Copyright ©1997-2011 Glenn Fleishman except as noted otherwise. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact Glenn Fleishman at glenn at glennf.com. Photo © 2008 Laurence Chen; used with permission.
Turning technology from mumbo-jumbo into rich tasty gumbo
It doesn’t matter how you feel about the war; a new country having legitimate democratic elections should be a cause for celebration. Let’s see if the international monitors agree.
However, Iraqis in America are eligible to vote in their country’s democratic elections—if they could get to a polling place. There are only a handful in the US near large Iraq-American population centers, and only one west of the rockies in Irvine, Calif., south of LA and north of San Diego.
Only 10 percent of eligible Iraqis here registered, in part because registration was several days before voting. This means a dramatic undervote from people living in democracy about the future of a country they may go back to or have an ongoing relationship with. It’s probably security that kept more voting places from opening, but it’s a shame.
You might have thought it was a paid infomercial for Craig’s List over on KUOW’s Weekday today because the comments were so blasted positive. But it’s just the natural love one feels for a listing and forum service that’s local (even my hometown of Eugene, Oregon, now has its own subsite) and free (except for job listings in a few cities).
People were ranting about eBay’s performance, costs, and fraud control, while raving about Craig’s List ease and utility. They had the CEO of Craig’s List on (which is not Craig himself), and he was a very dry and honest guy. Sales tax issues? Not my speciality, he said, and he didn’t attempt to make up an answer.
It’s a good listen.
I wrote a reasonably long review of the new iPod Shuffle for Personal Tech Pipeline, an online publication from the fine folks at CMP. I focused on usability and eclecticism. It’s not for everyone, but I can see its charm. Since I already own a hard-drive based iPod, I’m not sure I need a Shuffle. But if I were iPod-less, the Shuffle might have been the right choice for me.
It took a little doing, but you can watch my presentation on The Entrepreneurial Blog from the recent Blog Business Summit. I managed to sync up the audio that was recorded to MP3 with my slides. The intra-slide sync is a little off: the bullet points and reveals aren’t perfectly timed to my talk. But it’s not bad. The whole file is 25 MB and in QuickTime. It might be interesting to those of you working on blogs that make money or are considering how to start an editorial blog from the ground up that has a revenue component. My co-presenter Steve Broback, the conference organizer, pipes in a few times with good analysis, too.
For true Christian spirit, turn to this press release from the United Church of Christ who welcome SpongeBob Squarepants with open arms and no judgment. It brings a tear to my eye, it does, that these folks are using the springboard of ridiculous intolerance as a tool to stress their interest in extending love and redemption to everyone. People of good will everywhere, unite around this message. My beliefs don’t coincide specifically with the UCC, but they behave as I wish all humanity does. And it seems genuine.
“Absolutely, the UCC extends an unequivocal welcome to SpongeBob,” the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC’s general minister and president, said, only partly in jest. “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.”
I figured out how to record phone interviews on a Macintosh by using Skype (a voice over IP application) with its long-distance option for making “real” phone calls, Audio Hijack Pro, and Audion. Read all the gory details with step by step instructions for setting up the various options at O’Reilly Network.
I’ve been poking some more at isbn.nu, the book-price comparison service I run, and with a suggestion from a news aggregator developer, have added RSS syndication to search results for books. If you search on an author, subject, or title, you can now subscribe via RSS to the results of that search. As I update the database, typically weekly, any new books show up in that feed. For instance, search on Stephen King and the XML feed in RSS 2.0 format is this.
I’ve embedded the RSS link in the meta tags for the page, which is a nifty way to allow Firefox and many news aggregators to recognize the RSS feed’s availability automatically. Kind of slick.
To start with, I’ve limited the results to the 25 newest books by reported publication date. That seems to make the most sense given why someone would subscribe to a search results feed. I’ll experiment over time with this to see if there are other searches that would change over time in a way that a subscription would be useful.
I bought a 450 MHz Cube for about $1,800 in Sept. 2000. Here’s what the Mac mini delivers for $499 by contrast. (Thanks to Low-End Mac for the Cube’s specs, and Apple’s site for the Mac mini. These are the initial features of the Cube, which was refreshed slightly during its short lifetime.)
|Price||$1,799 or $2,299||$499 or $599|
|Price differentiator||Processor||Processor, hard drive capacity|
|Processor||450 or 500 MHz G4||1.25 or 1.42 GHz G4|
|Cache||1 MB Level 2 Cache||512K on-chip Level 2 Cache|
|Bus||100 MHz||167 MHz|
|RAM||64 MB (PC100) expandable to 1.5 GB||256 MB (PC2700) expandable to 1 GB|
|Drive||20 GB||40 or 80 GB|
|Video||VGA, ADC, 1920 x 1200||VGA (with adapter), or DVI, 1920 x 1080|
|S-Video/composite video||No||Requires separately sold adapter|
|Audio||Super-cool external speakers; no input||Built-in sound; no input|
|Optical drive||DVD-ROM/CD-ROM||Combo Drive or SuperDrive|
|FireWire||2 FireWire 400||1 FireWire 400|
|USB||2 USB 1.1||2 USB 2.0|
|Ethernet||10/100 Mbps||10/100 Mbps|
|AirPort||AirPort ready (11 Mbps)||AirPort Extreme ready (54 Mpbs)|
|Size||9.8 x 7.7 x 7.7 inches||2 x 6.5 by 6.5 inches|
|Weight||14 lbs||2.9 lbs|
I got a bee in my bonnet, or perhaps a bug in my ear, about a week ago and finished the programming this evening on a system that allows you to use an RSS news aggregator to “subscribe” to updates of the price of a book at a number of online bookstores. I run isbn.nu, a book price comparison site, but you need to visit the site to see the price of a given book at about 16 bookstores, mostly in the US.
I’ve long thought about adding a feature that would allow people to sign up for notifications about when a book price changed or became available at a given bookstore. Perhaps you were waiting for a used copy of the book, or wanted a book to drop below a certain price. I may still offer email notification, but it struck me that I could immediately provide an RSS 2.0 feed with very very little effort.
In RSS, a news aggregator retrieves a page on a regular schedule to see if any changes have occurred. If so, it displays these changes, typically in the form of a headline or a line item in a list. I have provided each book at isbn.nu its own unique feed that’s generated each time a news aggregator queries it. Whenever the price gets stale—typically every 24 hours—it retrieves a new price from a given bookstore. This price shows up as a new item to the RSS aggregator, which then displays it.
It’s a little hack that should work quite well for people monitoring titles. I’ve added the code so that the RSS feed shows up automatically within Firefox and other RSS-capable Web browsers. I’ll be adding more cues to people visiting the site shortly.
The pattern, by the way is http://isbn.nu/ISBN.xml. For instance, to monitor my book Take Control of Your AirPort Network, you would type the URL http://isbn.nu/0321321162.xml into a news aggregator or even (in intelligent aggregators) just http://isbn.nu/0321321162 which would allow the aggregator to find the XML-based RSS feed on its own.
I was curious how difficult it was to create a podcast RSS 2.0 feed from pages that are updated at, for instance, radio stations with new links. Email from a colleague pointed out to me that the m3u files that local public radio station KUOW uses for streaming MP3 are text files that contain the name and download location of the MP3 file on KUOW’s server.
The Weekday show, which I’ve been a guest on a couple of times, has a fixed page location that’s updated each weekday after each hour of the show, which runs from 9 am to 11 am. These links are automatically added by the system that KUOW uses to generate MP3 content practically the minute the show is over.
If you use any news aggregator, but especially one that’s set up to read podcasts, this feed is updated at 10.30 and 11.30 am each weekday for the latest MP3s from Weekday. I’ve created this unofficial feed as just a proof of concept. I wrote it in perl using MySQL to handle storage and retrieval.
I hope that public radio gets into podcasting in as big a way as they get into streaming. Many public radio stations produce a great deal of original programming to which they already own the streaming rights. Moving into podcasting is a natural step. It lets them have more listeners, which could, in turn, provide more donations and support, which leads to more and better programming for listeners. It’s a virtuous loop.
I was on KUOW this morning along with three other folks talking about podcasting. Ironically, or not so ironically, the show is only available for streaming in Real and MP3 formats, but not for podcast or download.
The host, Steve Scher, is totally into it. Some radio people think it’s incredibly stupid—just another fad. Others find it an exciting way that to reach a mobile listenership who want to timeshift their favorite radio programs without having to stream on the go. And that’s just the professional radio side.
Me, I think that you’ll see from this initial quick flowering of content an enormous growth when the existing syndication tools for headlines and blogs—which a Pew Internet study shows 5 percent of adult Americans with Internet access already use—incorporate podcasting downloads. Recording audio is relatively easy, but compressing it into a good MP3 format, uploading it so it’s added to a feed, and having people retrieve it is all complicated.
I expect podcasting transmitter applications or add-ons for existing programs pretty quickly. I’m using Skype and Audio Hijack Pro to record interviews for podcasting, and I’m hoping a better way emerges soon, as it’s a little kludgey, but produces pretty decent results.
One side note: Adam Curry was mentioned a few times because his name is well known and he’s producing a very studio-professional regular program, but He Who Cannot Be Named should have been cited as well. He created RSS, he pioneered and popularized blogging, and he enabled and spread podcasting. That’s a three-fer (so far) for citizen journalists, for private voices, and for a diversity of views reaching a larger audience.
Update: Dan Hale wrote in to note that KUOW uses a wrapper in the .m3u format for streaming, which contains inside it the URL for the MP3 which can then just be downloaded.
It looks like Jon Stewart’s remarks on Crossfire were part of the reason that Tucker Carlson’s horrible show wasn’t renewed, even though MSNBC (meager ratings) is eager to get him to use his format to pump up the volume, Fox style. The head of CNN agreed with Stewart in this Washington Post article, but also seemed to point out that there’s just so much fist pumping and “do you beat you wife” questioning on TV that CNN didn’t need to be part of that format. He’s been moving CNN back to more reporting and straight news. I might start watching it again, with that in mind.
I was on KUOW’s The Works last night talking about Apple’s year in review and what’s to come. The audio is archived as streaming Real and MP3 audio.
This is a recent photo of Benjamin in which he is smiling. He smiles all the time. Seriously. But he’s incredibly camera savvy. The lens comes out and he goes all neutral like. But we fooled him. We’re getting savvier, too.
(This was a test of posting an image to my blog via Flickr, too, a very interesting photo service that’s got a remarkably cool interface for uploading.)
Apparently, I’m actually pretty good on being involved in trends when people think they’re relatively stupid and faddish but turn out to be transformative. Latest trend-turned-mainstream? Blogging. The Pew Internet & American Life Project says that according to their most recent survey, seven percent of the 120 million adult Americans who use the Internet have created a blog; 27 percent of them read blogs; five percent use aggregators; and 12 percent have posted comments on blogs. Only 38 percent know what the term blog means, which makes sense as newer blogs don’t go on and on about being blogs.
I was trained in high school, by accident, as a typesetter. I thus wound up working in desktop publishing back in 1985, and pursued it seriously in parallel with my degree in graphic design at Yale (1986 to 1990) as an undergrad.
I hopped on the Internet first in 1987, but more seriously via the Well and other tools—however mediated they were—in 1992, then signing up for a real Internet account in 1993 when I arrived in Seattle.
My old boss Steve Roth gets the credit for seeing a blurry screen capture of Mosaic for X Windows in MacWeek in March 1994 and proclaiming it the next big thing, but I built a test Web site for Peachpit Press in May 1994, and co-founded a Web development firm in July 1994.
I joined Amazon.com in October 1996 (leaving six months later), long before it was really well known and before its IPO. (I got no stock because I left so quickly.)
In Oct. 2000, I realized after playing with an Apple AirPort Base Station that Wi-Fi was going to be frickin’ huge, and wound up writing a cover story for The New York Times’s Circuits section that ran in Feb. 2001. I started a blog shortly thereafter on the topic of Wi-Fi.
What was I wrong about? I thought that Zip drives were stupid. They were, but it took a while for that to become apparent—tens of millions were sold during their heyday. I thought the commercial Internet would grow slowly. I viewed most of the dotcom bubble period as a bubble, and thus never invested in companies that I would actually have made a moderate return on, like Amazon.com, at their early point before they were radically overvalued.
In terms of career choices, I’ve always bet right. Somehow. I don’t view myself as a prognosticator. Rather, I jump in with both feet in areas I’m interested in.
My latest venture is a blog for Weblogs, Inc., about digital radio, focusing particularly on satellite digital radio with a larger focus to come on terrestrial high-definition and other broadcast digital radio. I came up with the notion of blogging about this last summer, but didn’t want to start yet another blog myself and build traffic. I pitched the idea to Weblogs, Inc., who signed me on. In the meantime, my wife and I had a baby. So it was about six months from conception to launch.
During that time, XM and Sirius, the two satellite digital radio companies with duopoly licenses from the FCC enormously increased subscribers and their stock prices soared. If my track record is any indication, I can hope that digital radio will be one of the medium-sized ongoing stories of the next couple of years.
I had a chance to read several books on a vacation last week because our little boy was being held and managed by several in-laws. He also slept an inordinate amount, probably due to the disorientation of being in a new place for several days—he was quite happy there, but fairly ecstatic when we returned home to his routine here.
What’s also nice is that I liked everything I read.
The Victorian Internet: This book that recounts the history of the rise and fall of the telegraph system is a remarkably good read. I know, it sounds quite deadly dull, but the story has frightening parallels with the growth of the Internet and the dotcom crash, and it turns out to be a great yarn. The author, Tom Standage, conveys the excitement that went ‘round the world when distances were cut. I had never given much thought to how the telegraph suddenly separately electrons and atoms. Dits (not bits) and dahs could girdle the globe. I also didn’t know that A.G. Bell invented the telephone when he was trying to create a way of encoding telegraph data across several separate frequencies—akin to today’s fiber optical networks that produce gigabits in each color instead of white light. (Does that mean a Bell-like breakthrough will come in fiber optics, too? Can’t see it, but I’m not a genius.)
Standage is the technology editor at The Economist, and a terrific writer. I’ve met him and correspond with him occasionally—he quoted me once in his magazine—but I had no idea he’d written this book when I first read it a year or so ago. The edition I have doesn’t put his name prominently on the cover, and it was given to me as a gift. I had finished the book when I realized it was him. (This led me to another of his books, The Neptune File, which is about the discovery of the planet Uranus. Earlier planetary discoveries could be made by eye, but the later planets required fiendish mathematical calculation to predict their location in the sky. Tempers flare. International incidents abound. Crazy people and geniuses are involved. Ripping tale.)
Standage has a new book coming out this summer called A History of the World in Six Glasses which wear beer, coffee, and other goggles to look at the development of societies across time and space. It’s not yet pre-orderable, or I’d put a link here.
Words in a French Life: Kristin Espinasse is an American ex-pat living in France with her French husband two children. She’s a desert rat, even, from Arizona, who manages to enjoy life in her adopted language. She started a list called French Word-a-Day in which she provides an interesting French word, related phrases, and a little story about it. The writing is lovely. Her children are hilarious and somewhat precocious. Her husband sounds pretty fantastic. I look forward to her novels, as she surely has fiction in her future. The book is currently backordered, but she has a new edition available soon.
The Mac OS X Command Line: It’s not a barn-burner, but it’s a terrifically detailed technical book written by my colleague (who, oddly enough, is also an American ex-pat who lives in France…sense a theme?). I’m a decade-long Unix administrator, but I found enough in this tome devoted to the Mac OS X’s particular command-line implementation to be highly, highly useful. I also like the structure. The command is introduced by utility first, then the detailed reference appears. This is much better than showing what flags a command can take before you know why you should care.
The Diamond Age: I re-read Neil Stephenson’s pre-Baroque Cycle work, and found that I liked it much better on a subsequent read. The whole thing hung together much better for me, for some reason.
The Know-It-All: Actually, I read this over a period of several weeks while Ben was still learning to sleep. A few pages here and there. The book is fine, but not thrilling. I’m not sorry to have read it, but I also don’t feel it advanced my understanding of humanity. It’s too revealing of the author’s lack of knowledge before he tackles reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, and has way way too much about he and his wife’s desire to have a child. It also has no real structure except alphabetic and chronologic. I made my wife laugh and laugh and laugh when I said, “I know most of the stuff that he discovered by reading the entire encyclopedia.” I’m a sponge, so I don’t need an encyclopedia to present me with random tidbits of historical knowledge.
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