More destruction: Shredding the Futon

August 23, 2007 at 12:22 am | Posted in Austria | 3 Comments
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Yesterday I tore apart an entire bloody futon with a Korean kitchen knife (which worked excellently, thanks to the Austrio-Koreans!) and managed to squeeze the debris in three separate trash bags. Recycling in Austria is an often chosen essay topic for learners of German in London, I was told, and they do indeed go to great lengths when it comes to recycling here in Austria.

I used to have brown paper bags for organic waste which were collected weekly, yellow ones for packaging (excluding metal, collected every fortnight) and black ones for all the rest (collected every fortnight). Paper, metal and glass you have to take to a public garbage skip yourself.

For your garbage taxes you get six yellow bags which are always free, and three black 60l bags a year, and if you need more of those you have to pay for each of them (for the paper bags you have to pay anyway). I actually never used my black bags, and instead disposed of my ‘residual garbage’ (Restmüll) at work. There was no communal garbage collecting place in the house in which I lived, so the garbage (also the organic one!) would have had to live with me for one or two weeks. Right.

So now I had a total of twelve black bags on my hands – for 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 – and it looks as if I am going to need ALL of them. You may stick ANYTHING into these bags for as long as you manage to squeeze it in. And as I would have had to pay a whopping € 21,00 for any cubic meter of garbage that I brought to the municipality’s garbage dump myself (does not seem to make sense, does it?), I thought I better put my black bags to some use. Hence the futon had to be shredded.

Btw, if you have ever tried to carry a futon someplace, then you will now it feels like it is filled with mud. Trying carrying around a wet mud mattress for a while – it’s impossible. I used to think that it is the cotton that makes it so soggy – now I know better. A futon’s innards consist of both cotton AND rubber. Mine had an approximately 5 cm thick rubber mattress that looked like an oatcake and was the wobbliest thing I have ever tried to lift – so _that’s_ where the muddy texture comes from. And this precise rubbery thing is wedged between layers and layers of natural cotton – which is fun to tear apart, only that you end up looking teared and feathered, as the cotton rubs off easily. And you breathe it, too, which was not so agreeable.

I tried recycling some of the rubber and cotton myself and use it as a cleaning cloth, e.g. for windows and floors. Not recommended. If you ever cut up your futon, just throw its content away as is.

Boosting Your Blog Traffic, pt. 3: A Little Help From Stumbleupon

May 15, 2007 at 6:21 pm | Posted in Blogging, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment
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Not that the world’s been waiting for it, but at last, here is a brief review of my experience with Stumble upon. When my boyfriend introduced me to Stumbleupon about a year ago and after I had played with it for while, it made me realize (maybe wrongly) that the web for the first time could really be something like the new television – a medium that simultaneously instills a lean-forward AND a lean-backword attitude in the viewer.

Leaning back had in the past been particularly difficult with the world wide web. Of course you have youtube, dailymotion and Google video, which is more or less the illustrated audio track of TV crammed into the resolution of a 600 by 800 screen, and with a crappy image quality. And that’s precisely the problem about this approach to web TV.

The approach Stumbleupon takes is different. It is a listing of many different ‘interesting’ (as judged by the users) web sites, but instead of having to go through these listings, you can simply specify what your interests are ONCE, and then (and after installing the Stumbleupon bar of course) you can just lean back and enjoy. Well, almost. You still have to click the ‘Stumble’ button of you want a new suggestion, and sometimes pages don’t load promptly. But it’s still the best lean-back experience I’ve had with the web so far.

The suggestions are user-submitted and, similarly to digg.com, users can decide whether they like a website or not. I use Stumbleupon mainly for a little diversion, and my preferred sites offer optical illusions or games. I hadn’t even thought of using it for News and Politics, although it offers a much wider variety of categories in comparison to digg.com.

When, however, one of my own blog posts attracted the insane traffic of over 1,500 on the day of the French elections (because the title sounded as though it offered the results of the elections – unfortunately it only covered the first round of the voting), a few souls also clicked the ‘End Guantanamo’ banner in my sidebar. One of these kind souls submitted it to Stumbleupon, with more than 180 hits coming in in the first night. Numbers have since then dwindled to about 3 to 5 visitors a day from Stumble upon. I suppose that, when a page gets first submitted, Stumbleupon sends it to the screens of a relatively higher number of users in order to have a base according to which to assess the site.

So this has, of course, not been a major breakthrough in blog advertising, but I am happy if just one or two of these 200something visitors downloaded or forwarded the logo. I know that conversion rates (i.e. the amount of people who visited your site AND took the encouraged action, in our case: downloaded or printed or forwarded the logo) for such scenarios are very low: 1% would be a good result.

And I am actually happier about those 234 recent visitors to the End Guantanamo site than I am about the more than 1000 that were misdirected to the French elections page. I am investing my hopes in those tiny steps that might make a difference…

P.S. The one thing that I am not so fond of regarding Stumbleupon is that you can also (and of course – this is capitalism, attention is being marketed) buy screen space from them. They have a kinder word for it: Create a campaign, and once you start this process it takes a few more screens and steps until you realize that this will cost you $0.05 per visitor. I wonder how this interferes with the quality of their site listings – for the moment they should be fine, but once the subjective content to advertising ratio (as judged by the users) is suffering, they’re in trouble (and rightly so:-).

In other words: I those 234 hits that my blog received via Stumbleupon, had been generated as the result of a ‘campaign’, it would already have cost me $11,70. Interesting, isn’t it? Attention is an expensive commodity. If each hit my blog has received so far had been worth 5 cents, I would already have earned $850.

This post is part of a series: Here is part 1, and here part 2.

The Semantic Web 35/40

April 3, 2007 at 6:28 am | Posted in Web 2.0 | 1 Comment
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I’m in the process of adding a Semantic Web paragraph to the paper I’m revising at the moment. Here are some basic definitions that are useful to everyone on the web (who cares just a little about the technology he is using):

The Semantic Web is a web of data. There is lots of data we all use every day, and its not part of the web. I can see my bank statements on the web, and my photographs, and I can see my appointments in a calendar. But can I see my photos in a calendar to see what I was doing when I took them? Can I see bank statement lines in a calendar?

Why not? Because we don’t have a web of data. Because data is controlled by applications, and each application keeps it to itself.

The Semantic Web is about two things. It is about common formats for integration and combination of data drawn from diverse sources, where on the original Web mainly concentrated on the interchange of documents. It is also about language for recording how the data relates to real world objects. That allows a person, or a machine, to start off in one database, and then move through an unending set of databases which are connected not by wires but by being about the same thing.

[Source: Semantic Web by Ivan Herman for the World Wide Web Consortium]

The Semantic Web will bring structure to the meaningful content of Web pages, creating an environment where software agents roaming from page to page can readily carry out sophisticated tasks for users. [..]

The Semantic Web is not a separate Web but an extension of the current one, in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation. [..]

For the semantic web to function, computers must have access to structured collections of information and sets of inference rules that they can use to conduct automated reasoning. Artificial-intelligence researchers have studied such systems since long before the Web was developed. Knowledge representation, as this technology is often called, is currently in a state comparable to that of hypertext before the advent of the Web: it is clearly a good idea, and some very nice demonstrations exist, but it has not yet changed the world. It contains the seeds of important applications, but to realize its full potential it must be linked into a single global system. [..]

Adding logic to the Web—the means to use rules to make inferences, choose courses of action and answer questions—is the task before the Semantic Web community at the moment. A mixture of mathematical and engineering decisions complicate this task. The logic must be powerful enough to describe complex properties of objects but not so powerful that agents can be tricked by being asked to consider a paradox. Fortunately, a large majority of the information we want to express is along the lines of “a hex-head bolt is a type of machine bolt,” which is readily written in existing languages with a little extra vocabulary. [..]

The Semantic Web will enable machines to COMPREHEND semantic documents and data, not human speech and writings. [..]

The Semantic Web, in naming every concept simply by a URI, lets anyone express new concepts that they invent with minimal effort. Its unifying logical language will enable these concepts to be progressively linked into a universal Web. This structure will open up the knowledge and workings of humankind to meaningful analysis by software agents, providing a new class of tools by which we can live, work and learn together.

[Source: “The Semantic Web. A new form of Web content that is meaningful to computers will unleash a revolution of new possibilities“.
By Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler and Ora Lassila. Scientific American, May 2001.]

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