Supreme Court decides copyright case

Challenge to Bono Act Rejected 7-2 – “Here’s the decision (via Copyfight via Lessig). Copyfight and Law Meme will be burning up the blogosphere on this one.” [via The Trademark Blog].

First of all, I want to say that Larry Lessig is to be commended for his heroic efforts. I haven’t read the opinion but I am sure that it will reveal that larger forces dictated the ruling. I don’t think that there is any way that Lessig could have won the case. I hope one day to have the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him for trying.

[Ernie the Attorney]

Ernie pretty well sums up my thoughts at this point.

OODA Loops and point of view

Boyd and The American Way of War. It’s one of the apparent paradoxes of conflict that technologies can change the nature of battle, but not win wars. Col. John Boyd’s insights into that conundrum produced some important thinking, and led to the concept of 4th Generation Warfare (4GW)…. [Blogcritics]

This leads into a whole series of fascinating items that link into strategy and knowledge management as well as food for thought about the broader environment we now operate in. A rich vein of material to mine and think about.

Boyd developed the notion of the OODA loop which has begun to gain currency in dynamic strategy thinking. The Fast Company article on The Strategy of the Fighter Pilot” looks to be a good starting point.

OODA is an acronym for Observe-Orient-Decide-Act. Conventionally this is depicted as a loop, but I think is might better be represented as a mini-web with Orient at the center. Something like the following:

That would link this to another of my favorite Alan Kay observations that “point of view is worth 80 IQ points.”

A ship date for the next Harry Potter book

“THE HOTTEST DAY OF THE SUMMER so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive … The only person left outside was a teenage boy who was lying flat on his back in a flowerbed outside number four.” That’s the opening sentence of the new Harry Potter novel, now scheduled for publication June 21.
Plus, Larry Tribe emailed the other day that the long-awaited second volume to the third edition of his Constitutional Law treatise will appear about the same time. It’s going to be a big summer around the InstaPundit household. [InstaPundit.Com]

Viridian design

Viridian books.

Former colleague Paul Beard to made reference to “Viridian Design.” I haven’t really groked what that means yet, but I did found a list of Viridian recommended books. There are some very interesting titles on that list; if these books are related to the Viridian movement, I’ll have pay more attention to it.

[Paul Holbrook’s Radio Weblog]

Any movement launched by the likes of Bruce Sterling is worth paying attention to for entertainment value alone. Beneath the entertainment, however, are some deep thoughts about what kind of future we need to be about creating for ourselves. Some excerpts from the Virdian Manifesto of January 3, 2000

What is culturally required at the dawn of the new millennium is a genuine avant-garde, in the sense of a cultural elite with an advanced sensibility not yet shared by most people, who are creating a new awareness requiring a new mode of life. The task of this avant-garde is to design a stable and sustainable physical economy in which the wealthy and powerful will prefer to live.

The task at hand is therefore basically an act of social engineering. Society must become Green, and it must be a variety of Green that society will eagerly consume. What is required is not a natural Green, or a spiritual Green, or a primitivist Green, or a blood-and-soil romantic Green…The world needs a new, unnatural, seductive, mediated, glamorous Green. A Viridian Green, if you will.

The current industrial base is outmoded, crass and nasty, but this is not yet entirely obvious. Scolding it and brandishing the stick is just part of the approach. Proving it requires the construction of an alternative twenty-first century industrial base which seems elegant, beautiful and refined. This effort should not be portrayed as appropriate, frugal, and sensible, even if it is. It must be perceived as glamorous and visionary. It will be very good if this new industrial base actually functions, but it will work best if it is spectacularly novel and beautiful. If it is accepted, it can be made to work; if it is not accepted, it will never have a chance to work.

An excellent example of Alan Kay’s dictum that the “best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Does knowledge management imply digital?

KM Irony. I find this ironic: I’m sitting next to a woman who is writing copius notes on letterhead with the title: “Office of Knowledge Management.” I wonder if she meticulously files those notes in a government issue SteelCase filing cabinet? [Windley’s Enterprise Computing Weblog]

I don’t find this terribly ironic. I find that taking notes by hand is still the most effective way for me to take in information in meetings and interviews. I’ve tried taping but that just leaves me with the problem of transcribing or of listening to the interview twice. Even with a good outliner, I can’t really pay attention and type and the same time (although I am essentially a touch typist). There is something about the mechanical act of keying that takes enough more brain cells than scribbling notes by hand that it interferes too much.

My practice is to keep a spiral-bound notebook with me for notetaking in interviews and meetings. I also use those notebooks (I have a collection going back to 1986) to sketch out diagrams and mindmaps. In the early stages of noodling around with new ideas I still prefer pen and paper.

Back in my Ph.D. research days I started a habit of writing up interviews and notes as trip reports. I have Jim Cash to thank for that.  They used to be done as Word documents. Later I started filing them as entries in a private weblog that I maintain on my laptop (using “Radio” and “Manila”). Diagrams generally turn into Visio documents. Recently I’ve started using MindManager to create machine-readable versions of the mindmaps I draw.

I’ve experimented with scanning my handwritten notes so that they are potentially easily at hand when I travel. I haven’t gotten as diligent about it as Gordon Bell has however.

For times when I can’t carry a notebook with me, I generally have a collection of blank notecards (about the size of a business card) and a pen in my pocket. But I’m not above jotting ideas down on the back of a program or agenda or on hotel notepads. This habit has gotten me in trouble from time to time.

More often than note, the first glimmerings of ideas from me take analog form. They soon get transformed into bits. Maybe Scoble’s peans to the Tablet PC will convince me to start the bit collection one step earlier.


Connecting weblog conversations

Some standards matter…. As I’m more and more seeing my words appear excerpted on other people’s site ( Hi Mark!), I decided to go after another source for related reads: RSS feeds. To participate, you don’t need to use weblogging software that supports trackback or pingback, you simply have to update your templates to have a link to your RSS feed. [Sam Ruby]

Does this mean I don’t have to figure out how to do trackback/pingback in Radio? It’s been on my to do list (albeit very low on that list). Wouldn’t it be lovely to cross it off?

Technology vs. Magic

Like many, I’m fond of quoting Clarke’s 3rd Law that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, ” and, more recently, Benford’s corrollary, “any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.” But I’ve also been troubled by the willingness of most people to accept the magic as magic. I understand the attraction to a marketer to claim magical properties for their wares. It’s the willingness to settle for that explanation that bothers and confuses me.

I’m in the midst of reading The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress by Joel Mokyr. Mokyr is an economic historian at Northwestern who has written extensively on the connections between knowledge, technology, and economics. In a chapter on “Understanding Technological Progress,” he makes the following observation about the differences between technological and magical thinking that offers some insight into my dilemma:

It will not do to dismiss magic as irrational, because rationality is conditional on the information available, and without modern science it was impossible for people to know what worked and what did not. The important difference between technology and magic is not that technology works and magic does not. The difference that matters here is that magic does not control nature, it begs favors from it. Rather than exploiting regularities and natural laws, it seeks exceptions to them by taking advantage of an imaginary capriciousness of the universe. Moreover, technology, if it worked, worked for everyone, whereas magic was confined to qualified practitioners. The sorcerer’s apprentice had no access to his master’s powers. [Mokyr, p. 178]

There is a two-cultures divide here between those who accept magical explanations and those who want to take the black box apart. I run into it in three settings that offer somewhat differing perspectives.

First are the tool users in my immediate cicle of friends and family. They don’t really believe in magic; all they want to do is get on with their own work. Their curiosity is directed elsewhere. The incantations that make email go where it should or get the words from the screen onto the laser printer or the weblog are enough. Understanding how it works might, in some abstract way, be interesting but the practical value of such understanding is a mystery. The practical value lies not in making what I am doing now easier. It lies in making it easy for me to take my existing knowledge into new territory. If the universe is capricious, it is reasonable to expect that my incantations will be different on different days or different machines. If the universe is orderly (at least in some technological parts), I don’t need to learn special incantations. I can rely on orderliness to make educated guesses about what ought to work in the current circumstances.

Second, I run into situations in consulting where either I am the expert or I am working with someone who is there as the expert. One strategy, which I have been guilty of from time to time, is that of “consultant as wizard.” It’s a tempting strategy, especially in new and emerging areas. It’s also a strategy that many clients consciously or unconsciously encourage. Mokyr’s distinctions help me understand how to approach expertise in a more fruitful way. It is not about the content of what you do, it is about the attitude underlying the interaction. Do you believe that the material labeled “expertise” is, in principal, learnable and understandable. If so, then you are doing technology. If not, you are doing magic.

In a consulting project, I suspect that only one of the parties needs to adopt a technological perspective for things to work out. As long as either client or consultant approaches the work as potentially understandable, then it is. This still allows for the existence and value of expertise. There are many reasons why we can’t or shouldn’t be expert in all the things we need to be. But it does matter if we approach expertise as potentially acquirable (as “technology”) or whether we approach it as magic.

This leads to the final area I want to think about; technology vs. magic at a policy level. In this realm, magical thinking is more dangerous because it is harder to overcome from a single side. You cannot hope to untangle the issues around file-sharing networks or DMCA, for example, unless everyone deals with technology as technology and not magic. Ed Felten’s Freedom to Tinker weblog is the best counter-example I can think of. Felten starts with technology as technology and works to explain what is and is not possible from a technology perspective. But that only works for those who are willing to listen and to invest some time in learning. For those who choose to view technology as magic in these debates, pushback from those who view technology as technology (or engineering, I suppose) probably come across as petulant. When we say “I can’t”, they hear “I won’t.” While that might be a reasonable inference when dealing with adolescent children, it isn’t very helpful in a policy debate.

“Impossible” is a slippery word in policy debates or in debates at all for that matter. It’s actually a rhetorical attempt to stop the debate. Debaters generally ignore it or, better yet, look for the weakness in the underlying argument that the use of the word “impossible” is trying to conceal. This gets confusing because in certain technical settings, “impossible” means precisely that. Even the US Patent Office is smart enough to reject applications for perpetual motion devices without review because they violate the second law of thermodynamics. In these collisions between the rhetorical and technological uses of the word “impossible” you end up with lots of wishful thinking but little else. Again, Ed Felten has some excellent thoughts on this, in particular his comments about the “impossibility” of an almost general purpose computer.

Is there a solution to the problem of magical thinking? The current popularity of Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings suggests it will be hard. Science fiction author, David Brin offers an excellent essay in Salon on this peculiar relationship we want to have with technology. For me, the day-to-day answer is twofold. One is to look for opportunities to reveal the more interesting reality behind the magic when I’m helping others use the technology. The other is to always try to connect the magic to the makers of magic by making sure that the people who create the tools get credit.

Dave Winer goes to Harvard

Dave Winer goes to Harvard.

Dave Winer’s job hunt was pretty short. This is great news for academia.[Sebastien Paquet]

[Seblogging News]

Let me add my congratulations to “Dave Winer” on his upcoming stint as a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. Plugging Dave into another network ought to lead to some interesting and useful outcomes. I certainly know that I’ve gotten a lot out of hooking into his network (“Scripting News”, “Userland”, “Radio”), however peripherally.

I’ll be particularly interested in seeing how Dave develops his thinking on organizational uses of blogging:

If a weblog is used by a workgroup to keep the members informed, and to connect with other workgroups; and if their feeds are aggregated to inform shareholders, management, regulators, and other interested parties, you might measure the money-making in the form of money saved, or shortcuts found, or new ideas discovered, or blind alleys averted. Weblogs have a place in business that’s as strong as their place in decentralizing news gathering and reporting. [DaveNet]

I hope once he gets to Cambridge that he makes time to take a short walk across the Charles River and pay a visit to the Harvard Business School.