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Memorial Day


" It is impossible to be unmoved by the juxtaposition of the eternal stone- faced warrior and the disheveled modern military wife-turned-widow, him rigid in his dress uniform, her on the floor in her blanket nest, wearing glasses and a baggy T-shirt, him nearly concealed by shadow while the pale blue light from the computer screen illuminates her like God’s own grace." (from At War Blog)

What’s all the fuss about Facebook’s IPO?

I totally agree with Frank Bruni's account of the Facebook's IPO. It seems to me that if the current price of FB is pretty close to the offering price, then the bankers were doing their job.

I mean, as I see it, their job is to open the stock at a price that's as close as possible to it's true price, that is, what the market will think its worth. And common sense says the only way to find that out ('what the market will bear') is to put it on the market and see what the market will bear. If their research is excellent they will be able to somehow figure out what the market will bear, ahead of time, and offer it there.

I think that's just what happened! Good on them. From Frank Bruni's Article:

"Instead, virtually everyone who bought Facebook on that first day was making a one-day, get-rich-quick calculation. It didn't work out. Too bad." (from Facebook's Brilliant Disaster - NYT)

[EDUCATION] Sign of change in the universe

I would love to see this trend accelerate:

"The five-year-old [Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship] program, [Wake Forest University's] most popular minor, requires students to learn the practical aspects of starting a business. It is a sign of change in liberal-arts colleges, which are grappling with the responsibility of preparing students for a tight and rapidly shifting job market while still providing the staples of academic inquiry." (from Wall Street Journal)

This is really important in my opinion, and it's a big part of what we cover in the course I am co-teaching at Brandeis this year, "Web and Social Apps". The course starts next week and runs for 10 weeks, practically full time. During that course students go through the whole cycle of conceiving a product, designing, implementing and deploying it to the world. It's an exciting experience. Fairly exhausting for everyone involved, but worth it.

I wish all college students, especially in my field, Computer Science, were thought learn theory and critical thinking, but also got exposed (and were even required) to learn what I like to call "critical doing ". Working in teams, inventing and creating things that others could benefit of, could touch and feel, and could have an impact in the real world.

The truth is that in many Universities, this is not a priority today, but there is signs that the students and parents (the customers after all) are demanding this. Change is slow, but it is coming.

[EDUCATION] Crowd Sourcing your Strategy

The other day I referenced an article questioning the motivation and effectiveness of large scale strategic planning exercises in universities today.

In this vein I was interested to see this article describing how certain organizations have totally thrown open the process of developing and communicating strategy by employing some good old crowd sourcing.

"In 2009, Wikimedia1 launched a special wiki—one dedicated to the organization’s own strategy. Over the next two years, more than 1,000 volunteers generated some 900 proposals for the company’s future direction and then categorized, rationalized, and formed task forces to elaborate on them.

The result was a coherent strategic plan detailing a set of beliefs, priorities, and related commitments that together engendered among participants a deep sense of dedication to Wikimedia’s future.

Through the launch of several special projects and the continued work of self-organizing teams dedicated to specific proposals, the vision laid out in the strategic plan is now unfolding." (from The Social Side of Strategy)

Mark Twain: All Ideas are Second-Hand

I have often been heard to say: "Ideas are Cheap", by which I mean to say that my admiration goes more with the implementation, the making real and tangible, of an idea than the idea itself. It's much easier to come up with something that would be cool and useful ("A solar powered ambulance", "a retractable and reusable parachute", "email on steroids") than actually design it, build it, realize it.

I believe that as much about my own ideas as about anyone else's. BlogBridge was supposed to be "an RSS reader done right".

I have a few wonderful ideas for new products, like "Twittepedia" which is an encyclopedia with 140 character definitions. Wouldn't it be nice not to be able to learn what "geometry", or "racisim" or "bernoulli effect" are without having to read a 10,000 words wikipedia article?

There, I just gave it away. Why? Because ideas are cheap, and building that service and making it successful is what really counts.

As it turns out, Mark Twain had the same idea. So you see, even the idea that Ideas Are Cheap is itself cheap. How meta.

This is from Mark Twain's Letters, Volume 2 via Brain Pickings:

"…or substantially all ideas are second-hand , consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing…

… in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing — and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that…."

Social Networks: Good or Bad?

I've been doing quite a bit of reading about social networks in preparation for the 2012 edition of my Brandeis University Course, "Web and Social Applications". This morning I was preparing lecture notes for "Current Issues In Social Networks". Here are some good current links I have been able to find:

I have just come from a family reunion where there were people pulling out iPhones at 'inappropriate times' and other people debating what has happened to the art of conversation now that we are all Facebooking all the time. (Guilty as charged!)

So between the two I have spent some time thinking about this phenomenon and whether social networks and mobile phones together are a new kind of addictive behavior which is doing real damage to social interactions (that is, human to human, face to face.)

Or on the other hand, are they just an evolution of interaction and communication and anyone who doesn't see it as an equally valid way of interacting must be a fuddy duddy. Good question! And I don't really know the answer, not even what I myself think about it.

But this article by Zaynep Tufekci contains what for me is a profound insight or claim:

"Finally, I've previously argued that some people may be "cyberasocial," that is, they are unable or unwilling to invoke a sense of social presence through mediated communication, somewhat similar to the way we invoke language -- a fundamentally oral form -- through reading, which is a hack in our brain. I suspect such people may well be at a major disadvantage similar to the way people who could not or would not talk on the telephone would be in late 20th century." (from Social Media's Small Positive Role in Human Relationships)

In other words, I can imagine that when writing was 'invented' and more importantly I suppose, when writing was becoming accessible to everyone, that there were those who were bemoaning the loss of story telling and oral history.

I can imagine that when the telephone started becoming popular (as indicated in the quote above) there were those bemoaning that we no longer had to visit together by the fireplace but could just make a phone call.

I myself can remember people who refused to have an answering machine because they wanted to talk, or refused to leave a message because it was too impersonal.

But none of those foretold the end of civilization. They were evolutions which enriched and eventually became a commonplace aspect of the way we interact.

I think that 's a great insight: that being in community or sharing relationships through social media - to our Facebook friends or mailing lists or twitter or even sharing photos in Instagram may seem to be taking time away from our spending 'quality time' together.

But perhaps it's just the next evolution of sharing and relationships - not to displace what came before but adding a new dimension and a new valuable dimension to inter-personal relationships.

Bertrand Russell through the echo chamber

I saw this in Marginal Revolution, who saw this in BrainPickings who got this somehow from Bertrand Russell. Still some thought provoking and maybe good advice:

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

-- Attributed to Bertrand Russel, via BrainPickings via Marginal Revolution

[GAMING] Article about game designer Jonathan Blow

A good article in the Atlantic about game designer Jonathan Blow. Interesting quote:

"I continued. “You’ve been chasing some deep form of understanding all your life, and what I think you’ve found is that questing after that knowledge brings alienation with it.

The further you’ve gone down that road, the further it’s taken you from other people. So the knowledge is ultimately destructive to your life, just like the atom bomb was—it’s a kind of truth that has a cataclysmic impact.

You thought chasing that knowledge would make you happy, but like Tim, part of you eventually wished you could turn back time and do things over again.” (from Atlantic Magazine)

And read this thought provoking way to represent a fourth spacial dimension visually. I don't know whether it works but the description makes it sound quite amazing:

"Well,” ten Bosch countered, “this is what it would be like if there were.” And that was about the last thing he said that I understood for quite a while, as he and Blow chatted avidly about extruding surfaces and imagining flat planes as tubes.

In Miegakure , two spatial dimensions are constant, and the player solves puzzles by swapping between the two others with the press of a button. (fromAtlantic Magazine)

If you read the comment thread on the article you see that this guy (Blow) elicits a lot of negativity because supposedly his games aren't actually that good, and he's so full of himself. I haven't looked at the games so I can just go by what the article says, but I liked what I read!

Field Of Dreams: Americans Elect

Americans Elect got Tom Friedman to endorse their effort to get a third party presidential ballot in November. He wrote about it and convinced me too that it was a good idea. A month or two ago I started having misgivings and now, it seems like things are really turning sour for Americans Elect.

An article in Techpresident.Com paints a pretty bleak picture:

"Americans Elect is the best example of the Field of Dreams Fallacy I have ever observed. The organization spent a reported $9 million building a cutting edge platform, assuming that high-priced technology and a mainstream media blitz would result in a centrist groundswell that revolutionizes American politics. It built no participatory community, and assumed that the Internet would magically serve one up for them. The result has been an all- too-predictable failure." (from

Maybe we didn't understand the dynamics of the web well enough:

"Maybe, just maybe, this was prove a high-enough profile blunder that we'll learn something from it about the limits of online politics from it.

The lowered transaction costs of the web help to reveal the true demand curve for citizen politics. That can prove transformative -- particularly around issues where there's pent-up demand, but traditionally high barriers to participation." (from

But that didn't happen:

"That's not the case with voting, however. The barriers to voting aren't very high. People don't follow politics because they don't like politics. For issues where no one was particularly motivated, and barriers were already pretty low, the new media environment doesn't change outcomes.

There is no radical center in American politics. Build the nicest platform money can buy for a disinterested population and you're still going to be left hearing the chirp of online crickets." (from