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January 2004 Archives

January 6, 2004

Most Dangerous

Business Week on Skype worth the read.


Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis could be the two most dangerous men on the Internet -- dangerous to entrenched business models, that is. The Scandinavian duo created the KaZaA file-swapping software that became the dominant online music-trading platform after lawsuits killed Napster in 2001.
BW Online | January 6, 2004 | Skype: Net Telephony as File-Trading

January 12, 2004

Comment Spam

It is a shame to start a year complaining about comment spam. At least the numerical count was down today. I've really been hit in the last few days at a time when a couple of projects have compressed time and left me short on participation in many areas including blogging. While I feel like I am MIA these attacks are a complete time waste.

When comment spammers escalates into an arms race that the individual must respond to and manage too much value and goodwill is being destroyed. It's not just time, it is also my perspective. There are really XXXXXX people out there. It simply sucks that it is a priority to further arm this blog with additional counter measures.

From my vantage point almost every blogger on MT has this problem or exposure. Comment spam is beginning to leave a slightly bitter taste for an otherwise great MT experience. It also provides a cautionary note for any new bloggers and how comments should be activated. Real-time comments are important to many blogs. Filtering comments kills the immediacy and capability to extend dialogue. Locking comments after a period of time may help and yet freezes entries at a point in time and eliminates important later additions or references. Separately, I'm yet to see much comment spam deposited as a result of a RSS feed update. Although I expect that strategy will come.


Removing spam destroys blogging if "blogging providers" don't engineer more effective solutions into their products. Fixing comment spam forever is unfortunately not what I do. It's something SixApart needs to fix! Having not read my newsreader in detail in days I could learn that it has already been fixed.

Tomorrow I'll return to composing for the art of blogging rather than the laments of being a blogger in a spam filled sick world.

Now how long until this post is spammed?

January 16, 2004

Roomba Robot

I have a confession to make. I bought my wife a robot for Christmas and it has changed our life. This is the typical story about early adoption, why one does it and the insights it brings. This is a post on ROOMBA, a vacuum that emerged as a venture out of MIT Artificial Intelligence Labs. The company is iRobot.

Roomba.jpg
Why you should pay attention Roomba. More to the point you should just buy one! (If you have hardwood floors, no tassels on rugs and no thick carpets)

  • Roomba Love
  • Disruptive engineering - Innovators dilemma
  • Design tradeoffs and likely future direction
  • Robotics in general
  • Cleaning Robots for the home
  • Buying behavior and channel implications

    I tracked robots and like many have seen Aibo Sony's robot. See this ZDnet articleon why they are nearly here. I'd never seen a Roomba until I went to purchase one. I'm not sure where I really got the idea. It was only afterwards that I learned from the Roomba site that a "permission slip" was available. My wife has an interest in cleaning that is more work related than elbow grease. Roomba at around $250 for the Elite version was something I just thought we had to experiment with. So far I might add I'm the one who has done most of the learning and the home is cleaner than it has ever been.

    Roomba Love
    Is the appreciation for a very fine cleaning pet. Roomba (many have named them see these links) requires juice daily and then feeds on all the dust and dog hair. It loves hardwood floors which are the majority in our house. It daily runs it little heart out usually while we are out and then we come home to find it with a very full belly. It cleans about half of the house daily, we just let it go until it runs out of juice. Check out the reviews on Amazon. I'm in the 4+ star camp. Checking for earlier models it clearly it doesn't work for everyone. Use your judgement.

    Disruptive Engineering:
    The smart vacuum like the intelligent lawnmower (see robomower) has been round for some time as an idea and working prototypes. Most of the major manufacturers have one in production or at the prototype stage. The prices I've seen for them range from $1500 to $6000. See Electrolux Tribolite. This report from the Tapei Times who asks whether Taiwan can make Robo-Maids. Want to design your own? Look to Wany Robotics. Closer to home research continues at SRI on the Centibots project. More cleaning bots. And one from Karcher too. and then check out the price… and Hitachi and Samsung.

    Although most of these are not yet commercial products, their number alone certainly reflects the expectations regarding the economic value associated with the automation of cleaning tasks.

    So how does Roomba manage to get it to market for around $200? What are some of the tradeoff they may have made. Looking at some of the prototypes suggests some of the "industry" prevailing wisdom. It must have a high suction capability (probably work on thick carpets too), it must use sonar or some intelligent system to navigate it's way around furniture. To be automated it must be able to return to base and recharge --- for they can't figure out how to keep it going long enough with current battery technology.

    Roomba by comparison appears to "bristle" with innovation using its brushes to sweep up most dirt and a very low power vacuum to get the fine dust and additional hairs. Consequently it runs for 1.5 to 1.75 hours on a charge. All the above appear to run flat after about 40-50 minutes. Roomba's charge is enough to clean 1000+ square feet of hardwood on a charge. Roomba didn't design in a return to base function. Then Roomba is also smaller, and all use light weight strong plastics throughout. It's dumb by comparison to the smart vacuum bots. However the algorithm it uses to clean the floors is very effective, and you begin to believe it may be intelligent. It still has a couple of sensors on board. It's small height means it cleans where you often don't. So they downsized, used real low power electrics and shoved the biggest battery they could in it and went to China to have it made.

    Design Tradeoffs?
    They also made some design tradeoff that a good vacuum manufacturer would not make. For example there are three dirt collection containment areas. That makes the daily dump a little less attractive. There is no Dyson press 'n dump.
    The solution with the brushes is not perfect. Long dog hair really adds to the cleaning burden. Thankfully ours is a short hair lab, but our guest golden retriever over the holidays.... made almost daily cleaning of the brushes mandatory. These cleaning niggles have created a product of their own. The Roomba Personal Care Kit. The screwdriver is mandatory. That it is not kept on Roomba and required for frequent maintenance is nuts.

    Future Direction.
    The obvious desires are all there. Give me automatic dumping and cleaning, add auto recharging, then add a mopping buddy. Perhaps add a fuel cell so Roomba works even harder and longer for me. There are examples already out there with security features built in (see links above). It could be made quieter too.

    Robotics?
    In one article I saw 200,000+ Roombas had been sold through last October. Another line focused on Roomba already being the most popular robot ever made. Inherently we know that robotics will come into the home. In fact even Lego provides a "robotics" product. So it is only a question of when and where. The technology is here and the price point is the same as a new better vacuum cleaner.

    There is some satisfaction in having a little bot working for you. Actually toiling while you are away. I'm satisfied that we may now spend five minutes a day nurturing it and a couple more moving some furniture or a room site check while it cleans 10 hours a week for me. In our household the vacuum before came out at most twice a week. Obviously we never did 10 hours of vacuuming. So while we can get round faster than the Roomba, we're no more through. In the end five minutes a day and for the most part vacuuming has gone away. We haven't used the vacuum in the main living areas since Christmas. On a day to day basis the house is cleaner. Plus I have the daily empty process to prove it.

    Impact on the Home:
    Forever thinking about the future, and slaving away today I believe Roomba will generate new perspective for home living and cleaning. We've seen the advances in home entertainment, and early smart kitchen results. So far they haven't all come together. This little robot may just change all that. I can now see a day where I never have to clean another floor, sweep another driveway or cut another lawn. That would suit me. It also means that Roomba purchases may just compete with high demand electronics products. What do you want? A maid you can name or a Plasma TV? I'll take the maid thank you!


  • January 19, 2004

    Innovative iTunes

    Are you using iTunes yet? I've resisted buying an MP-3 player so far for myself. That resistance may be crumbling. I think iTunes like Skype and Roomba are very disruptive innovations. All of these provide simple interfaces, are easy to use and change personal perspective.

    This post is about iTunes and my observations including:

  • Digitizing my music collection
  • The demise of the CD
  • The download price
  • What I would pay for music
  • Insuring your digital music collection
  • Music and the phone
  • A summer teenage job opportunity?

    One fun reason I've been missing over the recent holiday break is traceable to my new iTunes habit. iTunes is Apple's solution for selling music online. So why the fuss?

    PC media players have had a juke box function for sometime. Probably like many I had an assortment of music on my laptop and home PC, however I could never claim to have a digital collection or a home music server. Now I do. The combination of a recent laptop upgrade and a desire to move music to more places in the house led me to digitize my whole CD collection over Christmas. I'm still working on the old LP's. It wasn't a big collection, some 12GB so far in the new format.

    However the benefits are immediately apparent. iTunes can sort by artist, album, genre, year etc. I can shuffle play R&B and Jazz together. All this is not new, it is just that iTunes makes it elegantly simple, including burning CD's from the results. As a consequence one old laptop with WiFi is networked to the home server and acting as the stereo interface in our family room. It takes up less space and with a new set of speakers provides great sound. In the living room I can run the laptop or the home PC straight into the home entertainment system.

    So more music at our fingertips, easier selection, and better listening at almost no cost.

    Some observations?
    I'm currently making a tradeoff between adding a Creative Wireless Music Server Remote and an iPod with at least 20gb. I think the iPod will win, I need a backup for my music. As there are no insurance policies for hard-drives that die.

    I'm seriously considering trading all my current CD's for other used ones until I have nothing left to trade. I see no point in having CD's in my house anymore. Soon I'm sure I'll feel the same about DVD's. I'm considering the best way to get all this music into my car. an iPod with voice recognition would be great. Then I could just iPod to current stereo.

    The download price for iTunes $0.99 per song is just too much. I'm not prepared to pay that for a track. I've already got more than I can listen to. However, iTunes has just launched an "allowance" product. So I could give my kids $x per week. I'd note that my daughter used a file sharing program recently to download a new album. She used iTunes to identify the songs. I think she secured the full album. (While not approving the approach the real issue it the gap between $99cents / Album $10 and free) My own experience of loading in my legitimately owned albums into iTunes was the additional utility I get from having accurate Gracenote records, the enhanced searching and the knowledge that my database (increasingly valuable) is not being infected by inferior quality. Paying a reasonable sum for additions makes sense to me.

    At $0.10 that is 10 cents per song the cost would be reasonable. In fact I'd commit my family to $5.00 per week immediately. (That is I think $230 more than we spent last year). At that rate we'd download some 2500 songs in a year. That is a more than you can eat strategy. Our interest in new music and artists would dramatically increase over time. The impact of this strategy would be strongly felt by music radio stations. What's the biggest initial barrier to lower song costs? First is greedy banks. I believe they are taking approximately $.25 on a $.99 track purchase.

    I'm surprised there isn't an insurance policy on my collection. Insurance provides the recording industry with two things they don't have now. First they get to keep changing a few cents as long as you have the music. In conjunction with providing "database protection" which may well be worth more than a few cents a year with special charges for re-loading new registered to owner machines etc, they would get my full music profile. Recommendations etc. would then follow. A twist on the insurance policy would enable a micro payment for each time a song is played, so frequent and favorite tracks are never lost while the balance of the collection may have a hefty deductable.

    Lastly, iTunes suffers from not having "profiles" built in. Yes we can build Stuart's music, etc. However, while holding it on the home server, it would be useful to know if that is son's. daughter's, etc downloads. Having them together helps, similarly being able to separate them may help your next dinner party. I'm also not sure what happens when my son leaves for college and take the full collection with him. What is the RIAA policy? By then he has been collecting and playing for years... however now his collection might be merged with other friends. Looks to me like Darknets are inevitable.

    I'd also like iTunes to connect with Skype, so I can share / pipe / run background music during a conversation. I think Gracenote is already busy with this.


    "When a music fan hears a song they'd like more information about, they simply dial a short code provided by the carrier or portal and point their mobile phone towards the music source for 5-10 seconds. Depending on their phone, the user will receive a message with related data, such as the album cover, artist and song name and links to purchase the download or ringtone. Older phones will receive a text message with the relevant data and instructions for purchasing ringtones and other content."

    Lastly it dawned on me that entrepreneurial kids could just make a job of this over the summer. Transferring CD's to the home server, setting up iPods etc. I may just encourage my son to try it. He could easily offer an additional "music hard drive etc. Not only would he get green stuff he would also enhance his appreciation for music. In a few years the same opportunity won't even be available. Concurrently I think he would end up with an enormous collection. He could even offer a back-up service for key clients if he became really involved.

  • January 20, 2004

    Throttling Down - Comment Spam

    I spent two hours today on additional spam countermeasures. It's has become almost intolerable. I quickly caught the Many to Many comments last week. I'm not prepared to give up on comments and I stand by my earlier spam comments that this is an MovableType problem and they must fix it.

    So when I looked up today I learned of MT's 2.661 upgrade complete with Comment Throttling. I downloaded and installed it. I learned of via Jacques Distler
    Musings: Comment Throttle here and then followed it to Phil Ringnalda, both who have been fine-tuning the comment throttle. After a quick study of the hacks i just set them aside for now. Maybe later or perhaps MT will just add them in.

    I felt I'd had a good run with James Sengs Security-Code plugin, however the spammers got around my implementation. The install instructions are now improved. So I reinstalled it. Having read all the comments and accolades again I then downloaded his Bayesian Filter solution. It installed easily and what a bonus that move was. This appears the most undersold plug-in on the Internet for an MT blogger with a blog full of spam. Getting rid of the 100 plus weekend comment spams was going to be a problem. I'd been putting it off. James solution allows them to be deleted as a group rather than 1 by 1. Simply added to the pleasure of the clean-up task.

    I'd like to think I'm again finished with comment spam for awhile. However I'm probably not. Legitimate commenters are always welcome. If you have problems leaving comments please let me know. Thanks.

    January 21, 2004

    The "Online" Distinction

    I'm participating in the current Muckabout. It's going to be a wonderful face to face meeting in early February. Right now the online ramp-up has begun and registration captured wonderful people and kicked off a set great questions there.

    This is a question that just grabbed me tonight.

    "is there a disruptive innovation in "collaborative work/learning/action" in process yet or are we still warming up?"

    Just made me want to ask. Are "online communities" a relevant distinction in the world going forward?

    Online (to me) now means that it is separate from my buddy list, apart from my social networking services, unlikely to connect in real-time and / or involve a voice conversation and for the most part we can forget the flip charts. It often means large lists of brilliant contributions to run though and contributions made in the environment are semi-lost to my personal search engine when my memory fails. It's also a separate destination I must go to.

    By contrast my "always on" buddy lists with their "presence" connect in much more interesting ways. My blog and trackbacks potentially link to others and my newsreader can aggregate all this stuff!

    Is it the tools, is it the time, or is it just me? One thing is certain my online community participation has gone down since I began blogging.


    The above is pretty much as I posted it in the Muckabout forum. I'm adding this little postscript here as it tells an additional story.

    I shared my post with an online buddy, there was no-chat active in the forum. Just wanted to test my thought and check clarity. In a live facilitated session it would be the equivalent of a mini-paired discussion before sharing to the group. In closed online conferences where you don't know everyone you learn caution. I'm intrigued by the fact that as I write this and post --- the more "open" blog world lets me post with less reservation. That's probably because they are in the context of all my posts, rather than an initial or early post on a forum. Here I actually know some of my readers.

    Finally, I'm not being more explicit about the Muckabout right now as "blogging" it has never been discussed and I sense it is "community" work product. Thus I share my little piece.

    January 22, 2004

    Collaboration Spaces

    Robin Good is fired up after a visit to the US on next generation collaboration software. It's a real contrast with how I feel about subjecting myself to Web-crossing which despite upgrades hasn't changed much in years. It's this quote from Robin that got me going today.


    Allow me to extend my desktop to yours. My voice to your ear. My word document to your skilled editing hand. Extend what I already have, know and like. The name of the game is "hide" yourself. Be inobtrusive. Easy. Do not intrude. Be quite, gentle, on the side. Let me call you and fire up the colaboration facilities I need without needing to dress up for a ceremony when only neighbours are coming (meaning, stay-away from elaborate setups that offer you everything and more, like classical conferencing tools do trying to make available every and each possible function desired).

    Carry over from real life what works so well for us, and make it secure, reliable, robust...and fun.
    Robin Good

    I like the personal nature of his words and emphasis on letting me share. I too don't want programs that are invasive rather they must be natural. Be an extension, let us easily dock, and live a set of events together. Don't force me to turn off the music, rather share that connection as well. Let them know my phone is ringing via our always on connection, help me pace that collaboration like the open space in an office. Encourage my use of dual monitors so we can share while we work visible and invisible at the same time. Enable brains to work together, don't allow lapses or formalise the structure so formality dumbs down sponteneity. Make it more than one to one.

    So back to my current participation in an online Muckabout. I like what is happening there. The early signs are encouraging. I just think today that "forums" like this should be obsolete. Many never adopted them, and only a few have thrived in them. I've simply never grown to love them. I've had some good experiences in them, and also learned some lessons. I presume that Forums and Online Communities sort of go together at least the practice thereof. I'm not certain that will be true in five years time.

    Today my forum format gripes are a little different. I'm much more blog - wiki centric than I was a year ago. I need new information in my aggregator. I expect better profiles etc. I'm used to back-channel chat and even having "working-on" Skype conversations. So signing up for a conference with an online forum feels a little backward for gathering introductions and getting topics going.

    I know I shouldn't expect blog centric enthusiam, or IM adoption. A part of my gripe traces to remembering the new url (and having to sign in each time) using web-crossing again, and dealing with forums that are nowhere near as easy as a newsreader to read. Forget about the fun new introductions that could be made. There are no guest books, no Ryze like pages to quickly make aquaintances. No social network that says who already knows who etc. I may be able to sort the posts by author however that function isn't traceable to the list of members. It doesn't dock with linked in or any other program I've made an investment in. So, for the most part why invest time in building a profile there? I predict most won't. They reside elsewhere and it will be over in a matter of weeks. Yes there are a few phone numbers now listed but who wants to be called? I thought about adding Skype and other IM connections yet I know there will be resistance. There is no way currently for this new "conference" circle of connections to gain special access to me for a few weeks without effort despite the fact that is part of what I signed up for. (Others may not want that of course!)

    Robin's quote doubled my frustration as I've been editing scenario documents and it is easy to get problems with version control. We are not using Groove, while Wiki's and blogs are foreign. We aren't connected by IM (for the most part this team doesn't use it) and so I'm using the phone and can't even point to parts of the document I'm suggesting needs changes. I could use Glance maybe next time. This group is important to me and yet pushing forward in one area may require lagging in others. I'm already pushing the boundaries so I am just understanding their work practices and product first. Then the opportunity for a broader conversation may arise.

    I should really draw a conclusion. Another day for I think the Muck may just begin to address the future of collaboration technologies.

    January 25, 2004

    Orkut - Mushrooms

    Orkut launched on Thursday (see CNET) By Saturday morning I had quite a few invites, so I joined up. Is it just another social networking service? Did the implied Google link help? Maybe, but I'm inclined to believe it is more. Here's a taste from Many to Many.

    Observation only.... at this stage... If you are a member of Ryze, Friendster, Tribe, Ecademy, Linkedin or one of the many others you should at least take a look at it.

    First impressions. This one is really viral. It could just be timing and a little competition to see who could get the most names first. Still I think something deeper here touched a chord. I personally simply found myself wanting to be part of it and began adding names and getting responses almost immediately. That is always rewarding. Clearly many bloggers were on last night. After a couple of hours I started inviting people that I've not invited since Ryze days over a year ago and they began joining too this time.

    My suspicion is that Orkut bridges the gap between Ryze (too open) and Linkedin (too closed) without the "everything is for sale" on Tribe. I suspect that those with "Friendster" experience also see it as providing extra functionality. Not all the connections are set up for the instant deal. Most of mine remain blogger and 'online" related. It's user interface is simple and it is quickly giving me the key data that I need to use it as an address book and birthday book etc. I failed to add my Zonkboard to it, thinking that would be neat. Look at Orkut vs Ryze or Ecademy and it's utility as a potential address book is obvious. It's only one click away from my network or my friends page. If I could just export it easily that would be cool!

    The downside? I still don't believe that this system is better than more decentralized peer to peer solutions. Similarly, there is no "presence" indicator. We were all on last night, the numbers and connections just dialing up. However that sharing was all outside Orkut via some IM system or another. IM systems, Skype like, or Humintiy style are much more likely to connect us. Until these things link with voice and text systems they are toys. Of course Google already has every telephone number in it. So Orkut could put Google into the "connect" anywhere business.

    Separately, not everyone is comfortable with the informal connecting and experimentation in these networks. Who are my friends and how do they qualify remains a key issue. Both Ton Zijlstra and Martin Roell comment on the importance of face to face as a sort of credentialing aspect. I'm going to say I find this quite quaint but not the way business or connections are done anymore. It's not to belittle face to face. It would be great to meet both these guy's in a bar and buy them a drink. Lilia picks up on posts here and her Dec 21 post provides a different perspective. I think phone, Skype, lots of blogs, exchanges of work and personal referrals in person from others provides real insight.

    So I thought I'd add a couple of notes on why I'm comfortable adding a person to my friends that I may not have met personally face to face.

  • I believe in all cases I already know someone that knows this person face to face. Perhaps that is just relationship triangulation . I'm also willing to bet that person knows one or two that know me the same way. This may be a weak tie, it is also more likely to result in an interesting connection or a new relationship. If I just want tried and true or a reputation system I'd hope that Xpertweb gets working. It's also a little more than that.

  • Adding as a friend in the context of above means I'm happy to find ways to extend further the relationship. Should someone else in my network want to use me to connect to that person and I'm unsure as whether to go direct then I will simply go to the person closest to me that can answer that question more effectively. I don't mind using some social capital in that way. Frankly that eliminates the stiffness that exists in LinkedIn. It is judgement not a computer that that builds relationships. Help where you can.
  • I've had little time to experiment with the community functions. They were generating very rapidly. I've not seen any numbers for Orkut. However, I'm pretty sure it is already larger than Ryze. I had 7000+ connections last night. If all my invites confirm my direct network on Orkut will be more than twice the size of Ryze and 4 times the size of LinkedIn for just over two hours online. Tribe doesn't really feature in this. I wonder how many others have had the same experience?

    A few "beta" problems have cropped up. As a result Orkut is currently offline.

    January 26, 2004

    Roomba Reflections.

    A trackback on Roomba from Mike Whybark hit my blog today. I found the additional Roomba links great fun. From hacks to poetry. If you are into Roomba you will enjoy these links. If you are iRobot then start considering blogs and blogging. When I blogged Roomba I was hoping to learn a little more. This post is a linking gem!

    OK/Cancel: I, Robot, You Jane, via Blackbelt Jones. Roomba Review, community site for Roomba. Looks just launched. Astroturf? Those are some good prices. Genius art-guy Gary Panter on Roomba. A bar. Takeapart walkthrough at Jake's World (which has some other cool stuff, looks like). Macly! Roomba Community: Zoomba. Hacks. Uh-oh. Yeah, this looks like the place. Roomba Diagnostic Mode. Has... [mike.whybark.com]

    About January 2004

    This page contains all entries posted to Unbound Spiral in January 2004. They are listed from oldest to newest.

    December 2003 is the previous archive.

    February 2004 is the next archive.

    Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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