Monthly Archives: April 2014

Wax Tablets and information warfare

“… Tom Standage has redeemed us. In his well-written and entertaining book, Writing on the Wall: Social Media — The First 2,000 Years, he argues that email, blogs, Twitter and Facebook are simply the latest version of humanity’s natural fondness for swapping information. What’s more, he says, the mass media — newspapers, radio, movies, TV — are an aberration and deserve oblivion.

Standage is a historian of science and technology; an earlier book, The Victorian Internet, describes the impact of the telegraph on the 19th century. Now he goes all the way back to our primate ancestors and their fondness for sociable behaviour. It first took the form of grooming — picking lice out of one another’s fur, especially if the other was a high-status individual who protected his or her friends.

With language, grooming turned into gossip — chatter about other people in the group, supplying useful and entertaining information. Gossip bought a network of friends and allies.

Written text was originally a kind of spreadsheet on clay, tallying livestock and other forms of wealth. But by the time of the Romans, the social media were in use — at least by the rich….


Standage points out that even the noblest Romans spent time in the provinces as governors (or exiles). They still needed their networks at home, and letters from friends were a convenient way to stay in touch (and maybe wrangle a ticket back to Rome).

With a good postal system using good roads, such correspondence was highly popular — so popular that satirists poked fun (in their own letters) at the letter geeks hurrying to the port to pick up their mail from overseas.

In a sense, it was voicemail: the author of a letter dictated it to a literate slave, who wrote it down and made copies. Such letters were written as “rivers of words,” without spaces or punctuation. When they reached their destination, a specialist slave called a lector would read it aloud, putting in pauses and emphasis. (Standage observes that “slaves were the Roman equivalent of broadband.”)

Other media were equally social. For local texting, you could send a slave across town with a tablet holding a wax “screen” on which your message was inscribed. Your friend could smooth out the wax and write a reply, using abbreviations for stock phrases.

The Romans also had a daily news feed, created by Julius Caesar himself. The acta diurna populi Romani — daily acts of the people of Rome — was a way to provide political information to his populist supporters, thereby undermining his enemies in the senate. (Diurna is the root of our modern word “journalism.”)



The early Christians relied on social media to link their scattered congregations. But being ordinary, middle-class Romans, they couldn’t afford slaves to read St. Paul’s letters. So Christian copyists invented sentences, capitalization, and punctuation as a way to give readers clues about how to read Paul aloud. Such letters were copied and forwarded to far more groups than just the Corinthians or Galatians. Significantly, Christians ditched the scroll and adopted the codex, creating what we know as the modern book. Like today’s tablets, the codex was portable, easy to navigate, and easy to read. (But we scroll again on our screens.)

Social media also dominated the spread of Protestantism. Newfangled printing presses multiplied almost as fast as the books and pamphlets they cranked out. Martin Luther was a new-media genius: He published countless pamphlets against the Catholic Church’s evils, and his vernacular German was instantly understandable to his readers. His opponents, still thinking in terms of Latin correspondence and medieval illuminated manuscripts, were simply outmatched. “In all,” writes Standage, “some six million pamphlets, perhaps a third of them by Luther, were printed in the first decade of the turbulent period known today as the Reformation.”

Luther was also a skilled flamer. In one pamphlet, he addressed a trolling critic: “I am sorry now that I despised Tetzel. Ridiculous as he was, he was more acute than you. You cite no scripture. You give no reasons.” Significantly, Luther’s pamphlets inspired Protestantism by “synchronizing opinion,” much as social media did in the Arab Spring.

The modern newspaper arose in the new coffee houses of 17th-century London. Every customer who entered was asked, “Have you any news?” Many of those who hung out in a particular house (Lloyd’s was favoured by shippers and insurers) began to keep records of what they learned. These were the first newsletters, first copied out in longhand and eventually printed as corantos.

For just that reason, the authorities frowned on early news media. Longhand newsletters were tolerated as low-circulation and often written by upper-class gentlemen for their upper-class friends. But a printed coranto reached ordinary people with “scurrilous and fictitious” reports.

Still the news cycle accelerated: gossip in a coffee house was soon all over London (or Europe), attracting even more coffee-house visits to exchange the news both orally and in print — daily, for hours. Standage says some thought coffee houses were socially harmful: “They lamented, like critics of social media today, that coffee houses were distracting people and encouraging them to waste time sharing trivia with their friends when they ought to be doing useful work.”

Technological limits on printing made most newspapers one-man operations serving local communities. But in the early U.S., newspapers could be sent free through the mail to other papers, turning each into a kind of blog with the editor’s comments filled out with copied news from elsewhere. This was a low-cost, low-profit business model — much like modern blogging.

But in the 19th century, everything from the telegraph to the steam-powered press to increased literacy came together to create the highly capitalized modern mass media. For a penny or two, you could read breaking news gathered by foreign correspondents (and paid for by ads for local merchants).

You could also get your opinion synchronized for you by William Randolph Hearst and other media moguls as you were dragged into the Spanish-American War — and a long succession of other media-promoted disasters. As journalist A.J. Leibling observed, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

Radio, film, and TV only made matters worse. Apart from a brief period of amateur “ham radio,” they all needed immense capital to produce news and entertainment — and even then they needed advertising, whether as commercials or as product placement. The mass media had little need or room for individual response beyond fan mail or letters to the editor. News and entertainment became a one-way street.

“The broadcast model,” writes Standage, “considers the role of the radio listener and television viewer to be merely that of a passive consumer. This is as far as it is possible to be from a media system in which people create, distribute, share, and rework information and exchange it with each other. It is the opposite of social media.”

Standage is therefore not too concerned about the demise of the mainstream media. But he sees potential for harm in the new social media as well: They enable everyone from the NSA to teenage jerks to monitor what people are saying, and punish them for saying it.

He also makes a convincing point that new technologies are always opposed by those in charge if they permit the lower orders to make their views known. Literate workers reading penny-dreadfuls and dime novels — what was the world coming to? Airheads tweeting about what they had for lunch? Who cares about their opinions?

Eventually the new social media will settle down. “They are all shared social platforms that enable ideas to travel from one person to another, rippling through networks of people connected by social bonds, rather than having to squeeze through the privileged bottleneck of broadcast media,” Standage concludes. “The rebirth of social media in the Internet age represents a profound shift — and a return, in many respects, to the way things used to be.”

The Tyee – Social Media, Roman Style


Additional resources:

About me | 


Tom Standage – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Writing on the Wall: Social Media – The First 2, 000 Years: Tom Standage: 9781620402832: Books  


▶ Lessons from ancient social media: Tom Standage at TEDxOxbridge – YouTube  



The primary story came to me courtesy of 

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED | The History The US Government HOPES You Never Learn!, posted by a “member” there who goes by the name of StingRay, which probably means that he drives one, or lives in coastal Florida, or both. 


All this history of social media is utterly fascinating, of course, but I haven’t watched the TED talk nor read the book.  I may buy it this afternoon.  The note about the use of slaves in Roman era in assisting with the flow of information is an interesting observation in light of the recent move away from Net Neutrality.

ITake note of who it is that employs Standage.  I am curious about what, if anything, he has to say with media and governmental involvement directly or indirectly in media manipulation, the disinformation games now visible and underway about the racism of a Nevada rancher, editing without moral integrity, PhotoShopping, the presence of Duck Dynasty actors wearing patches they can buy on the Internet, the history of the Wurlitzer under Dulles and his Mockingbird,  Cass Sunstein and cognitive infilitration, or other forms of culture and governance by deception. 


On Writing a Blog

I’ve received a number of comments that are complementary and/or ask me how to write a good blog. I appreciate the thought that I produce a good blog, but I’m still learning. And I have a lot to learn, especially about some of the technical, IT-oriented stuff.

Here you’ll find a section that is devoted to writing in general. One of the best books on that list, reviews of which are linked below, is Derrick Jensen’s “Walking on Water”.

Walking on Water by Derrick Jensen : Reviews – Chelsea Green

Pressfield’s works, along with Julia Cameron’s series, are outstanding as well.

But writing a short story, or writing a screenplay, or writing a book, or learning to write in general, is different than writing a blog. Below you’ll find a number of articles on how to write a blog.

Now, in addition to being a blog writer, I’m a blog reader. And nothing here should be construed as saying that some of the blogs I read or link to need some improvement. Nothing could be more wrong. In fact, much of what I do is to highlight the good writing that is done out there in blogosphere. The first part of that is to post what I find others saying that you won’t find on the mainstream media or even in the mainstream Internet. [Yes, some of us are relegated to the backwaters, ghetto-ized as dissidents, conspiracy theorists, or domestic terrorists.] The second part of that is to find and share those times when someone has has turned a good phrase, or found unique and incisive insight.

To me, the value of a good blog is that it is a slice of one’s self. The good writer is said to slice open a vein and bleed on the page. One of the best aphorisms I take to heart is from a distant cousin, a writer of some renown, who said that the key is to write from your own center to the rest of the world. She specialized in regional dialect, hearing the life around her and capturing it.

I’ll close out my own thoughts by saying the obvious, or previously and regularly stated: a writer learns to write well by reading good writing. I just tipped my hat to the recently-departed Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Two of Solzhenitsyn’s books are on my bedside table. I’ve struggled through some Faulkner. And I’m working a major piece that runs 70-80 pages not including sidebars and inserts. But it doesn’t matter what I do or how I do it. I’ll be reading and learning right along with you.

What matters is how you express your self.

We need you, and we need your best work.

Quick Tips for Writing an Awesome Blog Post 


How to Write Great Blog Content : @ProBlogger


12 Essential Blogwriting Tips for Building a Successful Blog | Write to Done


How To Become A Successful Blogger From Day One


Start a Blog – 5 Factors to Start a Blog Successfully


How to Write a Blog – How to Write a Blog That People Want to Read 


26 Essentials for Blogging Success, What You Need to Know Social Media Examiner


26 Tips for Writing Great Blog Posts | Social Media Examiner


How to Write a Blog: The 12 Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Blog |


15 Ways to Write Tight


Read more..

A guest post by Barb Sawyers

You’re busy, I know. So are the people you want to be read by.

Then why do you go on and on? Why does it take so long to take get to the point?

Why can’t you follow the examples of Chris Brogan, Ernest Hemingway and other masters and write tight?

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Start with a clear idea of what you want to write about. This prevents wordy wandering.
  2. Build trimming and polishing into your writing time. It is part of the process.
  3. Copy your first draft. This way you can chop aggressively with no worries. Once you have made your document as short as possible, you can add back anything you regret cutting loose. You should be surprised by how little there is.
  4. Delete individual words that are redundant. For example, why write “free complimentary” webinar when “free” and “complimentary” mean the same thing?
  5. Zap words, especially the big ones, that have snuck in from your professional or technical jargon. Speak your readers’ language; don’t try to teach them yours.
  6. Nuke anything that could be replaced by “ya-da-ya-da-ya-da.”
  7. Scrutinize your adjectives and adverbs. Do they help readers understand what you’re saying? Reduce, refine or remove.
  8. Replace fuzzy expressions with precise terms.
  9. Reorganize. In the heat of writing, words and ideas often get misplaced. If you move them to where they belong, you may find many can be shortened or deleted.
  10. Pretend you are being charged money for each word you write.
  11. Think about how you would tweet your content.
  12. Replace longer descriptions with links for the relatively few people who want more information.
  13. Make sure your statistics, arguments, stories or other content support your most important ideas. The more clutter you clear, the more brilliantly your diamonds will shine.
  14. Never, ever try to word to a certain word length. Just because the space is there, you don’t have to use it. Remember that most people will focus on the introduction and not read to the end.
  15. Detach yourself emotionally from your words. When I first started writing professionally, I was crushed when editors would tell me to chop by a third. Turns out they were right. Writing tight is so much better.

Any tips to add? Please share them in the comments.

Toronto writer and blogger Barb Sawyers is the author of Write Like You Talk Only Better, the secret to pulling ideas out of your head and onto the page.

Do you want to become a top blogger? Join the A-List Blogger Club, founded by Leo Babauta and Mary Jaksch. Click on the link below to find out more.


A guest post by James Chartrand of Men with Pens

You know the deal: If you want to get better at writing, you need to write.

Preferably daily. Preferably at the same time every day.

But uuuuuugh. What if you’re just not motivated to write every day? What if you can’t discipline yourself? What if you tried for a few days then completely ran out of juice and sat around eating cookies instead?

Every writer struggles with this. “I just don’t have any motivation today,” we say, all sad and desolate, as if we’d completely run out and had no idea where to get more.

This may be because we don’t stock up properly.

Motivation doesn’t come from within. It comes from your secret stash.

What Do You Get Out Of It?

I was reading a book on how to develop habits, and one critical point caught my eye. This book argues that one of the reasons we fail to develop “good” habits and keep up our “bad” ones is because our bad habits offer us a better reward.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you decide you need more physical exercise every day (a good habit) and want to quit eating junk food (a bad habit).

It’s easier to start exercising every day if you pick the same time to do it. You decide you’re going to go for a run at 7:00 am every morning. No excuses.

Meanwhile, you decide that you’re going to get rid of all your chips and stock up on healthy carrot sticks instead. Now you won’t be tempted.

Fantastic, right?

But after a few days, you have a rotten day at work and you sleep poorly. You wake up with a bit of a headache, and your shins hurt from those three days of diligent running.  You’re tired. Cranky. Meh.

Anyone who’s ever tried to rejigger their health habits knows what happens next: You skip your run and somewhere around noon, you find yourself at the snack machine pounding at the glass to make that Snickers bar drop down.

What went wrong?

Eating junk food (your bad habit) is rewarding. You get a tasty rush of sugar. You feel satisfied. You feel content. You were stressed out, you got some good stuff, and now you feel better.

Running (your good habit) didn’t come with a reward. You got up early, you ran, you worked hard that day, and then you . . . come home, take a shower, sleep, and do it all the next day.

Where’s the fun in that?

We tell ourselves that there IS a reward for running – in a few months, we’ll be in better shape. But honestly, that’s not much good. We need motivation so we act NOW.

Which brings us back to writing.

What’s Missing From Your Daily Writing?

You have a long-term goal for your writing. For many of you reading this blog, you want to have your novel published one day. For some of you, you just might want to finish that book. Whatever your motivation, it’s long-term motivation.

It’s not something you can accomplish in a day of writing.

Since that’s the case, your mind starts wondering why it’s doing this daily writing thing. It’s hard. It’s tiring. Some days, it’s grueling – a real chore you’re starting to hate. And it doesn’t seem to have any immediate reward.

You’re just going to keep doing this painful daily writing forever and never going to get anything out of it.

That’s lousy motivation.

Long-term goals are great, and you should keep moving toward them. The ultimate reward of achieving your dream is going to be amazing.

But right now, you’re not sitting down to write a whole book. You’re sitting down to write for an hour. One hour. That’s it. And you need a reward for doing that.

You need motivation. Here’s the problem:

Your Motivation Isn’t Internal.

Motivation isn’t some magic force that you either have one day or you don’t. You provide yourself with motivation.

People often make the mistake of thinking motivation is inherent in the act – if we write, we’ll feel good. That’s true to a degree, but while it feels satisfying to write, it’s also difficult do do every day.

And many days, the satisfaction of having written that day is just too intangible a motivation to convince you to sit down and write the next and the next and the next.

So give yourself a motivation you can touch.

Your motivation can be small, and it should be intensely personal. Let’s say that you enjoy fine wine. After you write (not during; after), pour yourself a glass of the good stuff. Not that boxed stuff on top of the fridge; that’s just disgusting.

This is special, just-for-you, reward-for-writing wine.

Not a drinker? (I suppose some writers aren’t…) Alright. Maybe you fancy a truffle from that chocolate place you don’t often indulge in because come on, what do you need with fancy chocolate?

Maybe your motivation is a walk in the cool night air, all by yourself. Maybe it’s freshly-squeezed orange juice. Maybe it’s an episode of your favorite TV show.

It’s anything you want it to be.

Well, okay. Within reason. There are a few rules:

The Motivation Reward Rules

re are only three rules for your motivation:

  1. It has to be personal. If this isn’t something you really want, you won’t want to work for it. Don’t decide to do the glass of wine if you could care less about the glass of wine. Choose a reward that works for you, something you really desire, guilt-free.
  2. It has to be something you can enjoy immediately after writing. This is crucial, because you want to attach your reward firmly to your effort and build association. Your mind will subconsciously connect those two together. It’ll start thinking, “Well, I don’t want to write, but I really do want to go watch the next episode of House, so let’s get this over with.”
  3. It has to be something you won’t do otherwise. If you make your reward something you indulge in all the time, it won’t be special. It won’t be a motivator. Sure, you could have that fine glass of Shiraz after you write – or you could have a glass without writing, just like you did yesterday. Useless. Your reward can be something you used to do intermittently, but once you decide on it as a reward, don’t do it at any other time than post-writing.

That’s it.

Here’s the interesting part: After you’ve used this reward motivator technique for a couple of months, your mind will automatically associate writing in the “good” part of your brain rather than the “painful, dreary, daily slogging to be avoided” part.

That means you’ll start getting the impulse to write even when you know perfectly well it’s not possible to have the reward. Even when you’re out of wine or it’s raining too hard to go for a walk, you’ll still feel motivated, because your mind won’t be thinking of writing as difficult.

It’ll think of writing as rewarding.

Which is all the motivation you need.

So tell me: What do you think your motivation will be? What small thing can you give yourself as a reward for writing? And if you already use this technique, what reward works for you?



A couple of months ago we asked for nominations for the inaugural Top 10 Blogs for Bloggers 2012 contest. Our aim was to find the best resources for bloggers.

Today we can announce the winners …

1. Problogger

Darren Rowse started Problogger way back in 2004. It’s a seasoned blog and is now run mainly with guest posts, but also publishes regular posts by Darren. The focus is on to blog better and how to create an income from a blog. It has a massive reader base with over 165,000 subscribers.

2. Copyblogger

Copyblogger was founded by Brian Clark in 2006. It now has over 170,000 subscribers. The blog is now part of an online media empire, called Copyblogger Media. The focus of the CopyBlogger blog is getting traffic, attracting links, increasing subscribers, and growing revenue and profits. Copyblogger has a huge influence on the style of writing that many successful bloggers embrace.

3. The Sales Lion

The Sales Lion was founded by Marcus Sheridan in 2009. You may be forgiven for thinking that a blog with the name ‘Sales Lion’ and the tagline, Empowering people with the power of community, is a blog about marketing or about social media, but in fact this blog is all about blogging.

4. Basic Blog Tips

Ileane Smith founded Basic Blog Tips in 2010. She got into blogging by accident when she wanted to subscribe to her daughter’s blog – and found that she had accidentally signed up for a new blog instead. Basic Blog Tips is a vibrant blog about blogging. Especially impressive are Ileane’s 89 videos about blogging on YouTube.

5. We Blog Better

Kiesha Easley is the blogger behind We Blog Better. It was originally founded by Brandon Cox in 2009. Kiesha runs it with the help of a team of regular contributors and guest posters.

6. Smart Passive Income

Smart Passive Income was started by Pat Flynn in 2008 after he was laid off work (he says it was ‘the best thing that ever happened to me’). This blog is dedicated to blogging, and in particular how to create an income from a blog. Pat’s use of video and podcasting is impressive, as well as his dedication to absolute transparency and top content.

7. Successful Blogging

Successful Blogging was founded by Anabelle Candy and  has simple, actionable blogging tips for small business owners, writers and artists. Anabelle started blogging in 2009 and draws from her experience of web design, social media, and blogging.

8. Viperchill

Glen Allsop resurrected Viperchill in 2009 after selling his personal development blog PluginID. He bucks the trend by posting infrequently and by writing massive posts. His post, The Future of Blogging, runs to over 12,000 words! Each post is meticulously researched and carefully crafted.

9. Think Traffic

Corbett Barr only launched Think Traffic in 2010. However, he was already an experienced blogger when he started this blog. Think Traffic is about getting more traffic, more income, and about contributing something meaningful.

10. For Bloggers by Bloggers

This blog is run by a group of bloggers: Danny Brown, Joey Strawn, Sarah Arrow, Bob Dunn, and Brankica Underwood. For Bloggers by Bloggers focuses on tips for bloggers and was founded in 2010.


Top 10 Blogs for Writers 2013 – The Winners

Cray-vin for Moneyball

June 12, 1939

Ladies and gentlemen, I was born 1874, and this organization was started was 1876. When I was just a kid I said, “ I hope some day I’ll be up there playing in this league.” And by chance I did. Now Connie Mack the gentleman that preceeded me here at the mike, I remember walking fourteen miles just to see him play ball for Pittsburgh. (crowd laughs) Walking and running, or hitchhiking a ride on a buggy, them days we had no automobile. I certainly am pleased to be here in Cooperstown today, and this is just a wonderful little city, or town, or village or whaever we’d call it. It puts me in mind of Sleepy Hollow. (crowd laughs) However I want to thank you for being able to come here today.


I don’t make speeches. I let my bat speak for me in the summertime.


I keep my eyes clear and I hit ’em where they ain’t.”

Source: Baseball’s Greatest Quotations (Paul Dickson, 1991)



Mystery MLB Team Moves To Supercomputing For Their Moneyball Analysis

Posted by timothy on Saturday April 05, 2014 @06:08AM

from the stats-nerds-with-bats dept.

An anonymous reader writes

“A mystery [Major League Baseball] team has made a sizable investment in Cray’s latest effort at bringing graph analytics at extreme scale to bat. Nicole Hemsoth writes that what the team is looking for is a “hypothesis machine” that will allow them to integrate multiple, deep data wells and pose several questions against the same data. They are looking for platforms that allow users to look at facets of a given dataset, adding new cuts to see how certain conditions affect the reflection of a hypothesized reality.”

Read the 51 comments

baseball supercomputing cray


Hirsch, James S., Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).


If you can do that – if you run, hit, run the bases, hit with power, field, throw and do all other things that are part of the game – then you’re a good ballplayer.

Willie Mays


Read more at 


“Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.”

Leo Durocher


“Blood Pressures in Children Between the Ages of Five and Sixteen Years”, American Journal of Diseases of Children, volume 69, no. 4:203-207; primary author, A. W. Graham, M.D. (University of Maryland, 1905) ( Bats: Left, Throws: Right )

(December 28, 1879 – August 25, 1965)

 “His was a life of greatness.”

Veda Ponikvar in her classic editorial


Giamatti explores the intricacies of the baseball field’s dense geometry:

Squares containing circles containing rectangles;  precision in counterpoint with passion; order compressing  energy. The potentially universal square, whose two sides are foul (actually fair) lines, partially contains the circle, whose  radius is at least four hundred feet and whose perimeter is  the circle of the fence from foul line to foul line, which contains   the circle of the outer infield grass, which contains the  square of the diamond, containing the circle of the pitcher’s  mound and squares of the three bases. The circle of the mound contains the rectangle of the pitcher’s slab and faces  the circle of the home-plate area, which contains the rectangles   of the batter’s boxes and the area for umpire and catcher.  At the center of this circle, and existing in eternal tension with the pitcher’s rectangle-seemingly the center of power.[x]

On this square  tipped like a diamond containing circles and contained in  circles, built on multiples of 3, 9 players play 9 innings, with  3 outs to a side, each out possibly composed of 3 strikes.  Four balls, four bases break (or is it underscore?), the game’s  reliance on “threes” to distribute an odd equality, all the  numerology and symmetry tending to configure a game  unbounded by that which bounds most sports, and adjudicates  in many – time.[xi]

“Home” plate has a “peculiar significance for it is the goal of both teams… In baseball, everyone wants to arrive at the same place, which is where they start.”[iv]  The choice of the term “home”, rather than “fourth base” is significant:

Home is an English word virtually impossible to translate into other tongues. No translation catches the associations, the mixture of memory and longing, the sense of security and autonomy  and accessibility, the aroma of inclusiveness, of freedom  from wariness, that cling to the word home.[v]




It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.

A. Bartlett Giamatti – “The Green Fields of the Mind” in Yale Alumni Magazine (November 1977)






Baseball and Mathematics 

by Marvin L. Bittinger





People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.

Rogers Hornsby