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Manhattan offline

Just saw this on CNN.com as a news alert (now there's a short story posted now), and went to check it on the TV: there's a massive power-outage on the east coast of the US, affecting, apparently, Manhattan, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, and other cities, as well as some Canadian cities such as Ottawa and Toronto. At the moment, in Manhattan there are no public transportation services: no buses, subways or trains. Most of Downtown Manhattan, including Wall street, have shut down. Many airports closed. Massive traffic jams.

What a mess.

I was just looking at the TV images of people walking across the FDR bridge (obviously, vehicle traffic has slowed to a standstill) and it's kind of a surreal scene. No cars, just a sea of people, in, out, and on the bridge. Apparently the power cut started as a hardware problem at transformer at a ConEd plant in NYC, and then it started to spread (no indication whatsoever that sabotage was involved, even though the news people keep bringing it up). At the moment it appears to have affected the balance of the whole of the US power grid. Amazing how this kind of thing can happen. Just one component in one power plant, in one city, and you get this result. Apparently the problem is still spreading through the network as the "domino effect" takes hold (Reminds me of the effect that brought down the long-distance AT&T network on January 15, 1990, as documented by Bruce Sterling in his excellent book The Hacker Crackdown--although in this case it's a different type of overload that is spreading, but the effect is exactly the same: a station goes down, which breeds more overload on the stations that are still up, which then shut down, which...). Hopefully it's being contained though.

We tend to think of network effects and related ideas in terms of concepts, in particularly concepts related to computer science (these ideas are big in the social sciences, group psychology and Economics too, though). In case anyone had any doubt, this shows that, more and more, everything will be affected by it. The science of Complexity (and the related topic of Chaos) will only grow in importance in the years to come.

Update: this article from the New York Time dismisses the "transformer theory" along with others. So even two days later it's still unclear what caused the problem--they seem to agree it originated in the mid-west though. The Economist has more information, as well as a historical perspective.

And Bruno said, in a comment, that reports that said that Wall Street had shut down were wrong. There were lots of similar comments to this effect in the newspapers yesterday and today as well. Another one of the many innacuracies in initial reporting, along with the transformer story, Boston being affected (it wasn't--not that much at least), and so on.

Categories: science
Posted by diego on August 14, 2003 at 9:21 PM

"weblog" is one word

An article on weblogs in this week's Economist. Some notes of interest, but aside from all that, can I say something? (Diego asks, then Diego replies: Yes, of course you can! Heh). So here goes: Will some publications please stop writing "weblog" as "web log" (note the space). News.com does this often. The Economist has apparently followed suit. "Web log" reads... broken. Just write "weblog" or "blog" and be done with it. It's one word, not two. Or will they now start writing "cyber space" too?

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on August 14, 2003 at 8:48 PM

news in one page -- but not a webpage

Another "clevercactus tip of the day". :-)

The other day, Dave was saying that using the three-pane paradigm to present news in an aggregator was not the way to go. Today, he linked to a piece by Adam Curry in which, among other things, Adam puts forward the same idea. One important difference (aside from the UI) between typical three-pane readers and web-page readers is what Dave refers to as "the queue". Adam mentions that another advantage is that part of the "freshness" of RSS feeds is how you can get a view of a number of different POVs on the same idea.

Both of these uses (and more) are not just legitimate, they are also clearly useful in many cases. But sometimes I want to see what just one person has said recently, and for that the three-pane view rules. Additionally, at times an item might contain more than a short description, it might contain the full text of the entry, for which three-pane views rule as well (since the full text could be really long).

So, is it possible to have both?

Absolutely :)

When reading feeds in clevercactus you can get the combined effect of a "one-page" view with the benefits of a three-pane view. As an example, consider the following two screenshots. Number one shows the "aggregated" view, where all the feeds are shown together. Number two shows only the space that is aggregating Scripting News. Just one click takes me from a bird's eye view to a more specific per-blog view.

How does this happen? In clevercactus, a space is recursive, that is, it automatically shows not only its contents but the contents of its subspaces (which are also recursive, and so on) with the proper ordering. So this effect happens transparently and automatically.

Now this is close, but no dice yet, since (as opposed to the way in which webpage aggregators do it) the news items remain there in the aggregator, which can potentially (and very quickly) create clutter (This is another one of Dave's good points). In an upcoming version of clevercactus, you'll be able to set the "decay rate" of items (automatically set by default to a sensible value). This means that after, say, seven days, feed items will be deleted automatically unless explicitly marked for permanent storage through a one-click procedure on the item itself (An icon saying "Store this") -- And bingo, we've got the functional equivalent of the aggregated webpage view, but in a three-pane UI, with "entry decay" for the first time.

Some users will still prefer a webpage view (which you can also get in clevercactus using webaccess, btw!).

And that's what it's all about isn't it? Giving the users choice.

Update: Ted was commenting on this entry and comparing clevercactus to FeedDemon. He said:

it seems to me that Clevercactus looks a lot like FeedDemon, except that FeedDemon can do a newspaper, and Clevercactus can't, and Clevercactus has PIM info, which FeedDemon doesn't
I didn't know about FeedDemon's Newspaper View. Very nice! However, I must say that clevercactus has a lot more than "PIM info"-- some examples are the webaccess feature, weblog posting, email, and Real Soon Now a bunch of other cool things, such as real-time collaboration and synchronization. Reading feeds (Both RSS and Atom) is just one more of the information channels that clevercactus can handle.

Update 2: Sam linked to this entry and Dare commented that SharpReader and RSS Bandit support this kind of functionality. Dare was also wondering whether I thought that cc was first on this, and I replied:

Clevercactus was first. CC was originally called spaces, and it was released publicly on November 11, 2002 (the name changed in April this year), supporting exactly that functionality (on both feeds and email), which predates most if not all the 3-pane aggregators that I know of, and certainly those that do recursive aggregation (of course, corrections are welcome--you never know :)).

That said, I was just pointing out that it didn't have to be a choice of either/or, and of course I used my own software as an example since I can fully explain what it does and how.

Additionally, when I said "for the first time" I was referring to the concept of "entry decay" plus the rest of the stuff (Of course, if anyone's aware of other aggregators that are currently doing that--i.e., allow you to set the time after which entries dissapear on a per-feed basis-- please let me know and I'll correct it). I was of course aware of others (although not of its FeedDemon's Newspaper view, which I noted in the post after Ted's comment).

As usual, corrections or more comments are welcome. :-)

Update 3: In another comment on Sam's blog Dare noted that he implemented "entry decay" in RSS Bandit about a month ago. It's not deployed (then again clevercactus isn't either), but this predates my first public mention of this feature by at least a week (obviously more, since Dare noted the release of the code on that entry, rather than the idea as I did). Cool.

PS: Are we all in sync or what? :-)))

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on August 14, 2003 at 12:08 AM

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