tecznotes

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

Dec 27, 2004 3:01am

media crisis 2004

Eyebeam brought this article, on MediaChannel, to my attention. It contained the following gem:

Much of the new investment in journalism today is in disseminating the news, not in collecting it. Most sectors of the media are cutting back in the newsroom. While there are exceptions, in general journalists face real pressures trying to maintain quality.

This feels to me like the core problem with journalism today, and a larger problem with the news cycle of the internet. The big communications story of the 2004 presidential election was Blogs, and how political bloggers like Wonkette or DailyKos are making a new name for micropublishing, tightening the feedback loop of the news cycle from days to hours to minutes.

Blogs and bloggers do a shit job of documenting actual news, though - their sources are generally other blogs (or insiders, or other journalists, or rumors, which amounts to basically the same thing minus Moveable Type). This is fine for the national exercise in navel-gazing that makes up a great presidential campaign, but it does a real disservice to the the job of collecting and interpreting new information from places and cultures less wired than ours. I'm curious how the communications-medium-as-story story will play out in 2005.

Dec 22, 2004 11:22am

slashdot loves poland (poland loves slashdot?)

Indulge me in a little old-fashioned nationalism, okay? Today on Slashdot:

Thanks to the Polish Minister of Science and Information Technology, Wlodzimierz Marcinski, Europe has dropped the current proposal for software patents. He made a special journey to Brussels to withdraw the proposal, basically in protest at the way the patents were being pushed through by the back door. Since the European presidency is about to pass to Luxembourg, this has effectively killed the idea, at least for the immediate future."

Comments include:

  • At least slashdot didn't forget about Poland. :)
  • Thank Poland!
  • It's about time one of the countries in Europe had a government with a spine ... Go POLAND!!!
  • First to break the German's Enigma machine and now this.

Dec 21, 2004 2:02pm

grass as canvas

Wonderful, though I'm surprised this hasn't been done earlier. Grass as a light-reactive plate was the example used by David Macaulay in the children's technology book The Way Things Work, one of my favorite books from my childhood.

Dec 21, 2004 3:09am

re-announcing mappr

Last week, we posted a few images from our ongoing Mappr project:

Over the past few days, word has been getting around. We've been mentioned by a few people I respect tremendously, including Adam Greenfield, Andy Baio, and the Flickr folks themselves. The Mappr Group is humming along with over 100 members and a slew of great suggestions for improvements.

Notably:

  • Awareness of a world outside the United States. I'm working on it, hoping to solve this one in a way that supports the future addition of arbitrary place designations like "Disney Land" or "The Eiffel Tower." Dealing with synonyms is hard. Dealing with inferences based on multiple tags is hard. Accounting for place names split up among tags (e.g. "San", "Jose") is also hard. Well... hard in the sense that I'm still trying to make this work without every nontrivial database query pegging the CPU for half a minute. :)
  • An open API. This is on my list in a huge way. My goal is to model this closely on Flickr's API, so there's not a lot of duplication of effort, and users can use our API to augment theirs.
  • User-defined maps. I bit a chunk out of this one tonight by solving a linear algebra problem that has been percolating for the past week, thanks to a well-placed hint from Cassidy.

I've also been plunged into an interesting learning experience in facets and ontologies, through helpful prodding from Boris Anthony.

Dec 15, 2004 7:10pm

light cones

Now this is a web service:

Xi Ursae Majoris is 27.2 light years away and only 5 weeks from the outer surface of your light cone - your ever-growing sphere of potential causality - which began its expansion from Earth on November 16 1977.

Courtesy of Matt Webb's Light Cone.

Dec 14, 2004 6:10pm

quote of the day

"First they came for the verbs, and I said nothing because verbing weirds language. Then they arrival for the nouns, and I speech nothing because I no verbs."

found here.

Dec 14, 2004 12:30am

announcing mappr

We're launching the first peeks of our most recent research project, Mappr.

Photos from flickr are often tagged with information that can be used to make educated guesses about their locations in the world. Mappr uses this data, which is provided by flickr users, to place their images on a map.

What we like about it is that we can all start to explore the idea of a collaborative mapped photo space, without having to wait for cameras to come with automatic GPS locators in them.

Read more at the group on flickr or mappr.com.

Dec 13, 2004 11:40am

ambient interfaces

The Register writes:

Boffins at BT's Research Labs have developed a futuristic interface that uses ambient light sequences and sound alerts to notify users of personalised news and information. ... Incoming data such as emails or weather reports generates animated light patterns and sounds from the device. Users can then wave their hand over the front of the interface, prompting it to provide more detailed data using Laureate, BT's text-to-speech software, to read out the information.

Looks like the same general idea as Ambient Devices' products with a few extra dimensions of information and interactivity added in. It's a less attractive object than the Ambient Orb, though the built-in text recognition and hand-waving interface may make it more useful as a source of information.

Dec 7, 2004 1:18am

ambient devices

Ambient Devices released their new "Ambient Executive Dashboard":

Thanks to unique patent-pending wireless broadcasting, users can tune in to basic channels and never pay any monthly fees. And since the Ambient Information Network has the best coverage of any data network, virtually everywhere you can get a cell phone signal, and many places you can't, your Dashboard can listen in to your information.

I found this company in September, in the context of a little desktop-color-changing script I wrote to warn of high CPU usage in Mac OS X. The Dashboard displays a range of information: weather, traffic, stocks, job listings, or customizable channels. Unfortunately the information is limited to a linear full/empty continuum: traffic good/bad, weather good/bad (?!), stocks high/low. Also, I'm not sure why they opted to transmit information to this gizmo via a national FM radio network - this looks like an obvious potential consumer of web services, and it feels like Ambient Devices is rejecting a potentially huge hacker market by using such a weird information delivery mechanism.

On the other hand, I can also see this being useful for geeks who tend to get lost in their work, if it can be configured to display information that's less obvious than 1996's web portal wing dings.

For example:

  • Time since last meal or walk
  • Unreturned voicemail messages
  • Errands left on to-do list
  • Friends owed a phone call
  • Days until family member's birthday/annual merchandise exchange holiday

I'm tempted to update my desktop background changing script to reflect some of the information listed on AD's site, but with Apple's own dashboard on the way next year it might be smarter to wait and build a distributable widget.

Dec 6, 2004 9:32pm

inexplicable

This item showed up in my RSS aggregator today:

I don't know what it means, flash games I suppose. But typographically, it's beautiful.

Dec 4, 2004 11:01pm

buy button

Sandra Blakeslee writes:

At issue is whether marketers can exploit advances in brain science to make more effective commercials. Is there a "buy button" in the brain? Some corporations have teamed up with neuroscientists to find out. Recent neuromarketing experiments have explored reactions to movie trailers, cars, a pretty face and gut reactions to political campaign advertising, as well as the power of brand loyalty.

So here's my holiday productivity wish: assuming that there were no scary Orwellian drawbacks to exploiting the brain's "buy button", I would like a gizmo which combines the functions of simple calendar or PDA with mind control.

I don't just want to be notified when I'm scheduled to complete some task, I want to be filled with a deep longing to see it done. If there was a way to transfer the ecstatic concentration I feel when I'm obsessively working on some technical problem (or flow, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi names it) to the more mundane responsibilities in my life, I'd be first in line.

I expect it's relevant that methamphetamine usage skyrocketed among U.C. Berkeley's student population whenever finals time arrived, since the functional benefit of speed is said to approach at least a few of the characteristics of "flow".

Dec 2, 2004 9:57pm

ann on reblog

Ann Poochareon writes:

Enters reBlog, a system in which not only lets you subscribe to and read the feeds as they come in, you are also able to send those feed information, item by item, to your website (if you have one) without having to copy the info by hand. you press a button, it adds to its blog feed list. you press another button, the blog feed gets posted to your website. reBlog allows you to easily be your own newsroom, choose and pick what you like or what you think is interesting and worthy to pass on to more people.

For real. Ann is the current reBlogger, and has been doing a great job hilighting some cool stuff.

A few thoughts that have popped up as Michael and I were writing reBlog 1.0 over the past few months:

  • How important is a proper attribution chain? The "via" link is added automatically by reBlog, and manually by other link lists like Waxy or Daring Fireball, but it can only tell you two links in the attribution chain: the first, and the previous. Does this matter? Is every step along the chain a creative act, or just the first? Is previous link is just a tummy rub tip-of-the-hat to your sources? Design Oberver has the excellent Observed series, which trades rigorous attribution for thematic unity (mostly) between groups of links.
  • This is fun! I don't regularly visit many sites anymore, it's too easy to get my news dropped into my inbox and marked for later. I subscribe to a bunch of tag feeds from del.icio.us, photo feeds from flickr, and more journals, news sites, and other reblogs.
  • This is dangerous! I don't regularly visit many sites anymore. The New York Times and the SF Chronicle have both dropped off my radar, even though I'm subscribed to a few NYT feeds. Eric has pointed out that it's still important for him to go visit the NYT once in a while, just to see what stories get a lot of attention on the front page. Does the fact that I often see a new item hit my aggregator 4 or more times in the space of an hour from different sources imply that I am cocooning myself into media echo chamber?
  • This is weird. I maintain a page of snippets, which started out as a shell script to aggregate the random pieces of text and URL's I come across on a daily basis, and evolved into a public link list. I often find myself second-guessing items of interest I'd normally like to hold onto, because I worry whether I seem like too much of a dork, or obsessed about one topic, or suffer from various other perceived personal failings that can be divined from careful analysis of my URL trail. I can see why blogging makes people extremely self-conscious.
  • Who's going to use this dumb thing? I've been thinking of reBlog as the semantic web equivalent of two turntables and a microphone, and if the late 90's DJ cult is any indication of future trends, there's going to be a lot of people using some combination of reBlog, del.icio.us, and other feed services to entertain and amuse their friends and coworkers with funny or interesting information, minus the burden of actually writing something themselves. On the flip side, my former housemate Ted had this to say about the success of the DJ image in 2002: "Several strange and new ladies write rocker guy. DJ guy, who had a very nice photo that made him look like a bonafide DJ, got zero hits from the ladies, but my male friends who DJ'd all wrote to say how great the pics were." (Friendster, An Addict's Perspective). Does the cultural repackager eventually get exposed as a shill?

Dec 2, 2004 7:20pm

things to read

Paul Graham, The Age Of The Essay:

An essay is something you write to try to figure something out.

Nominations for the Best Software Essays of 2004.

Dec 1, 2004 6:03pm

new snippet graph

I've been playing with PHP's image-generation functions, and have added a graph of my link-foraging habits to my snippets page. Five years of plasticbag it ain't, but at least it's live!

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