Ultimate conference, new vocabulary? No and no. Lots of prior art there.
September 2003 Archives
Ultimate conference, new vocabulary? No and no. Lots of prior art there.
Jonathan Rauch has a new article up in next month's The Atlantic Monthly on the subject of genetically-modified foods. If you're not familiar with the subject, Reason magazine has a special section devoted to the matter. If you're unwilling to click on that link and read the context, then I'll summarize it for you: science is brought to bear on crops in order to alleviate a host of biological maladies via genetic manipulation rather than the traditional means of human-guided plant husbandry.
Rauch argues that genetically-modified foods (GM foods hereafter), or Frankenfoods as they're called by their detractors, are actually a veritable blessing for humanity. He cites a number of examples of their beneficence and suggests that they might increase crop yields far in excess of what the Green Revolution achieved. He speculates that the yields possible using biotechnology would feed the world for the foreseeable future and help bring the Third World out of subsistence farming.
With all of the benefits, why is such an article necessary? The answer is fairly simple: environmentalists. Groups like the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Greenpeace argue that the potential downside of its widespread use could create environmental devastation. They further believe that we should study the issue until we can be sure that the risk levels have asymptoted.
That sounds fine and dandy. After all, who wants unnecessary risk? It seems reasonable. Except that the risks are far overshadowed by the possibilities. If food could be made cheaper, safer, and more plentiful, why would anyone oppose that? Because it disrupts nature? Because it might affect other plants in unknown ways? Sounds fine to me. Why? Because I know that we can deal with the problems as they crop up; we can especially deal with them once we've developed our knowledge of genetic engineering and that comes with experience in using it.
The environmentalists who oppose genetic engineering tend to consistently take nature's side over man. While it's hard to believe of anyone, I think that environmentalists genuinely hate their fellow man. They deride technology, they deride the fantastic wealth-creating powers of the free market, they deride the freedom that let's individual and corporate initiative flourish. Life on earth is risky and we should undertake any effort to mitigate that risk. Our best bet is through technology and manipulation of our environment to create conditions more favorable to our existence.
The history of life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is a testament to the phenomenal power of technology to better our lives (or worsen it in the case of war and totalitarianism). We live longer, live better, and live richer to the degree that we embrace technology and freedom. Anyone who denies it is woefully ignorant of the historical record or willfully blinded by their beliefs and biases.
[UPDATE: Glad tidings as Brazil lifts its ban on GM foods. Brazil has been one of the staunchest nations opposing biotechnology. Other good news is that the scientific community is conflicted over the matter.]
The heady days of venture capitalists funding any idea with a Web presence and IPOs without business plans are long gone, but entrepreneurship existed prior to the Internet and will continue long past when the net becomes a ubiquitous utility like the telephone. Business has changed fundamentally since the dot-com boom even if investing hasn't. To be successful in the business world today, you absolutely have to incorporate some sort of technology. If you don't, your competitors will and they will have a lower cost of doing business because of it.
This is the general idea that suffuses Kevin O'Connor's new book The Map of Innovation: Creating Something Out of Nothing. O'Connor might not be a household name, but he's started several businesses that have achieved recent notoriety: Flexplay, which makes DVDs that become unusable after a certain period of time, and DoubleClick, which needs no further introduction. This book synthesizes his experiences in conceiving a business idea, soliciting funding, and getting it off the ground. While we may dispute the utility of his business ideas, they have been largely successful. That means that he might have something valuable to say.
I've read a lot of books on entrepreneurship in my quest for self-employment. They're usually divided into two groups: those written prior to the Internet or only cursorily treat its affects and those created during the dot-com frenzy. The former are marginally useful since they offer some guidance on entrepreneurship even though their lack of technical considerations mitigates this usefulness. The latter are completely useless since they typically engage in strident hyperbole and grandiose pronouncements.
The Map of Innovation is different since it was written well after the dot-com hype had subsided. Even though the author built his major business, DoubleClick, during the IPO land grab, the book is remarkably free of the thinking that permeated that period. O'Connor's focus is to get a business started on fundamental principles like profitability, great employees, and broad vision. And that's exactly what a business book should target. If it seems obvious, O'Connor recognizes this: "I find that the best business books are obvious. But that isn't surprising. The fundamentals of what you have to do are so obvious that they almost always get overlooked."
The book is divided into four parts with an appendix containing DoubleClick's business plan: 1) coming up with ideas, 2) developing the best idea, 3) getting funding, and 4) hiring great staff. These, unsurprisingly, are the steps that he believes are vital to founding a successful company. Of these, I think that his idea generation chapter is the weakest one of the bunch. This isn't terribly important, though, since most people reading his book will probably have a few business ideas of their own or can come up with them readily.
My favorite part is dedicated to developing the best idea. It covers how determine the viability of your idea (how to vet it thoroughly) and how to present that idea in a business plan that will attract attention. O'Connor helpfully includes a basic outline for a business plan and then covers each item in considerable detail. I've read many books on constructing a business plan, yet I found his explanation to be the clearest and most straightforward one I've encountered.
The chapter on obtaining funding for your idea presents a series of solicitations starting with family and friends and ending with venture capital. O'Connor brushes off the problems with venture capitalists like dilution of ownership and the common occurrence of founder expulsion. He does offer some sage advice about how much money to seek and how that money should be spent. In light of his entrepreneurial history, it is unsurprising that he suggests such funding sources. His relations with venture capitalists were positive and he willingly withdrew from the corporate limelight.
Overall, the book is an excellent primer for anyone interested in creating a technology-oriented startup. It won't provide all of the information necessary for the would-be entrepreneur, but it's a good start. O'Connor tries to suggest that it would also be useful for new projects in an existing corporation but I don't buy it. The advice just doesn't apply as well. The only weak spot of the book is his Brainstorming Prioritization Technique, which is obviously a pet theory of his that he couldn't bear to pare down. It amounts to brainstorming and then picking only three to six items from the brainstorm. It is painfully obvious and an altogether common idea generation method—and luckily is quickly read. The advice about venture capitalism is easily tempered by also checking out Arnold Kling's Under the Radar: Starting Your Net Business Without Venture Capital or Philip Greenspun's experience with venture capitalists.
[UPDATE: More thoughts on startups.]
For my future reference: how to create .ics files dynamically. I had wanted to do this when I owned the pottery studio so that I could make our calendar available dynamically from the database. I probably could have done it easily enough, but I never took the time to look at the format. Plus, I wanted it to be Outlook-able too and that was just the hurdle my laziness needed to shrug the whole effort off.
There's a perennial debate whether blogging is better than journalism. I've avoided talking about it or really delving into the matter because it's nonsensical on its face. If you're not familiar with the topic, Dave Winer is perhaps the biggest advocate of blogging as journalism but there are dozens of bloggers coveting the title as well.
To me the whole issue is crazy. Journalists find stories, they break stories. Bloggers comment on those stories. Their "reporting" typically consists of what they did over the weekend. The best bloggers might write essays about subjects that aren't reactions to articles, but these are most often most alike op-eds than articles. I've never encountered an investigative blogger. Ever.
Why is that? I think it's because bloggers aren't getting paid to blog and they don't (typically) answer to anybody. They can spend time discussing inanities with abandon. Those journalists who are also bloggers do blogging as a sideline, not something for pay. I would wager that most bloggers would bristle at having assignments, writing on a deadline, and being edited. If they didn't, they would all be journalists. I'm sure that they like the casual nature of blogs and the liberties they can take with subject choice.
Are the two online genres mutually exclusive? Of course not. Journalists can report on interesting subjects and bloggers can provide the context and commentary that journalists cannot. Journalists typically don't link off the site because the sites are designed to keep people there not shuffle them away. Plus, no journalist would ever link to another site's articles to provide additional context that he or she couldn't.
Bloggers don't have such restrictions and they can aggregate across newspapers and non-traditional sources. They can also link to primary sources, like Udell noted, to let the readers judge for themselves. Journalists don't typically do that—despite Fox's pronouncements otherwise.
It's like what Kevin O'Connor said about disintermediation in his book The Map of Innovation—I'm working up a full review on this book and will post it in the next couple of days. The airlines thought that the Web would usher in an era where intermediaries would disappear and they could sell directly to the public. He notes that that didn't happen because few trusted the airlines to give them the best price on a given route.
A lot of people, bloggers especially, don't trust journalists to give the whole story for a variety of reasons. They look elsewhere for other interpretations of the same story, other points of view. Bloggers fill that need and there are quite a few who have built up substantial audiences because of it. But even they don't make any pretense that theirs is the final word or that their readers don't continue along the chain of context providers.
That is why blogging and journalism are not mutually exclusive and why there will always be a need for both. Bloggers are the editorial writers of the new generation: a way for people to get different spins on the facts that journalists report. Only now there's many thousands of them and they're not syndicated except from their own sites via RSS. Anyone can offer up their editorials and anyone else can subscribe to to them. It's like what the desktop publishing revolution did for the publishing industry: there's nothing special about blogging per se except that the tools have made it cheaper and easier to get your words out.
This is the last post I'll have today because I am going to some ASP.NET training at the local Microsoft office and tonight is all birthday all the time.
Normal posting will resume tomorrow. Thanks for tuning in.
Today my wife joins the Brown Family 29 Club. I couldn't ask for a better wife: she's kind, generous of spirit, demanding, and even-tempered. Oh, she's also beautiful, sexy, and strong-willed. These are all things that I look for in a woman. It's strange, but she's the most mentally healthy person I know—completely at ease with her sexuality and her self.
We've been married for over ten years now after having been high school sweethearts. I can't say that it's been champagne and roses throughout. We've had our rough spots and we have our rough spots in the present. But I know that I wouldn't want to go through it with anyone else and I can't imagine life without her.
I can't wait to start the next phase of our lives together. I think she's really going to shine as a mother because all of her being suggests it. Our kids are going to be very lucky to have her as a mother—and me as a father of course—and I'm lucky to have such a wonderful person as a co-parent.
When life gets me down, she is my rock, my safe harbor. Thank you, Sandi, for everything and I hope your birthday is as special as you deserve!
I propose a new acronym: YACGC (Yet Another California Gubernatorial Candidate). Incidentally, I've found another one. His motto is "Maximize the Economy, Minimize the Government." Sounds good, but he doesn't stand a chance.
Why is it that every Objectivist or Libertarian shoots his or her wad early by rallying around private roads or legalizing drugs? These premature emancipations really hurt their chances when an incremental approach might yield some actual results which can then be built upon.
Awesome: Where Eagles Dare is available on DVD! This is a great WWII commando flick starring Clint Eastwood that you should definitely consider watching if you're a fan of any of the previous genres (WWII movies, commando movies, Clint Eastwood movies).
When I first heard of David Blaine's, well, idiotic cry for help, I asked who was paying for this pathetic display. I never got an answer until I read this article at Plastic. For the record, I think Blaine's "magic" is no worse than David Copperfield's or any of the other retarded impossibilities broadcast in TV specials over the years.
Apparently, there's an independent (read: non-Clear Channel) radio station operating mysteriously out of Florence. It's commercial-free (for the last eighteen months), oddly-formatted and tunable as far as 93 miles west of Phoenix. It's also unclear who owns it and who's running it. It's call sign is KCDX and you can tune it in at 103.1. No Hard Harry, though.
After reading this inscrutable essay on friendship, I thought that I should share my ideas about friendship. Aristotle said that friendship is "a single soul dwelling in two bodies." Aristotle has some pretty strong views on friendship: he viewed friendship as a necessary component of happiness and a type of relationship that enhanced one's ability to act and to think. That's a pregnant thought that bears some elaboration.
Friends, at their best, act as a sounding board for you to bounce ideas off. They'll listen patiently as you drone on and on about a new business venture and offer assistance without recompense. They'll act as the devil's advocate and help you to flesh out your idea more fully. But they'll do this from a point of benevolence that spurs you to go higher and higher. I've never had a friend tell me that I'm "full of shit" and I think that that would be an indicator of diminished friendship. Friends might attack your ideas, but they generally do so only to make you defend them and more fully realize them.
Friends are uncommon. I would say that I have maybe three to five friends, including my wife. Why so few? Because I reserve the appellation "friendship" for the most intimate of relationships, the ones with people for whom I would do anything. Such an obligation is not undertaken lightly and cannot be entered into indiscriminately—there's just not enough time. Friends are kindred spirits, fellow travelers on life's journey. They're the ones who, after interacting with them, leave you better off than before. They're rejuvenating and refreshing. They're the ones who I could never get tired of seeing, of visiting. Most people bore me; the ones that don't have passed a crucial test on the road to friendship.
Friends leave you better off than before you met them. That's a powerful comment because so many people in our lives are a drain on our energy and happiness. Does that mean that friends never tax you or leave you worse off? Yes, I think that that's what I'm saying. Life's too short to spend it with people that sap your vitality. I think that an occasional serious disagreement is fine and can be overcome, but anything greater than that probably indicates that it's time to re-evaluate your friendship.
People with whom you find fault or irritate you should be called acquaintances or perhaps lesser friends, though probably not to their face since that's just unnecessarily inflammatory. My preliminary hierarchy would thus look like this, in order of intimacy:
- Best friends
- Close friends
- Lesser friends (buddy)
I am always on the lookout for new friends because my current best friend lives in Alexandria, Virgina. I'll never find someone to replace him because we're one soul sharing two bodies, but it'd be nice to find someone close and closer.
Many of my best memories as a child involved my high school friends. Individually, not a single person shared my soul but collectively they represented every facet of my being. And we spent inordinate amounts of time together, from sleepovers to just hanging out. I miss that. I spend almost all my free time with my wonderful wife, but I know that we'd like to interact with other people since we've figured each other out pretty well (although I learn new things about Sandi every day and I expect present trends to continue for a long time). There's something about having a friend that you can drop in on or drops in on you that is at once comforting and stimulating. You know, someone to go on road trips with, someone our kids will grow up knowing.
And that, Winer, is why friendship is precious and dispensed with care. There's plenty of acquaintances and buddies in my life but there's an intimacy threshold that they'll never pass (or likely won't). Friends live beyond that. And there's not a lot of room there.
[UPDATE: Don Park's got his opinion on the subject up. Of course, he treads lightly on Dave, who I'm sure would prefer to be told that he's full of shit. (What's with the fecal hook? It reminds me of Steve Jobs.]
I have two dogs (a Dalmatian and a golden retriever/shar-pei mix) and two cats (an Oriental shorthair and a domestic tabby/Persian mix). We've had them anywhere from two years to ten years now and they're quite a part of our family. The dogs sleep on our bed—the Dalmatian, having short fur, sleeps under the covers—and the cats sleep on us when we're downstairs on our sofa. Each of them has a distinct personality that we've grown very accustomed to. It's weird, but they really feel like they're our "fur kids."
But in reality, they're still animals and they occasionally do things to remind you that they're unpredictable. I was fooling around with Molly the Dalmatian and getting her quite riled up. Then I did the thing that I know really bugs her—huffing around and blowing in her face—when she growled a final time and chomped down hard on my left cheek. There's now some serious redness, which will probably become a nice bruise, and a gash right above my lip. I've got a picture, but it's not too good of one since Sandi wasn't really down with the whole photo opportunity it represented.
I guess it's time to move on to the next phase of my life where I don't actively rough house with the dogs. If I had had one of my upcoming babies around, then I shudder to think what might have happened to an innocent bystander. I don't blame the dog because she is a wild animal. I knew better but I still pressed on. I made my bed, time to sleep. Just need to get out of that mode.
I like the extra pick-me-up that caffeine brings, but I can't stand the side effects like headaches, addictive symptoms, and edginess. Modafinil sounds like a great substitute but I'm not sure what "off label" means. Unfortunately, I have no medical reason to get it and I'm not sure my physician would prescribe them if I asked. Hmm, might be worth a shot.
I knew it was bound to happen. It was only a matter of time. The precedent is just too well-established. The product was just too successful to not be copied.
Of course, I'm talking about Dell's mp3 player plans.
[UPDATE (9/27/03): Details emerge about Dell's plans: the Digital Jukebox (DJ, ugh!) is a rebranded Creative mp3 player and the music service will be a rebranded version of MusicMatch's upcoming online music store. Quelle Dell!]
I own the Beastie Boys CD Paul's Boutique. In fact, I've purchased that particular CD twice in my lifetime. If you're not familiar with the Beastie Boys, they're a rap group that was very popular in the late 80s and early 90s but have since pretty much disappeared off the scene.
I'm not a big fan of rap, though I used to be a serious connoisseur in my youth. And by that I mean ages 12 to 16, which would have been from 1986 to 1990. In that time, I accumulated about 45-50 CDs of rap music ranging from Public Enemy to EPMD to Geto Boys to The Jaz to Digital Underground. When I look back, I can't believe that I listened to some of the things I listened to but there's a lot of my childhood that is completely inexplicable. In fact, I went to a Public Enemy concert when I was 14 or 15 with my friend and I recall that we were easily the most white bread kids there.
The Beastie Boys, along with 3rd Bass, are the only two rap groups that I keep in my CD library—though MC Hawking is a recent and hilarious addition. Why? They're lyrics and rhythm are just too funky and have withstood the test of time. Every now and then I get the urge to go purchase a Public Enemy, Young MC, or Digital Underground CD but it quickly passes because I only liked a couple of songs from each CD. The Beastie Boys in particular offer us some highly packed lyrics, chock full of pop cultural allusions.
To be perfectly honest, I've never heard any of the Beastie Boys' other CDs so I don't know how characteristic Paul's Boutique is of their oeuvre. If you like rap (or can stomach it), you should really get that CD.
First Google Watch, which beget Google-Watch Watch. Then Jeremy Zawodny's rant. Then Steven Berlin Johnson assails Google's methods. Finally Microdoc News claims that Google is tampering with their index to favor their own pages and Dave relays it, of course, because it agrees with his anti-Google worldview that he developed after they bought out Blogger instead of UserLand.
I thought that there had to be a perfectly reasonable explanation for the behavior and Simon Willison has nailed it. I don't understand why Google doesn't get the benefit of the doubt. It doesn't engage in questionable tactics like Microsoft does and it isn't run by some ethically-challenged CEO like Oracle is, so I don't understand the animosity and suspicion.
Today I was reflecting on my recent comments about the Bush disappointment. Well, it's not exactly disappointment because I expected that this would happen sooner or later in the Bush presidency, but I voted for him hoping that I would be proven wrong and that he might surprise me. I didn't blog it, but I was starting to long for Perot to come in as a viable third-party candidate—that's how bad things are this election go-round.
Then I remembered the only time in my 11 years of majority when I was actually excited about a presidential candidate, the only time I actually volunteered for a campaign. If you know me, you know that I don't volunteer for anything. Ever. Well, I guess the pottery studio ended up amounting to volunteer work, but I went into it with the expectation of earning some money.
The candidate was Steve Forbes, the CEO of Forbes magazine, and the year was 1996. He was a candidate whose central message was the flat tax, but who had a slew of other excellent positions that made my heart sing with hope. His was the candidacy for optimism and freedom. He spoke of returning to the gold standard. The gold standard! I can't remember the last time any candidate even spoke of fiscal policy, much less suggested returning to a long abandoned notion. He spoke of free trade, but not the free trade of the WTO. He advocated unsubsidized, unfettered, and unilateral trade. He opposed Communist China and recommended a similar hard-line stance that worked with the Soviet Union. Okay, he had some minor social conservative views and wished that the problem of abortion would go away. I can live with that because shrinking government would leave it ineffective in pursuing such policies.
I miss Steve Forbes! I don't know if we'll have a candidate like him anytime soon. He was the Barry Goldwater of my generation. Thank you, Mr. Forbes, for giving me hope and a cause to fight for! I wish that you could run again and defeat your mealy-mouthed, altruist Republican colleague but I know that you've got better things to do, like tend to your businesses. I don't begrudge you your private life, but I still fervently wish you'd run again some day. If you do, I promise that I will volunteer my ass off in the service of your campaign. I took you for granted in those heady times and I will never make that mistake again.
(SIDE NOTE: Forbes also has his own private island. How cool is that! Imagine a president spending his vacation there instead of some Texas ranch or Maine manor.)
I finished listening to Michael Dertouzos' book The Unfinished Revolution: Making Computers Human-Centric this week and I was intrigued by his vision. It didn't seem particularly revolutionary because he wrote the book in the year 2000, when ubiquitous computing was the apple of every VC's eye. Plus, he talks about the Semantic Web and various other things that are old news to me. I was about ready to brush the book off after disc three of five, but I decided to persevere.
My persistence was amply rewarded by discs four and five. There he laid out his Laboratory of Computing Science at MIT's Oxygen Project. This was a $50 million research project involving a slew of corporate partners and hundreds of MIT researchers working on the production of a prototype ubiquitous computing system. If you don't know what that is, it's a vision of computing where several systems are seamlessly integrated to provide you with computing resources ready and available at a moment's notice. In other words, the quintessential dream of the dot-com era: your car talks to your home which talks to your grocer, etc. This is all the stuff we've heard before is just around the perennial corner.
Oxygen, though, is a little different. It consists of three major systems: a handheld H21, household E21s, and a N21 to tie them all together. The idea is that these things would all be oriented around making your life easier and the use of speech as the interface. The H21 would act as an interface and collaborator with the E21s in your home and office. There's also a whole slew of software technologies to enable these pieces of hardware to interoperate.
The project started in 1999 and will be winding up in 2004 (perhaps 2005). It looks Intel-centric, unfortunately, but since the underlying operating system is Linux, it's entirely possible that it could be portable to the Mac. Plus, it appears that they're going to open-source the entire results of their research (which makes sense since they're being funded by DARPA). It's yet another project whose progress I'll be following.
My wife, a third-grade teacher, told me yesterday about how her principal was suspending a sixth grader for spraying cinnamon Binaca in ten kids' mouths at recess. She was also trying to decide whether to call the police and get a police report. For Binaca. Apparently, this is akin to drug dealing for her. This is pretty bad stuff, but it's compounded by the fact that a sixth grader last year was caught with a marijuana cigarette behind his ear and got off with the equivalent of a note home to his parents. No suspension, no police.
She normally avoids any sort of confrontation with parents, but I expect that this one's going to blow up in her face in a big way.
It's hard to believe that Conan O'Brien has been on for ten years! That means that his show debuted three months after my wife and I were married. In other words, that's a long time!
I won't pretend that I was thrilled with him as a replacement for David Letterman when he first came on. I thought he was nowhere near the caliber of Letterman. In case you were too young to or didn't otherwise watch Letterman back then, his show was incredible! The show he hosts now is but a shadow of what it once was and Conan's show only approximates it—though it does surpass Dave's in some respects. If you didn't watch it then, it's very difficult to explain but the show was well-crafted and zany. Imagine Pea Boy romping through the audience throwing handfuls of frozen peas or a camera strapped to a monkey as it roamed briskly through the audience. The Top Ten lists were even edgier back then.
Conan, though, is great. He's a real fine host … for me to poop on. This article about his show summarizes all of the really good things that he's brought to the table. This interview, on the other hand, displays the clever wackiness that he exudes:
ELLE: Ever get turned on in inconvenient places?
CO: Often during the show. That's what the desk is there for.
ELLE: Fascinating. So is that how the desk became a standard part of talk shows?
CO: Yes. If you go back and look at the earliest Tonight Shows with Steve Allen—he became aroused so much that they put a desk out there. Then they just kept the tradition.
Some of his material, though, is pretty sophomoric: the Masturbating Bear, What If They Mated, Satellite TV Guide, etc. It's innocent in its puerility, though, and that makes it somewhat endearing. Whereas Letterman used to be cynical and sarcastic, Conan is self-deprecating and rapid-fire. Conan's comic pedigree is far more extensive than Dave's and his comment that he intentionally dumbs down the material is heartening—since it indicates that he could do something more witty and substantial. I look forward to that day!
In the meantime, I'll settle for the spit-take-inducing, groan-producing, and hilarity-ensuing style of Conan O'Brien. Combined with the acerbic comedy of Robert Smigel, he's easily the consistently funniest show on television right now.
I was going to write up an essay on America's War on Terrorism for 9/11 but a lot of things got in the way. I still have plans to write something up, but here's some articles to tide you over:
These don't represent the tack I was going to (or am going to) take, but they're very interesting.
If you are not an art lover, you're really missing out because art serves a very important function in man's life. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by art because much of it is incomprehensible and the stuff that one is supposed to like as an intelligent and cultured individual isn't particularly appealing. At its best, art is rejuvenatory, joy-inducing, and value-refreshing. Unfortunately, I've met many people who regard art as boring and uninteresting—even though they might otherwise have an eye and appreciation for good design and beauty.
I think it's because they've conceded art to the experts. They equate art with the fervid splashes of Jackson Pollock, the bizarre cubism of Picasso, or practically any modern piece of sculpture. Any of these works mean absolutely nothing to them—or do if they admit to themselves their true feelings rather than parroting what's expected.
The situation is self-reinforcing because every individual thinks that he or she is the only one who's not getting it and doesn't want to appear crass and uncultured. It's just like the timeless parable about the emperor's clothes. It only takes one person in a group admitting that this "art" is nothing more than pretentious, phony crap for everyone to be able to open up and confess that they thought it was only them. I like the article cited above for this very reason because it is a frank admission of utter indifference towards something heralded by experts.
Isn't this just a matter of taste? Isn't art in the eye of the beholder? No. Such views subvert the very serious value of art. Conceding the definition of art to such a relativistic notion is giving up on a vital part of life. Not only is art value-affirming and emotionally-rejuvenating, it also serves a cognitive purpose. Ayn Rand, who developed an impressive and consistent theory of aesthetics, argued that art is a concretization of the artist's view of life, the universe, and everything—to borrow Douglas Adams' famous formulation. It is complex philosophy expressed in paint, in verse, in bronze, or in stone. If that concretized philosophy agrees with the viewers, then art can serve a pedagogical purpose—though such a purpose is never the primary one—and an easy reference point to consult for guidance.
What can one do then since there's thousands of people calling themselves artists and there's thousands more in art history? How can one find the good art, those pieces that are life-affirming and joy-inducing? First, cast your net widely. You never know when you'll find something unless you don't look. Second, if you find an artist that you like, search around to find artists that he or she is often presented alongside. Or contact the artist to see what other artists he or she might recommend. Finally, you can check out two great sites for such art: the Art Renewal Center and the Quent Cordair Gallery. The latter offers links to a lot of similar sites as well as a comprehensive gallery of romantic and realist artists, including contemporaries. The former focuses on current, living artists oriented towards the movement Ayn Rand called "romantic realism." And don't just limit yourself to paintings because there's a lot of spiritual value to be obtained from good architecture, music, literature, and sculpture.
[UPDATE (9/19/02): Art in the Home Depot: "The bricks are forever changed because they were a piece of fine art." Uh huh. Fine art. I'm sure that the employees cleaning up her mess will be awestruck and the home owners who purchase the supplies will instead display them proudly. Give me a break!]
I know this article has been making the rounds lately, but I just got around to reading it. Those are problems that I want to have!
This article on Wired is about the internal machinations of Apple Computer from 1987 to 1997. As a devoted Mac user for most of those years, it's good to know that the external confusion of purpose was explained by the internal confusion and dissension. It makes the odd moves clearer and helps me to appreciate how far Apple has come as a company.
In an interesting column on identity theft, Robert Cringely concludes with this paragraph:
This sort of crime is eventually going to happen. If I can do it just about anyone can do it. The take probably won't be $65 billion, but it will be in the multiple billions. Once it sinks in what has happened, the financial world and the world of business will never be quite the same again as yet another shred of our innocence is torn away. And government will likely respond with new laws that won't work and with a profound lack of understanding of its own role in the tragedy. But first they'll start an investigation.
Mighty ironic words considering the day on which they were published.
After reading this opinion piece, I'm more annoyed than ever by George Bush and his presidency. He's more profligate than the Democrat that preceded him with far less excuse (Reagan could at least say that the Democrats controlled Congress) and he's a babbling idiot.
His politics are a disgusting mishmash of altruistic tendencies and self-centered cronyism. I think he is arguably the worst president of the century—Gerald Ford was at least mostly ineffective—from the perspective of presidentiality. I would definitely say that LBJ, FDR, and JFK were the worst presidents insofar as they projected the power of government into areas that were totally unwarranted.
That means that Election 2004 is going to be Dilemma 2004. Much more so than usual.
[UPDATE: I should probably stop griping since I'm just helping the terrorists.]
[UPDATE (9/17/03): More reasons to dislike the Bush administration, 525 of them to be exact.]
Just got an email from Blogger/Google announcing that Blogger Pro is going away. In other words, all of the stuff I paid $35/year for is now available for free from Blogger. Well, as a consolation prize, I'll get a Blogger hooded sweatshirt. That's cool enough, I suppose.
If I had to guess, I'd say that Google doesn't want two separate codebases to support and maintain. This merge should theoretically allow them to start adding features and good stuff. The motivation behind this move is left unsaid in the email, so my opinion is pure speculation.
[UPDATE (9/11/03): The news is everywhere now, even Slashdot has a discussion.]
According to an article in the Washington Post—though there's nothing on his official site, Berke Breathed is developing a new Sunday comic strip that will start on November 23rd entitled "Opus." I was a huge fan of Bloom County growing up—even writing in to The Arizona Republic petitioning to save it when he was considering quitting—and Opus was always my favorite character. In fact, my handle in childhood was Opus, shortened from Opus Z. Hacker when that moniker's unfortunate verbal pronunciation was used in repeated flames by a certain ne'er-do-well named Morpheus.
I'm reading two articles right now on two very different subjects, but they've both got me thinking that they're related in some way. One is about personal fabrication of items and the other is about personal publishing. I came across them completely separately and coincidentally. It's rather strange actually, but such serendipity is commonplace on the Web.
Someone recently downloaded 721 pages from my site. I ask you, "Why the hell would you want to download all that?" I really can't think of any good reason—even Google only downloads that much in about two weeks. The person who is probably wanting to study the Bill Brown Information Center in considerable detail offline has inspired me to create a banishment system for the Center. It's really simple: it just intercepts your every request and sends you to the ostracism page.
The person who did the stupid sucking won't be reading this, though, because he's the first one in the banned structure. Congratulations!
[NOTE: The reason such a significant download is bannable is because it seriously skews my statistics and there's really no good reason to download my content in my entirety. Would I ban you if you did it gradually and over time? Probably not. What's my threshold? I'll never tell.]
I've been working on my thoughts about the trend for women and girls towards skimpier, more revealing clothing for over a week now but I haven't been able to get it quite right. The Two Blowhards recently treated the same subject, but they looked at it from a more reportorial angle whereas my thoughts are suffused with evaluation.
One of the points made in their comments area is that your perspective on sexiness changes dramatically once you have daughters. As someone for whom daughter possession is imminent, I can agree with that. One of the many ways in which it changes is that you realize that it's one thing for the girls to want to dress like that—popularity is very important and so are boys, but popularity with boys is doubly so—it's another thing entirely for a parent or parents to allow the child to dress like that.
Parents out there are probably thinking, "I tried to get them to not wear those getups but they wouldn't listen." I have heard parents speak of letting their children do things because they tried to make them stop unsuccessfully; I've seen them in the supermarkets and malls telling their kids no and then giving in when the kids started fussing. I'm afraid of what will happen when their kids are old enough to consider alcohol, "Mommy, you never give me any scotch. Wahhhh!" These sorts of things never worked in my day and we made do. I know that that's a classic posture—things were different in my day—but they definitely were: at least in public.
Parents back then were much more concerned about their public image because a spoiled rotten brat for a child would earn them the withering glares of other shoppers and a sluttily-dressed girl would have been positively scandalous. Tattoos and piercings were for pirates, sailors, and the seedy underbelly of society. Now they're practically de rigeur among both parents and children. The private is the public; there is nothing left that won't be flaunted. "Kids want to look sexy at 12? Well, that's what everybody's doing: how can I fight the tide?"
To so trivially sexualize your child is reprehensible. The sexual revolution was about not being ashamed of sex, not being afraid of it. It taught women that sex was okay, sex was good. This is truly a helpful notion for women. What it didn't advocate was that sexuality was a public act. Sex was something that consenting adults did in the bedroom and the repeal of many blue laws was heralded as keeping "the government out of the bedroom."
Somewhere along the line, sex became a public act. Necking went from something that teenagers did on the edge of town to something they did at the mall. Public sex acts increased among all segments and age groups of the population. Jerry Springer's show put forth the notion that there was some really bizarre stuff happening out there and the World Wide Web made access to that bizarre stuff even easier. The maxim "If you've got it, flaunt it" dropped the first clause and the sexual revolution somehow inched below the age of majority floor.
At the same time, repeated proclamations of girl power and female empowerment were bandied about with the introduction of video games oriented towards women and movies featuring strong female leads. Something always felt wrong about this, but I couldn't pin it down until I read an article on the subject. Empowerment in this context is a chimera: a commingling of assertiveness with flaunted sexuality.
The examples cited in the article—Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft and Charlie's Angels—are apt and representative, but there's a much more insidious perversion of empowerment coursing throughout our society. The media examples are poignant and pervasive, but the media is just the harbinger of change—the permeation of our society suggests that the bastardization has taken root.
I'm talking about the general disdain for intellectual pursuits and the embrace of all things puerile and lascivious. The same thing that produces Lara Croft (and Temptation Island and Fear Factor and The Fifth Wheel) also creates a site about Republican Babes. In this view, a woman is sexy because she's showcasing her breasts or her butt. And women acquire power or status only insofar as they're willing to be sexy.
In other words, while the sexual revolution represented the liberation of women from stereotypes and Puritanism, it never addressed women in a non-sexual context. Never is a little overstated, but it didn't address it in a significant way or we would see its effects today. Sexuality is a private thing primarily between a man and a woman—though all manner of other combinations are possible, of course. By linking women's (and now girls') identities to their sexuality, this private wonderful act becomes their public persona. Girl power, then, becomes the act of using your sexuality to get what you want.
That does a profound disservice to sex, women, and relationships. Women (and now girls) become mere objects for men's desire or gawking. They become the pawns of women since "they're only after one thing." The women, recognizing this, withhold that "one thing" while dressing as if they were quite willing to do that "one thing." Sounds like a timeless problem, right? It was because all of that is now quite open and public. Previously, men had to get to know a woman before he had sex with her and he had to more or less court her. Overt sexual behavior wasn't part of the equation and could lead to immediate dismissal.
Now, sex is expected and part of the culture. Sex on the first date isn't uncommon and people sleep with other people rather casually, even as friends. Women are judged on their looks and their sexuality. I can't remember the last time I heard any man comment on how bright a woman was or how intriguing she seemed. It's all about how "hot" she looks or how quickly she might have sex.
Jeremy Zawodny recently noted how rare it is to find books in people's houses anymore. I seconded that because I can't, offhand, think of anyone I know locally who has more than a hundred books in their house or reads regularly. And I've noted a disturbing lack of intellectual activity in all of the teens I've encountered as well. I'm sure that intellectual pursuits are still frowned upon in the high school culture, much like they were when I was in school.
I'll confess to not being terribly familiar with the current teenager scene, but I've read enough to suggest that I am, if anything, understating the situation. That is the minimum bar that future kids will raise higher and higher. And that scares me more than I can say.
My daughters will grow up in that context, but they will not partake of it if I have anything to do with it. And I will. My responsibility as a parent is to raise my children and I'll be damned if I'm going to let them distract me from that purpose because of any temporary inconvenience or embarrassment. My wife and I have already decided that they will not hang out at the mall, that they will not dress like prostitots, that they will watch a limited amount of television, and that they will sit down to dinner with us at the dinner table on a nightly basis. I will encourage in them a love of and thirst for knowledge that will lead them on a path of lifelong learning. I will impart in them a respect for books and the knowledge they contain. I will foster in them an attitude of logic and reason so that they may come to understand the world and the ideas expressed in it.
There is the distinct possibility that this proto-sexual anarchy will engender a backlash and a reaction. Perhaps other parents will come to be as frustrated and disgusted as I am about the state in which we find our societ y and they will take their children out of the cultural norm. And perhaps this will stanch the moral tide and restore a return to normalcy. I don't really know, but I suspect that it's simply too much effort for most people to expend. It is not too much for me and it is simply too important to not undertake it.
[UPDATE (9/10/03): Another data point. My friend Larry also pointed out that this essay didn't really cover the issue of independence, which I agree is a very important quality to instill in my children that is generally lacking among today's teens. He also suggested that sex as a teen isn't that big of a deal if the foundations are there. I agree with that—to a point. As I told him, I think that sex is too wonderful a thing to have outside of love (i.e., casually). I believe that a teenager can feel love if she's mature and in tune with her values and I wouldn't have a problem with sexual activity in that context.]
[UPDATE 2 (9/10/03): Yet another data point. As far as I can tell, "dogging" is having sex in front of strangers. I'm almost positive that this didn't use to happen except as maybe an accident. That is some freaky stuff.]
Virginia Postrel, author of The Future and Its Enemies, has a new book out on style entitled The Substance of Style—those links credit Virginia Postrel if you purchase after clicking on them, which helps her keep a little extra in earnings.
The book is about the way style has taken on a life of its own. I rather enjoyed her first book, though I occasionally found it tedious in its repetitive distinction between dynamists and stasists—a perhaps non-essential cleavage as well, so I think her second is probably worth buying as well. There are some excellent reviews of the book in an interview in The Atlantic Monthly and the New York Sun that suggest that her central thesis is about how style has become a "major—perhaps the major—economic phenomenon of our time." That's a highly debatable point, to be sure.
I'll post a review once I acquire the book and have a chance to read it.
"Weird Al" Yankovic made what I think was his first concert appearance in the Valley of the Sun last night at a surprisingly packed Dodge Theater. Having been a fan of his work from a very young age, I was a little concerned about how the concert would turn out since I was already familiar with all of his songs and, frankly, I figured that his fans would run the gamut of geek/freak stereotypes. I was worried that the concert might somehow detract from the persona I imagine from the well-produced albums, movie, and TV specials.
I now know that I had absolutely nothing to worry about. He is just as wacky onstage as I hoped. What's more, he played several songs with which I was unfamiliar, including a hilarious parody of several Talking Heads' songs called "Dog Eat Dog" that I honestly don't remember ever hearing. He also played a concert-only parody of Celine Dion's sappy "Heart Will Go On," turning it into a song about pizza delivery.
Overall, the music and his stage antics were excellent but the real bonus for me personally was the fans. They were (largely) normal people who enjoy the comedy stylings of "Weird Al." There were a few bizarre people—I'm talking to you, lightsaber-wielding freaks—but a surprising number of kids and females. This was practically unheard of when I was growing up: "Weird Al" was what you listened to instead of hanging out with girls. Yankovic's songs are innocent even though they're often scatological or macabre. I find it refreshing that today's kids can still enjoy pure comedy and the skewering of pretentious musicians.
The other neat thing about the fans is that we knew all the lyrics to the songs and sung ourselves hoarse belting them out. My "Weird Al" fan life has been a rather solitary one, so it was nice to see people like me in one big space. It was a very memorable and inspiring event.
For my future reference: articles on starting up a business from Barry Moltz.
Slashdot has an excellent discussion about data organization, a subject about which I alternate between caring too much and too little. My hard drive is in a varying state of organization depending on the level of importance and frequency of access. The more frequently accessed and the more important the files, the more organized and thoughtful the scheme.
If you're interested in the Macintosh—and you should be if you're not—go to CompUSA and get their no interest till March 2005 deal. 20 months is plenty of time to pay off the loan, making this a real sweet deal—even though it means that you have to set foot in a CompUSA. Think of it as helping a good cause.
I am mere hours away from attending a "Weird Al" Yankovic concert at the Dodge Theater. I have been a fan of his music since I was a wee one and I've never seen him in concert. Tonight marks the second half of my life, for tonight I see America's greatest songwriter of this or any generation. (Reference to Saving Silverman)
Just when you think the Internet couldn't get sicker, it does. I cannot express how diseased a mind would have to be to come up with this idea, implement it, and profit to the tune of millions.
My friend Larry and I were talking on the phone last night and the subject of general cluelessness came up. I argued that the popularity of the personal finance genre is explainable by the same logic as the diet book and self-help book genres. They are targeted at people utterly lacking in self-awareness or common sense. If they had either of those traits, they would not need such books because the wisdom imparted stems from exactly those two areas.
For those of you who wish to save yourself oodles of money, here is Bill Brown's quick guide to wealth, weight management, and happiness:
- Spend less money than you make and save the difference in something that either earns interest or doesn't generally entail a loss.
- Eat less and exercise more.
- To be happy, define your values and work towards achieving them. Further happiness comes from establishing which values are more important than others and not wasting time on the lesser values when you could be pursuing the higher ones.
Okay then, now you know those secrets—though you probably did already. The question you're probably asking yourself is "Why are these books so popular then? Is everyone that foolish?" These books are popular for four reasons:
- It's very difficult to assess the central theme of a book that is several hundred pages in length and chock full of impressive sounding words.
- It seems like such weighty, important matters should require more explanation than my short guide.
- People see other people who are rich, thin, and happy and figure that there must be some secret to it that they can't divine.
- This secret is probably much easier than the common sense way, which seems like a lot of work over a not inconsiderable length of time.
There isn't any mystery to it. Sure there are people who achieve wealth, fitness, and joy without having to work really hard at it. Those are exceptional cases and they certainly didn't need (or could even benefit from) a book to get them there. It's hard work, but there is little in life that doesn't require effort and people must simply accept that fact instead of stubbornly resisting reality.
Today I came across a press release from Business 2.0 that reminded me that management books are another genre that I can add to the Bridge For Sale Library. Moby Dick, arguably a good book, is not really helpful to management except insofar as it suggests that you can really burn yourself out trying to achieve an impossible goal. That's generally helpful advice, but common sense suggests that without the need to read an early-nineteenth-century novel—it's a rare manager who would be willing to read a novel, much less a literary classic. Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions is, I think, a bit too philosophical of a stretch for most to apply directly to their jobs. His contention that science is a series of disjointed paradigm shifts bears little utility to the issues of management except that it features one of their favorite impressive buzzwords. Thorstein Veblen's 1899 The Theory of the Leisure Class is hardly the seminal work in marketing and is quite dated for today's dynamic economy.
What did they shun? Atlas Shrugged is a great book for businessmen because it enshrines reason as the driving force of business and suggests that wealth is not something to be minimized. It takes the "greed is good" bromide and provides the context in which that statement is poignant and valid. Tom Peter's In Search of Excellence started the entire genre (getting a pass because of that primacy) and communicates an excellent formula for a successful business. Both these books are precisely what executives need to understand what they should be doing and why they should feel good about their jobs. In the era of Enron and Worldcom, the advice within would serve as an excellent start for a new age of management.
[UPDATE: P.J. O'Rourke has an interesting take on this very phenomenon in an interview with The Onion: "People love to be told what they know already. It's not so much that what they say is wrong, though Ann Coulter does seem to be completely crazy. [Laughs.] But it's kind of like reading The Power Of Positive Thinking, or any other advice or how-to book. All they do is reassure people of their basic opinions, and then they can continue to act like they've always acted. I'd say it's time to move on to something else, but I don't know what it would be." There may be something to that notion; I'll have to think about it some.]
I'm gradually losing my ability to suffer fools, tolerate boneheads, and not lash out at inanity. As you can imagine, this will probably turn out to be a career and personal liability. I can't seem to shake it.
Any ideas how to curb this devolution or at least slow it down?
I've encountered lots of online begging, but I've never seen a request as shameless as this one. He actually thinks that getting an increased ranking on Daypop, Technorati, or Feedster is going to heighten awareness in the Presidential campaign headquarters of the candidates? Or is he being disingenuous about why he wants all the linkage? Winer wouldn't do that, would he?
[UPDATE: And the sheep respond. How unfortunate.]
[UPDATE 2: Contrast above with this. Which is it, minds or sheep?]
[UPDATE 3: Zing!]
I didn't see it (and I'm really not interested in watching it, thank you very much), but I like the idea of Madonna and Britney Spears' kissing as "the most corporate pucker-up of all time." Later, "the brief dynastic coupling seemed formulated to help Britney lurch into a more racy adult market while allowing Madonna to allege she still has the power to shock."
This American wants an American autobahn. I'm not normally enamored of German things, but I crave this sort of exaltation of driving.
August's results are in and traffic is almost double July's and three times what it was in April—I'm not even including the RSS feed traffic in those totals either. I don't know if the traffic surge is because of more frequent blogging, more essays, or what.
I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for visiting. I'd love to know if there's anything you'd like to see added or done differently. Leave a comment or send me an email. I'll consider anything, but I'd especially like to know what makes you come back.