Matt Taibbi – Taibblog – Religion, agnostics, and the cure for baldness – True/Slant – windily pompous University of Manchester professor Terry Eagleton, a pudgily superior type, physically resembling a giant runny nose, who seems to have been raised by indulgent aunts who gave him sweets every time he corrected the grammar of other children. The esteemed professor’s new book is called Reason, Faith and Revolution, and it’s sort of an answer to the popular atheist literature of people like Richard Dawkins and Chris Hitchens. If you ever want to give yourself a really good, throbbing headache, go online and check out Eagleton’s lectures at Yale, upon which the book was based, in which one may listen to this soft-soaping old toady do his verbose best to stick his tongue as far as he can up the anus of the next generation of the American upper class.
The Eagleton Delusion : Pharyngula – "so crammed with people that they actually took my computer and book bag away from me to pack in the cargo hold, and I had to quickly snatch something to read before the baggage handlers took it away. I grabbed the Eagleton book. Thus was my fate sealed.
I was trapped in a plane for 8 hours with nothing to read but Eagleton and the Sky Mall catalog.
A few interesting links collected April 17th through April 24th:
FiveThirtyEight: Politics Done Right: Messing with Texas – “What Texas could choose to do, however, is to divide itself up into as many as five states, a privilege given to it as a condition of its annexation to the Union in 1845. What would Texas look like if it chose to do this? Would dividing a large, red state into five smaller, reddish states benefit Republicans in the Senate? In the Electoral College?The answers are not so clear. But first things first, we need to come up with a logical way to divde Texas into five parts.”
ME: The telephone seems like letter-writing without the paper and pen. Is there any message that can’t wait for a passenger pigeon?
BELL: Possibly the message I’d like to deliver to you right now.”
Gapers Block : Drive-Thru : Chicago Food – Wait, No Need to Soak Those Beans – “One revelation, to me, was the idea that beans need not be soaked before cooking–provided that they are cooked slowly for a long time. In a recipe called Gloria’s Pork Ribs and Red Beans, the red beans are rinsed, and are thrown right into the pot. The beans slowly rehydrate as they cook with the other ingredients, for about 2 hours.”
This recipe looks quite tasty: I’m making a variant as soon as I can get into my kitchen.
A few interesting links collected February 17th through February 19th:
CBS Falsely Portrays Stanford as Democratic Scandal – But as Public Citizen, Huffington Post, ABC News and Talking Points Memo all reported, Stanford and his Stanford Financial Group PAC contributed to politicians and political action committees of both parties (including $448,000 in soft money contributions from 2000 to 2001 alone) to advance his agenda of banking and money-laundering deregulation. Many others journeyed on Stanford's junkets to Antigua and elsewhere, prompting TPM to brand his company "a travel agent for Congress." (TPM has a slide show of one of those of Stanford getaways.)
As it turns out, the list of Stanford beneficiaries is long – and bipartisan.
Remembering Gene – Roger Ebert's Journal – Gene died ten years ago on February 20, 1999. He is in my mind almost every day. I don't want to rehearse the old stories about how we had a love/hate relationship, and how we dealt with television, and how we were both so scared the first time we went on Johnny Carson that, backstage, we couldn't think of the name of a single movie, although that story is absolutely true. Those stories have been told. I want to write about our friendship. The public image was that we were in a state of permanent feud, but nothing we felt had anything to do with image. We both knew the buttons to push on the other one, and we both made little effort to hide our feelings, warm or cold. In 1977 we were on a talk show with Buddy Rogers, once Mary Pickford's husband, and he said, "You guys have a sibling rivalry, but you both think you're the older brother."
TidBITS iPod & iPhone: iPhone to Add Location Logging? – Could the iPhone soon be able to track your location in the background as you walk around? A hint that such a capability is in the works at Apple comes from a programmer friend who spent some time spelunking around inside iPhoto '09, which shows traces of being able to associate such GPS log data with photos.
Daily Kos: Chocolate Covered Cotton – billmon – The fatal innovation…was the rise of so-called collateralized obligations, in which the payment streams from supposedly uniform pools of assets (say, for example, 30-year fixed prime mortgages issued in the first six months of 2006 to California borrowers) could be sliced and diced into different securities (known as tranches) each with different payment characteristics.
This began as a tool for managing (or speculating on) changes in interest rates, which are a particular problem for mortgage lenders, since homeowners usually have the right to repay (i.e. refinance) their loan when rates fall, forcing lenders to put the money back out on the street at the new, lower rates. This means mortgage-backed securities can go down in value when rates fall as well as when they rise. By shielding some tranches from prepayments (in other words, by directing them to other tranches) the favored tranches are made less volatile and thus can be sold at a higher price and a lower yield.
An old habit dies… hard. « chuck.goolsbee.org – "I stumbled across a likely little application that seems to fit the bill: Gyazmail. It has a very flexible UI that allows me to make it behave very Eudora-like when I want it to. It has very good search, rules, and filters. It can import all my old mail(!)
I’m test driving it at the moment and liking it so far. Switched my work mail to it late last week, and my personal mail is still coming over one account at a time. So far so good. If you regularly contact me via email be patient while I work through this transition period."
I'm still using Eudora on three of our most used Macs (since 1995 probably -only 14 years), but the writing is on the wall. Have to check out Gyazmail.
Upon visiting Drop.io—pronounced as a seamless single word: "drop-ee-o"—the site presents a basic elevator pitch about its services and a short form with which to get started uploading files.
Fat Tire Ale Downed Near Load Of Burgers – A Good Beer Blog – Motorists on Interstate 15 were impeded by a piles of hamburgers after a truck spilled a load of the patties, blocking the northbound lanes for four hours. The driver of a tractor-trailer carrying 40,000 pounds of hamburger patties dozed off around 5 a.m., said Utah Highway Patrol trooper Cameron Roden. The truck driver's rig drifted to the left side of the freeway near 2300 North and crashed into a wall and an overhead sign, which ripped open his trailer, spilling hamburger over the north and southbound lanes of the interstate…A second truck spill east of Morgan caused minor delays. Before 7:30 a.m., a truck was heading westbound on Interstate 84 about a half-mile east of Morgan… The truck slipped off to the left, hit a guardrail, and flipped over on its side. The impact split the truck open, spilling Fat Tire Beer being shipped from Colorado, Roden said.
In humans, Xanax can cause memory loss, lack of coordination, reduced sex drive and other side effects. It can also lead to aggression in people who were unstable to begin with, said Dr. Emil Coccaro, chief of psychiatry at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
"Xanax could have made him worse," if human studies are any indication, Coccaro said.
If you want to share your thoughts on what should be in the new terms, check out our group Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.
Big Tuna – Chicago — Anthony 'Big Tuna' Accardo, reputed crime syndicate figure, and his wife are shown as they arrive at the St. Vincent Ferrer Church in suburban River Forest to attend wedding of their son Anthony Jr, who was married to the former Janet Hawley, 1961 Miss Utah. Many top gangland bosses and other underworld figures attended the wedding under the watchful eye of law enforcement agencies
Home | Recovery.gov – Recovery.gov is a website that lets you, the taxpayer, figure out where the money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is going. There are going to be a few different ways to search for information. The money is being distributed by Federal agencies, and soon you'll be able to see where it's going — to which states, to which congressional districts, even to which Federal contractors. As soon as we are able to, we'll display that information visually in maps, charts, and graphics.
We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined.
It is disturbing that the Washington Post would publish such information without first checking the facts.
Wonk Room » George Will Believes In Recycling – Will’s numerous distortions and outright falsehoods have been well documented by Joe Romm, Nate Silver, Zachary Roth, Brad Plumer, Erza Klein, David Roberts, James Hrynyshyn, Rick Piltz, Steve Benen, Mark Kleiman, and others. They recognized that George Will is recycling already rebutted claims from the lunatic fringe, and offer the excellent suggestion that Washington Post editors should require some minimum level of fact-checking.
But I haven’t seen anyone comment that Will is also recycling his own work, republishing an extended passage from a 2006 column — which Think Progress debunked — almost word for word. Take a look:
Now, anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later. Want to close your account? Good for you, but Facebook still has the right to do whatever it wants with your old content. They can even sublicense it if they want.
Grasping Reality with Both Hands: Michael Isikoff: Yoo Disbarment Proceedings Now Visible on the Horizon – Torture Report Could Be Trouble For Bush Lawyers: An internal Justice Department report on the conduct of senior lawyers who approved waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics is causing anxiety among former Bush administration officials. H. Marshall Jarrett, chief of the department’s ethics watchdog unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), confirmed last year he was investigating whether the legal advice in crucial interrogation memos “was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” According to two knowledgeable sources who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters, a draft of the report was submitted in the final weeks of the Bush administration. It sharply criticized the legal work of two former top officials—Jay Bybee and John Yoo—as well as that of Steven Bradbury, who was chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the time the report was submitted, the sources said.
“Americans will hold House Republicans accountable for just saying no to saving and creating three to four million jobs and the largest tax cut in American history.
“House Republicans are fast becoming party of No-bama. Americans will hold Republicans accountable for being the party of no – no to President Obama’s economic recovery, no to children’s health care, and no to equal pay for women doing equal work.”
Talking Points Memo | The Big Disconnect – But there’s a very big problem with this strategy above and beyond the absurdity of the argument. “Congress” may be really unpopular. And the Democrats now control Congress. But politics is a zero sum game. At the end of the day, in almost every case, you’ve got to pick a Republican or a Democrat when you vote. And if you look at the numbers, congressional Democrats are pretty popular. And congressional Republicans are extremely unpopular. If you look at the number, the Dems are at about 50% or higher in most recent polls, while the GOP is down in the 30s.
The city remains wired for the GOP. Not that it’s done them a great deal of good of late. But it remains a key part of understanding every part of what is happening today.
Google Jumps Into Organizing Smart Meter Energy Data « Earth2Tech – “Just as Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt hinted over the past few months, Google is moving from managing the world’s information to managing your personal energy data. On Monday night Google tells us it is developing an online tool called “PowerMeter” that will allow users to monitor their home energy consumption. For now Google is testing the web-based software with Google employees, but the search engine giant is looking to partner with utilities and smart energy device makers and will eventually roll out the tool to consumers.”
Energy Information – “Google PowerMeter, now in prototype, will receive information from utility smart meters and energy management devices and provide anyone who signs up access to her home electricity consumption right on her iGoogle homepage. The graph below shows how someone could use this information to figure out how much energy is used by different household activites.”
Oooh, I want one of these so-called smartmeters
MyDD :: The Beltway Games Don’t Really Matter – “Perhaps more than ever, there is a real divide between what the chattering class inside the Beltway is saying and what the people of this country are saying. We saw the beginnings of this during the campaign, when despite the fact that John McCain was deemed to be winning the news cycles — indeed, his campaign seemed to care more about winning “Hardball” than it did about reaching 270 electoral votes — Barack Obama nevertheless continued to lead in the polls, both nationwide and in the key states. Now we’re seeing it again, as the establishment media focuses on the less meaningful back and forth while at the same time overlooking the larger picture being grasped by the public — that is that President Obama is succeeding, in terms of both moving forward his policy agenda and bringing two-thirds of the country along with him in his effort.”
One of our goals at EveryBlock is to notify you when local news sites or blogs mention something in your neighborhood. This far, we've focused on specific addresses and places, which you can see in our "locations in the media" section. There, we catalog local news coverage to figure out which articles mention which particular places.
Now, we're taking this philosophy further by applying it to local elected representatives. This new section, "political news items," notifies you whenever your local elected representatives — such as your city councilman or state assemblyman — are mentioned in The New York Times.
"The game started like any other high school basketball game across the nation. …We started the game off with a full-court press. After 3 minutes into play, we had already reached a 25-0 lead. Like any rational thinking coach would do, I immediately stopped the full-court press, dropped into a 2-3 zone defense, and started subbing in my 3 bench players. This strategy continued for the rest of the game and allowed the Dallas Academy players to get the ball up the court for a chance to score. The second half started with a score of 59-0. Seeing that we would win by too wide of a margin, running down the clock was the only logical course of action left. Contrary to the articles, there were only a total of four 3-point baskets made; three in the first quarter, and only one in the third quarter. I continued to sub in bench players, play zone defense, and run the clock for the rest of the game"
Hadn’t heard this particular claim, but am amused by it nonetheless…
A viral email sent across the United States is creating consumer confusion about the content of barcodes and potentially harming American businesses, according to GS1 US, the standards organization based here
The email incorrectly states “the first three digits” of a product’s barcode always indicate the product’s country of origin, and encourages consumers to make their buying decisions based on these numbers. GS1 US, as the administrator and sole source of Universal Product Code barcode prefixes in the United States, warns that consumers heeding this faulty advice are being misled and could unintentionally “boycott” businesses or products they would otherwise choose to support. “Although the first few digits of a barcode — what we call a company prefix — can indicate the country in which a barcode was issued, it tells you nothing about where the product was made,” said Bob Noe, chief customer officer for GS1 US, in a statement. “The claim is somewhat grounded in reality, but just enough to be dangerous, even if you’re reading it correctly, which is not a safe assumption.”
Who knew a ten percent improvement was so difficult?
THE “NAPOLEON DYNAMITE” problem is driving Len Bertoni crazy. Bertoni is a 51-year-old “semiretired” computer scientist who lives an hour outside Pittsburgh. In the spring of 2007, his sister-in-law e-mailed him an intriguing bit of news: Netflix, the Web-based DVD-rental company, was holding a contest to try to improve Cinematch, its “recommendation engine.” The prize: $1 million.
Cinematch is the bit of software embedded in the Netflix Web site that analyzes each customer’s movie-viewing habits and recommends other movies that the customer might enjoy. (Did you like the legal thriller “The Firm”? Well, maybe you’d like “Michael Clayton.” Or perhaps “A Few Good Men.”) The Netflix Prize goes to anyone who can make Cinematch’s predictions 10 percent more accurate. One million dollars might sound like an awfully big prize for such a small improvement. But in fact, Netflix’s founders tried for years to improve Cinematch, with only incremental results, and they knew that a 10 percent bump would be a challenge for even the most deft programmer. They also knew that, as Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, told me recently, “getting to 10 percent would certainly be worth well in excess of $1 million” to the company. The competition was announced in October 2006, and no one has won yet, though 30,000 hackers worldwide are hard at work on the problem. Each day, teams submit their updated solutions to the Netflix Prize Web page, and Netflix instantly calculates how much better than Cinematch they are.
But his progress had slowed to a crawl. The more Bertoni improved upon Netflix, the harder it became to move his number forward. This wasn’t just his problem, though; the other competitors say that their progress is stalling, too, as they edge toward 10 percent. Why?
Bertoni says it’s partly because of “Napoleon Dynamite,” an indie comedy from 2004 that achieved cult status and went on to become extremely popular on Netflix. It is, Bertoni and others have discovered, maddeningly hard to determine how much people will like it. When Bertoni runs his algorithms on regular hits like “Lethal Weapon” or “Miss Congeniality” and tries to predict how any given Netflix user will rate them, he’s usually within eight-tenths of a star. But with films like “Napoleon Dynamite,” he’s off by an average of 1.2 stars.
The reason, Bertoni says, is that “Napoleon Dynamite” is very weird and very polarizing. It contains a lot of arch, ironic humor, including a famously kooky dance performed by the titular teenage character to help his hapless friend win a student-council election. It’s the type of quirky entertainment that tends to be either loved or despised. The movie has been rated more than two million times in the Netflix database, and the ratings are disproportionately one or five stars.
Average of raters like you: 3.3 stars, from your 1198 ratings.
I’m skeptical, I could only watch the first reel1 of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy [Netflix]. From my perspective, Napoleon Dynamite is from the same mold of satire, and not something I much care for.
Anyway, I use the Netflix suggestion engine sometimes, but depend more upon other sources2 to keep my queue stuffed with possibilities.
Some Computer Scientists think the “Napoleon Dynamite” problem exposes a serious weakness of computers. They cannot anticipate the eccentric ways that real people actually decide to take a chance on a movie.
The Cinematch system, like any recommendation engine, assumes that your taste is static and unchanging. The computer looks at all the movies you’ve rated in the past, finds the trend and uses that to guide you. But the reality is that our cultural tastes evolve, and they change in part because we interact with others. You hear your friends gushing about “Mad Men,” so eventually — even though you have never had any particular interest in early-’60s America — you give it a try. Or you go into the video store and run into a particularly charismatic clerk who persuades you that you really, really have to give “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” a chance.
As Gavin Potter, a Netflix Prize competitor who lives in Britain and is currently in ninth place, pointed out to me, a computerized recommendation system seeks to find the common threads in millions of people’s recommendations, so it inherently avoids extremes. Video-store clerks, on the other hand, are influenced by their own idiosyncrasies. Even if they’re considering your taste to make a suitable recommendation, they can’t help relying on their own sense of what’s good and bad. They’ll make more mistakes than the Netflix computers — but they’re also more likely to have flashes of inspiration, like pointing you to “Napoleon Dynamite” at just the right moment.
“If you use a computerized system based on ratings, you will tend to get very relevant but safe answers,” Potter says. “If you go with the movie-store clerk, you will get more unpredictable but potentially more exciting recommendations.”
Another critic of computer recommendations is, oddly enough, Pattie Maes, the M.I.T. professor. She notes that there’s something slightly antisocial — “narrow-minded” — about hyperpersonalized recommendation systems. Sure, it’s good to have a computer find more of what you already like. But culture isn’t experienced in solitude. We also consume shows and movies and music as a way of participating in society. That social need can override the question of whether or not we’ll like the movie.
“You don’t want to see a movie just because you think it’s going to be good,” Maes says. “It’s also because everyone at school or work is going to be talking about it, and you want to be able to talk about it, too.” Maes told me that a while ago she rented a “Sex and the City” DVD from Netflix. She suspected she probably wouldn’t really like the show. “But everybody else was constantly talking about it, and I had to know what they were talking about,” she says. “So even though I would have been embarrassed if Netflix suggested ‘Sex and the City’ to me, I’m glad I saw it, because now I get it. I know all the in-jokes.”
a reel is usually the first 20 pages a script, translating to about 20 minutes of film, and usually sets up the story, basic characters, protagonist, yadda yadda [↩]
film reviews, suggestions of friends, blogs, those inevitable lists of best-of, and my own fluctuating interests [↩]
Musebin wants music reviewers to cut to the chase, big-time. Never mind that girl you made a mix for in high school. Other music fans want to know what you think, and they want it now. In 140 characters or less.
Musebin is a response to technology-related shifts in music criticism. Like Twitter, it limits each album review to a single, 140-character line. And like Reddit, it allows users to rate those reviews up or down using Yea or Nay buttons. The result: a fresh and compelling way to share opinions and be entertained while discovering music.
“It’s a reaction to the wordy, wordy MP3 blogs and people craving really concise content,” explained Musebin COO Adam Varga.
I’m probably going to start practicing here whether I get a beta invite or not, so be prepared for a plethora of short, succinct reviews of albums. Kind of a tune-up for all those best of year lists that are going to start appearing.
Good for them, at least ten years late, but better late then never.
NBC hopes to benefit from the same user behavior. Beginning with its Chicago affiliate, WMAQ, on Monday, the company will turn its TV station Web sites into full-fledged city guides. John P. Wallace, the president of NBC’s local media division, said the partnerships with content providers and the links to third-party sites will “tap into our communities much deeper than we have been able to historically.”
“It’s a change in mindset,” he said. “We’re looking at the fragmented local market and saying, ‘We’re going to provide a destination where you can come and search across different segments.’ ”
Brian Buchwald, the division’s senior vice president for local digital media and multiplatform, said the move amounts to an acknowledgment that local television stations must do more online than merely regurgitate their newscasts online. “We need to be a lot more than just TV stations if we’re going to be relevant,” he said.
NBC’s local media operation has hired about 55 people to create original content and filter the Web. A test version of the Chicago site last week linked to The Chicago Sun-Times, USA Today, TMZ and the local blog Chicagoist. The sites do not distinguish between the articles written by their own staff members and the links to outside sites.
“If we can provide them great content, that’s wonderful. If it comes from somebody else, that’s fine, too,” Mr. Buchwald said.
As simple as that sounds, it represents an attitude shift. While linking to other sources is not a new occurrence by any means, it can still seem misguided to journalists who work vigorously to break a story ahead of other news outlets.
Mr. Karp believes the use of blogs by news organizations has helped newsroom managers accept that filtering the Web for visitors is a valuable editorial function. For bloggers, linking to original reporting, primary sources and discussions about stories is a form of etiquette, assigning credit to others who have written about a topic.
Now, if only the Chicago Tribune would start to use permalinks, and open up their archive to articles from their long history. Even if it is only for subscribers, like Harpers, The Nation, and The New York Times (and others) do.
Compact discs and modern digital mastering techniques have been a sore spot with us for a while1, and the obnoxious density of sound has only gotten worse. I’m long since past the age of being part of Metallica’s demographic2, but perhaps they will listen to their fans. Do they really want to be like those annoying television commercials that blare you out of your seat when the show breaks? Similar principle: remove all silence from the audio spectrum, and the sound gets louder, and more annoying.
“Death Magnetic”” is a flashpoint in a long-running music-industry fight. Over the years, rock and pop artists have increasingly sought to make their recordings sound louder to stand out on the radio, jukeboxes and, especially, iPods.
But audiophiles, recording professionals and some ordinary fans say the extra sonic wallop comes at a steep price. To make recorded music seem louder, engineers must reduce the “dynamic range,” minimizing the difference between the soft and loud parts and creating a tidal wave of aural blandness.
“When there’s no quiet, there can be no loud,” said Matt Mayfield, a Minnesota electronic-music teacher, in a YouTube video that sketched out the battle lines of the loudness war. A recording’s dynamic range can be measured by calculating the variation between its average sound level and its maximum, and can be visually expressed through wave forms. Louder recordings, with higher average sound levels, leave less room for such variation than quieter ones.
Some fans are complaining that “Death Magnetic” has a thin, brittle sound that’s the result of the band’s attempts in the studio to make it as loud as possible. “Sonically it is barely listenable,” reads one fan’s online critique. Thousands have signed an online petition urging the band to re-mix the album and release it again.
Ted Jensen, the album’s mastering engineer, got quoted as saying he wasn’t too proud of being associated with this release. What’s more telling, is there was another version released for a video game console, and it sounds much better ((allegedly: I haven’t listened to either version, though this dude listened to the studio verison)
The battle has roots in the era before compact discs. With vinyl records, “it was impossible to make loud past a certain point,” says Bob Ludwig, a veteran mastering engineer. But digital technology made it possible to squeeze all of the sound into a narrow, high-volume range. In addition, music now is often optimized for play on the relatively low-fidelity earbuds for iPods, reducing incentives to offer a broad dynamic range.
The loudness war began heating up around the time CDs gained popularity, in the early 1980s. Guns N’ Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction” upped the ante in 1987, as did Metallica’s 1991 “Black Album” and then the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication” in 1999.
Music released today typically has a dynamic range only a fourth to an eighth as wide as that of the 1990s. That means if you play a newly released CD right after one that’s 15 years old, leaving the volume knob untouched, the new one is likely to sound four to eight times as loud. Many who’ve followed the controversy say “Death Magnetic” has one of the narrowest dynamic ranges ever on an album.
Sound engineers say artists who insist on loudness paradoxically give people less to hear, because they end up wiping away nuances and details. Everything from a gently strummed guitar to a pounding snare drum is equally loud, leading to what some call “ear fatigue.” If the listener turns down the volume knob, the music loses even more of its punch.
at least three blog posts that I remember writing, but am too lazy to look for at the moment [↩]
though I used to own their first three albums, and saw them perform two or three times in the 1980s [↩]
Fascinating overview of the 21st phenomena of Digital Intimacy1 by Clive Thompson in Sunday’s NYT Magazine. I’m old and crusty enough to still be an old-fashioned introvert, but I’ve certainly exposed and expressed my thoughts to a much wider audience in the last couple of years than all my college years combined2.
Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye. Facebook is no longer alone in offering this sort of interaction online. In the last year, there has been a boom in tools for “microblogging”: posting frequent tiny updates on what you’re doing. The phenomenon is quite different from what we normally think of as blogging, because a blog post is usually a written piece, sometimes quite long: a statement of opinion, a story, an analysis. But these new updates are something different. They’re far shorter, far more frequent and less carefully considered. One of the most popular new tools is Twitter, a Web site and messaging service that allows its two-million-plus users to broadcast to their friends haiku-length updates — limited to 140 characters, as brief as a mobile-phone text message — on what they’re doing. There are other services for reporting where you’re traveling (Dopplr) or for quickly tossing online a stream of the pictures, videos or Web sites you’re looking at (Tumblr). And there are even tools that give your location. When the new iPhone, with built-in tracking, was introduced in July, one million people began using Loopt, a piece of software that automatically tells all your friends exactly where you are.
This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.,” as Haley described it to me, an invisible dimension floating over everyday life.
As far as following people I don’t know: I learned from Flickr to be careful who I follow, otherwise the data stream becomes overwhelming. I’m usually not interested in baby photos of strangers, nor of parties I’m not invited to filled with people I’ve never met. Still, I know a lot more about acquaintances and friends from the past than I ever thought feasible, or enjoyable, and I’m quite delighted with the interconnectiveness of it all.
Oh, and for me, twitter became interesting after I:
1. connected it to my cellphone, but not getting updates every time somebody posted, just so that I could post while bored in waiting rooms and in airports, yadda yadda.
2. started using a third party application instead of the twitter webpage (I use the free version of twitterific, there are other clients)
Artists such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails recently enjoyed huge publicity windfalls by distributing their music for free on-line, but they’ve got a way to go before catching up to Brazilian singer Gilberto Gil as digital visionaries.
Long before peer-to-peer file sharing turned the music world into a free-for-all, Gil was distributing his songs on the Internet.
He launched his own Web site in 1996, began streaming his music for listeners to audition, and officially released the first song by Brazilian artist through the new medium. It was a stage in a journey that has obsessed him for a half-century. In the ‘60s he wrote the song “Electric Brain,” which presaged his Internet breakthrough three decades later, and his latest album is titled “Banda Larga” (Warner), or “The Broad Band,” in part a manifesto for a more democratic future driven by technology.
“It has been a dream of mine for a long time, this world we live in now,” Gil said in an interview from his office in Brazil. “It is a natural outcome, a world in which technology allows universal access. It makes music and tools available to large parts of society that didn’t have that kind of access before.”
That “natural outcome” is still a few years off from reaching the poorest of the poor in Brazil, a vast country in which many citizens in the remote interior still do not have electricity, let alone computers.
Which is why Gil, in his latest guise as his country’s minister of culture, is spearheading a project to ensure that each child in the country has a laptop within the next few years.
Viva Mr. Gil! Computer technology has been a commodity long enough so that the basic building materials are available for pennies. Why shouldn’t access to computers be a basic human right?
“The electronic culture is our future, and it needs to be open to everyone as quickly as possible,” he says. “I consider it my main goal as a politician.”
It’s not a role one would’ve predicted for Gil. In the ‘60s, he and fellow iconoclast Caetano Veloso were thrown out of Brazil by the dictatorial government for making music that openly questioned the status quo. Gil, Veloso and a handful of young artists led the subversive Tropicalia movement, which melded Brazilian sounds with rock and avant-garde music. Tropicalia embraced hybrids of seemingly incompatible styles, and tacitly celebrated the multiracial makeup of Brazil’s population. It was a time when music played a critical role in pushing a nation forward, at great personal risk.
Creating Facebook applications is not a panacea, not an overtly quick route to developer riches, fame, and having 37,000 friends. No, the app has to actually do something useful first.
In May 2007, Facebook Inc. invited software developers to create free software programs that members of the social-networking site could use to entertain and inform each other.
A year later, it’s time to ask: What has worked and what hasn’t?
There’s plenty to pick from. So far, more than 250,000 developers have requested the Palo Alto, Calif., company’s tools for building such applications. And more than 24,000 programs have been created, allowing Facebook users to send each other virtual hugs, share movie picks and play games, among other things.
For some of those developers, the applications have become viable businesses. Companies drawing large numbers of users to the Facebook Web pages associated with their applications are able to sell advertising or even goods or services there. For others, the applications are helping to raise their profile and user ranks of existing operations.
But many more have tried and failed, unable to gain or keep a following. Creating catchy applications is becoming more challenging as the number of applications vying for users’ attention grows and their sophistication increases. Meanwhile, some early tactics used to gain wide reach are being eliminated by Facebook because their intrusiveness drew complaints.
“Entrepreneurs need to ask themselves, ‘What is the problem I’m trying to solve? What is the need I’m trying to address?’ ” says Ben Ling, director of platform marketing at Facebook. “The Facebook platform is not a magic platform and you can plug in anything and it will be successful. It doesn’t make something that’s not useful useful.”
The top 1% of applications accounted for two-thirds of all application activity in the nine months since Facebook introduced the platform, according to a study of Facebook applications published in March by O’Reilly Media Inc., a technology-focused publishing company in Sebastopol, Calif. And only 200 applications hosted more than 10,000 users a day. About 60% of applications failed to attract even 100 daily users.