Joho the BlogJuly 2010 - Page 3 of 5 - Joho the Blog

July 21, 2010

Iris Murdoch on studying as a virtue

I’ve been reading Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignity of Good. The first two essays are written a little too much (for me) within the particular philosophical debates of the 1960s, but the third remains pretty wonderful. Here’s a short paragraph that is not central, but that I really like:

If I am learning, for instance, Russian, I am confronted by an authoritative structure which commands my respect. The task is difficult and the goal is distant and perhaps never entirely attainable. My work is a progressive revelation of something which exists independently of me. Attention is rewarded by a knowledge of reality. Love of Russian leads me away from myself towards something alien to me, something which my consciousness cannot take over, swallow up, deny or make unreal. The honesty and humility required of the student — not to pretend to know what one does not know — is the preparation for the honesty and humility of the scholar …[A]part from special contexts, studying is normally an exercise of virtue as well as of talent, and shows us a fundamental way in which virtue is related to the real world.


July 20, 2010

The competitive difference

Brough Turner has done some investigative work. Here’s the photo that summarizes it:

The following is an edited, paraphrased version of Brough’s comments on the mailing list I got this from (with Brough’s permission):

In the picture, the building on the right is 111 Huntington Avenue in Boston. It’s served by 7+ separate carriers each of which owns their own fiber into the building. The price quoted on the slide is Cogent’s list price for a 3 year contract (lower prices and/or shorter terms are available to those who can wait for an end-of-quarter special).

The building on the left is 170 Huntington Avenue in Boston. There is Verizon fiber into this building, but apparently no other carrier has their own fiber into this building. The price quoted is what a friend’s IT department signed up for less than 45 days ago.

In both cases we are comparing “dedicated” services, i.e. a supposedly committed information rate service. Yes, Verizon’s price per Mbps would be better if the customer had ordered 155 Mbps, but the disparity would still be outrageous.

Gotta love competition. Brough’s case study is one more data point confirming Yochai Benkler’s massive study of broadband around the world [pdf] that found the countries that surpass the US in price and penetration are generally ones with competitive markets for broadband.

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July 19, 2010

The semantic tipping point

Have semantic technologies reached the tipping point? Rene Reinsberg at the MIT Entrepreneurship Review says yes.

Im not sure what exactly a “tipping point” would be here, but it seems incontestable that semantic technologies are an important part of the Web and of business, and, taken broadly enough, always have been. I wonder, though, if the term “the semantic web” has reached a negative tipping point. Rene seems to use it pretty much interchangeably with “semantic technologies,” although the Semantic Web seems to promise something more world-wide-ish and systemic than the increasing use of semantic technologies.

Anyway, its an interesting post, with lots of links.


July 18, 2010

[2b2k] Long-form and web-form arguments

I just re-read Jay Rosen’s piece on objectivity as persuasion more slowly than I did the first time. It’s like watching a master carpenter bang nails. Beautiful.

Jay’s post is #6 in a series. Jay tells me he has at least one more. So far, he’s written 15,000 words … and his commenters have written 96,000. (That second number seems way too high, but it’s based on my copying and pasting the comments (plus Jay’s integrated roundups) into a text editor. My clerical skills are poor, however.)

For Too Big to Know, I’ve written a section (which means I’ll probably be unwriting it tomorrow) taking these six pieces as an example of one type of long-form writing on the Web … or, more exactly, web-form writing. At the end of the discussion, I list advantages and disadvantages of Jay’s webby version of long-form argument versus standard, book-length, printed long-form arguments. In abbreviated form:


1. The argument assumes a natural length.

2. The ground the argument covers is more responsive to the ground itself. Readers will point out neglected areas that the argument requires the author to talk about.

3. The work becomes embedded in a loose-edged discussion that more naturally reflects the messy, intertwingled nature of topics.

4. Readers are given fewer reasons to get off the bus midway. When Darwin writes in Chapter Four of On the Origin of Species that “He who rejects these views on the nature of the geological record, will rightly reject my whole theory,” he’s opening the door and inviting passengers to get off. If Darwin had published in a webby way, he would have discovered unanticipated objections, and he would have been able to meet at least some of them.

5. Ideas get out to their public far faster than the old write-in-private, publish-in-public model.

6. The ideas more successfully escape the grasp of the author so that they can change the world.

7. Readers are more involved in the long argument the author used to be having with himself.

8. The author’s authority gets right-sized. Simply seeing the author engage with readers through comments tells the great percentage of readers who do not leave comments that the author recognizes that her/his words need defense, that her/his authority goes no further than the worth of the ideas.

9. We can see some of the effects of the writer’s words rippling through the culture.


1. Some people don’t like to work this way.

2. Some arguments work better rhetorically if they are presented all at once.

3. Some ideas won’t do well commercially if developed in public for free. Note, though, that it’s not clear that our assumptions here are correct. Cory Doctorow, among others, has succeeded commercially, as well as in the impact of his ideas, by giving away online access to his books even as he sells hardcopies.

4. The published book is a traditional token of expertise and achievement. They look mighty impressive arrayed on one’s bookshelf.

5. It is harder for us to know what to believe, because more voices are present and in contention.

(By the way, these forms of argument are not mutually exclusive. Both and many more as well are present simultaneously on the Net. On the other hand, traditional long-form arguments posted on the Web inevitably become embroiled in web-form arguments, and thus are not unchanged.)


July 17, 2010

Berkman Buzz

Here’s the weekly Berkman Buzz, as compiled by Seth Young.

  • Doc Searls wonders whether biz is all it is link

  • Ethan Zuckerman’s “a wider world, a wider web” TED talk link

  • Donnie Dong spots the difference anew on link

  • Herdict updates us on Australia’s Internet filtering plans link

  • Wendy Seltzer comments on “Bilski and the Value of Experimentation” link

  • Radio Berkman 158: “Thinking About Thinking About the Net” (Tim Hwang and me) link

  • danah boyd shares her concerns and questions about Facebook’s UK “panic button” link

  • OpenNet Initiative on Pakistan and Facebook, encore link

  • Harry Lewis reads the speech control news link

  • CMLP thinks of the children, and constitutionally protected speech link

  • Weekly Global Voices: “Uganda: Bloggers react to bomb blasts” link


July 16, 2010

Old Spice Guy

I didn’t need the viral campaign to convince me I loved the Old Spice Guy ads. I rewound it the first time I saw it on TV so my wife could see it.

Two points:

1. While I of course admire how cleverly they’ve viralized it, credit where credit due: it would have laid there as inert as a hand-caught silverfish if the content weren’t compelling. And what’s essential about the content, besides the charm of the Guy himself, is that it mocks advertisements, men, the product, and the viewers. Pretty much a clean sweep of ironic commentary.

2. In a viral campaign — as in the general movement of ideas and memes around the Net — the audience is also the medium. We are that through which memes move.

BTW, here’s a look at how they churned out the personalized videos.

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July 15, 2010

RadioBerkman interviews Tim Hwang

I am a Tim Hwang fanboy. Tim is one of the founders of ROFLcon and The Awesome Foundation. So, I was very happy to get to interview him for Radio Berkman. We talk about classifying Internet enthusiasts, and about whether there are schools of thought emerging among people who think about and research the Net.

Tim’s pretty damn insightful and delightful. In fact, Tim Hwang is awesome.


Verizon wants to own the exchange of health information

According to a post by Carl Brooks at SearchCloudComputing, Verizon is making a major push to be the provider of health information exchange services:

The Verizon Health Information Exchange can be used by doctors and healthcare providers to store, manage and transfer patient information, including medical records, test results, medical images and more, all hosted on Verizon’s infrastructure.

The project is nothing if not ambitious. Verizon says it is ready to roll nationwide and can absorb as many electronic medical records (EMR) as are currently out there; there may eventually be one for every person in the United States. It may even offer personal health records (PHR) to its telco customers.

This sort of service seems valuable. In fact, it’s so valuable that it makes me nervous that it would be in the hands of a telecommunications provider. For example, MedVirginia says that “its entire base of patient records will be stored with Verizon and delivered via the cloud.” Are we sure that this vital service should be a company that also sells access to the cloud? Will there be temptations for Verizon to use its ownership of the medical records infrastructure (“store, manage and transfer patient information”) to leverage its position as an access provider, or vice versa? Will medical images in Verizon’s vault arrive faster for Verizon’s ISP customers? Is that what we really want? Wouldn’t it be better for us all to have this service in the hands of someone who has zero interest in how we access that information? And I’m putting all of these as questions because I have vague suspicions but nothing more.

Maybe I’m just especially nervous because today is the last day to leave a comment for the FCC about Net neutrality.


July 14, 2010

Simple Google Spreadsheet script

Google Docs for quite a while now lets you write your own scripts. So, I wrote one a year ago that turns the entries in a row in a spreadsheet into some plain old text. This is useful to me because I’m keeping the bibliography for Too Big to Know in a Google spreadsheet. When I need to insert a footnote, it’s much easier to run this script and copy the text than it is to click into every cell in a row.

Keep in mind that this script is highly likely to be completely sub-optimal and more than a little embarrassing. (At some point, I’d like to have it process the content of the cells, turning them into a properly formatted bibliographic entry.)

Anyway, use as is.

function onOpen() {
 // create a menu entry for this script
  var ss = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSpreadsheet();
  var menuEntries = [ {name: "Create Biblio Entry for Row", functionName: "createBiblio"} ];
  ss.addMenu("Scripts", menuEntries);

function createBiblio() {

// get the selected row
var r = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveRange();
// get array of of cell values in that row
var vs = r.getValues();

// get the number of columns in the row
var numcols = r.getNumColumns();

if (numcols == 0) {

var i;
var s = "";
var content;

// cycle through the cells
for (i=0; i < numcols; i++){
  content = vs[0][i];
   if ((content != "") && (content !="undefined")) {
      s= s + content + ". "; // concat the content
// put it into a msgbox so you can copy it


TEDglobal talks, blogged by Ethanz the Amazing

Ethan Zuckerman, the world’s best live blogger — full awesomeness for his intellect, his writing talent, and his typing skills – is blogging TEDglobal. He is a prodigy of live blogging. I can’t even list all of the talks he’s blogged.

And Ethan’s own TED talk there is brilliant, funny, surprising, and compassionate.

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