Michal Migurski's notebook, listening post, and soapbox. Subscribe to this blog. Check out the rest of my site as well.

Sep 23, 2004 5:36pm

corporate death penalty

Courtesy of an unidentified slashdot commenter:

I like the idea of a corporate death penalty. To expand a bit upon the idea, I think the following would be more fair than the current situation.

1) Taking current bankruptcy proceedings a bit further, once a "CDP" is declared, the corporation must immediately sell all existing assets at market value or as close to market value as possible to complete a fast sale. Supposing "Renron's" corporate HQ building is worth 20 million dollars, a 15 million dollar bid for that building by anyone should be considered reasonable, accepted, and that money should go into a "corporate funeral fund." Same with all of the rest of the company's assets.

2) The corporation must dissolve and may never operate in business again, no matter who's supposedly in charge. Regardless of who purchases the assets, no one who was an executive at the failed company may be allowed to work for any company who acquires any part of the failed corporation. If Lenny Kay was CEO at Renron, and Renron's assets are bought up by Ding-Dong Corporation, Lenny Kay cannot go to work for Ding-Dong Corporation in any capacity.

3) Individual, non-corporate investors in the failed company _must_ be compensated first. This means that Joe Average who bought 500 shares of Renron must be given his fair share of the "funeral fund" long before BigBank or AngelVenture get any of their loan money back. Same goes for all of the retirement funds who, on behalf of Joe Averages, invested in Renron. If BigBank or AngelVenture loses out, boo hoo. Maybe next time around, they'll be a bit more responsible with the blank checkbooks loaning a few billion here and a few billion there.

4) With a corporation given a "CDP," the executives should have to pay back into the process. CEO got a 10 million dollar bonus last year? Fine him 10 million dollars and put it into the "funeral fund." Any inappropriate spoils should be returned to the death fund of the company, to be recompensed to its shareholders, individuals first.

With some tweaks like these, corporations might become responsible again.

Hot on the heels of The Corporation.

Sep 22, 2004 5:14pm

ambient desktop

Silly me.

Macosxhints.com published my first hint, but I didn't bother to create a user account, so it's listed as "anonymous." Money quote:

If this works correctly, you will have a desktop image that smoothly changes from normal.pct to warn.pct when your load average stays over 1.7 for five minutes or so. In my case, warn.pct is solid red, and heightened CPU usage for an extended period of time shows up as a slow background fade to fire engine red. If you are comfortable with perl, you can modify the if() statement to change images based on other chosen conditions, or show different images depending on situations that demand your attention.

In the discussion thread, a few people rightly point out that CPU monitors are a dime a dozen, and can be placed on the desktop, dock, or anywhere else you like. The broader point was that Mac OS X provides an easy entry into ambient visual displays, and the background can be used to show whatever information you like - unread RSS feeds, instant messages, to-do list backup, wind speed in Chicago.

An excellent example of this is Dunstan Orchard's site, where the whole masthead is a visual indicator of the weather near his parents' home.

Jason Tester has a good run-down of ambient information (as it applies to electricity meters) and the qualities that make a piece of a data a good candidate for ambient display:

  1. complex
  2. regularly changing
  3. constant awareness isnt necessary.

Andrew Baio notices the similarity to Ambient Devices, physical manifestations of the same idea. I'm not sure that I'd be willing to pay $150 to get my stock market information as a subtly shifting color (WTF is it with stocks as the standard pretext for any interesting information-related investigation?), and there's a powerful tradeoff involved in choosing one specific piece of data for your ambient display. On the other hand, I'm constantly amazed at my girlfriend's intuition for plant health (she is a gardener). When you're looking for signs of disease or parasites, what is a plant but an subtle gestalt of color, texture, and smell indicating some complex internal state?

Sep 16, 2004 10:26pm

newsmap squarifies

Visited Newsmap today for the first time in a few weeks, and was pleased to find that they made a few adjustments that address my biggest gripe with the site. The news is now "squarified", which means that the color chips containing the various news stories are being arranged slightly differently. The old layout made comparative sizes of each item a breeze - you could quickly see what percentage of the news was taken up by Sports, or Health, or National news. The main drawback was that it made reading the actual headlines a royal pain. Smaller items would have text so small it was illegible, or shoehorned in sideways, or available only on rollover. The new version takes advantage of a treemap technique called "squarifying", an algorithm that adjusts the display of each item so that its aspect ratio is as close to 1:1 as possible - more square-like is better.

Some of the text is still too small to be readable. This is okay - it's inevitable that smaller items will fit less text, but now the illegibility cutoff point has been set lower. Also the whole thing just feels a little more balanced.

Very swanky.

Sep 14, 2004 9:44pm

En Las Noticias

La Vanguardia has mentioned In The News in an article about visual representations of the news (en/es), along with Newsmap and News Is Free:

It is perhaps true that graphical representation of the news does not in itself bring much of value. It is like visually creating the front page of a paper or the headlines of a news bulletin, only in this case using thousands of sources simultaneously. The value of the graphics is that they help to explain things a little better.

I had not seen News Is Free before. It feels informationally richer and visually weaker than News Map; its extensive configurability is both a liability and an asset. As a nerd, I appreciate the ability to custom-fit the data I'm seeing to my own aesthetic tastes, but I feel as though the really important configurability is still missing. It's one thing to allow me choose whether size == age or color == position, but another to provide controls to filter by the content of the news iteself. News Map does this excellently, letting me choose to look at Sports or Health new, grouped by country.

Sep 9, 2004 5:50pm

recipe flow

I just saw Cooking For Engineers' recipe for tiramisu. Also the meat lasagna. The recipe graphics are excellent process flow diagrams:

about 20 lady's fingersdiplayer & spread twicecover
2 shots espressomix & chill
1/2 cup coffee
1 cup heavy whipping creamwhisk to stiff peaksfold
1 lb. mascarpone cheesemix
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons rum (or brandy)
cocoa powder
shavings of unsweetened dark chocolate

They're similar in spirit to Gantt charts, but more compact, and (I think) more readable by cooks not experienced in project management ephemera. I especially like the clarity of task divisions: recipes are often confusing when they dictate sequence for tasks that really could be done in arbitrary order, and these diagrams clearly show which step of the recipe depends on others. I'm not sure how they might handle ingredients used in multiple parts of the recipe -- should sugar be listed twice in the ingredients column at left, if it's used twice? -- or whether there is a need to explain the actions in more depth.

For recipes aimed at engineers, I guess they have to keep such things simple to begin with. No port reduction sauce for you, now where's that TPS report?

Sep 4, 2004 12:49am

facing new york

I can't describe how much I enjoy We Fail's website for the band Facing New York.

I was just reminded of it during a conversation about the meta-news site Week In Review, which puts an organic, hand-drawn spin on news aggregation. Such an intentional move away from crisp, swiss fonts and layout makes a project feel more ephemeral, and underscores the dependence on individual creativity.

Sep 3, 2004 3:48pm

words speakers use

this beautiful infographic seems to be making the rounds this morning - it's a pair of images showing the frequency of words used by speakers at both major party conventions this summer, so far. "War", "Jobs", "Freedom", "Health Care" are the big ones.

A few questions I have about it:

  • How did the New York Times decide which words to include in the survey?
  • Why now? The graphic pointedly omits Bush - seems like they would have wanted to wait until the RNC was over, to have a full record.
  • How is the top graphic organized? Is there a reason why "Hope" and "Iraq" are neighbors, for example?
  • "Girlie Men" ???

Sep 2, 2004 6:09pm

regarding meta mail

Jon Udell writes today about Meta-mail:

We spend a lot of time, in email, enacting protocols that could be (to some degree) formalized. There's a delicate balance to be struck here, of course. Most business processes mediated by email have both formal aspects (you ask me to perform a task by a certain date) and informal aspects (we negotiate, and realize something else we hadn't thought of should take precedence). The conversational nature of email is its irreplaceable strength.

It's a response to Phil Windley's comments regarding meta-data in e-mail:

I think the answer to this problem lies in creating a task dashboard and having the various applications, including email, post control messages to the dashboard so that I have a single place to manage the various messages that are coming to me, albeit outside email.

Unfortunately, formalizing the kinds of desires and activities that are engaged in on a day-to-day basis is as difficult as the general problem of meta data. The features that currently exist in mail to handle this need (return receipts, urgency levels) are often misused, and in my experience unhelpful. Often, they are simply left unimplemented in many mail clients - the List-* headers are recognized by Pine, but not by Apple's Mail.app.

Fortunately, e-mail is an easily extensible communications medium.

I imagine that a potential approach to addressing this need would be to delegate a solution to the people who need it most - the IT and operations departments already tasked with formalizing process flows within a company. Many such formal processes take the form of simple expressions of desire, belief, and intent.How difficult could it be to augment mail headers with entries such as X-Desire-A-Meeting or X-Intend-To-Visit that could be customized to an organization's specific formal processes? Tie these to a DTD-like definition that specifies the syntax and potential range of expected responses to each message. Couple this with a few extensions to an open-source webmail client like Squirrelmail that implement a minimal interface to the message composition window and incorporate the inbox/outbox fusion of Gmail's conversation view, and you're on your way to a workable method. The key for me is that it should not be necessary to wait for a corporate software powerhouse such as Microsoft to develop a one-size-fits-all extension to Exchange or Outlook. Technologies like the world wide web or RSS have shown that one way to solve a communications technology problem is to use the tools at your disposal, and build a solution incrementally.

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