Adina Levin's weblog. Mostly for conversation about books I've been reading. Other stuff too.
Monday, December 30, 2002
Vacation Reading #1 - Baudolino
I took Umberto Eco's Baudolino to Seattle. The plot is like Woody Allen's Zelig set in 12/13th century Italy and Constantinople. An Italian peasant boy with a gift for languages and colorful lies becomes the protege of Frederick Babarossa, and is the behind-the-scenes creator of grail legends, the canonization of Charlemagne, counterfeit relics, and the mysterious letter from the mythical Prester John, king of a fantastic Eastern Kingdom, promising political support for the Byzantine emperor.
What I liked: lively depiction of the historical period; the beauty and decadence of Constantinople (complete with detailed descriptions of Byzantine recipes, catacombs, and scupltures); the ribald life of Paris students; the crazily shifting politics of 12th c. Italy.
Where I lost patience:
* medieval disputation. The characters engage in long philosophical debates on the existence of a vacuum, the dimensions of Solomon's temple, the shape of the earth, with creative logic and little evidence. Eco creates a set of characters with convincingly medieval concerns which lose the attention of this modern reader.
* kingdom of Prester John. The last third of the narrative tells the story of a pilgrimage beyond the River Sambatyon to the domain of Prester John, inhabited by unicorns, satyrs, giants, and a variety of other medieval monsters. At this point, the story veers off into allegory, shifting the balance between narrative and idea far enough (for me) to lose the human interest.
Not sure about: a theme of the novel is the relationship between history and fiction, truth and lies. I need to reflect more about the book to decide what I think about Eco's treatment of the theme.
Vacation Reading #2 - Samurai Boogie
Hard-boiled detective novel set in contemporary depression Japan, by a British expat. Great atmospheric detail of Tokyo streets and lower-middle-class Japanese life. The theme of surface propriety and underlying corruption adapts wonderfully to a Japanese setting. The gender stereotypes of the genre -- clueless bourgeoises, canny whores -- fit better with Japanese society than with contemporary US.
My favorite aspect of the book: how Mori the detective draws hidden information by using creative disguises and playing on people's instinctive respect and fear of authority.
Have you read the book? Have you read the book and lived in Japan? What did you think?
Weekend Reading #3: The Nanny Diaries
The Nanny Diaries (you may have read it; I'm probably the last on the planet who hasn't) is written by two ex-nannies to the Manhattan socialite set.
The novel portrays the struggles of a young nanny who cares for a poor little rich boy who is emotionally abandoned and rigidly programmed by narcissistic parents (the nursery school interviews, latin lessons, the "spatula move" where the mother deflects a hug and keeps the child off her clothing.) The nanny puts up with increasing hours without increasing pay, increasingly baroque shopping errands, and being berated for mistakes like getting the wrong brand of lavender water.
Subplots: the nanny is caught in the middle of the dad's office affair, and pursues a "Harvard Hottie" of her own.
The Amazon reviews follow one or more of the following paths:
I enjoyed the picture of the hellish life under pearls and signed original artwork on the Upper East Side. I enjoyed the catty detail about
But I also felt like the books played rich people for cheap laughs.
In contrast to her employers, our heroine has loving parents (schoolteacher and director of association of battered women's shelters); a creative, independent, doting grandma.
But heartless parenting, relentless schedules, and narcissistic sex lives are characteristics of the downside of American culture at all income levels. The book lets readers get off the hook by attributing these traits to multi-millionaires.
The nanny is loving and firm and playful with the kids. She also has a lot in common with her employers; she covets designer shoes, drinks too much, spends extra income on clothes and alcohol and then feels stuck in a horrible job for the money.
The Harvard Hottie works for the UN war crimes tribunal at the Hague; he isn't an investment banker. But he's obviously a catch for our young upwardly mobile heroine in the way the restaurant-owning son of a fellow nanny is obviously not.
The social x-rays who employ our heroine scheme and sneak to get their men; use the men's money for status and luxuries; and then are at constant risk of social decline when their men move on to the next trophy. Our heroine may become as dependent on her HH for money and prestige as her employers.
Wednesday, December 25, 2002
I'm heading off to Seattle to spend time with the family. For those of you who celebrate Christmas, have a happy and peaceful Christmas. For everyone else in countries that take Christmas as a holiday, have a very merry vacation.
Six months after moving into the house, I finally put mezuzahs on most of the doors (I put a mezuzah by the front door when I moved in). Mezuzahs are small cases holding a scroll of parchment with Torah verses. The custom is to place them on the right side of doorways heading into a room.
Mezuzot on the doors are supposed to remind you of the presence of God and the commandments. Which sounds like it might be grim, but it isn't, it's joyful. For example, in each room, I tried to think about the different good things I would get to do in the rooms -- hospitality in the front room, cooking tasty food for guests and healthy food for me in the kitchen, study and reading in the library, enjoying the garden on the deck.
The house has a LOT of doors. The entry way has an outside door and door to the enclosed porch. The kitchen opens onto the dining room and sitting room. The library opens onto the front room and the hall. The bedroom opens onto the hall and the deck. I have never needed this number of mezuzahs before.
My parents very generously gave me a set of large, beautiful, expensive scrolls, along with a set of trasparent lucite holders with the world's worst industrial design. The bottom of the holders has a plastic plug that screws in, to keep the scroll clean and dry.
The plug has holes drilled through it that are supposed to align with holes in the case when you rotate it to the right orientation. But the plug is not perforated all the way through. You need to bang a nail through 1/4" of hard plastic, while trying to keep the plug from sliding along the screw treads and misaligning the holes. Or try to drill through the plastic (same problems). Or simply unscrew the plug, put the nail through the holes in the case, and think about spiders nesting in your mezuzah cases.
The mezuzah case I had put at the front door when I moved in was one that my friend Joan had given me. It was wood that she had carved herself. She had said that it was not protected, and shouldn't be used outdoors, but it was the only one that I thought I had (I actually found another one today), so I put it up temporarily when I moved in. Now it is discolored, and sitting in a closet shelf. Sorry Joan.
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
On an experimental MovableType weblog I've been playing with comments syndication. I would love to be able to subscribe to comments when I'm following a conversation, instead of manually pinging the weblog, and would be happy to syndicate comments feeds to others.
So far the "comments syndication" examples I've seen from Bill Kearney and Phil Ringnalda have involved syndicating all of the comments for a given weblog.
Instead I'd like to be able to syndicate and subscribe to a single conversation at a time -- isn't that how you particate in blogconversations?
I'm still futzing with it, will let you know when and if something works.
Can we own our personal information?
There's an intriguing article by Kevin Bedell over at the O'Reilly site suggesting that we trademark our personal information. If we get legal protection for our personal data, then we can charge others for using it and restrict others from using it.
This sounds like an absolutely wonderful idea to me -- I always wondered why other have legal rights to our personal data and we don't.
I'd love to see this idea batted around the blogosphere, vetted by the friendly lawyers, implemented in the lazyweb.
weblogs and getting discovered
follow up to a thread at the Austin bloggers meeting. Somebody at O'Reilly read Mark Pilgrim's blog and offered him a column at XML.com. Where he wrote this transparently clear introduction to RSS.
this post made me teary.
Monday, December 23, 2002
Politics and LOTR
According to the New York Times, Viggo Mortenson, who plays Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, wore a "No Blood for Oil" t-shirt on the Charlie Rose talk show to make it clear that the movie wasn't US pro-war propaganda.
When I watched the movie, I did think about the danger of portraying the enemy as absolute evil at a time when our government is using the meme - er, bluntly, and portraying enemy armies as zombies when we have technology that removes soldiers far from the act of killing.
I hesitated to post this, since the political interpretations are more boring than the movie. The movie is fun as mythic fantasy; the idea of watching another movie in the series next time this year sounds promising at a time when the year ahead looks uncertain.
Smart Mobs #2 - community errands list
One of my favorite anecdotes in the book was about an errands marketplace.
A group of researchers in Eugene, Oregon experimented with a digital version of the community errands list; in which mobile devices negotiate about sharing tasks such as picking up dry cleaning, buying stamps at the post office, picking up a book at the library.
This is an academic research project, so it includes wearable computers using game-theory-based agent software to negotiate the exchange of tasks, using a system of points accounting for difficulty and distance.
The algorithm may be overkill; one can imagine a simpler, pub-sub, hackable version of this whereby people publish their errand list, and others can click off tasks. Perhaps with an Ebay-like reputation system and security levels if the group gets big enough. Might work for a block association or co-housing group or apartment building.
Smart Mobs #1
The Smart Mobs in Howard Rheingold's book don't seem so smart.
Swarms of people with mobile gizmos can mass to overthrow governments and on a smaller scale, co-ordinate dinner, or turnstile jumping, or soccer riots.
A Smart Mob can take down a government, but can it govern? The Seattle protesters were nimble, but their platforms weren't that coherent (contrary opinions with pointers to cogent sources most welcome).
What processes for thinking and co-ordination are required to make decentralized action really smart, not just co-ordinated and impulsive?
Saturday, December 21, 2002
The Two Towers
Saw the Two Towers yesterday, and enjoyed it a lot.
Not as good:
I didn't plan for this weblog to have quite as much political content as it does.
My personal feelings about these issues come from the fact that my dad is a holocaust refugee. The holocaust was taught in school and I went through a phase of reading everything I could find on the subject when I was twelve and thirteen. I read about people whose world gradually slid from civilized life to dictatorship to utter horror.
At that time, one of the questions that I had about approaching adulthood was -- if the place that I lived started sliding toward totalitarianism, would I be one of the people who spoke up, or would I be one of the people who kept silent until life became unbearable.
When the government rounds up immigrants on excuses of incorrect paperwork, and is able to detain them indefinitely without evidence or trial, that rings very loud warning bells for me. When the government proposes systems and institutions to rummage through our private information, sifting for random evidence of wrongdoing, instead of doing careful police work, following up on leads, and getting warrants, I start feeling uneasy and afraid.
I've had several conversations in the last week with people who prefer blog writing that is original, personal, and from the heart.
I've been blogging the various government outrages this past week not particularly because I have anything original to say about them, but because this is one small thing that I can do to help make people aware. Also because I feel like I have to speak out, and this is one small place to speak. And because the mainstream media has started picking up on the top blog stories, this is one vote to move a story up the Daypop index, where the reporters who cover the zeitgeist will keep the story in the news.
Friday, December 20, 2002
Destroying the net while trying to protect it
This is sheer idiocy, because it will actually increase the risks to the national information infrastructure. From its inception, the Net was conceived as a distributed system that could reorganize around failures (in the case of the original designs, the Net was built to route around damage caused by nuclear weapons). Centralizing all network communications to facilitate surveillance will create a huge, ripe and easily attacked target, reducing the reliability and performance of the Internet on the whole and for each individual user.
Municipal resistance to the PATRIOT Act
So far, 21 cities and towns have passed resolutions to bar city employees fromcollaborating with federal officials who may try to use unconstitutional powers in the PATRIOT act to investigate city residents.
Similar efforts are underway in another 26 municipalities.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is the headquarters for the campaign. Their website includes clear and detailed instructions and tools for promoting these resolutions in other towns.
Thanks to Jeff Bone for the tip.
NYT: Bush Administration to propose system for monitoring the internet.
John Markoff and John Schwartz write:
The Bush administration is planning to propose requiring Internet service providers to help build a centralized system to enable broad monitoring of the Internet and, potentially, surveillance of its users.
A government official, speaking anonymously to the Times reporters,
compared the system to Carnivore, the Internet wiretap system used by the F.B.I., saying: 'Am I analogizing this to Carnivore? Absolutely. But in fact, it's 10 times worse. Carnivore was working on much smaller feeds and could not scale. This is looking at the whole Internet.'
Does anyone in the government remember about search warrants?
Privacy, syndication, signage, and more...
Good stuff from David Nunez' write-up on the Austin Blog meet-up. (I described one of the conversations and he caught most of the conversational meander).
Given David's penchant for Robotics, I wouldn't be surprised if the Meet-up sign keeps evolving. It has already evolved from a simple table tent, to a printed sign anchored by a water bottle and held high by a piece of tubing punched into the water bottle lid. David talks about adding an LCD screen, but why stop there? Add some Lego Mindstorms processing and some wheels, and we'd have a sign that could meet us at the door and get us drinks!
Thursday, December 19, 2002
Roundup of immigrants in Southern California
who showed up for an INS registration program. You can always count on the real terrorists to turn themselves in.
free our fathers, brothers, husbands and sons
this is a goddamn outrage
this is not my America
confirms the ACLU's initial fears
At the Austin weblogger meetup, Chris McConnell talked about disliking political bloggers who quote mainstream press articles and write pompous commentary. He is put off by their officious tone, repetition of spoonfed platitudes, and their wannabe air, as if they were interviewing for jobs at the New Republic
This led to a discussion about diagnostics for phony bloggers, whether using weblogs for self-promotion is effective or good, and whether it's important for one's politics to be original.
Chris talked about how he likes blogs where people talk from their own experience, and thinks of self-expression as a political act.
I agree that "the personal is political"-- I also think that there are times when you want your opinion (however independently considered) to become mainstream. In which case it is good to agree publicly with others, and to help google-amplify stories that come from the mainstream press.
Prentiss Riddle doesn't find that kind of blogging interesting, and is reluctant to dive into flam-ish blog-conversations with pompous zealot-types. I think that "interesting" is actually a really good filter -- a problem with poseur sites is that they're boring.
Chris didn't think that the politico-bloggers had any chance of using blogging to break into mass media. I'm not so sure. Blogging by itself probably won't break you into the big time. But blogging, linking, and commenting are decent ways to meet people. Once you've made the introduction, you can do the usual networking.
David Nunez is (from other conversations as well) in favor of using a weblog as a means to promote yourself. I am more ambivalent about this. I am very comfortable and happy with using a blog to meet people with common interests.
But I also know that self-promotion is a game; there is a set of predictable techniques you can use to accrue fame points that can be cashed in for money points or influence points. Write catchy articles. Speak at conferences. Meet people around whom you can meet other people. The game does require some genuine skills. If you're a bad writer, a boring speaker, a nasty person, you won't be good at the game. But there's a playbook; if you follow the playbook, you're likely to increase your fame points.
The key here, as Jerry Michalski likes to say, is intent. The set of techniques can be used sincerely, to meet people you would like to know, and to work with people you would like to working with. Or they can be used insincerely, to attract attention, to flatter the unwary, and to social climb above your inferiors to reach the "a-list."
Guys, if I've mischaracterized your opinions, please let me know.
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
FTC announces plans for a national do-not-call list
a gazillion articles from Google news.
I screen my home phone most of the time, and can't persuade myself to buy callerID service since it is a protection racket. The phone companies sell your number, and then they charge you for the privilege of screening out scanners.
Tuesday, December 17, 2002
The OJ Factor:
via News.com, Elcom has been found not guilty of violating the criminal copyright charges.
Interesting quote: "The jury has the flexibility to think about (ElcomSoft's motives) and essentially nullify the law if they think it is overreaching," said Jefferson Scher, a partner at Carr & Ferrell. "I think there's a little O.J. factor if they decided that the law shouldn't be read as strictly as it seems to read."
I look forward to reading more from the lawbloggers on this one.
Google sarcasm filter
People get to my site searching for Jumpline and "leather bound Moby Dick and Kenmore vacuum cleaner manual.
Unfortunately for those visitors, Google doesn't have a filter for sarcasm and irony.
Who controls your identity?
Anil Dash on how the web changes our expectations of privacy and self-presentation.
The hardest part of my job...
In an email, David Weinberger corrected the urban legend version of his bio, which is that he left philosophy to write jokes for Woody Allen.
"Well, it's a nice myth, but I wrote gags for WA's comic strip while I was teaching. I left teaching because there were no tenure slots open where I taught."Too bad, I like the fictional version better. Not that far off though.
David thinks that I misunderstand his intend regarding authenticity:
...she takes "authenticity" in a way that I don't quite get and don't think I intended. She seems to think I mean by it something having to do with the purity of one's roots when in fact I use it as something like taking ownership for who one is.No, I don't think at all that he meant that. I do think that there's a tension between expressing our "authentic" identities and participating in groups, both of which are good things. For example, I wrote about synagogue on Saturday. If I post the article on Saturday afternoon, I offend the sensibilities of my more observant friends. By writing the story at all, I offend the sensibilities of my rigorously secular friends. Yup, writing is taking ownership of an identity, which brings conflict as well solidarity. Means making choices about who to piss off when.
Since writing the essay, I read some of the other reviews and interviews in the sidebar. The interesting thing about the interviews is that the book's flippant yet deep style didn't come easily at all. Weinberger wrote and shredded a couple drafts in Serious Mode and was on the verge of chucking the project when he came up with the voice for the book.
Makes it easier to handle my envy for Weinberger's light touch; I grew up without much television; conversations about movie stars send me off to the corner to read books with big words. If he had to work to tune the flippancy meter, the crowdpleasing is easier to handle.
I should also say in interest of full disclosure, David is an occasional mentor and is an advisor to an early start-up project that I'm involved with.
Monday, December 16, 2002
Small Pieces Loosely Joined
I recently read Small Pieces Loosely Joined, by David Weinberger.
This piece is in part a review, and in part a reflection and extension of Weinberger's themes.
"Small Pieces" is a meditation on the influence of the internet on our understanding of the world, which sounds a lot heavier than the book reads. To appreciate the tone of the book, keep Dr. Weinberger's bio in mind; he ditched a career as a philosophy professor to write jokes for Woody Allen; and has followed the high-tech marketing route to become a sort of "maggid of new media." (maggid = itinerant storytelling hassidic preacher), interpreting the events of the day to convey an important message in an entertaining way. The message is an irreverent yet faithful humanism: "this is the web's nature; for everything on it was put there by a human being for a reason."
The book is organized by theme, contrasting our experience of the internet with the assumptions of the "default philosophy" we hold in our heads.
David Weinberger has the insight that the web is about conversation and stories. It seems to me that this brings to common humanity a set of genres and insights that were pioneered by the rabbis of the talmud.
Weinberger argues against the cold, empirical, rationalist tradition that has come down to us from the Greeks through western philosophy. Yet the structure of the book is in the tradition of the Greeks. The chapter titles are big, abstract philosophical concepts; space, time, matter, knowledge, hope.
In classical Rabbinic writing, the abstract is reached by way of the concrete. Instead of abstract discussion of "justice" and "beauty", the talmud containes two main genre categories.
* Aggada: stories, legends, commentary
* Halacha: ritual and ethical practice, expressed as arguments about law
I'd like to propose an alternative reading, using the categories of talmudic writing, to agree with Weinberger's main points, and to take them a few steps further in a couple of directions.
Weinberger is thoroughly right that the web is a place where people gather to create shared meaning. There are sites celebrating the
Metropolitan Opera and Melanie Griffith; and weblogs where people create meaning from personal stories about cats, life, and loss. There is nothing more human than people creating culture; using drums in the African forests, pianos in 19th century parlors, Passion plays and Passover seders, playing and retelling the culture's myths to the group.
The Talmud's form reminds us that philosophy and meaning is conveyed by means of stories and interpretations, rather than through logical, linear arguments.
We've been living with a wierd anomaly for the last century or so in which culture has been mass-produced and distributed via mass media. We expect our culture to come from a corporate studio, rather than collective storytelling. The internet brings back ancient traditions of humans working and playing together tell stories and make our culture.
A large part of the Talmud's content consists of discussions of halacha, Jewish law. The scope of halacha is different from western law; it includes rituals (holidays, life cycle rituals, prayers); ethics (business practices, interpersonal relationships); as well as categories that are familiar in western law: civil law, criminal law, family law.
The translatable aspect of halacha for our purposes is the emphasis on action rather than abstraction, and its categories of ritual and ethical actions.
Weinberger talks about how the web enables the exchange of holiday letters, stories of birth and death, sharing congratulations and
condolences. These are online expressions of the seasonal and lifecycle rituals that humans observe; except connected across distance, and recorded in a persistent medium.
It will be interesting to see how people will make use of the web's persistence: when will we build persistent shrines, continually refreshing the old; when will we use forms, like weblogs,
that celebrate the new; when will we apply search and editing to discover wisdom in the voices of the past, and and when will we simply walk away from last year's conversations, leaving a clutter of jumbled archives and old sites with rotted links.
In Weinberger's argument, the web is a moral place. It expresses peoples desires to associate in groups, and to care about our fellows. (This is true for better and worse; al Qaeda and the KKK have mutual bonds and care about their fellows, as well). If the web's social nature has moral consequences, then we've got the "aggada" -- group story-telling, to learn from each others' experiece. But we but we have not yet fully developed the halacha; we are missing some of the needed mechanisms to turn our online caring into action.
The internet gives us some hyper-efficient ways to automate errands and business tasks, such as ordering books and renewing drivers'
licenses online. But we need to develop more effective ways to link online storytelling and conversation with real-world action action.
Early examples of this are MoveOn, a site that makes it easy for people to make political donations and sign advocacy petitions, and MeetUp, which makes it easy for online interest groups (whose interests might be social, or cultural, or political), to arrange local meetings.
The limits of the metaphor
A big difference between the Talmud's genres and Weinberger's world is the role of individuality. The Rabbis did not have a well-developed sense of individual identity. Individual characters had personalities, to be sure, but character is seen primarily as a set of moral attributes, rather than an expression of an inner world. Weinberger's focus on the expression of our individuality in the context of our communities is more modern, and appealing in its modernity.
Also, halacha is normative. The rabbis debated ritual and ethical actions to determine which actions were required, which were permitted, and which were forbidden. Of course, all human subcultures have community norms and rules, but many cultures are not as interested in this sort of imperative structure.
These interpretations -- aggada as culture and halacha as action -- are secularized and universalized versions of the Talmudic concepts. On some level I think that is what the internet is doing -- it is taking a set of hypertext-based cultural forms that pioneered by the Rabbis of the talmud, and bringing them to society at large.
Authenticity and Romanticism
Small Pieces makes the case that the web is a place; with its territory marked out by our interests and passions. In a heartwarming and very American fashion, Weinberger assumes and takes for granted that our interests are democratic and plural. It is worth pausing, noticing and appreciating the fact that our "interests" aren't just identified with geography, ethnicity; political affiliation; gender; or work, but are a mixtures of bits and pieces.
As in the Cluetrain Manifesto, Weinberger is a big fan of the internet as the home of our true, passionate, authentic voices. But when one's identity is plural, what does "authentic" mean? Second-generation hyphenated Americans, like me or, say, Miko, are acutely conscious of the problem involved in the term "authenticity," which is
often used as a bludgeon by people with a parochial interest in arguing that you are not American enough or Jewish enough or Japanese enough or whatever. The same goes for any non-binary component of identity.
The focus on "authenticity" is a symptom of the book's underlying romanticism, which is a pretty big flaw in the argument. Weinberger
argues with 18th century enlightenment rationalism and 20th century managerial scientism; using some traditional arguments out of Romantic philosophy and esthetics; the glorification of passion, individual voice, and communal ethic. The book raises these romantic contradictions to enlightenment convention as though they were brand new insights; whereas romanticism is just as much a part of our default philosophy as realism is. Furthermore, romanticism, in its 19th century nationalist guise and its 60s individualist guise has already showed its limitations in its tendencies toward lethal idealism and countercultural hedonism.
In citing the multi-threaded nature of time on the internet, Weinberger pays no attention to the contributions of post-modernist thinkers. To be fair, Weinberger is attacking our "default philosophy", and pomo arguably hasn't reached that broadly and deeply into conventional wisdom. Nevertheless, the playful ironies and sampled mixes of postmodernism are a significant influence in the playful, self-mocking style of .Zannah; the writer of the prototypical weblog, #!/usr/bin/girl, that Weinberger cites, as well as the the tasty stew of popular and intellectual culture found in weblogs by folks like Peter Merholz and David Weinberger himself.
The book achieves an entertaining balance of philosophy and wit, sometimes at the expense of fleshing out its ideas. I wish some of the ideas were developed more fully, but then it would have been a different book, and who am I to argue with the populist instincts of a writer who's achieved #6 on the Business Week best-seller list.
Also (as others have noted) the book's audience focus is uneven; Weinberger takes pages to explain the basics of internet technology; as if the audience consisted of "the in-laws"; ordinary, intelligent people who use the internet but don't know how it works. Yet the book also assumes familiarity and interest in the tactics and culture of high-tech marketing; as if the audience consisted of fellow e-business mavens.
These quibbles are mostly beside the point, since I think the book largely achieves its own objectives. Like Weinberger's best writing and public speaking, it made me think and it made me laugh.
Sunday, December 15, 2002
Amusing comparison of US and Spanish culture
from Russ Beattie
The sun's out but I'm working indoors anyway
There are a bunch of hands-on household tasks that I'd rather be doing; planting cool-weather flowers; blowing leaves off the garden plots, picking a few yellow leaves off the rosebush installing the new filter in the hot tub (which I still haven't sold); some necessary vermin-prevention (you don't want to know); fixing the plastic cover I broke on one of the closet fluorescent light fixtures (want to cut the sheet of plastic in the daylight, on the deck).
But I promised some documents for review this weekend. So I'm looking at the sun outside the window, watching leaves blow on the laurel, and getting to work. Really.
The refrigerator door is the grandmother of email
Denise Howell and link trail...
Saturday, December 14, 2002
Remove unsightly damaged blog posts
You, dear reader, have pristine attention to detail, and never fail to close quotes in a blog post hyperlink.
I unfortunately slip every once in a while and leave off the close-quote, creating an unreadable post that can't be removed from within the weblog editing interface. Fortunately, it's possible to remove an offending post using the XML-RPC interface to the major blog tools.
Since I'm enough of a klutz to make this mistake on more than one weblog, I wrote a small python utility that can remove dead posts for an arbitrary weblog, using the form: kill("blogconfig_filename",badpostnumber). It builds on Mark Pilgrim's python wrapper to the blogger API.
Let me know if you're interested, and I'll post it for download. I will also be reassured to know of the existence of fellow keyboard klutzes.
Woke up in time to go to synagogue on Saturday morning, though I didn't get there quite on time. Today was one of those Saturdays when I really only feel awake after an afternoon nap.
The minyan was held at the building of the non-denominational synagogue, with some members of that congregation. The rabbi, who was trained reform, is reaching out to the traditional-egalitarian minyanim, and they are holding joint services with us once a month.
The highlight of the service happened during Torah-reading, when the 2.5 year old daughter of some friends started to lug a chair toward the center of the room (people watched, and didn't stop her yet). She moved the chair over to the bima, where her father had received an aliya. Then she climbed up on the chair, and watched curiously as the adults gathered around the scroll and the reader read.
Her father was anxious and moved to take her down, but the minyan organizer and the rabbi, who were reading and gabbai-ing, respectively, motioned to let her stay.
Hanna is very clever and energetic and mischievous. She drives her parents bananas.
aliya -- being called to recite blessings for the Torah reading
bima -- altar. A table in the center of the room, where the torah scroll is placed when it is being read. Taller than the line of sight of a 2.5 year old.
gabbai -- the person who calls the stage-directions for the Torah-reading.
minyan -- prayer-community, with a quorum of at least 10 adult Jews
shul -- synagogue
Piracy is in the eye of the beholder
From a discussion on the O'Reilly article, copyright and policy, on the EFF-Austin mailing list, Doug Barnes wrote:
Although the O'Reilly article is certainly thought-provoking and raised a number of good points, I think it's a mistake to try to reclaim the term "piracy" from its conventional meaning of "bad, illegal copying" to include "justified, but nonetheless illegal copying."
Reprinted with permission.
Thursday, December 12, 2002
About 9:30 pm. It was damp, about 50. I love running in cool weather. I've been doing the Rodney Yee yoga tape several times a week and then running/swimming occasionally. Happy that I can still do the Stacy Park run (1.5-2 mi) without stopping. Basic fitness is good.
I ran the way back on the street. There are trees every 20 feet or so. When you're getting tired, you just run to each next tree. Should avoid the Stacy Pool parking lot after dark; can't imagine any good reason why folks would park there at 9:30 pm.
Christmas lights: between Little Stacy Park and Riverside, the houses are up on a hill looking down on the creek. One house has a small pine tree all lit up, about storey high overlooking the street. Further up the street, some folks just wrapped a couple of live oak branches in lights. Either lazy or abstract. At the corner of East Monroe and Live Oak, there are foot high letters made of mini-lights, spelling out "peace on earth". Which is meaningful every year but especially this year when folks are preparing war in our name.
I used to feel crowded by Christmas lights. This is pretty common for Jews; in a country that's majority culturally Christian, the assumption is that everyone celebrates Christmas; the ubiquitous decorations, music, and holiday wishes feel intrusive. After having dated a Catholic guy for years, I appreciate them. I can translate them now.
Christmas music in retail stores still makes me want to shoot out the speakers.
Brilliant Tim O'Reilly essay
Piracy is progressive taxation.
And more great stuff.
18th century letters
Mitch Ratcliffe writes that weblogs are like 18th century letters, a social form in which the literate class wrote to each other expecting to be circulated and published.
Mitch's perspective on this feels right to me. Some people use weblogs as diaries. I use the weblog to publish letters. Most blog entries here, including the book reviews and news commentary, were things that I was already writing and sending to one or two friends by email. The blog lets me share those thoughts with more people without committing spam.
Wednesday, December 11, 2002
cloudy, chilly, damp.
the leaves on the ground are red and yellow.
the new grass is blue-green.
sky is mottled gray.
stacy creek chortles, the kids on recess run and shriek
Public domain considered creative junkyard
Writing about the copyright dinner, Chip Rosenthal says:
During the discussion of public domain, a metaphor occurred to me that I kind of like. I suggested that the public domain is becoming considered a creative junkyard, where we cast off stuff when it is no longer of value. That, of course, is not the purpose of the public domain. It would be good if we can turn this perception around, so that people can understand the value of having material in the public domain. Otherwise, where will Disney get the ideas to steal for their great movies?
EFF-Austin copyright dinner last night.
The copyright dinner last night went well. We had a good turnout - 10 people to talk about copyright issues.
It was a smart, knowledgable crowd with diverse interests -- code, art, law. We had an interesting conversation about problems with current copyright policy, and ways that we can fight bad laws and change people's understandings about culture as property. The discussion was more collaborative and less debate-ful than previous, more free-form EFF- meetings, for better and worse...
At the end of the meeting we brainstormed about ways to get the word out to legislators, press, and the community, and have folks on point on point to do homework and co-ordinate action.
The next session will have Beth Macknik leading a discussion on on databases, privacy/surveillance. I'm really looking forward to the next session. The Total Information Act has me really worried. Beth has a lot of great background knowledge on the issues, and excellent ideas about approaches.
The web is where writing becomes reading
Most of the efforts of "electronic publishing" have been about how to make READING a better experience. But the READING experience is actually very well solved by linear text (e.g., books, articles, etc.) So the big money went into systems for more varied DISTRIBUTION of information already being written. And those systems failed.
But personal web sites were an instant hit -- people paid money to have them. And now Weblogs appear to be here to stay. And Weblogs make it easier to WRITE. (They are also easy to read, but in large part because they are easy to WRITE.) The tools that have made money on the Internet/Web are tools that have improved the WRITING, the authorship, experience. (And the large media giants have only tried mostly to develop tools for the MANAGEMENT of written information, that is PUBLISHING WORKFLOWS.
Ed's mobile office rating guide
from Ed Vielmetti's Vacuum email list
In thinking about how to find places to carry on my daily work, I started composing a rating guide for the mobile office location for the
telecommuter. This involves the key technologies of
- wireless Internet on your laptop
0 stars: no signal
1/4 star: pay-per-use rental computers
1/2 star: pay-per-use wireless; free computers
1 star: free wireless with strong signal
- a mobile phone, and a place to talk on it
0 stars: no signal
1/4 star: signal, but no place to talk - too noisy or too quiet
1/2 star: signal, a place to talk, but no door to keep private
1 star: signal and a door to shut, or a wireline phone and same
- Kinko's services (print, photocopy, office supply)
0 stars: nothing, and nothing nearby
1/4 star: you know where to go to, but it's inconvinent
1/2 star: within walking distance, or local but incomplete
1 star: more copy, fax, print tools than you know how to use
- coffee, tea, or other convivial snacks
0 stars: you go hungry
1/4 star: institutional burnt black coffee
1/2 star: your own kitchen, or a place to snack sans atmosphere
1 star: a place to hang out with comfy couches and people around
- power outlets
0 stars: none to be found
1/4 star: only for the floor polishing machines
1/2 star: at some places to sit, but not many, or not enough
1 star: one seat, one power outlet
0 stars: only the ones you carry on your back
1/4 star: a smattering of resume how-tos and business best sellers
1/2 star: a store or library or good personal collection
1 star: a major research library or exceptional special collection
No one organization that I know of offers all of these in one place. E.g.
The library. Our library is working on mobile wireless, and has lots of public use computers (1/2 *), but there are very few places you can engage in phone calls without bothering someone (0 *). There are copiers but no office supplies (1/2 *), no food and beverages allowed (0 *), but plenty of power (1 *) and more reference and popular books than you'd ever be able to read (1 *). Total rating: 3 of 6.
Kinko's. These vary more widely than I'd like, and no particular store is guaranteed to have them all. Generally there's at least a for-pay computer but sometimes you can get full internet via the printer stations (1/4 - 1 *). Your co-workers will notice if you're on the phone (1/2 *), but there are office supplies and copiers galore (1 *). The beverage selection is almost always utilitarian and office-spartan (1/4 *). Power is readily available (1 *) but the only books you will find are
motivational and self-help (1/4 *). Total: 3-4 of 6.
Your favorite coffee shop. My favorite is Cafe Ambrosia, which has no Internet at the moment (0 *) but makes up for it by having power outletsat every table (1 *). Phone calls are expected (1 *), there's good coffee and even comfy couches to sit on (1 *). It's within a short walk of a Kinko's (1/2 *) and Borders #1 (1/2 *) so the lack of books and copiers on site are easily made up for in a pinch. Total: 4 of 6.
My home office. Good internet (1 *), decent power though I need another power strip (1/2 *). Exceptionally good place to make or take phone calls (1 *). The kitchen is downstairs, but it's self-service, and convivial is not really the way to describe the office -- there's no way you could have a four person meeting here (1/2 *). Getting copies made is a pain (1/4 * - could be improved with investment). As for books, there are lots of books here, but not always the specialized reference or brand new books that I can get downtown; give 1/2 * for the library, and another 1/4 * for the #5 bus that takes 10 minutes to get downtown where the books live. Total: 4 of 6, with notes for improvement that would add 1 more star almost all the way to 6 except for "convivial".
Monday, December 09, 2002
Blog chat doesn't work yet
None of the blog chat/ IM tools I've tried has worked so far -- need to take the Yahoo button down at left because it doesn't work.
The blogchat beta technically worked, but it took a multi-step process. Not only did you need to open a browser with your blog up, you needed to go to their site and log in with a password. Also, the sound notification feature requires flash, and I don't have flash working in Mozilla. So you need to be looking at the window to see if someone is trying to talk to you. I'm never staring at a chat window, waiting for someone to talk to me! When I had it turned on, I missed people, and most of the time I never got around to turning it on during the day.
The Yahoo IM is easier. When your blog window is up and you're live with IM, it shows that you're available. But it doesn't work. I never get the messages (if you tried to send me an IM I wasn't ignoring you -- I didn't get the message).
If you've successfully troubleshot the Yahoo IM feature, please let me know.
I really like the idea of starting conversations with people who are reading the blog; wish I could get the tools to work.
(What is the past tense of troubleshoot by the way? Troubleshot? Troubleshooted? Debugged? Gotten the damn thing to work?)
Cory Doctorow on not trading in your rights
via David Weinberger blogging the session at Supernova
"Cory Doctorow is reminding us that "content creators" have always sued new technologies, starting with those music pirates, the piano roll manufacturers. Now it's the Broadcast Flag initiative that will put a bit into digital TV signals and require all devices touching them to honor that bit. He gives a terrific talk — seated and calm — that asks why Internet hardware is on the verge of being told that it must be made secure against misuse. Crowbar manufacturers are not given the same demand, he says. And, he asks, why has the technical community not stood up and said that we do not want less regulation, we want no regulation."
What makes weblogs successful?
Chis Gulker did some research, and found that...
If you want more readers, you should become famous and, lacking that, write frequent, long posts about stuff that you know well. Encourage inbound links, but don't worry about outbound.
A day without even a short walk is a wasted day
says euan semple
The Supernova conference organized by Kevin Werbach, is getting started this morning in California.
The shindig is about decentralization -- open spectrum, weblogs, WiFi, web services -- new forms of decentralized communications, emergent social organization, and grass-roots content that will take down the dinosaurs of industrial bureaucracy and the behemoths of mass media and telecom. I have friends and colleagues at the conference; it sounds like the discussions are going be interesting and clever and fun.
The innovation up for discussion is real.
And the optimistic technological determinism is giving me the willies.
Because, while we're developing and promoting all of this cool decentralized software and communications, there are:
Meanwhile, we're feeling smart, and socially connected, and politically pretty powerless.
We need organization, with all of the decentralized and centralized tools and methods available to us, online and on the ground, and we need it now.
Sunday, December 08, 2002
A new office -- Ruta Maya's in the neighborhood
Ruta Maya just opened on Thursday in my neighborhood. That's a Central-American themed coffee importer, coffee house, music venue and all around hangout.
For those of you in Austin, it's on South Congress in a strange, artsy-hip new professional office park, behind, of all places, the Expose strip club.
Now I need to get a wireless card, and I'll have a coffee-shop office, which I've been missing in Austin ever since my favorite coffee place at 7th and Neches shut down. High Life was run by a husband and wife team. She was the head barista and she put artistry into coffee drinks. I can still taste their coffee. He ran the kitchen. Interesting stuff by local artists always on the walls. They left a couple of years ago to follow their dream to open a bed and breakfast in New Mexico. My IQ has gone down 20 points and personal productivity has plummeted since they closed; I used to go there weekend mornings to reflect and write and plan the week.
Even when I have a permanent office workplace, I go to coffee shops to sit, think, and write. There's something about caffeine and background music that helps focus and concentration.
When I worked in a mostly-virtual team from the Boston area, my favorite office was TeaTray in the Sky, in Porter Square, Cambridge. The name comes from a quote in Alice in Wonderland; they had surreal Alice murals painted on the walls, teas from around the world, really good coffee, expensive but yummy food and desserts, and a secret wall phone jack (this was pre-WiFi). One of the owners had been a pastry chef at Biba's which was one of Boston's best restaurants.
In my neighborhood in Austin, Jo's and Bouldin have the bohemian atmosphere but to be honest, average coffee and average food. Jo's was built 3 years ago in classic Austin neo-roadside-shack style; the seating area is open-air, with plastic sheeting for rain and chill. The chairs are too short for the tables (for a 5'6" person) and the tables and chairs rattle. No power supply. It's nice when the weather is wonderful. Bouldin is genuine, South-Austin hippie, with games and ratty paperback books on the shelves, and a veggie-brunch menu. I wish they had better coffee. South Lamar Starbucks has drinkable coffee and usable chairs. But it's Starbucks.
The Mad Bird opened up this year on South Congress, as an extension to a garden/landscape story. It is genuinely and delightfully odd; the back deck looks onto the plants display. Last spring, I watched a hummingbird hover around the flowers while working on a presentation over coffee and a sandwich.
A bit further away on Barton Springs, Flipnotics has good coffee and an Austin casual-hipster vibe. Mozart's has a gorgeous view of the river, good coffee (they roast), mediocre, overpriced pastries, and a frat-child clientele. Mozart's is my favorite date-screening location, and has been the site of plenty of unspeakably bad dates. Ask me in person if you really and truly want to know.
I'm just thrilled that Ruta Maya's in the neighborhood. Next posts will be made with music in the background, good coffee and strange art on the walls.
Siva V on copyright
Reading some articles by Siva Vaidhyanathan in preparation for an EFF-Austin copyright dinner on Tuesday.
Great quote lifted from a SlashDot interview.
SV: I think the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is misnamed. I don't consider it a copyright act. I consider it an anti-copyright act. Copyright is a fluid, open, democratic set of protocols. Conflicts are anticipated by Congress and mediated by courts. The DMCA wipes out the sense of balance, anticipation, and mediation, and installs a technocratic regime. In other words, code tells you whether you can use a piece of material. Under copyright, you could use a piece of material and face the consequences. The DMCA replaces the copyright system with cold, hard technology.
It takes human judgment out of the system and drains the fluidity out of what was a humanely designed and evolved system.
Saturday, December 07, 2002
Here's a little python script that can post to a blog entry via email.
It can be configured to post to any weblog that supports the blogger API, using the python wrapper written by Mark Pilgrim.
The article uses examples mostly from developer-oriented projects like Linux and Gnome.
Some of their premises seem obsolete. There are new generations of open source software being designed for humans, not just arch-geeks. Examples include weblog software: MovableType; and email/PIM software: Spaces, OSAF. These projects deliberately consider usability.
On the other hand, some of their suggestions are interesting, such as:
* providing tools for users to report usability issues
* creating packaged remote usability tests for users
* enabling bug-tracking systems to incorporate graphical and video
content (apparently Bugzilla discussions of interface issues require
creating ASCII art
* being more welcome to HCI practitioners
The discussion is very academic in tone. The article would be more compelling if the authors had actually tried to, say, contact the core Mozilla team and offered to implement their ideas.
Washington Post: Ashcroft urges justice department to ignore Freedom of Information Act
via Dan Gillmor
One 36-year-old U.S. law can be broken, it seems. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, who is sworn to enforce all laws, has told federal employees that they can bend -- perhaps even break -- one law, and he will even defend their actions in court. That law is known as the Freedom of Information Act.
Friday, December 06, 2002
Swiss Re won't insure against global warming liability lawsuits
CERES: Company executives could find themselves losing protection against climate change-related liability claims brought by shareholders. SwissRe, the world's second-largest reinsurer, has announced it will withdraw coverage of such claims for senior executives of companies that fail to adopt adequate climate change policies. In the November issue of Environmental Finance, Roger Wenger of SwissRe said, "As an insurer, we only give coverage to 'fortuitous events.' If it is predictable that a liability would arise, we would have to exclude that cover from the policy."
more seriously, from Gil Friend's weblog
Tim O'Reilly insights on...
Jay Leno on climate change
What's the difference between Chanukah and an SUV? Chanukah is about a day's worth of oil lasting 8 days, whereas an SUV is about 8 days worth of oil lasting one day.
via Gil Friend
Thursday, December 05, 2002
New theory about origins of life
via Google news
A pair of biologists propose that tiny honeycombs within minerals may have served as the first cells, incubating the first self-replicating life forms.
This proposal contrasts with theories that life started with the emergence of self-replicating chemicals, and cellular boundaries evolved later.
Wednesday, December 04, 2002
Why would someone build a model of the starship Enterprise in legos?
Because of micro-fame, says Tom Coates. On the internet, everyone can find the 15 other people who are interested in the same obscure hobby.
"There's now an audience for the strangest and smallest little projects. All the disconnected people around the world who might find a Lego Enterprise cool are suddenly connected up. It's worth making that tiny little thing you thought would be quite cool once, it's worth writing the dumb ideas down that you thought no one would ever listen to. Because the odds of finding people who will care about them, will gel and relate to you, will celebrate your idea or project and make you famous (tiny-fame, micro-idol), is radically improved. The future will be full of dumb projects, tiny ideas, silly concepts - each celebrated by their own bespoke fan-base... And human creativity will have taken a massive leap forward...
... in which doc asks for more credit for acknowledging the contributions of feminism.
Requested and granted :-)
Especially since Doc regularly cites the girls in the gang as a matter of course. That's why I was surprised and disappointed to see such apparent misreading of history. Halley doesn't get off so easy because of the historical errors and propaganda-swallowing, as Sheila anwered so well.
... and asks for positive contributions building on Halley's insight...
There is a point here. I agree thoroughly with Ruth that there's a continuing need for a political movement to improve the status of women in society.
But for those of us who are lucky enough not have to fight for women to be allowed to go to school, or hold a job; or own property, or vote... those of use who take for granted women's full participation in society... the rhetoric of the last generations' battles may be less helpful on a day-to-day basis in building identity and politics.
... back to Doc, then, to clarify what he found insightful about Halley's comments, what struck a nerve.
Tuesday, December 03, 2002
The "rules girl" goes to the office
Lotta response to Halley's Girlism blog entries, which bug the heck out of me.
Basically, Halley is in favor of using one's feminine wiles to get ahead in the workplace. "Women want to be sexy girls and use all the tricks girls use. Crying, flirting, begging, winking, stomping their feet when they don't get their way, general trotting around showing off their long legs and whatever else they decide to show off thereby distracting and derailing men." And she has a stereotype of feminism as the exclusive property of butch dykes, right out of Rush Limbaugh.
Doc finds Halley's flirtatious approach appealing and charming; he and his wife both agree that feminism is boring. I'm glad that Doc and his wife have had so little experience with sexism that they can't remember why feminism was ever relevant in the first place.
My grandmother wasn't allowed to finish high school. My aunts had to fight to go to college. Early in my career, I worked in a place that had big gender disparities in pay (and had a male mentor who researched the subject and got me a big raise). I've seen women who flirt with the boss, sleep with the boss, and get their cute butt canned when things go sour.
I'm really not persuaded that the best response to injustice is to giggle and flirt.
Via doc, Sheila Lennon responds to Halley with a testament on the last wave of the women's movement, about equal pay for equal work, being respected as a woman instead of dismissed as a girl, legal birth control, and first-hand reports on the sexual revolution.
Doc finds feminine style attractive in women; and that's peachy.
But the point isn't to make all women chop their long flowing tresses and wear blue jeans. The point is that people are different from each other. Some of these differences line up by gender averages, and some of them don't. I have straight guy friends who wear more nail polish than I do. I have lesbian friends who own more make-up than I do. I have many male friends who love to cook and are dedicated parents. I have short hair, like books, hate shopping, like cooking, and find violent first-person shooter games really boring.
These things don't line up in neat little rows by gender stereotypes, and that's part of the lesson of feminism for me.
The latest "demotivators" are out
They're really funny. I must have missed last year, didn't remember consulting.
Monday, December 02, 2002
Supreme Court to hear case on Texas sodomy law
Washington Post story here.
Sunday, December 01, 2002
Thanks to Jerry for the link, and to Swamy for some education on the subject.
It is pretty amazing how often American and European books on the history of science and technology contain obvious errors of fact when they discuss the "discovery" and "invention" of various ideas and techniques.
Most favorite non-fiction books
My very favorite non-fiction books are based on a foundation of substantive research, knit together by compelling human stories (Common Ground; J. Anthony Lukas on the Boston busing crisis), or an interesting and persuasive argument (More Work for Mother, Ruth Schwartz Cowan on the impact of technology on housework).
There are many books that I like very much that don't live up to this standard. Then again, Lukas' standards were so high that it took him more than a decade to write his next book, after which he committed suicide, perhaps because he was unable to live up to that standard of perfection. I need to reread More Work for Mother one of these days to see if its brilliance holds up to five more years of additional reading.
What are your criteria for favorite books?