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Sunday, May 31, 2009

On Joyless Life

Well, it definitely has been a while since my last posting here. I have been blogging in Estonian and tweeting (@distantsignals) mostly these days. But I am not giving up writing here. Should do something about the site design too.

So, a careful reboot and reanimation, not too many words at a time ... and we should get a pulse.

Anyway, today I was reading in the park and having these side thoughts that often accompany a good book and one of them, albeit a bit trivial, was about joyless life. If you start having these symptoms you might actually be in one:

1. Inability to sleep
2. inability to play
3. inability to small-talk

If you have all three, do something about it fast. One recipe that I know has helped some people is to do something useful to someone for completely free. The trick is that it has to be completely free, asking for less money does not do the magic.

Actually, this is not a self help blog and I am not a doctor. Just sharing thoughts.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Too many readers could kill you

In the age we live in, it is not enough to write quality blog content, you also need a new quality in followers, because reading and writing are inseparably related in more ways than it has been in traditional author-reader relationship.

Take comments for example. It is well known, that sites with better comment quality help the author to become better author, since the commentators act as a computing cloud that thinks along with the author, fixes mistakes and proposes new ideas. With a site where the comments go out of hand, you would actually have the fast spiral of silence for more sensible people and according to the game theory you will end up with quite low quality comments. That´s a big loss for a blog.

Secondly, with every author there comes a trail of references that his or her postings generate. The references to the blog, criticism and feedback will position the blogger or a journalist more than he or she can ever directly influence. And it is obvious that with quality followers, your trail will look better on the internet and with bunch of stupid ones you would have some ugly noise around. So, according to this logic, a quality reader-cloud is actually a big asset, it is your extension, your newsroom, your editorial team and of course, also a devoted audience.

Jason Calacanis and Michael Arlington are extremely popular bloggers and today we saw them both speaking up against anonymous and less anonymous violence (here and here) that is taking place in and around the blogosphere. Both articles are good and their analysis is sound. I liked Jason´s especially. But there is one thing that bothers me about all this. It is the fact that so many people take more and bigger readership numbers as signs of progress and quality when they are not. Has it also been the case with these two great writers whom I admire a lot?

May be this mindset comes from the advertising age where more contacts has been mostly regarded as an ultimate goal? Or may be there is a straight analogy with book sales - the more sales, the more money? But hey, it is blog, it is for free. Or may be it gives the authors the feeling of importance? If you think calmly, then the fact that you are popular, does not necessarily mean quality nor even impact. The more clicks, the more readers, the more of this and that may overshadow the grim reality that not every person is intellectually ready and able to participate in your game and the presence of such persons will actually drive your real admirers away and one day may be even scare you yourself s***less. Is that really me who created this monster following?

That is actually one of the reasons I do not like to write in Estonian newspapers. The problem is that newspapers like to sell my article to as many people as possible. They might even use banners on streets for that purposes. In the end the article will reach 80 per cent of people, whom I am not interested in addressing. If possible, I would just try to talk to the 20 per cent, but this is not so feasible for the general interest newspaper. So, in the end I am just satisfied with writing to the 2 per cent in my blog.

Of course, I am oversimplifying a bit, but you get the point. "Go sell yourself!" is a recommendation to apply with care. If you want build up a really powerful ecosystem on your site, you should go and make friends and followers, not numbers. At the same time I am not anti-selling, I am just stressing that selling for sellings sake will destroy you more easily now, or at least its alternative costs can be high.

And of course, there is this unwanted popularity. The brightest minds are just so good in what they do, that this just attracts attention. Hopeful wannabes and trendy people will arrive and soon there will be crowds. And then the spammers and griefers arrive and then it all looks like a big festival place for a while until it falls down under its own weight. You have to either change your profile and accept the lighter nature of content or find ways to get less popular.

Yes, getting less popular may be a thing to do deliberately. It may make sense to cool down the growth numbers artificially. In some ways it can also work out economically, since where there is deficit, there is also more money. It is possible, that here we can see new kinds of revenue models coming, those that are based upon scarcity, more closed clubs and even membership fees may make kind of a comeback. Just speculating of course, but why not.

I am not the best expert, but it seems inevitable, that the web scene gets much less anonymous anyway, so this is good news for the bloggers and as both Jason and Michael pointed out in their posts (the latter by not allowing comments on the posting), less anonymity seems to be inevitable for humans need the system of checks and balances to act nice and this may solve some of the violence problems.

This moment in time may actually also signal the moment of breaking an illusion that many people still have from the beginning of the nineties when the web users were intellectually above average. That may have given raise to the belief that internet, technology can make us better humans. No such thing.

Anyway, we all know that on the web there are many good ways to measure the quality of audience and modern advertisers are actually looking into much more properties than just number of readers and their clicking habits. Why do we fall into the trap of this one number then, when it comes to our own blogs, stories?

Let us focus on the real reader, let us see her face, let us have quality time and why not being paid according to this. Let´s forget the overall score, let us look into skills, empathy and all that makes us human. Let us invite this frightened intellectual cloud back and domesticate it again.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Call my socks

Since I have already touched unexpected crossings between socks and ICT, I will carry on. Here is a pretty smart one. Friends were visiting and their son had phone numbers of parents knit into his woolen socks.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Gaza vs Georgia. Information Wars.

I am following both the Arab and Israeli information sources on Twitter and Youtube. I hear the noise of words, the shots of images and see distant blinks of audio-clip explosions.

Although I do not like the term "information warfare" since this parallel fills the eyes of military planners with unhealthy shine, it is still true that one's capability to build up a supporting information field of its own is the key to winning armed conflicts.

Attacking someone is more and more connected to collateral costs in reputation and economy. The attacker may gain some physical advantages during the war, but lose on all other fronts, as happened with Russia in the war in Georgia in August 2008.

It was a bad surprise for prime minister Putin when he realized that foreign capital started to flee the country and the legend that Georgia's president Mikheil Šaakašvili was the initiator of the war started to crumble. Frustrated, Putin then gathered together the journalistic elite of Russia and unleashed his discontent on them because of their inability to wage the "information war" even at their home front.

Similarly, reputational problems have and will haunt Israel while its operations will advance in Gaza.*

For these reasons military attacks of the day normally involve a huge amount of money and effort that is put into building and installing the "weapons of truth" - clear messages and channels for spreading them. In some cases you may be able to predict military conflicts by watching the strategic preparations on the information front for many years ahead of the real operation.

The preparatory stages can take many forms, sometimes the enemy can be ridiculized, sometimes just proven wrong, but the closer the conflict gets, the more simple and clear-cut the virtual battlefield becomes. It becomes very important for both sides to "victimize" themselves and "aggressorize" the other.

The attacker wants to show that he has/had no other option but to attack, since the "other has been terrorizing innocent civilians for a while". For the attacked the same becomes extremely important, for example, he needs to show how the progressing army is not actually hitting military installments, but also (or mainly) civilian targets. For that reason there is also a race for visual material that would document the atrocities. And of course, in any kind of military conflict, there are always opportunities for such materials.

Well, I almost hear you saying that "no Nobel prize in this statement", but it gets more interesting when you look at this situation as a visualization. Basically we can imagine the informational battle as a landscape where the attacker and the attacked are positioned on different positions.

Let us imagine the proud "Mount Justice", the thorny "Mount Victimization" and the barren "Valley of Agression" lying in between them. In media and information sphere both sides want to push each other into the valley while trying to get up on the tops of mountains themselves. Both sides try to occupy the Mount Victimization and Mount Justice as a convenient elevated position to shoot information shells at the other. Thus "up" and "down" gain similar advantages and disadvantages as on a real battlefield.

Red and white characters represent the opposing parties in the war, both want to gain elevated positions by using statements, texts, images.

You can use this kind of positioning exercise on any other conflict as well, but in military cases it becomes very clear-cut and easy to follow. Since anyone can produce images and messages nowadays, bad news for the attacker is that it almost always finds itself immediately in the bottom of the Valley of Aggression, whenever it starts a serious military move. The citizen journalists with mobile phones and cameras will take care of it. Even millions of dollars of preparation do not help in these situations.

So the planners of larger military operations of 2008 thought of the "obvious" - if you can not win the information battle in the critical moment, try to postpone direct engagements with the info-enemy. Instead they tried to use the advantage of timing and "blitzkrieging" in the shadow of other large events. Russian troops went on the move on the eve of the Olympic games and Israel started its operations in Gaza in between Christmas and New Year. Most likely the idea was to gain as much advantage for the attacker before the information sinks in for the vacationing, tv-watching and partying world's public opinion. No information, no war. And later, well, the past is past. Therefore it always becomes crucial for the attacked to get the information about the attack out as fast as possible.

A photograph that "nuked" U.S. into the Valley of Aggression during the Vietnam War.

So, the conclusion? One of the conclusions is that the cost of conventional war is rising because of the informational and reputation risks and this may be good news for peace loving populations. At the same time the cost of small-scale attacks, such as happened Mumbai, is just getting lower and lower by a day. Thus, the temptation of of small groups to drag bigger countries into costly wars is continuously very high.

But I see the main risk elsewhere. As trying to imagine myself as a cynical military planner who wants to settle problems with inconvenient neighbours once and for all, I would understand that the cost of straightforward information distribution game is too high. So I might be tempted to devalue the information as such, overload the media, initiate shadow wars on many fronts to cover the real intentions, to finance fake terrorist attacks and seize the opportunities while the world is watching the other direction. I may also be tempted towards faster and more resolute "solutions" by firing first and answering questions only later.

*It is probably necessary to stress that I am not really comparing Israel and Russia on political levels and I am not taking sides in this very posting. I am not getting deeply into sympathies, principles of right or wrong, I just look into the information battles accompanying military operations against regions with civilians. It is in my interest just to point out some developments in the nature of modern war and look at the attacker/attacked problem as such.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mostly for Estonians: Songs About Communication

Yesterday I tried to really watch tv after some months, but found it increasingly impossible. Massive advertising and old movies were dead boring. So I did some Youtube browsing for Estonian songs about communication. Pretty funny results, not all things are originals, not all have video. Unfortunately, if you are not Estonian, you would probably not understand much.

Kalju Terasmaa, Anu Anton, "Kosmos-Maa"
Singer Vinger, "Massikommunikatsioon"
Mikronid, "Üks imelik masin"
Marju Kuut, "Raagus sõnad"
Uno Loop, Kalju Terasmaa, Heidy Tamme, "Sosistades"
Ruja, "Vaiki kui võid"
Seitsmes meel, "Salaja"
Mahavok, "Mägede hääl" or Mahavok, "Tunnete keel"
J.M.K.E. "Tere, Perestroika"
Metro Luminal, "Öised sõnad"
Ice Cream "Helista mulle mobiilile"
Leslie Da Bass, "Lonely Souls"
HU? "See imelik vaikus"
Heli Lääts, "Oma laulu ei leia ma üles"
Metsatöll, "Oma laulu ei leia ma üles"
Bedwetters, "Dramatic Letter to Conscience"
Jana Kask, "Laula mu laulu, helisev hääl"
Liisi Koikson, "Sinu hääl"

and local politicians from Viljandimaa as special guests with a powerful viral potential:
Erinevad Mulgi artistid, "Vii mägedele sõnum!"

Friday, December 12, 2008

20 Songs About Communication

Yesterday I put together a list of songs about communication :). You can recommend me more.

1. Animals - Oh Lord, Please Do Not Let Me Be Misunderstood
2. David Bowie - Space Oddity
3. Gil Scott-Heron - Revolution Will Not Be Televised
4. Sonic Youth - Disconnection Notice
5. Pink Floyd - Is There Anybody Out There?
6. Morrissey - The More You Ignore Me The Closer I Get
7. Beatles Help!
8. The Greenhornes - There Is An End
9. Wyclef Jean - Columbia Records (not available at Youtube)
10. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Otherside
11. Blur - Charmless Man
12. Cardigans - Communication
13. Kraftwerk - Der Telefon Anruf
14. U2 - Numb
15. Depeche Mode - Enjoy the Silence
16. Coldplay - Talk
17. Hello Saferide - Long Lost Penpal
18. Daft Punk - Something About Us
19. The Streets - Could Well Be In
20. Kings of Leon - On Call

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My New Blog in Estonian Language

Recently I started a new blog in Estonian. It is called Memokraatia and it is mostly devoted to Estonian politics and society.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hell Report

I admit that this is a rather dark posting. It is a visualization I have made as a course paper. On this simplified map you may track how racism and hatred start from banal situations and end up in really bad ones. The paper was supposed to be about Hannah Arendt's philosophy, but I ended up using some other sources and angles as well. If you want to download it as a pdf or play with the interface more freely, then click the heading:
Ethnic Hell

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sorted Books II

This nice one comes from Tarmo:

A God Strolling in the Cool of the Evening/
Wooden Eyes/
Never in Anger.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sorted Books Mania

Following Nina Katchadourian's sorted book poetry, it has become an obsession now. Some of my own:

A night of Serious Drinking/
Stranger Than Fiction/
The Most Beautiful Woman in Town/
Walking on Glass.

Sharp Teeth/
Bringing Down the House/
Chinese Takeout/
American Gods/
The Moscow Vector/
Winning Ugly.

The Fuck-Up/
A Perfect Mess/
World's End/
Hey Nostradamus/
Why Most Things Fail.

Words Fail Me/
Line by Line/

Sings, Symbols and Ciphers/
Play Between Worlds/
The Meaning of Things.

What Did I Do Last Night?/
Dance Dance Dance/
Bringing Down the House/
The Wolves in the Walls.

McCain Exit Sign

McCain Exit sign. Where? In the corridor of an apartment house, Tallinn, Estonia.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Speeches of the President as a Word Cloud

Although someone once wondered, are tagclouds the new mullets, I could not resist playing around with Wordle. It is beautiful. Here are all speeches of the Estonian president in 2008 as a word cloud. The analysis shows quite easily that there has been no dominant agenda for mr. President in 2008, since formal words and place names dominate. Still, words like "security", "freedom", "European", NATO and "future" stick out as somewhat important. Also "new", "world" and "know".

Friday, September 5, 2008

Browser Socks

Holy sock! One of the funniest stolen logo's. Now you can have alternative tools for ordinary street-browsing? The shop seems to be in Estonia, the socks from China. Waiting for Google's answer...

Via tarkinvestor.ee. Original location here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fountain Action In Vilnius

Setting up the posters. Photo: me.

Guys from cafebabel.com and PAF, with Erika Lastovskytė as the author and organizer of the idea, decided to draw attention to bad condition of fountains in Vilnius. They chose a steampunkish fountain (still dripping) at the building of the Parliament and the Town-Hall square fountain (not working).

According to Erika, the idea is to show that if citizens want to change something, they can do it themselves.

They set up several chairs made of car tires by Mantas Lesauskas right in the water at the Parliament building fountain and decorated the Town-Hall square fountain with the posters of working fountains from Barcelona. The result: attention was drawn and suddenly it is impossible not to notice these fountains :). So, efficient idea, visual appeal, pretty impressive media coverage.

These 2 photos taken from Mantas Lesauskas's Facebook stream, for more of these visit it.

What I really like about the idea is positive vision, efficiency and enthusiasm.

Photo: Erika Lastovskytė

5 communication ideas for NGO-s

Here are some communication tips I have gathered during couple of years while working with guys from the Good Deed Foundation of Estonia, Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organisations, PRAXIS and recently for two days with Civic Responsibility Foundation of Lithuania (PAF).

1. Establish Texts

CSR is scary. I do not mean as a concept, but as a word. And if even CSR repels people, then "long term citizen society development strategy" can kill a citizen. The problem is that these vogonesque phrases do not inspire people. Did the guy in Tiananmen Square stand up against a tank because he had read a civil society development strategy baked at some NGO? No.

So you need to find texts that inspire people.

Publish Cory Doctorow's Little Brother in your country and make sure it will spread in schools. Or like my Lithuanian colleague and writer Tomas Staniulis suggests - have a local writers workshop in order to come up with original work describing the civic ideas in an understandable form.

2. Add Logistics and Business

Often the NGO people are with the background in humanities and social sciences. While there is nothing wrong with it, the skills may be a bit one-sided. As the success of Estonia's civil action "Let's Do It!" proved, it is good to involve people with experience in management, leadership and logistics. They can help you pull things together really well. (PAF in Lithuania has also been set up in order to bring together experiences, skills and civic activism from all parts of the society).

So, do not ask for money only, ask for skills from people with the best experience in management and logistics.

3. Create Role Models and Change, Not Only Criticism

It is easy to know things, but it is much more difficult to convince the others. Often the NGO activists find themselves in trenches against the establishment. The unfortunate case of Estonia being that an occasional academic is labelled "a theorist" and sometimes even "admirer of the leftist ideas", because he wanted to make his point. The fault is not only on the listener's side.

Work on positive role models and examples. These talk in a more powerful language than a critical article. (Although, articles are needed too.)

Another way to be a constructive criticist, is to bring out both good and bad developments and write positive articles, when you see things happening that you like.

4. Use Real Problems

Find important problems to address. Problems which are real enough. Like the suburbanization and housing boom with resulting new residential regions without quality infrastructure. People are virtually locked-in to their over-priced gyproc houses. Show them how to organize into local activist groups in order to make their villages better places to live.

5. Show results

I hear a lot of stories about what help is needed in NGO's. Rare is the case when I hear how the help was used. So, make reporting back and thanking the contributors really important part of your daily routine.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Summer

Moved to Lithuania (partly). Threw money to the crowds in Gdansk,
Poland (a long story). Attended a Species and Spaces Summer school.
Wrote a small book on running. Went to festivals. Learned 100 words in Lithuanian. Wrote an article "Walking in 4th Dimension" (yet to be published). Went on a road trip to Tartu with Priit, things got really funny. Otherwise nothing ever happened in July, being single in Summer sucks. Fell into some Belorussian trench in the dark (not what it may sound like). Felt for Georgia. Visited a gypsy village for a concert. Got new friends. Hanged in St. Germaine and visited a good exhibition at Pompidou. Waited for Autumn. Read most books by Cory Doctorow.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Truly Forking Paths

Two days ago I heard a story about Nikolai Kibalchich in a small peaceful garden at Mähe, told by my friend's wife H. Kibalchich was her great grandfather and also the man who made the bomb that killed Russian czar Alexander II in 1881.

I remember myself standing at the place in St. Petersburg where Alexander II was killed and listening to the guide's story about the assassination. Even then I was thinking, what if that assassination would have failed? What would have happened to the world history? Would there ever have been a Soviet Union?

If you know Russian history, then you would probably join me in this argumentation, since the success of the communist October revolution depended on several preconditions, including the weakness of the czarist rule. Also, the success of the 1881 assassination may have triggered self esteem of the revolutionaries decades later.

Now, hearing the bomb-makers story directly from the family, I started to think, what if Kibalchich would have made a bomb with a defect? What if he would have given the wrong instructions? What if he would have made a mistake?

And man, what if he would have not participated in the plot, may be he would have had time to develop his rocket propulsion ideas, that remained buried in the Academy of Sciences for decades, what impact would this have had to the development of technology of the world? Rocket weapons in the 1920-s, space travel in 1940-s?

Nikolai Kibalchich

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Detached Places

First is a small Russian Orthodox church in the Kopli barrack area. Everyone is out of town. Mid July. Extremely hot. Sun is at its brightest. But the door is open. Somewhere behind the alter someone is singing. An almost gothic looking girl in black skirt and white stockings is praying.

Second is the tower of Eiffel. You may think that everyone can go up there. But no. It is guarded by the human wall, several hundreds of meters long, made of tourists who want to ascend the landmark. Here and there the security guys keep the gates and search through your stuff.

The human wall is so efficient that no friend I asked, has ever bothered to wait through the queue. So I made it up there. The whole thing took me 4 hours. It is the deficit that makes it great. And of course, it is really damn high up there. Beautiful too.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Running Notes: An Illustrated Memo To Non-Runners

Recently I got some time to spare for compiling a few ideas and images on running. Basically it is a response to many people whom I have had to talk to on the topic why I run. I hope you will find it ok, otherwise, please blame my friend Villu who said that it would be all right to post this document here!

You can view the document on Calameo (or download a pdf from there):

Creative Commons License
Running Notes: An Illustrated Memo To Non-Runners by Daniel Vaarik is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.calameo.com.

Monday, June 2, 2008

On PR Again

Some months ago I wrote how online worlds change PR. My main points were that the old "paint it over" over type of PR is dying, but there are thousands of people working in the profession of PR who do not get it. They resist the change and they keep selling the old stuff. This may result in a funny situation when people outside PR do communications better than many people inside PR profession (since they are not able to adapt).

Recently PR has become a rising topic in the blogosphere. My personal favorite is Loic Le Meur's post on PR secrets as Bullshit, which is most honest and also tries to prove the same point - better PR can be done outside PR. There are also many tips around to PR people, so that they could understand the blogosphere better, like this one. And an interview with Ross Mayfield on changing PR also caught my interest.

What is happening? I am for a radical scenario and I believe that PR as many think of it will not exist in some years. It does not mean that good people will be jobless. I believe that the function of communications advisory that is very similar to management consultancy will remain in place, creative marketing ideas may find their place and also some kind of research, but "middlemanship" between the media, blogs and the subjects of consultancy is definitely on the decline.

It also seems to me that on some markets PR is defined by the middlemanship, but on some markets, communications advisors are invited to the boardroom to give serious advice. Why? Because it does not matter how you are called, a lawyer, a management consultant, a PR person, or a joker, a priest, a prophet in the past... Leaders have always been and always be in need to understand and be understood, it does not matter how this person who advises them, is called.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Battle: Blog vs. Column

I have written my share of opinion articles, but for some years already have been suspicious about their effect. This week I wrote an article about political courage (in Estonian) and it was published in Estonian weekly Eesti Ekspress. Although I like Eesti Ekspress and we had very good cooperation, the experience led me to compare the efficiency of column against blog. I mean, are we already beyond the point where you need to write columns in mainstream media?

Disclaimer: some arguments here apply to smaller countries like Estonia, where media is smaller and occasionally less professional, but hopefully some arguments work elsewhere as well.

1. Limits to size, layout (1:0)
Although online media has less problems with it, newspapers are still controlled by their layout. So it means that you can not write very long stories (nor very short ones). The worst thing can happen if you are not able to keep the exact size limit, then your story may be decapitated or castrated according to someone's decision who has to meet the deadline for editing a dozen stories.

I admit that strict size limits are sometimes good for discipline and staying within this limit can be the real measure of good writer, but in my opinion, these limits can do a lot of harm to your personal message. I always stick to the size limit +/- 10 characters to avoid excessive editing.

2. The audience (2:0)
The other reason of the size limit is not layout but the need to find a common denominator for the newspaper audience. Since audiences vary for a large newspaper, not everyone is ready to read your message. Although there may be 10 000 people around, who would like to, this is not working out in that particular newspaper, because only 500 of these people read that newspaper and for the rest of the readers your longer story is not interesting.

It is much more efficient to go for these 10 000 people through blogs or sometimes through specialized media. You can say that the 10 000 may not find you, but this is less and less true. They actually find you quite fast. At least if your blog is any good.

3. Photo (3:0)
And oh, with blog you can choose your own photo...With newspapers and their archives you can end up with a) picture of another guy, b) picture with a major ugly tie from 1996 (happened to me last time), c) fluffy haired picture (happened to me this time).

4. Need to be identified by a single title (4:0)
Newspapers want to be very precise about who you are. You can not have many roles. This can be incredibly limiting. For example, I can choose between being a "communications consultant", "CEO" (until the end of May), "jobless" (from June), "chairman of the supervisory board of PRAXIS", "member of the board of EMSL", "PhD student at Tallinn University", etc. Every one of these roles frames you well. I hate the "communications consultant" most, since it does not say absolutely anything to the most of the audience. At the same time, when you do not have any title, some people will think that you work for the newspaper.

With your own profile in your blog, you will never have to make choices like that. Of course, if they wanted to, online media could be more flexible here.

5. The text is frozen (5:0)

In this fast moving world, you may make mistakes. With blogs you can always correct them, your text is living and changing and it is ok to show that you are evolving together with it. With mainstream media, there is little you can do after your text is published.

6. Experimenting (6:0)

It depends pretty much on your editor, but you can not experiment much with texts in mainstream media. They are getting more open to new ways of visualization, but this does not get even close to the choice of forms and creative tools that you have in a blog.

7. Timing (7:0)

Oh no, this is a big problem. When I see something I want to write about it, I rush to the computer and start typing. Then I force myself to wait and let the story settle, but I would like to publish it immediately. And I believe that immediacy gives more relevance to stories. So, with blogs I try to sleep over the text and post it the very next morning. With mainstream media, it can take anything from 1 day to 1 month to get published depending on the nature of media.

8. Need to sell (8:0)

Newspapers want to sell. So, if you have a good story, they may want to create some witty slogans for it and hang it out on streets. It creates a lot of expectations and often false ones since what sells, is not always right. I admit, sometimes you can get more readers like that, but with blogs you do not need the "selling", you just write as good as you can.

9. Flaming (9:0)

Estonia is one of these countries (besides Bulgaria, Russia and some others) where mainstream media does not moderate at all (or does it very little) when it comes to online comments. It is regarded as "freedom of speech" but actually it is more or less like an ongoing cyber war between anonymous trashers and the authors, sources, subjects of stories. Sexism, racism and personal insults flow freely over online content and the best the most newspapers do is to follow "notice and take down policy" which means that you need to read the comments yourself and take care of reporting if something is wrong.

Some poor authors have received 1000-s of extremely insulting comments from anonymous people out there. It effectively kills the will of people to write at mainstream media and I have often found myself doing damage control with more than one female CEO of a company who after been virtually raped, is asking a very much justified question "why do they do this to me?". Naturally they would not be extremely happy to write again as they would not like to go to a real-life park where they can be anonymously attacked.

I myself have been lucky and have escaped the flaming, but it is painful to see it happening to the others. I believe that the age of unmoderated and anonymous violence will end in these newspapers where they still practice it. With your blog, you can avoid anonymous and unmoderated comments at will.

10. Coaching (9:1)

If you happen to find a good and strict editor in mainstream media, if this person has some time to share his/her experience with you, give you feedback and work with you in order to make the story better, then it is definitely a point for mainstream media. Of course, you get lot of feedback to your blogs as well.

11. Unwired audience (9:2)

There are still people around who are not connected to internet. The only way to reach them with your opinion is through mainstream print media.

I believe that many of these points can be improved for mainstream media, but not all. In some ways the institutionalized media with its costs and limitations is getting just too clumsy. But there will always be the need for good writers and good information. So, I think that for good writers the future is bright.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Central Question

Today I ended the lecture series on Consultancy at the University of Tartu. We watched the movie Thirteen Days, which seems to have received too little credit for what it is as a study in crisis decision making (and also political advisory).

When I left the room, I took this photo of the whiteboard with the last line of text I wrote while giving the lecture. It somehow reflects the very essence of being a consultant. So simple and at the same time mostly unanswered... The ultimate question... before getting complicated, let us remember, any decision making is based upon the answer to this question.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Two Notes On Social Capital

For years I have followed small aspects of life that indicate the social capital or help to create it. So while jogging in Madrid in 2000, I thought of the "Angry Dog Index". I understood that the way dogs relate to joggers, shows how much social capital is around (postal workers are a different story, they enter the dog's territory).

It may sound funny, but in the nineties it was rather difficult to find a reasonably safe jogging route in Estonian residential areas since chances were that you got chased by a furious dog, whereas in Madrid the dogs were no more dangerous than sheep.

The reason is actually pretty obvious - the more social capital there is, the more dogs get cared and patted and also, the more social capital there is, the less people train their dogs to be angry.

Social capital can be created also by design. At the moment I am sitting at a cafeteria with a Macbook. The power plug is rather far away, so i had to stretch the cord across my end of the room. In between there are some rather energetic children playing. It is only a matter of time when they stumble in the cord. But since it has the magsafe plug, I feel fine and they feel fine. If I had a pc I would be stressed about the possibility that my pc would lie on the floor together with my orange juice and eggs a la Benedict. I think this small safety aspect creates a lot of social capital that would definitely make world a better place.

Ok, all this may all sound trivial but if it is so trivial and definitely old news to computer users, why there is so much bad design around? And from the other hand, just imagine how much a designer of a product can really do to make the world a better place. A dog patting computer?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mendeleyev's Symphony, Chill It and Bang

Last weekend we were cleaning up an old apartment of my grandmother. Since we had little time we started by shoveling several different cleaning products into the shopping carts - for dish washing, for carpet cleaning, for bathroom cleaning, for the toilet, for kitchen surfaces and so on, not to mention universal wipes and such. Besides that we also bought a new carpet that was smelling rather chemically.

You could imagine the symphony of smells that soon filled the small apartment during the two days we spent working on it. I think that this is at least partly to blame for a dream I had next night.

I was sitting next to a fireplace together with some people, one of them being an Estonian actor, a friend actually. At one point he said: "I am going to use peyote, a telepathic drug and you will all experience it!". So he cut his hand and put some "peyote" on it.

Suddenly everyone around the fireplace was shaken by the myriad of visions rolling over us. The earth was torn into pieces and I could see some dimly lit old passages below, leading to the horizon. Then I saw faces of people, coming uncomfortably close to me, trying to communicate with me.

After a while I managed to get to some place that was like home. But there some brown bubbles started to drip in slow motion from the ceiling until at some point they filled the whole room. In the end the room became normal again and inside the dream I knew that the effect of the peyote-thing was over.

Such a story. But everything is very clean now. I just remembered it at the coffee table and decided to write it down.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Utopia Walked in Tallinn

I started my work at Estonian Public service in 1995. My first cabinet was a puny little room on the first floor of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Stacks of dusty newspapers were everywhere and from the window I had a view to a small roof that exhibited a sleigh and one rubber boot. There was a computer though which had some clips of vga-porn left by some previous user and Microsoft Office.

But the drills and hammers were sounding throughout the building and modernization was on the way. One by one all the floors were renovated at great speed. The same happened everywhere. On the streets of Tallinn noisy machines were smashing through old pavements and laying down new pipes and asphalt. At the public buildings the new word “Euroremont” became common. Windows became plastic and energy efficient, toilets finished stinking and toilet paper and cans of air fresheners appeared without no one stealing them.

There was also a downside. You could hardly ever sit at a meeting without a distant (or sometimes not so distant) sound of workmen working. Occasionally I had to conduct press conferences and once I had to moderate the press conference of a defence minister announcing his resignation, but some parts of his message were not well heard since invisible someone was drilling a hole into the next wall. He had to repeat several sentences.

Despite of the hassle, the sound of building was good. It was the sound of a dream becoming true. It was the sound of Europe. Builders behind the walls were taken as people who were building the same thing physically as we, the state servants, were building up mentally. We were re-building the country.

Looking back, it all seems as one single rush towards the safe woods of Europe. Of course, in 1995 nobody was sure that Estonia will once be part of the European Union, but we were focused on the goal. Europe was our promised land where we had been expelled from without committing any sin. As one of our famous poets had put it long time ago, “Let us become Europeans, but remain Estonians as well”, we took a dash towards the promised land, with almost utopian qualities.

Like the medieval cities that tried to mimic De Civitate Dei, City of God, we tried to make Tallinn look worthy for Lady Europe. Sacred geometries of white space at the foyers, computers, keycards, all that arrived as fast as you could say "ID Card". And the angels from the city of Brussels came and told us words of hope.

Their shiny processions came straight from the airport to the site of the government and many of us were worried about the ugly buildings they had to see en route. So we borrowed money from EBRD and renovated the airport.

In the legal domain we tried to imitate the divine arrangement even so furiously that sometimes public servants had to be stopped by force. “You are doing too much harmonization with EU, no one needs to be holier than the pope itself,” many said. And indeed, Estonia we were building, was not so much like Europe we were building it after. Soon our offices looked newer than these in Brussels and laws stricter than theirs. We were following our pure idea of Europe. Such was the chorus of the nineties.

In 2008 I look at the buildings. Most of them have already dealt with the remains of naive euroremont and made themselves up alright. We have been in EU for 5 years already and the influx of foreign investments is probably the greatest after the Hanseatic times. The Utopia walked here and left her footprints.

If you look at a certain region at Rävala puiestee you see the similar accumulation of capital in buildings as during the Hanseatic times that produced Tallinn’s Old Town. To some it may look small and common, but to some it is an open book, ready to be read.

And then you could go to the Soviet built Lasnamäe and you will actually see the traces of another utopia there. People moving along the straight gray lines that were meant to take us right into the sunrise of communism.

The Old Town of Tallinn that was built in many respects thanks to the Hanseatic idea.

New buildings like City Plaza arise not far from the Old Town, result of the influx of capital after EU accession became true.

Another Utopia walked here.

Happy reading to you all.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Consultant's Sign System

Throughout the history consultants have had one important function. They have made people think that they know something about the future. Since knowing the future is an important advantage, especially when combined with resources, consultants have been valued by decision makers.

What struck me while preparing the last lecture was how similar are some modern day consultants to the old day shamans, priests and oracles who fulfilled the consultancy function before our time. Consider these two pictures. On the right you see an Estonian astrologist Igor Mang, on the right you see a bloke from google image search (searchword "consultant").

They may look different, but when you start analyzing the two pictures, you will suddenly see that both guys are trying to use some attributes in order to convince the viewer that they have some knowledge about the future. While the guy on the right dresses somewhat like a shaman and has a beard like an old wise man, the guy on the left, has clothes that must convince us that he is at home in modern business environment.

The guy on the right has a black sheep looking at him - clearly a visual sign that he must have some connection to the mythological or astrological side of life. The guy on the left has surrounded himself with some ICT and is holding a recorder. The latter must convince us that "this guy has thoughts". Well, does he actually have any thoughts? This picture does not tell anything about this. The only information here is that this guy "wants to have us thinking that he has thoughts".

And this, my friends, is a different thing from having real thoughts. As far as the black sheep is from the cosmic wisdom.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Isaiah's Power Point

Besides the Virtualities lecture at the Tallinn University I am giving a series of seminars and lectures at the University of Tartu called pretentiously the Art of Consultation. It is a rather practical class with the aim to give students some skills in consulting. Today I started the lecture with a historical account on the consulting function involving such examples as shamans, prophets and oracles fulfilling mankind's perpetual need for the knowledge of future.

We will also talk about the presentation techniques soon, but during the lecture I suddenly discovered that if prophets could be considered as advisers or consultants (with the access to divine knowledge), when prophet Isaiah, by stripping off his clothes and running around the town to make the point that Yerusalem would be stripped naked by the god, was also creating a powerful visualization of an advice. Not bad at all. Better than a lousy ppt.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Possible Worlds Theory: What If Literary Characters Exist

Some afterthoughts to the Possible Worlds seminar with Rein Raud. If the multiverse theory is true, and if it is true that we have infinite numbers of parallel universes, then it may also hold true that many literary characters (if not all), must exist in some of the universes. In such case Miss Marple (initially I wrote Agatha Christie absent mindedly, thanks Peemot) is a real person and may be also Harry Potter. Then writing stories would be like summoning these characters into our actual reality.

Now it gets interesting. As it is thought, black holes represent gateways to parallel universes. The problem with travelling through them is that we will not survive the ride. All information will be lost, together with our memories. But what if writing is the opposite thing - information about the inhabitants of parallel universes is summoned through some gateway, but matter will be lost. An opposite to the black hole? White hole? And how that all stands with the law of thermodynamics?

Misunderstanding Quantum Physics Is Good

Have you ever thought that misunderstanding something can have a positive effect on world history? I think that people who understand that history is a fiction and there are many histories that will always contradict with each other, are doing good to the world. The more we have such people, the less we have stupid wars. Hopefully there will be enough of them to oppose nationalism and fight everyone who pretends to possess some final truth.

I believe (but can not prove) that reading easy and popular scientific literature about quantum physics will open people's minds to the multitude of histories, since it introduces the concept of multitude and relativity. Actually a similar thing was mentioned about parallel universes by Marie-Laure Ryan in her essay "From Parallel Universes to Possible Worlds: Ontological Pluralism in Physics, Narratology, and Narrative":

"The postulation of parallel universes is not only one of several ways to deal with apparent contradictions in the behavior of subatomic particles, it is also one of several possible modes of rationalization for texts that report contradictory versions of events."

Ok, but why is misunderstanding good? Why is understanding bad? That is because quantum physics can be really understood by people who are into real sciences. And they again may have a problem with the multitude of histories, because they are used to prove things by formulas, traces of carbon and so on. This may make them blind to the real nature of history.

Of course, one could argue that misunderstanding quantum physics can lead to relativism and loss of morals. Yes, it can, but at the same time I do not think it outweighs the effect of tolerating of plural realities, viewpoints and relativism.

The graph. Not so bright in real sciences, but potentially good for world peace :)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Virtualities Seminar Kicks Off

I started teaching at the Tallinn University with the series of seminars on Virtualities today. There will be 10-11 seminars during the semester on different aspects of virtuality. The first assignment to the students - go and take notes what is "real" and what is "virtual" in the city of Tallinn. Here is a loose mindmap in Estonian on the topics we will cover.