Scripting News for 10/22/07

The next toy 

Something new in News 

It’s not very often that you see something new in News.

News is not exactly new technology, but when personal computers came along, and then widespread networking, it created a whole new playing field for news, that has shaken things up for most of my life. Change comes in fits at starts. First there was the web, then RSS, and now I think we’re on the cusp of another bit of change.

If you want to see what I think it looks like, check out the home page of But that’s not the end of the story. A flat completely chronologic view of news probably isn’t enough. And earlier this month at a meeting in NY, two engineers at the NY Times set me off in a new direction, with a very simple bit of advice. They told me to look in the HTML source code of their stories. When I did I saw they had applied a taxonomy to their news flow, and this opened the door to what I would like to show you today — an outline view of the news.

I believe it’s fairly self-explanatory.

The topics are arranged in order of frequency in today’s news.

In a previous rendering, the stories were shown in a histogram, but this view I think is much better. You can still see how many pieces relate to the indicated topic, but by clicking on the plus next to each topic, you can actually see the headlines and descriptions, and if you want more you can click through to the full stories. (Initially, the outline was sorted by frequency, with the most frequently occurring keyword appearing first. I changed it, based on feedback, to be alphabetic.)

Now, there’s still more to do, I showed this to a number of people during the weekend and got some excellent clues on ideas to pursue next, and I will do that. Further, in the process of exploring this, I’ve been shown the work of other developers who discovered the keywords on their own, and one in particular is very interesting. I’m hoping that these projects will come public so I can show them to you and tell you what I think they mean.

This is what I live for, professionally — the sense of being somewhere with great unexplored potential, a virgin landscape of the intellect. I’m never happier than when I get to play in such a place.

Dan Gillmor: “Dave Winer has been exploring a superb news resource, exploring the depth and breadth of the New York Times‘ data-stream.”

Bijan Sabet: Dave’s River of News.

Scott Rosenberg: Remixing news.

Om Malik: A new way to view news.

Please comment on the screen shot page.

It pays to keep an eye on Comcast 

Over the weekend there were several reports that confirm that Comcast is interfering with their customers’ use of BitTorrent. This raises several more questions and concerns.

1. There are infringing uses of BitTorrent, for sure, but why is Comcast taking the role of enforcer against the interest of their customers. Just a question, but not likely to get an answer, because Comcast officially denies they’re doing anything, even though employees (apparently) are confirming, not for attribution, that they are.

2. What about non-infringing uses of BitTorrent? Can their algorithms tell if someone is using BitTorrent to share mamterial that they have the legal right to distribute? If not, how do they justify interfering with their customers’ use of the Internet?

3. And perhaps most disturbing, what does this say for the future? Perhaps someday it will be deemed inappropriate for people to publish content to the Internet, if so, could Comcast take steps to block that activity? How different is this from interfering with BitTorrent?

It pays to have a clean garbage disposal 

Another nugget I thought would be good to share.

I came home from my trip to NY and there was a pretty bad stink in the kitchen.

Smelled like garbage.

It didn’t take long to zero in on the source — the garbage disposal.

I tried pouring all kinds of cleaning stuff down the drain, to no avail, the smell didn’t go away.

Then I did a search on the Internet, found a variety of suggestions, and felt pretty sure that I’d have to call a plumber because they all seemed to assume skills and/or tools I didn’t have. Instead I tried a very simple idea and amazingly it worked.

1. Put a drain stopper in the disposal so no water can flow out through the bottom

2. Fill the sink with hot water mixed with soap and chlorine bleach. The hotter the water the better.

3. With the water running put one hand on the stopper and the other on the switch, as you pull out the stopper, turn on the switch. (Be sure to do it in that order, to keep your hand from getting chopped up!)

4. Let all the water run out of the sink and leave the water running as long as there’s suds.

5. Repeat two or three times. Wait a day or two. With any luck the smell will be gone.

The reason this works is that junk gets stuck on the walls of the drain, and since it’s garbage, it rots and stinks. By immersing it in soapy water, the junk gets dislodged and goes down the drain and out of your life.

It pays to mull things over 

I just figured something out, and it’s the kind of thing that’s best said publicly, even though it’s likely to: 1. Be misunderstood and 2. Upset some people.

But since it’s all about this blog it really is best to air it here.

First what triggered the epiphany.

I was over at Loic Le Meur’s house in San Francisco yesterday having lunch with his family and friends. We were all drinking wine (very good wine of course), enjoying the view, and talking about this and that, when the subject turned to Mike Arrington. Loic said that Mike told him that we used to be best friends. I couldn’t figure out what that meant, because our friendship was the business kind of friendship not the personal kind. What does it mean to be best friends in that way? And how does that relate to having a blog? It never occurred to me that friendship meant that (here’s the epiphany) that I would only say positive things about Mike’s business. It didn’t occur to me until I heard Loic’s side of a blog-fight that I saw happen from a distance, with Sam Sethi, Mike and Loic.

Complicated? You bet. Too complicated. An unspoken deal that I never agreed to.

When Mike was starting TechCrunch, I pointed to his blog all the time, with glowing praise, because I was truly impressed with what he was doing and because I wanted to encourage other people to do it too. I wanted people to write about technology products based on how they used them, not based on alliances, investment, posturing of execs, the crappy stuff that means almost nothing to users, and imho is just a substitute for actually understanding the technology. Mike was approaching products the way I felt they should be approached. Hence the praise.

Fact is, my opinion of Mike, as a person, hasn’t changed much in the last couple of years. He has a personal charm and charisma that not everyone finds appealing, but I do. I like hanging out with the guy.

However, that doesn’t mean that if my opinion of TechCrunch, his business, isn’t uniformly positive (and of course these days it is actually fairly negative) that I will withhold it. But it’s also part of Mike’s way of dealing with people that he sees criticism as betrayal. I just don’t see it that way. I’ve had the shit kicked out of me so many times, and as a programmer I understand that criticism is necessary to perfect a user interface, even to get the damned thing working, that even when it hurts, I have to push the hurt aside and listen to what people are saying, and try to respond to it. Professionalism demands it.

Anyway, one of the reasons I want to write this now is that I’ve written about Loic’s business here a couple of times in very positive terms. I don’t want anyone, esp Loic, to assume that this will always be so. If they get in the way of other creative people, or otherwise act as a poor example of entrepreneurship in technology, of course I will write about it, and will say what I think. I would expect Loic and people at his company to take what I write to heart, and consider it. My feelings won’t be hurt if they don’t do what I say. (People almost never do.)

Same as when I said Facebook sucks. Or when I criticize Techmeme. This isn’t in any way meant to reflect on the quality of the people at Facebook (some of whom I know to be outstanding people of high principle) or Gabe Rivera who I know to be a very smart and competent and honorable person. It’s possible to critcize someone’s work and still admire the person. My epiphany is that a lot of people who thought were my friend, didn’t understand this very basic thing about me.

8/17/07: Friendship and blogging.

6 responses to this post.

  1. When I wrote Tao of AppleScript (and to some extent Zen and the Art of Resource Editing), I had a hard time with the editing process. Two of my friends were doing the editing, and I couldn’t quite separate constructive criticism from just criticism.

    When I picked up pen again 10 years later, I realized that a good editor was a huge gift. Here was someone who could catch mistakes and odd language issues before thousands of readers saw them with my name attached. They inspired me to train myself to become a better writer, which is an ongoing process.

    It didn’t change our respect for each other. They still appreciate my work and intelligence and research, but writers are always too close to the text to see all the issues.

    Now, when I edit my friends’ work, I say up front, “You’re too good of a friend for me to be less than honest with you.” When I edit non-friends’ work, I say, “This is a good piece, but I had a few questions and comments.”


  2. All of which is to say, I understand hurt feelings from criticism, but people need to recognize the value of others commenting on their work. (Forgot to add that above.)


  3. A person with far more experience than me once said that a good leader praises in public and corrects in private. I think this is also applies to real friendship (as opposed to the facebook version).
    Public conversations and even public criticism has its place. I have to agree with you that Mike assumed too much in this relationship, but I think Mike is correct in expecting a friend not to publicly criticize. His mistake – you were never friends.
    A true friend will tell you when you are wrong, but they will at least try to do it without embarrassing you. If you are not friends, however, public communication may be the only option. In other cases, public example may be the best way to teach others, but friends do not make good public examples in most cases.


  4. truth is, most people live by their ego; and can’t handle criticism. i know i’ve had my problems dealing with the opinions of others; but, if you’re smart, you get over it, take the broader view, learn, and change for the better.


  5. About the disposal:

    Dave, next time try just stuffing a couple of lemons, cut into quarters, down the running disposal. My brother, when he had a meyer lemon tree in the backyard, used to do this and reported that it worked well.

    About criticism of one’s “friends”:

    I’m with Luke Gedeon, and the policy of praising in public and criticizing in private is not just true for leaders, but for all of us. Which consideration must, in your case, be tempered in light of the fact that you’re a journalist and thus can’t be everybody’s friend.


  6. I don’t get what the big noveltywith the NY Newsriver is? Could someone explain


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