Just the concepts, ma'am

Sure, the web is a place where ideas percolate, people network, knowledge is shared, blah blah blah. Is there a single site where all that really happens? Where you don't have to sift through layers of intro and setup -- where it's all just idea after idea, and a place for your feedback?

There is. Whynot.net. And, I guess, halfbakery has been around doing sort of the same thing.

It seems, though, that you could pick up the Tuesday Times and a half-dozen or so innovative new ideas on science and technology. Maybe it's too slow to read a 2000 word article, sift through the descriptions and whatnot... So this site just has one-line ideas: "Have the third brake light indicate degree of deceleration" or "put a GPS-stamp in a camera" (both ideas which have been pursued elsewhere...).

Is it progress towards Open Source Everywhere (there's a manifesto out there you can link to)? Or is it more, I suspect, the slimming down of extraneous content, down to the meat. My thesis abstract is boiled down from 200 pages to a few paragraphs, essentially with a footnote saying "I've got some proof." Those interested can read further... Those ready to comment and opine and adapt, however, can go right ahead on whynot.net.

The Politics of Laughing

It struck me when SNL started making fun of the "let inspections work" movement... And sure, they make fun of Bush, and Daily show is a solid left wing comedy factory, but the right making people laugh too, and not just by their actions. Some call it South Park Republicans, or attribute it to the Howard Stern following...

The bottom line is, it's become a lot easier to make fun of liberal excess, especially as they get shrill in their hatred of Bush. Also, as they get shrill, it becomes harder for them to laugh about stuff. Dark sarcasm doesn't count; too bitter. Maybe it's a function of being out of power (the right was pretty shrill during the clinton years), getting angry and desparate about the direction of things.

But the left could laugh in the past, even when they were out of power (the Nixon and Reagan years). But today, I'm hearing mostly venom. A party that can't laugh can't bring in new members.

Here's what I said in the old journal:
5/21 Is it me or is liberal humor just not funny? The most cutting edge comics -- Tom D'Bug, Waylay, and others, are just seeming mean-spirited and nihilistic.

And the left was supposed to be funny -- subversive, anti-establishment, etc. So why is Naomi Wolf blocking the Ali G segment?

Moreover, SNL seems to have switched -- with pieces ridiculing the UN as self-absorbed obstructionists, and Powell as a Cassandra.

But right-wingers arenĂ¢€™t funny either, they just donĂ¢€™t have a sophisticated sense of humor. They laugh at stooges, broad caricatures. No subtlety.

The Tryptophan Meme

Tryptophan gets a ton of off-hand mentions around Thanksgiving. Like the Y2K bug and several other memes, has filtered its way down to the masses over the last 10 years. "turkey has tryptophan, makes you sleepy. FX network has Awesome-o-phan!" I'm not making that up, I saw it on TV. Maybe people are interested in hearing how Tryptophan gets broken down and how the pineal gland makes melatonin, seratonin, etc. I don't know much about it myself, yet...

This is tailor-made for your MD/PhD background, the only time I would consider tacking it onto my pen name. I hope you write it up and submit this around thanksgiving 2004, along with some election jokes. If you go on to explain melatonin, the link, etc, say "The literature on this topic is somewhat dry, not unlike many turkeys today will be."Bring a clip to your interviews.


The Atlantic Monthly is reporting that 37% of all political news coverage is about strategy, while only 25% is about actual policy details (one assumes the rest of the political news is about polls...)

I suspect this is even more biased towards strategy than the numbers indicate, since stories about policy often include coverage of how it "plays" among constituents, who's lining up to oppose it, etc.

Some of this is because, for the audience, policy is dry and measuring the impact of various proposals in real terms is difficult and contentious. Furthermore, political strategy is fun and engrossing in a gossipy sort of way. But it's also easier for the journalists to report on intangibles like "the mood of the electorate" and "responding to attacks" and "appealing to the middle" and whatnot. Actually a lot of these pieces report as fact that which can only be described as opinions on motivation. Nowhere in the language of an FCC ruling is a phrase like "we're caving to powerful communications lobbies" and yet, it is often reported as such. Strategy and maneuvering and style trumping substance.

This fits with that princeton economist who said this is the first White House he's seen that has no independent policy team -- instead, policy is guided by politics at every level. Ideas aren't proposed by wonks and economists only to be massaged and spun by Rove -- instead, they are proposed by pundits based on what will win, wedge, and energize the base. Only later do the policy wonks chime in about feasibility, worth, usefulness, etc.

Coin the Phrase

The Atlantic runs a contest every few months called Word Fugitives -- find a phrase that fits the given scenario. This summer it was: "what do you call it when you're driving on the highway and you come across a police car and a bunch of slow cars clustered, afraid to pass?"

I came up with "cruiser control" which was apparently quite a popular entry. The winner was "Halo effect" because everyone's acting like angels, but also surrounding the cop. Whatever. I like mine better.

But more importantly, I generated "Cruiser control" by listing all the synonyms and slang and associated words for cops, and for driving, and for traffic, and just mixed and matched. It kind of worked.

Let's do the same for location-based cell-phone ads! I could coin the next "spam".

Here are the categories:

JUNK MAIL: spam, bulk, mass-market, targeted ads, demographics, ad blitz, campaign, commercial, unsolicited, privacy, brand, image, telemarket, promo

GPS: global positioning, satellite, location-based, geocache, triangulation, search, track, stalk, signal, message, orbit, earth, home in

Mobile phones: cell, talk, charge, minutes, flip phone, dial, text, call, connect, busy signal, ring, tones, answer, message, voicemail, hangup, memo

my predictable, uncreative picks include "location-spam" or "GP-Spam" or "telespam"

my early favorites include "hard cell" and "stalkmail" and, though this makes almost no sense, "promoto"

will keep mulling...

Remote Possibilities

Clive Robertson in the New York Times magazine writes: "Pundits have fretted for years that mobile phones are making us ruder. In June, Nokia released some evidence that may actually prove it. A survey found that 71 percent of mobile-phone users admit they are now consistently late for social events. Why? Because they can send a flurry of text-messages explaining where they are, how fast they're moving and precisely when they'll arrive, down to the minute. ''You sort of feel you've got more play, because you're in this incredibly close contact,'' says Robbie Blinkoff, the principal anthropologist at Context-Based Research Group, which has found similar trends in its studies. "


Indeed, the next generation of phones is slated to become even more sophisticated. Phone companies have begun offering ''location based'' services with handsets that let other people know where you're walking, all day long. Next year, the French telecommunications equipment company Alcatel will offer Guardian Angel, which will let people track the movements of their children (or their Alzheimer's-ridden elderly parents) via their phones. We won't need to send out those ''where are you?'' queries anymore; instead, we'll have a nearly psychic level of knowledge about one another. New forms of play will arise: in Sweden and Finland, teenagers already play BotFighters war games -- one phone attacks another if they get physically close enough, like two Game Boys sensing each other's presence. Nokia's N-Gage phone, designed specifically to run games, lets players go head to head in a racing or fighting game with anyone nearby. Beyond this ''whoa'' potential, though, the privacy implications of location-based capabilities are hair-raising, says Roger Entener, a mobile-phone analyst at the Yankee Group. ''Your spouse will say she's on a business trip in Kansas City, but you'll notice that her phone is actually down in Chelsea. So you'll go, Hmm, what's happening there?''

Yet even then, observers say, people will probably never be willing to rein in their mobile lives. Bell tells a story that illustrates just how central phones now are. In Malaysia, she recently attended a ''feast of the hungry ghosts,'' where Chinese Malays burn paper replicas of food. ''They do it to ensure that their ancestors are well fed,'' Bell notes. But in recent years, they've also begun burning paper versions of mobile phones -- and even paper versions of prepaid phone cards, to make sure the phones will work beyond the grave. ''They can't imagine their dead relatives existing without the latest models,'' Bell says. ''And they wouldn't want their ancestors to be lonely.'' Even in death, no one wants to be cut off.


If I'm going to pull this together for an article this week, here's the format I imagine:

1: Cell phone portability is here! Now we can keep our numbers forever.
2: Is this really good news? How many people want to keep their email forever? I don't.
3a: Email addressess eventually get discovered and spammed. Relentlessly. Now I know better than to buy stuff or register with my regular email address -- I should use a throwaway spam yahoo account.
3b: email spam is so bad that it may force borderline users away from email, and keep kids off altogether. the long march towards universal interactivity has hit a snag with spam.
4: The same thing may happen with cell phones
4a: text spam is already a problem in the UK
4b: the new location-tracking GPS phones could take it to a new level
5. Unlike junkmail or telemarketers, Spam is a parasite, draining internet resources and helping no one but the spammers (and a tiny number of customers).
6. GPS-spam would be made possible via the FCC mandate for GPS, but also by a significant investment by the phone companies themselves, and others. They can charge what they want, do what they want with their network. Virgin already announced they've been tracking users for years, just with tower data alone.

7? Cell phone companies were against number portability, because it would lead to higher customer turnover. They might have been shortsighted -- in the future, keeping your number might mean keeping your tracklog of all the places you've been, all the stores you've shopped in... They could sell that to advertisers and corporations, recouping any losses from turnover.

Tracking will make people conscious of where they shop, who they visit. Yet they won't stop shopping or sneaking around. But they will turn off their phones when they're doing it.


In the early days of email, the entire process seemed so benevolent and efficient and progressive and I would have never imagined the current situation, where 75% of email is repulsive, tedious junk. I would have never believed email could be too risky for kids to use; too bothersome for regular / recreational folks.

The same thing may happen to mobile phones. What seems like inexorable progress toward universal reachability might suddenly stop with GPS-enabled tracking and ads. People will be powering down, leaving the phone behind, or only using it in emergencies. One step forward, one step back.

JJ on AS on blogs

Jeff Jarvis on buzzmachine.com quotes Andrew Sullivan on blogging. I'm just going to leave this up, peruse them later for potential future jumping-off points:

: Andrew Sullivan is speaking to the Online News Association. I'm just putting up quotes now... Will clean up and comment later (I have to be on a panel next).... Talk about instant analysis....

: He is doing a superb job lecturing this audience on how to blog, explaining to them that they must consider themselves part of a community who will correct them and contribute to them.

: Best gag: "Will there be blogs that are purely fictional -- and I don't mean Eric Alterman?"

: "Whenever I wonder why I have not written a book lately [because he is blogging instead].... I say this happens once in a lifetime: You don't stumble across a new medium every day."

: "I think of blogging as the first genuine innovation that came out of the Internet itself."

: What sets apart weblogs, he says, is economics: He talks about the economics of thoughtful journalism: The New Republic has never made money and loses more. The Nation doesn't make money.
"And then I experienced blogging as an alterantive. It staggers me to realize that last week, AndrewSullivan.com... is now reaching more people online than the magazine I used to edit, which is still losing... hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. That's a big deal... We haven't just made the economics of journalism cheaper.... We haven't just lowered the barriers to entry to journalism, we've completely revolutionized it."

: "The overhead is minimal and the reach is almost infinite."

: Journalists have longed for this day, he says -- a world without editors. He told about having to rewrite a piece for the London Times -- and now he can put his original online.

: "I think it's going to get more revolutionary. We're going to see self-publishing of books... and taking power away from editors and publishers and media magnates."

: In the news media now, he says, the public "knows there is a man behind the curtain."

: He says that the trend toward anonymity is dying. Tina Brown killed it a bit when she said that no one cared what The New Yorker says; they know there's an individual there. Blogs extend that individual identity.

: "People trust [blogs]. Not because they are authorities but because they are subjected to scrutiny day in and day out and people decide whether they like them or not."

: Andrew waxes wonderfully on the ability and necessity of bloggers being able to change their minds, being transparent and honest; that is the essence of their (read: our) appeal.

: "They introduce back into the public discourse provisional thinking." We can change our minds. We can miss things. Others can have better ideas. "It recognizes the fallibility of the human mind and opens up to the wisdom of the communal mind." That's a whole new media dynamic, he says. Columnists and magazines have to wait to correct so they work to get it right now. Blogs, he says, don't make that commitment... "Let's continue that conversation onwards."

: "It's a much more modest mode of discourse... That modesty strikes a chord with people."

: "It's very, very modern. It's postmodern.... It's a combination of trends in modern thought and trends in technology."

: "Interactive... this is not a monologue, it's not even a dialogue, it is a conversation."
Amen! I'll say it again: News is a conversation.

" I'm just the recipient of a collective brain. I'm just a portal for the thoughts of other minds." He says he spends 40 percent of his blogging time reading email from contributors to that conversation.

: "It's more transparent than anything in journalism before." He says that when you make an error, there is no shame in that. "In mainstream journalism," he adds, "you have to climb down from your pedestal to correct an error and then climb back up again."

: He says a blog must be read long-term. "It accumulates a voice... traditions... in-jokes... its own vocabulary."

: He says he invented a t-shirt slogan: "Go ahead, fisk my blog." Three people in the audience got it.

: "I feel like an old brick wall covered with ivy and I can't cut it off... I used to take the weekends off but they wont' let you."

: If he were to start a new magazine, he'd find five of the smartest bloggers and put them on a web site "and tell them to go at it."

: "The ultimate and most successful news blog in the business is Drudgereport."
Andrew said he goes to Miami once a year for what he calls a "summit." He says he studies Drudge because "it is by far the most successful blog in history.... He's incredibly powerful."

: Unlike talk radio, he says, weblogs try to talk to people who disagree with us.

: Talking about the ability to use blogs to challenge authority and using Iran as an example, he says: "I'd much rather live in a country where the most we have to worry about is Howell Raines rather than live under the thumb of Saddam Hussein."

: Asked a good question about whether writing a blog affects his style and ability to write other things, Sullivan says yes. "It's like the cuckoo in the nest. It crowds out other genres... I'm supposed to be writing this book and I can't seem to get started."

: Should blogging be taught in journalism schools? "Absolutely... That's one sure way to kill it off."