RSS vs. the 24 hour news cycle

Bruce Schneier posted his response to a call for the media to pipe down about terrorist attacks. The argument goes that by publicizing terror attacks the media is creating terror, so why not short-circuit the terrorists’ goal? Mr. Schneier explains that the consequence of doing so would cause worse things than terrorism.

He also discusses the nature of the news media in general:

If the press did not report the 9/11 attacks, if most people in the U.S. didn’t know about them, then the attacks wouldn’t have been such a defining moment in our national politics. If we lived 100 years ago, and people only read newspaper articles and saw still photographs of the attacks, then people wouldn’t have had such an emotional reaction. If we lived 200 years ago and all we had to go on was the written word and oral accounts, the emotional reaction would be even less. Modern news coverage amplifies the terrorists’ actions by endlessly replaying them, with real video and sound, burning them into the psyche of every viewer. [emphasis added]

Kathy Sierra says “you can’t be afraid and rational at the same time.” She writes about how the brain deals with fear at low and high levels, and how the media sidesteps higher brain functions to appeal directly to the reptilian brain.

Unlike television shows, movies, and video games–which your brain knows aren’t real–a brain perceives the news as “real” and often concludes that things are far more dangerous than they really are, [emphasis added] thanks to the dramatic statistic imbalance (reality distortion field) between what is displayed on the news and what is actually happening outside your front door. It’s not like you’ll ever hear, for example, a nightly new run down of all the people in your city who were NOT in fact killed in a drive-by shooting that day.

Since I’m a geek, I’m constantly applying technical solutions to social problems. The social problem is that it’s unthinkable for a 24 hour news channel to announce “It’s a slow news day, so we’re taking a break for a while. Enjoy this test pattern until something happens.” Instead, they’ll latch on to whatever story they can because they need to keep people tuned into their advertisements.

The buzzword-compliant solution to this problem is RSS. Well, RSS or something like RSS. RSS provides the model, and it might even provide the format. Chris Anderson wrote about how RSS changes blog posting styles: “in a subscription age, where publishers don’t have to entice you back each day with a flood of new content, quality trumps quantity.” Why wouldn’t the same thing happen to TV?

Continue reading “RSS vs. the 24 hour news cycle”

Happy Snow-On-Tulips Day!

Snow + Tulips

It snowed a lot on Sunday. While this isn’t unheard of in April, a lot of people thought that winter was over because on Tuesday it was 81°. A lot of people write it off as “LOL it’s just Michigan weather” but I think that’s a cop-out and that plenty of other places have unpredictable weather and people who say that desperately want to believe that they don’t live in a flyover.

Anyway, see if you can spot a common theme in these posts that I spotted on the ArborBlogs picture aggregator (Scott, linked below as S. S. Trudeau, picked up on it too):

(As an aside, when I’m signed into Yahoo! and they know damn well what my ZIP code is and I go to Yahoo! Weather, why don’t they just show me the damn weather? Am I the only person who goes there for the weather around me? Are there that many people going there to find weather in places they aren’t that they need to provide a general view of the weather?)

Update Sep 16, 2005: I hear that Yahoo! doesn’t infer ZIP codes or birthdays (for, Yahoo Astrology, for example) from user info because those are used for password reset requests. While I certainly appreciate the thought Yahoo gives to security and identity in general, I wonder if life would be better if there was no overlap between “general facts” and “protected information.” Yahoo has almost certainly given this issue more attention than me and concluded that the general public needs some overlap in the balance between security and usability, but I hope that they are considering what Bruce Schneier has to say on the subject as well.

Looking for a webgeek job?

My employer is looking to hire and has two open positions posted on our website:

Web Developer
The ideal candidate will have experience developing cross-browser user interfaces and well rounded technical experience with scripting for web application development. This person will work with the Software Developer and the Graphic Designer to integrate the user interface with back-end systems and with the Project Manager to meet the functional needs of our customers.
Software Developer
The ideal candidate will be versatile and adaptable with well-rounded technical experience. This person will work with the team to integrate the UI with back-end systems, and with the Project Manager to meet the functional needs of our customers.

If you’re interested send your resumé to
Two items of disclosure: I’m writing this at work which technically means I’m being paid to do so (although I was not asked to post it, I volunteered) and comments are off because this isn’t really the place to discuss the positions.

Halo 2 something in Ann Arbor

If you know what is all about, I’ll just say that I’m most likely going to whatever is happening tomorrow at 42.279270 -083.748764 and photos should appear on my Flickr space shortly after 10:59AM EDT. [via]
If you don’t know what it is, is a marketing game for Halo 2. It’s not obvious from the site or the blog it links to, but if you watch the Halo 2 trailer changes to for a moment.
Microsoft did a similar game for the movie A.I. called the Beast. It’s sort of like a web scavenger hunt, with clues hidden in all sorts of places. For example, they hid text inside an image so that if you opened the image in a text editor you would see it.
Yesterday, a big set of lat/lon pairs showed up on the site, which the community has turned into real world addresses. One of those addresses happens to be 2 blocks from my office.
I don’t know what exactly is going to happen, but if it means a chance at playing Halo 2 I’ll be there. I feel a little dirty, playing into their marketing hype like this, but if you can’t have faith in Microsoft what has the world come to?
[Update 2004-08-23 10:35 PM] I went down to the location after work. While the addresses linked above say that it is at 324 S. Main St, an address I’m not sure even exists, my GPS put me somewhere around 304 or 306 S. Main St, somewhere between Subway and Mezzanine / Le Dog. I can’t be more specific because I got within 40 feet of where it was supposed to be and my GPS only had a 40 foot resolution. Also, it appears that the location may be in the middle of the street.
I’m not sure that I’ll be going after all. Some of the people on the message board are saying that it would break the plot of the game if something physical were to occur, and it’s likely that the people there will simply receive a clue to the ongoing game. Of course because it’s on the internet, other people are saying that anyone at those coordinates will be abducted by aliens and taken to their home planet where the abductees will experience emotions a hundred times greater than what you call love.
Still the interest/distance ratio works out in its favor, so I’ll probably head on over even though I’m not playing the game. Maybe if I’m lucky the message will be “The End Will Come At Sundown” or “Drink More Ovaltine.”
[Update 2004-08-24 9:39 AM] Yeah, I probably won’t go, it’s a phone call that is a puzzle for the game.

Reuters TV RSS Feed

While not exactly broadcatching, I’m consistently impressed with the World News from Reuters Television RSS feed (preview). They provide links to Real Video streams that show sometimes polished, sometimes raw television segments about world news. They show the fighting on the streets and the government hearings that are important news. Plus, it’s a peek into the future of television when no one will be beholden to network time schedules, a joy TiVo owners know all too well.

Voter Discouragement Coming From Campaigns?

Wired has a piece today called Blogs Counter Political Plottings that talks about how social software like weblogs and social networking sites are increasing voter turnout. What caught my eye was this admission from Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga:”In a traditional campaign, ‘you strip out all of the people you can’t control — to keep as many out of the process as possible,’ said Moulitsas.”
I’ve heard this before and touched on it briefly when talking about making election day a national holiday, but reading about it in Wired got me a little more pissed off. I tried to find some information to support the claim, but came up empty. Do campaigns actually admit to discouraging voters? If not, is anyone out there watching who is conspiring against voters?
I understand that lower voter turnout makes elections predictable, which is beneficial to both parties, however I think it’s deplorable that we are electing people who don’t want to hear what the people have to say. If we have to beg for a holiday from people who have a vested interest in keeping us from electing our own leaders, that says volumes about our republic.
Still, it makes voting more enjoyable if I know that I’m pissing off politicians.

HOWTO: How and Why You Would Want To Get Ogg Vorbis on iTunes

OGG? OGG? WTF is OGG? I’ll get to that in a moment, and then after I’ve gotten to that I’ll get to two methods for getting Ogg Vorbis files to play in iTunes. One method is insanely easy but will take a while, the second method is much quicker and somewhat harder. Now, I get to the getting to that.
Ogg Vorbis is a free competitor to MP3. “But wait,” you say on cue, “MP3s are, err, free-ish. I don’t have to pay anything to legally encode my legally purchased CDs on a computer that I certainly didn’t win in a bar bet in Tijuana.” That’s right, you don’t have to pay anything, but someone does.
A company called Faunhofer owns several patents that are used with MP3s, and so every time you download an MP3 playing program the maker has to spend money. If you still hate Apple after all they’ve done for you you could download iTunes several billion times and drive them into a much-predicted bankruptcy. (Probably not)
If you or one of your geeky friends wanted to make your own MP3 player you’d have to pay Fraunhofer, even if you gave it away for free. Sure that seems unlikely – considering the free mp3 players available for download – but my girlfriend seems to insist on cooking from scratch when there’s perfectly good meals available in my supermarket’s frozen foods and cereal aisles. My point is that people make all sorts of crazy things from scratch, except she doesn’t have to pay royalties on her excellent pasta salad.
(Aside: MP3 is short for MPEG Audio Layer 3, and MPEG is an acronym for Motion Picture Experts Group. Does that mean that MP3 expands to “Motion Picture 3,” even though it’s an audio format? What’s the matter, did I just blow your mind?)
Am I against giving Fraunhofer their due? Not really, but I’m not champing at the bit to give them money for something the Vorbis people are able to do for free. Should you get rid of all your MP3s and re-encode all your albums as Ogg Vorbis? If you’ve got that much time on your hands, I guess, but I’m not doing it.
What should you do with Ogg Vorbis? If you’re part of the 83% of musicians that provides music online consider putting up Ogg files. When you rip your new music, rip it as Ogg Vorbis. Or you can just listen to LiveJournal Phone Posts and make fun of people for all their drama.
More importantly, why should you use Ogg Vorbis? Well it sounds better. Also, copyright protections are eroding our rights and by using an open format you know that it won’t track users. If you don’t think that file formats are that important, Larry Lessig puts forward an excellent case in Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace for how computer code is creating laws that no citizen can protest.
So now that the advocacy for Ogg Vorbis is out of the way, continue reading for how to get it going in iTunes.

Continue reading “HOWTO: How and Why You Would Want To Get Ogg Vorbis on iTunes”


One of Apple’s big selling points of OS X is its applications. These applications are targeted at filling the need of people to manage their content in as easy a way as possible. Here’s a list of applications found either in the default dock because I will be coming back to these apps in a moment: Safari, Mail, iChat, Address Book, iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iCal, QuickTime.

Completely shifting gears, let’s look at some of the best things on the web right now. Four sites that I can’t live without are Bloglines,, Upcoming and LiveJournal. Google too of course, but I haven’t figured out how to work that into my thesis, so I’m going to pretend that I could go a day without it.

The common theme of these sites is to provide a collaborative space for people to connect and share. What struck me was the intersection of these social sites and Apple’s product line. iCal flows perfectly into Upcoming. Safari’s bookmarks are distributed by And what are Bloglines and LiveJournal but inboxs for other peoples’ email to everyone? Now you see where I’m going with this.

The Apple programs provide a good guide for what collaborative, social programs work well. Let’s go through that list of programs again:

  • Safari – provides a good service backend for a collaborative Safari.
  • Mail – Aside from being implicitly social, Mail has some parallels with RSS. Bloglines is just the tip of the iceberg. With something like rss2email or Info Aggregator you can have RSS feeds delivered to your inbox.
  • iChat – This already is social software, although it would be nice if it was easier to explore your social network.
  • Address Book – Sites like Friendster, Orkut, etc. are examples of how a collaborative address book could work.
  • iTunes – With it’s music sharing feature, it’s a pretty good piece of social software as is. Then sites like MusicMobs, Audioscrobbler and *cough* SongBuddy come along and allow you to share your music preferences with anyone on the Intarweb.
  • iPhoto – Flickr provides a way to share your photos with your friends, although I don’t know of any direct hooks into iPhoto
  • iCal – The aforementioned Upcoming (with some temporary help from me) works with iCal, and could be tweaked to do the same.

It’s surprising how well Apple’s product line matches up with collaborative sites. There’s a line of thought that says that Apple creates software for people who create, while Microsoft for people who consume. This could have something to do with it; because social software requires a two way Internet they and Apple would migrate to the things people create.

Where could Apple go with this? iMovie is conspicuously absent, most likely due to bandwidth concerns. Of course you should never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of dvds, but there’s still a latency problem.

What would be nice is if Apple could somehow unify social presence under an open protocol. The same platform that lets me IM would also let me check out someone’s public calendar and read their weblog. Dashboard provides a glimpse of how this might work.

Apple could also make it easier for content producers to become content distributors. They already have started the process with the iTunes Music Store, what if they made a P2P platform that allowed anyone to publish their iMovie online? Or a content server for network illiterate people on cable modems? iLife, except collaborative and social. cLife. Apple could lead the charge into the world of ends.

AT&T Wireless screws up bigtime

Here’s a quick overview of what’s happening: AT&T Wireless is sending out new phones to upgrade malfunctioning phones to its customers for free. Sounds good, right?
Well the new phones that it’s sending out are newer, but in almost every case not as good. Take a look at the comparison between the new T226 and my T68i, while it has a nicer display and polyphonic rings it lacks Bluetooth, IR and a calendar (which are important for iSync) and has half as much memory among other things.
As for the phones malfunctioning, as it turns out they’re malfunctioning because AT&T has decided to turn off the 900Mhz band in favor of 850Mhz. I have to assume that they had been planning this for a while, this isn’t the kind of thing you decide to do overnight. So why were they still selling 900Mhz phones to customers when they had obsolescence plans in place? Engadget provides even more information, including a neat looking map.
I suspect that the timing has something to do with their acquisition by Cingular. Either they need to convert to 850Mhz to work with Cingular or they don’t have to worry about their share price any more and feel they can jerk around their customers.
I recently switched from AT&T to T-Mobile because my T68i had been acting up for a while. I had them send replacement phones but that never really helped. Maybe if they had been more forthcoming with their customers I would have stayed, but I doubt it. My phone became unusable on their network and if I had been more motivated I probably would have looked into class action suits for people in the same boat as me. I suspect that’s what they’re trying to avoid by sending out these token phones.
When I called T-Mobile to have my number transferred from AT&T to T-Mobile, they said it could take up to 14 business days. As it turned out it only took 6 hours, but during that 6 hours I was SMS’d by AT&T saying that I would be receiving a free T226 in the mail. I suspect their organization isn’t responsive enough to cancel my order after I cancelled, so I’m half expecting it to show up.
Some people are saying that if you don’t send AT&T a phone back (old or new) you’ll be charged by AT&T. Fortunately, it’s illegal for AT&T to charge you for unsolicited merchandise. Personally, I plan to get my T68i unlocked as a backup T-Mobile phone and sell any other phones that happen to arrive in the mail. It looks like I’m not the only one with that idea.
So what can AT&T do to make things right? According to Phones Under Lock & Key AT&T has a habit of refusing to unlock phones that are owned by customers; I chose T-Mobile because they appear to treat their customers with more respect. What they should do is offer affected customers the choice of leaving the service with unlocked phones and discounted early termination fees, so that they can use the super nice phones that they bought. They are rightfully pissed off that their nice phones are being dropped and should be offered a compromise.
On a slightly different subject, I’ve been bookmarking useful sites for my new phone over at in case you’re looking for cool stuff to do with your 3650.