Updated: 5/31/02; 8:39:32 AM.
there is no spoon
there's a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path

Monday, May 6, 2002

backlinking: This is very cool. If you'd like to encourage the growth of the "two-way web," backlinking is for you. Apparently if you link to anything at Disinchanted.com, they'll show readers your link. This allows people to see immediately whatever dialogue is created by any blog post or article. Radio 8 needs to adopt this function -- it should be as simple as checking a box on a Prefs page. Are you listening Dave Winer?

I arrived at Disnenchanted via John Udell's article about it, and from the explanation of backlinking I naturally moved to the example, which, while an interesting read (and very appropriate to me for reasons I won't go into here), needs an editor who knows the difference between "depreciation" and "deprecation." Ok, I'm probably splitting hairs, but....

Mark Pilgrim also has backlinking in effect. It doesn't matter that no one links to these posts. I want this. The whole web should work this way.   10:28:16 PM      comment

I don't do M$: ThinkFree is a new application suite for OS X (and Windows, Linux, and Unix). It's Java, so it runs on all these platforms in similar ways. It's supposed to open and save to M$ file formats for word processing, databases, and presentations. I'm not ready to do the 14.9MB download yet, but maybe soon.   9:25:24 PM      comment

Oprah's Contribution: As countless others race to be the first to imitate it, Kathy Rooney meditates on the significance and demise of Oprah's book club. The whole article is really worth reading for its thoughtful analysis and well-researched insight (Rooney says she recently completed a thesis on the subject). Rooney mentions both those who were sad to see Oprah bow out, as well as those who are now gloating. She concludes that:

While it lasted, the club was an unquestionably encouraging phenomenon, indicative of an American impulse toward intellectual self-improvement and a hunger for the kind of seriousness and stimulation that good literary fiction can offer. Such a story as that of the Oprah Book Club should not suffer from so weak an ending. The closing of the book before a satisfactory denouement represents a tremendous loss to the promotion of active readership.

I couldn't agree more. Robert McHenry takes a slightly different pathto largely the same conclusion. (Now I wish Radio gave me an easy way to find and link to the other posts I've made on this topic. How do you do that?)  1:06:59 PM      comment

Beyond Software: Today's Davenet is right: Professional journalists did a better job covering technology when the tech market was competitive. Now that a few big companies largely "own" the major software categories, there appears to be less competition, so journalists are reduced to producing endless repetitions of "here's what Microsoft did today." Journalists could (and should) play a role in changing this situation by focusing more on independent developers, shareware, etc.

But the bigger point is that what Winer observes about tech journalists is just as true of journalists covering politics, international affairs, or any other "industrial" sector. Let's take politics as an example. When Bush says he cares about education, journalists tell us "Bush said he cares about education." Wow. If space and time (or the journalist's editor) permits, the story might also include the voice of some educational leader -- a prominent professor at an Ivy League school, the head of some educational research organization, perhaps even the head of a teacher's union. That's all good, but for the most part all these voices are comparable to just asking the different divisions of Microsoft what they think about the software industry. The role of journalists should be to broaden discourse and deliver as many different perspectives on a question as they can possibly find. On the education question, this would mean talking to students, teachers at all levels, faculty at small schools or junior colleges, contract-teachers who work from semester-to-semester with no guarantees they'll have a job (or health insurance, or any other benefits) in 6 months. Do these people feel like Bush cares about education? Has he done anything to show them that what he says is more than words?

Of course, news coverage like this would require a lot more resources (people, cash, time) than most news organizations are willing to commit. What Winer's primary focus on the software industry tends to miss is that most of his complaints about journalism have nothing to do with journalists, and everything to do with the "BigCo's" who employ them and limit the range of things they can say and topics they can cover. Much of Winer's writing about the problems with BigCo's merely skirts this subject, but it seems to me it's the central issue. For more on this, check out Robert McChesney's Rich Media, Poor Democracy. A fast and very eye-opening read.   12:29:53 PM      comment

Protests and Marches: Dave Enders, a junior majoring in English at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, has written a great piece about his experience protesting at the April 20 war protests in D.C. Apparently, the protest wasn't quite what he expected. Enders writes:

I joined a group in front of the Washington Monument to listen to speakers and wait for the planned afternoon march to the Capitol. But as Martin Luther King III addressed the students seated on the grass, the scene felt more like a reflection of things past than an indication of things to come. Asked why they were in Washington, most students gave vague answers about stopping the war, but they were unable to explain how milling about in front of the monument would do that.

This is a great point: What do "protests" and marches do today? At one time, they seemed to be a radical statement, but now their efficacy is less clear. As Enders' later observes, "Washington is used to these sorts of disruptions." In other words, massive protests may have become almost status quo, making it difficult for them to disrupt the status quo in any way. I don't think that's the case completely, and the way a protest or march is run can have a significant effect on its success. Enders thinks the protesters should have been more confrontational; I agree. Why didn't the protesters storm the capital building? Why didn't they demand access to the senate chambers and make their demands from the Speaker's Podium? Why didn't they form human chains around the monuments and refuse to let anyone enter (i.e. the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, etc)? Those actions would have certainly resulted in more arrests, and people might have died if the police got out of control (which they likely would have). Yet, perhaps that's what it's going to take to shake up this system (that's what it took in the '60s). As Kathleen Christison has noted, At a time when the United States is officially engaged in a war on terrorism, which is officially defined as war against evil and evil-doers, moral arguments have a great deal of resonance. Right now those "moral arguments" are so deafening in one direction, that people who feel otherwise need to make a lot more noise to be heard.

At any rate, Enders leaves us with a lot to think about. He says:

I came to Washington looking for other students who, after a few years of college, have, like myself, become impassioned about what they see as social injustices. What I found were people looking for leadership.

I wonder when they (we) will realize that if we want leaders, we have to be leaders. (A related question: Why don't students like this show up in my classes? If they did, how would I know it?)  10:58:54 AM      comment

Putting knowledge to work for the public: Apparently not all academics like living in the "Ivory Tower" and are working hard to put their skills and knowledge to work where they're needed most.

Clem Price, a professor of history at Rutgers University at Newark, challenged academics to put their scholarly abilities to work in the public interest.

Today the Chronicle reports on "four doctoral students who took time away from their graduate studies to work in internships at civil-liberties and human-rights groups." (registration may be required...)  10:29:55 AM      comment

Working their way through.

The American Council on Education is releasing a report today about current trends in higher education. The report itself sounds interesting, but equally interesting is the way it's being reported (or not). I can't find any headlines through Google or Yahoo News (Reuters), but the two places I have found coverage are taking completely different angles on the report.

First, Morning Edition is emphasizing the report's finding that only 40 percent of four-year-college students now follow the traditional route to a degree, enrolling right after high school and relying on their parents and on loans to pay the bills.

But The Chronicle of Higher Education is leading it's coverage of the report with the fact that institutions' retention data "greatly understate" the rate at which students actually complete their undergraduate educations.

The two points are obviously closely-related, but NPR's coverage seems to focus on the fact that students are working their way through college for some purpose. I wonder what that purpose might be...

At any rate, the Chronicle article is definitely worth reading.

[Later:] Here's a more complete summary of the ACE report from the AP.  9:18:36 AM      comment

Ever heard of citing sources?

In her generally great "review" of blogs (in the NY Times books section, no less!), Judith Shulevitz begins by telling us that Jorge Luis Borges dreamed of a library the size of a universe, whose wealth of books would induce first delirium, then despair, then breakdown of the social order. Wow, what a great image. Shulevitz uses it to suggest the positive promise many techno-utopianists (I might be making up that word) claim for the web. This would be good writing, except for one thing: Shulevitz fails to tell us where to find Borges' dream. Since she doesn't cite her source, this image is much less useful to her readers. I often notice professional journalists do this (in their opinion pieces especially), and every time I notice it, it bothers me more. The point: If you want your writing to be meaningful and useful to people, cite your sources, please.

To her credit, Shulevitz goes on to provide the best summary I've seen of blogging's addictive appeal. She writes:

Needless to say, blogs are addictive. They are not, however, the most economical use of your time. To read blogs requires a willingness to wander from link to link in the hope that some mind-numbingly detailed dispute over, say, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality or an Oscar nomination will resolve itself into a usable insight.

All the blog posts about how much time blogging takes (like this one at Nonsense Verse) are testaments to the accuracy of Shulevitz's description.   7:57:03 AM      comment

sentimentality strikes again?

so why is this story about clubbing seals to death the number 40 story on DayPop?  12:29:21 AM      comment

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Last update: 5/31/02; 8:39:32 AM.