Interesting day for Internet activism

Part 1: Greg writes an article that compares the Howard Dean candidacy and its fundraising prowess (and grab of a plurality, though not a majority, of the MoveOn primary) to a Smart Mob a la Howard Rheingold’s seminal work. The next day, he points to an article (via Doc Searls) that points out that it took the Dean campaign 84 days to raise $3.2 million, and since then it’s almost doubled the amount, with more than $2 million coming in over the Internet. And counting. People putting their money where their mouths are?

Part 2: Larry Lessig and the folks at have been fighting to get a bill introduced into Congress that would tip some of the balance of the copyrighted works back into the public domain—by making owners of works that have been in copyright for more than fifty and less than 75 years pay a $1 renewal fee each year. If the fee is not paid, the copyright lapses and the work falls into the public domain. This would help to unlock works that have no significant commercial potential, but cultural significance into the public domain.

On June 24 Lessig posted that he had found sponsors for this, the Public Domain Enhancement Act, in the form of Lofgren and Doolittle, Democrat and Republican (respectively) Representatives from California. The bill has since been introduced. We can only hope…

Lou Reed, in different times

So last night Lisa and I went to see Lou Reed at the Moore Theatre. Amazing theater, almost 100 years old and (except for some peeling paint, and chairs that remind me of middle school) a perfect performance space.

Lou came out about 7:50 leading his band: Mike Rathke on second guitar, the amazing Fernando Saunders on bass, synth drums, and vocals, Jane Scarpantoni on cello (!), and Anthony on backing and lead vocals. (Much has been made, at least in Lou’s web stuff, about Anthony, Lou’s countertenor discovery, and I have to admit that for much of the show I wasn’t impressed. Of course, that could have been because he was blocked by the tower speaker on our side, and I couldn’t see him.

The opening of the show: Lou played three chords: E A G. The crowd went nuts. He paused, then repeated the progression, then stopped. “You know how hard it is to keep playing the same three chords all these years? Well, the secret is it’s actually four chords…” and he played it again: E A G Bm A. Then he launched into “Sweet Jane.” He had to stop again in a second though, and said, “Could you please not take flash pictures? Now I can’t see.” A few more chords and—“Look, I’m not kidding. I tried the nice way, don’t make me try the hard way. If I can’t see, I can’t read the Teleprompter!” Fortunately there were no further interruptions.

After that a brilliant turn on “Small Town,” reimagined as a sort of driving funk tune during which Mike Rathke played a synthed up guitar that sounded like a piano, and which Lou stopped towards the end to ask, “So out of curiosity: Seattle? Small town?” Some cheers. “Big town?” More cheers. “I dunno…” (making an equivocal shrug before playing the final notes). Then “Tell It To Your Heart,” with Antony and Fernando taking vocal duties on some of the verses. I don’t remember the rest of the set list order, but he played “Dirty Blvd,” “How Do You Think It Feels?,” “Vanishing Act,” “The Day John Kennedy Died,” “Ecstasy,” “Call on Me,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” and “Venus in Furs,” featuring an extended cello solo from Scarpantoni during which it sounded, particularly in some overtone passages, as though she was chasing away John Cale’s viola with a handful of rocks.

“All Tomorrow’s Parties” and the set’s penultimate number, “The Raven,” were punctuated by Lou’s tai chi master, Master Ren, performing exercises in the corner of the stage in a shiny red gi, which was a bit distracting. Lou’s take on “The Raven” was pretty straight except for a few four letter words, nothing like what I reported some fans imagined during his last Seattle performance.

And I skipped a tune: “Street Hassle,” which with both Scarpartoni and Fernando playing bowed lines, moved along like a brand new song rather than the dusty 25-year-old junkie street poem that it was. The last part, during which a young Bruce Springsteen mumbles something in a fake Southern accent on the record, was redone with traded shouts of “sha la la la la” over a rising extended vamp.

And who would have figured two songs from Berlin? “Men of Good Fortune” early in the set, “The Bed” later, which was bloodchillingly stark.

Missteps were few: I thought Fernando’s song “Reviens Chérie” was okay but out of place, and some of Antony’s vocal turns were forced.

And then “Set the Twilight Reeling,” which comes across on record as a quiet apologia for being an aging rock and roller that tries to become a loud roar, but here struggled to get out of gear, especially during Antony’s verses. (It’s difficult to hear a countertenor warble the line “As the drums beats he finds himself growing hard” without giggling.) But the crescendo at the end, egged on by Jane’s cello, driven higher by both guitars playing like they were possessed, was the key—I suddenly understood everything. Now I’ve forgotten it, of course, but for a second the whole year made sense.

We had to go at this point, the end of the set, since Lisa had a 5 am call this morning. Which means I probably missed the only chance I’ll ever have to see Lou play “Heroin” live. But since I’m grateful Lisa went at all, I can’t complain too much.

Working with AmazonHandler

As I promised a few weeks ago, I’ve spent a little more time working on AmazonHandler. The biggest problems people have had with it are that

  1. it requires a supporting script which has to be loaded from a fixed location on your hard disk, and
  2. there wasn’t an example of how to parse the output.

Number one is fairly trivial: you can either put the supporting script, SOAPXMLRPCHandler.scpt, in the standard location, which is in the computer’s /Library/Scripts directory—the one for all users, not your local version, though it should probably check both—or you can edit the InitSOAP subroutine to tell it to look for the script elsewhere.

Number two is harder, and I spent some time working through it last night. The trick is in knowing that various parts of the return have to be explicitly transformed either to lists or records before their parameters can be read. Once you do that, it’s fairly simple to parse the output.

I’ve hacked a quick demo script that is actually somewhat useful. Until I work out all the bugs, it will be available as a separate download; after that, I’ll probably bundle it with AmazonHandler. The script, Look Up Current Track in Amazon, talks to iTunes to get information about the currently playing track, then looks up the track’s album (or artist, if no album title is available) at Amazon, tells you what Amazon’s current price is, and offers you the option to go to Amazon’s page for the product should you wish to consider the option of purchasing it. So (buzzword version) this script integrates iTunes and Amazon using SOAP-based web services.

The script is available for download on my Scripts page. = DoNotEmail?

As everyone has noticed, the national telemarketing “do not call” registry became open yesterday at This MSNBC article says that the website stayed up, but the problem is mail. Every single phone number registered requires a confirmation email to be sent. Let’s see, 370,000 customers by noon, so figure about a million customers, each generating between one and three pieces of mail. Yeah, that would look like spam if I were operating a mail server.

So I’m not surprised that, although I registered our phones yesterday, I still don’t have my confirmation emails. I just I hope I get them within the 72-hour window.

More followup on the “civilian perspective”

More reaction to the dialog about Echo yesterday:

  • Ole Eichhorn says I “weighed in on the side of common sense” yesterday. More importantly, he articulates what I tried to, which was that “web plumbing is a lot less interesting than web content, anyway.” Meaning, for me, two things: the web content area is where I need to continue to spend my time—both writing it and making scripts that work one layer up from the APIs to enable people to publish their content; and that the Echo project needs to consider what needs to happen for the people that have invested in the existing infrastructure in non-trivial ways to have an incentive to migrate. I’m not talking about bloggers so much as I am about big content providers, platform builders, and aggregator developers. Who on Echo can articulate the non-technical value proposition of what they’re doing? (To be clear: I believe there is a real value proposition, and I’m working to try to tease it out. It’s just that I haven’t heard it articulated yet. The page everyone keeps pointing to talks about the wires and the politics.)
  • Speaking of value prop, Charles Cook notes that there may be international character set issues with MetaWeblogAPI. Is this true? I don’t see anything a priori documented that says only 7-bit ASCII or encoded ASCII is allowed; XML is Unicode, after all. Brent might know…
  • Scoble is skeptical that Echo is going to go anywhere, but he’s open to being surprised.

Phil Wolff: 2.4 to 2.9 million weblogs

Phil (over at Blogcount) has come up with a preliminary estimate of the size of the blogosphere using published counts and estimates of Blogger, LiveJournal, and DiaryLand usage. With a fudge factor, he estimates the size at between 2.4 and 2.9 million.

In this game everything is guesses and approximations, since (a) not everyone is on a centralized site, and (b) not everyone uses centralized tools like But I think the next logical step is to benchmark this number using a different technique, like the number of sites registered in Technorati, Blogdex, or even Blogshares, or a longitudinal study of that looks for repeat pings and calculates a unique number of pingers.

Well, that was interesting

I didn’t mean to stir up the shit today, but it looks like that’s what I managed to do. Among other things, I got some very rational observations in my comments on the piece about the Echo project that made me think twice about the whole issue, namely that this could be a way to avoid the whole RSS 0.9x vs. 1.0 vs. 2.0 battle for good (which would be great) and that Echo is aimed at building a full blown, honest to God standard, which would make RSS an easier sell in more conservative vertical markets like banks (see Tim Bray for a remarkably well written scenario that illustrates the problem). Thanks to Matt Haughey for the pointer, and for the reference to Evan’s post about the Blogger API vs. the MetaWeblog API which (in between some fingerpointing), Evan illustrates a serious technical concern about MetaWeblog, namely the lack of support for appkeys.

Then Dave rewrote his original pointer to my piece to quote a long snippet of it and posted a qualified endorsement of the Echo project, saying that if and when the format reaches closure, he will recommend that UserLand support it and RSS 2.0.

Today felt like a therapy session for me. I posted something that went against the groupthink that was starting to form around Echo, Dave linked to it and got the concerns out in the air, and then there was some forward movement. Amazing. This actually, despite some of the peripheral mudslinging that’s been happening, speaks quite well about how everyone in the community is going through this process.

Is the air cleared? Good, then here’s the takeaway from what I wrote today:

  1. There are sufficient technical and business concerns with the way RSS and the MetaWeblog API work today that Echo isn’t just about rebuilding things for the sake of doing it.
  2. Users and institutions who have already embraced the existing paradigms will continue, like me, to freak out about this. There better be a pretty good marketing guy associated with Echo to work will the existing adopters.

Fair enough?

A hamhock in your blog

Ah, it’s too nice a day to be pissed off. I will note, however, as long as I’m stepping in things, that I think the word “funky” is being misapplied to RSS 2.0 feeds with extra items; but for different reasons than Don Park does.

Fundamentally, funk is about booty, not XML. (Yes, I said booty. Loose booty! More Loose Booty!) What is funk? Funk is, like soul, a hamhock in your cornflakes. Funk is not domestically produced! Would you trade your funk for what’s behind the third door???

I think everyone needs to adopt this motto from Funkadelic:

For nothing is good unless you play with it. And all that is good, is nasty!

And remember, heads I win, tails you lose.

A civilian in the format wars

Brent yesterday declared his neutrality in the brewing revolution called the Echo Project which is working to displace RSS and the Meta-Weblog API (among others) as the blogging wire formats of choice. Good call, Brent. As a civilian observer and consumer of these formats, I’m going to have to go a little further. This is one of the stupider things I’ve ever seen, from a technology AND business strategy perspective.

Is there anything wrong with the technology that we have right now? No. Meta-Weblog works, though it needs wider implementation, as an API to allow multiple tools to work with multiple different kinds of blogs. RSS works, and if it doesn’t do what you need it to do you can expand it with namespaces. I understand the frustration of underspecified formats, but let’s get it straight: every groundbreaking 1.0 project is underspecified. And adoption happens anyway.

Furthermore, this couldn’t come at a worse time. Blogs are finally getting respect. RSS is gaining widespread adoption by BigCo publishers like the New York Times, the BBC, and Microsoft (I can’t imagine that MSDN’s RSS feeds will be the last, and more importantly both programmers and execs are blogging). The market has converged on a standard, and now it’s not about tech any more. It’s about implementation.

But all this is happening because RSS is essentially baked. If you re-open the debate with a project like Echo, you’re sending a strong signal that RSS isn’t ready for prime time—either the technology, or the community around it. And, more importantly, you’re also granting license to other people to do the same thing. One of the beautiful things about RSS is that it can be adopted without question, largely because it just works. What’s to stop some smart guy in a large software company from saying, “there’s no consensus out there, so I’m just going to build my own format.” And if the software company is large enough, lock in happens around that format instead and we’re right back where we started.

Update: Adam Curry and Don Park on the topic.

Update #2: Dave accuses me of eloquence and sums it up in a phrase: “anyone who uses weblogs and aggregators should be angry as hell when developers try to rip up the pavement, break everything and start over.”

QTN™: MacTarnahan Black Watch Cream Porter

MacTarnahan’s Black Watch Cream Porter won as best porter in the 2001 Great American Beer Festival awards, and it’s easy to see why. Made (according to the website) with oatmeal as well as malted and unmalted grains, the beer is actually pretty light in mouthfeel, but the flavor is incredible. (This may have been enhanced by the fact that I was drinking the Limited Edition version, which conditions the porter in used bourbon casks!) It pours black, with a slightly brown-tinged head. The nose is slightly malty but subdued, but then the first taste: creamy sweetish, with a lingering hint of something. A couple of tastes later and it becomes clear: vanilla from the cask, with a faint overtone of the sweet bourbon. Anthem America thinks it’s a slightly “burnt” flavor; he might be right, but I think it’s more “toasted.”

Honestly, after tasting so many Belgians, I don’t really have words to describe how good this beer is. It’s a completely different flavor vocabulary. Highly recommended.

I enjoyed this one last night over grilled lamb and garlic sausages, which were found at A&J Meats and Seafood on Queen Anne. Thank God, finally found a butcher out here. They aren’t the same old school style as our Boston butcher, Frank (really Francesco), but their stuff is top notch. Their hot Italian sausage is pretty good too.

Safari 1.0

I still have a few problems with Safari, including the fact that it doesn’t appear to support font-variant: small-caps; as a result my date headers appear in lowercase. But I bit the bullet and redid my CSS so I wouldn’t fall prey to the problem that was hitting me with a div nested inside my H3 tags, so most of my page now displays correctly.

For the record, I just appended the border effect I was using in my “grabber” div to the H3 style definition. It means I have to update multiple places in my style sheet if I decide to get rid of the blue bar effect, but it seems a small evil to put up with.

Democracy in action brings out true colors

MoveOn’s primary starts today. The organization is sponsoring an online primary to allow its members to choose from the declared Democratic candidates; the organization will then endorse and support the candidate who receives a plurality of the votes. (In the preliminary straw poll, Governor Howard Dean, Senator John Kerry, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich got the most votes.) If you are a registered MoveOn member, you can help this experiment in online democracy by casting your vote today.

The irony? There is just as much of a vast right-wing conspiracy on line, and it’s easier to find. Greg pointed yesterday to fellow Hooblogger Wyeth Ruthven, who pointed to an article at Common Voice in which conservative columnist Jimmy Moore gives step by step instructions on how to submarine the MoveOn primary by voting for Al Sharpton. While Sharpton is unlikely to get a plurality of the votes as a result, unless there are more mean-spirited Cassiuses out there than MoveOn members, the action is likely to deny a plurality to the candidates which MoveOn members would legitimately vote for.

Wyeth also points to a discussion thread on which illuminates the depth of intelligence and gentility which would lead someone to pull a stunt like this:

Go Al go! “If de candidate fit, you mus’ run de dimwit”… (1)

This is not a FReeping opportunity – this is lunacy! These people are COMMUNISTS!




Heh. It was only a matter of time before someone dusted off the C-word to smear opponents of our current Administration. I find it humorous that the poster seems as concerned about Ashcroft’s DOJ as I am.

So business as usual, but I’m glad that it’s moved online. Here it’s much easier to turn over the rocks and find what’s crawling underneath.