Misery and Memoirs

Benjamin Kunkel's article Misery Loves a Memoir in this morning's New York Times Sunday Book Review struck a chord. In describing the literary form of memoirs and autobiography, he considers (what I consider) the self-indulgence of those who write about adversarial suffering or victimization, and their victory/epiphany. Like Kunkel, I wince when encountering it. Kunkel, however, provided me this morning with an excellent explanation of why I wince. While his writing in this article sometimes gets in the way of his point, I enjoyed (? -- appreciated) his explication.

"A lie exposed is a fantasy revealed, and here, in the cases of James Frey and JT LeRoy, was the fantasy underlying contemporary autobiographical writing: Suffering produces meaning. Life is what happens to you, not what you do. Victim and hero are one. Hence the preponderance of memoirs having to do with mental illness, sexual and other violence, drug and alcohol addiction, bad parents and/or mad or missing loved ones. "


Contemporary memoirs tend to be either convalescent or nostalgic in mood. (It's as Augustine said in his "Confessions": "I remember with joy a sadness that has passed and with sadness a lost joy.") But is there nothing more to life than recovery and grief? Is there no idea of the good life we can sustain beyond the possession of health?


The best and most Romantic memoir an American has produced is "Walden" — though nobody calls it one. But it is: Here is what I did with a few years of my life and how I feel about it now. What Thoreau has to overcome during his time in the woods is not a lapse in mental health. His great problem is to escape the mental health of his neighbors, their collection-plate opinions, their studious repetition of gossip.

Technorati Tags:


Collaboration - on the tail of the Hype Curve?

I was struck by a couple of thoughts while reading David Berlind's post on RSS as the new intranet protocol -- the "application layer" protocol that actually delivers the basis for collaboration. The first is that we're now so "wealthy" in terms of the technology infrastructure and underpinnings, that we may be on the verge of getting collaboration right. The second thought was about the collaboration "meme" of years ago, and how the present attention to "innovation" reminds me of it. I'll write about the second thought separately.

"Collaboration" and "workgroup" technologies have had at least two, perhaps three "bumps" that I can recall, starting first with e-mail and computer conferencing, monolithic all-singing-all-dancing applications (like Lotus Notes), the use of IM in the workplace and now wikis.

I tend to agree with David that, with wiki's PLUS the underlying, unsung protocol underpinnings like SIP, RSS, SMTP, IMAP, LDAP, et al are capable of providing the

RSS: The new intranet protocol? | Between the Lines |


The situation did not bode well for collaboration which itself was an abused word. People talked about collaboration like it was some new thing that employees at companies now did because Draconian technologies (by today's standards) enabled it. Somehow, we kept losing sight of the fact that companies and organizations don't exist without collaboration. When you strip collaboration down to its bare essence, you have people, you have some record of their collaboration (eg: documents), and generally, there's some way of letting those who are collaborating know when something has happened or is about to happen (notification). The problem was, and to a large extent, still is that there are different and proprietary systems and protocols to technologically support all the activities associated with collaboration.

Collaboration is often too formal. In other words, you don't collaborate until someone says, "OK, let's collaborate." In order to say "Let's collaborate" you need to schedule a meeting with a proprietary group calendaring system. Letting everyone know that you're about to collaborate requires notification which 99 times out of 100 depends on email. Then once you start collaborating, a record of that collaboration has to be documented using a proprietary documentation technology (eg: word processors, spreadsheets, or presentation applications).

The timely death of formality in collaboration that David asserts can be brought about through judicious use of wikis is ... believable. Collaborative editing, coupled with RSS (for notification) and user-customizable incorporation of realtime and time-shifted technologies like IM, web-conferencing, e-mail, and file sub-pub should be doable.

No one's packaged it yet. But, then, I'm not yet sure it can be. This is worth a couple of evenings at the whiteboard... or, perhaps, as a group endeavor using this blog and a wiki!!

Technorati Tags: , ,


How to Be Silicon Valley

At lunch today with Rohit Khare of CommerceNet, he mentioned my 'blog post regarding the nature of startups and what I encountered in Chicago. He then pointed me to this essay from Paul Graham, with which I immediately resonated.

How to Be Silicon Valley

Could you reproduce Silicon Valley elsewhere, or is there something unique about it?

It wouldn't be surprising if it were hard to reproduce in other countries, because you couldn't reproduce it in most of the US either. What does it take to make a silicon valley even here?

What it takes is the right people. If you could get the right ten thousand people to move from Silicon Valley to Buffalo, Buffalo would become Silicon Valley. [1]

That's a striking departure from the past. Up till a couple decades ago, geography was destiny for cities. All great cities were located on waterways, because cities made money by trade, and water was the only economical way to ship.

Now you could make a great city anywhere, if you could get the right people to move there. So the question of how to make a silicon valley becomes: who are the right people, and how do you get them to move? ...

Graham posits that the recipe is "rich people and nerds." He then goes on to refine what he means by both terms, creating a taxonomy for each, and identifying specifically the flavors of rich and nerd that make it happen.

Technorati Tags: , ,


Phones on a plane... !!

This morning's email distribution of InformationWeek had this gem:

Winner Of In-Flight Broadband Spectrum Wants Cell Phones On Planes, Too

AirCell wants to connect people to their cell phones on flights. Many passengers dread the thought.

The last sentence of the tag line pretty much sums up my feelings.

Technorati Tags:


More or Less?

While riding on the train, two items stuck with me during the scan of this morning's technology news and commentary.

The first was the facts and then the speculation/prognostication about Google's release of Google Spreadsheets. FIrst there was the facts as reported by John Markoff in the NY Times and then the smoke and heat generated within the blogosphere -- everything from yawn to the impending destruction of Microsoft. As I read through some of this, I had to shake my head in wonderment. Both the SaaS and desktop application have value and their own time and place. If I can use my GMail account from any browser, with reasonable results (so long as the network connection is fast enough and reliable), AND manage my various e-mail accounts with a desktop application ... including the GMail account's traffic ... then I'm a happy guy.

Then I read Phil Windley's post regarding Jason Fried and the 37 Signals products.

I’ve used [37Signals' products Basecamp and Writeboard] in my lab at BYU to great effect. At IT Conversations, however, we found that they just weren’t right for the project management tasks we had. Obviously, these tools aren’t right for everyone and that’s the story.

Right. That is the strory. There's a time and place for both.

I can imagine using Google Spreadsheets for

  • quick and dirty models that don't require lots of esoteric functions, transformations, pivot tables and the like; and,

  • collaborative efforts, with the spreadsheet acting as a structured, shared whiteboard that supports both synchronous groups of participants and diachronous groups. (yes... you read it right ... diachronous, not asynchronous. Look it up.)

The massive battle and impending doom of either company just doesn't make sense to me. It SHOULD, however, make some difference to Microsoft which could put both kinds of offer into the market -- Excel and SaaSheets which would look more like the functionality (and usability) we had with Excel in 1997.

Technorati Tags: