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December 31, 2002

Happy New Year

We're still four hours and thirty-three minutes away from the new year here on the East Coast of the US, but given that it's already past midnight for my friends in Japan and Europe, Happy New Year to all. May the coming year bring you happiness in whatever form you seek it.

See you in 2003.

December 30, 2002

Peanuts Tarot

Via boing boing, the classic Rider-Waite tarot deck recreated using Peanuts characters. Brilliant!

From the creator's essay, "Why a Peanuts tarot?" (emphasis mine):

Who is Snoopy? Why, in a world of neurotic children, can he effortlessly become a beloved pet, a canine writer and art collector, baseball player, "Joe Cool", WWI flying ace, lover, dancer, vulture, legionnaire? What purpose does it serve, other than to make his owner, Charlie Brown, seem that much less of a winner by comparison with his own dog?

One answer: Snoopy, in the world of the Peanuts characters, fills the role that is a familiar one in other mythologies: the trixter, the fool, the joker. Only he is given the magic to step into new worlds at will; he is introduced as the lowliest of society's creatures, yet he seems to wield any power he might imagine. If Peanuts shares any of the structure of other world mythologies, then Snoopy is the trixter god...unpredictable, always in disguise, seemingly harmless yet secretly bearing the power that created all the universe. In the case of the Peanuts, of course, imagination is that very power.

"Snoopy is the trixter god... seemingly harmless yet secretly bearing the power that created the universe." I love this!

It would be great to have a real set of these. Of course, given the state of copyright these days, we'll be lucky just to see this site stay up a week.

December 29, 2002

Five Types of Blogs I'd Like to See

Back in July, I wrote about five people whom I'd like to see blogging. This entry is different. I'm writing now about types of blogs I'd like to see. I think the world needs more blogs by people who don't write about blogging but rather write about what they do every day -- online journals by people not so entranced with the process and future of blogging that they write about that (as so many of us do, including me at this moment).

Perhaps these blogs exist but I have yet to find them. If so, I'd like to know about them.

  • Aid worker. What is it like to be an aid worker in a difficult place? What is daily life like in an aid facility in, say, Afghanistan? What are the daily challenges and daily triumphs of workers in such places? I can't be the only person who would like to read about this.
  • Doctor. This would be especially interesting if it was from a trauma physician -- think E. R.-the-blog. If I read one regularly, perhaps I'd finally understand the meaning of the term "pulsox."
  • Police officer. I've always respected police officers for how they perform a tough job dealing mostly with people who want to have nothing to do with them. It must be difficult to do a job in which so few of the people you encounter don't appreciate you.
  • Political aide. I thought about writing politician here, but the chances of a politician being both truthful and interesting in a blog -- even anonymously -- seem so remote that I chose political aide instead. I've always followed the maxim that laws are like sausage -- you don't want to see how they're made -- but my curiousity has the best of me.
  • Teacher. Having dated in the past a high school teacher from an inner-city school, I have some idea of how challenging it is to teach in such schools and how interesting it can be to do so. Teaching can be infuriating, rewarding, depressing, uplifting, collegial, and political, all in the same day. A teacher blog could make for a great read.
It would be fine if these blogs were anonymous -- in fact, if anonymity would make them more honest, then so much the better.

December 28, 2002

"Blair for President"

In a recent column titled "Blair for President", the insightful Thomas Friedman enumerates "a few basic rules that Democrats have forgotten in recent years"...

  • Rule #1: People listen through their stomachs...
  • Rule #2: Never put yourself in a position where you succeed only if your country fails...
  • Rule #3: Get a candidate people like...
  • Rule #4: Get a candidate who can give a fireside chat.
...then nominates an interesting choice:
Right now there is only one Democrat who could live up to all these rules: the British prime minister, Tony Blair. Maybe the Democrats should give him a green card. He's tough on national security, he has an alternative global vision, people like him and he is a beautiful, reassuring speaker. He's Bill Clinton without baggage. I'd say he's a natural.
I think Friedman has a great idea. I should, because I said something similar myself back in early September:
British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a press conference the other day to talk about his government's position on taking action against Iraq. I watched... part of it... on BBC World News, and can confidently report that [his talk] was delivered looking neither at a TelePrompter nor at notes...

Our last President was Bill Clinton, who was as articulate as Blair but generally a spineless poll-watcher, so it went to waste. Bush seems to have a spine, but is unable to express himself clearly except in the most controlled contexts. To have a President with convictions and the ability to articulate them? It's hard to imagine.

Now if only it wasn't for that unfortunate "natural born citizen" bit...

December 27, 2002

"Is Steven Spielberg Right to Fear Technological Change in the Movie Business?"

The Economist speculates on the future of digital cinema distribution:

"I am a Luddite!" declared Steven Spielberg after a recent preview screening of his film, "Catch Me If You Can", which opens on December 25th. Digital cinema, he insisted, was not the revolution around the corner that its apostles proclaim: that world was still as much as 20 years away. In ten years, he conceded, digital projectors might sit alongside mechanical ones in cinemas -- but there would still be old-fashioned infrastructure to satisfy directors like himself who love the look of 35mm film.

Few directors make hits ("ET", "Jaws", "Saving Private Ryan" and so on) as consistently as Mr Spielberg. As a Hollywood mogul, he also embodies one of two competing visions about how movies will be watched in future. Mr Spielberg shudders at the notion of atomised viewers calling up a film on their laptops at the touch of a button, home and alone. A romantic, as his pet cinematic themes of fantasy, escapism, discovery and redemption show, Mr Spielberg prefers the idea of strangers huddled together in the dark, watching a flickering image on the screen.

The alternative vision belongs most famously to George Lucas, a champion of digital cinema, who helped to inspire Mr Spielberg's film-making craft in the 1960s. His voice is powerful, too: when he urged cinemas to show "Star Wars: Episode Two -- Attack of the Clones" on digital screens, the industry jumped. The big studios agreed to set up a consortium to look into digital quality-standards. Digital, say its advocates, does not squelch artistry, but creates new visual options (think of "The Blair Witch Project"), and, because the recording equipment is cheaper, does so for a wider movie-making population.

But what is it that Mr Spielberg really objects to? The advent of digital distribution does not, in itself, threaten his power in Hollywood. For artists, it is not a disruptive technology, as sound was in the late 1920s, when an entire generation of movie-stars suddenly found themselves jobless. His objection, rather, is truly Luddite: it is to the idea that this technology represents progress at all. The digital moving image, unblemished by scratches, hairs, burn holes or splice marks, may mesmerise techies, but purists such as Mr Spielberg believe that it robs movie-making of its artistry. He makes lavish use of computer-generated special effects, but he still passionately prefers the look and feel of celluloid film. Indeed, his most recent films, such as "AI" and "Minority Report", betray a profoundly ambiguous, if not sceptical, attitude to all technological change...

History suggests that Luddites eventually lose. In the 19th century, publishers resisted the phonograph, claiming that it would destroy sales of sheet music, just as the phonographic industry later feared radio. Neither proved any more correct than Hollywood's worry a century later that home video would kill cinema-going. Rock stars grumbled about the shift from vinyl to CD, but got over it. Film-makers may be addicted to celluloid -- which Mr Spielberg once dubbed a more "expensive habit" than heroin -- but the day will come when there are no flickering screens, no hairs, no dustmarks. Indeed, no more film.

Two quick points:

  1. I recently saw Attack of the Clones in an Imax theater. Having been filmed on 24 frame-per-second progressive-scan high definition television cameras, I have to say that even blown up to a 40 foot-high image, it looked spectacular. I was incredibly impressed with how good high-definition television could look in the right hands -- and say what we will about George Lucas' screenwriting abilities, the man knows motion picture technology.
  2. On the other hand, my local stadium seating theater can't even get the sound right on their largest screens. I've complained; they've acknowledged the problem; and nothing happens. If they can't fix something as basic as this, what are the chances they're going to successfully manage a transition to digital distribution technology anytime soon?
Long-term economics and picture quality notwithstanding, I think it may be a while before we see widespread use of digital distribution. We'll get there, but not soon.

December 26, 2002

Eating Shakespeare

While in Canada, I bought a book called Eating Shakespeare, by Betty and Sonia Zyvatkauskas. As the back cover says, it "brings to life the delights and dramas of Elizabethan cookery by mixing original period recipes with their delicious modern equivalents."

It's a book of recipes drawn from books contemporary to Shakespeare, adapted to modern ingredients and techniques. Having meant to use it for over a year now, I finally decided to use it as the basis for my Christmas dinner.

I tried to choose recipes that I thought my kids (who are finicky eaters) would be more likely to enjoy. Out with the fish pies; in with the sweets. My menu looked like this:

  • Chicken salad with apples
  • Fennel purée
  • Spiced roast chicken with apples and currants
  • Apple purée
  • Orange rice
  • Cinnamon pudding
Many of the dishes -- both those I selected and in the book as a whole -- are puréed or at least very soft. The authors note that, due to tooth decay, many people of the time were partly or mostly toothless, and so soft foods were an important part of cooking. (I'm reminded to think more kindly of modern dentistry.)

Here are the dishes, ready to go on Christmas Day:

Along the left from top to bottom are the fennel purée, apple purée, and orange rice. To the upper right is the chicken salad with apples, to the lower right the cinnamon pudding, and in the center the spiced roast chicken with apples and currants. Here's a close-up of it:

So how did it all turn out? As with Thanksgiving, I graded myself, but this time I went a step farther and solicited grades from my guests. My ex-wife was easiest on me, giving me an overall grade of 3.22 -- almost a B+. I gave myself a 2.61 -- almost a B-, and virtually identical to my overall score at Thanksgiving. The kids were a bit harsher, averaging 1.79 between the three of them -- between a C and a C-. Ouch! As I might have expected, the cinnamon pudding scored highest, but I didn't expect the chicken salad with apples to score the worst, which it did.

Okay, so maybe I'm going to give the soliciting-grades-from-dinner-guests thing a rest.

In any case, the cookbook is wonderful, and any flaws in the dishes were mine and mine alone. I recommend it, though as a Canadian book, it can't be found on Amazon. The publisher's Web page for it can be found here, and it can be ordered through the chapters.indigo.ca site here.

December 25, 2002

Merry Christmas to All...

...and to all a good night.

More tomorrow, including a complete report on a very traditional Christmas dinner.

December 24, 2002

From Bad to Worse on the Korean Peninsula

From a New York Times article on North Korea's announcement that it had removed international controls from its nuclear reactors and from a large supply of weapons-grade fuel:

By taking possession of 8,000 spent fuel rods, the country could conceivably begin producing plutonium-based bombs in as little as six months, experts say. But as serious as this sounds, many analysts see another threat in the country's brash actions, and it could materialize even sooner: a weakening of the half-century-old alliance between South Korea and the United States.

A new and diplomatically inexperienced South Korean president is to take office here in February, and he seeks to pursue closer relations with his neighbor. Behind Pyongyang's latest actions, analysts detect a desire to take advantage of the new South Korean eagerness at the expense of the United States, just as America is enduring a period of intense unpopularity among South Koreans...

North Korea's behavior clearly aims to deepen the cracks that have already made [South Korea's] relationship with Washington unusually fragile, and analysts who agree on little else say Pyongyang's timing could not have been more astute.

Wait, it gets worse:

Remarkably, after more than two years of high-profile efforts to engage with Pyongyang, public opinion surveys here show that South Koreans are as skeptical of their longtime ally, the United States, as they are of heavily armed North Korea.

The president-elect, Roh Moo Hyun, who emerged victorious last week in part on the strength of these sentiments, is an ardent advocate of engagement with North Korea, and has vowed to be assertive in dealing with the United States, which he has openly called heavy-handed.

Mr. Roh... has never been abroad...

So, to sum everything up:

A paranoid, totalitarian regime which has in the past engaged in state-sponsored terrorism, and which recently demonstrated the ability to reach the capital of the world's second-largest economy with ballistic missiles, has reneged on its agreement to halt nuclear weapons development and now has the capability to produce such weapons within six months. Its democratic neighbor to the south, which it attempted to conquer in the past, and which has pursued a policy of engagement to attempt to improve relations, has just elected a new leader who has never traveled outside the country and who believes that more engagement will solve the current crisis. A superpower is committed to the defense of the democracy, but the people so protected are as skeptical of the superpower as of the totalitarian regime. In any case, the superpower is distracted with the pursuit of war against a paranoid, totalitarian regime elsewhere in the world.

Do people appreciate just how serious this situation is?

Googlism

Googlism uses the Google engine to search for phrases written about people. Being just as self-centered as the next person, I first tried my own name. Interestingly, though searching on "Frank Boosman" in Google turned up 13 pages of hits, Googlism turned up nothing on me. Hmmm. The obvious next step was to search on a friend likely to turn up. Joi Ito came to mind; entering his name returned the following:

Googlism for: joi ito

joi ito is a poster child for the it revolution in japan
joi ito is on the weblog bandwagon
joi ito is right when he says
joi ito is on the weblog bandwagon with a new site
joi ito is addicted to blogging

Leaving aside the one incomplete item, the rest are accurate. I presume Googlism is doing something like searching for the phrase "Joi Ito is", but it doesn't seem quite that simple; doing that search myself on Google turns up more phrases than are listed here.

December 23, 2002

Audio Compression: Hazardous to Your Health?

Found on boing boing, a story linking to a paper describing potential hazardous effects of listening to compressed audio:

From the view of neuronomy it is therefore to classify, although not as acutely dangerous, at least as very precarious that a wider and wider spreading audio transmission technology for data reduction just systematically removes those spectral sound portions at the auditory threshold, on those normally the hearing processor fields of our brain decide whether they shall be perceived or filtered out, because so the signal for their self calibration is missing, whereby at longer term a maladjustment of the hearing processor fields can threaten. Possible consequences of intensive consumption of datareduced audio material could therefore include ear noises (tinitus), a general degradation of the perception of quiet sounds, as well as a worsened timbre perception (a so-called "tin ear"), which would make the human of the cyberage even more insensitive than he already yet has become by the continuous mass media infotrash bombardment he is exposed to. Actually it is still unclear whether the consequences of such maladjustments are only temporary (similarly like seeing the world in green/ red discoloured after taking off red/ green 3D glasses) or if the continuous consumption of neuroacoustically datareduced sounds can lead to long lasting or even permanent damage.
The paper is marred by a significant flaw: the author fails to produce any evidence whatsoever for the theory. This is all speculation at this point.

Having said that, this is a question I asked of colleagues when I worked at QDesign, a company that had developed its own proprietary audio codec, QDX. The digital audio industry should fund research into this right away. If no evidence is found to support theories of hearing damage, then all is well. If, however, evidence is found, then best to get in front of the issue rather than react to it.

This brings up an obvious question: could long-term viewing of compressed video damage our vision? Anyone who currently watches television via digital cable or mini-satellite dish, or who watches HDTV or another digitally encoded standard, is watching compressed video. That translates into tens of hours per week for tens or even hundreds of millions of people around the world. Are we sure it won't have a long-term effect on how we see?

December 22, 2002

Ticking Time Bombs

From my friend Jon Blossom on my entry a couple of days ago on ticking time bombs:

Actually, I think we simply stand around and wait for someone else to do something.
Of course Jon is right.

It can be tempting at times to think, "Someone else will take care of it." Speaking personally, there's nothing like life in a startup to disabuse one of that notion. If you don't do it, it won't get done. If you don't take care of a problem, it won't go away on its own. If you don't fix something, it will stay broken.

December 21, 2002

GPS Palm Device from Garmin?

According to this story in infoSync, GPS device manufacturer Garmin is going to launch a GPS-equpped, high-resolution, color Palm OS 5 device at CES next month:

GPS and mapping company Garmin has been a Palm OS licensee for a long time, but to date has not actually released a Palm OS-based handheld. All that will change at the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in early January, when Garmin will officially unveil the Garmin iQue 3600, widely expected to be Palm OS-based.

Garmin's new GPS handheld is expected to be a Palm OS 5 unit...

It includes a virtual handwriting area, although whether it uses the HandEra virtual Graffiti, Sony virtual Graffiti, or some proprietary virtual Graffiti system is unknown. Unconfirmed reports also suggest that it is 320x480 screen using the new PalmSource High-Density screen API...

The iQue includes a retractable GPS antenna, as well as several auxiliary buttons on the left side. It also has a jog wheel. The front application buttons are based on a Palm OS design, with a GPS icon replacing the Memo Pad icon. It also has a two-way rocker on the front, common for Palm OS devices.

Pictures of the iQue 3600 can be found along with the story.

December 20, 2002

Thought for the Day

When one comes upon a ticking bomb, one has three options:

  1. Run away.
  2. Defuse the bomb.
  3. Stand around and do nothing.
Why is it that, in life, so many seem to so often simply stand around and do nothing? It's the one course of action guaranteed to have an undesirable outcome.

December 19, 2002

Spinsanity

Spinsanity, "countering rhetoric with reason:"

Spinsanity is the nation's leading watchdog of manipulative political rhetoric. We work to counter the increasing dominance of techniques of deception and irrationality in American politics by identifying and dissecting outrageous and important examples of this rhetoric in daily posts and weekly columns.
The way I see it, anyone calling bull on people as diverse as Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, Ann Coulter, and Ted Rall can't be all bad.

December 18, 2002

"The Hollandaise Sauce of Cookies"

This past weekend, using recipes from The Best Recipe and Cook's Illustrated magazine, I made cookies to give out as presents to my co-workers. The peanut butter cookies turned out well, as did the chocolate chip cookies -- but the sugar cookies were a disaster. Even before we cooked a batch, my daughter tasted the dough and said it wasn't right. When they came out of the oven, they looked awful -- so bad, in fact, that I tossed the cookies and dough and simply made more chocolate chip cookies.

Later, I spoke with a friend with more baking experience than me about what had happened. "Don't worry about it," she said. "Sugar cookies may look simple, but they're not. It's easy to get them wrong. They're the Hollandaise sauce of cookies."

December 17, 2002

Satire or Reality?

In Tuesday's issue of The Onion can be found a nice bit of satire, "Bill Of Rights Pared Down To A Manageable Six." When winter sets in, and there's not much to do in Madison except to stay warm indoors while writing satire for the Web, The Onion can be funny:

Flanked by key members of Congress and his administration, President Bush approved Monday a streamlined version of the Bill of Rights that pares its 10 original amendments down to a "tight, no-nonsense" six...

The Fourth Amendment, which long protected citizens' homes against unreasonable search and seizure, was among the eliminated amendments. Also stricken was the Ninth Amendment, which stated that the enumeration of certain Constitutional rights does not result in the abrogation of rights not mentioned.

"Quite honestly, I could never get my head around what the Ninth Amendment meant anyway," said outgoing House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), one of the leading advocates of the revised Bill of Rights. "So goodbye to that one."

The part that struck me about the story was a "quote" from Attorney General John Ashcroft:

Ashcroft responded sharply to critics who charge that the Bill of Rights no longer safeguards certain basic, inalienable rights.

"We're not taking away personal rights; we're increasing personal security," Ashcroft said. "By allowing for greater government control over the particulars of individual liberties, the Bill of Rights will now offer expanded personal freedoms whenever they are deemed appropriate and unobtrusive to the activities necessary to effective operation of the federal government."

Is it me, or does that sound exactly like something Ashcroft would say? Not in a satirical context, but in real life? It's spooky.

Privacy Ring Reactions

I've had more reaction to my blog entry on privacy rings than anything else I've written to date.

Doc Searls:

I never liked the "It's the ______ (economy, war, oil, user, rules, latency, research, sex, games, runtime, comedy), stupid" line. But it's a good working cliché, so let's add one more log to its fire: writing.

This morning I came to the conclusion, after reading Frank Boosman's pseudorandom blog, that blogging is about nothing more than writing -- and that more of us will be writing to more people, with more effect, because of it.

Every new blogging tool is one more step in the evolution of the Web as, literally, the ultimate writing medium: one that lets anybody write for everybody.

I don't know what it was about my blog entry that led Doc to this conclusion. I've written him but have yet to hear back. Doc, if you're reading this, I'd like to understand the connection.

As for Doc's thesis itself, as much as I respect Doc, I disagree with what he's saying here. To me, it's akin to someone in 1993 saying that the Internet was all about Usenet newsgroups. Like many other early Internet users, I posted regularly to newsgroups back then, but as new types of Web-based services became available, not only did many new Internet users not seek out newsgroups, even some existing newsgroup users like me gravitated away from them.

It's true that, today, blogging is about writing. The 500,000 (or so) people currently blogging are, for a variety of reasons, heavily biased towards expressing themselves through words. But I don't believe this will remain true for long. Though there will always be a core of bloggers who are passionate about writing (including me), I believe that most of the growth in blogging -- which I expect to be two or three orders of magnitude within five years -- will come through people who blog from mobile devices and who do so mostly through rich media such as pictures, video, and the like.

Scott Loftesness:

Frank Boosman has a great idea about adding some selective private placement with conditional access to certain portions of a weblog.

The tool that I use for this weblog, Radio UserLand, allows me to configure something like that capability -- but it's reasonably hard to do (involves changing selected configuration files, etc). A more general and open solution to this requirement would, I think, be well received and expand the usage of weblogs into new territories.

I need to learn more about Radio UserLand and what it enables. I fully admit to a fairly Blogger-centric view of the world. In any case, Scott's on the right track when he talks about a "more general and open solution."

Mark Paschal:

Also, privacy rings (also via Scott) through categories could be a nice Radio tool -- though LiveJournal already has them, and not with. Plus of a centralized authentication system, I guess. Maybe encrypt items to particular ring keys, that you give to everyone in a ring? I seem to remember from Applied Cryptography there are better systems, ones that would let you give individual keys to each user and encrypt posts to, but I’d have to look (now that I have a copy!).
Reading this, I realized that privacy rings could be misleading as a term, given that the word ring is used in two contexts, Web Rings and key rings, that are related to the concept. I'm using the term ring vaguely in the Web Ring context -- a ring of people.

Bill Humphries:

[via Scott Loftesness ] Frank Booseman [sic] would like blog tools to support walled garden posting. He's inspired when a friend would love to post photos from a party, but not to the whole world. Live Journal, which I've been playing with lately, supports this. It can, because it's a monolitic (on the server-side) application. I created a LJ account, and friends who were already there added me to their 'friends' list, and added them to mine. They post a private entry, and their friends see it, but not others. As one longtime friend from Fandom pointed out, this means you have have online exchanges which are more like the APA's we were in during the 1980's and 1990's.

Using FOaF, authentication, and some modules bolted onto RSS, that would be a start.

I'll write more about this soon, but what I have in mind is less of a proprietary system and more of a standard for exchanging information between systems.

John Ludwig:

Privacy Rings and Selective Privacy. Dead on -- pseudorandom -- a crying need.
Thanks, John, and to everyone who took the time to comment on my ideas.

I'll write more on privacy rings soon. Stay tuned.

December 16, 2002

The Blog of Anne Frank

From a discussion on Joi Ito's blog:

A comic strip about "What is a blog?" [ Blogging about Blogging ] by Joichi Ito at November 18, 2002 08:01 PM

We've been debating in Japanese about what a blog is and whether it is any different from diary sites or other web pages. I've had quite a difficult time defending the position that blogs are really anything special. Here is a funny comic strip of a discussion between a grumpy girl and a questioning ant on that topic.

Seen first on for the sake of clarity.

[...]

Comment from jun makihara on November 21, 2002 09:33 PM
I guess if blogger had gotten its act together 60 years earlier, you could have had "The Blog of Anne Frank". Doesn't have the same feeling does it?

[...]

Comment from Frank Boosman on December 14, 2002 10:38 PM
Jun, you're right that The Blog of Anne Frank doesn't have the same feeling as The Diary of Anne Frank. But on the other hand, if Anne Frank had been posting to a blog instead of to a diary, perhaps it would have put pressure on the Allies to end the war faster, or put pressure on the Nazis to avoid mistreating the Jews -- or maybe just to avoid mistreating Anne.

We haven't yet begun to appreciate the ways in which blogging will change the world. As publishing-as-event falls, publishing-as-process rises. What will we lose in this change? What will we gain?

December 15, 2002

"'Reefer Madness'-Madness"

Canada's National Post ran this story on the US reaction to Canadian discussion of marijuana decriminalization a few days ago:

U.S. drug czar John Walters warned yesterday that Canadians could face problems at the border if Ottawa proceeds with the decriminalization of marijuana.

Mr. Walters travelled to the Canada-U.S. border at Buffalo to deliver his message on the same day a Commons committee called for the possession and cultivation of less than 30 grams of marijuana to be decriminalized.

Mr. Walters, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said RCMP officials recently told him that 95% of all marijuana grown in Vancouver is sent to the United States.

"The RCMP informed me that many of the organizations, some of them ethnically based, Vietnamese organizations and others, that are doing the grows in British Columbia are now moving groups across Canada to Ontario and Quebec to begin to supply larger parts of the United States," he said.

"It's bad for people in Canada and the consumption and dependence problems it creates, but also, their estimates are the bulk of that marijuana is headed for the United States and it's large quantity, high-potency and it builds on the threat that we now believe we have underestimated and we're trying to address.

"It makes security at the border tougher because this is a dangerous threat to our young people given what we see and it makes the problem of controlling the border more difficult," he said.

Mr. Walters dismissed claims marijuana is not addictive or a serious drug, saying the level of psychoactive THC is much higher than it used to be. "That's archaic views of what marijuana was, left over from the Cheech and Chong years of the '70s," he said, cautioning against "reefer-madness madness."

Not only is this offensive in the sense that the US is throwing its weight around, trying to tell other countries how to handle their drug problems (as if we should be giving anyone advice on drug policy), but it doesn't make sense. The Canadians are talking about decriminalizing possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana by individuals. What does this have to do with "Vietnamese organizations and others" sending "95% of all marijuana grown in Vancouver... to the United States?"

First we had the "War on Drugs" -- a war against an individual behavioral choice. Now we have the "War on Terror" -- a war against a strategy. That makes two unwinnable wars in which we're engaged. Any nominations for more?

December 14, 2002

Weblogs in Meatspace

Dave Winer wants to start a conference for bloggers:

A weblog conference, for bloggers, about weblogs, itself a weblog, for learning, exploring, promoting and developing ideas about technology for the humanities...

Weblogs in Meatspace...

Everyone who attends or speaks must have a weblog. No exceptions. So if Jimmy Carter wants to come and tell us what it's like to win the Nobel Peace Prize, he must first tell us on the Web. Same for George W Bush, Steve Jobs or Jack Valenti. But the conference has "normal" sessions, howtos for bloggers, panels for big issues, keynotes from megabloggers, and A-teamers. Awards. A technology track for developers. Perhaps even a session for people with products they want to promote through our blogs (a chance to pick up some cool new toys for free).

The conference would be cheap. Bloggers don't have much money. No sponsorship, at least not in year one. Sponsorship always influences what's said and done. In general, the goal is to mirror the Web in meatspace. The vast majority of weblogs are unsponsored. People disagree about this, but I'm a hardass. No sponsorship means no subsidies. So it's gotta be a no frills show, and that's okay, because it's the ideas and energy I want. I don't care if you have a lot of money.

Anyway, I would love to go to this conference. Lots more ideas. I'm going to talk some more with Scoble. Maybe start a mail list. Let's see what happens.

Doc Searls picks up on the idea here. I hope this happens. I'd love to attend.

When blogging has become a pervasive part of our culture, attending a conference on blogging may hold about as much appeal as attending a conference on typewriters -- but right now it's one of the most invigorating conferences I can imagine. When 500 million people are blogging five years from now, attending a conference on blogging may seem about as much fun as spending a weekend in Las Vegas without a hotel room -- but right now some of the most interesting people in the world are blogging.

December 13, 2002

Privacy Rings

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that two of the essential aspects of the future of blogging will be selective privacy and privacy rings -- respectively, the desire and the ability to easily and precisely control access by others to one's data.

The trigger for writing this was a chat I had yesterday with the delightful Xeni Jardin. We missed each other when I was in California last week -- I was at Joi Ito's party in San Francisco while she was holding a housewarming party in Los Angeles. I asked if she was going to post a blog entry of her party complete with pictures, and it turned out she wasn't -- she didn't feel comfortable posting photographs of her private living space on the Web.

To me, this was a perfect illustration of selective privacy. Xeni is a respected blogger, has her own site, and is visibly and frequently active in a variety of public spaces. Yet for her, to post pictures taken inside her house would be to share more of her personal life than she cares to. These boundaries are aspects of Xeni's selective privacy -- how, when, where, and with whom she chooses to share the record of her life.

Each of us has a unique vision of selective privacy. Some bloggers post intimate details of their lives, while others are careful never to discuss their personal issues. Some bloggers proclaim their identity loudly, while others remain in the shadows of anonymity. This is as it should be; we are individuals with our own preferences.

To implement our personal versions of selective privacy, we need the ability to create and modify privacy rings -- sets of people and the access we grant to them. Using off-the-shelf blogging tools, it's difficult to set up a blog so that the level of detail presented varies with the reader's identity. One person I know deals with this by running two completely separate Movable Type-based blogs: one public where he alone posts, and another completely private where anyone in his discussion group can post. Not only is this a time-intensive solution for the owner of the blogs, it means his discussion group must now track two URLs instead of one. What happens if he wants additional levels of privacy? Must he create yet more blogs? That's what current tools allow, but there must be a better way.

This problem is difficult enough today when the vast majority of the content created for blogs is created by bloggers themselves. It will grow exponentially worse when we carry devices capable of posting continuous streams of updated data to our blogs (if we call them that). Imagine your cell phone after next uploading GPS coordinates, the names of nearby detected devices, call records, pictures, audio and video clips, and so on. How will we control access to such information? Some pictures we may want to keep only for ourselves (Ring 0), while others we may want to publish to the world. Some people might want their immediate family (Ring 1) to know their location at all times, while others might find that idea unacceptable.

Without tools to control our data through selective privacy, and without tools to manage groups of viewers and the access we give them through privacy rings, blogging -- especially mobile blogging -- won't take off the way it should.

December 12, 2002

IBM -> Microsoft -> Nokia?

This is a couple of weeks old, but interesting nonetheless. The Economist ran a editorial on the "collision of the computing and mobile-phone industries:"

"A computer on every desk and in every home." This was Microsoft's mission statement for many years, and it once sounded visionary and daring. But today it seems lacking in ambition. What about a computer in every pocket? Sure enough, Microsoft has recently amended its statement: its goal is now to "empower people through great software, anytime, any place on any device". Being chained to your desktop is out: mobility is in. The titan of the computer industry has set its sights on an entirely new market...

In short, the once-separate worlds of computing and mobile telephony are now colliding, and the giants of each industry -- Microsoft and Nokia, respectively -- are squaring up for a fight for pre-eminence. Both camps are betting that some kind of pocket communicator, or "smartphone", will be the next big thing after the PC, which has dominated the technology industry ever since it overthrew the mainframe 20 years ago...

If this is the next stage in the evolution of computing, one obvious question arises: which firm will dominate it, as IBM dominated the mainframe age, and Microsoft the PC era? The answer is that there is unlikely to be a single winner this time around. IBM ruled in mainframes because it owned the dominant hardware and software standards. In the PC era, hardware became an open standard (in the form of the IBM-compatible PC), and Microsoft held sway by virtue of its ownership of Windows, the dominant software standard. But the direction of both computing and communications, on the Internet and in mobile telecoms, is towards open standards: communication devices are less useful if they cannot all talk to each other. Makers of pocket communicators, smartphones and whatever else emerges will thus have to compete on design and branding, logistics, and their ability to innovate around such open standards.

At the moment, these considerations seem to favour Nokia more than any other company. But Nokia faces a direct challenge as Microsoft leads the computer industry on to its turf; its continued dominance of the mobile-phone industry is by no means assured, since it is not based on the ownership of proprietary standards. Microsoft, for its part, will try to exploit its dominance of the PC industry to help force its way into the new market. But it may well fail. Either way, there will be no need this time round for any repeat of the long-drawn-out antitrust cases, against first IBM and then Microsoft.

I think we can look at the experience in the Japanese cellular industry for examples here. For the past few years, NTT DoCoMo had by far the most popular cellular service in Japan with i-mode. Then they distracted themselves with building expensive, mostly useless 3G videophones. Meanwhile, their competitors began shipping 3G phones with cameras, GPS receivers, and location-based services, and rapidly ate into their market share. For the last eight months, the most popular phones in Japan have been KDDI's au models, as illustrated in this story from Reuters earlier this week:

KDDI Corp, Japan's second-largest wireless operator, said on Monday the number of users for its high-speed, third-generation (3G) mobile phone service had topped four million, keeping a wide lead over larger rival NTT DoCoMo Inc.

The figure indicates the operator is on track to winning seven million 3G subscribers by the end of the current business year on March 31 -- a KDDI target reiterated by President Tadashi Onodera last week.

KDDI began its 3G service based on the CDMA2000 standard in April, while DoCoMo, whose 3G operation is based on the competing WCDMA format, has only won about 150,000 users despite a six-month head start...

DoCoMo's 3G service has met with tepid demand due mainly to limited geographic coverage and short battery life.

Now DoCoMo is coming back -- last week, Joi Ito showed me his new DoCoMo phone with dual zero-lux cameras built in. Apparently it's the hottest thing in Japanese cell phones at the moment, and very difficult to find in stock. This is the kind of back-and-forth competition that has been sorely lacking in the market for operating systems, but which we can hope for -- and should do all we can to encourage -- in the wireless market.

December 11, 2002

Top Searches of 2002

Ask Jeeves has released its lists of the top searches of 2002. Three of the categories are listed below:

  • News
    1. West Nile wirus
    2. September 11th memorial
    3. Enron scandal
    4. Osama bin Laden
    5. Saddam Hussein
  • Music artists
    1. Eminem
    2. Avril Levigne
    3. Britney Spears
    4. Nelly
    5. Jennifer Lopez
  • Products
    1. Harry Potter books
    2. TiVo
    3. Dragon Ball Z
    4. PlayStation 2
    5. DVD players
The vast majority of Ask Jeeves' users must be in the US, because the list is heavily biased in that direction. With that said...

The news items seem fine. The music artists make me feel old-fashioned -- I have this desire to listen to musicians who write their own songs. As for the products, it's exciting to see TiVo listed as number two -- they must be doing jumping jacks at TiVo headquarters today. Incidentally, Xbox held the number eight position on the product list, and GameCube didn't register at all. To my mind, that's probably a reasonable indicator of the future prospects of the three game consoles.

December 10, 2002

Isn't It Ironic?

OpinionJournal has the following note in today's edition of Best of the Web Today:

A Poor Choice of Words--III In Oslo to accept his Nobel Peace Prize, Jimmy Carter seemed to blame Israel for all the Middle East's problems. "One of the key factors that . . . arouses intense feelings of animosity in the world is the festering problem in the Holy Land, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the inability of Israel to live in peace with its neighbors," Reuters quotes him as saying.

Now, this could have been an actual poor choice of words. After all, strictly speaking it's true that Israel is unable to live in peace with most of its neighbors--but only because those neighbors refuse to make peace with Israel. In his acceptance speech, however, Carter seemed to take another dig at the Jewish state: "Today there are at least eight nuclear powers on earth, and three of them are threatening to their neighbours in areas of great international tension."

It seems likely that India and Pakistan are two of the countries that "are threatening to their neighbors." Here's a list of the remaining six nucelar powers: America, Russia, China, Britain, France and Israel. Guess which one of them Carter had in mind?

Is it also possible that former President Carter was referring to North Korea, a state that is certainly "threatening to [its] neighbors," and a state that -- if it has nuclear weapons -- has them thanks in part to an appeasement agreement he himself negotiated? Now that would be ironic.

"The Napster of the Future?"

Slashdot has a story on how the cable industry views PVRs -- personal video recorders, like the TiVo or ReplayTV:

sbombay writes "I just came back from Broadband Plus (formerly the Western Cable Show) and was disappointed to find that cable companies despise PVRs. In his keynote speech, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said that the PVR amounts to 'the Napster of the future.' Cable World has a story about the speech and quotes from other cable execs bashing the PVR. The cable industry’s opposition to the PVR boils down to two things -- PVRs help satellite companies (Dish and DirecTV) provide services like Video On Demand (VOD) and a PVR in a cable home cuts into VOD revenue. Any of the sessions at the show that touched the topic of PVRs were an opportunity for the cable industry to slam the PVR. The strongest attack came from Gary Lauder, a venture capitalist who has funded many cable related companies. During his 15-minute presentation, Lauder slammed his Replay box, 'it’s too hot,' 'my wife doesn’t know how to use it,' and he even tried to fry an egg on his PVR. He also openly called on the cable companies and Hollywood to sue the PVR companies for copyright infringement. If you love your PVR, the cable industry is not your friend."
The Supernova Website has an entry on a talk by TiVo's president yesterday:
Morgan Guenther, TiVo. Focused on marketing and financial execution; will be cash flow positive this quarter. Moving to licensing and productization of technology. Continually innovating on the apps that live above basic DVR functionality. Moving into new advertising, content distribution. Evolving to a home network of TiVos.
The contrast is striking. TiVo is about to make money and has incredibly satisfied users -- this is from David Pogue of the New York Times:
My name is David, and I'm a TiVo addict. Oh, sure, I love my cable modem, I take my laptop everywhere, and they'll have to tear the Palm V out of my cold, dead hands. But if I were cast away on a desert island with only a single power outlet, I'd want my TiVo.
Meanwhile, the cable industry views PVRs as evil and wants to shut them down. This is despite the fact that TiVo in particular has reached out to form partnerships with content providers. Don't they get it? PVRs make people watch more television, not less. Instead of thinking about legislation and litigation, they should be thinking about how to take advantage of their popularity and the new viewing models they create. Speaking of David Pogue, he wrote about this earlier, and I blogged about it here.

December 09, 2002

Joi Ito in Silicon Valley

Joi Ito is meeting all sorts of interesting people in Silicon Valley this week and writing about it in his blog -- it's definitely worth a look.

He has blogged me twice (here and here) for my party coverage and the meetings I arranged for him with Jean-Louis Gassée and Reid Hoffman. Now I'm blogging him. This is descending into some sort of cross-referential netherworld. Goodness knows how tangled things will get when he meets Alex Osadzinski.

December 08, 2002

Heard Last Night II

A conversation between my friend joe holt and me:

joe: What's that flavor you're having?

Me: Macapuno.

joe: What is that again?

Me: "Baby coconut."

joe: Ah, the veal of coconut.

At Marianne's Ice Cream, Santa Cruz, CA.

December 07, 2002

Joi Ito's Party

Joi Ito hosted a party in San Francisco last night and was kind enough to invite me. It was a chance to meet some people for the first time, to meet others face-to-face for the first time, and to catch up with some people I hadn't seen in a long while.

Above are Tom Rielly and Joi. Tom and I knew each other in the late 1980s, when I worked at Silicon Beach Software and he was a key player in the Macintosh community. I don't know anyone who has a single bad word to say about Tom.

Above are Joi and Marc Canter. Marc and I had never met before tonight, but shared many mutual acquaintances. Marc recently wrote a very nice blog entry on tools for mobile blogging. Recommended.

Above are Reid Hoffman (who isn't linked because I don't think he wants to be found, at least not at the moment) and Barak Berkowitz. I met Barak through Joi a few months back -- a very sharp, very nice guy. As for Reid, he's one of the co-founders of PayPal, a great friend, and working on very cool stuff.

Above are Cory Doctorow and Howard Rheingold. Cory describes himself as a "30 year-old renaissance geek." I've wanted to meet him since admiring his work on boing boing, and he was as every bit as clever as I had expected. As for Howard, this was our first face-to-face meeting, though we know each other through Brainstorms, his private online community. He's quite wonderful and was kind enough to sign a couple of copies of Smart Mobs for me.

Snippets of conversation heard throughout the evening:

This chip is an HDTV display?

Q: Are you on Wife 1.0 or Wife 2.0?
A: I'm in beta with 2.0.

After they made us get out of the chairs, we sat down on the floor. They made us get up because it was a "security risk."

Q: Did you do the Atkins thing?
A: No, I did it the old-fashioned way -- diet and exercise. I hate the old-fashioned way.

Watch the 15 year-olds. They're already doing it.

I was so busy talking with such interesting people that I didn't make it around to talk to many others -- damn! Anyway, thanks to Joi for putting on such a great party.

Oh, and to Mike Backes: I'm sorry; there seemed to be some sort of networking problem, and the remote possession of me you promised never seemed to take hold. I mean, I didn't ask Joi to tango with me, at least not that I remember. It's too bad, because I'm sure everyone was looking forward to it. We'll have to work on it for the next party.

December 06, 2002

Another Thing to Do Right Now

Digital Consumer is soliciting input for the proposed "broadcast flag" rule:

Hollywood is pushing the Federal Communications Commission to forcibly implant copy-protection technology in digital television receivers. The FCC is weighing a plan to mandate this "broadcast flag" which will govern what you are allowed to do with the digital television you receive and will likely take away many of the fair-use rights you have today. Click here to learn more.
It's just a couple of minutes to fill out a form and have your thoughts sent to the FCC. You can find the form here.

December 05, 2002

Jean-Louis Gassée

I'm traveling in California this week -- my flight left just as the snow and ice storm began in North Carolina yesterday. Today I had the pleasure of catching up with some former colleagues from Be, including the most quotable CEO in the history of high-tech, Jean-Louis Gassée:

Heard from JLG at one point, prefacing a comment:

I don't know how not to use a sexual metaphor.
Of course, he didn't disappoint. Heard later in the conversation, in a discussion of whether there's such a thing as bad press:
Me: At one of Guy Kawasaki's conferences, I heard a Merc reporter claim that there are only two kinds of press so bad that you can't recover from them: child molestation and cannabalism.

JLG: Molestation, no, that's bad. But cannabalism? Hmm... it depends on who you eat.

Definitely one of the fringe benefits of working at Be. Ah, the good old days!

December 04, 2002

"A Person Paper on Purity in Language"

Yesterday I promised cognitive dissonance. Here it is.

In 1985, the brilliant Douglas Hofstadter, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, wrote a column for Scientific American titled "A Person Paper on Purity in Language." If you haven't read it, do so now. Without giving it away, what Hofstadter does is to express his feelings about sexist language through an ingenious and rich analogy. It is arguably the single best essay by one of the most talented essayists of our time (if only he was still writing a monthly column -- what a joy that was).

How is it that I can extol the virtues of a blog entry on "girl power" while at the same time holding up Hofstadter's essay as one of the best I have ever read? It must be cognitive dissonance. Reading what Halley Suitt wrote, I don't see it as derogatory or demeaning to her gender -- quite the opposite. Yet Hofstadter argues convincingly against the very word "girl" (without mentioning it directly). I'm trying to sort out the contradiction for myself. If you have any theories, e-mail me.

Hofstadter's paper and his other columns are collected in the wonderful Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern. Highly recommended.

December 03, 2002

"What Ever Happened to Feminism?"

Via Dave Winer, a great piece by Halley Suitt, "What Ever Happened to Feminism?"

I'm having lunch with four really bright guys at work and one says, apropos of the Victoria's Secret Lingerie Show on CBS the night before, "What Ever Happened To Feminism?" And I say, "It's over," and then I say, "and you guys are in big big trouble."

This brings the appetizer munching to a slow halt. I start to explain. We entered the work force in the 70's in those ridiculous women's suits with bowties. We wanted a level playing field. We wanted to play fair. We wanted the same opportunities and privileges men got. We won a few of those, but mostly we lost and we weren't taken seriously. We cried "foul" with sexual harrassment in the 80's and 90's and then the game changed completely. We went back to basics. We found our old power -- girl power -- and we added that to what we'd learned from men. So now we knew how to be professional but we also remembered how to be subversive, subversively female, subversively feminine.

"There is no more feminism," I explain. Game Over. But it took me a day or two to name the new game. It's "girlism" -- 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.

It's about power -- girl power we've always had but forgot about combined with all the stuff we've learned in the workplace. Needless to say, if you're a man and you call us on it, we deny it. The new double double standard. We learned how to stop playing fair.

Just wait until you see my post tomorrow. Viewed alongside this post, it's going to be an exercise in cognitive dissonance.

December 02, 2002

The Silliest Movie of 2002?

I saw the new James Bond film, Die Another Day, last week. I've been amazed since to see some positive reviews of what I thought was the most incoherent and uncompelling Bond movie since the Roger Moore days. I'm not up to writing a true review, but I do feel like bitching about it. Please note that I give away most of the movie, so if you want to be surprised when you see it, you've been warned.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT

  • In the opening sequence, Bond forces the Korean villain over a waterfall. 14 months later, the villain has not only resurfaced with a new Caucasian face and English identity, but has launched a diamond company, built and launched a death ray satellite, and is about to be knighted. These villains are efficient! Maybe we should let them run things for us. Also, while I'm at it, may I suggest that the UK government make a bit more effort to check out the backgrounds of candidates for knighthood?
  • I'm all for Bond as the world's coolest customer, but after 14 months of torture, he walks out with nothing more than a long beard, ready to go back to his old ways? No post-traumatic stress disorder? No anguish? Nothing?
  • I truly disliked what the screenwriters did to M in this movie. Over the past three films, and relying in large part on Dame Judi Dench's considerable acting skills, they've built her up into a far more real, far more complex, far more likable character than any of her predecessors. Now she's ready to discard Bond like a used tissue, and then pick him right back up again when she feels like it -- and it doesn't seem to bother him all that much. Is Bond truly that loyal to Her Majesty's government? Bond, I have to tell you: it's time to leave the civil service. Besides, I've heard the money's better out in the real world.
  • The villain's scheme is of the sort that only worked as a story device before Dr. Evil came along. A satellite that reflects and focuses the sun's rays to use as a weapon? Are they kidding? I half-expected Frau Farbissina to yell, "Arm the satellite!" Now that I think about it, that might have improved the movie.
  • Hot tip for would-be supervillains: if your weapon is a sunlight-focusing satellite, it's probably best not to build your headquarters in Iceland.
  • For no apparent reason, the villain's Icelandic headquarters building is a giant greenhouse (filmed at the Eden Project). Naturally, it's built on the surface of a frozen lake, because isn't that really the best place for greenhouses? Anyway, Bond decides to break in by cutting a hole in the ice and swimming underneath it to the greenhouse, where he pops up in a pool of hot water. Excuse me?
  • When Bond takes off in his car and the villain's top henchman gives chase, we see that the henchman's car is a Jaguar. A convertible Jaguar. In Iceland. Smart.
  • Speaking of cars, when Bond gets his invisible Aston Martin, I could only think back to the immortal words from Mystery Science Theater 3000: "I'm starting not to believe this ninja stuff." Well, I'm starting not to believe this spy stuff. A Slashdot reader suggested yesterday that when the invisible car was introduced, the Bond franchise jumped the shark. Could be.
I know Bond movies are inherently silly. My favorite, You Only Live Twice, features a six foot two inch Scotsman as a spy in Japan. But I expect them -- like any other movie -- to at least be internally consistent, if not consistent with the real world. Die Another Day is just ridiculous.

December 01, 2002

One Month to Go

As of today, it's exactly one month until my fortieth birthday. How do I feel about that? I find myself neither depressed ("I'm getting old") nor joyous ("I made it this far"). It's another milestone.

Does this make me middle-aged? I don't know. I don't feel middle-aged. I'm not even sure what the term means. I pretty much feel like I did when I was 30, except a bit wiser (I hope).

I have some significant personal goals that I want to achieve next year, but I don't think they have anything to do with turning 40 -- they're just the goals that I feel ready to take on at this particular point in my life.

Anyway, I've already had my "mid-life crisis," so that's taken care of.