Joho the Blogculture Archives - Joho the Blog

May 19, 2016

Working in a co-working space

I’m in Talent Garden‘s largest branch, which is also its headquarters, in Milan. It’s a ridiculously large co-working space for startups, with an emphasis on openness. I’m enjoying sitting at a table with a few other people, none of whom I know and all of whom are speaking Italian.

I like co-working spaces enough that if I were looking for a place to work outside of my house, I’d consider joining one. It’s that or the local library. It depends on whether you find being around the young and the digital to be distracting, energizing, or both.

I find it energizing. Nevertheless, the segregation of the young from the old is a cultural and business loss.

talent garden open work space

Talent Garden ameliorates this by renting space to a handful of established companies (IBM, Cisco, and a bank, here in Milan) to provide mentoring, and so the old companies can get behind startups they find interesting. It’s a good model, although since I’m just here for the afternoon, I don’t know how much actual mingling occurs. Still, it’s a good idea.

I also like that Talent Garden explicitly tries to build community among its users. Not waving-in-the-hall community, but a community of shared space, shared events, and shared ideas. The American co-working space I’m most familiar with has public areas but assumes startups want to work in rooms with closed, solid doors. An open floor plan helps a startup culture to grow, which is perhaps more needed in Italy than in the US. Nevertheless, you can’t have too much community. Well, you can, but that’s easier to remediate than its opposite. (For a US shared space dedicated to building community, check out the treasured Civic Hall in NYC.)

(Note: Unlike the co-working space I’m most familiar with, TG does not provide a free, well-stocked kitchen. Just as well. Free kitchens cause my metabolism to think its faster than it is.)

 


 

I’m in Italy to participate in an Aspen Institute event in Venice over the weekend (poor poor me). I stopped in Milan to give a talk, which I internally have titled “Is the Internet Disappointed in Us?” It’s actually a monolog — no slides, no notes — about why my cohort thought the success of the Internet was inevitable, and why I am still optimistic about the Net. If you’re interested in having me in to speak with your group, let me know. Yeah, a plug.

And while I’m plugging, here’s some disclosure: Talent Garden is the venue for this talk, but no one is paying me for it.

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May 17, 2016

When the transgender bathroom debate will end

It’ll end when the Republicans have this conversation with their daughters:

“You see, precious, that’s really a woman who’s just pretending to be a man because, well, she’s what we call a ‘pervert.’ No, dear, she can’t use the men’s room because we passed a law to make sure that lady perverts have to use the lady’s room. Yes, dear, we also made a law that the male perverts have to use the men’s room dressed as ladies. Yes, dear, the lady perverts who look like men actually are lady homosexuals — why aren’t you precocious! — who lust after little girls, just like we’ve told you, but, well, …you won’t understand it when you grow up either.”

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April 28, 2016

Preferred applicants will have four decades of experience

Why do we never see job offerings that specify that applicants should have at least forty years of experience? Thirty years? Twenty years?

I understand that people can be qualified for a job with far less experience than one might think. We’ve all met people like that, damn them. But that’s why we couch some qualifications under the rubric “preferred.” So, do we think that having a lifetime of experience in a field is never preferred? Or even just a lifetime of experience of living and working?

(PS: If you hear of such a job in the Boston area, you know how to reach me.)

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April 4, 2016

Dance is America

My wife and I have been going to dance competitions and multi-troupe performances for the past few years because our son and his partner are in various dance companies. This puts us into environments where we do not belong. It’s pretty awesome.

Dance is big in Boston. There are tons of groups, and when they get together they fill large auditoriums; a competition this weekend had about fifteen groups performing in front of a standing-room-only crowd of over 1,500.

And what audiences! They are beyond enthusiastic. They cheer on the teams at an astounding number of whoos per minute.

The teams are remarkable, and not just because of the high level of performance and choreography:

They are diverse in every direction: gender, race, sexual and gender identity, body type.

The dances are often gender indifferent in their choreography, although there are tropes that remain: men lift and catch women more than vice versa. Still, the women hit as hard as the men.

They are dancing to some of America’s cultural gifts: hiphop, jazz, show, and their mashups.

They have worked hard on a shared project with occasional star turns — the guy who can windmill, the woman who excels at pop and locking — but without stars.

You can be the oldest people in the audience, as my wife and I usually are, and be forgiven for thinking that no matter how cynical this generation may be, they are dancing the American dream.

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March 26, 2016

My secret life as a gamer

David Wolinsky‘s Don’t Die is running a long interview with me this week about games, culture, and why I’m embarrassed to be a video game player.

It is a long form interview, and basically unedited: I did a little clean-up for clarity, but it’s still got conversational ambiguities, as well as some thematic inconsistencies because David was asking me questions I haven’t thought about.

In the interview I do talk a bit about why I’m embarrassed about being a gamer. “The first step is admitting just how much of a gamer I am”The first step is admitting just how much of a gamer I am. I’m pretty much of one, going back all the way to the original Colossal Cave adventure. I’ve tried most genres but seem to get the most enjoyment from various forms of first person shooters. I’m no good at platformers or other forms of twitch games. RPGs are too slow for me because I don’t get invested in the characters. Most online games are too hard for me, so I feel like I’m slowing down my teammates, although I’ve spent a lot of time in Left 4 Dead 2. Some other favorites: The Bioshock series. Portal 2. The original Doom and Wolfenstein. The Luxor games. Some pinball games. I enjoyed Dead Rising 3 and even Max Payne 3. Far Cry 4, too. I guess it takes at least three tries to get games right. Anyway, I’ve never had a systematic memory, so those are just the beans that fall out when I shake the ol’ pod, but they’re probably representative.

Games are literally a pass-time for me: I tend to play them as a break from work. I would count programming as a hobby, not a pastime because it’s got an outcome, like a crossword puzzle that once you’re finished you can use for something. When programming, I feel like I’m doing something, even though mostly what I work on are utilities that cost me hundreds of hours and by the time I die will have saved me minutes. Games simply fill the gaps in my interest.

So, why is it embarrassing to me? For one thing, many games support values that I detest. The most obvious is violence, but I haven’t found that a lifetime of killing screen-based enemies has inured me to real violence or has led me to favor violence over peaceful solutions.

“The hypermasculinity of action games concerns me more”The hypermasculinity of action games concerns me more because few people are going to be convinced by games that shooting hordes of aliens is normal, but many will be further confirmed that men are the real heroes of life’s narratives. Although games have become less grossly misogynistic and homophobic (e.g., female action leads are now not uncommon), if you have any doubts that they still trade on harmful stereotypes and assumptions — and why would you? — Anita Sarkeesian’s brilliant “Tropes vs. Women” videos will set you straight.

But I’m more embarrassed about playing games than I am about watching action movies about which those same criticisms can be made.

In part it’s because games are associated with children. In the Don’t Die interview, I point to games that are more sophisticated and adult, but many of the games I listed above are no more sophisticated emotionally or narratively than a very bad TV show. So, mainly because I’m interested, here’s what I find appealing about the games I’ve listed:

  • Left 4 Dead is beautifully designed to encourage genuine collaboration among four players.

  • The Bioshock series creates imaginative science fiction worlds that would be better termed “political fiction.”

  • Portal 2 is a great logic game — a few rules and ingenious problems. But it is also an hilarious social commentary with Pixar-quality touches of brilliance. Example: the singing sentry guns.

  • The original Doom was scary as hell.

  • The original Wolfenstein let you explore a maze with surprises.

  • Luxor is an arcade game that is at a good challenge level for me. Also, the balls make a reassuring sound. (I am particularly fond of Luxor Evolved, which is “trippy” and somehow appeals to my lizard-brain-on-acid.)

  • Max Payne 3 was dumb fun in a well-realized setting.

  • Dead Rising 3 mocks its genre while indulging in it. It does not require precise control, of which I am lacking.

When I think about it, almost all of these games share some traits. First, they are easy enough that I can succeed at them. Most games are not. Second, they tend to have pushed the graphic envelope when introduced. I remain in awe of what those computer dohickeys can do these days. Third, “many of them are meta about their genres, which is often just an excuse for being retrograde”many of them are meta about their genres, which is often just an excuse for being retrograde in their values. Apparently I fall for that.

I think it comes down to this: If embarrassment is the exposure of something private that doesn’t match one’s public persona, then clearly, the major reason I find gaming embarrassing is because I am publicly a thoughtful person. Or at least I try to be. Or at the least least, I pretend to be. Most of the games I play are not thoughtful. Sure, Portal 2 is. Going Home is. Bioshock is in its way. But Dead Rising is mindless…except for its meta-awareness of its tropes and its own ridiculousness; I completed large chunks of it while dressed in a tutu.

This is not what a semi-academic is supposed to be doing. Or so my embarrassment tells me.

 


 

PS: In the Don’t Die interview, the game I’m trying to remember that has the word “dust” in its title is “Spec Ops.” There is dust in the game, but not in the title.

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March 6, 2016

Reason #1,775 I'm going to miss President Obama

This is a tiny thing. A little gesture. It’s his response to a post about an Iranian boy boy who quietly gives away apricots from a bag he is carrying home.

Er, what I mean to say is: That father ought to lose his parent license! That’s not the art of the deal, that’s the art of the loser! I would have turned that bag of apricots into two luxurious apartment buildings and a golf course for white people!

Yeah, that’s the ticket. No, seriously, that very likely will be the head of the Republican ticket.

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March 1, 2016

[berkman] Dries Buytaert

I’m at a Berkman [twitter: BerkmanCenter] lunchtime talk (I’m moderating, actually) where Dries Buytaert is giving a talk about some important changes in the Web.

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

He begins by recounting his early days as the inventor of Drupal, in 2001. He’s also the founder of Acquia, one of the fastest growing tech companies in the US. It currently has 750 people working on products and services for Drupal. Drupal is used by about 3% of the billion web sites in the world.

When Drupal started, he felt he “could wrap his arms” around everything going on on the Web. Now that’s impossible, he says. E.g, Google AdWords were just starting, but now AdWords is a $65B business. The mobile Web didn’t exist. Social media didn’t yet exist. Drupal was (and is) Open Source, a concept that most people didn’t understand. “Drupal survived all of these changes in the market because we thought ahead” and then worked with the community.

“The Internet has changed dramatically” in the past decade. Big platforms have emerged. They’re starting to squeeze smaller sites out of the picture. There’s research that shows that many people think that Facebook is the Internet. “How can we save the open Web?,” Dries askes.

What do we mean by the open or closed Web? The closed Web consists of walled gardens. But these walled gardens also do some important good things: bringing millions of people online, helping human rights and liberties, and democratizing the sharing of information. But, their scale is scary . FB has 1.6B active users every month; Apple has over a billion IoS devices. Such behemoths can shape the news. They record data about our behavior, and they won’t stop until they know everything about us.

Dries shows a table of what the different big platforms know about us. “Google probably knows the most about us” because of gMail.

The closed web is winning “because it’s easier to use.” E.g., After Dries moved from Belgium to the US, Facebook and etc. made it much easier to stay in touch with his friends and family.

The open web is characterized by:

  1. Creative freedom — you could create any site you wanted and style it anyway you pleased

  2. Serendipity. That’s still there, but it’s less used. “We just scroll our FB feed and that’s it.”

  3. Control — you owned your own data.

  4. Decentralized — open standards connected the pieces

Closed Web:

  1. Templates dictate your creative license

  2. Algorithms determine what you see

  3. Privacy is in question

  4. Information is siloed

The big platforms are exerting control. E.g., Twitter closed down its open API so it could control the clients that access it. FB launched “Free Basics” that controls which sites you can access. Google lets people purchase results.

There are three major trends we can’t ignore, he says.

First, there’s the “Big Reverse of the Web,” about which Dries has been blogging about. “We’re in a transformational stage of the Web,” flipping it on its head. We used to go to sites and get the information we want. Now information is coming to us. Info, products, and services will come to us at the right time on the right device.”

Second, “Data is eating the world.”

Third, “Rise of the machines.”

For example, “content will find us,” AKA “mobile or contextual information.” If your flight is cancelled, the info available to you at the airport will provide the relevant info, not offer you car rentals for when you arrive. This creates a better user experience, and “user experience always wins.”

Will the Web be open or closed? “It could go either way.” So we should be thinking about how we can build data-driven, user-centric algorithms. “How can we take back control over our data?” “How can we break the silos” and decentralize them while still offering the best user experience. “How do we compete with Google in a decentralized way. Not exactly easy.”

For this, we need more transparency about how data is captured and used, but also how the algorithms work. “We need an FDA for data and algorithms.” (He says he’s not sure about this.) “It would be good if someone could audit these algorithms,” because, for example, Google’s can affect an election. But how to do this? Maybe we need algorithms to audit the algorithms?

Second, we need to protect our data. Perhaps we should “build personal information brokers.” You unbundle FB and Google, put the data in one place, and through APIs give apps access to them. “Some organizations are experimenting with this.”

Third, decentralization and a better user experience. “For the open web to win, we need to be much better to use.” This is where Open Source and open standards come in, for they allow us to build a “layer of tech that enables different apps to communicate, and that makes them very easy to use.” This is very tricky. E.g., how do you make it easy to leave a comment on many different sites without requiring people to log in to each?

It may look almost impossible, but global projects like Drupal can have an impact, Dries says. “We have to try. Today the Web is used by billions of people. Tomorrow by more people.” The Internet of Things will accelerate the Net’s effect. “The Net will change everything, every country, every business, every life.” So, “we have a huge responsibility to build the web that is a great foundation for all these people for decades to come.”

[Because I was moderating the discussion, I couldn’t capture it here. Sorry.]

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February 17, 2016

Oculus Time Shift: Virtual Reality in the 1850s

From On Time: Technology and Temporality in Modern Egypt, by On Barak (Univ. of California Press, 2013):

Dioramas were given their definitive form by Louis Daguerre, the inventor of photography, in the early 1820s. They consisted of massive, realistic landscape paintings, suspended from a theater ceiling and moving in sequence on a wire, with shifting light effects projected from behind. Alternatively, pictures might be stationed around a revolving platform.

Throughout the 1850s, after the diorama of the Overland Mail debuted in London, various other dioramas and panoramas showcased Egypt. “The Great Moving Panorama of the Nile” had been exhibited in England over 2,500 times by 1852. The new photographic “Cairo Panorama” debuted in 1859. In 1860 “London to Hong Kong in Two Hours” took spectators to the Far East via Egypt along the Overland Route.

…A typical description, taken from a review of the 1847 “City of Cairo Panorama,” reveals how Eurocentrism was performed in these spectacles: “The visitor standing on the circular platform is in the very center of the locality represented, as real to the eye as if he were on the spot itself. (Kindle Locations 789-802)

BTW, Barak’s book is about the history of the difference between the Western colonists’ view of time and the local Egyptian understanding:

…means of transportation and communication did not drive social synchronization and standardized timekeeping, as social scientists conventionally argue. Rather, they promoted what I call “countertempos” predicated on discomfort with the time of the clock and a disdain for dehumanizing European standards of efficiency, linearity, and punctuality. (Kindle locations 209-212)

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February 15, 2016

What Facebook should learn from this "Colonialism" debacle

DigitalTrends has posted my post about the reaction to Marc Andreessen’s response to India’s saying No to Free Basics, the Facebook version of the Internet. Andreessen’s framing it in terms of colonialism was — unfortunately for him — all too apt.

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January 10, 2016

Why I should have won Powerball… and why you should be glad you didn’t

There’s a very good reason why I should have won Powerball last night. It has nothing to do with my absolute, desperate need for $250,000,000. (That’s all I need. I’m not greedy.) Nor does it have anything to do with my being worthy of such riches. Also, for hobo fortune teller predicted it when I was but a swaddling.

No, I should have won because of aesthetics. Narrative aesthetics. Allow me to explain.

About ten years I wrote a Young Adult novel about a good-hearted boy who wins $100 million in a lottery. The twist is that he has to keep the win a secret from his parents. You can buy My $100 Million Dollar Secret at LuLu or Amazon, or read it online or download it for free.

But that’s not the point.

Had I won Powerball, imagine the fun newspaper story this would be:

Winner of $800M Lottery
Wrote Novel about a Boy Who Won $100M lottery

Or, in more modern terms:

The Powerball winner wrote a self-published novel … And you’ll never guess what it’s about!
PS: Now we’ll see if he lives up to it!

If God were a clickbaiter, I would have won last night.

Cover image

 


 

This long comment at Reddit from a year ago will tell you exactly what you should do if you win instead of me.

It will also explain why you should hope that you do not win.

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