Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

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12 August 2004

I recently read (on CNet perhaps?) that anonymous people within Yahoo are promising one stop searching of web, email, hard disk and Yahoo services – sometime. I won’t get too excited about that until it gets close to launch.

Meanwhile, “X1”:http://www.x1.com/ (which admittedly costs $75) has been improving rapidly – it now supports boolean and proximity searching of your hard disk, contacts, email (including Eudora and other email apps as well as – and alongside – Outlook I am delighted to say) and email attachments. With those improvements I am going to start trying to use it again regularly. Download their trial version and/or “enter their sweepstakes”:http://www.x1.com/sweepstakes/index.html to win up to 50 copies.

For more on what Microsoft is up on this see “this post”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_search_engines.html#001134 and for Google’s plan’s “see here”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_search_engines.html#001119.

Update: Jeremy Wagstaff who shares my obsession with hard disk search has just posted a “discussion”:http://loosewire.typepad.com/blog/2004/08/the_new_search_.html of the race to provide good local search and a (probably comprehensive) “list of available programs”:http://loosewire.typepad.com/blog/2004/08/a_directory_of__2.html including three I have not yet tried – all free of charge – “Tukaroo”:http://www.tukaroo.com/, “Wilbur”:http://wilbur.redtree.com/index.htm (which is also open source) and “Blinkx”:http://www.blinkx.com/

19 June 2004

Ethan Zuckerman “posts”:http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethan/2004/06/13#a222 about a thought-provoking lecture by “Guido Sohne”:http://sohne.net/ on the limitations of open source development in Africa. It’s worth reading his whole post but I will just note that Guido suggests open source development is limited in Africa because African programmers are too busy trying to earn a basic living to donate their time to creating open source code. Similarly, providing free wireless Internet access as many are doing as a volunteer effort around the developed world is much more difficult when the cost of providing that access relative to income is much higher in Africa.

In other words a lot of the benevolence we often take for granted online and consider part of the Internet culture actually relies on a certain economic base where programmers have free time and energy to work on projects they consider worthwhile and bandwidth and computing resources are ‘too cheap to meter’.

For a more optimistic view check out Dan Gillmor’s eJournal – Open Source a No-Brainer for Developing World.

Thanks to “Boingboing”:http://boingboing.net/2003_09_01_archive.html#106356200472733745 for the latter link

7 June 2004

TheyWorkForYou.com, launched yesterday at “NotCon”:http://notcon04.com/ is a great example of barn-building by the energetic community of public-spirited, capable, policy wonk/tech geeks here in the UK. It takes the speeches in Parliament and breaks them down by speaker allowing things like commenting to or linking to specific passages and monitoring what a member of parliament says about a subject. It also includes lots of useful links to data about each MP like what organizations are paying them to consult for them.

Cory “called it”:http://www.boingboing.net/2004/06/06/theyworkforyou_fines.html the ‘finest advocacy web-app in the world’. I wouldn’t go that far. It doesn’t really demystify the political process here in the UK – it doesn’t explain what the connection is between the speeches in Parliament and what gets done (if indeed there is one) so it is likely still to appeal most to policy wonks and it doesn’t cover select committees where (I gather) a lot of what parliamentary power is left is exercised. Nonetheless considering the fact it was coded by a small team in their spare time it’s pretty impressive. Definitely worth a look if you are interested in tracking UK politics.

Best of all, the whole project is open source and they encourage feedback and creative re-use of their work so if you want to help them build more features or want to take the framework and apply it to (for example) the European parliament, the House of Lords or the workings of your local council you are encouraged to do so.

6 June 2004

I have been rather jealous to read about all the net-related conferences in the US I have had to miss but NotCon in London made up a lot of ground for me – it was the most stimulating nine hours I have spent in ages. I’ll post more about it over the next week I am sure, meanwhile here are few pretty dreadful (but quickly uploaded!) “pictures from the event”:http://community.webshots.com/album/150042801KUvpqS.

I’m sure there will be lots more “weblog postings about NotCon”:http://www.technorati.com/cosmos/search.html?rank=&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.xcom2002.com%2Fnc04%2F&sub=Go%21 (or “here”:http://www.technorati.com/cosmos/search.html?rank=&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.notcon04.com%2F&sub=Go%21) as soon as the rest of the bloggers get home and start chatting about it.

13 May 2004

It was interesting to see so many bloggers f2f though it wasn’t exactly a random sample either of the population or even (I suspect) of bloggers. The “gathering”:http://joi.ito.com/joiwiki/LoicLondonMay04 was about 90% male and mostly in the Internet/IT industries.

One of the interesting things about blogging that I was aware of but this brought into focus is the existence of an important group of blog enablers – people who aren’t prominent bloggers themselves but who develop the services or support others’ services without payment because they can. Public-spirited people like “Bruce”:http://www.growf.org/ who helps out the “NTK”:http://ntk.net/ gang and Tom who set up and runs “bbCity”:http://www.bbcity.co.uk/. I also met “Anders”:http://www.jacobsen.no/anders/blog/ (who will have more pictures from the event on his “photo blog”:http://www.extrospection.com/) and Annie who runs a weblog (and a site) all about “London Underground”:http://london-underground.blogspot.com/ but not from a trainspottery perspective.

See “here”:http://www.technorati.com/cosmos/search.html?rank=&url=http%3A%2F%2Fjoi.ito.com%2Fjoiwiki%2FLoicLondonMay04&sub=Go%21 for more postings from other London bloggers about the gathering as they happen.

I have a few (very poor quality) pix “here”:http://community.webshots.com/album/142686002dtOLws.

3 May 2004

Eric Lee makes an interesting argument – he suggests virus writers are targetting working class people (because they don’t have the money for anti-virus software and are less lilely to have the time to develop the experience or skills to avoid viruses). I can’t see that virus writers actually bear working class people any ill will but I do think it is worth pointing out viruses as one more reason why use of the Internet is less likely among the working class.

I disagree with his suggestion following on from this that unions and other service organizations should be promoting open source software to the working class as a way for them to avoid vulnerability to viruses. As I have “said earlier”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_open_source.html#000215 because it is still not fully user-friendly it may be difficult to train non-computer literate (or indeed semi-literate) people to use. I also worry about whether the basic skills Linux users learn will be useful if they enter the world of work where the environment is Windows.

20 April 2004
Filed under:Open source,Software reviews at11:58 am

The clever people at DemoLinux have produced a freely downloadable file you can put on to a single CD-ROM. The advantage of this is that as long as your PC allows you to boot from its CD-ROM drive this disc provides a useable installation of “Debian”:http://www.debian.org Linux you can run on your PC without having to change any of its settings. An ideal low risk way to get a taste of what Linux can offer without the hassle of re-partitioning your hard disk etc. It even includes a version of OpenOffice – the open source substitute for Microsoft Office.

Thanks to “Follow Me Here”:http://world.std.com/home/dacha/WWW/emg/public_html/2003_11_01_blog_archive.html#106779797278667523 for the link.

10 April 2004

“Free Culture”:http://www.free-culture.cc/, “Lawrence Lessig”:http://www.lessig.org/’s latest invaluable manifesto on the need to reform copyright which has been “taking the blogorati by storm”:http://allconsuming.net/item.cgi?isbn=1594200068 is available for free in “lots of digital formats”:http://www.free-culture.cc/remixes/ including “as audio”:http://akma.disseminary.org/archives/001253.html (which is how I intend to ‘read’ it).

Thanks to Tim Aldrich for the link

21 January 2004

David Wilcox brings to my attention on Designing for Civil Society an article summarising the benefits of several different open source applications for activists.

Interesting and useful though the list is for some, I do think it shows a narrowness of perspective common to technically-proficient activists. It doesn’t talk about how difficult the software is for the group to install or maintain and doesn’t put much stress on whether there is a free hosted version of the software available (so an organization can just use it without having to install it or run their own web server).

The unspoken assumption of those writing seems to be that at least one person among the activist groups will know how to set up and maintain software and have access to a computer with an always-on broadband connection. Tut tut!

12 January 2004

Prof “Lessig”:http://www.lessig.org/ gave another barnstorming performance in a visit to a small, packed room full of LSE media and regulation students. I had heard much of his presentation before last year at a presentation he made in Oxford but there were some interesting new factoids in the latest version – notably:

* The average time a book remains in print is about one year.
* There are 100k titles “alive” in Amazon but 26m titles that have been printed and are available in the Library of Congress.
* Products from one part of a big corporation tend to get used in movies and other programmes made by that company not necessarily because of straightforward plugging but simply because the process of copyright clearance is easier with products from inside those corporations than outside.
* Before the 1976 copyright act in the US, copyright holders had to re-assert their copyright periodically. Only 10-20% of them did so.
* Whoever managed the ebook distribution of his book “The Future of Ideas”:http://the-future-of-ideas.com/ set the DRM flag in Acrobat not to allow anyone to copy text from, print or even have the book read aloud. Talk about an own goal!

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