Why blogs matter, by the Kennedy School

The next time someone asks you what blogs are good for, tell them, “Well, according to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, they kept the heat on Trent Lott for his racist tribute to Strom Thurmond and forced Lott’s resignation as speaker of the House.” Read the case study (PDF) here; it may be the most impressive write-up on the power of weblogs that I’ve seen yet. (Courtesy Scripting News; and of course Dave’s fingerprints are all over this case.)

Letter to Jack Spicer

Dear Jack,

In your first book, After Lorca, you wrote a letter to Lorca saying you wanted to make a poem out of a real lemon, not the description of a lemon. Very good; Jenny Holzer has done stranger things. You also say

I would like the moon in my poems to be a real moon, one which could be suddenly covered with a cloud that has nothing to do with the poem—a moon utterly independent of images. The imagination pictures the real. I would like to point to the real.

Today we can do that, Jack, kind of. This letter is a poem that points to other poems, other poets. But links break and rot just like your lemon does, Jack, and I’m not sure that what’s left is still in correspondence (as you say with those sly italics) with the lemon.

There are search engines, Jack, whose job it is to help you find the real lemon. Unfortunately, some of them don’t understand me.

I am building a house on sand, Jack, and trying to build it high enough to touch the sky. But the sand keeps slipping out from under me. And my words turn into other languages and are lost.

What to do?



What kind of death march are you on?

Great article in Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine about “death march” projects. Object oriented guru Ed Yourdon taxonomizes those difficult, never ending, no room for error projects according to happiness level and chance of success. High happiness, high chance of success projects are “mission impossible”—everyone wants to make the project succeed, against all odds. There are also “suicide,” “kamikaze,” and “ugly” projects; see the article for the descriptions.

If you have spent any time in the IT industry at all you probably recognize some of those project descriptions. You may even have managed one or two. This is the interesting part for me: Yourdon’s book, Death March: The Complete Software Developer’s Guide to Surviving “Mission Impossible” Projects, gives guidance for managers on how to manage these projects.

Credit where due: link courtesy of Scoble.

On knowing the Dog

Someone asked me last night to describe what my depression was like. It was interesting; except for sessions with my therapist I never had tried to put it in words to anyone.

I said: I found it hard to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes I found it impossible to sleep at night. I lost interest in my work, in reading, in eating, in writing.

The worst part, though, was what my brain was doing. Or rather, not doing. I would stare at a computer screen for hours, berating myself for not doing anything constructive, then berating myself for wasting time berating myself. I would find myself confused and angry for being so stupid as to waste my own time and work, to spend days doing nothing and finishing nothing, but when I tried to do anything I would convince myself that it was such bad work that I could hardly bring myself to finish it.

I think this is what most studies of depression miss. Over time, it turns into a self reinforcing loop, a cycle that tears the sufferer apart.

The tyranny of numbers

Jakob Nielsen’s latest column, about the dangers of quantitative studies, is out. In a nutshell, he argues that numbers lie. Misrepresentation of statistical significance, confusing correlation and causality, ignoring covariant variables, over-simplifying analysis, and out and out distortion of the measurements are of course all potential pitfalls in any research, and it’s good to point them out. Of course, I have a copy of How to Lie with Statistics on my bookshelf that made the same point fifty years ago—and made it more entertainingly.

There’s also an interesting connection to Mark Hurst’s column from two weeks ago about the “Page Paradigm.” Nielsen, who has been advocating breadcrumb navigation and other usability features for years, rises like a brook trout to Hurst’s bait that breadcrumbs, unless they help the user fulfill their one purpose in visiting, are useless. He makes cogent points about users who drop into a site from a search engine or other outside links, or who might want to revisit a site, but still I have to wonder whether the timing of that particular discussion is coincidence.

Still, I have to agree with his fundamental point that quant isn’t everything. I was recently in a situation where we had mounds of hard quantitative data—we were, almost literally, drowning in it—but couldn’t solve our fundamental challenge. Had we been able to run a few focus groups, we could have zeroed in on the problem much more effectively.

Ktaabaa taab hwaa meneyh

From The Guardian, a list of potentially useful Aramaic phrases for those going to see Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Funny, mostly, especially “Aamar naa laak dlaa yaada’ naa haw gavraa. B-aynaa feelmaa hwaa?” (I tell you I do not know the man. What’s he been in?) and the title of this post, which apparently translates as, “It’s not as good as the book.”

That, incidentally, is the family joke about the movie. My grandmother once went to see The Ten Commandments with my grandfather, but came back early, saying she had already read the book. I pretty much feel the same way about Gibson’s effort, which is why I haven’t seen it yet.