I am the Empire

I am the Empire

I have been talking to Ariel last month, asking for a Microspotting T-Shirt since I had mentioned her earlier on my blog.

I have been on holiday in the meantime… but the T-Shirt had arrived and was waiting for me in my letterbox in the office !! How cool is that???

So today I am walking around the Rome office in it… and I am looking at people’s faces: you need to understand that Italian dress code is more or less the opposite of how people usually dress in Redmond… Italy is historically more formal, and it would be the norm to dress fancy… one would definitely look BAD here if he would show up in sandals in the office… and VERY bad going on sandals to a customer… 🙂

Of different digital expressions and Blogs


"I have not posted in a while" …well you certainly will have read tons of posts beginning this way, right?
But that's the truth. One of the reasons is that you can follow very well a lot of what I do and write elsewhere on the Internet by using my lifestream RSS feed, which includes much more than just what I post on this blog. Our minds are not stuck on one subject matter only, but our thoughs just go around in many different directions. I mentioned the integrated feed/lifestream in a previous post, but I found that the concept gets explained very well by Yongfook in this post:

"[…] We interact with various websites and create content on them – why should I then have to come to my own website and reconstruct, repost or repackage the same content? It already exists out there on the internet, and it’s grabbable and usable. This is not to say I think conventional blogging is dead. I do however think it is evolving. The pace at which we consume and create content – photos, videos, links etc – is getting faster, more frequent. If we wanted to republish everything manually on our blogs, we’d just run out of time. […]"

So at least even if this SITE does not get updated often you can see I have quite a busy digital public life on the web.

Very interesting to also read this post by Scott Hanselman on the subject. He rather just focuses on twitter/microblogging as an evolved form of blogging which was getting boring and time-consuming to people:

"[…] The rise of blogs brought conversations on the 'net more out in the open. Blogging enabled conversation via essay, but as blogs have matured, posts have gotten longer and longer and threads more difficult to follow. Now, most posts are jumping off points for the more interesting conversations that inevitably move to the comments. […]"

He then goes into more detailed/structured analysis of what you can or could do with Twitter. While his analysis is pretty good about the many ways you could use Twitter as a broadcasting tool (and in fact loads of companies do already), I rather use it as public instant messaging. Or maybe not just. I don't actually know and to be honest I am not too much into classifying things, really. For example, if classifying what this blog is… I really am not sure I know myself what this blog is. It has been very funny when other people have tried to classify it… one said it was about "programming" (that would be nice, if I really was a better developer!), other people said it was "personal", other thought it was just about "IT" in general… Heck, there is no classification possible I am afraid. Therefore, not knowing what this blog is, I at least think that I know what this blog is NOT:

  • it isn't a marketing blog
  • I am not here trying to sell anything
  • I am not promoting anything, anyone, or any brand
  • It isn't just focused on one subject, on one area of interest

…and so are all my other "expressions" on the Net. Just me. Sprinkles of me all around. No special industrial plan for it. Just be myself. You might like me sometimes. You might hate me. You might not care at all. It's all good, anyway. Sorry for wasting your time.

Role Playing | Technology

Role Playing | Technology

Role Playing | Technology, uploaded by Daniele Muscetta on Flickr.

I had not been playing Role Playing Games anymore for nearly 15 years. My wife recently thought that Joshua would be big enough to try, so I am trying to introduce him to the world of RPGs. This, as you can imagine, after all of that time, took back memories, ideas, and also made me think of how much the technology changed this all.

I am not at all referring to VIDEO or ONLINE games, even those that are marketed as being RPGs: most of them are not "real" RPGs anyway, they merely borrow some rules. I am saying that technology changed the way people ORGANIZE and prepare their role playing gaming experience (=the one played with real RPGs where you have to ACT a character), and how they interact with each other, and how the "knowledge" spreads.

When I was playing RPG a lot, in the 80's and early 90's, everything was paper-based, no Internet and technology in sight. For example, we photocopied a lot of stuff back then, as opposed to today when I just downloaded and printed a character sheet. But it was not just printed material that was being photocopied: in those years I remember myself handwriting my own extended set of rules, manuals, scenarios, description of places (I even kept and found back some of those!). Everything was handwritten: text, drawings, maps. A lot of work, very hard to mantain. But passion was driving me (and my friends at that time too). That has also been a big enabler in how I taught myself to read and write english: by translating handbooks that nobody had translated in italian. But I digress.

We use to go to a couple of highly specialized shops that were able to import and resell one or two copies of some rare handbooks of a strange game that would otherwise not sell at all. Sometimes even the specialized shops did not manage to get the originals of some of those rare books. Therefore, some of the expansions were sold as photocopies.
Some other times there had been some guy somewhere who did have one copy bought in the US and he took the effort to make an UNofficial translation and TYPEWRITE it in italian. Photocopies of this "product" was all that was circulating.

I am not talking or caring of copyright or "pirate" issues here. We were not "avoiding" the original stuff: if anybody would have told us that the stuff we wanted was actually available in its original format, we would have bought it. But it just wasn't available at all, and we wanted it. This kind of material was really close to impossible to get, with high costs, and all that us busy kids wanted was books with descriptions of imaginary fantasy worlds to place our characters in, and improvise and narrate our stories and saga's…

Also, all in paper format, what was circulating was a certain number of fanzines, also photocopies of an original, wonderful, "master copy" that someone had made with a typewriter and sticking pictures with glue on the paper. Desktop publishing was not that common nor easy yet. But the layout is not really what interested me, it was the CONTENT that was hard to spread.

At one stage, the thing improved slightly: I finally managed to convince my parents that I was allowed to get a modem, so I started using it to connect to various BBS. A couple of those BBS of the time were related to RPGs or had a related discussion area. I was interested in technology and in knowing how it was doing its magic, but most of all I was also pretty excited at the possibilities I saw for the technology as an enabler in connecting people. Just like I am now.
I have met some good friends on BBS's at that time. I'm still in contact with some of them, I've lost some other ones, like it happens in life anyway. But the possibility was showing quite clearly: those BBS were mostly text-based, with high connection costs (in italy were you pay every call, also local ones, per minute)… even in those circumstances they were managing to aggregate some people and were used as vehicles to spread the knowledge.
In Italy, thought, they were mostly local. International calls were prohibitively expensive. Of course we did hear of what happened to similar BBS in the US.

In fact, after pencil and paper, through a typewriter, the revolution started there: being able to type stuff on a computer and pass your file over to someone else made it easier for it to spread. But again, I am not talking about copyrighted material. I am mostly talking about self-produced material. I still remember I had troubles with digitalizing maps because I did not own a scanner… on some of the BBS people were sharing their works, and you could find good adventures and extra stuff on them. I also got to publish somewhere a couple of those I had written, and they even made it on a fanzine first, and then on a real magazine.

At one stage, though, I really got distracted. I probably thought I was "big enough", or I got too interested in the "serious" computing business, or I was too busy with other stuff. Probably a combination of many factors. So I sort of abandoned playing for a long time.

Now, looking back at that world, more than a decade later, I can see how it all changed: you go to the Internet, use any search engine and find dozen if not hundred of sites with forums, people playing online using Live Messenger, people sharing their adventures or their stories of the adventures they have played, other sites that collect all of the covers and information about all the booklets and manuals ever existed for any possible version of any game. Even the vendors are giving out stuff to play for free.

PCs and the Internet DID change the world, if anyone was still doubting. And yes, Role Playing Games and computing ARE related interests.

The world changed, yet it stayed the same: you still play those games with people, with the help of your imagination. It's the resources that are now at your fingertips.

It's nice to see things called by their real name

Facebook Terms of Service state that it is forbidden to "[…] use automated scripts to collect information from or otherwise interact with the Service or the Site […]"

For this reason, I had to pull down the code of the small application I had previously released, which was "logging" into the mobile web application "pretending" to be a mobile browser and change your status. Big deal!!!

I am quite sure there are a lot of people writing "official" applications (that is using the "platform API" and so on) that are collecting A LOT of information about users who install their applications. They are being sent the info about the visitors by facebook, they are storing them, they might do whatever they please with (study it, sell it to spammers, to marketers, to making-money-assholes) and nobody will ever notice because it is on their servers and nobody can check that.

But a script that changes your status from remote – since this is not a functionality they CHOSE to expose in their API – then THAT is a big issue. Doh!
It's just plain ridiculous, but that's it.

Sure, the terms of service for app developers say a bit more in this regard:

[…] 4) Except as provided in Section 2.A.6 below, you may not continue to use, and must immediately remove from any Facebook Platform Application and any Data Repository in your possession or under your control, any Facebook Properties not explicitly identified as being storable indefinitely in the Facebook Platform Documentation within 24 hours after the time at which you obtained the data, or such other time as Facebook may specify to you from time to time;

5) You may store and use indefinitely any Facebook Properties that are explicitly identified as being storable indefinitely in the Facebook Platform Documentation; provided, however, that except as provided in Section 2.A.6 below, you may not continue to use, and must immediately remove from any Facebook Platform Application and any Data Repository in your possession or under your control, any such Facebook Properties: (a) if Facebook ceases to explicitly identify the same as being storable indefinitely in the Facebook Platform Documentation; (b) upon notice from Facebook (including if we notify you that a particular Facebook User has requested that their information be made inaccessible to that Facebook Platform Application); or (c) upon any termination of this Agreement or of your use of or participation in Facebook Platform;
[…] You will not directly or indirectly sell, export, re-export, transfer, divert, or otherwise dispose of any Facebook Properties to any country (or national thereof) without obtaining any required prior authorizations from the appropriate government authorities;

Are we sure everybody is playing by these rules, when every facebook "application" really runs on the developer'server ? How do you know that they are really storing only what you want them to store, and deleting what you want them to delete ? Everybody knows how difficult it is to really "delete" digital content once it has come into existance… who knows how many copies of this database/social graph are floating around ?

Of course that is not an issue because people don't talk about it enough. But a script that changes your status – now, THAT is a very terrible thing.

I just don't get this "politically correctness". It must be me.

Oh, no… look! It's not only me!
I had read this post of Dare, but I problably had overlooked the last bit of it…. because he did point out this Hypocrisy going on:

[…] Or (5) the information returned by FQL about a user contains no contact information (no email address, no IM screen names, no telephone numbers, no street address) so it is pretty useless as a way to utilize one’s friends list with applications besides Facebook since there is no way to cross-reference your friends using any personally identifiable association that would exist in another service.

When it comes to contact lists (i.e. the social graph), Facebook is a roach motel. Lots of information about user relationships goes in but there’s no way for users or applications to get it out easily. Whenever an application like FacebookSync comes along which helps users do this, it is quickly shut down for violating their Terms of Use. Hypocrisy? Indeed.

He then insists in a more recent post in calling things by their name:

[…] I will point out that 9 times out of 10 when you hear geeks talking about social network portability or similar buzzwords they are really talking about sending people spam because someone they know joined some social networking site. I also wonder how many people realize that these fly-by-night social networking sites that they happily hand over their log-in credentials to so they can spam their friends also share the list of email addresses thus obtained with services that resell to spammers?
[…] how do you prevent badly behaved applications like Quechup from taking control away from your users? At the end of the day your users might end up thinking you sold their email addresses to spammers when in truth it was the insecure practices of the people who they’d shared their email addresses with that got them in that mess. This is one of the few reasons I can understand why Facebook takes such a hypocritical approach. 🙂

Thanks, Dare, for mentioning Hypocrisy. Thanks for calling things by their name. I do understand their approach, I just don't agree with it.

I did pull my small application off the Internet because I have a family to mantain and I don't want to have legal troubles with Facebook. Sorry to all those that found it handy. No, I cannot even give that to you per email. It's gone. I am sorry. For the freedom of speech, especially, I am sorry.

I will change my status more often on Twitter.

43things Facebook app

WOW I already have 13 (thirteen) users for my Facebook application showing your goals pulled from 43things!

Sure, gapingvoid has got 700+ users in 3 days, I know. But hey, he's famous, and I don't see the point of cluttering my already busy Facebook profile with a cartoon. I do read him and generally like his cartoons, and I am in the "friends of the blue monster" group (so to say I like him).

But I prefer reading him in my "normal" aggregator.

I think Facebook apps should rather "inject social objects" (where did I read this definition? sorry I cant recall it or I would appropiately link to you… I swear).

There are of course other similar applications that just pull comics in your profile (like Dilbert, Garfield, etc) but again – I think this is all stuff that YOU are interested in, and thus should just go into your aggregator – so YOU can read it; on the opposite your profile in Facebook should talk about YOU and things YOU are doing, for example. Occasionally they can be YOUR posts or they can even be someone else's posts that you read and want to share/let other people see (that's why I pull in my Google Reader's shared items for example – things I read and want you too to see). If this includes importing other social objects/information from other social networks, like the music you are listening to on last.FM, or the photos you published on Flickr, then it is fine. That's why I wrote an app that shows the things you want to do, pulled in from 43things.com and one that shows the places you want to visit pulled in from 43places.com. Because I felt those social objects from another network were missing. In fact a user commented "[…] Glad someone finally took a step forward to create this, though 🙂 […]".

But of course what I wrote about which kind of applications you should or shouldn't have in your profile, remember that this is just my personal opinion rant, and everybody is free to put whatever stuff he/she likes onto his/her profile, in the end 🙂

My lost Facebook Appz! doh!

I am just figuring out that on this post of the 26th of July I mentioned I was trying to write a simple facebook application. I am not realizing I never wrote anything about it anymore. I did not spend a lot of time figuring out all the possibilities, and indeed I have not looked into it anymore since then, but that very night I did write something. Not just one application, but TWO (copycat) very simple applications: my43places and my43things, that pull into your profile the data about the things you want to do you entered in 43things.com and the places you want to visit you entered in 43places.com, respectively.

They are very simple: you enter your user name and they connect to their REST web service, extract the information about your places and/or goals, and show them as a list in a box in your profile.

I don't know why I did not blog about them before… maybe I thought they were too simple ? Well, they are, but, seriously: who cares? 🙂

Facebook Mobile is not working for Italy

Facebook Mobile is not working for Italy

Facebook mobile is not working from mobile operators not in the US, I suppose.
I can't even log on to m.facebook.com with my WIndows Mobile SmartPhone.
I can't send status updates through SMS.

I can't even send them by mail, or I get the following back:

Facebook Mobile is not working for Italy

So, now, I am updating Twitter.
Twitter can be updated with an SMS even from Europe. Or it can be updated with a bot running GTalk. Very easy, can do it from everywhere.

I then wrote a small command line application (based on the same "hack" as the one described before) that runs every five minutes from the scheduler on my server and keeps the two in sync.

I wrote it in C# as a Console application because that's usually what I do when I want it to run it both on my windows machines and/or on my Linux server (with MONO). I already used this approach in the past and I found it to be successful. As long as you keep the application simple enough and check out the documentation for the implemented classes on mono, it runs without modification both on windows on the "real" .Net framework and on Mono on Linux. i just copy the executable and I am ready to go.
Not this time, though.
I am hitting what seems to be a bug in mono. I might be able to find a workaround, but I haven't had the time to dig in the issue yet.
I posted some info about this on this forum.

Updated RSS Feed for this blog

I got tired of using FeedBurner, really. So I made a much more flexible and "Complete" integrated feed that includes posts on this blog, my photos on Flickr, my Status Changes on Facebook and Twitter. Please update your aggregator if you were using the old feed (which still works btw, but will keep having less information in it).

About Multiple Personalities

"[…] many of us are getting sick and tired of creating multiple user id's, checking messages on multiple inboxes and accepting the same 75 friends on 10 different social networks. For now here is my personal solution to the social networking problem – if you have my gmail address and my blog address, that is all that you need to reach me, read about me, see my pictures, date me, send me fan letters and/or harass me. […]" (exceprt from: http://www.anshublog.com/2007/08/identity-crisis-in-land-of-social.html)

lol! Anshu is so much right!!!! I agree with his conclusion 100%!!!!