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The Library of Congress + Flickr = Snow Crash

Posted by David Leslie on April 24, 2008

Since reading Snow Crash back in 2004, I have been convinced that Neil Stephenson’s novel is closer to prophecy than fiction when you’re talking about what libraries will look like in say 2010.

For full discloser, I am not a librarian or a member of the American Library Association. I do work for a library co-op.


See, the world of the metaverse has already been used to create one product (World’s Away which was a CompuServe service developed by Fujitu) but I think that these products can be traced to passages in Snow Crash. Products that are changing how people use information they contain.

Snow Crash Real World
The database created after The Library of Congress and the Central Intelligence Agency merged; Allowing individuals to contribute in exchange for micropayments each time their item is accessed (whew!) Wikipedia
‘Earth’ the 3d interface to the Central Information Corporation’s database Google Earth
The Metaverse Worlds Away (1995)
Second Life
Librarian Virtual Reference Services


So needless to say I was tweaked when this story hit my RSS feeds.

I mean, its got a wee bit of crowdsoursing plus it fit the ‘stringer’ idea that Snow Crash has for those who troll looking for content to feed into the database. Except the Flickr community is tagging the content The Library of Congress has exposed to them.

So the question is, what is the next area of Snow Crash to come true?

Using tags to bring a better experience to Flickr users 

Flickr’s The Commons project is an example of how the sites users can bring useful context to information from a single source, in this case the Library of Congress.

(Credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO–In return for the huge amount of work Flickr users do to tag photos on the popular photo-sharing site, they should get the benefit of the algorithms the service uses to bring meaning to the data.

That’s how at least some at Flickr feel, according to Kakul Srivastava, the service’s director of product management said in her talk, “The next generation of tagging: Searching and discovering a better user experience,” at the Web 2.0 Expo here Thursday.

The idea behind that theory is that as Flickr users proactively add tags to countless millions of photos stored on the site, the service is able to draw some very specific conclusions about the behavior of those users and the things that are happening around them.

This graph shows how, over time, Flickr users have continued to add a tremendous number of tags to the photos on the service, a rate that continues to grow.

(Credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET

And no wonder: The sheer amount of tags users have added over the four years the service has been operating is breathtaking: According to Srivastava, if you took the average text size of all the tags added to Flickr photos and laid them out, it would line the floors of 14 Wal-Marts.

“It’s an incredible amount of content to parse, to reveal and to take the meaning of,” Srivastava said.

Unfortunately, I would have to say that the talk didn’t deliver on its title: Srivastava didn’t share anything particularly new with the audience, discussing mainly things that were probably already well-understood by most in the room.

Still, it was an interesting presentation, particularly because Srivastava talked about some of the ways that Flickr has evolved over the years, and what it’s possible to learn based on how it’s grown.

One of the most notable changes has been what she termed the increasing sophistication in the way Flickr users tag photos.

At first, she suggested, people were mainly tagging photos to add context about themselves. Then, gradually, they added context about other people, and then found ways to express shared experiences through their tags.

The best example of that–though more complex that what most people get involved in–is Flickr’s The Commons project.

Within the first hour after the Library of Congress photos went up, Flickr users had added 150 tags to them. Within 24 hours, users added 11,000 tags.

(Credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET

This is a project that launched in January with the U.S. Library of Congress as a pilot partner. The idea was that the Library of Congress provided a large collection of archival photos for the Flickr community to add tags to for additional context.

The reach of the Flickr community was immediately obvious, she suggested. The project launched with no tags, and within an hour, users had added 150 tags. Within three hours, the number was 767 and by the end of 24 hours, fully 11,000 tags.

Beyond that, Flickr users were able to add all kinds of contextual comments to the photos. Srivastava pointed to one such photo, a picture of a stream of dock workers leaving work at the end of the day, which had several user comments appended to it.

One of them was quite striking. The user noticed that all the African-Americans in the photo were on one side of the stream, while the whites were on the other.

“Looks like ‘quittin’ time’ was a segregated as the rest of life,” the user commented.

Where the Flickr user community’s participation in The Commons project is useful is in bringing personal context to images that previously had none.

(Credit: Daniel Terdiman/CNET

For Srivastava, that kind of comment is deeply important because it adds significant cultural meaning to a photo that otherwise was just another in a large collection.

Another notable emergent behavior on Flickr, she said, is the ability to determine when some sort of newsworthy event is going on, simply because of the use of a tag.

For example, she pointed out that traditionally, “Popemobile” wasn’t a very common tag. But all of a sudden, she said, it was being used by a lot of people in the Washington, D.C. area, and by virtue of that, it was possible to see that something was going on around the Pope’s recent visit to the United States.

In the end, Srivastava’s talk didn’t break new ground, but it did illustrate the ways that Flickr sees its users explaining the world around them through the use of tags. The concept itself may not be news, but tying it together and thinking about the many ways tagging on a site as popular as Flickr adds meaning is a worthy exercise.

Using tags to bring a better experience to Flickr users
Daniel Terdiman
Thu, 24 Apr 2008 22:41:00 GMT


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Call of Duty 4 PC Demo review

Posted by David Leslie on October 12, 2007

OK, let me state my bias up front. I’m not a big shooter guy.
Crimson Skies both Xbox and PC versions are my favorite games to play and I play a ton of the EA NCAA Sports titles (Baseball, Football and Basketball in that order).

I also read a ton of special operations history books (I was a history major before getting into IT) since I grew up near Ft. Bragg in the late 70’s as Delta was just starting.

Now on to the review:

My Computer – 
AMD X2 +4400 with 2 gig of DDR ram
Video Card is an 7800GT with 256 MB of RAM. I have a SLI MoBo but don’t use the 2nd card.
Vista Score of 4.9 to 5 depending on how much HD space the TV captures are eating up at the time.
Dell 20in widescreen monitor hooked via DVI

Install –
With my Vista rig I had some problems with the .EXE file from Yahoo that contained the zip extractor for the installer. Man that’s hurts just thinking about that. Once the install unziped and started, no worries.

Gameplay with Spoilers –
Played on recruit
Here are my notes, in real time as I played the demo:

Love the into sat flyby to introduce the mission
Dear God, the fracking car I’m using for cover just blew up.
Ok follow the cat pointing down the stairs and try not to get shot
Just got shot.
OK, where the hell is that coming from
Crap, can’t use the pipper when the night vision goggles are on
Room clearing in the middle of a fire fight, try not to die or kill any buddies
Blocking force, with cover holding the street. great
OOOOHHH, RPG smoke trail.
Gotta get over to those buildings and snipe them before any more show up.
Find the big Javelin before bleeding out.
Wait for the white eyes to come back
Kill tank 1, sweet
Kill tank 2, who the hell gave these guys tanks
Take cover, fire Jav..wait Javelin won’t fire since I don’t have enough room. That’s cool, I’m not redding out anymore
Kill tank 3, this is a bit linear. Next time I’m going to shoot the Javelin at the guys in the building across from me.
Sprint to the bog. Hyperventilating now.
Is the bog the coolest looking point to defend.
Thank God you can’t get you’re boots stuck in this crap
Sweet mother of God, we’re getting over run
Flank. Flank Flank.. head for the trash pile.
Great just got flanked
Bus look like good cover, has big gun
Get in the bus for some payback..wait where is the
Crap, the bus is getting ripped
When did the bad guys invest in helmets?
Must plant C4, try not to die
Mark the target, eyes are all red again
Area gets a Gatling taken to it while I hide
Back to the tank Demo over (so soon?)

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I heart Shure SE 210

Posted by David Leslie on September 8, 2007

I found a unique way to deal with my inability to sleep when Jean is sleeping ‘deeply’. In Ear Monitors or earphones.

See, I was reading Fast Company about Ultimate Ears, the developers of the in ear monitors (IEM) that you see many musicians wearing when they play live.

The idea is that the IEM are better than noise canceling headphones since they block outside sounds like an ear plug and allow you to listen at a lower volume (since they don’t have to compete with the outside sounds).

Then it hits me, I need to block out noise and I love to fall asleep to music. But I don’t have the coin for a custom pair of UE’s. I don’t have coin period. But I was still in luck.

Both UE and Shure make consumer versions of the IEM’s they sell to the pros. The difference is that the pros get ear molds made that are then fitted to the driver. The consumer get ear foams that are pretty much just like an ear plug. The price isn’t cheep but this is sleep we’re talking about

I grabbed a pair of Shure SE 210’s from the great folks at Headroom since they have the lowest profile for sticking out of ear of the models in my price range.

After two weeks, I was having problems getting adjusted to them. See you need to get ‘a good seal’ in order for the sound isolation to work. I wasn’t getting that seal. I thought that I had a good test in that I could drop my wedding ring on my desk and not hear it. Sadly I could. I even made a video of my attempts to get this to work demo’ing the ‘ring test’

I shared the video with Shure and Headroom. Shure sent me a new fit kit (with case) filled with the gells that didn’t come in the 210’s for free. I talked to Headroom and they gave me some feedback on the video and some things to try. But nothing worked. So I sent them back to Headroom.

Just as I sent them off, I got an idea. Maybe it wasn’t the fit kit but it was how I was putting them in. So I rush to the Apple store, check their return policy and grab another pair of 210’s. Still no luck. In frustration, I call Headroom and ask what I was doing wrong. Come to find out that I had the fit right, the sound isolation was that of ‘putting your fingers in your ears’. When I did this, I noticed the 210’s blocked more of the ring drop than my fingers. The rest of the isolation is picked up by the sound produced by the drivers. I was getting a good seal after all!!!!

So I tell Headroom to send the 210’s back and I took the other pair back to Apple.

Now I had to find a clock radio to play the delta wave sleep CD and get my rear up in the morning. That is another post.

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ArcReady June 2008

Posted by David Leslie on June 14, 2007

Here are my notes from the Microsoft ArcReady quarterly meeting hosted by Josh Holmes. The topic is User Experience.

Key Quotes

Coming soon to software development: Technical Director who will manage the UI tradeoffs. Much like the technical director on an animated film

An avatar in Second Life costs about the same in electrical costs as a person in Portugal

What is User Experience? It’s a bloodsport that must be fought for in order to happen.

Level 2 bugs are toxic as they cause the users to hate the application

HTML is the COLBOL of the web.

Software creates an Emotional Connection. People will have a program that they hate and that they will avoid using it whenever they can. This avoidance causes loss of productivity and profit.

It’s not a bad thing to entertain the user. Slow elevator story. Building owner gets complaints about a slow elevator, fixes it, elevator runs fasts but still gets complaints, fixes again which makes it run faster and still gets complaints, fixes it by taking back to the original equipment and speed – adds mirrors and the complaints stop.

Communicate –Collaborate –Create

Speaker / Creator blogs

Chris Bernard
Josh Holmes
Jon Box
Drew Robins


Read the rest of this entry »

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The Librarian and Ubunutu

Posted by David Leslie on May 14, 2007

OK, so a librarian filmed herself as she took two donated computers and installed the new distro of Ubunutu on them. She posts the video to YouTube and poof, instant geek cred with the open source folks not to mention the Librarian Bloggers.

Yet this points out my problem with what is happening in the library space right now. Nobody stopping to ask questions like:

How do you plan on using the computers? Public access / Staff only?

If for Patron’s do they even know enough Linux to do what they need to do?

Can you printer’s work with it?

What do you do when the new distro comes out?

People think free software is going to save the frigging world but guess what, it’s not. Because the money is not in the code, it’s in the support. That’s how Red Hat stays in business. Half the guys who work on Bugzilla all run firms to help companies deal with the scaling issues that come up if you are using it across the enterprise. Needless to say, it’s not cheap to have one of those cats save your database after it goes poof.

I guess the bigger thing is that there is a geek DIY gist that in Librarianship now. But this isn’t punk rock. If librarians are so worried about the preservation of knowledge and meeting patron’s needs, why go with something that is DIY?

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The Joost beta

Posted by David Leslie on May 13, 2007

Well I got my invite as Joost is now in open beta.

So far it’s been good. The picture quality is better than YouTube plus the way the ads and gadgets work is well done.

The selection of channels is OK but I’ve been stuck on just one video.

It’s Snow Patrol Live playing Hands Open at the Royal Opera House in London. You might know Snow Patrol from their hit Chasing Cars that appeared on Gray’s Anatomy.

The show was recorded as part of the Vodafone TBA concerts, I loved the way they shot the show picking up the feel of the house and the reactions from the 300 folks who won tickets to the gig. If you get the chance, it is worth checking out.

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Citizen Marketers

Posted by David Leslie on February 22, 2007

Today I attended a presentation by Ben McConnell, the co author of the book Citizen Marketers as well as the author of the blog “The Church of the Customer“. The notes that follow were taken in real time in the atrium of the Kilgore building which was serving as the overflow area. I didn’t take notes of the Q/A session that followed as I moved into the auditorium as I wanted to ask a question.


48 million content creators in the United States (what counts as content)

  • Tradition one way marketing is being disputed by the ‘democratization’ of content creators
    • Point of BS: you can create content for ‘free’
  • Need to look at the people in order to understand a trend
    • Point of BS: Tools are free and easy to use
  • There is now an impact on traditional media
  • Amateur culture is now being infused by social networks and creativity
  • Everyone is a publisher, DJ, commentator, blah, blah..
  • Social networks are member networks
  • This is driven by broadband
    • Point of BS: What about those areas without broadband
  • A founding idea of social media is the bill of rights
    • A voice
    • A vote
    • A vocation
    • Point of BS: What about companies that do business in places like Egypt and China that do not offer such rights to individuals.
  • Most influential media is Word of Mouth
  • There is no control in social media
    • Point of BS: Ever here Apple suing bloggers
  • 4 Types of social marketers ( missed one)
    • Firecrackers
      • Big pop then go away
    • Fanatics
      • Point of BS: Save our Show campaigns lead by Fanatics are sooo 1990’s
      • You are your Google search results and you can’t really control Google.
    • Facilitators
      • Build forums where a community can form around
  • Why do these people do this?
    • A form of productive leisure
    • Many people’s hobbies are a bridge to their professional lives
  • The 1% Rule
    • The total number of people who come into the democratized community will create content
  • Inequality is the rule
    • These creators are on the edges of your community but they will influence the whole
  • Work with the 1%
    • Create with them: co-create
    • Formalize community relations: Discovery channel built an educator network for teachers who use their programming. Peer to peer education and best practices
  • Participation drives growth

Wrap up: Looking over the notes, I remembered something my Dad said when I was getting upset about my favorite team moving “Never fall in love with another man’s business”. A lot of this revolves around getting people to fall in love with your business. But isn’t there better things in this world to love than a business or product?

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Microsoft’s Ready for a new day SWAG list

Posted by David Leslie on January 26, 2007

The following is a list of the swag picked up at Microsoft’s Ready for a New Day Vista / Office 2007 launch event.

Most of the business card fishbowls were giving away Zunes but one did buck this trend by giving away a bottle of champagne. There was also a $250 Best Buy gift card and a monitor for grabs.

Thanks to Microsoft and all the partners for the event, the food, the information and the swag!



Black string backpack (shoe) bag

Black tee-shirt

LED light pen

Card to hand in for resource CD

(this has the Office Professional 2007 / Groove download code directions and license key)

Handouts on CRM and Partner programs

Partner Swag:

Retractable Ear buds

Robot pen

Foam 4 point boomerang

Handled Sudko game

Keyboard / Monitor brush

Travel coffee mug


LED HP lanyard

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My Christmas List

Posted by David Leslie on November 16, 2006

After a moment of self-realization, I noticed that whenever I get down (which is always around late Oct / early Nov) I tend to develop a fixation on really high priced items. High priced that is for my budget.

For example:

Last Year: My computer from XI Computer

2 years ago: My MP3 player – Creative Muvo Micro N200

This year has been a waffling between a camera and a new set of headphones. So rather than spend the coin that I don’t have on what I want or spend the coin that I do have on something so-so, I here by post my wish list for Christmas if for anything else, just to say it’s out here.


Big ticket item (over $200 US): A new digital camera.

OK, I’ll admit it, I’m jealous of my Uncle. He got a new Canon Digital Rebel that is sitting in a box until he finds time to take a class. He already has the film version of the Rebel that he’s taken snap shots with for about 10 years now. I don’t know if it’s ever been out of point and shoot mode.

While I would love a Rebel, it’s a lot of camera and money. Almost triple my budget.

Me, I’d like a new digital camera that will have a faster start time as well as being faster between shots. Given my current HP 318, just about any digital in the $100 and up price range will will beat it in these two categories.

I’ve been learning how to shot better shots by using Flickr and just snapping away with the HP. One thing I’ve found out is that it’s important not only to have good auto focus modes but also some manual control. So I want something where I can do some manual adjustments and maybe a flitter.

Budget for this is around $300 at tops. Of course this means no Vista a launch should Santa drop something off.


Medium ticket item (Just under $100 US):  Sennheiser PC155 Traditional Binaural PC Headset with USB and Noise canceling.

I wear headsets for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. While I’ve been using Atec Lansing, I’ve killed two sets of mic cords on my AHS515 in the past 15 months. The problem is the wires; they get yanked by my chair and munged by the jacks. The PC155 fixes this with a cord wrap and the option to use USB which both my computers have front USB ports.

Plus, since these things are on my head for so long, I might as well get something that sounds great and not just good. Also since I’m betting on not getting the camera, I can use the mic to take advantage of the voice control in Vista.


Small items (under $30 US):

Matt Helm Lounge (The Silencers/ Murderers Row/The Ambushers/The Wrecking Crew): The four Dean Martin spy spoofs that I can watch over and over again. Even today I still have the hots for Daliah Lavi in The Silencers

Mike Doughty Skittish/Rockity Roll Double CD

A subscription to Netflix

A subscription to Sports Illustrated

A subscription to ESPN

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My crappy cable reception

Posted by David Leslie on August 22, 2006

For some reason my cable service from TimeWarner has decided to flake out on me.

Here’s the score, I have a WinPVR-150 MCE and I’m running XP Media Center as my OS. About 4 months ago, I stated getting strange lines going diagonally across channels 65 to 70 which happens to be where BBC America and the National Geographic Channel live.

With the problem                                         Without the problem

At first it wasn’t a big deal but now it’s unwatchable on the computer, my guest tv is getting worse and even the tv with the TW provided DVR is starting to show it.  

The rub is that I’ve had TW out 5 times and so far nothing has worked:

  • Tech 1 said I needed a dedicated line for my Road Runner
  • Tech 2 installed the line but the problem still occurred 
  • Tech 3 replaced the line running from the post to my house but that didn’t work. He also said that maybe the problem was with the computer. After checking with the folks at Hauppauge and with XI computer, the box was ruled out. 
  • Tech 4 said the problem was ‘ingress’,  replaced all the coxal connectors but aside from telling me to check the ground (which I have no idea where that’s at) said that he would have the dispatcher check to see if the problem is between the post and the TW hub. 
  • Tech 5 replaced the DVR (I went from the piece of junk Scientific Atlanta 8000 to the new hotness that is the 8300)

I called again tonight to get a status but was told to check back at the end of the week.

If it’s not fixed by then, who knows what will be next…

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