Occasional thoughts on diverse subjects

June 29, 2002

Gosh I’m prolific these days. I guess controversy is a good source of inspiration. I imagine those people used to the one-or-two-updates-a-month ZedneWeb are in for a rude surprise the next time they show up, but that’s why I have the calendar at the bottom of the page.

Fortunately, my readership is small, so I don’t have to worry too much about inconsistent updating or complex syntax. Seriously, I read some recommendations for writing for a global audience, and I think I manage to break all of them regularly. Idioms, complex sentences, puns, obscure references… we have them all. (via WebWord) #

Enough about that

Barring follow-through on those Constitutional amendments people are talking about, these will be my last comments about the Pledge of Allegiance flap. Consider the original wording of the Pledge, written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, Baptist minister and socialist:

I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

They replaced “my flag” with “the flag of the United States of America” in 1923 and inserted “under God” in 1954. Congress officially recognized the pledge in 1942, and the Supreme Court ruled that children could not be forced to recite it in 1943.

I think the original version scans better (try reading it aloud a few times), but the primary problem with the pledge is that its meaning has been dulled through overuse. (The dulling of meaning, incidentally, has been used by the courts to allow the phrase “In God we trust” to remain on our currency. Our government is free to talk about God as long as it doesn’t really mean it.)

There’s been talk from the administration about protecting our children’s ability to recite the pledge, but that of course is a distortion. No one is preventing children from reciting the pledge, any more than from praying. The point is that there shouldn’t be an organized, daily recitation.

The timing of this decision is unfortunate, as it gives a tremendous fund-raising issue for conservative groups which don’t have the Clintons to scare people with, and because it distracts people from serious violations of the separation of church and state such as the Supreme Court’s recent decision allowing public money to support religious schools. Lets pay more attention to the important things the Bush Administration and major corporations are doing. (There’s a pretty good conspiracy theory in all this, considering that one of the judges was a Nixon appointee, but it’s more likely that he voted for what was, after all, the decision that anyone looking at it dispassionately would reach.) #

The big rock candy access point

High in the Blogdex ratings is Warchalking, an idea that has nothing to do with war. It’s a set of chalk markings people can use to identify local wireless networks, inspired by hobo-signs. A few people have marked their own houses to identify open networks, and the CIO of Utah is interested in it as a method of indicating locations where state employees can hook up.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the hype or to discount it completely, but wireless networking really is working out to be a Very Big Thing. It’s a pity so much of the wireless spectrum is reserved for cellular phones and television (both of which can be implemented more flexibly over wireless Internet connections, but I digress). My own experiences are surprisingly freeing, despite spotty connectivity in parts of my house and the antenna limitations caused by my laptop’s metal case. I don’t plan to open up the network, though, as it uses a dial-up connection and we only have one phone line, but perhaps one day Internet access and IP addresses will be cheap and plentiful. Then we’ll really see something. #

What’s that, Cassandra?

Everyone’s favorite techno-monopoly has announced Palladium, its scheme for ensuring trusted computing. To a lot of people, this seems like a very scary thing, as Microsoft has a poor record regarding security and a history of trying to control as much as possible of everything. They assure us that they will be fair and open, but the plan relies on special secured hardware. The problem is, do you trust the hardware? How do you know it does what it says it does?

That’s not even the most serious problem. This is the same sort of technology everyone hated when the CBDTPA was still around. DRM is anti-consumer: it assumes that everyone is a criminal and it levies fees on anyone who wants some security.

The frustrating part is that some sort of digital identity system is needed, but I am suspicious of any system proposed by a for-profit organization. Their priority will always be themselves, not the needs of the users. (via WebWord and Doc Searls) #

Depth charges

“Deep linking” is in the news again, as the Danish Newspaper Publisher’s Association is suing to prevent third parties from linking to pages “inside” their site. Similarly, NPR has claimed the ability to “withdraw permission” for “inappropriate” links.

This is insanity, resulting from a fundamental misunderstanding of web architecture, so let me clear something up: There is no such thing as a deep link. I don’t care what the courts say, and I don’t care what the lawyers say, the fact is that every page on the web is potentially no more than one link away from every other page. This is one of the core advantages of the web, and a central reason for its success. No less an authority than Tim Berners-Lee has stated that links carry no liability and do not require permission.

The problem is twofold. First, people look at HTTP URLs, note that they have define a hierarchy, and assume that this is significant to the web itself. This is a mistake; it is impossible to determine the structure of a site by looking at its addresses. For example, ZedneWeb’s address, “http://www.eyrie.org/~zednenem/”, is subordinate to the Eyrie, “http://www.eyrie.org/”, but they are not part of the same “site”, as a look at their administration or linking patterns readily shows. A single second-level domain may include dozens or hundreds of sites, or a single site may involve elements from multiple domains.

Similarly, the site structure itself may involve a hierarchy, as seen with ZedneWeb (particularly if your browser takes advantage of site navigation). Thus, the Starcruiser Anonymous cast page is three layers down in the hierarchy, under the main page, the library page, and the Starcruiser Anonymous page. This does not make it any deeper with respect to the web, only with respect to the site. The central idea of hypertext involves the ability to jump from any point to any other point.

The intelligent site designer understands this, and designs pages with the expectation that people may be jumping in from outside. The clever site designer encourages this, making it as easy as possible for people to point out information in the site that’s relevant to their readers. This is the primary reason why frames cause problems: they make it difficult or inconvenient to link to information.

There are ways to defeat “deep linking”. Extensive use of frames can make life difficult, or servers can be configured to give highly contextual URLs which are different for each user and which expire over time. But why go to this much trouble to effectively lobotomize your site? Unusable sites tend to die as soon as something better comes along, if not beforehand. #