March 2006 Archives

Summing it up

My post on "it's not about you" the other day sparked a good thread of debate which culminated in Hugh staking some key points, and Karl responding very clearly and directly, and in my opinion, right on the money, so to speak.

If that's not your thing, here's a picture of me scratching my neck in front of some sakura.




While eating my dinner (yes at my desk), I decided to spark up my old RSS aggregator and read some feeds I hadn't checked up on in a while.

It seems some months ago Maciej escaped the binds of Manhattan and slipped below the Equator... to Argentina.

I always enjoy Maciej's writing and his most recent post had me chuckling the whole way through:

To whet:

The Collapse of the Perito Moreno It was pandemonium this month at the Perito Moreno glacier. The Perito Moreno is a giant mess of ice that flows out of the mountains in the southern Argentine province of Santa Cruz, near El Calafate, looking for trouble. In a world of sissy nature that requires protection, handholding, wilderness reserves, careful study and constant medical attention, the Perito Moreno glacier is a refreshing throwback. This glacier wants you dead. It wants to come out and crush you under billions of tons of ice, carve its name into your face, and maraud out into the plains of Patagonia until it reaches the sea. You don't have to go into the mountains looking for the Perito Moreno - it's coming out of the mountains to look for you. It wants to come over there and mess you up good.

Felt good to get away from work. :)
Be well Maciej!

Say it like it is, brotha!

Joe Clark drops one hell of a rant about everything from web acessibility, web 2.0 and stooped conferences.

And really, the Pied Piper of Ajax, Jason Fried, is principally responsible for this mess. I’m getting a bit tired of having to remind the leader of the pack and his Opera-style fanboys that accessibility isn’t an option (add “anymore” if you wish).


So, with the Mesh Conference, we’ve got these five middle-aged Toronto guys who, I presume, recently converted from IE6 to Firefox, which makes them totally up to the minute. They got the brainwave to start a conference about Web 2.0. A conference, in other words, celebrating a rampantly mediocre development trend that stands squarely at odds with everything real Web developers like me and my friends have been trying to do for the last six years.

Do you think these people even understand what I’m talking about? Nope. They are apparently incapable.


I gotta respect the fellow shit-kicker, even if sometimes it's me he kicks. ;)

Blogs and Finance

(somebody's gonna kick me for this one)

Rebecca just pointed out something very interesting. Google Finance is aggregating weblog posts with companies' stock market ticker symbols... and displaying the results inline with company profile screens.

For example, Secure Computing (SCUR).

Imagine you're an investor, you're poking around looking for information on a company you might want to invest in and POW you see, right there, in context, that people are really not too happy about the company's behavior/product/whatever.

This raises many issues, for sure. First questions that pop into my mind: is this automatic aggregation? Who decides what aggregated content makes it to the screen? Is there an editorial process? A voice? A spin?

Oh neato.. it also matches the release of more MainStreamMedia news articles (hah, and of course press releases--the workhorses of the manufactured reality machine) about the company to the point on the stock performance graph corresponding to when the article was released. Interesting. OOHHH! It's a flash app, and it is tied to the stories on the right! Wow. Michal, check it out!

Insight in hindsight

Ed Bilodeau mentioned he just missed his 8th anniversary of "personal publishing on the web".

An excerpt from his first post, dated March 12th, 1998 (notice the dated space URI):

Spend any time at all surfing the Net, and you quickly discover that there are alot of people who spend alot of time and effort publishing information on subjects that interest them. Whether it's a father putting up pictures of his family, a student building a shrine to her cat, a teenager listing the titles in his video game and music collection, or a young lawyer designing a site dedicated to her favorite Californian wines, they a ll have some things in common. They all feel passionately about something, and they all want to share their passions with others.

Here's to at least 8 more years sir. And it'd be great to see you sometime. :)

It's alive!

Before leaving for Tokyo, I mentioned how I was looking forward to getting back to Montreal for the summer. More specifically, what I told a few people in person was I was particularly looking forward to watching, and perhaps being a part of, the blooming of a rather good bacterial culture starting to take hold at my favorite hang out of late, Laïka.

Laïka is essentially a neat little café/bistro/bar in my neighborhood, known to be a hang out for many of Montreal's digital culture makers. Until Ile Sans Fil set up the free WiFi hotspot there, that group comprised mostly of francophone electronic musicians and video artists (not exclusively, but mostly), as well as scenesters, students and various young artists who could afford the $2.50 coffee.

The Wifi brought the web-geeks. Amen.

Over the last 6 months, many many ad-hoc conversations have sparked up and some really great people started showing up, talking and doing cool stuff. Community! Yay!

Michael Lenczner with Ile Sans Fil, WifiDog and all his great ideas.
Hugh McGuire with LibriVox and... something else. ;)
Julien Smith, podcasting hip-hop, but thinking about it all quite a bit.
Brett Gaylor, videoblogger, film-maker, also thinking and talking about it all.
and a few others I have yet to meet or fully contextualize for myself.
Steven Mansour seems to lurk about on occasion and that I am very happy about too.
(Notice that the local "usual-suspects" and "movers and shakers" are absent... too busy at their jobs. ;)

Anyways, it seems I missed a monumental caffee-clatch which spawned a multi modal discussion online after the fact.

The overall theme is "open information" and "what the heck are we doing with all this web stuff?!", and was no doubt sparked by Michael's enthusiasm for what he is calling "open access to civic data." Way. To. Go.

So that was the set up, here's the conversation:

Hugh's write up of the Laika talk, and comment thread.
Robin Millett's blog entry.
Bretts videoblog summary and reply.
Hugh's vlog reply and continuation.
Mike said a few words on his blog too. ;)

I KNEW this was gonna get good-er. All the more for me to look forward to.

(Apologies to any egos that got bruised in my rough and certainly incomplete round of references... There's only so much I can "see" from this side of the Pacific at 2am.)

It's not about you

At least not the way you may be led to believe it is.

With apologies to Stewart and Caterina, the whole Flickr team and all the folks involved in this "Web 2.0" stuff, who, for the most part, are truly wonderful people and bring us wonderful things.

It's not about you, it's about your data--or "bits of your life digitized and uploaded"--and the way you structure it and contextualize it and share it. That's what the big money hubbub is about.

You see, what happened is this: enough dot-com bubble casualties, many of them web designers and programmers and information architects and the like--people who knew how to publish to the web, be it text or photos or audio files or video pieces--got tired of doing it by hand, coding up html and maintaining whole websites. They decided to build tools to automate all that. They called them Content Management Systems before, when they still had their jobs building large e-commerce sites in 1997. But now they started using them to self publish, and they added a few really nice features like comments and "RSS feeds". Weblogs were born and slowly but surely over the last 3-4 years... well you see what happened.

"The promise of the web has been realized!" "The read and write web!" More or less. It is truly great stuff, don't get me wrong. I ain't knockin' it, even if I am nibbling on the hands that feed me.

But that's not what the bankrollers are on about. They don't care about your newfound ability to publish your thoughts or your pictures. They are just glad that you are doing so. Why? Because in an information based economy, data is your primary natural source. And flow of data creates movement which can be harnessed.

Like a water-mill.

The difference is that these millers don't need to go find a river: they can make one. And that's what sites like Flickr,, Upcoming, YouTube, Newsvine and the lot of them, have done.

Centralize, centralize, centralize. Concentrate and control.

What that means:
1- your data is not under your direct control.
2- what is done with your data, is not under your direct control.

So what? What are these people doing with your data? It's pretty simple: they use it to drive advertising revenues.

Here's how. I mentioned structure and context. When you publish something, share it, you try tell a story; you labor to package it up, give it meaning (semantics through communication technologies, like language) and you place it on the web within a context, be it via categories, tags, links to related information. You are organizing data.

To folks like Google and Yahoo!, that is worth gold. Literally.

Before I continue, lest I be labeled disingenuous, I should make clear that I am NOT railing against all this. I use Flickr every day--more like 300 times a day; it's my #1 destination, almost as often as my email inbox--and I manage weblogs that sport Google Ads and Technorati tags and links and all that stuff. I just want to try to make sure people actually realize what is going on.

We are all working for them. For free. That's how it's "about we". It's not a "media revolution", it's a reversion to feudal medievalism. "Voluntary servitude" it's been called (back in 1548!) (This is worth a read too though it has quite a Marxist taste to it. ;p

The counter argument is "but they are providing a service which in order to survive must sustain itself economically somehow, and you free information people are the first to yell "information wants to be free" and so it is and we can't rely on subscription or pay-per-content schemes." Totally fair. And services like all the above mentioned all do fairly decent jobs of providing ways to export and retrieve your data. One way or another, you gotta pay to play, right?

The malaise remains however: they are profiting from our ignorance (or forgetfulness). Whether it is ignorance of their actions or ignorance of your abilities (to do any of this yourself in a de-centralized way) or rights.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go check what pictures my friends uploaded, what links they bookmarked and who's talking about me.

This has been another poorly formed and expressed rant brought to you by a bottle of sake, three deadlines and 12 hours in front of too many screens.

What a relief

Joi's new MacBook Pro arrived at the lab sometime this weekend and this afternoon I got permission to crack it open and play... I mean... test.


Plugged it in, connected the 24" LCD screen, my Firewire drive, loaded up Quicksilver and... oop, it's already as hot as my PowerBook. Strike one.

Downloaded and installed CodeTek VirtualDesktop (totally crucial for me). Oop, it loads and runs but doesn't actually swap between desktops. Strike two.

Doesn't need a strike three. I'll wait a few months before I even think of it again.

(That said, it is damn sweet and blaaaazing fast. But not enough for me to justify replacing my 4 month old macked out PowerBook.)


from the excellent excellent Banksy "Wall and Piece" book:

People abuse you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you're not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They're on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.

However you are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say whatever they like wherever they like with impunity.

Screw that. Any advert in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It's yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep the rock someone just threw at your head.

You owe the companies nothing. You especially don't owe them any courtesy. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don't even start asking for theirs.

Banksy - Brandalism

David Suzuki

I've been meaning to write about David Suzuki for a long time, and haven't yet mainly because I have not done what I told myself I'd do first: actually get acquainted with "his stuff", knowing it would affect my life pretty profoundly, beyond the effect of watching "The Nature of Things" growing up.

Go on, go on, read up.

Anyways, I have yet to dive in, but I came across this article in the Harvard Gazette: Suzuki's passionate plea for change, talking about his acceptance speech for an award he just won:

The human footprint on the Earth is very different from what might have been surmised when modern humans first emerged on the African savanna 150,000 years ago, Suzuki suggested, as not-very-impressive creatures who walked upright and didn't have much hair.

"If any human being in those early days had said, 'Ha! Piece of cake, we're going to take over this whole savanna, we're going to take over this planet,' we would have laughed him into a cave and said, 'Don't listen to him, he's nuts.'" (this is classic Suzuki stuff! I can *hear* him saying it, grinning on CBC on Sunday evening.)


For more than two decades, Suzuki noted, scientists have been warning about impending global environmental crisis. In 1992, a group of leading scientists of the world, including half the world's living Nobel laureates, issued a warning to humanity: "'Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about,'" he quoted from their statement. "No more than one or a few decades remain ... . A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and of life upon it is required."

"The media response was terrifying," Suzuki said, pausing for effect: "There was none."


In addition to the news media, Suzuki also blasted conventional economics as "not a science but a set of values posing as a science," which tends to dismiss concerns like the ozone layer and underground aquifers as mere "externalities."

But, he emphasized, "There is no environment out there. We are the Earth."


"the Earth is our mother; not poetically, not metaphorically, but literally."

So with that, my friends, I tell you this: I've been working with a lot of human rights and freedom of speech people lately and it's time I also dive into the sustainable development and environmentalist camps.

Get me my hippie spray. ;p

Orwell's "Notes on nationalism"

Don't have the time to expound on this seminal text more profoundly at the moment but wanted to point it out.

First a salient quote:

Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing-off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening. There can often be a genuine doubt about the most enormous events. For example, it is impossible to calculate within millions, perhaps even tens of millions, the number of deaths caused by the present war. The calamities that are constantly being reported--battles, massacres, famines, revolutions--tend to inspire in the average person a feeling of unreality. One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not even fully certain that they have happened, and one is always presented with totally different interpretations from different sources. What were the rights and wrongs of the Warsaw rising of August 1944? Is it true about the German gas ovens in Poland? Who was really to blame for the Bengal famine? Probably the truth is discoverable, but the facts will be so dishonestly set forth in almost any newspaper that the ordinary reader can be forgiven either for swallowing lies or failing to form an opinion. The general uncertainty as to what is really happening makes it easier to cling to lunatic beliefs. Since nothing is ever quite proved or disproved, the most unmistakable fact can be impudently denied. Moreover, although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge, the nationalist is often somewhat uninterested in what happens in the real world. What he wants is to FEEL that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him. All nationalist controversy is at the debating-society level. It is always entirely inconclusive, since each contestant invariably believes himself to have won the victory. Some nationalists are not far from schizophrenia, living quite happily amid dreams of power and conquest which have no connection with the physical world.

Now this was written somewhere near the end of World War II, and as such is very dated, not only in it's use of examples but in it's language and structure of classification of things. Orwell seemingly used, though with disclaimers right from the start, the word "nationalism" to encompass the sea of all -isms, despite diving into a few of the more fashionable ones from his time. All of which is perfectly acceptable and reasonable but reading it today it begs updating, not just historically but semantically as well.

That said, please take the 20 minutes to read it, suspending for the duration any hang ups on historical frameworks, localized criticisms (he's on about British intelligensia of the time which really is just a micro-representation of society of any time and place, always affected by environment and circumstance of course)... and yeah... read it with, for lack of a better term, "the timeless eye".

And then ask yourself: "What is acceptable to me? And why?"

circadian cycle clusterfuck

Just when I had overcome the jetlag...

Between 2am trans-global conference calls between Tokyo, New York, Boston and London; 14 hour time-shift work schedules; and hanging out with Joi: I don't know, as they say, if I am coming or going.

I don't know how may days I have been here, at the lab. I think I may have seen 3 sunrises, and as many sunsets. I've been sleeping in 4 hour shifts. Somewhere in there I had some sort of mild food poisoning, which kept my head in a spin as well.

I am actually enjoying this. However, 90% of the work I have accomplished has been almost purely email writing. I have at least 3 jobs I need to "work on" for 4-5 hours at a stretch.

Today I am alone here. After a shower and a chocolatine, I'll dig in.

It's 9:00 am, I've been up since 2, with a 2 hour nap in there somewhere... I've set up a reBlog on a server in New Zealand, tested a Flash based IRC client from France, chatted about small circles as gleaned in Austin, created a development test blog at Harvard, and answered more emails than I can remember. Fun!



on lies: a necessary and healthy feature of sociality is lying. Lying is a feature, not a bug. The great dream of a utopian society is a system where lies are not necessary; the great nightmare, one where it is not allowed or even possible. That said, realizing you have been lied to, can be... very painful.

Fumi: what do you want to be when you grow up?
Me: I am what I want to be: myself. And I never want to grow up!
(I was very surprised myself to hear these words cross my lips.)

When I am here, strange colors appear in my life. I have bought a pair of socks; deep red. I have bought an umbrella; muted orange. What next?


P'führt di Gott, schöne Leiche

Aright, I'm off to Tokyo. Cya!



I'm in a "everything's new again!" state of mind tonight...

So this is what my email/calendar desktop looks like. I run virtual desktops (see the strip on the bottom right? on a work day all of those boxes are filled with open windows) and I keep my email and calendar in the 3rd one. Chat is on the second. Right now I am writing this in the 5th (which is not visible in the screenshot cause I took it before I launched ecto...)


So yeah, I resized my Mail window, placed the Activity Monitor in the top right, and placed iCal behind, in the lower right. This way I can see my email, have access to MailTags, can browse my To-Do's and call up my calendar with a click or Command+Tab.

Let's see how this works for me.

Too much seating

I am doing a giant cleanup of my apartment before I leave so that my house-sitter, Steven, doesn't feel like he's living in my junk, but also it's just a good opportunity to do so, and get rid of a lot of stuff, if not just rearrange it.

For instance I have completely redone the shelving arrangement in the living room, and thus all the books that once were strewn all over the place are now neatly stored.

However I have a problem I cannot so easily fix: I've got too much seating.


There are 5 seats that never ever get used, at least 3 of which there is literally no room for in the place: an office chair, a kitchen chair and a single sofa chair (teak and black leather).

That's not to mention the two antiques, one of which serves purely as a place to drop stuff when I enter, and the other as dust-ball gatherer, perched atop my kitchen cupboards.

Brining these all out to my mother's would require two trips in the Golf... or recruiting someone with a bigger SUV/van type of thing...


Adriaan quietly announced his new desktop aggregator application for Mac, called "endo".

It's a quite novel approach to aggregation, UI wise. Lots of powerful "Smart Filtering" possibilities, and customization. Wicked fast, Universal build (for PPC and Intel Macs) and keyboard-friendly for us notebook users.

Try it out and let us know what you think!

Bravo Adriaan!

3:30am wake-up call? No way!

I just changed my flight and booked a hotel room in NYC for tomorrow night.

I've got a 9:00am meeting in Times Square and had a flight leaving Montreal at 6:00am. That means being at Dorval at 4:30am. That means waking up at 3:30am.

I usually go to bed around 3:30am... Imagine how useful I would be in that meeting if I did that.

So, I fly out tomorrow night at 7:30pm and sleep a full night's sleep. Worth the Times Square hotel rates, for sure.

Now I just need to know the best way to get from LaGuardia to... St-Mark's Place...

Slow commenting in MovableType resolved

Brandon Fuller discovered a bug in MT and provided the fix for it.

If you are a client of mine or someone I am in the habit of helping out with their MT weblog, the patch has been applied.

You know who you are. ;)

Apple Mail and iCal plugin ideas, and more on The Binder

So I've been using Scott's excellent MailTags Mail plugin for a few weeks (the beta I am using should be released this week!) and it's gotten me thinking more than usual about mail and file management etc.

Here are a few mockups of little features I'd love to see in Mail and iCal.

First off, I would love to have an automatically generated list of essentially "Smart Mailboxes" based on Mail's "Previous Recipients" feature (>Window->Previous Recipients), which can show you all email addresses Mail has handled, sorted by a number of criteria.

I think the list would be fine presented like this:


A simple sort of contacts would be of most recently used; a more complex but worthwhile list generator would be "most often, recently", with control of what "often" and "recently" mean.

Clicking on a contact's name would show you a "Conversation" view: all emails containing that contact's email address in any of the address fields.

Since MailTags got me finally using iCal, a quick thought I had was "I'd like to have a quick way to see all files I interacted with on a specific day.


That could get even more elaborate: it could pick up on which Calendar you are in and assume that the calendar name is a project label: "show me all the files from this project I touched on this day."

This seems to be possible using Spotlight. It's just not easy to do via the UI.


Mail does not have precise date selection in the UI but I'm 99% sure it can be done "behind the scenes". And why not have a nice little calendar widget in Mail to do just that? Like this:


"Show me all mails from last Tuesday please."

But let's go back to the Finder Spotlight. Right now, the only data on my system I use Spotlight to find is email and MP3s. Very rarely do I need to find a document based on it's file name or contents. I'm a fairly ordered person and most of my work files are, if not neatly filed away, then at least in a constrained place, like a project Folder.

But Spotlight is SO powerful, and there are alot of files I WOULD bother adding specific metadata to. Like work and project related files. Not to mention photos and videos and the like.

So you've heard me talk of "The Mac OS Binder". Spotlight has the muscle to do much of what needs to be done, and it seems this is going to be a project of using a bunch of disparate pieces conjointly.

One of those pieces may well be "SpotMeta". SpotMeta allows you to create sets of metadata types/labels, complete with a variety of choices of assignment UI methods, it then allows you to apply that metadata to files more or less easily, and then it makes all that available to Spotlight. I just downloaded it now but I will definitely be playing with this one.

Keep you posted.

(Scott, Adriaan, please check this out: SpotMeta information for developers.)


Tetris Fuck

I know you know how this feels.
(thx Stevey. Everyone, go see Stevey, he blogs neat stuff! Like robot sharks with frikkin' lazers! And that guy who makes ski area maps!)