Thursday, March 26, 2009

Roller--How to diplay recent entries on

I originally wrote this entry on September 16, 2004, and published it on

Try using the Roller macro:


where "n" is the number of titles you want displayed.

What I get is what you see on the right hand side of my weblog web page, here. I haven't had time to figure out how to reduce the font size and include a marker before each title, which are the changes I'd really like to make. So, I don't like the looks as it stands, but it allows me to show fewer of my entries on the left side, which reduces the jumble.

Note: Thanks go to Richard Burridge, for pointing this to me.

Weblogging is not a panacea, particularly in politics

I originally wrote this entry on September 15, 2004, and published it on

Some webloggers are prone to the fallacy that weblogging is a panacea, specially in the political arena.

I had to post some comments on this in response to one of Dan Gillmor's recent notes.

Despite some people's conviction (see Howard Rheingold) that cybercommunities could improve democracy, the jury is still out. We had an enormous number of cybercommunities, many of a political kind, in the period just preceding March of 2003 (when compared to what we had before 1995), and yet, a war most unjustified and unpopular at an international scale still took place despite all the weblogs blasting it.

I've written about this issue from different angles before: 1 and 2.

Children Should Vote, Too, in Ranked-Choice Elections !

I originally wrote this entry on September 8, 2004, and published it on

Here, I'd like to discuss a proposal for a possible forum project on a voting system that could be made available to school children to experiment with voting which includes a certain degree of formality and complexity. It will not only introduce them to voting on the web but also to some of the less-than-apparent issues in our current voting system.

We're approaching a national election in November, and a number of people have been writing about voting systems on and elsewhere, including at

For example, Professor Lawrence Lessig has pointed to ranked-choice voting in San Francisco this November.

SeongBae ("Bits and pieces") has written about the use of SunRay machines as voting tools. Azeem Jiva has echoed SeongBae's idea.

On my part, I've been writing about ranked-choice voting and the mathematics of elections and like SeongBae and Azeem Jiva have been thinking about possible ways to host a project for bringing Sun technology into the voting foray.

My suggestion is slightly different from Azeema Jiva's and SeongBae's but I think it can complement theirs.

Basically, what I'd like to do is to help some people to start a forum project that would focus on bringing Condercet or Ranked-Choice voting to schools across the nation, as a Web Service which can host both pre-configured and configurable elections.

[The pre-configured one would, for example, be a national election, say a presidential election. The configurable ones are minor elections held for various purposes. More on this below.]

In other words, this is an almost-real voting system that allows school children to participate in all national votes and educates them regarding ranked-choice and Condercet voting.

What is interesting about this project is that some server-side computation will be required to resolve voting result ambiguities.

On the client side, we could use Java Card, we could distribute voting numbers to each school principle who requests it, we could use SunRays or whatever else to make it practical. The most practical approach may be the distribution to school administrators of unique voting numbers and "ballots" which could be entered by teachers or students who own them through the web.

This could be a very exciting project because it brings together a great deal of ready-to-go technology, allows for a twist on the voting system by its inclusion of ranked-choice / Condercet and has a great deal of social value which could motivate contributors. Finally, multiple people from various companies can collobrate, to implement and host the web service system on the server-side, possibly in different geos if it involves competing companies.

I think the first version of the application could be decently implemented by two to three engineers in less than three months.

Furthermore, the Web Service which will be hosting this voting system, will be available for people to configure or create votes of their own upon registration. It could even host a voting service for mobile devices. (Even silly votes, for example on who should lead a soccer team or be the captain, etc., could be hosted and carried out through any web-ready device.)

Finally, I'd be surprised if such a system doesn't already exist! If it doesn't, it should be started as a forum project.

Return on Weblog Investments ( ROWI ? )

I originally wrote this entry on September 8, 2004, and published it on

Sharij asks whether the economic returns on (company) Weblogs are justified by the required investment to produce them. In other words, is the bang worth the buck when it comes to weblogs?

Not everything done by employees or a company is for direct purposes of making a sale although almost everything that a company and its employees do will have some effect on its sales and revenues. The key phrase here is "market perception" and the key concept is the role business entities play in influencing the way market perceives them.

Furthermore, the improtant thing about Weblogs is the fact that they enable human beings (hopefully, with some expertise, interest or concern) to participate in the formation and digestion of (mostly random) information.

So, while there has been a lot of hype about search, nothing can replace a good dose of reality. For example, see a recent weblog by Colm Smyth who has written on bridges to and from RSS. No amount of search would have enabled me to have access to the type of information Colm has put together in a simple paragraph. This is the irreplaceable, human-factor part of weblogs.

The effect of company weblogs on sales is subtle, unpredictable and uninformative at best.

Digital Rights Management, Where is the Big Question

I originally wrote this entry on September 7, 2004, and published it on


Rights Management (DRM) is one of the big technology questions web engineers have to deal with today. [For some introductory material, see this Australian Government guide to DRM. Also, ACM has held some workshops on DRM.]

In my view, a workable DRM system should allow some reasonable amount of content sharing. [See my notes on content sharing: To Share or Not to Share, That's the Question and To Share or Not to Share (II).]

Digital content distribution services continue to grow.

RealNetworks, for example, reports that its content business has grown more than 50% (at $99 million) while its enterprise software business has fallen by 14% (at $26 million). This shift in revenues goes back to 2000, the WSJ reports.

Many companies see their content services as a cash cow they need to protect at any cost. They are developing propriety systems that could be perceived as closed off to other content distribution systems. On the other hand, some may argue that distribution systems need to be protected to ensure their healthy evolution.

Looking to bridge that gap, RealNetworks recently introduced Harmony, a technology that lets consumers purchase songs on its RealPlayer Music Store site and transfer them to iPods or dozens of other players. Apple has threatened to sue RealNetworks and alter its technology to block such transfers.

(Marcelo Prince, The WSJ, Sept. 1, 2004.)

Is it in the interest of content owners for there to exist incompatible systems of content distribution and digital rights management?

This is a hard question to answer. On the one hand, more incompatibiltiy means greater barriers to wanton content sharing. On the other hand, more incompatibility may mean greater reluctance to join the digital music market as a buyer.

Finally, as I've said earlier, the most important question to ask in designing a DRM system, besides those very important questions related to limited-term copyright issues, is whether the system will allow some reasonable amount of content sharing.

Most blogs have trade value ! ! ! . . .

I originally wrote this entry on September 3, 2004, and published it on

If you write a blog, you may want to check out Blogshares on your own and see what your trade value is. All blogs have some trade value calculated according to rules given in Blogshares. However, to trade in others' blogs, I think you need to be registered.

Geoff Arnold has written a note about being traded on Blogshares. I have also written a brief note on Blog trading at Blogshares that may be of some interest to you.

How Important is Anonymity?

I originally wrote this entry on August 31, 2004, and published it on

It has been argued that anonymity is an important and very subtle feature of a minimally acceptable identity management technology.

In fact, the Liberty Project has designed its network identity management protocols to preserve a certain degree of (partial) anonymity acceptable to the European regulatory regime, which is (or used to be?) more strict in its anonymity requirements than the U.S. regulatory regime.

When is anonymity good to have and when do we have too much of it? Perhaps, it is better to ask when anonymity is justified and when not.

Criminals like to be anonymous, and the administrators in Washington often release, to the press, anonymous tips regarding their friends and foes, policies and avowed intentions.

What if someone anonymously releases information (say on the comment section of a weblog) that could cause harm to the person about which the information has been released?

For example, is this subpoena against Indymedia (for pointing to a public list of RNC delegates) even justified or meaningful?

If we take these cases far enough, do we end up with grand jury subpoena against a person who has aggregated (for release) dispersed but publicly available information.

In summary, does the act of aggregation and organization of information become criminal? Does offering the possibility of posting anonymous content on web sites and web logs become criminal?

I'm afraid, when bearing in mind that for some individuals security can be used to justify any limits on rights, there may be no satisfactory, working answers to any of these questions.

RSS, The Acronym . . . to Search

I originally wrote this entry on August 30, 2004, and published it on

Acronyms often have multiple uses, and I have been wanting to write something about the multitude of things for which "RSS" stands.

I first ran into "RSS" as "Received Signal Strength." It is still used in that sense. For example, in Anthony J. Weiss' "On the Accuracy of a Cellular Location System Based on RSS Measurements" published in Vehicular Technology, IEEE Transactions on , Volume: 52 , Issue: 6 , Nov. 2003.

Then there is "RSS" standing for "Radar Support System." For example, see B. O'Hern, et al.'s " The Radar Support System (RSS): a tool for siting radars and predicting their performance" published in Aerospace and Electronic Systems Magazine, IEEE , Volume: 12 , Issue: 12 , Dec. 1997.

There's also "RSS" as in "Resource Sharing System." I won't bother with an IEEE citation. I think by now you trust it can be found.

Last but not least is "RSS" as in Really Simple Syndication, possibly the most favorite use of the acronym for those of us who spend a good deal of our lives on the web.

Acronymfinder gives IBM as the user of RSS as an acronym for "Retail Store Solutions." How Acronymfinder got that fact into its index remains a puzzle. Perhaps, they used the same investigative techniques that they employed to associate "Remote Surveillance System" with Tom Clancy. Frankly, I've read absolutely nothing from Clancy. But why was I not surprised to learn he gets a kick out of generating acronyms? Perhaps, they make his novels more "real," at least for some people who must matter. I do know some people who live through his novels, and can testify that they do love acroynms but my sample size is quite small.

I just wrote this weblog because I don't think everyone out there really uses RSS in the same way as the blogging community does. It's important to know about such differences and variations.

I'm sure there are a number of other things "RSS" stands for.

Now, here comes the catch--a question about search.

If I've heard RSS used in one of these senses and do a search on Google, how do I get what I want? Try it yourselves. For example, try to see if you can find any mention of RSS as received signal strength in a context associated with AT&T Wireless.

Devices Profile

I originally wrote this entry on August 26, 2004, and published it on

Quite a number of my friends working for mobile device vendors (or with Sun partners who are mobile device vendors) have approached and asked me what I thought about Microsoft's Devices Profile for Web Services.

My immedate reaction is that I'm not sure if the approach connects to a good idea.

Why invest such amount of effort at the Web Services protocol level when many high-market-share device vendors believe their devices will soon be able to handle the whole WS protocol stack? Second, I point people to JSR 172, where Java APIs such as JAX-RPC and JAX-P have been "profiled" for use within J2ME environment.

JibJab: Kids Love Comedy

I originally wrote this entry on August 25, 2004, and published it on

Last year, when I ran into the works of Mark Fiore, The Village Voice web cartoonist, I immediately showed it to my 10-year-old daughter who loves comedy.

Now, she is becoming a web cartooning aficionado herself.

This summer, she was attending a language camp in Germany, where everyone seems to have learned or already known about JibJab's This Land cartoon and parody has become a world-wide hit, and its owners will probably make a good deal bringing even more comedy to the web.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ineffectiveness of automated translation on the Web

I originally wrote this entry on August 18, 2004 and published it on

On the Lessig Blog, Tim Wu has written about the Balkanization of the Web, and in a later post, he writes about the ineffectiveness of automated translation to solve the problem. As I noted earlier, what is needed, practical, effective and possible is not automated translation but multi-lingualism and multi-cultural upbringing, or one that has a built-in tolerance for the other. This naturally occurs in some cultures. Others have a way of avoiding it with a great pull to conformity of ideas. For example, if one watches 10 hours of television a day in a particular language from a particular culture, it is highly likely that person will grow with a great degree of identification with his own culture and language as learned from the television environment, particularly when the programming is (mechanically) designed to be highly attractive. Whether a culture which is primarily propagated through television could be an authentic culture or not is a serious matter for consideration.

A London Blogging Directory

I originally wrote this entry on August 18, 2004 and published it on

Writing weblogs has a tendency of drawing one to other blogging communities.

It's a form of participatory, or popular culture rather than a mass culture.

Personally, I'm still trying to understand the role of blogging directories (see here) such as the London Bloggers which organizes blogs on different dimensions, including their "originating" tube station sites.

Perhaps, someone can explain the significance of associating blogs with the tube stations on the London Bloggers.

Of course, there are other blogs that are devoted to life on the London Underground. Presumably, this would be best readable if it were easily accessible through mobile devices. Perhaps it is. I have not checked it.

The Ranking of Persian Weblogs

I originally wrote this entry on August 5, 2004 and published it on

I had heard that Persian language weblogs are a big hit but only learned how big when I looked up the top 100 weblogs on blogshares.

The number 2 spot was taken by PersianBlog ! (August 8, 2004)

Those who are veteran webloggers have probably known about blogshares for some time. For me, it was quite a new discovery.

The blogshares system was conceived and programmed by Seyed Razavi in Java and PHP. Side note : As a curiosity and in case you wondered about the similarity of names, my last name, "Mortazavi," is an inflection of "Reza," as is "Razavi". Both of us have the honorific "seyed" as part of our last name. (All of these quoted words are of course in Arabic.) What all this means is that we're very distant relatives with our commonality of ancestors diverging first from a few to several centuries ago.

Blogshares includes ranking of weblogs and a set of rules and strategies for exchanging "shares" of weblogs.

Prayer niche in the Friday Mosque, Isfahan - Built by Oljeitu in 1310.

The Persian-language PersianBlog contains such diversity of opinion and topics that it is guaranteed to dazzle and satisfy all Persian-speakers (or more precisely, Persian-readers) who visit it. I found quality material on just about every topic I looked at. Not only the content but the quality and quantity of outgoing links are truly incredible. They open up truly new vistas for the Persian reader.

One curiosity, perhaps for the non-Persian, will be the tradition of many Persian-language weblogs (as well as web sites) to include music as background for the textual material, often the music accentuates the reading of the text or category.

Blogshares even posts the ranking of some inconsequential weblogs. Its weblog stock market rules are rather egaliterian and no big IPOs are necessary ! ; - )

Wiretapping VoIP and PoC

I originally wrote this entry on August 5, 2004, and published it on

In a 5-0 preliminary ruling, the FCC has extended the wiretapping requirements of CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act) to VoIP (Voice over IP) and PoC (Push-to-talk on Cellular).

(The preliminary rulling does not affect, non-service-provided, peer-to-peer VoIP.)

See Tim Wu's blog for a brief on the economic and legal issues the ruling raises.

See Declan McCullagh and Ben Charny's report on for a report and related material.

ACLU, Americans for Tax Reform, and Center for Democracy and Technology have already expressed their reservations against extending the CALEA to the Internet service providers.

What I want to highlight here briefly is some of the technical difficulties of wiretapping on the Internet as opposed to the traditional PSTN networks.

The major difficulty arises because of the built-in routing flexibilities in the Internet. In other words, what makes the Internet resilient to local failures also makes it harder to wiretap.

Packets can take different routes. For example, RTP (the real-time transport protocol), the most common protocol for conveying VoIP packets, does not require a reservation model along the lines of RSVP. The main thing about RTP as compared to TCP is that it does not retransmit "droped" or "lost" packets composing its "voice" or other media payloads.

Some of these difficulties of wiretapping could lead to business models where consumer devices have modules capable of actively participating in wiretapping. These business models are broken from the start.

Requiring that such devices be put in the consumer's hands may discourage use of the Internet and make it more expensive. Furthermore, alternate non-conforming but smart devices could be installed to defeat the purpose of wiretapping or to skirt it all together.

Taking the non-device-dependent approach, the level of coordination required for wiretapping on the network, through firewalls and other intermediaries, not to mention through a variety of routers and switches, is truly mind boggling.

Wiretapping solutions (independent of end-point device participation) will only be available at considerable cost. (As recorded in Declan McCullagh and Ben Charny's report on, Verizon Wireless' lukewarm response to the FCC's preliminary ruling confirms these difficulties.)

Same technical issues and difficulties hold for Wiretapping PoC.

Finally, while congress appropriated $500 million to reimburse traditional PSTN phone companies for CALEA compliance, such compensation will apparently not be available to VoIP and PoC providers.

We the Media

I originally wrote this entry on August 4, 2004, and published it on

The full content of Dan Gillmor's book, We the Media, is now available. The book discusses weblogs and more.

I would say the title is exaggerating the power of web-logs.

As I've noted below, the vast majority of the public relies on the common mass media (e.g. TV, Radio, etc.) as source of news, views, culture and more.

WSJ's RSS feeds

I originally wrote this entry for on August 3, 2004.

The Wall Street Journal, the newspaper of business record, has finally rolled out their RSS feeds as of last week.

If you have access to the electronic WSJ, you may also want to check out the following article by Thomas Weber: Blogs Help You Cope With Data Overload (WSJ, July 8, 2004, B1).

Here's a list of blogs and descriptions provided by Weber in his article:

  • GENERAL INTEREST: Boing Boing ( is one of the Web's most established blogs, and one of its most popular, too. By "general interest," I mean of general interest to your average Internet-obsessed technophile. The focus isn't explicitly on technology, but expect it to skew in that direction -- over a recent week, posting topics included robots, comic books and a cool-looking electric plug.

  • ECONOMICS: EconLog ( offers a thoughtful and eclectic diary of economics, tackling both newsy developments (the real-estate market, taxes) and theory. It also includes a list of other good economics blogs -- there are more than you might think.

  • GADGETS: Engadget ( can be counted on for a good half-dozen or more news morsels each day on digital cameras, MP3 players, cellphones and more. When it isn't the first to stumble across something good, it isn't shy about linking to another blog with an interesting post, so it's usually pretty up to date.

  • POLITICS: WatchBlog ( has stuck with an interesting concept for more than a year now. It's actually three blogs in one: separate side-by-side journals tracking news on the 2004 elections from the perspective of Democrats, Republicans and independents.

  • TECHNOLOGY: Lessig Blog ( OK, this one's about politics too. More specifically, it covers the intersection between regulation and technology. Its author, Stanford law professor and author Lawrence Lessig, weighs in on copyright, privacy and other challenging topics in high-tech society.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hyper-Learning or Hype

In the second essay in his book, On the Internet, Hubert

focuses on the following question: How far is distance learning from education? Answering this specific question leads, by extension, to answering a more general question: Can we learn anything on the internet? The reason I draw that conclusion is that much of "distance learning" is going to be powered by the internet.

Dreyfus' answer to this question is: it all depends!

First, he notes that learning has many stages:

  • The novice can understand tasks decomposed to their context-free features. The teacher says: Here's a tennis racket. Here's the handle. Here's the head. You hit the ball with the head, not the handle.

  • The advanced beginner learns some of the more subtle features through examination of examples and exercises. The teacher says: Look at how this champion or that champion of the game plays it. Try this move or that other move.

  • The competent goes beyond the beginner. The beginner is missing what is important in any given situation and finds it tedious and nerve racking to perform, wondering how any one could master the skills. A competent individual is more involved and discerns what is important in any given situation. The tennis player knows when to come to the net and when to keep his distance.

  • The proficient has reached a stage where intuitive reactions have replaced reasoned (or calculative) responses. Situational responses become more important than the performer's theory of the skill. The tennis player comes to the net and keeps his distance without any concern for the theory of tennis.

  • The expert not only sees what needs to be achieved but "thanks to his vast repertoire of situational discriminations, he also sees immediately how to achieve his goal." The expert can make more subtle and refined discriminations than the proficient.

  • The next stage is practical wisdom which has to do with exercising ones skills within a cultural context. Practicing the art of team work and programming in China, India and U.S. have subtle differences. Only through practical wisdom can one operate within each culture.

So what's the upshot?

Well, Dreyfus says that even if telepresence works really well, it is still quite hard to have a committed master-student relationship and the involvement which is necessary for gaining expertise and practical wisdom. Hyper-learning becomes mere hype. Dreyfus says that at best competence can be gained through distance learning but even that depends on how much presence can be had through telepresence . . . It turns out, the answer is "not much."