May 18, 2000

The Sound of JOHO

National Public Radio aired another commentary of mine, this one on the nimbus of information surrounding every object. You can listen to it at:

But keep in mind that to air is human, to forgive divine.


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Faith in Technology

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," wrote Arthur C. Clarke. (Let's leave aside the fact that since "sufficiently" seems to mean "sufficient to make it indistinguishable from magic," the statement is tautologous and empty. Ah, it's nice to know that the years I spent in philosophy grad school have paid off in parenthetical, self-discarding asides such as this one.) Clarke was, presumably, trying to open our eyes to the wonders technology perform, something that we too often take for granted

But there is another side to his comment. Why is advanced technology indistinguishable from magic? It's because only a relative handful of people can understand the advanced stuff — that's what makes it advanced. The rest of us are left to gaze at it, awestruck and stupid. The question is whether *all* of our key technology is getting so advanced that we don't understand any of it. Are we giving up on understanding the technology we use everyday? And, if so, then are we living in an essentially magical world — one that is out of our control?

First, let's dispute part of what Clarke wrote. Technology occurs in a non-magical context. So, a five year old in this culture understands some of the basics about, say, television. She doesn't think there are little people in the box. She does know that "programs" come from some place, that the TV "receives" them, that everyone with a TV can watch the same programs at the same time, that the TV is electrical (whatever that means), etc. Imagine bringing someone forward from the 15th century and showing them a TV; you'd get quite a different reaction, although they'd probably really like anything starringTony Danza.

Likewise, you may not know how a computer works, but you know it runs "programs," that it's doing what it's told, that it's not really thinking, that it stops if you turn it off. (Or does it? Bwahahaha!)

So, we don't confuse the technology we don't understand with magic. In fact, most of us don't confuse magic with magic — for example, we don't think David Copperfield really made the Statue of Liberty disappear (although his former relationship with Claudia Schiffer raises serious issues about his legal arrangement with Beelzebub.)

Nevertheless, as our technology gets more complex, we may not view it as magic, but we are left with a type of mythic understanding that doesn't enable us to fix what breaks or tweak what works. For example, I'd venture that a large percentage of people believe that CDs are like the old LPs, only made smaller and with the grooves encased in smooth plastic. So what? Well, because we don't understand the way in which the data is placed on CDs, we don't how to clean them. That is, we knew to clean LPs by moving a rag in the direction of the grooves, but we can't see the "grooves" in a CD. So, the instruction to clean a CD by starting at the center and moving outwards seems either counterintuitive or random.

As technology advances, our relative understanding decreases, and our helplessness and confusion increases. This has always been true, leading to the rise of professions for "outsourcing" know-how (the farrier, the mason, etc.) and expertise (the VCR repair person, the veterinarian, etc.).

This will continue, of course. In fact, as more of the old technology becomes digital, it becomes (paradoxically, perhaps) less obvious to us; while digital technology deals with information, it encodes information and puts another level of indirection between us and it.

But the Web is changing one of the old assumptions. Expertise is not going to be concentrated solely in the hands of experts. As the simplest of devices become advanced beyond our ability to understand them, the Web itself will provide the expertise we need. The global community contains experts on every piece of technology invented. We can reach the experts and even the inventors through the open Web, we can get answers to our questions, we can learn to live with the technical spells that have us in their grip.

Advanced technology may be indistinguishable from magic, but the Web is providing an open source community of magicians.


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The Physics of Buzz Words

Buzz words have been emerging at Internet speed. By the time you arrive at a conference, the conference chairperson is explaining why the buzz word in the title is obsolete. We barely have time to launder our new cool T shirts before its clever buzz word pun ("I KM, I Saw, I Conquered," "Any Portal in a Data Storm" [examples courtesy of the AutoBlurber 2000]) marks us as pathetic has-beens who don't Get It.

This isn't an accident. It's the law. According to the new Net physics, the Half Life of Buzz Words is:

z = i / c

That is, the cycle time between buzz words (as measured by conference re-namings) equals the importance of a topic divided by the confusion about it. Confusion itself can be expressed as (b * c), or as the breadth of the topic multiplied by the number of consultants explaining it.

When Confusion is divided by Marketing, we get the Law of Inverse Buzz Words which results in buzz words that mean the opposite of what they say. For example, Web directories such as Yahoo! and Lycos started out as a place you go to in order to go somewhere else: you do your search, find the site, and kiss Yahoo! or Lycos goodbye. But it slowly dawned on these sites that they make money by keeping you on their site, not by sending you away. They accordingly started adding more content and services so you'd never have to leave. They became, they told us, "portals," although a portal really is a place you pass through to get somewhere else. In fact, these directory sites used to be portals and only ceased being portals once they said they became portals.

Similarly, personalization systems provide fake messages addressed to individuals or classes of individuals. They in fact know nothing about us except what we've exposed — by accident or on purpose — in our travels on the Web. They wouldn't know us from Tipper Gore if they met us in jailhouse shower. They're profoundly impersonal and even de-personalizing...which is why they are such a powerful proof of the power of the Law of Inverse Buzz Words.

There are also laws covering the genetic recombination of buzz words, the only way to explain the existence of terms such as "email-enabled collaborative knowledge management portals" and "enterprise document management," but we'll save this advanced topic for another day. Suffice it to say that the scientific community is confident that it can prevent these mutant forms from escaping from the labs and entering our delicate biosphere, wreaking lord knows what havoc.

Let us pray they're right.


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PC/Computing: The long and winding road to Hell

Once PC/Computing was an innocuous magazine for enthusiasts of personal computers. Then, inevitably, it started fancying itself the Businessperson's Pal, a compendium of advice about printers, scanners and office applications. It was still fun, if not as fact-packed as PC Magazine and not as buyer-friendly as Computer Shopper. But then it decided it had to change its ways and become a lickspittle lackey of Management. We can practically smell the scent of fear at the series of offsites that led to this change, as waxy management types looked at two oversize newsprint tablets, the first showing their dismal ad numbers, the second showing the number of dollars in the "business market." "Imagine we only got 1% of that market. It'd be billions of dollars!," says their leader. Then, with a desperate feeling of happiness like that of a condemned man whose firing squad has at the last minute taken a break to watch Seinfeld, the managers made the "tough decision" to go for broke in the business market. The renaming experts were called in ("Howdy, dude. We're the team that came up with the 'whitingest' in 'Colgate Whitingest Ever — With Baking Soda!'. And before she met us, Oprah was named Oompah."), the logo designers worked straight through the Patriot's Day Weekend, and the PR people wrote press releases galore and passed them out to other PR people. The result? Smart Business magazine (Motto: "Business? That smarts!").

Now, there's nothing wrong with trying to keep your fingers attached to the edge of the cliff. But Smart Business has taken a particular odious approach. Their first issue's cover — as reported in a previous issue of JOHO — said:

Privacy: What Every Business Needs to Know
- Why you should snoop on your employees
- When it's ok to spy on your customers
- How today's technology makes it easy

Now the new issue is out. And there, on the cover it says, in 128pt type:

The New Business Ethics: Cheating, Lying, Stealing
Technology makes it easy.
- Get inside your customers' heads
- High-tech spying

The inside isn't as bad as this. In fact, in small print on the cover they say "(here's how to protect your company)". But the fact that they think the big-print headline will sell copies to Mr. and Ms. Businessperson is quite depressing. Jeez, they might as well put girlie pictures on the cover to sell issues. (Please don't give them this idea or we're likely to see next month's cover touting "Miss May - A Webmistress who wants to make your eyeballs sticky!" Yech.)

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Late News: Spainards buy Lycos!
Third Rate Search Site Still Sucks!

Flash! Lycos — The Little Search Engine that Sucks — after failing to be acquired by USA-Networks last year has now been rejected by the 12 largest telecommunication companies. Instead, it's been fobbed off on the Spanish telecom, Telefona. Said Bob Davis, LieCo's CEO, of the deal: "It positions us to be the leading Internet company in the world." Asked to explain this recklessly stupid statement, Mr. Davis replied: "It's because, um, before this deal the Spanish-speaking world had no access to Lycos. No, that's not right. Um, because translating our UI into Spanish makes us the leading global Internet company? Um, no, that can't be it. Wait, I know! ... Gosh, hey, did I show you my new Rolex?"

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Recently received email:

From: HotOffice Technologies, Inc.
Subject: Keep Your Team Motivated!

HotOffice Bring Your Team Together Contest! **********************************

Dear David,

Congratulations! You had 0 new team members log on to your HotOffice between March 16 and April 30, when the HotOffice "Bring Your Team Together" contest officially ended. You may have already earned 0 for adding 0 team members.

All you need to do now to remain eligible for the cash prize is: Make sure all your users log in on a weekly basis through May 30...

So, come on, team members! If none of us log on every week through May 30, we'll divide the winnings evenly! Why, that comes to practically **overflow: division by 0** per person!

From a recent Sun press release:

"By combining our powerful Sun StorEdge tape libraries with the reliability and performance of VERITAS NetBackup, we are delivering an integrated solution optimized to meet the exploding backup needs of our enterprise customers," said Denise Shiffman, vice president of marketing for Sun Network Storage.

Hmm, maybe my exploding backups explain why I have 0 team members at HotOffice...


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Links to Love

Mark Hurst points us to the highly publicized study in PR Week that found that 25% of PR professionals say they lie on the job. What the survey doesn't say, however, is that 98% of PR professionals lie on surveys, for we all know that 25% is waaay too low...

Note the oddly appropriate directory where the html file lives.

Joel Gray points us to an article about Napster by Bill Burnham in [email protected] Week that echoes much of what we've been saying about the importance of this class of software. It's a damn good article.,5859,2562985,00.html

John Harrington points us to Microsoft's attempt to censor and slashdot's very slashdotty response:

Dana Parker recommends an article by Casey Walker in FeedMag about Extropians — people who take the denial of death to its physical conclusion — that is beautifully written and rich with ideas. I liked it a lot. For example, he writes "An ear that can hear does not necessarily listen." Right on, bro! As a culture we've spilled oil tankers of ink writing about perception but have spent very little time on attention. Surprising. Or maybe not since we have some hope of understanding (and even modeling) perception, whereas attention is a deeply dark mix of neurons and interest. Good reading:

Maura "Chip" Yost has found another way to generate marketing phrases:

Sharon Stern writes:

... this seems like the most conversationally-inviting portal (actually, connectivity center) idea I have seen:

The Open Directory Project uses the open source movement approach to build a Yahoo!-like directory. 1,754,120 sites - 24,860 editors - 265,608 categories. And they still don't list JOHO!

Several of you wrote to point us to, but we Cluetrain guys had already heard from Matt Linderman of the site itself. Matt writes: is a fictional e-services company that brings to life much of what's ridiculous/sad/hilarious about the current web climate.

Yup. It's a funny site.

Cool Tool
For the Hyperlinked Organization

The truth is that I like Microsoft Office. Oh, sure, I'd prefer to have Word expose the structure of documents for direct manipulation, and PowerPoint would be 500% better if it had 5% improvement in its animation capability, but over all I'm a happy user.

So, it was with mixed feelings that I downloaded Sun's StarOffice, 65MB of It-Ain't-Microsoft office power. I was unlikely to switch forever, but I was hoping that it'd be a viable alternative. (If you want to see how much of a religious bigot a Linux fanatic is, ask her or him how good StarOffice is. If s/he says: "Hey, there's no shortage of applications for Linux! StarOffice does everything MS Office does," then it's time to flee before you find yourself rectally probed to test your Linux Purity.)

After some initial install glitches, I fired it up, impressed with the range of office programs that come in the bundle, all free. I was expecting some kissing cousins of MS Office. I wasn't expecting StarOffice to eat my Windows desktop, with no way to access my files, my desktop icons or even my task bar except via StarOffice's replacements of them. A queasy feeling set in, since replacing Windows wasn't what I had bargained on. With trepidation I started up the presentation software and, without any futzing, opened a PowerPoint 2000 presentation. It imported a lot of the animations and formatting, but had enough glitches to make me think that starting from scratch was probably a good idea.

That sealed the deal. I exited StarOffice rapidly ... and it crashed Windows but good — serial blue screens of death with occasional tearing noises. I will likely leave it on my disk to think about what it's done until 6 months from now when I'll remove it to make room for Quake IV: Assault on the Amish.

I'm sure many of you are quite happy with StarOffice and I'm sure I'll hear from you. But you're not getting me back in there. It scared me.



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Email, Slips and Cruel Asides

Larry Fitzpatrick found an article in the Wall Street Journal (4/25), headlined "China Looks to Linux as a Way Not to Get Locked Into Windows," that says:

China, one of the world's fastest growing computer markets, may use the Linux operating system as an alternative to Microsoft's Windows before the company's programs become ingrained in the country's economy. In early January an official reported that Communist leaders plan to use a state-developed operating system based on Linux technology called Red Flag instead of Windows. ... Technologically young, China is not yet dependent on the Information Age, and in that respect is one of the few countries still able to choose systems other than Windows.

Ah, the late adopter advantage!

BTW, JOHO is in development talks with RedHat to produce a version of Linux called "Black Flag" ("It kills bugs dead") that will be incredibly stable because dissident programs that engage in disruptive behavior will be confined to isolated memory blocks where they will be re-educated through the virtue of physical labor.

Bret Pettichord comments on our new, shorter, more frequent version of JOHO and adds:

...i am glad to see that you are now using a stable URL now. Previously it was always and thus became invalid as soon as the next issue came out, punishing us for our sloth.

But don't you think you deserve to be punished for your sloth, you naughty naughty boy?

The grisly truth is that I have always posted the current issue in two places: in /current/current.html and in the backissuesdirectory under a name such as joho-may15-00.html. This is all part of my grand plan, conceived when I first designed my site, to do things as stupidly as possible and to keep doing things stupidly until fixing the site would require more work than it could possibly be worth — thus following the design principles that have guided such projects as Windows 98 and Western Civilization.

The always perspicacious Prof. Robert Morris comments on our article about the pleasures of working the booth at a trade show:

liked your booth-work piece, but, ummm, you don't usually leave irony un-remarked upon. I refer of course that you seem to be enthralled with the very things about selling that I thought only the clueless were supposed to worship.

The piece was irony-free because it was sincere. (I admit that sincerity is easily confused with cluelessness and I should perhaps have included some post-modern irony to flag the fact that I wasn't being ironic.) I *like* selling if it's based on genuine enthusiasm for what you're flogging. And when that's the case, you're not selling at all — you're talking with someone with similar interests who's looking for help.

Of course, I'm just being ironic....or am I???

Chris Kempton comments on the article about the VW Cabrio ad:

So someone else thinks that it's a brilliant bit of film-making! ... Nothing fancy, no goofy transitions or whiz-bang compositing. Just beautiful images, edited perfectly to tell a complete story...

This is something that people rarely address while praising open distribution methods like Napster...: How will unlimited free distribution affect the art being distributed?

Are we getting closer to seeing beauty like this without the puke of "Drivers Wanted" at the end? Or is VW money the only thing that can make it happen? ...

My guess is that great art will still be out there, it will just be harder to find.

My guess is that advertisers will become patrons of the arts, commissioning short short short works with only a logo-puke at the end: "The Mona Lisa ... brought to you by the good folks at the Medici Foundation."

Laurie Kalmanson responds to my article on smart bar codes that point to Web addresses:

we also now have ads on apples ... have you seen those ads on fruit at your local supermarket? gak.

Next: apples with ads printed in edible ink. Why not? It's an idea just waiting to happen. Sigh.

Tony Cocks tried out one of our "cool tool" recommendations:

...the first time I followed the link to have a look see at Anticrash 2000 my machine crashed. Guess what my OS is, uh huh......Windows 98! Weird? Coincidence? Bad juju? We'll probably never know.

Who are you calling a bad JewJew? And what's with the phonetic spelling?

The Thread that Dares Not Say Its Name, aka, The Thread that Will Not Die continues, as Mark Dionne finds an URL with a dirty word in it that offers you a free email account. (Please keep in mind that the original quest was for URLs with inadvertently dirty words them. Nevertheless, we are amused.)

Time to change your email address. See:

Oh, charming. You write to your mother with that keyboard?

Several of you, in the wake of the I-Love-You virus, passed along the following:

Subject: Unix variant of "love bug"

This virus works on the honor system:

If you're running a variant of unix or linux, please forward this message to everyone you know and delete a bunch of your files at random.

Oh, very funny, you smug Linux bastards! We hapless POWs (Prisoners of Windows) may get viruses, but at least we have to pay for the privilege of being helpless in the face of our own operating system. Wait, that didn't come out right...


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Bogus Contest: Elian Moments

Jay Cross sends us to a site that puts the Elian Gonzales Retrieval Moment to the beat of the "wazzup" song (commercial?) that I don't really understand. Thus, I actually didn't really get what's going on at but you may and you may be amused.

In any case, Jay's link came at an propitious time since I'd just been thinking: Who could have predicted that a boat would capsize, drowning a mother and washing a 6-year-old up onto the US shores and that the boy's relatives would refuse to give him back to his father on the grounds that it's better to be a virtual orphan than to live in Cuba? Who would have predicted the media fooforaw that ensued?

Who? Well, anyone with enough imagination to write a movie of the week, i.e., probably any of us. And if we just put a little effort into it, we should be able to come up with plausible scenarios for future media frenzies — although, they have to be web-based, this being JOHO and all. For example:

Movie of the Week Title


The Crashing of Darla

A crash bug in Linux brings down a hospital's infrastructure, resulting in a young girl dying. The parents sue Linus and the entire Open Source community.

Free Day

Hacker wipes out a single day's records of ecommerce transactions.


Hacking the Gene (starring Gene Hackman)

Hackers steal the decoded human DNA and publish it, saying they are "reclaiming" it. Terrorist scientists ... yada yada yada

We look forward to your own movies of the week, um, predictions.

Bogus Results


David Allen comes up with a run-on title as per a previous contest:

sharewarezade—in which a comely coed must provide a cruel and relentless Napster user with increasingly esoteric mp3 files, or face being snitched on and booted off Columbia U.'s network.

Jacky Eacott also has some to suggest:

Close encounters of the Amazon kind: page-spitting lesbians from another planet show earth-bound heteros a new way to do business. Welcome, sisters!

The good, the bad and the joho: hyperlinked outlaws in a Clinttrain Manifesto showdown prove just how quick on the draw you have to be these days. Business practice puts its poncho on and nobody says a word. (Well, not many.)

Michelle Casey enters the December 25 Bogus Contest that asked for ambiguous URLs. She points us to the A.G. Edwards site: "Makes me think of Robin outgrowing Batman's patronage," she writes.

Mr. Anonymous (that's not his real name) also wants to play and points out a site that has a happily ambiguous name. What, he asks, would you think the site lets you exchange?

Well, we wouldn't exchange any of you for all the rats in China! No, really, we mean it!


Editorial Lint

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

Requests to be removed from the JOHO mailing list, should be sent to [email protected]. There is no need for harshness or recriminations. Sometimes things just don't work out between people.

Dr. Weinberger is represented by a fiercely aggressive legal team that responds to any provocation with massive litigatory procedures. This notice constitutes fair warning.

Any email sent to JOHO may be published in JOHO and snarkily commented on unless the email explicitly states that it's not for publication.

The Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization is a publication of Evident Marketing, Inc.

For information about trademarks owned by Evident Marketing, Inc., please see our Preemptive Trademarks™™ page at