Joho the BlogApril 2011 - Page 2 of 4 - Joho the Blog

April 21, 2011

How books were made

Jeff Goldenson, my colleague at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab found this fabulous 1947 short documentary on how books used to be made. (He posted it at the LiL blog.)

What a production! It’s hard to believe (or, for some of us, to remember) how hard it used to be to print books.

(Jeff found the video at Y-Combinator.)

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April 20, 2011

Google’s copyright cartoon

Google’s educational copyright cartoon is amusing in a Ren and Stimpy sort of way

But it’s disturbing that the cartoon purposefully makes the Fair Use “explanation” unintelligible. Presumably that’s because Fair Use is so complex and so difficult to defend that Google doesn’t even want to raise it as a possibility. Nevertheless, it seems like a missed opportunity to do some education. Worse, it’s a sign that we’ve pretty much given up on Fair Use.

Likewise, many of us were disappointed when Google Books dropped its Fair Use defense and instead came up with a settlement (since overturned) with the authors and publishers. It was another lost opportunity to provide Fair Use with some clarity and oomph.

Fair Use doesn’t need just a posse (Lord bless it). It could use a bigtime hero with some guts.


April 19, 2011


Greg Elliott and Hugo van Vuuren are giving a Berkman talk on “The Communication Crises and the Evolution of Personal and Cultural Protocols.” They are launching a new tool this week: (Ethan Zuckerman has posted his live blogging of this talk.)

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

They begin with a video that talks about the number of channels and messages in which we’re drowning. This is the communication crisis Greg and Hugo are addressing. They are interested in how we deal with the guilt of (Tina Roth Eisenberg) of not being able to keep up. We have various tools, such as email bankruptcy. They point to an XKCD Map of Online Communities that, among other things, reminds us that the Net is dwarfed by other forms of communication. A NY Times article (March 18, 2011) is about our culture’s movement away from telephone calls, even though you get more metadata; in many instances, a quick text is more appropriate.

The Internet is a Rorschach test, they say. We all play a puzzling game with our email, trying to filter it without missing anything and without hurting anyone’s feelings. E.g., danah boyd famously takes email sabbaticals, during which her auto-responder tells you that she will never read your msg. Other people (including Tim Berners-Lee) have detailed instructions about the netiquette for contacting him.

The site was influential on Greg and Hugo. It provides a link for your sig that announces that all your email responses will be five sentences or less. We used to have posters that instruct children in good manners. They’re not proposing that, of course. But, announcing norms shapes behavior.

They show their site: (Sign up here:, and give them time to hand-approve you.) Once you sign up, you create a profile that tells people your preferences in being contacted: Which channels, in which priority, and expectations. E.g., Use email; it may take me a while to get back to you and you don’t need to wrap it in social niceties; if necessary, call my phone, but don’t leave a message. (Here’s my profile.) This is even more useful, they say, if plugged into a community as a group protocol.

They are gathering data for research into how people rank their channels. (Anonymous, of course.) (Greg points to the data at the okCupid dating site.)

Q: What’s your business model?
A: This is a side project. We’re in it for the research.

Q: There’s a risk in making these rules too explicit. E.g., it says you respond in 24 hours, but you never want to respond to some particular person and they then get offended.
A: We encourage users to leave in as much ambiguity as they can. It’s up to you the user to define it.

Q: So much of the preferred channel is based on who the person is: If you’re my babysitter I want you to call, but if you’re my grad student, use email. How are those directions indicated?
A: We can imagine the site presenting different protocols depending on who you are: Are you a stranger, are you a friend? For now, Protocol is aimed at strangers since your friends probably already know how to reach you.

Q: How many users do you need for research purposes, and how are you going to get them?
A: We have 500-600 already. A big sample would be thousands. The next step is the location setting, and embedding into other services. We also want to reach people who are already using these sorts of rules.

Q: I love that you’re providing a tech solution, but are talking about the human problems. We are now past the era of flaming. Has your data shown if these protocols help prevent people from getting offended?
A: We don’t have the data yet.

Q: I’m a huge fan because it brings peace of mind. Each new channel fragments our identity. I love that Protocol centralizes our communicational identity no matter how our technology changes. Your suggesting that our communicational identity is our social identity. How is our identity crafted by our communication tools?
A: Yes, our identities are shaped by our tools. But I don’t know that Protocol is going to shape our identities or represent it. Some users do have very specific rules, which they use as a signal that they are very busy.

Q: You have a distinct individualistic bias. You think we’re going to pick our own tools and ways of communicating. You’re young and tech savvy. But I deal with the press, and they’re going to call my phone no matter what I say, because they have more power than I do. I wonder if asserting these protocols is a transitional moment. Maybe we’ll centralize on a new socially acceptable set of protocols, or are we going to fragment?
A: Communication media don’t generally replace predecessors. We’re not going to a singularity of communication preferences, but it will boil down to a smaller set. E.g., Rapportive (gmail extension) fetches info about the sender of any email msgs — their twitter account, etc.

Q: You said your motivation is relieve guilt. This seems like a geeky way to deal with the social anxieties that geeks tend to have.
A: In the future, we need systems to offer the protocols without you having to seek them out.

Q: There has to a brand of new psychologists dealing with these issues: When something is ambiguous, does it mean someone hates me, etc.?
A: Yes. Interesting.

Q: When you don’t know someone, I’d probably google them and find their primary-facing piece of info. How do you get Protocol to become that piece of info, especially when you’re talking about different ages, communities?
A: Embedding, for one thing.

Q: We have collapsed boundaries between channels. I want some people to self-declare what subjects they’re interested in. I’d rather tell people what I’m interested in rather than have them mine it and guess.
A: The word “reputation” hasn’t gone up yet. It used to matter more when we lived in small communities. Now we can invent ourselves many times. As the Net goes into its next phase, reputation and data will matter a great deal.

Q: Embedding is a nice idea. Get some sites to embed a cute logo. Second, you’re increasing the velocity, but velocity is the problem. There’s no barrier on the sender’s side to communication. Is anyone talking about putting actual costs on email. It should cost people to email me. That would slow the velocity.
A: We see Protocol as being the barrier eventually. The problem with money is that it discriminates invidiously. Also, it’d be nice if I could ping Protocol to see if my friend is available to talk, and it knows enough about our relationship and his circumstances. There’s no cost, but your msg may not get through.

Q: It used to be easy. Now you may not want to let people know why the time zone you’re in. You might want to have an abstraction layer that knows the zone you’re in and what the preferred order is in various zones.
A: There are many variables. The issue is that you get into complex, power-user

Q: [me] There will be an increasing need for metadata because the community of possible communicators has increased, with greatly differing local norms. So, how about creating a little marker that lists your preferred channels order, the way Creative Commons lets you easily represent your license preferences. Then let institutions encourage their users to put the marker on their web pages, etc.
A: We’re thinking that we’ll have three markers with varying degress of info.
Q: Well, one marker is easier to market than 3.

How about having two profiles, so you can give your friends the key?
A: You get into DRM issues. We’d rather encourage people to use Protocol for non-friends.

Q: How will you keep it up to date with new channels/services?
A: We hope that Protocol will be a part of the channel tools you use.

Q: Privacy used to be the right to be left alone. Now it’s about how much info is out there and how you can control it. You seem to adopt somewhat of a technological determinist standard; tech determines our social norms. Is that what you’re driving at?
A: We don’t think tech is the defining determinant of our lives, but it is there. We either let it run wild or set some rules.

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April 18, 2011

Why you won’t care that the Net isn’t neutral

It’s very simple. Once we have lost Net neutrality and the access providers are given a free hand to charge Internet companies for delivering their bits faster and more reliably than their competitors’ bits, we will experience this simply as how the Internet works, not as an artificial constraint put in to benefit the access providers.

With so little competition, the access providers will be able to jack up fast lane prices as high as the richest players in the market can bear. So, let’s say Google decides to pay the access providers for “fast lane” service, but Bing does not. You’ll notice that Google results fly in, while Bing seems to be having trouble digesting its oatmeal. You won’t know if that’s because Bing’s search engine is slower or because it didn’t pony up for fast lane service. All you’ll know is that you’re not going back to Bing.

So, what’s the problem? The first is that this raises the hurdle to innovation. You have a great new search engine? You won’t be able to get started competing against Google and Bing without being able to afford the fast lane services they can buy. The big companies will always be able to buy faster service. This encourages the sort of consolidation that would have forestalled the most interesting success stories of the Net so far.

Second, the access providers are also providers of services and content that compete with the organizations they serve. So, Comcast will undoubtedly find economic advantage in making sure that Comcast-NBC content shoulders aside Netflix’s offerings … and your offerings on YouTube. You’ll prefer using the video service that doesn’t suck…not knowing that removing Net neutrality’s economic point is to introduce artifical suckage onto the Internet.

Market forces won’t correct the loss of Net neutrality because the market won’t experience its bad consequences as consequences at all. This is a predictable market weakness. It is why we need to regulate the access providers. It is why we need Net neutrality.


April 17, 2011

Comedy or not?

At the risk of becoming just slightly obsessed with the awfulness of Airport 1975, here’s the honest-to-grid trailer for it, indistinguishable from parodies of it:

Simply for purposes of comparison (SPOILER: better cast, better acting, even funnier):

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Installing LibreOffice on Ubuntu

Because I had to click around a few times, trying out instructions that did not work, here’s a link to instructions that actually do install LibreOffice on Uubuntu. The instructions that don’t work tell you to open a DEBS folder that does not exist. The instructions that do work have you use a PPA (Personal Package Archives), about which you need to know as little as I do (= nothing).

You do have to know how to type commands in a terminal window, however.

Also, this installation leaves your old copy of Open Office untouched. If you want to uninstall Open Office entirely, I am told you should type this into a terminal: sudo apt-get remove openoffice*.*

LibreOffice is the fork from Open Office now that Oracle has taken possession of the latter. Right now it’s almost exactly the same, but it’s where the interesting future developments will occur.

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April 15, 2011

They couldn’t be more different

A couple of days ago while waiting my turn in the shower, I snapped on CNN, quickly got fed up with what can only be called drivel, and spun the dial. I landed on what I at first thought was Airplane! but,which after a cognitive twitch came into focus as that upon which the parody was based: Airport 1975.

This morning I went through the same drill, but this time I landed at the final fifteen minutes of Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado about Nothing.

Fortune has, I believed, paired up for me two movies that meet the rigorous formal requirements for the relationship Could Not Be More Different Than.

Airplane 1975 is the one with Linda Blair faithfully waiting for a kidney, lying next to Helen Reddy who is an honest-to-jeebus singing nun. It’s the one where Karen Black accepts the garland for Worst Performance Ever by playing the stewardess-behind-the-wheel with such passivity that you want Sister Helen to come into the cockpit and slap her once, real hard. It’s the one where Charlton Heston descends from a helicopter through the hole in the airplane to save the incompetent female, and then tells her to calm the passengers with the eternal bard-llke phrase: “Go, do your thing,”

On the other hand, in the fifteen minutes of Much Ado, I laughed hard, cried harder, and hugged my wife at the end.

I’m sure there are other pairings, and I’m curious what they might be, but none can surpass the More-Different-Than-ness of Airport 1975 and Much Ado about Nothing.

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April 14, 2011

Our new instinct

MacWorld ran an article on how to set up Apples Pages to print out Avery labels. This is helpful information because Avery doesn’t have nearly as many ready-made templates for Pages as it does for Word. So the article walks the reader through the page and table settings. Excellent.

But MacWorld left out one crucial step: When you’re done, share it on the Web.

Avery doesn’t have a Pages template for its Beige Design Filing Label, Clear, 30 per sheet (#5029), so you made your own? Great! Why should we all have to re-do your work? Share it on the Web. Thanks!

By this time, “and then share it on the Web” should be a reflex on its way to becoming an instinct. The work of one can now remove a task from the checklist of millions. This is of evolutionary importance. Do it once and let the species move on.

Please. Thank you. And share it on the Web.


April 13, 2011

Life was harder

I was listening today to a podcast of an excellent On Point program, in which Tom Ashbrook interviews Arnold Weinstein about what we can learn from literature about the stages of life. Here’s a passage Arnold read from Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus. (I’m using a 2009 translation by G. Theodoridis — thanks!). These lines are uttered by the chorus:

It is obvious to me that those who shun moderation and want a longer life are fools.

The days of an overly long life are filled with pain.

Happiness eludes those who want to hang on to life longer than what the fates have allotted for them and in the end…

…the same attendant awaits him: Hades! Hades waits upon us all!

No ceremony, no wedding songs, no dances and no songs…

Just death!The end of us all is death.

The best would be not to be born at all.

But then, if he is born, the next best thing for him would be to try and return to where he came from…

…in the quickest possible time!

While youth and its careless mind lasts, no thought is given to what pain, what misery will, most certainly, follow.

Murder, mayhem, quarrels, wars will come before the inescapable end…

The hateful old age, frailty, loneliness, desolation and…

…your own misery’s neighbour, is even more misery.

And so, Oedipus like us, is old. Unhappy Oedipus! Bashed about like a reef facing north…

Bashed about on all sides by tempests of all sorts.

Never ending rain and wind crash over his head…

…fierce waves crash over him.

Now from West…

Now from the East…

Some during the midday’s light…

Some from the mountainous North…

…which the deep night darkens.

I’ve loved the bleakness of these lines ever since I read them in college. But I’ve always wondered whether we should read them as eternal truths that apply to us all, or as an anthropological glimpse into another culture. Today listening to them I had a different reaction: Man, have I had it easy!

When I was a youth, my careless mind was actually fairly morbid. I thought about death a lot. I still do. Yet, I think I did not have a vivid sense of “what misery will, most certainly, follow. Murder, mayhem, quarrels, wars will come before the inescapable end.” In fact, of those four, all I’ve directly experienced are quarrels. Murder? No one I knew has been murdered. Mayhem? Nothing that didn’t occur around a conference table. Wars? I missed the draft and did not serve, although like every other American, I have lived with some of the awful consequences of war. But that’s really not what Sophocles had in mind. He was thinking about the imminent sacking of a city, the cleaving of skulls, the starving of children.

Life sucked back then. To those of us in affluent countries, with a job and some health coverage, I wonder whether Sophocles would have sung a different song.

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April 10, 2011


Esquire’s article (by Tom Junod ) about Eric Schadt and non-reductive molecular biology would have been chapter fodder for 2b2k if the book weren’t (I hope) done. Fascinating.

(See the brief but interesting discussion at metafilter.)


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