Read This Book: “The Windup Girl”

Cover image for The Wondup GirlPaolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, one of the most compelling and thought-provoking books I’ve read in a long time, was awarded Best Novel in the 2010 Hugo awards.

It’s about gene hacking, corporate warfare, energy, and personal loyalty set in a not-too-distant future Bangkok.  Highly recommended.  This one is worth your time.

Click for the full list of this year’s Hugo Award winners.

Data Without Borders – Episode 6


It’s Eve’s turn in the hot seat this week, as she takes us through the User Managed Access projects that she is working on. As if that wasn’t enough, we crack jokes that only make sense if you know bad 80s music and everyone picks on me for talking slowly. What more could you want in a podcast? We should be charging for this thing.

Show notes and download links here. 

Data Without Borders is a weekly podcast about data portability, online identity, information authority, and all kinds of other cool stuff.

It’s very interesting.

The regulars this week are J. Trent Adams, Christian Scholz, Elias Bizannes, Eve Maler, and me.

Check us out on iTunes!
If you liked the show, or if you didn’t, please leave us a comment!

Data Without Borders is an updated version of the In Motion series that J. Trent Adams and I did back in 2008. I’m very proud of those, so give them a listen if you haven’t already.

Yes, Yes, a Thousand Times Yes

Over on the always excellent hueniverse, Dirk Balfanz describes a workable way to use email addresses as OpenIDs.

This has been something of a religious war over the last few years, and I come down firmly on the side that says that email addresses win because they are good enough and people already know how to use them. Greenberg’s Rule #2: Convenience beats quality every time.

I spent the $12 to get an iName but I’m a big, dumb, nerd (=steven.greenberg surprisingly enough) and love this stuff. I was never under any illusion that my friends were going to start using them. There is simply no compelling feature that will make people switch.

The fact that OpenID URLs, iNames, or your pet technology of choice is “better” for some software reason isn’t even remotely relevant. Switching has a cost, and users aren’t going to learn something new unless you give them an extremely compelling reason. If users don’t know how to use these IDs, sites won’t support them. InfoCard has a chance — but only a chance — because it’s going to be baked into Windows.

Email addresses are far from perfect, but they get the job done and your users already have one. The path to identity portability might end with InfoCard or something similar but, like everything else, it begins with an email address.

Data Without Borders Podcast – Episode 5

ps.gbzcmoam.170x170-75.jpgData Without Borders is a weekly podcast about data portability, online identity, information authority, and all kinds of other cool stuff.

It’s very interesting.

The regulars this week are J. Trent Adams, Christian Scholz, and me. Elias has mysteriously gone missing (after muttering something about Las Vegas), but Eve Maler generously agreed to stop by in his absence. We hope she’ll become a regular.

Most of this episode is spent discussing the work of the TOS/EULA task force that I chair – which is way more interesting than you think it would be – so I end up doing much more talking in this one than I usually do. Eve later described the conversation as “passionate“, which I have decided to take as a compliment.

Show notes and download links here. 

Check us out on iTunes!
If you liked the show, or if you didn’t, please leave us a comment!

Data Without Borders is an updated version of the In Motion series that J. Trent Adams and I did back in 2008. I’m very proud of those, so give them a listen if you haven’t already.

I am a Reformed Pastafarian

Enough people have asked about this that I may as well come out with it. It’s true, I’ve strayed a bit from my previous orthodoxy.

Over these past few years, I’ve accepted pho bo vien into my heart. Yes, I know… it’s soup. I’m one of *those* people.

Wait, hear me out. Look past the surface, and what do you see? Noodles and meatballs! Sauce, soup, are they really so different? Ok, it’s not tomato based but I think that He’s bigger than that. This earth of ours is 2/3 water, so why is it so hard for people to accept that the sacramental noodles would be good in soup?

I’ve heard all the snide little jokes and insults. I’ve “watered down” my faith. You’re all so clever.

Anyway, that’s where my heart is. I hope you can accept me.

From a Whisper to a Scream

In which I discuss the importance of intent to communication tools and annoy the people around me with a story about a dishwasher.

One of the things that make modern air travel such a joy is the way we have to pretend to ignore the deeply personal, intimate conversations being shouted into cell phones around us. Sure, there are no state secrets being revealed but – and I mean this from the heart – I don’t care that you got a new dishwasher.

If I was to ask one of those shouters who they were talking to, they’d probably say, “my friend“, “my sister”, or whoever it was on the other end of the phone. They probably wouldn’t say that they were talking to me or the rest of the people here in the airport. But they are. I could hear them just fine, probably more clearly than their friend, despite the fact that they hadn’t even noticed that I was there. They don’t mean to be rude, don’t mean to shout their every thought to the whole world, and probably don’t even realize that they’re doing it.

I do this too, of course, and you probably do, too. The problem isn’t just that we’re stupid (although that’s usually a safe guess), it’s the tool. The way the phone works – even when I’m using it properly – leads me to shout when I thought I was whispering. I make my conversations public without even realizing. I get caught up in the conversation and forget who can hear what I say. By the time I notice, it’s too late.

This same thing happens on Facebook, my blog, and anywhere else I’m posting. When I write a jokey response to someone’s post, I’m just thinking of them and often forget that they’re not the only one who’s going to see it. But I’m just talking to my friend, right. That was my intent. I didn’t mean to shout.

How many times have you posted something and seen a reply that made you think, “wow, I forgot I was even connected to that person“? My freshman roommate, people I haven’t seen since grade school in the 70s, parents of my kids’ friends, and my wife’s deeply religious aunts will all see every stupid YouTube fart joke I post on Facebook.

This is a problem. The tools should recognize who I’m trying to talk to, and let me limit this message to just them. The tool should care about my intent.

Offline, I don’t tell every single thing to every single person. I know who I’m talking to and tailor what I say accordingly. I tell my friends different things than my co-workers, and I tell little to strangers. Online there is usually one big context: Everyone. Tools like Facebook let me mark people as “friends“, but that term has been stretched so far that it’s become meaningless. I need a way to manage the context in which I’m heard. These people are really my friends, that bunch are people I used to know and “friended” to be polite, those are family, these others are co-workers.

In short: My OPS guys don’t care about my dishwasher, my grade school friends don’t care that the servers are up, and the fewer fart jokes that make it onto the screens of my wife’s aunts, the happier we’ll all be.

The tools often let me create lists of people, but they don’t let me use them in the way I want. When I post something, I should have the option of saying, “only show it to these people”. I want to be able to set up my lists once, and use them in all of my tools.

What do you think? Am I the only one who thinks this is a problem worth solving? Leave me a comment.

Goals of the TOS/EULA Working Group

One of the projects I am involved with is the EULA and TOS working group of This is some interesting stuff, and I’d like to take a minute to discuss what we’re trying to accomplish and why we think it’s important.

If you were to attend one of our meetings (every other Wednesday at 20:00 UTC), you’d hear that we frequently invoke the Creative Commons. To my eyes, the CC performed two services (both equally important).  The most visible was the legal documents, but what I think is often overlooked is how brilliantly they framed the conversation.  They provided the terms and concepts that allowed the conversation to take place.  With the CC, it was possible for users to quickly determine what their expectations of the service provider were, and what the service provider expected of them in return.  Previously, a user had to understand the specific terms of each site independently.  The CC made it possible for users to quickly evaluate the terms offered by a site, know whether they were in compliance, and determine whether they wanted to take part.

This is, more or less, what we want to provide for Data Portability.  Our ultimate goal is a set of legal “modules” that can inform or be included in TOS and EULA documents.  That’s a way off, though, as right now we’re working through the terms and concepts that will help people understand what they’re agreeing can be done with their data.

It’s a sprawling topic, and touches questions of identity, privacy, individual control, and property.  Our hope is to provide the conceptual tools that help people understand the decisions they’re making when they sign up to a service.

Obama is Bill Clinton with his Pants On

I think that what Democrats of my cohort (30s and 40s) really want from Obama is a do-over of Clinton’s first term. Only this time with no bimbos, travel office “scandal”, trooper tales, or land deals. No health insurance road shows starring Ira Magaziner. No government shut downs. No Vince Foster conspiracy theories. No Gennifer. No Paula. No cigar. No blue dress. No Monica.

Definitely no Monica.

People used to quip that Clinton was the first black President. Well, maybe it works both ways. Maybe we want the first black President to be Clinton.

Your Table is Flat

We had noodles for dinner the other night. Not just any noodles, they were fresh ones made in Japan. This never ceases to amaze me, and the kids and I spent a little time imagining the the trip these noodles had made. They’d come half way around the world just to be our dinner.

This led to an observation: Almost nothing on our dinner table was made or grown anywhere near us.

The plates were made in Malaysia, the glasses are from Italy and Turkey, the flatware comes from Germany, the table cloth was from El Salvador and the napkins were made in Guatemala. The noodles were from Japan. The tofu and veggies were from California.

How about you? Take a look at your dinner table tonight. Where did all that stuff come from?