Wikipedia has been in existence for ten years, and it has come a long, long way in the interval. Some people are not happy however that guys make up the majority of article authors, and by a very wide margin. WP has a person whose job it is to increase the percentage of women authors, to the point at which they form about a quarter of the total. So, why is it the case that men predominate in writing for WP? One answer says that women are less confident in displaying their views in public then men are. I’ve known some women who are not at all unwilling to express views, so I have some doubts about that. Another explanation traces it to the “geek culture” origins of WP and the Interwebs generally, which were largely guy-driven. That’s not much of answer either. My own view on the authorship disparity is that women are, much more reasonable and sensible than men are. And they think that spending large amounts of time researching and writing articles on Moe, the Bartender in the Simpsons, or the correct use of the dative case in Klingon, or the ideal configuration for a team in fantasy baseball, are just silly. Maybe it dates back to the earliest days of humanity. It was always woman’s job to keep the man from going off and doing something stupid, like challenging the guy in the next cave to a weero drinking contest, or provoking that otherwise peaceful woolly mammoth into attacking. Women have an intense practical side, reflected in such questions as ” how does drinking more weero than the guy in the next cave bring in today’s breakfast, lunch and dinner?” I admit, I have no evidence for this poking around in prehistory. But, I think it makes a lot of sense. There is an article on the authorship disparity in today’s New York Times, and various theories are proposed. Yeah, well, maybe.
Jefferson, the Cooper’s Hawk that somehow flew into the main reading room at the Library of Congress and then evaded either capture or eviction for the next five days or so has finally been bagged and is now on the way to a wildlife rehabilitation center in Northern Virginia. The birdie made the news by flying, rather elegantly, around the newly refurbished dome of the reading room and avoiding the clumsy attempts of the two-footed earthbounds to get him, well, her acutally into some container. But, it seems that at last hunger overcame caution and Ole Jeff entered one of the lairs to get at a piece of frozen salmon, or eel or a fish head or something and then the guy with the sting pulled the stick away and the box came down. At least, that’s the way they did it in the Tom and Jerry cartoons. I think the people there may may have had something more sophisticated to use, but the principle is the same. Different sorts of wildlife seem to be moving in, so to speak. There are bears in New Jersey (New Jersey!!!), a hawk in Central Park (known to his fans as Pale Male), coyotes everyplace. you can’t turn around without finding a deer looking at you,and even the armadillo seems to be on the march, well, on the waddle is more like it. Now, there’s a hawk in the Library of Congress. He may have been there to catch up on his reading, but I don’t think so. It seems like a Silent Reconquest by the other Taxa. Maybe they all had a meeting and decided that humans are through. They’re taking over again.
It’s a really terrible pun, and I ought to be ashamed of myself, but I’ll let it stand. The story here is that Apple has begun to fit new production runs of its various products with a rather unusual type of screw. Such a fastener makes it more difficult for people, owners in other words, to open the devices. Apple calls the new thingy a ‘pentalobular’ fastener, because it has five roundish sections each of which looks, sort of, like the petal of a flower or something. The accompanying link to The Economist’s blog on tech stuff, Babbage has a picture of the new screw. Critics say that Apple is just trying to make it tougher for owners to get inside their gadgets to change the battery. Battery changing in Apple outlets is a nice little sideline for the company and brings in not a few bucks, especially when you consider that battery life on these things is not especially robust and that people use them heavily. A buck is a buck, after all. And if swapping the pentalobulars for the traditional Phillips head raises the bar just that little much needed to discourage DIYers, that’s good for the outfit, no? Babbage points out, that while true, this is not the whole story. Apple devices pack a lot of components into very small spaces, and clumsy fingers, clumsily holding sharp tools, can do a lot of damage inside. So, the screw swap may be a somewhat paternalistic but not entirely misguided effort to protect people from their worst enemies-themsleves, while making a shilling or two in the bargain. But, as is so often the case, the fix is only partial. A company is already providing a by-pass kit with the tools needed to get the PL screws out and replace them with Phillips heads. Read on.
Everybody loves Barnes & Noble. Everybody in publishing, that is. And that is very strange, because not so many years ago B&N was about as welcome as ants at a picnic, which is to say not very much at all. The outfit got the reputation of being a kind of bruiser and bully in the book world. It gobbled up chains such as Bookstop, and then closed the stores. And the competitive pressure it put on independent book store owners was pretty tough to withstand. A lot of indies went out of business rather than try to slug it out, toe to toe. They also got into the college market and ditched a lot of the more rarefied and specialist academic titles in favor of other items with bigger profit margins. Beyond that, executives had a rep for rather thuggish behavior, and were often short-tempered and scowling at stockholders’ meetings. So, it was with some surprise that I read the piece linked to below. B&N has emerged as the Good Guy. The Houston-based writer points out several changes in attitude to customer service, and a definite shift in the company’s effort to get and hold on to repeat buyers. Of course, B&N was the subject of a take-over movement in the past year or so, things may not have settled down quite yet. And, a number or people were laid off, despite glowing reports on the good holiday season. All that is a little unsettling. But the writer claims that publishers and authors and booksellers of all types need B&N as a counterweight to Amazon and Google. Borders Books is teetering on the edge and its demise would leave B&N as the sole ‘big box’ book dealer. So, odd as it may seem, Indies and all those involved in publishing are holding good thoughts for B&N, despite its checkered past. As that old Mid Eastern proverb goes ” the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, for a while anyway.
PS. The fiction buyer for Barnes and Noble is a woman who is referred to reverentially as “She Who Must Not Be Named”. This lady is very powerful. Her choices can mean success or failure. B&N can still “make” a book.
The influential social thinker and writer Daniel Bell died recently at his home in Cambridge, MA. Mr. Bell was 91 years old. Best known for his cultural critiques of modern American industrial society, Bell was a major figure in the academic world of the United States as it emerged from World War II. His books The End of Ideology (1960) and Cultural Contradicitons of Capitalism (1978) wound up on the list of the 100 most influential books published since 1945, the year World War II ended, as selected by the Times Literary Supplement of London. Much of Bell’s reputation is based on the accuracy of his predictions about the forms of social organization the post-war era would require. He suggested that industries strongly based on science would dominate, that mass consumerism would be the motor of much of economic expansion, that “ideologies” and “isms” were losing force as determinants of action. It’s even possible to say that he glimpsed a proto-typical sketch of the Internet, when he discussed linked information services. Bell was born in New York, educated there, went to college there and spent most of his academic career at one or another of of the east coast schools. He was thorougly tested in the Lefty hot-house that was City College of New York in the late 1930s, which featured every color and hue of program from hard-line Stalinists to dreamy Trots and Social Democrats. The disputes were bitter, and the battles raged for days. It was great training for a career in thinking about ideas, analyzing arguments, expressing yourself clearly and developing a thick skin. And the Left was the only source for sustained intellectual critique of industrial capitalism, much of which was perceptive and accurate.
Today, in 1921, a play called R.U.R. opened in Prague. It was written by a man named Karl Capek, and it contained characters that have become staples not only of our fiction but also of actual daily life. And of course I’m referring to ‘robots’. The term comes from a Czech word that means something like ‘compulsory service’ or ‘forced labor’. And, of course, once launched on the stage in Prague, robots marched on throughout the 20th century, taking all kinds of forms, starring in movies and TV shows, apppearing on comic book covers and the like. We have actual robots all over the place today. Not the lumbering ‘mechanical men’ of SciFi, but devices that do useful things and go to places which are too hostile to human biology. It all started today, in a theater in Prague.
Remember that movie BRAZIL? It was a dystopia, in which a modern society runs along, sort of, on technologies from the 1930s and 40s, and everything is kept going by repair guys? They find ways around problems; a little tape here, a valve twist there, and things totter along for a while longer. Of course the repairs are made at somebody else’s expense. The repair guys fix your hot water by taking some from a neighbor, and when s/he complains, they fix it by taking from somebody else, and like that. But, at no time is the entire system replaced with anything new. Well, that’s what will happen with the Internet, says an article posted on Technology Review. The last addresses in the current naming scheme will soon be assigned, and that will be that. The internet will be full-up. No more. So, what happens? Well, for a while, nothing. Various tricks and patches have been and will be applied to mitigate the effects of this saturation. Something called NAT, for Network Address Translation, is already on the scene and will get a bigger role in the future. Crudely put, NAT allows more than one client to share an IP address. Years ago, too long ago for most readers of these lines to remember, there was something called party line telephone service. Two, or more, customers shared the same line. If you picked up the phone, you might easily hear somebody else talking. If you shared a arty line with some chatterbox, you could be better off going down to the drugstore to use the pay phone. Party line service was a lot cheaper than private line, but had those inconveniences. Some clowns, with nothing better to do, would lift their receivers and just listen in on the conversations of their neighbors. The point here is that NAT operates roughly the same way. You are sharing an IP address with one or more other users. This all could get very messy. If one of your secret sharers’ runs a porn site, or a phonus bolonus stock scheme, there is no way to tell that it’s not you the gendarmes are after. The blame for this falls on all of us, as usual. Version 6 of the IP protocol has not been implemented because of all the technical and financial ‘dislocations’ that would ensue. ‘Dislocations’ is economist-speak for Bad Things. Stalling on the implementation of IPv6, and the desire to avoid the D word has made planners, network execs (who get paid on the basis of quarterly earnings, not on far-sightedness or intelligent planning) dodge the bullet(s). Because we didn’t want the D word stuff, execs, regulators, planners and others tried to keep us happy. Like Dickens’ Mr. Micawber, the were hoping for something to turn up. But, it didn’t . So, we can experience a long, slow, decline.
The cliche of the detective story of the so-called Golden Age of mystery fiction was that The Butler Did It. Well, change the subject to Printer and you have a lively topic of conversation at digit-heads conventions. It seems that the ordinary, taken-for-granted, sit-in-the-corner printer can be the source of much mischief. Printers have become more capable over the last several years, and can now do quite a few things more than just print. This increase in capability comes at a cost: the printers now found in many offices are really “online”, and they’re connected to some part of your organization’s network. Otherwise, what’s the point? It seems that the beady eyes of the criminal classes are starting to look at printers as a way to penetrate and compromise an organization’s set-up, take over machines and even user their memories to store data. Security interests are waking up to the problems brought on by the newer models of printer and are starting to develop countermeasures, but the pros think the manufacturers have been far too casual about security, and they should be thinking about this way before the final design hits the factory floor.
It’s all over the Interwebs and the story is getting more exegesis than the tale of Noah at a convention of Bible scholars. Larry Page, one of Google’s founders, is back in the saddle. Eric Schmidt, who took over some years ago as CEO will still be around and have a major role. Page is quoted as saying that Google needs to get a certain something called “start-up spark” back from whatever pawn shop they put it in when G became a Super Big Company. The place has to be more nimble and agile, etc. It’s become too bureaucratic and structured. Right now, Google is like the Pentagon, and Page wants it to be more like Lawrence of Arabia. Or something. First of all, I think Schmidt is on the way out. “One rug is space enough for four beggars to sleep, but the whole world not room enough for two sultans”, as the proverb has it. So, Mr. Schmidt can start packing up his trophies. It won’t be right away. Second, I don’t think a big company can be nimble and agile, so if this is really is what Page is after, he will be disappointed. Third, the word is that Google was stunned at the success of Facebook and Twitter and feels they should have had competing systems in place to get some of that action. Maybe. Or Maybe people there got tired of the doughnuts wSchmidt was bringing to the meetings. The “analysts” have to write about something, and talk about things on their broadcasts, blogs and so forth. The temptation is strong to inflate the story, and speculate on possible motives that just aren’t there. Maybe Page just wanted to come back to work. Still, it’s unusual to have big changes such as this, in the absence of a corporate crisis or looming criminal indictment. Some folks in Google Land are unhappy, and will be joined by many others I fear. I hope they saved some money.
There is a search engine called Duck Duck Go, DDG for short. No, there really is. It’s small. A start up. It has a staff of one and an administrative structure of one, and they are the same person. DDG would, of course, like to be much bigger, but there are certain obstacles in the way. One of those obstacles is called Google, which DDG considers its prime opponent and competitor. Google doesn’t seem to be very worried about any threat from DDG. But DDG is going after Google big time, and in its home town too. Well, in San Francisco anyway. DDG rented a big billboard in downtown SF, where there is a lot of motor traffic, and had a simple message to all passing by: DDG Doesn’t Track. Google Does. OK, that’s it. That and a picture of a duck. The point is to stress the fact that DDG does not forward a searcher’s query to the web site the search selects. Google’s machine does do this, and it enables sites to pair particular users with particular kinds of questions. This is great for advertisers who want to sell you foot balm, or pliers or some high-tech gizmo. It’s not so good for other things, such as privacy. If you happen to think that it’s nobody’s business if you need foot balm, or even don’t need it but are just curious about what such a thing might be, then you are at a disadvantage. And this is where DDG slips in the knife. The claim is that DDG will do all that the G does, but without all that tracking stuff. Traffic went up, a lot, in the period after the four-week trial of the billboard. Will this turn out to be the match that lights DDG’s rockets? I can’t say, but it seems rather unlikely to me. On the other hand, start up companies with goofy names such as Yahoo! and what’s the other one, oh, Yeah, GOOGLE seem to have done rather well.