All posts made in Mar. 2007:

A new question to catch blog comments spam bots, building on xkcd's new captcha approach.

My favourite short story is The Author of the Acacia Seeds and Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics by Ursula K. Le Guin. It's a story of language, translation, and understanding things in terms of themselves, and - like all of Le Guin's best - progressively takes me so far outside myself that I can glimpse what it would be like to live non-sequentially, sideways to time, or without action and with only response. Le Guin helps me understand how historically contingent I am (personally and socially) , which helps me accept the points of views of others, human and non-human. Anyway, it's a story which can be read into endlessly, and also beautiful: It helps me see meaning in broader scales and configurations than those to which I am accustomed. (Le Guin's Always Coming Home is in my top 5 books.)

I've wanted to share it with friends, but short stories are inconvenient to pass round because you have to lend the whole book. So I've transcribed the story and put it online. I hope many more people read Le Guin because of it. Read The Author of the Acacia Seeds.

Skype Prime is included in the new Skype 3.1 beta on Windows. Skype Prime allows you to charge a one-off or per-minute fee for people to call you. Perfect for premium rate voice services. But what else does it enable? I've talked about Skype as a platform before. What automated voice services could be built--perhaps, simply, a voicemail system as a front-end to a dictation service? It could work like this: You call a number, which happens to be running on Skype. You pay a per-minute charge, and dictate a message. The call is recorded and when you hang up, the mp3 is pushed to Mechanical Turk for transcription. The text is emailed back to you. Of course there's no reason this couldn't be done with Asterisk or some other transcription service, but the advantages here are: Skype has micropayments built in; you can run it from a desktop machine; the technology makes it easier to prototype so you can concentrate on the experience.

What else? The one-off payment means Skype Prime could be used for software distribution. You pay your money, you get a file in return. Granted, it doesn't scale well and software distribution can happen in many ways... but for an individual selling home-made ebooks or movies, a simple plug-in to allow this could be easier than setting up online.

Given all this, if I was Skype I'd be working on a server-side Skype component. I'd want to allow, for example, Ruby on Rails apps to run dynamic voice menus, call in and out, and offer premium services.