in. This morning, after several hours of web research, I figured out that I needed to flip a switch on the lens to turn off the auto mode—it had been hunting for focus, then giving up when it could find anything, since it was completely dark.... One of those things that makes sense only (a) if you know what you're doing or (b) after you figure it out. Still, the manual should have mentioned this on the page about the bulb setting for long-timeframe exposures (at least from my perspective).
So today after I figured out how the bulb mode worked, I took several shots in my office just to test it out (they look pretty good at large sizes). I sort of liked them, even though it was daylight so the exposure's extremely blown out.
Michael Calore at Wired covers Stephen Colbert's recent democratic hi-jacking of elephant entries in Wikipedia in the name of pointed political satire [YouTube clip].
Check the links above for more info, but in a nutshell, Colbert satirized the Bush administration's ability to repeat an apparent falsehood long enough for people to begin to believe it. (Polls have repeatedly illustrated this ability.) Colbert demonstrated the technique using Wikipedia, calling on viewers to go to the "elephant" entry in Wikipedia and edit the entry to indicate elephant populations are not endangered but are, in fact, soaring. As Colbert said, if enough people agreed with the edits, they would become facts.
At last report, Wikipedia is not amused. Apparently, a least a significant fraction of Colbert's viewers thought Colbert's challenge to reality needed to be acted on.
Wikipedia scrambled to move all entries primarily about elephants to semi-protected status (meaning normal users couldn't update them). They also froze Colbert's Wikipedia account to prevent him from making further edits.
Most of the web press over Colbert's stunt focuses on the havoc this wreaked for Wikipedia (and they're right—it was a little rude), but has missed what I think is a more important issue (although Colbert, as I see it, was trying to make this point): facts are unfortunately democratic. Or wonderfully democratic, depending on how you look at it.
Having truth on your side gives you very little power in most situations. Mendel's work in genetics was initially ignored because, as Focault points out, it was not "within the truth" (dans le vrai—see, that ten-week course in French I took as a grad student eventually became useful). You can be true, but if you're outside of the socially accepted structure of truth, you're a monster. In other words, you lack Truthiness.
I'm not saying this is Good or Evil; a society earns the truths it believes.
[via Wired Monkey Bites]