02 October 2012

On comment moderation for a blog with ancient posts

I confess, I haven't blogged very often. Blogger, it's not me, it's you. I now have the siren call of Tumblr, Twitter, Google+, and community blogs where I can vent my spleen, nose, and elbows.

Starting a week or two ago, you began to email me. Daily, twice-daily, thrice-daily even, with comments on posts from 2008. Yes, spammers had finally reached the least-influential blog on the internet, and had decided this would be an excellent place to post links to products.

As far as I can tell, Google / Blogger flagged them all as spam candidates, and none made it onto the site, but the energetic commentors continued. So I dug through the configuration for Blogger and finally disabled anonymous comments.

My apologies to the legitimate, interested readers here who don't have an openid or gmail account or google+ id (the latter two being one in the same, now). I'm normally in favor of anyone and everyone having their say with minimal regulatory fuss, but the signal to noise ratio on recent comments has been zero, and my spam-moderation time is better spent cleaning my desk, or shaving, or coding.

So, to my anonymous followers, all two of you by the latest scientific estimates, my apologies. And to the spammers? Through tiny, annoying papercuts across hundreds of thousands of sites, you're making people's lives worse. You may not be murdering anyone, but your behavior in aggregate is stealing time away from hundreds of millions, if not a billion, people who could be living more happily.

27 June 2008

The Fed and the economy explained

Global markets trader and blogger Macro man has written a clear and clever summary of the current US economic situation, through the lens of The Princess Bride.
Macro Man: Vizzini takes charge of the Fed

There was a remarkable development at the start of the Federal Open Market Committee's deliberations last night which somehow managed to stay out of the financial press. Fortunately, Macro Man has a mole in Washington who's filled him in on what went down.

Shockingly, Ben Bernanke and the rest of the committee have abdicated responsibility for determining monetary policy this month. Fortunately, the policy vacuum has been filled by an incomparable intellect: Vizzini, the Sicilian of Princess Bride fame. Macro Man's mole has provided him with a verbatim transcript of yesterday's policy deliberation after a black-cloaked stranger walked into the Federal Reserve conference room:

Vizzini: So it is down to you, and it is down to me. If you wish the economy dead, by all means, keep moving forward.

Dread Pirate Inflation: Let me explain--

V: There is nothing to explain. You are trying to kill the consumer that I have rightfully supported.

DPI: Perhaps an arrangement can be reached?

V: There will be no arrangement, and you're killing the consumer.

DPI: Well if there can be no arrangement, then we are at an impasse.

Read the rest here - Macro Man: Vizzini takes charge of the Fed.

25 June 2008

Looking for Alexandra Simon-Tufts and Elizabeth Vickery Swanson

I am looking for Alexandra Simon-Tufts and Elizabeth Vickery Swanson, daughters of Thomas and Helen Tufts of New York City.

Alexandra was the editor of the Frommer's Touring Guide to Scotland (1989).

Elizabeth married David Warren Swanson, Jr. in July 1976.

If you are Alexandra or Elizabeth, or know how to reach them, please let me know by posting a comment below, or you can contact me via my blogger profile. Thank you.

UPDATE 8/2011: Alexandra Tufts Simon may be the correct form of her name.

20 April 2008

Jeff Bezos answers questions at StartupSchool

Jeff Bezos talking questions about Amazon's Web Services (AWS) at this year's StartupSchool.

22 August 2007

Freebase: open alpha begins

Just a note that Freebase is now open for reads - you can view the site, and use the API, without an account.

Here are a few links to topics in Freebase to get you started:

Yo La Tengo (band)

Jack Black (actor)

You still need an invite to edit, so send me a note or post a comment if you're interested.

19 August 2007

Terry Gilliam's Storytime (1968)

Terry Gilliam, the Monty Python animator, and later the director of Brazil, Time Bandits, and Baron Munchausen, got his start with animated shorts like Storytime (1968).

13 August 2007

FOCAS: Lynda Resnick, Pom, and the end of ad agencies

Nancy E King, also blogging from FOCAS on See Change Happen, has a great writeup on Lynda Resnick's push to make Pom successful. It's worth reading to understand how to successfully promote a product in a world that is increasingly indifferent to traditional advertising. From nothing to a hit premium product, with a total ad budget over four years of only $14M. Coke and Pepsi wish they could introduce a new product so cheaply.

Arthur Sulzberger, Jr on media and Iraq

At FOCAS, Arthur Suzberger, Jr. (Chairan, New York Times) presented some interesting back of the envelope estimates he did with Dean Singleton (CEO, Medianews Group):

- number of non-Iraqi journalists in Iraq covering the fall of Saddam - 1000
- number today - 50

And the New York Times and AP account for half of those 50.

Arianna Huffington - why we blog

Arianna Huffinton said something interesting at FOCAS today about why we blog. The Huffington Post's model is that they pay their editors, but not their contributors. So why do the bloggers do it? Arianna said that people don't write New York Times Op Eds for the $150 - they do it for other reasons. The same is true for bloggers. Huffington Post bloggers get exposure, often resulting in commissioned work from news outlets, book deals, etc. The site is their platform, and it serves their needs better than traditional media (and, unlike regular news outlets, the contributors get to keep their copyright!).

FOCAS - Michael Eisner vs the web

In a panel discussion with Arianna Huffington, Michael Eisner painted the internet ("Web 2.0, Web 5.0, whatever") as a form of anarchy that not only challenges existing media, but also lowers the quality of content by undercutting existing high-production sources. Choice quote - American media is challenged by "a society of envy and jealousy."

Liveblogging from FOCAS

I'm at FOCAS this week and will be covering the event. The conference is being streamed live at aspeninstitutetv.com.

Jeffrey Cole is the first speaker. He's presenting the results of a large-scale survey of teenagers and how they use the internet. Teenagers (12-24):

- will never read a newspaper (but they are very interested in news - they just get it on line)
- or own a landline
- don't care about the source of info (NY Times, WSJ), use aggregators like Google News
- trust unknown peers (just like me) more than experts
- use IM - email is for their parents. Though this changes with age.

The future of media:

- film, music, and print will be smaller
- but tv will remain popular
- on the web news and mags become more like TV (faster, more timely) and compete with it like never before.
- TV does not continue as a smaller medium, but grows just like mp3s - it will become more ubiquitous. Just like we listen to music everywhere now, we'll do the same with (downloaded / streaming) TV shows

08 August 2007

SciFoo things to read

I just got back from SciFoo. Thanks to Tim O'Reilly, Nature, and Google for putting together the conference, and also to Timo Hannay of Nature for inviting me.

I'm still sorting through everything I learned - SciFoo is a lot like the Hackers conference in that the idea is to put a lot of interesting people from all over who are actually doing things, and let them decide what the conference is about. It's spontaneous and exhausting, and also a lot of fun.

I kept track of the books, papers, and websites people mentioned as interesting and important, and I thought I'd share this list:

  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Robert Heinlein. Mentioned by Charles Simonyi, who carried it to the ISS and read it in space. (Amazon)
  • Quantifying global exergy resources. W. Hermann. Mentioned by Saul Griffith and Joost Bonsen of Howtoons. (pdf)
  • Cartesian Meditations. Husserl. Mentioned by Neal Stephenson.(Amazon)
  • The End of Time. Julian Barbour. Mentioned by Neal Stephenson. (Amazon)
  • The Road to Reality. Roger Penrose. Mentioned by Jaron Lanier. (Amazon)
  • "Reprocessing the Universe." John Wheeler. Mentioned by Lee Smolin.
  • The Mathematical Universe. Max Tegmark. Mentioned by Neal Stephenson. (arXiv)
  • The Theory of abstract objects. Edward N Zalta. Mentioned by Neal Stephenson. (website)
  • The usefulness of useless knowledge. Abraham Flexner. Mentioned by George Dyson. (excerpts at IAS)
  • How many humans can the earth support. Joel E. Cohen. Mentioned by Kim Stanley Robinson. (Amazon)
  • The world, the flesh, and the devil: an enquiry into the future of the three enemies of the rational soul (1929). John Desmond Bernal. Mentioned by Greg Bear. (copy)
  • The myths of innovation. Scott Berkun. Distributed at SciFoo. (Amazon)
  • 23andme.com - Genomics. Mentioned by Anne Wojcicki (co-founder) and Esther Dyson (board member). (website)
  • Freebase - Open source data. Mentioned by Danny Hillis (co-founder) and me (founding team). (website)
  • JoVE (Journal of Visualized Experiments). Mentioned by Moshe
    Pritsker (website)
  • Bioscreencast.com - screencast sharing for life scientists. Mentioned by Deepak Singh. (website)
  • Eigenfactor.org - ranking and mapping scientific knowledge. Mentioned by
    Carl Bergstrom (website)

I'm sure I missed some, and there were other sessions that I didn't attend, so I welcome suggestions for additions to this list from other conference attendees. Either email me (ptufts AT gmail DOT com) or post in the comments section.

Updated 9 Aug @ 3am

06 August 2007

Sci Foo: Unconference schedule

Scifoo: Unconference schedule
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
SciFoo is an unconference. It works like this - invite several hundred hackers and scientists, put up an empty schedule, and let people fill in what they want to talk about.

Two days, up to ~14 parallel sessions, and somehow, it works. Talks are much less formal (and also less tedious) than a typical conference, and people in the audience tend to be interested enough to speak up. Many of the spontaneous sessions had around 20 people in the audience, but some (James Randi's talk) had many more.

Hackers, another conference I go to, does a hybrid approach with 3 parallel talks and a lot of spontaneous BoFs (birds of a feather sessions).

One of the key ingredients to an unconference - a sufficient number of small rooms so that you can have lots of 20-30 person talks, combined with good open space for people to hang out and meet. Large convention centers often lack the latter - San Francisco's Moscone Center's meeting halls are too large, and the food areas (where people congregate) are too impersonal and open.

Small hotels, or large company spaces on weekends (thanks, Google) seem to have the right mix of spaces.

Where the energy comes from, and where it goes

This was the single most illuminating, fascinating slide from SciFoo. It's of a single diagram showing where all the energy on the earth comes from, where it gets stored, and where it goes.

The Nature of Time and Mathematics

The Nature of Time and Mathematics
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
SciFoo: an unconference where you can attend a talk titled "The Nature of Time and Mathematics", by Neal Stephenson, Jaron Lanier, and Lee Smolin, and see Martha Stewart in the front row and engaged in the group conversation.

SciFoo 07 memories

Freeman Dyson
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
I went to George Dyson's talk in the history of computing. After the talk, George's father Freeman reminisced about the early days - it's always good to have a primary source in the audience.

In this photo, Martin Rees (left) looks on as Freeman talks about working with Kurt Godel.

04 August 2007

Charles Simonyi, Space Tourist #5

Charles Simonyi, Space Tourist #5
Originally uploaded by ptufts.
Charles Simonyi spoke at the first night of SciFoo at Google about being a space tourist. It was fascinating to hear first hand what it was like, and also good to hear an engineer's frank take on the space program.

Will he go in space again? Well, Russia's offering a 6 day $100M round-the-moon Soyuz trip. Not as comfortable as the relatively roomy ISS, but what an opportunity to see the moon close up.

Martha Stewart talks about astronaut food

At SciFoo, Charles Simonyi talked about being a space tourist (number five), and Martha Stewart talked about preparing meals for astronauts.

There are limits on what you can send into space not just weight limits, but food limits too. You don't want to send something that's difficult to eat in zero gravity. No fish allowed on the ISS. And you have to make something the astronauts can prepare and eat.

25 July 2007

Tim O'Reilly's OSCON keynote

Tim O'Reilly gave the opening talk at OSCON this morning on the state of open source, including a lot of Web 2.0 companies that encourage community participation - from Wikipedia to Freebase.

23 July 2007

OSCON and Freebase

I just arrived in Portland and am here for OSCON, representing Metaweb. I'm hoping to meet developers who are interested in Freebase, and have a few invites to hand out for people who would like to try our alpha release.

On the developer front, I hope to meet people who are interested in MJT, our open-source Javascript template library (takes JSON, returns nicely-formatted results), as well as anyone who would like to build Perl, PHP, or Ruby libraries on top of our API.

And of course, we're hiring.

Feel free to come up and say hi. I'll be at the Django Master Class monday afternoon.

28 June 2007

Powerset and Powerlabs, roundup

In previous posts, I liveblogged about Powerset's presentation this evening of Powerlabs to a select group of journalists, technologists, and bloggers. The big idea is that Powerlabs (launching in September, ahead of Powerset's search engine) will be a Digg-like site where community members can suggest and vote on Powerset features. Powerset aims to be incredibly open - as Steve Newcomb joked, the only thing stealth about them is that they're in stealth mode.

What Powerset is shooting for is ambitious, and has the potential to greatly improve how we find information on-line. Google has a lot of talent and smarts, but all the major players are doing variants of the same thing - statistical analysis on top of keyword search, an idea that goes back decades to Salton's work on document indexing. Powerset's approach has its roots too - decades of linguistic research and development at Xerox PARC - but turning even the best research platform into an internet search engine requires a lot of work. One example - the core engine they licensed originally took over a minute per sentence to index Wikipedia entries - now, with optimizations, it's down to a second or less. Still pretty CPU intensive, but as Steve Newcomb pointed out, indexing costs are small compared to the normal runtime costs of a popular search engine. At Google scale, Powerset would be profitable even with the increased compute needs.

Steve also made a point of saying that Powerset has never called themselves a Google killer. Still, they're trying to do something that's very cool. If they can do what they demod tonight on a grand scale, I'll switch.

The Powerlabs Crew

The Powerlabs Crew
Originally uploaded by John Griffiths.
Developers from Powerset at the Powerlabs event tonight.

Scott Waterman and Ethan Stock at the Powerset demo

Sticker swap
Originally uploaded by onohoku.
Scott Waterman (Powerset) and Ethan Scott (zvents) at the Powerset dem. the Zvents office

Powerset demo

Part two of my liveblogging from Powerset. They're talking about how they differ with respect to indexing. This helps them with both matching documents and ranking them.

In indexing, they parse each sentence on the page. For example:
'Sir Edward Heath died of pneumonia.'

Here's how they index this sentence.

- extract entities and semantic relationships.
- - expand to find similar entities and abstractions

-In this phase, they understand that:
1. Sir Edward was a UK prime minister - a politician
2. pneumonia is a disease
3. if you died from something, you were killed by it

This is a big change from the search we know (Google). It lets the user phrase their query in a lot of different ways. For instance, Powerset can answer the following:

- 'what killed edward heath'
- 'which prime minister died of pneumonia'
- 'what was sir edward heath killed by'
- 'what politician died from pneumonia'
- 'politician died from disease'

Powerset has so far indexed NY Times corpus, Wikipedia, and is working with Freebase.

Liveblogging from Powerset's Powerlabs demo

Powerset is giving a demo for about 35 partners, journalists, and bloggers right now in San Francisco. I'll be liveblogging this event.

The core team members are introducing themselves now. John Lowe from AskJeeves, Tim Converse from Yahoo, Kevin Clark who's their lead Ruby developer, along with a lot of other Powerset linguists and developers in the room.

Steve Newcomb is about to go into the demo. More in a bit.

14 June 2007

Powerset's tantalizing Powerlabs annoucement

Powerlabs Screenshot
Originally uploaded by official_powerset.
Powerset is about to make an announcement of their Powerlabs project. It's going to be a site where they solicit feedback from users in different search domains (travel, entertainment, even porn) about how they use the internet and how they'd like to see search work.

There's talk that they'll also provide access to Powerset search for the lucky users who get to be part of this test.

Keep an eye on Powerset founder Steve Newcomb's blog later today for the official announcement.

Update: the announcement just came out: Powerlabs: the first screenshot.