Literacies

Innovative Publishing Model

Liberalarts

I like this experimental book publishing model. Print 200 copies of a book in hard cover. Sell with "free" shipping. Then make the rest of the copies free as a downloadable PDF.  I missed getting one of the limited edition 200 ($9, postage paid), since they sold out in 8 hours. It really doesn't matter what's in the book. The model is brilliant, if you have an audience. The scarce limited edition of the physical subsidizes the distribution of the unlimited free intangible.

Here is what their website says:

We'll post a PDF online, free for everyone—but only after we sell this run of 200 real, physical objects. So think of it this way: You're not just buying a thought-provoking, take-it-to-the-coffee-shop book for yourself. You're buying access for everybody. You're a patron of the new liberal arts!

As it happens, the PDF reveals that the content is pretty thin. But it did not have to be. Their premise is great (the new literacies), and their biz model innovative. We can hope they try again.  I am impressed enough with the experiment to use this model on my next self-published book.


 

The Internet Mapping Project

The internet is vast. Bigger than a city, bigger than a country, maybe as big as the universe. It's expanding by the second. No one has seen its borders.

And the internet is intangible, like spirits and angels. The web is an immense ghost land of disembodied places. Who knows if you are even there, there.

Yet everyday we navigate through this ethereal realm for hours on end and return alive. We must have some map in our head.

I've become very curious about the maps people have in their minds when they enter the internet. So I've been asking people to draw me a map of the internet as they see it. That's all. More than 50 people of all ages and levels of expertise have mapped their geography of online.  Here are three:

Map1
Map2
Map3

You can see them all here.

I'd love to have more folk maps of the internet. You can download a blank PDF here and email it to me when done.

This folk cartography might be useful for some semiotician or anthropologist.

In fact I'll post the best taxonomies and interpretations of these maps submitted to me via comments or email.

UPDATE: A quick-thinking professor in Buenos Aires has extracted an emergent taxonomy from this first set of maps, as explained here.

 

Found Quotes

Cuyamanumbers-1

"Institutions do all the things that are supposed to be bad. They impede personal exploration. They enforce conformity. But they often save us from our weaknesses and give meaning to life."  -- David Brooks

"Most of them seemed to be Twittering the conference as they went, and following each other's Twitter feeds. Surreal moment: At one point, the guy sitting closest to me was reading a blog post containing a photo of the guy sitting immediately behind him."  -- Owen Thomas

"I am not in favor of immortality. I believe death for humans is the way of getting rid of accumulated errors - as in trial and error.  Without death, the old folks would start to gang up on the babies (the new trials).  Immortality ---> immortal mistakes." -- Esther Dyson

“Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.”  -- Warren Buffett

"When people use your electronic systems to do anything, renew a fishing license, register a pregnancy, apply for planning permission, give them the option to collaborate with other people going through or affected by the same process. They will feel less alone, and will help your services to reform from the bottom up." -- Tom Steinberg (via Scott Heiferman)

"If only I could figure out a way to make money by holding fashionable opinions decades prematurely." -- Charles Platt

"The perfect war is started for obscure reasons, is hopelessly murderous, and accomplishes nothing." -- Errol Morris

"As you make a prototype, assume you are right and everyone else is wrong. When you share your prototype, assume you are wrong and everyone else is right." - Diego Rodriguez

"The World Wide Web was precisely what we were trying to PREVENT-- ever-breaking links, links going outward only, quotes you can't follow to their origins, no version management, no rights management." – Ted Nelson

"The thought of people in this day and age sitting down to listen to a radio variety show on Saturday evening is rather implausible and was even more so in 1974 when we started "A Prairie Home Companion." Thank goodness Minnesota Public Radio was too poor to afford good advice or the show never would've got on the air. We only did it because we knew it would be fun to do. It was a dumb idea. I wish I knew how to be that dumb again." -- Garrison Keillor

"Creating your own blog is about as easy as creating your own urine, and you're about as likely to find someone else interested in it." -- Lore Sjöberg

"This is my long-run forecast in brief: The material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today's Western living standards. I also speculate, however, that many people will continue to think and say that the conditions of life are getting worse." -- Julian Simon


 

Building the 10K Clock

The Long Now Foundation holds monthly seminars on long-term thinking which are open to the public. I filter the questions for the speakers at the event, and the questions and the talks are usually pretty good. Upcoming speakers include Paul Romer, economist, and Michael Pollan, of "eat a little" fame.

While its other work may not be very visible, the Long Now Foundation is more than just talk. There's a bunch of projects that Long Now has launched. Behind the scenes a very large, very-long term clock is being built. A team led by Danny Hillis, who designed the clock, are currently constructing the third version of a clock designed to run for 10,000 years. This one will be momumental in size and will live inside a mountain.

Chime-End-Cad

Here is a schematic for the chimes mechanism. This will produce a never-repeating set of "rings" or melodies for 10,000 years. In case you were counting, that is 3.5 billion different tunes. This generative music was conceived by musician Brian Eno. 

To give you a sense of the scale of this clock, here are the Geneva gears (hidden in the back of the drawing) of the chimes being assembled for the first time. This time lapse captures 3 days. Alexander Rose, engineer on the clock and Long Now's director says "note the spiffy 'trilobe' gears; these triangular gears help flatten out the speed and torque curve of driving the mechanism. This version is made of steel, aluminum, and even wood while we sort out the engineering and scaling issues. The next versions will be ceramic, stone, and stainless steel."



Now imagine 30 stacks of these gears rising  a hundred feet vertical in a hollow cave inside a mountain. The chimes will ring as long as pilgrims come to wind the clock. 

The purpose of the clock, and the seminars (which are free), is to encourage long-term thinking. If you want to join this movement, join us at the Long Now Foundation.


 

If Your Website Were a Person

Maybe this is a trend, maybe this is a cool tool, maybe this is silly. It is Typealyzer, a website that can analyze the text of another website (which you identify) and gives you the personality of the target site in Myers-Briggs notation (MBTI).  You know, the four letter extensions of inner directed/outer directed psychological traits popular with personality tests.

For instance, I went to the Typealyzer and entered the url for the blog of my book-in-progress, The Technium. It's where I post long bookish philosophical musings on the meaning of technology. The Typealyzer came back with this:

Picture 131

The personality of Cool Tools is noticeably different:

Picture 132

What I had not realized is that there are groups, forums and websites dedicated to each of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality categories. A master list is here. For instance readers of the Technium (and probably its author!) should be reading INTP.org.


 

The Next 5,000 Days

Last December I presented a new talk at the EG conference at the Getty Museum in LA, hosted by Mike Hawley. I talked about the first 5,000 days of the web, and what I expect in the next 5,000 days.  The EG organizers have posted the talk on the TED site. You can watch it here:


 

The Power of Failure

The best presentations, the best speeches, the best advice are usually about what people learned from their failures. Steve Jobs' legendary Stanford commencement address lifted so many hearts because he talked about his failures. A few days ago J.K. Rowling gave a commencement speech at Harvard that also emphasized the power of failure. It is a good read (watch or listen).

Picture 33

The fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure....

I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

,...Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way....Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned....

 

The Variety of Polyhedrons

Magnustn

Father Magnus Wenninger, is a monk in Saint John's Abbey in Minnesota. He has a lot of time to explore mathematics. He's making every known polyhedron he can think of using colored paper. I love this kind of obsessive learning.

Geometrics


 

International Burning Man, 2008

I am a Burning Man regular. I've been going regularly since 1995. On that first visit I took my daughters, then 6 and 8, and have taken them frequently since. Last year, I went with one of my daughters and her senior high school friends. No matter who I go with, it's a blast. 

Every year Burning Man has a theme. This year it is nationalism. Larry Harvey, the original character behind the festival, has unveiled the podium for this year's Man. It's a wonderfully strange, ugly, brilliantly extreme obelisk. I think the international theme is appropriate because over the years I've noticed something remarkable; the number of "foreign" visitors to Burning Man has skyrocketed. A very large percentage of attendees each year are non-Americans. Many are European. 

Pavilion08 Lg 

Here's their drill. The Europeans book an RV rental in either LA or Las Vegas. They set off on their month-long company-paid August vacations touring the American West and its many national parks in RV style. This is a favorite fantasy of many northern Europeans, especially Germans. With the plunging dollar rate, this is almost as cheap as a third-world vacation. After tooling around the West, they climax their trip in northern Nevada for a once-in-a-lifetime truly American holiday extravaganza: Burning Man! 

My fellow citizens. It's wonderful the rest of the world is enjoying this national treasure, but you should to. Burning Man is still the cheapest ticket to an exotic off-planet experience you can buy.

I go almost every year for several reasons. 

1) Burning Man offers the best art experience in America. I'm not talking just about the commissioned art in the center of the playa. I mean the thousands and thousands of little creations that issue from the camps. I mean the never-ending creativity in structures, sculptures, costumes, and performances that occur 24-hours a day in Black Rock City. There is a surprise a minute. The city is sort of a surprise machine. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a creation, or gesture that has made me smile, and feel utterly glad to be alive. 

2) Burning Man offers one of the best courses in urban planning and community design anywhere. It's a libertarian community. There are rules, but a minimum. I've watch the number of rules grow over the years, as the number of participants grow. When there was only 2,000 people there, it was possible for everyone to help erect the Man with ropes, and few needs for streets. WIth 40,000 people, just coordinating the toilets takes a department of people, and a budget and bureaucracy. The rules to prohibit cars from the main city and transform it into a bicycle and pedestrian town has worked. Sleeping at night is safer because now there are streets and some isn't going drive over your sleeping bag. Keeping guns out was a good idea; there is still plenty of other things to explode.

Every new rule is resisted fiercely, and chaos has been embraced. Burning Man is what happens if you have only a few fundamental rules and allow disorder to self-assemble the rest. So far it has worked brilliantly. In part this is because Burning Man has a delete button. Every year the entire city is deleted and undone. Erased. Gone. And a new city is rebuilt from zero. This gives this particular city -- alone among all the cities of the world -- a fantastic learning rate. It can implement what it learned last version and make changes in the next updated version. Black Rock is the eternal beta city, an urban center (Nevada's third largest city) run according to software logic. 

3) Burning Man provides a thriving case of the gift economy. If you would like to see how the gift economy and open source might work in "real life" Burning Man is it. Commercial transactions are barred in the city (with the exception of ice and coffee at Center Camp -- to bring people to the Center), so everything else runs on gifts. Not barter, as in if you give me this, I'll give you that, but actual gifts. Like, here's free snow cones. Enjoy. Or a free beer. Or a free bike repair. It's the FREE economy in the flesh, and it works. I believe the same motivation that has produced the Wikipedia, or Linux, is also behind the reason why people will spend a week in the dust repairing bicycles for free, or cooking up free pancakes in the morning. It's refreshing, mysterious and powerful. My hunch is that the experience of seeing a gift economy in action at Burning Man has influenced, and will guide, the philosophy of those creating and coding the new economy. 

4) And then there is the Burning Man extreme environment. White outs, sand storms, stealthy dust, mad mud, unrelenting heat, and surprising cold, blank vistas, vibrant stars, the long pilgrimage there, the necessary survival mode. You get out of your head and live in your body. Build a huge city, go crazy, and leave no trace. It is practical environmentalism. Eco-pragmatism. Full of contradictions (all the transporting of stuff), but none-the-less a reverent respect for a place. 

At least once in your life you should visit. It is as least as interesting as Disneyland or Paris.


 

My Dream Machine

I know what I want. It's pretty ambitious:

I want a database-centric personal publishing platform.

The front end is sort of like a word processor. But it is really a database. It has little tools that allow one to quickly assign fields. In fact it suggests fields, tags, etc as you write text, sort of like auto-complete. This intelligence could come from the Freebase commons, or even from personal use. When text is finished it lives in this database. But you can also drag in images, in whatever shape you get them. But as much as possible an author writes sentences and text and works in images in a editorial way.

Then I can extract this data in many forms. My first extract would be to send it to a blog for posting. Perhaps I highlight the group of text and images i want to send. The blog has a style sheet which styles the output. I check the result and look and I get to manually override styles before I publish.

The same information is also sent out in a an email with a different set of styles and parameters. Or it may have some extra bits of info taken from the database.

I may then take a whole bunch of postings and want to reformat it for a more permanent web page, with a different look, structure, function.

And I will definitely want to extract the same data into a page-makeup layout program and make a long-form "book" out of the same stuff with different formatting, style, etc and make a PDF or print it.

Red Spiral

When I change something in the root database, the effect of the change needs to show up instantly (say after refreshing) in the derived format. Even  better would be able to make the change, like fixing a typo, in any formatted edition and have it really change the database so the same change shows up everywhere. So if I hyperlink a term once in the database that hyperlink travels wherever that linked term goes, whether to the web or a PDF.

As far as I can tell this publishing system does not exist. Abobe has many parts, including the ancient word processor Framemaker which has metadata inputs, and RoboHelp, but no unified database centric platform. There are systems for producing catalogs, such as QuarkXPress Server, and  In essence they have the tools for formatting info all different ways, but no unified platform. And there are a lot of databases with horrible output control, not to mention primitive input. Folks working on smart input, aren't thinking about beautiful, or multiple, ways to output.

And while the temptation is to make an "enterprise" level program, some superduper thing that a big publisher would use, I think this is the future of personal publishing, and I want a personal version.

Whose going to write this?

And if someone is or has already written this, point me to them quick!
--


 

Historicity

James Gleick has a swell piece in the New York Times Magazine on the intangible quality of "historicity" that makes certain artifacts extremely valuable even when their nearly indistinguishable copies are free. 

All these artifacts share the quality that Philip K. Dick, in his 1962 novel "The Man in the High Castle," calls historicity, which is "when a thing has history in it." In the book, a dealer in antiquities holds up two identical Zippo lighters, one of which supposedly belonged to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and says: "One has historicity, a hell of a lot of it. As much as any object has ever had. And one has nothing. Can you feel it? ... You can’t. You can’t tell which is which. There’s no ‘mystical plasmic presence,’ no ‘aura’ around it."  Back in the real world, in 1996, Sotheby’s sold a humidor that had belonged to John F. Kennedy for $574,500. It had historicity.

V-Commemorative-1932-1982-1


 

How to know you know

Someone asked a question in AskMetafilter (the best community answer service I know of) about how to learn the esoteric of currency exchange and trading. I thought the answer could be generalizable for all kinds of things: How to know you know. 

bonaldi: what's the best way to learn that stuff? 
b1tr0t: Read books, google around, check wikipedia. When you start, it will look like most of what is said is reasonable. You are in good shape when you think that 90% of the stuff you read is BS.

 

What Laptops Should Be

If I were designing computer interfaces, I'd be paying attention to visual anthropology coming from the kids such as these mockups from a series created by the Laptop Club. Kids in a Montessori school, ages 7 to 9, who did not have computers in their classroom started to make their own "laptops" out of construction paper. Many of the kids were girls (all the samples shown in the link are by girls.) 

Blogger Amy Tiemann, who knew the kids from an after-school program discovered the Club and collected the constructions. She also interviewed the creators, and reported the results on CNET.

A group of kids from one of our local elementary schools has formed a "mini-laptop club." They don't use electronic machines. Instead, these first-, second- and third-graders draw their own laptops on construction paper and pretend to e-mail each other. They dedicate a surprising amount of time to this activity. I once had a chance to examine one of their "keyboards." I was fascinated to learn which Internet functions had sunk into the minds of these kids, who are just getting their first exposure to computers from watching their parents work, and from using kid-friendly sites.

Laptopdraw

She reports some of the keyboard buttons on the "laptops" are

...assigned to “Barbie.com,” “best friends” next to “friends,” “HP [Harry Potter] trivia,” and “werd games” as well as “rily werd games.”   

The kids have seen and used computer keyboards. Their designs are partly their own memory of what computer keys they've seen, party keys they would like to see, and partly keys they feel ought to be.  It is this aspirational aspect of design that I think is most telling. Why shouldn't our keyboard have a button that evokes "best friend"?  Tiemann writes:

Knowing who your friends are, and either committing to a best friend or figuring out how to remain friends with everyone, are very important. That’s what fascinated me about their laptops. It was a way to demonstrate their knowledge of pop culture and social networks. Having your name on your friend’s keyboard is a little like being in someone’s “Top 8 friends” on MySpace. And yet these kids most likely don’t even know about MySpace yet.

They reveal an easy confusion between what buttons on a screen and buttons on a keyboard do. But when you think about it, it's sort of an illogical difference. Tiemann offered another important observation:

The inevitability of it all drew me to the paper laptops. Parents may want to delay their children’s computer use, but here they are drawing their own designs. It reminded me of taking away toy guns and seeing the kids make guns out of sticks instead.Kids are intensely social creatures and you can really see what is important to them by looking at their designs. I love all the keys dedicated to pets. Where my friends and I used to have imaginary horses, now these girls have imaginary pets with an online identity.

 

Perfect History

I realized something the other day. The Wikipedia is never CHANGED. Not really. "Changes" are always ADDITIONS to the log of all changes that have come before, including "deletions" which are really an additional pointer that moves the selected text from the front page. Nothing is actually deleted. The ultimate strength of Wikipedia comes from its perfect history. The log of state changes for a particular article reveals its veracity and credibility rather than the credentials of experts. You get different views depending on what version you care to look at. Wikipedia then is a history of state changes, rather than a state. 

This never-ending-version of a "docuverse" was the original vision of Ted Nelson, the guy who coined hypertext. It is an essential element of what he wanted for the web (although he never called it that) and one of the reasons why he thinks the web as it is now is somewhat lame. One quote from Nelson: 

HTML is precisely what we were trying to PREVENT— ever-breaking links, links going outward only, quotes you can't follow to their origins, no version management, no rights management. 

Waybackmachine3

Sherman and Mr. Peabody enter the Wayback Machine

So imagine if Ted Nelson had succeeded in building Xanadu, and the entire web was run the way Wikipedia is run. Nothing is ever deleted. Everything is kept for ever. Changes are made by adding an alteration, but one could always go back to an earlier version. In one sense that is what Brewster Kahle's Wayback Machine is. Begun in 1996 as the Internet's only backup, it still remains so. But since it takes a snapshot of the entire web every few weeks, it also serves as a Nelsonian version tracker. Most web pages are rarely updated or modified at all, but web sites as a whole are.

The genius of Wikipedia is that they provide an elegant interface for tracking this history while viewing an item, in part because they back up all the changes themselves. There's no built in way to do this for the web as a whole, so a continuous view of the past states of an given website is clunky. The web right now does not have perfect history. 

It may be an urban legend but I've heard that when a blade (a computer server) dies in one of Google's server farms, they just leave it there. The cost of finding it and swapping it out is greater than just simply adding on a new one. When we arrive at the point on our technological evolution when it becomes cheaper to save everything digital rather than throw some parts out, then we''l arrive at the state of perfect history. 

In part this is what lifelogging is about. You save everything. The "now" is merely one point in an uniterrupted beam of data changes. WIthin that beam nothing vanishes. All change is addition. The past is simply a different point of view. 

Perfect history changes how we think, how we view ourselves. We don't pay enough attention to the power that our photographed past lives have on our present selves. We are reminded of episodes of our lives that we have often fully forgotten. We read messages we wrote years ago, that seem to be written by another person. Total recall shapes our identity, perhaps even constrains it. Radical growth may become more difficult, or at least require new skills of transformation -- how to work around your past. Just ask someone trying to hide their MySpace pictures before a job interview. Imagine if you could never erase pictures from MySpace? Somewhere the web kept everything.

As more of our lives are recorded, stored, shared and banked in the perfect history of the One Machine, the inescapable memory will trigger powerful, and yet unappreciated forces on our souls.


 
 

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