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Agent Based Modeling

And now for something completely different. I was reading this book: "It's Alive" over the weekend. Particularly of interest to me was all the discussion about so-called "Agent Based Modeling." Agent based modeling is a big word for simulations used generally to research and understand systems involving many independent agents.

They often have very cool visual displays where you can see, variously the agents traversing their space, growing, reproducing, exchanging, consuming, etc. There are lots and lots of cool examples of this.

I thought that there had to be some framework that someone developed to make it 'easier' to create these models, and indeed, I found what looks like a really good one: AScape or Agent Scape. Reading about it reveals that it is open source and that it has been used in many real projects that you might have heard of. It looks very cool and useful.

Anyway, more on this new hobby of mine later 🙂

What’s wrong with Feed Readers?

Here are two very interesting posts on the question of Feed Readers:

This is of more than passing interest to me of course, as it relates to the design of my Blog Reader: BlogBridge. Some of the ideas mentioned here are already planned for BlogBridge, but there are lots of good tidbits to insipre further work!

A new term: Blobjects

A very thought provoking speech by Bruce Sterling at SigGraph 2004. Recommended.

"When you shop for Amazon, you're already adding value to everything you look at on an Amazon screen. You don't get paid for it, but your shopping is unpaid work for them. Imagine this blown to huge proportions and attached to all your physical possessions. Whenever you use a spime, you're rubbing up against everybody else who has that same kind of spime. A spime is a users group first, and a physical object second."

BlogBridge Starz!

Finally. Ever since we started working on BlogBridge, I've been talking about helping a user slice and dice and sort through a ton of blogs and other channels, finding the good from the bad, the interesting from the boring.

Remember the catch phrase "… the ability to follow hundreds of blogs without loosing your mind " which is sprinkled all over our web site. In our next beta you will see the initial instantiation of this idea.

Channels (Blogs and other feeds) in BlogBridge are rated with from one to five stars(unique, isn't it?) These stars will tell you how interesting these Channels are to you.


The secret sauce is in how a certain Blog is rated with one or two or three or four or five starz. This aint AI folks! It's actually pretty simple and flexible.

For each Blog, BlogBridge figures out4 different metrics:

  • Importance. Using Technorati's API, we figure out how many inbound links there are, and use that as a proxy for importance.

  • Rating. There's a Thumbs Up/Thumbs down widget where the user can, Tivo-like, indicate subjectively how much they like the Blog

  • Keyword Hits. The user can, optionally, supply a global list of keywords that are important to them (for me, "Pito", "Salas", "BlogBridge", "eRoom", "Lotus"). This metric is simply counts the hits.

  • Activity. Using another web based service, we'll try to figure out how actively this Blog is updated.

Given these four metrics (so far, but more can easily be added) we come up with a number of stars to rate the blog. Of course the more advanced user can tweak the mix to get the Starz to reflect their own priorities, using this cool interface.

Click here to enlarge.

Given the Starz Rating on each Channel, there are lots of other interesting things we can do for the user. That 's for another time.

eBay to assist in setting BlogBridge Price

So, some day we will consider BlogBridge complete enough to actually be worth a few bucks. But the question is, how much? I've said many times, that even if every single cool idea I have is perfectly realized that the most one could expect is maybe $20 or $30 per copy. But even that is a lot.

So, here's a thought. Let the market decide.

What we plan to do is to offer a limited number(say 10) of perpetual BlogBridge licenses on eBay with an opening bid of $1 and no reserve. And see what happens. Depending on how it goes we could offer twice that number of licenses an opening bid equal to the average price the first batch went for. And so on.

Cool idea , eh?

By the way, David Coursey's recent Blog entry is titled: "Marketplace to gets to set MS Prices" When I saw that I thought David had to be writing about this idea , but upon more reflection anyone would realize that this is something that MS would never do!

In fact this idea is inspired by what Sun did recently, which was to use eBay to determine the right price for their hardware/software developer package, which I thought was a pretty cool idea. Credit where credit is due.

XP SP2 Makes a Hash Of It

As you know, I am quite impressed with Microsoft's ability to build and ship and deploy and sell and support software at an absolutely mass scale.

Yet, on my second XP SP2 installation, it totally destroyed and hosed my computer. It took a superhuman effort (with Google and MSDN help) to recover it.

Briefly, here's what happened:

The computer being upgraded (a 4 year old Dell running XP with .5 Gig of Memory and 40 G of Disk) lost connectivity to the server that had the upgrade pack on it (due to a wire being unplugged - duh.) This aborted the upgrade, and which caused the upgrade to try to unwind itself.

Up to a point when one of those famous "about to install unsigned software, do you want to proceed " messages that I love so much came up, quite unexpectedly. Being suspicious of what might be going on, I said "no." Everything seemed fine.

Later on, when I tried to reboot, it failed, hard.

Over and over again, blue screen of death! Booting from floppies didn't work. Booting from CDs didn't work. Booting to DOS worked, but when I tried to look at the C: drive it said that it wasn't there.

Anyway, long story short , after a bit of searching I found that I was not the only one. And Microsoft, God Bless em, had a technote that took me through a tortured process of cutting 8 floppies, booting of of them into the "Recovery Console", lighting some incese, and following a bunch of steps. And yes, I am back up again,without SP2 installed.

So I guess this is the exception that proves the rule.

XP SP2 Shows Why Microsoft Is A Great Company

I've said (and believe) that there's no other company on earth that has the capability to develop, debug, beta test, deliver software on a massive scale like Microsoft.

The number of configurations (both legal and illegal) of hardware, system sofyware, application software, languages, etc that XP has to be tested against totally boggles the mind.

I truly believe that not IBM, Apple, BEA, Oracle or any of them have the capability to do this at the scale Microsoft does it.

This at some level is a key competitive advantage and provides them the monopoly lock-in that they enjoy. So when that capability ceases to be a competitve advantage is when their monopoly will start eroding.

So let your imagination run free : if all software becomes centralized on servvers, if massive scale software like XP becomes obsolete, when all hardware becomes so cheap that you just throw it out instead of upgrading it, maybe then Microsoft might loose their lock-in.

Not before.

BlogBridge Beta 3

We just put up BlogBridge Beta 3. Check it out. It's got many neat new features, most particularly the BlogBridge Service which I wrote about recently.

Here are the key links of interest :

BlogBridge has reached the functionality now that it is my main Blog Reader. It's more buggy than I would like , but that's the nature of a beta, I guess.

Finally the foundation is there for us to build some of the neat new ideas we've been talking about, like " Show only good articles". Hmmmm. Clever trick!

And let me know what you think!