30.Aug 2000

Advogato, "a community resource for free software developers around the world." Start at recent articles, for a drink from a community-powered firehose.

Upside writes about Time Warner and CNN getting confused and shooting themselves in the foot. Conglomeration is a tricky business!

Richard Stallman: The Right to Read.

The voluntary surrender of rights has become stock-in-trade of the War on Some Drugs. May I look in your car? No? Is that because you have something to hide?

While Miranda has been reiterated, there is an opportunity for a court willing to actually establish a precedent, rather than to simply go with the flow. What if, instead of being able to use verbal tricks to outwit suspects, the police had to to play fair?

"The U.S. Constitution (as amended) prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, and so I can not search your car without permission, at this time, because I do not yet have reasonable cause to suspect you of committing a crime. You do 'fit the profile,' as we say, but that's not quite enough. If you simply act confused at this point, and rush to an answer, that's not enough, either.

"So, with the understanding that you are free to say 'no,' without prejudicing my opinion, or magically creating suspicion simply by invoking your rights as a citizen, may I have your permission to search your car?"

That would cut back rather seriously on how many cars get searched. And on how many things get seized. It's so incredibly dangerous to give law enforcement a financial incentive to misbehave, how much worse does this have to get before we figure out the Constitution is being obviated?

22.Aug 2000

Well gag me with a spoon.

Did I ask for a "Freedom to Innovate Network Newsletter" from Microsoft? (Maybe it was a wild moment I've forgotten.) This astroturf is so clean you can eat spam off of it.

Sampling... They proudly quote their successful suckering of the major party political conventions:

GOP: "Washington State, the home of the new economy; the home of Microsoft and so many other high tech companies that are driving economic growth in WA state and around the nation....Washington State, were we value the freedom to innovate...."

Democrat: "The great state of Washington, home of the new economy, where Microsoft and hundreds of start-up companies have created wealth that lifts all votes, where we celebrate the freedom to innovate and be free."

Yes, freedom, free, innovate, innovate, freedom, freedom. Sign me up for that, Homey! (Hmm, why does this make me think of Janis Joplin singing "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose"?)

Passport is Microsoft's contribution to privacy. Oh yeah, please take over protecting my privacy Bill, that would be just grand.

The Freedom to Innovate network -- "It's how you can make a difference!" For... Microsoft! You go boys and girls!

19.Aug 2000

Liquid water at the North Pole. It's summertime on Earth.

It doesn't matter how warm it gets, how many tornadoes and hurricanes and forest fires there are, somebody will deny it's happening (and yes, there are plenty of good reasons to question whether humans played a significant role in what's happening, whether we should try to change it, or -- especially -- whether we can).

But as Bob Dylan said, "you don't need a weather man to tell which way the wind blows." When your icebreaker pulls up at 90°N, and there's water lapping at the bow, you have been informed that the times they are a changing.

18.Aug 2000

Antipathy, annoyance, antagonism. We're in stage 3 as the dot.com thang runs down.

Here's the scamorama from Walker Digital, with 50 patents in the bank, and 5 times that many "pending."

Yes, it's now possible to patent things like Method and apparatus for selling an aging food product as a substitute for an ordered product, and offering sales volume kickbacks to encourage early adopters. I like this bit :

This type of rebate gives an incentive to buy products early, and also motivates early buyers to provide positive reviews of the product to friends and family.

Ok, as soon as the USPTO smells a perpetual motion machine, they disallow. Shouldn't there be the same plunk for garden variety pyramid scams?

Read the Salon article about our "New Age Edison." (Can I get a patent for giving you a hyperlink to the all-in-one "print" article, rather than the 4-piece ad-laden version?)

13.Aug 2000

A collection of over a hundred answers to the question of what pressing matters are being overlooked by the media. I point to one, because all at once is too many (for me). Steven Pinker, "The Loss of our Species' Biography."

Well, Ok, maybe two, because there are so many interesting ones: "Life's True Variety."

Still mining the Cluetrain boys for fun: JOHO's Bogus Contest: Opposites Detract. I could be mired in back issues of the Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization for a while if I'm not careful.

12.Aug 2000

How many levels of indirection, irony and epiphany can you support at once? The deepest level of "paying attention" that I've experienced is probably in meditation, when the nominal goal is to pay attention to nothing. That is, to still the cacophony of thoughts that impinge on me from my environment, memories of sound and scent, tasks done and undone, "what's next," and so on.

While listening to Weekend edition on the radio as I updated one of my weblogs, I veered off on W.'s public piety, and the "sincerity" theme that had started when I heard his acceptance speech on the radio and then read Safire's column about it. This made me think of "multitasking"; I just recently read someone's claim that we can't really do that, we can only shift and slice our attention....

Now, where was that?

Mixed in with some annoying computer overhead, I eventually tracked down a 1998 statement of the idea, on JOHO the Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization. This blurb put it in stark terms: the price of what we call multitasking is your soul, not really giving a damn about the multiple things we're willing to undertake without really devoting our attention to.

Isn't interesting how religious language slips in there? "Devoting."

I think this is my first look at the site/journal, and that back issue has a number of interesting things in it. Three down is the start of a diatribe, "Why Search Engines Suck."

Of course, I found the page with a non-sucking search engine.

And by the way, who writes this stuff? Up at the top, I see David Weinberger does, recognize his name as one of the four authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto. Bink.

To do something really well, you need to be immersed in it, I agree. Interesting things to do engage us on many levels, and simultaneous cognitive and sensory awareness is a wonderful, multifaceted thing. This is where deep insights, great art, stunning performance, fulfilling joy come from, is it not?

But life is multithreaded, and our attention as well as our awareness can and must be free to wander a little. Not all tasks can (or should) be done in a sitting, or with our end-to-end conscious involvement. Things happen that aren't right up front in ego-awareness, but that are essential to the process. Sometimes you have to chase your tail for a while before the structure of benzene becomes obvious upon awakening from a dream.

I don't have to sacrifice my soul to let the smell of fresh bread tell me it's time to go turn the oven off. Baking bread and writing and avoiding RSI can certainly be multitasked.

While hyperlinks subvert hierarchy, they can also fragment one's attention. That's one of the reasons I find web advertising so pernicious. Television advertising can be annoying, interruptive, and often amusing, but when it gets in my face, I'm in "entertainment" mode, not "task" mode.

Shepherding our attention, avoiding distraction and diversion from what we really want to accomplish is a required skill for the modern world. Life used to be simple: eat or be eaten. If you don't have food to eat, go get some, keeping the 2nd option in mind.

For those of us lucky enough to be operating comfortably above subsistence, life is complex, and complexifying faster than we've evolved to deal with. Obtaining, maintaining and effectively using technology that helps us manage our attention (rather than just making trouble for us) is what "computer literacy" is going to come to mean.

10.Aug 2000

This Train is Bound for Glory
When I first got redirected to the Cluetrain Manifesto I was put off by the cutesy "People of Earth" salutation, and the 95 theses which could easily have been tucked into a much shorter bullet list. I mean, the Reformation was about matters of the Ultimate, not the latest innovation in commerce.

The suggestion, of course, is that this latest innovation of commerce, which we've adopted "faster than any technology since fire" has the potential to be as earthshaking as the Reformation. We shall see.

Prompted to look again by hanging out in the alleys off of www.weblogs.com and scripting.com and Doc Searls' (one of the book authors) site, I also stumbled on an easy opportunity to check it out from the library.

Chapter 1 is available on the web, appropriately enough. I read it last night, and enjoyed it (in spite of the book's too small, and too light font choices, ah well).

(This blew up into a whole essay: read on.)

8.Aug 2000

A "car" for the new millenium

It's always annoyed me that carmakers show these fantasy scenes of cars and small trucks with a pristine, beautiful and carless background. The reality of cars is a world mostly paved, parking lots, the absence of vegetation, dirt and grit from brakes, polluted air from exhaust, wasted time, energy and money, spent in the service of our machines.

It doesn't help that they show cars wading through beautiful streams, climbing rugged mountains and so on. Stay the hell out of there, will you?

Last night, I saw an ad that might be even worse - Mazda positioning their latest Stupid Urban Venality as a sports car, dodging and weaving among the smaller sedans. Oh yeah, it's all in good fun, like the Nissan polo match. Maybe they should show a few bicyclists being run off the road to make it really funny.

Now here comes GM, buying the Hummer brand, and planning to put tens or hundreds of thousands of these monstrosities on the road. Lovely.

7.Aug 2000

Scripted sincerity

Safire seems to chortle and quiver over the crafty speech writing that went into W.'s acceptance speech. It's a professional interest for the man who put nattering nabobs of negativity into Spiro T. Agnew's mouth.

He finds a lot to like, and a little to criticize, as he gives an overall positive rating to the candidate I'm sure he prefers. And he's exercising his strop thinking about Al doing his own thing.

But what he misses in his exegesis is something that seemed rather plain to me, listening to the speech on the radio in stop and go freeway traffic. The art of speaking in public has suffered under the Teleprompter. It didn't take much to remind me that W. was reading the thing, and when he got to the "code phrases" and "uneven credo", I was struck by just how absurd it was for him to be reading these lines about what a sincere guy he is.

I mean, he may be sincere for all I know. (I doubt it, though.) But to say you're sincere? It's one of those things that somebody else should say about you, preferably unrehearsed and unprompted. To read a line in a speech about how sincere you are... the irony is just too thick.

Of course, the convention goers didn't seem disturbed; they cheered and applauded their little hearts out, jumping on the catchphrases as if they were puppets on strings.

I thought Frank Rich's essay on the big to-do in Philadelphia was more interesting, and it covers more than the non-story of W.'s speechifying.

Next up: Hollywood!

6.Aug 2000

Taking intellectual property too far

If you've been online lately, you know there are some issues with copyrights, and ownership, and so on. RIAA (TBD) sues Napster. Amazon (successfully) sues B&N for infringement of their "one click" patent. And so on.

You've probably gone to a show where they say "no recording." Or "no photography." Sometimes they say "no flash" which is OK with me; it's annoying to the other paying customers. At Comdex last year, they said no flash after the first 45 seconds. (Or was it no photos after the first 45 seconds, and no flash?)

This weekend, we went to the Golden Age of Chinese Archaeology at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. No video or photographic recording allowed. Ok fine.

Stan Lee-like bronze mask from China, 1000+ BCE

Some of the stuff was really arresting, and Jeanette and I both found ourselves sketching. She's better than me at the quick gestalt, but I'm willing to commit myself with ink. (Oddly, I breeze through just about any exhibit faster than she does, though.)

Some twit with a wire up his ear came over and told her she couldn't sketch in there!

Bronze mask(?) of a raptor from China, 1000+ BCE

What is this, some cult you have to be initiated to? No, it's more mundane than all that; they're trying to maximize their own sales in the gift shop. Bah.

The stupid thing is that pictures can't do this kind of work justice, but pictures could get someone interested enough to come see the show (and maybe buy a catalog with lots better pictures than I would have taken).

One other suggestion - those 26 bronze bells in the series? Have someone ring them, for God's sake, and play back the recording of it for your patrons (assuming you can't let anyone touch them). Having a placard about how wonderful the sound is doesn't quite cut it. (The wooden support structure is about 7 feet high; this is a wonderfully human-scale instrument.)

Even more Stan Lee-like bronze mask from China, 1000+ BCE.  Asian
 Art and Archaeology, excerpted under Fair Use

Postscript: A closer look at their brochure turned up an excellent website, with more information on the show, under the guise of teaching resources. Thank you, National Gallery of Art! It takes some patience, but you can drill down to some good pictures of the objects on display. (Too bad the captions don't give size information, though.)

Here's another item that wowed me: a gold and jade burial shroud, large enough to fit over life-size of course.

P.P.S. Picked up one of the reference books they listed in the brochure, China's Buried Treasures, 1993, by the editors of Time-Life books. All the pictures I could ask for (as at left), for $1, at a local library book sale. Saweet!

1.Aug 2000

Stating the Obvious turns 5.

Imagine writing a check for $120,000 to your favorite political party. Not only will it be gone within a year, but they'll be back asking for more next year.

And of course, if you get any quid pro quo, you might be in trouble, right? Well... The top 739 Republican contributors averaged that comfy sum in donating $90 million to the G.O.P.

Or, you could be part of the "core" of the party, for only $99.63. Go get 'em, tiger.

Speaking of hot air... where did tons of CF5CF3 coming from? (Why should you care, you ask? Trifluoromethyl sulfur pentafluoride is a durable and potent greenhouse gas, with thousands of times the heat-trapping effectiveness of CO2, and molecules of it may persist for a millennium.)


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org


Friday, 23-Feb-2001 22:10:31 MST