This kind of thing -- publicly shaming a person for rude behavior by posting voice recordings, video, and photos on the Web -- is becoming very common -- sidekick thief, subway flasher, camera thief, subway puppy poo girl. Who needs law enforcement when you have a globally distributed mob ready to pounce on people who are accused of behaving badly?

Mark Frauenfelder, BoingBoing. I hope that’s sarcasm? Personally, I prefer laws to mobs.

 

Symbolic catalysts aren't all bad, but I think the real danger comes when we put too much stock in the symbol and ignore the underlying truth: Things got better because you were inspired to make them better.

Ethan Johnson, via Dave Rogers. Conversely, things got worse because you weren’t inspired to make them better.

 

Frank is a photographer from New Orleans. He graduated from Tulane University with degrees in Cognitive Science and Philosophy. Frank found photography on a lake in Maine; he lost it in the bright lights and darkrooms of New York, and rediscovered it in the curving columns of Coliseum Street.
Frank’s photographs have won some awards and he hopes they will win some more, because people like awards.

Frank Relle. Via Dan. Interesting photography, but I’ve mostly quoted because I found the "about" humorous: …because people like awards. I was sitting in a bar last night watching a White Sox game in overtime, and thinking about how some people really care about local sports teams, and other people just become interested out of sympathy for the true believers. Some people really care about awards, and Frank Relle has sympathy for those true believers. Some times it’s not enough to get your priorities in order, to stop caring about unimportant things. Sympathy is still important.

 

A couple weeks ago I responded to an ad on Craigslist seeking local musicians for Happy hour or late night set Monday - Thursday … acoustic guitarists or pianists to play low key jazz, blues, alternative pop for a three hour set. I am both an acoustic guitarist and a pianist. I responded thinking I could easily play low key blues piano for three hours some weeknight. I sent some MP3s of me playing guitar, because I don’t have any of me playing piano. And I was offered a spot on July 7, a Friday night, 9pm-12am.

I accepted the offer, but there are a few problem with it. First, they don’t have a piano at the Continental Lounge. I don’t know why they were advertising for pianists when they don’t have a piano. Did they think someone was going to bring in a piano? I have a keyboard, but it doesn’t sound enough like a piano that I can comfortably play low-key blues on it. So I think I’ll play guitar.

But the second problem is that I’m not sure that I have three hours worth of low-key guitar music. A lot of the songs I know involve yelling. I haven’t even been to the Continental Lounge before, so I have no idea what the atmosphere is, or if yelling might be inappropriate. The only other solo musician I know, JJ, suggested I play instrumental guitar music, which I’ll have to do to keep my voice during a three hour run, but I don’t normally play instrumental guitar music, so we’ll see how that goes.

The third problem is that it's not Monday - Thursday, as the ad said. It's Friday night. People ignore musicians Monday - Thurday, but they pay attention Friday night. I’m not sure I want people paying attention to my first show as a solo musician.

Basically, I have no idea what to expect right now, but I’m going to do it anyway. Even if it turns out to be a bad experience, it should be good experience. So if you’d like to hear what my music sounds like live, you’ll be able to do so — in one form or another — at the Continental Lounge (428 E. Locust St., Des Moines, IA) on July 7 9pm-12am.

 

In the spring of 2002 (if I remember correctly), I joined many of my university friends on a weekend trip to Luck, Wisconsin. We stayed on a farm with some kind folks who showed us how they use solar heating and electricity, convert their waste water to fertilizer, and generally remain self-sufficient.

According to DefenseTech (via BoingBoing), earlier this week, those same folks dressed up as clowns and broke into a nuclear missile silo. The FBI is involved in the case and federal charges are pending. I just wanted to point out to anyone paying attention amidst the cries of treason that I've met these people, and they are nice, normal people with whom you'd easily make friends. They just really dislike nuclear weapons.

 

As I move projects to MakeDataMakeSense.com, I’m giving everything a pretty icon and otherwise trying to make it look more "professional," under the theory that people are more likely to pay attention to something that looks like it might be for sale. And this is apparently working as evidenced by one project now listed in the Museum of Modern Betas as a "beta by inheritance." I guess I just need to tack a meaningless "beta" icon on everything to complete the sell-out process (without actually selling anything).

 

Yesterday I made a Greasemonkey script to detect telephone numbers in hCards and wrap them in callto: links to launch VOIP tools (e.g. Skype). This is the kind of thing I do to satisfy my own curiosity, assuming no one will ever use. Another such project was the Google hCalendar Greasemonkey script I did a while back, except I did that one in exchange for a free book. And it's now being used by Yahoo.

 

i hear that you don't change
how do you expect to keep up with the trends
you won't survive the information age
unless you plan to change the truth to accomodate the brilliance of man

Pedro the Lion, Letter From a Concerned Follower

 

Some people think email obfuscation is a good way to fight spam, that it's somehow more difficult for spammers to understand "account at domain dot com" or "account&64;domain.com" than "account@domain.com". These people are wrong. They will often readily admit that they don’t think email obfuscation will stop all spam, but it still makes them feel like they’re doing something in the war on drugs terrorism spam. Here's what they're doing: in addition to making email more difficult for legitimate uses, they're actually making it easier for spammers.

Google returns 27 million results for "* at * dot com". That's 27 million email addresses waiting to be spammed. Google doesn’t allow you to search for the "@" sign, so that’s 27 million email addresses that wouldn’t be available on Google if they were not obfuscated. Email obfuscation not only doesn’t hurt spammers — it actually helps them. Where it doesn’t make it easier, it acts as a placebo, making people feel more comfortable and complacent living in a world of spam. Like everything else, if you don’t want your email address publicly-available, don’t put it on the public web. But if we want to be able to publish email addresses on the web, we can’t continue this half-hearted war on spam, hiding under our beds of obfuscation and hoping they won’t find us.

 

Humanity i love you because you
are perpetually putting the secret of
life in your pants and forgetting
it's there and sitting down

e. e. cummings. I’m still reading through cummings’ poems looking for music. I’m not sure I have a melody for this one, but I really like it.

 

next to of course god america i (MP3, lyrics) is the second song I’ve recorded with lyrics from e. e. cummings. (The first was anyone lived in a pretty how town, which I need to re-record.) So far I've written four songs. I expect I'll eventually have a whole album's worth. I like e. e. cummings’ poems, and I find the songs are easy to write. It’s also more fun to listen to songs with lyrics someone else wrote. I don’t generally like listening to my own music, but I don’t mind with these e. e. cummings songs.

 

Oh, the absurdity of it all: putting all that effort into making memories they won't remember of good times they never had.

Life in Suburbia by Aaron Swartz.

 

In the end, if 70% of the people will give their password for a chocolate bar, why not at least help them do it from multiple computers? Thanks Google Browser Sync.

Elias Torres. I don’t have much faith in the accuracy of that chocolate bar password survey, but still …

 

Two songs in one day! This one, Wishful Thinkers (MP3, lyrics) is brand new. Freshly written today, I’ve only played it a few times. And if the freshness alone isn’t enough to interest you, it has not one, but two literary references. The first is to Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning, which I haven’t read, but Jessica has and she told me the story from which the title comes. The idea is that there are fishermen who are trying to save fish from drowning, but they’re always just a little too late, as the fish die shortly after being saved. I thought it was a funny story and a good analogy for solving problems that don’t exist and confusing hurting with helping, two forms of wishful thinking.

The second is the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, which I don’t think I’ve ever read either, but it’s a common enough story that I have a rough idea of how it goes. It’s a desperate failed attempt to overcome problems by cleverness alone, another form of wishful thinking. This one killed a person instead of fish.

I don’t think wishful thinking is a bad thing. I like to imagine myself a wishful thinker (hence the lyrics of "We’re wishful thinkers," not "You’re wishful thinkers"). But I’m increasingly noticing wishful thinking going too far in situations where "it’s not gonna’ help this time." For example: A man shouting that God would keep him safe was mauled to death by a lioness in Kiev zoo after he crept into the animal's enclosure. Wishful thinking can be dangerous.

 

Three Words (MP3, lyrics) is a new song, about language falling short. An interesting part of working in a buzzword-heavy industry is watching as words become meaningless, by "too many people, saying too much, saying nothing at all." The term "AJAX," for example, meant something more than "DHTML" for maybe a week before it was thrown carelessly into so many sentences that it lost all meaning in common use. I think the same thing happens with all words (e.g.), though not often as quickly.

 

The Western Iowa Advantage website went "live" (no longer a placeholder) yesterday. I’ve been working on it, along with other people and among other projects, for the past month or so. Everyone at work seems pretty excited about the result. I suspect the enthusiasm is largely due to the visual look of the site. It’s pretty. People like pretty.

But what I find most interesting about the site is something no one else will ever notice: it’s very semantic. The markup describes the data. The news is all hatom, the events are all hcalendar, and the personal and organization information is all hcard. You can run my greasemonkey script and import the events into Google Calendar. You can run the hcards through Brian Suda's X2V and get them into your address book. You can use Chris Casciano's NetNewsWire script to subscribe to the news without bothering with a separate feed (although there is a separate feed too).

And who is going to do these things? I expect absolutely no one. Certainly no one I know of using the site. So why do I bother? I don’t know. I don’t know why I like data so much. I don’t know why people like pretty things so much. Maybe some day I’ll figure it all out. Meanwhile, I make websites.

 

If you’re going to adopt a false identity, I think it should have the same first name as your own. First of all, no one would believe that Scott Johnson is really just Scott Reynen's false identity. We expect more of our conspirators. Also, if you should ever happen to get your real and false identities confused, it would be much less noticeable and much easier to explain if your first name was the same. "What’s this letter to … 'Scott'?" Why, it's just a letter to me. Nothing at all suspicious about that!

I realize this flies in the face of conventional wisdom on false identity name choice. I recently heard someone (I can’t remember who) say that the only funny line ever on the Family Guy was Peter Griffin trying to pretend he was someone else and when someone asked him what his name was, he said "Pe...ter.......Grif....fin..." That’s a terrible false identity, of course, but I’m suggesting that it’s only terrible because it isn’t false. After meeting the falsity requirement of false identities, I think the goal should be to keep it simple, and the best way to keep it simple is to keep the same first name.

The exception to this rule is unusual names like "Icarus." If your real first name is Icarus, your false first name should definitely not be Icarus. This is my advice to people adopting false identities. I wish you best of luck in your life of lies.

 

Dave Rogers points to Jarod Lanier, who has better ideas than me regarding the tendancy of the web to ignore individuals. He writes:

The illusion that what we already have is close to good enough, or that it is alive and will fix itself, is the most dangerous illusion of all. By avoiding that nonsense, it ought to be possible to find a humanistic and practical way to maximize value of the collective on the Web without turning ourselves into idiots. The best guiding principle is to always cherish individuals first.

That’s exactly the illusion I’ve been working under on the web for the past decade. I thought if I just threw good ideas into the web long enough, it would improve itself. It wears me out. "Always cherish individuals first" sounds like pretty good advice. I think I haven’t been doing enough of that because I don’t trust individuals very much. Individuals can be mean. The collective, at worst, is just careless. And therein lies the appeal of the illusion: it’s relatively safe.

But I’ve had enough with the relative safety of the idiot hive mind. It’s time for me to get back to mess and the riskiness of smart individuals. So … anyone want to start a website with me? I have a lot of good ideas.

 

Yesterday, Technorati released Microformats Search. My first thought was something like "finally..." It's been six months since Google released Google Base. At that time many people were pointing out that submission-based search isn't going to work in the long-term because it takes more work than crawl-based search, and all other things being equal, laziness wins. The advantage of Google Base over traditional search was that it used structured data, so the obvious solution was to make the web more structured.

Microformats make the web more structured, so I thought it would be interesting to see how much structured data a big search company like Google could hope to find by crawling instead of asking for submissions. I made Microformat Base, and before long, the microformats community, the broader semantic web community, and the entire world were ... completely ignoring it. No one used it. No one talked about it. No one copied the open source.

Well, that's not entirely true. A few people on the microformats discussion list said some nice things about it. But the conversation there quickly went back to what would later become hAtom. I went on with my life, playing with other technologies in my spare time. I hoped maybe in another year or two, someone with some venture capital would pick up the idea and make the web a more interesting place.

Then yesterday, as I said, Technorati released Microformats Search, and I thought "finally..." I think I have a pretty good track record for predicting where technologies are headed, and I continue to be annoyed by how long it takes the rest of the world to catch up to my imagined future. I didn't expect Technorati to act as quickly as it did, but I made Microformat Base in a day, so it really shouldn't have taken them six months.

I was happy Technorati had caught up, but then I started reading what Technorati was writing about it. The first thing I read was on the blog of Tantek Çelik. I subscribe to his blog because he talks about interesting technology, and I like to pay attention to where things are heading. Tantek wrote I invite you to come take a look at this first of a kind realtime microformats search engine At that point, I thought "Hmm...that's an odd way of phrasing that. It almost sounds like he has no idea that I ever made Microformat Base..." Then Tantek sent an email to the microformats discussion list writing There are some indexers of specific microformats right now (e.g. Reevoo and Kritx both index hReviews), but no general microformats search engine. At that point, I realized that Tantek really did have no idea I had made Microformat Base, which was surprising because I knew he had previously commented on it.

I wrote a response, saying Hmm... I'm pretty sure I was indexing contacts, events, and reviews several months ago...I'd assume you missed that, except that you commented on it. And Kevin Marks, who also works at Technorati, responded to that with Great stuff Scott, do you want to get pings relayed? At this point, I was trying to be charitable with my take on what was going on here, but it really looked to me like Technorati was intentionally ignoring what I had done, except where they realized that I could be feeding them data.

So I wrote that in response:

What I didn't expect was this feeling that microformats are increasingly just another product owned and sold by Technorati. I'm disappointed that Technorati has apparently developed selective amnesia here regarding others' work. Tantek says "Technorati believes in the voice of the individual," but here I am, an individual, and everyone from Technorati is pretending like I don't exist except where I could contribute more data toward Technorati's profit. I have no doubt that if I had done the same work at a corporation, I wouldn't be seeing phrases like "no general microformats search engine" and "first of a kind" coming out of Technorati. And I'm certainly not the only individual who has worked on this. Dozens of individuals helped lay the groundwork for Technorati's newest product, but not a single one is acknowledged in Technorati's discussion of the Microformats Search - only corporations. This will certainly make me think twice before experimenting further with microformats in my free time.

And I sent it off and thought "bridges: burninated!" I'm not working at one of Technorati's partners, so if microformats really are a product Technorati intends to claim or imply ownership of, I have little to lose by criticizing this trend. I was content to do so in the pseudo-privacy of the microformats email list, but then Tantek responded on his public blog.

He wrote a long post, starting with Mea culpa, including my name nine times, linking to me five times, and going on about how great it is that web workers of the world are uniting under the microformats flag of data freedom or something like that. And I guess I'm happy that Tantek is now reaffirming my romantic notion of what the web could be. The only problem is, I don't really believe it any more.

As I pointed out yesterday, a microformat search engine isn't the first project I've done a proof-of-concept for that later became a successful part of the web. In fact, nearly everything I've ever done online has followed this pattern, going back ten years to when I edited the raw compiled source of a browser plugin (a simpler task back then) to allow users to add any search engine they wanted to a field in their browser and released it for free as "AnySearch Extras". It's now ten years later, and FireFox is the most popular browser to have this same functionality built in. So about 10% of the world has caught up to what I was waiting for ten years ago.

I'm tired of waiting for the web to pay attention. The web is awful at paying attention. One might think Technorati would be a little better at paying attention than others, given what it does and its ownership of a trademark on the phrase "attention index." But experience suggests Technorati is just like the rest of the web. Interesting technology doesn't get the web's attention. Open source and open data don't get the web's attention. I've been doing both for several years. The web hasn't noticed. As Christian Montoya recently observed, money is what gets the web's attention.

It's not just that Tantek originally gave thanks only to corporations with money and ignored all the individuals working on microformats. Tantek's a busy guy, so he forgets things. But the whole web today gave notice to Technorati, with money, and ignored an individual who did the same thing, without money. Tantek wrote:

Companies take note - on the internet, there will always be smarter, more clever people building on each other's work than your secret internal committees, your architecture councils, your internal discussion forums -- no matter how many supergeniuses you think you may have hired away and locked up with golden shackles in your labs.

This has long been a popular mythology on the web, but I no longer believe it. I am the prototypical clever person building on others' work and encouraging others to build on mine. Companies can safely ignore me.