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December 24 2009

Four short links: 24 December 2009

  1. Jonathan Zittrain on "Minds for Sale" -- video of a presentation he gave at the Computer History Museum about crowdsourcing. In the words of one attendee, Zittrain focuses on the potential alienation and opportunities for abuse that can arise with the growth of distributed online production. He also contemplates the thin line that separates exploitation from volunteering in the context of online communities and collaboration. Video embedded below.
  2. Anatomy of a Bad Search Result -- Physicists tell us that the 2nd law of Thermodynamics predicts that eventually everything in the universe will be the same temperature, the way a hot bath in a cold room ends up being a lukewarm bath in a lukewarm room. The web is entering its own heat death as SEO scum build fake sites with stolen content from elsewhere on the web. If this continues, we won't be able to find good content for all the bullshit. The key is to have enough dishwaster-related text to look like it’s a blog about dishwashers, while also having enough text diversity to avoid being detected by Google as duplicative or automatically generated content. So who created this fake blog? It could have been Consumersearch, or a “black hat” SEO consultant, or someone in an affiliate program that Consumersearch doesn’t even know. I’m not trying to imply that Consumersearch did anything wrong. The problem is systematic. When you have a multibillion dollar economy built around keywords and links, the ultimate “products” optimize for just that: keywords and links. The incentive to create quality content diminishes.
  3. Magplus -- gorgeous prototyping for how magazines might work on new handheld devices.
  4. Glasgow's Joking Computer -- The Glasgow Science Centre in Scotland is exhibiting a computer that makes up jokes using its database of simple language rules and a large vocabulary. It's doing better than most 8 year old children. In fact, if we were perfectly honest, most adults can't pun to save themselves. Q: What do you call a shout with a window? A: A computer scream. (via Physorg News)

December 02 2009

How Boris lost his shine | Dave Hill

The mayor of London's quest to land a friend and old ally a cushy job looks worryingly like cronyism

A chap can push his luck too far, even when his name is Boris Johnson. You know the one I mean: clever, funny, a bit accident-prone and sort of sexy if he's your kind of blond. He gets away with things, too, and does so in a knowing way that confirms his disarming roguery. But the shine can come off even the most dazzling chancer when his cavalier style starts to look like arrogance, and his disrespect for boundaries like plain old opportunism. Mayor Boris of London is in danger of sliding that way.

Just 18 months into his term he is routinely accused of drift, ineptitude and attention-seeking – while at the same time dodging scrutiny. To this list some now add that he is taking the wrong sort of care of an old friend. A fat file of correspondence has been published on the Greater London Authority website following a request by one of Johnson's Labour opponents. It relates to his dauntless quest to get a friend and erstwhile media ally a nice little quango job. The story told by the file's 660 pages contains pregnant gaps and many ambiguities but the clear central narrative is of a political machine working hard to make what could easily be taken for classic cronyism look respectable.

The alleged crony in question is Veronica Wadley who, as editor of the Evening Standard during the 2008 mayoral election campaign, daily waged a zealous war against Johnson's opponent Ken Livingstone. In some ways, it did her no good: under a new owner the first large act of her successor was to woo lost readers by launching an advertising campaign apologising for the previous regime. Johnson, though, has remained a Wadley fan.

In late April this year, the couple lunched. Afterwards, Wadley wrote Johnson a note, daintily seeking his blessing to apply for the post of chair of Arts Council England's London region which he had "mentioned" while they dined. Three people presided at her subsequent first interview. One was Munira Mirza, Johnson's culture adviser. The other two were ACE chair Liz Forgan (who also chairs the Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian) and Sir David Durie, a former governor of Gibraltar, who provided independent oversight.

Durie, as was later made clear to him, was a panellist without a vote. But he knows what he saw, and didn't like what happened next. Both he and Forgan considered Wadley to lack the necessary arts background, and claim that she interviewed markedly less well than three other candidates before her. Both claim it was agreed at the end of the interview meeting that those three, and not Wadley, would go forward to a second, final interview with the mayor. Both made clear their dismay on learning a few days later that, in fact, the mayor intended interviewing Wadley anyway at the expense of one of the other three.

Johnson later consented to seeing the elbowed candidate too, but required little time to make his final choice. Wadley was the last of the four he saw. Her appointment with him, witnessed only by a senior GLA official, was for 3.30pm on 24 July. A letter informing her that she was the mayor's pick was being drafted by 5.15pm on the same day. The saga didn't end there. Johnson needed culture secretary Ben Bradshaw's approval of his choice. After consulting Forgan, Bradshaw declined to oblige. Johnson's riposte has been to start a rerun of the whole process, scheduling it to end handily close to an expected change of government and surely heartened by shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt's indication that he, unlike Bradshaw, wouldn't prevent Johnson from getting his way. The job was re-advertised on Monday. Aside from Wadley, it seems that only rejection addicts need apply.

As the correspondence file shows, many around the mayor have striven to ensure that the jolly buccaneer they serve has acted legally and in accordance with written protocol. Mirza has provided a different version of what that first interview meeting concluded. Johnson has told Forgan that were it not for his goodwill she wouldn't have been involved in the first place, and emphasised that the ACE London job is – thanks to the Labour government, by the way – a mayoral appointment, after all.

But the real story here is that Johnson has exploited the process's potential for being reduced to a farce, and done so in order that it generates the outcome he desires – no matter how unfair to others that might be. He's shown no flicker of embarrassment about this. Neither has Wadley. Same old Tories. Same old inflated sense of entitlement. If I were David Cameron, I'd have a word.


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Four short links: 2 November 2009

  1. Dow Jones CEO's Sandbox Tantrum -- keynote by Dow Jones CEO at the World Newspaper Congress. Highlights include: "the content kleptomaniacs of the Internet", "a lot of newspaper people were taken in by the game-changing gospel of the internet age", "Free costs too much", "Consumers will seek the valuable over the vapid because they always do". Dow Jones is owned by News Corp, whose Rupert Murdoch is on a campaign to build a Maginot paywall around news.
  2. What Does It Mean to "Buy" an Ebook? -- There is a disconnect of language here, probably a side effect of legacy businesses working with their legal teams to try and grab control while the consumer base, disorganized as it naturally is, is expected if not forced to make its arguments with the rubric set by the producers. In other words, “buying” an e-book is different than “buying” a book, even though from the consumer’s standpoint, it shouldn’t be.
  3. 8 Million Reasons for Real Surveillance Oversight -- Sprint set up a self-service portal for law enforcement and returned 8 million requests for cellphone GPS locations in the first year. This is an incredibly comprehensive analysis of published and revealed numbers of surveillance--it's orders of magnitude larger than anyone had realised. See also the leaked law enforcement howtos from Facebook, MySpace, and Yahoo!.
  4. World Bank Announces Landmark Policy on Access to Information -- The policy on access to information provides for the disclosure of more information than ever before - on projects under preparation, projects under implementation, analytic and advisory activities (AAA), and Board proceedings. This information will be easily accessible on the World Bank’s external website and available through the InfoShop, public information centers, and the World Bank Group Archives. At the same time, the policy strikes a balance between maximum access to information and respect for the confidentiality of information pertaining to its clients, shareholders, employees, and other parties. Recognizing that the sensitivity of some information declines over time, the policy provides for the eventual declassification and disclosure of restricted information over a period of five, 10 or 20 years, depending upon information type. A major international institution promises transparency, one which has been criticised for secrecy and opacity in the past.

November 30 2009

Four short links: 30 November 2009

  1. Paywall Performance for News -- the National Business Review (NBR) in New Zealand went to a paywall in mid-July, and Foo Camper Lance Wiggs says their visitor numbers reveal a grim picture. As a commenter says, of course, visitor numbers go down but NBR makes money directly from the visitors that stay. I'm curious to see the effect on advertisers now the site's incentives are not to spray their load far and wide to land on as many eyeballs as possible. An interesting canary in the mine for Rupert's paywall plans at Fox.
  2. Real Time, Real Discussion, Real Reporting: Choose Two (CrunchGear) -- a long post about the Internet's effects on journalism, but the headline will stick with me the longest.
  3. Sony Still Subsidizing US Supercomputer Efforts -- US military buying PS3s as a cheap source of cell CPUs. The PS3's retail price is subsidized by Sony, driving game sales in a razor-blades model. It's like you could melt down razors and get more in scrap metal than they cost to buy at the supermarket ... (via BoingBoing)
  4. Open Source Proves Elusive as Business Model (NYTimes) -- To Ms. Kroes’s point, there is an open-source alternative, and usually a pretty good one, to just about every major commercial software product. In the last decade, these open-source wares have put tremendous pricing pressure on their proprietary rivals. Governments and corporations have welcomed this competition. Whether open-source firms are practical as long-term businesses, however, is a much murkier question. On the contra side, Mozilla makes millions from referred searches and must be counted as a win for open source even though it's not a company.

November 25 2009

Four short links: 25 November 2009

  1. http-parser -- This is a parser for HTTP messages written in C. It parses both requests and responses. The parser is designed to be used in performance HTTP applications. It does not make any allocations, it does not buffer data, and it can be interrupted at anytime. It only requires about 128 bytes of data per message stream (in a web server that is per connection). Extremely sexy piece of coding. (via sungo on Twitter)
  2. Wikileaks to Release 9/11 Pager Intercepts -- they're trickling the half-million messages out in simulated real time. The archive is a completely objective record of the defining moment of our time. We hope that its revelation will lead to a more nuanced understanding of the event and its tragic consequences. (via cshirky on Twitter)
  3. Promoting Open Source Science -- interesting interview with an open science practitioner, but also notable for what it is: he was interviewed and released the text of the interview himself because his responses had been abridged in the printed version. (via suze on Twitter)
  4. Copyright, Findability, and Other Ideas from NDF (Julie Starr) -- a newspaper industry guru attended the National Digital Forum where Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums talk about their digital issues, where she discovered that newspapers and GLAMs have a lot in common. We can build beautiful, rich websites till the cows come home but they’re no good to anyone if people can’t easily find all that lovely content lurking beneath the homepage. That’s as true for news websites as it is for cultural archives and exhibitions, and it’s a topic that arose often in conversation at the NDF conference. I’ve been cooling on destination websites for a while. You need to have a destination website, of course, but you need even more to have your content out where your audience is so they can trip over it often and usefully.

November 09 2009

Four short links: 9 November 2009

  1. A Battery-Free Implantable Neural Sensor (MIT Tech Review) -- Electrical engineers at the University of Washington have developed an implantable neural sensing chip that needs less power. Uses RFID's induction technology which means the power source can be up to a meter away. Proof of concept was implanted in a moth to sense central nervous system activity.
  2. New Microsoft Interface Technology -- videos from Craig Mundie (Chief Research and Strategy Officer) on the MS Campus Tour talking about the future of UI using a sexy glass prototype that features tablet PC, gesture, speech recognition, and even eye tracking. Lustable.
  3. Adding Usability to Print -- detailed description of a failed pitch to reinvent a newspaper, to bring web sensibility to print. Make the paper more usable, think cross media instead of separate media, while using the strength of the paper (pictures, info graphics, nice text) to the max… Make a product that people want to buy because it is more usable that the competitor, not because it wins graphic design prizes. (via Evolving Newsroom)
  4. StressAppTest -- Google-created open source project to pound the living crap out of hardware by maximising random traffic to memory from processor and I/O, with the intent of creating a realistic high load situation in order to test the existing hardware devices in a computer.

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