David Weinberger's Weblog. Let's just see how it goes.
How to survive a nuclear war with just a hat
Thursday, February 28, 2002
Same Grim Mime Rags
At last night's RIM GAMES, hosted by TART JEW SON, it was no surprise that SILKY ACE AI won a total of 5 GERM AIMS or that FOLLY NATURED took Best Female Vocal Performance. And YELL DAME DRAMA from the movie RUIN MULE GOO deserved the award it got. Old-Timers ZANY RV TINKLE won for Male Rock Vocal Performance and ROYAL JAM SET got Male Pop Vocal Performance. But no one was expecting EARTH WHORE BOTHER TOUR to walk away with album of the year! After all, HOW HE TORTURE EAR BROTH is ASS LEG RUB music!
On a non-anagramatic note, man was I pissed at Michael Greene's diatribe against Napsterism! As if the recording industry is looking out for the interests of the musicians. As Ken Layne writes, Michael Greene "is like John Ashcroft without the charm. "
Courtney Love for President!
2/28/2002 10:27:37 AM | PermaLink
Links and Responses
Jeneane Sessum and Others have started the "BlogSisters" communiblog. I love the tagline: "Where men can link, but they can't touch."
Kevin Marks blogs about Dawkins in response to my annoyed comments. Says Kevin:
Or, as I'd put it, Dawkins is one meme away from being a crank.
(Kevin's blog also recommends the right Steven Pinker books to read.)
2/28/2002 09:54:53 AM | PermaLink
The Affaire Dvorak has happily meta-ed itself well past Dvorak himself. I'm quite enjoying the many blogs about the importance, danger and art of criticizing one another. Wealth Bondage has a awesome list of How to Criticize, and AKMA reminds us how hard real criticism is. Damn straight. That's why good teachers are so rare.
AKMA points to Cinnamon's correspondence with Dave Rogers in which she suggests that bloggers happily blogging to and about one another constitute an exclusionary clique. AKMA responds by recasting the same phenomenon in different value-laden words: "Somewhere someone got the odd idea that it's wrong for people with similar interests to hang out together..."
You're both right. (And to satisfy those who insist that criticism is the only proof of authenticity: You're both wrong.) CAUTION: Extreme obviousness ahead. Of course we like to talk with people who are interested in the same things and who share the assumptions that let a conversation go forward. Of course this can become a clique when it excludes difference and pats itself on the back for doing so. Of course this can also be the way in which the world is joined and minds are enlarged. And that is precisely why we are — in general — better off opting for praise and elaboration rather than criticism and condemnation: criticizing others is all too often a way of excluding them from the conversation.
Of course, such criticism isn't what criticism is truly about. Separating the wheat from the chaff — the original meaning of criticism — is a form of respect. But, in that regard I'd say that the hyper-clique that grew up around the blogthread on authenticity was highly self-critical.
But we don't have to — and can't — legislate what is the Proper and Acceptable Form of Criticism. As AKMA writes, we
CAUTION: Sermonizing obviousness ahead. It's the same in bloggery as everywhere else: we are drawn to what draws us, we are interested in what interests us. The only difference is that we have an epochal opportunity to learn from one another. The criticism that mocks does so at the cost of learning, although it has its own pleasures: little is more enjoyable than a ripping good flame fest. The cost: flames anodize cliques. Real criticism is exactly what makes learning possible.
2/28/2002 09:49:43 AM | PermaLink
Megatokyo, spurred by Blue Mountains Arts deciding to charge for their e-cards, has a long reflection on respect and the Web economy. MegaTokyo is serving up 10,000,000 page views a month and thus has some skin in this particular game.
This doesn't change the fact that Blue Mountain Arts has picked the wrong business model. Rather than charging the sender, they ought to charge the recipients: "You've received a card from A Secret Admirer. Please deposit $0.50 to retrieve it."
[Thanks to David Landgren for pointing me to MegaTokyo.]
2/28/2002 08:55:06 AM | PermaLink
Wednesday, February 27, 2002
Sitting Out the Flames
I'm deeply uninterested in having a flame war with John Dvorak. In fact, I wasn't going to blog today since I'm on the road and have about 45 seconds before I have to unplug.
I did like Tom Matrullo's comments on Kottke's board.
And to become rather miscellaneous, Chip points us to an article that continues the propagation of the belief that a major conspiracy is about to emerge, one involving Afghanistan, Bin Laden, pipelines, Enron and why Cheney is hiding those with whom he met. (Michael Moore said on The Daily Show the other day that Cheney was meeting with the Taliban about a pipeline up until a month before 9/11.) I haven't had time to read the page I'm pointing you to, which is, of course, the height of irresponsibility. That is, it's bloggin', baby! Go decide for yourself if this is worth reading. As always.
I also haven't had time to read the new Dystopical but I don't have to be confident in recommending it to you.
2/27/2002 08:12:03 AM | PermaLink
Tuesday, February 26, 2002
Martin Jensen recommends a site about Richard Dawkins, about whom I railed the other day.
Here's a John Perry Barlow interview in which he uses the phrase "private totalitarianism" to label the corporate attempt to own the economy of ideas as well as the economy of work and money.
Eric Norlin has uniblogged his metablog about the inner relation of blogging and rap. (Ok, so maybe "uniblogged" for publishing a concatenation of blogs isn't a keeper. But Eric's content is.)
If you want the inside scoop on the Olympics ice skating scandal, you should glide on over to Mary Lu Wehmeier's site. She's not just a geek, she's a former figure skating geek.
2/26/2002 11:14:25 AM | PermaLink
At Your Self-Service
You can read the online version of an interview with me in FastCompany here. Best of all, you'll be spared the super-high-res, super-close-up, actual-size, mole-and-pore enhanced photo.
Also, I've collated my blogged TED trip reports to make them even easier for you to avoid. Yes, JOHO, serving the needs of its readers since 1995.
2/26/2002 10:39:32 AM | PermaLink
Ancient Works of Fiction
The lovely tinyapps.org site that features — surprise! — tiny applications is running a contest involving getting a CD ROM to be recognized by a Windows 95 partition. The reason I mention this is the prize:
2/26/2002 10:14:58 AM | PermaLink
Monday, February 25, 2002
At Dan Dubno's site, Gizmorama, you'll find a link to the amazing EarthViewer, demoed at TED. Type an address into the client and it delivers a cinematically thrilling aerial view of the locatio. There's a 14-day free trial on the site. The Gizmorama site also has links to other ditigal images of the earth and a link to CBS News' comprehensive links about disasters of every stripe.
Dave Rogers blogs on Dvorak on Cluetrain and blogging (see my previous blog entry).
Tom Shugart has started a blog. Looks promising. His very first entry is a reflection on the authenticity blogthread. Tom takes a pretty radically existential position: "...inventing the self is a supreme act of personal responsibility. You're either creating it and putting it out there or you're operating as a default self—i.e., without authenticity." Invent or discover? (Note: Tom's way too flattering about this blog. I am blushing undeservedly.)
Hermani Dimantas has started a blog. I assume it's good because, although it's in Portuguese and thus impenetrable to me, I know from correspondence with Hermani that he's an enthusiastic, smart guy.
Ryan Mulcahy, from Darwin Magazine for whom I write a weekly online column, recommends a site for people trying to quit cigarettes. My mother died of lung cancer, Ryan, so you know I mean it when I wish you luck and strength.
2/25/2002 02:12:50 PM | PermaLink
Dvorak on Cluetrain and Blogging
John Dvorak goes after Cluetrain and blogging. His closely reasoned argument is "Isn't this dumb?" and his evidence is "Hey, I'm cynical and they're not!"
Fun reading. For example:
Yeah, we're generally guilty of trying to find what's good in what other bloggers are writing. (Wasn't the original point of blogging to recommend sites?) But maybe Dvorak should read a little a more before he announces bloggers never criticize one another. What a hoot.
Mike Sanders and Halley Suitt blog excellent comments on Dvorak. (Oops, excuse me, there I go being positive again! I meant to say: Mike Sanders and Halley Suitt are full of shit! My God do they suck! I hate them!)
2/25/2002 09:58:20 AM | PermaLink
Sunday, February 24, 2002
This was an extraordinarily good day. The only weaknesses of the day are weaknesses of TED's format itself: the presentations are non-interactive with the audience and with one another so it is very difficult to develop ideas. For example, if a Nobel prize winner raises a provocative issue in his allotted 15-20 minutes, there's no Q&A, no panel, and no further discussion by later speakers who, by and large, have labored for months polishing a presentation from which they dare not swerve.
This weakness was quite apparent in the first presentation of the day. Daniel Dennett, a philosopher of amazing clarity and originality of focus, compared the ideas humans are willing to die for to an actual virus whose propagation requires causing its hosts — ants in this case — to commit suicide. As he led us to believe he was talking about militant Islam, he pulled the rug and said that our Western memes are a virus that threatens to do to the non-Western world what real viruses did to the native Americans when the Europeans arrived. Just as he was about to tell us what he thinks can and should be done to protect the world from these mental viruses, his time was up. As a result, he left us at the weakest part of his argument, it seemed to me. Yes, ideas are like viruses in that some multiply at the cost of their hosts' lives. But, unlike viruses, they do not necessarily act in a mechanistic, deterministic way (unless one believes that all thought is deterministic). There is something profoundly anti-intellectual and demeaning about the "ideas are viruses" meme. After all, this view has to say that all ideas are viruses, doesn't it? Rationality is a virus as much as extremist religious views. Otherwise, we're just picking the ideas we don't like and labeling them viruses, smuggling the negative sense of "virus" under the coat of the genetic sense of virus. But Dennett would have revealed all ... if only Ted slots were wider and the speakers fewer.
Here are some more highlights:
Steve Jurveston had 7 minutes to talk about the nanotech revolution. Fascinating but way too abbreviated. He expects revolutions in computing, medicine, materials and manufacturing in 5-10 years. He also pointed out in passing that the human genome is smaller than MS Office.
Nobelist Kary Mullis gave a country-boy reminiscence of his discovery that the scientific method is a human invention. After giving a vivid sense of what "doing science" means to him, he attacked politicized science, taking global warming as his example. He cited two recent studies that found no warming in the past 50 years, throwing into doubt the "More CO2 = More Warming" hypothesis first formulated 100 years ago.
Next came Richard Dawkins who pissed me off mightily. He's obviously one of our great minds but ... he's got an impressively blinkered view of religion. I wholeheartedly agree with his main point: American culture needs to accept atheism as a mainstream belief, and I liked his proposal that atheists come out of the closet in order to legitimize the atheist position. But he wrapped this in a virulent and, frankly, ignorant attack on religion. I wanted to go up to him afterwards and say: "I hate science. Scientists experiment on animals." He would reply (I imagine): "First of all, you twit, astronomy, physics, etc. don't experiment on animals." Then I would pounce, it being my fantasy and all: "Exactly. And a critique of religion-in-general is just as twitty." It genuinely irks me that he recklessly conflates all religions as if they all reject science, all insist on blind faith, and all appeal only to the weak-minded. (The fact that my wife, who has a doctorate in philosophy and is one of the clearest-headed people I know, is an orthodox Jew certainly doesn't affect my attitude :)
Josef Penninger gave a fascinating presentation on his genetic research that may result in treatments for osteoporosis, arthritis, and pain management. More interesting, however, was his explanation of discoveries about how particular genes work. For example, the gene that controls the death of cells is also used by the body to "sculpt" fingers out of fetus's webbed mass. I spoke with him afterwards and found him to be shy and friendly. (Yes, you can be both.) When he talked about his new institute, he talked mainly in terms of human values. Emotionally, he felt like Dawkin's mirror image.
By the way, I also had a chance to talk briefly with Dean Kamen. "Since Segway challenges so many of our habits and many of our institutions," I asked, "how do you see it getting accepted? Who's going to adopt it first? Where will the breakthrough be?" "I wish I knew," Kamen said while standing, as always, on his Segway. But, he said, things are looking up since the Segway's introduction: Automobile companies don't hate it the way he thought they would and two states have passed laws allowing Segways on sidewalks.
Steven Pinker, whose work on language and the brain is brilliant and too hard for me, gave a highly understandable preview of his new book that argues that there is indeed such a thing as human nature. He pointed to four reasons we fear that idea: We don't like the inequality of capability it implies, we think it means that we are not perfectable, it seems to imply determinism and it seems to suck all the meaning out of life. He gave brief, effective counters for each fear.
Next up was Deepak Chopra, a popular spiritualist. He opened up by saying that Dawkins "seems to be a bit of a fundamentalist [laughs from the audience] and even perhaps a bit of a bigot [gasps from the audience]. He then spent his twenty minutes trying to erase science's distinction between observed and observer, using indeterminacy and quantum leaps as his proof points. He spoke the language of physics fluently, but even I, whose lack of understanding of quantum mechanics is truly deep, spotted some misunderstandings. I think. Besides, his approach can't possibly convince scientists because he's not telling them anything they don't already know.
Quincy Jones talked about his life. Frank Gehry chatted about his life as an architect. Chris Bangle, BMW's chief designer, told an amusing story to show that love and trust are at the heart of the collaborative process.
Overall, it was an amazing line up of intellect, squeezed, alas, into slots as small as veal pens — with just as much room to move around.
This is Richard Saul Wurman's last year as the head of TED. Next year, Chris Anderson, founder of Business 2.0, will host it. Chris is promising to maintain TED as it is, but it remains to be seen if it can weather the departure of its leader and icon.
By the way, I managed to leave out one extraordinary presentation yesterday. David Macauley cycled through about 100 drawings in 20 minutes to show the process by which he created his upcoming book about Rome. (What's the graphical equivalent of thinking out loud?) He is such a magnificent artist.
2/24/2002 09:24:53 AM | PermaLink
Saturday, February 23, 2002
Report on Friday at TED, the Technology Entertainment and Design conference in Monterey, an eccentric mix of presentations and performances, celebrities and civilians.
This was a more successful day than yesterday, IMO. The highlights from my point of view:
Robert Full from UC Berkeley discussed his group's research into animal motion. They've been able to make robots that navigate through complex landscapes without requiring a computer brain to match actions to an internal representation. Instead, legs made out of materials that are complexly flexible — just like animal legs — adjust the critter's movement to the terrain simply because of the shape and nature of the legs themselves. This seems quite similar to Rodney Brooks' work on getting inner representations out of the AI picture. Full also talked about the mechanism by which geckos can scoot up walls: It turns out that the gecko's toe pads foliate to such small nodes that molecular Van der Waal forces can overcome gravity. (Was that a look of inspiration I saw in Dean Kamen's eyes as he thought about he might apply this to wall-climbing Segways? Nah.)
Frans Lanting, a photographer for National Geographic (is there a more evocative job description?) cycled through astonishing photographs of wildlife. You can see a few here.
Jeffrey Katzenberg showed the first 7 minutes of his new animated feature ("Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron") about wild horses. It puts characters drawn in 2D illustration style into a detailed 3D world. The artwork is beautiful (but familiar) and the movie's opening tries for the bravura sweep of the opening of The Lion King. The problem is with the writing. The narration is so hackneyed and trite that Matt Damon's reading can't save it. And the very first words of the script are just flat out wrong: The star horse intones that the horses have been in the American west forever. Yeah, even before the Spanish brought them?
The late morning session presented a string of humorists (a chuckle of humorists?). Bruce Vilanch told some funny jokes of the Viagra, Shirley Maclaine and Richard Gere and smally furry mammals variety. Emily Levine did a routine that managed to be genuinely funny about philosophical dualism. And MacArthur Genius Ben Katchor deadpanned his way through his arch, illustrated prose-poems that are as willing to be ambiguous as Katzenberg is willing to be trite. Jill Sobule performed again; I had the chance to tell her that I fall more in love with her every day.
Dan Dubins, a CBS News producer, demo'ed software that combines satellite imaging data with geological elevation data so that you can zoom, tilt and pan as if you were flying a space-capable helicopter. Others have produced similar software, but this had more data than I'd seen and, more dramatically, treated the entire experience cinematically, an excellent example of the importance of entertainment in presenting information. Unfortunately, Dubins didn't give the software's name, although I thoughtI heard him refer to "earthview."
Steven Petranik, editor of Discover magazine, ticked off his Top Ten list of ways the world could end suddenly:
He wasn't kidding about any of these. See you in hell.
Amory Lovins talked about the hypercar project, a radically redesigned car that uses hydrogen fuel (producing water as its exhaust) or fuel cells. It reverses most of the principles that have guided car design from the beginning. Most exciting, he has put the design into the public domain so that no one can patent it and many can build them.
Nicholas Negroponte wrapped up the sessions by predicting that in 1-2 years, we will see the development of a "viral telecommunications network" based on 802.11 wirelessness, a single installation serving an entire neighborhood. This will go beyond merely enabling multiple connections to the Internet, Negroponte predicts, resulting in a peer-to-peer network that parallels the current Internet topography. Further, he suggests that establishing wireless networks in areas of strife will enable children to reach past their parents' stupidity.
He connected this with our culture's odd idea that at the age of 5 children should stop learning by playing and start learning by facing forward and being taught. Give kids a connected computer and they will teach themselves and others by exploring the Internet. Pointing to his experience building schools in rural Cambodia, he said: "People say it's not sufficient to give kids computers and connectivity. You know what? It is."
Damn good stuff.
Finally, the day ended with an astounding set of musical performances. In the first half, Gary Burton, Maokoto Ozone and Julian Lage played. Julian is a prodigy, a 14-year-old with technical expertise and musicality that's jaw-dropping. I shared an elevator ride with him and his parents and they seemed loving and grounded. Could my impression based on this 45 second experience be wrong? Actually, no, it couldn't be. You can't lie in an elevator any more than you can lie down in an elevator.
The second concert featured Herbie Hancock. Astounding.
As a bonus, I ran into Jakob Nielsen, the Usability Guy. I'd long wanted to meet him. By happy coincidence, he was talking with Maryam Mohit, in charge of Amazon's UI. (She's on a generous maternity leave. Her 4-month old son is gorgeous.) Very enjoyable discussion, in part about the importance of voice and its relation to authority.
A good day.
2/23/2002 10:07:16 AM | PermaLink
Friday, February 22, 2002
Thursday at the TED Conference
Report on highlights of the first full day at TED, the Technology Entertainment and Design conference in Monterey, an eccentric mix of presentations and performances, celebrities and civilians.
This morning gave us a dull-as-it-sounds panel discussion of the design of chairs preceded by a sparkling performance by singer-songwriter Jill Sobule The only moment of interest (for me, anyway) in the chair panel came when the guy from SteelCase talked about Bluespace, a project with IBM to rethink the cubicle. The chair becomes the brain of the place, automatically adjusting the lights and temperature. Of course, the desk folks are going to insist that desks are the center of the universe. And Apple has already made it clear that it thinks that all revolves around the desk lamp. (Bluespace is reminiscent of Bruce Tognazzini's Star Office concept.)
The chair panel was followed by the truly mirthful Respyni Brothers juggling act.
Walt Mossberg was next up. Before he started his tech column at the Wall Street Journal. ten years ago he was covering wars, the world economy, international affairs and other such frothy delights. Yet he would only get one or two letters a year from readers. As soon as he started the tech column, he started hearing from hundreds of readers a day. Why, he asked, do people not care enough about world affairs to write, but if they disagree with his slightest opinion about computers, they write long, passionate missives? Great question with lots of answers. (My book, Small Pieces, actually is an attempt to answer that question, at least with regard to the Web.)
Mossberg is quite funny, by the way. And frank. He said that James Baker, Secretary of State under Bush Sr., used to have a computer in his office that Baker had no idea how to operate. One key was color coded and hard wired to call up the current value of the dollar so that in meetings with foreign dignitaries, Baker could spin around, hit the key, and say "Hmm, looks like the dollar is currently trading at 1202 Lira," or whatever. He also said that when Mossberg told Baker that he was dropping his coverage of the State Department in favor of writing a tech column, Baker said, "What the fuck would you do that for?" Answer: Mossberg saw that a revolution in technology was going to change the world. When last seen, Mossberg was one of the most respected tech journalists with an international readership and James Baker was fixing a tawdry election in Florida.
Dean Kamen gave a 30 minute presentation, standing the entire time on a Segway. The Segway is supremely cool, but seeing Kamen "pacing" on the scooter made it look like a cybernetic attachment rather than a mode of transportation. In his rambling (rolling?) remarks, he defended the value of the Segway by saying that because it goes three times faster than walking, it extends the effective range of a person without a car and thus can replace cars within cities. (Of course, so can bikes for most people.) I have no idea if the Segway will catch on because it involves replacing so many ingrained habits and assumptions. His bionic pacing only seemed to make the hurdle higher. (Dan Bricklin's article on the Segway's importance is likely to become of historic interest as we look back on how the Segway phenomenon transformed human mobility and cities ... or just fizzled.)
But Kamen really wanted to talk about First, not Segway. First is his program to involve more women and minorities in the sciences. He showed a tape of one of the First robotic competitions. The high school students' stories were quite moving. There is greatness wrapped up in Kamen. And legends have already begun.
He also said that the Ibot — the stair-climbing, human-elevating wheelchair — should be cleared as a Class 3 medical device this year. And, he showed one of the Stirling engines he's been working on. He says that the small engine can move a Segway from New York to Boston on a kilogram of propane. And, the heat that it throws off could be used, he said, to distill 10 gallons of water an hour, potentially ending the curse of dirty water that is the world's biggest killer while simultaneously bringing electricity to remote villages.
Yo-Yo Ma brought out a troupe of musicians playing instruments from around the world. They performed two pieces written around 1500, the sort of courtly, tuneful European music of the time that I've found no more than entertaining. This I found moving. In part it is the joy with which Ma leads his group and the joy with which they play. It helped also that I've been listening to Ma and watching his astonishing growth (from his astounding beginning) all my adult life. Ma is not particularly articulate in terms of his sentence structure, but he is remarkably eloquent. He conveyed vividly the way in which the world's music is connected. I choked up.
Then, in response to the multiple standing ovations, he played Bach, alone. This was one of the richest musical experiences in my life. I wept. (Good thing he stopped because the next escalation of my response would have involved unsightly stains.)
There were many other speakers. Some were excellent. A few were self-involved, conspicuous duds. For the rest of the day, I never quite left Ma's performance.
TED is all about the time between the presentations when we mingle and the class sytem is evoked in every glance even as it is ostensibly being overcome. I bumped into Ma and did the standard fan thing: shook his hand, told him that his performance moved me. Among the other celebrities: Rupert Murdoch dressed like someone had to tell him what "business casual" means. Bruce Villanch, the center square on Hollywood Squares. Neil Simon. Art Buchwald. Jeffrey Katzenberg.
I am not counting computer industry folks such as Danny Hillis, Jeff Bezos and Alan Webber. And, of course, why would I even mention the non-celebrities? Just because that's from whom I'm learning almost everything of value? It does seem that there is an extraordinarily high percentage of really interesting non-celebs here; almost anyone you strike up a converation with is passionate and articulate about something.
There's no reason to point to the dud presentations. But I'm steamed about one. A marketing guy from Nike talked with great pride about the "world shoe" project, which he presented as a way for Nike to expand sales from the 180M sneakers per year it's been stalled at for three years. So, he came up with the idea of designing a shoe that can sell in the third world for about $10. Fine and dandy.
I'm not saying he had to use the word "sweatshop," but some acknowledgement in his brief history of Nike that there have been some, let's say, concerns about Nike's record would have been appreciated ... especially since he said that "Now the kids who work in the factory can buy the sneakers they make." "Kids"?! Can a Nike marketing guy really be that insensitive to the perception of Nike as an exploiter of children? But what really moved my cheese was his casual assumption that if Nike needs to make more money, of course it should stimulate demand for swooshed shoes among those who could find a better use for their $10. Demand stimulation is one of the things wrong with capitalism although in an affluent society it is merely wasteful and psychologically debilitating. In an impoverished society, it is manipulative, selfish, and pornographic. So, fuck him and the sneaker he rode in on. [Note: The author wishes to acknowledge that the preceding remarks on Nike show a remarkable naivete about the world economy and the nature of capitalism. Thank you.]
2/22/2002 10:38:23 AM | PermaLink
Imagine my surprise to find that James Fallows plucks the following passage from Small Pieces Loosely Joined, my upcoming book, in an article in The New York Review of Books about a discussion in the Boston Review of Republic.com by Cass Sunstein. He uses the quotation to counter Sunstein's "central claim that the Internet has a narrowing effect on people's minds":
Cool! Of course, I mean that in a blase, post-hip sort of way.
But, enough about me. (Hah!) Fallows' article is its normal thoughtful, lively self. Plus, it ends with a long letter from Bill Gates explaining why he would never and could never have said "640K should be enough for anyone," a canard that — like Gore supposedly claiming to have invented the Internet — will probably never take No for an answer.
[Thanks, Doc and Kevin Marks for pointing the article out.]
2/22/2002 10:10:12 AM | PermaLink
Thursday, February 21, 2002
MetaTag: You're It!
So, Dave blogs about Doc blogging about Jacob Shwirtz blogging about bloggers blogging about blogging, and now I reference Dave, enabling me to achieve a Level 5 Meta-Blog, making me the most meta-blogging blogger on the planet! Woohoo!
...At least unless someone blogs this (:
2/21/2002 09:59:54 AM | PermaLink
Dan Pink suggests that the global epidemic of obesity
Au contraire! The obese will be recognized as a renewable source of energy as the oil companies open up giant liposuction wells in the middle of every American population center. (Two in Chicago). Overeating will become our patriotic duty.
Sure you can have my Twinkie ... when you pry it from my cold, dead, pudgy fingers.
2/21/2002 09:49:41 AM | PermaLink
Life among the Famous
So, I'm standing next to Yo-Yo Ma who's saying to Herbie Hancock that Herbie's new outreach program is tremendously exciting. So, I say to Yo-Yo ... absolutely nothing. I stand there like a dork. Totally appropriate behavior.
I expect to have many more C2D (Celebrity-to-Dork) non-encounters over the next few days. I'm at the TED conference, this odd confab of digeratti, entertainers, media types and then the rest of us.
I missed yesterday's sessions and arrived in time only for the opening cocktail party, a self-consciously "elegant" affair that pretended that holding a martini automatically makes you sophisticated. I took a tour of the jammed ballroom when I got there and realized that I was literally the only person not talking with someone else. I am not good at meeting strangers. In fact, I get depressed in crowds of strangers, especially if they're enjoying themselves.
Eventually, however, I fell into a conversation with the guy who was demoing the Alias/Wavefront Portfolio Wall touchscreen device. "Touchscreen device" seriously understates it. It's a gorgeous, large flat panel screen that responds to gestures, very much as Bruce Tognazzini's "Star Office" video envisioned it years ago. Watching people walk up to the screen it seems that there are maybe three gestures that people naturally use (pointing to select, dragging to move, waving to turn a page) and after that, we're going to have to make up more. The gestures Alias/Wavefront have invented seem completely obvious once they show you. (The company has looked at American Sign Language as a source.) The demo Alias/Wavefront has put together is stellar, including a seemingly pointless sketching app that spins out swirly, fading designs as you move your hands ... sort of like what you saw when your chemcially-whacked brain watched your hands waving in air. You know your product demos well if it actually causes an acid flashback.
I started talking with the demo guy who turns out to be Tom Wujec whose third book, "Return on Imagination", will be out in April. (His previous book was the felicitiously titled Pumping Ions.) We spent a half hour talking about visualization software, the effect of the Web on real world self-understanding, gestures, and the like. Better than a martini.
The trip from Boston to LA was surprisingly fun because I happened to be seated next to the illustrator David Macauley ("The Way Things Work") who was also on his way to the conference. I've long been an admirer of his work. What a gift he has. And what a good guy. Thoughtful, warm-hearted, funny. He's just at the beginning of a project that will take him 2.5-3 years: a book that describes visually the building of a human being, system by system. This will be fascinating not only because of its topic but because Macauley is reflective about how to convey information ... not to mention that he draws real good, too.
As if to round out my day of the Varieties of Famous Experience, at the LA airport where I volunteered to be bumped from an overbooked flight (in place of a guy who said he had an important meeting ... that afterwards turned out to be with the national Meat Association, causing my vegetarian heart to momentarily have misgivings) who was standing next to me at the counter but Ben Stein. Those of you not immersed to your pineal gland in pop culture may not know that he's the whiny-voiced, dull-looking actor who also was a law professor and on Richard Nixon's legal team. In our little Celebrity Encounter he was actually quite nice and self-effacing. Unlike with Yo-Yo and Herbie, I did not feel speechless.
More reports on Fear of the Famous from the conference later. Who knows, I may even blog about the content.
2/21/2002 08:44:25 AM | PermaLink
Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Enron HumorThe Enron voice answering system.
Thanks, J. Arnold
2/20/2002 08:24:56 AM | PermaLink
Get Your War On
The new mnftiu is available. We're watching genius unfold.
Thanks, Gary for the early warning.
2/20/2002 08:01:45 AM | PermaLink
Meta Tag: You're It!
So, Dave blogs about Doc blogging about Jacob Shwirtz blogging about bloggers blogging about blogging (and also points to Kumquat on the five stages of blogging, and now I reference Doc, enabling me to achieve a Level 5 MetaBlog, making me the most meta-blogging blogger on the planet! Woohoo!
...At least unless someone blogs this (:
2/20/2002 07:20:47 AM | PermaLink
Tuesday, February 19, 2002
PS: Here's Suck's parody of Slashdot. (Thanks, Doc.)
2/19/2002 05:46:48 PM | PermaLink
Kevin Marks, inventor of the Marks marks of Googlewhacking, writes:
One is an article by Constance Rosenblum about what it's like to lose all your email. Having lost the past five months' worth, I sympathize; I might as well have been told that a brain virus ate five months of memories.
The other is a review by the philosopher Thomas Nagel of a biography of Nietzsche. Writes Nagel:
You go, Nagel! The Web is an unparalleled realm for living the complexity of our social identities.
Which is a backwards way of getting at something that's been bothering me. Remember Nietszsche's Appolionian/Dionysian complementarity -- the sedate, rational, respectful-of-limits Apollo and the wild, drunken, omni-mounting Dionysus? Having been involved in an Apollonian discourse on the nature of authenticity and self — the blogthread that's been wending it's way through many blogs over the past week — my inner Dionysius is getting antsy. All yin and no yang makes Jack a dull boy. Not that there's been an overall shortage of Dionysian yang on the Web; we should be welcoming Apollo back and trying to make him feel at home. But, let's face it, Apollo gets a bit tiresome (while Dionysus is just plain exhausting). We need to be able to say Yes to both the clear, insightful, patient and loving work of Apollo as well as the murky, felt, hasty, lusty, funny and loving work of Dionysius. Then they need to hit the road and star in a buddy movie together...
2/19/2002 03:45:07 PM | PermaLink
Scott McCloud, in his comic strip about games ("Discovering Games") in the March Computer Gaming World, quotes game designer Doug Church:
Exactly the same is true of businesses presenting themselves on the Web. The more they exercise control over their site, the less involving (or even useful) it is for visitors. All but a handful of business sites make this mistake. They view think their site is for them. Which is why we don't care about them.
The "Shadows of Luclin" add-on to the online game EverQuest requires 512MB of RAM for the graphics to display properly.
This necessarily generates Geezer Stories such as: "Why, I remember when I was at Interleaf in 1988 and it was considered outrageous and even arrogant to require a Power Mac user to have 4MB of RAM. Why, today's programmers are spoiled..."
2/19/2002 08:00:00 AM | PermaLink
Monday, February 18, 2002
From Chris Pirillo's Lockergnome games discussion board comes a free game, called Crash!, that is surprisingly hypnotic in a Bejeweled sort of way. Thanks, Ernest! (The help files for this beta version aren't very helpful. The object is to clear the board. Clicking on a square will clear it if it shares a border with two others of the same color; its border mates are also cleared. The bottom line of the screen shows you the next line of squares that will be added.)
Paul Graham, who is an acquaintance from a previous life at a software company, has written a really interesting explanation of why his start-up used Lisp to write their application, including an argument about what constitutes a higher level language. (Thanks to Bret Pettichord for pointing this out.)
Of course, this recalls the old joke that circulated via email about ten years ago. "I've managed to hack into the Defense Department's Star Wars code," it explained breathlessly. "Unfortunately, I was only able to get the last page." What followed were 2,000 close-parentheses. Oh, the tears of laughter were like CDRs to the Lisp geeks' eyes over that one!
My own book, The Adventurer's Guide to Interleaf Lisp, continues to sell high into the single digits every year. I only wish I were kidding.
2/18/2002 11:01:51 AM | PermaLink
Sunday, February 17, 2002
A Day on the Blogstream
Take Friday on the blogstream...
Read Mike Golby, Akma, Steve Himmer and Tom Matrullo, four brilliant writers with fast-beating hearts all writing on the same topic. Ten days ago, three were new to me.
Compare Akma's and Steve's careful precision that honors the topic to Tom's inhabiting of history that enriches it to Mike's jazz that invigorates it. Or don't compare. Just delight in them all.
See if you can follow the threads which led to those posts. Reconstruct a dance from a snapshot. Here's a salad, now rebuild the lettuce.
In the course of a week, they and others just as worthy have spun up a body of thought about an idea. Analysts have analyzed it. Artists have riffed on it. Practitioners have applied it. Ideas have been proposed and withdrawn. Certainty has been broached by a more useful indecision. A new type of focus has drawn an ever-widening horizon. Feelings have been hurt as we feel our way towards one another. There's been at least one return to faithful roots. I have a handful of new friends I expect never to lose. We are writing a new book — distributed, contradictory, in process, unowned, right and wrong, loud and soft, angry and glad, inspired and dull, alone and together.
Don't tell me this isn't new. Don't tell me that it's "basically like" this or that.
This is what happens when you take the ownership out of the authorship and build a world out of conversation.
2/17/2002 09:25:40 AM | PermaLink
Authenticity - Another perspective
Vergil Iliescu says it's ok for me to blog email he sent me yesterday:
Vergil pulls us back to the topic we started with: Can marketing be authentic? When the British Mini company creates an aw-shucks, witty site, should we trust it and them, or should we feel manipulated, or both, or neither? Yes, the Internet introduces (or exposes) a gap in our selves, a gap I think it's useful to think of as like the gap between an author and her characters. Yes, "authenticity" seems not to apply to marketing campaigns and corporations, but congruence of statement and action seems helpful. Yes, the bodilessness of the Internet must have a deep effect on the nature of our self. Yes, Billy Connolly reminds us that one of parrhesia's greatest forms, at least in the modern world — from Lenny Bruce to mnftiu — is humor.
2/17/2002 09:14:55 AM | PermaLink
Saturday, February 16, 2002
A Miss and a Link
Yeah, I can see that. I wouldn't even have mentioned it except I wanted to get to the inherent contradiction in Hot Topic's mass marketing to non-conformists. Thanks for the info.
Marek says that b!X's mom's blog is "the coolest." No argument here.
2/16/2002 03:34:12 PM | PermaLink
The Clued and the Clueless
Mark Justman, from the Institute for Alternative Futures (leading one to ask: aren't all futures alternatives?) recommends Zoot as a product and a company:
I haven't installed the demo version yet, but James Fallows, in a 1997 review in The Atlantic Monthly, praises it. The site has a sense of humor, and the fact that it was built by one person (a recovering ad man) makes me trust its voice more. (Could I have fallen for a fiendish attempt to sound friendly? Absolutely!)
Jonathan Peterson writes:
2/16/2002 02:35:14 PM | PermaLink
Ken Walton has put up a site that lets you googlewhack painlessly. It also tracks high scores. You should also check this site, although the name of the person who created it got lost in my disk crash. Sorry!
2/16/2002 02:33:34 PM | PermaLink
Friday, February 15, 2002
The blogthread (hmm, does the fact that it's multi-site meant that it's a blogyarn, not a blogthread?) about authenticity, marketing and the world has some excellent comments and additions.
Bill Seitz writes:
On Bill's site congruence is defined as "Having action be congruent with thought. Doing what you know you should do."
Oy, Bill, don't go deepening this discussion on us! Authenticity has usually been taken to be within the realm of self-understanding, not action. But, of course, not only could you re-construe the entire discussion along the lines of the congruence of thought and action, but you would immediately plunge into a literally theological debate. E.g., faith versus works, to put it Christianly. For Jews, the faith/works model doesn't work all that well. And now we're off to the races...
Maybe congruence is all that we can or should demand of a business. I still believe that "authenticity" just doesn't apply to organizations, but if we take corporate "thought" to mean not only the codified "vision" and "mission" but its external marketing, then, yes, if Monsanto is preaching "building a better world for all of us," then I damn well want their actions to be congruent with that. In fact, I care much more about congruence than authenticity in this case.(By the way, I made up Monsanto's motto.)
Andrew Ross writes:
I like the way this helps get us out of the trap of thinking (to put it in a purposefully loaded way) that not only do we have a single "inner self" but that that self is who we really are. It also provides a model that removes some of the traditional moral weight of authenticity — "Thou Shalt Be Authentic" — so that it's more descriptive than prescriptive. This lets authenticity apply better to the Web where having a variety of selves and personae may be a sign of creativity, flexibility or playfulness rather than an indication that your moral core is flabby.
I think that Andrew's view of authenticity makes it pretty irrelevant to corporations, which is fine with me. Or am I just thinking about this wrong?
Jonathan Peterson writes:
So, this would ground a company's idea of itself in its actual history. I like that a lot. And it has an odd impact on the implications of Andrew's and Bill's ideas, for we don't necessarily want congruence between a company's history and its actions but this longer view of corporate identity maybe gives a way to identify an authentic (!) inner core of a company. (In The Cluetrain Manifesto, Doc and I wrote that positioning isn't a matter of taking a blank piece of paper and jotting down some ideas. In fact, the market positions companies. And it can take generations before, say, Volkswagen is no longer "branded" as a Nazi car.)
Good heavens, is AKMA a masterful writer and the rare person who raises up all who meet him. His latest is brilliant along several axes. Unfortunately, I deleted the blog of mine to which he refers because I thought it was, well, crap. Had I known that it figures in AKMA's latest authentico-blog, I might have left it up just so his links wouldn't be dead. (I also was affected by the "hot 'n heavy theological mash note" AKMA's wife sent him yesterday.)
Dave Rogers, part of the original blogthread on this topic, has a terrific piece on whether Love is really the killer app. It's very much on the same theme as the blogthread since it asks if businesses are capable of love. He also has blogged praise for Santa Cruz Bicycles as a company that perhaps deserves to be described as authentic. (I ran an interview with them in my 'zine because I was similarly impressed with them.)
Jason Thompson is off to a great start with his new blog, including an entry about voice and marketing.
And, Jacob Shwirtz has entered the fray with a piece on trust. ("Fray" is the wrong word for this virulently civil discussion.) He includes a long quote from an entertaining rant from Dennis Miller.
2/15/2002 12:18:22 PM | PermaLink
Mike O'Dell sends us to a taxonomy of Flame Warriors, i.e., obnoxious Net types. Unfortunately, I recognized myself in over 75% of them.
Chip has found "more Google tales," a provocative column by Eric Zorn that juxtaposes anecdotes about where the new line of privacy should be drawn given that we can find out 'most anything about 'most anybody by doing a search at Google.
Brad Bauer recommends Sidestep.com where you can download a free tool that lets you see various travel sites' suggestions side by side. (I haven't tried it, so if it eats your desktop and sends pornographic fonts to everyone in your address book, send your flames direct to Brad.)
Gary Unblinking Stock, Creator of the Googlewhack, points us to The Secret Life of Numbers, a fascinating (in the literal sense) site that does an amazing job of presenting its research into the frequency with which we use particular numbers. I assume that the fact that I can't make heads nor tails of the shimmering graphics is my fault; I have trouble making sense of timelines.
Gilbert Cattoire has a pair of finds. First at the home of the Post-It Note, he writes, we learn that "refillable holders have a unique,very specific objective: Improve employee relations."
Second, he points us to Annotis.com where you can get the tools to scribble on top of your email, highlighting passages, drawing little smiley faces, and putting horns on top of every instance of the phrase "my manager."
Although I'm late blogging this, it's sure important enough to repeat: Peter Kaminski recommends Lawrence Lessig's Creative Commons where creators can get IP licenses that make sense. (Both Peter and Larry are Net treasures.)
Dave Rogers recommends a lecture by Brenda Laurel called "Creating Core Content in a Post-Convergence World." She says:
She proposes that we think "transmedia" to begin with, rather than rooting the content in one medium, and then talks about ways to think about this cross-device content, including a quote from Rob Tow that "narratives are the constitutions of new worlds."
2/15/2002 11:11:00 AM | PermaLink
Thursday, February 14, 2002
NPR: Weblogs and Journalism
Click here if you want to listen to my brief commentary last night on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" on weblogs' effect on journalism. (You'll need the Real player to listen.) If you're a blogger, you're not going to learn anything you don't already know...
2/14/2002 01:59:04 PM | PermaLink
The Real Blogger's Manifesto
Because parody is the sincerest form of flattery:
Happy Valentine's Day, Chris : )
2/14/2002 01:38:43 PM | PermaLink
Wednesday, February 13, 2002
The Authenticity Complex
There's too much to reply to in AKMA's, Tom's, and Dave's blogthreading about authenticity. I feel like we've developed the topic well enough that blogging is no longer the right instrument of conversation. We should move this to a discussion board where the topics are more fragmented (shorter posts, faster replies) or even to a chat room. Nevertheless...
AKMA is right to remind us that selves are much more complex than my "inner self/outer self" explanation of sincerity and authenticity implies. In fact, "authenticity" impies a much more complex relationship whereby what is public is either "owned up to" or not ... in an infinite variety of ways. Most of our great literary characters, from Hamlet to Madame Bovary to Zuckerman, are great because the complexity of the relation of who they are, who they seem and who they own up to being. (That this starts with Shakespeare lends credence to Bloom's seemingly ridiculous claim that Shakespeare invented what we think of as a person.) This fact makes it much, much harder to think about what authenticity is.
AKMA's main point in that particular blog entry, however, is that our Web personae are not extrinsic to our real selves. I wholeheartedly agree. That's why our Web personae are interesting and important to us. That's why we're writing ourselves into existence on the Web. In fact, in a single blog I managed to say both that "As I understand the term, 'authenticity' assumes that there is a public outer self and an inner private self and that the two are intimately related" and "If your outer self doesn't pretend to represent your inner self, you're now in a politics of theatre or authorship, not one of personal identity." (Emphasis added.) I meant the first to say exactly what AKMA says better: we are our public selves. The second overstates what I meant, for it implies there's no relation between public and private selves. AKMA admirably spells out the complexity of that relationship. The point I was trying to make was that the relation of Web self to "real" self is different than, and looser than, the relation of RW public self and RW private self. It'd be useful to explore that relationship. Maybe it'll take a Tolstoy or a Flaubert to do it successfully.
So, I like AKMA's suggestion that "while 'authenticity' may be elusive as a positive quality, 'inauthenticity' may be easier to get hold of." (I also like Dave's idea that could reel in this discussion by talking about what it actually means for business.) John Austin, the British philosopher, once warned us not to be fooled by the existence of a word into assuming that it must denote some existing thing. For example, I may use the word "real" to distinguish a real gun from a toy gun, real money from counterfeit, real feelings from feigned feelings, real juice from reconstituted juice, etc. It would be a mistake, suggests Austin, to assume that there must be a thing called "reality." Rather, the word "real" perhaps only has a use like the word "very." Likewise, the word "authentic" when applied to people (as opposed to Louis XIV furniture) perhaps should be understood as meaning "not inauthentic." (Well, I guess that wasn't exactly Austin's point, but I like Austin's point so much I'm going to leave it here anyway. So there!) Perhaps "authentic" means nothing more than "Not a phony, not an ass-kisser, not a lying sack o' shit."
We got started on this because I blogged about whether the Corporate Voice could ever actually be authentic. (Actually, as I reread my post, I don't use the term "authentic." Dave Rogers introduces the term. So blame him! :) And I still think that neither "authentic" nor "inauthentic" can apply to an entity with neither body nor soul ... nor, as RB always reminds us, sex organs.
(And I haven't even replied to extraordinarily rich blog entries from Dave and Tom!)
Here's a blogthread, not quite up to date, of the story so far.
2/13/2002 10:06:56 AM | PermaLink
Learning from the WSJ
One of my many failings (don't get me started!) is an unreasonable antipathy to the Wall Street Journal. Yet, every time I read it, I learn something. I just don't want to be the type of person who reads the WSJ. Adolescent? No, and now I'm going to go sit in my room, listen to OTown and eat an entire tube of Pringles.
Yesterday, for example, there were two interesting articles on the first page of the B section. Carol Hymowitz writes in the "In the Lead" column about a collaoration between the Orion String Quartet and Bill T. Jones' dance troupe. The title of it implies that we're supposed to be able to apply what we read to business: "Artistic Collaboration Offers Tips for Creating a Harmonious Merger." It's an interesting article, but the relevancy isn't obvious. For example, it opens by telling of the quartet's first meeting with Jones:
It may have gotten the collaboration off to a great start, but I'd really like to see how this applies to a business partnership:
On the same page, there's an article by Maureen Tkacik about Hot Topic, a suburban chain of clothing and accoutrement for teens. Unlike the Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch, Hot Topic doesn't cater to "popular" teens. It's clothing for the rest of us. In fact, Hot Topic sends scouts to rock concerts and other teen events to see what kids are wearing rather than trying to coerce kids into wearing what Hot Topic wants them to wear. Bottom up fashion design!
Of course, Hot Topic is stuck in its own teenage Hegelian contradictions. As the article notes, kids love it and hate it, no doubt in part because teenagers are determined not to like what they're supposed to like. Similarly, "the chain strips dedicated nonconformists of a bit of their originality" by making it available to anyone whose Mom will give them a ride to the mall. Mainstream nonconformism is both an oxymoron and a way of life for a particular age group.
Given my own reaction to the WSJ, apparently I am in Hot Topic's target demo.
2/13/2002 08:53:54 AM | PermaLink
RW Collision and Rogue Agents
During the Q&A after my talk to the Customer Care 2002 conference, I was asked how the expectations being set by the Web show up concretely in customer call centers. Good question. Being fact-averse and reality-challenged, I claim no expertise, but it seems to me that there are two obvious effects.
First, there's the nebulous effect of expecting to be treated like a live human being by another live human being. Hewing to the script is more annoying than ever after having been on the Web with employees who talk for and as themselves.
Second, when I call for customer support, I no longer assume that the person on the other end of the line is my only source of information. If I can't find out from the cable company, for instance, how to hook up my home network through a Linksys router ("We don't support home networks"), and if I can't find out from Linksys ("We don't know the details of your ISP"), I know for a fact that I can find someone on the Net who either already has a site up devoted to networking Linksys and my ISP, or I can find someone to ask. And the information I get from another user is more likely to be helpful -- truthful, no BS -- than what I get from the call center. I am no longer a supplicant when I call for help.
In fact, when talking with Sarah Kennedy, one of the conference conveners, we came up with an idea. If a customer support agent is uncomfortable giving me an off-script answer, send me to a "rogue agent" (Sarah's phrase), someone explicitly positioned as a source of creative ideas and information that may not work but that may get me out of my predicament. A rogue agent would be permitted to say things like, "Yeah, I heard about that problem once before, and I saw on a Web site that if you uncheck PPPoE it should work, which makes sense to me. On the other hand, there's a small chance it might fry your Linksys box, so don't come crying to me, ok?" Obviously, rogue agents should be patrolling the Internet, to learn and to teach. Sounds like a cool job to me.
2/13/2002 08:40:28 AM | PermaLink
Tuesday, February 12, 2002
Bush Abandons Universal Connectivity
Forwarded by David Isenberg from Benton.org, a non-profit devoted to gaining social benefit from communications technology:
(For more infopinion(tm), see my blog entry about Technet and a piece called "The Paradox of the Best Network" that Isenberg and I wrote.)
2/12/2002 05:58:59 PM | PermaLink
Monday, February 11, 2002
Missing a Day of Blog
I have to run to catch a plane. (Ottawa in February! Ah!) I'm speaking at a customer support conference and I've definitely decided to come out in favor of supporting customers. Sure it's a controversial stand, but it's what I believe.
This is the first time I'm going to be away from my blog. I barely have time to do an entry today, and tomorrow I expect to be blogless. I feel like the first time we went away for a night without our kids. Sniff sniff.
Mostly, I feel bad that some really interesting conversations are going to continue swirling and I'll be left behind. Fortunately, I just finished reading the book "Thinking with the Left Side of Your Behind," so maybe I'll be able to catch up.
Here's an example: AKMA has advanced the conversation about voice and authenticity that I've threaded here. Although I never thought I'd be using this as an analogy, I feel like I'm on a curling team. There's this 42-pound stone that's sliding its way down an alley, and AKMA, Dave Rogers, Tom Matrullo and I are walking along with it, adjusting its progress by sweeping the ice with brooms.
Gotta go...before I write any more bad analogies.
2/11/2002 10:41:23 AM | PermaLink
Request for Product: International Searches
Through an email conversation with Jeff Chapman, we have come up with a Request for Product for Google:
Suppose you could optionally say that you'd like your search terms translated into other languages and then get returns in those languages.
For example, suppose you were looking for information on what vegans eat and for some reason you want to find English and German pages. You enter "vegans eat" into the search box and click on the "Find German pages" box. Google returns the hits for that phrase, but behind the scenes it translates your search terms into German and returns the pages that contain the phrase "Vegans essen". It optionally translates those pages into English for you. Or, search for "environmental politics" and click on the "All languages" box, and it will translate into however many languages Google has dictionaries for.
As the engineers used to say at Interleaf, how hard could it be? You just have to get the bits in the right order :)
2/11/2002 10:26:15 AM | PermaLink
Sunday, February 10, 2002
Blogthread: Voice, Authenticity and More...
Continuing the blogthread among AKMA, Dave Rogers and AKMA (see the end of this entry) on authenticity, preaching, marketing and just about everything...
The latest entries are beautifully written, nuanced, thoughtful ... everything I'll mess up if I try to summarize them here. They have to do with whether authenticity for corporations is possible. But this has raised the question of what authenticity is for real individuals.
I've always been uncomfortable with the term "authenticity" but it names a concept that nevertheless we seem to need. I think this blogthread points to two places where the basic model of authenticity falls apart. As I understand the term, "authenticity" assumes that there is a public outer self and an inner private self and that the two are intimately related. "Sincerity" has to do with how accurately the outer self represents the inner self's intentions, while "authenticity" has to do with how well the outer self represents the inner self's self-understanding. Or maybe it just has to do with how well the inner self understands itself, which then gets reflected in the outer self.
If something like that is the case, here are two places where the term just doesn't fit very well:
(1) Marketing. The problem isn't a lack of sincerity, for marketing can reflect excellent intentions (although it's rare because it has to fight the corporate entity's inherent greed). The problem is that there's no inner self to a corporation. It is an organization, not an individual. So the model within which "authenticity" makes sense breaks down.
(2) The Web. I'm less confident about this, but it seems to me that the Web frees us to create online selves that are personae. If your outer self doesn't pretend to represent your inner self, you're now in a politics of theatre or authorship, not one of personal identity. Asking "Is RageBoy authentic?" doesn't make a lot of sense. If you were to discover, as per AMKA, that Ben & Jerry are polluting, right-wingers who have their ice cream made in Tunisian sweat shops, you would feel like you'd been lied to. If I were to tell you that Chris Locke is actually a sweet, kind man, you wouldn't feel betrayed any more than if I were to tell you that Nabokov — despite Lolita — actually wasn't a murderous pedophile.
This is why I'm so interested in the ways in which our Web selves are literary. (I'm sort of working on a sort of book proposal on this idea. Unlikely to succeed, so don't hold me to it.)
Blogthreads (alphabetical order):
AKMA and AKMA
2/10/2002 10:08:28 AM | PermaLink
Staying Alive (Or: On Becoming the Emperor of China)
Dana Parker sends us to Julian Baggini's Staying Alive: The Personal Identity Game that presents three scenarios having to do with what constitutes self-identity. For example, in the first one, you have to decide whether you'd rather get to Mars by taking a risky space ship or via a teleporter that maps your atoms and rebuilds you on Mars. The entire game takes about five minutes to play, and it's fascinating. Then you can read a brief and clear analysis of your results. (The site is presented by The Philosopher's Magazine, which looks like an interesting compendium of ideas.)
It reminds of a thought experiment I used to present to students. (I don't remember where I read it.) Suppose a genie tells you that you can become the emperor of China, with all the luxury and riches you could ever want, just by drinking a potion. You think this would be great and you're all set to do it when the genie says, "Oh, there's just one small catch. When you drink this potion, you'll fall asleep and a few hours later you'll wake up as the emperor ... but you'll have no memory of ever having been you." Most students say they would drink the potion anyway. But then, demonstrating how much smarter you are than your poor little students, you ask: "Ok, then tell me the difference between (1) waking up as the emperor of China with no recollection of who you are today and (2) you dying and someone else very much like you becoming emperor."
This, by the way, is also a pretty good argument against reincarnation. Reincarnation without memory is indistinguishable from death. Having a soul that gets recycled without memory is as satisfying as having a body that gets recycled.
2/10/2002 08:33:56 AM | PermaLink
Saturday, February 09, 2002
Interesting new site: trustworthycomputing.com.
No, the link's not broken. Think about it, chuckle once, move on.
Daniel Pink, author of Free Agent Nation, has a new site, Just One Thing. Every day, he has one short, pithy, useful and/or amusing entry. What a concept! Since Daniel is one of the most interesting people around, it works real well.
I'd say more, but I have another 150 entries to blog this morning.
Dave Rogers continues the bloghopping discussion of voice, preaching and marketing with a provocative entry.
I blogged my PC woes when my hard drive melted, eliciting the Macintosh user's standard expression of sympathy, i.e., "Get a Mac, a-hole." Dan Gillmor responds by pointing us to his blog entry on why running a Mac is no walk in the park, especially since the park is run by Windows PC's armed with uzis.
And remember, kids, it was DanLight Savings Time a few days ago so now we all have to switch our links to Dan's blog to the new URL his newspaper has forced him onto, for the newspaper apparently doesn't understand that an URL isn't merely an address, it's a thread in a fabric. Pull on enough of the threads and the fabric starts to unravel...
2/9/2002 10:19:09 AM | PermaLink
The Five Stages of Blogging
AKMA has written an amusingly accurate entry on "The Five Stages of Blogging."
His list reminds me of the day after a layoff when I was talking with one of my fellow survivors and noticed that on her white board she had written Kubler-Ross' five stages of grieving:
But one more had been added during an after-hours bull session about the layoffs:
Oops, another secret out of the bag!
Note: AKMA says something nice about me in his piece. Thanks. But, fwiw, I actually didn't see the "squib" until he linked to it in this very piece.
2/9/2002 09:43:18 AM | PermaLink
Friday, February 08, 2002
Open Source Meaning of Life
Eric Olsen tells us about his project to discover the meaning of life in a post-9/11 world. This is being done in conjunction with a book called "America.com: On September 11" by Eric and Marty Thau. They're going to use "computer communications as an organizing principle." Eric says to participate in the meaning-of-life project:
Eric assures us that all information will be kept completely private. The results will be compiled at a weblog that goes live on Feb. 12. The results may themselves be compiled into a book. Of course, if the book is successful and we learn from it, then they'll have to write another book about meaning in a post Feb. 12th world.
Note: If "Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf" gets voted as the meaning of life, the entire species will have to have a time-out.
2/8/2002 12:09:46 PM | PermaLink
Harry Potter: The Anti-Anti-Christ
From Gary "Father of Googlewhack but Still No Weblog" Stock comes this news flash:
2/8/2002 11:56:26 AM | PermaLink
The Anals of Marketing
The Intel download search page reminds us
Ah, yes, to live in the Marketing Dreamworld where customers play "Simon Sez": "Sorry about spraying you with mucus, but I was unable to accept your proffered Kleenex because you didn't say 'trademarked' when you handed it to me."
2/8/2002 11:48:33 AM | PermaLink
Thursday, February 07, 2002
Gilbert Cattoire sends us to the Grapenotes site. There you can read the archive of stories written by Dr. Gr�per, the nom de PLATO of David J. Graper, an undergrad at the University of Delaware in the late 1970s. PLATO was a mainframe-based network for delivering "interactive multimedia programs to students at a number of universities, government institutions, and corporate centers around the world," according to the site. Because humans will form groups where we can, one of the first online communities created itself on PLATO. Dr. Gr�per wrote a series of stories, essays and observations that achieved underground notoriety.
I've frankly had trouble getting engaged by what Dr. Gr�per wrote, but, then, it's not the 1970s, his writings aren't being published in a semi-subversive way on a mainstream platform, I'm not a college student, and Richard Brautigan no longer seems like such a way cool author. But so what? Graper invented a type of weblogging appropriate to his medium. And that is cool.
[Gilbert heard about this site from David Wolley on whose site you can learn about conferencing tools and about PLATO.]
2/7/2002 12:15:59 PM | PermaLink
Weblogging up the Email Escalator
Halley has a cool blog today about why blogging is important, reminding us that we (all of us) are inventing it as we go, and pointing out that the train we're on is accelerating faster than it may seem from inside.
She points to Doc's must-read musings about why we blog. He ties it to the urge and the need to talk with one another. Great stuff.
I want to point to one, far more trivial, point about weblogging. For me and apparently for lots of us, it's turned into a way we escalate email. When an email exchange gets interesting, we go public (and permanent) with it by blogging it. Email no longer is a dead end. We have a new way of turning the private into the public.
Just one more example of how the Web evolves by discovering and then repairing every hole in connectivity. We're stitching ourselves together. It's how a social species becomes more than it is.
2/7/2002 11:29:13 AM | PermaLink
Wednesday, February 06, 2002
MiscLink and Reply
In a roundelay of hypering hyperlinks, Dave Rogers, AKMA and I find ourselves talking about voice, marketing, preaching, teaching, designing web pages and "fearless speech." I can't even figure out who started what. But there's some really cool stuff going back, forth and across Dave and AKMA's blogs.
Tom blogs a thoughtful, incisive, and beautifully-written-as-usual review of Chris Locke's Gonzo Marketing. I was particularly struck by the following:
There's the heart of it. Well, two chambers of the heart, anyway. There's been a heated discussion over at the Gonzo Engaged blog about how - and whether - to quantify the corporate interests. It's an important question that shouldn't be written off as "bean counting"; as Clay Shirky says, we all get paid in beans. But bean counting isn't sufficient. This is a question that needs lots of thought and talk.
Tom doesn't slight the other two chambers of RageBoy's abundant heart: The book is a rhetorical triumph and that is not incidental to one of the book's key themes: there is no life recognizable as human without voice. As Tom puts it:
This is the type of review Gonzo Marketing deserves.
[My own attempt to review the book is here.]
My whining about my computer meltdown draws the Standard Mac Rejoinder, this time from Kevin Marks, discoverer of the Googlewhack Marks mark and all around smart guy:
The PC's ancient lack of native CD support was an early consequence of having an open hardware system; there's something to be said for that. It was also an early consequence of really poor design.
FWIW, CD burning is built into XP. You just drag files to the disk.
But, I accept Kevin's comment. There are real advantages to the Mac. There are also advantages to Linux. And even Windows. Hell, I could find some good things to say about DOS.
But not about Bush.
Speaking of Bush, this is from Hank Blakely's Dystopical, on the Bush adminstration's Quest for Secrecy:
2/6/2002 10:11:57 AM | PermaLink
The Kindness of Strange Thoughts
I've struck up quite a bloggery friendship with AKMA. I love his blog. He's a teacher and minister with philosophical and theological training and interests.
I came across his site because he amplified - improved - something I'd written about the nature of universal truth. Here's what AKMA says:
Widely read and insightful, he's a sympathetic reader. In fact, his sympathetic nature has got him exercised about my offhand, snarky comment in Monday's blog in which I said that that a particular book by Foucault was not "his usual proof of his own cleverness."
AKMA replies, in part:
I've taken this out of context; you should understand that AKMA is quite humble. But my offhand remark has caused him to testify, no doubt at least in part because he has learned a lot from Foucault.
My kneejerk response is to say: Hey, buddy, it's the Web. If I can't recklessly slap a dead French philosopher on the Web, then where can I?
But I know that AKMA is right. It's easy to think hard. It's usually easy to think clearly. It's damn near impossible for most of us to think kindly. My passing swipe at Foucault was intended to get me out of having actually to read him with the care and sympathy he deserves. Plus, it's a cheap way to puff myself up.
2/6/2002 09:49:03 AM | PermaLink
The first review of my book Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web has appeared. It's from Kirkus, one of the four early review publications, intended for bookstore owners, book review editors, and librarians. (By the way, have I mentioned just how sexy sexy sexy are bookstore owners, book review editors and librarians? It's true!)
Here's what I think is a fair excerpt of the review, with some explanatory interjections:
Let's see how that blurbs: "Web visionary ... successful attempt ... McLuhanesque ... pointy-headed ... profoundly unmanaged ... mass stupefaction..." It'll look great on the book jacket!
2/6/2002 08:39:19 AM | PermaLink
Tuesday, February 05, 2002
Foucault Again and the New Weirdness of Words
A couple of you have pointed out that the Foucault text I blogged about yesterday (was it just yesterday? Disk crashes seem to dilate time) is available online. (Thanks Camille, thanks John Harrison.)
Jacob Schwirtz of gazm.org writes about "parrhesia," the topic of Foucault's lectures:
If it's a coincidence, it's an interesting one. Apparently "parrhesia" in Greek comes from roots that mean "say everything," which I assume (= guess) refers to the fact that the person engaging in the fearless speech that is parrhesia isn't holding back any of the bad news -- frank and full disclosure. But, since this type of speech was especially valuable in the public forum (although it also characterized the speech of an advisor to an authority), the connection to the Aramaic is suggestive. Words are funny things, aren't they? They could practically be cute little woodland creatures if they were anything like them.
AKM Adam, has starting blogging recently. He's a professor and minister and seriously interesting. He's also a lovely writer. He questions my claiming that
He suggests "distance" as a more likely term
My response is that "friend" is fracturing the way "parrhesia" did in the 4th-5th centuries BCE because of the distancelessness (and other weirdnesses) of the Net. Take my relationship with Adam as an example. We've never met in the RW. We probably never will. We've exchanged several emails a day for the past few days. We've been probing each other's interests, senses of humor, incipient assholism (guess what: I win!), and verbal body language. And more. I've already learned more than he thinks from him, both explicitly and watching how he thinks and talks. (More about that tomorrow.) Yet, I'm quite reluctant to call him my friend. But I don't have such personal and intensely intellectual conversations with acquaintances. We don't have the vocabulary yet. That's what I meant.
2/5/2002 05:29:18 PM | PermaLink
Welcome to Day 2 of "Hey, Kids, Let's Rebuild XP!"
I spent the first six hours of yesterday determining that I was not going to be able to recover my 60 gigabyte drive and another three finding out that, despite its reluctance to be noticed by my BIOS or XP in the early stages of rebuilding, my 20 gigabyte drive — the one with the backups on it — was in fact intact. Another 10 hours rebuilding my system and I'm almost minimally functional again.
Pardon me, but does anyone know the right spelling of "Aaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhhhhh"?
Here's where being a paranoid pessimist pays off:
I back up every night, albeit using a rather primitive method: I run batch files that invoke Winzip. The daily backups go onto my computer's second hard drive ... the one that looked like it was gone. Every couple of days, I back up my backups onto my kids' computer on our home network. Unfortunately, I only back up my 650MB Outlook data file once a week. (Yeah, I know it's too big.)
I use XP's save-your-settings wizard so that I can restore my Office apps' settings, including IE's favorites. (For some reason, however, the Outlook Rules Wizard needs to be reminded by hand the destinations for the messages I want filtered into various folders.)
I pay $50/year to have my Quicken files (and other files, up to a 50MB limit) backed up on some Web server somewhere. I've never had to restore from there before, but I did last night, and it really really worked.
Just a few days ago, I downloaded the 30-day trial of v-com's AutoSave. It supposedly updates your archive every time you save a file. I've found it to be a really annoying piece of software to use — the type of UI that has you saying "Green ... blue ... green ... blue" like Bruce Willis trying to figure out which wire of a homemade bomb to clip. I thought I had saved 7GB of compressed info onto my backup disk, but I couldn't figure out how to to tell it that that file had changed positions (because in the re-install, drive C became drive F and drive E became drive C and drives D and E had a threeway with a floppy from Encino). Anyway, it turns out that AutoSave wrote uncompressed files that I could restore just by dragging and dropping. Cool error!
I remembered to backup my backup scripts and my password list.
Ah, the sweet benefits of being obsessive-compulsive!
However, all is not sweetness and fresh clover honey here in the Weinberger manse:
I didn't save my games' saved games. (No, that isn't gibberish.) Particularly painful will be getting back to puzzle #50 or so in The Incredible Machine, a game I've been playing with my son.
I have done a pisspoor job of maintaining Outlook. Even with frequent auto-archiving, the files get too frigging big. I'm sure it was a coincidence, but my disk blew yesterday while compacting my main .pst fie.
I do a piss poor job of offloading truly irreplaceable files such as family photos.
Some files seem like they're more trouble to back up than to restore, particularly music files. But I was wrong. Facing re-ripping bunches of CDs does not fill me with joy.
I need to write myself better notes. I lose incredible amounts of time trying to remember if Dreamweaver 4 was on a floppy or was a download and I know it's going to take me way longer than it should to get back to HP's CD burning software because I don't remember how.
So, I'll spend the rest of the day sanding off the rough edges and discovering several holes I've punched into the past couple of years. For example, I just found out that the complex Outlook macros I'd written (oh, get off my case, they do what I need done) are gone. Does this rebuilding time count towards the 4,000 hours of volunteer time Bush wants me to put in?
(Volunteerism: What rich people urge the rest of us do because they figure if we don't have money, we must have a lot of time.)
A word of praise: After 15 years, we as a civilization have conquered the two problems that drove every PC user to the nearest absinthe bottle: You don't have to spend a full day getting your computer to recognize your CD drive, and XP finds and installs networking software as if computers were meant to talk with one another.
However, the lack of an XP boot disk is maddening. Just take me to the goddamn command line, you motherfuckers! And don't whine to me about there not being any DOS any more or about how the recovery console does the same thing. I couldn't use the recovery console because it couldn't find an installation of XP on my freaking hard drive.
2/5/2002 08:49:30 AM | PermaLink
Monday, February 04, 2002
The New Athens?
I was browsing in the book store — the local, physical store, the one with paper and floors and smells and everything — when I randomly opened a book by Michel Foucault and saw that it was about a Greek word I don't remembering having heard before, parrhesia, which he translates as "fearless speech" (the title of the book). The next book I picked up was by Thomas Merton, and guess what word was on the first page I turned to: "the." But also "parrhesia." So, I bought the Foucault book.
To my surprise, it isn't his usual proof of his own cleverness. It's instead an immersion in Greek culture, using a change in the meaning of "parrhesia" as a way of showing shifts in the contexts in which the word was important. It moved from meaning the speech of a citizen that fearlessly "tells it like it is" to an authority to a sometimes negative term for rabble-rousing. Foucault wonders how this change could have happened. It's as if a crack opened up in the word. For example, originally there simply was no question about how the truth-teller knows the truth. But in the 5th century BCE, the question of the justification of belief was indeed beginning to arise. Likewise, Foucault looks at how the socio-political situation had changed so that parrhesia no longer was a simple virtue. He's brilliant at his exploration of the context within which this word had sense.
This is a bit like a shift in a scientific paradigm, except the old paradigm isn't abandoned because of the accretion of anomolies that it cannot explain. Rather, there is a dense human context that alters and a concept that made sense becomes problematic. The bits of the old context that no longer make that much sense provide clues to the larger tectonic movements of thought.
So, what are the concepts today that no longer make as much sense as they once did? Privacy. Friendship. Employee. Politeness. Sincerity. The Web's knocking each of these for a loop.
Not all the terms are Web-related. For example, courage in an age of high-altitude bombing no longer means what it used to. Maybe civilian doesn't either. But a whole bunch of these terms spring out of the Net. That may be the biggest clue that important, and potentially scary, changes are afoot.
Here's the question that excites me so much: Are we in an time that could rival the golden age of Athens in its capacity for reinventing ourselves?
2/4/2002 01:42:46 PM | PermaLink
Boston Rulz!!!!!!! (Who cares?)
Here's the highlight of the game — the first I've ever watched all of — from my point of view (which happens to be a house five doors outside the Boston city line). As it looked like the Patriots might actually win, our 16-year-old daughter looked at our 11-year-old son, noted the realistic doubts he had consistently expressed, and pronounced:
"You don't deserve to loot."
2/4/2002 10:14:06 AM | PermaLink
Sunday, February 03, 2002
Please Be Me
Want to see one of the weirder ways the concept of the self is being stretched on the Web? Go to DavidStill.org where Mr. Still lets you send mail as him. His "about" page says:
So, as we wrestle with the problem of maintaining a secure and reliable identity on the Web where we lack identity's traditional anchor — I refer to your fat ass — here comes this joker that subverts the whole concept. Bless him and all his little pseudo-hims.
(Thanks to Tom for pointing this out and Halley for forwarding it.)
2/3/2002 09:27:59 AM | PermaLink
Saturday, February 02, 2002
The Problem with Voice, Part 2
David Rogers responds to my blog about whether corporations can have a voice:
David's blog on this topic is thoughtful and I think hits the nail on the head ... although I disagree with the direction he drives it. He thinks a corporation can have a voice, although he's careful about this.
I think the problem is indeed in our definitions. I'd say that authentic voice does come from a real human being speaking the thoughts and ideas that matter to her. If you take the human out of the equation, how can the voice be sincere? What's the what that's speaking its mind?
David takes Walt Disney as his main example:
It is certainly the case that a spokesperson can speak for a company authentically and in a real voice. To some extent, Ben and Jerry, William Ford, and Jeff Bezos do this. And, in some small companies, that one person does all the marketing writing; Seth Godin points to Norh, a tiny Thai stereo speaker company, but even its voice has degraded as it has grown, for at some point, Disney, Ben, Jerry and William all hire marketing writers who now adopt (= mimic) the voice of their chieftains. And now there's a human being writing inauthentically. Hell, I spent enough years doing it.
There are two other possibilities for authentic voice emerging from a company in addition to having a leader who speaks for herself. You can miraculously get everyone you hire to believe in what you do and to sound exactly like the corporate style authentically and of their own free will. Ok, so scratch that. The other possibility is to set free the myriad of voices in your organization. Let 1,000 employees bloom. Let them speak for themselves about what matters to them and what they care about. Scary as shit, but do it. Why? Because your employees are already out on the Web doing it ... that is, if they care about your products at all.
Only by so doing can your corporation have an authentic voice ... because its voice consists of the individual voices of actual, living, breathing people.
2/2/2002 09:08:39 AM | PermaLink
Michael Moore, America's Last Populist, rants about Bush and Enron. He paints a damning portrait of the intimacy between W and "Kenny Boy."
Doc, in recounting a Jackson Browne concert he went to the other night, refers to a Jeff Bridges album and points to a nasty review of it at Amazon. Doc neglects to tell us to click on the "listen" button. First, hide the pets and make sure you're not letting bread rise. Oy veh! I love JB as an actor, but...
David Wolfe has written a civil rant on why customers have become so "mysterious."
SlySkunk would like to be The Onion of the entertainment industry. It's not funny enough, though. Meanwhile, SatireWire is giving The Onion a run for its money. For example:
is not only on the mark, it's also damn funny.
2/2/2002 08:38:40 AM | PermaLink
Friday, February 01, 2002
John Harrison, Pastor of the United Methodist Churches of Sheldon, Bronaugh, and Moundville, Missouri and author of Learning to Float writes in response to my blogging about a site about the KayPro computer:
I gave mine up when I got my first IBM PC (actually a Zenith ... such an early model that there were hand-soldered wires on the motherboard to correct some recently-discovered bugs). I typed my wife's dissertation on the KayPro, wrote an endless series of articles and columns and papers, and learned how computers worked. One of the great things about the KayPro (caution: Old Timer story about to commence) was that they were simple enough, in both their hardware and software, for a beginner to figure out. Assembly language for the Z80 chip wasn't all that arcane, whereas you need a doctoral degree, an oscilloscope and a miner's hat to figure out how to program one of the modern Intel chips. And you could get a map of the KayPro motherboard, neatly labeled, from MicroCornucopia and actually understand the electronics — sort of like tracing routes on a map of the NYC subway system. Ah, for the good old days when I had to trim a vowel from the help screen for a file manager I'd written in order to keep it under 4K.
On the other hand, I love my 1.7gH PC with the ludicrous 512MB of RAM it needs to run well. I still watch the graphics of games like Castle Wolfenstein, Ghost Recon and Serious Sam in awe. Rather than having one or two "terminate and stay resident" programs in the background, I routinely have 10-15 apps open on my desktop at a time. And it makes me giddy to think that even our best machines are banging rocks together compared to what's to come. Give me more!
2/1/2002 09:03:32 AM | PermaLink
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