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Brain dump and Email and Jabber and Social networking and The Web19 Nov 2007 at 10:43 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Most social tools come and go. The ones that stay share a common feature : openness. For example, email is open : chose any technology, chose any provider or be your own provider, chose any client, any platform – any way you do it you are still connected to the whole world.

If you have the slightest understanding of your own interest, then there is no way you should even consider using a closed platform as your primary mean of communication. Why would you willingly chose to put your most critical asset outside of your control ?

Many users will object that they gladly surrender control to closed social networking platforms because plain email does not meet their sophisticated communications needs and they are not willing to invest in developing the skills currently required to participated efficiently in the blogging sphere. That is a tragedy because the social graph is quickly becoming the glue of the connected services.

And even if the functionality was sufficient, we would still have a huge mindshare gap to bridge. XMPP provides nice basic instant messenging and presence management in an open environment, but most users still prefer proprietary centralized networks and happily trade freedom for webcam compatibility.

But similar battles have been fought and won in the past : Compuserve, AOL, The Source, Prodigy and their ilk have all dissolved in the Internet. The forces of openness now have a new crusade to embark upon : we must take the best use cases of the closed social networking world and port them in the open !

Open is everything – the rest is details. That is what drew me to the Internet fifteen years ago.

Brain dump and Military and Politics10 Oct 2007 at 20:53 by Jean-Marc Liotier

The song “Guantanamera” is such an omnipresent timeless classic tune that the mere mention of it immediately recalls its irresistible groove in anyone. But Guantanamo is now a name draped in an infamy that may well become just as famous as the song. So since a couple of years, every time I think about that song I can’t help but associate the concepts.

Now I want you to associate them too ! Every time you hear that song I want you to think about all the losers imprisoned in Camp X-ray without cause. Think about how arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention without trial, extraordinary rendition and suspension of habeas corpus are actually sapping at the foundation of the very freedom that our democracies are supposed to uphold.

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma

Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera (..)

I am a sincere man
From where the palm tree grows
And before dying I want
To let out the verses of my soul

Peasant girl from Guantanamo (..)

Mi verso es de un verde claro
Y de un carmín encendido
Mi verso es un ciervo herido
Que busca en el monte amparo

Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera (..)

My verse is light green
And it is flaming red
My verse is a wounded stag
Who seeks refuge on the mountain

Peasant girl from Guantanamo (..)

Cultivo una rosa blanca
En julio como en enero
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca

Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera (..)

I grow a white rose
In July just as in January
For the honest friend
Who gives me his open hand

Peasant girl from Guantanamo (..)

Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar
El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace más que el mar

Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera (..)

With the poor people of the earth
I want to cast my lot
The brook of the mountains
Gives me more pleasure than the sea

Peasant girl from Guantanamo (..)

When I started writing this post five minutes ago, I thought I was the only one to have thought of using that song as a symbol… But as usual in the global memetic ocean, like-minded individuals exposed to the same set of stimuli will produce the same response – so much for my delusion of being creative… Shortly after starting researching some context for this article I stumbled about the most unlikely like-minded individual : Richard Stallman the Free Software pionneer and undefatiguable advocate !

Richard Stallman even went a step further by writing new lyrics for the tune and recorded it with amateur Cuban musicians. So pass the mike to Sir Richard !

Me odiaba mi primo
Por celos a mi carrera.
Lo arrestaron y dijo
Que terrorista yo era.

Guantanamero, soy preso guantanamero. (..]

My cousin hated me;
He was jealous of my career.
They arrested him and he said
I was a terrorist.

Guantanaman, I’m a Guantanaman prisoner. (..)

Ha decidido el imperio
Tenerme por siempre preso
Y la cuestión es hacerlo
Con o sin falso proceso.

Guantanamero, soy preso guantanamero. (..]

The empire has decided
To keep me in prison forever.
The question is whether to do it
With or without a fake trial.

Guantanaman, I’m a Guantanaman prisoner. (..)

Cuando me hieren el cuerpo,
Dicen que no me torturan.
Causan heridas profundas
De esas que nunca se curan.

Guantanamero, soy preso guantanamero. (..]

When they injure my body
They say they are not torturing me.
They cause me grave wounds
Such as never heal.

Guantanaman, I’m a Guantanaman prisoner. (..)

No me permiten que duerma:
Mi fin no es un misterio.
Voy a salir cuando muera
O caiga el gran imperio.

Guantanamero, soy preso guantanamero. (..]

They don’t let me sleep:
My end is no mystery.
I will get out when I die
Or the great empire falls.

Guantanaman, I’m a Guantanaman prisoner. (..)

Brain dump and Knowledge management and Mobile computing and The Web10 Oct 2007 at 15:47 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Someone asked : what is the mobile Web ? Here is my take :

The mobile Web is not just about overcoming the connectivity, ergonomics and device constraints that make access more difficult than on the desktop that the Web originated on. Focusing on these issues is merely playing catch-up with the “normal” Web.

The value that the mobile Web brings is context sensitivity. The mobile Web is about being there, in contact with the physical world away from a desktop. So bring on location sensitive services, search by photo similarity using the on board camera, search by sound similarity using the on board microphone, augmented reality (for navigation, social life or technical help), QR code readers and barcode readers using the camera, RFID readers, permanent presence management including location and activity…

Shoehorning complex applications on a handheld device is hopeless. On the other hand, the handheld device is the one you being with you, so when time comes to interact with the environment anywhere there is just no other choice. Linking the physical world to the virtual one, that is the mobile Web.

When the physical world merges with the data, wonderful things happen !

Brain dump and Knowledge management and The Web03 Aug 2007 at 15:02 by Jean-Marc Liotier

It has been said from the start but with the availability of a proprietary application platform it became so glaringly obvious that this spring the rumor became insistent – Facebook increasingly looks like the new AOL :

“Fast forward to Facebook 2007 and see similarities: If you want access to their big base of users, develop something in their proprietary language for their people who live in their walled garden. Strangely, many young facebookizens aren’t very net savvy (Facebook *is* their internet) & they have little desire to go beyond the walled garden — just like the old AOL users. There’s even a proprietary Facebook messaging system (kids don’t use much open internet email).”

But it is really Jason Kottke’s “Facebook is the new AOL” followed by “Facebook vs. AOL, redux” that made the rumor grow into a swell in July :

“Facebook is an intranet for you and your friends that just happens to be accessible without a VPN. If you’re not a Facebook user, you can’t do anything with the site. Nearly everything published by their users is private. Google doesn’t index any user-created information on Facebook. All of the significant information and, more importantly, interaction still happens in private. Maybe we shouldn’t be so excited about the web’s future moving onto an intranet.”

Steve Rubel sums that up : “Facebook gives nothing back to the broader web. A lot of stuff goes in, but nothing comes out”.

In a comment to Jeff Atwood’s “Avoiding walled gardens on the Internet”, Alex Chamberlain makes another parrallel with an historical precedent that seems lost to many among the current generation of Internet users :

“I’ve had the same uncomfortable feeling about web-based message boards. Prima facie, the walled-garden model violates the principle that information wants to be free.

Think of how Fidonet helped to open up the insular world of BBSs. Think of how Usenet was designed to be inherently inclusive (just start a news server on a Net-connected machine and all its users instantly join the “conversation”) and eternal (because decentralized). Now, Usenet is irrelevant to all but a tiny online subculture, BBSs are dead, and the traffic that those media would have borne is now happening on Web-based message boards, whose owners can edit content, forget to pay for their server space, or shut down for good at will, and whose content (more important) is essentially invisible to Google unless you know the secret password (the URL of the site’s archives). Balkanized again !”

Just as most of them are using stupid proprietary instant messaging networks instead of Jabber, they are now deliberately walling themselves in again. As Matthew says :

“Facebook is reinventing the wheel a little in an attempt to give anybody and everybody their very own web presence. Except it’s not a web presence, it’s a Facebook presence, bound by Facebook’s rules. The experience feels forced and leaves me wanting more. [..] I want to be able to find you on Google, read your weblog and browse your Flickr photos”.

But it is not just the users who drink the Facebook Kool Aid… As the RSS blog mentions, even developpers are falling for it :

Everybody is going nutty about the Facebook platform. They are writing custom widgets for Facebook. They are saying that Facebook is the greatest because it support proprietary widgets. WTF ? We already have an API for widgets, it’s called HTML. We’ve been embedding widgets in MySpace for years using HTML. Why does Facebook need a proprietary widgets API ? It’s called lock-in. A walled garden. The work you do on your Facebook widget doesn’t port to other social platforms. In this case, platform means proprietary. When the euforia fades, just how many $billions are going to get spent by 3rd parties to better the Facebook platform ? This is nuts !”

Yes, many developpers are happily coding for a closed platform. And they are definitely locked in as Richard MacManus explains in “How Open Is Facebook, Really ? :

“Facebook ultimately is a closed, proprietary system. Primarily this is because Facebook doesn’t use existing Web standards for mark-up or database language. Instead of using HTML and SQL, Facebook uses two “variants” – called FQL and FBML. The official reason for the variants is that they offer more functionality and integration within the Facebook environment – which is no doubt true, however it also of course means your apps can only run in Facebook. As Andreessen noted, the upshot is that “Facebook’s own code and functionality remains closed and proprietary.”

But Facebook now has such an influence on the mass market that it can’t be ignored and even people like me can’t resist taking a look if just to see what all the fuss is about. So here is my Facebook profile… Oops ! That’s right. The walled garden thing. Forgot about that. You have to be a member… Screw that !

So welcome to Faceprison ! Nice clean interface conveniently packaged in a proprietary walled garden from which your data shall never escape.

A little search later I find that the word “Faceprison” has been by used by Neil Dixon who last June posted feelings similar to mine in “Facebook – a very big claustrophobic bubble” :

“There is one element to Facebook that makes the alarm bells ring for me, in contrast to almost every other major social network: you have to be logged-in to do anything, anything at all. Nothing is visible or accessible to the outside. Even notification emails about messages, etc., force you to log in to view them. Everything is designed to get you inside, and keep you there.

Facebook to me feels immediately claustrophobic, a state of interweb virtual bondage where the only safeword is ‘logout’. The sterilised, razorwire-topped walls are (currently) unscalable and the locks are more sturdy than Broadmoor. But even in a physical prison you can have real visitors: in Facebook, your visitors have to join and become part of the exclusive hive themselves, trapped squirming in its peer pressure driven, shallow society.

I fear the worst for those lost souls in particular who will suffer a similar fate to those of us who took up AOL in the early days”

Users never learn and history repeats itself. Have fun poking each other to digital death ! Or go read Ethan Zuckerman’s “Web 2.0 and the web serf” and understand why friends don’t let friends sink their data into proprietary bottomless pits.

Well… I can’t conclude on such a dark note, so I’ll cite the more hopeful outlook of Jason Kottke about Facebook :

“Faced with competition from this open web, AOL lost… Running a closed service with custom content and interfaces was no match for the wild frontier of the web. Maybe if they’d done some things differently, they would have fared better, but they still would have lost. In competitive markets, open and messy trumps closed and controlled in the long run. Everything you can do on Facebook with ease is possible using a loose coalition of blogging software, IM clients, email, Twitter, Flickr, Google Reader, etc. Sure, it’s not as automatic or easy, but anyone can participate and the number of things to see and do on the web outnumbers the number of things you can see and do on Facebook by several orders of magnitude (and always will).

At some point in the future, Facebook may well open up, rendering much of this criticism irrelevant. Their privacy controls are legendarily flexible and precise…it should be easy for them to let people expose parts of the information to anyone if they wanted to. And as Matt Webb pointed out to me in an email, there’s the possibility that Facebook turn itself inside out and be the social network bit for everyone else’s web apps. In the meantime, maybe we shouldn’t be so excited about the web’s future moving onto an intranet”.

As Jonathan Kahn writes, “microformats and OpenID will kill Facebook’s business model“. Information wants to be free !

Brain dump and Systems20 Dec 2006 at 0:01 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I automatically generate daily statistical reports for my web sites traffic using Awstats. Awed by Awstats extensive reporting capabilities I enabled everything with full details and let it run like that. Erik, one of my favorite contradictors, found that I may have gone a bit too far on that one. Of course I first dismissed that as one of his usual privacy rants – we both have very different ideas of how much personal information we should let the public know about us. But a quick costs/benefits analysis showed that for once we actually had some common ground.

First he mentioned that my reports were indexed by search engines. I was aware of that but I saw no wrong about it and did not even bother adding a robots exclusion pattern. But having the statistical reports indexed brought no one any significant value : all users had other ways to access them through links. So the benefit was zero. In addition, the indexation of pages containing referer links promotes referer spam – and everyone know how much I love to hate spammers. The costs/benefits analysis provided a clear conclusion and the corresponding robots.txt was therefore swiftly added.

Florent caught red handed !

Then Erik mentioned the presence of IP addresses in the Awstats reports. I had never given any thought about those, but the privacy breach was obvious : ill intentioned organizations could easily track the users who indulge in a visit to my hall of deviant ramblings. My first reaction was to consider that whoever wants to hide can use an anonymous proxy or a Tor onion routing gateway. But Erik made me realize that we are dealing with the clueless masses. And as plentypotent semi-divinities with root access we have a duty to protect them from their own lack of clues.

Moreover it occurred to me that this report is not very useful. I need the IP addresses as raw material to generate about every piece of statistical data, but that can very well be done done anonymously. The only redeeming value of the section of the report containing IP addresses is letting me know if a handful of hosts are actually generating all the traffic. The value of this information strongly decreases as traffic reaches statistically significant numbers. So once again the costs/benefits analysis provides an easy conclusion : letting the hosts report go would not be too painful either. Ideally I would keep it in an anonymous form. But that would require modifying Awstats and I am not going to allocate resources to that today. So for now I am just going to tell Awstats to skip it.

So here we go :

cd /etc/awstats
perl -i -pe 's/ShowHostsStats=PHBL/ShowHostsStats=0/g' *.conf

That’s all folks ! I now just have to force regeneration of all my web traffic reports. Good thing that all that is now completely automated !

To those who doubt that I can change my mind : I can readily change my mind with ease, but I require to be convinced either by myself alone or with the assistance of a third party. Let this be an example for those who lost all hope of convincing me.

Brain dump and Knowledge management and Photography18 Nov 2006 at 1:20 by Jean-Marc Liotier

After a football game three months ago I wrote womething about forgetting AI servo :

“I surely made the focusing on action even worse by shooting with AI focus instead of AI servo. I’m quite ashamed of that mistake. Maybe I forgot to set it up properly because I’m not used to do it on my 300D which does not offer that choice… As usual, discovering new hardware on the event is a truly bad idea… I guess that’ll serve me as a reminder to force AI servo next time and to get intimately familiar with new hardware before covering an event”.

Well… I just did that again : for the football game last wednesday I set both cameras on AI Focus. How daft is that ? I am furious at myself. The manual of every Eos body in the last 20 years has been clear that AI Servo is the proper autofocus mode for sports. What was I thinking ? I was even wondering why the autofocus was a bit slow to start tracking while I was believing that I had set it to AI Servo… I could probably have had three times more keepers ! At least I guess I won’t forget to set it to AI Servo next time…

I feel incredibly stupid. 10k Euros worth of hardware dangles from my neck and I can’t even set the AF mode properly. This morning I felt too ashamed to tell anybody. But keeping silent would have been a grave mistake : an important part of experience capitalization is that you should not be afraid of explaining the most horrendously stupid mistakes you made.

Many knowledge management projects are rather useless because their participants refuse to show how they failed. Everyone loves to tell a success story and let their ego bask in the praise lavished upon them. Too bad because the failures often contain more actionable information than the success stories. And since people want to avoid failure even more than they seek success, a failure story will anchor new knowledge even more efficiently than a success story.

For example, during the run up to D-Day, the entrance of a commando training camp in Britain was graced by mock graves with obituaries describing the fictional deaths of trainees. That was recognized as an efficient way to impact the trainees and get the important safety messages accross.

So you can really pay your peers a big favor by telling them your worst. As the demotivator poster says : “It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others”

Brain dump and Systems and Writing05 Nov 2006 at 17:19 by Jean-Marc Liotier

In the faint hope that I would pickup some unknown productivity tip I found myself reading “Writing documents with Writer” by Marco Marongiu. Marco did a good job of producing a basic tutorial, but the way he introduced the use of styles made me want to rant about an old pet peeve of mine…

Writing content first and then styling is missing half the point of the styles. The styles not only facilitate formatting : they also give the document a hierarchical outline. Writing using a text processing tool that support an outline mode make me much more productive as I can use the word processor not only as a writing tool but as a tool that supports my thinking. Microsoft Word has it but Openoffice Writer does not. Contrary to what the Openoffice FAQ claims, the Navigator does not provide even a fraction of the functionality of MS Word’s outline mode.

A year ago, Jim Sabatke said about OO Writer : “For example, it can’t collapse multiple sections at a time so you can view/edit several other sections. For some reason, open source word processor teams are resisting this functionality that is an important “thinking” and “organizing” feature that many have come to depend on in almost every MS Windows Word processor”. Make sure you take a look at : wou will understand where the many people like me come from ! As Robert P. J Day said about the outline mode : “MS Word is *exactly* what you want to emulate here. There is no need to do things “differently” or “better” from Word WRT outlining – they got it right”. I wholeheartedly agree and I am very surprised to see that in the Openoffice issue tracker outline mode is a low priority issue that has been open since 2002 – that is more than four years !

Considering how important it is to many people I know (who are quite representative of the technical writing community) and how much it has been discussed for years all over the Net I really don’t understand why outline mode has not been given more attention within the Openoffice project. If I was in a bad mood I would say that this project has a bad case of NIH… But I am not the sort of person who would carry libelous rumors such as this one…

Brain dump and Mobile computing13 Jun 2006 at 13:54 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Mobile phones let the user define a collection of behavior profiles adapting sound, lighting and interface to suit different contexts. But my experience shows that continuously switching to new profiles when changing activities is quite clumsy. As a result I have reverted to using just two basic profiles for which my Treo 650 provides a physical switch : “silent” and “loud”. But what I really wish is a device that adapts the telephone ring volume to the level of ambient noise.

As usual when I find myself believing I just created a new concept it only takes a short search to find that I am far from the first to have thought about it. US Patent 6993349 from 2001 describes a “smart ringer” that does exactly what I want :

“A telephone monitors ambient noise, and alters the characteristics of the audible ring to distinguish the sound of the ringing telephone from the ambient noise. Such characteristics include the decibel level, the sound frequency, and the rhythmic pattern or the ringing sound”.

Such concept is also valid for the output of the telephone conversation itself or for other context-dependant settings of the man-machine interface. There too I’m quite late on the ball – for example the “Proceedings for the stakeholders forum on communications enhancement” from 2001 put it quite well :

“The levels of ambient light and noise provide simple but important contextual information. Ambient noise level sensed via microphone can be used to adjust output volume (louder room/car/outdoor setting). Low-tech noise level detection systems have been incorporated into cars (i.e. when the car speeds up the radio volume increases gradually with the speed, takes into account engine and road noise). Ambient lighting levels sensed via a photocell can be used to adjust display brightness and contrast”.

I did now know that cars did that… Maybe it is because I only use a car thrice a month and own a 1992’s Citroen ZX Reflex… Now the real question is : why don’t my phones do that ?

Brain dump and Systems04 Jan 2006 at 18:34 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Can you believe that as of today the string “collaborative adblock” yields no hits on Google ? For now there is the centraly managed list of blockable advertisement at Conversion scripts make the list available in a large number of popular ad blocking formats and there is even an Adblock filterset updater available for it as a Mozilla extension. You can submit your own items, that is a start. But wouldn’t a truly distributed collaborative peer to peer sharing of Adblock items be staggeringly more powerful ? Something made robust with a reputation system… Let’s seed the meme !

Brain dump28 Oct 2005 at 14:49 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I wonder why private military companies have not thought about using Google Maps to reach new customers. Leveraging the user-friendly interface of Google Maps and Google Earth the purchaser selects an arbitrary point on the surface of the planet, selects the ordnance he wishes to see delivered and then securely enters his credit card details. Service fulfilment then rests on the shoulders of the contractor, Google only takes a commission as an intermediary – which incidentaly avoids lots of legal hassles. Secrecy costs extra because by keeping the incoming strike secret Googles forfeits potential revenue from other interested parties such as the target.

There is even room for the intermediation : since difficulty, risks and therefore ultimately costs of the delivery may vary extremely widely, there must be a way to help in adjusting supply to demand. An online marketplace featuring reverse auctions would fit the need perfectly. Why should Ebay stay away from the current boom in the war business now that it has gained respectability comparable to any other legal activity ?

The US Air Force in Iraq can deliver a 250 pound smart bomb at a total cost of under USD 30k (including the cost of operating the aircraft). Considering the infrastructure and economies of scale that the US Air Force enjoys in Iraq, it would not be unreasonable to imagine that an airstrike on a target in North Kivu for example could go for around USD 100k. If you are only an occasional user, that would be a very attractive price point compared to the costs of maintaining your own air force. Basing rights remain a logistical problem since no private operator has acquired global strike capability just yet…

Of course, even if mass market pricing some day puts it within reach of the consumer market, allowing individuals to use this service would be a bit unethical. So we’ll leave that for later development and aim for the government and corporate markets first…

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