Joho the BlogOctober 2010 - Page 2 of 4 - Joho the Blog

October 24, 2010

Give expunging a chance

I read an article this morning in “Hello!” about John Lennon’s seventieth birthday. It notes that “his life was taken away 30 years ago by gunman ____,” except they filled in the blank with the murderer’s name.

I’m not going to. If you want to know the “gunman’s” name, you can look it up. But I’d rather not give him the recognition.

In the current (near final?) draft of “Too Big to Know,” I touch on Wikipedia’s debate about whether to give each victim in the Virginia Tech murders their own separate entry. I found that I could not bring myself to use the murderer’s name. I don’t think the reader will notice, nor do I want them to. It’s not a matter of principle, although I’m ok with it formulated as one: “When avoidable, do not help make murder a quick way to fame.” Rather, it’s a visceral thing.

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October 23, 2010

Berkman Buzz + accepting applications

The weekly Berkman Buzz, as compiled by Seth Young:

* Charles Nesson responds to Joseph Reagle’s talk on “Good Faith Collaboration.”
* Ethan Zuckerman asks how many jump the Great Firewall.
* OpenNet Initiative on demand for less Net censorship in China
* Facebook and privacy, again — and Harry Lewis isn’t surprised.
* Future of the Internet Topics and Links of the Week
* Dan Gillmor explains why he’s not buying many Kindle books.
* Weekly Global Voices: “Serbia: Two Internet Entrepreneurs Detained for Months Without Trial
* A year ago in the Buzz: Chilling Effects discusses the Unity Day softball game of ’79.

Also note that the Center is accepting applications for 2011-2012

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October 21, 2010

Mac App Store brings me little joy

The Computerworld article on Apple’s introduction of an App Store for the Mac can’t find anyone who doesn’t think it’s the greatest win-win since butter melted on toast.

It makes me nervous. I don’t like hardware manufacturers telling me what software I can install. For example, Steve Jobs wants the iPhone and iPad to be safe for children, and I am not a child.

At least Jobs has said that the Mac App Store won’t be the only way to get software for the Mac. But Apple will do everything it can to skew users and developers in that direction. In fact, anyone want to pool on how long before Apple starts claiming that installing “unapproved” software can violate your warranty?

Like I said, it makes me nervous.

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Brazilian library slides

The conference I talked at in Rio yesterday has posted the slides from my keynote. You can download them here. The talk was organized around five characteristics of the Net just about anyone experiences by spending even a little time there. More particularly, what do those characteristics tell us about knowledge?

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October 20, 2010

Brazilian librarians

I have been at a national conference of Brazilian university librarians all day. I head back on a 20 hour trip tomorrow, starting at 3am local time, so expect light bloggage, to say the least.

Given that my interactions with Brazilian librarians have been generally brief, accomplished in what is for them a second language, and highly selective, I’m nevertheless quite enthusiastic about the experience. The ones I have spoken with are eagerly embracing the Net as a way in which they can amplify the value libraries bring to the human enterprise of understanding our world.

One sign of this: The question of copyright seems to weigh heavily on just about everyone’s mind. (Keep in mind, of course, the self-selection of those with whom I have talked.) Copyright is only perceived as an obstacle if you are intent on maximizing access to the works of human intellect and creativity. If you are afraid of what open access means, then copyright looks like a bulwark. But, if you are confident that we together — with the invaluable aid of librarians, among others — can overall steer ourselves right, then the current copyright regime looks like a fear-based reaction.

It is no coincidence (if my limited encounters are anything like typical) that Brazil has been a leader in trying to get some measure of sanity back into the balance of authorial rights and public access.

Even if I happened to run into the handful of Brazilian librarians who see the Net not as a threat but as the greatest opportunity ever for them to advance the mission to which they have devoted their working lives, meeting them has been exhilarating. Thank you.

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Taking the leader our of leadership

Harvard Business Review has published online a piece I wrote about a leadership program at West Point that (under on way of looking at it) is taking the leader out of leadership, i.e., using a distributed leadership model. (I also plan on using this idea in Chapter 8 of Too Big to Know.)

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October 19, 2010

In Rio

I’m giving two talks and participating in a panel discussion tomorrow at the national meeting of Brazilian university librarians in Rio. It was a long flight here, and I slept very badly on the plane, but it is still hard to complain about being given a free afternoon to wander around Rio.

I spent about 5 hours walking and only saw the beaches (Ipanema, not Copacabana … even the names have incredible resonance) and the Centro. I didn’t take the tram up to Christ the Redeemer on the grounds that I’d rather see the city from the ground than from the air. I didn’t take a favela tour, on the grounds that I didn’t have time and there’s something freaky about middle class Americans wandering through Brazilian poor neighborhoods, although it would have been fascinating. I spent most of my time lost.

So, what are my conclusions? Five hours is not enough to even fool myself into thinking I have seen Rio. My second conclusion is that Rio is clearly a very very interesting place. Not as resort-y as I’d thought (which is fine with me since I’m not a beach sort of guy) and full of life. Plus, everyone I’ve met, including the people I asked directions of, has been friendly and helpful. Sunny, one might say. Of course, the margin of error on my little incidental poll is about 45%. Still, you get a sense, a provisional sense.

I would like to come back for longer, if only because it’d be pretty much impossible to come back for any shorter. But mainly, I find the place fascinating. Not to mention that I am a Brazil fan.

Now for the ritualistic re-writing of the main talk I’m giving, even though I have worked hard on it and thought I had a final draft. Ah, neurosis! What work can’t it undo?

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October 18, 2010

Berkman report on circumvention tools

The Berkman Center has released a new report on the use of tools to circumvent restrictions on the Internet imposed by countries that control their citizens’ access to the Net. This is important especially given the State Department’s commitment funding of such tools (“We are also supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship.”).

Here is a brief summary from the email announcing the report:

In this report, the authors use a variety of methods to evaluate the usage of the first three of these four types of tools to test two hypotheses. First, even though much of the media attention on circumvention tools has been given to a handful of tools, they find that these tools represent only a small portion of overall circumvention usage and that the attention paid to these tools has been disproportionate to their usage, especially when compared to the more widely used simple web proxies. Second, even when including the more widely-used simple web proxies, the authors find that overall usage of circumvention tools is still very small in proportion to the number of Internet users in countries with substantial national Internet filtering.

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October 17, 2010

Mad Men: From Good to Great

[Note that I’ve removed all the distributed “in my opinion”s from the following, and instead have concentrated them in this introductory paragraph. The following expresses nothing but my opinion:]

Tonight is the season finale of Mad Men, a show that I think has gone from good to great because it has outlived its premise.

Shows that start out with a strong premise often need a couple of seasons to find their way past it. The Sopranos, for example, initially revolved around the cute premise that a mob boss would have mother issues that drove him into analysis. The Sopranos was good from the beginning, but not because of the premise: the acting was amazing, the cast was large, the relationships were complex. It took a season or two for the Sopranos to develop the tragic sense that made its basic comedy so deep. Dexter likewise has gotten better (unevenly) as the starkness of the premise (decent guy except he has to kill people) has been surrounded by less extreme human drama. The same for the Mary Tyler Moore Show (a working girl who is ok with being single) and M*A*S*H (doctors kept sane by humor in an absurd foreign war).

Now, it may well be that what’s really happening is that it takes a couple of seasons for the relationships to develop that deepen a show. If the best of television has gotten more complex over time (as Steven Johnson argues in Everything Bad is Good for You), then the same is true within a series as well as across all series. TV series let us tell (in Steve’s words) 100-hour stories, and the first set of hours are necessarily not as developed as the later sets. During those early sets, the show relies more on its premise.

For me, Mad Men started out as a totally enjoyable series that focused on reminding us through mores and decor what life in the 1950s was really like. That first season was all about the wall art and the martini lunches. You could almost hear the writers’ meetings in which they’d say things like, “Oooh, you know what would be really cool? Let’s have an embarrassingly pretentious ‘bohemian’ ad guy who dates a black woman to make a statement,” or “Let’s make sure that all the offices have bars in them.” Now in its fourth season, there are plenty of period references, but the show is less about them. It’s about an amazing ensemble grappling with timeless issues within the constraints of their era. It’s blown way past its original inspiration. And that is awesome

[SPOILER ALERT for those who have not seen Season One:] My once concern is the series’ continued fascination with Don’s double identity. In the original idea for the show, that might have been the kicker that sold it to the TV executives: “So you have a show set in the 1950s as they really were. But what’s it about? What happens?” The fact that Don stole his identity long ago and is at risk of being discovered might have sounded like a good answer. But by now for me it’s a melodramatic contrivance that’s out of place in the series’ genuine drama.

The identity theft has shown up in this season. I’m afraid that the finale will come back to that as the cliffhanger. If so, it’s too bad. We don’t need it. There are enough cliffs already; this season has been about the humiliation and cleansing of Don Draper, a long night that is not yet over. Don Draper is fascinating enough without the silly dual identity backstory.

BTW, have I mentioned how much I love the acting? Even January Jones (Betty) is having a good year, perhaps because she’s out of the dramatic center and thus doesn’t have to try to round her character out to a full three dimensions. Every one of the rest of the women are phenomenal, expressing so much nuance and life within and through the limited social roles they are allowed to play — which is itself a heartbreakingly true reflection on the times. And I have to say that Don and Betty’s daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) is amazing. I don’t know how tonight’s episode will wrap up the season, but I do know that we will be watching this phenomenally gifted 12 year old for the rest of our lives.

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October 16, 2010

[2b2k] Bibliography commons wanted

I typed all the way through to the end of the last chapter of Too Big to Know last night, although since I haven’t read that chapter yet, there is a better than even chance that I will have to rewrite it substantially, so don’t jinx me by congratulating me, you bastahds.

In any case, it got me to thinking about how to handle the bibliography. The bibliography of Everything Is Miscellaneous is on LibraryThing.com (although, in truth, I never got around to completing it). Much as I love LibraryThing, it’s not designed for journal articles, and I’d rather put my biblio on a non-commercial site. (Sorry, Tim! Love you!)

Ideally, I’d like a site that is an open commons, maintained by an institution that has some legs. It should present my biblio in standard readable and re-citable forms, but should also treat it as data in a database so that it can be refactored. I’d love for it to have LibraryThing’s social functionality. And in a perfect world, it’d let me enter just some key data, look it up, and fill in the rest in perfectly formatted form. (Again, LibraryThing does cool stuff in this area, for books.)

Anybody know of anything like this? Is there a bibliography commons? (If not, I’ll probably just put a spreadsheet into the Harvard open access commons, if they’ll let me. Or maybe I’ll use H2O)


[Later that day:] Some responses from the comments and to my tweeting of this topic:

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