Video Google

Check it out: video searching at Google. At first I thought this was the same thing as video searching at Yahoo. There it’s simply a matter of searching for files on the net that match one of several video formats (.mov, .ram, .wmv, and so on). Nothing special about that. But Google is doing something surprising: they’re digitizing TV broadcasts, and the text they’re searching for is from the Closed Caption text stream. Very clever! Listen to them explain how it works.

Since my son is autistic, I am often searching for news items about autism. Here is the search on Google. You see the transcripts for all kinds of shows and news about autism, including the new NOVA NOW show from WGBH that I was just watching tonight.

Compare that to what you see when you do the same search over at Yahoo.


Roy will tell you that Photoshop Elements 3 (list price $99) is a great program. And I don’t doubt it, but I just discovered (in this Technology > Circuits > State of the Art: New Ways to Manage Your Photos” href=””>New York Times article) that Picasa, the photo management software acquired by Google, is free. Free is less than $99, so I decided to try it.

I own copies of Photoshop Elements version 1 as well as an old version of ACDSee. They’re both good programs, and I use them both, but I’ve been looking recently for something that could do a few of the good things I like from each program. Picasa can. I was impressed when Adobe had decided to sell a low-priced version of Photoshop (that is, Elements), since this move would certainly cannibalize some of their sales of the higher end product. On the other hand, it would stabilize and perhaps grow their market on the low end. It was a bold move, and the software was good. But then here comes Google out of the blue with a really good really free competitor. Ouch!

Will no one stop this scourge of free software? As someone who writes software for a living, I am tickled and terrified by the prospect of free high-quality software. But the designs of Google are becoming more clear. They are making it awfully tempting to hop on the Google-wagon (Gmail, Blogger, Hello, Picasa, Keyhole) and stay there forever. Live the Google lifestyle and perpetual amusement will be yours.

After oil, what?

Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak

Ken Deffeyes, the author of Hubbert’s Peak : The Impending World Oil Shortage, has written another book on the same topic called Beyond Oil : The View From Hubbert’s Peak. Hubbert, a Shell geologist who, back in 1956, correctly predicted that U.S. oil consumption would top out in the early 70s, also foresaw 2001 as the peak of world oil production. That is to say, right about now. Clearly the end is coming some time, but how long can we put off the inevitable? You can find any number of optimists who swear there’s plenty more oil out there. Who’s right? I found this paragraph from a review of Deffeyes’s latest book to be a sobering assessment:

If the actions – rather than the words – of the oil business’s major players provide the best gauge of how they see the future, then ponder the following. Crude oil prices have doubled since 2001, but oil companies have increased their budgets for exploring new oil fields by only a small fraction. Likewise, U.S. refineries are working close to capacity, yet no new refinery has been constructed since 1976. And oil tankers are fully booked, but outdated ships are being decommissioned faster than new ones are being built.

Practically speaking, we’ve reached the climax of the Great Age of Petroleum. From now on we’re witnessing declining action. What comes next? Surely we’ll spend a lot of money on solar panels and windmills, but there’s no escaping the fact that nuclear energy is the next great source. Start getting used to it now.

IT Conversations

Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools page
highlights here something called ITConversations. It’s a sort of radio station without the airwaves: lots of free, interesting content for folks in the software business. I’m not sure what their revenue model is, but there’s some really good stuff here. Downloadable interviews and speeches have been around for years now (see Carl Malamud’s venerable Geek of the Week, for example), but it’s the iPod that really changed the landscape. Who wants to sit in front of their computer and listen to a 115 Mbyte .au file? But now you can think of your iPod as a TiVo for the radio (or radio-like content). I’ve gotten in the habit of listening to books on tape during my commute, first with (you guessed it) Books On Tape, then more recently with So it was easy for me to adjust some of my listening time to good free audio content on trends in my industry. The first thing I listened to was a keynote speech by Kent Beck on developer-written software tests. Not riveting if you’re not in my business, but very relevant to me right now. Call it painless continuing education.

When the internet was first growing in influence years ago, people often spoke of how good writing was regaining its cultural currency because of email, newsgroup discussions, and so on. Now the web, via podcasting and MP3s, is doing the same thing for the spoken word.


Through the magic of web services, people are able to brew up kaleidascopic (and often very entertaining) combinations these days. Taggregator is a site that tastefully combines the results returned by tag searches at both Flickr and The juxtaposition is a treat for the left and right brain. Hmmm… is that why they put them on the page that way?

Here are some fun riffs.

And here’s one that splits the meaning right down the middle of the screen: macro. Can you think of another good word that means such completely different things to the typical audience than to the Flickr audience?

Model airplane photography

On New Year’s Day model airplane enthusiasts around the world (well, mostly the U.S. and some in Europe) strapped digital cameras to their planes and took some snapshots:
A Day In The Life of AP. The resulting set of shots is pretty impressive: check out this shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. There are also some pictures of places where it seems there isn’t much else to do. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how quickly this can be turned into dirt cheap Pentagon-style surveillance. Between satellites and model airplanes, your backyard secrets had better be camouflaged from now on. (spotted on Gizmodo)

Collaborative writing: promise and peril

From Roy (and ultimately by way of Patently Obvious) I found this nifty approach to book writing. Lawrence Lessig, the Stanford lawyer who is busy single-handedly bringing the legal profession into the modern age, decided to release a second edition of his book Code. But rather than do all the work himself, he’s turning the whole thing into a wiki and recruiting people to help him edit it. He says “My aim is not to write a new book; my aim is to correct and update the existing book. But I’m eager for advice and expert direction.”

This isn’t as bold an experiment as truly opening the book up to editing Wikipedia-style. After all, people have had their books edited by trusted colleagues since the days of the first papyrus-back potboiler. But having standardized wiki software to make the process painless is new, and Lessig is good enough to donate any money raised by the sale of the book to the Creative Commons fund. And I imagine it’s only a matter of time before true wiki books emerge. If it’s a novel way to write nonfiction, it’s a novel way to write a novel too. Has anyone seen a wiki novel yet?

Newsflash! After I wrote that last sentence, I thought to myself, well of course wiki novels must exist. Let’s go Googling and find one. I was not disappointed. By the time you follow this link to Rick Heller’s open source novel, I’m sure it will have mutated, but this opening paragraph is pure magic:


When Sandra flicked on the bedroom light, she didn’t expect to see a postman with a shotgun. Sandra started to scream, stifling the reflex midway so it sounded like a loud, undignified hiccup. Resting on the bed was a man in a blue uniform with an American eagle patch. “I’ll kill you first,” he said. Beneath his left hand, a shotgun lay in plain sight upon the bedding. Kill me first? Sandra was stunned. What would he do second? Stuff her body in a mailbag, and bury it under a pile of dead letters?

After a page or so of prose along these lines, Chapter One commences with this.

and so on for several hundred lines. You’ll have to read the whole thing to see how Sandra ends up in the casino. So there you have it. Not only does a wiki novel exist but it is a smashing success.

Bandwidth woes, etc.

I’ve been having terrible problems with my net access for the last few days, and the experience has taught me two lessons. One, how barbaric it is to connect to the net at sluggish baby-modem speeds. It really feels like a terrible handicap once you’re used to zipping from page to page. This must have been what it was like living out on the frontier. Lesson two is that Bloglines and RSS newsfeeds shine all the more brightly in a low bandwidth situation, since I can check on the contents of many sites without paying the download cost of all their fancy ads, decorations, and Javascript gewgaws.

This reminded me of something I had recently read on Jay Rosen’s PressThink blog: Top Ten Ideas of ’04: “Content Will be More Important than its Container”. In it he talks about how mainstream media is losing control of the branded container that surrounds their words. He quotes Tom Curley, CEO of the Associated Press, as saying “Content will be more important than its container… That’s a big shift for old media to come to grips with… Killer apps, such as search, RSS and video-capture software such as Tivo — to name just a few — have begun to unlock content from any vessel we try to put it in.” Later in the same piece, Rosen mentions that John Markoff glibly plays down blogs and feeds.

When Markoff said that in ten years he would still be “writing for paper,” he had overlooked something rather important. Already in 2003, a majority of Times readers were online. Markoff and most of his colleagues believe they work for a print newspaper with an online edition. Psychologically, they’re still writing for “the paper.” For most of the readers, however, the New York Times is an online newspaper that also sells a print edition.

Perhaps I should assume that many of you have never seen the print version of the Paracelsus Rambles weblog. So sad.

Kevin reviews Wilbur

When’s the last time you used the word “coruscate“? My friend Kevin Durkin, a poet himself, has written a book review of the recently released Collected Poems of the American poet Richard Wilbur. If you don’t have time to read the book, at least you can read the review. You’re sure to coruscate at your next cocktail party.

Collection shows Richard Wilbur’s keen eye, chiseled phrases (Philadelphia Inquirer). Unfortunately, the Inquirer does make you fill out a free registration form.