Some notes, mostly cleaning up details of earlier topics, plus URL's.


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It is time for normal people to have their own online radio stations,
and you may recall that Carolyn Kay was collecting how-to information
on the subject.  Here are her findings to date:

She is looking for constructive criticism and suggestions for the site
(not political flames) so that it can be useful to non-technical people.


When I mentioned that I wished my citation tools could talk to the
library catalog, a couple of people asked, "what's wrong with Z39.50
and Endnote?".  Good question.  First, definitions.  Z39.50 is the
protocol that lets Web clients talk to library catalogs; you can find
a directory of online catalogs that support Z39.50 at the Library of
Congress site:

Endnote is a program for managing citation lists; it also uses Z39.50
to talk to library catalogs.  You can aim Endnote at the catalog of
your choice, do uncomplicated searches, and import the results into
your own citation collection.  Here is the Endnote Web site:

It's available for PC's and Mac's (and maybe others), and you can get
a one-month trial copy for free.  It's an experience.  In particular
it's a study in (what Bowker calls) datadiversity: there are dozens
of standardized and semi-standardized metadata formats out there,
including the ones that the librarians use, and Endnote has evolved
not only to deal with lots of them but also to allow users to define
their own.  What's more, not only are metadata diverse, but so are
data -- the books and other documents that the citations represent.
If you're citing an article that was originally published in German
but has now been reprinted in volume 2 of the third edition of a work
that has a general editor, two editors, and a translator, and whose
title includes diacritical markers and mathematical symbolism, then
-- well, then that's nothing special in the daily work of a librarian.
Endnote, like any piece of software within the main traditions of
system design, works by imposing structure on all of this complexity.
As such, it has a way of taking over your life.  With Emacs I might
have to reformat my references for each different journal I submit to,
but at least I feel like I have my hands on the data.  This is ironic,
given that the windows-and-mouse interface is "direct manipulation" in
the language of user-interface work.  But believe me, Emacs feels much
more like my hands than Endnote, which is more like eating with one

Anyway, none of that explains why Z39.50 and Endnote aren't what I
said I want.  They're part of it, but they weren't what I was trying
to talk about.  What I have in mind is something that maintains "live"
connections between my citation files and the actual books.  I want
to know where the books are.  More precisely I would like to do things
like labeling the various citations in terms of which projects they
are relevant to, and then as a project comes up I'd like to plan
which items I'm going to study when, based on whether and when they
are available, and then generate pick lists for the stacks and recall
requests for checked-out books automatically.  Of course all of this
would be moot if the books were all digital, but then I'd have a lot
of other problems.


Following up on my short piece about the return of the ancient online
petition that claims the Republicans are trying to shut down NPR, it
turns out that I used that very same petition as an example of how not
to do it -- in January 1996!  Have a look:

You'll find the very same petition, albeit an earlier and slightly
shaggier version, with a list of signatures starting from signature
number one -- the current version is over 1000, if I recall.  That
doesn't mean 1000 people signing the petition; rather, it means a
1000-long chain of forwardings.  That any message could survive being
forwarded 1000 times tends to refute some of my complaints about the
depredations of mail-reader forwarding commands.  Too bad it had to
be this one.


Wish List: I wish I had an equivalent of the Unix "grep" command
for web pages.  You'd aim it at a Web page and ask it to search for
a text string anywhere on that page, or on any of the pages that the
page links to.  You could set a parameter indicating how deep the
hyperlinking should go.  This would be useful, for example, in finding
which of the 1000 articles about the Florida election controversy
is the correct citaton for such-and-such politician saying so-and-so.


One last note (hopefully) on the Spielberg "AI" movie.  It turns
out that the movie was originally going to have been made by Stanley
Kubrick, and that Spielberg is sort of making it for him posthumously.
Apparently everyone had known that except me.  Here's an article:

No word yet if the movie is good.  I have no problem with Spielberg,
so I'll keep an open mind.  It being 2001, I'm thinking of declaring
this the year for critical retrospectives on AI, just as 2000 was the
year of predictions for the year 2000.  I'll see if I'm up to it.


In response to my piece about the need for a culture of design, an
academic expert on indoor air quality expressed doubt that cheap,
mass-produced air analysis devices would cause the problem to be
fixed, given that it's often a mystery what's making the air bad.
My point is simply that whatever action is needed, widespread use
of cheap analysis devices would accelerate it.  If the necessary
action is public funding for basic research, then so be it.

That piece also reminded someone of Bruce Sterling's Viridian project
to bring good green industrial design to the world.  Here is his

They recently printed some designs for electric meters in Wired:

Pretty interesting.


I had a Y2K+1 experience!  Being a dissident from the point-and-click
lifestyle, I read my mail on a Unix machine that is mostly used for
statistical number-crunching.  When I first got my account, the person
who set it up apparently entered an expiration date of "010101" as
the logical equivalent of "forever".  Well, "forever" happened on New
Year's Day, and when I tried to log in I got this:

  Your account has expired; please see the system administrator.

New Year's Day was a holiday, of course, and so was the day after.
So, not knowing whether several years of work had been erased, I had
an interesting couple of days to ponder the illusory and transient
nature of all things.  In the end, though, all was well.


An Australian has informed me that some of his fellow Australians do
in fact refer to koalas as bears.  I am vindicated.


My list of "ten things that piss me off" brought overwhelming amounts
of commentary from RRE's erudite readers.  Here are a few of the more
salient points.

(1) Photocopiers that silently clear their settings.  I realize that
copiers automatically reset because they don't know whether you are
still there.  What I should have noted is that every copier that I
know still resets even when there's a "login" system for accounting
purposes.  If you haven't logged out then you're still there!

(2) Those 50 state quarters.  Several people claimed that the fifty
state quarters were mined to score seignorage from collectors, and
not for political purposes.  Okay, so I don't know what the intent
is.  The effect, however, is to signify that we are fifty countries,
when in fact we are one.  The Articles of Confederation failed, okay?

(3) Business reports about companies making or missing "expectations".
An awful lot of erudition went into defending press headlines that
report corporate earnings relative to expections rather than in terms
of historical trends.  One argument is that expectations-relative
numbers have a reliable meaning: if a company grossly fails relative
to expectations then something is badly wrong with its competence or
trustworthiness.  The problem with that argument is that divergences
between earnings and expectations are almost invariably insignificant
for purposes of evaluating such things.  Another argument is that no
historical measure is consistently meaningful, certainly not earnings
relative to the same quarter a year ago.  Granted any measure can be
used badly.  I want measures that are meaningful both technically and
in the comprehension of ordinary non-day-trading citizens, and I don't
mind insisting that business reporters work to come up with them.  In
response to my complaints about the semi-meaningfulness of a lot of
these numbers in a world of accounting wizardry, it was pointed out
that "expectations" can come from at least two importantly different
sources: regulatory filings or the consensus of analysts' reports.
I had the analysts' consensus in mind, and if the analysts are doing
their jobs (not a given) then it can make a difference.  Some people
are evidently impressed with the SEC's recent reforms preventing
companies from sharing information preferentially with tame analysts,
but this is only a start on the very long project of reforming the
financial system.  History will record that overly fancy accounting
of stock options and other such magic contributed to the irrationality
of the Internet stock bubble, and the ongoing revolution in stock
trading isn't changing the pattern of conflict of interest and self-
dealing among market-makers.  Meaningful numbers don't just drop from
the sky.

(4) Corporate soap.  You can buy black soap on the Internet.

(5) The information design of bus systems.  Londoners were pleased
with the electronic arrival/departure signs at their bus stops.  In
Los Angeles, by contrast, we've gotten ourselves into a corner where
rail systems are used by the well-off and bus systems are used by the
poor.  So the poor have to go to court to get adequate bus service.
The potential for decent, predictable, well-designed buses in Los
Angeles is actually great, but I'm not holding my breath.  Heck, a
bus to LAX stops one block from my house, but I doubt if I will ever
use it because I can't figure it out and can't afford to miss a flight

(6) Hotel phone charges.  No controversy there.

(7) "This day in history" factoids in the newspaper and on the radio.
Some people like them.  I did hear one good use for them: a writing
instructor has his students grab a list of events that happened on
their birthday during a certain fifty-year window, and uses that data
as the starting point for essay-writing.  This works precisely because
it is semi-random.  (Semi- because of the window.)  Randomness, as
John Chris Jones has pointed out, gets us out of our heads and makes
us confront things afresh, at least to some degree.

(8) Those entrepreneurial origin myths.  I started my rant on this
topic by saying this:

  Was eBay really started to sell Pez dispensers?  Come on.

That was out of line and I felt bad about it.  I hear different stories
about the Pez dispensers, but the important fact is that Pierre is a
good guy and eBay really did begin as more or less of a hobby project,
and not as the kind of cynical entrepreneurial hustle that I painted as
the opposite extreme of the sanitized origin myths in my rant.

(9) Animated icons.  No controversy there either.  But I might mention
that I do know about the "Stop Animations" option that appears in the
menu you get by holding the mouse down in a Netscape window.

(10) The word "Kumbaya", used to refer to a mindless display of group
harmony.  From what I can tell, it's universally reviled.


Following up on the list of used books that I've bought online, here
is my (not very earth-shattering) guide to online used book shopping.

(1) Buying used books is only sometimes a bargain.  Books that were
published very recently will usually be expensive used, as will
specialized scholarly books or books that are heavily collected.
The best books to get used are ones that were once famous but have
gone out of fashion, or that were heavily hyped but didn't catch
on.  For most purposes they will be as good as new.  Before buying
a used book that is relatively new and not wildly cheap, you might
want to take a moment to check a new-book comparison shopping site,
such as .

(2) The used-book comparison shopping site with the greatest coverage
is, to my knowledge, .

(3) Information about book condition is very uneven.  Booksellers have
system of good, very good, fine, and like new, but it's not always
completely clear what those designations mean.  The best booksellers
will provide obsessively detailed descriptions of every tiny little
tear in the dust jacket; many will provide none.  So it is always
a good idea to ask about the condition specifically.  What I do is
include a note in my order that says, "I assume that the book has no
highlighting, underlining, or margin notes other than the previous
owner's inscription that you mention, and no other damage beyond the
normal slight wear that you would expect from a used book.  I also
assume that the book has not been a library book."  Ex-library books
still have card pockets and rubber stamps.

(4) Shipping-and-handling costs can range anywhere from $0 to $5, so
they can make a difference in which store has the best overall price.
Note that Powell's bookstore in Portland, while highly respected, has
some of the most expensive shipping costs around.  Shipping from the
UK to the US is surprisingly cheap; shipping from Australia is not.
British booksellers also tend to be ultra-conscientious.

(5) Booksellers are generally highly trustworthy, but some people on
marketplace-type sites like aren't professional booksellers. is also bad at letting you convey queries about condition etc
to the seller.  So you should make a point of using credit cards with
them.  Many credit cards provide effective dispute resolution services
for just such situations.


Responding to my comments on addiction and television, a reader sends
this remarkable news from televisionland (edited slightly):

"I spend way too much time watching TV and this Friday I watched
Oprah.  She has a pattern which I think is demonstrative of my
addiction theory of US culture: on Mondays, there is the 'Use Your
Life' award where someone who is doing generally productive stuff
in local communities gets a large check (on the order of $100,000)
plus some specific goodies from manufacturers (computers for the
afterschool program, for instance), and on Fridays, the show is all
about shopping with perhaps a fashion show of affordable outfits or,
like this past Friday, a demonstration on all the tech goodies now
out there to help you organize your life.

"One of the examples was a woman with four young kids who was having a
hard time scheduling all the activities and keeping up with everybody.
Her main tool was a calendar on the refrigerator.  Oprah and Omar
Wassow, her tech guru (from I believe), gave her
an Internet appliance called the Audrey (whose reviews are not
great according to my reading), a Handspring Visor with a mobile
phone attachment, a Texaco automatic pay wand so she can fill up on
gas without going through the credit card or cash process, and an
automatic litter box for the cat.  I estimate that it was about $1000
worth of technology plus the monthly fees for Audrey and the cell
phone (and the electricity for the cat box and perhaps the premium
for always using Texaco).  The kicker is that everybody in the
audience got some or all of the stuff that was featured.  In the hour,
my guess is that each audience member came away with a couple thousand
dollars worth of digital picture frames and Audrey's and other stuff.

"Maybe you should take an hour and watch how Oprah is dealing with
tech because, sure as anything, this is one big way a lot of people
are going to learn about it."

I think Oprah is okay, but you can make of this what you like.


Some URL's.


Republican staffers honored for rioting in Miami,1175,2-17814-,00.html

The Clintons' Gift Rap

Was the White House Trashing Story Garbage?

Rehnquist, Political Puppeteer

Battle Became War With Time

In Florida, Drawing The Battle Lines

A Confederacy of Denial

Florida "Recounts" Make Gore Winner,2763,430306,00.html

everything else

World Bank Webcasting for Development

free-market argument against copyright

conservative war on language

Universal Access in the Information Society

Web-Filter Data Is Put Up for Sale

case study in bone-headed right-wing attacks on academics

interesting interview with head of Columbia Records

Consumer Fraud, Identity Theft Data Goes Public

Institute for Prospective Technological Studies

more amicus briefs in MPAA v. 2600 appeal

When You Get an E-Mail Petition, Think Delete,1122,SAV-0101290072,00.html

California's Deregulation Disaster

Chronicle of a Massacre Foretold

Amnesty report on the torture of children