Australian entrepreneur with FanFooty (alive) and Tinfinger (dead) on his CV. Working on new projects, podcasting weekly at the Coaches Box, and trying not to let microblogging take over this blog.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Pharyngula mutating genre meme

I love blog memes, and Bruce Everitt over at The Thinkers' Podium just tagged me with a good one: the Pharyngula mutating genre meme. The rules are as follows:

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, “The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is…”. Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:
  • You can leave them exactly as is.

  • You can delete any one question.

  • You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change “The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is…” to “The best time travel novel in Westerns is…”, or “The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is…”, or “The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is…”.

  • You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form “The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is…”.

You must have at least one question in your set, or you’ve gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you’re not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

Okay, so here are my contributions:

1. The best time travel novel in magic realism is…

Armageddon: The Musical by Robert Rankin. Barry the Talking Sprout is the best time machine in fiction, and he constantly steals scenes with his buddy Elvis. By the by, I recently read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, and found it sorely lacking. It followed much the same formula as Rankin's oeuvre - magic realism, quirky loser characters, decidedly British backdrop, time travel - but contained very little humour. I could not help thinking by about page 20 that if The Eyre Affair had been a Rankin book there would have been half a dozen genuinely funny running gags by now, whereas all Fforde could inject was some boring literary allusions.

2. The best Continental-European movie in historical fiction is…

Astérix et Obélix contre César. I watched this movie in a theatre in Singapore in 1999 and highly enjoyed myself. Gerard Depardieu as Obelix, Roberto Benigni as a legionary, Laetitia Casta as eye candy, and a special effects budget large enough to do justice to the vision of Goscinny & Uderzo... what more do you want? Then again, I am one of the more hardcore Asterix fans you'll ever meet.

3. The best sexy song in industrial rock is…

She Wants Animals - Nine Inch Nails vs Ace Of Base as mashed up by DJ Tripp. A little naughty of me here, considering that NIN got mentioned two steps up the memechain, but I have liked this song a lot ever since I heard it as track 3 on Bootmixed, arguably the best mash-up compilation album ever. Tripp takes two songs with seemingly incompatible musical styles and makes them work, not least because he manages to combine the lyrics to form a very funny reversal to the intensity of Trent Reznor's intended effect. Instead of the song being about the uncontrollable urge of a manly man to copulate with his partner, it is transformed via the addition of the Ace of Base lyrics into a tale of a liberated woman who manipulates the neanderthal male into becoming an unwitting sperm donor.

I pass on the memetic seed to:

Bronwen Clune at Norg Media
Simon Sharwood at Stay Cool Dad
Phillip Malone at Mollyzine
Duncan Riley at duncanriley.com
John Johnston at jjprojects
Cait at scientaestubique
Phil Sim at Squash
Jeremy Johnsen at Johnsenclan
Leslie Nassar at mojourno
Karel Donk at Miraesoft
Marsh Davies at Verbal Chilli
Ray Frenden at frenden.com
Caryn Law at Hellchick
Barbara Kerr at Martin Scorsese Is Quite A Jovial Fellow

What can I say, I spread my seed far and wide. ;)

Monday, October 15, 2007

AdSense and the weak US dollar

After much cajoling my me via Twitter and Second Life over the past month, Duncan Riley finally wrote on TechCrunch today about the effects of the devaluation of the US dollar on the tech startup sector. Duncan is a busy man so his post was understandably brief, focusing on the main winners and losers, but as with all good TC articles, the discussion in the comments fills in the holes of understanding of the breadth of the issue, including the impact on Canadian contractors, US freelancers and Indian outsourcers.

The issue is close to my heart because I run several sites which have Google AdSense advertisements as their primary (but not only) revenue source. Google pays its publishers in American dollars, which as the greenback deflates is losing people like me more and more money over time. On this year alone, as can be seen below, the US$ has dropped 9% against the A$, which translates directly into lost profits for my AdSense-reliant businesses. I can only imagine what the numbers must be like for heavy-duty AdSense publishers like Canadian Markus Frind.

It is basic economic theory that exporters are hurt by a dipping currency in their buyer's economy because their export products become less competitive on price compared to local suppliers. Rather than fleeing from AdSense to other products - given that no non-US alternative has gained any traction - I think the net effect of the falling US dollar will be to add to the encouragement for non-US-based startups to relocate to the US, so that they get full value for their money. Of course, depending on the part of the US you move to, the increased living costs are likely to eat up any savings, but of course there are other benefits to being near a startup hub, as Paul Graham told us so depressingly.

The economics of Web hosting (which I whinged about in May '06) have already mandated that non-American businesses host their data in the US. Add the depreciating Benjamin to the list of reasons why startup founders' physical forms will follow their ones and zeroes to Seppo Land.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

SharedKnowing and alternative collaborative models

Mailing lists these days seem like relics of a bygone era, suitable only for people who haven't moved on to the shiny 2.0 this or that. Nevertheless, I will be subscribing to and participating in the new SharedKnowing list, as announced by Larry Sanger of Citizendium (and formerly of Wikipedia). Larry's vision for the group is of "well-reasoned, polite discussion and announcements about the nature of online knowledge production communities". His wishlist of participants makes it sound like he wants to chew the fat over epistemology with latter-day Platos and Aristotles, but I suspect the list will be a lot less stuffy and academic that Larry makes it sound like. Hopefully a humble journalist-turned-programmer like me can find the answers to some of the burning questions still in my mind about how to structure the creation of knowledge on Tinfinger - knowledge in this case being the profiles of famous and semi-famous people, with which I want to push the boundaries of the semantic Web (but that's for another post).

One major question I want to explore is different structures of collaboration. The wiki model is only one possibility among many in how to make collaborative knowledge production work on a public Web site, in my opinion. Perhaps not surprisingly given my background as a journalist, I am a firm believer in knowledge producers having the option to be rewarded for their work. Creative Commons licensing is all very well for people who are rich in time and/or principles, but not everyone has the capability to be so giving of their valuable efforts without compensation. The WP/CZ model assumes that no one owns a document, or is the author, but they both have the editor/writer relationship which guides the evolution of an article towards compromise.

I would like to try out something different. Specifically, I have been thinking a lot about how to engineer a system which allows people to join groups who claim collaborative authorship over a document, and thus enjoy the ability to profit from publication of that document. These groups - or factions or crews or cliques or cells or what have you - would have to be so fluid as to allow them to be formed around a single document, or over hundreds of documents at once. It's not as if it's a new concept in a theoretical sense: it's pretty much how scientific journal articles are attributed, with most having unique lists of contributors, some including hundreds of names. Making that work in real time on a knowledge production Web site, however, would be a non-trivial technical feat of document authoring software - not to mention the complexities of ensuring accurate monetary compensation. Getting the politics right will also be tricky, which is where I hope the SharedKnowing list can help.