Monthly Archives: November 2006

The mile-high club

Here’s my obligatory first post from a 747-400 cruising at 10,000 meters above Europe. I’m on Lufthansa enroute to Dubai for business.

If airline choices of equipment are a proxy for a location’s desireability, then San Francisco had better look to its laurels. The first leg of my trip, SFO to Frankfurt, was on a slightly tatty Lufthansa jumbo jet. I had heard about Lufthansa sticking with Boeing Connexion when most other airlines were abandoning it. And I was looking forward to trying out the service.

But from the self-proclaimed epicenter of the technology world there was no FlyNet. And in the Lufthansa lounge in Frankfurt, the Vodafone WiFi charges were so ridiculous that I checked my email with my BlackBerry instead of powering up my laptop. Lo and behold, however, the Frankfurt-Dubai flight is on what seems a nearly new 747 with, ta da, FlyNet. It’s wonderful (particularly since Lufthansa has a decidedly below-standard range of movies to watch). Every plane should have this.

Feeling good post-election

Well, at last there’s political news to celebrate. I’m looking forward to a Democratic Congress (certainly one half, perhaps both halves) starting to put this nation back on track.

One aspect of the post-election coverage that perplexes me is the seeming acceptance in a lot of the media that the Democrats won because they chose conservative or centrist candidates. That, supposedly, is in contrast to their usual wild-eyed radicalism. As a one-time wild-eyed radical, I have to say that there is hardly a wild-eyed soul left in the Democratic party. Certainly since the late ’70s, the Democrats have hewed to the center. From a European perspective (which was my perspective until 18 months ago), the extraordinary aspect of American politics was that there was no left wing in the electoral spectrum.

In contrast, the Republicans have skewed far to the right. That may have been a successful strategy for a while (and it may be again, although I hope not). But it beggars belief that the Democrats are portrayed as the radicals in the American polity. They are the centrists and the moderates, not their opponents. Let’s get rid of that canard once and for all.

Phew. I'm glad Tim Berners-Lee agrees

I posted earlier on a Guardian interview with Tim Berners-Lee. Chris Bertram has helpfully pointed out that Berners-Lee has responded on his own blog. I had hoped that The Guardian’s paraphrase was also a distortion. So it seems:

People have, since it started, complained about the fact that there is junk on the web. And as a universal medium, of course, it is important that the web itself doesn’t try to decide what is publishable. The way quality works on the web is through links.

It works because reputable writers make links to things they consider reputable sources. So readers, when they find something distasteful or unreliable, don’t just hit the back button once, they hit it twice. They remember not to follow links again through the page which took them there. One’s chosen starting page, and a nurtured set of bookmarks, are the entrance points, then, to a selected subweb of information which one is generally inclined to trust and find valuable.

A great example of course is the blogging world. Blogs provide a gently evolving network of pointers of interest. As do FOAF files. I’ve always thought that FOAF could be extended to provide a trust infrastructure for (e..g.) spam filtering and OpenID-style single sign-on and its good to see things happening in that space.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, alas, my attempt to explain this was turned upside down into a “blogging is one of the biggest perils” message. Sigh. I think they took their lead from an unfortunate BBC article, which for some reason stressed concerns about the web rather than excitement, failure modes rather than opportunities. (This happens, because when you launch a Web Science Research Initiative, people ask what the opportunities are and what the dangers are for the future. And some editors are tempted to just edit out the opportunities and headline the fears to get the eyeballs, which is old and boring newspaper practice. We expect better from the Guardian and BBC, generally very reputable sources)

In fact, it is a really positive time for the web. Startups are launching, and being sold [Disclaimer: people I know] again, academics are excited about new systems and ideas, conferences and camps and wikis and chat channels and are hopping with energy, and every morning demands an excruciating choice of which exciting link to follow first.

And, fortunately, we have blogs. We can publish what we actually think, even when misreported.

Why I voted against impeaching the president

Of course, I would love to see president Bush and vice-president Cheney impeached by Congress. Very few things would give me as much pleasure. And there is certainly ample cause for impeachment (see Brad DeLong passim).

But when I went to the polling station today, I voted no on City of Berkeley Advisory Measure H: “Shall the City of Berkeley petition the United States House of Representatives to initiate proceedings for the impeachment and removal from office of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney…” This ballot measure could serve as an exemplary definition of gesture politics. A quick Google of gesture politics suggests the term is primarily British. It means politics as gesture, rather than substance.

Berkeley is an absolutely wonderful place, blessed with great, fascinating people, excellent amenities, a near-perfect location and fabulous weather. But there are plenty of real issues for the Berkeley City Council to spend its time on. There’s too much crime. The schools could be way better, particularly for the children from the most disadvantaged households. Downtown Berkeley remains an unattractive, unappealing shopping district. And on and on.

Do Berkeley politicians really have the time to waste on gesture politics?

Say it ain't so, TBL

Tim Berners-Lee is paraphrased worringly in The Guardian:

He singles out the rise of blogging as one of the most difficult areas for the continuing development of the web, because of the risks associated with inaccurate, defamatory and uncheckable information.

I’m not sure the actual quotes in the article bear out the hugely unfavorable gloss about blogging. But it’s sad that the inventor of the Web seems to accept the (to my mind) anti-Web propaganda.