Monthly Archives: October 2006

Owning words

Steven Berlin Johnson has an interesting little piece in the NYT Review of Books, where he discusses how words acquire meaning – or, rather how online definitions of words acquire meaning over time, thanks to the perpetual ephemerality of online material. Definitions by Googlerank. Recommended.

PS: The NYT has come up with an alternative view ("Single Page") for those of us who like to see the whole article at once. Previously, you could use the "Print" version, but that would strip out pictures and diagrams and make the page less readable on screen. Smart.

PSPS: If I were to follow SBJ’s viewpoints here, I should probably have written the first PS as a separate blog entry, titled "Single Page". Oh well. Guess someone else will have to carry the burden of defining it…

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Firefox 2.0

Firefox logoFirefox 2.0 has been released and has more than 2 million downloads in 24 hours. Including mine.

The main updates seem to be in more RSS functionality, a tastefully updated UI (including better tabbed browsing), and the ability to restore work sessions. The latter feature is one I will appreciate – when you work researching something and your computer freezes, being able to bring up all the tabs again is reassuring. (Haven’t tested this yet, luckily, but I am sure I will in the not-to-distant future.)

Firefox can sometimes be a memory hog – hopefulle this has been fixed in the new version. 

Seamless install and transition from earlier version, as usual with Mozilla applications. Highly recommended.

Update: Slashdotters (some, at least) think 2.0 inferior to 1.5. So far, I disagree.

Okaysellers

New word alert: Theresa Nielsen Hayden has a great observation on the publishing industry – saying that the important thing is not to search for the elusive bestseller but rather to have many "okaysellers".

Makes sense from an economist’s view, I suppose – with low marginal cost, easy distribution and no expiry date there might be more money in finding new books at low acquisition and marketing cost than in the ad-driven lottery tickets we call best-sellers.

One of Theresa’s commenters points out that the original Wall Street Journal article actually does not say what Theresa says it says, but rather the opposite….at least in the conclusion. Another commenter says that it is what is in the beginning of the article that is important, since nobody reads the article to the end….

As my friend Eirik has pointed out in his discussions (can’t find the link) of the Norwegian publishing industry: What is fascinating is how the whole industry discusses markets and economics without introducing numbers. It should be trivial to get a view of what books are selling over time – Tim O’Reilly can show the way – and then the discussion could start from fact rather than feeling.

Then again, most publishing employees seem to be in it less for the numbers than the words. They like it like that.

One step closer to IT in the wall socket

Data Center containerNick Carr has an interesting post about Sun’s new data-center-in-a-container, or trailer park computing, as he calls it. (Sun calls it the Blackbox.) If you have power and electricity, here are up to 245 servers (presumably, Suns running Solaris) and you can have computing on demand in a very literal sense.

I think this is less important as a product than as a physical prototype for services yet to come. There aren’t that many companies that need rent-a-centers for shorter periods, and those who do can probably do much with dynamic server sharing or perhaps farming some of it off to offerings such as Amazon’s S3 service. But the thinking that went into the configuration and customer interface for the computing container will represent a very significant step on the way to IT as utility, delivered through sockets in the wall (or, for that matter, wirelessly.) What is available in hardware will be emulated in software, eventually.

Update: Bob Cringely has some good comments and the history of how Sun was started. He thinks there is a market for a couple hundred of these boxes, Sneakernet fashion.

Chris Short to the rescue

Chris Short in his workshopI have previously written about Tobi Oetiker, who fixed a Palm software error, then made the fix available on the web as a service. I have now found someone who fixes Palm hardware: Chris Short, pictured here at his workbench. When I was in the US in November last year, I bought a Palm M505 (I think, the color version) from Chris (on eBay) for daughter no. 1. She is using it (with a fold-out keyboard) as a note-taker in her International Relations studies.

My wife has had a Palm Vx for ages, also with a keyboard. It was dying (battery wouldn’t hold the charge, the touch-screen was responding only intermittently,) so I fired off an email to Chris on the off-chance that he might have another Palm for sale.

Chris responded immediately, saying that a better way (especially since I didn’t want to shell out for a new fold-out keyboard) would be to mail the Vx to him, recondition it (new screen and battery, clean-up) and then he would send it back. I so did, sent if off two weeks ago. It arrived back here in the northern corner of Europe yesterday. Screen and battery is new, all the old peripherals work great, and the total charge comes to $49, including international postage.

It turns out Chris is running this as a business, and has gotten good reviews on the web. I can only declare myself in agreement, and start to think about whether I don’t want to exchange that Ericsson P910 I am carting around with a used M505. You just can’t beat the form factor and usability – and the service from people like Chris. 

Highly recommended. Incidentally, Chris hasn’t gotten around to setting up a home page yet, but his email is ips at chartermi.net. And if you Google for "Chris Short Palm" you’ll find find him easily.