Curiouser and curiouser!

 29 August 2003

7:11:51 PM     : Dell sinks to a new low (who even knew it was possible?)

Dell Takes Click-Wrap 'Agreements' to New Low. Ian Goldberg and Kat Hanna: Dell's Software License Policy. I'm just bewildered that Dell corporate policy is that users need... [Dan Gillmor's eJournal]

As I said in my comment on Dan's post this is utterly disgusting but entirely typical of the contempt I think Dell has for it's customers.  I really hope Dan follows up on this.

 27 August 2003

10:08:28 PM     : Engage with the mission

A Blogger in Their Midst.

Harvard Business Review, Sept 2003, leads with a case study on blogger behavior at work. The case is kinda fun. A woman writing a blog calling herself "Glove Girl" is responsible for a big increase in the sale of the company's products, but she blogs without permission, and without following the company line. (Imagine that.) What is the CEO to do? [smirk]

As usual, HBR invites four 'experts' to offer their views on what to do. The advice is not bad. It ranges from figure out how to take this blog-marketing thing mainstream to what's wrong with the way you communicate internally that you didn't know Glove Girl was blogging.

Here are my comments:
(I used to be a Chief Operating Officer for a design-build commercial builder.)

  • Create mechanisms for employees to engage fully in the mission of the company. Some people are just dying to make bigger contributions. Blogging is just one way to share ones voice.
  • Blog with company bloggers. Ray Ozzie founder of Groove took up blogging and discovered his own voice along the way. (If you can't beat 'em, join 'em?) Learn first-hand how the blogging medium (genre) can support the company mission.
  • Encourage group blogging. As companies become more and more virtual (physically separate) we risk becoming detached from our peers. A group blog, where each of us can post, read, and comment as it serves us and the group, nurtures relationships. Group blogging may be the safety net for distributed project teams.
  • Bring the marketing department together with the company bloggers. Prepare yourself to mediate the conversation! My experience of bloggers is they are VERY well-intended. Help people find ways to create something new from an intentionality between the groups.
  • Look for other 'marginal practices' that may be contributing to the success of the company. Instant messaging for supporting clients immediately comes to mind. Wikis for supporting the folks who are supporting the customers? How about unsanctioned websites?

Creating a blogging presence was too easy. It took me all of 3 hours on a weekend. Just imagine what is happening at work with all the 'friendly support' available! Don't wait...harness it.
[Reforming Project Management]

I really like #1:

  • Create mechanisms for employees to engage fully in the mission of the company. Some people are just dying to make bigger contributions. Blogging is just one way to share ones voice.

Companies clueful enough to want to listen to their participants will find blogs to be a great way to tease them out and get them interacting.

9:32:32 PM     : Many heads in jars

It's an amazing group of people K-Collector has acquired in just a few short months.  I wish I knew half these people or at least who they were!

Adam Curry,Adriaan Tijsseling,Adrian Scott,Alan Cooper,Alf Eaton,Alison Fish,Andre Durand,Barry Diller,Ben Hammersley,Ben Trott,Beppe Caravita,Bill Kearney,Brewster Kahle,Britt Blaser,Cesare Lamanna,Chris Pirillo,Chuck Lawson,Clay Shirky,Cory Doctorow,Dan Brickley,Dan Gillmor,danah boyd,Danny Ayers,Danny Goodman,Dave Jacobs,Dave Snowden,Dave Winer,David Galbraith,David Gurteen,David Isenberg,David Sifry,Dina Mehta,Doc Searls,Don Hopkins,Don Norman,Don Park,Doug Baron,Drummond Reed,Duncan Wilcox,Edd Dumbill,Eric Norlin,Eugene Kim,Evan Williams,Gary Santoro,Giuseppe Granieri,Greg Elin,Harold Gilchrist,Howard Dean,Howard Rheingold,Jason DeFillippo,Jason Fried,Jason Lefkowitz,Jay Feinberg,Jim McGee,John Bransford,John Doerr,John Hagel,John Norris,John Robb,John Seely Brown,Joi ito,Jon Lebkowsky,Jon Udell,Jonathan Abrams,Jonathan Peterson,Justin Hall,Karlin Lillington,Kevin Marks,Kevin Werbach,Kim Polese,Lawrence Lessig,Leigh Dodds,Libby Miller,Lisa Rein,Liz Lawley,LockerGnome,Marc Barrot,Mark Carey,Mark Pilgrim,Matt Webb,Meg Hourihan,Micah Alpern,Michael Gartenberg,Mitch Ratcliffe,Morten Fredericksen,Nat Friedman,Neo,Nick Gaydos,Nikolaj Nyholm,Ole Eichhorn,Paolo Valdemarin,Paul Boutin,Peter Kaminsky,Phil Pearson,Phil Wolff,Pierre Omidyar,Ray Ozzie,Reid Hoffman,Richard MacManus,Rob Adams,Robb Beal,Robert Scoble,Ross Mayfield,Russell Beattie,Sam Ruby,Scott Adams,Scott Adans,Scott Heiferman,Scott Johnson,Scott Mace,Seb Paquet,Shelly Powers,Simone Bettini,Sjoerd Visscher,Steve Yost,Thomas Burg,Thomas Mygdal-Madsen,Tim O'Reilly,Ward Cunningham,Will Wright,Xeni Jardin,Zack Lynch

8:34:59 PM     : iTunes radio rocks!

Today I have been mostly listening to Limbik Frequencies.

(At the moment I don't care that the iTunes store doesn't work for me either)

8:22:01 PM     : Fortress Britain

Want to visit Britain? Join the fingerprint queue. Biometric visas stamped [The Register]

Ah yes, good 'ol Fortress Britian.

8:09:29 PM     : I'd love to be certified virus free

Doesn't anyone use anti-virus software?

I've received more than 1,000 messages from people spawned by the Sobig virus. The happy note is it is almost all from spammers who are revealing their actual address, which creates all sorts of opportunities for fun. But, seriously, there are applications that can stop this.

Or, one could use a Macintosh. People chuckle about the Mac, but not being a major target of opportunity for virus writers is a big plus.

[RatcliffeBlog: Business, Technology & Investing]

Some of us would love to be running AV software but have trouble doing so.  I now have a brand-new shrink wrapped copy of McAfee Virus Scan (bought even though the eval version wouldn't install -- i'll hang my data out to dry before I give Symantec another red eurocent) sat on my desk waiting to be installed.  But I can't do that until I have safely uninstalled my non-upgrading NAV2002.  Who knows how hard that might turn out to be..?

3:34:49 PM     : Test#2

Continuing to test the aggregator.

This may take some time & many posts.

3:24:51 PM     : Aggregator work

We're rewriting part of the K-Collector aggregator using a new design.

2:50:21 PM     : Hydra = SubEthaEdit

Hydra is now called SubEthaEdit due to legal issues. I really don't like this name, the old one was way better. Anyway I love this product and already tried it in two meetings some weeks ago. It rocks. Yesterday I co-edited a wiki page using SubEthaEdit and it's been damn great, save from having to copy and paste from the editor to the browser. Thinking about it...wikis are collaborative web editing, SubEthaEdit is realtime collaborative editing. Where could this lead if the tools could someday integrate? Realtime collaborative web editing? Wouldn't it be great? Inserting a picture and having it suddenly appear inside the web editor of the others concurrently editing the web page?
[Cristian Vidmar: CRISTIAN VIDMAR: M y P u b l i c W e b l o g]

Ah.. this confused the hell out of me today when I followed a link, downloaded a package and ended up with a program with a different name!  Okay, so I do have Hydra.  Cool.

 26 August 2003

4:33:43 PM     : TMac has landed

Thanks to Paolo I have joined the hallowed halls of the choosen ones.  The newest addition to the fold here is TMac (short for Tooting Mac) which is a PowerMac G3 running OS X 10.2.6 and, for a machine that is 4 years old, doing it pretty bloody well.

Today I was listening to iTunes radio streaming a 128K audio channel whilst Paolo and I were talking over iChat AV and iCal audio chat using iChat (oh I was downloading the latest iCal in the background too).  The audio chat was the biggest strain but I doubt a 400MHz PC would have done as well.

Altogether I am really impressed with this little Mac.  Thank you Paolo.

(Also many thanks to my Dad who got TMac working again after a serious bump during transit)

10:11:15 AM     : The long road

My computer has been behaving oddly for a few days now.  Nothing outlandish, it's just become unusually sluggish like something is using CPU but the CPU monitor doesn't reflect this.  But I can see it anecdotally when it takes a few seconds for IE to mark a check box checked, or to do a screen repaint after a dialog closes.  Not normal.

I suspect a virus or worm, but of course my copy of NAV is not up to date and can't be trusted.  So I'm evaluating the alternatives.  Mike Wilson put me on to Sophos and McAfee.  Since Sophos are apparently UK based I thought i'd give them a try first.

The sign-up process is a little obtrusive but that's okay I just "n/a" for any questions I don't want to answer.  They have also missed a golden opportunity to impress me.

On their sign-up form is a checkbox which asks me if I think I have a virus now.  I do so I clicked it, fully expecting them to whisk me off to some emergency response page where they would tell me comforting things like "here is how we will find the virus you have," and "don't worry it'll soon be gone."  But no, nothing.  The clue-meter didn't even twitch.

Okay so I download the package and run the installer.  Everything looks very 90's but I guess Sophos is a smaller company than McAfee or Symantec so less attention is payed to gloss.  That's okay if it works.

But it doesn't.  The installer gets to "creating task bar entries" and never returns.  I see Sophos services being started and get a new system tray icon.  But the application gives an error Anti-virus service failed error 997. and that's all she wrote.  Oh, to top it off the uninstaller never got registered and then the computer hung completely forcing me to do a total reset.

Maybe this is not Sophos' fault.  But for software that could be needed in a computing emergency it seemed singularly unready to deal with the situation.  I'm not impressed.

So, on to McAfee.

The McAfee website led me very quick to their Virus Scan product claiming I could download an evaluation.  They don't make it easy though and it took me well over 5 minutes of hunt & click before I actually found the link.  Maybe i'm just blind but I think they could have made it a lot easier.

They like Symantec also seem to have the habit of running you past pages where the buy now link is very prominent.  Perhaps they think I will accidentally purchase instead of getting the eval?  Or maybe they think that if they annoy me enough I will purchase it out of spite?  Either way I find it tiresome.

But I do finally (after both creating an account on their site, waiting for the confirmation email, clicking the link, entering my details again, navigating... hello??  Anybody there?) get to download the software.

And it tells me it won't install while I have NAV2002 installed.   What?  Not even enough to do a virus check?   I've read the horror stories some people have written about uninstalling Norton Anti-Virus.  I would rather just disable it.  But no, it detects it and it won't budge.

So.  I'm stuck.  I have a 2 anti-virus product that don't work and one that won't even try!  I guess it may be time to reinstall this machine from scratch <sigh>


 25 August 2003

9:19:30 AM     : Radio downgrade

Okay this is pretty grotty.  It looks like Userland have updated some part of the Radio aggregator, overwriting all the changes I made to the templates.

It used to be that all links opened in a new window in my aggregator.  That is, wherever I clicked, new window.  It's what I want.  Don't tell me to shift+click or use the context menu.  It used to be that, if I clicked the magnifier icon, I got a view of all posts in a feed with a select all button.  My select all button is gone.

Now i'm all for getting updates but I really wish they would find a way to allow you to customise this part of the environment without getting trampled on.

Of course now my reading experience is diabolical; Expecting everything in a new window I keep closing the window I am reading and find that I have also lost the state of all the checkboxes I had set to that point.

How did I do those customisations again?

 24 August 2003

11:36:33 PM     : Hot Water Music

Most people who read this blog probably aren't interested in my ramblings about music so i've started a separate blog for them in a new category called Hot Water Music.

11:20:10 PM     : MIDI question

On the off-chance that someone reading this understands MIDI here is a question I need to answer:

Q: When you recieve two successive NOTE_ON events for a particular note, followed by a NOTE_OFF.  Which NOTE_ON is being cancelled?

9:24:55 PM     : The structure of music

I would be grateful for any pointers that anyone can give me on analysing the structure of music.  I've become fascinated by the subject and trying to teach myself a little musical theory with which to try and better understand it.


It's like some kind of weird DNA.  Maybe you can play DNA too?

8:57:38 PM     : Gimme gimme

BBC: "Greg Dyke, director general of the BBC, has announced plans to give the public full access to all the corporation's programme archives." [Scripting News]

This would be amazing.  There are so many treasures here that will never be a certain commercial proposition and, so, never justify being released on video or DVD.  I also feel it will also go some way to silencing criticism about the value of the BBC license fee.

8:44:59 PM     : Bush in bed with FirstEnergy CEO

Sunday: FirstEnergy, Deregulation and the Bush Administration. A good article on the energy policy and campaign contributions behind the scenes of the blackout of 2003: Bush Turns ... [istori/log]

Well there's a surprise.

8:35:13 PM     : Why I *really* hate Symantec

I posted a quick rant earlier about Symantec, here is another more level headed one:

They really, really, suck.

A couple of weeks ago my virus subscription for Norton Anti-Virus 2002 ran out.  I tried renewing it but had little success, bouncing from one page to another.  Finally I ended up in the Symantec store where lengthy attempts to upgrade NAV2002 to NAV2003 (supposedly £29.95) always resulted in my being offered Norton Internet Security for £39.95.  No sale.

No customer service either.

I gave up and used NAV's constant whining as a reminder that I need to find another anti-virus vendor. So far I haven't figured out which one to go for (any recommendation?)  Then today my machine begins to misbehave a little.  Maybe it's Trillian 2 beta 2 again but it was just enough to make me wonder about a virus.  My resolve to steer clear of Symantec began to crumble and, despite all I have said, I decided to have another go, give them money and hope it chokes someone at corporate HQ.

This time I pretend to be American and go to the US store where my serial number buys me access to the upgrade centre and I can see the upgrade I want as a download for $29.95.  Ok, fine.  But what's this?  On the confirmation page there is $6.99 for something called Extended Download Service.  It turns out that they want me to pay another $6.99 for the privilege of downloading the software again in the future.  Presumably the fear of a system crash leading me to have to pay another thirty bucks is supposed to make me give them seven more now.  No goddamn sale!

If the product is $36.94 then price it as such, don't try and con me with crap like this.

Symantec you suck.  May all your customers desert you for better vendors (lord let there be one!)

5:26:31 PM     : New German language blogging directory

Nico Lumma just pinged me to tell me about his companies new blog listing site  The site is building a categorized directory of German language blogs and they are using a combination of trackback and ENT 1.0 to do it.

Very cool.

 22 August 2003

9:37:57 AM     : What next? Elvis?

Guantanamo may free children. The commander of the US Guantanamo military base says moves are being made to free children being held there. [BBC News | World | UK Edition]

Errr.... there are children, being held at Guantanamo? 

 21 August 2003

8:53:58 PM     : Interactive soap

Acrobat and InfoPath. Look at Adobe's interactive income tax form. That document is licensed, by the Document Server for Reader Extensions, to unlock the form fill-in and digital signature capabilities of the reader. Filling in a form and then signing it digitally is an eye-opening experience. It's more interesting now that the form's data is schema-controlled and, Myers adds, can flow in and out by way of WSDL-defined SOAP transactions. The only missing InfoPath ingredient is a forms designer that nonprogrammers can use to map between schema elements and form fields. That's just what the recently announced Adobe Forms Designer intends to be. I like where Adobe is going. The familiarity of paper forms matters to lots of people. And unless Microsoft's strategy changes radically, those folks are far likelier to have an Adobe reader than an InfoPath client. [Full story at] ... [Jon's Radio]

Acrobat really do have it to lose.  I do like the idea of forms being able to make interactive SOAP calls.

6:35:41 PM     : Is being effective enough?

Jim McGee.  A shift from managing knowledge to coaching knowledge workers.  Excellent.

The fatal flaw in thinking in terms of knowledge management is in adopting the perspective of the organization as the relevant beneficiary. Discussions of knowledge management start from the premise that the organization is not realizing full value from the knowledge of its employees. While likely true, this fails to address the much more important question from a knowledge worker's perspective of "what's in it for me?". It attempts to squeeze the knowledge management problem into an industrial framework eliminating that which makes the deliverables of knowledge work most valuable--their uniqueness, their variability.

[John Robb's Weblog]

The approach i've taken towards knowledge management is to treat it as a problem of (and solution to) being effective.  This seems to me to be approachable at both levels since one can consider the effectiveness of an organisation in achieving it's goals and then drill down to the effectiveness of the people in the organisation and show how closely the two are linked.

The win, then, for the individual is in being more effective in what they do.  But is that enough?  And what else can we offer anyone?  In these days nobody believes that being twice as effective leads to getting half the week off.  But maybe they do believe that being more effective makes them more valuable and perhaps it helps them to feel better about the job that they do.

 20 August 2003

12:59:34 PM     : RIAA has it's head in the sand

RIAA pledges not to target casual file sharers. Just think of the outcry if it did [The Register]

I particularly liked this quote from a senior executive with a UK record label:

...illegal online file sharing amounts to no more than a fraction of the total copyright infringement going on. The real issue, he said, is pirate CDs and DVDs from territories with no copyright laws, or law enforcement agencies unwilling to police them. "Going after file-sharing allows them to ignore the real problem," he said.


12:52:53 PM     : They groaned... they stirred...

Zombie Infection Simulation. Here's something usefull (or maybe not). Zombie Infection Simulation Zombies are grey, move very slowly and change direction randomly and frequently unless they can see something moving in front of them, in which case they start walking towards it. After a while they get bored and wander randomly again. If a zombie finds a human directly in front of it, it infects them; the human immediately becomes a zombie. Humans are pink and run five times as fast as zombies, occasionally changing direction at random. If they see a zombie directly in front of them, they turn around and panic. Panicked humans are bright pink and run twice as fast as other humans. If a human sees another panicked human, it starts panicking as well. [Daily Bytes]

Quite funky to watch.  It would be fun to have a human counter and watch as it dropped down to zero...

11:01:18 AM     : The whole is greater than the sum of it's parts

Doing My Best Not to Scream.

Yesterday's posting hit a nerve. (Seems at least three people agree with me!) What might we be able to accomplish on our projects if we put our attention on learning to increase the relatedness of people on our projects rather than studying for the PMI certification exam? Does anyone really think that doing better work breakdown structures will make our projects successful? No one. That's what I thought. How about learning to repair trust between two important team members? Now that would make a difference. Not the role of a project manager, you say? Then who's role is it?

It's time we stopped acting like good technical wisdom is what makes for good project management. It doesn't. Likewise, accountability, authority, and responsibility (someone needs to explain the difference between accountability and responsibility for me) don't make a project manager. Let's try care, guidance, attention, listening, and openness. Now we're getting somewhere!

I recognize my mood in writing this is somewhat impertinent. Frankly, I'm doing my best not to scream. (It would wake the dogs.) We must shift our conversation about project management from the things we do to the people we do it with. Only when we put people at the center of projects can we have the fantastic environments that projects are for our clients, for us and our team mates, and our companies.
[Reforming Project Management]

I missed the original post in my aggregator but agree strongly with what is said here.  One of the key things I have learned over the last year or so is that it is people that do valuable things and they don't do them on their own.

To take my own example, my productivity has soared since I started collaborating with Paolo and Simone of evectors.  It's not our technical knowledge that has delivered this, it's the new interactions that we can provoke & sustain in each other.  The whole definitely is greater than the sum of it's parts.

We're looking at ways in which K-Collector can help to connect people together in organsiations because we think it's a powerful tool.

10:47:54 AM     : Sounds fishy to me

DRAM upturn threatened by vendor 'greed'. Softly-softly, catchy recovery, urges analyst [The Register]

Reading this it sounds an awful lot like market manipulation to me.  These companies are going to return to profitability using a planned cut in supply to hike prices?  I'm all for profitability (did you see the price tag of my Spider?) but this doesn't sound like the way to do it.

10:32:42 AM     : Gimme my Spider

Don is not blogging for a couple of days so he maybe won't post about this.

This morning my referrer log had a hit at the top coming from the Ferrari Portal.  At first I thought it was Paolo teasing me about my Spider and thought no more of it, until I noticed there were quite a few hits coming from there.  What on earth do I have to do with Ferrari's?

Ferrari Spider

Well as I looked at the page I noticed in the news bar that they have Don's Asphalt River posting which I loved and reposted on my blog.  Sure enough my repost is in their news bar too.  Since the Ferrari relevance level was actually I quite low I don't imagine they were put there deliberately so I guess these guys are aggregating news about Ferrari's automatically.

But where from?  Not from Google I don't think, Feedster maybe?

 19 August 2003

9:18:41 PM     : Experienced classifier wanted

One question bubbles up in my mind reading about Bayesian classifiers.  They all seem to be naive.  So, what does an experienced Bayesian classifier look like?

9:16:51 PM     : No messing with JavaScript

For anyone doing Javascript work I can highly recommend both David Flanagan's JavaScript: The Definitive Guide and Danny Goodman's JavaScript & DHTML Cookbook.  The guide is a pretty comprehensive reference that I turn to a lot.  The cookbook is a very interesting mix of practical JavaScript and DHTML techniques.  I'm particularly interested in the possibilities for drag & drop in web interfaces.  Marc Barrot uses this to good effect in WebOutliner.

8:57:08 PM     : Bayes makes topics

Doing a bit of digging into Bayesian filtering.  Although it may have other uses in K-Collector later on, my initial thoughts are using a Bayesian filter to automatically suggest topics for weblog posts via K-Collector client.  If it's good enough we might even be able to skip the user having to approve some topics.

At the moment the client is using a simple keyword stemmer which is effective, up to a point, but suggests a lot of false positives.   I'm hoping that a trained Bayesian classifier will do a lot better.  Of course this raises the issue of how it gets trained but that is a bridge of a very different colour.

Some resources I have come across:

7:56:56 PM     : Moneyball

Recommended Listening

I'm a long-time baseball fan, and I can appreciate the dissection of statistics to get an advantage in any situation. Michael Lewis' Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game takes both these passions of mine and wraps them into a great story about how an underfunded team can compete with anyone, even the deep-pocket New York Yankees by choosing players and salaries wisely.

[RatcliffeBlog: Business, Technology & Investing]

I'll second that;  Moneyball is a very cool book which I found hard to put down.  I really enjoyed Bob Costas book 'Fair Ball' as well.

2:54:37 PM     : Asphalt River

Walking on Asphalt River.

Yesterday afternoon, I stood in my driveway and looked at the black asphalt road passing by my house.  I asked myself what if the asphalt was liquid and the road was a river.  What a river it is, flowing everywhere people live.  Six degrees of separation pale in comparison.

I imagined wading into the river up to my neck which awarded me with a smile.  Not a bad return for playing with imagination a little.  After spending a few more minutes picturing myself swimming in the road, I moved on to what I set out to do.  I walked onto the asphalt road.  Ahhh, there!  A flicker of amazement visits me.  I am walking on water!  With that, I walked safely back to my driveway with an even bigger smile.

There are things that amaze us, but amazement itself is entirely our own making.  What saddens me is how fast amazement fades into mundane.  Things, places, people, understanding -- nothing escapes, all fading like photos left out in sunlight -- flowers, mountains, Ferrari, Walkman, campfire, my son's little toes, all becomes mundane eventually.

So I am left with cheap thrills like the one I pulled yesterday.  I am still amazed with how stupid human mind is, but I am sure that will fade too.

I won't be able to blog for the next two days.  Find your own supply of amazements meanwhile.

[Don Park's Daily Habit]

1:32:17 PM     : Better byte code managament

ASM is a Java byte code engineering library similar to Apache BCEL.  The claimed advantages are that is is much smaller and faster than BCEL.  The figures given were 21K vs 350K and average overhead of 60% vs. ~700%.  Much of this appears to be down to ASM's decision not to represent the class via an object model which may have other usability tradeoff's.  However with performance in this range ASM may be a good fit for applications which require dynamic modification/generation of classes.

11:01:29 AM     : Crime is bad Reverend

Jeffrey Hicks sent me a comment in response to my recent post thinking about introducing Bayesian filtering into K-Collector.  He pointed me at an application he is demoing called Reverend.  It's combines a Bayesian filter with the WordNet lexical classifier to allow people to train it about whether words are good or bad.

The result is that it can tell you that crime is bad and, by inference, that bribery, racketeering, larceny and theft are bad too!

Somewhat reminiscent of some of the Cyc inference examples.

 18 August 2003

3:28:23 PM     : When aggregators attack

Comments here on Wired's article on news aggregators. [Scripting News]

The title of the article  Aggregators Attack Info Overload  suggested to me a slightly more in depth piece looking at the value of using RSS and aggregators to communicate and share.  In this, I think it fell short.

I'm also disappointed because it meant that K-Collector didn't get a mention.  We may be the new kid on the block but with RSS+ENT I think we're doing something really interesting in this space.

10:44:27 AM     : What are they trying to hide?

From my inbox this morning:

I am writing to bring you up to date on recent Zinio milestones, as well as to notify you about some changes we have made to our privacy policy to better serve you and to reflect our evolving business.

As soon as I see the phrase  to better serve you  I am on my guard.  If there is a better euphemism for  you're about to get screwed  I don't know what it is.

In this case the company, Zinio, is changing it's privacy policy.  They've sent me a nice email to tell me so and they kindly link to the old & new policies so I can try and guess what they've changed.  Of course I'm happy to pour over two boring documents to make sure that it's still verboten sell my details to the cream of Nigeria.  (As far as I can tell it is.)

A clueful way to handle this would have been to create a page which shows the two policies side-by-side, highlighting the substantive changes.  This would take only a minute or two too review and would be reassuring.  Alas the clue was taken home for the weekend and hasn't been returned yet.

Zinio:  Clueless?  Or, something to hide?

 17 August 2003

9:28:21 PM     : Abusing Bach

Via a recent Tech Tip i've learned a little bit about Java's sound capabilites and, in particular, using Java to play MIDI.  It was fun typing in a little java program and hearing piano's playing a few notes.  Something to while away a few minutes on a hot afternoon.

Then I started thinking about algorithmically generating music.  I am deuced unmusical (lacking both rhythmn and a good pitch ear) which has lead, in the past, to some frustrating attempts to use professional software to make compositions.  I can program Java though.

I have a program which I use to generate random pronounceable passwords.  Although it's hit rate for generating memorable words is about 1 in 40, I can remember the good passwords some 6 years after first using them.  It works by analysing a body of text and calculating the frequency of each 3 letter combination that appears.  Then it uses some simple rules to combine these 3 letter combinations into words.

So I started to wonder if the same thing could be done with music.  Could you stitch together 3 note combinations into something resembling music? (for the moment let's set aside the question of why on earth would you do this?)

Java has a very simple call:

MidiSystem.getSequence( file )

which loads a MIDI file into an array of Track objects from which you can access the events which play the various notes of the piece.  There are equivalent calls for creating & playing tracks (which use your sound card like a synthesizer).

I started with some Bach that I found on the net.  My aim was to do a frequency analysis of the 3-note combinations.  Somewhat to my surprise though I discovered there weren't any repetitions.  That is, no exact 3 note combination was ever repeated.  At least, unless I got my program wrong.  The resulting noise led my housemates to question whether I was safe to be left home alone.

Not to be discouraged I tried a second approach, analysing, for each note played the range of notes which could follow and probability of each.  This, coupled with some simple selection logic, allows me to play something that sounds almost totally unlike music (and certainly unlike Bach's music).  Mostly it has taught me that music is vastly more complex in structure than words.

Still, it's been a diverting way to spend an afternoon AND i've learned something.

Some other notes.  My development environment is IDEA by Intellij. I've tried pretty much every Java IDE going and this one is the best by far.  If you haven't tried Intention actions yet, well...    The GUI was built using Peter Eastman's Buoy widget set.   Peter is also responsible for the Java based 3D rendering suite ArtOfIllusion.

8:51:00 PM     : Validating work blogs.

How I would implement weblog in business. Lee LeFever has written a short article on the value of weblogs to share knowledge. To quote: In retrospect- a Weblog could have been extremely valuable to me and the company. Using a Weblog, I could chronicle the daily activities,... [Column Two]

» More validation of the idea of using weblogs to augment internal communication & collaboration.

8:40:09 PM     : Navigate or do not. There are no breadcrumbs.

Breadcrumb navigation: Further investigation of usage. Bonnie Lida Rogers and Barbara Chaparro has summarised the results of their further research into the effectiveness of breadcrumb navigation. To quote: In this study, we designed the tasks such that navigational efficiency would be optimized through the use of... [Column Two]


8:33:13 PM     : Preacher man

I really enjoyed listening to the interview with Real Live Preacher on Christopher Lydon's weblog.  I'm not even remotely religious but I enjoy the wisdom and compassion in RLP's writing.

7:59:05 PM     : K-Collector & Bayesian filtering

Issues in using SpamBayes to filter news items.

Despite a reading an entry by Srijith discussing Bayes-based classification as unsuitable for use in news aggregators, I tied SpamBayes into my homebrew news aggregator and have been trying it out this week. I know Iíve been talking about it for awhile, but procrastination and being busy all round kept me from getting to it. Funny thing is, when I finally got a chance to really check things out, the integration was a snap. Iíd anticipated a bit of work, but was pleasantly surprised. I doubt that any other aggregator written in Python would have a hard time with it.

If, that is, anyone else wants to do it. I already knew it wasnít magic pixy dust but I figured it might be worth a try. I will be eating my dogfood for awhile with this, but Iím thinking already that whatís good for spam might not be so good for news aggregators.

Srijithís post mentions some snags in ignoring some of the semantics of a news item, such as whether a word appears in the itemís title or information about the itemís source. I donít think that this completely applies to how Iím doing classification, since SpamBayes appears to differentiate between words found in email headers and the body itself. When I feed an item to SpamBayes for training and scoring, I represent it as something like an email message, with headers like date, subject, from, and an ďX-LinkĒ header for the link. However, even with this, I think Srijithís got a point when he writes that this method will miss a lot of available clues for classification.

Unlike Srijithís examples, though, Iím not trying to train my aggregator to sift entries into any specific categories. So far, Iíve been trying to get it to discriminate between what I really want to read, and what Iím not so interested in. So, I figured that something which can learn the difference between spam and normal email could help. But, although itís early, Iím noticing a few things about the results and Iíve had a few things occur to me.

See, in the case of ham vs spam, I really want all the ham and none of the spam. A method to differentiate between these two should be optimized toward one answer or the other. SpamBayes offers ďI donít knowĒ as a third answer, but itís not geared toward anything else in-between. However, in measuring something like ďinterestď, inbetween answers are useful. I want all of the interesting stuff, some of the sort-of interesting stuff, and a little of the rest.

This is also a problem for me in deciding to what I should give a thumbs up and what gets the thumbs down. Even though Iíve subscribed to a little over 300 feeds, every item from each of them is somewhat interesting to me. I wouldnít have subscribed to the feed if there wasnít anything of interest there, so Iíve already biased the content of what I receive. Some items are more interesting than others, but the difference between them is nowhere near the difference of wanted ham vs unsolicited spam. So, I find myself giving the nod to lots of items, but only turning down a few. SpamBayes would like equal examples of both, if possible.

Iíll still be playing with this for awhile, but I need to look around at other machine learning tech. Iím just hacking around, but the important thing is to try to understand the algorithms better and know how they work and why. Bayes is in vogue right now, but as Mark Pilgrim intimated, itís not magic. Itís just ďadvancedĒ :)

In the immortal words of Mark Jason Dominus: ďYou canít just make shit up and expect the computer to know what you mean, retardo!Ē


Interesting.  Within k-collector we already have a method for selecting a level of interest more granular than the feed and that is the topic (and, soon, groups of related topics).

This allows you to say I'm interested in Java rather than I want to read these 200 blogs where they talk about Java sometimes.  Then within this view you could start to say well, so and so is more interesting than Matt on this topic.  But again, you are only dealing with the topic at hand.  You might still think I'm more interesting about something else even if I struggle for an example!

We're already looking at interesting things we can do with this approach, maybe Bayesian filtering is something we should be thinking about.

 16 August 2003

11:43:08 PM     : Butt ugly websites I have known

Does anyone actually use the SourceForge web site for any serious activity?  It's goddamn awful.  You'd think given how many projects they have and how long it's been going that they'd spend a little time on actually making it either user friendly, or stylish, or both.

 13 August 2003

10:16:51 PM     : Wow... memory trip

Something just triggered a memory that i've been digging for oh for about two weeks.

Finitribe - Grossing 10K

I loved that album.  Bits of it keep popping into my head but alas I can't remember enough to give me satisfaction.  Now all I have to do is find a CD...

 12 August 2003

8:59:12 PM     : K-Collector white paper

I've spent a big chunk of today writing an email to a suspect in the US.  It occurs to me that, as an email, it fails to be concise yet precise.  However it would make the basis for a K-Collector white paper and that's a good thing since I have been stuck on that task for a while now.

 11 August 2003

3:01:35 PM     : Symantec suck

Can I just say, as a soon to be former customer, to anyone from Symantec who may ever wander past here:

Your company sucks and you deserve to lose all of your customers and go out of business -- the sooner the better.

Thank you.  I'm all better now.

(It appears I had a similar experience with them almost exactly a year ago -- I should have listened to myself back then)

 06 August 2003

10:16:20 AM     : The weblog method

Edu-blog experiment.

While being offline, I had more time to think about my own research ideas.
A part of describing a little bit quantitatively and more qualitatively the Polish blogosphere, from the psychological and sociological point of view, I had an idea of an experiment.

How to proove that a blog can be a useful edu-tool when searching news, structuralizing them and acquiring them?

Let's choose three groups of students.
The course, the teacher, the time, the age, etc, is as similar as possible.
In the first group there is no permanent homework required.
An essay, a report and a final exam.
The students are asked to read some texts each week and make some searches, but there are no output to deliver, only a soft discussion at the beginning of the lesson.

The second group is asked to run a weblog, where the students should put the same essay and report, but they are also asked to write down their ideas about the texts they have read during the week and the results of the searches they were asked to do. Their weblogs are discussed at the beginning of each lesson. The students would pass the same final exam at the end of the course.

In the third group I would apply a classical edu-method, e.g. a test at the beginning of each lesson, plus the essay, the report and the final exam. The test would be related to the texts and searches to do at home. It is necessary to have this third group because I would like to differentiate the impact of blogs from the impact af any educational method applied to students.

I suppose that the final exam should be composed of several parts - some knowledge, some skills, some creativness related to the knowledge and skills, some logical thinking on the base of the acquired knowledge...

My hypothesis is that the results of the final exam should be different in each group. Probably different also depending of the several parts of the exam. I would love to see that the knowledge is worse in the first group than in the second and third group, and that the skills and creativity are better in the blogs group.
The first group is not motivated to learn during the whole year (or semester), the second group is externally motivated to get the internal self-learning process. The third group is externally motivated (forced?) to learn because of the tests.

What do you think about it? What should I change to make the experiment better in methodology and more interessant for research? Is there anybody who did it already?

<a href=Sebastian Fiedler" height="20" width="20" border="0" /> Marysia proposes a classic quasi-experimental setting to "proove that a blog can be a useful edu-tool." For various reasons I don't think this type of research desing is necessarily appropriate. What are your thoughts on this? [Sebastian Fiedler]

[Seblogging News]

»I would be interested in the results of this experiment.  One interesting point for me would be about the requirements on the instructor in each case and, in particular, for case#2 how comfortable the instructor is about (a) writing a weblog and (b) helping others to do so.  Does the instructor even need to be writing one themselves?  (After all, most of the time instructors do not take tests with their students).

 05 August 2003

11:44:00 AM     : Trillian 2.0, webEdit & Jabber.

I'm using the new Trillian 2.0 beta.  So far it seems stable (just like 1.0), not too different - although I love the new tonal sound scheme.  What I was really waiting for was the Jabber support.  This works seamlessly (even though it's implemented as a plug-in) and has allowed me to develop a new application.

Frontier has a webservice based code editing environment.  You can check objects out of the server, edit, then check them back in.  Although there is no version control it is a convenient way to edit server code.  However one of the issues is working out who is doing what.  I thought about a web page, or an RSS feed, but it actually seemed like a nice IM application.

Since Dave, Jake, Lawrence, and Jeremy had already done the work this was as easy as adding a call-back to the Frontier webEdit code that said message ) and Voila!  Instant notifications about who is working on what code.

11:22:26 AM     : Don't wait up for me

john gilmore replies. John has sent me the following response to the comments on the post about his BA experience. I have posted my view here. From John Gilmore: It's been interesting reading. I'd like to respond. I suppose the obvious place to start is with Seth Finkelstein's trolls. (Of course he is doing what he accuses me of -- making outrageous statements and then chuckling when people take them seriously). I flew to London on Virgin Atlantic two days after the BA incident. I am happy to report that I wore the button, and that neither their passengers, cabin stewards, nor pilots were hysterical. I wore the button in London. I crossed the Channel where the crew gave the shorted possible glance at my passport. I wore it yesterday in Paris. The button is not a joke. It's a serious statement which one may agree or disagree with. The point that people seem to be missing is that a "suspected terrorist" is not the same as a "terrorist". Yet, that's exactly the conflation that has occurred: treat every citizen like a suspect, and every suspect like a terrorist. In London and Paris the newspapers are taking Guantanamo seriously -- because their own citizens are imprisoned there without trials. The corrupt US government was careful to remove the one US citizen they found -- but the citizens of other sovereign countries, even those of very close war allies, are in prison. Without trial and without lawyers, and with intent to try them in front of judges sworn to take orders from the President. I have no doubt that American citizens, such as myself, would be treated in the same way if the public and the courts would let our fascist leader get away with it. On the BA flight, in my carry-on bag, I had brought the current issue of Reason magazine, which has a cover story with my picture and the label "Suspected Terrorist". (It didn't even occur to me to censor my reading material on the flight; I must need political retraining. I hadn't read most of the issue, including Declan's piece in it, plus I wanted to show it to Europeans I met on my vacation.) During the British Airways incident I never removed the magazine from my bag, but supposing I had done so, and merely sat in my seat and read it, would that have been grounds to remove me from the flight (button or no button)? I am not a lawyer (lucky me!) but I do follow legal issues. The carriage of passengers by common carriers is governed by their tariffs, filed with the government. Common carriers are NOT permitted to refuse service to anybody for any reason. In return they are not held liable for the acts of their customers (e.g. transporting dangerous substances, purloined intellectual property, etc). BA's "Conditions of Carriage" are part of their tariffs (other parts include their prices, etc). You will note paragraph 7: they can refuse passage...7) If you have not obeyed the instructions of our ground staff or a member of the crew of the aircraft relating to safety or security. The crew ONLY has the authority to order passengers around when the orders relate to safety or security. An order to cease reading a book would not qualify. Some people here (including Mr. Troll) think that the minor risk that someone on the plane will have a panic attack after reading a tiny button, makes the button a "safety" issue, as if I had falsely cried "fire" and risked starting a stampede. Such people seem to be holding me responsible for the actions of others. Were I on such a plane, whether or not I was wearing a button, the person I'd ask them to remove is the one having a panic attack, not the one sitting quietly in their seat. (Similarly, some people hold me responsible for the inconvenience to passengers. As Virgin Atlantic demonstrated, the airline were in complete control of whether or not to inconvenience the passengers.) Let me also say in my defense that I seldom fly these days, so I am not used to life in a gulag. I had zero expectation that my refusal to doff a button would result in the captain returning the plane to the gate. But even if I did fly often, my response would be the same: to constantly push back against the rules that turn a free people into the slaves of a totalitarian regime. I push back using the rights granted me by the constitutional structure of the country, plus my own intelligence and resources. Way too many of you readers are like the Poles who, under orders from swaggering bullies, built the brick wall around their own ghetto, as shown in the award-winning movie "The Pianist" (which I watched on the Virgin Atlantic flight). The US is currently filling the swaggering bully role at home, in Iraq, and in the rest of the world. (Come out to free countries and ask around, if you disagree.) Here are some interesting incidents relating to these issues:

Above, Floyd McWilliams posted a perfect example of what's wrong with this debate:

Gilmore is insulted by being labeled a "suspected terrorist." Okay, but then how would an airline figure out that he's a peaceable fellow except by, well, identifying him? Did he expect to be labeled a low security risk because he wasn't swarthy? No. I expected to be treated as peaceable because I had not breached the peace. I expected to be treated as innocent because I was not guilty of any crime. [Lessig Blog]

There is some serious stuff going on here.

  • People being held at gunpoint during a flight by air marshals (who had been called to subdue a single 'disoriented' passenger.  Of course when you're disoriented it's a real help to be shackled to a seat and held at gunpoint).
  • People being arrested & detained because air marshals "didn't like the way they looked."
  • People being detained and questioned for having a telephone conversation including the words "bomb" and "contamination" and, of course, the people who dutifully report it.

I've flown in the U.S. post 9-11 and also in Europe.  I can tell you I feel no safer from terrorists in the US and frankly I'm more scared of the US government and it's hired goons (as Montgomery Burns would say: "I prefer the personal touch you only get with hired goons.").

I shall be thinking twice before visiting the US again.  Maybe sometime after you elect yourselves a President worthy of the office.

 03 August 2003

8:34:20 PM     : Flying back to London in the morning.

Sadly my visit with Paolo in Gradisca is coming to an end.  I fly back to London tomorrow.  Of course the one benefit to this (or so I thought) was that it would have to be cooler in London.  And then I see it was 37 degrees yesterday, yuck!!

I've had a great time with my Italian friends (hopefully pictures to follow) and we've done some good work on W4 which is really starting to take shape now.