Archive for the ‘TechFun’ Category

Yowee Zowee Newness

October 8, 2005

Okay – well, things aren’t really ready, my new WordPress blog is still in development, but screw it – the need to blog outweighs perfection. Release early & often, right?

Finding People

September 5, 2005

Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath continues to haunt the rest of America. I’m on several different email discussion groups – especially ones that have to do with political organizing and technology – and they are all talking about how to solve this problem (thanks to SoRo for the link). This morning on Dan Gillmor’s Bayosphere, Tim Bishop outlined the problem: “create a single database of all the people missing in the aftermath of Katrina that their friends and family can use to connect with them”. Turns out that there are already a number of options springing up, from the Katrina PeopleFinder Project to a CivicSpace effort to Wal-mart’s own attempt to help. But the one that made me choke up a bit was the Lost and Found section of Craig’s List New Orleans – mostly because it reminds me of Sept. 11 in New York City, people desperately searching for their loved ones.

There is also a mailing list for on-going discussion of technical response to emergency events; I’m not on it myself, and don’t know what it’s like: Digital-ER. But let’s return to the PeopleFinder project, which a number of my friends and colleagues are involved with. Noting that the Red Cross fulfills much the same function, the PeopleFinder project has a page explaining why they’re doing this:

Donated money? Please donate a little time. Join the Katrina PeopleFinder Project.

It’s easy. All you need is an internet connection and the ability to copy data into a form.

http://192.122.183.218/wiki/index.php/PeopleFinderVolunteer

After Katrina many friends and family members have been separated and left with no clear way to find each other. Hundreds of internet web sites are gathering hundreds, and probably thousands, of entries about missing persons or persons who want to let others know they’re okay.

The problem is: the data on these sites has no particular form or structure. So it’s almost impossible for people to search or match things up. Plus there are dozens of sites – making it hard for a person seeking lost loved ones to search them all.

The Katrina PeopleFinder Project NEEDS YOUR HELP to enter data about missing and found people from various online sources. We’re requesting as little as an hour of your time. All you need to do is help read unstructured posts about missing or found persons, and then add the relevant data to a database through a simple online form.

To get started please click here:
http://192.122.183.218/wiki/index.php/PeopleFinderVolunteer

Questions? Email katrina-people (at) activist-tech.org

Thanks!!!
The Katrina PeopleFinder Team

The Shuffle

September 3, 2005

I love the iPod Shuffle. I love it more than the iPod. I started with the 1 gig Shuffle, and then gave it to my brother to trade down to the 512 MB shuffle.

Why? Because there was something fun, something nice, about a small selection of songs. It was easier to enjoy them, easier to have variety. Something about the massive selection of my massive iTunes collection makes enjoying the music borderline impossible. You end up listening to the same small collection of tunes again and again.

But with the Shuffle, everything is different. Having that limit, that ceiling of 120 songs is surprisingly liberating. And the small size and long battery life makes for incredible portability – and consequently I listen to more music than I ever did before.

I have been singing the praises of the Shuffle to friends & family for some time – but this morning I saw this blog post about why the Shuffle is superior and decided it was time to Blog It!

Junglecast 2: Math & the Maya

April 5, 2005

Installation two of the Junglecasts from the Gringo Collapse Tour, podcasts with Dr. Ed Barnhart of the Maya Exploration Center right from the heart of Palenque, is now available for download here via EchoRadio. Dr. Ed ran a 3-year project to map the entire site of Palenque, discovering hundreds of structures and leaving the total number of mapped buildings at well over 1,200. This podcast covers some of the amazing mathematical concepts embedded in ancient Maya architecture. It’s truly stunning stuff.

These Junglecasts are the result of a trip I took with Dave Pentecost, at his insistence, to discover the wonders buried in Chiapas, Mexico. The First Junglecast Ever is available here at EchoRadio. As always, if you’re gripped by that excitement that comes with discovery of the unknown, then I’d suggest making a contribution to support Dr. Ed’s work.

Photos that relate to the podcast:

Spotcast!

March 13, 2005

Tim Jones and Mike Carvalho of EchoDitto are at SXSW (pronounced: South by Southwest) a big conference/party in Texas this week. They have invented “spotcasting”, the 60-second podcast, and have already snared such luminaries as Dan Gilmor, Malcom Gladwell and Jeffrey Zeldman — and the spotcasts are hilariously funny. I wish I was there – it sounds like so much fun. They’ve got six or seven spotcasts up and have more on the way — for a one minute listen they are totally worth it.

Creator's Rights

March 7, 2005

I’m a bit late to the game, but the arguments about Google’s AutoLink continue to fester and I’m feeling inclined to add my opinion. For those just joining us, Dan Gillmor has a decent summary and weighs in against the feature, Dave Winer makes the strident case against, and Kuro5hin summarizes and then plays defense.

I’ve also spent some time during the last week playing with the feature. Kuro5hin is right that it is relatively limited and innocuous in its current manifestation — but relatively is the key word there. To bring up Creative Commons is right on — my issue here is with ownership and permissions. There are essentially two parts to the argument against the feature as it current exists: one is that the creator of the material owns the material, has rights to it, and AutoLink violates those rights because it does not seek permission from the owner. The other argument is that Google is getting to big and might become evil.

What’s fascinating to me is that both Kuro5hin and Kottke dismiss the first argument and accept the second. For me it’s the inverse; I don’t really care about Google as a company and how big they may or may not be. I do care about my ownership of material I create.

Kuro5hin argues that “fiddling with the content is basically what web surfers do” and so it must be okay for google to do it — well, I respectfully disagree. I’d argue that fiddling with content is not “basically what web surfers do” — I’m not even sure that passes the smell test. Web surfers consume content, and many respond to content by creating their own content. They do not modify other people’s content — unless the community is designed to do exactly that, with an explicit permission to do so, like a Wiki. The examples cited to backup the claim that web surfers routinely alter the content of websites include blocking pop-up boxes, using custom stylesheets and — bizarrely — printing hard copies. The trouble is, that’s not content modification. That’s more like user interface modification. What Google’s AutoLink does is actually modify the meaning and purpose of the content that I have created for your consumption — not just the style in which the content is consumed. And it may be just a few “useful” mods right now — zipcodes and ISBN numbers — but I agree with Dave; it’s a slippery slope, precisely because it is content modification.

It’s clear that in the next century, in America, intellectual property is going to be the foundation of wealth creation. What I create, what I say, is of real value to me. Moreover, I consider myself an artist. I’ve licensed my photos under the Creative Commons — but I made the choice to do that, to allow (among other things) my creative work to be altered and shared by the community.

Modification of the content without the creator’s permission strikes me as a serious violation of the creator’s rights. There is a clear solution that solves this problem — let webpages opt-in to Google’s AutoLink through some sort of meta-tag. It’s likely to be very popular, and I’d probably choose it for most of my content. But that’s the key — I’d be choosing it.

Vote! and Podcast.

March 1, 2005

With all the profusion of recent media coverage of podcasting, I feel compelled to note my long short history with the medium. Over at my day job, we’ve even got a podcasting studio. I’ve done a couple of podcasts with Brian Reich about Rules for Radicals — and now we get to the purpose of this entire blog post. I need your help: please vote for Brian over at ChangeThis — he’s trying to get his manifesto published. And if you haven’t poked around on ChangeThis, it’s pretty cool.

The Sad Truth of My Life

February 15, 2005

The time has come for me to give up and accept the facts: I’m a nerd. The freshest evidence: here I am in Rome, Italy on a business trip. I’ve got 4 free hours Saturday afternoon. What do I do? Visit any of the great wonders of western civilization? Nope.

I sat in my hotel room (or more precisely, Jim and Silbo‘s hotel room) and played on my computer. But I didn’t just email, instant message, and read blogs. No, I played World of Warcraft. It’s amazing; it really is. A whole virtual world. And while I was in World of Warcraft, I went and found some of the EchoDitto Guild members, and talked to them. That’s right — I tracked down Justin Miller in the game, who was playing it on a lazy Saturday morning in Culpepper, Virginia, and we talked about work. In the game. While I was in Rome. He was pretty clear; I was completely lame, to have been in Rome and spent the time playing a freaking video game. At least I wasn’t alone; Jim was playing World of Warcraft from Rome, too! But this news article cracked me up:

Online gaming can be very addictive because the “world” continues to evolve while the player is offline, one cannot just pause or save a game and come back later. Also, playing with other “human players” adds a totally different dimension in the game.

There are numerous stories of online gaming “junkies”, and Sony’s Everquest $ is often called “Evercrack”. There’s even a Yahoo groups called the “Everquest Widows”. This reflects the success of the online gaming concept (for better or worse).

For better or for worse? Are you kidding? I think it’s pretty clear: it’s for the worse! My extracurricular life, already practically non-existent thanks to entrepreneurship and the perilous demands of maintaining Nicco.org, has now completely perished at the hands of WoW. And I’m powerless to stop it. So my family, my friends who haven’t heard from me in months — don’t assume that it’s because I’m too busy cavorting the globe becoming a businessman. Nope, I’m holed up in my apartment surrounded by the refuse of gatorade and powerbars, busily trying to level up so I can attain shape-shifting abilities and be the true Night Elf Druid / Bear shapeshifter that I am.

Even the esteemed New York Times had a story about the WoW phenomenon. And there’s a World of Warcraft Wiki, so that when I’m not actually playing the game I can spend hours and hours reading and philosophizing about it. There’s even a World of Warcraft podcast — by none other than EchoRadio.

Yeah, reading this post I’m getting a little depressed about my life. Except that I really kind of like World of Warcraft — it’s fun. What’s to be done?

Software gadgets

January 31, 2005

I thought it’s worth noting that I’m doing most of my blogging now through this clever little Mac app MarsEdit — for whatever reason it makes it easier to blog. I’m also using a clever little app called Cocoal.icio.us to keep my work del.icio.us feed up to date. Mike C cleverly put our company del.icio.us feed on the homepage in our new company website design.

Two other little apps that have increased my productivity — entirely through tweaking user interface design — are MenuCalendarClock and Saft. MenuCalendarClock just adds a well-designed calendar option to the Mac OS X toolbar — next to the clock. It interfaces with iCal, and makes my life easier. Saft is a package of add-ons to Safari. I have no idea what most of them are, but I use it for one very specific and wonderful one — it saves tabbed browsing. I’m a tabbed browsing addict, and I’m liable to have 8 or 10 tabs open in Safari while web surfing. If I quit, Saft remembers all the tabs so that the next time I start Safari all the tabs I left open are still there. Perfect for catching up on critical blog reading. Saft also has a right-click output to PDF option — perfect for much of my web surfing, when i want to capture valuable layouts or clever online creatives. Every day I’m discovering little features that Saft adds to my web browsing and it’s making me an addict.

Gadget Lust Continues

January 29, 2005

A perfect Saturday morning: hot espresso-ish coffee from my new strange gadgety Senso coffee maker and my beloved powerbook — so I can spend the morning doing all the recreational web-surfing I don’t have time for during the week.

A couple weeks ago my Lucky Goldstar cell phone died and I needed a new one, so I went out and bought the cheapest clamshell Verizon sells, a Motorola something or other. And right there is an immediate peeve: nowhere on the phone does it indicate what the model number is. I can’t figure out how to get the speaker phone to work, and I was trying to look it up online, but I can’t figure out what model my phone is. Motorola’s website doesn’t list it in the visual catalog of phones; neither does Verizon. So how the heck did I get this phone?

Before I launch into a long rant about what’s wrong with cell phones, let me disclose that I’ve already got a Sidekick II, which I love almost as much as my Powerbook. So it’s serious. But the T-mobile service doesn’t have great cell phone coverage (although constantly improving…!), and Verizon has got me locked into this killer contract, so I just decided it was going to be easier to have two phones until my Verizon contract dies in nine months. Plus, I got the Sidekick mostly for email, instant messaging, and calendaring, which it does exceptionally well.

In any case, my first Motorola cell phone, about four years ago, was well-designed and easy to use. When I moved to Vermont, I switched services from T-Mobile (which has the best phones) to Verizon (the only carrier in Vermont at the time). When I switched, I also switched phones. Verizon didn’t support the phone I already had, so I went with what appeared to be a similar model, but with a color screen. Boy, was that a mistake. The new Motorola operating system for the cell phone was impossible to use. I was stunned at how much harder little things were — adding a new number, making calls, conferencing people in, sending text messages — it was like they had taken a great user interface and purposefully designed it’s antithesis, a miserable impossible interface for a fairly sophisticated device. Moreover, the run time was miserable — searching my address book took a ridiculously long time.

Yes, I spend too much time with my gadgets. Please let me continue my rant.

I reached maximum frustration with the phone within a month of purchasing it, but by now it was too late and I couldn’t afford to buy a new phone, so I just lived with a boiling rage towards Motorola. After about six months, it died. When I took it to the store, they said I just “used it too much”. (I do average about 5,000 minutes a month). So after a great deal of obsessive research and testing, I bought an LG phone — the LG 4500 — and I loved it. I could even backup my numbers to my laptop! It was a match made in heaven.

But a couple weeks ago the LG died, and I needed a new phone quick, and man! cell phones are expensive, so I just got the cheapest clamshell I could. (I cannot under any circumstances use cell phones that aren’t clam shell designs. I don’t know why. That’s just how it is.) It was a Motorola, but I figured it had been a couple years so maybe they’ve improved the UI design and it won’t be so frustrating to use.

Not really.

The new phone is slightly improved in terms of user interface — it certainly runs faster — but it’s still impossibly counter-intuitive to do simple things. Which leads me to the main point of this entire blog post: I’ve started a Flickr account. The new phone has a camera, and I’ve started snapping shots and sending them to my Flickr feed. But therein lies the problem: whereas with my Sidekick, sending a photo to the feed is a one-click process, on the Motorola it takes seven or eight clicks, and it is prone to get screwed up. I am stunned and how impossible to use they’ve made many of their features.

I just don’t understand why cell phones are so hard to use. You’d think by now they’d have been around long enough for some serious advances in user interface design, but apparently not. Who is designing these things anyway? I’m going to add “design a better cell phone interface” to my dream projects list. I just get annoyed with most of the interfaces. In fact, that’s generally my problem with most gadgets and tech things — poor user interface design. It’s why I switched from Windows to Mac — OS X is a more considered, more carefully designed user interface that makes the computer infinitely easier to use in a thousand small ways that all add up. It’s why TiVo is so much better than the crappy DVR box Comcast gave me for free. Design is everything.

Anyhow, at some point I’m going to figure out how to rig up a feed of my flickr photos to this blog, so I can have a MoBlog and be just like Jim, who’s much cooler than me anyway.

But besides setting up a Flickr account and catching up on my blog reading, I’ve also been spending the morning in desperate bidding wars on eBay for a Roomba robot. The best part about moving into my new apartment earlier this month has been the gadget outfitting process. Furniture? Forget it. Senso, Roomba, flat panel speakers, bluetooth keyboard, playstation 2 complete with double DDR pads for dance offs, old school atari, flat-tube television, rain-style showerhead, soniccare toothbrush, very gadgety humidifier, even more gadgety microwave, DVR, digital cable, all the lamps in the house rigged to the clapper, vonage telephone — yes. Sofa? Chairs? Bed? Groceries? Maybe later.