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Home > Weblog w/e 9.9.2000

Saturday 9 September 2000, 22:45 BST
Barbara Brotman tried to love her Palm Pilot, she really did. But now she's become an apostate.

I can understand someone having difficulty coping with the stylised system of text entry a Palm requires, but I must say that I've found my Palm IIIx a godsend. I picked up the text entry system pretty quickly, and I find that compared to my Psion Series 5 my Palm is a lot more portable and nicely capable of doing the things I need in an organiser. Which is not to say that electronic organisers are for everyone; if you're not prepared to spend a little time setting up categories to store items under, your Palm or Psion's diary will soon end up as a cluttered pile of To Do notes rather than a pile of Post-ItTM notes. [Via Guardian Weblog]
Rebecca Blood has written a succinct yet comprehensive essay on the history of weblogging. You should definitely read the entire essay, which contains some useful insights into what webloggers get out of the time they spend on their sites and the different approaches of the blog-as-journal and the blog-as-list-of-links, but her thesis about the future of weblogging can be summed up as follows: she's optimistic that webloggers may act as a counter to the increasing dominance of the web by commercial interests, allowing readers to form communities of like-minded individuals and spread the word about sites, opinion pieces and resources that lack the commercial backing to make it near the top of a commercial search engine's hit list. (For a more pessimistic view of the effect of commercial interests on the web, see Ellen Ullman's recent interview at Britannica.com.)

I think there's definitely room for optimism about the future of the web as a source of non-corporate information. In the end there's just too much information out there for a small number of commercial sites to index, so people will gradually come to realise that they need an unbiased, non-commercial, means of finding out about what's out there. Whether it's volunteer-compiled directory sites like the Open Directory Project or weblogs, people who aren't prepared to cede responsibility for their web experience to a commercial portal will find links to the sort of sites they need, especially if the sterling work of the providers of indexes of weblogs (the GBlogs Gateway deserves a special mention here) continues.

One point Rebecca Blood makes is that webloggers can help users by providing pointers to weblogs maintained by like-minded individuals, and thus supplement the work of the weblog directories. She argues that the list of recommended weblogs on a typical site can be seen as an attempt to identify with a particular subset of the weblogging "community":
"It was, and is, fascinating to see new bloggers position themselves in this community, referencing and reacting to those blogs they read most, their sidebar an affirmation of the tribe to which they wish to belong."
You'll note that I don't have a sidebar listing my favourite weblogs, but that's mostly down to sheer laziness: at present I don't have time to do more than keep my weblog up to date, so all the other enhancements I'm minded to make are going to have to wait. I think that when I do get round to doing a list of favourite weblogs it'll not be a list of weblogs with similar interests to mine: if anything, it'll be a list of weblogs whose authors do things I can't, be it design a visually striking site (tom@plasticbag.org) or sustain a genuine community (Metafilter).
Live Nude Cats here. [Via Metafilter]
Scott Kirsner wrote an article in Salon the other day about how that Old Economy institution, the Harvard Business School, teaches its students about the New Economy through case studies. The Harvard approach places the emphasis on fundamental business principles rather than the sort of flashy PR froth that shows up in the daily news coverage of the New Economy.

What's slightly odd is that Kirsner seems surprised that Harvard should take such a sober, balanced approach to studying the New Economy:
"Harvard Business School cases are a genre unto themselves. They're objective and hype-free, and they take an intensive, gastroenterological approach to explaining how a business works."
How did he think that business schools would go about studying the way the New Economy works?
Tuesday 5 September 2000, 23:45 BST
The winners of this year's Hugo Awards were announced at the weekend. As usual I haven't managed to catch up with all the shorter fiction nominees, but I can safely say that the Best Dramatic Presentation award for Galaxy Quest and the Best Novel award for Vernor Vinge's A Deepness In The Sky were well deserved: both would have been worthy winners in any year. The Best Dramatic Presentation category was especially good this year: The Matrix or Being John Malkovich would have been good choices too. [Via Sci Fi Wire and various postings to rec.arts.sf.written]
Amazon.com have announced some revisions to their privacy policy. They get a couple of dozen brownie points for their honesty about their intentions, but lose several million for the way they've basically given themselves the right to sell (or "share") personal data with anyone they like. CNNfn sees this openness about their intentions as an attempt to persuade customers that sharing of data isn't a bad thing, but The Register is more sceptical. <cliche>This story will run and run...</cliche>
The International Olympic Committee has effectively banned athletes from posting to their personal web sites about their experiences during the forthcoming Sydney Olympic Games. According to TheStandard.com, the idea is that athletes shouldn't be able to "act as a journalist," that is, distribute information which might "scoop" one of the media organisations which have paid so handsomely to cover the Games. Presumably the next step will be to ban mobile phones and fax machines. [Via Metafilter]
Monday 4 September 2000, 22:00 BST
A couple of pretty astonishing pages last Thursday's Suck pointed me towards. First, the Spankie. Second, the future birthplace of James T Kirk. [Via Suck]
Sunday 3 September 2000, 16:15 BST
Wired News has an interesting report about two companies which hope to surmount one of the biggest problems in ordering clothing online: figuring out what size you really are. The two companies have adopted very different methods of assessing your size, and it's going to be interesting to see which wins out.

What's slightly disconcerting is that the Wired article goes on to quote the concerns of privacy advocates about the security of the databases of personal information which each company will amass. I'm all for people being clear on what's happening to their personal data (and since one of the companies has yet to formulate its privacy policy, it's perfectly reasonable to pose questions), but I can't help thinking that some of the objections to the projects on privacy grounds go too far.

Specifically, they suggest that any centralised database of information is going to be vulnerable to hackers or to law enforcement officials armed with a subpoena. The former objection is a fair point, but since the alternative would seem to be to have the information held on consumers' own PCs, which are likely to be a hell of a lot less carefully secured against hackers than those of a business which relies upon the integrity and accuracy of that database to keep its business afloat, that seems (assuming that the company concerned actually bothers to hire competent security people - not a certainty, but not impossible either) to be the lesser of two evils. As for the argument that the government can get its hands on the data, I'd ask two questions: why would the government want to know my shirt size, and would the CDT really be happier if the data was stored in some offshore jurisdiction?
A couple of nautical stories. First, a serious tale about a cod which swallowed a surprising snack. Then news from The Onion of a very worrying development. (Though personally I'd be more worried about what happens if cats ever develop opposable thumbs!)
The Russians might be taking this reality TV thing a little too seriously.
If you like written science fiction then you're probably used to checking out all sorts of sites for stories by your favourite authors. Now Mark Watson has put together a very useful page containing links to a huge range of short stories by all sorts of authors, including Bruce Bethke, Terry Bisson, Pat Cadigan, Orson Scott Card, Greg Egan, Harlan Ellison, Joe Haldeman, James Patrick Kelly, Robert Silverberg and Howard Waldrop.

The site isn't perfect - in particular, I'd like a clearer distinction between freely available stories and those which are for sale online - but it's a very good resource as it stands and hopefully it'll develop over time.
The organisers of the Sydney Olympic Games have been ordered to take steps to make their web site accessible to blind users. I can understand that they're unhappy about having to make big changes at such a late stage, but if this report in the Melbourne Age is correct then many of the steps they're required to take (using ALT tags for images, providing an index page for sports results) are pretty elementary principles of web design anyway, so to a large extent the organisers have brought this on themselves. [Via Bifurcated Rivets]
Hyperlinking taken to extremes. [Via MISCmedia]
If I were a shareholder in Tivo, I'd be very, very worried. The Register reports that Microsoft's X-Box games console is going to have the ability to record TV programmes.
Some thoughts on why micropayments haven't taken off. [Via The Monkeyfist Collective]

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