Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Oral Tradition; Writing; Movable Type; Internet - Exciting Times!

You've heard comparisons between recent developments in data processing, particularly the Internet, and use of movable type, a few centuries back.

I think we're looking at something more on the scale of the development of writing, a couple millennia or so before that.

Our ability to search, sort, and manipulate information today is unlike anything humanity has experienced before.

For a very long time, information storage and retrieval was limited to what people could remember, and re-tell. Stories told around a fire at night were a way to transmit ideas, stories, and values from person to person, and from one generation to another.

The first big breakthrough in information technology was writing, several thousand years ago. For the first time, people were able to store information externally, instead of relying entirely on what could be memorized and held within the human brain.

Movable type was the next important development. Printing presses with movable type made it possible to mass-produce written documents much more rapidly, efficiently, and accurately than was possible with hand-lettered documents.

The result was still a written document: produced in unprecedented quantity, and available at very low cost. Book ownership was no longer limited to the extremely wealthy and large institutions. Fast, relatively inexpensive distribution of information became possible.

Written documents are an excellent information storage medium, but one with very limited search functions, and no ability to sort of otherwise manipulate the stored information.

When I was young, externally-stored information was almost entirely static. We relied on our ability to read books, magazines, and other written documents for almost all access to the recorded store of humanity's knowledge and wisdom. Sound and video recordings not static in one sense, but it was more difficult to search for information in them, than in a book with an index.

Today, an increasing amount of information is in a dynamic medium: one in which information can be searched and manipulated in a way that would have been literally science fiction in my youth.

The change from storing information in a static medium to storing it in a dynamic one is a radical change.

Writing made it possible for us to store information outside our heads: indefinitely. That made it possible for ideas to be
  • Recorded in extreme detail
  • Transmitted across generations without depending on the vagaries of human memory
  • Brought together from vast distances in time and space - in effect bringing together minds separated by thousands of miles, and years
It's not as much fun, in a way, as swapping stories around a fire, but writing made it possible for us to enjoy the tales of Homer thousands of years after the Greek storyteller died.

The transition from handwritten documents to documents created by movable type was very significant, but didn't change the basic nature of writing. We still used permanent marks on a relatively flat surface to record and transmit information.

Now, in addition to the information storage and transmission power of written language, we have the ability to take stored information and rapidly perform tasks that are time-consuming, at best, with written documents:
  • Search
  • Compare
  • Sort
  • Count
  • Modify
We have something new here.

And exciting.

What Makes A Good Blog

For me a "good blog" is one where a new reader can tell, after reading about 25 to 50 words near the top of the page, what the blog is about: and, preferably, why.

It's one that uses enough graphics to make its point: and doesn't use graphics that don't.

A good blog
  • Organizes information clearly
  • Employs lean, focused writing
  • Eschews Obfuscation
  • Uses bulleted lists when appropriate
  • Uses posts that stop when they are done communicating
This comment was originally posted in How do "you" define a "good blog"?, a discussion thread on BlogCatalog.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Fear and Blogging

A blogging community I belong to, BlogCatalog, had a curious discussion yesterday: "MoonDanzerDelivers is Being Deleted."

As nearly as I could tell, the author of a blog had decided to delete her blog after receiving two or more anonymous calls. She perceived at least one of the calls to be threatening.

As her blog took a strongly anti-Bush stand, many of those who participated in the discussion decided that "they" are threatening her. "They" seem to be government agents, a government agency, or something of that sort. Probably the United States government, but that wasn't entirely clear from their statements. Not to me, but then I realize that there's more than one government on Earth.

After a quick look at her blog, taken before she took it down, I'm pretty sure that I'd find very little in it that I agree with.

However, there was nothing in what I saw that suggested that she was seeking the overthrow of the United States of America's government, seeking to betray classified information, or engage in other illegal acts.

She was quite within her rights to maintain that blog.

Just as I have a right to maintain a blog that is unlikely to win me a speaking engagement with Multidisciplinary American Studies at UC Berkeley.

I am disappointed that "Moondanzer" deleted her blog out of fear.

If she believed that the anonymous calls were from some crank, then a reasonable course of action for her would, in my opinion, be to contact local law enforcement and her telephone service, in an effort to stop the calls, and determine who the caller was.

(That's what I did, when my family started getting vaguely threatening calls. The calls stopped, but we never did determine exactly who was making them.)

If she believed that the anonymous calls were from some shadowy government agency or a rogue agent, or whatever equivalent terms there are, I can understand why she might have been hesitant to call the police. "They" might well have the police under their collective thumbs.

Her best course of action, if that is what she believes, might have been to contact as many news services as possible. In her position, I'd have probably started with the New York Times, the Washington Post, and every other major metropolitan paper in the country. A government conspiracy to suppress free speech would be news.

I've yet to use publicity in quite that way, but believe that it's a reasonable approach. Think of the implications of a government conspiracy in America to silence bloggers. A real conspiracy, that is. A story like that would have been NEWS!!!

Instead, she deleted her blog. I can understand her decision, in a way. She said that her husband worked with the FBI, and she apparently feared that his security clearance would be violated. Somehow. I had a very hard time following the logic of her blog posts.

In my opinion, fear is a good indication that some matter must be attended to. It is, however, not a good reason for taking action.

Deleting a blog because of two or more anonymous calls was not, I think, reasonable.

All that has been accomplished is that one person has engaged in self-censorship, and made it a little easier for some to believe that "they" are out there, lurking in the shadows and threatening the lives and welfare of helpless humanity.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Copyright Infringement, YouTube, and Video Sharing

YouTube to Implement New Technology Against Copyright Infringement: a subversive plot by Big Video (Big Oil, Big Tobacco, why not BV?) to rip off the masses by oppressing video sharing; or a sensible step toward keeping folks who make a living making videos from being ripped off?

I vote for the latter.

And yes, I know about residuals, RIAA lawsuits (Recording Industry Association of America), and the now-nearly-defunct studio system in Hollywood.

I still believe that people who go to the trouble of creating 'intellectual property' should be rewarded for their efforts.

Sploggers: Intellectual Property Thieves

"Thief" may not be the correct legal term, but I think it's the simplest, most accurate description.

A splogger is someone who runs a splog, or spam blog, according to Whatis.com. One of the tricks of sploggers is to use search engines, RSS feeds, and set-and-forget software to steal content from blogs. (There's more at Whatis.com.)

I'm no expert on this topic. I've been a webmaster for several years, but don't remember running into the term "splog" before: Not too surprising, maybe, since my experience with blogs started last month.

As a blogger and webmaster, I'm interested in the problem of splogs and sploggers. There's a pretty good discussion of a particular splog attack in a discussion thread on blogcatalog.com, How Do I Stop A Splogger?

I realize that this might be controversial, since quite a few people seem to believe that anything they find on the Internet is free for their own use. Others, or maybe it's the same people, believe very strongly that there is something distasteful, degrading, and/or unethical about monetizing Web pages and blogs.

My view is that intellectual property rights need to be defined and respected, and that making money isn't evil/insensitive/bourgeois/whatever.

A Blog Without Focus is a Blog Without Purpose, Sometimes

Back on July 22, I wrote that this blog "will be my blog on other blogs."

It didn't take me very long to lose my focus. I started making Apathetic Lemming of the North a repository of links and micro-reviews of Web pages I found interesting. Fun, but not what I had in mind.

More to the point, the re-purposed blog would probably be of interest to very few people, other than myself.

If a blog's author has no purpose other that self-gratification, picking a topic and sticking with it aren't important. The blog's only intended reader is the author, and the author presumably won't willingly spend time writing about anything the readery won't find interesting.

For all other blog authors, it pays to keep the reader in mind. At some point I'll probably harangue about spelling and syntax as aspects of readability. Now, I'll focus on - focus.

Three Reasons to Stay on Topic
  • Attract readers
    Search engines 'like' contentually consistent pages
  • Display relevant ads
    Contextually sensitive advertising services, like AdSense, choose ads based on what's found on the page
  • Bring readers back
    You're more likely to return to a blog that's rich in relevant content, so are your readers
Readers are like prospectors. They remember where they found rich collections of content, just as prospectors remember where they found rich deposits of gold.

I'll try to take my own advice, get back on track, and stay there.

First ISS Sabatoge, Now Drunk Astronauts?

Maybe, maybe not: but that's not necessarily what you'll hear on the news.

"Soyuz, Shuttle Cited in Drinking Reports" is an attention-getting headline in the UK newspaper, The Guardian.

The article, from the Associated Press, appears in other news sources online, and seems to be taken seriously. In fact, I've run into television news spots that treat the "allegations" of sabotage and report of drunken astronauts by an "independent panel of outside experts" as carrying equal weight.

The difference is that the allegedly sabotaged computer component really has cut wires inside, and the experts are passing on "unverified interviews."

I'll give the AP and the Guardian credit: "unverified interviews" is a quote from the article. And, in an impressive show of openness, the online AP article gives the name and rank of the panel of experts' head.

That puts this well above the anonymous "experts say" sort of report. Someone whose name is attached to a statement is, in my opinion, more likely to be careful about accuracy, than someone who remains a safely-anonymous "expert."

I don't have trouble with the report, as understood by someone who reads to the end of the article. "While the report was vague and gave no names, panel chairman Col. Richard Bachmann Jr., provided a few details. He said the panel was told about multiple instances involving alcohol, but the most detailed involved two astronauts." puts the allegation of inebriated astronauts in perspective.

So far, it's at the 'that guy told me' level of reliability.

Colonel Bachmann was also quoted as saying "There's certainly no intent to impugn the entire astronaut corps, ... "We don't have enough data to call it alcohol abuse. We have no way of knowing if these are the only two incidents that have ever occurred in the history of the astronaut corps or if they're the tip of a very large iceberg."

The AP article gives a reason why the allegations were unverified: "Bachmann said it was not the panel's mission to investigate allegations or verify them and that NASA would have to ferret out details."

We even learn that the panel of experts interviewed people directly involved with the U.S. space program: "Fourteen astronauts, all but one with spaceflight experience, were interviewed by the panel, as well as five family members. In addition, eight flight surgeons were interviewed."

What I see as a potential problem is the alleged habit of NASA brass had a habit of disregarding what flight surgeons said, unless it was good news. If true, that's stupid and dangerous.

If true.

I suppose I should be used to this sort of thing by now, but I'm still bothered by the apparently inability of journalists to
  1. See that there is a difference between allegations that have "that guy told me" as evidence and those that have physical evidence - cut wires, in this case
  2. Let the masses in on that not-so-minor distinction
Oh, well, at least that sort of sloppy reporting keeps guys like me busy.

NASA's public statement is "Findings of Astronaut Health Reviews," in the NASA website's "For Media & Press section."

Friday, July 27, 2007

U.S. Troops Broker Peace Agreement - commentary on this news

Don't read this if your mind is made up. U.S. forces in Iraq helped set up a local peace agreement, as more Iraqis tire of al Qaeda.

Original Stars and Stripes article: 18 tribal, local leaders OK peace agreement in Diyala (July 27, 2007)

read more | digg story

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Place for Every Blog, and Every Blog in Its Place?

I'm involved in an online community that's maintained by a software publisher. The TOS permit virtually any subject in their blog section, which is okay by me. The publisher is paying the bills, so they set the rules.

The problem is that many of the bloggers there are, in addition to their interest in art, dedicated to a particular world view. Some are able to discuss controversial topics, others very rapidly begin slinging a sort of expletive/slogan hash, with comments like "[expletive deleted] your god]" - hardly the sort of thing I like to wade through.

And wade I must, because the bloggers there aren't the best in the world at writing meaningful blog titles.

The point of this (rant?) is: I think that blogs that are part of 'online communities' can benefit from concentrating on common interests, rather than one-sided flame wars. Or any sort of flame war.

ISS Sabatoge: The Big Questions is, Why?

Somebody cut wires in a data relay box: a computer component headed for the International Space Station (ISS) via the Endeavour launch next month. Space.com's NASA: Sabotaged Wires Won't Delay Space Shuttle Launch doesn't have many details about who was responsible: an investigation is still in progress. The article also tells about other launches in preparation.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Another Misguided Soul Spouting Democratic Talking Points

Maybe this is just Republican talking points, but it wouldn't hurt to read it. Although rather strident, this post is a clearly-written statement of a position not held by Democrats, nor by many editorial boards.

read more | digg story

The Reconciliation Continues (in Iraq)

Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders joining forces against al-Qaeda runs contrary to what many expect to hear about Iraq. This detailed blog gives an alternative to the evening-news version of conditions in Iraq: Not rosy, but not hopeless either. Good reading for those looking for balance.

read more | digg story

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Word of the Day, and Blogs about Blogs

It was bound to happen, sooner or later. Someone has spun in to the blogging about blogging about blogging about blogging spiral.

A post in What's Wrong Around Us?, Sunday, July 22, 2007 Quote of the Day has a link to Narcissus-X, "a blog entirely about the blog itself."

Narcissus-X is
  • Brilliant!
  • Incisive!
  • Profound!
And I should know: I wrote it myself!

New Directory for Minnesota Travelers

As if there weren't enough of the things around, there's a new directory on the Web: Minnesota for Web-Wise Travelers.

This one focuses on businesses and institutions in Minnesota and the Red River Valley of the North which have a website, or at least a Web page, dedicated to themselves.

Minnesota for Web-Wise Travelers is for vacationers, business travelers, or anyone else interested in where to shop, catch a movie, play golf, fish, eat, or visit a museum. It even has a list of web-savvy wineries and breweries in Minnesota.

I'm pleased with the content of Minnesota for Web-Wise Travelers, but that's only natural: I created it myself.

Drug raid at Detroit Lakes festival (high times in Minnesota)

It's not the first time that the 10,000 Lakes Music Festival has been raided. This time, the cause seems to have been the appearance of a dead body near the gathering. Back in my youth, there would have been protests over police brutality and indignation over a raid, just because some guy from Illinois dropped dead. Ah, times have changed.

And I'm glad they have.

read more | digg story

Governor Ventura's Successor? - There's a New Loon in Minnesota

Amazingly, no one seems to be drawing parallels between Former Governor Jesse (The Body) Ventura and freshman Congressman Keith Ellison. Both have a gift of expression, colorful background, and talent for grabbing the spotlight that's rare in politics. Granted, I wrote this blog post myself, but the parallels between the two public figures don't seem to be brought up elsewhere.

read more | digg story

SiCKO Smear Campaign led by Bush appointee and former secretary of HHS

It looks like another conspiracy blog post, this one about the plot against Michael Moore's "SiCKO"

Here's part of what it says:

"The ad is part of the industry-led smear campaign against Michael Moore’s movie SiCKO. The group is 'financed in part by pharmaceutical and hospital companies.' Its Advisory Board includes President Bush’s former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. In June, the organization 'staged a conference call that drew nearly 20 reporters from around the country,'"'

What's interesting here are the comments.

read more | digg story

Google’s contextual advertising may lead to heart attack

This blog post's lead sentence is, "Ok so maybe that headline is a bit dramatic, but just take a close look at this screen capture of Yahoo! News."

The rest is a well-written description of how Google AdSense works, and how the author believes it relates to a relevant topic: health care. Apparently, we've got so much advertising online, that "most of America can’t make sound health care decisions on their own."

I may be wrong, but this reminds me of the way Gregory Bresiger paraphrased a letter from his congressman, explaining why the congressman voted against a tax cut. In part, the paraphrase said, "Besides, you wouldn’t know what to do with your own money. You’d just waste it!

"I'm one of those commoners who think that common sense is much more common than our betters believe.Still, Street Anatomy's post is well-written, and raises an interesting point.

read more | digg story

Getting Attention

There's not much point in having a blog if nobody knows it's there.

One way to attract visitors is to buy a few minutes of air time and advertise during the Super Bowl. For those of us whose budgets are smaller than the GNP of an average Mideast country, there are online resources.

I register on DMOZ, Google (yes, I know that's a little redundant), and a few other directories. It's also a good idea to get involved with blogger communities like BlogCatalog, Technorati, and Digg. They usually expect bloggers to add something, like the Technorati Profile, but that's a small price to pay for getting involved in the blogosphere.

Rise of Apathetic Lemming of the North

As if the world didn't have enough blogs already, here's another one.

Mine. My fourth, to be more precise:Why so many? I'm following the one blog - one topic rule. That makes each blog easier for folks to find, using search engines. It also makes a blog easier to read for anyone who isn't me.

Apathetic Lemming of the North will be my blog on other blogs.

Why "Apathetic Lemming of the North?" "Lemming" has been a term used to describe narrow-minded, biased fans: in the 1980s, of wrestling's WWF, later for any promotion.

I remember it being used as a description of those who didn't agree with people in the anti-war movement at least as far back as the 1970s. "Lemming" still seems to mean "easily-led dupe who doesn't agree with me" to this day, as its use in at least one comment dated October 21, 2006, demonstrates.

I am not particularly interested in the great causes some of this continent's coastal cultures: the oppression of the spotted owl, for example.

Even worse, I hold views which are contrary to the faith of such bastions of relevance as Amherst and Berkeley.

I am, therefore, not only apathetic, but a lemming as well.

A quick Google search showed that at least one other person of the 6 billion or so on Earth already used the "Apathetic Lemming" moniker. To differentiate myself, I have dubbed myself "Apathetic Lemming of the North." Appropriate not only because I live in one of the northern tier of the contiguous states, but because some of my views will almost certainly be viewed as cold and heartless.

I don't agree, but then I'd rather be alive than feel good: and assume that others feel the same way.

Enough introduction. To the blogosphere!
Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle online store

Pinterest: From the Man Behind the Lemming

Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts

Today's News! Some of it, anyway

Actually, some of yesterday's news may be here. Or maybe last week's.
The software and science stuff might still be interesting, though. Or not.
The Lemming thinks it's interesting: Your experience may vary.
("Following" list moved here, after Blogger changed formats)

Who Follows the Lemming?


Family Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory