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February 2005

Google AutoLinks

I enjoyed Yoz Grahame's satirical piece about the hoo-ha, and why Dave Winer should assume that satire (which he dismisses as 'sarcasm') should be a form which can't make serious points is … beyond me. (Much of the literature I most admire is satirical.)

Cory is spot on:

It's not a service I'd use, but I believe that it's the kind of service that is vital to the Web's health. The ability of end-users to avail themselves of tools that decomopose and reassemble web-pages to their tastes is an issue like inlining, framing, and linking: it's a matter of letting users innovate at the edge.

I think I should be able to use a proxy that reformats my browsing sessions for viewing on a mobile phone; I think I should be able to use a proxy that finds every ISBN and links it to a comparison-shopping-engine's best price for that book across ten vendors. I think I should be able to use a proxy that auto-links every proper noun to the corresponding Wikipedia entry.

And so on -- it's my screen, and I should be able to control it; companies like Google and individuals should be able to provide tools and services to let me control it.


Odeo

Evan Williams on Odeo:

So, the big news in my world is that I'm working on a new thing involving what has become known as podcasting. …

Odeo aims to enable this new distribution channel and medium by creating the best one-source solution for finding, subscribing to, and publishing audio content.

I'm super-excited to see where this goes. Podcasting is going to be freakin' huge. … But it's the same story as blogging (with several unique charastics of its own), but in a whole new medium that is much bigger than people think. And it'll happen much, much faster. It's about personal media, time-shifting, and the long, long tail. And I love that shit. Amazing things are going to be created.

Odeo is in beta right now. We plan to be inviting people to the system, um, real soon now. Sign up to get an invite when available.

Odeo blog


FCC, anti-piracy and how devices work

BBC News:

The US broadcast regulator has been told by appeal judges it has "crossed the line" with an anti-piracy tag which stops programmes being copied. The "broadcast flag" is a small bit of data attached to digital broadcasts. It tells devices that receive digital signals the level of copy protection. From 1 July, any device that cannot read the flag will be illegal to make.

But the panel of appeal judges said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should not dictate how devices work. "You crossed the line," Judge Harry Edwards told a FCC lawyer during arguments before a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. "Selling televisions is not what the FCC is in the business of." …

The flag is one of the technologies that was identified by the net rights group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), as one of the biggest threats to the survival of certain devices, like high-definition PC tuner cards. EFF lawyer Wendy Seltzer told the BBC News website that the judges comments on the FCC's authority were welcome. "The judges' questioning of the FCC's authority was right on target," she said. "The broadcast flag bears about as much relation to the FCC's mandate as dishwashers. We're encouraged by the reports we've heard. Of course we're still keeping the HDTV tuner cards on our 'endangered' list." The Endangered Gizmos list is designed to draw attention to the laws and regulations advocated by the entertainment industry that may threaten the future development of certain gadgets and technologies.

The appeals panel now has to decide whether consumer groups which are criticising the rule should have the right to contest the FCC's requirements. The case could be thrown out of the appeals court if it decides they do not have the right to lawfully challenge the FCC decision. A decision by the court is expected within months.


Hunter S Thompson — II

Housebound with a heavy cold, I have much enjoyed reading the tributes to Thompson, and the reminiscences, as these have come in over the last couple of days. Via Memex 1.1, I came to Tom Wolfe's piece in the WSJ:

… I invited Hunter to lunch the next time he was in New York. It was one bright spring day in 1969. He proved to be one of those tall, rawboned, rangy young men with alarmingly bright eyes, who more than any other sort of human, in my experience, are prone to manic explosions. Hunter didn't so much have a conversation with you as speak in explosive salvos of words on a related subject.

We were walking along West 46th Street toward a restaurant, The Brazilian Coffee House, when we passed Goldberg Marine Supply. Hunter stopped, ducked into the store and emerged holding a tiny brown paper bag. A sixth sense, probably activated by the alarming eyes and the six-inch rise and fall of his Adam's apple, told me not to ask what was inside. In the restaurant he kept it on top of the table as we ate. Finally, the fool in me became so curious, he had to go and ask, "What's in the bag, Hunter?"

"I've got something in there that would clear out this restaurant in 20 seconds," said Hunter. He began opening the bag. His eyes had rheostated up to 300 watts. "No, never mind," I said. "I believe you! Show me later!" From the bag he produced what looked like a small travel-size can of shaving foam, uncapped the top and pressed down on it. There ensued the most violently brain-piercing sound I had ever heard. It didn't clear out The Brazilian Coffee House. It froze it. The place became so quiet, you could hear an old-fashioned timer clock ticking in the kitchen. Chunks of churasco gaucho remained impaled on forks in mid-air. A bartender mixing a sidecar became a statue holding a shaker with both hands just below his chin. Hunter was slipping the little can back into the paper bag. It was a marine distress signaling device, audible for 20 miles over water.

… he was also part of a century-old tradition in American letters, the tradition of Mark Twain, Artemus Ward and Petroleum V. Nasby, comic writers who mined the human comedy of a new chapter in the history of the West, namely, the American story, and wrote in a form that was part journalism and part personal memoir admixed with powers of wild invention, and wilder rhetoric inspired by the bizarre exuberance of a young civilization. No one categorization covers this new form unless it is Hunter Thompson's own word, gonzo. If so, in the 19th century Mark Twain was king of all the gonzo-writers. In the 20th century it was Hunter Thompson, whom I would nominate as the century's greatest comic writer in the English language.

Via Tim Blair, I came to Thompson's last article. Of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Tim Blair remarks: 'Thompson may have written the only coherent allegorical history of the 1960s, and it took him (in my 1982 Warner Books paperback) just 204 pages'.


Ajax: who he?

A lot of talk today about Ajax:

Google Suggest and Google Maps are two examples of a new approach to web applications that we at Adaptive Path have been calling Ajax. The name is shorthand for Asynchronous JavaScript + XML, and it represents a fundamental shift in what’s possible on the Web. …

An Ajax application eliminates the start-stop-start-stop nature of interaction on the Web by introducing an intermediary — an Ajax engine — between the user and the server. It seems like adding a layer to the application would make it less responsive, but the opposite is true. …

Instead of loading a webpage, at the start of the session, the browser loads an Ajax engine — written in JavaScript and usually tucked away in a hidden frame. This engine is responsible for both rendering the interface the user sees and communicating with the server on the user’s behalf. The Ajax engine allows the user’s interaction with the application to happen asynchronously — independent of communication with the server. So the user is never staring at a blank browser window and an hourglass icon, waiting around for the server to do something. Google is making a huge investment in developing the Ajax approach. All of the major products Google has introduced over the last year — Orkut, Gmail, the latest beta version of Google Groups, Google Suggest, and Google Maps — are Ajax applications. (For more on the technical nuts and bolts of these Ajax implementations, check out these excellent analyses of Gmail, Google Suggest, and Google Maps.) Others are following suit: many of the features that people love in Flickr depend on Ajax, and Amazon’s A9.com search engine applies similar techniques. …

The biggest challenges in creating Ajax applications are not technical. The core Ajax technologies are mature, stable, and well understood. Instead, the challenges are for the designers of these applications: to forget what we think we know about the limitations of the Web, and begin to imagine a wider, richer range of possibilities.  Adaptive Path


Hunter S Thompson, 1939–2005

Hunter S Thompson, the American counterculture writer, has been found dead at his home in Colorado. Thompson's son, Juan, found his body. He said the 67-year-old shot himself. BBC News

Thompson was an icon of the 1960s counter-culture and was best known for his rapid-fire, first-person style of journalism in books such as "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Hells Angels." The Aspen Times

Thompson is credited with pioneering New Journalism _ or, as he dubbed it, "gonzo journalism" _ in which the writer made himself an essential component of the story. Much of his earliest work appeared in Rolling Stone magazine. "Fiction is based on reality unless you're a fairy-tale artist," Thompson told the AP in 2003. "You have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material you're writing about before you alter it." An acute observer of the decadence and depravity in American life, Thompson also wrote such collections "Generation of Swine" and "Songs of the Doomed." His first ever novel, "The Rum Diary," written in 1959, was first published in 1998. Thompson was a counterculture icon at the height of the Watergate era, and once said Richard Nixon represented "that dark, venal, and incurably violent side of the American character." SFGate

It was in the heat of deadline that gonzo journalism was born while he was writing a story about the Kentucky Derby for Scanlan's magazine, he recounted years later in an interview in Playboy magazine. "I'd blown my mind, couldn't work," he told Playboy. "So finally I just started jerking pages out of my notebook and numbering them and sending them to the printer. I was sure it was the last article I was ever going to do for anybody." Instead, he said, the story drew raves and he was inundated with letters and phone calls from people calling it "a breakthrough in journalism," an experience he likened to "falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool of mermaids." NYT

Very sad news. Thompson hadn't written much of interest lately -- though he did turn out the occasional column accurately registering the utter vileness of the Bush regime and of America's lurch toward xenophobia, repression, and willful ignornace -- and it might even be said that in his later years he became, as a writer, a living parody of himself, his paranoid content and the lurid rhetoric having become all too predictable reflexes. But at his best, and very much so in his earlier years, he definitely was a great writer. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas remains a masterpiece, an absolutely brilliant, savage, and hilarious decoding of the American Dream, the only work of "New Journalism" that (unlike the tomes of Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer) has outlived the times in which it was written. Much of his other journalism from the 1960s and 1970s is nearly as good. Thompson was well-nigh definitive on Richard Nixon. All in all, he was the conscience of his times: times that were more accurately represented by his "gonzo" excesses than they could have been by any more conventional, naturalistic, and restrained mode of reportage. The Pinocchio Theory


A "new" blog, about Newspapers

New to me, that is: Newspaperindex. And this is what caught my eye (via Boing Boing):

Yesterday I was holding newspaper history in my hands. The first omnibus newspaper ever published in Scandinavia from January 1749. The owner - a gentleman who had in it in his family’s possession since it was published - let me scan it on his flatbed. The newspaper is in very good condition since it was not printed on paper made from wood but from flax and cotton that can last for much longer time. It is kept inside a book in a privately owned historic library in the countryside in the snow covered hilly in East Jutland in Denmark. Only a handful of other copies are held in The Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen, but this is the first time the publication has been scanned and made public in the digital world. The newspaper has the title “Kjøbenhavnske Danske Post Tidender”, a few years after it changed name to Berlingske Tidende. This first edition had 8 pages and it was since printed twice a week. …

This very early and very rare newspaper was way ahead of its time. It has many of the elements we know from modern newspapers: The short notice, facts and figures about power, war and economics, the commentary, the gossip and the editorial.

The first newspaper in the New World, titled Publick Occurrences, was published in Boston, Massachusetts on September 25, 1690. Intended as a monthly publication for the general public, it was published without a license from the authorities. Its contents greatly offended those in power and caused such a public uproar that it was immediately discontinued after the one issue. Publick Occurrences was the forerunner of a new time, however, and in the 1700s, newspapers began to spring up in the American colonies.

While Berlingske Tidende is still in print, and is one of the 3 largest daily newspapers in Denmark, the oldest continually published newspaper in the World is Berrow’s Worcester Journal. It has appeared each week with unfailing regularity for more than 300 years.

PDF scan of Kjøbenhavnske Danske Post Tidender available here.


Global Warming

Is this the incontrovertible evidence the papers are trumpeting it as?

Scientists have found the first unequivocal link between man-made greenhouse gases and a dramatic heating of the Earth's oceans. The researchers - many funded by the US government - have seen what they describe as a "stunning" correlation between a rise in ocean temperature over the past 40 years and pollution of the atmosphere. Tim Barnett, a marine physicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and a leading member of the team, said: "We've got a serious problem. The debate is no longer: 'Is there a global warming signal?' The debate now is what are we going to do about it?" …

The findings are crucial because much of the evidence of a warmer world has until now been from air temperatures, but it is the oceans that are the driving force behind the Earth's climate. Dr Barnett said: "Over the past 40 years there has been considerable warming of the planetary system and approximately 90 per cent of that warming has gone directly into the oceans."

He told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington: "We defined a 'fingerprint' of ocean warming. Each of the oceans warmed differently at different depths and constitutes a fingerprint which you can look for. We had several computer simulations, for instance one for natural variability: could the climate system just do this on its own? The answer was no. "We looked at the possibility that solar changes or volcanic effects could have caused the warming - not a chance. What just absolutely nailed it was greenhouse warming." …

The study involved scientists from the US Department of Energy, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as the Met Office's Hadley Centre. They analysed more than 7 million recordings of ocean temperature from around the world, along with about 2 million readings of sea salinity, and compared the rise in temperatures at different depths to predictions made by two computer simulations of global warming.

"Two models, one from here and one from England, got the observed warming almost exactly. In fact we were stunned by the degree of similarity," Dr Barnett said. "The models are right. So when a politician stands up and says 'the uncertainty in all these simulations start to question whether we can believe in these models', that argument is no longer tenable." Typical ocean temperatures have increased since 1960 by between 0.5C and 1C, depending largely on depth. Dr Barnett said: "The real key is the amount of energy that has gone into the oceans. If we could mine the energy that has gone in over the past 40 years we could run the state of California for 200,000 years... It's come from greenhouse warming." The Independent

The study has yet to be published and the reaction of specialists is what we must await.


A latpop for every child

Nicholas Negroponte, chairman and founder of MIT's Media Labs, says he is developing a laptop PC that will go on sale for less than $100 (£53). He told the BBC World Service programme Go Digital he hoped it would become an education tool in developing countries. He said one laptop per child could be " very important to the development of not just that child but now the whole family, village and neighbourhood". He said the child could use the laptop like a text book. He described the device as a stripped down laptop, which would run a Linux-based operating system, "We have to get the display down to below $20, to do this we need to rear project the image rather than using an ordinary flat panel. "The second trick is to get rid of the fat , if you can skinny it down you can gain speed and the ability to use smaller processors and slower memory." BBC News

David Weinberger comments:

I think it's a brilliant, world-changing idea, which doesn't mean it's going to be easy. But here's a place where hope needs to lead the business plan. Assume for a moment that it works. Imagine hundreds of millions of kids with networked laptops running linux and using open source applications: The outburst of creativity. The sudden change in social connection. The access via VOIP to the voices around the world. The sudden isolating of Microsoft. And, these puppies don't come with DRM burned into their circuits. Negroponte and his colleagues are moving the world forward. The $100 laptop is a platform for emergence.


From blog to DLA

Tom Coates wrote recently:

I'm beginning to think that the thing we have to do is start to reconsolidate and refactor the weblog concept itself. We need to take a step back for the first time in years and re-ask the question - what is it for? How do we find something hard and shiny in the middle of all these hybridised trends and make it the ideal shape to support all the other services that will grow upon and around it. In a whole range of issues - from the collation of our browsing to the handling of our photos, from the posting of our opinions to the way we're relating to our social networks - the traditional weblog format is starting to buckle. So rather than concentrating on the specifics of clashing informational streams in our feeds and looking to fix them, I'm going to make the problem even larger and ask - are these clashes evidence of something more seriously broken? Does anyone really have any idea what we do next?

The sense of strain in weblog-land is very obvious and I'm quite certain that Tom is on the ball in asking these questions. Today, via Marc Canter, I came across Barb Dybwad writing at geeked. in a post entitled, Thoughts on the Digital Lifestyle Aggregator:

I am still hooked on Marc Canter’s concept of the Digital Lifestyle Aggregator. Think of it as a local node that lets us have the best of both worlds: the awesome informative and communicative power of the distributed internet, and the centralization/aggregation of those bits of information created by, or most relevant to, an individual person.

So now I want my DLA to have both a front end and a back end - a public and private view. The public view will contains all of the data bits I want to be social:

  • my bookmarks (an aggregate collection of del.icio.us, Furl, Spurl, and any future -url that may come into being)
  • my public photos (an aggregate of my Flickr photos and… well, no other service is worth mentioning, really ;))
  • my blogs (an aggregate of The Unofficial Apple Weblog, this blog, my business’s blog, my personal blog, all of my photoblogs, and all the future blogs…)
  • posts I have made on other blogs (see sidebar on this blog for a woefully incomplete list of conversations)
  • posts that I have made in message boards (trickier)
  • some sort of aggregate of my media collection, media tastes and/or media recommendations (pull in last.fm, musicmobs.com, Netflix’s social component, All Consuming, when will the itunes Music Store get a comprehensive social component? etc.)
  • public calendar, commentable. I want to broadcast where I’ll be, recommend events to others, and I want them to be able to recommend events to me.
  • extra-blog conversation interface: my blogs are driven by my own posts, but I want a way for my friends/colleagues to be able to initiate messages and questions for me, as well: publically and privately. A sort of email/message board hybrid.
  • An aggregate of my aggregates: syndicate my blogroll(s) for others to enjoy, and be able to leave local comments on. They can participate in any discussion on the external blog too, of course, but it would be cool to have the option to start up a more localized discussion on the post, as well.

Barb then goes on to detail what she would like to see on the private site of the DLA ('I want aggregated everything that is relevant to interacting with my digital life: a centralized dashboard of sorts') — read her list!

… all through the history of weblogs, the technologies have opened up new doors and created new problems. Different functionalities make it possible to do one thing much more easily or effectively, but they come with a smaller cost elsewhere. We're definitely moving in a positive direction, but each time we make a leap to a new level of functionality, things get more complicated and fractured and difficult for a while. Our feeds are ugly, and they don't quite work right and neither do our sites. But this is because the technologies that we're using to organise and collate our lives aren't quite communicating perfectly and aren't splicing themselves together in the way that we might like. And things are getting ever more complicated, and we need to do something about it. Tom Coates