Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich

Temptation is a dangerous thing. Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich could have been the thoughtful and definitive polemic against runaway optimism and positive thinking that America sorely needs today. Yet, by succumbing to the temptation to politicize a malaise that affects both the Left and the Right, Ehrenreich has managed to reduce a potential trigger for a “Realism Revolution” into what too many will dismiss as yet another shrill, leftist screed. It isn’t that. Okay, it is a bit. But it is well worth reading, even if you have to summon up all your patience and reading skill to tease apart the valuable, ideology-neutral thread in the narrative from the noise.

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The Genealogy of the Gervais Principle

Series Home | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI ebook

One reason I have delayed posting the next part in the Gervais Principle series is that as expectations have grown, I have gotten more wary about shooting from the hip. Especially because the remaining ideas in the hopper (there’s enough for two more posts before I call the main series complete) will likely be even more controversial than the first two. So one of the things I have been doing is testing the foundations laid in the first two posts more rigorously. So here goes, a (very pictorial) survey of the ancestry of the MacLeod hierarchy and the Gervais Principle. This is not Part III. It is another side trip. Not many new ideas here, but genealogy should prove interesting for at least some of you. A sense of history is a necessary (though unfortunately not sufficient) requirement for  effective sociopathy. For those who came in late, this post will make no sense to you. Read The Gervais Principle and The Gervais Principle II before you tackle this one.

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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.


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Impro by Keith Johnstone

Once every four or five years, I find a book that is a genuine life-changer. Impro by Keith Johnstone joins my extremely short list of such books. The book crossed my radar after two readers mentioned it, in reactions to the Gervais Principle series: Kevin Simler recommended the book in an email, and a reader with the handle angelbob mentioned it in the discussion around GP II on Hacker News. Impro is ostensibly a book about improvisation and the theater. Depending on where you are coming from, it might be no more than that, or it might be a near-religious experience.

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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, 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 :)

“Up in the Air” and the Future of Work

“Up in the Air” (based on a Walter Kirn novel) is a curious, and possibly accidentally accurate, look at the emerging world of work. Reader Sean Lyng emailed me to point out that the movie touches every theme I’ve talked about in the Cloudworker series, and suggested that I blog about it. After watching it, I have to agree. The movie hits every theme I touched, and vice versa.  The overt thesis appears to be classed-up, schmaltzy community-values nostalgia, but the actual plot and characters are surprisingly true to the lonelier and starker realities of the evolving world of work and life. Whether or not the director, Jason Reitman, intended this (and intended the superficial thesis as satire), is debatable. So here’s the first-ever movie review analysis on ribbonfarm. I am avoiding spoilers, so my take is going to seem incomplete, but if you’ve seen the movie, you should be able to fill in the blanks, based on the ending.

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Conceptual Metaphors (Mashable), Gervais Principle (Fugitive Philosophy)

Heads up on two posts that should interest ribbonfarm readers. The first is a guest post by me on Mashable, and the other is a post by Tobias C. Van Veen on the Gervais Principle. I keep meaning to do a big roundup of all the blogosphere reactions (there’s several pretty good ones) to GP, but haven’t had time. But this one was worth pointing out, since it adds some new ideas.

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Drive by Dan Pink

At the heart of Dan Pink’s new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is an insight that makes you want to yell in frustration at perversely obtuse academic worlds that marginalize seminal clarifications of the blindingly obvious: trying to motivate creative work with carrots and sticks backfires. As the book notes, this truth has been known to folk wisdom at least since Mark Twain wrote the famous fence-whitewashing episode in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). Apparently — and I did not know this — this folk insight has been repeatedly validated by the discipline of psychology since 1949, when the first clear evidence appeared in a serendipitous accidental experiment by Harry Harlow. Yet, mainstream psychology has systematically ignored and marginalized this line of research, even going to the dystopian extreme of firing those intellectually honest enough to pursue the work anyway.

The major contribution of Drive is in elevating what ought to be a basic axiom of business from the level of Twain-ian (and Drucker-ian) opinion, to the level of scientific, not-optional, fact. The “Aha!” element of the book isn’t this bald fact (which isn’t surprising in isolation), but in pointing out the gap between “what science knows and what business does.”  The marginal status of the body of research in psychology is no excuse: major business thinkers from Drucker onwards have been saying the same thing for decades. Yet, nearly all businesses run on carrot-and-stick motivational architectures.

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On the Deathly Cold

We dramatize the weather to the point that it becomes news, so we are startled on the rare occasion when it does merit non-ritual attention. The usual adjectives, “bitter” and “brutal,” do not do the present cold justice.  This cold deserves the ultimate icy adjective: deathly. This is a cold that that does not assault us or need to. We merely need to encounter it, even at its most quiescent, and it shuts us down quietly and without ceremony.

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Predictions 2010 (on Silicon Angle)

Silicon Angle ran a guest post by me while I was on vacation (written with my work hat on, and with input from my team). My five predictions for Web technology are:

  1. The rise of the long form
  2. The Cambrian explosion of devices
  3. The “Website” will dissolve into the real-time Web
  4. The quality/quantity chasm will deepen
  5. Social filtering will start to displace search as the primary driver of monetizable content

Click on to read the details. Shortened URL for the original post for your C&P pleasure:

Of course, my predictions are a function of my personal and professional biases/interests/agendas, but still, I do believe them. I think there really are forces making these 5 things happen. Thoughts?