Wednesday, November 30, 2005

That OPML rendered in Tree widget experiment that I mentioned here is now available. It's very simple / simplistic.
Compare and contrast :

Creative people 'luckier in love' with the fate of the brain-in-a-vat ...

Bush to retrospectively define the strategic objective of the Iraq war in order to announce victory in time for next year's US elections.
Today I'm watching some interesting movies.

ClaiMaker: Internetworked Argument Mapping (ScholOnto Project)
Story about the soybean boom in South America. Includes worries about damage to the rainforest.

BBC NEWS | Business | Soybean fever transforms Paraguay

What's not mentioned is that soya farmers have also used illegal GM soya, and then presented the Brazilian government with a fait accomplis : "hey, we grew this stuff, and if you force us to destroy it, we'll go bankrupt." which the government has pretty much caved-in to.

This matters because there are real (ie. not mere technophobic, anti-science) reasons to be sceptical about GM.

The basic pattern is this :

The GM in soya is designed to make crops more resistant to strong herbicide (weed-killer).

GM crop is more productive, because farmers can now blast the land with stronger herbicides to kill off all the weeds, while the GM crop resists.

After 5 - 10 years, those few weeds which did survive the herbicides, having been selected for in this tougher environment, come back, resistant to the herbicide.

The weed problem resumes, and now you need even stronger herbicide which you then have to create even more resistant crops to.

Now you have further problems.

- can you find a crop strong enough to resist an even stronger herbicide?

- the stronger herbicide is finding its way into the food chain (and rivers, and us)

- you can't do crop-rotation, because the land is now so poisonous that only the single GM crop (and the super-weeds) can survive there. GM forces you into a monoculture.

- because you can't do crop-rotation, you need to use more fertilisers to put back the nutrients back into the land.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Update on previous message. BillSeitz suggests a "blogroll" class. Shouldn't be difficult.

Work in progress

Originally uploaded by interstar.
OK. So this isn't the most exciting screenshot you've seen.

What is it? It's a list of a few of those UnfinishedProjects I'm working on. It came from an OPML file I created in Dave Winer's OPML editor. And it's being rendered by Gene Cash's great Tree widget (for Python Tkinter).

Don't worry, I'm not writing an outliner! :-)

Nor am I so on the OPML tip that I'm desperate to do anything with the format. No, really!

So what is going on? Well, one clue is in the open "Gutter Family" section.

GutterClique is the name of the script which manages and generates my blogroll. For various reasons, this isn't like a typical blogroll or subscription list. It's not stored as OPML or Xoxo. And it's not a hierarchy.

Instead, all the links are stored in a double-comma separated file and each can have an indefinite number of tags. When you see my blogroll in the gutter of one of my blogs, it's actually being pulled out by a simple template which matches links or tags. So, for example, the Smart Cookies section of my blogroll is produced by this line in the template :


which selects all the links that have been tagged "SmartCookie". That's why the same link can appear in several sections. This is folksonomy rather than taxonomy.

GutterClique is a simple, throw-away script. But I have another idea for it. And for various reasons, I want to give it a simple GUI.

At the same time, I do happen to have some OPML handling code I wrote recently. And today I wanted to look at this Tree rendering widget.

I'm looking at the Tree renderer for use in SystemSketch, which is my real work in progress, and which I'll give a status report soon.

Suffice to say, before deciding to slot it into SystemSketch (which is currently a confused heap of UI code because I'm still not sure what I want) I thought I'd just play with it in a simpler context. Plugging it into OPML reading code was the easy way to do that.

And now I think GC really ought to be able to import and export OPML - so much is happening on this front at the moment. OPML may be evolving into something for both attention and social networking (as I predicted here).

If GutterClique is going to be viable in this world, even though I have a very different trajectory in mind to take it in, I think it's going to have to know a little bit about OPML.

Bonus factoid : people who've been paying very close attention to me for a long time (ie. no-one), may remember that an early draft of Typed Threaded Discussion exported OPML. (Don't bother looking 'cos it's broken now.) TTD is no more. But see that SmartDiscuss project? :-)

At some point TTD will be reborn as Tagged Threaded Discussion. I'll take the advice of my critics and allow users to mark their responses with multiple free-form tags rather than forcing the users to choose one "type".

There's a commonality between TTD and GC: trees with tags. Not clear whether OPML can handle this, but if it can, it'll be part of the mix too. If not, I may find myself going the microformat route after all :-)

Update : my simple code is here.
The Building as Canvas | Metropolis Magazine
Good overview of The Blank Slate

However, the problem with all happy disclaimers along the lines of "we aren't really talking about biological determinism" is that at some point nature and nurture are going to come up against each other as rival expanations in a zero-sum game. Was this action done because of "biological cause" or "cultural reason"?

And it's not so easy to make a coherent blend of the two as you might hope.

What are your options?

You can argue that an act is commited for both biological and cultural reasons.

But then this supposes a miraculous (inexplicable) agreement between the two. And if you think that reason is always naturalized to, or constrained to be compatible with, biology, you've pretty much eliminated it in favour of biological determinism anyway.

You can argue that in the absence of cultural reasons, biology gives you the default "presets" for behaviour. But that, once there are cultural reasons, they trump the biology.

But this, of course, puts culture on top, because now biology only has an effect when given permission by culture. If it's sooo easy to over-ride biology, then it looks like appeals to biology are themselves just a cultural political choice.

So you may prefer a variant on the above, that says biology gives you tendencies which must be struggled against by culture. They can be over-ridden, but only at some effort.

But this throws the question back. What about about the act of struggling, the decision to fight your nature? Is that itself culturally or biologically caused? What determines whether such a struggle is sufficient - reason or cause?

Another way to go. You might think certain, very fundamental or primitive acts are biologically determined. But that most acts are complex, (represented in "software"), and this means that culture can intervene.

This is often the most popular intuition. However, it throws a huge burden of proof on the "naturist". What acts are absolutely immune to cultural intervention? The favourite domains : eating, sex, staying alive, can all be demonstrably trumped by culture. People adapt their diet, become vegetarian, prefer gay sex, fetishize inanimate objects, die for causes and commit suicide (sometimes by starving themselves to death.) And it only takes one example of each of these to falsify the claim that this behaviour is necessarily biologically determined without any culture involved.

The point I'm trying to make here, is not that there's no human nature. Or that the huge amount of scientific evidence of biological differences between sexes, or observable statistical preferences by men for young, symmetrical females must be discounted. But that a good coherent "compatibilist" theory which allows for biological causes, but denies biological determinism is much harder than is given credit here.

Some of the most striking and sophisticated attempts to negotiate the rivalries between reasons and causes are from Donald Davidson and John McDowell (who was here giving a talk a few weeks ago).

McDowell pretty much dissolves all talk of causes into reasons, arguing that the two can't be separated and the world (as understood through science) must already be coloured by our cultural assumptions. While Davidson buys a compatibility between the two called anomolous monism which claims that the biological, causal world has no "semantics". Maybe there are biological causes that push the body around, but we can't make sense of them as being "about" or "directed towards" the kind of things we care about. Biology can't give us a taste for "symmetrical mates" because the concepts of "symmetry" and "mates" only have meaning (and reference) when taken within our conceptual framework, which is part of our culture.

These are some of the real positions from which smart leftists are rejecting evolutionary psychology claims, and it might be more interesting for other smart people like Steven Johnson to address them rather than worry about dinner-party guests who equate Darwin with neo-nazis.
Hmmm. Robot Wisdom seems to have a good jukebox on his page. At least, some of the tracks are very nice (including Wilmot by Sabres of Paradise, one of my all time favourites I used to go crazy to in clubs around 10 years ago)
Dave Pollard has 10 reasons not to trade with China

Essentially it's a check-list of things that are wrong with China that need fixing; and the way China is driving "race to the bottom" for treatment of workers (eg. using prisoners (ie. slave) labour) to make cheap stuff for export.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Some very interesting stuff here : Nick Szabo's Home Page
Alan Kay, one of my heroes, is designing the interface for the $100 laptop which is intended to be a learning appliance for children around the world.

I think the idea of a Smalltalk based learning environment is perfect. I just hope the kids won't be confused by the Squeak interface. Particularly let's hope they've got an input device which is native to the machine and there's none of this "red button", "blue button" on a machine with no actual coloured buttons.
Compare and contrast : Martin Van Creveld and Philip Greenspan on the war.

(No, not Philip Greenspun)
Oh, and as of today I have Feral Scholar in my blogroll too.
John Robb's Weblog: Hersh Reads the Tea Leaves
Kaunda (now in the blogroll) points out this sad story. A Journey That Ended in Anguish - Los Angeles Times

I'm suspicious myself. I don't see a devout catholic killing himself over other peoples' sins.

Update : here's something on the Carlyle Group for all you conspiracy theorists.
Meanwhile BubbleGen's links have got me thinking more about ThoughtStorms: NetoCracy/MediaAgainstTheState
Wow! Here's an argument I was having with SunirShah (probably last year) which I'd forgotten all about.

Meatball Wiki: NetworkAcademics

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The state of globalization. The world isn't flat yet.
And I see I have a blogging neighbour.

(Not counting all the hundred of real brasiliense blogs of course :-)
He he! Great story about the city where I live
Call me sick and twisted, but at first glance I find something kind of hilarious about this.

'I can't tell you how damaging it is,' he said.

'Just imagine a young man turning up in his unit and being made to wrestle naked in a field while his non-commissioned officers are dressed up in women's frillies. I mean, it's not very dignified stuff, is it?'

BBC NEWS | UK | Marine 'bullying' video condemned

Or rather, I find it human.

If you're going to put people in a madhouse, (which is what I consider war and military organizations to be), then the natural human reaction is to go mad.

Except ... of coure ... that it's not funny at all.

It's a miserable thing. The organization is sham. Held together by perverse bonds of power : threat, fear, bravado. You can't ensure "discipline" without letting people "blow-off steam" in ugly, violent rituals of degradation.

It's important to remember this when we ask how our soldiers can torture and humiliate prisoners in Iraq. They can do it, because torture and humiliation are part of the structure of their lives within the military institutions.

These aren't "bad apples". They're canaries in the mineshaft : the weak links that buckle and break under the stressed power-relations that bind our military together.
A9 maps come with photos of the locality : Maps

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Rival economics bloggers on French riots.

D-squared :
These young men have got a political grievance, and they're expressing it by setting fire to things and smashing them up. What could be more stereotypically, characteristically French than that?

Stumbling and Mumbling :
We should be able to use Bayes theorem to judge the relative importance of Islam, unemployment, or anything else, in the riots.
Good discussion on the bogus case for pension reform :

The key point is that, like everyone who trots out this line, Mr Hutton is ignoring an important fact.

On the DWP?s figures, male life expectancy at 65 has risen 58% since 1951. But productivity - GDP per head ? has risen much faster than this. It?s more than trebled*.

In theory, this massive rise in productivity should have allowed for a big increase in our leisure time ? for either shorter working weeks or longer retirement.

Stumbling and Mumbling: Hutton, Keynes and pensions

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Conjectures and Refutations is an interesting looking Popperian blog.

Fathers in immigrant families don't only lose their jobs when they're unemployed. They lose their authority in the family. This position is then occupied by their eldest sons who, although they may not be able to find legal employment, can provide for the family through their work in "parallel economies": car theft and drug dealing. With the authority they inherit, they are able to impose their conservative notions of religion and morality onto their social surroundings. Their spiritual nourishment comes from the Islamic fundamentalists, whose influence in the suburbs continues to rise.

For girls in the neighbourhood the message is: take on traditional female roles, dress chastely, don't go out and most importantly, remain a virgin until you marry. This unwritten law doesn't only apply to Muslim girls. The north African young men, although they constitute a minority, command the non-Islamic populations in the suburbs as well: African immigrants and lower class French.

Neither whores nor submissive - signandsight
Racism in Brazil: here, there and everywhere
Good BBC overview of Latin America

One thing not discussed is that Chavez has done a lot to appeal to "cultural" leftists. For example, its government has a policy against sexist language (difficult in Latin cultures where gender is so important grammatically) by publishing documents using the @ sign as an alternative to the vowel which would make words gender specific.

And people who've seen Chavez's new TV channel tell me it's very good.
Nicholas Carr worries about the end of Western Civilization as we know it

Experiencing the blogosphere feels a lot like intellectual hydroplaning - skimming along the surface of many ideas, rarely going deep. It's impressionistic, not contemplative. Fun? Sure. Invigorating? Absolutely. Socratic? I'm not convinced.

I think he's missing the point.

Socrates was just some guy (a stone-mason) who wandered around picking arguments with people in the market-place. He fisked his opponents with nit-picking fine-grained carping over details; made all sorts of outrageous anti-commonsensical claims - which an echo-chamber of dittoheads all dumbly agreed with; never respected any formal learning institutions or professionalism; and annoyed most people to the point of wanting to kill him.

How do you get more blog than that?

Yet this is the basis of Western civilization.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

If true, the Mirror report "would cast serious doubts" on U.S. statements that those strikes were accidental, the network said. - 'Bomb Jazeera' memo: Media warned - Nov 23, 2005
Interesting libertarian argument against the US War on Drugs. Similar effects in Brazil, of course.

Here's an interesting question though. Why has no country in the world simply declared narcotics like heroin and cocaine to be legal, and encouraged a legitimate market to form there? Surely it would be highly lucrative (you would tax all deals, naturally). And although initially it would attract an awful lot of members of criminal gangs, over time, more legitimate companies would get involved. Drug distribution would need to spend less on hiring hard-men to do the dirty work of gang-warfare, and more on advertising and PR for competition within the legitimate market.

Beyond this, an enlightened government could medicalize the problems of addiction. Encourage specialist training for research and treatment, run expensive rehabilitation clinics for US and European tourists etc.

So why doesn't anyone do it? Is this too hot to handle? Are there ferocious international / UN treaties that would get you invaded immedietely by the US? Or does illegality (and huge profits) suit the criminals, who discretely support it?
Joel Spolsky posts a reading list for his management training program.

I've only read three books from the list : "Don't Make Me Think", "Philip and Alex's Guide", "Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering" but they are all excellent.

Bit embarrassed I've never read "The Mythical Man-Month", though I've read essays by Brooks online. I've probably read most of the online essays collected in "Hackers and Painters" too. I suppose I should read "The Pragmatic Programmer" because these guys are very well thought of.
Chavez on the offensive.

BBC NEWS | Americas | Venezuela gives US cheap oil deal

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

This is very cool.

Not the TV story, but this interactive diagram that lets you explore stories in a network context.

Big Picture | Net TV start-up lands $16 million in funding | CNET
Is growth moral?

John Robb's Weblog: The Moral Case for the Opportunity Society
Interesting mixture of ideas in the defeated Kenyan constitution proposal

Prime minister - works to the president

Bans foreign land ownership

Land commission formed - individuals can no longer distribute land

Christian and other religious courts set up; Muslim courts already exist

Regional parties banned

Elections for local officials

Same-sex marriages banned

Women get equal rights to inherit property

Abortion outlawed - unless permitted by parliament

Banning abortion and same-sex marriage, but granting women's property rights, banning regional parties but introducing local elections, creation of christian courts and government monopolizing land allocation.

Guess it's a major dollop of social conservative with a minor side-dressing of government interventionism.


Originally uploaded by interstar.
OK, this is kind of horrible. But I have the bottle with the four gallstones that were removed from me last weekend. (Along with the gallbladder.) So I figured I'd share. That's a UK 20p piece alongside the bottle, for size comparison.

I'm now feeling much better. Down to a few twinges when I move suddenly.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Remember when I said Iraq was gonna be like Northern Ireland?

NO QUARTER: Good News in Iraq?

Maybe we're switching from fighting Sunnis to fighting (majority) Shias. Much like the switch from defending to fighting catholics in N.I. Then it gets really fun ...
BBC NEWS | Americas | Chavez, Kirchner in 'unity' talks: "

Friday, November 18, 2005

Fafblog! : God bless the plague.
Today I'm thinking about design patterns for GUIs as I'm still struggling with a fair amount of complexity and brittleness in the UI I'm developing for SystemSketch.

There seem to be plenty of wannabe pattern languages for UI. For example : Common Ground, Experiences, Sari A. Laakso's, Kent Beck's, erm ... Pattern Language for the Social Network etc.

But all these are centred on users. I'm looking for something for programmers that goes beyond Model-View-Controller.

Update : maybe this is it. Will go read.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

One Red Paperclip is entertaining and profound. The guy started with a red paperclip, and is trying to barter his way up to a house.

Of course, he has to make each barter for something better than he's giving away. But why should his barters be so profitable?

Clearly, one of the things is that the story gets bigger and better each time. Seth Godin would understand. So would Marx : alienation is the transfer of the story from the maker of the object to the object itself (often to the benefit of the seller).

These objects are mystified and animated by the spirit of the story. The blog puts that story out there, available for everyone to see. People get in touch, trade their old junk for the last piece of old junk, to be part of the story.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

BBC has a FAQ on White phosphorus

Executive summary : US use in Fallujah not actually illegal, but mainly because the US hasn't signed up to all the treaties that other countries have.

Key points :

What are the international conventions?

Washington is not a signatory to any treaty restricting the use of white phosphorus against civilians.

White phosphorus is covered by Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons, which prohibits its use as an incendiary weapon against civilian populations or in air attacks against enemy forces in civilian areas.

The US - unlike 80 other countries including the UK - is not a signatory to Protocol III.


What is the current furore about?


Critics say phosphorus bombs should not be used in areas where there is a risk they could cause serious burns or death to civilians.

Some have claimed the use of white phosphorus contravenes the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. This bans the use of any "toxic chemical" weapons which causes "death, harm or temporary incapacitation to humans or animals through their chemical action on life processes".

Professor Paul Rogers, of the University of Bradford's department of peace studies, told the BBC that white phosphorus could probably be considered a chemical weapon if deliberately aimed at civilians.
Greg Palast on Iraq's oil and the conflict between Neocon free-marketeers, and the oil industry representitives in the US government.
Here's quite an extraordinary thing.

Earlier this morning, I wrote that more was to come on the story of the admitted American use of white phosphorus as a chemical weapon against the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

So, where is that additional information? Is there more to come on the white phosphorus story?

Well, there is and there isn?t. The story is that there is no story - not if you live in the United States, at least.

Journalists are reporting on this story across the world, except in the United States. Go on and do a Google News search for white phosphorus in the news. As of 12 Noon, hours and hours, after the story broke, you?ll find articles on the story today from the press in Switzerland, in Australia, in Canada, in Italy, and from across the United Kingdom.

But what about in the United States? There?s just one journalistic news source in the entire United States that?s acknowledging that the story even exists: The San Jose Mercury News.

Irregular Times: News Unfit for Print : More to come on phosphorus story? Maybe not!

Take home message. All that chatter on the internet? Still heavily driven by mainstream media.
Interesting ESR on RMS

Good article, ESR can be intelligent and insightful when he wants. Although he clearly can't help a bit of crowing at the end. The last points he tries to push seem to need some kind of response.

There are three parts to the branding issue : the name itself, the campaign tactics and the message (or moral vision) that goes with it. Stallman has been fairly explicit that the name "free software" is confusing. And that something else would probably be better. The tactics of OS might very well be more succesful, in that ESR worked well with O'Reilly and other industry representatives to push his line; although the main success of the OS camp was simply waiting around until Linus had written a kernel and put the last, crucial piece in the GNU jigsaw.

The real issue is the differing moral vision between both men. Both RMS and ESR are champions of extremely political / moral positions which are in conflict. RMS's is certainly anti-propertarian about information stuff. (Although, despite being on the left, he's explicit that he's not against some kind of property rights for scarce resources, nor commerce.) For Stallman code is a public good, produced collectively.

ESR's moral vision is anarcho-capitalist. It champions the virtues of property, and so whatever is going on in open source, it mustn't be seen as a denial of property. Instead it should be seen as a new kind of property, more suited to non-scarce resources. The best way of understanding this new kind of property is that it's a sort of reputation within the hacker community ("egoboo" is ESR's term)

How is the fight squaring off between these positions? Now that RMS has a new ally in Lawrence Lessig, the Stallman moral message against the enclosure of information stuff seems to be pretty strong. The new brand, "commons based peer production", (which stretches beyond software to all sorts of cultural artifacts) is anti-propertarian, stressing, as it does, the virtue of "the commons" and anti-individualism. Had this branding been Raymondite, it would have been something like "reputation based peer production", to stress the role of repuation-property.

The other great Stallman legacy is his understanding of law as a platform to be hacked. The GPL (Copyleft) is a monster hack, turning the legal infrastructure of intellectual property against enclosure. It's also the key tactical weapon of the Stallmanite tendency.

That weapon is still in major effect. With entirely copyleft versions of Linux now available. Of course, law always defines (co-creates) property. But Stallman turned the hacker community on to this particular platform. Today, it goes without comment that computer geeks should also be law-geeks. The ESRites have made their own attempts to promote alternatives to copyleft (though here they're just following the tradition of the Open Group and others who were resisting the copyleft revolution). But they certainly haven't supplanted this legacy.

Final point. Interestingly ESR says Stallman's greatest triumph is his code.

I haven't seen Stallman's code, and wouldn't be able to judge it if I had. But the greatest failure of the FSF was the absense of a kernel for GNU - which Linus had to supply. And arguably, the greatest intellectual contribution made by ESR to the movement is the cathedral vs. bazaar analysis : identifying Linus's decentralized, rapid-release model as the key to its success. Undoubtedly centralization on Stallman, and other possible bureaucracy explains the FSF's failures. But ESR doesn't mention these points because they don't fit the story he wants to tell : one which aims to debunk Stallman's moral vision.

But there's an alternative story to the one told by ESR, which might fit the facts better : that Stallman's moral vision has continued to attract and inspire millionswell maybe thousands of hackers, and under the new leadership of Lessig (an avowed Stallman fan) is pushing back against "intellectual property" all across the internet. While the role of Linus and ESR was crucially, to identify and explain a better operational model than that practiced by the FSF.

In this story, ESR's contrasting moral vision - of hackers as individualistic self-aggrandizers, battling for reputation property - is just irrelevant spinning. If ESR were right, and reputation was the crucial currency of the open economy, then you should expect that there'd be all sorts of ways that people would be using reputation tracking tools to improve the open development process. Source-forge would work like PopIdol, Technorati-style attention markets would be set up to stroke hackers into ever greater paroxysms of coding.

I didn't happen. Free software is produced for a whole variety of motivations : some idealistic, supporting Stallman's vision, some pragmatic. Some people want to scratch an itch, or to do something cool, some want to get famous within the hacker community. Just like the real economy or market, the free or open code market has a diversity of motivations. What enables this disperate group of interests to coordinate and thrive is not shared motivation, it's shared legal constitution : the software licenses. And particularly it's the looming presence of the GPL which helps idealists to protect their vision, and encourages pragmatists to join it.
Good lord! A science-fiction novel I almost feel I want to read.
Actually, I can see Edge are generally pretty worked up about intelligent design. I've been fairly chilled out about the whole thing, personally. If a couple of generations of American kids grow up ignorant about evolution, that will just help out the tech economies of the rest of the world. US kids are growing up learning far more dangerous nonsense. (Although I suppose anabiotic oil is the fruit of this tree.)

But here's another lazyweb request. What are the ALife community doing about intelligent design? Let's imagine that schools in the US are gonna have to teach kids to ask questions about whether certain kinds of order can emerge from chance. Well, this is a perfect opportunity for a software package stuffed with Genetic Algorithms, simulated ecologies, and statistical simulations to pump the intuitions in exactly the right direction. There's probably even good money to made. Could this be the best driver for a market for educational GA software?
Fascinating Edge on explanation, skepticism and religious belief. Read both stories.

Side-thought : the psychology experiments are fun, as such things usually are. I wish there was a better way to catalogue these kind of experiments that counter our illusions of our own rationality and independent thinking. What would be great is something indexed by self-illusion : "you think you're perception of colour / unlikeliness / explainedness is accurate? Here's a list of the experiments which suggest it isn't"

Could make a great coffee-table book, or maybe OPML outline, or ... come on lazyweb, where are you when we need you?
Over in Umair Haque's comments


That article is *phenomenal*, and doubly so if you factor in the date. Amazing stuff, will link to it latre tonight.

Do you work at the Beeb?

A : No, I'm British, and that article originally appeared only in the short-lived British edition of Wired. I was always surprised it didn't get more widely known though.

Actually, I did once do a summer-internment kind of job in PC support at the Beeb when I was an undergrad. My boss was, I believe, Tim Berners-Lee's brother (which didn't mean anything at the time because the web hadn't been invented)

Didn't like it much. Horrible, bureaucratic organization, filled with people who were very talented, but way over-qualified for their menial jobs, but there because this was, like, the BBC and hoped to get somewhere better. Lot of people got bitter and twisted waiting for their big break while upgrading WordStar.

Of course, as a consumer, I *love* the BBC and everything it stands for (tax-funded, advert free media with a public service mandate). And I'm pretty sure they have cool people there on their web stuff now.
Umair Haque more and more freaked by the state of the US.

So, remember last week, when it was curiously noted that oil industry execs weren't being sworn in for their statements? Presumably, so they could avoid perjury charges?

Well, now we know why!

"...A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress."

A couple of questions that interest me. How can the US be both the origin of internet culture, the most forward looking, open, optimistic and generally "positive" wave of culture / technology / transformation in any recent time, and also be the country falling into all the traps and tropes of authoritarianism, irrationality and causing great harm to others around the world?

It would be easy to say the two are distinct. That it's a red / blue state thing. That those sliding back into the quasi-feudal mindset are those who are frustrated at being left behind by the rapid evolution of the techno-creative class.

But that's not correct. I've seen enough warblogs and techno-libertarians to know that the internet culture is also shaped by and shaping the right. Maybe these groups are really defenders of liberty, who now only lash-out at the anti-war left due to old reflexes rather than genuine enthusiasm for the whole Bush project.

One can hope.

Meanwhile, it's a poisoned atmosphere where William Lind, who's lastest piece might have been written by Jean-Marie Le Penn, sometimes smells sweet.

Worth a read.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Quite fascinating how many of the companies in this list are focused on paranoia.

About preventing information leaking from your company, tracking the behaviours of your employees, and looking for the people who lose you money.
Why I always have a sneaking admiration for Andrius Kulikauskas

Now he's trying to persuade God to become part of his open thinking laboratory. Beat that, Lion Kimbro.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Ouch. Just back from hospital after having my gall-bladder removed. I knew I had gall-stones from a couple of years ago. And all the Brazilian doctors told me I needed to have the bladder removed. The British doctor I saw told me it wasn't necessary if it wasn't hurting, so I left it.

Then last Wednesday, I thought I had a bout of food poisoning. A kind of burning pain from my stomach through my right side to the kidneys.

On Thursday, the pain was increasing, so that evening I went to the hospital and got some strong anti-inflamatory / painkilling tablets. There wasn't a specialist that night, so I took the tablet hoping it would die down. Thursday night the pain had subsided and I got some sleep. But by late morning Friday, the pain was back, all over my abdomen, and stronger than before. Wasn't sure if I could hold out until 10 pm, to take the next painkiller (one every 24 hours, max). In the event, I ate nothing and lasted until 6 pm before I took it. Had a couple of hours of reduced pain, but by 2 AM it was full-on again. Didn't sleep. My wife woke up and found me vomiting at 5:30, and took me back to the hospital at around 6.00 Saturday.

Fortunately the GP was willing to put me on a stronger drip feed of painkillers and the specialist was in by 7. He agreed to operate then, although I had to wait until 2 PM for 8 hours to pass since I last ate. (Stupidly I ate a cracker at around 5 to try to relieve the burning sensation in my stomach.)

The waiting was weird. The painkillers were reducing the qualia of pain, but not the sense of discomfort. Couldn't find a position to stay in for longer than a couple of minutes.

Fortunately they put me under by around 1:45. Surgery was finished by 4 and I was awake by 4:30 (seem to remember some delerious dreaming about wiki and weblogs just as I woke up)

The operation can be as short as 15 minutes, or as long as around 5 hours. Because my stones were so large, they had to cut a bigger hole, but it wasn't the worst the surgeon had seen.

Saturday night was fairly miserable. I was on a painkiller and anti-vomiting drip. But I thought I had to stay lying in bed, when I was desperate to pee. Bladder hurt abominably, but I did manage to sleep. Sunday, I was able to get up and pee (amazing relief) and shower and walk up and down the corridor attached to the drip.

By evening though I was pretty weak and the pain was getting stronger. I did eat a little during the day.

Sunday night I hardly slept at all, althought the pain had reduced. Partly this was because I'd slept a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon.

Today (Monday) the doctor told me I was still in pain because he'd reduced the strength of the painkiller. Nevertheless I was feeling a lot stronger, so was discharged home with a prescription for several types of pills. So far, some tolerable pain every now and then, and spasms if I cough, laugh or move suddenly. Still I feel I'm getting better.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

OK, so I'm hooked. I know maps and attention are gonna be big. Just don't understand them yet.
Three cheers for Lula for watching pirate DVDs!

Shame he's trying to deny it. :-(
Eugeen Eric Kim : PhilJones almost stumbled onto something quite profound in his commentary last May, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it, and Chris and I consequently jumped all over him. We were right, of course, but Phil was onto something.

EEK Speaks

Well, I don't entirely see the difference between Kim's Here's where it gets cute. Doing this feels like tagging. You're just tagging granular content instead of documents... which is what PurpleNumbers are designed to enable in the first place.

and Dent's labels posing (miserably) as identifiers.
BBC NEWS | Business | Mexico fails to profit from Nafta deal
US Forces 'Used Chemical Weapons' During Assault on City of Fallujah
Just gets better and better, doesn't it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Hey! John's Bazungu Bucks blog is coming on a treat! (And not just 'cos he blogrolled me, honest :-)
Aparently Momus now sees himself as more of a blogger than a musician :

I should perhaps mention that Momus doesn't really exist for me as a musician. Apart from the early, less-wacky stuff, I find it all somewhat anaemic. Far more interesting is Click Opera, the livejournal he publishes daily. Differing from his earlier essays or "Thoughts for the Day" , the journal has, in a short time, become one of the most fascinating (and influential) in the blogosphere.

"I think I?m a kind of Google star, which is the modern form of stardom. Every search I seem to do for related things comes up with my journal. I seem to come up on every search I do. I?m like Tintin the boy reporter (I'm even dressed a bit like him today), I?m always going on adventures, reporting on other people's doings. There forms a nexus of connections."

The Mind?s Construction Quarterly : How to Live like Nick Currie

More here
Remember many of my comments on web / tech. stuff like the new Gates / Ozzie memos is now on my other blog.

eg. Platform Wars: The "Service Wave"
Oh, and there's no UK exceptionalism either. BBC NEWS | Politics | MI5's 'torture' evidence revealed
Quick! Emergency! Help! Americans want to steal our time! ;-)

I guess the real issue here is that for a long time accurate time keeping has been something most important to astronomers and navigators, for whom time synced to the Earth's rotation is important.

The US proposal is presumably to do with some other notions of time they want to measure, which don't need this. For example, I wonder about internet or Unix time. Does it add the leap second when necessary?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Somehow this reminds me of something I wrote a couple of years ago.

(On the business of warblogging - scrolldown)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Fascinating post on difference in advertising rates between Google and MySpace.

Why is MySpace so much lower? Advertisers think they can't control the editorial content. Look at the figures, that's how much advertisers figure control of content is worth to them.

Now. Do you think your media's editorial content isn't shaped by those advertisers?
Went to Chapada this weekend. So didn't have to share a city with Bush

What's Lula up to? Seems like his strategy is straight up hard bargaining for trade liberalization in favour of the developing world (or at least our corner of it). Look at the increase in sales to the US and Europe.

Bush can promise whatever he likes as long as he makes it conditional on European acceptance, it amounts to very little.

Meanwhile Lula seems to be stalling on the hemispheric free trade agreement. Maybe doesn't want to be seen as selling out that much by his coalition? Maybe as a bargaining chip?

Who's Pedro Moreira Salle, head of the 5th largest bank in Brasil. Why not someone from the other four?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Why is Phil Jones On-Line way above me in PageRank?

Nothing against the chap, but I was number two a couple of weeks ago. How come this guy got so popular?
Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!!!!

Keep in mind that I'm suggesting Java will be dead like COBOL, not dead like Elvis. For the hardest enterprise problems, Java is safe for at least three to five years--things like sophisticated and scalable object relational mapping, two phased commit, and the like. Java is being threatened in a much more common, and I think important space: how do you build a simple web application that fronts a relational database? Especially a database schema that you control? This industry solves this particular problem over and over, and Java's not very good at it.

Web Developers Moving Past Java -- part 1
Wow! This is a totally crazy, freaky optical illusion!!!
Microbe and Machine Merged to Create First 'Cellborg'
Evo Morales: no concern for US interests
Scobleizer : Yahoo’s new pretty maps are doomed (and so are Microsoft’s)
Mr Bush said he hoped that Brazil, which he described as 'a very important player in Doha', would put pressure on the EU to cut its farm subsidies, which have been a major sticking-point in the world trade negotiations.

BBC NEWS | Business | US pushes for Americas trade zone

BTW : Bush is gonna be here in Brasilia over the weekend. Probably related to this. (Plus the various US military interests here.)

Can't decide if I should go out and protest or not. Will have zero positive effect, of course. But somehow it feels totally apathetic to just do nothing.
Don't let anyone fool you that the US is "different" from all those other countries which disappear and torture people for years on end. There's no US "exceptionalism" :

BBC NEWS | Americas | CIA 'running secret terror jails'

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

BBC NEWS | Africa | Urgent appeal for Africa's south
Utopia Research & Design - land reform in Zimbabwe

Tribe discussion Zimbabwean land reform. X.J. makes some good points :

Yes, this is a big tragedy and completely caused by Mugabe. If you enacted the same policy in the US, to suddenly seize farmland of farmers, drive the farmers off, and give the land to other people (the race is irrelevant) who have no knowledge of farming, the result would be exactly the same. The story about how 'the whites took all the good farmland and we are taking it back' is nonsense - the reason that the white farms are productive is not because they are on magic land but because the farmers have sane land management practices. They fertilize and irrigate properly, aware of mistakes in the past such as the poor practices that lead to the Oklahoma dust bowl of the 1930s (planting identical cash crops year after year depletes the soil and creates a desert). The soil in Zimbabwean farms is fertile because of the work the farmers have done to make it so. Such work is a necessary ongoing process. Farming is not easy and can not be learned over night - the knowledge transfer takes decades. Having wiped out their farming industry in only a few years, they are really screwed now and there is no easy fix. Reestablishing those farms will take fertilizer and it will take tractors. Yet Zimbabwe has now squandered their resources and can not afford to buy these things. And even if they bought these things it would do no good because the human resources with the knowledge to fix things have been driven out of the country and are not coming back. Mugabwe has created a racist, white-hating atmosphere that means it would be too dangerous to return, even if he is removed from power.

Zimbabwe and South Africa are the two bread-basket economies of Africa which grow the food that keeps the rest of Africa fed. Losing Zimbabwe is having far reaching effects throughout Africa.

On the topic of how to do this better, here is the solution. First, it is not true that the only good land is that owned by whites and therefore it must be seized. This is a recipe for destruction. Instead, a sane plan would be to have a farming education program. People interested in farming would be given free land grants. Farming offices would be established in those areas with agriculture agents to teach farming techniques. Modest land taxes would enable land that is not being used fairly by its owners to return peacefully back to the land available for further grants to others.
BBC NEWS | Africa | Zimbabwe admits 'errors' on land

(Watch the video too.)

People who believe governments have a right to reform land-use (like me), need to think carefully about this. Land reform in Zimbabwe is cover for essentially "cleansing" of political opposition, which has caused mass starvation and suffering.