27 Oct

Left-wing absolutism

Nick Denton:

"I finally understand why the Left has failed over the last two decades. It has stopped trying to persuade. […] For the Left, or at least for my debating partner tonight, even the acknowledgment that people are self-interested is a fatal concession to the conservative worldview. For them, better the purity of an absolute moral stance, than the messy act of political persuasion. For the dogmatic Left, the goal is perfection, at the expense of progress."

Nick, that’s by design. The act of selling is morally tainted for the left, so why would you even expect them to make the effort?

27 Oct

Web sites in Spain go blank to protest new laws


"The government says the law, which stems from European Union directives, aims to encourage online commerce by making the Internet a safer place to do business. It wants companies operating on the Internet to be subject to the same tax and commerce laws as traditional firms.
But opponents say Spain has gone far beyond the spirit of the EU guidelines, trying to regulate cyberspace more strictly than it does its own patch of Earth and robbing the Net of its information-sharing richness."

For context, have a look at the "important legal notices" on the EU site. A monument of pseudo-legalese nonsense hellbent on not committing itself to properly serving the public. The document, as most notices from public institutions, is of course anonymous, while you have to personally put your ass on the line.
Look at the disclaimer:
"If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them. However the Commission accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever with regard to the information on this site. […] Please note that it cannot be guaranteed that a document available on-line exactly reproduces an officially adopted text. Only European Union legislation published in paper editions of the Official Journal of the European Communities is deemed authentic. […] This disclaimer is not intended to limit the liability of the Commission in contravention of any requirements laid down in applicable national law nor to exclude its liability for matters which may not be excluded under that law."
Basically this says: "we don’t take the web seriously, so if we posted errors in our regulation texts, well, up yours." Yes, private companies will have that kind of CYA TOS too, but the difference is I’m not forced to pay taxes to them.
Now this places the EU in a very credible position to regulate private use of the Internet. As always in Europe, we people can go fuck ourselves, so long as we pay taxes. That’s what taxation without representation, and representation without taxation lead to. For the record, did you know than a household in two doesn’t pay income taxes in France?

27 Oct

John Robb wants to sell Radio to the FBI

John Robb:

"Billions are being poured into the FBI and other governmental organizations and they can’t even get the basics right. […] This can be corrected very easily. Give every agent a laptop (shoot, they gave every student in Maine a laptop for Christ’s sake!). Put a weblogging tool on that laptop. Require that they write up a synopsis of every tip or interview they do in their weblog. Have them publish that weblog to a central Intranet. Put a Google appliance on that Intranet. Let it index the pages."

Well, maybe. If you have a hammer, everything starts looking like nails. Someone explains me how people are supposed to navigate the morass that this Intranet would be and actually dig anything useful about John Doe, the suspect they’re interrogating.

"How simple is that? A couple of simple search routines could have netted this information. After that, it would only be a matter of ruling out suspects — which could have been left to local police. A couple weblogs, sorted by region could have been set up to disseminate the most likely leads to local police. Don’t tell me it is more complicated than that. It isn’t."

Sorry but I don’t buy it at all. Do your simple "John Doe Caucasian" query and have fun parsing 18,000 blog results. I have a friend and client who has a quite uncommon name yet I dug out an article about a priest with the same name expressing his tolerance of nudism (at least the irrelevant result was fun in that context). Even if you train thousands of law enforcement agents to do proper search engine queries (which would probably be a good thing to do, but now we’re starting to dwarf the software licensing costs that were talked about), it’s obvious that no matter how great the search of unstructured data is with Google, it’s very far from perfect. If you’re looking at it honestly, many Google queries take quite some trial and error to bear fruit, or just utterly fail.
Besides, Google uses links to assess relevance. Now I really want to see that work in an Intranet context, and I’m willing to bet that the linking critical mass needed to create that layer of content organization will take a long time to reach. The FBI wouldn’t just need to blog their interviews and leads. They’d need to link to them in context too. Google works on the web thanks to its sheer size, i.e. out of hundreds of millions of users, someone will probably have properly linked to the relevant document. And even now, some questions (for instance, technical problems) get a much better yield on Usenet through Gooja than on the web, because of Usenet’s conversational questions-and-answers nature.

27 Oct

Searching for the 5 W’s


"Googlism uses Google to give you one-sentence answers on "who," "what," "where" or "when" a particular term is. Most of it is silly. For example, a "who" search for "Paul McCartney" results in a wacky list of descriptions ranging from "paul mccartney is a great musician" to "paul mccartney is a futile gesture." Whatever that means. But some of it is dead-on. […] The questions that Googlism lets you pose, and the questions that news stories address, are a natural fit."

I was surprised to see that Googlism could be a lot less stupid than Ask Jeeves when you ask it questions.

24 Oct

Continuing the Exploration of Weird Metal Music

Imagine if Cocteau Twins had drifted into pseudo-Arabian operatic Doom Metal, with a taste for disruption inherited from Primus or The Fatima Mansions. Just the thought of Elizabeth Fraser headbanging cracks me up.
Well, that’s about how Terrestrials, Atrox’ latest album, sounds. In other words, sometimes irritating and maybe not entirely genuine, but still strange enough to be interesting. And like a lot of metal, fun for striving so much to be serious (though you could argue some bands are self-aware and actually parody themselves and the genre.)
BTW, it’s Norwegian and Amazon doesn’t have it, but you can get it on IRC.

24 Oct

Google excluding controversial sites


"Absent from Google’s French and German listings are Web sites that are anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi, or related to white supremacy, according to a new report from Harvard University’s Berkman Center. Also banned is Jesus-is-lord.com, a fundamentalist Christian site that is adamantly opposed to abortion."

If you, like me, live in a thought police State such as France or Germany, make sure to use google.com and not the self-censored local versions. Soviet revisionism, which pointed the finger on Nazi crimes to divert attention from its own wrongdoing (starting with its non-aggression pact with said Nazis), still survives in continental Europe. Selective memory is one of the worse intellectual dishonesties, and when it’s enforced by law, that’s called fascism. Wait, isn’t it what these laws are supposed to repel?
10/25/02 update: Google censoring web content.

23 Oct

The Washington Post Thinks You Can’t Live over 102 Years

They now require you to quickly profile yourself before you can read their articles. For a start, the implementation is botched because the site will time out if you try to access it with cookies blocked (many sites don’t know how to properly handle cookie-blocking browsers.)
Well, I tried my usual profile, an Afghan woman born in the late 19th century, and here’s what I got back: "Please enter a valid Year of Birth." So if you were born in 1898, go shoot yourself, you’re invalid. OK, 1900 works.
Since there’s absolutely no value for me to give real information about myself to 99% of web sites that ask for it, I’ve made it a policy to feed them with the less credible bullshit I could come up with. I understand publishers want to profile users to answer advertiser requests. But my experience with what I’ll get back from giving away my privacy taught me it’s useless. Except the usual "greetings Olivier" that I couldn’t care less about, I have yet to see a site which does anything even remotely useful to me with my personal profile, except maybe Amazon.com which still has lots of room for improvement in that department, and they’re an etailer, not a content publisher.
Join me and make Afghan rich old ladies the fastest growing segment in online demographics. You need to make $200K or more a year. I can’t wait to see the special offers they’ll specifically taylor to our needs.
"Greetings Ayesha, check out our premium Cruise & Golf opportunities, exclusively for people who like you can afford the best life has to offer, and enjoy it too!"