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September 29, 2006

DOEP (Daily Open-Ended Puzzle) (intermittent): Markets are

I leave tonight for a conference in Maastricht devoted to the topic “Markets are conversations.” I give the final keynote, which is also the final speech of the conference. So, since I’m carrying the Cluetrain banner and the attendees—Dutch marketers—will have spent 1.5 days on the topic, it’s tempting to announce in an authoritative tone of voice that Cluetrain was wrong about markets. They’re not conversations. Markets are _________.

The aim is to fill in the blank with the most ridiculous plural noun for which one could still make some type of semi-reasonable case. To enter, you have to give the noun and a brief version of the case. For example, markets are petting zoos because, while they’re fun for a little while, it takes days to wash the stink off your hands.

Ok, so that one didn’t make much sense, but I’m sure you’ll do better. [Tags:]

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Gestures and metadata

AKMA gestures towards gestures, stimulated by an offhand comment by Doc. “I’ve found the problem of communicative gestures to constitute one decisive fulcrum for my reasoning,” writes AKMA. I wouldn’t go that far for myself, but I do find something important about gestures, stimulated (as is so often the case for me) by that ol’ Nazi bastard, Martin Heidegger.

Heidegger talks about gestures, as I recall, as a way of getting past the notion that language is a series of coded definitions that re-create in the hearer the image or meaning intended by the speaker. Instead, take gestures such as pointing or even simply turning towards something as language. In gesturing at the world, I’m turning you towards it, letting it show itself to you as it is showing itself to me. And that’s what language does. It doesn’t re-create a representation of the world in the hearer; it turns her toward the world we share. It’s all part of Heidegger’s attempt to get us past the idea that we live in inner representations of the world.

As the old joke goes, when you point at something with your finger, your dog looks at your finger. Humans don’t. Gestures point away from themselves in order to let something show itself to us. Heidegger likes this because he’s always trying to point out (!) that existing isn’t simply being present; what isn’t present (e.g., the future, but also the unsaid in what’s explicitly said) is even more important. To give an example not explicit in Heidegger, the canonical rock that’s used as an example of a real thing is present to us as real because it points beyond our awareness of it; it’s only a real rock (as opposed to, say, an imaginary one) if it is present to us as something that exists independent of its presence to us. In computer terms, that’s metadata. In Heidegger’s terms (well, sort of), that’s a gesture. [Tags: ]

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AKMA’s faithful interpretation

I am in possession of AKMA‘s new book, Faithful Interpretation: Reading the Bible in a Postmodern World. I am a big fan of his What Is Postmodern Biblical Criticism?, one of the best introductions to Postmodernism I’ve read. I’m also a big fan of AKMA in general. So I couldn’t keep from opening the new one even though I’m not supposed to be doing anything other than revising my book.

I intended to read just the opening paragraph or two but got sucked all the way through the introduction. AKMA plunges straight into the question of whether intention is in the text. AKMA, as you know, respects his readers both by thinking hard and by writing clearly. In fact, he writes brilliantly.

I’m looking forward to having my mind banged upside the brain by AKMA’s latest… [Tags: ]

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September 28, 2006

Get your paddles on this YouTube

The first segment, about where new words come from, is particularly entertaining. I also enjoyed the business bib. [Tags:]

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Zack Exley on organizing through trust

Zack Exley was one of the leaders of MoveOn.org, and was in charge of the Net side of Kerry’s presidential campaign. But in what he’s just posted about the nature of grassroots leadership he draws primarily on what he learned as a union organizer during most of the ’90s. His Organizers’ Guide to Trusting People works on several levels: It’s a pragmatic guide, it’s an exhortation to trust the people, it’s an indictment of progressives’ arrogance, it points to a grand strategy, and it’s rooted in Zack’s hands-on experience as a real-world organizer on one side and in progressive principles on the other.

There’s too much to quote, but here’s one snippet:

…we’ve just got to open our minds to the possibility that the people are just as radical as they were when millions took part in sit-down strikes and the Unemployed Councils. We’ve got to recognize the possibility that the wisest, boldest leaders have been consciously refusing to participate in our campaigns because our goals have been too modest and our strategies shaky as hell.

This is an important piece. And it’s a hopeful piece.

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Request for feature: Screen bottom marker

When I’m reading something online that takes more than a screen, I find that I highlight a line near the bottom before I scroll so I can orient myself quickly on the new screen. Therefore, it might be useful if my software did that for me automatically. I can imagine (but, alas, cannot write) a Firefox extension that highlights the bottom line of the main frame (well, ok, so we’ve hit a snag here) whenever a page is scrolled.

Just thinking out loud… [Tags: ]

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DOEP (Daily Open-Ended Puzzle) (intermittent): Names now wrong

This is from Michael O’Connor Clarke who recalls trying to explain why pipe cleaners are called “pipe cleaners” to a six year old who had never seen anyone smoking. He wonders if there are “other examples of things still in everyday use whose names refer back to functions long since rendered obsolete.” (A quibble: Pipe cleaners are still used to clean pipes, just not as often as twenty years ago.)

Keep in mind that even though this is supposedly an open-ended puzzle, I’m not looking for words whose etymology refers to something obsolete, but words that have current plain-text meanings unrelated to their current use. So the fact that I picked up from my parents the habit of occasionally referring to a refrigerator as an “icebox” doesn’t count because that does not refer to its use, and neither does the quasi-fact that “testify” comes from the Roman practice of men holding their testicles when giving evidence in court. A telephone “dial” is also not a great example because it doesn’t refer to what it’s used for but to how it’s used.

A perfect example would be … ? [Tags:]

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September 27, 2006

The cult of expertise

I just got back from 1.5 days of meetings with members of the CIA’s intelligence analysis community who are interested in what social software can do for them. There were six of us “experts” and about 50 CIA folks. These are the people who put together analyses and “estimates” about what’s going on in the world so that our leaders can ignore them and do what will get them re-elected (or, in some particularly Oedipal cases, do what will make Mommy love them more than Mommy loves Daddy). In short, these folks are among the few representatives of the Reality Principle in our government. I would like them to be able to do their job ever better.

We weren’t given any confidential information (well, except that Mrs. Wanda Appleton of 123 Elm St. better stop what she’s been doing…you know what I’m talking about, Wanda), but we agreed to blog only generalities so that discussion could be frank. Here are my generalities:

This was a totally fascinating set of sessions. The CIA folks there included visionaries (e.g., Calvin Andrus), internal bloggers, the people behind Intellipedia (an in-house wikipedia), folks from the daily in-house newspaper, and some managers not yet sold on the idea of blogs and wikis and tags.

It sounds like there’s a fairly vibrant blogging community already, including some senior people. But, there’s cultural tension over, for example, whether a blog that contains any personal information means that a government employee has been misusing tax payers’ computers. It is a culture in transition, as you can imagine.

It began with an informal presentation by one of the analysts (first-name only, no email address) who took us through a typical day. He gets evaluated on the basis of the written reports he produces. There is some collegiality — more than I encountered as an academic — but the back-and-forth of commentary isn’t captured. It all comes down to the finished written document. (No document is ever finished, the panel said.)

The panel overall stressed that the issues were social, not technical. Also, we pushed for building memory by capturing more of the work-in-process and by linking linking linking. I personally would like to see the Agency get past the cult of expertise, moving instead to a view of knowledge as social. That means showing work in progress and capturing the discussion during and after publication. But that also means changing how analysts are evaluated and promoted. One of the participants said that already one’s “corridor reputation” affects one’s career. There should also be — and will also be — an e-corridor reputation that helps advance you because you’re a great commenter, a frequent contributor to the wiki, or have a blog that’s getting read.

The people we met with are serious about understanding the opportunities, experimenting, piloting, and evangelizing. I liked them. I would like them to get better and better not only at understanding what’s happening in the world but also at not being “spun.” [Tags: ]


Keep in mind that we met with the report-writing analyst side of the Agency. As for that other side where they engage in “operations” — unrepresented at this meeting — I sure would like them to stop torturing people. But, hey, I’m just a crazed Boston liberal.

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Edelman on manic-depression

Here’s some interesting CEO-blogging. Richard Edelman of Edelman PR (which is a client of mine (disclosure)) writes about his mother’s bipolarism from a very personal point of view. [Tags: >]

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September 26, 2006

Dear Kid, here’s what you should know…

DDearKid.org is a wiki where you can create a page with some wisdom you now know that you wish someone had told you when you were twelve. [Tags: ]

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