Dec. 31, 2001

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Links and Horizons: There's more to the Web - and to the real world - than meets the eye
Teams vs. Individuals: Strong individuals can make lousy teammates ... Hegel and the Web to the rescue!
So, You Go: The verbal tic of choice
Misc.: Why search engines suck™, XP as pirate, and spam vs. English
The Anals of Marketing: Miscellaneous marketing stupidities
Walking the Walk: San Jose Bicycles talks the talk, in the best sense
Cool Tool: ClearType works
Links: Your pointers
Email, Arbitrary Insults, and Suspicious Hacking Coughs: Your comments
Bogus contest: Neologisms


Out with the Old, In with the New
(Or: Blog me, baby. Blog me hard.)

JOHO is inevitably merging with my weblog ( Much of this issue reprints blogged material ("bloggerini"). This merging will continue in ways I haven't yet entirely determined. Your opinions and ideas are welcome.

I also encourage you to visit my blogger. I write in it just about every day.


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Links and Horizons

The word "horizon" became important to some philosophers in the second half of the 20th century. "Horizonal this" and "the horizonality of that" are sure signs that you're dealing with a so-called Continental philosopher. They're also the ones talking about silence, gestures, and, occasionally, nothingness. There's a reason for this: it's a reaction against a traditional ontology that equates "real" with "present" — "present" in both the sense of what exists now and in the sense of being present and not absent. Reality in the traditional ontology is what's here now, a big clump of matter.

This traditional definition of reality excludes too many things that either aren't now or aren't matter. It's not just fluffy stuff like dreams and emotions that the traditional understanding of reality excludes, it's also things like potential (future) and tradition (past). Continental philosophers such as Martin Heidegger say that we can't understand our experience of the world without seeing that the present is imbued with a sense of future possibilities and potentialities. We can't even understand a simple hammer without taking it as something that can be used to accomplish some project; we understand things in terms of their future, potential use to us.

Horizon becomes an important term to these Continental philosophers because — although they don't necessarily put it this way — the horizon is not only the limit of what we can see, it indicates that there is more beyond it. The horizon isn't simply where the sky meets the earth; it also points beyond itself to the hidden rest of the world. (Gesturing does the same thing. So does language. Different topics.)

So, does the Web world have an horizon? Since it's not a physical world, it well might not have a structure analogous to the horizon. But I think it does: hyperlinks. Hyperlinks point to pages beyond themselves. They are a quite explicit gesture — far more explicit than the real world horizon in suggesting what lies beyond.

So, who cares? Maybe no one. But I think one — tenuous — result is the Web helps make clear (Heideggerians would say "uncover") the true nature of the real world. The real world isn't really a big clump of matter. It's a context of significance, the present illuminated by its possible futures in light of the language that comes from the past. The real world is horizonal not just where the sky meets the earth but also in every thing that is understood by reference to the context and its possibilities that are beyond the thing itself. We can ignore that fact in the real world — and traditional philosophy has made a career of ignoring it — but we can't ignore it on the Web, for at the heart of the Web's nature are horizonal hyperlinks.

(Ok, you can open your eyes. The bad man is done talking about continental philosophy.)

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Teams vs. Individuals

There's always been a contradiction of an Hegelian sort (oy, what's with me this week!) between the value of individuals with strong beliefs and the need to be flexible enough to subordinate one's beliefs for the sake of the team. Passion versus teamwork. Commitment versus compromise. Individualism versus collaboration.

This tension is overcome in a suitably Hegelian way by the Web's transformation of teams. In a typical hierarchical structure, teams are organized from the top down. Members are chosen not only for their personal qualities but because various groups need representation. In a webby world — a "hyperlinked organization", if you will — teams are self-organizing. People form a team by pulling together the people they respect and like to work with, the org chart be damned.

This helps resolve the contradiction in two ways. First, hyperlinked teams form among like-minded people — for better or worse. Thus, the strong beliefs of individuals are likely to be shared. Second, groups form among people who already like and trust one another — for better or worse. Thus, disagreements don't have to escalate to the "my way or the highway" point.

Hegel is, as always, right — which means we should be on the lookout for the new contradiction this engenders...

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So, You Go

So, you can already tell I'm a webby type of guy. The giveaway was in the very first word of this paragraph. "So," I began, thus taking up an affectation of speech that is to Web entrepreneurs what "What-ev-er" is to Valley girls and "On the other hand" is to philosophers.

It began on the West Coast, in Silicon Valley, but now is thoroughly transcontinental. Here in Boston, if you ask one of my neighbors — a software guy — if he's going to the kid's soccer game, he'll say, "So, I'm going to drive Rosie and Mark..." Ask him if he's read any good books lately and he'll reply, "So, I was reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay..." Ask him what he's going to do about the button hanging from his shirt by a thread, and he'll say, "So ... sew."

So, what are we to make of this fake continuity as if your reply is picking up a thread already being sewn? There's a reason that some affectations propagate themselves and others don't. I know about this first hand. Nobody believes me, but it is the Lord's honest truth that I'm the one who started the ironic gesture of twice slapping the back of one's hand against the palm of the other hand. I made this gesture up in 1986 and for the next year, whenever I spoke to people alone or in groups, I would use it, call it The Gesture of the 90s and establish ownership rights. Before long, it was being used even by Ronald Reagan, who I think didn't understand its patented rich irony, and, most famously, by David Letterman, who I am sure does understand its patented rich irony. Nevertheless, my patent was rejected and with it went my dream of retiring on the royalties.

So — and, by the way, this is the proper use of "so", indicating a conclusion is about to be drawn — I speak with some authority when I ask why "so" has spread so quickly among the computing class. Could it be that the shortened attention spans, the need to have hyperlinked escape routes out of every paragraph, the fracturing of knowledge and story into bytes and sound bytes — could all this be taking its toll, so that we resort to a false connectivity, the equivalent of starting a conversation by saying "Well, anyway"? Or is the "so" playing a different role, announcing that what follows is going to take at least a few sentences, a way of holding off interruptions, exactly equivalent to our children's use of a rising inflection ... at the end of sentences ... to let us know ... that they're not done ..., they're not ready to relinquish the floor..., heaven forbid someone else should get a word in .... Or is it both: a false sense of logical connectedness and a brazen land grab of our attention?

What-ev-er. It's time to introduce the opposite: a verbal tic that indicates that I'm cutting my remarks short because I actually want to hear what you have to say. So, herewith the Verbal Gesture of the Oughties: When you're done with your short, highly worthwhile comment, you say: "You go."

You go.


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Why Search Engines Suck(tm)

Just a little thing, but type "drivers" into the search box at Epson, and you get the following screen in return:

Look at the bottom of the navigation box on the left hand side. Look at the results of the search engine. Repeat.

XP, The Background Pirate

Has anyone noticed that the Windows XP default desktop background is almost identical to the Sharp Actius' desktop background?

Sharp Actius

Microsoft XP

Bill Seitz looks at the similarity of the backgrounds and asks:

I think the scarier question is why both of them look so much like the "set" of the Teletubbies

You heard it hear first: Windows XP is gay. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)


Spam, SPAM, Windows, and the Uses of English

At the SpamSubtract home page there's a small-print notice at the bottom of the page:

We are not associated with "SPAM" ©; we've never eaten their fine luncheon meats and we certainly don't want to suggest that you need to subtract them. We think they are cool guys, or, at least their lawyers seem reasonably cool, well, at least as far as lawyers go.

So, I follow the link to the SPAM company's statement about the use of the word "spam" in the email sense. And it's more than "reasonably cool." It's very cool. Not only are they not jerks about asserting their sole right to those four letters, they actually talk to us like human beings. It's clear, reasonable, friendly, helpful. And, in case you've forgotten the difference between how normal people talk and what lawyers sound like, they provide a link to their legal and copyright information.

Two company sites (SpamSubtract and SPAM) in two minutes, both sounding like human beings. Is the world going insane???

And what's going over at SpamSubtract, you ask? Some very, very smart people say they have a major advance in the art of spam blocking. I have discerned only a little of what they're up to. It promises to be highly effective but not entirely painless. But, then, the degraded nature of spam means that there can be no 100% effective, 100% painless way of dealing with it: some stuff you're just going to have to look at to determine if it's spam or not. Keep your eye on SpamSubtract.

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The Anals of Marketing


We went to see the movie "Jimmy Neutron" the other night at a National Amusements brand theater (tagline: "Applying Real-World Stickiness to the Bottom of Your Shoes"). The children in the audience (including ours) enjoyed it. I myself was nationally amused by a screen that came on before the lights went down: "This pre-feature entertainment is brought to you by SomeCo." [Unfortunately, I was so dazzled by the concept that I forget who the actual sponsor was ... not a hearty endorsement of this form of sponsorship.] There then followed three commercials, followed by a number of movie trailers.

Yes, the commercials now are being sponsored. Can't we please take this up one more meta level and sell sponsorships of sponsorships? "This pre-entertainment sponsorship is being sponsored by Bayview Ford where we deliver on the idea of the idea of customer service!"

Why benefits suck

Verbiage from Altio:

The AltioLive platform delivers competitive advantage to any business by allowing a cost-effective way to expand market opportunities, improve business process efficiencies and attract and retain customers. Read how companies are using AltioLive today to solve real-world problems.

This is why every language has evolved the phrase "Shuuuuuut up!"

'Tis the Season to Insult Your Intelligence

A correspondent who wishes to be identified only as Donald sends us to a Flash-animated Christmas greeting that is tedious, pretentious, empty and boring. But surely it is only a 5 on the scale of tedious, pretentious, empty and boring holiday-themed Flash animations. Do worse! Let me know and I'll compile the list. I'll even check it twice. (Note: I'm looking for corporate entries, not personal tedious, pretentious, empty and boring holiday-themed Flash animations. I'm not that mean.)

Despair and the Use of Irony

Jim Montgomery — illustrating the proper use of the Presumptive So — writes:

So I went to and bought a calendar & pessimist's mug ("This glass is now half empty"). To confirm my purchase, the following email was sent to me.

Thank you for your recent order from Despair, Inc. I'd like to personally welcome you to our growing body of Dissatisfied Customers(tm), but to do so might evidence some actual concern for service and protocol. This might then lead to customer satisfaction, which would defeat the purpose altogether. That is why you have received this generic, form-generated email, written by some nameless lackey in our marketing department. Having established that any pretense of consideration for *your* needs would be counter-productive to our raison d'etre at Despair Inc, let us now ponder a subject of greater interest to those among us who are worthy of both of our collective attentions - that person being me.

While you sit there wincing in disbelief at these bon mots of authentic insincerity and vexed by the intrinsic contradictions, I find I am beside myself with awe at the spectacular Despair 2002 product line. It is an astonishing collection of wit and insight, beautifully realized and so perfectly timed for a nation, nay, a world facing the uncertainties of a darkening economic climate. It is without irony that I can honestly state that the only products I can imagine being *more* depressing would be motivational posters themselves. And THAT is saying something.

But I, or whoever is writing this, digress. On to the final matters.

Despair is ever consumed in the product development process. In fact, as we speak, a small cabal of dispirited creators have thrown themselves back into the further development of a new series of products wholly unrelated to Demotivators(R), which are slated for release in early 2003. What, exactly, are these radical new products?

That I can not say. I can allow however that members of our opt-in e-mail subscription "The Wailing List(tm)" will receive not only a sneak-preview of the series when they near release, but also will be granted an opportunity to participate in an unprecedented way in the works themselves. So join the list now- don't make us come get you.

(And no, we STILL don't sell or share your personal contact information with others. Who do you think would want to buy our mailing list, anyway? Eli Lilly?)

If any of the information shown below is inaccurate, please notify "[email protected]" as soon as possible. We will rectify the error immediately, and on some occasions, without snickering. It is the least we can do, which, as a matter of policy, is the most we can do.

Sincerely not really writing you this email,

E.L.Kersten, Ph.D.
Founder & COO,
Despair, Inc.


Middle World Resources

Walking the Walk  

Santa Cruz Bicycles has a pretty typical Web site with lots of glossy photos and shiny new products. (An unwelcome addition: Flash and plenty of it.) But if you make your way to the FAQs, you'll find answers that sound like they were written by an actual bicycle enthusiast. I asked Scott Turner about it.

Basically, we have no numerical data, no statistical information, and no written rules for how we are trying to communicate with, and/or get information to our customers. We feel if you go to far with number crunching, and statistics on human interaction, you are bound to end up with people sitting in cubicles who are trained how to be sincere. What we do is all by intuition. No, I'm not talking about 90's new age "try to be one with your customer" type of thing, it's more of a constant goal to provide the same feel and service that we would want if we were looking for a bike. Just trying to be real, without being contrived.

All the FAQ answers were taken direct from answers I wrote to customers who e-mailed me that particular question. Some of them were cleaned up for public viewing, and some are broadened to apply to more than one model, but the rest are just standard answers you would get if you e-mailed us looking for specific information that you could not locate on our website.

E-mail has definitely become the #1 source of customer service for us as far as the end users go. (This subject is a whole different article, that should be written. I'm convinced that the #1 reason is that people can do it subversively while they are at work…) The basic problem is how do you give customers a personalized feel with e-mail. The answer is that it has to be done physically, by a real live human. It takes a lot of work and time, but there really is no other way to do it. I think people want a personalized experience, even if it is via e-mail or through a website. If you can correspond this way and still come off as a company with passion and sincerity then you are doing something right. I still think we (Santa Cruz) have a lot of room for improvement, but we're working on it and learning as we go.

We are still a pretty small company as far as the bicycles business goes. I guess we would really be considered a medium size company, but the leap to being a large bike conglomerate (Such as Trek, Specialized, etc.) is pretty big. We do have a master plan in place to try to stay fairly small, while still being able to make all the products we want to make. We honestly believe that we would not be able to do what we do and provide the service we can now if we got a lot bigger. (In truth we ARE our customers. Just about everyone here, including the 2 owners, ride bikes 3 to 4 times a week for fun.)

I had a guy from a software company that made an automated e-mail response program e-mail me and try to sell me on his companies system. I asked how he knew I didn't already use one, and he said, "Because I e-mailed you about a bike and I could tell". I said, "That's exactly why I would never want an automated system".

Cool Tool
For the Hyperlinked Organization

If you're running Windows XP and have a digital display, you can tune your ClearType implementation at a nifty Web site Microsoft provides. In fact, on this page you can check and uncheck a box to toggle ClearType and watch the text on the page go from crummy to spiffy in real time.


ClearType is Microsoft's version of a technology sort-of invented by Apple that takes advantage of the fact that a single pixel on an LCD screen is in fact composed of a red, green and blue sub-pixel. By turning on the sub-pixels selectively, text can be smoothed out ("anti-aliased"). (Adobe also has a version of this technology, called CoolType.) It does make a difference.

(Here's a JOHO article about ClearType, and here's a Seybold Report on the topic too.)



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Gary Turner points out a hell of a speech Bill Clinton gave the other day in which he makes the case for lifting up the world. It sounds some of the themes in Tom Friedman's recent column (no longer available on the Times site) and, if I may be so immodest, in my Generation Alpha fantasy ... except Bill's is far better than either of these efforts.

Read it and try to picture this coming out of Chimpy's mouth. (Pardon me. He deserves our respect as president. Make that "President Chimpy.")

While we're on the topic, I highly recommend Jeffrey Toobin's book, A Vast Conspiracy. Toobin is a mainstream author — The New Yorker, network commentator — who convincingly makes the case that Clinton was brought down for unremarkable sins by an organized effort that began in Arkansas. He's also a very readable author. (His OJ book, The Run of His Life, was also a great "read.")

Gary Stock points us to an academic article by Nick Bostrom of Yale's Dept. of Philosophy, the title of which poses a question with relative succinctness: "Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?" Dr. Nick summarizes:

This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the transhumanist dogma that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.

If I understand this - and there's no reason to think that I do given that my eyes glazed over rather early on - the professor is saying that if our descendants managed to evolve into something post-human and care enough about the past to build a simulation of it, then, yes, we probably are living in a simulation.

Note to my puppet masters: Would it hurt to give me the Brad Pitt skin?

Vergil Iliescu points us to an MP3 (found by his 13-year-old son) that sets to music the footage of Steve Ballmer chanting "Developers developers developers." You can download the footage at There's also a music video that failed to play on my machine.

This continues the Ballmer self-bashing that began with the release of the infamous Monkeyboy video showing Ballmer doing an unfortunately simian dance of enthusiasm at some morale-building internal MSFT event. (I wrote a half-assed defense of Monkeyboy that says that making an ass of yourself in public may be a good thing, especially if you're an Important Guy like Ballmer.)

A reader recommends Living Code where I found a Cat Stevens conspiracy. A recent story calls for an XML standard for GUIs, which the author calls "AmbiGUI." Gotta love it. Plus the site quotes Ambrose Bierce: "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography." I like the mix of tech, humor, social conscience, and word-awareness.

Prof. Tom Wilson at the Dept. of Info Sciences at Sheffield Univ. points to a little grenade he tossed into a listserv recently: he mentions that there may not be any such thing as knowledge management. Here's his original message and here's the listserv's archive; look for entries in December and November. The thread is interesting if only because of the effect academic conventions have on the expression of passion.

Bill Seitz says "Oy, thought of you when I saw this":

The true horror of Sept11:

But the tragic deaths of employees — unacknowledged links in the information supply chain — almost always mean that valuable corporate knowledge and skillsets are forever lost along with them. Although lives can never be replaced, knowledge management (KM) practices may lessen the loss of the intellectual assets that companies need to stay in business.

Bills comment: "Schmuck."

Mitch reminds us that the CIA has a site for children. ("Can you count to ten in Arabic? If so, would you like to be our station chief for the Mideast?")


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Email, Arbitrary Insults, and Suspicious Hacking Coughs

Victor de la Vieter writes from The Netherlands about our article on "Slumping the Shark":

The jumpingtheshark award for 2001 obviously goes to Michael Jackson, who — sure — still is a good singer, but cannot dance anymore, lost his nose and gets more and more freaky every year. Even that does not necessarily 'send him south.' What did was bringing onto the stage a singing skeleton also known as Whitney Houston. People started crying in the audience, so it was said here - not only because it's so obvious what success does to a naive girl but in my view because they saw the bubble that pop culture is burst. I for one, will always connect poor Michael with that sad event...

Hey hey, Victor! Here in the US Michael Jackson is still idolized as the finest incarnation of art and manhood. How dare you!

Charlie Green writes in response to our touting West Point's collaborative spirit. I wrote:

It struck me that this team of hierarchically-arranged soldiers was so truly collaborative perhaps in part precisely because of the explicitness of the hierarchy. In a corporation, rank is informal and thus is negotiated in every meeting. People position themselves by jousting with others in subtle ways, for explicit jousting is considered pushy. In the Army, you've got stuff sewn into your clothing denoting your precise position in the hierarchy. Thus, there's no need to joust, and teams can be more genuinely collaborative.

Charlie replies:

This is bullshit, in my opinion (derived from my own military experience). The West Point campus, like our own Air Force Academy, is NOT typical military. This is the same atmosphere found in War Colleges, hospitals, laboratories, and other intellectual military facilities. But not in the everyday military functioning. Collaboration in the "normal" military, when it exists, generally means finding out what the ranking officer wants from a meeting and agreeing. Dissent can be costly if a senior officer doesn't like what he hears: a delayed promotion or transfer. Most commanding and senior officers [think they] don't need collaboration; they already know the answers or they wouldn't be commanding/senior.

Charlie also takes issue with parts of my inner dialogue about pacifism:

I don't say and have never said that fighting back is all that's required. We also need to make the world fairer, and do so on an unprecedented scale. But we also need to kill them before they kill us.

The fairness sentiments here are very commendable but the methodology for achieving this escapes me in the present situation. My own cynical view is that things are rapidly getting worse both inside and outside the USA. I feel the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

As for the kill or be killed issue, who is the "they" who is gonna off us? Who "us"? I don't feel I am one of the "us" who is marked for termination...yet.

I certainly feel I am. I assume Boston is an appealing target. The "them" is anyone preparing to attack us. Of course we don't know who all those people are and never will know. But we know some of them.

...I agreed with Bill Maher that it is cowardly to drop/launch bombs on people. If war and killing is important enough to do, it should be done on personal level. I can honestly say that I never shot at anyone unless they shot first.

I've said elsewhere that I would prefer the "busboys with silencers" approach (West Wing's phrase) because it's targeted.

... Changing the subject, the bombing of Afghanistan is wrong. The Taliban were no worse than a lot of other governments. The people of Afghanistan are better than some other populations, certainly more long suffering. Neither of them had anything to do with 9/11.

The Taliban were real bad. They don't have to be the worst in order for the world to be better off without them in charge. And while they certainly had some supporters in Afghanistan, I don't find reason to think they had widespread support. I agree that we didn't have to depose them to get to Obie Wan Bin Laden. And I don't believe our casualty figures about how much harm we did to innocents. I hope that we are preparing a massive rebuilding of Afghanistan now. And, have I mentioned that we'll get a pipeline out of this. Just a coincidence :(

I am not convinced ObL did, either. Certainly he knew of the plot to some extent; that bunch of radicals are a pretty closed society and, like a rich uncle, he is the one to ask for money. But not necessarily the mastermind.

I'm still not 100% convinced he was behind it. The tapes are actually not entirely clear about it, although he certainly isn't seizing the opportunity to renounce responsibility.

...We both know that oil is the real issue. When we cut off Japan's oil supply before we entered WW2, they felt this was an act of war (and they were right). No one has cut off our oil supply (yet); we just want part of the Caspian Sea action.

The pedigree of this administration is enough to let us presume oil is behind this. Q: How many oil men does it take to change a third world government? A: Apparently about a half-dozen...and none of them were elected!

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Bogus contest: Neologisms

World Wide Words, a weekly 'zine, reports that the BBC reports that E-Cyclopedia is gathering its list of 2001's important additions to the language. Among the entries:

asymmetric warfare

It's followed by a list of suggestions from We the People, including:


Fear of Harry


Being fired by email


Media hype over the introduction of the Euro

Leader envy

People in the US who wish Tony Blair were their President

But how about:


Mutual weblog referrals, coined by Doc Searls

jumping the shark


to google

As a verb

Any other suggestions for neologisms real or required?

All that remains is to wish you a healthy, happy, safe, prosperous new year. Actually, let's just hope there is a new year.

Editorial Lint

JOHO is a free, independent newsletter written and produced by David Weinberger. If you write him with corrections or criticisms, it will probably turn out to have been your fault.

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