August 2005 Archives

Doing right

Well, Dell, I must say: wow. Wow.

So I ordered this 2005FPW 20" TFT monitor from you over three weeks ago. I complained a bit about the fact that the website was essentially useless for tracking the status of my order, but when I called I was told all was well and that unfortunately there was a back order. Fair enough.

After that, the monitor showed up at my door yesterday morning, a full week earlier than I was told it would. Wonderful!

However, unfortunately, the one I got had a defective DVI port. I spent the better part of my afternoon figuring that out, a process which included a very helpful and knowledgeable support call to you and a trip downtown to a friend's office where he had just unpacked his (he ordered it the same day as me after I sent him the URL to the special you were running) to see if it was the DVI on my Powerbook or a faulty cable. Turns out IS the DVI port on the monitor itself.

I then spent the rest of the afternoon in the maddening maze that is your customer support phone experience. I believe I placed a half dozen phone calls, at one point, being so close to service only to be told your systems were oddly enough down. Roar. Considering I was playing phone tag with two other customer support departments (web hosting.. don't ask), my day was pretty much scrapped.

So I called one last time yesterday evening. The call took all of 4 minutes and it was settled. A replacement would be dispatched within 5 to 7 business days and we'll deal with the return of the defective unit after that. I barely believed my ears then.

I barely believed my ears when I received a call from you just 10 minutes ago. The monitor had shipped, Purolator Express, I should get it latest 2 days from now. Oh and it is a brand new one and not a refurbished one (I had be warned about that by one of the support folks N calls ago...;)

"What about the defective unit?"

"Oh just call us once you've set the new one up. We'll send Fed Ex around then."

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Oh and by the way; the monitor is awesome. I am using it with a VGA adapter at the moment and although that makes the image fuzzy, the brightness and clarity is awesome and I am so loving the rotation feature.


Documenting human rights abuses

(I can't find the info or name of this conference... Michael what was the name again?)
Earlier this week, I ran over to Concordia University to listen to some presentations grouped under the title (gaaaaahhh something about genocide and media/documenttion).

Off the bat, I was very unimpressed to find that the presentations consisted solely of the presenters reading their papers. Nothing glosses my eyes over than a lecture. Anyways.

The first presentation was something about archives of Holocaust related media. The second was about pornographic re-interprattions of Holocaust media. Whahunh? The presenter was a homey looking young woman from I think Edmonton who used the words "fuck" and "shit" without flinching. That in itself was impressive.

From there we went to Africa with a thoughtful paper on, I think, the re-contextualization of photographs from Somalia by a certain photographer. Sadly, the projector stopped cooperating and I only remember seeing two photos.

Can you tell my attention was non-existent? I actually started playing with a reBlog beta Michal had sent me...

The last presentation, thankfully, picked up a little as the presenter was at least inflecting her tone as she read her paper. No joke, this helped alot. Her paper was about the first case to have been called a "crime against humanity", perpetrated in the Congo in the early 1900's. She examined the effect pictures of child mutilations - children who would have hands and feet amputated - had on bringing an end to the abuses. (I should have taken notes on this one ... doh.)

The whole thing was replete with lines like "and so Lacan tells us...". Ugh. After a few self-congratulatory comments from the audience (you call that a question?!!?), I was ready to go postal. I decided instead to fight my urge to scream and raised my hand...

(paraphrasing myself with buzzwords! hah!)
"Say I am in a position where I am going to be building a web-based system for the collection of grass-roots media documentation of real-world, happening-now human rights abuses. In some cases the photos, videos, texts, audio objects will come from designated "reporters" and in others by ordinary people contributing whatever they can. What, in your esteem, is the most important thing I need to keep in mind when designing and building this system?"

All eyes on me, you could hear a pin drop.

I am SO glad I asked the question because it knocked loose some very good feedback, albeit from a group of people who seem to have missed the point of this little thing called "the Intarweb".

"You must preserve context!"
"You must prevent re-approriation, especially to stem off mis-representation!"

I almost went postal again, but instead took a deep breath and didn't bother shouting "Information wants to be free!!!"

Reality is what you say it is.

Safe travels gaucho

So, Steven's probably sitting on the tarmac at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport right now, beginning a 2 month trip to Cuba and, I suspect, to the core of himself.

No, he's not going to go sit on the beach. He's brought with him his bicycle, his Powerbook, his dSLR... and all his knowledge and experience in IT, networking, web communication. Not to mention a desire to do some good.

Over dimsum yesterday, I asked Steven exactly what his plan is. At least, where is going to start, what's he going to do.

Well, first he's meeting with a leading cuban paediatrician in hopes to have cuban participation in, an international research networking project Steven undertook for the Pasteur Institute.

He's also going to go visit the Linux user group at the Universidad de La Habana. They have an Ubuntu-based Linux distro, which apparently comes bundled with pre-configured Jabber client and RSS aggregator. I have a feeling he'll be dropping some of his ace WiFi-fu on them, having established his own community WiFi network in his hometown.

And then he's off to cycle all over the island, staying with families in their homes along the way. Apparently Cuba is extremely well suited to such cycling trips, with excellent roads and government subsidized rooming houses all over.

I made him promise to blog and photolog as much as he possibly can.

Bonne route mon ami. Be safe.

Everyone's got their price...

So MovableType 3.2 has finally been let loose. Bravo to all involved, it is an awesome awesome release.

SO, if anyone needs a hand upgrading, or you know someone who may need a hand, talk to me. :D

Dude, yer waiting on a Dell!

Monitor update.
So, they are out of stock and estimating another 5 days before they get them in. Then, if they do, it's a few more days to get it shipped to me.

To make matters worse, this info is not available to me via my online account chez Dell; an elaborate and sophisticated e-commerce platform designed exclusively, it seems, to allow me to login, set payment options and find the customer support phone number...

To add insult to injury, yesterday at Staples/Bureau-En-Gros I saw the Viewsonic VP2000s 20" TFT, with more resolution (1600x1200 as opposed to the Dell's 1680x1050), rebated to $699. My Dell order totals $689.00 taxes and shipping in, so the VS would be over a hundred dollars more... but I'd have it here, now. That's worth a hundred bucks.

Good thing I am not at all up to snuff on my TFT technology (though a comparison of listed tech specs, Dell/Viewsonic, leads me to think the Dell is higher quality), nor have the time to be, cause otherwise I may just have bought it. :p

Break it down, build it up

(just a quick note.)

Existant data-object storage and retrieval systems:
- Hard hierarchialization ("taxonomies", "categories with parent/child relationships")
- Analytico-synthetic ("Faceted categorization", "Semantic Web")
- Unstructured labelization ("Tags", "Labels")
- Statistical extrapolation ("Keywords")
- Unstructured data ("Full text search") [Disclaimer: not taking into account grammar and vocabulary within, i.e. a paragraph of intelligible english text. See the nightmare that is natural language processing.]

Find a UI metaphor that incorporates all in an intuitive, easy to use way.

(Title refers to a natural cycle that all things go though. Birth and death. Development and decay. Information is no exception.)


I spent the most part of the last... dunno, lost track... 6 weeks? working on the University of Southern California's Interactive Media Division's website, which we launched last thursday morning at 5am EST. (I went on a 4 day celebration tear thereafter. hah!)

It's really more of a publicly-visible yet closed-community weblog aggregator.

Like Soylent Green, it's made of people, mostly. Aside from the "boring static content" ("about us", "contact us", etc), much of the site is pulled together from weblog entries posted by the students, faculty and staff of the division. At entry posting time, the author has the chance to "cross-post" his/her entry to a handfull of sections of the site: the Main IMD weblog (actually, it's an aggregator), the Events Weblog (also just an aggregator really), the Research area weblogs: Games, Immersive & Mobile (oops, these are aggregators too) and also Course specific weblogs (yup, you guessed it, all aggregators).

The entire site is backed by MovableType (3.2 beta 5 baby! living on the edge) and rendered into a site building framework I feverishly developed over a number of years as a rapid prototyping tool, but which has ended up being very useful in actually running productions sites (and thus making me, and at least one other person, some decent money). The above-mentioned aggregators are generated by a handful of hand coded PHP functions and 3 Smarty templates.

The coolest bits are the way the courses are managed by a "hacked" weblog instance (each course is an entry, semesters are categories, etc...) and the cross-posting "slugs" system (heavily modified since) which uses the keywords field and some UI code lifted from

The site is replete with all kinds of MT hacks and tweaks, some of which I was pointed to from the excellent Hacking Movable Type book. Brad Choate's KeyValues plugin is a life-saver and having Jay Allen on my buddy list and be the awesome dude that he is helped tremendously as well. ;)

The site is also riddled with unfinished bits, not-as-good-as-it-could-be UI elements and even a few serious flaws that are potentially real problems... but only to me and I'm committed to fixing them.

I had alot of fun working with the IMD team on this. The uncornerable Justin Hall whose hurricane gales of enthusiasm, energy and humor made my summer fly by without my noticing it. Scott Fisher's intensely focused insights posited quietly and gently, almost innocently, causing me to smack myself and yell "of course! why didn't I think of that!". Marientina Gotsis, my embattled comrade-in-arms who would roll up her sleeves and clean out the httpd.conf or dump the database when such was the need. And of course last but not least Tracy Fullerton who made every effort to reign us all in (Justin and I mostly, really), provided the guiding line and much of the decision making (other than Justin's "FUCK YEAH! FLICK THE SWITCH MAN!" hahahaaa.. good times!)

Ok. :)

The right tool for the job

Ethan Zuckerman wrote up a lengthy post part of which was an extension of a conversation-slash-debate we sort of have been having since I started working on Global Voices.

The thing is, I agree with everything he says, more or less. However I need to clarify something.

(notice how wishy-washy I've been so far? "part of which", "conversation-slash-debate", "sort of", "more or less"...)

First of all, I do not recommend using Drupal for GVO. I know I mentioned it originally as a possibility, but not since. The CMS package I do want to recommend but haven't yet is one I had also mentioned but which seemed to sit even lower in Ethan's esteem so it's name has no been uttered since. I fully intend to make a case for it though.

Now, when GVO was first set up, to maintain Ethan's "building our own house" parallel, they basically rented a small apartment for a couple of friends; "see how it would work out" type of thing. When I was brought in, the mandate was to redecorate... oh and can you convert the kitchen into a high volume cafeteria? Cool!

I don't consider WordPress, the platform GVo is currently built on, "bad software". I consider it a fairly decent bit of code for a basic weblog. Easy to set up, easy to manage (mostly... that UI stinks though), easy to theme (if your needs and demands aren't too high) and, if you know a bit of PHP, easy to add a bit of presentation logic and such stuff.

However, by the time I was done hacking, it was very clear to me, on a conscious level as opposed to just the intuition I had had at the onset, that Global Voices is NOT a weblog; it is an aggregator. Amongst other things.

Here's a little meme that is currently in whisper stages in my circles, and I may be partly to blame for it's nascence: blogs are really aggregators...

So, it's really not a question of using bad software, it's a question of using the right tool for the job. Drupal, again to maintain the metaphor, is a farm. We're not doing that. What we are doing, and this may make Rebecca uneasy, or the opposite, is building an international news/voice collecting and disseminating organization. "A bunch of aggregators with very specific outlets and outputs."

In the end, I think Ethan's intuition is correct, but his wording is problematic. One must use the best and most appropriate tools available to us. Using bad anything is never a good idea. Starting simple and growing is. We're growing, and that apartment is way too small. Time to build a condo complex... or commune... or you know something like that... ;)

As it is public, and Ethan's already playing with a major component of the idea, I can say that moving forward, I hope to use reBlog in a multi-tiered editorial system, giving each regional editor a reBlog of their own to use as their interface to the live site. The details are yet to be draughted out.

I figure I should mention this too: in the last 6 months, I have not worked on a single "weblog": it's all been various types of aggregators. Every single weblog client has asked for features that were aggregation/metablogging/content-republishing in nature, some explicitly, some unconsciously. I have been in regular contact with Michal, 1/2 of the reBlog dev team of which I am hoping to make myself 1/3 of. I am also now involved, in various ways, in a flat-out online aggregator, an investment fund focused on aggregation and a desktop aggregator. You know what the coolest thing I've learnt is? I'M an aggregator. And so are you!

You know they're on crack when...

I just got a "letter" from American Express offering me a $20,000 loan. Obviously, it's not because I'm special or anything; it's what they do. However that's not what they'd have you believe of course:

As one of our most financially responsible Cardmembers, you have been preselected...

Excuse me what? Please allow me to laugh out loud. Damn! I WISH I was!! If I'm one of their most financially responsible Cardmembers, they must be RAKING in the interest payments...

Ahem. Oh. They are. ;)
(It's in the trash now)


"World Wide Web Consortium Marks Completion of Quality Assurance Working Group with New Recommendation"

The Quality Assurance (QA) Working Group of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) concludes its work this month with the completion of the Specification Guidelines W3C Recommendation, a document which provides clear instruction to writers and editors on creating implementable technical specifications. The QA Interest Group is continuing W3C's four-year effort in outreach through a variety of mailing lists and maintenance of online tools.

"Over the years, we have heard developers call for both standards and ways to test adherence to standards," explained Steve Bratt, W3C COO. "The W3C Quality Assurance Activity led the way in the development of guidelines and tools, helping our Working Groups create implementable specifications, and in turn helping software developers understand and implement W3C technologies. QA's products will be integral resources that ensure the work of W3C's Working Groups is of high quality."

Congratulations. :)

Yeehaw, mon

Willie must be high

Countryman is Willie Nelson's first reggae album.

I'm crying here. Along with baby jesus.



golden-red sheen.
a flame cracks and licks the darkness
one last time

some pig

OMG... well.. videocasting is here and the predictable severely rapid decline of "culture" * may begin.

You should check out the Internet TV channel "some pig".
If you don't have DTV, you can get it here:
And then subscribe to this channel:

So yeah, click on "some pig" and then look for "Rezelscheft"... and marvel at what technology has done for us.

"some pig" videos are directly available here. Do check out Magnifitrick. It is genius.

* I am currently reading "Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy" by Dave Hickey ("Winner of the 'Genius' Award!", "Macarthur Fellow 2001-2005"!), and so far it is a fun ride with incredibly well written insights and is as terribly entertaining as it is smart, in an off-the-cuff way, apparently out of the norm for Mr. Genius. My favorite line so far is "(Define culture!)", which he casts as a sideways shouted taunt at his fellow academics at a University in Las Vegas where he seem to have holed up. I almost yelped an "amen!" out loud...
In any case, Hickey seems to be all up for participatory culture so I would love to hear what he thinks of this. I wonder if I can get my mitts on him...



We envision a country where Cambodians can learn and use computers in their own language, a country that does not have to change to a new language in order to use computers!

Bravo. They're translating and localizing stuff like Firefox—renamed Mekhala— and OpenOffice and an email client, as well as providing Khmer Unicode software for people's computers. Fantastic.

Steven's also been telling me about the Cuban Linux distro, based on Ubuntu, which comes bundled and pre-configured with a Jabber IM client AND account, as well as an RSS aggregator.

I can see!

(merci Francis!)

The so-called leader in e-commerce computer sales failed to send me the expected email confirmation, and upon logging back into the e-commerce site, it told me it had no record of my order. Calling the 1-800-WWW-DELL phone number displayed throughout the site in large bold characters in the header, brought me to a dead-end where I needed to write down another 1-800 number (no auto forward!). Calling this number got me only to customer tech support. When informed that I was checking up on an order, I was promptly put through to the orders department. The very nice and friendly rep there then proceeded to tell me that all was well, but you see this is their busy season, back to school and all, and they are really busy and I should give it 24 hours before I check my account again.

People... it's a website. With a database. And Dell just lost, what is it? $20 because I called to find out something that could easily have been displayed instead of "we have no record of any orders from you." Busy season my ass! Who made your much vaunted e-commerce system that can't actually handle a high volume of orders?

Anyways, the price is right, the human beings I interacted with were nice and courteous and helpful... but damn, Dell's system is a joke!

Fingers crossed they don't deep six my order.

Update 2:
Subject: Dell Canada Online Order Confirmation
Estimated Arrival Date: Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Rock. On.

Judge a book by it's thumbprint

A few months ago I enabled a feature on Joi Ito's weblog which I called his "blog thumbprint". What it is, is a weighted list of the most frequently used words in the entirety of Joi's blog, with the text size adjusted to represent the frequency of use. The bigger the word, the more Joi uses it. It's useful to see what's on his mind, long term.

It looks like a tag cloud, but it isn't. It's just a word count, mashed into a list of keywords. I'd like to point out that this display method is very useful for things other than just tags, thank you very much.

Amazon calls it "concordance" and it's a feature that seems to be on for some of the books in their database, along with text stats. (Here are some other definitions for that word.)

Check it out. Very cool. And clicking on any term in the thumbprint gives you it's actual "concordance", i.e., shows it to you in the context of the line it is in, in the book.

Oh how I dream of a Sony Librié type device with a 80Gig 1.5" HD, with an open OS so that we the book geeks of the world could hack out awesome software, like this and who knows what other fantastic heuristics, for traversing our personal libraries.

"I read somewhere ... gimme a sec..."

You know when

when the passing of time is only defined by noticing that you need to trim your nails and hair.

And do the dishes and laundry. Ew.
The tub could use a scrub too.

Tabula rasa

Having had 30 seconds to think about it, I've decided on a course of action for this here "weblog". Tabula rasa it is.

This site no longer suits my needs. I've built up a mini Tower of Babel and it's confusing my tongue, so to speak. The audience is confused, I am confused; full stop. What are we doing here?

So. It is being shelved. Archived. Nothing more added to "it", but nothing taken away either. No URIs will be broken, and what comes next will live right next to it. The archives will sit there, comments and trackbacks, layout, structure et al intact. I'll even keep the database and the instance of MT in place. Just for the heck of it.

A spanking new copy of MT, a fresh database, super minimal design and features, all new directories and archive URI scheme moving forward.

When I have a moment, of course. I have to go rescue Mike first. Amongst many other things.

(Oh and just cause I like the phrase: De te fabula narratur: t'is your story being told.)

News, maps, tags, viz

Michal switched his News Project source from Google "In the News" to the "Popular" feed and called it "Vox Delicii".

Michal is also one of the guys behind Mappr, which mapped Flickr pics based on place-name tags.

Aaron's done all kinds of stuff with New York Times meta keywords, Google results and export of such (SVG, RDF, XHTML).

Ethan Zuckerman, with whom I am working on Global Voices Online, has hooked up Daypop to a global map to meter how much attention various countries are getting in online media.

And there's Greg Sadetsky (hehe) and his buddies at Poly9 up in Quebec City goin' all Google Map/locative APIs crazee.

How can I get you all sitting at one table for an afternoon? There's a lot of stuff to be done... ;)

Enoshima Jump

Enoshima Jump, originally uploaded by mmdc.

Jim's really hard on his photography skills. Needlessly.
Wonderful shot.

Be careful what you ...

I'm somewhat late delivering a project. I'm workin workin workin to get it done. The plan was to wrap it up tonight and start migrating parts before morning. I've been pulling all nighters for the last 2 months so it's normal for me now.

About an hour ago I got hungry so I ran out to get a shish taouk a few blocks away. On my way back I noticed a Hydro truck pull up. For no particular reason, a thought shot through my mind: "heeey, you could just ditch work and relax for once... say there was a power failure!"


20 minutes later I am bathed in darkness. This is NOT funny. I immediately ran dow to that Hydro truck, where I found the two technicians just about to roll away. "Can we help you?" "Um, yeah! The whole block is out up there!" "Yup, we're doing major network upgrades. It'll take all night. Weren't you warned?" ... Grrrrrrrr ...

So here I am at Laïka, the hip café-turned-bar-at-night, sitting in the corner while semi-decent house music is being spun. I've got my computer, my mouse, my external hard drive, all here. Needless to say, progress will be hindered without my second monitor.

The worst part is that Karl was here all night and I told him I couldn't hang with him because of my work, but I saw he got home just before my wifi died. Bleh.