“Under Pressure (Ice Ice Baby)” by Jedward, featuring Vanilla Ice
These two young guys were apparently controversial participants on “X Factor,” one of those TV talent competitions. As I never watch those things, I hadn’t heard of them until this music video hit my radar. It’s actually a pretty good performance/mash-up/parody, for what it is. Inviting the real Vanilla Ice to appear in a version of the song that was so controversial*, and which practically ended his musical career, was a stroke of sheer genius, and kudos to him for taking it on with a bit of self-mockery.
The weekly Thursday Top 5 lists the five most notable, interesting, funny, outrageous, cool, or simply strange things of the week. It is intended for distractionary purposes only. Do not take orally. If ingested, seek a doctor’s advice. If you like it, share it with others, or check out the long list of previous entries.
Google has announced Wave, a pretty impressive new collaboration communication platform which comes in part from the inventors of Google Maps. Wave will be open source, with a bunch of APIs for developers to build off of right away (although Wave itself won’t launch to the public until later this year).
There will be plenty of analysis on the web, but I wanted to mention a few innovations that I predict are potentially game changing for certain segments of the tech community.
The video’s long, 1:20:11, so I’ve noted some prime spots to hit below.
One of the innovations seen in the demo will considerably improve chat, and I’m predicting we’ll see it engineered into other chat products like Yahoo! IM and AIM eventually. Wave allows you to see the real-time, character-by-character view of what the other person is typing, so you’re not spending half your conversation looking at a “So-And-So is typing...” message [see 10:10]. It allows your brain to start formulating responses before the other person has finished typing, more like a natural spoken conversation. Quite simply, this is going to revolutionize chat.
The app is written in HTML 5, so it’s going to be a while before we see all browsers catching up to this app. It also includes one functionality that isn’t even in the HTML 5 spec yet, but since it’s such a useful one, they’ve proposed adding it to the HTML 5 spec. It’s an easy drag and drop upload function that allows you to add documents to a conversation by simply dragging them from your desktop to the browser window [see 15:05]. I’m guessing the developer community will show considerable support for this capability, so the Google Wave team’s addition might make it into HTML 5.
Waves can be embedded into other services (they demoed with Google’s own products Blogger and Orkut), and one of the coolest things is that you can live-update a blog while people are watching, much like the character-by-character chatting [see 19:20 and 28:00 min]. This will enable live-bloging in a way that the term hasn’t really lived up to until now, and I think we’ll see a host of new live-publishing products spring from this.
The inline spellchecking is a new innovation too. Unlike most spellcheckers, which compare your words to a dictionary, Wave’s spellchecker compares your words and phrases to an index from the entire Web. The results, in the demo anyway, are impressive [see 44:00 min]. I think we can assume this technology will start showing up in other Google products pretty soon too.
Last but not least is a real-time language translator (already with 40 languages), which allows one to break down language barriers even during an live chat session, so you can be speaking/typing in one language, and your counterpart can be speaking/typing in another, and you’ll see each other’s words being translated on the fly, while they’re being typed [see 1:12:00].
In the past year, a few people who knew I would be on the lookout for a new full-time position have asked me if I’d consider working at Google. These two articles provide some insights as to why Mark Bult + Google would probably never mix.
Doug Bowman, a highly experienced designer who I respect a lot, has left Google to join Twitter. Of his departure, he writes:
“...Without a person at (or near) the helm who thoroughly understands the principles and elements of Design, a company eventually runs out of reasons for design decisions. With every new design decision, critics cry foul. Without conviction, doubt creeps in. Instincts fail. ‘Is this the right move?’ When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems. Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.” Read the rest...
This New York Times profile on Google’s VP for search products and user experience, Marissa Mayer, gives several examples of why I’d find the company a challenging environment (and I don’t mean “challenging” in the positive sense, I mean it as a diplomatic way of saying “constant pain-in-the-ass”). Not to mention the fact that I would never get so much as an interview at Google, since I didn’t even take the SAT:
“At a recent personnel meeting, she homes in on grade-point averages and SAT scores to narrow a list of candidates, many having graduated from Ivy League schools, whom she wanted to meet as part of a program to foster in-house talent. In essence, math is used to solve a human problem: How do you predict whether an employee has the potential for success?” Read the rest...
Don’t get me wrong, I use Google products a ton. Gmail is open all the time on my computer and Google Search is a daily routine, I use Google Maps a lot and Blogger runs this very blog you’re reading (at least as of this date). I’m a big fan of the Goog. I just don’t think I could ever work there.
Over the past few weeks of interviews and further reflection on what I want my next job to look like, I’ve become more convinced that I should concentrate on applying at smaller companies with less bureaucracy and institutional cruft. More on that later.
Google Maps is pretty great, but it seems even the almighty Goog is susceptible to typos. I alerted Google (and Navtech and TeleAtlas, which both provide map data to Google) of the errors I spotted on this stretch of Highway 280 in San Francisco named after former CA State Senator and Deputy Attorney General John F. Foran.
Remember on old TVs how, when you used to switch from channel 5 to 7 (for example), there might be static on channel 6? Those unused spaces on the analog broadcast spectrum are called “white spaces.”
Currently more than half of the spectrum is unused. When TV broadcasters go fully digital-spectrum next year and discontinue their analog broadcasts altogether, there will be a lot more. A coalition including Google, Microsoft, Dell, and others, is asking the U.S. government to turn over white spaces to public use (broadcast spectrum is, after all, a legally recognized public resource). It could be used for better public access to wifi, Internet telephony, and many other things.
I predict this fight will get nasty when many other companies realize they stand to lose a lot too. Expect the traditional and cellular phone companies, for example, to form a similar coalition on the other side, lobbying Congress for strict licensing and fees which would effectively lock out public access the same way licensing has kept citizens from broadcasting their own TV or radio stations.
Nicholas Carr poses questions about what the Internet is doing to the way we think, in the July/August issue of The Atlantic. Here’s an excerpt:
As we use...our “intellectual technologies” — the tools that extend our mental rather than our physical capacities — we inevitably begin to take on the qualities of those technologies...
The Internet promises to have particularly far-reaching effects on cognition. In a paper published in 1936, the British mathematician Alan Turing proved that a digital computer, which at the time existed only as a theoretical machine, could be programmed to perform the function of any other information-processing device. And that’s what we’re seeing today. The Internet, an immeasurably powerful computing system, is subsuming most of our other intellectual technologies. It’s becoming our map and our clock, our printing press and our typewriter, our calculator and our telephone, and our radio and TV.
Read the full article: Is Google making us stupid? And try to ignore the irony in reading a long article online about how the Internet is making us unable to read long articles anymore.
A few lifetimes ago I was a marketing and communications specialist for nonprofits, most notably for Bay Area Action and its later incarnation as Acterra.
For a few years I wrote and/or edited weekly email newsletters and action alerts. I started doing this for the Headwaters Forest Project at BAA, then created a weekly EcoCalendar of events all around the Bay Area, and later founded Acterra's first general email newsletter.
During that span of about eight years, I also performed a lot of other communications functions, especially surrounding the Headwaters issue. For a few years my website and email list were the best sources for news on the controversies emanating from the North Coast, and I fielded inquiries from small and big sources alike, everyone from elementary school students to the big media outlets such as Time and CNN.
I spoke at events (the Green Party's state convention comes to mind) and universities (I presented to a Stanford law class once, which was a bit unnerving, but then I reminded myself they were just students), I did radio interviews, I fielded calls and emails and faxes from reporters all over the world, and my email list contained addresses from places as far-flung as Japan and Australia and people from the press, government, and even Hollywood.
Copy this, please
This all happened in a time when the migration of such information to the Internet was much, much less frequent, and a lot harder to do. Nevertheless, lots of people copied my emails and forwarded them along to others. Which is what we wanted. Unlike commercial material, for which one might have copy-protection concerns, we wanted this information spread far and wide. Granted, we didn't want people to re-edit the information, so I simply attached a footer to my email template that stated that permission was thereby granted to forward the email in its entirety, for non-commercial purposes.
And people did it. In droves. They forwarded it on to their friends and family, co-workers, whomever. Some maintained their own large lists of concerned citizens interested in environmental issues, and they sent my emails along to them. Others posted my newsletters and action alerts on their AOL and Geocitieshomepages, on university listservs, and lots of other places.
Here are a few examples, still archived in various niches of the 'net:
Later, as search engines became more adept at crawling and indexing the content of the web (this had all occurred before Google existed), I'd be doing Headwaters research on AltaVista or Yahoo! or Dmoz, and come I'd across some of my old emails and articles scattered across the web.
In more recent years I've noticed that Google's algorithm seems to be devaluing these old (nearly ancient in Internet time) posts, probably for fairly legitimate reasons (the HTML of those old web pages would not withstand semantic rigors of modern search technology), so they rarely show up in results, or if they do, they're buried many, many, many results pages deep. It's probably that a lot of those pages are simply gone now too, as people fold their old accounts or Geocities pages get closed down, or whatever.
When I first started noticing this, I must admit that it was a little sad, as it seemed almost as if my contributions were disappearing from the universe. I know this is not strictly true, but in a world where we seem to rely increasingly on Google to provide us with what we want to know (I'm certainly guilty of this reliance), it's disappointing that the content of those older articles is devalued in large part because the method used for archiving them did not use the modern HTML standards.
It's a little like devaluing the best encyclopedia in the (physical) library because its publishers have not yet made it available online. Perhaps the actual content contained in that encyclopedia is of better quality than anything published on the web, but most people would never know it because they'd never see it.
I'm conflicted about this on many levels. Partly because I believe passionately that people should have access to the best quality information (so I want people to go the library, or wherever they need to go for that single best source), but I also want that high-quality information to be much more widely accessible than that. Let's face it, the researcher in Prague seeking information on West Coast salmonids can't easily get the 700-page document off the dusty shelf of the tiny library of the Northcoast Environmental Center in California, can he? But what if it's the single best source, and it's not available online at all?
Technology will catch up
I believe (nearly) all of these documents will be available online someday. It may be a decade or more away, but it will happen.
And I will do my part. I have archived all my data from the Headwaters Forest years, and all my BAA articles and photos, and while they're not really in any usable order right now, I am confident that technology will continue to advance in ways that make the data easier to sort and publish. It's already been happening, with sites like Flickr making it easier to share photos, and tools like blogs and wikis making it easier to publish and collaborate.
Not all my contributions have faded away
Interestingly, search technology has more recently broadened to include the content of printed books too. Google Book Search began scanning the collections of several leading universities in 2004. While Google's tool is still in beta and it comprises mostly academic works, I was mildly surprised to see my name turn up with a few results. I was cited in Earth for Sale: Reclaiming Ecology in the Age of Corporate Greenwash, by Brian Tokar, and Writing for Real: A Handbook for Writers in Community Service , by Carolyn Ross, Joseph M. Williams, and Ardel Thomas. I'd forgotten that I was also thanked in Inciting Democracy: A Practical Proposal for Creating a Good Society, by my friend Randy Schutt.
Google is sponsoring a new X Prize challenge — the first commercial lunar landing. Most of the $30 million prize will go to the first private company that can land a robotic rover on the moon and beam back a gigabyte of images and video to Earth.
Can you imagine? It's been over 30 years since we went to the moon, and we haven't been back. Think about it. That was last century. At this point, there are two or three generations of children who have no memory of the first lunar landing taking place during their lifetime. Including me, by the way. I was one month old.
For "espouse" I've dropped from 4 to number 16, but I guess that ain't half bad. I guess. If you're looking for an espouser.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of other ranters and whiners out there on the Internet (you've heard of LiveJournal, right), so searching for "rant" or "whine" doesn't include me even within the first few pages of results. Meh, with that kind of competition, why bother.
Of course, when you search for "rant whine" I'm number one, and you can't beat that.
So...yeah. That's marketable, right?
My dear reader, I'd be eager to see how many of you even realized this blog had a name. If you already knew it, did you remember what the name was when you started reading this? Leave a comment and let me know. And if you want to suggest a better name, let's hear it.
Universcale An site that interactively lets you see the respective scales of things, from the largest known thing to the smallest known thing, and lots of things in between. » www.nikon.co.jp
"This American Life" Animated segment by Chris Ware for the new "This American Life" Showtime TV show. Makes me want Showtime. So. Damn. Much. » brightcove.com Google Earth adds hiking trails » lifehacker.com