Category Archives: Internet

.sig File Upgrade: Variable Weather Reports

codesnip(tl/dr: Michael is a geek.)

For a very long time I’ve had a comment about the Miami weather in the last line of my email .sig file, something like “It’s hot here” or “It’s cool here” or occasionally “It’s @#$@#$ hot here.”  This started out largely as reaction against the pretentious .sig files I ran into surprisingly often in the early days of the net.  But it was also driven in part by our remarkable weather in Miami: way too hot six months of the year, lovely five months of the year, and pot luck on the balance.

I had imagined that the right way to do a .sig file modifier on a unix box would be to do something to the mailer daemon to instruct it to pull the weather data in real time.  But because my mail is on a university machine, I don’t have the privileges to do that, and even if I did I don’t think I’d mess with their mailer.

So for 20+ years I did the weather line by hand, changing the last line of my .sig file a few times a year to reflect the change in the seasons, at least when I remembered to do it.  And from  time to time I wished for something automated that would check the weather every time I sent an email.

This summer I finally broke down and took a few hours and wrote a little script that grabs weather data from a public source  and re-writes the text of my .sig file every hour based on the temperature and humidity.  It’s not elegant, but modifying the text of the saved version of the .sig file means I don’t have to tangle with the mailer itself. It also means I use a lot fewer system resources when sending mail, plus it limits my lookups of the weather data.

It shouldn’t have taken a few hours, but I had to learn about how to handle arrays in PHP, plus my data source was badly documented and somewhat inconsistent in what it returned.  Overall, a silly thing to do, yes, and rather late to the party, but I’m happy about it anyway.

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Checking Email Like Playing the Slots

Seems checking mail provides the same “intermittent variable rewards” that addicts folks to slot machines. That insight, and several others, comes from How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist. I didn’t agree with every word, but there’s a lot there to chew on, and I suspect the thing about email-checking is spot on. (And to the extent it’s not, FOMO does the rest.)

Is reading blogs like checking email? Probably, especially if done via RSS feed – intermittent variable rewards indeed.

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This Will Get Someone In Trouble

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Review Skeptic Can Spot Fake Online Reviews (of Hotels)

Review Skeptic claims it can distinguish fake hotel reviews from real ones with 90% accuracy. Must be true, it’s based on research.

Spotted via Lifehacker.

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More Empirical Evidence of Habermasian Processes in Real Life

One of the common dismissals of Habermas’s theory of communicative action is that the requirement of an ‘ideal speech position’ is unrealistic. In Toward a Critical Theory of Cyberspace I argued first that these critics misunderstood what Habermas required, that the so-called ‘ideal’ was not idealized and thus unattainable, but rather, ‘best achievable in real life’, optimal subject to the constraints of matter and time, and thus — in principle — attainable. Second, I argued that the internet standards process managed by the IETF achieved a Habermasian discourse, at least at times. Recognizing the special conditions, in particular the relative linguistic and professional homogeneity of the participants, I did not argue that the result was necessarily generalizable. Rather, I claimed that an existence proof of even one Habermasian discourse should at least silence critics who claimed the theory was unrealizable.

Comes now Karthikeyan Umapathy, Sandeep Purao and John W. Bagby, who have just published Investigating IT Standardization Process through the lens of Theory of Communicative Action. In it they state that,

Due to the openness, consensus orientation, and volunteer participation, many researchers have argued that standardization processes are quite similar to Habermasian view of rational discourse (i.e., open – ended discussion geared towards reaching consensus) described in the theory of communicative action1. However, none have conducted empirical investigation on an actual standardization process to provide evidence of social actions described by Habermas occurring within the process. Thus, the objective of this paper is to investigate IT standardization process from the theory of communicative action perspective and find evidence of social actions within an actual standardization process.

I told stories about the IETF, but didn’t formalize them. The authors of this paper tell the story of the SOAP standardization process and count incidents of Communicative Action (31%), Strategic Action (22%), Instrumental Action (18%), “Dramaturgical Action” (15%), and Normatively Regulated Action (14%):

Our findings reveal that participants in standardization processes engage in communicative action most frequently with aim of reaching mutual understanding and consensus, engage in strategic action when influencing others towards their intended goals, engage in instrumental action when taking responsibility for solving technical issues, engage in dramaturgical action when expressing their opinions, and engage in normatively regulated action when performing roles they assumed. Our analysis indicates that 60% of activities performed are consensus oriented whereas the rest are success oriented. This paper provides empirical evidence for Habermasian view of social actions occurring in the standardization process setting.

Again, this is not necessarily generalizable:

In this study, we perform analysis only o n one standard (i.e., SOAP) and on one SDO (i.e., W3C). Thus, findings from this study cannot be generalized for all anticipatory standards or SDOs.

Even so, useful data.

  1. Here, in addition to mine, they cite some papers I wasn’t aware of but will need to read, notably Schoechle, T.: Toward a Theory of Standards. In: IEEE Conference on Standardisation and Innovation in Information Technology (SIIT). IEEE, Los Alamitos, CA, USA (1999), and Lyytinen, K., Hirschheim, R.: Information systems as rational discourse: an application of Habermas’s theory of communicative action. 4, 19-30 (1988). They do not cite to Andrew L. Russell, The W3C and its Patent Policy Controversy:A Case Study of Authority and Legitimacy in Internet Governance (2003), which is also relevant. 

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Coral Gables Cops Offer Their Lobby as Transactional “Safe Space”

Coral Gables Central reports that the Coral Gables Police are offering their main lobby as a “safe haven” for people to meet to consummate internet-negotiated transactions. Think Craigslist deals.

The goal is to reduce the likelihood of a criminal act being committed. The Coral Gables Police Department is located at 2801 Salzedo St., Coral Gables, 33134

The department will not be involved in setting the meetings, but the lobby can be used for this transaction any day of the week between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

This is a good thing, and the Police should be congratulated for doing it. But note that the cops say they only welcome legal transactions, so unsurprisingly this may not be the place for drug deals, escorting meets, and, they warn, nothing lasting more than 15 minutes. And I’m betting it’s not just watched by a bored desk Sargent, but all taped on camera.

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I Love Eduroam

One of my few achievements was getting UMiami to join Eduroam, the nifty university consortium that allows visiting academics to log in automatically to the internet supplied by all other member institutions. European universities were early adopters; the US is catching up. Once you get it set up on your devvice, it’s seamless; I’m using it now via the University of Amsterdam.

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