Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Face, meet egg.

The good news: former Britannica editor-in-chief Bob McHenry responded to my post about britannica blog.

The bad news: he completely misunderstood me! I sort of couldn't bear the thought that that miscommunication might be my only brush with encyclopedic superstardom, so here's the clarification.

William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland (September 12, 1800–December 6, 1879), was a British aristocratic eccentric who preferred to live in seclusion. He had an underground maze excavated underneath his estate.

Geoff's wikifying Ethiopia.

And about the blogger code of conduct:

The key to Star Wars is that Luke SkyWalker did not defeat Darth Vader by fighting him. Fighting the darkside only gives it power! The lesson for Luke was to appeal to Vader’s better nature. This is how civility works on Wikipedia, and the only way it can work on the internet.


Wikipedia has the potential to be one of the most contentious places on the internet. And yet it has developed a culture that can mediate any debate.


Web 2.0 started by reinventing Usenet badly, now they’re reinventing netiquette badly.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Note to Britannica: the medium is the message

From the why-didn't-anyone-tell-me dept.: Britannica Blog -- part of Britannica's long-overdue effort to embrace technology.

It's a good read, though the interface is a little overbearing (most of the space on the page is devoted to titles and "read more" links). If they can get Michael Feldman to write about nanotechnology, maybe they can hire Kottke as a blogging consultant.

Wait a minute: what's an English major like Feldman doing writing about nanotech? Even my tech.comm.-major eyes can tell that his well-written post is a gross oversimplification -- the tiny-motors model of nanotechnology is super-controversial (as wikipedia will tell you). Feldman's post is good enough for a newsmagazine, but this is Britannica -- they could have gotten Eric Drexler to write about nanotech for them. (They got Einstein, 60 years ago.) If they want to make everything accessible and bloggy, they could have gotten Rebecca Blood to co-edit every entry.

Britannica's most valuable asset, the very core of their brand (sorry about the business-speak) is expertise -- the ability to draw people at the nobel-prize level, the very top of their fields. So why isn't this reflected in the Britannica blog?

I think it's because people are misunderstanding blogs (and perhaps wikis -- got to get that plug in somewhere) in the same way that they've misunderstood comics (and hip-hop, and jazz, and back and back to the lowermost turtle):

Blogging is not a genre. The defintion of blogging isn't "writing autobiography", or "unearthing political bodies", or "becoming a de facto expert on a topic you don't have de jure credentials in". It's not about running your own site or having a column.

No: Blogging is a medium. Blogging is short-ish chunks of text with links in them, posted frequently to the internet. That's the extent of the definition.

You can do anything you want with the medium of Blog as long as you respect its inherent differences from print. Television and Film are both moving pictures, but they're different media: television is ad-supported, for example, and the screen is smaller, and nobody will yell at you to be quiet. As a result, TV shows are totally different from movies at every stage, from the time they're scripted to the time you watch them: the medium is the message.

* * * *

To put it another way: the Encyclopedia Britannica is a starting point for most people, and it looks like that's the way Britannica Blog is treating it: get a star-studded roster of writers, have them read the encyclopedia, have them talk about whatever comes to mind.

But for the EB company, the Encyclopedia is the ending point of their writing process. The most exciting thing about Britannica is the way it's written: convening (in theory) the greatest minds on the planet. The Britannica Blog is being pointed in the wrong direction. It should be offering a window into the process of writing. I'd love to hear geniuses muse about how to best summarize a field.

(Supplemental: WP on the EB. 85 kilobytes.)

Update: Former britannica editor-in-chief Bob McHenry responded to this post -- I'm pretty sure he misunderstood me, so it makes sense that a lot of other readers might have, too. Here's the exchange, and my clarification. (I've tightened up the post a little, too.)

Category:Extreme points of the world

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

List of films by gory death scene

Ogg Vorbis -- no future?

All of wikipedia's audio is in the open Ogg Vorbis format, which doesn't play on iPods (or a lot of other players). John Gruber warns that Ogg may never see wide use.

With regard to Ogg Vorbis, or the idea of “free” codecs in general, the consensus seems to be that this is an ugly patent lawsuit waiting to happen. Yes, the creators of Ogg Vorbis have released the format (and source code for encoding and playback) openly, but the holders of the patents behind MP3 (and other patented codecs) very likely consider part of Ogg Vorbis to violate their patents. If Apple, or any other company with a serious amount of money behind it, were to use Ogg Vorbis in a mainstream widely-used product, it could lead to an expensive lawsuit.

Do software patents suck? Yes. Is it possible that Ogg Vorbis does not actually infringe on anyone’s patent, but that some patent holder could sue and win even though they shouldn’t? Yes. The point is, Ogg Vorbis is intended to be free, and it would be great if it were free, but no one with deep pockets has yet tested the water to see whether it really is. Worse, there are some experts who do believe that Ogg violates at least one significant patent.

Planning for a wikipocalypse

Lightsaber Combat via

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Amazon's Mechanical Turk is failing for the same reason that Wikipedia is succeeding.

The Feynman Point is the sequence of six 9s which begins at the 762nd decimal place of π. It is named after physicist Richard Feynman, who once stated during a lecture he would like to memorize the digits of π until that point, so he could recite them and quip "nine nine nine nine nine nine and so on."


"I write these words in April 2007. If my prediction holds true then by the end of next year major news organizations will have research staffers who spend their working days reading Wikipedia edit histories. In a couple of years ordinary people won't just peruse your biography or your company's current Wikipedia entry when they decide whether to do business with you, they'll be clicking on alternate Google returns to see whether you've been in an arbitration case. Blogs and forking sites will chronicle ideological and corporate attempts to manipulate Wikipedia."

Monday, April 09, 2007

Light rail can carry as many passengers as a 16-lane freeway in the space of a two lane roadway. (Check out the pictures.)

If you want to know how to drive a streetcar ...

Also, a trolleybus is an electric bus powered by two overhead wires. And this is a cool picture.

The origin of the finger (gesture) is highly speculative, but is quite possibly thousands of years old. It is identified as the digitus impudicus ("impudent finger") in Ancient Roman writings[1] and reference is made to using the finger in the Ancient Greek comedy The Clouds by Aristophanes.