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Now that Chrome has been announced, I can say that it awesome. Super fast JavaScript and super stability. All I need is the Linux version.
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I heard a great proposal today, call it "Intellectual Privilege" instead of "Intellectual Property" so people do not get distracted by the obviously ridiculous idea that IP (which exists to give an incentive to creator) is analogous to physical property (which exists because we acknowledge that people have certain rights over non-reproducible items).

ETA: And with the power of search, I can even find the original proposal, although I have not ready it yet.
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The media keeps making a big deal out of corn grown for ethanol contributing to the food crisis, and this may have a tiny bit of merit (and corn based ethanol is just stupid anyway). However, what seems likely to be just as large of an impact is meat. It takes a lot of resources to raise meat animals (I have heard something like 7-13 pounds of grain for each pound of cow, the variance coming from the age at which the cow is slaughtered and whether you count the whole cow or just edible parts of the cow.) If we are going to blame ethanol for diverting grain that people can eat, certainly we should blame cows for dramatically decreases the amount of grain available for human consumption.

Now, I am not saying we should give up meat (although in the US we do tend to eat more than is healthy). I am quite fond of a well prepared steak. What I want to illustrate, rather, is the shallow nature of media reporting. Ethanol is controversial, so the media jumps all over the opportunity to imply that it is bad. They are not going to do the same thing for meat.

If anyone has numbers on productive acreage used for meat production and the productive acreage used for ethanol production, I would appreciate it (either in the US or globally).

ETA: For those ethanol numbers, I am interested in current land usage, not predicted land usage to satisfy a significant amount of US fuel needs.
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Through daily lit, I stumbled upon the article The Corporate Toll on the Internet. The article started bugging me on the third page when it gave an example that conflated two separate issues. The example was explaining how there exist applications that may perform better if the network is able to treat packets differently. For example, for video, latency is important, but perfect delivery is not. For downloading a file, the opposite is true. It is possible that users could benefit if packets from these applications were treated differently.

The article seemed to imply that the only way to make this work would be to have a non-neutral network. However, neutrality of the network is a separate issues. A network does not fail to be neutral just because it treats different packets in different ways. What determines neutrality is who decides which packets have different properties. If the end points that decide what kind of packet they want to use and the network honors that decision, the network is neutral. If, however, AT&T decides which packets get special treatment and which do not, the network is not neutral.
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The subject matter of the Ars Technical article "Gates' digital utopianism no match for China's realities" is certainly serious, but I could not help but laugh at the RSS feed summary of the article:
At a Stanford speech yesterday, Bill Gates trotted out some remarks on how the Internet couldn't be censored or controlled. No word yet on just how hard this made Chinese officials laugh.
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I have been reading The Feminine Mystique and, thus far, it is inspiring me to conclude that the image of femininity and motherhood pushed onto the American public in the late 1940's and the 1950's did just as much harm to the idea of a stay-at-home parent as the push for women to have full-time careers. A mother of that period was seen as abnormal if she wanted to be anything more than a stay-at-home mother and wife. This is more than criticizing women who wanted to have a career. Women were portrayed by the media as having no interests outside of their home and family except, perhaps, a not too active role in the church or PTA. Women were not expected to be interested in (or even have the capacity to be interested in) politics, art, economics, science, or anything that could not be related directly to the home and children.

This sort of attitude would make anyone hate the home. It would make anyone hate whatever it was they did. Suppose society expected you to have no interests outside of your job. No hobbies, no interest in family, no interest in social causes, no interest in politics. Imagine if you were expected to find total and complete fulfillment doing your job and only your job. I would guess that most people, even if they loved their job to start, would eventually come to hate it and to see it as a trap. I suspect that most people would also have the same misconception as modern society and blame the job rather than the unrealistic attitudes that surround it.

Because of the mid-century attitudes towards the role of women, the idea of being a stay-at-home parent has been marred in ways that are only now starting to be mended. Because staying at home did not keep the unreasonable promise of being all fulfilling, it has been seen as unfulfilling. I believe that things are improving now. Thanks, in part, to time showing that this extreme is as damaging as the other.

Another other important change has been the weakening of the idea that a stay-at-home parent can have no interests outside the home. The Internet plays an important, certainly not exclusive, role in this change. It seems that I regularly see bloggers, both male and female (mostly male because of the separate issue of gender imbalances in the blogging community, but that's a separate discussion) saying that, assuming their family can make it work financially, they want to stay at home with their children. They discuss the importance of their family and, just as importantly, the ways that their online network allows them to stay engaged with the world.

There are still many issues. How do we restructure the expectations of businesses for families where neither partner wants to stay at home full time? Or for families where no employee wants to be a slave to the office, even if one partner does stay at home? How do we change expectations so that women do not feel guilty whether they choose to stay at home or have a career? How do we change expectations so that a stay-at-home dad (or a male daycare worker) are not looked at as suspect? How do we achieve world peace with taffy and pudding for all?

Much needs to change, yet progress is being made.
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This month, O'Reilly is having a series of essays by women in technology. Today's essay is by Maria Klawe, mathematician, computer scientist, and president of Harvey Mudd College. Klawe's essay is about the change that has happened over the last 50 years for women in technology. The essay is mostly optimistic. However, there are two areas where progress has been disappointing: computer science participation and leadership positions. I would start quoting the key bits, but I cannot choose just one (or two or three) paragraphs. Usually, it seems these kinds of essays ignore the progress or ignore the problems. This essay manages to address both. Read it!
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Finished She's Such a Geek: Women Write about Science, Technology, and Other Nerdy Stuff edited by Analee Newitz and Charlie Anders. This book is a collection of essays on women about what it is like to be a female nerd. The essays provide a view in the the huge number of ways one can be a geeky woman.

Some of the women are still working with science and technology, some have stopped, some never have (actually, a lot of them are now writers, but that, I would guess, is a sampling bias). Some of the women embraced their nerdiness from a young age, some denied it for a period, and some of them rejected their nerdiness for awhile. All of the women in this book love their particular brand of geekiness.

There are, I think, two main themes of the essays as a whole. The first is that we girl geeks exist (and are pretty awesome!). The second theme is how women cope with the societal conflict between being feminine and being a geek. Some of the girl geeks reconciled this by denying their femininity. Others divided their lives into the sphere where they were feminine and the sphere where they were geeky. Others decided that they could be both, expectations be damned.

I highly recommend this book.
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Finished The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society by Manuel Castells. I originally got this book for a science, technology, and society class I took my sophomore year. At the time, it was very up to date; now it is about 6 years old, but still a worthwhile read because it is one of the most fact based books on the Internet and its interactions with society that I have read. Catells makes heavy use of studies and surveys done by himself and many others to try to cut through the hype that always surrounds musing on the Internet. I will only highlight a few of the most interesting chapters.

Castells discusses e-business and the new economy. His claim is that the biggest impact of the Internet on the economy is not the .com's; it is normal business extending onto the online world and adopting networked models of interaction. For example, many networked businesses do not every see the products they sell under their name. Castells gives the example of Cisco; Cisco itself is (was?) the main node in a network of companies that do the actual manufacturing and shipping of their hardware. Such arrangements bring up issues of liability and accountability. Is it Cisco's responsibility to make sure that the companies they work with operate according to the values and standards they want? In principle, yes, but how much can they really be held responsible given the difficulty of monitoring everything? (I am reminded of the recent pet food contamination.)

In the chapter on community, Castells discussed how studies have found that, despite popular intuition, internet participation does not, in general, decrease one's connections with those one knows in real life. In fact, technologies like email (and today blogs and photo sites, I would guess) tend to bring people closer together. Studies have also found that Internet users, on average, participate more in their local community than non-users. This may be because internet use tends to replace television watching (thus not decreasing time available for community participation) while providing a means to find out how to get more involved in the community.

Castells also makes some observations on the digital divide. Although studies show that there is a large disparity in Internet use between different economic groups and races (in the US) and between countries, these gaps were (in 2001) closing. Internet use by under represented groups was increasing at a higher rate than that of other groups. However, not all is rosy and hopeful. In under represented countries, the technological infrastructure needed for Internet access was not being built on public infrastructure because it was not modern enough. Instead, companies would build their own infrastructure. Corporate money going into infrastructure that could be shared with the public was considered likely to delay the propagation of the Internet in those countries.

Although a bit old now, this book is still a worthwhile read. I certainly got more out of it this time around than I did the first time (it was one of six classes; I was busy!).
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My sister needs some ideas on up-and-coming technologies for a class presentation. Does anyone have any suggestions?
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I have been using Yahoo mail since I first got online in 1994. Even though I have a gmail account, I still primarily use my little Yahoo mail account. However, I may have just found the feature that may drive me away.

They messed with links. That most basic and ubiquitous of things, links. Links are not now normal links. They are little JavaScript monsters. This, apparently, is so that I can be given multiple options when I mouse over the atrocity. If I just click on the link, it opens in a new tab. That works well enough, although I prefer for my new tabs not to take focus.

However, where they really broke things was middle clicking. When I middle click a tab, it should open in a new tab in the background. That part works fine. However, since they are not real links, and I have middle click set to paste, when I middle click the text on my clipboard gets pasted. Now, in Opera, when you paste text in a non-textbox it treats it as a URL to follow (I love this, I will add). However, when you paste random text on a page, you get, unsurprisingly, a message saying the URL is illegal.

Thus, my reflexive habit of middle clicking a link is completely broken in Yahoo main, and I am very sad. (Don't even get me started on JavaScript links that cannot be opened in new tabs.)
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Finished The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life by John Maeda. This short (100 page) book gives 10 laws and 3 key properties for designing simple systems. Maeda provides a hand summary of the laws and key principles:

Ten laws:

  1. Reduce: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.

  2. Organize: Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.

  3. Time: Savings in time feel like simplicity.

  4. Learn: Knowledge makes everything simpler.

  5. Differences: Simplicity and complexity need each other.

  6. Context: What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.

  7. Emotion: More emotions are better than less.

  8. Trust: In simplicity we trust.

  9. Failure: Some things can never be made simple.

  10. The One: Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

Three key principles:

  1. Away: More appears like less simply by moving it far, far away.

  2. Open: Openness simplifies complexity.

  3. Power: Use less, gain more.

I fail to see the difference between the laws and principles (maybe Maeda just didn't want 13 laws ;), but other than that, these feel like a good set of principles to keep in mind when designing. They capture many common design dilemmas. For example, systems are often designed for expert and novice users. The "Learn" principle can be used to frame this dilemma. A novice user has no knowledge about your system; an expert user has that knowledge. The system should provide necessary knowledge to the user while not getting in the way of the expert. By reducing the knowledge needed (law 1), possibly by relying on knowledge the user already has (law 4) this dual nature may be achievable. There may still be problems because some complexity is inherent in trying to cater to two user groups (law 9).

The Laws of Simplicity rings true. It is consistent with what I have read of Don Norman's work and with a good deal of what I remember from Jef Raskin's book The Humane Interface. It is also consistent with what I learned in HCI and my own experience.

One nitpick: the book tried to hard to push the associated website. Once at the end would have been enough. I can forgive it that quirk since it was, in general quite spiffy (and shiny, literally; the cover had pretty shiny bits).
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Some interesting thoughts on girls and technology. It's a short read. The even shorter summary is that women, especially young women, are often painted as being victimized by new technology, and this could be interpreted as way to disempower women who want to use technology. I find this very interesting. Not because I necessarily think it's true, I have no data to persuade me either way at the moment, but because I think that asymmetries in treatment, whether they be based around gender or other factors, are always worth looking into. There may be a legitimate reason for the asymmetry (maybe women really are significant targets with new technologies), but the asymmetry may also just be a way to influence thinking.

To go off on a tangent... it is like my dislike of the phrase "man and wife". Why not "man and women" or, if the married nature of the couple is important, "husband and wife" (the choices expand even more when, horror of horrors! you allow switching the order of the conjuncts)? In this case, the asymmetry is trying to define the rolls of those referred to. A man, even a married man, is still a man in all the generality of that word. A married woman is just a wife. I wonder, going even more off track, whether it is a strange fact of modern life that women are free to be women instead of a wife, mother, daughter, widow, etc.

That was particularly random. Anywho, back to work.
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UW CSE graduate students have exposed vaguely worrisome uses for a seemingly useful exercise aid (official report here).

I find it encouraging that UW HCI students are working with our new security professor. Often it seems that HCI papers present ideas that make one think "that's cool but what happens when someone tries to hack it." I am glad that we will (hopefully) end up with a bit less of this at UW than at other bases.
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This evening I read "Tussle in Cyberspace: Defining Tomorrow's Internet" by D. Clark, J. Wroslawski, K. Sollins and R. Braden. It is a very good paper.

A long summary )
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Ars Technica has an interesting article summarizing a recent report from the UK on Intellectual Property. The report contrasts models for dealing with IP. It looks at two attitudes towards IP; it can be treated as propertly, and it can be treated as a public good. The different models highlight the different balance between the two. The first treats IP solely as property during the (forever extending) term of monopoly. The second treats IP primarily as property and secondarily as a public good. The third switches the priorities, and the fourth treats IP primarily as a public good. The first approach is approximately American copyright law. The second is approximately British copyright law. The third compared to academic publishing, and the fourth likened to a community like Wikipedia. The recommendation of the committee was that the UK move from the second model to the third model.

This makes sense to me. Obviously the fourth model is not always appropriate. The first model, as we are finding in this day of easy ripping, burning, and mixing (to borrow a little of Apple's IP) is increasingly unsubstainable. That leaves a choice between the second and third models. The second model can be seen as more pro-business (although, as the article points out, it is really more pro-a-particular-type-of-business) and third model more in the public interest. Looking at it that way, it seems obvious to me that the government should promote the third model. The government's role is to work in the public interest first; it should work in the interest of business only in so far as that is in the public interest. The third model would support this by trying to provide enough IP protection to encourage creators to create while providing enough freedom of use to allow users to be even more creative.
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Popgadget has a post about the MacBook. This comment made my hour
They claim they would like to have the word Mac in every one of their computer lines. I'm not sure why they think it's so special - I live in Scotland, a place where every second person I meet has Mac at the beginning of their name.
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I do not know what I would do with a water bottle that doubles as a lanetern, but it sure is cool.
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Here are a couple random links: an amusing and brief history of shaving and a really interesting Wired article on internet distribution and the long tail of entertainment preferences.


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Erika RS

May 2012

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