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Preview: Eclecticity: Dan Shafer's Web Log

Eclecticity: Dan Shafer's Web Log

Where author, poet, sports fanatic, spiritual teacher, and dabbler in things Pythonesque and Revolution(ary) Dan Shafer holds forth on various topics of interest primarily to him

Last Build Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2002 17:06:45 GMT

Copyright: Copyright 2002 Dan Shafer

Mon, 18 Nov 2002 17:06:44 GMT

Searching for Bobby Fischer, FBI Style. I love chess. At one time, I aspired to be a professional player. I am a lifelong admirer of Bobby Fischer the chess player. Bobby Fischer the human is a bit more problematic. The 1993 movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, which wasn't really about Fischer but rather a sort of chess-genius-struggles-to-avoid-being-like-Bobby-Fischer-the-human story line, is one of my all-time favorites. So any story that features Fischer, however indirectly, grabs my attention. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story Sunday about how the FBI hounded Fischer's mother and indirectly her son. They suspected both of them of pro-Soviet, anti-American beliefs and practices. The story is mildly interesting as yet another exposition of the Hoover-era FBI's excesses. But I found it interesting on another level. In light of the Homeland Security Act's incredibly amazing excesses, I wonder what the modern-day FBI and the whole Homeland Security agency's practices will look like in five or ten years? We have ushered in the era of the police state, the final stage in the ultimate demise of America if we don't find creative ways of stopping it. For the first time since the McCarthy hearints and the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) of the early 60's, Americans face the clear choice of supporting massive oppression of those holding unpopular ideas or breaking the law and risking jail without trial for opposing that oppression. In the 60s, I made the right choice only after seeing Vietnam first hand. I wonder how I'll behave now that I'm approaching my own 60's. Will I have the courage it will take to stand boldly and publicly against this treasonous and unconstitutional act by an illegal government? Or will I confine my "opposition" to ranting and raving on a lightly read blog and thereby justify my silence, which equals acquiescence? All of us who are liberals face this same issue. A watershed looms.

Mon, 18 Nov 2002 16:50:12 GMT

Refuse to Screw the Consumer, Get Shunned by Hollywood. Apple Computer is taking some big hits in the consumer digital distribution arena because of its refusal to jump on any bandwagon that deals with "digital rights" by confining those rights to the distributors and steamrollers consumers. When Movelink debuted a week or so ago, I tried to use it with my Mac. The site quickly informed that my system did not meet minimum requirements of the service because it wasn't running Windows. In my view, this is another evidence of M$'s ability to isolate any competitor by the simple expedient of spending millions or even billions of dollars. Read the story and decide for yourself who's at fault here.
Apple fights for entertainment wares. A new online movie service joins other Web media services in shunning the Mac, spotlighting the hurdles Apple faces in its plans to dominate digital media. [CNET]

Mon, 18 Nov 2002 06:38:36 GMT

What Kind of Content is Worth Buying?. If we are ever going to find ways for content providers on the Internet to make money, we're going to have to figure out what it is about information that people will pay for. I'm not sure there's much there, but we owe it to ourselves to try to dope this out. Content consists essentially of news, opinion/commentary on the news, in-depth information of a practical (how-to) nature, focused research, and entertainment. None of these categories is entirely self-describing nor are they mutuallly exclusive. There are, for example, databases of focused research designed to entertain (a la Internet Movie Database. News is too freely available to entice many people to pay for it. Opinion is a trust issue: sources of viewpoints who are deemed trustworthy might be able to get someone to pay for it, but probably only devout followers. In-depth how-to stuff might draw a payment, but it's a one-time thing and probably narrowly focused and therefore of limited total market potential. Focused research has some winning players (Meta, Giga, and others) but their Internet revenue tends to be a tiny fraction of their off-line revenue. And entertainment is highly competitive; breaking in new is hard. As I contemplate this, I'm reminded of a bold venture I thought would take off like gangbusters a few years ago. A daily sports newspaper was launched with much fanfare. I was an immediate devotee. But you had to go to the newsstand every day to buy it. No home delivery. It didn't last long. Then I remembered a New York Times piece I read several years ago. The basic message was simple: Americans will not pay for information or education but they will seriously overpay for convenience. How else explain bottled water, bottled tea, individually wrapped portions of peanut butter (I'm not making that one up)? So what we need to do is to figure out how to make Internet-based content so easily accessible that consumers will pay us for the convenience of the packaging. I have no clue what that is, but it seems to me to be the right direction. Anyone know of any successes in this area?

Sun, 17 Nov 2002 05:19:46 GMT

Will Al Gore Carry the Standard Again? Daniel Schorr, in a brief think piece in the Christian Science Monitor, suggests that former VP Al Gore will decide within a few weeks that he'll face Bush in 2004. Gore, who won the election only to have it stolen out from under him in one of the rankest-smelling political sewer moves in American history, isn't my first choice. He's not liberal enough. But he's better than most other candidates who come quickly to mind. I was encouraged to note that Schorr points out that centrist moves by the Dems didn't do the trick in 2002. "Postelection analysis indicates that Gore may have had a point. 'Me-tooism,' such as Mr. Gephardt's embrace of the war powers resolution, and other Democrats' ambiguity on the subject did not help candidates very much." Exactly what I've been saying. Those who criticize the selection of Nancy Pelosi as minority leader in the House because she's too liberal cite her refusal to give in to Bush's maniacal demand for near-dictatorial powers. Seems those of us who think she was not only voting her conscience but also happened to be right, had some clue what we were talking about after all. I'd love to see Gore -- whom I thought in 2002 and continue to believe has the potential to be one of the best presidents in our history -- take clearer, staked-out positions on some issues. But there's time.

Sat, 16 Nov 2002 20:26:51 GMT

Aggregator cum Editor...Good Idea. I like the new tack Brent Simmons is taking with NetNewsWire Lite. A seamless news browsing, commentary, blog publishing kind of tool would be way cool. (Actually, Radio already has that set of features; I'm talking about a tool that is independent of the blog technology or server.) Weblog Editing and NetNewsWire
I’ve got the basics of weblog editing in NetNewsWire pro working—I’ve been using a Manila site initially, since Manila supports both the Blogger and MetaWeblog APIs.


Sat, 16 Nov 2002 20:20:16 GMT

The Famous Archeological Ruins of...Detroit?. Wow. This was an amazing photographic tour and tour de force. It made me sick. Words fail me. Take a look. Detroit's Ruins
While searching for information about the new Eminem movie '8 Mile', I discovered this site: The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit. This photo-essay of urban devastation defies words. Observe the current state of the original Ford Model T plant, the former luxury car maker Packard Motors plant, and the Studebaker plant. [Kuro5hin]

Sat, 16 Nov 2002 18:27:31 GMT

John Robb Nails This One: Wake Up, People! The combination of the Justice Department's "enemies list" (Salon) and Poindexter's DoD sponsored "Information Awareness Office" is truly chilling.  McCarthy and Hoover have returned armed with truly powerful technology and nobody seems to be paying it much attention. [John Robb's Radio Weblog]

Sat, 16 Nov 2002 18:24:02 GMT

The Economist is Dead Wrong; Pelosi Will Be Good for Dems. I generally respect the coverage of American politics in the British-published The Economist. But they screwed this one up big time. John Robb repeated their mistake because, well, he seems to believe that the way to Democratic resurgence is by out-Republicaning the Republicans. I disagree.
The Economist.  Pelosi gets the nod.  "This is a disaster for the Democrats." [John Robb's Radio Weblog]
To demonstrate the lack of understanding of the true political reality, The Economist reports, completely incorrectly, that, " In 1996, she voted against welfare reform in the name of the poor (however, it has since helped to slash welfare rolls and reduce black poverty to historic lows)." The last part of this observation is patently absurd. The only way this so-called "welfare reform" had the described effect was by the usual government trickery of redefining "poverty." And of course it slashed welfare roles, but not, as the article implies, by improving the lot of the poor. Rather, it simply declared the poorest of the poor ineligible for welfare. Poof. Rolls reduced. Problem solved. Where do you think many of the homeless who are now America's disgrace came from? The Democrats took a tiny but important step toward winning back the "lunatic fringe left wing San Francisco liberals" whose abandonment of the increasingly centrist party has had more to do with its demise than any other single factor. Us liberals are staying away from the polls or, in cases like mine, voting for real liberal candidates wherever they can be found. Go, Nancy!

Sat, 16 Nov 2002 18:14:59 GMT

AbiWord Gets Some Well-Deserved Attention. Salon's Andrew Leonard looks at the AbiWord phenomenon and has some useful comments about Open Source and M$ alternatives along the way. AbiWord up. Booms come and busts go, but open-source developers keep improving the alternatives to Microsoft's "standards." []

Sat, 16 Nov 2002 18:10:37 GMT

The Culture of Free Must Die? One of the weirdest and in some ways most unfortunate side effects of the way the Web evolved is what has been dubbed the "Culture of Free." Web users have rightly come to expect that anything they want should be available for free, including being free of the "scourge" of advertising. But in the aftermath of the Dot Bomb, it has become increasingly clear that only those services that are sustained somehow by cash flow and those run purely as labors of love by very small (often one-person) teams are likely to survive. One approach that has shown some success is two-tier access. This is a situation where some basic services remain free but limiting so that you are encouraged to "upgrade" to a more usable service for which you pay a premium fee. It's not always successful, but it's a way of moving from free and unprofitable undertakings to those that have at least some possibility of success. Yahoo! mail takes such a tack, as seen in this piece:
Charging Does Help Yahoo Make A Profit. Meshach writes "The globe and mail has an article about how yahoo is starting to charge for their email service. Payment is not mandatory but if you don't pay ... [Slashdot]
] At the end of the day, this hybrid approach may prove broadly successful. One thing is clear. Surviving online services will fall into one of three categories, if they don't already:
  1. Those that operate deliberately for no tangible profit. These include labors of love, information sites run increasingly by folks with an agenda, and commercial branding sites that don't intend to sell you anything.
  2. Subscriber or membership sites which generate revenue streams without ads. (As the article above points out, it's really alright to have fewer people in your user base if they're paying. Eyeballs don't write checks.)
  3. Ad-supported sites. Contrary to popular belief, Internet advertising is far from dead. It has definitely declined but there are still tens of millions of dollars being spent on online ads and smart folks are figuring out how to make this approach work better. It's definitely here to stay.

Sat, 16 Nov 2002 17:07:22 GMT

"Let Them Read Books!". Austin Phelps. "Wear the old coat and buy the new book." [Motivational Quotes of the Day]

Fri, 15 Nov 2002 19:09:33 GMT

Salon Does Mysteries. I love this. Salon Magazine, the place I began my Web career lo these many eons back, has started a new column focusing on mysteries. I am shamelessly addicted to mysteries, trial novels, and non-military spy adventures, so I am looking forward to this new column with much relish. And a dab of mustard. Brown, of course.

Fri, 15 Nov 2002 18:59:33 GMT

Keats Says it More Poetically Than Edison. Same message as Edison's characterization of his thousands of failed efforts to create the light bulb ("I now know lots of ways that don't work" in paraphrase), but a tad more poetic. John Keats. "Don't be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid." [Motivational Quotes of the Day]

Fri, 15 Nov 2002 18:55:14 GMT

Color Me Unsurprised as Bush Blocks Yet Another Popular Treaty. For a country that criticizes Iraq for failing to uphold international treaties and laws, the United States Under Selected President Bush has certainly developed a similar reputation among other world's nations. That latest? U.S. won't support Net "hate speech" ban. The Bush administration says it won't support a proposed treaty to restrict "hate speech" on the Internet. [CNET]

Fri, 15 Nov 2002 05:58:08 GMT

A Thoughtful and Penetrating Analysis of the Morality of War on Iraq. Would this be a "just war"?. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' statement on Iraq. []

Fri, 15 Nov 2002 03:13:39 GMT

Good Commentary on Tablet PC. Exactly. Without great handwriting recognition, the utility of the Tablet PC promises to be limited and limiting.
Tablet PC not quite the final word
While the new tablet PC is very cool, it's still not the answer to pen-based computing. [Christian Science Monitor | Sci/Tech]

Thu, 14 Nov 2002 23:16:22 GMT

Who Knew? I Grew Up Near '8 Mile'. I was interested to read in this article that the hot new film definitely not aimed at my demographic was shot along 8 Mile Road in Detroit, on the border with Warren. I grew up in the 8 Mile-9 Mile Rd. area. What I remember most is that there were no minorities there in the 50's and early 60's at all. None. I went to a lily-white high school a couple of miles from downtown Detroit and the only blacks we saw were when we played other teams on the court or the field. Still, I think I'll skip the flick. Along Detroit's Eight Mile Road, a stark racial split
Film based on white rapper tells a tale of two cities. [Christian Science Monitor | Top Stories]

Thu, 14 Nov 2002 19:37:35 GMT

Good Reminder from Aristotle

Aristotle. "We are what we repeatedly do." [Motivational Quotes of the Day]

I was reminded of a parallel quotation. "A working definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Don't remind me.

Thu, 14 Nov 2002 19:33:57 GMT

This is Scary Shit. It may already be too late, but pay attention to this, folks! Civil liberty is about to become an arcane concept in America. That's not hyperbole.
William Safire's must-read column today reprises the reporting John Markoff did last week on the government's plans for a master database of personal information. You thought online marketers were bad? Admiral John Poindexter (of Iran-contra scandal fame) is spearheading a plan -- it's currently a part of the Homeland Security Act, which is seemingly on the verge of passage into law -- for "Total Information Awareness," a centralized federal spy database with dossiers on every U.S. citizen. It's significant that the outcry against this plan is hailing not just from the left but from civil-libertarian conservatives like Safire. [Scott Rosenberg's Links & Comment]

Thu, 14 Nov 2002 19:26:59 GMT

$2 Billion Lighting Company Moves from Windows to Linux Servers. Red Hat wins over Windows convert. The Linux seller says its new customer will move from Microsoft Windows to its open-source software for database systems--a tougher proposition than a Unix-to-Linux switch. [CNET] Good news for those of us interested in at least loosening M$ grip on the computing world. Of course, I'd feel a lot happier if they'd switched their users' desktops, but it's a start.

Thu, 14 Nov 2002 04:08:55 GMT

How Blogs Change Site Traffic Patterns. This is an important piece for everyone interested in, involved with or affected by Web site construction and publishing, including all bloggers. Matt Haughey gives in. Matt Haughey: “I don’t keep track of post titles, I don’t think the syndication file is all that useful without HTML, and I’ve never personally found much use for a RSS reader. That all changed when a friend said she wasn’t reading my site anymore, or any sites for that matter that didn’t carry RSS feeds.”

Brent’s Law of Weblogs: If you’re not syndicating, you’re not publishing.

This law is descriptive, not prescriptive.

RSS, or something like it, was inevitable. I used to read a couple dozen sites regularly—now I read about a hundred sites. Far more than I could ever follow in my browser. And I do actually visit the sites I subscribe to: when there’s something interesting in their feed, and it links back to the site, I go to the site.

Traffic patterns are changing, definitely. But RSS is a chance for webloggers to reach an even wider audience. It doesn’t mean that the HTML version of one’s site is now irrelevant—in fact, because of RSS and newsreaders I now visit lots of sites I never used to visit. []

Thu, 14 Nov 2002 04:03:16 GMT

Scott Rosenberg Says This is Good Stuff. Believe It.

Blog worthy
Steven Johnson's books -- "Interface Culture" and "Emergence" -- represent some of the most thoughtful and idea-laden writing on technoculture you'll find anywhere. Johnson, who was co-editor of the late lamented Feed as well, is now blogging away at [Scott Rosenberg's Links & Comment]

Thu, 14 Nov 2002 03:57:51 GMT

One More Reason Not to be a Republican.
Proposed bill could jail hackers for life. A last-minute addition to a proposal for a Department of Homeland Security bill would punish malicious computer hackers with life in prison. [CNET]
Not only that, here's a really salient paragraph from that story:
During closed-door negotiations before the debate began, the House Republican leadership inserted the 16-page Cyber Security Enhancement Act (CSEA) into the Homeland Security bill. CSEA expands the ability of police to conduct Internet or telephone eavesdropping without first obtaining a court order, and offers Internet providers more latitude to disclose information to police.
Deceit and dishonor of a seriously malodorous order. These guys are so power-hungry that it is downright scary. The American people got what they asked for. More's the pity.

Thu, 14 Nov 2002 03:54:27 GMT

I Think Your View is Too Short-Horizon, Robert.

Steven MacLaughlin is talking about the TabletPC today. Yeah, I agree. However, he asks manufacturers to hand them out to evangelists so they can help get the word out. I totally agree that'd be a great marketing technique, there's one problem with that: margins are non-existent.

What does that mean? It means that return on investment for such an act would not be there. How many Tablets would some company sell by giving even a highly-trafficed Weblogger a free Tablet? I doubt we'd sell more than a couple. Our margins on hardware sales are way less than 10%. See the problem? Now, if you can guarantee me you'll sell 100 units or more, let's talk!

[The Scobleizer Weblog]
Interesting to hear the thin margins, Robert, but I think you're selling short the impact of market influencers. One guy who has 10 friends who ask him what to buy and who recommends a Tablet PC may only spawn two sales directly. But some of those folks who don't buy one will want to act like they have insider knowledge at the next kegger they have (do people still do keggers?) and influence another couple of buyers. Etc. Etc. Steven is right. Besides, with all of NEC's money, they couldn't afford to be wrong by a couple hundred Tablets? They'll piss away 10 times that in one bad ad campaign, I guarantee it.

Wed, 13 Nov 2002 19:30:12 GMT

Keep a Close Eye. The Internet faces a free-speech test. The Supreme Court hears challenges to a pair of sex-offender laws and enters a debate that could set new rules for access to online information. [CNET] Privacy, as my colleague Dan Gillmor continually points out, is one of the two or three most crucial issues of this generation. These cases could result in significant rulings. You can't afford to ignore the Supremes.