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Friday, May 31, 2002

Tom Peters' Interview

From the Land of Self-Promotion comes this bulletin: Tom Peters' site is featuring an interview with me.
5/31/2002 08:47:14 AM | PermaLink

The Death and Resurrection of CBDTPA

J. Thomas Vincent has sent me an email in response to my reporting on scuttlebutt that Sen. Hollings' CBDTPA bill won't pass during this session:

...I'll go so far as to say that is the conventional wisdom around DC. Leahy doesn't like it and as long as he is unhappy it's dead because the bill hits his jurisdiction. I do completely agree though that the pressure needs to be kept up, for while this year and perhaps not even the next Congress will CBDTPA pass. After '04 regardless of what party wins that will be the session where the battle will really get ugly. That's why the organization efforts online need to get up and running now, to have a coherent message to politicians well before that cycle. (Not to mention efforts like GeekPAC)

So, we shouldn't drink so much champagne that we fall asleep while the issue rises from the dead. It ain't going away so soon.

(GeekPAC is an advocacy group started by Doc Searls and Jeff Gerhardt of The Linux Show.)
5/31/2002 08:36:38 AM | PermaLink

My Italian Adventure

Perhaps you heard me on Italian TV yesterday, although I doubt it. The producer of the show said that it's the "Nightline" of Italian TV, on RAI, the national network. When he called at 6:30AM, he said that they were doing a show on the ceremonies marking the removal of the debris that was once the World Trade Center and they wanted someone to comment on the role the Internet played on 9/11. This is something I'd talked about on U.S. National Public Radio. "Sure," I said.

"I'll ask you about how the Internet allowed the world to tell itself its stories," the producer said.

"Excellent," I replied with the confidence of someone about to make a fool of himself.

So, a few minutes before air time, the phone rang and the translator introduced herself. "The first question," she said, "will begin with the host saying that the events of 9/11 have changed the world and affected each of us. In such a time, we think about what it means to live in a world together. We're talking with David Weinberger, an American philosopher and writer" - Danger! Danger! - "Tell me, Dr. Weinberger, about your reaction to the ceremony and what we learn from 9/11. What are our feelings?"

"I didn't see the ceremony. I'm an Internet guy. You don't want to ask me that question," I replied. Worse, from the question, it seemed I was the first guest. Why would they put the Internet guy on first to provide a general, non-Net comment about 9/11? Thank goodness I had had a chance to warn them off that question!

Seconds later, the interpreter asked me the first on-air question. Except for taking out the part about the ceremony, it was exactly the same. With dead air looming, I tried to come up with an answer to "What do we learn from 9/11? What are our feelings?"

I felt the weight of my country's honor descend on me. Speaking for all Americans, nay, for all sentient creatures in the universe, I babbled about being sad. And then I forgot that I was required by international treaty to close by saying something uplifting about courage and instead blurted out: "And fear. For all of our economic wealth and all of our science, there is no protection."

Undoubtedly sensing that he had a guest who too thick even to get the platitudes right, the host asked a question about the role of the Internet in the new world. "Connections," I said, wiping frothy spittle from my lips, "The children are connected. Connections. Hope. Children. Links. The connectedness of connection. For the children. Connectannectannectannecta..." The show switched to a commercial, an act of desperation since I think RAI doesn't run commercials.

Look for my upcoming appearance on the Bulgarian version of 60 Minutes explaining the meaning of life, what Angelina Jolie sees in Billy Bob Thornton and exactly how Nancy Reagan feels about her Ronnie. For I am: The Internet Guy
5/31/2002 08:07:55 AM | PermaLink

 

Thursday, May 30, 2002

See you on Friday

I'm on the road, speaking to a Customer Support conference in Arizona, and won't be blogging today. (Hint: The real purpose of this placeholder message is to see if Blogger is working yet. If you're reading this, then it is. Yes, it is! Thanks, Ev.)
5/30/2002 09:20:22 AM | PermaLink

 

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Forgiveness Again

AKMA is continuing his thoughts on forgiveness, beautiful in their clarity and in the warmth of the heart pumping the oxygen to his remarkable brain.

I hesitate to react in "print" for a couple of reasons (i.e., I am not going to let those reasons stop me). First, my reaction has to do with the way AKMA's piece sounds the differences between Judaism and Christianity, yet as a non-observant Jew I lack the standing to reply for My People. Second, I love what AKMA is writing and don't want to sound quarrelsome. I want to point out differences, not argue that one way is better than the other; there are lots of ways to G-d and I would be truly delighted to live in a community that lived up to AKMA's vision of forgiveness.

Nevertheless, I'm fascinated by the way AKMA's explanation doesn't quite capture my sense of forgiveness. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's somewhere in this passage:

David's right to note a divergence here between "Jewish" and "Christian" sensibilities, but it goes deeper than that too. Many Christians feel a strong attraction to an ethic that emphasizes putting beliefs into action, walking the walk, whereas another large body of Christians recoil in horror from what they regard as works-righteousness, the notion that you can earn God's favor by doing the right stuff.

AKMA is reacting to my asking where restitution fits into the scheme. Both alternatives he raises make an assumption that I don't share. The reason to make restitution - which, as AKMA rightly points out does not mean handing someone a wad of cash - isn't necessarily to put beliefs into actions or to earn God's favor. In my understanding, it's neither belief- nor G-d-focused. You make restitution because doing something wrong fractures the world and you need to try to make it whole. You're not salving your conscience and you're not currying favor. You are repairing the damage you did as best you can. The holiest Jews aren't those with the purest beliefs and purest relationship to G-d. They aren't saints. They are the righteous ones who do well to humans and G-d. The reason to be righteous in the world is not to put beliefs into action or to make G-d like you but because, well, that's what's right and it's what we have been commanded to do.

Back to the caveats: this isn't an argument. A world filled with holy Christians, holy Jews, holy Muslims, holy Buddhists, holy Hindus and holy the Rest would be a damn fine place to live, a whole lot better than where we are now. After all, who wouldn't rejoice at having AKMA and Margaret move in next door?
5/29/2002 08:54:50 AM | PermaLink

Tinseltown Antics

Kevin Marks passes along a clever Flash on the Electronic Frontier Foundation site that parodies the Mickey Mouse Glee Club while propagandizing against Sen. Hollings' evil CBDTPA bill.

I was relieved to hear from someone who spoke with the confidence of the insider (but not necessarily with the insider's knowledge) that the CBDTPA is "DOA" because the Judiciary Committee feels slighted by Hollings. I have no idea if that's true and it in no way should stop you from protesting loudly and often against this profoundly stupid and dangerous bill.
5/29/2002 07:49:03 AM | PermaLink

 

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

AKMA on Forgiveness

AKMA has burst onto the Daypop Top 40 with his blog entry on Forgiveness. And deservedly so. Although I don't hold grudges (generally ... you know who you are, you dirty bastards), it took an embarrassing number of years for me to get over the idea that forgiveness was an irrational will-to-forget and to see that it was the way we humans, imperfect by nature, can manage to live together. When AKMA writes that forgiveness "may be the only way to take an offense with adequate seriousness," I have one of those Getting It moments. "Forgiving wrongs requires us to take them utterly seriously as injuries to one another and to the relationships of which we form a part..." Beautiful.

One thing struck me as peculiar, though. AKMA writes:

Forgiving entails recognizing a wrong, looking at it clearly and honestly, assessing responsibility for it, and resolving not to permit that wrong to determine our lives from thence forward.

Elsewhere AKMA says that forgivness must include "a degree of resolution to avoid repeating my offense, and my effort to live out a life characterized by the manifest embrace of a better way forward." The one thing missing from AKMA's article is the idea of restitution. My religion, Judaism, as I understand it (i.e., not at all) puts particular stress on making whole what one has ruptured through one's bad behavior. Yes, you resolve not to do it again, and yes, you don't let that behavior rend the fabric of the relationship. But you also run out to the store immediately and buy Margaret some more damn pepper.

Now, obviously AKMA doesn't need me to tell him that. He was probably camping on the doorstep of the Quickie Mart to be first on line for pepper. Is restitution too obvious an idea to have surfaced in AKMA's essay? Or does the difference in emphasis indicate a deeper difference in our religions? I'm inclined toward the former since I feel an odd social responsibility to mark the differences between Judaism and Christianity so that the hyphen in "Judeo-Christian" catches in the throat. For example, Judaism tends to be less of a religion of beliefs and faith than Christianity is...

Gentlemen, start your generalizations!


Quite an amazing blogthread developing on forgiveness! AKMA followed up his post with another wallop, this on what forgiveness does to time: "forgiveness involves a transition from a problematic past to a more hopeful future..." which, he notes, means constructing (or finding) a narrative. And this should lead us to reflect on the way in which all social relationships are about time often in the form of narratives: "You are my friend for life" includes you in a particular narrative whereas "You're just a social acquaintance" tells a different story.

Also in the blogthread is the eloquent Steve Yost, a guy I've known in the real world for a couple of years, and although I have the highest regard for him as a person of integrity and as a software master, his blog is showing me something even more that I hadn't met in him in the real world. Halley and Marek have also jumped in, but we've grown to expect Excellence in Blogging from them already...

Nah, I'm not going to let them off the hook that easily. Halley tries to get comfortable in forgiveness' embrace when writing about her recently passed father. I must say that her writing over the past couple of days has really been outstanding. See for yourself. And Marek confronts himself and his feelings for his father and how that refracts all of his world — just like the rest of us, Marek, just like the rest of us — with the confusion that marks honesty about what's most difficult. What he writes is so personal that I don't feel like I have right to say anything except: See for yourself.

Thank you, Steve, Halley and Marek. And thank you, AKMA. Isn't this what teaching is about? Creating occasions for learning?

(Forgive my pompousness. It's how my emotions come out in public.)
5/28/2002 10:01:05 AM | PermaLink

 

Monday, May 27, 2002

The Virtue of Indoors

I lied in yesterday's blog. I said that I was worshipping nature from indoors. The indoors part was true. The worshipping wasn't.

I like nature ok. Some of my favorite fruits come from nature. Also there are times when a fresh breeze will redirect the bus fumes away from my house towards my neighbor's. Thank you. On the other hand, nature is the source of: carcinogenic sun rays, humidity, filling-freezing cold, mosquitos, fatal lightning attacks, tornadoes, droughts, chiggers, the microscopic bugs that infest every mattress, rabies, slime, eggplants, temperatures in excess of 75, quicksand, banana peels, Mothra, night-long darkness, asteroids, tape worms, monkeys' red butts, rain, poison ivy, dog crap, needlessly pointy gravel, earthquakes and a fish floating belly up with its eyes eaten out. That's just plain disgusting. I could go on and on. (The situation is actually much worse than I'm letting on because children may be reading this.)

And that's why we invented the indoors. In fact, I'm writing this from indoors right now! Let me try to describe it. I'm able to adjust the temperature to one that is comfortable for our species, and the indoors automatically keeps itself at that temperature no matter what type of hissy fit Nature throws. And through the miracle of glass, a sort of hardened air — I'm not making this up! — we are able to see what is going on outside while the animals that would prey on us are kept away. This beats climbing a tree and looking down because some of the nastier animals can fly. And I've had doors installed so that only I and my family can enter our sanctuary without having to ask permission first. Plus I can organize my things exactly as I want and can be confident that when I return, they won't have blown away, gotten wet, or have been gnawed by beasts.

It's really quite remarkable and difficult to describe to those who haven't experienced it. Try to find the next time Dean Kamen is giving a talk since I'm pretty sure he invented it.
5/27/2002 08:35:55 AM | PermaLink

 

Sunday, May 26, 2002

A title for a book I have no intention of writing but that pretty much sums me up

"Worshipping Nature from Indoors"

[We're in the Berkshires for Memorial Day, an important American holiday where we take the time to recall something or other.]
5/26/2002 08:24:28 AM | PermaLink

 

Saturday, May 25, 2002

MiscLinks

Marek recommends ResultsUSA, a site that works on ending world hunger.


The ever-vigilant Chip recommends Eric Alterman's big-J-ish blog. Alterman writes for The Nation as well as for just about any other journal that hasn't completely hocked its soul.


Gary Unblinking Stock sends us back to our favorite comic strip, mnftiu, to discover that there's going to be a "Get Your War On" book. All of the proceeds will go to landmine relief efforts in Afghanistan.
5/25/2002 09:28:17 AM | PermaLink

Cherchez la French

David Isenberg has found an interesting French search site. It shows the results graphically, connecting the nodes to display, well, I have no idea what it's displaying. But other people on the mailing list to which he sent the link seem to think that it's quite helpful to those who didn't sell their graphical lobes to artistically challenged millionaires in the early 70s. It's called Kartoo.net and if it works for you, then I delight in your success.
5/25/2002 09:18:19 AM | PermaLink

Another 2.5 Tools

Ading to the list of simple tools for managing URLS and comments about URLs come two suggestions.

Phililp Webre recommends askSAM. But I'm a formerly happy user of surfsaver. It saves the entire page, not just the urls, which would be ok except that it does so in a proprietary format (or at least it used to) so that when it broke and askSAM couldn't fix it, I lost all my data. I also got stuck in upgrade hell with them: couldn't install the new, couldn't get the old back...

Jonathan Peterson recommends Compass which looks pretty durn neat:

I love compass (), it can import/export opera, Netscape, IE bookmarks, you can do drag-n-drop and hotkey bookmarks, it autograbs meta tag info, but allows you to stick in your own comments as well. It works pretty well out of the box, but has a lot of customization features while still being pretty small and quick. I've got over 1500 bookmarks, in dozens of categories and subcats. One of the most powerful features is an HTML/XML export, which isn't well documented, but lets you do stuff like: http://way.nu/bookmarks/, which I know I wouldn't deal with otherwise.

The author is very responsive, I made a feature suggestion that he implemented with 2 months and I've managed to lose my serial number twice and he's emailed it back to me.


James Sisk points us to a tool that he knows isn't quite right but that looks interesting anyway. Hunter/Gatherer. In the words of the site: "Hunter Gatherer lets users select information of interest from within Web pages, and have those components collected automatically into a new web page." It seems to be a research project and it is definitely not yet available.
5/25/2002 09:05:53 AM | PermaLink

 

Friday, May 24, 2002

Link Reference Tools

A few days ago, I asked people for suggestions for a simple tool that would let me save URLs and comments into folders. I heard from a few of you:

The ever-alert Chip recommends Treepad, a tool I had forgotten I'd downloaded a while ago. It's small (470K zipped), it's pretty friendly (the manual could use some work), and they have a workable version that's free, as well as a more fully-featured versions you can pay for.

Gil Gilliam writes:

Have you looked at Zoot from www.zootsoftware.com ? It may be more than you want, but then again, you don't have to use all of its features.

I had previous downloaded Zoot but it is a full featured "information processor" whereas I'm just looking for a place to stick some URLs.

Buzz Bruggeman at ActiveWords (and today the subject of an encomium by Doc) suggests:

Using ActiveWords simply name your URL's according to a naming logic. For example all of the blogs's I got to, I name "weblog", then when I want to see them, I simply type, "weblog" trigger and see the list. Same for news, sports, research, travel, fun, etc. Real simple, real easy, and while only limited space for comments, they are only a word away, and also searchable inside ActiveWords.

ActiveWords has many things going for it, but it's got too much if you just want to stick URLs into folders.

Doria Thodla (a name just dying to be anagrammed) of imorph recommends a service on her site:

It does not do all the stuff you want, but will let you put up a tool bar button, capture any URL you want, add a description, a set of keywords and will monitor the page for changes.

It is a service on our website (free for up to 10 pages)...

Please check it out at www.infominder.com

Kevin Marks comes in with a surprise suggestion: use the blogger bookmarklet tool. It doesn't do exactly what I want, but it wins for Most Creative Suggestion.

So, for now it's either Treepad or my home-brewed app. Thanks for the help, y'all!
5/24/2002 01:58:10 PM | PermaLink

Epeus Takes Up the Telco Story

Kevin Marks thinks he's disagreeing with my attempt to boil down the telecomm story. In particular, he thinks he's disagreeing with "The Paradox of the Best Network," the longer version David Isenberg and I wrote. But he's not. I like a lot what Kevin says.

The supposed point of disagreement is that Kevin thinks Isenberg and I imply that "you can't make money with a well-designed network." Says Kevin: "It was a good soundbite, but wrong on a deeper level" because you can make good, steady money selling a commodity.

No argument! In fact, the heart of what we were saying is summed up in Roxann Googin's phrase: "The best network [the "stupid" network that does nothing but move bits] is the hardest one to make money running." Not impossible. Just hard. This is why the telco's want to be in the added-value network business, not in the we-move-bits business.

So, Kevin and I are in agreement. And we also agree that Larry Lessig's "The Future of Ideas" is really important; Kevin includes an extended quote from an article by Lessig in The American Prospect.

Sorry, Kevin, wish I could disagree...
5/24/2002 10:14:34 AM | PermaLink

 

Thursday, May 23, 2002

Doom III

Not that I would waste my time playing violent games that glorify destruction and demean the human spirit while elevating a set of typically patriarchal values, but, damn, Doom III is looking good!
5/23/2002 01:21:42 PM | PermaLink

The Telecommunications Story

At my session at Connectivity 2002 yesterday (see my previous days' blogs as well as Halley's astute coverage including her pilloring of my presentation ... and Dan Bricklin has just blogged his take on the conference), I asked the group to come up with ways of explaining to an intelligent layperson (well, a senator) what the technological argument is for fighting the incumbent telecommunication companies. The idea was to boil it down to the simplest possible story from the technological point of view. What's the picture technologists should paint for the rest of us?

I'm nowhere near as up on this area as just about anyone you'll meet, but it's good to know that ignorance doesn't deter me from making large-scale pronouncements. So, here's what I would say:

Let's just agree that the Internet is the best way our species has ever come up with for spreading free speech and free markets on a global scale. Screwing this up would be an epochal mistake. And, we want to make sure that we Americans don't lock ourselves out of this arena, repeating the mistakes we made in, say, the auto industry. So, what do we do?

The Internet has succeeded because it Keeps It Simple, Stupid: it just moves bits around. And we want to keep it as a simple bit conveyer belt. That way, any bright new ideas someone has for products and services that can be done with bits — a little thing we like to call "innovation" — can count on the Net for getting bits from A to B with incredible efficiency.

But there's a danger. The old types of networks have assumed that it's always good to be tuned for particular applications — for example, a network specifically for telephone calls. But tuning a network for one type of application means that it's "de-tuned" for others, and the strength of the Internet has been precisely that it just moves bits without caring what type of applications are sending the bits. To keep the Internet open for innovation we have to keep it the simplest possible "de-tuned" bit conveyer belt.

The temptation to tune the network is inevitable if control of it is given to a group that has one particular type of service to provide. That's why it's vital that we keep the provision of the network separate from the provision of applications that use the network. This has to be enforced at the technical level but also at the application, business and regulatory levels.

Yes, this doesn't cover other vital issues such as free speech and the need to remove municipal regulations that hinder smaller competitors, but the aim is to keep this simple.

Comments, criticisms, suggestions, humiliating exposures of the fact that I am merely a poseur? Most important: Other ways of telling the story?

PS: I helped David Isenberg draft a similar sort of story at NetParadox. And at that site you'll find links to "The Rise of the Stupid Network" and David Reed's work on the End-to-End network that are behind this simple, stupid re-telling.
5/23/2002 11:48:07 AM | PermaLink

Thank you, Marybeth Peters

Marek, referring to an article by Doc in Linux Journal, suggests we send our thanks to Marybeth Peters, Register of Copyrights, for rejecting the CARP recommendation that would have killed Internet Radio. I called the Copyright Office and got her contact info:

Email: mpet@loc.gov
Fax: 202 707 8366

Marybeth, our love is on its way!


5/23/2002 10:56:41 AM | PermaLink

 

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Halley Blogs The Conference

If you want to see the benefit of not doing realtime blogging at a conference, compare Halley's coverage of Connectivity 2002 with mine. She's actually reflecting, summarizing, and picking out the parts worth making fun of (e.g., my presentation). I'm just typing.
5/22/2002 09:04:02 PM | PermaLink

David Isenberg's Underwear

On Tuesday at the Connectivity 2002 Conference, David Isenberg opened his talk by waving his underwear around and listing the metaphorical similarities between jockey shorts and telecommunications. So, on Wednesday morning during my session, I waved David Isenberg's underwear around as the prize for coming up with the best way of explaining the telco mess in the fewest words. Yes, I was blatantly trading on the laughs Isenberg earned.

It was only on the way home that I realized that about 20% of the audience on Wednesday hadn't been there on Tuesday and thus must have their own theories about why I would give Isenberg's underwear away as a prize.

It reminds me of the time my sister-in-law Sue, a serious and seriously published novelist, was teaching an English course to college freshman. They were reluctant to speak up, so over the course of weeks, Sue used every technique she could think of to get them to open up. Finally, one woman - call her Mary - actually contested something Sue said, and Sue replied: "Mary, you ignorant slut!" There was a shocked silence for, of course, the students were too young to understand that this was a reference to an old Saturday Night Live skit. They sat there wondering why their professor was calling them sluts.
5/22/2002 07:51:12 PM | PermaLink

Connectivity 2002 - Wednesday Afternoon


Keith, Joe and Lee

Panel: Open Communications Infrastructure: Cutting the Knot. Lee McKnight is talking, Prof. at Tufts. He says, there should be no regulatory distinctions local and national communications, wireline or wireless, narrowband or broadband, broadcast or switched. He's presenting what he he thinks the new regulatory framework should be.

Keith Weiner, CEO of DiamondWare. He's here to ruffle our feathers. Keith begins by stating the prevailing theory with which he'll disagree: In theory we need to reign in the profit-hungry corporations, level the playing field and intervene to manage competition. People here would like to see hundreds of little companies competiting and would like to see the incumbents destroyed. But (now he's stating his own views) there is no such thing as public interest because (on Ayn Randian grounds) there is no such thing as the public. But under the theory of "public interest," the Bells are the ones who are delivering because they provide a universal service without tax money. (Fred from the audience says that the Bells don't do rural delivery and it is subsidized by a tax.) Keith is trying to show equivocation on the word "power" that leads us to think that we need regulation to protect us. Microsoft doesn't have the same sort of power as the Mafia; you can always go to a competitor. His point (as I understand it in response to a question from me) is that all regulation is bad and is only needed because of prior flaws in the system that prevent markets from being truly open and free; he would roll back the regulation and then attack the more fundamental problems (e.g., courts that favor incumbents with money). ... Many ruffled feathers later, Keith wraps up: In a regulated environment, the richest gang wins, so fight against regulation.

[Must type louder to annoy Halley.]

Now Joe Plokin from Bway.net (a NYC ISP) and www.teletruth.org is up. He says we're not looking at deregulation but demonopolilzation. TeleTruth is a consumer protection and advocacy group within telecommunications.



David Brustein looking more like Fidel
in the photo than he does in person.

Dave Burstein is leading a panel on "The Realities of the Local Access Bandwidth Bottleneck." He's reminding us of what's at stake: our ability to decide what we want to put on the Net at prices we can afford, e.g., a broadcast of a church service. What is it that we want, he asks? The audience answers: Connectivity to be treated like a utility; as many people connected as quickly as possible (that was me).

How do we get there? In politics, you find allies and phrase the issues in their terms. Here are some potential allies:

  • Commissioner Kevin Martin at the FCC is a rigid conservative but he loves what the Net can do and doesn't want parts of the country left out. He wants a better, faster Internet.
  • John Chambers and Andy Grove want to sell lots of equipment to do these great things on the Internet. Their TechNet initiative wants to deliver lots of bandwidth.

We can't get there through a market full of small companies. .. [Damn, I have to duck out for a few minutes...] David is now suggesting various ways of getting cable to just about everyone, including a 30% investment tax credit to the Bells along with requirements that they open it up to other vendors. [Another phone call. I missed the ending. Too bad. It was interesting.]
5/22/2002 02:01:50 PM | PermaLink

Connectivity 2002 - Wednesday Morning

Back at the Connectivity 2002 conference. Bob Frankston is giving the morning's introduction, boiling it all down. Here's his slide:

Connectivity: The Concept

Separate transport from content
- Pack connectivity like the Internet
- Functions defined at the end point
Current situtation
- Inherent conflict of interest
- Egregious restrictions on free speech

Bob is pushing on his "More is More" (More's Law) that says that you want to be in a situation where if you want more of something, you can buy more. This makes for a healthy market. But the current situation isn't like that: if you buy more set-top boxes, you don't get more channels or more choice. But it should be true for connectivity: if you buy more streams, you get more capacity. This puts connectivity into the market where market forces can work its magic. Currently, broadband, on the other hand, is a set capacity with no ability to buy more. That's why Bob said yesterday that he considers broadband to be a distraction; we shouldn't be worrying about delivering broadband but about building a market where capacity is subject to market forces.

We just broke slightly (as the projector reboots) to let newcomers introduce themselves. David Burstein from Vortex - a big time telecomm forum - just brought us greetings from Doc Searls and news that we may have allies in quarters such as Cisco that would benefit greatly from a rapid growth in connectivity.

Frankston: "The thing about companies is that it's not against the law to kill them." His slide says that we are not saying they should die, "only" that they should reinvent themselves.

Audience: How does this work in rural areas? And what about the expense of rights of way?

Me: Doesn't the logic of "More's Law" lead to paying by bit, which we agree would be a bad thing?

Frankston: No, that'd just be a bad business model. [So, More's Law actually says that we should be able to buy more in increments that maximize the market. After all, we can buy "more" now by moving within the upload/download increments in cable, and moving from dial-up to cable to T1, etc.]

Frankston: Rights of way is part of the "nefarious conspiracy" to keep this so expensive that only the incumbents can win. And we should open up the problem of rural access through innovation.


Halley Suitt takes a moment from blogging the conference...

Frankston: Content does have rights. And privileges. [I'm glad to see the conversation get down to the battle for the words that count.]

Bob is continuing to outline why breaking the hold of the "content providers" will open new business possibilities, e.g., aggregating content in flexible ways, etc. etc. I don't need convincing on this point. But I'm also worried that we're not seeing these new models already emerging. Some depend on greater access, but some - bands selling their own music over the Internet - could work now and yet haven't caught on.

Frankston: "But it's not all about entertainment. Some people have come to think that the purpose of the roof is to keep the rain off the television."



Bob DeRosa

Bob DeRosa, VP Mktg of American Fiber Systems, is up now. They design and develop metropolitan dark-fiber networks - fiber that can be used for whatever purposes the customer wants. (Thanks to David Isenberg for the explanation.) He's explaining his competitive market: lots of groups (ILECs, CLECs, CATV, Gig-E players, utilities and more) are hooking wires up to your house. The "hidden competition" is the city itself: rights of ways, franchises and fees, permits, regulations and restoration demands. There's some wiggle room, but "given the regulatory environment, competitors of any stripe are at a major disadvantage when competing against incumbents..."


I'm up supposedly up next leading a panel on "What the Fuck Do We Do about It?" Because this topic has come up pretty consistently in other panels, I instead, I want to have the entire group try to come up with the story by which we can explain the technological reasons for keeping the Net open. Divide into small groups, report back to the total group ... the entire yechy, touchy-feely, marketing-offsite-meeting thing.

...Ok, I'm finished. We broke into groups and reported back. I can't say that there were any tremendous breakthroughs, but it was - I hope - useful at least to begin talking with one another about this.

Here's what the groups came up with:

1. Transport and connectivity are different
2. Infinite growth of imagine makes for infinite growth of potential...


Split between:" everyone can be an ISP vs. This is a natural monopology which we hate but we're going to get our net from the post office


We were split between do we really need broadband and Broadband or Death. We'd send a politican back to look at national infrastructure projects, e.g., highway system.

It's not so much the post office as we need the network.)


We sought a way to tie the self-itnerest of the legislator to the desire to achieve access to bb broadband. But what type of access? By facilitating universal access of any strength, you can induce the legislator to see it in his self-interest because the demographic can include new voters, by opening up access you open up particeipation in the electoral process.


A number of the goals the Telecomm Act advanced have not been met (e.g., education). We wwant to promote 100mb/sec broadband. Platform neutrality. Might be wireless in rural, fiber to the home. Maybe through taxx breaks. It will serve the economy globally and locally. Do we attack the IP rights of the entertainment industry, which becomes an issue when you have the higher connection speeds?


If we start talking about the RBOCs, we won't get anywhere. So we have to frame this to meet the legislator's self-interest by getting appropriations into the home district. We talk about the private road and the public road. The Internet is one of the greatest highway systems in the world but it's being turned into a private road that serves private interests. Our country is rapidly losing employment to offshore competitors. How are enterpreneurs and people in disenfranchisede areas going to compete if they have worse access than, say, Korea and have to pay high prices? We're shutting down the competition and our ability to be entrepreneurial in the global society.


We need to create an "innovation platform." The next great boom, like the Net's first great stimulus of creativity, will come from the breakthrough of an innovation platform.


Kevin Werbach

Kevin Werbach is speaking. He's not only the editor of Esther Dyson's "Release 1.0," he's also an ex-FCC person. (He has a paper on this topic here. Regulators are well-intentioned, he says. They want broadband access nationally. They just lack the right way of talking about the issues. The "regulatorium" (Frankston's term) exists for reasons. The FCC is under tremendous constraints: when you're inside the FCC, all you see are the limits on what you can do.

Michael Powell has been spending his time marshalling his forces. He's started at lesast five seprate broadband-related proceedings. He's trying to push through his agenda but not much has happened.

What's missing is the right information. They rely on what they're told and mainly what they're told comes from the established players. There's a woeful lack of engineers and economists for independent internal analysis...but this is beginning to change. This is the best thing Powell is trying to do. Before, the FCC had lawyers but no engineers.

But the real problem is that the FCC doesn't have the right paradigm. Its communications policy is based on the 1934 Communications Act. Today we have horizontal categories: teleecomm, broadcast, cable, Internet. But connectivity doesn't fit into this model because it isn't a service, it's a platform for delivering many different services, e.g., Voice Over IP. But the FCC has to stick it into one existing bin or another. So, the most important questions simply don't compute.

Is there a better alternative? Sure: Look at how the network actually works (today, not in 1934). There are vertical layers, not horizontal categories: not separate networks for voice, for pictures, etc. This is old news for techies (OSI stack, etc.) but it's news to the law. Reconfigure the law to recognize perhaps four layers: content, apps/services, logical, physical. [This is very close to Lessig's argument, which is certainly an argument in its favor.] This would let you put constraints on physical networks that would lead to greater openness higher in the stack. Not all-or-nothing regulations. (There are always going to be regulations.)

So, how do we get there? It'd be nice if we had a creative and committed FCC, but even then the courts would be a problem. So, we need new legislation. It'll take time and money. We should start writing the Telecom Act of 2010. We need to recognize that the time frame is longer than 6 months. But we also need short-term tactical actions. Kevin helped draft the Stevens Report issued four years ago to explain why Internet telephony shouldn't be regulated, so the FCC does occasionally do the right thing. But we need more input from the public and tech industry by informal meetings with the staff and by formal filings. The FCC keeps asking "Where's the other side? Where's this big tech industry?"

[Chris Herot just passed me a pointer to Dan Gillmor's excellent article on David Reed's excellent article on spectrum.]

Realtime Blogging

I blogged the TED conference a couple of months ago by taking notes (pen and paper, how primitive!) during the sessions and then spending a couple of hours each morning writing up entries before breakfast. I'm blogging the Connectivity 2002 conference in real time because there's a wireless net here. The result is not only that I'm distracted from what's going on, but you're getting something much more like a spotty, inadequate transcript than a reflection on what's important about the conference. You're getting notes. I personally think the reflective model is more useful. But, because this conference is in my home town, the blogging time would have to come out of time spent with my family. And last night was the excellent two-hour season finale of "Buffy."
5/22/2002 09:23:42 AM | PermaLink

 

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Connectivity 2002 - Tuesday Afternoon


David Isenberg showing off
the latest in "fiber to the lap."

David Isenberg, author of "The Rise of The Stupid Network" has begun his presentation. He's explained how the telephone network arose as a "smart network" optimized for the services the telephone companies want to sell. The Internet is stupid in that it don't know how to do nuthin' but move them bits 'round. And, when you internetwork these networks, the control shifts from the network owner(s) to the end users; no longer can a network provider add features unilaterally, so the innovation has to come at the edges. That's why the Internet disrupted the telecommunications industry.

[Eric Norlin has blogged about this blogging of the Connectivity conference. He thinks the question of digital IDs is underneath the spam and privacy issues discussed this morning.]

David is saying that the new end-to-end model puts the end-user in control and lets into the mix. Microsoft "gets this in spades": Windows Messenger under XP lets two users open a voice channel or video channel integrated with the IM window. "SIP will change everything."

Isenberg's put up a 2x2 chart. X axis = kilobits to gigabites. Y axis = intelligent network to stupid network. Lower left is telephony, lower right is television, upper left are email and web browsing and internet telephony and games [this is the fun quadrant] and the upper right has "SIX BILLION CHANNELS" open to innovation. "The real important apps haven't been discovered yet."

[Kevin Marks has just blogged about this conference also. He proposes a 3-pronged attack on spam.]

Key point: The stupid network decouples connectivity from app building and it's a mistake to try to be in both businesses. So, what's the business model for connectivity? Not the phone company which likes vertical apps. Not the cable companies because they're stuck on the old video paradigm and resist the new distributed model. So what's left? Municipalities, utilities, customers, and/or something new ... which David connects to David Reed's "We Don't Know," fast becoming the conference's mantra and theme.

Question from the audience: Should we come up with the apps first to drive the infrastructure? Reply from the audience: We did already and called it "Napster." Isenberg: We have 100 megabits on our desktops but we use only a fraction of that usually, but we'd scream if someone tried to take our bandwidth away; bandwidth comes first.



ISP panel

The ISPs. Chaired by Sue Ashdown of the American ISP Association. Panelists: Ira Kleiner, CEO of ProSpeed Networks. Colin King, co-founder of ProSpeed. Victoria White, CEO of Eclectechs in North Hampton.

Sue: "We're beginning to see the death of the Internet service provider" because of the consolidation and now because ISPs need to obtain supply. [Artificial scarcity rears its ugly head again.] The actual title of this panel is "What happens if the ISPs don't get what they want," but Ashdown opens by asking when have ISPs ever gotten what they want? Now even the Patriot's Act adds risk to the ISPs because they can't afford attorneys to fight FBI requests for information about users.

The telephone companies have kept the ISPs out of the market by setting the price for lines to the house so high that the ISPs margins' shrink pass the point of reason. And the telephone companies through "errors of omission" make it harder for customers to accept ISPs. As a result, the Bells have 86% of the DSL market.

Ira is about to talk. His company - a CLEC (Competitive Local Exchange Carrier) - delivers connectivity to underserved markets in NH and MA. [I have to duck out. See a man about a dog. And, unlike Doc, I'm not going to blog while balancing my laptop on the urinal.] Sue is now saying that she recommends against ISPs becoming CLECs because it brings them under so many regulations.

White began by building web sites; her company did 300 in about five years. "Sometimes running an ISP is like being in an MRI where you hear the field gradients, like someone shooting at you," but you don't know where it's coming from or where the next one will come. They serve a lot of seniors and since they don't require a credit card to sign up, people come into the office to pay the bill, to pay the dog, etc.

What's the value of small ISPs? Ashdown says it's in the ability to serve smaller and niche markets.

The guy from Bway.com, a NYC ISP, says that the only way for smaller ISPs to survive is by adding value rather than by competing on price.

Audience: What do the local congresspeople say when you lobby them? Colin: They don't understand the technology. (Exceptions made for Markey and Hollings.)



Jeff Chester

Jeff Chester, Exec. Dir. of the Center for Digital Democracy, says that the advertising and entertainment industry's vision of the new media is the old media. Their vision is to marry the branding power of TV with the interactivity of the Net, resulting in an "advertiser's nirvana."

He told about a meeting in the Chamber of Commerce early in the Clinton admionistration where, with the advertising lobby present, Clinton and Gore talked excitedly about the Information Highway. "You're not really going to let people getheir content over the Internet," said the advertisers, "That'll kill our industry." Jeff knew then that the government would work to restrict the Net to the benefit of those who own the content and sell the advertisements.

[BTW, blogger.com just ate some more paragraphs; it does a 404 when I hit the Post button and can't get back the new content. Argh.]

[During the break, Jock Gill, former tech advisor to the Clinton White House and a fighter for What's Right, said that we're losing the battle because we can't tell the story without dropping into deep techno-caves. We need a simple way to say what we mean. I may use this idea to structure the session I'm supposed to be leading tomorrow on What the !#$^% Do We Do About It?]

Jeff says that the cable companies have been successful in warding off any attempt to stop their near-explicit goal of controlling the network. He points us to a few sites that including his site: www.democraticmedia.org. "You have a handful of companies gobbling up control of old and new media. If all of the FCC rules go through, one company will be able to own the newspaper, several TV stations, several radios, the cable system, and de facto that town's major ISP...all tied to a very very meaningless vision of just attracting eyeballs, engaging in what they call t-commerce, developing the branding..."

Jeff: "Go to FCC.gov and go to the Media Bureau and go to Media Mergers and go to the AOL/time Warner public interest statement. You'd think that the biggest media merger in American history...there will only be two benefits. #1 Just by the fact that we're merging, more people will want more broadand. We'll make a whole new generation of commercially sticky features." No one in Congress is speaking out, only Hollings is speaking in the Senate.

Jeff would be happy simply with non-discriminatory access (opening the wires to the competitive market) but, he says, we won't get that unless we form a movement. Now. "We're not saying big companies can't make lots of money. We're saying they can't monopolize the network. It should be win-win."

Isenberg: We need to tell the story, as Jock Gill says. Here's one way: "The US to be the best auto maker. Not any more. We used to be the best steel maker. Not any more. Do we want to lose the Internet business? We're on the right track to do just that."

Jeff: We lost the battle in DC. Now we need to take it local. Show our local reps that it's win-win for business.

FLASH: Copyright office rejects CARP!! [By the way, I was able to blog this before Isenberg could get the chair's attention to announce it at the conference. [... which proves what?]]
5/21/2002 01:49:13 PM | PermaLink

Connectivity 2002 - Tuesday Morning

The most visible initial fact about Connectivity 2002 is that there aren't a lot of people here. The room is set up for about 150 people but there are only 30 of us here. [At 10am we're up to about 50.] On the other hand, we just went around the room introducing ourselves and it seems like a really good group.

Bob Frankston is the conference chair and he's giving his presentation as we wait for The Dave Farber to show up.

I'm now swapping notes — actually scribbles on 3D paper — with Halley Suitt, about what is and isn't blogworthy. So, 10 minutes in and I'm already three levels of abstraction beyond where I am. Ack.

Bob Frankston's explaining his version of Moore's Law, More's Law, which says if you want more, you can buy more. That's what drives Moore's Law. This argues against subsidizing the delivery of broadband because that destroys the dynamic of building more as the market needs it: if the cable company runs out of bandwidth, it builds more because people will pay more. [Yeah, but subsidizing may kickstart a market and, more important, can get over the inequities of a purely market-driven infrastructure.]


Bob Frankston

Bob's second slide:

RAGE!
You are hostages!
You can't choose what to watch
You pay the trolls for "phone calls"
You can't be seen or heard
They must kill the Internet!

You are at the end of the last mile!

Bob, in response to a question, says that the incumbent business model pretends there's a scarcity of bandwidth so that it can maintain control over access and over prices. But the users are the "unindicted co-conspirators" who go along with this.

Carl Ford, formerly from GTE but now with pulver.com, is standing in the aisle disputing the conspiracy theory. [Chris Herot IM'ed me with this info. He's reading this blog as it develops. Thanks, Chris!]


Carl Ford protests!

Bob would like to see a decoupling of the network from the services built on it. He thinks the telco's should actually want to be broken up, if only they were smart enough. The people here from the telco industry are shaking their heads at the idea that it's stupidity that keeps them from seeing the wisdom of decoupling. If this conference can actually get to the common ground here -- for surely it is anything but stupidity that drives this mess -- it'll be truly useful.



Dave Reed (right) - Icon ... and Icon-Abuser

David Reed, of End-to-End fame, has announced that his point is that it's time for us to admit that we don't know what the business model is. The end-to-end argument says that the network itself should be "stupid" in Isenberg's phrase in that it ought to do nothing but move bits, and the applications that make sense of those bits ought to be on the edges of the network. The alternative is to build special functionality into the network itself, but every time you do that, you actually make it harder to come up with innovative uses of the network. But that means that the network becomes commoditized which the telcos desperately don't want to have happen. [This is my summary. Don't blame Reed.]

Damn! Blogger just hiccoughed and ate two paragraphs of recapping of Reed's economic model and why Bluetooth failed. Basically, Reed argues that the value in the network comes from the options at the edges where you make bets on innovation that may work. "Optimizing" the network itself for this or that app closes down other options. Reed pointed to Bluetooth and Universal Plug and Play as ways not to do this. Bluetooth came up with app-specific protocols rather than being a "stupid" protocol. Universal PnP tried to anticipate every conceivable app/decide that might come its way, an impossibility.

Reed is saying that pervasive computing will be wireless, so let's look at it. All the wireless devices will have to be capable of highly flexible connectivity. The situtation is urgent already. It's not so much about bandwidth... [Damn. I have to go make a phone call that can't be rescheduled...]

[Ok, I'm back. Which is as unnecessary as "If you lived here you'd be home now."] Reed is saying that end users can afford gigabit broadband (currently $2,500-$3,500 and dropping, much less than remodeling a kitchen) as opposed to looking for a business to make that sort of investment. And now we're all clapping for David... Sorry I missed the center. I am a huge admirer of David's.


David Reed


Privacy and Spam panel. The connection between privacy and spam is, says the panel chair, Ray Everett-Church (ePrivacyGroup), is that many people assume that the spam they're getting offering them photos of "barnyard frolics" is actually based on someone knowing something about them. The other two panelists: 1. John Levine, the author of "Internet for Dummies" among other books and a member of Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email. 2. Rob Waters, a lawyer in DC who works on privacy issues.

John: People make two basic mistakes about the Net. 1. They don't believe that it's two-way all the time, unlike TV. But he doesn't mean that The Web is a Conversation(tm). He means that web sites know you've been browsing. 2. People don't believe that no one is in charge. They want police and they want rules.

Rob: Initially, Congress took a hands-off, libertarian attitude towards the Net. Then Ed Markey brought up some privacy rules out of his consumer advocacy. But we've confused security and privacy; people's #1 concern is with identity theft, which is a security issue. Now let's trash the Hollings bill. It segregates electronic transactions foolishly. It creates data collection with no restrictions on a class action suits. It does no harm...except to everything we do. [Rob has assumed I know more than I do so I'm a little at a loss here. Sorry. (This is the bad part of being in over my head.)]

John: [as if sensing my plight] The bill says spam has to have a return address, it has to have opt out, and there are penalties if they continue spamming you. But opt out is unworkable because there are too many lists and you have too many addresses.

Bob Frankston (who is on the panel as an emeritus): The problem is that we treat email addresses as physical objects. The return address is fictitious. Instead, you can create your own email addresses for each of your personae, from public to higher grade addresses for friends to a gibberish hash for commercial transactions; that's what Bob does.

John: Yes, an email address is not like a physical address or a phone number; there's no central, valid list. So, do-not-mail and do-not-call lists are workable because there's a master database to work against. But not for email.

From the audience: A powerful industry coalition is against privacy safeguards because they want to use personalization software to own more of the customer.

[Isenberg just terminally distracted me from this panel, which is meandering down some paths I don't find compelling, by taking a headline from today's Globe -- "Cancer Study Backs Ovary Removal" -- and writing "Headlines You Won't See: Cancer Study Backs Testicle Removal."]

Panel is over. Lunch is around thetemporal corner...
5/21/2002 09:40:00 AM | PermaLink

Stephen Jay Gould

Had Stephen Jay Gould's writings always taught us something — Dayenu! — that would have been enough. That he was an original contributor to his field just adds to his lustre. But the fact that everything he wrote was written from his heart with a passion to make the world fairer by making it clearer — what a faith in understanding! — made him, for me, one of the transcendent presences. I am sad to tears.


The Boston Globe this morning gives Gould a front page obituary. But in the fourth paragraph, the voices of envy are already being heard: "Critics occasionally grumbled that he was more focused on celebrity and commercialization than on rigorous science." We really don't need to hear this on the occasion of someone's death. And that means we don't need to hear it at all.
5/21/2002 09:32:43 AM | PermaLink

Connectivity 2002 - Geek Woodstock?

I'm about to leave for Connectivity 2002, a conference technically only a few miles from my house but a major commute in terms of actual travel hours. It's three days of confabulation about how The Bad Guys are trying to centralize control of the Internet, violating the end-to-end principle (about which see David Reed and David Isenberg and maybe even "The Paradox of the Best Network" that Isenberg and I wrote to try to boil the situation down a bit.).

I'm going because I recognize that it's a big stinking problem but I expect the conference to be over my head. Actually, there's no "but" about it: being in over my head is the best part. This is a topic about which I am smart only by association: I don't understand it but I am fortunate enough to know people who are freaking geniuses about it, starting with Isenberg and Reed.

The organizer, Daniel Berninger, bills Connectivity 2002 as a telecommunications Woodstock. So, let me tell you about Woodstock. The real Woodstock, you young whippersnappers. I went because I had made a plan with Nancy Weeks, on whom I had a major crush, to "meet her there," thinking that I'd spot her across a field, wave my arm in recognition, and we'd trot off to a secluded nook by a waterfall as The Airplane played "White Rabbit." I had just finished my freshman year and was, of course, a moron.

Instead, I spent 4 hours in a traffic jam, parked about 5 miles away, got a ride on the hood of a car that crawled for another couple of hours, and arrived just as Melanie was a couple of songs into her set. It was raining. I hadn't eaten in hours. And, yes, you are talking to the only person who couldn't score drugs at Woodstock. Not a puff, much less a tainted acid tab.

Two hours later, drug- and Nancy-free, I made my way back to my car, curled up in the back seat for a few hours, and drove back to Mom and Dad's house. So you can see how much I am looking forward to the Telecommunications Woodstock. (Nancy, if you're coming to the conference, I'll meet you by the geeky-looking guy trying to tweak the settings of his wireless connection. That ought to narrow it down.)
5/21/2002 07:48:12 AM | PermaLink

 

Monday, May 20, 2002

Doc Bullish on Apple

Doc is urging us all to buy Apple stock because "There is a sea-change happening, and it's going down fast." His evidence includes the movement of hard-core techies such as Scoble and Ev from Windows to the Mac OS X because they like Unix better than XP. (Imagine that! Something better than XP!) With the techies comes open source enhancements to the Mac, and Unix brings the Mac within the scientific and enterprise development communities. So, Doc sees a bright future for Apple. He says the people at Apple are even having fun.

If only Apple let other people build Mac machines so we'd get the sort of hardware openness that Unix is providing on the software side.
5/20/2002 02:19:23 PM | PermaLink

Customer to Customer

I just gave a keynote this morning at the Transcentive annual user's conference. (Transcentive provides software and services for managing 401K plans.) One of the main points of the talk was that B2B and B2C are both being shaped by "C2C," customer-to-customer conversations; this matters because it means that businesses have lost their main way of controlling their markets: the selective release of information. So, I went through some sites that have lively C2C interchanges not knowing that the next speaker was announcing Transcentive's own open-ended discussion boards. (I was really pleased to hear that the inspiration for putting up the boards came from The Cluetrain Manifesto and Chris Locke's Gonzo Marketing.)

The Transcentive board is in its infancy. They've seeded it with a bunch of threads, which is a good start. But, I hope Transcentive understands that the success of a discussion board is subject to the same sort of randomness that turns a local diner into a citywide sensation for a month and then returns it to obscurity. So, I applaud Transcentive for having the guts to open up a space for unfettered discussion among customers and employees. It's risky but it can be so worthwhile for everyone involved.
5/20/2002 12:59:33 PM | PermaLink

Small Pieces Mambo

Small Pieces gets a nice blog writeup by Martin Roell. It's in German, but here's the translation (checked and authorized by Martin himself):

I want to give an especially strong recommendation of the latter (= Small Pieces). This is a wonderful book about the Net, beautifully written, with many anecdotes, insights, analyses and philosophical thoughts ...for dreaming, thinking ahead and developing new ideas. It’s an *important* book that you won’t give away and will always keep near your desk.

But now for the real reason for posting this: Here are pictures of Martin's German Brazilian musical group.

Only on the Web, only on the Web.
5/20/2002 12:42:01 PM | PermaLink

 

Sunday, May 19, 2002

That Damn Naming Service

[This is awkward. I'd just finished writing about Dan Bricklin's comments on the DNS problem and went to his page to grab the permalink when I discovered that he today blogs a generous review of Small Pieces. So, this will look like as gratuitous a case of blogrolling as we're likely to encounter. To counter this impression, I've randomly introduced some negative comments, in gray, into the following.]

Dan Bricklin [that bastard!] has blogged comments about the Naming Problem in the wake of the back-and-forth between Clay Shirky and Bob Frankson (here and here) among others. The problem is that there are more sites than recognizable names and it's only going to get worse — the fights over whether American Airlines, Alcoholic Anonymous or Alan Abrahamson gets "www.aa.com" are going to leave more and more unhappy site-holders. (I grabbed weinberger.org to keep it from being taken by people greedier than I, but I also took nathanweinberger.com and leahweinberger.com so my children will be winners in the site name sweepstakes.)

Dan's solution sounds right [even if he once sucker-punched Alvin Toffler]:

We need a way to experiment with different ways of naming things on the Internet in addition to the "unique text to IP address" bindings of the current use of DNS technology...Whatever we use should probably work in places that include the Address Bar (also known as the "Location Toolbar" to Netscape users) in browsers. We also know that to do such experimentation, we need to let all comers try their hands, using something like a plug-in architecture or other open API. The users and marketplace will choose the method (or methods) that work best for the various needs.

As Dan Gillmor has pointed out, many of us use Google as our name server: if we want to find an old friend who lives in Chicago who we think became a dentist, we look his name up in Google and then pick the entry that mentions Chicago and dentistry. Ultimately, however, we can imagine a more database-y approaches built to scale with the Net and history. It'd be great to get them working from the address bar without having to depend on the treacherous affections of Microsoft (cf. RealNames). But, we don't have to wait for Microsoft to open up since we can already install additional widgets on the tool bar, and my google widget in fact already functions as my "fuzzy address bar," the one I use when I'm not sure of the address I'm looking for.

In addition to full text searching and database lookups, there's a third way this problem may be cracked. The first two approaches are bird's eye views, but there's also a surface-based approach. At some point we're each going to have our own point of view looking across the Internet and what we'll see are the groups we care about. These groups will be linked to other groups unto the sixth degree of separation. And that will narrow the focus of searches sufficiently that we'll be able to resolve the ambiguity of names the way we do it among our acquaintances in the real world: "Do you mean Alan Abrahamson the dentist or the ex-boyfriend?"

If someone knows what I mean, would you please let me know? Thank you.

[PS: Dan Bricklin writes in library books.]
5/19/2002 12:00:29 PM | PermaLink

What's your tool?

I'm looking for a shareware or freeware app that does one of the most basic of jobs: save and organize links into folders. I've tried a whole bunch, and even wrote one for myself, but none have stuck, often because they were over-featured (or, in the case of my home brew, screwed up too often). Here are my requirements:

  • Within the browser (tool bar or whatever) invoke the app and store an URL and a comment in folder
  • Arbitrarily create and nest folders
  • Be able to browse and search the archive
  • Doesn't lock the info away in a way that makes me totally dependent on the app provider

Simplicity counts above all. If you have found something that has actually become a part of your working set, would you let me know?

And I am trapped in MSIE so don't bother telling me that the if I get the Quake III mod of Mozilla it'll do everything I want including letting me frag a John Ashcroft avatar.
5/19/2002 11:08:01 AM | PermaLink

 

Saturday, May 18, 2002

The Shape of Our Community

AKMA has reconceived his blogroll as a new university, the U of Blogaria.

Jeneane has imagined a new Walden populated with the bloggers who have come to matter to her.

It isn't surprising that these tropes come from two of our most passionate, warmest bloggers. AKMA and Jeneane's metaphors give shape to the community — and, for once, that is the right word — that blogging allows. Odd that blogging, a literary form that looks to the outside observer like the most self-gratifying form of self-expression, turns out to be a way for us to be with one another.

On the other hand, this is only odd because ever since the invention of that large capital expense know as the printing press, writing has been a one-to-many broadcast. Now at last writing is a collaborative experience; we're seeing an Hegelian "synthesis" of the self-assertion of writing and the mutuality of conversation. We are, in short, writing ourselves into existence together.
5/18/2002 08:35:14 AM | PermaLink

Halley Is Normal

Halley's in a mock snit because I dared to refer to her as normal. To be precise, in writing about how we're getting admirably personal on the Web, after talking about RageBoy I said:

Take someone who doesn't have RageBoy's penchant for laying himself out as his own best argument: Halley Suitt. Halley is normal the way the rest of us are normal (i.e., not the way RB isn't).

Halley writes:

Don't you know I'm a Chris Locke wannabe?! I don't wannabe normal like everyone else.

Hey, Halley, tell me about it! Aren't we all RB wannabes? But you left off the end of the paragraph:

(And, by the way, for a normal person, Halley's pretty remarkable.)

So, let me amend that. The truth is that Halley is totally fucking weird. Ok? Can we be friends again? (But RB is still less normal than all of us.)
5/18/2002 08:09:07 AM | PermaLink

The Day Ashcroft Stopped Flying

Here's what gets me. Joe Conason writes in Salon (in the pay-for-content section) that in July of last year, "U.S. and Italian officials were warned, according to a Los Angeles Times report, that Islamic terrorists might try to hijack an airliner and crash it into the summit location, with the hopes of killing Bush and others." Then, "Almost simultaneously, on July 26, 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft abruptly stopped flying on commercial aircraft, reportedly due to a 'threat assessment' by the FBI."

Conason says the White House says that this was due to threats unrelated to al-Qaida but the CIA has told CBS that it knows of no such threats. (Remember, this comes from the same people who first lied about Air Force One being targeted, and then had the chutzpah to sell the photos of Our Hero high-tailing it.)

Why isn't this telling detail being more widely reported?
5/18/2002 08:08:30 AM | PermaLink

 

Friday, May 17, 2002

The Internet of Groups

Dave Curley writes:

You've probably already seen this since it's making the usual plastic, etc. rounds. Essentially, it appears that a PR company — presumably hired by Monsanto — planted postings on a listserv that ultimately lead to Nature retracting an article.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not the article should have been published, this, to me, helps show how the internet's strength as a "create your own identity" medium is also a weakness: on the internet, nobody knows you're a dog, and nobody knows you're a lying PR weasel.

Yes, astroturf lobbying exists in the physical world, people are planted in opposing groups, and so on, but it's much harder. Just as the internet makes it so much easier for me to contact you and communicate/connect with you, it also makes it that much easier for me to lie to you.

I'd like to believe that our ability to sniff out imposters means that this despicable practice won't take hold. But the price we pay for our willlingness to trust others — a requirement for us to be social — is our capacity for being made fools of. Does this mean that malevolent corporations will inevitably poison the well of conversation? Perhaps. But , if they do, we will together figure out ways to preserve our ability to talk within a circle of trust. Places like epinions.com and amazon.com already take some of the logical steps such as letting us see a person's aggregated reviews.

But we haven't taken the most significant step yet. So far, if we want product information, we seek out a discussion about that product. As a result, we're mainly reading the views of strangers. The obvious solution to the trust problem is to seek out a discussion that starts with the people, not the product. We want to be able to consult our friends — real world or virtual — first: "I'm about to buy a digital camera? Any of you have any recommendations?" The "you" is the defining term here. And if the circle of "you"s doesn't know much about digital cameras, consulting a second-degree circle would probably get you your answer.

I've been involved pretty deeply with a couple of startups that tried to enable just such conversations. They plunged over the Cliff of Business Models. But organizing the big scary Net around the circles of people you know in addition to around the topics you care about just makes too much sense not to happen someday. Soon.
5/17/2002 09:56:59 AM | PermaLink

 

Thursday, May 16, 2002

New Reviews

Denise Howell gives Small Pieces an excellent write-up in her law-centered blog, Bag and Baggage. Thanks, Denise!


It's going to take a bit longer to thank Alex Golub for his review since it's not a review so much as a critical piece. In the best sense. In fact, it is a superb response to the ideas in the book. He kicks at the spots in my "argument" that most need kicking and, most important, he laughs at my jokes.

Alex is an anthropology grad student at the Univ. of Chicago who maintains an excellent site about Hans Georg Gadamer. And although he engages with my book as if it were a moderately serious intellectual effort, he writes passionately, personally and with a ragged edge I enjoy:

The book starts small and you don't get the theory 'til the end: He spends most of the book shaking the big can of whup-ass he holds in his hand and giving you an I-dare-you, 'don't make me open this big can of whup-ass' look. And when he finally does open it in the last two chapters, you realize Why You've Been Fearing The Whup-Ass All Along.

He takes me to task most systematically on the question of knowledge. Alex thinks I approach this too much from the philosopher's viewpoint according to which knowledge is the defining human experience: "I think he places too much emphasis on 'truth' and not enough on 'body'. We do not just laugh - we cum." (I told my publisher I didn't have enough "fuck"s in the book!) Furthermore, he says I get stuck on "knowing" rather than seeing that underneath the change in knowledge is a more important change in the nature of convincing, i.e., rhetoric. To this I reply with an emphatic and enflamed: Yeah, that's right! So, take that! That chapter was trying to do something fairly specific: kick the pins out from the traditional view of knowledge that leads us to absurd, anti-human, anti-body ideas about what it means to be a human. On the other side of the Dam of Knowledge there's all of life, including jokes, porn, mysticism, mindless entertainment and RageBoy. I didn't mean to imply that on the other side of the Dam is only a different type of knowledge. At least, I don't remember meaning to imply that. In truth, I believe Alex has smoked out a genuine prejudice and consequent blinkering in the chapter.

Alex uses this to help make his larger case: "I guess what I'm saying is that philosophy can only advocate for lived experience for so long before it's out of its league." What else does Alex the anthropology graduate student think is needed? Hmm. Wait for it ... Anthropology!

David has taken us 90% of the way, but to get over the finish line he needs [not] only anthropologists to help him along, he needs artists and artisans - the people who weld, sing, dance, fuck - as well.

To which I reply, vehemently, that little vein in my forehead throbbing: Absolutely correct! I didn't intend this to be the last book written about the Web. We need poetry, science, religion, and every other way we humans have devised to understand ourselves and our world.

So, let me be clear: I love Alex's review. What a gift.

(Here's an amusing picture of Alex.)
5/16/2002 12:28:06 PM | PermaLink

The Joy of Lying

Greg Carter points us to Brad Blanton's amusing and provocative site on the concept of radical honesty. On its surface, the site is bland, but if you poke around you'll find pockets of genuine voice (and a whole lot of o'er-weening self-confidence). Here's a snippet of a description of one of Brad's seminars:

This is an eight day program which provides you with the hilarious experience of a new family based on honesty which will give you all the training necessary to sustain ongoing transformation for yourself and ongoing torture of your real family and friends back home. It will also serve nicely to mess things up at work.

Now, Greg points this out because of my recent comments about the importance and inevitability of lying. Judging from what I can glean from Brad's site, he seems to think that there is such a thing as The Truth and that we either tell the truth or we don't, although he acknowledges that there are many ways in which we "lie" (i.e., don't tell the truth). The difference between us is that he doesn't like any of 'em, whereas I'm quite fond of a whole bunch of them. In fact, our human relationships are so complex and mutually refracted that there is no such thing as The Truth, and shaping and shading our stuff together constitutes much of the joy of sociality. Two people just telling one another the truth would alternately boring and insulting. Oh, and, by the way, it's also impossible.
5/16/2002 11:54:47 AM | PermaLink

Totally Clickworthy

Chip reminds us to click on a site that pays for mammograms and one that addresses world hunger. These folks gather a daily donation from various sponsors based on the number of clicks to their site.


Peter Kaminski has a terse but splendid set of materials explaining why the farm bill Bush is backing is a big pile of doodoo.


Tom is his usually hearty, deeply spiced self in a piece on the role of taste in the social filtering news...and he means real taste, the thing you do with your tongue. He's reflecting on a piece by Alex Golub who brings up a closely related theme in his review of my book, about which I comment above.
5/16/2002 11:51:43 AM | PermaLink

 

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Animated cartoons

JD Lasica, senior columnist for Online Journalism Review and veteran blogger, has an article about why more so few online cartoons are animated. It's a comprehensive review of the issue with lots of good links and interesting tidbits. It seems to boil down to this: Adding a very simple level of animation doesn't enhance the cartoon enough while doing it right requires turning cartooning into an expensive team sport. Or maybe we're still locked into the old rhetoric of single-panel political cartoons and multi-panel "funnies, awaiting the genius who will invent the new genre. We'll know it because it will seem so obvious as soon as we see it.

Meanwhile, proof that the comic strip is at the end of its cycle can be viewed at mnftiu's latest Get Your War On where genius is already at work.


AKMA read the above paragraph and apparently took it seriously. Hmm, I can see how the subtlety of the ironic overstatement may have passed him by given that I'm having to add the implication of ironic overstatement after the fact since there wasn't any in the original statement. Still with me? Too bad. I was hoping to have chased you off by now.

Anyway, AKMA wants to know why I am so confident that the comic strip is "at the end of its cycle" given the strong evident he adduces to show that the comic strip is flourishing. To which I reply: Look over there! Click here for porn! You're all a bunch of anti-semites! Something! Anything!

Still here? Damn! Ok, so what I meant was that the 4-panel daily comic strip has gone as far as it can as an art form, and the evidence for that is that the only act of genius I can think of in this form is mntfiu's playing with the form itself. I have no doubt that comic strips will continue ad infinitum but basically as they are. And now you see why I've been trying to distract you from this elaboration. It's just so stupid and so certain to be wrong.
5/15/2002 09:17:51 AM | PermaLink

Eric Raymond: Straight Shooter. Really.

Open Source guru and gun Libertarian Eric Raymond has joined the blogging community with a weblog that promises to be as objectionable as possible as straightforwardly as possible.

Let a hundred flowers bloom (but wear asbestos underwear).
5/15/2002 09:00:23 AM | PermaLink

People who support people are the supportingest people in the world

<whine>
I like Linksys. I've had their 4-port router for a few years and it just sits there and works. And once when it stopped working they sent me a new one, no questions asked. Compare this to, say, BestBuy. Yesterday I took our Playstation 2 back because when you play a DVD on it, if the video scene is dark, it stops outputting to the TV entirely and then takes a couple of seconds to bring the TV back to life. Even though I'd purchased the "no-hassle" extended warrantee, they had to send a 14 year old employee to the back of the store to verify that the machine was broken. After spinning through all of "Ocean's 11," the child reported that the machine worked fine. The manager graciously agreed to replace the unit anyway. "I'm not supposed to do this," he said, waiting for my gratitude finally to spill over my natural reserve. "Just don't tell anyone." Oh, I might actually tell someone that BestBuy actually believed that one of its customer was telling the truth. Sure, you wouldn't want that to get around!

Anyway, I'm no longer able to play online games. When I try to connect, it just hangs. I've reinstalled Wolfenstein and Quake but to no avail. So, I go to linksys.com and don't get any useful hits searching for information on games. So, I google "linksys games" and .27 seconds later find the linksys FAQ that tells me I need to open port 27960 "in the router's advanced feature." The FAQ tells me to consult the manual. So, I open the PDF manual and can't find where it tells me how to open a port. So, I google "linksys 27960" and in .36 seconds I find a page — GamesAdmin.com — with a user-written, careful description of exactly how to do the deed. In fact, these step-by-step instructions cover the overall setup of the router and are far better than Linksys' own. And it has a set of very useful links.

Customers not only know more than the companies they deal with, they also write better. </whine>
5/15/2002 08:57:24 AM | PermaLink

 

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

An Interview with Me

Halley has just run an interview with me.
5/14/2002 12:25:33 PM | PermaLink

ISP Earthquake

Doc mentions that he drove through an earthquake last night, and that he maintains an Earthlink account. That leads, of course, to the following puzzle:

Q: What do you call an ISP in an earthquake?
A: Earthblink

And, irresistably, we are led to:

Q: What do you call an ISP that over-controls its customers?
A: Earthclink
Q: No, that's not what I was thinking of...
A: CompuSerf

Next thing you know we'll be posing puzzles like these:

Q: What do you call an ISP for a fading superpower?
A: America on Decline
Q: What do you call an ISP for cats?
A: America on Feline

But then we grow ashamed of ourselves and stop. Please.


5/14/2002 10:38:51 AM | PermaLink

Getting Personal

Jeneane wonders (as I did in the recent issue of my newsletter) why we bloggers are getting so personal and so attached: " Why so passionate over some words in a template? Why do I feel like I've known these friends all my life?"

Her partial answer: "Since I've shared most of my life, even if compressed and scattered, here on allied, I feel that somehow you all have lived it with me." Definitely. But why have been willing to share it? And why has it connected so deeply? It might be due — paradoxically — to the anonymity the Web affords, although it seems to me that since anonymity can be merely an excuse for irresponsibility, we'd be better off thinking of it as the opportunity to have a fresh start. The Web is our blank page.

And then there's the fact that The Web that Matters — the network of people we care about — is self-organizing so we tend to hear from the people we touch and are ignored by the people we don't. That's why the blogging world isn't aflame enough for the likes of John Dvorak, but it's also one reason it's become so important to us. We're pulling one another into deeper and deeper water. "See, Halley just did a cannonball off the deep end and she's fine! Why don't you give it a try?"

The rush we're feeling over being able to speak in public about matters we formerly kept private is temporary. It will become the new normal soon. At that point it will be integrated enough into our understanding of ourselves that we'll carry it over into the real world. And although we will lose the rush of novelty, we will gain the steadier warmth of wider and deeper friendships.
5/14/2002 10:12:24 AM | PermaLink

MiscLink

Peterme links to a provocative article conceiving of narratives as spaces rather than as threads. Peter is interested in the nature of space both real and cyber and his site is always an excellent resource on the topic.


Dana Parker, "DVD Diva" and editor of the DVD Report, recommends a page opposing the Senator Fritz "Dumb as a Hollings" Hollings' bill that gives Walt Disney direct control over all content.


Julianne Chatelain points us to a project that uses the banner ad as a political art form. Click on the "Collection" button. (You'll need Shockwave). And, at another banner-art site she points us to, there's a fancypants UI that uses a 6-story building as a visual metaphor. (Be sure to type "Y" to get past the home page.)


Brian Millar has a funny aggregated reply to spammers. It begins:

Dear 09234243ajhkhads@dontmissthis.com

Thank you for your concern about the size of my penis. But I like it just fine, thank you and over the years I have discovered my own ways of enlarging it...

He goes on to politely turn down the offers to make $12,000,000 in expropriated Nigerian funds, to view hot coeds in their new off-campus apartment, and the rest of the sad daily litany.
5/14/2002 09:05:18 AM | PermaLink

 

Monday, May 13, 2002

Friedman and Facts

Thomas Friedman's latest — Global Village Idiocy — stands firm on one fact: For a significant portion of the world, the Internet spreads serious misinformation. Especially where only a small percentage of the population is hooked up to the Net, the rumors and lies that appear there — e.g., that 4,000 Israelis in NYC had advance notice of the 9/11 bombing — are taken as gospel simply because they were on the Internet.

As always, there are lots of ways to disagree with Friedman. For example, as some bloggers have pointed out, the Web is interactive and self-correcting. And the overall effect of Friedman's article will be to fan the anti-Net flames among those who know no better. But I think we are up against a hard fact: a journalist with a track record at doing the thing that capital J's are good at — getting their facts relatively straight — tells us that the Internet at this stage of its development is being used to spread dangerous lies that are not being self-corrected.

So, what do we do with that fact? Since I'm in no position to challenge it, I accept it. But how the Internet operates when 5% of a population have access to it is not a good indicator of what will happen when 50% or even 25% are hooked up; with 5% filtering, it's more like the broadcast model. And while some of us have argued that, as with any technology, the Net tends towards certain values, those tendencies can certainly be over-powered by other interests. Perhaps the Internet will function in some cultures primarily as a way to reinforce prejudice and spread the lies people are eager to believe. I obviously hope not and ultimately think not. But these are facts that haven't yet happened.

We should thank Friedman for reporting the current state of affairs in some parts of the world. We should acknowledge that he has his facts straight. And then we should look to the blogiverse for the discussion of his facts to keep us from generalizing too hastily. IMO.
5/13/2002 11:05:28 AM | PermaLink

New Issue of JOHO Published

Pope on the Internet: The Church's message on the Internet gets it surprisingly right ... and unsurprisingly wrong.
Bombastic Truth: Christopher Locke's new book is brave personally and...
Getting Personal: ...the personal on the Web connects in a way that broadcast can't.
The Gift of Lying: Honesty is overrated.
Stop me before I'm inconsistent again!: Noting the inconsistency of the previous articles
Walking the Walk: the Navy gets all KM-y.
Cool Tool: Mitch Kapor may have something for us, and Kanguru storage.
Now Playing: The games people, um, I , play.
Internetcetera: CIO survey.
Beijing and Peru Escape Hostage Plot: Two slip past the Microsoft sentries.
Why Search Engines Suck: They just do. Except Google, of course.
Virtual Everything: On the heels of the virtual keyboard, our labs have been busy...
The Anals of Marketing: Why marketing sucks.
Links: Your contributions, outstanding as always
Email, Scurrilous Attacks and Premeditated Insults: Must get more email!
Bogus contest: Kids Versions


5/13/2002 09:51:59 AM | PermaLink

Sharing the WiFi: A Controversy

Glenn Fleischman responds to my citing of David Isenberg's article about DeWayne Hendricks' concern about the messiness of sharing The Spectrum. The question is whether we're headed towards a "tragedy of the commons" where overuse of wireless connectivity makes it useless to everyone. Glenn, who knows this stuff cold, says that the market will work this out and that Hendricks' proposals will be unnecessary (and are possibly self-serving).

This is sufficiently over my head that I default to believing the smart people I like personally. And if Glenn and Isenberg disagree, I will simply refuse to believe anything ever again.
5/13/2002 09:49:51 AM | PermaLink

Two Reviews of Small Pieces

The LA Times gave SPLJ an excellent review yesterday. Woohoo! (Note: It takes a free registration to see it.)

Also, Richard Pachter of the Miami Herald just weighed in with a very positive review.
5/13/2002 08:38:57 AM | PermaLink

 

Sunday, May 12, 2002

The Surfin' Pope

I hereby acknowledge I am a Jew and thus am using up some of the precious world supply of chutzpah in responding to a communication from the Pope.

The Vatican has put out a message today. The heart of the message is this:

The Internet is certainly a new “forum” understood in the ancient Roman sense of that public space where politics and business were transacted, where religious duties were fulfilled where much of the social life of the city took place, and where the best and the worst of human nature was on display. It was a crowded and bustling urban space, which both reflected the surrounding culture and created a culture of its own. This is no less true of cyberspace, which is as it were a new frontier opening up at the beginning of this new millennium. Like the new frontiers of other times, this one too is full of the interplay of danger and promise, and not without the sense of adventure which marked other great periods of change. For the Church the new world of cyberspace is a summons to the great adventure of using its potential to proclaim the Gospel message. This challenge is at the heart of what it means at the beginning of the millennium to follow the Lord's command to "put out into the deep”: Duc in altum! (Lk 5:4).

The Pope is way ahead of many others, including Leading Businesses, in seeing the Net as a new public place — actually, a new place for a new public — rather than as a lower-cost broadcast medium. And yet the broadcast model of evangelism still holds sway: the Church is in the business of propagating a "message," albeit put quite beautifully ("out into the deep") That explains why the Pope sees the Internet primarily as a way of making initial contact: "How does the Church lead from the kind of contact made possible by the Internet to the deeper communication demanded by Christian proclamation?" There is not much recognition that the Net needs to become not just the knock on the door but also part of the continuing faithful relationships we humans have with one another. Nor is there any hint that the Internet threatens the hierarchical organization so evident in certain religions we could name, naturally favoring a more rabbinic approach in which seekers congregate around those who demonstrate learning and wisdom and faith.

While the Pope concludes by urging "the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net," he does so in the context of the Internet as something that "causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet." The implication ultimately seems to be that the Church needs to deliver the right content, metaphorically replacing pictures of Anna Kournikova with images of Jesus.

The fact that the Net allows conversations as well as the delivery of content shows up as a danger:

The Internet offers extensive knowledge, but it does not teach values...Moreover, as a forum in which practically everything is acceptable and almost nothing is lasting, the Internet favours a relativistic way of thinking and sometimes feeds the flight from personal responsibility and commitment.

Relativism need not be what we learn from our encounters with others. Respect and open-mindedness are more likely given the fact that the Internet as a technology teaches us one value more deeply than any other: the joy of being connected ... which in some parlances is more accurately termed love.

The Vatican's enthusiasm for the Internet as a tool for world peace and evangelical outreach is impressive. But this papal communication is oddly mute about the implications of connecting each of us — even, eventually, the meekest and humblest — one to another, unmediated and direct. To me — someone outside of the Catholic church and thus unreliable as a commentator — it feels like an important moment of denial in an otherwise surprisingly warm embrace.

Happy World Communication Day.

[Thanks to Peter Kaminski for pointing me to the Pope's communication today.]
5/12/2002 09:46:53 PM | PermaLink

 

Saturday, May 11, 2002

Book-in-a-Sentence(tm)

AKMA:

My resistance to binary approaches to complex problems stems from my conviction that simplification generates more advanced cases of the very problems it's invoked to resolve.

Wow. That one unpacks into a book-length volume, doesn't it?
5/11/2002 10:48:25 AM | PermaLink

Bad Milk: The Game

Bad Milk is a very odd game. It uses video snips in a Flash-like fashion to pull you through an hallucinogenic story line that begins when you drink some milk past its expiration date. I only have the demo but it's pretty durn compelling so far.
5/11/2002 10:41:34 AM | PermaLink

threadsML

The discussion about a standard to enable the sharing of message threads is picking up steam over at QuickTopic. The standard, tentatively named "threadsML" may be broad enough to cover blogthreads although blogthreads are hyperlinked, not threaded; that is, a blog entry in a blogthread may have more than one parent.

If you're of a mind, feel free to jump into the discussion.
5/11/2002 10:39:21 AM | PermaLink

Turing Support Machines

Kevin Marks responds to the transcript of a "conversation" with a Microsoft support bot:

Customer service people routinely fail Turing tests because they are told to follow a script. They are part of a programmed machine. My friend Stuart is comfortable with this, as if they are programmed, he can find the bugs and exploit them to get what he wants anyway.

see my Edemame piece.

In this piece Kevin manages to compare authentic voices with boiled soy beans. And he succeeds.
5/11/2002 10:35:23 AM | PermaLink

 

Friday, May 10, 2002

Viva el Lessig!

Larry Lessig, everyone's favorite freedom fighter, gives a terrific interview to BusinessWeek (but you already know that because you saw it at Doc's blog on Wednesday). Lessig says:

We don't need a new vision. We just need to recognize what the traditional vision has been. The traditional vision protects copyright owners from unfair competition. It has never been a way to give copyright holders perfect control over how consumers use content. We need to make sure that pirates don't set up CD pressing plants or competing entities that sell identical products. We need to stop worrying about whether you or I use a song on your PC and then transfer it your MP3 player.

Lessig is crucial to the movement that's waiting to happen. He's got the right combination of expertise, clear-headedness, articulatenessosity, integrity and passion. I've had the opportunity to meet him a few times and can attest that, as an added bonus, he's a really good guy.

And you know what? Even with people like Lessig at the forefront, we're still probably going to lose. In fact, we lost as soon as the greedy bastards got us to accept the idea that the songs and essays and poems we write are a type of property.


Speaking of freedom struggles, Mary Lu has blogged links to a webcast of the International Webcasting Association's three-hour town meeting on CARP and the attempt to shut down Internet Radio.
5/10/2002 09:15:01 AM | PermaLink

Friday Funnies

From Ian Poynter comes a link to the Action Man comic book for all of us who have sat through a meeting before. Very funny.


Matthew Flemming recently had a chat-based run-in with Microsoft support. He's allowed me to post the transcript. Is it an encounter with an inept support person or a frustrating talk with poorly designed software? And if we can't tell, has it therefore passed the Turing test?


5/10/2002 09:04:23 AM | PermaLink

 

Thursday, May 09, 2002

MiscLinks

Eric Norlin is convinced that now's the time — at last — to resolve the knotty problem of digital IDs, and he's preparing to dig into it. His interview with Microsoft at DigitalIDWorld topic gets them on the record on the important aspects of this question.


Dan Bricklin has written an excellent report on the Nantucket Conference. This type of coverage — personal, reflected through someone as knowledgeable and thoughtful as Dan — is invaluable. Of course this was done before there were weblogs, but weblogs are making the sharing of post-conference reflections an important part of the conference itself.

BTW, Dan says nice things about my presentation at the conference and presents a summary that's more coherent than my ramblings. I have already received an email from someone totally pissed that they wasted a click going from Dan's site to mine. I understand someone not liking what I've written, but I can't figure out the pathology of someone who writes to me just to tell me that I suck. What's he get out of it? Ah humans. Can't live with 'em, can't drink yourself into oblivion long enough.


Required reading from Clay Shirky on the DNS mess. You'll also want to read Bob Frankston for an opposing view.


Jadine Ying has an article on blogs and the J word at Spike, the magazine of the Dept. of Journalism at the University of Illinois. It focuses on the High End of bloggery, citing the Glenn Fleishman, Paul Boutin and Doc Searls cut of the jib, but that makes sense given that the article is about where the Big J meets the swarm of B's.


Peterme recommends an article called "Blogging Thoughts: Personal Publication as an Online Research Tool" by Torill Mortensen and Jill Walker. They write:

Bloggers have been likened to journalists, or perhaps better, editors; they might as well be compared to researchers. To blog is an activity similar in many ways to the work of the researcher. A weblogger filters a mass of information, choosing the items that interest her or that are relevant to her chosen topic, commenting upon them, demonstrating connections between them and analysing them.

Refreshingly, each of the authors actually has experience blogging:

[O]ur weblogs became tools with which to think about our research, its values, connections and links to other aspects of the world. They altered the way in we approached online communication, and have influenced the writing of both dissertations. This is the motivation for this article: a need to look at what weblogs do to our academic thinking.

They state outright that they are not objective or detached. Woohoo! As they say: "Blogs exist right on this border between what's private and what's public...When a blog is good, it contains a tension between the two spheres..." They then explore the changing nature of the public sphere, with Habermas as their starting point. Excellent, thought-provoking article.
5/9/2002 12:37:55 PM | PermaLink

Kids Slam Philosophy

The winner of the Kids' Philosophy Slam has been announced, an essay contest in which students all write about the same topic. This year it was "Is Human Nature Good or Evil?" Congratulations to Vineetha Joseph who beat out 4,000 students from first grade to high school senior.

I was one of the judges and have some advice for next year's entrants. It's really very simple and it's guaranteed to boost the grades on your term papers by at least 1.5 grades: Don't ever answer the question directly. Always answer a meta-question. "The question isn't whether human nature is good or bad. The real question is: What is human nature?" "The question isn't whether the Civil War was caused by economic or social forces. The question is what it means for a large-scale human event such as a war to be 'caused'." "The question isn't what Jay Gatsby's fatal flaw was. The question is what sorts of creatures we human beings are if we can be flawed or not." Note: For philosophy courses, go up two levels of meta-question. It's just that simple.
5/9/2002 11:03:26 AM | PermaLink

RageBoy Testimonial Hour

I was going to point to an appreciation of Chris Locke by Jack Schofield in The Guardian anyway, but Tom beat me to it with a heartfelt personal testimonial that's well worth reading.
5/9/2002 10:43:33 AM | PermaLink

 

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Boston, California

According to our local rag (and it is a rag), one of our residents is suing to prevent his neighbor from adding a wing to his house. It seems that having a new door facing the plaintiff's house will interfere with his house's feng shui.
5/8/2002 12:22:49 PM | PermaLink

Dreyfus on the Outside

Julianne Chatelain recommends a fascinating review by Geert Lovink of Hubert Dreyfus' brief (136pp) book "On the Internet."

Dreyfus is best known in the computing community for his classic "What Computers Cannot Do," a book that applied the insights of Heidegger to the question of AI. I've always loved that book because it critiques AI from the right standpoint (IMO) - its implicit assumptions about consciousness - much as Andy Clark's much more recent "Being There" does. I know Dreyfus, however, primarily for his Heideggerian scholarship and even once brought him in as a guest lecturer at a college at which I taught.

I haven't read his new book. I only heard about it through Lovink through Chatelain. But the review is hefty and substantial. Based on it, it sounds like Dreyfus has chosen a dyspeptic stance towards the Net that in some ways mirrors my own mindlessly optimistic view. Says Lovink:

Dreyfus develops his version of 'net criticism' in four different fields:

the limitations of hyperlinks and the loss of the ability of to recognize relevance;
the dream of distance learning (no skills without presence);
the absence of telepresence
and a chapter on 'anonymity and nihilism,' leading to a life without meaning.

Lovink quotes the following:

"Thanks to hyperlinks, meaningful differences have been leveled. Relevance and significance have disappeared. And this is an important part of the attraction to the web. Nothing is too trivial to be included. Nothing is so important that it demands a special place." (p.79)

and replies "There is no mention here of users and groups creating their own meaning and context on the Net. Dreyfus apparently never heard of mail and web filters." Lovink astutely connects this fear of the rabble to its roots in the authoritarian impulse.

All I'd add, not having read the book, is that Dreyfus' rant is the complaint of the outsider, the one who is refusing to enter the fray because he might get grass stains on his new pants. Merely browsing from site to site, chat to chat, the participants look like gibbering baboons. Enter into the discussion and you now find the conversations that matter to you, that expand your thought. In short, Dreyfus is making the dry fuss of a crotchety old man, yelling at the kids to turn down that racket, stop gabbing, and go to bed.

Jump in, Hubert. We need you. And, although you don't know it, you need us.
5/8/2002 11:49:19 AM | PermaLink

 

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

CARPing

If you care about the future of Internet radio, hie yourself over to Mary Lu's site for information on some International Webcasting Association webcasts to rally support.
5/7/2002 10:27:29 AM | PermaLink

Downplaying the Internet

Andrew Orlowski points us to an excellent column by Larry Elliot, economics editor of the Guardian, reflecting on the demise of ITV Digital in the UK. After a standard opening mocking the exaggerated claims of Net enthusiasts, he writes:

The demise of ITV Digital is a sign that we are now well into the endgame of the technology miracle. Outside the hi-tech sector, the impact will be minimal. When the boom in railway shares came to an end in the 19th century, it did not mean the trains stopped running; what it did mean was that investors came to their senses and realised that many of the lines built when the markets were at their most manic would never be profitable.

Eliot is concerned mainly with the effect on the hardware industry — PCs, mobile phones, etc. He says the recovery won't be fast because the technology is already good enough to discourage upgrading, over-production is lowering prices, and "there are signs that the passion for the new technology is cooling." For instance:

In the City, dress-down Friday is being replaced by no-email Friday. Workers are being told that they should rediscover the art of face to face communication rather than firing off electronic messages to someone in the next office.

And, he says, RW encounters provide a richness of nuance the Web can't. We like being with one another in person. It's human nature, he concludes.

If Elliot's argument is that the Web isn't going to replace RW interaction, then he's arguing against a strawperson. If he's saying that the Internet has hit us with the brunt of its blow, we have absorbed the impact and not much has changed, I disagree on all three counts:

1. We're only at the beginning of the Age of the Net. My daughter's high school hasn't even yet figured out that all the kids are just "naturally" doing their homework collaboratively via IM. And at the other end of the spectrum, NPR today had a story about an attempt to wire remote Chinese villages so they can enter the world economy without forcing the inhabitants to move to one of the major cities. Not to mention the effect of the Internet on our basic self-understanding, but I'm trying (unsuccessfully) not to plug my book Small Pieces Loosely Joined.

2. We have absorbed much of the impact of the Internet, but our confusion about basic issues such as privacy, copying of content, and how to market indicate that we are at least as confused as we are complacent.

3. The Internet has already changed many of the basics. It just feels like normal already. Consider what would happen if you shut off email not just on Fridays but everyday. Consider what would happen simply within a single process such as recruitment and hiring. Think about the effect email has had on meetings. Not to mention the effect it is having on universities, government, journalism...and — to switch to another level — its effect on the role of authority and expertise.

Yes, the economic effect of the Internet may be in a lull, but it is precisely because human nature is social that the deeper effect of the Internet should not be underestimated, no matter what happens to cellphone shares. You can't hook up 500,000,000 people in a new persistent public place across cultural boundaries and think that the changes will be anything short of long-term and socially transformative.
5/7/2002 08:35:00 AM | PermaLink

 

Monday, May 06, 2002

Why I Hate Content

It's taken me this long to figure out why I usually get uncomfortable when people talk about the Web in terms of "content." I start out am uncomfortable for the same reasons as Doc Searls. The Web is more about conversation than content. And with content comes a whole template of metaphors about ownership, delivery and distribution, and consumption.

But there's another reason my hackles go up when the Web is hailed as a treasure trove of content. Content sits there all pleased with itself for being valuable. It's smug because it's an asset. Yeah, well it'd be content-in-itself if it weren't for the fact that someone cares enough about it to link to. And it's merely content unless it can get over itself enough to point us to some other places worth going.

Links not only literally make the Web a web, but the nature of those links determines almost everything that is interesting and important about it. Content is to the Web as zombies are to human culture.


Halley nails it in her response to the above when she says "Content is a pimp's word."
5/6/2002 10:00:28 AM | PermaLink

Auto Link Trail

Jim Bassett at Digital Media Tree has come up with a way to include at the bottom of a blog entry a list of all sites that refer to that entry. Well, "all" is too strong; for a linking site to make it onto the list, someone somewhere has to actually follow the link. But there's a certain unintended Google-like effect of this limitation since it excludes links no one has ever bothered to click on.

You can see this running at Jim's weblog. At the end of the article, next to the "[link]" button, there is a link to "[ref]" (with the number of references noted). Click on that link and you'll go to a page that repeats the original post and appends, in a gray box, a list of all the pages that have linked to that entry. (You can go straight to the page with the gray box here.) If all works as planned, this blog entry — mine, the one you're now reading — should be on that list also.

Cool! And a useful step towards reifying blogthreads.
5/6/2002 09:52:20 AM | PermaLink

Peru and Beijing in Daring Escape from Kidnappers

Michael O'Connor Clarke has blogged a Peruvian congressperson's reasons why his government should go open source whenever possible.

And did I mention that when I was in China I learned that the the government of Beijing is going with Linux now that the Chinese central government is seriously cracking down on software pirates?
5/6/2002 09:39:12 AM | PermaLink

 

Sunday, May 05, 2002

Nantucket Conference Report

For most of the first day of the 1.5 day-long Nantucket Conference, it felt as if we were in a post-Internet culture. The Internet hardly came up in the panel discussions. That's because this conference is mainly about the business climate for investors. The investors tried the Net and they got burned, so they're back to business-as-usual having learned the lesson that the Internet didn't really change anything. And of course that's true within this domain of discourse because the basics of venture capitalism are so primitive: I give you money now so you can pay me back a lot more money later. Here are two rocks; now, go bang them together the way your Powerpoints described. This is the process whether the dinosaurs are dying or we're about to colonize the planets of Alpha Centauri. For me, the backgrounding of the Internet at this conference marks a milestone.

The post-Internet feel certainly wasn't because the participants don't understand what's happening. Not hardly. There was an impressively high percentage of senior uber-geeks and industry heavyweights such as Dan Bricklin, Mitch Kapor, Dan Gillmor, George Colony and Bob Metcalfe, as well as CEOs of some forward-looking companies, press folks, and lead VCs. This is a group that "gets" the Internet. In fact, the Net savviness of the group helps explain why the Net barely came up yesterday. It did make for some amazing schmoozing: it's more than a little bit of a kick to be able to eavesdrop as Mitch Kapor arrives and embraces Dan Bricklin.

The one way the Net came up repeatedly was in the form of Web services. Web services appeal to the technologists because it promises to make hard things easy through a change in software architecture, and it appeals to financial types because it's big and obscure enough to enable smart investors to make more money than stupid, lucky ones. But, as John Benditt, editor of MIT's Tech Review, said at the beginning of his excellent panel on biotech, if the most exciting trend you can point to is back office automation via Web services, then you are on the descending slope of the technology curve.

I actually view it a little differently. Yes, we are between major tech innovations on the Web, but there are transformational technologies on the horizon and undoubtedly ones we don't yet know about. For example: 1. Ubiquitous access; 2. True group-forming software that mirrors our social networks; 3. True healing of the gap between the desktop and the Web (while retaining the desktop as our primary digital abode); 4. Truly useful, cheap portable electronic reading devices. Also, of course, I think we haven't really begun to understand the most important effect of the Web: how it's transforming our bedrock understanding of what it means to be a human sharing a world with others.

For me, the highlight of the first day was a "fireside chat" between George Colony and Kapor (moderated by CIO editor McCreary). These are two hard-headed, soft-hearted techno-humanists. Kapor continues to lead his role-model life and concluded by reminding us that working with two or three people whose life you change deeply is as important as writing software that improves the life of a million people. Kapor is currently working on open-source end-user software to challenge Outlook in the manage-your-life application space.

For the record: The first mention of Linux occurred at 11:34 in the morning in a passing remark by Dan Bricklin.

Would I come back next year? I'm less interested in the investor side of life than the agenda is, but the collection of industry folks by itself made this a really worthwhile Conference Experience for me.

(Dan Bricklin has posted photos from the conference.)

(BTW, I got through my presentation — my first focused on trying to explain what my book is about — without getting pied or pantsed.)
5/5/2002 12:20:22 PM | PermaLink

Mind/Body

John Benditt's panel on biotechnology at the Nantucket Conference was about how this new technology is going to alter what it means to be human. Since that's the question that seems to draw me with regard to the Internet, it struck me that I'm stuck in my own mind/body dualism, not paying sufficient attention to the precipice of change on which our corporeal selves stand.

I have to learn more about this. I got to spend some Quality Time with Jonathan Rosen and his daughter Samantha yesterday. Jonathan built and runs the CIMIT Consortium that encourages tech innovation to advance patient care that is engaged in some really interesting projects. (And by mentioning him in my weblog, I'm holding my own feet to the blog fire, forcing myself to follow up with him.)

It's more than a little humbling to listen to a panel of people who are set on curing cancer and enabling the lame to walk. I mean, the body is the ultimate user interface.
5/5/2002 12:19:07 PM | PermaLink

Creepy Pillow

A generous relative gave me a $100 Tempurpedic pillow a few months ago made of the space-age Swedish foam that conforms to your body's shape. I came to it expecting neck comfort. Instead...

First, it drains all the heat from your body as your head vainly tries to come to tempramental homeostasis with it. It is like sleeping in wet cement.

Second, it has the consistence of a fairly firm part of the human body, so I'll wake up thinking that I've been wrapped in my wife's left arm only to find that I've spent the night snuggling into space-age Swedish foam. This flashes me back to when I was in college and a coed who was out of my league put her foot up against mine under a lunch table. She didn't move it, so I wiggled mine and soon we were playing footsie, me smiling knowingly — is "leering" the word I want? — at her as she played it real cool amidst all of our friends.

Then my pal Jeff left and I discovered I'd become sexually aroused by his knapsack.

Just think, for $1500 we could have a full mattress of the stuff.
5/5/2002 10:31:33 AM | PermaLink

 

Friday, May 03, 2002

Matrullo Explained

Tom explains the odd capitalization of his blog's title, "IMproPRieTies":

Actually, if the outer edges of the NONcap letters (trebuchet font, of course) are examined, they will be found to mirror a segment of the night sky on Oct. 16th, 1617, as viewed from Arcetri.

This is one of the few suggestions less plausible than the one several of you suggested, namely that Tom is trying to tell us "I am pretty" (IM PR T). True, Tom is unusually beautiful, but it somehow doesn't seem his style to say so himself.
5/3/2002 06:13:25 PM | PermaLink

Nantucket Conference Placeholder

Not much time to blog today because I'm at the Nantucket Conference. I only have a few minutes now, so here's the briefest overview I can give: The forum topics tend to be more focused on finance than is to my particular taste, but the set of technologists here is fantastic. Dan Gillmor has a blogged a summary of what's being discussed.

BTW, I ended up not using the ending I outlined in yesterday's blog. Not enough time. But the talk went better than I'd feared.
5/3/2002 06:09:09 PM | PermaLink

Court-ordered Intrusion

Howard Greenstein is raising the alarm about the latest court-based intrusion, this time requiring SonicBlue to report on its users activities so it can be more accurately sued.
5/3/2002 06:04:19 PM | PermaLink

 

Thursday, May 02, 2002

Recapitalizing Matrullo

I've often looked at Tom's blog's logo and I can't figure out why he has it capitalized the way he does: IMproPRieTies. I know I'm going to feel like a dolt when someone explains it to me. Are there words hidden in there? If so, why not:

imPrOprETies (for the beauty of his writing)

or

IMProprieTIES (for his mischievious fashion sense)

or even

iMprOpRiEtIeS (for his demand for the maximum of being)
5/2/2002 11:49:07 AM | PermaLink

Links = Passion + Voice

I'm quite nervous about speaking at the Nantucket Conference tomorrow (Tagline: "It's on Nantucket. It's a Conference. Did we leave anything out?"). This is a confabulation of about 170 people, mainly New England high techers with a slant toward hard core business and finance people. So, with my usual perversity, I'm trying out a presentation that is focused directly away from the bright light of money. I'm trying to communicate in 45 minutes what I think Small Pieces is about. That means getting abstract and conceptual in public. As I'm saying on my title slide: "Today's debut is tomorrow's rough draft."

I want to end by saying the way in which the Web is ours because I think this is something that business usually doesn't appreciate. We're off having ourselves a good time on the Web, blogging with our buddies, emailing our pals, being who we are, and then we go to a business site and suddenly it's all about them. "Oooh, aren't our products just so gosh-durned splendid? Please sit still while we tell you all about them!" Bullhorn at a cocktail party. But I don't want to say that the Web is "ours" in an Us vs. Them way. I mean that it's putting us small pieces together in new ways.

So, I thought I'd try the following formulation:

The Web is nothing without links. It's architected on links. But

Links = Passion + Voice

I put in a link because I care enough about something to send you towards it and away from my own site. And I do so within a context (a page, an email msg) written in my own voice. In fact, my choice of links is very much an expression of my voice. Without voice, the Web would be a mere information resource.

And this gets at what is for me the contradiction that above all others — e.g., the contradiction between the Web being both mass-ive and full of individuals who don't become face-less in the mass — gets at the pull of the Web: On the Web we join with others who share our passions, but we do so in our own unique voices. Sameness and difference, the ultimate contradiction. If the Web lets us resolve such a basic duality — which means embracing both sides fully and simultaneously — no wonder it matters so damn much.

Now, let me pull back from the dread disease: Ontological Overstatement. It's not as if we've never overcome this contradiction before. In fact, we resolve the duality every time we have a conversation with someone in the real world. The importance of the Web, in this regard, is that as a medium (because of its hyperlinked architecture) it enables the resolution of this duality on a scale we've never seen before.

(Oh, this should go over real well at a hard-core financial conference. Sigh.)
5/2/2002 10:34:56 AM | PermaLink

How Many Zeroes?

In line with yesterday's Fun with Numbers, here's another puzzler. All you have to do is figure out how many zeroes follow the numbers in the following factoid, culled from today's Boston Globe:

There are 5____ tenured professors of philosophy in the US.
BONUS: Of those, 7____ are African-Americans.

 

 

 

ANSWER backwards: dnasuoht evif. Bonus: ytneves
5/2/2002 09:42:05 AM | PermaLink

 

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

Clone Dan Pink

Dan Pink gives us the inside skinny on the likely fate of the stooooopid anti-therapeutic-cloning bill. For once we may have some good news, largely thanks to Orrin Hatch's courageous statement (although why it takes courage to come out in favor of this eminently sensible position is itself depressing).

Here we have the best possibility since the discovery of antibiotics of leap-frogging into new ways of curing disease and literally enabling the lame to walk, and we are within a couple of votes of ham-stringing it. This is as shortsighted as the attempts to hobble the Internet - the best opportunity ever for spreading the freedoms of speech and of markets that we cherish - because of a stupidity so intransigent that it must be termed perverse.
5/1/2002 11:28:02 AM | PermaLink

Orders of Magnitude Puzzle

From a quiz about communications comes this factoid:

The US Postal Service was handling ___ pieces of mail per year as of 1886, according to the US Bureau of the Census.

See if you can get within an order of magnitude of the right answer.

 

 

ANSWER (Backwards): noillib owt
5/1/2002 11:15:10 AM | PermaLink

Miscellaneous Peterme

The always intellectually generous Peterme responds to my comments on an article on postmodernism by Chip Morningstar

Chip has an even better essay on his site, describing the design of the first multi-player virtual environment. Some interesting thoughts on "creating a world" online.

I figure you'll enjoy some of the links here (talks of "space" on the web!)

And I wrote a response to Gladwell's "Social Life of Paper" essay that you saw a bit back... it's stimulated some decent thought on my site...

Peter goes after both the argument and the rhetoric of Gladwell's article and his comments have changed my mind about it. I had thought I really liked it.
5/1/2002 11:07:48 AM | PermaLink

Another article about blogs

Freepint, a site that publishes an interesting and useful UK newsletter called PubCrawl, has published part 1 of Laurel Clyde's intro to weblogs. Straightforward, informative, balanced and voiceless. Here's her tell-'em-what-you're-going-to-tell-'em paragraph:

This article will first discuss the question, "What is a weblog?", and then describe types of weblogs. Following this is a section dealing with how weblogs are created, with reference to popular weblog creation software and services. Some examples of quality weblogs are described and an overview is provided of weblogs in the field of library and information science. Some lists and directories of weblogs, and search engines for weblogs, are identified. The article concludes with a brief discussion of what weblogs might do for you.


5/1/2002 10:48:41 AM | PermaLink


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