Joho the BlogSeptember 2011 - Page 2 of 3 - Joho the Blog

September 17, 2011

Berkman Buzz

This week’s Berkman Buzz:

  • Andrés Monroy-Hernández writes about joining the Berkman Center as a fellow:

  • Fernando Bermejo explores “anonymous reading”:

  • Dan Gillmor debates trust and TechCrunch:

  • Betsy Masiello considers privacy and advanced data analytics:

  • The Citizen Media Law Project reviews Twitter’s role in Gilbert Arenas’ lawsuit against VH1:

  • Weekly Global Voices: “Iran: Female Blogger Receives 50 Lashes”

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September 16, 2011

Stories from stories

My sister-in-law’s new book is out: Re-visions: Stories from Stories, by Meredith Sue Willis. She re-tells classic stories from a different point of view. You can read a sample here, or buy it here.

I haven’t read it yet — I just ordered it — but I’m willing to bet it’s excellent. Sue (as we call her) has the fiction writer’s gift of bringing people and places to life. How does she do that?!

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September 15, 2011

Iain Tait: the Old Spice man

I’m at a conference in Helsinki. The speaker before me is href=””>Iain Tait, creative director of Weiden + Kennedy, the agency behind the genius of the Old Spice man commercials.

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.

He says the secret of going viral is to find a beautifully attractive man who men feel safe liking, do a personalized social media campaign, etc. It is, in short, completely unrepeatable advice, which is his point.

He talks about how they did 186 personalized videos responding to influential bloggers who had commented favorably on the ad. It was taking 10-15 mins for the text to come in, to tape it, and to post it. To decide who to respond to, they looked at reach but also the creative opportunity: could they find something funny to say. They were careful not to reply only to celebrities, so that everyone would feel they might get a response. They got 40M views in week. And sales went up. And it helped to rebrand Old Spice “which used to be how your grandfather smelled.”

One approach to Web marketing is to go for the “big sneeze”: Create something big and push it hard through every channel you can find. The Old Spice ad went viral through lots of little sneezes: ordinary folks pointing and reposting. The world now works through little sneezes.

You should also try to create “lubrication,” making the act of sharing as frictionless as possible. The personalized videos were all re-shared. To do this, you need something that is “good, funny, or interesting”? It also should be easy to describe to someone else. And “what does the content say about me?” And “Will I get kudos for posting it?” Also, it’s good to respond in human time, not in “brand” time.

“Think about content creating its own media spaces.”

The secret formula for guaranteeing viral effect:

(Big Sneeze) x (Tiny Sneezes to the power of the number of tiny sneezes) x Shareability x (Content and Distribution that play together) x The Intangible. But what is that intangible? What was the magic ingredient in the Old Spice ad? The six pack? The writing? The acting? The rapid response? Unfortunately, the magic is not itself subject to a formula. And if you don’t have any magic, the viral campaign will never amount to anything.

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Book notice

As Publishers Weekly puts it, in June ebooks jumped while print plunged:

  • $80.2MM e-books

  • $84.9MM hardcover

  • $48.4MM trade paperback

  • $47.4MM mass-market paperback

Adult paperbacks were down 64% in that month.

empty bookstore
Discussion at Reddit

Well before the last press has punched out its last paper book, we will have switched to thinking that p-books are print-outs of e-books. That’s when the switch will have been made, just as occurred when we switched from typewriters to word processors. That Day of the Modifier — when physical books need a modifier to specify them — is coming fast.


September 12, 2011

How to embed a WordPress admin page

I’m posting this so I’ll remember, and in case someone else is googling around for it.

I have a little editor I wrote in javascript for creating blogposts. When I’m done editing, it loads the transmogrified text into an iframe that contains the WordPress /wp-admin/post.php page (which is the one you create posts with). Except that it stopped working recently, giving me “X-FRAME-OPTIONS” errors.

A little research showed that x-frame-options are set at the server to prevent people from capturing your pages in their own evil iframes (e.g., inserting your blog posts into their spammy site), either by preventing anyone from doing so, or preventing anyone from inserting into a page that isn’t from the same site as the source page.

I couldn’t figure out how to unset those options. But Chason C., at — my hosting company — got back to me within 24 hours with the answer. It turns out that MediaTemple isn’t setting that option; WordPress is. The solution is explained in this blog post, which Chason found for me.

The irony is that the blogpost with the answer has actually captured and embedded the original blog post by Igor at KrazyWorks, which you can find here.


A September 12 poem

My friend Evelyn Walsh reminded me of a poem I wrote on September 12, 2001. I had forgotten it entirely:

They dug a hole in the ordinary yesterday,

And already the waves are smoothing its edges.

The earth’s weight

that pulls the tides

draws the bodies that fall

and holds fast the feet

that tomorrow will resume

wearing furrows into its brow.

Sept. 12, 2001

Yeah, it’s a little overwrought, but considering what I was feeling, it was underwrought.

And please remember one of the prime directives: On blogs, we must forgive one another’s bad poetry.


Other news

Hanan Cohen has created a neat little world-expander, called Other News. Bookmark this link and click on it a few times. Each time it loads a random country’s version of Google News. Nice!


September 11, 2011

With a little twist of Heidegger

I’m giving a talk in Berlin in a week. My hosts want me to talk about the evolution of media, but suggested that I might want to weave some Heidegger in, which is not a request you often get. It’s a brief talk, but what I’ve written talks about four pairs, all based on Shannon’s original drawing of signal moving through a channel. 1. The medium and bits as idealized abstractions. 2. The medium and messages: How McLuhan reacts against information theory’s idea of a medium, and the sense in which on the Internet we are the medium. 3. Medium and communication: Why we think of communication as something that occurs through a medium, rather than as a way in which we share the world. 4. Medium and noise: Why the world appears, in its most brutal facticity, in Shannon’s diagram as noise, and how the richness of the Web (which consists of connections intentionally made) is in fact signal that taken together can be noise. (I know I am not using these terms rigorously.)

At the end, I’ll summarize the four contrasts:

Bits without character vs. A world that always shows itself as something

The medium as a vacuum vs. We are the medium that moves messages because we care about them

Communication as the reproduction of a representation in the listener’s head vs. Turning to a shared world together

World as noise vs. Links as a context of connection

Not by coincidence, each of these is a major Heideggerian theme: Being-as or meaning, care, truth. and world.

And if it’s not obvious, I do not think that Heidegger’s writings on technology have anything much to do with the Internet. He was criticizing the technology of the 1950s that scared him: mainframes and broadcast. He probably would have hated the Net also, but he was a snobby little fascist prick.


September 9, 2011

[2b2k] Difference matters

I still don’t know why I started getting a free subscription to Game Developer magazine, but I sure enjoy it. The technical articles are over my head and frequently completely over my head, but I enjoy reading articles written from a hard-core developer point of view. (The magazine comes to me under the name Johnny Locust at Wild West Ware — not a pseudonym or anynym of mine. I find traces of him on the Net, but none that lets me contact him directly. Johnny, if you find this, I’m enjoying your subscription!)

The magazine opener this month (Sept.) comes from Eric Caoili. It”s about The Difference Engine Initiative, an incubator to encourage and enable women as game developers. Two sessions are planned in Toronto.

One of the founders, Mare Sheppard, says in Game Developer:

“There’s this huge, homogenous, very insular, established set of developers right now in the game industry, and it happens to be mostly white and mostly male. From that, you can really only get a certain amount of innovation…If we had more voices and more opinions and more people coming in, then we would be able to take bigger steps in releasing games that represent different people, because they’re involved in the development process.”

As for the incubator, says Sheppard, “It’s like a crafter’s circle. It’s loose and low-key, and it’s about peer mentorship.” She sees it as just one step that might help some people get over the initial hurdle.

The project is named after Ada Lovelace’s contribution to Babbage’s Difference Engine, but I enjoy the implicit endorsement of difference as a source of innovation. In fact, difference is the source of all value, isn’t it?


September 8, 2011

Michael Hart remembered

First, an email from Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive about Michael S. Hart:

A dear friend and an inspiration unfortunately died yesterday.

He dedicated his life to getting books to everyone in the world. He did this with no compensation and lived a life of near poverty. But he always shined with good cheer, optimism, and high respect for others. I got to know him through Project Gutenberg twenty years ago. Visiting him in his house was a joy– it was stacked high with books all around, and a glowing green terminal in the basement where he first helped type in the classics and then lead thousands of volunteers to bring over 37,000 books online as beautifully edited ebooks. A forward thinker, in the same light as Richard Stallman and Ted Nelson, who saw how the world could benefit from our digital tools. Every reading device I have ever come across always started with the Gutenberg Project collection including our Internet Bookmobile.

On first meeting him, I remember dodging traffic with him as we walked calmly across Lakeside Blvd in Chicago (which is a highway and extremely dangerous). He said he did this in normal course when he was growing up. The cop let us get away with only a warning.

Another Michael flare is that he wrote email that was “right justified” by changing the words to end at the right place– I have never known another to do this. He said that he did this to avoid text editors reflowing his text and “destroying my phraseology”. For instance below are two letters from this summer, and I included Greg Newby’s obituary.

A special man, a guiding light, a good friend. I miss him.


Here is the first of the two letters Brewster mentions:

On 7/16/11 4:38 AM, Michael S. Hart wrote:

A Graceful Exit

As most of my friends know, I have accomplished all of the goals I have set for myself throughout my life, and I think I can say, without fear of too much repercussive responses, that the career I have chosen in eBooks has been a success in terms of what I’ve been trying to accomplish for these last four decades.

At the same time, I do realize that other persons have had other ideas/ideals about eBooks, who have called me everything from an outright raging Communist, to sincere Socialist, to unqualified, in terms of membership. . .not ability. . .member of Capitalists Exploiting The World. . .no kidding. I do realize that is might be difficult for persons living on the other side of this world, given the information they have to work with, to view me, or any other American, as anything other than a Capitalist Imperialist, so I bear less in the way of ill feelings about this.

However, now the time has come to talk of other things.

Yes, I do have one more impossible goal I dream of, but I do not believe I can accomplish it in the same manner I accomplished an assortment of previous goals, with a combination of persistence, ability, and convincing others to give me unofficial assistance, as I face a combination of limited time, limited resources and I must admit, declining energy levels, though I still manage to do more work than I ever did before.

However, I do realize that without some serious changed in life, there is little possibility of accomplishing my last goal with a lifestyle continuing in the same vein.

Therefore, I now would like to remind you of my last goals:

1. A Billion eBook Library

2. Spending More Time In Hawaii

3. Working To Create A Graceful Exit

Here are the details:

A Billion eBook Library

Premise #1:

There are ~25 million books in the public domain.

If we do ~40% of these that will be ~10 million eBooks.

Premise #2:

There are ~250 languages with over a million speakers.

If we do ~40% of these that will be ~100 languages.


10 million eBooks translated into 100 languages yields


Note: I realize how impossible this sounds, given the powerful lack of interest by thousands of translators, and other experts I have contacted, but given previous personal experiences shared by each of you and myself, I think we must realize it IS possible, even if we are going to have to do all to much of it ourselves.

Nevertheless, I plan to devote a serious amount of the time I have remaining to doing the setup required.

2. Spending More Time In Hawaii

As most of you know, Hawaii was just too laid back for me to stay there more than a month at a time when this opportunity first appeared.

However, you must also realize that from 1999 to 2011, I obviously have aged 12 years, and the difference for me between 52, when I could still pretend to be ~40’s, and today, when there is little pretending possible, I am now much more likely to spend at least half my time there, if not even more, given that I might expect the pressures to increase to abandon my Illinois residence for various and sundry reasons we should maybe discuss when we get together next.

However, I can tell you that pressures of Winter, here in Illinois, plus those of advancing age, make it more and more difficult to look forward to more of this.

I should add that even though Spring is my favorite of all the seasons, this spring was an effort, but with a lot of luck I once again managed to do all I planned.

However, I must also admit that this, too, will get to be more and more difficult as the years progress.

Therefore I am very glad to announce that I have a job with John in Hawaii that will, when needed, provide me with the ability to live in a neighboring apartment to John’s for as much of the year as I would like, and we will see how this works out starting this Winter.

3. A Graceful Exit

I would like to support all the efforts I have before, plus the final one I have listed above, without any of repercussions that could take place with I shuffle off this mortal coil.

In some ways I would like to simply work behind scenes as much as possible so I won’t be missed when I’m gone from those activities, but I also realize that my name just might be worth something in public relations so I leave some of that decision open for your advice.

As John and Greg can testify, I am still capable of an awful lot of Newsletter writing, though it does take a toll, particularly when I have lots more to do for the other portions of my life. Again, I leave this open a lot for your advice.

Please refer to the previous message I sent about work on setting up a new, and much different kind of setup, for The Billion eBook Project, I will resend it.

If I/we play our cards right, perhaps I can leave this scene without causing undue trouble, and perhaps I can even manage it in absentia as some kind of motivation, perhaps setting some goal, perhaps even some rewarding procedures for accomplishment.

I, personally, do not think the world at large really, sincerely wants to provide literacy and education from anyone to The Third World, in spite of all lip service to the contrary. . .so I warn you that the possibility exists that this project will not be supported from an outside set of sources that I still plan to approach– so you might find that you are more on your own that I would like to hope, and that you might have to expect, really, a future that is more like the past, in terms, sadly to say, of having to do a LOT of this work on an individual basis more than having the world’s support.

I hope you feel up to the task. . .you will be tempted more and more to rest from exhaustion as you get older and older. . .the all nighters will turn into just get up early when the air is clear, but you will also find that what you can accomplish in those fewer hours will be more than you ever did before, because experience’s power is greater than you might think today.

That is what I leave you with. . . .

Another goal that is nigh well on to impossible.

Little hope of finding any real world support.

And the hope that your experience will leverage future endeavors for you as much as it has for me.

I hope you can put enough into these efforts that I am able to depart as gracefully as is possible these days.

Hoping to thank you soon for your time & consideration,


Thank you for the gift, Michael. Rest in peace.


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