Thursday, November 17, 2005
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Friday, June 24, 2005
Last week I was asked to submit a proposal for a new project. It involved inventing a new kind of web application; something that doesn't yet exist as far as I know. A lot of ideas had been floating around about how to think about the problem, what the UI should look like, etc. But none of them felt quite right. The people who asked for the proposal took a committee approach to thinking about the problem, and resolving disagreements between the committee members lead to compromised and mediocre ideas. I hadn't planned when I was going to write this proposal, but I happened to begin the day Wednesday with a big jolt of caffeine. I'm a fairly sporadic coffee/cola drinker, mostly because of what the stuff does to my sleep (or lack thereof). Nevertheless, I sometimes drink the drug anyway. Often it backfires and ruins my sleep, but I get some creative things done before that. I knew that writing this proposal was going to require inspiration. I needed to put away all the compromises and politics and just write something totally different that would be better than anybody expected. And that's what happened. Everyone loved it, even though nobody got what they asked for! This has me thinking about art, inspiration, and groups. Most companies, churches, and other organizations tend to make decisions by committees. An initial idea is presented (sometimes good, sometimes bad), and then the group rounds off the corners until everyone is more or less satisfied. It's a perfect recipe for making unremarkable things. It doesn't surprise me at all that most of the great inventions of the modern world were made by a single person, not a group. People can be great artists, but groups usually produce mediocrity Now I just need to figure out how to make great things more consistently, and without the caffeine!
Posted by James at 6/24/2005 11:02:00 AM
Sunday, June 19, 2005
I used to love watching TV. As a kid, my brothers and I would run down our long driveway after being dropped off by the school bus. Getting home quickly was of utmost importance, because we didn't want to miss Spider-man, Thunder Cats, and all our favorite cartoons. As a teenager, it was Star Trek -- especially The Original Series and The Next Generation. In later years, it became the news, Report on Business TV (RoBTV), and CPAC -- the Canadian political channel, which is similar to C-SPAN in the US. I also grew up with a slight reading disability. It was so slight that it was never diagnosed -- I always got reasonably good grades, went to University, etc. But I never really read anything; reading was too much work for me. It was so much easier to turn on the TV and tune out, letting the onslaught of TV-industrial messages and 20th century advertising fill my open mind. It was only at about age 30 that I truly discovered books. I figured out that reading was actually fun if I concentrated on densely-written material (a la C.S. Lewis). Somehow, my slight reading disability wasn't a factor when I read books that covered advanced topics. Or maybe for the first time I wasn't completely bored. Regardless, for the last few years I've been making up for lost time. I'm even getting into "easier" business and marketing books. Three of my favorite books of the last few months are The ClueTrain Manifesto, All Marketers are Liars, and The Tipping Point. What these books have in common is that they offer a post-TV-industrial-complex way of looking at things. It's refreshing, and it's changing the way I look at the world. Anyway, I've now been TV-free for six months! Actually, that's not quite true... last time I was in the U.S. I switched on Fox News in the hotel room for a bit. Within 20 minutes of watching, they announced not one, but TWO terror threats. The first one was about somebody flying a Cessna into the no-fly zone around Washington D.C. A few minutes later, a passenger jet enroute from Europe to NYC had to be diverted to Boston because one of the passengers was a suspected terrorist. Those of us who don't watch TV know that such stories are simply designed to sell advertising. But it remains extremely scary how many people just take it all in. How can people not know any better!? And what kind of conscience do those advertisers have, who knowingly support such fear-mongering and rubbish? Will truth ever make a breakthrough? I'd say it's not a question of if, but when. The 21st century is profoundly different than the 20th, but most people don't know it yet. That's what this blog is all about.
Posted by James at 6/19/2005 12:31:00 PM
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Okay, I think I've got the scoop on this one. Google seems to be testing an enhanced "Did you mean" feature. Today I searched for "software developers", and it gave me a few popular categories to choose from (see above). The feature is sporadic; it comes and goes. Earlier this morning it worked for several searches, but minutes later the entire thing disappeared. In the above example, clicking on "software development companies" yielded more detailed categories (including "application development companies"). Clicking on "something else" resulted in a new search with negative keywords based on the categories I rejected. Sweet! But there's actually a bigger thing going on here. In order for Google to create meaningful categories, their system needs to understand concepts, not just keywords. In the past, Google's results have actually been quite dumb--they have relied on things like PageRank to determine which keyword matches are most useful. This is very different. They seem to be developing algorithms that understand higher level concepts. This path quickly gets into the monumentally difficult problem of artificial intelligence (AI).
Posted by James at 3/03/2005 11:41:00 AM
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
The internet has a funny way of remembering things forever. I've been really careful about what I write here, because I don't know what's going to happen to the content down the road. It's a problem that I don't know how to deal with. Take the gay marriage issue, for example. I'm terribly tired of talking about it, but I'm also not satisfied with any of my posts on the subject. I'd like to simply remove those posts, or at least continue to write follow-ups. The former strategy is rather un-bloglike, and the latter simply makes me dig into a deeper hole. I cringe at the thought of what might have happened if I had started blogging 10 years ago, in my university years. Would my thoughts still be indexed somewhere by Google? Does the internet really remember everything people say? Today, the answer is mostly yes. I predict that a lot of people (especially bloggers) are going to work themselves into personal PR nightmares over the next few years. Not fully grasping the permanence of the internet, they'll spend their youths and early twenties generating content that embarrasses them for years into the future. But maybe that's part of the point -- why the blogging medium is so great to begin with. We all come from an era (and mindset) where information was very carefully controlled -- network news, company communications, politics, even music & arts. There's a lot of filters to make sure anything potentially embarrassing will never get out. As for me, I'm still too afraid to sign my name to my own blog. But really, would signing my name make the blog any better? I'd argue that you (the reader) don't really care who I am. Hopefully you're interested in my thoughts, and that's the point of all this. Still, it would be nice if the internet could be told to forget things, not simply remember everything.
Posted by James at 2/22/2005 12:17:00 PM
Thursday, February 03, 2005
Ok, so maybe I'm an idiot when it comes to marriage. It doesn't affect me if two gay people marry. Maybe it would affect their kids, but I'm not touching that one. Anyway, I guess we're supposed to say it's all fine as long as nobody gets hurt, etc. Maybe some of that is true, but this is still fundamentally dumb legislation. The fact that government is involved in marriage (using any definition of the word) is where the dumbness begins. It would be better to dump the idea of civil marriage altogether and replace it with something I call "civil joining". There are three main categories of civil joining.
- Single people. These are people who have no legal ties to anyone else.
- Joined people. This includes marriages and any other dependent people. Two spinster sisters, for example. Or a gay couple. And yes, poligamists. This one isn't politically correct, but it could easily be argued that it's discriminatory to prevent a group from legally joining themselves.
- Joined people with their own children. This one gets a bit messy when people un-join (like a divorce), or with poligamy, but the general point is that the children are legally bound to the biological mother and father in a way the government cares about.
Posted by James at 2/03/2005 11:29:00 AM