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User Journal

Journal: Oregon Coast and OryCon

Journal by Jack William Bell

Anita and I will be travelling for the next few days. First down to visit my parents on the Oregon coast, then back up to Portland for OryCon over the weekend. I will try to get the rest of the 'best of' posts up when I can. (I have posted tons more verbage than seems reasonable in the last year, so there is lots to go through.)

Cue music: 'On the Road Again'

User Journal

Journal: Eric Raymond has moved, but rants on nonetheless 6

Journal by Jack William Bell

Eric Raymond's blog 'Armed and Dangerous' has moved here. Which may be a good thing, he is certainly posting more. His latest rant tears a new asshole out of the ". . . dope-smoking ponytailed dimwits . . ." who create stylesheets with absolute font and box sizes. (AKA graphic designers...)

Such have been the bane of my existance when doing websites as well. Nothing sucks more than getting an email saying "Do the page exactly like this." with a 3 mb graphic created in photoshop attached.

P.S. I cut off my ponytail more than a month ago...

User Journal

Journal: What is RSS? 2

Journal by Jack William Bell

Well I know what RSS is of course, but you might not. And I could tell you, except Mark Pilgrim does a better job of answering the question 'What is RSS?' than I could. So you should read that.

But why am I answering a question you haven't asked yet? Well, because even here on /. people are trying to use it and because I am working on something that does cool things with it. So I think talking about this is very timely and I think you should want to know about RSS even if you don't know that you want to know. That's why.

Space

Journal: Best of: The Columbia Disaster

Journal by Jack William Bell
(It seems odd to call this post 'Best of: The Columbia Disaster' when there was nothing 'best' about the Columbia disaster. However this is the first part of a series of entries linking to my best posts in the past year, and these posts certainly qualify.)

After the Columbia disaster I was fairly upset with the regular media reporting and with NASA's lack of open discussion. However NASA did release some telemetry information gathered right before the shuttle breakup. That information seemed to contain some clues as to exactly what had happened, but it was pretty hard to understand. Being a visual thinker I needed a more graphical view of the sensor results over time, so I created my own animation of the data.

Veiwing my animation and a picture taken of the shuttle right before the breakup led me to the conclusion that one of the leading edge carbon/carbon shielding blocks had failed, just outboard of the wheel well. For whatever it is worth, I turned out to be 100% correct!

However being right did not make me feel good. Instead I was irritated on several levels. First off, I was an amateur using those little bits of information openly released to come by my findings, while NASA engineers with access to even more information were silenced -- even after the 'official' findings were released. Something that took another four months. Certainly they arrived at the same conclusion long before I did; why weren't they alowed to speak and why did it take so long?

Furthermore none of the various news sources, any of whom could have done the same thing I did, paid any attention to this data at all. Yet another case of someone in the blogosphere getting it right while the media yammers about inconsequentials. Oh well. And it didn't even lead to fifteen minutes of fame for me. Probably a good thing...

User Journal

Journal: One year ago today... 1

Journal by Jack William Bell

One year ago today I posted my first /. journal entry. From the beginning I have used this /. journal as more of a weblog than a personal diary. Although I have sometimes talked about my personal life, and occasionally posted a rant or an essay or a review, most often I just posted links to something I found interesting at the moment and wanted to be able to find again in the future. So, for me, this journal has been a sort of backup memory. One that I am sharing with you.

Along the way I gathered up a few readers (yourself for an instance) and, hopefully, you have found your time here worthwhile. Although I probably could have boosted my readership by making this journal more of a soap opera that just isn't what I am about. So I am proud to think that you read me for content and (hopefully) quality of prose instead of for titillation. I do know that I intend to continue, although it is certain that I will move off of /. before another year passes. And I hope some of you will come along for the ride when I do, just as I hope I will gather more non /. readers by doing so. So I guess I am part of the /. exodus (also here).

Nonetheless I am grateful to /. for giving me this venue and for the opportunity to connect to people like yourself. I like it that you read my writing and I like it when you comment. And, even though I am not doing this entirely for the egoboo, I can say for a certanty that - if you were not reading this I wouldn't be writing it. So I would like to thank each and every one of you that has marked me as a /. friend or who links to me from the great web outside or who has added this journal to your favorites list; you do me honor by reading...

Anyway, to celebrate the one year anniversery of this journal (and maybe to get you to read stuff you might have missed) I am going to post some 'best of' entries over the next couple of days. These will contain links to those entries from the past year that I am most proud of, organized by subject. Enjoy!

Update: Best of: The Columbia Disaster links to posts where I analyze the data from the breakup of the shuttle and get the right answer months before the official findings.

User Journal

Journal: Last flight of the Concorde 2

Journal by Jack William Bell

I am driving one handed while I fumble for my cell phone. Quick glance, select the number, press 'Call'. Put phone to my ear. It rings.

"Hello?"

"Anita, it's me. I am driving down Pine and guess what I just saw in the sky?"

"What? Oh, the Concorde. Very cool! It was supposed to come in at 3:00."

"Ya, I think it was on final approach to Boeing Field."

"Well, now you have something to blog."

Yes, I suppose I do. But just what do I blog? Do I talk about how this particular Concorde was on its final flight because British Airways had given it as a permanent loan to Seattle's Museum of Flight? How cool it is that I will get to walk through it just as soon as the exhibit is ready?

Or do I talk about the mix of feelings that swept through me as I watched that bright arrow slip through the Seattle skyline as it came in for what may well be its last landing? The joy of being in the exactly right place at exactly the right time to get that amazing view? And the sorrow that I felt knowing that an era which never really came to be was somehow coming to an end? How this was yet another proof that the future had failed to deliver on the promises Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov had made to me when I was a child? How truly bittersweet that moment was?

I don't know what to say. I really don't...

Sci-Fi

Journal: Not all that is Sterling is precious 2

Journal by Jack William Bell

Some time ago SF writer Bruce Sterling gave up his blog on my friend Eileen Gunn's webzine Infinite Matrix in order to start a new blog for Wired magazine. This trend towards subsidized blogs is an interesting one and I hope it brings enough value to continue (and perhaps be extended to 'regular' bloggers like myself).

Well, after nearly two months of waiting, Sterling's new blog Beyond the Beyond is finally up -- and so far I am underwhelmed. His old blog, Schism Matrix suffered from Sterling only posting once a day (weekdays only) although the links and commentary were usually pretty damn good. 'Beyond' seems to be following the same format with the addition of pictures.

However 'Beyond' is also butt ugly, the first week's worth of posts are a bit boring and the blogroll is narcissistic. Not an auspicious debut...

None the less I am going to add 'Beyond' to my own blogroll in the hope that things will improve once Sterling hits his stride. I am also going to watch Wired Blogs to see where they are going with it. Wired certainly doesn't seem to be putting much in the way of money or design sense into the effort, even the hosting and software is provided through a partnership with Tripod's new blogging service. Are they going to add other 'A-List' or 'name writer' bloggers? Are they going to have some of their regular columnists start blogs? Are they going seek for new voices of some kind?

Time will tell on the whole thing I guess. In the meantime you will probably want to check out 'Beyond', after all your mileage may vary.

It's funny.  Laugh.

Journal: All about Lutefisk

Journal by Jack William Bell

I spent my High School years here in the Seattle area, in the days before Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks. Back then Boeing was king and one rite of passage for young men was going to a dance at the Sons of Norway hall and (this was extra points) eating some Lutefisk without puking. (Note that you didn't have to be a son of Norway to go to a Sons of Norway dance, there were plenty of that sort around and they would always invite their friends. Probably so they could laugh uproarously when their friends tried the Lutefisk)

Now some of you are wondering 'What the hell is Lutefisk?' I urge you to browse the google for edification. The rest of you already know and are probably sniggering at the thought of a teenage Jack screwing up his courage to either ask the tall blonde in the red dress to dance or to down a cracker full of a nasty, gelatinous, fishlike substance. And wondering which will have the worst immediate result...

What made me think about all this was this Ode to Lutefisk and its comprehensive instructions for how to eat the stuff. Although I am not certain it really does taste like Python (the snake, not the language), partly because if Python tastes that bad I don't want to find out.

Slashdot.org

Journal: Superficiality versus Content (aka /. is too ugly) 4

Journal by Jack William Bell

Left in Front thinks that /. is too ugly to link to and goes on to opine that "In this day and age, superficiality most times supercedes content." Brendyn then goes on to beg the /. people to overhaul the look and feel.

Uh... Well sure /. is ugly, that I cannot deny. But I do believe that Content wins the race, at least for me. And, well, how can I put this with the proper tact... Readability is also paramount and, Brendyn, white text on a pink background is not a good choice. Please click through to a good color chooser and pick something a bit more legible.

Update: After reloading LiF I apparently picked up a missing CSS stylesheet and now most of the text is a more readable brown on pink, however the article headings and some other bits of text are still white (or a light grey that is nearly as bad). So the complaint remains, but I feel less strongly about it. At least so long as the stylesheet loads correctly.

Slashdot.org

Journal: Reputation Systems as Economies 6

Journal by Jack William Bell

Notes Toward a Moderation Economy is a fascinating Kuro5hin article that takes an economic view of moderation/reputation systems like /. and Kuro5hin.

This is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about myself, albeit in a somewhat larger context. As far back as 1997 the examples of /. and Epinions.com had me wondering if a computer moderated reputation system could be used as a kind of currency. This became my answer to a common question in SF circles: Given that one effect of nanotechnology and robotics is an end to scarcity and given that the money economic systems we have now are built on scarcity -- what happens to money economies in a post-scarcity world?

In these discussions the usual answer given is that human creativity will retain value and that people would still buy and sell hand-made items, artwork, books and songs. But this rings false to me on a number of levels, not the least of which is the fact that not everyone is talented enough to participate in such an ecomomy. A more important problem with this answer is the fact that, with the exception of hand-made items and original artwork, this actually relies on the continuation of false scarcity by requiring intellectual property limits which could not be maintained in a digitally networked world. (All this was before I ever heard of DRM of course.)

Reputation ecomonies, however, could be based on anything people valued in other people -- not just their personal creativity. And such a currency would bring value to the creator of a song even if the song was freely traded without intellectual property limits. So, should money ecomonies collapse, you could still have a valuation system built on how others percieved you.

Of course I was not entirely certain how something like this would work, but I also wasn't the only one thinking about it. In 1998 Bruce Sterling published 'Distractions', which I reviewed on Epinions.com. 'Distractions' is set at the earliest cycle of a post-scarcity future and includes, almost as a throwaway subplot, a culture of ex blue-collar workers who were entirely marginalized because they had no skills of any value. However groups of them did have machinery which could turn any vegetation into edible food so they didn't have to starve. Also they could make things, provide entertainment or could do manual labor in exchange for anything else they needed. These groups travelled about, living in tents and other temporary housing, existing entirely outside the 'real' economy. In fact they had their own economy, built using a computer mediated status system, which determined each individual's worth and clout.

I remember talking about this kind of thing at SF conventions back then; using /. and 'Distractions' as examples. But I didn't make much headway; even on panel discussions about the future of money people often had a difficult time accepting something so far outside their normal experience. They often insisted that you could not have an economic system built on reputation, even when I could get them to agree that reputation is limited and can be measured. Meaning that reputation meets the requirements of establishing a thing's value.

Since then things have changed. For one thing more people have personally experienced reputation systems like /. and Kuro5hin. For another Corey Doctorow published 'Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom', an SF novel about a post-scarcity future with a working reputation economy where reputation is measured in 'Whuffie'. Now, suddenly, everyone is talking about it. The Kuro5hin article linked to at the beginning of this rant is another brick in this structure of thought and it brings up many interesting points. Before long I expect to see articles in Newsweek and Money magazine about such alternative economic systems. Followed by schools teaching this new theory of economic valuation...

But then again, maybe not. After all the basic idea is damn subversive at its core since, in a reputation economy, you would see major shifts in the kinds of people who become 'rich'. Certainly 'stars' of every kind would still be on top, but could today's 'captains of industry' retain their position? I doubt it, and quite likely therein lies one reason we have such a strong push for DRM and other artificial barriers to the free-flow of ideas and creativity in which reputation systems work best.

Your thoughts?

Programming

Journal: Processing 1

Journal by Jack William Bell
Processing is a Java based language and environment that translates to Java and compiles to run on the standard JRE. Processing has syntactic sugar for a wide range of built-in multimedia and 3D run-time APIs and the rest of the language has a clear, clean syntax. If you are developing cross-platform or browser-based multimedia apps Processing should definately be in your toolkit.

However, as is common when something like this is developed in a higher education setting, they seem to have greater ambitions for Processing than the current release is able to live up to. From the project description:

"Processing is a context for exploring the emerging conceptual space enabled by electronic media. It is an environment for learning the fundamentals of computer programming within the context of the electronic arts and it is an electronic sketchbook for developing ideas."

Yeah... Whatever...

News

Journal: Jean-etic Modification 1

Journal by Jack William Bell

Say it isn't so! After 150 years Levi Strauss & Co. is changing the fit of their classic 501 jeans. Apparently they are making the legs and rear a bit wider.

I predict Jay Leno is going to be all over this. "What is happening in this country? Are our butts so big now that even Levi's has to do something?"

Anita thinks I shouldn't care. After all I just buy whatever jeans Costco has in stock. But I remember my first job in a western clothing store, having to explain to the customers how to properly fit 501's because they would shrink two inches in height and one in the waist. Including explaining that this was a good thing because the jeans would form themselves to your body in the process...

Science

Journal: Personal Nanofacturing

Journal by Jack William Bell

Chris Phoenix has published a design for a personal 'Nanofactory'. Quote: "This paper describes the mechanisms, structures, and processes of a prototypical macro-scale, programmable nanofactory composed of many small fabricators." It seems this design could build many products, including a duplicate nanofactory. Of course it would be even more cool if the nanotechnology existed to create the first one...

Update: Submitted to /. front page.
Update update: Rejected.
Update update grumble: What? They rejected a story on nanotechnology, but accepted one on talking shopping carts? What is up with that?

Steve Jobs said two years ago that X is brain-damaged and it will be gone in two years. He was half right. -- Dennis Ritchie

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