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November 20, 2000

 

Contents

Webs and Brains and Comparisons: Is the Web a global brain? Beware of metaphors.
How to Write a Real Good Powerpoint: Tips that will guide you down the ladder of success.
Why Search Engines Suck : Four more reasons, like anyone needs convincing.
Misc.: Dept. of Pointless Messages
Walking the Walk: Bottom up budgets
Cool Tool: Have your windows act like windows
Internetcetera: The US election expressed in inches
Links: Your contributions, by and large
Who's Tired of Being a Millionaire?: Your contributions, small and large
Email, Arbitrary Insults, and Suspicious Hacking Coughs : Your contributions, smile and enlarge
Bogus Contest: Motherhood

 

Media Penetration

Sharp-eyed reader Maura "Chip" Yost noticed that ABC-TV's morning show, "The View" (with Baba Walters, et al.), showed the bogus headline I created for the previous issue of JOHO...the one that says "It's Gore-Bush: Bush Bows, Accepts VP Role" with the subhead "'It's the challenge I'm up to,' says VP Bush.'"

They gave no attribution much less an URL. Nevertheless, this makes me an official Media Darling, doesn't it?

Please?

 

Webs and Brains and Comparisons

"The Net is not like a brain!" I heard myself arguing with more vigor than I'd intended. Unfortunately, the person I chose to gainsay on this topic had been introduced as a hedge fund manager but turned out also to be a neuroscientist at the University of California's Brain Imaging Center. He knows the brain the way I know...well, I don't know anything as well as he knows the brain. You'd be surprised at how much I learned about the ways the Net is indeed like a brain.

The scientist was joined by a hugely smart computer industry analyst who also thinks the comparison is fruitful. It was around the moment that the two of them showed me that I was completely wrong that I realized that I actually don't believe that dumb old wrong thing. No, what I really believe is that the problem isn't with the comparison to the brain, it's with comparisons at all.

"So the Net's like a brain," I said, "but it's also like the environment and it's also like an economy and it's also like a party. Each of these may bring us insights about the Net..."

The analyst agreed although he especially likes the brain comparison because he can look at some structure of the brain and gain insights into the Net that he might otherwise have missed. It spurs his imagination and his analytic insight as well.

But, if you push too hard on any one metaphor, you can easily be led to think that because A is like B in one respect, it must be like B in other respects. This is formally known as the Fallacy of False Analogy, and informally as the Fallacy of Making Stupid Mistakes. In the case of the brain, it can lead one -- not necessarily the people I was talking with -- to think that the Net might itself be conscious. While that might be suggested by a parallel to the brain, it can only be known by explaining what consciousness is and showing that the Web has those characteristics. The Argument by Analogy only takes us so far.

So, yes, the Net is like the brain, and it's like the nervous system, and it's like the body, and it's like forty jugglers playing checkers with three blind monkeys. Some of these analogies have more points of similarity than others, but in every case, we move beyond the perceived similarities to inductions about other properties at peril of blinding ourselves — sort of like shining the flashlight of knowledge into our own eyes.

Had the guys I'd been talking with been making that particular mistake, I might have won the argument. Instead, I had to settle for learning a whole lot. Damn! I hate when that happens!

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How to Write a Real Good Powerpoint

Having written my share of PowerPoint presentations in the past 10 years, and having seen more than my share of them, I'd like to pass along some of the insights I've gained. Follow these simple guidelines and you're sure to have a "deck" that meets — or even surpasses — the minimum daily requirements for PowerPoint business intake.

There are some simple formatting tricks that will make every presentation look great. Put your company logo in a corner of every page. By "corner" I mean, of course, a full quarter of the page. It's been proven that when people read bullet points written over a company's logo, the harder it is for them to read the text, the further the logo is driven into their brain. If you make the logo big and bright enough, physics itself may cause it to be imprinted in your audience's brain so that it doesn't matter what you actually say. In one documented case, a presenter put a logo two thirds the size of the page smack dab in the center of every slide, and then put the bullet points in a light gray font so that they were literally unreadable, and at the end of the presentation, the financial analysts left the room and doubled the stock price. The kicker is that every single bullet point said simply "If you can read this, then you're sitting too close." It's true. It happened to a friend of my cousin's. Really.

Remember to capitalize the first letter of every word in every slide's title, even the "little" words like "a" and "of." (In the bullet points, capitalize any word you like or are proud of spelling correctly.) No point in taking chances that you'll get the real capitalization rules wrong. After all, that's the strategy you use when you always refer to yourself as "myself" rather than having to know the difference between "me" and "I." (By the way, the grammatical rule is simple: it's "I" when you're taking credit and it's "me" when you're blaming someone else.)

The title slide is tremendously important. Remember, you only get one chance to really screw up your first impression. Give it a title that makes clear just how significant this presentation is going to be, and how smart you are. Tip: It's good to begin with the word "A", as in "A PsychoDemoGraphic Exploration of..." or "A MetaModal Model of Valuation in..." That little word "A" lets you get away with claiming a territory clearly beyond your competence while still sounding almost humble.

We all know the old rule about how many bullets to put on a slide: As many as fit. And keep in mind that "fit" is such a relative term; that's why PowerPoint lets us make fonts smaller. But we're in a new "with-it" age when the old rules don't Apply any More. (Notice, by the way, my use of the Random Capitalization Rule.) The new rule says: It doesn't matter how many bullets you have on a page, what counts is that you read every word in every bullet out loud. And if you haven't been able to fill up the slide with words, digress to use up the time. Remember, your audience isn't there to hear you not speak!

Don't forget: every third slide — at least — has to have a 2x2 matrix that puts your company in the upper right. Feel free to manipulate the axes until you get this right. For example, if you have to have an X axis that's labeled "Value" and a Y axis labeled "Companies with Red-Headed CEOs," then go right ahead.

Now, things are getting pretty serious, and maybe even profound (i.e., no one understands what you're talking about) in your presentation, so it's time to show you're a regular Joe or Jane by tacking in a bad scan of a randomly chosen comic strip. For example, here's one you might want to use. It's from the very popular Mark Trail strip of October 27:

Two cougars are nuzzling on a wilderness peak. From a helicopter comes "I don't think your pet cougar is going to have any problems adjusting to his new home!" Then Jim says "I believe that friend he found is a female." Suzie says, "Thank you very much Jim, for helping us with our problem." Jim replies, "I'm glad it worked out."

Wow. This is just so apropos to everything that you're sure to get a chuckle. The ice is broken. Everyone's really having fun now.

Then it's back to the serious work at hand. Be sure to have a slide showing the outside of your building because that's a surefire way to impress people. "Jeez," your audience will think, "this must be one heck of a company to actually work in an office building!"

Important tip: Leave in some slides from some other presentation that has nothing to do with this. That way you'll have the opportunity to announce you're skipping over a slide, subliminally positioning yourself as a person so important that you've actually done a PowerPoint presentation before.

When you're done tweaking the deck and getting it just the way you want, be sure to show it in edit mode so that none of the animations work. Even better, put it into slide sorter mode so people have to screw their eyeballs in extra tight to be able to read any of it; this encourages people to pay attention.

Oh, and be sure to leave the paper clip guy on in the corner. You'll look like a real professional!

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Why Search Engines Suck

Searching for Trust

Note: The following contains a recollection that is hotly disputed by friends whose memories of these events are as vivid as mine. The main issue seems to be whether we ever seriously discussed the first version of the plan discussed below. Also, whether I was a pig- headed, sanctimonious a-hole about it. Actually, there's widespread agreement about the latter point.

About four years ago, I should have quit my job. I was working at a company that created one of the first search sites on the Web. Although I was VP of Strategic Marketing (the "strategic" indicating that I didn't actually know anything), I lost the argument over letting sites pay us to have their URL guaranteed a particular position in the search results. For example, if "BigBoy's Texas Getaways, Inc." paid us some thousands of dollars, we'd guarantee that if anyone did a search on the words "cowboy" or "dude ranch," their site would be listed at #6. Pay us more, and you could make it all the way to #1.

Our company ran the numbers on how many search terms we'd have to sell in order to become early Web gazillionaires. Fortunately, sanity prevailed and when we launched we put a gif next to the paid-for ads that said "Preferred," which to my mind was better than nothing...barely. For a couple of years afterwards, we were still taking lumps in the press.

The less questionable variation on this plan has long been standard for search sites: BigBoy's can pay the site to stick a banner ad onto the search results page whenever someone searches for "cowboy." Because it's a banner ad, there's no intrinsic deception. And about a year ago, goto.com introduced a site whose "business model" is based precisely on the idea we'd first discussed [or did we? — see the note at the beginning of this article]. While their home page doesn't tell you that this is a commercial yellow pages, the search results tells you how much the advertiser paid to be listed. For example, a search for "cowboy" brings fogdog.com to the top of the list, which cost the advertiser $0.16. The #2 slot went for $0.15, and #3 for $0.12.

A new report by Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Watch ( http://searchenginewatch.com/sereport/00/11-inclusion.html) makes it clear just how far this trend has gone.

At AskJeeves, for example, a company can ensure that it will show up in Jeeves' highly-constrained, visible search results list. According to Jeeves' fact sheet, it seems that a company can buy a question. Sullivan, however, says that the connection is less direct than this, ensuring that BigBoy's listing might show up if someone asks "Where can I go for a rootin' tootin' good time?" even if the BigBoy site didn't buy that precise question. Either way, BigBoy is paying for placement.

Sullivan's example is "What should my blood pressure be?" which puts a link to onhealth.com as #1 and then has a special section underneath listing other onhealth.com pages. There is no indication that any of this is paid advertising. Sullivan says that Jeeves says that that's ok because the "editorial staff" at Jeeves maintains quality standards. Yeah, and how many heart specialists are on staff to judge which health site is best?

AskJeeves isn't alone in the monetizing of relevancy. At Yahoo, for $199 you can be certain that one of their paid "editors" will at least look at your site, although there's no guarantee they'll include it in Yahoo. (Note to Yahoo: If you at last index my site, www.hyperorg.com, I will personally provide certain "favors" worth way more than $1999, if you know what I mean.) And Inktomi, one of the leading providers of the technology infrastructure for search sites, will guarantee that your site will is re-crawled every 48 hours.

On the other hand, my favorite search site (these days), www.google.com, handles these issues well. If a company buys a word, it gets a text-only ad at the top of the list, clearly identified as an ad. (Try searching for "Ford" as an example.) Further, ads shown in the right margin display a green bar indicating what percentage of people have clicked on them, enabling us users to "vote with our clicks," so to speak. (Search for "flowers" to see an example.) But, Google draws the line at monkeying with the rankings. It uses complex algorithms that assess factors such as how many other sites link to it. This is in the user's interest. Sites that try to trick a user into going to sites because someone paid them are working against the user's interest. While there may be (grudgingly admitted) some benefits to letting companies pay for placements, there is no reason, except avarice and the abrasion of the ethical sense, to hide the fact that our attention and trust have been sold to the highest bidder.

Danny Sullivan's Search Engine Watch: http://searchenginewatch.com/

AskJeeves brochure to advertisers: http://corporate.ask.com/pdf/Jeeves_Answer_Link.pdf

Inktomi FAQ: http://www.inktomi.com/products/portal/search/submit FAQ.html


I'm Just Mild about Saffron

[email protected] Week has run a breathless puff piece ("Saffron Spices Up Searches: New Personalization Technology Holds Great Promise" Mike Cleary, Oct. 16) about an "associative database" from Saffron Technologies. The new engine supposedly is "a type of decision-making software that mimics learning. It understands context." The Saffron product "works like a salesman...It may not have seen a particular customer ever before, but it understands what the customer wants based on the customer's request" In the immortal but bewildering words of Aparicio: "It's not about getting a blood test,but finding the right thing you need to fix your toilet." How's that?

We get a hint about what it's up to in some blather about neural networks. But such networks, says the article, haven't worked well with large databases. (Hmm, I thought that was the point of a neural network — deriving sense from large quantities of data.) Saffron Tech says they have a compression technology that solves that problem. Then, two thirds of the way through this touting, we get the flat out statement: "The technology removes unproven, however." Even their beta customer has to use other personalization software to do the "cross-selling," i.e., generating the hits relevant to the purchase.

All I know is what I read, but doesn't this smell of BS?


Searching Runs Amok at Wal-Mart

Crusty columnist for the Boston Globe, Alex Beam, devoted his column (Nov. 14) to excoriating www.walmart.com's search engine. His search for "garment bag" turned up zero hits. "Luggage" didn't turn up luggage. And "dustbuster" was a bust because the engine is case sensitive. Worse, every time you run the search engine, you empty your shopping cart. Alas, Beam reports that Wal-Mart has fixed at least some of these problems in the past few days, greatly decreasing the site's entertainment value.

The award-winning JOHO I-Witness Investigative Team looked into it. As of the morning of November 14, searching for " gameboy" returned a completely blank page. When I tried to go back to the home page, the site crashed Explorer, but not before the site drove local businesses out of town by using economies of scale to as an unfair competitive weapon.


PC Magazine (Dec . 5, Nancy Sirapyan) has a useful round-up of search sites. Google and NorthernLights receive five stars. AOL, AskJeeves, IWon, and LookSmart receive two. Sounds about right to me. One I'd never heard of, www.oingo.com, got four stars and seems worth looking into.


Chris "RageBoy" Locke (www.rageboy.com) suggests we go to the www.drugstore.com search page and search for "that which cannot be found," thinking we'll be amused by the result:

"We have no matches for that which cannot be found."

RageBoy adds:

yeah, I'm in really bad shape over here.

No kidding. How about searching for "farts" so you'll get the reply:

"We have no matches for farts."

Hoo hoo, my nine-year-old finds that wicked funny.

Or better still, how about searching for " so-called industry gurus with too much time on their hands"?

 

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Misc. - Dept. of Pointless Messages

From: [email protected]
Sent: Friday, November 03, 2000 3:57
Subject: Email ref : JOHO -: Nov. 3, 2000

To ensure the integrity of our IT Business Systems, we have installed automatic checking software for all electronic communications to check for possible virus invasion, misuse or malicious damage.

This software is holding your recent communication for examination prior to release to the recipient.

IIT Department Securicor Information Systems Ltd. 01249 665555

Here's the reply I didn't send:

Thank you for your message of November 2, 2000. To ensure the integrity of our IT Business Systems, we have installed The Value Check Verification (VCV) system to examine all incoming electronic messages. An initial scan indicates that your message falls into Category S12.b: Pointless and/or useless conveyances of information.

Here is the process by which we ensure that only the highest quality messages penetrate our IT Business Systems, thus ensuring maximum efficiency, proficiency and throughput of electronic communications:

Upon receipt: VCV system swings in action, alerting all defensive forces of an incoming missive. The Strategic Air Command goes to Defcon 3.

1 hour from receipt: Sender receives this confirmation message with results of Initial Value Scan (IVS)

4 hours from receipt: Sender receives detailed results of IVS

6 hours from receipt: Send receives automatic re-count of IVs

6.01 hours from receipt: Message sent out for review to Standing Committee on Electronic Communications (SCEC)

28 hours from receipt: Members of SCEC submit Form 27ii5m, evaluating the review.

240 hours from receipt: Initial tally of Forms 27ii5m submitted simultaneously to SCEC, to message sender and to Interpol

720 hours from receipt: Final decision of SCEC on Deliverability is rendered. Sender of message is informed.

Note: Please be advised that if SCEC members submit Form 27ii5m electronically, these forms themselves are subject to the VCV procedures outlined herein.

Over the next 30 days, we look forward to keeping you updated on the progress of your electronic communication. If you have any questions or need technical support, please submit your communication electronically and we will get back to you after 720 hours. Thank you.

 

Middle World Resources

A Compendium of Resources
Walking the Walk  

An article in InformationWeek (Sept. 25, Rick Whiting) reports on signs of life in the budget preparation process: "...more companies now view budgets as living documents that are revised on an ongoing basis through the year," with a wider range of contributors. For example, at Amway, which the article refers to as "the $5 billion home- and personal-product supplier" rather than as "your neighborhood ponzi scheme," they are planning to use the Net to spread the budgeting process to 300-500 managers.

Cool Tool For the Hyperlinked Organization 

When it comes to changes in the UI, I'm as a hesitant as an old Jew in West Palm Beach. So, here's a freaky utility that is small (136K), weird, and headed straight for the uninstall list after I've played with it for a while. But it is definitely cool.

Madotate adds another button at the top of every Window, right next to the minimize, maximize and exit buttons. Click on it and your window swings open like a door (graphically) and retreats to the nearest border of your screen, stacking up against any other Madotated windows. A label along the edge displays the window's title. A click and it's restored. Bizarre. http://www.crosswinds.net/~gcaulfield/

WARNING: If your monitor is set for greater than 800x600, it'll screw you up, requiring you to reset your resolution and reboot.

(I heard about Madotate in the oddly compelling 'zine, Lockergnome: www.lockergnome.com )

 

Internetcetera

Reader Bill Koslosky writes:

Random fact: if you claim you could count every vote comprising the purported 98,221,798 votes (52%+ of the eligible voters) cast in this election, that level of accuracy is equivalent to measuring width of the continental US (assuming 3,000 miles) to the nearest 2 inches. And then some kid comes along and digs hole on the Jersey shore and your number is now 100% wrong. Assuming a 3% error, this would require this number to be reported as 98,000,000 +/- 2,900,000 and if you really want to get technical, a confidence interval of for example, 95%. After all, how confident are you that the error is 3%? Boy, this sure makes your single vote look tres insignificant!!! ... BTW, Gore's lead in the popular vote is 0.23% and Bush's lead in Flori-duh is 0.017% (based on CNN's numbers). The reported error for these vote machine card readers is 2-5%!

He notes that the gap in the popular vote has actually narrowed since he wrote this.

.

Links

Peter Merholz writes:

Something tells me you'd be interested in this:
Stories and Maps: Postmodernism and Professional Communication
http://english.ttu.edu/kairos/1.1/4b.html

It's got "post-modern" in its title. I'm trying not to take this as an insult.


Jacqueline Kinney writes:

Reading of your fondness for the term "action item", thought you may enjoy this...

http://www.sentient.com/~pcm2/action_item.html

It's a nicely drawn superhero comic strip.


Michael Siracuse points us to a more serious site:

I was wondering if you had seen MITRE's Concept Model for KM. good reading. http://www.mitre.org/pubs/edge/april_00/


Miriam Lawrence, points us to www.BrowseUp.com, a plug-in that lets you attach any file to any spot on any Web page. This seems to be basically like www.thirdvoice.com , although rather than attaching a sticky note to, say, the Apple site that says "Macs suck," you can attach a Powerpoint file, a Quicktime video, and an obscene Flash to make your point. The file is stored on the BrowseUp server and is only visible to other people who are using the BrowseUp plug-in. You can also create your own links between two pages.

Does anyone use ThirdVoice any more? How long before BrowseUp goes the same way? Great idea, based on Web idealism, without enough of a benefit to justify the trouble.


Steve Guich, pursuing the offline conversation that brought about the article in this issue about the role of metaphors, sends us this link:

http://128.143.168.25/book/chap2/chapter2sec4.html

It's about the role of metaphors and analogies in science. This is a topic I have long found difficult. For example, I was halfway through The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene this summer when it was stolen (along with my backpack, passport, credit cards, cash, laptop, Palm, new cell phone, Moby Dick, and more) from our car while we were driving in the south of France. Aarrgghh. I was following the book surprisingly well — i.e., every thirty pages I thought I understood something — and was waiting for Greene to address the question of whether the strings of string theory are actually supposed to be little loops of stuff that vibrate, or whether it's just that the analogy works really well and maybe even predictively. Since I've never been able to be clear about the ontological status of indeterminacy (is it the way things are or "merely" our inability to know the way things are?) — very likely because I'm framing the question wrong — I wasn't really expecting to get an answer to my question about the literalism of string theory. I suspect that in this realm, the difference between a literal and metaphorical explanation simply doesn't hold ... but I can't figure out why.


Ysbrand van Veen writes:

Don't know if you have ever seen Gossip, created by a small Amsterdam based company Tryllian. I really love their Java and agent technology based tool, no matter that it's slowwwwww... Being a 'Homo Ludens' this in my opinion is certainly THE way to exchange information among Internet users. www.tryllian.com

Gossip gives you agents that do stuff for you on the Web. They check "Meeting Points" which serve as a "community interchange" spot for information and URLs. Right now, there's only one Meeting Point — Tryllian's — but the company hopes others will emerge. In playing around with it, the agents that I sent out (with a deadline of 5 minutes in one case and an hour in another) never came back. I assume that strayed off to an Amsterdam "coffee house" and got sidetracked by the way the reflectors in the bicycle wheels make helixes if you squint your eyes hard enough.


Arnold Kling, who was at Pop!Tech, a conference on which I reported 1.5 issues ago, has written an interesting essay that gainsays Bill Joy's doomsaying:

http://arnoldkling.com/~arnoldsk/aimst3/aimst324.html


Anita Brown, dean of BlackGeeksOnline (www.blackgeeks.net), reprints in her newsletter an article from Wired by Manny Frishberg about a conference on the "digital divide." Here's how the article begins:

SEATTLE — Bill Gates appeared at the Digital Dividends conference here like a Tory at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, telling the 350 attendees that they were wrong to expect to find markets among the world's poorest people.

Eighty percent of the global population lives on less than one dollar a day, and most — according to the World Resources Institute, which organized the conference — have never made a telephone call, let alone used the Internet.

http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,39461,00.html


David Forrester writes:

You'd probably enjoy reading (if you haven't already) Jaron Lanier's recent essay against Kurzweil, Joy, and their ilk's' vision of machines taking over... http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge74.html

Because I am basically a small-minded person, I have trouble getting over Lanier's intense self-absorption in his own hipness to actually hear what he's saying. Will someone let me know if the article is actually interesting?


Christopher "RageBoy" Locke sends us this bizarre product page — for the Philosophy brand hair care products — that signals the official End of Western Civilization:

http://www.drugstore.com/products/prod.asp?pid= 57767&catid=16483&aid=281067

I myself have ordered a six-pack of Leibniz Sheen Rinse with Hi-Protein Monads.


Bret Pettichord flags an article by Steve Feuerstein about his book , Oracle PL/SQL Programming Guide to Oracle8i Features, in which his code examples are highly political, including (as he summarizes them):

For example, to illustrate how to create a data structure, he builds a database of war criminals with Henry Kissinger as his first entry.

While I have no problem with his particular politics, if we take a book such as this as a type of teaching tool, then I'd recommend on a couple of grounds that next time he choose examples that help people learn about his topic, rather than ones that show what a smarty pants he is. Does this make me a hypocrite about the importance of voice? You know what? I think I just don't care.

http://www.oreilly.com/news/feuerstein_1000.html


Peter Merholz suggests we look at a monthly 'zine about e-learning. If you care about this topic, you may find it useful: http://www.elearningpost.com/elthemes/ee.asp


Mike O'Dell, Uberlord of UUNet — while Mike technically doesn't own every packet transmitted over the Net, I believe has right of first refusal on them — suggests we take a look at the aptly named http://www.nakednews.com/. It's the news and the news announcers are naked. Should I worry that this reminds me less of my one-handed adolescent dreams than of of Monty Python's News for Parrots?


Australian Ron writes:

If you are in need of a good hard belly laugh, here's a great place to start: http://satirewire.com/

"Belly laugh" is maybe a little strong. I'd reserve that phrase for www.theonion.com . Maybe it's just that it's really hard to be satiric given the news these days.


Tired of Quake? Nah, me neither. But if your kids come home early from school and you need switch to something a little more up their alley, Wild Tangent provides online games that are impressive in their graphics and playability. Unlike Quake, you don't download a massive client; these are games that are launched from your browser.

http://www.wildtangent.com/games/index.php3


Jeffrey Tarter, editor and publisher of the esteemed SoftLetter, writes:

You MUST go read this story: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp- dyn/articles/A7115-2000Oct14.html

If ordinary hacks like us were allowed to vote in the Pulizter awards, this guy would be a shoo-in.

How could you not love this article? The author, Gene Weingarten, made the following offer to a PR flack: "I will write glowingly about her client's pillows if she will tell me something really humiliating about herself that I will also print." He then expanded his offer to about a dozen other pliers of the PR trade. Some went for it, some didn't.

This is a very funny article.

 

Who's Tired of Being a Millionaire?

Stu Rubinow responds to our request for recommendations of charities:

Do you know about Heifer Project International ( www.heifer.org )?  They're the "teach a man to fish..." proverb given life and substance.  They provide breeder livestock (and training in what to do with them) to poor people around the world.  The expectation is that you will then give some of the offspring from your animals to others in your village, and they do the same. So an initial gift of 6 ducks becomes, in some number of years, a village poultry collaborative that's producing for food and sale more ducks a year than you can count and has raised the standard of living for everyone.
 
This from their most recent mailing: "Since 1944, Heifer Project has helped over four million families in need, providing over 20 types of food- and income-producing animals and intensive training in animal management, environmentally-sound farming and community development in more than 125 countries."  All started by one Indiana farmer with a vision.
 
So for 20 bucks you can give someone a flocklet of geese for Chanukah (HPI will send them a card telling them that you've donated in their name).  If not geese, at various donation levels chickens, bees, goats, sheep, llamas, heifers, pigs, rabbits, water buffalo.  What could be better?  We've been giving them money for years.....
 

Let's hear from more of you about your favorite, lower- profile charities.

 

 

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Email, Arbitrary Insults, and Suspicious Hacking Coughs

In the previous issue, I cited a particular petition ("We, the undersigned ... hereby declare the Governor [Bush] to be a big smirky doofus") as an example of the range of pleas on www.e-thepeople.com . I also seemed to have mentioned that these petitions generally would get no further than the the author's circle of drunken frat brothers. Little did I know the role played by a JOHO reader, the punctuation-enhanced b!X, who writes:

As author of the doofus petition and a dark-hearted child of the Internet, I simply MUST emphatically state that I am not now, nor have I ever been, an illiterate, drunken frat brother (or sister).

Meanwhile, petition sites will only work for real when either (1) the powers-that-be take email seriously and/or (2) a site gets grant money to use the net simply to COLLECT signatures, but then prints out a nice massive paper copy for delivery to the target. Nothing like a sold thump of a huge box full of petition sigs on some poor aide's desk.

Mini-bogus contest: Name one petition in the past twenty years that has had any effect on national policy. (Note: Dropping off a huge box full of ten dollar bills does not count as a petition.)


Joe McDonough responds to the following at the end of a recent issue:

It makes you wonder if anyone told SAP that their name in English is at best unfortunate. Not like "JOHO" which we extensively researched for cultural cross-cognizance and linguistic interpalliation. But the job's not done. Be assured that we here at JOHO will not rest until we're certain JOHO is gibberish in every language on the planet.

Joe writes:

Actually, "joho" means "information" in Japanese, which I had assumed til now was intentional.

The truth is that when I first named JOHO, I didn't check it in any other languages. In response to the very first issue, however, Larry Bohn, an old friend, wrote to me and said while he liked the 'zine, did I know that "JOHO" means "penis" in Indonesian? Well, he was just pulling my leg, if you know what I mean. It was only a few issues later that a Japanese reader told me how fortunate I'd been. (On the other hand, it means www.joho.com will forever be out of my reach.)


Eric Norlin, demi-lord of www.personalization.com writes to pick a nit about my referring to the NSA as the National Security Administration, while beginning with the non- credible claim that he's not doing anything as petty as picking a nit:

not to be nitpicky, but....Agency, not Administration....i used to work there as well....and while the urine and boar thing is true....."passing" the polygraphs is not....i failed several of mine (no joke)....it only meant a couple annoying months of fbi muddling...

Ah, it's comforting to know that a proven liar can still work for the most secret, secure administration, um, agency in our government.


Matt Rose writes:

found this snippet in an article on the web by Philip Greenspun. http://www.arsdigita.com/asj/managing-software-engineers/

At the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, which has nurtured groups of great programmers for nearly 40 years, the gathering spaces are referred to as "playrooms". These contain sofas and coffee tables, movable in the best tradition of Dewey, where programmers eat, talk, and occasionally listen to presentations. Usually a playroom will have some sort of shared writing surface such as a whiteboard. Note that these playrooms also are an important part of an organization's knowledge management system...

How radical! A place to sit and talk! Next knowledge components to be added to the KM system: felt-tipped pens, 3 ring-binders and occasional jokes "to foster the spirit of creativity."


Oh, we should have known we'd stir up a hornet's nest when we carefully constructed an example to clarify the distinction between relevant and irrelevant distinctions. Laurie Kalmanson was the first hornet to arrive:

dude ... you left the barn door open a mile wide on this one ... it's so obvious that i am a weak person for taking such easy bait ... but i hope you understand ... i just can't resist asking the question below your quote ...

"it's reasonable to rule out hiring women to work in environments harmful to the female reproductive system."

... which also makes it reasonable to rule out hiring *men* to work in environments harmful to the *male* reproductive system ... yes?

Yes, of course. This was exactly my point. I didn't think the example would work well if it were predicated on an instance of sexism working against men since that'd really stretch the ol' credulity. So, I went for rhetorical symmetry.

Next came Dana Parker:

Oooh, problem. This was the unreasonable reason given by my new supervisor, back in the 80's, to fire me from my very satisfying (to me) field engineer job installing satellite earth stations. He was sure that the work, which involved climbing around on roofs and running shielded coaxial cable through phone closets in 24 story buildings, would damage my "female parts". He got away with it too; the EEOC (headed at the time, you guessed it, by Clarence Thomas) found no discrimination, despite the fact that I was also the only female field engineer, first in size of territory, second in seniority, and DEAD LAST in pay.

I never have wanted kids. If I'd changed my mind later, I wouldn't have sued the company for allowing me to do something potentially harmful to my ability to reproduce. And the jury's still out on what, exactly, is and is not harmful to reproductive systems and feti, for both men and women. There's a theory, in fact, that many birth defects are not caused by the mother's drinking alcohol during pregnancy, but by the father's being drunk during sex. Are we going to put notices on beer and booze bottles warning men about having sex when they've been drinking? (Hah!) Or how about the likelihood that extended bicycle riding and restrictive underwear can reduce sperm count? You gonna ban men from being bike messengers or competing in the Tour de France? Or wearing tighty whities?

How about, let the individual woman decide what job she wants to take, being informed of the risks as they are known at the time. Men are free to take any kind of  work they want (barring wet nurse), regardless of whether it would potentially damage their reproductive organs or any other organs or appendages. Women deserve the same rights. If there's a major discovery next week that sitting in front of a CRT for ten hours a day is gonna fry my ovaries, I defy you or anyone else to tell me I can't take a job that requires using a computer.  

First, please recognize that this is *my* hypothetical case. I get to specify its details. And in my hypothetical, the work environment was genuinely harmful to women. No fair coming back with examples where the environment isn't or might not be harmful. That's just not how the hypothetical case game is played.

Now, granting that this is a case of genuine, unambiguous harm to women, then I think Dana's point is reasonable although still arguable. Maybe it should be up to individual to decide on the basis of the facts. Personally, I think I'd vote in favor of a social policy that protects individuals from making decisions that have an irreversible long term effect, closing down important possibilities (you're not going to convince me that reproducing isn't important). It's the type of thing people in a democracy argue about. I imagine a factory in a poor district that lets well-informed 18 year old women go to work in my hypothetical environment, and they do it because they need the money, thoroughly convinced they'll never want to have kids. Twenty years later, they change their mind. We've seen exactly this type of thing in unsafe workplaces for millennia — people have "freely" worked in mines after watching their fathers die of black lung.

But, keep in mind that none of this has to do with the point in the column which is that there's a difference between discriminating based on relevant differences and irrelevant differences. My example may have been bad, but my larger point remains.


Steve Yost writes in response to my comment that real-world moral analogies don't work real well on the Web:

Yes, the web is different from the rest of our worlds (thank God). It's mostly broadcast, mostly text and images. Mostly as exciting as ad posters on the subway. Email and collaborative apps have the essential richness to keep us returning, but have the same sensory limitations: nearly devoid of nuance. It takes great skill with written language to overcome this — something most of us don't have.

This aspect of subtlety might be the most important to your point (or maybe it misses it entirely). Our conveyance of morals and conventions in- person is sometimes very subtle — a simple look has the potential to question a statement or action. Subtleties of manner and sometimes appearance help define who we like to be with, forming continually shifting and mixing "morally" agreeing groups of various scales. Larger scales require less subtlety, but are maybe even more demanding of social bandwidth — contrarily, imagine a political campaign conducted entirely on the internet.

(Moral conveyance isn't always subtle, as witnessed by my parking-lot chat with a queue-shirker today who happened to be an acquaintance. But on a mailing list, it would've been a long flame war. But there on the asphalt, enough got communicated in 30 seconds.)

So, given all this, I think the call doesn't seem to be for analogy as much as for nuance.

That seems to be a fundamental problem — our scope of possible communication — one to one, one to many, many to many — is suddenly vast, while the medium doesn't provide the easy nuance of in-person communication.

It's all evidenced by the fact that behind great electronic (what a quaint word) communications like this JOHO edition are lots of great in- person meetings like the one you attended. It's probably the freshness of that vivid experience, combined with your talent for conveying in words, that made this a great issue.

Well, damn, that turned into an exposition instead of a question. But I'd like to know what you think. And I must be way off your point, which must be more like: we extend our moral systems by analogy. We say "doing that is like stealing a blind man's shopping bag". But if that's it, why aren't there analogous situations on the web? Can you give an example of a web situation where analogies, don't apply? I think I'm missing something despite my long- winded attempt to talk it out myself.

Geez, this has taken me over an hour. Would've taken 15 minutes to discuss over a beer.

I thought this was a topic on which I continually harp in JOHO, but a little research shows that I actually have only talked about it explicitly once that I can find, in the June 5, 1999 issue, where I maintained that we can't figure out what to do about ThirdVoice because the analogies to real world behavior don't fit. Napster is the current example du jour. So, while in the real world we have a "common sense" that guides our behavior — you don't cut in line, you do eventually pay musicians for their music — common sense on the Web is still emerging. When we try to figure out tough cases where common sense fails us, we use analogies. But the real world analogies often fail on the Web. Do we say that using Napster is like recording off the radio (except where's the broadcast?), like making tapes for a friend (except the tapes are perfect copies and the whole world is my friend), like a public library (except there can be an infinity of copies on the shelf), like shoplifting from a CD store (except where's the store?), etc.? The biggest obstacle the recording industry faces is that with 38 million users, Napster may already have catalyzed a new common sense.

As for the importance of nuance: yes, but it may be less important than it seems. Human communication is liquid and shapes itself to its container. I bet even prisoners communicating by tapping on the walls develop recognizable styles and nuance. And a rhetoric. This isn't to say that all media provide equally nuanced communications. But we adjust our expectations to meet the medium's possibilities.


Bob "Prof" Morris is prompted to write by my comments on a presentation by ethicist Rush Kidder:

Besides the factor you touch on of how learned about something an individual actually is, there is also the question of developmental stages e.g. Kohlberg's model of moral reasoning ( http://courses.ed.asu.edu/brem/protected/edp510/kohlberg.htm if you are not already familiar with it). ... [A]s I have come to understand it, stage theory models not a personal level of achievement or enlightenment, but rather models the ability to internalize certain kinds of arguments and account for various viewpoints in one's reasoning, especially about other human beings. Thus, to evaluate the soundness of someone's moral argument, you need to know what kinds of things they are unable, personally, to consider in forming those arguments. What the realm of possible influences and models is, so to speak. Although Kohlberg and others' stages are ordered, it is not an ordering of "better" or "more mature", but merely—-the theories hold—-that you can't usually get through stage N+1 without going through stage N. Sometimes that may take minutes, sometimes years. The tricky part is that it is very difficult to recognize the presence or absence of stage N reasoning if one is in stage M < N.

I actually didn't mean to judge Rush, just his lousy, disappointing, pandering, superficial presentation. In fact, it was only disappointing because I assumed (and still assume) that his thinking goes past his presentation.

As for people at a prior Kohlberg stage not understanding the reasoning of those at subsequent stages, well, frankly, I don't understand what you're talking about.


Margret Bailey comments on my noting that Bill Joy, in a presentation at the same conference, said that he doesn't read fiction.

I was especially interested in the anxiety produced in you because Bill Joy doesn't read fiction. Baby, it's not just the narrative that's critical in fiction...Stephen Jay Gould tells a hell of a story, and for the most part he gets filed in the non-fiction sections at Borders (would that there were an actual natural history section). I, of course, having been through the dreaded post-structuralist edumacation, feel that the difference between fictions and histories can be elided with a single citation of Michel Foucault (Two Lectures from Power/Knowledge). Nevertheless, what I'm really pointing to (aside from the obvious that people who don't read fiction seem to be stuck on some notion of factualism which doesn't line up with my ideas about the usefulness of truth regardless of its factual content) is that empathy is developed through the identification with a fictional character using the human 6th sense: the imagination. think you might enjoy Martha Nussbaum's 'Poetic Justice' read alongside Wittgenstein's 'Philosophical Investigations', although Nussbaum ends up being too touchy feely and Wittgenstein too aphoristic. That's why -I- don't trust people who don't read fiction. I mistrust that their empathy and their imaginations are developed.

Oooh, nicely put. ("Edumacation"? Gotta love it.) And I agree with you. There's more to be learned from literature than how to string a story together; hence my reference to sci fi, which does ok in the plot department but is a tad weak when it comes to understanding the soul.


Don Darragh, apropos of some damn thing we were discussing, writes:

Are you familiar with the technique for catching monkeys? First you take a VERY heavy jar with an opening just large enough to insert a banana. Then leave it in plain view of your intended capture. Seems monkeys will reach into the jar & grab the banana, which then makes their hand too large to exit the jar. Whereupon you need merely walk up to the monkey/jar (since the monkey refuses to let go of the banana the jar is now too heavy for the monkey to flee)& cart them away. My personal experience with encountering truth has been very similar. My refusal to let go of the "untruth", now recognizable because of "seeing" the truth at first makes me miserable. As long as I cling to the untruth & the simultaneous recognition of truth, I'm miserable. Only after letting go does freedom occur.

Oddly, this is how I first met RageBoy, except it wasn't his hand in the jar, if you catch my meaning.


Joe Rassenfoss writes about a perpetual thorn in my side, namely the practice of spelling "email" as "e-mail."

check out the furor caused by Wired, which just switched their style from "email" to "e-mail." Both sides of the argument blast away in this story. It's good....

http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,39651,00. html?tw=wn20001025

What a bunch of sell-out wussies!

Reminds me an interminable argument among tech publishing weenies about whether there should be one or two spaces after a period in proportionally spaced docs. (Hint: The answer is one.)


Dana Parker contributes to our new Never-Ending Topic: our former code words for marijuana.

Back in the day, I lived in San Diego. We occasionally had access to some fine (purportedly) Mexican herb. One day a friend commented, "This is the last of the Oaxacan." Someone else (I wish it were me) asked "Should we call it Chingachgook?" Needless to say, the name stuck.

Unfortunately, this is a name that is likely to get you beaten up by two entirely separate ethnic groups. (And, by the way, did you know that "oaxacan" is Icelandic for "penis"?)


Australian Ron, who has in fact decamped for the US of A, is spurred to pen a screed (which I've edited for space) by our interview with one of the founders of Quiq, the force behind Answerpoint, a site where anyone can post a question or answer one.

didn't we invent that a while back and call it Usenet?

...it will die horribly of a terminal case of Portalitis. It's the wrong place to ask questions. i.e., the people with the knowledge to answer them (well) aren't exactly going to be frantically lining up to see if someone asks for just the factoid they want to talk about today. Rather it's going to attract a lot of people with lots of questions and no answers...

[yes, it might work better in a focused private intranet, but read on, it's still limiting the form of discussion rather than enabling the sort of freeform shaping of ideas that we messy humans so love — ed.]

Maybe that will sound overly pessimistic, but I don't think so, because exactly the dynamic that this seems to want to create is *already* being played out in the net's native mode. Distributed all over the place. On websites, newsgroups, mailing lists, irc, and just about any other way people can manage to shovel bits at each other down a phone line. The people who live only to rejoice in the finer points of fumblewidgets have already found each other and set up their own space. The (smart) people who want to know about fumblewidgets will gravitate there, not to some generic widget portal unless it's paid the bucks to appear on top of the search listings.

Where is this ramble going.. well it occurred to me over a bowl of pasta earlier, that one of the major gripes that people seeking to exploit Free Software have is actually a direct function of not understanding this.

Sure the programmers are all lazy, sure they never bother to write any documentation explaining it for you in words of two syllables. But hang around on our users list for a week, and not only will all your questions be answered, but in all likelihood we'll have answered whole pile of other ones that you didn't even know you wanted to ask yet. Not to mention the ruboff of having the resident fumblewidget guru understand better your favorite colour and pet peeves.

But I guess that's just not congruent with the McKnowledge Way that many people (outside that experience) have come to expect. Drive-though takeaway knowledge might sound good to a time and motion man, but it's no substitute for hanging around the bar and telling stories. Perhaps as we continue to mature as a culture we'll begin to regard these time-pinchers[1] in much the same way as our parents came to look upon the penny-pinchers of their day. Thinking about it, many of us probably already do.

I'm not so sure we're inventing new ways of talking here, just new bars to hang around while we do it..

[1] preemptive trademark pending..

Yes, I have little hope that Answerpoint will be around in 18 months, at least in its present form, and my original article was quite skeptical. But I stand by my point: it's damn exciting to live in a time when we can invent new ways of conversing.


James Montgomery was at first disturbed that www.zdnet.com — for whom he edits the small business newsletter — scored so well on the wankometer discussed in the previous issue. But upon further investigation...

...reporting back...seems the universe is not totally out of whack after all (presidential election results still outstanding). ZDNet's Small Business site — mine — rates a "considerable" Wank factor of 2.10.

Here's a ranking of ZDNet sites for which I have partial or total editorial control:

ZDNet Business & Technology home 2.27 Considerable

eWEEK.com 1.30 Considerable

Systems/ network management 2.20 Considerable

Application service providers 2.10 Considerable

Enterprise applications (including app dev, ERP, groupware, and other generic topics) 1.98 Considerable

The only conclusion to be drawn from this data sampling is that I'm a considerable wanker. Or that the person who manages ZDNet's home page is a lesser wanker than I. I win!

Jim, I've never met the webmaster of ZDnet's home page, but I can pretty well guarantee that you out-wank him. Just consider the amount of research you did on this...


Jonathan Page writes:

You mention several times in you piece on Pop!Tech that the speakers told jokes etc but you don't say what they were. A colleague of mine is speaking at a seminar on Wednesday about a new electronic grant application processing system we have just launched - he asked me if I knew or could find any jokes etc about e-commerce/ e-life in general as he reckons that by the time he gets to talk the audience will be at the reaching for the warm milky drinks stage. Any help would be gratefully received.

Well, I know a humdinger about three sales guys and an embedded fax machine, but your friend might be better off going to http://www8.techmall.com/techdocs/ah-archive.html where much of the Web's humorous flotsam can be found.


Mike Elzey writes in my response to mentioning that GW Bush is a moron:

listen to Jim Rome on the radio. Here was his take on the election (paraphrasing):

"The main thing you should want out of a President is that the President be smarter than you. Say what you will about Clinton, he's smarter than me. While Al Gore may be about as interesting as drywall, he's smarter than me. Dubyah ain't."

Unfortunately, the electorate seems to disagree. Eisenhower beat Stevenson. Reagan beat Carter and Mondale, and Bush beat Dukakis. If anything, with the exception of Carter vs. Ford, it seems you can't hardly go wrong betting on the dumb guy.

All hail president-elect Bush. Sigh.

dividing line

Bogus Contest: Motherhood

I read yet another motherhood piece — you know, the boilerplate at the end of a press release — that so overstated the product's capabilities that it was unrecognizable. For example, it said that the product makes the information it's generated "available 24/7 via the Net or corporate intranet." In other words, it builds a Web page. Whoopdidoo.

Here are some other examples of motherhood descriptions of products. Your first job is to guess what product or feature they're describing. The second is to send me your own challenges. Better yet, find real examples of the purposefully befuddling.

About a...

Motherhood

Real Meaning

Web page

"multiple, simultaneous presentation of data"

Uses frames

Computer

"enables users to make personal statement, enhancing the work environment"

Comes in colors

Mouse

"ergonomically designed"

Isn't bigger than your hand

Web page

"multimedia"

Animated gifs

 


Contest Results

Kenneth Powers responds to our request for fill- ins of the phrase "If _______ had designed the Internet, it would ____________."

If the Fab Four has designed the Net every packet would make a mysterious statement if read in reverse and contain a barely-veiled reference to mind- altering substances when read correctly.


From Ross Wirth:

If Al Gore had designed the Net . . . packets would be taxed so that every classroom could have Internet access.

If Congress had designed the Net . . . each packet would cost 33 cents to send and take between 2 and 7 days to reach its destination.

Well, we should probably re-do the Gore entry at this point: If Al Gore had designed the Net, packets would be hand checked to make sure they're valid.


Dan Kalikow writes:

Apropos your perennial (?) mini-bogus contest — I'm fresh back from Hong Kong where I couldn't help but notice prominent billboards with http://dicksoncyber.com on 'em. Its parent company, Dickson Ltd., makes every effort to stave off untoward implications by capitalizing it DicksonCyber & bolding their surname in their graphics, but sadly, I feel obligated to deprickate this effort :-)

Similarly, Mark Hurst of www.goodexperience.com (whom I had the pleasure of meeting at Pop!Tech — he's depressingly young), writes:

this comes from a goodexperience.com reader — he saw me mentioned in JOHO and sent me his own favorite "wacky url" :)

Here's one of my favs:

www.gifart.com

(gif art? I read "gee, i fart".)

Or, perhaps it merely refers to what happens after you eat K-Rations. But, in my experience you can't go wrong by ending on a fart joke. G'night and G-d bless!


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.

Subscription information, or requests to be removed from the JOHO mailing list, should be sent to [email protected]. There is no need for harshness or recriminations. Sometimes things just don't work out between people.

Dr. Weinberger is in a delicate nervous state, but if you want to send positive comments to him, his email address is [email protected].

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. JOHO gratefully acknowledges Open Text's kind permission to use this felicitous phrase.

For information about trademarks owned by Evident Marketing, Inc., please see our Preemptive Trademarks™™ page at http://www.hyperorg.com/misc/trademarks.html .