Joho the BlogFebruary 2006 - Page 3 of 6 - Joho the Blog

February 16, 2006

Cory Doctorow: Technology, fiction and the Dark Net

Cory gave a talk at Harvard last night that I had to miss, but I was at the little lunch the Berkman Center threw for him that afternoon. Cory held forth in that brilliant way of his about the war against the Internet. (Will someone find something that he doesn’t know…but please don’t tell him because then he’ll know that, too.)

One of the things I most like about Cory is that he looks at the likely effects of technology. I’ve had too many discussions with people I highly respect who act as if technology is neutral and that’s the end of the story. Of course tech is neutral in the sense that it can be used for good or evil. But the world in which technology exists is not neutral. So, we have to think about whether what we’re building is likely to make the world better or worse. Cory does that and has enough context to do so extraordinarily well.

I said something like this to him afterwards and he said that that’s what science fiction writers do: What would happen if this bit of tech or that were around?

Good point. Fiction overall makes choices and follows the consequences.

In the war to save our Internet, we need to enlist more fiction writers.


Cory uses the phrase “Dark Net” to denote the parts of the Net that escape from the strictures of the copyright totalitarians et al. I don’t like the term. It comes from a whitepaper by Peter Biddle, Paul England, Marus Peinado and Bryan Willman.* The darkness of the Dark Net implies that the activities there are shady. Some are, but many are just users using content they own.

So, I’d like to find a different term. Open Net? Free Net? Our Net? Resistance Net? User-owned Net? Keep Your Stinking Hands Off My Computer, You Corporate Fascists, Net? [Tags: ]

*It’s an odd paper because it argues that DRM and trusted computing will never eliminate all illegal sharing…odd because it comes from Microsoft guys working on eliminating what they consider illegal sharing. The paper did not foresee just how totalitarian the world was going to get.

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The success trap — And city taglines

A little bit late, I’ve run across a post from Johnnie Moore that makes the most excellent point that organizations think the path to success is to emulate thewildly successful “branding campaigns” of other organizations. So, they think about the tagline, jingle or cutesy character that has worked beyond anyone’s dreams, and then they try to come up with their own. But, as Johnnie says, why think you’re going to be the one in ten thousand who comes up with something as zippy and memorable? This strategy leads to 9,999 failures for every success.

Johnnie cites the highly successful tagline for Las Vegas — “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” — and the highly forgettable attempts by cities to come up with their own. “God forbid that we let the people who live here, and those who visit, tell the story in a million more modest, less consistent but much more credible ways?”


BTW, here’s my suggestion for a tagline for Boston: “And what did you get on your SAT’s?” [Tags: ]

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February 15, 2006

How real is Firewall?

CSOonline sent a bunch of security folks to see the movie Firewall. Is it realistic? Allow me to quote Dennis Treece on just one small point:

And he has the requisite blindingly fast and error-free typing skills, without even looking at the keyboard, which Hollywood demands of its geek heroes. Once again, nah, I don’t think so.

It’s a fun set of reviews. [Tags: ]

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Off to Italy, away from my book

Our daughter Leah is spending a semester studying in Florence, Italy. Tomorrow night, we’re leaving to spend 10 days with her in Rome, Florence and Venice. Then I’m going to go to Paris, Hamburg and Milan over the course of three days, talking with businesses and some media about corporate blogging, sponsored by Edelman PR, to whom (disclosure) I consult.

Things have been busy around here so I haven’t really focused on the trip, but it should be pretty fabulous, although it’ll probably take me a good eight days to escape the psychic grip the book I’m working on has me in. I’ve been consumed by it, from morning until night. 25% of my time is devoted to fretting about it. Another 32% goes to reading stuff on the Web that I can’t remember how or why I got to. I spend 11% of my time unwriting what I wrote the day before. Then there’s the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ 8% Attention Tax. Nevertheless, the book is with me all the time.

For those who are keeping track, I am starting chapter 7 out of 9, although I am done with chapters 1-6 only in the delusional sense that the paper has passed through the platen of my typewriter. I’m not done with them until the fat lady sings, the fat lady being in this case my editor who is not fat and would surprise me by singing. (And, no, I’m not really using a typewriter.)

Chapter 7 is about the importance of the implicit in a digital world that tempts us to make everything explicit. Now I just have to figure out what that means, why anyone should care, and how to write it. But nooooo, I have to gallivant off to Italy. You’re right, I should stay home and work on chapter 7 at least until I know what it’s about. Absolutely. I don’t deserve a 10-day break, much less in Italy. You’re right. I’ll stay here and write more. Thank you for that tough love.

(Will someone please pry my fingers off the keyboard so I can pack? Please?) [Tags: ]

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Dan Bricklin on RocketBoom

Steve Garfield RocketBooms an interview with Dan Bricklin on the alpha release of WikiCalc, which is, well, you can figure it out. [Tags: ]

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February 14, 2006

From analog to digital computers

ComputerWorld has a terrific interview with Pres Eckert, one of the inventors of ENIAC, in which he busts some myths. Very interesting. The interview is from 1989; Eckert died in 1995. [Tags: ]

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[berkman] Sunlight Foundation

A group from the Sunlight are giving a Tuesday lunchtime talk at the Berkman center. The group here today includes Micah Sifry, Andrew Rasiej, Ellen Miller, and Michael Klein. [As always, what follows is an inaccurate sketch. I make no claim of completeness.)

The Sunlight Foundation aims at bring transparency and accountability to Congress. The name comes from the 1913 Brandeis quotation: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” “Lawmakers will continue to do what they do,” Ellen says, “so long as they can get away with it.” The Foundation’s goal is “real transparency about the quid pro quo”: Who is giving them money? Who are they meeting with? What are they inserting into bills? Then, this information has to be put into shareable format (xml, APIs).

For this, they need citizens to do some investigation — “distributive journalism.”

Congress still files bunches of disclosure information on paper. The Foundation is working with the Center for Responsive Politics on digitizing this. Ellen shows screen captures of how the government currently makes information available online: Endless lists of cryptically named files, many of which lead to single PDFs of paper forms.

Sunlight’s plan: Collect new information, digitize the old, and invest in connecting the records. Find ways to involve citizens as muckrakers and reporters. Get the information out of DC and into the blogs, etc., where people are lookng for it. And galvanize a national campaign.

Micah says they’d like to have a tool to enable any blogger or journalist to put a box on any page that talks about a Congressperson. Maybe the box lists their top five donors and links to a page with all the info.

kjQ: (Bill McGeveran) Doesn’t this pose a privacy threat to individual donors who have given a small amount of money to a cause that perhaps his neighbors don’t like? How can we have the maximum benefit of sunlight but also not chill a private person who wants to donate $300 to some cause?
A: (Mike) That information is already there. It’s already available.

A: (Ellen) If you give less than $200, it’s not recorded.A: (Mike) There might be some small chilling effect, but the corrosive effect of not having sunlight is an overwhelmingly bad thing.

Q: (Amanda Michel) They key audience for Sunlight are the researchers and activists. They need timely data. Aggregating data and making it available to researchers would be a tremendous service.
A: (Mike) First the data has to be there. We’ll also provide tools for using the data.

Q: (irc) Any support from Congress?
A: (Andrew Rasiej) No. Not publicly.
A: (Mike) Schwarzenegger is going to make his calendar public. And John McCain is in favor of more disclosure.

Q: How can they say no?
A: (Ellen) They say that if they post their calendars, they would be reluctant to meet with groups outside of the mainstream.
A: (Andrew) They just can’t fathom it. “They’re so addicted to topdown control…”

Q: (Dan Gillmor) Are there any states or municipalities that have gone part of the way that you could use as a test bed?
A: (Ellen) We’re working on it.

A: (Micah) It’s a fertile time for doing this.

Q: I ran a campaign for the mayor of Portland. To draw off votes from another candidate, we ran a competing candidate. With full sunlight, we couldn’t have done that.

Q: Will there be an opportunity for candidates to respond?
A: (Mike) They have the world and the platform to respond. And we’re just making the data available.
A: (Ellen) We’re doing a blog that will use the data and people will be able to respond there.

Q: (me) Are you putting forward a Sunlight Pledge of some sort that candidates can take?
A: We’re working on it. (Dan Gillmor adds: Put the draft up on your site and your readers will write it for you.)

Q: (me) Are you working on standardized data formats?
A: Yes. It’s premature to talk about it. We’re talking with people.
A: (Andrew) The data is in silos and the owners of it don’t like the idea that their data might be put into the public.

(This could be an important service on which some killer public service apps can – and I hope will – be built.) [Tags: ]

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Fleishman interviews Varsavsky on Fon: It’s all about the telefons

Martin Varsavsky, Fon‘s fearless leader, and Glenn Fleishman finally got to talk together. Glenn has a long post about it. This is, from my point of view, the definitive interview, at least so far. Glenn’s take-away: “Fon today seems much more about telephony to me than it did yesterday.” (Disclosure: I’m on Fon’s board of advisors.) [Tags: ]

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Blogosphere changes shape

If I read Dave “Technorati” Sifry’s latest State of the Blogosphere post correctly — and when it comes to numbers, the chances of my going right is nil — rather than being shaped like a hockey stick, the blogosphere is shaped like an alert python that’s just eaten some big bloggers.

There used to be a head of the tail that consisted of bloggers with lots of links going into them and a tail as long all get-out consisting of bloggers with a few links. Now, there’s still a head, but there are fewer bloggers and more mainstream media in it. The bloggers who used to be in the head (plus others, for more bloggers now have lots of links) have been pushed past the line’s elbow and form a bump. And the long tail has gotten longer…27M blogs long.

Here’s what I think is happening, if my understanding of the stats is correct (which it probably isn’t): As more people blog, the sites that we all read in common remain the MSM. Links to the MSM thus increase in almost a straight line as the overall size of the blogosphere increases. But as blogging spreads, interests get more diverse, so there are fewer blogs that we all read; those sites get forced into the python’s lump.

Does this mean the mainstream media are “winning”? Nah, it just means that they remain the main stream. We don’t yet know if they are a habit we’re going to overcome, an institution waiting to be Wikipedia-ed, or if they will transform themselves enough to continue being our common ground.

(Disclosure: I’m on Technorati’s board of advisors. And I’m a friend of Dave Sifry’s.)


Technorati has introduced a welcome new feature in beta: A slider that lets you adjust how important blogging “authority” is to you in a particular search. As Dave says, turning up the “authority” volume is useful when doing a search in a heavily-spammed area such as “mortgage.” [Tags: ]

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Israeli announces anti-Jewish cartoon contest

From Boomka:

Amitai Sandy (29), graphic artist and publisher of Dimona Comix Publishing, from Tel-Aviv, Israel, has followed the unfolding of the “Muhammad cartoon-gate” events in amazement, until finally he came up with the right answer to all this insanity – and so he announced today the launch of a new anti-Semitic cartoons contest – this time drawn by Jews themselves!

“We’ll show the world we can do the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew hating cartoons ever published!” said Sandy “No Iranian will beat us on our home turf!”

In the incomprehensible mix of social norms, religious precepts and cultural politics, I can’t take this as anything more than Jews commenting on Jews. But I like it. (Thanks to Hanan for the link.) [Tags: ]

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