Anil Dash on NYT on teen blogs

In the link blog, Anil writes “i fear it may take us another few years to live down the impression generated by this story.” Anil, who is “us”? When you use the phone, you don’t have to “live down” the impression created by teenagers chatting about crushes and parties. People who blog about social software and politics don’t have to “live down” teenagers blogging about life — just like the teens don’t need to “live down” the grownups talking about car repair and jobs and insurance.
It’s just communication. People say what they want to say. The medium and the tools let us say it. All good.

Sopranos, Season 1

In one of the episodes of the Soprano’s first season, baby mobster Christopher Moltisanti, who’s trying to write his life into a screenplay, comments that a movie script is about 120 pages. David Chase takes advantage of the story-telling space in a 13-hour season to pull together a form more like a novel: developing characters, unfolding themes, interlocking plots, arcs, and pointed social commentary.
I’ve been watching the Sopranos for the first time on DVD this past week; it’s as good as its reputation.

Continue reading “Sopranos, Season 1”


Watched Adaptation over the holidays with the brother and sister-in-law in New Jersey. I enjoyed Nicholas Cage’s acting tour de force, playing an angst-ridden, intellectual, original screen-writer, and his cheerful, confident, cliche-loving twin brother, with similar mannerisms and different personalities.
I was entertained by the dogged resistance to making a movie without hollywood plot cliches — sex, drugs, chase scenes, personal revelation — and eventual surrender to a short, devastating parody of hollywood style.
The film even plays games with emotional trajectory; there’s one red herring, the striving of the New Yorker writer and screen-writer to “follow their bliss”; and the emotional moral the movie chooses; to “be confident, despite critics.” The film could have easily swapped themes and worked as well; it’s a critique of the tacked on “moral of the story” chosen from at random from the cliches of therapeutic culture.
It’s either a measure of a small bit of heart in the movie, despite overall cynicism; or personal vulnerability, but I resonated with the intellectual snobbery toward his sincere and middlebrow brother that the main character has to unlearn.
Ultimately, though, as Judith comments, the film-school cleverness isn’t as smart as it thinks it is. A film-school student watches oodles of movies, realizes that there are no new stories left, and that the industry uses golden chains to tie film-makers to sentimental and dramatic cliches.
Shakespeare had that problem — the groundlings all wanted fight scenes; comedies have a happy ending; tragedies end with blood on the stage. Homer presumably had that problem — there were hundreds of years of story-telling; he had to get the audience to listen to him, and somehow do something new.

Bruce Schneier, Homeland Insecurity, and Patriot 2

Schneier’s critique of airport false alarms also explains why the Patriot 2 provisions — which let the government gather reams of financial data without probable cause — is likely to backfire.
Schneier writes in Salon Magazine

In the months and years after 9/11, the U.S. government has tried to address the problem by demanding (and largely receiving) more data. Over the New Year’s weekend, for example, federal agents collected the names of 260,000 people staying in Las Vegas hotels. This broad vacuuming of data is expensive, and completely misses the point. The problem isn’t obtaining data, it’s deciding which data is worth analyzing and then interpreting it. So much data is collected that intelligence organizations can’t possibly analyze it all. Deciding what to look at can be an impossible task, so substantial amounts of good intelligence go unread and unanalyzed. Data collection is easy; analysis is difficult.

The Patriot 2 provisions let the government trawl for data. If there’s no need to show probable cause, it’s easier to cast a wide net than to catch the tuna and leave the dolphins alone.

Are Bloggers Privileged?

Danah writes that blogging is a privilege, with preference to straight white males. Maybe at the top of the Technorati popularity charts. But take a look at the participants on Austin Bloggers and Austin Stories, the blog and journal portals. Core community members are women, queer, stay-at-home moms, workers in social work, teaching, non-profit, retail, tech-support, students, and job-hunting. This is a community, not a country club.

The trouble with the review form..

is that it turns the (book, movie, recording) into a commodity and the experience of (reading, watching, listening) into social conformity. The punchline is a thumbs-up/thumbs-down rating. The book is good/bad, and you’d like/hate it too.

This leaves out the subjectivity of the observer. My experience of a work of culture is partly evaluation against definable criteria (the book’s plot is predictable), and partly the interaction between the book’s content and my emotional and intellectual experience. When I read a book, I evaluate these things somewhat separately. Is it a “good book” — well-researched, well-plotted, etc. And did I learn something new, did I have an emotional and esthetic experience.

Because the experience is subjective, a recommendation can’t be general-purpose. There’s a genre of folk ballad that can usually make me cry. Not sure whether it’s “good music” or “bad music” — just that it flips some switches and buttons to trigger a strong emotional experience.

Also, the “book review” format emphasizes the dialog between reviewer and reader, rather than the dialog between writer and reader (this point makes more sense for books than other forms). I experience reading not as an act of consumption but as a conversation, separated in time and space from the writing. (That’s why it’s so darn cool when weblog trackbacks invoke comments from authors; it becomes a live conversation).

So, the essays about books here aren’t really book reviews — they’re essays with esthetic evaluation, and personal emotional/intellectual reaction, and response to the author’s ideas.

p.s. This isn’t as solipsistic as it sounds. The act of recommendation is an intimate act, not a public one. A recommendation is based on empathy; experiencing a work of culture through the filter of another’s intellectual and emotional preferences, and assessing whether the other person might enjoy the work. A generic thumbs-up/thumbs-down public recommendation is a much more pallid thing.

Are Blogs Just?

Joi Ito and Marko Ahtisaari in a conversation about whether blogs are just, given the inequality in traffic and link stats that Clay Shirky pointed out. The premise is wrong. The charge of injustice only applies if blog traffic is like money or power; more is better; the greater can oppress the lesser.
Adam Rice has it right here: “Power laws? I don’t have a problem with them. I write my blog for my own satisfaction and to let my friends know what I’m doing and what I’m thinking about. And to remind me in the future of what I was doing/thinking. While it’s nice knowing that other people are reading it (which, I think, a few other people do), that’s not why I do it.”

New Years Resolutions

Out of all of the goals on the list for 2004, I know how to do all of the items but one.
Made fabulous progress last year in professional and nonprofit activities. I know how to stay fit and eat well, though it’s hard to do when working a zillion hours at a start-up. I kept the resolution to stay in touch with friends and keep social commitments, even when really busy. I completed some small but useful programming projects; learned how to build things small steps at a time and debug.
Gosh, I’m even procrastinating getting to the point. I’d love to meet the right guy, and don’t know how to do it. So I’d love your advice, dear readers.
There are two methods that people recommend:
Method 1) Have an active life, do things you enjoy, and meet interesting people. Eventually, you’ll meet someone who’s right for you. Or someone you meet will introduce you.
This method is fun and relatively easy. But sloooow. I met and briefly dated someone through a non-profit connection, who’s super-smart, fun and capable; not right for an LTR for me, and we’re friends now. That was one guy in a year.
Method 2) Market yourself. First, ask everyone you know to fix you up. This hasn’t had any results so far. I guess I can try again…
Next, fill out profiles on the online dating services. Browse profiles and send form letters to plausible-sounding guys. Meet for coffee. The results of this approach have been amusingly disastrous. Outside of “dates”, I meet people I like and make new friends all the time. On “dates” with guys selected by profiles, I meet people who are wildly unsuitable — a guy whose favorite activity is gambling; a guy who wears a concealed handgun at all times; a guy who doesn’t wash. Ask me for more amusing stories, if you like.
This isn’t fun, and hasn’t had any good results so far. So I procrastinate. I put it on my to-do list every single weekend, and lo and behold, do everything else.
Gentle readers:
* Shall I continue to pursue method 1, and trust that the universe will make a connection?
* Or shall I smile sweetly, take a photograph with a tighter sweater, and write more form letters?
Advice welcome.
p.s. If you’re a single guy who reads my blog, feel free to drop me a note. Ditto if you know someone I should meet.
p.p.s. So, you ask… why is such a nice girl still single? Dated the same guy for a long time, during my mid-20s/early 30s when most people hook up, and didn’t marry him.

What matters about Social Software

David Weinberger says: if you want to get at the real social networks, you’re going to have to figure them out from the paths that actual feet have worn into the actual social carpet.’
So right. The best examples we have today are things likeTechnorati and the Blogstreet neighborhood and All Consuming that

  • reveal interesting people and ideas in the social neighborhood
  • in a way that is valuable to the participants, not just data miners
  • without asking participants to give anything away or do extra work.
    Here’s another way of looking at things. The Social Network tools are about saying hello. Unless you’re 18 months old, hello is only .1% of the conversation. Weblogs, wikis, and other public conversations are about the other 99.9% of the conversation. And the Technorati/Blogstreet/AllConsuming applications help you find relevant conversations to join.

Learning from friends

Halley talks about learning about air traffic control from a friend.

To rely on personal contact to spur your learning or curiosity seems a haphazard way to increase your knowledge, but it happens all the time in our lives once we are out of school. These days however, blogs are doing just that — making a wide range of subjects interesting, engaging, accessible and fascinating simply by the fact that you sense an intimate connection and a personal voice at the other end of the information.

This only seems unusual because we’ve been introctrinated with the weird idea that learning is something kids acquire in a school building from professional teachers. Humans have learned from peers and mentors, throughout the human lifespan, for as long as primates have been able to transmit ideas about tools, culture, history, and behavior.
In addition to Halley’s good point about blogs, I have a weird theory that wikis will help this renaissance in grownup learning. I know several book club wikis already. Wikis are gaining interest among “communities of practice” — groups of grownups who want to share learning outside academia. Wikis are great for individuals building a vocabulary in a subject, and wonderful for groups building shared understanding.
Blogs help to discover and browse new ideas, through the lens of another passionate human. Wikis help to build personal and shared memory as people learn.