Thursday, December 30, 2004

Oxfam America: Asian Earthquake & Tsunami

Oxfam America: Asian Earthquake & Tsunami

I just gave* to Oxfam, and put a link in Delicious. They seem to be in the forefront of aid to the region.

If you'd like to give as well, you can do so quickly and easily online. Just click on the link below:

* a pittance. 100,000 dead, 5 million in dire straits. A fraction of a penny per person.... But these things add up.


PubSub: Testing PubSub

"Your subscription has been renamed.

It now appears in your Subscription Stack as Jon Schull's Weblog.


Thursday, December 23, 2004


Big day for me. With a lot of help from my friends I finally got Multichat working on my laptop, put up a wiki page (static image below, for posterity) in the new Lab For Social Computing describing the system , and set up a project page for the team. I really think we're on to something.


Multichat is a real-time variation on Tony Chang's Webnote (i.e., in our variant you see what people are typing as they type).

I'm running it on my personal computer, so if I'm online, please check it out. Chat me at jonschullaim, and I'll give you a URL and show you around. If I'm not online, you can get a partial feel for it from this:

The project was initially inspired by the need for a cross-platform, type-as-you-talk, multi-person chat program optimized to facilitate face to face conversations between deaf and hearing students in the classroom. (see First in Class Deafness Project at RIT).

But (thanks to the webnote foundation and to collaborator/coder Mike Axelrod) it turns out to be far more powerful than that. It will eventually work as a peer to peer system supporting conversations between any number of connected users (with or without access to the internet).

Moreover, we think we know how use it to add real time social "presence" to websites. (This variation is inspired by John Cappiello's wikalong and the mind-blowing "Just Letters" So imagine a sidebar or companion browser window that can be yoked to an arbitrary URL in the main window. "Let's meet at the New York Times website," you might say and once there you will not only be able to see what people have written before, you'll be able to see what they are talking about in real time. ("Gee, I wonder what they're chatting about at slashdot..." you wonder), and whoever is loitering on that"street corner" will be visible to you.

Multichat is coded in python on the server side and javascript
on the client side. By the time we're done we'll be doing some
interesting things with java and streaming content as well. If you'd like to play along, let me know!!! It's open source, and the whole point is to create a widely-used social software application that is incidentally a wonderful tool for Deaf<->Hearing communication.

Collaborators, co-designers, co-developers, and co-conspirators include

Adding Optional Static Typing to Python

Adding Optional Static Typing to Python: Guido van Rossum writes, "Python's parser generator is so lame, but that in turn is intentional -- it is so lame to prevent me from inventing syntax that is either hard to write a parser for or hard to disambiguate by human readers, who always come first in Python's design.)"

Human's first. What a concept.

User-Driven Software Development as Science

User-drive software development as science

I found this paragraph quite interesting as a case study (in usability rhetoric) I haven't looked at the product yet. [paragraph breaks and bolding added]

Is EasyOffice a Microsoft Office (or WordPerfect Office or StarOffice) 'clone'?

No. Although EasyOffice contains most features common to Microsoft Office, as well WordPerfect Office and StarOffice, it was designed and functions as an original, innovative product.E-Press Corp. has in place a rigorous scientific research and engineering development program. This program is partially funded by the Canadian Federal Government, and undergoes a comprehensive scientific and financial governmental audit each year.

In this research program, the 'scientific method' is followed: hypotheses are generated, data is tested, results are analyzed, and new hypotheses are then generated, and so on. What this means in the case of EasyOffice, is that a particular version of EasyOffice is created. Then experimental subjects (some with no computer experience, and others with varying amount of expertise) are asked to create a particular document, a particular spreadsheet and a particular presentation using the experimental version of EasyOffice. The steps subjects take to do so, the difficulties they have, and of course, their successes are noted. The hypotheses are then considered in light of these results, and a new set of hypotheses, essentially a new version of EasyOffice, is then generated, and the procedure repeats.

The current version of EasyOffice essentially reflects this experimental origin, rather than a 'cloning' of any particular office suite. The bimodal success rates we obtained from inexperienced versus experienced users, is reflected in the 'Easy' and the 'Advanced' modes present in most EasyOffice programs. Many features which EasyOffice has (and indeed, Microsoft Office lacks) are there because of our observations of our experimental subjects. By the same token, many features that seem to reflect a Microsoft origin, are there also, but only indirectly so, because of demand of our experimental subjects. Experienced computer users are so entrenched with the Microsoft Windows and Office paradigm, that this group will independently cause a Microsoft-like version to emerge. This group vehemently rejects new ways of doing operations, new ways of organizing functions, and so on. On the other hand, inexperienced users are more open to new ideas, and actually do much better with a non-Microsoft-like paradigm. The effect of WordPerfect Office, StarOffice, Linux, or any other operating system or office suite, is found to be negligible in our studies in influencing subjects' outcomes.

Despite the skewing of our results due to the habituation (brainwashing?) of users with the Windows and other Microsoft paradigms, we have nonetheless maintained our vision of creating an innovative, intelligent, friendly office suite. Features that look similar in Microsoft Office, and WordPerfect Office, and StarOffice, may look similar in EasyOffice, but in many cases, our features are enhanced with the properties that subjects were found to need during our experiments. For example, although our 'File Menu' has become similar to Microsoft Office (and the other office suites), our 'File Menu' is bloated into 'File1' and 'File2' menus. Our subjects, were terrified of losing data, and would perform operations that reflected this fear. The many backup systems present in our 'File' menus, for example, reflect these observations, and allow our users an easier-use experience.

As well, while like other office suites, many of our features are built upon a dumb infrastructure, we are in the process of replacing many of the dumb routines with AI routines. As our mission statement says, "...rather than being a block of iron and silicon sitting on one's desk, it will become one's friend, in every sense of the word. You will talk to it, and it will talk back to you. It will empathize with you. It will do what you ask of it", and as the AI routines become incorporated into our software, this will happen.EasyOffice is not a clone of Microsoft Office, nor is it "one more office suite on the market". We believe EasyOffice is very special because it does what you, the user, want it to do.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Harvard Gazette: Academic turns city into a social experiment

Harvard Gazette: Academic turns city into a social experiment
Fascinating article

"One of former Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus' many inspired strategies for changing the mindset - and, eventually, the behavior - of the city's unruly inhabitants was the installation of traffic mimes on street corners. (Photo courtesy of El Tiempo)


Dare I hope that this is a straightforward, nice looking open source python editor with code folding, and no show-stopper bugs? I do dare hope.

"DrPython is a highly customizable, extensible editor/environment for developing programs written in the Python programming Language. It is implemented in wxPython.
(wxPython is a set of python bindings (and extra widgets) for wxWidgets).
It uses Scintilla for the Text Controls.

Friday, December 17, 2004

This picture turns out to be a hoax...

Urban Legends Reference Pages: Inboxer Rebellion (Does Not Compute): "

Scientists from RAND Corporation have created this model to illustrate how a 'home computer' could look in the year 2004. However the needed technology will not be economically feasible for the average home. Also the scientists readily admit that the computer will require not yet invented technology to actually work, but 50 years from now scientific progress is expected to solve these problems. With teletype interface and the Fortran language, the computer will be easy to use and only

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Google Suggest puts two people first

Google suggest
One letter queries to Google suggest bring up premiere guesses. Amazon is the top guess for "a". I tried all letters. Two people show up in the premier positions. Guess who.

Hint: one name begins with "P", the other with "T"
To see the answers, select the text from here...
Paris Hilton
Tara Reid (never heard of her!) here

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Technology Review: Portable Projectors

Technology Review: Portable Projectors
This article illustrates a dozen great ideas about a world covered with small cheap video projectors.

Build a tiny projector into each of those devices, though, and the world becomes your display. Raskar’s team has developed hardware and software that can project digital images onto whatever surface is handy—the wall, say, or a desktop—and make them look good even if the impromptu screen isn’t nice and smooth. And “once you buy into this notion that people would like to have this kind of an attachment,” he asks, “what will they do beyond just looking at those images?”

virtual scroll ring maps circular mouse motion into vertical scrolling.

Sounds like a great idea. Sounds like the iPod is casting a shadow....

Technology Review: Virtual Ring Eases Scrolling: "The virtual scroll ring maps circular finger, stylus, or mouse motion into vertical scrolling. Clockwise motion moves the scroll bar down and counterclockwise motion moves it up. Bigger circles and faster motion increase scrolling speed."

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Energy Independence by 2014?

The right way to win.:

Could we make this a successful grass roots movement? Let the Republicans choose between becoming heroes or getting left behind?

"If President Bush is looking for a legacy, I have just the one for him - a national science project that would be our generation's moon shot: a crash science initiative for alternative energy and conservation to make America energy-independent in 10 years. Imagine if every American kid, in every school, were galvanized around such a vision. "

"If President Bush made energy independence his moon shot, he would dry up revenue for terrorism; force Iran, Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to take the path of reform - which they will never do with $45-a-barrel oil - strengthen the dollar; and improve his own standing in Europe, by doing something huge to reduce global warming. He would also create a magnet to inspire young people to contribute to the war on terrorism and America's future by becoming scientists, engineers and mathematicians. "This is not just a win-win," said the Johns Hopkins foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum. "This is a win-win-win-win-win."

"Summoning all our energies and skills to produce a 21st-century fuel is George W. Bush's opportunity to be both Nixon to China and J.F.K. to the moon - in one move.
--Thomas Friedman

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Croquet: Alan Kay's Next Big Thing

A first look at Croquet from Maxwell Borders:
"During a meal...I got the story of how Julian [Lombardi] had met up with so many other stars that formed the Croquet constellation: Alan Kay – an ex-Xerox PARC genius who’d developed the familiar “windowing” interface (GUI); 3D games and graphics wizard David Smith; David P. Reed, father of Reed’s Law (a scaling law for groupforming network architectures); Andreas Raab, a 3D prodigy and Squeak developer; and Mark P. McCahill, the guy who coined the phrase “surfing the Net,” among other things. By all appearances, Julian had gotten mixed up with the Dream Team of computer geeks. All that was left was for me to see what they had created.

We sat down before our respective laptops – I on my PC, he on his Mac, and we began to explore the environments of Croquet together. At first, the terrain was simple. A blue sky with clouds floating overhead. In this gridlike, 3D landscape, there were objects of various sizes placed in the foreground and back, all seemingly subject to the laws of perspective.

“I designed this area to look like the Holodeck,” he said. “This lets the user know he’s at a starting place.” Julian’s avatar – a white rabbit – approached, and Julian’s voice could be heard from one of the computer’s speakers.

“Hear my voice? That’s voice-over IP.”

He took me to one of the objects in the landscape. It looked to be a floating window or picture.

“Watch this,” said Julian and a beam of light shot from his avatar to land on the picture-window, representing his interaction with it. He moved the window back and forth as if it were spinning on an invisible axis. Then, on his computer, he gave it a spin and it turned. As I got closer to the picture-window, on my computer, I could see the image being presented – pillars of some classical civilization overgrown by vines.

“Why don’t you give it a try?” said Julian.

From my PC, I clicked on the window and suddenly I controlled it. I moved it as Julian had from his machine – pushing it from the left – forward then back – and the picture-window changed proportions as I moved it. Then something quite profound happened: Julian’s avatar stopped my movement. You could see the window jump slightly as we wrestled to gain control of the thing.

“What you are seeing now is at the essence of Croquet,”"

And here's a screenshot:

The caption reads...
As a result of the game's exposure in a Croquet space, it is possible for two or more people to collaboratively use an application over the network - even though the application was not written to support online interactivity. Its network awareness is a feature imparted to the application because of its exposure within a collabrative Croquet space.