Saturday, October 31, 2009

Has the Sixties Counterculture Suffered an Inversion?

It's interesting to see some of the same people who battled to legalize marijuana in the Sixties now working to make tobacco illegal.

In some places they are encouraging the narcs they once denigrated. In Ohio, for example, signs exhort individual citizens to become informers, in order to punish business owners for the uncontrollable actions of others. (Huge fines are specified for the owners of public establishments where smoking occurs.)

And where once you might have heard, "Man, have you tried that Yellow Sunshine? It's outta sight!" you now hear "Yes, Prozac really made a difference for me!"

No matter what your views on drugs, smoking, or even coffee, culture has certainly gone through some ironic twists.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Experiment: Where's the Book?

I received an interesting email yesterday from David Kennedy, a reader in San Diego. He enjoyed Blogging Heroes, and wants to share it with grad-student friends and co-bloggers at the Utah State University.

Only one problem: nobody has spare cash for shipping. So David is trying an experiment. He left the volume at a book dropoff, with a note attached asking people to help it along from the College Rolando branch of the San Diego library to a fourth-floor break room at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

See for the full story.
The note, which you can see attached to the book's cover here, reads:


My name is “Blogging Heroes”, and I’m a book about blogging. I’m trying to get from San Diego to the Break Room on the fourth floor of old main at Utah State University in Logan, UT.

I have some friends waiting for me, and was wondering if you could help me get there? Even a little would help. Thanks! Just pick me up and move me a little in That Direction.

Feel free to read me, or even take notes in me! I want to learn as much about my trip as possible.

When I finally get home, I’ll make sure that my trip is told on


Kennedy and friends run a blog titled 16Bit, stuff every programmer should learn.
The experiment is completely independent of me and Wiley, the publisher. Can Blogging Heroes make it on its own? Time will tell. If you're in the vicinity and see the book, give it a read and a ride!

Barnes & Noble eBook Rreader

Barnes & Noble have come out with their own eBook Rreader, in competition with Kindle. It's called "nook," and at the moment is offered for $259. For an analysis, see Joe Wikert's blog entry:

and B&N's own page for the nook:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shopping Centers without Roads, Billboards without Messages

I wonder when people will stop trying to represent just about everything on the Web as a simple counterpart of real-world events, situations, and so forth? Why can't the Web just be the Web? It's not like the pre-Web days, when we had to explain things like chat rooms and IMs in terms of CB radios and telephones. Today, there's no t need to entice people into the online world by downplaying their fears with metaphors.

Oh, well ... as long as we're still doing this, I am inspired by an earlier remark to say that publishing thousands of books about selling online by getting found and noticed, without publishing more books to show people how to search is akin to building a shopping mall with no roads to it.

Or might a better simile be "... like putting up billboards in Antarctica?"

Okay, okay--it's a reach! But I think that there's a huge imbalance of subject matter. And the books are largely derivative of one another, packed with such solid advice as, "Put quality content on your Web site to attract people." And a lot of telling the reader what to do, but not how to do it.

Vanished from twitter

Some of my twitter tweets (yeah, cutesy name, that) are flapping away. I read something that boiled down to, "If you lose your Internet connection, your tweets disappear." Makes no sense: you lose your Internet every time you turn off your computer (daily for me), and I've never had them disappear before. Hell--maybe I'm posting heretic stuff and don't know it.

Anyway, I'll park a few here:

Unlikely ad: "Wanna get laid? There's an app for that!"

Improbable book title: "Empathy for Narcissists"

Interesting to note that so many publishers are very interested in (and publishing) books on how to market your stuff with search engines and social marketing (a school of wishful thinking), but don't want to put out books that teach Internet users how to FIND stuff on the Web (which would include how to find the stuff their books are exhorting people to market). Uh ... how're you gonna sell anything if they can't find you?

The wisdom of the crowd is a myth: intelligence is not cumulative. The highest intelligence in a group is the smartest individual in that group.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Embarrassment of (Reviewer) Riches

I just had a flashback. When the weekly "hey, hey, hey!" from CNET popped up in my email, I opened it to a bunch of headlines about "Sidekick."

My mind immediately rebooted to the days of DOS! "How can you lose data with Sidekick? Sidekick can't hurt anything!" flashed through my mind for nearly a millisecond before I noted that they were talking about T-Mobile and not Borland.

This happens whenever I see "Sidekick." It's pure Reflex (if you'll pardon the pun. Those of you who weren't around before Windows won't remember Reflex, a pioneering flat-file database cum spreadsheet that had everyone going nuts. Great program.) When DOS was king, I was working hard to find all sorts of ways to get more out of the apps. Sidekick was one, a key-combo pop-up notepad, alarm, etc., etc., a TSR that didn't enrage other programs and make your system crash. Both Sidekick and Reflex were products of Borland.

I liked Borland. Without exception, they sent me a minimum of two copies of every program (and new version thereof) they brought out--and this was before I wrote a book with Jerry Pournelle (his only computer book, btw).

I suppose they thought I had two computers, which I did after a time because more than one PC clone maker sent me two machines with the paperwork to return only one. Just as Intel did when they came out with their first hand-scanners. (Greyscale, 4 inches wide, with clever software.) And you couldn't return the review hardware without the paperwork.

It was truly and embarrassment of riches--and fun! The only outfit that was really serious about getting all their equipment back was Apple. The agreement I signed with them must have been intimidating, because I made sure I got their Mac IIci back to them with time to spare before the deadline.

Writing Tip #273

When the story starts getting out of control, it's time to cut!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Official Robert A. Heinlein biography scheduled

The first volume of a two-part authorized biography of famed science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein: Volume 1 (1907-1949): Learning Curve, by William H. Patterson, will be released on April 13, 2010.

The book will be a hardcover, and published by TOR Books.

According to Patterson, the original manuscript came in at 700,000 words. He cut it to 400,000. Get your order in now! Click here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Videotex: What the Web Almost Was

On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders is available in ebook form via Safari Books Online. A preview of the chapter that covers Videotex (the Internet that almost was) click here. And here are sample screens from the Viewtron Videotex service: