May 6, 2000
It's a JOHO World
National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" ran a commentary of mine on how the Web befuddles ("frame jacks") our moral sense, using Napster as an example. You can listen to it here:
And please enjoy another JOHO Interval shortened for your reading delectation. How do we do it? By removing valuable content!
The Cathedral, the Bazaar and the Trade Show
Los Angeles, April 4 I have a love-hate relationships with trade shows. I love working a booth. I hate being an attendee. In fact, what I miss most about not being an employee of a corporation is spending 8 hours a day for 3 days working a booth. Really.
I probably shouldn't be writing this now. A day pounding the carpet at the Los Angeles InternetWorld has expanded my feet to the size of watermelons and has compacted my spine like a Slinky hitting the bottom step of the Washington Monument. Or maybe this is exactly the time to write this.
The negatives first. To me the booths are split between the boring and the offensive yet another instance of the 999:1 rule. I'd cite examples of the boring ones, but I can't remember 'em. At InternetWorld, the offensive included two that had a glass cage where you could grab at dollar bills whipped into a cash tornado and stuff them into the hole where your dignity used to be. Another one featured bigger than life photos of almost naked silicon-powered babes. (At least I hope they were bigger than life. G-d help us all.) I wandered up and down each aisle to officially "cover" the show, looking for tchochkes suitable for my variously aged children, stopping for the occasional magician (the best part: watching them trying to explain how having the six of clubs show up in your pocket is exactly like the benefits of: DSL, powerful co-location facilities, or JPG compression), and now and then asking someone, "So, tell me what you do."
But enough whining. (As if there could ever be enough whining. Hah!) How about the positives?
Working a booth is as close as business gets to the marketplaces of yore. People come to your booth because they're interested in what you're doing. The interest ranges from tire-kickers, to people with budgets and deadlines, to current customers. The rest of the year, your marketing department is carpet-bombing people who don't want to hear from them (which is why a 2% return on a mailing is considered good gosh, only 98% of recipients think you're sending them worthless crap). At last you have a chance to talk with people who want to hear from you.
And the challenge! You may heaven forgive you start out armed with the Corporate Spiel and the Canned Demo from On High, but the single best measure of a successful encounter with a customer is how long it takes her to move you off your patter. She's got special interests and special needs. You've got to think on your aching feet. You have to be honest with her about what your products can and cannot do. You have to enjoy talking with her. And why wouldn't you? She's got a passion for the very thing that you're devoting your working-life to. At last, someone who cares about what you're doing! She's got problems she feels like corns and you're Dr. Scholl. You've got more in common with her than you do with lots of the people you work with.
So, you may leave the booth hobbling, broken-backed, rasping through a windpipe scraped raw by conversation, but if you're not so energized about your work that you can't wait to get back to it, well, at the next trade show, bring your résumé and head straight for one of the booths where people actually seem to care about what they do. Or at least go heckle a magician.
When everything talks
It took many years to get Universal Product Codes on all packaged goods so data can be entered into computers without the intervention of fat human fingers. But bar codes contain very little information a handful of digits (as is proper for a hand). Now, according to an article in [email protected] Week (Apr. 7) by Lois Trager, MIT has come up with a way to pack tons more information into a single bar code: make the stripes encode an address where more information can be found.
"Smart tags" supposedly will be disposable chips that can pack up to 96 bits that would include the manufacturer's identity, the product type, and a 40-bit serial number. This information will be picked up by a receiver that will ship it to a server somewhere that will look it up the way an Internet server looks up an IP address. At the address, there could be any type of information that'd be useful for that particular product. For example, it might point to an expiration date with instructions about what to do if the product is now unusable, or it might point to interface instructions for either a visual display for humans or an API-ish interface for other appliances. Of course, this means that Mars will know exactly how many Snickers bars you've eaten and whether your total intake of those gummy, red Swedish fish violates any global laws of the sea.
Participants in this initiative include Sun, Gillette, International Paper, P&G, and Motorola who is working on conductive ink that could act as an antenna for the new tags.
This is all part of the international conspiracy to make us expect to have more and more information about every frigging thing around us, from razor blades to guitar picks to cast iron pans (to randomly pick three objects for those who need examples of what "thing" means).
I remember drawing a cartoon in high school of an apple with a label on it that said "Contents: Apple." We of course now actually have those labels on apples. The new chips may point us to information about what the apple's been sprayed with, directions for use, and liability disclaimers ("Not to be taken externally").
We will look back on these days as the Quiet Time before things learned to speak.
OmniViewer is a damn fine idea and mighty cool. In other words, after two days I stopped using it. It's a configurable personal portal (hmm, that would also describe a storm window, wouldn't it?) You can tell it which of its many data sources you want to monitor and it creates a window, complete with headlines (scrolling, if you want), from those sites. The really cool part, though, is the scripting language that lets you find information on any page you choose and have that precise datum pop into your portal. Unfortunately, it wasn't precise enough to enable me to grab the number I want: the ranking of The Cluetrain Manifesto at Amazon. (Fortunately, there is a free utility that provides hourly email updates for neurotic authors: http://www.booksandwriters.com)
Chip, who unearthed this app, says: "Here's the intriguing part, IMHO: ... OmniViewer Pro users can produce Web pages containing headlines collected by OmniViewer and can make those available to other users who can access them using standard browsers." You can use it for free until it times out, and then pricing starts at $35.00.
Walking the Walk
How much would you guess the world spends on circuit breakers and pilot lights annually? Somehow, Group Schneider rakes in $9 billion per year. Ah, the triumph of utility over imagination. In any case, Group Schneider is turning itself into a hyperlinked organization, according to an article in InformationWeek (May 24, Alorie Gilbert). They're consolidating 14 design teams into three design centers, which will require their engineers to work across geographic and product boundaries."We're becoming a virtual engineering organization," their VP of engineering and manufacturing, David Guidette, expostulated with glee, apparently hoping that his enthusiasm will get him promoted so at long last he can become David Guide.
The article also points to companies that are sharing information with customers, suppliers and subcontractors, including Seagate Technology, Volvo Aero and Lockheed Missiles and Fire Control (odd merger a bit like the Remington Firearms and Tourniquets Division).
Headline of the Month
Tim Riordan passes along the following headline from Reuters:
Zany Brainy to Buy Noodle Kidoodle
If you really want to read about this deal (e.g., "Noodle Kidoodle will immediately increase Zany Brainy's revenue and store base..."), you can find it at:
Signs of life (was: Links I like)
Tom Gross for some reason points us to: http://bastilleweb.techhouse.org/. Here's what the site has to say for itself:
...The product of over five months of planning, construction, and installation, La Bastille is the largest art installation ever to appear in Rhode Island, partially visible from Narragansett Bay and from Interstate 95.
When it was running, it was also the world's largest fully-functional Tetris game. Containing eleven custom-built circuit boards, a twelve-story data network, a personal computer running Linux, a radio-frequency video game controller, and over 10,000 Christmas lights, La Bastille transforms Brown's fourteen-story Sciences Library into a giant video display which allows bystanders to play a game of Tetris which can be seen for several miles.
It's truly useless so it must be art! Go Bruins!
Hillary or John sends us to http://www.1112.net/lastpage.html where we are all required to enjoy a hearty laugh.
This site reminds me of a joke circulating by email about ten years ago. The message read something like: "Hey, I managed to hack into the Pentagon's computer and all the way into the Star Wars (Strategic Defense Initiative) section. I tried to download the code behind Star Wars but could only get the last page. Here it is!" This was followed by a page consisting of nothing but right parentheses (e.g., "))))))))"). This is hysterically funny if you were ever forced to write programs in LISP.
A reader sends us to one of those pages you receive every 15 minutes in email that consists of a long list of variations on a theme that is clever without actually being funny. In this case, http://village.vossnet.co.uk/p/prar/toast.html#toasters runs a list of "What if ___ made toasters?" ("If Apple made toasters... It would do everything the Microsoft toaster does, but 5 years earlier") and of "How ___ shoots itself in the foot." For example: "SQL: You cut your foot off, send it out to a service bureau and when it returns, it has a hole in it, but will no longer fit the attachment at the end of your leg". Huh?
New mini-bogus contest: Submit your entries for a list entitled "If ___ compiled a list of 'If ____ did something'" jokes. For example:
If Microsoft compiled a list of "If __ did something jokes" ... they would force all computer manufacturers to fill in the blank with "Microsoft."
Email, Arbitrary Insults, and Suspicious Hacking Coughs
We received only positive comments about the new, shorter version of JOHO which we have christened (jewed?) "JOHO Interval" rather than the more appropriate "JOHO Lite." All those years in the marketing sweatshops are beginning to pay off.
Typical was this from Tom Shawk:
Whatever you are drinking, smoking, dropping or shooting please continue ...
Thanks, Tom. You do understand, however, that we maintain a Zero Tolerance drug policy at JOHO. We find that spinning rapidly in our seat, being dragged headfirst over railway ties, or doing a "View Source" on an XML document brings about the same results as taking artificial hypnagogics.
Sir Kyle Lord Patrick writes about our article about Napster:
Ick, Napster. Okay, I go to one of the universities which has banned this program, and there is a pretty good reason. Peer-to-peer computing is a neato concept, but when half the online world is trying to download Du Hast Mich from some lick-spittle freshman's computer at Rice, it fucks up the network reeeeally bad. The problem is that Napster is very poorly programmed. Always going for the fastest computers means that they are going to be swamped, so some method of randomization should've been thrown in, like how GPS satellites throw in random perturbations to the civilian signals to keep them from being used to guide missles and such....
And yes, it is bad for the network. Napster/others traffic was taking up about half of all of Rice's bandwidth. That isn't acceptable, so they instituted a policy where no one can use it from 8am-8pm weekdays.... This is pretty fair, since some of us have to use the academic computing resources for, like, you know, school work. Yes, that's much more important than wider distribution for Brak's Bean Song.
Doesn't that really depend on what your academic work is? Rather than resorting to randomization to keep bandwidth down, why not institute a table of equivalents so that bandwidth can be apportioned rationally? For example, we'd want to reserve 7.5 times as much bandwidth for Beck's Odelay than for the collected poems of Stevie Smith, and 123 times as much for Miles Davis' Kind of Blue than for any work with "deconstruction" in the sub-title. Win-win.
Craig Allen writes of his own experiences chasing the wily MP3:
I've largely ignored the whole Napster phenom, since I don't seem to find the time/mood to listen to the music I've actually paid money for, let alone going out of my way to find free music of lower [technical] quality (MP3 being a lossy compression technique). ...
So after reading your latest, I did click, one thing led to another, and I fell into Freenet (freenet.sourceforge.org).
Mind you, I haven't actually tried it, but that doesn't seem to be a barrier to punditry. So let me say, or rather posit: will Freenet mean the end of the web as we know it? Will nasty stuff become easy to spread that bad will drive out good? Will a relative freedom from consequences liberate China, or will the skinheads have a heyday? Or all/none of the above?
In a less grandiose vein, could gnutella or freenet make grassroots self-publishing on an intranet feasible?
Just call me Mr. Questions R Us.
Craig then becomes Mr. Answers My Own Question:
After downloading the Freenet client, such as it is, I'd say we have quite a ways to go before anything too earthshaking comes of Freenet. Aside from the client being pre-rudimentary, Freenet is so protoanarchistic that there is not only no way to search it but no structure in its namespace. Maybe custom and culture will evolve, but I don't know as I'll be part of that evolution.
Hey, if you want a structured namespace, then go get yourself some pigeon holes, man! Have you asked where you're hurrying to, Mr. Businessman? Have you stopped to smell the roses? Have you noticed that I haven't downloaded freenet yet and thus have nothing to say about it?
Rob de Jonge sends us an alert from The Netherlands:
Something on the radio caught my attention tonight, an interview with one of the founders of the free Dutch ISP "Raketnet" (translated this would be Rocketnet) about their 'deal' ... which is: for each hour you are online via their dialup service, you get an option to buy one share when the company goes public, when they do, 50% of their shares will be divided among their subscribers.
I found it to be a rather novel idea for a company to share its own value with its users. And in a way a great example of the networked economy: their customers make them valuable, so the customers should get a part of that value.
Interesting. I myself am holding out for a company parking spot and participation in my ISP's 401K plan.
Ah, now for the Thread That Will Not Die.
Rui Pereira writes in response to my mini-bogus contest looking for URLs with naughty words embedded in them:
Go to http://www.altavista.com and/or http://infoseek.go.com/ and/or http://www.yahoo.com and search for "url:fuck" (without the quotes). Replace fuck with any other naughty word. Yahoo even highlights the word for you! Interesting how Infoseek warns about adult content but not Altavista.
I have a friend who, when asked what someone's phone number is, replies "I know. It's 411." (For non-Americans: that's the code for directory assistance.) Such is Rui's answer, except (unlike 411) it doesn't cost a buck every time you use it. But, it doesn't quite do the trick. It returns URLs such as "www.howdy.com/~bob/fuckoff," whereas I want "fuck" as part of the domain name, not just the URL. (Yeah, so I'm amending the contest on the fly.) If "url:www.*fuck*" worked, we'd be home (although url:www.fuck* does find a whole bunch of www.fuck...etc. sites; www.fucker.com exists)
And, just to make sure that this issue contains the daily minimum requirement of cussing, here's a message from Mickey Allen with the subject line "Is Scunthorpe an obscene address?" He writes:
Well it's not actually a URL, but Urban Myth here in the UK says that a listing that has the name of this town in its address is deemed to be offensive The town is on the East coast of England and is called Scunthorpe
Rui Pereira knows how to find out! A search at AltaVista for "url:scunthorpe" retrieves 935 matches, starting with http://www.scunthorpe-united.co.uk/html/match.htm, the description of which runs: "Opportunities to raise your company's profile while entertaining your customers or rewarding your employees." Indeed.
If Microsoft is split up into an operating system company and an applications company and please spare me your opinion on this, sigh it will be faced an enormous question: what to name the two companies? Microsoft will clearly want the two names to "work" together, a rather pathetic lowering of objectives. For example:
Kitchens, Inc. [kitchen sink, get it?
Suggestions please! (And remember that JOHO owns any names you submit, and also has right of first refusal on the domain names associated with them. You should have read the fine print before accepting delivery of this issue, buddy.)
Hank Blakely responds to and thus wins our Bogus Contest asking you to create amusing, Web-based, run-on titles:
"CDNow Voyager" - A doomed man aboard an ocean liner meets a mysterious woman who gives him a small disk containing the soul of Madonna.
"BigFoot-Loose" - Sasquatch: gotta dance and can't stop yeti! "
"The NY Times They Are A-changin'" - Large metropolitan newspaper is acquired by Rolling Stone Magazine. First edition features music critique by Joan Baez and political analysis by Washington Bureau Chief Leonardo DiCaprio.
Thank you, Hank. Please enjoy your prize, a Third Dynasty porcelain vase, inscribed with ... oops, dropped it! My bad!
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