Deja Users Whine Over Google Acquisition

Many years ago, Deja News began archiving all Usenet feeds and making its archive publicly available. Back when Deja first started there was a lot of hype about how valuable owning a complete archive of Usenet would be. In fact Deja was just one of several companies who were talking about building a business on top of Usenet.

To my knowledge Deja never came close to being profitable even though it tried every idea under the sun to turn a profit (they certainly deserve an A for effort). It looked like Deja was going to go under and take their Usenet database with them, when Google announced they were purchasing the Usenet database.

That sounded like a perfect arrangement to me. Unfortunately, a lot of Deja users are whining because Google took part of the Deja archive offline for awhile to better integrate the Usenet archive with Google’s other services. A typical comment is from Deja user Frank Davies,

I used Deja three or more times a day. I’m enraged that it has been taken from me. It’s as if a private firm bought and then closed down all of Manhattan’s public libraries for a few months simply because they wanted to rearrange the bookshelves.

Give me a break. As someone on Slashdot added, maybe he should sue and demand his money back!

Since all Usenet posts are available publicly, there is nothing stopping anyone who wants to create their own searchable archive from doing so, and anybody paying attention would have seen the writing on the wall months ago that Deja’s archive was in serious trouble. For these people to whine that Deja and/or Google owes them something — especially the source code Deja uses for searching Usenet — is ludicrous.

Davies claims that, “We simply cannot lose access to the collected wisdom that is contained in Usenet. It’s an important piece of history that must be preserved.” Well, okay, lets see him put up the money needed to maintain such an archive. The bottom line is that doing so is simply not cheap and rather than blasting Google for coming to Deja’s rescue, they should be glad that somebody’s willing to take a risk of putting up real money for the archive.

BBC Profiles An Opponent of Female Genital Mutilation

The BBC recently ran a profile of Amna Badri, a campaigner against female genital mutilation who herself was a victim of the practice at the age of six in Sudan.

Badri describes her own experience when she and her sister, then only five, were circumcised. Badri and her sister underwent the mildest form of female circumcision in which a part of the clitoris is removed. She describes how she and her sister were teased by other girls who had undergone what is called phoronic circumcision — the clitoris is completely removed and the outer lips of the vagina are sown shut so that only a small area for urination and menstruation is left open.

Badri told the BBC that friends who underwent phoronic circumcision experienced many health problems in later years, as can be imagined, but that for the most part they still supported the procedure,

They had complications starting from when they started their periods. They had a lot of pain because the blood can’t easily get out, also a lot of them had continual abscesses. The most complicated situation is childbirth because they have to be cut open and then they insist on being re-circumcised, stitched up again.

Badri left Sudan to become a political refugee, with her family, in Great Britain in 1997. The BBC reports that she now works with organizations to help women who have been circumcised take advantage of health services, as well as efforts to convince women in Great Britain — where FGM is illegal — not to take their young daughters back to Sudan for the procedure.


Circumcision: One woman’s story. Cindi John, The BBC, February 18, 2001.

Concept Maps Are Confusing

An Associated Press story about concept mapping is making the rounds and getting a lot of attention from the usual suspects. The story discusses work at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition designed to find a better way to browse information on the web.

IHMC associate director Alberto Canas wants to know, “Why should we organize it as pages? There’s no reason. It’s just that we’re used to it.” He thinks it would be much easier to browse concept maps that provide a graphic representation of a subject and all its related subjects.

I think Canas is on the wrong track. Concept mapping or mind mapping or whatever you want to call it is an excellent way to brainstorm or for individuals or groups to begin to find ways to organize information they already have, but for general use concept maps are extremely confusing and almost useless in my experience as everyday navigation tools.

One of the existing concept maps the Associated Press mentions, for example, is NASA’s concept map for its Center for Mars Exploration, which nicely illustrates everything that is wrong with concept maps.

If I’m a science teacher wanting to organize my thoughts about all of the issues surrounding a Mars expedition for a class unit, constructing a concept map like that is probably a pretty good way to lay out the various things I might want to cover. But if I’m a reader who knows little about Mars exploration, this gives me way too much information.

More importantly the concept maps don’t do a good job of providing proper context for information. I have no idea how important any given choice on the map is nor how relevant it is likely to be to any specific questions I have (unless I happen to view the world in precisely the same way that the person who put together that map does).

On the other hand, compare that to the front page of The Whole Mars Catalog. I’m not sure that the simple list of links is all that more helpful, but it provides essentially the same ultimate navigational tools without being completely overwhelming with arrows pointing everywhere.

I seriously doubt that concept maps will ever be widely used for web navigation.

Jimmy Carter on the Mark Rich Pardon

Most of the Democrats on the weekend news shows were taking the line that Bill Clinton’s pardon of Mark Rich was deplorable but there was no evidence that Clinton pardoned Rich because of campaign contributions he received from Denise Rich.

Former President Jimmy Carter disagrees, telling the Associated Press, “I don’t think there is any doubt that some of the factors in his pardon were attributable to his large gifts. In my opinion, that was disgraceful.”

Way back in 1992, Clinton promised that his time in office would represent “the most ethical administration history.” The one thing I would really like to see a reporter ask Clinton point blank is whether he believes he achieved that goal (and I suspect that despite everything he would answer in the affirmative).

Researchers Find Mice Bone Marrow Cells Can Transform into Neurons

Researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke published an article in Science in December 2000 reporting on a very surprising finding — bone marrow injected into mice were able to transform themselves into brain cells.

Bone marrow consists of a couple of different types of stem cells which are the source of blood cells in the body. Scientists knew that neural stem cells can transform themselves into muscle, but the accidental discovery that bone marrow stem cells can transform into neurons was a major surprise.

In fact the researchers weren’t even investigating that possibility in their initial experiments. They had injected mice with a genetically altered form of bone marrow that contained a gene that made the stem cells glow in the dark. The researchers were investigating whether or not the stem cells would convert themselves to muscle cells in the mice.

When they performed the dissection of the mice, however, they were surprised to find the animals’ brains contained neurons that now glowed in the dark. Several other experiments, some involving a second laboratory, were done to confirm that in fact the bone marrow was replacing neurons.

Helen M. Blau, senior author of the Science article, told the Associated Press that, “It may be a repair mechanism that is going all the time at a low level.” The bone marrow probably doesn’t work at a high enough level to repair serious brain damage or disease, but it may be on ongoing way that the body replace dying or defective neurons.

A lot more research will need to be done to better understand what is going on here, and this may never lead directly to any treatment for neurological disorders, but it does add an important piece of the puzzle on how adult stem cells can differentiate into a wide variety of other cells which is of great importance in many current efforts to find treatments for Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injuries, and a whole host of other ailments.


Mice marrow can net neurons. Associated Press, December 1, 2000.

Josh Harper Finally Testifies

On February 8 animal rights activist Josh Harper finally testified before a federal grand jury about what he knows about the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front.

Harper was supposed to testify before the grand jury last year, but instead spent four months as a fugitive attempting to avoid testifying. Charged with criminal contempt, he was arrested in September 2000 and is scheduled to go on trial March 6 on the contempt charge.

Hoping to avoid prosecution, Harper cut a deal with federal authorities in which he agreed to submit to questioning by the grand jury. According to The Oregonian, after testifying Harper said that he was asked about a number of ALF/ELF crimes going back to 1997 and that he invoked his rights under the Fifth Amendment several times to avoid answering questions.


Panel questions anarchist sought in eco-terrorist case. Bryan Denson, The Oregonian, February 9, 2001.