Archives for April 2006

Innovate '06

Graham and I will be attending Innovate Europe '06 in Zaragoza May 15th - 17th.

Innovate Europe 2006

We had hoped to attend the pitch camp workshop that runs on the Sunday and Monday before the conference starts but it was too great a time commitment with all we've got going on.

If you're going to be attending this event please get in touch, I'd love to hear from you.

26/04/2006 13:49 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
More about:

No clickstream, no purchase history, no reputation

David Weinberger makes the point that Nielson ratings on the web don't make sense. The data is too sensitive, too intrusive, so only the utterly boring would ever be happy to share it en masse. Especially in these paranoia inducing times.

A few services set themselves up to record click streams. I tried one and quickly abandoned it. Even though they tried to allow me to control when I was recording it was just too intrusive. And where was the data going? Into their servers. I wonder how those services are doing today?

I doubt PAOGA would ever try to launch such a service although we might partner to act as the data store for one. Here the key would be that the user's click stream data goes into their vault, but they have complete control over when it comes out and where it goes. Your clickstream then becomes another aspect of your online life but under your control.

This is very much the way I am thinking about things like Amazon purchase history. It's reallly beginning to bug me how Amazon own my purchase history. They can use it, but I can't. Why the hell is that? Why can't I take it to another service to get recommendations? And what about my eBay reputation. Shouldn't that be mine to broker in other contexts? The list goes on.

What I need is a way to collect all this information about my multiple beings and then parcel it out to those whom I trust, on a need to know basis. This is one of the goals PAOGA is working towards.

25/04/2006 00:04 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
More about:

Finally, a goal for the future

I've been thinking a little bit about my goals for the future and that, just maybe, having a goal is a good idea. Ok so let's say for the sake of argument that it is and that it won't hurt me to have one anyway. So what do I want to do?

I've already said that I would like to go back and further my studies in general psychology and cognitive science. I'm also interested in AI and Genetic Programming. I think there is a good ten years worth of time spent there already.

But I think what I would like to go further than just studying and playing with new ideas and create an institute to do research in these areas. That is, the wealth that I create independently I would use to build a research organisation to work at the intersections of psychology, ai, and genetic programming.

I'm not sure what the history of such organisations are and how they ensure their long term future, I guess that's my next step in thinking this through.

But anyway, this is me starting to think of the future.

24/04/2006 18:23 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

What does advertising have to do with Identity?

I'm really starting to love Don Dodge's Next Big Thing blog. I've referred to 3 or 4 of his posts on our internal Teampage about Software as a Service (SaaS), investment, and now Google & Yahoo's problems with advertising.

Advertising, truly context sensitive advertising, is very closely related to identity. To give you an advert that really reflects your interests (you know that insanely rare kind of advert that you were actually glad you saw) requires considerable knowledge about you and your interests. The kind of knowledge that only you have. The kind of knowledge that you really don't want to give to marketers for fear of how they'll abuse it and you!

At PAOGA we are centred around the idea of giving every individual convenience with control for their online life. This flows from our 3 core values:

  • Trust - we have to earn this by always doing the right thing
  • Control - this is what we give you
  • Convenience - the reason why

Convenience is the goal, letting you make better use of your total identity and giving you the control you need to do this within your own, individual, comfort zone.

For some people that comfort zone might be "no advertising at all please" but for others they will be happy to see offers that really do relate to their life and how they live it. What they need is a safe way to share information about themselves such that their privacy and tolerances are not violated.

23/04/2006 22:55 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Links for 23/04/2006

23/04/2006 20:34 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Calling all Identity wannabees

Is there anyone else in the UK that would have liked to go to the Internet Identity Workshop but can't?

23/04/2006 10:08 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
More about:

If I were a rich man

I was talking to Graham recently about the future and I think he was a little surprised that I don't have any grand ambitions or plans for where I want to be in twenty years. I wonder if this is related to my poor visual imagination (which has been another interesting topic of conversation for us).

Do any other non-visualizers find themselves a little bit adrift? Maybe it's just a philosophical thing. I tend to be more concerned about the now than about the future (except in a slightly angsty sense).

In 2004 I started a Posgraduate Certificate in Psychology course and passed it. I had planned to go on and do the Diploma course last year but with money worries pressing and difficulties with focus I decided to postpone. I'm still considering completing the Diploma via the Open University although I may be leaving it late to do that this year.

So anyway I was thinking about what I like doing and one consistent answer is "learning new things" and, especially, branching into new territory and trying to mix it together with the old.

When I think about my strengths I consider myself a little of the jack of all trades, master of none. I am a programmer that does marketing. I'm not a great programmer and I'm not that great at marketing either but somewhere in the fusion of technology, strategy, and marketing I seem to have come up with something.

If were rich today I would follow my nose. That would lead me back to University to finish my psychology course and probably to a cognitive science/artificial intelligence M.Sc. I would also try to go to conferences on genetic programming, cognitive science, and social software & systems.

Where might all this lead me? I have next to no idea. But I think it would be a fascinating journey.

23/04/2006 10:00 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

A genetic theory of interest

I was thinking about the problem of training neural networks to recognize interesting things (for example weblog posts). A neural network is a graph of weighted associations where, during training, the weights are adjusted relative to the trainers responses.

Recently I've been reading some interesting articles about Genetic Programming and, particularly, the work of John Koza (If I was going back to University to start again in computing, I would be looking to work in the field of GP). GP is based upon Genetic Algorithms which evolve a fit solution to a problem.

So it occurred to me that you could maybe use a genetic algorithm to evolve the network of weights to use in a neural net and maybe the GA could do it faster and produce a better network than haphazard training by individuals. A quick search of Google reveals that this is not a new thought.

The key problems appear to be how to represent the weights, how to do the cross-over operation, and (and this is the one that has me stumped) what is the fitness function? A GA uses its fitness function to evaluate the current generation and decide which genes are going to survive into the next generation.

I have no answer to how to come up with an objective function for determining interest. Clearly if we had such a function we wouldn't need the neural network in the first place. We could just feed every post straight to the interest function and see what it says.

Which leads back to the by example method and using a corpus of interesting and uninteresting posts which can be fed in to see what the neural network comes up with. In this case we are swapping GA for back propagation. The article I referenced earlier suggests that this might produce a better network (in terms of output results) at the cost of being orders of magnitude slower than back propagation.

Anyway I'm going to look into this area more closely because I find the whole thing fascinating.

23/04/2006 09:42 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Links for 21/04/2006

21/04/2006 16:16 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Real truth is always subversive

John Pilger gave a talk recently about journalism as a tool of the state. The way the US and British states have gotten away with murder over Iraq is a good case in point. The liberty of not having a television or reading a newspaper (I confess I do still occasionally listen to Radio4 news bulletins as I wake-up) has given me a distance from the mainstream media that I have never enjoyed before.

During the 1970s, I filmed secretly in Czechoslovakia, then a Stalinist dictatorship. The dissident novelist Zdenek Urbánek told me, "In one respect, we are more fortunate than you in the west. We believe nothing of what we read in the newspapers and watch on television, nothing of the official truth. Unlike you, we have learned to read between the lines, because real truth is always subversive."

Since the late 80's my skepticism about what I am told has grown and grown. I think that I believed not one word of what was reported in the build-up to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

On 24 August last year, a New York Times editorial declared: "If we had all known then what we know now, the invasion [of Iraq] would have been stopped by a popular outcry." This amazing admission was saying, in effect, that the invasion would never have happened if journalists had not betrayed the public by accepting and amplifying and echoing the lies of Bush and Blair, instead of challenging and exposing them.

I am getting all my news online and from voices (such as John Pilger). On Wednesday Euan talked about how he found watching a documentary so frustrating because of the editorial slant and how reading is so much better for him because he finds it easier to make his mind up. Quoting Pilger again:

Language is perhaps the most crucial battleground. Noble words such as "democracy," "liberation," "freedom" and "reform" have been emptied of their true meaning and refilled by the enemies of those concepts. The counterfeits dominate the news, along with dishonest political labels, such as "left of center," a favorite given to warlords such as Blair and Bill Clinton; it means the opposite. "War on terror" is a fake metaphor that insults our intelligence. We are not at war. Instead, our troops are fighting insurrections in countries where our invasions have caused mayhem and grief, the evidence and images of which are suppressed.

When we read we have a much greater capacity to understand the language being used and its effect upon us. In particular I believe we have a greater capacity to understand it's emotional effect upon as and so understand when we are being manipulated.

Further by reading authentic voices I can take what I know about that person and adjust my filters accordingly when I try to understand what they are saying. For example anyone who reads my weblog on even a semi-regular basis must have a fairly good idea of my views, the trajectory along which they are changing, and the pace.

If I think I know where I am going philosophically I guess you probably know it even better. And from that you will know my weaknesses and my blind spots and adjust accordingly (and even tell me about it sometimes, please?!)

As long as the media remain a compliant tool of the state I shall shun them and their tainted product.

21/04/2006 13:00 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Links for 20/04/2006

20/04/2006 16:16 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

The parlour state of outlining on Windows

At the moment I am knee-deep (expecting to be waist-deep by tea time) in writing my product management plan for 2006/7. Of course I am writing it in the excellent OmniOutliner Professional where I am making use of the notes, to-do's, styling, and attachments.

Now I want to let Graham (CEO), Peter (CTO), and Chris (Business Development Director) see them and make changes. Okay so Omni doesn't handle change tracking like Word but I could live with that.

What I can't live with is the fact that I have no way of sharing this document with them without, it seems, converting it into some dreadful legacy format like RTF! I guess I can use HTML if I sacrifice their ability to change anything (if I only I were that good!)

I tried installing Dave Winer's OPML.exe editor on Grahams machine and sharing my outline as OPML. I have no question that Dave understands outlining but OPML.exe is a dreadfully sober experience coming from Omni. Opening my outline (saved as an OPML document) I can see the outline, sure, but I lose the notes, styling, attached documents. In short I lose everything but the structure.

Apparently it's time to ramp up my campaign of switching Graham to Mac.

19/04/2006 12:10 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
More about:

All the immorality money can buy

With each day that passes I question further the role of the state in our lives. In my opinion it does more harm than good but the argument I have often stumbled over is the role of welfare payments.

This morning I have read with a sense of glowing happyness an article by Jacob Hornberger (President of the Future of Freedom Foundation) about the separation of charity and state. He compares this to the US constitutions separation of chuch and state.

He also makes some good arguments that state welfare is immoral:

After all, what meaning does charity have when it is engaged in by government? Charity connotes a willing heart of one person that reaches out to help another person. Yet government is based on force, and how can force be reconciled with any meaningful concept of charity?

People who argue that "It's all in a good cause" are, I think, using the end (supporting the poor) to justify the means (forcing me to pay taxes).

Think of it this way: Suppose I hold a gun to someone’s head and force him to take $5,000 out his bank account at an ATM. I then go into the poorest part of Washington, D.C., and I give every cent of what I took from him to poor people. Would anyone say that I had performed a moral or compassionate act?

Isn’t that what the entire concept of the welfare state is based on: a perversion of moral values as well as a denial of the freedom of the individual to decide what to do with his own money? What would be wrong with a system in which people keep their own earnings and decide for themselves which charities, if any, they wish to donate to or which people they wish to help?

And this ultimately comes to the point. In a free society we would keep what we earn and decide where to spend it. If we wanted our society to reflect good values we would voluntarily want to support those charities which we, individually, felt reflected best on our society.

In doing this we would be taking ultimate responsibility for our society. I think this frightens people. They are more comfortable to let the state take their money and do what's right. No matter the evils committed in their name because of it.

Jacob's arguments are better than I have described and I do encourage you to read what he has to say.

19/04/2006 11:11 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

The Cubicle-Dweller effect

On the train in to London today I got thinking about psychological variables (for example there is Eysencks PEN model) and behaviour. It may be a non-sequiteur but as the train chugged slowly along I looked up at a big glass office building and saw what you might expect to see... lots of people in cubicles including a few who looked like they were asleep. It set me to thinking about why it is that I so like working in small companies (In PAOGA we are around 10 including part-timers) even though I like the social aspects of larger organisations.

The bystander effect is a well known result in psychology from the research of Latane & Darley. Its the reason why you are often better off with just one or two people around if something happens (e.g. you get attacked, there is a fire, you break down,...) than a big crowd. In a big crowd responsibility gets diffused and everyone looks to everyone else (who also isn't doing anything) for cues about what to do next.

PAOGA is a small company and I can quite clearly understand how what I do relates to furthering the goals of the company and delivering value for us. My lines of responsibility are pretty clear and I don't sit there thinking there is anyone around to pick up my slack.

In large organisations I think it is harder to trace your line of responsibility from what you do to the end result where the value lives. Also as the organisation grows the management structures grow (and perhaps not proportionately) and I believe that people fall into attributing disproportionately more value the higher up the tree you are.

In essence I think that in larger companies there is a bystander effect or perhaps we should call it a cubicle-dweller effect. The larger the company the larger the diffusion of responsibility for delivering on the companies promises and consequently the less motivation there is to try and make them happen. As motivation drops people don't work so well on what they're doing and, critically, don't ask

How can I do more?

This suggests to me a rationale for breaking large companies into smaller companies and organizing them into co-operative networks. In those smaller companies people will understand their value better (and not just bull-shit made up departmental goals that nobody really believes) and, with something real on the line, be motivated to do better.

If you look at Microsoft today and then think back to the opportunities they might have had if they had decided to split the company up. Sure it would have been disruptive but that might have been a good thing.

Smaller companies deliver!

18/04/2006 23:37 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
More about:

The Vancouver connection

Euan gave me a call a few days ago to say that the Grand Wirearch was back in town and would I like to meet them for a drink and a natter?

I met with Jon and Euan in a StarBucks at the bottom of the Kingsway along with Lloyd Davis (who I'd not seen since Our Social World), Andy Borrows, and a lady who I mistakenly took for Jon's partner which had me wrong-footed. I am ashamed to confess that I have also forgotten her name. (If you read this please accept my apologies and leave me a comment to say hello!)

Jon, Andy, and I ended up going for lunch together. It was a very pleasant affair. We strolled down into Covent Garden, found a quiet table on a side-street and pulled up a couple of beers. It was lovely to be out in the bright sun and having a good conversation with nice folk. That I talked too much is just a testament to how much I enjoyed it and how I don't do it often enough. (p.s. It's alright Andy, I won't tell anyone about the Spanish Euro's!)

Jon filled me in on Qumana which I looked at some time ago but seems to have come along again at an interesting time. I especially like the way that the author can embed direct advertising into a post and the integration with Lektora is exactly the kind of reading & posting environment I have been looking for since I stopped using Radio's aggregator. I've been building towards it in Squib but when Lektora goes cross-platform like Quamana I will certainly consider integrating them instead of building.

Over the course of the day I gave my PAOGA travelator pitch a few times. The major theme is about giving individuals convenience with control. This theme seems to resonate with people. Last year when we were trying to be very B2B we talked about "management" but I like control better. Individuals want control over their lives and that, in a digital sense, is what PAOGA is all about.

18/04/2006 15:24 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Got to start somewhere

I spent a happy Wednesday afternoon at Euan's catching up with all that he's been doing since he left the BBC and telling him about what I do for PAOGA.

That Euan (who I talk to quite regularly) was completely unaware of what I do for a living is a good reminder to me that I've never starting blogged about my work here.

I aim to change all that and soon. PAOGA is involved in a very necessary and exciting revolution in the way people live and work online. We face a huge challenge which we will only overcome if people like you think what we are attempting is worthwhile.

I'm going to write some posts in the coming week to try to get across the PAOGA vision and why we think what we're doing is so important. In the process I'm going to try and describe what I'm doing and some of the stuff I've learned in doing it.

16/04/2006 11:23 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
More about:

The structure and interpretation of computer lessons

I've had Abelson and Sussmans Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs video course in my bookmarks quite a while and even watched a couple of the lectures. It's always been my intention to go back and watch the whole thing properly.

In conversation with Steve today he was talking about doing a Java course at a local community college in the hope of learning some good programming fundamentals. Without wishing to be disparaging about the state of programming education I suggested that, unless he was especially looking for the classroom experience (which is a valid thing to look for), he might be better off with the online SICP course.

It occurred to me that it might be kind of fun if did the course together. Watcingh the videos and then getting together, online, to chat about it and work through any problems. I think both Steve and I need that collaborative aspect to learning to get the best out of it. Maybe there are other people out there who might enjoy this too?

Our current plan is go through the lectures 'book club' style. We'll watch one of the videos each week. Blog our thoughts and, if we can arrange it, meet online to discuss. We'll looslely co-ordinate through our blogs. Leave a comment either here (or with Steve) if you want to join in.

15/04/2006 19:08 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
More about:

Diagnosing an intermittent performance problem

I'm experiencing some slow downs on my PowerBook of the annoying intermittent kind. I'll be browing a page in Safari and get a few seconds of beachball which is gone by the time I can get to Activity Monitor and see where the hold up is.

I'd like a tool that could monitor system activity but instead of giving me real-time summary information like Activity Monitor I want tracking information. For example I want to see, over time, which process went over %% CPU usage and for how long and so on. I want a tool to help diagnose tricky problems and which doesn't require me to be looking at it all the time.

Anyone using such a tool?

15/04/2006 17:02 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
More about:

Atom is better than RSS

I think I can hear a sterile argument brewing about using OPML and RSS to create weblog archives. For example: Wouldn't Atom be a better choice? Maybe hAtom? And how about XOXO? Or perhaps our old friend RDF?

I don't know. Frankly I don't much care either. I have a hard time working up any enthusiasm for such questions.

I'm not building a CAT scanner or putting a man into orbit. This is an archive of my weblog entries. Is OPML good enough? Is RSS good enough? Only time will tell. But if they're not, and you can do a better job, then please lead the way.

12/04/2006 23:16 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
More about:

An experimental OPML+RSS archive for C&C

Over the last couple of days I've hacked together experimental support for OPML+RSS archives in Squib as I described a couple of days ago. You can grab my entire archive from here either directly or as a .tar.gz archive.

The structure of the archive looks like this:

OPML+RSS weblog archive format

The weblog.opml file is an outline that contains the date-based structure of Curiouser and Curiouser. There is a branch for each year, and each month of each year. At the leaves are pointers to daily RSS files and the ID & title of entries.

It occurred to me that I could just put the entire entry data directly into the OPML file and cut out the RSS. However, with over 2,100 entries, I felt that would lead to a very big and unwieldy file. Being just a file of pointers means it can still be sensibly opened in an OPML editor.

Another reason for using RSS is to ensure that users of the archive can take advantage of all the software out there to parse RSS. Once you've figured out which days entries you want, you can hand the corresponding RSS file to a standard parser and get back the entries.

Update: I've added <link rel="archive" type="application/opml+xml" href=".../archive/data/weblog.opml" /> to my home page to allow archive auto-discovery. I did a minimum amount of research before doing this so please correct me if that's a gross misuse of a link tag or there is some established way of doing this already.

12/04/2006 19:48 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Somebody always wins

I was thinking about the Italian elections again and about the next general elections in the UK. My problem with our present system of elections is this:

No matter how few people vote, someone always wins.

Instead of counting an abstention as the "No" vote that it is, it just doesn't get counted at all. Only a politician could love a system like this.

11/04/2006 22:38 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
More about:

Links for 11/04/2006

11/04/2006 07:20 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Getting conversant

Terry is putting his money where his mouth is to support a tool, Conversant, that benefits his business.

10/04/2006 18:57 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

The Truth

Half of writing history is hiding the truth - Malcom Reynolds

10/04/2006 14:17 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Who else acts_as_taggable?

Squib uses the actsas_taggable plugin for Rails to add tagging support. One of the big problems with implementing multiple weblog support in Squib was separating the topics because actsas_taggable doesn't do that. What it needs is scoping.

I've had a couple of goes at mangling acts_as_taggable to do this but not quite got it right. I think what I need is a smarter coding partner who also wants this support and can work with me (maybe using Skype and SubEthaEdit) to implement it.

Anyone else want to act_as_taggable?

10/04/2006 11:44 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
More about:

Links for 10/04/2006

10/04/2006 11:34 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Hobson don't live here any more

Dave Winer writes, about the West Wing:

I want to live in their world, not the one I actually live in.

I haven't seen the show in a few years but I'm pretty sure, from a political perspective, I would agree with him.

I was listening to the news in the car yesterday (about the only time I listen to mainstream news now) and there was an item about the Italian general election. Held about every 5 years, the people of Italy are getting to choose between:

  • Puppet A: Silvio Berlusconi
  • Puppet B: Romano Prodi

What a choice? Why would you want to choose either of these bozos?

More and more I consider the best choice to be "No!" I don't want your government any more. Looking forward to the next elections in Britain I am likely to have the choice of:

  • Puppet A: Gordon Brown (or, god help us, Alan Milburn)
  • Puppet B: David Cameron (assuming he isn't assassinated before then)

Why the hell would I want to elect either of these guys? What exactly is it that they're going to do beyond line the pockets of their friends with my taxes? What else do politicians ever do?

I think the world would benefit from a real breaking down of the existing and centralized structures of power into smaller, more meaningful, and more accountable units. Beyond tax and spend a huge amount of our money what the hell is it that central government does?

How on earth do we make these people accountable?

10/04/2006 10:07 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Combining OPML and RSS to create an export format for a blog

Marc Canter links to Joe Brockmeier's post about weblogs having a shared format. Timely.

I've been thinking about this myself because I want such a format too. Although I have written a tool to serve my own needs I won't be using it forever and I (probably) want to take my blog with me. I've also been thinking about how to do backup and restore. The two problems appear to be the same to me.

I think we already have the answer: RSS. It's already a natural format for holding the essential data of a weblog and namespacing is an easy way to store the tool-specific data. A tool that understands another tools metadata (e.g. ENT topics) can import it, a tool that cannot can safely ignore it. Actually why are we even discussing this?

The real question seems to me to be: how best to use RSS for this purpose? Do we have one gigantic RSS feed for a weblog? In my case with about 2100 posts it would be pretty big and unwieldy. Back in 2004 Paolo and I were talking about how to do weblog archives.

I was messing with an approach that combined RSS and OPML to create a weblog archive. For each post/day/month (pick your granularity) create a corresponding RSS feed of weblog entries. These feeds are then referenced from an OPML file that defines the overall structure of the archived weblog. In this way you can quickly narrow down to find an individual post, or suck up the whole thing (useful for tools like Sigmund).

For convenience the whole lot could be wrapped up in a .tar.gz. It might be helpful to include some kind of (optional?) metadata file at the top-level that describes the contents (ala JAR archives).

I'm not sure why I stopped working on that, maybe it just got shoved aside by other things. I might have a go at adding this feature to Squib since we need a backup format anyway.

10/04/2006 09:30 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Links for 06/04/2006

06/04/2006 11:42 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Links for 04/04/2006

04/04/2006 10:26 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

No wait a minute, I know this one..

I am hopeless at remembering birthdays (well, any dates really) and, by a process of embarrassment, am populating my iCal with birthday events.

This morning I realised that iCal has a specific birthdays calendar that tracks birthdays from AddressBook. That's very neat but here's what I can't see:

I want an alarm to go off at least 3 or 4 days before the birthday. I can do that when I create a manual repeating event but I see no way to have it for the automatic birthday events created by iCal and AddressBook.

Can I have my (birthday)cake and eat it too?

04/04/2006 08:54 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
More about: