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  past petermemes

August 30, 2000
Poontang--it just won't stop.
A few recent developments on the poontang front.

The song that started this all, "Oh! Mister Mitchell" (which contains the phrase, "I'm crazy 'bout your sweet poontang") can be found on Clara Smith--Complete Recorded Works, Vol 5 (1927-1929), on could be a use pre-dating the OED's earliest known usage.

petermeme reader Chris Tung sent along this passage from Diane Ackerman's The Natural History of The Senses:

"... in many European languages the slang names for prostitutes are variations on the Indo-European root pu, to decay or rot. In French, putain; to the Irish, old put; in Italian, putta; puta in both Spanish and Portuguese. Cognate words are putrid, pus, suppurate, and putorius (referring to the skunk family)." (Pg. 21)

And, perhaps most delightfully, Bart Everson, sent me, by actual postal mail, a videotape containing a brief documentary on the word "poontang," where a number of people were asked what it means, how to use it in a sentence, and where it came from. Unfortunately, this video isn't available on the Web, but poking around Bart's site will turn up a bunch of stuff.

August 28, 2000
Cool coworker sites. So, I've just stumbled across a couple of sites created by folks with whom I work.

Sciencebookguide.com is the work of PHP guru Joyce and her husband Tim. Great collection of popular science books to read (I've already added a couple to my Amazon wish list!). I'm a fan of the Time Scales navigation, though it takes a bit to get the hang of it. The pair also run MysteryGuide.com, for fans of that genre.

Tpodd.com is Todd's personal blog. He's on my creative team. He misses Texas.

August 24, 2000
Self-organizing knowledge.
Among many links on the intriguing Symbiotic Intelligence Project page are ones to the Principia Cybernetica Web, which features tons on self-organization, evolutionary theory, etc, including this piece on adaptive hypertext, which shifts connections based on use. One of the researchers, Johan Bollen, has worked on other similar projects, and I found his essay "A system to restructure hypertext networks into valid user models"[.PDF] insightful. He has more recent publications, but they're all in postscript and stuff.

August 21, 2000
In the blog world.
Jason's posted a new episode of 0sil8. I love the signs, but what struck me most is how much his writing has improved. He's far more confident with words.

Holy shit. Good healing thoughts are sent out to Fred. Remember--don't laugh, it'll only make it hurt more. ; )

Informing texts. Spurred by a discussion of books that information architects read that aren't about information architecture (How Buildings Learn, Understanding Comics, A Pattern Language), Christina is compiling a list.

I thought I'd augment with a personal list of texts that have informed my thought, though they're hardly part of any IA 'canon.' This list is by no means exhaustive.

--> Do you have books you want to share? Discuss! (I'm trying out a new technology here, wanna see if it's worthwhile.)

Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House: Writings 1973-1994, Bill Viola and Film Form, Sergei Eisenstein. Formalist theoretical thoughts from leading practitioners of their respective fields. The kind of stuff that makes your mind expand to accommodate new modes of thinking.

Collections of essays by Stephen Jay Gould. The mechanics of evolution are important when thinking about any system, and Gould's writing was among the first (and still among the best) I consumed. Prof. Tim White also deserves credit for turning me on to human evolution (which no doubt led to interests in cognitive science, etc.)

Forever Barbie, M.G. Lord. An odd choice? Well, her fascinating look at how folks actually use Barbie, which often goes against how they "should" play with the doll, reveals that all the design intent in the world is helpless against a user's desires.

Designing Disney's Theme Parks, Karal Ann Marling. A worthwhile peek into the processes of brilliant "experience designers."

The Evolution of Useful Things, Henry Petroski. Petroski's subject matter is always more interesting than his writing style. This book chronicles the history of seemingly mundane objects, showing that 'getting stuff out there' is often the best course for design.

The Annotated Alice, Lewis Carroll and Martin Gardner. It says something that my first conscious exposure to the Alice books were in annotated form.

How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, Lenny Bruce. His autobiography.

The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell. More thoughts here.

"Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media", Peter Wintonick, Mark Achbar. An exemplary documentary-as-information-design. Truly helps shape an "experience" around the information.

"Fast, Cheap and Out of Control", Errol Morris. If nothing else, for introducing me to the work of roboticist Rodney Brooks. An amazing and enigmatic work.

Zen, Lenny Bruce, and User-Centered Design and Information Architecture. In a mailing list discussion, a participant wondered if IA's read/follow/understand Zen, as both deal with disassociating language with the reality it represents.

An interesting thought, which spurred a mental tangent about another aspect of Zen, which is accepting the world as it is. This was perhaps best expressed by Lenny Bruce, whose guiding sentiment was to discuss the world as it is, not as it should be--and it was this seemingly harmless philosophy that got him into deep trouble.

User-centered designers ought to be bound by a similar approach. I often find myself in the role of heretic, screaming, "But why on earth do you expect people would do that? Sure, it would be great for our system, but those folks don't give a fuck about our system!"

This all ties to the notes about subversion from the previous entry. Truth and honesty are subversive.

August 18, 2000
Goddamn clueless corporate tools.
So, it turns out Mastercard is suing Ralph Nader for his presidential campaign ad that plays off their 'priceless' thing.

Design as tool of subversion. This came up during Advance for Design 3. There's a feeling among the design community that its main goal, which is to benefit the lives of other people, often runs contrary, or at least orthogonally, to the goal of business, which is to make piles of money. Designers fear they're marginalized, or, worse, invisible, their contributions not really understood, and accepted only as some kind of necessary evil.

It's probably true that designers are more humanist than business types. At the conference, discussions occurred about 'making the world a better place,' talks likely not to happen at an all-MBA affair (unless it were sponsored by Ben and Jerry's).


Is that what we want? Assimilation? To be "accepted"? Ideally, designers would call the shots, and it would be the role of business folks to figure out how to sustain design artifacts. But in our market reality, business is in charge, and design is a (valuable) resource to promote business ends.

I'd argue that it's Design's somewhat outsider status that allows us an iconoclastic voice within business' halls. That the tension is a good thing. That in order to be made more visible, we'd need to compromise our stance.

I'm reminded of Jan Abrams' Long Lake IV Design Camp, where graphic artist extraordinaire David Shields read from Coyote Trickster tales and discussed the subversive power designers wield, as the shapers of communication.

Frankly, how many of us would be interested in design if it weren't a bit edgy, contrarian? I find much of its appeal lies in calling to question that which is commonly accepted. Sure, we have to pay for it in exasperation of others not 'getting it,' can't expect it to be *all* fun, can we?

Amazing and disturbing. "Screenshots" is a series of images depicting real and fictional events done in an isometric video game style.

Scott McCloud speaks. To Feed. Good little interview.

August 17, 2000
Cartographic Geekery.
David Weinberger's write-up on "Mapping the Web" provides a number of good thoughts and resources on visualizing web spaces. He wisely distinguishes maps that explicate how the Web actually works, and maps that help us navigate web space.

David mentions the Eames film Powers of 10, and a little poking around turned up this webified version. Unfortunately, it's not wholly true to the original, which was set in Chicago. Though the site mentions Chicago and Illinois, it uses pictures of San Francisco and California. Still, the basic idea comes across.

In a reply to him, I wrote:

Love the mapping talk. This has been an interest for a while.

Have you pursued "self organizing maps"? For some reason, all the research in this area is coming out of Finland.

SOMs work similarly to things like Autonomy, where it somehow 'understands' the information, and creates maps of relevance based on that.

Google is, to some degree, a map that uses how people link to determine relevance.

There have been essentially no good visualizations of internet mapping, though, you mentioned some interesting ones (thebrain, thinkmap).

I would add WebStalker developed by manifesto-driven Brits as another interesting visualization (though it focuses on individual websites, and not whole webspaces).

Another great general resource is The Big Picture(sm): Visual Browsing in Web and non-Web Databases

August 15, 2000
Back from Telluride. Spent the past weekend at the third Advance for Design conference. Amazing group of folks. Lots of good conversations. A fair amount of concern as to whether or not these are the people with whom I align. Personal/professional highlight--meeting Brenda Laurel (who, as she sat down in her aisle seat, informed me she had 'the world's smallest bladder.') I've got tons I want to say about the conference experience--it will take me a while to get it all down.

The city of Telluride is a former mining town nestled in the crags of the Rockies. Dramatically breathtaking, both figuratively (it's beautiful) and literally (ahh, the high altitude). Sadly, I didn't have the time to be outdoorsy.

Clicky-clicky fun! I'm quite a fan of the Ted Baker online store. E-commerce for fashionistas. By presenting the whole shopping experience in flash (including forms and checkout), it points to a very possible direction for the Web. Elegantly designed, I'm impressed with how Flash is used to break from the page paradigm and offers a more holistic GUI experience. But what's really great are the thoughtful touches--watch the introductory screen for a bit, the one with the guy floating in the water.

August 9, 2000
Dang! It's been a week since I last wrote.
Been travelling (to Las Vegas), working (nose to the grindstone), and hanging out. Little time for updates.

The whole 'poontang' thing seems to have come to a couple of dead ends. I'm still not satisfied with the preferred putain origin, but the dessert/pie/pudding root ended up going nowhere.

I've been on a The Who kick recently. Wrote a Media Nugget on The Who Sell Out, and am currently listening to Who's Next. Though Tommy was very much a product of its time, both TWSO and Who's Next are amazingly forward thinking. The former features a kind of media-weary ironic detachment that took until the mid-90s to become popular, while the latter features both amazingly progressive sounds (I could argue Baba O'Riley's synth is still unsurpassed) and lyrics ("meet the new boss, same as the old boss!").

Coworker tpodd pointed me to "So you wanna fake being an indie rock expert?" which, according to my indie rock friends, is dead on.

Coworker ginzu pointed me to "Tokyo Films" a collection of Koyaanisqatsi-esque Quicktime mood vignettes.

August 2, 2000
Jakob shakes his groove thing. Watch the "Many Moods of Jakob". (via Kottke)

August 1, 2000
Buy my stuff!
Well, there's only one thing so far. A sure-fire cure for what stumps you in Web design.

July 31, 2000
Thoughts on Napster.
So, everyone and their mother is chiming in about Napster. I figured I'd get on the bandwagon. First, some thoughts on Napster from my buddy Trav (trav at majorleaguemarket dot com):

I am, of course, downloading tracks from Napster as I write this. I am aware that the injunction, intended to shut them down tonight, was stayed, but not everyone knows that, and so there's still an air of desperation in the Napster community, so everyone's online, so there's a lot of great hard-to-find stuff up there right now.

Damndest part of it is, I'm not one of those diehard information-should-be-free netheads preaching open source to the bitter end, like the software developer at the Napster hearings. (I just preach open source to somewhere within spitting distance of the bitter end.) I recognize the rights to such intellectual property as music, and I don't think it's okay to steal from people because they happen to be successful. (Yes, I know you and others buy more CDs because of Napster -- congratulations to all five of you.) But Napster happens to be well-presented genius, something people always needed but didn't know it until recently.

In fact, my favorite thing to hit the net since napster.com is ... stopnapster.com . Their site represents a group effort to really shut down Napster, by attacking the principles that make it work.

Stop Napster advocates the creation of Trojan Horses and "Napster bombs" -- files that look like Britney Spears' latest release but contain four minutes of static or barking dogs, or, even more obnoxious, half a minute of the real music followed by Charlton Heston saying that theft is bad. (I'm not making this up.) When these files are available on a network, it's harder to actually get a good copy of the song you want. Maybe even as hard as borrowing and copying a friend's CD.

At the risk of sounding like a generalizing buffoon, the Internet allows people to do what they want. Direct communication between any two members of a community is a powerful tool, it's what the net is based on, it provides decentralization which was the whole military purpose of its creation. If you're reading this, I probably don't need to tell you that shutting down Napster only causes a bunch more people to use, say, Gnutella -- which eliminates the single point of failure that's present in Napster's file-swapping network.

But Stop Napster doesn't target a single point of failure, it launches its assault against the trusting network of files -- and makes it untrustworthy. Open source works well when it benefits everybody. No one ever had a reason to flood IMDB with faulty movie information, or write buggy Apache modules. It doesn't necessarily go so smoothly when there's a large contingent of folks who get hurt, because they're just as empowered as you are. They want to stop the trading of their songs, and the net allows Stop Napster's approach to do that. Better yet, Stop Napster hinders the sharing of selected copyrighted songs while leaving undisputed material intact, as easy to get as ever.

The record industry, of course, isn't going about it the right way. They erect more of the same kind of barriers that net-empowered file transfers can vault right over anyway. The beauty of stopnapster is that it uses the same weapons Napster does. The ability for any unknown to join the Napster network is the root of its success, but that also allows saboteurs to make it harder to use effectively. (Much in the same way that advertisers have started to hit napster -- I've had the opportunity to download a file called "Napster down? Visit sharetraxx.com".)

So what comes next? Bigger weapons to defeat open file-sharing, and even bigger weapons to defeat those? Do you get the feeling you're walking down a dusty old Main Street where everyone in the local saloon is packing heat? The old metaphor for the internet as the wild west is not unfounded. Everyone's protecting their own self-interests.

We like to think that we've evolved beyond the point where you shoot the guy that steals your horse. And we have. Maybe we even have some respect for others. But worldwide file-sharing is a new phenomenon, and no one's familiar with its ramifications, and its evolution has barely begun. The RIAA, stripped of its stranglehold on distribution, will find a way to coexist with buyers that want reasonably-priced music. Lars Ulrich and others won't be laughed off the stage when they want to exercise control over their own products. With this new generation that's more capable of taking action than ever before, I'm curious to see how it turns out.

And from me, following Lance's post and some discussions I've had on mailing lists about this:

I think there's a distinct problem with this whole discussion, because it's conflating two issues that need to be considered separately.

Issue 1: The technology that enables peer-to-peer file distribution

Issue 2: Copyright infringement, copyright law, etc.

Peer-to-peer file distribution is not the same thing as copyright infringement. One can happily use napster (or gnutella or freenet) and benefit from its file sharing capabilities, and not infringe on an artist's copyright. Or, one can use p-to-p to trade pirated music, video, software. P-to-p is an amoral environment. The technology doesn't care what you do with it.

Wanting to stop or control p-to-p is like wanting to stop or control the Web. The Web is a far greater violator of copyright infringement than Napster. But it's also proven to be an amazing forum for personal publishing. And finally, the Web has proven most useful in how it supports interactions which its founders never intended--I don't think Tim Berners-Lee foresaw Webvan or Schwab.com or even fray.com when he was noodling around in 1992.

And so my point with issue 1 is that we're WAY TOO EARLY to begin even thinking about exerting control in this space. Distributed file sharing is an extremely nascent technology whose possibilities haven't really even begun to be explored (in large part because of the smokescreen that is 'MP3' that's taken all the intention).

As to issue 2, well, copyright and property law is hardly a new thing. The law says that copyright infringement is Bad. I keep hearing the defense that, well, copyright holders are assholes, so things that infringe on copyright are not really all that bad. Which strikes me as a specious argument.

And if I hear one more person say that "Napster has lead me to buy more CDs" I'll scream. That is so *not* the point of this discussion as to be little more than a way to detract from the real issue at hand. The RIAA and ASCAP have worked out a system with the radio industry to play their copywritten music. Perhaps they'll see Napster as another similar medium, perhaps not. Whatever they do, as representatives of the rights holders, it's *their* decision to make, not 'the community's'.