For a variety of reasons, I use the Firefox browser. This morning, thanks to a post on LifeHacker, I discovered two plugins – one I’d categorize as nice-to-have; the other fills a major hole.

The nice-to-have plugin (thanks to a comment three links deep on LifeHacker – dumb luck on my part) is Tab Mix Plus. I think that tabbed browsing is the best thing since sliced beer; don’t know how I could browse without it. TMP gives you additional control over tabbing behavior and shows the load progress bar on the tab itself. You can click a link, pop over to another tab and see on the first tab when the page has completely loaded. Essential? Heck no. Nice? You betcha.

The killer plug-in is called How’d I Get Here. In 1945, Vannevar Bush wrote an article for the Atlantic monthly entilted “As We May Think“. In the article Bush proposed what he called a memex – a system that in some ways anticipated the web. A feature of the memex that the web didn’t originally have (though this is less the case today) are associative trails – the ability to assemble sequences of pages, with markup, and publish them.

The closest analogy with the modern Web browser would be to create a list of bookmarks pointing to articles relevant to a topic, and then to have some mechanism for automatically scrolling through the articles (for example, use Google to search for a keyword, obtain a list of matches, and then use “open in new tab” in your browser and visit each tab sequentially). Modern hypertext systems with word and phrase-level linking offer more sophistication in connecting relevant information, but until the rise of wiki and other social software models, modern hypertext systems have rarely followed Bush in providing individuals with the ability to create personal trails and share them with colleagues – or publish them widely. *

Something else that associative trails give you? The ability to backtrack. Way too frequently, I’ll find an interesting bit on the web, bookmark it in and move on. Days later, I’ll think of something I saw as I was clicking through to that bookmarked page – can I find the intermediate page? Hell, no. How’d I Get Here helps plug this hole. It keeps track of your clickstream; days later you can go to the bookmarked page, click the HIGH icon and walk backwards.

A couple caveats. I have no idea what HIGH will do if I find 2 different paths to the same page. I’d guess it would use the most recent backwards path, but I haven’t tested it (yet). If you’re paranoid, having this data on your machine may give you the willies. If it does, I’d suggest you are not paranoid enough. I’ve read persuasive arguments that true secrecy/paranoia involves measures like running all software from CD (so that when you turn the PC off everything goes away), always using open wireless access points, never using the same access point repeatedly, never being physically near the AP (think across the street with an antenna), etc. If you really need this level of stealth, you don’t need my advice. If you just think you need it, you may also want to look at a nice tinfoil hat *wink*.

Update – I found the post I was referencing above re: paranoia – it’s here. An example:

You need a false flag connection to the Internet. In other words, access the Internet via someone else’s open wireless router, preferably from great distance. Lots of organizations, businesses and individuals provide free, wireless Internet access; on purpose, believe it or not. Ideally, you would use a cantenna or a high performance parabolic antenna to authoritatively distance yourself from any surveillance cameras that are likely saturating your local coffee shop or other business that provides free Internet access. Hitting the base station from hundreds of meters away would be nice.

If you were to carry the paranoia to an extreme level, you would assume that They would show up at your access point and use direction finding equipment to spot your physical location. “Tinfoil!” you say? Keychain WiFi access point finders have had crude DF capabilities for years. Then you have civilian grade WiFi network engineering stuff like the Yellow Jacket. Direction finding is as old as the hills and trivial to do. If you do happen to attract the wrong kind of attention on an anonymous base station, pinpointing your location would be a simple matter.

Solution? If you are playing this game as if your life is on the line, don’t use the same open base station twice. Hey, this post is going out to those of you who send me the paranoid emails. You wanted to know, I’m telling you! I mean, it would suck to look toward your friendly anonymous WiFi provider with a pair of binoculars and see a guy in a suit looking back at you. Hint: if you see a van with several antennas arranged in some geometric pattern on the roof, that would not be a positive development. But that was 1980s era technology, the last time I dabbled with DF gear with a buddy of mine.


I’d say that this counted as a memetic aftershock – LOLPilgrims.

LOLManciple, ymaad by Galfridus Chaucer, Justice of the Pees, Clerke of the Kinges Workes

Ocho cosas sobre mí

Lex10 tagged me up with the ‘8 Random Facts’ internet thang – here goes nothing. First, the rules:

The Rules: Players start with 8 random facts about themselves. Those who are tagged should post these rules [done!] and their 8 random facts. Players should tag eight other people and notify them that they have been tagged.

  1. I love limes. They can provide 2 (the toughest 2 to do well) of the 5 tastes: sour and bitter. Match with sweet -> limeade, Key Lime Pie. Match with salt -> “I’m so wrecked”. Match with umami -> ceviche.
  2. I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused.
  3. Two (realistic) places I want to see before they box me up: Barranca del Cobre and someplace in Central America (likely Costa Rica) where I can fish (tarpon and offshore), swim, herp-splore and birdwatch.
  4. I believe in normal distributions and in muddling through. Once-in-a-million events are just that – don’t be looking for miracles.
  5. Speaking of miracles, the problem of evil and powers of 10 are why I’m an atheist.
  6. Three more go go, eh? Oh, wait – now just two…
  7. I’m ridiculously cheap about some things and spendthrift when it comes to others.
  8. For my tenth birthday, a buddy and I went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey in a real movie theater (huge screen). ‘Nuff said.

If you want me to officially tag you for this, just let me know – otherwise I’ll be pinging folks over the next few weeks (with, of course, no expectation of anything other than instant email deletion).

Stross II

Human memory is an odd thing. It’s not particularly accurate and it is often manipulated – by the memory’s owner and by other parties. Sometimes this is a bad thing – think about the satanic abuse hysteria of the 1980s and the whole ‘recovered memory’ controversy – and sometimes it’s a good thing. We’re not all saints (even the saints aren’t); not having to remember every time we’ve been less than what we think we are is a blessing. What are people going to be like when they have a detailed objective record of the world immediately around them and their interaction with same? Will we be better people – less likely to ignore the cry for help? Will we be the same ol’ folks, just closer to insanity as we get our noses rubbed in the disconnect between our internal model of ourselves and the real way we act? Or, will we photoshop the hell out of our recordings to bring them into line with our sense of identity?

Everything old is new again. From the comments on Stross’ transcript, let me highlight a couple of good points.

In some ways, it’s a step backwards to an earlier time. An average medieval peasant wouldn’t have had the same concept of privacy we do — he most likely lived in the same room as his whole family and some animals. All of his neighbors new what was going on, and he regularly confessed to his priest. He didn’t get lost, because he had lived in the same place most of his life. *

The qualifier (in some ways) is important – level of detail and public accessibility are important differences. In the Monty example, Mary Kalin-Casey is not objecting to peasant-level (walking by and seeing Monty in the window) loss of privacy – it’s the notion that he can be seen by anyone with an internet connection that bothers her.
On Stross’ self-driving car prediction:

Driverless vehicles were commonplace up until WW2; they were called horse-drawn carriages. I have relatives born in the Twenties who tell of napping while driving home from a party or something. *

True – and a hint about where things may be going on a slightly different front. Nanotech is a hot topic – the collision of nano and biology is where (I think) a lot of progrees will be made. After all, there are already molecular mechanisms – consider the mitochondrion.

Stross, Google Street Views and Privacy

Recently, author Charlie Stross posted the transcript of a talk he gave to a tech consultancy titled “Shaping the Future” .  It’s worth reading in it’s entirety; if you click through please remember to come back – I have some thoughts I’d like to share.

A side trip on our way to the meat of the matter… Stross identifies bandwidth – the ability to move information from place to place – as a key variable. It’s one of those things that’s getting faster, faster (think exponential increase). I want to recommend The Victorian Internet – a book that looks at the beginning of the communications revolution. Before the telegraph, information moved at the same rate people did – as fast as a horseback messenger or a clipper ship. The telegraph was an enormous change – one that left fingerprints that we see to this day. Baud – the speed measurement applied to modems (themselves becoming obsolete) – is named for Émile Baudot, a pioneer in the field. There are other examples; I’ll leave the rest to The Victorian Internet.

The focus of Stross talk is the notion of lifeblogging:

Today, I can pick up about 1Gb of FLASH memory in a postage stamp sized card for that much money [ten euros]. fast-forward a decade and that’ll be 100Gb. Two decades and we’ll be up to 10Tb.

10Tb is an interesting number. That’s a megabit for every second in a year — there are roughly 10 million seconds per year. That’s enough to store a live DivX video stream — compressed a lot relative to a DVD, but the same overall resolution — of everything I look at for a year, including time I spend sleeping, or in the bathroom. Realistically, with multiplexing, it puts three or four video channels and a sound channel and other telemetry — a heart monitor, say, a running GPS/Galileo location signal, everything I type and every mouse event I send — onto that chip, while I’m awake. All the time. It’s a life log; replay it and you’ve got a journal file for my life. Ten euros a year in 2027, or maybe a thousand euros a year in 2017. (Cheaper if we use those pesky rotating hard disks — it’s actually about five thousand euros if we want to do this right now.)

Why would anyone want to do this?

I can think of several reasons. Initially, it’ll be edge cases. Police officers on duty: it’d be great to record everything they see, as evidence. Folks with early stage neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimers: with voice tagging and some sophisticated searching, it’s a memory prosthesis.

Add optical character recognition on the fly for any text you look at, speech-to-text for anything you say, and it’s all indexed and searchable. “What was the title of the book I looked at and wanted to remember last Thursday at 3pm?”

Think of it as google for real life. *

We’re seeing the beginnings of something like this today. My blog is not the only way I share information about what I’m up to and what I’m thinking – there’s also my Flickrstream (interesting word that was invented to describe people’s photo repositories, eh?), Twitter (short term, ephemeral stream of consciousness stuff), (public list of my bookmarks), and email (more – presumably – private). Others may add YouTube or other video services to the list and I’m sure there are many other bits of software I’m missing; I have little or no MySpace/Facebook knowledge, for example.

All this is fine as I wander around documenting what I want to document, writing what I feel like writing. But (there’s always a but), here comes Monty! Who is Monty, you ask? He is the cat in the window. A new feature of Google Maps provides street level zooms for select urban areas – the Google folks have vehicles driving around cities taking pictures. When the Google car came by, Monty was sitting in his normal perch. Later, when Google rolled out the new feature, Monty’s owner took a look at her neighborhood, saw her cat in her window, and got a little – understandably in my book – freaked. Ms. Kalin-Casey – one of Monty’s owners – writes,

The question is, where do we draw the line between public and private? Obviously, the picture of Monty isn’t very good, but who’s to say whether tomorrow, Google’s camera’s won’t be a lot better, giving clearer pictures and more detail? I’ve already seen one post online where the poster’s only complaint about Google pics is that the pictures aren’t sharp enough. (He wasn’t commenting on my pic, but on a picture of his own home.)

The opposing argument claims that what’s visible from the street is public. By opening my windows for some much-needed light and air, am I granting permission for my living room to be broadcast worldwide? I don’t think I am. I think if I open my windows, my neighbors and passers by might see the cat in the window. That’s substantially different to me than realizing that everyone in the world can potentially see into my home.

It’s my feeling that we should know what kind of monitoring we’re subject to and when. Stores, airports, intersections, museums —there are security cameras everywhere. We’ve all seen overhead satellite photos for mapping purposes, but when does helpful mapping recon morph into home surveillance? When does it move from a grainy picture of the cat to a high-res image where you can see small details in my apartment? When do I have to choose between sunlight and unseen threats to privacy? *

Think about those sorts of reasonable concerns in a world where everything I see or hear, I record. I think jammer technologies will get hot, but regardless, our notions of privacy will need to be sharpened and thought through a little more thoroughly than they are today. I don’t have answers; I probably am not even seeing the real questions – we ought to start paying some attention though. As William Gibson said, “The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.”

The Macro’s Saga

Every so often, the conditions are right and half the world’s population of internet users decide to go ape over the same silly thing simultaneously. As Prof. Harold Hill would say, “Mass-steria!” The shared memetic obsession this time around? Cat macros, also known as LOLCats or image macros (including the saga of the lolrus and the bukkit). The first rumblings were apparent as early as last Saturday – see the caption to the zombie picture on my AM cleanup post. The big seismic event, as far as I’m concerned, was on Wednesday when the LOLbots site went live. rstevens (the prime mover) on the rollout:

LOLBOTS.COM went up last night and promptly rode such a big wave of meme that we overloaded two servers. My admin Don got us back up and running and helped me optimize some code. The dude’s Bat-Man with a command line.

Originally, I was just goofing on the concept of icanhascheezburger-style kitty macros from the perspective of someone prefers machines to animals. I didn’t really think it would catch on, but 40,000 visitors later we have almost 200 robots posted and a backlog of dozens more. In a word: Insane. *

The quotes above are from a post dated Friday, June 1st – 2 days earlier rstevens had an idea and sat down at the keyboard. The fun continues – it will be interesting to watch the meme-seismograph for aftershocks.

Herewith, my faves from the frenzy…

If you know what the Camel Book is, you have – like me – spent too much time in front of a screen.


You may have noticed that I like Schrödinger’s cat jokes – I love this one:


And last, one that ties to another post currently floating around the wide-open spaces of my cranium – it will be a mashup of Google Street View and Charlie Stross (that’s a cat in Mary Kalin-Casey’s window).


Credit where it’s due – the lolcats phenomenon was showing up on my son’s radar even earlier than it did on mine. I think he told me about memecats at about the same time I told him about “I can has brayn?”

Update – didn’t want to leave out creative powerhouse, Mr. Lex10 – he did some LOLPresidents for a fark contest early in the lolnomenon. You should blast over to the Glyphblog to check out the baseball cards; they are (as we say up here) wicked pissah.

Update II – c’est encroyable. The LOLCode version of Hello World: