Category: Web/Tech

Craig Newmark to guest blog!

We are delighted that Craig Newmark of Newmark’s Door will be guest blogging with us this week. Tyler and I read Craig’s blog every day for the links that no one else finds. In his regular job, Craig teaches economics at North Carolina State University. Craig’s wife Betsy is also a well known blogger at Betsy’s Page which makes me wonder if they argue over the DSL line the way other couples argue over the TV remote?

Thanks also to our colleague Russ Roberts for blogging with us last week.

Gmail?

Google will be launching a new no-charge (“free” as the rest of the world likes to call it) email service, Gmail, with one gigabyte of storage, 100 times the amount offered by rivals Yahoo and Hotmail. The catch? There will be small ads included. One gigabyte? Think of how many offers for mispelled intimate products or urgent assistance for foreign oil ministers that will hold. There is one other catch. The news was announced yesterday, March 31st with an April 1 date on the news release. Many are suggesting that it’s merely a hoax. At MarginalRevolution, we only report. You decide. Here’s the Google page announcing the beta version. Looks pretty convincing, but it would, wouldn’t it?

Are video games art?

Some time ago I asked whether video and computer games would provide the next artistic explosion. I concluded: “I’m still waiting to see the payoff.”

The New York Times ($) has nominated one such game, www.worldofawe.net as an aesthetically worthy experience, click on the link if you are curious. The game combines elements of music, travelogue, diaries, narrative, and digitally constructed artwork. One of the artworks has been included in the recent Whitney Biennial.

My take: Judge for yourself, but for me it is an interesting novelty more than a sustaining attraction. That being said, I didn’t like Faulkner at first either.

Russ Roberts, Guest Blogger!

We are delighted to have our colleague, Russ Roberts, blogging with us over the next 10 days or so. Russ is the world’s only economist who has written a fable and a romance and a number of papers in top academic journals like the Journal of Political Economy.

What’s an economist doing writing a romance? Well, economics is a romantic science. Don’t believe me? Here is a description of Russ’s book The Invisible Heart.

Sam lives and breathes capitalism. He thinks that most government regulation is unnecessary or even harmful. He believes that success in business is a virtue. He believes that our humanity flourishes under economic freedom. Laura prefers Wordsworth to the Wall Street Journal. Where Sam sees victors, she sees victims. She wants the government to protect consumers and workers from the excesses of Sam’s beloved marketplace. While Sam and Laura argue about how to make the world a better place, a parallel story unfolds across town. Erica Baldwin, the crusading head of a government watchdog agency, tries to bring Charles Krauss, a ruthless CEO, to justice. How are these two dramas connected? Why is Sam under threat of dismissal? Will Erica Baldwin find the evidence she needs? Can Laura love a man with an Adam Smith poster on his wall?

Doesn’t it just make you want to tune in tomorrow?

Is Microsoft the new language arbiter?

Microsoft has decided to write Windows for Welsh.

Microsoft programmes already run in 40 languages including English, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese variants.

A Welsh start menu and some commands will be available in about six months.

Microsoft said it has received complaints from places such as Catalonia, Malaysia and the Arctic regions of Canada.

They claim the switch from native languages online is also affecting everyday speech, said BBC North America Business Correspondent Stephen Evans.

Some argue the fewer languages the better for global trade and understanding, but Microsoft is siding with “linguistic diversity”, he said.

The other big linguistic groups to benefit from the expansion will be speakers of Gujarati and Tamil in India, of Catalan in Spain, and of Bahasa in Malaysia.

Native languages from Northern Canada and Ethiopia will also be added.

My take: Whether or not a language is focal will be determined with increasing rapidity.

Thanks to Cronaca.com for the link.

Make your TV a work of art

That’s right, put a digital copy of a masterpiece as a screensaver on your TV:

An expensive new digital television is big, beautiful, flat and can hang on the wall. Some might even consider the set a piece of art.

RGB Labs charges for subscriptions to images such as The Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre Auguste Renoir.

So why not display Picasso, Renoir, Monet and other masters on the screen itself?

Three companies have recently formed to help consumers do just that…

[One of them] Chandler’s company, Dream City, has acquired licensing rights to more than 1,000 pieces of art, including masterpieces from Cézanne, Van Gogh and Picasso. He sells them in $14.95, 30-piece collections as screensavers. A Web site offers step-by-step instructions on how to connect a PC to the TV and run a slide-show loop on your big screen.

The core idea came from Bill Gates:

Microsoft (MSFT) Chairman Bill Gates has displayed art on wall-mounted PC screens at his home for years. That’s where Chandler got the idea for Dream City.

He put a frame around a monitor hooked to an old PC, hung it on the wall and showed family photographs and art.

“At parties, people just stood there, mesmerized,” Chandler says. “I realized there was a business there.”

Here is the whole story, which includes a Renoir image on a big TV screen.

My take: The idea is a promising start, but I am repelled by the idea of copies of classic paintings in my living room. Looking at lower quality reproductions would depress me. It would also make me wonder why I cannot find anything more personal, more current, and more alive to enjoy. I am keener on the idea of art created especially for this medium, let’s hope that is forthcoming.

Addendum: Michael Giesbrecht writes: “You’re in luck, Tyler! Literally hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces of art, created especially for this medium, are taken to market each year, and have been for quite some time. Check out netflix.com. In the common vernacular, the medium is referred to as a “movie”. Many of them look great displayed on wall-mounted digital television screens.” You can put up a static image from these movies quite easily. I love Renoir but on my screen I want Blade Runner.

A rant against Gateway service

I’m off to the North Carolina beach so expect reduced blogging from me. Ordinarily, I would holiday-blog when my wife wasn’t looking but my portable refused to boot more than two weeks ago. It was obviously a hardware problem so I knew the otherwise capable techs at GMU couldn’t fix it but before taking it to Gateway I needed their authorization. That took a few days. After a week of sitting on the bench, the Gateway store in Fairfax ran a diagnostic and realized that they couldn’t fix it either. They promised to expedite it to the main service center. A week later I found out they were still waiting for, get this, a box to be sent to them so they could send the portable to the service center. A box#$*! (Worse yet, I gave it to them in the original box it came in – foam included.) So finally the computer makes it to the main service center and now I am told it is waiting for a part!##[email protected]! Now, wouldn’t you put your service center and parts warehouse close together like say in the same phrelling place?

We feed your need

Yes we do RSS. What is RSS? It’s a format for stripping a blog of its non-text items and dividing each entry into useful chunks such as a headline and body text. A news “aggregator” automatically and periodically checks the RSS “feed” of all of your favorite blogs and when it finds new material it downloads the headlines and the first few sentences of each entry. Since only a limited amount of text is downloaded, the process is quick. If you read a lot of blogs, aggregators have two advantages. You won’t waste time checking a site only to find that is has no new material and skimming headlines allows you to more efficiently pass over what is of little interest to you – when you find something that does interest, you can click on that item and more information appears.

Reading blogs through an aggregator can sometimes be annoying as items don’t always format correctly, especially when you want to view non-text items or follow a link from a blog to another site. But aggregators are quickly becoming the delivery method of choice for blog junkies. Wired reports:

Maniacally wired netizens who read a hundred blogs a day and just as many news sources are turning to a new breed of software, called newsreaders or aggregators, to help them manage information overload.

My estimate is that if you regularly read more than 5 blogs a day then you should try an aggregator. On the other hand, once you have found MR why would you go elsewhere?

There are lots of aggregators available. I quite like FeedDemon. Newsgator integrates with Microsoft Outlook. See the Wired link for some other choices. I have not done a side to side comparison so let us know what you like and what works well with MR. If a site has one, FeedDemon will automatically search for and find its RSS feed. If your aggregator doesn’t find our feed the link is on the left hand side of this page above the Google search, the one that says Syndicate this site (XML).

The next artistic explosion?

According to the Entertainment Software Association, 50 percent of Americans over the age of six play computer games, and the industry had $11.4 billion in sales in 2003, more than the film industry. Last year, 63 percent of U.S. parents said they planned to buy a video game.

So will computer games be the breeding grounds for our next artistic renaissance? I’ve yet to see the evidence. Many people are negative on the aesthetic prospects:

Some in the industry, however, are not so sure that games will ever mature. They fear games could be a dead end like comic books – valuable as a social phenomenon, but outside a select few titles like Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” not worth a great deal of individual study. “I seldom play computer games, because it’s such a depressing experience,” said Chris Crawford, a game designer who is building a program to create interactive stories. “I end up shaking my head in dismay at how stuck the designers are in a rut.”

Here is the full story, including a discussion of how academics are hoping to raise aesthetic standards in the area. Get this:

The field has its own research group (the Digital Games Research Association) and peer-reviewed online critical journal, Game Studies, where one writer, discussing the horror and splatter-fest PlayStation game “Silent Hill,” wrote that it “favors syntagmatic causality over descriptive explication. Its distinct chain of puzzle solving and conditional progression enable it to instigate and maintain pace and tension, and so fuel its unnerving visions of death and possession.”

Imagine if Motown or be-bop jazz had been studied in these terms, in their heydays. If that is our best hope, I am skeptical too.

The best case scenario is that game designers are breeding aesthetic wonders in their highly commercial and competitive environment, and outsiders such as myself simply don’t know it yet. The worst case scenario is that computer games unbundle “fun” and “the aesthetic,” and sell us the former at the expense of the latter. Mozart gives us both beauty and entertainment, but in a world with very low fixed costs, perhaps these two qualities will be sold separately from now on. Perhaps computer games, and books such as The Da Vinci Code, can damage the arts by hindering entertainment from cross-subsidizing beauty.

I’ll bet on the best case scenario, since I think enough people prefer indivisible cultural goods that bundle many different qualities, including aesthetic quality. But I’m still waiting to see the payoff.

Addendum: Here is a review of an < href="http://www.gameforms.com/features/misc/bang/">art exhibit of video games, thanks to Hei Lun Chan for the pointer.

Google’s newer competitors

Yahoo just dumped Google for its own search engine. But other competitors may prove a more serious threat:

Teoma relies on the rankings of experts to a greater extent.

Mooter relies more heavily on which links get clicked, and uses that information to produce personalized rankings for each individual user.

Microsoft is working on integrating search into every Windows mode, and also on perfecting the direct question and answer approach:

Take Microsoft Research’s AskMSR program, which Brill and his colleagues have been testing on Microsoft’s internal network for more than a year. At its core is a simple search box where users can enter questions such as “Who killed Abraham Lincoln?” and, instead of getting back a list of sites that may have the information they seek, receive a plain answer: “John Wilkes Booth.” The software relies not on any advanced artificial-intelligence algorithm but rather on two surprisingly simple tricks. First, it uses language rules learned from a large database of sample sentences to rewrite the search phrase so that it resembles possible answers: for example, “___ killed Abraham Lincoln” or “Abraham Lincoln was killed by ___.” Those text strings are then used as the queries in a sequence of standard keyword-based Web searches. If the searches produce an exact match, the program is done, and it presents that answer to the user.

Read the whole story on why Google is so vulnerable and has so few structural advantages in the search market. Thanks to www.geekpress.com for the pointer.