Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
November 26, 2002

"There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow."
Hamlet, Act V, scene ii

As I was walking to the office today I encountered a sparrow on the sideward. It took one or two hops and showed no inclination to fly, not even when I leaned down to stroke it on the back. It cooed a little and in a way I could interpret as affectionate gently pecked at my hand. Not flying, of course, means that the sparrow is doomed to a brief existence. With winter's onset the sparrow will freeze, but before then, most likely, it will become the prey of one of the neighbourhood's many cats.

I thought of taking it to work with me, of giving it warmth and shelter. But most likely such a prospect would be more terrifying to the sparrow than a peaceful slumber. Because sparrows die. That's just the way of it. And there is nothing I can really do to improve this particular sparrow's lot in life. There is an oft-misquoted passage in Matthew (10) to the effect that God notes even the fall of a sparrow. And I wonder, will I do in a pinch? Will my noticing make any difference?

So I left the sparrow and continued my way to work, leaving it a diminishing speck on the sidewalk behind me.

Sometimes my heart feels like a dandelion
seeds scattered in a careless wind
and nothing to show for my life and time but
innocent wonder in the face of thunder
feelin' like something is about to begin.

Let's build a bonfire
for the stories we tell
of the wild years, the wasted tears
and the silent way they fell
see the curls of smoke rising up
to the big old sky as the moonlight falls
down over those distant hills
I don't want to be anywhere else anymore
Let's go to the well
Warnes / Bramball, The Well

SOAP Faces a New Challenger The challenger depicted in this article is called Representation State Transfer, or REST. Most of the flurry of discussion about REST happened in April of 2002 and then faded, but the concept is emerging again. The REST home page (actually a Wiki; not linked to in the article, but you can find it here) argues that "REST suggests that what the Web got right is having a small, global set of verbs applied to a potentially infinite set of nouns, because such a system allows a maximum number of otherwise uncoordinated actors to interoperate." By Darryl K. Taft, EWeek, November 25, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

What is an RSS Channel, Anyway? If you are not steeped in RSS and content syndication, you might find this a bit of an obscure discussion. For fun you can count the number of ways 'RSS' is defined in the first few paragraphs. But there are some important conceptual bits. First, an RSS channel is an information flow, "a course or pathway through which information is transmitted." This captures in an important way the dynamic nature of RSS (think in terms of "dynamic asynchronous communication" as referring to a rapidly changing asynchronous environment, such as a weblog, as compared to "static asynchronous communication" in which the content does not change rapidly, as in a web page). Second, "the flow nature of RSS needs to be aligned with that of the Web, as explained by Representational State Transfer (REST)." An RSS feed is a snapshot of a location, the transport protocol used to access the location, and the format in which date from that location is transmitted. By Mark Nottingham, MNot, November 25, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Apple and the Pirate Everyman Good though brief article outlining Apple's strategy of treating content (and even software) as something that is (mostly) free, focusing instead on making money from hardware and services. And, at the end of the article, the suggestion that we perhaps ought to rehabilitate the word 'pirate,' as in: "however much money is being made through the selling of software, music and copyrighted material, the future isn't in protecting the trade routes - it's in making everyone a pirate..." Don't forget to read the comments; there are some gems in there. By Tom Coates, PlasticBag.Org, November 19, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

From Weblog to Moblog Readers of OLDaily are already familiar with the concept of mobile weblogs, having read in these pages reports from across the country and (almost) around the world. Still, I like the interesting play on words inherent in 'modlogging' - on the one hand, it's mobile weblogging, and on the other hand, it's weblogging by a mob. As we saw in the NAWeb 02 weblog, more points of view provide a more comprehensive picture; what we need now is a way to identify and bring together those disparate reports. Work on this is well under way, of course. By Justin Hall, The Feature, November 21, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Right and Wrong Another argument against copyright extensions, this one more notable for its source. Good quote: "Tools for expanding capital are available in many forms. Tools for expanding civilization, on the other hand, are a limited commodity. They're resident in the books of Hemingway and Faulkner, the movies of Disney and Capra, and the songs of Kern and Berlin. Give 'em up. We need 'em. We've got work to do." By John Bloom, National Review, November 22, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Blogs and Journalism Panel Summary of the Blogs and Journalism Panel at the Revenge of the Blog conference in New York late last week. John Hiler begins by telling us (as if we didn't know) that blogs are addictive. But it's a good kind of addiction, like being addicted to knowledge instead of, say, amphetamines. But most of the discussion centered around the inevitable swirl of facts and opinion that characterizes the blogsphere. We also saw the inevitable comment that bloggers don't do any original reporting, an assertion contradicted by this (original) conference summary. By James Grimmelmann, LawMeme, November 22, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

E-learning Fails to Make the Grade What a surprise. It turns out that all those predictions of a huge e-learning market were overstated. "The claims made for learning management systems and catalogue content were seriously over-stated and the market forecasts outlandish." According to this article, the current market is estimated at $US 5 billion, well below projections, with the U.S. accounting for about 70 percent of that. By Matthew Clark, ENN, November 25, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2002 Stephen Downes