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Monthly Archives: March 2010
Web service for “assemble-your-own-book” market?
Web service for “assemble-your-own-book” market?
My friend and former co-worker, Dave, writes:
Many years ago, when I was a technical writer, my team explored the option of moving away from writing the source files for documentation as actual document files (FrameMaker, Word, etc.) and towards writing them as heavily-indexed articles in a database out of which we could assemble documents as needed.
The idea being that if you wanted a manual that documented everything about process X, we could produce that; if you wanted a manual that documented operational instructions for all our processes, we could produce that; if you wanted a manual that documented operational instructions and technical reference data for all processes in a particular group, we could produce that. The three manuals would overlap significantly, but be distinct manuals written for distinct audiences.
We dropped the idea after a while, but I often think about it when contemplating the ways that the web behaves differently from published books. In some ways, it’s precisely that model – especially what the “semantic web” folks are trying to move towards – although people are still mostly talking in terms of search operations rather than filter/sort/assemble operations.
All of which has gotten me wondering whether there’s anyone out there marketing into the “assemble-your-own-book” market for reference materials.
For example, I can totally imagine a company that publishes travel books exposing a web service whereby you can identify where you want to travel, what price range you are operating in, and what sorts of things you are interested in, and they print up a nicely bound volume of “Exploring Nature Trails, Snail Farms, and Art Museums in France, West Germany, and Denmark on $50-$100 a Day” that you can take with you.
I wonder whether there’s actually a market for that sort of service.
Hi to my nine subscribers
A hearty hello to my nine feed subscribers. Thanks for reading. Clearly I need to post more.
Drop me a note about your interests and I will try to oblige.
Thailand Red protests heat up
I cannot say that Thailand has been quiet since the last time I posted, but with the recent protests by the Red-shirted demonstrators who are protesting the current government things have moved up in their intensity. NPR reported 100,000 anti-government non-violent protesters have taken to demonstrating outside of government buildings.
Recently, many protesters gave a little bit of their blood so that they could pelt government buildings with bags of the blood. The news reports I have heard indicate that the protesters are sending a message that they are willing to shed blood in violent opposition to the current government. An alternative interpretation could be that they are showing that they are willing to withstand violent attacks by the government nonviolently. Not being there or knowing Thai, it is hard to discern the truth.
The military at least does not appear to be attempting to escalate their own violence, but is hoping the protesters tire and leave.
A social network for close friends? [Updated]
Ok, last of the ideas for the night.
The thing I have noticed about social networks is that I have a lot of “friends”, but I cannot say I am terribly close to most of them. Seems like the connections are shallow and not deep.
Don’t get me wrong. It is nice to get status updates from classmates I haven’t seen in 20 years or co-workers who left the company a year ago. As a Gub noted when we ran into each other last weekend, it is nice to have a finger in each others lives. This is especially true after I found out that a friend of mine from my high school years died this year.
Still, perhaps there is a need to have a social networking site that limits the number of friends you can have. Limiting your list to 3, 5, or 10 friends really focuses you mind as to who and/or what is important. I have tended to only “friend” someone who is already on a site, and not invite people to a social networking site. I would feel more compunction to invite someone on to a site where my friends were limited.
But what is the win to having the network of close friends? What services should a site like that provide that would make people desire to visit it. Certainly, its simplest competitor is email since anyone can create a list of people to send email to and then send a note just to them.
One serious downside is if you are limited to 3, 5 or 10 close friend slots, then how will someone feel if you take them off of your close friend list? It strikes me that folks should not know who is on your list, in fact they should probably not even need a note if they are no longer your close friend. They just stop getting your notes and updates. Perhaps, even, close friends can be one way just like Twitter: except instead of signing up to get someone else’s status messages, you are signing up to send someone your status messages. The limit of the number of friends you can have and the ability to block such incoming messages should cut down on spam.
What the added value is, I am still not sure.
UPDATE: A friend of mine pointed me to ASMALLWORLD. It looks like a social networking site for the rich and/or influential and bills itself as:
… the world’s leading private online community that captures an existing international network of people who are connected by three degrees of separation. Members share similar backgrounds, interests and perspectives. ASMALLWORLD’s unique platform offers powerful tools and user generated content to help members manage their private, social and business lives.
Membership to ASMALLWORLD is by invitation only, which is part of what makes this network unique, and the connections, authentic. Trusted and loyal ASW members who meet certain criteria have the privilege of inviting a limited number of their friends to the network. If you know someone with this privilege, you can ask them to invite you. If not, please be patient and continue to ask around in your own personal and professional circles.
An integrated media company, ASW is an ideal match for advertisers seeking to target the world’s tastemakers and develop heightened mindshare with this sophisticated and influential group. [bold from site]
RSS feeds updated. Sorry for the reposts
I updated my RSS feeds, which caused feed readers to repost them. Sorry about the reposts.
I moved Spontaneous Ideas again
I moved Spontaneous Ideas to another tumblr blog so that others can post to it and I can free up the old blog to be my lifestream. The domain and feeds and the like should update. If you get extra messages in your RSS feed besides this one, just ignore them.
“Obscure security makes school suck”
James Stephenson has an article on Boing Boing on how "Obscure security makes school suck". It is brief and well worth the read. Here are a few excerpts:
The thing to remember about the public schools of today is that
students are treated worse than criminals. Everyone is presumed guilty
until proven innocent.
A common justification for [surveillance] cameras is that they make students safer,
and make them feel more secure. I can tell you from first hand
experience that that argument is bullshit. Columbine had cameras, but
they didn't make the 15 people who died there any safer. Cameras don't
make you feel more secure; they make you feel twitchy and paranoid.
Some people say that the only people who don't like school cameras are
the people that have something to hide. But having the cameras is a
constant reminder that the school does not trust you and that the
school is worried your fellow classmates might go on some sort of
In northern Virginia, the measures are even more Draconian. They
have heavily-armed and -armored police officers roaming the halls.
Students undergo a mandatory security orientation during their first
week of middle school. In it, a police officer goes through the
implements they carry at all times. The police women who performed the
demo I attended showed us how she was always wore a bulletproof vest,
and carried handcuffs, cable-tie style restraints, a large knife, a can
of mace, and a retractable steel baton. "It's nonlethal, kids," she
said. "But you don't want me to have to shatter your kneecaps with it."
She also wore a pistol with exactly thirteen rounds: one in the
chamber, 12 in the clip. She could have taken out a terrorist or two;
which I guess that is what they were expecting some of us to be. At the
tender age of 12, this made quite an impression of me, and I still
remember the event clearly. But these methods were useless in keeping
me or any of my classmates safe. They didn't stop the kid who flashed a
gun at me, or the bully who took a swipe at me with a switchblade.
Some people say youngsters are more disrespectful than ever before. But
if you were in an environment where you were constantly being treated
as a criminal, would you still be respectful? In high school, one of my
favorite English teachers never had trouble with her students. The
students in her class were the most well behaved in the school–even if
they were horrible in other teachers' classes. We were well-mannered,
addressed her as "Ma'am," and stood when she entered the room. Other
teachers were astonished that she could manage her students so well,
especially since many of them were troublemakers. She accomplished this
not though harsh discipline, but by treating us with respect and being
genuinely hurt if we did not return it.
Petty acts of rebellion–and innocent little covert activities–kept
our spirits up. The school's computer network may have been censored,
but the sneakernet is alive and well. Just like in times past, high
school students don't have much money to buy music, movies or games,
but all are avidly traded at every American high school. It used to be
tapes; now it's thumbdrives and flash disks. My friends and I once
started an underground leaflet campaign that was a lot of fun. I even
read about a girl who ran a library of banned books out of her locker.
These trivial things are more important than they seem because they make
students feel like they have some measure of control over their lives.
Schools today are not training students to be good citizens: they are
training students to be obedient.
location, location, location
In the spur of the moment I signed up on a few location-aware social networks. I am not sure how useful they will be to me when all of my friends who are on it live on the west coast and I live on the east coast. Facebook becoming more location-aware, as the rumors indicate, might solve that problem. However, at this time of year, my locations are pretty constrained: home, work, kids' schools, coffee shop, grocery store, soccer practice. Me thinks I am not the target demographic.
I just had to read one more thing …
Of course I had to check my RSS feeds one last time before I went to bed and came across this piece from Boing Boing on the CIA torture memos:
Salon's Mark Benjamin went spelunking in the recently released CIA
torture memos and comes back with a stomach-churning account of the
waterboarding practiced at Gitmo. This fine-tuned torture process
repeatedly took its victims to the brink of death (one victim was
waterboarded 180+ times) until many of them simply gave up on breathing
and tried to allow themselves to drown, only to be revived by unethical
medical personnel who collaborated with the war criminals conducting
documents also lay out, in chilling detail, exactly what should occur
in each two-hour waterboarding "session." Interrogators were instructed
to start pouring water right after a detainee exhaled, to ensure he
inhaled water, not air, in his next breath. They could use their hands
to "dam the runoff" and prevent water from spilling out of a detainee's
mouth. They were allowed six separate 40-second "applications" of
liquid in each two-hour session – and could dump water over a
detainee's nose and mouth for a total of 12 minutes a day. Finally, to
keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a
session – a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding – the prisoners
were kept on a liquid diet. The agency recommended Ensure Plus.
"This is revolting and it is deeply disturbing," said Dr. Scott
Allen, co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights
at Brown University who has reviewed all of the documents for
Physicians for Human Rights. "The so-called science here is a total
departure from any ethics or any legitimate purpose. They are saying,
'This is how risky and harmful the procedure is, but we are still going
to do it.' It just sounds like lunacy," he said. "This fine-tuning of
torture is unethical, incompetent and a disgrace to medicine."
As a friend noted, waterboarding isn't simulated drowning, it is drowning. "Enhanced interrogation techniques" are just mealy mouthed words for hiding the war crimes that our government carried out.
Of course VP Cheney was a "big supporter of waterboarding" as reported to ABC News via Andrew Sullivan & The Atlantic:
KARL: Did you more often win or lose those battles, especially as
you got to the second term?
CHENEY: Well, I suppose it depends on which battle you're talking
about. I won some; I lost some. I can't…
KARL: … waterboarding, clearly, what was your…
CHENEY: I was a big supporter of waterboarding. I was a big
supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques that…
KARL: And you opposed the administration's actions of doing away
It is too late to impeach him, but there is no statute of limitations on trying war criminals.