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Wed, 31 May 2006
Democracy or meritocracy

[via Scripting News: 5/31/2006 ]:

Jaron Lanier has written an essay on problems with the Wikipedia, presumably in response to some of the recent blog posts about the death of the Wikipedia. The paragraph below is the one that struck me the most.

And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy.

Many people associate the Wikipedia with open source software, and while there are similarities, there are also important differences. I've run into plenty of people who believe that open source software is run by some kind of democracy. None of the good open source projects that I am aware of are democracies. All of them are meritocracies. I see this fundamental misunderstanding frequently when I talk to people, and I see it when people try to use "open source" as an adjective to apply to their favorite project which leads to open-source journalism, open source radio, and so on. Most of these things tend to be like Wikipedia, sharing some qualities with open source, but differing in other important respects.

Lanier makes a stop along the way to comment on some of those differences:

Here I must take a moment to comment on Linux and similar efforts. The various formulations of "open" or "free" software are different from the Wikipedia and the race to be most Meta in important ways. Linux programmers are not anonymous and in fact personal glory is part of the motivational engine that keeps such enterprises in motion. But there are similarities, and the lack of a coherent voice or design sensibility in an esthetic sense is one negative quality of both open source software and the Wikipedia.

These movements are at their most efficient while building hidden information plumbing layers, such as Web servers. They are hopeless when it comes to producing fine user interfaces or user experiences. If the code that ran the Wikipedia user interface were as open as the contents of the entries, it would churn itself into impenetrable muck almost immediately. The collective is good at solving problems which demand results that can be evaluated by uncontroversial performance parameters, but bad when taste and judgment matter.

I am not as pessimistic as Lanier about the ability of the open source process - note that I said process and not community - to produce a high quality user interface/experience, but I will readily agree that we have almost no examples of such an interface to point to as proof. But recall the some open source projects are run on a "benevolent dictator model" and that some of these projects have been able to produce products (in their domain) imbued with a strong aesthetic sense -- the Python and Ruby languages come to mind here - at least according my sense of aesthetics.

[23:01] | [computers/open_source] | # | TB | F | G | 8 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Sun, 28 May 2006

Longtime readers will know that shopping for clothing usually results in a blog post...

Yesterday I took Abigail to the mall to buy a bicycle. As part of the deal she agreed to go shoe shopping with me, since both types of shopping required a trip off island. While traipsing up and down the rows of the shoe store, she asked me "Why do you need a new pair of shoes? Did you outgrow yours?". A bystander looked up from his own shopping and remarked "That's a good question". Which it was. We stopped and I explained to her that once you reach a certain age, your feet stop growing and you actually start to wear out your shoes (and shirts, and pants). Then I pulled off one of my Nevados (I actually didn't even know what brand the shoes were until today), and showed her how the back of the shoe was ripping out. We then resumed the frustrating experience of looking at shoes that either I didn't like or which were not in stock in my size.

When we got home, I started Googling for a few of the brands of shoes that I liked, which itself started turning into a frustrating experience. Nevados, for example, has no corporate web presence that I could find, and I ended up at shoes.com. Julie wandered in and said "I have a site for you": Zappos.com. No only could I search for shoes by brand and style, I could search by size, which is a huge timesaver because I am at the bottom of the shoe size distribution. I was starting to feel better. Then I learned that Zappos had free shipping and will enclose a prepaid UPS/USPS return label in case I didn't like the shoes. The hassle of shipping (and worse, return shipping) was why I hadn't even bothered to try buying shoes on line. It took (another) frustrating shopping edition for me to wind up at Zappos. While I enjoyed the time that Abigail and I spent shopping and talking, I'm probably never going to darken the door of a shoe store again.

[17:12] | [misc] | # | TB | F | G | 3 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Sat, 27 May 2006
Strobist applied

I promise that this is not turning into a photo blog, but I have been doing a bunch of photo stuff instead of cranking out tech blog posts. Thursday I hopped over to Seattle for the Seattle Flickr Meetup. I've also been experimenting with Strobist ideas, which yielded this

after I read this post on Strobist.

[19:17] | [photography/pictures] | # | TB | F | G | 5 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Fri, 19 May 2006
Photodoto and Strobist

There are a lot of really good photography blogs out there. I keep stumbling over them one by one. Photodoto is a great source of information for beginning photographers. There are a number of good articles on the basics of photography. For people looking for projects, there are also weekend assignments that you can try out, and then you can discuss them in the Photodoto Flickr group.

Ever since I got the flash for the camera, I've been trying to learn how to get the most out of it, and while I can get decent results, I'm really not that happy with my level of flash proficiency. Enter Strobist which is authored by David Hobby who shoots for the Baltimore Sun. Strobist is all about using your flash. If you are at all interested in flash photography, you need to read this one. Reading this blog is changing the way that I am thinking about using a flash (unfortunately, it is probably going to set me back some more money to get there). Strobist also has a Flickr group, and there's some pretty amazing flash photography there.

These two blogs (and more like them) are taking Flickr to a new level of "stickiness", at least for me. The pull of people that I've met and know, and now these groups, is making Flickr a great place to be.

[22:53] | [photography] | # | TB | F | G | 0 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Mon, 15 May 2006
Thoughts on DCamp

I (along with several other OSAF'ers) made it to DCamp for Friday night and Saturday. During my career, I haven't had a huge number of opportunities to interact with designers, and my stint at OSAF is probably the best and longest of those opportunities. I think that the interface between developers and designers is an important area for people who are interested in open source, and that there is some bridging that needs to happen between the two communities. So while I did participate in several sessions on open source and design (most of which were framed as "open source usability"), my real goal was to immerse myself a little more in the world of designers and usability folks. I tried to say as little as possible and listen as much as possible. Fellow attendees will have to be the judge of how well I did that. I do have some detailed thoughts and observations on open source and design, but I think that I'm going to save them for a separate post (or two)

The best session that I went to was Sarah Allen's session on Cinematic User Experience. Perhaps it's because I'm not very up on the design world or because I don't have a deep appreciation for cinematography, but I found Sarah's presentation and the ensuing lively discussion to be very thought provoking (which is the highest compliment that I can give to a session).

I have some photos of the event, but I'm probably not going to post them. Conferences are getting photo'ed to death these days, and I wasn't really in the mood to spend a lot of energy on photos (I guess I got it out of my system at the SFlickr meetup). If you're interested, there are a ton of pictures on Flickr.

This was my first BarCamp inspired event. I've been to Foo Camp, and am one of the organizers of the Seattle Mind Camps, so I was curious to see the difference between the different family trees. The DCamp organizers grabbed the Foo Camp three word introduction, which wasn't useful to me because many people used very frivolous words, so the introductions didn't help me find other people that I might be interested in spending more time with. There was an icebreaking game that involved asking people with similar attributes "Who isn't from the San Francisco Bay Area" to identify themselves. This was a bit more helpful, and I would have preferred more time in this particular game. There was more explicit mention of the open space method, although I'm not sure that actually meant much to many of the attendees. One interesting thing was the use of a group scheduling time between some of the session blocks. This gave session organizers a few minutes to explain what their sessions were supposed to be about. It seemed like this was a good way to help people find something that they'd find interesting.

[23:28] | [computers] | # | TB | F | G | 4 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Sat, 13 May 2006
SFlickr meetup

Thursday night I "crashed" (not being from San Francisco) the monthly sflickr meetup, which was also the going away party for high fidelity and kodama who are embarking on a trip around the world. The gathering was really large (see the sflickr0511 tag for details) because of this. Stiil, the gathering was welcoming, even for a first-timer who didn't know anyone. Within moments of walking in, highfidelity had given me a signed print, and we got into a conversation about their trip. I was able to tell them about Lee and Sachi's similar venture, which was fun.

I really enjoyed being in the combined social / photo shootout setting. It's rare to be in a social setting where sticking a camera right in someone's face is perfectly acceptable behavior. You could hear shutters clicking pretty much continuously, and I had a number of great conversations about the art side of photography (as opposed to the gear side). One of the highlights was meeting jbergholm who had a pair awesome books. His study of colors through the eyes of a color blind photographer, is available as a Flickr set. I already had deborah lattimore and thomashawk on my contact list, and it was great to meet them in person and talk to them a little bit. Many thanks to all who took the time to talk to a visitor from Seattle: cygnoir, fotogail, pinhole, shannonmary, caitlinburke, fetching, christyscherrer, missriva, heather, and bees.

Here is my set from the meeting.

[11:11] | [photography] | # | TB | F | G | 0 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Thu, 04 May 2006
PGP key revoked

This is one of the last cleanup items from the laptop theft. I've revoked my PGP key and created a new one.

This is my old key:

pub  1024D/F5FC4B42 2001-03-31
     Key fingerprint=1003 7870 251F FA71 A59A  CEE3 BEBA 2B87 F5FC 4B42 

This is revocation certificate for that key:

Version: GnuPG v1.4.1 (GNU/Linux)
Comment: A revocation certificate should follow


Here's my new key id information:

pub   1024D/9D3AFD4F 2006-03-05
      Key fingerprint = E6E8 48D5 17E6 0484 37D6  B38E 6028 D6FC 9D3A FD4F
[22:53] | [computers/security] | # | TB | F | G | 0 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Mon, 01 May 2006
OSAF Summer of Code projects

I've just posted the details of OSAF's Summer of Code projects on the OSAF blog. If you are a college student looking for something to do this summer, I encourage you to check it it - hurry, the deadline is May 8. If you don't find an OSAF project that interests you, there are plenty of other organizations sponsoring projects. They definitely didn't have anything like this when I was in college...

[15:45] | [computers/open_source/osaf] | # | TB | F | G | 1 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post

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Ted Leung FOAF Explorer

I work at the Open Source Applications Foundation (OSAF).
The opinions expressed here are entirely my own, not those of my employer.

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