Oh the Irony, Dan Gillmor promoted via SV 100

I blogged earlier about my being in the Silicon Valley 100, a group generated by a marketing company to send out free stuff to hopefully influential folks. In that posting, I link to Dan Gillmor's reaction to the program, where he writes about how "spooky" it is to him. I didn't agree that it was that spooky, but there is a definite irony to the fact that I recently got a set of books via the SV100, and in that set was Dan's own book "We the Media."

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Suicide for the shock value, not the tactical value

On 9/11, we all wondered how 19 men had lived for a year among us and still given their lives to carry out such acts. Now people wonder even more at how young native British men would give their lives to kill random fellow Britons.

But there is something different here that troubles me. Most suicide terrorists ostensibly use this tactic because there are targets you can only attack if you give your life. Suicide was an essential part of flying a plane into a building.

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Car stereos interfacing with MP3 players

I wrote before on the ideal car dock for an MP3 player but the truth is we could use something even simpler sooner. On my recent trip, we brought the cassette adapter but there was no tape player in the rental car. We forgot the FM transmitter, but that's not as good anyway.

So right away let's see a small headphone plug on the car stereos to do a nice aux input, especially if you are taking away the tape. Duh.

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Juried restaurant mall and food court

As I noted earlier, last weekend I was at Oregon Country Fair, which is a great time. OCF has permanent facilities and has become more popular than it wants to be. All the booths, including food, have to be juried in and can in theory be kicked out to allow new ones in if popularity drops.

This results in much, much better food boths than you see at a typical random fair with vendors coming in simply if they pay their money.

And I wondered, can we extend this concept into the everyday restaurant world? For example a food mall, where the restaurant tennants are regularly judged for quality, and kicked out if they don't make the cut. Where you are assured a good meal at a reasonable price. If the idea works, people would go to this mall and make it worth the effort by the restaurants to stay.

This might work the same way movieplexes took over from solo cinemas. People go to a movieplex for the hot movie, but it often is sold out, so they go to a 2nd or 3rd or sometimes even 10th choice of what they want to see. This sells a lot more tickets and avoids people driving home without a movie at all -- though in my case I still sometimes bail out. Here, you could go to the restaurant mall with a particular restaurant in mind, but know that if it's too busy a fine meal is assured unless the whole mall is packed. There could even be a central line for "the next available restaurant."

Has this been done before? And what about going further and combining facilities...

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Trials and switching servers

All my sites were off today as I did an emergency switch of servers.

The whole story is amusing, so I'll tell it. I used to host my web sites with Verio shared hosting, but they were overpriced and did some bad censorship acts, so I was itching to leave. One day my internet connection went out, so I went onto my deck with my laptop to see what free wireless there was in the area. One strong one had an e-mail address as the SSID, though it was WEP-locked. Later, I e-mailed that address with a "hi neighbour" and met the guy around the corner. He had set the SSID that way to get just such a mail as mine. (I have a URL as my SSID now for the same purpose.)

My neighbour, it turned out, knew some people I knew in the biz, and told me about a special club he was in, called "Root Club." The first rule of Root Club, he joked, was that you do not talk about root club. Now that I'm out, I can tell the story. Root Club was started as a group of sysadmins who shared a powerful colocated web server, and all shared the root password and sysadmin duties.

Road Trip Lessons

Having completed a long fly-n-drive road trip, I have some lessons and observations.

  1. If you will be driving a lot, use a rental car even if leaving your own city. We put 3000 miles on our rental car for $300 -- far less than the depreciation cost would have been on my own car.

  2. It's great to have a cooler in the car, you can buy perishables and get cold drinks when you want them, but forget about those $5 styrofoam coolers for any long trip. Within a few days ours was leaking, we fixed it by putting a plastic bag inside and out, but they are not very sturdy. There are collapsible coolers and we have one but didn't have luggage room. You can buy a cheap solid cooler for under $20 at wal-mart or Costco, but it seems wasteful to throw it away. If you have extra luggage, you can fill a cooler with stuff, duct tape it and check it as luggage, however.

GPS that stuffs coordinates into digital photos

When you take pictures on the road, you would love to have the latitude and longitude coordinates of each picture stored with it. Indeed, if combined with a digital compass clever software could even tell you what landmark was in the photograph. (ie. if standing on rim of Grand Canyon looking north, it's probably a picture of the canyon.)

Busker Chips for passing the hat

I recently visited the Oregon Country Fair, which among many other things has entertainment acts which pass the hat to earn their living. (OCF only costs about $13 to attend, not enough to pay much if anything to acts.) This is a pretty common setup.

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Voices to the Playa -- Voice mails left for Burning Man folks

Last year at Burning Man, I built a free phone booth out on the desert. Using VoIP, 802.11, batteries and a satellite uplink, it sat there on the playa floor and let you make free calls anywhere in the world. I blogged about that story, but there was an untold part of the story.

Google maps pointers for all the World Heritage Sites

Everybody is having a great time these days with the new and increasing satellite imagery found at Google Maps, finding their own houses and world landmarks.

I found a database built by a Keyhole user describing all the coordinates of the 788 Unesco World Heritage Sites. With a bit of perl magic I turned the Keyhole format into a series of web pages with links to Google satellite imagery.

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Long persistence phosphors to make super-high resolution still photo displays

Right now the push in displays is all for computer and TV displays, with fast response time, and ideally in a flat form-factor. But these are expensive, really expensive if you want more than 2 megapixels.

What if we bring back an old technology -- long persistence phosphors -- and use them to make displays intended for still images, such as photography and art, at high resolution. They are cheap and bright. And if you don't need to do 60 frames/second, you can also get away with cheap electronics are more resolution per persisting frame.

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Hunting a way to make private expropriation more fair

Well, the Supreme Court ruled today that expropriation for private development can still be legal if the town council seems to think there's a public benefit. It's a terrible decision, with strange logic, and strange votes from the judges, but you will probably read many other articles about that today. What I want to figure is, given this ruling, what can we do to make it better?

What we will see happening is a land developer coming to the city with a plan to demolish a redevelop a block in a way that they claim will be good for the city -- perhaps bringing in tourists, jobs, business, whatever. Of course the deal is very good for the land developer, or they would not be drafting it.

I suggest we make it less sweet for the developer in such cases and give some of that sweetness to the expropriation victims. Today they get a "fair market value" for their property (that part of the 5th amendment wasn't shredded) but I say, if the expropriation is for private use, let's give them more.

First, start by paying them this fair market value at the date of expropriation, as we do now.

Then, after the deal is complete (with some time limits and other good constraints) we want to determine just how much "value" came from aggregating the properties. Right now this value goes to the developer. We're going to give most or all of it to the expropriated folks. So we come up with a value for the amalgamated property. (More below on how to do that.) This pre-opening profit would go, all or most of it, to the landowners. The developer keeps any further appreciation of the property as they operate it -- they need an upside too, of course.

More ideas follow...

Network storage on the cheap for the home

Corporate servers have used network storage, ranging from fileservers, to SAN for several years. Now, with USB IDE external drive cases selling for as little as $20, people are using external drives on their PC, and get pretty good response with 400 mbit USB 2 or with 1394/firewire. You can get most of the capacity of a 7200 rpm drive over USB 2.

So I want to call for the production of a cheap home external storage box. This box would have slots for 4 or 5 drives and cooling for them, ideally as big a fan as possible to keep the rpms and noise low in the desk model, and an even more powerful fan in the basement model. The desk model might have sound insulation though that's hard to combine with good cooling.

While this box could and probably should have USB or 1394, even better would be gigabit ethernet, which is fast enough for most people's storage needs, especially if there is a dedicated gigabit ethernet card in the PC just for talking to the storage.

This could allow for a radical redesign of PC cases of all types, with no need for the space and heat of drives. And of course these diskless PCs would be much quieter. You could put your disk cube under your desk (and thus have it be a bit quieter) but ideally you would like the basement model, to which you string cat5e cable and get a mostly silent PC.

read on...

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Anti-comment-spam technique restored

When I switched to drupal, I lost the "type in my first name" code to stop comment spam that I had written for Movable Type. I used drupal's systems for spam spotting and comment moderation, but in fact those are not very good yet, so I re-coded the system so that anonymous commenters can comment directly if they answer a simple question on the comment form.

Peacock's Dating Service

In much of the animal kingdom, mating involves the males putting on a display, and the females choosing the male they like, and the male pretty much always going off with the female who chooses him, certainly for a short interlude but also for a child-raising length of time.

In our closest relatives, the chimp and bonobo, there is extreme female promiscuity, with various theories as to why. In chimps, there is an alpha male but females will mate secretly with lessers. Bonobos do it with any other bonobo, any time, any place.

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Peerflix falls down

I've written a few times about Peerflix the P2P DVD trading system similar to some of my own ideas. After trying it for a few months, I have to report trouble.

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Yes, the movie (by Sally Potter) gets a blogger's advance screening

Sunday, I was invited, along with a crowd of other local friends and bloggers, to a preview screening of the new art film "Yes" by Sally Potter. I'll review Yes, but what was interesting was the idea of Sony Pictures doing free screenings of movies for the "blogger" demographic. As I noted earlier, I'm also in this group called the "Silicon Valley 100" where they send us free stuff in the hopes we'll generate buzz and useful feedback. (The last few products they sent have not been exciting enough to inspire me to write about them, though.)

Enforce the "step in before storing your bag" rule?

Here's an entry in my new "solve this" cateogry, which asks for reader input on solving problems.

When flying on a very full flight yesterday, we had an example of what my approach for faster airplane loading would have helped with. But until we get that, are there other solutions?

On the full flight, passengers would stand in the aisle trying to store their bags. With the compartments full they took a long time doing it, sometimes found themselves unable to. This blocked the loading and even though we started boarding 30 minutes before the flight, we were not finished by departure time. The flight attendants were on the PA every few minutes telling people not to stand in the aisle, to instead step into the row and let people pass, but very few paid attention to it. We don't seem inclined to do this, and not just because we are desperate for storage space. (I'm one of the desperate, I carry on fragiles like camera gear that I refuse to let them throw around.) We just don't believe that our own efforts will slow things much, and we also believe it will take "just a few more seconds" to get the bag in right.

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Interviewed about USENET on public radio "Marketplace"

I am told an interview I did a few months ago on USENET and elements of its history will air today on the American Public Media show "Marketplace." The audio can be played from the Marketplace web site in realplayer format. It airs on most NPR stations at times ranging from early afternoon to about 6:30pm.

Sell or rent me a prepaid SIM card at the airport

So if you travel to different countries, you know that cellular roaming can be a pain, even with a GSM world phone, because they ding you for very high roaming charges.

So here's a service I want. A kiosk in the airport to sell, or ideally rent me a GSM SIM card for a prepaid account, right in the airport. The kiosk would also sell me unlocking service for my phone, and of course prepaid cards. (By renting the SIM card, I mean it would sell it, and then buy it back at a reduced price on the way back out.)

Update Note: I've created a Special Forum to share information on the best SIM card sources in different countries. Search there for info on each country or enter your own findngs. ...

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