In 2005, I came 9,405th in the London Marathon in just under four hours (3:55:36, to be precise). Last year I had a plan that I would do better, and would cover it as a freelance journalist too. The organisers obliged, and I realised I’d better start a blog. The Knackered Hack was born to track my exploration of endurance fitness, and some of the issues sports can reveal to us as amateurs: something like the professional lessons of Ed Smith’s book, which I reviewed only the other day.

But I lost eight weeks of training from the first 10 of 2007 to two viruses. Thus my hopes of running a marathon were in shreds. That was a lesson in itself. And it was about that time that Nassim Taleb contacted me so that his publishers could send me a copy of The Black Swan to review. The rest, as they say, is path dependence

Last week, Guy Kawasaki listed The Knackered Hack as one of the web’s leading journalism blogs at his newly-launched aggregation site:

Not all of you will be familiar with Guy. That’s OK, because the patron saint of us uncertain folks is Herbert Simon, who some will know coined the term “bounded rationality”, which incorporates the idea that you can’t know everything. Admitting as much did not stop Simon from winning a Nobel Memorial Prize.

But I digress. Guy was one of the early Mac team, he is a venture capitalist, and renowned speaker. And is aimed at us head-scratchers, who don’t quite know where to start sometimes. His company is also called Garage Technology Ventures. QED.

I’m bound to say that is a great site, and if you start using it you’ll be an early adopter because Guy and colleagues only really announced it a few weeks ago. Although I’m no expert in these things, some of you may find that the concept is broadly similar to What Guy is doing is taking a non-Google, non-quant view at the web, looking for influencers and connectors, especially through the prism of Twitter and the trust networks it is both generating and reflecting.


Here is what Guy said about it on his blog:-

A good metaphor is that Alltop is an “online magazine rack” that displays the news from the top publications and blogs. Our goal is to satisfy the information needs of the 99% of Internet users who will never use an RSS feed reader or create a custom page. Think of it as ‘aggregation without the aggravation.’”

If I’m allowed to say one thing I really like about it, it is the clean way that the first few lines of each news or blog entry open up as floating text (see above) and allow you a quick preview of the contents. There are other technologies that try to do something like that, but this reminds me of something I wanted way back in the 1990s as a way to allow the reporter to mask explanations of complex terms that would get in the way of readability or the patience of cognoscenti. Like many bloggers, I use Wikipedia for that these days in most instances, but it does involve opening up a new window/tab. So it will be great when that technology finds its way into more general use.

The week before last was Annie Hall week at home here, which contains Woody Allen’s paraphrased reference to the Groucho Marx joke: “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member”. It was not my intention to start a journalism blog, and I’m not doing this for the brethren, but I’m grateful for the recognition. Of course, I do think journalism is important, and I do write about journalism frequently on this blog. And just so that there’s no doubt that this IS a journalism blog (amongst other things), I’ve decided to celebrate my Alltop accolade with the introduction of a new category on the right there: “journalism”. As I’m learning more and more, there are two certainties in this new world of ours: death and taxonomy.

And before we get carried away that we’ve reached the A-list, Guy shares some interesting ideas about influence from different sources on his blog here and here, that further explains perhaps our apparent non-linear rise out of the Long Tail‘s long tail.

Of course, for regular readers of KH, especially those who’ve subscribed to the email, or feed or follow the marginal entertainment of my Twitter service, you can feel especially vindicated for your loyalty and encouragement of this tired soul ;-) . Thank you.

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Tweet Mention to some people that you blog and an accusatory stare springs to their face — as if you have departed the planet and returned with green antennae. Even suggest in polite English company of-a-certain-age that you use any kind of computer gadgetry and you are confined to the tradesman’s entrance of their interest […]

Blogging orthodoxy seems to dictate that short posts of regular frequency represent the best strategy for maintaining a loyal readership. But here at the Knackered Hack we just keep “doing the opposite,” to quote Scott Page and Seinfeld’s George Costanza. It has indeed been a long time since the last (very short) post about memory. Sorry about that. It was not that I forgot — I’m not that dogmatic.

In a nutshell, I’ve been away. And a little busy. And also thinking hard. Now I’m back, both literally and metaphysically. So, “normal” service can now resume. But please be prepared for wide variations in post length, frequency and variety, and possibly more inclusions of pictures and other things to delight your limbic, as I get more of a handle on this Web 2.0 malarkey. Rather than a woeful lack of structure and organisation, I would frame this as a necessary preservation of playfulness and spontaneity in what might otherwise become a predictable yet likely unreadable blog.

Even less frequent a blogger is Nassim Taleb, the Knackered Hack’s favourite interviewee. He does not really have a blog in the terms understood above, but you can go here to see what he had to say about the current credit crunch. He is more regular with his home page notes, where he has an interesting item about fruits and their sweetness. (Hat tip to Paul Wilmott, whose company hosts the Taleb “blog”, while it is Art de Vany who highlights the discussion on the history of sweetness in fruits.)

In a future post I’m going to write about figs, which is connected with what Taleb is talking about. Here is a picture that includes figs, just to be going along with. Underneath all the basil is some parma ham – a delightful partner to fig.

2007 Sep Figs 001 Cropped

Meanwhile, de Vany says this in response to Taleb:-

The process for producing sweetness and tenderness is selective breeding, as you [Taleb] note, and selection for neotony, the retention of juvenile traits in the adult. Ah, it seems that is true of people these days as well. Many fail to achieve adulthood. On the other hand, humans evolved a form of neotony and retain their juvenile traits of playfulness and pleasure longer than chimps and other animals. It was an advantage for our large-brained, highly social species to retain aspects of youthfulness.”

Prior to this comment, de Vany’s emphasis on play has been having a quite profound effect on Knackered Hack thinking, and much of the Knackered Family’s time away from blogging has been spent head-scratching on that particular issue. Lots more on that in future posts. And, of course, de Vany is echoed in a slightly different context by today’s news, reported in a letter to the Daily Telegraph by a group of scientists, educationists, authors, and other advocates about toxic childhood and the declining quality of children’s play in the UK.

Compelling examples [of research supporting this view] have included Unicef’s alarming finding that Britain’s children are amongst the unhappiest in the developed world, and the children’s charity NCH’s report of an explosion in children’s clinically diagnosable mental health problems.

We believe that a key factor in this disturbing trend is the marked decline over the last 15 years in children’s play. Play – particularly outdoor, unstructured, loosely supervised play – appears to be vital to children’s all-round health and well-being.”

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