There are moments when a crucible unleashes both light and heat. In Michael Hiltzik’s book Dealers of Lightning there’s a description of a weekly meeting run by Bob Taylor at Xerox Parc’s Computer Science Lab in the 1970s. The meeting was just known as “Dealer.” The name was derived from the book about blackjack called “Beat the Dealer,” by an MIT Math professor named Edmund O. Thorpe.
In casino blackjack the dealer plays against everyone at the table. In Taylor’s variant a single researcher would propose an idea or project, then stand alone to defend it from dissection by his peers. …The pitiless judgements dispensed at Dealer derived from the ethos of the engineer, who is taught that an answer can be right or wrong, “one” or “zero,” but not anything in between. It was felt that if you were wrong you were done no favor in being told you were right, or half right, or had made a decent try.
The output of Xerox Parc and Bob Taylor’s meetings was nothing short of personal computing as we know it today. Every element of the graphic user interface, networking, social behavior over electronic communication media, the laptop, the Macintosh, object oriented programing, ethernet — found its origin in that fertile period.
I thought of ‘Dealer’ while listening to the Gillmor Gang talk to FriendFeed co-founders Bret Taylor and Paul Buchheit. The Gang was trying to teach Bret and Paul the old lesson that the street has its own uses for things. Feeding friends is one thing, but understanding that you have an opportunity to tap into a strong current of the zeitgeist is another.
You can listen to Dealer Live here:
To understand the show’s theme of Plan B, you sorta needed to be listening all along. The writing is a sound check of the ongoing jam session, the riffs are well established and the players all have distinctive sounds. It’s a textual interlude in the orchestral maneuvers of the fierce urgency of now. If you have an “A,” it’s the “B” that creates the positive bid-to-cover ratio. The basic idea is that markets create the demand for common technical standards. And there’s an irresistible movement of the Network toward the real time flow of interactions. Real time interactions on the Network have had a limited scope. The “track” function in Twitter has opened a window to a powerful set of new interactions. “Track” works because Twitter is a primary market for gestures, but if @Ev, @Biz and @Jack don’t understand the lightning they’ve unleashed, those of us who’ve had a taste will need to consider Plan B.