Akismet has caught 101,035 spam for you since you first installed it.

November 14, 2007

Gee, I’ve passed the 100K spam threshold. Can’t tell whether I should be delighted or annoyed. Ho hum.

And the splog technology keeps advancing… just deleted a comment from my blog entry immediately below that read

“Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.”

etc… automatically harvested, with an interesting title, and trackbacked to my posting – compelling, but just fodder for a splog engine… bah!

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The truth about the Asus Eee RM Minibook

November 8, 2007

marc1.jpgWhy all the fuss? I’m hoping this will be my last posting on the subject I’ve been blogging about. [UPDATE: 4 linked postings here]

NO, I am NOT going to argue that this is the revolutionary educational box we’ve been waiting for. I’ve ranted against “the next big thing fallacy in education” elsewhere.

YES, I am composing this entry entirely on the gizmo itself.. booted from a cold start a few moments ago.

Here are the reasons I think this is a big deal:

1. Alignment Of The Planets: many factors are now in place, at last, to bring about the computer I first saw when Alan Kay showed a cardboard mockup at Xerox PARC in 1972. That’s 35 years… but now the hardware, software, developer and end-user ecosystems are at last aligned to have “good enough/ cheap enough” ubiquitous computing technology at our disposal

2. GNU/Linux: it’s essentially free, and eminently hackable – and the next generation of kids will noodle their away around this stuff with no problem

3. Web Apps: Web apps have matured into stuff we can really use a LOT of the time for a lot of our computing needs

4. gOS: The ‘almost Google OS’ we see on the Everex PC, essentially combinations of 2 and 3 above with Firefox and other goodies such as Skype, makes a robust, powerful, and usable environment

5. Cheap: Hey, you can buy 3 of ’em. Or, another way to look at this is to think of it as Your Third Computer. Forget about Desktop replacement, laptop replacement, or PDA replacement… keep those, all good in their niches – this is a perfect Third Computer.

6. Solid state: it’s quiet… no moving parts – hooray!!! Psion’ 7 and Windows HPC and others have tried and failed before… that’s partly because they didn ‘t have all the ingredients above… partly because no one wanted to fork out so much money when they could have a full-spec Toshiba laptop for the same price.

7. Does ‘enough’: it does 95% of what I do on a regular basis

8. Grandma: it has a friendly enough interface to satisfy the constraints of my fantasized “Grandma-friendly computer

9. Kitchen: well, use it ‘wherever’ … in precisely the places where other computers would be inappropriate or too worrying.

10. No-thinkee: you don’t have to think “shall I take this with me”

That’s it… 20 minutes from cold bootup to posting this entry. I’ll need 2 more to upload the photo I just took. Only 1 beef is that the right shift key is in the wrong place… I’m a demon touch-typist, and the keyboard is tiny, of course, but fine.

UPDATE 19:35, same day: I’m adding this update paragraph from a conventional big-keyboard machine… everything you see in this posting above, as well as the Technorati Tags below, was done on the Asus Eee itself. I wrote down my start time when I opend the stone-cold machine: 15:38. The blog posting was live by 15:54, so that’s 16 minutes from a cold start, with no prep, no notes, and only 2 minutes playing with the machine a few days earlier. It then took me about 5-6 minutes of fiddling to upload the photo from my camera: the SD card worked perfectly, and the image opened up immediately… but it took me a little while to make sense of the menu choice in the image handling package I selected. No big deal. Also, I forgot to say that I opened a handful of tabs in Firefox to do quick copy/pasting of the embedded links to my old blog entries and to copy the Technorati tags I use (the ones below are the originals, copy/pasted live on the Asus Eee at the time I wrote the above notes). During all my frantic window juggling, Firefox crashed!!! I was halfway through the blog posting, but delighted to find that when I re-started it, the option ‘restore session’ brought up WordPress with all of my as-yet-unsaved draft completely intact (whew). So I reckon that the 20-minute-total time from cold start to live blog entry with photo is approximately correct – 22 minutes max, including crashed Firefox recovery. When I had finished, Mark Gaved then tried the Asus with a 1280×1024 external monitor at full resolution: it looked great! All in all, ‘full marks’. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that (a) this was a pretty exceptional, intensive and fast-paced 10-finger typing exercise, and (b) it’s now almost 4 hours later as I’m adding these notes, and my right hand aches. That’s almost certainly why this needs to be a ‘Third Computer’ for me – but in that niche, I love it. 😉 Finally, check out these cool additional resource links from Ninelocks’ blog.

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RM sells out entire stock of Asus Eee MiniBook in two days

November 6, 2007

Mind you, we don’t know how big the supply (of RM, the UK major Asus reseller for education) was. At least Mark got his (below) via some crafty manoeuvring and a bit of a retrieval saga involving a 20-mile drive to the depot when they couldn’t find his house…

My evidence? I’ve just finished speaking to RM on the phone… my order is somewhat delayed… more are “on the way” (10 days)…

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Gaved Scoop: Hands-on Linux £199 Asus Eee MiniBook

November 5, 2007

gaved-w-rm-asus.jpgHere’s Mark Gaved with his fresh-out-of-the-box RM Asus MiniBook (AKA the Asus ‘EEE’ PC 701). He bought one straight from RM in the UK as a pilot machine for some nifty handheld science project work he and colleagues are undertaking (described in a story over at KMi Planet).

Boot up from cold start to fully functioning GUI took about 20 seconds.

We spent roughly two minutes hammering a few applications very quickly, including Firefox, YouTube, Open Office (creating some Word-style tables and a few Excel sheets), etc etc.

No question about it: this is the real deal. Mine should arrive within about five days, hopefully, and I’ll file a more in-depth report.

Oh, and the total cost? £199 + VAT

In the photo we’ve plugged it into my giant ancient wall-mounted display and external speakers – no fuss, no prep, no cheating: does what it says on the tin. Locates the wireless network, surfs the web, runs the Open Office suite, just as promised – even better than I expected, to tell the truth. Yeah, the keyboard is small – duh, what did you expect? Stay tuned for detailed hammering.

UPDATE 1: check out this post from tnkgrl Mobil for some nice personal comments and unboxing photos – much more interesting to me than the BIG reviews that sound too much like a replay of the brochure specs.

UPDATE 2: even better than Gizmodo’s 9-reviews-of-Asus roundup, there are some much more interesting Asus PC 701 EEE serious hack/mod sites:

Great stuff! (Thanks to Mark Gaved for bringing the Asus to my attention in the first place, for obtaining one so quickly, and for pointing out many of the links above).

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OpenSocial + gOS = Game Over?

November 2, 2007

No, actually. The world is not so simple. But it’s a nice transitional moment. There’s so much hot commentary about OpenSocial that I’m only going to add a few snippets and links (go straight to TechMeme for the rest):

1. The two sites that I thought had the most interesting commentary: Mashable is full of dozens of late-breaking stories, including an interview with Hi5 re OpenSocial, and Compete.com does a nice statistical analysis supporting their hunches about OpenSocial

2. Even as a merely casual user of FaceBook and MySpace, I can’t see any moves like this getting me as a user to ‘switch allegiances’… but of course for developers it is nice to avoid having to deal with dozens of idiosyncratic widget APIs, and this is a great step. Moreover, sometime down the road one of those developers will do something compelling enough for users to think again about their allegiances.

3. Add into the equation the Google OS (gOS) I wrote about yesterday (immediately below). Now that combo is a very interesting story… let’s see how it plays out…

[UPDATE: for an in-depth technical analysis and critique, a breath of fresh air far from the standard pro-and-con musings, see this posting by Dare Obasanjo]

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Pathetic UK response to $200 Ubuntu box with ‘Google OS’!

November 1, 2007

My eye caught a New York Times article about the Everex gPC TC2502, a vanilla box that comes loaded with Ubuntu Linux and instant access to (quoting from a more informative CNet review):

popular and useful Web 2.0 services from Google and other vendors… Google Docs, Gmail, Google Maps, and YouTube, for example, as well as Meebo, Facebook, and Wikipedia. Sprinkled into the lineup are some non-Web-based apps, like Skype and Gimp…

They’ve dubbed their Ubuntu + GUI the ‘gOS’ (Google Operating System)… the name is unofficial, in the sense that there is no ‘Google Operating System’ as such, but what the heck: it describes the de facto situation! It also comes with an energy-saving CPU, decent peripherals, etc – what’s not to like? OK, so it’s being sold by Wal-Mart… but whereas the CNet article enthuses and links to other low cost Linux boxes for the masses, in the UK the reports were somewhat different. On a tech.co.uk posting today I see firstly, a sub-headline

Ubuntu Linux installed, but could run Vista (badly)

Ha! Trust me, the possibility of running Vista was not what attracted me to these cheap machines! Just look at this enlargement of the summary gOS screen shot above (courtesy DeskTopLinux.com – thanks!). Cute, no?

Secondly, I see this outrageous commentary on the likelihood of such an environment appearing in the UK:

So are cheap Linux PCs likely to hit UK shops anytime soon? We checked in with PC World, which said that it had no immediate plans to introduce Linux systems into its shops.

“Our customers are very used to, and comfortable with, the range of Microsoft and Apple computers that we offer”, a spokesman for PC World told us. “We have no plans to sell Linux PCs at this stage but technology is a fast-moving business so you should never say never…”

That’s pathetic. I hope entrepreneurs around the UK spot this hot niche and move into it quickly. £100 webtop box – why not? It does everything most casual users need most of the time. (And I’m no Linux fanboy – in fact, I’m thoroguhly bored with operating systems and upgrades of all flavours… I couldn’t care less at this point.) Fortunately, RM in the UK is already agressive in this niche, and is sourcing the ASUS EEE PC, essentially a £169 Linux laptop for school children, but also usable as a cheap ‘access box to go’. I’ve got one on order, and will give you the lowdown as soon as it arrives.

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Fractal Attention Conjecture

October 25, 2007

With all the talk about Continuous Partial Attention, Attention Deficit Disorder, and the hectic pace of modern life, I wanted to put forward a related but slightly different personal observation.

Resource-limited models of attention have been around for decades. I’ve completely lost touch with the literature, and do not mean to gloss over all the profound work, but here’s a handy quote from Don Norman, who summarises things nicely in a 2005 interview about car automation:

The old model of attentional resources was CPU cycles – if I am idling, I am only using a small percentage of cycles and the rest is available any time I need it. It’s a model I helped develop in the 1970s. There is some evidence though that this is not appropriate. Maybe a better model would not be a fixed CPU but a mesh computer, where multiple CPUs are scattered around in a community. If I think [the current task] could be an easy job I get just enough CPUs to do the job. Now if I suddenly need more, I’m screwed. In the first model, I was not using the remaining capacity but it was available for me. But in the second model my attentive resources diminish and when I suddenly need them, they are not there. Some researchers in England are applying this model of “underload” to driving, which I find very intriguing.

Subjectively, the experience of attention is not only about the ebb and flow of resources, however: for me, it is about the granularity of activities of interest. Another way of stating this is that it concerns the relative size of the visible horizon. As an example, it has long been clear to me that when someone I know has been recovering from some illness (say, a stroke), the painstakingly slow recovery is accompanied by a shift in the granularity of activities of interest: so instead of “running a marathon” or “cycling to work” (old activities of interest), the activity of merit is now “getting across the room”. And the relatives who observe this activity are, in my experience, genuinely engaged with it — i.e. this is not some patronising stance, but rather a true shift in the granularity of focus, so that the new goal really does “fill the horizon”, and becomes a very large and prized ambition, within whose scope many smaller sub-goals are attended to with clarity and conviction. When I broke my jaw some years ago, the goal became “eating”, and that took many weeks.

Another great example of this comes from a Philip Marlowe line in the film “Murder, My Sweet” (from Raymond Chandler’s novel Farewell, My Lovely). Marlowe, in a helpless drug-induced mental haze, can barely move:

Okay, Marlowe, I said to myself, you’re a tough guy.

You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun…

shot in the arm until you’re as crazy as a couple of waltzing mice.

Now let’s see you do something really tough…

like putting your pants on.

This new, tough, goal is genuine.. precisely because it is now so hard: it is the protagonist’s personal Mt. Everest at that moment in time. Not much else matters, and achieving the goal will be a matter of immense satisfaction.

In a less dramatic context, one finds when leapfrogging around the blogosphere that there are items that suddenly grab one’s attention. From that moment onwards, it is possible to ‘drill down’ into the minutiae of [pick any topic], and get drawn into a whole new world. If it gets that absorbing, one’s entire focus shifts… a life-long interest in, say, cognitive models of human perception becomes superseded by, say, the reliability of assumptions of variable-independence in certain statistical tests. New authorities are discovered, new literature, new subtleties, new paradigms, new disciplines, and one can drill down deeply into what had previously been just a side problem (like Marlowe getting dressed) yet is now the Top Goal.

Shifting interests (by individuals and ‘the media’) in top news stories have the same characteristic. Trapped miners can occupy headlines for many consecutive days, not only because of the ‘human interest angle’, but also because a new horizon (safe rescue) has been established. ‘Passion fatigue’ is, unfortunately, another example of what can happen when our minds crave different horizons. Horizons shift, as do interests.

You could argue that the ability to maintain steady focus is what separates deep thinkers from mere dilettantes. The counter-argument is that serendipitous pathways and disruptive states are only discovered by those who relax such a fixed ‘tunnel vision’ of focus. There’s no need for an ‘either-or’ distinction: one can actually have it both ways.

There is a fractal-like quality to this aspect of attention: the effects of scarce or competing attentional resources and ‘horizon effects’ (i.e. hard to see just beyond the horizon or current ‘big goal’) remain the same, no matter how deep or fine-grained the target of inspection. Getting dressed for Marlowe, climbing Mt. Everest for others: just as hard, just as focussed, just as dangerous.

In the blogosphere, for readers and writers alike, it is fantastic that we can find ‘islands of expertise or interest’ to latch onto, and they in turn will be magnets for stories of interest from a particular attentional perspective. When the perspective changes, new islands can be found. Many others have said things like this before, so I won’t even attempt to link or quote — I just felt like putting the above reflection in my own words. Thanks for listening.

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Testing TokBox beta

October 17, 2007

The New York Times had a Tech article on 14th October entitled “Video Chat Service Aims to Follow YouTube’s Path” in which they wrote

A Web start-up company with some of the same backers who helped catapult YouTube to glory wants to do for live video chats what YouTube did for video watching. The company, TokBox, allows people with Webcams and broadband Internet connections to conduct face-to-face chats inside a Web browser. Users can visit its site, www.tokbox.com, or add a TokBox module to their pages on social Web sites like MySpace.

Sure enough, TokBox’s 1-to-1 Flash video chat is easily embeddable anywhere… here’s mine below (if I’m there, you can click to chat to me). I had it in my sidebar originally, but moved it to just this posting so it’ll disappear with time):

Get your own TokBox at www.tokbox.com.

It’s great that they’re getting all this publicity, and that they’ve raised $4 Million from Sequoia Capital, even though, as it says in the article (“…then it will be up to the company to figure out a way to make money”)

I have mixed feelings about this (or maybe it’s just envy?). Ease of use and embeddability are crucial, so they’re doing the right thing. But $4M while figuring out how to make money: wow, I’d better go meet some of these guys, then. KMi’s FlashVlog is embeddable in the same way… my little ‘greeting’ in the upper right is exactly this, and our FlashMeeting does multiparty video chat much better. But quick 1-to-1, easily embedded anywhere, is a strong idea, and undoubtedly this is what Sequoia and others are banking on: they have a great window of opportunity for viral growth that other players in this space may have missed. They use Gigya to simplify embedding anywhere, and I would assume that the lion’s share of that investment capital must be going on scale, scale, scale, which is of vital importance. On the other hand, entry barriers are pretty low IMHO. If you can bankroll the scalability, then Flash already solves most of your problems for you. The Tokbox ‘user experience’ is pretty good, I must say. You need a headset to avoid audio feedback, but this is pretty normal these days– the alternative for a tool provider is to opt for push-to-talk audio like FlashMeeting has.

NOTE: if you run other tools that use Flash video, e.g. if you have a permanent presence is some other environment, like our own Hexagon, then you’re out of luck unless you spawn a fresh tabbed browser in advance: if you launch in a separate window, Flash does not like to handle two video environoments at once.

SUGGESTION FOR TOKBOX: The embeddable variant ought to be ‘less wide’, e.g. a single square that does ‘window-in-window’ video like Skype, or perhaps ‘expands or pops out when a call starts’: this will make it much more appealing for blog sidebar embedding and other similar locations where users are fussy about their screen real estate.

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Don’t Digg this pirate Diggnation London MP4 video

October 4, 2007

Heh, ok, so it’s just a 1-minute clip linked immediately below from my mobile phone, with me sitting waaaay back in the audience, but I’m just having some fun with the story headline, to reflect the fun I had at the event and the irreverent spirit of Alex Albrecht and Kevin Rose of Digg/Diggnation, heroes of the evening. [The main image at right is from MichaelHenley’s Flickr Photostream (thank you!).


duh, I may recode it to other formats later, but can’t be bothered right now]

Here is the background: I’m attending Ryan Carson’s Future of Web Apps in London, and after an intense and excellent first day (yesterday, 3rd October 2007) of back-to-back presentations, brainstorming, shmoozing, and some free beer, the main auditorium is set up for a 7:30PM live recording of the next Diggnation podcast. Digg’s Kevin Rose has already given a nice keynote speech about lessons learned from the crazy startup days of Digg (“hey, if the growth meant I could pay the bills and bring in a few hundred extra dollars, I was a happy guy”).

Now it’s 7:30. The crowd filters in, and the atmosphere is electric. Alex and Kevin come in like two rock stars, background music pumping; the crowd goes wild, everyone on their feet screaming, cheering. The ‘format’ is a cross between Wayne’s World, (David) Baddiel and (Frank) Skinner’s unscripted chat show, and GeekBrief.TV, i.e. two guys sit on a couch, allegedly review the top stories on Digg, but with the wisecracking, beer drinking, sniping, and side remarks, there’s not time for too many Digg stories. But who cares?

The guys are obviously enjoying their fame. Kevin is clearly still pinching himself – this is their biggest live gig ever, as far as anyone can tell, and Kevin is blown away by the enormous (>1000) and pumped-up audience of wild fans. He grins and blushes from time to time throughout the event. Alex, on the other hand is a natural – he was born to be on stage. The wordplay and body language between the two is wonderful. Alex has impeccable TIMING, which is everything. The brat!

A young woman in the audience holds up a ‘Marry Me, Alex’ sign, comes up on stage and gives him a big kiss. You’ll have to watch the podcast, but it’ll never capture the impact of the live event. It was insane, inane, irreverent, sophomoric, and full of Politically Incorrect commentary. And I’m probably old enough to be their grandfather, so I’m not going to pretend I was ‘in there’ on their wavelength: but that’s not the point – anyone who’s seen my postings about live rock gigs knows that I’m a sucker for performers who have the charisma and style to work creatively with a live audience, and these guys, especially Alex, have it in spades. He was just riffing on the atomosphere, saying what the crowd wanted to hear and more, and improvising with some idiotic and (in context) wildly funny stuff.

The 1-minute clip captures an off-the-cuff routine they did about a 1-week life-cycle of ‘iPhone coolness’ in San Francisco (using the accidentally-dropped gizmo to impress an imaginary hot waitress one week, only to find that it was already commonplace in the Bay Area the following week; so they escalated their pickup lines to the next level by revealing some super-cool (and of course totally pathetic) 3rd party (now banned) iPhone app. Kevin chimes in with a late rejoinder, and Alex takes it to the next level with another even more outrageous line. This is great stuff – and I’m no Digg fanboy: I only dropped in on a whim, at the last moment, fully expecting NOT to enjoy the rants of this high-adrenaline crowd.

Well, it probably won’t make any sense, either in my description above, or in the clip, but it was brilliant to watch live: it simultaneously praised and hammered Apple (for their cool gadget and their uncool 3rd-party hacks attitude), did the same for sad-geeks-trying-to-get-girls, people who were LESS cool, people who were MORE cool, even each other, all at the same time. Hey, Kevin even (pre-emptively, I expect) knocks sadd-os who write posts like THIS one… ha!

Well, now that I think of it, I have seen the Big Names of comedy, like Frank Skinner, in live/closeup cabaret settings in the UK, and I would say Alex has definitely ‘got it’. But he is, by his own admission on stage, a complete and utter a**h*le, so I wouldn’t want him to see THIS posting or have any of the above commentary to go to his head…

Oh yeah, I was gonna write about all the great stuff I saw at FOWA. Will have to do that later.

Check Diggnation for the actual high-quality podcast, to be uploaded soon.

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Ebay Skype $2.6Bn booboo voodoo

October 2, 2007

It’s been all over the tech press and blogosphere for the past 2 days (catch up with everything via this great Techmeme listing for example), but nobody I’ve read so far is saying the following:

1. BAD: this may put the brakes on some great visionary European entrepreneurial activity (see for example Saul Klein’s great posting “Y Europe can seed growth of its new stars”.

2. GOOD: OK, so consider it a sanity check, and a healthy way to avoid crazy valuation bubbles for now.

3. CURIOUS: Ever since I was a kid, I have thought “Gee, I wish I could lose billions of dollars in some deal, and walk away with a phat handshake (or should I say drive away in my Rolls-Royce)”. Pretty interesting: ok, some shareholders are down a few bucks each (oh wait, they’re actually UP as of yesterday… add another notch to the ‘curiosity’ levels), and the key people in the chain are laughing all the way to the bank. “Re-structuring”, “earn-outs”, “taking a charge for this quarter”. Bah. Hey, I’m not knocking capitalism – but this ain’t capitalism, it’s voodoo. To me, anyway: obviously if I understood it better, I’d be laughing too.

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