logo Ming the Mechanic - Category: Diary
An old rigid civilization is reluctantly dying. Something new, open, free and exciting is waking up.


Wednesday, April 5, 2006day link 

 Got any mind control weapons on special?
picture "Hello, I was wondering how I can buy one of the mind control devices on your website. I can't see how to put them in the shopping cart."

It was a lady calling me from England this afternoon. I was a little puzzled. Which website might that be? "Ming.tv" she said. Hmmm, I frantically search through my postings.... Aha, it turned out to be this article. A list of patents for rather horribly sounding devices for remote control of brainwaves, ultrasonic weapons, subliminal nervous system manipulators, and other goodies.

The lady wanted to put a couple of these in her shopping cart and check out with her visa card.

Which of these items might she specifically be interested in, I inquired. Well, she seemed to think the whole batch of them sounded rather nifty. Clearly a very motivated shopper.

Maybe she has a boyfriend who isn't quite behaving right? I didn't really succeed in figuring out what the driver was. I mean, you don't exactly pull out an ultrasonic brain wave modulator at a party, to start a fun conversation. Or do you? Is it something to have in your handbag, in case a little crowd control suddenly becomes necessary? You know, when a horde of flesh-eating zombies are charging you in the mall.

I patiently tried to explain that this was a list of patents on file at the U.S. Patent Office. Maybe somebody has made these, maybe not. If they have, it would be the kind of thing used by the military, to drive Iraqis crazy, or maybe by the police, for crowd control. Or maybe secret government agencies are using them on all of us, to make us Conform, Consume and Obey. But you wouldn't be likely to find them for sale to just anybody online.

She was a bit incredulous, and I had to explain it several times. She thought it was such a lovely idea, and she had a hard time wrapping her mind around the concept that there was no shopping cart and possibly no products. I didn't even bother to try to explain what a blog is.

I wished for a moment I did have some of these for sale. Maybe I could have thrown in a positronic deathray machine, and a few cannisters of nerve gas. I don't know how it is to be a housewife in West Sussex, but I'm always willing to help.
[ | 2006-04-05 22:59 | 43 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Tuesday, March 14, 2006day link 

 Intention Economy
Doc Searls wrote an essay about The Intention Economy. You know, that is in contrast to The Attention Economy. So, let's talk about that first. Like, one fine article is The Attention Economy and The Net by Michael Goldhaber. He says stuff like this:
If the Web and the Net can be viewed as spaces in which we will increasingly live our lives, the economic laws we will live under have to be natural to this new space. These laws turn out to be quite different from what the old economics teaches, or what rubrics such as "the information age" suggest. What counts most is what is most scarce now, namely attention. The attention economy brings with it its own kind of wealth, its own class divisions - stars vs. fans - and its own forms of property, all of which make it incompatible with the industrial-money-market based economy it bids fair to replace. Success will come to those who best accommodate to this new reality. [...]

So, at last, what is this new economy about? Well if the Net exemplifies it, then you might guess it has less to do with material things than with the kinds of entity that can flow through the Net. We are told over and over just what that is: information. Information, however, would be an impossible basis for an economy, for one simple reason: economies are governed by what is scarce, and information, especially on the Net, is not only abundant, but overflowing. We are drowning in the stuff, and yet more and more comes at us daily. That is why terms like "information glut" have become commonplace, after all. Furthermore, if you have any particular piece of information on the Net, you can share it easily with anyone else who might want it. It is not in any way scarce, and therefore it is not an information economy towards which we are moving. What would be the incentive in organizing our lives around spewing out more information if there is already far too much?

Well, my title gives it away, of course. There is something else that moves through the Net, flowing in the opposite direction from information, namely attention. So seeking attention could be the very incentive we are looking for. Parenthetically, I have now rejected both parts of the conference title; no economics in the conventional sense, and not digital information either. You might conclude I am speaking at the wrong conference. I would rather say it has the wrong title. Except the title did serve its purpose. It did get your attention, and that was something, in fact a lot.

Attention, at least the kind we care about, is an intrinsically scarce resource [ 4 ]. Consider yours, right now. You are reading this paper, or more likely, since it is intended to be delivered at a conference, listening to me speaking it. You have a certain stock of attention at your disposal, and right now, a large proportion of the stock available to you is going to me, or to my words. Note that if I am standing in front of you it is difficult to distinguish between paying attention to me and paying attention to my words or thoughts; you can hardly do one without doing the other. If you are just reading this, assuming it gets printed in a book, the fact that your attention is going to me and not just to what I write may be slightly less obvious. So it is convenient to think of being in the audience at this conference in order to consider what attention economics is all about.
A lot of people have talked about the Attention Economy, and written books. Now, Doc Searls says that he doesn't entirely understand all of it, and it all sounds a little too much like marketing and advertising guys talking about "eyeballs". Which I kind of think too. Anyway, Doc is quite a new-thinker in terms of markets and where things are going, in part as one of the authors of the monumental Cluetrain Manifesto, which said cool things like:
we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp.
deal with it.
So, now, Doc thinks up the term "Intention Economy" as something more desirable than the "Attention Economy":
The Intention Economy is about markets, not marketing. You don't need marketing to make Intention Markets.

The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don't have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal info (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer's purchase. Simple as that.

The Intention Economy is built around more than transactions. Conversations matter. So do relationships. So do reputation, authority and respect. Those virtues, however, are earned by sellers (as well as buyers) and not just "branded" by sellers on the minds of buyers like the symbols of ranchers burned on the hides of cattle.

The Intention Economy is about buyers finding sellers, not sellers finding (or "capturing") buyers.
So, like, I express what I want. I'm going to Tahoe, I need a hotel and a rental car. I don't need the insurance, and my budget is so and so. And then the potential vendors could go to work on trying to accommodate me, and they can give me an offer.

Now, I don't think "Intention Economy" is a very good term for it. Well, it is a great term in itself, but to me "Intention" is a more noble word I'd like to reserve for other things than just what I'm in the market for buying. Like, what I want to do in life, for example.

Various people comment that most of us don't really know exactly what we want up front, so it isn't a great thing to build an economy on.

As Goldhaber and others who talk about Attention Economy point out, economies are typically based on something that is scarce, which then is traded. But, aha, that sort of indicates how Doc is right. In practicality it easily becomes just another word for corporations trying to grab my attention so they can sell me something. Because who's going to trade my attention? Well, websites and marketers. Somebody's trying to grab my attention, and sell it to somebody who wants it. Attention Economy isn't really centered on me, and really it should be, like what Doc intends with the Intention Economy. It should be about me and what I want. As he points out, advertising is an enormous waste. 999 people need to waste their time looking at something they don't want for one person to maybe get what they want. Or worse.

Could my purchasing intention be a scarce item that one can exchange in an economy? Well, potentially. One can sell a "lead", and this is in a sense a superb lead. I want something, for sure, and I'm in all likelyhood going to buy it, the question is just from whom, and what the exact conditions are.

I'd say the battle isn't really between whether it is attention or intention, but rather between whether it is a buyer's market or a seller's market. Or, better, it is whether we focus on what is needed or what is offered. An industrial age capitalistic market mass produces a lot of cheap stuff and convinces people that they need it and that they should buy it, and it doesn't really matter if they really actually needed it, as long as they buy it. Doesn't matter if they'd rather have had something else. Now, new technology could now well allow for that everybody could get something different. Mass customization. In a lot of areas it is no longer inherently necessary that I get the exact same thing as a million other people. A computer manufacturer can be geared for assembling a computer just for me, to my specifications. A travel agency can construct a travel plan particularly for me.

It is still largely a market controlled by the BigCo's, so at first these things are just a gimmick to persuade me to buy from them, whether their product actually really is what I need.

What would change it would be if I and most other people were sufficiently well informed, and there were a sufficient amount of alternatives. And a sufficient amount of organization on the buyer side.

Imagine I had a website that aggregated needs. We could concentrate first on needs for buying stuff. What products or services people want to buy, and exactly how they want them. So, what if there were a way of assembling these in a systematic way, quickly and in large volume. So, let's say I could represent 100,000 people who wanted to buy computers, and I had the specs each one was looking for. Could I, or rather this aggregated buyer association, present this massive list of needs and wants and specs and requirements to a series of vendors in a meaningful way? Hey, we need 100,000 individually customized PCs, can you deliver? You could imagine that you could both act as a large volume purchaser, who needs a really really good deal because of the volume, and still ask for individual requirements for each item. That would be new.

There are computer manufacturers that let you customize the PC you order. There are websites that will let you set the price you want to pay for something, like a plane ticket. Reverse auctions. But as far as I know, you're dealing with the service individually, and it is run by a BigCo travel agency outfit that doesn't really have to care a lot about you individually. It is just another way for them to sell some tickets they might not have sold otherwise.

But what if our reach actually went farther than their grasp? If we, formerly known as the "consumers", were big enough in numbers to spell out our terms, or we'll take our business elsewhere.

If our information was well enough organized, it might go some steps further, into what is not just simple buying/selling transactions. Like, here we are, 10 million people, and we spend 10 billion dollars per year on electricity. We'd like to offer 50 billion dollars to anybody who'll come up with an energy source that means we'll never have to buy metered electricity again. You get the idea. If the masses are organized in a way so they know what they want altogether, there's leverage to be able to ask for something quite different from what they'd get if they were just individual consumers with no real choice. Like, asking never to have to buy another one of those products again.

You could imagine a market that was completely upside down. Or downside up, really. Where buyers suddenly were the scarce commodity, rather than the products. OK, companies have to compete for customers today. But imagine the customers were the big guys, and the vendors had to bend over backwards to meet their demands.

I'm not sure I can come up with a better cool name fo it. The Demand Economy, the Request Economy, the Buyer Economy, the Need Economy. I give up.

If enough people easily could get enough information about what is possible and available to know what they want in some detail, and they were able to notice if they got it or not, and they were able to coordinate that information better and faster than the vendors can manage to mislead and confuse them, and they were able to band together to carry out large aggregated transactions, then the market would certainly have changed, whatever that would end up being called.

It is something about a distributed market being aggregated. You know, like anybody can have a blog, and any blog can have a syndicated feed, and anybody can have an aggregator that shows the total content of lots of blogs very easily. And, together, this becomes something that competes quite well with mass media. We could imagine a similar thing for economic activity.
[ | 2006-03-14 23:31 | 17 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Monday, March 13, 2006day link 

 I love my freebox
picture I changed my DSL provider, oh, two weeks ago already. And this was by far the easiest and most successful new DSL line I've gotten. When we got the original line here, from France Telecom two years ago, it was a bit of a nightmare. At first they denied it was possible, and it then took several months of headaches before it was there. And it has cost me 72 euros per month.

Now it seems like the lines have been unbundled in this area. Which makes it easier for competitors to offer better alternatives. Which I noticed when several of them suddenly were calling and being very pushy about their offers.

I went with Free, which is probably the most popular. They have the wonderous freebox, which is what arrived in the mail within a few days. A few days later my old line, including the phone line stopped working. I plugged in the freebox instead and, voila, it worked right away.

2Mbits download speed. Which is actually terribly slow, as it would go up to over 20Mbits for the same price, if I just were closer to the phone central. I'm 4km away, which is huge, and which is why France Telecom and other providers previously would start by telling me I couldn't have DSL at all.

For 30 euros per month, those 2Mb down and 1Mb up, plus free phonecalls, and around a hundred TV channels. Phone and TV just plug into that little freebox thing. And I can watch TV on my computer, as it presents the channels as a playlist with video I can play in VLC or a similar program. And a fixed IP number. That in itself cost me 30 euros extra per month from France Telecom.

My only complaint is that some of the routers on the Free network seem a bit overloaded at the moment. Which hopefully they'll fix. But I feel a little more like I'm in the 21st century at least. Now I just need to update my ancient computer.
[ | 2006-03-13 17:06 | 32 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Monday, January 30, 2006day link 

 Tank spam
Sometimes I get spam that is just too good to throw away. Like, this friendly message I got recently:
Dear Sir,

I am James Shen from a diesel fuel injection parts Plant, hope we can help you in the line of military use diesel fuel engine parts.

With more than 20 years experience in this field, our factory is producing the parts: HD90101A and HD8821. They are used in the engine system of M35A2 and M60 tank. Their most competitive price (almost one tenth of the product which made in USA) and the same quality will meet your need fairly.

We are one of ADS members. Our products have a good reputation with sound quality and competitive price in European market, South American market and other countries.

If you feel interested in our products, please let us know any time. We are always within your touch.

Thanks and best regards,

James Shen

Dear Mr. Shen,

It gives me a warm feeling to know that the manufacturer or my military use diesel fuel injection parts is within touch at any time. I might take advantage of that some day.

People tend to frown on M60 tanks in the quiet neighborhood I live in, so we mostly keep it in the garage. Only when we absolutely, positively must find parking in town on a Saturday night do we ignore convention and take the tank.

So far I have foolheartedly taken my tank in for service at the factory-authorized mechanic. But they rip you off every time. Next time I'll do the right thing and buy cut-rate generic parts from you and install them myself. After all, you have a good reputation with sound quality. I'll take your word for it, I don't even need to know your company name.

Please send me a whole crate of HD8821. We go through these things like there's no tomorrow. It's my wife who revs it a little too hard sometimes.

Sincerely,
Ming the Mechanic
[ | 2006-01-30 23:53 | 31 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Thursday, December 22, 2005day link 

 Server Change
This server here is due for a change, and it looks like today's the day. Well, as soon as I've worked out a few annoying details, that is.

The old server is hosted in the data center of a company I used to work for, more than a year ago. They're nice people, but they might easily forget about it, and need to take it down some day with a moment's notice. Actually I'm sure the people who let me have a server there have forgotten all about it, even though I've made very sure the sysadmin hasn't. And, you know, it is a big operation with hundreds of servers, and a number of them are just standing around, forgotten, because they were replaced with something better at some point, and nobody bothered to dismantle the old one.

But I can't keep leaching on their bandwidth forever, and, more importantly, the server has started to run slower the last couple of months, and most likely one of the disks is on the verge of giving up. So, it seems to be time to move on.

I have two other servers, but it would get a little too crowded to combine them, so I went looking for a new hosting deal.

A dedicated root server goes for around $100 per month nowadays. However, the pricing plans vary enormously between different companies, and they frequently leave out something important in the cheaper deals, and suddenly you need to pay a couple hundred dollars more to have the one with more memory or with any meaningful bandwidth quota.

My two other servers are with 1and1 and 1-800-hosting. I got the 800 hosting server first, and at the time the only server I'd be able to pay for would be with 512MB of RAM. Now, that's more or less a mistake, but I needed the server at the time. But 512MB is way too little for any serious server. Oh, it is fine for static web pages and images, but very skimpy when it needs to do mainly dynamic pages with lots of database access. But they provide lots of bandwidth, 1800GB per month, and they have excellent service.

1-and-1 says they're the biggest hosting company in the world, and they certainly know their stuff too. A 2GB server from them, with 1000GB of bandwidth, and that's more useful for some serious activity. They're rather cumbersome to deal with, however. Their U.S. company only wants to provide servers to people who're in the U.S., so one had to give a U.S. address and phone number and they will actually call back that phone number right away, to check that one really is there. OK, I can manage that, but it is a bit annoying. And, half of the time, if I call them or send them an e-mail from outside the U.S., they'll complain about it. And they had various other bureaucratic obstacles to put in one's way. But nothing wrong with the server.

Now, when I looked for the next server, I was surprised to find that the best deals are in Germany. Like, 1and1 has their mother company in Germany, with fantastic deals. Mirrorred RAID drives, unlimited bandwidth, 2GB RAM, etc. But their signup forms make it equally difficult to sign up unless one is in Germany and pays with a German bank transfer.

I don't know what is going on in Germany for them to compete so much on server prices. I'd expect to find good deals in the U.K. but I found nothing I could use. There are some cheap servers, but that would be with 512MB RAM and 50GB traffic per month, and if you want more it adds hundreds of dollars, or pounds, rather. 1-and-1 is in the U.K. too, but they charge more there. And nothing useful in France, or the Netherlands, or Denmark, or other places I'd consider.

So, I ended up with Server4you in Düsseldorf, Germany. A branch of a U.S. company. I don't know what it is with the cheesy company names (Server4you, 1-800-hosting), but as long as they know what they're doing, I'm fine.

The server I got has an AMD Opteron 148 processor, 3GB of RAM, 2x200GB mirrored SCSI drives, 6000GB monthly traffic, for 79 euro per month. And after two years they'll send me the server in the mail. Can't beat that.

The only thing is that they speak German. My German is getting very old, and stuttering myself through a support call with them isn't overly easy. Luckily there isn't too much I should need them for.

Anyway, I'm speeding up the moving schedule, as the old server is getting a lot of traffic, and it is acting up a little too frequently, particularly when I sleep.

I have the content all replicated, so mainly what is in my way right now is that I decided to change mail server programs at the same time. From Sendmail to Postfix. Incoming mail traffic had started to consume a sizable percentage of the CPU, and I need something more efficient. But a whole bunch of things have to change at the same time. The server has many mail accounts and many mailing lists, and mail will be stored in different format (Maildir rather than Mailbox format), so a lot of things have to be converted.

Anyway, I'll get back to work. If all goes well, nobody should notice anything. But a bit of downtime wouldn't be completely unlikely.
[ | 2005-12-22 18:08 | 23 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Friday, December 2, 2005day link 

 Jetsetters wants to sue everybody
As a webmaster I regularly receive requests to remove some kind of copyright-infringing material somebody has posted. I've never gotten anything for my own blog, but it has happened often for other's blogs. Usually it is an artist who objects to somebody posting one of their pictures. And typically is is stupid of them to object, as it usually is some kind of "Here's a lovely painting from ___ and here's a link to their site". Which really is excellent free promotion for the artist. But many artists seem to be not understand how the web works, so for inexplicable reasons they'd rather be unknown and in control than have lots of people freely mention their stuff. Anyway, typically they ask relatively nicely and the "offending" material gets removed quickly.

But now, I also have this Opentopia site, which has a lot of content that's copied from other places. Mainly places that have a license that allows it. Like, Wikipedia and Open Directory. And at some point I included a lot of articles from GoArticles. It is a site where people can upload articles in any of a number of categories, which are meant to be useful and informative somehow. They're posted with a license that says that anybody can repost them, as long as the footer with the author's information is included. Most of these articles aren't exactly great, but they're somewhat informative. The posters usually put them up for some self-promoting reason, to be able to mention their website, or book, or whatever.

I hadn't really thought of all the people who would contact me based on this content. I was mainly focused on getting some free content, and then thinking about ways of adding value to it, when I got around to it. But quite a few people write to get things corrected. Or, a few suddenly decide they don't like their article to be used by anyone. Usually they include some kind of onerous wording about copyright infringement, but typically they ask fairly nicely, and I just remove their stuff, a little puzzled about why they bothered to post it in the first place, if they didn't want it out there.

The latest one got my attention a little more than normally. A guy named "Kriss Hammond" sends a message with the subject line "Lawsuit against Opentopia.com", and which goes like this:
Please remove all links or other refeence regarding Jetsetters Magazine back to your websites or blog. Please remove all feature stories from Jetsetters Magazine from your websites. Do not reference any of Jetsetters Magazine features within your websites.

We plan a ten million dollar lawsuit against your company unless all links to your sites are removed. Do not use Jetsetters Magazine material in your blogs or as an RSS feed. U.C.C. 1-207 We reserve all our rights without prejudice. We have legal representation to handle this matter. Thank you for removing any material from any of our sites from your sites, including www.jetsettersmagazine.com www.beachbooker.com or www.jetstreams.com or www.cabinweb.com

Ten MILLION dollars, wow, that's quite impressive. I'm really scared! Actually, I laughed out loud.

At first I thought it maybe was one of those magazines you get in planes, and somebody had copied some article without asking permission. But then I looked at the articles in question, and I looked around a little on the web, and saw that it was something quite different.

Kriss Hammond calls himself "The Travel Professor", and he runs some outfit that shows people how to get cheap travel, if they just pose as travel journalists and write articles about the sites and hotels and restaurants they go to. And each article must promote Hammond's site. And apparently they post these on any site they can think of that will take submitted articles. Which essentially that acts as his advertising.

Why he then suddenly doesn't want the articles is a bit puzzling. I looked through my article database and found that there were 162 of his articles, all following the same model, all with the same ad for Jetsetters Magazine at the bottom. So, I deleted all of them. Good riddance.

And I realized that the guy was just responding to Google listings. He sent me several identical messages, with a different Google listing in each one. He was threatening a 10 million dollar lawsuit to anybody who mentioned his own website. Strange. Usually that means one has something big to hide somewhere.

And I think I'm getting it. Among highly placed entries in Google we find blogs presenting a little bit of an exposee of Hammond's possibly questionable business operation. So I think he decided to just write and threaten anybody who says anything about him, without even noticing that some of them were his own promotional articles. Not too smart. I would never have cared the slightest bit who he was if he hadn't done it in such a ridiculous manner. I'd still be providing him with 162 promotional articles, and I wouldn't have been writing this little thing here.

Anyway, a professional travel writer named Carl Parkes had written in his blog a post originally entitled "The Jetsetters Scam". You can now find it in this version: The Jetsetters Story. Parkes changed a couple of words, because Hammond started sending his famous "10 million dollar lawsuit" thing to anybody and everybody. The company that made the blogger template he was using, to Google, and to who knows who.

Read follow-ups: here, here, here, here, and well, there's more after that. Parkes wisely shifts over into posting general good information about travel writer scams, fake publishing houses, etc.

Below you can see one of the letters Hammond sends out to people who're interested in his Travel Writers Network. And you can see his business plan at work there. You pay $300 for membership in his network, and he provides you with templates for how you can present yourself as a travel writer to hotels around the world, and, I assume, get cheap or free rooms, meals, etc. And then you promise to write those articles, mentioning Jetsetters Magazine as much as possible.

Is that a scam? Not necessarily. It sounds kind of questionable. But, yes, for it to be a scam, there'd have to be some victims somewhere. The hotels maybe?

But I'd say that nobody goes around threatening to sue everybody who talks about them unless they have something to hide. You be the judge.
[ | 2005-12-02 21:53 | 27 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Thursday, December 1, 2005day link 

 Spam
I just glanced at the e-mail stats for my server. I personally got 94,917 e-mails during the month of November. That's over 3000 per day. 1018MB of "data" for the month.

It's mostly spam, of course. Judging by my spam folder, I get between 1 and 2 spam messages every minute. I'm glad I have a spam folder. And I'm glad I don't have a "You got mail!" message.

No wonder e-mail is getting to be more and more useless.

And sorry if I didn't answer your mail.
[ | 2005-12-01 19:42 | 16 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Wednesday, November 30, 2005day link 

 Pillow Fight Flashmobs
picture
I can't believe I missed the Toulouse Pillow Fight Flashmob last weekend! Thomas was there at least, and took some pictures. It was a very small flashmob, but courageous and pioneering.
[ | 2005-11-30 22:46 | 17 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Saturday, November 19, 2005day link 

 Speed Consulting
My friend Lionel put on a "Speed Consulting" event last night. You know, it is like speed dating, where a bunch of singles get a certain number of minutes to introduce themselves to different people during an evening. Except for here it is for companies and consultants. You have a number of "experts", consultants, of which I was one, and a bunch of people representing an assortment of companies. Then you do rounds of 11 minutes where one can sit down with one of the culsultants and ask questions, or present one's problems, or whatever. Well, it was fun, and in good French style it was combined with a nice restaurant and wine tasting. I met some good people, and got a couple of business contacts which might be fruitful. And, to my very pleasant surprise, I met an old virtual friend, Jean Carfantan, who was a member of NCN since '95 or so, and I hadn't realized he actually lived around here.

There has been a couple of these kinds of events in Paris, but otherwise it is something new in France. So new that the local newspaper, La Depeche du Midi, was there too to interview people. So, I can read a bit about myself in the article in today's newspaper, which is always fun. The journalist was obviously listening in on one of my conversations.
[ | 2005-11-19 21:26 | 13 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Tuesday, November 8, 2005day link 

 French Riots
picture A bunch of people have written to ask if we're ok, so I've better write something. I suppose these things always look a little worse when one watch them on TV from far away, and one doesn't quite know what is going on, and which areas are affected.

In case you somehow missed it, riots started in Paris suburbs a couple of weeks ago, after a couple of youths electrocuted themselves by hiding in a power station, thinking the police were after them. And that apparently set off a lot of latent anger in certain immigrant communities. Well, the actual damage seems to mostly have been done by teenagers who grabbed the opportunity to vent a bit. OK, a lot. My daughter's boyfriend is a schoolteacher in one of those suburbs in Paris, and it has been quite a mess, with many inconveniences.

I would have thought it would be very unlikely here in quiet peaceful Toulouse, but no. A bunch of cars were put on fire Sunday, and a bus yesterday. All mainly in the Reynerie and Mirail areas. Which is not far from here, a mile or two, but yet is quite a different area. Mirail is where the main university is, and Reynerie is close by, and they are what generally is considered the bad neighborhoods here. Where many immigrants live in large apartment complexes, where the streets are more dirty, and where there generally is a different vibe than in other areas.

Coming from the U.S. it seems kind of surprising that anybody has anything to riot about here. This is a very extensive wellfare state, where there's all sorts of public programs for helping you out in many ways. Free education and healthcare, social security, employment assistance, financial aid for many different things. OK, it is all very bureaucratic, but it isn't terribly hard to find somebody who actually cares about you.

But then again, there's a lot of unemployment. The French system is very competitive, and one usually needs the right education, the right diploma, the right certification, etc. The French natives bring up their kids to know the ropes, I suppose, and many are still unemployed. But when we're talking about immigrants who don't integrate very well, like, to a considerable degree the large muslim population. 10% of the French population are muslims, mostly from North Africa. So, the problem is then mainly with their kids, who might not really have learned to play well in the French system, so they'll see an even higher unemployment rate, and they live in ghettos and things look grim, I suppose.

So, combined with a right-wing interior minister who's kind of confrontational, often saying something inflammatory on TV, and various social programs that have been cut recently, I guess there's more to be dissatisfied with. Not that it seems like that riot is particularly focused on anything in particular. But the politicians are bending over backwards to try to address what they think might be the matter.

Judging by the sirens and helicopters that just went by headed towards Mirail, there's some kind of trouble tonight too. Or they might possibly just be enforcing a curfew, I don't know.

Here's where I'm missing the live news coverage of L.A. There would be non-stop coverage on most of the channels there. Here there are just the normal scheduled newscasts.
[ | 2005-11-08 17:47 | 19 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Friday, October 7, 2005day link 

 No Google
Seems like Google didn't want to hire me after all. Well, it was a fun thought, and I wish I at least had gotten to the point where they'd fly me somewhere to see their operation. Or to where they gave me an offer I could or couldn't refuse.

I suppose, like most big companies, they have different people who look for candidates than who actually make the decisions. The first guy who called me was super positive, and seemed to be ecstatic about my background. They had basically a whole bunch of jobs of various kinds, in various locations, and I could pretty much pick. But then again, that was probably just the headhunter guy, who didn't decide anything.

Anyway, their approach is a series of interviews, which also are tests. I.e. they ask you lots of hard technical questions within what is supposed to be your area of expertise. And if that works out, they'd fly you to one of their headquarters, to spend a day talking to people and seeing what they're doing. And then they'd give you some kind of offer, if you survived the process.

So, I've spent several hours on the phone with them. Last call was a 45 minute interview on systems, with one of their systems managers of some kind. I'm pretty sure I aced that.

But then, a couple of weeks later, I just get a brief, one paragraph form letter e-mail from some different person than the guys I had been dealing with. Essentially: "Thank you for your interest in Google. After carefully reviewing your experience and qualifications, we have determined that there is not a fit."

I suppose they passed it on to the actual decision maker, who didn't like my resume. Or maybe he took one look at my blog, and decided, no way. Or he did a search on my name in Google, and found all sorts of weird stuff. I don't know.

Well, good, I can go on bitching about big corporations without having to censor myself because I work for one.

I would really have liked to figure out Google's well-guarded secrets, though.

And, curiously, a couple of hours after getting the e-mail from the guy, my one website I was having trouble with suddenly re-appeared in the Google index. Bing, traffic suddenly doubled. Makes me wonder if the guys at Google sit there with a whole picture of my Internet life on their screen while I'm talking with them. My gMail account, my Orkut friends list, my Blogger comments, my browsing patterns, my desperate pleas to Google support. Nah, probably just a coincidence.
[ | 2005-10-07 17:37 | 28 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Sunday, October 2, 2005day link 

 What to say?
I'm tired of writing postings about how difficult it is to blog when I haven't done it a while, so I'll try to refrain from that.

In the meantime, my blog is still the command center for a bunch of Philippine treasure hunters, it seems. More than 30 comments a day on that one post. They seem to be busy. If they'd just give me a percentage of all the gold they seem to be close to digging up, I'd be fine.

Anyway, I've just been busy. And a bit more introverted, I suppose.

One thing that has happened since last post is that Google seems to want to give me a job. Which is sort of unexpected, and a bit ironic, after I had a bit of problem with one of my sites disappearing from Google recently. So, getting a job in the Google engineering department that handles that kind of thing would be intriguing. I don't know. A Google headhunter guy contacted me out of the blue, and they seemed to like my broad background. I'm going through their series of interviews and tests, etc, and we'll see what happens. I didn't really have in mind having a job job, but if it should be, then Google certainly wouldn't be the worst place to work. Except for that they don't exactly have an office in Toulouse. Dublin or Zürich are their EU locations. None of which are places I particularly was attracted to.

Otherwise life is pretty normal. My daughter Nadia started in first grade. CP, Cours Préparatoire, it is called here. She already knew most of the kids and speaks fluent French, so no problem there. My son Zachery has started in a new high school, geared towards civil engineering, which is 100km from here, so he stays there during the week, and comes back in the weekend. Which was a bit traumatic for him at first, but it seems it will work out well for him. My daughter Marie-Therese starts on the second year of her cooking school education this week.
[ | 2005-10-02 19:08 | 27 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Friday, August 12, 2005day link 

 Google doesn't like me any more
picture Well, Google likes some things I do A LOT. This blog has PageRank 7, which is fabulous. But another site which I'm more concerned about is my Opentopia site. That's a site that both is intended as a service, but also to be an income producing activity. It has an assortment of openly available collections of data, like Wikipedia's encyclopedia and the Open Directory. And some more unique pieces, like the gallery of Web Cams found in Google.

Recently the site had started to look rather promising. In terms of money, that means that a lot of people come by and click on the ads. The last two months to the tune of a little more than $30 per day, or $1000 per month. That is not huge, but it is big enough to imagine I could make a living from it, if I made it better and more people came by. And the ads that the money comes from are all from Google AdSense, as that just happens to be what works best, and what most people are comfortable with.

Lots of sites link to some part of Opentopia. 3-4000. So, people are coming in from those. But the majority of people come from Google itself, from having searched on one thing or another, which exists on the site. Google had indexed a great deal of the site, so there were many entries, and the main pages got a good PageRank as well.

But, suddenly, on the first of August, Opentopia disappeared without a trace on Google. Well, not entirely without a trace. I invented the word, and it didn't exist at all a few months ago. And, today, 49,200 webpages mention the word. But, what disappeared was everything at all in Google's index that is for the Opentopia site itself. If you ask for any pages on the site, you get:
Your search - site:opentopia.com - did not match any documents.

So, zippo, zilch, nothing. Not even the home page. The site doesn't exist as far as Google is concerned. Never heard of it. No pages there. No search results. No traffic.

And, instantly, my traffic dropped, as did my Google AdSense income, to around $5 per day.

Now, normally Google is my friend. I think Google is a great company. But if they basically own the majority of the web, it is also a cause for alarm. Getting dropped from Google is a bit like having your ID card revoked by the government. You don't exist. Google entries and Google PageRank is to a large degree a currency. Something you invest in and use and spend. But your account might be emptied over night, and there's no bank teller you can go and talk to.

See, Google's operation is so huge that there isn't exactly anybody home to talk to about this kind of thing. They of course can't answer everybody's personal questions about 10 billion webpages. But how about MY website? Last month it was in the top 30,000 sites on the net in terms of traffic. That's not super-elite, but it does make me somebody a little bit. But that doesn't really make much difference.

If one has an issue with Google, there is a support form one fills in. It doesn't really matter what one fills in - one gets an automatic reply back, which refers to their FAQs, explaining the basic rules for how one needs to behave if one wants to be listed in Google. I've read all of that many times, and I think I'm following all the rules. But one of Google's algorithms must think otherwise. Mind you, one doesn't get any kind of indication about what exactly might have gotten one's site banned. Anyway, the next step is that one then writes to them again, pleading for one's case, hoping that some real person might answer, and then look at it. That might or might not happen. Depends a bit on what one writes. The best advice seems to be to write a brief message which explains that maybe one might accidentally have done something bad in the past, and one has taken steps to clean that up, and would they please, please look at the site again.

The problem is that I don't know exactly what I might have done wrong. Quite possibly nothing. But there's a lot of pages on Opentopia. More than 1 million. So it is entirely possible that Google's spider has concluded that it just goes on forever, and that it is some kind of trick, or a site filled with random junk, to attract search engine traffic.

I have indeed noticed more and more sites like that recently. Sites that include random excerpts from random other webpages. Obviously generated by some program, and obviously to get listed in search engines. And some of them have probably succeeded well. So my guess is that Google has changed something, to try to clamp down on sites with large numbers of phoney pages.

And, well, I have a lot of pages that aren't terribly original. Copies of Wikipedia and DMOZ. None of those folks have anything against other sites mirroring their content, and, for that matter, they make it relatively easy to do, by providing regular database dumps. But how does Google's spider know the difference between a mirror of Open Directory and a random content generator? I don't know. That's probably not an easy problem to solve.

One thing that might make a difference is Google SiteMaps. Essentially one generates a map of one's site and tells Google about it, and it might help their spider do a better job at indexing it. I haven't used that feature before. I'm thinking it might be helpful if they know exactly how many pages there are, so they don't think they're just beeing tricked by some auto-generated content.

Well, I don't really know. I thought I was pretty knowledgable about this kind of thing. But now I'm an outcast, pressing my nose against the window, trying to get a glimpse of what everybody else is doing inside in the warm Google livingroom.

Well, luckily I can write about it here on my Big Ass PageRank 7 WebLog. But it still isn't fair.
[ | 2005-08-12 23:48 | 27 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Your blog when you're not there
It is sort of weird with a blog. It stays there even when you're not paying attention. I was busy the last few weeks, and didn't post anything, and didn't even check my comments. But still, about a thousand people are looking at it every day. OK, that's probably to a large degree because Google serves us a lot of my old postings, so it obviously isn't all folks who deliberately go and see what ming.tv has on today. But it is still a little strange, to have a lot of visitors when one is not there.

And that's where the organization of a blog is maybe not completely appropriate. You know, it shows your latest posts first on the front page. So, is it like I've been saying the same thing every day for the last month? Do my last couple of posts suddenly gain an unintended higher importance? Are thousands of people coming by, thinking, "Why did he post exactly that, and then nothing more?" I don't know.

On the other hands, there are aspects of how blogs are accessed that make it no big deal that you're not there for a while. A lot of people read blogs through blog aggregators. So, they don't lose any sleep over the fact that you haven't posted much. And the moment you post something again, they'll notice. They don't have to go checking everything day, wondering.

Likewise, this blog is part of a blog community in the New Civilization Network. Meaning, that a bunch of members watch the blogs there through a simple blog aggregator in the member area. So, they notice too right away when you post something again, and don't lose much sleep either, if I don't do it for a while.

But, still, I personally lose a bit a sleep about not blogging. A feeling like one is letting people down. That a lot of people go in vain and look for your postings, and there's nothing there. In reality, it is probably much fewer people than it feels like, but, well, it is just a feeling, not necessarily a fact.

Likewise, I'd also always have some mental obstacles to blogging again, if I haven't done it for a while. I've lost the thread, for one thing. And then I'm wondering if somehow my first posts would be particularly scrutinized. Why does he show up after a month and then post THAT? Well, the feeling goes away quickly, and I don't really worry about what anybody thinks. But the starting and stopping is a little difficult.
[ | 2005-08-12 23:00 | 12 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Thursday, July 14, 2005day link 

 A week in Italy
picture Back from a week in Italy. In part work, but also the closest thing to a vacation with the family I've had for a while.

We stayed in a small town next to San Bendetto del Tronto, on the east coast by the Adriatic Sea. A vacation spot where one goes to the beach, and to the market in the castle, and out to eat at restaurants, and where there isn't a whole lot else to do.

And we dropped by Rome, Pisa and Genova along the way. I had been in Rome before, but it is a long time ago.

As usual it is interesting to see how things are different or similar in different places. The moment you drive from Nice across the border into Italy, it is obviously a different place. Things are built differently, there's a different atmosphere. A very pleasant one at that. If you stop at a French rest stop on the freeway, things are well-organized and clean and somewhat reserved. In Italy things are more buzzing and lively.

The Italians don't seem to speak much more English than the French. They just have no hangups about it, so they're easy to communicate with.

Twice we had a hell of a trouble finding our hotel to spend the night. In Genova and in Pisa. We arrive late, when it is dark, in cities we don't know. I had printed out maps and directions, but somehow the cities were very confusing, so we had the greatest trouble finding where to go, or even just finding the center of the city. Street signs aren't very good, most of the streets are one-way, and all landmarks are unknown. First, in Genova, I think it took stopping 4 or 5 times to ask for help. And people are very helpful. The first two times nobody spoke a word of English, and I didn't yet speak a word of Italian, so I couldn't even recognize left and right. And to my surprise nobody actually knew the square we were going to, even the policemen. But a few people spoke some French, and we gradually pieced it together, after an hour and a half or so.

I still haven't really gotten the moblogging and in-the-moment blogging thing down, and I didn't have more than an occasional dial-up connection, so, as usual, no postings while I'm traveling around. But sooner or later I'll probably figure it out.
[ | 2005-07-14 15:54 | 23 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Sunday, June 12, 2005day link 

 Reboot
picture The Reboot conference in Denmark was very enjoyable. Nice to be in my home country for a couple of days, and lots of great speakers and contacts.

I'm by now used to that a techie conference like that is very wired, but it is still something that would probably be weird to many people. When somebody's speaking, about half the audience is sitting typing on their laptops. They check any websites mentioned, they make collaborative notes, they chat on IRC, they post to their blogs, they coordinate where to go for dinner, or they do whatever they feel like. The result is that there are more dimensions to whatever is going on, and that you probably are more informed, and information is more cross-indexed for you.

Through the magic of tags, you can see most of the blog postings from participants on the Technorati page. It doesn't work great for me personally to make blog postings in real-time, but it is cool that it works for lots of other people. Before a speech even is over, you'll see the first blog postings, and you'll see the pictures people have posted to . Right this second, there are 1035 photos posted to Flickr on Reboot, and 91 blog postings found by Technorati.

I can't mention everything, but a few highlights from the program...

Inspired keynotes by Doc Searls and David Weinberger, two of the authors of Cluetrain Manifesto. Weinberger was on fire, as somebody said. Doc is always entertaining.

Keynote by Cory Doctorow. In addition to being a science fiction author and editor of BoingBoing, Cory is a big champion for EFF. He talked about some of the latest battles, like the Broadcast Flag. He is very skilled at boiling the issues down to the essential hardhitting facts. There are companies and government agencies in the pocket of Hollywood media companies that work very hard on delivering LESS to you, for MORE money. "Sorry, we've revoked your right to record that TV program".

Lee Bryant on
Negotiating Language and Meaning with Social Tagging
. Lee is brilliant and provides great examples of how to use some of this cool technology in real and practical settings. Like for effective community websites for non-profit and government institutions. His recipees are very worth examining.

Ben Hammersley is crazy and entertaining. His talk, 300 Years of Blogging, Etiquette and the Singularity, presented the idea that blogging has parallels to the phenomenon of papers with comments on issues of the day that were handed out and discussed in coffee houses in England 300 years ago. And he made some intriguing comments on how rudeness and embarrassment might be bigger issues than technology on the net for most people. You know, for his grandmother, the issue of adware on her computer putting stuff up she doesn't want is just so damned rude. It isn't an issue of what flaws IE might have, it is just rude behavior. And how some people might be very conscious of what other people might think, and therefore hold themselves back from doing stuff they technically could do easily. Like his wife who wanted to participate in a certain game, but was afraid to, because she didn't want to be seen doing something wrong, or accidentally messing something up for somebody.

Jimbo Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, talked about ... Wikipedia. An interesting angle is that he doesn't at all consider it this emergent swarm phenomenon. It isn't just a chaotic buzz of little ants that do different things, and that somehow a useful encyclopedia emerges from that. On the contrary, it is quite hierarchical. Yes, anybody can in princple go and, anonymously, write and change anything they like. But, really, that's mainly for PR. Most things get written or edited by a rather small percentage of known users. It is a community. A community where people have taken on particular roles, based on their track record, reputation, and how well trusted they are. Most things get worked out by real people talking them over, not by any automated voting system or anything. Some people have more say than others, because they've earned it.

Saturday night was a showing of the famous 1968 Doug Engelbart demo. "The mother of all demos". A bunch of smart people at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park showed how they imagined computers should work in the future. At a time when computers mainly were big mainframes that did nothing of the sort. They invented the mouse, and one could click and drag (sort of) on the screen, and draw lines directly on the screen. And one could collaborate on a document, with video conferencing, and create outlines of information, etc. It was both amazing for the amount of foresight those guys had, and for a look into how terribly difficult it was. They could just sort of barely hold the system together for the demo, with six people and a whole lot of the most expensive hardware they could get their hands on. Doing things we nowadays take for granted, but which only got to happen because pioneers like them MADE it happen, against the odds. Doug Engelbart himself introduced the video over an iChat video link, and participated in a Q&A afterwards. Which I didn't stay for, because it was getting really late.

Lots more, but you can find plenty of commentary in the other sources.
[ | 2005-06-12 19:47 | 13 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Thursday, June 9, 2005day link 

 Off to Reboot
So, I leave for Copenhagen this afternoon for the Reboot conference. Many good people I know or have met before on the list of participants: Martin Roell, Felix Petersen, Lee Bryant, Loic Le Meur, Doc Searls, Ton Zijlstra, Elmine Wijnia, Jacob Friis Larsen, Dina Mehta and more I'm forgetting. And people I'd really like to meet. Like Thomas Madsen Mygdahl who organizes the conference. And Stuart Henshall, Ben Hammersley, Matt Webb, and, well, many others.

It is one of these techie conferences where everybody brings their Mac laptops, and there's wi-fi, and we sit and chat and make collaborative notes and write blog entries and surf the web while people are speaking. So no chance of being bored.

My powerbook has been behaving oddly recently, like some piece of hardware is just on the verge of failing, but I'll take the chance and bring it anyway. I mean, I'd be an outcast who'd have to sit in the back and hide my face if I weren't wired.

And, if my server just will stay up, everything will be fine. It crashed twice today. Its been getting more traffic recently, so either it is the huge amounts of spam mail, or I'll need to optimize the databases more.
[ | 2005-06-09 02:43 | 12 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Wednesday, April 27, 2005day link 

 It flies!
picture Damn, I missed that it was today. The maiden flight of the Airbus A380. It took off from Toulouse Blagnac airport at 10:29 this morning. And apparently landed again. And I was asleep and didn't notice a thing. I could just have walked outside and seen it, I'm sure, as we live not far away and most planes into Blagnac fly over here. Anyway, this one weighed 421 tonnes at takeoff, the biggest and heaviest civilian plane that has ever flown.
[ | 2005-04-27 16:15 | 22 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Wednesday, April 13, 2005day link 

 Connection
picture My DSL connection was down all day. Which is always a time where I panic about how dependent I am on being connected, and I regret that I haven't prepared any backup solutions. I could very well have things arranged so I could do a good deal of my work while I'm online, but I don't. Suddenly I realize all the stuff I'm missing. Not just that I can't communicate with people, but most of what I need isn't on my computer. And say I wanted to arrange an alternative way of getting on the net, I can't, because I'm not on the net. Like, how would I quickly find a dial-up provider if that's what I decided I needed? I'd, duh, search on the net. I'm blind.

When France Telecom finally answered the phone, after disconnecting me dozens of times, I got a dose of the bureaucratic madness I've tasted before. The lady told me they were working on the lines, so of course I was down. They're be doing that until the 29th. I needed her to repeat it several times, but she insisted, my line would be down for the next 2 and a half weeks. And, besides, I'm not even supposed to have DSL, because I'm too far from the central. That's an old story, which was a big deal when I got the line. You know, DSL providers usually have a website where you can put in your phone number and it tells you whether DSL is available to you, and at what speed. If you put in the numbers of either of my neighbors, it says, sure, you can have a high speed DSL line. If you put in my number it says, sorry, DSL is not available in your area. It took an enormous amount of hassles to get the line originally, only because I managed to find an ally who could see the crazyness in that and help me insist that of course I could have a line too. But now that's the kind of thing the service people can bring up when it suits them. You're not really supposed to have that line, you're putting too many bits through it, so if it doesn't work, it is your own fault. So, now, if you don't have DSL the next couple of weeks, tough luck, good bye.

I decided not to believe her, to keep my sanity, so instead I played with my router settings. And, somehow, switching it from "PPP over Ethernet", which it normally is set at, to "PPP over ATM" made the difference, and I got my connection again.

But it doesn't take more than 10 minutes to forget about the pain of not having the connection, and go right back to normal. Otherwise, my wife had been looking forward to that I'd clean up my desk and help her in the garden and go to sleep at normal hours for the next couple of weeks.
[ | 2005-04-13 23:59 | 23 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Tuesday, March 29, 2005day link 

 Graffiti
picture
?
[ | 2005-03-29 11:40 | 22 comments | PermaLink ]  More >



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