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Futurama Death Clock

Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons and Futurama, once told me that he was inspired by my countdown clock, and wanted to use it in Futurama. In my version I found actuarial tables to calculate my average longevity and devised a countdown clock aimed at my roughly estimated day of death. Since I am not a regular watcher of the show I had never seen what happened to the idea.

A profile of Groening in Wired catches him as he plays with the idea, and you can see how he immediately spots the ridiculous and funny:

Back at Groening's studio, he is talking up an idea he had for another episode inspired by Kevin Kelly's death clock. Kelly recently calculated how much longer he had to live — he estimates around 23 years — and posted his own personal life countdown clock online. "I started thinking, wouldn't it be cool if you had a death wristwatch?" Groening says.
He and Cohen bat around the story potential of the death wristwatch. Surely, by the year 3000, a gadget like that could recalculate the time of your death on the fly, beeping if you are in imminent danger of dying? They start toying with the concept: Wouldn't it be funny if the death wristwatch were running fast? What if the battery died?

I only recently became aware that the death clock was ridiculous enough to make it to one episode of Futurama. The final version was a table clock.  You stick your finger into the hole on top and it reads out the exact time of your death. Apparently Professor Farnsworth invented the clock twice because of his senility.

225Px-Death Clock

Leela: Does it really work?
Professor: Well, it's occasionally off by a few seconds, what with "free will" and all.
Fry: Sounds like fun. How long do I have to live? [jabs finger into the machine]
[The Death Clock dings and the professor whistles]
Bender: Ooh! Dibbs on his CD player!

My own countdown death clock is a web app and desktop widget. It's the first thing I see on my computer. I take it pretty seriously. Right now my clock reads 7,853 days left.

July 1, 2009, 9:40 AM

New, New Rules for the New, New Economy

The thesis of my book New Rules for the New Economy, published in 1998, is that we are now living in an economy based on ideas and communication rather than energy and atoms. Further, this "new" economy has distinct laws or rules so it behaves differently than the previous industrial economy. To do well in the new regime, we need to grasp the new dynamics of information. I reduce the emerging principles to 10 guidelines, and suggest a few strategies for businesses based on each principle.

I wrote New Rules in the late 1990s during the dot-com boom. At that time many reviewers convinced themselves the book was about the dot-com revolution. But in fact I avoided the dot-coms, never even mentioned them, and instead focused on the communication revolution. I talked about network effects, using the free economy, sharing, social media (not called that then), and many of the other developments now underway.

I did not talk about the stock market, either its ups or downs. Or crazy faddish gimmicks.  In fact, I believe New Rules could be released today for the first time and still be extremely useful.

So that is what I am doing. Starting today, on its 10-year anniversary, I am re-issuing New Rules for the New Economy as a blog. Twice a week I will post the next section of the book on my New Rules blog.

Picture 137

Ten years is a long time in internet time. A lot has happened in that digital century. Many folks did not have email in 1998, and few were using the web daily. But I stand behind my analysis and today, 10 years later, I don't retract a single word of the book. If I were to change anything I might be persuaded to rename the book "New Rules for the Network Economy" (which was an alternative title at the time), but other than some stale examples of companies no longer around in the book, the text is as pertinent today as a decade ago.

From day one, I practiced what I preached in New Rules: this book has been available free on my website for the past ten years. I know that this freemium increased sales of the book. However the book is now out of print, so I have released a free PDF version of the book, which you can download here. As an experiment it contains opt-in contextual ads. For the diehard there are used paper copies of the book available on Amazon for cheap. The choice of format is yours: paper book, website, daily blog, or PDF.

In any case, your chance to comment on specific parts of the book (and I hope you do) is here on this blog. I read every comment and will endeavor to reply as much as I can. There are many places in New Rules that I know could be updated with more current examples: I'll leave those to you, the collective readers, to do -- as I say in the book, no one is as smart as everyone.

December 16, 2008, 1:46 PM

Loosely Joined Thoughts

While at the Web 2.0 conference I was musing aloud on ways in which our web culture encourages new attitudes toward social-isms. We are constructing Socialism 2.0, I joked. Joshua Ross of O'Reilly media filmed the conversation, which he has edited, and uploaded.  Other topics covered in this rambling encounter: the thin line between the wisdom of the hive mind and stupidity of the mob; the difference defaults make; what technology wants; how technological evolution differs from biological evolution, and living in an always-on society.

(One correction: I said there were more people making arrowheads now than in Indian days, but what I meant to say, was that more arrowheads were made now than back then. Contemporary flint knappers churn out many more arrowheads than they  use, or than any hunter would ever use.)

Note: Lots of disjointed thoughts loosely joined.

November 25, 2008, 11:23 AM

Web 10.0

I gave a talk yesterday at the Web 2.0 Summit. It's a short talk, only 10 minutes long, so I decided to skip Web 3 - Web 9 and just speak about the upcoming Web 10.0 and what I think will happen in the next 6,500 days.
November 7, 2008, 10:23 PM

Technology as a Spiritual Force

The other day I was interviewed by Ken Wilber, a new age theorist. I had not read any Wilber before the interview, nor had ever met him, but I had heard his name over the years while I edited the Whole Earth Catalogs. He had a reputation for a holistic framework for spirituality that appealed to those whole wanted spirituality without religion. I gathered Wilber was into evolution as a spiritual force so I thought it would be an interesting conversation. His organization Integral Life set up the phone interview which lasted several hours. We got pretty light-headed as we went along, getting into late night dorm-room speculations about the larger meaning of life. I had a chance to try out my emerging understanding of some of the more cosmic implications of technology. And Wilber was a good partner to blue sky with. I call myself a techno-transcendentalist and Wilber encouraged me to philosophize in that direction. I must have said something interesting since Wilber is posting an audio file our conversation in three parts on his Integral website. Regrettably, the dialog has not been edited, or condensed (at least the part I checked), in the way a tight text Q&A might be, so you'll have to slog through the whole thing to get to the highlights.

Here is what Corey deVos, Integral's Editor says about the interview:


Exploring The Technium.  
Part 2.  Spiritual Machines.
Kevin Kelly and Ken Wilber

In the second installation of this extraordinary dialogue, Kevin Kelly and Ken Wilber discuss the nature of evolutionary emergence—the mysterious process by which new wholes manifest in the universe, each greater than the sum of their parts. They speak about humanity’s role in this evolutionary process, especially in the creation of new types of intelligences: living, breathing, thinking machines.

"Our job is to surprise God." -- Kevin Kelly

In this very special dialogue, Kevin Kelly and Ken Wilber discuss the spiritual implications of this mysterious process, what Kevin refers to as "up-creation."  While humanity can be currently seen as the pinnacle of evolution in this corner of the universe, we are by no means the final word in this extraordinary story, and will one day be inevitably subsumed by something greater than ourselves—something that will undoubtedly emerge through us, while becoming something much more than us.  Humanity represents a process of evolution becoming self-aware, which means that we are now actively participating with evolution, midwives to a future that simultaneously transcends and includes the entire human condition.

I should also mention that ordinarily Integral charges a subscription for access to their material, but as part of the condition of the interview I insisted that our conversation be available openly, for free. Which it is.

Part One.
Part Two.
Part Three.

October 30, 2008, 10:30 AM

Old Rules for the New Economy

I have mixed feelings about the award of a Nobel prize to economist Paul Krugman. I am happy that a person I tried to hire as a columnist for Wired in the mid 1990s eventually won the highest honor in his field. I was originally interested in Krugman because of his work in non-linear economics. Complexity and non-linear dynamics seemed to be an approach Krugman dabbled in with his book "The Self Organizing Economy." I felt (and still feel) that something large was stirring in the emerging digital economy, and that Wired would be a good place to write about it. Paul declined my offer to write for Wired back then because he was looking for a venue larger than tech. A year later he wound up at Later he become famous for his New York Times column.

Nobel Oct132008

But after investigating self-organization, Krugman must have decided it was not worth following up on, because for the most part he abandoned this computational approach. He may even gained a distaste for it. He got into a famously personal and toxic feud with economist Brian Arthur, of the Santa Fe Institute, who was gung-ho on the role of increasing returns and network effects in the economy. I don't know what came first, Arthur or network effects, but Krugman acquired an allergy to both.

I also am very glad the Nobel prize is going to someone who acknowledges the role science fiction has had on academia. A while back Krugman said he got into economics from reading Asimov's Foundation series. Hari Seldon's pschohistory is the sort of probabilistic forecast a super economist would love to make. Krugman also writes science fiction himself -- always a plus in my book. While at Yale as an assistant professor in 1978 he wrote "The Theory of Interstellar Trade" (PDF).  It is less hard science fiction and more a tongue-in-cheek speculation about the problems of calculating interest at near-light speeds. Do you use the clock on the ship with the cargo or the clock on the shipper's home planet? Each clock suggests different business strategies.

On the other hand, Krugman reviewed my book New Rules for the New Economy for Slate (a while after I tried to hire him), and overall he was not impressed. As far as I can tell, his main complaint was that my new rules were not new. As evidence he suggest that the "old" Hollywood movie business follows the new rules. In the review Krugman says:

In fact, by my reckoning, the movie business handily fits 11 of Kelly's 12 rules.

I, of course, agree 100%. The intangible nature of films absolutely follow the new rules. This is one of my main claims in the book: The value in material things will increasingly be their information and design. Krugman's mistake was to think, as many folks did at that time, that I was talking about the dot.coms, when I kept repeating that I was not talking about dot.coms, not just software, and not just informational industries. Krugman ends his review like this:

So think of it this way: While the prophets of the "new economy" [that would be me] may seem to be telling us that we're heading for a future in which every industry looks like Silicon Valley, what they are really saying is that we are on our way to an era in which there's no business that isn't like show business. Let's hope they're wrong.

Yes, I did say exactly that: we are heading into a future in which every industry obeys the laws of information. And yes, it looks a lot like the business of films -- things which cost a lot to make and virtually nothing to copy. Krugman and others may hope that hunch was wrong, but as far as I can tell, they are wrong and we are right.  In short, I think Krugman just doesn't get it. His economics seem very old school - but maybe that is what wins you a prize. According to him I should have titled my book Old Rules for the New Economy.

I may be biased, but to my eye the New Rules for the New Economy hold up quite well. It was published 10 years ago, and I would not retract a single thing from it. In fact, there's very little I would change if I had to published it now. Sadly, the book is out of print, with no hope of a re-issue. The only new rule that Krugman dismissed as "basically silly", is probably the most valid one: Follow the Free. (Chris Anderson, of Long Tail fame, is writing his second bestseller about the force of the free.)

I take it as an honor that a Nobel laureate in Economics reviewed my book on the new economy. That he didn't think much of it was "new" is probably par for academics.  At the least I got a blurb out of it in case Penguin reprints the book. Paul Krugman, Nobel in Economics says: "He is actually on to something--though not something new."  If this were Hollywood -- and didn't Krugman say that is where we are headed? -- I would reduce his comment to a positive blurb: "Kelly is on to something."

Don't take my or Krugman's word. You can read the book yourself -- for free (isn't that "silly!") -- via this PDF, or on the web.  I am interested to hear from readers which rules still work.

October 15, 2008, 2:28 PM

The Future of Motion Pictures Video

It feels entirely appropriate to discuss the future of motion pictures in video format. I  gave a keynote last spring at the 51st San Francisco International Film Festival. Billed as their annual "State of Cinema," I  was told I was the first one to give the address using pictures of any sort! Mere slides, but visual enough. Captured here is a raw, not very sharp, video feed of the talk. The audio is low, so it needs to be dialed up. Film people are often not very filmic in their own processes.

October 1, 2008, 6:11 PM

A Blurb From the Past

My first book Out of Control was not widely reviewed. I was an unknown first-time author. My huge sprawling book was too big to scan quickly and frustrating to summarize. It got only a very few mentions in the press. Some friends wrote blurbs for it, but that was all for publicity. The book also debuted at a very hectic time right after the launch of Wired, when I and the whole world were running dizzy at internet speed.

Science fiction legend Aruthur C. Clarke was, naturally, a boyhood hero. What kid was not impressed by his imagination and scientific sensibilities? I sent him a manuscript not expecting any reply. He simply was the smartest author I could think of. Sometime during the Wired startup chaos, I got a letter from Clarke, which included a standard form stating his inability to blurb books.  I received his note just after the book reached bookstores. I put it aside in a pile of papers on my very messy Wired desk and somehow forgot about it. When I left Wired in 1999, I dumped all my papers into a box, which I finally got around to cleaning out from the garage last weekend. Somehow I had not noticed his letter (I think I focused on his form letter) and while reading it this time I found a blurb for Out of Control that I don't remember seeing before.


"An amazing achievement." -- Arthur C. Clarke. I'll take that one! Wish I had used it back then.

Clarke was exactly the kind of person I want to write for. Someone who reads a lot, knows a lot, is easily bored, and wants to hear something new. His praise means a lot. I'll keep aiming high.

September 16, 2008, 8:24 AM

History of Wired

To celebrate its 15th anniversary, Wired sent a film crew around to some of its former co-founders so we could reminence on tape. They came to my studio this spring and I talked about why the magazine was started and why I still read it and write for it.  They edited the footage as a commercial for their ad sales efforts. I just noticed it was up on YouTube. (Louis Rossetto's is here.) Naturally they cut out the interesting stuff, but I did enjoy the little fragments and glimpses of the early Wired days. 

September 5, 2008, 11:05 AM

Out of Control, The Illustrated Edition

My first book, Out of Control, still in print from Amazon and available online in full text since 1995, was always imperfect in my eyes. I had wanted to fill it with illustrations. But it was so large (230,000 words) and so overdue (by years), that illustrating it in detail was never feasible. Among the illustrations I had hope to include were photographs of the folks I interviewed, of which I had captured many.

Reading a book on a website is not ideal, so I am happy to announce that I am releasing a PDF version of Out of Control. This is a free PDF which also has the option of displaying contextual ads if you want to see them. See my earlier experiment with this Adobe/Yahoo program for full details on how it works, but briefly it goes like this: if you have Acrobat Reader 9 you can opt in to allow context appropriate ads delivered by Yahoo to appear adjacent to the pages of the book. If readers click on the ads, I share some small fractional revenue, just as I do on my website ads. You won't see these small text ads off to the side unless you opt in via the dialog boxes on opening the file.


The PDF version of Out of Control is the full book, with the full annotated bibliography, redesigned with new subheads not present in the book, new Table of Contents, and lots of color photos of the scientists I spoke to. Some like Rod Brooks, Marvin Minsky, Danny Hillis, and Ted Nelson are more well known now than back then. They all look so young!  I wish I could have added all the other graphic material I had on hand then but that is a job too big to redo now.


In many ways, this version is better than the book. It is searchable, it has color illustrations, it has better navigation, it is free, and it has surprising contextual ads, which I find interesting.

It is still not perfect. To be an ideal book, it should have tons of charts and diagrams, and the text should be massively hyperlinked, and the bibliography linked to Amazon. The former will probably never happen (at least by me), but the latter might happen in the next edition of the PDF, depending on the response to this version. Also, currently PDFs are not readable on the Kindle. So I am working on a Kindle version as well.

Free downloads of the Out of Control: The Illustrated Edition PDF are available from these two free file-hosting sites, here and here.  (Beats me how these sites, Driveway and MediaFire earn enough income; let me know if you have any trouble downloading.)

And remember, I can mail you a crisp print out of the entire book, if you want one, for $16. Click here.

Out of Control is selling better now than it was when first published 14 years ago. People "get it" now. The importance of decentralized systems, peer production, emergent behaviors, hive minds, and evolutionary systems are now obvious in a Web 2.0 world. Back then it seemed too wildeye, woo-woo, esoteric, and geeky. To my delight, it still contains relevance and news for most readers.  And it is getting better reviews now than it did back then. Here's a recent rave from Chris "Long Tail" Anderson who calls it "among the most important books of its decade... and  may be the smartest book of the past decade."

If you have not read it, click above for a free copy!

August 15, 2008, 12:09 PM

Small Town Fame

Pacifica Hill
From the hill behind our house in Pacifica, CA I can see the fog rolling in.

You know you've made it big when you get profiled on the front page of your small hometown paper. Readers of the Pacifica Tribune had to wade through an uncritical profile of me before they could get to the real news of the week -- about the biodiesel power generating plant the town wants to build down the street. There's nothing new in the Tribune's valentine interview, but their amiable writer succeeded in crafting an accurate mini-bio of me that puts my short life onto one page. I'm quoted as saying:

People often have this idea that money is what is preventing them from doing their dreams. That's very rarely the case. It usually has to do with fear: fear of failure, fear of what people will think. You can go awful far without many resources on the low financial road. In fact, you actually learn more that way.
If you have a choice, take the cheap route, always. 

This local town which granted me my 15 minutes of small time fame is Pacifica, California. We are a by-passed gem on Highway 1 south of San Francisco. The summer fog and cold keeps the outsiders away. We've got surf beaches and lots of hill trails, but not much else to interest visitors. The paper is so desperate for excitement it is reduced to headlining a guy who works at his desk all day.
July 26, 2008, 10:46 AM

Portrait of the One Machine

The graphic design gurus at Wired have illustrated my still-baking idea of the One Machine. The intro to the piece echos my previous posting about the dimensions of the Machine. The added value here is the graphic display of all this info into one image. In the magazine this month the graphic is spread over a double page; here it is further reduced to a smaller image for the website.

Picture 60

July 16, 2008, 12:35 PM

Wired, the Lucky Early Years

Wired is celebrating its 15th birthday. The current staff posted a few old photographs taken by Louis Rossetto from the first days of Wired, including this one of our pre-launch offices on Second and South Park, south of market in San Francisco. 

Ff Rossetto Wiredoffice

I'm guessing this scene is about November 1992, a few months before publication of issue #1. That' s me silhouetted against the window. First thing I notice is my little Mac. For those who have never seen one, imagine working on a screen about twice the size of an iPhone. In black and white. With no built in storage. And yes, it as MY Mac. In those initial pre-financed days, it was BYOC (bring your own computer).

Second thing I notice is John Battelle, head down, crunching on copy for the first issue. John Battelle was the young lion who wrestled the text of Wired onto the page. He ensured the magazine was done on deadline, every issue. He came in early, stayed late, and by his immense energy summoned the magazine into existence. He was by far the most professional journalist on staff. The rest of us were journalist wannabes. Without John Battelle, Wired would have never launched when and as it did. John later went on to found the Internet Standard, which shortly before its demise during the dot com boom was the fattest weekly magazine in the US -- that is fat with ads (= money). He later started Federated Media, which is the company distributing ads on this blog.

In the left corner of the photo John Plunkett is busy designing Wired. He and his wife Barbara Kuhr devised the now-classic Wired logo, and instantly recognizable magazine spine (all those dot-dash pixels you see on bookshelves). John and Barbara had never designed a magazine before, and in fact, were not that internet savvy. That meant they had little allegiance to how a magazine should look, could view this world as outsiders, and were able to embrace the assignment to design a magazine from the future. They were closer to interface designers, doing museum exhibits before, which also came in handy when we started HotWired, one of the very first commercial websites.  Clearly the startling design of Wired was a key part of its success, and I find it hard to image Wired without the design of Plunkett+Kuhr.

Co-founder Louis Rossetto, who took this picture, was the public personage for Wired. He was the maniac who believed the world needed another magazine when everyone told him that was a stupid idea. He was the guy who asked for investment and was told no. He was the "unreasonable man" required in new things who was constantly pushing, relentlessly demanding things be redone, a force of nature bending people's will in order to align them to his singular vision of a lifestyle magazine about the culture of technology.  Without Louis there would have been no Wired.

And then there was Jane. Jane Metcalfe was the other co-founder who often does not get the recognition she deservers. Jane was the reasonable person who kept things moving forward, instead of getting bogged down in unwinable battles. She was the good cop to Louis' bad cop. Smart and as sharp as a tack, Jane was also unnervingly persuasive. She steered while Louis  raced 600 miles per hour. Without Jane, Wired would have rocketed into the ground. It was Jane who made the most important contribution to the success of Wired: she came up with the absolutely right name, Wired. Before that is was going to be called.... um, well, MilleniuM, or maybe even Digit. There is not a doubt in my mind that without Jane there would have been no Wired.

Beside the fact that we -- and I mean here the whole crew of a dozen early employees -- were all indispensable (and all above average!), Louis, Jane, John, Barbara and I were all unemployable by any real magazine. We had frittered our youth away living abroad, doing interesting things, doing anything in fact but holding down a real career. And now we were no longer young. Wired was the only place that would hire us, so we hired ourselves. Another commonality was the curious fact that the first 5 editors at Wired had all started their own magazine before (Mark had started Boing Boing, a paper magazine). We all had a firm grasp of the immense will, confidence, perseverance, and luck it took to begin something versus maintain an ongoing enterprise.

I should say something about luck. I was not interested in working for Wired when I first heard of the idea. Magazines are like restaurants; 99% of them fail to make it beyond year 2. I changed my mind when I saw the prototype. It had the exactly right combination of technology and people, produced by driven maniacs and quirky misfits with shrewd business sense, and it was coming out at exactly the right time. But I was a realist. I expected Wired to survive, but not to be wildly successful as a business. I even made a bet to that effect with the CFO. I bet him a meal in Barcelona, I'd never see any real money from the magazine. I am happy to say I lost that bet.

Other magazines aimed for the same sweet spot as Wired but none got the mix right. In fact I had been editing similar stuff to Wired in a different magazine (Whole Earth) with a very small audience. All of a sudden with Wired I am interviewing the same people, presenting the same ideas and issues, but now I'm doing it at the center of attention. I wasn't doing anything different. While there was gobs of hard work, and a touch of genius here and there, the simple fact is that Wired was lucky. If Wired had not arrived when it did, another group of unlikely folks would have eventually created something similar. The world needed Wired, and we were lucky enough to provide it with an unexpected version with the right mix, at the right time, in the right package.

This luck has colored my view about other mega success stories. I have met the creators of many  high-profile companies founded in the last 20 years. They are smart, sometimes brilliant, always hard working, but they do not differ substantially from the other hard-working brilliant people who work for them or companies that are not mega-successful.  In short, they were lucky.

No matter what people say about the origins of their success, unless they admit to a large element of luck, I think they are not being honest. But since you can't produce luck on demand -- by definition it comes randomly -- you can only dedicate your life to being smart, helpful to others and working hard. You need to be all those plus lucky.

I was lucky to be onboard when Wired lucked out.

June 16, 2008, 1:21 PM

Tour of Asia Grace

Xeni Jardin, one the the Boing Boing quartet, visited me at my studio and filmed me giving her a tour of my Asia Grace book. I talk a bit about how I made the book and randomly dip into it to tell about some of the images. The audio level starts a little low, but gets better. She posted the edited, low-rent interview on Boing Boing. 

For fans of Asia Grace, I've re-designed the Asia Grace website, and have begun posting *new* images of Asia, beyond the 400 or so that appear in the book. Some of the photos are from my previous nomadic life, and some are from recent trips.  The usual process prevails. I'll add a very minimal caption, and I encourage others who know as much or more to post their own stories.

The image caught in the video below is from Ladakh, the Tibetan area run by India. I was lucky to visit it the first year it was open to travelers in the mid 1970s. To get a quick overview of the book, watch here:

May 13, 2008, 9:22 AM

Keynoting at the SF Film Festival

I don't often get to speak at a public venue in my home turf, so I am alerting readers to an upcoming event. This Sunday I am doing the State of Cinema talk at the San Francisco Film Festival. I plan on speaking about the future that is "beyond moving pictures." That's a clumsy way to say I'll be making some wild half-baked speculations about where film, video, technology, photography, text and digital hoo-ha will all converge at some unspecified time in the future. If you'd like to see me make a fool of myself, the talk will be at 1pm at the Clay Theater on Fillmore. I think tickets are $20. Details here.

Picture 20

April 29, 2008, 9:39 AM

The Triumph of Experience

Here's an insight I find useful:

If you want to buy happiness you are much better off buying an experience rather than a thing.  That's because a thing like a car, new clothes, or cool gadget will always wear down, break down over time, while an experience, like going to the Galapagos, or a great concert, will only improve over time. You'll always have it (Paris, bunjee jumping, that meal) forever. In the long term an experience delivers more happiness per dollar.

Oh, and warm puppies (and children) are experiences, not things.


That wisdom is my phrasing of Daniel Gilbert, of "Stumbling on Happiness", interviewed by the Times, pointed to via Mark Hurst at, naturally enough, Good Experience.

April 29, 2008, 9:13 AM

1000 Journals Written By Us

1000 Journals is the antithesis of mass-market publishing. In 2000 Someguy (that's his name) designed a series of beautiful covers to glue onto blank journal books. He sent these empty but tempting books out into the world for others to fill up with their own original and personal art, hoping a few books would make their way back to him. You could sign up on his website to be the next person to receive a book, and in that way the book's travels could be monitored. Sort of.

Someguy also asked his designer friends and design heroes to create covers for blank journals and soon he sent out a total of 1000 stunning hand-crafted journals into the wilds (at his own expense). Only one book has returned completed, even though online you can follow the path of many others on their way. 

1000J Book Main

I first wrote about the 1000 Journals Project in 2002 in the Whole Earth Review. Because of that article I was invited to write the forward for an anthology which collected some hundreds of pages reproduced from dozens of the 1000 journals whose whereabouts were known. This energetic  tome, "1000 Journals Project", was recently published by Chronicle Books, and is almost a work of art itself, with occasional pages sewn with stitches, or glued-in artwork.

In the intro to this anthology celebrating the 1000 journals I said in part:

Some folks worry that the digitization of our daily lives will make us disembodied ghosts. They fear that we’ll become fat lumps of tissue plugged into some giant machine and that our souls and minds will migrate to cyberspace, where our egos will drift as mere whiffs of electrons. We’ll work, play, shop and live online, and the real world – the physical world and all its pleasures – will rot.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact technology is steadily moving us toward a future in which the intangible bits of digital information are more and more embedded into our very physical world, and the physical world pervaded with ubiquitous digital bits. The world of atoms (of bodies) and the world of bits (minds) are converging. Ahead: every object made will have a tiny bit of mind in it, and our intellectual lives will intersect with almost everything made.

A prime example of this confluence of mind and body is Someguy’s  1000 Journals project.
The 1000 Journals project takes three vast networks and weaves them together. It begins with the oldest peer-to-peer network we have – face to face exchanges, and then adds the second oldest network -- the postal system -- which is cheap, truly global, and able to move tangible, very physical artifacts like books to anywhere in the world. Someguy leaves blank journals in random places, or else mails them to strangers, with the instructions to create personal pages inside them and pass them on to yet other strangers. That’s a great recipe for wonderful serendipity. But on top on these two robust networks of one thousand moving journals, Someguy added the new global network of the web, which is able to track, schedule, and enliven the digital ghosts of the traveling books.

These hand-crafted works of art now have both a body and mind. They are deeply rooted in the sensual materials used to create them: paper, ink, found objects. But they also live the life of a mind as they are queued, monitored, and set loose into the collective conscious.

In a very real way, these books are written and drawn by “us” – no individual, but rather the hive mind. No individual artist chooses who works on a book; rather the choice emerges out of the crowd. But unlike previous collective art projects, with this new web network, we can watch the hive mind at work. We can watch the collective think out loud and assemble the sequence within a book and among books. We can watch it remember and watch it forget, as it abandons thoughts and books and then later recalls them.

I was later filmed for the 1000 Journal documentary. I don' t know if I made the cut because I have not seen it yet, and it is not on DVD. But the doc will be shown at the San Francisco Film Festival this week. Here is a trailer for the documentary, which is billed like this:

1000 blank journals are passed from hand to hand throughout the world, collecting stories, pictures, collages -- slices of the lives they touch. One came back, filled. Where are the other 999? 1000 Journals investigates their worldwide journeys, and chronicles the self-governed collaboration of thousands of random people who added to this global "message in a bottle.

Because of the demand to participate in this intensely physical network, and the rarity of actually getting near one of the original books, Someguy started 1001 Journals, which is a web mechanism that allows anyone to start a crowd-sourced journal or find one to join.  There are now an additional 1300 journals traveling the world looking for passionate and creative contributions.

March 11, 2008, 11:34 PM

Handy Tips

A few months ago I spoke at the EG conference, held at the Getty Museum, and organized by Mike Hawley and Ricky Wurman, of TED fame. Instead of following the usual procedure and handing out swag to the speakers, Hawley came up with the clever idea of producing a stack of custom trading cards which both audience and speakers could swap.

The cards would have entertaining colorful cartoon portraits of each speaker on one side, and a "gift" on the other. Attendees would swap the cards to get swag they wanted.  The cartoon portraits were happy mimics of Roy Lichtenstein-style pop-art comic-book masterpieces, produced by the artists at the online service AllPopArt. They started with a digital photograph and Photoshopped it in into pop art, as seen below. (Check out the other styles on their website. It's not a bad gift for the perfect someone.) 

On the other side of the card, some speakers offered a coupon for a recent book, or a free sample of their goods,etc. Being new-book-less at the moment I offered a short list of handy tips. In case you can't read them, here they are: 

Kk-Egb-Sm Kk-Ega-Sm


To get a human at Amazon call their unlisted  number 800-201-7575. 

Always pour acid into water, never the other way round. 

To move your library, stack your books up and wrap them in plastic wrap. No boxes needed. 

Plan on $1 of repairs for every $1 of gas you put into your car. 

For financially happiness, live below your means. 

With bolts and screws remember: Righty tighty, lefty loosey. 

A laminated color copy of your passport will work for most non-border purposes. 

When playing Monopolopy always buy Railroads, never buy Utilities. 

Get a sheet of shower tile board from the lumber yard for a cheap, huge whiteboard. 

Protect your sabbaticals (from your work, diet, routine, or discipline) religiously. 

When bargaining on the street, aim for 50% of the asking price. 

Keep flattery and requests separate.

February 5, 2008, 9:38 AM

This I Believe

Every year I send out a year-end letter and a small gift to my Christmas list. The gift is something creative, maybe a self-published book I made in the past year, or a photo, or sometime personal. This year the gift was a letter that got out of hand. I got going while writing a few thoughts prompted by a book assignment and the missive got long. Once it grew, I added a few of my own photographs. The story wanted to be small in the hand, sort of miniature. It needed a design so I fired up InDesign. It wanted to be printed. Then it needed a few staples. The next thing I new it was a small 16-page booklet. I mailed it out.

Lots of folks sent back kind words. Jay Allison, independent producer, co-founder of Transom, and a friend in the radio business thought it should be on the radio, and the next thing I know, I am in the studios of KQED reading a 500-word excerpt of the letter on a show called This I Believe.

NPR sent notice that this 5-minute rant will air in the Bay Area on Sunday, February 3 on KALW (91.7FM) between 3:30 and 4pm, a fairly safe time when no one will be listening.  But you can listen to it (streaming), or download it (at least for two weeks) from here, or on iTunes.

Hiking 200 

As part of the show, they asked if they could post the letter in full, and I said okay. So a very handsome web version of the letter lives here on the NPR site. I will also put up a PDF version of the letter soon,  just because I had it and might as well round out the media choices.

January 29, 2008, 4:06 PM

The Two Percent Perspective

Last Christmas morning you were probably not listening to the radio as you opened presents. I know we weren't. But that is when Morning Edition broadcast a short interview with me on the subject of progress. I guess in the spirit of things cosmic and joyful, they let me rant about the reason I am an optimist. You can listen to the segment here, but I can sum the story by saying that I am optimistic because I think that while disease, illness, stupidity, wickedness, problems, and evil fill 49% of the world, health, wisdom, light and goodness  fill 51% -- and that tiny 2% difference compounded over time is what makes civilization and cultural.

Logo Npr 125

More audio details at "Weighing the Good and Bad at Christmastime", NPR  Morning Edition, Christmas Day 2007.

January 28, 2008, 9:59 PM

Entertaining Gathering

Two weeks ago at the Getty Museum in LA, I  gave a talk at EG, the Entertainment Gathering, hosted by Michael Hawley, formerly of the Media Lab. In addition to my presentation there were some 65 other talks in 48 hours. Each presentation was 18-20 minutes, which I find is the perfect length for something new. It was a marathon learning adventure. I may have been the only one to sit through all 65 talks. Whew! My favorites: Magician Jamy Swiss teaching a magic trick, Ian Dunbar on how to train a puppy, A.J. Jacobs on his year living Biblically.

Matt Mullenweg, of PhotoMatt, blogged the conference. His fair summary of my talk is posted here.


December 14, 2007, 11:11 AM

Sounding Good on NPR

I was interviewed by Madeleine Brand on NPR's Day to Day today. They wanted to know about my Countdown Clock. Here is the streaming audio. What was interesting to me was that they sent a sound recordist to my home to record my end of the conversation on digital tape because the sound quality on our typical phone line (and call-in show) is so bad. While I was in my desk chair on the phone to Madeleine in LA, the sound recordist was sitting in my office pointing a huge boom mike at my face. She then uploads the file to NPR's ftp site and then the engineers there merge my side with Madeleine's side of the conversation. Mucho work. Isn't it odd that in 2007, when we can download movies to our home we can't have a high-fidelity phone line? Does anyone know how feasible it is to create or hack a hi-def home phone line? We have DSL; it should not be that hard.

September 28, 2007, 12:03 PM

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