hAvatar reprise on FOWA

Funny to hear from Cristiano that David Recordon just flashed Four Starters on stage (slide 37 of this presentation) on FOWA in London to demo the concept of hAvatar, a WordPress plugin I developed about half a year ago. And a strange bit of anti-serendipity this stuff happening in London while I’m in SF.

The concept of the plugin is very simple. There are a ton of avatar standards out there the most widely used of whom is gravatar. Gravatar uses an e-mail hash and was acquired by WordPress. There are some others which rely on a <link> in the head of the page or some other convoluted agreed upon standard.

hAvatar does it by following somebody’s profile URL that they leave at a comment and seeing if there’s an hCard on that URL. If there is an hCard there, hAvatar retrieves the linked image representation and displays that. The approach is decentral and uses existing standards and conventions so I thought it interesting enough to build. If there’s interest I can check out the source code and make it run on the latest WordPress and see if there are any bugs that need fixing.

Interesting talk about blowing up the social network and there’s even more possible than what he’s describing, seeing as hAvatar is half a year old. The stuff Open-CI can do with remote profiles and avatars is further along but still rather poorly documented. And I’m missing a big part of the stack which is necessary for notification (mostly XMPP).

P.S. Four Starters is unofficially defunct. Most of our attentions have slipped back to our personal weblogs. We’re looking for a good way to preserve the content there and save it from the spammers.

Uprising tomorrow

Tomorrow I’m going to attend Students for Free Culture. I may not be a student anymore, but I still regularly ride with that crowd and the conference has a great program and is for anybody with an interest in the topic. So, getting up early and taking the BART down into Berkeley. I’ll see if I can use my newly bought Kodak to record a couple of keynotes.

If you’re in the Netherlands, there’s an event along a lot of the same lines called Volksopstand2008(lit.: uprising) where a group of people will gather in the Hague to protest the attrition of privacy by our government and other institutions. I recommend you go, though I’m a bit late in doing so

San Francisco

I’ve always wanted to go there and tomorrow I’m finally going. Some vague plans, tads of serendipity and friends pushing me over the edge were enough to have me book the ticket, I think, only three weeks ago. Tomorrow Lufthansa will take me over an ocean for the first time of my life.

Halfway during the trip there’s a four day capoeira event celebrating Mestre Acordeon‘s fiftieth year of teaching capoeira with a Brazilian festival in Berkeley on Saturday. I’ll also try to get some surfing in and see if I can visit the local tech hubs and meet some people, so it’s not purely a holiday.

If this wasn’t enough to stress me out, today my laptop decided to not boot anymore. So I spent most of the day panicing and restoring a backup, after which everything seems to work again but no clue for how long. Maybe I should try to sneak a new Macbook past customs on my way back.

Take care, I’ll be back the 27th.

Downsize and change

Taplin writes about America having to buckle up and go to the simpler life, which I think might not be such a bad thing:

In short, deleveraging means we are all going to have to downsize. You life is going to get simpler, you will shed excess baggage. The second hand stores will flourish. The malls will shrink and there will be fewer of them. You will spend more evenings at home around a table with friends than in high priced restaurants. You might even learn to play an instrument to entertain yourself and your friends rather than shelling out $200 a head for Rolling Stones concert seats. You will put up your solar roof and sell power back to the grid. You will drive a hybrid or use mass transit. Your garden will become a prime source of your food.

A call for simpler, more meaningful and more passionate lives not built on consumptive and external validation. Sounds like a good idea to me.

He also linked up this hilarious fictional dialogue between Obama and Jed Bartlett in the Times.

Camera Japan Festival

Last weekend the Camera Japan movie festival took place at the arthouse cinema Lantaren/Venster in Rotterdam and it was a lot of fun. The venue was packed and there was a great vibe (like always).

When I got there Friday night hoping to see “Adrift in Tokyo” and “The Strange Saga of Hiroshi the Freeloading Sex Machine”. Unfortunately the first was totally sold out (Friday night, figure), so instead I bought a passepartout and got my tickets for the rest of the weekend.

I ended up seeing these six movies and I was amazed at the overall quality. Is Japanese cinema this good or did I have a lucky pick?

  1. Afro Samurai turned out to be a great anime blending various cultural and historic elements with humor, classic anime action and beautiful animation sequences. Recommended if you can look beyond its initial flat gangsta surface.
  2. Funuke, show some love you losers! was a great funny and blunt family drama with some strange dynamics in a family where both of the parents die in a crash and their daughter comes back home to the country. Each family member has to deal with their own past and with the others. Alternatingly very funny, dramatic and uncomfortable. Highly recommended.
  3. Tokyo Gore Police is a horrible movie both in its premise as in its execution. I won’t bore you with the details but the movie shocks as it should and is pretty funny at that. Funnier still were the people in the audience who did not make it through the movie when certain breaking points in them and in the characters in the movie had been reached. I wouldn’t recommend it, others would.
  4. What the snow brings is a beautiful film about a family reunion at a draft horse racing stable in Hokkaido. The landscapes are stunning and the treatment of the characters and their histories is subtle but all the more heavy hitting for it. Slow pace but highly recommended.
  5. A Gentle Breeze in the Village (official site) is even better, beautifully filmed set in the Japanese country side details the lives of a small group of children and their school. A new boy arrives from Tokyo and Soyo falls in love with him. Slow coming of age movie with a lot of telling clos-ups of the ground and feet (you have to see it). Highly recommended.
  6. Sword of the Stranger (official site) is a simple and predictable story about a young boy hunted by bad guys and a stranger who finds him and helps him. What makes this movie great is the fantastic execution in characters, story, action scenes and overall animation. Classic, highly recommended.

Like I said I saw so many good movies but because of their very limited releases most people I know will never get the opportunity to see any of them. The Camera Japan festival is touring through the Netherlands in the following weeks so let my list be a guide and catch a couple of these movies: 26/9 – 28/9 in Kriterion, Amsterdam and a more limited set in various other cities.

Your last social network

Register for the PICNIC social network, it might very well be your last.

These days with Amsterdam revving up again for the PICNIC cross media week you guys will have been getting a slew of friend requests and other invitations related to the event and its social networking website.

I encourage you all to register on PICNIC even if you do not plan to attend the conference (and friend me!). The PICNIC network website is built by Mediamatic on the latest version of anyMeta that implements the Open-CI standard for social networking. Open-CI is a standard tat enables social networks to work together, share connections and content and exchange real-time updates.

Cross Site Friend Adding
Sequence diagram for adding friends across sites

Since last spring, when we got together to talk about these issues, Mediamatic has been building Open-CI to make their social networks talk together because they were running into the same duplication and user tedium problems as the rest of the social networking world.

Their development team with the addition of XMPP-Ralph has been steadily at work and they have implemented the standards and created the semantics necessary for social network interoperability.

I’ve been working with them to write a white paper with an overview and explanation of the benefits of such a system and Willem recently gave an interview talking about the high level benefits of Open-CI.

Update: And it is done. You can now use your account on PICNIC to login to Mediamatic.net (and vice versa) and once logged in you can do everything you want on the site. See the screenshot:
Mediamatic - Cross site log in

E-mail delivery timing

Mr. Hammersley asks whether it’s possible to delay the delivery of e-mail in a way to receive stuff in bulk at a certain time. Other than some creative spooling on a mailserver more dynamic than most in existence today, the easiest solution would probably be to setup a different GMail account called “lists-XXX@” and POP everything from there once a day either manually or scripted.

I have the inverse problem. It sometimes happens that I’m (vainly) trying to reach inbox zero at some ungodly hour writing replies to people where it wouldn’t come over as too professional to have them receive e-mails created at 02:42 or thereabouts. I would like to have my outgoing e-mail delayed until 09:00 the following morning and sent in one big batch to create the impression that I’m a decent person who adheres to business hours.

Note for English language readers

This blog will remain to be mainly in English, but the occasional Dutch post may creep in. Pascal told me that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to write about locally Dutch things for a Dutch audience in English.

So I have revamped my categories to make them simpler and added a main category Language under which to classify my posts by language.

English readers who want a feed of only English language posts should change their subscription to point to: http://alper.nl/dingen/category/lang/english/feed/
Dutch readers have a similar feed and bilingual or polyglot readers will not have to change a thing.

Playing with Public (Transportation) Data

As promised a while back after we got our fill playing with the data I would release it to the public to see if you could come up with something interesting. I’d leaked the JSON file to Kars and he applied his skills in visualizing things in processing to the dataset.

Then after some more back and forth I retrieved a similar dataset from the ANWB site: the time to travel a similar distance at a similar time but this time by car.

The juxtaposition of those two datasets made for some interesting results and some nice applications of interactive filtering. Kars has a full writeup of his process.

So without further ado, here is the dataset under a Creative Commons Attribution license. It’s a JSON file: Traveltimes with as keys a four digit string for the postal code. The value is a dictionary with this key-value mapping:

lat
Latitude GPS coordinate
lng
Longitude GPS coordinate
place
Inferred name of the location
time
The time it takes using public transportation
carTime
The time it takes by car (a small amount of null values where the time could not be retrieved)

All times are from the center of the 4 digit postal code as well as can be determined to Dam Square in Amsterdam around noon on a given day.

I find it interesting (and somewhat appalling) to see how large the difference is between taking the car or going by public transportation. Doing a sampling for 08:00 on Monday morning during rush hour might somewhat equalize this, but I think it’s safe to say that car owners will remain at an advantage.

So next up is e-mailing GroenLinks and Rover to see if they can use this data or these visualizations.

Books read August 2008

In the only month where I somewhat approach Matt Webb’s amount of reading, he just goes and ups his count to nearly double mine.

Anyway here’s my list for August. I think the fact that this is an extremely slow summer both in terms of weather and waves somewhat explains this amount. Also that I’ve refound a lot of focus in reading and fun in keeping track of my shelf on Anobii.

I haven’t been too lucky in my choice of novels. I had a lot of trouble finishing Catch-22 but on the whole it was worth it, Pride and Prejudice was more boring than not and the Engelenmaker turned out to be a fast paced but forgettable medical thriller about religion and morality.

The most interesting book this month was “Sketching User Experiences” because of its marriage of design, sketching, interaction, products and business in a visually very pleasing book.