Archive for February, 2006

Symbiotic and parasitic applications

Posted in Stuff on February 16th, 2006

I’m following various discussions about layered web applications–that is, software that “layers over” other web sites or software. That includes “mash-ups,” some API-based applications, and lots of other “Web2.0ish” things.

Lots of these ideas and applications are wonderful. Once in a while, I do have mild skeptical thoughts about two aspects of them–particularly if and as such applications are suggested as replacements for more, shall we say, traditional applications rather than as extensions or complements.

I’ll just mention one in passing, since it should be obvious to anyone who’s been through the dotcom bust: A layered application ceases to work if the underlying operation goes away. But you all knew that, right? Whenever any private business says “forever,” be a little cautious: “Forever” can mean “at least through the end of this fiscal year.” (The same is true for nonprofits and government entities, of course.)

My other mild concern is highlighted in the posting title. To wit:

What’s the ‘business’ relationship between this layer and the underlying operation?

I think there are three general answers:

  • Best case: Symbiotic. The layered application clearly benefits from the underlying operation, but in a manner that also benefits the underlying operation.
  • Most common case: Mildly parasitic. The layered application uses some of the underlying operation’s resources without providing any benefit to the underlying operation–but the amount of resources used is relatively small, and the layered application doesn’t weaken the underlying operation except to the extent that load becomes a problem. (Not that load can’t become a problem; very few underlying operations have the apparent robustness of, say, GoohooMszon.)
  • Most dangerous case: Strongly parasitic. The layered application uses some of the underlying operation’s resources to compete with the underlying operation, directly or indirectly.

I guess I wonder whether layered applications of the third variety have predictably long lifespans. If, for example, you’re providing a service that appears to sit at an online retailer and tells people how they can use what the retailer sells without paying for it…well, doesn’t the retailer have some motivation to find ways to prevent your use of their resources? And aren’t they justified in doing so?

This is just musing. Maybe the online sites that become underlying operations for layered applications are run by such powerful and/or benevolent corporations that they would never worry about parasitism.

Then again, maybe not.

Journal of Electronic Publishing

Posted in Books and publishing, Media on February 15th, 2006

I’m delighted to report that the Journal of Electronic Publishing has returned.

(Those who read Online more promptly than I do already know this…thanks, PJ!)

JEP was an interesting journal “back in the day,” and was supposed to move to Columbia in 2002. Something happened. It’s now back at the University of Michigan, with the February 2006 issue out.

I’ve printed off most of the articles (four pages to a sheet, so I’m not wasting loads of paper), and will probably do a special Good Stuff or Net Media commentary–not in the March C&I (I’m working on the last essay for that issue now), but possibly for April. Given the authors, the titles, and the summaries, it’s likely to be a lively commentary…

And that’s how I remember JEP. Not that I always agreed with the articles–but that they were almost always worth reading and thinking about. Which is, I believe, the ultimate praise for any journal or magazine.

Ego and similarity: A silly little post

Posted in Writing and blogging on February 14th, 2006

I was doing my quarterly trio of “ego searches” just for fun (Yahoo! shows the largest ‘result count’ this time around for “Walt Crawford” and “Cites & Insights,” Google for “Walt at Random”), and decided to explore the first page or two of Google’s absurdly large “Walt at Random” result set (40,700).

Very informative. It showed me 89 items. Everything else–presumably, more than 40,600–was “very similar” or whatever the term is. (I didn’t redo the search.)

[Yahoo! finds 346 out of its claimed 27,300. That's more plausible, although a lot of those links make no sense at all. The ways of spam sites are passing strange...]

As I finish this coffee break, one word of advice to the spammers who don’t actually read this stuff anyway:

Telling me how wonderful my blog is and/or what a great grade you’re going to get for finding this blog on (whatever, usually a topic I’ve never commented on, and certainly not in the post it’s attempting to comment) and/or “asking for help” in setting up your blog doesn’t cause me to turn gushing idiot and approve the post. Those posts still get reported as spam based on the domain name and links. As with most spammers, you’re wasting my time and yours–and, when it gets extreme, adding to the list of topics that can’t be commented on because I add absolute word blocks.

Four cancellations

Posted in Movies and TV on February 10th, 2006

The four’s coincidental. Cynics might suggest that I’m writing this post because I should be adding notes on some Ariadne 10th-anniversary articles to Library Stuff for the next C&I, and am procrastinating. (Well, extremely knowledgeable cynics might suggest that…)

Anyway, I had some random thoughts about four TV shows that were cancelled this season. These really do qualify as random thoughts…and, although Fox deserves at least a small foot up the ass for their treatment of Arrested Development (yes, I’m watching That 70s Show slide badly through its final season, just as I’m watching the final decline of West Wing), this isn’t a “save these shows!” post.

Arrested Development: We’ve watched it from the beginning. We’ve laughed a lot. We’ll watch the final four this evening as Fox burns them off opposite the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, a final act of indignity for a badly-treated series…that maybe didn’t belong on broadcast TV anyway. Sure, we found it hysterical at times–but in a plate-spinning/juggling flaming torches mode that’s never worked very well for a mass audience. We caught on to the “Next time on Arrested Development” gimmick in a week or two (but then, how many half-hour sitcoms do “next time” segments for real?). If Showtime picks it up, well, we don’t take any premium channels, and we’re seriously considering dropping back to basic cable. It was fun while it lasted; I won’t say it was “too good” for TV, but maybe it was too peculiar.

Love Monkey: I don’t watch shows starting at 10 p.m. (I’m a morning person, and don’t tape on a standing basis if I can help it.) But we loved Ed and gave this one a try. My wife didn’t bother a second time. I did–a second and third. And still couldn’t decide whether it was worth the time to watch. The network’s made that decision; I can’t say they’re wrong. It was a little too much “inside baseball” in the music industry. Tom C. will be back, I’m sure…

Emily’s Reasons Why Not: Watched the first episode. (Heather Graham, book publishing: why not?). Wife gave up before the episode was finished. Network gave up not too long after. They were right. Lovely star, pointless show. I don’t remember whether there was a second episode; I clearly didn’t care enough to check.

The Book of Daniel: This one’s a curiosity. Didn’t watch it at the beginning of the season, even though the outrage of certain “religious” groups might have been reason enough to try it. Finally watched an episode in a hotel room during the Midwinter/MSN trip…apparently the final episode. Based on what I saw during the hour, I don’t think you can blame pressure groups for killing this show. It was a total mess. Not because Jesus was chatting with the priest–but because it was a total mess.

I’m sure some of you will disagree with one or all of these comments. (I can’t imagine too many of you are going to stress the comedic depth and skilled dialogue of Emily’s Reasons Why Not, but I’d guess all the other shows have devoted fans, including some who feel that everyone would love Arrested Development if they just gave it a try. We’ve never assumed that other people either should or shouldn’t share our tastes; it never bothered us that Buffy never had big viewing numbers, and it doesn’t bother us that Desperate Housewives does have big viewing numbers. We like[d] them because we like[d] them: Simple enough.) After all, if everyone had the same viewing preferences–or even if everyone’s viewing preferences boiled down to two or three patterns–we’d still have Three Big Networks and shows with a 30 share would be in trouble. As it is, no network program gets a 30 share.

Four things

Posted in Writing and blogging on February 10th, 2006

Geez, tagged by a coworker, yet.

And given that Lorcan’s participated (albeit in a somewhat morphed manner, as did Merrilee), despite his “po-faced disinclination to be frivolous” (as thoroughly evidenced during and after the Midwinter Blogger Salon!), I guess I’ll bite…but I’m going back to what seems to be the original list (at least based on the biblioblogosphere). So…

Four jobs I’ve had:

  • Busboy at the Bear’s Lair (UC Berkeley)
  • Library student assistant (page, reshelver, whatever)
  • Manager (and creator), circulation system, UC Berkeley Doe Library
  • Programmer/analyst – analyst – senior analyst, ever since

Four movies I can watch over and over (well, that overstates the likelihood of watching many movies more than twice, but we own these and have re-viewed them at least once, and certainly will again…):

  • The Princess Bride
  • Ice Age
  • Chicken Run
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Four places I’ve lived:

  • Modesto, CA
  • Berkeley, CA
  • Walnut Creek, CA
  • Mountain View, CA

Four TV shows I love:

  • Desperate Housewives
  • Moonlighting
  • Bones (tied with Remington Steele)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Four places I’ve vacationed (only four? well, there’s Morocco, Tunisia, Costa Rica, Australia, Portugal, Molokai, Spain, Turkey, Greece, France, Italy, Scotland…but let’s go with):

  • The coastal fjords of Norway
  • The coastal fjords of New Zealand
  • Alaska (including, to to be sure, the coastal fjords)
  • The Marquesas (in French Polynesia)

Four of my favorite dishes:

  • Osso bucco
  • Chicken tortilla soup in all its many varieties
  • Real fajitas back when that meant skirt steak and was mostly served in San Antonio
  • The calzones at Milan, our neighborhood pizza parlor

Four sites I visit daily, unfortunately not omitting the obvious:

Four places I’d rather be right now (if my wife was along!):

  • Aboard Crystal Serenity, almost anywhere
  • Aboard Seven Seas Navigator, not quite almost anywhere
  • I’m doing this at home, so I guess that doesn’t really count…
  • In February? I’m supposed to come up with nicer places than the Bay Area in February? OK, then, Bora Bora or Moorea.

Four bloggers I’m tagging (not only doesn’t Roy have a blog, neither does Clifford…), and if I can do it, you certainly can…

Updated 2/12: Added Remington Steele as a tie with Bones within the “TV series” category. Like Moonlighting, the series involved a detective agency, was heavy on interaction between the female and male stars, and was at least partially created by Glenn Gordon Caron. Like Moonlighting, the primary star when the show went on the air was the woman (Cybill Shepherd, Stephanie Zimbalist) but the male actor became far better known after the show left the air (Bruce Willis, Pierce Brosnan). And like Moonlighting, the show’s at least as good as we remembered it being.

Crystal, Conde Nast, and the Berkeley Effect

Posted in Travel on February 9th, 2006

The Berkeley effect? At one point, in one ranking system, UC Berkeley was rated as the best university in (the world? the U.S.?). Not because all of its departments were best at what they do (they’re not). Indeed, it might have been ranked best even if none of the departments was rated #1 (which several are, depending on who’s doing the rating). The key: Berkeley has (had) so many departments in so many disciplines that are ranked within the top five or top ten: It’s a case of overall excellence and extreme breadth.

Which relates to cruising, Crystal and Conde Nast Traveler because Crystal once again scored highest of any cruise line in last year’s survey, as it has for years. I was reminded of that when we got a flyer from Silversea that, on the cover, claimed Conde Nast Traveler had rated it tops among cruise lines (false) and, inside, included the correct claim: Silversea ranks highest among small-ship cruise lines. (Silversea’s ships carry 296 or 382 passengers; Crystal’s ships carry 940 or 1080 passengers. While 1080 passengers counts as “small” as compared to the megaships that most mainstream cruise lines use, the typical dividing line is 500 passengers.)

In the January 2006 “Gold List” feature, each hotel, resort, and cruise line that qualifies is ranked by survey responses in several categories–six of them for cruise lines. Crystal certainly didn’t rank #1 across the board, but I think they might have come out on top even if they failed to be first in any of the categories (which isn’t the case):

  • Cabins: Crystal’s weak point compared to other luxury lines. Five of the eleven Gold List lines score higher, some of them substantially higher.
  • Food: While Crystal is excellent in this category, scoring better than most ultra-expensive hotels, two small-ship luxury lines (Seabourn and SeaDream) score even higher.
  • Service: Crystal scores 97.1 out of 100–but SeaDream scores 98.2! (SeaDream’s ships house 110 passengers. We have yet to meet anyone who cruises SeaDream; we may be too ordinary to ever meet such folks.)
  • Itineraries: Crystal is tops here at 94.7, but barely ahead of Silversea and Grand Circle.
  • Design: Crystal’s also #1, significantly ahead of the runner-up.
  • Activities: Again, Crystal’s #1 and well ahead of the runner-up

The overall result is that, despite relatively weak Room scores (88.0, when the top score is 96.6), Crystal comes out with an overall 94.1–while the four other luxury cruise lines are clustered closely together (Silversea 92.4, Seabourn 91.9, Radisson Seven Seas 91.3, SeaDream 90.2). (The sixth-rated line is back at 87.0.) Could Crystal have emerged on top if it was second in every category? Quite possibly.

We’ve only been on one other luxury line (Radisson Seven Seas, second among large-ship lines), but from everything I’ve heard, these ratings are right on the money. This year’s poll may be different: the Crystal Harmony is no longer part of Crystal, and while it’s our favorite ship, there’s no question that its rooms aren’t as good as on the other two Crystal ships (and not in the same league as Radisson Seven Seas’ all-suite ships). So room ratings might go up–but the Harmony was also the quintessentially-perfect ship design. (My sense is that the itineraries are also less adventurous with only two ships.)

Seeing those detailed ratings also explains why some reviewers who do walkthroughs have wondered why Crystal scores so high. It’s not the cabins; it’s everything else–and “everything else” really only sinks in during the course of a cruise. For that matter, the design isn’t flashy (quite the opposite) or grand; it’s just effective.

I wish this cruise post was a way of hinting that we’re on our way. It isn’t: indeed, for the first time in more than five years, we have no cruise booked. It really was triggered by the misleading Silversea brochure.

Jon Stewart, Miracle Man!

Posted in Movies and TV on February 8th, 2006

OK, I knew Jon Stewart was funny. I knew he was talented.

According to this post from Siva Vaidhyanathan, I didn’t know the half of it:

“Jon Stewart had a baby over the weekend”

Now that’s impressive. I trust his wife was in the waiting room or by his side while this phenomenon occurred…

Super Bowl ads

Posted in Movies and TV on February 6th, 2006

I wrote a mildly snide post about the ads during the Super Bowl–I don’t watch the Super Bowl, never have, but I wasted the time to watch all the ads (plus four rejected ads) on Google Video today.

And Lishost ate my draft: When I clicked “Save as draft,” Firefox couldn’t make the connection.

There must be a cosmic lesson there, particularly given the domain registrar that Blake recommends and who I’m more delighted than ever that I don’t use…

So: Never mind. Pro football’s not my thing. The Dove ad was nice. The Glaxo “Asthma Control” ad was a clever tribute to a classic ad. Otherwise…well, I guess you need a big-screen TV, loads of bad beer, and a bunch of friends to make these ads really special. I’ll let it go at that.

The joys of real-time wordsmithing

Posted in Writing and blogging on February 5th, 2006

I’ve read advice about being a Proper Blogger, e.g., writing stuff in Word or equivalent so you can spell-check, get grammar advice, and go through as many drafts as you need, then putting up posts with future dates so you have a nice steady stream of material.

If that works for you, great. I do most of my writing in Word–but (with one exception) none of my blogging that way. When I’m working in Word (other than “work work”) I’m usually writing columns for print publications or essays for Cites & Insights (or doing other “traditional” writing work).

Nor (with specific exceptions) do I postdate material, which may be obvious given that I sometimes have three posts in one day followed by a week or more with no posts.

Here’s how these posts get written. I have a few minutes (at work) or half an hour or more (at home) and an idea that I feel ready to blog about (either from my little book of notes, like this one, or more frequently either because I encountered something I wanted to comment on or Just Because). I open WordPress [still a slow process] and click on Write. I choose some categories and start writing.

Not the “WYSIWYG option” in the new WordPress; I don’t have the new WordPress installed yet; I’m on 1.5.1.3. I use the “quicktags” bar some of the time; some times, I just key in the limited HTML that I use. It’s sort of a small editing window, but it’s OK.

I finish the essay (and, as you know, some of them really are essays), save as draft, and click on the draft to see it as it will appear in the blog. (Oh: Now I see that clicking “Advanced Editing” shows me the “as it will appear” version without an explicit save-and-restore.) I correct bonehead errors (the endless hyperlink, etc.) and maybe look over what I’ve written and refine it a little.

Then I click on Publish.

I started on this essay at 3:05 p.m. [PST] Sunday, February 5, which for some reason gets datestamped as 6:05 p.m. (I’m not a football fan. Such is life.) You can see when I finished it by the time stamp.

When I write books, print columns, and formal print articles, I normally submit a second draft–but each of those drafts has involved a fair amount of the intradraft editing that’s standard practice with word processing. I call Cites & Insights “1 and a half draft” writing, but even there, the first draft involves loads of intradraft editing.

I’m not sure what that makes this blog. First draft? Half-draft? I do know that it isn’t spell-checked and that the only grammar checking is the nut behind the keyboard. I’m sure you’re getting my “real voice” in about as raw a form as you’ll see (possibly excepting email or list responses). Real-time wordsmithing works for me, and it’s probably the only way I’d do a blog.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying anyone else should blog this way. I’m just saying it’s the way I do it.

What about the exceptions? The “Word exception” should be obvious: I write Off-topic Perspectives (reviews of old movies in DVD megapack) in Word, and post each disc’s worth when it’s done–but note that I write the four reviews for that disc after I finish viewing the last movie on the disc and usually post the commentary without any additional editing. The “postdate” exceptions included the first post (which I wanted to appear on April 1) and a few posts on cruising that appeared during a long cruise. There may have been one or two other exceptions, but that’s about it.

Pandora: Well, I’ll be d*ned

Posted in Media on February 3rd, 2006

I remember reading about the Music Genome Project a while back. Don’t recall whether I ever wrote anything about it–the effort to classify individual pieces of music along several hundred axes as to how they sound. Chances are, I would have been curious but skeptical. (Well, duh: Walt Crawford would have been curious but skeptical…)

Somebody (?) pointed me to an LA Times article on Pandora, a streaming music website making the Music Genome Project into a real service. The article is enthusiastic, suggesting that this service can nudge you to new music that you’re likely to like but might never have heard of–and that new musicians love the idea, with music companies being cautiously interested.

I don’t listen to music as background much (except in the car), but I had to do some other things in the vicinity of the computer, so I thought I’d give it a try. You start a new “station” by providing Pandora with one or more songs and/or one or more artists you like, and “tune” it by giving a thumb’s up or thumb’s down to individual songs it comes up with. You can define up to a hundred stations, and have a free account (with ads) or a $36/year account (without ads). It’s streaming audio at 128k MP3, and it sounds better than most MP3 streams I’ve heard.

My “station” started with Randy Newman (surprise, surprise), to which I quickly added Tom Paxton and James Taylor. I only listened for about 20 minutes–but damned if it wasn’t hard to move away from the station. Sure, some of the songs were from the artists I chose. But the others were, with one exception, right on the money–and they were all songs and artists I would not have known about.

This isn’t social software: Your radio stations are only influenced by the work of the project itself and your own choices (but you can choose “favorite” stations and email your stations to other people). It might not work at all for you. I still don’t see that I’m going to spend a bunch of time listening at my PC. But, well, so far, I’m impressed.

Hmm. Wonder what Joni Mitchell, Ry Cooder, and Boz Scaggs might yield… Some day, when I have some time free…

Quick update, now that I’ve installed my snazzy new MS Wireless Natural Pro keyboard & optical mouse…finally, there’s a wireless MS Natural keyboard, and the wireless mouse is even better than my old Logitech wired optical…: So that’s my second Pandora station, Mitchell Scaggs Cooder. Right now it’s playing “Ooh Baby” by Gilbert O’Sullivan–and I think I can see why. This station tests my own likes, since I only like most of Joni Mitchell, maybe 1/3 of Boz Scaggs, and some unknown but large fraction of Ry Cooder. Hmm. “Back on the Road,” Earth Wind & Fire. Makes sense, and I’d never make that connection. I see how people find Pandora a trifle addicting…


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