Archive for March, 2004

WikiTravel vs. World66: WikiTravel wins more

Wednesday, March 24th, 2004

Per Evan Prodromou’s request I shared a tiny bit of my knowledge at WikiTravel:Austin. Because I could do so without asking permission, I also copied some text between WikiTravel:Austin and World66:Austin. Due to both having wisely chosen to use the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, WikiTravel and World66 each now have slightly more and better information about Austin, Texas.

WikiTravel benefitted slightly more from the exchange, as it is easier to add useful content to. World66 content is split into more individual pages, requiring multiple page edits where a single operation suffices for adding the same content to WikiTravel. At some point a page does get too long, but my preference is for much longer pages than most sites present — less clicking, more effective in-page searching, and less of a pain to print. More importantly World66 segregates links to external sites from other content. C’mon, this is the web!

Walking Austin

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2004

I spent much of last week in Austin, attending SXSW Interactive with Creative Commons and hearing two nights of good music at SXSW music showcases.

I found time to do some of what I always do when I’m in a new place. First walk around as much as possible. Second, while I’m doing that eat at the local vegetarian restaurants. Third, visit the largest local library.

I think I crisscrossed most of the neighborhoods adjacent to or nearby downtown, about 30 miles total. I enjoyed Travis Heights the most, though admittedly many of my other walks were during the wee morning hours when I couldn’t take in as much visually. Mansions to the west. To the east the Tenth Ward, apparently a predominantly Mexican district, very different feel from San Franicsco’s Mission. Not at all urban. Are drug stores few in Austin, or is it odd to have them every other block, only a slight exaggeration for some areas of San Franicsco? Pleasant surprise: almost no barking dogs.

Mr. Natural (east) is all vegetarian with many vegan options and served some of the best Mexican food I’ve had (however, I’m not a huge fan). I had Tofu Pipian, “Tofu cooked with a rich sauce made of pumpkin and sesame seeds, peanuts, and peppers.” The tofu was very tasty.

Magnolia Caf´┐Ż (south) does have many vegetarian options, but almost none vegan. I had Magnolia Stir Fry, “Ginger, garlic, carrots, broccoli, onion, mushroom, red bells and yellow squash sauteed in honey-lime teriyaki. Served over brown rice. With Tofu.” Surprisingly tasty (I’m really not a fan of American diner fare). The place was packed with a short wait for a seat at 3PM.

The Austin Central Library isn’t shiny, but it was quiet, aroma-free, and seemed to have a good collection. Too bad the San Francisco main library mostly has the opposite traits.

I look forward to visiting Austin again. The place started to grow on me.


Tuesday, March 23rd, 2004

Last week was a busy one for Creative Commons at SXSW, though perhaps not as busy as the week leading up to it.

The CC music panel attracted an if-you-don’t-use-DRM-you-hate-artists troll and hosted at least two interesting announcements: the CC Music Sharing “License” (actually a mere branding-for-music-people of the CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license, not a fragmentation) and physical artifacts from Opsound. Also check out Opsound’s Remix Ready logo/campaign:

Remix Ready
When you see this symbol it means that the artist has offered to provide uncompressed source material for remixing. If the files are available for download on a website, there will be a link you can follow, otherwise contact the artist by email to request the material you’d like to use. Please do be patient and allow the artist some time to respond. Obviously some specific materials may not be available. Have fun.

Great idea, and good segue to the CC film panel, at which the 4th Wall Films project was announced. The idea is to make film “source” — scripts, uncut footage, director’s notes — available for remixing. The panel engendered much excitement, and not just for 4th Wall. Film people seem to have a substantially different attitude than music people.

Heather Ford has a good writeup of both panels.

CC also hosted two parties with Magnatune and EFF-Austin. Jon Lebkowsky has many pictures of the first.

Texas Alien Abductions Up After Chunnel Completion

Monday, March 22nd, 2004

Following the Magnatune & Creative Commons party last Thursday I saw a few more bands play at the Blender Balcony at the Ritz and Room 710 SXSW showcases.

I miscalculated and caught a bit of Supagroup. I can’t stand their brand of rock, not since I first heard something similar when a down-the-street playmate put on a Sammy Hagar record. Supagroup seemed to do what they do very well though. If you have atrocious taste, do yourself a favor and check them out.

Joanna Newsom shtick is singing in a little girl voice while playing a harp in such a way that it sounds mysteriously guitar-like. Great for radio, not bad for a short set, would require a very funny mood to want to listen to an entire album.

Faun Fables is Dawn McCarthy, often accompanied by Nils Frykdahl of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, as she was Thursday evening. I could swear I heard McCarthy sing at the Paradise in San Francisco in the mid-90s, but I can’t find any record of it. At that mythical show (my bad memory has Jad Fair and the Ruins also playing) I was so impressed by the probable-McCarthy’s folk-singing and yodelling that I tried to remember her “name”, but got it wrong, thinking it was Crow-something. Anyway, I was delighted to discover the definite-McCarthy sometime in the more recent past. Her teaming up with Frykdahl is mostly a good thing — Fear March is a nearly perfect song in my book. Sometimes it is almost too much of a good thing, particularly when they sing at the same time. Both have such compelling voices that it is really hard to listen to both at once and hear the beauty of each. Frykdahl ought to do some solo work, even a capella.

Seeing Alice Donut was a real treat. They were on my short list of bands I really wished I had seen, and I’m very happy that they got back together. Singer Tomas Antona is a beautiful person. For star struckers, Jello Biafra was in the audience, the only semi-famous person I noted at SXSW.

Simulacrum playlist for the evening (sans Supagroup) at WebJay.

Also following the Magnatune & CC party, CC’er Glenn Otis Brown attended an MSN party. His account of Microsoft’s tremendous goodwill is a must-read.

Night of Bowed Strings and Cambodian Surf

Thursday, March 18th, 2004

Notes on last night’s SXSW showcase at Emo’s Annex:

Electric cello sololist Erik Friedlander at his best (to my ears) sounded like a Tony ConradKronos Quartet hybrid, i.e., amazing. A couple of plucked pieces were relatively boring, in particular a Carlos Santana piece, and to a lesser extent one by John Zorn. The amazing pieces, which should’ve inspired a miniature mosh pit (as opposed to total destruction of the venue, which is what should’ve happened at the one Conrad show I’ve had the pleasure of attending — I’ll have to write about that sometime), more than made up for the uninteresting interludes. Friedlander’s set was the best of the evening, and I plan on checking out more of his music.

Dengue Fever, billed as a “six-piece Cambodian Psychedelic rock band” was decent. Lyrics were all in Cambodian, mostly sung by a Camobdian woman. One sax player worked well with the sound, which is pretty hard to do in my listening experience. Asides: I note that the Dengue Fever site lists among related projects Brazzaville, a band I’m familiar with via their use of Joe Frank, my spiritual guru, on a track called Ocean. Check out L.A.’s Brazzaville found its audience in Russia via downloads and pirated CDs from the December 1, 2003 Los Angeles Times.

Estradasphere played jammy exotica, heavy metal and banjo-led bluegrass, none of it all that effectively to my ears (actually the banjo sounded OK). Each musician played at least two instruments. They’re obviously talented, but the implementation just didn’t work for me.

I’ve seen Sleepytime Gorilla Museum a bunch of times in San Francisco. They played mostly new material I hadn’t heard before, some of it more explicitly political than their previous work, including a song about Rome introduced with a dedication to “the American Empire at its greatest extent” and another intro’d with (to the best of my memory) “a man who saw many things wrong with the world and attempted to fix them by sending little wooden boxes to strong people” about the Unabomber. They closed with the track they used to always open with, Sleep is Wrong, which made everyone very sad there was no time for an encore.

Secret Chiefs 3 consisted of all of the members of Estradasphere less the drummer, plus four other musicians, including two different drummers. They got into some OK multi-ethnic mish-mash grooves. Just OK.

(Apart from Dengue Fever, all of the bands last night employed at least one amplified bowed string instrument.)

For a hint at what the show was like, listen to my 2004-03-17 Emo’s Annex Simulacrum playlist at WebJay. Most of the songs on the playlist are just recent tracks from the artists involved and probably weren’t the ones played last night. I also didn’t make any attempt to choose representative or superior tracks — this post has already taken far too much time, apologies.

Tonight following the Magnatune & Creative Commons party I’m hoping to catch two acts to die for — experimental yodeller Faun Fables and out-of-retirement sardonic-hard-punk-rock band Alice Donut.

Hello Austin

Monday, March 15th, 2004

I’m in Austin, Texas now for SXSW, where Creative Commons has two panels, two parties, and an exhibitor booth. Check the Creative Commons weblog for info and updates.

This is my first time in Austin (and Texas, and “the South”). I probably won’t have much time to explore, but I’m curious — I very nearly moved to Austin after finishing school eleven years ago. As far as I could tell San Francisco has a better live music scene for the types of music I’m interested in (at that time Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 and frequent visits from Japanoise bands in particular), among other things. I should’ve moved to New York or Tokyo instead, but I didn’t even consider them, which I now find inexplicable. No, I don’t. Lack of knowledge.

So far: I’m grateful for the non-stop SJC-AUS nerd bird, and that I found out about a four hour delay before leaving home for SJC. AUS was shiny, clean and empty (excepting the sound of some fiddling country music) at 2:15AM. My cheap hotel has WiFi and ethernet ($9.95/day or $39.95/week).

Client-side remixing isn’t so loopy

Saturday, March 13th, 2004

Lucas Gonze’s analysis of client-side remixing is spot on. Summary: client-side remixing is to precise syncrhonization as HTML is to precise layout. If you don’t need precision, enjoy.

I see three limits to client-side remixing. All can be raised:

  • Bad client software. It either doesn’t work or barely works and you need a very keen eye to find a gratis download amongst enticements to buy a super-premium subscription version (cf RealPlayer).
  • Lack of expressivity. Remixers don’t just overlay source segments, they also apply various effects to the same.
  • Streaming-like experience. In order to obtain a smooth client-side remix playback you (actually your client, this is a subset of “bad client software”) will have to download most of the needed source content first. I often have a bad experience with playing-while-downloading of individual songs and videos over the net, nevermind many coordinated sources.

I suspect that with excellent client software the client-side remix experience could be very good. Lack of expressivity seems like the toughest hurdle to me. However, if said excellent client software can download and run code safely … effectlets?

Video games seem like a highly constrained example of what client-side remixing could do. They pull off co-ordinating lots of different source media (sometimes all local, but that’s beside the point) with code quite well, versus hardcoding different sources into a single stream at the point of production.

However, anytime in the near future using client-side remixing to evade those who would prevent distribution of The Grey Album and the like is pointless. Client-side remixing isn’t up to the task, and you can still download the album from the web after weeks of brouhaha, nevermind P2P networks.

Memory augmentation: cc-metadata client-side remixing [1] [2]

DirectConnect increment[al download verification]

Thursday, March 4th, 2004

Slyck reports on a major DirectConnect upgrade. DirectConnect hasn’t seen much interest from the press or technologists, but it does have a significant userbase, with 215,880 users currently online according to the Slyck home page, slightly smaller than Gnutella’s 234,618. I have no idea how Slyck obtains those numbers.

Anyhow, it is good to see that DirectConnect has adopted file hashing, specifically THEX (Tree Hash EXchange) using the Tiger hash. This allows DirectConnect clients to find exact alternate download sources and to verify downloads as they progress and opens to door to future MAGNET and Bitzi lookup support.

Here’s a MAGNET link that includes the tiger tree root (second component of the bitprint) and a corresponding Bitzi info lookup by urn:tree:tiger. (631.9MB)


Wednesday, March 3rd, 2004

Creative Commons license ports to Japanese law are now available. Note the “2.0” version (e.g., Attribution 2.0 Japan). These ports are based on the upcoming version 2.o licenses. Japan gets them first.

What I learned: Perl text-mangling one-liners work great on utf8, too!

Creative Commons Search, useful to me

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2004

Yesterday on the Creative Commons weblog:

Today we announce a search engine prototype exclusively for finding Creative Commons licensed and public domain works on the web.

Indexing only pages with valid Creative Commons metadata allows the search engine to display a visual indicator of the conditions under which works may be used as well as offer the option to limit results to works available licenses allowing for derivatives or commercial use.

This prototype partially addresses one of our tech challenges. It still needs lots of work. If you’re an interested developer you can obtain the code and submit bugs via the cctools project at SourceForge. The code is GNU GPL licensed and builds in part upon Nathan Yergler’s ccRdf library.

We also have an outstanding challenge to commercial search engines to build support for Creative Commons-enhanced searches.

And it hasn’t melted down yet.

Ben Adida wrote most of the code that needed to be written in Python (not much — PostgreSQL with tsearch2 full-text indexing does all of the heavy lifting). Former government employee Justin Palmer wrote an earlier prototype in AOLserver/Tcl, also using PG/tsearch2. (Turns out we needed the flexibility of running under Apache. I’ll miss AOLserver/Tcl when I last touch it, but I’ll also be glad to be rid of it.) I did a PHP hack job on the front end, and Matt Haughey made it look good (for end users, not code readers) in a matter of minutes.

Although everything possible sucks about this implementation, it is already a valuable tool for finding CC-licensed and public domain content — stuff you can reuse with permission already granted. Neeru Paharia was the visionary here, seeing that it would be valuable even if it sucked in every way technically.

Stephen Downes is exactly right about the long term goal:

Of course, this is only a step – such a search engine would not be useful for many purposed; copyright information needs, in the long run, to define a search field or a type of search, not a whole search engine.

With great justification major search enginges have ignored pure metadata for a long time, at least five years. Pure metadata, with no visibility, is nearly universally ill-maintained or fraudulent. I hope that this Creative Commons prototype inspires some people at major search engines to think again about metadata, but I think semantic HTML is what will finally prove useful to such folks, in no small part because it isn’t pure metadata. I’ll post on incremental semantic search engine features in the near future.