The Longest Now

Google to cancel its translate API, citing ‘extensive abuse’
Saturday May 28th 2011, 10:19 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,Not so popular,null,wikipedia

Google’s APIs Product Manager Adam Feldman announced on Thursday they will cancel the Google translate API by December, without replacing it, and that all use of it will be throttled until then.  Any reusers or libraries relying on the translate API to programmatically provide a better multilingual experience will have to switch over to another translation service.  (Some simple services will still be available to users, such as, but APIs will not be available to developers of other sites, libraries, or services.)

Update: As of June 3, Google says that in response to the outcry, they plan to make a paid version of the translate API available. No details yet on what that will look like.

Ouch.  This is a sudden shift, both from their strong earlier support for this API (I was personally encouraged to use it for applications by colleagues at Google), and from their standing policy of supporting deprecated services for up to 3 years.   What could have spooked them?  Why the rush? As of today, the Translate API page reads:

The Google Translate API has been officially deprecated as of May 26, 2011. Due to the substantial economic burden caused by extensive abuse, the number of requests you may make per day will be limited and the API will be shut off completely on December 1, 2011.

Most disappointing to me is the way this announcement was released: buried in a blog post full of minor “Spring Cleaning” updates to a dozen other APIs.  Most of the other deprecated APIs were replaced by reasonable equivalents or alternatives, and were being maintained indefinitely with limits on the rate of requests per user.  None of them is being cancelled within six months, and none of them are half as widely used!

I hope that this obfuscation was an unintentional oversight.  There have been 170 irate replies to that post so far, almost all about the Translate API cancellation.  But it has been three days already without any significant update from Feldman or any mention of the change on the Google Translate blog.  Google’s response to a ZDNet inquiry was that they have no further information to provide on why they made this decision.


2011 Naked Emperor Oscars

From Zapiro‘s genius sketchbook.

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.

The Andy Kaufman of bloggers?
Wednesday October 13th 2010, 2:57 pm
Filed under: indescribable,Not so popular,Too weird for fiction,Uncategorized,wikipedia

Luke Ford is the most bizarre person I’ve come across in a long time.  (Update, 2012: still is!)  Reading his personal journal suggests he is a cross between Andy Kaufman, Sam Sloan, and Woody Allen… with a pinch of dissociation and a journalists reflection on his own life journey.  The characters he writes about one believes are all being quoted and transcribed verbatim.

// I believe in chocolate,” she says. “And not much else. It’s definitely pretty scary.//

What seem to be entire unedited photosets of his (many different versions of each portrait) have been uploaded to Commons. When does a photographer sharing their photos cross the line from “publishing productively to the Commons” to “using Commons as a personal photo hosting service”? Do we want to duplicate Flickr’s functionality for any freely-licensed images, and if so, what will that end up costing? Flickr already hosts many times the current Commons capacity in CC-BY and CC-SA photos, this would be a significant shift in our use of infrastructure.

I happen to have come across Ford’s work because he has a large personal category on Commons, and was linked from a discussion of controversial content; are there other photogs (with other topical focus) who also have thousands of their own photos there?

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?

New photos York style, and mesh completionism
Wednesday September 01st 2010, 1:40 am
Filed under: chain-gang,indescribable,metrics,Not so popular,SJ

While still recovering from a Rein’s Deli hangover, I found myself the subject of the Ragesoss lens last weekend.   Good energy, well captured.

@Ragesoss: It is a mathematical notion applied to ideas. A conceptual space around a theme is full of different concepts, each related to the theme in some way. Such a space can be described in terms of facets that can be used to describe a concept: for instance, you might describe ideas for laying out a garden in terms of their complexity, suitable climate, or total size… or many others. Complexity and size are sometimes linked. You can imagine the conceptual span of a set of facets, or their dependency on one another, as corrolaries of the span and independence of vectors being used as the basis for an abstract space.

A mesh is a limited set of elements that can be used to effectively describe an infinite space of ideas.  Human languages are full of concept meshes.  The easiest to discuss are one-dimensional meshes (ideas that span the spectrum of a single facet):

  • color words – the spectrum of visible colors is split into a set of common colors.  this set of names is a casual mesh for the visible color spectrum. (casual in that there is no explicit metric used to determine whether all parts of the visible spectrum are ‘equally’ represented by words)
  • shape words – shapes may be described as circular or oval, square or rectangular.  There is a humorous ‘proof’ that the only skew triangle has angles (45, 60, 75) – that all others are roughly equilateral, isoceles, or right.

Higher-dimensional meshes include texture words (smooth, rough, bumpy, prickly, soft, firm, sticky… – covering facets of friction, give, tangible local structure, and more).  Most higher-dimensional meshes in language are incomplete (we rarely form words for concepts whose realizations are not in common use).

If you define a metric for the distance between two points on a spectrum, you can construct an “equally-spaced” subdivision of the space, or a balanced mesh.  This splits a space into a set of characteristic elements (here, concepts) or nodes which can be used to describe anything elsewhere in the space.

Choosing a metric is important and difficult.   For instance, once we found a way to measure color by the wavelength of its light, we could ask for enough common color words such that every frequency of visible light is no more than 50nm from the wavelength of one of the characteristic colors.  In practice, humans see different parts of the color spectrum with differing degrees of sensitivity, and we become familiar with certain constant colors in our environment .  So while the rendered spectrum does not devote much space to Yellow or Orange (in contrast with green and red), we have many more characteristic words for yellows and blues than a straight “wavelength subdivision” would suggest.

It is also difficult to define facets that are independent of one another; but this is not necessary.  It is mainly important for each facet to be easy to observe and agree on.

For a given metric, you can describe the fineness of a mesh in terms of the maximum distance from any concept to the closest characteristic element.  (or sometimes twice that distance – as a description of the “largest” concept that could “slip through” the mesh without including any of the characteristic elements.)  If you have different metrics for each facet, a synthetic combined metric must be created that is consistent with each.

A balanced mesh is then one in which the fineness of the mesh is essentially the same for all subsets of the conceptual space — so, a set of color words that provides equal facility in describing perceived colors at all points on the color spectrum.   (Again, a suitable metric here might be one that stretches out the spectrum in regions perceived very well by the human eye, or colors that come up frequently in human life — the latter a metric that changes with social context.)

One can often have a clear definition of a mesh without having words for some of its characteristic elements.   This happens often with a multifaceted space, where the intersection of well-known values of each facet is an unknown combination that has no word to describe it.   One common way of constructing a balanced mesh involves creating a balanced mesh for each facet, and then defining a concept for every combination of those single-facet ideas.  Building a “complete” set of characteristic concepts can be thought of as mesh completion.  It is a way of thoroughly grokking a space of related concepts.  And the fineness of the resulting mesh is a measure of how effectively one has used language, imagery, or other methods to illustrate the limitless variety possible within the constraints of that conceptual space.

(More after the jump…) (more…)

FSF outreach getting behind GPL projects
Tuesday January 23rd 2007, 12:25 pm
Filed under: Not so popular

Ethan says in a recent review of SL’s relicensing announcement:

I am arguing that someone like Charlie Nesson – who otherwise supports
open standards and open code – would be better off supporting open
alternatives to Second Life.

How about a group like the Free Software Foundation, which also emphatically supports open standards and open code?  [Note: they would surely prefer to replace “open” with “free” in that statement, for historical reasons] They are enthusisatic about the move by Linden, and are promoting it directly.  Do we need standards for how deeply one supports the tenets of freedom — the ability to split and recreate a system elsewhere — the way we needed standards for what it means to be “free software”?

Finally, a debate which hilariously highlights the troubles with Second Life, courtesy of Berkman luncheons and YouTube: Charlie v. Ethan, Round 1

Wikipedia content *sometimes* available
Sunday October 29th 2006, 11:09 pm
Filed under: Not so popular

The last available dump of the entire English Wikipedia is 10 weeks old.  Many dumps have been attempted since then, all have failed.  There is currently no way for an individual to sign up for incremental updates from the site, so the only option for updating one’s local dump/mirror/archive/testing-ground is to retrieve the entire thing from

XML dumps are not available from Wikimedia servers; you have to get a massive tarball — even though many people and most researchers will convert this to xml before doing anything further with it.  Other useful but unavailable dumps include: randomized subsets of en:wp and other languages, a dump of all commons images, a dump of all images used on en:wp or other language wp’s, whether on commons or not, a dump of any media uploaded in the past 11 months (latest dump here).  Worth noting: the images/ subdirectory on isn’t officially linked to from anywhere.

There are limits to use of information.  One is free copyright, one is free format, but before all of those is discovery and access to any version at all.  I hope these oversights are remedied soon.

Wikipedia content *sometimes* available …

Amazing WTO blog
Monday December 19th 2005, 4:21 am
Filed under: Not so popular

An amazing week-old blog with pages of content and links to some fabulous photo galleries, covering the Hong Kong WTO gathering, the public response, and the many facets of their repercussions.

Amazing WTO blog …

On anonymous contribution
Wednesday December 07th 2005, 1:19 pm
Filed under: Not so popular

On anonymous contribution …

Bad Behavior has blocked 536 access attempts in the last 7 days.