Tragedy of the Commons, circa 2002

Here’s an article at Salon talking about the perennial problem of how a common resource, in this case the music downloading network Gnutella, can be ruined by the greedy. Gnutella bandwidth bandits “This incredibly selfish behavior causes a flood of query traffic. Although it maximizes results for the local user, it impacts the network greatly. If every client behaved like Qtrax, Gnutella would surely fall.” I’m sure Atlantic Records would be so sad if Gnutella were to fail because of greedy assholes. A cynic might observe that thieves hate thieves.

I work on a program called MATLAB, and once several years ago on a business trip to Singapore, we stopped at a place called Sim Lim Square, notorious for pirated software and ultra-cheap computers. Sure enough, it was easy to find someone selling the very latest version of MATLAB (and twenty other programs on the same CD) for $5. In the same store, the owner had posted numerous signs bearing the words “SHOPLIFTERS WILL BE TURNED OVER TO THE POLICE.” And who can blame him?

Call me sometime

Has anyone ever told you to give them a call at 212-479-7990? That’s the number of the New York Rejection Line, a blow-off service provided free-of-charge to the New York community (or anyone untroubled by the 212 area code). Check out the tag line for “Someone won’t leave you alone?
Give them ‘your’ number: 212-479-7990.”
They’ve done a nice job of packaging up several kinds of self-serve rejection. You can preview them online here. As a rejectee you can opt to listen to a therapeutic comfort specialist, a sad poem, or a message that encourages you to cling to unrealistic hope.

I used to use

I used to use as my favorite notification mechanism. But no more. SpyOnIt looks very ill, ill unto death, sad to say. It was a good service, but then again, I never was clear on where their money came from. Now I’m using — sign up in the box at the bottom of the left panel if you want to be notified when the Rambles weblog is updated. Of course, I’m not sure how NotifyList makes their money, but why worry? Everything’s going to be fine, right?

The 5K Challenge is back,

The 5K Challenge is back, and the final results have been tallied. The rules specify that you get no more than 5 kilobytes worth of web page to make whatever you want. As they say at the site:

The idea behind the contest is that the rigid constraints of designing for the web are what force us to get truly creative. Between servers and bandwidth, clients and users, HTML and the DOM, browsers and platforms, our conscience and our ego, we’re left in a very small space to find highly optimal solutions. Since the space we have to explore is so small, we have to look harder, get more creative; and that’s what makes it all interesting.

Or, as the poet James Falen has said, “Every task involves constraint; solve the thing without complaint.” Or more succinctly: shut up and dance. One of the highest rated entries is
Wolfenstein 5K, a three-d shooter crammed into 5K. Must be seen to be believed. On the clever concept side of things is the
Scale Model of the Solar System jammed into a long scrolling web page.

This is a good example

This is a good example of something that would not have happened before the web: Steve Silverman is a science teacher who happens to publish a site called Useless Information. I found it because I’m a fan of P.T. Barnum, and Silverman has a nice page about phrases P. T. Barnum was added to the language (it’s an impressive list, including “Siamese Twins”). Poking around the rest of the site, I found an article about Charles Ponzi, who always makes for a good read… do you know what the original Ponzi scheme was? The rest of the Useless site is like this: short punchy pieces about offbeat interesting topics. Silverman got so much good feedback about his web site, he ended up writing a book called Einstein’s Refrigerator.

Salon has a great piece

Salon has a great piece this week about abandoned domain names: I come to bury, not to praise it. A site called Deleted Domains will tell you about domain names that are no longer being paid for, and therefore are being returned for public consumption. Go look at the Deleted Domains site… it’s hysterical. As the Salon article points out, registering domain names costs real money, so someone must have thought that these names were going to pay off. Which is sad when you look at some of these names. Some of the names are pure dot-com golden age nonsense: need a bib for your doggie? Log into Others are out of favor: Others are practical, like the watchful trio,, and, or the very reasonable You owe to yourself to go trawling through the weird stuff that people were willing to pay to own.

Glog ahoy! My friend Nabeel

Glog ahoy! My friend Nabeel is always telling me about cool software and web sites. So much so that I finally said “You need to get yourself a blog.” Here’s what he said:

“I just don’t think I’m cool enough to have a blog [He’s just being modest. He’s almost certainly cool enough. -Ed.]. In fact, I sort of like living vicariously through others’ blogs. That’ll be the new trend I start. I’ll start a movement where people get mentioned on other people’s blogs, without actually blogging anything themselves.” He calls this vicarious guest blogging activity glogging. That’s the nifty neologism… but what’s the content of Nabeel’s glog?

He was talking to a friend about stay-on tabs for beer and soda cans. One thing led to another and they found a good story (that was heard on NPR during the “Engineering & Life” segment) about the inventor of the stay-on tab. The stay-on tab, so ubiquitous that it is practically invisible (can you picture how it works?), was not a simple thing to design.
This speech at the University of Illinois is a somewhat more detailed version of the same thing. I started poking around the site and found all kinds of cool stuff. Thanks, Nabeel!