Monthly Archives: May 2010

the margin is too small to contain this

I wanted to write something short and pithy and insightful for Facebook or Twitter or some other minimalist thing and couldn't come up with anything.  The ultrashort format is not suited to ruminations on things you don't completely understand and are trying to work out in the process of writing about them.

Instead I will go for a walk.

Perhaps this is a rumination on the length of communications, their immediacy and the expected audience.

You have a wide choice of how long to make your message, and how much complexity you want to embed in what you have to say.  

Some messages can only be told verbally over and over again for quite a while until they are ready to write down.  Alas, the seduction of very short form writing leads us to think that we are talking, rather than writing, when we use them.  That's not quite true.

Every so often I write something and the reader (the editor) says "huh?"  That usually happens when the writing process happens during the discovering process and by the time I figure something out in 10 paragraphs the first paragraph doesn't make sense anymore.


mindless mindfulness

I used this phrase in my meaningless indicators of progress post.

Some other uses of it, just so I manage to put it in an appropriate context:

Chronicle of Higher Education has a story called The Art of Living Mindfully on the work of Ellen Langer. Her blog is not frequent but it is thoughtful.

We have been explicitly and implicitly taught by our culture to be mindless. We have been taught absolutes when none really exist independent of context. When we think we know something absolutely, we have learned that it is reasonable never to question it, nor to pay attention to how it may be otherwise. Beliefs and behavior always make some kind of sense from the actor’s perspective or else the actor would have done otherwise. Blame suggests mindlessness on the part of the blamer who does not recognize this. We are not at fault for what we do not know just because someone else can see a way we could have known it.

Just Breathe: Meditation as Organizational Slack is a paper by Kaisa G. Holloway Cripps.  Mostly a literature review, it looks at meditation inside an organization and identifies ways where it may be useful to engage human resources that are slack.  The discussion reminds me of MBA consultants who work like dogs for months and then are periodically "on the beach" for a while when their gig is up.

I quickly hit Buddhism when I look up this phrase, the parts of Buddhism that I haven't lived close enough to that I appreciate all of the subtleties of the words.

Mindfulness within mindfulness mindfulness without mindfulness mindfulness with
mindfulness,” he mindlessly chants. “Shut up just shut it up already,” … (Circle This Mountain, mercifully abbreviated by Google Books)

How do you measure and value attention?

We measure things that are easy to measure about media, like

  • time on page, time on site
  • click through rate
  • conversion rate to some desired action
  • frequency of interaction
  • responsiveness of interaction
  • hot spots that are getting lots of attention
  • "lag", whatever that is, but everyone knows what it is

In general, media that have small amounts of lag are good for gaming, because you can play many small bets and iteratively define a better result. As the amount of lag increases, the attention games change, and you start to get out of the realm of reality-based feedback and into the realm of ROI fictions, and systems that have enormous expensive command and
control infrastructures. 

It’s one thing to hack people’s attention about tomorrow if you start working on it today, and something very different to plan a campaign that results in their attention (or the fulfillment of their desire) 6 or 12 or 18 or 120 months hence. 

Originally written for Kevin Doyle Jones, and published obscurely in 2007; rescued and republished with only minor edits 3 years hence.

the frailty of human memory

I'm trying to figure out how to retell stories about a place that I only know a little about.  The particular spot is a one time grocery store, now a bicycle shop, that I am guessing was a center of a neighborhood in its time. If there ever was a lore around it, it circulates among a group of people who I don't know.  The owner of the store was notable in his day, but that day is about 60 years ago.

My usual routine is to find an interesting idea, do searches in unexpected locations that get uncommon results, and assemble a story from clippings of things already written.  This can be a fast way of going from scattered and fragmentary information about something to a composed account that makes sense. Clippings are easy to assemble, someone else has done the work, and you can sit down and be done when you're done.

What's harder for me is to write about something that no one else has written down, especially something which you in turn have only limited knowledge of.  The quotable information from print sources may be locked up in materials that are not scanned in, and perhaps never scanned in unless you scan them in yourself – that is, if you can find anything at all.  The real stories of how things were might only be tellable if you can locate someone to tell them to you and if you write the stories down carefully for them.

If you are interested in something and want to publish something about it to mark that interest, you might end up with only a fragment to start.  There are some media where it's acceptable to tell a piece of a story that's an incomplete image, but only a very few.  "That's not news" and "what's your point" are typical reactions when a newspaper behaves that way.  The encyclopedia's defense mechanism says "that's not notable". "Too long, didn't read" is the reaction in the blog world.  So you need some place to dump fragments that don't have to be complete that's safe so when it comes time to tell a story you can extend your memory.

Nothing gets around the problem that the real stories can only be told by people.  That's an opportunity and a challenge.

Should I ditch my smart phone?

I have a shiny phone with more computing power than the first computer I ever owned.  I also have a shiny brick, because the phone isn't working now, and when I took it back to where I bought it they gave me a phone number to call to fix it.  (I call it my BrickBerry.  It's so bricked, it doesn't even play Brickout.) There's nothing worse than talking on the phone, trying to fix your phone.

Get in touch, free of charge: Just dial 611 from your T-Mobile phone or call 1-877-453-1304. Customer Care representatives are available from 3 a.m. to 10p.m. PT, daily. Automated account help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

You can either call Toll Free # 1-800-937-8997 or we here in Technical Care web chat can assist you.

I am tempted to go back to the worst possible phone that could possibly work.  I had an old, old Nokia candybar-style phone, which at one point I called my "WAP phone" because I had to wap on the side of it to get it to work.  Yet it did work, and it made lots of phone calls, and it seemed cheap at the time.  And it was cheap – it had a monochrome screen, only the most rudimentary games, no camera, nothing.  Cheap but reliable.  

JVM Error 517

An unrecoverable error on the phone.

T-mobile policy for this error is to ship a replacement phone.

An inconsistency has been detected in the VM persistent object store.

Smart phones aren't cheap, but increasingly they don't seem all that smart either.  Shiny, yes; futuristic and wonderful, sure.  But smart, not so much.  Does your phone remind you of what you need to do, when and where you need to do it, but not so naggingly that you turn it off?  Probably not.  Does that smart phone make you look smarter when you're walking down the street punching buttons on it?  Not so sure. Twittering from the bus to let the planet know which bus has squeaky brakes?  Uh huh.

The trap, perhaps, is confusing "smart phone" with "smart person".  Does a smart phone make you smart?

One possibility is to ditch phones with contracts entirely and go to a prepaid plan, which means that every call would cost something and I've have to be smart about how to use my phone.  That turns out to be easier now that I have Google Voice, which gives me more tools than ever to not answer my phone but still get a message to me.  Google Voice lets me direct any call to any phone, and thus the cell phone simply becomes another selectable destination to originate or terminate calls on the same number.

Other people's take on this:

My monthly bill says buying a dumb phone would have been smarter.

The end of Metblogs

image from Metblogs was a national network of local blogs. The idea was that in each of many metro regions, someone or some set of people would be recruited to write local content, largely for free. The whole network would be run on advertising revenue, and user generated content would fill pages with fresh, relevant, hyperlocal content.

From Metblogs series finale:

[U]ltimately the downturns in advertising and dwindling interest in blogs in favor of social networks and twitter have made the business unsustainable and we’re closing the doors at the end of May.

The metblogs network never intersected with my world, so I don't know whether this is just the passing of time or some kind of deep-seated, widely felt loss. Their stats:

Detroit Metblogs: 2,218 posts / 3,722 comments

which I have to compare with Vacuum, just to give some sense of scale and scope (since 2003 when I started on Typepad):

2229 Total Posts, 2033 Total Comments

There's all kinds of business models that have to change with time. I can only say that because I lived through the era when modems ruled the Internet, and then after that when they didn't. So it's no failing to have started something that was a good idea at the time and then discover that times have changed and your idea doesn't have a neat transition to the current day.

Some parts of the Metblogs network died a bit earlier. This 2008 post on the situation in Portland signals what happens when founders intent, advertiser interest, and core contributor passions don't line up:

There could still be hope for Metblogs. My suggestions of public journalism, open comments and revenue sharing to attract quality writers were met with hostility when I floated them before. Metblogs could be a voice in the Portland digital media milieu. But most likely it will quietly fade further into irrelevance.

Here's their official going out of business notice.  Here's a feature about them from WordPress, the platform that they had used.

Noted on Twitter by Valdis Krebs, who asks

starting to see the end of the "blog phase" of the Web? Or just the assimilation of another "form" into the whole?

If blogs are being assimilated, what are they being assimilated into?  If they go into newspapers, you get editors and deadlines and a hesitance to be interested in everything in favor of something narrower and more marketable. If the blogger becomes a diarist, then the novelty is writing for the world but not the form itself. Perhaps some bloggers are just frustrated talk radio hosts?  There are lots of possibilities to be assimilated into another established media form and not to create some new art form.

Another relevant touchpoint is the end of Arbor Update, which closed down after a 6 year run.  In my requiem for Arbor Update, I note that it gave up the ghost after many of its contributors who were also regular bloggers stopped blogging regularly.  This suggests a life cycle for blogging that matches what used to happen on Usenet; a cadre would form, start writing together, and then at some point their lives got busy or they got out of grad school or their public writing style needed to be formal and they left en masse.

I'm sure there's some epidemic model of when blogging stops, which would say something similar to the Framingham obesity study – when your friends stop blogging, you are likely to stop blogging.  It's not that any one thing got in the way; it's just that the cool kids had a million followers on Twitter, and the eyeballs of the media buyers were diverted toward how you could be more like them.  Or it may be as simple as not seeing eye to eye with a handful of people who are core to your effort and not being able to restart once they leave.

New design

Mostly, the design is new because I was ready to scrap a bland custom design and go with something from the Typepad gallery.  I also like this one in part because it has a nice wide area for pictures in blog posts.

I had to hit "shift-refresh" to force everything to load.

There's something effortlessly fun in doing a redesign just by picking a selection from a menu, and suddenly having everything look new.  How few things work that way!

It was especially nice that when I picked a photo to use for the theme, that the system suggested an appropriate accompanying color palette.

Also noted, 5/22/2010: as author, my top navigation bar has an "edit post" button, so I can change things well after the fact.  This is promising.  I do notice that there are no archives links anymore and no easy way for anyone to notice that I've been plugging away at this for years, but the "search" box is very welcomed, and should unearth some things that would have otherwise been buried.

3/19/11: The design I had picked was "Chroma". I've swapped that out for "Journal Black", which served to restore the category and archive links. –Ed

4/24/13: Now using the "Clean" theme, with radically simplified sidebars.

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