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July 14, 2009

Filed under: random»linky

The Link That Ate Chicago

It was hungry.

  • Two interesting commentaries from danah boyd: in the first, she presented a paper at the Personal Democracy Forum on the politics of class online, specifically across MySpace and Facebook. Her fellow Berkman Center scholar Eszter Hargittai has also done a lot of research on this, if you're interested.
  • Second, boyd wrote a post on generational use of "backchannel"--how younger people use Twitter/blogging/IRC/Wikipedia/etc. during public presentations and lectures to augment the experience. I do wonder, though, if surprise at this is strictly limited to academic settings. After all, every meeting I've been in for the last five years has often been populated by Blackberry users acting in the same fashion. One could, in fact, argue that this is the real curse of the Blackberry: by giving managers and knowledge workers the ability to work during otherwise unproductive meetings via the backchannel, it eliminates part of the valid case against those meetings in the first place.
  • Patrick Meier continues a fine series of posts on digital activism by noting the primacy of content over channel. A great series of resources, especially centered on the many studies of nonviolence available online.
  • These ten guidelines for building low bandwidth pages are meant to benefit audiences in developing countries, and that's a great thing to keep in mind. But it's also important for mobile development: 2G networks suffer from exactly the same problems. And even fancy new smartphones can find themselves operating on 2G networks once you leave the major metro areas of the US (or worse, as I was reminded while driving through West Virginia last month). All of this is a major reason why, despite the temptation, I've never added Javascript or multiple CSS files to Mile Zero. Also, because I am lazy.
  • Cultivating a decent network on Delicious has been yielding all kinds of great stuff lately: Justin Pickard found Venkatesh Rao's "The Rhetoric of the Hyperlink", looking at how the link has changed writing and voice. The examples are fantastic.
  • Odd Delicious coincidence: I find new link feeds by looking at the people who bookmark the same kinds of things I do, but unless you use something personal (like your name) there's nothing to really identify who a given user is in real life. Today I realized that one of the people in my network is Aleks Krotoski of The Guardian's gaming blog. Weird. So now I've got that going for me.
  • If you read enough futurists for long enough, you start to notice something: at the extremes of the political left and right, they start to blend together. I had always assumed that was one of those political aphorisms used by moderates to denigrate activists, but in this case it seems to be true--when it comes to discussion of "resilient" communities and local production, you may start to see a lot of similarity between (on the Left) Rob Hopkins' Transition Towns and (on the Right, I think) John Robb's new world order of global guerrillas. Case in point: this Make post on Backwoods Home magazine, a rural libertarian journal for DIY types that's nonetheless reviewed as "useful, regardless of your political persuasion, [due to] the wealth of information written by practitioners in the arts of self-reliance"--and compared directly to the granola-crunching Mother Earth News.
  • Me, I'm more with Bruce Sterling from the talk posted below: I'm a city kid, and I believe there's a lot of good to be derived from urban humanity. But its savings are going to come more from addressing the systemic and cultural wastefulness of global capitalism than learning how to grow my own radishes. In this, I'm encouraged by this speech by the WWF's Jason Clay (transcribed loosely by Ethan Zuckerman) on approaching sustainability from the perspective of massive, multinational corporations and their supply chains. It's full of fascinating facts on where the real costs of production occur (Mars buys more fish than Wal-mart each year, just to make cat food).

June 19, 2009

Filed under: random»linky


I feel like all links are symbolic of something, personally.

  • The executive producer for Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles wrote up a blog entry on cancelation, office spaces, and the trunk check. Coming from someone who liked the show: if it had been consistently as well-written as that post, it might still be on the air.
  • Hackaday has some notes on Slow Loris, a denial-of-service attack that only requires one computer and doesn't use a flood. Seems like you could fix it on the server side, though. It's not a new kind of attack--I'm surprised it still works.
  • On the topic of security, Patrick Meier has been writing some really good stuff lately. Check out his guide to communicating securely in repressive environments and his review of How to Lie with Maps.
  • Laptops and Appropriate Technology is a post about XO laptops by a teacher in Malawi. An interesting read, even for a cranky skeptic like myself.
  • Libertarians on Boats: The Saga Continues. You know, I mock these guys a lot, but there's something impressive about the amount of coverage they get. For all the articles that are written, you'd think it was some kind of vast movement across the entire libertarian party--but then you actually read further, and it's really just the same small group every time, somehow always just thiiiiis close to their seasteading paradise. Until next time, guys.
  • So we are holding a Rock Band party this weekend, which is cause for much excitement. But it's also cause for consternation: where do you get the second guitar, so people can play bass and mock my real-life instrumentation? I'm sure they're very nice, but spare instruments for the game are $80, which (plus the cost of boarding an over-excitable dog) is really more than I wanted to spend. But once you start looking into borrowing, the market segmentation really becomes a hassle: not only do music games fail to play nicely with each other, but you can't use controllers from the same game on different consoles. My friends with the PS2 version wouldn't have any place to plug in. Apparently even the USB microphone isn't cross-platform. Finally, we found someone who knew someone else with an XBox 360 guitar. The heavens opened, and the faint sounds of Iron Maiden could once again be heard.
  • One of the amazing things about Stephen Colbert's act is that he almost never breaks character. Talking Points Memo has a clip of him backstage with John Kerry a couple of years ago. It's bizarre just to see him talking softly.
  • 15 Travel Tips for Africa, or anywhere really.

June 3, 2009

Filed under: random»linky

Yoshimi Battles the Link Robots

At my funeral, I want them to play "Do You Realize?"

  • Is your pen a deadly weapon? What happened to being mightier than the sword?
  • Newsweek comments on Ray Kurzweil's mid-life crisis. Not much new there, but it is kind of funny to hear that even fellow Singularity U professors think he may be a little crazy.
  • Last week, Wikipedia banned Scientology--or, to be more accurate, they put a blanket ban on IP addresses known to originate with the Church of Scientology. As satisfying as that might seem, Evgeny Morozov has a few good reasons why Wikipedia was wrong to do it.
  • A Brief, Incomplete, and Mostly Wrong History of Programming Languages: "1972 - Dennis Ritchie invents a powerful gun that shoots both forward and backward simultaneously. Not satisfied with the number of deaths and permanent maimings from that invention he invents C and Unix."
  • Jim Rossignol provides impressions of the "Thrilling Wonder Stories" panel, discussing architecture, fiction, and futurism. Guests included Warren Ellis and the designer of Half-Life 2's cityscapes, Viktor Antonov. There are elements of a post about gaming's relationship to both science fiction and futurism gestating as a result of this.
  • I think it's really, really important that Harmonix--and not the Neversoft Guitar Hero team--ended up doing Beatles Rock Band. Technical issues aside, there was always a feeling that Harmonix understood the musical side of what they were doing in a way that their successors didn't, and it shows through in the product. I'm not even a huge Beatles fan, and I still think this is phenomenal. The trailer with actual game footage is also looking really sharp. Belle is very excited.
  • Along those lines, Anil Dash comments on the New Yorker and supporting artists.
  • As for the rest of E3: Eh. Microsoft's motion-tracking looks very cool (and apparently actually works), which would be great if I had a living room with actual space in it. Likewise, if I wanted to annoy people I guess hooking my XBox up to my Facebook status would be one way to do it. Nintendo's being Nintendo with a million franchise sequels and Wii attachments. Sony continues to find ways to milk fans for money: more virtual objects for Home! A download-only portable console that's still way too expensive! And as usual, practically nothing for PC.
  • I once argued, to a room of conservative think-tank contributors, that hip-hop (and jazz) were distinctly American forms of music--genres that prize reinvention, improvisation, and a unique tension between individual and collective action. Perhaps I should have specified that it's not right for everyone.

May 13, 2009

Filed under: random»linky

Link of May

Sometimes the puns don't come easy, you know.

  • The interesting implication of captcha on routers isn't that most people's security habits are poor. It's that, as everything in the home gets smarter, vulnerabilities multiply in odd places. I had no idea that some malware was using a browser exploit to inject bad DNS entries into home routers, but I'm really kind of impressed by it.
  • Matt Taibbi meditates on aging and Friedman.
  • Is new media an elite forum? And is it best used simply to bootstrap narratives into the traditional media?
  • The Griefer Future, continued: Russian hackers have pioneered ransomware, which holds your computer hostange until you pay a ransom via SMS message.
  • The Gecko netbook runs on 8 rechargeable AA batteries. Is this the solution to my laptop battery complaints? Surely there are hidden pitfalls to something like this--it seems too good to be true.
  • I'm two years late on Ikea Hacker. Which is too bad, since its advice applies to pretty much all our furniture.
  • The Center for Global Development has a post about using mobile phones to monitor pandemic flu.

April 27, 2009

Filed under: random»linky

Warmup Links

With my hands now recovering from what was diagnosed as a case of mild extensor tendonitis, I'm hoping to get back into the habit of writing something here every day, in the morning or evening. Let's warm up with a linked list:

  • The AV Club pays tribute to Bea Arthur by posting her roast of Pamela Anderson. It's a pitch-perfect slice of comedy--the whole bit is Arthur simply reading selections from Anderson's "fictional" book with that dry, acid tone of hers.
  • The Boston Globe finds a few yuppies who have given up technology in their lives. "They're not elderly luddites," the paper writes. Indeed: they're not elderly. And remember, it's the Internet that's killing journalism, so presumably these people are quite trustworthy and not creepy at all.
  • Late last week, I started writing a voxel terrain engine in Flash, just as a practice project. So far, getting something to run at a decent framerate and resolution (say, 640x480) has been a challenge. I've been reading a lot of Actionscript optimizations, which are fascinating in a geeky kind of way. As a high-level scripting language that gets compiled to bytecode (and, sometimes, native instructions), some of the speedbumps are suprising.
  • Speaking of terrain engines, if you haven't seen the footage of indie MMO/shooter Love, you really ought to take a look. The UI looks pretty hardcore, but the way that developer Eskil Steenberg has put together a flexible, beautiful framework for user-generated problem solving is very impressive. I particularly like the way that items in the world can be triggered by a "key" over the in-game radio system, so that complex mechanisms can be built out of simple components.
  • In all the fuss (hype?) about Twitter and social change, Evgeny Morozov reminds us to remember the power of radio. I have a soft spot for radio, obviously. This is just one of many great posts that Morozov's been putting up at his Foreign Policy blog.
  • Tim Hwang, founder of ROFLCon, talked to the Berkman Center about Internet memes and their spread early this month. Interesting comments about how open platforms like 4chan have a lot more cultural generativity than closed systems like Facebook. Unfortunately, I feel like it's just really not that simple.
  • Along those lines, Mute Magazine has a piece on Africa and software politics. It makes a few new points: that lack of bandwidth is a serious problem for African open-source, that open-source is (sadly) not a panacea incompatible with state power, and that (similar to the Ishango Bone, which is the oldest known table of prime numbers) perhaps the network society needs a new, Afrocentric genealogy.
  • And for the data visualization nerds reading, the World Bank has opened up its economic indicators and development photos with an external web API. It doesn't look incredibly detailed yet, but I guess it's a start.

March 27, 2009

Filed under: random»linky

Link Blitz

The new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album is pretty good after all.

  • I'm really not going to keep writing about Resident Evil 5 forever, but this editorial at Crispy Gamer caps it off nicely for me. Partially in response to Stephen Totilo's argument that the game is more about cliche than race, writer Evan Narcisse rightly points out that the cliches themselves are hardly innocent. Ultimately, did this debate produce more heat than light? I hope so. I'd like to read that someone had their eyes opened by the discussion.
  • At SXSW, Jonathan Marks did a couple of interesting interviews with two of the Africa bloggers that I follow: Jonathan Gosier of Appfrica and Erik Hersman of Ushahidi. Gosier's raises an interesting point about doing outsourced IT work from Uganda--one of the biggest barriers isn't language or talent, it's the difficulty of transferring money from the US.
  • The more that I spend time reading about smartphone platforms, the more it's turning me into an advocate for free and open source software. Give it another six months, and I'll be the guy in the back muttering about recompiling his kernel, wearing a shirt that says "I'm with Stallman."
  • In all seriousness, I'm torn as to where I'll go for my next phone, as all the open platforms have caveats. Nobody knows anything solid about the Pre yet. Android so far has battery problems, and it sounds like it needs a task manager. I don't like most of the Windows Mobile hardware. And Nokia needs more apps, but their hardware is top-notch, and I actually like S60. The Nokia E75 looks very nice. I just hope that the Qt library helps them pick up the pace.
  • For those who enjoyed John Kessel's evisceration of Ender's Game, Elaine Radford has finally put her original essay online: Ender and Hitler: Sympathy for the Superman. Sadly, it doesn't include her notes, which were apparently a lot more detailed.
  • has posted a set of information security links for journalists and activists operating in authoritarian countries. There's some good advice here, including a link to the Reporters without Borders Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents.
  • The Meggy Jr. is a handheld Arduino-based game handheld with an 8x8 LED display--so, you know, you're not going to be playing GTA IV on it. You've probably seen it around if you read Make or Hackaday. It got me thinking about what you could do with such a limited amount of display flexibility, like say 16x16 pixels. What games would work? What can't you do? Some interesting ideas come to mind.
  • If WorldChanging can get $10,000 in recurring donations, they'll get a $100,000 grant. That's probably a tough thing to do in the current economic situation, but I personally think it's a good cause. As an aggragator for greenpunk/development news, it's very good. Read about it here.
  • I don't remember where I found this, but it's interesting: Game Theory in the Dark Knight.

March 11, 2009

Filed under: random»linky

Link Forward, Fall Back

Thanks to daylight savings time and the user interface engineers at JVC, my car radio's clock is wrong for about six months out of the year.

  • The 10 Unexpected Costs of Owning Things, via Brinstar. A great, thought-provoking list.
  • Although I've read Making Light for years now, I wasn't aware that co-author Theresa Nielsen Hayden was an ex-Mormon. Her story of being excommunicated from the church, "God and I", is typically funny and surprisingly good-humored.
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the "Red Mars" series and other books, has written an editorial on the "multigenerational ponzi scheme" of modern capitalism in the face of environmental change at What Matters. This ties in nicely with Jamais Cascio's post the other day about eliminating the phrase 'long-term' from our thinking. Robinson is not the only one arguing for a serious reevaluation of capitalist markets: Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen considers the question in the New York Review of Books.
  • Speaking of Robinson, his publishers at Random House have joined Baen and Tor with a free e-book library that includes "Red Mars" and four other titles at this time. They're also available on Kindle for free at the moment, as well as several other e-reader formats like PDF, LIT, and Stanza. Unsurprisingly, these are all the first books from series--I guess it's finally becoming clear that this is a really good way to hook readers.
  • So you've just released a videogame into the middle of a racism controversy. What's the best way to publicize it? How about a scavenger hunt for fake body parts scattered through London, culminating with players gathering on a bridge and shouting nonsense words in Swahili in the hopes of winning a trip to Africa? Words fail me. (via Pandagon) Also from the comments in that thread: there is nothing racist in this screenshot.
  • To be clear, that's definitely me being sarcastic about that last link.
  • Video from the Aid Watch conference in New York has been posted. I really enjoyed this clip of June Arunga talking about getting business funding for ventures in Africa, and the difficulties of fighting Western perceptions.
  • The Berkman Center at Harvard has hosted a couple of very interesting speakers in the last couple of weeks. Al Gidari, of the Perkins Cole law firm, speaks on cell phones and location privacy--in other words, who can track you by your phone, and what protections do you have? This is a matter of no small interest to many activists. Also, Gene Koo discusses games as learning environments for ethics. For whatever reason, Berkman insists on using a Quicktime plugin for its videos, but it's definitely worth pulling the link open (you've got Firebug installed, right?) and using VLC to watch them.
  • The guy who runs 4chan can foster almost every prominent Internet meme, but he can't get a job.
  • "Finally, local man sees Jesus in a sandwich/floorboard/cat/etc." for more than six minutes. But remember, it's the Internet that's killing journalism.
  • Android continues to get better applications than any other smartphone platform--in this case, Torrent Droid is a program that scans the UPC on a movie or CD with the camera, searches for a torrent on the major trackers, and then sends it to uTorrent for downloading. More and more, the only thing keeping me from switching is the mayfly battery life.
  • More as events warrant.

February 24, 2009

Filed under: random»linky

I Link... Again!

Remember Blood? Man, I used to love that game.

  • I've been trying to figure out what bothers me about this TNR article about The Politico. Finally, I figured it out: they're basically running on the "paved with good attentions" model that I worried about, driving their site traffic (and thus their revenue) with appeals to the least-credible, highest-traffic outlets (Drudge, cable TV) they can find, thus intentionally altering the news cycle for their own benefit. It's the kind of vicious, meta-media thinking I would normally reserve for Bond villains.
  • DOSBox has been ported to S60--you've probably seen this around as "Windows 95 on a Nokia N95," but that's someone taking credit for the work in this forum thread. Pretty cool, but I'm holding off on installing it until it's working off the most recent source version. The author says it still doesn't play X-Com. I guess theoretically you could solve the compatibility issues by running the x86 version inside this one, if you didn't care about frame rates. Or battery life. Or the space-time continuum.
  • Patrick Meier and Josh Goldstein are offering the full syllabus/reading material for their course on digital democracy here. There's some really good reading in there, and it sounds like a great class.

  • The Kindle 2 got here today! Initial impressions: like the first one, it looks much better in photographs than in person. I miss the old scroll wheel, but the new UI is definitely better. The screen is noticeably sharper, and I feel like it's a little faster, but that could just be the "new gadget" halo effect. More details in a few days.
  • Over on Making Light, Abi Sutherland discovers the reason why the Internet's zombie obsession refuses to die: zombies scale.
  • Since I picked up A Force More Powerful last week, I've also been thinking about Troy's review commentary (the review itself is, sadly, lost to a garbled content management system). It is a shame, as he notes, that the title got so little attention. I'm still trying to get a grip on it, frankly, and probably need to play a bit more before I make up my mind. It seems very "grognard"-ish.
  • Appfrica, the blog for a tech training and start-up incubation firm in Uganda, had an post the other day on the not-so-inclusive web and network failure. I thought it was particularly interesting, since I had just finished looking for more African blogs to read, and had found that a lot of the people writing on development tech seem to be, even in Africa, white males. The network effects tend toward homogeneity.
  • Another interesting post from Appfrica, which really is a great blog: Bit Torrent in Developing Countries.
  • Justin at Nostalgia for the Future used my January Round Table post as the basis for this month's challenge. His mutation of Iron Council: The Game retains the theme of revolutionary politics, but changes the rules to fit new, historical settings. It's very cool to see the idea continue this way (hey! you could make an Otpor board game!), and a great reminder that I need to get my own reinterpretation post in for this month.
  • Whenever things get a little slow at work, I find myself messing with the CSS here, aided by the addictive power of Firebug. At this point, I'm working by two rules that I've distilled from interactions with better designers: 1) use skinny lines, and 2) unless you have a good reason, keep colors desaturated. Slowly but surely, I think I'm reaching a design that could be safely classified as "not eye-bleedingly hideous." Aim high, I always say.

January 29, 2009

Filed under: random»linky

Link for Sale

In these troubled economic times, only lists of random novelties can save us.

  • Posted without comment: Congressional Quarterly up for sale.
  • Philosecurity has an interview with the guy who coded the invasive adware for Direct Revenue. First question: "You wrote adware. You bastard." Actually includes an interesting confession of how, lobster-like, he was gradually eased into increasingly unethical practices. He retains a surprising amount of faith in mankind for someone who effectively wrote rootkits to sell ads.
  • English Russia has become one of the more interesting items in my RSS reader. I really like their recent post on "moon currency" that some Russian photoshoppers invented.
  • Speaking of foreign bloggers: while I was adding a lot of development tech writers to my feed, I noticed that relatively few of them were native Africans--there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but I felt like it would be nice to have a more diverse viewpoint, so I've been looking for good, accessible African bloggers. One of my favorites so far is What An African Woman Thinks, which is based in Kenya and is very funny. I particularly liked her inauguration fever post.
  • I just can't quit you, OLPC: Cory Doctorow defends the program in the Guardian, including a few shots at the development-via-mobile model. He has a point about making sure that phone networks and technology are open to innovation, but the rest of it is typically overcooked. Here's the money quote: "Poverty and its associated problems - hunger, poor health, lack of education and disenfranchisement - are fundamentally information problems." Fundamentally? Seriously? Cory, with all due respect, people aren't starving to death because they can't get to Wikipedia. There's no magic bullet (or, in Doctorow's laughable phrase, "pedagogical and development wonder-boxes") for poverty, which is one of the key reasons for the OLPC's failure. Why is that so hard to understand?
  • Also in development: author William Easterly has begun a blog, kicking it off with a great post about the Davos "Refugee Run": an event that invites participants at the World Economic Forum to "EXPERIENCE LIFE AS A REFUGEE IN DAVOS!" That's right: poverty tourism fused with a team-building exercise.
  • From Matt Stevens, Bill Bailey plays the Doctor Who theme as Belgian club jazz.
  • I've started playing Disgaea DS. I have no idea what in the world is going on with this game.

January 14, 2009

Filed under: random»linky


"Heh. Indeed. Read the whole thing."

  • Rock Paper Shotgun's Jim Rossignol has posted up an extended article on Gaming in the Russian Cosmos (should that be Kosmos?). It's an interesting look at a market where, for economic and cultural reasons, PC gaming is both healthy and still primarily sold in boxes, as opposed to downloads. That's great for the Soviet-bloc countries, but it does mean that it's hard for us to get a hold of them.
  • Design a table on your cell phone. Series 60 only. This is an interesting idea, but not one that's going to convert a lot of people over to Symbian, I think. Still, it's interesting to consider the possibilities if fabrication machines were more common, both for commerce and for Make-style problem solving.
  • Sadly, well-known gear and production blog Music Thing has closed its doors now that writer Tom Whitwell has a big-time job at The Times. Tom was nice enough to link to my Excel-based drum machine a few years ago, and somehow managed to dig up other synth and guitar-related oddities from all over the Internet, like this "extravagant tale of rotating speakers, midi accordians, and erotic polka" or ten guitars shaped like guns. Just click randomly through the Music Thing Hits on the right side of the page, you can't go wrong.
  • In a clip on, Mike Rowe discusses dirty jobs and dignity. Not safe for work, if your workplace discourages hilarious discussion of lamb castration.
  • I'm still trying to wrap my head around this article (PDF link at the bottom of the post) by Aneel Karnani, titled "Romanticizing the Poor." Essentially, Karnani reminds readers that market-based solutions to development and poverty face serious challenges--and these challenges have not been, in his view, adequately answered by bottom-of-the-pyramid marketing advocates. I addressed some of these issues in my worries about Nokia's lifetools, but Karnani does so much more directly and with some compelling evidence against treating the poor (or indeed, anyone) as coldly rational actors. At the same time, he focuses primarily on the sale of alcohol, tobacco, and dubious customer services--very much a worst-case scenario for unregulated market interaction. I think the article is, if nothing else, a great warning against overconfidence in technological or market-based solutions.
  • Via the Center for Global Development comes Foreign Policy's Think Tank Index, measuring the perception of quality by "knowledgeable persons." Depending on your point of view, this is either a valuable list of institutions that shape our policy, or the people who'll be first against the wall when the revolution comes.
  • Perception Through the Lens of Slumdog Millionaire.
  • Finally, I've been trying out Windows 7 for a few days--first in a virtual machine, and then finally in a dual-boot partition. I've realized two things during that time. First, since I'm mostly happy with Vista, the only compelling features I've noticed so far have been faster wake-from-sleep times, probably due to the lighter window manager. Second, a dual boot is a pretty poor way to get a feeling for an operating system. You need to be able to do some work in it, and since I'm unlikely to install a beta on my working partition, there's just not that much I could actually do. Realistically, it's much more useful to have a Linux or OS X VM hanging around than it is to have a second OS partition, since in both cases they offer different software suites and/or sandboxes side-by-side with the full-time operating system. For example, I refuse to install RealPlayer or Quicktime on my main partition, due to years of abusive behavior by both. It's much easier to throw those into a VMWare Player or VirtualBox image and play them from there--and with today's technology, it's about as fast. As soon as VM software gains decent 3D acceleration, I'm tempted to create a Win2K image for playing games locked down by SecuROM or other DRM.

Future - Present - Past