May 29, 2005

Here's one to think about for implications

Read quickly, this one may seem irrelevant to the serious business of Information Wrangling... but just under the surface is something pretty remarkable: A rocket launcher of our own describes (a) capture of a data stream, (b) import into CAD/CAM software, and (c) export to a milling machine or 3D printer...
Science fiction, you say... but listen to Bruce Sterling and Alex Steffen (summary here, and audio). Fabjects and object processing are the stuff of Wired and MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms at the moment, but don't say I didn't warn me...

Posted by oook at 07:12 AM

May 27, 2005

Husband on Weinberger

This comment on Weinberger's dictum that 'The cure to information overload is more information' seems pretty right-on:

It's (the flow) not gonna stop, and the traditional ways information and knowledge have been classified, ordered, made accessible, distributed and stored have had major change visit, as you have pointed out many times. We now need to become, and feel, adept art skimming, dot-connecting, pattern recognition, and deciding well and wisely when to delve more deeply and in more concentrated ways into issue X or issue Y.

Posted by oook at 03:00 PM

May 26, 2005

Continuous Computing

Gardner Campbell points me to another very eloquent summary of what's going on, from Wade Roush's 10,000 Brainiacs: Let's Write a Social Computing Story, Socially!, soon to be a Technology Review article. Try this bit on for size:

Walk around any college campus or visit any café with a Wi-Fi hotspot, and you’ll see that these new tools are already changing not only the way we interact, but the way we think, learn, and relate to our physical environments. And this change is accelerating. In fact, it’s spreading through world cultures so fast--and upsetting traditional notions of communication so radically--that even the last half-century of revolutionary technological change is beginning to seem calm by comparison.
Readers using Firefox see interlarded comments by mousing over hyperlinks, and are invited to contribute others for inclusion. Something happening here, Mr. Jones...
...need for a new term to describe the current moment in information technology. Continuous computing doesn’t simply mean computing continuously: few people, in fact, want or need to be jacked into the network at every moment of the day. Rather, it also connotes computing that’s continuous with our lives as humans, in all their messy, biological, biographical, social richness. Computers and software don’t have to disappear behind the scenes in order to blend more naturally into our existence. All they have to do is respect our real human needs—prime among them, the need to communicate.

Posted by oook at 12:36 PM

May 25, 2005

St. Jon Udell

What marvelous clarity:

On your blog, you can document your public agenda better than anyone else can. If you've ever been interviewed by a newspaper reporter, you know the drill. An hour of careful explanation may be reduced to a quote that makes you cringe. What hasn't occurred to most people yet is that you can publish that careful explanation yourself. Or that, when you do, the web's aggregation engines will surface your words in appropriate contexts, and will help people measure their impact.

.... In a knowledge-based economy, narrating your work becomes part of everyone's job. That narration produces artifacts we call blogs. They'll transform Big Media, but only because they'll transform society.

The whole post is eminently worth reading, and mostly on the subject of the transformation of journalisms. What it says to me is that all that log-file making and process-collecting that I've been doing in the last decade really does amount to something: it's a record --a narration-- of where I've been and what I've thought about, imperfectly connected though it surely is. I wish I'd been better able to convey this to my students...
(found via Gardner Campbell's posting just this morning...)

Posted by oook at 06:49 AM

Language Polluters

Sez Marc at O'Reilly Radar:

It's definitely true that "RSS" is not a helpful term to describe feeds to the world at large. Yet another acronym, spewed into the environment by the worst language polluters on the planet, the tech industry. But you know what? It's already too late. Just like 'http://', RSS icons are a usability disaster that will be around for the long haul. The tools will have to route around the damage.

(Atom has a Branding Problem)

Posted by oook at 06:14 AM

May 22, 2005

Following H5N1

My friend Ron Nigh and I have been exchanging bits of news about H5N1 for the last 18 months, starting from the monitoring of press coverage that I began in January 2004, and following the discovery of the issue by people better equipped than ourselves (Effect Measure, Pathogen Alert, The Coming Influenza Pandemic?, Henry Niman's Recombinomics, and Connotea's AvianFlu tag...) . Yesterday I forwarded to him a couple of links to stories about death of migratory birds in China, who seem to have come from India... Ron responded:

This is such a fascinating subject for anthropology and I will be forever
grateful to you for pointing me to it way back when. It has so many
dimensions, from the genetic, species diversity issues ,biomedical
issues to the social and political... All that is lacking is some GIS! Do you know if anyone is mapping bird
flu? It would be great to take this as a case for my anthro students in 2006. By
then it may well be a big story or may have faded away like SARS. Anyway it
would be fun to come up with some mapping and statistical exercises to do
with the students on the Internet, etc. An idle dream, I suppose.

I replied with some comments on the prospects for mapping:

Consider the myriad problems of mapping, which simply make the whole
thing even MORE ideal as a multidimensional whatever for anthropology:
there are so many actors (individual and corporate) whose Interest is in
NOT allowing Information about H5N1 to be public, and/or in distorting
the "facts", that the inbound data stream for maps is completely
compromised --we can't even know how bad (or good...) the data are. Sort
of like mapping gypsies. And that's a good metaphor for the whole
problem of Data and Objectivity, innit? What we'd like is some proxies,
ideally overlapping proxies, for the data we'd really like but can't

A lot of the stories I read via those blogs say pretty much the same
thing: the world of officialdom is bumbling and slow to get it, and
basically interested in not being caught in Type II Error (having cried
Wolf with public monies, when there was no lupine personage...), so the
testing that MUST be done to provide the data we need isn't being done,
or is being suppressed, or in any case isn't being fed into the channels
where troublemakers like Niman can get their mitts on and
misrepresent... etc etc.

Ron sez:

I don't think anyone has said it quite as clearly as you. At least put your
thoughts on oook... here they are.

Posted by oook at 03:44 PM

May 17, 2005

I'm afraid Dave is right...

Dave Winer's post this morning, ruminating on the ecological niche(s) of podcasting (It worked!) includes a characterization of Public Radio that is, I fear, pretty much right on:

Thinking more about it I realized that the role of an owner of a public radio station is twofold. You listen and you pay. Occasionally, if you don't mind waiting and getting totally nervous, you can call in and ask a question of an expert -- someone who is probably just saying politically correct bullshit, but you never get to speak, what you think isn't important, your job is to pay, and if you like, listen, while they lull you to sleep with their relaxing talk that's only intelligent when compared to the other crap that's on the radio.

Posted by oook at 06:53 AM

May 16, 2005

Lasica's oracular pronouncement

He's right:

...we stand at a historic moment when we're witnessing the transition to a fundamentally new kind of media.
Media will change more in the next five years than it has in the past 50 years.
(Darknet minibook intro)
Y'all just wait and see...

Posted by oook at 11:30 AM

May 13, 2005

Alan Levine epitomises

A Real Technologist

This weekend my wife and I are taking care of a friend's 10 year old daughter, and in just 24 hours it has been a mind opening opportunity to see how she uses/absorbs technology among other things- to a 10 year old, it seems like everything is fascinating and worth exploring (where do we lose that feeling?)... (describes use of digital camera) ...It’s obvious she is running on intuition, guesswork, exploration, curiosity, desire to learn, not fixed recipe formulated, instructional designed steps marked with precise outomes objectives and goal statements.

This is the world higher education is not even ready for, not even remotely. A tectonic shift is on its way ready to learn by exploration and what are we ready to offer? Click-and-read hypertext inside closed, stilted learning management systems.

Posted by oook at 07:02 PM

May 12, 2005

On fiction

Not a subject I think about very often, and the rest of the article is about writers I don't want to read, but the lead paragraph certainly brought me up short:

Good fiction has never been about moral instruction; it would be much easier to write if it were. Its more imposing task is to do justice to the inexhaustible complexity of human motivation. Because our motives are often hidden from us, because the canvas of even our own experience can be too much for our eye to take in, we look to writers to help make comprehensible the reasons why people act the way they act, why they transgress, why they fail to transgress. In this respect the fictional outlaw has at least as much to teach us as the upright citizen—a principle older than Céline or Shakespeare or Milton, perhaps as old as storytelling itself.
from Harper's Magazine: Ready-Made Rebellion

Posted by oook at 11:15 AM

Jon Udell nails it yet again

As somebody (it was Alan Levine, CogDogBlog) observed in a recent blog posting, it's not necessarily the content or the subject, but the attitude...

Screencasts around the Net

Screencasting is a medium that can deliver order-of-magnitude improvements over conventional documentation and training. If people aren't "getting it," maybe it's time to stop blaming them and start telling stories they can't forget or misunderstand.

Posted by oook at 06:02 AM

May 11, 2005

Donne a Day

StigmergicWeb » Podcasts as learning tools

Pointer to Gardner Campbell's Donne a Day project

A nice example of a purposive podcast, building toward future utility (in this case, creating a corpus of readings for a Fall term seminar). I'd never have thought I'd be interested in 17th century poetry...

Posted by oook at 11:14 AM

May 07, 2005

Two for the commonplace

I'm forever finding passages in my reading that seem especially fraught with implication. Often (if I'm reading a book I own) I make a telegraphic note in the back endpapers --sometimes just a page number, sometimes a word or two to summarize. Last night I happened to pick up Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an inquiry into values (1974) --can't remember when I last read it, but a note at the back pointed me to this passage:

Time to switch to the psychomotor traps. this is the domain of understanding which is most directly related to what happens to the machine.
Here by far the most frustrating gumption trap is inadequate tools. Nothing's quite so demoralizing as a tool hang-up. Buy good tools as you can afford them and you'll never regret it... Good tools, as a rule, don't wear out, and good secondhand tools are much better than inferior new ones. Study tool catalogs. You can learn a lot from them. (290-291)

There's one psychomotor gumption trap, muscular insensitivity, which accounts for some real damage. It results in part from lack of kinesthesia, a failure to realize that although the externals of a cycle are rugged, inside the engine are delicate precision parts which can be easily damaged by muscular insensitivity. There's what's called "mechanic's feel," which is very obvious to those who know what it is, but hard to describe to those who don't; and when you see someone working on a machine who doesn't have it, you tend to suffer with the machine.
The mechanic's feel comes from a deep inner kinesthetic feeling for the elasticity of materials. Some materials, like ceramics, have very little, so that when you thread a porcelain fitting you're very careful not to apply great pressures. Other materials, like steel, have tremendous elasticity, more than rubber, but in a range in which, unless you're working with large mechanical forces, the elasticity isn't apparent.
With nuts and bolts you're in the range of large mechanical forces and you should understand that within these ranges metals are elastic. When you take up a nut there's a point called "finger-tight" where there's contact but no takeup of elasticity. Then there's "snug," in which the easy surface elasticity is taken up. Then here's a rance called "tight," in which all the elasticity is taken up. The force required to reach these three points is different for each size of nut and bolt, and different for lubricated bolts and for locknuts. The forces are different for steel and cast iron and brass and aluminum and plastics and ceramics. But a person with mechanic's feel knows when someting's tight and stops. A person without it goes right on past and strips the threads or breaks the assembly.
A "mechanic's feel" implies not only an understanding for the elasticity of metal but for its softness... It's important to understand that the metal behind the surfaces can normally take great shock and stress but the surfaces themselves cannot. (291-292)

Another one from last night: I've been reading Paul Johnson's The Birth of the Modern: world society 1815-1830 in the last minutes before turning out the light, and this one slugged me with significance:

In the years after 1815 no article was more symbolic of middle-class values and wealth than was the pianoforte. It was a sign not merely of respectability but of culture... The rise of the piano had been rapid and its reverberations felt throughout the world of music. Beethoven's early sonatas had been written as much for the harpsichord as for the primitive pianos then available. But it was the piano which made the player's technique "brilliant" --a vogue world of the time. Mozart had been happy to keep his hands close to the keys. But in the new age of musical genius, a touch of theater became obligatory. Clemeti was the first to start raising and flourishing his hands while playing; Dussek, another leading player-composer, took the next step by putting himself sideways, his right profile to the audience, the lid of his grand piano open; Moscheles, who took over as the top pianist in the 1820s, specialized in the whole range of virtuoso techniques and exhibitionism the audiences now demanded.
As the technology advanced... Beethoven set the pace, He forced the manufacturers to provide more sophisticated and powerful instruments by writing music that would have been unplayable a decade before... (129)

Posted by oook at 06:53 AM

May 06, 2005

A Wikipedia hack

via O'Reilly's Mapping Hacks:
For the pages that LINK TO the Sarawak page in Wikipedia:

Posted by oook at 09:54 PM

Gobsmacked again

Another lovely encapsulation of Long Tail ideas, from Dave Weinberger on a talk he gave in Italy:

I talked about - guess what? - how the miscellaneous, which traditionally is where the structure of knowledge fails, is becoming in the digital world where knowledge begins.

Posted by oook at 05:49 AM

May 05, 2005

Jon Udell, yet again

A couple of trenchant quotes:

The social tagging systems are a laboratory in which techniques of statistical classification will be explored. As Clay Shirky has pointed out, the terms “movies,” “film,” and “cinema” are not just synonyms; they encode real cultural differences. A taxonomy that stamps out those differences won’t serve the various constituencies. We can still build systems around taxonomies, but we have to let the footpaths emerge, and in this realm they’re just fuzzy statistical traces.
Describe your domain of discourse as well as you can, because shared context makes communication more efficient. But don't assume that your schemas are completely accurate or that they define the entire domain of discourse. Systems must be "dynamic enough to extend and refine their context through experience -- i.e., they must learn".

Good advice for a loosely-coupled world, though following it is easier said than done. and

Posted by oook at 06:57 AM

May 02, 2005

Clay Shirky strikes again

You're It!: a blog on tagging
The blog looks like it will be very worthwhile to follow if it lives up to this:

tags keep found things found. Search is about finding things, tags (in the mode) are about keeping them. Like many people, I stopped remembering things when the internets came along, and started remembering pointers to things instead. Many’s the time I’ve wanted to find something I read N months ago, and had to remember whether I saw it on slashboing or blogpop, or I had to recreate a multi-word search on Google. Tags, fby contrast, are thumbtacks with filters.
...Search centers around the supplier. Tags center around the user, and any technology that recognizes that each user is the center of their world has good adoption characteristics.
- Second, tags add ‘people’ and ‘time’ as cross-cutting elements. provides a measure of social velocity... More, much more, is coming, by hanging new kinds of filtering and sorting off of those characteristics, including especially shared awareness among tagging groups, and the subsequent ability to search the group mind.

This sort of posting makes it clear that blogs are maturing into elegant discourse.

Posted by oook at 05:02 PM

Saying things just right

It occurs to me that most of the material in this blog is quotations of other people, somebodies who have put something just so, and struck a resonant frequency or two. As such, the value to anybody besides myself is probably in the trackback, when I link to where I encountered the trenchant whatever. Here's a case in point, from an interview with Joi Ito by R. U. Sirius:

So what have we learned? We’ve learned that conversations on mailing lists tend to explode in flame wars. We’ve also learned that if you make a web page, there is a good chance no one will notice. Mailing lists are like rooms that people can get into, but very difficult to get people out of. Everyone in the room hears everyone else in the room. Too much feedback. A personal web page .... No one can hear you. Not enough feedback. Life and good emergent systems live in the interesting place between too much feedback and too little feedback, that very special space between chaos and order. It’s the sweet spot of emergent order that we see in fractals, life, and the high of being "in the zone."
(He goes on to talk about the blogosphere and Wikipedia as instances of sweet spots of the moment)

Posted by oook at 12:32 PM

On being prepared

Elizabeth Kolbert's The Climate of Man has been running in New Yorker. Among the memorable anecdotes is one describing paleoclimatologist Peter deMenocal's work with linking sedimentary data with archaeological findings. Here's the trenchant bit:

Tell Leilan was never an easy place to live. Much like, say, western Kansas today, the Khabur plains received enough annual rainfall—about seventeen inches—to support cereal crops, but not enough to grow much else. “Year-to-year variations were a real threat, and so they obviously needed to have grain storage and to have ways to buffer themselves,” deMenocal observed. “One generation would tell the next, ‘Look, there are these things that happen that you’ve got to be prepared for.’ And they were good at that. They could manage that. They were there for hundreds of years.”

He went on, “The thing they couldn’t prepare for was the same thing that we won’t prepare for, because in their case they didn’t know about it and because in our case the political system can’t listen to it. And that is that the climate system has much greater things in store for us than we think.”

An uncomfortable parallel from yesterday's The Coming Influenza Pandemic?:
A while ago we had a story on the government running computer simulations to plot strategies on containment. Nature is constantly moving, testing limits, finding openings without looking for them. This is proof that simulating is probably folly, and right only by luck. A deadly pandemic, if it occurs, will come only by the confluence of events which could never have been predicted, as all "accidents" are.

Posted by oook at 06:21 AM