Monthly Archives: August 2005

Movable Type 3.2

…is now installed (after some messing around), and it is a much larger big step forward than the 3.18 to 3.2 decimal increase indicates. The interface is cleaner, a number of bugs are fixed (for the first time for me, Preview works,) there is a facility to choose your own post URLs (thus greatly increasing searchability) and many great features useful for administrators (such as SpamLookup and multi-blog administration) is now available as standard. Highly recommended!

Vacations vs. SUVs

Interesting little discussion of why Europeans have long holidays and Americans not. High tax rates and/or collective bargaining caused it – though that leaves the question of why Europe got into collective bargaining agreements in the first place. And we are back to the fact that America was built by the people who upped sticks and left – largely on their own – whereas industrial Europe was shaped by the people who chose to remain and stick together. And bargain collectively.
Going for longer holidays rather than more pay made people stick together – give people more money and they tend to become individualistic about it, save it or lose it, thus increasing heterogeneity. Mandatory holidays kept the workers together and reduced internal competition, thus preserving the collective mindset.
Anyway, I am rambling. Think I need a vacation. Again.

Crime and speech

Very thorough and interesting paper from Eugene Volokh on Crime-facilitating speech – that is, where (and how) do you draw the line between free speech and speech that should be banned because it facilitates crime. Many examples, from flashing your lights to warn approaching cars about a speed control to publishing nuclear secrets.
I particulary enjoyed the up-to-date references to computer technology and software – there aren’t many law professors (and even fewer regulators) who can discuss law and technology to this level.
An interesting aspect here might be how the revlution in information access changes the rules – since anything published can be instantly found on the Internet (thus removing obscurity as a defence), this would argue for a limitation of certain rights of speech. On the other hand, rapid publishing might be a good defence against evolving crime – such as publishing software insecurities so users can block them, which will also alert criminals and expose the users who don’t block immediately to an increased risk.
Anyway, I never thought I would see the term “script kiddies” in a serious academic paper, especially in law, so this was welcome.
(Via Ed Felten)

Time for a Googleizer?

Everybody is speculating about Google at present, with Sidebar and especially GoogleTalk “pushing the competition towards interoperability” as Bob Cringely phrases it.
I like Google – how can you not, as an academic, like a company that has mission of “organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful.” This is something that a Ph.D. (and that is what they are hiring) can sign up for.
One interesting aspect of Google is that with $6.5b in the bank (assuming their recent drive succeeds) and an economic model with little marketing cost, relatively falling cost of production and a lot of developers who may not all be in it for the money, could actually do this, even if the ad market should tank.
The current stream of innovations from Google are partially driven off network externalities – you need a gmail account to do most things, your online behavior is monitored off that, the results are sold to advertisers, and as long as Google behaves (in the sense that they do not do things that are directly detrimental to their customers’ web experience or gross violations of privacy) they have a nice little business model. (Incidentally, their recent change to having redirecting links rather than letting you copy the clean link directly from the search results may be one instance where the company has sacrifized customer usefulness for improved tracking capability.) Each little piece further entangles us in their net, but since they are useful, we don’t mind and hardly notice.
Google seem to have understood that forcing vertical integration on their customers is counterproductive – hence most of their offerings allow you to swap out pieces for your personal preferences. For instance, you can install a plugin in your browser that gets rid of sponsored links in Google searches and the Adsense ads when you look at other pages. That is not a problem for Google, since very few people bother to install them. If Microsoft should install Google adblockers by default in the next update of Internet Explorer, on the other hand, it would be seen as the conspiracy of the Illuminati by the Slashdot crowd. Which it would be, in a sense. Unless you could turn off ads by other ad engines as well, including MSN.
Another interesting long-term challenge lies in the increased importance of the PageRank algorithm (and whatever permutations and adjustments since) as a driver of economic rent – at some point, Google’s dominant position as status ranker on the web might attract regulators and advocates for open source alike, demanding to know the details of what determines life and death in the Google search hierarchy. In a sense, Google might be Hoovered – their name so synonymous with an activity (net search) that they lose their ownership of their brand. If not in the literal sense, at least in terms of freedom to go whereever they want, also in time of economic need.
As for now, I am waiting to see Microsoft’s reaction to the danger that “Windows is slowly becoming a bunch of device drivers to run Google apps on,” to quote one enthusiast. It better lie in the realms of openness and innovation – or Microsoft could really become another IBM for a few years.
So far, Google does not seem to need a Googleizer the way Microsoft needed Scobleizer. But the demand is building, and a critical or at least unscripted voice from the inside and some statement of long-term direction would be nice now.
Assuming there is anyone in there, of course.

Curious blogspam

I keep getting a lot of blogspam with the email “” and with links to Google’s main site. Normally I would block any link that shows up in a blogspam, but I don’t want to block Google, and there are not other links there.
It is not a huge problem – the comments are forced to moderation by Spamlookup and never show up on the public site, but I wonder what the purpose of this blogspamming is. I doubt that Google would resort or even need to promote themselves by blogspamming, so is this some sort of campaign to block Google links from blog comments or just plain incompetence?

Google Talk continued

John Battelle discusses the importance of Google Talk offering interoperability between AOL IM, MSN, and ICQ, among others.
I have had partial interoperability for a long time, using an IM client called Trillian from Cerulean Studios. Trillian offers the ability to run all the instant messaging services through one client, which is important because people tend to be in different networks (my kids in MSN, former colleagues in ICQ or IM, current colleagues mostly in IM.) What Google Talk would offer in addition, I assume, is the ability to have multi-party chats with people in all those other networks, thus obviating the demand side network externalities which work for whoever has the largest market share (in each sub-segment). Given the trouble that Trillian has had keeping up with changes in the IM services, I have a hard time seeing MS opening up MSN to Google, but if enough people sign up for it, things might work out.
Which goes to show that interoperability forces its way through once enough people start using a service that is offered by several companies. Funny that MS hasn’t offered an MSN client that can talk to anyone a long time ago…..
(Incidentally, my Google Talk handle is, I suppose,

Lensless data projector

The NEC WT610 projector might be just the ticket for the home theatre – or perhaps meeting rooms, coffee areas and other places where heads and lights could get in the way of decent projection. I am sure the price and the size of the thing will go down after a while as well.

What I do wonder, looking into the future a bit, is whether this technology could be embedded in a laptop computer or something similar and become the screen – imagine a laptop smaller than the screen currently defining the clamshell format, which could project an image onto almost anything. Also, could this technology, given the good brightness characteristics, be used to increase resolution so that we could have really large and well defined displays projected onto office walls rather than using LCDs?


The Cucumber Season: Reflections on the Nature of Information when there isn’t any is a little snippet I wrote almost on a dare – after a discussion with John Gehl, he suggested the title almost as a joke, and I responded, almost as a joke.
Still, the concept of the “cucumber season” has hereby been introduced. Come to think of it, Norwegian hasn’t added that much to the English language, at least not since the Vikings (and possible with exceptions for skiing and seafaring terms.) About time “ombudsman” got competition.
Short update: Looks like the story about the absent-minded professor was about Norbert Wiener, not Claude Shannon (as per a number of emails). Nice to see that some people read Ubiquity, though….

Really portable computing

IBM has developed a portable computing environment to fit in a USB key (I assume in the Windows world), and Black Dog has created a USB key Linux server. And Synergy is a tool to manage two computers from one keyboard.
These things, especially if the content is semi-accessible through, say, an Ericsson P910 and a wireless keyboard, could turn out to be the new paradigm. The best portable computer may turn out to be no portable computer.
Jacking into the grid, indeed.

Linked out

I am a member of LinkedIn, a networking site with a distinctive business flair, as opposed to Friendster and Nokut/kornut/Orkut, which are more oriented towards socializing and dating.
LinkedIn is interesting because you discover people you once knew (former students/fellow students/colleagues/clients/acquiantances) and it enables you to find people you need to talk to. But there is a bit of a disconnect – getting invitations from people whom you have no idea who are and whom you have never met, but who wants to link up with you.
I am not sure how to deal with that – my instinct is not to let anyone into my LinkedIn network that I don’t know. I currently have 191 connections, which is semi-high (at least in Norway). Since I have lived and worked abroad and had a lot of students over the years, and live in the field of IT and consulting (which is full of people who use computer and who connect) it is probably normal. I have not resorted to spinning through my email adresses to bulk email people for connections, but I have searched former and current places of work.
The interesting thing, of course, is that LinkedIn really isn’t a social network, but a network of potential business and professional contacts. I still think you should know the people you connect to, at least know who they are and when you met them, but the threshold is much lower than for a normal social relationship.
This article by Lnace Ulanoff in PC Magazine expresses his frustration with LinkedIn – but this very long comment in the discussion really puts it right, methinks. LinkedIn is a tool for connection junkies. And that is all it is. It may be useful, it may be useless, but if you want to find people or be found by them, it is one tool among many.
Just as long as you are allowed to decline invitations and reject forwarding of really opportunistic messages to someone who wouldn’t read them if it wasn’t for them coming through you…..

Doctored up

The Swedish historian and author Peter Englund has a great – both in content and design – personal home page. The content is in Swedish, but the restrained and effective design is viewable by all.
I particularly fell for a sentence in his self-interview:

[…] doing a doctorate because you want the title is crazy. That’s like drinking Dry Martinis because you want olives. There are better and simpler ways to prove your worth.

Ain’t that the truth.

Plagiarism in an ACM publication

Bruce Schneier, renowned cryptography and security expert, has had personal experience of plagiarism, by three Pakistani academics in, of all things, an ACM publication. The reaction of ACM – seemingly, they have no policy about plagiarism and therefore cannot ban the authors from submitting again – seems rather strange to me.
I have some experience with plagiarism, though mostly by students. When teaching at night school some years ago, I caught half a class in plagiarizing, with some students expelled as a result – and I wrote a letter to CACM about the experience. In those days I had to sift through Lexis/Nexis to find the copied text.
Times have changed. At the Norwegian School of Management, we have started to run student papers through a tool called SafeAssignment which seems to work well – it gives me as a teacher a score for plagiarism for each paper submitted (matched against anything on the Web + all papers previously submitted to SafeAssignment). The match is “fuzzy”, and catches even those students who thought they could get things in by changing a just a few words.
Most of the effect is probably preventive – students refrain from plagiarizing for fear of being caught. But I have caught students plagiarizing with this tool and have also used it for control of suspicious papers. It is much less work-intensive than the “pick a prominent sentence and Google it” technique, and seems to catch most copying. Of course, you have to manually check every suspicious paper, since the score can be driven up by quite legitimate quoting.
But why stop at students? I think (as an ACM member and author) that ACM should institute as a policy that they run all received submissions through a tool like Turnitin or SafeAssignment – this will immediately catch flagrant plagiarism such as the one reported by Bruce. In fact, it would be a fun excercise to run all ACMs published papers through a plagarism tool – or, why not, every academic paper ever published….
Google’s strategy is to “organize the world’s information”. Eliminating plagiarism would be an interesting advancement of that strategy – after all, plagiarized material does not really add information, except about the plagiarizer. In the long run, we should have everything back to first normal form, with no copies – just links…..
(And yes, parts of this text is plagiarized from my own comment in Bruce’s blog. At least I acknowledge it, and have extended it….)

Snobbery snubbed

Julian Fellowes: Snobs
Picked up at an airport for light summer reading, this little novel about social climbers fits the bill, though I was a little disappointed. The main story is about Edith Lavery, a woman of middle class and high aspirations who marries into the landed aristocracy of England, to her later disappointment (her husband is crushingly dull). She is forced to choose between dull status and lively indistinction.
What she chooses really isn’t that important – it seems the author ran out of steam towards the end, anyway – but the writing has its moments. The chief character in the book is not Edith, who is rather shallowly portrayed, but the narrator, an actor who has been born into the right social circles (knows everyone from school etc.), has the right manners and strategies (the convoluted explanations of WHY everyone behaves as weirdly as they do carries much of the writing), but also knows life outside stately homes and Sloan Square.
Surprisingly, the aristocrats are portrayed rather sympathetically: They are secure in their positions, but rather narrow in their mindsets and occupations (maintaining their homes, hunting and farming, as well as being present at the requisite social functions). Their way of life is threatened, but they are too well-bred to notice. It is the social climbers that are skewered. One high point comes when the aristocrats are invited out to a fancy restaurant by someone who wants to impress, without knowing – as the narrator, of course, does – that certain people never goes to restaurants for fancy dinners, preferring to do that at home. The evening ends up as an expensive disaster for the host, though entertaining for the readers.
All in all, an enjoyable book, but not one I will re-read in the immediate future.

The open cellphone – podcast

Just listended, somewhat belatedly, to an excellent podcast hosted by Dan Bricklin, with John Sviokla interviewing Tom Evslin on his experiences within and outside large telecommunications companies.
This podcast pretty much sums up a lot of what I have written about myself about telecommunications strategy – the delayering of vertical integration as innovation happens at different rates in the various service layers that together form the service a customer wants to buy. Tom Evslin, of course, tells this with plenty of war stories and much better language, looking into a future where we all are our own telecom access providers (and charging spammers and spimmers for the priviledge of accessing us). And, contrary to many telecommunications commentators, he has a deep understanding of the differences between telecommunications markets in Europe, Asia and the United States, not only from the viewpoint of legislation and rules, but from actual results.
Just one example of many excellent points: Towards the end of the conversation, he is asked what advise he would give the existing mobile phone companies, and answers “Companies need to decide which horizontal layer they are going to excel at [….] while they still have money left [from the vertically integrated phase].”
Expect this podcast to feature as assigned material for my next course on technology strategy.