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Fri, 08 Apr 2005
Lawn Boy. Not.

Tonight after dinner I hopped into our van and hauled myself off to Silverdale, the no-ferry-involved shopping mecca for Bainbridge Islanders. You see, on Wednesday I postponed dinner and went to try and cut our grass, which has grown enormously tall due to a combination of some fertilizer, some unexpectedly warm spring weather, and lots of famous Pacific Northwest rain.

Ever since we've owned a home, I have used one model or another of Black and Decker cordless electric mower. We had one in San Jose that was starting to run down just as we moved up here, and when we bought our house, I decided to give the cordless mower one more try -- I wanted to do what was good for the environment. The cordless mowers are also super convenient -- there's much less maintenance involved. They are also enormously more expensive than a comparable gas powered mower, and as they get older and the batteries wear down, they have a harder and harder time cutting the grass.

I will digress at this point and mention that we have serious lawn genes in my family. Well, at least my father and brother do. The gene seems to have skipped me altogether. When I was growing up, some friends once teased me by saying "your Dad is out there cutting his lawn with tweezers". That was a slight exaggeration, but working on the lawn and yard was my Dad's hobby, and he was pretty good at it. Consequently, we had a very fine lawn growing up. Of course, it didn't hurt that we lived next to a gardening contractor either. My brother has inherited the gene from my father, so he got all the skills for dealing with a lawn (not to mention a house, a car or any other mechanical device). What I got was a good idea of what a healthy flourishing lawn looks like. That's mostly been good for guilt, because my lawn is definitely not measuring up to the family standard.

So Wednesday evening I set out to make the grass at least a presentable height (it is a beautiful color), only to discover that the Black and Decker had weakened to the point where it barely cut 1/3 of my tall lawn before the needle visited the bottom of the battery gauge's red zone. Last year I had a few instances where lawn mowing turned into a 2 evening affair because I needed a recharge in order to finish. The prospect of 3 evenings worth of cutting, combined with a bleak rain forecast, and a *very* *full* calendar finally pushed me over the edge and over to Silverdale.

Thus I found myself at Home Depot at 8pm, buying a gas powered lawnmower. The lawnmower guy at Home Depot seemed to think that most lawnmowers were good for about 5 years, unless you moved up to the self propelled Hondas that were twice as much as the mower I was looking at, not to mention overkill for the size yard that I have. The Black and Decker is 4 years old, so I suppose that's not too bad. The salesman and I had our moment of commiseration about how they don't make things the way they used to, and then I got on with the dirty deed. I've been through two of the electric mowers now. I've paid the eco-friendly price (and time) premium. But this time around, I'm going with the gas mower. Maybe in 5 years there'll be the Prius of lawn mowers. At least I didn't buy an SUV.

[01:05] | [places/us/wa/bainbridge_island] | # | TB | F | G | 17 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Ross Mayfield on Open Source and Innovation

Ross Mayfield has written a post describing some of the dynamics of the relationship between open source and innovation. Here are a few of the sections that I liked the most.

... The greatest breakthrough for open source, IMHO, is applying collaborative methodologies for development. Inherent in collaborative practices is a greater opportunity for innovation than competitive practices.

Some norms such as the right to fork, open participation and self-organizing contribution strengthen this opportunity and provide models for consideration beyond software development. When a project can be forked, it provides a balance against poor management (albeit at a cost) and fosters a leadership style that lets other express ideas and have them be heard. Leadership forms the core of a social network of innovation, being an arbiter of information and quality outcomes. Open participation is essential to innovation, to bring in new people with new ideas. By self-organizing I don't mean some high falutin' emergence, but the simple freedom for people to choose where to contribute based on their expertise and personal motivation.
I would suggest that open source could improve management practices, if we can get past treating our employees as competitors. Through sharing, innovation proliferates.

Go read the whole thing.

[00:08] | [computers/open_source] | # | TB | F | G | 2 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Attention information is personal information

Various people have been discussing the "attention problem" and attention.xml. The basic idea is that the advent of RSS means that we have too much information competing for our attention, and that we need a way to record "attention" data so which could then be used to perform triage of information to be presented to a human user.

The notion of automated triage of information has been around for a while. To an old Usenet junkie like me, the information overload problem and the need for tools to help triage the flow seems like a no brainer. I remember when s(coring)trn newsreader came out (as a set of patches to trn), and when Gnus, the mother of all news readers made its debut. Gnus was one of the first platforms for collaborative filtering, GroupLens, which then went on to become NetPerceptions (which now appears to be defunct). A lot of what is being discussed feels familiar, in concept if not in actual implementation. So what's new here?

Well, strn and Gnus were not instrumented to record attention data. Although I have some doubts about the accuracy of some of the data (like how long did a user read a post), Steve Gillmor seems quite excited about instrumenting clients (like Firefox) in order to obtain this data. Assuming that you could gather meaningful (or mostly meaningful) data, this seems like a good source of data for triage.

Next, you have the notion of distributing / combining / syndicating / bartering / selling the attention data. If you want to do this, having a standardized format for encoding that data seems good, and since adding XML to data always makes things better, you get attention.xml. This part is easy, and most people agree on that. There's a question about where attention data lives and who gets access to it. This is an important question, at least to me. If people are unscrupulous about the (comparatively) small amount of information that I give out about myself, what will happen when they could get their hands on a detailed model of my attention? The thought of storing my attention data in somebody's VC backed server farm doesn't give me the warm fuzzies.

After that, we get to actually using the attention data to perform triage, which is where there is room for experimentation, variation, and market based competition (at least if you believe in exposing your attention stream). Here's where you get into scoring, bayesian filtering, collaborative filtering, reputational filtering and so forth. It's also where you have to deal with issues of granularity, i.e. single posts versus conversations. It's also where you get into potentially innovative presentations as well.

From where I sit, my attention data, my reputation assignments, my triage preferences and so forth are all part of my personal information, and would be something that I would like a personal information manager to manage. I think we have one of those lying around here somewhere...

[00:07] | [computers/internet/microcontent] | # | TB | F | G | 3 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post

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