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An old rigid civilization is reluctantly dying. Something new, open, free and exciting is waking up.

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C'est pas Mécanique

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Contacting Me
I get many hundreds of e-mail messages per day and my inbox is becoming increasingly useless to me. So, if you write to me, don't count on an answer unless we know each other really well, or your communication is short and clear. Oh, I'm very friendly and approachable, but I don't have hours enough in my day to read everything.
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Sunday, December 2, 2007day link 

 Give One Get One
picture If you somehow have missed it, you can buy an OLPC laptop for yourself or a kid in your family, and you'll at the same time be giving one to a child in the developing world. All for $399. If I were in the US, I'd do just that. The offer has been extended to the end of the year. You go here: Give One Get One.
The mission of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is to empower the children of developing countries to learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-age child. In order to accomplish our goal, we need people who believe in what we’re doing and want to help make education for the world’s children a priority, not a privilege.

Since November 12th, OLPC has been offering a limited-time Give One Get One program in the United States and Canada. During Give One Get One, you can donate the revolutionary XO laptop to a child in a developing nation, and also receive one for the child in your life in recognition of your contribution. Thanks to a growing interest in the program, we are extending Give One Get One until the end of the year. You also may donate laptops via our Simply Give and Give Many options. Though the increasing public interest in OLPC, we hope to give many more children the opportunity to grow, explore, learn and express themselves.

[ | 2007-12-02 20:41 | 5 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 The QuestionAuthority Proposal
R.U.Serius has a proposal:
A dark cloud is passing over America. We've witnessed, in recent years, the death of many of our constitutional rights and liberties. We've also seen increasingly authoritarian trends in daily life and culture.

Those of us who would prefer to keep our freedoms have been relatively powerless as the events of 9/11 have created an atmosphere of fear and acquiescence. Everybody knows the litany: the virtual death of habeas corpus, the legalization of surveillance against all Americans, the lawlessness and usurpation of powers by the executive branch, ad infinitum.

It is time for all those who oppose this gathering trend towards the worst type of authoritarian governance and culture to put aside their differences and join together in a coalition that can act as a counterforce to this gathering threat to our liberties. It is time for QuestionAuthority (QA).

1: QuestionAuthority — A Coalition

QuestionAuthority is an educational and advocacy project dedicated to defending and extending personal and civil liberties and encouraging free expression. Our goal is to create a broad-based coalition of non-authoritarian groups and individuals who may currently be working in relative isolation on single issues, for political organizations and candidates, or in relatively isolated ideological cohort groups. As a cohesive force, we can do more than just stem the tide one issue — or one court case — at a time. We can exercise political and cultural influence by uniting the vast numbers of Americans who believe that the country has taken a radical turn in an authoritarian direction...
And he also proposes an Open Source Party.
[ | 2007-12-02 20:49 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Friday, November 9, 2007day link 

 The ends justify the means
picture It is one of those things it is popular to accuse other people of believing, and which instantly discredits them. It is the kind of operating basis assigned to terrorists and tyrants. They carry out the most heinous acts in the name of some imaginary ideal. And most everybody can agree that it isn't good. It is just a shame that most everybody don't really know what they're saying.

Of course the end justifies the means.

If I take a series of actions which produce a result that is all around good and useful and desirable for everybody involved, when everything has been taken into consideration - that is of course a good thing. It is never quite as simply black and whie as that. Any course of action can be compared with alternative courses of action, and there are pros and cons to all of them. The trick is to try to aim for the best possible result, that does the most good for the greatest number of involved parties, and the least damage.

You eat a carrot, it inevitably has to die. You reorganize the company, and it inevitably will suit some and not others. The point is to balance out all the factors and make the best possible decision. Some people include much fewer factors in making their decision, sometimes much too few, but invariably, even the craziest person is trying to somehow make something more right with the means they have at hand.

The value of an action or a series of actions could be said to be a matter of accounting. There are debits and credits, negatives and positives. You add up all the factors, subtracting the negatives from the positives, and hopefully you end up with more positive than negative, if you did well. Some people will only include their own accounts in the calculations, and will ignore or leave out all costs accrued to others.

If a company builds cars, they'll probably count the costs of buying raw materials, and the costs or paying workers and building factories and printing brochures, against the income they get from anybody who's willing to buy the cars. And they'll think they did good if the income is greater than the outgo. That's called business. Of course that's terribly shortsighted, because they leave out most of the costs. What they pay for raw materials is really the price somebody else charges for the trouble of extracting them and treating them. Not their actual value, certainly not their replacement value. They also leave out the costs of the billions of tons of pollution produced by those cars, and the 10s of thousands of people who get killed driving them. Oh, they also leave out some of the positives from the accounting, like how much better are the lives of the millions of people who drive the cars, and how much more productive they are. Because all of that they don't consider their business. And accountants don't know how to add it up, and nobody forces them to figure out how to do so. So we're not quite sure if the grand total balance comes out positive or negative from the world's automobile manufacturing.

But say you were able to add up all the costs/drawbacks/negatives and all the gains/advantages/positives when you carried out a project. And when it all has been counted, you find that the result is good. Isn't it justified?

The way people tend to (mis-)understand "ends justifying means" is that the ends and the means are two completely separate things, kind of not having anything to do with each other. Which is a symptom of a world where people habitually do terribly wasteful things to gain relatively small benefits. While sometimes being hailed as great successes, in case they manage to gain rather large benefits, without much regard to weather they did terribly wasteful things to get there.

Although the world has worked like that to a large degree for quite a while, we also intuitively rebel against it. So we occasionally pick out somebody who did something particularly horrible, while claiming to do good, and we accuse them of living by the principle of "the end justifies the means".

The crux of the matter is the definition of "ends" or "results", or we could say "outcome".

The way I think of it, the "result" includes all effects and side-effects, including those created along the way. The whole thing. All the accounts. The result is everything you did and what came out of it. Not just what you personally ended up with.

If you make a company that produces $5 shirts that are very well made and stylish, and people are happy to wear them, but it was slave laborers in China who actually made them, and your factories dump toxic waste from the coloring process into rivers, well, that's all part of the result. Even if try to sweep most of it under the carpet and pretend that you all you did was to somehow magically produce great $5 shirts.

The fastest and cheapest way to get a car is to steal it. The most effective way of avoiding trouble with its previous owner is to kill him and dump the body where nobody finds it. It is quite reasonable as an economic calculation. Great benefit to you, little cost. That is, if you limit your consideration of the "result" to include just yourself. If you ignore the ends you actually created. Sadly it isn't just unfeeling, intelligence challenged criminals who think like that. Many corporations of a certain size will tend in the same direction. They're there to produce a profit for themselves, and it is legally their duty to maximize that profit. Sometimes even governments will act in similar shortsighted ways.

The means aren't justified if the result is more bad than good.

If instead you did a win-win transaction, which everybody involved were happy with, which did as little damage as possible, and produced the most benefit for everybody involved. Then, obviously, the actions you took were good ones. They're justified in other words.

The thing is that the means aren't separate from the result. Whatever you do will produce all sorts of side-results along the way, and they're part of the equation. And, generally speaking, you don't accomplish great constructive feats through destructive means.

What if it is something fantastically positive one is trying to create? Like, say, an utopian society where everybody's living in peace and harmony and abundance and freedom. Sure, that's worth almost any cost. But the trouble is that if the means of getting there are of a different nature, it is likely that one didn't really produce what one says one is producing. If I have to kill a lot of people standing in the way of this dream, it is quite likely that there will be a lot of people around, like their family and friends, who aren't at all happy, peacefull and harmonious. If I have to persecute anybody who's trying to change my society, then it obviously isn't free. There would be a lack of congruency.

It is quite reaonable to believe that one doesn't create peace through war, one doesn't create truth through lies, or happiness through sorrow. I suppose that is some of what people feel inside when they speak out against "the ends justifying the means". You know, an intuitive sense of whether the proposed course of action is congruous with itself.

Sometimes the path of getting to a better place is unpleasant. . You might have to shed some tears to resolve an argument. You might have to tear some things down to build something better. You might have to break some eggs to make an omelet. But the final result is all of it, the outcome of the process you want through. If you've ended up with five broken eggs and a tasty omelet, it might be worth it. If you've ended up with more damage than benefit, it wasn't worth it. But if it was worth it, it was worth it, and whatever means you used were well chosen, however you came upon them.
[ | 2007-11-09 00:55 | 8 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, November 8, 2007day link 

 The value of connections
picture Fine Article at World Changing by Jon Lebkowsky about social networks and the value of connections. I'll excerpt a good explanation of some of the basics for discussing that:
The conversation about social network value starts with a couple of assertions, or "laws," that have influenced the evolution of both technical and social networks:

Metcalfe's Law: The value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of endpoints.
Reed's Law: The utility of large networks, particularly social networks, can scale exponentially with the size of the network.

The first law, authored by Ethernet creator Bob Metcalfe, describes how the value of a communications network grows with the square of the number of people or devices it connects. Forgetting the math behind this assertion, what he's really saying is that the value grows faster than the number of access points.

Metcalfe coined another term, network effect, to describe the increase in value of a good or service as it's adopted by more and more people. This makes sense: If only one guy has a telephone, it's not valuable at all, but as more and more people acquire phones, value increases because the potential for connection increases. When I first got an email account in the 1980's, its value was practically zero because there were so few email users and nobody I knew had it. From a personal perspective, as more people used email, and especially as more people I knew got accounts, the more valuable it became. From a global perspective, email has significant value now because so many people have accounts. Even the homeless guy sleeping in the park is liable to have a free email account that he can access at the library.

(Increased value can also have a down side. Because the network is so valuable, it creates a negative, in that it creates value for the spammers who make my life, and probably yours, miserable.)

Metcalfe was influential early on, but David Reed went a step further, and a lot of us who've been co-creating the "Web 2.0" world had an "aha moment" when we read his piece about the "sneaky exponential" and the real power of community building...
I think it is important to stress that we're talking about the potential value of a network. Just because you can call everybody in the world on the phone doesn't mean that you will or that much will come out of it. There's lot more potential there than if you didn't have phones, of course. But even in a vast network where one can form groups and collaborate, the actual value is a small fraction of the potential value. I'm a member of a lot of groups in places like Facebook, a bunch of which sound great, are along the lines of things I'm very interested in, and that are populated by people I like. And yet I rarely visit them, and not much comes out of it.

There are a lot of bottlenecks that limit network value. Bandwidth issues, and lack of ways of organizing stuff. I have no great way of processing huge amounts of information because I don't have time to figure out what to do with it, and even though there is too much, there is also too little, so I don't necessarily perceive my connection with it, or the relevance for me.

There's of course Dunbar's Number, which says that one can only maintain a meaningful social relationship with 150 people at the same time. There's that we can only keep our conscious attention on 5-7 things at the same time. And there's that computers don't help us much in overcoming such attention limits, even though they potentially could. Software does help us keep track of more things at the same time, and more things that are dispersed around the world in different places and different fields. And software does help me pay attention. But it just as much scatters my attention.

There's a lot of software that hasn't been invented yet, which usually appears in science fiction, where one has some kind of symbiotic relationship with a computer and network, which makes us smarter, staying conscious of more stuff. But it doesn't really have to be in the form of a metaphysical merging with some big Singularity AI thing. Somebody has to write the software, and they could potentially do so now.

We could get closer to the potential value of a network if I could see more of it. Even though the phone network is a relatively "simple" to understand network, I can't see it, I can't perceive it. I can see it like I can see the world through a keyhole. I can call one number at a time, or maybe two if I have call waiting, or a few dozen in a conference call. But nothing close to the few billion numbers there really are. I can get a list of people to call from a phonebook, a big stack of paper, sorted alphabetically, covering only a small geographical region. I can get much more online, but I can still only see it a limited number of ways, and organized by place, name and business. I can't really see the potential.

I can see much more in online social networks, like people's pictures, their interests, their activities, where they go, what they do, who they know. At least to a certain extent. If I already know them well, it might be enough to stay connected in a useful way. If I don't, it might still be like the difference between a travel brochure and the actual journey. The brochure might have feeds and videos, but I'm still not there. My computer screen is still like a keyhole.

In some kind of idealized future cyberspace everything will be connected and all information will be cross-indexed and we'll have access to in a computer-assisted way. Hopefully, when we figure out how. We can demonstrate some of it on a relatively small scale, and it is available if we put our mind to it. If I've read a book, and I no longer need it, I might be happy to give it away or exchange it with somebody else for another book which I might like to read, and which that person no longer needs. There are websites that will let you do exactly such an exchange. But you have to really decide that it is important, and to join it, sign up, type in the books you have available, mail them, etc. I'd of course want it to be more automatic, and thoroughly optimized. It would be easier if it were a person a couple of streets away who wanted my book, and easier if I didn't have to first join a website and type in the information about it.

The potentially exponential value of a network comes about only if all information is linked up. If I can always find the very best information available, and the exact best people to work with, and the exact right time to do stuff, everything changes, of course. The Internet didn't yet magically make that happen, even if we suspected that maybe it would.

So, how can we connect more, with more people? How can we use social software to get us beyond more of the limitations we're still taking with us from the non-wired world. I.e. how many things or how many people we can keep track of at one time. Connections will become more valuable if they can produce value even when I'm not paying attention to them. Paying attention, even when I'm not paying attention. Staying connected even when I don't connect.
[ | 2007-11-08 01:49 | 10 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, November 7, 2007day link 

 Say what you feel
Via Art of the Prank
[ | 2007-11-07 00:50 | 0 comments | PermaLink ]

 Diversity counterproductive to social capital?
James Wilson's article in Commentary magazine talks about Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam's essay recently published in Scandinavian Political Studies. In the essay, Putnam publicizes the findings of his research, conducted in rural districts, towns, and cities, whose conclusion establishes that diverse neighborhoods show less "social capital" because ethnically diverse residents seem to distrust each other.

Putnam has discovered that friendship, carpooling, participating in local projects is much lower in ethnically heterogeneous communities than in homogeneous ones. His research reveals that the exception to the tendency of diversity to inhibit "social trust" occurs in ethnically diverse military or religious settings as well as in social circles with intermarried couples. Wilson adds sports teams to the list of these exceptional places where ethnically different people click well.
Duh. One doesn't create community just by putting people next to each other. But if that's what one does, yes, it is more likely that the people who're most similar will develop relationships and social trust. Everything else being equal, the white middleclass working family with kids is likely to relate to their neighbors who also are white middleclass working families with kids, and they can babysit for each other, and come to each other's barbecues, and meet when they're picking the kids up from school in their minivans. And maybe they're less clear on how to relate to the unemployed black guy across the street who's sitting in front of his house all day.

Diverse groups of people are more likely to become bonded together, not just by proximity, but by either a common purpose or a shared history. If you were in the army together, or you work in the same company, the diversity is not so likely to get in the way.

And if social capital is a kind of capital, it would be reasonable to expect that differences generate potential value, and bigger differences can create more value. Meaning, we're worth more to each other, notbecause we're the same, but because something we do is complementary to what the others do. Even if you're similar people, a lot of the value in the social relation come from the areas where there's a difference. If nothing else, that your neighbors are home on a day when you want to go out, so they can babysit. But bigger differences can produce more value. If one of your neighbors is a auto mechanic, and you're a klutz, there's obviously some value in getting along well with him, even if he has a different "profile" from you, as he can repair your car. And if there's something else you can do that he can't, great.

So, the diversity IS the social capital to a large degree. Except for that it doesn't get activated unless the parties somehow get close enough together to form some links between them. Which is a little bit of a puzzle, of course.
[ | 2007-11-07 00:51 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Tuesday, November 6, 2007day link 

 Steve Habib Rose
picture I learned last week that my friend Habib had died. I didn't actually know he was sick, and I wouldn't really have expected so, seeing him in the periphery being busy as usual, networking, organizing communities.

It was strange, but at the same time quite appropriate, that I learned he had died a month earlier by noticing the messages people left for him on his Facebook profile. And in that month he had appeared a number of times in the event feed, seemingly having recruited people to causes, having gotten new friends. And people continued leaving messages to him, as if he was going to read them, but now sad but thankful goodbye notices. I left one too.

It is not that I knew Habib terribly well, but I've known him for a number of years, and he'd been on my very short list of the greatest networkers and community organizers I know. I know a lot of networkers, and a lot of people with large networks, but not quite anybody who puts their energy into using them as well for good as Habib did. He seemed to spend all his time weaving things together, organizing communities, and just being present with people. That is, somebody who would happily spend several hours with you on the phone, and who truly was interested in knowing you, helping you in the areas where you might need help, and connecting you up with collaborators in areas where your strengths are.

We met in the late 90s sometime. He came by my office in Venice, California, and we talked a lot about network collaborations. Later he sent me a plane ticket to come up to Seattle, and we met once or twice at conferences and open space meetings after that.

How did you know Habib: Habib's Garden
Habib's Blog: Neighbor Networking

Bye for now, Habib, it was an honor and a pleasure knowing you.
[ | 2007-11-06 23:38 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, October 25, 2007day link 

 Static or dynamic web metaphors
picture Anthony Judge: Transforming Static Websites into Mobile "Wizdomes" - enabling change through intertwining dynamic and configurative metaphors. Always interesting and challenging reading from Tony Judge.

The metaphors we employ to travel the web are extremely pervasive, but almost invisible to most. Same thing with how we use computers in general. I'm sure a lot of folks can't imagine anything different than their computer having a "desktop", even though that's a strangely antiquated metaphor to use. Here we have a mindblowing amount of computational power, and software that can deal with a hundred dimensions just as easily as two, and then we model the whole thing around a copy of our desk, with folders and pieces of paper and a trashcan. With many of the same limitations our desk has, which is exactly what we need to go beyond. Seems silly, but habit is strong, and often we can't see anything other than what we're presented with, and what we're used to seeing.

Here's from Tony's article, about "sites":
There is the interesting possibility that "site" may come to be understood as a static outmoded metaphor for the manner in which people and collectives find it appropriate to engage with the universe of knowledge. Site implies a particular location, especially the location with which the web user has some involvement and which may be deliberately constructed as an articulation of individual or collective identity. From there one can travel to other locations which others have configured to represent their's.

However, whilst the "site" may reflect considerable effort in articulating a static identity -- whether or not it has interactive facilities analogous to those that might be expected in a person's house -- it says nothing about the dynamics of how a person moves and how identity may be associated with that. There may be links to other sites -- like travel books in a home library -- but the dynamics and style of that movement are only partially represented. Even more interesting is the question of "who" moves. There is a sense that an abstract entity, a "visitor", travels to other sites as an observer, a consumer, a tourist -- along the information highway. Possibly some form of link may be brought back -- like a photograph or memento. Arrangements may be made to "keep in touch" through an exchange of addresses. As the person responsible for a site, one may in turn make arrangements to receive such visitors.

The question asked in what follows is whether more fruitful understanding of these processes would emerge from changing metaphor.
Hm, yeah. So, a *site* is kind of like a shrine one leaves behind, while one is out doing other things. It might have a bookcase with your favorite books, a collection of your writings, a picture of you, some of the things you like. Why not the teddybear from your childhood, a jar of your favorite peanutbutter, a wardrobe with your old clothes, and a TV playing your favorite shows?

There are organizations of various kinds that leave an office in their building standing ready for their long dead founder. It has a nice comfortable chair he would have liked, a box of his favorite cigars, or whatever it was he liked. And somebody will come by and clean it once per week, and make sure things look just right.

Is that really the kind of vibe we want in a website?

When we add more dimensions and more tools, people will often just create more of the same. I'm thinking of virtual worlds. One buys a plot of land in Second Life, builds a house, looking just like a house in the regular world, with pictures on the wall, books in the book case, music on the stereo, etc. OK, one has the opportunity of making something one couldn't do in real life, because it is would be either impossible or too expensive. One can have an avatar much more beautiful than one really is, and one can live in a mansion, and own a flying Ferrari. But it is still sort of the same thing. A somewhat static place that will represent what one wants to be thought to be, even while one isn't there most of the time.

Tony offers a bunch of possible alternative paradigms and related models and ideas. A whole bunch. One of the alternatives ways of looking at it:
Rather than constructing a site, and visiting other sites elsewhere in cyberspace, suppose the focus shifted to the "vehicle" in which one travelled. Such a shift in paradigm is evident in the case of people who choose to invest in a mobile home to travel their continent, possibly with little immediate intention to return to a particular physical location. The focus is then on the design of the mobile home (a caravan) and its capacity to move. The "centre of gravity" of identity is then with the vehicle and its enabling capacity rather than with some particular physical space. A similar shift in identity is evident in the desire of people to possess a vehicle that better reflects their sense of identity than the place they are obliged to dwell for socio-economic reasons.

But this possibility then raises the question of how exactly the design of a "vehicle" might be expected to be different from the design of a "site". In the design of a site, considerable effort is put into ensuring that it is a reflection of one's personal (or collective) sense of identity. The aim is to fruitfully distinguish its unique qualities from those of others -- notably to render it more attractive. Website designers now have considerable experience in building a site to this end -- respecting the basic needs of visitors -- navigational needs within the site, clarity of content, etc. If the site is a more personal one, holding notes, photographs and the like, less effort may be put into facilitating the experience of visitors and more into its security features -- exactly as with the priorities of a householder for whom the needs of visitors are not of major concern.

How then to think about the design of a "vehicle"? Clearly search engines may be appropriately considered as a form of "public transportation". They may even offer facilities to "personalize" the engagement with such transportation -- configuring colours, layout, language, skins, etc.
OK, so, yes, an avatar would be an example of that. You work on designing the part that's moving around, rather than the part that stays behind.

At the same time we're still stuck to some degree with the same metaphors that limits a mobile home to be as much as possible like one's static home, however much one can manage to stuff it into a box on wheels.

One can get very fancy in designing an avatar for a virtual world, but it is still within the realm of some kind of body, without necessarily getting any new perceptions or access to larger amounts of data or anything.

And I'll argue that more useful interfaces would be more in the direction of extrasensory perceptions and out of body experiences. I mean, instead of duplicating or merely enhancing what we do every day in the meat world, we might make a much bigger jump and imagine what we actually might be able to do if unburdened by the limitations of having to drag stuff through 3 dimensions, which takes time and effort.

In principle, the internet-connected information world would allow you to be anywhere instantly and have access to any amount of information in any way you'd want. Do you really need to "travel" to a "site" and read "documents" in order to get to it? Even if it isn't just that, every site has its own metaphors and paradigms and rules and procedures. You need to sign up, you need to figure out the menus, the different "rooms" of the house that somebody presents you with.

That's of course not all that is going on on the web. A lot of protocols and mechanisms are emerging that potentially allow us to access things in our own way, without having to learn the map of somebody's house. Feeds, APIs, etc. Potentially we have some of the building blocks for creating a drastically different experience.

Back to Tony's article. He proposes some sort of structure that you can take with you, which can replace the metaphor of a site. He calls it the "Wizdome". "Wiz" can be for wisdom, as opposed to knowledge. And "dome" because it maybe could be thought of as being spherical, or maybe geodesic.
Combining these two suggested shifts in metaphor -- to the spherical and to the dynamic -- the question for the individual is whether what is required is to design such a "wizdome" from the elements of knowledge accumulated on any current website. Can such knowledge elements be configured spherically in a fruitful manner for that individual? Can a site be "endomed" or "domified"? What kinds of insights and expertise are required to bring about any such "enwrapping" of knowledge -- beyond what the problematic aspects of cocooning? What is to be "encompassed" and how is this to be distinguished from any "encyclopedic" ambition...?

Additionally however, rather than a static dome, can such a wizdome be designed as a vehicle? Or, more intriguing, is it possible that its viability as a structure is specifically dependent on its movement as a dynamic structure -- as much a "whizdome" as a "wizdome"?

Also intriguing is the possibility that, to sustain its integrity as a dynamic structure, the wizdome may have to move in particular ways or to embody particular kinds of movement. It may indeed be capable of "whizzing" around.
Hm, maybe sort of like a merkeba, an interdimensional vehicle, often considered to be constructed of interlocking tetrahedra.

Some kind of vehicle to travel in on the interwebs might constitute progress.

There's me, and there's a whole lot of information out there, which I might want to interact with. I'd like to get beyond that each separate store house of information will build a house for me to visit to come look at it. And we're already halfway there. I read news in a feed aggregator, I choose my own e-mail programs and instant messenger programs. Although each of those have their own limitations, standing between me and what I'd like to do. I can sort of have these different tools at hand even while I travel around. I can chat in an IM program while looking at different websites, obviously. I can stay connected with a feed of messages from my friends on different computers, or on my mobile phone.

But to get further in terms of a different experience in dealling with the information world, is it still something like that the Semantic Web that is needed? That all available information is thoroughly labeled, measured, categorized, so that I could use some completely universal tools to access it in any way I want, rather than having to put up with a million different interfaces. And, since nobody is going to do it for us, will it emerge as a folksonomy?

Either way, some old structures will have to die out before all this inter-connectivity really can live up to its potential. The internet is still a little too much like a thousand channels with nothing on. Oh, there's a lot on, an there are interesting channels, but it is hard to find what you really want, and do with it what you'd really want to do. Because the metaphors are getting in the way.
[ | 2007-10-25 21:47 | 10 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Thursday, September 27, 2007day link 

 Parallel universes are a bit more real
Doesn't really say much, but that's good news. Breibart:
Parallel universes really do exist, according to a mathematical discovery by Oxford scientists described by one expert as "one of the most important developments in the history of science".

The parallel universe theory, first proposed in 1950 by the US physicist Hugh Everett, helps explain mysteries of quantum mechanics that have baffled scientists for decades, it is claimed.

In Everett's "many worlds" universe, every time a new physical possibility is explored, the universe splits. Given a number of possible alternative outcomes, each one is played out - in its own universe.

A motorist who has a near miss, for instance, might feel relieved at his lucky escape. But in a parallel universe, another version of the same driver will have been killed. Yet another universe will see the motorist recover after treatment in hospital. The number of alternative scenarios is endless.

It is a bizarre idea which has been dismissed as fanciful by many experts. But the new research from Oxford shows that it offers a mathematical answer to quantum conundrums that cannot be dismissed lightly - and suggests that Dr Everett, who was a Phd student at Princeton University when he came up with the theory, was on the right track.

Commenting in New Scientist magazine, Dr Andy Albrecht, a physicist at the University of California at Davis, said: "This work will go down as one of the most important developments in the history of science."
Actually it doesn't tell us anything about what they figured out. But there is a parallel universe somewhere, in which that would have been a more informative article. And there's another one where I would have been able to understand the math in that more informative article.

Now, the next question is: Does the universe split all the time, in all possible directions, or only on special occasions, like just before you buy lottery tickets, or when you're leaning out the window in a tall building? I'd say it does it all the time, but that the idea of "splitting" gives the completely wrong idea. It is just a matter of having enough dimensions. Does the North/South compass direction split into East or West in millions of places? That's an equally silly question. If you're walking North, you're free to stop at any time and walk East, and you're free to walk back and go SouthWest. The place you came from didn't disappear just because you left it. That's the magic of being able to move in two dimensions. Parallel universes is just the same kind of thing, and only sounds magical because we folks are dimensionally challenged. We think we're walking in just one direction, even though we're changing tracks all the time. And of course there are multiple choices of tracks in a great many places. Whether there's somebody who took all the possible paths is, I think, a question that math alone will not solve. The universe doesn't need to split, because it has plenty of dimensions. But what about you - do you split?
[ | 2007-09-27 00:46 | 23 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Wednesday, September 19, 2007day link 

 Fractal brains
This is a series of splendid pictures that supposedly were generated from people's EEG brain patterns. I think the idea is that one looks at one's own patterns in real-time, and there's some kind of bio-feedback thing going on.
[ | 2007-09-19 00:36 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

picture The last few months I've been rather busy with a little start-up company I'm a partner in.

It might not be terribly interesting to you unless you're in France and in certain types of profession. But, in brief, it is a service that delivers business statistics online. Right now mainly various kinds of analysis of business sectors. For example, any company would have a need for knowing how their sector is doing in general. If you're manufacturing plastic tubing, you'd of course want to know how that market segment is doing, and how all your competitors are doing. Is their business expanding, are they investing, are they turning a profit. There's a whole bunch of indicators and ratios of various kinds, hundreds of them, that are meant to show you that. But it is not entirely straightforward to produce such an analysis. Larger companies would probably have somebody who's job it is to produce that kind of reports, but a smaller company doesn't. So, the idea is to make it very easy. In a few seconds you can get a whole series of well thought-out reports on what is happening in any segment you choose. If all you want is one snapshot, you buy the report and you're done. If you regularly need to do such things, you get a subscription, and you can analyze any segment any time you want. That would particuarly make sense for a consultant or accountant or banker who often needs to advise people in different businesses.

The company is called Indiceco, as in Indices (indicators) Economiques. The website is here. It is in French, obviously. But you can probably get a sense of it. You pick a business sector, and you see some different numbers, and there's a variety of different presentations to choose from.

More will follow as more databases and more presentation formats are added.

Accounting figures isn't normally something that excites me, but the idea of taking huge amounts of data and simplifying it into something you can access in simple ways, and model in real time, is something I like. The world is too complicated and we need ways of making it more simple.

The system there is developed in Ruby on Rails, and I'm basically the developer. My two partners, Anthony and David fill in complementary roles by being experts in stuff I'm not well versed in, like the actual accounting details, legal matters, and sales.
[ | 2007-09-19 22:25 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Tuesday, September 18, 2007day link 

 Rethinking blogs
picture Now, what was I saying? I've forgotten, I'll have to read my own blog.

The trouble with blogs, and microblogs too, for that matter, is that one tends to be locked into one track. It is still a bit too much like publishing.

You know, if you were publishing a monthly magazine, you'd be expected to produce a certain number of articles, good pictures, a certain type of content, a certain number of pages, and it needs to be finished at the right time. In blogs you can in principle say whatever you want on any topic. And in a microblog (twitter, jaiku, facebook), you certainly can, and it doesn't even have to be important or well thought out. But, still, most people will stay within a particular subset of their life.

A lot of my blog friends seem to be living and breathing social software. Cool new technology fits in well with that too. And it is acceptable to talk about that you're going out to lunch, or that you're waiting for a plane to go somewhere. And a few other odds and ends to show that you're human. But, still, most people stay within a certain format and frequency, and mostly expect the same from others, and would frown upon somebody who uses these media differently. Like, if one person sends out 200 twitter messages in a day about the fish in his fish tank, a lot of his friends would unsubscribe. But what if that really was what was on his mind that day, and what he felt needed to be said?

One channel is never enough. We all have many channels in our lives. And we're probably only interested in some of other people's channels, but never all of them. And that's cumbersome to manage with the current software, unless you focus on very few channels that don't change much.

When I bother to write in my own blog here, I write about a variety of changing subjects. I don't feel there's much I couldn't write about, but I feel somewhat restricted in how much I can write about any one thing that I'd consider off-topic of my idea of the general theme.

Right now I'm very busy in a little start-up company I'm a partner in. I could write a post about that. But, really, that has been a lot of my day for a couple of months. So, what if I wrote a couple of posts a day about what I was doing, and what problems I run into? I don't necessarily feel like doing that, but that's part of where my attention would be. So, what if I wrote about Ruby on Rails development for a couple of months? Other people do nothing but that, and that's perfecly great. But it probably isn't what people come to my blog for, and I'd probably lose people who weren't into programming.

Recently my hobby in my limited spare time has been genealogy, tracking down current or long-dead family members. I could write a lot about that, and that might be interesting to others with the same interest. But what if I wrote a couple of posts a day about it here in my regular blog? What if I chronicled my progress in a few dozen twitter/jaiku messages per day? I dare say it would probably be annoying to most people who glance at what I write. I could find a whole bunch of new genealogy friends, but that would be a different crowd, and they might not what to hear me philosophize about the nature of space time, or about social software, or about my programming projects. They'd want to hear it a little bit, to know me better, but they probably wouldn't want the whole channel.

And there we're even still talking about Subjects, Topics, that one discusses somewhat from a distance. What if I were blogging about the details of my family life, about my personal psychological issues, about my health, or, gee, my sex life. There are lots of people doing all of those things, but generally not at the same time. There are very few combined Ruby programming and sex blogs. And if there are any, it is because somebody came up with a new gimmick, an unusual angle.

So, to get to the point, I'm missing tools for being able to chronicle my own activities and interests, and selectively share some of them with others, and at the same time being able to follow the activities and interests of others, without getting too much or too little of what I'd want to know.

It is not an easy problem to solve. Yes, I could easily use categories and tags to organize the things I write, and I can decide what is published and what is not. But if I then present a list of feeds in my sidebar here, which one can pick and choose from, I'd say that a fair number of people who decide to pay attention to me will just subscribe to all of them. And if they find that a lot of what I'm talking about, in some of those channels, doesn't interest them at all, I'd guess the tendency would be to unsubscribe from all of them. And if somebody had picked just some tags from my selection, they wouldn't easily discover when I go in different directions and write about totally different topics. They'd probably just wonder why I went silent.

The twitter microblogging idea is in part that if the messages are really small, we're perfectly fine with getting the whole feed from a whole bunch of people, even if 90% of what they do has no interest to us. Whether they're at the mall shopping for clothes, waiting for the bus, reporting on a tech conference, or saying something funny, it all just scrolls by, and we can pick out anything that might have interest, and ignore the rest. But that only works as long as these people stay within a socially accepted norm of how much they should post about each thing. 2 or 3 messages about you trying to sell your motorcycle would be fine, but if you posted 50, a lot of people would complain and unsubscribe.

The problem is that everything is in one channel and presented as having the same level of importance. I'd maybe be interested in knowing that a lot of your attention is going into a certain subject and that you've written a lot about it, but I might not want to see it all in the same precious one channel.

It is a matter of peripheral and focal attention. I'd like to know about a lot of things, like what a lot of people are into, but some of it I'd want to know about only peripherally. I.e. I'd know it is there, but not have to pay attention to the details. And other things I'd want to focus on.

So, I want tools that would allow me to do that more fluidly, in a more flexible way than simply subscribing to your one channel, and unsubscribing from it when it bores me too much.

Then there's the growing number of people who walk around with live streaming cameras on their heads all day. See justin.tv. There you have to tune into a particular channel, and you see live whatever those people happen to be doing at the time. Which is a type of reality TV, and quite compelling in its own right. But you only see one channel at a time, so it doesn't quite plug into a similar thing like blog aggregators or twitter channels. But it is related to blogging. I wouldn't mind being able to tune into the live feed of a bunch of friends, and having one screen where I can see all their feeds at the same time, and then focus on any one I want. But other than that, there's no good way of aggregating that at the moment, because it is just too much information.

Anyway, I think what makes the most sense is blogs transforming more into personal information portals, or personal presence portals, and that somebody needs to invent better ways of aggregating such things. Some companies are trying things in that direction, by aggregating your friends' blogs, tweets, delicio.us bookmarks, flickr pictures, etc, in one place. But it is messy, and it does the same mistake of bundling even more things into one channel.

If I should imagine my own blog differently, it would present a number of different kinds of feeds at the same time, leaving out the illusion that there's just one. Yes, I know I can have different things in my sidebar, like my recent Jaiku messages, my location in Plazes, my recent Flickr pictures, but there's probably just one of each, and there's one stream of my most recent messages. Which is kind of what defines a blog: a website format where one posts articles and the most recent one is at the top. And however neat that is, that is what I find limiting. Maybe all it takes is a different layout. Maybe like a newspaper front page where there are different columns. You usually wouldn't feel that it is required of you to read the whole thing through. You'll read the colums that you're interested in, and you're peripherically aware of the others.

Personal portals like Netvibes do that kind of thing, but really as a vehicle for me publishing stuff like I can in a blog. What I need is a blog where I or the visitors can rearrange a bunch of feeds to their liking. And a way of aggregating a whole bunch of people's personal portal information.

I have trouble imagining the perfect way of doing it. But if I didn't have too many other things to do, I'd probably get busy trying to program it.
[ | 2007-09-18 22:54 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

Monday, August 20, 2007day link 

 Luxury subs
picture Oh, I'd really like my own luxury submarine. It's my birthday soon. But $78 million is a bit expensive of course. This is the Phoenix 1000.
The Phoenix 1000 is a 65-meter (213') personal luxury submarine. The initial design was originally executed for a client and now awaits a buyer. As proposed, the submarine would constitute the single largest private undersea vehicle ever built, and arguably, one of the most significant personal transportation devices of the century.

This design, which we have named the Phoenix 1000, has more than ample space. The total interior area of the submarine is in excess of 460 square meters (5000 square feet). The significant volume, coupled with very large acrylic viewports, and the potential for relatively large open spaces, results in a vehicle as luxurious as the finest of motor yachts.

Clearly, the Phoenix provides its owner with substantially more capability than a simple yacht - the opportunity to explore the depths of the world's oceans in perfect comfort and safety. The Phoenix is capable of making trans-Atlantic crossings at 16 knots yet can dive along the route and explore the continental margins of some of the most fascinating waters on earth. And unlike surface yachts, when the water gets rough, the submarine can submerge into a perfectly smooth and quiet environment, continuing on toward its destination, providing a ride unsurpassed in quality-unequaled by the finest motor coach or the most luxurious executive aircraft...
I probably shouldn't even be looking in brochures that say 'perfect comfort', 'unsurpassed' and 'ample' in every paragraph. But a luxury submarine is a nice thing to dream about.
[ | 2007-08-20 21:59 | 6 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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