Cranking Along
Scott Kirsner wrote about blogs (including mine) in the Boston Globe. I felt I should quickly put together my own comments but it took five days to reflect upon my writing.20-Dec-2002

You'd be cranky too if you wanted to write an immediate response to Scott Kirsner's Boston Globe story: Sites to watch for news of what's next but I've felt as if the universe was conspiring to prevent me by creating all sorts of crises and even more distractions. But I don't think that's what Scott meant or so I would like believe. At least he didn't dismiss me as an idealist; it sounds better but idealists are simply tolerated and not taken seriously.

From Sites to watch for news of what's next

Bob Frankston

Frankston developed the first spreadsheet in collaboration with Bricklin, and later went on to work for Lotus and Microsoft. He's a crank in the best sense of the word - fiercely opinionated, wicked smart, and interested in sometimes arcane topics, like why automakers intentionally make it difficult to jack into your car's computer system.

Frankston doesn't do the typical disjointed jottings of a weblog - he usually writes fully-formed essays on security, FCC policy, intellectual property in the digital realm, and the Bluetooth wireless networking protocol.

URL: www.frankston.com/Public/writings.asp

It's nice to know that people are aware of my writings though I should emphasis that there are two sites -- SATN is shared with David Reed and the Dan Bricklin.

At Supernova last week I found myself in the heart of bloggerdom amid the founders of the major blogger companies as well as a number of people doing live blogging during the conference. While the personal diary may have spawned the blogging phenomenon the real value is in making it easy to do personal publishing. The blog is a reminder that there is a lot more to the Internet than e-commerce. It is about giving people a voice.

I actually do most of my writing via email within small groups because I can be incautious and, more to the point, sloppy and I can build on a common understanding. Discussions also create an urgency to respond or else be left beyond.

It is much more difficult to write to a larger audience. The blog tools allow me to concentrate on writing rather than technology though, of course, I can't ignore the technology. I wrote code to generate the side-bar and tables of contents on my Writings page but haven't had a chance to do the same for Frankston.com though the summary covers my writings in both venues. I also feel free to use an information conversational style and indulge myself in liberal use of the "I" word.

Writing and explaining are very difficult and it is far easier and more fun to program. So why do I try so hard. And why do I think I have anything interesting to say?

Let me tackle the latter first. Very simply, I've grown up curious and happen to have been lucky enough to have computing "happen" as I was growing up so that computers and programming as basic parts of my basic literacy. To me computing was and still is a chance to not just explore ideas but to actually put them into operation. I learned that errors were bugs and no program (or idea) worked until it was tested and even then there was probably a bug lurking somewhere. It is a lesson in humility coupled with the great power that one gets by seeing one's ideas not only reduced to practice, but have an effect on others and the world.

Those of us who saw computers as being more than just expensive business tools were dismissed as either cranks or idealists or both. But this all changed with personal computers and the Internet. We were now main stream and saw how the ideas did transform the world. Well, at least until we tried to explain that there were important underlying concepts and that, to use my current focus, the telecommunications industry was now just a fiction.

The Internet seems to work so that when I say that it will unravel because people don't own their .COM names, I am back to being the cranky idealist. Maybe the good sense of crank is the recognition that there is something to be cranky about. But I do pride myself on being a problem solver and presenting actionable solutions and have been accused of being optimistic when there is so much gloom in the industry and the country.

I'm pleased that Scott doesn't see my writing as disjointed. I do have the challenge of explaining why the seemingly arcane topics are relevant and important. Seymour Papert was one my advisors at MIT and his focus on how we learn has had a major influence on my writings. If I want others understand what I'm saying, it is my responsibility to explain the new concepts in terms you can understand. Why have you guess at the key concepts when I can explain them? This isn't easy since I need to build upon other concepts and that can take a long time. As I point out in Pardon me if I repeat myself, it can take a year to train a five year old to be a six year old.

I do write a lot about telecom though the focus is really on connectivity but it tends to fall under the category of telecom because that is the leverage point and also because people see the two as the same which makes the task of explaining the concepts even more interesting. How do I say I want to facilitate communication by replacing the telecommunications industry with connectivity services? I do keep trying to figure out better ways to explain the basic concepts.

I am not really just writing about telecom--the underlying concepts are more important. But I do want to write about a lot more including (as in this essay) my own struggles in trying to write these essays. But it the urgency of the policy topics that tends to force me to actually write and, more important, post. I actually have many many pages of essays in the "pending" category if only I could edit and organize them. I do plan to create a series of "grade B" writings for those who are willing to share the burden of figuring out what I'm trying to say.

For now I do best with what I call "fine fettle" writing when the ideas gel. Even then I can easily get obsessed with the writing and it adds to the "to be published" pile. So I'll stop here and ship.

It's hard because there are so many topics I want to write about. Should I explain why the concept of truth is so wrong? What about client side versus server side program and the underlying concepts of P2P? Or maybe about how seriously to take the Daily Show on the Comedy Channel? Spam and Telemarketing -- solutions vs. witch hunts? Want to see pictures of my new Kitten? Also need to pay some attention to my beta site, oops, I mean my family. And I also need to deal with all those PCs which seem to be designed for those who don't really stress them and not for those of us who actually revel in what is possible. In fact, I do want to put in a feature to enhance the sidebar and post abstracts for the articles �

I hope you do appreciate that this is half the essay it originally was. Deciding what not to say is, perhaps, my biggest challenge. One lesson I have learned is that it doesn't matter how good your product is if you don't ship so ... even though I feel that this could be a much better essay, I better post what I've got.