This Weblog comes from Mindy McAdams and resides at It's a personal blog and probably not of much interest to anyone but me. You are welcome to read and comment as you like.

June 30, 2001

Back in Bangkok

Bangkok, June 30, 9:40 p.m. Only two days left in this excellent country. I met a couple from Croatia -- not one of the usual tourist homelands! -- and they are here for a whole month. I envy them. Best thing I have done (most fun): visited the national elephant training camp out in the countryside on Friday. Hung out with a bunch of elephants without cages or fences of any kind. The Croatian couple was there, and then later I ran into them in another town, Ko Kha, where we had all gone to see the same ancient wat. I flew back to Bangkok this afternoon. I would like to post some photos, but my diskette drive is in a piece of luggage in the U.S. Embassy (as a courtesy; not confiscated!) -- so probably no photos online for a while yet.

No technology news today, but one observation I hope I will remember: The newspapers here really run a lot of news about public affairs. Every article in the front section of the two English language dailies (Bangkok Post and The Nation) is about a dam project, a protest, a political decision, a government plan to give loans to the rural poor, a corrupt official -- there is no fluff at all in the front section. There are some amusing briefs, such as a story about a man who was surprised to find his wife working in a brothel when he went in as a customer (not in Thailand; it was a foreign brief), but mostly it's hard news and very much just the facts -- there is a refreshing absence of speculation and opinion in the news stories. Quite different from the U.S. dailies.

I shot some great video at a daily newspaper in Chiang Mai where they were kind enough to give me a tour. I will need to edit it, but it's a somewhat different operation from most of the U.S. newspapers of their size (40,000 daily circ.).

The Lonely Planet Bangkok guide online provides a quick introduction to this city, but it's not as thorough as the LP Thailand guide book (which I can thank for pointing me to the elephant camp).

Posted by macloo at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2001

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand. June 24, 5:13 p.m. local time: I just checked e-mail from a storefront Internet shop here. This small city is stuffed full of Internet storefronts -- there are signs hanging up everywhere: "Internet -- 20 baht / hour" -- 45 baht equal $1 U.S., so the price is right. The access from this storefront is faster than it was in my hotel in Bangkok (it was 28.8 there: torture).

I clipped an op-ed piece from the Asian Wall Street Journal on Thursday or Friday -- the subject was fiber bandwidth. The comparison was fascinating, and the gist, from memory, was this: In the mid-1980s, there was a shakeout in the computer business, and the companies that bet on bigger boxes (mainframes) with more processing power lost out to the companies that bet on small cheap boxes that let each user operate independently (PCs). The writer says a similar struggle is happening now between companies that are focused on adding more bits to each "channel" (it's not really a channel, it's a piece of the spectrum) and the companies that are adding more channels (colors) to each strand in their network. That is, a larger number of channels with small capacities per channel can be more efficient that fewer "fat" channels. The second strategy makes more sense, he said, and I was convinced. (This note is to make sure I don't forget to file that op-ed piece when I get home. Also check Lexis-Nexis to see if it ran in the WSJ too -- probably did.)

Posted by macloo at 06:13 AM | Comments (0)

June 19, 2001

Bangkok 2001

News from Thailand (in English): The Nation. The hot story here is that the very popular new prime minister testified yesterday in his trial on charges of hiding assets during an earlier election campaign. The court may delay its ruling until August or September -- rather a long interval, it seems. Some Thais are worried that the country will be unable to complete an economic rebound without P.M. Thaksin.

Posted by macloo at 11:09 AM | Comments (0)

From Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand, Day 2: Today I met with journalism students and faculty at Rangsit University, just outside the capital. Here as in the U.S., the students seem to be focused on their current situation, as students only, and not on their future and the working world of journalism. However, when asked if they would like to see improvements in the news media, they agreed that they would prefer more factual information and less opinion; also fewer factual errors. They feel that each newspaper supplies conflicting facts, especially in political stories, and even after weeks have passed since the event, the story remains unclear and contradictory.

The curriculum at Rangsit appears to be very strong. Faculty are wondering what courses they should add to increase Internet skills among their students. I recommended that they add Internet skills instruction to three existing courses and consider offering two new professional electives, one focused on Web site structure and page design, and the other focused on motion and sound technologies. They have majors in radio/TV, journalism (print), motion picture and video, advertising, and public relations.

Posted by macloo at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2001

610 Billion E-mails

Another quote from the Berkeley study cited below: "[A]bout 500 times as much email is being produced per year as the stock of Web pages. It appears that about 610 billion emails are sent per year, compared to 2.1 billion static Web pages." Now, maybe this counts as useless data that cannot be transformed into information (let alone knowledge or wisdom), and it's not a staggering surprise that there are more e-mails than Web pages. What is interesting is how much hype is devoted to Web sites and companies in comparison to relatively little excitement about e-mail. E-mail, however, is changing human communication around the whole world -- changing who we know, and how we relate to and interact with them.

Posted by macloo at 10:32 AM | Comments (0)

Information Anxiety (2)

Wurman, Richard Saul. InformationAnxiety2 (Indianapoils: Que, 2000). Got it, read up to p. 76 so far -- not nearly as exciting as the first edition was back in 1989, when all these ideas were new (at least to me). The one good thing so far is the idea of function compared with performance. Yeah, yeah, this has been said before, but somehow Wurman's distinction here struck me in a special way relative to online information and software usability:

"A building that performs is one where all the spaces can be used efficiently, with neither too much space nor too little allotted for different activities; where the building systems are designed to accommodate the needs of the occupants; where the design is such that users feel comfortable in the interior environment" (p. 54). Compare that with a building that simply functions, providing a space to contain activities, goods and people.

Another valuable thing from the book: A Berkeley study called How Much Information? It's kind of weird -- the researchers are adding up the number of terabytes humans produce each year, basically. Yet the work yields data
such as this:

"The production of unique content in books, photos, and CDs isbarely growing. DVD content is growing rapidly ... By contrast,shipments of digital magnetic storage are essentially doubling everyyear" (from the linked page).

Posted by macloo at 09:59 AM | Comments (0)

June 06, 2001

Photoshop 6

Yesterday I loaded Photoshop 6.0 and was reminded of a discussion several of us had about online newspapers during the New Directions for News workshop at Stanford in May. We were asking each other for examples of industries or companies that really respond to their customers or users -- companies that newspapers might learn from, if they wanted to improve their products.

In that group of newspaper people, we discussed a couple of software companies: Adobe and Macromedia. Maybe I was the most vocal, because I am one happy customer, and here's why: Every time I install a new version of an Adobe or Macromedia product that I have been using for a while, I am PLEASED with the new version. They have made improvements that actually help me do my work better -- so of course I'm happy! (And I hate spending time learning new software.)

The question is, How do they manage to do this? They must be talking to real users (like me) -- and making careful decisions based on what they hear from those users. One of the reasons I'm very, very happy with Photoshop 6.0 was that I was worried that they would have changed a lot of things in ways that would force me to relearn things I knew from 5.5 -- making me waste a lot of time. WRONG! There were a couple of things (like, I couldn't find the paint bucket for a while), but overall, I don't feel that I have to relearn stuff I already knew. This is very important for users. When you change a product, the changes should make life better for the users -- not more difficult.

Posted by macloo at 09:35 AM | Comments (0)

June 04, 2001

NYT and the Kaycee Nicole Hoax

Why the Kaycee Nicole hoax story is important: (1) The length of time that this fake person existed, actively, on the Net: TWO YEARS. (2) The broad community, multiple sites, and numerous Net-savvy people who "knew" this fake person. (3)The use by The New York Times of this FAKE PERSON as a real source -- quoted at length in a NYT story and assumed to be real, a real person, when she never was.

What this proves: You can never, ever be sure that a person you "know" online is a real person unless you have met him or her face-to-face. Talking on the phone is not proof; at least two people spoke on the phone with the fake Kaycee, according to the NYT story on May 31, 2001 (linked above).

The extent of the Times's error is shown in the August 10, 2000, story by Lisa Guernsey, "For the New College B.M.O.C., 'M' Is for 'Machine'" (Thursday, Late Edition, Final; Section G, Circuits; p. 7, col. 1; retrieved from Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe on May 29, 2001):

"Kaycee Swenson, a high school senior in Wichita, Kan., who took several courses at her local college last year, said she talked to people online every day, most of whom were not at her campus. But she said she also hung out with friends in the physical world, listening to music and playing basketball. 'You have to balance it,' she said.

"This fall, she will enroll full time at the University of California at San Diego, and she plans to take a new computer with her, even though she already has one equipped with a Pentium II processor. 'It's fast,' she said, 'but not fast enough.'

"In fact, she said, when she talks to her mother about what she took to college decades ago, she cannot believe what students had to put up with. 'She thought it was great,' Ms. Swenson said, 'that she was able to take a calculator to college or a cassette player to tape lectures.' And when her mother said she had to stand in line to register for classes and to wait for professors to open their offices, she said she could hardly imagine it. 'I laugh at those things,' Ms. Swenson said, 'but I'm sure it wasn't fun, you know?'" (Quoted from the August 10, 2000, New York Times story cited above.)

Posted by macloo at 11:21 AM | Comments (0)

June 01, 2001

Blogs and Journalism

About Weblogs, J.D. Lasica writes on OJR: "[T]he best news blogs offer a personal prism that combines pointers to trusted sources of information with a subjective, passion-based journalism." See "Weblogs: A New Source of News" (May 31, 2001).

"Weblogging will drive a powerful new form of amateur journalism as millions of Net users -- young people especially -- take on the role of columnist, reporter, analyst and publisher while fashioning their own personal broadcasting networks." See "Blogging as a Form of Journalism" (May 24, 2001).

Posted by macloo at 11:13 AM | Comments (0)

The Democratic Paradox

Mouffe, Chantal. The Democratic Paradox. London: Verso, 2000. I finished reading this on Wednesday, and it was a complete pleasure. Mouffe is strong on reasoning and low on jargon. She's committed to reviving a radical politics, but she's not given to raving and gnashing her teeth. On the contrary! She focuses closely on the way plurality works in the world -- if you say you want a democracy, you have to be ready to deal with the realities of diversity (or classically, a plurality). A "people" does not become a unified, undifferentiated mass even when they agree on something. In every agreement (or consensus), there must be disagreement (or exclusion). She takes Habermas to task (as have others, of course) for imagining an "ideal speech situation" -- well, not for imagining it, but for arguing as if it could be made real.

Mouffe also writes sensibly about the tension (or conflict) between equality and liberty (which I tend to characterize as the conflict between rights and responsibilities). She situates the conflict in the framework of the paradox that is the subject of this book, placing the equality argument with the radical left, and the liberty argument with the "liberals" -- who in the U.S. we would call the libertarians today, I think.

Mouffe also argues the flaws in the "third way," especially as it has played out in contemporary British politics.

Posted by macloo at 10:25 AM | Comments (0)

The Semantic Web

In "The Semantic Web," by Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler and Ora Lassila (Scientific American 284(5), May 2001, pp. 35-43) -- how XML systems of tagging content for its meaning can be (will be?) extended publicly via ontologies that would work much as CSS does today -- publicly readable files would define the usage of each tag for a given industry or site. Agents could then use these definitions (see Resource Description Framework, or RDF, in the article) in complex multi-site searches and comparisons. If, for example, all physical therapy providers used the same ontology (supplied by an association of physical therapists, say), then all searches for a physical therapy provider would compare the same kinds of data for services, fees, locations, office hours, etc.

This makes sense -- in a way that all the hype about XML tagging to date has NOT. The use of a public ontology "style sheet" is the crucial component.

Posted by macloo at 09:59 AM | Comments (0)