Tsunami Early Warnings, Flamers and the WebLogs.com shutdown

December 27, 2004

Phil Bowermaster notes

If CNN and the BBC had immediately begun broadcasting a warning that all coastal areas within the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea were in danger of imminent tidal waves, hundreds or even thousands of lives may have been saved. It’s true that there are millions of poor in Indonesia and Bangladesh who live in remote areas and probably don’t have access even to BBC radio, much less CNN. But local broadcasters would have quickly picked up the news, as would law enforcement and other agencies. Word of mouth could have accomplished quite a bit.

Memetics is still a new field; we have a lot to learn about how ideas are propagated and how they spread. But can anybody doubt that an unambiguous warning of danger would have spread much more quickly and would have reached many more people (especially if repeated continuously throughout the two hours) than a note to the effect that hmmm, there might be danger? It’s all about urgency.

Last June, David Winer decided to shut down WebLogs.com without warning affecting thousands of bloggers. Today Dave excuses this behavior by saying:

We reviewed the options that people suggested at the time, 1. Send an email, or 2. Post something on Scripting News. Neither would have worked, the mail addresses were four years old and probably didn’t work, most of the sites never got past the Hello World stage (so the authors might not remember creating the site, and certainly don’t care), and most people with free sites weren’t and probably still aren’t Scripting News readers, any more than most Blogger users were Evhead readers.

What Dave appears to have missed is that if he had posted it on Scripting News, the information would have spread rapidly accross the entire blogosphere and most of the affected people would probably have gotten notified. When Dave says “Posting something on Scripting News wouldn’t have notified the users, but it sure would have notified the flamers,” he is missing the point. Posing something on Scripting News would have provoked response from lots of people especially including flamers. These people would then post commentary on their own blogs the net result would be wide distribution of the information to all concerned.

I would even suggest that the flamers provide a valuable ecological function of aggresively propagating the warning to all concerned. If Dave had posted a warning, Dave would have perhaps been flamed for shutting down a free service he was offering, but lots of other people would respond by thanking Dave and asking for advise on handling the shutdown. Instead Dave was quite rightly flames for not even attempting to minimize the damage the shutdown caused and were providing a warning that Dave might not be reliable rather than the WebLogs service.


Iran’s leader declares war with US (or democracy). Demands Nukes By January

December 24, 2004

From WorldNetDaily

Ayatollah Khamenei last July told a group of mullahs meeting in Hamadan, west of Tehran, that, “We are at war with the enemy,” meaning the United States. “The central battlefield is Iraq.” Iran is funding insurgents right now to cross the border and destabilize Iraq before the scheduled January elections. “We must have two bombs ready to go in January,” the Ayatollah told the gathering in Hamadan, “or you are not Muslims.”

The Iraqi elections are scheduled for January. Is this a coincidence?

Less is More. Commitment = Happiness

December 22, 2004

I just listened to this presentation from PopTech by Barry Schwartz (psych. prof. at Swarthmore). He provides a good set of data showing that at some point additional choice is not just useless, it is actively bad. One of his examples was speed dating with 20 dates per eveing resulted in fewer matches than speed dating with 10 dates per evening!

More choices apparently increase buyer’s remorse
More choices increase the oppotunity cost of any given choice.

Best Quote:

What a college education does seems to do in the US is it enables you to leave working at mcdonalds and go instead to work at starbucks …. while you wait desparate for the answer to the question what
should I do with my life to emerge… and it doesn’t emerge….”

His implicit calim is that commitments result in greater happiness.

In Built to Last, Collins and Poras provide a lot of evidence that successful companies are those that don’t simply seek money, but that have cult like cultures about fulfilling the company’s mission and achieving its (BIG) goals. By foreclosing choices, this cult like culture makes it easy for employees to coordinate and get things done with less management overhead (e.g. driving on the right hand side).

So modern psychology, and modern business theory all tell us that choice foreclosure is good. Where they all appear to fail is in providing us with tools to know how to foreclose choice (to what/whom do you commit).

In a talk called “5 Levels of Pleasure” my friend, Rabbi Glaser, described the various sorts of pleasure (happiness) that comes from various types of emotional investments/commitments/forclosures-of-choices. He too fails to provide a way of making choices, but at very least he provides us with a way of distinguishing investment from consumption in each category.

Rabbi Glaser’s 5 levels of pleasure
(you may need to scroll down here due to formatting wierdness with my stylesheet)

Pleasure Level Investment/
Opportunity Cost Consumption/Commodification
1. Physical To a taste (e.g. wine, music, etc) Time, attention, opportunity Glutonny, No Pain
2. Emotional To a person. Kvelling. His/Her flaws. Loving others. Lust. Taking. Using.
3. Moral (meaning) To a cause for which you are willing to die. Social (Looking bad). Looking/feeling good.
4. Creative To a talent (build expertise). Being a jack of all trades. Power
5. Spiritual To a community. (flag, family). Letting go of ego. Idolatry

Perhaps the solution to finding your fields lies in existentialism. But it doesn’t quite get me there. Any ideas?

FireFox/Mozilla Extensions: An Open Source Test Suite

December 16, 2004

Faisal comments on my last post that extensions regularly stop working with every new version of firefox. I had some of the same experience with Mozilla. I don’t know if they are alread doing it, but they really need to make extensions part of the test suites for these products.

The mozilla test suite needs to be organized to make it easy for extension authors to add acceptance tests for their extensions to the suite and the directory of extensions on mozilla.org should tell you which extensions are part of the test suite and guaranteed to work in subsequent releases and which are not. Mozilla.org needs to commit that it will make no release that fails the extension tests.

to FireFox and back to Mozilla

December 15, 2004

I’ve been running Mozilla for a while and decided to try out Firefox yesterday. It is still emphatically beta.
* Lots of UI quirks e.g. involving select boxes on forms
* tabed browsing doesn’t let you rearrange tabs or move from them from window to window
* you can’t automatically open new links in new tabs

and the biggest one BY FAR

NO File|Send Page!!!!

The story is that send page is hard because there is no standard interface for send-document in windows.
So they will have to have some special purpose interface to thunderbird and then effectively what you have is
email intergated with web aka Mozilla….

Oh well.