Tuesday, March 29, 2005

New to the lexicon: "spim"

spim n. Unsolicited commercial messages sent via an instant messaging system. Also: spIM.—spimming pp.—spimmer n.—antispim adj.

Source: http://www.wordspy.com/words/spim.asp

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, spim via text message to college students' cell phones is becoming common.

What the heck is a gilded lily?

This morning I was mulling the title for an opinion piece I want to write, and I came up with "Municipal wireless Internet: silver bullet or gilded lily?" But then I got to thinking about whether "gilded lily" was the right term.

So of course I Googled it. And the hit list was full of uses of the phrase -- most of them commercial, as in florists.

I gave up and went to AskJeeves "what is a gilded lily?" Jeeves himself didn't know, but the first Web hit was from http://www.phrases.org.uk/ -- a database of phrase origins with a companion discussion forum.

Turns out the phrase is a misquotation of Shakespeare's "King John":

SALISBURY: Therefore, to be possess'd with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

So the lily is painted, not gilded; Shakespeare speaks of how silly it would be to apply gold onto gold. The Bard had such a way with words; too bad centuries later we can't even get the quotes straight.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The aconites of March

"Spring" has two meanings in Michigan: the legal defintion, the vernal equinox, versus the reality of the first warm (by that Michiganders mean "above 50") sunny day with birds chirping and flowers blooming. Today was that long-awaited day in East Lansing.

InfoToday article on Amazon A9's new OpenSearch

Information Today ran a piece I wrote about Amazon's new OpenSearch. See:


It will be very interesting to see whether this ends up changing the universe, or is just a flash in the pan. It's generating a lot of buzz amongst bloggers and tech reporters.

The gist of the matter: A9 lets the searcher pick "columns" which are nothing more than subject-specific search engines (which the search engine industry likes to call "vertical searches").

For instance, here's an A9 search for me. In this example, I've asked A9 to search the Web (powered by Google), to search Web-based images, and to search The New York Times:

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Country music on ice?!

The comedian Lewis Black would have a lot of fun with this one. The local NBC station is showing "Country Music on Ice." They've got old stars like Nancy Kerrigan skating to country music. This is one of the fakest TV productions I've ever seen. The arena is blacked out; there is no audience. Minor country acts are lip-synching some of the songs.

Ya gotta wonder how big a demographic you get when you cross country music with figure skating. What's next? Opera and NASCAR?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Academic organization exists only to put on conferences

A few years ago I started getting these invitations to speak at a conference in Italy. The invitation seemed a little suspicious and the event was a little too out in space academically, so I ignored it. My buddy Chuck forwards a debunking of the conference by a professor in Australia. The prof submitted three papers to the "review committee" each of which had a front page of authentic looking stuff, with the remainder academic nonsense. For instance:

The growth of information retrieval corresponded with the popularity of Sartre and existentialism, so that answers simply were; their meaning and content was not relevant. Later, the influence of popular mysticism and Zen philosophies led to a reverse approach, in which answers were not. Anarchists insisted that answers be statements that undermine the question. Another approach has been to attack the implicit dominance of the query and ask whether the query is relevant to the answers, thus seeking equality in the query-answer relationship.

The papers were all accepted!

The professor, Joel Stubinz, concludes that no one reviewed this paper, as any reviewer would flag this as gibberish. He notes that there is a fee for presenting your paper, and the rules state you don't even have to present the paper so long as you pay the fee.

Prof. Stubinz observes:

This highly-successful event -- a remarkable 1,859 papers were accepted for the 2001 event -- is run by the International Institute of Informatics and Systemics (or IIIS). This is "a non-profitable international Organization which takes into consideration the globalization process". It appears to have no officers or location, and is not associated with any academic institution. Its only public role appears to be to host the SCI conference.



How many people pay money to present at this event and think they are advancing science?

They're still at it:

Sunday, March 13, 2005

ASCII art part two: Star Wars rendered in ASCII

I once gave a short course at Michigan State that I called "ASCII No Questions, I'll Tell Ye No Lies." Well, no lie, someone in New Zealand seems to have rendered the entire original Star Wars movie as ASCII animation. My friend Mark Riordan clued me into this in response to the ASCII Viagra ad.

A feature film rendered in ASCII in a high definition world. Incredible!

See: http://www.asciimation.co.nz/

Clever spam approach: 1970s line printer artwork

My friend Paul Wolberg forwarded this one: if you're a spammer and you want to avoid algorithmic or signature detection, you can't use words. But if you use images, many mail readers won't display them. Thus:

When I arrived at Michigan State in 1974, one of my first trips was to the Computer Center, where I encountered Dr. Charles Wrigley, who gave me an account on the Control Data 6500 mainframe. One of the first cool apps I encountered allowed you to print banners with ASCII characters as the pixels. I remember printing out my first letter back home using it.

The command was hal,banner as I recall.

Plus Ça Change

Sunday, March 06, 2005

MSN Money uses MySQL (and it's broken)

Jeffrey Toobin says on CNN that Martha Stewart made more money in her prison term than anyone in history, as shares in Martha Stewart Omnimedia rose dramatically. Of course, MSO stock fell dramatically when the scandal broke and earnings fell. Curious about the track record, I sought to plot the stock's history. Google for "stock charts" led me to MSN Money -- which is broken:

Hmm... MSN Money uses the open source tool, MySQL, not Microsoft's SQL server product.

Google search can't find Google Maps

My buddy Chuck Severance was looking for the new awesome Google Maps service. So he went to google.com and searched for (can you handle the suspense?)


Here's the hit list, devoid of Google Maps links:

What?!? Google can't find its own new awesome map service?!? My guess is this is an artifact of the insistence on integrity by Google's founders: they won't goose their own new product to the top of the hit list. But they could sell themselves an ad.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Memo to Palm and Verizon: You can't call 911 from a frozen cell phone

As I write these words, my colleagues at my day job are enmeshed in a serious project to upgrade power. My Verizon cell phone needs to work. But it doesn't. It's frozen.

It's dead, Jim.

My Treo 600 is stuck on a screen that proclaims:

Service Connection Progress


So what are my options? ...

I can't access any functions on the phone.
  • I can't dial out.
  • I can't reach a menu
  • I tried a paper clip reset; the phone steadfastly wouldn't reset. The screen stays lit with the useless message.

Here's the deal: yes, this device is a "Smart Phone" but first and foremost it is a PHONE! The sucker needs to work as a phone when you most desperately need a telephone.

So here's my prediction: someone will die because Palm doesn't understand that point. Someone will need to call 911, and won't be able to, because their "Smart Phone" isn't so smart -- it's frozen in an un-rebootable state. The device needs a simple and obvious way to boot into a mode where the...

... duh ...

... ahem ...

... "smart phone" ...

... can make a phone call!!!! As in, to 911. Duh, you'd hope a device marketed by Verizon and others as a cell phone could actually be relied on to make a phone call in an emergency.

Here's my bet:

  • Palm doesn't "get this"
  • Someone will die as a result, a direct consequence of the phone they sell for hundreds of dollars not being able to complete a damn 911 call
  • Palm will be sued for millions of dollars

Palm, here is your advanced warning before the first lawsuit. When this happens -- not if, because this will happen -- when someone dies because the Treo "phone" can' t make a phone call -- guess what, guys, you're reading the words of your opposing expert witness.

Palm needs to fix this. They need to put out a firmware upgrade for the 600 and 650, and they need to document a simple, keyboard-based way to boot the phone into 911 mode. You need a fast path to 911 if you are under attack, whether heart, assailant, or food in the windpipe.

PS -- I tested from my home phone; the one function the Treo 600 seems to be able to do in its frozen state is receive a phone call.