May 31, 2003
Alwayson - SCO

After the Red Herring called it quits, the questions was where to go then. The other tech magazines all seem a bit lightweight (heavy on the management and communication issues at best) but furtunately Tony Perkins had moved on to AlwaysOn. This is a community site with a lot of investment focus, but done thoroughly with respect for the industry content. As an example, their coverage on SCO & UNIX is first rate.

Posted by Claus at 01:24 PM
It all starts with data

Found an old PC forum link on Jeremy Allaire's Radio

Esther has a theory that what will create the semantic web are large-scale data-centric applications driven by large corporations and government, forcing the creation of standards and platforms.
Counterexamples: HTML, HTTP, trackback, RSS, ...
I think the conclusion is true but the argument wrong. The only really important thing to know is that it all starts with data. Somebody will make something available in a useful format. People will write tools to access that. Other people will make their data 'tool compatible'.
I think it is a good question if RDF will make it at all. If it does it will likely make it either as 'Open Schema' - a data description standard tailored to be made collaboratively instead of by some central publishing house - or 'Poor mans Prolog' - a net ready substrate for rule engines to run on.

The Open Schema approach could survive grassroots style OR corporate style. The rule engine substrate is unlikely without some heavy lifters (making it unlikely alltogether).
RDF as 'data ready hyperlinks' might be viable.

Posted by Claus at 03:41 AM
Why PKI doesn't cut it

Nikolaj recently reminded me of - the tongue in cheek URL forwarding service that cuts overlong CGI permalinks down to size.
It's a nice idea - in part because of the nice execution and in part because of the problems it highligts.
The idea is nice, and entire URL spaces work OK, so you can abbreviate parts of your URL space to etc.
The problems highlighted are at least threefold:

  1. The TinyURL space itself becomes meaningless. It points everywhere and nowhere.
  2. Impossible to use with secure URLs. Obviously forwarding your secure data via TinyURL is a bit of a problem.
  3. Impossible to use for private applications. And private applications are in extra need of this kind of service - being usually defined on some.ugly.subdomain.of.a.corporate.domain

How could TinyURL fix the privacy problems: avoiding implicit trust with an intermediary and opening of private namespaces?
Avoiding the implicit trust of the intermediary requires a two way encrypted communication between the ultimate client and the server tinyurl is a proxy for.
That sounds like a Public Key Infrastructure application. A public registry of certificates avoids the need for the client to have a relationship with every server - while allowing intermediaries like tinyurl.
But if the intermediary is to add any value, the data can only be partially clouded. In particular the target urls must be known to the intermediary. So some kind of partial trust protocol needs to be layered on top of the certificate technique. One imagines a mixed payload with encrypted and unencrypted parts.
While PKI and all of the upcoming digital signature concepts provide a cryptographic basis for this kind of work they do not provide the real value giver, namely the protocol allowing mixed trust and without no network effects. In fact, I think I'm following Bruce Schneiers train of thought when pointing out that the real source of trust is the entire relationship between the truster and the trustee. It is an open question if they really need centralized crypto to build or maintain that trust.

The second aspect is reminiscent of the first: A lot of interesting resource for intermediation are on private networks because of safety concerns. Adding crypto to these services before allowing intermediaries access can be difficult and the current certificate infrastructure is such that it is expensive to add and manage certificates.
Second problem is that the certs don't offer fine grained control in this situation either. With public crypto registers I can easily trust any counterpart - but if I want monitored audited access only, crypto isn't it (without a lot of expensive middleware)

In short - an open dynamic architecture for trust and permissions is needed. That was (some of) whaty digital identities was supposed to do - but they don't seem to have made any impact just yet.
The big ideas (project liberty et al) at last glance just seemed to be a new crossplatform 'closed identity' solution.

An unrelated thougt:
The meaningless TinyURL space makes a point about language. Sometimes it is easier to remember a complex grammatically sound statement than it is to remember a short meaningless one. In fact I'll bet good money that statement was easier to remember than the number 49205710362881947293, even though that is only one digit per word of the previous sentence. But that was not really the main point so I left it for the MORE block
What that means is that carefully designed URL spaces are easier to remember than tinyurls

Posted by Claus at 02:35 AM
May 30, 2003
Things always happen at the same time

Previously I praised what is still my reading experience of the century - Lars Qvortrup's The Hyper Complex Society. This is the perfect description of networked society both deep in insight and philosophical background and broad in observation and reflection on the many fields Qvortrup covers.

And still there's more to say about his vision of the hypercomplex society as a society rooted in itself - not the people it is made up of.
We can recap the main point: Qvortrup segments the history of ideas into three broad phases (as usual 'history of ideas' means 'Western European History of Ideas' - rooted in greek philosophy and christianity): A deocentric period - where God is the focal point of society - and by extension a centered society where power shines from the center. An antropocentric period - where man puts himslef, i.e. the individual, at the center. The subjective is invented and this society is the society of peers that originated with the Italian city states of the late 1400s. And finally the society we're transitioning into know - the networkcentric, or quite simply decentered, society of the future. The networked centered society can be difficult to explain without resorting to philosophical background, but the easiest way to describe it is by looking at the notion of a 'society of peers'. The traditional notion of a society of peers originated with craftmanship. Being a craftsman meant being in posession of internal qualities that in turn granted you the respect of your peers - the fellow craftsmen. Thus, the professional societies were simply getherings of equals. The craftsman is no more or less a craftsman by joining the society. It is his individual skills, his personal qualities that is the determining factor deciding his identity.
The decentered networked society is full of professional societies and networks, but the key difference is that the notion of peerage is grounded entirely in the network. It is by access to the network and interaction with the network of peers that the identity is created. This also means that an individual's identity is not a fixed quantity, since the networked individual connects to many networks that may or may not share their notion of identity. The individuals identity is only bound to the network defining it and we all have many of these identities. In fact so many they are more aptly called roles.

This is all covered in great detail with interesting insights on fields as diverse as philosophy, painting, massmedia, information technology and organizational theory. What I find interesting is that there are even more examples of this decentering of ideas.

The anonymous artist. The notion of an unsigned work of art relies on the idea that there is an artist afterall, and the notion that he will shine through in the sublime qualities of the work itself. So decentered art is never unsigned. It is by the act of signing that the work adopts a point of view, or a meaning.
My brother has written (in Danish) about this phenomenon, but his analysis - modernism (i.e. the decentered art) is 'the end of art' - is wrong, which he probably knows very well. There is an art world and in the words of my good friend Michael Thouber an artist is someone with the guts to present a piece of work - naming it art. In short by succesfully entering his work and himself into the network.
The interesting thing then is of course that the art is not dead at all, it just travels very badly, and is very difficult to massmarket or distribute. Conversely - the audience for this kind of art can only take it in by participating in the network as well; which is why this kind of art is almost exclusively found in museums and not in private homes. Museums are old-world portals into the network - your home isn't.
But none of these facts are in any way saying that the act of communication that is production of a piece and the later comprehension of it are not taking place.

The science of the mind. I was recently in conversation with a retired psychiatrist. He was lamenting the evolution of his field. The way he explained it, the field of psychiatry - while technically struggling to understand it's subject matter - was solidly grounded in the notion of the individual when he entered into the field. And this grounding in the notion of the individual was for him the fascination of the field. Auxiliary to this central position of the individual we're then fields such as psychiatric medicines, neuroscience and from the other end of the spectrum, social sciences. What he has then seen happening with accelerating pace is the the disappearance of the middle.
From the hard science end of the spectrum, drugs affecting the central nervous system are getting more and more precise - matching a more and more precise study of the basic chemical function of the brain. The astounding thing about this is how the neurological and chemical basis has very precise high level consequences. Emotion is a very basic quality of the brain and not - as previously suspected - the crowning achievement of the human mind.
At the other end of the spectrum, a certain defeatism has set in. An acceptance of the biological basis of human ability makes the notion of just helping everybody as unique individuals absurd. We are products of our biological ability and social heritage, and may psychiatric problems are tied into that social heritage. So from the 'soft' end of the spectrum, some psychiatric treatment is seen as a social service of a particular type of client of the social system.
The 'science of mind' attack on antropocentrism is thus twofold: From a biological perspective we're not individuals but rather aggregates of certain general components. From the social science point of view we are simply more or less fortunate nodes in the network.

Partying nowhere. As mentioned below Copenhagen Distortion is an annual celebration of the Copenhagen clubscene. This is a sample of networked life on so many levels. First off: Some of the events on the program as well of the roster of artitst is pure network. Select audiences at secret locations being entertained by underground heroes. Secondly, while there is a notion of place (Copenhagen) this has been diluted to contain also moveable feasts: Mobile parties traveling as far as Malm? and back.
The final party is sufficiently out of place that special all night boat rides are arranged to take the participants to the party. In short, this a party taking place nowhere. Either in locations that will dissolve (bus or boat rides) or in locations that exist sufficiently out of place that the party can only be pulled off by actively picking up the guests elsewhere.
The arrangers are completely with the program: One of the promotors of CPH Distortion was sufficiently hip to make a whisper party out of his own wedding. If you knew the right people at the time and read the right newspaper notices (or were given the right flyers) you were quite simply invited to crash his wedding party. It says a lot about the nature of these selfcontained, selfconsistent, selfdefining networks that only 15 people crashed the party (presumably his usual crowd were all invited properly) and of courswe that he was cool with the total strangers who did.

Posted by Claus at 11:34 PM
Copenhagen Distortion

It's time for the annual four-day party Copenhagen Distortion. Just one thing: "Yo" as the party slogan? That's just so 1989. I'm thinking Tone L?c - not placeless 2003 networked hipness.

Posted by Claus at 11:26 AM
May 29, 2003
What to do about SCO?

In a news story with the good news that Novell challenges SCO's Unix claims - important since Novell sold whatever rights SCO may have to SCO - the SCO CEO is beginning to sound desperate:
McBride added that unless more companies start licensing SCO's property, he may also sue Linus Torvalds.
In short, they've now traded a possibly legitimate dispute with IBM for full-on berserk fear campaign (YOU could be SUED!!!)

So what is there to do:

  1. Stop using SCO products. Remember 'burn all GIFs day'?
  2. Wait for SCO come forward with explicit material they consider infringing (we're talking lines of code and specific designs). Only then can the possible damage be assessed and the march to remove that material to kill the issue for good begin. This is the content of Novell's action.
  3. If design principles are on the 'what is a filesystem' level - i.e. unix philosophy that cannot be removed without killing the system - then we must simply hope (and assume) that IBM can fight it out and win in court. The Novell statement (which seems unprovoked by any lawsuit against Novell) is important in that regard of course
  4. The open source community has to look at the bigger picture of corporate sponsorship of open source code. Whenever ideas arising in closed source environments migrate to an open source world this kind of issue could resurface dependent on the sponsors economic ability and willingness to sustain sponsorship and on any disputes over ownership of the original closed source.

Posted by Claus at 03:31 AM
Cargo Cult Management

In an act of IEEE cross-browsing I found a nice little piece on misapplied organizational practices - debating bad process-heavy work environments vs bad work-heavy work environments (aptly characterized here as commitment driven management). I think I've tried both - and it is impossible to stress the key points of the op-ed too much:

  • Mindless application of any principle is doomed. If you're not constantly working to evolve the way you do the work, you're failing.
  • It's not a question of process driven vs. commitment driven. It's a question of competence vs. incompetence. If you're not constantly challenging 1) the skillset you apply in your work 2) the design and purpose of what you're working on 3) the way you work then you're just not getting anywhere in particular.

Posted by Claus at 03:15 AM
The real trick is making all the hard work seem simple

Previous reports on the Google cluster were pretty glossy - but now there's a detailed look at the cluster in IEEE Micro. The most impressive thing about the article is the level of detail of the optimization work done on the Google cluster. This is true engineering. Everything is measured and accounted for. No feature of the system is unanalyzed - from overall architecture and systems management automation down to consideration of what type of microprocessor kernel offers the best price/performance for search.
And the impressive thing is of course what is in the headline: All of this work goes into making the service as simple and fast as possible. In a truly golden performance, effort shouldn't show at all.

Posted by Claus at 02:50 AM
May 24, 2003
Keanu to star in Jesus flick

Keanu Reeves is set to star in an upcoming major motion picture based loosely on the life and times of Jesus Christ. "Keanu was hot in 'Little Buddha', we liked the tough sensitive look with a beard in 'The Gift' and after the success of the Matrix franchise we feel he is ready to play The Big Guy" says a studio exec on condition of anonymity.

Tentatively titled 'J-man' the picture will also star Leonardo Di Caprio as The Apostle John - and James Earl Jones will reprise his Star Wars role as The Voice of The Father. The role of Judas is still being cast.

News on the plotline is sketchy so far, but the film will try to revitalize the image of Christ giving a modern spin to some of his more spectacular antics. "We're updating Jesus for the 21st century. We feel a role model like Jesus should be very interesting to a wide audience at this point in time" says our source, citing the war on terrorism and the 911 attacks as background.
"People are looking for a can-do mentality today - and Jesus was very much a can-do person", says the exec.
It is rumoured that the films climactic easter scenes will be shot with alternative endings to avoid any possibility of pre-release story leaks.

Posted by Claus at 10:27 PM
Rule languages and business processes and procedural languages

Reading Jon Udell on Rule engines and rule languages.
Aren't Aspects compile time rule engines (just like C++ templating is compile time functional programming)? And isn't it a natural idea to implement a mixed-mode rule/procedural approach with aspects.

Full on rules based programming is IMO as Udell puts it 'another mess'.
In my daily work writing software for a lowly domain registration engine we encounter the procedural/rule disconnect all the time like all other business programmers. The greatest problems we have with our rule setup is that you tend to apply rules in very data rich environments (that's where they're handy) and that makes testing and debugging the rules a nightmarish and very slow process to the great disappointment of management who heard us praising the rules approach when we were struggling with some hideous legacy monolithic procedural code.

Posted by Claus at 08:56 PM
RDF to be useful?

Tim Bray's challenge for a Really Useful application to donate the domain to has led to one submission: McCullough Knowledge Explorer and the MKR language

Unfortunately the description says :
McCullough Knowledge Explorer (MKE) is an interactive tool for organizing knowledge. It helps the user to record, change and search knowledge, and provides extensive error checking to ensure the internal consistency of the knowledge.
That's doom for the product in one sentence. In closed domains maybe consistency works, but the distributed nature of the web simple has no place for notions like consistency. If it is consistent most of the time, fine - but it certainly not a design parameter of knowledge that it be consistent across meaningful volumes of information. If it were we'd be running out of words in no time.
Knowledge is always situational, and the best description of knowledge is "whatever pre-learned rules that are effective in a situation that you find yourself in". Adding more language than that puts you in the space of formal models very fast. You can start by namespacing the situational contexts and trying to make each of them consistent, but you will run into problems almost immediately if the namespacing is anything but an enumeration of situations and interpretations that have occured.
I think the theory of semiotics and signs, with the notion of infinite semiosis (i.e. reinterpretation) and no barriers at all to what constitutes signing (i.e. ideas or meanings) has it right.

As evidence of how tangled meaning is - surf the New Testament HyperConcordance. That's the full text of the New Testament, with every word indexed, and with every occurence of a word hyperlinked to the index. In short - A screenful of blue links.

Posted by Claus at 08:27 PM
Blog science

That there's a science of statistics for networks and hyperlinks is not news, but that there's focused social science being conducted on the nature of blogging and 'link sociology' was news to me. Microdoc does just that. There are precise and interesting accounts of memes spreading (includes what I consider a debunking of the Googlewash story) and even an experiment to examine the spread through automated indexers of the term Iranian Robots Invade Google Blogging Space (including metacomments like this).

He also characterises particular blogging styles, and particular posintg types very nicely. And the story anatomy links have nice infographics!

Oh, and while words to that effect have been said elsewhere let me put it bluntly: "Blogging is the new Spam". Everybody is doing it - and the word blogging brings you one of the most AdWord polluted Google searches you can do.

Posted by Claus at 12:14 PM
Sousveillance meme picking up steam

The Volvo photo ban is part of a general trend. Lawrence Lessig reports two separate incidents of gratuitous no-photo policies at Starbucks. And they try to turn their locations into homey hangouts where people go to be. Who would want to be there if you can't do normal harmless things like taking snapshots of your friends.

In a museum or other place where exploitable copyrighted material exists it makes sense. Elsewhere it's just an invasion on your freedom.

Posted by Claus at 11:55 AM
Don't make me say it!

Tim Bray has an interesting point in The Natural Language Query Fallacy

On computer systems with NLP: "Why would I want to speak to it in full sentences stuffed with subordinate clauses and prepositional phrases? I think I'd want to grunt things like 'Yahoo, Berlin weather' or 'break line 238' or 'spam!'."

Everyone knows of course that spoken language has its own broken grammar, and that's what you need to implement. True interface nirvana is much more akin to a gestural interface - where the computer uses one or more cameras to look at you and detect your state of mind from that (I've often dreamed of a force feedback keyboard so that Windows could drop those pesky 'Are you sure?' popups when I'm angrily beating the keyboard really hard). But that is obviously a harder task.

An interesting related fact is the rise of IDE's and visual tools and the decline of programming languages as the focus of software development attention (as discussed in the favourite on Software Pragmatics. When proper computer languages came about in the 60s and 70s that was a revelation. These days, efficient development deemphasizes language, and in fact modern IDE's have something similar to a rudimentary gestural interface. You point and click - tab your way through lists of words to find the right one and occasionally write one or more words by hand.
In short the activity of programming is the complete gestural interaction, not the act of writing.

Posted by Claus at 11:23 AM
K5 Matrix review || Matrix Reloaded Reviewed

Soundbite: In fact, that's my biggest gripe about this movie: the Wachowski Brothers have turned into George Lucas.

The reviewer sounds like he really wanted to hate the film. The quote is certainly well-deserved - there's a little too much You MUST fulfillll Your Desss-Te-Neeeeeeee about the whole ting - but the look and feel remains cool and the storyline while cliche-ridden is livable. Most importantly, the direction and acting is not as dead as it is in the Star Wars prequels.

OK, I saw the movie at a movie theater now - and I have to agree a little more with K5's reviewer. The Jesus angle is massively overplayed - and overplayed with a rich serving of pseudoreligious and pseudophilosophical nonsense (The Architect is a particularly egregious example of this (to adopt some lingo)). It's just dialogue to pass the time. And boy does it pass. Sitting in a dark, hot theater the movie comes out at least half an hour too long.
On closer inspection, the movie actually has nothing but the name (and sometimes look) of the main characters in common with the first Matrix. It's a Star Wars movie instead, and worse for it. No tight, short dialogue. No cool realism. No mystery. No real surprise. The only great action shot as far as I am concerned is one of the simplest. Namely the Agent jumping with complete disregard for the fall out a window in pursuit of Trinity). That has the simplicity of the first movie's action scenes. Car chases and Neo as superman is just not as compelling. And I didn't even mention the worst thing. THEY ADDED A SIDEKICK! God, how that sucks. I am referring of course to comic relief Link, who plays no role whatsoever (in contrast to Dozer and Tank in the first film).

Posted by Claus at 10:15 AM
Gibson blog

The preceding link was suggested by avid (if recent) blogger William Gibson. He writes a lot on his blog and I think his commentary on 'real' writing versus bloggin is right on the money.
The purpose of blogging is to not be real writing. There are no compositional principles to employ. In fact I think many blog readers would quickly scan past any real writing occuring on their favourite blog.
That still makes for an interesting new kind of prose, but it is not essays or any other 'slow but careful' kind of writing.

I've found blogging to be excellent for flashes of ideas, and random linkage but poor for synthesizing. I've been working with ideas like that since approx 1988, writing most of the ideas I write down in no more than a page or two of longhand. While very few single entries stand the test of time, even the poor ones end up as important support material for the better ones. The publication of ideas - apart from the obvious vanity factor - adds just a little accountability, and hyperlinks is an obvious opportunity if one likes that kind of thinking.
IF one is to be serious about any of the ideas written down, there is no shortcut around writing it down properly in a longer coherent system.
That's why I hope to reorganize some of the longer running themes here on around some more focused essays in the next month or so. These will be versioned slow texts, but on the other hand with a little luck they'll hold some interesting and useful thinking.

Posted by Claus at 04:04 AM
Get the hook up on Teen Lingo

Trust your local church to keep you posted on TEEN LINGO - a brilliant resource explaing old timers like '5 0' and 'booty' and containing brillant entries like

Skeeza (ski -zah)
An unattractive, yet promiscuous female. See "skank"

or lookups with colorful sample phrases like

v. 1. To beat up. "You mad doggin me? I'll whoop you so bad your cousin will cry!" 2. To beat someone in a sport. "We whooped their team 126 to 57!"

I even learned some new words I'll definitely start to use

Whas' crackulatin'
(derived from "What's crackulating?") What is going on? How is it going? Good to see you. When greeting someone say "Whas' crackulatin'?"

Posted by Claus at 03:41 AM
"I'm sorry Sir, you just lost your world privileges"

If your name is David Nelson you're about to be permanently out of luck. Your rights to interact with computer systems has been revoked. If you desire to interact with any computer system that requires you to use your name, then that system will be permanently unavailable to you. You should consider yourself lucky though. There are other names out there, so powerful, that having them will lead to your immediate apprehension.
If you desire in the future to interact with anything we suggest you change your name. We should point out however that a record of a name change while adult is itself an immediate red flag to monitoring authorities. You will be watched.

Scale that story to Total Information Awareness proportions and you have a nightmare. Reasons enough to proceed on that road with great caution.

Posted by Claus at 03:24 AM
Life imitating art II

Spam blocking software blocks all occurences of the letter 'p'. Sound familiar? Well - you could have been reading La Disparition - Georges Perec's cult classic novel, written without the use of the most common letter in the alphabet - 'e'. OR more recently Ella Minnow Pea which employs the disappearance of certain letters directly as a plot device.
Perec's novel is a little more discreet in employing the missing letter overtly in the storyline but it is almost there: The book is about a disappearance - and the missing person is called Anton Vowl.

Furthermore the english translation I read had a very elegant review from The New York Times Book Review on the book cover: "There is not a single E in this novel. That's right: no here, there where, when; no yes, no love, no sex!"

Posted by Claus at 12:35 AM
May 23, 2003
It came from space

We might be living ina bad 50s sci-fi movie: Indian scientist are seriously comtemplating the possibility that SARS came from space.

Sounds a little too much like an attempt at generating some attention - and the funding, but a lot of science or stuff close to science is succumbing tho mediastrategies like that these days.

...or maybe SARS came from a South Chinese variety of a mongoose.

Posted by Claus at 03:02 PM
Ads, Ads, Ads - breaking DNS

The commercial pressure on the 'free' internet is mounting. Lately Neustar/Neulevel has been trying out some DNS changes so that available names lead you to a search page. That's right - the hideous 'search MSN' feature of IE built right into the DNS. This is a hideous and completely unnecessary hack. At least with the IE MSN search I have the opportunity of turning it off. Turning off default DNS will be considerably more challenging.
The commercial reasoning is obvious, but if the notion of public space is ever to mean anything on the Internet, this kind of wholesale commercialization will have to be stopped. One would hope ICANN would step in in the case of .biz

Posted by Claus at 10:36 AM
May 22, 2003
No 'sousveillance' at Volvo

Volvo - Swedish safe-car manufacturer - has banned employee camera-phones from their premises as reported in this Danish newsstory.
This is exactly as predicted by the inventor of the term sousveillance. Reclaim The Streets style invasion of the public space by netenabled cameras is not popular with big organizations.

Posted by Claus at 02:51 PM
Latest craze: Crappy Finnish cartoon dubbing

Please don't ask how I found this - but this page is a hate page for Agapio - a company doing crummy dubbing of cartoons for Finnish television. How bad is it? Very bad!.

Don't miss these doped out Digimon characters or some of the many additional hilarious samples

I think this has cult potential. Spread the word....

Posted by Claus at 02:44 AM
No Klingons wanted after all

K5 proves that the recent report on a job for a Klingon translator is in fact an urban legend.

So much for living in the real matrix.

Posted by Claus at 02:17 AM
May 21, 2003
Cognition papers galore

Revisiting the original Turing test paper - I stumbled on the Cogprints Archive og papers on Cognition. It has tons of good stuff. The original Turing paper - and also some of the good pro-AI references: Daniel Dennett's review of Searle's 'Rediscovery of Mind' and Penrose's 'Emperors New Mind' as well as papers by David Chalmers on computation and cognition.

Posted by Claus at 07:40 PM
Traveller's Turing Test

MIT Tech Review has a nice piece on the current quality and progress in the field of natural language processing: Computers That Speak Your Language

This is as close to a live Turing test as I can think of, and basically I'm of the opinion that it doesn't really matter that much if it can be completely hidden whether or not a machine is answering you. If we are willing to internalize the interface and simply have any kind of conversation with the system, with the plan of actually reaching a goal through the use of natural language, then I will consider the test to have been passed.
I think this position is the only interesting one in AI. The argument about consciousness and 'deep understanding' is meaningless or unnecessary. Or rather: A negative answer to the question (AI is impossible) has no bearing on the evolution of technology. A positive answer on the other hand means that we will have to think about the ethics of AI. Regardless, I think the entire debate on the possibility of AI is misguided since no general argument or argument from the nature of the human brain can successfully prove the impossibility of replicating specific observed capabilities of the human mind.
Whether sophisticated machines are viewed as conscious or not has little bearing on whether or not they can be constructed, and therefore the debate about the possibility of AI is largely a debate about our perception of the machine and not of the machines perception.

Arguments from undiscovered magic abilities of the brain (e.g. Emperors New Mind) I believe are just plain wrong.

Posted by Claus at 05:20 PM
Coworker weblogs

Among the diverse weblogs maintained by employees of Ascio and subsidiaries you'll find founder Nikolaj Nyholm (tech log), codeveloper Jasper (family log danish), designer Just (Design and other stuff), Beetle driver Benjamin (various) and then a new entry Mikael Bechsgaard (sofar time-preference and tango). More exist i'm sure. Not bad out of <100 coworkers.

Posted by Claus at 04:55 PM
In other totalitarian news

In a nice bit of Newspeak, the Bush administration has renamed the "Total Information Awareness" program "Terrorism Information Awareness". It's the same thing presumably. Large scale datamining with automatic text translation of foreign information sources. No public control. No policies for what bodies of data this new capability can be employed on.

The rise of better and better tools for analyzing the data floating around will mean that we will desire more and more data to not float around. The public space is closing.

Posted by Claus at 01:51 AM

On MSNBC a pro-Bush reporter is proud to stifle opposition. I wouldn't trust the views he presents as Danny Glover's either, but actively trying to take away Glover's income as a way of stifling him and being proud about it is just terrible.
Meanwhile, on Danish television, an episode of "The Practice" airs - presenting the 'controversial' idea of an airline company refusing all arabs as passengers. The notion that this is 'controversial' and not just dismissable as flat out unacceptable is another sad case of American politics gone berserk. I know shows like 'The Practice' breed of the emotional charge of the storyline - but since it's a given the policy will stand (no point to the story if the company was found guilty of racism) this isn't controversial but just a throwback to the darkness of the 50s. A conflict founded in the deserts of the Middle East can hardly be called a cold war, but is certainly looking a lot like one.

While we're on the subject: Freedom fries instead of french fries? When are they going to tear down the Statue of Liberty? That was a gift from the French - remember.

Posted by Claus at 01:36 AM
May 20, 2003
DBD::ADO binary

For some reason ActiveState stopped shipping DBD::ADO. It's probably because it is rather unmaintained (doesn't test perfectly) - but nonetheless, here's a binary for those of you who are compilerless but use Microsoft provided DB's and don't want to spend all day setting up ODBC sources. If it doesn't work for you then drop me a line. All the usual caveats and disclaimers apply.

Posted by Claus at 01:34 AM
Sikken dejlig dag det er i dag

En misforståelse gjorde at piloten på Udenrigsministerens fly vendte om til en hurtig landing pga frygt for at der skulle v?re en bombe ombord. På DR Tekst TV var nyheden forkortet til ukendelighed: "Frygtede bombe i Stig M?llers fly". Vi lader billedet stå et ?jeblik.

Posted by Claus at 01:13 AM
May 19, 2003
Streamlining the Danish film industry

Har netop set Filmland med omtale af Reconstruction. Og interview med instrukt?ren Christoffer Boe. Og så er man n?dt til at sp?rge: Er Nicholas Winding Refn d?d og genopstået? Det korte hår. De solide briller. Med den let akavede, men også arrogante fremtoning - og den svagt overlegne og let sn?vlende hovedstadsdiktion er det som at se Refns tvilling dukke op.

Posted by Claus at 11:46 PM
Life imitating (and surpassing) art

An overweight, star wars loving teenager has swept the internet with a non too acrobatic Light Saber Dance complete with a broomstick for a light saber and selfmade swoosh noises for the light saber. Or maybe the kid is really a very cool media juggler posing as an insecure kid. At least his performance mimics the hilarious artwork of Peter Land a danish artist doing roughly the same thing, sacrificing the privacy of his own nonacrobatic body in a series of deliberately embarrasing scenes where Land, either clumsy, drunk or both performs for the camera - sometimes naked, sometimes not.

Link to video

In an uncharacteristically nice and gentle turn of events, some of the people laughing at this new internet craze decided to try and raise some money to compensate the poor kid for being laughed at. They have sofar come up with >2000$. Nice going.

Posted by Claus at 03:44 PM
I'm not gonna take it anymore!

Why exactly is it, that with all the usability features in MS Outlook, they still haven't figured out that 'Reply to All' should not include the sender?

Posted by Claus at 11:13 AM
May 16, 2003
En unbrakon?gle, flere unbrakon?gler

Udover at markedet for CMS systemer er latterligt crowded (alle vil helst skrive det selv, hvilket lissom er en falliterkl?ring for hele ideen med CMS: Hvis det altid er federe at rulle sin egen l?sning hvorfor så nogensinde k?be CMS?) så er jeg så tilpas meget af en krakiler at jeg ikke kunne finde på at bruge et produkt hvis navn er en stavefejl:
Content Management Platformen 'umbraco' har fine hexagoner i bom?rket, som understreger at det nok var den praktiske Unbrako (tm) n?gle der inspirerede til firmanavnet.

I det mindste er perl stavet galt med vilje.

Posted by Claus at 04:02 AM
An acute case of gadget envy

If I had 3000$ lying around I didn't need for anything it's a safe bet that I would send them to Dynamism to purchase a Sony Vaio U101 - The World's Smallest Full-Featured Notebook.
This is a machine no bigger than a standard paperback that quite simply does everything. Full windows install. Swiwel screen so you can hold the machine in book fashion for reading. Excellent resolution. Size like a std paberback. Weight approx 1.2 kg with 8.5 hours extended battery life (or 800g weight with 3.5 hour life). To complete the picture, it has built in WiFi and ships with a 30 gb disk so it doubles as a creditable mp3 player.
What a brillian machine. One would consider travelling more just to show it off!

The weight and dimensions means that you really can keep it with you at all times (- you may need decently sized pockets but it's not like you're carrying luggage...) and the 8.5 hour battery life makes it worthwhile for simple tasks like writing notes, browsing and other light paperwork.

Product style bonus: It comes with a US layout keyboard, only with japanese sign subscripts on all keys and weird layout of the non-alphabetic keys.


Posted by Claus at 03:41 AM
May 13, 2003
Noel Redding R.I.P

Noel Redding - the bass guitarist from the best rock trio that ever existed has died at age 57. Jimi Hendrix of course was the genious of the band, but Redding and Mitch Mitchell were up to the task of completing the band with the impossibly rich trio sound that they had.

Posted by Claus at 01:53 PM
May 12, 2003
Living inside the matrix

It seems that some mental health patients are trying out the matrix experience for real. CNN reports on a hospital seeking a Klingon speaker.
That's right. Some of the patients refuse to speak anything but Klingon, and therefore the hospital has been obliged to look for an interpreter. This could probably only take place in the pacific states, but still. What if this is really the start of a mass exodus from reality? People quite simply tuning out, founding a new tribe and forming an identity around a commercial product - namely the Klingon language. Artificial languages have been around for a while of course but the new thing (and it is all very modern and 'hypercomplex, networked soceity') would be the use of an artificial language in the struggle for identity.

Re life inside The Matrix - do not forget the mock weddings for Alzheimers patients I reported about earlier. I failed to connect them then, but obviously these weddings are pure Matrix.

Posted by Claus at 10:28 AM
Gener ved gener

DR TV k?rer en serie 'kritiske' undervisningsprogrammer under titlen 'Rapport fra Fremtiden'. I virkeligheden har pgrgramr?kken indtil nu formet sig som en skr?mmekampagne mod enhver form for udvikling i bioteknologi med en ureflekteret budskab af den s?dvanlige skuffe om at 'Natur er godt. Videnskab er skidt'. Indholdsniveaet er pinligt lavt, understreget af dagens udsendelse om 'gen-mad'. Sådan ca var indholdet pr?senteret.
Det ringe ved udsendelsen var is?r en utrolig ringe evne til at formidle den tekniske virkelighed som programmet handler om. Man havde spurgt 'nogen almindelige danskere' om hvorvidt de troede at en r?kke almindelige danske f?devarer var 'gen-mad' dvs mad der var blevet produceret under anvendelse af genteknologi. Denne beskrivelse blev så kritikl?st brugt om en hvilkensomhelst anvendelse af bioteknologi. Både egentligt genmodificerede afgr?der, genmodificeret foder til de grise skinken kom fra, og så - utroligt nok - problematiserede man anvendelsen af enzymer produceret under fuld industrial kontrol v.h.a. genmodificerede bakterier. Jeg er overrasket over at de ikke oplyste at bonden der har h?stet kornet til br?det kan v?re behandlet med medicin fremstillet på samme måde.
Der kan v?re masse af smagsm?ssige, sundhedsm?ssige, ?stetiske og nostalgiske grunde til at diskutere den ivrige brug af f?devareenzymer i f?devareindustrien, men det at de er produceret på den angvne måde påvirker ganske enkelt ikke det tilsatte stof på nogen måde og det er derfor fuldst?ndig misvisende at inddrage brugen af enzymer i en debat om genmad.
G?r man det har man ihvertfald fjernet ethvert rationelt indhold i debatten.
Debatten om hvorvidt det kan v?re skadeligt for os at spise genmodificered planter, eller om uds?tning af disse planter i naturen er en risiko er reel og v?sentlig, men debatten om det er rimeligt overhovedet at arbejde med DNA er en helt anden og jeg mener i og for sig at den er afsluttet. Der er ingen der ?nsker at glemme dette fremskridt helt igennem, og det forplumrer i den grad debatten at den form for produktion som f?devareenzymer er med ind under betegnelsen gen-mad.
I programmet gjorde man sig den ulejlighed at n?vne at der ikke kommer noget 'gen-mad' i maden når man bruger enzymer, men forbeholdet var ikke blevet n?vnt for Hr. og Fru Danmark der docerede de almindelige rimelighedsbetragtninger vi alle kan forstå. De var rystede. Troede faktisk at gen-mad skulle v?re m?rket. Fandt det chokerende og uacceptabelt at den slags fandt sted med helt almindelige f?devarer. Som i alle moderne meningsprogrammer - var det Hr. og Fru Danmark der fik lov at stå tilbage som konklusion. Og d?t er for alvor chokerende.

Posted by Claus at 02:34 AM
The age of the Primadonna

It's official. We have reentered an age of primadonnas like you thought they didn't exist anymore. Only a few weeks ago Liz Hurley threw a genuine primadonna fit while boarding an airplane. A couple of days ago it was Jack Nicholsons turn to give some unsuspecting referees the star treatment.
The easy acceptance of these events mark the return of a grand age of primadonnas - a time where it pays to shout, scream and be well known. These kinds of temper tantrums are really completely unrelated to the stars and completely related to environment they appear in. Stars are only effective as primadonnas because of the public acceptance that they can and will do anything - which will then later be pardoned by some heroic primadonna performance no one but them could have given us. I think the time is just right for this kind of thing. Insecurity breeds reliance on power and primadonnas are power as mush as the current economic, political and cultural climate is insecure.
That reasoning was supposed to bring you by association to the greatest primadonna of the day: The Bush Administration.
Think about it a second. The reasoning proposed to Europe to back the war on Iraq sadly did not go far beyond a resounding 'DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM ??!??!!' uttered with the greatest conviction by Donald Rumsfeld, but backed by the entire administration. While few tears are lost on Saddam, it will become increasingly clear that Saddam was past being an aggresive military threat. A supplier of mony to terrorists, possibly - but the reasoning for the war still appears shallow. It worked, because power works, and because the rest of the world (or some of it at least) recognizes the pardoning brilliant performance of America as economic engine and by and large preserver of western world order. The bounty offered to those who said yes - was basically a signed photograph of Bush Jr. (the Danish PM collected his personally last week). And of course some bit parts in the next feature.

Posted by Claus at 12:17 AM
May 10, 2003
NYTimes Matrix coverage

The piece "Bullet Time Again: The Wachowskis Reload" expresses the same sentiments about The Matrix I did (only lengthier and with interviews) - and has the same concerns about the realness of the action. They are appeased by John Gaeta in an interview - but I still think what I thought after trailer review. The pure CGI effects just aren't there yet.

It is interesting how very good we are at spotting flaws like this in an image. Reaction time studies have revealed that we spend more processing time on analyzing artifacts - i.e. things we have created - than we do on living things. There are a number of plausible reasons for this (living things have relatively few but well known 'basic shapes' for instance - and artifacts are also analyzed for 'usability'), but at least the extra processing time is used for some kind of better analysis. As is the case with faces, we might just have a particularly good ability to analyze images of particularly 'human' objects, i.e. objects that we experience a lot, and where minute differences between similar objects make a difference.
In contrast, alien objects are given a more superficial analysis and accepted more easily as real as a consequence. So the phaser pistols in a Star Wars setting are easier to come to terms with than an unrealistically draped piece of clothing on Neo's back in a fight scene.
Alternatively, the mental mode of watching Star Wars could be completely different than the mental mode of watching actual photography. Watching Star Wars we are not really suspended into a reality, but clearly watching a 'picture' of that reality. Watching actual photography we are more able to suspend our knowledge of representation and accept what we see as actual reality.

Posted by Claus at 12:30 PM
May 08, 2003
One week before reload

The Matrix sequel is on it's way and the follow-up to everybody's favourite sci-fi movie of recent years is set to eclipse anything else possible. The story line looks as if it suffers from the usual cases of sequelitis (more monsters, 'return of the eliminated enemy', even more at stake (even if everything was at stake in the first film)) but on a survivable level; the environment (present day, only strangely malleable) is as cool as ever; and finally what's not to like about a sci-fi action movie whose website has a philosophy section.
The saddest thing after a close inspection of the extreme high quality trailer download is that we're still not in computer graphics nirvana. Computer generated images of everyday objects still look computer generated. The first film dealt with this through a lot of physical photography only augmented with effects, but this time around some of the fight scenes have gone full CGI and unfortunately it shows. There's a bad guy smashing the hood of a a car - looking as alive as a barbie doll, and there's Neo himself in 'The Burly Brawl' slugging it out with one hundred Hugo Weaving copies attacking. The most acrobatic shots in the scene - Neo rotating while kicking ass, and a great Weaving explosion tossing all the Hugos through the air look entirely animated. This takes a lot of the coolness out of the scenes. The great thing with the matrix compared to the Star Wars prequels or other effects heavy movies was the super realistic look of the scenes. It's a lot like all the stuff that's wrong with the latest James Bond movie. That too added all kinds of crazy CGI stuff (an invisible car? Get outta here! James bond is a hard drinking, heavy hitting, sex machine - not some alien-tech superhero) and in films whose entire coolness relies on the physical believability of the action that just takes a lot of the cool away.

Needless to say, the believeability of the action in The Matrix is also an important part of the plot, so even though that particular element of surprise is no longer there, the physical believability of the simulation is still an important aspect of life inside The Matrix.

Posted by Claus at 06:12 PM
May 01, 2003
When google doesn't work

One get's so accustomed to searches working that the disappointment when it does not work is quite heavy.
What I was looking for and couldn't find was any indication as to whether amazon's API works for also. Doing a site specific search for web service API at the worlds largets bookstore was less than helpful however (and you are complete right also: I should have searched for some german description but there you have it). All of the returned pages have similar rank and they about books on web services instead of Amazon's own offering.
Interestingly - the description of webservices works nicely.

Posted by Claus at 08:08 PM
When 'Free' means 'not valuable'

The always interesting Jon Udell has recounted an instance of rabid anti-spam filtering on Jon's Radio.

What he is talking about is 'registered email', where mail is spam by default and only known senders get through. This clearly removes spam, but as Jon points out If we rule out spontaneous association then we will not have defeated the spammers. They will have defeated us. A world in which no one can approach you is a sad world indeed.

We're back to that identity thing. When we're approached in the real world we know for sure that we are approached by a real person, and we can directly hold that person accountable for the approach. Sure, we all know the handout spammers on the city streets but they are a minor annoyance. Receiving email should be like that.
An identity header to a navigable 'sender' information source would keep email free, but upgrade the message with more reliable sender information. Obviously I wouldn't expect the person at the other end to share their life story - but something else will do. A photo or any other kind of sharing of trust will do.
I think it would be interesting to see if spammers would actively seed such an identity pool with 'fake people'. IF they do - at least there's now an infrastructure path for building trust chains for that kind of information.

This would open up a 'reputation economy' like the one in place for mailservers (open relay databases). A personal profile with a low reputation for spamming would be marked 'below threshold', sorta like slashdot, only for person to person email, not forum posting.

Posted by Claus at 07:19 PM