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

an internet of ends

Yesterday I gave a talk at Netsoc at TCD titled "An Internet of Ends". Here's the PDF of the slides. There are many ideas that I think are in there that finally jelled in the last few days, ideas that have been buzzing around my head for quite some time but that I haven't been able to connect or express in a single thread up to this point. I thought it would be a good idea to start expanding on them here, using this post as a kick-off point.

Yes, more later. And as always, questions and comments most welcome!

Categories: science,, technology
Posted by diego on April 29, 2004 at 9:21 PM

clevercactus: year 2

So Russ just reminded me that the anniversary of clevercactus was yesterday. (Thanks Russ!).

Strictly speaking, the anniversary was that of the the "public release" of the company and product. Things don't happen on a clear-cut timelines, but it's nice to mark milestones.

Now, I had thought about it on and off for the last few weeks, but of course I had to actually get to the day to forget about it -- and about mentioning it! But since I have an irrepresible need to come up with something clever (no pun intended :)) to say, I'll just use my faulty memory as an excuse and make this an entry about the year that begins, as well as a celebration of the year that's gone by.

One year! Wow. Thanks to everyone who has helped us get here!

The best is yet to come. :)

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 26, 2004 at 11:49 PM

self-organization is not a pipe dream

A couple of weeks ago on a post about google, gmail, centralization and not, Andrew left a comment that stayed with me. He said:

Decentralisation is _never_ going to catch on. The average person does not care. They just don't.
The reason it stayed with me was because I've heard it before, in many forms, and in different contexts.

In my head, I generally rephrase the statement to "The average person should not have to care." If they were up to date in all the issues involved, they probably would care. But it's not their job to care. It's our job. It's what we should be looking out for. Well-informed users are great, and of course everyone on their field wishes that more people would care.

Now, whether people care about this or not isn't the issue. The issue is that we (we = the developer community) haven't really offered a good, simple solution that works in decentralized form for many of these problems. We have to give the best possible solution to problems that most users don't see, because we can't expect everyone to be an expert. If you gave people a decentralized tool that was transparent in its networking and security, they'd use it. The benefits of using one over the other could and should be explained, but some of them would be obvious and immediate (not that it's a silver bullet, of course sometimes you want centralized services).

It's up to us to care. Because users shouldn't have to.

Posted by diego on April 26, 2004 at 11:42 PM

bloomsday's 100th

Rejoyce Dublin 2004: a website with information on the festivities surrounding the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday.

I have to go visit the Tower at Forty-Foot again soon. :)

"Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead..."

Categories: writing
Posted by diego on April 26, 2004 at 7:52 PM


"The physicists say that I am a mathematician, and the mathematicians say that I am a physicist."

Albert Einstein

Source: this article from The Guardian about a recently discovered diary that casts some light on Einstein's last years.

Incidentally, The Einstein Archives contains digital versions of his writings, and there are a couple of others over at the always-excellent Gutenberg Project.

Categories: science
Posted by diego on April 26, 2004 at 7:48 PM

CD-Rs: how reliable?

From the Independent an article on CD-Rs and their lack of long-term reliability:

You know those CD-Rs that you've trusted your most precious memories to? They could be little more use than coasters after just two years.
An interesting read, more or less along the lines of other things I've seen on the topic over time.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 23, 2004 at 4:16 PM

about privacy and stuff

I read this, then this, then this, then instead of ranting I just point to this I wrote a few days ago and then go back to whatever it is I was doing. :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 23, 2004 at 1:45 PM


In this week's Economist, The Dark Side of the Moon:

IN THE science-fiction classic 2001, a spacecraft is dispatched to examine Iapetus, Saturn's third-largest moon, because of an anomalous signal sent from Earth's moon to Iapetus. In the book, as in reality, there is something else odd about Iapetus: unlike any other object in the solar system, one-half of its surface is ten times darker than the other. Arthur Clarke speculated that it was a signal from an alien civilisation. Astronomers naturally tend to doubt that explanation but have had difficulty coming up with a better one.


It turns out that the two sides look rather similar to the radar, and about the same amount of signal bounced off either side. This [...] means that whatever the dark material is, it is either electrically non-absorbing, or placed in a very thin layer, only a few centimetres thick. Though astronomers are fairly certain that Iapetus is mostly made of water, they are unsure of what else is there. The radar results point towards ammonia as a likely component, because it absorbs radar signals. But it may lie just below the surface.

The radar data still leave much to be explained. But Cassini, an unmanned American spaceprobe, is due to arrive at Saturn on July 1st. Its four-year mission is planned to include a close approach to Iapetus. So even if the scheduled date of 2001 has now passed, a definite answer should come soon.

Interesting. But let's not mention that HAL 9000 is still fiction. And that we don't have a base on the moon. And that the space station we do have in orbit around the Earth is a glorified shoebox, instead of the magnificent ring in 2001. And...

Okay, I'll stop complaining.

On a lighter note, this reminds me that I've been thinking of re-reading Rendezvous with Rama (of which a movie has also been long-rumored, btw). That book and Rama II are among my SF favorites of all time.

Categories: science
Posted by diego on April 23, 2004 at 12:19 PM

somebody help me, I'm being spontaneous!

So about 2 weeks ago I was supposed to take a break from work and everything else. Not blogging for a while seemed like a good idea as well. What ended up happening was that I didn't completely stop working but I did stop blogging, and my absolute lack of blogflow has remained a constant since then except for a couple of posts here and there.

Now since yesterday night (late at night) I've had in my head this sequence from The Truman Show in which Truman is on a roundabout randomly moving back and forth different roads and screaming "somebody help me, I'm being spontaneous!". And in some weird way it feels like that.

Sure, work is a factor, but yesterday I realized there's something else going on too, and honestly I don't know what it is.

Having issued this clarification (?) maybe we'll now return to our regular (?) programming (!).


Categories: personal
Posted by diego on April 23, 2004 at 11:50 AM

getting there

Okay, so blogging is down again as more details of share come into place. For example, a couple of days ago we began to switch over the infrastructure to its final form (app-wise) by using HTTPS on the connections to provide a fully secure front-end to the API (which, yes, we will publish once the infrastructure is ready to handle it, along with a local API for the connection layer). There have been many revs over the last couple of weeks, and now we're nearing the next tipping point. More information on the product and the clevercactus weblog are also forthcoming.

Anyway, if I'm not blogging as much as I'd like to, that's the reason. It will ease up. Eventually. :)

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 15, 2004 at 6:38 PM

Yahoo! SoulSearch

Following yesterday's Google HeavenSearch post, the Onion has a story of its own along similar lines: Yahoo! Launched Soul-Search Engine. The return of the metaphysical? Hm... :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 13, 2004 at 5:00 PM

seriously though

So, before anyone throws a fit about my Google-HeavenSearch fake news item, I just wanted to say a couple of things.

No, I'm not dismissing any of the issues. I'm just saying that it seems to me pretty hypocrytical all the immense attention that is being given to the privacy concerns (which exist) regarding Google when there are way more pressing concerns in many other areas. Other search engines. Other identity systems. Airline reservation systems. Credit card systems.

Yes, even I haven't been always raising these issues in unison, but they should be. Privacy breaks down at the weakest point, not just for Google.

For example, lots of attention has been given to Google not "guaranteeing" that an email in GMail will actually be completely deleted. But let's be realistic. Have Microsoft or Yahoo! or AOL ever guaranteed that? Not that I'm aware of.

Writing in, Declan McCullagh has one of the few fairly balanced views that I've seen on the topic. He rightly points to the real problem, which is centralized systems, not Google in particular. (See also here). If you want something to be fully private, then just don't use, say, a webmail account for it.

Some of the complaints, however, have had to do with the precedent that this sets. Precedent? When companies like Gator provide software that is installed on millions of machines and basically acts like a Trojan to track behavior? When most email messages exchanged travel unencrypted through the Internet?

Come on.

Yes, these are real issues. But it's not a Google problem alone. It's structural to the kind of service being provided, part of its nature. I've tried GMail (I will hopefully have time to comment on that specifically later) and Google is doing something basically similar to others, improving on several respects (and a number of very cool ideas), changing others, and still lagging behind on some.

For me the solution is clear: decentralization, plus end-to-end encryption at the application level based on public-key infrastructure. Centralized systems have their pros and cons, as anything--and it seems that these days it is too easy to imagine that they have to be good (and perfect) for everything, and even more, that a single company has to be responsible for fixing all that's wrong in the world.

Okay, diatribe finished. :-))

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 12, 2004 at 7:02 PM

google announces HeavenSearch, partially disclaims deity status

This from the fake-as-news dept:

(for immediate release)
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA, April 2004.

Google Inc. revealed today a new product called HeavenSearch ( that, in accordance to the company's oft-discussed reach into theological depths, will allow users to search the information contained in Paradise and alternative otherwordly venues.

"We're really excited about this product," said a Google official. "People have been talking for a while about whether Google is God and so on. And they're not totally off the mark. Our cookies see everywhere and everything, even beyond Death. Beyond Taxes too. We wanted to make this wealth of information available to users." The initial product, released as a beta (as is standard Google practice), will start off by searching through the Christian Heaven. Plans are in place, however, to provide search facilities for other major Religions' pleasant afterlife locations.

And what about Hell?

"We're not going there," said a developer that worked on the project. "Our motto is 'Do no Evil'. Obviously that precludes searching through Hell," and then noted, "we've wondered about Limbo though."

Privacy advocates were outraged at the very notion. "This is a disastrous development. Between search, mail, shopping, news, and now religion, Google's cookies are becoming all-powerful entities. The Google cookie is the greatest threat to our way of life since Oreos were invented. The Pope should be worried about the Googleplex, too."

The Vatican declined to comment.

The Google Official wondered: "So we're terrible, but, say, AOL, or Microsoft, or Yahoo aren't an issue at all? Passport? The Windows Registration System? AIM? ICQ? MSN Messenger? Ads everywhere? Pop-ups? Pop-unders? Instertitial ads? Paid-for-search results? Credit Card information in a server in Redmond somewhere? Why is it that all this brouhaha applies to Google only?"

To which the privacy advocates replied (in unison): "Oh, because AOL, Microsoft, and everyone else basically are good companies. We have nothing to fear from them!". One of them added "Plus, those companies... you know, they're pretty harmless. They just have tens of billions of dollars in cash and dominant, locked-in, fiercely defended positions on their markets. Just look at Microsoft, they just had to pay Sun Microsystems something like two billion dollars. Now they've only got 54 billion left!." Another interjected. "Right. These companies aren't God or anything like that," after which he dropped to his knees and, eyes closed, head down, hands to chin, started mumbling search-engine queries.

"I see," said the Google Official when hearing this, as he dug out some M&Ms from an open bowl on the table, then proceeded to sit down at a nearby massage chair.

So is Google, really, really God now?

"We're not like, God-God, you know? After all, we had nothing to do with the creation of the Universe and all living things." The official said, his voice vibrating in unison with the massage chair, disclaiming Google's incipient deity status, and added cryptically "That was there before us."

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 12, 2004 at 6:53 PM

ten years after Cobain

Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth remembers Kurt Cobain in the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times, with the aptly titled: "When the Edge Moved to the Middle". I was thinking just yesterday of how disgusted I am of what passes for popular music these days (btw, I'm not saying that it was better in the past, it's just that for some reason I've been more sensitive to it recently. I mean, I cringe to think of, say, the time of Disco). Few songs have any meaning at all. There is no innovation in the music. Then the videos: Visual effects. Photoshop-ed bodies. Sub-second shots. Smile. Click. Smile. Slick. Jump. Smile. Every single time (I'm not kidding) I happen to land on MTV or related I remember Beck's MTV makes me wanna smoke crack.

It's the underground that matters. The subconscious of society. And Nirvana was at the center of one of those few times when the underground went overground, and briefly (so very briefly) took over.

Strangely enough, I wasn't into Nirvana at the time, I re-discovered it on my own, and on my own terms, at the end of the 90s.

So today I'll repeat that Heavier than Heaven is a must-read. I'll listen to favorites like Heart-Shaped Box and Pennyroyal Tea.

I'll listen, and wonder.

Posted by diego on April 8, 2004 at 4:16 PM

articles, depth and threading

I started writing this intertwined within the previous post about blogs & fiction, but I quickly realized that it deserved a little more than a paragraph lost within another entry (diego solemnly tells the idea: you have been upgraded from "paragraph" to "entry", and you're free to go! There is much rejoicing in the world of ideas. Tearful goodbyes are exchanged and so on.) I was saying...

The interview I did for that article was probably half an hour or more, and having written articles before (although technical) I knew very well what would have to happen in the end. I think that Jim McClellan (reporter) did a good job given his space constraints, and he cared and was knowledgeable about the topic.

Now what I was thinking about was that no topics with any degree of depth can be properly discussed in one or two pages no matter how good you are and how much care you put into your writing; there just isn't space enough to do things justice.

This made me wonder about more complex and consequential matters, which also get alloted similar amounts of space, and it reminds me that when I see an article on which I know the background, I can make a different judgment, but what about articles where there can be no background because it is evolving news? Until time passes, there is no other source of information on what's going on aside from 1,500 word articles and 5-minute news clips. Overtime you get books, documentaries, etc, and more and more we've got weblogs to cover part of the picture. But the reality is that, for the most part, we're still subject to the vision provided us by those brief news items. And that's not enough.

I have a habit, which is to keep track of threads within newspapers and across them. I don't do this formally (not that obsessive :)) but I do it. So what I was thinking was whether this idea of reading of "trails" of news on given topics is something that could be formalized in some way, and what would be the requirements. In true blog fashion, and since I have to get other things done, I will simply ask a bunch of questions, provide few if any answers, and then cart off riding my faithful donkey into the sunset, with my extra large sombrero, laptop in one hand, bottle of tequila--worm and all--in the other, under the fading desert sun.


Well, someone might say, newspapers themselves do this. Or does it (With their "big picture" feature). Or RSS search aggregates some of this... Feedster's feedpapers come to mind... but that's not what I mean, although Feedpapers come close in some respects.

And that's not what I mean because both the current "news cycle" and search place importance on recency. And recency stresses what is shocking. (Because the more shocking something is, the bigger the chance of it being noticed when there's a sea of new information that comes in every day).

There are two problems here, one is that of following a thread across time, in a given medium (eg., newspapers) and even across different media, and focus only on it to be able to go beyond the soundbite-dependent world in which we live in.

The second problem is that, structurally, writing something that can exist both as a unit and as a part of a larger whole is, well, complicated. That's why "series" of articles are made explicit. Maybe now that media is merging in different ways and you can actually use digital to expose its underlying continuum, it will (should?) become more common practice to serialize works.

If both were done regularly, we could combine the technology with the writing style (yes, some of these ideas echo in what I've tried to do with plan b as far as creating a structure that can be coherent both through linear and hypertextual paths, and that is also "episodic"). I naturally gravitate towards thinking of the technology required, but this is as much a question of technology (which is largely there already) as it is of writing style and how we are used to receiving our information. And weblogs have a role to play there, I think...

...and off riding into the sunset I go. :)

Categories: writing
Posted by diego on April 8, 2004 at 2:25 PM

blogs & fiction

The guardian has an article today on blogs & fiction. I was interviewed for it, since plan b (mentioned in the article) was maybe the first attempt (certainly one of the first attempts) at this mix.

The interview was actually quite long, and it certainly went beyond the two sentences of my quote :-) but that's how it is. (I will have something to add about what the nature of articles does to any topic in a little bit). It was an interesting experience.

One thing: where I'm quoted "When you're writing, there is a kind of idealised reader in your mind [...]" I think this might give the impression that you actually control or are conscious about writing for someone, when, at least for me, there might be the faint image of this idealised reader somewhere, but it's not really present. Writing requires flow. Flow means that common rational processes don't necessarily apply. Most if not all the time you're writing for yourself (except that there might be a thin veil of disguise, but when you read later what you wrote, and enjoy it, you can't deny reality :)). Then again there's no denying that what's written will be read by others, and since you know that is the case, it becomes difficult to argue that isn't a factor at all. Editing doesn't require flow, and sometimes things are modified during the editing process for one reason or other... and then with plan b even though there isn't much editing, there is feedback, which as I said in the interview clearly has some effect simply because it exists.

Anyway, this is confusing enough to merit a revision at some later date. :) Or maybe it isn't confusing, and I just hesitate because I've lost writing flow after a few days of being not blogging...

Categories: writing
Posted by diego on April 8, 2004 at 12:18 PM


...after my mini-hiatus. The last few days have seen important changes in the connectivity layer of share, improving online status detection and distributing the tasks completely into the client. We haven't finished verifying this yet but the current version should provide connectivity within environments with proxying firewalls (although not between an environment with a proxying firewall --as opposed to a transparent firewall-- and the outside world) when HTTP connectivity is available (used for basic contact sync). This is a common situation within many offices or corporate sites. Several bugs have been fixed as well. We're getting closer to opening up the floodgates so that anyone who wants to join, can.

Lots of other things to talk about. More later!

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 7, 2004 at 6:44 PM

me = offline

Okay, a new version of clevercactus share is ready, with an improved connectivity layer and other changes. Phew! We've been catching up with emails over yesterday and today, so if you're waiting for a reply and/or you're wondering whether we got the message or not (one of our email addresses was non-operational for a couple of days) please let us know.

I need to take a break, so I will be going offline for a couple of days as of right now. Have a good rest of the weekend! :)

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 3, 2004 at 8:27 PM

random simpsons quote

Mr. Burns (addressing the employees at the power plant):

"Compadres! It is imperative that we crush the freedom fighters before the start of the rainy season!

And remember... a shiny new donkey for whoever brings me the head of Colonel Montoya."

From Deep Space Homer

Posted by diego on April 3, 2004 at 8:23 PM

a couple of things about clevercactus, and share

A few things:

  • The next rev of share will include an update to the p2p connection system, fixing problems we're seeing in properly updating online status, etc. Believe me, we're working as fast as we can. Thanks for your patience and feedback to those that are using it, and those that aren't, well, let us know if you'd like to, we'll do our best (we still haven't replied to all requests sent in the last day or so).
  • We have been totally swamped and haven't been able to release more information on the site yet (which we've been working on). ETA on that is early next week at the moment. This includes the cactus log, our company weblog.
  • I'm collecting weblog posts about share, and will post on that fairly soon.
PS: What. A. Ride. :)

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 1, 2004 at 6:21 PM

share on the mac

We had tested share on various OSes before release, including Mac OS X, but the initial integration with Mac wasn't that great. The next version, however (due out tonight) will integrate properly within the Mac environment. Check it out:

This includes menus pulled up into the Mac menubar, better L&F integration and response to standard application menu commands such as Cmd+Q, Preferences, About, and Open File. Main element missing at this point is to make the Dock icon bounce. Almost there... :)

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on April 1, 2004 at 8:49 AM


So, finally, Google will release its email service today (NYTimes, This follows last week's launch of Google's new Look and some Lab features like Web alerts. One interesting thing: Google calculates the cost of providing a gigabyte of email storage at $2, which I presume includes the processing I bandwidth required to use the service.

The privacy question will now become even more complex:

At Google, one official said, the company has engaged in an intense debate over how extensively to exploit the content of e-mail.

Many people inside the company are worried that users might fear that the content of their e-mail messages could be used to tailor individual advertising messages, much as ad messages are now placed on pages tied to specific responses to search inquiries. Google hopes to quell any such concerns by assuring users that the content of their messages will remain private.

not to mention other additions:
Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google, said he ``absolutely'' has plans to integrate Orkut into Google's search engine.

Another interesting thing, from the New York Times article:

It will be "soft launched," they said, in a manner that Google has followed with other features that it has added to its Web site, with little fanfare and presented initially as a long-running test.
This has a new definition of the word "soft launch"... what with an article in the New York Times and all... :)

As far as this being an April's Fools Joke... I found this press release by Google which does sound a bit, well, iffy. But then again there's a website for gmail which looks very much like the real thing (Including privacy policy, terms of use, etc). If this is indeed a joke, then some significant effort has gone into it (note that the articles include quotes from Google employees, so if it is a joke we have to presume that either a) the journalists are in on it or b) the employees continued with the 'joke' while giving unnatributed quotes). There are no disclaimers in any of the pages, and the HTML sources look clean too. Andrew (for example) is skeptical, to say the least :). I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 1, 2004 at 8:18 AM

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