Dazzled by Medici

"Despite the trail of financial and political failure they left, we remember the Medici with dazzlement largely for two reasons. One is that they were very good at landing on their feet. The other is they were brilliant at spin... whatever else you have heard about the Medici, politics, art and banking did not really mix." (via 3quarksdaily)

Maps of cyberspace: making sense of the virtual

The dimensions of the online world are often presented visually by a typographic cacophony that allows selected tidbits of language to emerge from the aether: listen, experiment, inspire, change, discuss, create... This vision suggests "fluidity of language, mutation and transformation, media saturation, random noise, virtual chaos, layered clutter. If you went deeper into space, layering even more words on top of words, the colors would ultimately dissolve into blackness. If every word were a sound, you'd just hear a hazy, constant din. Mostly, it's an allusion to chaos, to our perception that cyberspace is cluttered with bits, to an anxiety that there is so much 'out there' that it's incomprehensible."

Compare this with the clean, streamlined, sleek modernist fantasy of the mid-20th century.

The Internet has "changed our perception of space, precisely because the sheer volume of interconnectivity is beyond our imagination, whether it be language-based, data-based, or community-based. Add black holes and photographs of asteroidal moons around Jupiter, and our world seems increasingly expansive. So, if we cannot map it, how can we understand it?"

Fear drives corporate blogging

"Enterprises are adopting social software out of both fear and greed. Fear is the primary driver for corporate blogging, while greed is driving adoption of social software within the enterprise..."

That's not necessarily a bad thing -- wikis, weblogs, RSS aggregators and other social software tools enable people to collaborate across organisational boundaries, and that in turn encourages innovation -- the elusive quality that John Seely Brown and John Hagel describe as the only sustainable competitive edge for an organisation.

Global Voices, and the end of globalisation

Global Voices is a global citizens' media project sponsored by and launched from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School.

The site is experimenting with aggregation and tagging technologies, weblogs, wikis, podcasting, live chats and other forms of new media. The aims are to:
  1. call attention to the most interesting conversations and perspectives by linking to text, audio, and video blogs and other forms of grassroots citizens' media being produced by people around the world
  2. facilitate the emergence of new citizens' voices through training, online tutorials, and publicising the ways open-source and free tools can be used safely by people around the world to express themselves.

A lengthy essay by John Ralston Saul in The Australian Financial Review charts the rise of 'globalisation' as a socio-economic ideology, and spots some recent indications that the ideology is losing ground to other ways of viewing the world:

"The return of the idea of national power has also meant the return of the idea of choice - choice for citizens and choice for countries. But with choice comes uncertainty, which provokes fear...

"History will eventually give all of these contradictory signals a shape. But history is neither for nor against.

"It just is. And there is no such thing as a prolonged vacuum in geopolitics.

"It is always filled. This is what happens every few decades. The world turns, shifts, takes a new tack, or retries an old one. Civilisation rushes around one of those blind corners filled with uncertainties.

"Then, abruptly, the opportunities present themselves to those who move with skill and commitment."

The five stages of a company's web site

Harvey Schachter's Monday Morning Management column (30 May 2005) in the Toronto Globe and Mail notes that Queen's University Assistant Professor Kathryn Brohman, in a study with three US colleagues, has delineated a five-stage model of how an organisation's web site evolves:

  1. Experimentation
  2. Value creation
  3. Focus
  4. Differentiation
  5. Relationships

Memorial museums: good for society?

"Museums that document trauma and conflict have proliferated across the globe in the past decade, and more are planned... This mania for memorial museums is a sign of a society with an unhealthy obsession. These new museums indicate a desire to elevate the worst aspects of mankind's history as a way to understand humanity today. Our pessimism-tinted spectacles distort how we interpret the past."

Technology and music: remix/replay it again, Sam

Digital technology is changing the way we think about music, and the way we create it: these days, sampling and remixing are the normal ways to produce a new record.

"Perhaps we tell ourselves that we listen to CDs in order to get to know the music better, or to supplement what we get from concerts and shows. But, honestly, a lot of us don’t go to hear live music that often. Work leaves us depleted. Tickets are too expensive. Concert halls are stultifying. Rock clubs are full of kids who make us feel ancient. It’s just so much easier to curl up in the comfy chair with a Beethoven quartet or Billie Holiday. But would Beethoven or Billie ever have existed if people had always listened to music the way we listen now?"

(via 3quarksdaily)


Navel-gazing in the editorial office

Here's an example of good internal communication: The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times both produce internal publications that critique their own work. Staff are encouraged to contribute to the feedback/continuous improvement loop.

Paper vs digital prototypes for usability testing

Usability people like to test ideas, designs and so forth by asking end-users to comment on:

  • drawings done on paper to show what a computer screen would look like (often in a very low-fi way)
  • mockups presented on a computer screen, eg using Powerpoint, HTML or even a working version of the final application

A Stanford University study of 1270 participants found people comment more about computer-based prototypes than about paper prototypes, but both types of testing found equally severe issues in the design of the system being tested.

In other words, why spend time and effort making digital prototypes when a sketch pad could garner you equally helpful feedback?

What is 'content strategy' and why should you care?

Amy Gahran explains:

"...the two things which matter most in virtually any aspect of media (including the net) are content and connections. These principles, which are deeply intertwined, form the foundation of all types of value yielded by media – whether for broadcast TV, a national magazine, a web site, a weblog, or a simple exchange of e-mail messages.

"If you or your organization has any sort of media presence (especially online), it’s useful to consider your overall content strategy: what you intend to say, and when and how to say it, in order to connect and interact constructively and efficiently with the people you need to help you achieve your goals.

"Almost everyone overlooks or misunderstands content strategy – and it shows.

"A sound, simple content strategy can keep on track and stop you from missing valuable opportunities or wasting time and resources – or worse, sabotaging your own goals through inept communication."

To-done! (the personal productivity fad)

Getting Things Done



Discussion on Edward Tufte's web site about the role of spatial relationships in the way we seek, find and remember information about what we're (supposed to be) doing. Includes explanations of a couple of paper-based project management systems that take advantage of these spatial relationships in a way that computer-based PM simply cannot do. (via 43 folders)

Umberto Eco: a scotch is a scotch is a scotch

Being an expert in semiotics could drive one crazy, admits Umberto Eco. Looking for hidden meanings "does become a habit, but you are not obliged to be on duty at every moment... If I drink a glass of scotch I am thinking only of the scotch; I am not thinking about what the brand of scotch I am drinking says about my personality. I know what you mean, though, and I suppose the answer is that I am driven no more mad than a pianist who always has melodies in his head."

(via 3quarksdaily)


Project management

The poetry of project management, or why you sometimes have to act as a bouncer.

Judging by the 43folders pre-publication review, a new O'Reilly book on project management looks like a must-have.

Make those ganglia twitch!

Well, newspapers in Australia and Britain have certainly gone ape over 'Sudoku' -- it seems to be the crossword of the 2000s.

I've seen Sudoku referred to many times as a "number puzzle", which puzzles me somewhat. There's precious little mathematics involved in solving it. (OTOH, *setting* a Sudoku puzzle does involve some maths -- see the Wikipedia article for an explanation.).

Rather, it's a "logic puzzle", easily solvable by applying simple "if... then..." rules to progressively reduce the number of possible answers for each square on the grid. This was a method I learned in Years 9 and 10 maths (at a non-selective public school, I hasten to add!).

For this reason, it seems spurious to me that Sudoku is being promoted as a tool for maintaining high-level cognitive functions in the brain -- the "use it, don't lose it" principle. The problem-solving in Sudoku doesn't seem (to me) to involve the "ah-hah!" moment of insight that neuroscientists say is important for maintaining mental alertness into old age.

New Scientist offers 11 steps to a better brain, and 43folder.com often has links to articles about how to improve your concentration and use your mind more effectively.


How not to do multi-language support on the web

The Federal Court of Australia tries to make its web content accessible to people who speak (and read) languages other than English -- bravo, good move :-)

Just one drawback: the "other language" link changes constantly, cycling though a list of non-English scripts as you view any page on the web site. You can't stop it, so your first instinct is (probably) to wait for your language to appear, then quickly click on the link before it changes again. Very much a 'tag, you're it' approach to navigation, and not at all accessible.

Content manager = the new editor-in-chief?

CM Professionals (of which I'm a member) "was founded to provide an organization that enables members to focus on the practitioner aspect of content management. If we look ahead to the time when content management is a chosen profession with a defined curriculum of study, what will it be? Ann Rockley's session at the Spring Summit looked at content management as a profession and identified some potential areas of focus and study." See the PDF (142 kb) of her presentation and the draft of a content management skills matrix (PDF, 41 kb). It's all about viewing content management as a profession, not a technology.

A tale of two RMITs

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." New vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner wants RMIT University to get serious about developing its Ho Chi Minh City campus, give all its students a truly international experience, and "provide qualifications that build knowledge from experience that is work-integrated in the broadest sense. The strong employment outcomes of our graduates show we can do this. We need to concentrate our curriculum on knowledge that recognises the creative impulse fostered through ‘learning by doing’, that builds the artisan, the professional, for the future." (thanks, Michael)

Reference check

The Thain's Book provides is a reasonably comprehensive (and ever-growing) reference work that will be indispensable for any visitor to, or scholar of, Middle Earth's Third Age.


Work-related stuff

Tasmanian Government's project management web site
has some useful fact sheets and forms, though the site's design and programming are so very 90s.

Article in Boxes and Arrows: a Yahoo case study of implementing a 'pattern library' for software and interface development.


How lightsabres work

How lightsabres work, and several ways to use them around the home (cutting cakes, trimming hedges etc).

I've actually handled Luke Skywalker's (Empire Strikes Back) lightsabre -- which, on reflection, is a somewhat odd thing to find oneself doing in a Carlton cafe. That lightsabre must've been a more up-to-date model than the ones shown in the earlier episodes of the saga, 'cos it works quite differently.


The European Union "tends to function by forging compromise from crisis, two steps backwards followed by almighty leaps forward," writes Ian Traynor. A looming clash between eastern optimism and western resentment could paralyse the union of Europe.

Going ape

"Two new viruses from the same family as HIV have been discovered in central Africans who hunt nonhuman primates.
Researchers say their work proves it is not unusual for potentially dangerous viruses to jump from primates to man.
They say it is important to monitor disease in bushmeat hunters closely, as any virus they contract from animals may spread to the community at large."

Yet another good reason not to eat your cousins, even though The Onion reports that a new, delicious species of primate has been found in the Amazon jungle.

Sisters doing it for ourselves (with some help from the blokes)

Harvard University is to spend US$50 million on supporting women scientists over the next decade after its president Lawrence Summers sparked anger by questioning their aptitude.

New British statistics show that, despite seeing their incomes grow at just half the rate of their female counterparts, male workers are on average still earning almost twice as much as women.

Diamonds are Stone Age technology too

Harvard University physicist Peter Lu and researchers in China and the USA reckon people in China probably used diamonds to polish stone objects 2000 years before anyone else had the same idea.

The conclusion is based on X-ray diffraction and electron microprobe analysis of four ceremonial burial axes, the oldest of which dates to about 4500 years ago. The axes were made mostly of corundum, known as ruby in its red form and sapphire in all other colours. The only natural substance able to polish corundum to a mirror-finish is diamond.

Good practice: IT system implementation

The Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) reckons the University of Queensland leads the way in good practice for IT system implementation. Here's how UQ does it.


Yippee, I finished yesterday's (Tue 17 May 2005) cryptic crossword in "The Age". I'm particularly smug about this because the answers included:

  • cinquefoil ("Type of circular ornamental carving seen in fencing blade after five in Paris")
  • toreras ("Ripped right by huge ring performers")
  • detente ("Easing of tension by putting temporary accommodation")
  • and galumph ("Georgia has swelling; hard to leap about joyfully").
That's going straight to the trophy room :-)

(in this case, the trophy room = cutting out the crossword and sticking it in my diary for posterity)

Definitions in the links above are brought to you by Google Definitions. Simply type "define:myword" into your Google search box and voila, succinct clarity.


Content brief: what it is, how it helps your web site

Keith Robinson shows how a simple 'content brief' can help you get the guts of your web site right.


Play with me, BBC urges developers

"backstage.bbc.co.uk is the BBC's new developer network
, providing content feeds for anyone to build with. Alternatively, share your ideas on new ways to use BBC content. This is your BBC. We want to help you play." APIs, discussion lists, news feeds and other goodies are already available in the beta release of backstage.bbc.co.uk; stay tuned for more!

Wikipedia the second-most consulted reference on the web

According to web traffic monitor Hitwise, Wikipedia is now the second-most consulted reference site on the World Wide Web. (Dictionary.com is the most-visited.)

Wikipedia contains 536,246 ongoing articles spanning 1,540,695 pages, all maintained by the site's users. Anyone can contribute or update an article in Wikipedia. In December 2004 there were over 13,000 active contributors to the site's multi-lingual content: surely the largest peer-review panel ever seen!

Hitwise found Wikipedia's audience evenly split between male and females. Young adults age 18 to 24 are 50 percent more likely to visit the site.

In contrast, Encyclopedia Britannica is written by 4000-odd people and edited by a much smaller group. Former Encyclopedia Britannica editor-in-chief Robert McHenry reckons Wikipedia is a "faith-based encyclopedia" -- that is, it lacks the guarantee of authoritativeness that comes with a brand like Encyclopedia Britannica. McHenry's three-point thesis is quoted here:

  1. Anyone, irrespective of expertise in or even familiarity with the topic, can submit an article and it will be published.
  2. Anyone, irrespective of expertise in or even familiarity with the topic, can edit that article, and the modifications will stand until further modified.
  3. Some unspecified quasi-Darwinian process will assure that those writings and editings by contributors of greatest expertise will survive; articles will eventually reach a steady state that corresponds to the highest degree of accuracy.
While we're on the subject of wikis... Hugh MacLeod describes the porous membrane, or why corporate blogging has benefits for your business. Nice metaphor, and a nifty graphic to discuss at your next staff meeting. Hugh's argument is this: when staff share what they know, or what they need to know, via wikis and weblogs, and when you let the outside world participate in that conversation, your business starts learning how best to please customers/clients. See also MacLeod on making your customers replace your marketing department.

Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod www.gapingvoid.com/Moveable_Type/archives/image12345707.jpg

Religion update

"According to a report released Monday by the American Institute of Religions, the Church of Scientology... is steadily losing members to the much newer religion Fictionology."

Vinyl fantasies

"At first, they inspire awww; upon closer inspection, however, these bright, seemingly innocuous toys reveal a more subversive slant. Some are devious; some are diabolical; some are flat-out bizarre; every one is a work of art. Welcome to the world of 'designer toys.'"

Treedweller, the two-faced lady of the forest, designed by Australian illustrator Nathan Jurevicius

In the Sith of the night

"Early viewers have complained about the notable lack of sexual chemistry between Natalie Portman and Chewbacca. Also, the film appears to be light on Jar Jar Binks, the lovable, funny-talking man-imp who burrowed into our hearts back in 1999. Will no one shake George Lucas by the shoulders and demand he return to the series' core elements: fart jokes, gratuitous pratfalls, and thinly veiled ethnic humor?"


Living history

He's been on the web since 1993 (that's almost 50 cat years), arm-wrestled Jakob Nielsen into submission, designed icons for the Apple Mac and Newton, had a piece of his art hung in the Louvre, and used the word 'kewl' in 1998. Meet Joe Gillespie.

A way-cool online clock called Timeline (requires Flash/Shockwave). (via WilWheaton.net)

Everything you need to know about kryptonite

Everything you need to know about kryptonite, in a handy wall chart.


How to concentrate better on what you're doing: these suggestions are intended for students, but they also apply to office work and other situations where you need to pay attention.


Powers of 10

"With the advent of modern computer graphics, making movies like Powers of Ten that explore the universe at unfamiliar scales of size and time should be easier than ever," says Shimmer. One could use a similar trope to tell the story of evolution, the deep history of the Earth, or a virus attack on a healthy cell (and all the biochemical processes that involves).

Learning the lingo

Amazon's concordance feature gives you a list of the 100 most-used words in a particular book. If Amazon has the full text of the book you're looking at, hovering your mouse over the cover image will bring up a pop-up menu -- simply select "concordance" and away you go. Here's an example (via JOHO The Blog)

In my day job, I'm paying lots of attention to search engines at the moment. As a personal notepad I've started Plethaurus, a blog about searching and finding on the web. Taxonomy, information architecture, usability and accessibility, information science, the search engine industry, marketing and lots of other related stuff will gradually appear there.

This working life

Three questions will help clarify what kind of problem you have to deal with:

  1. Is there already a system in place for performing the task? If not, you have a systems problem. Training won't help until there's a system in place.
  2. Is there a system in place that employees know how to use but don't follow? If so, you have a management problem. Leaders need to ensure that existing systems are being used.
  3. Is there a system, but employees don't really know what it is or how to use it? If so, you have a training problem.

(from Zingerman's Training Inc, promotional newsletter dated May 2005, via Fast Company Now)


London calling

"Like so many artefacts of Victorian industrialisation, Farringdon Station was never torn down and rebuilt. The way it looks now is an accretion of 150 years of decay, makeovers, new technology and bodging." That's just one of the attractions of the London Underground railway network, which has so far notched up "142 years of complete strangers squeezed into boxes, propelled under the earth at great speeds and trying not to make eye contact."

This isn't London.

tbn97 has found a new game, called Travel Bugs: attach an electronic ID tag to a soft toy, send it hitch-hiking around the world, and track its progress via GIS. If you love your plush puppy, set it free!

Listen up

Radio National, Triple J and other ABC radio stations will start podcasting in May 2005. How cool is that!! Complete a podcast survey on your favorite ABC radio web site, so that they know what formats and programs to offer first, and get ready to listen to radio without the receiver :-)

43folders is collecting a list of links to public and non-commercial radio podcast sources. This four-minute video will show you how to download a podcast application, subscribe to your favorite radio program and start listening.


Pop culture makes us smarter?

Steve Johnson's forthcoming book, Everything Bad is Good for You, starts with a simple premise: pop culture is making us smarter. David Weinberger summarises:

"Look past the content of video games and TV, Steve says, and you'll see that their structures are far more complicated and demanding than ever before... He graphs the complexity of social relationships in Dynasty and 24, for example, and shows that the former is like a family while the latter is like a village. In following 24, we get better at understanding complex social relationships. He compares Hill Street Blues, the first mainstream multi-storyline prime-time show, with Starsky and Hutch before it and The Sopranos after it. There is no doubt: We've gotten far better at parsing interwoven plot lines and making sense of plots that aren't laid out for us like mackerels. Likewise, video games, he says, have gotten a bad rap because of their content, while once again their structure has been ignored. They teach us how to make decisions in complex environments, he says. Steve's quite wonderful at analyzing precisely the ways in which games, tv shows, and, to a lesser degree, movies demand more from us than before -- his examples of 'multiple threading, flashing arrows, and social networks," for example, are so insightful that they're funny.'"

Responding to reviews of the book, Johnson comments that "...the long-format, multithreaded TV drama — when viewed as a single narrative spanning several seasons, and not as isolated episodes — is an incredibly rich platform for... literary values... I feel totally confident that those shows will stack up very nicely against Madame Bovary a hundred years from now, if not sooner."

Children of Darfur

Human Rights Watch took pencils and paper to Darfur and gave them to orphan children. Without any instruction or guidance, the children drew scenes from their experiences of the war in Darfur: the attacks by the Janjaweed, the bombings by Sudanese government forces, the shootings, the burning of entire villages and the flight to Chad. The children's drawings of Darfur are sad, scary and honest.

Even Rwanda, one of the poorest countries in the world, is sending peacekeeper troops to help. And what's the western world doing about this awful, awful situation? Not much at all, really.

(via JOHO The Blog)


Everything you need to know about air guitars, from the Uncyclopedia (which is like the Wikipedia, but it lies).

Photos from the recent Tokyo Anime Fair, including a wonderful model of Howl's Moving Castle and a selection of Korean anime posters.

"Image-searching engines have an oddly philosophical quality to them. The searches are always a little imprecise, because they hunt for pictures not via actual content of the images," observes Clive Thompson, so "...the results are kind of like a tone-poem of ontology -- a drifting set of vaguely-connected pictures, each one illustrating some facet of the word's meaning." Here's a new online game: look at the pictures and guess the search term.


Students at MIT are holding the first--and, logically, the only--Time-Traveller Convention on Saturday 7 May 2005.

Cover image of The Man Who Conquered Time by John E Muller

To recreate the Dr Who theme tune in your own lab, apply these instructions to your oscillator. (via Collision Detection)

Gone Hitch Hiking:

"The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, has been reissued to coincide with the film, under the Young Picador imprint. That Macmillan feel obliged to publish it as a children’s book perhaps says more about the industry’s embarrassment in the face not only of science fiction, but of popular, comic science fiction than it does about the novel."

It's not my planet, monkey-boy

Sock monkey museum.

Monkey business.

Flickr monkey.


photo of orang utans by Simon Boone from his flickr site http://www.flickr.com/photos/simonboone/8879385/

Anyone for monkey tennis?


Automagically create glassy buttons for web pages.

How to make a paper camera.

Photos and descriptions of 273 Japanese ant species, plus many dragonflies. (via one man safari)

Miracles of the future, from a 1950 issue of "Popular Mechanics" magazine: in the year 2000 we will cook with solar energy; fly from New York to San Francisco in less than two hours; live in washable, disposable houses made of metals and ceramics (bricks are too expensive!); shop via the television; divert hurricanes by deliberately spilling oil into the ocean and igniting it...

Hepcat Willy and One Man Safari dig up cultural flotsam and jetsam--in the latter case, it's 95 per cent photos and scans of book covers, album sleeves and other ephemera. Beautiful and weird, these web sites are both inspiring and addictive viewing.

When you buy a Windows computer, you can install any compatible programs your little heart desires. Microsoft wants to change all that, and the next version of the Windows operating system, codenamed Longhorn, uses a controlling mechanism already deployed on the X-Box.

British chess Master Bill Hartston once quipped that "chess doesn't drive people mad, it keeps mad people sane." Some researchers suspect a link between serious chess-playing and mental illness, in the form of a self-reinforcing spiral of depression and mania.

The Yahoo News redesign now packs more stories into each pixel. Both Google News and Yahoo News allow you to customise their front page, to a certain extent: at Google you can rearrange the various default sections of the page, and add your own customised sections; Yahoo News lets you choose several favorite sources from a predefined list. Google's default list of sources is broader and more international in flavor than Yahoo's.

The Christian Science Monitor's print circulation 71,000, small beans in the USA's media market, yet it has 1.7 million unique visitors per month to its web site, "because the content is free -- and good -- and thus bloggers link to it promiscuously." Other well-known and historically well-regarded newspapers, such as the Wall Street Journal, hide their web content behind firewalls and thus are virtually unseen in web search engine results and on weblogs. Clive Thompson comments, "The ecology of influence is changing, and fast. Will the ecology of advertising change too?"

What Google's new patent reveals about how it ranks search results, and what that means for your web site: to rank well in search results, be sincere, focus on your site's real purpose and content and play nicely with others.


Anonymous writes:

"i used someone else's password to read my ex- boyfriend's ex-girlfriend's diary. i did it just so i could read dirt about him. turns out, it's nothing i didn't know, except that SHE is a whole lot more fun that HE ever was. that'll teach me."

More anonymous confessions at NotProud.com, the smorgasbord of shame.

In the photo booth, it's just you and the camera. Amelie was right to be fascinated.

Tufty bits

Your tufty bits need extra attention, according to this Japanese brochure about removing armpit-hair. Tres cross-cultural amusement.

For some people with visual impairments, sound can replace vision. vOICe technology uses stereo cameras in a pair of cycling goggles to convert visual data into audio signals played through headphones, producing a low-resolution version of your visual surroundings. (via BoingBoing)

Got a spare US$85,000? Buy yourself a life-sized X-wing fighter. Go on, it would look fantastic in your garage.

Your mission: organise the world

"We used to rely on philosophers to put the world in order. Now we've got information architects. But they're not doing the work - we are," says Bruce Sterling. "Ultimately no human brain, no planet full of human brains, can possibly catalog the dark, expanding ocean of data we spew. In a future of information auto-organized by folksonomy, we may not even have words for the kinds of sorting that will be going on; like mathematical proofs with 30,000 steps, they may be beyond comprehension. But they'll enable searches that are vast and eerily powerful. We won't be surfing with search engines any more. We'll be trawling with engines of meaning."