Identity in the Age of Cloud Computing: J.D. Lasica

Thanks to Mitch Ratcliffe for suggesting I read Identity in the Age of Cloud Computing, by J.D. Lasica, the result of a roundtable on the topic convened by the Aspen Institute. I strong suggest downloading and reading by anyone who is involved with cloud strategy, Web 2.0, or social media. There are some very strong kernels and insights I’ll share as soon as I finish the piece.

It gives an excellent set up of what the cloud means, what its implications are, but gets very interesting when it talks about personal definition online, and the extent to which we can control and not control our personal identity. One great anecdote: a guy who made his fortune in online porn hired some PR people to create content about him to bury the porno past deep in the Google results. Ta da — identity management.

Winter Beach Walks

Winter is the time of year when my wife and I take back Cape Cod, the only time of year when we can visit the corners of the peninsula that are over-run in the summer months. Traffic is sparse, parking is abundant, and the parking lots at the various town beaches aren’t closed to all but the town’s residents. Spring and fall may find me on the ocean beaches surfcasting for striped bass, but that takes place in the dark, on beaches deserted by everyone but the skunks and foxes rooting in the spindrift for dead fish, and the occasional fellow surf fishermen standing stolidly in the wash, waiting for a tug on the other end of their line. Winter is for beach walking.

The beneficial effects of a stroll on the ocean beach are well known, and have been described as far back as the 1850s by Cape Cod’s first literary tourist, Henry David Thoreau, who wrote in Cape Cod:

“The white breakers were rushing to the shore; the foam ran up the sand, and then ran back as far as we could see (and we imagined how much farther along the Atlantic coast, before and behind us), as regularly, to compare great things with small, as the master of a choir beats time with his white wand; and ever and anon a higher wave caused us hastily to deviate from our path, and we looked back on our tracks filled with water and foam. The breakers looked like droves of a thousand wild horses of Neptune,
rushing to the shore, with their white manes streaming far behind; and when, at length, the sun shone for a moment, their manes were rainbow-tinted. Also, the long kelp-weed was tossed up from time to time, like the tails of sea-cows
sporting in the brine. ”

Thoreau’s beach is just as he left it, but at the same time it is completely changed. The dynamics of littoral drift, storm driven waves, erosion, and the absence of any man-made impediments like groins, jetties or seawalls means the outer Cape is a single uninterrupted strand from the southern tip of Monomoy Island (Malabar, to the first explorers) to Race Point, 40 miles north, in Provincetown. Thanks to the protection of the Cape’s forearm by the massive eminent domain creation of the Cape Cod National Seashore during the Kennedy administration, the outer Cape is essentially frozen in terms of development, with no foolish condos or towers daring the Atlantic to wash them away. This is a place of great endings and beginnings. This is the first place in America to see the new day, but also the end of the road. It’s a wild shore, unfriendly and treacherous, and it has its moods – from clement coconut oil scented afternoons in July to terrifying nighttime fogs filled with apparitions, imagined monsters, and auditory hallucinations than can send a spooked surfcaster like me running for his car.

Beach walking exemplifies the verb “to trudge” and the art is finding that exact latitude of berm where the going is firm and movement isn’t wasted sinking into soft sand. The footing of a winter beach walking, especially on bitterly cold days, can be relieved by a band of frozen sand, but for the most part the firm going can be found either at the edge of the wash (where wet footware is always a risk) to the driest reaches above the high tide line near the base of the bluffs and dunes. The beach is not a place for speed walking, a Harry Trumanish pace of 120 paces per minute. It can aggravate and build some sour psychic resentment as the walker bogs down and mires, perpetually slanted by the angle of the sand and shingle and that makes one wish for a shorter leg on the “up-beach” side, or a longer limb towards the sea. Walking backwards from time to time will even out the discrepancy.

Beachcombing is part of the art of the beachwalk, and provides some diversion from the monotony of the trudging. With the wind in one’s face, stolid trudging follows, a head down posture that makes one feel a little abject and pentinent. Walk on the right strip of sand and keep an eye open for nests of monofilament, and sometimes a fishing lure can be unearthed. I see old men with treasure finders sweeping the sand for change or lost jewelry, but they never seem to shout “Eureka!” For me, filling an empty garbage bag is reward in itself, and I can annoy my wife to no end as I roam in the beachgrass looking for plastic water bottles, Mylar birthday balloons, and shreds of commercial fishing flotsam. Grim must have been the findings in the days when shipwrecks cast unidentifiable bodies onto the sand. The graveyards of the Outer Cape bear anonymous testimony on headstones for “Infant – Girl” and “Sailor – Unknown.” Legend has it that body parts washed ashore during the torpedoing of World War II; femurs and such poked up out of the dunes.

A shipwreck will occasionally surface from the sands, lazarus-like, and draw a crowd as one did last winter at Cahoon’s Hollow in Wellfleet. I tried to visit the ribs, but so did about 400 other rubbernecking victims of winter cabin fever. The British revolutionary warship, the Somerset, has been known to emerge from the sands of Race Point, and the wreck count, on the Peaked Hill Bars is huge – this beach being the place where the Lifesaving Service was formed in the 19th century which lead to the formation of the modern US Coast Guard. Those early surfmen – with last names like Snow, Cahoon, and Mayo – were the consummate beach walkers – patrolling the sands every night with an eye to the outer bars for a ship unlucky enough to ground on the lee shore. Thoreau writes of meeting “wreckers,” the legendary mooncussers who salvaged wrecks for their cargoes and timbers, eking out a marginal life on the margins of the country in the 1850s, the days before the railroad joined the remotest ends of the Cape with the rest of the state.

While I am not a birdwatcher, but the winter duck population is amazing and I understand, from my reading, that the Outer Cape is one of the best places in the world to observe warblers, sea birds, and the occasional “erratic” blown off course from Europe and the Arctic. Winter walks are also good for dogs – as there aren’t any nesting birds in the grass who would be badly disturbed – as long as I remember to bring some plastic bags so I can get really up close and personal with their contributions to the shifting sands and leave nothing behind but footprints (dog poo contributes to nitrogen loading in estuaries and is a bad thing aside from being unneighborly).

Here’s a reading list for the inveterate Cape Cod beach walker. Suggestions, as always, are welcome.

  • The House on Nauset Marsh, I discovered this collection of essays written in the 40s and 50s by Harvard Medical School professor Wyman Richardson and ordered a used copy. The essays were originally published in the Atlantic Monthly and are a great series of glimpses into life in Eastham during the 1930s through the 50s in an old farm house near the present day site of the Nzational Seashore headquarters. Richardson was a duck hunter, bass fisherman, crabber and clammer. So his point of view is a lot like my hunter-gatherer ethos. He also knows his birds, weather, and natural hstory. Reprinted in the 90s by one of my favorite publishers, Countryman in Woodstock, VT.
  • The Outermost House, Harvard graduate Henry Beston, wrote a beloved account of a year living in a dune shack on Coast Guard Beach, the north spit that protects Nauset Marsh. That shack and his account of life on the booming shore is a beloved Cape Cod classic but the shack washed away in the Blizzard of ’78
  • Cape Cod, Henry David Thoreau. The great Transcendalist wrote the classic work of Cape walks, and while not as spiritual as Walden, it is widely regarded as one of his best works. I need to re-read it soon.
  • A Guide to the Common Birds of Cape Cod¸by Peter Trull, is a nice slim volume with good sketches of the birds one is likely to spy on a winter beach walk. I can’t tell a sand piper from a piping plover, a grebe from a loon, but I could if I spent more time with Trull.
  • In His Garden, this is a super creepy true story of a Outer Cape serial killer,  Tony Costa, who killed and buried four women in the dunes of Provincetown, Truro and Wellfleet in the late 1960s. Read this and those woods walks start to take on some very bad vibes.
  • Mourt’s Relation: this is a first-hand account of the Pilgrims’ experiences on the outer Cape in December 1620 when they first made landfall on the backside beach and pulled into Provincetown Harbor. After marching up and down the forearm for a week, stealing the Nauset tribe’s cache of winter corn and robbing the graves, the Pilgrims under military leader Miles Standish fired on the Nauset’s at Eastham’s First Encounter Beach.

Amazon gets ready for second-generation Kindle –

Amazon gets ready for second-generation Kindle –

Stand by for an announcement in early February.

I took some guff yesterday for remaining a Kindle fan. Then I read this Frost & Sullivan report on consumer electronic in the “economic winter” and this jumped out at me:

“The Amazon Kindle, a wireless reading device was the number one selling item. Due to heavy customer demand, Kindle is currently sold out. There is hope for eBook readers (see Inside Mobile, Sept. 8, 2008)”

My compatriot’s beef against the Kindle (other than its semi-plastic crappy design) is its uselessness during takeoff and landing. Hey, I want to crash as much as the guy in the next seat, so I make sure the Whispernet radio is turned off so the pilots’ won’t start reading Grisham on their instruments during the foggy approach.  In four months of frequent flying I have yet once to get told by a maurading flight attendant to turn off the book. Secret is keep it in its leather moleskine-ish cover and act like it is a book and not let the attendant get a good look at it.

Still, with a new model on the way (which I will not buy as I have a year or more before I amortize the hardware cost of V1 through e-book discounts (which generally are 40% off the paper version), I’d say Amazon has finally staked out, with eInk, the elusive electric book. And for that I am glad. Now if they would open up the platform and let other device manufacturers sic their best human factors engineers on the task, we might end with some truly ergonomic advances in reading technology.

What I’m Reading — Billy Budd

Billy Budd

The hull deliberately recovering from the periodic roll to leeward was just regaining an even keel, when the last signal, a preconcerted dumb one, was given. At the same moment it chanced that the vapory fleece hanging low in the East, was shot thro’ with a soft glory as of the fleece of the Lamb of God seen in mystical vision, and simultaneously therewith, watched by the wedged mass of upturned faces, Billy ascended; and, ascending, took the full rose of the dawn.”

Melville is my favorite tragic author (from a personal basis) — Billy Budd — arguably his most accessible work, wasn’t published until well after his death when it was discovered in some papers and brought to the public in the mid-1920s. As a stylist, he could turn a beautiful phrase, and I am especially hit with the force of repetition in emphasizing the tragic execution of the hero with “Billy ascended; and ascending, took the full rose of the dawn.”
Verbal pearls like this put me in awe of great writers.

LibraryThing | Catalog your books online

LibraryThing | Catalog your books online

“LibraryThing is an online service to help people catalog their books easily. You can access your catalog from anywhere—even on your mobile phone. Because everyone catalogs together, LibraryThing also connects people with the same books, comes up with suggestions for what to read next, and so forth.”

I like LibraryThing. I like it a lot. You catalog your library and it compares it to other libraries. Reviews, tags, 200 books for free. $10 for unlimited. $25 for an unlimited lifetime. The T I will try to do a widget out of it to the sidebar to show what I’m reading.

What I’m Reading — Beowulf

Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, landed under the Christmas Tree (which has been stripped and now lies in the burn pile behind the tin shed), courtesy of my mother-in-law who has excellent taste in literature.

Everyone knows the story. Warrior Beowulf comes to the aid of the Danes who have been getting raided by a nocturnal monster that invades their gilded mead hall and eats everyone up. Beowulf steps off his longboat, tells the Danes to chill, settles down with his men, the Geats, and awaits the evil beast. Beast arrives, chows down on one of Beowulf’s Geats, Beowulf wrestles the beast, one Grendel, and manages to rip its arm out of its socket.

Grendel limps off, to die in the swamps, and the Danes party down and give Beowulf his due and lots of bling. Ah, but Grendel’s mom isn’t pleased with the affair, so she pays a visit and kicks some more butt, taking off with Grendel’s amputated claw and depriving the Danes of their trophy.  Beowulf shrugs it off, puts on his chain mail and helmet, tracks mom down in the bogs, slays a nasty bog monster in a pool of water, and dives into that same pool to sink down and have it out with mother.

Mom dies, loses her head, the blood corrodes the blade, and Beowulf pops back for more a party with the Danes who tell him he ought to be the king of the Geats.


But wait, there’s more ….

Heaney pulls off a magnificent translation — his introduction is worth reading on its own for its discussion of language and the role the legendary story played in the development of Nordic and ultimately Anglo-Saxon literature. This is a creepy campfire story the told around the peat fire to freak out the kids — a Dark Ages version of Three-Fingered Willy — and is well worth a good read. It’s not every day one of the touchstones of modern literature gets translated by a Nobel Prize winner in Literature, so go to it and really bum out your seatmate who is reduced to reading the SkyMall catalogue. If you want to know where Tolkien got his inspiration (Tolkien was the critic who “discovered” Beowulf) then this is the source.


Why isn’t there is great online dictionary? Wikipedia is a great online encyclopedia, but there just isn’t a great dictionary, at least, nothing on the order of the OED in terms of total coverage, but also, most important, that capability to explore randomly and discover cool new stuff. True, there is and ObjectGraph has a nice and convenient Ajax dictionary, but I want something that can quickly find words such as these:

  • Propinquity: proximity, nearness
  • Facinorous: atrociously wicked
  • Saponaceous: having the qualities of soap
  • Treuhand: German trust officer
  • Obnubliate: to obscure
  • Autochthonous: originating where found, indigenous
  • Procellous: stormy
  • Fisc: the treasury of a kingdom

I’ve subscribed to the Word of the Day email list for ten years, and every so often it delivers a good one, and I’ve long been in the habit of maintaining a list on my Treo or Palm device of words I come across (such as the list above) that deserve a lookup. In prep school, in Mr. Ward’s English class, we played Word of the Day, and everyone was expected to come in armed with a submission that the rest of the class would discuss, consider, and vote to the exalted position of WOTD. I appealed to my classmate’s baser instincts (all 15 year-old’s sense of humors are centered in their groin) and introduced them to such schoolboy classics as smegma, merkin, coprolite, and meconium (cheesy substance found you-know-where; pubic wig; fossilized feces; and an infant’s first bowel movement). The last term was so wildly popular that it became, in shortened form, my nickname for a while: Mec. Classmates who arrived bearing good words such as sedulous (Persevering and constant in effort or application; assiduous) never stood a chance, so Mr. Ward had to ban medical terms and excuse me from further participation. That, and I was caught making up the definition to a word, tampion, which in reality is the plug stuck in the end of a cannon to keep dirt and water out of it, but which I provided a new definition for, being a ball of dirt and spit used by hibernating bears to keep ants and other insects from climbing inside of their bums while they slept. Lacking Google in 1974 to settle the argument, I was unable to prove this variation, and was banned from further participation. Then, this morning, I found the wonderful Uterine Fury Records which is so kind as to provide a cartoon strip of how a bear constructs and deploys a tampion.

But being of the habit of reading with a pen or pencil in my hand, I have a hard and fast rule of never glossing past a word I don’t know. Down it goes, into the flyleaf or the Treo list,to be retrieved later. Never to be used in conversation, but just filed away for future reference and the appropriately pompous sesquipedalian moment (given to the use of overly long words). Now I will never rise to the level of a William F. Buckley, the god of vocabulary, and I wouldn’t dare throw one of these tongue twisters into a conversation, let alone a written sentence, but it was kind of fun to fire off a letter to the editor of the Barnstable Patriot yesterday, the kind of grumpy-old-man screed one writes when someone threatens to erect a brothel next door to a church, and drop in the word eleemosynary (related to charity) just to let them know I had some big punches in my word arsenal.

My current favorite word, and a pretty one, is petrichor, which describes the way the world smells after it rains.

Yes, I read the dictionary cover to cover as a kid. And yes, I ate paste.

What I’m reading

I’ve been through a bit of a dry spell on the reading table, but that’s changed with a couple deliveries from Amazon and a recent birthday present or two.

First, one I picked up for the plane ride to Paris, is David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster, a recent collection of his non-fiction (there are those who say he is finished with fiction, but I digress). The opening essay, an account of his visit to the Adult Video News Awards — the Oscars of Porn — had me laughing so hard on the flight over that the hostess mistook my laughter for an off-base appreciation of her banter with the person across the aisle over the intricacies of the in-flight entertainment system. Wallace is the master of the footnote — indeed, as readers of Infinite Jest and his other works will attest, the real joy in a Wallace reading lies in the pica-point footnotes. Good stuff, and my son Eliot agrees, Wallace is a true genius.

Bless my wife, she gave me Glass Plates & Wooden Boats: The Yachting Photography of Willard B. Jackson at Marblehead for my birthday a couple weekends ago. A true coffee table book, this one is not only photos of beautiful yachts and working boats of the North Shore of Massachusetts at the turn of the century — the golden age of Corinthian yachting in America — but the accompanying text is great maritime history. One of the most beautiful collections of yacht photography in my collection.

I went through a few China books last month. Gate of Heavenly Peace by Jonathan Spence and the excrable Mao: The Unknown Story. Also blew through Hannibal on the flight from Beijing to San Francisco, but airplane novels leave me unhappy in general.

In literary sightings, Jimmy Guterman, former editor in chief of Forrester’s now defunct eponymous quarterly (to which I contributed) Forrester, is contributing to the front of the book for Fortune. He has a piece on telephones and airplanes in the issue with John Lassiter of Pixar on the cover. I can’t find the story on the Fortune (read CNN Money) site, otherwise I’d be linking.

I read too fast — next book: The Gate of Heavenly Peace

Jonathan Spence’s The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution. I’ve been a China tear for the last three months (for obvious reasons), and having taken Spence’s class on Chinese history at Yale in the 70s, I turned to his account of the lives of several revolutionaries, intellectuals, and artists in China from the 1880s to the 1980s. Excellent, excellent book about a very complex period in world and Chinese history.

Spence writes like a novelist, but is probably the greatest living Western Chinese historian. The first person he profiles, Kang Youwei, is amazing.