Scripting News for 6/11/2007

It’s true, bloggers *can* be mean 

NY Times: “The lawyers for I. Lewis Libby Jr. last month invoked the rarely used courtroom tactic: the ‘bloggers can be mean’ defense.”

The Sopranos aftermath 

Got a call from my mom today, she watched the Sopranos finale, like everyone. When the phone rang I fumbled with the Blackberry, hit a wrong key and disconnected the call. I tried calling back while she left a voicemail, and all the while I got more anxious that someone in the family had died or was horribly sick, and the more time went by the more sure I was and the more prepared I was for something horrible.

Call it Post-Traumatic Sopranos Stress Disorder.

An unresolved mass of stress, the feeling of sickness that comes from a huge buildup and letdown.

People say this was the best series ever, well no it wasn’t, it turns out. It could have been, had it been building to some kind of ending. Who cares if it was cliche. The end of The West Wing was cliche. The President and President-elect ride in a limo to the Capitol steps. The new President takes the oath, gives his inaugural speech. The old President takes his last ride in Air Force One. Thinks about the rest of his life, and we go there with him. It’s why we watch dramas, to experience a richness that life doesn’t offer. It wasn’t supposed to be realistic, it’s fantasy, fiction, drama. Go ahead and schmaltz it up, that’s what we want and expect.

Rome was pretty good. Six Feet Under was great. The West WIng did it right. The Wire hasn’t finished yet, but I bet they’ll do it right, same with Entourage. The Sopranos was a mess, and it ended in an unsatisfying cop-out.

In this age of blogs, podcasts, unconferences and level playing fields, it’s sometimes nice to just be in the audience. Let someone else do the work. Relax and reach deep inside our emotional being, and yank out something beautiful or horrible, and have a look.

Our lives can be pretty mundane. Please, give us some inspiration, some drama on TV.

The story of encoding 

Which came first, the platform or the developer?

It’s like the chicken and the egg, they both have to exist at the same time in order for either to exist. A paradox, that’s resolved by evolution.

Before there could be RSS, there had to be XML, a language for expressing data in a way that both computers and humans can read. The great thing about XML is that if the techies are careful, anyone with a little time and intelligence can understand what they’re doing.

But XML couldn’t have happened until there was a way to encode alphabetic characters, the letters A through Z, numeric characters, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, and “special” characters like parentheses, commas, question marks, etc. Encoding is how you take something that a human can read and convert it into something a machine can read, a language called “binary.” While some humans can read binary, if they try hard, almost no one wants to read it, because it is so cumbersome and verbose.

There are only two letters in the alphabet of the binary language, 0 and 1. So a number like 27 is expressed in binary as 11011. My name Dave is ridiculously complicated in binary: 01000100 01100001 01110110 01100101. (I did the conversion in my head, so there are probably mistakes. And I added the blanks so if you want to check my work, it won’t make you go blind. But the blanks aren’t part of the binary language.)

Hopefully, you can see why the smart people who invented “encoding” did so. It’s much easier to write “Dave” than all those 1s and 0s! How would you remember them? And would your eyes be able to quickly recognize the string of 1s and 0s as the sounds your mouth makes when you say my name? It was invented to make life easier, and it does.

This encoding stuff was invented before I was born, when information for computers was stored on cards made of the same stuff as file folders, and to record a bit of data, you’d punch a hole where you wanted a 1 and not punch one where you want a 0. Long before there were iPods, disks, thumb drives or even magnetic tape, there were specialized computers used by the government and business that recorded information on mountains of these punched cards.

And of course, there was more than one way to encode the data. So the cards that could be read by National Cash Register’s computers couldn’t be read on machines made by Burroughs or UNIVAC. The companies sometimes deliberately set it up this way so their customers couldn’t switch. Once they had you they didn’t want to give you up. (This is called lock-in. Today’s computer companies do it too.)

So there were wars about how to encode data, not wars with guns and people dying, but economic wars, with users caught in the middle. The users would prefer to have choice, so they would have more money to spend on other things, or increase their profits, or allow them to do more with the same amount of money. Eventually the wars ended, leaving us with a confusing mishmash of ways to encode bits, it’s more complicated than anyone wants it to be, but things work as long as you do them the way we do them in America on IBM-compatible equipment, and of course people in other countries don’t like that. That’s why sometimes when you display a document that was written on a Mac in Italian on a PC that’s used in Korea, you see lots of junk on the screen instead of letters that make sense.

We could spend a lot of time arguing about why that happened, but every reasonable person agrees it’s not a good thing.

At least he’s consistent 

Like Tim Bray, I’ve seen this movie.

I don’t know if Dare Obasanjo makes valid criticisms of a technology that Tim co-created, but instead of responding to Dare’s technical points, Tim makes Dare’s personality the issue. I’ve seen him do it before, he’s even done it to me.

I don’t always agree with Microsoft (Dare works at MS), and of course I’m scared of them, but I’m scared of Google too and at one point Tim’s employer threw its weight around in fearsome ways, but come on, keep the personal attacks out of it.

And to Dare, my sympathies.

PS: Microsoft fully supported RSS when it was just past its tipping point, so Tim’s historical argument doesn’t really wash. If APP were really ready for everyone to use it, I’m sure MS would be on board.

Apple browser on Windows 

Apple announced today that Safari will be available for Windows. Allrighty. I can’t imagine the Windows world will care much, but I bet the malware writers are taking note.

A new attack vector. So is Apple’s security better, or are they just untested. Maybe we’ll find out now.

Have a latte 

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by angelcarver on June 11, 2007 at 11:48 am

    I hope you don’t mind if I forward your post along to David Chase, I’m sure it will make him very happy. Were you only watching the Sopranos for the mob hits and the Ba-Da-Bing boob shots? Can someone really devote almost 10 years to a show and spend the whole time completely missing the point? Kudos, idiot-with-a-blog! Kudos.


  2. Posted by Bill on June 11, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    “Encoding is how you take something that a human can read and convert it into something a machine can read” — or more generally — “how one takes something an intelligent being can read”. Let’s all ignore that intelligent being who encoded DNA so that it could be read within our cells to make proteins and such. And by all means let’s not ever think about the implications that such a being exists.

    The paradox of the chicken and the egg is not resolved by evolution, it’s spelled right out in God’s Word — the Bible. God’s encoding of who He is, to be read by His creation, as He designed.


  3. Thanks for the link to that “Bloggers can be mean” article.

    A legal variant: “Bloggers have been mean.” Defense lawyers used that in their “Hasn’t he suffered enough?” plea to lighten the sentence of phone-jamming conspirator James Tobin:


  4. I hear what you are saying about the Sopranos ending but i have to disagree. It was exactly what i expect from david chase..he played with us. The music that usually starts later on started in scene – while the credits were quiet (probably the first time). There was an odd cut see where it looks like tony sees himself sitting in the diner…and the tension! There was also a guy who to probably only to me looks like steve perry walks in and you think this is it. It doesn’t really give us much but it was crafted and enjoyable to me. Great series and to me a great ending.


  5. Thanks for the kind words.


  6. Dare, I think it’s really important for personal issues to be off-topic in these discussions. We have work to do, and that stuff gets in the way.


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