Replied to Message in a bottle by David TrussDavid Truss (

Write a note, put it in a bottle, cork it, and throw it into the ocean. The tides move the bottle from one shore to another and the message is picked up randomly by a stranger who isn’t expecting the message. An audience of one. Today, the internet lets us toss our message into a […]

Today, the internet lets us toss our message into a cyber ocean. As I write this, I have an idea of some of the people who will see it, but I also know that it has the potential to be picked up by some random person somewhere far away, opened up and read at random, without me ever knowing where my post, my message in a bottle, landed.

David Truss

Hi David, I was wading through my ocean of RSS and this post popped up. Personally, when I publish on the web, I am always left with the thought that it could be read, not that it will be read. This possibility forces me to be clear and concise with what I write. This is something that Clive Thompson once wrote about regarding the power of blogging:

Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.

Why Even the Worst Bloggers Are Making Us Smarter by Clive Thompson

Reflecting on research into education, he argues that their is power in explaining your thoughts.

Children who didn’t explain their thinking performed worst. The ones who recorded their explanations did better.

Why Even the Worst Bloggers Are Making Us Smarter by Clive Thompson

Interestingly, in reflecting upon Pluralistic and his memex method, Cory Doctorow discusses the importance of doing it first and foremost for yourself.

First and foremost, I do it for me. The memex I’ve created by thinking about and then describing every interesting thing I’ve encountered is hugely important for how I understand the world. It’s the raw material of every novel, article, story and speech I write.

20 years a blogger by Cory Doctorow

Thinking of blogging like this makes me wonder about the ‘message in a bottle’ metaphor. Maybe there is an alternative history to ‘messages in a bottle’, but all the tales that I read about them was that they related to people trying to escape their little island. I am not sure that is why I write? I am happy if someone passing finds my message and wishes to trade ideas, something you commented on ten years ago:

“As connected learners we are not just curating ideas and resources, we are creating relationships, some are just ‘weak ties’ but others are very meaning, rich and strong. I don’t just read Dean, I hear his voice, I connect to previous things he has said, and I pause just a little longer if he says something I disagree with.” David Truss in response to Learning in a Connected World

It Takes a Village … by Aaron Davis

But I am not sure I wanted to be rescued? I wonder if Doctorow’s dandelion metaphor is more apt?

Dandelions produce two thousand seeds every spring, and when a good, stiff breeze comes around, those seeds are blown into the air, going every which way. The dandelion’s strategy is to maximize the number of blind chances it has for continuing its genetic line—not to carefully plot every germination. It works: every summer, every crack in every sidewalk has a dandelion growing out of it.

Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free by Cory Doctorow

Bookmarked The Linkfest (

The opposite of doomscrolling: Every week (roughly) I send you a collection of the best Internet reading I’ve found — links to culture, technology, art and science that fascinated me.

Linkfest is Clive Thompson’s newsletter of interesting tidbits from the World Wide Web. I can only imagine the time and effort that goes into something that seems so fleeting. I also like his recognition that ‘it takes a village’:

I read hundreds of blogs and news sites every week to find this stuff. Shoutout to one I relied on particularly this week — Charles Arthur’s The Overspill. Go check it out!

Source: Linkfest #15: Altruistic pigs, the “Truetown Discharge”, and the CIA’s guide to wrecking meetings by Clive Thompson

Bookmarked Writing Tools I Use All The Time – Clive Thompson – Medium (Medium)

My go-tos for reporting, research, and writing. “Writing Tools I Use All The Time” is published by Clive Thompson.

Clive Thompson reflects upon the writing tools he uses. Although written from the perspective of a Mac, I was intrigued by Scribd, which I clearly had not explored properly as a platform. I also liked the reference to Blackwing pencils, I feel I take this side of the way I work for granted at times.
Liked The Psychological Weirdness of “Prompt Engineering” (Medium)

Kind of poetic, isn’t it? The act of speaking to an art-AI feels like a communication word-game — like playing Charades or Taboo, where you have to trigger your collaborator to produce the right result by talking around a subject. Except in this case, the goal is to find the correct incantation that awakens the spirits residing within yonder eldritch cauldron of vectors, and summons them to do your bidding.

Bookmarked Running Twitter Isn’t Rocket Science. It’s Harder – Clive Thompson – Medium (Medium)

In the near future, Musk and his engineers may yearn for the days when their hardest job was merely landing reusable rockets.

I feel like I have read so much on Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter:

For me, Clive Thompson captures things best, explaining how working with all the variables to land a rocket is still a far cry from the complexity of grappling with 400 million Twitter users.

Grappling with the behavior of 400 million Twitter users? Hoo boy.

The complexity is absolutely mind-bending, particularly given all the diversity of human parties involved. You’ve got celebrities with massive followings; people passively surfing Twitter for news; advertisers looking to find useful audiences; shit-stirrers and political actors posting misinfo and disinfo; a silent majority of Twitterfolk who never post at all, and just lurk; foreign agents looking to mess with global politics; friends looking to mostly follow friends; people looking to hate-follow opponents; political figures using Twitter to reach their public; botmasters running legit bots; botmasters running bots that skirt the edge of legitimacy. That’s just a thoroughly incomplete list, generated off the top of my head. But the point is, these users all have very different desires, often opposed to others’ desires. Whoever runs Twitter has to thread the needle on all those clashing goals.

Bookmarked Linux On The Laptop Works So Damn Well That It’s Boring (Medium)

A few days ago I took my Macbook Pro into the shop. It needed a new battery; the current one is five years old and dies after an hour. We’ll be in touch by next Tuesday, the repair shop said.

Clive Thompson reflects on how easy it is to use Linux these days. Inspired, I decided to reclaim the old Mac that was lying around home. I used Carla Martins’ guide to install Ubuntu. I then used Doug Belshaw’s list of add-ons to get started with Firefox.

In addition to this, here is a collection of command line prompts, as well as command line games.

Bookmarked A Search Tool For Serendipity – Clive Thompson – Medium (Medium)

Recently I’ve written about “rewilding your attention” — or, why it’s good to spend less time looking at the algorithmically-sorted feeds of social media … … and go hunting for the weirder, woolier…

Clive Thompson shares some Library of Congress serendipity tools:

Liked Why “Microhistories” Rock – Clive Thompson – Medium (Medium)

The big problem with this sort of writing is, of course, that by trying to cover so much ground, they often cover it shallowly. One skips like a stone across the lake of history. (I should point out that while I’m poking fun at the pretensions of this type of book, I arguably tried to write one myself, so consider this also as self-mockery.)

Bookmarked Rewilding Cities – Clive Thompson – Medium (Medium)

We’ve monocropped streets — so they’re used almost exclusively for cars. Time to rewild

Inspired by Thalia Verkade and Marco te Brömmelstroet’s discussion of banning cars in cities, Clive Thompson thinks about the idea of monocropping and the impact of rewilding beyond just nature.

In the same way that monocropping corn creates weaker, less resilient land, monocropping our streets with cars creates cities that aren’t as vibrant as they ought to be. We often don’t notice it, because we’ve trained ourselves to think of streets as “almost exclusively for cars”. But if you think of all the things you could do with streets, you realize how weird it is that we have, for decades now, used them mostly only for vehicles.

This reminds me of a piece that I wrote a few years ago about ‘rewilding education‘. Also, the suggestion of replacing roads had me thinking about the scene in Babakiueria where they propose replacing the freeway, a ‘baron wasteland’, with bushland. Of course, this is really a comical reference to the tendency to build on top of existing sacred sites.

Bookmarked Why A Good Idea Takes 13 Years To Arrive – Creators Hub – Medium by Clive Thompson (Creators Hub)

So the lesson is: Treasure your long hunches. Gather wool slowly, and patiently. Keep lots of notes about things you’re learning and thinking about, and don’t worry if you feel like you’re being digressive. If you find yourself reading up on something that seems like a weird side-distraction, let yourself go there. It might be your brain working slowly — very slowly — on a hunch that won’t reveal itself for another ten years.

But when it does, it’ll be great.

Clive Thompson reflects upon the importance of slow hunches. He traces his journey from reading Oliver Sack’s discussion of proprioception to the recognition that Twitter is an example of social proprioception. Thompson highlights the importance of collecting ideas and keeping a commonplace book.

Replied to

Clive, I was listening to Clinton Walker talk about his new book Suburban Songbook. He explained how he went looking for a particular reference and when unable to find it, wrote a book to fill the gap. It reminded me of your post of ‘reporter’s block‘.
Liked It’s Time For “Maximum Viable Product” (

“Minimum Viable Product” is a venerable Silicon Valley concept. It argues that if you’ve got an idea for an app, you should release it early — when it’s got barely just enough features to be useful. Sure, the app might only do one thing. But if it does that one thing well, get it out there.

That way you get ahead of the competition. It also helps you figure out if anyone really wants or needs your product. “Don’t knock yourself adding a ton of features at first — just release the basic idea and see if people like it.”

Just figure out the minimum number of things a product should do, and begin there.

… and make it “Maximum Viable Product”

Bookmarked What It’s Like To Stop Using Google Search – Debugger by Clive Thompson (Debugger)

When it first appeared in 1997, Google was wildly better than the competition. You young’uns don’t remember this — shakes cane — but back in the ‘90s, search engines were a hot mess. You’d type your…

Clive Thompson reflects upon his move away from using Google as his search engine. This includes a move to DuckDuckGo and the use of ‘bangs‘, shortcuts built in, that help streamline searches. What was really interesting was Thompson’s preference for using the right search engine for the task at hand.

I’m not using the main search of any engine. Instead, I’m using services designed specifically to find academic info, like Semantic Scholar or JSTOR. For historical research, I might use the scans of public-domain info on the Internet Archive or at Google Books.

Bookmarked A Search Engine That Finds You Weird Old Books – Debugger by Clive Thompson (Debugger)

Last fall, I wrote about the concept of “rewilding your attention” — why it’s good to step away from the algorithmic feeds of big social media and find stranger stuff in nooks of…

Continuing the investigation in rewilding our attention, Clive Thompson has created a custom search engine using Glitch for finding weird books in the public domain
Bookmarked AI Won’t Steal Your Job, But It’ll Sure Make It Suck by Clive Thompson (

We often worry that AI and automation will take our jobs — that software will do work so efficiently and cheaply that corporations will chuck their humans aside. That certainly can happen; bank…

Clive Thompson provides examples of the way in which AI has had some jobs suck. This includes food delivery drivers working for a phantom boss, with transcriptions AI takes the good work and leaves humans with the crap, while Amazon has automated things so much that workers are unable to stop for the toilet.
Liked Who Was ‘First’ with a Big Idea? It’s Often Hard To Know by Clive Thompson (

Once you start grasping how deeply we are products of our time, you can almost invert the idea of genius. Maybe the genius isn’t so much in the inventor as in the age. When an idea’s time is ripe, maybe that idea is just gonna happen: The voltage is so strong it’ll course through several different people at once.

Bookmarked How To Recognize When Tech Is Leading Us Down a ‘Slippery Slope’ by Clive Thompson (

Does a new technology pose serious dangers — or are we just overreacting? Philosopher Evan Selinger has some ideas on how to tell the two apart.

Clive Thompson speaks with Evan Selinger about how to understand when technology is leading us down the slippery slope. Selinger focuses on what technology affords and diminishes.

What transaction costs does the new technology diminish? What transaction cost does it impose? A gun, for example, radically diminishes the transaction costs for ending life almost effortlessly at a distance. A gun can’t force you to kill anybody. But it’s going to be predominantly used in ways that capitalize on its affordances.

Selinger’s questions around affordances and impositions remind me of Malcolm McLuhan’s tetrad.

One of the reasons that leads some technology to become problematic is because things become too easy. For example, the internet makes trolling easier.

one of the dominant reasons there’s so much trolling and toxic material circulating is because the transaction costs of being able to communicate have gone down precipitously. With the Internet, unlike in the past, I don’t have to write my strongly-worded letter that I slowly proofread and make sure my penmanship isn’t embarrassing, or write out the person’s address on the envelope, get a stamp, and bring it to the post office. There’s enough speed bumps that it slows you down. If you’re going to write that letter, you must really be angry and pissed off.

Another example are the transaction costs that make AI and facial recognition too easy.

Facial recognition technology has a very distinctive affordance — which is, if it works well, it identities who a stranger is. That’s a major game-changer in terms of power dynamics. Historically free association has largely been safeguarded because the transaction costs of identifying strangers were protected by a natural default state of obscurity — meaning, there’s only so many names and faces we can recall. There’s a biological limit to that. And we didn’t have technologies that could radically reduce transaction costs of determining who someone is. We’ve experienced nothing like face recognition before, which is why there are major gaps in the law.Bottom line, what is face recognition good for? Since it’s good for identifying strangers, that will be how it’s used. And since it also lowers the cost of doing related things like affect recognition — using software to infer what mood or emotion a person’s face conveys — it will be used for that purpose, too. The costs of building upon the foundation of automated face recognition are very, very small.

What often leads to a slippery slop is the absence of any roadblocks to challenge things.

When considering slippery slopes, it’s crucial to ask: What are the roadblocks? What would stop us from excessively developing this technology? Unfortunately, that’s the problem with face recognition technology. There are some protective measures, even bans. But overall, in the U.S., there are far too few roadblocks. It’s hard to challenge the longstanding assumption that, for the most part, people don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they’re in public.

Liked Cowriting an Album With AI – OneZero by Clive Thompson (

During lockdown last year, Robin got cabin fever like the rest of us, and started chatting with his friend Jesse Solomon Clark, a composer and music producer. They’d heard about OpenAI’s Jukebox and hatched a plan to craft an album of music by working with Jukebox as a creative partner.