Older blog entries for mako (starting at number 301)

Quasi-Private Resources

Public Resource republishes many court documents. Although these documents are all part of the public record and PR will not take them down because someone finds their publication uncomfortable, PR will evaluate and honor some requests to remove documents from search engine results. Public Resources does so using a robots.txt file or "robot exclusion protocol" which websites use to, among other things, tell search engine's web crawling "robots" which pages they do not want to be indexed and included in search results. Originally, the files were mostly used to keep robots from abusing server resources by walking through infinite lists of automatically generated pages or to block search engines from including user-contributed content that might include spam.

The result for Public Resource, however, is that PR is now publishing, in the form of its robots.txt, a list of all of the cases that people have successfully requested to be made less visible!

In Public Resource's case, this is is the result of a careful decision; PR makes the arrangement clear in on their website. The robots.txt home page also explains the situation saying, "the /robots.txt file is a publicly available file. Anyone can see what sections of your server you don't want robots to use,", and "don't try to use /robots.txt to hide information."

That said, I've looked at a bunch of robots.txt files on websites I have visited recently and, sadly, I've found many sites that use robots.txt as a form of weak security. This is very dangerous.

Some poorly designed robots simply ignore the robots.txt file. But one can also imagine an evil search engine that uses a web-crawler that does the opposite of what it's told and only indexes these "hidden" pages. This evil crawler might look for particular keywords or use existing search engine data to check for incoming links in order to construct a list of pages whose existence is only made public through a file meant to keep people away.

Check your own robots.txt and ask yourself what it might reveal. By advertising the existence and locations of your secrets, the act of "hiding" might make your data even less private.

Syndicated 2012-02-13 10:41:18 from Benjamin Mako Hill

Internet Immortality

Kim Jong-Il is gone. That said, he continues to live on, looking at things, on the popular blog Kim Jong-Il Looking At Things which continues to be updated with new content from the archives.

It is now joined by Kim Jong-Un Looking At Things. I think I agree with João Rocha, creator of the original, that the younger Kim seems to be missing some hard-to-pin-down quality that made the original work well.

Syndicated 2012-01-20 16:31:33 from Benjamin Mako Hill

Mystery Hunt

I've mentioned before that I compete every year in the MIT Mystery Hunt -- an enormous, multi-day, round-the-clock puzzle competition held in January at MIT each year.

Last year, my team Codex won the hunt. The reward (punishment?) for winning is the responsibility to write the 100+ puzzles, (and meta-puzzles, and meta-meta-puzzles, and theme, and events) and to put on the whole event the following year.

So over the last year, I've worked with a huge group of folks to put together this year's hunt which had a theme loosely based on The Producers. My own role was small compared to many of my teammates: I contributed to some puzzle writing and to a bunch of "test-solving" of candidate puzzles to make sure they were solvable, not too easy, fun, and well constructed. During the hunt, I visited competing teams, verified answer submissions, and took advantage of my jet-lag from my return from Japan on the day of the hunt to work the night shift distributing items to teams.

To get an idea of what the hunt is like, you can check out a puzzle I wrote for this years hunt. The solution is linked from the corner of that page.

Syndicated 2012-01-16 02:27:37 from Benjamin Mako Hill

The Influence of the Ecstasy of Influence

/copyrighteous/images/andy-warhol-mickey.jpg

Back in 2007, Harpers Magazine published The Ecstasy of Influence: a beautiful article by Jonathan Lethem on reuse in art and literature. Like Lewis Hyde in The Gift (quite like Hyde, as readers discover) Lethem blurs the line between plagiarism, remix, and influence and points to his subject at the center of artistic production. Lethem's gimmick, which most readers only discover at the end, is that the article is constructed entirely out of "reused" (i.e., plagiarized) quotations and paraphrases.

A couple months ago, I suggested to my friend Andrés Monroy-Hernández a very similar project: a literature review on academic work on remixing and remixing communities constructed entirely of text lifted from existing research.

After some searching around, Andrés pointed out that Lethem had essentially beaten us to the punch and linked me to his article. Only after I visited the link did I remember that I had read Lethem's article when it was published and loved the idea then. Over time, I'd forgotten I read ever it.

Without knowing it, I had read, loved, forgotten, and then -- influenced, if unconsciously -- copied and reproduced the idea myself in slightly modified form.

And I suppose that was the point.

Syndicated 2011-12-19 02:30:59 from Benjamin Mako Hill

Wide Scream

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/de/Aspect-ratio-4x3.svg https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f8/Aspect-ratio-16x9.svg

It seems that nearly all computer monitors have now switched from a 4:3 aspect ratio popular several years ago to a "wide screen" 16:10 and now mostly to an even wider 16:9.

But screen sizes are usually measured by their diagonal length and those sizes have not changed. For example, before I had my Thinkpad X201, I had a X60 and a X35. They are similar laptops in the same product line with 12.1" screens. But 12.1" describes the size along the diagonal and the aspect ratio switched from 4:3 to 16:10 between the X60 and the X201. As the screen stretched out but maintained the same diagonal length, the area shrunk: from 453 square centimeters to 425.

But screens are not only getting smaller, they are also getting less useful. The switch to wider aspect ratios is done so that people can watch wide screen movies while using a larger proportion of their screens. Of course, the vast majority of people's time on their laptops is not spent watching wide screen movies but in programs like browsers, word processors, and editors. Because most of our writing systems lay out documents from top to bottom, the tools we most frequently use to display (and then scroll through) the things we read primarily use vertical screen space -- the dimension that is shrinking.

If you have a desktop monitor, you might rotate the whole thing 90 degrees and "solve" the problem. If you're on a laptop though (as I usually am) this is clearly not an option.

I am not the first person to be annoyed by this trend. In fact, many recent desktop UI changes are designed to work around this issue. In the free software world, both Unity and GNOME 3 have made efforts to hide, merge, or otherwise get ride of title bars, menu bars, and panels that take up dwindling vertical space. I use Awesome which I've mostly set up to do two side-by-side terminals with very little in the way of menu bars.

/copyrighteous/images/awesome_screenshot_2011-small.png

Applications are the worst offenders and the solutions for those things that won't run in a terminal (or people that don't want to live there) are still lacking. I have been using Firefox's Tree Style Tab extension to move tabs to the side and hand-customized toolbars that squeeze everything I need (i.e., back, forward, stop, refresh, and URL bar) onto a single menu bar.

/copyrighteous/images/iceweasel_menu_eg_screenshot_2011-small.png

But the situation still drives me crazy. I'd love to hear what others are doing.

Syndicated 2011-12-07 22:40:01 from Benjamin Mako Hill

Winter Travels in Seattle and Japan

/copyrighteous/images/space_needle_christmas-small.jpg /copyrighteous/images/sapporo_winter-small.jpg

Mika and I will be traveling this winter in the Seattle area and in Japan. The current plan is to be in Seattle December 19 through 28 and then in Japan from December 28 through January 12. After that, we will fly back to Boston for the MIT Mystery Hunt where, as punishment for winning last year, our team is running this year's hunt.

We will be in Tokyo for New Years and then traveling around Japan for much of the rest of the time. We hope to visit Hokkaido and Aomori and to travel there from Tokyo along Japan's Western coast through Kanazawa and Niigata.

We're still figuring out where we will visit and what we will do in both places. If you are interested in meeting up for dinner or drinks in either place (or in organizing a talk or meeting), please get in touch and let's try to figure something out.

Syndicated 2011-12-05 22:00:59 from Benjamin Mako Hill

Bootstrapping

AndroidZoom, along with just about every other third-party interface to the Android Market out there, provides 2D barcodes which aim to make it easy to install Android applications that you find online on a phone. Maybe this would be a nice feature for F-Droid?

Unfortunately, I found this feature when I was trying to help a friend install the (free software) ZXing Barcode Scanner because they wanted to read a 2D barcode.

Syndicated 2011-11-30 00:28:24 from Benjamin Mako Hill

Voice Message of Peace

The Community Wellness team at MIT has a program on stress reduction, mindfulness, and relaxation. Among their services is a guided three-minute relaxation exercise recording (available at extension 3-2256 or 617-253-CALM). It's a very relaxing message.

At the end of the recording, there's a revealing error where a standard voicemail robo-voice say "no messages are waiting" before you system hangs up on you. Turns out, the MIT wellness folks implemented this using the normal MIT voicemail system.

This gave me a thought: What if my voicemail greeting included a guided relaxation message as part of its greeting so that anyone who left a message had the chance to relax a little bit first? Would messages left for me be more positive after a window of serenity? Would people ask less of me? Would my callers feel more relaxed and happier during the rest of their day?

I just recorded a short version of the MIT message as my voicemail greeting. I suppose I will find out.

Syndicated 2011-11-28 02:33:03 from Benjamin Mako Hill

Iron Blogger

I want to blog frequently but usually don't seem to find the time for it. I'm not above tying myself to the mast if it means blogging more.

Iron Blogger is a blogging and drinking club based on this premise. The rules are pretty simple:

  • Blog at least once a week.
  • If you fail to do so, pay $5 into a common pool.
  • When the pool is big enough, the group uses it to pay for drinks and snacks at a meet-up for all the participants.

Nelson Elhage ran the original Iron Blogger for about a year before the effort ran out of steam. I've started a new instance with a couple people from the previous group and a bunch of folks from Berkman, MIT, and beyond.

If you live in Boston and want to join, there are still a couple of spots available. I'm going to cap the current group, at least temporarily, at about 30 people because I think that's the maximum we'll fit into a local pub. Look over the site and send me an email if you're interested.

If you don't live in Boston but want to organize your own Iron Blogger, you can use the software in Nelson's git repository (or my branch) to automate nearly the whole process of tracking posts, generating reports, and updating the ledger of debts.

Syndicated 2011-11-21 04:12:17 from Benjamin Mako Hill

Famous in Scratch

A few years ago, I ran into my friend Jay in the MIT Infinite Corridor. He was looking for volunteers to have their pictures taken and then added to the library of freely licensed and remixable media that would ship with every version of Scratch -- the graphical programming language built by Mitch Resnick's Lifelong Kindergarten group that is designed to let kids create animations and interactive games.

Jay suggested I make some emotive faces and I posed for three images that made the final cut:

/copyrighteous/images/scratchlib-mako-laughing.gif/copyrighteous/images/scratchlib-mako-screaming.gif/copyrighteous/images/scratchlib-mako-stop.gif

But although I've spent quite a bit of time studying the Scratch community in the last few years as it is grown to include millions of participants and projects, I forgot about about Jay's photo shoot.

A couple months ago, Acetarium resident Andres Lombana Bermudez pointed out that there was a mako tag on the Scratch website and that a whole bunch of users had been publishing projects using the pictures of me which, apparently, shipped in Scratch under my name. For example, in this project in which I dance in front of a enormous "MAKO" banner:

/copyrighteous/images/scratchweb-dance.png

That said, given the rather emotive nature of the pictures, I seem to usually end up being blown up shot, shrunk, set on fire by dragons, or meeting other similarly unfortunate ends.

/copyrighteous/images/scratchweb-bad_mako.png/copyrighteous/images/scratchweb-looks_arent_everything.png

There's quite many more entertaining examples under the tag and many more elsewhere on the Scratch website although they are a little trickier to track down.

Jonathan Zittrain likes to say that the best technologies are generative in the sense that they encourage their users to make things with them that the designer never forsaw or anticipated. I feel generative.

Syndicated 2011-11-13 23:34:07 from Benjamin Mako Hill

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