March 2005

Understanding people different from yourself…

Understanding people different from yourself. That’s supposed to be on the “Blue State” side of the big stereotype slate that’s written in somebody’s guidebook, isn’t it? (You know, the one that says if I’m in favor of gun control then I have to be anti-Israel, and vice versa?)

Heather Hurlburt at Democracy Arsenal has a nice short post on 10 steps Democrats can take to get back on the map WRT national security. Kevin Drum at Political Animal quotes one particular example:

Step 6. Every progressive takes a personal vow to learn something about our military, how it works, what its ethos is, and how it affects our society at all levels — as well as what it does well and less well in the wider world.

Sounds like good advice. Also reminds me of a great piece that NPR’s On The Media did last month about how journalists, in general, just don’t understand gun issues or gun owners, and how they really need to start.

Understanding people different from yourself… Read More »

What are the front-runners for the future of mobile displays?

Siemens demonstrated a prototype cellphone with a built-in projector at CeBIT 2005 last week. (Thanks to Thad for the link.)

I’m curious whether this kind of technology will win out in the long run. It’s clear it fills a need — the PDA/cellphone small screen is fine up to a point, but in general we want big screen real estate in a small package, and you just can’t get that with today’s rigid screens. There are a few competing models though, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Ordered from most personal & on-the-move to most public &apm; in situ:

  1. Head-mounted displays: good for private information and information on-the-move, bad for showing anything to someone else.
  2. Roll-up or fold-up displays: small when being carried but still gives however much screen real estate you need when you need it.
  3. Projector systems: good for turning any table or wall into a touch-sensitive display, but require a flat light-colored surface and can’t be used on-the-move or privately. Unclear if they could ever be as good resolution as the other options unless you carry your own high-quality screen as well (making it something of a hybrid projector / roll-up display).
  4. Ubiquitous displays: great resolution, requires that you’re somewhere that has accessible displays at your disposal. Can’t be used on-the-move at all and also requires that you trust the infrastructure you’re using.

Of course we might also wind up with several systems and use whatever works best in a given situation, just like we have both laptop and PDAs today. But if one niche winds up being vital (say, everyone needs information while on-the-move so everyone wears an HMD) and if it winds up being good enough for the other niches then that tech will eat the others, just like we’re seeing laptops more and more often being used as desktop-replacements today.

What are the front-runners for the future of mobile displays? Read More »

End of the rainbow

Long as I’m posting holiday pictures I may as well catch up on St. Pattie’s day…

A couple months ago we had one of those amazing rainstorms where it’s raining pretty hard but the sun is shining at the same time. (I know, you Seattle folks won’t be impressed, but here in California the fact that it rained is already enough to make us sit up and take notice.)

Anyway, it made for a gorgeous rainbow stretched across the sky. It also caused something I’d never seen before in a “real” rainbow: the end of the rainbow was in sight, just 100 feet or so away. You can see in the picture below, where the end of the rainbow clearly occludes the houses just across the street.

Having never seen such a thing before, I did what any good Irish-heritage boy would do — I ran over and looked for gold, or at least a midget in green telling me to keep my mits off his cereal. Looks like I was too late though — at the end of the rainbow is a water-main access cover. I figure somewhere in Menlo Park is a water works repair employee with a big smile on his face.

End of the rainbow Read More »

Happy Easter

Happy Easter all (either a week late or right on time, depending on your persuasion). I’m happy to report this year’s experiment was an unqualified success: quail’s eggs make great naturally-speckled Easter eggs, with a nice marble look to them.

And the best part is bringing them to work and having people assume they’re chocolate since they’re the wrong size to be real eggs.

Happy Easter Read More »

I’ve often heard (and sometimes said) that there are three possible outcomes to the copyright wars:

  1. The Content Cartel manages to stuff the djinni back in the bottle and reinstate themselves as gatekeepers. The Internet dream gets twisted back into pay-per-view with email.
  2. A citizen revolt against congress’s constant erosion of fair use, free speech and free market to keep the Cartel’s lobbyists fat and happy. We regain the rights to our own culture, but only after much blood has been spilled on the field and in the courts.
  3. The Content Cartel keeps their pocket congress-critters and enact even more draconian copyright laws, only to discover that the more restricted a medium is the less it can compete with the new liberated content model. (just released in Alpha) is another step forward towards making the third scenario a reality. It’s a new web service that’s offering to host any sort of creative media (including audio & video). For free. Forever. You own your own copyright, you choose your own license.

This is similar to what The Internet Archive does, and in fact the IA is providing free storage and bandwidth for OurMedia’s media files. OurMedia is focusing much more on the general pro/am community though, and includes a free blog & Wiki (all based on Drupal), community-based rating and comment systems and plans for many more social-network support plans.

(Thanks to Seth Finkelstein at Infothought for the link.) Read More »

LinkBack for OSX

LinkBack looks pretty sweet:

LinkBack is an open source framework for Mac OS X that helps developers integrate content from other applications into their own. A user can paste content from any LinkBack-enabled application into another and reopen that content later for editing with just a double-click. Changes will automatically appear in the original document again when you save.

Looks like it goes about 90% of the way towards the convenience of editable embedded objects, without all the problems associated with that last 10% of trying to get everything to actually be edited in a window within the embedded document. It’s also interesting that this is an open-source project, spearheaded by 3rd-party software developers Nisus, OmniGroup and Blacksmith rather than by Apple itself.

LinkBack is currently being integrated into Nisus Writer Express, OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner, ChartSmith, Stone Create, Border and a plug-in has just been released to paste LinkBack data into Keynote 2.

(Thanks to Nivi for the link!)

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France’s digital library: A race to the top?

Sounds like President Jacques Chirac has bought into the French National Library president Jean-Noël Jeanneney’s call to make huge swaths of European literature available online. A big nudge came from Google’s plans to put some 15M English-language books online, leading Jeanneny to write an editorial in the French paper Le Monde warning that such a service would naturally view the knowledge of the world through an Anglo-American lens. If it became the dominant source of knowledge, that perspective would become equally dominant. (You can see the full editorial in this blogger-cached copy or the Google translation).

He is, of course, quite right in assessing the threat. It’s nice to see the French respond with a call to counter-attack rather than protectionism — such a contest can only result in a race to the top, delivering the best each of us has to offer to the betterment of all. It’s also nice to see yet another example of culture as something to spread rather than something to protect — that sometimes gets lost with all the copyright wars going on.

Jeanneney also hits on something that’s not coming out much in the English press: he’s not just afraid English-language texts will be over-represented, but also that the organization of the texts will be seen only through that lens. From a March 4th Le Monde Q&A (auto-translated by Google):

Why are you hostile with the Google project?

Hostile? It is not the word right. When Google announced, December 14, its project of digitalization of 15 million volumes drawn from the funds of several large Anglo-Saxon libraries, we did not doubt that among these works would appear a great number of European titles. But their selection, their hierarchisation in the lists will be defined inevitably starting from a singular glance: that of America. The Anglo-Saxon scientific production will be inevitably overestimated. The American mirror will be the single prism. My remark does not raise of any chauvinism, I do not intend to inform any lawsuit with the opening of Google, I restrict itself to note an obviousness. I would like simply that one can have in the future another point of view, marked by another sensitivity – European – of a glance on the world undoubtedly quite as partial and even partial, but different. What I defend, it is a multipolar vision.

It’s not clear to me how Google plans to categorize the vast library they’re helping put online, or indeed if they plan to do more than add existing (no doubt US/British-centric) library classifications, offer full-text search and then let the emergent organization of the Web take its course. But the problem is a tricky one, and search-engine bias is both subtle and, honestly, inevitable. We would all benefit from multiple experiments, multiple methods and multiple points of view, and at least for a while that’s worth a little duplication of work. However, I do hope that all the sides involved come together at least enough to establish some common data formats and, more importantly, agree to share data with each other. No one would be served by multiple little fiefdoms, each hoarding their little corner of culture out of fear the other side would gain an advantage. Let’s keep this a race to the top.

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Cast of millions

There’s a nice quote by Jeff Tweedy (leader of the band Wilco) in Lessig’s column in last month’s Wired:

“Music,” he explained, “is different” from other intellectual property. Not Karl Marx different – this isn’t latent communism. But neither is it just “a piece of plastic or a loaf of bread.” The artist controls just part of the music-making process; the audience adds the rest. Fans’ imagination makes it real. Their participation makes it live. “We are just troubadours,” Tweedy told me. “The audience is our collaborator. We should be encouraging their collaboration, not treating them like thieves.”

It’s similar to something I’ve been mulling over for a while now about art in general. Art isn’t created out of nothing. It’s inspired by culture, augmented by technology, given its own voice by the audience, advertised by word of mouth and filtered by fans. The artist steers these forces, but they’re created by a cast of millions.

Why do we credit the violinist and the composer of a piece but not the master luthier who made the violin? Did his artistry contribute any less to the beauty of the music?

Cast of millions Read More »

Signing over of Copyright

Lawrence Lessig has just sworn off publishing “in any academic journal that does not permit [him] the freedoms of at least a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.”

Accademic journals are funny economic actors, because it’s very clear they provide publication, archival and authentication services to an academic community, but not the content. The community that eventually reads the journal also provides the real value in a journal: its authors, reviewers and editors, usually for free or a pittance. While there’s no denying that publication and archival services cost money and should be compensated, high subscription prices or other access restrictions are a disservice to the entire author-reader community. As the main provider of value in the process this community has considerable power. It’s more pronounced in accademia, but I see a lot of similarity to the growing pains the record industry is feeling, with consumers and artists both realizing the value added by the middleman isn’t as valuable as they thought. I suspect these fights in academia contain some good lessons for how the powershifts will other content areas might play out — assuming financial interests in the old way things were done don’t manage to put the djinni back in the bottle.

Side note: the two academic societies in my field, IEEE and ACM, both require that an author sign over his or her copyright to them before publication. Both policies have become more open in the past decade, in particular by granting permission for articles to be published on the author’s own website, but Lessig’s oath would still rule out either society’s journals because they don’t grant permission to others. ACM lays out its rationale for its copyright program, and concludes: ACM firmly believes that it achieves a balance among divergent goals; that its use of copyright within its publishing program in fact serves the public good by enabling the creation and widespread dissemination of quality works in various formats and media. This may be the case right now, but with media technology changing so quickly I suspect (and hope) author-reader pressure will continue to push these policies towards more openness.

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