For those who need to understand how the Web is transforming the way businesses work, yada yada yada

  September 26,2000 

 

Contents

The Web's Deep Optimism: Everything bad can and will happen on the Web, but the cause for optimism is deep in the Web's very architecture.
Random Knowledge: Is knowledge luck or a scam? You be the judge.
True Tales to Curdle the Blood: Ross Wirth's Scary Tales of Forecasting, and more
Misc: Miscellaneous. Duh.
Walking the Walk: Jet Li meets his fans on line. Sort of.
Cool Tool : X-Setup lets you tweak Windows until you go blind.
Internetcetera: Factoids for your disbelief
Links to Love: Places to go, courtesy of y'all
Email, Confessions and Gargly Clearings of the Throat: The normal fabulous email
Bogus Contest: Overstatements

It's a JOHO World

National Public Radio ran yet another commentary of mine, this one on why multitasking is a myth. www.npr.org/ramfiles/atc/20000925.atc.05.rmm

 

 

Plug

My conscience is pretty clean when it comes to plugs. In the 17 years I've been writing JOHO, have I once mentioned that I'm a marketing consultant or given you my company's URL? Nah. Sure, I've plugged The Cluetrain Manifesto plenty, but that's a labor of love, not of finance; I clear about $0.60 per copy sold — damn co-authors! — so, it's hardly worth debasing myself to flog it here. So, please permit me this one bit of shameless promotion:

The world's largest speakers bureau — Washington Speakers — just signed me to an exclusive contract ... me and Colin Powell, Peter Jennings, Newt Gingrich and some guy who folds dollar bills into amusing shapes. So, if you'd like me to come perform like a trained seal at your next corporate meeting, let me know, or go direct to tinap@washingtonspeakers.com. You can also read all about it at www.hyperorg.com/evident/speaker.html and at www.washspkrs.com/speakers/d_weinberger/d_weifr.htm

We now return you to your regular programming...

 

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The Web's Deep Optimism

Pessimism about the Web runs on the surface. Optimism about it draws deep.

All the bad things we hear about the Web are true. There really are people online who'd like to lure our children into shadows. There really are hucksters who'll steal not only your money but your identity. There really are people who'll take pictures of you in a public bathroom and publish the pictures to the world. Every human vice we can imagine finds its way onto the Web, which seems to spur the world's most lurid imaginations even further. But the reason for this should be a cause for optimism.

Telephones merely gave us obscene calls, investment scams and mealtime interruptions by long distance companies. TV has brought us "adult" channels and the glorification of stupidity. But the Web's range of vices is as broad as that of our species. Why? Because the Web isn't a medium; it's a world. A medium conveys a message from Point A to Point B. But on the Web, we're the ones that are moving, not messages. The Web's semantics makes that clear: we go to and leave pages, pages are sites or homes. The Web provides a persistent public space for our peregrinations. There's plenty of room for our vices as well as our virtues: on the Web you will find every human adjective and most of the interesting verbs.

The Web is, of course, unlike any world we've encountered. Because it's not physical, we can pop into and out of it at will, without having to take a life-threatening journey across an ocean each time. And, unlike any world we've encountered, it is a purely invented, space — no messy outcroppings of rock, impassable gorges, or forbidding deserts. Everything you see was put there with other people in mind.

Because there's no preexisting landscape to be populated, when people build a web site, they also put in links. That's what holds the Web together. Without links, the Web would be simply an assemblage of isolated hard drives; a page that contains no links and has no other pages linked to it isn't really a part of the Web. Yet, every link on every page was put there because someone thought someone else might be interested. The very space of the Web is social. Its structure is a global refutation of radical individualism and personal isolationism.

Within this space held together by the interest of people in one another, the unscrupulous can prey. But their sins are only possible because this is a world premised not on indifference or entropy but on love. (The proof of the pudding is in its abuse.) And that is why optimism about the Web is deep — so deep that we should call it by its real name: Hope.

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Random Knowledge

There's plenty of knowledge in your company. The problem is telling who has it. For example, you're at the big meeting to decide what to do about the coming Flannel Crisis that threatens the very marrow of your business. Maria says to lay in a supply. Germaine says to move to synthetic flannel. Oscar says to set fire to your competitors' warehouses. Frances excuses herself and goes to call her stock broker. Someone in the room undoubtedly is saying the truth. Someone has knowledge. But who?

This is, in fact, the conundrum that gave rise to the idea of knowledge. The ancient Greek philosophers heard lots of people mouthing off — Athens was a participatory democracy, after all ... so long as you were a man, with money. But how do you separate mere beliefs from knowledge? If you could do that reliably, you'd be on the road to Truth, Goodness and the Athenian Way.

In corporations, we generally do it in two related ways. First, we look at the person's track record. The fact that Maria was right about the the great Steel Wool crisis of '93 and the great Marmite crisis of '97 gives her some credibility when it comes to the current flannel crisis. Second, we listen to those above us in the hierarchy. Not only do they have the authority to tell us what is knowledge and what just sounds like a good idea, but presumably they got there by having a track record like Maria's.

My friend Stowe Boyd compares this to a particular telephone scam. The way he tells it, you get a call one day from someone who says, "Next week, ABC stock is going to move up. I'm not asking you to buy any stock from me, but just take a look." Sure enough, ABC goes up. Next week the scam artist calls you back with another pick: "DEF is going to go down." Sure enough! For five weeks, this guy predicts the behavior of stocks. The sixth time he calls he says, "I've been right the past five times. This time I have a stock for you and I *do* want you to buy some shares through me. Waddya say?"

Here's the trick. This guy started in the first week by calling 100 people. He told half that ABC would go up and half would go down. When ABC went up, the next week he called the ones for whom he'd predicted accurately and he told half of them that DEF would go up and half that it would go down. At the end of five weeks, he has three people who think he is a stock market god.

Stowe's point, as I understand it, is that the ranks of management are filled with lucky people who believe they got where they are because they were smart enough to have made the right decisions. (By the way, be sure to check out Stowe's new 'zine, Message from Edge City, at http://edgecity.convey.com.)

We can lower the odds of picking the wrong "knowledge" by considering who's saying it, including the person's track record but also all the other things we listen for: attitude, cynicism or optimism, self-interest, tendency to exaggerate, bravery, grasp of contexts, grasp of facts, sense of humor. But the fact is that the world is terribly complex, so thinking that we can make well-founded decisions is itself a type of denial. The truth is that knowledge is a lot closer to luck — or worse, a scam — than we generally want to believe.

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True Tales to Curdle the Blood.

I was on National Public Radio a few weeks ago bad-mouthing predictions, saying they are frequently a way of making ourselves feel safe against the vagaries of fortune. Ross Wirth (http://www.entarga.com) comments:

I agree totally based on two vivid experiences earlier in my career when I worked in a management science department doing time series forecasting. Anyone who works with the various forecasting techniques should also know the limitations of the assumptions upon which the technique is based. And searching for the leading indicator of a discontinuous change is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! I am including two real life stories of when forecasting processes interface with people issues.

Story #1: hockey stick forecasting The company is driven by a commodity with fairly high price volatility. Each week the management committee would meet to forecast the price of the commodity over the next couple of months. This forecast would then drive a large number of production and inventory decisions. Out of curiosity I prepared a "waterfall chart" of their past forecasts to visually display their accuracy in forecasting price. This type of chart has the actual commodity price with a number of past forecasts plotted on the same chart for comparison. What was shown was a tendency of the management team to predict that the short-term trend would continue for awhile longer and then drift back to the long-term average. Hence the term hockey stick forecasts because each forecast resembled a hockey stick. However, rarely if ever did the actual price follow the forecast instead randomly moving around an average or periodically jumping in a discontinuous manner. From the evidence it was clear that management could not forecast price yet was betting the company each week on such an ability. A better course of action would be to assume an average price and then to take the risk of price change as normal business fluctuations. Or to avoid the risk of price change, the company should just hedge everything in the commodity market. Result of the evidence: all the managers laughed at their past inability to forecast price. And then they went on forecasting price every week because they were industry experts and should know better than anyone else what was influencing the price.

Story #2: "You can't forecast price" As a young analyst I had a project to forecast sales price of a commodity. The technical model had already proven superior to the estimates being made in the sales department when project funding ran out. Therefore, prepared presentation on the model accuracy along with suggestions for improving the model further if additional funding were to be provided. At the presentation I had just begun when the Senior VP arrived uninvited. This was extremely rare and surprised everyone, especially me this being my first real presentation out of school. Well, I had barely continued when the Senior VP flatly said "you can't forecast price." A bit shocked, quickly collected my thoughts and replied that the issue is not so much an ability to forecast but the accuracy of the forecasts. I then used the example that yesterday's price could be used as a forecast for tomorrow but with only limited accuracy to other methods of forecasting. The VP's response: "you can't forecast price." Even though I was inexperienced in corporate politics I knew enough to know that there was another agenda at play here. So I slowly stepped back and let the pricing manager have a go. The exchange between the Senior VP and the pricing manager quickly grew heated until the pricing manager yelled "if you can't forecast price, why the HELL do you keep asking me to!!!" At that point both the meeting and the project ended. The pricing department went back to their old way of forecasting price and my pricing model went down into company history. While I never did learn what the hidden agenda was, I definitely had a lesson in corporate power.

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Misc.

In the previous issue, I recommended atomz.com as a free site index. Here are the top 5 searches on my site during the week ending 9/2/00 as reported by Atomz:

3 rageboy
3 shave
2 2 7 trillion
2 hand blown bottles made in france
2 media outlets by congressional district

Ok, I understand "rageboy," for he's the official Scourge of JOHO, and thus is mentioned in these pages too often, along with warnings about email viruses and outbreaks of genital herpes. And "2 7 trillion" was spurred by the previous issue's mention of that figure. But "hand blown bottles made in france" and "media outlets by congressional district"? Can you get any more random? Figure it out, people! JOHO does not cover French crafts or media conspiracies. Well, actually we do cover media conspiracies, but we don't descend to the level of facts. You want a general purpose search engine, go to Lycos. You want a random list of dreck, well, you should also go to Lycos. But if you want *my type* of random dreck, then you've got a home here at JOHO.


Mystery solved. The following arrived recently from Chris "RageBoy" Locke. (Note: the Talmud reference has to do with some information I dug out for him about the Talmud for some rank screed he was writing):

no mention of RageBoy this time. congratulations! even though he turned you on to Atomz — there goes your Talmud footnote. pffft!

but look. from JOHO Atomz search:

SEARCH RESULTS 1 - 10 of 68 total results for RageBoy

So, the chart-topping searches for "rageboy" were in fact due to RageBoy himself ego-surfing. Sort of like feeling famous because you recognized yourself in the mirror.

Middle World Resources

A Compendium of Resources
Walking the Walk  

Jet Li, star of Romeo Must Die (bad acting, stupid story, great fight scenes) was interviewed in a magazine, but I forget which one. Anyway, he writes:

The Internet helps me interact with my fans. ... through the Internet I have contact with my audience all over the world.

Before my site went up there were already 71 Jet Li sites — that's a lot. The sites had some rumors, a lot of news — but often not very correct. That's why I decided to put up my official site. Now I use it to get opinions from my fans: What do they think about Jet Li in that English movie? What kind of movie do they want to see me in? What kind of action style? That way I can improve the next movie. At least three times a week I go on the site to answer questions and explain things.

Unfortunately, the dumbass magazine neglects to post the URL (although they write that he "communicates with fans via jetli.com") I *think* the page Li is talking about is http://jetli.rottentomatoes.com/ . (www.RottenTomatoes.com aggregates movie reviews — a great place to see capsule reviews from 30 reviewers nationwide.) Here you'll find a response by Li (or his designated representative) to one lucky letter writer per week. You'll also find Jet's philosophy (http://jetli.rottentomatoes.com/meditate/
meditate_philosophy_jet.html
) which I feel I'm not ready for until I've had a chance to truly master the thinking of Steven Seagal.

For those of you who would like to follow the path of Teacher Seagal, please proceed immediately to www.stevenseagal.com where you will find a sidebar that in one breath advertises his new book ("The Path Beyond Thought," a thoughtful meditation on the achievement of World Mind) and his new movie, "Exit Wounds." Shihan Seagal is such a complex person!

Cool Tool
For the Hyperlinked Organization
 

Chris Pirillo, who writes Lockergnome, a wildly successful, user-friendly daily tip sheet (www.lockergnome.com), answered a question of mine by pointing me to X-Setup, a free Windows utility that takes TweakUI many steps further. X-Setup provides a unified interface to setting preferences you didn't even know existed. In my case, it enabled me to blast the multi-clipboard widget back to the hellish kitchen that spawned it. And, it enabled me to set the "double click rectangle" larger than the default 4x4 for a relative with a less steady hand. X-Setup will also let you set preferences for IE and the desktop apps you probably use every day. It also seems to be a well-designed piece of software.

Free free free.

www.xteq.com

 

 

 

Internetcetera

CIO Magazine (Sept. 1) reports that Hewitt & Associates say that "every 7 to 12 minutes on the average, individuals make decisions about a life need while at work." Oddly, my own study of those of us who work at home shows that every 3.5 to 6 minutes on average, we make decisions to ignore a life need while at work.


According to AdRelevance, as reported in SAM magazine (July-Aug. '00), users who come to a site by clicking on a banner ad are 33% less likely to buy than ones that get there sometime after seeing a banner ad. This may mean that people need more than one visit to a site to buy something, but I prefer to believe that it means that banner ads blow goats.

 

Links to Love

RageBoy points us to http://www.boring.com, a family owned business since 1924. Chris Worth, meanwhile, sends us to listen to phone calls from a drunk, possibly homeless, individual: http://www.sl.net/~jboyd/cdg/


Tom Matrullo wrote a weblog entry about the paper on "distributed media" (= Napster) by Brian Millar we recommended not so long ago. http://tom.weblogs.com/discuss/msgReader$61. In it, Tom says, for example: "A real community on a network looks more like Napster than like Women.com."

Tom is one of our favorite writers and people but, this whole weblog thing is getting out of hand. I'm beginning to hate it. I'm out of time to read everybody's bloggers! Will y'all just keep it in your pants for awhile? Thank you.


Also from Tom Matrullo comes this missive about a reporter's fight with Forbes over journalistic principles:

from the clueful-little-guy-vs.-dinosaur dept;:

"I decided that Forbes is a billion-dollar company, with a staff of publicists," Penenberg told me. "And I am one person. But the advantage I have, that Forbes doesn't have, is that I know how to use the Internet. I know how to attract traffic. I know how to reach people fast on the Internet, and they don't."

Columnist Adam Penenberg after Forbes refused to stand by him.

http://www.zdnet.com/intweek/stories/columns/0,4164,2622566,00.html


Kevin Craine writes to have us mention his new book, "Designing a Document Strategy," which is about a Pharaoh, his saucy mistress, and a talking asp named Charlie:

I would like to invite you to visit the web site at www.document-strategy.com. Naturally, I'd be pleased if you would give it a mention in JOHO...and promise to send you my Nana's fruit cake every holiday season until 2020 if you do so.

Send me fruit cake and die.


Chris J points us to a disturbing article about the corporatizing of the class room:

http://adbusters.org/campaigns/commercialfree/toolbox/ynnsucks.html


Jeffrey Tarter, publisher of Softletter, sends us to:

http://www.obscurestore.com/

Here you'll find disturbing news items from real papers, including the fact that 1,500 birds were crashing into Chicago's Hancock Center skyscraper each night until they dimmed the lights, and that the driver of the car that hit Stephen King has been found dead in his bed at age 43. Spooky!

It was at this site that I found a link to the Encyclopedia Brittanica's weekly article explaining Dennis Miller's literary references — and mis-references — during the Monday Night Football show: http://www.britannica.com/bcom/original/article/0,5744,12332,00.html Remember when the Britannica had some dignity?


And if you want bizarre objects, not just bizarre news, Alex Robinson points us to http://www.disturbingauctions.com, which aggregates the oddest stuff up for auction at the various eBay-like sites. So, if you have a yen for a sculpture of a rotting UPS driver or purse made out of most of a real frog, this spot's for you.


Alex Robinson also follows up on our posting of an official Texas site that lists the last meals of people George Bush has killed:

Heck, this is even scarier

http://www.prevent-abuse-now.com/register.htm

(Yep I have a full and varied social life and in my spare time I compile lists of verminous scum...)

In a follow-up message, the suddenly ubiquitous Alex points us to http://www.lasocpr.lsp.org/socpr/, an official Louisiana state site where you'll finally be able to "search for sex offenders/child predators." A search engine lets you reward the kindness of your neighbors by checking to see if they're only being nice because they're really twisted pervs.


Want to be scared? Roch Skelton at a different list points us to: http://joel.editthispage.com/stories/storyReader$139. In it you'll read of yet another nefarious plot by Microsoft to know all our secrets and thus to rule the world.


Greg Cavanagh, who is interested in interfacing chips and flesh — sounds like a terrible hors d'oeuvres to me — refers us to:

http://broccoli.caltech.edu/~pinelab/pinelab.html

These folks are growing neurons on electrodes on a glass substrate and then watching how they work together to learn how better to model neural nets on computers. And also to turn themselves into super brainiacs that take over the world but still can't get chicks ... tonight on "Up All Night" only on the WB!


Evelyn Walsh has found an amusing link failure for our snarky delectation at Bartlett's Shakespeare quotes. The quotations are supposed to have links to the full scene:

Alas the links are broken and when you click on them you get "Hello, nurse!" at least for Antony and Cleopatra you do.

http://tech-two.mit.edu/Shakespeare/Quotes/bartlett.html

But now comedy has turned to tragedy: the site has a notice saying that it's down because of a hard disk failure: "We are currently working with DriveSavers to recover the sites and hope that all will be back up and fully operational within one week. " God Speed, Tech-Two! And can I have some of what you're smoking?


Andy Moore thinks we will enjoy http://www.satirewire.com/news/0009/satire-voice.shtml

He is correct.


Valdis Krebs responds to our article on mapping the Web which cited his work by pointing to a dynamic — well, at least wiggly — map of a network of books:

Here is the maplet both as 'picture of system' and 'navigation tool of system' — what do you think?

http://www.orgnet.com/DEMO/socialcapital.html

What do I think? I think The Cluetrain Manifesto isn't on his stinkin' map of Web books. I'm sorry ... was there some other point?

 

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Email, Confessions and Gargly Clearings of the Throat

 

Lo these many issues ago, in a small article about how Flycast's attempt to control its customers blew up in its face, I took a passing swipe at one of those customers. Fred Stodolak, CEO of SportSoft Golf, was quoted in my source article as demanding perfection of Flycast. Well, Fred apparently was doing some ego surfing and came upon the article. (Damn search engines!) And responds most humanely:

I just came across your fine article on the flycast bcc incident (and other topics) and while I enjoyed reading your views and agree with many of them I couldn't resist but comment since I found reference to my quote given to Internet World.

It is true that I and all human beings make mistakes. And, while I am a CEO who has made mistakes I can tell you that it is completely understandable that an individual at flycast made a mistake. However, prior and subsequent to the time of the flycast incident I received relentless calls from flycast reps for my company's business. My feeling at that time and today is simply that I would not give such an important part of my business (advertising revenue) to a company that does not have the controls in place to protect against, what I would agree with you are understandable human mistakes. Would you have told a flycast rep that you feel comfortable giving them your advertising business, which as you know involves some fairly sophisticated automation, after getting bombarded with over 50 emails from strangers due to the lack of human and automated controls at flycast (not simply due to a human error) ??

You have to agree that Fred took the pasting rather well, don't you? You can imagine some of our more, um, short-leashed readers reacting in similar circumstances. (Fortunately, RageBoy's demeanor of instability has resulted in his being turned down for gun licenses in 22 of the 23 states where he's tried.) Yes, the context makes Fred's comment more understandable. Too bad...it was a better story before.


Our confession of the code words we used to refer to Mary Jane back when we were young and admitting to occasional use has brought a number of once and future potheads out of the woodwork.

James Montgomery writes:

We always call(ed) it "pizza." This invariably degenerated into a vicious circle when we developed the munchies and tried to obtain genuine 'za, but someone who will remain nameless would forget to unjack the frame.

Also a friend has a ceramic bowl in the shape of a guitar. Hence MJ is referred to as "strings."

Odd coincidence. I had a friend, Jake "Stony" Rhodes, who had an ashtray in the shape of Spiro Agnew, so his code word for marijuana was "dope." I hear they expunged his conviction from his record.

(By the way, if you want to know everything there is to know about America, pay attention at the end of Mission Impossible 2 (NOTE: no spoilers ahead) when Anthony Hopkins says that a conviction will be "expunged — wiped away — from her record." Apparently, we're so stupid that we need to have the word "expunged" explained by a brief spasm of exposition.)


Richard Gardner spills the beans about the system of code he used in his mis-spent youth in the UK:

Mmmmmm, how's about the following for referencing combustible comestibles telephonically?

Louis (the sixteenth) Henry (an eighth) Dorothy (a quarter, not sure why) Wizard (an ounce, as in Wizard of Oz, geddit?)

And something about tomatoes too, but its all a bit hazy and I can't remember exactly what. For reference, in the United Kingdom of Britain we use Imperial measurements for dope until you get up to 9 ounces, and then you switch to metric - not sure how it is over there?

Over here, by the time we got to 9 ounces, we were measuring stuff by hallucinated paisley patterns, with the drum solo from In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida as our standard unit of weight.


Then there's Bonnie who tells us what she and her friends used to call getting stoned:

I've got to get my shoes fixed!!! ;-)

So here we learn an important lesson: Come up with the cryptography before you begin smoking.


Tom Jones adds to our Tales to Scare You file with this remark overheard at a large pipeline/fiber optic company:

Director to Manager:

"Don't worry about your people, we can always buy more...it's the Organizational Structure that is really important."

Actually, neither is important. What really counts is the 401K. Let's get our priorities straight, people!


Maura "Chip" Yost writes:

You popped to mind when I read this...speak from home...do class in a robe and slippers! lol! Best, Chip

http://www.guru.com/gig/gig_overview_view.jhtml

Is that the image you folks have of me? Those who have visited my manse can attest I'm much more of smoking jacket and vermouth martini type of guy. Oh, I can't wait until we all have video cameras mounted on our monitors so at last the truth can be seen.


I wrote a while ago that I lost data because of a laptop problem. Australian Ron fell into my little trap and recommended that I use Linux. Only then did I reveal that the problem with my laptop was that it had been stolen. "How might Linux have helped with that, Ron?" I asked. Here Australian Ron, our own gold medalist in the Verbal 500, responds:

...er, a bit like this apparently.. http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/1/12833.html

Though I fear the real probability of this Working For You is roughly on par with winning something from your average marketing giveaway 'game of skill'.. The only difference here is there's a bit more emphasis on the very obvious fact that you've been ripped off right from the outset.

Ron then leaps a chasm of relevance, referring to an ancient quest of JOHO's::

Skipping off on a tangent though, it appears we've come a step closer to finding a replacement for the word fuck. It's not perfect yet over the entire scope covered by fuck, but it's successfully being applied to all things that are indeed fucked up: The next person who puts something World Class in my face is going to suffer consequences a magnitude more severe than the word fuck had ever conjured for them!

.., The battle for mindshare between Fuck and World Class has just begun.

Let's just take it out for a spin. "Hey, you world classing idiot! Get your world classing nose out of my world classing business, or I'll poke your world classing eyes out. That is totally world classed up, man!" I have to admit that it has a nice ring to it, but I'm sorry, it lacks the onomatopoeitic juice of the F word. I think I may actually prefer our own hoary suggestion: "probe." "Probe you, you mother prober!" Yeah, now we're talking!


Ross Wirth elaborates on an essay of mine that extolled questioning:

After sitting through a management meeting and seeing some of the answers being given to a top manager who was trying very hard to understand a core issue I went back to my office and printed a PowerPoint slide that now hangs on the wall in my office. ... The slide reads as follows:

Ways to answer a question:
* Answer a related but different question that is not as sensitive
* Answer the question that was asked
* Answer the question that would have been asked if more was known

You left off Option D: Talk about yourself. This is known in the literature as the Man-on-a-Date Answer.


Robert A. (Bob) Morris responds to our article on number mysticism, i.e., the belief that if a number is precise, it must be accurate:

As we used to say in graduate school (remember graduate school?):

1 + 1 = 3 for a sufficiently small value of 3

When I replied that I had no idea what he was talking about, Bob favored me with:

Actually, it makes eminent nonsense to the mathematically trained, which is why it's a joke. But I guess most math jokes fall flat. Remind me to tell you the true metajoke about the Mayor of Vancouver BC and the International Congress of Mathematicians he welcomed in 1972.

Man, I'm holding my sides in anticipation of the Laff Fest that's sure to ensue as the result of a joke that brings together the two funniest tribes on the planet — mathematicians and Canadian politicians — and isn't even a joke but ... get this! ... a meta joke!

Professor Bob then weaves a spell of mathematico-wizardry around a scam he didn't know I was going to talk about in this very issue. Bob says:

In a room of 1024 (=2^10) people each tossing a fair coin 10 times, how likely is it that one person will throw 10 heads in a row? It sounds small, but it's close to certain:

1. Everybody tosses. There are about 512 heads expected. Send the others home with their tails between their legs.
2. Repeat for the remaining 512. About 256 toss heads and so now have 2 heads in a row. Send the 256 losers home.
3. Repeat for the remaining 256. About 128 toss heads and so now have 3 heads in a row. 4. ....

Wait a minute, "Professor"! Some of us aren't so gullible. You say that in Step 2, 256 people will have two heads in a row. If there are 256 people with two heads, aren't there really 512 people? And of course their heads will be in a row, assuming that both of the heads are growing out of their necks. And even if they're not, even if they have one head growing in their armpit and another on their knee, isn't it the case that any two objects can be seen as being in a row? It's only the third one that may or may not be in the row, and we don't get to that particular mutation until Step 3. I have a keen mathematical mind, Professor, so don't try to pull any more fast ones on me.

Oh, I see I spoke too soon! Here's Bob at it again, this time monkeying with my lifeblood, The Cluetrain Manifesto, in the guise of recommending a book about the brain:

Tangential but pretty interesting is a recent book "Inner Vision : An Exploration of Art and the Brain" by the vision scientist Semir Zeki, Oxford University Press, January 2000. At Amazon.com readers gave this an average of five stars. Based on two reviews. From the same person. Still the book is said to be popular in Australia(#18), whereas The Cluetrain Manifesto is said to be popular in DesMoines, IA (#16). OK, OK, so the CTM is #151 at Amazon and Zeki is #35,210. If you normalize by the number of authors and number of pages, Zeki fares a little better against CTM. (To do this normalization, multiply rank by the number of authors and divide by number of pages. Possibly also divide by the number of footnotes and bibliography entries. The ratio of the resulting normalized ranks is the true measure of the relative readership interest in each page of each author's contribution. Or something.)

I spent 23 full years getting normalized by the school system. I never want to go through that again.


An anonymous source at a industry consulting firm writes about the number mysticism article that complained about the use of improbably precise numbers by industry analysts to convince us that they're right:

The problem is, if we did the honest thing and actually said something like "we are quite sure it's going to be really, *really* big, no honest, we mean BIG" and left it at that — or better yet, Douglas-Adams-like metaphors— 'you thought Sly Stallone's biceps were big? Or the Eiffel Tower was huge? Wait till you see e-commerce?!' then no one takes us seriously - or pays our wages... An innovator's dilemma, you might say. So the best we can do is try to avoid trying to outdo rival firms with our spurious decimal places or the weightiness of our spreadsheets.

Excellent comment. But, why the anonymity? It's not like you're exposing a secret.


Peter Merholz seems to think I have a fetish for accuracy. He weighs in with a correction of some inaccuracies I introduced when talking about the short subject, "The Powers of Ten"

Actually, lying in a park in Chicago. You can click through the powers here: http://www.wordwizz.com/pwrsof10.htm Oddly enough, while they mention Lakeshore Drive, etc., at 10^3 http://www.wordwizz.com/1uexp3.htm they mistakenly say it's San Francisco at 10^4 http://www.wordwizz.com/1uexp4.htm and then correctly state it's supposed to be metropolitan Chicago at 10^5 http://www.wordwizz.com/1uexp5.htm except they've used an image of the SF Bay Area.

He continues:

Have you pursued "self organizing maps"? http://websom.hut.fi/websom/ For some reason, all the research in this area is coming out of Finland. SOMs work similarly to things like Autonomy, where it somehow 'understands' the information, and creates maps of relevance based on that.

Google is, to some degree, a map that uses how people link to determine relevance.

There have been essentially no good visualizations of internet mapping, though, you mentioned some interesting ones (thebrain, thinkmap).

I would add WebStalker (http://bak.spc.org/iod/index.html) developed by manifesto-driven Brits as another interesting visualization (though it focuses on individual websites, and not whole webspaces).

Another great general resource is The Big Picture(sm): Visual Browsing in Web and non-Web Databases http://www.public.iastate.edu/~CYBERSTACKS/BigPic.htm

WebStalker is a download from a minimalist Web site that looks like it was designed by Jakob Nielsen on a fast. You have to read the help file to learn that it builds maps of the Web on the fly. Also, it doesn't seem to have bothered with a "close" command, so I had to use the task manager to nuke it. But, other than that, it's a cool bit of programming.


Marina responds from the depths of her pain to our mention of Ohio's hazing people into memorizing their mission statement:

I've heard this story before. Only it wasn't Ohio - it was Salem, MA, and it wasn't a vision statement, it was the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer, and it wasn't gold stars for getting it right, it was hanging for getting it wrong. But it's the same thing.

A similar initiative formed the basis for the first five years of my education. Do I have to tell you I spent those five years in Catholic school? But I am pleased to say that at the advanced age of almost 42 (September 9, if you'd care to mark your calendars), I have forgotten most of the Ten Commandments. I can usually get about eight right. But then I start adding things like "Thou shalt not wear Hard Rock Café t-shirts" and "Thou shalt not elect intellectually substandard Texas frat boys to the presidency" and I get confused.

You remember 80% of the Ten Commandments? Wow, that's a B-! Pretty good! (On the other hand, do any of you know what the admission requirements to Hell are?)


Chris Worth writes:

got the creeps over this. Can it be coincidence that a spam for laser printer carts arrived - twice - on the same day my printer told me it was about to run out - twice?

assume the printer driver contains some sort of pinger that alerts a database somewhere. Imagine: a major, respectable company (HP) including code in its software that doesn't tell you what it's doing!? What is the world coming to?

Chris, we've traced the spam ... it's coming from ... INSIDE YOUR HOUSE. RUN!


Bryan Millar of Myrtle comments on our recommendation of Neotrace, a utility that shows you where your Net packets are pinging and ponging:

I've always been a big fan of neotrace. There's something very satisfying about seeing where all those little servers are. Perhaps there should be a standard address for each server where you could see a little picture of it in situ. Ours is in the sub-basement on a pile of old cardboard boxes...

When I replied that geeks often think their computers are pets, Brian responded:

Yes, they are kind of like pets. I just bought a palm pilot today. I may have to tie it in a sack and throw it in the river.


Craig, on the Cluetrain discussion board, writes:

This comes courtesy the FuckedCompany.com message board:

Amazon uses cookies to track what items you look at, if you don't buy them after you look at them and come back later to purchase the item, they raise the price of the item. It's blatantly apparent in the DVD section. Try it yourself. I used Netscape and Men in Black was $27.99, using IE it is $25.99. Is this legal? Here's a thread from a forum where people are locating price changes: http://talk.dvdtalk.com/ubb/Forum7/HTML/005161.html

Amazon apparently has ended this "market experiment." Frankly, I'll bet we'll see it again, though.


Dave Phelan picks up on my mention of Bill Cheswick, one of the people creating a version of a map of the Net:

Ches did a fantastic keynote about internet mapping at the Black Hat Briefings conference last year. http://media.blackhat.com:554/ramgen/blackhat/bh-usa-99/video/bill-cheswick-bh-usa-99-video.rm for the video, http://media.blackhat.com:554/ramgen/blackhat/bh-usa-99/audio/bill-cheswick-bh-usa-99-audio.rm for the audio...

Multimedia file or a typing test? You be the judge...


I wrote that wireless technology needs to hook into the technology of erotica. Old Bogus responds:

It's here, now: http://www.msnbc.com/news/318124.asp?cp1=1

Thanks for the info. My world's just a little brighter now. Sigh.


Amy Wohl, industry analyst, writes on the same topic:

So you're predicting the reallly big net appliance will be a vibrator that gets email? Will it be restricted to porno chat sessions? Will you be able to get continuous spam so it vibrates all the time? Ah technology.

"Spam me, baby! Spam me hard! Oooh, oooh, you've got male!"

 

dividing line

Bogus Contest: Overstatements

PaperMate's tag line is "The heart of communication." You know what? They make world class pens! That's all!

This issue's challenge: find the most obscurantist, self-inflating Web site tag lines you can. For example:

Tag Line

Site

What they do

Url

"Creating Opportunity and Ensuring Security for Every American"

Senate Republican Conference

Lobby for the rich

http://www.senate.gov/~src/

"It's your world."

United Nations

Usher in era of world peace

http://www.un.org/

"The first step on the Web"

Register.com

Relatively cheap domain registration

www.register.com

"Super human software"

Lotus.com

Groupware

http://www.lotus.com/programs/ r5momentum.nsf/webdocs/super3

"Think outside the book"

Switchboard.com

Email directory

http://www.switchboard.com

"We're more than just oats"

Quaker Oats

Oats and junk food company

http://www.quakeroats.com/home.html

Funny party game idea: Jumble up the tag lines and sites and see what oddly appropriate combos you get. E.g.: "We're more than just oats: The UN." That and 9 ounces of 'za will really fix your shoes!


Contest Results

Alex Robinson continues the long-term search for new types of portals:

Abortal = Fucked company

Hard & Softcortal

Snortal - not sure whether this is a site that puts you to sleep, deals with all your resting requirements or simply makes you snort...

going along with your assertion that porn drives everything, why has nobody registered spurtal.com? Dot-cum would work to describe sex portals too. However that has been registered and is a rather natty comic series/graphic novel


Mark Hurst, publisher of Good Experience (www.goodexperience.com) returns to another perpetual topic: domain names in need of hyphenation.

http://www.goosewing.com/

as soon as i saw this i thought — "Goo Sewing?!" what kind of lace doily can you make by sewing up some goo?


Richard Gardner follows up on our contest based on the issuing of the Claudia Schiffer version of the Palm Pilot:

I think Computer Weekly need some recognition of a job well done in their coverage of the Claudia Schiffer Palm 5 release, to whit:

"Palm hopes Schiffer will boost handheld activity"

It works on so many levels.

A fitting end to a massive JOHO. Yikes.


Editorial Lint

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