Sweet! XML.com is launching a new series on hacking the library. They promise to bring together the world of library science to a geek audience. This should be a great way to get another perspective on the stuff we learn at SIMS. I can’t wait.
ConCon was really great. Schuyler Erle’s talk on “Free the Maps” was probably the most galvanizing, while Mike Leahy’s talk on SCREAM was the most intriguing. Afterward, Ali and I had a good conversation with Jason Harlan, who seems like a really cool guy. It was most definitely worth the rain soaked trip to the city.
Two bits in particular caught my attention:
One emerging feature of [the next version of Windows], called Implicit Query, would work in the background to retrieve information related to whatever the user is working on. If you’re reading an e-mail message, for example, Implicit Query might display a box with links to the titles and e-mail addresses of all the people whom the message mentions, and to all of your previous e-mail from the sender. To make the software even more useful, Dumais is working on adding an item to the two-button mouse’s standard Windows right-click menu that would be labeled “Find me stuff like this” and would search both personal and Web data for information related to a highlighted name or phrase.
This Microsoft “innovation” is already available to Linux hackers: it’s called Dashboard.
The other bit was the Google CTO’s opinion about where search is headed:
Silverstein thinks information retrieval experts should aim high, building software that is every bit as good at pointing users toward the specific resources they need as a well-trained reference librarian. That, of course, will require major advances in fields such as probabilistic machine learning and natural-language processing—and Google continues to hire some of the best new PhDs in those areas, including four recent graduates from the Stanford laboratory of Daphne Koller, a leading machine-learning researcher.
Professor Koller was my advisor at Stanford. I worked in her lab for about eight months, primarily on work to combine the structure of traditional knowledge representation techniques with the reasoning power of Bayesian networks. I believe this work has developed into her group’s current work on Probabilistic Relational Models. Maybe if I hadn’t strayed from the CS path, I would be working at Google now too…
But anyway, my point is that Google may actually be looking too far ahead. Hiring the world’s most brilliant PhD’s doesn’t guarantee you’ll get any useful innovations: look at Microsoft Research. Google, by focusing only on “making the machine smarter” instead of a more holistic view of search (the classic AI researcher’s tunnel vision), might have all the answers for search in 2015, but do they have them for search in 2005?
As Bill Gates has proved over and over, the secret to making money is owning a de facto standard, and Microsoft is determined to do this in digital media.
It is a brilliant strategy. Microsoft claims to have 450 million free copies of Windows Media Player in circulation. They have offered Windows Media as an industry standard, which doesn’t mean they don’t make money from it. Becoming a SMPTE standard means that all the other manufacturers will have to come into compliance with Windows Media, and will have to pay Microsoft a royalty if they want to interoperate — just as they have to pay Sony and Philips for every CD player. And in the Microsoft Windows Media Protocol License, it says that any Windows Media files have to start their journey to your TV or PC from a Windows origin server, thus building Windows into the very heart of the future of media delivery.
I hope (pray) it doen’t play out this way. And I don’t think it will, because Microsoft will make the fatal mistake of trying to push DRM on consumers. By the time they figure out that consumers won’t accept it, another de facto, DRM-free (and probably open) standard will have established itself. Besides, who gives a f**k about streaming media when we have Bit Torrent?
Mary Hodder on sharing movies via Bit Torrent:
In fact, I think that low quality video files are considered to be of just-okay quality for people wanting a quick glance at content, and so they may download something on one of these networks, but that people really want the big rich high quality screen experience, hence video’s inability to kill the experience or desire by people to go out to see a big screen movie, and people also love watching DVD’s on plasma, because of the rich experience… downloaded files on little screens are just not nice in that way. Imagine watching Lord of the Rings on a five inch screen. But as bandwidth grows, it will become more of an issue, but what if these little files are loss leaders to entice people into the theaters, to buy DVD’s or high quality downloads with interesting value added stuff?
Two points: most of the movie torrents available on Suprnova are high quality DVD rips. And PCs are increasingly connected to media centers. An HDTV PVR running a Bit Torrent client would provide a very high quality experience, and the technology exists to build easy-to-use systems like that now. (See Bit Torrent & RSS Video Feeds.) So the key to getting people to pay isn’t going to be higher-quality content. Instead it will be 1) “event” content like live concerts/sports/drama, preferably with audience interaction 2) excellent (social?) software for finding stuff you actually want to watch, and possibly 3) lushly packaged physical products, like the limited edition of Radiohead’s Amnesiac, which came packaged in a weathered library book, complete with an old-fashioned checkout card tucked in a pocket in the back, covered in stamps.
An article over at Slate on Smile, the Beach Boys’ legendary missing album, argues that its power lies in never having been “officially” released:
Smile, as it exists now in a half-realized state, is really the first interactive rock ‘n’ roll artwork, graciously allowing the listener to finish the songs, to order them according to personal taste, and to invent an overarching concept that might have unified and made sense of Parks’ cavalcade of trippy images. Maybe we can’t bask in the album’s holistic brilliance the way we can with Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper, but what we have now is fantastically protean and fluid, and we can use our imaginations to perfect it ourselves, which may actually be more fun.
Another reason why the Net-hastened “death of the album” (or the TV fall season, or the summer blockbuster, ad nauseum) is not such a bad thing. Give me fantastically protean fluid over static packaged product anyday.
It is always interesting to see how different viewers encounter their reflections in a work of art. Lost in Translation is, perhaps, “a set-back in our struggle for recognition of a culturally diverse Japan” or an exercise in “anti-Japanese racism”–or at least it seems so to many Japanese expatriates and second- and third-generation Japanese living in the West, who probably deal with these problems regularly and thus embed them in the film they see.
I lived in Tokyo for five years. For me the film captured like nothing else has the wonderful strangeness of the first few weeks of being a foreigner in Japan. At that time Japan was ridiculous, as it reflected my own ridiculousness back at me, until I rode out the paroxysms of culture shock.
Instead of mocking modern Tokyo culture, the Lost in Translation I saw revered it. I saw the beauty of my favorite city and all it has to offer, traditions both old (ancient temples, flower arranging) and new (karaoke, club culture). My wife saw a vivid and loving representation of the city she grew up in, and she cried with homesickness. Most Americans, probably, saw a funny Bill Murray movie, or a beautifully shot Sofia Coppola film. A few friends of mine saw a great music video for My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain.
I believe the number of interpretations a work of art supports correlates with its quality. By this measure, Lost in Translation is a superb film. Not a masterpiece. Just one of my favorite movies (and soundtracks) of 2003.