May 28, 2004


Over at the Whiskey Bar, a long, thought-provoking (and ultimately sobering) assessment. Much more than you'd get by reading the newspapers, anyway.

May 27, 2004

Conference season

Bureaux Virtuels & Travail Collaboratif. If you're anywhere near France (Laval) this midsummer, CLARTE and Groove's distributor partners Hommes&Process are running a conference on virtual offices and collaborative work. Looks like a great agenda.


New from Microsoft: Information Bridge Framework, an ambitious metadata-driven application integration model, designed to bring "back-office" applications (via web services) into the context of Office documents (using the Office2003 "smart documents" taskpane facilities). It took me a couple of days just to understand what on earth they were talking about, but this is powerful.

Compare with the Siemens eLVIS project at Groove; the common goal is to bring enterprise applications onto users' desks in the context of everyday work practices, instead of as glass-room information silos.

May 26, 2004


Clay Shirky's latest has some great bits (and some woolly bits too, I think). Let me quote first, think later.

If you want to see why the tension between the individual and the group is so significant, imagine a world, call it Fork World, where the citizens were given the right to vote on how the world was run. In Fork World, however, the guiding principle would be "no coercion." Players would vote on rule changes, but instead of announcing winners and losers at the end of a vote, the world would simply be split in two with every vote.

And of course, after 20 such votes, you would have subdivided 2 to the 20th times, leaving you with a million potential worlds... Even if you started with a million players on Day One, by your 20th vote each world would average, by definition, one player per world. You would have created a new category of MMO -- the Minimally Multi-player Online game.

Which is transparent sophistry, of course, since the centripetal force gluing us together socially is incredibly strong, and consistently underestimated.

His wider points about creating a "nomic world" -- where the rules and the technical infrastructure which embodies them are infinitely, albeit slowly, malleable ("nothing is real, everything is permissible"?) -- are well made, and part of an important discussion.

Important from an online-living perspective because, as Clay says, "we are moving an increasing amount of our speech to owned environments... We should experiment with game-world models that dump a large and maybe even unpleasant amount of control into the hands of the players because it's the best lab we have for experiments with real governance in the 21st century agora, the place where people gather when they want to be out in public".

But also important in the sense that online worlds are a philosopher's mirror to our real environs. Virtual worlds have much in common with the real thing. The real world is more malleable than we're often led to believe. The social institutions we live with are human-built, and human-controlled, and the social order is determined by our own actions. Online social laboratories can usefully inform the political landscape.

In cyberspace nobody really gets killed when people start changing the rules.


via Evelyn at Crossroads Dispatches (who's consistently worth reading, btw), a fascinating post by Cory at boingboing:

Ultimately, the largest expense in an Internet marketplace where anything is available always anywhere is marketing: the more choice, the more expensive influencing choice becomes.

So a social SHREK@HOME could engage its audience not just for their cycles, but for their evangelism... The more engaged fans are with work, the purer the evangelism.

I still haven't seen the second movie (and plan to do that in a social/commercial setting, if you're wondering!). But one of the lessons of media-sharing networks, which I vaguely hinted toward the other day, is their intensely engaged community-forming, and I'm convinced that's something the distribution industries should encourage and can benefit from.

Cory's idea extends to participatory development: an "audience cut" of the movie, evolving (many-faceted) as it's rendered.

Of course the software industry has been trepidly running the usual, somewhat participatory, "beta" or "early adopter" programs and the like for a long time. Open-source development, in some contrast, succeeds best where the early adopters have the skill and patience to hack code, creating a collaborative development effort. Is there something in the middle which can harness the motivation of talented people without either treating them as "clients" nor demanding the sort of esoteric expertise which software developers guard so carefully? I'm sure there is.

May 22, 2004


waxy.org points to the incredibly fast online availability of Shrek2. Perhaps this'll be a watershed of some sort.

It would take a while to download. But I've moved bigger files across a home Internet connection before (eg. VMware machines), and honestly, it's no big deal. Overnight.

I personally felt the MP3 watershed happened when it became easy to download music faster than you could listen to it (ie. with something bigger than a 64kbit line). Movies aren't background media, so I don't want to directly apply this to video, but we're definitely near a tipping point. Track the "TV shows" torrent category listings for a few days. Something like "networked tivo" is already here.

Impossible objects

Some beauties here. The ring through coin and arrow through coin are particularly nice. Don't believe them before breakfast, folks.

At Home

A talk by Bruce Sterling - sort of an extended allegory about parties, security, and such.

I have reached some kind of critical limit in these parties. You keep adding quantity and eventually there is a qualitative phase change here. They were nice about it and finally I got them to leave. I just announced that all of the liquor had been drunk and they left. There were no casualties and it was fine. But that's not what concerns me. What concerns me is next year's party. Because I don't have any way to define the proportions of this party nor do I have any security mechanisms in place, nor do the police. Which is kind of interesting...
Must-read. His "Total Party Awareness" schtick is spot-on.

May 21, 2004

More politics

Is there any truth to this? Hard to say. But it's easy enough to triangulate. Our fearless leaders are not only a pack of crooks, off-the-leash-dangerous halfwits and power-crazy liars: they're also the most irresponsibly gullible group ever to hold office.

May 20, 2004


Matt Pope, interviewed in Application Development Trends:

'We are very much planted in the rich-client environment,' Matt Pope, Groove Networks' project manager, told Programmers Report. 'Organizations are becoming increasingly decentralized, and the workforce is becoming increasingly mobile. Our fundamental belief is that it becomes far simpler and far more efficient to support those two environmental evolutions [decentralized and mobile] with rich client software.'

May 14, 2004


BitTorrent is an interesting piece of software. Despite some good press, and a lot of work (Bram Cohen has been building this for several years) it still seems to be relatively unknown outside two groups: decentralization geeks, and the kind of media-hungry youngsters who want to Eat All Your Bandwidth.

Eating bandwidth is one thing BitTorrent excels at. We've seen a single torrent instance download faster than 300k/sec and simultaneously upload around 30k/sec on a cable modem connection. (Incidentally, why is home cable so asymmetric? I can't think of any rational reasons for this...)

How? Why? The BitTorrent system works by distributing downloads: when you're downloading a file (in small chunks), other downloaders can fetch from you at the same time. This reverses the usual economics of file distribution. If many people want to download from a Web server there is only one source, and everyone suffers (the slashdot effect). With BitTorrent, the available bandwidth increases with the number of active downloaders. The more popular a file is, the faster it can be obtained.

There are a couple of caveats. Publishing .torrent files (the file metadata) is not trivially easy: you need a friendly "tracker" service (or run one yourself, best with a stable server on a static IP address). Downloading works best if you allow upload too, so if you're behind a firewall or NAT, you should open the appropriate ports for inbound connections.

Links: some downloads; much more background information at InfoAnarchy and Wikipedia.

May 13, 2004

Pulling weeds

Ned Batchelder writes about "pulling weeds" in sourcecode.

One habit I have noticed in truly impassioned gardeners is that they are never idle in their garden. Whenever the opportunity arises, they will pull weeds. They may have headed out to replant, or to prune, or to feed, but while out, if they notice a weed, and they have a free hand, they will pull it.

I'm the same way with code. While pursuing weightier matters, if I notice little things wrong, I will fix them. "Acquire" is misspelled "aquire". Fix it. A Windows-specific call has crept in where a portable one will do. Fix it. A function prototype has been orphaned after its definition has been removed. Fix it. The code formatting conventions aren't being followed. Fix it.

Personally, I really enjoy pulling weeds. It doesn't require much mental effort to walk slowly through a page of code and tidy up the borders, and at the same time it's a really nice way to get more familiar with the garden. Sure, the checkin diffs sometimes look silly (and at some times during a project, it's really important that other people can read difference logs without eyestrain) - so, best pull weeds early in the growing season.

If you ever have the misfortune to take over someone else's tar-pit code -- and who doesn't? -- I strongly recommend you just spend a while pulling weeds before anything else. You'll learn a lot about the structure of what you're working with. When you're done, it'll feel more like home. Then you can bring out the excavators, uproot the ugly shrubs, start some heavy digging.

May 11, 2004

Cold Turkey

What awful times we live in. The worst of times. Who's to blame? Eye for eye, who's winning?

"There's nothing intelligent you can say about a massacre", as Kurt Vonnegut once wrote.

Vonnegut, who's about 81 and therefore has very little to lose, just published a stunning rant called "cold turkey". It probably won't cheer you up, but it's about the best summary I've seen recently of the state of the world we share.

And do you know why I think he is so pissed off at Arabs? They invented algebra. Arabs also invented the numbers we use, including a symbol for nothing, which nobody else had ever had before. You think Arabs are dumb? Try doing long division with Roman numerals.

May 03, 2004

If it's urgent, ignore it

Seth Godin has a very nice little article at fastcompany.com:

Smart organizations ignore the urgent. Smart organizations understand that important issues are the ones to deal with. If you focus on the important stuff, the urgent will take care of itself.

A key corollary to this principle is the idea that if you don't have the time to do it right, there's no way in the world you'll find the time to do it over.

(via Jim McGee)

May 01, 2004


More than enough.. Camel needs no more straw. Handbasket is at its destination.

Britain and America, you lost this misbegotten war. Now go home.