Monthly Archives: April 2003

Andy Hertzfeld on Chandler:

“We have a commitment to lowering the bar for scripting by using a graphical front-end for scripting. The hard part of programming has traditionally been keeping the universe of possibilities in their head, but programming is actually pretty constrained. We want to have a graphic front-end to the script so that users don’t have to keep in their head all the vocabulary, all the verbs. (Audience interruption: Like Frox? A: Yeah, like Frox, which was a project I worked on a long time ago. I actually think of it more like Hypercard. It’s a shame that the state of the art is now 15 years old.) Users should be able to basically select things from menus to write scripts, instead of having to be a programmer.”

This is great. Downloaded Squeak and was taken-aback to see a shrinkwrapped copy of Hypercard at the Apple store last week… Correct me if I’m wrong, but here’s little or no “consumer”-friendly programming applications or langauages being offered, let alone pushed these days?

How can we work to drop the barriers to being a builder? Alan Kay referenced Seymour Papert in his talk and came up with this great line:

“point of view is worth 80 IQ points”

…in relation to idea that it’s far easier to learn how the world works by building models of it.

Mentioned the idea of B-Logo before, perhaps it’s time to think harder about it.

After all the BBC sponsored the development of a programming language once before…

Two from the <a href=”;Financial Times’ Creative Business section

John Howkins on intellectual property:

“There’s a dual problem. At the beginning of the creative process we want to scavenge without hindrance, picking up ideas from everywhere and re-working them. We want the public domain to be vast and to have the imagination’s equivalent of the ramblers’ right to roam. Then, as we shape our ideas, we want to claim them as our own and sell and license them to whoever will buy.”

FT Creative Business: Balancing right and reason: John Howkins

Howkins mentions an event on May 21st discussing such things, with anarchists and revolutionaries such as Lord Bell, Alan Yentob, and The Rt Hon Lord Heseltine CH. Expect fireworks!

Secondly, Patrick Barwise of the London Business School on PVRs, and the structural change wrought by technology on the media which has been discounted post-bubble:

“The first PVRs were launched in the US in 1999 by TiVo and ReplayTV, two Silicon Valley start-ups. The initial response was a lot of media hype, excitement among the digerati and some hysteria in the TV advertising world. Then the dotcom bubble burst, only about 17 people bought PVRs and everyone lost interest.

But there are three key facts about PVRs which mean the respite is only temporary.

First, once someone has lived with a PVR for more than a few days, they never go back to live TV and a VCR as their only means of time-shifting. This degree of commitment suggests PVRs will be hugely successful once more consumers understand the benefits’ essentially being able to watch what you want, when you want ? which are relevant to anyone with a TV, not just technology freaks.

Second, those who have adopted PVRs use them a lot. Estimates vary, but some studies suggest that as much as 70 per cent of their viewing is off the PVR rather than live. By contrast, in VCR households, only 1 per cent of viewing is time-shifted because it takes so much effort. And where someone watches a time-shifted programme, they tend to skip the commercials. Again, estimates vary but, typically, someone watching off the PVR skipsĀ half the commercials, usually more.

Third, PVRs are increasingly being incorporated into cable and satellite set-top boxes and marketed by platform owners such as EchoStar in the US and Canal Plus in France. US penetration is already close to 2 per cent and is forecast to reach 30 per cent within five years. With heavyweight marketing, word-of-mouth and, perhaps, lower prices, the market is poised for take-off.

There seems to be a received wisdom on the faliure of Tivo in the UK and by extension the PVR as a class of device which predominates at the moment amongst the Tristrams* of broadcasting. “Ding-dong, the timeshifting witch is dead”. Media planners are not so sanguine. The structural change of the last five years has been masked by the bust and the market data, but not the studies of actual use by actual people as is shown above.

At EtCon. Editing the slides for the talk that James and I are going to give this afternoon about the use of ethonography to drive a social software project, the backlight on the screen of my powerbook suddenly gave out.

The tech support, at the conference saved my life. The gave me an old monitor for the night to connect as an external screen so I could continue working. The hero of the hour gave me his business card. Looked at it this morning, and his name is Mike Tyson.


At Etcon. Three tracks of talks (I was watching Tom Coates: more later). Via Wifi/Rendevous, was able to use Hydra to see who is taking notes of other talks in other rooms.

There are a couple of other pieces of software available to have a social discussion online while in the conference spaces (confab, intro, and an IRC channel to name a few) but the unintended consquences of Hydra in a wifi’d-conference situation compared to them is that you can tell who’s actually listening to the person on stage – and their level of investment in listening/annotating, rather than who’s talking, snarking and joking with each other (not to say this is a bad thing.)

Stephen Johnson wrote about how a parallel wifi-world can suck the laughter out of the real-world discussion. I’m starting to think that a “too-parallel”/non-real-world meshed communications environment can suck too much of the attention out of a room too. I’ve only used Confab, so I can’t talk about the experience of using Intro, and it is enmeshed with the real-world, but it’s bound tightly to the hotel map, to the geography of the space, rather than to the subject-matter of what’s being discussed in the space.

The Hydra model points to an “augmented-reality” conference experience, where the task-oriented nature of the tool keeps those it gathers together immersed in the real-world.

Last night attended the Social Software BOF, where talk of the philosophy, implications, social-science, human-centred side of the field or practice was dismissed in favour of the “meat”: protocols, standards, technology.

The rage has subsided, kinda. Alan Kay’s humane, humanist view of innovation and technological exploration has cheered me up no-end.

Clay is about to speak on the subject of “a group being it’s own worst enemy”… in the meantime here’s Will Davies on the trivial problem of human nature and societal implications of social-software which, as I’ve now been informed by last night, needs no attention by those working on emerging technologies.

A sweeping generalisation, but it seems the discussion in the field in the UK seems to be much more driven by the social sciences and concerns of human(e) and inclusive design; even by the technologists.

At Etcon. At “O’reilly Radar” session. Getting annoyed. Tim O’Reilly saying that watching the alphageeks is how to predict the future and create better things. Alphageeks as the bellweather for progress. Tech-trends are the leading, driving force of society. The Morlocks lead the Eloi. Trickle-down technological determinism. What about the Omega people, those who couldn’t care less about technology in and of it’s own sake. Could studying their needs and and inclusively designing products, services and strategies be a Better Way [tm]

I’m in Santa Clara at ETCON. Last year, I travelled down from San Francisco on the CalTrain, through a landscape I was not familiar with the reality of, but had visted a thousand times in movies and on the television: American Suburbia.

This year is a little different, as I have a hire car. A four-wheeled symphony in biege, it’s transformed my view of the burbscape.

Last year, I was stuck in the hotel, and at the mercy of those who could give me a ride in their cars. This year, I am the master of my own velocity. I can go where I want, when I want.

My when’s been screwed-up by the jetlag, and my where by the burbscape. There’s no centre to the sprawl. The “cities” of Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and San Jose spread their edges into each other, seen from the freeway. Signage is the only declaration of division; the only tell-tale of the territory.

“There’s no there, there” as Gertrude Stein said. No sense of place or centre. Impossible to find, impossible to feel. Reyner Banham christened this “autopia” in “Los Angeles: the architecture of four ecologies”. Built around the car, and the freedom of movement that promises. Radically decentralising and dehumanising the intersitial space and arteries of the city.

I’d read his and other accounts of this ecology, this mental and physical landscape, but to experience it is disturbing. Driving to the hotel yesterday, it finally came home to me exactly how radical the Segway Human Transporter is within this context. It always seemed kind of cool to me, but being a european city dweller, used to the walkable city; and moreover – a visitor to walkable American cities, such as NYC and SF; it was a revelation.

Coindentally, outside our room this morning lay USAToday, with a cover splash on the design of American cities being bad for people’s health and lifestyle:

“Why don’t Americans walk anywhere?

Old answer: They’re lazy.

New answer: They can’t.

There is no sidewalk outside the front door, school is 5 miles away, and there’s a six-lane highway between home and the supermarket.

Many experts on public health say the way neighborhoods are built is to blame for Americans’ physical inactivity — and the resulting epidemic of obesity. “

and further on in the article:

“Why you can’t walk there from here:

* Spread-out neighborhoods. Bigger houses on bigger lots mean neighborhoods stretch beyond walking distance for doing errands.

* Zoning. Residential neighborhoods are far from jobs and shopping centers, even schools.

* Reign of cars. Roads are built big and busy. Intersections and crosswalks are rare. Shopping centers and office parks are set in the middle of big parking lots, all of which have become dangerous places to walk. In many cul-de-sac suburbs and along shopping strips, sidewalks don’t exist.

Suddenly, the crowded city looks healthy.”

» USAToday: The way cities and suburbs are developed could be bad for your health by Martha T. Moore

Martin’s blog is becoming a great clearing house for links and smart commentary on search engines and findability:

“…a quote that i think should send chills down the spine of anyone running a web service that claims to care about their users and who thinks technology can solve search:

“Spending hours pouring over thousands of search queries, one can hear the pained voices of customers who are desperately looking for help. The…search engine, with its simple word spotting routines, can not come close to providing the expert support that a good clerk or call center representative can.”

» the pained voices of customers who are desperately looking for help


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