June 2, 2000


Special Pre-China Issue

JOHO is going on a fact-finding trip to Hong Kong tomorrow and Beijing a few days later. We will be gone through June 15. So, do not be alarmed if your mail to me goes unanswered, although if you do not hear from me by the end of July, please lift all "Made in China" labels to look for desperate scratched-in pleas. Thank you.

(Actually, no facts will be disturbed on this trip. I'm speaking to a covey of Radisson hotel folks and then doing the tourist thang.)

By the way, the current issue of InformationWeek has a column of mine in it:


In fact, I run a list of what I've published where, including speaking engagements and radio stuff:



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The wireless return to earth
(Bonus: Nano-Groups!)

I've been slow to care about wireless technology since it would require me knowing something about "telephony," which to me is a description of the merchandisers who call out of the blue and act like they care about you. Yes, of course one day wires will be replaced by antennas. Yes of course computers will become ubiquitous. Yes of course Meg Ryan will be perky until she's 85 and there isn't a person left on the planet who can stand her. It's inevitable and thus boring.

So I've been rather slow (a nice way of saying stupid) about realizing that the wireless web provides two excellent examples of history's preference for paradoxes.

First, once we are untethered from the earth, computing will become much more earth-bound. Our portable devices will, as everyone knows, know where we are. And local servers will broadcast information locally. The paradigmatic example is the PDA that receives information from the grocery while you're shopping and that can compare prices with what's available at other local grocery stores. Of course, this will do nothing but drive people to stay at home and shop off the Web, for who wants constantly to be faced with evidence of how much money you're wasting because you're unwilling to drive to six stores, stand on six lines, and deal with six baggers unfamiliar with the basic laws of tensile strength?

Naturally, the personalization folks are all a-twitter at the prospect, for they envision you picking a bag of sugar plums off of the shelf only to be wirelessly told that you can get ten cents off a package of pixie dust if you hurry to aisle 5. If the reminders and tips are accurate, it's hard to argue against them, although it still has the smack of manipulation because it's coming from the store's server and thus is an act of aggression. (It'd feel far different if the suggestions were coming from my peers, especially if I get to decide who my peers are.)

In fact, wirelessness will change the nature of peer groups. And this is the second paradox: the wireless web will encourage more social interaction, but among more transient groups — any set of people who have some reason to associate for whatever fleeting moment, ranging from people on a 14 day cruise to people waiting on line so long that they bond in their anger, not to mention the guests in a hotel, the people in a hardware store, everyone who's bought a 1973 Impala, the congregants planning on going to the church social, even the ultimate nano-group: your car and the one that just cut you off.

These groups will be able to communicate. But they won't just be talking. They'll only bother to jump onto the wireless web if there's some question to ask or an action to take. Nano-groups, enabled by the wireless web, will take on the characteristics of political action committees. Screw the Bastille, we'll storm the Boys Wear cashier at the local K-Mart.

Are these bad examples? Ok, then we — all of us — will come up with better ones. The wireless Web will know where we are and who we know nearby. That's powerful information and will provoke the seemingly endless ability of humans to find new ways to touch one another.

Cool Tool
For the Hyperlinked Organization

None. This is a short issue, remember? We're cutting time and passing the savings on to you. Take up a hobby! Kiss the kids! Enjoy!


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Links to love

Australian Ron points us to an article by Graydon Hoare at http://www.interlog.com/~gray/markup-abuse.html. Hoare tries to let some of the air out of the XML balloon by pointing out that XML by itself is no panacea. He punctures happy assumptions such as:

That once the DTD is written, the software somehow already exists to interpret the semantics

That as a result, the semantics can become much more complex without causing any trouble

And writes enjoyable sentences such as:

One need look no further than the RDF specification to see that we are heading down the same road conventional artificial intelligence experiments have taken us down in the past, only with slightly pointier brackets.

We covered some of the same territory two years ago in an article about the "balkanization" of standards (http://www.hyperorg.com/backissues/joho-june30-98.txt) but Hoare knows more about what he's talking about than I do.

TheSmokingGun.com, a site that deflates celebrity by means of a well-aimed scanner, is running the Williams-Sonoma wedding gift registry for handsome Newt Gingrich and his lovely soon-to-be Wife #3, Callista Bisek. I was unable to find the registry at www.williams-sonoma.com, presumably because Newt and Calli unlisted it after the item ran. As Scott McNealy once said about privacy: There is none; get over it. Or, as we say at JOHO: Privacy? There is none. But, please, do us all a favor and put on some clothes.

(Note to non-Americans. Newt Gingrich was a powerful, unforgiving, un-generous,. onomatopoeic politician. A gift registry is ... oh, to hell with it.)


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Email, Arbitrary Insults, and Suspicious Hacking Coughs


In the previous issue we mentioned a page (http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/stat/finalmeals.htm) that details the last meals of the minions the State of Texas has dispatched. Our question about the veracity of the site drew this from Circus Craig:

looks legit ... back up the URL, and you get to the home page:


...which, interestingly, gives a link to the site's Web Trends reports, for example:


too bad the report doesn't include referring URLs

It's just a matter of time until the Last Meal site is commercialized, with endorsements, coupons, and companies vying for product placements. The general rule: Life imitates bad Paddy Chayefsky scripts.

Ted Baldwin writes on the same topic:

What a fantastic resource! A little diligent research and cross referencing could show the trend of last meals versus criminal behavior. If we ask early on what a person might like for a last meal, we could then cross that against the actual requested last meals, and come up with an index of likely criminal behavior.

On the face of it, it appears that cheeseburgers and fries are leading indicators of death-penalty behaviors...

Wait! I have an idea! Suppose the meals correlate with socio-economic groups and that this has something to do with who kills and who gets the death penalty? Nah, that'd be too much of a coincidence...

Ken Lyon writes about our article on how the two great Web metaphors — places and documents — are intersecting.

In the 80's, when my group at P&G was trying to get our minds around "information management," we found it helpful to say that there are two kinds of information, "Information in Motion" and "Information at Rest." Those states seem to correspond nicely with the two states you describe.

One quibble: You say, "But a medium is that through which something travels..." That's only one of 11 definitions given in my dictionary. Three others:

1. One's environment; surrounding things, conditions or influences

2. The substance by which specimens are displayed or preserved

3. A nutritive substance containing protein, carbohydrates, salts, water, etc., either liquid or solidified through the addition of gelatin or agar agar, in or upon which microorganisms are grown for study.

These definitions would seem to apply pretty well to your description of Information as Building. The definition of medium as nutritive substance is particularly apt, I think.

Yup, closer. But, I think that when people talk about the Web as a medium, they picture it as something that spans the distance between people and through which we can send meanings like throwing a football ("Nice spiral on that meme, Clem!"). Of course, I actually have no idea what people picture when they talk about the Web as a medium, much less have some type of empirical research to back up my claims about what "most people" think. But, if you wanted facts, you'd be reading ... well, I don't know what you'd be reading, but it sure wouldn't be JOHO.

Finally, Australian Ron comments on our article (http://www.hyperorg.com/backissues/joho-may18-00.html#faith) that began by citing Arthur C. Clarke's statement that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic:

...Clarke more recently flogged the concept to death in his Rama series (not a bad read in any case. ... But one thing that did strike me ... was that what Clarke appears to be *really* saying when he flouts that aphorism is, "I don't believe in Magic." ...

fwiw, current topical variations on the theme include [Sufficiently advanced technology is]:

..indistinguishable from a rigged demo.


..indistinguishable from a perl script.

uh oh. do I sense a mini-contest here..

Sure, and you just won it. Thanks.

Remember, I may not be responding to your mail for the next couple of weeks, but I still love you all madly.

Editorial Lint

JOHO is a free, independent newsletter written and produced by David Weinberger. He denies responsibility for any errors or problems. If you write him with corrections or criticisms, it will probably turn out to have been your fault.

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