[unrev-II] Where I am coming from ...

From: Henry van Eyken (vaneyken@sympatico.ca)
Date: Thu Jun 15 2000 - 05:18:25 PDT

  • Next message: Eric Armstrong: "Re: [unrev-II] Where I am coming from ..."

    I don't wish to waste anybody's valuable time, but it just might be
    useful to tell where I am coming from and where I am trying to go with
    my part of the Bootstrap work.

    Conducting a ten-week Colloquium of the scope we witnessed ought to
    exhaust any person. On top of that, Doug, now 75, faced the leaving of
    some fine people. For a moment it seemed it was just him, his trusty
    secretary, and me. And how I could be of much help looked to me very
    problematic indeed. If it did not look promising to Doug either, well,
    he never let on. Instead he was most encouraging. When during a
    teleconference I said that the only formal computer training I ever had
    was a Fortran course way-back-when, he said that he had taken only one
    course himself, assembler (or was it machine code?) I have forgotten
    which. At any rate, he has made this rank amateur feel home in his,
    technically highly sophisticated environment. And when I encounter
    questions about leadership, then from this experience, and some other
    experiences as well, I count him in as a truly, old-fashioned leader,
    one who leads by quietly letting others perform and giving them their
    own, individual opportunity to rise to the occasion. In so doing, and by
    his unselfish approach to working for society at large, he certainly has
    gained my affection.

    Of course, it was an honor to get a phone call from Doug and be asked to
    become his webmaster. It was also not a little frightening. Although I
    had already been assured by Peter Yim that, from what he had seen of my
    Fleabyte site, I knew enough about HTML to take on the job, fact is that
    I worked my site with a minimum knowledge of the script. I simply had to
    deal with too many other issues to be concerned about milking HTML for
    all its worth.

    Peter had not been quite correct in his assessment. There are a couple
    of things a good webmaster needs to know that I still don't. But I am
    reasonably confident that, if nor pressed too hard and with a little
    help, these shortcomings can be overcome. And I will indeed ask for some
    help after writing this.

    In trying to size up the site, while still digesting the webcast
    material that came in bits and broken pieces over a telephone line
    feeding the stuff at rates varying from 700 to 2200 bps, I have also
    come to value Peter Yim's patiently writing me email after email,
    informing me, cautioning me, encouraging me. I can't say too many good
    words about him either. Nevertheless, here I found myself having to
    manage a site belonging to a gentleman of historic stature, and do so
    with less than requisite competence. The only thing clear was that what
    had gone into the Colloquium had to be preserved. That made me akin to a
    curator, which wasn't exactly my ambition. Fortunately, it became also
    clear that the Colloquium was not an end in itself. It was to be, in
    Doug's mind, a stage in a continuing effort. And, hence, I saw my role
    more as spreading the word rather than merely helping to preserve it.
    These perceptions became my guideline: 75 percent advocacy and 25
    percent conservation; something like that.

    It was evident that the people who had worked on the site just before me
    had done so with far too little time to devote to it. In the rush of
    preparing for and running the Colloquium they had been forced to do some
    things in an ad hoc fashion. They had no time for finesse. As a natural
    consequence, some of what existed needed to be undone, but, obviously,
    one has to think twice before undoing things that talented people had
    done! One might be undoing things that had not been done in haste, that
    had ben done deliberately. With the Institute extremely shorthanded,
    there was hardly time for consultation and, so, I decided to just stick
    to the Colloquium part of the site and touch the rest only when really
    pressed. The result of one mishap that resulted from having to change
    some news item on the Bootstrap site's home page is still visible - just
    look at the cluster of links at the bottom of that page. Those
    separating squares should be little red dots. I am glad that nobody ever
    razzed me about that.

    People with broadband connections to the internet may question my sanity
    about the moves I made. They may not know, but not fully appreciate the
    ramifications of 90 - 95 percent of the connected population suffering
    from slow communications. Too slow to properly receive the Stanford
    webcasts. The ensuing frequent breaks in in the webcasts made not only
    the going tough, it fractured the attention needed for a viewer to
    profit from the messages besides eating deeply in time. Once I got so
    bogged down that, were it not for personal notes provided by Bill
    Bearden, I would not have made it through the Colloquium. It appears to
    me that, in addition to normal attrition, Stanford lost a lot of
    attendance because of that. From this experience, therefore, first thing
    to do was to create a blending of transcripts and slides to actually
    replace the webcast for the poorly connected.

    Once the transcripts began arriving, there was still a big problem
    inserting the slides in their proper places because verifying things
    against the actual webcasts entailed the same, excruciatingly slow
    process just described. Moreover, one could not be sure whether slides
    had been missed out or what slides from the posted slide packages had
    actually been used. Moreover, the transcripts themselves needed thorough
    checking, something I simply skipped during a first round of the work -
    well, it just couldn't be done, anyway.

    The last one fifth of work on that first phase was speeded measurably
    upon me receiving CDs of the webcast. Now, in the current phase, I am
    attempting to verify the transcripts against the spoken word. You might
    be interested in knowing that professional transcribers and translators
    at the United Nations ordinarily perform their function in 20-minute
    stretches. They simply can't attend to the job very well after 20
    minutes of it. Moreover, they have for every three of those people a
    fourth person running a check on their work. So, I am not blaming
    transcribers one moment for the fact that their work needs verification.
    An acquaintance of mine who retired from long professional experience
    with the UN, assured me that the parts of the transcripts he listened to
    were very good, actually. For me, verification is a very slow, tedious
    process and, again, it can be done for limited periods of time. Whoever
    doesn't believe me is invited to read the text of some "unedited
    version" now on the site against the corresponding webcast. An hour of
    that ought to convince anyone.

    The question might be asked, why bother? Isn't the webcast itself the
    historical record? The short answer is "penetration." We want to get the
    message across. As I understand it, Doug mostly tries to create interest
    in bootstrapping at the executive level. That is where decisions are
    made and money is found. Others in our group feel that penetration
    should be at the level of middle management and those aspiring to enter
    those ranks. Those people have more time to learn about the whys and
    whats of bootstrapping. In addition there is that more widely means of
    spreading the good word, the Fifth Estate. We need materials to
    accomodate the penetration process at various levels of sophistication.
    And we must present the materials in a manner that maintains confidence.
    Our materials must be without flaws, authoritative, and readily
    digestable. So here are my priorities.

    In following that path, and attending to some other Bootstrap matters as
    well, I haven't had sufficient time to keep track of the discussions and
    digest sufficiently what is for me a highly professional discourse. And
    so, it is possible that things have come up that I also need to attend
    to. Some of those things may call for rather more technical competence
    than I have at this time. In sofar I am made aware of such things, I
    must balance that against the time it takes me off my main route. So, it
    may be well at this point to provide fellow volunteers some detail of
    where I think we should be going and the corresponding timeframe. In
    this, my attention goes mainly to those urgent problems of worldwide

    As said, it was an honor to be asked by Doug to become his webmaster,
    but that was not the reason for me taking it. The principal reason was
    that I strongly identify with Doug's objective of trying to do something
    about the world's urgent problems. The objective of my own site,
    Fleabyte, was basically the same although its chance of ever becoming
    effective seemed next to zero. So, joining Doug was for me a reinforcing
    of hope with realism.

    Fleabyte was seeking to gather a popular interest by beginning to bridge
    a gap between the, mostly young, computer literate and the unwashed. Its
    principal message was that literacy and computency are both needed for
    the proper functioning of an environmentally healthy, democratic
    society. (It also used to view the BeOS (Be operating system) as an OS
    of choice, but that's another story.) I suspect that the better
    informed the voting public, and the better they are able to assess
    issues and choices, the better the functioning of the democratic

    So Fleabyte, now on hold, might possibly pick up again in trying to be a
    vehicle for encouraging general competency "to a purpose," i.e. the
    above stated purpose. Turning now to the web publication Unrev-2, for
    which we have Frode Hegland's mock-up on our site, it might become a
    vehicle for informing a highly computent population about developments
    in bootstrapping itself as well as about technical matters that
    contribute to achieving a closely related cluster of objectives. Many of
    these techniques have been mentioned in the forum discussions. So then,
    we have, in statu nascendi, two potential webzines: Unrev-2 for the
    technically sophisticated and Fleabyte for the middle intelligentia. But
    both face a horrendous obstacle. Both need a volunteer editorial staff
    of such quality they can digest sophisticated materials for their
    readerships, in addition to production staff. It seems to me that the
    time is ripe for Unrev-2 to get going once that problem is overcome. I
    understand that current thought is to make it mainly a publication of
    links. I won't judge how useful that will be.

    I just read Peter Yim's post "Re: Leadership and licences" of June 15.
    He mentions there Jeff Rulifson's encouraging a book project about
    Doug's work, but quite independent of that mention, I felt it desirable
    to have a serviceable text emanating from the Colloquium (and possibly
    additional writings by Doug). My aim, then, is to provide a condensation
    of the Colloquium sessions in a zip package for efficient downloading.
    This may then be used directly by or by authors as the basis for better
    efforts specially geared to specific readerships. It may also serve as a
    basis for a part of the Bootstrap site that addresses mainly the press.
    You may find a mock-up at <http://www.bootstrap.org/chronicle/>. Doug
    likes the idea and with Su-Ling's valuable help we might have it up and
    running before September - before, that is, before people seriously make
    their transit from summer leasure to working seriously at their good,
    workaday intentions.

    Like many of you, I was struck my those powerful presentations by Ed
    Kinderman and Hew Crane, those about the looming energy crisis.
    Consequently, I recently got in touch with the professional development
    officer of Dawson College, where I used to teach. We discussed the
    possibility of having a series of sessons about preparing young people
    for THEIR future. It would comprise various levels of education. This
    has led to an attempt at forming a small committee to take the idea
    further. Reactions are mixed at this point. Already, I am running into
    the same problems Doug has become used to: existing paradigms blocking
    understanding. The effort, which has less than an even chance of
    succeeding, means that I somehow must become more efficient.

    And now back to work. Here is hoping that the above does not read as
    some autobiography, but will serve to improve "cross-continental"
    understanding among friends who never met,


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