A Bumper May Harvest of Good Reading

I am headed out on a trip after a hectic week, so I didn’t have time to pipeline a new post for the week. Fortunately for me, I’ve reaped a bumper harvest of unusually good reading on the Web in the last week, so I thought I’d share a selection. If you follow @ribbonfarm, you may have already seen these. I put the selections on a convenient trail if you want to jump right in, otherwise read on for my quick commentary. Warning: I read the kind of stuff I write, so all these are long-to-epic size reads.

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Be Slightly Evil

It’s time for yet another Ribbonfarm update. The big news, since the last update, is that I’ve incorporated Ribbonfarm as a small, slightly evil corporation, and started figuring out how exactly to take you guys for everything you’ve got.  Anyway, here goes. Lots of items to cover:

  1. The “Be Slightly Evil” Email List and Corporate Value
  2. Ribbonfarm Inc., Q1 report, including spin-offs, layoffs and the like
  3. Status of the Tempo book project
  4. Roundup of Articles

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Four-Hour Workweek or Executricks?

My latest post on the trailmeme blog, Four-Hour Workweek or Executricks? should be of interest to ribbonfarm readers.

There are two major views of the brave new world of work that is being created by social media tools. The first is the free agent dream of quitting the cubicle, striking out on your own, and settling into a comfortable, undemanding and lucrative niche by 40. Tim Ferriss’  4-Hour Work Week is the how-to bible of this gang. This is the gang that believes in overt lifestyle design, mini-retirements, a public “personal brand” and the like. The lesser-known dream is an under-the-radar version best described in Stanley Bing’s Executricks. This looks very similar, but actually sounds more deliciously subversive: using the exact same tools to “retire at work,” develop an under-the-radar personal brand, and achieve covert lifestyle design…Which view is smarter? Which view do you subscribe to? Let me frame the decision for you; it is subtler than you think.

Read the full post

I am planning to move my more tech-based/topical/practical “future of work” writing to the Trailmeme blog, leaving the more conceptual stuff here. Kind of a relief, since I like talking about the relationship between technology and work/life styles at a practical level, but have felt, of late, that that stuff doesn’t quite fit with the more philosophical ribbonfarm mode. So if you like that kind of stuff, you may want to subscribe to the trailmeme blog as well.

The Turpentine Effect

Picasso once noted that “when art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.” When you practice a craft you become skilled and knowledgeable in two areas: the stuff the craft produces, and the processes used to create it. And the second kind of expertise accumulates much faster. I call this the turpentine effect. Under normal circumstances, the turpentine effect only has minor consequences. At best, you become a more thoughtful practitioner of your craft, and at worst, you procrastinate a little, shopping for turpentine rather than painting. But there are trades where tool-making and tool-use involve exactly the same skills, which has interesting consequences. Programming, teaching, writing and mechanical engineering are all such trades.

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Ribbonfarm Facebook page, Twitter Feed, Posterous

Some long overdue social media housekeeping matters. Ribbonfarm now has a facebook page, dedicated Twitter feed and (this last is a rerun news item) a pretty active “Ribbonfarm Hopper” blog on Posterous containing raw material that eventually percolates into my original pieces here. Hook into any or all of these channels. Some details for those who are interested and/or want to know why connecting might be worthwhile.

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Guest Post on VentureBeat on the iPad

I have a guest post up on VentureBeat.com, Why Apple’s design approach may not work with the iPad. I haven’t written about innovation in a while, so for those of you who like my old posts on that subject, you’ll probably enjoy this.

In Arthur Hailey’s 1971 novel, Wheels, the hero has an epiphany while looking at the Apollo Lunar Module: “Ugly is Beautiful.” Watching the iPad launch coverage, I realized that Apple limits its innovation potential by never building anything ugly. “Ugly is beautiful” isn’t just an epigram. It has substance as an innovation design principle. There are theoretical and empirical reasons to believe that revolutionary products are, by necessity, ugly-beautiful (as an effect, not a cause: a technology is not revolutionary simply because it is ugly).

Do head on over and comment. This was written with my work hat on, as part of the general tech scene conversation-joining blogging I am doing as part of trailmeme.com promotion. Sometimes you get to mix work and play…

The Misanthrope’s Guide to the End of the World

To diagnose somebody’s worldview, the single most effective test is to ask about their end-of-the-world opinions. You find out whether they have tragic or idealistic worldviews. You learn about their morality. You find out whether they are self-centric, ethnocentric, anthropocentric, bio-centric, enviro-centric or cosmos-centric. You get at how they ride the tension between individualism and collectivism. Attitudes towards grit and survival shine through. You get a read on their views of politics, technology, globalization, religion and mysticism. You find out whether misanthropy or empathy rules their heads and hearts. Their ability to transcend the varied dichotomies involved gives you a read on their intelligence. Perhaps most important of all, you find out about their sense of humor. So here is an introduction to the End of the World. Popcorn not included.

worldWillEnd

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The Ribbonfarm Posterous

A few weeks ago, I started playing around with Posterous, the clever young easy-blogging service.

I hereby present: the Ribbonfarm Posterous.

While I am still a dedicated WordPress guy, Posterous is proof that innovating on one vector to a ridiculous extreme can get you to fertile new territory.  At first I thought Posterous occupied a “miniblogging” niche between microblogging and blogging, but I quickly realized it is primarily an “email attachment” blogging model, and not about a specific length. You can just email the service with any sort of media attachment/inline URL and it does amazingly clever things with your raw material (make slideshows automatically, embed videos, etc.). There’s also a neat bookmarklet for real easy quick-blogging.

I figured it would be the perfect way to scratch an itch I’ve had for a while: how to share stuff that interests me, where I don’t add a lot of my own commentary, but it still has more of a “publishing” feel than Twitter links, Facebook or social bookmarking (which to me seem “personal”).

Please subscribe if you are interested in one or more of the following types of content:

  1. More frequent and shorter stuff: likely derivative/reblogs, but hopefully not just “Awesome!” as the default comment
  2. Input to ribbonfarm: stuff that sparks posts here, usually months later
  3. Sorta personal stuff: mainly vacation photos, brief travel thought

I am doing this mainly to park high-frequency/low-effort/short/derivative thoughts somewhere without ‘drowning this blog, which I want to reserve for feature-length original stuff. Partly also inspired by the format of eclectic reblogs like kottke.org, which I really enjoy.

And of course, send me stuff you think I should post there.

Note to Garry Tan: I have a feature request, I’d like one-click “summary post” capability so I can post a roundup of my recent posterous posts here on ribbonfarm at a set day/time every week. Republishing everything here defeats the purpose of separation :)

2009 Roundup, 2010 Preview

This entry is part 3 of 15 in the series Annual Roundups

Time for the third annual ribbonfarm review/preview post. For you old-timers who haven’t been keeping up, and the newbies who discovered this blog late in the year, this should be a useful post. I summarize 19 notable posts, review the numbers, point out the trends and highlights, and provide a preview of 2010. So here goes. Let’s start by noting that in 2009, ribbonfarm acquired a mascot: Skeletor the junkyard cat.


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One Good Thing About the ‘Flu

I have been down with the ‘flu for the last few days. It has been quite a while since I’ve been sick enough that I’ve had to mostly stay in bed, and I am writing this in the couple of hours of Advil-created non-feverish semi-coherent lucidity the Viral Gods have granted me today. So after catching up with emergency work emails and deferring/rescheduling everything else, I thought I’d dash off a quick post sharing an interesting thought that occurred to me.

Here’s the thought: I feel almost guilty admitting this, but there is an aspect of flu-like mild-to-moderate short-term illnesses (knock on wood) that I actually enjoy. I don’t know if others experience ‘flu the same way, but in my case, I usually suffer through a few cycles of alternating fever/body pain and cool clamminess. For most of the fever part of the cycle, your body is rebelling enough that both thought and sleep are nearly impossible.  Your head and eyes ache too much to allow reading or TV watching. Thoughts are feverish and half-hallucinatory. If you do manage to fall asleep for an hour or so, the dreams are hallucinatory. But then comes the reward: during the second half of the cycle, when you sweat and your skin turns cool and moist and the body pain recedes for a while, you are too exhausted to think, but cool and pain free enough that you feel utterly relaxed.

It is a kind of deep relaxation that is becoming increasingly hard to find for most people. It takes a virus to slow us down enough that the million anxieties that routinely bother us are held at bay for a while.

On an unrelated note, I had nearly finished the sequel to the Gervais Principle post when the ‘flu struck. I’ll get to it when I recover, but in the meantime, enjoy this Chekov short story, one  of my favorites: A Defenceless Creature.  It is actually relevant.  Anyone in the story remind you of Michael?