Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

yet another way in which Sun should get its act together

It's no secret that I appreciate (perhaps more than many) the work Sun has done is building a true multi-OS platform with Java, even as I've talked in the past about some of the shortcomings of the platform as an environment in which to deploy end-user client side apps. But what we discovered today was unbelievable.

"Discovered" here is not accurate since it was an issue that had been discussed before--I just wasn't aware of it. The problem is this: Verisign Root Certificates on many of Sun's JVMs were set to expire on Jan 7, 2004.

What this means is that any Java webstart application or Applet signed with a perfectly valid Verisign certificate might not run at all.

Let me say that again: a perfectly valid signed application might not run at all on any of the affected versions of the JDK. Not only that, they are not even sure of when this happens (note all the conditional statements). Not only that, when it fails, it fails spectacularly. The user sees a horrible warning from which they can't do anything. There is absolutely no way to run the application in that JDK, aside from Sun's "fantastic" workaround in which they suggest people should be copying updated root certificates into the certs directory.

It wasn't enough that the JWS installation process was so confusing to most end users, and that it has a few incredibly annoying bugs. No. The certificate had to be invalid. On some systems. Maybe. And when it does, there's no easy way to fix it for an end user that could not care less about root certificates (and why should we force users to even have to know what a root certificate is?).

I can't overstate how much something like this incenses me. Instead of spending so much time of creating a GTK+ compatible skin (for example), Sun should spend a little bit more time on quality control of the actual basic pieces of the JDK.

Or is that too much to ask for?

Posted by diego on March 30, 2004 at 12:45 AM

random simpsons quote


Mr. Burns, here are your messages:
'You have thirty minutes to move your car.'
'You have ten minutes to move your car.'
'Your car has been impounded.'
'Your car has been crushed into a cube.'
'You have thirty minutes to move your cube.'

From Homer the Smithers

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 28, 2004 at 6:22 PM

the definition of a hellish night

2:30 AM: Go to sleep, or try to, after working for some 16 hours.

3:00 AM: Wake up to noises in the hallway. People talking loudly and banging on walls. Identify them as drunken slices of humanity coming home after spending hours in a pub following Ireland's win against Scotland in some Rugby match or other. Finally fall asleep again after 15 minutes.

3:30 AM: Wake up again to noises, this time coming from a nearby balcony. Identify them as possibly the same group of drunks. Get to sleep again after another 20 min.

4:30 AM: Wake up again, this time to the building's fire alarm. Wait for a few seconds. Get up. Get dressed. Go out and see what's happening. Be greeted by a wave of dense air smelling like burned-out bacon and possibly eggs. Hear a (possibly the same) group of drunk creatures laughing in the hallway of the floor below. Walking down, I am stopped by people going up, who, as they walk past me, greet me like a long-lost friend (I've never seen them before). I curse under my breath and go back to my apartment. The alarm keeps blaring for 30 minutes more, restarting intermittently. Look at the watch for a long time, consider just getting up, finally fall asleep again at some point.

5:30 AM: Wake up again to more noise, the same people as before or maybe new ones. Curse again. Ponder at length whether it would be too difficult to just pack up and leave Ireland for a few days for events like this (Rugby... St. Patricks' Day...).

6:00 AM: Noise continues. Continue musing about getting on a plane, but wonder if they would be full of Scotsmen in a similar state. And, while having no opinion in particular about Rubgy before, I quickly get to the conclusion that it should be banned from Earth. Finally fall asleep again.

8:00 AM: Wake up to a horrible headache. Not surprising. Gulp down some aspirin and get to work.

Funny isn't it? The rest of Dublin gets drunk, and it's me who has a hangover. Damn.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 28, 2004 at 3:03 PM

clevercactus share, take 2

So, you're racing ahead to finish a release and all you see is code and product and small details and the million things that you think are crucial (that maybe are, and maybe aren't) and you miss other stuff.

Stuff, like explaining why there isn't a way to register.

Or explaining what does this have to do with what you were doing before, particularly for the generous and dedicated people that have been giving you feedback on your (other) product over months and months, to whom I'm very grateful for their support, people like John Rubier, who left a comment in the previous entry with some puzzlement (and rightfully so).

Or explaining why there isn't anything else on the website at this very minute moment aside from the application, which (again) you can't log in to unless you have been invited.

You know, small things like that.

So, first things first, an apology for the lack of context for share. As I'm writing this we are preparing a new release of the site with content that we've been working on over the last several days. But I wanted to start off here by explaining some of those things. Hopefully I'll be able to get enough in here to make it easier to understand, but if not please bear with me. If there are things that aren't clear, I'll be happy to answer them.

So, moving on to some of the, um, finer points.

What is this clevercactus share thing? Where is clevercactus pro? Why the sudden shift?

Let's take those questions in reverse order. First, the last: this is no sudden shift. We have been working on the concept and the implementation for share for several months, since late last year. Yes, we haven't been obvious about it. Part of the reason was that sometimes when you're trying to put together something which is new in some ways you can see it in your mind's eye, but you can't explain it clearly and concisely. Avoiding unnecessary hype is also important. Also, we're a small company, and we can only do so many things at once. :)

But that's as far as communication is concerned. As far as concepts, share still seems to be a bit off the target from pro. Which brings me to the second question of those three.

It's easy to see clevercactus pro and see only an email client, or a PIM, or whatever. From day one there was the plan to include P2P behavior (as was explained even on the original webpage for spaces). From very early on there was code in place to do this. We had internal versions of pro with P2P collaboration built-in since early 2003 (longtime clevercactus pro beta users might remember the "enable collaboration" switch on the configuration page, which was always turned off for public releases). But as work proceeded it became obvious that the question was less whether "to P2P or not to P2P" but finding effective solutions to do what we really want to do --easily-- and avoid constant, painful workarounds that increasingly don't work at all. Yes, this sounds like marketing-speak, but it doesn't make it any less true.

Email is broken. We all know it. But we keep using it. Why? Lack of choice is one of the main reasons. We use it to send files. To arrange meetings. To do all sorts of things it wasn't designed to do. And spam is a disaster for electronic life. But the important thing to see here is that email is not broken in itself, it is broken for the use we give it. This is an important distinction. It points to a "pincer movement" (you can tell I'm reading too many books about military history, can't you? :)) that has to be made to fix email, which really is just shorthand for "making internet collaboration & communication work better": improve email and other information management (clevercactus pro), but provide simple, easy to use tools to do what email was never meant to do in the first place.

Like, say, file sharing.

Put another way, what I'm saying is that the way to solve many of today's problems with email has nothing to do with email at all. And this happens in other areas too. Email is just one example that easy to see.

And since we're fixing broken stuff, why not other things too? Like, create an environment that is both secure and private. An environment where you know that the information is being transmitted encrypted and directly, in true P2P fashion, to the people you are sending it to. An environment where you can express properly your relationships with people you know and be able to use that (based on privacy settings that default to "maximum privacy" but can be gradually and selectively changed) to do things with your personal network, as you'd do in real life.

So clevercactus now is closing in on the second part of this "pincer movement". The release of share is not the end of clevercactus pro. It's a new beginning that finally brings to light the other part of the puzzle (as we understand it of course :-)).

As we bring back information into the site, clevercactus pro will also resurface over time within the full context that includes these ideas. Stay tuned.

And where's the registration button? I want in!

There is no registration button, since share is for now invitation-only. See the next point.

Invitation-only? I smell elitism!

Come on, admit it. That's what you were thinking. :)

At the moment, share is invitation-only for a simple reason: we care about creating a good product, and we want to improve the product before a general release that would allow anyone to create an account. We want to make sure that we have the main problems ironed out, and scalability issues solved. We will provide discussion forums, etc, and until we do it would be a disservice to users to put something out that would be confusing and where we would be unable to respond to feedback properly.

Additionally, we believe in the concept of eating our own dog food :). So we are using share ourselves as we would use it, with people we know, not sending out hundreds of invitations. That said, if you're really curious send me an email and I'll try to arrange something (no promises though). In fact I haven't yet invited all the people that I want to use the product with. So it's an ongoing process.

As you can imagine, we want people to use the product :-) but a big part of that is making the both product and the experience good, and the service reliable, and as much as we can do testing the only way to do that for us is through an incremental, limited release. We will do a general release when the kinks have been ironed out of course.

Where's the product information? Even if I did get an invitation, I want to check things out a bit before I go into the site.

As I mentioned above, we will be bringing more content online (including stuff similar to what I'm talking about in this post) over the next couple of days.

Tell me more about this P2P stuff. What's this like? Kazaa? Gnutella? Where does the data go? Will you see any of it?

This is P2P, yes, but it's not Kazaa, or Gnutella, or anything else that's out there for that matter, although the ideas have been surfacing recently. Don, for example, a few days ago talked about the pros and cons of P2P NG/Darknets, concepts with which share has some similarities.

P2P connections in share are secure and fully peer to peer. This is P2P like the Internet was at the beginning. There are no proxies involved, not even proxies within the P2P network. We only provide authentication and, if necessary, handshaking between clients. That is nice, but it creates a problem as far as connecting through some types of firewalls, and we'll be working on improving it over the next days and weeks.

This is why I was recently talking about sociable software that is useful for something more than browsing contact lists, and that allows us to use our network as a complement, rather than a replacement, of the real world, while maintaining privacy and expressing relationships properly.

So, please have some patience with us as we get our bearings. We will continue to bring new content online and I'll talk more about it here.

Phew! I might not be getting much sleep these days, but this sure is fun.

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 26, 2004 at 2:30 PM

announcing: clevercactus share

A few minutes past midnight we took the wraps off clevercactus share.

There are million things I want to talk about, and I'm sure there will be many questions. But that will have to wait for a little bit (just a little bit) of sleep and rest. More tomorrow!

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 26, 2004 at 12:00 AM

best. superheroes. ever.

According to me, that is. :)

I was thinking of mentioning this on Sunday but then it, well, didn't happen, and work consumed me. Now I was taking a break and reading blogs... what else is there to do when it's so cold and windy out there? And, btw, will this cold stop? It's almost April already! Last Saturday not only we had near-zero temperatures, but we also had gale force winds!. But I digress...

So I see that Anne brings up the topic of superheroes, which reminded me of what I was going to write about: my top five favorite superheroes (since I've got High-Fidelity on my mind, and hence top-five lists!), and their best stories. (Note: some images below are clickable).

1. Batman


Who else? But of course, not just Batman-any-batman-batman, but Dark-knight-Batman, creation of Frank Miller's genius, also responsible for other graphic novel classics such as Ronin.

Miller reimagined the legend of Batman in the mid-80s as the Dark Knight: when the story told in Miller's Dark Knight Returns begins, Batman is old (more than 50), and he has been inactive for ten years. Gotham City has grown unruly and anarchic, and few think that Batman actually existed: he has become a legend. At the same time, he has grown bitter, and a lot less tolerant. When he decides to resume his vigilante ways and bring back order to Gotham, it's No more Mr. Nice Guy, but the enemies of the present are not what they used to be (The Joker, for example, is a raving all-out psychopath). This Batman influenced all that came afterwards in all mediums, including Tim Burton's masterpiece at the end of the 80s, and is most definitely not Adam West in tights with Robin prancing around next to him and warning "holy jokes Batman!" (which isn't to say that the movies got, er, "campier" --and crappier--, the further away they moved from Burton's original in time). He's no longer a troubled person that battles crime or being a corporate honcho, now it's clear that there's an underlying element of dangerous psychosis to someone who runs around at night dressed like a flying rodent on state-of-the-art machinery. The deep scars created in his childhood are evident, and they make him more human, and consequently all the greater as a superhero. batman_dark_knight.jpg

Miller followed The Dark Knight Returns with Batman: Year One in which he retells the story of Bruce Wayne as he fumbles his way into superhero-dom, fleshing out the characters to never-seen-before depths.

Miller's DK2, the Dark Knight Strikes Again, is a fantastic piece of art, where Batman has to fight against a Government that has grown in its Fascist tendencies and where do-goodies like Superman have compromised so much with it in the name of "fighting evil" that they have actually become "part of the system", which is controlled by Lex Luthor and Brainiac--and there's only the man in the cape ready to outwit them. (Yes, this is no mere hyperbole). Here Batman becomes as radical as the forces he opposes, and while sometimes Miller stretches it a bit in different dimensions, it's well worth the read. Incidentally, Alan Moore (which I'll mention again below) also added to the Batman story with the classic The Killing Joke, in which he explores the psychology of both Batman and Joker further than most.

2. V


V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore is, in my opinion, one of the finest pieces of literature ever written, never mind graphic novels or comics. Moore also created Watchmen (in which superheroes move in the shadows of a world that no longer cares about them and have to deal with very real, down-to-earth problems) and From Hell (and I don't have enough superlatives for these two books, so I won't bother. Suffice it to say that if you like comments and you haven't read them, well, you just should--and while you're at it also read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Moore as well, which is nothing like the movie).

V_for_Vendetta-cover.jpgV has some elements in common with Batman, but there's another reference that is more relevant here and that is Thomas Disch's Camp Concentration (which I mentioned here with Ensayo sobre la ceguera, another book that touches on some similar ideas). In the graphic novel, Britain has become a police state after a nuclear war left most of the world in ruins (though Britan was spared after removing its missile silos), and V emerges from seemingly nowhere to challenge the established order. There are so many ideas on each page that Pynchon comes to mind (just an analogy though, I'm not saying that a graphic novel can approach the depth and complexity of, say, Gravity's Rainbow!).

V is basically an anti-hero, which is what's required for the times (in fact, he takes a similar role to that of Batman in DK2). I don't want to disclose how it ends since the astonishing ending is what 'makes' V, but "Ideas are bulletproof" is one of my favorite statements of all time. :)

3. El Eternauta

Not strictly a superhero (but then again V wasn't, either), created By Hector Germán Oesterheld, one of the best comic writers from Argentina, El Eternauta covers the story of a group of people fighting an Alien invasion in Buenos Aires. El Eternauta has elements of "Golden Age" science fiction, literature (with the idea of Robinson Crusoe's island turned into a home in the vastness of a city where most people have been killed by a deadly Snowfall), and it never compromises (although the two sequels turned to veer off into more traditional superhero storylines that suited less the story than the evolving politics of the time).

One of the (many) things that appeal to me about this story and character is that they are uncommon: there aren't any fancy locales, but the greatness and gritiness of reality, or unbelievable heroics, but the heroism that comes from taking a stand when you have to. It's just a man, and his family, and his friends, fighting against all odds with whatever they have. The everyday, down-to-earth nature of it makes it all the more worthy.

A great story, plus great characters, with El Eternauta as the quintessential image of a someone wanting to relive the good days of the past, and finding, in a very real sense, that you can never escape the present. A masterpiece.

4. Lobo

lobo.jpgPossibly the wackiest, craziest "superhero" ever created, Lobo never fails to crack me up. Again, he's more of an anti-hero (I seem to have a thing for them no?), but he's shown his tender side every once in a while. The story of Lobo is as crazy as the character: he's the last one of his race, because he killed everyone else on his planet (he was bored by them, and he wanted to be "unique"). He lives in an asteroid in deep space. (The Little Prince, anyone?). With him ("swimming" in space in orbit around the asteroid) live a group of space-dolphins, which are the only living creature he respects and loves. He can survive in space without food, air, water, or a spacesuit for that matter. He only listens to heavy metal music, and only from a particular space-radio station, and he got an implant so that he can hear it 24/7, transmitted directly into his brain anywhere in the galaxy. At the beginning, each drop of blood from Lobo created an exact replica of him. This created major chaos but it really annoyed the original Lobo, which killed most of the them until he fought to the death with the last clone (the problem is that no one knows who won--so maybe it's the Clone that's still out there!). lobo.png The Legion of Superheroes captured him and through some genetic-engineering thingamagic "disabled" the cloning feature in Lobo--and tried to kill him by dumping an entire mountain on top of him (unsuccessfully I might add). He fought against Superman and it was a draw!

But that's not the end of it. In the Lobo Paramilitary X-mas Special, he squared off against a crazy Santa Claus and his band of armed-to-the-teeth elves (he won). He was killed and went to hell, but he made such a mess there that they sent him to heaven, from which he was (of course) expelled, and since no one wanted him the, um, powers that be decided to re-incarnate him. First as a bunny (but he gets killed again). Then as a wickedly powerful woman (killed again, yes). Then finally as himself again. In The Last Czarnian we see Lobo chased by:

  • The Legion of Decency (a group of psychotic, tea-sipping grannies)
  • A convoy of space truckers (their leader is an Elvis impersonator)
  • The Oneida Police Swat Team (who want to kill Lobo after he kills their police chief)
  • The Storm Troopers of the Pan-Galactic Demolition Dance Company (who want revenge after Lobo upstaged them during their chainsaw ballet) (!)
  • The Orthography Commandos (a group of hooded literacy loonies that hold lethal spelling bees) (!!)

Insane, sure. But lots of fun. :)

And, last but not least...

5. Wolverine

wolverine-small.jpgMy favorite character from X-Men (with Jean Grey/Phoenix behind), Wolverine is by now known to all as some guy in a movie that smokes cigars and likes to ride in fast bikes. But (as the movies well show, although I fear that sometimes these subtleties might get a bit lost in the noise) Wolverine/Logan is a pretty screwed up person, generally looking out for himself more than for the greater good (although when forced to choose he's a pretty decent guy). The claws and the Adamantium skeleton are insanely cool, but his self-healing abilities are even better (and there could be no first without the second!).

The psychology of Wolverine is generally overlooked, but fascinating on its own right. Wolverine/Logan is one of the main reasons why I like X-Men in the first place--without him something would definitely be missing from the story (unlike other what would happen if some other major characters where missing).

And, an honorary mention to: The Demon who is as funny as Lobo but (because of a curse) has to speak in verse, The Demon is a spirit banished from (where else?) hell, that inhabits the body of a poor guy that can't do anything to stop it (except take up buddhism!). The series of four books The Demon v. Lobo is truly something to behold.

Wow, I just realized that I've been writing for almost an hour! I guess I needed the break. :)

Posted by diego on March 23, 2004 at 9:20 PM

it's not as easy as it seems

An excellent Salon article triumph of the telcos, on what we rarely hear about developments in VoIP:

[...] the battle with Big Telecom is one front in a wider war on the oligarchies that dominate the world economy. But to the oligarchs themselves that war is a mere sideshow. The real fight is between Big Telecom and Big Cable, with both sides using Internet telephony as a weapon.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 23, 2004 at 6:48 PM

testing... testing...

Since we're hiring, this topic has been on my mind lately. Can you really know the person... before you know the person? Microsoft for example is famous for putting out these little puzzles that you have to solve in your interview. Other companies take "tests" to prove your knowledge. So let's take a multiple-choice test as an example... I was thinking what one that I wrote would be like and I came up with this:

I like XML because...

  1. it lets me validate what people tell me.
  2. properly closed tags feel all warm and fuzzy around my neck.
  3. where would flamewars be without it?
  4. Big-endian down, Little-endian all the way!
  5. The W3C should burn in hell.
  6. X... M... ?

What comes to mind when you hear 'XSLT'?

  1. To validate is glorious, but to transform is divine.
  2. Velocity! Velocity! Velocity!
  3. you know the movie 'Se7en'...?
  4. Is that that new instruction on IBM's Power3 processor that I keep hearing about?
  5. The W3C should burn in hell.
  6. My cat's name is Mittens.

What do you know about Enterprise JavaBeans?

  1. EJB rulez! Wooooohooooo! Wooooo! Wooooo!
  2. I have three words for you: nice and slow.
  3. Aside from the fact that they suck?
  4. I prefer tea, thank you.
  5. The W3C should burn in hell.
  6. I ate my crayon.

Your thoughts on Java vs .Net.

  1. Windows will be the end of our species.
  2. What's the difference? Windows is better anyway.
  3. Linux. MacOS, maybe, if you asked nicely.
  4. Anything other than HEX and Assembly is for thin-skinned freaks.
  5. The W3C should burn in hell.
  6. My tummy hurts.

Did you enjoy this test?

  1. Very much so. I found it soothing.
  2. Not really. But the pastries were good.
  3. Where's the door?
  4. Stop with the damn test already and get me to a keyboard!
  5. The W3C should burn in hell.
  6. What test?

Posted by diego on March 21, 2004 at 7:55 PM

programmers at work

Via Scott, a great article in Salon that touches on some of the subjects of a book he's working on. The article talks about a panel, which included:

Andy Hertzfeld, who wrote much of the original Macintosh operating system and is now chronicling that saga at; Jef Raskin, who created the original concept for the Macintosh; Charles Simonyi, a Xerox PARC veteran and two-decade Microsoft code guru responsible for much of today's Office suite; Dan Bricklin, co-creator of VisiCalc, the pioneering spreadsheet program; virtual-reality pioneer Jaron Lanier; gaming pioneer Scott Kim; and Robert Carr, father of Ashton-Tate's Framework.
The quotes are fascinating (Now if I could only just find a full transcript for the panel discussion... and I just wish Bill Joy would've been there too!). Lanier has some very interesting viewpoints, like his one-half of a manifesto that he wrote in response to Bill Joy's Why The Future Doesn't Need Us (which I mentioned in my ethics and computer science post recently), and when he says that
"Making programming fundamentally better might be the single most important challenge we face -- and the most difficult one." Today's software world is simply too "brittle" -- one tiny error and everything grinds to a halt: "We're constantly teetering on the edge of catastrophe." Nature and biological systems are much more flexible, adaptable and forgiving, and we should look to them for new answers. "The path forward is being biomimetic."
He's definitely right on target. (Making software biomimetic is something that Joy advocates too as far as I can remember). There are other great moments, such as this:
Bricklin sent waves of laughter through the auditorium by reading a passage from Lammers' interview with Bill Gates in which the young Microsoft founder explained that his work on different versions of Microsoft's BASIC compiler was shaped by looking at how other programmers had gone about the same task. Gates went on to say that young programmers don't need computer science degrees: "The best way to prepare is to write programs, and to study great programs that other people have written. In my case, I went to the garbage cans at the Computer Science Center and I fished out listings of their operating systems."

Bricklin finished reading Gates' words and announced, with an impish smile, "This is where Gates and [Richard] Stallman agree!"

LOL! Bill Gates dumpster-diving for operating system code listings!

As principal Skinner would say: Ooooh, mercy.

Posted by diego on March 21, 2004 at 12:09 PM

names, or lack thereof

James Gleick, writing in the New York Times: Get Out of My Namespace. Quote:

The world is running out of names. The roster of possible names seems almost infinite, but the demand is even greater. With the rise of instantaneous communication, business spreading across the globe and the Internet annihilating geography, conflict is rampant in this realm of language and of intellectual property. Rules are up for grabs. Laws regarding names have never been in such disarray.
Indeed. And who hasn't encountered this problem? Related to this (though more technical), the book Ruling the Root is excellent.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 21, 2004 at 9:54 AM

plan b, reloaded

On July 26, 2002, I started plan b, a blognovel. I started it without being really sure of where it would go. A few days later it was slashdotted.

I kept writing it for several months, but then other things took over. When my Radio subscription (it was hosted on Salon Blogs) expired last August I didn't renew it, thinking that I would just move it across to this site. Wishful thinking, of course. since the conversion implied fixing backlinks (that allowed you to navigate the story back from any point) which used a link format based on Radio and not MovableType. Since there were more than quite a few posts, doing this conversion would take time. So there it remained... until today, when I decided that I'd begin bringing it back online one post a day or so, which would be manageable for me and make sure that the structure was properly carried over from one site to the other.

So, here it is, first post included (I might play around with the dates until I've verified that the template structure I'm using works, but assuming any changes are necessary they will stabilize in a few days). And, of course, comments welcome!

Categories: writing
Posted by diego on March 20, 2004 at 5:00 PM

small movabletype tip

I just discovered that my RSS feeds where publishing my email unencoded. The culprit turned out to be an <$MTEntryAuthorEmail$>. As the MT Template manual explains here, this can be easily solved by adding a spam_protect parameter, as follows: <$MTEntryAuthorEmail spam_protect="1"$>. Useful and simple.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 20, 2004 at 3:37 PM

not sure I understand...

Let me get this straight: Bono saying "fucking" (one word, one time) during a presentation of music awards is retroactively declared to be "indecent and profane". Janet Jackson baring one breast (no nipples) is so "indecent" that not only she ends up apologizing profusely but makes future music shows be censored in real time.

Now, Jackson's "indecency" comes in the half-time show of a game that is one of the most violent in the world, all the while in the previous months news coverage has treated viewers world-wide, at all hours, day or night, to scenes of senseless slaughter, war, and destruction. The attack on Baghdad, one year ago, was broadcast live.

Then I remembered that when Stanley Kubrick's fantastic Eyes Wide Shut came out in the US, much was made in a famous "orgy scene" which was in the end censored (blocking the "offensive images" digitally) to slip by with an 'R' rating (When I came to Europe I could finally see the uncensored movie, I could finally see that what had caused all the trouble were just a few seconds of images that were not meant to be "sexy" at all). But a movie (also good) like "Saving Private Ryan", which depits the horrors of war in graphic detail, has no problem at all in obtaining that same rating. Similarly, the excellent Mulholland Drive by David Lynch contains a single sex scene and less than 5 seconds in which digital effects were also applied to obtain something that would allow the movie to get an 'R' rating.

So, tell me again why does it seem that...

...a live feed of bombs falling on a city, or images of war, conveniently sanitized to avoid seeing the suffering it causes on all sides, are fine, but a woman's breast is indecent?

...interrupting programming to display the gruesome images of the broken bodies of terrorist victims is allright, but saying "fuck" is a big deal?

...there is no problem at all with depicting violent death, torture, and destruction, but the slightest mention of sex fires up the censors?

Yes, the US is currently going a lot further than before (and than most other western countries) in all of this, but let's not kid ourselves: everyone does it.

And I still don't understand.

Posted by diego on March 20, 2004 at 1:42 AM


Gavin Sheridan posted two days ago on being threatened with legal action by author John Gray. This threat came about because of comments that Gavin made in this post which basically referenced this other post on a different weblog, give or take a few words (a few words which, btw, seem to be at the crux of the matter). Now, I saw this early today over at Karlin's weblog and was going to comment on it, but over the topic was already "in play". Dan Gillmor has commented on it. Kevin Drum has comments. Dave has comments. And on and on and on it goes.

The posts in question are from November last year. In terms of the web, they were long gone. It's difficult to see them resurfacing in any meaningful way.

Except, of course, if you did exactly what John Gray's attorneys have done.

First, it seems that the threat could potentially be in murky waters legally (It appears that it's not an open and shut case, both in what relates to the statements, how they were made, and even matters of jurisdiction).

But that's not the end of it. One would assume that Gavin's post was found through a web search, and that this threat of legal action was intended to remove those references from search engines and such (after all, if something can't be found or read by anyone, where's the problem?). However, I will bet that within a couple of weeks both Google and Yahoo! (along with other search engines) will return posts and pages related to this story when searching for "John Gray" or any number of keywords (who knows maybe this entry will show up even), whereas currently that doesn't happen at all. So instead of "solving the problem" (assuming there was a problem in the first place) this action has had the effect of multiplying it by several orders of magnitude. It is even possible that this is picked up by the media somewhere. And you can imagine the headlines, right?

So why would someone do something like this? Mystery. After all, we've already seen what can happen when us weblog-folk get, um, "agitated"... :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 19, 2004 at 7:37 PM

links, influence, and networks

According to this list at BlogRunner that contains "the most influential reporters and bloggers on the web" I am in position 190. Apparently there were some complaints over the results (I say "apparently" because I have been a little removed from online conversations in the last few days), which led BlogRunner to calculate a revised listing changing the parameters by which "influence" was calculated (for example, "penalizing" by posting frequency). I thought I wouldn't show up in the new list, but there I'm in position 128!

Yeah, of course I'm surprised. But that's not the point of this post. :)

Now, I do read many of the journalists and bloggers listed there. List #1 is clearly "skewed" towards bloggers, while list List #2 would be skewed towards journalists (If I'm higher on #2 than on #1 then, does that say anything about me?). The author, Philippe Lourier, responded to comments by Daniel Drezner which noted the problems on the first list (and resulted in changes for the second list).

Philippe's comments make it clear that he doesn't think there's a silver bullet for this, and he probably agrees with Dave, who says that it "proves that trying to quantify influence pretty hard to do, and maybe not so important". (My emphasis).

Not so important in absolute terms, I agree, but definitely useful if we could just put it in the context of a single person, that is, creating (privately) my own network of influence.

A starting point would be to delve a little more into the word "influence". Influence is, in this case, a possible effect of the number of links, and so this ranking (or similar others) is more an indicator of possible influence rather than a direct measure of it (btw, I'm not saying anyone suggested otherwise, I'm just clarifying my POV before continuing).

I've been thinking a lot recently about this, in the context of social software (or, as Anne prefers to call it, sociable software). There are roughly three levels of "influence" that we can readily identify in our daily lives:

  • Personal: friends, family, etc. We are naturally more inclined to take into account and listen to ideas and opinions that come from people we know and trust.
  • Community: Community spheres are generally multiple for any given person: your neighborhood, group of online friends, bloggers you know, local politics, etc. These involve people that you don't know very well but that see their trust level increased because of the context. That is, you may not know A very well, but if B, C, and D all say that A has got a point, you might be inclined to take the idea into consideration. This could also be a form of "soft" peer pressure.
  • Media: I say "media" here lacking a good term to describe influences that are massively distributed and have (more often than not) global reach. Here the context is almost all that matters, as what makes you take the time to consider something is the forum in which it is published.
Each sphere also moves, incrementally, from action to reflection. In my personal sphere my opinions (reflection) can affect my actions directly, but less so when dealing with communities, while at the media level pretty much all I can do is rant about it and then take it as information that can filter back into my other spheres of interest. The interaction between the spheres however, is largely opaque. If I read a number of articles that move me to take action, exposing that context into the other spheres will be difficult (although people that know me very well might know "where I'm coming from").

Nice theory, but so what?

First, I think that weblogs+RSS correlate and bind these three spheres of influence tighter than before. Within my weblog I can include pointers to elements of any of the three spheres, and provide a better context for each. A lot more people in the two spheres that really matter to me as an individual ("personal" and "communities") will be able to know "where I'm coming from". Which in turn changes the dynamics of communication within those spheres of influence, both online and off.

But let's backtrack a bit further though. What are these "lists" useful for? Aside from the fleeting ego-trip they provide :), I see them as useful for finding new "spheres of interest", another form of the old "related links" or "other people who have read this also read...". In other words, community formation and (re)shaping.

With weblogs those interconnections are decidedly faint (which is why it's so hard to come up with these lists), because they in their basic form don't include relationship-value information to the embedded links. Also as a consequence of their nature, weblogs have so far defied easy definition of absolute spheres of influence, and so what weblogs are and do hasn't been overshadowed, yet, by lists of various types. Anything that relates to weblogs, in this sense, is useful in some way. To find new ideas, new discussions, long-lost groups, or what others are saying about things that interest you.

Which (finally!) brings me to the point.

What would happen, for example, if we overlapped FOAF information with those links? Wouldn't we be able to obtain a clearer picture of influence as it relates to a given person? Granted, that by itself wouldn't tell us much about the overall influence of something, but that would be a meta-value that could be obtained based on the aggregate of all those values. But for most people, their own spheres of interest/influence, and that of the people they trust the most, would be enough.

More generically, this goes back to what I said a few days ago about social networks being the glue for next-generation internet applications, as it is one more example of how the personal networks defined by these applications can give new meaning to the data that's out there that we generate, and that relates what we and others create, providing us with new windows (and ways to navigate) the vast sea of information that is the Internet, with the goal of doing something truly useful for us in concrete terms, in improving communication and exchange of ideas.

The network is not the computer. The network is not the person. And because it's neither one or the other, it can help in using the first, and help us, in small ways, in "being" the second.

Lists of connections are nice, but only as far as they are useful for something. And, as with other things, weblogs lead the way.

PS: and, before I forget, happy St. Patrick's day to all! :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 17, 2004 at 1:30 PM

the best sight in dublin

When you're in Dublin (as a tourist) much is made of the Tower, next to the Jameson Distillery, where you have a nice view of the city. This is what I know from reading countless brochures, mind you, as I've never been there. )I generally don't, um, peruse, the tourist sights, although I've been more than once to the Joyce Tower, where Ulysses starts, for other reasons :)). But the tower is probably nothing compared to the Gravity Bar, at the Guinness storehouse, particularly at night.

I've just come back from a Digital Depot party (or is that "networking event"? Who knows... what with all our modern ideas...) and it was fantastic. I think you might not be able to see it at night through the tour (probably closes too early, although maybe not in winter). It's a beautiful place, especially at night. I wish I had had my digital camera with me. The "walls" are made of glass, and each wall that is in the direction of a Dublin landmark (say, Trinity College), has quotes from James Joyce that reference the place in question.

Excellent. Not to sound like a corporate advertisement, but, if you're in Dublin, don't miss it. Just the sight and the "free" pint is worth the 7 Euro. And, needless to say, it's a great pint as well. :)

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 16, 2004 at 9:50 PM

timeouts in safari

safariicon.jpg While working on the Mac my default browser is Safari, and I'm very happy with it. It is fast, looks good, and its tabs implementation is excellent. However, there was this annoying 60-second default timeout for webpage loading that apparently could not be changed (which I hit often when posting, as a combination of my slow server, lots of templates on my weblog, and movable type's way of doing things, but of course the primary reason is the server speed, no question about it). A bit of searching reveals that this is a well-known problem in Safari, and most of the search results point to a fix: SafariNoTimeout 1.0 which I've just downloaded and installed--and seems to work just fine, even in Safari 1.2.

Now, what I don't get is: have the Safari engineers (which I presume use their own browser) never, ever found a page that took more than 60 seconds to load? Weird.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 15, 2004 at 12:39 PM


Last night I took a break and watched Evolution on TV. I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't see it when it came out on theaters, and I never thought of renting it. But I had a good time, and there were a few genuine laughs here and there. I generally enjoy movies that don't take themselves too seriously, particularly when it's patently obvious that they are silly. Good examples of this are Armageddon and ID4: Independence Day, or both Men in Black. They are also good to turn your brain off for two hours--or rather, required to enjoy them at their fullest. :)

And yes: blogging frequency has definitely declined for me. Crunch time, since we've got a release in a few days, but I'm sure there will be have-nothing-to-do-with-anything posts (like this very one) as well as the other kind, randomly spaced over the next few days.

Posted by diego on March 15, 2004 at 12:16 PM

how long must we sing this song?

What happened today in Madrid filled me with a deep, deep sadness and incredible pain. Nearly 200 people dead, and over 1,000 wounded at last count. As far as know, the worst terrorist attack not just in the history of Spain, but in the history of Europe as well. As it happens, yesterday I was listening to the soundtrack of U2's movie Rattle & Hum, which has a version of Sunday Bloody Sunday which, though originally linking both Bloody Sunday (1971) and Easter Sunday (1920), went beyond that original link (though in doing that solidifying its intended meaning) during the Joshua Tree tour with the Enniskillen bombing. Here's the full text of the performance, including Bono's speech during the performance, on the day of the bombing.

Before it though, let me say that whoever thinks that in quoting this I'm comparing A to B or Madrid to Belfast or New York or whatever, or that the IRA is like ETA, or that anything that involves murder and destruction at this level can be somehow compared, or any other thing of that sort, should have their heads examined. I am most decidedly not doing that. The situation in Northern Ireland, thankfully, has improved since the bombing in Omagh in 1998. But it's the questions, not the event. The simple fact that, somehow, this has to stop. We have global communications but instead of learning the hard lessons paid for by others in blood and tears and suffering we just broadcast soap operas across the ocean and somehow manage to repeat the worst of ourselves, as a species, over and over.

If you read the notes at the end with quotes from interviews with Bono in which he explains what they went through in writing and performing the song, you'll understand. It's bigger than a single place or a single indicent. This is just something that I think captures the moment.

And in the end this is a lopsided way of me to ask: how much more bloodshed? How much more needless destruction? How many more murders in the name of some random "cause"? How is it that a something like this can be so recurrent?

How long must we sing this song?

Read on, and if you can, listen to it as well.

Well here we are, the Irish in America.

The Irish have been coming to America for years... going back to the Great Famine when the Irish where on the run from starvation... and a British government that couldn't care less. Right up to today, you know, there are more Irish immigrants here in America today that ever... some illegal... some legal. A lot of them are running from high unemployment... some run from the troubles in Northern Ireland... from the hatred of the H-blocks... and torture... others from wild acts of terrorism like we had today in a town called Enniskillen, where eleven people lay dead, and many more injured... on a Sunday Bloody Sunday.

[song begins]

I can't believe the news today
I can't close my eyes and make it go away
How long
How long must we sing this song
How long

We can be as one

Broken bottles under children's feet
Bodies strewn across a dead-end street
but I won't heed the battle call
it puts my back up,
my back up against the wall

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

And this battle's yet begun
There's many lost, but tell me, who has won?
The trenches dug within our hearts
and mothers, children, brothers, sisters, torn apart

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

How long
How long must we sing this song
How long

We can be as one

[Bono holds the music as he launches into an improptu speech]

Yeah! And let me tell you something... I've had enough of Irish-Americans who haven't been back to their country in 20 or 30 years, come up to me and talk about the resistance, the revolution back home. And the glory of the revolution. And the glory of dying for the revolution.

Fuck the revolution!

They don't talk about the glory of killing for the revolution...

What's the glory... in taking a man from his bed, and gunning him down in front of his wife and his children? Where's the glory in that? Where's the glory in bombing a remembrance day parade of old-age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day? Where's the glory in that? To leave them dying.... or crippled for life... or dead... under the rubble... of a revolution... that the majority of the people in my country don't want.

No more! Sing! No more!

[song restarts]

No more!

Wipe your tears away...

Wipe your tears away...

Wipe your bloodshot eyes...

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

And it's true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality
And today the millions die
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die

And the battle's just begun
To claim the victory that Jesus won...

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday

And here are some quotes from Interviews in which Bono and Edge talk in more detail about the song, and what it means for them:

Host: "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," one of the cuts from the current album... is that about that day in Ireland when, what, 13 people were killed in a protest...?

Bono: It's not important even what was the incident. That's not the point. It's not a rebel song. We're not taking sides. We're just saying, "HOW long must we sing this song?" I'm trying to say that worse than the buildings that have been torn down, worse than the wreckage of Northern Ireland is the BITTERNESS in peoples' hearts. That's what you've got to fight against. That's why music has the ability to LIFT people up. It lifts me up when I listen to our music, or to other peoples' music that inspires me. It lifts me up and makes me want to fight back, not with sticks and stones, but fight back in yourself -- refusing to compromise your own beliefs and standing up and saying, "NO, there's MUCH more, much more!" That's what it's about, isn't it really, when you're faced with an audience... not to hide behind your haircut, not behind your stance or your statement. Just be who you are FOR people.

(from MTV's "Fast Forward" (?) series, 1983, transcript posted on Wire by G.G.)

Bono: "'Sunday Bloody Sunday' is a day that no Irishman can forget but should forget which is what we were saying -- 'how long must we sing this song?' When I introduce it I say: 'this isn't a rebel song.' The name comes up all the time and we're saying 'how long must we have songs called 'Sunday Bloody Sunday.'' That's one area in which I agree with Bob Geldof -- history is just one mistake after anotther."

"And what I was trying to say in that song is: 'There it is. In close-up. I'm sick of it. How long must it go on?' It's a statement. It's not even saying here's an answer."

"It's just saying -- how long must this go on?"

(from "Articulate Speech Of The Heart" by Liam Mackey, Hot Press, July 22, 1983)

Bono: "It means so much to me, that song, because... I'm not sure I got it right. I mighta got it wrong, I'm not sure. I originally wanted to contrast the day, Sunday Bloody Sunday, when 13 innocent people were shot dead in Derry by the British army, with Easter Sunday. I wanted to make this contrast because I thought that it pointed out the awful irony of the fact that these two warring faiths share the same belief in the one God. And I thought how... it's so absurd, really, this Catholic and Protestant rivalry. So that's what I wanted to do. In the end, I'm not sure I did that successfully with the words. But we certainly did it with the music. The spirit of the song speaks louder than the flesh of it."

(from "Timothy White's Rock Stars", radio interview, June 01, 1987)

[...] By 1982, heavily influenced by the Clash, Bono was writing political songs. However, the lyrics to "Sunday Bloody Sunday" were actually begun by The Edge while Bono was away on his honeymoon. The guitarist who was in his seaside holiday home writing songs, was inspired by how the friendly and humorous Belfast people were being torn apart by their religious problems. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" referred to two incidents -- a football match in Dublin 1920, and the streets of Derry in 1972 -- when British soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians. It was not an angry condemnation but, like "New Year's Day" asked for understanding and forgiveness. "How long must we sing this song?"

"The song's not specifically about those two incidents," points out the singer. "We borrowed the title to convey the power of the song. We were really nervous the first time we played it in Belfast. We told the crowd, this is about what's happening here. If you don't like it, we won't play it again. But they just went wild for it."

(from an interview in Sanity record store's magazine by Jenny Raine, November 1998)

Sunday Bloody Sunday -- Suddenly, U2 entered the political arena with a song which linked Ireland's two Bloody Sundays, 1920 and 1971, with the crucifixion ("The real battle is begun / To claim the victory Jesus won / On a Sunday, bloody Sunday"). The Edge reckons they wrote it naively, without considering the consequences. But it might have caused a more serious backlash if the guitarist had got his way. Unusually he conceived the original lyric as well as the music. It began, "Don't talk to me about the rights of the IRA." He can smile about it now: "My words were pretty clumsy, a polemic. Bono shifted it to being much less political, more of a personal reflection." After Noraid-supporting Irish-Americans misunderstood and began throwing money on the stage when U2 played the song, Bono responded with the introduction: "This is not a rebel song!" When they played it the day after the Enniskillen bombing in 1988, as immortalised by the Rattle And Hum movie, he added a raging "Fuck the revolution!" Sunday Bloody Sunday resulted in enduring opprobrium from Republicans, and prompted a denunciation from Gerry Adams. "Thankfully those days are long gone," says Edge. "We're optimistic about what's been happening."

(from "Boys To Men" by Phil Sutcliffe, Q Magazine, November 1998)


Categories: geopolitics
Posted by diego on March 11, 2004 at 5:38 PM

erik goes blogging

Erik, Master of the URL, Finder of the Link, has really started blogging now (let's ignore that no one can say what "real blogging" is for the moment...). His weblog now contains more, um, personal meditative entries, and his linkblog is the new location where his daily blast of interesting links is posted. Excellent! Check out this guest column he wrote for the JavaLobby newsletter, or this post on syndication formats to see what we've been missing.

And, his posts are still identified by beats, which is both obscure and cool (or cool because it's obscure? Or obscure because it's cool?) in a retro kind of way which should be deeply appreciated by geeks worldwide. :)

Posted by diego on March 11, 2004 at 1:35 PM

mysteries of science

Why animals don't shiver, and how this affects the minimum time required for heating a medium-sized kettle

Recent observations have raised the important question of why animals don't shiver. Is it fear? Is it an ages-old instinct to avoid waste of precious energy and resources? Or is it simply not cold enough?

Cross-species and cross-country analysis of Discovery Channel videos as well as other educational paraphernalia has shown that shivering occurs in so-called "higher" species, such as humans, as part of a larger set of extremely advanced survival techniques developed over millions of years, which includes quivering, whimpering, whining, griping, and ticket scalping at the entrance of public events. These advanced survival techniques also express themselves through humans' more nuanced behavior: when confronted with their own wallet, humans will throw a tantrum, get angry, will give vindictive looks as they put the wallet back in their pockets, or will call the police, while most animals simply start chewing said wallet without a care in the world.

It should also be noted that the descendants of the eohippus, well known for their ability to perform amusing acrobatics when in presence of the issue of February 1997 of Science Magazine, do shiver, especially when put inside a large fridge, although the shivering stops after a few hours along with other signs, such as the beating of the heart. Strangely enough, a group of four shivering animals will arrange itself in circular, cuadrangular, or other geometric forms, or, most commonly, randomly, without any training whatsoever!.

One of the measured average distances between oehippus-like creatures thus arranged has been exactly 293.487384 milimeters, which is also, notably, 1/2387.347834 of the distance between the Eiffel tower in Paris and the clock in the townhouse of Springfield, New Jersey, where the experiment was being performed. The incredible significance of this value raises not only the question of how the animals knew how to place themselves exactly (on average) at that distance (293.487384 milimeters) from each other, but also the fantastic precision of the instrument used to obtain that measurement.

And, after years of experiments, no relation has been found between the shivering of animals and how this affects the minimum time required for heating medium-sized kettles, in spite of several laboratory tests where the animals were provided a kettle to make some tea if they wanted to.

Stay tuned for other incredible revelations of Mysteries of Science!

Posted by diego on March 11, 2004 at 11:03 AM

it probably wasn't google

Ok, after a bit of digging I arrived at the conclusion that the problem I mentioned yesterday, of google's clicktrack ing breaking my logfiles, was probably not google. Rather, it looks like some search engine who is taking google's results for a query, doing their own parsing, and possibly presenting them as their own. As a hint, the referers were wrong or generally empty (something I should have noticed yesterday but didn't), as was the user-agent field.

So it probably wasn't Google. Ok. But this small "incident" presents a number of interesting questions. Not just for Google (how do you stop something like that from happening? My guess is throwing lawyers at them is the only option, at most being careful about monitoring source IPs for requests... but then again if whoever is doing this is smart they could get around that too). But also for end users on both sides. On my side, this is creating a problem that I have to keep an eye on, and the person who is doing the search is looking at something that
looks legitimate but isn't. Hm. The problems of openness.

PS: Note that in yesterday's post I mentioned that webmasterworld thread that clarified that Google was tracking through JavaScript. The beta site (new design) clearly tracks directly through URLs. What is not clear is whether the beta site also has a new form of tracking, or whether the tracking will again be through javascript when the new site is release. We'll have to wait and see.

Posted by diego on March 8, 2004 at 11:01 PM

another bad consequence of click tracking

In relation to my post yesterday on click tracking, Yahoo and Google, there's another consequence of the practice of link tracking that I just realized affects noticeably the experience of using search engines: the "visited link" problem. When you get a result from a search engine (and are looking for particular information using multiple keyword searches) it's incredibly useful to be able to see at a glance which URLs you have already visited. This depends on the CSS style settings of the page (or lack thereof), and it's something enabled on the client side. When the browser detects that there's a link you have visited it shows it differently. So far so good.

But when search engines do permanent click tracking, they are affecting the URLs that you receive. If you've visited a certain site in the past, or even during the same sequence of searches but through a referal chain or from another search engine, you're out of luck. The link will be shown as if you've never "seen it" before. Any change whatsoever in the way the click tracking is done affects it, since it affects the URL.

This is a problem, IMO, that search engines should be looking at hard, since it affects the usability of their product quite a lot. As it is, for example, the new Google interface (that I mentioned I was trying out) is tracking every single link, I assume during the testing phase (since they've never done such aggressive tracking before). I'm not talking about that in particular since it's "beta" anyway. But when using different search engines this is definitely a problem. I wonder how it could be solved...

Posted by diego on March 8, 2004 at 7:34 PM

flashes of poetry

Sleep tonight
And may your dreams
Be realized
If the thunder cloud
Passes rain
So let it rain
Rain down on him
So let it be
So let it be

Sleep tonight
And may your dreams
Be realized
If the thundercloud
Passes rain
So let it rain
Let it rain
Rain on him

MLK, From U2's The Unforgettable Fire.

Poetry in my head tonight for some reason. I kept seeing flashes of Yeats as I listened to this song. So. If you'll excuse me, I'll take leave of my senses for a while. :)
"Now I may wither into the truth."
Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 8, 2004 at 12:50 AM

on click tracking, logfiles--and back to google

So I was wondering today what was happening with one of my logfiles, which couldn't be parsed (This after spending ONE HOUR cleaning up a rash of spam comments on this weblog). The parsing was failing even though the log format was fine, and I finally identified the culprit as a line which included something similar to the following baffling text in the referer field:

onmousedown=\"return clk(2,this)\"

This was, needless to say, extremely weird. After some digging I found this thread at webmasterworld. Quote:

I know, Google has been sporadically tracking clicks on result listings through redirects. It looks like click tracking is obviously now a default but instead of rewriting the listings' urls to redirects, the tracking is done through a "hidden" JavaScript function that activates a image request to track the click + position of the listing.


The listings' urls within the serps look like this:
<a href="http:*//" onmousedown="return clk(2,this)">Google News</a>

By itself, tracking is a teeny bit worrying. But tracking that destroys my ability to parse logfiles without fuss is evil. Evil I tellsya!

Okay, maybe not Evil. But certainly a problem. I've never seen this tracking myself before from Google (see below), not sure if Google is aware of the problem with this method--Hopefully they'll fix it.

Speaking of tracking.

Currently with Google when I see tracking (which happens more and more often these days) I see something of the form:

While Yahoo! Search shows the following:
Yikes! (Sorry for the line breaks, those are some pretty long and ugly URLs!).

Now, since the new Yahoo! Search came online I have never, never seen a link NOT tracked. They are tracking everything. And as the example above shows, Yahoo! tracks not only what you're clicking, but also the query and a number of other things that are unknown. Is that a cookie value there? Are they tying cookie IDs to searches? Their privacy policy didn't clarify this, as it has no reference to tracking that I can see.

I switched to Yahoo! a few weeks ago, and there are a number of other things that I find annoying about their new search. While the results are relevant and it's generally fast, I find the "sponsor results" which appear both at the top and at the bottom something that is pretty intrusive. In only two weeks I've learned to ignore them completely (I never click on them, barely see them) but now they're getting annoying. Sometimes I have to scroll down to get past the "sponsor results" which is ridiculous. Not only that, but the constant tracking slows down the request, if not by much, at least noticeably (something that doesn't happen with Google in my experience).

Finally, a small point: the page is too busy. It's weird that I feel this way now, but that's what it seems. The current Google results page is too busy as well, but less so. Then through Aaron I found a way to activate the new (as yet unreleased) Google look. So I tried it, and I liked it!. I like it better than anything else out there. Fast, and simple (the ads look a little weird without clear borders though, and make them a bit confusing). Let's hope that hack that makes it available doesn't stop working anytime soon.

So I'm switching back to Google, and Google is again my default in the Firefox/Firebird search box. All the reasons are fine, but in the end, it's as simple as this: at the moment, minor problems aside, Google is a better product, period.

Posted by diego on March 7, 2004 at 3:51 PM

reversing the privacy flow

In a post talking about Python Jon mentioned, at the end, this (in reference to an email quote he made with permission):

Emails from Ross Mayfield, CEO of Socialtext, include a .sig that ends with:
this email is: [ ] bloggable [ x ] ask first [ ] private
Great idea! I've added this to my own .sig.
It is a great idea (I'll follow the meme as well :)). This led me to thinking further about what's underlying including a signature like that. It's not only a matter of privacy, but also of trust, ie., if you don't trust whoever you're sending the email to, that signature is worthless.

So this is a kind of purely social control on the openness of a digital medium (in the case, email), and it underscores is that we need to start reversing the privacy flow of applications. What I mean by that is that many applications today (including most current social networking apps) don't have a poor "understanding" of privacy as much as they have a bent towards assuming that everything's public unless you say so. The notion of privacy "flows" from the user to the application, requesting adjustments to the user, instead of the user giving up elements of his privacy to the application (reverse flow). I'm sure many people are ok with that, but I prefer the idea that everything is private and you can open up elements as you prefer.

This makes it more difficult to do things like searching and browsing, since not all the information is public. So there has to be a fundamental design decision made to enable this behavior.

Plus: I find it interesting that the first option is "bloggable" which is basically as public as anything gets. Bloggable replaces public, and it's reasonable in the context of blogs as "information that can spread out of control." Could we not have a category called "public for coworkers" or "public for your friends"? Yes. But in this case the levers we can pull are useless, because your trust relationship (which determines whether that message is useful or not) is with the first person; once the information goes beyond that trust relationship (eg., to your trusted contact's coworkers) then they are not bound by it. Sure, your trusted contact might point out that it shouldn't go beyond them, but when they decide not to mention it they will have to act not based on their trust relationship of your contact, but on the aggregate of your contact's trust relationship to them and the perceived value (for them) of your contact's trust relationship to your (whom they presumably don't know). That simple statement, "bloggable" is an acknowledgement that once you go your immediate trust circle you have for all purposes lost whatever control you had of the information spread. All or nothing.

Makes sense? I think a diagram might be in order ...

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 7, 2004 at 12:34 PM

the wonders of SSH

I've been using SSH more and more (for a number of reasons that include a restrictive internet access setup at the office until everything is set correctly). Tunneling X Window over it is common, but sometimes I forget that it's useful for almost anything you need to do that involves sockets. For example, today I set it up to tunnel SQL access, using PuTTY and these instructions. Not too complex, and much more secure. :)

Posted by diego on March 7, 2004 at 2:11 AM

christopher allen on social software

Christopher Allen of Alacrity Ventures comments on social software. A good read. I've mentioned similar things in the past in other contexts, so I agree with a lot of what he says. Maybe more later when I've fully digested it [via Scoble].

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 5, 2004 at 12:50 AM

of blogging and "reality"

[via Dave] an article in the Village Voice, in which the writer, Whitney Pastorek, vilifies weblogs for destroying human interaction and forcing her to check websites all day to see what her "friends" are doing.

First, somebody should point Whitney to an RSS reader. It would be faster for her to check feeds, rather than make rounds on her friends' websites.

The piece is funny, but throughout it there's an undercurrent of disgust, as if blogs were against nature in some sense. I suppose carrying around a tiny four-inch brick of batteries and electronics that interrupts you at will is the most natural thing in the world (yes, I'm talking about cellphones--or does Whitney avoid them too?).

Maybe her friends find weblogs to be a good, unobtrusive way to communicate. Maybe her friends, lacking the ability to publish their thoughts on the Village Voice, have found a way to do essentially the same, thus threatening the uniqueness of what she does. (Isn't that article a lot like a weblog entry, btw?). Or maybe there's something deeper going on here.

The origins of this weblog problem for her seem to stem from her perception that weblogs are cutting down on "real" interaction:

These days, I do not even hear about the stupid stuff that's going on—"I got a haircut" or "My apartment burned down"—because the bloggers assume that I have read about it on their blog. Which I have not. And then I wonder why they are not answering their home phone, and immediately assume we are in a fight.


I invite my friends to [literary readings in which she performs], hoping for affirmation and free drinks. How heartbreaking, then, when no one arrives! Phone calls are made: I am sad that you did not come to my event! The bloggers reply, invariably: But I linked to you on my blog! That is just the same as if I showed up in person!

It is not. It is very different.

(Really? It's different to link to a webpage than go to a place and talk to people? No kidding eh? Truly shocking revelation. Thanks for the tip. And as for: "I do not even hear about the stupid stuff that's going on—'I got a haircut' or 'My apartment burned down'---that's the first time I've seen "my apartment has burned down" in the category of chit-chat, or, as she puts it "stupid stuff").

In my experience weblogs enhance real world interaction, not the other way around. I've gotten into conversations because of what I've read in other weblogs, and people have come up to me to talk about what I said at some point--creating new threads of conversations that might otherwise never have happened (this is more marked with people you don't see as often as you'd like, due to geography, or work, or whatever). And let's not get into how many people I've met, online and off, because of my weblog.

In person, issues can be discussed more in-depth. In fact, weblogs are good for a number of things, but they fail a little bit at some types of conversations since it's easy to miss the context of something that's being said (the source of many weblog "fights"). In person, if someone misses the context of what you just said, you explain yourself better. With weblogs, it baloons. Weblogs, on the other hand, have both an immediacy and a pemanence that makes them good for a number of other things, including long drawn-out conversations where ideas are evolving and being exchanged. In the end, they form a feedback cycle with "real world" interaction that enhances both.

But she still feels weblogs have taken something away, rather than added to it. So I thought about it... what's the only way in which a weblog can cut down on your "real world" interactions? When is it that they stifle conversation? When is it that a weblog allows you to say it all and nothing's left to be said in person?

How about when all your conversations center around superficial crap that can be explained in two words and which dissipates after five minutes?

In other words, if a weblog can really kill off "real world" interactions with your "friends" maybe it's time to think if those "friendships" are anything but meaningless chatter about the weather, haircuts, and pretending to be nice to each other.

Weblogs have made you realize that your life is a sequence of interactions that can be replaced by a few hyperlinks and 500-word entries?

Then maybe it means that to be so easily replaced those interactions were actually just superficial drivel. Deal with it. Or not.

But shooting the messenger isn't going to do you any good.

Posted by diego on March 4, 2004 at 7:26 PM

and last monday...

...I talked, over lunch, with Dr. Eugene Wong. So busy I forgot to mention it! It was a great conversation. (This was in the context of an open meeting at TCD, so I ended up talking to him by chance). We talked for about an hour, and it went by in a breeze. When he introduced himself he mentioned he was a Professor at Berkeley (Professor Emeritus, it turned out) and one of the creators of the INGRES database engine (which immediately in my head flagged that he was a pioneer of many of the concepts of relational databases that we take for granted today), and I was of course duly impressed and humbled. Only later I found out about his other activities (e.g. NSF Director). The most striking thing was when we were talking about research in the US, and in replying to a question of his I mentioned I had worked at IBM Research in Yorktown heights in the late 90's. To this he said, "Oh, I worked there too. When they had just opened the building."

In the early 1960s, that is.

So. Much. History.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on March 4, 2004 at 1:07 AM

social networks: the glue for next-generation internet applications

Bill Burnham (who, among other things, is a managing partner at Softbank Venture Capital) has an interesting piece today on social networking applications. Quote:

Without some kind of application to force the regular use and maintenance of such networks, pure play online social networks are destined to become as stale and appealing as two week old bread.
Maybe. Interestingly I think that his mention of "pure play" has another dimension beyond what he means. I think that social networks as we know them today are, in part, in some weird way, piggybacking on the reality TV craze (or both are riding on an undercurrent of "reality fetish" that has emerged in our society). The idea of "play" (as in playfulness) is more powerful than it would seem, and it's definitely a factor. Partially, it's a game.

Or in other words, entertainment.

Now, this is not my cup of tea, so I naturally drift towards the first part of that quote, that without an application on which the network can sustain itself, it would eventually whither.

Social networks might be overhyped today, but no more so than the web browser was in 1995. Both, in my view, are critical pieces of infrastructure. Further, "social networks" have existed in limited forms online for some time now, so part of what's happening is the realization that the network of a person is crucial and can be nurtured to enhance the online experience in general and certain applications in particular.

What's powerful about this idea, to me, is not what they are today, but what this laser-like focus on their nature enables, just like one of the web browser's more important contributions was not the browser itself (ie., the component) but the notion that an application didn't necessarily belong either on the client or on the server, but could (and should when necessary) be split in two and thus improve the networked experience (ie., applications that embed browser or browser-like functionality). This has been the driving force behind my work in the last few months in fact: to allow people to leverage the qualities of personal networks and make them useful.

What are these qualities? In my opinion, above all, they can carry over a level of trust from the real world. This can then be applied to re-create real-world activities online, even if they still have a ways to go before they enable more than they restrict. Identity is enhanced. Interactions have less "friction" (friction is increased by anonymity, since we have to double-check the information we receive, etc).

There's another factor to take into consideration: that social networks, while infrastructure, are "soft", in the sense that they have no hard boundaries that define them (which lock out overlapping functionality). The web browser, for example, has hard boundaries, you don't generally use two of them, and in the end you don't care as long as it works. Social networks, however, are not only dynamic, as Bill notes, but also multiple and overlapping. Many people don't think twice about running two IM clients side by side, just as they don't think twice about having a group of friends from work and an entirely different group of friends from, say, college. Sometimes these groups intersect and/or interact, true, but they can be, and generally are, maintained and evolve in parallel.

Social networks are the glue for next-generation apps, and done properly they can bring together cyberspace and meatspace much closer than they are today. Explicit social network functionality might not become widespread by itself but for a few exceptions, but their principles and underlying notions will become part of the fabric of interconnected software, just as surely as the web browsing has become part of the fabric of applications today.

In other words, "pure play" social networks (in both senses) by themselves might not be sustainable beyond a few players [1], but their underlying principles will enable enable new types of applications and frameworks that can---and most certainly will be.

[1] If you're skeptical of even that, consider that Opera, with a product in an ultra-commoditized market, has grown to the point of filing for an IPO recently.

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 4, 2004 at 12:11 AM

top twelve tips...

...for running a beta program from Joel. Good reading. :)

Posted by diego on March 3, 2004 at 9:02 PM

two weeks with a mac

blue-apple-logo.jpgIt's been almost two weeks since I got my new development machine, a Powermac G5, so I thought I'd write down some of my impressions during this time.

The first Mac I used was at my first job, one of the original Powermacs (PowerPC 601) with System 7. The experience was good, but System 7 was very good at developing System 7 apps, and running System 7 apps, but interoperability was hard. I remember I used to spend nearly all my time running X within it, since most of the work I was doing then was in Java, or C++ targeted at various UNIX platforms.

Then I used a Mac on and off over the last year (an old G3 with OS X) that we got on loan to test our software, but with only 128 megs of RAM it wasn't possible to do more than launch a program (wait... and wait... and wait...) and see how it came out. Serious debugging (of problems mostly related to layout problems) was pretty much impossible.

The G5, of course, changed all that.

Btw, you will have to forgive my sometimes starry-eyed commentary in what follows :). Even when I point out some of the problems that I've run against I sort of gloss over them; I'm sure that for others they will be more difficult to accept. So this is not terribly objective, but I think it's a good example of how the experience affected my judgment :).

First, the experience of setting up the machine is quite simply a pleasure from start to finish. The packaging is nice. Oohs and Aahs abound even as you open the box and get everything out. The machine looks nice. The cables have nice terminators that make them appear to "meld" with the machine.

Plus, there are surprises in the most unexpected places. For example, as I was setting up the LCD, I was wondering how to adjust its angle. I placed it on the desk, and looked at it for a couple of minutes. Nothing. Looked behind. Nothing that seemed to indicate how to rotate it (Mac LCDs stand on an inverted V, as opposed to PC LCDs which generally have a single stand with a swivel). I refused to look at any manuals. (Not that the Mac has many of those anyway :)). I lifted it up and tried to move it (gently), to no avail. I set it down. And then it happened: for whatever reason I pushed it slightly from the top border.

It moved.

I pushed it further, the monitor's angle was reduced accordingly. I pushed it from behind, and the angle increased.

The utter shock of that moment can't be easily explained. Here was a mechanism that simple, understated, and that worked properly when it had to. The long hours that must have gone into the excellent design of something as small (that could easily be considered "inconsequential") dropped on me like a bucket of cold water. And we tend to ignore mechanical engineering. Like turning on the machine from the monitor: there are no buttons, you just slide your finger over an area on the bottom-right of it, and on it goes.

Then, later, almost everything was were it should be. Front sockets for USB, headphones, and so on.

At around that time, during the installation, there were two things that bugged me a bit. One was the overly intrusive registration procedure that I had to go through to get the machine up and running, and which I couldn't bypass. The other was the CD tray, which could only be opened by pressing a key on the keyboard (which took me about 2 minutes to figure out). I wondered how this could affect error situations for a bit, but then I let it go.

Once I was in, the machine was more than fast, it was instantaneous. Then again, I would have been dissapointed if that wasn't the case, considering the hardware (G5, 1 GB RAM, Serial-ATA disk...). It was nice nevertheless.

The default security settings of the machine were a joke (no password for logging in, no password for the screensaver, in fact, no screensaver set up) but I quickly changed that. For finding my way around the configuration, Mark's Dive Into OS X was a good guide. Many thanks to Mark for maintaining such an excellent resource.

Safari is fantastic, I downloaded Firebird but after enabling the tabs in Safari I simply had no need for it. Safari was the default browser out of the box and it has stayed that way.

Setting up a printer was so easy it felt like cheating. We have a LaserJet 2300 with JetDirect, and while Windows was confused about it (as usual) requiring CDs, looking through the network and so forth, on the Mac it was a two-click process. Go to add printers. The LaserJet shows up. Select. Done.

After playing with some settings I updated the software (Java, iTunes, etc) and then installed Eclipse and other things I needed for development, including Xcode and the X11 server. I've had little need of anything else since then, with the exception of Office (I tried installed OpenOffice for Mac beta but it was a disaster, and it needs X11 to run... I'll just wait until they put out the native Carbon version), which meant that at some point I'll have to get Microsoft Office for Mac, and VirtualPC (also a Microsoft product). I was going to get a copy of VirtualPC in fact, but I found out that it doesn't run on G5s (!!). I guess I'll have to wait for that one.

Now for the little annoyances: coming from both UNIX/Linux and Windows, Macs are a little too "opaque". It is hard to know what's installed, and where. It's even harder to know with certainty how to uninstall things. I know that in 99% of the cases just dumping a program's folder into the Trash is enough, but what about programs that have registered themselves as MIME handlers for example? Is that taken care of automatically? I often ended up wondering if things were properly uninstalled, and sometimes checked the list of services running to make sure nothing was left as a UNIX-style daemon somewhere.

As far as the Finder is concerned, there are several inconsistencies in the navigation, and default settings are generally hard to find. Mostly it's a matter of knowing how to do something, rather than wondering if it can be done at all (Example: taking screenshots, or creating PDFs among other things).

The Command+Tab functionality that was added in OS X (which has existed in Windows as Alt-Tab for years and years) is nice, and the incredibly useful (and incredibly cool) Exposé feature is a godsend which basically negates the need of using virtual desktops.

All in all, a great experience so far. The little navigational inconsistencies might become more annoying as time goes by, but for the moment, I can live with them.

Good stuff. :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 3, 2004 at 8:10 PM

re: ethics in cs, and identity

Anne mentions an article in the recent ACM Crossroads (I have to see if I can get a version from the digital archives, thanks to my ACM membership. Which, oops, I just remembered I have to renew!). She makes some similar points to what I discussed a few days ago.

She also points to a summary of the Urban Tapestries project which says:

The key features defining the relationships our respondents had with ICTs are the importance of control (or lack of it), socio-cultural contexts, expectation management, external or internal locus of control, and personal aesthetics.

It is clear that respondents used UT in order to negotiate boundaries and mark their territories, stake claims and identify their personal preferences ... In this sense, public authoring promotes a sense of control not only over users' territories, but also over their boundaries and their own role in those territories.

It's all too possible that I'm projecting too much of my own thinking on these issues (because it could be argue that those conclusions are not specific enough--to which I'd say that you have to put them in the context of the project), but I find that data very encouraging. I might not be that crazy after all. :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on March 1, 2004 at 11:46 PM

new clevercactus website... for a little bit

A new (temporary) clevercactus website is now online. Very mysterious :)

To those that have been reading this weblog for some time now, clevercactus share was code-named kitten. It's been a long road. Almost there!

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 1, 2004 at 8:36 PM

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