For those who need to understand how the Web is changing the way businesses work
August 20, 1998
What's RageBoy Doing Here?
Chris "RageBoy" (Maurice) Locke, the editor of Entropy Gradient Reversals (EGR), has been appointed the official Scourge of JOHO. In this letter he speaks for many of you (well, at least two of you) who have complained that the current issue of JOHO is a tad, let's say, intellectual ... a bit, let's concede, abstract ... a smidgeon, we'll call it, useless.
So, not only has RageBoy written to set us straight, he also includes a story from his own life (complete with a lesson!) no doubt intending to Show Us How It's Done in the 'zine business. Unfortunately, he succeeds.
This isn't the first time we've crossed swords with our nemesis. To catch up with previous encounters, you can go straight to the "JOHO Takes on RageBoy " page where you'll find a skirmish over the importance of metaphors, RageBoy's attempt to turn the editor of JOHO into a fictional character, and the true story of my dinner with RageBoy.
[Occasional comments from the editor of JOHO in yellow interjectory boxes.]
Dear Mr. Weinberger,
I am in awe of your publication, The Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization. I just finished reading the entire recent issue and was impressed not only with your cleverness and erudition -- you must be quite intelligent -- but also with the depth and breadth of serious ideas with which you are so obviously unafraid to deal.
No one likes a wiseguy, RageBoy.
Personally, I gave up serious ideas for Lent -- a concept, after reading your Jew piece, I do not expect you to fully grasp. It's OK.
Even though I understood very little of what you wrote, I want you to know I agree 100%. All except for one bit. You wrote:...here are some other candidates for the title "Opposite of Information":
- Special Prosecutors
Here, you are seriously fucked up in the head. Didn't Gregory Bateson say that information is any difference that makes a difference? Or was that Baskin Robbins? Well, it doesn't really matter now, especially to him I'm sure. Or evidently, to Mr. Robbins either:
So the opposite of information would be "Things that don't make a difference"? I.e., anything I don't care about? Sounds good to me!
But let's just take fiction from that list, shall we? How much information, not to mention knowledge, was conveyed by Homer -- or even Bart for that matter? Were Chaucer and Rabelais full of lies and inaccuracies? Were they not, instead, accuracies of a different -- and one might argue, higher -- order?
Ah, but poets tell many a lie and are banned from the Republic -- Well, Plato's, not Bill's.
More to the point, fiction isn't a lie, but it sure isn't usually about "conveying information."
Such philistinism is beneath your usual keen intellect, Mr. Weinberger, so I hope you will seriously rethink this silly juxtaposition and address this question instead:
Why is fiction not indexed?
Go ahead. Wrap your head around that kognitive Rubik's cube! This koan will no doubt lead you to the threshold of understanding why Entropy Gradient Reversals has as its tagline: "All Noise - All the Time." It is from the irrational that we must learn today, and not from a bunch of highfalutin hogwash about such non-issues -- as you so correctly point out -- as Knowledge Management.
It's not indexed because no one wants to re-read it. And when they do, they find an index, like a Shakespeare concordance.
You call that a koan?? How about this: If I don't ask and you don't tell, is there information? Or, if I can fool myself, why can't I sue myself? And can I forge my own name?
(JOHO is accepting contributions of information- or knowledge-based koans.)
In crypto-congruence with that still-born meme, however, we suspect the following has some relevance to your recent ruminations on tacit-turnity. I wrote it after channeling Jacques Derrida via the sadly now defunct e-publication once called Microsoft Internet Magazine. What it may have to do with anything is left as an exercise for the reader. You can do anything you like with it, up to and including publishing it on JOHO, as -- though it does employ the language of the working class -- it is probably still too difficult for most EGR readers to quite comprehend.
Here then is...
or: How My Life Was Ruined By Not Going to Harvard Business School
It's no wonder I ended up in this computer industry racket. I grew up in Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, Mountain View -- the very heart of Silicon Valley. Except for one thing: that was 40 years ago and the only silicon I ever saw in California was the sand at the beach. My memories of those pre-high-tech days are of walking to school across black adobe bean fields, eating figs and apricots right off the tree, catching snakes and lizards on long lazy summer afternoons.
Then I grew up and got responsible.
Not! The fact is, I stayed lazy. For a long time. In fact, right up until... uh, what time is it now? But that doesn't mean I didn't, you know, like, do stuff. To support my preference for the laid-back lifestyle, I moved way out to backwater burgs like Fittakill, New York, and Nowyagonandunit, Maine. And like any self-respecting hippie freak, I taught myself carpentry -- both to make a buck and because it was one of those things I knew absolutely nothing about.
One day a pal and I decided to start a contracting business. We put up some flyers, took out an ad in the local paper, and pretty soon we got a call from a local homeowner who wanted a bid on a drywall job. We went to her house and measured everything in sight: floors, ceilings, walls, the works. Then we went down to the lumberyard and asked, all casual like: "Say, what is drywall anyway?"
"Now see here," you may be thinking, "I'm a busy executive-type business person. What's the point of all this?" Well, keep your shirt on, city slicker -- and put that damn cell phone away! We're gettin to it. But first another story...
So after bangin nails and wrasslin two-ba-fours for more years than I like to think about, I landed this pretty sizable job remodeling a record store in... jeepers gosh, an actual downtown mall! I was scared to take it on because it had to be finished by a certain date and no foolin around. But it went way better than I'd hoped. Right up to the last day that is. The Grand Opening was only 24 hours off and I still had about 6000 screws to sink (to put up these godawful looking shelf brackets). A little arithmetic -- "Let's see, 30 seconds per screw..." -- and it was pretty clear I'd never make it.
Jumping The Gun
This obviously called for automation of some sort and I'd recently heard about this newfangled power tool called a screw gun. Problem was, the only company that made them back then was Milwaukee, and man, those Milwaukee power tools weren't cheap. I found one for sale across town, but yow: they were lookin for 125 bucks!
It wasn't just the money, either. Here was something I'd surely never use again. I was about nails, not freakin screws! After the record store gig was done, it'd just sit around collecting dust. But there was a whopper paycheck on the other side of that 24-hour deadline, and I decided it was probably worth collecting.
"Screw it," I said -- for once halfway appropriately -- and popped for the gun.
Well pardner, me an my boys got that puppy polished off in record time, went off and had us a couple-three cases of beer, and marvelled what a marvel that there screw gun was! Too bad I'd never need it for anything again.
But a funny thing happened. You know a story like this has to have a "funny thing" in it, right? Well, here it is: I found about 300 uses for that weirdball gadget. It seemed every time I turned around, there was something else needed screwing -- and I mean that in the most literal and practical of senses. Fact is, it revolutionized my whole business. Just thinking about different ways of fastening stuff together convinced me to check out pneumatic staplers and nail guns. Pretty soon I was making fancy high-priced office furniture for big-city architects. Yee-hah!
The even funnier thing is that this whole business with the screw gun got me doing what -- for me, at that time, anyway -- amounted to some real deep thinking. How could such an uninteresting thing become such an endless source of fascination and utility? And I finally came up with this: because it was a tool.
Epistemology For Dummies
Now that may not sound terribly profound to you, but this little epiphany changed my life. I realized that tools were things that could create other things I hadn't been able to imagine -- yet. I also realized that the hardest thing about learning to use them was being willing to pick one up and say: "Hmmmm, I wonder what this sucker does?"
One day soon after, a guy comes into my shop and it turns out he's building a new Computerland store. Can I make the counters and cabinets and like that? And I say: I've been looking at those things you sell and whaddya say we trade? Long story short, I got my first computer in 1981 and I have to admit, it was considerably more puzzling than the screw gun.
But it could do a lot more things. I got on The Source that year, the first commercial online service of any size, and found myself "talking" to people through the keyboard. These were painfully slow conversations because I had never used so much as a typewriter before that, and I'd have to hunt for each letter. It was a mystery to me that "T" or "G" or "S" could be there one second and totally gone the next.
Two years later I was in Tokyo working at one of the largest computer manufacturers on the planet and moonlighting for artificial intelligence researchers looking to get their papers published in the West. I read every computer book I could lay hands on. Studied arcane subjects like linguistics and "natural language processing." Edited software documentation that would make a hardened killer cry. Taught myself Unix just for laughs. Needless to say, it was a fast-track couple of years, and I've left a bunch of things out -- like that I was a short-order cook for nine of those 24 months. But the main event you already know; that's right: The Screw Gun Incident.
Lots of people will tell you that they long for change. The job sucks, the boss is a moron, the routine grind is just no fun. But they look in all the wrong places for a way out. They're fed up with boring, pointless business buffoonery -- so they read even more boring, more pointless books about "Getting Ahead in Business." If you think about it more than five seconds, this is not entirely sane behavior.
As you can maybe tell from this little ramble, I come from so far outside the box, it never occurred to me you could get stuck in one. But I guess it's possible. Stuck good and solid. Wedged. I can dig it. Well, look: in addition to having been a carpenter and a cook and railroad brakeman and a couple other things, I was also once a fortune teller for The Psychic Friends Network, and I still like to keep my hand in. So let me end by offering a prediction about your future, if you want it:
You will soon encounter a screw gun of some sort. It may not be a real screw gun, you understand, but it will have the same effect on you my screw gun had on me. You will find this tool in the place you least expect it. It may not look like a tool at all. Nonetheless, you will suddenly look at this thing in a new way. You will prod it with your toe; you will make funny faces at it to see if it responds. Finally, you will pick it up and go: "Hmmmm..." Then you will go on a long trip. You will fall in love. Your life will never be the same.
Christopher Locke -- a.k.a. Rageboy -- is editor/publisher of the critically acclaimed webzine, Entropy Gradient Reversals. In a previous life he worked for Fujitsu, Ricoh, CMP Publications, Mecklermedia, MCI, and IBM. His Internet work has been covered by The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, Ad Age, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and NBC Nightly News. He has never recanted anything.
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