October 30, 2005
Economic Development 2.0
Perhaps you have heard of microlending. The idea is, hey: There are lots of people in countries like Bangladesh or Bolivia who could do something useful with $20 or $200 -- buy some livestock, make some baskets, start a little shop. Those are all productive enterprises, and if these people could get loans to start them, they'd be able to pay the money back. Buy it's not worth it for "real" lenders to bother with that. A $20 loan? In a place with no financial infrastructure? To somebody with no collateral? Wait, seriously, a $20 loan? No thanks.
Enter organizations like the Grameen Bank and FINCA. There are many more; microlending has been picking up steam for about two decades now. Most organizations give loans in the tens or hundreds of dollars, and most couple the loans with interesting social schemes: Grameen, for instance, requires that women apply for loans as a group. One woman gets hers first; she must pay Grameen back before her friends can get theirs. Voila -- a little productive peer pressure.
Microlending isn't a silver bullet. In fact, it's doesn't do much at all for the very poorest of the poor. But in terms of general economic development it works about as well as other strategies and, in addition, it confers an interesting aura of accountability and sustainability. It's development aid perfectly in sync with the zeitgeist.
So, all of that is setup for Kiva, a tiny, brand-new microlending organization that adds another element of now-ness to the mix: the internet!... Read more ....
October 28, 2005
Setting the Table for a Feast We Will Not Share
This line in a recent Boing Boing post stopped me in my tracks. George Dyson went to Google, and writes:
The mood was playful, yet there was a palpable reverence in the air. "We are not scanning all those books to be read by people," explained one of my hosts after my talk. "We are scanning them to be read by an AI."
I think there are two ways to read that line... both interesting, but one really interesting (and kinda creepy).
Scott McClellan, You Paying Attention?
I was very impressed by how lucid and straightforward Patrick Fitzgerald's press conference was today. My eyes have insta-glazed for two years now whenever I've encountered the words "Valerie Plame." He managed to lay it all out in a way that makes me feel I actually understand what just happened. Of course, he can probably do that better than anyone since he's apparently the only person in the world who actually knows what happened, but still. Good show.
Love in the Age of Chemoglobin
Alan Ball's next HBO project sounds like my new favorite thing:
Project is set in a world where vampires and humans co-exist after the development of synthetic blood. First book, "Dead Until Dark," revolves around a waitress in rural Louisiana who meets the man of her dreams only to find out he's a vampire with a bad reputation.
After seeing the brilliant heights Joss Whedon reached with these tropes in Buffy, I'm thrilled to see Alan Ball take it on. Via Towleroad.
October 27, 2005
I Don't Know What I Think About This
America's Next Muppet. No, really.
(Via the 'Pulse.)
Your Daily Adspaper?
Am I reading this article correctly? Did WaPo editor Len Downie actually suggest that the biggest reason the Post's daily news coverage couldn't be cut by a third is that there wouldn't be enough stuff to put ads on? Read for yourself and get back to me.
The relevant sentence: "He (Downie) says (business editor Steven) Pearlstein 'hasn't really thought through carefully' the impact of a one-third reduction, which would leave less room for advertising."
October 26, 2005
If you're one of the subscribers to the RSS feed I scraped together with Wotzwot for Romenesko's sidebar, you might have noticed that the feed had stopped working properly. Here's an updated version; here's hoping it stays intact.
October 25, 2005
Yet Folks Still Use Webex
Has anyone else heard of Freeconference.com?
"FreeConference.com offers a terrific value to consumers – free conference calls – with no strings attached. The company deserves credit for coming up with an innovative online business model that actually works... The site makes it easy to learn about FreeConference and to do business with the company."
That's not (to my knowledge) promotional text written by the company's PR reps. It's what one of the judges in the Webby Business Awards competition wrote when the company won first place for telecommunications in 2003. And this Google Answers checkup on them is solidly positive.
Why isn't this company everywhere right now?
Wha be tha blake prevy lawe
That bene wantoun too alle tha feres?
Ya damne righte!
Basejumping to Conclusions
After hearing about Google's BigTable data-organizing scheme the other day, posters at Google Blogoscoped started musing about the possibility of a Google database where anyone could list and organize oceans of content. Then Tony Ruscoe discovered that Google had recently added the subdomain base.google.com. Then the site went live. Briefly. Long enough for folks to capture some screenshots and an official description:
Post your items on Google.
Google Base is Google’s database into which you can add all types of content. We’ll host your content and make it searchable online for free.
Examples of items you can find in Google Base:
• Description of your party planning service
• Articles on current events from your website
• Listing of your used car for sale
• Database of protein structures
Real-Life Contextual Advertising
Although I'm kind of against floor ads (because 1) do you really want people walking all over your brand name? and 2) what will we do when we have no more surfaces left to advertise on?), I've gotta admit this is hella clever. (Via AltText.)
October 22, 2005
Stephen Dubner has posted a previously unpublished interview with August Wilson on his Freakonomics blog, in which the playwright talks about the men he admired growing up. It's funny -- so many of the men Wilson identified with were fighters -- Sonny Liston, Charley Burley, Malcolm X -- but so much of this interview is about acceptance.
October 21, 2005
Once More With Feeling
October 20, 2005
My High Score is 36
Let's Be a Multiple-Planet Species, Shall We?
I know some of us here on this blog aren't too keen on funding space science, but you gotta admit there's something compelling about the NASA chief's argument in this WaPo interview.
Or maybe he's wrong to be worried about 'mass extinctions.' Are we sufficiently advanced and resourceful that we could survive a cataclysm here on earth?
Don't... Know... What to Say...
You can't handle this. You might think you can, but you can't. (Thanks, Rod.)
October 19, 2005
American Academies, Cont'd
Mark Oppenheimer must be praised for the following: He makes some of the typical, Allan Bloom-style complaints -- colleges put too much of an emphasis on diversity and sports and not enough on the Classics -- but has an argument I have not seen before, which is that students should have fewer pursuits but take the few they have more seriously.
At first I thought I agreed with that -- it sounds like Howard Gardner's notion that you get to complex thinking through depth, not breadth -- but then I found out this guy literally thinks students should spend four years studying one specific thing. Like "Act 4, Scene 1 of 'Troilus and Cressida'" specific. So, not so much.
P.S. This is one of those situations where I liked the commentary but couldn't wade through the source. Blogs are handy like that.
When I was tiny, among my favorite toys was the Playmobil gas station, which I guess offered its own commentary on the times. But this Playmobil airport security checkpoint set makes me a bit sad. Not Armageddon (that's so ten months ago), but sad. (Via Off Center.)
Is it just me, or is the "foobars are a conversation" meme totally played out? The first hundred Google results for the phrase "are a conversation" reveal that among other things:
- Blogs are a conversation.
- Books are a conversation.
- Markets, of course, are conversations.
- Links are a conversation.
- You are a conversation.
- We -- (hu)mankind -- are a conversation.
- Church services are a conversation.
- This woman's paintings are a conversation.
- The mass media in toto are a conversation.
- Political systems are a conversation.
- Website hacks are a conversation.
- Noises are a conversation.
- Funk and hip-hop are a conversation.
I could go on. At what point does (did?) this phrase lose all effective meaning?
October 18, 2005
Mini Wonders 2
JetBlue, Intelligent Design, and the Shape of the Future
I just read this TIME magazine brainy kid roundtable chat over lunch and really enjoyed it. Tim O'Reilly, Mark Dery, Moby (!), Esther Dyson, David Brooks, Clay Shirky and Malcolm Gladwell all opine and argue over the shape of the future and what's significant.
I agree with Tim's comment that this idea is particularly interesting:
GLADWELL: One of the most striking things in observing the evolution of American society is the rise of travel. If I had to name a single thing that has transformed our life, I would say the rise of JetBlue and Southwest Airlines. They have allowed us all to construct new geographical identities for ourselves. Many working people today travel who never could have in the past, for meetings and conferences and all kinds of things, and this is creating another identity for them.
I'm also really struck by Gladwell's counter-CW claim that the whole evolution vs. intelligent design debate, uh, doesn't really matter very much. Some of his co-panelists try to argue that ceding any ground to I.D. will, you know, undermine the next generation of American scientists... but Gladwell comes back with: "Dude, the kids can just google 'evolution' for themselves." Nice.
Let's Chat About E-Paper, Shall We?
The WaPo's Frank Ahrens hosts one of washingtonpost.com's signature online chats with the CEO of E-Ink. He kicks it off with a really fun introduction that includes this:
But, wait, there's more. Later this week, I'd like to write a story for the paper Post (or the "fiber media" as some electronic media folks call it) off of today's interview and discussion. Because a newspaper is at bottom a business, we need to know what our customers want. So your voices will be critical to the story I'm going to write. Tell us about your newspaper habits--how you read it, what you want and so forth. I'm sure Russ would be interested, as well.
How cool is that?? Read the interview; it's quite good.
October 17, 2005
A Font of Fontage
When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best
October 14, 2005
Adjusting Your Hum
Scientists used to consider the frequency band of 500 hertz and below in the human voice as meaningless noise, because when a voice is filtered, removing all higher frequencies, ne hears nothing but a low-pitched hum. All words are lost. But then it was found that this low hum is an unconscious social instrument. It is different for each person, but in the course of a conversation people tend to converge. They settle on a single hum, and it is always the lower status person who does the adjusting. This was first demonstrated in an analysis of the Larry King Live television show. The host, Larry King, would adjust his timbre to that of high-ranking guests, like Mike Wallace or Elizabeth Taylor. Low-ranking guests, on the other hand, would adjust their timbre to that of King. The clearest adjustment to King's voice, indicating lack of confidence, came from former Vice President Dan Quayle.
Related: This 2000 Discover essay on "the psychology of dominance."
October 13, 2005
Jenga ... Jenga ...
Monuments to Connection
Gratuitous low-value link inspired by these pictures.
October 12, 2005
Does everyone have the same fond memory of sitting on the floor in front of a sunny window on a Sunday afternoon reading from a Calvin & Hobbes book? Survey says yes.
Snarkommenter Saheli has written out her thoughts on creating a massive global database for volunteering, an especially useful resource post-disaster. Go read Saheli's thoughts, at Socialtext and on her blog. I posted some thoughts on her blog and I'll cross-post an excerpt in the extended entry of this post.
The New Podcasting
October 11, 2005
Thor, the Marvel Comics superhero modeled after the Norse god, had a funny way of flying: He'd fling his hammer Mjolnir (so much fun to say!) and then immediately grab it again. The mighty mallet would pull him aloft.
Would that really work, though?
Find out in the Boston Globe's Ideas section!
The Results-Based Community
Jakob Nielsen gives a succinct overview of user interfaces from command-line to WYSIWYG. Clicking on menus to choose commands represented an improvement over command-line interfaces when the range of available choices was still small, Nielsen says, but today, menus provide a poor navigation interface. Noting Microsoft's new UI announcement, Nielsen heralds the age of results-based user interaction, where you choose what you want your application to do by selecting from a gallery of possible outcomes.
What Year Is It Again?
This is kind of pathetic on CNET's part. Six women bloggers in CNET's list of 100? Six? (Susan says five, but Staci Kramer of PaidContent.org adds herself in the comments.)
Turns Out We Underestimated Google
October 10, 2005
My Review of "Façade"
Remember how I promised to review Façade? Seemed like too much effort, after actually playing it. Aggregate the thoughts in this thread, and you pretty much have my review. Disappointing, although I'm always happy to see any stabs at innovation.
Wired is blogging now, but so far nothing blows the mind. More importantly, Stanford won this year's Grand Challenge! If you'll recall, last year, DARPA promised a million bucks to whichever team could create a driverless vehicle that would automatically navigate a treacherous obstacle course. No team won. In fact, the best-performing vehicle conked out after eight miles on the 142-mile course. This year, DARPA upped the ante to $2 million, and voila! A winner.
Update: Previously unknown fact -- Congress wants a third of all military vehicles to be riderless by 2015.
Now If Only Gladwell Would Start One
Addendum: I love it because of incisive thoughts like this one, from his latest column --
The catchy chorus [of Fiona Apple's song "Extraordinary Machine"] is a warning to those (her fans included) who underestimate her resilience: “Be kind to me, or treat me mean. / I’ll make the most of it, I’m an extraordinary machine.” As she completes the phrase, her voice leaps girlishly into her upper register, and it’s as if she were gripping your arm so firmly that you could feel her nails dig into your skin.
When I first read this, I thought, "Hmm, that's not how I hear that chorus." But upon re-listening, Frere-Jones' remark struck me as totally apt. Even if that's still not exactly how I hear it, SFJ has evocatively communicated how he hears it, which is a rare and valuable gift for a critic to have.
October 9, 2005
The Long Tail of Lego
If you're not as avid a Lego aficionado as Robin is, you might have missed many of the company's incredible moves into the Age of Amazon. Lego has made CAD artists out of its customers, and has done a generally awesome job of encouraging, ahem, citizen-created content. As well as utter product customization. Chris Anderson lays it all down on his blog, tagging also to an excellent FastCompany overview. It has been fascinating watching how a 73-year-old company can completely reinvent itself. If I can think really hard, I can think of some other organizations that might learn some lessons from all that.
October 6, 2005
The Mothball Fleet of Suisun Bay
Check it out -- decommissioned Navy ships in Suisun Bay, about 30 miles east of San Francisco! Click forward and back in the photostream to see more... creepy.
October 5, 2005
Joss Is My Co-Pilot
Odd taste thing with me: I love Gothic literature, but am mostly ambivalent about sci-fi*. The Handmaid's Tale drove me nuts (in a bad way). I'm the kid who had to start "Harrison Bergeron" about five times before I made it through all five pages. I enjoyed Blade Runner and Akira and The Matrix, but none of them added any shattering revelation to my life. Dune = yawn. I know this is painful for many of my friends to hear, but for the most part, I parted ways with science fiction when Lovecraft left us.
The only reason I can offer for this is pretty crude -- sci-fi often feels just too crowded with ideas for the story to work any magic on me. I find myself distractedly theorizing about the statement the fiction is making about our world, which tends to ruin my immersion in the world the fiction depicts. The stories work for me as essays, but not often as literature.
But of course, given that Joss Whedon's my hero, I had to give Firefly a try. The show's big sell for many fans was the way it played with the conventions of sci-fi, but of course, that didn't work on me. What interested me was how the show played with the conventions of Whedon, treating religion, to take one example, with a completely different approach than Buffy or Angel did. Unlike his earlier shows, Firefly dealt less with allegory and much more with pure story, plot and character. It imparted the sense that Joss wasn't driving towards one uber-climactic crowning moment, but had simply released these beloved figures into this space, as fascinated as we were with the narrative fractals their fictive lives produced.
I was sad to see it come to an end. But I was thrilled to hear Joss would be able to sink an enormous (compared to TV) amount of time and money into a two-hour masterwork.
Serenity didn't add any shattering revelation to my life either. I didn't expect it to; too many of its references went over my sci-fi-impoverished head. But I haven't felt as happy to slip into the world of a film since the Lord of the Rings trilogy ended. The movie feels otherworldly in an organic way much of science fiction doesn't. Aside from some pretty rudimentary politics, Joss seems not to be making much of a statement about our world, as much as he's just letting this wacky new one exist on its own terms.
And at the same time, he rarely ever falls into the sci-fi trap of gleefully pointing out all the wicked-looking little gizmos and organisms he's thought up (with the exception of the dialogue, which is beyond awesome for most of the film, but sometimes overdone). The best part about the world of Firefly is that although it feels so much like its own creation, it feels incredibly ordinary at the same time.
So that's my plug for Serenity. I'd love to revisit this world yet again. Go buy a ticket.
*Note: I understand I'm painting a big-ass genre with a very broad brush here. There are works of inarguable science fiction to which most of this post doesn't apply, like 2046. And folks could levy most of the same criticisms at the Gothic that I heap upon sci-fi in this post. A lot of Gothic works are pretty heavy-handed with their ideas as well. The difference for me is that the constant essay-like sense of precision that seems to characterize sci-fi just doesn't work in the Gothic. Gothic stories are almost always way too unruly to be constrained by any high-falutin' ideas their authors might have started out with (see, for example, Dracula). They get very, very out-of-hand in a way sci-fi stories never do, and I love that.
But of course, I live to be proven wrong. Give me some awesome, unruly sci-fi stories, and we'll revisit all this.
October 4, 2005
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Controlled artificial tornadoes: another excellent renewable energy scheme... and/or the setup for a crazy technology-runs-amok sci-fi story.
Silicon Scribes Unite
How cool is this? There's going to be a Game Writer's Conference in Austin! I feel that I would enjoy blog-style coverage of this event... I hope somebody steps up to the plate.
Shopping in the Museum
I love this advice on how to actually enjoy art museums over at Marginal Revolution!
At the Detroit Institute of Arts I often played the "pick your favorite painting (or sculpture, suit of armor, etc.) in this room" game, and it's true, it totally improves the experience.
In the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg a friend and I tried to guess each others' favorites in each room -- also fun.
Lori Nix's photos are wonderful. In the best way possible, some of them make me think of Thomas Kinkade™Ź, if TK™ was a) tripping on acid and b) not a hack. The online reproductions don't, sadly, boast the best quality. But what is it about miniature photography that's so darn alluring? (Thingtacular.)
OSX in Your Browser
Wow. This software looks like it could be pretty awesome for OSX devotees using Windows boxes. And the Web site is a thing of wonder. Buggy, but it's amazing how much of OSX's functionality they built into a Web page. Brilliant! (Via.)
October 3, 2005
Did anybody else read Joan Didion's piece in last week's NYT Magazine?
It's really, really sad, and sharp and gripping.
Google + Sun = ?
PaidContent reports that Google and Sun are announcing some joint thing tomorrow. Awesome speculation ensues.
October 1, 2005
Video Game Financing
But if you possess such a quotient I predict you will find it rewarding reading; there's a lot of inside-baseball games-industry stuff that was entirely new to me.
Can a Fella Get an e-Book Around Here??
So I have been printing a lot of stuff out recently -- you know, big articles from the WaPo, New Yorker, Atlantic, WorldChanging, etc. that are just too long to read on the screen. And I enjoy reading the printouts on the train -- but lately the pile has been growing awfully large and dorky-looking. (Not to mention wasteful!)
What if I could just flag these documents for later perusal on an e-book?
A Chinese company has a Librie competitor that is apparently a lot more open-ended than the DRM-laden Librie itself. Could somebody hurry up and import these things?