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an introduction to weblogs

During the last Dublin webloggers' meeting I was asked the question, "How do I start a weblog?" I began answering, somehow under the impression that it would be a simple answer. But it wasn't. As I went into more detail I realized that I was giving out more information that anyone in their right mind could digest easily. I then decided to write up this short intro so that I could use it in the future. A big part of this for me is an excercise in writing down things that might seem obvious to me (and others) but not so much to those that aren't involved in weblogs yet.

For this short intro I will assume very little: that you use the Internet regularly and that you might check news sites now and then, such as CNN or the New York Times. And that's it!

And of course, any corrections, additions and comments are most welcome. A note: this deals only with weblogs, not with newsfeeds, RSS. newsreaders, and such. Hopefully I'll get around to writing another similar introduction sometime in the near future, or to add to this one soon. :)

Update: I have posted part two of this guide here.

So, here it goes...

Intro to the intro

Before we begin...

...some terminology: there are words that you will see often with weblogs: client, server, host (or hosting). Some of these words might be familiar or not (and probably they're obvious to everyone!), but just to be 100% sure, here go some definitions as I'll use them trying to avoid taking too much liberty with their actual technical definition

  • weblog: the subject of this piece. :-) Seriously though, weblogs are often also called blogs, and some publications refer to them as "web logs"(note the space between the words). There are all sorts of blog-related terms, such as blogsphere, blogosphere, blogland, etc. 
  • content: basically, information. Content is anything that can be either produced or consumed. Web pages (HTML), images, photos, videos, are all types of content. The most common type of content in weblogs today is text and links, with images growing in popularity and audio in a slightly more experimental phase. Videos are not common, but it's possible to find examples.
  • client: a PC, or a mobile device such as a Palm or a cellphone. Clients, or client devices, allow you to create content (text, images, etc) and then move them to a serverat your leisure.
  • server:a machine that resides somewhere on the Internet that has (nearly) 100% connectivity. Servers are where the content for a weblog is published, that is, made available to the world. (We'll get later to how to or whether you even need to choose a server, in most cases this choice depends on the software used). Servers are also commonly called hosts, and the "action" of leaving information on a server is usually referred to as hosting.
  • URL: or "Uniform Resource Locator," the text that (usually) identifies a webpage and (generally) begins with "http://...". Sample URLs are: http://www.cnn.com, http://www.nytimes.com, and so on.
  • link: a hyperlink, essentially a URL embedded within a webpage. Hyperlinks are those (usually blue) pieces of text that take you to another page. Links are a crucial component of the web, but more so (if that's at all possible) with weblogs. Links are what bind weblogs together, so to speak. Through links I can discover new content, follow a discussion, and make my viewpoint on something known in an unobtrusive manner (more on this later).
  • client/server: the basic model through which weblogs are published today, and the model around which the Internet itself is largely based (This is not technically 100% true, since the original Internet was peer to peer (P2P), and we are all using P2P applications such as Kazaa these days, but let's overlook that for the purposes of this document). Clients create the content and then send (publish) it to a server. The server then makes the content available.
  • post: or posting, or entry, a single element of one or more types of content.
  • referrer: another crucial component of weblogs, referrers are automatically embedded by your web browser when you click on a link. (See more about referrers in the subsection on 'community' near the end of this page.)
  • public weblog and private weblog, are two terms I'll use to separate the two main types of weblogs that exist. Public weblogs are published on the Internet without password or any other type of "protection", available for the world to see. Private weblogs are either published on the Internet but protected (e.g., by a password) or within a company's network. Most of what I'll discuss here applies to both public and private weblogs.
  • permalink: a permalink is a "permanent link", a way to reference a certain post "forever". "Forever" here means until a) the person that created the post changes their weblogging software, or b) until their server goes down for whatever reason. If you read news sites, you'll notice that news stories generally have long, convoluted URLs, this is because every single news article ever published is uniquely identified by their URL. If you copy the name of a URL and save it in a file, and then use it again six months or six years later, it should still work. All weblog software automatically and transparently generates a permalink for each post you create, and the way in which weblogs reference each other is by using the permalink of the posts or entries.

Getting started

First of all, what is a weblog?

There are many good descriptions of what weblogs are (and aren't) scattered through the web. Meg's article what we're doing when we blog is a good starting point. One of the oldest descriptions around is Dave's history of weblogs page, and he went further in his recent essay what makes a weblog a weblog. Others interesting essays are Rebecca's weblogs: a history and perspective, and Andrew's  deep thinking about weblogs.

Not surprisingly (as you might have noticed from reading the articles/essays linked above), people are have slightly different takes about what exactly constitutes a weblog, but there is a general acceptance that the format in which content is published matters, as well as the style in which the content is created. Additionally weblogs are usually defined by what they generally are, rather than trying to provide an overarching definition.

Here's my own attempt at a short list of common characteristics of weblogs. Weblogs:

  • generally present content (posts) in reverse chronological order.
  • are usually informal, and generally personal
  • are updated regularly
  • don't involve professional editors in the process (that is, someone who is getting paid explicitly to review the content)
Beyond that, format, style and content varies greatly. I think that this is because weblogs, being as they are generally personal, that is, by or about a person, have and will have as many styles as personal styles there are.

What's the difference between weblogs and "classic" homepages? Technically, there isn't a lot of difference. The main difference is in terms of how current they are, how frequently they are updated, and the navigation format in which they are presented (weblogs have a strong component of dates attached to entries). I'd say that homepages are a subset of weblogs. You could easily create a weblog that looked like a homepage (by never updating it!) but not the other way around.

Sometimes weblogs have been billed as "the death of journalism," which I think isn't true. If there are any doubts, you can check out weblogs written by journalists, and compare that to the articles they write. They are qualitatively different. I think there will always be some room for people that make a living reporting, searching for stories, editors that correct what they write, etc. The role of news organization and journalism might change because of weblogs a bit, maybe it will become more clear and focused, but that doesn't mean it will disappear. Weblogs are a different kind of expression, period, and as such they are complementary to everything else that's already out there.

However, the best way to see what weblogs are like is to read them (as opposed to reading about them), and then try one yourself. As I've mentioned, weblogs come in different shapes and sizes. Some people tend to post long essays, some people just write short posts. Some talk about their work, or about their personal life. There are an untold number of weblogs that are simply ways for small groups to share information efficiently within their company's network, to create a "knowledge store" for projects. Some people post links that they find interesting. Some add commentary. Others only comment on other's weblog entries. Some weblogs are deeply personal. Some talk only about politics, or sports. Quite a number of them talk about technology. Some weblogs have huge number of readers. Others only a few dozen. Even others are completely personal and are only read by the person who writes them. Some public weblogs (relatively few) are anonymous, most identify the person. Some are updated many times a day, others once a day, others a few times a week.

You get the idea. :-)

So, some good examples of well-known weblogs (at least within their communities) to read and get an idea of what they're about. Check them out, read them and about the people that create them (alphabetically). Anil, Atrios, Betsy, Burningbird, Dan, Dave, Doc, Esther, Erik, Evan, Glenn,Gnome-Girl, Jason, Jon, Joi, Karlin, Halley, Mark, Meg, Rageboy, Russ. All of these weblogs are, in my opinion, great examples of weblogging in general. You may or may not agree with what they say, you may or may not care, but they are all a good starting point to show what weblogs are and what they make possible.

Those that are more embedded in the weblogging community that might object to presenting such a small list to represent anything, or might put forward different names, so I just want to say: Yes, I agree. But to show different styles of weblogging, and provide some initial pointers, we have to start somewhere. I'll go further on the subject of discovering weblogs below, in the subsection about community.

This all sounds intriguing, but will I like it?

That's a difficult question. :) I guess my answer would be "try it to see if it fits". As mentioned below, weblog software is invariably free to try (at least) and so there is no cost in getting started. My opinion is that some people are more attuned to the concept than others, because they are already sort of weblogging even if they don't describe it as such. For example, if you like to rant about anything, if you keep pestering your friends, family and coworkers about different things that you've seen or read or thought about, or if you regularly launch into diatribes about all and any kinds of topics (e.g. "The emerging threat to African Anthills and their effect on the landscape") then you might be a Natural Born Blogger. :-)

So, again, just try it out. If it doesn't work out, no harm done. It's certainly not for everyone. But you just might discover a cool way of expression and create a new channel to communicate with the people you know, and a way to find new friends and for other people to find about you.

Okay, I'm sold. How do I get started?

First step in starting a weblog is choosing the software you will use. There are many products available.

But before going into them, there are two main categories of software to choose. I'd ask: how much do you know about software, or how much do you want to know? Do you run or maintain your own server? Are you interested in running a private, rather than public, weblog, for say your workgroup, and you don't want to worry (too much) about passwords and such, and can handle yourself technically?

If the answer to any of the questions above is yes, skip this next item and go directly to 'Self-managed weblog software' below. Otherwise, you'll probably be better off with 'End-user software'.

End-user weblog software

Here are some of the most popular products (in alphabetical order). All of them have been around for several years and have been important drivers of the weblog phenomenon (except for TypePad, that launched in mid-2003 but is based on MovableType, which is another popular tool "from the old days"--see below).

  • Blogger. A fully hosted service, Blogger lets you post and manage your weblog completely from within your web browser. Blogger is now part of Google (yes, the search engine). A good starting point for blogger use is blogger's own help page.
  • LiveJournal. A hosted service, like blogger, with a long-time emphasis on community features. For help on live journal, check out LiveJournal's FAQ page.
  • Radio Userland. Radio runs a client as well as a server in your PC and lets you look at your content locally through your web browser. To publish information, Radio sends the content to Userland's public servers. Radio's homepage contains a good amount of information and links to get started, and a more step-by-step introduction to Radio can be found in this article.
  • TypePad. Fully hosted service. An end-user version of MovableType (see below) with more capabilities (in some cases) and some nice community features. To get started, check out the TypePad FAQ.
So, which one of these should I choose?

Short answer: it depends.

Long answer: it depends. :) That is, it depends on which model you prefer. Blogger is free, LiveJournal has a free and a paid version. Radio and TypePad are not free but offer trial versions. Blogger, LiveJournal and TypePad are fully hosted, while Radio keeps a copy of your content on your PC as well as hosting your content on a public server. All of them are free to try, so looking around for which one you find best is not a bad idea. :)

Self-managed weblog software

Here are some of the most popular products (again, in alphabetical order)

All of these products involve some sort of setup and, at a minimum, some knowledge of Internet servers and such. (All the links from the list contain information on installation and setup). If you have set up anything Internet-related at all in the past (say, Apache or IIS), you should be able to install and configure these products without too much of a problem. (If you don't know what IIS or Apache is you should probably be looking at the previous section, 'end-user software').

Beyond the first post

Are there any rules to posting?

Generally, weblogs being what they are, the answer is no. But there are some things that I personally consider good practice that I could mention:

  • Links are good for you. Always link back to whatever it is you're talking about, if possible. A hugely important component of weblogs is the context in which something is said, and links provide a big part of that context.
  • The back button rules: Never repost a full entry from another person without their permission. "Reposting" implies to take someone's text and include it in your own entry. Usually this is done to comment on it, but I think it's better to send people to whatever it is you're talking about, with quotes when necessary to add specific comments, rather than reposting everything. All web browsers have "back" buttons; once someone's read what you're talking about they can always go back and continue reading your take.
  • Quote thy quotes: Quotes of another person's (or organization's) content should always be clearly marked.
  • Thou shalt not steal. Never, ever, ever, repost a full entry that someone else wrote without at the very minimum providing proper reference to the person who wrote it. Even then, try to get permission from the author. See 'the back button rules' above.
There is another question that usually starts up discussion in the weblogging community, the subject of editing. As I mentioned above, weblogs in general are self-edited, but even if they are, how much self-editing is appropriate? Again, it depends on your personal style. Some bloggers don't edit at all and just post whatever comes to their mind. Some write, post, and then edit what they posted. Others do self-editing before posting and publish something only when they're happy with it. You should choose the style you're comfortable with.

What about comments to my posts? And what's this 'Trackback' I keep hearing about?

Weblog software usually allows you to activate (or comes by default with) the ability for readers to leave comments to your posts. This is generally useful but you might not want to do it. As usual, it's up to you.

Trackback is something that allows someone who has linked to you to announce explicitly that they have done so, thus avoiding you (and others) having to wade through referrers to find out who is linking to you, and providing more context for the conversation. Some weblogging systems (e.g., TypePad, Radio, MovableType, Manila) support Trackback, but some don't (e.g., Blogger, LiveJournal). Once you have become familiar with weblogs, Trackback is definitely something that you should take a look at to see if you might be interested in using it. Here's a beginner's guide to Trackback from Six Apart, the company behind MovableType and TypePad (that created the Trackback protocol), as well as a good page that explains in detail how Trackback works.

These mechanisms are useful more for the community aspects of weblogs than anything else, and usage of them varies widely from weblog to weblog.

And what about all this 'community' stuff?

Because weblogs are inherently a decentralized medium (that is, there is no single central point of control, or one around which they organize), it's much harder to account for the communities they create and to track their usage. (For example, the actual number of weblogs worldwide is estimated at the moment to be anywhere between 2 and 5 million. Not very precise!). But there are ways to find new weblogs, and here are a few of my favorites.

Update directories

There are sites like weblogs.com and blo.gs as well as others that are usually notified automatically by weblog software when a new entry is posted. Because of that they are a good way of (randomly) finding new weblogs.

Blog directories

What? This sounds a lot like "the central point" I just said didn't exist. Well, it does and it doesn't. There are directories, but they are not 100% complete because they rely on automatically finding new weblogs (for example, through weblogs.com updates and other means) or through people registering their weblogs with them, and both methods are fallible. Two examples of this are Technorati and Blogstreet. When you go to those sites you'll notice they talk about "ecosystems" to refer to weblogging communities, and that's a pretty accurate word for what they are. Those sites, as others that perform different but related functions (such as Blogshares, or BlogTree), also let you explore communities around your weblog, discover new weblogs, etc. Daypop, Blogdex and blogosphere.us focus a bit more on tracking "trends" within the weblog community (particularly Blogdex). Technorati and Blogstreet do this as well.

Search engines

A lot (and I mean a lot) of result for search engine queries these days lead to weblog entries on or related to the topic you're looking for. Chances are, those weblogs contain other stuff that you'll find interesting as well. Some good search engines are Google, Teoma, and AllTheWeb.

Targeted directory/community sites

There are sites that center around a particular topic and put together a number of weblogs that are devoted to or usually talk about that topic. For example, Javablogs is a weblog directory for weblogs that have to do with the Java programming language.

Referrers

Referrers are a mechanism that exists since the early days of the web, but that have acquired new meaning with weblogs. The mechanism is as follows: if you click on a link on a page, the server that is hosting the page you are going to will record both the "hit" on that page, as well as the source for the link. Those statistics are generally analyzed frequently (e.g., once every ten minutes, once every hour) and displayed on a page for your perusal. So if someone posts a link to your weblog and people start clicking on that link to read what you've said (and depending on the weblog software you're running) you will be able to see not only how many people are reaching you through that link, but also who has linked to you, which then helps you discover new opinions, people that have similar interests, etc. Directories like Technorati also track who is linking to your site, and so serve a similar function (but, again, as they are not 100% accurate you might not get the "full picture" just from looking at them).

Other options

There are many. :) The best additional example I can think of is some of the community features of LiveJournal and TypePad, which allow you to create groups of friends with whom you prefer to share what you write, etc.

Is blogging dangerous?

Yes. Most definitely. And addictive, too. :-)

Seriously though, while blogging might not be literally dangerous, it is most definitely not free of consequences. We sometimes have a tendency to take ourselves too seriously, or to misinterpret, or to rush to judgement (I wrote about these and other things in rethoric, semantics, and Microsoft). Some people have been fired from their jobs because of their weblogs. Others have lost friends, made enemies, and gotten into huge fights (mostly wars of words, but that nevertheless have impact on both online and offline life). On the bright side, weblogs have been at the core of a large number of positive developments in recent years, mostly technical but also other kinds, have provided comfort and even news when everything else seemed to be collapsing both in large scale (for example, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US) and for individuals and small communities. People have made scores of new friends, gotten job offerings, and started companies through them.

The number one reason for this is that, contrary to what you might think (and unless you're writing for yourself and not publishing anything anywhere), people will read what you write. It might be a few people. It might be many. It might be your family, your friends, boss, or your company's CEO, or a customer. (Robert Scoble, who works at Microsoft, posted some thoughts on this topic today, here and here). This is easier to see with a private weblog, but I'm always surprised at how easy it is for me to forget that it happens (of course) with public weblogs, all the time.

My opinion is that in weblogs, as in life, whenever you expose part of yourself in any way, whenever you engage in a community, whenever you express yourself, these things tend to happen. :-)

Final words

You might have noticed that there are a lot of "do what you think is best" comments interespersed with the text above. This is not a coincidence. Blogs are, above all, expression. Blogs and the web in general allow us to look at many viewpoints easily, cross-reference them, etc. Check things out. Look for second, third, fourth, and n-th opinions (and this definitely includes the contents of this guide!).

You have the power!, or in other words: It's up to you.


Read more in an introduction of weblogs, part two: syndication.

Categories: art.media, soft.dev, technology
Posted by diego on October 31, 2003 at 10:34 PM

ms-google? probably not, but...

Back at the end of August I wrote, on google and the markets:

I was thinking today: how much more possible is it that Google will be acquired? .... No, not AOL--not enough cash, too many problems. But Microsoft? I admit, it's far fetched, highly unlikely, etcetera. But they could make "an offer they couldn't refuse". It's left as an excercise for the reader to figure out, in this hypothetical scenario, who would be Don Corleone, and who would be Luca Brasi.
Okay, now check out this article in today's New York Times:
Google, the highflying Silicon Valley Web search company, recently began holding meetings with bankers in preparation for its highly anticipated initial public offering as it was still engaged in meetings of another kind: exploring a partnership or even a merger with Microsoft.

So apparently Microsoft was thinking something similar, around that time. Sure, it's still farfetched. But never say never...

Heh.

PS: And yesterday night I watched The Godfather... :)

PS2: The Economist has an interesting article this week: How good is Google?.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 31, 2003 at 8:48 AM

why sun should change the Java app icon

Because it looks horrible, that's why. Look:

java-icon.PNG

This is the crappy icon that a) is shown whenever Java is loading with Java web start, at any stage, b) the icon that is used for Java config options, and c) the icon that appears on dialogs or frames that don't have an icon properly set.
I know that doing a good 16x16 icon of the Java coffee mug must be hard. But right now every time a Java application that isn't properly set up loads, or JWS loads, I cringe. It looks broken. It looks outdated (outdated as in 1992 outdated, not even 1997). It looks bad.

Java apps deserve a cool, 3d-ish, metallic thingamagic icon that will do justice to the platform. If Sun has staked so much in the logo and the brand it's high time that details like these (that are nevertheless hugely important) are also taken seriously.

And, while we're at it, make it so that JDK 1.5 loads the system L&F by default. Right now loading the Metal L&F makes apps look terrible. Metal might have looked cool in 1998, but we're a bit past it, don't you think?

Okay, end of rant. :)

Update: Martin pointed out that JDK 1.4.2_02 had a new icon. I had avoided 1.4.2_02 because of some reports of problems with JWS, but I decided to try anyway. Here's the new icon:

new-j-logo.gif

It's definitely an improvement, but still not good enough. Funny that I said metallic-3dish looking, this is very much that... but it should be brighter, similar to the actual Java logo. Right now it's hard to relate the new logo to this icon.

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on October 30, 2003 at 8:50 PM

1,032,473...

...is the number of page views on this little weblog since the beginning of the year, as of right now.

My reaction when I saw this number a few minutes ago (a.k.a.: "Diego's ten easy steps to freaking out in private"):

  1. [Warm fuzziness]
  2. Cool! One million page views!
  3. Holy cow. One million page views.
  4. Aieee! One million page views?!?
  5. [Panics]
  6. [Runs away]
  7. [Looks from behind the door at the monitor]
  8. [Waits for signs of untoward activity]
  9. [Nothing happens]
  10. [Reluctantly walks back]

Yes. I need to get a life. :)

Thanks to everyone for reading, linking & commenting!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 30, 2003 at 11:20 AM

24 - day 3, and Tarantino wants Bond

The third season of 24 premiered yesterday in the US. I just watched the preview on the home page. Nice. The same "Indiana Jones" feeling as in the second season: "The first wave of attack will be terror. The last line of defense will be him." Heh! It would appear that in the world of 24 the whole of the intelligence community is either taking a break or corrupt. Good thing we've got Jack to save us! (This time the threat is "global" according to the trailer, that's why the 'us'). I can't wait.

There's also good news and bad news. Bad news first: Jack's daughter, Kim, is definitely back. Good news: she's new a CTU agent. With any luck, she will not last longer than, say, four or five episodes.

Related: I was just thinking how cool it would be if they did a 24 movie. It wouldn't be exactly the same (since you'd lose the element of real time), but Jack Bauer can be the dark side of James Bond, so to speak. Then, I thought: When's the next Bond movie coming out? (The last one, Die another day freaked me out through the first half, I mean, it almost seemed to have a plot! False alarm though, and it was a good Bond movie). So I search. And I find this:

The Kill Bill director told the New York Daily News that he is aiming to get the rights to make a new version of Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel.

"I wanted it to be the follow-up to Pulp Fiction and do it with Pierce Brosnan, but have it take place after On Her Majesty's Secret Service, after Bond's wife, Tracy, has been killed," he said.

"From what I know of Brosnan, I think he'd want to go in the direction I'd want to take Bond," Tarantino said. "Though I'm not sure the producers of the series would agree."

Oh boy.

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on October 29, 2003 at 10:42 AM

rethoric, semantics, and Microsoft

I got quite a lot of feedback on my Microsoft press release parody. Even Scoble had fun :). Anyway, I wanted to add something a bit more serious to it, particularly after I read Scoble's entry on the reactions to his "How to hate Microsoft" post.

I've written about my own feelings towards MS before (a good starting point is here), so I won't go into that. But I wanted to address the issue of the rethoric involved.

About the only thing that I found to be truly a problem for me is the way Scoble talks about people. His definition of "there are two kinds of people: people that hate Microsoft, and people that hate Microsoft but want to see it improve" is probably a good reflection of how Microsofties in general see the world. Now, I know that Scoble was in part making fun of the situation, I certainly hope that is the case, but as usual when we say something, even jokingly, there's always a kernel of truth to it, at least from our subjective perspective.

I have written before about an excellent book on Microsoft called Breaking Windows which shows not just how Microsoft works in a Darwinian fashion within itself but also how it views the world: everything is a threat, and Microsoft is always the underdog about to be wiped out by whatever New New Thing comes along. This view has obviously served them well to stay competitive, but there comes a point when you should (simply from the point of view of being a good citizen) really consider if what you think is actually the truth of the situation. So, news flash, Microsoft: you are not the underdog. You are not even the proverbial 800-pound Gorilla. You are the only Gorilla left because all the other Gorillas are dead and you have the steaming machine gun in your hands.

You liked that metaphor? It depends on your view. But precisely the fact that the metaphor is seen as funny and maybe true by some people (I know some part of me does) shows how far we've gone in terms of applying extreme rethoric to this whole situation. Which brings me to my point.

(Gasp! Yay! He has a point!)

Yeah. Heh. Anyway. My point is that Language (yes, capital L) has been steadily distorted to the point in which the only way to get attention is to scream at the top of your lungs and be "controversial." This is not just Microsoft, or just the technology industry. It's a trend in all societies in general, and particularly in the US where phrases that involve the words "culture wars" are currently bandied about with apparent disdain. We could argue forever about the roots of this: the desensitazion of the general public to harsh news, extremism (not just of the religious kind), an appetite for voyeurism (witness the meteoric rise of all sorts of reality crap shows) that implicitly says that our simple lives are not interesting enough, and so on. The roots and solutions might be interesting but I don't think he have really pinpointed the problem yet, so this is my take.

The problem, in my opinion, is that we have gotten used to extreme rethoric and we take it as a fact of life ("You're either with us, or against us") but at the same time, we have forgotten that 99% of the time extreme rethoric is just that. Words. A facade. In western societies in particular, we seem to have huge problems in differentiating between our public and private personas (something I've also written about in the past).

In the vast majority of cases, when we use extreme rethoric we don't really, really, really mean it. We are just trying to make a point, and we know it's not a matter of "life and death".

But we forget that.

Let me try to say this again more concisely and in a slightly different way: we forget that what a person says is not who the person is. The mapping between what's in our heads and what comes out of our mouth (or fingers!) is imperfect. It takes a while to get it right. And some things can't be expressed at all without totally missing the point (It's not a coincidence I like Taoism so much is it?).

Case in point, while we're at it: Blogging.

There are a number of great bloggers that have the ability or the psychological endurance or the need or all of the above to be a lot more open than others about their personal life (put me in the "others" pile there, at least that's how I see myself). Examples don't really abound, but some immediately come to mind: Halley, Dave, Mark, Russ.

If your reaction when seeing any of the names linked above is "why the hell is he putting so-and-so as an example of anything? they're [insert expletive here]!", then, I'd say: thanks, you've made my point.

You see, as open as people can be on their weblogs, there is really no substitute for knowing the person. A weblog is a slice of life. It is not life. Sure, this is obvious. We tend to forget it anyway. It's the double-edged sword of expression: you can never make it truly objective because interpretation is a step in the process. But we treat them as if they're objective anyway, which is probably one of the single greatest flaw of the decontructionist approach of the western way of looking at things.

Some lines from from Eminem's Sing for the moment come to mind:

See what these kids do/hear about us toting pistols/they wanna get one/they think this shit's cool/not knowing we're really just protecting ourselves/we're entertainers/of course this shit's affecting our sales/you ignoramus/but music is reflection of self/we just explain it/and then we get our checks in the mail

It's not a coincidence that Eminem's lyrics are often misunderstood: they are often personal. And it's easy to lose sight of the context, the personal context in which something is said by someone. Maybe they didn't fully explain themselves. Fine. But did they have to? Why do we have this need to rush to judgement before we've heard it all? Or why do we have to pass judgement at all? What if someone is just expressing something, as completely as they can?

So, in this context, :) back to Microsoft and Scoble and all of those ridiculous generalizations. If I say, "Windows sucks". Does it mean I hate Microsoft? Of course not. But it's much, much easier to jump from A to B and so we do it all the time. It's easy because we don't really have to look at the problem. It's easy because if I hate Microsoft then, there you go, that's the explanation right? Nothing's wrong with Windows itself, in a single act of simplification we have just shifted the discussion from the real point (which is that Windows might have er... a few tiny problems) to something that is completely unrelated, and even worse, not real which is that a person somehow "hates" a corporation. I tried to make this point in the fake press release: give me a break, do we really have the time or the inclination to hate a software company? When you get home and start to cook dinner, are you thinking "God, how I hate Microsoft" while you stir the ravioli? And let's not even go to the hundreds of millions of people that don't even have food to begin with. Yes, I'm sure that there are people that are truly filled with hate. But I'd contend that they are very, very few, and that it's ludicrous to lump large sections of the population in that corner simply because we find it easier to deal with our problems, or ignore them.

Just check out Scoble's own entries for a single day from about two years ago. Does it mean that he "hated" Microsoft back then? No. Does it mean that he "loves" Microsoft now? (The false choice we are presenting when we put hate in the other basket) No. So why oversimplify? It's not as if we have 15 seconds to express ourselves. We have the luxury of a medium that allows for more complete expression.

And even if expression is at fault, if someone is not fully clear, even if they think they are, rushing to judgement (and worse, extreme judgement) doesn't sound like a good idea to me either.

Hate is a very strong word, one of the strongest we can ever use to express what we feel. Do we really want to trivialize it that much? Because if we do, then other words lose their meaning too. Words like love, trust, friendship, honesty, heroism, and yes, hate, despise, disgust. These words should not be used often, or otherwise they lose all meaning. They simply stop working, their semantics vanish and we are left with empty shells that don't communicate anything at all (and don't get me started on the misuse of the word "heroism" these days. It seems to me that if the Media is right, if I make it safely across to the convenience store to get some bananas then I'm a hero too).

The other problem with extreme rethoric is that it forces people to choose between two choices that are not even real. If I say flatly "you either hate Microsoft or you hate Microsoft but want to see it improve" then, what's someone that's in between to do? You suddenly have forced me to put myself in a category. By saying something like that I have instantly forced everyone to become extremists, even though they are not. The nuances are completely lost. And with them, the truth is lost too. Suddnly, we are just flinging dung at each other.

My wish is that we could, for once, go past the rethoric. Or use it but use it well. Separate. This works comparatively well in literature (but for some reason not in music, or even weblogs--probably because it's easy to go down that route when things get more "personal" as both of those things are). That is, if someone says "I hate that book," it's understood that you don't like the book, not that you "hate" the author". So If I'm pissed off about something, maybe, just maybe, it's not that I hate you or your group of your organization. Maybe I'm just pissed off about that one thing. Stop putting the general population into some bag that allows us to easily categorize them and forget about whatever they say. Stop shifting the discussion and talk about the real issues. Or not. But don't pretend you are. It is not real, it is not useful. At all.

Sure, all sides engage in this game. But someone should start by setting the bar just a little bit higher. And someone who has a bigger stake in the process than others, like Microsoft, should have more reasons than most to do it. Or maybe the blogsphere could lead by example by showing that it is possible. As a community we have shown that we tend to fall into the same extreme/destructive patterns as we do in the "real world" quite often, but sometimes the light shines through. Here's hoping that the latter will triumph over the former.

"Just a thought". :-)

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on October 28, 2003 at 2:36 PM

fun feeds

Before I go on, I just remembered this: over at Dave's site (I know Dave from the #mobitopia IRC channel) there's a set of RSS feeds for comics. My favorites are Dilbert and Calvin and Hobbes. Very cool.

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on October 28, 2003 at 1:04 PM

mind backlog

I have a couple of things I wanted to write about. I thought of them on saturday, sunday, and yesterday. And then I become enveloped in what I'm doing again. So what is it I'm doing? Here's a clue. :) Coming up: more thoughts on Microsoft's announcements from yesterday, and Linux, Microsoft and such.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 28, 2003 at 12:50 PM

the sound of music

No, it's not about the movie :)

The last couple of days I've been working a lot and as usual I fall into patterns. Patterns allow me to forget about whatever (example, food) since you do them sort of automatically when the time comes and it's one thing less to think about. A good example: I can listen to music most of the time while I'm coding except when I have to figure out a relatively complex set of correlations and events between classes. I've been counting and it's usually when more than 20 objects are involved in the event loop, reacting to each other, when I have to stop humming to the music for a while until I get my bearings again (Example: an event is stopped by the user, the panel has to update, notify its listeners, the listeners react and trigger other listeners and stop or start threads and so on). Weird. Anyway. Even when I am listening to music, I need to be listening to music that I already know very well, well enough so that it doesn't distract me), something along the lines of being able to hum along to the song unconsciously while I am debugging an algorithm or things of that nature. The only exception to these two rules is Beethoven or Mozart, which for some reason have no interference whatsoever with my brain activity when I'm thinking but still let me enjoy the music.

The result of this is that through different periods I end up listening to the same few playlists over and over. I imagine that if a neighbor can hear they must think I'm nuts, since I probably listen to the same song maybe three or four times a day. My current two favorite playlists are:

One: The Hard Rock/Hip Hop/Rap/Grunge playlist

  • Happiness is a Warm Gun (The Gun Mix) Cover by U2 of the classic Beatles Song
  • Sympathy for the Devil
  • All my Life (Foo Fighters)
  • My Generation (Limp Bizkit)
  • Take a Look Around (Limp Bizkit)
  • He Got Game (Public Enemy)
  • Sing for the Moment (Eminem)
  • Stan (Eminem Ft. Dido)
  • Lose Yourself (Eminem)
  • Heart-Shaped Box (Nirvana)
  • The Man Who Sold the World (Nirvana's Cover of Bowie's song)
  • Pennyroyal Tea (Nirvana)
  • Lithium (Nirvana)
  • You Know You're Right (Nirvana)
Two: The Depeche Mode playlist -- nearly all songs live from either the 101 album or the In Your Room EP:
  • Death's Door
  • Barrel of a Gun
  • In Your Room
  • Policy of Truth
  • World in my Eyes
  • Never Let me Down Again
  • Strangelove
  • Stripped
  • Somebody
  • Just can't get enough
  • Everything counts
Three: The Beethoven playlist:
  • Piano Sonatas No. 14 and No. 21
  • Symphony No. 5 in C Minor Op. 67
I hadn't listened to Depeche Mode in quite a while. I like rediscovering things. Their lyrics are a lot deeper than many people think, particularly since they were branded as "music for dancing" at some point, but they're quite dark (which I like) and they show true expression. If nothing else, I deeply respect any artist whatsoever that truly talks about what's happening to them, more so if they can do it in a way that allows others to contextualize it within their own experience. All great artists have this, and the best of them can even survive the machinery of marketing and mass consumption that inevitable snaps into action when something becomes sucessful or connects with people (By "survive" I mean their art survives. Sometimes the artist doesn't survive...). I find that all the bands I keep listening to, all the writers I keep re-reading, all the movies I see more than once, all of them have this deep element of personal subjective truth.

In closing (?) :-) a verse from Public Enemy's He got game that feels as it fits here for a number of reasons:

It might feel good
It might sound a little somethin'
But damn the game if it don't mean nothin'
What is game? Who got game? Where's the game
--In life behind the game behind the game?
I got game
she's got game
we got game
they got game
he got game,
It might feel good
it might sound a little somethin'
but fuck the game if it ain't sayin' nothin'
Yeah!

Categories: art.media, personal
Posted by diego on October 25, 2003 at 5:30 PM

hate microsoft? like working for free? we've got a job for you.

REDMOND, WA -- Microsoft Corp. unveiled a new strategy today designed to off-load development of its products to the very same people that hate them. Under the program, self-described Microsoft haters that subscribe to Microsoft's MSDN program at the low cost of between 500 and 2000 USD, will be able to download the latest build of Longhorn, Microsoft's next-generation operating system. After spending untold hours setting the system up, those users will be able to write up and even publish their ideas and criticism on their own weblog, or public forums or talk about them with friends and family. More significantly, Microsoft vowed to actually pay attention to some of the feedback. Robert Scoble described this unprecedented move of allowing people to talk about things as follows: "Why is this a massive change? Everytime we've released a version of Windows before we kept it secret. We made anyone who saw it sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Even many of those of you who signed NDAs weren't really given full access to the development teams and often if you were, it was too late to really help improve the product." Microsoft noted that they hoped that these new hate-filled testers would prove more effective than the estimated 50,000 internal and 20,000 external testers that had given feedback on previous versions, going as far back as Windows 2000. "Honestly," said one Microsoft executive who wished to remain anonymous, "All those guys must have been asleep at the wheel. I mean, look at the stuff we've released in the last three, four years. Nothing works. We've had so many viruses and worms that we've got calls from WHO offering to send out a team to help."

In his posting, Scoble added "The problem is, there are two types of people: 1) Those who hate Microsoft. 2) Those who hate Microsoft but want to see it improve."

When asked if Scoble had grossly over-simplified the situation by assuming that everyone in the planet was into either of those two categories, a Microsoft representative said "Not at all. We did a lot of research on this. People care about three things: food, whether Ben and J.Lo will get married, and hating Microsoft." The representative added that there is always a margin of error. "The survey was world-wide, so there were flukes. For example, some respondents from a small town north of London put someone or something called Robbie Williams, or Williamson instead of Ben & J.Lo, but we don't know who or what that is. We presume it's codename for a Linux Kernel build."

And what about people that say they don't hate Microsoft, but would simply, only, like to see it play fair in the market and stop leveraging one monopoly to get to the next? What about people that say that Windows is fine and that the only problem is with how Microsoft attacks competitors with a lot less resources? "Nonsense. Those people are just confused, or need to get off the glue. Just like those losers in the middle of Africa or whatever. Like, people that say they can't afford computers, or are worried about wars, famine, terrorism, AIDS, whatever. They watch too much TV and they get ideas."

"There is no bigger deal in the world right now aside from Longhorn, and people, all people, understand that. They want to improve their lives and testing Windows for us for free is the way to go." The representative went on to note that their research had shown that "people" were "tired of dealing with bugs" in the "old" versions of Windows. "This is all about giving customers what they want, and guess what, they want new bugs, too. They're tried OS X, for example, but it just works, and they have go back to Windows." Many people said they "missed the thrill" of dealing with the possibility of losing a day's work in a crash, while others loved rebooting, because "it allows them to go get coffee regularly, or a sandwich, things of that nature, which is not surprising since the survey also found that food is somehow important to people."

Offloading the design and testing process has other benefits too. "It's also the blame factor," the executive added. "Imagine. Longhorn is released and it doesn't work very well. All those Microsoft haters--I mean, they are the ones who signed off on it in the first place, right? How are they going to criticize it then? It would be their fault, right?"

Would the hatemongers be rewarded in some way? "Hell no." The executive said. "With Windows XP we actually charged people to get the beta, and it worked like a charm. Although it has been suggested that we try out BillG's ham sandwich bundling theory, we probably won't do---Ham has too much fat. It's just not healthy."

Although all companies appreciate and use feedback from users and developers, Industry commentators noted that much smaller companies such as Apple or QNX, as well as the group of developers that work on Linux, have been able to develop OS products without formally off-loading design and early testing tasks to the general development public for free. But when asked why Microsoft, who holds USD 50 billion in cash and short-term securities as well as two of the most profitable monopolies in history, can't deploy resources to develop the product on its own, the executive explained. "Well, the truth is that a large part of that 50 billion is going to be used for our new project, a Microsoft theme park. Bill wants to buy Seattle, including the Boeing factories to the north, and turn it all into an amusement park. You'll have all the classics: the SteveB roller coaster, the Blaster Worm House of Horrors, and the DOJ shooting range."

Finally, he hinted "And watch out. ClipIt will be a favorite character."

[Scoble's "How to hate Microsoft" originally via Dave]

Categories: soft.dev, technology
Posted by diego on October 23, 2003 at 5:05 PM

the last flight of concorde

concorde.png
Later today the last scheduled Concorde flight is due to take off from London-Heathrow to New York-JFK, returning tomorrow. There's a good article about it in last week's Economist titled "the less beautiful future of international business travel" and I agree. Too expensive? Sure, completely out of my bugdet (and most of the planet's too :)). But so what? Concorde is a fascinating piece of engineering and its beautifully designed. Sometimes I find it good to know that certain things exist. They provide a yardstick: "Here's what we're doing now, you go further". We seem to be losing a lot of those these days. (I'm repeating myself, I know).

Example: it's sad to see that the future of supersonic travel seems to be completely on hold. Boeing is developing a new jet, but not much of a departure from, say, the 737 (7E7 is its name, the E supposedly stands for "efficient") and Airbus is going forward with the (to me) horribly stupid idea of creating a 555-seat airplane, the A380 (check out their A380 site. If how bad that site is any indication of how crappy travel will be in that airplane, we'll be better off with the cattle on a barge). I mean, come on. 555 seats? Can you imagine how long it will take to load and unload that plane? Air travel is bad enough already. At least Boeing is coming out with a smaller (250-seats), more efficient plane with the 7E7.

Oh, well. Farewell, Concorde.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 23, 2003 at 12:22 PM

a great day...

...of rain and electrical storms. It barely rained this summer (maybe 2-3 days in all) and even after the summer ended there were a couple of days with some clouds and mostly timid showers. Yesterday it started raining, it went on through the night and aside from a couple of dry spells here and there it was a massive waterfall all day, with lightning as a bonus. It's really, really cold though, close to zero centigrade now.

Enough with the weather report. It was a good day for work. Made the most of it too. Not much sleep though. :-)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 22, 2003 at 8:44 PM

auto-everything

I had a mini-epiphany when I was writing a search plugin for firebird in terms of being as automated as possible when exposing the functionality of the clevercactus plugin API. In Java, we are used to thinking in terms of classes and classpaths and so on--even ResourceBundles (for i18n) are primarily a class-based mechanism (although, yes, you can load a ResourceBundle from a property file).

As a result of the mini-epiphany, clevercactus is now undergoing refactoring to make the configuration both changeable and dynamic. Not necessarily runtime-dynamic (i.e., ala Swing) but reload-dynamic. All configuration is stored in XML files. Example? The resources.

Resource management for i18n is relatively simple: you create a level of indirection and you use the current locale (or a user-specified locale) to access the string you want for a particular case. This theoretically applies to any time of resources but 99% of the time strings are what used, either as text/labels/etc or filenames to access stuff (such as images).

So, how does clevercactus work now? There's a new directory called resources which must exist somewhere on the classpath. That directory contains a main file that points to all the resources and system-wide settings (such as which resource is the default, or the default for a particular language). A sample resource file looks like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

<resources>
<locale>
  <language>en</language>
  <country>US</country>
</locale>
<parent-resource-set>
  <locale>
    <language>en</language>
  </locale>
</parent-resource-set>
<resource>
	<name>REZ1</name>
	<value>some resource</value>
</resource>
<resource>
	<name>REZ2</name>
	<value>some other resource</value>
</resource>
<resource>
	<name>REZFILE</name>
	<value>/images/test.gif</value>
</resource>
<resource>
	<name>MULTIREZ</name>
	<value>value 1</value>
	<value>value 2</value>
	<value>value 3</value>
</resource>
</resources>
Because it's XML you can support cleanly multiple character sets, do validation (when the DTD is available :)), etc. I also added support for multi-values resources, which ResourceBundle doesn't allow (not easily anyway). Finally, note the parent-resource-set tag which allows to specify resource set hierarchies (the country is always optional, so it's not present in that particular example, but it could be).

ResourceManager, the main class, has two main access methods (aside from management methods such load(String path) and setSelectedResourceSet(Locale selectedLocale):

  public static String getString(String name);
and
  public static java.util.List getList(String name);
And the manager converts transparently between types if you request a list as a string and viceversa.

Then, if you drop a new resource file in the resources directory (something with extension .resources) then cc will pick it up automatically on the next restart. And presto! The new language is supported in cc. Nice eh?

This mechanism will apply to basically everything: plugins, menus, commands, etc. It will be interesting particularly for plugins. Regarding plugins in particular, as part of the refactoring the cc components themselves (email, etc) are being turned into plugins. Nothing better to test the framework properly. :)

Oh, and here's a simple nice trick I came up with to find the resources automatically in the classpath (It might be a well-known trick, but whatever--). The problem is that you know the main dir ("/resources") but you don't know where it resides in the classpath. So the code does something like this to perform the autodetection:

  java.net.URL classUrl = ResourceManager.class.getResource(path_sd);
  File fdir = new File(classUrl.getFile());
  String[] files = fdir.list();
  if (files != null) {
    for (int i = 0; i < files.length; i++) {
	String file = files[i].toLowerCase();
        if (file.endsWith(".resources")) {
            //load the file, etc.
        }
     }
   }
The lines in bold are what's important here: Java resolves the file within the classpath and from that you can derive a File object which then allows you to list the files in the directory. Useful and simple. :)

Okay, back to work. After this is all done, it's IMAP and the Calendar all the way.

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on October 21, 2003 at 11:18 AM

and speaking of kill bill...

...the music is incredible. I mean, amazingly good and even when it's corny, it's corny in a Tarantino kind of way, where it's not corny anymore. (So I guess it's not really corny). Which is not surprising because Tarantino has repeatedly said that he finds the music that defines the movie, rather than the other way around. (This, adding to what I mentioned yesterday).

Right now there's a documentary on TV on Kill Bill (such a coincidence!) where Tarantino is saying something that is really important for stories in general. He says "I gotta know the mythology. You, as the viewer, don't have to know it, but you have to know I know it." I have always thought that this is a crucial element in fiction of any kind, and that the best works are always those were you can just feel the depth of information, stuff that you can't see or are not told but that you know it's there and that it gives consistency to the story. Examples of are many, from The Lord of the Rings, to Ulysses, to, yes, The Matrix (although who knows, the Matrix might still explain absolutely everything in Revolutions... but that would be a mistake IMO).

And, by the way. The scene where the Bride fights maybe 50 or whatever bad guys. Isn't it really really close to the scene in Matrix Reloaded where Neo fights off 100 Agent Smiths? Isn't it a cool that two entirely different, entirely unrelated movies would reflect exactly the same concept in exactly the same way using exactly the same ideas, with very much the same cinematics, (Eastern fighting techniques basically), at exactly the same time? Of course there are some parallels with reality today. But that's not it. Not all. Great minds think alike! :-)

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on October 20, 2003 at 12:29 AM

the way of the weasel

I've been perusing Scott Adams' Dilbert and the way of the Weasel over the weekend. It's really good. Right off the beginning, he is out to improve his definition of the world from the excellent The Dilbert Principle:

Over time, I became more certain that my theory was incomplete. I racked my brain and came up with a new and improved theory that explains not just management, but, dare I say, humanity:

People are weasels.

When I say "weasels" I'm sure you know what I mean. But that won't stop me from explaining it for a few hundred more pages because it's the sort of thoroughness that you expect from a member of the intelligencia, or innteligentia, or whatever

And:
Weasel Definitions

Throughout this book I will concoct new phrases and definitions so that my ideas are revolutionary. As you know, nothing worth knowing can be explained with regular words.

Weasel Zone: There's a gigantic gray area between good moral behavior and outright felonious activities. I call that the Weasel Zone and it's where most of life happens.

[The Weasel Zone is] sometimes also known as Weaselville, Weaseltown, the Way of the Weasel, Weaselopolis, and Redmond.

LOL.

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on October 20, 2003 at 12:16 AM

kill bill vol. 1

kill_bill.pngIn the mid-90s I went to the theater with a friend to see a movie by a-then unknown director called Quentin Tarantino. We had chosen the movie at random, a couple of days after opening night, without knowing what we were walking into. It was, of course, Reservoir Dogs, and I had never seen anything like it. The 70's retro-style, the great dialogue (like that unforgettable discussion of the meaning of Madonna's 'Like a Virgin'), the characters.... for me, an instant classic.

Then came Pulp Fiction, which not only rebooted John Travolta's career but also provided a boost to Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman. Pulp Fiction was similar (somehow) but better than Reservoir Dogs. Way better.

Jackie Brown was also immensely enjoyable (it's still a favorite of mine) but it was more subdued, with less edge. I started to wonder if Tarantino had somehow lost it a little.

Enter Kill Bill.

Kill Bill is, more than a movie: it's an incredible cinematic experience. It has a beginning with a punch that rivals that of Pulp Fiction, and it only gets better from there. The mix of styles and techniques, black-and-white footage when the Bride is enraged (or in fear), Anime (and great Anime too) to tell the story of a Japanese-Chinese-American character in her youth, reinforcing the fantasy/legend aspects, well....

And, is it violent? Yes, of course it is. I mean, come on, it's a Tarantino movie. But a lot of the violence is so cartoonish that it doesn't really count (and cartoonish but in a good way, not cartoonish like the violence in Schwarzenegger's Commando which was also incredibly stupid and pointless). People who don't like violence at all though will be well advised to steer clear of this movie (a couple of women behind us stood up and left mid-picture--I can't help but wonder what exactly did they think they were walking into). This isn't good or bad, you just have to be into that sort of thing to appreciate it, kinda like you have to be into Kung Fu movies to appreciate them. It's not bad. It's not good. It just is. And as far as I'm concerned, it is great.

I sound like a zealot, don't I? Well, I really, really liked it. Really, really. Really. Even the opening titles where excellent.

I can't wait for Volume 2! And unlike the (remote) doubts surrounding the potential screwups in Matrix Revolutions, there's no question that I'm going to like that one. :-)

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on October 19, 2003 at 1:15 PM

dublin bloggers meeting

So yesterday I went to the Dublin bloggers meeting with my friend Chris (who is visiting for a couple of days, and is thinking of restarting his short-running weblog experiment at some point in the near future-- hint hint nudge nudge :)). There was Dave, Bernie, and Karlin, along with others. Chris and i stayed for almost two hours (we got there first) and then we left to see Kill Bill (more on that later!). It was an interesting conversation, revolving, among other things, the different weblog services and how easy or hard it is to get started, devices, trends, etc. I realized that while there are scattered "how to" docs there isn't anything (as far as I know!) comprehensive that describes all the choices that a person face when starting to blog and which one is better for them based on their needs. Unless I find a document like that within the next couple of days I'll write one, so hopefully it will be online for the next meeting, posted in some kind of semi-permanent area that has to do with the meetings--Which should be useful to introduce new people to blogging. Bernie did some moblogging, taking pictures with his array of devices and then uploading them using an uber-cool Nokia 9210i. With him, I talked for a bit about the new Symbian devices and what's coming down the pipeline.

The Octagon bar, in the Clarence Hotel (owned by Bono and The Edge), was a little too expensive (Euro 4.20 a pint) but ok. Mid-meeting I realized that I was actually wearing a U2 Elevation tour hat (one of my favorite hats by the way, which I got in the San Jose show of Elevation, April 19 2001) and I thought that I must look like a U2-nut. Oh well.

Anyway, until the next meeting!

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 19, 2003 at 12:41 PM

micro-everything

According to Sun's CTO, microprocessors are on their way out. Quote:

"Microprocessors are dead," Papadopoulos said, trying to provoke an audience of chip aficionados at the Microprocessor Forum here. As new chip manufacturing techniques converge with new realities about the software jobs that computers handle, central microprocessors will gradually assume almost all the functions currently handled by an army of supporting chips, he said.

Eventually, Papadopoulos predicted, almost an entire computer will exist on a single chip--not a microprocessor but a "microsystem." Each microsystem will have three connections: to memory, to other microsystems and to the network, Papadopoulos said.

He predicted that as more and more circuitry can be packed onto a chip, not just a single system but an entire network of systems will make its way onto a lone piece of silicon. He dubbed the concept "micronetworks."

This trend is certainly visible in low-end systems, where chips (particularly for notebooks) come built-in with video, sound, network, and other features built-in. In that sense, I don't see what's there to "predict". The idea of a system-on-a-chip is already here. Sure, he's probably talking about even more integration, which is reasonable since he's from Sun Mic... well, you get the idea.

I think that it's a little premature to assume that individual components for devices and boards will disappear outright, for a simple reason: when you have different components created by different manufacturers, competition can be more partitioned among different areas of a system, resulting in better quality overall. It's not a coincidence that PCs, which are essentially a bunch of chips from many, many different sources brought together, are cheaper and faster today than anything else in their category. Hey, even Apple switched over to PCI eventually.

Speaking of Sun, there's an interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) on Sun's new strategy. The article's title ("Cloud Over Sun Microsystems: Plummeting Computer Prices") makes it sound as if it's going to be less harsh than it is. The writer all but declares Sun dead as it is customary these days--as an example, consider the quote: "The Silicon Valley legend that once boasted of putting the dot in dot-com is staring into the abyss". Staring into the abyss. Jeez. And then the writer adds snippets like Sun is sitting on $5.7 billion in cash and securities. Heh. I'd have no problems "staring into the abyss" under those conditions. :)

The truth is that the picture that emerges from the information, the quotes from customers and Sun execs, etc, is less clear. I think there's simply confusion on the part of "analysis" that see everything as either-this-or-that on Sun's new ideas, which are a relatively new breed (and quite a gamble, one might add). It's going to take one or two more years to see if Sun is really going to get through this or not.

One of the problems that the article focuses on is Sun's chaotic behavior during the past two years, as the new strategy was developed and put in place:

In December 2002, Jim Melvin, chief executive of Siva Corp., a Delray Beach, Fla., firm that runs back-office systems for restaurants, wanted to invest several million dollars to build a corporate data center using Sun equipment. But when Mr. Melvin approached Sun, he found the company's restructuring was causing chaos. "Sun said call back in two months, because the guy I was talking to there didn't know if he'd still have his job," he says. Frustrated, Mr. Melvin bought IBM and Dell gear instead.
and which I saw for myself here and there. Sun also made the mistake of being a dot-com baby itself, instead of just selling stuff to dot-coms (as IBM did):
Sun compounded its problems by responding slowly to the slumping market. Even as tech spending dried up in 2001, the company increased its work force to 44,000 employees from 37,000. Other firms axed costs early, or launched big deals to remake themselves. Cisco Systems Inc. cut nearly 20% of its work force beginning in March 2001. H-P launched a controversial purchase of Compaq Computer Corp. that same year, and has since slashed $3.5 billion in annual costs.

Sun put the brakes on the hiring in the fall of 2001 and trimmed around 10% of its work force that October -- the first of several big cuts. But by mid-2001, Sun's quarterly sales had dipped to $4 billion and it began reporting net losses. Its share of world-wide server revenue fell to 13.2% in 2001 from 17% in late 2000, according to Gartner.

The new strategy does makes sense. As McNealy is quoted as saying in the article, "we're long on strategy. If we execute well, we'll do just fine."

Exactly.

Categories: soft.dev, technology
Posted by diego on October 16, 2003 at 9:16 PM

O2's and Vodafone's "idiot upgrade package"

"...nk you for calling O2 Ireland. Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line and a customer care representative will be with you shortly."

I was walking through Dublin this afternoon and I saw that finally O2 and Vodafone released the Nokia 3650 here (Not bad eh? Only 9 months after the rest of the world). Hey! I think. Cool.

I walk into the store. "Hi", I say to the excessively smiling employee, "I am an O2 customer and I was wondering what was the price to upgrade my current phone, which I have with a contract with O2, to a Nokia 3650."

"Allright sir, what's your phone number?"

So I give her my details and she checks the account. "Sorry. But you are not eligible for an upgrade until December."

"December? But I have this phone since November 2001."

"Exactly. You have to be on a contract more than two years to be eligible for an upgrade."

This was already going badly. Two years? What the hell? It wasn't as if my current phone was heavily subsidized or anything, I had paid nearly list-price to get it with a contract back then (almost 200 Euro in 2001).

Anyway, I say, "Okay, so what will be the price for the upgrade?"

At this point, we must keep two things in mind: 1) The SIM-less phone, new, off Amazon or a store a block away from where I'm standing, costs 500 Euro. And, 2) If you get a new contract with O2, with the Nokia 3650, the up-front price is Euro 230.

Okay. Ready for the reply?

"The upgrade will cost you Euro 329."

"I'm sorry?" I say.

"329 Euro for the upgrade."

I turn around and point at their display with phones and prices. "But over there it says that getting a new phone costs 230."

"That's correct."

(Whenever they get so formal in their speech you can almost hear the echo "Right, you moron, so what's new.")

So I say: "That doesn't make sense. I've been an O2 customer for 2 years. On a billing plan. Always paid in time. And when I want to upgrade, you want to charge me more than anyone else? Why would I do that?"

She says, "Well, you get to keep your number."

Right. That's it? I say, "Well, with number portability I can move over to Vodafone for less than that."

She looked confused for a moment. Then she blurted out. "Well, but Vodafone doesn't have many phones."

LOL. At this point I just said, "Okay, thanks," turned around, and left.

Off to Vodafone. Over there another friendly employee told me that moving over from O2 would cost me Euro 270 plus 30 a month (which is what I"m paying with O2 anyway). So the price is still outrageous, but I save 60 Euro that way. (Btw, I asked at Vodafone for GPRS data rates. The answer? "Cheap. Cheap." How cheap? "Oh, only 20 cents per kilobyte" I don't need to explain my reaction).

When I get home, I call O2 "Customer care" which after several minutes of the friendly message quoted at the beginning and a number of menus, gets me to a real person. We go through the same routine. She patiently explains that that's the price. Yes. Correct. 330. Yes. So when I ask, why would I stay with O2 then? She says "Well, you get to keep your number."

Again, that ridiculous answer.

I pressed with the question. "I'm sorry, but that doesn't make any sense. I can switch over to Vodafone and because of number portability I can keep exactly the same number." The new answer had more information. "You see," she said "When you want to upgrade with Vodafone they'll charge more too."

So I said, "Sure. Maybe. But right now I save money by switching. And if they want to pull that later, I'll switch over back to O2 again and you'll be friendly enough to charge me less."

Silence. "Well, yes. That's your choice."

"Okay," I said, "I just thought I was wrong, but I realize that this doesn't make any sense at all. Thanks."

And there it was.

In essence, both O2 and Vodafone have what amounts to the "idiot upgrade feature" which probably reads in some internal memo as follows: "If customers have been stupid enough to pay for our overpriced services for two years, surely they will be stupid enough to pay for an upgrade at a price higher than a new phone as well."

They're so blind, so engrossed by their almost illegally stratospheric profit margins that they can't see that in a couple of years people will be using IP-based systems for everything. If they don't bring down GPRS pricing, then we'll use the WiFi chip in whatever device is easiest (and phones with GRPS+Wifi are not far behind--some handhelds already do it). Their precious "you'll lose your phone number" will be worthless. Already email addresses, IM nicknames and such are on equal footing with phone numbers as far as "personal IDs" are concerned. The importance of the all-digital IDs will only increase as more and more IP-based services go mobile.

Conclusion: they prefer people to alternate between them every two years even if that costs more money for them (signing a new customer, after all, is more expensive for them than just changing the phone on an existing customer). I'll certainly go that way. And eventually, they won't matter anymore. And in a few years, they will be pulling their hair out wondering why their customers don't seem to care about phone numbers any more.

But then it will be too late.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 15, 2003 at 6:30 PM

space!

sp-china.jpgChina succeeds in sending a man into space, the third country to do so. Yeah! A Chinese manned mission to the moon in a few years has been rumored for a while now. Will this wake up ESA? (Sending satellites or unmanned probes only gets you so far, you know). And how about NASA? Am I the only one left on Earth that wants a manned mission to Mars like, yesterday? Politicians (theoretically reflecting what their constituents think) say that it's too expensive, too dangerous. People might die, you know. Does it matter that the astronauts would gladly give their lives for the chance of succeeding? (Heck, I'm not an astronaut, but I would too). No. They have to be protected from themselves it seems. Oh, and money is a problem? A mission to Mars could cost 20, 30 billion. I mean, that's too expensive right? Right... How much is the war in Irag going to cost? Isn't the US paying 4 billion a month for it already?

And, sending toy cars that run Java and take measurements and pictures of rocks is to me as interesting as reading a Microsoft press release. Sure, there is some information, but it's all distant and sanitized and in the end it doesn't do anything for you.

If Europe, Russia, the US, Japan and China get together, 30 billion is a drop in the bucket. The US could do the propulsion and vehicle design and construction, Europe and Russia could deal with science and probe design, and China and Japan could design the Mars habitat for the astronauts (No, I didn't choose randomly who was doing what).

Every time I watch a space launch of anything the haird on the back of my neck stand up. I am lifted up with that rocket, I imagine the unseen vistas of Alien landscapes. I feel inspired. But it's inspiration for our potential and what we have achieved in the past, rather than for the reality of a mission. The Apollo missions barely scratched the surface. We have gotten too used to CGI and thinking that a walking carpet (as Princess Leia put it) like Chewbacca is actually an Alien lifeform. Movies and books are great, but there's no replacement for the real thing.

I want to feel inspired by space exploration again. Don't you?

Categories: science
Posted by diego on October 15, 2003 at 9:56 AM

enron's email diaries

Wow. A Salon article with excerpts from the Enron emails released last week as part of the publication of material related to the investigation of its collapse:

[...] the Enron e-mail library posted on FERC's Web site [...] contains a remarkable glimpse into the culture of Enron -- how the family of Ken Lay lived large in the glory days, how Tom DeLay and other members of Congress used the company as a veritable ATM for campaign contributions, how Enron plotted to place employees in the Bush-Cheney administration, how company executives almost obsessively followed the investigation into price gouging during California's energy crisis, and ultimately how Enron employees suffered when the company collapsed.

Amid a sea of dick jokes, spam and Internet porn, the e-mails offer a window into the soul, such as it was, of Enron: from the high-flying days when the company decorated its top executive office suites in holiday themes -- according to a 2000 e-mail, Ken Lay's office was done up in honor of St. Lucia, Jeff Skilling's had Kwanzaa, and Andrew Fastow's was lit up for Hanukkah -- to the end, when things had gone so far south that members of the Lay family began to fear they'd be kidnapped.

The Enron e-mails are available for searching and browsing at the FERC's Web site. For those with better things to do, here are some of the highlights.

You get to see the incredible power these people wielded, if not in provably in practice certainly in theory, with mentions of "Recommend [some guy] to [US VP Dick] Cheney]", or, being incredibly confident (as if it was simply a matter of picking up the phone) in getting their friends in the US administration for their own purposes, as this quote shows:
He is familiar with state and federal energy regulation as well as the state and federal policy makers who have played an active role in deregulation efforts. He would be great to have on a vetting team for commission nominees. I have talked to [him] and he is interested.
Fascinating. (And also either a bit scary or a cynicism booster, depending on your view).

I've been trying to understand how to use the FERC database to see a little more--it's not obvious how to do it. Anyway, I'll figure it out when I have a bit of time.

Again: Wow. :)

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on October 14, 2003 at 5:39 PM

hierarchy on OPML subscription lists

Dave is asking about hierarchy on OPML subscription lists and what do aggregator developers think. Today, clevercactus beta3 (not yet released publicly) supports (both for generating and reading) hierarchy in OPML as follows:

  • If an outline elements only has a title, then it is assumed to contain other outline elements inside and should be closed with a /outline tag.
  • If not (that is, if URL information is included), then the outline is self-contained and assumed to be a link within the current position in the hierarchy.
This, by the way, is the same as what Newzcrawler does, so that would make two aggregators that work in the same way. Not sure about the others though.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 14, 2003 at 2:12 PM

google's lack of manners

Gather 'round children, for a sad tale of many emails and waiting for a reply from the Google Pantheon...

It all began about 2 months ago when I had the idea to use the Google API within clevercactus to provide a new way of looking at result sets. Essentially you could get google results in a structured form within the app and then manipulate them (create a link in the app, forward as message, etc). It was the tip of the Iceberg, as I saw it, eventually it would be much more useful to integrate Groups and News into that, but there's no API for them---and the search engine was a good, simple case to start anyway.

So the first step was to email the Google API team asking for a) an up on my Google key limit and b) if they could give me even small feedback on the idea. I gave them a URL to look at the app, and a description of what I was going to do. So I sent the email and waited.

I sent the first email on July 16.

The reply finally came on August 6 (note: 20 days later). What did they say? "Please provide more information about your project". Yes, I had provided information about the project in my first email. But maybe it wasn't enough. So I expanded on my first email and sent another email the next day (August 7).

The reply to that email came immediately. Wow! I thought. It had been a fluke before.

They upped the key limit, and gave me an answer that I thought was ok, but in re-reading it now I can see that it was simply a non-answer. "Google grants you a limited right to use the Google Web APIs service for commercial purposes". That was it. While I was actually asking about the redistribution issue, and how to deal with their library inside cactus, etc. Anyway, at the time I didn't quite realize that my questions hadn't been answered, so I proceeded happily.

Then, on September 1, I sent them another email because I wanted to release the app but suddenly I realized that there were google icons and functionality all over the place. It was subtle, but there was no denying that they might get frazzled. So to be on the safe side, I asked for them to please review the app and let me know if the usage was ok. I provided them with a link to the beta with instructions and an pretty extensive explanation of what we wanted to do, including a question to be put in touch with someone directly. Obviously this was going to affect our release schedule otherwise. I expected that it might take a while to sort out since I'd never heard of the API being used in this way before and I could imagine they'd need some time to decide how to treat it.

So. September 1 I sent that email. And waited. And waited.

And waited.

On September 11 I sent another email requesting a reply to my previous email. Again, I waited.

And waited.

The reply finally came in a few days ago, on October 6. More than a month later.

What did the reply say? Nothing. They told me to go read the terms and conditions of API usage, and they said that regarding a contact, well, they had AdSense (which I had mentioned of course in the previous email). So essentially I waited a month to be told again what I already knew, and furthermore what I had already told them I knew.

Obviously if I thought that simply by reading the API terms the problem would have been fixed I'd have done that. But the API terms are pretty restrictive, and it's not clear 100% what you can and can't do.

The conclusion is, of course, that, the Google functionality has as of yesterday been removed from cactus. I wrote a new search plugin system that uses a similar format to Mozilla's and the new default search engine for cactus is Teoma. (Btw, IMO, the look and behavior of Teoma is better than Google's--although their results are still not as comprehensive, they've gotten better).

Now, I understand that Google is growing fast, that they're under immense pressure, etc. I sympathize, yes. But. But. If you put out an API, then why not support it? I get the impression that they've put this out as a show of "look how cool we are" and then ignored it. Furthermore, giving condescending replies that show that you obviously haven't read the email people sent (ie., that repeat the information (you sent) back to you, psychologist-style) is not a very good idea, is it? The API has the potential but by ignoring it and the people that use it they are killing the very thing that it might help with.

Looking back, having spent nearly three months waiting for them to reply has been a complete waste of time. I put myself in their shoes, imagine the thousands of emails and request they get and I understand that it must be hard to deal with this. But if they don't want to deal with fire, then don't run around lighting matches. It's that simple.

I want Google to succeed, and I've put time and effort into doing something that I thought was useful to users and that, further, Google should have been interested in as well since it's a new avenue for their product. But Google's attitude says to me that they are not interested in developers. Why put the API out then? Who knows. I can't see any reason at all for it except, as I said, to "be cool". Which people might appreciate when you're dealing with a small company, but not when the one who does it is essentially a monopolist with a penchant for secrecy.

And yes, objectively, Google is a monopolist with a penchant for secrecy. That's fine (and besides, monopolies by themselves are not illegal), but it changes how much slack I am prepared to give them.

My wish: that Google would open up a bit. Not much. Just a bit. Let us see what's going on inside. Let us understand why requests are ignored or brushed aside. Put out simple one-paragraph explanations that allow people that don't believe in conspiracy theories to explain things like the recent AdSense license agreement brouhaha. It's so simple! Instead of having to read dozens of angry emails, put out a simple reply on a website explaining what happened. Then route queries to that explanation. Put out a press-release. Whatever. Or get the PR people to host an interview with developers instead. Google's PR seems to be pretty good from all the coverage they get. Most people would understand, I think.

However, it's not a wish that I expect will be fulfilled soon. Google must be, by now, preparing for its IPO. And they still haven't dealt with Microsoft at all. The Bill Kill Machine is still gearing up for them (no pun intended--but maybe we should ask Tarantino to do a movie on that? :)). I don't have any hopes of them suddenly rerouting resources to deal with this.

Why?

Because Google is basically an advertising company. Have you heard many advertising companies engaged with their community or working with developers on anything? No, right?

But even advertising companies should have good manners. :-)

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on October 14, 2003 at 12:02 PM

rss autodiscovery, take 3

Dave has noted the beginnings of his spec for RSS autodiscovery. He has gone the OPML way, and basically his discussion mirrors what I wrote regarding the topic and the choices we faced about a month ago. Jeez. A month! A month! What is up with time these days? Aiieeeeee! [diego runs flailing arms around].

[diego gets back to the computer]

Ok. Sorry about that. I was saying. We're basically in agreement I think, and I had mockups for different options (Tima had also put forward a mockup in WSIL as another option). Anyway, regarding OPML, here's the mockup I did then which differs with Dave's proposal basically on the tag names. I think we're basically in agreement (In the comments of the original post from Jeremy, while some people, including me, thought the idea of using maybe RSS or something else could be better, everyone preferred getting something out the door, no matter what format. In the end it's only agreeing on a few tags, isn't it?).

Just one comment: I think that as a final step, aside from completing a spec (adding samples, etc), OPML should be more rigidly specified so that a) people can't create public feed listings with whatever tags they want (the OPML spec is too flexible in this) and so that OPML files can be validated. Only minor changes are necessary, such as clarifying that no new tags can be used, and maybe that the strings for text/description are UTF-8 to make sure we don't get into a situation where, say, a Japanese news agency decides to use a Japanese encoding instead of Unicode.

Update: Sam also noted the need for this format and started a Wiki to deal with it. I have a feeling of deja-vu here.

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on October 14, 2003 at 10:16 AM

a weblog of post-its

Now, I'm not a Radio user but this theme for Radio that Cristian has just released makes me wish for a moment that I was just to try it. Looks really cool. I probably wouldn't use it directly, but there are many elements in it that I find intriguing. Ahh if only I had some time to do a full set of CSS options for d2r...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 13, 2003 at 1:51 PM

calendar questions

Part of the work on the new beta of cactus has to do with making the calendar work properly and adding main missing features to it (such as recurrent events, or all day events). One interesting area in this sense is the calendar "properties" or configuration if you will. Here are the main elements that I'm working with at the moment:

  • Format for date
  • Format for hour/min
  • Timezone (to support timezone shifts when traveling or working with a group on a different country, etc)
  • First day of the week (eg., "Monday")
  • Workdays. Each day of the week can be a workday or not. If it is a workday we can specify previously set "working hours" as ranges start-finish (multiple ranges for each day are allowed, as opposed to most current tools where only one range per day is possible).
  • Holidays. Each holiday can have a day/month, name, and description.
This stuff would be represented in an XML file (see an example here) that will be accessible from the root dir of the application and configurable through the API as well.

Questions: what are other important calendar settings? Calendar functions in general would be interesting too, but general properties are the main focus at the moment. However, if there's any particular element of your current calendar software that you find annoying or some feature that you'd really, really like to have, let me know too. Drop a comment, or send me an email. Thanks!

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on October 13, 2003 at 1:32 PM

so that's why they find it so easy to hack Windows?

More on Microsoft and its security problems: a News.com interview with Bob Muglia, a top exec at MS. What I find interesting about this interview is a) that Muglia is giving the same non-answer answers as others do, most notably Ballmer, and b) that the reporter doesn't let up. At all. Watch out near the end for when Muglia starts saying that hackers are criminals, and the reporter asks "what does that have to do with anything?". :-) Exactly, since they were talking about MS's problems, not about whether it was a crime or not, and whether they are criminals or not has nothing to do with the security problems in their software. Highly recommended.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 13, 2003 at 12:30 AM

matrix (over)loaded

So watching Matrix Reloaded again was great (I had seen it once in the theater only). Many things seemed to fit much better, and there was none of the sense of unease that was there when I watched the first one (along with the amazement of course, with the brain going a mile a minute trying to figure out what the hell was going on). The freeway chase becomes a lot more spectacular in a second (and third!) viewings too. All in all, the movie becomes a lot better a second time around.

The DVD has some additional features but it's mostly garbage, except for two things: some of the "making of" stuff that deals with how things were done, how the movies + game + animatrix was done all in parallel, and the making of the freeway chase. We're so used to thinking that everything is done digitally that when we see amazing stuff on the screen it's not shocking anymore (not too much at any rate). Well, the freeway chase was actually done on a freeway they built for the movie (1.5 miles long), with mainly characters and additional traffic added digitally. But whenever a car blows up or starts flipping in mid-air, it's all real. The training for the fighting scenes was pretty impressive too--the main members of the cast had to train for eight months and then rehearse each sequence of coreography. Amazing.

Regarding plot-lines: two things became clear this time around, that both add to and clarify my previous musings.

One is that, assuming the Architect is not lying through his teeth, then this cycle is indeed different, since he says that previous Neos had chosen to save Zion and this time Neo chooses to save Trinity instead (it would also seem that the Neo/Trinity love affair didn't happen in earlier cycles, with Neo's attitude in them being more of a Messiah-kind of thing. Whether Smith is also a new occurrence or not... that's also up for grabs.

The second element that I thought was interesting is that listening to the Architect's explanation more closely, it's cool to note that "the anomaly" that created systemic instability within earlier versions of The Matrix was fixed by giving people a subconscious choice: accept the reality of the Matrix (fake) or not. 99% did accept it (some social commentary there too :)). The 1% that didn't had to be "rerouted" and controlled through Zion, the profecy, the rebellion, etc., ending with the rise of The One and the "reabsorption" of the Anomaly into the Source. Which means that the Matrix-within-Matrix theory would seem to gain more credibility.

Of course, if the Architect is lying, then this is the way it's always been in previous cycles, with the One thinking he's just doomed humanity to extinction and with the rest of the story to play out. This is possible, but doubtful.

A final point of interest is that Neo's conversation with The Oracle, which when I saw it seemed grandiose and unnecessarily overdone at the same time, actually does make a lot of sense (although I'd probably chosen a less convoluted way of saying the same thing).

Throughout their dialogue, (and aside from the end of their conversation, which is all about giving directions to the Keymaker) the Oracle essentially is telling Neo how the theory of space-time works when you mix it with human consciousness.

No, I'm not nuts. Just bear with me for a minute.

The Oracle keeps saying things like: "You're not here to find out what your choice is. You have already made the choice. You're here to find out why you made that choice."

In space-time, everything happens all at once. Space-time is four-dimensional, and just like we recognize the three spatial dimensions to already "exist" the fourth dimension (time!) already exists as well along its entire "axis". From our subjective experience, however, we see time differently since we experience reality through its axis, rather than any of the other axes of space. So we tend to think of time as "happening"--but that's just a trick of our consciousness. All time has already "happened," the moment the Universe showed up. (Currently physics understands spacetime as not present before the Big Bang, where the Universe was contained in a singularity). Given that, it's clear that every choice has already been made and every situation has already played out (a bit mindboggling isn't it). This does not preclude free will (or, more generically, choice). The choice existed in that moment when time was created. All choices at once. But from our personal, subjective experience, we still have to live through each moment and come to the point where we face each choice, that is we understand why we made that choice. The Oracle then (like Neo, who now has "the sight") simply sees the choices that have already been made, but can't tell you why they were made (since that's subjective to each person).

What is even more interesting about all this is the implication it has on Neo's "power" to see the future. In our real world, the only way you can see the future is if you're (somehow) outside of spacetime (which allows you to jump at any point on any axis). So far that seems to be impossible, at least until we find a way to manipulate wormholes (aka Einstein-Rosen bridges). But, in a simulated system like the Matrix, there's no reason for time to proceed normally (except to prevent people from going mad that is). Just like the laws of physics are simulated, the passage of time can be simulated as well. The whole of the simulation run (so to speak) can be done quickly, then allowing each person's senses to catch up and "understand the why" (there's a bit of a Platonic dissonance between mind and body going on there too--not too surprising since the references to Plato's The cave are pretty obvious). Then the ability of the Oracle and Neo to see the future is simply explained as accessing the main data banks of the Matrix for that particular point in time, which has yet to play out. No mysticism or magic required.

Cool eh?

Categories: art.media
Posted by diego on October 12, 2003 at 7:58 PM

zeroconf/rendezvous

Matt has a cool list of links on rendezvous, Apple's version of Zeroconf, for dynamic DNS binding. Nice!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 11, 2003 at 2:55 PM

java google tag library

Yesterday Erik released version 1.0 of the google tag library. Nice! We've talked with Erik about integrating my Google RSS/Atom code into it. Anyway, go check it out! (both literally and figuratively :)).

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on October 11, 2003 at 11:46 AM

psion-ce

Again, something that I missed: the specs (or is it the product itself?) for the long-rumored Psion/Windows CE device have been published (slashdot thread here). The name: NetBook Pro. As the happy owner of a Psion Series 7 (essentially the original netBook, but with half the memory and some ROM differences) I can't wait. Yes, it would be great if they were using Symbian. No, I don't care that they are not (as a consumer, that is--as a developer... well, that's another matter). The S7 is just fantastic. Mine goes without needing a recharge for weeks and weeks. Instant on. Perfect size and weight (although if the keyboard was a bit bigger I wouldn't complain). Pretty much my only problem with it is that the resolution is terrible and the applications aren't directly compatible with anything (although you can do conversions through the sync, that's not quite the same). And Psion would do well not to make the same mistake regarding sales channels that they made with the netBook--there was no way of buying it through Amazon or whatever, only through resellers and generally in quantity (it was a corporate product) which forced everyone to get the less-powerful S7. Something else to watch out for.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 11, 2003 at 11:33 AM

the memory-overflow trial?

Totally missed this when it happened, and I've seen few comments on it on the blogsphere. I was reading this CNN/Money article on how Microsoft plans to "overhaul" Windows to "fight hackers" (News.com coverage here) and I noticed a link on the sidebar... it turns out that on Oct. 2, Microsoft was sued in California (coverage from News.com, Infoworld and CNN here, here and here respectively--and predictably enough there was a slashdot thread on it). Whether the lawsuit will actually go anywhere is anyone's guess-- and there are other potential problems with this approach, that I mentioned here. I do find it interesting that this didn't generate more of a widespread response. Should be interesting to watch out for developments on this.

And, regarding Microsoft's announcement--it apparently has to do with Microsoft's long-rumored Palladium initiative. The announcement is high on words and low on substance. The bad side of marketing...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 11, 2003 at 11:07 AM

tonight's ingredients

a) Frozen pizza (it's not as bad as it sounds)

b) Bananas (for dessert)

c) A rented copy of Matrix Reloaded on DVD. (The release was... today).

Mmmm... pizza....

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 10, 2003 at 6:20 PM

forget the typewriter, fire up those modems

Quite strange news from News.com's Declan McCullagh:

The FBI is convinced that I'm an Internet service provider.

It's no joke. A letter the FBI sent on Sept. 19 ordered me to "preserve all records and other evidence" relating to my interviews of Adrian Lamo, the so-called homeless hacker, who's facing two criminal charges related to an alleged intrusion into The New York Times' computers.

[...]

Leadbetter needs to be thwacked with a legal clue stick. The law he's talking about applies only to Internet service providers, not reporters. Section 2703(f) says in its entirety: "A provider of wire or electronic communication services or a remote computing service, upon the request of a governmental entity, shall take all necessary steps to preserve records and other evidence in its possession pending the issuance of a court order or other process."

Last I checked, electronically filing this column to my editors does not make me a provider of "electronic communication services." Nor does tapping text messages into my cell phone transform me into a "remote computing service," as much as I may feel like one sometimes.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 10, 2003 at 2:00 PM

and about that arnold thing...

Simply put: mind-bending. Here are two articles on the subject, particularly from the media/celebrity/etc point of view, that I found interesting: one (from Salon) and two (from The Guardian).

One can only hope that the whole mess will end up well (more or less ... -- regardless of the politics). California is too big, too important an economy to stay screwed up for long.

Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on October 10, 2003 at 1:50 AM

a couple of ms-related news items

I had seen this when it came out but since I was in no-blog-mindset I didn't note it. Then today I saw that Grant had linked to it and ...

I'm talking about this News.com article on Microsoft's newly obtained patent on IM. Quote:

Microsoft has won a patent for an instant messaging feature that notifies users when the person they are communicating with is typing a message.

The patent encompasses a feature that's not only on Microsoft's IM products but also on those of its rivals America Online and Yahoo. The patent was granted on Tuesday.

Isn't it weird that someone at the patent office would think that something like this is a non-obvious, never-done-before invention? Have these people actually used computers before? The article also mentions AOL/ICQ's patent, on which I wrote last year, in particular in this entry where I did a deeper search for prior art on that patent. It was interesting to revisit that in the context of this new patent as well.

Another MS news item that I found interesting was this one:

Web developers want to light a fire under Microsoft to get better standards support in the company's Internet Explorer browser, but they can't seem to spark a flame.

Gripes have mounted recently over support in IE 6 for Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), a Web standard increasingly important to design professionals. Web developers and makers of Web authoring tools say the software giant has allowed CSS bugs to linger for years, undermining technology that promises to significantly cut corporate Web site design costs.

Seeking to goad Microsoft into action, digital document giant Adobe Systems last week unveiled a deal to bolster support for CSS in its GoLive Web authoring tool with technology from tiny Web browser maker Opera Software, whose chief technology officer first proposed CSS nine years ago. Opera maintains an active role in developing CSS through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

But standards advocates said it was unclear whether Adobe's action could prod Microsoft into better CSS support, given the lack of browser competition.

It was "unclear [whether Microsoft could be prodded]", said standard advocates. They have a penchant for understatement, it seems. :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 10, 2003 at 1:44 AM

feedster search plugin for Mozilla Firebird

If you use Moz Firebird you'd probably agree that one of the coolest small features it has is the search box that is at the top-right. Built-in, that search box supports Google and a mozilla search engine of some sort that I've never used. Its workings are a bit opaque, but once you've got a handle on it it's not bad.

That box is in fact an easily extensible mechanism. Since I find myself depending on weblogs to find stuff that I want (and google is returning weblog results all over the place anyway) I spent a bit of time this morning creating a plugin for feedster search. So here it goes!

Steps to install:

  • First, download the plugin ZIP file, which contains two tiny files, the plugin spec file (.src) and an icon that I cooked up since I couldn't find a feedster icon on the site (not that I spent too much time looking...)
  • Then, go to the directory on which you've installed Firebird. In there you should find a subdirectory "searchplugins" uncompress the content of the ZIP file into there. You'll notice that the other options are also found with .src and .gif files for the icons in that directory.
  • Restart Firebird.
And it's done! Now you can simply choose it by clicking (one left-click) on the icon of the search box. That pulls up a list of options, in which feedster should be one now. Choose it, and then search away!

PS: This is actually a format that Mozilla (the original) uses for search plugins--it might work on Mozilla too. Haven't tried it though. If anyone does try it, let me know the results.

Categories: soft.dev
Posted by diego on October 9, 2003 at 12:02 PM

MT spam killer

In the comments to the entry on Sunday where I was talking about comment-spam, mal posted a link (thanks!) to this solution for movable type. Looks pretty good---essentially equivalent to what Yahoo! and Hotmail and other do to ensure that accounts are not being registered by a bot. I've downloaded it but not yet installed it, since I'd have to rebuild all of the static pages with the comments section included. Something to do over the weekend...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 9, 2003 at 11:35 AM

no thought was put into this

Zapp Brannigan: "Captain's journal. Stardate 3000.3."

Kif: "Who are you talking to sir?"

Zapp: "You! Aren't you getting this? [Kif sighs and scurries to a typing machine. Zapp dictates.] We have detected a vessel attempting to brek the security cordon around Vergon 6. I'm anticipating an all-out tactical dogfight, followed by a light dinner. Ravioli, ham, sundae bar."

Such is Futurama's take on the Star Trek "log entries". Kinda like a weblog wasn't it? In concept at least. It wasn't really personal, and then the entries seemed to be logged at random dates. Plus by the time Kirk or Picard or whoever finished noting the date I was already lost (and why exactly would you need to say the date out loud if you're dictating into a computer!?).

I kinda feel like I should write something of the sort to account for the last few days. "Victory once again after our random encounter with the Borg in the Pentium Galaxy"... or something. Sheesh. So derivative. No-go on that one.

The other (was there a first?) thing I was wondering about this morning was where, exactly, did the week go. I mean, it's Thursday for crying out loud. There's a weird blur in my head, an IM-less, IRC-less, blog-less, or, in essence, Internet-less void that can't be easily explained. Well, okay, it can be explained... but the explanation is irrelevant.

What's this?

Information overload, is what this is. Compartimentalization doesn't help blogging. As it probably doesn't help anything. Except if you work for a three-letter agency or something. But hey, wait, I got a new complaint (was there an old complaint?): I analyze every second I exist. Why's that?

Our problem, it seems to me, is that we want answers when the questions where invalid in the first place. That ever-present streak of Western Philosophy can have its downsides.

Okay. Enough with the stream-of-consciousness thing---We now return to our regularly schedule programming. (guaranteed!)

PS: the person who can identify the three songs (two from the same band) referenced in this entry gets a free URL to a JPEG of Zapp Brannigan (guaranteed!)

PS2: [fine-print-type-low voice] (warning--nothing guaranteed).

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 9, 2003 at 10:44 AM

weekend review

Well, not much to "review" per se, but...

I've spent the last few of days mostly between working and being with my friends, Dylan and Tracey, who came on a vacation to Ireland two weeks ago. They stayed for a couple of days in Dublin and then they left to roam the South and West coasts while I finished my thesis and released the new internal beta of cactus (btw, I've just realized that I didn't mention that, did I? That was about a week and a half ago). I was going to join them on their trip but the thesis deadline messed up our plans, since I could only submit the thesis on Sep. 30, but anyway. In the end they came back on Thursday to Dublin and since then we've had a blast. They left this morning...

Work is picking up... and will continue to do so this week. Friday and Saturday were kind of mini-vacations for me. :)

The other thing that I'm doing is, every day, deleting spam comments on old entries on this weblog. These are entries that typically are reached through some google keyword, and these astonishingly stupid people go in an type in a comment that doesn't mean anything, using a URL that is pointing to the site they want to promote, clearly in the interests of using a highly ranked page to go up in the rankings. I can't believe anyone would go through this, since it's very time consuming (my comments posting is slow too--combination of MT and the machine on which it's hosted). But in the last two weeks there have been at least two of those a day. With some luck, eventually they'll read my comments policy, or they'll realize that it's not economic to do this (and--useless, since I'll begin closing the comments sections on most of the old posts) and that will be it.

A few interesting things have happened in the past week, but I still haven't had time to think too much about any of them. Tomorrow will be busy so updates are doubtful, but after that the coast should be clear for a bit. It takes a while to get back to normal (whatever that is) after a couple of weeks of crazy activity go by.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 5, 2003 at 7:34 PM

more on rss-data

Jeremy expands on the idea of RSS-data. Roger posts an example. Dave agrees. Russ explains a bit more. I'm getting it, I think. Still slightly fuzzy. Roger's example is useful but I'd like to see an actual use case (say, with calendars) to understand it completely. I guess my main confusion is the relationship between this and namespaces--wouldn't this idea make namespaces irrelevant? And is that good or bad, or indifferent? (My answer: I don't know yet). As I said yesterday though, it sounds cool. :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 2, 2003 at 10:53 AM

breaking news: email is broken

Salon usually is ahead of the trend, but on this one they've lagged (quite) a bit: a new article, "email is broken talks about the problems that we all know. That said, they do have a refreshing view in the form of interviews to Internet pioneers (though not the usual suspects, which is also cool). A good read overall.

The current workarounds to the problem (all of which are mentioned in the article) don't even scratch the surface of what can be done though!

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 2, 2003 at 8:40 AM

only open-source--but only on the desktop

This caught my eye: Massachusetts is moving towards favoring open source software over over closed source.

I have a question: If they do that, then when their employees want to do a search on the web, which search engine, exactly, do they tell them to go to? Not Google of course. It's not open source. Not MSN. Not Yahoo. Er...

What? That a web application is less of an application? Why?

If you use something like, say, a Yahoo! service, is it less "use" because it's on the web? And why is it that it wouldn't matter then?

I am not saying that the policy is good or bad. Honest. I am just asking why is "open source" so important on the desktop but not on some other incredibly critical services that people use every day, all year long. And speaking of that, when was the last time that anyone got a look at the source code of NSI? I mean, they do happen to run the most critical services on the Internet...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 2, 2003 at 12:07 AM

rss-data?

[via Dave]: Jeremy proposes RSS-Data. I'm sure my mind is still completely in another planet, because I've read his proposal three times and I don't get it.

It mentions namespaces. It mentions XML-RPC. If you use namespaces, why do you need XML-RPC? And how would a namespace define a "generic" data format when the discussion is specifically about "vertical" applications (which would, as far as I can see, require each their own namespace)? And if the XML-RPC stuff is used, it becomes really really generic. How is that "vertical" or specific to different types of data? I get the feeling that it might be some kind of tighter XML-RPC representation to perform web-services-style data transfer... but ... but...

But as I said, quite obviously I don't get it. At all. It will be interesting to see more info on this. Sounds cool.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on October 1, 2003 at 11:58 PM

topic inertia

I guess that it will be a couple of days until I stop talking about the thesis and so on.

SMACK! SMACK!

Okay, that didn't work.

Seriously though. I will probably babble on about this for a while. I think I find it a bit hard to talk about what I'm doing as I'm doing it, not because I won't talk about it but rather because I'm usually barely aware of what's happening at all (things happen too fast!). It takes a while for thoughts to settle. And then I think "ah, that's what it was all about. Fantastic."

Example: what happened regarding the writing style of the thesis. I was going to write about this at some point, and then it just didn't happen.

My supervisor had said (at one point) that there was little clarification of the thinking process behind the ideas. I was just presenting problems and solutions. I had kept the style dry on purpose because otherwise I get too relaxed and I start cracking jokes in the text, etc, and it wouldn't look good. So I rewrote a huge chunk, but as I did it I ended up with a sort of formal/informal/personal hybrid that was a bit weird. When my advisor reviewed it he said (in good humour of course) "Too chatty. We don't want your life story!"

Heh. Right. It's a thesis not a blog. I had to go through several restructurings of the text and this morning I realized that the reason is hyperlinks. The web. I was thinking (and still do, except that now I can see it) of the document as a set of hyperlinked pieces, rather than as a big linear thing. "Jumps all over the place" Was a comment in one of the early versions. Of course it does, and if I can't find something on it I do full text search and... At every turn I wanted to insert hyperlinks into the text, and I wanted to write with whatever structure I thought best, and I wanted to add a Dilbert cartoon because I thought it was appropriate, make it more... personal I guess. Why does science have to be impersonal? Why do we think that someone adding a subjective opinion is badbadbad (of course, it has to be clearly identified as such...)? With research, the process, and I mean the subjective process is very important. What didn't you do? What did you try and failed so miserably that you wouldn't mention in a typical text? Did you ignore a given area because of lack of time, or funding? All of those answers would be valuable for people who would like to understand better the work itself, or continue adding to it, or improve it, or go in different directions...

Then again the Universities probably wouldn't like things like lack of funding discussed in PhD theses...

My mind is blog-warped, I know.

Maybe someday people will, instead of submitting their thesis, email a link to their weblog to the department of graduate studies, with a query that essentially says: "here, all entries for category thesis between such and such a date". And that will be it. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 1, 2003 at 8:32 AM

looking for a reader

Question: does anyone know of someone that might be interested in being an external reader for my thesis? I am looking on my own, of course (it's my responsibility, not the department's), but any ideas would be welcome. Requirements are apparently PhD, academic background (although not sure if this has to be current), and someone working on networks, preferably P2P or self-organizing networks... Since they'd have to travel here for the defence (or "viva voce" as its called here) I think someone from Ireland or the UK would be more likely to be able to do it without serious disruption (the university pays for the trip though :)). If you have any ideas, please leave a comment or

Thanks! And, thanks to everyone for your comments/emails/etc. Much appreciated. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on October 1, 2003 at 7:59 AM

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