Blogging for Brain Augmentation

My brain is not enough! Too often, thoughts occur to me, or connections become apparent, that I very much wish to remember and use… but then along comes a flood of additional thoughts, and distractions, and minutiae, and so my moments of clarity dissolve into the infohaze.

I hate that.

Blogging can help minimize the loss of precious ideas, if used judiciously. Think of it as a personal knowledge management system“– or a “backup brain.”

I can’t claim this as my own idea. Here are some of the best writings I’ve found on this topic…
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What Does the Internet Look Like?

Often, pictures communicate more eloquently than words or numbers. This is the case with Barry Lyon’s Opte Project, which uses traceroute data to generate a visual “map” of the Internet. (For a brief overview, see this Nov. 28, 2003 New Scientist article.)

The images are extraordinary – beautiful, detailed, and ethereal. They are also useful. Lyon writes, “Mapping the Internet weekly will allow us to see major disasters in different parts of the world. The Internet is a huge disaster sensor. If I had maps of pre-war Iraq and then compared them to today, one could see how badly Iraq was destroyed.”

Online Free Speech Case Shows Need for Thick Skin

In the US, the right to free speech guaranteed by the Bill of Rights is widely touted as a source of national strength and pride. However, this right includes many tangents and implications that are profoundly murky. Sometimes whether to take action about someone else’s words depends not so much on legality, but rather on perception and context.

Today, a Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press article reports on a free-speech question unique to the online age: Should anonymous political criticism posted online be protected as free speech?

It’s not such a simple question, really.

THE CASE: On Nov. 20, 2003, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled to protect the identities of anonymous Internet authors in a defamation lawsuit brought by a public official. Joan Orie Melvin, a PA judge, believed she was defamed by allegations that she’d engaged in misconduct that were published on the now-defunct Web site Grant Street ’99. She initiated legal discovery to find out exactly who she wanted to sue. A state Superior Court denied the anonymous authors’ initial motion for summary judgment and a protective order. The authors then appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has now issued a very strong opinion, Melvin v. Doe et al, protecting their identities and supporting the larger principle of online political free speech.

Sounds good – but it’s not that clear-cut, once you look into the details. In this case, we’re not just talking about someone spouting opinions of politics or politicians. We’re talking about specific allegations of fact. That’s where this case gets murky. Is this anonymous author a genuine “whistleblower” or a capricious political saboteur? And in the bigger picture for Melvin, does the distinction really matter? Should she have gone to court over this?

I think not, and here’s why…

(UPDATE: Read my related article on media credibility)
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Bluetooth Spam (Oh, Great…)

Like cockroaches and mice, spammers manage to creatively infest virtually every niche in the ecology of electronic communications. BBC News reports today on the latest spam craze: bluejacking.

Bluejacking capitalizes on Bluetooth-enabled cell phones. (Bluetooth is a technology that allows wireless connectivity between a wide ranges of electronic devices, including cell phones, PDAs, laptops, and much more.) Basically, bluejacking is a way to send anonymous text messages to nearby cell phones that have Bluetooth turned on. Currently it’s much more prevalent in Europe than in the US, but just give it time…
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Today’s Internet, Tomorrow’s Pottery Shards

There’s a LOT of information online and elsewhere – but what does it all really say about us?

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, recently updated their “How Much Information” study. This project attempts to estimate how much information is created each year – both information that is stored (in print, film, magnetic, and optical media), and information seen or heard in four key “information flows” (telephone, radio and TV, and the Internet).

In short, 2002 saw the birth of 5 exabytes of new information, “equivalent in size to the information contained in half a million new libraries the size of the Library of Congress print collections.”

Most of this information is probably what we’d consider trivial or even junk today – phone conversations, TV commercials, weather forecasts. But in the right hands, over time, all this junk might turn to gold….
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TSA: You’ve Got Mail! (So You Might Want to Read It)

“E-government” sounds like a great idea, but not if the government ignores important e-mail. Here’s yet another example of why e-mail is definitely not the best way to communicate with the U.S. government.

Earlier this year, 20-year-old Nathaniel Heatwole tried to e-mail some very important information to the US Transportation and Security Administration (TSA). Heatwole wished to inform TSA that he would be placing bags containing security contraband such as box cutters and bleach on two airplanes, in order to spotlight continuing airline security breaches.

On Oct. 21, 2003, CNN reported: “The e-mail provided details of where the plastic bags were hidden – right down to the exact dates and flight numbers – along with Heatwole’s name and telephone number.”

Apparently, TSA didn’t bother to read Heatwole’s e-mail until after the bags were found and an extensive and urgent investigation into their origin began. Why? Poorly programmed e-mail filters.
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Online Public Comments on Govt. Rules? Lotsa Luck…

JUNE 4, 2004: JUST OUT OF CURIOUSITY… I notice that I’ve been getting a ton of hits to this article lately. I guess it got mentioned and linked to somewhere, but I don’t know where. Since I follow this topic, I’d love to know where it’s being discussed. I’d appreciate it if someone could tell me where they found the link to this article. E-mail me at: editor@contentious.com. Thanks!

A General Accounting Office report released today sharply criticizes a high-profile Bush Administration e-government initiative, the Regulations.gov site, which was supposed to enable the public to submit online comments on proposed rules from various federal agencies.

Bad site design and lack of appropriate links from agency sites is undermining this effort, said GAO.

Gee, why am I not surprised?
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