Tyler Cowen posted a link to a great find: a 1910 essay by Robert Sloss in which he predicted that devices very similar to modern smart phones would one day exist. Impressive stuff.
Google Reader will now generate feeds for Web pages that do not already have them. You can plug in a URL and it will figure out a way to track changes to the page and notify you of them. From a technology standpoint, I’m fascinated. About 10 years ago, I worked for a company called Alerts.com that tried to do this sort of change detection. This was before feeds really took off, Morbus Iff’s AmphetaDesk was probably the leading news reader at that time.
The company built custom scrapers for any Web site we monitored, and our strategy was to seek out deals with content sites to scrape their sites and generate news alerts for them. Let me be blunt: this was a stupid strategy, and I knew it. RSS was starting to take off, and any company with a real CMS can keep track of the new stuff that’s being published without any help from a third party. Even so, we had a number of large content sites as customers for these keyword-based alerts.
I was hired to work on the consumer-facing site, and my idea was to do the sort of thing Google is launching now — automatically generate feeds and news alerts for any site, not just ones that were our partners. Unfortunately we didn’t really have the resources to pursue that strategy, and after a failed acquisition by LifeMinders, things steadily went downhill until everybody got laid off.
It’s funny to see Google doing now what I thought would have been a good idea a decade ago.
George Washington was not a military genius, but his French allies were:
Later, Washington was painfully slow to grasp the significance of the war in the Southern states. For the most part, he committed troops to that theater only when Congress ordered him to do so. By then, it was too late to prevent the surrender of Charleston in May 1780 and the subsequent losses among American troops in the South. Washington also failed to see the potential of a campaign against the British in Virginia in 1780 and 1781, prompting Comte de Rochambeau, commander of the French Army in America, to write despairingly that the American general “did not conceive the affair of the south to be such urgency.” Indeed, Rochambeau, who took action without Washington’s knowledge, conceived the Virginia campaign that resulted in the war’s decisive encounter, the siege of Yorktown in the autumn of 1781.
Frankly I like the version where George Washington was a civilian soldier who did the best he could against his habitually warlike enemies better, anyway. (Via Kottke.)
tawawa.org has done some research into early blogs, making the argument that attributing the sources for links was the spark that ignited the blogging phenomenon:
The blogosphere arose on 24 April 1998. On that day Steve Bogart made the announcement that he was adopting Jorn Barger’s recent practice of attributing the source of the links he was posting to his weblog. Barger’s innovation of crediting the origin of his outbound pointers, adopted by Bogart first and by many others afterwards, infused an earlier, mostly dormant network with a dynamic it had previously lacked, turning the aspiration of a self-aware social medium into the reality of such a medium.
I’m very glad all of the old blog content is archived so that this sort of analysis can be performed. Both Jorn and Steve are still at it, on blogs and on Twitter.
- Nefarious idea of the day: requiring users to view and regurgitate an ad to prove that they’re human. (Microsoft has applied for a patent on this approach.)
- Frank Bruni’s final column as the New York Times restaurant critic. I loved his advice for navigating a menu, which ends with, “Then scratch off anything that mentions truffle oil. Choose among the remaining dishes.”
- By way of the Footnotes of Mad Men, a newsreel from the 1964 World’s Fair. Worth watching for the explanation of computers alone.
- Andrew Sullivan on the American way of torture. I’m just going to keep linking to this stuff until I stop encountering people who believe that the way we have treated detainees does not constitute torture.
- Hypocrisy watch: we send Bill Clinton to North Korea to retrieve US journalists who have been unjustly imprisoned, and we also imprison Iraqi journalists without charging them with any crimes.
- Today’s compromise is tomorrow’s landmark legislation. Let’s pass a health care reform bill.
- Ted Kennedy was the first member of Congress with an official Web site.
I’ve seen several links today to The Stag Cook Book, published in 1922 with the subtitle “Written for Men by Men.” I’m pretty sure it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever read.
The book’s concept is simple — famous people of the time were asked to supply recipes and short essays. It has a recipe for waffles from Warren G. Harding, Houdini’s deviled eggs, and Charlie Chaplin’s steak and kidney pie. Rube Goldberg supplied a funny article about hash. Montague Glass provides a recipe for bouillabaisse that’s a timeless piece of food writing. Frank Ward O’Malley’s article on Rum-Tum-Tiddy captures its period better than an entire season of Mad Men.
There’s something fascinating on every page. How differently did people eat in 1922 than they do today? A quick trip through the book provides the answer. S. S. McLure’s instructions for cooking an omelette stand the test of time. Douglas Fairbanks’ bread tart will not be made in any kitchen we’re likely to visit.
This book illustrates why long copyright terms are such a poor idea. This book is out of print, and even if it weren’t, nobody would buy it. But at the same time, it’s a fascinating historical artifact and I’m ecstatic that it’s available online. You should be, too.
- The Big Picture: Memorial Day, 2009. Moving collection of photos.
- James Fallows: On Memorial Day. On the Map of the Fallen project, an overlay for Google Maps with information on the American soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Michael Lewis: The Master of Money. A review of Alice Schroeder’s biography of Warren Buffett.
- Wall Street Journal: Obama Is Changing the Art on the White House Walls. An interesting look at the impact of Presidential taste in art.
- Financial Times: Argentina: The superpower that never was. Speculation as to why the fortunes of America and Argentina diverged so greatly over the course of the twentieth century.
- PSD Blog: The verdict is in on microfinance. The headline is provocative and I think overstates the case. However, it appears that material gains from microfinance are not leading directly to gains in other aspects of human development.
- National Journal Online: Chopra Wants To ‘Productize’ Innovations. What the federal CTO is working on.
Jason Scott (of Textfiles.com fame) is leading an effort to archive GeoCities before Yahoo takes it offline:
Already, little gems have shown up in the roughly 8000+ sites I’ve archived. Guitar tab archives. MP3s that surely took the owners hours to rip and generate. GIF files, untouched for 13 years. Fan fiction. Photographs and websites of people long dead. All stuff that, I think, down the line, will have meaning. It’s not for me to judge. It’s for me to collect.
I can’t do this alone. I’m going to be pulling data from these twitching, blood-in-mouth websites for weeks, in the background. I could use help, even if we end up being redundant. More is better. We’re in #archiveteam on EFnet. Stop by. Bring bandwidth and disks. Help me save Geocities. Not because we love it. We hate it. But if you only save the things you love, your archive is a very poor reflection indeed.
This is a truly awesome thing to do.
How would the Romans handle the financial crisis? Tom Ricks has the answer.
Guy Kawasaki wraps up a set of photos of the 25th anniversary party for the members of the original Macintosh team with the following:
I hope that everyone gets at least one chance to work on such a great project with such great people as the Macintosh Division.
Unlikely. But we can dream.