The Longest Now


Plagiarising satire as news
Sunday February 27th 2011, 8:31 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,international,metrics,Not so popular,Rogue content editor

Today the Tehran Times, an English-language paper based in Tehran, and other Iranian news sources, engaged in a bit of Internet journalism, copying some satire (‘Saudi king offers to buy Facebook for $150B to end revolt’) — down to a misspelling of Zuck’s name — into a summary of news on the King’s announced plans for social reform (providing cheap land for housing). This got its fifteen minutes of fame on forums and Twitter, enough to draw a brief official denial.

It’s not news that minor news agencies can be too busy to check facts or worry about copyright, but you’d think they would be more sensitive to satire. All I have to say is: Freshrant made the joke first.



Cat Shit One
Wednesday February 23rd 2011, 12:32 am
Filed under: fly-by-wire,indescribable,Too weird for fiction

Motofumi Kobayashi’s infamous “metal gear bunny” comic about USA GIs in the Vietnam War (released in the US as Apocalypse Meow) is now a slickly produced animated series. It is a careful 3D rendering of the original, bloodless body count and all.



Wikipedia loves editors: 2011 campaigns?
Saturday February 05th 2011, 10:16 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,fly-by-wire,Glory, glory, glory,popular demand,wikipedia

Wikimedia had a terribly successful fundraising campaign ths year, with a team of stats-loving traffic and feedback analysts learning a lot about our reading audience and how to connect with them. There was diverse support for the idea of running some banners to promote donating time and expertise and edits as well as money, and some general-purpose “discover Wikimedia” banners were run the first week of January, but this was soon overtaken by preparations for the (wickedly fun) 10th anniversary celebrations.

We should do more of this. The idea of inviting people more explicitly to edit, and running campaigns dedicated to this, is more fundamental to the nature of Wikipedia than fundraising itself. We should be thinking about all year round, spending as much time and effort campaigning for meaningful content contributions as we have for funds.

What would that look like? Here is one idea: WikiProjects could be encouraged to write copy for their own banners, from a hook to a detailed call for what they need. These would be run for a % of new visitors proportional to the project’s capacity to absorb new contributors. A few generic projects would be geared up for a larger influx of editors, and established editors would be asked to help work with those newbies (and to set up comfort zones where they can find and help one another).

The generic projects would ramp up slowly; with one month’s newbies helping welcome those who came the next month. Some new policies regarding working with newbies would need to be proposed on the major wikis, possibly with a group like the original Fire Brigade dedicated to helping the ambassadors and welcomers with the extra load. And the specific WikiProjects could continue to draw in as many new editors as they want, and could try out different messages to attract just the right sort of reader (including efforts at targetting specific kinds of readers).

What do you think? How would you reach out to readers if you could change the way the site looks? (What ever happened to the idea of highlighting the “edit this page” tab?) Over 1% of people who saw the best fundraising messages clicked through them — imagine what we could do if we showed all of those people that they could really edit.



Random Hacks of Kindness — hacking subverted?
Thursday February 03rd 2011, 7:00 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,fly-by-wire,null,Rogue content editor,Uncategorized

RHOK has a great name (if only an OK acronym) and sweet mandate: hacking to save the world. They work with Crisis Commons and other grassroots groups, organizing physical meetings to hack for two days with a competition theme (prizes for the best hacks). Great, right?

But is this a meme whose time has come, that’s been subverted by people who aren’t hackers? How will it change over time? The proof may be in the results, but the corporate firepower lined up behind this project, and the vagueness of how its organizing takes place, make me wonder. From a recent NPR piece on the project:

Patrick Svenburg, a director for Microsoft and a co-founder of Random Hacks of Kindness, says it was a little risky at first.

“We threw all cautions to the wind, and we got a little group of people together in November of 2009 at the first hackathon in Silicon Valley,” he says. “About 100 people showed up. I didn’t get fired; nobody got fired. It was a nice experiment.”

Indeed. More than 20 cities took part in RHOK #2, so let’s hope it continues to thrive.



Mapping global communities
Thursday January 27th 2011, 1:41 am
Filed under: fly-by-wire,Glory, glory, glory,international,metrics,wikipedia

We’ve been working on a few different visualizations of the OLPC community around the world.  The most enjoyable and colorful is olpcMAP, a collaborative mashup designed by Nick Doiron that blossomed after last month’s map sprint.  (Nick is an avid map hacker and long-time OLPC volunteer who has also written the popular Map activity for offline Map-creation and -marking using XOs.)

Before this map was launched, the sorts of global visualizations we had were limited to large established groups (mapping chapters and major deployments), average statistics by region, or thousands of scattered individuals without a coherent feel.  olpcMAP combines this with personal and class projects from hackers and teachers around the world, adds search and an API for reuse, and feels above all approachable.

At the moment you can import JSON data and can choose between Google Maps and OSM layers.  The search matches both on locations on the map and on keywords used in marker descriptions. It is designed around the Google App Engine, and the growing olpcMAP API lets you request images, iframes, or KML to use this as  backend for further remixing (say, embedding a screenshot or overlay of part of the map elsewhere on the web).

You can browse the olpcMAP code and try setting up your own instance.  The framework is quite general, and it is straightforward to brand it for other communities.

I would love to see this sort of map of Wikimedians around the world, for instance — I suspect that we would see a very different picture of ourselves as a community than our current self-image.  The distribution of 10th Anniversary events this month was a first step in this direction, and was a surprise to many people.

And it would be amazing to see comparative maps of different global communities — Firefox users, Ubuntu hackers, Red Cross volunteers — using this model.   If you’ve tried to set up your own olpcMAP instance (if this becomes a general community-mapping framework, perhaps we should pick a more universal name), or have features you would love to see implemented, please let us know.



On parenting and love and expectations
Thursday January 13th 2011, 4:24 am
Filed under: %a la mod,fly-by-wire,metrics

An interesting parenting discussion is underway on Quora. There’s primarily a focus in these conversations on performance, knowledge, and skill; with a few asides on inspiration and creation.

The anecdotes in question are too general to say anything about genius and will, though I have similar questions there — William James Sidis is on my mind. (ᔥBoingBoing)



My blackberry is not working!
Wednesday January 05th 2011, 11:23 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,fly-by-wire,Glory, glory, glory,Rogue content editor

For my mother.



Brilliant US political satire… from Taipei
Thursday November 04th 2010, 3:54 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,fly-by-wire,international,metrics,poetic justice

NMAtv gives the secret DailyShow cabal a saucy McRibbing. (Hat tip to the show for calling it out.)



Rice University losing its wallet or its mind?
Tuesday September 14th 2010, 4:04 am
Filed under: chain-gang,fly-by-wire,Not so popular

The Rice University administration seems to be having a very bad summer. A few weeks ago, they secretly planned the sale of KTRU, their nationally-renowned independent campus radio station. They ‘managed to keep their ongoing negotiations completely quiet until about 12 hours before the sale was approved by Houston’s Board of Trustees’. I didn’t realize until today that the sale was considered final — students have been protesting since it became public, and the administration has offered no explanation.

Now last week they leaked the news hinting they would shutting down their promising digital Rice University Press contradicting the will of RUP’s Board of Directors. This, after commissioning an external review that recommended supporting it and integrating it better into the Library and related services — and again, with no public explanation.

I have fond memories of Rice University — I studied there during high school; they supported Connexions in its infancy; friends of mine teach there. (I try not to hold the whole Sidis incident against them.) So it pains me deeply to see this wanton self-destruction. I can’t imagine what they stand to gain from either move — they will lose any money from the sale to discontented KTRU alumni from the radio’s 40-year history. (No one seems willing to support that sale — here is a petition from 350 concerned UH alumni in support of keeping the radio station at Rice.) What gives?



Afghanistan memos
Monday July 26th 2010, 6:37 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,indescribable,international

Not papers, but still: Wow. (The Guardian on Wikileaks; later picked up by most major media) Wikileaks is now a bona fide cultural phenomenon, discussed seriously by political, military, and academic leaders.

And to think I made fun of the logo when it came out.



Citizendium: failure to thrive, in search of peace
Friday July 23rd 2010, 8:59 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,fly-by-wire,metrics,wikipedia

After early months of interest and glory — peaking in a spike in mailing list traffic that was moderated for being too active — Citizendium’s growth all but shut down levelled off and has declined steadily since 2008.   Now it is looking for a long-term home.

I have mixed feelings about Citizendium.  I was excited about it in 2006 — at first blush, it offers a serious alternative for expert editors who want to contribute to free knowledge but feel unappreciated or unwelcome at Wikipedia.  And in general, compatibly-licensed alternatives to Wikipedia are a very good thing – the whole point of using free licenses is to encourage reuse.   But to succeed on the scale of its original dreams, Citizendium must overcome its insularity and make good on its core promise of quality.  Not unlike Wikipedia, it is currently known as much for its humorous highlights as for its best work.  And it faces the same problems with difficult and misguided editors — some who have quite solid credentials — only with a much smaller community to handle that workload.

I still hope for a proliferation of cousin projects, all competing to find the best way to spur collaboration around free knowledge.  There is so much to explore in the way of how to create welcoming communities for different audiences of writers and creators.  Community atmosphere, and a limitation in the types of knowledge that can be easily shared, are among Wikipedia’s major bottlenecks.   It is welcoming to a narrow[ing?] audience, and if this does not change it may face its own dramatic slowdown in participation – more joyful models are welcome.  (My recent favorite, in style, tools, and atmosphere: fotopedia.)

The questions that inspire Citizendium remain:  How can we expand collaborative production of educational works to topics that require rare expertise in a field?  How can we verify new works as quickly as they are produced, and how much does this speed depend on the commonality of the knowledge involved?  
(more…)



EveryTopicInTheUniverseExcept…
Sunday December 28th 2008, 4:23 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,Uncategorized

I am constantly amazed by the froward march of technology · to a beat · you can’t touch.     So when it was decided to solve the world’s problems by allowing children and people to collaborate on every topic in the world, except war, I thought that was pretty fantastic.  OLPC is a step in that direction – Much as I have tried to do every imaginable thing with my XO,  war is right there in the small of my conceptual back that I just can’t scratch… even with the XO’s ears locked pointy-side out.

So you can Imagine my delight when that most famous of all Beatles, childhood idol John Lennon, dropped by to support this idea.  And this wasn’t any John Lennon, it was Reanimated John Lennon, the most accomodating instance of John Lennon in the known universe (easily identifiable by the glint of sunlight passing across his cheek when he grins).

He was captured on tape speaking reanimatedly about changing the world.  Spooky!  Before I could catch him to ask about the skills of peace, he was gone.



Simson on Wikihechos
Monday November 10th 2008, 11:03 am
Filed under: fly-by-wire,Uncategorized

Simson Garfinkel recently penned a meandering piece on Wikipedia and Truth which never gets at the heart of either subject.

Wikipedia does not claim to define truth, and tries to avoid doing more than describing what others see as truth — which could lead to an interesting discussion of reflection, meta-levels of truth, the difference between truth and awareness, or between tight and loose asociation.  However, most of the words of this essay are spent describing mundane aspects of Wikihistory and article editing.  A familiar grapelike aroma permeates — the author confesses at one point being chastised for editing his own biography.

Natural contextual parallels — a discussion of the meaning and value of truth in various other media; modern press, journals, texts, lemmas, Theorems, and Laws — are not drawn.  When you digress to share the full history of Wikipedia and are limited to four pages, there isn’t much room for analysis.  But it does make me pine for a proper review of accuracy, precision, consistency, accountability, fact checking, reproducability, and reputation in the modern collective intelligence.  Much of what I read and hear today — from experts and amateurs alike — is partly misguided or misinformed.  (Experts tend to gloss over what is not known, or pretend recent disagreements don’t exist; amateurs tend to privilege new ideas and discoveries.)   In few places outside of math and hard science is there even a clear process for steady improvement with an eye towards closure, rather than simply expanding the heap of random facts on which contenders draw and the space in which they flail.

So let’s hear it for Truth and its pursuit, and those who care for it.  And let’s hope they draw useful inspiration from projects such as Wikipedia that identify a way for millions to do better than thousands, with room for iterative improvement.



Why I genuinely like John McCain
Friday October 17th 2008, 12:10 am
Filed under: fly-by-wire,indescribable,Uncategorized

…because he doesn’t mind when the chips are down, and can be mighty funny.

Bonus: When Photo Credits Go Bad :

Seen on the latimes blog : “Photo credit: Somebody who’s dead“. Why is it so hard to get these things right?  Isn’t this what photo archivists are for?



Drown, crash, blog : links and noise
Tuesday September 30th 2008, 10:55 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,fly-by-wire,popular demand,Uncategorized

the bailout bill1 Drowning Street : differentiating market performance from the health of the economy.

Bringing down the House : People cared deeply about the inner workings of the House of Reps surrounding Monday’s failed bill… their website bowed under the attention.

My friend Seth (of zombie infocalypse infamy). who has been working on content and community media for our educational laptops, has just started a part-time internship with Yochai Benkler‘s new research group, and migrated his blog to this server.  Welcome, Seth!  We’re lucky to still have him at OLPC.

Infoseek: Finally, people visiting this blog are searching for some fascinating things:

– “things you never knew existed”
– “the desire to understand”
– The c’t Wikipedia comparison post (still popular even in other languages)

and my favorite,

how does a hair dryer electrocute you



frightmotif: deleveraging and the veil of illusion
Thursday September 18th 2008, 3:50 am
Filed under: chain-gang,fly-by-wire,international,metrics,poetic justice,Uncategorized

Our interconnected global economy is built on the illusion of trust.  Gautama himself would be impressed by how far we have advanced the texture of societal illusion.  While there are certainly many non-illusory sources of trust, the trust most modern men have in our financial instruments and currencies is based on a blind association of “interest rates”, “inflation”, “market valuation” and similar concepts with a hazy set of economic laws, as though they were fundamental laws in the sense that one discoveres Mathematical or Physical Laws.   Not social norms that could change on short notice; not starting rules of nomic games of risk and manipulation; not Massively Multilayered Online Resource-Permuting Guidelines, hundreds of indirections removed from the original social norm of personal credit and unenforcable on any large scale.  They are perceived instead as Laws, discoverable and immutableNot quite.

For better or worse, we live in fascinating times.  Thanks to this motif of fright, many once-in-a-lifetime financial decisions are being made every day.  A few recent moves by the US Federal Reserve Bank, striving to maintain order:

  • Sunday: an unprecedented 4-hour Sunday afternoon org-to-org trading session, part of “last-ditch efforts to prevent toxic assets from ailing Lehman Brothers spilling into global markets and rupturing investor faith in the international financial system”.   The result: only $1B in trades, slightly less panic the following day, and a loosening of the shared global trust in unwavering financial regulation.
  • Sunday night?: Banks are told they may use deposits to fund their investment bank subsidiaries, flaunting Federal Reserve Act Section 23A. potentially stabilizing failing banks at the cost of risk to individual investors.
  • Monday: a ‘dramatic loosening’ of the standard for federal loans to banks, potentially stabilizing them at the cost of dramatically increased risk of government losses.  Meanwhile, the US Treasury’s S&P AAA rating is vulnerable. Shared global trust in regulation dips.
  • Tuesday: The Fed lends $85B to AIG, after refusing them $20B over the weekend.  True, AIG isn’t a bank, but see FRA Section 13(3).  AIG uses ‘all of its assets’ as collateral, giving the Fed an 80% stake.
  • Tuesday: the FDIC feels the crunch, says it’s ok for a while, but makes a medium-term request for a $500B line of credit.  Why?  Well, while there are over $6,000B in bank deposits in the US, more than half of them FDIC insured, banks report less than $300B cash on hand. And the FDIC reserve is down to $45B, only enough to cover ~15% of the difference in case of a widespread bank run.
  • Wednesday: Banks may count goodwill as capital when meeting regulatory requirements for capital onhand.  This allows a deepening of the leveraging of assets of troubled banks, which only caused trouble during the S&L crisis; what’s different now?
  • Thursday: After three Reserve Fund money market accounts drop below $1 a share, Putnam‘s Prime Money Market Fund shuts down to avoid losses.  It’s been a while.
  • Friday: The Treasury pulls out a few more stops and assigns the $50B in the Exchange Stabilization Fund to current money market funds.

Updates as the week progresses.  The large market swings are reminiscent of the month before Black Monday… so stay tuned, relax, stick to insured banks, and (remind your loved ones to) stay out of the stock market.

Liquidity pyramid diagrams, fractional reserves, and other comments below the fold. (more…)



Story Jam New York – Storytelling for all
Wednesday March 26th 2008, 10:20 pm
Filed under: fly-by-wire,Glory, glory, glory,international

Please come to the first US storytelling jam, at UNICEF HQ in Manhattan, this Fri-Sun.  We begin Friday night at 6 with introductions and drinks, and continue through an intense schedule Saturday (10-10) and Sunday (10-6), wrapping up in the late afternoon.  I hope to see all of you New Yorkers there, and folks from the region; there are a handful of us coming up from Boston in the afternoon if anyone from these parts wants to travel together.

Topics will include storytelling itself, storyboarding of great ideas, how to run a storyboarding session with children, thoughts on interviews by and of children, how to learn to interview others, capturing personal stories for the OurStories project, and code and designwork needed to improve the above.




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