The following is an assignment for my class in Interaction and Interface Design at the University of Baltimore. The basic parameters were to find and summarize two articles from the ACM Digital Library on the topic of MobileHCI as an initial step in a larger research project connected to group projects we are working on. My group is working on a mobile application that would incorporate an element of sharing personal progress through a user’s social network. As I have taken on the User Research Lead role in my group, I was particularly looking for articles that dealt with this social component. it's clear that the growth of mobile computing and online social networks have gone hand in hand, and a prominent activity in this domain is the sharing of personal progress of all sorts, from the infamous ‘what I had for lunch’ tweet to games that broadcast players' achievements to publicly tracking one's progress toward personal fitness goals. I am especially interested in the motivations behind this behavior. While the particular search for this exercise may not have been optimal for finding research on this topic, I did turn up a couple of interesting papers touching on it. Here, then, are the summaries:
Tagging the future
I am going to Toronto next week for the Hypertext 2010 conference. I attended my first Hypertext conference in 1996, and from 1999-2002, I went every year. A number of factors (work, family, distance, timing, and my own inability to do any sustained critical writing) have prevented me from getting to the last several, but this conference still holds a special place in my heart. I've been to a variety of academic conferences, small and large, and I generally manage to enjoy myself at them (even that infamous midwinter fear festival, the MLA), but the Hypertext conferences have been, hands down, my favorite. The size is manageable, the quality of the work presented is high, the organization typically first-rate (HT01 in Århus, Denmark holds the distinction as the single most beautiful conference I've attended), but most importantly, I have always felt strangely at home amid the odd mix of computer scientists and humanists the conference attracts. So I am approaching this conference with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Having been away from it for so long, I wonder if the atmosphere will be the same, and whether I will still feel the same connection to the field as I used to. I am hoping the answer is yes, and if not, there's always the NXNE Music Festival going on in Toronto at the same time.
I'm not sure if it is a measure of how much I miss my family or just an indication that I am going soft in my old age, but when a friend pointed me, some weeks ago, toward the following video for Frightened Rabbit's Head Rolls Off, I found myself sitting in my office, transfixed and teary-eyed....
Apple WWDC Keynote, summarized
This is a pretty meager way to break my nearly half-year blogging hiatus, but Ben McCorkle told me I had to do this, and who am I to refuse him? So, here is my pictorial synopsis of Steve Jobs's keynote at WWDC yesterday:...
So as you can see, I've added a Twitter badge to my sidebar. Seeing all the cool kids doing it, I actually signed on last spring, but it did not especially appeal to me. More recently, however, I downloaded the Twitterific client, which makes both following and posting to Twitter almost infinitely less cumbersome. I also discovered Twitterfeed, which is letting me pipe content into my Twitter page: my Last.fm recently-listened feed, my LibraryThing recently-added feed, and my del.icio.us bookmark feed. I rather like the idea of using Twitter as the glue for my now far-flung empire of social software site participation (though I am not completely happy with the Last.fm feed: it's not really reflective of what is "now playing." Rather, it dumps the five most recent tracks as a block every half hour—the most frequent interval Twitterfeed will allow). Finally, I found a few folks that seemed interesting to follow, notably John Gruber of Daring Fireball and Mark Bernstein of Eastgate Systems. It is doubtful that any of these developments would hold my interest by itself, but taken together, they are keeping me intrigued with the service.
Screw you, you greedy bastards. You have just guaranteed I will pirate the upcoming season of Battlestar Galactica. ...
iTunes innovations big and small
The big iTunes news of the week is the announcement by Apple and EMI that beginning in May, EMI music will be available without Digital Rights Management and at double the current 128kbps bitrate for $1.29. Consumers will even be able to previously purchased ITMS tracks to the higher-quality unprotected format for 30 cents a song. Besides being, very likely, the death knell for DRM in the music industry (yes I know we aren't there yet, but without a united front, the other majors won't be able to hold the line on copy protection much longer), this announcement is pleasant vindication for those of us who took Steve Jobs at his word when he released his "Thoughts on Music" two months ago. (As for cynics, like Cory Doctorow, who accused Jobs of lying in February, the Macalope puts it succinctly: "Eat my shorts." On the other hand, kudos to the BBC's Bill Thompson for admitting he was wrong [via Daring Fireball]. ) It's also probably the end of Apple's European lawsuit problems. Everybody wins, except, perhaps, people who've stockpiled a lot of Zune-bucks. ...
Jobs throws down over DRM
Well, this is interesting. There's an open letter by Steve Jobs, dated today, on the Apple website. It is simply titled "Thoughts on Music." It may, however, be a landmark moment in the history of Digital Rights Management. In the letter, Jobs takes on the various calls that have been made for Apple to "open up" the iPod+iTunes franchise. After a brief history lesson on how we got to the current state of affairs (namely that the "big four" music labels were dragged kicking and screaming into digital distribution and only with promise of DRM protection), Steve gets down to business with refuting the criticisms that have been leveled against Apple's successful combination....
Over the past few months, I have started exploring the world of web-based comics with increasing seriousness. I now have at least a small circle of strips I am reading regularly. The three that have me most excited (to the point of going to the website at 11pm and impatiently hitting the refresh key to see if the next day's comic has posted in the last few minutes) are:...
The myth of mastery
Mark Bernstein argues today that "artists need to master everything," specifically that they need to master programming and other technologies. The issue seems to have struck a nerve:
The hope that we can be excused from mastering programming is the child’s plea to the teacher, "Will this be on the exam?" It's the hope that we may be permitted to fail, and that our failure will be overlooked because we're so cute and wonderful. We don't need to master programming (or hardware, or graphic design, or information architecture): we're just artists and either someone will buy us an expert to do the work or they'll simply ignore any shortcomings because we are so intrinsically wonderful.
I understand his bristling at the idea of artists wanting to avoid learning their tools out of either laziness or a sense of entitlement—I have similar feelings toward academics who can't be bothered to figure out how email works—but I still disagree with the basic argument. Certainly any artist (or academic) who wishes to be taken seriously should endeavor to know as much as possible about the tools of his or her trade, but to suggest that anyone could master everything needed for his or her work is to return to the tenacious but naive, Romantic ideal of the solitary artist (or ivory tower intellectual).
I'm made out of meat!
For some time now, I have been fascinated/enchanted by this image , a T-shirt design available at the Dinosaur Comics store. I can't quite put my finger on why I find it so compelling. Is it the mixture of delight and anxiety on the pork chop's face? The plonkingly obvious statement offered as discovery? The fact that the perfectly mundane word 'meat' becomes, in this context, vaguely disturbing and maybe a little obscene? ...
By George, I think she's got it!
Just when I thought everyone in the media industries had their eyes clamped shut, their fingers in their ears and started chanting "DRM, DRM, DRM" whenever the topic of the digital revolution comes up, ABC-Disney's Anne Sweeney proved there is some sentient life in that sector after all. The following comments quoted in Ars Technica are so startlingly perceptive, open-minded, and forward-thinking it's hard to believe they came from the mouth of a media executive....
I have become everything I hate
I've had an Intel MacBook Pro for several months, but until today I had kept it untainted by that other operating system. Today I kissed innocence goodbye and installed Windows XP within Parallels Desktop. Aside from the disquieting knowledge that I've got a piece of pure evil residing on my beloved Mac, the process went very smoothly. Besides the official documentation, I also followed an article from Ars Technica that, while somewhat dated (it's for version 1.0), was helpful in explaining some of whys of the process. ...
The best of Vern
If anyone had told me a few years ago that I become an avid reader of film reviews by a man who holds Bruce Willis's Die Hard trilogy up as the pinnacle of film-making, I would have laughed in that person's face. But that was before I ran across Outlaw Vern, "a Writer who is trying to go clean after a life of crime, alcohol, etc." Sometimes I wonder whether Everyman, ex-con, action flick-loving Vern is real or just a persona created by Roger Ebert so he could use the word 'fuck' a lot, but his film reviews (as well as his occasional longer rants) make me laugh out loud. Anyway, I don't think Vern can be done justice by my descriptions, so I'll just let him speak for himself....
Meet the new hacks, same as the old hacks
Cory Doctorow's article on Digital Rights Management in InformationWeek a few weeks back is a sad example of the "new" journalists of the blogosphere being every bit as sensationalist and inaccurate as the "old" journalists they disdain. Provocatively titled "Apple's Copy Protection Isn't Just Bad For Consumers, It's Bad For Business," this piece is a muddled critique of DRM that inexplicably blames Apple—purveyors of the most consumer-friendly and commercially successful DRM scheme in existence—for all of the problems inherent with copy-protection generally. Even more bizarrely, the article somehow manages to portray the entertainment industry—whose short-sighted, heavy-handed policies have given us our current DRM mess—as victims of mean old bullying Apple.
I am no...
I was out at a school last week doing a professional development workshop, and I got my first good look at the use of web filtering software. It ain't pretty. The workshop was on web resources for educators, and several things we'd counted on showing to the teachers there were either completely blocked or broken to the point of uselessness. These included:...
As it turns out, Nation States did not hold my interest very long (the dopiness of the daily "issues", the tediousness of the UN Resolution process, and my reluctance to get involved in any of the many meta-games orbiting the game conspired to quash that for me). However, I stumbled across another low-commitment online game that seems to hold promise: Urban Dead, a "zombie apocalypse" MMORPG. The premise is pretty simple: you're in a quarantined, zombie-infested city; you can be either a survivor or a zombie. If the former, you try to stay alive, find supplies, and kill zombies (zeds). If the latter, you kill humans (and turn them into more zombies). Game play is non-graphical and fairly rudimentary, though there does seem to be some active development going on to create more interesting and diversified playing options, as well as several sets of helpful Firefox extensions to provide enhanced interface features. ...
Finding new music
Diane Greco was moved by my post on the New Pornographers/Belle & Sebastian show to go out and get The Life Pursuit (Stuart Murdoch, you now owe me 37¢!). She goes on to muse on the difficulty of finding new music: "I don't find new music by listening anymore. No radio, no MTV. It's all so sucky and boring. So the result is I don't hear about much, and when I do, the channel is almost as interesting as the band."
Bomb the blogosphere!
The politics of web standards
This is an idea I've been turning over in my mind for some months now, and while it's still resisting a really clear formulation, I want to try to put something down about it. It seems to me there is a tension in the web design world that might be best described as a difference in political philosophies. What's especially interesting to me is that I don't know which side I am on. I see viable arguments for each and, so far, no plausible way of completely reconciling the two....
iPods and bloggers and bears, oh my!
There are two recurring jeremiads that I am really tired of hearing: one is the lament that we have replaced social contact with technological isolation (the current manifestation of which is to complain about people being absorbed in their iPods, but we've heard the same argument against the Internet, video games, and television, to name a few); the other is the charge that technology is making us stupid (lately, it's that blogging is promoting poor writing, but again, we've read this about calculators [kids don't learn math], television [rots the brain], and writing itself [no one will remember things — Plato]). These kinds of massive oversimplifications, which serve mostly to congratulate people's complacency and fear of the new, are prime examples of the flaws of technological determinsim. Denying determinism does not amount to claiming that technology has no effect. I'll be the first to agree that technology has profound effects on our daily lives at many levels and that technological change can have profound social repercussions for good or ill, but such effects are neither simple nor unidirectional. We need intelligent criticism of technology that explores the complex interactions of human beings and their technologies, not knee-jerk reactionaries blaming the latest fad in consumer electronics for whatever social ill happens to suit their fancy.
So I spent a significant chunk of the past few days devouring the entire 560-strip run of Questionable Content. I think I had glanced at it a couple times before without getting snagged, but this time, having been referred by Les Orchard's link in my del.icio.us inbox to #557, a meditation on 'cowboy bottoms' and therapy techniques, I was intrigued. Backtracking a bit, I started getting interested in the story arcs and character development, but I think what nailed it for me was #545: Conversational: ...
Not that my love of iTunes and the ITMS is waning, but recently, I've been experimenting with a couple other online music services. Pandora and eMusic are quite different from each other, and for my purposes, both are complements to rather than replacements for iTunes. Each is interesting in its own way....
I am back from a 12-day family trip to Germany (Christmas with the grandparents), and am still working through my (and the kids') jet-lag, but I want to get a post up for the new year and there's some interesting stuff going on there that I don't want to completely ignore, so here's some quick jabs that I might (but very well might not) come back to in greater depth....
The snowball starts to roll
Looks like iTunes/iPod video is taking off even faster than I expected. Two items from MacNN today:...
When Apple announced the video iPod and the ability to buy television episodes and other videos through the iTunes Music Store earlier this fall, I took note, but did not feel in the least tempted, mostly because none of the handful of shows in that first installment interested me. With the inclusion of Sci-Fi's Battlestar Galactica series in the latest content additions, I'm officially worried that I might get hooked. It's obvious even from the scattering of episodes I've managed to watch on teevee that Galactica is tremendous, probably the best science fiction series since Babylon 5. Its complex, interweaving plots and rich, gritty characterizations stand up on their own merits; the fact that something this good could be built on the foundation of the schlocky 70s series of the same name is nothing short of miraculous. (Don't believe me? Even the curmudgeonly vidiots at TeeVee.org like it: "it’s a sci-fi series for adults that doesn’t shy away from dealing with big issues: God, sex, death, betrayal, obsession, self-denial… it’s all in there.")
Games without frontiers, war without tears
Jill has World of Warcraft and Mark has City of Heroes, so if nothing else, peer pressure demanded that I start playing a MMORPG. I dabbled a little with SecondLife, which finally has a Mac client as well as free basic accounts, but I didn't find it very compelling and my poor little Powerbook was struggling with the graphics. But a random web-trawl turned up something that may have me hooked: NationStates. ...
Notes about Notes
Eastgate Systems — makers of my beloved Tinderbox (a new version of which, 3.0.1, was recently released) — has launched a new website, Notes about Notes. I'll let it speak for itself: "This site collects ideas about making, analyzing, organizing, and sharing notes. The First Principle of making better notes is simple: make notes. Write it down."
One LibraryThing to rule them all...
Sometime early this morning, LibraryThing surpassed 1,000,000 catalog entries (they were at 996,000 before I went to bed). That's pretty remarkable growth for a site that only opened three months ago. I've been doing my small part, having cataloged over 500 of my own books in the couple weeks that I've known about the site. I'm small potatoes, though; there are users with libraries in the thousands (I can only assume they had some pre-existing catalog of their stuff and are taking advantage of the bulk-import feature)....
It's a LibraryThing, you wouldn't understand
Via Diane Greco: it's LibraryThing: social software for your bookshelf. del.icio.us-like tagging; Flickr-like blog widgets; Amazon-like book reviews; commenting on others' libraries; discussion fora; author pages; RSS feeds; Z39.50 library searching; &c.; &c. This is heroin for book junkies. Of course I signed up right away and have been furiously cataloging my library ever since.
Numa numa iei
My recent expedition to AECT was satisfying on several levels, but the most indelible memory would have to be the session on open content that began by showing the Star Wars Kid and Numa Numa memes. (I realize that having heard of neither of these prior to the conference makes me majorly unhip, but that's no surprise, right?)...
Ted Goranson has another "About this Particular Outliner" article out: a detailed comparison of two of the major outlining programs for Mac: OmniOutliner and TAO. The whole ATPO series is fascinating, but the latest article strikes me as rather unique in the field of writing about software. It is not a review in the usual sense. It compares features, discusses strengths and weaknesses, offers screen-shots, but Goranson conspicuously avoids boiling all this down into a "top pick" or "buying advice." Instead, he makes it clear that the two programs are really geared toward different work styles and project needs. He explores how seemingly small matters of interface design can subtly push the user in different directions. Instead of telling the reader what to use, Goranson is really teaching the reader how to make that determination for him- or herself. ...
The ultimate iPod?
All the world seems to be a-twitter about Apple's iPod nano. The press is using words like "marvel" and "perfect" to describe the ultra-thin music player (I'm impressed, too, but I have to say that one of my first thoughts looking at the promotional pictures was "I wonder if it breaks as easily as a Number 2 pencil, too?"). In that light, let me nominate this ad for the "iPod Flea" (which was forwarded to me by a colleague a few days before the nano launch) as the logical extension of the product line.
Happy Birthday, del.icio.us!
del.icio.us, the social bookmarking service, turned two yesterday, and I wish it the very happiest of birthdays. How do I love del.icio.us? Let me count the ways:...
Hiawatha Groom, I salute thee!
As I've mentioned before, spam can be entertaining sometimes. Today's message from Hiawatha Groom (to "Cherie Dillow") is one of the most interesting yet. Since I only read messages in plain text, all I saw was gibberish:...
Build me the perfect browser!
After upgrading to Tiger earlier this summer, I spent some time with the new Safari 2.0 as my primary browser. It has a number of attractive features, but for now, I've come back to Camino (0.8.4). Camino isn't perfect either, but I've become very comfortable with it and the things I missed about it outweighed the features I could only get elsewhere. I'm still waiting, however, for the perfect browser. This mythical beast would combine:...
One step forward, two steps back
In decisions announced this week, the US Supreme Court dealt a tepid defeat to America's theocrats, while awarding two resounding victories to its plutocrats. The 5-4 decision against the display of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky courtrooms grabbed the top headlines, and it was nice to see that the separation of Church and State still means something (although what exactly it means in light of the 5-4 decision in favor of Texas's Ten Commandments monument is not entirely clear). But two decisions affecting technology — a unanimous decision finding Grokster liable for users' copyright infringement and a 6-3 decision declaring cable companies exempt from the common-carrier laws that affect telephone lines — are probably more important, and more worrying. To be honest, the Ten Commandments decisions are largely symbolic: hanging or not hanging a piece of paper on the courtroom wall is not going to change anyone's life. But the other two decisions will have far-reaching effects, stifling technological innovation on the one hand and competition in the tech sector on the other. They are good decisions if you are a media giant like Time Warner, but they are bad for just about everyone else. The cable decision is essentially a grant of monopoly to existing cable providers, allowing them to continue charging steep rates for broadband Internet access. The lack of competition will be most pronounced in rural areas, like Eastern Kentucky, exacerbating the existing Digital Divide and making it even harder for these regions to keep up with denser, wealthier areas.
The previous post reminded me of extisp.icio.us, a tool for visualizing del.icio.us bookmarks. The original extisip.icio.us created an even more cloud-like 2D text mapping of del.icio.us tags. Creator Kevan Davis has now, I notice, added "extsipicious images" a mosaic of images corresponding to one's tags based on a Yahoo image search. It's certainly a clever bit of web trickery, but probably less practical than the text version.
Del.icio.us, the social bookmarking system, has gotten a facelift. There seem to be a number of enhancements, including auto-completion of tags, but what stands out to me is the "cloud" option for viewing one's list of tags. In the "cloud," the font size and weight of each tag increase according to the number of entries it contains. This is a technique I've previously seen at 43 Things, and it provides some quick visual feedback on what the "major" topics are. ...
Possum and the docuverse
Earlier this week, Jill Walker stated, adapting T.S. Eliot, "Blogging is breathing." That seems like excuse enough for bringing up one of my favorite bits of Eliot criticism. From the same essay ("Tradition and the Individual Talent"), his discussion of the relationship between old and new is particularly relevant in the networked age:
what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is the conformity between the old and the new.
Eliot, 'Tradition and the Individual Talent,' Rpt. in The Sacred Wood (1920).
Eliot gets a hard time (some of it deserved) for his apparent stodginess. This essay, in particular, draws fire from fashionable critical camps for its positing of an single, canonical Tradition and its insistence on the "impersonality" of poetic art (which many seem to feel is a smokescreen Eliot put up to discourage critics from delving too deeply into the personal ramifications of his poetry), and I'll grant there are parts of this essay that bother me, too. But really, what Eliot is proposing above is something fairly radical: that "tradition" is at once perfectly whole and complete in itself, but also always in flux, constantly being deformed and reordered by the appearance of new works....
The Educational iPod?
Since the announcement last year that Duke University would give all incoming students an iPod, I've been watching with some bemusement as others have hopped on this bandwagon: the Drexel University School of Education recently announced that they would launch their own iPod initiative; Apple has set up an iPods in Education site; a some quick googling reveals a slew of other sites either advocating or musing on the educational impact of Apple's music player (see iPodEd and articles at MacUsingEducators and IN3 network). To my mind, this is an example of education's infamous faddishness at its worst....
Spam a creative writer's friend?
I don't get as much spam as some people, and probably less than I should given how freely I circulate my email address, and what I do get is being handled pretty effectively by SpamSieve these days. I guess that's why I don't feel the overwhelming sense of moral outrage towards it that seems to be widely held. (My only real hobby horse is all the Russian spam I get. I mean really, how big can the market for credulous, drug-seeking slavophones be that they need to email everyone in the world with these offers?) Once in a while, I even poke through my spam file and find amusing oddities. This morning, I received mail from Aurelio Sherwood (firstname.lastname@example.org), Numbers Brady (email@example.com), Theron Quinones (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Lolita Pearson (email@example.com). What great names! I think a story, novel, play, or film starring these four characters would just have to be interesting. Indeed, I'd like to see the adventures of Numbers Brady become a long-running TV or movie franchise....
Future media history?
A colleague sent me a link to this interesting Flash piece (the credits name Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson as the authors, but I have not been find out anything else about it) that frames itself as a report by the Museum for Media History in the year 2014, when "the press as you know it has ceased to exist." Starting with the birth of the WWW, through the emergence of Amazon, Google, and blogging, the piece then extrapolates a series of subsequent events: the launch of GoogleGrid (a seamless integration of Google, GoogleNews, Gmail, Blogger and Tivo that provides "functionally limitless storage space and bandwidth for all media"); the birth in 2009 of "Googlezon" (GoogleGrid plus Amazon's consumer-recommendation engine); the "news wars" of 2010, in which Googlezon trumps Microsoft's "Newsbotster" by providing dynamic, customized news by searching and reassembling news sources at the sentence level according to each user's preferences and profile; traditional media's futile last stand in 2011; to, finally, the "unleash[ing]" of "EPIC... the evolving personalized information construct" in 2014. EPIC is something like sinister version of Nelson's Xanadu: a universal information network of contributed to by everyone and fed back to them through Googlezon's automatic customization/filtering. For some, EPIC is an information source, "deeper, broader, and more nuanced than anything ever available before," but for most, the piece laments, it "is merely a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow and sensational." ...
Sea-change or turning tide?
If I was surprised in January to find Apple Computers favorably mentioned in the pages of Computerworld , imagine my shock last week to see a full-fledged feature article singing the praises of Apple's Xserve for corporate datacenters. Mark Hall states:
Yet despite significant efforts by Windows suppliers, Apple still remains a dominant player in vertical market segments such as publishing and digital media. And with the growing popularity of its low-cost Xserve Unix servers, Apple has an opportunity to compete head-to-head with industry leaders like Dell Inc. inside the data center for general-purpose applications such as e-mail and Web serving.
I've mentioned Apple's iMix before — a feature of the iTunes Music Store that allows account-holders to upload playlists and gives other shoppers the opportunity to buy those tracks with one click (I wonder if anyone actually does this, or if iMix mostly serves the vanity of the mixer). Well some clever iMixer has posted what is perhaps the ultimate playlist: one consisting entirely of silent tracks from iTMS albums. 14 tracks (seven of which are individually purchasable) amounting to 8 minutes, 3 seconds of empty bytes. Even more interestingly, three of the tracks are offered in both "Explicit" and "Clean" versions.
You have no chance to survive make your time
Following up on my earlier post on an All Your Base-inspired Valentine's verse, the Evolution Control Committee — the merry samplers whose 1998 single "Rocked by Rape," consisting entirely of clips of Dan Rather talking about violence and destruction on the evening news, led to a legal dispute with CBS and some notoriety — have posted a number of karaokesque renditions of popular songs with the original lyrics replaced by the infamous Zero Wing dialogue. The "Smells Like Teen Spirit" version is excellent, and the "Piano Man" and "Jailhouse Rock" versions are amusing enough to be worth your bandwidth.
Napster = liars
One thing I left out of my Super Bowl non-review was Napster's shamelessly misleading ad that aired a couple times during the event (no, I won't link to it because I refuse to lend even my meager traffic to these jerks). Their assertion boils down to this: owing an iPod will cost you $10,000, while subscribing to their Napster-to-go service only costs $15/month. Where to begin?...
iPod segue of the day
My iPod is almost always set to random shuffle. Sometimes this leads to small miracles of juxtaposition. Today's: Sonic Youth's "Bubblegum" (from EVOL) into "Questo è il fin chi fa mal!," the choral coda to Don Giovanni. Delightful!
What is work?
A significant part of my job is to answer faculty members' and other people's questions when they get stuck, or confused, or just plain intimidated by technology or computers. Rarely do those questions have anything to do with topics that I've made a conscious effort to inform myself about (such as blogging, syndication, MOO programming, CSS arcana, or hypertext theory). Much more often, I come up with answers that draw on some buried nugget of tech knowledge I gleaned doing something entirely different and seemingly unproductive. For example, I've become fairly proficient with Microsoft Excel, managing to put together a nifty workbook that tracked demographic information about participants in a large grant project. I credit all my Excel prowess to several years I spent trying to use it to get an edge on my opponents in a fantasy baseball league. Does that mean that all the time I berated myself for wasting as I assembled my giant spreadsheet of player statistics are suddenly "billable hours," so to speak? Does being able to answer my dean's question about putting a desktop link to the university's administrative server (which must be telneted to) in OSX justify the frightening number of hours I have spent logged on to alt.org's nethack server (for which I wanted a desktop icon of my own)?...
I'm not sure if 43 Things is just a geek fad, or a real application of the del.icio.us / Flickr paradigm to personal goal-setting. Yes, I am signed up. No, I am not telling anyone which list is mine until I decide how I feel about the whole thing.
OK. Like everyone and his brother has already posted their impressions of the Macworld San Francisco announcements from last week. Reactions have been mixed (Mac Net Journal is "underwhelmed"; Creative Bits thinks the marketing of the iPod shuffle is "genius" even if the device itself isn't; bsag finds the MacMini "adorable"), but there seems to be broad agreement that the three announcements of significance are the the $499 Mac Mini desktop, the ultra-small flash-based iPod Shuffle, and (to a lesser extent) the iWork productivity suite. Here's my two cents....
My Mac-user pessimism is telling me not to make to much of this, but I ran into not one but two pro-Mac columns in the current issue of Computerworld yesterday. Mark Hall notes that major business software developers are suddenly taking Macs seriously as a platform they should support, while Dan Gilmore opines that "Macs Could Infiltrate the Enterprise" in the coming year. Since I rarely see Apple even mentioned, let alone praised, in Computerworld's pages, I can't help but see this as a Sign. We'll see.
Browsers: New School and Old School
The blogosphere is buzzing with talk about Mozilla Foundation's two-page Firefox ad in the New York Times. Whatever the merits of Firefox as a browser (I'm still a happy Camino man myself), this strikes me as an interesting moment for the Open Source movement. In launching this very public challenge to Internet Explorer, Open Source is, effectively, throwing down the gauntlet in front of Microsoft. On one level, since Microsoft doesn't really make any money on IE, this is maybe not as critical a battle as Linux vs. Windows or OpenOffice vs. MS Office. But given IE's symbolic importance (as the centerpiece of of the federal antitrust case against Microsoft), and the centrality of web browsing to many people's computing experience, I think this does constitute a frontal assault on the Microsoft monopoly. I don't really expect IE to lose its staggering dominance of the browser market, let alone a serious weakening of Windows/Office, but 10 million downloads in a month is nothing to sneeze at, and if a significant minority of general computer users get comfortable with using open source software for one of their core activities, one could start to imagine them exploring other open source alternatives for other activities. I also wonder how long it will take until some state or large municipal government orders its units to move to open source, either because of security concerns or as a cost-cutting measure (speak of the devil, the Dutch city of Haarlem has done exactly this). ...
I'm sad to report that Invisible Adjunct is calling it quits. I only discovered IA in the last few months, but I have found it to be welcome resident of my aggregator. I was initially drawn, of course, to its pointed, yet rigorous critique of the academic labor system (an early post, "Thinking about graduate school in the humanities?", should be required reading for all PhD applicants), but IA offers much more than a gripe session for underemployed academics. What I have seen on IA has been smart, funny, thoughtful, intriguing... all the things one might hope for from intellectual discourse. I will certainly miss it, and it's obvious the community of readers who have centered around IA will miss it as well. Perhaps some other invisible adjunct will take up the mantle (and the blog) so that this perspective can continue.
Mark Bernstein has a long post on the concept of a personal Daybook kept in Tinderbox. It's not immediately clear to me whether he is talking about an actual product made in/for Tinderbox, or if he is just theorizing. Either way, it sounds fascinating, and I want one. That and the ability to synch Tinderbox with my Palm. ...
Two digital preservation projects of note: the DejaVu browser emulator (via Jill) and Delorie Software's Lynx Viewer (found via someone, but I can't remember who). DejaVu emulates several older web browsers (IE2, Mosaic, Netscape, and even a line-mode browser). Lynx Viewer emulates Lynx, of course. Besides the nostalgia value (I used Lynx exclusively for a while), these are rather useful tools for testing one's backwards-compatibility. I wa spretty pleased with Donut Age's performance in these environments, though it may have convinced me to move to a table-less layout the next time I have time (maybe this summer).
To the barricades!
Boy am I glad I kept Dowbrigade in my aggregator. Michael Feldman's not-so-cautious "Note of Caution" is a rousing call to action for those who still hope that the Internet and blogs in particular can effect real political change, and especially relevant given the the recent round of blogospheric self-questioning. Eschewing both naive optimism and embittered cynicism, Feldman hits the nail just about exactly on the head:
It is true, there is a sea change in the air, and some of the bulwarks of conventional control of the information stream are crumbling under the relatively free-form innovations from the digital frontier. But it is here we feel a healthy dose of Paranoia may be in order. The powers-that-be have gotten where they are by co-opting, appropriating, defanging and remarketing the innovative works of others. And they make no bones about leaving a few buried bodies and busted careers in the wake of “progress”, as they define it....
The people threatened by these changes have real power in our society, which they have struggled their entire lives to acquire and they are not going to let it go without a fight. It’s going to be bloody. There are going to be casualties. Be prepared.
The current Network World, to which I don't subscribe, but which arrives in my mailbox at work anyway, features an unintentionally disturbing article on Websense, a company that categorizes websites for clients who wish to restrict or monitor employee web-surfing. The article is a bit hazy on the details, but Websense seems to put a priority on identifying sites that deal with subjects on their "obscenities" list (once known as the "Sinful Six"): "adult content, weapons, race/hatred, illegal drugs, violence and tasteless." That's a pretty broad interpretation of "obscenity" already, but they don't stop there. Second priority is a "premium" list: "instant messaging, online day trading, paid to surf, streaming media, [and] spyware." In all, they have some 80 categories -- including "advocacy groups, education, and news/media." Oh yes, heaven forbid an employee try to stay current on world events or explore educational opportunities on company time!...
I get a fair amount of spam from companies trying to sell either web-design services or search engine "submission" (the latter is pretty silly: if spambots can find my site, so can people). Sometimes it is mildly entertaining:...
Pepysdiary re-presents, in blog format or via RSS feed, the words of Samuel Pepys exactly 403 years after the famed British diarist wrote them down. Run by Phil Gyford, an admitted non-expert, the site draws its text from Project Gutenberg and contains internal links, background material, and annotations. I wonder if this is the first remediation of a literary text in weblog format. Anyone know of similar projects?...
MAME -- the software emulator for classic arcade consoles -- has been around for a while now (Mac version at macmame.org), but until very recently, you had to actually own the consoles to have a legal right to the ROMs that actually contained the games. That posed a problem for fans of arcade games who were too timid to traffic in pirated ROMs but lacked the disposable income and living room space for dozens of arcade boxes. In steps StarROMs, which sells legal copies of ROM code for use in MAME and similar emulators. Right now they have about 50 titles from Atari, which run a rather reasonable $2-$6 per game. In fact, the fifteen free "credits" you get just for signing up are enough to download a copy of Lunar Lander, an idiosyncratic favorite of mine from back in the day (I still suck at it, by the way). ...
Mark Bernstein points out the conflicting advice given by usability experts with regard to line-lengths. That's only the beginning when it comes trying to take seriously the recommendations on web accessibility and usability. There are backwards-compatibility issues (if I use CSS like I am supposed to, what happens to Netscape 4.x readers?); there's the still-inconsistent standards-compliance of "modern" browsers; there's the increasingly complex and confusing nature of the standards themselves. But beyond all of that, I have a nagging fear that what we are being asked to do is, in fact, impossible. A fundamental tenet of accessibility and standards-based design is the separation of document content, structure, and presentation (this goes back to the web's origins in the Text Encoding Initiative and SGML). I understand the rationale for this and, up to a point, I support it, but the entire field of graphic art and design, as well as a significant branch of textual studies will tell you that form and content are inseparable, that the presentation of a text is its meaning and not something that should be left over to the vagaries of a user agent. The "illuminated" works of William Blake are probably the most complete marriage of text, design and image in the English language, but you need look no further than the daily newspaper or a children's book to find examples where the line between medium and message is close to nonexistent (I challenge markup wonks to come up with a purely structural description of The Very Hungry Caterpillar). Web designers (unlike many other creators of electronic texts) are asked to create an ideal (in the Platonic sense) text, one that is independent of any particular presentation medium or physical embodiment (or that anticipates all possible instantiations). I'm not convinced that this entity is not a chimera.
Others (notably jill/txt and 08# --The Grey Notebook) have been noting ipodsdirtysecret.com, which purports to expose Apple for charging over $250 to replace the battery of an 18-month-old iPod. They have produced a Quicktime movie that positions itself as some kind of guerrilla consumer advocacy. The implication is that Apple is using (or tried to use) an exorbitant replacement cost to pressure customers into buying unnecessary new products. If that's true, even a little bit, it's despicable. However, my own experiences with Apple in general and the iPod in particular don't corroborate the Neistat brothers (commenters at both the above sites have also questioned the the movie and its conclusions). ...
Greg Costikyan has written that Second Life and similar "non-game" MMORPGs will fail because they have no goals for players to achieve:...
Neunundneunzig Speech Balloons
Jill Walker and Elin Sjursen have been playing with a "streaming icons" enhancement for iChat AV and speculate on the idea of synchronizing chat comments with the images to create a kind of photographic comic book of the chat (a very loose paraphrase, but I think that's what they're getting at). I'm personally not a big chatter, so I don't have much to say about that idea as such. However, I am reminded of the "Comic Strip Mode" that is part of Microsoft's chat client (or was as of two years ago, which was the last time I looked at it). Comic Strip Mode not only gave you speech bubbles tied to an cartoonish avatar, but also a number of facial expressions, a choice of backgrounds, and some extras like thought bubbles. The software automatically chose whether to do close-up, medium, or long-distance "shots" of the conversation. We always used to show people this feature when we did workshops on computer-mediated communication. Students tended to think this was really cool for about 15 minutes, but when they actually wanted to get something done via chat, they almost always switched back to plain-text mode. What Jill and Elin are imagining would be different, because the "avatar" is a real image of the speaker at the moment of speaking, but I wonder if the images would still be seen as a distraction from the text.
SecondLife, which looks like a cross between The Sims and MMORPGs, is supposed to come out with a Mac version by the end of the year. Although I never got hooked on either of the game's apparent inspirations, I might at least try it out. What looks intriguing about Second Life is that it enables players to build objects in the virtual world, which can be given scripted behaviors, can be traded or sold to other players, etc. If the environment works as advertised, this could be to MMORPGs what TinyMUD and the first MOOs were to MUDs — a sea-change from hack-and-slash treasure-hunt to player-constructed virtual world. The only downside seems to be that this is a commercial product (free trial and then a $15/month subscription). It remains to be seen if a new Pavel Curtis will step forward to create an open-source, user-empowering version of the core technology that could be used by educators like MOO was and still is.
Good old Rock, nothing beats it.
Found via WaterCoolerGames (which found it via an NPR story I also heard a snippet of): The World Rock Paper Scissors Society website, complete with history, rules, strategy, and merchandise. In college, I advocated RPS as a drinking game, a position bolstered by the assurances of my Chinese-American girlfriend of the time that RPS was frequently used by old Chinese men for exactly that purpose. Sadly, I see little acknowledgment of this important facet of RPS history at the site.
There's a post from Dorothea Salo on Misbehaving.net about being an "accidental techie," i.e., winding up in a technical field without a background in computer science or any of the other qualifications. Salo speculates whether gender is a factor:...
Impulse buyers beware
I finally got around to trying the iTunes Music Store, which is part of Apple's iTunes 4 software. Although I'd been keeping tabs on this since it was first released, I hadn't been in a hurry to actually use it because initially all that was on it was mainstream from the major labels. But I had heard that they were expanding the inventory, and I had some time on my hands, so......
It's a small world after all
I've signed up for the Small World Experiment being run out of Columbia University. The idea is to test the famous 6 Degrees of Separation (aka Kevin Bacon) theory by seeing how long it takes a message to get from you to a random stranger via email through a chain of friends and acquaintances. My first "target" is a homemaker in Sydney, Australia. Thanks to my knowing Adrian Miles, my message made it to Sydney in two moves and less than a day, but that, I suppose, was the easy part. It will be interesting to see how it fares from there. My second target is a stumper: a waitress in Nebraska. I don't know anyone in or from Nebraska. I don't, off the top of my head, know anyone who has been to Nebraska. I know geography is not the only link to go on, but I'm at a loss for other avenues as well in this case....
I've just put this site under Creative Commons partial license (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike, to be exact). It's a small gesture, to be sure, but I feel strongly that those of us who care about freedom of information and the exchange of ideas need to do something about the broken system of copyright that prevails today. It's not that copyright is a bad thing per se, but the repeated expansion of copyright duration (the Sonny Bono Act), increasingly broad interpretations of what protection copyright provides (the DMCA), and aggressive prosecution by corporate copyright holders (Disney, the RIAA) have turned copyright into a perversion of itself. Copyright is supposed to encourage the dissemination of information by giving creators safeguards against unauthorized reproduction of their work. However, what I see going on is the parcelling out of our shared cultural and intellectual heritage into so many gated communities run by a handful of corporate interests. Researchers, teachers, and creative artists are shut out of these enclaves, or are granted entry only after paying considerable tolls, which ultimately impoverishes all of us for the sake of those few interests....
I am the best
I googled myself today and apparently I am now the best William Cole in the world, or at least on the web. At first I was inclined to credit Jill Walker's kind shout-out, but she referenced this site, not the Virtual William Cole subsite that showed up in Google. So maybe it is just my elaborate network of past sites that's bumping my pagerank. Or the rest of my eponyms are slackers. Jill, by the way, is not only the best Jill Walker in the world, but the best Jill in the world. Now that's impressive. Well done, Jill!