David Weinberger's Weblog. Let's just see how it goes.
Monday, December 31, 2001
Doc reminds me that I published a new issue of my newsletter this morning. Yeah, I remember now! In it you'll find some previously blogged stuff PLUS reader mail and link contributions. And a Bogus Contest. In fact, here are the contents:
12/31/2001 02:33:19 PM | PermaLink
Kevlar's Good but Dupont Sucks(tm)
[Thanks to T. Byfield for pointing this out on a mailing list.]
12/31/2001 02:23:01 PM | PermaLink
Philosophical Death Match
RageBoy, in an email, points to an entertaining book review by Jim Holt in the NY Times. The book, Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a 10-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers by David Edmonds and John Eidinow, provides the context for a famous encounter between Wittgenstein and Karl Popper in 1946. The book sounds excellent, the review is very well done, and — as Chris points out — be sure not to miss the snarky last line.
12/31/2001 02:16:45 PM | PermaLink
(s& is the HTML code for ASCII character "s".) Use this in the HTML version of a page and the browser will render it correctly as "[email protected]" but - and this is the important part - programs scouring sites for spammable email addresses won't recognize it as an address (unless they wise up).
12/31/2001 08:02:22 AM | PermaLink
In response to our call for holiday Flashes that deserve to die, Israel Orange writes:
While hunting down some drivers for a friend's flaky hardware I wandered onto NEC's website a few days ago, and the flash animation they threw at me struck me as "tedious, pretentious, empty and boring" as you say. Also completely unbearable and totally hideous and all kinds of other negative appellations. My god. They truly and really oughtta shoot the suit that thought this was a good idea. I volunteer.
Ah, the miracle of clip art!
12/31/2001 08:01:26 AM | PermaLink
One Line Per Life
Being your completely predictable liberal, humanist type of person, my initial reaction to today's article in the Boston Globe listing the notables who died this year was: How terrible to have your life reduced to a single phrase! For example:
What rich lives are thus reduced to a short string of words. How sad! How wise and compassionate a person I must be to be bothered by this! Yada yada existential yada.
Of course, what's really bothering me is that I haven't done enough with my life to be able to reduce it to a four-word phrase. Yes, I'm suffering from a classic case of Obituary Envy.
12/31/2001 07:53:47 AM | PermaLink
Sunday, December 30, 2001
50 Fond Farewells
Gary Stock writes:
12/30/2001 11:43:51 AM | PermaLink
J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, today married anesthesiologist Neil Murray. The private Rowling issued no photos, but the happy couple were caught on film several months ago:
Immediately after this picture was taken, however, a gust of wind blew back the good doctor's hair:
For purposes of creepy comparison:
12/30/2001 11:31:32 AM | PermaLink
Chris RageBoy Locke has sent an email to a few of us pointing out an excellent article in the NY Times by Edward Rothstein about recent books about Thomas Kuhn, author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) and the guy who - damn his eyes! - introduced the phrase "paradigm shift." The article talks about Steve Fuller, a sociologist who has written a philosophical biography (which I have not read).
The Times article summarizes Fuller's position:
Fuller's attack (or the Times' representation of that attack) seems off base. Kuhn was an historian of science. He found a paradigmatic movement in that history. The fact is that Newton, for example, smashed the old paradigm through an intellectual breakthrough so radical that it can only be called an act of visionary genius. (I just finished Newton's Gift by David Berlinski, an oddly ornate but quite effective effort to explain the magnitude of Newton's genius to those like me whose math is 400 years behind the times.) Within the bounds of the new paradigm, science becomes a more-or-less democratic clamor of competing ideas. The fact that science operates within - conforms to - a paradigm discovered by a (usually) dead white man may make us uncomfortable politically, but I think Kuhn's description (notice, not "prescription") is brilliant and can only be refuted by an hypothesis that accounts for the facts of the history of science as well as his does. (The Times points out that Fuller's critique is not redolent of historical facts.)
Now, having said that, Fuller is certainly right that science is becoming democratized and messy, no little thanks to the Web. What started as a way for scientists to exchange information is sapping the power from the scientific authorities, for the old guard worked by limiting access to information - could your article make it into Science or JAMA? - and now, of course, we not only have unlimited access to information, but that access is causing new scientific communities to form the way rocks cause eddies in streams.
But does this mean Kuhn is wrong? Not in the essence of his insight. Paradigms are second-order information. They frame the eddies. They determine which questions are sensible to ask and which issues are urgent. They enable science to proceed with its daily tasks. They require, by definition, an act of genius to be born. But perhaps we have entered a time when multiple paradigms can exist.
The Web is ready for this but the real world isn't ... and the funding comes from the real world.
[Note 1: This doesn't touch on the truly sensitive topic: can one paradigm be said to be closer to the truth than another or are all paradigms equal? Don't even get me started!]
[Note 2: RageBoy has found a really interesting article by the philosopher Don Ihde about why there aren't "science critics" equivalent to art critics. RB mentions this over at Gonzo Engaged where he also reminds us that Jeneane is up to some important blogging.]
12/30/2001 08:59:19 AM | PermaLink
Saturday, December 29, 2001
Killing the Too-Clever Clipboard
If you want to get rid of the annoying clipboard in MS Office that pops up when you all you want to do is a two-finger copy and paste, you "just" need to edit a line in your registry. Microsoft has directions here. (If you're using Office XP, it seems likely that you can replace the 9 with a 10 when you're browsing the registry.) Obviously, editing your registry is a dangerous undertaking, you should make a backup, don't come whining to me, etc. etc. etc. [I found this tip in the Lockergnome discussion forum. Thanks!]
You may also be able to set this using the excellent x-setup tweaker from Xteq.
12/29/2001 10:45:19 AM | PermaLink
Events, Stories, Life
Jennifer Balderama is blogging about finding her father floating face down while swimming in Hawaii. She leaves us hanging about how he's doing because no one at that point knew what was going on with him.
She's a terrific writer. She tells the story well. It makes you wonder anew at the fact that life comes in stories.
[Jennifer, I know it's not just a story to you. I'm sure everyone who reads your blog wishes you and your dad the best.]
12/29/2001 07:20:51 AM | PermaLink
Due to the events of the past few months, the meaning of the universe has been downgraded to 39.
12/29/2001 07:06:04 AM | PermaLink
Friday, December 28, 2001
No reason we can't use both as estrangers become equaintances, then epals, and finally, as efamiliarity breeds econtempt, e-nemies.
12/28/2001 01:59:04 PM | PermaLink
In the ironic spirit of self-promotion, and assuming that cross-blogging is frowned upon, I won't reproduce here my response there (which is basically that, no, you can be gonzoidally engaged without taking yourself as your subject).
Meanwhile, I am so stricken by a neurotic, self-involved self-effacement that only in this meta-meta-meta guise can I bring myself to note in public that the first early readers' comments (= "blurbs") have started coming in for my book. I should really get over getting over myself and just print them here, don't you think? Does someone have the name of a therapist with some spare cycles and a flair for the absurd?
12/28/2001 09:11:37 AM | PermaLink
Ev on Weblog Stats
Consider it put - although putting out a word in this obscure weblog may be more like putting out a fire.
But here's the big news: Ev expects to have money soon! Perhaps he has insider information that the world is about to become a just and fair place...
12/28/2001 08:58:05 AM | PermaLink
Google the Good, Part Whatever
John Loverso has found an undocumented command that lets us ego search UseNet while excluding our own messages:
Another correspondent on the mailing list where John produced this info, Anton Sherwood, refined it so that you don't exclude messages from other people named "Loverso":
loverso -author:[email protected]
Note to the Dumb: This works with names other than Loverso.
12/28/2001 08:52:15 AM | PermaLink
Thursday, December 27, 2001
A Christmas for Everyone
Christmas is too cool a holiday to confine it to Christians. We ought to reformulate it as a secular two-day holiday, Dec. 24-25. On the 24th, we'd all decorate our homes with lights, reflect on peace, get together with the family, exchange presents, drink eggnog, kiss strangers under mistletoe, etc., just because those are fun things to do near the Solstice. It'd have nothing to do with Jesus, mangers or myrhhhhh. Then, on the 25th, the Christians could celebrate Christ's birth by going to church, praying, and engaging in activities more spiritual than whining about misfired gifts before heading out to an afternoon movie. The rest of us would have a second day off.
So, I guess my new party platform is: "Let's get the Christ out of Christmas." In fact, let's call the new two day federal holiday "Mas." Got the Spanish connection and everything.
George Lyon responds:
It's like seeing your own unconscious habits reflected in your children's behavior. Embarrassing.
12/27/2001 08:54:51 AM | PermaLink
Ideas about the Universe I'll Die Not Understanding (Or: Why a Little Knowledge Is a Stupid Thing)
I've read a lot of books that try to explain modern physics to laypeople (i.e., morons like me who can't do the math). As a result, I am in the position of a goldfish stumped by the concept of glass.
Here are some of the questions I will never understand. I mean never. So please don't write to me thinking that with one more explanation I'll finally get it. I won't. I started down this path when I was about 13 by reading a book Einstein wrote for laypeople. (Anyone know the book I have in mind? I can't find it at Amazon.) As with every book I've read, I understood it paragraph by paragraph and came out with a set of concepts I could mouth but not really make sense of. So, unless you think you can do better than Einstein, don't try. (Nah, I know this won't stop you.)
And, yes, I do know that the big misunderstandings I'm about to reveal betray my ignorance. No need to remind me of that. This is all part of the process of preemptive self-embarrassment that is the aim of my working life and, indeed, of most of my waking life.
1. We all know that if we were to send a twin into space in a space ship, less time would have passed for her than for her twin on earth; if she traveled sufficiently close to the speed of light, she would find that her twin had aged many years more than she had. But, since Einsteinian space has no privileged frame of reference, we could just as well describe the event as the twin in the space ship staying still while the earth (and the rest of the universe) zoomed out from under her. Under this description, the twin in the space ship should age more. Wazzup?
2. Is Indeterminacy an ontological or epistemological statement? Or is it really not a problem with observation but a problem with thinking that there are such things as particular moments of time? That is, an observation has to be an observation of something at a particular moment. But if there is no quantum of time, no atom of time, then indeterminacy isn't caused by observation but by our assumption that there are moments. For example, if you ask me the exact position of a car on the highway between any two seconds, the answer will be a short strretch of road with the car somewhere in between. As you decrease the specified amount of time, the length of road gets shorter by the answer is still a mushy "Somewhere between A and B." We never get to a precise answer unless we can name not a stretch of time but a precise moment. No moments, no precision. Discuss amongst yourselves. [Note: A famous astrophysicist at MIT tells me that this idea is crap. Obviously, he just can't keep up with my breathtaking insights.]
3. Do strings actually have shape? Or is that just a convenient way to describe them because it allows us to talk in terms of vibrations? Do they actually vibrate or is that merely a way of talking about properties describable only in mathematics? Please confine yourself to a Yes or No. Thank you.
4. If the light is on in your closet and the door is closed, when you turn off the light the closet gets dark because the light inside bounces around until it finds the crack and "escapes." That's my understanding, anyway. So, if I had a dark room with no openings, would it stay lit? Further, if I'm in the darkened closet with the slit at the bottom, why doesn't an equal amount of light come bouncing in as comes bouncing out?
5. Won't someone please feed Schroedinger's cat?
12/27/2001 08:38:28 AM | PermaLink
Right on, Ev!
Hackers are jerks. I just wanted to go on record with that.
12/27/2001 08:36:07 AM | PermaLink
Wednesday, December 26, 2001
I, along with 250,000 other people, subscribe to Lockergnome, a daily email newsletter, because it's got tons of Windows tips and pointers to useful downloads. Also, the author, Chris Pirillo, has more personality than he knows what to do with - a lot of groansome puns balanced by a wide range of enthusiasms. Lockergnome also has its geeky side, and its newsgroups are a great resource if you have questions about XP, Linux, Mac, games and two dozen other topics. (You're also allowed to participate if you actually have answers, or so I'm told.) Sure, there are lots of other forums, including UseNet (which should be experiencing a spike in usage now that Google has enabled us to find stuff there again), but I've found the Lockergnome XP forum in particular to be responsive, non-spammed, and free of Only-A-Moron-Would-Ask-Such-a-Dumb-Question replies.
12/26/2001 09:53:48 AM | PermaLink
Tuesday, December 25, 2001
A World without Gray: Why Customer Support Sucks
I called RCN a year ago shortly after they installed my brand new cable modem account. "Look," I said to the customer service rep, "I know your support stops where your wire stops, but I just spent 5 hours trying to get my Linksys-based home network running again and I'm wondering if you can tell me if it can be done."
"Sure," said the rep, cheerily. "I have one at home."
"Great! Is there some trick to getting it to work?"
"Um, yes, but I can't talk with you about it."
"But there's some one thing I have to do?"
"Can't you just blurt it out?"
"These calls may be monitored."
"Ok, I understand that, and, for the record, you've been great and have followed the guidelines. Is there a Web page that talks about how to do it?"
"Not that I know of."
"Can you email me the trick?"
"I'm sorry, but I'm not allowed to help you with this."
Obviously, this rep was going out on a limb just by saying that RCN cable can be home-networked via Linksys. It was RCN, Inc.'s fault that the call went wrong. Their message that "This call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes" should say "We may listen in to make sure our reps aren't using their own judgment. Remember, here at RCN Customer Support, customer support comes second and protecting ourselves comes first."
The problem isn't just that companies are afraid of the legal implications of going beyond the smallest range of responses. It's that the legal system has scared the gray out of the system. Had the rep said, "Look, we don't officially support home networking and there's nothing in the RCN playbook about this, but I have one at home, and here's something you might try..." I would have understood — from the words and their context — that this wasn't an officially sanctioned RCN procedure for which I could hold them responsible. Our language accommodates conditionals and qualifiers. Our legal system doesn't.
Even better, I wish RCN had set up a customer-to-customer support board. I'd be happy to share the PPPoE tip. And I bet the support guy would have already logged on from home with step-by-step instructions on how to get a home network going.
1. After another day of trying, I randomly discovered that you have to unclick the PPPoE box on the Linksys prefs page.
2. RCN Support now answers questions about home networking with the Linksys box.
12/25/2001 09:08:07 AM | PermaLink
Monday, December 24, 2001
Cho Cho Cho, Merry Christmas!
Binyamin Jolkovsky, editor of the Jewish World Review, is passing around an article by Michelle Malkin that says that Ron Sims, county executive in Seattle, deserved the pummeling he took for suggesting that public employees avoid the phrase "Merry Christmas" or any other greeting specific to a particular faith. Malkin says that Sims was wrong to try to exclude religion from the public sphere.
Humbug! It's not a big deal - not big enough to get all snippy and self-righteous when someone wishes you a cheery "Merry Christmas!" - but it is rude and thoughtless to assume that everyone is of your faith. It's more troublesome if the person is representing our government. Sims was, in my opinion, 100% correct.
No, it's really not a big deal. It's worth a memo or an email reminder, but not worth a reprimand. Personally, if I'm feeling feisty, I respond with a festive "And a happy Chanukah to you!"
And, while we're on the subject, if you're Christian, I hope you have a warm and restorative Christmas.
12/24/2001 04:33:57 PM | PermaLink
We went to see Jimmy Neutron last night at a National Amusements brand theatre (tagline: "Applying Real-World Stickiness to the Bottom of Your Shoes"). The children in the audience (including ours) enjoyed it. I myself was nationally amused by a screen that came on before the lights went down: "This pre-feature entertainment is brought to you by SomeCo." [Unfortunately, I was so dazzled by the concept that I forget who the actual sponsor was ... not a hearty endorsement of this form of sponsorship.] There then followed three commercials, followed by a number of movie trailers.
Yes, the commercials now are being sponsored. Can't we please take this up one more meta level and sell sponsorships of sponsorships? "This pre-entertainment sponsorship is being sponsored by Bayview Ford where we deliver on the idea of the idea of customer service!"
12/24/2001 09:01:49 AM | PermaLink
Sunday, December 23, 2001
The Red Pill
Gary Stock points us to an academic article by Nick Bostrom of Yale's Dept. of Philosophy, the title of which poses a question with relative succinctness: "Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?" Dr. Nick summarizes:
This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the transhumanist dogma that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.
If I understand this - and there's no reason to think that I do given that my eyes glazed over rather early on - the professor is saying that if our descendents managed to evolve into something post-human and care enough about the past to build a simulation of it, then, yes, we probably are living in a simulation.
Note to my puppet masters: Would it hurt to give me the Brad Pitt skin?
12/23/2001 02:27:15 PM | PermaLink
Have Yourself a Very Jewish Christmas
Ah, Christmas, that most wonderful time of the year. For Jews anyway. None of the stress. All of the time off. You can work without the phone ringing. You can not work without having to pay for it by packing the kids into the car and driving to see relatives constrained to be jolly. So long as you don't mind those damn Christmas carols blaring everywhere, and can put up with the casual assumption by every town and store clerk in America that you too must be Christian, why it's the most glorious time of the year!
12/23/2001 11:38:23 AM | PermaLink
Saturday, December 22, 2001
Developers x 3
Vergil Iliescu points us to an MP3 (found by his 13-year-old son) that sets to music the footage of Steve Ballmer chanting "Developers developers developers." You can download the footage at tdcrc.com There's also a music video that failed to play on my machine.
This continues the Ballmer self-bashing that began with the release of the infamous Monkeyboy video showing Ballmer doing an unfortunately simian dance of enthusiasm at some morale-building internal MSFT event. (I wrote a half-assed defense of Monkeyboy that says that making an ass of yourself in public may be a good thing, especially if you're an Important Guy like Ballmer.)
12/22/2001 02:29:37 PM | PermaLink
It's followed by a list of suggestions from We the People, including:
Any other suggestions?
12/22/2001 02:14:41 PM | PermaLink
Bethann replies to my passing conundrum: What do we call people we know through email and the Web?
12/22/2001 02:05:37 PM | PermaLink
Friday, December 21, 2001
A few people have written in with suggestions for where I might find the statistics I've been looking for.
Meg Hourihan writes:
Michel Benevento suggests we take a look at some Yaysoft stats:
Of course, then there's my own special scientifical journalistical approach to stats: Skip over them when other people cite them and make them up when I need them. It really works. Why, a recent study shows that this approach brings a 68.7% increase in the quality of information. Really.
12/21/2001 04:19:25 PM | PermaLink
Have yourself a Vomitious Flash Xmas
A correspondent who wishes to be identified only as Donald sends us to a Flash-animated Christmas greeting that is tedious, pretentious, empty and boring. But surely it is only a 5 on the scale of tedious, pretentious, empty and boring holiday-themed Flash animations. Do worse! Let me know and I'll compile the list. I'll even check it twice. (Note: I'm looking for corporate entries, not personal tedious, pretentious, empty and boring holiday-themed Flash animations. I'm not that mean.)
12/21/2001 01:24:29 PM | PermaLink
Why Search Engines Suck(tm)
Just a little thing, but type "drivers" into the search box at Epson, and you get the following screen in return:
Look at the bottom of the navigation box on the left hand side. Look at the results of the search engine. Repeat.
12/21/2001 01:13:06 PM | PermaLink
How to Impress a VC
Ack! I actually skipped a day blogging. But it couldn't be helped. I was on the road, making the rounds of local venture capitalists, helping to get a start-up funded by saying all the right things ... you know, the things VC's love to hear:
Your own contributions would be, of course, appreciated.
12/21/2001 12:33:22 PM | PermaLink
Wednesday, December 19, 2001
The Silence of the Wolves
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how it happens.
PS: JSB (aka Floyd Turbo) points us to a response from Hal Foster.
12/19/2001 07:58:37 AM | PermaLink
Weblog Stat Questions
If you check one of the weblog directories, you'll see the ol' 80:20 rule at work...except on the Web, that becomes the 80,000,000:20 rule. There are a heck of a lot of weblogs out there, but a random sampling of them shows that while they are sociologically interesting - the things that people care about! the way people write and think! wow! - only a handful are of enough appeal to get me back for a second visit. This doesn't mean they're not appealing to anyone or that they're self-obsessed ramblings as some critics of weblogs have said. It just means that on the Web, everyone is famous to 15 people.
If weblogs shouldn't be measured by mass market, broadcast standards according to which success is directly proportional to the number of readers (excuse me, I mean "eyeballs"), it'd be interesting to know the shape of weblog success. Is anyone - Ev? Dave? - keeping track of numbers such as:
What would these numbers tell us? Maybe nothing. They're just numbers. Weblogging is going to roll along no matter what the numbers say. But why should the broadcasters be the only ones who know - or at least assert they know - the numeric shape of their market? (Ok, I'll tell you why: because it's easier to extrapolate to a mass market than it is to count the ripples made by rain on a pond.)
Covering My Ass: I recognize that it's quite likely that there's a prominent page that has all of these stats plus many more. I fully expect the response: "Yo, dude, haven't you ever been to www.scriptingnews.com/weblogstats/answersyourdumbfuckingquestions.html?" My defense: I've made a career out of being ignorant in public.
12/19/2001 07:34:24 AM | PermaLink
Cleartype Web Tune-up
If you're running Windows XP and have a digital display, you can tune your ClearType implementation at a nifty Web site Microsoft provides. In fact, on this page you can check and uncheck a box to toggle ClearType and watch the text on the page go from crummy to spiffy in real time.
ClearType is Microsoft's version of a technology sort-of invented by Apple that takes advantage of the fact that a single pixel on an LCD screen is in fact composed of a red, green and blue sub-pixel. By turning on the sub-pixels selectively, text can be smoothed out ("anti-aliased"). (Adobe also has a version of this technology, called CoolType.) It does make a difference.
12/19/2001 07:08:57 AM | PermaLink
Tuesday, December 18, 2001
Windows, Sharp and TinkyWinky
You heard it hear first: Windows XP is gay. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
12/18/2001 01:09:30 PM | PermaLink
The Return of the Web
The Web returns our voice. That to me is the heart of the Web's appeal and its importance. Weblogs are a perfect example of this: we get to write about what we want in the way that we want, without permission, without having to get a publisher to risk investing in us, without having to go through weeks of extensive rewriting and self-censorship. We can sound like who we are. We can even play with sounding like who we'd like to be or who we're afraid we might really be or who we are in our culture's nightmares. (Rageboy take note! :)
Ok, fine. But why is this a return of voice? When did we ever have it in the first place? And it's not just voice that feels like a return. The sense of connection also seems, at least to me, like something that we once had and now have again. But of course that's absurd. We've never been so connected to so many people in so many places.
The past of voice and connection is not a real past. It's a mythic past. Origin myths and myths of golden ages have power because they express a longing for a part of our continuing nature. The Web's gift of voice and connection feels like a reawakened memory because voice and connection have always been at the heart of who we are.
12/18/2001 09:06:56 AM | PermaLink
Monday, December 17, 2001
Request for Scenes
A web acquaintance (we really need a word for this relationship!) has asked me to send around a notice for a project he's working on. Sounds like an appropriate bloggino. So, here goes:
Let's see. I'm going to have to go with either the street sweeping scene in Visconti's 1960 masterpiece of Italian post-War neorealism, "Rocco and His Brothers" because it showed me the intersection of economics, politics and art in a way that made each vital, or possibly the scene in Don Chaffey's masterpiece "One Million Years B.C." where Raquel Welch fights off a pterodactyl because I was 16 and she was wearing a fur bikini.
12/17/2001 01:05:49 PM | PermaLink
Clinton, the World, and Everything
Bill Clinton gave a hell of a speech the other day in which he makes the case for lifting up the world. It sounds some of the themes in Tom Friedman's recent column and, if I may be so immodest, in my Generation Alpha fantasy ... except Bill's is far better than either of these efforts.
Read it and try to picture this coming out of Chimpie's mouth. (Pardon me. He deserves our respect as president. Make that "President Chimpie.")
While we're on the topic, I highly recommend Jeffrey Toobin's book, A Vast Conspiracy. Toobin is a mainstream author - The New Yorker, network commentator - who convincingly makes the case that Clinton was brought down for unremarkable sins by an organized effort that began in Arkansas. He's also a very readable author. (His OJ book, The Run of His Life, was also a great "read.")
(Thanks to Gary Turner for pointing out the Clinton speech.)
12/17/2001 07:30:13 AM | PermaLink
Sunday, December 16, 2001
Spam, SPAM, Windows, and the Uses of English
Let's see. I post a glowing bloggino (a small blog entry) about some software brewing over at SpamSubtract. Doc clicks on the link and his Linux-loving heart goes cold when he he reads the first sentence of their survey: "What kind of connection does your Windows PC have to the Internet?" So, the lead guy there (hey, lead guy, am I allowed to use your name?) writes to Doc, makes the Windows-only-ness of it more explicit and less assumed, and posts a brief, frank and unsurprising explanation. I like the explanation if only because it's written by a real person in real language without bullshit. So, I check back at the SpamSubtract homepage to see how it's been modified and notice some unrelated language in tiny print at the bottom of the page:
So, I follow the link to the SPAM company's statement about the use of the word "spam" in the email sense. And it's more than "reasonably cool." It's very cool. Not only are they not assholes about asserting their sole right to those four letters, they actually talk to us like human beings. It's clear, reasonable, friendly, helpful. And, in case you've forgotten the difference between how normal people talk and what lawyers sound like, they provide a link to their legal and copyright information.
Two company sites (SpamSubtract and SPAM) in two minutes, and both of them sound like human beings. Is the world going insane???
12/16/2001 10:23:12 AM | PermaLink
Saturday, December 15, 2001
Places I'm Enjoying
I poked around Living Code this morning and enjoyed it. A reader of my newsletter recommended a Cat Stevens conspiracy theory expounded there. The lead story today is a call for an XML standard for GUIs, which the author calls "AmbiGUI." Gotta love it. Plus the site quotes Ambrose Bierce: "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography." I like the mix of tech, humor, social conscience, and word-awareness.
Prof. Tom Wilson at the Dept. of Info Sciences at Sheffield Univ. wrote to me today to point to a little grenade he tossed into a listserv recently in which he mentions that there may not be any such thing as knowledge management. Here's his original message and here's the listserv's archive; look for entries in December and November. The thread is interesting if only because of the effect academic conventions have on the expression of passion.
(If anyone cares, here's a catalog of most of the columns and articles I've written about KM.)
12/15/2001 04:26:20 PM | PermaLink
Google as an Open Source Dictionary
I had a moment of lingual anxiety (surely the Germans have a word for this!) looking at something I'd typed. "Hippie" had seemed obviously right but now it seemed queasily wrong. Surely it should be "hippy." So, I did what any red-blooded webizen would do: I typed each into Google. Hippy: 133,000. Hippie: 315,000. "Hippie" it is.
In the blue bar at the top of the search results page, Google writes "Searched the web for hippie." Click on the underlined search term and you are taken to its definition in www.dictionary.com where in this case you learn that "hippy" is an acceptable variant of "hippie." But I don't need dictionary.com to tell me what's acceptable. I've got 315,000 reasons to think that "hippie" is right.
Sure, this will drag language down. There are 1,550,000 pages that use the non-word "alot." Clicking on "alot" in Google's blue stripe takes you to www.acronymfinder.com where you'll learn that ALOT stands for "Adaptive Large Optics Technologies" and "Airborne Lightweight Optical Tracking." Nope. "Alot" is a misspelling of "a lot." Or maybe - language authoritarians stand back! - maybe it's the new spelling of "a lot."
Note: I am, in my heart, a language authoritarian.
12/15/2001 11:56:49 AM | PermaLink
Friday, December 14, 2001
The Silence of the Blog
No real blogging for me today since I spent the day (and the day before and the day before and the day before and the day before and the day before and the day before) putting together an issue of my newsletter. JOHO is so long that no one has ever read an entire issue. Ack.
Here's the table of contents:
Many of the lead articles showed first in this blog, a trend that will continue. Sort of makes you wonder why I would spend so much time putting together a 'zine in addition to the blog. Hmmm.
12/14/2001 03:39:49 PM | PermaLink
A Desperate Plea for a Statistician
Having spent too much of the day in traffic missing more than my share of the lights, I got to thinking. It's statistically probable that somewhere someone in the United States is having a phenomenally bad run of luck when it comes to stoplights. With let's say 150M drivers in the country, what is the longest string of missed lights experienced by some poor schlub at the extreme right of the bell curve? Has one person out of those 150,000,000 hit every red light for a week? A month? All fall and not a single green light?
(I used to ask students in my philosophy of science class, "How many of you have ever dreamed of a plane crash?" You start working the numbers and you realize that when there's a plane crash, there are probably dozens of people who are convinced they prophesized it in a dream.)
12/14/2001 03:20:47 PM | PermaLink
Thursday, December 13, 2001
XP, The Background Pirate
Has anyone noticed that the Windows XP default desktop background is almost identical to the Sharp Actius' desktop background?
12/13/2001 03:49:10 PM | PermaLink
The End of Spam
At the risk of sounding Ginger-ish, you should keep your eye on SpamSubtract. They are getting ready to launch a product that promises to take a big bite out of spam.
Here's what I know: The team behind the product is fantastic. Grade A genius-level programmers and first-class, good-hearted folks. Here's what I don't know: What they're doing. It should be Very Interesting.
12/13/2001 03:27:44 PM | PermaLink
The Generosity of Blogs
Mike Sanders admits -- oh the shame of it! :) -- that he has at times ego-surfed. He poses the useful question: Is vanity at the heart of blogging? (Mike's answer is a resounding No.)
I agree with Mike. Blogging is by its nature generous. As RageBoy has pointed out, blogging occurs within a network if not an actual community. Weblogs were, in fact, originally a way for individuals to filter and recommend other sites. They've expanded their nature, but the prototypical blogs -- Doc's or Dave's, for example -- are full of references, recommendations and reflections. Pointing people away from your site to others is an act of generosity much frowned upon by the Commandants of Stickiness who run most commercial sites.
The generosity of weblogs is a reflection of the generous nature of the Web itself. Without links, there is no Web. Its very architecture is hyperlinked. Or, more exactly, since hyperlinks aren't an accident of nature, the Web's nature is generous. In fact it's an architecture of hope. (More on this in my upcoming book, heh heh.)
Now, one could say that bloggers put together rich sets of links and recommendations because they want readers to like their blogs and thus they are ultimately selfish. You could say that about every human action ... and is there a college freshman who hasn't said exactly that? Mother Theresa, Albert Schweitzer and Mahatma Gandhi were all supreme egoists by this criterion. But we're much more complex than that. If you reduce all human motivation to self-concern, you not only miss everything that makes life fun, you also lose your ability to discriminate self-sacrifice from self-indulgence...but maybe that's the point.
12/13/2001 08:25:56 AM | PermaLink
Wednesday, December 12, 2001
A Powerpoint presentation is making the rounds that's pretty funny. It's a customer complaint (from Tom Farmer and Shane Atchison) that uses many of the standard business presentation conventions. (You can see it as an HTML page here.) [Thanks to Bruce Milne for passing this along to me...and thus to us. PS: Bruce adds; "I've now seen this from 3 other sources within a span of 3 hours- ya gotta love this Web thing (unless you run a DoubleTree in Houston....)"]
12/12/2001 04:07:14 PM | PermaLink
Yeah, sure we're not entirely confident we know what weblogs are. They can be defined semi-technically by talking about technology that enables people to post frequent updates to a personal site without having to know anything (or much) about the Web's infrastructure. But that's like defining novels by talking about how they're printed and maybe adding that they tend to be at least 150 pages long. The question is: What are we going to do with this technology? What are we going to write on those blank pages? And the answer is: We don't know because we - all of us - are still making it up.
This is far from the first time the Net has invented (or enabled the invention of) new literary, rhetorical forms. Email has its own rhetoric. So do discussion boards, chat, instant messaging, mail lists. Even FAQs are new to the world as a literary device. Of course you can find precedents for each of these. Of course none is a radical break with previous literary forms. But rhetorical innovation is always based in, and depends on, the existing structures of discourse. Otherwise it's what we technically call "gibberish."
The rapid evolution of new forms of rhetoric results from the new forms of human connection the Net allows, for rhetoric is the "how" of connection. It is not a mere flourish decorating human sociality. It is how we're social. And since humans are social animals, new rhetoric and new literary forms are a reinvention of what it means to be human.
Of course, this still doesn't tell us what weblogs are, or, more important, what they will be.
12/12/2001 11:11:26 AM | PermaLink
Tuesday, December 11, 2001
Juicy Bit from Tom Matrullo
Tom gives the NYTimes a well-deserved pasting for writing about "Eric Corley's efforts to demonstrate that the DeCSS code that breaks the 'protection' code on DVDs is free speech." For example, Corley printed the code on the front of a t-shirt. Especially in contrast, the Times' piece is a toothless gumming of the topic. Tom writes:
You go, Tom.
12/11/2001 05:09:01 PM | PermaLink
20 Years of Usenet
Gary "Unblinking" Stock points out (as does Doc) that Google has put up a page of historic messages to Usenet. There are links to the first mention of Microsoft (June, '81), the first mention of a Commodore 64 (Aug., '82), the first thread about AIDS (Dec., '82), Stallman's announcement of GNU (Sept. '83). This is great marketing by Google, letting us know that the site now has indexed 20 years of Usenet.
All hail Google the Good.
12/11/2001 02:22:13 PM | PermaLink
Monday, December 10, 2001
Walking the Walk
Scott Kirsner's always-worth-reading column in The Boston Globe today describes how Parametric (now known as PTC) is attempting to become interesting again. In the late '80s, it was an important player in the CAD market. And, with a market value of $2.2B and annual revenues of nearly $1B - that's a lot of CAD! - it's the largest standalone sw company in the Commonwealth of MA. Even so, it's such a dull company that Mike Dukakis was kicked off of its board of directors because his crazy antics were too distracting. (Insert rim shot here.*) Now it's trying to reinvigorate itself with a new line of software called Windchill that opens up the product design process to all concerned parties, from internal departments to external suppliers to customers. The software is already being adopted by such thrill-a-minute corporations as Airbus, EMC and Lockheed "Lewis and" Martin. Owners of PTC's CAD software are averaging 14 licenses of Windchill for each CAD license. Product design is a conversation. Who'd a thought it! (Well, Doc Searls for one.)
CIO magazine has given a Web Business 50 award to the American Cancer Society for its bulletin boards and chat rooms. The boards are so important to users that the organization prominently displays the link to them on its home page. This looks like a great site.
Then there are those who take steps backwards. CIO also gave an award to K2, in part because of their cool user-to-user technical forum. Unfortunately, as the article notes, the forum is no longer up. Instead, the company has a set of technical manuals available. In PDF, to add insult to injury. (Oh, PDF is well-architected and a boon in some situations, but it is usually a dodge for companies that insist on putting their handsome looks ahead of their customers' convenience and time.)
A reader whose name I've already lost, thus setting a new land speed record for forgetfulness, points us at Jones Soda where they do everything they can think of to get visitors involved. They'll display your photos, they'll publish your stories, they'll even put your picture on a bottle of soda. On a quick look I didn't see much that I actually cared about, but at least the gimmicks are customer-focused gimmicks. I guess that counts as progress.
I got an encouraging note from Dominique. Her blog today tells a sorry tale of a show-me-your-tits job interview, a genre I thought we'd left behind us. Foolish me.
RageBoy Scores in USAToday
12/10/2001 01:20:36 PM | PermaLink
Sunday, December 09, 2001
This just in via anonymous email ([email protected]), and I present the message in its glorious entirety:
Thank you, Post, your analysis is brilliant and your argumentation is irrefutable. I am taking two steps immediately to ameliorate the problems you've articulated so convincingly:
I look forward to more such critiques. Thank you, Post. Or should I just call you "Coward"?
12/9/2001 03:43:06 PM | PermaLink
How much do I love mnftiu? How much love is there, that's how much. (The current set of 5 strips starts getting real funny with the third, IMO.) 
Also in the funnies, Reuters runs the headline "Bin Laden's Mother Disappointed in Her Son." "Why couldn't he be more like his brother Uli?" she asked plaintively. "Uli has twice as many wives and lives in a beautiful cave with a gorgeous view of smoldering ruins. Gorgeous. But Osama just never applied himself. What a waste, he's such a talented boy. You shouldn't know from such tsurris from your own children!"
 Thanks to RageBoy for reminding me about mnftiu, although I think technically I turned RB on to it, and it was definitely the always-funny Gary Unblinking Stock who first pointed me to the site, although someone else had told him, etc.
12/9/2001 12:37:11 PM | PermaLink
Saturday, December 08, 2001
Newz: Hunt for Strongest Possible Terms Ends
Almost three months after the civilized world was brought together across the political and social spectrum in an unprecedented condemnation in the strongest possible terms of various events, the hunt for what precisely those terms are has ended.
Among those who joined the remarkable coalition hunting for the strongest possible terms are:
Among those who condemned terrorism or the US reaction to terrorism in the strongest terms but were not committed enough to condemn it in the strongest possible terms were Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Philippines President Gloria Arroyo and The UN Security Council
In addition, a group of 100 families in New Zealand condemned a new school curriculum in the strongest terms possible, the Maryland Association of Buyers Agents condemned dual agents in the strongest possible terms as a consumer fraud, and Ian Jackson protested in a posting to a Debian-Linux discussion board "I OBJECT IN STRONGEST POSSIBLE TERMS" to doing a release with the XT security bug unfixed.
It was agreed last night that the strongest possible terms are "the strongest possible terms" with only Angola holding out for "double damn with a cherry on top."
12/8/2001 12:03:40 PM | PermaLink
End of Free not All Sad!
True enough. I didn't mean that the site itself was dreary or unpleasant. Quite the contrary. It's practically sprightly. But, more important, yes, it was my kneejerk anti-capitalism that had me think that the end of free is necessarily bad. I'm all in favor of paying for what I get on the Web. Except for the free stuff, of course. And whatever else I can get away with.
12/8/2001 11:35:43 AM | PermaLink
Friday, December 07, 2001
Learning to Love West Point
I spent Tuesday with Maj. Tony Burgess, Maj. Nate Allen, and the team responsible for a remarkable site, CompanyCommand.com. As an unrepentant ex-hippie and reluctantly lapsed pacifist, I was surprised how impressed I was with the Army's style of business. This was a warmer and more collaborative environment than almost any I've encountered in the corporate world. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. But I was.
Tony and Nate started CompanyCommand.com because company commanders need to talk with one another. Every Army officer serves as a company commander so that she or he will have hands-on experience leading soldiers. But there is surprisingly little guidance given to company commanders once they have gone through their training. And there are no horizontal communication channels. So Tony and Nate created a site at the heart of which are open, unmoderated discussion boards where company commanders can raise issues, ask questions, and share their insights. The site has succeeded well enough that the Army apparently is looking at ways to use it as a more or less formal resource.
When walking with Tony through the West Point campus, every cadet saluted him. Tony saluted back, as expected, but also gave everyone a "Hey, how's it going?" or the equivalent. Not the "Sir Yes Sir!" interchange I was expecting.
The two meetings I had were models of collaboration and enthusiasm. Officers spoke with respectful awareness of rank but simultaneously with obvious affection. At one meeting, the ranking officer had also had several of the participants as students in his leadership courses, and it was clear that they admired and liked him. The conversation was frank in every regard, including in its occasional criticism of the Army, but was also good-natured and funny. The participants always went out of their way to credit others for their contributions to the project and to the conversation. "That's a great point" they'd say before adding on to it, or "We implemented that a couple of months ago and Steve did a great job with it." This seemed unforced and totally natural: a team of people who like one another and who are focused on the same goal.
It struck me that this team of hierarchically-arranged soldiers was so truly collaborative perhaps in part precisely because of the explicitness of the hierarchy. In a corporation, rank is informal and thus is negotiated in every meeting. People position themselves by jousting with others in subtle ways, for explicit jousting is considered pushy. In the Army, your rank couldn't be more explicit. You've got stuff sewn into your clothing denoting your precise position in the hierarchy. Thus, there's no need to joust, and teams can be more genuinely collaborative.
Believe me, this is not what I - wearing a tie dyed tee under my professionally-ironed blue pinstripe shirt -- was expecting to learn.
12/7/2001 01:43:13 PM | PermaLink
Thursday, December 06, 2001
Teams vs. Individuals
There's always been a contradiction of an Hegelian sort between the value of individuals with strong beliefs and the need to be flexible enough to subordinate one's beliefs for the sake of the team. Passion versus teamwork. Commitment versus compromise. Individualism versus collaboration.
This tension is overcome in a suitably Hegelian way by the Web's transformation of teams. In a typical hierarchical structure, teams are organized from the top down. Members are chosen not only for their personal qualities but because various groups need representation. In a webby world - a "hyperlinked organization" - teams are self-organizing. People form a team by pulling together the people they respect and like to work with, the org chart be damned.
This helps resolve the contradiction in in two ways. First, hyperlinked teams form among like-minded people - for better or worse. Thus, the strong beliefs of individuals are likely to be shared. Second, groups form among people who already like and trust one another - for better or worse. Thus, disagreements don't have to escalate to the "my way or the highway" point.
Hegel is, as always, right - which means we should be on the lookout for the new contradiction this engenders...
12/6/2001 07:04:23 AM | PermaLink
Tuesday, December 04, 2001
SSSCA Postponed, Maybe Forever
Huzzah. The hearings on the SSSCA - a proposed law about which the only question is whether its stupidity outstrips its evilness or vice versa - have been postponed, and no new hearings have been scheduled. For more details, see the EFF article.
Note: I'm on the road through Thursday with really crummy Net access, so pardon the temporary slimness of these offerings. But, I spent a really interesting afternoon at West Point. I'll tell you about it soon...
12/4/2001 09:48:10 PM | PermaLink
Monday, December 03, 2001
Newz: Anthraxian Made Error, says WSJ
The Wall Street Journal today reports that the person who sent anthrax in the mail made an error: he or she neglected to remove the electrostatic charge from the powder. As a result, it clings to surfaces rather than dispersing far more widely via air currents.
The Journal goes on to list other mistakes made by the bioterrorists: They could have contaminated much more mail if they'd used an envelope with small pinholes in it which could easily have been accomplished by running the envelope through a Singer sewing machine using a #6 needle and the "Colonial Crosshatch" setting. (Don't forget to leave the thread unattached to the bobbin!) Also, the Jounal says that the envelope would have been routed through many more substations, substantially increasing the number of deaths, if the barely competent bioterrorists had figured out -- duh! -- that they should make the city not match the zip code. Also, they should have sent it from the mailbox on the corner of Lopate and Elm in East Larchmont on any Friday or Saturday, which is when postal employee Jim McCahey makes his run, because Jim is like real sloppy and if he can't figure out that 98 Lopate isn't the same as 96 Lopate and keeps delivering Teen People to a house that obviously doesn't have any kids in it, then he probably wouldn't notice that his hands were covered with white powder anyway. That's how lame Jim McCahey is.
In a related editorial, the Wall Street Journal maintained that it could have done a much better job of it.
12/3/2001 09:28:27 AM | PermaLink
Sunday, December 02, 2001
12/2/2001 10:27:28 PM | PermaLink
Newz: Outraged Parents Sue Ultra-Violent Reality Makers
Outraged parents in South Orange New Jersey today filed suit against a consortium of terrorists, militants and fanatics, claiming that their children's interaction with the images of extreme violence is leading them to more violent gaming, television and movies.
"We have nothing against dramatic news or even the use of violence when it's justified for narrative purposes and when the consequences of violence are shown," said red-faced soccer mom Suzie Nielsen. "But they've gone too far. And every parent knows it."
As evidence of the effect of violent reality on video games and movies, Nielsen distributed newspaper reports that Sylvester Stallone is seriously considering making a fourth Rambo movie in which he tracks down Osama Bin Laden. "Why can't we go back to a time when reality was simpler, kinder and more child-friendly?" asked Nielsen.
"Every parent knows," said Nielsen, "that if children see enough violent images in reality, it inurs them to violence in games and movies. I hold those irresponsible terrorists and extremists directly responsible for Steven Seagal's comeback. For shame, for shame."
12/2/2001 06:12:17 PM | PermaLink
Saturday, December 01, 2001
Newz: Ashcroft Authorizes Newest Legal Weapon in War on Terrorism
Blog Reviews of Small Pieces