Monthly Archives: March 2004

getting there second

my previous post about NASA’s Stardust mission was spawned after reading a Wired article about the Probe Flotilla to Scour Planets.

as evidenced by my post, the story of Stardust really did it for me. i was so fired up that i decided to submit the links for that site to

NOTE TO SELF: always read all of boingboing before submitting a link. do a full text search if necessary.

as it turns out, someone else had already submitted a link about aerogels, which they had found on the Stardust web site. by the timing of things, i’m pretty sure they found the Stardust web site just like i did, by using the Wired article.

the link timeline of shame
here is how events unfolded with respect to link generation (all events occur on 03.26.04):

  • 02:00am PT: Wired posts article about probe flotilla; article contains link to Stardust web site
  • 03:30am (Timezone unknown): Link about aerogels posted on (doesn’t anybody sleep around here?)
  • 09:26am (Timezone unknown): boingboing posts a link to the aforementioned aerogel post
  • 11:37am PT: rPm becomes fascinated with Stardust, and reads everything on the Web site
  • 01:12pm PT: rPm completes post about Stardust and feels good
  • 01:14pm PT: rPm posts Stardust link suggestion on boingboing, ignorant of the fact that if he had scrolled down the page a bit before posting, he would have seen that someone else had already done it
  • 03:56pm PT: rPm looks at the boingboing RSS feed and sees aforementioned post about aerogel; he thinks “what an interesting coincidence!”
  • 03:57pm PT: rPm realizes with both humor and sadness that he got there second, about seven hours late

on almost being first
this happens to me a lot. it seems to be happening more lately, or at the very least, i’m more aware of it. i’ll think something or write something that i think is terribly witty, pat myself on the back for said idea or writing, and then find out that someone on the net had the same idea or wrote almost the same thing two [hours|days|months|weeks|years] ago (my post on link reciprocity is a good example of me discovering this in real time while i write a post).

it’s really embarrassing. it makes me realize that i’m far from alone in my ideas, which can either be good or bad, depending on your perspective. it also makes me wonder about how original ideas really come about. are there original ideas, or are we all just pulling from a collective “idea sea,” and some of us are just better fishermen than others?

i’m sure someone’s already thought about that, though, so i’ll just save myself the trouble and do a google search.


our tax dollars are spent on a lot of questionable things, many of them stupid (e.g., the multi-billion dollar missile defense system that will never, ever, ever work).

and then there is the incredible work that NASA is doing. tax dollars spent to understand the universe and to invigorate our sense of wonder.

i’m not talking about the Mars rover mission. don’t get me wrong – it’s about as cool as space missions get, but for some reason, it didn’t push my geek buttons in the same way that Stardust did.

Stardust is a tiny robot whose incredible mission is to capture the dust from a comet and bring it home to earth. if Mars rover is the big, popular kid who gets all the attention, Stardust is his scrappy, determined little brother.

comet wild 2

the surface of comet Wild 2, as captured by stardust

the mission of the little robot-spacecraft-that-could reads like a science fiction story; it captures my imagination and makes me feel like a kid again.

Continue reading

amazing things in washington

some amazing things happened Wednesday in the Sept. 11 Commission hearings. richard clarke, the former white house counterterrorism chief, spoke his mind in a way that none previously has in these hearings:

  • he took responsibility and openly apologized for failures, both his and others
  • he stared at partisan bickering until it went and hid in the corner
  • he spoke eloquently and intelligently about complex matters of foreign policy, national security, and humanity in the modern world
  • he actually answered the questions that people asked him, as opposed to doing the political-CYA bob-and-weave
  • he told it like it is, on multiple occasions:
    • sometimes, american government needs body bags before it’s willing to take action
    • condoleeza rice is a liar and sycophant who is uninterested in facts that deviate from her views or those of the white house she supports [that's a paraphrase]
    • white house advisors often put administration policy in the best light when speaking in public, regardless of the scary grandma hidden in the attic (so to speak)
  • he made it abundantly clear that the bush administration is looking for bumper-sticker solutions to charles dickens problems

it’s no wonder he pissed a lot of people off in washington. oh well. his book is number one on amazon, and in my opinion, he’s the hero of these hearings so far…in the inimitable words of Nelson, “hah ha.”


search functionality has been added to it is now possible to search current posts and blog archives. i should have done this two years ago…redesign will happen sometime soon. i know it needs to be done.

thank you for your attention.

ready-fire-aim in social network services

with more social networking tools than you can shake a mouse at (see Judith Meskill’s list for proof), there are bound to be some real losers. so far, i’m not sure if there are any winners, but that remains to be seen…the night it still young.

one of the main problems here is the “build it and they will come” mentality (as opposed to finding out what people need first, then building somethinig to meet that need). danah boyd articulates the issue well.

in addition to her other arguments, she asks, what problem do we have that social network [tools] give us insight into? insight is important, and i think the failures of the current crop of applications do give us insight. among other things, they make it abundantly clear how difficult it is to model human relationships with things like ontologies or controlled vocabularies (Clay Shirky has made this point recently). this wouldn’t come as a surprise to many people.
in addition to insight, the question of value is central, in my opinion…if social networking tools solve a problem that’s meaningful to people, then they deliver value.

if one agrees that there is a horse-cart inversion going on here, there’s another question that follows: why are so many intelligent people building things with questionable (or unknown) value, flawed logic, or just plain silly assumptions?

money is the first and most obvious answer. a lot of the visible activity is probably just bandwagon jumping because social networking software is the coolest thing since internet incubators or selling pet food on the web.

another explanation is more satisfying to me…people have an intuitive feeling that social networking applications are new and exciting and can offer something valuable beyond just making friends or getting dates.

social network applications are exciting candidates for systems with emergent properties. the simplest way to discover these properties is to build first, watch things emerge, and then refine and rebuild once you have a better idea of how these things are really useful. granted, this may not be the best way to do things, but in the absence of other approaches, it’s the occam’s razor solution.

in essence, developers are building sociological laboratories on the net, turning people loose, and watching the results. this is implied in eric schmidt’s statement about google and social networking apps: "Social networks will get better as we figure out what problem they’re intended to solve."
ok, he probably means social networking tools, but even so…there is an assumption being made here that social networking tools are necessary, that they are intended to solve any problem.

time will tell. after all, human beings have been doing reasonably well without social software for thousands of years (modulo things like war, of course). so relationship software exposes the thousands of connections each of us shares with other people…it makes us see how we’re hyperconnected.

does it follow that social network software makes us better? or does it just make some things a little easier? is it evolution or revolution?

the next time someone starts frothing at the mouth about friendster or orkut or whatever, ask them that question…i’d be interested in their response.

orkut rants part II

it seems i’m not the only one who got steamed about orkut. i just did it a few months later than lots of other people…

danah boyd has hit a lot more points in her entry about orkut, and has linked to a number of other posters.

i will point to one more thoughtful post: jeremy zawodny took things a step further and asked the question, why would google be interested in orkut? of course he’s right (it’s all about the users), along with others who point to possible applications like social-network-filtered search.

outsourcing rhetoric

the next time someone on either side of the political aisle talks about the scourge of outsourcing of american jobs, think twice. actually, think three times. this is carefully calculated rhetoric designed to provoke an emotional response in american voters (and in the powerful labor unions whose support politicians need).
the truth of the matter is a bit more complex.

the wall street journal published an article today with the headline "more work is outsourced to U.S. than away from it, data show". figures from the U.S. Commerce department released on friday show that the U.S. has a $53.64 billion surplus in trade in private services…other countries exported $131.01 billion in services to the U.S., whereas we outsourceed (imported) $77.38 billion.

outsourcing of services has increased more rapidly than have our exports, but not by much. certainly not enough to justify all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that’s been going on lately.

it’s an election year. politicians will manipulate and distort information in such a way as to bolster their campaigns. the average voter will often swallow their manipulations wholesale, without trying to get at the "real" information (if there even is such a thing).