September 2005

Bay Area event: two Ray Kurzweil talks

Ray Kurzweil will be speaking about his new book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, at two events in the San Francisco Bay Area next week:

  • Thursday, Sept. 22nd at the SDForum at SAP in Palo Alto Registration at 6pm, lecture 7-8:30, $25 for non-members, $35 at the door)

  • Friday, Sept. 23rd at the Long Now Seminar at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco. Doors open at 7, lecture at 7:30 with $10 suggested (but not required) donation.

(JD Lasica has a review of Ray’s book over at New Media Musings.)

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Fat Pings and Atom Streams

There’s interesting work going on between Brad Fitzpatrick at LiveJournal, Bob Wyman of PubSub and other folks at SixApart (who make the MoveableType blogging software) about making continuous streams of blogging content so large aggregators (like PubSub, Technorati or Google) can get continuous updates from large sources of blog posts like LiveJournal, SixApart or Blogger.

See Brad’s post on LJ for the inital proposal, these threads on integrating it with the Atom protocol and the Six Apart Update Stream for developments.

Or, if you feel like playing yourself, type this into a command prompt to see a continuous stream of “No one understands me. Should I dye my hair pink or blue?”:

telnet 8081
GET /atom-stream.xml HTTP/1.0 

(Extra points for being the first one to plug it into a screensaver 🙂

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Google blog search

I’ve been wondering when Google would get around to this. A few days ago they announced Google Blog Search, which indexes blog entries based on RSS or Atom feeds.

Google’s playing catch-up to smaller services like Technorati, but seem to have scooped Yahoo! and MSN, both of whom have been rumored to be coming out with an RSS-feed search “any day now” for months (Yahoo! even briefly revealed a test page before they realized it wasn’t being firewalled properly).

One feature Google gets right is that every page includes a link to subscribe to an RSS or Atom feed on that query, essentially turning any search phrase into an aggregator. Technorati has something similar with their watchlists, but you have to create an account and go through their page to create a new standing query. Google just creates the contents on the fly &mash; a big win in terms of ease-of-use since you’re likely to most want a standing query after you’ve just done the search as a regular one.

(Discovered via Political Animal, of all places, but there are also announcements at SixApart and John Battelle’s Searchblog.)

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Books on modern physics for the layman

I’ve always been fascinated by modern physics, but too often explanations in physics books either (a) give simplified explanations that don’t hold up under closer scrutiny, or (b) use so much specialized vocabulary and mathematics that they might as well be in Greek. The following four books are the ones I’ve found to be well-written exceptions:

  • The Einstein Paradox, and other science mysteries solved by Sherlock Holmes, by Colin Bruce, Perseus Books, 1997. Bruce presents 12 new short stories staring Sherlock Holmes as he solves cases that loosely follow the progress of physics through the last century, from a case of a mysterious sniper on a train (explaining Einstein’s Relativity) to one of the best descriptions of the EPR paradox I’ve seen in a case involving gambling fraud.

  • QED: The Strange Thory of Light and Matter, by Richard Feynman, Princeton University Press, 1985. Feynman was a brilliant teacher as well as physicist, and here he beautifully explains quantum electrodynamics, the theory that won him a Nobel prize. Based on a series of lectures he gave at UCLA that were designed specifically for a nontechnical audience.

  • In Search of Schroginger’s Cat and the sequel Schrodinger’s Kittens and the Search for Reality: Solving the Quantum Mysteries, both by John Gribbin (1984 and 1995). While I didn’t get quite as much understanding out of these books as I did from the first two I listed (there was a bit too much hand-waving for my taste), they still lay a good foundation and cover a wide field of the bizarreness that is quantum physics.

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Boobs for Bourbon Street!

One of the folks helping to raise money for the Katrina relief effort is the site Boobs 4 Bourbon Street (it’s been slashdotted and is down right now, but check back later). People are donating pictures of their bare breasts (with the website shown in the photo itself, to insure they were taken with full knowledge and consent of how they’d be used), and anyone who donates $5 or more to one of the main relief charities gets an account and password to view them.

From the site:

Click on any of the charities in the right-hand column, go to their donation page, and make an online donation for $5 or more. (Please note: Habitat For Humanity’s minimum online donation amount is $10. If you try to make a smaller donation in their form, you’ll get a fairly nondescript error message.) Then, once they send you a confirmation email, forward it to us, at At this point, one of our volunteers will see your email, then create an account with which you can access the gallery, and email you with your login information. The username will be the email address that you emailed us from. The password will be randomly-generated. Write it down or print it out or save the email.

To quote my friend Adam, this has got to be the least efficient way to use the Internet to get pictures of boobs since Archie, but hey — it’s for charity, and when I checked a couple days ago they’d already raised $3000.

I also note (so you won’t think this post is entirely about boobs) that they’ve got an interesting trade economy going here, where they’re providing a service (in this case light-porn) not for cash but for proof that cash was paid to someone else. It’d be great to build up the infrastructure to make this kind of thing easier, much as Software Ransom sites have done for pooling commissions for software (are you listening, PayPal?).

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Beyond Satire

I’ve just come across a new blog called Beyond Satire (

For years, we’ve been observing that truth has moved beyond satire. We created this site to highlight news that would be unbelievable as satire but is nevertheless true. Please help us by submitting comments and stories.

I can tell from the first dozen or so posts that this is going on my short list. (It reminds me of the “No Comment” feature that Ms. Magazine runs — things that are so over the top they supply their own punchline.)

As a side note, it took me two-thirds of the way through reading it till I realized the author is Ellen Spertus, a CS professor in San Francisco that I know from back when she was at the MIT AI Lab. Small world syndrome strikes again…

(Thanks to Andrea for the link!)

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OK, this makes my head hurt. TiddlyWiki is a self-contained, client-side Wiki written entirely in HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Unlike most wikis, there’s no server for a TiddlyWiki — when you download a page you have your own local copy of the entire wiki, and any changes you make affect only that local copy. It’s not a collaborative authoring space, at least not in the traditional sense, but it’s useful for taking notes or maintaining a set of HTML pages that you later want to upload to a server. I’m impressed by the numbers of features and slickness of the interface given that it’s “just” JavaScript (note to self: JavaScript is now a real language). It also has an interesting navigation that’s something of a cross between a wiki and a blog, where clicking on a link inserts the relevant post into the main page you’re reading. It reminds me of Radio Userland‘s Live Outline Tool, though unfortunately that includes the fact that I find it easy to get lost in both.

The full implications of this kind of client-side Wiki didn’t really hit me until I briefly wondered where I could download a copy, only to realize I already had just by visiting the site. As their instructions point out, just do “Save Webpage As…” (either of their main page or of a blank version) and you’ve got your own copy, ready to edit.

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iPod Nano


Apple announced their new iPod Nano yesterday — 2 or 4 GB (around 500 or 1000 songs, or around 25,000 photos), with 14 hours battery life, color display and a click-wheel, all squeezed into a 3.5 x 1.6 x 0.27 inch package. That’s about 20% of the footprint and only 75% of the thickness of a single standard CD jewelcase! Nicely done.

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