Round the block

Once again, I come up with reasonably snappy one liners about the things in my aggregator so you don’t have to:

  • SJ’s Wiki Hut of Horror: Feats of Clay. No, we aren’t slouching towards Bethlehem as software designers; no one knows where perfection is or what it looks like, so we just have to do the best we can. (If there’s a better analogy between agnosticism and software design, I don’t know what it is.)
  • Daily Press: Oysters bring rare bustle. It’s a long way from the James River kepone spill in the 1970s, apparently long enough that they’re opening a new stretch for harvesting.
  • Wired News: Monster Fueled by Caffeine. Well, that’s one way to go for an office for a software startup; just park your butts, and your laptops in a coffeehouse with free WiFi. (Also nice to see they have plans for social networking your Delicious Library data.)
  • New York Times: SBC’s Acquisition of AT&T Is Completed for $16 Billion. Guess AT&T ran out of things to spin off.
  • Adam Curry teases with the description of a new drag and drop podcasting app—but doesn’t make with the link.
  • Jeff Jarvis points out that the scary media complainers have an ally on the FCC commission in Democrat Michael Copps, who seems nostalgic for the days before cable.
  • Finally, Ethan Zuckerman does some cool Technorati math on the dissemination of BBC articles through the blogosophere. Turns out that technology articles are the most likely to be disseminated and African news, UK local news, and entertainment and business stories are among the least likely.

Job hunt as personal philosophy

Wil Wheaton writes compellingly today about the outcome of his latest audition. There are a couple of things here that spoke to me. First: Wil, like me, is in an industry that is playing the hiring game in a very risk averse way. In Wil’s industry, Hollywood, it makes a lot of sense—people literally make the part. In my industry, the software startups are coming off a multi-year venture funding “nuclear winter,” and now more than ever the old rule applies: A companies hire A players; B companies hire C players. That leaves people who aren’t picture perfect matches for product management jobs (including competitor experience, or industry experience, or multiple successful product launches, looking for the one position that they are the exact right fit for.

These fiscal realities don’t make managing the inevitable downtimes any easier, though. As Wil writes today: “I still haven’t heard anything about the amazing movie, and it’s getting harder by the day to maintain hope.”

This is the hardest part of the search. Last week I had what I think was a turning point: I was talking to Lisa after one particularly frustrating interview and started listening to myself as she offered some responses and helpful thoughts. I was rejecting everything she said out of hand, speaking very negatively, preemptively shutting her options down before she had a chance to elaborate on them.

And I realized. I wanted to shut down the options because I didn’t want to hope. I was afraid to get hurt again.

I decided two things that day:

  1. I shouldn’t be afraid to fail. There is at this point nothing to lose.
  2. I am going to start writing down when I think negatively about myself, and diving into why.

With any luck, doing both those things will help me catch some of my negative thinking before it paralyzes me again.

Links in odd places

I feel a bit odd just now, as though I’m part of the machine or something. Here’s why:

  1. Go to the Sub Pop home page, which currently offers a link to a site for the new Low recording.
  2. Click on the Low splash page.
  3. Click on the link in the navigation that says “>S>P info page.”
  4. Scroll down the list of reviews for the new album, and click on the one that says “Blogcritics review of ‘The Great Destroyer.’

And there you’ll find me. Guess I’m really part of the star making machinery now.

On dressing for the occasion

I went into Boston yesterday to audition for a part time gig while I continue looking for my next opportunity. My preparatory instructions said, “Treat this like a job interview, because it is one.” Okay, I said, and put on the suit I normally wear for first interviews. It wasn’t the smartest move, because I ended up having to walk eight slushy blocks when the Red Line slowed to a crawl two stops before Park Street, but when I got into the room I felt like a million bucks—and like I was intimidating the other people who were there. It was kind of cool.

Then there’s our vice president, who decided that the appropriate way to dress to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz was to dress like he was going to clean the streets I walked down last night in Boston:

Sources: Washington Post, Dick Cheney, Dressing Down; Oliver Willis, Vice President Disgrace; Tin Man; Wonkette, In Defense of Cheney.

Suspicious Cheese Radio

Everyone’s favorite men’s renaissance a cappella group, the Suspicious Cheese Lords, will be on Washington DC classical station WETA on Sunday night, doing the “Millennium of Music” program hosted by Robert Aubry Davis. The station has a streaming audio feed (Real or Windows Media Player only, unfortunately) so you can preview parts of their amazing new disc of previously unrecorded works of Ludwig Senfl. Set your tuners for 10 PM; it should be a really good show.

Sixty years

Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the arrival of Allied (Soviet) forces at Auschwitz and Birkenau.

While I can’t find words to express the mix of sorrow, rage, disgust, and shock that still fills me when I contemplate what happened in that camp and others like it across Nazi Germany, I have to try. Because we’re mistaken if we think it will never happen again.

On a more optimistic note, I was encouraged to read Putin’s remarks at the ceremony to the effect that Russia still has anti-semitism and that he is ashamed to have to acknowledge it.

More Holocaust resources:

No rest for the wicked (cold)

Another day, another shovelful. Having grown up in a nominally warmer climate where it only ever really snowed once every couple of years, I never really learned how to deal with snow. It turns out that it’s all about maintenance. Every morning after the snow falls, you go out and shovel the walk and snowblow the driveway. Shoveling doesn’t have to get to the pavement, just close. Every morning thereafter, you keep scraping at the path to get ice, drifted snow, packed snow, etc. clear and give the sun a chance to do its work. Snow shoveling is like living, it’s a journey rather than a destination.

.Mac and XML-RPC

Apple has released the .Mac SDK, allowing developers to integrate their applications with Apple’s members-only suite of web-hosted applications. Interestingly, the “Using the .Mac SDK” page says that “.Mac supports network access via WebDAV, HTTP, XML-RPC, and other open standards.” The focus of the SDK however appears to be on a set of Cocoa classes that wrap an access API, and there isn’t any documentation on what XML-RPC services are exposed by .Mac.

I would imagine that doing things like membership checking and so forth require a lot more work in XML-RPC, but it would still be interesting to see what the service calls looked like. Other than the one mention in the page I cite above, there’s no further mention of XML-RPC anywhere in the docs.

Anyone got any ideas?

Newspaper archives want to be free

Dan Gillmor: Newspapers: Open Your Archives. Right on. This is not only the right move from a business model perspective (more in a second) but from a Public Good perspective.

Why is it a good move from the business model perspective? Three things. First, keeping archives publicly accessible increases the newspaper’s share of voice in Google (as Doc Searls and I argued a long time ago). Second, it dramatically increases ad inventory. Third, it lowers the transaction costs for people interested in older information, increasing the likelihood that they’ll go in and find your content—and maybe click on an ad.

Capacity planning for digitizing CDs

I keep forgetting to document the set of assumptions I’m using to size the hard disk requirements for my home music server. This might be helpful to someone, so here goes:

On average, Apple’s lossless codec (ALAC) compresses files to about 58% of their uncompressed size. This means that to do capacity planning for moving CDs to digital storage as ALACs, you might think about it this way: a CD holds about 700 MB for 80 minutes of music; most CDs come in closer to an hour; and ALAC files are 58% of the full size representation on the CD. So the formula would be:

number of CDs × (700 × (60÷80) × 0.58) =
number of CDs × 304.5 MB =
number of CDs × 0.297 GB

So my library will weigh in at 929 × 0.297 GB = 275 GB. Which, honestly, isn’t as big as I thought it was—but is a lot bigger than you can fit on the existing Mac Mini. Or, for that matter, most external drives—the biggest I can find on Outpost is 300 GB, but most drives seem to be weighing in at around 250 these days. Maybe it’s time to look at RAID based solutions. You know, for future growth.

BTW: Why lossless? Because I’m a music bigot and like to hear all the frequencies in my music, not just the ones that lossy algorithms preserve. (No, I haven’t been able to figure out how to reconcile this with purchasing 128-bit-encoded AACs from the iTunes store.) Or, maybe, putting a better spin on it, I want to preserve the entirety of my investment in the physical CDs. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Managing iTunes with limited disk space

MacOSXHints: An AppleScript to manage two music folders. The poster was running out of room on his PowerBook hard drive (sound familiar?) and created two music libraries—one on a shared disk on his home network, and a smaller one on his PowerBook. An interesting alternative to the other solutions I’ve identified to this problem, which include having a dedicated machine running iTunes and sharing all its files, or using a VNC-like product to remotely connect to a music server machine.

Community marketing destroys shareholder value.

Two articles on Metafilter, apparently unrelated: identical messages of support for Ashlee Simpson have appeared online in about fifteen message boards, all signed mandyc19, leading some to speculate that a viral marketing company is trying to start a “groundswell” of support for the once-lipsynching, now known to be just-bad singer—Ashleeturfing, if you will. And AOL has confirmed it will discontinue its AOL Newsgroup interface, ending eleven years of easy participation of AOL customers in Usenet (to the chagrin of many old-time Usenet users; see Eternal September). The connection: commercial actions that damage online community.

Communities anywhere are fragile things, born of the tension between their members’ self interest and their recognition that there is value in sharing a common place with other people. The catch is that communities have enormous value, both to their participants and to others outside them. It’s commonly recognized, even outside Cluetrain circles, that users talking to users about your products can have a far greater impact on purchase and use decisions and brand perception than your own marketing efforts.

This value is a double edged sword for both participants. For marketers, authentic user buzz and word of mouth can make or break your product—look at the buzz around the Tivo vs. the (negative) buzz around copy protected CDs for instance. For users, recognition of that value by marketers can lead to increased value for the community. Look, for instance, at the contributions to Usenet usability brought about by first DejaNews and then Google, or the benefit to the blog community from the New York Times’ RSS feeds.

The negative edge of the sword for users is the insidious part. Look at Usenet in 1993 for instance. AOL made an apparently calculated decision that there was value for their members in being able to participate in the Usenet community, which at that time was a vibrant functioning place with social norms and thousands of users. I got one of my better jobs, my gig at the Electronic Text Center at UVA, through a recommendation from a grad student I “met” in a UVA newsgroup.

After September 1993, a lot of that value was destroyed. First, the influx of new AOL users were unaware of the social protocols (read the FAQ; no flaming; every discussion in its proper place) that allowed Usenet to function, and they were coming faster than the existing Usenet users could educate them. Forums like comp.fonts, where once design professionals talked about the future of digital type, deciphered industry announcements, and critiqued type and print designs, turned into echo chambers for the endless “where can i find a free download of this adobe font kthxbye” messages that started to stream in.

And of course, once there was a large audience on Usenet, advertising was only a matter of time. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Canter and Siegel’s infamous green card spam, widely seen as the first commercial spam on the Internet, happened only seven months after AOL opened the floodgates.

Today the Usenet community is all but extinct. There’s still plenty of traffic, but a lot of it—as of August 2003, the last time Microsoft’s Netscan project rendered the treemap, is in porn and binaries, rather than discussions. Faced with the combination of declining value and increasing liabilities (such as the Harlan Ellison lawsuit over the availability of copyrighted works through Usenet), what else could AOL do but shut off the tap?

Or, to look at it another way, once you’ve removed the top of the mountain and stripped out everything of value, there’s no reason to stay there.

So what is the connection to Ashlee Simpson? Take the points in order:

  1. Online user community resource (chat rooms and message boards)
  2. Recognition of value and attempt to exploit (viral marketing)
  3. Destruction of value (i.e. Simpson’s career)

This isn’t new; it’s been going on at least since 1999, when an Internet marketing firm started talking up a young Christina Aguilera’s debut single online (see the WSJ article). But it doesn’t seem to be getting any less clumsy.

What’s the lesson? Community can help a company’s bottom line, but it’s a living thing, not a resource to be exploited, and any attempt on the part of the company to interact with it has to be done honestly and with integrity. If there’s a good example for this, it might be Robert Scoble’s blogging on behalf of Microsoft. Scoble makes his biases clear, but he listens, and he participates in the blogging community according to its norms. Or look at He’s a participating member of the community. That makes all the difference.

(Disclaimer: I worked on online community at Microsoft in 2001, helping to shape the company’s strategy toward working with independent online communities, and in 2004, helping to launch the company’s blog portal. Therefore, there’s a pretty good chance I’m biased in favor of the Microsoft’s efforts.)