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samedi 24 janvier 2004

"So here’s what I do believe: inequality is inevitable, and that being for or against it makes no more sense than being for or against the weather.
"Now there are many ways to treat inequality as inevitable — you can adopt such a posture because you are or have become cynical, worldly wise, passive, or an adherent of realpolitik — but I have a very particular way in which I believe inequality is inevitable. I believe that wanting large networks without inequality is like wanting mortar without sand. Inequality," argues Clay Shirky at 'Many2Many', "is not some removable side-effect of networks; inequality is what holds networks together, inequality is core to how networks work."
Via David Brake -- who's also one of only too few people to give decent blogspace to sometimes "depressing" African studies at '', I've been following Clay's thoughtful piece about inequality in the blogosphere and the very considerable feedback it has generated.

Shirky focusses mainly on weblogs as part of a look at the workings of "power laws" in general -- one of the kind of things, I'd think, to interest Natalie and her fellow Bloggers Parliamentarians.
A cracking debate has been under way among some of the "first among equals" of the blogosphere -- a term I choose since participants include several "founder bloggers" -- since Joi Ito asked 'Are Blogs Just?' on January 6...
Part of the recipe behind such rich food for pondering minds is an essay on RSS (Boston Globe) by Hiawatha Bray.
On this blog(*), like so many others, the Faithful 5 ¾ see an 'RSS feed' each time you drop by -- quite likely, for some of you, without having a clue as to what it is. My own 'RSS' feed is the orange oblong marked "XML" under the "Connect" heading to the right.
It's the direct link to the "URL" -- -- that you can simply stick into one of those internet newsreaders I often mention to fetch headlines, and usually the text, without using an Internet browser.
While Bray's article doesn't go into the technicalities of explaining how RSS works, he tells you why it's so useful more succinctly and better than I could.

"This time," he wrote of the technology, "the idea doesn't carry a simple, catchy name like push. Instead, we get an acronym -- RSS, or really simple syndication. With RSS, any Internet user can automatically receive the latest updates from thousands of websites. (...)
Quietly, without any fuss, CNN, The New York Times, the BBC, and many other leading news organizations have set up RSS feeds that provide constant updates to subscribers. [for example] lists over 20,000 RSS feeds, ranging from top newspapers to obscure weblogs run by Internet hobbyists or political activists.
Indeed, RSS is a far more democratic technology than the old push approach, because anybody can create an RSS feed by adding some special code to his or her website."
Never mind what a "push approach" was and still is.

What matters to me in all this hoo-ha are two things.
First, it's all part of a massive, unfinished, permanent debate on the Net. Is the Internet, yes or no, the wonderful tool for equality among peoples, races and nations the idealists hoped it would be when it burst out of the academic and military spheres into the general public's awareness and lives?
Secondly, RSS is not only a relatively new feature of the ever-changing (and increasingly commercialised, "hijacked for business") Net of our day. It's also a considerable time-saver.
Commenting on one of my recent posts about Time, a vast subject ever more frequently in my thoughts, Natalie says:

"The problem is time itself, there isn't enough of it. If you have any tips, tricks or treats to suggest to deal with this problem, speak now."

RSS, Natalie, luv. There's one for starters!
The real treat would be to tell you and everybody else who spends a lot of their time online how to use it, but the ubiquitous Dave Winer (blogrolled by me and a zillion others in the blogosphere) made a very good job of that in his RSS 2.0 Specification page and links for Harvard Law School.
It all looks rather intimidating at first glance.
Well, here's a bit of encouragement: maybe six years ago, I knew almost nothing about computers. One year ago, I scarcely knew what HTML meant, let alone how to be relatively at ease in it on a daily basis.
Today, with no help from anybody but people and tools I've found on the Net, I use RSS as often as I use a browser. If you've got the motivation, it isn't so difficult; and the motivation stems from what you really want to do with your time.

As for that first issue -- the Net, democracy and equality -- it's one I despair about on a bad day.
But in a more cheerful mood, I'd say that "Yes, I've seen the Internet helping to make life better for people in Africa, offering new opportunies, new connections."
It really depends not only where, but how you look.
Clay Shirky, Ross Mayfield with his 'Ecosystem of Networks', Liz Lawley -- in her recent 'defining blogs' (entry at 'mamamusings' ; b'rolled) -- are among interwoven clusters of people bringing their own wheres, hows and whies to the matter of the Net and equality.

But one of the most powerful and effective time-savers I know is something we all have to learn sooner or later. In my own profession as a journalist, you can no longer hope even to survive if it's not a skill you've mastered with experience, but the same goes for any creative activity I can think of -- except, perhaps, sex.
The single best way of learning to save time, I think, is to learn how to ask the right questions.
Once you can do that, then your brain's headed for the second half of the job faster than you can say "encyclopaedia" or "search engine".
Once you know what your right questions are, you're already well on the way to knowing where to find the answers.


(*This is the post where I drop, once and for all, the artifice of putting an apostrophe in front of "blog". Though, like 'phone, it's short for something, I really should stop being such a pedant!)

10:46:36 PM  link   your views? []

"Get your hands dirty with the Webkit API" -- the what? It's something built into modern Apple computers, but don't switch off quite yet -- and even "build your own browser" is the MacDev Center's recommendation of the day.
With several browsers already open, I'm not going to start making my own internet navigator, thanks all the same.
When it comes to creativity, though, it's generous of the O'Reilly people to offer Mac users a 56-page 'Mini Manual' for iLife (direct .pdf 1.5 MB download) as a promotion for a book about Apple's hugely raved over music-making, photo-editing, movie-making iLife (Apple UK) suite.
At $49 (£39 -- and 49 euros, since bad greedy Apple still pretends to be oblivious to the fact that a dollar hasn't been worth a euro for months), I understand why everybody who has played with GarageBand is writing that this toy alone is worth that much in its own right.

When I was around 16 or 17, I'd already invented GarageBand in my head, never imagining that anybody would ever put a computer programme like that well within the budget range of your average teenager in the rich countries.
That career, however, was for the parallel life where I became the composer, conductor and musicologist I'd dreamed of being in the early '70s.
Thirty years later, the best I can do is tell anybody who lives for that kind of ambition: "Scrimp, save, get a Mac and go for it!"

At this foul time of year when I'm getting so much reading done, I find myself mentioning O'Reilly so frequently -- especially what I'm learning online at a most reasonable monthly cost in that Bookshelf of theirs -- that the works of Tim and his colleagues are getting direct front-page publicity henceforth, along with my admirable MacMusic friends.
Their logos duly stolen, the MacDev Center and the Safari Bookshelf are now part of the clickable furniture here, above the Amazon links. I've also tweaked the HTML there and elsewhere on this home page, so that such pages should automatically open in a new window.

Something else the more technically minded in the Mac-using blogosphere can't escape right now is the Big Apple anniversary:
"Apple introduced Macintosh 20 years ago today," trumpets MacDailyNews.
Even at the 'Daily Mirror', columnist Shiraz finds it a day for a "Pat on the Mac"!
And so, of course, it is.
Yesterday, for the really interested, I discovered that a fellow named Uriah Carpenter has done something exceptionally big-hearted. Most Mac lovers have heard of the legendary '1984' commercial and some of the more recent incentives to Think Different.
Uriah's gone a step further. If you're lucky enough to have a fast Net connection, you can watch that advertisement and even download it, along with the rest of the best, at Carpenter's 'Apple Quicktime page'. My own generosity will extend to saying nothing unkind about Steve Jobs today.

7:24:09 PM  link   your views? []

Sizwe was unusually quiet the morning after Isandlwana.
And it was hot, God it was hot, though we both preferred open windows to the air-conditioning the car offered.
The three of us -- the Kid, me and our driver from Soweto -- had spent a sweltering afternoon trekking round two of the most famous fighting grounds in South Africa.
Today, a couple of armies will be re-enacting the battle in which King Cetshwayo's warriors dealt Queen Victoria's soldiers the most resounding defeat sustained by colonial British troops in Africa, 125 years ago ('Zulu War' by Peter Schwartz).
The battleground is set around a hill which looks like a broken tooth.


A couple of cigarettes calmer, Sizwe stopped fuming and told me what had made him so bad-tempered. Sure, since Nelson Mandela became the first president of a democratic South Africa, the striking memorial (pictured above) to the warriors of Siwze's Zulu people who also died at Isandlwana has been built.
But that's all there is, he protested, while the whole battlefield is studded with white marker stones set at the sites where different units of the British army fought and fell. Lists of names, accounts of heroism.
"My people still get a raw deal," Sizwe said. "It'll be a long time before there's real reconciliation! Not before the other side of the story is told."

Rorke's Drift"Oh come on," I said. "You've got to admit that the historian couldn't have done a fairer job of it.
He told the Zulu side of the war and he told us how much better their military strategy was than the Brits', didn't he?"
"Yes," Sizwe agreed. "He did, that's true. But I do not think that there are many people like this man."
Regrettably, I can't remember "this man's" name.
This is what the elderly fellow looked like, though, making his way with the Kid from the chapel at Rorke's Drift to the very building Stanley Baker, Michael Caine and their co-stars defended against overwhelming odds in 'Zulu' (1964; IMDb), which I first saw when I was 10 ... a film which was, of course, among the reasons I asked Sizwe to take us to the battlefields.
Marianne was far less interested, her main priority before we got there to find something really cool to drink or, even better, swim in, until the historian grabbed even her flagging attention.
What fascinated the Kid most wasn't the excellent museum at Rorke's Drift (there's nothing nearly so informative at Isandlwana), but the old man's tales of his own childhood, peppered with stories his grandparents told of the battles.
He'd grown up with Zulu children, almost oblivious to apartheid before the evils of it were codified into increasingly brutal legislation during the decades after World War II.
This meant that I'd spent part of the day rendering translations of what he and Sizwe told me of their conversations in Zulu from English into French for Marianne (most of the English she could follow herself, but with French her first language, she found the several tongues we heard during our trek round northern South Africa pretty tough going).


Aaah, to be there right now, enjoying an African summer again!
A friend in Jo'burg has got the idea: he's due to finish his long posting there just at the most perfect time of year to swap hemispheres and begin his retirement in southern France.
Winter? What winter?
I've 'blogged nothing for a while because as Lauren, the Factory's latest newcomer to the Abidjan bureau, succinctly summed things up on the 'phone after a long haul the other night: "It's really been a fuckshit day!"
A succession of them, indeed.
Since that most apposite vulgarity was new to even my vocabulary of "filthy" expressions, I looked it up, to find it rarer than most -- and it took me to a site which I'll certainly bookmark along with other online reference works.
The UrbanDictionary ("not appropriate for all audiences") is a most interesting place which seems to be put together by users. "Define your world," is its goal.
While mild, grey and rheumatically damp weather persists, I've been in deep hibernation mode, quietly visiting my Safari Bookshelf a lot.
My latest borrowings from that library include books on how to write for the web!

1:25:22 PM  link   your views? []

nick b. 2007 do share, don't steal, please credit
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