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Commentary: Ness on Mid-Summer RBIs

In the middle of the summer I wrote and published a note on some really bad ideas that I saw floating around at that time. Now enough time has passed so that we can see how the evaluations and predictions which were made back then have fared.

DN Title Ness in July Ness
Introduction Many Americans will probably expect this to be a discussion of Baseball (RBI=Runs Batted In), and perhaps a complaint about the idiocy of the Baseball Commissioner's stopping of the All-Star Game, apparently in the mistaken notion that this would be OK with the baseball-loving public. I suppose by now the event is largely forgotten. Except for baseball fans, of course, they have very long memories.
Not Baseball But it's not. Okay with the Public, that is. And this isn't about Baseball, anyway. The RBIs note was published in July 2002, so eight months or so have passed. That's long enough for at least a first review of some of the thoughts.
Lots of Bad Ideas It's mid-summer doldrums time and so instead it is a piece about Really Bad Ideas which seem to be circulating with great frequency of late. Lots of bad ideas where floating around. Whether there were more than ususal, or just less of other distractions remains to be seen.
A Few Good Ideas I should early point out, I suppose, that not all of the summer's ideas are bad. Few and far between.
Lutz For example, Eberhard Lutz is devoting some intellectual time and energy to what seems, so far at least, to be a tantalizing evolution. Lutz' ideas were, and are, good. But there has been less of them in evidence than we might have wished for. The same is true of Langreiter's Summer 2000 site.
Cluetrain Review And then there's a finally a review of some of the Cluetrain ThoughtJunk that manages to suggest that monkeys on typewriters would have produced better stuff than that published in pathetic pieces like Winberger's Small Pieces... So there's some good stuff out there. Time hasn't eased my harsh judgement of the Cluetran stuff. If anything I think less of it now than I did then. But at least by now there's been some new stuff published, and that seems to provide a more useful focus for future development.
The Bad Ideas The bad ideas, however, abound. Some of this will probably to be expanded on in a Piled Higher and Deeper essay when time allows are at least: Time didn't, or at least hasn't, allowed that. In the interim my website has been reorganized as an experiment, and work on other projects has occupied most of the available time.
1. Winer and Journalism Winer's notion that journalists are somehow supposed to be investigators, moral judges, and something other than just people---not unlike drug salesmen---doing what is often an uninspiring job attempting to make a passable living, hardly great candidates for having our personal interests at the center of their heart (What a Surprise!). Little has changed with regard to this point. While the possibility of a war with Iraq has increased the temperature of some of the discussions, there doesn't seem to be any particular evidence that blogs are doing a job which is either dramatically better or dramatically worse than more conventional forms of journalism. So, we can leave the jury out on this one for another cycle.
2. Searls Hardware Searls' saga of ongoing hardware and software problems with his Apple, which he has griped about in what must be on the order of a dozen items so far this year, all the while testifying how `wonderful' and `easy to use' his Apples are. The saga of Searls' hardware has continued, and if anything intensified. There are too many stories to cite them all, but there have been stolen computers, wandering software and hard disk crashes, just to mention a few of the problems. Through all of this horror---the likes of which have never happened to any of my Windows machines, Searls persists in believing, along with Pangloss, that Apples are the best of all possible worlds. Oh well...
3. Lileks' Rants Lileks' rants have gotten worse and worse. He has moved from being a great favorite to a more neutral appraisal, and now---particularly when he wanders off on one of his odd pseudo-American diatribes, often surprisingly ill informed---his stuff is really poor. Maybe it's living in my hometown that's eventually getting to him. I never thought of lutefisk or lefse as mind-impairing---perhaps it is excessive aquavit. His pictures and matchbooks and postcards are still swell, however. Lileks' rants have also continued. His political stuff is just awful and his views of hardware are quite incredibly naive, but I continue to find the stories of his daughter charming, and his matchbooks and postcards are unfailingly entertaining. His `regrettable foods' are much more interesting than his `regrettable ideas', but I have gotten better at skipping his political blather, and this lets me continue to read him with some regularity.
4. The iMac The much touted iMac design that I found to have all of the advantages of a laptop except portability and convenience, but was supposed to be so wonderful anyway, and that now sits unsold clogging the aisles at many a local computer store. I announced my deep dislike for the design of the iMac in a paper I wrote describing the Apple World that announced it. Of course all of the Apple apologists were ecstatic about the brilliance of the design.

Then the boxes full of unsold iMacs began to clutter the aisles of the Apple stores, and the market voted with its feet---making clear that the design was a disaster.

5. Apple Stores Apple Stores, a discredited idea about how to sell computers that mostly failed with a dull thud a decade or so ago, being recycled into expensive locations apparently on the odd idea that if you pay really high rents this will surely lead to profitability. I also described the `store' strategy as Been there, done that, know it doesn't work. Optimistic statements continued to flow from One Infinite Loop. Now as they begin to own up to the real sales figures, it is clear that the stores are still not profitable (of course, they will be real soon now) and sales volumes seem to have stalled. We still await data on the impact of the stores on the non-Apple-owned regular distribution channel, but that data still is hard to find. In any event, it seems to be safe to say that there has been no detectable increase in Apple market share due to the stores. It continues to be a failed strategy.
6. Seitz' Applause Seitz, apparently applauding Winer's incredibly dubious claim that the `software industry is the core of the Western Economy' doesn't seem to get, yet, that the well deserved collapse of the .COM world is, in fact, testimony to the unimportance of software---and computers in general---to real life. Seitz, apparently quoting Winer, comments that A Hollywood movie gets much more funding than a breakthrough software idea. and seems surprised and angered by this fact. To me, it just looks like a `good decision'. Movies have contributed a lot more `value' to my life than software has. Nothing has changed here. Some of the references through Seitz' site are interesting, but some of them are also not very thoughtful.
7. Cluetrain The Cluetrain still seems to run on nothing but hot air, but perhaps some of the good news of the summer is that it is at least beginning to show signs of slipping off its rickety thought tracks. Cluetrain still is regularly derided. Indeed it is not only derided it is discounted---you can get it for a couple of dollars. It's probably not worth that and it continues to go nowhere.
8. New Software The silly season of new technology seems to never end. Six Degrees is coming out, as is Tekadence, Apple's iCal ... and all, AFAICS, technology desperately in search of a problem---and not finding one. If the advertising E-Mail I continue to recieve is any indication, many of these products are available on a fire-sale basis. I expect some of the companies to begin to withdraw from the marketplace, but it is still a little early for that. So far there's no `smoke or fire' with any of these products, but it is too soon to be sure they are moribund. Time will tell.
9. Blogs and Blogging Blogs and blogging, seem to have their importance more strongly self-declared at the same time that some long established bloggers seem to be departing the field. This would square with the notion that we have passed the high water mark of the influence blogs. I don't see the influence of blogs increasing. The much hoped for `influence' on the political process in the 2001 election didn't develop, with some blogs producing voting totals for their candidates that were less than half of the percentage of some candidates running from their jail cells. We'll have to see a couple of more elections before we can really be sure, but I see no evidence that the influence of blogs is increasing at the moment.
10. Resistance to Microsoft Resistance to MicroSoft seems to be growing. AFAICS the hugely expensive and much touted launch of XP has produced hardly a ripple of discussion. And corporate resistance to MicroSoft's new charging policies seems to be growing just at a time that the usefulness of lots of corporate computer power falls into question. Too early to say much. The jury is still out.
11. Apple Innovation Apple continues to peddle its image as an innovator when most of it's ideas are often already passe. For example, I've had a Sony Vaio with a flat-panel screen in a configuration much more attractive than the iMac that cost me less and has been around for a year or so before the iMac hit the streets. Typical Apple innovation. There's not much more to say. There is so little innovation in evidence at Apple at the moment that there aren't even any claims of innovation. Unless you call releasing a 12 and a 17 inch version of a 15 inch product innovation. I don't.
12. Hardware Sales Collapse Hardware sales collapse in the face of a seemingly growing awareness that few of us need much more power, and that no matter how cheap it is, until they pay you there is little value to be obtained in improving things that are under utilized anyway. Hardware sales continue to be perfectly lousy. Each quarter we have lived through the cycle of confident prediction, questionnable progress and disappointing result. It continues. Lots of the companies that depend on hardware sales don't.
13. Apple Ads Apple's bizarre advertising campaign seems to be accomplishing what is so often the effect of their campaigns (i.e. those campaigns that have led them triumphantly from 5% of the market to about 5% of the market), namely making ill-educated Apple customers feel good about being ill-educated (maybe this is following the lead of our President who seems to feel so good about his lack of education). I mean I think it has been many years (half a decade?) since I have seen a `Blue Screen of Death'. And my NT system has been running for the last 600 hours---since powering on after coming back from a trip---without any significant hitch. Where do they find these clueless people who are so happy in their ignorance that they are proud to make a virtue out of stupidity be in their ads?. Someone, either at the agency or at Apple finally pulled the plug on this disasterous set of charactures. I am thankful that they have been replaced with the Yao ads. These ads are, of course, content free, but they are highly entertaining. Of course, part of the entertainment involves the amusement engendered by thinking that a multi-millionaire basketball star would waste his time fussing with any computer. But at least it's entertainment.
14. More on Journalism For some reason, Winer continues to be fascinated with the question of what you call journalism. Generally his silly questions are advanced with an air of profoundity that I find I can only stand if I replace the word weblog with something else, for example ham sandwich Then you get OK, let's deconstruct a myth. Someone says that ham sandwiches aren't journalism. OK, suppose a journalist has a ham sandwich. When that journalist writes something on the ham sandwich, therefore, it must not be journalism. Suppose the journalist writes exactly the same words on her ham sandwich that she writes in a column in the newspaper she writes for. In one place it's journalism and in the other it's not? Hmmm. OK, try this one out. Are ham sandwiches medicine? Suppose a doctor is writing a ham sandwich and the doctor writes something she learned in medical school. Then the same doctor writes the same text in a medical textbook. I guess it's not medicine when its written in a ham sandwich? You see how silly these arguments are, how easy they are to deconstruct. If there is such a thing as journalism, it must be possible to practice it in a ham sandwich. It's just a format. Nothing more. It's really not a mystery in 2002. But it's hard to disagree with his clinching closer It also goes without saying that if an idiot writes a weblog, then you get idiocy in a weblog. as he has just proven it beyond doubt in a flash of undeniable self-revelation. In retrospect I don't know why I felt it was necessary to go into such a long re-hash of a point that was pretty much covered in #1. It still strikes me as true, but now it also strikes me as unnecessary.
15. Computers as Panacea Hopefully this is Suddenly, Last Summer for the notion that computers are any panacea in education. The data that suggests that computers aren't helping, and may even be hurting, is beginning to accumulate. Of course this causes some to insist that it must be because we haven't done enough rather than that we have done too much will still get an airing. But, hopefully, it will get short shrift as well. I'm hearing less and less about the positive role of computers in education. Perhaps it is the budget crunch caused by the collapse of Washington's current economic program. Perhaps it is a slowly growing awareness that computers probably waste more time and energy than they save. Again, it's a little early to know.
16. Array Languages In a similiar vein, the notion that it might be a good idea to drag high school kids through one of the array processing languages in the hope of teaching them some math resurfaced for a brief gasp of air. This idea seems to bubble up every six months or so, this time on the J Forum, but blessedly seems to sink back into oblivion before anyone invests much energy in it. That appears to have happened again. Discussion of this seems to have pretty much disappeared from the mail lists and bulletin boards that used to carry it. Again, the reasons aren't clear, but perhaps people are more concerned about their jobs than speculative, unsupportable `innovations'.
17. Productivity The productivity of computers seems to still be accepted as a Cardinal Act of Faith, but like the questions that swirl around some of our religions, this tenet seems to be being given increasing scrutiny, and looks more and more dubious each day. And it continues to do so.
Close We could go on. There's at least corporate integrity and politician's competence. Two of the great oxymora of the age. It has been a disturbing eight months, particularly with regard to the question of `politician's competence'. But I don't want to turn this into just another `war' discussion.
Bye But that's for later, when we're in a good mood... If, not when ...
What is Missed I had thought that this paper dealt with live blogs but that was in a different paper Detours on the Information Highway which is still in draft. The notion expressed in that paper, which bears at least tangentially on the issue of the effectiveness of blogs, is that live blogs were a silly idea. As the number of live blogs being reported has dropped precipitously---at least as far as I can see---it would seem that this idea was right.
Until we meet again There's a weblog `experiment' in process at Harvard. So far nothing of any depth has come out of it, but it's still very early in the process. My guess is that Stein's there isn't any there there is appropriate and that nothing much will come of it. You can't, after all, get much blood from a stone.

As the job market tightens there also seems to be some drop in traffic on the web that might best be explained by a drop in personal use of the web on the job. If this proves to be the case it may be detectable by the time that we next revisit these issues.

© Copyright 2003 David Ness.
Last update: 2003-03-12 00:14:30 EST