Archive for October, 2004

Havana Mezuzah

October 30, 2004

So here I am walking down this gloriously sunny street in La Habana Vieja, Cuba, on this late October day — having just flown in from London via Paris, on a flight full of apparently wealthy Russians and a couple of of Very Tattooed And Big Hair body-builders, a few real-smooth Italians and some perfectly-English-speaking-Danes, all of whom made me feel like was on the set of a Fellini movie — when a stunning colonial hotel (which I later learn is the famous Raquel) catches my eye. As I drift in, I notice something that must obviously (to me), be a Mezuzah [micro-miniature Old-Testament/Torah scroll traditionally located on entrance doorways of observant dwellings], only it doesn’t look quite familiar and no one else notices it, and what’s it doing here anyway? “Que es eso?” I say in my fumbling Spanish to my hosts … but alas no reply. Now I’m not so sure. So I walk in, and lo and behold in front of the desk I see a major plaque with a large picture of a Menorah, Hebrew writing, and an inscription in Spanish commemorating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans!

No one I ask can explain the positioning of this plaque, but I figure there must be some Jewish ownership or residency of the hotel. Anyway, by now I figure nothing can really surprise me. Then, as I’m editing these notes on my laptop in my Havana hotel, I’ve got the TV on in the background, and (suffering from fatigue after a day full of Spanish conversation) I’ve put on CNN, when what should appear but a story about how Bush and Kerry, with only 3 days to go until the US Presidential election as I write this, are both in the key swing state of Florida to target their opponents’ Jewish and Cuban voters, for the following reason:

Bush is targeting the Jewish-American vote (because in 2000, the 250,000 Jews voted roughly 4-1 for Gore)

Kerry is targeting the Cuban-American vote (because in 2000, the 450,000 Hispanic population voted roughly 80% for Bush)

Synchronicity, eh?


WordPress -> NewsGator bug/fix

October 28, 2004

After migrating from Radio Userland to Blogger to WordPress (see my comments about the process here), I found that NewsGator could not successfully handle my (i.e. this blog’s) new feeds. Already reeling under the force of Digital Identity Disorder, and therefore not wishing to pursue this in enorous depth, I was rescued bya timely email from Brad at NewsGator, which I reproduce below (for the beneft of others who may randomly stumble across this post while trying to solve the same problem).

Ah, yes, this is a known bug in WordPress.

The short answer is:

Take the attached file [outlook.exe.config], and place it in the directory with Outlook.exe (for me, that’s C:Program FilesMicrosoft OfficeOffice11) [similar for me, except Office10]. Restart Outlook, and everything should be kosher.

The long answer is:

WordPress has a bug in that it is sending illegal responses to web requests. Most things ignore the illegal header (such as browsers) and go ahead and show the results with no problem.

However, XP SP2 also includes .NET 1.1 Service Pack 1, and one of the changes in this service page includes newer, tighter restrictions on illegal web response headers. Things that used to work, like these WordPress feeds, are now failing for everybody.

The config file tells .NET that it’s okay to allow those illegal web responses and work just like it used to. Very annoying for us, but at least the fix is relatively easy.

I just tested this fix with your feed, and it works for me.

Let me know if you have any other issues, and thank you for your kind words about our product!

– Brad

Then, in a subsequent message (after I asked Brad if he minded me quoting him in my blog), he added:

But I should warn you that if someone tries to apply this fix and they aren’t running .NET 1.1 SP1, it might actually break NewsGator and Outlook. 😦 Unfortunately, older versions of .NET will try to parse the configuration file, not understand the new setting, and throw an error back at us.

We are, of course, working on a fix that will work for all versions of .NET, without resorting to this config file nonsense. 🙂

We also have a KnowledgeBase article about this:

The users can follow the directions on that page.

Awesome… so more kind words for NewsGator, and continued kind words for WordPress – that bug didn’t fundamentally bother me as WordPress is a ‘work in progress’ and seems great to me so far! [I see from googling around quickly that there is much discussion on this topic, including other suggested fixes, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader].

Update 29-Oct-04: thanks to Steve Jenkins for the following fix:
“You can also fix your wordpress feed.

To fix the problem, youll need to edit the wp-blog-header.php file in your WordPress install directory. Go to line 87 and change Last Modified: to Last-Modified:.

Garoo has additional info.”


October 28, 2004

Details in my recent posting on Get Real.

Social Software History Lesson

October 28, 2004

Life With Alacrity: Tracing the Evolution of Social Software

The term ‘social software’, which is now used to define software that supports group interaction, has only become relatively popular within the last two or more years. However, the core ideas of social software itself enjoy a much longer history, running back to Vannevar Bush’s ideas about ‘memex’ in 1945, and traveling through terms such as Augmentation, Groupware, and CSCW in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Worth a read, including the many comments suggesting a few ‘gaps to be plugged’. Thanks to Mark Gaved for the link!

nextgen flash player demo in tokyo

October 27, 2004

moockblog: nextgen flash player demo in tokyo

yesterday kevin lynch, macromedia’s chief software architect, demonstrated the next generation version of the flash player at the macromedia flash conference in tokyo, japan. the packed crowd was the lucky first public audience in the world to witness what’s coming next for flash.

only a few features were shown, but already you can see the monumental improvements being made. man, does the next player ever scream.

Check the original posting for links to some cool videos of demos. Thanks to Ben Hawkridge for the tipoff!

John Peel dies

October 26, 2004

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | TV and Radio | Legendary radio DJ John Peel dies

Veteran BBC broadcaster John Peel has died at the age of 65, while on holiday in Peru.
Peel, whose radio career spanned 40 years, was on a working holiday in the city of Cuzco with his wife Sheila when he suffered a heart attack. He was BBC Radio 1’s longest-serving DJ and in recent years had also presented Home Truths on Radio 4.

British readers won’t need this weblog posting, and non-British readers may well not know about John Peel – but I’m posting it anyway because the guy was as important a regular fixture in my life as he was in the lives of millions of others. It’s inconceivable to me that anyone else could possibly wear that ‘triple crown’ encapsulated by: [1] giving me fantastic music with which to boogie-on-down-the-hall; [2] giving me late-night neo-thrash-punk-death-metal-grunge-scratch-ambient headache-inducing trauma making me want to throw my radio out the window; [3] providing tear-jerker commentary backed by that warm-fireside slipper-bathrobe-and-pipe down-home feeling supported by random radio storytellers from around the country. I discovered so much great music and so many great stories through his programs! What a loss!!

Obituary and tributes on the BBC site.


October 26, 2004

sample map of sightings from Birdtrack

I hope Jonas Luster reads this, contacts the Birdtrack people, and gets them to join up to his experiments!

Birdtrack is an exciting new project that will look more closely at migration movements of birds throughout Britain and Ireland at all times of year. It will also study the distributions of scarce birds in Britain and Ireland. Launched at the Rutland Bird Fair on 20-22 August, BirdTrack provides facilities for observers to store and manage their own records and for forwarding records to County Bird Recorders. The results will contribute to knowledge of birds and to their conservation at national, regional and local scales.

I guess you could think of this as a kind of BuddySpace for birds, right? But with a few added twists: very valuable conservation data being generated in near-real-time, and with a highly motivated and distributed social network. Not my hobby, personally, but this group seems to be well up on very interesting and appropriate geolocation and ecosystem modelling tools.

Digital Identity Disorder

October 25, 2004

SUMMARY: Digital things go wrong, causing personality disorder. Are today’s malfunctions worse than before? I call this state of un-well-ness “digital identity disorder”.


With all the excitement about digital identity (see, for example, Digital ID World’s definition), I wanted to describe a more low-key variant: namely, that which gets lost when your digital world becomes broken or bug-riddled. Consider the following (true) scenario:

  • My desktop computer at work has been upgraded, and is now both slower and suffers from unreachable web pages that clearly exist, but not always, and not in a replicable way
  • My laptop has been upgraded, and now can’t drive an external projector, plus a few other display anomalies; the hardware manufacturer pleads ignorance, and online advice is thin.
  • My internet connection at home suffered a bizarre breakdown in service due to ‘rotted wiring underground’ (now fixed).
  • My home computer, even with up-to-date anti-virus software and a good firewall, suffers from spyware and browser hijackings
  • My PDA, since upgrading the synch software, has a permantly-empty contacts list
  • My wireless setup at home no longer ‘passes through’ the connections from my wireless hi-fi (that’s right, hi-fi, not wi-fi) that I use as a high-quality infinite jukebox
  • Having migrated this blog last week, certain (but not all) ported entries wreak havock on RSS aggregators, typically because of the inclusion of non-standard characters such as ‘smart quotes’ (as opposed to the ‘dumb quotes’ used in this sentence) — this in 2004, yet! Oh, and the URLs have changed too — I could fix that, but have run out of time and patience.
  • Having personally overseen the largest wi-fi broadband schools network setup in the UK (about 7 years ago), I find that due to a quirk of history I’ll be the last person in the UK to actually get broadband at home.
  • I’m forevor running out of hard disk space, everywhere — despite fairly regular purchases of ‘ample’ space/hardware
  • Email overload has become a double-bind: too overwhelming in volume to read, even scanning quickly, too full of possible importance to ignore. And those auto-deleted spam-filtered items? Well, I once did a quick analysis on 5000 trashed items over a one-year period: only one falsely trashed item… not too bad, but still anxiety-provoking.
  • … there’s more… but read on…

OK… you get the picture. So what? Surely this is indicitave of one sad geek-wannabe, since a true geek would have fixed everything, and a non geek would just not have cared, or not been painted into such a corner, right? Besides, what’s the big deal: there are a lot more problems in this world than lost blog entries, spam, and buggy operating systems, right?

Well, I’m not comparing this to real troubles in the world. Instead, I want to make a point about how our identities can become dangerously wrapped up in a digital quagmire. Sure, there have been many proclamations about us all becoming a bit too wedded to the technology, but my feeling now is that our dependency is at a dangerous inflection-point. Once one gets in too deep, disruptions are extremely disconcerting. We have limited patience for fixing/editing/debugging, which over a certain period of time can be enthralling, but over a longer period can become downright soul-destroying.

Robert Pirsig argued many years ago, in the well-known Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, for the benefits to personal well-being that ensue from a level-headed approach to the challenges of debugging [this is a gross over-simplification, but not a bad encapsulation for the purposes of this posting]. But today’s software environments are chamelions tantamount to Pirsig’s (protagonist’s) motorcycle switching from petrol-power to electric-power to nuclear-power to something-unheard-of every 2 or 3 years. Worse, the switchovers happen at the precise moment when a real dependency has developed.

I’ve seen people lose their hard drives: pretty bad. I’ve seen people lose their email passwords with no recovery possible: pretty bad. I’ve seen people lose all their blog postings: pretty bad. But what is it that’s actually so bad? In a nutshell, an increasing portion of one’s identity becomes tied up in digital artifacts, and when these go haywire, it becomes extremely unnerving. When the number of things going haywire exceeds a certain threshold, we get downright grumpy. In fact, I’ve observed the same problems among definite non-geeks who have become overwhelmed with the increasing pace at which digital artifacts (including emails) are thrown at them.

The upshot is that I’ve been rather grumpy for about a week, as all these problems combined and compounded one another. The lesson is clear: time to step back for a bit. I naturally need some of the technology to do the bits and pieces for some papers I’m writing and presentations I’m preparing, but I’ve decided that actually no, I do not need most of it, so I’m going bypass some of the debugging for a few weeks, let the buggy systems languish for a while and deal with them next month.

I’m certain that I can ultimately deal with the problems, because I always have. The resources are certainly ‘out there’, and here in KMi, for solving them — but ‘out there’ is precisely one of the problems: the internet is an invaluable resource for helping me repair problems that I wouldn’t have had in the first place if my life weren’t so damn, well, digital.

WSJ Quits AvantGo

October 25, 2004

See my longer posting about this event here on Get Real.

New My Dog II blog, new feed URLs

October 25, 2004

For anyone subscribed to the [old] ‘My Dog’ feeds, this is for you [posted as the last posting on my old blog, and duplicated on my new blog for consistency]: I’ve redirected my home page/blog to [this] new WordPress-powered ‘My Dog II’, so although the top-level generic URL is the same ( ), the correct generic URLs for the three feeds are as follows:

RSS 2.0:

RSS 0.92:


I have kept the old permalinks in existence to avoid dead links, but have also duplicated them in my new WordPress database in order to facilitate migration.

Many thanks for subscribing!