Friday, September 21, 2007

Clear explanation of GDocs

Official Google Blog: Our feature presentation

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Giving up your social life for the web -- or reintegrating it into your web habit?

Slashdot reports that Americans are giving up their social life for the web, but how can you get more social than this?

Moving: Check for Bad Neighbors Before You Move with RottenNeighbor - Lifehacker

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Arjun, would you stop playing computer games and do something productive?

Slashdot | 12 Year Old Gets $6.5M for Gaming Company

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Be Daredevil

Good news for the visually impaired, I think.

Slashdot | Headband Gives Wearer "Sixth-Sense"

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If you like Pina Coladas

I can't read this story without thinking about that classic, cheesy, creepy Rupert Holmes song.
Sana Klaric and husband Adnan, who used the names "Sweetie" and "Prince of Joy" in an online chatroom, spent hours telling each other about their marriage troubles, reported.The truth emerged when the two turned up for a date. Now the pair, from Zenica in central Bosnia, are divorcing after accusing each other of being unfaithful.
Online couple cheated with each other | The Daily Telegraph

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ADDED: I beat Best of the Web to the punchline. Too slow, Taranto.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Reading :: Spell of Catastrophe and Spell of Intrigue

Spell of Catastrophe
Spell of Intrigue
by Mayer Alan Brenner

Every once in a while I take a break and read some of the science fiction and fantasy books that really sparked my love of reading as a kid. So when I saw on BoingBoing that Mayer Alan Brenner was releasing his out-of-print fantasy series under a Creative Commons license, I figured I might as well take a look.

The first two books of the series are now online at Brenner's website in PDF format. You can also buy them used on Amazon for a cent apiece, plus shipping. But I really didn't want to commit to that degree -- or kill the trees to print them out -- so I ended up reading the PDFs in odd moments on my laptop. Think of it as an experiment in remediating print genres through new media and distribution channels, I guess.

The books themselves are not what I would call great. They have some interesting points, and the spellcasting mechanism sounds a bit like what Larry Niven did in his fantasy phase, but the author never quite manages to strongly differentiate the voices or world views of his characters. Some complex action scenes and visuals really suffered from the author's descriptive style, so I had trouble envisioning some of the key points in the book. And post-9/11, post-tsunami, the climax of Spell of Catastrophe seems to be far too lightly handled. On the other hand, the books still manage to be fairly engaging and the world that Brenner constructs seems to have potential.

The remediation aspect is actually more interesting. Since Brenner can control his own content and distribution now, he has gone ahead and written annotations of the books, including his recollections of how he shaped and sold the manuscripts, the influences on which he drew (e.g., Star Wars and the Society for Creative Anachronisms), and how he reacts to the series two decades later. Since he is no longer concerned with selling his work, he loads the annotations with spoilers. And since the PDFs are full text, not scans, the books themselves offer interesting possibilities such as easy searches of the text.

I'd recommend the series if you consume a lot of fantasy and are not terribly picky, or if you like to see how fantasy/sf worlds are constructed to support a large series. But I recommend the website to anyone who is thinking through the relationship of old to new media and the long tail.

Tipping professors

Daniel Drezner discusses a proposal that essentially allows graduating seniors to tip professors. Well, it's a bit more complicated, but essentially it's a scheme that allows students to anonymously allocate funds to professors who they think have been doing a good job. Because we all know that professors love to be praised for competence.

The first comment champions the scheme, framing teaching as a service transaction in which the professor plays the role of the student:
Your second objection is that it is unseemly to be rewarded for a good job. It's a good thing you teach PolySci and not Econ. You may not be aware of this, but the teacher-student relationship is not one of authority, but employee. Yes, that's right, the teacher WORKS FOR THE STUDENTS. Who is in a better position to judge his employee's performance? As any anyone who has ever taken a class after graduation strictly to learn something will tell you, the value of a teacher is how well he teaches, not the grade. Those immature students who don't get it cannot possibly foul up the system worse than it already is.
This is a common misconception. Check the funding of any public university and you'll find that tuition pays only a small percentage of faculty salaries. The lion's share comes from state and federal monies. So if we want to think of academics as a service industry, the "employers" are actually the taxpayers, not the students, and the "service" involves providing quality education that meets state and federal goals rather than individual goals. In this context, the notion of tipping professors becomes really incoherent. :: Daniel W. Drezner :: A post in which I go against my material self-interest

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Another review of Tracing Genres through Organizations

This one, by Carolyn Miller, asks a pair of smart and insightful questions: Is TGTO really about rhetoric? Can genre be used to analyze mediated activity in nonrhetorical ways?

Miller, C. R. (2007). Review of Tracing Genres through Organizations. Technical Communication Quarterly, 16(4):476–480.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

God gets sued

I'm late to the party on this one and all the good jokes have been taken. In a nutshell, Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers has sued God in district court for "terrorist acts" such as plagues, famines, etc. His supposed aim is to demonstrate how easy it is to file frivolous lawsuits. Mission accomplished. But it seems like these infractions would be criminal rather than civil violations. :: Daniel W. Drezner :: Hi, I'm Daniel Drezner, the defense attorney for God

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Counting down surveillance doomsday

So people are talking about the new "doomsday clock" for monitoring progress toward the total surveillance state:
Taking a page from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists the American Civil Liberties Union today launched a "Surveillance Society Clock" that counts down to the total surveillance state (by the way, how do we know when we're there?). "The clock is set at six minutes before the 'midnight' of a dark end to privacy," the organization notes.
So we're supposed to be alarmed as the clock gets closer and closer to midnight. But come on. The time to really get alarmed is when the clock's hands suddenly jump back and the ACLU's successors tell us that surveillance is no longer a pressing issue.
Danger Room - Wired Blogs

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I never thought I would say, gee, I hope it's just radiation

Slashdot | Meteorite Causes Illness in Peru

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Now there's a name you don't hear every day. It's a GM concept car, "hybrid" in the sense that it has a diesel generator on board -- but only to charge the battery, not to actually drive the car directly. But the best part:
Plus GM’s installed several new ideas on lighting design and—get this—a special cargo area under the load floor packed with a pair of Segway electric scooters. (My emphasis)
Since SegwayMania has swept the globe, I am sure this will be a huge selling point.

Google Presently; Lotus Symphony

Google has launched Presently. I haven't gotten to play with it yet, but it's on my list today, since I need to work on my SIGDOC presentation anyway. Simultaneously, IBM is launching Lotus Symphony based on OpenOffice code; it's unclear at present whether this means new features or amounts to rebranding a new product using a very old brand that had limited success in the target market.