Thursday, January 27, 2005

They All Died in Vain...

I try not to get into political discussions, particularly in my blog, but this article is an especially clear, riveting piece of journalism, from the Magic City News of Millinockett, Maine, a small mill town. If only we bloggers were so eloquent. I exhort you to read it, no matter what your political bent.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Blogging: Conversation or Soliloquy?

Blogging should be a conversation, not a long-winded speech with scattered applause....

But it's not. Yet. Reminds me of an old family joke I share with my family, when trying to coordinate:
If you get there first, make a blue chalk mark on the door.
If I get there first, I'll rub it out.
Bloggers all reference each other, but other than the weak comment mechanism, it's hard to create anything resembling a global conversation. I know I've blogged about this before but it keeps coming back to me.

At Five Across we have some pretty great messaging software. I have half a mind to turn it into blogging software and start turning the web into a conversation.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Lossless JPEG compression of 25%-30% !

I met Kevin Hughes yesterday and was checking out his excellent Kev's News, now in my blogroll. Kevin is one of only 6 people in the WWW hall of fame, created the idea of image maps among other things, and is an amazing guy.

I saw this article in Kev's News which backs up Allume's claim that they can losslessly compress JPEG files by up to 30%. This is amazing, dramatic, and has far-reaching consequences. I hope it is independently verified and turns out not to be a bogus claim, always a possibility with things you read on the web, though this looks legit to me.

It also points out that the JPEG compression algorithm could have been 25%-30% better than it is. Think of all those billions of bytes of wasted space all over the world! Think of how many more pictures you could have fit on your 256MB flash card! I think we should remove the "E" and call it JPG from now on (JPEG is an acronym for Joint Project Expert's Group) and give the "E" to Allume with great ceremony.

Allume, please combine your algorithm with JPEG and license it to camera manufacturers as soon as you can!

Monday, January 17, 2005

Casey at the Bat: It's All About Time

We've all read the classic poem Casey at the Bat, but do you remember it? Casey was a slugger, or so they said--a slugger with the hubris to let some pitches go by.
There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place,
there was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile lit Casey's face.

And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
no stranger in the crowd could doubt t'was Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt.
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.

Then, while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
defiance flashed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
and Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.

Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped --
"That ain't my style," said Casey.

"Strike one!" the umpire said.
I've been reading recently about time and its compression. Esther Dyson writes about this, or so I recall; I can't find the reference. Time-saving devices speed up the consumption of time, perhaps saving it only for other time-saving devices. We're harried, hurried, and yet we collect bits of time the way a madman collects shards of tin or lengths of twine: the lengths are no doubt useful, but for what?

Yet time is the ultimate currency, and it does seem that to let moments go by, without harvesting them somehow, is to let a pitch go by, without even swinging. strike two.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright.
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
And, somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout,

but there is no joy in Mudville --
mighty Casey has struck out.

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

What's the Deal with Podcasting?

Okay, so I have to admit I'm baffled about podcasting. I've listened to a couple of podcasts and it's not bad, as internet radio goes.

But audio is so unbelievably low-tech and low-bandwidth. The amount of information in a one-hour block of audio can be assimilated in a very few minutes if it is read as text. Text can be accessed in any order; you can skip to the end, or rapidly scan it. You can search it, index it, copy/paste it if it's interesting, and reference it in your blog. But audio? What do you do with that?

Besides, audio is just video without the pictures. Surely podcasting will be cast off in favor of video blogging in almost no time.

I know two people who have mentioned actually listening to podcasts, and liking it. Both of them described burning it to CD and listening in the car or airplane.

I claim that anything you do on an airplane, where you're a captive, seat-belted, prohibited from moving for several hours, without an internet connection, is suspect. Things that you while driving are only slightly less suspect.

I know Adam Curry is a big force behind podcasting and he's famous and all that, but he's famous partly for MTV, right? Where's the V in podcasting? The very first song on MTV, by the Buggles, was Video Killed the Radio Star. Hmmmmmm. Maybe Adam is actually famous for being Tim Curry's son. Did he grow up in Transylvania?

But then, I see that MTV actually filed suit against Adam Curry for breach of contract. Maybe Audio is trying to kill the Video star. And can I just say that you can't call an audio show "Source Code"? I am in the source code business, and I just can't see the connection to audio. And it's not just that I'm disgruntled at having sent email to Adam Curry to which he never responded, because I listened to his podcast where he basically said he hardly ever responds to the zillions of email messages he gets. Fair enough. I have done the same thing at times in my life.

In any case, I belive podcasting to be an extremely short-term phenomenon at best, to be replaced by video content almost immediately, since audio is merely a subset of video.

Not that I'll be listening--or watching. My time is more valuable than that. I'll still be reading my favorite bloggers (see my blog roll).

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

MacWorld 2005: One More Thing...

I'm blogging this from the keynote at MacWorld expo though I can't get on the network so it will be posted later.

I've been to a lot of MacWorld keynotes and this one is right up there with the best of them, though it was off to a rocky start: the first three or four things that Steve demo'ed didn't go well.

I was glad to see the new Book support in iPhoto 5. The books are the coolest part of iPhoto and they are dramatically improved in 5. I wish there were more sizes but that will come. And the HD support in iMovie is just the right thing. I built the team that introduced iMovie 1.0 in 1999, or was it 2000? (that was five years ago!) and we were amazed at the time by the quality difference between Hi-8 and the new digital DV format. HD is even more dramatic an improvement over DV than DV was over Hi-8. It's unbelievable. "You have to see it to believe it."

The best part of the keynote had to be the president of Sony, who talked too long and kept interrupting Steve's attempts to finish the HD video segment. I can't wait to get my hands on one of the new Sony X-1 (?) HD cameras. Awesome.

I can't decide if I'm excited about the Mac Mini. I guess it's a G4 tower in a smaller box. BYODKM (bring your own display, keyboard, and mouse). If it ran Linux it would be great local workgroup server :) Friends asked me if I believed the rumo and I said "no way" because I couldn't imagine Apple introducing a computer that might be hooked up to a cheap VGA monitor. How wrong I was.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Publishing in the Age of Blogging

I have a long history in publishing software, having started working at Adobe Systems in 1985 when there were only 25 people there. I developed the original EPSF specification, wrote two books on PostScript, built a page layout application for NeXT computers, wrote the web and hard-bound book publishing back end to Apple's iPhoto application. It's all template-driven publishing, and not all that different from blogging, in my mind.

As the dust clears, and I think more generally about the Information Age and publishing in general, and the phenomenon of blogging in particular, I see some trends that I find fascinating. What it boils down to is that most information is published because it's easy, and because the person/company doing the publishing has some vested interested in it.

But what about the poor people who have to sift and sort through bookstores, the web, the blogosphere, looking for what they are interested in? The glut is getting bigger and bigger.

In the traditional publishing industries (books, music, fashion) for better or for worse, the process has long been that somebody else (the record labels) decide what you should read, or listen to. They promote, they payola, they send authors on the talk-show circuit. It's hard to get your writing published by Random House. It just is.

Now anybody with a keyboard can start typing into a blog, and, well, a few of them even get book deals. But for those of us with little time on our hands, we still need somebody to help guide us to what is "worth reading".

Technorati kind of does this, by tracking the blogosphere, the most popular bloggers, by making it searchable. But there's still very little editorial oversight. It's more like the yellow pages. You still end up asking your friends for their recommendations on a good dentist, rather than picking one out of the phone book.

I witnessed firsthand (and contributed to) the desktop publishing revolution. It was democracy in action. People would hang posters on their walls that said the power of the press belongs to those who own one. Graphic designers and typographers wrung their hands with despair as "anybody with a Mac" could publish printed pieces. Shocking! A lot of it did suck, and there were many pages that looked like ransom notes the fonts were changed so many times. But over time, people got the hang of it, and did pretty good work, and it has been both liberating and empowering.

Blogging is the same thing, but on a larger scale, because you don't have to staple your published piece to telephone poles to get other people to read it. You just post it to the blogosphere, and chances are, many people will read it.

I'm on the fence as to whether more editorial oversight would make the blogosphere better, or whether it will just evolve naturally and democratically. I, for one, would love somebody else to do some of the sifting for me and tell me what to read, but maybe that's just blog rolls and I'm not seeing it yet :)

Monday, January 03, 2005

Trackbacks/Comments are lame (hey Robert Scoble!)

I'm trying to participate in some blog conversations going on in the blogosphere, and basically it can't be done. This "global conversation" seems poorly designed.

Comments and trackbacks supposedly turn one-way blogging into a conversation, but it doesn't seem to me that it works very well. People post comments, but does anybody read the comments? Most bloggers seem to have trackbacks turned off.

There needs to be a better way. Maybe I'll build one. A global conversation should be just that: democratic, yet moderated. Usenet's moderated groups aren't a bad model, except that the topics are too many and yet too stringent (i.e. posting to a newsgroup is already categorized too finely before you start, whereas blogs can vary topics within the same "group").

I think the idea of threaded discussions needs to be brought to blogging, so conversations can be followed.

Robert Scoble just blogged about a problem for which we have the precise solution. It is in fact designed specifically to answer the question he (and Adam Curry) pose:
That's precisely why I no longer turn on my IM client. Well, that and that I have filled up my buddy list and can't add anymore people to it.

His solution? Let him advertise different status to different groups of people.

Oh, that is a killer feature! Does any IM have that? For instance, can I advertise to my family and boss that I'm online, but tell everyone else that I'm offline?

But since Scoble and Curry are A-List bloggers, paradoxically I have no good way to reach them and tell them about our IM that has groups and visibility control so you can be offline for weeks with one set of people and online constantly with 3 others. Oh well. Maybe they'll read this post. Yeah, right :)

[Later] It occurred to me that I could just email Robert, so I did. Sorry about the whining. I still think we need a better mechanism than trackbacks, though!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Jumping In: Thoughts on Identity

Okay, so I've read so little about Identity that I feel completely empowered to voice my opinion. I've learned over the years that sometimes the most naive "first take" on any complex issue is often quite relevant, so I'm posting my first thoughts about it, to be recanted later, or refuted by the experts :) I've been reading some offshoots of Doc Searls identity postings and getting interested.

I started by reading the Laws of Identity that, if not obeyed, will:
...leave behind us a wake of reinforcing side-effects that eventually undermine all resulting technology. The result is similar to what would happen if civil engineers were to flaunt the law of gravity.
I find it funny that the purpose of identity is not included in this lofty statement, because the laws are unanchored without a clear statement of what is being achieved when the laws are met. I would even go so far as to reject the laws out of hand as meaningless without stating a goal along with them. Can you really say, in boldface, that "The emergent system must conform to all of the laws?" without a precise definition of success or failure? I think not. Maybe this is implicit in the conversation and stated elsewhere, but given that this is an open conversation, and apparently an unsolved problem, then my Googling is probably as good as the next guy's.

What is the goal of Identity? The folks at RSA Security have laid out two that seem reasonable: common infrastructure, and a single, global, unique credential. I see some goals already from thinking about this for a while:
  • a globally unique identifier
  • validation, e.g. to prove I am who I say I am
  • location/presence (e.g. if it's really "me" then I must be only one place)
Undoubtedly it's all of the above, but it seems to me that they follow one from another, starting with uniqueness and validation. After that you can do anything you want.

I immediately look to precedents, and I see two obvious ones: the Domain Name Service (DNS) and phone numbers / CallerID. Or even a third, a credit card number. This whole thing seems like a previously-solved problem to me. Phone numbers are going away (too slowly, but it's inevitable, as it's a bad system). Credit card numbers are not good as unique identifiers, though I think we computer geeks could learn a thing or two about validation and security by following an industry that has been moving money for decades (though the validation is extremely weak, it's clearly entrenched, and pretty well trusted worldwide).

Here's what I think, off the top of my head: use DNS, and extend it slightly:

Uniqueness: your email address which is globally unique, managed by the global (and obviously workable and successful) DNS infrastructure, portable to new vendors, and everything you want in a unique identifier, with the possible exception of spam vulnerability. Domains are unique via the hard work and deep infrastructure of DNS, and the "user@" in front of it is a natural for identity.

Validation: this should work by expanding DNS to allow encrypted validation that returns a public key instead of an IP address. Again, the infrastructure is already there, and proven. Why invent yet another central authority and try to propagate it out into the world?

Presence: this is harder, and relates to the notions of "logging in" and "sessions" and so forth. The DNS infrastructure clearly doesn't want to be in the business of tracking individual users and their sessions, but this could perhaps be delegated by DNS to a "current host IP address" that would represent the user's current session.

Thinking more about this, it could be a very interesting way to deal with the zilliions of individual logins on all the individual web sites at the moment. Have each of these web sites force the validation through DNS lookup and then track the sessions themselves.

Who owns DNS anyway? It's a big open source morass, right? Perfect :)