Monday, May 31, 2010

Google sued over pedestrian accident

It isn't often that I have a hard time coming up with a headline for a blog post, but this particular news story which I read via is a bit too easy to meet with a knee-jerk attitude.

First, I support the right of individuals to sue corporations (or individuals) for irresponsible activity which leads to injury.  This is where I diverge from much of the pop culture/AM Radio shock jock ridicule of lawsuits directed at corporations.  There are times when a company releases dangerous goods which should have been tested better or publishes instructions which don't adequately disclose the risks of a product.

So the question is whether posting pedestian directions  which include the stretch pictured the image above was irresponsible on Google's part.

My own opinion is that Google should win this lawsuit, and that if the woman who brought the suit wanted to really target those responsible she should really sue whatever governmental body is responsible for this roadway.

IANAL (I am not a lawyer) so I can't comment on an informed manner about the legal responsibility beyond stating that Google includes a disclaimer on their pedestrian routes

But my fear is that lawsuits like this help unleash the attitude that we as a people shouldn't walk anywhere, shouldn't encourage others to walk anywhere, and that our state and local governments shouldn't be held responsible for the lack of safe pedestrian accomodation on roadways.

The problem here isn't that Google provided the woman with a route from point A to point B.  The problem is that those responsible for designing the highway didn't take into account the fact that walking is a reasonable use of a route funded, designed, and maintained by the government.

Friday, May 28, 2010

podcast interview with Donald Knuth

Listen to internet radio with larryfeltonj on Blog Talk Radio

On Wednesday I recorded a podcast interview with Dr. Donald Knuth, a major figure in the history of computer science. He's the author of The Art of Computer Science, developer of the TeX typesetting language, and the creator of the system known as Literate Programming.

I interviewed him by phone. We focused on Literate Programming, but he also touched on TeX, Metafont, Linux, and the upcoming fourth volume of the Art of Computer Programming.

You can listen by using the control above, or visit my show page at BlogtalkRadio.

Missed deadline (but for an exciting reason)

Today was the day I intended to post the first results of my multi-language programming exercise.  Instead events led me to work on my podcasts, including the interview with Donald Knuth which I'll post and announce in a short while.  I'm resetting the clock, and my first results (written in PHP) will be posted two Fridays from now.

Monday, May 24, 2010

My BlogTalkRadio show for this week: Interview with Barbara Joye

My podcast of Off the Beaten Path in Technology (follow this link to my show page) on BlogTalkRadio this week will feature an interview with Barbara Joye who was a co-founder of WRFG community radio here in Atlanta. The show airs at 6:30 PM EDT this evening May 24th, 2010. If you can't listen live you can play it on demand later. The controller posted on this article makes all the shows available, with the most recently archived show on the top.

I always post the links I mention on the show to the article here. Here are the resources and sites mentioned on the show:

WRFG -- Radio Free Georgia
WRFG's program schedule

I always play music from the Free Music Archives and other repositories of music distributed under licenses which allow for podsafe distribution.

The primary site I use is:

The Free Music Archive

Here are links to the artists pages of music I've put together for the evening's show.  Depending on how much time I have I may or may not get to every musical number I've chosen, but you should check out these musicians anyhow.
The links are arranged in pairs, with the first link being the artists page, the second the page for the specific number (which includes a play button).

Cooper-Moore -- Jazz (although the number by Cooper-Moore I've chosen for this evening is  a really unique blues number).
Banjo Arba Minch Garden  --  A really unusual blues piece for fretless banjo.

John H. Glover-Kind -- This is a selection entitled I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside from a 1907 piano roll (player piano).

Moore and Gardner's Chinese Blues is another old piano roll song.

I always seem to play Follow the Drinking Gourd by Roger McGuinn.

I hope you'll listen to the show.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Podcasts, WRFG, Donald Knuth, etc

I haven't posted in a couple of days, because my time has been hammered as I prepare for a number of deadlines.

First, I'm trying to get a better technical setup for doing my BlogTalkRadio podcasts. This includes both the general sound quality of my own delivery (I sound a bit like Gomer Pyle talking into a garbage can) and my ability to record interviews.

Secondly, I'll be doing my first interviews this week. I'll be doing a live interview with Barbara Joye, co-founder of WRFG Radio here in Atlanta, and a recorded interview with Donald Knuth, who is one of the great computer scientists (and artists) of the past half decade.

My first stab at improving my setup for the broadcasts is to configure Ekiga so that I can use my computer directly rather than a phone to conduct the show. I'll post updates on my attempts to get good at podcasting as my saga continues.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Diaspora: Developing an alternative to Facebook

I'm still using Facebook, but I'm  at the point where I evaluate my account from week to week.  I have no doubt that given the backlash Facebook will modify this latest intrusion into the privacy of its users, but I also have no doubt they will regroup and try another run at its user base within a few months.  They can't help it.  It's built into their corporate character, and is an integral part of their business model.

The thing Facebook has going for it at the moment is the momentum of its success in attracting an amazing number of users.  Friends and relatives of mine who had been barely using computers are now addicted to Facebook.  I can keep up with High School classmates from the 1960s, people who share my various interests (both career and hobby related), relatives I haven't seen in years, and neighbors of mine, many of whom I interact with much more often on Facebook than I do in the neighborhood itself.

Of course this has to be weighed against the fact that Facebook is a relentless spam machine, is flaky and unstable, has deliberately awful documentation of features (particularly regarding their privacy settings) and seems to be run by people who would love to plant a tracking chip in its entire user base.

Enter Diaspora

After hearing a presentation by Eben Moglen  on the extent to which large social software networks have been eroding net privacy, four New York University students decided to develop software for an open social networking site which is privacy aware. They named this system Diaspora.    This New York Times article provides a decent summary.

They decided that if they could raise $10,000 in donations by June 1st they'd spend the summer developing the system.  They met this goal two weeks after they set up their kickstarter donation site and when I went to make a donation this morning they'd already raised over $149,000. This demonstrates the extent to which people are becoming fed up with Facebook. I'd encourage you to follow Diaspora, and if you support the concept donate some money to the effort.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A project with programming exercises for learning a new language

My version of twiddling my thumbs or biting my nails is repeatedly clicking on the Stumble! button and giving websites a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down".

While I was doing that I stumbled upon this article called 15 Exercises for Learning a new Programming Language by Prashant N Mhatre.

I've  been interested in comparative programming languages for quite some time, and this list of exercises seems to cover the basic practical features of a language (text manipulation, date and time functions, file handling, math,  assignment, sorting, conditionals and loops, etc).

Consequently I've decided to use the list to do a series of  exercises.  I'm going to do the exercises at two week intervals using the following languages, one language per fortnight, and post the results (or a link to the results) here.

The languages are php, java, common lisp, forth, haskell, ruby, c++, perl, some sort of assembly code (probably x86), python, and ksh or bash.  This list is arbitrary, and if the exercise continues to be fun I'll add more when I've finished this list.  Some of the languages I've worked with a good bit (particularly perl and ksh), some I've done moderately heavy work with in the past, but not recently (php, assembly code), some I've dabbled in (forth, common lisp, ruby).  I've had nearly no hands on experience with java, c++, python, and haskell.

I intend to do the exercises in the most idiomatic form of the language which I can absorb in over a two week period (in other words I'll try to write lisp as a lisp programmer would).

I invite reader input, suggestions, criticisms, even ridicule if you'd like (as long as you tell me why my code is ridiculous).  I'll post my results on alternate  Fridays starting on May 28th, 2010.

I'll include a description of what implementation of the language I used, and my impressions of the language and its idioms.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rethinking Facebook

I've had a love/hate relationship with facebook from the word go.

I'm obviously not a Luddite.  I depend on technology for my livelihood, and I have a deep love for programming and an intense interest in a number of esoteric topics in computer science.  But I'm not an early adopter either.  One of the funniest bad predictions I've ever made involved the World Wide Web.  A co-worker approached me in the early nineties, shortly after Mosaic, the first widely available web browser became available and said "Larry, you've got to see this, it's got graphics, links, sophisticated layout capabilities ...".  I had been using the gopher system, along with archie and veronica to retrieve documents off the internet.  I took one look at Mosaic, and said something to the effect of "This World Wide Web thing is never going to take off.  It loads too slowly".

But I warmed up to the Web, and in a narrower sense, I've been warming up to Facebook.  At first it seemed like a weird, unstable, and clunky web interface to me.  But the fact that I could keep up with family members and people from my distant past on Facebook over-ruled my scepticism about the security and safety of the platform.

Then I embarked on a rocky and sometimes wacky relationship with Facebook.  I tried online gaming, which resulted in me inadvertently "application spamming" my friends.  No matter how I tried to filter and make the gaming messages invisible to my non-gaming friends I'd discover that they were getting at least some of the noise from the games (games produced by Zynga were the big offender).  So I pulled back from gaming.

More serious though, is the steady erosion of privacy on Facebook.  I'm a very outgoing and public person (and not easily embarrassed by my own absurdity -- if you don't believe that just listen to the evolution of my blogtalk radio show).  I usually leave my profile wide open (which has only resulted in two episodes of stalking ... amazing when you consider that I've been on the internet since 1991).
But I like to think that social sites are leaving me in control of the extent to which I want my information distributed to the world at large (or to third party commercial concerns).

Facebook has been steadily crossing the line in that respect.  This article from the Electronic Freedom Foundation puts it in in stark perspective.   At this point I'm  trying to figure out whether to stay and determine ways to effectively express my alarm at Facebook's privacy policies, or whether to find some alternative social medium.

It's gotten to the point where I use my identity on either Facebook or Google to access dozens of other related sites.  I still have a somewhat high level of confidence that Google isn't going to abuse that trust.  With Facebook I'm not so sure anymore.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Free, podsafe, and "copylefted" music on the web

This post is supplemental to my BlogTalkRadio show Off the Beaten Path in Technology which will run this evening (Tuesday May 11, 2010_ at 6:30 PM EDT

The show is going to feature podsafe music (music which can be freely used in podcasts),  and free and copylefted music (music distributed under a license similar to software's GNU General Public License, or GPL).  I'm going to play selections from two particular sites I've explored (there are actually quite a few more sites which I'll feature and explore on later shows. 

Those sites are the Free Music Archive based at WFMU in Jersey City, NJ, and Dogmazic, a French free music site which is part of what may be the cutting edge movement within free music internationally.

The Free Music Archive is a project of WFMU, a pioneering radio station in music licensed under terms which allow freedom of copying, distribution, and air play.  It has music available in a number of genres, and much of the material is such high quality that it deserves attention not only from those of us committed to freedom as an aspect of copyrights, but by all music lovers.

Dogmazic is a major free music download manager in France.  Much, but not all,  of the material is in French.  The site has music from all over the world, and is a treasure trove for anyone who loves to browse and listen to interesting international music in a number of genres.

I hope you listen to my show this evening (or if you can't, visit later and listen to the archived copy.

Open Source Hardware Design

It occurred to me after my recent post

Radio Shack and the fading era of Electronic Hobbyist Geekdom

that my title for that article implied that the age of electronic tinkering was dead or dying. Actually nothing could be further from the truth. I was referring specifically to the phase of small scale electronics construction which revolved around finding a plan in Popular Electronics and wandering over to the radio shack parts list in hand. With the rise of the internet, computers, the free and open source software movements, and the availability of parts online, there is a thriving culture not only of DIY hobbyists and small scale inventors, but also of Open Source hardware design.

Open Source Hardware

Taking its inspiration from the Free Software movement and Open Source approach which brought the world the Linux operating system, the Firefox web browser, and much of the software which powers the internet, there is a growing Open Source hardware movement. Slashdot linked to an article at about a presentation at Foo Camp East by Phillip Torrone and Limor Fried from Adafruit Industries. about 13 companies with over a million dollars in revenue doing open source hardware design (this may not seem impressive until you ponder how new this movement is, and how radical a departure it is from the existing research-develop-patent model).  Adafruit is one of the companies which provides plans, parts, and kits to the Open Source hardware community. The Open Source hardware community, which encourages the download, modification, and production of plans circulated under an open source hardware license  is a very exciting development in contemporary technology, and could remake the manner in which innovation in the marketplace unfolds.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Radio Shack and the fading era of Electronic Hobbyist Geekdom

From Hallicraft and Heathkit to Radio Shack, and now ... beyond

I was never the sort of serious electronics tinkerer a few of my friends were during my childhood and adolescence in the 1950s and 1960s, but I did tinker a bit, build a few simple kits, and get a novice class amateur radio license. The mail order kit companies, specialty shops, and various popular electronics magazines were the place to go for parts, kits, plans, and information during that time.

The rise of Radio Shack made the tinkering culture much more accessible and convenient.  There were Radio Shacks scattered across every major market area, so capacitors, resistors, potentiometers, transistors, and other components used by the hobbyist or inventor were a quick trip away from most locations in the U.S.

Change of focus at Radio Shack

Due to changes in market conditions Radio Shack has been re-branding itself successfully as a "mobility" store, focusing on cell phones. This has led to a jump in their profitability, while causing angst in its older customer base.

Read about it here on Wired Magazine, or join in the discussion on Reddit.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Old clip of Caruso and Homer selection from Aida

One of the aspects of the internet which crept up on me slowly was the extent to which very specialised enthusiasms, which would have been slow and sometimes expensive to indulge, are now available via simple searches.  Here's a clip of Louise Homer and Enrico Caruso in a duet from Verdi's Aida.

Blogs, Podcasts, and Social Media Technology -- Part One

... or Why am I doing a blog and internet radio show?

This is the first in a series of posts on why I'm doing the various related parts of Off the Beaten Path (the blog, the podcast, OTBP's facebook page, etc) and what I hope to accomplish with them.

At one point I did a blog on a variety of related topics called AtlantaLarry. It covered New Urbanism, Atlanta history and neighborhoods, transportation issues, and smart growth issues. It's still up and running, although I update it infrequently. As somewhat spontaneous blogs go it was very successful at its peak, with an active and engaged readership.

Now I'm reasserting a web presence in a much more technically ambitious manner, with somewhat different subject matter, and an expanded number of types of media.  While I intend to still cover some of the topics near and dear to me involving our human habitat, I've decided to focus on some interesting aspects of the industry and subculture which has provided my livelihood for the past twenty years, the field of computer technology.

But I'm using the term computer technology in a much broader and deeper sense than usual.  To me the uses of technology are as important as the various algorithms, protocols, and hardware.

So I view programming methodology, chip design,  news of a rock band which has decided to release it's music under terms similar to the Free Software Foundation's  GNU Public License,  independent internet Television, and stories on Search Engine Optimisation all worthy of attention and coverage.

Not just Social Media advertising


When I began thinking about various types of social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, podcasts) I started out with  a very narrow focus. My intent was to push myself out just far enough to increase  the volume of my contract programming business. But as I explored the media I discovered that it was becoming not a means to an end (picking up jobs building webscrapers) but an end in itself.

Social Media


The entire world falling under the general category "Social Media" is evolving, dynamic, and fascinating. The cost of entry is incredibly low. In fact it's possible to start getting involved at no cost except the time. A person with no money, but access to a public library with computers can set up and maintain a blog. Doing podcasts and videos have a bit higher entry cost, but with the availability of free community resources like public access TV, and with the cost of equipment dropping every year, it's possible to do nearly every sort of media with minimal cost.

Do I really know what I'm doing?


Much of this I'm doing by intense muddling. The podcasts in particular don't come naturally to me. My voice sounds rather like Gomer Pyle's, I'm struggling with slowing myself down so I don't lapse into a long series of "uhs" and "ers", and developing an entertaining flow is going to require some focus and work. But it's still fun and rewarding.

.My approach at this time is to polish my writing and audio delivery, to continue to accumulate resources for excellent podsafe music, and to line up interesting guests to interview.

My next post will describe where I'm trying to go with the overall form, content, and quality of Off the Beaten Path in Technology, and the specific steps I'm taking to get there.

But in the meantime if anyone needs a website scraped, gimme a holler :-)

Monday, May 3, 2010

podsafe: Why there is so much music on my technology show

I'll be putting on my first full length one hour BlogTalkRadio show this evening, Monday May 3rd.  The show will run at 6 PM  and can be reached at

The main topic is the SCO series of lawsuits which has been of such interest to the Linux and free software community (or at least it was until SCO went into full tilt Wile E. Coyote mode and began losing court battle after court battle).

But in addition to the discussion of SCO listeners may notice that I will be including  a lot of music in the show, from a number of genres.

There are three reasons for this.

First, I like music, and it's my show, so I can indulge myself in that interest to my heart's content. 

Secondly, technology blogs and technology shows are a dime a dozen.  If I can't make the show (and this blog) really "Off the Beaten Path" my readers and listeners will  be much better off just sticking to slashdot, Ars Technica, and the other hundred or so news and news aggregation sites.  Music, interviews with interesting people, and truly unique (preferably exclusive) stories are a few ways I intend to explore to avoid the show becoming the pathetic spectacle of me droning on about why I like perl, or drupal, or linux.

Most importantly, however, there is a substantial and important movement out there to make podsafe music available, and I support and intend to participate in that movement. Podsafe music is music which can be used freely on podcasts on the web.  It's the rough equivalent of Free Software, although the actual licensing of podsafe music covers a wide range, from
Free Music, the equivalent of Free Software in the GNU sense of the word), music licensed under Creative Commons, to public domain works.

The relevant thing to me is that I can freely use this music on my show, and I intend to do so.

I'll be talking about podsafe and free music on future shows.

In the meantime here's a link to the Free Music Archive, one of the sources of podsafe music.