All posts made in Nov. 2002:

Extracts from Italo Calvino's magnificent written sketchbook of fictional cities, Invisible Cities [via cityofsound].

Invisible Cities is one of my favourite books, one of the few I've read that produces such a vast universe with so few strokes. Another (completely different) is Living with Prozac: And Other SSRIs, a collection of personal stories about the many aspects of antidepressants, each between one and three pages long.

Terragen rocks. It makes quite staggering landscape images, all computer generated. Well, the Terragen Mac Beta has just been released.

Thanks to Tom for keeping Interconnected running smoothly this week. Non automated posts will resume shortly.

Falling over, a post to a mail list about tumbling.

Microsoft at Comdex have been talking about several very interesting technologies. Dan Hon of Ext|Circ has been tracking and talking:

  • Links on MyLifeBits. This sounds like a great idea, and one I've thought about. It's followed up in Dan's Smart Mobs post where RFIDs are mentioned (RFIDs are radio-bright chips with storage capacity, and are cheap enough to embed in banknotes). So how about RFIDs in adverts, shops, everything I pass, all stored by my mobile phone -- I'd love to be able to scroll back and find out more about that interesting shop I passed last Saturday afternoon. This is RealLifestreams; the concept of substreams for different levels of importance is the most important part. Like a weblog being an amplified of your www browser history.
  • Microsoft Office OneNote, commentary explaining just how brilliant it is. Of course the software should manage folders aswell as files! Excellent notes.
  • Smart objects link. My pov: Yes this is great, but the implementation's wrong. Devices should publish events and interfaces. Allow themselves to be recombined. Not be all wrapped up in themselves. Oh, just read my email about cascading recombinance in the real world to see what I mean.

Incidentally, you might have guessed by now but Dan Hon's ext|circ is a brilliant weblog.

Girls Are Pretty is still funny, every single day (and it now has its own domain).

Why is the Web Still Only a Single-User System?

The six layers of buildings. The following list runs from the inside out, from short halflife to long halflife: stuff, space plan, services, skin, structure, site. Makes me think of two things. Firstly, the Long Now Layers of Time. Secondly, aren't these building layers just an extension of human coatings? Couldn't we go in from stuff to clothes, attitude, speaking, eye contact? And aren't all of these just mechanisms of communicating through the media (aether) that also-just-happens-to-be the universal aether (media), that is: geography, aka Real Life? The extended phenotype as message.

Wow. I'd very much like to experience 34 North 118 West [via freegorifero]. From the description:

"Imagine walking through the city and triggering moments in time. Imagine wandering through a space inhabited with the sonic ghosts of another era. Like ether, the air around you pulses with spirits, voices, and sounds. Streets, buildings, and hidden fragments tell a story. The setting is the Freight Depot in downtown Los Angeles. At the turn of the century Railroads were synonymous with power, speed and modernization. Railroads were our first cross-country infrastructure, preceding the telegraph and the Internet. From the history and myth of the Railroad to the present day, sounds and voices drift in and out as you walk.

"34 NORTH 118 WEST plays through a Tablet PC with Global Positioning System device and headphones provided onsite (see website for hours). GPS tracks your location and determine how the story is delivered. The landscape becomes the interface. Every version is rendered in real-time, according to your pattern of movement".

Nice hypermedium definition (at the Meatball Wiki). Also, nice social system definition (at Principia Cybernetica).

Transhumanist resources.

I've been making my own notes on transhumanity (in particular, what media it'll use, what a post-industrial world will be like, and a social morality to parallel our one-to-one ethics). They're scrappy. Also online are some thoughts about my thoughts. (This is my next big topic, I think.)

Recognisable geology from space. Beautiful photography.

The story of how technologies become platforms is important, and Joel on Software on commoditisation explains it well with plenty of examples. In brief, 1 "A complement is a product that you usually buy together with another product"; 2 "demand for a product increases when the price of its complements decreases". So a company should make its product's complements a commodity, that is, interchangable, because then the competition in the complement's market is maximised and the price is minimised.

In practice: "When IBM designed the PC architecture, they used off-the-shelf parts instead of custom parts, and they carefully documented the interfaces between the parts in the (revolutionary) IBM-PC Technical Reference Manual. Why? So that other manufacturers could join the party. As long as you match the interface, you can be used in PCs. IBM's goal was to commoditize the add-in market, which is a complement of the PC market, and they did this quite successfully. Within a short time scrillions of companies sprung up offering memory cards, hard drives, graphics cards, printers, etc. Cheap add-ins meant more demand for PCs". is a free+premium service to let people create and run their own instant messaging bots, with smart extra modules. Like the early webhosts and html-helpers. More of this! (I've not tried it though. First-hand reports are welcome.)

These Top Ten Digital Photography Tips have helped me already, with the white balance tip.

Two good linking toys are the totally connected HyperDictionary, and [via scribot] which turns the www inside-out.

(Speaking of which, I met Tim Hall the other night and he mooted that weblogs were an inside-out Usenet. That Usenet hangs conversation threads off posts made by people, the threads classified by topic; that weblogs hangs comments threads off posts of single topics, classified by person.)

God Is The Machine. Glorious article about the universe as the ultimate universal computer. It captures a spot-on concept: that the is-ness is maximally complex, that the only perfect model is the universe itself and that abstractions have to be lossy. It's surprising how often this is forgotten.

Ellen Feiss is so cool. Q. "Do you feel any connection to the Dell dude?" A. "No, none whatsoever. That guy's a doofus. I get a lot of 'What if you guys had kids?' And I'm like, 'What if we had kids?' Why would you ask that? What a weird question. They'd probably be blond".

A quick something on social software. It's important to clarify what the problem space is here. I'm reluctant to say it's possible to classify groups, but I think it is possible to label the sort of activity a group is performing into push and pull. I've nicked those terms from queue theory (see my post on queue theory and the NHS), and use them for different ways of exploring a landscape. Pull is undirected or atelic. Think about how evolution works, or an idle conversation. Push on the other hand is a goal-oriented, industrial process. It's directed or telic. These media terminology notes have more descriptive word associations.

Telic communities (formally organised into corporations, teams, pressure groups) are hard enough normally, and what I believe social software is concerned with is how to provide for these group activities when the secret properties of the real world aren't present. The most important of these are:

  • Total immersion. In RL, your avatar or presence is isomorphic with you.
  • The media mix allows for appropriate use: solid decisions are on paper, sub-arguments occupy the gestural plane, geography is important.
  • It's natural.

So that's why I say we have to look at how successful teams work. Some of the things I'm thinking about:

  • Some telic groups are driven by common myths. I remember JC Herz mentioning this (the modern myths are: hero, science, environmental, economic). Who said this?
  • People often don't want to participate or direct their efforts. What are the parallels with gaming here?
  • This sounds much like local government and democratic participation.
  • Time-binding is massively important. In any group, different media are used and the interaction between them creates the amplification and reification of the decision making process. A community must be able to store argument and decision separately in short halflife and long halflife encodings.
  • Bootstrap off existing social structures. Don't attempt to model the group, just provide a substrate for it. Example, votes in the real world are the endpoint of verbal and non-verbal argument. But online they're often the starting point.

Thinking. I'm away for the next week so if you see any good social software reading material, please leave it in the comments.

Apologies to members of the Interconnected mail list who received Wednesday's links again last night.

Whoa! Mark Pilgrim's written an app that can recommend weblogs for you to read based on your homepage. Given it presents me with a mix including sites I read and like and ones I've read in the past but unfortunately forgotten, I'd say it works, really nicely. There's more at the Recommended Reading project page, including how it works and the source for download.

Roger Caillois (1961) classifies games/play into four classes, being: competition (also called agon); chance (alea); mimicry; and vertigo (ilinx). Games are placed in one of these and exist somewhere on a spectrum from paidia to ludos, which are roughly speaking the enjoyment-of-playing (like disguises) and enjoyment-of-rules (like chess) extremes.

Writing, Play and Performance on Internet Relay Chat uses this typology when looking at play on IRC. Caillois' method is intended to be used for just this, a framework for examining play across different cultures. (Found after following notes on Purse Lip Square Jaw).

Anne Galloway considers the models we're using when considering social software [via peterme's critique]. Good, yes. And, thinking...

But! At the end, this: "So now I'm working on how technologies can be designed to evoke, rather than to describe; to perform rather than to represent..."

Exactly. The dominance of tele and cinema over the past couple of decades have habituated our consciousnesses to media that refuse to acknowledge the difference between what's transmitted and what's understood. Both attempt to be as much like real life as possible. A better television is one with a higher-definition picture. However!, a better book isn't one that spends twice as long describing a scene. There's no intrinsic betterness of tele-like or book-like media, just whatever's best for the job -- and at the moment the lofi media are better suited to our lives: email, www, type. When the media isn't as rich as real life, the ones that succeed are the ones that don't try and hide the fact they're not real life. And we become habituated to this division, and subsequent systems must be coherent with this. In the future, systems will be designed to "evoke, rather than to describe" (or at least, this will be an understood and important part of design), and the following media will triumph: typography, music, architecture, cooking (no fast food), augmented reality (virtual reality won't; it attempts to mimic the total immersion of RL) and radio.

Distributed decisions: When will Halloween be celebrated? [thanks Kevan] presents simulations run to examine how the following question is answered: "With no central planner to dictate when the celebrations shall occur, how can everyone collaborate to celebrate at the same time?" Excellent, and points to an interesting way of making decisions: instead of explicitly building the feedback and amplification mechanisms in software to making a decision, bootstrap off existing social structures, and provide conduits for those message types instead.

The French company Air Liquide uses agent-based simulations (modelling trucks as ants following pheromone trails) to find the most efficient delivery routes: "It's a supply chain that can create 3 trillion daily combinations among all its constituent parts; it took 22 full-time logistics analysts nearly half a day to generate a delivery schedule that would get every product to its destination on time". With the simulations, it now takes one analyst two hours.

The idea of a social rhetoric has been bubbling round my head. I'll outline my thinking first, and defend it next.

  • Groups act in a way that is more than the sum of the individuals.
  • There is communication going on at a group level, a social language.
  • Given the paths of spoken language are hardwired into the brain, maybe social language is too.
  • We need to develop a social rhetoric to harness and direct this social language.

Groups act in a way that is more than the sum of the individuals. Now you can invoke emergence and say that the behaviour of the group is nothing more than the interactions of individual behaviour, aggregated and displaying properties we couldn't have predicted. Firstly, that's indistinguishable from true group behaviour. But more importantly, second, that's too reductionist for my taste -- groups need to work well together, there's evolutionary pressure for this, and nature will make use of anything that's around. Watching a group making a seemingly logical decision is massively different to a single person or even two people. Anyway, if groups were simple enough to study as the addition of individuals we'd still need to look at individual-to-group communication, we'd still need to make abstractions because the number of one-to-one relationships increases massively as the group expands, and we'de still be exploring a new area. Groups are different.

There is communication going on at a group level, a social language. We know there's non-verbal communication going on, and from there it's the same argument as above: non-verbal communication with a number of people is different enough from one-to-one that we can label it "social language" and move on. But ultimately, it feels right that there's something special going on here. It's a whole other ballgame speaking in a group where pheromones, many-to-many gestures, body language, feedback loops, group think, social pressures come into play.

Humanity is social. We're socialised in the first few years of our life. We respond to pressure and correspond to trends and fashion without realising it. Social language is all the various verbal and non-verbal languages mixed up and with elements of public/private and mystery ingredient X thrown in. Social language slips underneath the cognitive conscious. Social guilt is called shame. Maybe mild autism is social dyslexia.

Given the paths of spoken language are hardwired into the brain, maybe social language is too. Spoken language is hard-wired. There's a universal grammar in your brain that all languages conform to -- a baby growing up around adults who speak only a poor second language with no form of grammar will spontaneously create its own grammar, coherant with the universal grammar intrinsic in all of us.

The language instinct is important. It hardcodes certain rules about sentences that make otherwise irreducibly complex parsing problems solvable in an infant's brain. It defines parse-rules and buffers, and these are things that can be measured, with clocks. Why is it in there? Because there's an evolutionary advantage in a spoken language that can grow recursively (like ours; it's not limited to certain stock patterns), and an advantage in the rapid learning of it. And so ditto social language. Perhaps there's a social grammar right there, paths along which neurons always grow.

We need to develop a social rhetoric to harness and direct this social language. I choose the word "rhetoric" carefully. We don't need to understand social language or social grammar, and we don't need to study it that hard. We just need to know rules of thumb about what works and what doesn't.

The Greeks developed rhetoric as a system of rules for speaking and putting across an point orally, something that's very difficult without writing (yet, rhetoric was only developed once writing had given the Greeks the power of introspection of oral culture). What rhetoric gave people - everybody! - was a way of constructing arguments and communicating them. It abstracted the gut instinct away, and based on existing grammar-of-persuasion it made a set of rules people could follow to do something. It codified the uncodifiable by simplifying it and using it for a single purpose.

The thing to note about rhetoric is it's efficient at what it does. Convincing, memorable (the point, maybe not the words exactly), to the point. This is entirely the opposite from undirected speech: conversation, which although it's prone to twists, turns and great ideas, isn't so good as following through a logical path.

This is where social rhetoric comes in. We're not thinking about undirected communities or groups here, we're thinking about software to aid directed team activity. And so there are three branches:

  • Some people are really good at working with teams of ~150 people, but most aren't. They're not so good at speaking the social language.
  • Once we move out of the real world and online, most of the social language routes have been removed and have to be reconstructed.
  • Directed or telic group behaviour doesn't allow the full spectrum of social language because it's constrained.

Just as rhetoric presents a methodology for telic conversation (conversation abstracted to be directed), social rhetoric can present a methodology for telic community or teams (a group abstracted to be directed).

Social rhetoric has the properties of being available for anyone to use; able to operate within a restricted environment; of being able to handle ambiguities, exceptions, and what happens when individuals operate in a way that isn't immediately handled by the rules (so instead of rules it's a network of incentive fields).

Now deriving social rhetoric is the hard part. I have three suggestions.

Look at successful teams. The rules of thumb have to come from somewhere, and the best way is to look at how the people skilled in operating in restricted social environments and getting things done work. How are social pressures set up? How are goals advertised? Can an exhaustive list of communication methods be collated?

Operate in a way coherant with the hardwired social grammar. If an individual acts without knowing how to act, this shouldn't be rejected by the social rhetoric. Ideally, to a first order approximation social rhetoric should just be how telic communities normally operate. But less ideally if somebody comes up against the abstraction strata they should be steered back on course.

A shared terminology. Anthropology, sociology, rhetoric itself -- all this ground has been covered, but has never had to look in this exact direction. If we need words to exchange these concepts between ourselves (I think we do), then we could do worse than listen to specialists from these fields and learn, learn, learn.

If this sounds to you like the secret properties of social software, you'd be right. What makes the www successful isn't the url at the bottom of every advert; what makes IM isn't just its ubiquity. There's View Source and addressibility, there are Away messages. We can look at technologies that were successful without meaning to be, look at social environments that give results with being forced, and investigate what factors in the substrate made this possible. And then, hopefully, build some ourselves.

Absolutely splendid is Idle Thoughts of an Idle Process by Verity Stob:

"I'm glad it is a good old i variable. You just can't beat an i loop for smooth running, you know. Call me old-fashioned, but I can't be doing with iterators. I'm sure programmers think they look lovely in the source code but, when all is said and done, it's not programmers that get to execute it, is it? Programmers think exceptions look nice in the source code; two bits will get you a nybble that they wouldn't be so glib with their throws and re-raises and finallys if they had to unwind their own stacks. Handling an exception is like sliding down a four-storey staircase on your backside.

"(Whatever 'staircase' means. Or 'backside' for that matter. Found the phrase in the simile section of my string table and used it at a venture. It felt more appropriate to the case than, for example, 'This software program is fully protected by the laws of California.' Call it process intuition.)"

Once upon a time the severely disabled could use keyboards by tapping regular, everyday keys with a short rod worn on the forehead. No more need they do this! The Lucy replaces the normal keyboard with a special screen-overlay keyboard, and the humble rod with a head-mounted laser.

This computer timeline goes all the way from the abacus to early mainframes and internet history to the present day [thanks Paul B].

Both Upsideclone and Upsideclown currently have excellent articles running. At 'clone, Simon Batistoni has returned with Ghost. I can't really say anything about it without spoiling it, so just go read.

Meanwhile at the 'clown, James tells of the seedier side of medieval adventure in The Knight Of Spring Fervent. In verse. With a refrain and everything.

Notes on the Western Union Telegraph Clock (FoRK mail list archives), about accurate time being sold for one dollar, per clock, per month. And Time, Standard Time and Western Union goes into some of the daily life specifics of a centralised clock world: Railroad workers were required to carry an approved pocket watch and correct it on the hour when the Morse signal came through.

But sometimes it went wrong: "It finally ensued that I learned the magic of WUTCo clocks was a 'Master Clock' in each local area. It ran like an old schoolhouse clock with a punched paper tape to ring the bells -- except that a WUTCo local master clock had only one set of holes at the top of the hour. When it ran past the holes, it sent a two-second pulse down a local telegraph loop with all the clocks around town wired in series like teleprinters. [...] The way the synchronization operation worked was that in each local area, it was the distinct 'job' of the Wire Chief to be there at noon daily, to get a 'click' on the sounder of one national wire, and set their local Master Clock to the once-a-day time from the national 'click.' However, at Fort Lauderdale, the Wire Chief had been promoted out of town TWO YEARS previously, so it was nobody's job to set the local Master Clock".

To avoid confusion, read Stewart Butterfield at Sylloge posting about my post on the Social Software Seminar. He picks me up on a few points.

Mea culpa. What I meant to say wasn't what I wrote -- I was being lazy. I'm really only considering technologies that are currently used for/ will be designed to be used for directed, goal-oriented interaction.

Having said that, I think evaluating technologies afer-the-fact is the right way to go. There's a lot out there -- the WorldWideWeb application is massively successful in 2002, Hypercard isn't. What can we learn from that?

Likewise, email wasn't designed as a social environment in which decisions and arguments can be made towards a common goal. But it's good at that (well, goodish), and used for that. But MUDs aren't. I know it sounds like a too-simple question to ask, but why do most people have an email client open all the time, but don't invite clients to join them on the company MUD/MOO server?

Perhaps by extracting the secret properties of email that makes it useful for making certain classes of decision, social software can then be deliberately written.

Another perhaps. Perhaps one of the secret properties is that a command-line interface is too high a barrier to entry to hit critical mass in any cross-discipline group of people, and that's why MOOs never took off for business. Perhaps, with investigation, we'll find that's completely wrong. Graphical MOOs... well that's a different kettle with a whole load of different fish.

Social environments | This is something I'll come back to again because it's symptomatic of a lack of shared terminology: what is a social environment anyway? Quoting from Sylloge a little:

"The web is closer to a providing something we could call a social environment, but even that seems a little dodgy - I'd be more inclined to say that the web is a medium for lots of smaller social environments, but one that is still generally parasitic on social environments (and cultures) that exist elsewhere (Limp Bizkit webrings don't spring up in the absence of Limp Bizkits)."

The www is like a city?

Firstly I reckon that because people are cross-media, at least some communication in any given media draws on culture elsewhere. Saying the www is parasitic is a little strong since the specific www culture is beginning to backwash into other environments: campaign websites, filtering and making news, freeing information. I don't think it's a necessary requirement for the interactions in a social environment to in the main be concerned with experiences had within that same space.

Second, we have a definitions of terms problem. I've previously regarded social media as being a synonym for social environments. That is, because the www is a medium that can contain social interaction, it is therefore a social environment. Something for me to think about.

Last point. Systems don't need to have specially designed to be social. has a Recent searches panel down the side, and last June Phil and I spotted someone leaving messages in there and we ended up having a very short conversation -- the logs of which are now online.

"On the evening of October 18th, 2002 at 7pm, 7 performers connected to the same Quake III Arena game server online. Instead of participating in the graphic, three dimensionally simulated environment of death, my group of performers recreated, by typing on our keyboards, an episode from the popular sit-com Friends". Quake Friends has screenshots [thanks Ed].

See also: Stencilton Art Walk (at the fanzine Ludus Perpetuus), a document of artworks created within The Game Neverending.

Much reading material is linked at Booknotes' investigation into What is hypertext?

Small Pieces Loosely Joined, for kids is David Weinberger's unified theory of the web in bite-sized chunks. What does distance mean on the web, or connecting, or humanity? I'm going to spoil the ending for you, here it is:

"The real world is about distances keeping people apart. The Web is about shared interests bringing people together. Now, if connecting and caring are what make us into human people, then the Web - built out of hyperlinks and energized by people's interests and passions - is a place where we can be better at being people.

"And that is what the Web is for."

Message Types in Goal-Oriented Discourse: "In goal-oriented communication, a conversation can be thought of as consisting primarily of transitions between a number of distinguishable states. The utterances that signify these transitions fall into a small number of recognizable categories. The purpose of this paper is to explore how to enumerate, for a chosen goal, these categories and to determine whether it is possible to create a theory whereby they can be consistently recognized, with an eye towards designing a system which will classify utterances for use in MoversWorld, a multi-user problem solving environment".

(Are these categories applicable in many-to-many communication, for example between two political wings? And, not being funny or anything, but doesn't "goal oriented" hint at game and, given that, don't state transitions sound like transitions between game-states, aka moves?)

At the recent iSociety seminar, Simon Roberts of Ideas Bazaar (from you can also download his "Linkship - Imagining a New Kinship of Networks" presentation slides) referred to a way of classifying relationships between self and other; others are divided into:

  • Consociates who share the same time and spatial access to each other's bodies
  • Contemporaries with whom one shares only the same time
  • Predecessors and Successors with whom one does not share the same time and to whose lived bodies one lacks access [Predecessors affect our actions, but are not affected by ours; Successors vice-versa]

Simon emailed me to tell me about Cultural Complexity, Studies in the Social Organization of Meaning by Ulf Hannerz, a book which had revived the classification from the philosopher Alfred Schutz (I took the earlier definitions from this page).

If we're to deliberately build successful environments for directed group activity, it's important to understand how existing ones do what they do. Part of that understanding is having a vocabulary, a framework to investigate.

Things that make good games, in I Have No Words & I Must Design [via As Above]. "A game is a form of art in which participants, termed players, make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal" and from there it continues, an exploration of game design. Other things I'd like to know: How is Real Life different from a game? The things that people do that aren't games, what are they?

Last's Friday's Social Software Seminar got my brain buzzing in a way it hasn't since the O'Reilly Emerging Tech Conference earlier this year. The seminar kicks off The Work Foundation's iSociety research project (which also, wonderfully and inevitably, has a weblog), and was headlined by Clay Shirky. Social software is very now, and it brings together two main strands: First. Now we've seen that social environments can be created technologically (what's worked: email, www. What's not been as big: MOOs), what properties do successful technologies have that we can harness and steer to not just communities but directed groups? Second. In the main the new media have only be used for one-to-one and one-to-many, and even the www has just democratised broadcast -- but the capability is there for many-to-many communication; how is this to be done?

With all of that in mind, I've posted my rough Social Software Seminar notes. As with my other notes (cf ETCon 2002 notes), they're unedited and taken in the heat of battle. The event notes are interleaved with my own thoughts, which progress over the seminar, are contained in square brackets, and gradually completely dominate. The section at the end, rumblings, contains thoughts knocking around my head before I walked through the door. I'll be writing up some of the more defined ideas soon.

See also: Tom Coates' seminar outline. I'd make two comments about his notes: Communities is a generic term, and social software I believe refers more to directed group conversations; and constitutions needn't be literal if the decision making mechanism can be declared by implementation.


Redesign! Welcome to the brown skin. Naturally you'll have to visit the 'site to see it (the majority of my traffic is now by email or RSS) -- but if you still can't, you probably have the skin cookie set. Visit the skinner to select back to the default.

So what's new? It's my first non-table and 100% css design for a start. The sitenav, always awkward, has been moved to the bottom of the page (it's there for people looking rather than to stumble across), and even the banner has been moved: the emphasis is on the posts, and seeing what's latest. There's also a commenting feature, but I'll roll that out once the inevitable design bugs have been squashed. My favourite feature: the whitespace of the indented paragraphs describes a square. I like that.

I'm surprised by how many browsers now support css. Last I looked properly (um, ages ago) it was a reckless design decision. So, this skin should work happily in IE5+ and Mozilla, and degrade kind-of-okay for the rest. Naturally it looks most beautiful in Chimera on Mac OS X using Gill Sans. I say naturally because my sites tend to only ever work in whatever my favourite browser of the week is.

If you find bugs please mail me a screenshot, or let me know if it's difficult to read on your system (font or contrast problems). I'll see what I can do. Also thanks to Phil and Tom for helping me with css weirdnesses. And there we go. Long live blue and brown.

I like this idea: "...your car has windshield wipers and headlights and a roof and a heater, all of which protect you from caring about the fact that it's raining (they abstract away the weather)..." -- from Joel On Software's The Law of Leaky Abstractions.

Patterns for Personal Web Sites, a compendium of design patterns grouped into five types: content, structural, temporal, navigation, technology. See the introduction for more.

This is on the list: Inhabiting the Virtual City: The design of social environments for electronic communities. And there's a list of social software links at HyDeSign. Damn, yet more painfully relevent reading material.

Ben Hyde pointed me at the review of The Media Equation, one passage from which intrigued me so much I have to buy it: "Pick a finding describing a social rule governing people's interaction with each other. One example, which is used in the book, is 'people like other people whose personalities are like their own.' So you have a rule which describes social behaviour. According to the media equation, media and real life are the same, so people should also like media whose personalities are like their own". All of which is very interesting, especially if you're thinking about the intrinsic properties of inbuilt social grammar. Which I am.

See also: 14 Principles of Polite Apps.

Resources for The Design of Sites [via HyDeSign]. Research papers on various aspects of designing and building a "customer centred" (so e-commerce then) website.

I was bloody hooked on Little Computer People for ages (more screenshots, and a diary). Mine was called Elliott, and he had a dog.

My cousin had one that used to smoke, but he trained it out of that and got it doing exercise instead. Brilliant.

I never got hooked on The Sims in the same way, something to do with being a decade older possibly, but probably because I use my computer for loads of things now and not just games -- if it just sat in a window and talked to me occasionally I'm sure I'd still have it running.

Actually, there's an idea. How about a little person that lives in your filesystem? You could make files that he could eat to train him to hang around in the same kind of places, teach him to write you documents and leave them on the desktop, and clean up after himself. It'd be an application that ran at human speed, not just as fast as possible.

Wouldn't it be weird to navigate into a little used folder and find him there with another little computer person from a friend's machine who'd emailed herself over, and they were making even littler computer people together? [This post exists because the title of Dan Hon's The Sims post is Little Computer People. It reminded me.]

Two excellent language resources:

Both via As Above., fresh links daily.

Conceptual Metaphor Home Page, maintained by George Lakoff [via MeFi] (a list of all metaphors). Superb. This is proper deep-level stuff, how we live and relate to the universe and each other. Playing with how a counterfactual metaphor could come to be would be an interesting exercise. Although at the moment I'm more interested in coherency, the idea that disparate metaphors align. You can see this in our industrial world, individuals living their lives coherent with the concept that they're a self-contained step, that they should follow the letter of their explicit instructions and let everything else go because someone higher up must be looking after that.

The Absolute Bottom 50 Urban Legends [via blogdex].

Black people are now eight times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people new Home Office figures show.

Unfortunately, the figures are useless and show nothing either way, whether this figure is bad or not. I'd like very much to know whether the police are racist, but: The proportion of black people being stopped is going to be larger than the proportion in the country as a whole simply if there are greater concentrations of black people where the stops tend to be (I've done some back-of-envelope calculations that show prove this, just to convince myself.)

Now this is utterly crude, but look at ethnic population proportion broken down by Local Authority, and see that urban LAs tend to have a higher proportion than rural ones. Then look at the absolute number of stop-and-search by Police Authority, and see that there are disproportionately more in urban than rural again (more than the population difference).

Those two differences themselves mean that the proportion of black people stopped-and-searched will be greater than the national proportion. That's no way to make any kind of judgement about institutional racism, especially because the intuitive way to do the comparison is the incorrect one. And shame on the Home Office for releasing figures like this which will naturally be misinterpreted.

This is horrendous, by the way, doing order-of-magnitude calculations like this. If I was at work I'd have population, census and Police/Local Authority stats on tap, and I could do the proper figures. But I want to know whether the police are racist, and that requires proper measurement. And given I can show the given figures are inadequate even with crude measures, it means proper measurement needs proper statisticians calculating a proper expected figure so we can crack down on the truly bigoted. At the moment we have no idea who they are.

We need a number of things:

  • The black population as a proportion of all
  • The number of stops and searches
  • The total population

...and all of those are needed down to postcode district (eg, W6) or preferably postcode sector (eg, E2 9) level. From that we can calculate the expected number of black people stopped and searched. Then comparing against the actual figure, we have a reasonable chance of finding abberations.

For evidence of institutional rather than individual racism - that is, racism in the way the organistion makes decisions rather than how individual police officers choose who to stop - we need to look at the levels of crime (committed and estimated prevented, and measures of seriousness and public concern) as correlated against black population proportion. We would hope that the police as a whole aren't concentrating their stop-and-searches in predominantly black areas rather than high crime areas.

I sincerely hope the Home Office are calculating these figures now, otherwise there's no way we can know anything about police racism, and we're being lulled into a false sense of security by incorrect figures.

These are all symptoms by the way. This has nothing to do with what causes crime, and whether and why the crime level and causes of crime (perhaps: poor schools, no jobs, poor housing) coincide with the denser black population areas, and even whether that may be because of general public racism moving wealth away from the non-white population. Perhaps, perhaps not. But the statistics don't even attempt to get near that, so I'm not so bothered.

I've been looking at local statistics for the past two years, by the way, and I know what sort of figures are available and the statistical structure of the UK. This gives me gut feelings about how these numbers work. I have to say, I doubt it's possible for the true figures to even be gathered, and so we'll have no idea whether these Home Office figures are bad or not until something fairly big happens at the Office of National Statistics.

Says Nick Denton: "You want me to take moderate Muslims more seriously? Get back to me when progressive Muslims picket the Finsbury Park mosque in North London". (Disclaimer: This statement upsets and angers me, but for a variety of reasons I don't think the best way to demonstrate that is by responding to it directly.)

One night not many weeks ago there was a small protest outside a small mosque near my flat in Hammersmith, West London. A leader from Iran who'd been part of the revolution and complicit in (I understand) the deaths of thousands of students and the removal of civil rights from women was speaking there -- the protestors (some recently from Iran in the past 2 or 3 years, some long term Londoners, other local people joining in when they heard what it was about) didn't think it was right he should be here, and that the UK government should arrest him. Some groups represented:

The above links given to me by a protestor. The police were sympathetic, by the way. The organisers explained what was going on and the police left them to it. Now I've no idea how many protests like this happen -- I've no idea how many protests about anything happen. But I do know that it's just one particular form of disagreement within a society, and if you were to pick a placards-and-megaphone style protest as the only way a group of people could publicly register dissent in your eyes, that'd be a little limiting.

To be honest, it feels wrong for me to even say "group of people" there. It's like saying the French behave terribly on the underground. It's true to the degree that some of the French people I see on the underground stand on the wrong side of the escalators. But actually it's true of a proportion of all tourists in London, some of whom are French and more easily recognisable because I recognise the accent. Using "the French" as my group of people contains so many false positives and false negatives it's just not useful, and arguments based on that aren't going to have yes or no answers, just a stack of division by zero errors.

It's being linked everywhere, but even still the gamebutton arcade is simply genius. Just.. genius.

I like this paragraph from pictures of Alnwick, Northumberland [kind-of via not you the other one]: "I once remember seeing some temporary lights in Narrowgate. They were controlling a 2m long stretch of road. The only thing blocking the road was the generator, and the only thing the generator was powering was the lights. Presumably some Dadaist traffic management experiment".

Can't for the life of you remember what that cheque for £199.99 was that left your bank account last month? Improve Your Memory.