Sunday, September 26, 2004

Happy birthday, wheea wheea girl!

It's my daughter's birthday today, can you believe she's 14?? Where did the time go? A few years ago I was reassuring the nurse that yes, she was my daughter-- despite the fact that she had white-blond hair and white-white skin, while her mother and I were both dark-haired and prone to tan. I could verify that she was, indeed, the child that came out of my wifes body, because I was *the first one* to see her.

Actually, we saw each other first. As her head came popping out, I was standing just right of the doctor when she turned her new-born neck 90 degrees to look directly at me, giving me the once-over with one eye open and a very...scrunched up...expression on her face.

It freaked me out a little...was she upset with me (already)? Had she made up her mind that I was ill-prepared (as are all first-time parents) to raise her without warpage?

Luckily, my deficit of skill is counter-balanced by my wife's surplus and our daughter's own internal strength of character. She has grown into a lovely, still fair-skinned, young lady who from time to time can still give me that same scrunched up look she had at our first meeting, causing a chill to run down my spine. How lucky am I to have such awesome (a nod to the Man-Child as well) kids?

And somewhere between 13 and 14 she discovered how to study on her own without constant harassment from her mother. Life is *good*.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Google News Bias

Very interesting story at OJR on bias in Google News and Yahoo News story rankings, relevant to my post on blog pancakes:

Bharat said Google News uses a mix of techniques to ensure that users are presented a diverse range of perspectives. The ranking and prominence of stories are based on several factors: How many publications are writing about a topic; how recent the articles are; the size of the story, with substantive pieces ranking higher than short items; and the frequency of the search term within the article. The computer algorithms, he said, "are trying to understand how hot and how big the story is."

Every 15 minutes a new edition of Google News is generated and the ranking changes. The formula rearranges the headline blurbs in each story cluster based on the freshness of each article and the importance of the source. "The algorithms do not understand which sources are right-leaning or left-leaning," Bharat said. "They're apolitical, which is good."

Google News does not use the same formula as Google's general search engine, which ranks results based on how many people are linking to a site or article. (While "John Kerry" results in 100,000 results on Google News, the same term draws 4.3 million results on Google.) Special interest groups use a linking technique known as "Google bombing" to skew Google's general search engine results to their liking. For example, the first result for a search on "Dan Rather" is not the CBS News site but Bharat points out, however, that link popularity plays no result in Google News' rankings. "Our mission is to be all-inclusive," Bharat said. "We want breadth and variety. I would like Republicans and Democrats alike to read pro Kerry and anti-Kerry articles, but it's not our job to change the natural range of opinions that you see in the press. We're showing you the world the way it is." But are they? Why does clicking on a "John Kerry" link in Google News turn up so many second-tier conservative sites but so few liberal sites?

Automated systems are subject to tampering and manipulation, that's just the way it is. Yahoo News uses a combination of automated processes and editorial staff:

Like Google News, Yahoo won't disclose how a term like John Kerry or George Bush makes it to the front page of its search results, but Birkeland said the factors include the source, the freshness of the story, and a method of determining relevance. Yahoo achieves balance in political coverage by using a wide variety of news partners and an editorial staff that pulls together "a very wide cut at what the news is on a given day," Birkeland said.

"We use actual humans," he added. "News is far too human of an endeavor to rely 100 percent on automation."

Humans editors and reporters can also be manipulated, as we've seen with the Dan Rather goof, but less easily. The question is whether bloggers themselves can present a balanced view of the world..can a few raise themselves to the level of public trust required for consideration from other than the fringes? Can technology be developed to provide an alternative to the "he who shouts loudest is amplified further" function of the blog pancake?

Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Next Big Thing

In a country where ‘long term’ is 4 years (if you keep your hands off the interns), it’s no surprise that getting together capital to invest in long term infrastructure is almost impossible. However, if you have the Next Big Thing you can potentially raise billions. Is IPv6 the Next Big Thing?
[IPv6] shorthand for Internet Protocol Version 6[...] Not only will IPv6 open up a new frontier of interactive communications between devices and the Net, industry experts say, but it will vastly increase the IP address space, a much-needed freeing up of online real estate, given current and anticipated demand.

It almost goes without saying that the name of the Next Big Thing is very important. The name should suggest, well...bigness. The World Wide Web sounded huge, like big ideas should. Think Amazon, the longest river in the world-- that’s big. Amazon women, as well, implant an image of bigness in your brain. Who would’ve guessed you could buy books from Amazon, but I guess that was the clever part, right? The name catches you off hear 'Amazon' and the next you know you're ordering Marketing for Dummies by the truckful.

IPv6, no offense to the Internet Protocol people, sounds like a version number. Version numbers suggest bad things like derivative and not unique-- not exactly Next Big Thing feelings. Look, even if there will be IPv7,8,9 later on, don't confuse the public with details--act like this is the one and only--the Universal Internet Protocol. Bigger than World-Wide...if ET had any sense, he would be using it to email home.

Mystery is another critical ingredient of the Next Big Thing. Solving a mystery appeals to people’s curiosity. For example, was there ever any water on Mars? Could be, maybe not, but we need to spend about 4 gazillion dollars to send someone up there on a water witching hunt.

Another big mystery: what happened in the microseconds after the Big Bang? We need to build a huge atom smasher costing billions, which will likely show us what a Big Bang looks like firsthand. Want to know who created the universe? Some dumb-ass scientist playing with his quantum physics erector set without the foggiest idea what was going to happen.

The Next Big Thing needs to sound like it comes from the future. One proven technique for identifying future trends is to make something from the movies a real product: the ‘Star Wars’ defense system; the holodeck from Star Trek; the nuclear submarine (Jules Verne); Peter Pan Peanut Butter.

To feel really futuristic, the Next Big Thing cannot result in anything tangible for many years. This is a really important point—you’re not thinking big enough if people need your product right now. A good example is the hydrogen fuel cell. Fuel cells seem like magic, turning hydrogen and oxygen into energy and water. Fuel cells are currently used mostly by the space program-- perfect for powering your new rocket car-- to be on sale a few short years from now.

Another tip, define a military application of your technology-- it helps Wall Street appreciate the magnitude of your idea. The military only funds large, expensive projects, so militarizing your idea will give Wall Street an instant warm fuzzy.

One way to get the military to pay attention is to spread fear that if they don't support your idea, they will be Left Behind. No military leader wants to fall behind, and fewer still want to be immediately left of behind. That’s no good. Even though you’d think you could see better than being Right Behind, you can’t.

A further look at the Ipv6 article:
It could be the most significant development for IT spending and government sales since the Y2K threat loomed large at federal agencies, industry insiders say: Imagine a soldier in a war zone taking misfire information from his weapon and feeding it directly into his Web-connected handheld computer, sending an alert out to his command post, and saving lives in the process.

A little later:

Frankly, the industry is getting a bit giddy in anticipation.

The IPv6 guys are on the right track. They’ve managed to combine future vision, disasters of the past and military applications into one paragraph.

If the IPv6 makers can incorporate a few more of these ideas in their marketing plan, they could well have the Next Big Thing on their hands. So remember-- pick a big name, solve a mystery, make sure its sci-fi with government funding, spread the fear, and don’t hype too soon. That is, unless you want to make a killing without actually making anything.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Blog Pancakes

There has been a lot of chatter about Dan Gillmor’s book We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People. An interesting article on Forbes, mentioned the ‘echo chamber effect’ of the so-called ‘blogsphere’.

I haven’t read the book yet, but will soon. I’ve seen a few reviews but I haven’t seen anyone talking about the technological limitations of ‘grassroots journalism’ yet.

I believe blog distribution/discovery technologies support only shallow micro-commentary and miscellaneous fact checking. Of course, that is a very small piece of mainstream media’s current offerings--consider weekly columns in newspapers, bi-monthly magazines, quarterly magazines, etc. These types of periodicals usually provide more depth than anything you’ll find in today’s blogs.

Because of the time between publishings, longer period commentary tends to focus on larger issues, filtering out the day-to-day noise that actually gets amplified in the so-called ‘echo chamber’ of the blog pancake.

Yes, I said blog pancake. When viewed through a search engine, the supposed blog 'sphere' is politically polarized with ultra-liberals on one side and ultra-conservatives on the flip side. America traditionally occupies more of an idealogical middle ground, so why has the political blogsphere collapsed into this acrimonious flap jack? I think it’s not that people aren’t out there trying to write thoughtful, original, balanced commentary—it’s just hard to find them because of some basic technology issues.

Most bloggers try to keep up reader’s interest by writing frequent, short posts. Often bloggers cut and paste text from a mainstream news story, pulling out some key words in summary comments. Effectively, this doubles the ‘amplitiude’ of the excerpted text (once for the original, once for the copy). Because blogs are heavily linked to each other in an attempt to get enough Google juice to be noticed, the same story tends to ripple through them, doubling the ‘story’ amplitude at each link. This is the reinforcing ‘echo chamber’ effect.

By updating posts several times a day, the blog news cycle is very short relative to the pace of mainstream news sources. Things that may have filtered out over a longer time, say a ‘fact’ that is debunked a few days later, now get amplified very rapidly instead of never showing up.

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is the method used to broadcast blog updates to interested subscribers. RSS entries usually summarize blog posts. People look through their RSS aggregator and read these summaries, clicking on the ‘interesting’ ones for more details. The idea is to get people to click through to your site. Self-marketing provides even more incentive to post controversial or currently in-vogue story lines. The marketing machinery of blogdom is tightly coupled to these content spikes—hardly a formula for balanced journalism.

The main method of ‘distributing’ information on the Internet--search engines like Google and RSS feeds--don’t allow a way to express the periodicity of information contained in a blog. Therefore, thoughtful comments worth contemplating may just get lost in the high-frequency noise glitches of the moment.

My half-baked solution is simple:
- Create a way to express a blog’s intended periodicity: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc. in the RSS format. This interval could also be derived by RSS advertising services (like Syndic8) automatically by looking at a blog’s average update interval. Probably a combination of both would be best.

- RSS aggregators and search engines should allow searching blogs based on their periodicity. For example, I should be able to search ‘weekly’ or ‘monthly’ commentary blogs versus ‘daily’ or micro-blogs. I should be able to filter bi-monthly posts in the display area of my RSS aggregator.

This will allow people more time to think about what they are writing, maybe do a little research, and still have a chance to be found using a search engine. It will also open up a whole new realm of ‘grassroots journalism’ that is currently unavailable. These views are probably counter to most people’s assumption that ‘faster’ is ‘better’ but as Robert Newton Peck said:

“Never miss a chance to keep your mouth shut.”

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Half-baked comments

Fun with limericks here and here.

An interesting article on how people tend to read blogs that support views they agree with, my comments here. I will follow up with more detail on how the technology of Google and RSS syndication don't support the same depth of commentary that main stream media achieves.

One of my doodles was referenced in the Flickr blog, cool.

Wrote a little review on Office 2003 XML on blogcritics.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

These people ought to be fired

The person that designed elevator buttons so that the more you push them, the faster the elevator comes.

The person that keeps putting blinker switches in cars. No one uses blinkers anymore, didn’t you get the memo? You’re obsolete. Go invent a device that prevents a car from turning on if the driver is over 90.

The person that designed the Tivo remote control. It’s slow, glitchy, and overly directional…like a remote from the 70’s except not square.

The person that determined the freezing point of ice cream. It’s either so hard it bends the spoon or it melts all over the place.

The person that designed those foil pull tops used on yogurt, applesauce, etc. First you have to find the little bit of extra foil edge that you can pull on. Once grasped, they’re easy to pull until that last little bit, which takes incredible force to get loose, causing the stuff inside to project outside. Aim away from yourself.

The person that invented ‘popcorn’ ceiling plaster. It’s gross and it’s a pain in the arse to get rid of.

The person that decides how sticky plastic food wrap should be. Keep working on it, it’s still not right.

The person that decided all forks should be right-handed. Lefties are always the forgotten minority.

The person that designed those toilet paper dispensers they use in public restrooms. The ones with the huge rolls of paper you can see through clear plastic, but no observable way of getting the paper to come out.

The guy that invented Spam. Both email spam and the animal parts kind. I hate you.

The person that designed the Nokia nGage. You have to take the battery out to put in a game. And it looks like a Taco. A Beef Supreme I think.

The person that invented those fakey cubicle walls. There’s nothing so demeaning as being penned up by short little midget fake walls. You know I can jump over them any time I want. I can get out, you can’t make me stay here…you can’t!

Monday, September 13, 2004

Rejection Letter Rejection

Have you ever been rejected, fired, or generally PO'd to the point you wanted to write a scathing, irrational, and totally over-the-top flame to someone? If you have, I'd love to read it, please post your letter or a link to it as a comment to this post. No worries-- its very therapeutic...

You have the nerve to reject my work of ART? Based on what, you penile-implanted media whore? You wouldn’t know subtle word choice if I applied a strong electric current to your vestigial testicles while reading the Illiad out loud with a megaphone. Just because it takes a hand pump and handfuls of blue pills to get blood moving toward your shrunken extremities, there are many readers who appreciate my delicate wit and spare pronouns. When you were a child, assuming you were not spawned by wolves or jackasses, I imagine the nuns forcing you to hold dictionaries at arms length, rightously punishing you for your blatant stupidity-- a moot lesson wasted on thick skull bone, but at least explaining your aversion to creative sequences of words. In your permanantly arrested adolesence you confuse pith for ruffage, you confuse tight for titillating, you confuse high concept for low brow. Years—many, many years from now—when your karma has risen from the level of sewer rat to that of garbage-eating stray dog, you may have the ability to decipher the profundities in the black marks on white paper that I supplied you. If only I had known I was sending the embodiment of my craft, the vessel of my incarnate being, into the lower bowels of Hell otherwise known as your in-box, I could have saved this subsequent arrow aimed straight at your tiny Grinch-like heart for a more worthy opponent. But seeing you have a soul of foul mist, no literary arrow, no matter how carefully aimed, can strike anything but the slime-on-concrete you leave in your wake. Thus, I shall end this futile assault upon the crack in the earth from which you crawled fully winged, secure in the knowledge that eventually your forked tongue will become obvious to the masses and they will rise against you as an angry mob, throwing you back into the fire of your most unfortunate origination.


Sunday, September 12, 2004 story, June '04

Some people hear messages when records are played backwards-- I see stories in the Word's of the Day. Here is my story for June 2004:

My jeremiad springs, autochthonous, from the Potemkin village of, in the favonian heat of June, before the yeasty heat of July and August, when a person can still think with equanimity. Surely I am no deipnosophist, nor do I take any great delectation in telling the story of such a...quisling, but I get ahead of myself. Let me start again ab ovo.

In this month of June, in this place known as Dictionary, there were two classes of information providers: the very rich, who ruled the land via primogeniture, known as the Media; and the very poor mendicant class, starvelings all, known as the Bloggers.

The Media were comely to be sure, bedizened in blazers and trousers of the finest cloth. They were also prone to braggaocio, believing their sonorous dictums, whether based on fact or not, could enjoin the masses, nolens volens, to do as they wished.

The Bloggers, though poor, were more likely to be found woolgathering, usually in recumbent positions, making trenchant homilies to no one in particular. Bloggers misprized the Media, believing Media's practices, basically a vade mecum for corruption, had made Truth ancillary to their own ambitions, peccantly trading veracity for pin money.

Though small and weak, the Bloggers were relentless, and publicly the Media sought to palliate the acrimony between the two factions by inviting them to an insignificant political convention. In actuality, Media sought to humiliate the Bloggers using all the sciolism at their disposal.

(to be continued)

Lessons from the Cone of Probability

  • When reporters and anchors have been covering a hurricane for four days straight, they get a little punchy:
    • A reporter describing the dangers of debris flying around during the storm, “I have to be very careful and keep my third eye out.” Then female anchor instructs the reporter to “Be careful out there and keep you third eye out.” Surely they know the third eye is blind?
    • An anchor repeatedly describes a rising river as having “Overflown its banks.”
    • A live caller talking to an on-air weatherman, “I saw the ground breathing around the base of a tree. The ground was moving up and down like it was breathing. Do you know what causes that?” The weatherman: “Ma’am, have you ever seen the movie ‘Ghoulies’?”
  • You will find yourself chatting with total strangers about the availability of potted meats. Stores all over town, for the first time ever, will sell out of SPAM.
  • Don’t butt in line at the gas station when filling up your gas can—or someone will most definitely open a can of whoop-ass on you.
  • There are priorities for how electricity is restored: Hospitals and businesses, your neighbors a few streets over, then the neighbors next to you, then you.
  • You will learn to make coffee on a bar-b-que grill.
  • You will find yourself noticing available power outlets at local stores, then sneaking back later to recharge your laptop.
  • Phones can work without power. However, your fancy 900MHz wireless phone cannot.
  • If your trees get blown off-kilter during hurricane #1, don’t try to straighten them. Hurricane #2 or #3 are most likely coming from a different direction and may blow them back upright.
  • You will come to appreciate the promptness of fast-moving hurricanes over slow-movers.
  • When traffic lights are out, you should treat intersections as four-way stops. However, no one seems to know this rule, treating them instead as four-way go’s.
  • There is nothing more uncertain than probability.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The Prisoner Channel

It seems like a good idea on the surface: instead of housing prisoners in expensive jail cells, release them into society but track them using GPS devices clamped around their ankles. Sounds like a kinder and gentler prison system that even John Kerry could live with. That is, until you realize these GPS tags are not being monitored in real-time—or anything even close to real-time. The prison system is only checking on these violent sex offenders’s location once a day.

Are we mad? Does anyone see a little problem here? Do you know what kind of damage an unsupervised two-year-old could do in a day, never mind violent sex offenders who’ve been in prison at least six months? The article says that real-time tracking is expensive, costing $290 per month per felon. Well, half-baked technology calls for half-baked financing…Reality TV to the rescue.

That’s right, no one can appreciate real-time felon monitoring more than Reality TV producers. The concept is similar to The Amazing Race, but we’d call it ‘The Amazing Race to Attempted Rape’. You let about 600 prisoners loose at the same time, tell them they’re only being monitored once a day, and watch the ratings soar!

Imagine the efficiency of having the viewing public watching the At-Home Prison Channel 24/7 rather than all those state-employed guards. At 5pm each day, monitoring time, the prisoners would have to give a video summary of where they’d been hangin’ that day. Of course, they’ll claim they were home all day working on needle point or lifting weights, but we (the audience) will know better, having tracked them all over town as they cased school yards and mall parking lots.

Of course, we don’t want any real people getting hurt, so we’d surround the ex-cons with actors whose mission is to make them angry (angrier?), like Boiling Points. If the prisoners can go ten seconds without shanking the antagonist, they get $100—otherwise, they get 2 years tacked onto their sentence.

It might be interesting to try a few convicts on The Ultimate Love Test, but the episodes would probably be too short—sex offenders aren’t known for being very patient lovers. A show along the lines of Punked could be funny, especially if it involved prison shower scenes. I’m sure the parolees could get into the spirit of Pimp My Ride, once they understand ‘ride’ refers to ‘car’, not The Girl Next Door. There could be a great tie-in between Trading Ex-Con Spouses and CSI-Crime Scene Inevitable. Women who love men in orange jumpsuits will have their hearts aflutter for the new love contest Average Joe Seeks Desparate Ho.

To keep up interest between broadcasts, viewers can use the Jail-Bird Locator page on MapQuest to track the convicts’ current positions and browse fun personal history using the Sexual Predator/Offender Database.

Prisoner Reality-TV could also open up some non-traditional markets for advertising revenue. Consider this ad concept from Rapala, maker of the wonderful Fish’n Fillet knife:

“Having problems with sex offenders in your neighborhood? Want to solve the problem but don’t have a lot of money for fancy GPS monitoring equipment? Try our $15 Fish’n Fillet knife. As Hammurabi was fond of saying, ‘An eye for an eye, and a nut job for a nut job.’ Get your’s today!”