Friday, February 09, 2007

Providing universal telecommunications service without electrical infrastructure

Using biodiesel to fuel mobile base stations that will charge mobile phones -- something that has the potential to bring telecommunications to the one-third of Indians who are off the power grid.

Smart Mobs: Biodiesel to fuel mobile base stations in India

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Pipes as programming tutorial

Tim O'Reilly is really, really excited about Yahoo Pipes, and not just because it brings end-user programming and mashups to the masses:
What's really lovely about this is that, like the Unix shell, Pipes provides a gradual introduction to web programming. You start out by modifying someone else's pipe just a bit, then branch out into something more adventurous.

O'Reilly Radar > Pipes and Filters for the Internet

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Pervasive mutual surveillance

An "upskirt" offender uses his cameraphone to commit an offense, and is caught on video by another person's camera.
Smart Mobs: Video the suspect

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

The next Printshop moment

A while back I opined that we're soon approaching a "Printshop moment":

the point at which a new technology gives the broad public access to tools once considered the domain of a specific profession, resulting in an explosion of artifacts. Most of these artifacts will be badly produced, but a few will be genuine innovations, and the artifacts will eventually regain regularity as the public acquires a more discriminating eye (and templates).

The next PrintShop moment, I suggested, would be "True, powerful, and widespread end-user programming." Later, I pointed to end-user web app creators such as  Ning and Zoho Creator as early examples.

Now TechCrunch is reporting that Yahoo has launched Pipes, a service that "allows you to take data from one or more sources and to bring it together" -- not just by grabbing feeds, but by adding basic programming functionality:

But Yahoo! Pipes goes beyond what just pipes are and what pipes do though as the application provides functions (or as they are called in the app - modules) that will perform a variety of different actions. There are modules available to prompt the user for input (a variety of input types), different operators to count, loop, cut, count, sort and merge data along with a variety of string and date functions. Because of this already broad base of available functions, Yahoo! Pipes is more akin to a shell scripting environment for the web rather than just a simple conduit between applications. It works like a visual procedural programming language with the output of the process dropping out at the bottom, in the form of text output, RSS, SMS alerts of even JSON. You can use feeds, user input or other pipes as input.

I haven't tried Pipes yet, but the idea of adding programming functionality to aggregation is kind of a big deal.

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Billhop is a social networking/wiki site for tracking legislation. I found out about it from the Burnt Orange report, but the idea is very Gingrichian.

Google pulls the trigger

Via Slashdot, BusinessWeek reports that Google Apps for Your Domain is becoming a paid service, and may snag Disney and Pixar as customers.

Google Steps Into Microsoft's Office

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":Call me a bad libertarian, but public health campaigns like these seem to me to be one of the few cases where government coercion is a slam dunk"

Via Instapundit, a libertarian comes out for mandatory HPV vaccination. Eugene Volokh echoes her comments. Here in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has already issued an executive order to mandate this vaccination, causing confusion among Democrats and Republicans alike. Writing for the liberal Burnt Orange Report, Todd Hill sounds downright libertarian when he asks, "Are we really that gullible to allow this much government intervention into personal decision making?" But former Democratic candidate for governor Chris Bell issues a statement supporting the decision. Meanwhile, some social conservatives are opposing the executive order.


Blogging may be light over the next wiik.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

TechCrunch reports on, a social networking site that helps people self-organize around issues important to them and to contribute to nonprofits that address those issues:

Each nonprofit also gets a project page, where they can ask members to donate money to fund special projects or just the general fund. Donations are either taken by credit card ($10 min) on the organization’s page, or can be solicited by individual users who write up a pitch highlighting why it’s important to give. All donations are redistributed to the respective nonprofits through takes 1% of every dollar donated. Change also hopes to support its operations through promotional campaigns nonprofits would launch on the site.

Social Networking For Change(.org)

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"Did they even test this in Firefox before launching?"

Everyone's griping about Walmart's new video downloading service, which renders fine in IE but poorly in Firefox.

Nice One, Walmart

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"scientists [are] now being called climate change denier with all the holocaust connotations of that word."

Via Drudge, climatologist Tim Ball pens a lament about how global warming skeptics are treated. His position is that debate has been closed too quickly and that intimidation and marginalization are keeping scientists from using the scientific method:

Now, any scientist who dares to question the prevailing wisdom is marginalized and called a sceptic, when in fact they are simply being good scientists. This has reached frightening levels with these scientists now being called climate change denier with all the holocaust connotations of that word. The normal scientific method is effectively being thwarted.

Ball doesn't deny the warming trend, but he questions whether that trend can be causally related to human activity.

Drudge juxtaposes this story with another, this one about actual holocaust denial:

An Iranian government-sponsored body set up to probe the veracity of the Holocaust has challenged Europe to hand over documents about the mass slaughter of Jews in World War II.

Mohammad Ali Ramin, the head of the "World Holocaust Foundation" created after Iran's controversial Holocaust conference last year, said Austria, Germany and Poland in particular should supply documents.

"They should hand over the proof for the dossier on the organized massacre of Jews in Europe during World War II to the independent international fact-finding committee affiliated to this foundation," the IRNA state news agency quoted him as saying on Tuesday.

We recognize the WHF's game, of course, which is to endlessly raise doubts about proof so that holocaust deniers can point to ambiguity and imperfectly answered questions. This is one of the main tactics of conspiracy theorists, whether they're looking at the Zapruder film or examining the moon landing for evidence of a sound stage. In the case of the Holocaust, it seems pretty clear that the issue should be put to bed and that denial is motivated by something other than the desire for truth. In the case of climate change, we appear to be rapidly approaching that point, but climatologists such as Bell think we're approaching it too quickly, while others apparently believe we should already be there. At what point does a point become so settled as to be unquestionable?

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About time

TELECOM ITALIA through TIM will co-develop and market in Italy the world’s first rollable display enabled personal device for digital content distribution while Polymer Vision will market the device in the rest of the world

Telecom Italia and Polymer Vision announce the “CELLULAR-BOOK”

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Reading :: Wikinomics

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything
by Don Tapscott, Anthony D. Williams

I honestly don't have a lot to say about this book. It's engagingly written and full of interesting case studies about how companies have begun to leverage mass collaboration. But there's not a lot new here -- the book covers the same ground as most other new economy books. It might be a better general introduction than most, but it didn't open new horizons for me.

The authors outline four principles of "wikinomics" or mass collaboration: openness; peering; sharing; and acting globally. These are expanded via several case studies, including usual suspects Linux and Wikipedia as well as more unconventional collaborations such as keiretsu (called "B-webs" here).

The one piece of news that might jump out at rhet-comp people is that our own Matt Barton is briefly profiled, cogently explaining the considerable benefits of wikis for classroom collaboration.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


I always like to see the American Idol auditions, not because I am mean-spirited, but because it provides a fascinating window into how pop culture is assimilated and reproduced by a large cross-section of consumers. At least that's what I'm telling myself these days. In this vein, by far the most riveting piece was the first LA audition, in which a young man by the stage name "Eccentric" performs his own song.

Not included in the clip is the pre-audition interview with Ryan Seacrest, in which Eccentric explains his three trademark moves (seen in the video) as well as his name and the fact that he is a singer, songwriter, dancer, choreographer, etc. That's the explanation you need. Because Eccentric -- who is arguably deluded, but not unintelligent -- has assimilated what he's seen of the pop industry and concluded, not unreasonably, that it consists primarily of establishing and managing a brand identity. In that light, it makes perfect sense that he develops trademark moves, a stage name, and a song in which he frequently name-checks himself.

Unfortunately, he's not equipped to manage a brand identity in addition to singing, dancing, choreography, etc. Few are (Madonna and Prince, perhaps) -- and for good reason, since we're talking about several very different fields with very different skill sets. Predictably, Eccentric goes for imitation rather than depth, simulating pop stardom for his imagined legions of fans.

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Ecological design

Peter Merholtz has thoughts about seeing product design in terms of the product ecosystem. :: Two things I’m thinking about

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That's the code name for the coming Google app that clones the functionality of Microsoft Powerpoint, according to TechCrunch. It's a play on "Writely," the name of the AJAX word processor that Google bought and turned into Google Docs. (If only Google would keep the names "Writely" and "Presently," imaginative names, instead of names such as "Docs" and "Spreadsheet" and "Reader," names that are as unimaginative as those of the Microsoft apps with which they compete.)

Google PowerPoint Clone Coming

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Candidates' theme songs are second hand news

The Democratic presidential contenders have chosen their theme songs. They're mostly Boomer bait, reflecting the calculus about what voters are paying attention and who is most likely to vote. They tell us as much about the candidates as the contents of Hillary Clinton's iPod.

All of the candidates on display -- former Gen. Wesley Clark, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, former vice presidential nominee John Edwards, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois -- were allowed to select their entrance and exit songs for their speeches here at the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting. And all of Friday’s speakers followed through except Obama, whose campaign chose not to play music before and after his remarks.

If you've been looking for a reason to like Obama, there's one. Although the absence of a theme song, I suppose, is just as calculated and focus group-tested as the presence of one. Others selected the following:

  • Chris Dodd: “Get Ready” by the Temptations and “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops.
  • Wesley Clark: Johnny Cash’s cover of “Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty
  • John Edwards: “Our Country” by John Cougar Mellencamp
  • Dennis Kucinich: “America, the Beautiful.”
  • Joe Biden: John Fogerty’s “Centerfield.”
  • Tom Vilsack: "Let the Day Begin" by The Call and the Four Tops’ “Reach Out, I'll Be There"

You may remember that the theme song from Pres. Clinton's successful 1996 re-election campaign was Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop (Thinking about Tomorrow)". I for one was disappointed that Sen. Clinton didn't honor that campaign by choosing the obvious follow-up song from the same album: "Second Hand News." Instead, she characteristically reaches out to two different constituencies: she entered with the hooky but lyrically vacant Gen X anthem “Right Here, Right Now” by Jesus Jones, and exited the hooky but lyrically vacant Boomer anthem “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. The guys from BTO will be overjoyed, but somewhere Lindsey Buckingham is crying.

The soundtrack of their campaigns - Politics -

ADDED: I should acknowledge that selecting a candidate's theme song is serious business. Ross Perot got a lot of heat for selecting Patsy Cline's "Crazy" as his campaign theme, while Alan Keyes took heat for crowdsurfing at a Rage Against the Machine concert.

But that doesn't mean that we can't have fun with it. In the comments, Lance nominates "War Pigs" as a good candidate song. What song would you nominate for a given politician? Let's stay away from the obvious (John Edwards: "I Feel Pretty") and the nasty (Pat Buchanan: "Uber Alles"). Obscure is okay (GW Bush: Skinny Puppy's "VX Gas Attack").

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