February 11, 2002

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Cracking words: As Michel Foucault shows that the Greek word for "free speech" cracked under social pressure, some of our most common words are also showing the strain.
Free the Broadband: TechNet's call for universal broadband access should be heeded.
Googlewhacking — The Inside Story: A craze, a phase, a plan, Panama.
The New Royalty: Many may share a last name but only one gets the domain - and thus did WW III begin.
Anals of Marketing: Some stuff that's so dumb you wouldn't believe it.
Cool Tool: Nostromo for your lefthanded fragging pleasure
Walking the Walk: Elearning from IBM and Microsoft
Links: From you. Excellent as always.
Email, Rants, and Hurtful Epithets: Your expostulations.
Bogus Contest: Artists' Conceptions


Small Pieces' New Home

I've updated the home page of my new book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined. What a pain in the tuchus, especially the part where I had to manually correct my electronic versions of the sample chapters using the printout of the (almost) final version because the printing house now possesses the final final electronic version. (The way the process bounces back and forth between electrons and paper will someday seem quite amusing.)

Anyway, the page isn't done yet, but you can read the blurbs, the flap copy, and 2.5 sample chapters. Basta! (For now, anyway.)


JOHO the Blog

I write in my damn weblog every freaking day. Most of what's in JOHO these days showed up first there. In fact, JOHO is beginning to feel redundant. Check out the blog. Let me know what you think. Please?





My 9-month-old 60G hard drive melted — more or less literally — a few days ago. (You can read about my travails here.) The major loss, other than 2.5 days rebuilding the sucker, was the previous 5 months of email. So, if I'm ignoring your heartfelt missive, it's nothing personal.


Cracking words

I was browsing in the book store — the local, physical store, you know, the one that has a smell — when I randomly opened a book by Michel Foucault and saw that it was about the Greek word "parrhesia," which he translates as "fearless speech" (the title of the book). The next book I picked up was by Thomas Merton, and guess what word was on the first page I turned to: "the." But also "parrhesia." So, I bought the Foucault book.

It's more understandable than much of his more formal writing, perhaps because it transcribes six lectures. Foucault immerses us in Greek culture, using a change in the meaning of "parrhesia" to show shifts in the contexts in which the word was important. It moved from meaning the speech of a citizen that fearlessly "tells it like it is" to an authority, to a sometimes negative term for rabble- rousing. Foucault wonders how this change could have happened. It's as if a crack opened up in the word. For example, originally there simply was no question about how the truth-teller knows the truth. But in the 5th-4th centuries BCE, the question of the justification of belief was indeed beginning to arise. Likewise, Foucault looks at how the socio- political situation had changed so that parrhesia no longer was a simple virtue. He's brilliant at his exploration of the context within which this word had sense. This is a bit like a shift in a scientific paradigm, except the old paradigm isn't abandoned because of the accretion of anomalies that it cannot explain. Rather, a densely human context alters and a concept that made sense becomes problematic. The bits of the old context that no longer make that much sense provide clues to the larger tectonic movements of thought.

So, what are the concepts today that no longer make as much sense as they once did?

Friendship. What do we call the people we meet on the Net? I recently had three days of intense email exchanges with a person who'd seen my weblog. We were emailing back and forth several times a day. It started out on an intellectual topic but became much more personal. Now the exchange has died its natural death, but it may begin again at any time. I expect I'll be in intermittent contact with him for the rest of my life. Is he my friend? There's a crack in the term.

Privacy. This made perfect sense when we had a self associated with a physical body in the physical world, for in the real world, we can think of ourselves as having an inner and an outer self. But on the Web, all we have is an outer self. We exist on the Web only insofar as we make ourselves public. Privacy is cracked.

Politeness. In a global environment where the trappings of culture are largely stripped out by the transition to text, what are the rules for politeness? Most of politeness is conventional. But there are no truly global conventions. The part of politeness that is caused by genuine consideration for others will, we hope, survive the Web, but that's so abstract that it's possible that there will be no way to conventionalize it for all cultures. In any case, politeness is cracked.

Sincerity. When you can have as many personae on the Net as you want, when the atmosphere is ripe for playing and spoofing and posing, sincerity loses much of its obvious value, just as it already does for authors and actors. Was Nabokov being "sincere" when he wrote Lolita in the first person? Not in the usual sense, for Nabokov wasn't a murderous pederast. When applied to our Web personae - in some circumstances - sincerity is cracked.

Not all of this is Web-related. For example, "courage" in an age of high-altitude bombing no longer means what it used to. Maybe "civilian" doesn't either. But a whole bunch of these terms spring out of the Net. That may be the biggest clue that important, and potentially scary, changes are afoot. Here's the question that excites me so much: Are we in an time that could rival the golden age of Athens in its capacity for reinventing ourselves? Or am I just cracked?

Free the Broadband

TechNet, a consortium of industry CEO's, has issued a call for a national (US) initiative to get broadband to every household. The main thing the government has to do is get out of the way:

Government policies should foster innovation and reduce regulations — especially with respect to broadband applications and services;

Public policy should encourage new investment in broadband infrastructure and networks through competition and the removal of regulatory uncertainty and disincentives;

State and localities should promote streamlined laws and regulations that encourage broadband investment, and interstate consistency should be achieved whenever possible;

National spectrum policy should utilize market-based approaches that reduce the artificial scarcity of spectrum for valuable broadband applications;

Investment incentives, potentially including targeted tax incentives, should encourage broadband deployment to underserved communities and businesses;

Broadband policy should encourage innovation and government should not pick technology winners and losers.

The members of TechNet are:

John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems; John Doerr, Partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Eric Benhamou, Chairman of 3Com Corporation and Palm Inc.; Paul Gudonis, CEO of Genuity; Tony Ley, Chairman and CEO of Harmonic, Inc; Rick Burnes, Partner with Charles River Ventures; John Young, retired President and CEO of Hewlett Packard; Les Vadasz, Senior Vice President of Intel; Bob Herbold, COO and Executive Vice President of Microsoft; Milo Medin, Chief Technology Officer of Excite@Home.

Sure they're self-interested. But they're still right.

In fact, David Isenberg and I wrote a rough draft of a similar call (at NetParadox.com), based on Roxanne Googin's insightful paradox:

The best network is the hardest one to make money running.

Here's what makes a network the best:

...the best network delivers bits in the largest volumes at the fastest speeds. In addition, the best network is the most open to new communications services; it closes off the fewest futures and elicits the most innovation.

That is, the best network is the stupidest network. ("The Rise of the Stupid Network" is Isenberg's seminal formulation of this, the precursor of which was the End-to-End idea from David Reed et al.) The Internet succeeded because it was deliberately built to encode only the minimal information required to move bits from point A to B. There is nothing in the Internet protocols themselves that encodes what type of bits they are. The Internet doesn't know or care whether you're sending email or video, a bill or pornography, copyrighted material or instructions on building nuclear weapons. It also doesn't include bits that say what person owns, sent or cares about the bits. It is nothing but a bit pump. It's a stupid network.

Because it's so good at moving bits, and because the Net makes no assumptions about the nature of those bits, applications can be written on top of it to do whatever you want with bits. Attempts to make the Internet smarter — for example, by including in the transportation protocol itself information about the copyright status of the bits — will bit by bit erode the Internet as a medium for innovation.

An AP article by Brian Bergstein quotes Forrester Research analyst Carl Howe:

"There is no proof, in any way, shape or manner, that says if we give more broadband to everybody it's going to make us more productive,'' he said. ''It will make us more connected. It might make us happier. But I'm not sure it's a better use of our money than putting 50,000 more teachers in schools."

First, this isn't an either/or. Second, the broadband project is likely to cost less than a single year of paying 50,000 teachers a salary (figuring an optimistic average salary of $50K). Third, the aim is to enable the market to find ways to provide broadband profitably, with the government supplying incentives only where the market doesn't.

More important, no, there's no proof it'll make us more productive. But there's every reason to believe that high speed connectivity will bring forth innovations we haven't begun to imagine. If we give everyone instantaneous access to all of the digitized works of humans and instantaneous, high quality access to the global conversation, we will change everything from broadcast TV to how we play music together to how gossip works. So, it may not make us more productive (although it probably will), but it certainly will make us more inventive, more creative, more inquisitive, more connective, more sympathetic.

The obstacles are artificial. We need to clear them out of the way. This is a legitimate role for government. Let's do it because we don't know what will result.


Googlewhacking — The Inside Story

Those of your following my weblog know that there were a couple of weeks when I was blogging excessively about "Googlewhacking," a game invented by Gary "Unblinking" Stock. A googlewhack is a pair of words that when searched for on Google (not as a phrase) returns one and only one hit. I codified a set of rules and adopted Kevin Marks' idea for scoring: multiply the number of hits of each of the words searched for individually, so that pairs of common words score higher than obscure ones. The current record holder is Acme with a score of 2,068,000,000,000 for "deprecated lolitas". Gary, however, is uncomfortable with 'whacking as a competitive sport, preferring semantically amusing combos.

Googlewhacking has really taken off, with Gary showing up on everything from the BBC to NPR. I've backed off of covering it, especially since the brinkster site (below) can automatically verify and post high scores.

You go, Gary!

Gary's site: http://www.unblinking.com/heh/googlewhack.htm
For automatic scoring: http://www27.brinkster.com/b3tachthonic/googlewhack.asp


The New Royalty

[Dan Gillmor wrote a column on Google's effects on domains a few weeks ago which is unfortunately unable because his newspaper "reorganized" the site. Dan argued that getting a unique domain name no longer matters so much since you can find just about any site just but searching at Google The Good. This recalled an article on a similar topic I've had sitting around for a while.]

The year is 2090. It's 60 years since Arnold Schwarzenegger cinched his support belt one notch tighter, added 50 pounds to the barbell, pushed up ... and exploded, spewing steroids, formaldehyde and Viagra all over the Hollywood Gym. His site, www.schwarzenegger.com, has been maintained by his estate ever since. There hasn't been any new content added since the year 2047 and it's now mainly consulted by historians studying Arnhold's role in the Richard Simmons presidency. But now Arnold's estranged great-granddaughter has filed suit with 65 other of Arnold's descendants who feel they have a legitimate claim on schwarzenegger.com. The movement spreads among the progeny of other first generation web site name grabbers. "No Dots for the Dead!" becomes an international rallying cry. Their opponents begin to sport bumperstickers that say "Sure you can have my dot-com name...when you pry it from my cold dead fingers" on their levitating personal scooters ... because, um, Flubber turned out to be real.

I'm facing a version of this problem right now. I own www.weinberger.org. (Weinberger.com was taken by a company that mass-registers surnames.) There are lots of other Weinbergers in the world - If I use Google to look for myself, I find a rabbi in Israel, a car dealer in California, and a kid who writes record reviews, all on the first page of the results. So, as the sole owner of weinberger.org, when I'm dead and gone, which of my kids should I leave the Weinberger family org to, assuming I agree to be an "org donor"? And which of their kids, lo unto the many generations will inherit ... and which ones will be frozen out? And how about the poor car dealer's kids who'll never have a chance at inheriting their-name.org?

This question has been resolved in a hardheaded way in the business world. American Airlines owns aa.com, but everyone from Alcoholics Anonymous to Aukland Adventures would probably like to own it. The victory goes to the person who applied earliest or can afford to buy it from the person who did ... with trademark-owners trumping everyone. So what do the losers do? They register a lame variant such as "aa-Aukland.com" or "alcoholics- anonymous.org" that you might guess at after five wrong tries.

And adding new extensions besides .com and .org and the others, as has been done, doesn't really help matters. The fact is that there are lots more people than meaningful web site names, and it's only going to get worse as the generations increase.

So, the vast majority of us are going to be frozen out. You'll locate sites by looking up our name on some web directory, which is how we already do it with Google. On the other hand, those of us who grabbed our names early are going to the new royalty. "Hello, I'm David Weinberger, of the .org weinbergers." Ah, it's gonna be sweet.


Anals of Marketing

When a program crashes under XP, you have the option of pressing a button that sends a diagnostic report to Redmond. XP then tantalizes you with the prospect of being told when Microsoft has a fix for the problem. To receive this vital information, however, you are required to sign up for Passport (Tagline: "We called it 'Passport' because we're saving 'Stranglehold' for our next product").

Getting fixes for crash bugs is not a discretionary service. The Department of Justice (Tagline: "It's called 'Justice' to prove we have a sense of humor") ought to pay attention to this.

James Smith or Laura Iveson (damn shared email!) sent me this photo:



Dahrl Stultz replied when I ran it in my weblog:

I laughed at the trumpet man coroner pic. Out of curiosity, I went to Goggle and quickly found he's New Orlean's ME. This article about him being accused of selling body parts caused me to shake my head and mutter, "typical Louisiana politician."

From Peter "peterme" Merholz comes a pointer to a small software company that hasn't gotten so successful that it's lost its sense of humor. Here are the Omni Group's software licenses for three of its products:

1. Once you are addicted, you'll doubtlessly want to spend less than $25 to buy a license. Buying a license enables you to add new items to and edit existing items in documents with more than twenty items. Click here to buy, and in the process help pull America out of this pesky recession. We guarantee we'll turn around and spend the money you give us!

2. OmniWeb 4 for Mac OS X can be used for free, but occasionally you might get little flashes of guilt while you use it. If this overwhelms you, why not buy a license at our web store?

3. Once you've used OmniGraffle for a while, we bet you'll want to edit documents with more than twenty items, and then you can buy a license to fully enable the app, and help get us that much closer to being _feelthy steenking rich_. Well, OK, maybe not rich, but successful enough to write some more apps you'll love. And, hey, right now Graffle's about half the cost of some other visualization tools. Also, we're a small company, like those juice guys, so when you buy an app from us it gives you a warm fuzzy feeling in your tummy, like if you ate some sweaters.

It doesn't take much to make us like a merchant. The slightest show of humanity seems to be enough.

Worst Marketing ... Ever

RageBoy's 'zine, EGR, while touting his marvelous new book The Bombast Transcripts (on which more later), somehow manages to point us at a shrine site devoted to Beaner, a dead dog. After poking around for a while — future anthropologists are going to have to re-evaluate our culture when they unearth this site — I found a related site for Ollie who has joined his dear friend Beaner chewing couch legs in the sky. Ollie's human life companions provide links to let us sign a site guestbook where we can record our thoughts of consolation and sympathy, preferably in all caps to vouchsafe our sincerity: "VERY INSPIRATIONAL FOR ALL LOVERS OF WEINIES". The very last message reads in its entirety:

Great site. Just surfed in. Visit our discount vacation site @ www.magicrates.com

Yes, this person has spammed a dead dog's mourners' guestbook.

Mini Bogus Contest: Find a spammer lower on the scale.

Middle World Resources

Walking the Walk  

IBM and Microsoft are picking up the e-learning tab for their employees, according to an article in InformationWeek (Jan. 28, Elizabeth Goodridge). IBM employees can earn advanced degrees at the U. of Texas in Austin while Microsofties can work towards a master's degree in software and harware (can you really get a master's degree in software or hardware?) at Oregon Health and Science University's School of Science and Engineering (which before the interdepartmental leveraged buyout was the Oregon Science and Technology University's School of Health and Science). About a score of employees from each company are involved in the pilot programs. GM and Intel offer similar programs.

The article notes that "The programs will be supplemented with content that focuses on specific company technologies," provoking a flurry of masters theses on how to use autonumbering in Microsoft Word.

Cool Tool

This arguably isn't a business tool but ...

...If you play computer games that require you to navigate a complex map and manipulate objects through keyboard commands - OK, if you're running around shooting aliens or Nazis - you should get yourself a Belkin Nostromo thingy. It's a 10-key keypad that plugs into a USB port. You assign each of the keys a keyboard command and place the unit convenient to your left hand. Typically, the center top key will be your UpArrow key so you now can steer with your mouse with your right hand and move forward with your left. But, now all the other keys you need are literally at your left hand's fingertips. Maybe Pointer will reload and RingFinger will zoom the telescopic sight, and Pinky will cry "Weee Weee!" as it frags a dork with a racist name.

This is by far the best piece of hardware for computer gaming since the Save and Reload keys were invented.




Chris Worth points us to a funny review at Amazon of the complete works of Mozart.

Norman Jensen thinks that in light of my postings about the universality of truth we might be interested in an article that pits Nietzsche against Steven Covey ("7 Habits of Highly Annoying People"). The article's author, Christopher Jenson, provides a useful explanation of Nietzsche's aphoristic expressions. This is Nietzsche at his best, "arguing" by painting a new picture. In this case, his beef is with Kant and Plato (and Covey ... putting him in rather exalted company) and others who postulate a real world that is both only indirectly knowable at best and supposedly the locus of all real value.

Gary Turner continues his collection of weblog bumperstickers. I like "My other blog is a newspaper column" and "A legend in his own blog." But there are now over 900 of 'em on his site. Plus the site will generate your own contributions. And you can even buy blogsticker merchandise. Won't someone please make Gary a marketing VP somewhere? Stop him before he blogs more! (Damn, another blogsticker!) (PS: Gary insists that I made up the term "blogsticker.")

Hank Blakely has a "new home for the disgruntled" where you'll find his continuing, sure-footed and very funny satire of W. He's added a page of favorite sites where I am honored to find my newsletter in company with the Betty Bowers site who is, as you know, "America's Best Christian."

Peter "peterme" Merholz, noticing a blogthread between me and Jonathan Peters, in an email points to a rich thread of comments on his site about whether it makes sense to think about the Web (and other "information spaces") as spaces at all. What a bunch of smart people! He suggests starting with the "Stewart's Chagrin" comment. (Peter also linked to my upcoming book's discussion of the Web as a place, which generated some good discussion too ... citing sources I didn't know about when I wrote the book. Ulp.)

Halley Suitt has started blogging. When I was writing my book online, posting each day's crappy draft, Halley was the most important critic and booster of what I was writing. She's got a keen eye and she don't take no guff. Great blog.

Jacob Shwirtz, creator of the truly odd, upload orgy Gazm.org, has started a blog cleverly named Fuzzy Blogic. He also points us to:

http://www.kevinkelly.net/ a pretty funny, slightly useful website for everyone in the world named Kevin Kelly.

Tom Gross thinks we might like Playdamage where new-agey music plays as a moderately static lightshow plays. He says Playdamage reminds him of Superbad, a site of that seems more involving (or, as we used to say, "bong-able").

Tom also points us to a page at the Playdamage site where there is a "Market-o-Matic" tool that constructs marketing bafflegab based on your selections of nouns, verbs, etc. Very MadLibs.

Julian Harley points to FriendsReunited, a site that's apparently a big hit in the UK. You tell it which schools you went to with any comments about your life since being paddled by the senior boys, and then you can see which of your chums have also registered. Unfortunately, you have to register to be able to search for pals.

I then came across Classmates.com, a site that does something similar for those clever enough to have been born in the US. But the real hook is the large album of celebrity high school photos on their site. I don't hide the fact that I enjoy celebrity gossip (well, except in the sense that I never admit it, deny it when asked, and claim that the copy of The National Star is for my teenage daughter), and this is a good site to feed that particular jones. Here you'll learn that

As far as my own high school photo goes: you shouldn't ask.

There's an interesting article in the WSJ about The Jewish World Review. The JWR publishes from the point of view of a socially-aware orthodox Jew. As a result, it tends to range from conservative to neo-conservative. But, since I'm not a religious Jew or conservative or neo-conservative and yet the JWR occasionally publishes my stuff, I admire the editor's (Binyamin Jolkovsky) open-mindedness (as well as his orthodoxy). This is a one-person enterprise that deserves to survive, but is struggling right now.

David Isenberg points us to a map of Scott McNealy's virtual Rolodex.. This is an interesting way to map a social network ... or the circles of Hell.

Strata Rose Chalup passes along a site that lets you search through a large body of AOL Instant Messaging transcripts that were recently made public. You should search for your name immediately to see if any of your sessions were logged.

[Note: Before you panic, please search again for a different name. Draw the proper conclusion. This is important. There really is no need to panic.]

Dan Gillmor breaks the news that Google has done it again. It now has a site that indexes several news sources in real time, aggregating the top stories.

Gary Unblinking Stock points us to a collection of dreams about 9-11. They range from the eerie to the funny to the possibly phony.

Bob Filipczak passes along a link to an interview with Jonah Peretti, the guy who tried to get his Nike sneakers personalized (as per Nike's offer) with the phrase "Sweatshop." He then publicized the resulting email exchange with Nike in which Nike was, shall we say, less than enlightened. Now Peretti has started The Rejection Line, a phone service that handles all of your rejection needs. http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=12276

Mike O'Dell sends us to www.ditherati.com where we can read quotes from digital gurus saying stupid things, at least out of context.

Mark Dionne writes about a site he found when looking for help with installing a car radio:


I was amazed how this incredibly professional site can stay in business. There must be some lesson here you can learn from.

They solicit ads but there aren't any on the site. I find this worrying. I've mailed them a message about this. So far, no response. It's a great site, though.

Gilbert Cattoire points us to http://fusionanomaly.net, more or less a blind dating service for memes.

David Wolfe, Marketing Guru, has written an excellent piece about why customers are so damn weird these days. I've posted it at http://www.hyperorg.com/misc/customersdavidwolfe.html.

There's a discussion on an open discussion board supported by Tivo about whether having such a forum is useful to Tivo even though people air every conceivable (and some inconceivable) gripe. Tivo's answer: Absolutely.

Full disclosure: I am a deliriously happy Tivo user. Everyone who watches TV should get Tivo the Liberator.



Ed Yourdon's weblog has an excellent, provocative entry about the implications of the fact that the only one of the four hijacked planes that didn't accomplish its mission was the one in which there was a spontaneous, self-organizing, bottom-up effort to stop it: http://www.yourdon.com/Blog/2002_01_06_archive.html#8601001

Also, be on the watch for Ed's new book, Byte Wars, available in mid-March.

W. David Stephenson writes on a related topic:

...thought you'd enjoy my opus in the Homeland Defense Journal on how we need "Internet thinking," (empowering everyone, closing loops, and linking everything) as much as Internet technology to deal with this problem.

I received a forwarded message (thanks, Chip!) that says that the judge in the Enron proceedings has a serious conflict of interest that has perhaps influenced her decision to hold off on freezing the money Enron executives skimmed before the megacorp flopped. I don't know anything about the apparent author, Brenda Pitts Bennett, but she cites her sources. You can read it on my weblog: http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/archive/2002_01_01_archive.html#8678899

From Chip comes a link to a transcript of a CNN piece (Paula Zahn interviewing Richard Butler, the former UN weapons inspector) on a French book that claims that, well, here's a portion of the interview:


BUTLER: The most explosive charge, Paula, is that the Bush administration — the present one, just shortly after assuming office slowed down FBI investigations of al Qaeda and terrorism in Afghanistan in order to do a deal with the Taliban on oil — an oil pipeline across Afghanistan.

ZAHN: And this book points out that the FBI's deputy director, John O'Neill, actually resigned because he felt the U.S. administration was obstructing...

BUTLER: A proper...

ZAHN: ... the prosecution of terrorism.

BUTLER: Yes, yes, a proper intelligence investigation of terrorism. Now, you said if, and I affirmed that in responding to you. We have to be careful here. These are allegations. They're worth airing and talking about, because of their gravity. We don't know if they are correct. But I believe they should be investigated, because Central Asian oil, as we were discussing yesterday, is potentially so important. And all prior attempts to have a pipeline had to be done through Russia. It had to be negotiated with Russia.

Now, if there is to be a pipeline through Afghanistan, obviating the need to deal with Russia, it would also cost less than half of what a pipeline through Russia would cost...

Chip also points us to truthout.com where I found an entertaining column by Michael Kinsley resolving to end his post-9/11 self-censorship. (At least he doesn't say that if we censor ourselves, we've let the terrorists win.)

Phi Jones sends us to a nicely done but predictable child's eye view of W.

The constant Chip suggests we might enjoy these "principles of popaganda," or at least the introduction. (No, "popaganda" is not a typo.)

The fiery Charles Munat is quite exercised by what he considers my naiveté and sends me to Covertaction.org for an education in our American blindness to the reprehensible acts of our own government. He was set off by my saying that "Terrorism is a tactic adopted by people who can't afford armies, so they fight real dirty" since that excludes — and, thus, he thinks I think, exculpates — big countries that deliberately target civilians, as the US has done with disgusting frequency.

Charles also objects to my calling him "fiery" because he feels it is dismissive. It's not intended that way. His more important point, conveyed through email, is that it is wrong to focus on the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the exclusion of our own government's warfare against civilians, including the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have died because of our embargo.

He is right, of course, that I haven't condemned our Iraqi policy in JOHO while I have talked about 9/11. And, Charles' point is that the Iraqi embargo is just one particularly egregious example of the use of American power at the expense of civilians. Why have I been silent? For the same reasons as everyone else, some good and some bad. Most of the reasons have to do with a sense of powerlessness. For example:

Embargoes never work. Embargoes are a type of siege that target the weak and innocent. Embargoes are wrong, shameful and despicable. We should immediately end the Iraqi embargo. And the Cuban embargo.

Ok, I said what I think is true. Did it work? Was that fiery or just sputtering?

Ultimately, Charles' point gets at the center of the modern dilemma: How can we knowingly continue to live in such an unjust world without doing everything in our power to end the injustice? And I don't know of any good answers to that question. Charles is right to raise it. We are wrong to ignore it. Discuss amongst yourselves ... and then overthrow the existing social order.

Email, Rants, and Hurtful Epithets

Karl Fast is the first with the upgrade:

In your piece about innovation and good ideas, the actual quote is:

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.

Linus Pauling

Pauling was an American chemist and the winner of two Nobel prizes, the Chemistry Prize in 1954 and the Peace Prize in 1962.

Biography of Linus Pauling http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/09924.html

Thank you, Karl.

In response to my query about sites whose existence reminds us of the real value of the Net, Vergil Iliescu cites The Edge where (in Vergil's words) "you can watch some of the famous names in science discuss a whole range of issues." Vergil points out that, unfortunately, it is not much of an interactive site. (Who would decline the opportunity to be guided by Vergil!)

Our piece about innovation reminded Mike O'Dell of his early days as a geek and he tells us this story:

...it brings to mind a thing i built back when i was a lad in junior high. i had a piece of plywood with a collection of knife switches my father had scored from derelict stuff retired by the local electric company. several of them were single-pole-double-throw switches, like 3-way switches on lights. they make contact in both the up and down positions but with different circuits. anyway, i build a wire exploder with a large capacitor and a 350volt photoflash battery. a thin piece of aluminum foil was placed on two electrodes, and then a complex sequence of switching was performed which charged the capacitor, and then discharged it (abruptly) through the aluminum foil with some noise and a bright flash.

you still with me???

this was all done with great flourish, me reading the checklist of actions and my best friend throwing the switches. because of the particular wiring and the SPDT switch, the last step which produced the report from the vaporizing aluminum foil read:

Switch 5b: Throw up to discharge!

see - it's very funny, well, sorta. maybe you had to be there. maybe you had to be a teenage geek with nothing better to do than explode pieces of aluminum foil and read Doc Smith's "The Lensmen" series, but it seemed very cool at the time.

oh well.

And oddly charming story. It confirms my suspicion that the Internet was built by kids who liked to blow things up. And the Internet is blowin' up much of culture real good!

Michael Fredric disagrees with etiology in my oddly charming story about bad customer support from RCN.

I'm not sure you fairly attribute this problem to the "legal system" (whatever that is — I haven't found their offices yet, so I don't know how they feel about it). Seriously, lawyers try to help clients understand subtleties and nuances all of the time, yet marketing managers and CSR supervisors (to paint with a broad brush) frequently don't want to hear about it. Gray is just too difficult to fit into a policy manual, and people can't be measured for their management by objective bonuses if the metric is shades of grayness.

And yes, the lawyers can take some of the blame as well — we, as a profession, must not give up on helping our clients to understand the importance of the subtleties, yet I suspect that oftentimes we give up and take the easy way out. I'm just trying to point out that lawyers are not the only ones contributing to this problem.

Since both my father and father-in-law were lawyers, I usually avoid the cheap shots against lawyers. (Hint: Want to avoid having me take cheap shots? Adopt me.) A good lawyer will behave just as you say, trying to understand the client's largest interests. But it's also true that too often lesser lawyers — in my experience — see their role as counseling absolute risk avoidance.

I heard from Daniel Livingstone, whose page I mentioned in June:

Thanks for the mention.   I'm the person with the webpage that chronicles the building of the full size Lost in Space Robot. I wanted to point out that you included a picture of, and referred to my robot as Robby the Robot.  My Robot is in fact the Model B9 Robot, from Lost in Space.  While both robots were designed by the same person, they are quite different.   This is also an ongoing joke among B9 Robot Builders because most people (well 90% any ways) think that the Lost in Space Robot is Robby the Robot.   Just setting things straight.   I have since revamped the web page and it has a new URL: http://www.B9RobotResource.com

The B9 isn't Robby? Next you'll tell me that Fernando Llamas and Ricardo Montalban are different people or that that adorable little girl on Full House was actually played by twins! Hah!


Evil non-Twin Robby

By the way, if you want a good scare, go to the Olsen Twin's homepage: http://www.olsentwins.com/. World news, a story about Cameron Diaz making $20M for the Charlie's Angels sequel, and periodic letters that are what weblogs would be like if they were written by our personal publicists. (Meanwhile, the Olsen Twins Countdown to Legality Site is down this month because, by February 10, it had already exceeded its bandwidth limit. People are so sick.)

I believe it was Jack Vinson who sent me this, although having lost 5 months of email, I can't easily check. [NOTE: Nope. It was Jim Fenwood. Sorry, Jim!] In any case, it refers to my noting that Small Pieces had broken the 2 million mark at Amazon. (Unfortunately, that refers to its ranking, not to the number sold):

Intrigued by your shamelessly self-promotional drum flogging, I checked out options for preordering "Small Pieces" at Amazon.com.  I was disappointed to find that I couldn't review the book without actually reading it first.  I was allowed, however, to rate it and gave it five stars, sight unseen. 

Searching for other books by "Weinberger" I found several with rankings rivaling Small Pieces:

Practical Capillary Electrophoresis  by Robert Weinberger, weighs in at 505,669

Residential Oil Burners by Herb Weinberger , tips the scales at 538,881.  And who could resist

The Home Depot Big Book of Tools by Kimberly Weinberger at 305,910? 

I recommend this trilogy of Weinbergers for their elegant and ultimately hopeful inquiry into the human condition itself.

Uncle Herb! We've found you at last! Come back home! The house has felt so cold since you left!

(PS: Small Pieces has rocketed to #96,630 at Amazon! Woohoo!)

Bogus Contest: Artists' Conceptions

Chris Worth points us to this illustration from a CNN story:


Artist's concept of a lethal space rock plunging into Earth

He writes:

Am I the only one to find the illustration and its caption somewhat surreal? Dunno why - it relates to the subject matter, and syncs well with American media's unstated aim of converging news and entertainment- but I can't quite grasp the mentality that felt this picture would add value. Then again, maybe I'm just losing touch.

Oh, Chris, it's all of a piece with other recent coverage in CNN:


Your task: Come up with your own photos and sensationalist captions.

Contest Results

Stuart Hillston responds to our contest asking for lines not to say to VC's when trying to impress them:

I recently visited a software developer who started his presentation with:

"What I am about to show you is the most significant step forward in the history of computing since the Van Neumann model of data." It wasn't."

And even if it were, how much VC money was that dumbass Van Neumann guy able to raise, snort snort?

Editorial Lint

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