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Friday, November 15, 2002

Rubbernecking Michael

I can't find a legitimate reason to run this photo of The King of Pop in court yesterday:

Avert your eyes,  Michael Jackson is here

Go here for a history of how this happened to the poor man.
11/15/2002 12:21:16 PM | PermaLink

The Register on Poindexter

The Register has a good screed about W's appointing convicted felon and anti-Constitutionalist John Poindexter to be in charge of the world's most invasive database. You can read William Safire on the same topic here. (Thanks to Greg Cavanagh for the link.)
11/15/2002 11:40:14 AM | PermaLink

AKMA and Derrida:

AKMA casually mentions that he's going to hang with Derrida. Get Buddy Rich on the drums and you've got a group that will swing!

I am drenched in envy. Forgive me.
11/15/2002 09:10:47 AM | PermaLink

It's a Google Universe

Craig Allen points us to a science fictionish story by Paul Ford about how Google could become the center of the known universe.

And Gary Unblinking Stock points to recent activity at his Gogglewhack site. (A Googlewhack is a word pair that gives one and only one hit when searched for at Google; the pair must not be enclosed in quotation marks.) In submitting a Googlewhack, one must also provide a definition of the pair. Yesterday alone Gary received (among others):

uplifting interregna

2 Clinton terms of economic progress & peace-sandwiched by 2 Bush failures.

snowmobile purgatives

GW: "Lessee, gotta get this crap out of my system Ah! Blow it on Yellowstone!"

awol reactionist

Send Tom DeLay to Iraq. GOP leader missed Namfor law school

noncombatant reviler

Send Rush Limbaught to Iraq. He missed Nam -anal cysts.

lawyerlike dodge

Send Ken Starr to Iraq. He too missed Nam - psoriasis.

phallus overcompensates

Why do you think someone's so eager to go to war in Iraq?

This is shocking! Given that our civilization is built on phallic overcompensation, this is like "Nigerian scam" turning out to be a Googlewhack.
11/15/2002 09:07:18 AM | PermaLink


Thursday, November 14, 2002

Mad Magazine on Gulf Wars

Have a laugh. It may be the last one for a while...

Also, Madkane has written new lyrics to Billy Joel's "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" about kissing goodbye to our rights. I wish I knew the Billy Joel song. It's so hard to keep up with what the kids are listening to these days.
11/14/2002 04:01:42 PM | PermaLink

Call Your Senator

The Homeland Security Act is the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution for civil liberties. Today and maybe tomorrow is the only chance you'll have to tell your Senator to vote AGAINST it. You can get your Senator's phone number here. (If you live in Massachusetts, Kerry is at (202) 224-2742 and Kennedy is at (202) 224-4543.

Here is William Safire's piece on this in the NY Times today, reproduced in gleeful violation of the copyright law:


WASHINGTON � If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you:

Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend � all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as "a virtual, centralized grand database."

To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you � passport application, driver's license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance � and you have the supersnoop's dream: a "Total Information Awareness" about every U.S. citizen.

This is not some far-out Orwellian scenario. It is what will happen to your personal freedom in the next few weeks if John Poindexter gets the unprecedented power he seeks.

Remember Poindexter? Brilliant man, first in his class at the Naval Academy, later earned a doctorate in physics, rose to national security adviser under President Ronald Reagan. He had this brilliant idea of secretly selling missiles to Iran to pay ransom for hostages, and with the illicit proceeds to illegally support contras in Nicaragua.

A jury convicted Poindexter in 1990 on five felony counts of misleading Congress and making false statements, but an appeals court overturned the verdict because Congress had given him immunity for his testimony. He famously asserted, "The buck stops here," arguing that the White House staff, and not the president, was responsible for fateful decisions that might prove embarrassing.

This ring-knocking master of deceit is back again with a plan even more scandalous than Iran-contra. He heads the "Information Awareness Office" in the otherwise excellent Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which spawned the Internet and stealth aircraft technology. Poindexter is now realizing his 20-year dream: getting the "data-mining" power to snoop on every public and private act of every American.

Even the hastily passed U.S.A. Patriot Act, which widened the scope of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and weakened 15 privacy laws, raised requirements for the government to report secret eavesdropping to Congress and the courts. But Poindexter's assault on individual privacy rides roughshod over such oversight.

He is determined to break down the wall between commercial snooping and secret government intrusion. The disgraced admiral dismisses such necessary differentiation as bureaucratic "stovepiping." And he has been given a $200 million budget to create computer dossiers on 300 million Americans.

When George W. Bush was running for president, he stood foursquare in defense of each person's medical, financial and communications privacy. But Poindexter, whose contempt for the restraints of oversight drew the Reagan administration into its most serious blunder, is still operating on the presumption that on such a sweeping theft of privacy rights, the buck ends with him and not with the president.

This time, however, he has been seizing power in the open. In the past week John Markoff of The Times, followed by Robert O'Harrow of The Washington Post, have revealed the extent of Poindexter's operation, but editorialists have not grasped its undermining of the Freedom of Information Act.

Political awareness can overcome "Total Information Awareness," the combined force of commercial and government snooping. In a similar overreach, Attorney General Ashcroft tried his Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS), but public outrage at the use of gossips and postal workers as snoops caused the House to shoot it down. The Senate should now do the same to this other exploitation of fear.

The Latin motto over Poindexter"s new Pentagon office reads "Scientia Est Potentia" � "knowledge is power." Exactly: the government's infinite knowledge about you is its power over you. "We're just as concerned as the next person with protecting privacy," this brilliant mind blandly assured The Post. A jury found he spoke falsely before.

-- William Safire

Thanks to Jeff Angus for email pointing out this outrage.

11/14/2002 11:44:34 AM | PermaLink

Adina on the Talmud

Adina discourses on the hyperlinked nature of Judaism's basic texts, saying in a couple of paragraphs what it takes The Talmud and the Internet an entire book to say.

(What does the hyperlinked nature of the text and the conversational nature of its interpretation tell us about the nature of the religion and the community/people?)
11/14/2002 11:05:01 AM | PermaLink

Life in Jail for Hackers

From Declan McCullagh:

WASHINGTON — A last-minute addition to a proposal for a Department of Homeland Security bill would punish malicious computer hackers with life in prison.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday evening voted 299 to 121 to approve the bill, which would reshape large portions of the federal bureaucracy into new a department combining parts of 22 existing federal agencies, including the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, and the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center.

During closed-door negotiations before the debate began, the House Republican leadership inserted the 16-page Cyber Security Enhancement Act (CSEA) into the Homeland Security bill. CSEA expands the ability of police to conduct Internet or telephone eavesdropping without first obtaining a court order, and offers Internet providers more latitude to disclose information to police...

11/14/2002 10:34:32 AM | PermaLink

The Gatekeepers of Abundance

I gave a talk yesterday to a library association and managed to make it all the way into the Q&A session before uttering the word "doomed." We ended up talking about whether there can be librarians without books.

The very first model proposed by the audience was: "We're the gatekeepers of knowledge." This role will only become more important as the amount of bad information on the Internet grows. Supposedly.

But there are two forces working against the gatekeeper idea. First, we seem to be self-organizing our own gatekeepers. Sometimes they're collaborative and sometimes our new gatekeepers emerge from the noise in unpredictable ways. There will certainly still be top-down gatekeepers in the traditional sense, but they are at least becoming less important because there are so many other gates.

Second, when there's true abundance, gatekeeping actually drives down the value of what's being protected: if there's manna everywhere, putting a gatekeeper in front of a storeroom just means that that no one's going to bother with the protected manna. Similarly, if I can find out everything I need about Ghana easily by surfing, I'm not going to pay the Britannica a fee to get the same information.

But, reply the librarians, you may not get the best information for free on the Web. No, but I don't need the best information. I just need good enough information. And where I do need information certified as the best, I will be willing to pay for it. But the most important change in all this is indeed a movement away from thinking that there routinely is such a thing as "the best" information that's kept in guarded, temperature-controlled cellars. For better or worse, in an economy of abundance, good enough is good enough.
11/14/2002 10:29:07 AM | PermaLink

Why Spam Doesn't Work

Masha Geller of MediaPost thinks she's figured out why response rates to spam — um, "email marketing — are so low:

Email marketing company Silverpop yesterday released the preliminary findings of a study they conducted on response rates to permission email and found that one of the most overlooked causes of reduced response rates is �broken� or unreadable HTML. ...

Here are some other reasons that occurred to me in just the last 24 hours:

If I had some domain names to register, I'd rather use .COM or .NET than .US or .NAME or .OBSCURE or whatever it is that you're selling

The cheapest airline tickets are likely to have restrictions I wouldn't like, even if they are totally guaranteed

Spying on my neighbor's hot teenage daughter or on our babysitter would be just plain sick

I can't fire my boss because, well, it just doesn't work that way

I have more than enough printer ink for now

I haven'really been much interested in farm animals since I was 5 or 6, so I'm not going to go to your web site to look at photos

I don't believe I can grow rich without doing anything of value

I don't know what HGH is and I think I don't care

While I'm flattered that you are impressed by my financial standing, I have more credit cards than I use

I read Nabokov's Lolita and was quite disturbed by it, so I'm not interested in having Lolitas delivered to my inbox

Yes, my teeth are yellowing (how did you know??), but I'll check with my dentist instead of buying whitener over the Net

I'm fortunate in not needing a debt reduction program

My wife's not complaining

Nope, I still don't need any HGH

I'm an animal rights type of guy so I don't want a leather coat

Thanks for noticing that I am rather sexy, but sex with women less than half my age isn't really all that appealing. Besides, if you can see that my teeth are yellow, why can't you see the ring on my finger?

I'm not interested in toner cartridges that don't come with HGH, whatever that is

I would have helped you get your money out of Nigeria, but how can I trust an email that doesn't properly close all of its HTML tags?
11/14/2002 09:52:58 AM | PermaLink


Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Quotable Panel

Last night's panel discussion at the Jewish Technology Business Network turned out well. This is remarkable not because of the caliber of the panelists (Larry Weber, Chris Meyer, Cliff Conneighton) but because we didn't have a topic. Moderator Scott Kirsner (columnist for the Boston Globe, contributing editor to Wired and Fast Company) did an excellent job of pulling the discussion together. The audience seemed happy.

Beforehand Chris Meyer said that Arthur Miller (the lawyer and moderator, not the playwright and Monroe husband) once told him that there are only two rules for a good panel discussion: Have fun, and no dead air.

Chris, in the course of the evening, had some quotable quotes:

"As they say in the AI industry, as soon as something works, it's not AI any more."

"No one has ever seen a bubble from the inside" — Lester Thurow

He also asked the audience whether the "mass of the US economy" has increased or decreased in the past century. And he meant literally how much the goods weigh. His point was that it's decreased because we've miniatured and strengthened, and that's going to happen again, radically, as nanotech emerges.

Finally, Larry Weber said that TV viewership is at an all-time low. Interesting.
11/13/2002 11:59:42 AM | PermaLink

Garrison Keillor on Fire

Garrison Keillor is flaming. As one of our culture's best story tellers ever, and as someone who has trademarked a transparent gentleness and a genuine civility, this outburst is remarkable. It's short on particulars because, as the end reveals, it comes not from offended reason but from a broken heart.

(Damn! It's available only to Salon premium members. Pay Salon the money, will you? It's an experiment that deserves to succeed.)
11/13/2002 11:25:49 AM | PermaLink

USAToday Op-Ed

USAToday today runs an op-ed by David Isenberg and me about why the telcos ought to be allowed to "fail fast." This is based on the letter to the FCC a few dozen of us signed a couple of weeks ago.

But USAToday introduced an error into it. Where we said that the telephone network "was not designed" to handle anything other than voice data, USAToday edited it to say that it "can't handle" non-voice data. Not right. This makes us look like dopes to people who are smarter than I, although I don't think it actually much effects our argument.
11/13/2002 10:33:09 AM | PermaLink


Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Bush Binoculars

(Notice the lens caps.)

Bush looking through binoculars
"Help! Evil-doers have blinded me!"

Michael O'Connor Clarke of I Love Me, Vol. I, points out that Snopes says the above photo is a hoax. I say to Michael: Does exposing this fact make the world a better place? I think not.
11/12/2002 04:16:09 PM | PermaLink

Among the Jews

I'm a panelist tonight at a meeting of the Jewish Technology of Boston Network (well, it's something like that) along with Chris Meyer, Larry Weber and Scott Kirsner. I think it starts at 7:30 at Temple Betha Avodah in south Newton. I don't know if you need to be a member, to be Jewish, to be Jewish technology or to have a Jewish member, but I'm looking forward to it.

Also, the syndicated radio program "Here and Now" is running a 4-minute interview with me at 12:20 EST. I'm talking about ebooks. They ran one a couple of weeks ago and I hope to be doing these fairly regularly.

Finally, USAToday apparently is running on Wednesday an op-ed that David Isenberg and I wrote.
11/12/2002 09:29:23 AM | PermaLink

21st Century Education

The Boston Globe has an editorial today about the MCAS, the standardized test required to get a high school degree. It gives two examples. First,

West Roxbury teachers are becoming experts in the MCAS. They analyze the tests' questions and students' answers, looking for trends in what the tests ask and what errors students make.

Then they teach to those trends. Second, the editorial reports that the same school is fobbing students off onto computers, using a $1,667 piece of software called "Plato."

To my amazement, the editorial isn't using these two educational programs as examples of what's wrong but of what's right. This is giving students a "21st education at schools with 21st century resources."

Gosh, torquing your entire math curriculum in order to have kids pass a test and plopping kids in front of instructional software is so 21st century. Heavens forfend that we should revert to teaching kids so that they learn to love learning, reducing class sizes so teachers can teach what each kid needs to learn.

That this comes from a generally liberal editorial board is all the more depressing.
11/12/2002 08:34:26 AM | PermaLink


Monday, November 11, 2002

Grand Theft Auto and Moral Fiction

Why is it that I find the computer game BlackHawk Down reprehensible but I'm ok with Grand Theft Auto 3 (GTA3)? In BlackHawk Down, you're a righteous American soldier fighting local warlords who are starving their own people. In GTA3, you're a hoodlum who succeeds by randomly killing innocent pedestrians and taking their money. Also, you hijack cars, kill policemen, and blow stuff up. Why do I have my moral polarity reversed when it comes to these two games?

I watched Pulp Fiction again the other night. I don't want it to be one of my favorite movies, but it is. There, too, the fact that we side with hit men is oddly liberating. Unlike movies like The Godfather, Goodfellas and The Sopranos where we're responsibly reminded intermittently that the protagonists are capable of violence that separates them from us, Pulp Fiction is non-judgmental about its characters' murderousness. It accomplishes a true suspension of moral belief. This isn't used for any profound purpose — Tarrantino is no Dostoyevsky — but it does enable us to enter a world where the basic rules have been altered. It is the equivalent of science fiction, except instead of removing the law against time travel, the law against murder is removed. Call it "moral fiction."

To be popular, GTA3 and Pulp Fiction had to be comedies. GTA3 even has its own radio stations playing parodies of various musical styles. ("Ah," says the pretentious classical DJ, "that reminds me of the summer I spent reading Proust ... in the original Italian.") In suspending morality, they keep us so disconnected from the victims that we can laugh at what in real life would be horrific. If we were to connect with our victims, the morality would no longer be suspended; when Nicholson falls for the hitwoman who is to be his victim in Prizzi's Honor, morality — sort of — comes back into play because the human connection is made. Not with GTA3 or Pulp Fiction. Both are unrelentingly disconnected.

In fact, the implicit disconnectedness is itself the source of humor: When in Pulp Fiction Travolta accidentally blows a kid's head off in the back of the car, that it means nothing to him and Jackson except that they have a mess to clean up is funny. The suspension of morality is so obvious and so obviously a literary device that it has no more effect on my actual moral stance than watching Star Wars made me think I can levitate objects by channeling "The Force."

I understand why parents are concerned about GTA3. And I understand why news magazines make a to-do about it: Show a 5-second snippet in which a player is shooting a cop and you're guaranteed an 8 minute segment with outraged parents and indignant politicians. And I'm queasy enough about it that I don't let my 11 year old son play GTA3 because I don't know what "moral fiction" will feel like to him. But the truth is that I'm more concerned about heroic games like "Blackhawk Down" where the ultimate moral message is that being right puts one in a zone where everything is permitted. That to me is the most dangerous moral idea.

Salon reviews the new version of GTA. Salon says it's art. I don't know about that, but it sure sounds like it kicks fictitious ass.
11/11/2002 10:57:39 AM | PermaLink


Sunday, November 10, 2002

Information: Some Historical Factoids

I'm giving a talk to a library association this week and thought I'd talk a bit about the history of information. My point will be that the post-computer sense of information is utterly different from the old sense but the new sense is infecting our view of ourselves and our relation to the world.

Among the factoids:

1. I can't find an instance of Herman Hollerith, inventor of the punch card, referring to the cards as encoding information. In his patent application he talks about recording "data":

This method consists, essentially: first, in arranging a standard, template or index; second, recording for each individual, unit, person or thing the various statistical data, to be compiled, relating to such person, unit, individual or thing, by punching from or otherwise locating on sheets, strips or cards, index points��

2. While I knew that Hollerith had been inspired by the way in which some looms were "programmed," I didn't know the following:

I was traveling in the West and I had a ticket with what I think was called a punch phonograph. . . the conductor . . . punched out a description of the individual, as light hair, dark eyes, large nose, etc. So you see, I only made a punch photograph of each person.

I like the way this ties holes in a card to the most personal and embodied of the "information" about us: how we look.

3. Dr. Johnson's Dictionary (1755) defines "information" as follows (according to an interesting academic article by Rafael Capurro):

1. Intelligence given; instruction
2. Charge or accusation exhibited
3. The act of informing or actuation

"Information" at this point wasn't something separable from the human conversational context.

4. The third definition points to the oldest sense of "information" as something more than what is known. Aristotle thought that the form of a thing impressed itself upon the potential which is the human mind and that is how we come to experience the world. "In-forming" was thus our most basic human relationship to the world, the way in which soul and body met the world itself. That's a lot different than our abstract sense of information today.

5. There is no N in Hollerith. (Ack. Thanks, Adina.)

Capurro has another article, which I haven't yet read, called "Hermeneutics and the Phenomenon of Information." Here's the abstract:

This paper deals with the perspective of interpretation theory or hermeneutics of the process of information storage and retrieval as it was conceived in the early eighties. Further developments in the information technology as well as a broad international discussion on the hermeneutic paradigm in the information field were added to the original paper from 1986. The main thesis concerns not only the interpretative nature of information-seeking processes but also the role of interpretation with regard to the fragmentation of knowledge. Information is the shape of knowledge at the end of modernity. On the basis of the existential turn of interpretation theory the role of pre-understanding is stressed not only with regard to the information retrieval processes but also to the specific worldly situation in which the inquirers are embedded.

Aw, what the hell, here's a summary of sorts from the beginning of the article:

First, with regard to the abandonment of the primacy of scientific rationality, information is admitted to be fragmentary, to come in pieces. The fragmentation is two-fold: in reducing knowledge to pieces, the original contextuality disappears or becomes tacit. Knowledge becomes, literally, partial, dependent on prejudices or on the knower's frame of reference. This relativity of knowledge to a changing horizon of interpretation also brings to the fore of epistemology a new category: that of truth as now, at the end of modernity, inseparable from that of relevance.

Second, with regard to the abandonment of the subjectivity-objectivity opposition, information is described as having a certain commonality. Information is something basically human which should be in principle accessible to everyone. Modern knowledge is something common, shared by a community, for instance by a scientific community.

Third, with regard to the abandonment of the idea that knowledge is something separate from the knower, there is the notion of mediation. Modern information technology disseminates all kinds of knowledge all the time to everyone in a way prefigured by printing. Information becomes part and parcel of media, becomes a medium.

11/10/2002 12:40:28 PM | PermaLink


Saturday, November 09, 2002

Googling Page Ranks

Art Medlar writes to a mailing list:

A friend points out that google's raw ordering of pages by rank can be had by searching for "http":


11/9/2002 11:44:30 AM | PermaLink

"News from the Bottom Up"

Jim Law points us to the Hypergene Media Blog about participatory journalism ("news from the bottom up"). Lots of good information and ideas. For example, here's a snippet:

Over the past month, we've been inundated with political TV advertising. In the final weeks before election, according to The Lear Center, TV stations air four times as many political ads as campaign stories and devote twice as much time to advertising as to news.

Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and director of the Norman Lear Center, sums it up well: "Many station managers feel that putting political news on their airwaves would be ratings poison for their news broadcasts. It looks like that fear doesn't apply to airing paid political ads during those same shows."

11/9/2002 11:41:10 AM | PermaLink


Friday, November 08, 2002

Microsoft: We're Losing the Open Source Battle

Eric Raymond reproduces a Microsoft memo assessing their battle against Open Source software. Eric also comments on it and draws lessons for the Open Source movement. (That a software development paradigm has been turned into a "movement" is itself telling.) The Register summarizes and comments on the memo also.

The shortest summary: Microsoft's own surveys show that they're making no headway against Open Source.
11/8/2002 12:35:08 PM | PermaLink

Where Did Pagoo Go?

A friend of mine is wondering what happened to Pagoo. This is or was an Internet call waiting service for people using their telephone line for dial up. When you're online, Pagoo intercepts voice calls and shunts them to an Internet location where the caller can leave a message. Pagoo then notifies you on your desktop that you've got a message. Click and you can listen to it. Pretty cool for $56 a year.

But now Pagoo seems to have hung up with no forwarding. Does anyone know what happened to them? And do you know of anyone offering a similar service?
11/8/2002 11:59:33 AM | PermaLink

A Zippy I Liked (Because I Misread It)

I usually haven't done enough drugs that early in the day to really "get" the Zippy comic strip, but one the other day struck me as trenchant. Zippy is talking to a building shaped like a fish.

Zippy: Nothing bad can ever happen in my neighborhood.

Fish: Hey

Zippy: I live in th' greatest neighborhood in th' world!

Fish: Right

Zippy: Bad things happen in other neighborhoods..

Fish: Uh-huh

Zippy: If I'm so safe, why do I have this feeling of imminent annihilation?

Fish: Can't imagine.

Now, I like that. But I liked it better before I started typing it in because I thought the last line was: "If I'm so safe, why do I have this feeling of immediate alienation?"

Safety and alienation go together like guns and fear.
11/8/2002 11:54:18 AM | PermaLink


Thursday, November 07, 2002

Sean Penn Pens

Jon Husband has published the text of an ad Sean Penn took out in Washington Post yesterday. It's an open letter to W. After making nice in the first paragraph, Penn writes:

Many of your actions to date and those proposed seem to violate every defining principle of this country over which you preside: intolerance of debate ("with us or against us"), marginalization of your critics, the promoting of fear through unsubstantiated rhetoric, manipulation of a quick comfort media, and position of your administration's deconstruction of civil liberties all contradict the very core of the patriotism you claim. You lead, it seems, through a blood-lined sense of entitlement.

It continues...

Penn paid $56,000 to run the ad and then he didn't post the text anywhere on the Web, as far as I can tell. Someone quick get that actor a weblog!
11/7/2002 05:44:18 PM | PermaLink

Near-Miss Latin

Vergil Iliescu blogs a column in the Sydney Morning Herald that has been running an informal contest: change or add one letter to a common Latin saying and come up with something amusing. Among the results (more on Vergil's site):

Cine qua non - Nothing much on at the pictures.
Beau Peste - A unwanted admirer (Rina Hill, Seaforth)

Parsona non grata - Two Mormons at your door (Tony Turner, Tuross Head)

Bet al - Backing all the Cup runners to get a win. (Nigel O'Dea, Mosman)

Hores de combat- The girls are fighting again.
Persona non graba - Keep your hands off that woman. (Ian Johnson, Brisbane)

Gait accompli - The toddler's first step. (Peter Maxwell, Berridale)

(I may have screwed up some of the attributions. Sorry. Well, you know what they say: "Et su, Brutus": Go sue Brutus.)

Anyway, "Carpe Diet": I'm going to start losing weight today! And one great way to do that is through "sex nihilo": meaningless sex. Also, I'm thinking of getting a big car while I still can because, as they say, "Cars longa, vita brevis." Of course, I'll never lose enough weight to have meaningless sex in its bucket seats because "Arse longa, vita brevis."
11/7/2002 11:58:56 AM | PermaLink

Sick of Info

DarwinMag.com is running a column of mine about why I'm sooo tired of hearing about information:

I'm on the Web all day. Do you know how much time I spend dealing with information? On a good day, none. I'm reading, writing, talking with people I know and am getting to know, checking my e-mail, avoiding work. Information is the last thing on my mind. So it seems odd to me that information is such a focus of interest when it comes to the Net, as if that's what the Net is made of.

<snipping the entire body of the column...>

Why does this matter? Maybe it doesn't. Maybe I'm just being cranky because it's Election Day and I'm feeling particularly doomed. Yet, maybe it has everything to do with how we experience the Internet and thus with what we think it's for and what ought to be done with it. The old idea that it's an Information Highway made it appealing to governments and corporations but obscured the fact that it's more about connection than the transfer of facts. It's more about wet and messy humans doing all the things that can be done with words, pictures and sounds than about rational beings engaged in research.And that's why the Internet is a world and not just a medium: Media are good for moving bits, bytes, facts and information from A to B. A world is a rich context, irreducible and unfathomable � the grantor of the space in which its inhabitants can split hairs, flame and fall in love.

The information that shows up on the Web is part of the Web's world. But you could never get to the world of the Web if you started only with information.

11/7/2002 10:45:24 AM | PermaLink

In Defense of Reflexes

I received an email yesterday accusing me of supporting liberal ideas "reflexively." I bristled at the charge only in part because it's true. The rest of the bristling was due to the inaptness of the "reflex" simile.

"By reflex" is a pejorative meaning "thoughtlessly." But I don't believe it's a matter of operating by reflex or by thoughtfulness. Our aim should be to develop the right reflexes. Even Aristotle — Mr. Rational Animal Guy — thought that the virtuous man (sic) is one who has developed the right habits. In the same way, someone who is politically virtuous has developed the right reflexes.

These reflexes are the result not of random muscle spasms but of having a complex context that gives ideas and experiences a richness they would not have taken in isolation.

Besides, hard-headed rationality — which, of course, has its place — is the signature of the CE0 Conservativism that has taken over US politics, with a balance sheet written in the economics of fear.
11/7/2002 09:23:28 AM | PermaLink


Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Choose

Ten ways today is worse than yesterday:

Global warming

Energy conservation and clean air

John Ashcroft

The Supreme Court

Preemptive wars

Staggering debt

Health care

School testing replaces education

Internet freedom

Arrogant, smirking ex-CEOs are now the world's sole super power

11/6/2002 08:56:26 AM | PermaLink

Kushnick Supporting Links

Bruce Kushnick has sent me some links that related to the filing he submitted to protest the US Telecom Association's demand of the FCC that phone record-keeping be eased up.

To check out the materials on the Regulatory Flexibility Act see: This material was created for our Small Business broadband initiative. http://www.teletruth.org/FCCbroadband.html

To check out more about the audits I mention see: (Check out the cartoons as well). http://www.teletruth.org/audit.html

And to read the other comments about the Biannual Review — I've attached the USTA filing. In order to read the comments about the "Biannual review" go to http://gullfoss2.fcc.gov/prod/ecfs/comsrch_v2.cgi and type in the "proceeding" part (top left) "02-313". Then go to the bottom of the page and click on 'retrieve document list"

11/6/2002 08:50:38 AM | PermaLink


Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Telecoms Ask for Shredding on Demand

According to Teletruth.org's Bruce Kushnick (from a mailing list):

I just went through the "Biannual Review" materials, WC Docket Number 02-313. I've attached below what the Bells' lobbying group and association, the USTA [U.S. Telecom Association], is asking for the removal of all documentation and accounting requirements, just to name a few items.

I consider this entire process an outrage and the FCC should immediately halt this proceeding and start all over again. Record Shredding should be illegal and not sanctioned by the FCC.

The FCC is in violation of every conceivable part of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (as amended). It has gotten only 17 comments and reply comments (6 from the same person) for one of the most important discussions — making sure that the Bell companies keep accurate accounting books.

There was no effort on the part of the FCC to make sure that small businesses were included in these discussions, a condition of the Reg. Flex Act.

Teletruth recently conducted a campaign in New Jersey, with phonebill auditing firm LTC Consulting, to collect phonebills. We discovered that 50% of all phonebills had mistakes — mistakes that cost the customer money and which they can file for a refund. — and it can be thousands of dollars.

I can't find information about this at the FCC site, but Kushnick is respected by people I respect.
11/5/2002 10:13:41 AM | PermaLink

Get out! The Vote!

Make sure you vote today, assuming, of course that you are a US citizen, legally registered to vote, and in basic agreement with me.

If you do not agree with me, then please do vote anyway. But keep in mind that if you push the chad all the way through, you have destroyed your ballot. So you just want to lightly "dimple" the ballot with your choices, as per this official instruction sheet from the US Dept. of Elections:

(But seriously, if you are a Massachusetts resident and you want to register your disagreement with Senator Kerry's spineless vote in favor of the Let W Declare War When His Popularity Flags Act, you can write in Randall Forsberg. But you have to do it as follows to have it count as anything other than a vote for "other": "RANDALL FORSBERG, 950 Mass. Ave., Cambridge.")
11/5/2002 09:32:49 AM | PermaLink


Monday, November 04, 2002

[email protected]

Gen Kanai has a fascinating blog entry asking what the advent of game console telephony will mean. Both Xbox and Sony are adding the ability to talk with other online gamers via headsets:

The obvious thought here is that Microsoft and Sony will soon both have international IP telephony networks built around their gaming consoles.

What would it take to publish a "game" CD for these boxes that turn them into free IP phones?
11/4/2002 09:23:57 AM | PermaLink

Why Life Hurts

Slate's daily press round-up notes:

The Los Angeles Times notices a new study that found that people with severe back pain felt three-times worse when their spouses were in the room and tried to soothe them. It's not that the sufferers hated their loved ones, it's that—as many people who seen a small child trip have suspected—humans feel more pain when others take notice. Or, as one researcher put it, "The solicitous spouse has become a cue for a more intense pain experience."

No. The solicitous spouse has become a cue for a more intense sympathy experience.

I mean, what else is the point of pain?
11/4/2002 09:13:53 AM | PermaLink

Let's Give a Blogging Welcome to Ned Batchelder

Ned Batchelder, who turns out to be a fellow Brooklinian (Brookliner? Brooklinite? Brooklinista?), has an eclectic young blog that seems to care about programming, usability, and language as an object. By "language as object" I mean thinking about it as shapes (Halley's Alphabetical Order (or Halphabetical Order, if you prefer)), collections of letters (pangrams) and accidental meanings (puns). And he quotes Quentin Tarrantino from a 9/23 New Yorker article:

"They don't have anything on you, but it's time in the cycle to take you down. So they kill you with verbs and adjectives. 'He lumbered into the room.' 'He hesitated over the shrimp.' 'Gesticulating wildly, the motormouth Tarantino...' Hey, fuck you, you wanna-be novelist!"

That's a couple of days after Ned's written "Want to quickly see how a Unicode string comes out in UTF-8?" Like I said: eclectic.
11/4/2002 08:26:12 AM | PermaLink


Sunday, November 03, 2002

The Assosciation of Beleaguered Professors

Charlie Green has found a site for college teachers who feel oppressed. In particular, he points to an interview about the (non-)importance of hypertext. It's an "edgy" (= obnoxious) piece, typical of academic squabbles except without the usual pretense of civility. The intro says:

Noted author John Seagrave has been vilified for his criticism of yet another academic literary fad, this time something called "hypertext." The most vicious reaction came recently from Professor Dion Gigo of the MIT Computer and Other Languages Department; Dr. Gigo is one of the nation's foremost proponents of hypertext. Seagrave responds here to Gigo's allegations.

Here's a taste of the tone:

Rojas: Why was Gigo so angry?

Seagrave: Newly minted PhD.

Rojas: The importance of being important.

Seagrave: Yes. She's thirty years old and has spent all but five or so of those thirty working hard for parents or surrogate parents in a meritocracy... now she actually has to do something with her life that may run the risk of someone telling her she�s less than brilliant.

11/3/2002 01:10:01 PM | PermaLink

Gillmor on Broadband

Dan Gillmor has a terrific column today on what it'll take to get broadband going in this country. And he even has some words of encouragement for the FCC.

What would we lose by calling the telecom giants' bluff? Maybe a couple of years of rapid broadband deployment, though what they're deploying now — DSL and cable modem connections — runs at such a slow speed that it can only be called broadband if you stretch the definition. In South Korea and other places where deployment is going strong, speeds are much faster and prices much lower...

Another wild card has appeared, and it's the most exciting of all, because we might be able to give the monopolists what they're demanding and still have genuine competition.

11/3/2002 01:07:13 PM | PermaLink


Saturday, November 02, 2002

Why We Blog: Halley's Alphabetical Order

Halley wonders why "m" comes before "n" in the alphabet since "m" clearly builds on "n."

What an odd thought.

Might as well go all the way. Here's what seems to me to be a more rational alphabetical order, following Halley's Sequential Principle.

Upper case:


Lower case:


11/2/2002 11:56:23 AM | PermaLink


From Mark Dionne comes this article from the Independent in the UK:

Albanian and Russian observers sent to monitor American elections

A high-level delegation of European and North American election observers � including members from Russia and Albania � arrived yesterday for a week-long mission to watch Florida's mid-term elections, which take place on Tuesday.

Let us hope that our comrades to the east can help us live up to their ideals of democracy.

On the other hand, given that Florida continues to improperly exclude tens of thousands of voters, mainly African-Americans, because they've been misidentified as former felons, the chances of the election being fair are nil to begin with.
11/2/2002 10:15:07 AM | PermaLink

Will the War Start Tomorrow?

An incident on Sunday. A US response on Sunday night. A war on Monday. An election on Tuesday.

Just a thought on Saturday.
11/2/2002 09:16:13 AM | PermaLink


Friday, November 01, 2002

Contribute to Mondale

Bush, Cheney and Laura have all decided to visit Minnesota in order to make sure that Paul Wellstone's death also kills the hopes for a Democratic Senate. MoveOn.org is trying to raise $100,000 for Walter Mondale now. If you'd like to contribute, they've made it very easy here.
11/1/2002 05:14:56 PM | PermaLink


The opposite of a machine is voice.

The opposite of information is trust.
11/1/2002 08:48:03 AM | PermaLink

Peace in Mass.

A couple of ways you can bring about world peace if you are in Boston or Massachusetts:

1. Momentum is growing to write in Randy Forsberg for senator to protest John Kerry's spineless support of the Bush War Powers bill. This is cheap 'n' easy because Kerry has no credible opponent, so you know you won't be in effect helping to elect someone to the right of him. (You need to write in "RANDALL FORSBERG, 950 Mass. Ave., Cambridge" so that it won't register simply as "other.")

2. There's a peace march against the war in Iraq, Nov. 3 at 1 pm in the Boston Common. Speakers include Howard Zinn, Jill Stein (Green Party candidate for governor and the only person on the slate who doesn't drive decent human beings from the room screaming with their fingers in their ears), Forsberg and others.

According to the email about the march: "The music will be live, with rock to reggae and not too much folk. Buddhist drummers will lead the march." Frankly, I'd be more motivated by a good protest song or two than by trance-like rhythms that bring me in touch with the world's essential nothingness. But, then, that's just me.
11/1/2002 08:35:03 AM | PermaLink

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