Archive for November, 2009

Going for a walk

K and I are going hiking for the next four days, taking the train out to Harpers Ferry and walking back to DC along the old C & O canal. It’s about 60 miles in all, so we’ll be doing 15-odd miles a day. I’m really excited to get out of the city and exert myself, as well as to use the hiking tent we bought earlier this year but have never got out. Hopefully I’ll have some nice photos to share when we get back.

Meanwhile, have a very happy Thanksgiving everyone!

And if you want to contribute to a very good cause this Thanksgiving please consider supporting Tweetsgiving, which is raising money to support a school in Tanzania.


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The handball that lead to the match-winning goal

I’ve been meaning to comment on this for the last week. For those that missed it, last week Ireland and France played for the final European spot in the World Cup finals. The game was decided by a blatant handball by French star Thierry Henry (two, in fact, in addition to the fact he was offside) in extra time which led to a French goal. Video is here.

This is exactly what is wrong with soccer (or, depending where you live, football). Referee’s make mistakes in every sport, but in soccer the low-scoring means these mistakes are too-often decisive. No matter how beautiful the sport may be, a 1-0 or 2-1 result as a result of blown call by a referee is an unsatisfying result for everyone. (On a related note, this is also why soccer is so easy for corrupt ref’s to fix – UEFA is currently investigating 200 possibly fixed matches in Europe).

The whole incident reminded me of the heart-breaking way Australia was eliminated from the last World Cup, an obvious dive for which Italy was awarded a penalty with less than a minute to go in extra time, giving them the win in the group of 16 match:

Here’s a nice re-enactment.

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Last night K and I went out to see Canadian tech-house producer Deadmau5 (pronounced “deadmouse”) play. Deadmau5 is another internet-fueled superstar, blowing up on Beatport last year to be their number 1-selling artist and now, to my amazement, selling out the relatively massive 9:30 club on a Monday night.

I took a video on my new phone but haven’t worked out how to get it off yet so here’s another one from YouTube. It’s very shaky but gives an idea of both the music and the truly spectacular light show. The production was the best I’ve seen at the 9:30 Club by far, with a super high-resolution digital screen at the front and 24 LED poles scattered around the stage, all sequenced to produce some fantastic visuals.

It was a lot of fun, and great to have a good dance, even if it has made today harder than it would otherwise have been. It did give rise to a few thoughts though:

1) Monday night, really? How far down in order of importance does DC have to be to get stuck with that? Or is it simply that he was so confident of his popularity here (he previously played here in March) that he knew DC would come out for him even on a Monday night?

2) Whatever happened to good electronic artists headlining parties? Now it seems as soon as a producer has any sort of success they go straight into “touring band” mode, playing gigs at concert venues rather than parties at clubs. I call lame.

3) Looking around at the (pretty young) crowd it’s amazing how many girls make no attempt at dancing other than rubbing their arses against their boyfriends groins. Bust out a little! Dance for you, not for them. I blame video clips and the insipid form of “sexiness” they promote.

4) Judging by audience reaction Deadmau5’s most popular track is by far his worst, a terrible, derivative uplifting house number that sounds like something Kylie Minogue would put out. Go figure.

Australians! – Deadmau5 is touring later this month as part of the Stereosonic Festival.


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As I wrote about at the time, Ashoka was fortunate to have been placed on the Twitter  Suggested Users list in early October. The power of this list is amazing. We had about 9,000 followers when added, now we’re over 150,000. You can see the effect here.

However, most of these new followers are not choosing to follow Ashoka, they are simply accepting Twitter suggestions for 300 people to follow to kick off their twitter experience. And it’s a very diverse/random list, ranging from politicians both left and right (although there have been complaints about twitter favoring Democratic politicians), lots and lots of celebrities of the music, film and sport variety, twitter developers, business entrepreneurs and a bunch of tweeters chosen by company insiders as interesting.

Media outlets are now reporting that Twitter is planning to “kill” the Suggested Users list. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said at a conference recently that the list was “going away” and “in its stead will be something that is more programmatically chosen, something that actually delivers more relevant suggestions.” This, to me, doesn’t sound like “killing”, but rather a much-needed update to the Suggested Users model to something that will help people find users who are relevant to their interests, making their Twitter experience more relevant and enjoyable. Currently the list is too large, too broad and too celebrity-heavy to be a truly useful jumping-off point for most people.

What I’m hoping will happen is a simple change to add categories to the Suggested Users list. Instead of being show the entire list when you sign up you should be asked “What are you interested in?” and given the choice to tick categories such as “Celebrities”, “Sports”, “Non-profits”, “Technology”, “Businesses”, etc. You could choose all of them, and end up with the full list as it currently stands, but I suspect that most people would choose only a few of the categories and so get a much smaller, more focused list of people to start following.

In this way Twitter can still highlight some valuable users, and help new tweeters get over the hump when you join and have nothing in your stream, in a higher-value more contextual way. It could even be a revenue stream for Twitter (we all know they need one or two of those) if they charged businesses to appear on the “Business” list. Most lists, such as “non-profits” (or, better language, “citizen sector organizations“), should not be sold however if they are to retain any credibility.

If this change was implemented it would certainly slow down the growth rate of the Ashoka account, but those that did end of following us would be much more likely to be interested in our work, and thus more likely to participate in or support this work in some way. As importantly it would be better for the new Twitter user as it would help them to pick their filters and craft their twitter experience in a way that is meaningful and interesting to them. This, then, would hopefully reduce the significant burn rate of new accounts (people joining, updating once if at all and then abandoning the service).

It’s a new model, not death, that the Suggested Users list needs.

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Government services

As we’ve just moved house we have had to deal with more government bureaucracy than usual while getting our gas, water and electricity set up, and it’s been a real insight into why so many Americans don’t believe the government can effectively deliver services like health care (although, of course, they already do in the form of Medicare).

It was only today, six days since we moved in, that we got our gas connected, allowing us to, you know, cook. And turn the fireplaces and heating on. It has truly been a comedy of errors and has cost the household many many hours of time. They were initially booked to come between 8am-12pm on Monday, so K stayed home to be there when they arrived. At 11.49, driven crazy by lack of caffeine, she went around the corner to our local cafe (the Big Bear Cafe, popularly acclaimed as the best cafe in DC), leaving a note on the door with her phone number and explaining that she was only a block away and would only be gone a minute. When she returned 4 minutes later it was to find a note from the gas guy saying he was there at 11.51 and no-one was home. She called the gas agency, asking them to get in touch with the guy, who would only be a minute away, to come back, but they claimed this was impossible. When she pushed the point they hung up on her.

Both K and our flatmate Sarah then called back to complain, asking to be put through to supervisor. Both times they were hung up on again. This is the kind of service a monopoly can get away with I guess, when they’re providing a service you cannot function without.

A new time was organized, with the promise that there would be a courtesy call when they were approaching, so a friend working nearby could come over and let them in. No courtesy call, no-one there to let them in, no gas for another 24 hours. And so it went, taking three appointments over four days to sort out. Our experience with the water and electricity companies has been much the same.

It seems fair to assume that this sort of experience makes people less predisposed to supporting government involvement in other areas of their lives, and more suspicious of government claims and services in general.

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LeDroit Park Mural

LeDroit Park Mural on Elm St

My apologies for the blog silence this past week. We moved house on the weekend, didn’t get internet until early this week and I have been preoccupied with unpacking boxes and building furniture to get on my computer in the evening. But things are settling down and I’m back into it.

It’s exciting to be in a new place in a part of DC I haven’t explored much: LeDroit Park, near the NW/NE border. LeDroit Park was originally a whites-only neighbourhood in the late 19th Century but is now a primarily black neighbourhood, although it is, as they say, “up-and-coming”, by which they mean more white professionals are moving in. Like us.

It’s fun discovering this new (for us) part of town, it has a different vibe from Mt Pleasant, the suburb we lived in (and loved) for the past year. We’re within walking distance of the 9:30 Club, DC’s premier live music venue, and not too far from U St, a strip of cafe’s, restaurants, bars and shops.

Our living situation has changed also, K and I have moved in with a couple of friends. I will miss living just the two of us but it’s also cool to be back in a share house, which was always our set-up back in Sydney. This has allowed us to drop our rent while upgrading our facilities. The new house has a huuuge kitchen, massive common room with two fireplaces and our room has a fireplace and ensuite jacuzzi. Pretty nice.

We do have to deal with a pretty relentless amount of traffic noise and very bright street lights outside our big bay windows, which for the first couple of nights, before we got curtains set up, kept us awake and then woke us up early, but we’ll inevitably get used to it.

Whereas before we used to like to say we were neighbours of Barack Obama, as we lived just off 16th st, which runs down to the White House, now we live just off North Capital St, which runs directly to the Capital Building, so we still have that visual reminder that we live in the heart of the empire.

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Sign near Rock Creek Park, location of the National Zoo (by keever04 on flickr)

Have you ever looked at the predators in the zoo and wondered if, given the chance, they could still do their thing? Well I have, and for the lions at Washington DC’s National Zoo consider the question answered!

The National Zoo is the rare zoo that has actual wild animals running through it, thanks to it being free, which allows gates to sit wide open all day, where there are gates at all. On my first visit to the zoo a couple of years ago I got an enormous shock as a door deer dashed across my path, used as I was to only seeing animals on the other side of the fence.

Yesterday a deer, perhaps that same deer I saw, made the catastrophic error of leaping into the lions enclosure, where it was fatally injured. The Washington Post really summed it up with a headline that wrote itself:

At zoo, no escape for deer in the lions’ den

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