September 27, 2003

Mind-boggling

Extraordinary optical illusions from Akiyoshi Kitaoka. A must-see. You'll swear these images are animated and are moving. But they're not!

Make sure your browser window is maximized to at least 1024x768.

Oh, and ss Bruce Sterling says at Viridian Note 00386 (where I first saw reference to this), "Don't drive afterward."

Posted by brian at 11:04 AM | Comments (1)

September 25, 2003

The Future Has Arrived

I read this today over at RadioFreeBlogistan (a blog I read regularly) and I thought, wow, this is what science fiction sounded like in the 1980s. I'm not sure I understand much of it, but it sounds so 2004 I had to reprint all of it below. Kudos if you understand what Christian Crumlish is talking about. :-)

Morbus Iff says keep Atom name for Pie format
Amphetadesk creator Morbus Iff posted to the Atom Syntax mailing list a proposal that the Pie syndication 'n' API format for weblogs just go ahead and use the name Atom and stop all this endless voting.

Looks like other list participants have endorsed the idea and votes are now flowing over to Atom. I voted for Nota and I think I'm not going to change my vote, but I'd be just as happy with Atom. I liked Pie. I liked Echo. I liked Atom. I like Nota.

I do think there's lots of retro-style logo potential around the 1950's-sounding phrase atom-powered.

Here's a link back to the original blog entry.

Posted by brian at 06:04 PM | Comments (1)

September 24, 2003

Hellsheet

Roger Karraker's very interesting new blog, called Hellsheet, dedicated to improving the New York Times.
Posted by brian at 09:33 PM | Comments (0)

Meanwhile, Over in Nettle...

I'm taking on the ACLU. . .

Posted by brian at 08:52 PM | Comments (0)

Trunk Monkey

Okay, this is a very funny commercial. The Trunk Monkey.

UPDATE: Impress your friends! Put fear in the hearts of potential road-rage drivers! Buy a Trunk Monkey bumpersticker today!

Posted by brian at 01:56 PM | Comments (1)

September 22, 2003

Around The WELL

I've been using The WELL conferencing service since the mid-1980s (it's still the closest thing to the PLATO notesfile community of the 1970s and early 80s), and from time to time I jot down reasons why The WELL continues to be interesting and worth the monthly fee.

Some current reasons:

  • Background information from people who personally have known various notorious media personalities, including Michael Weiner and Ann Coulter. For instance, what Weiner was like years ago at the University of Hawaii, and Coulter's days as a Deadhead, as documented by someone who used to date her.

  • WIRED writer Patrick di Justo's hilarious recent encounter in a Kinko's. di Justo is one of the regulars who contributes to WIRED magazine's "Infoporn" section -- an unfortunate name that simply describes the section of the magazine that attempts to explain complex technology and social trends and statistics through visually stunning graphics, charts, and illustrations. di Justo had gone to Kinkos to make color prints out of PDFs of old Infoporn articles he'd done. The Kinko's clerk politely declined to print them. di Justo couldn't understand why. The manager was called, and explained that Kinko's doesn't print pornography. di Justo laughed, but that only made things worse. Hoping to explain how this was all a simple mistake, he opened up one of the PDFs and the lowest layer of the multilayered graphics displayed first. This article was on biotechnology and the selling of human organs. (I remember seeing this in a past issue of WIRED.) Well, the Kinko's employees flipped out when they saw what was par for the course in WIRED, but onscreen slowly plotted with first the background image of a cadaver and only seconds later all of the callouts and graphs and explanatory text on top. A Kinko's guard escorted him out of the store.

  • The Daily Threat Report started soon after 9/11 --- it's a mostly lighthearted but occasionally alarming report from some WELL users who happen to live and work in the Washington, D.C. area and pass by the Pentagon each day. How many Humvees out today? Are guns drawn? Are they wearing helmets? any heavy artillery? Sometimes they're all over the place like war is imminent; sometimes they're barely there at all. It's a tidbit of news you won't hear on CNN.

  • Then there's the American soldier based in Iraq who recently started a new topic called the "Bagdhad DVD Festival", wherein he sought suggestions on DVDs he should rent from Netflix while stationed in Bagdhad --- "anything escapist", he indicated, was especially welcome. He even provided his address for people who wanted to send him DVDs, and some folks did just that. Every few days he would report back, talking about what he'd watched and what he thought of it. Coma and LA Story were keepers. Often he reported that the battery on his portable DVD player had died halfway into the movie. Just a week ago, he reported he had been promoted and was being given a command of his own. Then, today, he reported that one of the soldiers under his newly-created command was killed on Saturday night and two other of his soldiers were critically wounded. Today he had to call the dead soldier's wife, who just recently gave birth to a baby daughter who will never know her father.

  • Johnny Cash dies, and suddenly there's a debate in the "I Don't NEED to Know Now, But I'm (Still) Curious" topic regarding his famous "Folsom Prison" song lyrics: "I shot a man in Reno, just to see him die." The question was, if he shot a man in Reno, why wasn't he sent to a prison in Nevada?

Posted by brian at 04:41 PM | Comments (0)

September 18, 2003

Design of Politics

Starting a new series of blog articles over at the nettle blog, on the design and user experience of political websites including everything from party sites and candidate blogs.

First up, Wesley Clark:
  http://www.nettle.com/archives/000058.html

Posted by brian at 08:08 AM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2003

NOAA's Art

Gorgeous, amazing NOAA satellite photographs of Hurricane Isabel. Click anywhere on the photos below to go to the NOAA page. On their page, be sure to click on their "Click here" links to look at the high resolution versions --- if you have a large display, they're amazing to look at. Might even be next desktop wallpaper...

Here is another shot:

What's neat about this shot (when you click on the image on the right, note it's a 1280x1200 jpeg from NOAA) is that it was taken in the early morning, and you can literally see dawn's early light shining on the storm, giving it a great 3D feel. Note how the eye is as big as Lake Okeechobee, or the city of Miami.

The U.S. Navy's Naval Research Laboratory Monterey has its own weather websites with equally impressive imagery, including global imaging from multiple satellite images composited together (click anywhere below to go to the page with hi-res versions of these and other images):

Posted by brian at 08:26 AM | Comments (1)

September 15, 2003

Web-based Oral History the Right... and Wrong Way

The Computer History Museum (CHM) in Mountain View, California, had its AppleLore event, and WIRED News was there to cover it.

One of the things announced at AppleLore was the launch of an AppleLore Blog, officially supported and run by CHM. The AppleLore site is similar in ways to what I'm planning for the upcoming PLATO History website, that will go along with my book on the PLATO system. But there are some important differences.

For one thing, the CHM has placed rules on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in the blog. From the AppleLore's home page:

What Type of Stories?   In addition to the obvious - how technological innovations were developed, stories about major product launches, marketing "firsts," and about the unique culture of Apple. You can post a story about an event that happened in any year from 1976 through 1993, or to one of many specific topics. This is your chance to tell the world about all of the cool stuff that happened at Apple ... about the passion that made everything you did so great and so much fun ... about the unique people and events that made Apple different.

Guidelines for Recording Your Story   We want narratives - not dialog. This is NOT a chat room or a threaded discussion board. We are looking for short stories that have a beginning, middle and end. It would also help to include a timeframe with your story. While several people may add a story about the same timeframe, event or topic, each story will stand on its own. And, don't be surprised if some stories contradict one another - it happens all the time in historical records.

The Rules   Yes, we have a few. All story submissions will be reviewed by a volunteer Editorial Board prior to being posted to the weblog. The Editorial Board will not edit the stories for accuracy since the story reflects your perspective; however, before posting your story for all to read, stories will be edited for foul language, derogatory comments about specific people, gossip or anything else deemed inappropriate. This isn't the National Enquirer Historical Record and we want your children and grandmother to be comfortable reading your story or stories from your colleagues.

I believe the CHM does society a disservice by having these rules. Why?

First of all, it makes clear above that it wants stories about the "unique culture of Apple," using words such as "cool" and "so great" and "so fun" to describe the culture. I did not work at Apple, but I am sure that there was indeed an incredible amount of cool stuff that was indeed so great and so fun. It's widely known and documented that Apple was one hell of a place to work --- intense, hectic, every day a history-making adventure.

But you don't have to do much research at all to know that Steve Jobs was an SOB, a highly effective and successful one, but an SOB nonetheless. Why, just look at the WIRED News story again:

"Everyone has their Steve-Jobs-the-asshole story," said one attendee, who asked not to be named.

One former manager, for example, recalled that Jobs told an entire team of engineers they would be losing their jobs right after they came back from Christmas vacation. "What a thing to do before the holidays," the employee said, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Everyone dreads getting caught in an elevator with him," said another.

Yet another former employee remembered how Jobs "ripped me a new one" for failing to deliver a project that met his high standards. Jobs sidelined the employee, who quit the company a couple of months later after working there for nearly a decade.

Nonetheless, few begrudged Jobs' high standards and what he has done for the company since he returned as CEO in 1996.

Now, question is, would these kinds of quotes be permissible in the AppleLore blog? I'm guessing not. And yet, I'm guessing that if you worked at Apple Computer between 1976 and 1993, you have your share of Steve Jobs stories. Good, bad, and ugly ones. It was part of the Apple culture. An important part.

Second, I think the AppleLore folks might want to reconsider the "this is NOT a chat room or a threaded discussion board" restriction. I believe that in order for a web-based oral history-gathering tool to work, you have to let people do whatever they want, however they want in order to feel comfortable sharing their recollections. Otherwise, you're not going to get anywhere near the level of participation you need to make the whole effort worthwile.

Some data: probably the best online oral history mechanism I have ever seen is the =platopast= notesfile on the PLATO/NovaNET system. Started around 1977, =platopast= is still up and running, and has been a valuable resource for me to mine for anecdotes, names, dates, places, and issues. Why did it work for so many years? Because it was essentially a "chat room or threaded discussion board." Yes, it was moderated --- all notesfiles on PLATO had moderators --- but very leniently. And commentary and discussions about the stories posted were welcome and often led to some of the most valuable insights, because the original posting served as a catalyst, triggering memories in others, and then others would post their perspective on the issue or story. Now the historian has multiple perspectives with which to "triangulate" on the essence of what happened.

More data: The WELL has numerous cases over the years of topics opening up to discuss some historical point. Hundreds or thousands of replies later, a rich conversation is the result, full of great oral history that, because it's in conversation form, tends to self-correct as it goes along.

More data: The Before the Web website, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is a living example of a site that, while its mission and goals are worthy and honorable, probably hasn't lived up to its full potential. Partly, I believe, because of its architecture: it invites people to post stories -- great -- but nobody can comment on them, and the people running the beforetheweb.org site apparently don't follow up with questions or clarifications. So what's left is a collection of relatively brief personal statements from people who did stuff online before the rise of the Internet or Web or AOL. Some of those stories are indeed interesting, but they seem kind of disjointed and tip-of-the-iceberg to me. As a computer historian, I want the whole iceberg.

I decided not to open a PLATO history message board or other public means of oral-history gathering because I felt it would not be as effective as direct contact with individuals or small groups, through face-to-face interviews and email correspondence. I've used the Web to find people, and have had incredible luck gathering information and oral history this way. I've have a huge temptation to open it up to the public to practice what I'm preaching above, but I worried I wouldn't be able to run a very busy message board as well as write a book at the same time (this is a one-man operation, no Sloan funding for me, unfortunately.)

What I've found to be crucial is the give-and-take of question and answer, as well as coming back to person X after getting the story from person Y, and reading Y's story to X and getting X's take on it. This is the kind of thing that can work very well in a threaded discussion board, the very thing CHM wants to avoid.

So, unless CHM changes its rules and rethinks the site's architecture, I suspect that AppleLore will not become anywhere near as valuable as it could be for historical reference. Let's check back in 2004 sometime and see who's right.

Posted by brian at 07:51 AM | Comments (2)

September 14, 2003

Mobile Phones 'Make You Senile'?

Story in today's Independent from the UK:

Mobile phones and the new wireless technology could cause a "whole generation" of today's teenagers to go senile in the prime of their lives, new research suggests

The study - which warns specifically against "the intense use of mobile phones by youngsters" - comes as research on their health effects is being scaled down, due to industry pressure. It is likely to galvanise concern about the almost universal exposure to microwaves in Western countries, by revealing a new way in which they may seriously damage health.

Link to the full story

Posted by brian at 04:55 PM | Comments (1)

Denounce Slashdotted

Amazing, the power of Slashdot. Kind of awe-inspiring to contemplate that at this very moment, thousands of people all over the world are clicking on a particular link to a Denounce.com satire article. It's a definite: today will mark the highest-traffic day in Denounce's history, and it's not even noon yet.
Posted by brian at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2003

Mac Rage

Funny, just did a post on how Mitch Kapor has switched to Mac and is very happy. Here's a different point of view: a frustrated Macintosh user who offers his own take on the famous Apple "Switch" commercials. Hilarious!

(Requires Flash unfortunately).

Posted by brian at 11:21 AM | Comments (1)

September 10, 2003

The Mitch Switch

Nice to see Mitch has switched to Macintosh. He cites some very sensible reasons too, that echoed my reasons for returning to Mac in 2002:

1. I think it's good to use different platforms. Gives you perspective.

2. Lots and lots of fun, interesting new software on the Mac.

3. I'm tired of Windows.

4. Hoping some of the elegance of the Mac and the iApps rubs off on this old software designer when he works on chandler.

I've had people ask me, why buy Macintoshes and use MacOS X when the cost of switching is so high? The hardware alone is so incredibly expensive, how can you justify it? I can justify it really simply:

1. Stuff works.

2. No more OS reboots once, twice, six times a day.

3. Far less worries about viruses or security holes.

4. MacOS X is Unix.

5. I find it easier to derive joy out of working in a MacOS X work environment 8 hours a day than I did working in a Windows environment 8 hours a day.

6. It's more fun. Way, way more fun. Oh sorry, I guess that's a repeat of 5.

7. I didn't trust Windows for my book project.

Posted by brian at 02:27 PM | Comments (1)

The Waco Kid

Go to Howard Dean's Blog for America: The Official Howard Dean Weblog, and scroll down the very long list of links on the left. Look closely at the "Regional Sites" list.

There, you've got your Alaska for Dean, Alabama for Dean, Arizona for Dean . . . South Florida Seniors for Dean . . . Drake Bulldogs for Dean . . . lots and lots and lots of different regional communities for Dean. Texas for Dean, San Antonio for Dean, West Texas for Dean . . . great.

A big long list, but there's one site whose name stands out from the rest: Dean for Waco. Not Waco for Dean (that domain is actually still available), but Dean for Waco. Was the choice of name some brilliant scheme to intentionally stand out from the rest, or is it an unintentional Homer Simpson-style goof (at which point, when the webmaster reads this, he goes "D'oh!")? Don't know. I've contacted the site's webmaster to find out.

Update: And the reply from the webmaster is, and I quote: "Feel free to register and build out the other name. I chose it that was cause it plays with dean for America."

Posted by brian at 06:41 AM | Comments (1)

September 07, 2003

Netflix again

Netflix did a site redesign and forgot to put Search in a consistent place in the new design. Oops. Read all about it in part eleven of an ongoing Nettle blog review of Netflix.

Posted by brian at 07:22 AM | Comments (0)

September 06, 2003

Jury Duty

Did my duty as a citizen today and went downtown to the court-house for jury duty. It was a first; I've never been summoned before.

I was running late, and the stern warning on the summons had said all jurors must appear at 7:45am at the Hall of Justice. It was 7:35 when I parked my car a few blocks away, and walked to the Hall of Justice on Broadway. When I crossed the street, I noticed, embedded into the curb on the island median in the middle of the street, was a marker indicating this curb had been constructed by "L.R. HUBBARD CONSTRUCTION CO." I thought for a moment, and then muttered, "nah..."

The Hall of Justice is a relatively new building (1996) with all the amenities, at least in the not-quite-accurately-named "Jury Lounge", of a recently-built high school cafeteria. Imagine a 10,000-square-foot room on the first floor of a downtown office building, with the room full of row after row of chairs, all facing the same direction, all permanently mounted to steel beams so that people can't but face forward. At the "front" of this room is a small podium with a bright brass official seal, the words of which I didn't read but I'm sure were official. Two flags, a U.S. flag and what might have been a California flag, hung from flagpoles behind the podium.

I noticed as people streamed into the room that they were all heading towards a far countertop area where a man kept repeating the same things over and over again: Take one of each, start with the plastic badge, take a timesheet if you're employed, there's nothing to fill out, just go relax until eight o'clock when orientation begins! over and over, with no variation. At 8:05 a woman holding a microphone walks to the podium and begins the orientation by introducing Judge Meyer, who offers platitudes on the great service we're doing here today for our fellow citizens, protecting the right of the people to trial by jury, yada yada. Then we're instructed how to read and fill out and sign the various forms we collected before, and how to tear off the perforated corner of our summons and slide it into the plastic badge holder so we'd all be identified as JURY. We were then told to wait until ten minutes to nine. It was 8:20.

At ten minutes to nine, nothing happened. Occasionally a woman's voice would come over the loud speaker (emphasis on loud) asking for one or more jurors to please come to the "Jury Services" office. 9:00am came and went. 10:00am came and went.

I brought TUXEDO PARK and managed to whiz through several more chapters, which was a great accomplishment as I've been wanting to finish this book for months and the finish-line will now be this weekend.

Lots of people talking on cell-phones during the long wait. Eventually people went and got magazines or books (the room had a shelf full of DANIELLE STEELE type books, none of which looked interesting).

11:00am came and then the voice appeared over the P.A. again, saying the courts did not require juries today and our jury service was completed and we could go. Swell.

I was disappointed I didn't get to serve in a real trial jury, or even go through the jury selection and voir dire. I had this whole script ready:

PROSECUTOR: Have you had any recent interactions with police officers?

ME: Yes.

JUDGE: Were they positive or negative?

ME: Positive. I was walkin my dog, and the officer said hello and told me he knew all about the breed, and it turned into a nice conversation about English Bull Terriers.

PROSECUTOR: Who is your employer?

ME: I'm self-employed.

PROSECUTOR: What line of work are you in?

ME: I'm a blogger.

JUDGE: Excuse me, a, a what?

ME: Blogger. I blog.

JUDGE: You mean you cut down trees?

ME: No, I blog, you know, blogs, blogging? I'm a blogger. I blog.

PROSECUTOR: Do you mean web log?

ME: Yeah, that's it. Web log. I write in a web log.

JUDGE: Is this an income-generating activity?

ME: Sure thing. Google AdSense. Don't leave homepage without it.

JUDGE: Excuse me?

PROSECUTOR: Juror number 4 dismissed.

Posted by brian at 09:50 AM | Comments (0)

September 02, 2003

Impermanence

I've long been interested in the ephemeral nature of online culture: the ease with which bits are erased and transformed. Think of the websites you used to visit in 1994. In 1996. In 1999. How many still exist?

With the imminent demise of MP3.com, a lot of interesting history will be lost. But then, a lot of history was lost when MP3.com was bought by Vivendi Universal and then that company proceeded to redesign the site, not with a paintbrush, but a machete. Then again, a lot of interesting things went away back in the day of the pre-Vivendi MP3, as the original company evolved. And who's to say a lot of those things -- music, genres, articles, message board postings, charts, statistics -- were interesting? Perhaps interesting to me and not to you.

I find I use Mozilla's save-complete-web-page a lot these days. I figure it's the only way to see what it was I was so interested in, years ago, months ago, days ago.

Think of all the online publications, such as Slate and Salon to name but two, which have never existed in print form. Indeed, most blogs, this one included, don't exist in print form. Sure, there may be backups, so if a server crashes all is not lost, but in the end, it sure seems that all is indeed lost when it comes to digital media. My laserdisc collection is dying, and there's nothing I can do. Think the Hollywood studios care? Not at all: buy DVD replacements, they'd argue. And when the DVDs rot? Not our problem, they'd probably say.

But getting back to the online written word: it's not as if you can go to a library and find "back issues" of Salon.com or BoingBoing. And you'll be out of luck if you try to look up Salon, Slate, or similar publications in those trusty old volumes of the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature.

For online publications, people turn to resources like Google, but it's not the same thing. (And whenever Google is threatened with litigation, it seems, it opts to remove items from its search results.)

I noticed Bruce Sterling is shutting down his Infinite Matrix blog, so he can devote time to writing a new blog over at Wired. What I'm wondering is: his Infinite Matrix blog was notable in its prominent begging for donations -- real money to help keep The Infinite Matrix going. The donors who've given money to the site must be thrilled that their star blogger is packing up and moving away. Do they get their money back?

I wonder what the Tibetan monks would have to say about this ephemeral aspect of cyberculture. "Digital impermanence" seems to be right up their alley. I was thinking about their beautiful sand mandalas that they work so carefully to create, only to then ritualistically destroy them when they're finished. I looked up "sand mandala destroy tibetan" on Google, and browsed the topmost result. There's something strangely fitting that a URL at the bottom of that article on the Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas should itself result in a 404 error when you click on it. The link, promising "extensive photographs of Tibetan Buddhist arts" no longer works.

Posted by brian at 01:31 PM | Comments (0)
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