(a blog)
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
  Cool Tools - MusicBrainz Tagger

MusicBrainz Tagger is an MP3 and Ogg Vorbis tagger: it fixes up the metadata stored in your music files to include the correct artist, album, track, and so forth. Well, there are plenty of taggers available already, right? Not quite like this one. While most taggers provide an interface for entering the metadata by hand, MusicBrainz Tagger analyzes the acoustic data in the song file to generate an acoustic fingerprint. It then connects to the MusicBrainz database, and in exchange for the fingerprint, it'll get back all the important information about the track. So basically: it listens to and labels your MP3s for you. Now that's pretty damn cool by itself, but the most fun part of the program, in my measure, is when the program isn't quite confident about the song it's trying to identify. You can set a confidence threshold above which Tagger will automatically file the tracks in the "Identified" grouping, but if it's below that threshold, it'll enlist your help. You get a list of tracks to choose from that are the possible matches, as well as a confidence percentage for each. And this data reveals some pretty interesting things. For example, Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough" is 23% similar to Aretha Franklin's "You're All I Need to Get By." Nickel Creek's "Banjo Favorites" is 31% similar to Less Than Jake's "Glumble." (I've always thought Less Than Jake could use some more banjos.) The live version of "Have a Cigar" performed by Pink Floyd and Eric Clapton is 28% similar to Massive Attack's "Mezzanine." And it's pretty good at telling you how close the bands get it when they do covers. Phish's cover of "Blister in the Sun" by the Violent Femmes is 47% similar to the original. Their cover of Pink Floyd's "Money", however, missed the mark, weighing in at 24% similar to Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited." Pink Floyd's version isn't listed as a possible match. Ouch. The database is pretty huge - containing 3,020,687 tracks as of my last count - so it'll identify even some of your most obscure holdings. But, as with any data set of that size, there are inaccuracies. I was surprised to find out that country music singer Travis Tritt recorded a cover of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice". I was excited to see that he was branching out - but, alas, Google tells me that it was actually performed by the Texan cover band The Gourds. Pretty cool stuff. Available in Windows and (independently developed) Mac OS X flavors.
  On diction (...on Dancer, on Prancer, on Vixen)

In response to my post Are You Friendly, my friend Matt pointed out that "friendly" is a very poor choice of terms, as it brings to mind friendly in the sense of "user friendly," i.e. ease of use. He aptly notes that there’s nothing about these blogs that makes them any easier (or more difficult) to read, or any easier (or more difficult) to link to. Excellent point. I was thinking of "friendly" in some far less specific sense – that is, some intangible (or perhaps tangible) quality that invites many readers or invites many links. Doc Searls calls me on this as well. I’m obviously terrible at the Naming of Things. Good thing I never went into marketing or UA.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
  Are you friendly?

or: In which I present a brief and highly unscientific analysis of blog rankings Technorati's Top 100 Technorati ranks the "most authoritative blogs," based on the number of blog posts that link to a given blog. Bloglines' Most Popular Feeds ranks blogs according to the number of Bloglines users who subscribe to the blog's feed. I was curious if there was a correlation between the two rankings, so I grabbed the lists, culled out the duplicates, and got to work performing some extremely serious number crunching. There were 21 blogs in common between the Technorati and Bloglines rankings. While several blogs had similar positions in the two lists, other blogs differed wildly. Raw data:
The Doc Searls Weblog2397-74
Wil Wheaton dot net1988-69
Talking Points Memo641-35
Scripting News2836-8
Boing Boing14-3
Joi Ito's Web7173-2
Jeffrey Zeldman's The Daily Report432815
A List Apart341519
CNET News.com491237
Joel on Software521042
Lawrence Lessig962967
The table is sorted by the Delta column, which shows the Technorati ranking minus the Bloglines ranking. A high negative delta means that the blog is linked to quite frequently, but there are comparatively far fewer people who subscribe to the feed. A high positive delta means many people subscribe to the blog, but it's not linked to exceptionally often. The absolute value of the delta indicates the degree of skew between the two measures. (Note that positive vs. negative was simply a result of the order of the columns in the spreadsheet.) In other words, some blogs skew very blogger-friendly (or, perhaps, simply "link-friendly",) but not very reader-friendly. For example, Doc Searls' weblog is in the top 25% of linked blogs, but is barely within the list of the top 100 read blogs. In contrast, Lawrence Lessig's blog is in the top third of all read blogs, but receives fewer links than 95% of the top linked blogs. So, bloggers: how friendly are you? And what kind of friendly is that, exactly?
Saturday, March 19, 2005
  Wait, you don't have to do pay-per-view?

I just discovered Vincent-Olivier Arsenault's blog UP4. Dear lord I love reading stuff like this. I only wish there were more content - guess I'll have to dig through the archives. Here's a taste:
Shirky proposes that ontologies are overrated in the sense that formalizing an all-encompassing worldview is not only a pretentious utopia, it is also culturally destructive because it actually destroys a lot of useful data (namely the diversity of ontological opinions web users have on a particular class of objects). Contextually, it also implies that (semantic) web engineers expect to eventually come up with a universal, exclusive, permanent, single meta-ontology built of binary aggregations of multiple domain expert-edited ontologies that don't overlap.
Ahhhh... anything relating to knowledge management has me at hello. It's like porn for my brain. Apparently "folksonomies" are in vogue now. From his post Emerging things I hate:
This basically is saying that users are stupid and are not able to make their own full-fledged entity-relation ontologies and can only understand and use non-hierarchical, non-interoperable, non-localizable totally dumb tags (like technorati, flickr and al.).
This reminds me of Cory Doctorow's Metacrap: Putting the torch to seven straw-men of the meta-utopia (available here, though I'm not sure if that's where it lives.) From the section "Schemas aren't neutral":
In meta-utopia, the lab-coated guardians of epistemology sit down and rationally map out a hierarchy of ideas... This presumes that there is a "correct" way of categorizing ideas, and that reasonable people, given enough time and incentive, can agree on the proper means for building a hierarchy... The conceit that competing interests can come to easy accord on a common vocabulary totally ignores the power of organizing principles in a marketplace.
Friday, March 18, 2005
  Expanding my real estate empire

Within the next twenty-four hours, you will be able to access my blog via
  It's simple algebra, really

I came pretty late to the blogging game. But yesterday I realized the secret of the A-list bloggers, and I was thinking all day about how to apply this new knowledge. I'm pleased to announce that I've discovered the solution! If you recall, the equation was A-list blogger = Metablogger Now obviously you can divide both sides by "blogger" and get A-list = Meta So here's the secret. (I can't believe I'm sharing this with the world. I need to seek moderation in my blogging...) Simply multiply both sides of the original equation by "Meta": Meta A-list blogger = MetaMetablogger We'll make the left side look good by substitution. A-list A-list blogger = MetaMetablogger And bingo. There it is. If you want to be on the new A-list - the A-list A-list - you simply have to blog about metablogging. Blog about people blogging about blogging. I'm a friggin' genious.
  Tales from the Dark Side... of Usability #2 - Firefox

Middle-clicking a link in Firefox will open the link in a new tab, which is quite handy. It's much easier than having to right-click and find "Open in New Window," which is the closest equivalent in IE. But did you know that middle-clicking the tab in Firefox will close it? Like Ctrl-D both creating a bookmark and deleting a bookmark, I discovered this one by accident. One of my relatives can never remember when he's supposed to left-click something and when he's supposed to right-click something. Once you've developed a cognitive model for clicking behavior, the problem is more tractable. My cognitive model is roughly, "A left click will execute the default verb associated with the object being clicked. A right click will open a context menu displaying other verbs that can be performed on the object." This serves me pretty well in all contexts. (Of course, this cognitive model also requires a collection of associations between objects and default verbs - "file" and "open", "menu" and "display", "text input box" and "put cursor here", and so forth.) I find it fascinating that so many (well - at least two) Firefox shortcuts perform the inverse operation depending on context. I haven't yet developed a cognitive model that permits a single shortcut to be both a "create" / "open" operation and a "delete" / "close" operation. I wonder why these particular design decisions were made.
  Is my baffling hardware woes one of them?

New Scientist's 13 things that do not make sense.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
  5 AM says...

I've been wondering lately why "last post"s never caught on on slashdot. I think it could totally work. Here's my first last post. I think I figured out the secret to becoming an "A-list" blogger. All you have to do is blog about blogging. Metablogger == "A-list" blogger. Hopefully I'll have time to refine this equation soon. No developments on the hardware front. I "decided" it was my USB smart-card reader and so I disconnected it, and the problems went away. I even did some pretty obscene things to my computer just to make sure. But then I realized the messages about my ACPI BIOS have been happening since the dawn of eventvwr, and I distinctly remember no random rebooting back in January. So I looked at the minidumps from the crashes, and they all list kmixer.sys as the first "Unloaded module." (If it's unloaded then I'm unclear on why it needs to be listed.) And then I remembered, oh yes, in addition to installing new RAM, installing the additional USB ports, nearly roasting the CPU, and subjecting my computer to Roxio's CD-burning software, I actually did install a sound card. So I put the smart-card reader back in and put the computer through its paces and it holds up admirably. And the sound card is still in it. And the new memory. And the possibly failing hard drive. And Roxio's software. And so I have no idea what's causing the problem. A month or so ago I trying to hunt down this particularly heinous crash that repro'd only on Windows 98. I could get a pretty consistent repro, but I eventually exhausted all of the tools at my disposal for determining exactly why (and where) the crash occurred. It took a week, and at the end I had barely little more information than when I started. I was talking to my girlfriend about this, and she said something quite profound: "It seems that computers are so complex, they're effectively nondeterministic."
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
  A day late and a dollar short

Damn! I found out about GoogleX shortly after it was released, and was going to write about it last night, so I could be a l33t z3r0-day bl0gg3r. But then it was quickly three in the morning and bed sounded more appealing. And then the site was pulled, and now it's on slashdot. No l33t-n3ss for me. For the curious, slashdot commenters note that there are mirrors here and here, and another one (which appears to be undergoing a "server load test" courtesy of slashdot) here. Enjoy 'em while they last. And somewhat ironically, the page is also available in the Google cache, minus the graphics. I've never seen broken images scale so prettily.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
  Further explorations of the 21st century

So this "CSS" thing is pretty cool. I've spent the last hour and a half dragging my web design skills out of, approximately, 1997. I think the new template looks pretty sharp, and it looks good in both IE and Firefox. Opionions? Anyone's eyes bleeding?
  My AMLI: ACPI BIOS wants to do what?

So it's entirely possible that the crashes I was experiencing this weekend weren't RAM related. Investigating the event log shows that my "ACPI BIOS is attempting to read from an illegal IO port address (0xcfc), which lies in the 0xcf8 - 0xcff protected address range. This could lead to system instability." What's fairly ironic is that Windows, upon noting that my ACPI BIOS is trying to fiddle with things that should not be fiddled with, resets the computer. I suppose that fixes the "instability", though I can't say it does much for usability. (Which is a cheap jab: if Windows detects any kind of corruption, I'd much prefer that it reset rather than write corrupted memory to, say... the master file table.) So after installing the RAM, seeing Windows start up fine, proceeding to use it for a while, and then having it crash under a heavy load, I ran memtest86, which found memory problems... but only in the second stick of 512MB. After more fiddling, I find that when used alone, each stick of 512MB works fine; when paired with my old 256MB stick they work fine together; and so it's only when the 512MB sticks are paired do they conspire against me. So I increase the CAS latency (the sticks claim to have a CAS latency of 3 and unfortunately my mobo only lets me go up to 2.5 - fingers crossed) and things seem to be better. I run memtest86 all Sunday night and Monday day - everything looks good. Until I'm running under a heavy load with some insane IO going on. It crashes again. My older hard drive has this nasty habit of, when under heavy load, CLANKing loudly as the head smacks home, spinning down, then spinning back up. So far I've seen no ill effects, but I'm always wary of it. The last crash seemed to be preceded by the HD once again beating its head, so I thought maybe it was the old drive failing. Soooo... I power up the ol' Western Digital HD Utils, which lives on a floppy made in 1996 and last written god knows when. How this thing still works is beyond me, and so I place it in a mental category containing a variety of mystical things that I can't quite explain. It cheerily tells me that there's an "error" on my drive that it may be able to repair. And that's all it tells me - nothing so boring as the specific error or how, precisely, it intends to repair my system drive. But we all know what telling it to go ahead means, and it hasn't come to that yet. So I hop on Western Digital's website to check for a more recent version of their HD Utils, which I hoped would be more... descriptive. The utils are now in ISO form, which is perfect, because of the floppies I have laying around, I doubt any are newer than seven years old. The last thing I want is the "Display welcome message" instruction to be secretly switched on the floppy with the "Write random data over the most sensitive regions of both hard drives" instruction. And, of course, the gods of system debugging smiled on me. My shiny new version of Western Digital Data Lifeguard Diagnostics for DOS version 5.04c showed... absolutely nothing. Clean bill of health. Which I question, but I'll accept over the option of having 1996 attempt to repair my drive. Allow me an opportunity to gush about Western Digital. Everyone has that one company whose drive reduced itself to rubble as they were printing the final paper for their college capstone course five minutes before it was due. And everyone has that one company whose drives have filled their lives with sunshine. Western Digital hard drives consistently give me both milk and honey. If you're having problems, you simply click on the "Contact support" tab of their website, where you are directed to no fewer than 17 ways of contacting support. There's an "Ask a Question" form, e-mail addresses for support in five different languages, and phone numbers for eleven countries, including a toll-free number in the states. Now contrast this with Roxio's tech support, in whose dubious honor I spewed vitriol in yesterday's post: to download updates I had to register - giving out my e-mail address and the CD key included with the software; I could not reach any means of contacting support because I had to provide the "tech support ID" included in the retail box - which the website indicated was invalid; and the only phone option was for non-technical support with a phone number in Canada. So yes, as the kids say, Western Digital "r0x0rs my s0x0rs." Now having determined that the problem was likely not the RAM or the hard drive, I dug into the event viewer and discovered several messages from the USB smart-card reader I use to connect to work. Google tells me that the crashes may be related to the onboard USB... which makes sense because this weekend I also installed the adapter to give me two more ports. Out of all the crazy things I did to my computer this weekend, the one I thought least likely to be the source of the crashes ends up being the prime suspect. Good times... good times. As Drudge says, "Developing..." (Honestly, are things ever not developing? His final post will be, "Dirty liberals finally caused the end of the universe. Developing...")
Sunday, March 13, 2005
  And the award goes to...

Dear lord what a day. My trip to Fry's last night, though joyous, has caused no end of ensuing grief. So to commemorate the last 24 hours of my life, I will hand out my famed Most Annoying Technology This Weekend award. The competition was stiff, but nominees: I commend you in your ability to make my life miserable. Runners up: The gigabyte of RAM I purchased, for your inability to let me know if you'll stop causing bus errors now that I've increased your CAS latency. I know you can't speak, but maybe you could you overwrite my browser's memory with your response? Firefox 1.0.1, which overcame the stigma of being merely a point release of a point release. You are a security-only update, but you've managed to reach heights of instability and memory use that your predecessors could only dream of. My Comcast PVR, whose poor user interface never fails to leave me awestruck. Your unapologetically bad menu system brings back fond memories of command-prompt-based applications. "Shall I kick you in the shins? Available commands: YES" Myself. Though I am not a technology, per se, my ability to nearly reduce an AMD Athlon CPU to a heap of smoldering rubble is unparalleled. Note to self: when tipping a computer case on its side, ensure that power cables which have repositioned themselves are not holding the CPU fan blades firmly in place. And before I hand out the Most Annoying Technology This Weekend award, let me first say that this software package is one of the most absurdly annoying programs I've had the displeasure of using. Its faults are so grievous that they nearly deserve to be called crimes against humanity. If software were packaged in a form more satisfying to destroy than a CD, it (like the AMD Athlon) would have long been reduced to a pile of smoldering rubble. And the award goes to... Roxio Easy CD & DVD Burning! Not only is your title marginally grammatical, but you are guilty of the following: Requiring more reboots during installation than Windows. Yes, I know we all miss the good old days when installing every application required restarting the computer. You bring them back, and more! I was delighted to see that, after I rebooted the first time, you chirpily announced, “The registry has been updated,” and required me to reboot again. My delight reached new levels when you required the same steps every time I installed a software update! Hello, 1995? I found your soul mate. Changing the drive letters of my hard drives. I had a fit of apoplexy when I saw that the directory containing all of my most precious files was gone. Yes, I perform regular backups, but what progress had I made on my various projects since the last one? But then I realized that you had just switched drives D and E. Roxio Easy CD & DVD Burning, you are such a joker! Silently installing an update to Windows Media Player. Yes, all I wanted was to burn some CDs; and yes, I unchecked everything you wanted to install except for the CD burning software… but I suspect you know best. Including in the box a technical support ID that your website tells me is invalid. I was impressed when you felt necessary to require some form of identification beyond the CD key when I clicked, “Contact Support”, but this truly demonstrates your business acumen. Print the tech support ID on a scrap of paper that will be lost next week, require it before you’ll let me contact technical support, and provide as the only alternate option a $35 per incident phone line? Brilliant! Your questionable handling of CD burning projects that span multiple CDs. I should have read your instructions to find out that a utility is needed to extract files from such projects. While you could have simply burned 700 megabytes worth of files to each CD - perhaps even using some intelligence to avoid splitting directories across multiple CDs - this will certainly prolong the grief. And lastly, for the quality of your uninstaller. Having blunted me to reboots by the installer, the reboot required by your uninstaller didn’t phase me. The fact that the uninstaller doesn’t remove everything did. As did the fact that searching for “uninstall” in your product support knowledgebase returns 100 results. As did the fact that there are likely more documents with the keyword “uninstall” because you return a maximum of 100 search results. As did the fact that I can’t bookmark particular articles in your knowledgebase because upon returning to them I find that the information has secretly been switched with a “Session has expired” message. As did the fact that your uninstallation instructions involve searching my hard drive for driver files, renaming them, renaming a few back to their original names later, editing the registry, and - my favorite part - going to the System Tools and creating a system restore point. However, you do kindly offer a separate uninstallation program called RoxiZap. Though I must admit I’m wondering: how do I then uninstall it? And so, Roxio Easy CD & DVD Burning, you are the undisputed winner of the Most Annoying Technology This Weekend award. My congratulations to you and yours. The award for Technology that Didn’t Make Me Want to Stab My Eyeballs will be split this week between Windows XP, for simply rebooting when you discovered that what you read from memory most certainly wasn’t what you originally wrote to it; Linkman, for excelling as a bookmark manager and for having an amazingly responsive and generous owner Thomas; Offline Explorer Pro, for downloading files off the web like a champ; and memtest86, for probing my RAM until it broke down in tears.
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
  Tales from the Dark Side... of Usability #1 - Firefox

Ha! I just discovered (accidentally, I might note) that pressing Ctrl+D in the main Firefox window adds a bookmark, while pressing Ctrl+D in the bookmark manager removes a bookmark. Thank god for undo!
Walter muses about running a website empire, technology, &c.

Editor of The Online Slang Dictionary, StreetReviewer, and Overheard in Sac.

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