A Big Move

First off, a heartfelt congratulations to my parents, who on Tuesday finally moved into their new house. They moved to western North Carolina about a month after I took off for school in Boston last year and have been living in my uncle’s one room guest house since then. Yesterday was their first day in the new place, and they’re thrilled. (It was also my Mom’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom!)

Where there’s smoke?

A nasty little hardware lawsuit came over the AP wire yesterday. Apparently some folks are claiming that syncing their Palm Vs fried their motherboards.

From the discussion on Slashdot, it looks like there might be some merit to the allegations. If you have a Palm V charging cradle connected via a serial cable to your computer, you may want to be careful. No word as to whether feeding the cradle through a serial-to-USB adapter (as I do on my home Mac) causes problems.

Closer Than You Think

This article on PhysicsWeb blew my mind. The findings are pretty significant:

  • Every site on the web can be connected to any other site via, at most, nineteen clicks
  • There is a numerical model that describes how likely a page is to be linked by another page (which the authors call “competitive fitness”: ki(t) ~= tß(eta), where the coefficient eta is described by the authors as “good up-to-date content and a friendly interface”

These are just the tip of the iceberg. It does suggest, pretty strongly, that whatever the “eta” factor represents, website authors are strongly encouraged to take advantage of it. From my experience, I’d say that more goes into “eta” than the authors of the site know. Some of it depends on having content that’s interesting to a particular website author. Dave tends to link to people who write about topics that are near and dear to him. I tend to try to link to “authoritative” sources. Is coolness part of “eta”?

Nineteen degrees of click separation

So about the 19 clicks: I got some anecdotal evidence about how closely related people on the web are to each other. Perusing one of my favorite online comics, Bobbins, I was surprised to see a familiar name under the headline “What is Good?”: Jen Sorensen. Jen was a cartoonist at “Virginia” the last few years I was there, and did cartoons for the Declaration, including one memorable one with a kid up a flagpole in his underwear muttering my fourth year catchphrase: “Oh dear Christ.” (In my defense, I’ll note that fourth year was my year to change life direction, get ulcers and mono, and almost die of food poisoning, so if I said that a lot I probably had provocation.) Anyway, Jen kept drawing and now has a collection of her stuff available. Go look… it’s really good.

Gettin’ Creative

I’ve spent a few days indulging my creative side (which is probably one reason I’m about a day and a half behind in writing for the site). Many props to “Esta” for graciously allowing me to make her story the front page on Friday.

Time Off

I spent the weekend hanging out with our good friend Shel in Portland, Oregon. She’s been there off and on since 1998, but we haven’t had the chance to visit her in her new element. It’s an appropriate word–she’s like a fish in water there. Portland is gorgeous, even more so than Seattle (albeit less dramatically situated), and feels … holistic somehow. It’s a city, but with lots of funkiness about it, one of the best bookstores I’ve ever been in, and huge greenbelts around and through it. Plus if you drive west about twenty minutes (and probably other directions too) you hit farm country!

We did some wine tasting in the Willamette Valley (some nice Pinot Noir), funked out at an outstanding little jazz club (Jimmy Mak’s), and hiked a bit along the coast. The last was quite dramatic. The winds were high and cold and the coast drops into the water precipitously, offering overlook views that look into lush forest and out to monadic rocks jutting up from the water like (Shel’s words) “sea creatures.” It was an excellent visit and kind of recentered me a bit.

Creative Language

One great thing I learned about Shel while I was down there. She’s growing her skill base beyond circuit and chip design and into software. So what computer language works for a seriously right-brained electrical engineer with a playful imagination and a highly developed artistic sense? Why, the only one with an Artistic License: Perl!

I’ve often considered computer languages as being equally valid for linguistic and cultural study as other languages. Computer languages are expressive and have their own semantic quirks. As I learn new languages I frequently find myself asking “How do you say this in Language X?”, where this is something I learned how to say in Language Y. And, just like real languages, I frequently find that the culture and usage of Language X, its creators, and its community, dictate how a particular thought and instruction are expressed.

Also parallel is the way that languages learn new ways to express ideas as they get exposed to new cultural artifacts. Perl has syntax to support object-oriented programming, something that’s about as far from its roots in sed and awk and other Unix command line arcana as you can get. I’m not a very good Perl programmer, and certainly don’t have a good grasp of the context of Perl language, but I think that programming object-oriented in Perl must be like speaking Pennsylvania Dutch to an “Englishman.”

The other thing I like about languages is that they support creative reuse. I’m sure that the Quechya people of the Andean regions of South America have no idea that a green skinned alien bounty hunter would be speaking their language to Han Solo (though I don’t know if “Boda, boda, Solo?” is Quechyan). Likewise, I’m sure that the Haya speakers of Kenya don’t know that they could have conversed with the pilot of the Millennium Falcon in Return of the Jedi (though his grasp of the language, judging from the one line translated, seems lacking: “One thousand herds of elephants are standing on my foot” indeed!)

Way Down in the WELL

Musical note: today’s title is a nod to a Tom Waits song, “Way Down in the Hole,” that is covered brilliantly on the new album from the Blind Boys of Alabama. But today I’m talking about a well, not a hole. Specifically, the Whole Earth ‘Lectric Link.

I heard New York Times journalist Katie Hafner speak on Friday about the WELL, that seminal online community about which one must remember not to speak in the past tense. It’s an interesting story: founded as a technology experiment and as a way to extend the reach of the Whole Earth catalog and review, it became the quintessential online community experience. Never a particularly solid business, it was sold a few times and is slowly fading today. Yet it holds the same position in the history of the Internet today as the Algonquin Round Table holds in the history of 20th century letters. Internet luminaries such as Howard Rheingold cut their online teeth on the WELL. John Perry Barlow hung out there when he wasn’t writing songs for the Dead and ended up cofounding the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The part I wonder about is how do you recreate it today. It’s hard to find energy around online communities these days–there’s no “new WELL” springing up to take the place of the old, though people like Howard Rheingold have certainly tried.

I think part of this is the nature of community itself. Communities, to borrow a hideous analogy/phrase heard all too often in business plans and discussions about tech companies, do not scale. Above a certain point (by which I mean number of members), there’s no real way to build relationships between the participants that enable them to know each other, trust each other, have context around what the other person is saying, etc.

Also, there’s a problem of attention span. When the WELL was around, online destinations were monolithic. You went to the WELL and stayed there because there was literally nowhere else to go online. Today the problem is not that there’s not another community to visit, the problem is that there are too many. Every news site or content publisher has forums and places where you can “talk back” to the author or talk to the other readers. Even online comic strips have their own reader communities. But typically they’re small communities — 10 or 20 regular contributors, tops.

Then there are webloggers like me and my sister, and Dave Winer, and Doc Searls, and probably thousands of others. We develop voices online, and people come and read our stuff (sometimes). But except for very rare cases, there’s no public, user built community that grows up around these weblogs. How could there be? It’s all about our writing, our agendas.

It’s interesting. The WELL became a bustling online community at the same time that Americans in general were withdrawing from organizations in civic life. Are weblogs evidence of a further sundering of the fabric of community? Are we all calving away into individual isolated voices, floating alone in the freezing void of cyberspace?

All in the Family

Before today, this site has been badly named. It’s me, but I’m not the only Jarrett, and the site isn’t a house. I’m the only person writing and frankly I’m sure I’m boring people with all this stuff about XML-RPC and obscure world music.

Fortunately I’m not the only writer in my family. Starting today, my sister Esta will also be contributing to the site. You can always find her stuff here. This is a good thing on many levels, not least of which is that we’re practicing what we preach about keeping the Internet spirit of self-publishing alive. Welcome, Esta!

The site has been really slow recently. I’m thinking about moving to a more stable domain, but I’d have to pay money for that (unless MIT decides they want to set up a Manila server).

Emmanuel Kant: True, True

Those wacky guys at the Brickskeller are at it again. First they put up with the “Suspicious Cheese Lords” singing in the back room at our farewell dinner (including a Happy Birthday over a cell phone to Seth’s sister Cheryl). This summer they’re hosting evenings of philosophy and beer. Kant at the Brickskeller??? Makes me want to break into song:

“Emmanuel Kant was a real pissant
who was very rarely stable

Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
who could think you under the table…

For a good discussion of the relationship between Monty Python and philosophy in general, check out the lecture notes posted by Gary L. Hardcastle, who was (at least in 1993) in God’s own state of Virginia (even if he was at the wrong school).

I don’t like Spam!

I’ve seen two items recently about preventing Spam that looked interesting. One was mostly only relevant to me and other web authors. The Email Address Encoder at West Bay Web turns a regular email address into HTML character entities to make it more difficult for spammers to pick your email address off your web page. (For those of you who don’t read Greek, a character entity is a command to the browser to display a particular character, either by using the common name of the character (e.g. eacute for é) or the number of the character in ASCII (e.g. 101 for e). So my published email address, toj8j@alumni.virginia.edu, would render as toj8j@alumni.virginia.edu (which if you view the source ACTUALLY looks like toj8 j@alu mni. virgin ia.edu).

Secondly, and far less geeky, CNET has an interesting article on behaviors that may result in spam. What surprised me was that posting on Usenet brought about more spam than most of the other methods. The article does not cover my area of concern, running your own website, but so far (knock wood) I haven’t gotten any serious amounts of spam by exposing my email address, even without using the character entity hack above.

History Repeating

Interesting press release from Microsoft about promotional media for the Windows XP launch. I guess there’s one member of the musical/artistic community who’ll be getting coal in his stocking from “Steve Jobs” this Christmas.

But wouldn’t you think that Microsoft would have learned from the Windows 95/”Start Me Up” controversy to read the lyrics before choosing a promotional song? “I’m eating and laughing and loving myself/I never watch TV except when I’m stoned…slip inside this funky house/Dishes in the sink/The TV’s in repair/Don’t look at the floor/Don’t go up the stairs…I’m achin’, I’m shakin’, I’m breakin’ like humans do.”

The radio edit version that’ll ship with the OS will replace those lines about watching TV with “We eat from our plates and we kiss with our tongues.” Oh, that’s an improvement… But it’s comforting to know that XP will still be “breaking like humans do…”

Sorry about the delay in posting today. In addition to work I was bringing a new contributing editor for the site up to speed. Watch for more news later.

Industry Update

Today’s posting is fairly disjointed, as I don’t seem to have the brainpower to offer a coherent writeup. But there are lots of bits and pieces:

Web Services

For those people who still want to know more about XML-RPC and web services, here’s a registry of publicly accessible “web services” that can be addressed using XML-RPC. It’s not exhaustive–there are ways to address Google, for instance, using XML queries that aren’t covered here. But it’s an interesting start.

Microsoft BraXP

Last week I pointed to a story about a Swiss Microsoft ad being pulled because it was too racy. That may have been a little hard to understand if you never saw the ad in the first place. Fortunately, AdCritic mirrored the ad. (Warning: AdCritic is a pretty high traffic site and so the download will probably be slow.)

Frank Willison

It’s too bad that some people have to pass away before you hear their advice. Frank Willison, editor-in-chief at O’Reilly, passed away on 30 July 2001. Today O’Reilly posted a tribute to him that included a long list of excellent quotations from him, including this one that seems particularly pertinent (even though I’m married and not writing code):

“Don’t spend the whole summer inside writing code. You have your whole miserable adult life to do that. I’m forty years older than you are, and I spend all my waking hours typing on a silly computer, answering emails from people I don’t know. If I hadn’t spent my teenage summers at the community pool flirting with Sue Jenkins (what a babe!), I’d be a miserable old goat now. Plan to have some fun this summer, in person. Note that ‘internship’ and ‘internment camp’ both start with ‘intern.'”

Fun with the DMCA

I’m almost afraid to start writing about the DMCA because it’s a long black hole of a no-win argument. Putting consumers’ rights on the one hand against the rights of content providers on the other would normally be no contest, until you put yourself in the content provider’s shoes. Still, I think there are some interesting points that can be made about the law without touching the rights argument. I especially like the point raised in this MSNBC article by Richard M. Smith of the Privacy Foundation:

“Virus writers can use the DMCA in a perverse way. Because computer viruses are programs, they can be copyrighted just like a book, song, or movie. If a virus writer were to use encryption to hide the code of a virus, an anti-virus company could be forbidden by the DMCA to see how the virus works without first getting the permission of the virus writer. If they didn’t, a virus writer could sue the anti-virus company under the DMCA!”


This is day three of my WOMAD USA coverage. For days one and two, please see my new music index.

I was pretty worn out Sunday morning, and I had some things to do before heading over to WOMAD — update my resume and a conference call with my collaborators in e-MIT. It was after six before I headed over. I listened to a little bit of an act on the Windmill Stage and some Imbizo. Then I grabbed some food and started working my way into the crowd.

For the last day of the festival the weather finally cooperated. It had been gray and windy Friday night (wind whipped up dramatically during the Blind Boys of Alabama set), gray and rainy all day Saturday, so it was a relief to seen the sun today.

I found a spot behind a camera stand that hadn’t been there Friday or Saturday. The camera was a big HD (High Definition) rig. There was a crowd camera on a long arm on the other side of the stage as well. I was next to a forty something mom in full festival regalia with her teenage daughter and their friends, all having generally a good time and grousing about the people who were pushing past to fill up the area in front of the stage.

After a bit of a wait, Peter came on stage, bald as an egg except the little graywhite tuft of beard on his chin. At the beginning of the set it was just Peter and Tony on stage. Without a lot of fanfare, Peter acknowledged the crowd, stood at the keyboard, and started playing some really familiar chords. “Here Comes the Flood.” The crowd was silent for the first time all day.

Now the rest of the band came on stage. Surprisingly, also bald were David Rhodes and the drummer. It used to be Tony Levin stood out in the band for having no hair. Must have been a sympathy thing when Peter decided to take the plunge. James McNally from Afro-Celt Sound System was providing additional keyboards, but this set was decidedly a low-tech affair, with David playing an amped acoustic, Tony alternating between bass and Stick, the drummer, one back-up vocalist (about whom more later) and Peter on a simple keyboard. Peter said, “Continuing on with the moisture theme,” and the drummer launched into the opening hi-hat riff from “Red Rain.” The crowd went nuts. I had to fight to keep from singing along like a madman.

If I keep going on a song by song update, this’ll go on for pages. The set was selected by having people write in to the official PG website to request their favorites. These included “Digging in the Dirt,” “Family Snapshot,” “Come talk to Me,” “Mercy Street,” “Solsbury Hill,” and “Signal to Noise.”

When introducing “Come talk to Me,” Peter said, “This next song was written about my youngest daughter. I promised I wouldn’t say this, because it’s her first public appearance, but that’s her standing on the end.” I thought she had a fine, pure voice that held beautifully on the high notes. The mix was a little too muddy to be able to tell much more.

“Signal to Noise” was introduced as having been written with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, “who I miss greatly.” Filling in on the vocals was Iarla Ó’Lionárd, who turns out to be a vocalist with the Afro Celt Sound System. [Signal to Noise is a track from Peter’s as yet unreleased new album, called “Up.” So I guess this was kind of a world premiere?]

Everyone was on stage for the end, including Imbizo and percussionists from Afro Celt Sound System, for “In Your Eyes.” Afterwards, Peter surprised the presenter by coming back on stage with Tony Levin while he was whipping the crowd up. He introduced the encore by saying it was about his father, with whom he had had about forty rough years. He said the two of them experienced a powerful healing time at a yoga retreat, and the song had been written about it. He then performed “Father – Son” from the OVO album (I always thought the song didn’t really fit in with the rest of the album).

Afterwards Afro Celt Sound System came on and rocked everybody’s block. My back is still sore from dancing so hard. Don’t pass up an opportunity to see them.


This continues my writeup of WOMAD USA.

Yesterday I went late, having first stopped in at a company picnic that was a bust (gray and rainy, lots of kid’s activities but few for adults, cold food). I got there in time for Kathryn Tickell’s performance, and it’s a damn good thing as it was the second best thing (after the Blind Boys of Alabama) about the festival so far.

Kathryn is a master of the Northumbrian pipes, which are (as her introducer said a bit clumsily) “less scary” than traditional Scottish pipes. They’re smaller and quieter, and are fed by a bellows rather than by the performer’s breath. She is also a master fiddler and treated us to alternating sets on both instruments. She’s been playing with rock musicians, including Sting and Peter Gabriel, as well as doing her own music. I can’t really describe her performance musically without feeling a bit New Age (the whole “talking about music is like dancing about architecture” problem), so I tried to write down some things she said about the tunes instead:

I was commissioned to write about Otterburn, a battle that happened six hundred years ago between the English and the Scottish. In Northumbria everyone is a little of both, so I didn’t know which side I was supposed to be on. I didn’t know whether to make it a slow sad song or a happy little victory jig, so I compromised. After six hundred years it seemed the right time.

I wrote this reel for my brother – he’s fifteen and a great fiddler, but at present he’s more interested in beer.

I play these songs [fiddle tunes] in the village pub with my uncles. They have the same haircut, the same clothes, the same red accordions… Being farmers or shepherds they don’t get into town much to buy clothes, that’s not important to them. But they do get the Farmers Weekly, and you can buy everything from there. So they all have the same Farmers Weekly checked shirt… If there’s a wedding or funeral you see them all wearing the Farmers Weekly suit. There are only four choices after all.

This song [I wish I had written down the name. Sting had Kathryn play the beginning of it for his song “Island of Souls” on The Soul Cages] – do you know what’s happening to coal mining and shipbuilding in Northumbria? It’s all shutting down. The coal pit shut down. With the closing went 60% of the town’s jobs, and really the heart of the town. My grandfather worked in another pit but knew about this one. He said the mine tunnels extend for miles under the ocean. I asked how they would close it off, and he said the entrances to the tunnels would be sealed off and the sea would slowly seep in. So I wrote this song picturing the sea slowly seeping in from the top and bottom of the coal tunnels, reclaiming its own.

The rest of the day? Well, the Neville Brothers started off strong and went directly to hell as soon as Aaron Neville took the lead vocals. His version of “What’s Going On” only showed how inferior his vocal technique was to Marvin Gaye’s and started me wondering why I had paid a lot of money to hear the band do covers. Then he started in on “Don’t Know Much,” his crapulent song that was made famous when Linda Ronstadt did the duet with him. Between his singing both parts, the unbelievably low-rent keyboard accompaniment, and his air guitar during the solo, my respect for him went straight down the tubes. I stuck around to hear the group do a little more New Orleans style stuff, but split soon thereafter.

There was supposed to have been a performance by Iarla Ó Lionáird, an Irish solo vocalist, but there was an unscheduled switch and an awful bazouki band was on that stage. I watched DJ Peretz (aka Perry Farrell) playing records for a while. If I had been in more of a dancing mood it would have been a lot of fun, but I was pooped and went home instead.

Dancing about Architecture

Just got back from the first night of WOMAD USA, the world music and dance festival founded by Peter Gabriel. The USA festival is held in Marymoor Park in Redmond.

I arrived about 5:30, straightened out my ticket (why does Ticketmaster only ship to your billing address? If Amazon figured it out, shouldn’t they?), and entered the festival grounds. The first act I wanted to see was at 7:00, so I wandered around to get the lay of the land. I heard the first few minutes of Baka Beyond’s show, but came to the same conclusion I had reached after a couple of months of listening to their debut album “Heart of the Forest”: they’re world pop too watered down to be really engaging. I moved on to Savina Yannatou. She had a fantastic voice, but unfortunately her more meditative material couldn’t be heard well over the sound of Baka Beyond coming over from the next stage. I grabbed dinner and headed over to the main stage.

The stage crew took forty-five minutes longer than they should have to get all the mikes set up for the first act, but finally Isaac Hayes took the stage. He played a set that dipped pretty heavily back into “Shaft,” “Hot Buttered Soul,” and some of his other early works. Both “Walk On By” and “Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic” were fantastic. Because of the late start, I decided to leave before the set was over. As I was walking back to the other stage, I heard him start into his classic hit from South Park: “Chocolate Salty Balls”! How wonderful for all the little children (and their parents) in attendance! Fun song, though.

All those thoughts were put out of my mind by the next act, though. The Blind Boys of Alabama are a gospel act that have been around for over sixty years. The three members who were there from the original group came out, led by a sighted guest vocalist and the band (two guitars, bass and drums). They started with “Run On for a Long Time,” which I was familiar with both from Moby’s remixed version and from the version by Bill Landford and the Landfordaires. I looked around and the crowd were on their feet singing and looking happy. As the group proceeded through “Do Lord,” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” and “Way Down in the Hole,” people got more and more energetic. Clarence Fountain interjected a few commentary points along the way (“We’re not trying to save you, we’re just going to give you a good time. I’m having a great time. Compare how old I am to how old you are and see if you think I’m having a good time.”)

Then they got serious. Their version of “Amazing Grace” (to the tune of House of the Rising Sun) got people swaying and a few witnesses from the crowd. Then with “Look Where He Brought Me From” and “Soldier (in the Army of the Lord),” one of the other vocalists gradually worked his way into the crowd for about twenty-five minutes, shouting and generally getting into the atmosphere of a revival. At the end, they left the stage, then the core members plus bass and drums returned for a quick run through “Jesus Loves Me.” As the organizer said after they left the stage the second time, what a way to start a WOMAD.

By that time, I was pretty drained and only stuck around for a few tunes by Youssou N’Dour, including “Shaking the Tree” and a few songs I recognized from his early nineties releases. Then the rain came up and I went home. Two more days of this!


I learned a new usage for the word “hammered” in my office. I kept hearing people saying that they were “totally hammered” on a particular day. Since they didn’t look drunk (hammered usage 1), I investigated further and found that they had a lot of meetings that day, very few of which connected directly with their project (usage 2). I think that too much usage 2 leads to usage 1, myself.

I’ll be pretty hammered (usage 2) today and therefore won’t blog too much. Fortunately this weekend is WOMAD USA, the big world music festival. It’s being held less than two miles from where I work. I’m especially looking forward to Isaac Hayes, Youssou N’Dour, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and Kathryn Tickell. Oh, and Peter Gabriel should be good fun too.

Great term for what seems to happen on a lot of these websites, including mine: blogrolling. (Thanks to Doc Searls for the term [hey, that’s blogrolling in action!]).

I have my own theories about why Microsoft’s Swiss subsidiary pulled its sexy ad for Office XP. Having seen the ad, the detail that’s missing is that the “Microsoft prompt” that appears is in response to a menu item chosen from a Smart Tag popup. Now that’s the missing “killer app” for Smart Tags: pr0n.

Interesting “spam bake-off” on CNET today. Personally, I take advantage of free email accounts and use them wherever I feel I might have spam exposure risk. Then I check them until I have my answer and move on.

Also: I used a new method to post yesterday’s story and it screwed up navigation via the calendar. To get to the stories for the last couple of days, you may want to use these links:

Wednesday: “Ni!”
Thursday: “A Steampunk Party”

A Steampunk Party

Update 2:25 pm: The appeals court just struck down Microsoft’s petition for rehearing on Finding of Fact 161–that it had illegally co-mingled IE and Windows code.

My sister sent me an email reminding me of a passion that I share with my family for obsolete technology. I visited the website and was blown away by what was available on the website–and by some memories:

ROUGH AND TUMBLE ENGINEERS HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION is a unique museum in that we don’t clean the dust off our artifacts – because we’re often out kicking up the dust WITH them. During our show days almost everything on the grounds is run! And during our annual Threshermen’s Reunion EVERYTHING on the grounds that will move under it’s own power can be seen in our daily Parade of Power, a ninety minute parade of antique and obsolete machinery and automobiles.

Talk about steampunk. In a corner of Lancaster County, PA, there’s an organization devoted to keeping antique machinery operating–not Commodore 64s, not Ataris, but steam engine tractors. They have several events a year that can only be described as mindblowing and headsplitting (steam engines aren’t quiet). My great-grandfather, Arthur S. Young, was instrumental in getting the association going. His idea was to keep the old machinery that he loved going and expose the wider public to it so that they could experience the sights, sounds, and smells of these well-built, well-loved machines.

Along the way, though, something funny happened. As the shows went on, the appeal broadened. People started coming for other reasons than the steam engines: I remember seeing people’s crafts, meeting family, watching kids ride model steam trains, eating fried dough made on an antique machine, and generally having a great time. The steam engines were fantastic, and the Rough and Tumble guys had built a community of people who were really passionate about that technology and about keeping it working. And then there was a second community around the first one who weren’t passionate about the steam technology per se, but who enjoyed the heck out of the party and made their own contributions to it in completely different ways.

The Moral, in Geek-Speak

Rough and Tumble is a platform. It’s a hardware platform–serious hardware. Steam engines are the key platform technology. It took people loving the key technology, plus people who dug the platform and could add to it in creative ways, to make the platform a party–a community that lots of people could engage with and which made them all happier.

And me? I’m part of the family that started this party. I just happen to live on the software side.

PS — Steampunk is a term used to describe science fiction written in the historical past. It takes the attitude of cyberpunk and puts it in a world where the gears are big and the engines are loud. I was introduced to steampunk by The Difference Engine by William Gibson (who coined the term cyberspace) and Bruce Sterling.

PPS — I’ll be updating my great-grandfather’s genealogical record shortly to include some of this information, and pointers to the Rough and Tumble page.

Also: I used a new method to post a story and it screwed up navigation via the calendar. To get to the stories for 7/25 and 7/26, you may want to use these links:

Wednesday: “Ni!”

Thursday: “A Steampunk Party”

Virii and Ecosystem Health

I rambled a little yesterday. It’s like that sometimes before 8 am. One of the points I forgot to make in my comparison of IM wars and single sign-on wars is that sometimes keeping a diverse ecosystem is critical to the ecosystem’s health. In English? Two or more strong players in the market are better than one. Common sense, really, except in the computer field, which has for the last ten years had a strong whiff of winner take all about it.

Economists talk about network externalities driving the explosive growth of Windows and of Microsoft Office. A “network externality” is an effect that makes a particular good or service valuable the more other people are using it–at least that’s the common definition.

But I think most people forget that occasionally network externalities can be negative as well as positive. And that’s how we get things like SirCam and other Outlook virii. The Outlook virii bother me because of what they say about email clients. What network externalities can be gained on a large scale from everyone being on just one email client? Within an organization’s firewall, sure, you get value by adding extra components like calendaring (and don’t get me wrong–for corporate email, this is a killer app). But I’m aware of very few companies who extend access to those apps to people outside the firewall. So why does everyone run the same email client?

The real externality in Internet mail is the mail format itself, good old RFC 822. It’s a transfer protocol, just like SOAP. Any client that can speak it can participate in the discussion. If you believe in the logic of network externality, in the email realm there’s no reason that Outlook or any mail client should have the overwhelming market share that it does.

I used to feel fairly secure about email virii. I was the only Mac user in the MBA program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and we used Eudora as the school’s email application. There were always a few people who persisted in using Outlook in spite of the fact that there wasn’t a calendar server anywhere in the school. They spread their fair share of virii, but I was never infected. My diversity protected me. Unfortunately we’re changing over in the fall, largely because of a lack of a unified calendar feature for Outlook. I’m grimly looking forward to discussions with my IT-savvy but Outlook-bigot classmates after the fourth or fifth email virus comes around.


Sad but true: Nabokov story submitted anonymously to online editors. Asinine criticisms ensue.

New story: Virii and Ecosystem Health. Why does everyone use Outlook? Really?

I saw the re-release of Monty Python and the Holy Grail last night. It still has the nervous lunacy of a first time film. The rerelease didn’t really clean up the visuals all that much–the picture quality simply wasn’t that good to begin with. I saw it in a theatre with about 12 other people. Quite a different experience from college, in a packed lecture hall with a bunch of people raging drunk reciting the script a step ahead of or behind the action. But still a very funny film:

Oh, I am afraid our life must seem very dull and quiet compared to yours. We are but eight score young blondes and brunettes, all between sixteen and nineteen- and- a- half, cut off in this castle with no one to protect us. Oooh. It is a lonely life: bathing, dressing, undressing, making exciting underwear.

Also: I used a new method to post a story and it screwed up navigation via the calendar. To get to the stories for 7/25 and 7/26, you may want to use these links:

Wednesday: “Ni!”
Thursday: “A Steampunk Party”