Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Monday, April 26, 2004

Discussion with Oli : ThoughtStorms:TechnologicalDeterminism
Whether it's 2.5 million or 8.8 million, we're still talking about the number of blog writers, not readers. The same Pew study, fielded a year ago, found that 11 percent of respondents read Weblogs with some regularity. Last summer, I conducted a survey for the email services agency Quris, in which we included a question about blog readership, which similarly found 10 percent of the 1,691 respondents regularly read Weblogs (see details of that research in the table "Characteristics of Weblog Readers" below). Bearing in mind that those numbers have doubtless grown in the year since those two surveys, that is still 13 to 14 million Weblog readers. Furthermore, I would venture a lot more people are reading Weblogs without realizing those sites are called Weblogs.

Rick E. Bruner

via Seb Paquet
I want every music downloader to read this page before the elections.

I haven't been tracking the UK ID-card thing. Because I'm living in Brazil and I already carry an ID card with my finger-prints; and am plugged into the tortuous Brazilian bureaucratic system through 4 or 5 different ID numbers and portable plastic.

I've even been stopped by the police and fined 50 quid for not carrying my card, when I was trying to leave the country, and thought my passport was sufficient documentation.

But of course, the whole ID thing is yet another disgrace from the right-wing Blair government. And very anti- the spirit of living in Britain. (where the hell are the more libertarian Tories when we need them?)

Graham is covering the whole sorry mess. This week, he's promising a special focus on ID cards. Find out from him.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Free Music is here!!!

Webjay - Listener Created Radio

Basically it's another play-list sharing / scheme, but with an emphasis on finding free stuff. But it looks like it has "traction". And what with BitTorrent getting integrated with RSS enclosures I think we're close to the P2P meets distributed editing / recommending thing we've been waiting for ...

Interesting, Radio Userland was originally a play-list sharing idea wasn't it? Isn't that why their server used to be called "our favourite tunes" or something?
The Quest for Objectivity wakes up a bit. :-)
"But after days without food, water or electricity, the inmates were forced to eat cats to relieve their hunger, he said.

BBC NEWS | Americas | Five found dead in Brazil prison

Friday, April 23, 2004

If I was smart, I would have already read Cosma Shalizi's notebooks.

As it is, I'm setting myself the task of reading one each day.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Friday, April 16, 2004

I wonder if the poor guy really believes this stuff?

I have a horrible feeling I know what's going to happen. Bush is going to lose the election. Kerry will start to pull the US out leaving Iraq in a bloody mess. And Blair will hang in there!

Hanging in with unpopular right-wing policies is a Blair speciality : think Milenium Dome, Opt-out hospitals. If he'd taken over in 92 he'd probably still be running and defending the Poll Tax.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Bunch of good links from Seb ...

1) Blogosphere as self-correcting system : on TechCentral

But hey, ThoughtStorms:SarcasmDoesntScale :-)

2) John Seely-Brown interview

Seb is impressed by the discussion of storytelling. The quote makes me think of rhetoric and gives me another excuse to link to the best site on the web.

3) Gardens and Gift Economies. Cool linkage ...

Alexander from Geek Credit is playing with OPTIMAES.


Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Interesting Cringely on the Sun / MicroSoft deal. Some quotes worth highlighting :

The truth is that Microsoft is positioning itself to take on Linux on Linux's turf if that's required. Bill Gates has been quite clear that his company's need for huge cash reserves is to keep it going for up to five years in the face of ZERO sales. So Microsoft could match Open Source pricing without the Open Source and while the compilers might not be swayed, everyone else (the other 98 percent of the market) would be.

I'm not sure I buy this. Microsoft can't keep running on zero-sale five year plans. Even if they win this wave (and I guess they probably will) free-software will be around and growing and a bigger problem for them next generation. Cringely here seems to think most of the energy in people writing free-software is explicitly "beat Microsoft" energy, which will go away once it looks like MS win.

But I don't think that's true. I suspect most of the energy in free-software is still "look at my cool hack" energy, increasingly supplimented by "we sell hardware / services and treat software as a cost" energy.

The smartest reader of all suggested that companies be taxed on their market share so that a company like Microsoft with 90 percent share would pay a 90 percent tax rate. The nice part about this idea is that it actually would encourage competition as well as industry alliances. The naive part is that it assumes legislative resolve that does not exist and also assumes Microsoft actually pays taxes which, for the most part, it doesn't. Still, the idea is clever.

It's a good idea. Maybe Europe and Brazil should try it.

Look at the language of the Sun-Microsoft announcement. "Microsoft and Sun will work together to improve collaboration between the Java and .Net technologies, while Microsoft will be allowed to continue to provide product support for the Microsoft Java Virtual Machine in its products. Microsoft was set to end support later this year, raising compatibility and security questions for users." While some people think this means Microsoft will bundle Java again, I think that Microsoft will choose to pursue their own .NET Java (J#), instead. However, with platform independent Java less of a threat, it is easier to agree to improve collaboration. Microsoft will now make their Java work inside the .NET framework as a real option for those who insist on using Java. Meanwhile C# and VB.NET will still be the main .NET languages.

All this simply recognizes that it is too late for Java to succeed in the Windows world. .NET is now too good.

Hmmm. Possibly explains the deal in the first place. Sun needed to cave in because Java has no plausible "run anywhere" claim if it doesn't have some nominal support from Microsoft.

McNealy should have watched "Godfather 3" -- "Never hate your enemies, it clouds your judgement."

Pretty much goes for Oracle too, and Netscape in the day ... all companies which BOAST about and want to beat Microsoft just because their management are jealous.

I bet Stallman isn't jealous of Bill Gates.

The final stage I call "missing the boat," which involves a significant advance in non-Microsoft technology that Redmond chooses to address by not addressing -- they just dictate that it shall not be so, thinking that as always their word is law. Maybe this last stage has to do with Open Source but probably not. This stage has to be something beyond Netscape's browser or Sun's Java, because Microsoft was willing to embrace those and destroy them. Missing the boat means a zig that threatens the heart of Windows, probably associated with a hardware platform shift. Only this time, Microsoft will be too slow and customers, feeling abused and tired of the treadmill, won't be so afraid. Bill Gates (it will still be Bill, because this will happen in the next decade I am sure) will again turn his corporate supertanker and add full power, but this time the competing ship will not only have a head start, it will be able to accelerate faster than Microsoft.

It has happened before. In fact it ALWAYS happens.

What Cringely is, of course, reaching for here is the idea of a disruptive technology. Java and Netscape were NEVER disruptive.


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The fucking Software Patent Lobby NEVER SLEEPS! A couple of years ago the EU had consultation with small businesses and individuals around Europe. I contributed an opinion representing the views of Runtime (against software patents) as did many others. (I'm pretty sure the *majority* of responses were against.)

The EU parliament voted against.

But the lobbyists never stop. Now they've made some progress, and it seems to be time to go out on the streets and protest

But what this really highlights is the asymmetry in our democracies.

In this kind of representational democracy, a small group of people propose policies to a parliament, and the parliament, as our representatives, can choose to accept or not, on our behalf.

In the British system, there's also a limited amount of time for "private members' bills" where individual representatives can propose things. (I imagine many other parliaments have something similar.)

But the lobbyists, working on the government, those who "propose" motions, they never-stop. Because they didn't get what they want this year, they're back at work, next morning, pushing, insinuating, lunching and whispering into the ears of those proposers.

And there's always some chance, one time, they'll get their way.


I've just had to make minor change in a database schema (break a table into two). And in order to hide this change from several web-pages which used it, I've hidden the joining of these two tables behind a "View".

It seems to have made the transition very clean. I changed the "update" page to update the real table, but all the other pages which pull out the data were just changed to reference the view.

Is this a good place to put an abstraction layer between pages and database schema? Or is it a ModularityMistake which will turn round an bite me?


Pijus Virketis : Apropos, I am not exactly a socialist. I hope my low level of class consciousness won't be a problem.

no problem at all :-) Increasingly I believe people's political differences are grounded in which things they notice. And OPTIMAES is very much about me, and hopefully others, trying to get a handle on what the hell is going on in an economic system. I think the wider variety of political perspectives we bring to that, the more likely that at least someone will notice each of the important things.


Monday, April 12, 2004

A new mile-stone in amateur, popular economic modelling : Darius provides a spread-sheet simulation of his Voting Model

ThoughtStorms: SimulationResults

Sunday, April 11, 2004

I'm a bit disturbed by Graham's notion of alphabetical order ;-)

Kids these days, huh?

Commenting on this : RatcliffeBlog -- Mitch's Open Notebook: Extreme Democracy

I think there's something missing from the beginning of this piece :

' For millennia it has proceeded toward a more scalable and widely distributed form of social control, toward egalitarian politics and markets, toward democracy. '

What you don't talk about is how we got to those central hierarchies in the first place. When we presumably started with a fairly distributed system of highly democratic bands of hunter-gatherers.

The tone of the piece is basically that improvements in communication technology are taking us on an inevitable journey to decentralization. It might be worth comparing Phil Agre's use Ronald Coase's theory here : http://mikro.org/Events/OS/interface5/ms_agre.html

Things are only pushed in the decentralized / market direction when technology helps reduce market transaction costs *faster* than internal transaction costs. If the technology helps the transaction costs *within* hierarchies more, then we expect to see hierarchy strengthened. (As happened with the rise of empires like the Romans and Incas, based on the improved communication technology of their road systems.)

See also ThoughtStorms:HierarchiesBeatNetworks
Shai Agassi : : "what Viewpoint allows us to do is to take a lot of these feeds and, at the object level, assign importance.

What it allows you to do is get all the feeds from all the systems and, as you read through them, highlights words that it recognizes as objects. Enterprise portal, business intelligence, whatever it is that you're looking at. And all you have to do is hover over the words and say, 'This is more important to me or less important to me.'

SAP's Agassi Lays Out Business Event Network
a sonnet for some social spaces

Social Spaces Sonnet?6 - The Social Software Weblog - socialsoftware.weblogsinc.com
Surreal gesture of the day ...

We Will Never Meet - Tribe.net
Seb Paquet on Ideal Intellectual Communities
In that sense, I'm so disorganized that I behave a bit like an unco-ordinated group. And a tool for groups is the best tool for me personally. :-)

ThoughtStorms: IAmNeverGoingToGetFamousWithMyWiki
I found Aguas Calientes a very beautiful place. (I'll post photos.) I wouldn't mind being trapped there for a few days. But it would be a shame if the buildings around the station were destroyed.

BBC NEWS | Peru mudslides hit Machu Picchu

A tough question about OPTIMAES : is this project for real?

Optimaes: PijusVirketis

Richard Gabriel on The Poetry of Programming (2002)

Phil, Atacama desert, Northern Chile, Jan 2004

Ted Nelson :They took away your right to program

ThoughtStorms: TheMarketLogicOfInformation
Darius asks me to give him a quick, pop explanation of Pattern Languages. I try here :

ThoughtStorms: PatternLanguage

Friday, April 09, 2004

A couple of years ago, when I got into blogging I wondered whether companies could throw away their existing hierarchy and manage by journalism. By which I meant, free roving investigative reporters within the organization who's job was to discover news and get it to the people who needed it.

It was a kind of extreme position in those days ;-)

Now Microsoft launch Channel 9 :

ThoughtStorms: ManagementByJournalism
I guess you could use card dividers, but you'll lose ganularity.

Tribe Discussion: Smart Disorganized Individuals - Tribe.net
Reading ...
Manageability - Usable APIs: Dependency Injection, Failure Strategies, Duck Typing and REST
Tribe continues to discuss how money aquires it's value :

Tribe Discussion: Alternative Money and Economics - Tribe.net
Countries like Oman seek to husband their oil and gas to extend their income over the long run, but Shell, aiming to increase value for its shareholders, has a shorter time horizon: its license in Oman expires in 2012, so it has emphasized pumping more oil sooner

The New York Times > Business > Oman's Oil Yield Long in Decline, Shell Data Show

John Robb continues tracking the world of network / asymmetric warfare, the rise of non-state fighting networks (both "terrorist" and mercenary), amidst the decline of oil and the nation state.

Essential, fascinating, depressing reading.

More than 60% of corporations did not pay taxes between 1996-2000 (a period when corporate profitability was soaring). About 70% of foreign-owned companies reported that they didn't owe any taxes in the late 90's.

But more so than similar previous reports, the analysis suggests that dodging taxes, both legally and otherwise, has become deeply rooted in U.S. corporate culture.

This is a trend that will increase as we continue to globalize. Corporations are increasingly using globalization as a means to avoid paying any taxes to any government (for example: the transfer of trademarks and copyrights to international locations and charging the US corporation a deductable royalty for use of this intellectual property).


I also notice he's dropped the "no use being pessimistic" tag-line. Does this mean he's becoming pessimistic?

This, I don't understand : Japan's economic prospects have brightened in recent months, helped in part by a slump in the value of the dollar against the yen, which has triggered an export boom.

BBC NEWS | Business | Japan economic outlook improves
For the last few weeks I've been working on the intranet of the DNPM here in Brasilia.

And one of the things that really strikes me is how much I enjoy
web-style programming. Which is kind of a surprise to me as I'd got so out of sympathy with the environment in my last job, and lost so much confidence, that I was wondering whether I ever wanted to, or could work on web-sites again. But, now, I'm having what, in day-job terms, you could call a damned good time.

And one of the things that is making me very happy is applying a little pattern that I'm fond of, to several of the pages. It's trivial, but I feel so good about using it, I'm going to share it with you.

Say I have a page which pulls out a query from the database, selected by a couple of criteria, such as ''year'' and ''district''. I now want to add a navigation control that can take you forward to the next year, or backwards to the previous one. But I want to keep the other parameters for this page the same.

I use a standard routine to get my variables. As the DNPM is hostage to Microsoft, the site uses ASP (which wouldn't be my first choice, clearly ;-) and the code is in Visual Basic, but you can probably imagine the equivalent in your scripting language of choice ...

function getVar (varName, default)
dim x
if request(varName) <> "" then
x = request(varName)
session(varName) = x
session(varName) <> "" then
x = session(varName)
x = default
end if
getVar = x
end function

If you aren't familiar with VB notation, the only confusing thing is likely to be the "getVar = x" at the end, which is basically "return x".

What this does is looks on the request for something, if it finds it, returns it, and puts it on the session. If it doesn't find it, looks for it on the session, and if it doesn't find it there, returns the default.

I tend to server-side include this routine as part of a standard library. After which I can just say

 year = getVar("year", year(date)) 

To instantiate the local variable year with a year either from the request (highest priority), session (next priority) or current date (lowest priority)

What I then do, should be fairly obvious. To have a link to the previous and next year, I simply add :

[ <a href="./query.asp?year=<%=year-1%>"><%=year-1%></a> |

<a href="./query.asp?year=<%=year+1%>"><%=year+1%></a> ]

Like I say, it's kind of trivially simple. But it has a profile that appeals to me :

* it's a ''very'' simple thing (literally one line of extra HTML added to a page if you're already using the getVar routine)

* it has a big effect. It starts to turn a rather static query page into a movable ''window'' which you can slide across the data-space, making the site feel more interactive and ''flow'' better.

You can add navigation across further dimensions. It's not quite so simple if your dimension isn't a numerical sequence. But you only need to set up a function to map numbers to names, eg. :

function nextStateName(i)
dim a
a = Array("Rio Grande do Sul", "Santa Caterina", "Parana", "Sao Paulo", "Rio do Janiero") ' etc
i = i + 1
if i > ubound(a) then
i = lbound(a)
end if
nextState = a(i)
end function

then set up a counter and do something like this

<a href="./query.asp?state=<%=state+1%>"><%=nextStateName(stateNum)%></a>

Like I say, I'm in love with web programming again. :-)

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

I took my eye off OPTIMAES for a couple of weeks, and two more people came by. So hi to Francois and Alexander.

Jean-Francois is right. This is the year of convergence between internet geekdom and alt.money geekdom.

A plot to put a CHEMICAL WEAPON!!! in London.

But, strictly speaking ... Alastair Hay, Professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds University, said osmium tetroxide was a rare catalyst and could potentially make an explosion occur more rapidly. [but] ... did not fit the profile of a typical chemical warfare or dirty bomb agent ...

"It would not be in the same category as some radioactive substance which would continue to emit radiation and cause a problem in terms of clean up," he said.

Shocked reaction and general "look at those evil terrorists" from the UK government.

The only question that seems vaguely worth asking is whether Blair and co.

a) kind of hoped this wouldn't happen, but decided the risk was worth taking, in order to defend the principle of pandering to Bush's obsession with Saddam and giving Middle-eastern oil reserves to Halliburton.


b) ... like, didn't realize, and mistook invading Iraq for something to do with reducing terrorism.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Via Graham, an honest and touching mea culpa from the creator of Ant which basically admits what I always figured : people use XML because they're too lazy (in the bad sense) to write a parser for a sensible language.

A good account that, hopefully, people will learn from.
Ethical dilemma at work right now. I need a modal dialogue box on an HTML page. Should I use a VBScript, IE only, modal dialogue, or do without, to support FireFox?

(Suggestions within the next two hours may help me make a decision, after that it's probably too late.)

Monday, April 05, 2004

Luke Hohmann : In a paper published in 1968, Melvin Conway wrote:

" Organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations. "

I like to extend Conway's law to talk not just about communication structures, but also about human need.

On Artima : Human-Oriented Architecture

And goes on to talk about the right granularity (always a good word for me) of components in software.

NB : Artima is getting to be a religion for me nowadays. It's just solid with interviews with major *thinkers* about programming and software design, describing their experience and ideas. A fantastic site.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Two conversations over the last couple of days, have been very inspiring. And both started about unrelated things.

Firstly, criticism by Zbigniew Lukasiak forced me to defend why I thought Clay Shirky's "Situated Software" essay was worthwhile. And in doing so I made explicit what seemed to be original : a connection of a style of coding with a scale of social group.

That led to Shirky pointing out that there was more than scale at stake.

Secondly, my trivial posting suggesting Bill Seitz had got a Momus link from me, drew my attention to his point that there were different link structures available at different scales.

Between them, and thanks to connecting power of wiki, I started thinking about ThoughtStorms: ScaleAndStructureOfSocialGroups

Maybe there's nothing to it, but it feels like there's something interesting there.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Graham Lally is bigging up David Wilcox's blog which looks interesting.

The question of the day is "Does it matter if people don't want to use the web."

Wilcox makes a comparison : governments fund public transport because not everyone drives. Equally shouldn't they support those who don't want to use the net?

I think this misses some crucial detail. Government should fund public transport because :

* not everyone can afford to own and run a car

* not everyone is physically or mentally able to drive

* public transport is less destructive to the environment than individual cars

* good public transport creates more ''public space'' which is good for the fabric of society and city.

On the other hand, if these issues didn't obtain, I don't see that government would have an obligation to fund public transport simply as a life-style choice for those too lazy or inebriated to drive. Just as there's no need for it to provide stables for those who prefer horse-drawn carriages.

Government's obligation to other media should depend on whether

* a) those other media are in some sense better for society, or

* b) there are good reasons people can't use the web.

I can't, off the top of my head, think of any reason for a).

There are technical and financial obstacles as b) but as I mentioned in ThoughtStorms:DigitalDivide, I think they're only here for the short-term. In the not too distant future web access will be comparable to radio / TV / newspaper / phone access in terms of price and ease of use. Then the big problem will be culture and time to engage and gain the benefit from the net.

The obvious place where government has a clear obligation is in literacy. You need to be literate to use the web.

But there's another fundamental issue. The web is famously a "Lean Forward", active medium, whereas TV is passive and "Lie Back".

The question then becomes, does the government have an obligation to provide information in a form for easy assimulation by the passive?

Actually I don't have an answer to that question.


I often steal links from Bill Seitz, but this one I'm pretty sure he got from me. :-)

Good point that this isn't a Creative Network in Mayfield's sense. This is a micro-fan-base of a boutique artist.


I was wrong. Bill comments : Nope, it was a free assocation from BillSeitz:z2004-04-03-FullTimeNetwork - I remembered the lines from ages ago and tracked it down, then related it (and the other fresh stuff from today) to WeakTies, StrongTies, EcosystemOfNetworks, etc....

Friday, April 02, 2004

Manageability asks : Is Over Abstraction Java's Achilles Heel?

And comes up with an answer you don't expect.

Then he (or she, I don't know) looks at the usability of APIs from a Nielsen perspective.
I'm always stealing useful links and ideas from Bill Seitz, who

a) is a crucial source of good wiki / hypertext stuff


b) I don't credit enough, because I tend to put those links into ThoughtStorms rather than discuss here.

Today is no exception to rule a) but I'm trying to break rule b)

Andrius Kulikauskas talks to Jerry Machalski

Meanwhile, Ward Cunninham says : I think wiki is a miniature version of science. Science is a process for organising and explaining nature. Wiki is a process for organising and explaining experience. I ask people to tell me their stories, and people like to tell stories. It's a natural, social thing. Wiki provides the machinery for weaving together those stories.

Many-to-Many post about Academic Blogging : Many-to-Many: Thoughts on Academic Blogging

My comment :

Surely the big problem for academics considering blogging is that academia is viciously competitive, and in general, the system doesn't reward them for it.

If your subject is internet culture or information science, then it's clear how it helps. But if your subject is particle physics then what can a blog do for you?

It doesn't count as a publication. Normal, journal, peer-review isn't about getting feedback, it's about getting publicly acknowledged peer-approval; and blog comments, however smart, don't count.

Nor are they useful sources of information, because you can only cite other validated publications. Of course, they can *point* you to other source material, but a good academic in a specialized field is probably monitoring the few relevant sources anyway.

I'm sure this will change. And I don't believe academics are particularly conservative by nature. But I think they *are* "locked-in" to a publication / career / validation system which is going to be very slow to change.

Hilan, Ron, Tom, Manuel, Jason and the rest of you still in academia invited to comment at this point :-)

Clay Shirky (Himself! - unless it's an imposter) responds to yesterday's comment on "Situated Software"

I'd go further, in fact, and say that it's not just the size but the coherence of the group that matters. 30 people on a subway car and 30 people in a startup have very different characteristics. The people in the subway car have too little in common to treat them as anything other than an aggregation of atomized users, but the 30 person company (or church group or sports team or chess club or...) has all sorts of interesting characteristics, including an implicit identity and reputation system, that the designers of software for that group can avail themselves of, if they are willing to forgo scale, generality and completeness in favor of treating the _group_ as the user of the software, and working with that in mind.

ThoughtStorms: SituatedSoftware

Thursday, April 01, 2004

I'm having a good debate with Zbigniew about that Shirky essay.

He almost convinced me that Shirky was just rehashing Worse is Better but, here's my latest come-back :

... notice that Shirky's argument has some originality. He's putting together the "right granularity of development" discusion, with a more explicit emphasis on the *size* of the user community. And although this isn't made explicit, he must have Ross Mayfield's different scales of network at the back of his mind.

That isn't something in "Worse Is Better", The Art Of Unix Programming or any Extreme Programming or software development discourse I've come across.

It comes directly out of the Social Network Analysis perspective of trying to analyse what is so important about networks, and discovering that small "creative'' networks have an important role in the overall ecology.

Classic, must-read, new Shirky article on small scale software development.

Shirky: Situated Software
Bad Guardian!!

Workbench: Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Kevin Kelly thinks pretty much what I think, about free music.

Where Music Will Be Coming From

(Ouch! Does this mean I was permanently damaged by all those Wired magazines back in the 90s?)

Also ThoughtStorms:FreeMusic