Scripting News for 8/16/2006

To file a complaint, push the red button

Platform Wars: “Getting bought by a large media 1.0 company wouldn’t make much sense for TechCrunch.” 

Maryam: “Robert will only link to you if you pick on him not me.” 

Reading isn’t comprehending 

A note to Nick, Scott and Mike, and people who think the number of people who “read” your blog means anything…

It would be interesting to do a study to see if people can tell you what a blog post said some short interval after reading it. Something like the SAT, for blog readers. I bet the numbers would be astonishingly small. I have reasons to believe that almost no one actually reads this stuff.

A story I like to tell. Once I wrote a short bit explaining why I like a certain web technology that people are somewhat fanatic about. I got flamed, en masse, by people who thought I was dissing it.

Another. I can’t tell you how many times I get emails that “solve” a supposed “problem” that is discussed in the first sentence or two of a post, where the solution is explained in the third or fourth sentence. I conclude from that that people read something, it triggers one of their canned responses, and before reading the rest of the post, they’re typing the answer in their email app, or asking for more info, when the info is in the next sentence of the blog post, the part they didn’t bother to read.

I think a lot of people skim quickly and click on links, skim quickly and then hit the back button, then hit the back button again. So what’s the point of being on the A-list if no one reads, they just scan. (And guess what they’re scanning for, their name, of course!)

What I really value is new information or ideas that I receive from reading blogs. I don’t care so much about being heard, because I know from experience that there really isn’t very much of that going on.

Scott Karp: “Even if no one reads this post, I feel better having written it.”

So to Scott, that may be the only joy available from blogging, the satisfaction of getting something off your chest. It really can be therapeutic, and also, having written it, you can then move on to the next thing, and the next thing after that. By writing something you really have to think it through.

Oft-repeated hype 

The problem with Wikipedia hype is that the proponents over-sell, and they’re often smart people so maybe they’ll stop doing it if I point it out. Here’s an example.

Simply appearing in the Encyclopedia Britannica confers authority on an article. Simply appearing in Wikipedia does not, because you might hit the 90 second stretch before some loon’s rewriting of history or science is found and fixed.

Someone who hasn’t spent the last 30 years online might not understand that it’s equally possible that the looney version of the story might be the one that gets reverted to, after someone who knows the subject edits it to represent more than the single point of view of the troll who’s camped out on the article, or the group of trolls.

I’ve seen so many articles on Wikipedia on subjects that I know that are just plain wrong, and when I try to fix it, the fix gets undone within minutes. Sorry I’m not willing to commit my life, or a big portion of it, to a Wikipedia page. So mistakes live on, sometimes big ones.

There is value in Wikipedia, but please, let’s not undermine other approaches, let’s not put unnecessary barriers in their way. Wikipedia has been so successful that we’re in danger of going back to a monoculture. We’re trading a bad system, imho, for an even worse one.

From Tootsie 

Jessica Lange: “Just when I think I’ve found the perfect man, an even worse one shows up, and that’s when I make my move.”

I was wrong 

On Monday, I wrote: “They’re different from us, but you can’t tell from looking at them, because they look exactly like us, unlike black people who usually have darker skin.”

From Walter Purvis, via email: “As I understand it, the ‘us’ in that sentence is Americans. Now re-read that sentence pretending you’re a black American. It’s funny how racial biases creep into our thinking so subtly, isn’t it?”

Gulp. That is correct. What I said was wrong, and I’m sorry I said it.

What I was trying to say made no sense, and it did occur to me as I was writing it. Canadians look so much like us that there are Canadians of all colors and countries of origin, just like people from the United States. In my defense, I was thinking about racial contrast because the first part of the piece was about Jackie Robinson and the integration of baseball. And I did say that Robinson and I both come from the same country. But Mr Purvis noticed something that I didn’t, and he is correct, and very generous in his criticism, and I appreciate that very much. because it makes it easier to say I was wrong.

Computers crash 

Yesterday I wrote about Macintoshes and how they crash, as all computers do.

No one, even the most idiotic Mac idiot, disputes that Macs crash. They disagree on whether it’s my fault or whether I got a bad Mac (obviously I did, two of them). I don’t run any unusual software, and I don’t install experimental stuff on my computer. I’m really conservative. I know what it’s like to live on the edge, I used to write drivers and other system-level software, a long time ago. These days it’s Firefox and OPML, Handbrake, Azureus, The Sims (v 2), Flickr Uploader, VLC, iTunes. I have an HP printer and scanner, iChat, TextEdit. The computer that crashes is a dual CPU G5, bought virtually at the end of its lifecycle, so it should be well burned in.

But all this michegas is beside the point (which most people seem to have missed, even though it was pretty clearly written). I know computers crash. There’s no such thing as an architecture that can’t crash (even toasters catch on fire, no one’s fault, shit happens). That’s why its irresponsible for Apple to advertise that Macs don’t crash. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems fraudulent to me. And as a programmer, it’s really tempting fate to make such a claim. Bad Murphy karma. Put it this way, if you were a pilot, would you fly a plane if the manufacturer said it can’t crash? How much faith would you have in their support system if you thought they really believed that??

11 responses to this post.

  1. Dave;

    I am a lawyer, with experience in Canadian misleading advertising law, section 52 and 76 of the Competition Act.

    Apple isn’t advertising that the Mac won’t crash, but rather it will crash less on average than a PC, that is it has a more reliable kernel structure, but not that it will never crash.

    Here is a bet for you: $1000.00 says that the Apple Ad will pass the Canadian Competition Bureau’s scrutiny – which in fairness, I should disclose costs an advertiser $500 for an opinion.


  2. Dave,

    I worked for years teaching people what might be called the higher art of reading comprehension, if you wanted to be charitable to what I was doing. I taught college writing and English and American literature.

    I discovered some time ago that if you can’t read well, you can’t write well, and that what masquerade as writing problems are in fact reading problems. So, yes, I agree, people don’t read well. Reading well is an acquired skill, one undervalued in our culture, one that’s not taught as intensely as it once was.

    However, when you say you’re addressing “people who think the number of people who “read” your blog means anything, ” apparently saying these folks are wrong, I think you’re overlooking something. The number of people who read and remember what you’ve written may be small, but it’s some percentage of those who’ve come to your blog. Which is just to say: the number of people who “read” your blog does mean something–not what we’d like it to mean, as you’re pointing out, but something significant nonetheless.


  3. Then again there’s that “it’ll be there” dependency that lets me off the remembering hook. Hey, why do I have to remember it? I know that Dave said it (or maybe I don’t remember who said it, just that “I read it somewhere”) so I go back and search for it, or search for a few keywords and find it again. And read it again.


  4. Hey Dave, I don’t have to pretend that I’m a “black American” but I will still read your Blog and I can’t wait for you next Morning Coffee Notes—even though you are crippled with whiteness (and, yes, Jewish white-liberal whiteness). But at least you know you are not a perfect specimen of humanity which puts you a superior position of mental health, relatively speaking.

    You may even understand something deeper: that so-called “friendships” between “white guys” and “black guys” are fundamentally unequal. Your best “black friend” who developed poweful intellect in an all-Black environment has to slow himself down to get along with guys like you—and when I even hint at words like these you may react with some kind of Olympic intelligence contest—and your black pals from the white suburbs may join in as well…

    So, when you get some time, listen to some young Jewish kids do an “old” song called “Intergalactic.” On one remix of the song, there is a sound sample of the Black guy saying “and with the echo!”—what you are hearing in less than three seconds is the Black guy helping the white guys, The Beastie Boys, make their song better. But when the Beastie Boys face the general public through the corporate media this kind of creative exchange is downplayed—and when the Beastie Boys try to tell the truth “nobody” wants to hear it. Don’t think these things do not happen in the world of IT. Investors need the *perception* of investing in intelligence—and “somehow” people with strong African features do not suggest intelligence.

    So, Dave, don’t try too hard to get “race relations” “right.” It’s like watching you and all of your good friends trying to dance. It’s just wack—but I will still read your Blog and I can’t wait for you next Morning Coffee Notes.

    I can extrapolate your recent BlogHer episodes with white women into the world of “race relations” and see what is likely to happen. Wack.


  5. It’s a long shot, but you could run your Macintosh hardware diagnostic. If that passes, I’d run DiskWarrior (accept no substitutes).


  6. Yeah, and the Titanic was unsinkable.


  7. Posted by Solo on August 16, 2006 at 11:40 am

    On your Mac crashing: the discussion thread over at Scoble’s site has some good notes on this. Macs may be more sensitive RAM-wise, so check ’em out. Also, make sure there are paired sets of RAM installed.


  8. Another thought about your perception of how many people don’t comprehend what they read on your blog. I think your opinion is skewed by the fact that those who do read and comprehend your blog don’t make a jerk out of themselves in the ways that you described. Many of us consume without interacting. It’s what we have been trained to do by our archaic school system.

    I have read and (I devoutly hope) comprehended your blog for years now. I have seldom had any comments because what you said was so succinct and to the point. If I disagreed with what you said I took your advice and posted my opinion on my own blog and linked back to yours. Truth is, I seldom disagreed with you.

    As far as why I blog goes, it boils down to a good way for me to discipline myself to write on a regular basis. I have dreams of writing other things besides blog posts but I also know that the only way that you get good at something is to practice. When I first started writing I played a “butt in chair” game where I sat down and wrote whatever came to mind for a certain amount of time. It was total crap. I found myself commenting on how much of the page I had filled and making pretty typographical patterns with my typewriter. You read correctly, I said typewriter. We’re almost the same age (my birthday is in June).

    Blogging helps keep me honest. If I know that someone might read what I’ve written, I take a little bit more care writing it. I read it before I post it. My mother always said, before you try to write the great American novel, start out with something smaller like the pretty good sentence or the not so bad paragraph.


  9. “That’s why its irresponsible for Apple to advertise that Macs don’t crash.” So your point was not that your Mac Crash, but that a big company has less than truthful advertisement? really? That’s the point you wanted to make? You should check every company advertisement. Advertisement is not a place to tell the truth. Sun: “Our servers are pretty good, they sometimes go haywire in ways even we don’t understand, but that’s not that common… you know? buy from us!” Dell:”Our laptops rarely explode.” Truth in advertisement doesn’t work and everybody knows that already. Remember the movie? With Dudley Moore? “Volvo, they are boxy but they are good” I think that movie made that point years ago. Peace out, Dave!


  10. I have been on Internet Use Groups, AOL chat rooms, bulletin boards and now blogs. Always looking for intelligent conversation. Gotta be 90% of what I’ve seen over 15 years has been just what you describe–preformed opinions that are repeated regardless of the question. One joy of writing to engineers (my day job) is that engineers typically read things thoroughly. They just don’t interact a lot. I appreciate you comments–and you are correct in your assessments and critiques from your posting regarding Bloghercom. Keep it up.


  11. Posted by Garry Freemyer on August 17, 2006 at 6:36 am

    I agree on what you said. prejudice can creep into our everyday speech and thinking without our permission. It is like a disease.

    I note one thing in your apology post that might be tripping you up and that you refer to words like “They”, “Canadians” and other ethnic groups, and when people constantly use these terms in everyday thinking and speech they are bound to trip up and accidentally use these terms in ways that are embarrassing. Its like if you tend to not fully stop at a stop sign even when there is NO traffic within miles, you are sooner or later doomed to do it when there is traffic around and possibly suffer an accident. Its an all or nothing affair.

    It helps if you avoid thinking and writing in these terms in the first place and think of everyone as a human being no matter where they were born, what color their skin is.

    In short, there are not “Theys”, “Canadians”, “Chinese” or whatever, there are people and any other terms do not matter. If I have a post from someone who lives north of Washinton, it isn’t necessary for me to say they are canadians. Racial designations and terms like “They” when used to refer to someone from a particular country are symptoms of the stuffy nose that proceeds the cold of prejudice and are perceptions that tend to make divisions that do not exist. When you speak to others in your own country, do you call them californians, Coloradians, Texans, Wisconians, or Floridians? NOT usually, and when it is done, it is usually used to indicate a long distance friendship, or where they live instead of something about WHO they are.

    If you avoid thinking in such “Sniffles” that refer to concepts that should not matter enough to mention, it will help you avoid little accidents in the future. Btw: Everyone who can speak, say bloopers occasionally, less you worry about little mistakes, the less chance such mistakes will become an unwanted habit.

    At least you are aware of it, and are interested in rooting out such thinking.


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