Friday, February 29, 2008

"Trepagnier believes all white people harbor some racist thoughts and feelings."

I heard this interview yesterday morning on our local NPR affiliate. It's unclear whether the quoted passage above is KUT's summary or whether it actually represents Dr. Trepagnier's thoughts -- she doesn't seem to make this broad categorical statement in the interview or on her website promoting her book Silent Racism.

It's that broad categorical statement that bothers me, since it seems so circular. Racism is, at its crudest, the attribution of attitudes, aptitudes, or qualities to every member of a group based solely on that group's perceived race.

Here's an easy example: "All white people harbor some racist thoughts and feelings."

How much more we would benefit from an open discussion of the genuine complexities of institutional racism. KUT's gloss instead encourages people to black-box the issue and set it aside, or to focus on individual interventions at the expense of systemic change. Telling people that something is in their essential nature is hardly the best way to spur such change.

Early adopters?

Just a note: Even my septuagenarian parents have given up their landline in favor of mobile phones. Why call a location when you want to call a person?

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Vampiric tattoo makes phone calls

Apparently someone is a William Gibson fan:

Jim Mielke's wireless blood-fueled display is a true merging of technology and body art. At the recent Greener Gadgets Design Competition, the engineer demonstrated a subcutaneously implanted touch-screen that operates as a cell phone display, with the potential for 3G video calls that are visible just underneath the skin.

It's powered by human blood. Well, sort of:

The basis of the 2x4-inch "Digital Tattoo Interface" is a Bluetooth device made of thin, flexible silicon and silicone. It´s inserted through a small incision as a tightly rolled tube, and then it unfurls beneath the skin to align between skin and muscle. Through the same incision, two small tubes on the device are attached to an artery and a vein to allow the blood to flow to a coin-sized blood fuel cell that converts glucose and oxygen to electricity. After blood flows in from the artery to the fuel cell, it flows out again through the vein.

I wonder how much it takes out of you. And whether you need to drink a lot of Gatorade for it to operate properly. At any rate, don't roll up your sleeves yet:

The tattoo display is still just a concept, with no word on plans for commercialization.

The article doesn't make clear how much of this concept has been realized. It talks about the device's capabilities -- Bluetooth-enabled, fueled by blood, providing a dynamic display, monitoring for blood disorders -- as if they are functional. Color me skeptical. Looks to me like the thing is totally vaporware -- which is absolutely fine for a concept.

Just a side note: the unnoticed killer app is that you should be able to set a "screen saver" that would appear to be a normal tattoo. Want to get a tattoo of your girlfriend's name, but you're not sure she'll be with you in a year? Wish you had a lot of types of tattoos? Want to display someone's photo instead of their name on your tattoo? Ever wanted a tattoo of your grocery list so you won't lose it? Well, here's your solution -- or it would be, if the device actually existed.

Electronic tattoo display runs on blood

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"Our nanoparticle-coated electrodes make electrolysers efficient enough to provide hydrogen on demand from a tank of distilled water in your car."

Via Slashdot, an article about using nanoparticles to make hydrogen cheaper than gasoline. Sounds great, but the article leaves a lot of question marks about costs and implementation.

I almost got this yesterday...

... when I posted my mini-review of Google Sites, the relaunched JotSpot. As I noted, you need an institutional email in order to create a GS account (say, If your institution has bought a license, then your site gets lumped in with that institutional license and they have partial admin control over your pages. If not, you're flying solo.

According to the post below, this is Google's way of routing around local IT administration, then exerting pressure on IT to buy site licenses after the fact:
So what?, they say. We "give administrators the control to do that if that's what they decide," says Google Senior Product Marketing Manager Jeremy Milo said. "The easiest way to do it would be to disable all the applications."

He's referring to the administrative functions of the suite that allow CIOs to control which employees can use which applications in the suite. In order for a CIO or IT director to gain control of the suite, they must first sign up for Team Edition. Once inside, there is an administrative login that connects the CIO with Google. With that, the CIO is given an option to either create a CNAME record or upload an HTML file provided by Google to the company's domain. Both options prove that the CIO has control over the domain. A third option is to update the domain's MX record. Exercising any of those options essentially disables Team Edition for the domain and shifts everything to Google Apps Standard Edition, Google's free version of its Web-based application suite for businesses. Once that happens, companies can use Gmail as an email client and CIOs can take control of the applications. (source: SearchCIO-midmarket)
This strategy might work well for companies that don't have and don't want an IT team. But for larger institutions, it sets up a conflict -- especially because company data are stored on someone else's servers and the Terms of Service imply that Google can have access to these data.

What bewilders me is that GS would work quite well for the strategy that I thought Google had up to this point -- linking recombinant federations of service providers that come together for a project and then disperse. Think in terms of graphic designers who assemble sole proprietorships and small businesses (graphic artists, Photoshop retouchers, subcontractors, printers) to work on a piece of collateral for three months. That's what Basecamp does, and it's also the big advantage of GDocs and GCal. But GS appears to be rooted within an institution -- you add team members based on the institution, you need an institutional email, you route around IT associated with a particular institution. No support for keiretsu. It looks to me like Google made this choice in order to specifically go after the existing money streams in the enterprise market. Too bad. GS is the right speed for recombinant federations, and Basecamp shows that these folks are willing to pay for it.
Google Sites the Next Sharepoint? Maybe Not....Why Google Apps Could Lose the Enterprise Market - ReadWriteWeb

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Collaborative research environment for digital ethnography teams

It's cobbled together from various web services. Sounds brilliant -- but it will be a no-go for any research that involves institutional review boards, I assume.

Complex Rhetoric: Wesch on collaborative research

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Google Sites -- What they did with JotSpot

I mentioned earlier that Google has relaunched JotSpot as Google Sites, and expressed disappointment that it does not appear to include project management capabilities. Let me offer a slight correction.

Google Sites looks like a sort of anything box that can be integrated with all of Google's other offerings. It is a part of Google Apps Team Edition, so you can't sign up with your Google account (I tried), but rather with your school or organization email. The idea is to allow automatic access for others on your team.

I haven't explored GS in detail, but the mock examples are interesting.

Example 1: Team Project
One is for a team project, and it includes features such as a team calendar, a list of open items, a pie chart to show open items, a link to technical docs, etc.

And then it has an intriguing item on the dashboard: "Next Major Milestone: Widget Roadshow."

Q: Aha! Does this indicate that it handles milestones?

A: No idea. I can't find any milestones by clicking around. I searched for "milestone" and "widget roadshow," but nothing.

Nevertheless, GS appears optimized to share among team members the way that Basecamp does. But it's unclear whether these teams can come from different domains -- something that makes Basecamp the killer app that it is.

GS takes advantage of Google Docs and GCal by embedding appropriate content, which is nice.

Example 2: Classroom
This example, on the other hand, could be the sleeper app. Many instructors -- well, me at least -- have been exploring the use of Google Docs in their classrooms. But GS gives the example of a class page that reproduces much of the functionality of Blackboard or WebCT, including announcements, reading list, and document storage. I imagine it would not be hard to integrate a class calendar, student assignments (via GDocs), and possibly a spreadsheet with grades.

I'm not sure that GS will be a game-changer -- it is supposedly going against Microsoft SharePoint, something with which I don't have much familiarity -- but it'll be interesting to see what uses people come up with.

Welcome to Google Sites

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Was it worth the wait?

According to TechCrunch, Google has finally relaunched Jotspot. No project or task management software here, unfortunately; it's a hosted wiki. I haven't gotten my invitation yet, but will check it out when I do.

It Took 16 Months, But Google Relaunches Jotspot

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Panopticon vs. agora

Alan Moore has an interesting, but scattered, post on Communities Dominate Brands about the question of accountability. He argues that since the 17th century, modern society has been moving from "we" to "I,"  with the result being that we look to uniformed authority figures for leadership instead of taking collective responsibility. He sees digital communities as something of a corrective:

In this context it is interesting that the digital world is literally running towards social connections, social communications, belonging and communing together. We are driving the technology to this end. And that is why I describe the guff about web/mobile/business 2.0 as in fact a We Media for We Species.

He contrasts digital community -- in which collective responsibility is reintroduced and required -- to the "database state," in which digital tools are used to consolidate responsibility and control further in the hands of the government. I've discussed this phenomenon in previous blog posts, in terms of the "panopticon" of centralized monitoring vs. the "agora" of collective monitoring and opprobrium. But I think Moore underestimates the horrors of the agora, which can rival those of the panopticon.

Communities Dominate Brands: Accountability and the modern state

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Another flyer

Today, I got a second flyer from the Obama campaign. It's distinct from the first one, but it has the same message -- it explains the primary-caucus system in two steps, and quite clearly. No follow-up yet from the Clinton campaign.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More fallout from the Microsoft-Yahoo fight?

That's probably not the sole reason, but I'm sure it helped. Opera Mobile now uses Google search by default, not Yahoo search.

Opera brings Google search to your pocket

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Just got email about VerveEarth, a way to map blogs based on where their authors reside:

Your blog Spinuzzi caught our attention. I'm the CEO of a recently launched startup for bloggers. We are searching the internet for the world's best blogs by geography, and we found yours for Austin. I would like to invite you to our site which plots the content of the internet on an interactive map of the world. VerveEarth is an entirely new way to surf the net. It shows spatial and geographic connections that a blog search engine could never reveal.

The site is Once on board, you can easily claim your blog a place in the VerveEarth world. The site is free to use and a way to drive new traffic to your blog. If our vision resonates with you, please give us a mention or add our widget to your blog. Please see our FAQ for any questions, and I welcome your feedback.

It appears to be leveraging Google Maps to map blog locations. A search facility allows you to perform text searches and map the results by location. Interestingly, it also appears to map major universities and newspapers.

I imagine the service would be useful for linking blogs that produce local or regional news. Industry or general commentary blogs (like mine) will tend to reap fewer benefits. On the other hand, I see benefits for people who want to set up local meetups with bloggers. I could also imagine using this tool if I were planning to apply for a job in another area of the country. Finally, I see great potential for targeted ego-surfing.

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Flat-rate mobile phone plans in the US?

T-Mobile seems to be the best of the current crop, with $100/mo getting you unlimited voice, data, and texting. (I'm finding that I use my mobile phone far more for data and texting these days.) OTOH, Sprint is rumored to be considering a $60/mo flat rate mobile plan to reverse their recent slide, initiated by the fact that they lost a lot of customers last year.

I note in passing that these flat-rate plans are fine for high-use customers, but they don't make up for the US mobile market's general lack of innovation and options relative to the rest of the world.

Amazon Current's Blog: All About the Benjamins: Cell Carriers Offer $100 Flat Rate Plans Permalink

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Out of the blue, I received email from the folks at FeedbackFX today. Their product seeks to fold in feedback mechanisms across the web; it offers tools not just for collaboration, but also for market research, with the ability to compile and analyze feedback results.
FeedbackFX is a software-as-a-service solution that adds content review functionality to any application. In other words, any software can be enhanced or built from scratch to allow its users to exchange comments and opinion on documents, images, videos, and many other types of file formats.
Their website focuses on marcomm and small-business federation-type collaboration. But I can also see it being used for user-generated documentation and, of course, for snarky commentary.

FeedbackFx -- Home

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Will killer robots replace suicide bombers?

That's the fear expressed in this article:
Captured robots would not be difficult to reverse engineer, and could easily replace suicide bombers as the weapon-of-choice. "I don't know why that has not happened already," he said.
Obviously, because the prospect of someone giving their life for their cause is an important component of suicide bombing. Using a robot for the purpose is more expensive and complex than other means already available to the bombers: hiding a bomb in a location or launching it. But like those other two delivery modes, it takes away the self-sacrifice that gives suicide bombing its veneer of morality or moral ambiguity.

Automated killer robots 'threat to humanity': expert

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Jenny Edbauer Rice visits the Computer Writing and Research Lab

If you're in Austin, please make sure to visit us next week. Jenny Edbauer Rice, who worked in the CWRL during her graduate studies here at UT, is returning as a Big XII Fellow. In addition to meeting with our graduate students, she'll be presenting a talk entitled “Rhetoric and the Amateur” at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Texas Union’s African American Cultures Room (4.110).

CWRL Lecture Series: Jenny Edbauer Rice | Computer Writing and Research Lab

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Pakistan removed from the Internet | Threat Chaos |

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Google Apps: The Cons

Bernard Lunn's post on Google Apps had several responses, including this one:
Open a Google doc. Paste an image. Oh, that's right, you can't Ctrl-C copy, Ctrl-V PASTE an image into a document. Ok, so INSERT an image. Now proportionally resize the image so it retains its aspect ratio. Oh, that's right, you can't. Now crop the image. Oh that's right, you can't.

Now insert a table. Now grab the edge of a column and resize the column. Oh wait, you can't. Now delete one of the columns. Oh wait, you can't.
And so forth. The author focuses on common Office features, notes that Google Docs doesn't support them (or at least not in the same way), then concludes:

I'm sure Google docs works for you and your needs, but for very basic stuff, Google docs is chock full of FAIL.

Like the post it responds to, this one misses the point. GDocs might or might not replace desktop software -- it's just as likely that people draft documents partially in their desktop software and partially in GDocs -- but what it does do is to provide a lightweight editor that can be simultaneously accessed by different users over different platforms, with a full collaboration record. That feature isn't something that desktop software can currently support. And it's not going to be the most important feature for many users. But for those who have to collaborate intensely on documents, it's pretty attractive.

Comment of the Day: "Google Docs is Chock Full of Fail" - ReadWriteWeb

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Google Apps, the pros

Over the weekend, Bernard Lunn wrote an article on why he thinks Google Apps is a serious threat to MS Office. He correctly notes that "the significant advantage is collaboration," though he also adds the fact that Docs is available over mobile and that "Google Docs is a platform."

Fine as far as it goes, but the assessment doesn't account for markets. As I've argued in this blog many times, the significant advantage of GDocs isn't in the general word processing market, it's in supporting cross-organizational collaboration in loosely associated and recombinate federations of small businesses. More on this in my second post, coming up.

Why Google Apps is a Serious Threat to Microsoft Office - ReadWriteWeb

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Mobile apps will be replaced by web apps

We're seeing a strong shift toward web-based services on the desktop side, but it's arguably much stronger on the mobile side. This return to thin-client architecture makes a lot of sense for mobile in particular, for many reasons, the most important ones being market- and regulation-related rather than architecture-related.
Summary: The business of making native apps for mobile devices is dying, crushed by a fragmented market and restrictive business practices. The problems are so bad that the mobile web, despite its many technical drawbacks, is now a better way to deliver new functionality to mobiles. I think this will drive a rapid rise in mobile web development, largely replacing the mobile app business. This has huge implications for mobile operators, handset companies, developers, and users.
Mobile Opportunity: Mobile applications, RIP

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I haven't received a flyer for the Presidential primaries since I lived in Iowa, but yesterday I received two: from the Clinton and Obama campaigns. The contrast is fascinating.

Clinton's has a large picture of her smiling, with her hand (her left hand, for some reason) over her heart, reminding us in large yellow letters that early voting starts February 19. On the reverse, the message on early voting is repeated -- in four different ways. The three photos on this side prominently feature seniors.

Obama's is larger and glossier, a folded piece whose cover features a large Texas flag. Unlike Clinton's, it explains Texas' bizarre hybrid primary-caucus system. The headline: "To change America, do the Texas Two-Step: First you vote. Then you caucus." The interior repeats this message with a clear numbered list, explaining that two-thirds of the delegates are chosen by the primary while the remaining third are chosen by the caucus ("a neighborhood town meeting"). And we are told that "It's simple and easy to do the Texas Two-Step."

Fascinating. Why the difference? Some possibilities:
  • The Clinton camp wants to lock in early votes now, and will follow up with a second piece explaining the caucuses.
  • The Clinton camp wants to emphasize early voting as the most important step for general voters, relying on party faithful alone to go to the caucus.
  • The Clinton camp is ceding the caucuses, where Obama traditionally does well.
  • The Clinton camp really doesn't understand the primary-caucus system.
An additional difference, of course, is that the Obama flyer appears customized for Texas from the ground up, while the Clinton flyer seems more generic.

I'll watch for follow-up flyers, because I want to see how this plays out.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

RescueTime: For Business

RescueTime, like Slife and Wakoopa, is a web-based service that allows you to track your own system events. The idea is that you can get a close account of what you do on your system, where most of your time is going, and -- theoretically -- how much you should increase or cut back on certain activities. Whereas Wakoopa is all about sharing this information with others, RescueTime has been closed, available only to the user.

Yesterday RescueTime announced that they are launching RescueTime for Business, a way to monitor system events across teams. Here's the copy:

RescueTime for Business offers you a low-cost and effort-free way to understand how your team is spending their time. RescueTime for Business offers you the ability to:

  • Utilize a variety of privacy options to help you respect your employees.
  • Understand your team's productivity trends.  Were they more or less productive 6 months ago?
  • Understand how changes in the work environment affect productivity.
  • Understand how staffing, organization, and management changes affect productivity.
  • Know which software packages and web applications are being used...  And which are collecting dust on the virtual shelf.
  • See how telecommuting affects individual and team productivity. Great for workstreaming!
The copy goes on to discuss collaborative time management, sounding an awful lot like some of the things Mark Zachry, Bill Hart-Davidson and I have been saying in our SIGDOC papers:

While an understanding of how your team spends their time can help you manage, passing that understanding on to your team can have staggering implications on their productivity.

RT4B could be leveraged by managers who are eager for a more panoptic view of work. But it's just as likely to be used by teams who want a more, er, "agoric" view of each others' work so that they can collectively examine work practices. It'll be interesting to see who adopts RT4B and how they use it.

RescueTime: For Business

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