Adam Osbourne dead at 64

osborne portable computerSome people have fond memories of their first bike or their first record player; I get that warm nostalgic feeling when I think about our family’s first portable computer. My dad purchased an Osborne 1 when I was only a wee little tike, a big monster of a suitcase box that used some mysterious thing called CP/M to make video games and print words out on its tiny little screen.

It’s funny that some stupid, clunky piece of techno-memorabilia could cause such a torrent of emotions and memories. But you have to admit, it is kind of cute in its antiqueness with a little bubbly screen and extra-spacious keyboard. It makes me wonder, in the day of ATX cases and LCD screens, will kids of this generation share my experience? I’d assume not, but I guess I’m just jealously guarding my unique suitcase-computer.

Maybe Apple has it right: these digital artifacts aren’t just tools, they’re objects that are part of our personal experiences, things we become attached to. I’d much rather bond with a Mac Classic than a vanilla PC. But I guess not everyone is the same.. hell, the second world lasted for quite some time.

Anyway, I’m in mourning today, as Adam Osborne, eccentric engineer and inventor of the portable (luggable) computer passed away at 64.

Yahoo News: Adam Osborne, Portable Computer Pioneer, Dead at 64

The art of making monologues

steve martinDave Barry’s weekly column this week, titled Joking around with Oscar and Steve recounts the process of aiding Steve Martin in constructing his award show monologue. After receiving an email from Steve:

Hi Dave, it’s Steve Martin.

I’m hosting the Oscars this year and am trying to put together a team of geniuses to help me write it. Here’s my question: do you know any? HA! I’m wondering if the idea appeals to you at all. You, me, Rita Rudner and a few others. Best Oscar monologue ever. California. Tickets to the show. Fame.

I know you won’t do it, so go (bad word) yourself.


Dave’s response: “The Oscars? (Bad word) YES.” The resulting description is interesting; I always wondered how these speeches were constructed, how many people are involved, and who is in charge. Two points of interest: one, Steve Martin, like myself, says “ya, ya, ya” to connote “no,” and the funniest joke of the sessions missed the cut:

Halloween 8 came out

I thought it was the best Halloween ever.

It made Halloween 7 look like Halloween 5.

This story seemed like oddments material, but that joke made me piss myself so I had to push it front and center. (via gawker)

Some real data on spam

The Center for Democracy and Technology has completed a controlled experiment in email address acquisition and use in unsolicited commercial emails (UCE). The methodology was simply to post new email addresses in a number of different public locations, and see how much spam each of these addesses receives. Their report, titled “Why Am I Getting All This Spam?” comes to a number of interesting conclusions:

  • Every public, plaintext email address recieves some spam. The number of messages is correlated with the popularity of the site.
  • Obscured addresses (either as human readable or HTML-obscured) receives absolutely no spam
  • Removing a plaintext address from the web significantly reduces the number of spam emails that address receives

Some of the non-web methods of acquisition might not have been as noticeable due to the short period of study (6 months).

Speak to me Hannah

hannah arendtWhile I’m bogged down with generals preparation, instead of disappearing for two weeks I’ll inundate ya’ll with the best nuggets I come across. Last night I was reading Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition and having the spine-tingling experience of having someone communicate exactly the thoughts I’d been having over the past few weeks (only much more succinctly and eloquently, of course). On the topic of how identity is perceived:

In acting and speaking, men show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities and thus make their appearance in the human world, while their physical identities appear without any activity of their own in the unique shape of the body and sound of the voice. This disclosure of “who” in contradistinction to “what” somebody is—his qualities, gifts, talents, and shortcomings which he may display or hide—is implicit in everything somebody says and does. It can be hidden only in complete silence and perfect passivity, but its disclosure can almost never be achieved as a willful purpose, as though one possessed and could dispose of this “who” in the same manner he has and can dispose of his qualities. On the contrary, it is more than likely that the “who,” which appears so clearly and unmistakably to others, remains hidden from the person himself, like the daimōn in Greek religion which accompanies each man throughout his life, always looking over his shoulder from behind and thus visible only to those he encounters.

And a complete surprise, Arendt seems to have conceived of social networks before Jane Jacobs or Stanley Milgram (1958 for Arendt vs. 1962 for Jacobs):

The realm of human affairs, strictly speaking, consists of the web of human relationships which exists wherever men live together. The disclosure of the “who” through speech, and the setting of a new beginning through action, always fall into an already existing web where their immediate consequences can be felt. Together they start a new process which eventually emerges as the unique life story of the newcomer, affecting uniquely the life stories of all those with whom he comes into contact.

But more importantly, she describes the relationship between the identity of the individual and the ties that they encounter. I can’t seem to find anything on the web relating this passage to the history of social networks as a discipline, but then again I’m sure many people invented them even earlier.

The Significance of Diaries

While reading for my generals, I have been taking note of all weblog/diary related material with the intention of posting it eventually. Today I ran across an engaging quote in Yi-Fu Tuan’s paper Significance of Artifact:

Diaries retain a measure of the past in the present. First as a physical object we can see that the binding is fragile and that the pages are yellow with age. Then there is the testimony of penmanship—the way that it has changed over the years. Most important of all, obviously, are the feelings, moods, and incidents as they are captured in the entries. But how etiolated they now seem. The keeping of a diary may indeed reassure an individual that he has lived. On the other hand, the skeletal notes and the blank pages are reminders of how little of time can be salvaged by such a literary device. On April 7, 1824, Eugène Delacroix, after reading through what he had written earlier in his diary, added the following comments:

I feel that I still retain control of the days about which I have made entries, even when they are past. But as for the days which are not mentioned in the diary, it is as if they had never existed. What dark abyss has swallowed them up? Are these flimsy pages the only token I have of my past existence? And so my mind and the life history of my soul are to be destroyed because I am not willing to commit to paper that part of them which might thereby be preserved”

I wish I had more time to unpack this, but I’m a bit under the gun (oral exam in t-minus 2 weeks), but I wanted to post it before I forgot and it was lost like the rest of my existence during this busy time.

This ain’t no charade, moron

nissan muranoThe newest billboard on the interstate circuit is an advertisement for the recent Nissan “sport utility vehicle,” the Murano. Nissan is certainly trying to push some envelope with this car, which one I’m not entirely sure, but most probably the I-hope-to-god-I’m-not-going-to-that-future-futuristic envelope invented by the Pontiac Aztek. And the most striking feature of this ugly ass SUV is its name: Murano.

I may not speak Italiano, but here in the sweet US of A that word would be pronounced “idiot.” To add insult to injury, anyone driving a Murano is also self applying the name stupid to their choice in transportation. I just can’t see how this slipped passed the focus groups and executive decisions.. you might as well be honest like Dihatsu and call it the Charade.

The tan, svelte Marlow

anil marlowFor those of you who made it to SXSW this year, especially them people who I planned on meeting up with or attended my panel, I apologize. I had my shitkickers buffed and my wifi antenna packed, but due to financial constraints, I was unable to make it to Austin; it was quite a sad weekend here in Boston.

I did apparently make an appearance on my very own panel.. a tan, svelte speaking moment captured by audience member Anil Dash. We’ll just say I’m way ahead of Steve Mann in my telepresence skillz. Just try me.

I’m converted! Hallelujah!

I have to say, I have been skeptical about Friendster since I received my first spam many months ago. But when I was invited to join by one of my professors yesterday (given, he’s a social networks researcher), I couldn’t resist the temptation any longer.

Of course I’m drooling over the data set, and worked up about the potential to do some analysis, but the most exciting part has been exploring the structure of my personal network. Two initial observations:

  1. Friends are often connected in unexpected ways. Even though the interface doesn’t support this sort of exploration, it is common to find a third party that is connected to two of your friends you would never expect to know each other. Perhaps they don’t, but damn, it’s a small world.
  2. Personal networks have quite a bit of overlap. After adding a few of my friends, I was connected to a surprising number of people, over 5k, in what I assume is three degrees of separation. But with every new friend I add, the number of new people I in my network seems to shrink.

For all it’s worth, Friendster is much more fun than I thought it would be. Obviously, the more people they convince, the more interesting it will become. And then of course they’ll fail to find a suitable business model, close their front door, and sell off this amazing data set for millions of dollars. Or get acquired by Microsoft.

When geeks strike back!

geek headsetAli Rahimi, self-proclaimed “Coolest Stud at MIT” claimed his title thanks to a retro-sheik headset design manufactured for his cell phone.

English dork Nick Roope, associated with the B3ta crew claimed rights to this title (or another analogous stud title in England), revealing his prior design, implementation, and publication of old-skool headset.

Embittered with rage and fury, Ali has thrown the ball back into Nick’s court. The audience is tense. And we all wonder.. do geeks believe in ex post facto laws?