March 15, 2002
The End Is Nearing (or March for Your Rights!):
So much bad legislation, so little time.
It's a Small Pieces World After All
My book (www.smallpieces.com) is due out on March 26, making it quite pre-orderable. I can tell the time is approaching because my pre-pub depression is deepening as I mentally compose the scathing reviews that are about to be unleashed. I mean, it's one thing to attack my style, my optimism so blind that it's coextensive with stupidity, and my dumbing down of thoughts already familiar, but those comments on my mother are really over the line.
FastCompany ran an interview with me by Keith Hammonds in which I manage
to say a whole bunch of pretentious things: http://www.fastcompany.com/online/56/internet101.html
FWIW, a couple of days ago, the book broke the 300 mark at Amazon. That's a good thing. Now it's dropping back to its natural and deserved pre-pub depths.
In my never ending quest to waste my time, I've written a utility for your Oscars party. People enter guesses about who'll win in the various categories and then, as you click on the actual winners, it totals the score. (This would have been easy for someone else to do with a spreadsheet, but my irrational fear of numbers causes my hands to tremble past the point of typing whenever one of the beasts crawls across my desktop.)
This is beta software! If you'd like to try it, you can download a zipped file here. It's about 800K, almost all of which is the Visual Basic DLL. (To uninstall it, you just erase the files you installed.)
Price of Admission: Your soul. (I.e., it's freeware for Windows users.)
It's a JOHO World After All
Click here if you want to listen to my commentary the other night on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" on weblogs' effect on journalism. (You'll need the Real player to listen.)
I wrote a whole lot
of coverage of the TED conference here:
And I also wrote
up the Instant Messaging Conference in Boston:
The venal, frightened a-holes we call U.S. congresspeople are getting close to enacting legislation that will effectively kill the sharing of creative works, and will hamstring the US computer industry for that matter. The Security Systems Standards and Certification Act is Fritz Hollings' extremist response to the entertainment industry's demand to have their stranglehold on creativity backed by law and hardware. As Hiawatha Bray of the Boston Globe writes:
Read it and gasp: "It is unlawful to manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide or otherwise traffic in any interactive digital device that does not include and utilize certified security technologies."
This proposed law got derailed by public opinion in December. The addresses and phone numbers of the members of the Senate Commerce Committee are here. You can send an email to Hollings via a Web form here.
I like Doc Searls's idea of marching on Washington. And I think there's something mythopoeically correct in Greg Cavanagh's suggestion that marching is so old world: Let's instead shut down the Internet for a day. Now, there are problems with that idea, including the fact that it's not just the US's Internet. But surely the intelligent and creative readers of this 'zine (and you know who you are) can come up with something. Anything. Please.
Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury News has an excellent call to arms now that the Supremes have agreed to hear the Eldred v. Ashcroft case that will determine if copyright is intended to establish a marketplace of ideas or lock ideas away until DisneyCo decides it's time to thaw Walt. This is serious, despite the fact that the law that needs to be overturned is the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act.
You know what? The Tauzin-Dingell Bell sucks also. You can read about it at Dean Landsman's site: http://radio.weblogs.com/0102551/2002/03/11.html. Here's what Bruce Kushnick, telecom Guru, says:
This bill gives the Bells more money, more power, less scrutiny, and even provides protection from investigations. The proposed bill would block competitors from using the networks, will raise customer Internet rates, and it doesn't address or fix any of the current DSL or competitor issues. Congress should not even consider this bill until the current problems, caused by the Bell companies, have been fixed.
If you want to see how your CongressWretch voted, and how much money s/he took from the telecom industry, go to http://newnetworks.com/houseforsale.html
You want some good news? Sorry, how about another bowl of CrapFlakes instead?
Check out the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel's report here: http://www.loc.gov/copyright/carp/webcasting_rates.html. CARP requires Internet radio broadcasters to pay fees that commercial airwave broadcasters don't have to.
Continuing the Bad News From Everywhere, David Isenberg forwards this from Benton.org, a non- profit devoted to gaining social benefit from communications technology:
Bush abandons national strategy to bridge the digital divide.
After a year of public speculation over whether the White House was committed to expanding Internet access and skills to all of America's citizens, the administration has finally broken its silence. In its FY 2003 budget, the White House stripped over $100 million in public investments previously available for community technology grants and IT training programs—programs that offer real payoffs to rural communities, the working poor, minorities and children.
(For more infopinion(tm), see the article in the previous issue of JOHO and a piece called "The Paradox of the Best Network" that Isenberg and I wrote. )
This is what I remember saying to a session on March 9, '02 at the Eastern Sociological Society meeting. And, yes, I'm aware of the irony of putting this article immediately after the one before it.
I was an academic philosophy professor up until about 17 years ago and I've spent the intervening time doing my best to learn how to think sloppily. What I'm about to say is an example. And, by the way, I conflate the "Web" and the "Internet" because that's what the vast majority of users do.
I'm not defining a utopia as a perfect place. Rather, it's a place with a particular nature. Humans also have a nature. That's probably a terrible thing to say at a sociology meeting, but I mean simply that — whether it's socially conditioned or not — there are characteristics that make us humans. So, just go along with me for now. A utopia is a place whose properties enable us to perfect our human nature.
Now, I don't mean that we become perfect in a utopia. That's not possible. We're humans. We're imperfect. That's why we're not gods. Besides, imperfection is the only thing that makes life interesting. Perfection is homogenizing, at least according to the tradition. Imperfection is where all the fun and interest is. It's a bit like the fact that the price of free will is the existence of evil in the world: the price of the world being interesting is that we are imperfect creatures.
So, what I want to argue is that the characteristics of a utopia that enable us to imperfectly perfect our imperfect human nature are properties the Web has.
First, utopias are always new starts, a fresh page. The Web is definitely new and a fresh page.
Second, a utopia is a place and so is the Web. In fact it's a world. It is not a medium. A medium is something we send messages through, and while we can do that with the Web, I believe — and the fact that I believe it should definitely be enough to establish it as a fact ;) — that the excitement about the Web hasn't happened because it's a messaging medium. Rather, our language says that we move through the Web. We, not our messages. This is very weird. While the Web consists of pages, we go to them, enter them and leave them. We don't do that with real world pages or documents. We experience the Web as a navigable space.
This Web place has certain characteristics.
1. It's persistent. That's one reason we experience it as a place. Sure, sites go up and down, but there is a basic persistence to it, unlike other instantaneous media such as telephones and ham radio.
2. It's conversational. It's not really primarily about companies marketing crap to us. The excitement of the Web has something to do with the fact that we're connecting with one another by the most basic social act: talking.
3. It's hyperlinked. The Web wouldn't be a web if the pages weren't linked. But every hyperlink is an expression of interest. I link to your page because I think my visitors might find your page enlightening or amusingly wrong. The real world is shaped by a geography of rocks and water. The Web geography is shaped by links of human interest and conversation.
Compare this to the real world w're born into. None of us asked to be born. Even if G-d gave us the world as a gift, it's still the given, the datum. And fundamentally this world is indifferent to us. We get buried in it, our atoms dissolve, and the worms are happy and the atoms don't care. We make of this world what we will, but it's damn hard. You can't move the mountains and it takes a lot to make the desert bloom. It fundamentally isn't our world.
But the Web is a world that we're making for ourselves. And we're doing so by connecting to one another in conversation and by linking to one another out of human passion and caring.
I can't defend the following so I'll just state it: we humans are at our best when we are involved with others. We are at our best when we are social and connected. The Web is a world that is profoundly social. Its geography itself is social, a map of connections and passions. It is thus a world that we've made for ourselves that is a reflection of our best nature and a place where can imperfectly perfect our imperfect natures.
...Like Dan Bricklin
Dan Bricklin not too long ago sent me a friendly note that ended by suggesting that I help readers skim my articles by using typography to flag the most important ideas. Dan is one of the computing industry's Good Guys: brilliant, thoughtful, innovative, ethical, human. And I can feel the pain behind his message. He's staring at the endless, gray cliffs of my verbiage and is begging for a handhold. Who could blame him?
Dan follows his own advice. He puts key ideas in bold, uses subtitles effectively, etc. But I don't want people to skim what I write. I want to force them — you — to read every syllable. Arrogant? Absolutely. No matter how humble a writer pretends to be, she is still presuming that what she has to say is worth someone else's time.
Making your writing more skimmable makes total sense if you're trying to convey information; the bolded words are the ripe fruit waiting to be picked. Believe me, If I had salient points to make, I'd make them in boldface. But my aim is not to make it easier for readers to find the ideas they want and get going, but to pull them through ... best of all, kicking and screaming, against their will.
Writing: Arrogant and sadistic.
What Dan says - see www.gooddocuments.com - makes total sense. But ultimately I'm not trying to make life easier for my readers. I'm just not that nice.
(Here's Dan on Skimming.)
I've struck up quite a bloggery friendship with AKM Adam. I love his blog. He's a teacher and minister with philosophical and theological training and interests. Widely read and insightful, he's a sympathetic reader. In fact, his sympathetic nature got him exercised about a offhand, snarky comment in a recent weblog entry in which I said that that a particular book by Foucault was not "his usual proof of his own cleverness."
Adam replied in an email to me:
One of the hazards of my vocation entails teaching conservative evangelical students whose version of Christian faith troubles me deeply. But both here at Seabury (where they're rarer) and in previous teaching positions, I worked productively among conservative students because I showed them at least minimal respect: I didn't ignore their arguments, I didn't refuse to let them cite their favorite books, I went to chapel the days they were preaching, I asked them to improve the arguments for positions they weren't going to change, not to abandon positions that were fundamental (so to speak) to their identity. And then I could ask them to extend the same courtesy to me, which they sometimes, pretty often, did.
I've taken this out of context; you should understand that AKMA is quite humble. But my offhand remark actually brought him to testify.
My kneejerk response is to say: Hey, buddy, it's the Web. If I can't recklessly slap a dead French philosopher upside the head on the Web, then where can I?
But I know in my heart that AKMA is right. It's easy to think hard. It's usually easy to think clearly. It's damn near impossible to think kindly. My passing swipe at Foucault was intended to get me out of having actually to read him with the care and sympathy he deserves. Plus, it's a cheap way to puff myself up.
Now, the irony is that shortly after this interchange, John Dvorak, columnist galore, went after weblogging with a bludgeon, in large part because (he says) bloggers are never critical of one another. Hah! I could show him some exchanges that would put creases in his khakis. But the fact is that among the bloggers I've been hanging out, we have been critical in what I think is the best way: finding what's worth talking about in one another's writings, and disagreeing with an eye towards uncovering the truth rather than being the Smartest Blogger on the Block.
Oh, of course it's not that ideal, but it is ironic to see your community knocked for not being nasty enough.
Michael Quinlon's weekly emailer, World Wide Words, at the beginning of 2002 summarized the words-of-the-year awards from the American Dialect Society:
Most Outrageous: "assoline", methane used as a fuel.
Most Euphemistic: "daisy cutter", a bomb used by US Air Forces in Afghanistan (not new, but definitely a distinguishing word of 2001).
Most Useful: there was a tie between "facial profiling", videotaping a crowd to identify criminals and terrorists, and "second-hand speech", overheard cell-phone conversation.
Most Creative: "shuicide bomber", a terrorist with a bomb in his shoe.
Most Unnecessary: "impeachment nostalgia", longing for the superficial news of the Clinton era
Least Likely to Succeed: "Osamaniac", a woman sexually attracted to Osama bin Laden
Most Inspirational: "Let's roll!", the words of the late Todd Beamer, who mobilised passengers on Flight 93 on 11 September to overcome the terrorists who had hijacked the plane.
Most Likely to Succeed: "9-11"
Previous awards are viewable here. Previous Most Likely to Succeed were:
1995: World Wide Web and its variants.
1994: No Most Likely to Succeed but Most Promising was "Infobahn."
1993: Quotative like with a form of the verb be to indicate speech or thought.
1992: snail mail
1990: notebook PC
Not a bad record, although choosing a word as most likely to succeed because the technology it denotes is likely to succeed strikes me as a bit craven.
Here are the group's Word of the Year awards:
1990: Bushlips (insincere political rhetoric)
1991: Mother of All
1993: Information Superhighway
1994: Cyber, Morph
1995: Web, Newt
1997: Millennium Bug
In 2000, the group widened its scope for its awards:
Word of the Year 1999 was Y2K.
Word of the 1990s Decade was web.
Word of the Twentieth Century was jazz.
Word of the Past Millennium was she.
Yes, she, the feminine pronoun. Before the year 1000, there was no she in English; just heo, which singular females had to share with plurals of all genders because it meant they as well. In the twelfth century, however, she appeared, and she has been with us ever since. She may derive from the Old English feminine demonstrative pronoun seo or sio, or from Viking invasions.
Yes, Rich Hall's 1984 Sniglets lives (and was followed by More Sniglets, Sniglets for the Soul, Who Stole My Sniglets and this year's Gnozo Sniglets). (If you haven't had enough, you can go to The Atlantic Monthly's Word Fugitives compiled by Barbara Wallraff.)
NOTE: A recent New Yorker ("The Riddler" by Burkhard Bilger) about puzzle fanatics mentions that one of the puzzlemasters points out that Pepsi- Cola spokesdroid Britney Spears anagrams to "Presbyterians" while Pepsi-Cola anagrams to "Episcopal."
At last night's RIM GAMES, hosted by TART JEW SON, it was no surprise that SILKY ACE AI won a total of 5 GERM AIMS or that FOLLY NATURED took Best Female Vocal Performance. And YELL A MAD DRAMA from the movie RUIN MULE GOO deserved the award it got. Old-Timers ZANY RV TINKLE won for Male Rock Vocal Performance and ROYAL JAM SET got Male Pop Vocal Performance. But no one was expecting EARTH WHORE BOTHER TOUR to walk away with album of the year! After all, HOW HE TORTURE EAR BROTH is ASS LEG RUB music!
Ok ok, here's the key:
SAME GRIM, GAMES MIRE, GAS MIMER=Grammies, Grammies, Grammies
TART JEW SON= Jon Stewart
SILKY ACE AI=Alicia Keys
FOLLY NATURED=Nelly Furtado
YELL A MAD DRAMA=Lady Marmalade
RUIN MULE GOO=Moulin Rouge
ZANY RV TINKLE=Lenny Kravitz
ROYAL JAM SET=James Taylor
EARTH WHORE BOTHER TOUR=O Brother Where Art Thou?
HOW HE TORTURE EAR BROTH=O Brother Where Art Thou?
ASS LEG RUB=Blue Grass
While checking the date I bought my first computer in 1983, a KayPro II, I came across a site that gives a history of the machine: http://www.yoy.org/kaypro/
There you'll find not only a scan of the original brochure touting the "9-inch monster screen" (green character-based) but also a KayPro simulator written in Java as a class project. Ah, the familiar DOS prompt at last! And MBasic! (Actually, S-BASIC was bundled with the original KayPro, a structured form of Basic with subroutines and functions.) Do a DIR and you'll see that they've ported a few of the original KayPro games, including a character-based version of Space Invaders. What a flashback! (There are also links to CP/M information.)
I gave mine up when I got my first IBM PC (actually a Zenith ... such an early model that there were hand-soldered wires on the motherboard to correct some late-discovered bugs). I typed my wife's dissertation on the KayPro, wrote an endless series of articles and columns and papers, and learned how computers worked. One of the great things about the KayPro (caution: Old Timer story about to commence) was that they were simple enough, in both their hardware and software, for a beginner to figure out. Assembly language for the Z80 chip wasn't all that arcane, whereas you need a doctoral degree, an oscilloscope and a miner's hat to figure out how to program one of the modern Intel chips. And you could get a map of the KayPro motherboard, neatly labeled, from MicroCornucopia and actually understand the electronics sort of like tracing routes on a map of the NYC subway system. Ah, for the good old days when I had to trim a vowel from the help screen for a file manager I'd written in order to keep it under 4K.
It makes me giddy to think that even our best machines today are banging rocks together compared to what's to come. Give me more!
RageBoy points us to an article at Wired about profitless companies successfully suing disgruntled customers who go on line to say mean things.
And they say there's no viable ecommerce business model!
The "Shadows of Luclin" add-on to the online game EverQuest requires 512MB of RAM for the graphics to display properly.
This necessarily generates Geezer Stories such as: "Why, I remember when I was at Interleaf in 1988 and it was considered outrageous to require a PowerMac user to have 4MB of RAM. Today's programmers are spoiled. . ."
The lovely tinyapps. org site that features — surprise! — tiny applications is running a contest with the following prize:
The first subscriber to provide an answer that solves this problem ... will receive a gently used copy of (this is not a joke) "Writing Solid Code & — Microsoft's Techniques for Developing Bug- Free Programs". I spotted it at my local "Friends of the Library" for a mere 10 cents. Find out more about this masterpiece at http://www.amazon. com/ exec/ obidos/ ASIN/ 1556155514/
Through an email conversation with Jeff Chapman, we have come up with a Request for Product for Google.
Suppose you could say that you'd like your search terms translated into other languages and then get returns in those languages. For example, suppose you were looking for information on what vegans eat. You enter "vegans eat" into the search box and click on the "Find German pages" box. Behind the scenes Google translates your search terms into German and returns the pages that contain the phrase "Vegans essen". It optionally translates those pages into English for you. Or, search for "environmental politics" and click on the "All languages" box, and it will translate your search terms into however many languages Google has dictionaries for.
As the engineers used to say at Interleaf, how hard could it be? You just have to get the bits in the right order :)
My college alumni magazine (Tagline: "Hey! You Got Fatter than Your Classmates!") ran a notice about one of my haven't-seen-him-since pals who is behind www.yourdictionary.com, a very nice site for all your word-finding needs. It includes some translation services that so far seem quite reasonable.
Middle World Resources
Walking the Walk
I accepted the PR person's invitation to set up a call with Greg D'Amico, president of IPS Funds and IPS Advisory because I use the IPS "plain English" risk disclosure statement as an example of how humor can work in business. It turns out that IPS is doing something quite interesting.
On January 1, 2001, they added their third fund: the IPS iFund, an aggressive fund that invests in disruptive business models. Here's the exciting part: iFund Investors have complete control. They nominate stocks, which are then discussed on the message board. They vote on the stocks they want to buy. They even vote on how many people have to vote in favor of a stock to add it to the fund. (Your vote counts more if you've invested more.)
So far, the fund is small, with only about 30 investors. But IPS didn't start marketing it until the fall of 2001.
Yes, the fund was down 40% in 2001 during which time Nasdaq was down 24%. The other IPS funds were comparable. Greg says that on up days, the iFund beats the indexes...but it also beats them (in the wrong sense) when the indexes are down. Greg thinks the fund will do better when more people invest and thus "group intelligence" can kick in better.
Cool idea. Let's hope it works.
For the Hyperlinked Organization
Other than the Oscahs! program of mine touted above, I think I can recommend SecondCopy, a low-cost backup program that I use to copy key files onto another disk drive every night. The UI is straightforward and seems to do what I want done. It creates zip files that Winzip can read. It lets me exclude all those MP3s and anything with the word "draft" in the title.
It also seems to be well-behaved. No low-level services interrupting every disk write, no intricate rewiring of my registry. It sits in the system tray and for the past month seems to have been doing what it's supposed to.
It's free for 30 days and $29 after that. You can get it from www.centered.com.
Since we seem to have some free space, I will recommend a Web site that automatically builds an online Oscar entry form for you and your pals. Thanks, Matthew Baldwin!
Some large numbers:
According to InformationWeek (Feb. 11), here are the size of some databases, in terabytes:
British Telecom: 8.45
First Union National Bank: 4.5
My Outlook PST file: 40.6
The article goes on to say that CERN's Large Hadron Collider will generate 5-20 petabytes per year when it starts up in 2006. It will manage and process this data using 1,000 dual process Intel servers running Linux. JOHO's prediction: The project comes crashing to a permanent halt when senior executives on the project who say they're "uncomfortable reading on a computer screen" insist on printing out the data.
A friend (you know who you are, Steve) points us to the Wonderlic 12-minute IQ test given to athletes to see if they're smart enough to fall down instead of up. The site gives a 5- minute version and sample scores for various professions.
As with all such tests, I turn out to be a freaking genius ... but only if given enough time. As Steven Wright says, every place is within walking distance, if you have enough time.
So, who's smarter, a brainiac who scores high on an IQ test sitting in a sealed room or a normal person who scores higher on the test in the same amount of time but with access to the Internet ... and a way-smart buddy list?
An engineer I know likes to "stress test" prospective employees by asking them to come up, on the spot, with the algorithm for determining the angle between the hour and minute hand of a clock at any given time.
My attempt to distract him by reciting the theme song to "The Flintstones" in the voice of Barbara Walters did not work.
Dana Parker sends us to Julian Baggini's Staying Alive: The Personal Identity Game that presents three scenarios having to do with what constitutes self-identity. For example, in the first one, you have to decide whether you'd rather get to Mars by taking a risky space ship or via a teleporter that maps your atoms and rebuilds you on Mars. The entire game takes about five minutes to play. Then you can read a brief and clear analysis of your results. (The site is presented by The Philosopher's Magazine, which looks like an interesting compendium of ideas.)
It reminds me of a thought experiment I used to present to students. (I don't remember who came up with it.) Suppose a genie tells you that you can become the emperor of China, with all the luxury and riches you could ever want, just by drinking a potion. You think this would be great and you're all set to do it when the genie says, "Oh, there's just one small catch. When you drink this potion, you'll fall asleep and a few hours later you'll wake up as the emperor ... but you'll have no memory of ever having been you." Most students say they would drink the potion anyway. But then, demonstrating how much smarter you are than your poor little students, you ask: "Ok, then tell me the difference between (1) waking up as the emperor of China with no recollection of who you are today and (2) you dying and someone else very much like you becoming emperor."
This, by the way, is also a pretty good argument against reincarnation. Having a soul that gets recycled without memory is as satisfying as having a body that gets recycled.
The text-based version of Pong (www.karber.net/textbased/pong/) is a funny idea, but I've always wanted to play an email-based version of it:
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Subject: MailPong Move #23
The ball has been served to you
Please indicate the parameters of your move
(All measurements in pixels):
Top edge of your paddle:
Point of impact:
Velocity of paddle at point of impact:
Now that would be fun!
From Chris Pirillo's Lockergnome games discussion board comes a free game, called Crash!, that is surprisingly hypnotic in a Bejeweled sort of way. Thanks, Ernest! (The help files for this beta version aren't very helpful. The object is to clear the board. Clicking on a square will clear it if it shares a border with two others of the same color; its border mates are also cleared. The bottom line of the screen shows you the next line of squares that will be added.)
Gary Unblinking Stock, Creator of the Googlewhack, points us to The Secret Life of Numbers, a fascinating (in the literal sense) site that does an amazing job of presenting its research into the frequency with which particular numbers show up on the Web. I assume that the fact that I can't make heads nor tails of the shimmering graphics is my fault; I have trouble interpreting timelines.
Gilbert Cattoire has a pair of finds. First at the home of the Post-It Note, he writes, we learn that "refillable holders have a unique, very specific objective: Improve employee relations." Wait, I thought they were the backbone of a Knowledge Management system!
Second, he points us to Annotis.com where you can get tools to scribble on top of your email, highlighting passages, drawing little smiley faces, and putting horns on top of every instance of the phrase "my manager. "
Peter "Nicest Person on the Planet" Kaminski recommends Lawrence Lessig's Creative Commons where creators will be able to download IP licenses that make sense.
Dave Rogers recommends a lecture by Brenda Laurel called "Creating Core Content in a Post-Convergence World." She proposes that we think "transmedia" to begin with, rather than rooting the content in any one medium, and then talks about ways to think about this cross-device content, including a quote — worth the price of admission — from Rob Tow that "narratives are the constitutions of new worlds."
Here's a John Perry Barlow interview in which he uses the phrase "private totalitarianism" to label the corporate attempt to own the economy of ideas as well as the economies of work and money.
Kevin Marks blogs about Richard Dawkins in response to my annoyed comments. Says Kevin:
Dawkins has written very well and clearly, and had some very original ideas. However, these days he seems to be writing the same book over and over again...
Or, as I'd put it, Dawkins is one meme away from being a crank. (Please ignore the comments earlier in this issue about reading with sympathy.)
Martin Jensen recommends this site about Dawkins.
At Dan Dubno's site, Gizmorama, you'll find a link to the amazing EarthViewer, demo'ed at the TED conference. Type an address into the client and it delivers a cinematically thrilling aerial view of the location. There's a 14-day free trial on the site. The Gizmorama site also has links to other digital images of the earth and a link to CBS News' comprehensive links about disasters of every stripe.
There are some lovely maps of the Internet at Albert-Laszlo Barabasi 's site. He's the Notre Dame physicist who found that there are 19 degrees of separation between any two randomly chosen sites on the Web. (This is back when there were only a billion pages on the Web. ) More significantly, he and his team have discovered a pattern of nodal clustering that seems to pertain not just to the Internet but to any self-organizing network. I had a chance to talk with him a couple of weeks ago — a very enthusiastic and engaging fellow. He has a new book, Linked, coming out soon.
Ryan Mulcahy, from Darwin Magazine for whom I write a weekly online column, recommends a site for people trying to quit cigarettes. My mother died of lung cancer, Ryan, so you know I mean it when I wish you luck and strength.
Mike O'Dell sends us to http://www.winternet.com/~mikelr/flame1.html. It took me a minute to realize what it's up to. See how many categories you fit into!
Chip recommends a long article by Ron Callari of The Albion Monitor,that provocatively lays out the circumstantial evidence that It's the Oil, Stupid. Many fascinating tidbits loosely joined. For example, Zalmay Khalilzad, former consultant to Unocol, the oil company that was negotiating with the Taliban for a pipeline, "is the Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council member responsible for setting up the post-Taliban 'Pro-Unocal' regime in Afghanistan. "
The Monitor is a stronghold of lefty conspiracy theories and outrage ("Olympic Torch Bearer Uniforms Made In Burma Sweatshops," "Could Irradiated Mail Cause Super-Anthrax?"). Just because they're lefty and conspiracy theories doesn't mean they're not true.
Paul Graham, who is an acquaintance from a previous life at a software company, has written a really interesting explanation of why his startup used Lisp to write their application, including an argument about what constitutes a higher level language. (Thanks to Bret Pettichord for pointing this out.)
This recalls the old joke that circulated via email about ten years ago. "I've managed to hack into the Defense Department's Star Wars code," it explained breathlessly. "Unfortunately, I was only able to get the last page." What followed were 2,000 close-parentheses. Oh, the tears of laughter were like CDRs to the Lisp geeks' eyes over that one!
My own book, The Adventurer's Guide to Interleaf Lisp , continues to sell high into the single digits every year. I only wish I were kidding.
Dave Rogers blogs on Dvorak on Cluetrain and blogging (see my previous blog entry).
Tom Shugart has started a blog. His very first entry is a reflection on authenticity. Tom takes a pretty radically existential position: "...inventing the self is a supreme act of personal responsibility. You're either creating it and putting it out there or you're operating as a default self—i.e., without authenticity. " Invent or discover?
Hermani Dimantas has started a blog. I assume it's good because, although it's in Portuguese and thus impenetrable to me, I know from correspondence with Hermani that he's an enthusiastic, smart guy.
Dan Pink (author of Free Agent Nation) has a blog that is blessedly short and pithy. And entertaining: http://justonething.blogspot.com/
Halley Suitt is blogging away at http://halleyscomment.blogspot.com/
Jeneane Sessum and Others have started the "BlogSisters" communiblog. I love the tagline: "Where men can link, but they can't touch."
A multi-personaed person possibly named Matt Moore or Daniel Byron has started "evil twin blogs." One charts his travels and stays in India. The other is more contemplative, although I'm not confident that I've characterized either well. From the second blog:
To understand the dour, masochistic nature of Reformist Christianity you can either read 'The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism' or, if lacking the time, simply sit down to an English meal...
One of the first certified cases of multiple blog disorder.
From Jim "Jack Vinson" Fenwood:
Since I knew you wouldn't be able to pass up an opportunity to use my mail to shamelessly promote your latest opus, I was confident that my fifteen minutes of JOHO fame was a sure thing. Imagine my shock and dismay to see Jack Vinson identified (albeit tentatively) as the author of MY message. It was in fact me, Jim Fenwood. My big chance, gone in a puff of scrambled hard drive electrons!
Sorry, Jim. The exquisite chocolates are in the mail.
Kevin Marks responds to my weblogging of the little Oscars-scoring program (above) that I wrote in <shame> Visual Basic </shame>:
You don't wanna use that, you wanna use this:
Makes binaries for Mac, Windows, Linux and load of other Unixes. Free trial version that lets you have 10 lines of script per element. The scripting language is HyperTalk, give or take.
Or if you really love Basic, use this:
Love Basic? Not hardly. Back when I was running DOS I far preferred C. (I could never master C++ or Java.) But VB has one compelling strength if you're strictly an amateur programmer: Microsoft has made it really easy to bash together a UI.
So here's the plan: Make your OS too hard to develop in and then sell the dumbed-down kit so people can develop in it. And I fell for it!
Ah, let the flames begin.
Gaspar Torriero (www.gaspartorriero.it/blogger.html) responds to my asking: "Are we in a time that could rival the golden age of Athens in its capacity for reinventing ourselves?"
You ask yourself a very rhetorical question. IMHO:
Of course there is no replay, not today. Missing the necessary historical distance, we cannot distill from our everyday's life the turns that will have significance.
Sometimes a small mouse will rise the head over the maze and briefly guess the whole picture, maybe seeing an exit, without knowing if it leads to another maze or to where:
"Access to communication and information will be soon free and ubiquitous. New the technologies will allow us to switch from representative to direct democracy, and the State will auction its services through ebay. After discovering new, clean, safe, renewable energy sources, the new golden age will flourish dispensing its gifts to all the citizens of the world (it was thanks to heavy taxes imposed on neighbours in Athen's times)."
"We will swim in the same shit as ever, and will be all killed by our greed and stupidity, or by the swift indifferent strike of a meteorite."
Who cares? We will not be there. All the same, I like to pretend that yes, this is our golden age, this is our occasion to reinvent ourselves, every day. It's much more fun this way.
Ok, then can I ask if we're maybe in a time that could rival the golden age of Newark?
A couple of you have pointed out that the Foucault text I talked about in the previous issue is available online for free: http://foucault.info/parrhesia/
Jacob Shwirtz of www.gazm.org writes about the topic of Foucault's lectures:
...when studying the Talmud, in the original Aramaic, there is a word used often, "Pharhessia" (phonetically spelled), which means "in public." Not sure it has any connection to the Greek word but it got me thinking...
If it's a coincidence, it's an interesting one. Apparently "parrhesia" in Greek comes from roots that mean "say everything," which I assume (= guess) refers to the fact that the person engaging in the fearless speech that is parrhesia isn't holding back any of the bad news — frank and full disclosure. But, since this type of speech was especially valuable in the public forum (although it also characterized the speech of an advisor to an authority, according to Foucault), the connection to the Aramaic is suggestive. Words are funny things, aren't they? They could practically be cute little woodland creatures if they were anything like them.
Prof. Tom Wilson writes about my article about broadband:
...Interesting how far behind the industry 'leaders' are (even when they are right!). It was in 1986, I think, that a man called McKenzie, wrote a book called "Sunrise Europe" (very interesting, if you haven't read it) in which he suggested that Europe as a whole needed an inter-governmental policy to take broadband (cable at that time) to every home, school, office and factory in order to build an information economy that could stand up to the USA and Japan.
Needless to say, nothing was done about it anywhere. The EU wastes millions annually on flatulent 'programmes' of so-called research, when the same amount invested in broadband in the late 80s would have created a ready-made market for e-commerce.
And where is Britain in all this? In spite of the Prime Minister's voiced desire to make the UK the leading broadband country in Europe, it is currently behind Portugal and just about ahead of Greece. The UK isn't five years behind the trend, but twenty years!
Vergil Iliescu comments on authenticity and the Web:
I’ve just started reading “The Psychology of the Internet” by Patricia Wallace. I don’t know whether you’ve heard of it, but it is quite interesting so far. Chapter 3 is called “Online Masks & Masquerades”, and includes the following comment: “When we alter the characteristics of ourselves on the Internet – even fundamental ones like age, race or gender – we might not think of ourselves as liars or con artists. “... We might feel more like researchers, or experimenters. We are playing with our own identities and trying out different hats to see how they feel and how others will react to them. Though deception is a key ingredient, it may not seem quite the same as lying for personal gain.”
The Internet creates the opportunity to create a persona (mask), and this is generally acceptable. If you did that kind of thing in the office, you would likely be considered either a liar, not genuine or nuts. Yet we probably all are slightly different people at home to the person we are in the office. Too big a difference might be a problem. I think the Internet somehow creates a distance, a separation which allows you to be/play a different personality. I wonder why. Maybe it because you just don’t get the same visual and verbal clues, and it is easier to be consistent, since you are writing, for the most part. In Billy Connolly’s biography, written by his wife Pamela Stevenson, she notes that Billy doesn’t use the internet because the people who do are “the kind of people you wouldn’t talk to in a pub anyway” (or something like that, I’m quoting from memory). I don’t agree literally with that comment of course, but I think it illustrates that his perception is that the relationship, for him, would not be sufficiently authentic – can’t see the guy, can’t smell the guy, and worse, can’t share a drink.
Any email to JOHO that has the good sense to cite Billy Connolly is assumed to be not only right and true but wise.
I agree that there's something important going on about the social construction of our selves. The notion that the self is a set of persona or even a set of relations isn't new. But, as you indicate, the way our selves are being re-valued in the hyperlinked social world of the Web is new. And the fact that it is a written self strikes me as important. I wish I knew what it portends.
Mark Justman, Futurist, writes:
Your blurb in the recent issue of JOHO on omniweb brings to mind another (if smaller) example of a software company using quirkiness as a key marketing asset www.zootsoftware.com
Zoot is a ECCO/Agenda-like PIM that is coded and sold by a one-man operation. What can be rather interesting is that bug fixes and suggested new features can (and do) get added in a matter of days...not months or never.
Also, the Zoot faithful do a fair share of user support on the Zoot discussion group, which also contains sample databases and instructional files created by Zoot users. Several of these users have even begun to construct a collaborative guide and help manual for Zoot: groups.yahoo.com/group/ZootForum/
It's also a very nifty tool for personal Knowledge Management.
Mike O'Dell has figured out a way to get back to the habit of reading:
i pick up the keyboard off the desk and set it on top of the monitor. it's not on the desk, tempting me to type on it - it's just out of reach. AND i have a place to actually put a book!!
Isn't this an urban myth like the person who calls the customer support line and complains that the PC "cup holder" is broken only to find that he's been using the CD tray? Reading books? Sure.
Gary Lawrence Murphy responds to our short piece about CNN's depiction of an asteroid smashing into the earth:
...considering your recent bit with CNN hurling a rock at our home world, I thought it only fair to warn you that by next year at this time you will have the opportunity to compare the image to its reality: http://xfacts.com
It seems there's planet in our solar system we haven't noticed because every time we count, we forget to count ourselves. Or some such.
Steve Telleen writes:
In my relentless effort to keep up with my email spam, a great conspiracy theory popped into my head.
...No one pays attention to spam. So if you are a terrorist cell, you embed your coded message in the spam email text, purchase a list of 100,000, sprinkle your cell list of 10 or 20 email addresses through it, and send it out through the normal spoofed spam channels.
...This is much more practical and safer than putting encoded messages on web pages (where it is easier to find and easier to track down owners). It also is much less likely to be intercepted than phone or other communications methods. Almost like it was tailor-made for terrorist cells.
...So what do you think? Should the Homeland Defense guys be concerned?
See www.spammimic.com and then tell Tom Ridge that it is now a national priority for the Homeland Security Office to confiscate all spammers and to lock them in the Opryland Hotel where they will be forced to opt-in to listen to a 24/7 loop of "100 Jingles We Can't Forget." If they want it to stop, they need to call an 800 number that rings and rings and rings.
By the way, here's the internal governmental version of the Homeland Security Advisory System:
Jakob Nielsen, the guru di tutti guri of usability, has a book out — E-Commerce User Experience — for $250 that in 389 pages lists 207 rules for designing sites real good. (You can read a a review of it here. In fact, I have only seen the review, not the book.) The rules include:
11. Don't show products that customers can't buy.
51. Show total cost, including taxes, shipping and handling, as soon as possible.
70. Allow customers to purchase without registering.
108. Design comparison tables to highlight differences.
111. Put the search box on every page.
114. Support search for nonproduct terms.
199. Write all text in EASL (English As a Second Language)
206. Don't use metaphors that are intimately connected with a specific country.
Excellent advice. But few people know that Jakob has an Evil Twin named Bokaj who has produced the same book, but with the worst possible advice for e-commerce sites. It includes rules such as:
Popups, popunders, pop in-betweens ... just keep on poppin'!
Click away from your shopping basket and you're asking to have it emptied
Force a purchase commitment before revealing the shipping charges
Disabling the "Back" button is a sure way to make your site sticky
Everyone loves naked ladies. Sprinkle them throughout!
Have you heard any of Bokaj's rules?
Did you notice that the scum-sucking dead-dog's-mourners'-guestbook spammer in 'Worst Marketing...Ever' has a URL [www.magicrates.com] that could be entered in your "ambiguous Web addresses" contest? Either a location for unbelievably low plane fares, or a site selling packing cases to ship the Three Wise Men.
Viz, www.MagicRates.com or www.MagiCrates.com. I don't know, Stu. I appreciate your tenacity, but unless we get some better Ambiguous URLs, we may have to draw this contest to a close.
Nah. We at JOHO don't like to bring anything to a close. We'd rather just go on and on and on and on until we're the only ones left in the room.
Hello? Anyone still reading? Dan Bricklin, is that you? I can hear you breathing. Could you turn off the light when you finally grope your way to the exit?
JOHO is a free, independent newsletter written and produced by David Weinberger. If you write him with corrections or criticisms, it will probably turn out to have been your fault.
To unsubscribe, send an email to [email protected] with "unsubscribe" in the subject line. If you have more than one email address, you must send the unsubscribe request from the email address you want unsubscribed. In case of difficulty, let me know: [email protected]
There's more information about subscribing, changing your address, etc., at www.hyperorg.com/forms/adminhome.html. In case of confusion, you can always send mail to me at [email protected]. There is no need for harshness or recriminations. Sometimes things just don't work out between people. .
Dr. Weinberger is represented by a fiercely aggressive legal team who responds to any provocation with massive litigatory procedures. This notice constitutes fair warning.
Any email sent to JOHO may be published in JOHO and snarkily commented on unless the email explicitly states that it's not for publication.
The Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization is a publication of Evident Marketing, Inc. "The Hyperlinked Organization" is trademarked by Open Text Corp. For information about trademarks owned by Evident Marketing, Inc., please see our Preemptive Trademarks™™ page at http://www.hyperorg.com/misc/trademarks.html