timbl on the graph

timbl’s blog may have the highest signal-to-noise ratio on the web. Not a whole lot of signal, but zero noise.

This piece on the “graph” puts the development of social networking services in solid historical perspective. It’s not great propaganda, but covers all the key conclusions. In particular:

In the long term vision, thinking in terms of the graph rather than the web is critical to us making best use of the mobile web, the zoo of wildy differing devices which will give us access to the system. Then, when I book a flight it is the flight that interests me. Not the flight page on the travel site, or the flight page on the airline site, but the URI (issued by the airlines) of the flight itself. That’s what I will bookmark. And whichever device I use to look up the bookmark, phone or office wall, it will access a situation-appropriate view of an integration of everything I know about that flight from different sources. The task of booking and taking the flight will involve many interactions. And all throughout them, that task and the flight will be primary things in my awareness, the websites involved will be secondary things, and the network and the devices tertiary.

[tags]timbl, Tim Berners-Lee, FOAF, social networking, Facebook[/tags]

ADR for Property Damage in China

As a litigator, I’m always interested in novel and more efficient mechanism for resolving disputes, especially where the transaction costs of fighting it out in court can trump the benefits to either party. This process (full article not available online) for resolving property damage claims in China is about as streamlined as it gets:

Near the Lama Temple, as we waited to make the last left turn of the day, we were hit by another car. The driver backed into our side and then pulled away. There wasn’t time to fumble with my crutches, so I hopped out on my good leg. Fortunately, traffic was backed up, and I caught him in about seven hops. I pounded on the window. “You hit my car!”

The driver looked up, surprised: a one-legged foreigner, hopping mad and smacking the glass. He stepped out and apologized, saying that he hadn’t felt the impact. Together, we inspected the Jetta–fresh dent above the left rear wheel. The man said, “I’ll give you a hundred.” That was about thirteen dollars.

In China, after a minor accident people usually settle the matter on the street, in cash. This routine has become a standard part of life–once, I saw two small children playing a game in which they repeatedly rammed their bikes and shouted, “Pei qian! Pei qian!” — “Compensate! Compensate!”

Leslie used her cell phone to call the rental company. Mr. Liu didn’t sound the least bit surprised to hear that we’d had another accident. All he said was “Ask for two hundred.”

“That’s too much,” the other driver said. “This is really minor.”

“It’s not our decision.”

“Well, then, we’ll have to call the police,” he said, but it was clear that he didn’t want to do this. A dozen bystanders had gathered around the cars, which were parked in the middle of the snowy street. With Chinese accidents, the crowd is more like a jury than an audience, and a middle-aged woman bent over to inspect the dent. She stood up and announced, “A hundred is enough.”

“What do you have to do with it?” Leslie snapped. “You can’t even drive!”

That must have been correct, because the woman shut up. But the driver refused to pay two hundred. “Should we accept one-fifty?” Leslie asked me, in English. Lao-tzu said it best: A man standing on crutches in the snow will not bargain long over a dent to a crappy Jetta rental. Later that day, Leslie returned the car and the one-fifty in cash. Mr. Liu noticed that another light cover had been broken when she hit the brick wall. He said, happily, “What did you kill this time?” When I hit the dog, the same cover was twelve dollars; this time, he asked for only three. It must have been a special price because we did so well at the Lama Temple.

I don’t think this system would work to resolve patent infringement disputes, but it might make sense for some of our domestic fender-benders.

[Tags]ADR, China[/Tags]

MBTA Followup

This Universal Hub thread and Boston Globe article sum up my several MBTA complaint postings nicely (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11). The “work to rule” comments are particularly interesting.

Okay, if I’ve really written twelve entries on this topic, I’m done for now.

[Tags]MBTA, Boston[/Tags]

Is the MBTA killing its passengers?

A few days ago, I asked, is the MBTA killing itself? Now I’m wondering if it’s actually killing its passengers.

The following is cut-and-pasted from my submission to the MBTA “write to the top” program for commuter rail:

My wife boarded the Needham Train in Roslindale this morning (around 10am) with a carriage for our newborn baby. The only place you can board the train in Roslindale with a carriage is the last car which has a ramp. When the train arrived at Back Bay station (where she intended to get off), there was no way to exit the train from the back car, because the train didn’t pull far enough into the station, so there was only a wall at her exit. The carriage was too big to fit through the door to pass between cars (which I understand is discouraged while moving anyway). She pressed the emergency call button three times (and heard the emergency call announcement) but was  ignored by the conductors. She was unable to get off and thus ended up at South Station, two miles from her destination. The same problem would occur for someone in a wheelchair. This seems like a major ADA violation and a safety concern — how can you ignore the emergency call button pressed three times?

Okay, I’ve probably had enough hating on the MBTA for one month. What is wrong with these people, though?

[Tags]MBTA, Boston, ADA[/Tags]

Smooth Velouria Espresso

I just discovered the recently-opened Velouria Espresso in Jamaica Plain via this subscribers-only article in the Atlantic. Velouria marks the latest arrival in the single-origin coffee movement pioneered by George Howell. In a nutshell, the idea of single-origin coffee beans is that if beans are identified with a particular region (or even particular grower), the farmers will have more incentive to distinguish themselves. Ultimately, coffee beans will be known like fine wines, and the best growers will earn premium prices (thus bringing even more money to underdeveloped areas than coffee sold as fair-trade). Flatblack Coffee Company, near my office, operates under similar principles. More details in this episode of On Point with George Howell.

Velouria distinguishes itself with its focus on brewed coffee rather than espresso (although they have plenty of that as well). The shop features the “Clover” coffee machine (“Bring out the subtle nuances of all of your coffees through complete, independent control of all of the important brew parameters: grind size, dose, water temperature, and contact time.”)

I got a cappucino and a single-origin Kenyan coffee made with the Clover Machine. (Actually, two distinct single-origin Kenyan coffees, which Steve surreptitiously swapped on me while I wasn’t looking). They were all excellent.

My cappucino started with a little foam heart in the crema:


Amazingly, even when it was finished, the heart was still faintly visible:


Steve enjoyed his espresso as well:


Velouria has no website that I could find. it’s at 389 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02131. Beware the Yelp page as it has inaccurate hours information — just call them at (617) 522-2400 if you’re wondering if they’re open.

Now if we could only get a place like this in one of the vacant storefronts in Roslindale

[tags]Coffee, espresso, flatblack, single origin, velouria espresso, Boston[/tags]

Proof of Fall 2007

I’ve been playing around with Gallery and wpg2. I’m still a bit puzzled attempting to integrate Gallery and WordPress. I’ve resolved most issues; the main remaining issue is to display images in the Ajaxian theme without running over the borders in the Ajax/slideshow views. Also, the embedded image apparently doesn’t render in the RSS feed. Update: I’ve given up on the G2 tinymce plugin and the WPG2 tag for now and just hardcoded the image and album URL. Update 2: now the embedded image is working again for no good reason. Suggestions on the entire configuration are welcome.

In any case, I took some pretty photos today in our back yard (use left and right arrow keys to scroll through images after clicking on the one below — I still can’t get the navigation icons to appear):


Before: Proof of Spring 2007.

[Tags]Autumn, Foliage, Trees, WordPress, WPG2, Gallery[/Tags]

Is the MBTA Killing Itself?

As I stand in a near cattle-car packed South Station, waiting while no trains arrive and no trains depart (“signal difficulties”), I wonder if forces are conspiring to make MBTA service so poor that it enters a death spiral of poor reputation for reliability, increasing fares, lower ridership, less revenue, etc.. One or two long delays or canceled trains in a short time span can be ignored, but after a while it may become impossible for the T to recover the lost goodwill. There’s a saying in trademark law, “once you’ve lost a customer, they’re often gone forever.”

Are signal difficulties for real, by the way?

More on this topic: this excellent op-ed in the Globe about the importance of mass transit to the local economy and life sciences in particular; contrast with this news about what the T plans as its next big project (hint: “T TV”).

Not much good news here, either.

Is anyone listening?

[Tags]MBTA, Boston, Mass Transit[/Tags]

Please Leave Me Alone John Connolly

Up until recently, I’ve been supporting John Connolly as candidate for city council. In addition to the recent concerns about anonymous mailings, I’m now getting hammered by his auto-dialer. I’ve received four prerecorded phone calls today and yesterday reminding me to vote for Connolly. (By contrast, I got one real human phone call from a Michael Flaherty supporter.) Now with a few hours left to vote, I’m on the fence. I wish this guy would leave me alone.

In the meantime, a WBUR interview claims that Felix Arroyo is the most vulnerable candidate (something I’ve never heard elsewhere). If that’s the case, I’m tempted to just bullet-vote for Felix.

I hope this last-minute vacillation doesn’t make me an idgit voter.

5pm update: three more automated phone calls! One for Murphy from Consalvo; and two for Connolly (one from Tobin, the other I forget). They’re pulling out all the stops, only at the last minute. I wonder who the dismal weather (and poor turnout) favors.

7pm update: three or four more calls, now including real humans! My wife figured out part of the reason we’re getting so many — separate calls each for her and me, even though it’s all on the same phone number.

In any case, we’ve all voted now. I did end up including Connolly in my votes despite these over-the-top tactics. I guess it shows, at least, that he’s well organized.

[Tags]Boston, City Council, Felix Arroyo, John Connolly[/Tags]

Catch-22 <> Poor Organization, and City Council Endorsements

I was quoted in a recent Needham Times article regarding my complaints with the T:

But Adam Rosi-Kessel, a Roslindale resident who takes the Needham Line to his job in the financial district, said 15- to 20-minute delays have kept him from getting to work before 9 a.m. since May.

Now Rosi-Kessel, a lawyer who biked to work when he lived in Jamaica Plain, is thinking about trading in his Charlie Card again.

“It used to be, living here in Roslindale, the train was always the fastest way to get in,” he said. “Now, it’s slowed down to the point where it’s starting to get competitive with biking again.”

I’m glad they got my biking quote. Here’s the part I don’t understand (emphasis added):

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority spokeswoman Lydia Rivera said Needham Line delays have been caused by construction work and speed restrictions on tracks that don’t go anywhere near Needham.

In order to maximize train use, the T often transfers trains between tracks, rather than leaving underused trains empty in the MBTA yard. The method helps the T get trains where they’re needed most, but it also means a delay on one track can slow service on a seemingly unrelated track.

“It’s a Catch-22,” Rivera said.

I don’t think the T spokesperson knows what a “Catch-22” is. I refer those interested to the Wikipedia article on the subject, but it is nicely summarized there as “heads I win, tails you lose.” The T’s problem is not a logical paradox, but some combination of inadequate resources and poor organization. Can someone please help them out?

Also on Boston local topics: I’ve received several unattributed mailings lately related to the city council election that do not facially promote any particular candidate. Today’s mailing attacked Stephen Murphy for repeatedly trying (and failing) to win some other office or get some other job than City Councilor. The return address was 31 Milk Street, which is the address of many different businesses.

A few days ago, I received another unattributed mailing bemoaning how long it has been since an at-large city councilor came from the Parkway Area (my neighborhood), but not mentioning any candidate in particular.

My guess is these mailings are all meant to support John Connolly, a West Roxbury resident, attorney, and ostensibly good guy. I was feeling pretty happy about the possibility of Connolly replacing Murphy on the Council (I have to admit some unfair prejudice in that the only house in our neighborhood I’ve ever seen prominently posting a sign in support of Bush also features a Murphy billboard). But these questionable campaign tactics are giving me pause. Does anyone know anything more about this?

In any case, here are my endorsements for next week’s election, notwithstanding the concern outlined above: (1) Felix Arroyo, (2) John Connolly, and (3) Sam Yoon. I have no pick for a fourth candidate. I’ll also throw in a vote for Matt Geary. I really wouldn’t want the socialists running the City, but a broader spectrum of political opinion within the council wouldn’t hurt. Incidentally, it is remarkably hard to find any information summarizing all of the candidates’ positions and records. It’s almost as if the election isn’t even happening. (A commenter properly points me to Brighton Centered as a good resource.)

11/3/07 Update: More discussion here.

[Tags]Boston, City Council, Elections, Felix Arroyo, John Connolly, Sam Yoon, Stephen Murphy, Politics, MBTA, Transportation, Roslindale, Needham, Matt Geary[/Tags]