Monthly Archives: November 2005

Trying to understand SSE

I owe many debts to Dave Winer. He introduced me to blogging in 1999 and was instrumental in the early days of Davos Newbies. And he’s a creator of RSS, which is the fundamental tool I use to gather information every day.

So I always sit up when he announces something new. Dave has been involved with Microsoft in creating something called Simple Sharing Extensions. I made the mistake of looking first at the FAQ, which I could hardly make head or tail out of. Fortunately Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie has provided a description that helps me make sense of what is going on.

For years, as many of you, my work life has involved significant travel. As significant bi-coastal coordination has now entered into the mix, things have gotten even more complicated for me, for my wife, for my assistant and hers. In order to stay on the same page, each of us has the need for (limited) visibility into aspects of each others’ calendars and schedules. Each of us has a mix of private, shared, and public events and meetings that we’re tracking.

Some of these we edit privately and publish to others. (This itself has posed significant challenges – particularly sharing partial information from confidential calendars.) The most challenging calendars we deal with are those that are “shared”, such as the family calendar my wife and I jointly maintain, or the calendars we share with outside groups – such as the meeting calendars of volunteer organizations.

It’s tough because we use a mix of different email/calendaring systems – corporate as well as non-corporate, web-based as well as client-based. And to each of us it makes sense to want to edit the calendar in our own PIM application of choice where we do all our calendaring and scheduling work – not within calendaring systems on other various websites.

And the same goes for contact lists. In our case, each of us has a mix of private, shared, and public ‘address books’ or ‘contact lists’ that we’re managing. At work I deal with contacts in my enterprise directory as well as my own private contact list. But I share two completely different contact lists with my wife – one that is our “home rolodex’ with plumbers, doctors and the like, and one that is our “family rolodex” with friends & family. And I know she has other contact lists she shares privately with members of groups she’s working with.

As an industry, we have simply not designed our calendaring and directory software and services for this “mesh” model. The websites, services and servers we build seem to all want to be the “owner” and “publisher”; it’s really inconsistent with the model that made email so successful, and the loosely-coupled nature of the web.

I face the same problems both at home and at work. At home, things work passably well thanks to our Mom’s Family Calendar. Our household would certainly break down without it, but it doesn’t tie in at all to the appointments I enter in Outlook for work, and we have no means of sharing contacts in the way Ray describes. In my small start-up we haven’t found a tool that is both affordable and simple enough so that a couple of my partners – who have a staggeringly low tolerance for intrusive or demanding tools – will actually use it.

So I like the sound of SSE. Now I’ll eagerly await its application in ways I can use.

WEF and intelligent design

I’ve certainly made bad editing mistakes in my time. I still cringe when I recall flipping the axes labels on a graph accompanying a Paul Krugman article (in his MIT academic, pre-columnist days). But I’ve just had a chance to read the draft program for Davos 2006, and one howler really stands out.

At least, I hope it’s an editing error.

There’s a planned session entitled “Chance, Necessity and God: The Fuss about Intelligent Design”. Here’s the program’s session description:

Religious conservatives have found a new way to promote the teaching of evolutionary theory in the US through the concept of “intelligent design”. Recent polls indicate that over 60% of Americans feel creationism should be taught alongside evolution.

1) Why are these efforts striking such a chord in the US?
2) Is the reaction of the scientific community overblown?
3) Does discussion about this “controversy” belong in the schools?

Now, this is from a draft program. But how could someone have typed that so-called intelligent design is a way to “promote” the teaching of evolutionary theory? Did they mean to write “destroy” and found “promote” was an okay substitute?

If this were just an internal World Economic Forum document, I wouldn’t write about it, and I almost surely wouldn’t have seen it. But it’s the draft program they send to major sponsors of Davos. (Of course, in Forum speak, no one is anything so tawdry as a sponsor. They are “strategic partners”.) The sneak peak of an early stage of the program is part of what your SFr500,000 gets you. I wonder if any of the strategic partners raised the alarm on this session.

On the web at 1 gigabit per second

Martin Varsavsky:

To have an idea of what it’s like to have a 1 Gig connection, here’s how long it took to perform the following downloads:

-new skype software: < 1 second -high-resolution movie trailer by Apple (200 Mb): < 3 seconds. -song on Napster < 1 second I simply didn’t want to disconnect. In my house in Madrid, I have a 1 Mb connection (uplink) and much less on downlink. I asked for much faster connection and I was told to wait 5 weeks…

Peter Drucker 1909-2005

Peter Drucker died, aged 95 this morning. He was the first person to write intelligently and about management, and set the framework through which most people look at management. Sadly few of his many followers had his lucidity, writing style or depth of reference across many fields.

As an example to us all, he was awarded with the McKinsey prize for the best article in the Harvard Business Review in 2004, when he was a still-young 94.

Critical thinking

John Battelle: “In an age where the knowledge of mankind is increasingly at our fingertips through the services of Internet search, we must teach our children critical thinking. One can never have all the answers, but if prepared, one can always ask the right question, and from that creative act, learn to find his or her own answer.”

By coincidence, I’ve just had a newsletter from the director of my children’s school which makes many of the same points. It makes me feel good about how my kids and their friends are being prepared for the future.

I'd like to think this isn't true

Heather Hulburt:

I think it’s time for those of us who focus on foreign affairs to start thinking, again, about the implications of a Europe that is AWOL from its accustomed role in world affairs. Last week I promised to track and post on Europe’s reaction to the news that the US has outsourced its prisons to Central Europe. But another diplomat friend gently chided me:

Europe is too busy looking inward to care, he said, and reminded me that, while Paris burns, Spain is wrenching itself around the problem of Catalan autonomy, the Dutch are having a parliamentary wrangle over why they went to Iraq and whether they should up their ante in Afghanistan; Italy is in the throes of yet another corruption scandal as its government continues a long (by Italian standards) slow decline. Germany, remember, still doesn’t officially have a government.

Progressives have gotten into the nice but lazy habit of figuring the Europeans will help us over the humps we can’t quite get over ourselves: international pressure and money for Iraq, troops for Afghanistan, a new approach for Iran, aid money for Africa and Asia, greasing a final status deal for Kosovo, etc. etc. Then there’s the whole matter of trade policy, where the planets must align creativity and flexibility in both Europe and the U.S.


I’m not saying Europe will disappear; but if you are a progressive thinker hatching plans that require Europe to stick its neck out, take the lead, or change its own policies dramatically, better start re-thinking.

As someone who lived in Europe for the last 27 years, I’d like to think her observation isn’t true. But I fear it is.

More on France

Chris Bertram: “I don’t assert that there is some direct causal connection between the Algerian war and the recent riots, but one cannot think seriously about the situation of the banlieue without noticing the unmentionable facts and silences. There has been no Truth and Reconciliation Commission for France, but until these wounds are acknowledged and examined, those of North African origin cannot be treated as just another immigrant group – like the Italians and Portuguese – they are not.”

Vous or tu?

Jonathan Freedland: “Yes, these riots are rooted in economic deprivation and urban decay. But they also have an ethnic, racial dimension. And France’s key problem is that it cannot face that fact… France’s refusal to see the ethnicity of some of its people as relevant translates into de facto racism. If human beings were free of prejudice, the French republican ideal would work beautifully. Because we are not, it allows racism a free hand.”

In contrast to Freedland’s convincing piece, there has been a lot of poor commentary written about the French riots in the past few days. Craig Smith, in The New York Times, wrote a naive analysis for Sunday’s paper, which largely rejected claims that France has an underclass. His conclusion: “Because France’s difficulties are relatively recent, it may have a chance to escape the depth of the American problems.” Subsequent pieces in the Times, including by Smith, have been hurriedly rowing away from that view.

Of course, the articles and blogs that have called the riots a French intifada are equally misguided. The problems are social and economic, not religious. The problems are particularly graphic in France, but policymakers in Brussels, Rotterdam and Berlin should be working overtime to make sure similar events don’t happen in their cities.

Dominique Reynié, a professor at the Institut d’Études Politiques in Paris, has a very pertinent observation in today’s Financial Times: “I do not think this is a crisis of the Fifth Republic, which is in the end only a form of government, so much as a crisis of the political class, which responds to these problems in an archaic way. They are responding as if there is a social group who want something and with whom they can open a dialogue. But this is not the case. It is not a pertinent response.”

There’s no hint that Reynié suggested to the FT what a pertinent response would be. I suspect it’s not what interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy apparently told the police yesterday, according to a report I heard this morning on NPR. He advised that they take care to address the rioters with the respectful “vous”, rather than the informal, disrespectful “tu”. That should solve it.

The Prince on Alito

I didn’t expect that The Daily Princetonian would get a small scoop on Samuel Alito, class of 1972. The correction at the end of the article takes some of the sting out, but it’s still good digging by the reporter.

I confess a soft spot for the source: I was Chairman (what we called editor-in-chief) of the Prince in 1977-78, which was a great, formative experience. An alumni friend told me at the time that it would be many years before I had a position of equivalent responsibility. With the arrogance of youth, I scoffed at the time, but he was right.

Only 15-years old

James Boyle in the Financial Times marks the 15th anniversary of the first web page. It’s behind the subscription firewall, but here’s his crucial point: “There are three things that we need to understand about the web. First, it is more amazing than we think. Second, the conjunction of technologies that made the web successful was extremely unlikely. Third, we probably would not create it, or any technology like it, today. In fact, we would be more likely to cripple it, or declare it illegal.”