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“Got kitesurfing on the mind, mixed with some search & classification tech, and a dab of political ranting”

Archive for February, 2007

A Knowledge Community

Posted by direwolff on February 27, 2007

OK, so I’m beginning to make some headway on a concept that brings together the benefits of a Wikipedia-like contributory model with the needs of users trying identify and locate very specific information from large collections of documents. Whether these collections are Web pages, RSS feeds, or documents on users’ hard drives, we want to enable users needing to do research or discovery, the ability to do so quickly and effectively. The idea is that creating robust queries requires tools that are not generally available to most people. Classification and text analysis technologies are expensive and search engines’ advanced querying capabilities remain relatively weak. Lexis-Nexis level querying is out of reach for most users, and corporate users that have access to this pay a lot of money but are also bound by the content walls provided through such services.

The idea of being able to let any one develop a robust and sophisticated query that can then be shared with others is the rooting of this new service. The ability to not only create and use this query, but to also index the content according to this and all other queries created, in a fast and scalable way moves us to an interesting place where communities of interest can work together to share access to useful information. Of course, there will also be the ability to keep queries private, especially at higher levels of details where specific names of entities or people come into play, but there will be a set of foundational queries which will contribute to human knowledge, that any one will be able to participate in creating. We already have over 500 such queries that locate such nebulous ideas as any discussion about a trend or forecast, or all discussions about terrorists (and not necessarily because the term “terrorist” appears in the article). Relevant domain focused content identification is now more easily achievable.

This community of knowledge is shifting the focus from knowledge creation by virtue of originating the content to knowledge creation by virtue of providing the roadmap for finding information, by providing people the tools for doing so. This is somewhat analogous to folksonomy, where tags are used to identify content. Both the author and those who find the content can tag it using different services. Where tags tend to be weak in their consistency of usage given that it’s difficult to know the motives of the person tagging the content, knowledge types such as topics, issues and categories will be strong in this regard. Even if inaccurate, they will be consistent which means that improving their accuracy will reverberate across all usages.

The community of knowledge will be primarily useful to those trying to discover content. Looking for article, blog posts, or research reports that talk about an increase or decrease in the price of oil is a fairly abstract idea to look for, but that’s just the kind of thing that will be possible and we will be providing access to the tools to enact such discovery and the wiki to share the topics, issues, and categories (queries) created by the community for shared use. Imagine trying to track the behavior of those in charge, and what the complexity of such a query might need to be. The community of knowledge will have a set of foundational knowledge types that already deal with such complexity, but also allow users to tackle more if they have a need to.

As we elaborate the platform, I’ll discuss it further here, but note that our intent is on providing a resource that will break through the constraints currently existing in precise and accurate text analysis technology, so that all can have access to it, not just the elite Fortune 500 companies that can afford starting prices of $200,000+ in annual fees.

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Posted in search & categorization | 2 Comments »

An Interesting Difference Between the U.K. and the U.S.

Posted by direwolff on February 22, 2007

Even if this story is just for show, and Prince Harry doesn’t see a lick of real action, at least he’s going there:

Britain’s Prince Harry going to Iraq: Defence Ministry

Canadian Press
Published: Thursday, February 22, 2007
LONDON – Prince Harry will be sent to Iraq, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said Thursday.
He will join his regiment, the Blues and Royals, in Iraq as part of a long-planned rotation of troops.

There’s something to be said for compulsory military service.  It evens out the playing field for the populace, promotes duty to country, and perhaps in the case of our country, forces politicians to pause and think twice about going to war knowing their own kids could come in arms way.  And this time, unlike the Vietnam era draft where the likes of Cheney and “W.” were able to basically dodge service, I’d tighten up the rules so maybe medical issues could get deferrals, but that’s about it.  I’d respect the idea of concienscious objectors, but would enact forfeiture of their ability to run for public office in the future.

I’d say nothing brings respect for one’s country, when even the most elite members of that society are called upon to duty and do so without trying to skirt the obligation.  Perhaps there’s some learning that our country could do from the Brits.

Posted in Feelings | 2 Comments »

Another “Marc Canter was right” Moment…

Posted by direwolff on February 16, 2007

…brought to you by several social networks.

Yes, in reading this post from the ProgrammableWeb blog, I smiled to myself and thought in my head, “damn, that guy Marc Canter was right again”. During my time at Tribe.net, while Marc was consulting for us, if there was one mantra he would not get off of, it was “you need to open up the APIs, and things will be coolio”. He preached that developers wanted to do stuff and you needed to give them access for good things would happen. As the biz dev guy my first question was always, “but what’s the business model?”, to which there wasn’t a real good answer at the time. Well, ha-ha, the answer was there, just not so obvious to us at the time. Developers will build stuff that users will like and that will result in more users signing up, and that helps any business model. Don’t believe it? Here’s an excerpted quote from Jeff Roberto at Friendster on the ProgrammableWeb’s post:

After social network Friendster opened up its proprietary software to a select dozen or so developers six months ago, the number of unique visitors rose by 17.6%, to 18.8 million, in December, 2006. “This is our biggest [month-over-month] growth since launch,” says Jeff Roberto, marketing director at Friendster. Now, for example, Friendster users can create slide shows of photos on Slide.com and then post them directly onto the social-networking site.

Well, if that don’t beat all. Imagine if they had opened up to more, sooner. Given that this is not the first call that I’ve witnessed Marc make to come true, can’t say it surprises me, but that the results from this occurrence (note how many social networks in the referenced post are now committed to this direction) manifested themselves so precisely the way he said they would and in under three years, is certainly blog post worthy. Some times he comes across a bit opinionated mind you, but it’s now been my direct first hand experience that he has made some good calls, and I can’t say I can yet count any significantly memorable bad calls. I’m humbled by the future he saw that was harder for me to see at that time. Of course, Marc’s PeopleAggregator platform is already set-up in an open manner, but it’s good to see that his mantra came to be after all.

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Posted in Online Community | 1 Comment »

Interesting Possible Link Between SAFETY ACT & RIAA

Posted by direwolff on February 15, 2007

Pure speculation of course, but given the RIAA’s lobbying power, I wonder if it’s possible that their recent request to ISPs that they provide their customers’ IP logs, is what is driving Senator Lamar Smith’s efforts? Not knowing the power structures or the social network of lobbyists, contributors, general influencers and politicians in Washington, I don’t know if these two issues are related, but it sure seems like requiring ISPs to keep logs of users’ traffic for a couple of years would provide the RIAA with subpoenable (my new word of the day) information which would serve their purposes and satisfy their litigious appetite. This, without needing the ISP’s cooperation. Hmmm…

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Posted in Security/Privacy | Leave a Comment »

Drug Dealers & Terrorist Only Got the Government Part of the Way

Posted by direwolff on February 14, 2007

 

Taking away our citizen’s Constitutionally guaranteed rights is tough work. Heck, it took a lot of work and two documents (the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights) to put these rights together, so you can imagine that dismantling is gonna take some time too. But Alberto Gonzalez and crew never rest and things are looking good for them on this front, all in the name of law and order.

One way you can go at removing our rights is by creating artificial fears (Bruce Schneier’s Beyond Fear and Barry Glassner’s The Culture of Fear, are good books on this subject).  We have seen the previous culprits like drugs dealers (remember the “War on Drugs”), then terrorists (don’t forget the Patriot Act), and what effects this had, but that’s only been good enough to illegally tap our phones, the removal of our rights to privacy in our own cars and in our homes, introduced a whole slew of previously illegal searches that are now considered acceptable, and lets not forget what we have go through at airports for the sake of “security theatre“, but this apparently hasn’t helped enough with limiting or removing rights in the virtual space many inhabit these days. Well “Houston, we have ignition”, apparently Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) under the guise of child porn, has introduced a bill requiring ISPs to keep all of our traffic information to be provided to the government upon demand. Wired’s 27B Stroke 6 blog has a good summary on this with links to the bill.

As usual, a bill this open ended, with such broad reaching implications and lack of definition, shouldn’t be viewed as representing its stated purposes, but rather be regarded at as a tool of control over the citizenry (I was going to say a tool of oppression, but that sounds so Middle Ages ;). I’m still musing over a friend who thought all this hubbub over our privacies was overblown and that these intrusions are no big deal. I then remembered a story (and I forget who told it) about a question you can ask any one who feels this way, and so I did. The question was “OK, privacy is no big deal, so what’s your salary?”, but I couldn’t resist and stop there and went on, “what’s your wife’s favorite sexual position?”. As you can imagine, privacy became really important to him at that moment and he conceded the point. I explained that many things like this or even more mundane but embarassing could be made public whether he liked it or not so long as someone else had control over this information. This helped him appreciate what privacy means to him and every other citizen in our country.

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Posted in Security/Privacy | Leave a Comment »

Looks Like “Fair Use” are Two Very Lonely Words in Belgium

Posted by direwolff on February 13, 2007

I’ve never read a news article on Google News, mainly because this doesn’t seem possible, since all they provide is an excerpt that then enables me to click on the headline to go to the full story. As a result of this process, I’ve discovered newspapers that I didn’t know existed but that provided interesting and new perspectives I had not been previously exposed to. In a follow-up to a previous post I wrote, with the latest ruling out of the Belgian courts, it looks like one perspective I won’t be getting any time soon is the Belgian perspective.

To say that this is the most assinine lawsuit I’ve ever seen is probably going too far since there was the one about the woman who sued McDonald’s over the hot coffee she spilled on herself several years ago. But this one is pretty close. I wonder if these Belgian publishers know how to read their traffic logs to see how much traffic is coming their way as a result of Google. Well, traffic be darned (and god knows how much it costs to get it these days), it’s false principles of a previously monopolistic industry now trying to fight a no win battle. Winning their lawsuit insures lowered traffic to their properties, loosing the lawsuit makes them look dumb for having ever brought it up. If I were Google, I’d remove these publications content not just from Google News, but from their main search index as well. Yahoo!, MSN and Ask should follow suit here and do the exact same thing.

What’s even crazier, is that the French publishers, at least Agence France-Presse, have it on their minds to pursue a similar tact. And they wonder why their Web businesses aren’t successful. Don’t forget ACAP. Just as the music industry is reconsidering their DRM decisions, the news publishing industry is heading in the opposite direction…hmm…between Microsoft and the news publishers seems there’s very little care for their customers. Must be what happens when you get big, fat and lazy at your customer’s expense.

This may all be me playing arm chair quarterback where there are deeper issues at stake here, but if so, I’m totally missing it…wouldn’t be the first time though :)

*** 2/13/07 UPDATE (12:45pm PT):  Just had a chance to see Danny Sullvan’s write up about this and it’s worth checking out if you’re interested in this story as he has some more information and updates on the situation directly from the Google’s European legal counsel.

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Posted in Intellectual Property | 2 Comments »

Microsoft Heading In the Opposite Direction of Apple…Again

Posted by direwolff on February 12, 2007

I hope for Microsoft’s sake, that they’re kicking themselves over the decision to build in Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology into their new operating system, Vista. Given the lead time that it probably took to have this ready in time for the release of Vista, I’m guessing this decision to support DRM was taken well before the recent tide swinging so heavily against the entertainment industry’s DRM enforcement efforts started gaining momentum. Imagine that, here Microsoft thought they were coming in on the side of law and order, and just like you’ve got Steve Jobs who started this whole DRM fiasco coming out saying that it should be removed and done away with. Boy, talk about egg on Microsoft’s face. Playing catch up is never fun to do, and it feels like they’re having to do this in every industry they’re trying to participate in, online services, search, media players, and who knows what else.

Of course, I’m giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt that this was just an error in judgment as opposed to anything more nefarious, but if Fred Wilson can take bets on the fact that DRM will go away, you would have thought that Microsoft could have seen this coming too. It’s not like EMI’s deliberations are a complete shocker. Microsoft was once regarded as having some of the smartest people around, certainly this decision really brings into question whether any smart strategy people really still work there…hmmm…

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Posted in Security/Privacy | 1 Comment »

Old School Kitesurfing Video

Posted by direwolff on February 12, 2007

My good buddy Bob of the Kitesurfing Family (his wife & two of three kids are all highly proficient kitesurfers), just managed to get some footage from about three seasons ago of the crew I ride with, up on YouTube. It’s kind of funny to see this as we’ve all progressed quite a ways from these days, but still have just as much fun getting crazy out there. Most of the shots where taken at Sherman Island in the Delta between Antioch & Rio Vista.

 

 

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Posted in Kitesurfing & Extreme Sports | Leave a Comment »

Rallying Cry Against the Wireless Carriers

Posted by direwolff on February 9, 2007

So when I got my Blackberry 8700 I thought it would be easy to sell my Blackberry 7280 since it had plenty of life in it yet and so many carriers were making it available. Besides, since they all have their own smartchip, it just made sense that all the buyer of my phone would have to do is switch the smartchip in my Blackberry with the one from whatever phone they were transferring from, or obtain a new smartchip from their carrier. “Well, not so fast cowboy.”

Because I bought my phone under AT&T Wireless before Cingular acquired them, it turns out those phones and smartchips were somehow grandfathered in. In other words, Cingular would encourage people off those phones and switching to Cingular directly. When I got my new phone, the switch was made part of the process. Well, as it turned out, switching the smartchip wasn’t the only hindrance to making my old 7280 work with other carrier networks. Somehow, they’ve disabled or simply prevent the handset switch at all. In other words, I had a year old 7280 that was now obsolete. This, even though every other carrier was making that phone available on their network. Suffice it to say, the feeling that the wireless carriers keep sticking it to us with their 2 year contracts, forced phone purchases, and ridiculous rules, none of which exist in any other country where wireless services have bloomed, really does start to create ill will towards them.

It’s with this that I welcome the activities beginning to happen around this issue. There’s an article in today’s Washington Post titled, “A Call To Let Your Phone Loose” which discusses this…

Wireless carriers, which limit what customers may do with their phones, say the move is unnecessary and potentially harmful. But in articles, blogs and speeches, a number of researchers are asking why the companies are allowed to force consumers to buy new handsets when they change carriers, pay a specified carrier to transfer photos from a camera phone, or download ring tones or music from one provider only.

“At some point, I think Americans are going to put their foot down and say, ‘We won’t tolerate this anymore,’ ” said Dave Passmore, who has written extensively on the issue as an analyst for the Burton Group, a research firm.

Activists who share his view are seizing on an article circulated by Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, an authority on telecommunications issues. Wu, who plans to present the paper Wednesday at a Federal Trade Commission hearing on Internet access, writes that wireless carriers are “aggressively controlling product design and innovation in the equipment and application markets, to the detriment of consumers. Their policies, in the wired world, would be considered outrageous [and] in some cases illegal.”

There’s no reason why smartchips can’t be interchangeable in devices, and if you read the article you’ll notice this ridiculous line by the wireless carriers, for which they should be made to swallow their words:

“Wireless is a competitive industry, and consumers enjoy the greatest number of choices among services, devices, calling plans and coverage areas in the entire telecom industry,” the main trade group, CTIA — The Wireless Association, says in a policy statement. “CTIA opposes the recent attempts to supplant competition and market discipline with heavy-handed, anti-consumer regulation.”

The gall of this association to suggest that opening up device access to networks is anti-consumer. And they wonder why we don’t trust them. One thing is obvious, the CTIA is doing its job, protecting the interests of the wireless carriers.

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Posted in Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

Lil’ Pinot & P-Air gettin’ some at Skyline Ridge, Utah

Posted by direwolff on February 8, 2007

Lots of doubts going into this adventure, but Lil’ Pinot was a true diehard, and was actually up on the kite before me. She totally jumped into it with both feet and little fear, and managed to have some fun along the way. Here’s a picture taken by our good friend Gabe, from our first day there, where we were surrounded by approximately 6 inches of fresh snow from the previous night, and Lil’ Pinot just motored around kite skiing…

What beautiful terrain. Skyline Ridge is really beautiful and no one really comes up here unless it’s for some backcountry something…skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowkiting, snowshoeing. The perfect snow playland.

On my first day out snowkiting I was very tentative trying to figure out how it related to kitesurfing, trying to figure out where my points of balance were, how hard the kite needed to pull me, how to get enough momentum to rise above the powder, etc. Suffice it to say, too much thinking and lots of considerations which lead to a fairly demoralizing start and a couple of awkward falls. Wasn’t even sure I was going to go for it the next day.

Well, surprise, surprise, surprise. The next day felt like I had been doing this sport for years. Everything came together right away and I was dialed and upwinding without trying…and it felt good. Gabe managed to snap out some more action shots of us riding…

There were some great hills to explore all around us and with a nice bright sun, temperatures slowly warming into the upper 20s, it was a shear joy to cruise up and down the mountains all around us…

One thing I will mention about this sport is that it’s definitely exhilirating and easier to get going with than kitesurfing, but it does tire the legs substantially more, and it’s worth learning how to ride in a place like Utah where the snow is much more forgiving, because in a hard pack snow day in Tahoe, I could imagine some serious pain for the uninitiated. As well, getting started the right way is critical to having an enjoyable time. A few other friends who came up and didn’t sign up for Jeff Kafka’s Wind-Over-Water snowkiting program thought they could figure it out on their own but didn’t quite pull through. Jeff and his co-instructor Loic, spent tireless hours following us with their snowmobile and snowshoes, to make sure we got dialed in just right. Once comfortable, they knew we’d be good to go. Even better, is that they have all the gear you need which kept me from having to lug my kites and accoutrements in addition to my snowboarding gear.

As for sending it, I was doing that by day 3 and copped a couple of nice 5 to 7 foot airs (only because the hill drops away from you when sending it downhill, not because I was doing anything to send it big…quite the contrary actually) into some soft patches of untouched powder snow. Nothing like what Jake was doing, but it’s a start.

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Posted in Kitesurfing & Extreme Sports | 1 Comment »