Monday, January 19, 2009

I had a dream: that I could read the hive mind

Last night I had a dream, actually a very pleasant one, that everyone had gone insane. Since it's just one of those little things which feel fine sharing with the world, I posted it through

For several years I've been a huge fan of Richard Linklater's "Waking Life", an amazingly complex, surreal and beautifully rotoscoped movie essentially dealing with lucid dreaming. It made me curious and I figured "can I somehow read about what others are dreaming of?" Sure I can, I can even make a blog out of it! (credit to @twostoreys, @astoriaxattack, @bhl1, @meridianariel, @LivestockOne and @Suw for these dreams)

What cool things can you pick out of the hive mind?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Help, Daemon is actually talking to me!

I barely slept anything tonight. A couple of hours after my latest blog post, I received the following email, and it kept me up with thoughts and ideas:

From: Daniel Suarez
Subject: Google Alerts and me...
Date: 14 January 2009 23:12:01 GMT+02:00
To: CJ

Hi CJ,

You're correct when you surmise we use Google Alerts as the nerve endings of our reader-relations system. I like to think of it as a filter that helps me cut through the galaxy of white noise the Web presents, and which gives me the communications I'm interested in. Automated? Somewhat...but similar to manually sifting through your junk mail at home and being pleased to find a letter from a friend.

BTW - Thanks again for your recent blog posts. They're a big help, of course, but also very interesting. Real-time, automated search has probably replaced half the Customer Relationship Management systems on the market.

Best Regards,

Daniel Suarez

Wow, this doesn't stop being cool, except it's almost getting uncomfortable to know that Daniel is noticing my blog posts like "a letter from a friend", just a tad "unheimlich". For anyone who have read his book, you will notice the same friendly, cool and unapologetic tone in Daniel's emails as in the communication from the Daemon. A sense of inevitability - he knows who I am and what will happen if I stop writing? Maybe nothing, but I for sure want to see how far the rabbit hole goes, so I reply:

From: CJ
Subject: Re: Google Alerts and me...
Date: 15 January 2009 02:12:26 GMT+02:00
To: Daniel Suarez

Hi Daniel,

Again, you really impress me, even made me laugh a bit :-) I thought of pinging you that I had written the new blog posts and thank for the books which should be in the mail, but now you made it before me.

Do you mind if I post this email as a comment to my own story?

Actually, this is getting almost a tad eerie, considering the book you have written. I really imagine piping a google alert RSS into a google docs spreadsheet or CRM would be very simple and maybe with the help of a few monkeys gathering and organizing intimidating amounts of information of people related would be doable.

Take for example that I googled for a torrent of the Daemon audio book, I didn't find one mind you, but had I, considering that you may read it would certainly have prevented me from linking to it. You're probably a swell guy, but these emails do leave a feeling of the Daemon peering over my shoulder. I have no idea what lengths (even within the restraints of the law) can be gone to pursue issues like that should they arise. The thought of the MPAA, or any opponent of opinions for that matter, with competence such as that in your system makes me shiver. The state is not my greatest concern for TIA.

Also, I don't mind somewhat automated correspondence, I'm myself all about exploring computers for making my communications better and more efficient.

Best regards, with an only somewhat weary smile ;-)

After sending the letter my night remains filled with thoughts - of total customer relationship management systems, of using the Mechanical Turk for circumventing CAPTCHA's and using systems like this to augment human abilities and for example exert pressure on behalf of anyone willing to pay for the service. What would stop it - Directive 95/46/EC ("PUL"), Interpol? I doubt it.

Law enforcment is already fighting a losing (or at least seemingly endless) battle against organizations such as the RBN and millions of zombie computers provided by people like you and me. Original Gangsters are at large over Europe and the Internet, and it's a bad idea to challenge Mr. Acar, but I'm pretty sure this is the case already when they are far away from sufficient information management to even notice that I am writing about them.

Mind you, I am not speaking of any computer virus running amok, but complex interactions between computer systems and people. Real companies, real people, real money and real motivations. The feeling of inevitability is growing and "Daemon" doesn't feel like cyberpunk anymore, can it be a prophesy? Has Daniel been audacious enough to make himself into the Daemon, or where would you draw the line?

This guy is an experienced system designer. He will be holding a seminar at Google in a few weeks, and I wonder what will happen when he is let into Blizzard? Feed them something cool, even something completely virtual, and that's at least 11.5 million potential footsoldiers within reach right away. In the book, the Daemon used difersified recruitment methods for different levels. Already World of Warcraft is huge, but I feel like we're watching a critical mass gather, starting a chain reaction of unforseeable proportions.

If Suarez is not gonna do it, soon someone else will. If no-one does it before, heck, I would want to do it. By buying the book, you are feeding money to the monster and enabling Suarez' empire to form and he sure is clever enough to grow it well. Frankly, by writing these blog posts, maybe I am a cog in this machine as well? Then again, the Daemon is said to treat it's own well...

(Update: Suarez held his talk at Google Tech Talks. Very nice, very interesting, check it out)

(Update 2: The talk at Long Now Foundation on "Bot-mediated reality" is indeed excellent as well. I can't embed it here, so you'll have to go there to watch it!)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How I got the coolest book ever and the future of Personal Proactive Public Relations

Something cool has been happening the last couple of months, actually ever since I put Daemon on my wishlist in February 2008. You should have noticed I have written some about it recently, but besides being an extraordinary story, as many other will tell you, the story of how it came to be is also a special one, in my view obviously indicitative of the future.

You may or may not be aware that Daemon reached me roughly through these people:

Obviously this may work worse if you suck, but Suarez and his publisher obviously had the strategy from the start to treat well and be generous to the (prominent) people likely to spread good things about the book. Not pay them (as I was upsettingly solicited for by an indonesian furniture company the other day), just be generous with free copies and attention.

I don't think I'm the only one easily flattered by even a little attention from someone I look up to, and I was very happy to receive this email the other day (republished without permission):

Hi Carl,
As we reach the January 8th hard cover release date for the Dutton edition of Daemon, I wanted to pass along a quick note expressing my thanks. It was grassroots support from early adopters like you that proved to New York publishing houses that there was an audience for Daemon. Without that critical support, my little self-published book might have quietly disappeared.

Instead, it will be front-of-store in every Barnes & Nobel and Borders in the U.S. and is being translated into ten languages. I’ve also signed a deal with DreamWorks for the film rights.

As my sincere thanks, I’d like to send you a copy of the new hard cover edition of Daemon. I hope that setting this alongside the self-published edition will always serve as a reminder that, with a little help, anything is possible on the Web.

Just shoot me an email with your preferred mailing address, and I’ll send the book along (and I won’t put you on a mailing list, either).

Carl, I cannot thank you enough for lending your support for my book when it was needed most. Have a great 2009, and I wish you every happiness life can bring.

Warm Regards,

Daniel Suarez (aka Leinad Zeraus)

That's so nice, isn't it? Actually, I didn't have the time to reply to it, before I received an even more personal comment on a tag and a link in a picture of my bookshelf! By then I was very impressed, asked to be called CJ instead (which Daniel since has adhered to), said that I'd be even more honored to have my personal copy signed, and pleaded for copies to three more people I described colourfully. I got a reply that I will get the books.

That's so cool! But how did he find my picture, does he follow my flickr photostream? Probably not, most likely he used the power of Google, more precisely Google Alerts. Below I have set it up to capture, among other things, anyone mentioning my full name or linking to either of my blogs anywhere on the public Web:

Sure, this is nothing new, Meltwaternews (previously Magenta) have done it for years, but I imagine it is becoming common like Suarez and his publisher must have done - to pipe these data straight into huge customer relationship management or issue tracking systems! Tag some nicknames or domains per customer, automatically determine who a post is from and keep contact info and correspondence, and you have the opportunity to make the customers think you really care about them.

It doesn't even have to be that large or comprehensive, several times it has happened to me that I mentioned (actually, I whined about) something on twitter, be it Firefox crashing or animoto creating too short clips, within five minutes someone supporting it had picked it up and directed me towards a solution (the clips are still too short though), thus hopefully preventing a grumpy customer complaining to all his or her friends about the crappy product, and instead possibly created a raving fan who will do more than his share to promote the product.

Actually, why wait until someone has a complaint, determine what someone could say who needs your product, monitor those search terms and be ready to step in with a friendly suggestion of your product when someone most needs it. Unless you suck, your conversion ratios should be nothing short of amazing! Actually, anyone can do these things, and possibly definitely should, both through Google Alerts for the web and TweetDeck for twitter. Don't be too distracted by monitoring other cool phrases though, such as listening in to everyone in the world twittering "I want a hard XXX" (did you click that link?).

Do note that this is not big brother, and it's barely distinguishable as spam even, this is just managing the flow of information the senders have already decided to make public. And it's really cool. Of course, only a fraction of all communication is today happening through twitter and only somewhat more in blogs, but it is growing and it is a fascinating opportunity for proactive customer relations or even marketing. Anders Edholm of Electrolux made a fascinating presentation (in Swedish) at Disruptive Media Conference a while back about much of this topic, check it out:

As may be obvious, my insight into this stuff is still limited, so I'd love some suggestion to for example improve my Google Alerts terms. See my other blog posts about viral marketing or Daemon.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Book of the Year was just released! - "Daemon" by Daniel Suarez

Last week one of the coolest book in a very long time were released. I have already written some about Daemon, and the existing reviews as well as the praise it has gotten from some pretty prominent people (the two sheets of praise which came with the book were even cooler, read in Wired about how they achieved that) should be sufficient and tell you enough about the book, just read it!

After manically reading Daemon while sick over Christmas (why do cool things always come when I'm sleepless?), I have a few, simple comments:

  • Laymen can (and should) read the book, since its style is a bit like a Dan Brown adventure, but with proper background research. Which makes it fundamentally unlike anything Dan Brown would ever write

  • Suarez is a computer guy come author, and several ideas in the book are truly innovative, or taken straight out of research labs and polished very well. I have no idea how he could do that

  • Several times I had to put the book down and ask myself "why hasn't anyone done this already?" as I will also mention in future posts about computer security. In places the book is very credible

  • Even if not the particular events described in Daemon will take place, the scenario is the best, most terrifying and credible ideas about our near future I have ever read. It will definitely to some extent affect the way I think and act

  • The book doesn't have the amazing narrative style of for example "The Illuminatus! trilogy", but we'll forgive him for that

  • The pieces of the story which are shared with the reader, with some essential exceptions, are such that they leave a feeling that they were chosen at random from a much much greater process of events. That's a really cool feeling

  • I'm waiting eagerly for the sequel "FreedomTM"

Go get it! It's released in Barnes and Nobles now, and I should get a bunch more as well...

See my other posts about Daemon or my virtual bookshelf.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Was Macworld Apple Keynote 2009 really a yawn?

After the Mac Rumors blooper yesterday, I'm actually watching the Apple Keynote Address in Quicktime. Wired calls this years Macworld Apple Keynote a huge yawn - but now was it really?

Wired's primary complaints are that Steve Jobs wasn't there, and that there were no new really exciting hardware. The first point I consider ridiculously exagerrated, Steve Jobs is a great icon, but Apple has a lot to offer besides his turtle neck. The second point is more interesting though - Apple has always pointed out that it is a computer manufacturer though me it's certainly won with it's elegant software - I could almost be happy with running a hackint0sh as long as I get OS X.

This year the show was almost completely focused on software and services (even though they said the focus would be "the Mac") such as iLife, iWork and iTunes Store. This is remarkable, especially as the rest of the world, mac fans in particular, have been moving rapidly towards "the cloud", Web 2.0 services and making the personal computer almost disposable. Apple obviously has every interest to make their beautiful machines everything but disposable, but is this tug-of-war possible to win?

As my old PowerBook's disk grew more and more full and I got a DSLR Camera some time ago, I had to abandon iPhoto for managing my photos, putting my originals on my server and keeping only scaled-down versions in manually managed folders on my laptop. This is obviously both unsafe and messy, but iPhoto simple didn't help me, it was too slow and I don't want to buy Aperture. With the cool features displayed of iLife and iWork (do check out the demos in the keynote!), I'm almost tempted to go back.

Sure I've seen people using iPhoto, but has any of you really spotted in the w iMovie, Pages, Keynote or Numbers "spotted in the wild"? Also, what about my fancy flickr use and Web 2.0? I just fell in love with Google Docs! Well, I'm convinced Apple is struggling both with getting users to their fancy applications, and that they need to get on the train to Web 2.0 and maybe they will get somewhere with their beta, but there still is a long way to go. I'll end this rant with a very simple video of why cloud stuff like Google Docs is so great, if you don't know it already, you really, really need to learn:

A yawn or not, Macworld is still receiving a lot of coverage in the press, such as here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

See also my other posts about Apple or Web 2.0.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Steve Jobs is dead - the state of computer security is sorry


The late Steve Jobs, left, interviewed
together with Bill Gates,
at D5 conference in 2007

Ok, hopefully no-one died from heart attacks reading this yet, but it's just a bad joke. When covering the Apple Keynote in the Macworld conference today, the extremely popular web site Mac Rumors got its live coverage web site hacked by people crediting Anonymous / 4chan.

No shadow on Mac Rumors staff really, since in my opinion computer security in general is in a very sorry state. I want to carry on writing on this topic soon, but be sure, it was Mac Rumors today, it can very well be your site or service tomorrow. It's not a matter of some being more vulnerable than others - if you are unlucky to be targeted, you are very likely to get huge trouble.

Stitched screenshot of the defaced live stream below:

A yawn or not, Macworld is still receiving a lot of coverage in the press, such as here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Be back later for more of my rants and info about the hack.

Awesome advanced uses of flickr

My friend Christian of ("") recently wrote a very nice, simple introduction in Swedish to safely storing your photos on flickr (and a second one about the flickr community). As somewhat of a flickr power user, this just made my fingers itch too much not to write a blog post about some advanced uses of flickr. There already exists a very nice blog of flickr specifically, but it tends to focus more on the (also awesome) content of flickr, not it's features - so hold on to your hats, here comes my favourites!

  • Geotagging is one of the undervalued features of flickr. Just go to Organize > Your map, drag and drop the pictures in the bottom row onto the map, the pictures with blue dots are the ones already geotagged, and you can browse your photos by where they were taken! Here are for example my pictures taken in Stockholm.

    This is however only the superficial benefits of geotagging your photos - what happens when several users geotag their pictures? To begin with, you can browse any place on earth which may have geotagged pictures just to see how that place looks like! It's a sort of virtual tourism, my favourite place is always to see the beautiful environment of Lake Baikal. Most convenient is to add the flickr layer to Google Earth (notice also the other options under "Geographic Web":

    If you can't be bothered to spot exactly where some pictures were taken, just go ahead and throw them out somewhere in the general region, you can always adjust them later, for example with the help of gatubild or Google Street View.

    Did you like a particular place? Then the least you can do is to geotag your pictures so that others can find it! Unless there is any privacy aspects of your pictures (a majority of my pictures are just fine to show to the world), rather than joining wikipedia, typing articles and all that fuss (which you of course should do too if you want to) this is such a simple way to give your contribution to the global community.

    Finally, geotagging can give other interesting information to locations, like what this café looked like before the sign fell down, who others have taken pictures in your little village and whether your anonymous neighbours in that huge apartment buildings maybe are on flickr too.

  • Tagging (and notes) are a great way to give structure and value to your photo collection. Your tag cloud is a great way for visitors to see what you photograph the most and for you to find your pictures no matter how many tags you have. Flickr like on and blogger, I usually type some sort of sentence descriptive of the picture, and that's gonna be great keywords.

    Recently, as I wanted to put some of my book collection into Virtual Bookshelf, I took a picture of our real bookshelf and in the process, went ahead and tagged the most interesting parts of the it:

  • Linking, along the thoughts that "blogging is like putting URLs on your thoughts" and "the link is the 2008 Christmas gift of the year", is essential to participating in the social web.

    Like when I attended the SIME08 blogger meetup, and I found a video from the event - of course I will link to it so that people seeing my pictures can also see the video! Similarly, it's a good idea to agree on a tag for everyone on an event to use, and like an immediate virtual community, everyone can find each other:

  • If you go to concerts, and you enjoy music, do sign up to and check out their events. I have written about it before (and it's gotten minimal coverage elsewhere), but it's worth mentioning again. Even if it's just cellphone pictures, it is so nice to tag your flickr pictures with the "machine tag" of the specific flickr event, so people who are interested in the event can see your perspective of it. Actually, a sizeable part of my flickr visitors come through, and then I haven't even tagged particularly many events.

    R.E.M. are probably the firsts artists I've seen live which are beginning to understand proper ways to interact with their fans, as they include concert pictures from flickr, tweets and stuff on their tour headquarters. People love to see their own pictures in official sites and it will make them spend endless attention on those sites which include them (I should know, my pictures are somewhere on that page as well).

  • So should you pay for flickr? I say yes - but that's only because I am a freak. For the longest time actually, I didn't have a homepage but used my profile page to tie my web together, I didn't pay for my flickr account, and it was fine. I reached the threshold of some 200 pictures and the old ones were starting to be shifted out (n.b., only not displayed anymore, they weren't deleted) and I still didn't pay. Finally though, because when you have 200 items on a site, you're probably pretty hooked, so I decided to pay the bargain to get myself a pro account. I don't use flickr as a complete backup of my original pictures, but it feels fine and obviously worth the money to have paid for my account.

That's pretty much it, I have some more opinions about what site to use for what, more cool mashups and whatever, but they can wait until some other time. Enjoy! See also my other blog posts about flickr.