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September 10, 2015

Hannibal and blurring the line between authors and fans even further


Here’s Bryan Fuller, creator of the Hannibal TV series:

…I don’t think I’ll be able to accurately articulate my appreciation for the enthusiasm of this fanbase that has taken this show, made it their own and created parallel worlds of fan fiction to this work of fan fiction — because that’s very much what this show is. I feel like it was a unique experience of myself as a fannibal, writing the show as I imagined it — it was my fan fiction — and then sharing it with other fan fiction writers who then elaborated on it in their own ways. It was a wonderful communal experience. I’ve never had a show in the thick of the Twitterverse like I did with “Hannibal,” and it was a really fantastic, exciting experience…

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September 9, 2015

Colbert’s promising (and worrying) first show

What follows is my opinion. As such, it is correct. [NO SPOILERS NON-ALERT: The following gives away the segments but no jokes.]

I thought Stephen Colbert’s first show was uneven, in some ways promising and in other ways worrying.

Worrying was the mediocrity of the opening monologue. When you have nine months to come up with jokes, you ought to be able to come up with better jokes than those. So say I who did not have to come up with any jokes. (Colbert was nervous during it, but he’ll get over that.) On the other hand, I thought that the Trump/Oreos bit was Colbert Report caliber material. And I liked that it was media criticism more than Trump criticism.

Also worrisome: I thought the Clooney interview was an almost total disaster. He stuck with the prepared questions, for example not following up on Clooney’s Darfur answer. The prepared bit it awkwardly segued into might have worked if the discussion had been improvised, but was really disappointing as a sketch. I did like, however, the admission that they’re not actually friends. And Clooney, of course, was gracious, deferential, and charming.

If this is what the celebrity interviews are going to be like, we’re in trouble.

But then we had the very promising interview with Jeb! Bush. It was unscripted, funny, and sharp. And it was a relief to see Colbert unshackled from the conservative persona that made the interviews on his prior show hit-or-miss. If Colbert can engage in that level of discussion with his future guests, we’re in for something good — if only because that will require him to invite smart guests who have something significant to talk about.

As for the music, well, these all-star jams feel awfully gimmicky to me. I mean, if you’re going to have Mavis Staples singing, don’t give her a quick slice of our attention. Likewise for Buddy Guy. It’d be more efficient if the invited musicians all just signed a greeting card instead.

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September 6, 2015

Lessig: Winning by losing

As of this morning, Lawrence Lessig is $9,000 short of his million dollar Kickstarter goal of funding his presidential bid. It look very much like Larry will be running for president.

It is a weird bid with virtually no chance of winning. Which makes it easier to support it.

Ethan Zuckerman’s post is what you should be reading about this. You should stop reading this post and go to his now.

Still here? Ok, that’s a mistake, but it’s up to you.

Ethan and I agree about Larry’s brilliance, his dedication, and his good heart. I’ve know Larry for about fifteen years, and I trust him twice as much as I distrust every other politician in the race. I completely agree with him that we’re never going to get to where we need to be so long as money buys elections and thus buys politicians. I think Larry would be a better president than almost all the people running. I love the cleverness of the electoral hack that Larry’s come up with.

But here’s my concern.

I agree with Ethan that Larry has no real chance of winning. If so, then his campaign is a “winning by losing” tactic: if it demonstrates that there is wide support for real campaign finance reform, then we’ve all won. Big Time, as one esteemed politician once said.

We will have won if Larry garners enough support in the early part of the campaign to force the issue onto the agenda. Thinking about him at the debates bringing the conversation back to the funding issue makes me happy.

But, there is one slightly longer-term danger that worries me. When Democrats step into the voting booth on primary day, some percentage of people who think campaign finance reform is important are going to cast their vote for Bernie, Hillary, or Joe because they don’t want to “waste” their vote on a symbolic gesture. But there are virtually no people who think finance reform is important but not all-important who are going to vote for Larry instead of for a “real” candidate. The result could very well be, I’m afraid, that Lessig’s totals in the primaries will under-represent support for campaign finance reform. His candidacy may therefore make finance reform look more marginal than it actually is.

So, there’s a possible lose-by-losing outcome here. That’s my fear.

But I find this very hard to think about without knowing who his VP candidate will be, for this is not really a referendum. In a referendum, your vote on an issue is independent of your vote for a candidate. In this case, though, you’re also voting for a president-in-waiting who will take over once Larry resigns. If you favor campaign reform but don’t like his VP, will you still vote for Larry? And vice versa? The results are going to be hard to parse, which is not true of actual referenda.

If the primary results undercount the support for the issue, my hope is that that actual vote count will be far less influential than Larry’s presence in the campaign before the voting begins. Assuming that he can’t actually win, I and all (?) of his supporters hope that Larry does well enough on the campaign trail that his campaign gets coopted by one of the more electorally plausible candidates, so that campaign finance reform becomes a major issue in the campaign.

For that to happen, we need to support his campaign now. Which I do. But, weirdly, I don’t support only his campaign.

This addendum will self-destruct, possibly very soon.

My family talked briefly this morning about who Lessig’s VP might be. One of us thinks it’ll be a conservative. I have an odd hunch that I recognize makes no actual sense: Al Gore for VP?

But another had the interesting idea that Lessig will promise it will be whoever comes in second in the Democratic primaries. That way, if you prefer, say, Sanders to Lessig as an actual president, but you support campaign finance reform, you could get both by voting for Lessig. Of course, Sanders wouldn’t want his vote split. I find this all difficult to think about…


September 1, 2015

Is it time to start newsletters again?

My Boston Globe op-ed yesterday argued that blogging still matters. But it’s also got me wondering: Is the time ripe for newsletters again?

I wrote a personal newsletter for about ten years. It started out as an in-house mailer at Open Text where I was VP of Strategic Marketing in the mid-1990s. It came out every week or two and was titled DWOTIO: David Weinberger’s Open Text Inside Out (I think). News, views, humor, witty repartee with people who sent me email about it.

I’d coined the phrase “hyperlinked organization” there, and when I left I started a new newsletter called “Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization,” or JOHO. Hence the name of this blog. The phrase “hyperlinked organization” didn’t quite catch on (Deniro decided to make “Analyze This” instead), but I stuck with it and started sending out a free newsletter about every three weeks.

Each issue had one substantial essay, a couple more that were lighter and quicker, and witty repartee with people who sent me email about it. It also had a a humorous contest that no one ever entered, a “cool tool,” and a very brief write-up of an article about a company doing something interesting with the Web.

It took a lot of time, and not just to write it. It took me way longer to create HTML and text versions than you’d think; back then not all email readers supported HTML. Even just had formatting the HTML was a pain in the tuchus. (It’s way easier now, kids.)

But it was totally worth it. I had a direct connection to 7,000 people. They wrote in and I responded in the newsletter itself. It got me writing. When I wrote “In the future, everyone will be famous to 15 people,” that’s what I meant.

Then blogging happened.

For about ten years, I posted every day, often more than once. It took more and more of my energy. RSS let you subscribe to my blog. So what did my newsletter add? It faded away.

But now I’m thinking it might be time to start it up again.

Blogs are a pull medium, but not a lot of people pull on this blog. Newsletters are an opt-in push medium. I don’t know (and I don’t want to know — really, don’t tell me) how many people check my blog with any frequency, but I suspect it’s in the dozens. I love those people deeply, but that means that if I want to each a wider audience, I have to publish in the equivalent of online magazines. I do that and I’m truly glad for the opportunity. It’s a privilege. But that doesn’t establish the sort of intimacy that ritualized reading can.

It also means that my voice as an author works only for that one article, and the reader only hears me in that one voice. Turn the web page and the next author has to her establish her own presence. But a newsletter is a space that more fully expresses the author. JOHO was famously garish, ugly and amateurish. Welcome to me, people!

So, it’s tempting. I would still blog, of course. But: Can I come up with enough mid-range articles? Can I come up with a set of repeating pieces — like the old “Cool tools” — that will be interesting enough but won’t paint me into a corner? Would anyone read it? Would it be worth the commitment?

I don’t know.

But I’m not the only blogger in this situation. With mainstream web magazines providing a way to reach a lot of people with longer-form articles, blogs working for shorter and more informal pieces (or for anything you want), Facebook for quick personal posts, and everything else for everything else, the ecosystem might be ready for the next round of personal newsletters. Maybe.


August 30, 2015

August 27, 2015

From the collection of…to your local library

Here’s a sticker I’d like to see inside a book sometime:

Fictitious library sticker

Let’s say you buy a paper version of a current best-selling book. You read it. You want to have it on your shelf, but you know you’re not going to re-read it for a while.

So, why not lend it to your local library? As the owner, you can reclaim it at any time, although maybe your library would prefer you lend it for a known term so that they can count on reducing the number of copies of a bestseller they have to buy. At the end of the loan period, it comes back to you, still warm from the hands of your neighbors .

And maybe the people in your community who read your book will sign the form as a way of thanking you.

Yes, this shouldn’t be confined to bestsellers. But that would help with the problem facing public libraries that the demand for recent books falls off sharply as the next bestsellers come along, leaving libraries with 99 more copies of 50 Shades of Gray than they need.


August 22, 2015

Lake sunset

Lake sunset

(cc) David Weinberger CC-BY

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August 21, 2015

Morning puzzler

Here’s an uninteresting photo I took this morning:

Here’s my trick question:

Which way is up?


August 20, 2015

Remember when a drop didn’t matter?

I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop…
Comedy of Errors1, II:1:199-200

Shakespeare is bringing before us both the vastness of the ocean and the indistinguishability of one drop from another, and maybe even the way in which drops in an ocean are artificial constructs. But for us, “a drop in the ocean” is the standard signifier of an amount so small that it makes no difference at all. A drop in the bucket could still add up to something. A drop in the ocean could not.

You can see the power of this image in the startling effect its inversion had in Kurt Vonnegut‘s Ice Nine. A single drop of this fictitious chemical would crystalize the entire ocean. Imagine, a mere drop in the ocean having such an effect!

Of course, when it comes to racism, for a long time in this country (and only this country), having one drop of “Negro” blood in your veins — a black ancestor in any generation back to the presumed-white Adam and Eve — was enough to make you subject to all of the racial and social restrictions white America had devised. [More] Unlike an ocean drop or bucket drop, a blood drop could make all the difference. But, racism is all about being inconsistent, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

When it came to tiny bits that didn’t matter at all, a drop in the ocean was the measure.

Not any more. All those drops have added up. Depending on where you’re floating, if you were to withdraw a drop from the ocean, there’s a measurable probability that you’ll come down with hepatitis. In some parts of the ocean, your dropper will get clogged with plastic. No drops for you.

We used to say that the ocean is forgiving. It turns out it was just nursing a grudge.

We have suffered from the Fallacy of Scale. We are now learning the power of drops. Perhaps too late.

1Speaking of Comedy of Errors, don’t miss the hilarious version at Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox, Mass. It’s set in NJ, and they play it entirely for laughs because, well, it’s a comedy.


August 17, 2015

Newton was not an astrologer

I got a little interested in the question of Isaac Newton’s connection to astrology because of something I’ve been working about casuality. After all, Newton pursued alchemical studies with great seriousness. And he gave us a theory of action at a distance that I thought might be taken as providing a rationale for astrological effects.

But, no. According to a post by Graham Bates:

In a library of 1763 books, (1752 different titles excluding duplicates) he had 369 books on what we would call scientific subjects, plus 169 on Alchemy (including many of the important texts on the subject copied in his own hand), there were also 477 books on Theology. He possessed only four books on astrology; two of these were treatises on astrology, one was an almanac, and one was a refutation of astrology

Bates says that a book on astrology that he purchased as a boy led him to learn about Euclid’s theorems so he could construct an astrologocial chart, but that is the extent of his known interest.

Bates also does a good job tracking down a spurious quote:

There is a story, much quoted in astrological articles and books, about a dispute between Newton and Halley (of the comet fame), supposedly about astrology, in which Newton replies to a remark by Halley “I have studied these things, you have not”.

The actual quote refers to theology, not astrology. So, no, Newton was not practitioner of astrology and there’s no reason to think that he gave it any credence. (Me neither, by the way.)

The post is on the Urania Trust site, which I had not heard of before. The group was founded in 1970 “to further the advancement of education by the teaching of the relationship between main’s [sic] knowledge of, beliefs about, the heavens and every aspect of his art science philosophy and religion.” Given its commitment to taking astrology seriously, the fairness of its post about Newton is admirable.

(Now if I could only find out if Newton played billiards.)

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