About

I started this part of the blog when I was a reporter at the erstwhile Business 2.0 magazine in San Francisco. Business 2.0 was a Time Inc. magazine that focused on innovation in business. In the course of my work, I came across interesting companies and business ideas. Honestly, I wasn't totally crazy about blogging about Web 2.0, especially since one of my B2 mentors was doing it much better. But I found some interesting stuff, and I'm still interested in business. I left Business 2.0 to try my hand at teaching science, and now I'm back to the world of media, research and writing.

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Saheli Datta
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Randomshapes, Teenagers, and Miniature Network Seeds

This is a nice little site that might the hold the seeds of future niche media networks. Matt Bob Jones is an 18-year old college student in Mesa, AZ who just happens to have been dabbling in web design since he was 12. (When I was 12, I thought I was ahead of the curve because I knew about modems and email.)  He started a network of teen blogs: "Random Shapes features the best teen blogs on the web in an attempt to encourage good blogging among teens."  Teenagers who want to join have to submit their website and an application message to the existing members, who then vote on acceptance or denial. Jones say 56 members have been accepted out of 200-odd applications.  Right now membership means links on the site and access to forums. For Jones this network is still a hobby, and his traffic is currently in the hundreds of visitors.

But in a world with a gajillion instant, cluttered MySpace & Friendster blogs, it's refreshing to come across an organically grown teen network that has some elegantly designed sites.

Read more and comment here.

Neighboroo: The Feel Of Your Hood

Picture_28 Verticle search and map mashups are a big part of Web 2.0, and  we generally expect maps to be useful. the obvious monetization is real estate, and sites like Zillow have been focusing in on that industry assiduously, providing users with lucrative data about price and valuation. There's even a user-generated component where visitors can improve the data by claiming their home and suggesting better valuations. There's been some controversy about the accuracy of this data, but the basic principle still holds: an interactive, two-dimensional way of getting a sense of a neighborhood.

Or a sense of its finances, rather. For those of us who might be equally interested in a neighborhood's  character, there are still more startups springing up. One such is the charmingly named Neighboroo, recently released in a very quiet Beta, which uses heatmaps (wherein a range of color gives you a sense of numerical scale) to display data about housing prices--and politics, air quality, crime, ethnicity, unemployment and other interesting demographic data.

Read more and comment here.

Visualizing Time and Place

If you're a little disoriented by the end of daylight savings, you might be able to get a little perspective from a couple of websits that let you see your current place in the earth's true daily turning. The simple version is The World Sunlight Map at die.net, by Google engineer Aaron Hopkins, and it's just a current map of the world that shows you where there is sun and where there is not. You can choose the projection and nothing else, but it's very elegant looking. (The default is the familiar Mercator projection.)  Picture_27

A more flexible if complicated tool is at Fourmilab.ch, a site apparently belonging to the founder of Autodesk. This tool allows you to dial in different points of view and different times, but you dial the time in using UTC, or Coordinated Universal Time, something I still haven't understood. Either way, I think these are both nice ways of getting a quick sense of where night and day are, and where in night or day you are. These maps don't provide as much detail or data as the classic row of time zone clocks, but they are  prettier and more intuitive. 

They're also a good constant reminder that most of our little blue planet is ocean. My colleague and maritime blogger Jeff Davis recently posted a fascinating map of ship locations at sailwx.info.

Another Wishful Tangent: These maps reminded me of the prototyped Ambient Clock recently on Engadget--it  takes a Google Calendar feed and displays the busy times around the edges of an electronic round analog clock, the whole face of which changes color when you're about to have
an appointment. I was thinking it would make a neat mobile device for sales people if the empty "white space" inside the circle of the clock was instead a map of your location, with the locations of your upcoming appointments (and travel times?) marked out. But then it would be a little busy.

Read andcomment here.

Web Widget: Illegal Tool or Political Speech?

Picture_26 Wired Blog & News and Bob Schneier are just two examples of the latest scandalous web widget making the rounds of the blogosphere: a fake NorthwestAirlines boarding pass generator, created by an Indiana University Ph.D. student, Christopher Soghoian, and researcher at the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research. The extremely Web 1.0 page provides a form for users to create an apparently realistic NorthWest style printable boarding pass. (The default name is Osama Bin Laden.) As both Soghoian and Northwest note, this shouldn't be able to get you on an airplane--airlines use optical scanners, which would notice if a boarding pass wasn't printed properly. But it could very likely get you into the TSA security line, through the metal detectors, and into the boarding area, even if you weren't supposed to be there. Read more and comment here.

Picture_22 Imagine  American Idol for OS X shareware.  On My Dream App, where voting closed today, 24 readers proposed their dream application, many judges (including Steve Wozniak, for one round) gave feedback and guidance, and as many as 14,000 users voted on which three should be developed. Mike told me about this delightful contest, which I hadn't heard of, being a relative newcomer to the world of OS X and its associated widget community. Conceived of by Phil Ryu (who would appear to be an 18-year old developing savant) ,  the site has found sponsors for three developers to tackle the top three winners. I confess being a little baffled by the the first place winner- Atmosphere, which wants to display the outside weather to you on your desktop in a very rich image. The immediate criticism was, "look out the window," and the immediate comeback was, "most people don't have windows." A depressing commentary on modern working life! But harking back to my cubicle days earlier this year, I'm not sure I'd want a visual reminder of what the weather is like outside. Then again, maybe it would be a good way to get in some of that mood-enhancing blue light.

Read more and comment here.

Outside.In -- Or, the Need to Better Coax Users

I got pretty excited when I saw Gina Trapani's  post today on Lifehacker  Outside dot in logo about a new local-data aggregator, outside.in.  (Not, sadly, about improving public spaces and parks in India. But a creative way of using the top level domain!)  Basically, it's a completely user-implemented site of connecting blogs to zipcodes, with a little bit of visualization via Google Maps. Once a zipcode has some blogs connected to it, you can dial the zipcode in and quickly get an overview of the local blogposts. Not a terribly new idea, but a nice layout. None of my East Bay neighborhoods had much of anythign going on, but for the neighborhoods where some blogs have already been connected, it's an interesting slice of life. Check out my old hood of 10025.

Read more and comment here.

Calendaring: Mosuki & Google

Mike turned me onto a little calendaring site called Mosuki.  It's invitation only, and quite bare of bells and whistles--the about page says it was  "born from an academic inquiry into the mathematical properties of social networks."  But it's an interesting alternative or complement, as you will, to web calendars like Google Calendaring.  (I'm also looking at an fun social calendaring site called involver, which is in private alpha, and not yet sharable.) You add friends, they exist as a network, not many calendars laid on top of yours.  You can add these friends to different "groups" (I like the term playlists that the involver founders use) , and when you add an event, you indicate which parts of your network of the public can see it.  After that Events are browsable and "sharable" without any additional work on your friends' part. 

Read more and comment here.

Update: Ms. Dewey Crashes Your Apple

In which I am amused by the pretty but useless marketing gag from Microsoft.

Update: Tags & Tag Clouds

Let's try this over here today: Tags & Tag Clouds.

Entourage and Gmail Wishlist: Two Click Scheduling

EC just offhandedly asked me what I was going to be doing after work and if I'd be intersted in joining her in a number of activities. One of them is a talk about Climate Change at the Longnow Foundation. Which I had completely meant to go to and completely forgotten about. Ruchira sent me the description by email--mathematical physics, visualization, and climate change. What's for a Saheli not to love? But at the moment that I got the email I was too busy to go through the trouble of transcribing all the details to my Gmail calendar, especially since I really wasn't sure I'd actually be going. The same thing happens with my Entourage system for work all the time. I'll get a note about a potentially interesting event, but I'm not sure I want to go, so it doesn't seem worth the effort to transcribe all the details to my Entourage calendar, and then I forget about it.

It's a silly little effort barrier, because these details all follow a standard format--what, when, where, how much. Google Calendar is even smart enough about this format that it prompts you to enter in an event in natural language and then pretty reliably parses that into its own format.

So what I want is a button on any incoming email that says, "Is this an event?" And when I hit it, the combined email/calendaring system attempts to interpret what the events in the email are and presents me with its interpretation. I can then confirm/correct the interpretation and add it to my calendar--two click scheduling.

Kai Seen: Synthesized Google Search on Your Phone

Everyone is all a-buzz about Google buying YouTube and what that means for television, but I am currently more interested in accessing Google with my telephone--an old fashioned land-line at that! Call

1 877 466 4411 (1 877 GOOG 411)

And try your luck with two voices that I've come to think of as Mr. Google Smooth and Mr. Google Hawking. They won't tell you who they are, but they seem to be the voices of Google Local Search.

It's worth calling just to hear Google Hawking try to pronounce "cuisine."

If you call, nothing announces that you've reached Google, but a slightly arch and apparently human Mr. Smooth informs you your call might be recorded and then asks for a city and state. Mr. Hawking then cuts in, slow, methodical, and synthetic, to repeat your query. All good? Mr. Smooth then asks for a business type or name. He does all the traffic direction--the prompting for commands, the suggestions of ways you can interact, the questions. Mr. Hawking just gets to read back your queries and read out the searches.

Actual search results described below the fold, but just some general remarks: the voice recognition is pretty good, even with some "foreign" words, but not all English words. (I don't know, is "Hobbit" English?) It puts a little too much emphasis on the business name or type part of the query and doesn't use the geography part as enough of a filter--it's pretty annoying when you're looking for something in Oakland to get a result in San Francisco. Google Hawking's repetition of the query back before listing results can fool you into thinking it's understood when it hasn't. And Hawking mispronounces some normal English words quite comically. Sometimes Hawking's mispronounced query results are so muddled it sounds like the connection is breaking up, which will probably be very frustrating to mobile users.

The spelling with one's number keypad using triple-tap is awkward, since there's no obvious way to erase only a few mistaken letters without starting again. Voice commands include "details" (basically, the phone number), "more results," (beyond the first three, which get repeated twice before Smooth&Hawking offer up the next five results themselves), a number, which gets Hawking to repeat that query, "go back" which takes you back without making you repeat the city and state, and "start over" which has you start from scratch. "Repeat," however, doesn't seem to catch that well. Hitting #1 during the search process will get you the spell-by-dialing-in-triple-tap option.

All in all this could definitely be useful in a pinch, especially while driving with one's mobile or otherwise without good internet access. In the Bay Area, where you need multiple yellow pages to cover your daily wanderings, it could really catch on. And of course it's free, which is a lot better than the mobile 411 fees I've gotten punched with in the past.

If it will amuse to find out how I got some of these conclusions, and a little bit of background, click on, dear reader.

Continue reading "Kai Seen: Synthesized Google Search on Your Phone" »

Blue Screen of Life

Recently, while watching my Mac reboot, I was idly wondering why it is that blue is such an attractive color on LCD screens. My phone, my home Windows machines, and my work Apple machine all come with blue as the default background color. I thought perhaps there was something special about blue in either or both CRT's or LCDs, hence the importance of the Blue Screen of Death, and not a reflection of aesthetic dominance. But perhaps we have an innate preference that broad, bright swathes of light to be blue? Via MemeMachineGo, I came across this timely graph of hours of daylight as a function of time of year, calculated for Philadelphia, by Leslie Ellis. Ms. Ellis's point was that around the Autumn Equinox ( i.e. the last couple of weeks), from day to day we lose daylight faster than at any time of the year---which might make this the point of most obvious decline for sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a category of depression that is exacerbated by lack of sunlight and significantly relieved by timed, direct exposure to bright light.

It has been a gorgeous few days in the Bay Area recently, and I've been struck at how much pleasure I get just from looking at the blue sky. Apparently this is not mere poetic fancy. In spring of 2005 Science News Online noted that light therapy for depression is accumulating more and more clinical evidence of potency, and this last spring it noted that blue light may be particularly crucial to human moods: Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia launched a five year study to find out which hues of light are the most effective in treating sleep and mood disorders, and were surprised when their research indicated blue hues win out. They were surprised because our rods and cones--the cells in our eyes with which we collect color information for image transmission to our brains--are not very sensitive to blue. But a separate researchers at Brown University have recently discovered a new, very small class of eye cells that do not help us "see" better, but which do detect blue light better. These cells were discovered because of blind rats who still have light-sensitive circadian rhythms.

To Figueiro, the ganglion-cell discovery confirmed that "our eyes are effectively blue-sky detectors."
The researchers are now experimenting with different ways to use blue light to improve mood and sleep patterns. Don't be surprised if your office gets a new coat of shimmery pale blue paint in a few years.

Gmail Mobile Quirk to Watch Out For

Is great. It's kind of how I've managed to survive this entire year, really.

Continue reading "Gmail Mobile Quirk to Watch Out For" »

Color Blindness on the Web

I discovered a tiny little quirk in Gmail Calendar today. Someone emailed me their calendar to add to mine, and it took a long time to load. By the time it had actually loaded, I had forgotten what I was looking at -- and was very surprised to see that an close friend of mine had Flight School scheduled today. It turns out that the new person's calendar loaded up in the same hunter green color as the first person's calendar, and since I had picked that green color for the first person and gotten used to it, I assumed all green events belonged to her. It took two seconds to make the new person's calendar a very different purple, but it seemed odd that Gmail wouldn't automatically upload new calendars in some unused color, at least until the user had already run out of non-designated tints.

Continue reading "Color Blindness on the Web" »

The Great Web-Based Feedreader Challenge

We live awash in ever multiplying streams of content, and it can be hard to manage a media-diet that's based on typing in urls and constantly reloading. That's equivalent to hunting and gathering, living off of whatever happens to catch your eye in the pantry. The skilled dieter plans meals and sets up their life so nutrition flows in with minimal effort. And so we have the dream of push instead of pull, using RSS/ATOM feeds. (Basically all blogs, including mine, include a link to a feed, in either the RSS or ATOM formats. You, the reader, are supposed to take this link and give it to your newsreader, and your newsreader will then know how to automatically collect the new posts from the blogs you've chosen. Thus instead of having to manually go to Gigaom's blog and reload every time you want some Vitamin G, or Jon Fortt's blog everytime you need a nice Utility Belt snack, all the pieces of your diet arrive in your newseader when they're ready. There's no question of forgetting to make sure you get your daily dose of, say, B2.)

Continue reading "The Great Web-Based Feedreader Challenge" »

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