July 17, 2003

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The Unspoken of Groups: The implicit and ambiguous holds us together.
Social Software: A Coda: Software that respects the unspoken should give us hope.
Webby Peace: A Second Coda: Maybe the unspoken could teach the world to sing?
The Internet Constituency: How the candidates are doing and watching Dean enter the genuine Internet fray
Politic links: Skip this is if you can think it's important to be fair about the Bushies
The Anals of Marketing: Ah, Marketing!
Walking the Walk: Companies look at blogs
Cool Tool: Steal this DVD
What I'm playing: I'm the last one to play Battlefield 1942
Internetcetera: Fun fact-ishness
Links: You find 'em, we go there
Email, Arbitrary Insults, and Suspicious Hacking Coughs: Your messages
Bogus contest: Semantic anagrams


Special Out of Date Issue!

I've been through PC hell for the past couple of weeks. I finally have what seems to be a stable computing environment. (Knock wood, throw salt, eat a healthy breakfast, kiss a Republican). My triply-redundant backups saved my bacon but resulted in some confusion in what got unbacked up to where. Consequently, I have tons of links and email that is all mixed in several large bins. Sorting it all out would further delay this issue. And it would drive me mad.

So, this issue is light on links and your email, and what the ones included tend to be impossibly old. (I have, however, removed the manual links written on yellow stickies before the Web was born.) If yours fell between the data cracks, I apologize, especially since I thought that your comments in particular were witty and/or insightful.


It's a JOHO World After All

I was NPR's "All Things Considered" a while ago talking about the effect of carrying around on our computers complete archives of everything we've ever written. And Christopher Lydon, founder of "The Connection" just audio-blogged me, in three parts: 1 2 3. Actually, I was on The Connection talking about spam not too long ago. Oh, put me in front of a mic and I'll talk about anything.


Progress or Anomaly?

There has definitely been an increase in interest in my consulting business. Is this part of a trend you're seeing too or is it just a blip in the universe of data?


My Life in Linux

I've been real-time blogging my triumphs and tribulations installing Linux. It begins here and then just keeps on going intermittently.


The Unspoken of Groups

This is a recapitulation (by no means a transcription) of some of my comments at the OíReilly Emerging Technology Conference (April 26, í03 in Santa Clara) under the title "What Groups Will Be." It was in some ways a response to Clay Shirky's keynote, which he has posted here. The full version of these comments (i.e., mine) is here.

"Learning from experience is the worst way to learn." Thatís one of the many right things that Clay Shirky said in his keynote yesterday morning. Learning by reading is far preferable, he said. Absolutely. Yet, he said when it comes to the behavior of groups, we keep making the same mistake: we don't come up with a "constitution" early enough.

True. Groups resist formulating a set of rules and mores. But, we can ask why? If we've all have had the same frustrating experiences with groups, why haven't we learned even by experience? Why do we keep making the same mistake?

I want to suggest — eventually — that we fail to adopt group constitutions not because we don't learn but because of the importance — in even the most vocal groups — of the unspoken.


But first some stipulated definitions. For the purpose of this talk, I mean by "group" a set of people who know one another and know theyíre in the group. This excludes "groupings," i.e., people who have something in common but who donít know one another. For example, a demographic slice is a grouping but not a group.

This also doesnít talk about "communities," a word that is important enough to preserve for considered use. I understand a community to be a group in which people care about one another more than they have to. And Iím not going to talk about communities here.


I have two premises today. The first is that groups are really, really important. I believe† theyíre whatís driven the public passion for the Net from the beginning. But I suspect I donít have to talk you into seeing the value of groups.

Second, the Net is really bad at supporting groups. Itís great for letting groups form, but there are no services built in for helping groups succeed. Thereís no agreed-upon structure for representing groups. And if groups are so important, why canít I even see what groups Iím in? I have no idea what they all are, much less can I manage my participation in them. Each of the groups Iím in is treated as separate from every other.

Now, the fact that the Internet is bad at supporting groups comes straight out of the End-to-End principle that recommends that in designing a network you put in as few services as possible so that these services can be invented by people on the "edge" of the network. (By the way, I find it interesting that David P. Reed, one of the co-authors of the original End-to-End paper, is the author of Reedís Law that squarely locates the value of the Internet in its group-forming ability.)

So, if groups are important but are under-served by Internet and if the Internet lets us innovate on the edges, then thereís a market opportunity for group services.

Room for innovation: Friendster

Lots of services have arisen. I want to pick on one — Friendster — because itís new and appealing. Friendster attempts to provide a social network with the special tools loose federations of friends might want. And Friendster has done a good job of providing a reasonable set of those tools in a clean, easy to use interface.

Why do you join Friendster? Very likely itís because a friend invited you. You get an email saying, for example, that Halley Suitt wants to be your friend at Friendster. Thereís a button to press to accept or reject Halley. This is already indicative of the problem. Of course itís good that Friendster requires my permission to be listed as one of Halleyís friends. And with Halley, I have no problem: I know her virtually and I also know her in the real world, and I have no problem saying, yes, I am Halleyís friend. But there are lots and lots of people who might ask me to be their friend for whom the situation is much dicier. There are people who are acquaintances, or relatives, or former college housemates I've been trying to avoid for years. There are people for whom Iíll press the Accept button not because theyíre friends exactly but because theyíre not enough not-friends that I want to reject them, or because I want to impress them, or because I want to kiss their butt in public, etc. Friendster asks me to be binary about one of the least binary relationships around.

Iím not suggesting that Friendster made a poor design decision. Iím suggesting that there is no good design decision to be made here.

Then you join Friendster and are faced with a one-page profile. Itís relatively inoffensive as far as these things go. And I like that it allows free-form entry of text rather than making me choose among explicitly listed alternatives. But, for example, it wants to know my favorite books. I donít have a list of favorite books. When I finish a book, I donít mentally rank it and say "Ah, itís #2057, pushing The Thornbirds down a notch."

Worse, it asks me for my interests. People donít know what theyíre interested in. Oh, I can list four or five things, but Iím interested in many many more things than I could ever list precisely because I donít have a list implicit in me waiting to be output. For example, I listed "weblogs" on the form, but it didnít occur to me to list that I find it interesting that John Wayne evaded service in World War II. And I didn't know I was interested in the history of the telegraph until I read The Victorian Internet.

But we know that these fields arenít really asking me to list my interests. Rather, theyíre asking me to market myself, to pick out the interests and books that I think will present me well and are likely to pull me into circles of others who I might want to meet virtually. But even there, common interests often are precisely not how relationships are struck up. For example, when you meet someone new, not infrequently the conversation begins with a statement about how you've never even considered a particular area: "Youíre studying erotic taxidermy? Thatís fascinating! I never even heard of such a thing." Areas of disjunction often are the most fruitful way to begin a conversation.

Further, as Zephoria suggested when I posted my initial ideas for this talk, the Friendster sign-up sheet assumes that thereís only one me I want to put forward. I should probably have a profile sheet for at least several different meís: the blogger who wants to find other bloggers, the consultant trolling for clients, etc.

The real issue is, I believe, that any profile asks me to make myself explicit. And that canít be done without doing damage to the truth about myself.

Wrong model

But making explicit doesnít just do damage to selves. In general, making explicit does violence to what is being made explicit. It's not like unearthing an archaeological find thatís just been sitting there, waiting to be dug up. Making explicit often Ė usually Ė doing the dirty work of disambiguating and reducing complexity.

The reason is simple. The things of the world exist as they are only within deep, messy, inarticulate, shifting, continuous, fuzzy contexts. This is certainly true of human relationships, although I believe itís also true of all that we find on the earth, waiting in it, or promised above it. The analog world Ė the real world Ė is ambiguous. Thatís a source of its richness. In making a piece of it explicit, we make it less ambiguous and thus lose some of its value and truth.

Back to Clay and constitutions

Clay said in his keynote that we canít keep the technical and social conversations apart. Thatís because the technical, without the social context, is just a pile of silicon. But when he talked about groups creating "constitutions" (explicit rules of behavior, membership and operation), I want to say the same thing: you canít disentangle the constitutional and the social. And this suggests a reason why groups keep making the same mistake of putting off drawing up constitution.

Perhaps groups canít write a constitution until theyíve already entangled themselves in thick, messy, ambiguous, open-ended relationships. First, without that thicket of tangles, the group doesnít know itself well enough to write a constitution. A constitution is descriptive as well as prescriptive. †For example, if a group with the disposition of Slashdot were to come up with a constitution that said "No sarcasm will be tolerated," it would fail. The constitution has to match the groupís nature, but that nature emerges from the thicket of ambiguous relationships.

Second, writing a constitution is an act of violence because itís making explicit rules and mores that were left unstated until some problem arose that pushed the group into the constitution-writing process. We all know how ugly constitutional discussions can get. In order to have such a charged conversation, the group needs a web of good will. That web takes time to develop. So groups generally dare not attempt a constitution early on.

Groups are lessened when they are forced to make their relationships explicit. Sometimes its necessary in order for the group to respond, but explicitness is a wound that only time's messy tendrils can heal.

Social Software: A Coda

If in language and in groups the unspoken is the source of the greatest value; if it is where richness lies; if the tangly, messy, ambiguous, latent, unstated, continuous, context is the reality of who we are as people who share a world, then what software might work for a group?

Social software.

Could a term be more vague? It could be taken to include everything from email to instructions on how to hold hands. But in fact it's coming to mean something more specific: low-tech, easy-to-use tools (many of them familiar) that enable groups to decide for themselves how they will work together. But, "decide" is misleading here since it implies a high degree of explicitness. The most important aspect of social software is that it's emergent.

It's emergent in two ways.

First, it enables social groups to emerge. Social networks are only actual in the first degree. From the second degree on out, theyíre only potential. That is, if I know you and you know her, my social network reaches to you but not to her. And thatís for a very simple reason: you havenít yet introduced me to her. Until you do, she simply isnít part of my social network, no matter what the maps of the One Unified Social Network may make it look like.

Social software enables social networks to become actual (without, by the way, necessarily requiring them to become explicit).

Second, social software enables the social networkís shape to emerge. Rather than, for example, dividing the company into groups, structuring access permissions, and provisioning them with the toolset itís anticipated theyíll need, emergent social software is low-tech and relatively non-intrusive.† It may include such familiar items as chats, mailing lists, instant messaging, weblogs and wikis. The access controls are generally turned off at first. The taxonomy is blank. The webspace is unfurnished and undivided. The group builds what it needs as it needs it. The structure of the groupís tools follows upon the groupís growth into itself. For example, the group may use a wiki Ė a jointly editable web site Ė that starts off blank. As the group develops interests, individuals will add in pages, structuring the workspace. Because the site is editable by every individual, what emerges is a workspace that reflects not the groupís expected interests or its pretended interests or its satisfy-the-boss interests but its real interests...interests it may not even know it had.

Why social software now?

If social software has been around for as long as software has been, why is it becoming a buzzword only now? Is it because consultants see a new wave to ride? Sure, thatís a part of it. But since most social software is relatively simple and inexpensive, this doesnít promise the big consulting bucks that, say, knowledge management did.

Companies that have been burned by groupware and stymied by knowledge management systems are beginning to explore emergent social software. This tells us not only that theyíre looking for something simpler, but that perhaps theyíre willing to make the most basic bargain as corporations, the trade we made when we first got on the Net as individuals: trust for hope.

Five years ago, the idea that idea of putting up a page that anyone can edit would have been laughed at. Whatís to stop vandals wiping out a weekís work with a Control-A Delete? But now wikis look like they make sense.

Five years ago, it was obvious beyond question that groups need to be pre-structured if the team is to "hit the ground running." Now, we have learned ó perhaps ó that many groups organize themselves best by letting the right structure emerge over time.

Such beliefs deliver trust and get hope in return.

But I want to go further. If such a change is occurring ó I say if ó then it, too, is emerging from a greater, implicit whole. And hereís where I place my own hope. Could it be that the this turning of the greatest of the beasts of structure, corporations, could betoken an even more significant change? Could we at last be turning from the great lie of the Age of Computers, that the world is binary? Could we be ready to embrace the most obvious of facts: The earth is continuous, with every edge imposed? The† world is ambiguous, and every thought, perception and feeling is a surface of an unspoken depth?

We can hope. Canít we? Please?

Webby Peace: A Second Coda

Maybe I've been on the Internet too long, but even global politics is beginning to look to me like a Webby thing. The Web has that effect. For example, when I sign a guest registry at a comfy B&B, I think I'm logging in. I think of shelving a book as archiving it. And I've been known to mutter "Damn 404s!" when I hit a dead-end street.

So why not peace?

It seems like it's a forbidden word these days. We're supposed to talk about victory and bravery, although really mainly what we hear about is fear. Whatever happened to peace?

You can say that September 11th happened, but the terrorists are not responsible for our reaction to their terrorism. They would like to be, but they're not.

So. now that we're fighting a perpetual war against terrorism, what type of peace is possible? We're never going to have the old sort again, the type where you have walls high enough that no one ever attacks you. The world's too interconnected for walls to work. So maybe we should look to the interconnected world for an idea of what peace now can look like now.

Maybe peace is the the opposite of walls. If Internet groups only truly coalesce once the relationships become thick, viny, twisty, messy and implicit, maybe that's what peace means in a world too interconnected for walls to work. Person to person, town to town, business to business, government to government, and every possible combination. International agreements, of course, but also every type of interchange of ideas and goods and works of the hand and of the heart. Even with people we don't like or understand. Especially with them. Every chance we get. Every way we can. Because every connection builds peace.

That's something the Internet teaches the real world by reminding us of what I think we've always known.

The Internet Constituency

I wrote a piece reviewing the candidates' web sites and posted it here. Of course, now that we have our first blogging candidate — a real blog, not the weekly column Gary Hart is writing — and now that he's even guest-blogging on Larry Lessig's site, this is all wrong.

It's been fascinating watching the Dean campaign deal with the wild fray the candidate's blog entries at the Lessig's site have unleashed. The comments on the discussion board are all over the place from considered disagreements and thoughtful questions, to outright trolling and name calling. Has any presidential candidate ever in history been dropped into a free-for-all quite like this? Could it be any more different than Bush's scripted press conferences and tailored, crotch-enhancing photo opps? Democracy just got a little real-er.

It'd be easy to read the bluster and invective as a failure of the system. Nah. It is the system. Welcome to the Internet, Governor Dean!

The Web in One Line

In response to a comment questioning, in an unnecessarily nasty tone, whether Gov. Dean was the actual author of the posts at the Lessig blog, Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager, wrote:

Seth - can I ask you something - don't you think that if we were ghostwriting this stuff we would have come up with something better than that?

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: the entire Wed summed up in one line. Take it in the micro sense and you have the Web's Theory of Authenticity with its corollary that Imperfection Is a Virtue. Take it to the macro and you get the Messy Network Axiom with its corollary that Efficiency is the Enemy of Truth.

Dean's got a hell of a campaign staff, webby to its bones. This is apparent not just in the "end-to-end" architecture that staffer Zephyr Teachout describes at Lessig's site but in Trippi's attitude. Put it together and you have the beginning of the real Internet revolution in politics.

Politic links

David Spector, on a mailing list, points us to some parodies of the inadvertently absurd Homeland of Office Security site, Ready.gov.

Richard Smith, who tracked down the Melissa virus creator and caught the hands of Microsoft, RealNetworks and DirecTV in the privacy cookie jar, now has discovered that the Blair administration has been covering up who screwed up its Iraqi WMD info. As Michael O'Connor Clarke explains:

As you'll probably recall - when it was revealed that the dossier was a work of creative cut & paste, the response of the PM's office was to feign ignorance of the source, bluster, obfuscate, blame the spooks, and generally wash their hands of the whole thing.

The Blairies posted the document to the Web as a Word file. Smith looked inside and saw that Word had automatically tracked the changes made by four named users. Michael says: "...as Richard's excellent digging reveals - far from being the spooks, it was people very, very close to the PM who pulled this thing together."

Billmon has knit a noose out of quotes.

Greg Linux Man Cavanagh challenges us to tell which of these two is the original: http://www.gwbush.com/ or http://georgewbush.com/

The Anals of Marketing

Such a good Honda ad! And it only took 606 takes.

According to the British Airways in-flight magazine, Paul Gascoigne took Brut's money to endorse their aftershave but reportedly suggested it was "for nancies." Likewise, Ian Botham took Dansk's money to endorse its low alcohol beer but noted that he wouldn't be drinking the "gnat's piss" himself. Less entertainingly, Helena Bonham Carter told a newspaper that although she was the new face of Yardley cosmetics, she doesn't wear make-up.

When will marketing departments learn that endorsement contracts always should contain the No Truth Telling clause!

AMC movie theatres, where I saw the Matrix: Reloaded®, runs a clip before each moving reminding us that Silence is Golden. Of course, they also slap a "registered trademark" sign on the phrase thusly:

Silence Is Golden®

Oh sure. And I wrote the lyrics to the taunt "Nah nah nah nah nah nah" (Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary wrote the music). Gimme a freakin' break!®

Tom is funny-because-it's-true about the way in which MovieLink's attempt to protect its property makes its property valueless.

Scott Kirsner reports in the Boston Globe on a lawsuit brought by Pause Technology charging TiVo with infringing on a 1995 patent held by Jim Logan and a partner.

Pleeeease don't let them take my TiVo away!

When you call Western Digital's tech support line, one of the options on the telephone tree is "Press 4 if you want scuzzy technical support." Yeah, I know they're mentally spelling it SCSI, but it still comes across as a trifle too frank.

Email subject line: "Breaking News: Save Over 40% on Intel CPUs!"

Look, TigerDirect, you're a fine discounter, but please don't send me any more email with "Breaking News" in the subject unless there's some actual goddamn news in it like a cure for ebola, Ireland rotating 15 degrees clockwise, or President Bush's succubus emerging and announcing that it's taking a few well-deserved days off.

Middle World Resources

Walking the Walk

Blogging is beginning to happen in the two-fisted, gem-hard, knife-edged world of business. At the recent Jupiter conference on business weblogging, a panel talked about what they're up to.

Rock Regan, CIO for the State of Connecticut said the Architectural Review Board, composed of 9 different groups, is using blogs to capture information, discuss stuff, and make decisions. He wants to use blogs for project management.

Paul Perry of Verizon has created private spaces for people to post to as their own private journal. This helped ease them into blogging. "People need to be able to post and make mistakes."

So, that's two. Only an infinite number of companies left to go!

Cool Tool
For the Hyperlinked Organization 

DVD Decrypter does what you think, but does it easier than others I've tried. Although it has plenty of options, it doesn't insist that you set them. Give it half an hour and it will churn through your copy of My Cousin Vinnie, producing a set of mysterious files that you can then use a DVD writer (sw and hw) to copy back onto a blank DVD.

Why would you want to do this? Maybe because you want to keep a copy in your summer home or because you want a backup. Or maybe you want to sell copies on eBay, which would be not only illegal but just plain wrong.

Note, however, that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act probably makes simply the act of decrypting the file illegal, regardless of the use to which you put the copy. (Why photocopiers aren't banned on the same grounds is beyond me.) So, you owe it to yourself and to your country to get yourself a copy of DVD Decrypter and make a couple of copies of Weekend at Bernie's for your personal use. It's your patriotic duty.

What I'm playing

I'm finally getting around to last year's Game of the Year: Battlefield 1942. You play online, randomly assigned to one of two teams for that particular game. The aim is to tag more of the other team than they tag. (By "tag" I of course mean "blow up.") It's set in some of the famous battles of WWII, which I find offensive, but what the heck. It's also damn fun. You choose a class of soldier, which determines your weapon load-out: sniper, tank blower-upper, etc. There are a variety of vehicles around that you can hop in and out of, including planes. Teamwork actually matters in this game. Call it Band of Strangers. And there are some killer mods for it (mods are user-created extensions), most notably "Desert Combat." It's a well-designed game. In other words, fun.


According to a report by the Equal Opportunities Commission (which I believe is a British body), in 1961, the average man spent 15 minutes a day caring for his under-5 child. In 1999, he was spending two hours a day at it, although I'm not sure that beating your kid at Grand Theft Auto for an hour and a half counts as "caring for him."

According to a Harris Poll:

That very large majorities of the American public, and almost all (but not all) Christians believe in God, the survival of the soul after death, miracles, heaven, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Virgin birth will come as no great surprise. What may be more surprising is that half of all adults believe in ghosts, almost a third believe in astrology, and more than a quarter believe in reincarnation Ė that they were themselves reincarnated from other people. Majorities of about two-thirds of all adults believe in hell and the devil, but hardly anybody expects that they will go to hell themselves.

More precisely:

Many people believe in miracles (89%), the devil (68%), hell (69%), ghosts (51%), astrology (31%) and reincarnation (27%)

Since it's a little hard to see how you believe in both hell and reincarnation, that would mean that just 4% of Americans believe that once you're dead, you pretty much stay put. I myself believe in deincarnation: When I die I get to pick one person I don't like to take with me.



Note: These tend to be links from months ago when I first started putting this issue together. See the note at the beginning of this issue.

Paul Philp harvests some good lessons from "The Great CSS Smackdown"

Interesting article in the latest (well, not anymore!) issue of Information Research on metadata. Terrence A. Brooks argues that the old assumptions about information retrieval don't map to the Web:

Web resources are characterized as evolving, not static, resources. They are more like loose-leaf binder services than time-invariant database records.

Further, the article says, if common metadata schema were used, they would be exploited by spammers and other scum-based life forms, which is why Google won't tell us exactly how PageRank is determined.

He concludes that pages on the open Web are "poor hosts for topical metadata."

David Isenberg is poppin' out copies of his telco-maverick newsletter like pepperoni pies at an airport Pizza Hut. And, believe me, that's where the comparison ends. (Well, except that you can't consume either without staining yourself. [Note to self: come up with a less objectionable similarity.])

One new one is here and the other is here. And there are more since I recorded those, so just go here. I particularly appreciated David's summary, in the second of the links, of John Jordan's list of 12 shocks to the recording industry since 1990, reminding us that the industry is, to some degree, scapegoating the Internet.

Chris Green, who wrote the texture-mapping routines for Ultima Underworld, refutes Wagner James Au's attempt to give him credit at the expense of id software, thus fragging Au's review of the book Masters of Doom in Salon. (My comments on the review are here.)

Jack Schofield writes in The Guardian about the emergence of social software at the O'Reilly Emerging Tech conference. It's a good overview of the controversy over the hypiness of the concept.

He also writes about Brewster Kahle's heart-enhancing project, the Internet Bookmobile. Each van has a million digitized public domain books. Writes Jack:

"It takes about 20 minutes to print out a 300-page Wizard of Oz," says Kahle, "and if you have four printers, you can produce up to 30 books an hour. And you can do an edition of one, which is interesting. Harvard says it costs $2 to lend a book out, then put it back on the shelf, so it's cheaper to give them away."

Some real bad taste (but funny) posters are at whitehouse.org (not to be confused with the pornographic whitehouse.com or the differently-pornographic whitehouse.gov).

These may not be aircraft carriers, but they are some big-ass yachts.

Tim Bray on Natural Language Processing:

Even if I could talk to my computer (an idea that's never particularly appealed to me...), would I want to speak to it in full sentences stuffed with subordinate clauses and prepositional phrases? I think I'd want to grunt things like "Yahoo, Berlin weather" or "break line 238" or "spam!".

But why should I have to speak like a computer in order to communicate with it? In fact, I wish my computer would only speak French so that maybe I'd be motivated to make my way through those Learn French at Home CDs I bought 17 years ago, , you know, back when l'email was l'email.

I enjoyed Dan Bricklin's history of the development of VisiCalc. Ah, memories! (Of course, Dan's memories of VisiCalc started before I put my hands on my first KayPro.)

Dan "Walk the Walk" Gillmor is working on a book and he's inviting us to participate:

The book will explore the intersection of technology and journalism. The working title is "Making the News" — reflecting a central point of this project, namely that today's (and tomorrow's) communications tools are turning traditional notions of news and journalism in new directions. These tools give us the ability to take advantage, in the best sense of the word, of the fact that our collective knowledge and wisdom greatly exceeds any one personís grasp of almost any subject. We can, and must, use that reality to our mutual advantage.

Iím doing the typical research: reading, interviewing, thinking, organizing, etc. I think I know a lot already about this subject. Naturally, I also am aware that I could know a lot more. So let's practice what I preach.

To that end, I hope you will become a part of this book, too. You can start by reading the outline...

From the outline, it sounds like the book is going to be the definitive stake in the ground for the new new journalism. And the very process Dan is initiating — open the outline, continue the online conversation after the book is published — points to one of the most important changes the Web has brought to publishing: publishing is no longer a discrete moment of done-ness when the private is made public. We Media is continuous media.

(FWIW, I wrote Small Pieces Loosely Joined entirely on-line which was a great experience, but I got the increment wrong: Do not post drafts every day, especially when you know that what you just wrote is crap that you're going to un-write the next day.)

Have some summer fun and go read Halley's short story.

Esther Dyson is blogging! In fact, I had breakfast with Esther Dyson recently (yes, lucky me) which she blogged. We talked about the importance of ambiguity. (IMO, nothing is more important than preserving ambiguity.)

And Geoff Cohen, my town-mate and recently of the Center for Business Innovation, has also taken up the blogging pen.

In the previous issue of JOHO, I wrote:

[Heidegger] traced this back to our desire not to die, but somehow forgot to notice the fact that we're embodied: no one can die our death for us because no one can first take our shower for us.

In an interview published in Salon, Joss Whedon, talking about why Buffy acted more like a male hero in her last year, says:

It also came from "I've come back from the dead!" This is no small thing, no coming out of the shower.

Omigod, am I on the same psychic wavelength as Joss Freakin' Whedon?

If only!

That old memester, Nicholas "Mr. Bits" Negroponte, is at it again. In an interview in the Boston Globe he says that at an FCC technical advisory committee meeting he responded to the charge that there's no economic model for wifi as follows:

...I raised my hand and I said, "There's not only a precedent, there's a very strong economic model...flower boxes"

Think about it. If you put a flower box outside your house, you're first of all using your own money to buy the flowers. You're hanging it out there. You're doing it for your self-esteem, for the beauty of looking out the window and seeing he flowers, of decorating your house and making it look well. But it also, if everyone on the street puts nice flower boxes out, makes the street look nicer. [Caution: Snobbery ahead] It happens a little bit on Beacon Hill, it happens a lot in European cities.

Now the theory of flower boxes...could be taken to wifi. I put in a wifi system in my home for my own use, but it radiates out into the street. There's no incremental cost for me to let other people use it...If everybody does that, then the entire street has broadband.

Cool analogy.

Here's an interview with me in Hungarian. I don't know what I said, but I renounce it all.

The Happy Tutor explains where he writes his X on the Post-Modern map.

The new issue of Wired has a column I wrote on why leeway is more fundamental than rules. Conclusion: DRM really sucks. No, really.

Plus, you get to see an artist's rendition of my "face."

NASA's Deep Impact crashes into the Comet Tempel 1, in July of 2005. Now you can have your name inscribed on a disk that gets incinerated in the explosion. It's a can't-fail gift for both the complete egotist or terminally depressed loved one! [Thanks for the link, Mary Lu.]

I did this. I don't know why. I actually like Renee Zellweger. It's mean. I'm not proud of myself.

Michael O'Connor Clarke has done some detective work. Having noticed several sites that babble like a brook, he decided to check who owns them. He finds links to Scientology. Yikes.

This reminds me of the shortwave radio stations that do nothing but read lists of random-sounding numbers.

Alex Vallat has useful little utilities, many of them freeware, on his site. I'm using CopyPath that copies to the clipboard the full path of the currently selected item in Internet Explorer.

I'm woefully behind in this area, so I'm sure others have proposed this and then disposed of it. But here's a question for the Moravek/Kurzweilians who think it's obvious that if we model a brain's 100B neurons in software, the computer is conscious: If we were to model an entire body's molecules or atoms in software, would the computer now be alive?

dividing line

Email, Arbitrary Insults, and Suspicious Hacking Coughs

Gary Lawrence Murphy writes about the issue long ago and far away (i.e., the previous one) that talked about bodies and the Web:

... reminds me of the comment from composer Udo Kasemets regarding "synthesized" music ... how is causing a speaker cone to vibrate different from causing a violin body to vibrate? Both are contrived, both highly mathematical if you want to look at them that way, but the mechanics of /how/ the sound is produced is irrelevant to the purpose(s) of music.

ditto with webpresence. you've even said it is a world of ends, it's like Einstein's aether, it's pointless to say light travels /through/ some medium when all we can experientially know is that light is emitted and light is received. The analogy with intelligence is very precise.

The fat-fiftyishness of someone is not apparent in a dark room, or to a blind person — do the blind only deal in metaphysics? My physical stature is not apparent when you look the other way (like the Invisible Boy in the Mystery Men) so what's your point? If I talk to someone across a cubicle divide (remember Carlson the Doorman in Mary Tyler Moore?) are they metaphysical? Nonsense, they are as real as ever because all you /can/ know is that a communication is emitted and that the communication was received, and we /generally/ only know one or the other.

True, in-person does add bandwidth, and bandwidth probably has a minimum (somewhere just short of morse-code) but the only difference is the bandwidth metric, and we all /know/ that too much bandwidth can also be misleading and do more damage than too little.

I think everyone plays the game of imagining their unseen companions, and I think everyone is amused by how seldom their stereotypical expectations are met. I think most of us have also been fooled by appearances.

This line of thought makes bodies irrelevant, and that seems wrong to me. There's a big difference between two people talking over a cubicle wall and communicating via writing weblogs. Writing is a big part of the difference.

Besides, the doorman was named "Carlton" and he was on the first Bob Newhart show, not on the Mary Tyler Moore show. How can I carry on a conversation with someone so uncultured?

Steven Telleen of Giga writes:

I have always thought that true Turing AI would be impossible without some form of "body" awareness. I suspect the same is true for meaning. Can you give me an example of something "meaningful" that does not in some way relate back to existence in the real world?

When we share meaningful insights on the Web, or via email, we are sharing insights that in some way incorporate our sensory experiences and memories. This is not to say that meaning requires either human or even carbon based physicality. It requires that the entity experiencing meaning have an awareness of the relationship of its own underlying physicality and other physical entities. Without that awareness of the physical relationships (and probably the ultimately selfish drive to protect our own physical being) I doubt meaning would have much ... well, meaning.

Yes, the Web is parasitic on the real world. Language itself arises from the real world in which we live. That is indeed a way that the Web is related to the body. And yet, here we have a touching world (the Web) in which touch isn't possible. I don't think that it's just cheap pun. The Web seems to teach us that the mind body split is just fine now that our minds have dragged into the virtual world the bodily context of the real world.

Or maybe your 're right. In any case, I'm going to shut up now. See? I'm shutting up. This is me shutting up.

Kimbo Mundy writes about Nick Bostrom's idea that we're probably living in a simulation:

I'm always amused by philosophers' propensity to model reality on the latest technological breakthrough. At a meta-level, it's clear that this line of reasoning will seem ludicrous in 100 years. Perhaps there should be an reverse statute of limitations (a "statute of application"??) required of all such conjectures. (At least if they don't have good actions scenes.) ;-)

Jamie Popkin writes:

You should check out "The Best Science Fiction of 2002". It has a number of stories that wrestle with the same issues as Bostrom.

Why couldn't this sentence ever have been written about Kant or Hegel instead of fellow philosopher Bostrom? Discuss amongst yourselves...

Ralph S. Ashbrook writes:

In the old days metaphysics included mystical/spiritual possibilities. (Note: when I was a kid reading delicious science fiction of Phil Dick, Leigh Brackett, Ted Sturgeon,† Kutner/Moore, William Tenn and C. M. Kornbluth, I wondered why sf was allowed to speculate about everything in this and other universes except Edgar Cayce and Rudolph Steiner worlds.)

One hypothesis suggested in all seriousness by several ancient traditions is that all times exist simultaneously and that we experience time sequentially by choice and/or design. We don't need Bostrom's proposed simulations if all those possibilities are actually here and now. We thread our way through possibilities that are 'coherent' (except for invading Iraq - I don't know how that got in here!) and ignore the other worlds for the time being.†

I think the sim worry is a red herring.

Oddly, in the possible world I'm currently in, we're all red herrings.

From someone whose name I've lost:

For an intriguing (and shocking) take on the implications of Bostronomy in novel from, read http://www.kuro5hin.org/prime-intellect/mopiidx.htm

Joachim Vansteelant writes, in reference to my example of a nonsensical proposition:

you're more likely an evil Belgian being hypnotized by Amanda Fishfry ... or wait a minute ... nah ... evil belgians don't exist

Clearly Joachim has not seen the latest Austin Powers in which the evil Goldmember is pointedly pointed out as a Belgian. Nor does Joachim seem to recall the completely unrelated Python slur. Perhaps this will refresh his memory, the miserable, fat bastards.

Joe Mislinski writes about my peacenik tendencies:

...This approach points to the naive side of liberal thinking: that there really aren't any bad people out there, and that if you only applied a 'generous and loving' attitude toward others magic can happen.† Bad people and bad nations can 'turn good'.† The fact is, that there will always be both 'bad' individuals and 'bad' regimes in the world, whose behavior can only be modified by the threat of force or its actual use.† Today's difference is that the untrustworthy regime in possession of WMD can 'pop a nuke' in any major city while we take the time to show them the 'loving side of the American character'.†

As a former military officer, I took an oath to 'protect and defend' the constitution of the United States.† Although I am no longer on active duty, I truly believe that the President's pre-emptive approach on Iraq will result in more long-term safety to our nation and children than alternative approaches.† Note that I said it will result in 'more' long term safety - not also that there is no such thing as perfect safety, neither before nor after September 11th.†† The world has always been a dangerous place.

Whoa, big fella! You're attributing to me a bunch of beliefs I don't hold. †I'm in favor of killing terrorists. And going to war when it's justified. And I don't believe everyone can be redeemed. (Well, at a personal level I always hold out that hope, but it's not a reasonable hope to base policy on.) Ultimately (long-term), I think that living generously is the only way to help create a peaceful world. That doesn't mean that we'd never be justified in using the military to kick the tar out of people like Hussein. † And I think you're wrong about the modern "difference." It's not that a country can nuke a US city, because our 15,000 nukes stand at the ready to retaliate. The difference is that now 20 people can bring down our culture with a dozen box-cutters — enormous loss of freedom internally, bullying externally — and force will never prevent all of them. The best way to keep ourselves safe, I believe, is to integrate ourselves back into the world and stop being such selfish, self-centered, bullies...while killing as many terrorists as we can find. IMO, of course.

Mike O'Dell writes:

...composing another piece of email earlier today, i coined the phrase "to be archived into Googletuity" to describe the undead existence of any scrap 'o text posted to a web page, especially if written in haste and therefore a bit purple or otherwise breathless.

Oooh, how linkalicious!

Mark Dionne recounts:

Someone wrote me, and mentioned this quote:

Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous

I hadn't heard it before, so I looked it up with Google. It was surprising how many people it was credited to, but the winners seemed to be Albert Einstein and Doris Lessin. I decided to count who was the winner. Albert got something like 33 hits with the quote written exactly as above. Doris got NONE. But if I look for the "coincidences are" variation, Doris gets about 36. Einstein gets NONE.

This is pretty interesting, suggesting that on one (or both?) branches of the history, there was an early misquote that has been perpetuated very accurately. OR, that both came up with the same quote. OR, that one of them stole it from the other. OR, that both were quoting an earlier source.

Of course, it could just be a coincidence.

dividing line

Bogus contest: Semantic Anagrams

WordWays, the increasingly odd journal of recreational linguistics, has an article by ANIL that consists of anagrams of words that define the words. In the current issue, he only has time for words that begin with A-C. Here are a few:

Ambidextrously = mix at L/R body use

Amphitheater = a hear-them pit

Astuteness = taut senses

Awakened = a dawn "Eek!"

Billiards = I rid balls

Capture = crate up

Circular = I curl arc

Cogito ego sum = micro ego gusto

Cough medicine = Chug, I'm codeine

No, none match the classic "Astronomers = moon starers."

Here are some. And the embarrassing thing is that I can't remember composing these. Some sound a little familiar ("Home Page") but others definitely don't ("extended markup language"). On the other hand, I'm not seeing them in Google. So, if I swiped them from you, I'm sorry. But they're mine now®.

Home Page

Ego amp. Eh.

Extended markup language

Make extra glue gun, add pen.


I.e., Go gang art


Send a city

Candy ties

Wireless network

Links sweet, worse

Swore sweet links

Wee worst linkers

Writers now sleek

Slow writers keen

World of Ends

DOD news: ROFL

Red flows, nod

Do drown self


Don't need


Hopers globe

Help bores go


Social Software

We float across I

O, face ass or wilt

Saw facile roots

Was fair cost. Ole!

Retool as if Wacs

Force toil as was

Have any favorites of your own? Or maybe you can just steal them and then conveniently "forget." Works for me.

And now maybe I can count myself as being all caught up, sort of the way burning down the library catches you up on your reading. I'll try to get the next issue out sooner. Like you care.

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