Friday, June 30, 2006

Who Is To Decide What You Are Allowed To Buy (online) ?

There is a pretty interesting discussion over at boing boing related to the condition Google imposes on sellers using their new Google Checkout.
The shocker is not really Google Checkout predatory pricing, but the "content policy," or what you can't buy (or more specifically sell). There is the standard exclusion of nasty stuff that you will see anywhere, but in numerous places it is deliberately ambiguous and broad, and would seem to promote an agenda.
Examples are "tobacco and cigarrettes" and *related products*. So does that mean all those zippo lighter collectors are left out in the cold? Under "weapons" knives are not allowed. So does that include pocket knives, leathermans, and cutlery? Maybe they should have thrown in nail clippers for good measure. Under the "Hacking and cracking materials" would the "how-to guides" and "information" provisions prevent me from selling a guide to defeat censorware like which prevents access to Boing Boing? What about books on security?
Traditionally it has been the job of the state to create and maintain a suitable means of payment. States are still doing this in a very abstract way - but the physical form of payment seems more and more out of date. In earlier days you could do all your business using just the government issued money - not anymore. For example you could not buy a ticket to the world cup in germany without a credit card - literally: it was not just inconvenient without a credit card but impossible. For me these are signs that the kind of money we get from out government starts to loose is function as means of payment. Even for our day to day need we will soon be dependent on professional intermediaries that in fact claim a tax of around 2%. I know that the official currency still underpins these transactions, but you have to agree that money from the state continues to loose a part of its function. Maybe its time that governments "update" their currencies for the digital age. Create an online payment system run by the state.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

WinFS killed?

First, to remind you of what WinFS was meant to be (from this guardian article):
The three big ideas behind WinFS were to unify storage, make it searchable, and make it accessible to applications. Unified storage meant things like songs, photos, word documents, email messages, calendars and so on could all be held in the same database. Programmers could stop developing storage systems for different applications - like the scary PST files used by Outlook - and everyone could use WinFS instead. That's why it was considered, until 2004, a pillar of Vista.
Microsoft has now given up (for now) on including this in an operating system, concentrating rather on including mature parts into databases products:
But a more likely explanation [for microsofts decision to kill WinFS] is this: Microsoft delivered a working beta of WinFS last August, and it sank like a stone. The WinFS team made a four blog posts in the first five months of this year, attracting a total of 36 comments. Microsoft also has a WinFS newsgroup on Usenet with few users. WinFS is a technology without any traction. Under the circumstances, giving it to the database guys looks like the right thing to do.
I think its sad that we'll not see this revolutionary new file system. Also makes me wonder whether this is a bad omen for the new semantic approaches to unify the storage of structured data accross the file system (such as Leo's Gnowsis or the TagFS idea).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Microsoft Believes in Robotic Future

Microsoft said Tuesday it launched a new research group and the company's first-ever robotics software, available for public preview via download. The technology, called Microsoft Robotics Studio, is a Windows-based toolkit designed so that commercial and individual developers can create intelligent applications for a range of products.
Microsoft is also funding a new research lab, called the Center for Innovative Robotics, at Carnegie Mellon University, a pioneer in robotics research. Funds allotted to the CMU lab and its own research group were not disclosed.
With Microsoft's heft and money, the field of robotics will likely gain visibility, experts say
Microsoft also has several academic and commercial partners that plan to support its software. Those include CMU, Lego, CoroWare, KUKA Robot Group, Robosoft and MobileRobots.
Interesting but also surprising: usually Microsoft waits until there is an established player in a market before entering it ;-) (end then ends dominate it anyway). More here, here and there.

97% SPAM

You are not seeing much SPAM anymore in your Inbox? Does not mean that the problem went away:
"Below is a summary of the incoming email to our gateway mail servers for all domains that we accept email for (there are 57 domains). This summary is for the last 7 days: Our mail servers accepted 1,438,909 connections, attempting to deliver 1,677,649 messages. We rejected 1,629,900 messages and accepted only 47,749 messages. That's a ratio of 1:34 accepted to rejected messages!
I'm sure you have your own similar (or worse) statistics. What a waste! (And thanks to all the developers and administrators who've make this problem much less intrusive to ordinary users, leaving it to people like Bob who have to shovel out the sh*t. Ordinary users still think spam is bad, but they don't really know just how bad....)
The entire thing with more detail is here.


This seems to be an interesting tool for image annotation:
A variety of toolkits have been developed both commercially and in academia that provide the functionality to generate semantic metadata for the content on the Web. Currently, most existing toolkits provide an integrated environment to annotate only flat text on Web pages. However, we see the need to annotate additional media available on the Web as well. Given this motivation, we have developed PhotoStuff, a toolkit that provides users the ability to annotate regions of images with respect to an ontology and publish the automatically generated metadata to the Web
I found it via this WWW-2006 trip report.

Mandatory Annotation

It says that commercial Web sites must not place "sexually explicit material" on their home pages upon pain of felony prosecution--and, in addition, they must rate "each page or screen of the website that does contain sexually explicit material" with a system to be devised by the Federal Trade Commission.
I think we should extend this for all content. Every page must be annotated, failure to do so will result in felony prosecution. THIS would be a big step forwards for the Semantic Web ;-)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Google Bashing ...

When I got disenchanted with because of its reliability I had a look around for a Blogging service. I finally settled for Blogger because its owned by Google - I thought that given Googles proven track record for speed and reliability they will surely be able to handle a couple of millions blogs. I chose Blogger even though I was kind of disappointed by the functionality (come on, I have to "republish" my entire blog everytime I change the template?) Well, in the past weeks I've come to question that decision: I experienced frequent downtimes of, some lasting so long that I gave up blogging for that day. Afterwards I looked around for some explanations, excuses - but found none. Indeed, carefully looking at the blogger startpage I realized that the last news item was posted half a year ago - kind of makes you question Googles commitment to blogger. Hence: Anyone still thinking about starting a blog with blogger should at least use the option to host the blog on her own server - this way you have more control and can switch much easier.

Some other "Google is Bad / Not so Cool" news from recent days: You are now getting Google Toolbar whether you want or not. Also the new Google image sharing application fails to impress. This Google Toolbar install deal reminds me of my recent experience with the newest Google Desktop version: you can't install it without getting some useless screen estate wasting widgets as well - and it took me very annoying 15 minutes to get rid of these! (the process is such that most casual computer users will not be able to use Google desktop search without the widgets).

But lets close on a funny node:

Google Torture:
Sure, Google provides access to nearly all the public information on the web, but what about data people aren't willing to share? Google could enhance its core search engine by deploying goons and/or thugs to beat information out of people -- anything from the location of their valuables to interesting sports trivia. Finally you can search on terms like "why did my neighbor come home at 3 a.m. all last week" and expect to get some real answers.

Mainstream Microformats

From the yahoo local blog
Starting today, we’re happy to announce Yahoo! Local fully supports the hCalendar, hCard, and hReview microformats on almost all business listings, search results, events, and reviews. There are a few reasons behind this change, which for now, will be transparent to almost everyone.
In less-techy terms, “microformats” are an open standard for structuring web page content in a meaningful and reusable way. At Yahoo, we’ve been big microformat fans — Yahoo! Tech uses the hReview microformat for all product reviews, Flickr supports XFN and hCard on all profile pages, and our own was the first big hCalendar supporter.
This sounds like a big step forward for the "grass-roots semantic web". A bit more about this here, although I'm still not sure how exactly the microformat support looks like...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Open Peer Review

Nature is investigating the future of peer review. They are hosting a public debate about the value and methods of peer review and are making an experiment with "public peer review":
In Nature's peer review trial, lasting for three months, authors can choose to have their submissions posted on a preprint server for open comments, in parallel with the conventional peer review process. Anyone in the field may then post comments, provided they are prepared to identify themselves. Once the usual confidential peer review process is complete, the public 'open peer review' process will be closed. Nature will report on the results after the trial period is over.
More about open peer review from O'Reilly's Radar and the Nature page with more information and links about the debate and the open peer review process.

The Interesting Link

NYT about AI technology on spaceships, contains a link to an amazing animation of a 'shape-changing' robot.

We heard of robot soccer and even robot sumo - this week we learned of robot football (link with video) and robot golf.

The next step in the direction of the Google Web Office (yes' I'm aware that they denied working on such a thing a thousand times)- Google Spreadsheat (some more discussion here

BBC on Amnesty's initiative on net repression, also with a report on the kinds of web censorship in different parts of the world.

More on the fight to make all scientific research free and universally available - Free Radical

The UK All Party Parliamentary Internet Group has some surpisingly reasoned things to say on DRM/crippleware: summary on BoingBoing (american lawmakers on the other hand are spending their time preparing the next wave of even more invasive crippleware)

After CRT, LCD, FED and EPD: the waterbubble display.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Microformat Developments

Technorati continues to push microformats. Yesterday they announced two new services: The microformat ping multiplexer Pingerati - a service that you can notify once you have published new content in microformats. Technorati will then index your content and also notify other sites that have been registered with Pingerati. The other new service is a search engine for content published as microformat.

US 'Crowdsourcing' Border Security

I'm not going to get involved in the politics of this, but its crowdsourcing at work: Web users to 'patrol' US border
"A stronger border is what Americans want and it's what our security demands and that is what Texas is going to deliver," Mr Perry said. The cameras will cost $5m (£2.7m) to install and will be trained on sections of the 1,000-mile (1,600km) border known to be favoured by illegal immigrants. Web users who spot an apparently illegal crossing will be able to alert the authorities by telephoning a number free of charge.