Obama ahead

February 13th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m impressed with the extent of Obama victories in the past weeks. Not only he is surpassing the margins predicted, but those numbers are predicated on people who analysts were sure would vote for Hillary–like the Latino population in Virginia, for example.

I confess I’m still trying to decide whether people are voting for Obama because although black he’s still a man. I’m not naïve enough to presume all voters are choosing him because he’s more qualified, especially considering the Latino population–at least here in Brazil–has always been strongly sexist where woman in leadership positions are concerned.

Of course, part of this will be tested when Obama–as it seems likely now–goes against the Republican candidate in November. Considering the way the Republican nomination is going, and that many Republicans are actually voting for Obama, the outcome of the election will demonstrate how ready the American people is ready for a president unlike any other in history.

I’m hoping that Obama wins. Not because Hillary is a woman but because I dislike the way she abides to the old school of politics. America needs a new face and Obama would clearly resonate a lot better with the rest of the world.

More companies join DataPortability

January 10th, 2008 § 4 comments § permalink

Two days ago, Google and Facebook shook the industry when they decided to join the DataPortability Workgroup, as enthusiastically reported by Read/Write Web. Today, with the same enthusiasm–and not without a certain sense of disbelief–Read/Write Web is reporting that three more big players have joined the initiative: Flickr, SixApart and LinkedIn. As with Google and Facebook, their representatives will not be mere employees but people with a history of involvement with the issues sponsored by DataPortability.

It’s quite obvious Google and Facebook move was what prompted those three companies to join the group. Likewise, we can certainly expect more companies to join the group in the coming days and months. So what began as an idea to provide guidance to the industry may become a real force for the implementation of portability standards in the next years.

The more important thing about the whole thing is that all standards supported by the DataPortability Workgroup are open and, together, represent a natural deterrent against the kind of attitude we often see expressed by Microsoft, that is, embracing standards and later changing them to make them slightly incompatible with other implementations to keep their dominant position in the industry.

This year seems more and more promising for open standards. OpenId is being discussed and implemented by lots of applications, and much more is happening each day. The next couple of months may eventually become marks in the history of the Internet. I certainly hope so.

Facebook and Google join the DataPortability Workgroup

January 8th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

Read/Write Web is reporting–with great enthusiasm, I may add–the both Google and Facebook have agreed to join the DataPortability Workgroup. I have not found any evidence of the news on the DataPortability site itself, but coming from Read/Write Web there is no chance the news are no true. It’s interesting to realize the announcement came just a few days after the controversy around the removal of Scoble’s account from Facebook.

The DataPortability group is an initiative working to promote the reuse and transparent transference of user data across Web applications. This is a huge challenge, but it’s good to see some smart people working on the multiple issues involved. The presence of two of the most social companies in existence today will certainly give the project a new measure of legitimacy–especially considering the people who will represent those two companies on the group.

One of the early documentos created by the group shows that one of the primary objectives of the group is to use existing technology to leverage the transformations needed to reach their goal. This is a good strategy since it improves the chances the recommendations made by the group will be followed and that they will be easy to implement.

With Google and Facebook joining DataPortabily, the eventual creation of a portability API may represent a turning pointing for Web applications as it will empower users and create an entire new industry around the possibilities of managing such data. Of course, the entire problem revolves around issues of privacy and that will be a tough nut to crack. Hopefully, with Google and Facebook, and the other companies that will surely follow their lead, working on the problem, an interesting and useful solution may arrive soon.

As the Read/Write piece says, that may represent a magical time for the development Web. That’s what we are hoping for, anyway.

Freakonomics

December 23rd, 2007 § 1 comment § permalink

I’m probably the last person on Earth to read Freakonomics, given the almost cult-like status it has enjoyed since it was published in early 2005. Even though it’s a quick reading, I decided to wait for a time when I would be able to dedicated more thought to it than just breezing through its pages.

The book, written in a partnership between Steven D. Levitt, an economist, and Stephen J. Dubner, a journalist, reflects, almost in its entirety, the theories created by Levitt, which are then described in a more simple way by Dubner. Much like The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell similarly themed book, Freakonomics quickly grew in notoriety among the intelligentsia because of its allegedly non-conventional explanations for phenomena that had long intrigued and defined the scientific community’s abilities to explain them. Examples of those phenomena include the reasons for corruption among white-collar workers and why crime declined in the US beginning in the 90s.

Particularly, although I enjoyed the book, Levitt and Dubner’s treatment of the themes presented in the book was too superficial and lacking in the more intriguing analysis provided, for example, by Gladwell in his two more famous books.

At the core of Freakonomics are those four ideas:

  • Experts will use their knowledge for their own benefit
  • Incentives are the bases of the modern economy;
  • Conventional wisdom is often wrong; and
  • Small events can have profound consequences

Of the four ideas expressed above, none is particularly revealing or new. In fact, if one has spent more than a couple minutes reflecting on how the world really works, those four ideas are self-evident. Spending an entire book trying to demonstrate them is a pointless exercise.

The only winning point for the book are the cases used by the authors to demonstrate the aforementioned ideas. Using curious comparisons–for example, what do school-teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common–one or more specific real-world example are present for each of the points above showing how, in many cases, conventional wisdom is wrong.

Granted, we, as a species, tend to cling to those explanations we hear the most. But whenever subjects like those presented by Levitt and Dubner are involved, we rarely do that. Weaving both kinds of examples is just a way to make those less interesting cases to seem more than what they really are: myth.

Freakonomics lends itself very well to controversies, as the authors are quick to point. Not without a certain amount of irony, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a glowing blurb for Freakonomics even though the reasons he presents in The Tipping Point for the decline of organized crime in America are directly at odds–and are even ridiculed–by Freakonomics. A lot of discussions has ensued about this particular point on the Web including a quick exchange between the authors involved (1, 2, 3), which, unsurprisingly, ended with both parties agreeing to disagree.

Although I’m still able to recommend Freakonomics as an interesting reading, based on the intellectual estimulation one can derived from analyzing what Levitt and Dubner are saying, I must confess myself disappointed by the book, especially after the glowing reviews the book earned. The Tipping Point, at least the way I see, provides a much more interesting reading since it attempts to create a framework to explain the changes. Freakomonics could certainly have used a lot more content and analysis. At the moment, however, I can’t say I find what Levitt and Dubner wrote so surprising.

Star Trek: The Original Series

March 18th, 2006 § 2 comments § permalink

For the past fews days, I’ve been watching Star Trek: The Original Series in DVD. I bought the boxes as soon as they became available here in Brazil, but had not seen many of the episodes until now. I guess I was a bit afraid I would be disappointed if I saw all episodes — after all, the series is very dated now.

I remember staying awake, when I was a teenager, until much past midnight waiting for some random episode to air in a local TV station. I had to wash my face constantly to keep myself from falling asleep, always anxious because of the station’s tendency to scrap Star Trek everytime another program run late. Most of the times, I would sleep frustrated, because that had happened again. But when I managed to see an episode, oh, the glory of it.

I still marvel at how much sense of wonder the series evoked in me. Today, seeing those old episodes, it’s funny and fascinating to see how much the producers accomplished with so few resources. I can’t help but laugh at the poor techniques used in some episodes. Science on the series is mostly technobabble, a heavy mixture of reality and pseudo-theories, but it works, because it’s not the most important thing.

What really mattered, and what really made me crave for another episode, was the way the series managed to break conventions and perceptions — sometimes contradicting itself, but breaking them anyway. Robert J. Saywer, in the introdution of his recent book, Boarding the Enterprise, writes:

“As William Marshall, who played cyberneticist Dr. Richard Daystrom in the episode ‘The Ultimate Computer’ (Season 2, Episode 24), said in an interview shortly before he passed away, it’s impossible to overstate the impact it had in the 1960s when white Captain Kirk referred to the black Daystrom as ‘Sir.’ Was it any surprise, two decades later, that NASA hired Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura, to help recruit the first minority astronauts? Star Trek gave us an appealing vision of a tolerant future that included everyone.”
Without doubt, this is the great merit of the series. That’s what make it interesting enough to be seen forty years after its creation, despite the poor makeup, the bad scenarios, and the comically exaggerated acting: the fact that it spoke, and still does, of the human condition, something that will never be dated and will always be needed.

Won’t it ever end?

July 7th, 2005 § 1 comment § permalink

Another mother’s breaking heart is taking over When the violence causes silence We must be mistaken

It’s the same old theme since 1916 In your head, in your head they’re still fightin’ With their tanks, and their bombs And their bombs, and their guns In your head, in your head they are dyin’

Open source and Brazil

June 23rd, 2005 § Comments Off on Open source and Brazil § permalink

All this talk about the use of open source by the Brazilian government seems like a great idiocy to me sometimes. Despite what the open source zealots say, the government understands the open source as well as somebody who has never seen a computer in his life — with or without Gilberto Gil. I’m a big supporter of open source — I have talk about it, written and distributed open source code, fought for its adoption in the places where I worked when it was warranted — but I believe the government’s instance is wrong in many accounts, and if not seriously discussed in some of them, bad for the country in the long term.

There are two basic kinds of open source projects: those that were created because some needed exceeded the inertia required to bootstrap a development community — JBoss and Apache are some examples — and those that were created to scratch an itch. The former tend to succeed and the latter to fail. Of course, there are exceptions — Linux itself is one of them.

Nonetheless, the first kind of open source project tends to be able to keep themselves on their feet, going strong and creating a whole ecosystem around them — complete with parasites and forks, but keeping the project’s original vision within its building parameters. The second kind, on the other ends, tends to start strong, but is soon releasing only small updates that are not worth the download and reconfiguration required by them.

Of course, where the first kind of projects fits the needs of the government, the government would do well by using them. As any business, the government is more interested in stability and maintainability than ideology. The second kind of project, in this sense, can even be hurtful to the government’s technological base, because of its limited lifetime and the possibility of successive reinventions of the wheel — something that happens too much in bureaucracies and needs no help from open source projects to make it even worse.

So, the choice of open source code, where the government is concerned, should not be guided only by ideology. More likely, the current open source revival has more to do with cost than the other benefits open source brings. That kind of thinking will surely become a problem as more open source projects are adopted. The government has many itches to scratch, but itches are not the areas that open source scratches well.

I know one certain example in which the government adopted an inferior open source codebase and tried to coax it into a working applications. They succeed only in creating a huge mess of code that’s hard to maintain and read — and that only after they rewrote half of the initial code.

There is also another fundamental question: the internal market. No company will willing become a philanthropy — which is how government seems to understand open source — deciding to release all of its projects as open source, especially those who require a good degree of customization. There are some systems which do not benefit from a open source approach, including specialize system, of restricted use, so common in the government.

A unilateral decision favoring open source can eventually slow the internal market, raise costs, and reduce quality. Can WordPress function as a CMS system, complete with workflow? Maybe, but only in a limited way. Can it be customized to become a full-blown CMS? Yes, if it’s acceptable to fork it and make is fragile and brittle to chances.

In those instances — and especially those who require integration with legacy system — I believe a strong internal market, not bound to open source, is the best way to go. Open source for open source’s sake, merely because it seems healthier, prettier and less costly, will do the government no good.

Of course, I think there are people in the government thinking about those issues. I doubt people like Sérgio Amadeu would be so careless. But the zealots are everywhere, and I don’t see any harm in bringing the subject again. Open source can only benefit from this kind of discussion.

Books, e-books, and piracy

May 29th, 2005 § Comments Off on Books, e-books, and piracy § permalink

John Scalzi, a science fiction writer whose blog is one of my favorites, wrote a couple weeks ago about the issue of piracy in the book industry. Summing up his position, Scalzi thinks that worrying about piracy is a stupidity.

He sees two categories of book pirates:

First, the idiots, who won’t buy the books (in electronic or physical form) whether they have the money or not. They are simply not interested in paying for the goods.

Second, the occasional pirates, who download books because they don’t have the money to pay for the books they want to read. The reasons are many: they are cash-strapped college students, the books are not physically available where they live and it would be too expensive to import, and so on. Those persons will likely start paying for books when money starts flowing towards them, especially books from writers they learned to appreciate when they couldn’t still pay for their books.

I agree with Scalzi. I know people who fit both categories and they are easily distinguished. As an avid reader, I once belonged into the second category, although I now rarely download a book I don’t own physically (except, of course, in the case of e-books). When I do, it’s often because I need to find something quickly in the book or solve some problem and it’s easier to “pirate” a electronic version temporarily than manually search five hundred pages for a specific sentence.

Also, when I belonged into the second category for the main reason Scalzi cites (wanted to read the books, couldn’t pay for them — especially where newer books where concerned and the only other available choice was spending half my weekly wages in a single three-hundred-page book), I kept a list of the books I downloaded, and have bought most of them by now. The ones I haven’t bought yet are likely to be published in Brazil soon, and I’d rather buy them here to minimize costs (I’m still not rich, you know).

Anyway, what I find most interesting in the whole discussion is how some authors who otherwise share the same views on the genre take directly opposing views on the issue of piracy. Some believe is the rise of e-books as the main form of publishing is quite inevitable. Others, like Harlan Ellison, are prepared to fight tooth, nail and processes at the mere mention of their books in any kind of digital format (as if paper would somehow preclude their works from being pirated).

Which is a pity. I would gladly surrender my money to some writers were they willing to understand this new market — which, in my opinion, has little to do with the issue of intellectual property. The Long Tail is a reality in the Internet, and, as such, is beyond immediate frontiers. Those writers — Harlan Ellison, for example, is quite technophobic — think it’s possible to prevent their works from being distributed in P2P networks. More than that, they ignore the fact that many of their readers would pay for electronic versions of their works if only the price were realistic, adjusted to the realities of the medium (easy replication, limited availability, etc.) and market demands, as Fictionwise has shown.

Scalzi also talks about his own experience (shared by many people I know) of searching for ways to monetarily compensate writers for reading their books by indirect means — buying them as used books or lending them from libraries, for example, especially when the books were out of print. In my experience, this kind of behavior is mostly limited to readers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but serves to show that the undiscriminated bashing of those “pirates” is really excessive.

Obviously, there are other pertinent issues that I’m not considering here, that people like Cory Doctorow and others far more intelligent than me are talking about, and this entry is not the place to write about them. But I’m happy to see writers openly declaring their disdain for the stupidity demonstrated by members of the industry and other writers who can read the writing in the wall.

Help Asia

December 29th, 2004 § Comments Off on Help Asia § permalink

If you can, donate to help the victims of Asia’s tsunami disaster.

Donate via Amazon (for the American Red Cross) or any other of those sites.

We Pledge Allegiance to the Penguin

October 29th, 2004 § Comments Off on We Pledge Allegiance to the Penguin § permalink

The rate of technological change now is such that modernization proceeds more chaotically than ever, and with every flip of the clock cycle, the whole world’s reality looks more and more like Brazil’s: a high-contrast, high-contact confusion of microcultures and inequalities. What Gil has learned from that reality is the same thing any country looking for an edge in the coming century might do well to learn: You do yourself no good by trying to control the confusion. You grow, instead, by letting it in. You open the cultural conversation to all comers. You loosen the reins on technical and scientific knowledge and let it wander, from the university to the slum and back. You build your songs out of whatever washes up on shore and then you throw them out to sea again to see what somebody else makes of them. You tropicalize.

Wired 12.11 is featuring an article by Julian Dibell about the raise of the open source movement in Brazil, my own country. The article, We Pledge Allegiance to the Penguin, is a thoughtful look at the motives that are moving Brazil to take a strong position in the open source community.

I can say, without reservations, that this article is one of the best looks I’ve seen on the problems and promises of open source for Brazil, and what it means economically, politically, and socially for the country both on its internal and external landscapes. In fact, the article is talking about much more than open souce in software alone. It’s about intellectual property, cultural changes, and mobilization. For example, Dibell analyses an interesting connection between one of the strongest cultural movements in the country, tropicalismo, and the roots of the open source movement here, tracing the mindset that has been leading the country down the open source path. He also talks about the problems facing the moviment, like Microsoft’s lobbying against it, and the resistance of traditional media to the changes in the views on intellectual property.

All in all, it’s required reading for anyone trying to understand what’s happening here on that arena, and what is looming in the future.

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