Archives for December 2002

Genesis of PageRank

I've been playing with Grokker Preview Release 2 this evening.  It's a big improvement over PR1 in many ways although I still wouldn't recommend that anyone other than a search tool nut buy it at this point.  However it did lead me to an interesting paper by Sergey Brin about Google.  This was written in, I guess, 97/98 i.e. well before Google became the monster it is today.

However it does have the best description of the page rank algorithm and how it is calculated that I have seen so far.  I'm guessing it's a good deal more sophisticated these days but this might be of interest for others like myself who wonder about the inner workings.

To quote from that paper:

2.1.1 Description of PageRank Calculation

Academic citation literature has been applied to the web, largely by counting citations or backlinks to a given page. This gives some approximation of a page's importance or quality. PageRank extends this idea by not counting links from all pages equally, and by normalizing by the number of links on a page. PageRank is defined as follows:

We assume page A has pages T1...Tn which point to it (i.e., are citations). The parameter d is a damping factor which can be set between 0 and 1. We usually set d to 0.85. There are more details about d in the next section. Also C(A) is defined as the number of links going out of page A. The PageRank of a page A is given as follows:

PR(A) = (1-d) + d (PR(T1)/C(T1) + ... + PR(Tn)/C(Tn))

Note that the PageRanks form a probability distribution over web pages, so the sum of all web pages' PageRanks will be one.

PageRank or PR(A) can be calculated using a simple iterative algorithm, and corresponds to the principal eigenvector of the normalized link matrix of the web. Also, a PageRank for 26 million web pages can be computed in a few hours on a medium size workstation. There are many other details which are beyond the scope of this paper.

Nose back to the grindstone

The christmas RSS backlog is now reduced to managable proportions.  Back to work on the liveTopics user guide!

Seb's open Surveys

BlogStreet: How Useful Are Blogs and Wikis for Sharing Knowledge

BlogStreet has just announced a survey that they are hosting to look into this:

BlogStreet is hosting Sébastien Paquet's survey on the usefulness of weblogs and wikis for sharing knowledge. Please go here to fill in the short multiple-choice questionnaires.

- Weblog Survey
- Wiki Survey

Definitely worth filling out.

I concur!

I've just been playing with the second preview release of Grokker.  Capsule review: "much, much better but still a long way to go."  Now this software is called "preview release" so normally I wouldn't review it, but I shelled out 99 clams so I feel I am on safe ground.

Since the previous release (which I really don't think should have left Groxis engineering labs) they have done some good work but still there are nits

Life? Don't talk to me about life.

Nope, not from A Christmas Carol. I'm just havin' a good time. I get kinda wrapped up in the silly season and despite whatever's going on in my life at the time (though of late it's much more rare for me to have cause to say "despite what's going on") I've usually got a pretty goofy smile on.

[...]

What I learned this year is that of all priorities, money, security, happiness in vocation, charity and all the rest, that there are none that compare to the vital importance of sharing good times with good people, the warmth of sharing yourself with them and the highest of praise that comes from someone else doing the same with you.

Good to see you reflecting and finding things to be happy about.  I've never been much of a journal keeper and tend to reserve reflection for darker moments when I can really beat up on myself.

However I recently resolved to start keeping a diary and spending a little time each day writing it and reflecting upon where I am and where I am headed.  Partly this is as a way of managing my time, knowing what my priorities are.  But also this is an effort to get more in touch with what I want to do and what I want to be.

Should make this all more interesting next year.

klog as sounding board

The Weblogging Multiplier Effect. Some thoughts about the significance of weblogging for instruction and scholarship. [EduResources]

[...] The booster or multiplier that occurs when a person writes about what she or he thinks, observes, and reads, and then receives comments from others within a few hours or days makes an incalculable difference--the difference between private and public writing. This difference multiplies what can be learned and also multiplies the responsibility for thinking through what is said. If a writer's greatest tool is a large wastebasket (as, I believe, Hemingway remarked); the next greatest tool is a real audience.

Again, very good stuff from Joseph Hart. A must-read. In a similar vein, see the article by Verna Allee containing the famous quote Knowledge = power, so share and it multiplies.

I've always been happiest when I have a sounding board for my ideas which are often half-formed or just plain out of phase.  The power of the weblog as sounding board is that those ideas can kick around some, be rediscovered when the time is right or just act as big flags to warn you "danger Will Robinson!"

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Personal Brain 3.0

TheBrain have today released the first beta of version 3.0 of PersonalBrain.

This is fantastic news in as much as many of us had written PersonalBrain off as an abandoned product.  Better yet, Version 3.0 definitely delivers on many of the must haves that I and others have been sending them over the years.

Well done to the TheBrain!

Here's the skinny:

Printers, get out of ink

Content Management Not Good Business for Printers. Several years ago I completed a comprehensive study on Digital Asset Management for Print Providers. [b.cognosco]

I think there is an opportunity for clever print delivery firms with some spare cash and an eye for where print does add value.

If they can adapt their processes to be simple and hook into things like web-services (e.g. deliver from application, not on floppy disk or via e-mail) they can be relevant.

I guess the key to this will be digital print technology.  That likely spells doom for lots of established companies who operate on tight margins with ultra-expensive equipment to pay off.

Example Scenario of what I have in mind (I'm not suggestion any printing company could make a living off this):

I have a DeskJet 940c at home on which I print endless numbers of papers and articles.  For anything up to about 50 pages it's great.  Lovely little printer.  But beyond that I try and avoid it.  500 page e-book?  Forget it.

If I could click Print in IE, Word, Acrobat, whatever...  And then get a marketplace of local printing companies who could accept the job.  Let me pick the one with the right combination of quality, paper, speed and price.  Select it, enter my PayPal authorization.  Hit print.  And then either go pick it up next time I pick up the newspaper or have them mail to me.

That's a service I could come to like.

Not Brilliant, Brillo

Andrew Neil to become face of BBC political coverage. Media: Andrew Neil is to become one of the main faces of the BBC's political output after a revamp of programmes regarded as too Westminster-oriented. [Guardian Unlimited]

I'm sure I'm not the only person who finds Neil insufferable. Am I?

Nope.  Insufferable, pompous, boring, self-important, ... the list of Brillo's qualities goes on and on...

BlogTalk: We finally get our chance!

BlogTalk is a European weblog conference set for May 2003, in Vienna, Austria. Hey, a weblog conference I can drive to! I simply cannot miss. [Paolo Valdemarin: Paolo's Weblog]

Guess I know who I'm carpooling with ;-)

It's being organised by Thomas Burg.

Knowledge maps for k-logs

OPML directories I agree on the fact that "OPML" directories are a very interesting part of the development of content/knowledge management systems. I think that a particulary interesting application of this technology are self-building directories. This is what we are working on with Matt and with his LiveTopics Radio tool. It's somehow similar to what Dave describe as "timeless weblog", but instead of routing each post to one node, it will do it to several nodes in different categories and, most of all, it will be based on a server-side RSS 2.0 parser, so it will be able to organize contents from several k-logs. What we are working on is the automatic creation of a directory containing knowledge maps based on the topics attached to each post. The main use will be k-logging, but we are already seeing other intresting applications. Stay tuned. [Paolo Valdemarin: Paolo's Weblog]

Right on!

Timeless weblogs

The other outline-related idea that I never got around to implementing, but do know how to implement (I think) is what I called "timeless weblogs". Basically you'd route a weblog post to a section of an OPML directory, as described above, using the element that's been in RSS since 0.92. Then it would appear in a news box on that category, so you'd get persistent links on the left hand side, and new bits that are not permanent, in the news box. As with all these things, if you have an idea, the time may not be right. Maybe it's right now for these ideas. Just a Sunday morning pondering. [Scripting News]

For "timeless weblogs" read "topics".  liveTopics that is :-)

Breaking the powerlaw:

1 Don't rank all blogs on the same index.  This will at least allow more clusters to occur which is a good thing and, if this process were repeatable, could lead to a wider network.

2 Restrict networking, i.e. only allow 100-active links.  This will then require you to network via the FOAF metaphor and choose your friends wisely.

Blogroll clickthroughs

Here's an idea.  When you put someone on your blogroll why not add something like "?blogroll=true" to the URL.  This way click-throughs via the blogroll (rather than an article) will stand out.

Is that useful?  Harmful?

I've been meaning to comment on this for...

You know how sometimes you have a bunch of gnawing ideas, but nothing seems to come of any of them? I hate that.

Back when I've got something to say; in the meantime, it's structured procrastination for me.

I'm pretty sure I've come across the structured procrastination link before, but it's worth posting again, especially in lieu of doing something more important!

Finally, someone who understands me ;-)

Just watched All About Eve and it was fantastic.

Black & White. George Sanders & Bette Davis.  Memorable characters.  Good dialogue.   Ah...  curse CGI.

Does size matter?

Size Matters. Matt Mower asks good questions on why company size should matter in intranet development, but I believe there are several other factors to consider. [b.cognosco]

Okay Terry raises some good points.  Lets take 'em one-by-one.

Many small companies don't provide their workers with computers, so intranet access is moot.

Agreed.  Although I would want to be certain that the reason for not providing computers was legit.  Example:  Is there a need, but no expertise?  This isn't an argument not to have some kind of intranet.

Intranets are designed to supplement human communication and learning, not replace it. If everyone is sitting within talking distance it makes little sense to put another layer of machines between them.

Well now I don't think that's always true, even in the situation of 5 guys in an office (and I'll let you assume that they are always all there, 5 days a week.  weekends?)  So:

• Terry what did we do on the firefly account last august? (Hope you've got a good memory).
• How many support calls did we get last week?  What was the hottest issue? (Want a debate?  Or do we have that data?)
• We need to order & configure a new server same as the last one.  What do we do?

Now I grant you that you don't need an intranet for any of this stuff.  I just think you are more effective if have one.  And what if things aren't so simple?  What happens when times aren't so good and you have to let Larry & Curly go.  Oops, all the knowledge about the Firefly account and how to build your servers just walked out the door.  Or when Moe's brother joins the 'ol firm.  How does he figure out how things happen around here?  Sure, he can hang around and watch you guys but why not let him see it.

Peter Drucker says "all work is knowledge work," but if workers aren't already spending the majority of their work day in front of a computer (the case in many small service companies) intranets make little sense.

I'm with Peter on this one.  Give 'em hand-held's, give 'em tablets, give 'em something.  And for service folks that goes double.  For small companies life is often about quality of service.  Serve the customer better than the big NoNameCo and you stay in business (and the old guy whose been at this 40 years... he should be writing lots of content - he won't be around forever).

I guess for me the central point is "what is the intranet for?"

If it's part of the solution then why wouldn't you want your people to have it?

Did you hear something?

Reduce Project Variability...Start Listening. I've been teaching listening from the time I started teaching project management. Invariably, a large percentage (often a great majority) of the sources of mis-coordination on projects is the result of project participants not listening. Mis-listening just adds to the variability and uncertainty on our projects. [Reforming Project Management]

With thanks to Phil for rsstroducing me to Hal's blog and to a great post.  It's also a great advert for k-logs since reading k-logs is all about listening.

Was it Phil who, a little while ago, advised the idea of using k-logs to let projects fail fast.  Reading the k-logs of the people on the team (or perhaps a consolidated feed built from & filtered out of their individual feeds) is a key aspect of how you understand what is happening on the project, how you can tell if it is failling and understand the issues.

I've pondered risk management in projects before.  No project worth doing comes without risks and the challenge is often to understand what the real risks are and to spot them in time to do something about them.  Again, this is listening.  How can you sense when a risk is rearing it's head for real?  How can you tell when a new issue is emerging that should make it onto your list?

If listening is the stethoscope then k-logs are the heartbeat (...too much? :-) )

Filtered feeds - see it yet?

I've been going on about filtering RSS feeds with topics and apart from the "!paolo" and "!mikel" I've had little in the way of feedback.  Have I been preaching to the converted?  Or do people not see value in this idea?

I have become quite religious about adding topics like "humour", "politics" and "culture" to posts that I consider off-topic for my k-log.  If my views on these things aren't your cup of tea I want you to be able to say:

Matt's feed - { "humour", "politics", "culture" }

to just knock all that clutter straight out of the feed.

Alternatively you may find that there are one or two interesting posts in a number of different feeds that share a common theme.  I want to enable an aggregator to make a consolidated feed out of those.  java.blogs is a great example of where this kind of thing is going.  However in order to be useful to a wider community I think the tools have to come to the users, like RssDistiller

So who is working on the smart aggregators?  Who is interested?

Quick! Do it now!!

Caption competition. Lady Thatcher was in Washington this week to receive an award. Enter our caption competition by deciding what's being said in this picture. [BBC News | UK | UK Edition]

Fantastic :)

k-logs: locii

intranet => locus for action

klogs => activity based weblogs

natural fit?

Locus for action

Who Needs an Intranet?. Martin White has an interesting answer for managers of small companies wondering about intranets -- you probably don't need one! I concur, companies under about 50 employees, with everyone located in the same facility, can likely forego the expense and ha [b.cognosco]

I think this is where I begin to diverge from mainstream thinking on Intranets.  My thinking here is along the same lines as my previous post on whether an Intranet is a factory or a gallery.  I agree with Martin that a 50-man organisation doesn't need a gallery intranet to reflect upon work done or to showcase the HR policy set.  But who does?  More often than not I think these sites are built with an eye on senior management approval.  Hence: glossy, bright colours, simple headlines and little substance.

However if an intranet is living work, an embodyment of the spinning flywheels and turning cogs of the organisation, then why is it any less relevant to a 50-man, or even 5-man organisation?  To me it's just as relevant.  In a small organsiation there are less people doing the work, everyone needs to be that bit more focused on it (don't I know it!)  In a large organisation there are more cracks for things to fall through, but the idea is the same.

An intranet should help to collect things together and provide a locus for action.  The intranet should be part of the process, embedded in the work not separate to it.  As Terry says in response to the gallery post:

In "The 21st-Century Intranet" Jennifer Gonzalez describes four types of intranets ranging from the asynchronous broadcast model to the symmetrical interactive model. Almost none of the later exist and I belive it is becasue of the point you make -- there is almost no room for people. Even the idea of adding people to the intranet draws gap-mouthed stares from executives in many companies.

I don't think a change in workflow alone will do it. As numerous k-log threads have discussed, the cultural and personal barriers are greater than a simple change in workflow can address. But a comprehensive approach, will solid management support, could drastically change the nature of intra-company communication.

The basic point is this: If the Intranet is about the people, and their work, then why does the number of people matter?

Getting into practice

KM as Both Practice and Theory. Ton Zijlstra uses his weblog to share self-directed learning experiences and think out loud about how to address issues in his company. [b.cognosco]

Terry points to a good article about the perils of being a thinker and also the problems of getting your message across.  This:

This prospect viewed us a software company as the only product information he saw from us was one having to do with some software we happen to sell as a tool. This tool is part of a larger product that is in the area of consulting. So I talked with this prospect about what it is we actually do. Now how is it that this prospect got the wrong impression? Is our productinformation not clear enough? These are the sort of things my colleague and I want to talk about when meeting the other accountmanageing researchers.

struck a chord with me.

Ah Futurama

"Bender that was THE best 40 minutes washboard solo I've ever heard. The parts when I was awake blew my mind."

- Beck's head in a jar

Another A for IDEA

Another good review for IDEA.

Google Views: looks good from here

New Google Labs!. New Google Labs!: "Google Labs has two new projects: Google Viewer lets you view the web pages of your search results, in a slideshow fashion. [Archipelago]

I think the Google Viewer is going to become a powerful tool.  It takes the power of Google much closer to the overall functinality provided by desktop tools like Copernic Agent.

In my quest to learn that the music from the T-Mobile photo-messaging ad is Röyksopp's "So Easy" (thank you Steve's Music) I also came across the MadPlayer which looks like it could be a lot of fun.  It's going to be a long time before the gadget fund has £250 again though. :(

A wishlist for my news Aggregator (currently Radio):

I want to be able to specify how long items stay in the aggregator on a per-feed basis.   At the moment you configure this once and every feed gets that setting.  Some feeds contain things that I know I have to think long and hard about, others contain ephemera that, if I don't comment straight away, I probably never will.  Allow me to make that decision and make the aggregator more effective.

Allow me to combine feeds together into channels.  Let me display & manage each channel independently.  Let me use topic metadata to combine feeds dynamically into channels.

Allow me to filter posts and prioritize posts using topic metadata.  Right now every feed and every post has equal priority, the only factor is "freshness".  Let me specify key metadata that shows what I think is most important (a scoring system maybe?)

Give me a quick 1-click means of deleting all the posts in a view

Prison stew: Take 110,000 inmates and par boil. You'll know when it's ready

Behind bars at one of Britain's packed prisons. More and more people are being sent to jail. Birmingham Prison is in the frontline of the overcrowding crisis. But what damage is the crisis doing? And what's the view from inside the cells? [BBC News | UK | UK Edition]

Disturbing story (check out the virtual tour of the 2-man cell).  What's more disturbing is that instead of asking whether prison is the right solution the debately question seems to be "where can we build more prisons?"

There seems to be little real debate (or willingness to debate) in this country about other approaches to tackling people who commit crimes.  My own view is that prison is an incredibly expensive way of achieving very little.

According to HM Prisons in the year from April 1998 to March 1999 the average cost of a prison place for one year was £22,649.  My guess is that this figure hasn't gone down in the last two and a half years.

So basically it costs the economy the equivalent of one persons job for every member of the prison population?  But worse than that, we can probably assume that some of the 73,000 in prison today would be earning something on the outside and contributing to the economy.  To whom does this make any sense at all?

It seems to me that a good idea before we get to 2010 (and an estimated imate population of 110,000) would be to take a good look at what the social aims of a justice system are and how best to achieve them.

What do I know about Germany, or anywhere else for that matter?

What do you know about Germany?. UK schools children are only taught about Germany's Nazi past, says the new German ambassador. Test you knowledge of German history. [BBC News | UK | UK Edition]

4 out of 10, not great.  But I'd like to think I could do that badly on English history too...

Euro arrest warrant under fire

Euro arrest warrant under fire. The proposed European arrest warrant could see Britons sent for trial abroad for things which are not offences in the UK, opponents claim. [BBC News | UK | UK Edition]

I've no problem, in principle, with the idea of a European arrest warrant provided that it goes hand in hand with significant legal reform and harmonization across the union and an emphasis on tackling the problems of identity theft.  This is of particular significance when you consider how the union is to expand to, potentially, include countries like Turkey.

Let the fear begin

I accidentally deleted the item where I got this, it probably wouldn't be too hard to find it again.  The summary is below but the details are not important, what is important is that the state of fear in the US is now beginning.  It will be impossible to establish beyond reasonable doubt the details of this or the incidents that are to come.

• An amateur photographer named Mike Maginnis was arrested on Tuesday in his home city of Denver - for simply taking pictures of buildings in an area where Vice President Cheney was residing.
• Maginnis, who says he always carried his camera wherever he went, snapped about 30 pictures of the hotel and the surrounding area - which included Denver police, Army rangers, and rooftop snipers.
• As he was putting his camera away, Maginnis found himself confronted by a Denver police officer who demanded that he hand over his film and camera.
• After being brought to the District 1 police station on Decatur Street, Maginnis was made to wait alone in an interrogation room.
• The agent told Maginnis that his "suspicious activities" made him a threat to national security, and that he would be charged as a terrorist under the USA-PATRIOT act.
• The Secret Service agent tried to make Maginnis admit that he was taking the photographs to analyze weaknesses in the Vice President's security entourage and "cause terror and mayhem."
• Rather than contacting a lawyer, he called the Denver Post and asked for the news desk.
• This was immediately overheard by the desk sergeant, who hung up the phone and placed Maginnis in a holding cell.
• He received no copy of an arrest report, and no receipt for his confiscated possessions.
• He was told that he would probably not get his camera back, as it was being held as evidence.
• Maginnis's lawyer contacted the Denver Police Department for an explanation of the day's events, but the police denied ever having Maginnis - or anyone matching his description - in custody.
• The new police powers introduced by the USA-PATRIOT act, in the name of fighting terrorism, have been frightening in their apparent potential for abuse.
• It suggests that a wide range of activities which might be considered "suspicious" could be suddenly labeled a prelude to terrorism, and be grounds for arrest.
Just seen my first (but by no means the first) episode of The Dead Zone on Sci-Fi.  Actually watching the show makes much sense of the clips I've come across whilst flipping.  It definitely looks interesting, kinda off-beat.

Information, Experience and Judgement

Information and Experience. One thing John Perry Barlow pointed out is that people today often are unable to differentiate between information and experience...[Ming's Metalogue]

A thought provoking post Fleming.  I guess I am of the video game generation (I remember Atari consoles when I was kid) so make of my comments what you will.

I agree that there can be a sharp discontinuity between peoples experience of the world and what they get from the mass media.  This is, I guess, because the media's job is not accurate reporting and thoughtful commentary but selling media.  If you asked us we probably all realise this, we are just apt to forget it in our daily lives.  Fear lives in the primitive, old, parts of our brain and it's easy to get us going.

If I have an argument with the "nothings happening to me or my friends so it's maybe not really a problem" line of reasoning it is that it can go the other way and let us ignore 'big picture' problems that do exist.  So I think it's not simply about information, or experience, but also about judement.  Do we have the perspective required to interpret information correctly and make sound decisions about what is going on in the world around us?

For that I think you need good role models.

Last time I checked out RssDistiller from evectors I wasn't really into RSS very much.  It was just after I started using Radio and, frankly, I was more interested in messing around with it and what it could do.  What did I care about feeds?  Also creating patterns to distill sites is a bit of an art, who has the time?

Well of course I'm a little older and wiser now.  RSS has grown to be very important to my thinking and to how I think business should be done.  So important that tools to get non-RSS delivered content into feeds are vitally important.  Of course, this is exactly what RssDistiller does.

To create a feed from a website you point RssDistiller at the site and specify patterns marking the start and end of the areas RssDistiller should look at, and then the start and end of each "item" it should create.  RssDistiller will then turn that into a valid feed.

For example the following patterns are how i configure a feed for a website that I use:

• ignore text before: ignore text after: start pattern:

• end pattern:

• item template: ##text##

fiddly, but worth it.

RssDistiller is definitely worth checking out

Making CoP's fly

Making communities of practice fly. Diane Le Moult has written an excellent summary on how to make CoPs work. This is written from her direct experience, and highlights a number of very useful guidelines: 10 fundamental questions you need to ask before starting a CoP:... [Column Two]

Great post.

Another IDEA convert

When IDEA v3.0 was released recently I thought I would evaluate it again and I'm glad I did.  This is a good software.

I've used every version of JBuilder and seen it mature from a piece of crap, to a great IDE, and on to a rather swollen mess.  I don't think the IDE part of JBuilder has improved much in the last few releases, Borland have choosen to concentrate on other areas. IDEA on the other hand is impressive.  It works very smoothly, it's features are intelligent (like folding that works, and fantastic code completion).  It also has the best refactoring support I've seen so far.  As a coders tool IDEA looks very good.

About the only significant downside for me is the lack of a GUI builder. I guess if you're only doing J2EE based (I'm not qualified to evaluate the J2EE support) that's not a problem.  For me, it is.  I don't particularly like the JBuilder GUI designer or the code it creates, but it is better than nothing.

So, in short, IDEA goes on the wish list.

AsTMa!

I'm not actually sure what AsTMa! is yet.  That is, I know its a constraint language for topic maps, I just don't know what that means yet.  Anyone want to enlighten me?

Getting the kinks out of Technorati

Yes I've noticed the "false" notifications as well.  I guess these kind of glitches will get worked out in time.

Perspective

Richard Feynman. "We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on." [Quotes of the Day] [Seb's Open Research]

Great perspective.

Question

Does anyone know what the group or title of the music for the current T-Mobile picture messaging advert (in the UK)?

It has a vaguely William Orbit (Pieces in a modern style) feel to it.  Speaking of which, where has that CD got to?

How many feeds would you pay for? I have just subscribed to technorati.com to get my Link Cosmos as an RSS feed. Interesting service, but I still have to understand if it's worth \$10 per year. Anyway, I think that the real news here is that for the very first time I'm paying to get an RSS feed into my aggregator. Here's an interesting excercise: go trough the feeds you are currently subscribed to, how many would you pay for? [Paolo Valdemarin: Paolo's Weblog]

Yeah this is my feeling too.  I suggest to them that I would be unlikely to pay \$5/yr when we were talking about e-mail.  Not because I think that it is too much individually, but that if I like it I don't want to be paying \$275/yr when I hit 75 feeds.  I think something \$25/yr for unlimited feeds would be more the mark.

Paolo makes a good point though.  He's ponying up some dough for an RSS feed.  This is a milestone.

Google People: they're like real people only more Googlish

"Welcome to GooglePeople! Try one of the example questions, or let your imagination go wild!

GooglePeople shows that with simple, yet effective, text mining techniques, answers to specific questions can be extracted from the vast data repository.

GooglePeople is very confident that the answer to your question who is the godfather of soul? is:

James Brown

Let's try something harder:

GooglePeople is not sure it found the answer to your question "who is the best jazz guitar player?", but listed below are some possibilities to investigate.

Name Confidence
Rock Guitar Player  * *
Joe Pass  *
John Scofield  *

No mention of Django Reinhardt so no points there.

GooglePeople is not sure it found the answer to your question "who is the best blogger?", but listed below are some possibilities to investigate.

Name Confidence
Bill Clinton  *
Al Gore  *
Walter Mondale  *
Pat Buchanan  *

I'm not sure this thing is ready for prime time yet ;-)

If You Love Your Tivo then Contact the FCC!  Even I Did It

I see that folks like Dave and Scoble love their Tivos and I hope they make their voices heard by following the directions below.  The FCC has received very few comments which means we could well get digital content controls right in the TV set -- and then it'll be a short time until they hit the PC.  Covered below is what to do.  And, yes, even I bothered to do this (and I'm like the most politically unmotivated person on the planet.

,
Joe Kraus, Co-Founder DigitalConsumer.org

I don't have or even want a TiVo (i'm looking to watch less and less television, not more) and I'm not in the US so I don't know if it counts, but I have registered with the FCC.  On a point of principle I hope lots of UK people will do it.

I've just had my submission rejected by the FCC because my State and Zip Code are not valid.  So I guess they're not interested in what the rest of the world thinks about their decisions.  That's a pity because they have much wider implications than just for the US consumer market.

Test post

So long ActiveWords

I gave up on ActiveWords yesterday.  I know a lot of bright people seem to think it's great but it just doesn't work for me.  I just didn't find myself using typed shortcuts that often, I have a reasonably uncluttered machine and don't have problems launching programs thanks to truelaunchbar.  Although the idea of launching documents by name makes sense in theory, in practice it wasn't that useful.  In fact if I was going to do this I think I would put the documents in Personal Brain same thing only better metadata and all linked together.

And then there are downsides.  I found the trainer very irritating.  It weights foreground and background activations of folders and documents equally.  This meant that it was forever popping up folders and documents that Radio was scanning in the background.  The only solutions seemed to be turn up the thresholds or turn it off - both of which negate one of the more powerful aspects of the product.  If I have to manually tell AW what i'm interested in then I really would rather use Personal Brain.  Also AW really needs to give you enough context to work out which document or folder it is talking about - the name is not enough.  I believe they are working on that.

Also I found they way AW would popup while I was typing disconcerting.  Most of the time I'd rather spell check at the end of a period of writing than "as I go" (maybe I make more spelling errors than most...).  There were problems with my IDE as well which meant having to choose a different keyboard activation code.

In short this tool is not for me, and this time after a few weeks I can say I gave it a fair shake.

However I would say that Buzz and Peter were very responsive to my issues, and enough people get value out of it that I would still recommend it to others to try.  Just because it doesn't work for me doesn't mean it won't work for you.

The value is in the links not the nodes

"The value is in the links, not the nodes."

Thomas said this to me yesterday.  I believe it.  By which I mean that there is something I intuitively respond to in the statement.  Intellectually I am still grokking.

Calling all conservatives

Common Collective Sense. Britt Blaser suggests , "If you're as sick and tired of being sick and tired as I am, we should ... [istori/log]

Okay I call myself a liberal which I hold to mean:

1. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
2. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.

Here are some of my views:

• I believe very firmly in the freedom and privacy of individuals - especially under the threat of terrorism.
• I am concerned about Saddam Hussein yet still believe that a UK/US war on Iraq is a bad idea (especially if it's all about oil).
• I am in favour of European integration and the UK adopting the Euro.
• I am worried about rising crime but do not think filling jails with young men is the answer.
• I am worried about my health and how to pay for all the medical treatment I am bound to require (if I live long enough).
• I wonder if we are on the edge of an ecological disaster and we keep building roads.

Are there any people out there who do not see themselves as a liberal who can find themselves in agreement with one or two of these points and would care to discuss some of the others?  Or suggest some of their own?

I first saw Technorati show up in my referers early last week, but I'm just now getting a chance to play with it. It will take me some time to tour my own cosmos!

My first question is can I get additions to my list of inbound blogs and inbound links as an RSS feed?...

Technorati does have watchlists and this was my first question too.  So far the answer appears to be no, but even if it is I doubt that will last long.  These guys are too smart not to spot the opportunities that RSS presents.

Dynamic publishing, dynamic pricing

Writing computer books not recommended....

[Chomped the wonderfully depressing quote from The FuzzyBlog! ...]

I know some people have tried selling e-books themselves via their own websites.  But has anyone made a serious attempt to get the likes of Amazon to distribute independent efforts?

If that doesn't work is there a way to make money via a super-efficient publishing system.  Same as above, the publisher is soley responsible for taking the finished PDF, printing and distribution on a percentage basis.  Would anybody do it?

I'm probably showing my naivety again...

[Curiouser and curiouser!]

I honestly must admit I have entertained thoughts of being an author, but by the looks of it, maybe not. Which is a tad scary in it's own right, I grew up in this industry reading everything I could lay my hands on. I have thousands of books. If this is how badly the publishing industry treats authors, we are going to run out of computer books RSN.

Well, the last six months of bookstore browsing has only tempted me to buy about three computer books, so maybe the drought is already upon us. Not happy, Jan.

As to whether people can publish eBooks, as say PDFs, and get make a living out of it. I don't know. I hope it can be done, but I also know I am more likely to part with \$90 for a book I can read on the train than \$10 for a PDF that I have to print myself. Perverse, but true.

Me too.  My printer is an HP DeskJet 940c.  It's not slow and it's not terribly expensive to run.  I'm happy to print lots of 8-12 page articles in draft mode.  But the idea of printing a 400 page book, nah.  A book tends, if done right, to be just right in your hands.  200 pages of A4 inkjet paper doesn't have quite the same Wu.

Which is why I think there is an opportunity for a new streamlined publishing company.  Well more of a loosely coupled distributor really. Here's how I think it should work.

• You order the book via Amazon.
• Amazon take their sales cut, then pass the order on to the distributor.
• Distributor "prints" the book & ships it.  Recharges Amazon for their cut.
• Whatever is left goes to the authors + editor on a monthly basis.

The distribution company needs to have the capability of printing in small quantities to begin with maybe <100 copies.  When they have some idea of how sales are going they can shift up production run size appropriately.  I think this would be best done by the distributor outsourcing printing to a number of different printing companies themselves.  The distributor then acts as a hub and amortizes it's own costs.  Obviously this means printing will start out very expensive and (hopefully) get cheaper as sales rise.

This is why it is essential to use Amazon (or one of its contemporaries): Dynamic pricing.

Just as outfits like LetsBuyIt leverage more customers to lower the price, Amazon could use feedback to dynamically alter the book price & percentages based upon total sales.  This means that the book might start out at \$60 with a %20 cut to the authors (\$12), but when sales improve it could come down to \$40 with a %50 (\$20) cut to the authors.  If authors currently make \$2-\$3 a pop then this could work.

I'll put my crack pipe away now and try to drift back to reality...

Making ends meet

This is a difficult post to write.

The last 5 months have been some of the most interesting and exciting of my life.  When I started blogging I couldn't have imagined what a dramatic impact it would have on me.  I've been thinking more during this time than at any other time in my life and, having found a voice, sharing more.  It's been very liberating.  It also seems to me that the path I am on now may define my course for years to come.

Starting a business was something I really wanted to do.  But I wasn't ready for the challenge, economy or no economy.  I've learned so many things, like the supreme importance of your network and, by extension, your brand relative to things like products and services.  But it's hard to run a business when every little thing is a lesson.  Despite good advice I've made mistake and after mistake and they keep coming.  On one hand I'm constantly learning and that's fun, but on the other hand it doesn't necessarily make for good business.

I want to continue, I hope to continue.  I believe (dangerous as that is) that k-logging has an important future, my inability to come up with the right message or pilot site not withstanding, and is going to be a good business to be in.  I also want to continue because I'm talking to and sharing ideas with some great people and that's always cool.  But the hard reality is that I haven't made it work yet and I'm almost at the end of my rope.

I've started looking for a job, posting my resume to various recruitment sites.  So heres where we come to the difficult bit:

Please, if you or someone you know could use my skills (CV will be up when Word agrees with me about what HTML is):

• Java application development
• Technical consultancy
• Web development (Servlets/JSP, Perl, Cold Fusion)
• Knowledge Management (+quite a lot of experience with Livelink) implementation or consultancy
• Systems Management (Quite a bit of Solaris & WinNT/2K + a smattering of linux)
• Tech support / Client support

please do get in touch, I could really use some help at the moment.

Howard and Bush: two ugly peas in a pod

Australia ready to strike abroad. Prime Minister John Howard causes outrage by saying he would launch pre-emptive action against terrorists in neigbouring countries. [BBC News | World | UK Edition]

Depressing, depressing.

Looks like the terrorists have figured out that "divide and conquer" still works.  They provoke Australia into throwing their weight around in the area and fuel the fire even further.

Instead of fighting to improve the power of the UN to deal with these issues the push is to weaken the UN and make unilateral action the de facto response to an indication of threat.

Oh well, of course Australia will obviously live up to the high standards of evidence set by the UK and the USA so no worries.

People as web-services

Speaking of bootstraps, Ian Davis has a FOAF (friend of a friend) vocabulary for bartering. [Scripting News]

A related meme was Connecting individual people is the killer app.

What an interesting concept, turning people into Web Services.

Writing computer books not recommended...

Thanks to Simon I ran across Why Computer Books Suck [ Go ].  I'd have to agree with her points 100%.  Having been a co-author this year on a computer book for today's leading publisher, I'd just comment that not only is the whole book process messed up but I'd also rather have all my fingernails pulled, eat glass and drink acid before writing another computer book.  I absolutely loved this section:

There's no money in it

Let's say you pour three months' worth of blood, sweat, and tears into your 500-page computer book. After taking three more months to reformat it, the publisher sends you galley proofs so you can review them and create an index. Of course, you get only a week or two for that. You mark a few minor, last-minute corrections on the proofs. You must then use the hard copy (that's right, hard copy) to create an index manually (that's right, manually). Of course, you can have the publisher do it for an outrageous fee, but most authors choose to index their own books. And most authors do a lousy job of it. By that time the author is too burnt out to do it justice, even though everyone knows the index is the single most important section of any computer book.

Finally, you're finished. The publisher dawdles for another month or so, occasionally sending you messages asking for files you've already sent them twice, and that sort of thing. Finally the book goes to print. If you're lucky, you see a couple of copies on the shelf at Border's.

Now suppose the book's list price is \$40. Typically, the writer's cut is a percentage of the "net" which is a fancy way of saying half the list price. Supposedly this is to cover the cost of publishing the book. (Why does it cost that much? I'm not sure, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that three months' labor is required to reformat a book.) What this means is that if your royalty is 15%, you get 15% of \$20, or \$3. But that's only for domestic retail sales. Chances are, your contract contains lots of loopholes for things like international sales, book clubs, and anything else you can dream up, so on average you might get \$2. That's 5% of the revenue from the sale of the book. The publisher gets the remaining 95%. Think about these two facts for a momont:

• You researched, wrote, reviewed, revised, and indexed this 500-page book. You developed and tested the examples.

• The publisher's cut is 95%.

Are you now suffering from severe cognitive dissonance?

• Yup.  Right on the money.  When I emailed my editor asking about sales of the book -- AFTER he emailed me about it first he never even responded.  As near as I can tell, royalties for a computer book might cover sales tax on a decent dinner out but not necessarily the dinner itself.  And, finally, when I asked a professional literary agent about writing computer books, his response was "The game is rigged by publishers against the authors.  If you can write ANY OTHER type of book than a computer book that's what I recommend".

Writing Computer Books?  Not Recommended.

Well that's as disappointing as it is instructive.  Thank Scott.

I've always harboured a desire to author a good computer book, now I think I've got better things to do with my time.  Unless...

I wonder if a way could be found to get Amazon, Barnes & Noble et al. to sell PDF books on their website from independent publishers.  That is, you and I get together and write our book.  We hire an editor on a percentage basis (would that work? Is that a better deal than most editors get now?) and supply the finished PDF for distribution directly to the on-line stores.

After all do computer books get marketed in the way that, say, a Grisham novel does?  What does the publisher do other than supply a, seemingly incompetent, management and paper distribution function?

I know some people have tried selling e-books themselves via their own websites.  But has anyone made a serious attempt to get the likes of Amazon to distribute independent efforts?

If that doesn't work is there a way to make money via a super-efficient publishing system.  Same as above, the publisher is soley responsible for taking the finished PDF, printing and distribution on a percentage basis.  Would anybody do it?

I'm probably showing my naivety again...