Semi-Annual Roundup 2011 and Highlights for New Readers

Since A Brief History of the Corporation has gone unexpectedly viral (it’s been featured on, andrewsullivan, boingboing (via Cory Doctorow) and among others) there’s been a bit of a jump in new readers, from 3000 to 3300 or so RSS subscribers (damn, I really am threatening to break out of the D-list here). So I thought I’d do a semi-annual roundup covering the posts from the last 6 months or so to give new readers a chance to do a Vegas-style buffet over the weekend. I usually only do annual roundups. Here are the 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007 roundups. For the new readers, I’ve also included a highlights reel of selected older posts that give you a taste of what ribbonfarm is about.

So here we go.

Roundup, January – June, 2011

It’s been a weird first half for 2011. I feel like I’ve been juggling a chain saw, a bowling ball and a flaming torch for the last few months. I launched Tempo (both the book and the website), boot-strapped my free-agent consulting and pan-handling life, and did a major 3-week meet-the-readers couchsurfing road trip from DC to land here in Las Vegas, the Delinquent Capital of the World. So I am actually pretty proud that I not only kept the action going on the main stage here at ribbonfarm, but managed to produce quite a few posts that I’d mark as candidates for the highlights reel (in bold below).

  1. The Las Vegas Rules II: Stuff Science
  2. A Brief History of the Corporation: 1600 to 2100
  3. The Las Vegas Rules I: The Slightly Malevolent Universe
  4. Sexual Personae by Camille Paglia (guest post by Stefan King)
  5. My Experiments with Introductions
  6. The Russian Fox and the Evolution of Intelligence (guest post by Brian Potter)
  7. Extroverts, Introverts, Aspies and Codies
  8. Cognitive Archeology of the West (guest post by Paula Hay)
  9. The Return of the Barbarian
  10. Where the Wild Thoughts Are (my “going free agent” post)
  11. Waiting versus Idleness
  12. The Disruption of Bronze
  13. Boundary Condition Thinking
  14. The Gollum Effect
  15. How Leveraged are Your Resolutions?

Highlights Reel for New Readers

A new reader, @mcburton, recently tweeted:

christ @vgr, your @ribbonfarm blog is a damned rathole. i feel like I’m following you through a hypermaze backwards.

He’s apparently not alone. Lately there’s been an up-tick in the number of readers who seem inclined to dive into the archives and… keep going. Perhaps it has something to do with the recession. I have no idea what they are looking for, but in the last 2-3 months, at least a half-dozen people seem to have completed what I have started calling the Ribbonfarm Absurdity Marathon: backtracking through almost four years worth of archives and reading a significant chunk of it. Apparently without meaning to, I’ve created a gamified, teaser-linked jungle of incomplete thoughts, all woven together with a cryptic ribbonfarm vocabulary, which works like crack cocaine on some people. Like the show Lost. Speaking of crack cocaine, you should read The Gollum Effect, item 14 above.

And speaking of “damned rathole-hypermaze,” if you don’t want to plough doughtily through the archives like the Absurd Marathoners, but just want a cleanly-curated and legible introductory tour, or “introductory sequences” a la, I am afraid I can’t help you.  But I can offer you something of an incoherent highlights reel of non sequiturs. It’s going to sound a little bit like Homer Simpson’s  bicep-curl count in the episode Marge’s Son Poisoning:

Homer: 16, 98, 54, banana

I’ll start the highlights reel with a rationalization of why the messiness is a good thing. This post covers probably the most fertile meme I’ve ever blogged about, in terms of the sheer impact on the rest of my blogging and the fantastic conversations it has sparked. It didn’t go viral, but it is probably the most important post on the site.

A Big Little Idea Called Legibility

There is a good chance that this post, which helped popularize the ideas of James Scott outside the political science classrooms where they are normally discussed, may be among my enduring contributions to the blogosphere.

Next up, another diving-in point for the rathole-hypermaze is the much-celebrated, Slashdotted crowd-favorite, the post that put me on the map. Weighing in at nearly 24,000 words for the 4-part series so far, in the Blue Corner, I give you…

The Gervais Principle

It’s a series that’s been evolving since 2009, with the last part due any day now. You can navigate through it using the widget on the right sidebar.

After that crowd favorite (which has practically come to define this blog) a personal favorite that to my mind captures the spirit of this site and the idea of “refactored perception.”

The Parrot

Next up in our little highlights reel with a critic’s choice award, which goes to…

The Epic Story of Container Shipping

Why? Because this post — another book review actually — received what I personally consider to be the biggest compliment my work has received to date: it was tweeted by @GreatDismal, aka William Gibson, author of The Neuromancer.

How about a change of pace? Ribbonfarm is pretty much all analysis and philosophy, with hardly any prescription. This is probably the closest I’ve ever gotten to prescription. It also got me accusations of being all snooty and superior from some people.

How to Take a Walk

And finally, to wrap it up, from the “Before I was Slightly Famous” department, a post from the early days in 2007 that probably planted the Slightly Evil fragment of DNA into this blog.

The 15 Laws of Meeting Power

The writing was quite awful back then, since I hadn’t yet discovered anything even remotely resembling a voice, but I figured it might be fun. That Slightly Evil seed, by the way, has since sprouted and matured into its own illegible corner of the Ribbonfarm Global Empire, the Be Slightly Evil mailing list, which now has over a thousand members. Proof that the world is not as full of nice, non-evil people as you might think.

So there you go. I hope that sampler is enough for you to decide whether to hang around or leave.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Hi Venkat,

    Like a lot of people, I found your blog via the corporation piece, which has been running through my head ever since — I spent an hour last night reading about Robert Clive. Fascinating history and a fascinating piece. Have you read Neal Stephenson’s “Quicksilver” trilogy? It deals, roughly, with the beginning of banking in Europe, about a century before Clive, and the beginnings of real globalism. Dense stuff and long — each book is like eight hundred pages — but smart and thought-provoking.

    I’m guessing by your posts that you’re finding Vegas kind of a weird place to be. I completely understand — I’ve lived in Vegas since 1998 and I’m still not used to being here. If you ever want someone to actually buy you that sponsorship coffee IRL, give me a shout. I know having a random stranger offer to buy you coffee is odd, especially in a city full of maniacs and sociopaths like Las Vegas, but we seem to run in similar online circles and probably know a few of the same people; Google me and you’ll see what I mean. I’m not a sociopath, though “maniac” is always in question. ;-p

    Either way, keep up the good work — you’ve got fascinating ideas!

    • Sure, there seem to be a couple more people around Vegas as well. Would be great to meet up. I actually meet tons of readers wherever I can, and so far nobody has tried to kill me with an axe :)

      I’ll email you.

      Neal Stephenson is now high on the radar. The recommendation keeps coming up lately, but I’ve never read any.

  2. A suggestion: How about releasing a collection of your best writings as a Kindle e-book? You have enough material for a couple of volumes.

  3. Thanks for this. I prefer not to subscribe to RSS since I access the blog via twitter, but you can count me down as another frequent visitor. I found this blog from your Quora answer referencing the corporation piece. Like everyone above, I found it to be incredible. I look forward to learning a lot from this blog and your Quora answers. Thanks.

  4. Thank you! I’ve been trying to find a “best of’ post for a couple of days now. I discovered your blog through the “Being L egible Person” post on Thursday – since then, I’ve taken on the Ribbonfarm Absurdity Marathon as well. In my free time during the last 48 hours, I’ve read the entire Way of the Sociopath (side tracks included) and every entry in the Be Slightly Evil Archives. Your posts are more addictive than crystal meth!!!!