Monthly Archives: December 2004

Use filters

One of the Oblique Strategies.

For incoming cell phone calls, caller ID. I’d really like to have a phone that does picture ID for incoming calls so that I can pull up a face from the address book and see who’s calling. Alas, I’m often hopelessly behind on returning old phone calls (when my tools for managing interruptions break down) and thus I can’t say I have exemplary habits there. (Update: there were “only” 5 unanswered calls, and I had already taken care of 3 of them, so that’s not so bad – only one answering machine left to clear.) (Second update: cell phone voice mail and email empty.)

For email on Unix using Pine, procmail and spamassassin. Famously hard configuration, lots of sharp pointy edges, not safe for children. Infinite flexibility – you could have incoming email reprogram your Tivo or make you toast in the morning. I’ve used Pine for so long that the commands are second nature, but the more I use it the more it seems slow and pokey and hard to search for stuff in compared to…

For email on the web, Gmail. Nice UI for creating filters that apply tags to messages, relatively limited set of things you can do with mail once you tag them, but since Gmail has lots of power in the rest of the system it’s very nice. Looks like I’ll be redirecting more mail into Gmail for ease of handling.

For netnews (er, for RSS feeds, that feel more and more like netnews), the Bloglines clipping service. It pulls out items by keyword from your feeds and puts them into another feed so that you can zoom in.

Also for newsfeeds, NetNewsWire. It’s an OS X newsreader, so it caches things on your local hard disk, good for reading things when you’re offline. It does search very quickly through your personal news spool.

Still more blog and news filtering tools: Technorati, which tells you when someone else is talking about you somewhere else. If you know that someone reads their Technorati feed, you can ping them just by mentioning their name.

For coffee, “If you care” unbleached paper filters.

My mind is a web browser, Temple Grandin

My mind is a web browser is a remarkable essay by Temple Grandin. In it she describes her way of thinking (she is autistic) in terms of what a web and Flickr user might see:

To demonstrate how my mind works, at an autism meeting I asked a member of the audience to name a thing for me to invent. I wanted to show how the visual part of my brain and the language part worked separately. Somebody said, “invent a better paper clip.” The language part of my brain said, “I can do that,” and pictures immediately started flashing into my imagination of all kinds of paper clips I have seen. My “Web browser” searched the picture memory files; many paper clip pictures flashed through my imagination like slides. I could stop on any one picture and study it. I saw an odd, plastic paper clip that was on a scientific paper from Europe. At this point, I got off the subject and saw pictures of the first scientific meeting I had attended in Spain. The language voice inside me said, “Get back on the subject of paper clips.” The language part of me is a manager who uses simple non-descriptive language to tell the rest of my brain what to do.

Grandin has a new book on the way, on (…); she’s going on a book tour, and one of the stops is (…).

Sorting things out: Classification and its consequences (by) Bowker and Star

From the introduction, in 1999 – previously blogged then, but it’s still relevant, and repetition is the very soul of the net:

Sorting Things Out stands at the crossroads of sociology of knowledge and technology, history and information science. The categories represented on our desktops and in our medicine cabinets are fairly ad hoc and individual, not even legitimate anthropological folk or ethno classifications. They are not often investigated by information scientists (but see Kwasnik, 1988, 1991; Beghtol, 1995; Star, 1998). But everyone uses and creates them in some form, and they are (increasingly) important in organizing computer-based work. They often have old and deep historical roots. True, Personal Information Managers are designed precisely to make this process transparent, but even with their aid, the problem continues: we still must design or select categories, still enter data, still struggle with things that don’t fit. At the same time, we rub these ad hoc classifications against an increasingly elaborate large-scale system of formal categories and standards.

Now even the naming of these ad hoc classifications is ad hoc; they are variously “folksonomies”, “ethnoclassification”, or my favorite, simply “tags“. And it pains me just a bit that when I blog entries these days my next step is almost always tagging them for delicious.

Repetition is the very soul of the net

The more I think about this blog, the more I want to dip into themes from 5, 10, 15 years ago that surfaced when the net was a fraction of its size, when the boom and the crash hadn’t happened, and when we were thinking about what the net might be like instead of reminiscing about how it was.

So, repetition is the very soul of the net. This is especially true on Usenet, where automated cron jobs post out the same articles with minor changes once a month until the end of time. I’m sure it’s a perfectly good principle for blog postings as well – if you have seen a good question on someone else’s blog from a year ago, why not re-ask it to your readers a year later?

Search log analysis in Typepad

Motivated by Lou Rosenfeld‘s reminder that search log analysis is an excellent way to find out what your customers, colleagues, and maybe even your friends are really interested in, I decided to trace back some of the searches I’ve been getting that result in hits to pages in the Vacuum weblog archives.

One small frustration in doing this is that Typepad’s log analysis tools are primitive in the extreme – no way to see back through the scroll anything except 20 pages at a time, and no summary report of everything that’s going on. Fortunately I don’t get that much traffic on an ordinary day.

What traffic does come in is pretty predictable. I changed the title line in the blog to include the city I post from and the zip code, so my front page shows up on a search for “48104”. (That was noticed by a neighbor on a2brooklyn.) Pretty much anything specific I’ve written about (coffee, late night places) gets hits, e.g. searches like “ann arbor coffee”.

I got a big burst of hits (google searches and referrals) when the Google announcement that they were digitizing the Michigan libraries came in, and “google michigan” in Google put me in the front page there.

Less about log analysis, but more on comment analysis – I get a lot more comments on concrete stuff and less on abstract stuff.

I wish I had more good data from Typepad – sippey, if you’re reading this through Technorati, some better summary tools would be worth it.

Marginalia (Henry VIII)

see delicious/tag/marginalia thanks to catburns,,1068-1398459,00.html

Ben Macintyre

December 11, 2004

Scribble a message in the margin

Ben Macintyre

HENRY VIII was forever scribbling in the margins of his books. This most literate king collected an extensive library, and regarded the margins of his books as useful places to demonstrate his learning, pass billets-doux to his lovers, or simply to vent the royal ire. Enraged or inspired by an author, he would pick up a pen and respond at once, in Latin; and, being a king, he didn’t have to worry about being fined for returning a defaced book to the library. On the title page of a volume challenging his divorce of Catherine of Aragon he scrawled: “The basic premise of this book is worthless,” and then threw the author in the Tower. (The poor man was later hanged, drawn and quartered at Smithfield, a forthright method of dealing with literary critics that is now, sadly, unavailable.)