Tablet PC as media gizmo

There’s discussion about using the Mac mini as a media center: “the central brain of our system; the glue that holds all the devices together. It can serve the role of scheduler, controller, audio/video recorder, audio/video playback, audio/video download, and it even makes a decent audio/video production unit, as well.” The cute li’l box has processing, storage and network to serve, slurp, and schedule.
But what I’m missing isn’t just processing power — it’s interface focus.
Right now, my laptop is a fine media machine if I want to focus on watching video or listening to music. But it’s useless for background tasks. Any media – related task steals 100% of focus and processing power.
What I really want is a good-sized, networked, tablet that I can use for social software like for simultaneous playing and browsing. An iPod UI is fine for selection, but it’s just too small for the social and topical browsing that’s key to my media experience. I want it to be portable, not tied to a desktop display. The storage doesn’t need to be tied to the display — a networked storage gizmo would be ideal.
The mini combines the storage, networking, and processing, and leaves off the display. I want the display and processing, which can be decoupled from the storage.
This is all possible today with a good-sized budget. A table is $1600, a network storage gizmo is $800. In order to make a tablet practical, vendors would need to cost-optimize for a configuration that splits display from storage.
Note to more advanced home media hackers — what do you think?

Copyright idiocy of the day

I needed to make a photocopy of my driver’s license and credit card for an internet order where the shipping address was different from the billing address. My home office copy machine is sheetfed, so I need to go out to copy the little pieces of plastic.
So I called the South Congress HEB. Their photocopy machine is behind a service desk. They won’t let me copy my own driver’s license and credit card, because they are “copyrighted”.
A slightly longer trip to Office Depot did the trick.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

The emotional punch of satire depends on participation in the culture; Jon Stewart telling the Crossfire goons “you’re hurting us” was shocking and scathingly funny.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgoisie, Bunuel skewers the social conventions of the postwar French elite; the genteel obsessions with food, the correct way to serve alcohol, polite table manners, formal dress for dining with friends at home. Behind the politeness there is adultery, drug-dealing, murder, and political oppression; and a dream life where fear, violence, torture and death break through the surface.
The humor and shock of Discrete Charm can be appreciated but not quite felt. At times, the satire needs to be deciphered like Moliere and Chaucer. The class satire in particular needs footnotes. A bishop is invited to dinner, though he has signed on as a gardener; military officers are part of the club; the driver and maid are the subject of condescension. I’m surely missing the nuances.
I rented Discreet Charm for remedial film reference. In the making-of-Tenenbaums DVD extra with Wes Anderson, the director called on Luis Bunuel for inspiration with some difficult scene.
From Bunuel, perhaps, Anderson inherits the intertwingling of the bizarre and ordinary. Perhaps Anderson is trying to borrow Bunuel’s matter-of-fact tone with the bizarre. Bunuel acheives deadpan, Anderson’s tone is sometimes just dead.
The heart of both films is psychological. Anderson’s therapeutic themes are angst, anomie, and emotional dishonesty. Bunuel is sincerely Freudian — ordinary life hides a vivid dreamworld of sex, violence, and death.
I appreciated Discreet Charm, and really enjoyed the 90-minute biography of the filmmaker on the Criterion DVD. The biography interviews Salvador Dali and other contemporaries of Bunuel’s avant-garde youth and actors who played in the various films over 50 years. There’s footage of Bunuel, Dali, Lorca and crew being young, hip and beautiful.
The repressive cause and high cost of avant garde rebellion is shown in pictures; the theater showing L’Age D’Or that was bombed by right-wing militants; a contemporary shot (I think) of the friends reacting to Lorca’s murder by Nationalist soldiers at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War; the church hierarchy giving a Nazi salute; friends who put Bunuel up at their house when he couldn’t get a job in the US because of the Hollywood blacklist.
Bunuel’s friends and colleagues tell fond stories of roguish humor and strict personal habits; the atheists’s attraction to religious ceremonies and priests. The bio is rather hagiographical, leaving out the dirty laundry about cruelty to his wife, drinking, the feud with Dali.
The bio gives context to Bunuel’s old-fashioned avant garde esthetic. These days, the idea of shock on film travels across a wide cultural gulf. When Janet Jackson bares a breast on TV, many are shocked, and just as many wonder what the fuss is about. In college film class, Bunuel’s work is standard text in college film class, and “transgressive” is a conventional compliment. The horrifying images of Bunuel’s early work are the subject of fond father-son conversation in blue-state America. Shocking images in grossout comedies and horror movies are mainstream commercial products.
If I had the time, it would be fascinating to look up the reactions to “Discreet Charm” in 1972. Did people see an old radical domesticated into satire? Were the scenes of marital nookie in the bushes and decorous adultery considered titillating? Were the bloodied ghosts considered chilling or tame? It was a popular movie at the time — what did people like about it then?

categories and meaning

In a technology and politics mailing list, there was some enthousiastic discussion about developing common taxonomy in order to build political agreement.
I think this view misunderstands the role of categories in shared understanding.
At fine-grained, concrete level, a shared schema for voter and constituent data is extremely powerful.
At the larger level, though, labels don’t get you that far toward shared understanding and shared effective action.
Meaning isn’t in the nouns. Meaning is in the stories we tell. Meaning is in the actions we take. Meaning is annealed out of conversation. Meaning is in a strategy and supporting tactics.
Folksonomy might make the software challenge easier — the disparate political blogs and websites could just pick their own categories, and aggregation tools like Technorati tags could reveal the implicit concensus about labels.
But folksonomy won’t get us that far toward shared meaning and action, either. tells us that the most popular tags are blog, programming, web, music, software, design, news, and linux. The tag popularity metric shows what topics are popular, and lets the reader browse through the popular content under the tag.
It still requires an act of synthesis to describe what people really care about, when they bookmark “music”, “software”, and “design”.
It still requires acts of human organization and communication to build shared understanding, agreement, and effective action.

The Royal Tenenbaums

In the Wes Anderson interview in The Royal Tenenbaums, the director talked about how he storyboards the movie down to the last minute detail of decor, but he’s always surprised by the way that actors bring the story to life. That comment explains the affect of the Royal Tenenbaums. I’d want to watch it again to catch the the fabulous dollhouse details of the 1970s/80s Chas Adams house, with a family of eccentric ex-prodigies gone to seed. And to catch the subtleties as Gene Hackman plays an aging scoundrel trying to worm his way back into the affections of his alienated family. I just love how he’s habitually manipulative, nasty, and mean; and how he fumbles awkwardly with a new resolution to occasionally tell the truth.
But the map and the territory don’t quite mesh. The characters inhabiting the eccentric character definitions — Gwyneth Paltrow’s repressed and secretive failed playwright; Luke Wilson’s despairing washed-up tennis pro enact the border between anomie and caricature.
Reviews of the movie make a lot of the superficial eccentricity of the set and the mannerisms of the characters. Each character has his or her own shtick; the playwright has a wooden finger; the envious next-door-neighbor pop-western novelist wears fashion cowboy gear and wanders in a chemically-fueled dreamworld.
But the heart of the movie is simpler, more mundane, and more sentimental. Children, raised by a remote mother and absent father, create their own fantasy worlds, and then have to live in them. They confront each other as adults, and struggle with reconciliation and forgiveness. At heart, it’s about the imaginary worlds built in the carpeted dens of the lonely children of divorced parents. At heart, it’s a therapist’s office fable.

Hearing voices

There are special pleasures in reading with a net-connected computer handy. Often, when I’m reading a fun book, I’ll use the net to look up references and research side topics. If the book is recent, you can often find online book tour interviews. So, when I was reading the Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand, I found this NPR interview. Readng The Birth of the Mind by Gary Marcus, I found this radio interview.
The radio interviews have only the highlights and greatest hits of the book. But it gives some context to the book, to hear Menand’s reflective tone and Marcus’ cascading enthousiasm.

“Just Comments”

It’s been brought to my attention that the nofollow tag is supposed to pertain only to comments.
This is small comfort to those of use who experience weblogs as conversation. Some of the best comments refer to resources, citations, counter-examples. Links that are especially valuable to page-rank, because they are selected in context.
Google etc are trying to remove the reward from spam, but in the process they’re removing the reward for conversation.

Killing weblogs in order to save them

Google has proposed a method to fight weblog comment spam that would dramatically decrease the influence of blogs. Comment spam is a nasty plague, but this cure is worse than the disease. I don’t understand why SixApart is racing to adopt this suicidal approach.
The proposal will prevent Google’s search engine from following links found in weblogs, by putting a rel=”nofollow” link attribute on web links. Blog tool vendors including SixApart raced to support the new proposal (via Joi Ito
Blogs rank highly in Google’s search results because weblogs are link-rich media, and Google’s search algorithms put heavy weight on links. Blog influence is a good thing — items that are rated highly by millions of distributed, independent actions deserve to be brought to the surface.
As described by Sunir Shah and fellow Meatball wikizens, the proposal will destroy the influence of weblogs by not counting the links.
The brilliance of Google, Technorati,, Flickr, blogs, and other social software is that the actions of millions of individual users, done to benefit themselves and their small communities, have combined, emergent benefits at a larger scale.
Links give us the ability to combine all of our whispers into a roar. If you dampen the signal amplification, we’re just friends talking to each other. Social software stops being a source of emergent intelligence.

Jared Diamond and the death of environmentalism

The most compelling bit about Adam Werbach’s jeremiad about the death of environmentalism was the vision for a New Apollo Project that would invest in clean energy infrastructure, end dependence on foreign oil, reduce contribution to global warming, and create new business opportunities and jobs.
When Werbach and his team took the story on the road to a town struggling with the lost of manufacturing plants, they were astonished at the hope and enthousiasm that the vision inspired.
Ironically, the rest of the speech is a classic jeremiad exhorting environmentalists to renounce their faith in jeremiads. An environmentalist myth tells a story about a pristine beginning, followed by decline and gruesome collapse and decay. So Werbach tells the elegaic tale: the idealistic beginnings of the environmental movement in the vision of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, through its decline into policy wonkdom and voter-alienating pessimism, and defeat at the hands of cheerful Republican exploiters.
The screed about the death of environmentalism is aimed at persuading old true believers to give up hope in winning environmental issues on their own, and to join the broader progressive movement. If you’re not an old-time true believer, the speech isn’t meant for you. If you’re an old-time disbeliever, the speech will confirm your stereotypes.
Here’s the lesson for rest of us, who are looking to assess today’s situation, and what to do now. Diamond’s Collapse wants to be our generation’s Silent Spring. In “Collapse”, Diamond argues persuasively that societies need to make foresighted decisions to avert the collapse of their civilization brought on by environmental destruction.
The way to inspire people and leaders to make those good decisions isn’t just fear. Fear alone will lead people to put their heads in the sand. The way to inspire people is to provide an hopeful vision that reframes the threat of scarcity into an alternatve vision of abundance.
I’d love to hear a political candidate wrap a story of energy independence, technology progress, business opportunity, and national security. It uses the same story, framed as hope, not fear.

On the market for sustainability

Prompted by reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse, I did a bit of information foraging on the progress of some sustainable environmental practices.
One of the bright sides in the US is organic agriculture, which has been growing by more that 20% annually for over a decade, and about 40% of consumers have bought organic food. The growth has taken organic food mainstream – most organic food is now bought in ordinary supermarkets, and organic companies, for better and worse, are being bought out by big food conclomerates.
Organic food still accounts for only 2% of the overall food market. But 20% annual growth can lead to a “tipping point” in a decade or two, when production techniques considered “niche” today become the norm.
The big deal, it seems to me (with no special expertise other than homework) is soil health. With organic farming, soil fertility is renewable, but conventional agriculture mines the soil. Soil degradation can lead to disastrous Easter Island-style problems.
Fisheries and forests are also being mined to the point of collapse. Jared Diamond mentioned the Marine Stewardship Council as the most reputable organization that is certifying fisheries for sustainable practices. The Forest Stewardship Council provides similar certification for forestries.
The activities of these groups seem less mature than organic agriculture. There are 11 fisheries that are certified by the MSC today, and 40 that have applied for certification. According to the most recent newsletter, 4% of the world