August 2007

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About an hour into Southern Illinois after watching St. Louis’ Gateway Arch recede from our rear-view mirrors, we were met along Interstate 70 by an even more surreal giant totem: a white cross, rising oddly out of a field next to the highway and behind a bunch of industrial buildings. So we shot a bunch of pictures of it and kept on trucking. Later I looked up giant cross 70 illinois and found Effingham, Illinois – Giant Cross, at RoadsideAmerica.com:

In case a nearly 200-foot cross isn’t surreal enough for you, this site is enhanced by ten rock-shaped (as in “Rock of Ages”, natch) speakers next to the stone tablets for each Commandment, blasting out what sounds like the stuttering instrumental break from Pink Floyd’s “One Of These Days.” Press a button by each station and hear a bit of wisdom appropriate to the given Commandment. [Aqua Larva, 10/28/2006]

Now I’m sorry we didn’t stop.

(By the way, I’m posting this from the passenger seat of our car, heading toward Cleveland just past Columbus in Ohio on Interstate 71. Gotta hand it to Verizon: EvDO actually works here. It’s the first stretch on the whole trip where the connection has stayed up.)

Elsewares

Two new posts in other places.

First, in Linux Journal, Is free and open code a form of infrastructure? How about the humans who write it?. It runs with what Steve Lewis wrote here.

Second, at the ProjectVRM blog, Dealing with it. It responds to Dave Rogers’ latest.

Loose links

Timothy Noah in Slate: “Superficially, If I Did It is chiefly an indictment of Nicole’s character and only incidentally the story of her murder.”

What’s plugged into the power strip.

The cutting edge, one year later.

Stephen Lewis: Libraries vs. the Internet: Researching the Peloponnesian War, the British Library’s “Turning the Pages” Project, and a Brilliantly Aesthetic Weblog.

Reuters says CNN is dropping it.

What’s down with Flickr? It’s been “having hiccups”, the server says, most of the day. Must be bad if it’s taking this long.

Alex Fletcher: “Inter lock-in as the new vendor lock-in and the freedom of choice.”

Josh Bancroft: “I have granted the people in my network authority – authorship – to form, inform, and shape me. They have write permissions to my brain. That is so true. chmod 775 mybrain.”

Sean at Craphammer: “…today, consumer to consumer transactions are changing the world. Consumers are transacting serious business across country borders in ways that just didn’t happen before.” Which means they aren’t just consumers anymore. We need to deep-six that word except when using it in its confined literal sense — as the reciprocal to producer. When consumers produce, when they intermediate, when they converse and exercise influence beyond cash-for-goods, they are a very different breed. I’m not sure “prosumer” cuts it. And “customer” is just as confining. Gotta think up a neologism here.

Town of Limon, Colorado. Gateway to elsewhere. We stopped there to eat at a Wendys. Friendly, but too many flies. The downtown was sad. More bars than stores, it seemed. But a helluva high school football team.

Andrew Sullivan (actually, Greg Djerejian of Belgravia Dispatch — thanks to Susan Kitchens for pointing that out):

…what Mr. Gonzales evidently fails to understand is that he has diminished our collective American dream, alas. He diminished it by dismissing the Geneva Conventions as “quaint”, by allowing a horrific torture policy to take root, by his banana-republic like late night visits to John Ashcroft’s hospital room, by ignoring Congressional subpoenas, by authorizing illegal wiretapping programs, by firing qualified United States attorneys in an apparent putsch, and on and on.

Still, I will confess to a measure of sympathy for the man. Much like Harriet Miers, he was so supremely underqualified for his position, so spectacularly beyond his depth, that he should never have been put in such a difficult position. Instead Bush’s bovine obsessiveness with loyalty–basic competence be damned– has focused the brutal kleig-lights of international opprobrium on old friends like Harriet and Alberto. Like Brownie, say, they will become key examples in the history books of the rampant cronyism and incompetence of this Administration.

The Zaca Fire is mostly contained, but the closure area remains huge. Edhat points to an animation of the fire’s progress.

Between our Sirius satellite radio receiver, the MP3 player, breaks for public radio and talking to each other, I didn’t have much time to indulge my interest in exploring the high soil conductivities that make AM radio so anomalously advantaged in the plains states. But I did notice that KOA/850 from Denver carried halfway across Kansas by day, and WNAX was audible across all of Kansas, from one end to the other — from Colby to Kansas City and beyond that well into Missouri — with just 5000 watts on 570am from Yankton, South Dakota. (The max power on U.S. and Canadian AM stations is 50000 watts.)

Long disatance AM is no big deal at night, when stations bounce off the ionosphere. But in the day AM stations need to carry along the ground. In most places the ground conductivity is low. In the entire East, much of the midwest, and nearly all mountainous areas, ground conductivity is very low. The lowest of the low are around Atlanta and in Long Island. But in some prairie regions, parts of Texas and Oklahoma, and in flat places near San Franciso and California’s Central Valley, the ground conductivity is remarkably high. For that reason a 5000-watt station at the bottom of the dial (like WNAX/570 and KFYR/550 in Bismark) can go hundreds of miles along the ground. My mother grew up listening to both WNAX and KFYR in Napoleon, North Dakota, which was near neither station. WNAX is helped also by having a full half-wave antenna, which on 570KHz is around 900 feet high. So it’s using an unusually efficient radiator. Most stations at that end of the dial use shorter towers. Signals at those frequencies carry so well that going for the full antenna length would bring diminishing returns. (On AM, the whole tower is the antenna.) And by now they’re all grandfathered with whatever facilities they put up way back when. AM stations require a lot of real estate, so the costs are now, in most cases, prohibitive.

Still, while listening to these effectively huge stations, while driving across the plains, I realized why talk radio — especially the right wing sort — sank roots here. Though I gotta say it was great that WNAX was highly focused (at least when I listened) on “the markets” for agricultural commodities. Made me think the country’s agricultural base was somehow still intact.

For someone as old as I am, it’s hard to keep Kansas City (the fist song ever written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, recorded by everybody but made a hit) by Wilbert Harrison out of one’s mind. With my Kansas City Baby and a bottle of Kansas. Citywine.

Taking a plane, a train and walking are all listed as options by the writers (and Harrison) for traveling to Kansas City. We did it by a black 2000 Passat Wagon, loaded to the gills.

The wagon passed 120,000 miles just nine shy of Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque. I’d last been to Arthur Bryant’s in 1987, or whenever it was that Duke lost to Kansas in the NCAA semifinals in the Kemper Arena there. My business partner David Hodskins, a devoted Duke fan (he actually went there, and was at the time an Iron Duke), had won a flight for two to the finals by winning a trivia contest or something on the old M Dung morning show on KFOG in San Francisco. I was his date. We flew there, rented a car, picked up our friend Jon Parker (also a rabid Dukie) dumped our stuff in our hotel, then sought out the one thing we wanted most, other than to see Duke win: a pile of Arthur Bryant’s Meats, on Brooklyn Avenue.

The menu on the wall was written in those red and black letters you insert into a kind of coarse corduroy. One memorable entry bragged about the restaurant’s “legiondary sauce”. The choice was between a sandwich and a plate, as I recall. Large black men behind the counter sliced giant hunks of hot beef fresh from a huge brick oven, threw a pile of it on a metal tray, and ladled sauce over the top. If you got a sandwich, they did the same thing, with the pile between slices of white bread that quickly became soaked in juices. It was some of the best food I’ve ever had.

This time, however, we were in a hurry, so we went to the restaurant’s new location out at a vast big box shopping center just north of the immense Kansas Raceway. It was about three in the afternoon and cicadas loud enough to cause hearing damage were buzzing from little trees growing fresh out of the landscaping. There were almost no other customers. Our choice choice on the current menu was between ribs, sausage, pork and beef, so we got a half pound of each, plus some beans and cole slaw. They were all excellent. But the meats were cold, the sauce came from squeeze bottles on the tables, and the atmosphere was pure theme-bar nostalgia with little of the the original restaurant’s soul. Still, it was the best food we’ve had on this trip, and worth the stop.

The day began in Colby, Kansas, which it turns out Dave had visited a few years earlier. I found it notable for the conscientious Starbucks just up the road from our cheap motel. My wife and I like our cappuccinos strong, and consider it a steep challenge to get the average starbucks not to make a cappuccino (or anything other than a straight espresso) that isn’t mostly milk. Generally, ordering a “double short cappucino” or a “double short dry cappuccino” yields an approximation of the ideal. (Background here.) In this case, the barrista said “I think one of these might be a bit heavy. See what you think.” I did, and it was close to perfect, but a tiny bit milk-heavy. She made it again, and nailed it. Gotta love that.

Colby was also familiar on more obscure grounds. I remember passing through there on a family trip in July 1963, long before Interstate 70 bypassed the town (and everything, pretty much). We were on Highway 24 headed west toward Colorado Springs. A tower with KXXX on the transmitter shack caught my attention. Turns out the station is still there (here’s the topo), on 790AM. No website (well, there is one, but predictably it’s for a porn site), but a big signal that covers much of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado with the “5000-watt voice of agriculture”, or something like that, by day. At night the station is 24 watts and covers downtown Colby.

Anyway, except for stopping to eat meat, we made it all the way across Kansas and nearly all of Missouri. Just under 600 miles. The next day (today as I write this) is for having fun in St. Louis. I’m missing it, since I’m sick with some kind of intestinal business, probably exacerbated by sitting on my ass for days at a time. Anyway, Day 5 is when my wife and kid explore museums and see the sunset from the Arch while I try to get well and catch up on work here at the hotel. That’s what I’m almost doing right now.

First we got up at 3-something AM and drove back into Arches National Park, roughly to the site where Thelma & Louise stuffed the cop in the trunk. There, in darkness, we watched the eclipsed moon sink slowly behind rock spires barely visible in silhouette. It was there that I shot the photo above, acting as a human tripod. Incredibly, it came out. I had no idea until now, abut 20 hours later, in Colby, Kansas.

We went back just before sunrise, crashed in the motel, and didn’t get up and out of town until way late in the morning. Then we drove pretty much non-stop until we were well into Kansas.

I’m uploading photos, in very slow motion. Motel wi-fi is generally bad, whether it’s free or not. (In my growing experience.)

We almost went to Cedar Breaks, but it was raining heavily up there — and all around that part of Utah — when we left Cedar City this morning. So we went up 15 to 50 and headed down to 70, where we took in the Castle Country, San Rafael Swell and San Rafael Reef before arriving at Moab in late afternoon, just in time to take in some nice (though very intermittent) lighting on the most amazing rock formations in the world.

Check here for pix. They’re uploading now on the dial-up speed wi-fi here at the hotel.

I’m hitting the sack, hoping to catch the solar eclipse at 4am or so.

Day one and done

Got off to a late start. Meaning, today (Sunday, as I write this) instead of yesterday. Got as far as Cedar City, Utah, where we’re camped for the night in a cheap but pretty good motel.

Amazing weather — desert thunderstorms — most of the way. I’ll try to put some pix up before I crash for the night.

[In the morning...] Did that. Some pretty nice ones too.

On valuing freedom more than cushy jail cells is my latest at Linux Journal: a last post before hitting the road from Santa Barbara, California to Cambridge, Massachusetts. The post is an example of teaching best what we most need to learn, I guess.

In any case, I’ve gotten a few lessons on lock-in through the last few days. Thought I’d pass some on.

We leave in about ten minutes. See ya down the road.

Not good

Riverbend hasn’t posted since April. Her last words:  It’s difficult to decide which is more frightening- car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain.

She had her detractors. But I always found her reports to be powerful. And important to hear.

Loose links

The New Yorker has a UI link to a category called “Online only” that has a URL directory level called “blogs”: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs. But that defaults to a series on New Orleans that ended in June. But the “more blogs” link below the BLOGS heading in the the top of the left column goes to http://www.newyorker.com/online/index/bl…, where there is a nice trove of stuff. The latest from George Packer is a good one.

PZ Myers in Pharyngula considers Male Pregnancy: It sounds feasible to me. Zygotes are aggressive little parasites that will implant just about anywhere in the coelom — it’s why ectopic pregnancies are a serious problem — so all we need to do there is culture a bit of highly vascularized tissue in the male abdomen that will serve as a secure home for a few months. We’ll have to play some endocrine games, too, which may effect his love life but will also prepare him to lactate post-partum. PZ’s context: “discussion of future biological advances that will piss off the religious right”.

US Launches ‘MySpace for Spies’. Not a bad idea. One paragraph:

Thomas Fingar, the deputy director of national intelligence for analysis, believes the common workspace – a kind of “MySpace for analysts” – will generate better analysis by breaking down firewalls across the traditionally stove-piped intelligence community. He says the technology can also help process increasing amounts of information where the number of analysts is limited.

Esme Vos has extracted a pile of interesting stats from a UK report on broadband use.

Patti Davis in Newsweek:

Specially trained security personnel” will be watching passengers for “micro-expressions” that will reveal treacherous agendas and insidious intentions at airports around the country. These agents, who may literally hold your fate in their hands have been given a lofty, Orwellian name: “Behavior Detection Officers.”

NYTimes: AT&Ts Overstuffed iPhone Bills Annoy Customers. Ms. Ezarik, 23, made a one-minute video that shows her flipping through the voluminous bill and posted it to YouTube and other video-sharing sites on Aug. 13. The video has since been viewed more than three million times. AT&T says it will send summary bills from now on.

I was sure Hurricane Dean wiped out these places here. All in the Playa Del Carmen area. But apparently not.

[Later...]

Turns out I was right in the first place and this setting (and everything around it) in the coastal town of is gone:

The three pictures behind the three links in the first sentence above were all shot by my sister Jan and myself while on a shore excursion from the last Linux Lunacy Geek Cruise, in October 2005. In the first comment to this post (and in comments to the picture above), she reminded me that we were in Costa Maya, not Playa Del Carmen. And that Costa Maya got clobbered by Dean, with Majahual right in the storm’s bull’s eye. Here’s a Cruise Ship Report:

Carved from the jungle along the Yucatan coast only six years ago, Costa Maya in that short time has become of the most visited ports in the Western Caribbean, with cruise ships carrying a half million passengers calling there last year…

But Cesar Lizarraga, director of sales and marketing for Costa Maya, said about half the port’s infrastructure — including the cruise ship pier, which was able to accommodate three ships — was damaged by the mammoth storm.

“An early estimate indicates the port will remain closed for six to eight months,” Lizarraga said. Others suggested a mid-2008 timeline might be more realistic.

While the faux Mayan shopping and entertainment complex at the foot of the cruise ship pier suffered heavy damage, the adjacent town of Majahual — where dive and souvenir shops and open-air restaurants lined the picturesque beach — has largely been destroyed.

All our pictures there were of Majahual, not the faux shopping center. The cruise ships avoid telling you about Majahual, but we found out anyway and went there, where we had some of the best fresh cooked fish, ever, at the El Faro restaurant, right on the beach. I can’t imagine it, or anything in that town, which has an elevation of about 3 feet above high tide, and couldn’t be closer to the water.

Here’s the El Faro:

Gone now, for sure.

Says here,

The hurricane hit land near Majahual on the Quintana Roo coast of the Yucatán Peninsula at 08:30 UTC (03:30 EDT) on August 21, 2007. Wind gusts of 200 mph (320 km/h) were reported. The state’s tourist cities of Cancún and Cozumel were spared the worst of the storm, but it wreaked havoc in state capital Chetumal, some 65 km south of landfall.[106][105] However, communication with the Mayan communities near the landfall location has been difficult, and little details are available from there.

Dan Askin of CruiseCritic reports:

What we do know is this: The latest from Costa Maya is that more than 50 percent of the pier has been destroyed by Dean. Rebuilding will required a multi-million dollar investment, and it will be a minimum of six months before cruise ships will return to the port. We’ll know more about the fate of the area as residents, business owners and government crews return today to assess the damage.

And now, courtesy of Julie Minter, we have more details — this time on the nearby fishing village of Majahual. Just a five minutes cab ride from the pier at Costa Maya, the little town has become a popular destination for lunching, beach bumming and souvenir shopping. In her first-hand account of Hurricane Dean’s impact on the areas outside of the actual Costa Maya resort, Minter tells Cruise Critic that the overall scene is quite grim.

“From the new light house all down the town of Mahahual, it is no longer Mahahual, everything is gone!” Many of the local businesses, she tells us, including restaurants, souvenir shops and dive shops are gone, with only a few buildings spared. Minter notes that “busted glass, water and wind damage is seen all over … houses are left in pretty bad shape. It is a shame that not everyone knew or got to visit this beautiful well kept secret that we knew as ‘our private paradise,’ our little island.”

Cruise lines have not yet released information on itinerary changes, but it’s clear that Costa Maya will have to be replaced for the near future.

In the meantime, Minter’s Blue Ocean Safari Dive Center plans to issue refunds to folks who pre-booked shore outings. “Blue Ocean Safari will be closed until further notice – but we will issue refunds once we know that the damage is.”

On Cruise Critic’s Costa Maya forum, some members are trying to contribute to relief efforts; some have even suggested that one way to show support would be to not apply for refunds from cancelled excursions. (Please note Cruise Critic’s rules regarding donations: According to community manager Laura Sterling, “Only links to legitmate relief efforts are allowed.”) Visit the Costa Maya board for more information.

USA Today reports,

Although Dean swept over Yucatan as a rare Category 5 hurricane, which is capable of causing catastrophic damage, the storm’s top winds were relatively narrow and appeared to hit just one town: the cruise ship port of Majahual.

The few people who had not evacuated Majahual fled ahead of the storm. Dean demolished hundreds of houses, crumpled steel girders, splintered wooden structures and washed away parts of concrete dock that transformed what once was a sleepy fishing village into a top cruise ship destination.

There’s a photo here.

And there are many more photos here. Found via this CruiseCritic thread.

Here are photos and a thread recalling Majahual as it was.

One of my biggest rarely-fulfilled fantasies is visiting amazing places I’ve seen from the sky. Starting this Saturday we may do some of that. Or maybe not. Depends on how much we hurry on our road trip from Santa Barbara, California to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where we plan on living for the next year.

(No, we’re not moving there. We are committed Santa Barbarians, and we just moved into our new house here a few months ago. But in order to make the most of my Berkman fellowship, and to step on the gas for ProjectVRM, I need to be there. It should also help my Linux Journal work to be in the company of many talented geeks as well.)

Anyway, as it happened my last flight back from Boston vectored south, across Tulsa, and followed Interstate 40 through the Texas panhandle, across Albequerque, the Painted Desert of Arizona and the volcano-dotted deserts of Southern California on the way into Los Angeles.

I shot a lot of that from the air, as you can see in the photosets behind the pictures in this post. If we take I-40 it’ll be interesting to see how some of the same places look from the ground.

Anyway, in the meantime I’m spending most of my time packing and trying not to drop too many balls on the floor. So expect continued light blogging.

The Zaca Fire will grow past 200,000 acres today. That makes it the third largest wildfire in California history. It has not only surpassed last year’s Day Fire (map), but is running into the Day Fire’s burned perimeter on its east flank.

The danger now appears to be mostly passed here in Santa Barbara; but the fire continues to spread in Ventura County.

The picture above is one I took from downtown two days ago. It looks like this pretty much every day that the wind isn’t blowing in this direction, in which case we can’t see anything.

Photos of the Day Fire itself. Photos I’ve tagged dayfire.

Sheila Lennon reports that Power 106fm in Jamaica is streaming live during Hurricane Dean. The site has links to Real and Windows Media streams, but the latter are .pls, which might be open-able by other players.

Even if you can’t hear about the storm, you can follow it on the Go-Jamaica Hurricane Dean Blog.

Stephen Lewis has an excellent blog post on the declining U.S. dollar. Says Steve, It is an odd state of affairs when the US dollar is closer in value to the currency of a small and corrupt Balkan republic than it is to the common currency of its major economic rival, the European Union. He goes on to examine important points in the histories of the U.S. and Bulgarian economies, with vectors heading in crossing directions. One sample:

A decade ago, an American ambassador to Bulgaria confided in me that US government was quite pleased with Bulgaria’s new gangster capitalists, adding, quite approvingly no less, that “… they are really no different from our own robber barons.” I would disagree. Many of America’s 19th century robber baron industrialists left behind not only the scars of their depredations but also the full infrastructure on which late-19th and early-20th century economies were based on — railroads, steel mills, oil refineries, etc.

He asks,

As the dollar sinks closer to the Bulgarian Lev, the US might consider learning from Bulgaria’s recent experiences. One could almost think the unthinkable: Might the US benefit from having the IMF set up a board to oversee its currency? Might the US benefit from membership candidacy in the EU and the consequent eligibility for proper inspection and maintenance of its physical infrastructure and for bringing its social welfare, income distribution, medical care, and quality of life up to European standards, standards that owe much to America’s Marshall Plan?

It’s a serious question. Ever since the first Nixon administration the U.S. has been in the grip of an economic belief system that dismisses the need for infrastructure investment, and ignores the vast “because effects” of that investment. Even the Republican party’s fondness for thrift has held no sway in recent years.

What would the benefits have been, for example, if the U.S. had invested in infrastructure what Steve calls the near-incomprehensible waste and corruption of the four-year-long debt-financed war in Iraq? The mind boggles.

We need to re-frame the public conversation about infrastructure. However we do that, we need to give full respect to its benefits. Or face driving off some failed bridge on our highway to hell.

At 8pm yesterday evening (Friday) Inciweb’s Zaca Fire section issued this:

Effective August 17, 2007 8:00pm

The Santa Barbara County Sheriffs Department and fire authorities have issued an EVACUATION WARNING for East Camino Cielo Road from Gibraltar Road east to the Ventura County Line including Gibraltar Reservoir and Jameson Lake.

Residents of these areas should consider what they need to take and be prepared to leave upon notice of the Sheriff’s Department, as they may not be able to come back to retrieve personal items due to potentially rapidly changing fire conditions.

An EVACUATION WARNING alerts community members in this defined area of a potential threat to life and property from an emergency incident. An evacuation order may follow as a result of the threat.

Here is a map time-stamp at 1:30am yesterday, around 22 hours before now (12:10am):

(Source here.)

I’ve drawn a line around the evacuation area, from Gibraltar Road and Gibraltar Reservoir on the west to Jameson Reservoir on the east.

While that looks and sounds ominous, Inciweb currently also says this: “South side of the fire: Indirect line strategy should succeed by 9/7.”

Let’s hope it’s by then or sooner.

Meanwhile, here’s how that back country (much of it now burned) looked when Doug Kaye flew us over it in May 2005:

Today’s forecast: falling ash

I haven’t posted much on the Zaca Fire since I got back. One reason is that — for the moment, at least — civilization seems less threatened, even as the wilderness behind us burns away. The other is that I have a lot to say about it, and work with other locals to do on it, that I’m just not ready for, since neglected deadlines for other real-world obligations loom.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not watching. In fact, we don’t have much choice.

Yesterday, for example, was an orange day. All day long the sun was filtered though clouds of ash from the fire. I took a few pictures, naturally. The set is at the link here and behind the picture above.

And if you want to follow progress with the fire on the Live Web, check out the Zaca Fire news river that David Sifry put together in the midst of other pressing matters. “Be of service” has always been his motto. Came through here, too.

Skype is down. Worldwide. If Skype is your phone company, you get an interesting experience in a certain kind of absolute dependency — one we’re still all trying to work out.

So consider this practice for when the same thing happens to services provided by Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Flickr or any other central point of Crit-One failure affecting millions.

I’m late weighing in on the New York Times’ reported decision to drop Times Select. But not on calling it a bad idea in the first place. Nor on offering alternative ways of looking at both problems and opportunities for newspapers in a networked world.

Rather than just point to what I’ve already said (in my now-mothballed old blog), I’ll just repeat it here:

  1. Stop giving away the news and charging for the olds. Okay, give away the news, if you have to, on your website. There’s advertising money there. But please, open up the archives. Stop putting tomorrow’s fishwrap behind paywalls. (Dean Landsman was the first to call this a “fishwrap fee”.) Writers hate it. Readers hate it. Worst of all, Google and Yahoo and Technorati and Icerocket and all your other search engines ignore it. Today we see the networked world through search engines. Hiding your archives behind a paywall makes your part of the world completely invisilble. If you open the archives, and make them crawlable by search engine spiders, your authority in your commmunity will increase immeasurably. (This point is proven by Santa Barbara vs. Fort Myers, both with papers called News-Press, one with contents behind a paywall and the other wide open.) Plus, you’ll open all that inventory to advertising possibilities. And I’ll betcha you’ll make more money with advertising than you ever made selling stale editorial to readers who hate paying for it. (And please, let’s not talk about Times Select. Your paper’s not the NY Times, and the jury is waaay out on that thing.)
  2. Start featuring archived stuff on the paper’s website. Link back to as many of your archives as you can. Get writers in the habit of sourcing and linking to archival editorial. This will provide paths for search engine spiders to follow back in those archives as well. Result: more readers, more authority, more respect, higher PageRank and higher-level results in searches. In fact, it would be a good idea to have one page on the paper’s website that has links (or links to links, in an outline) back to every archived item.
  3. Link outside the paper. Encourage reporters and editors to write linky text. This will encourage reciprocity on the part of readers and writers who appreciate the social gesture that a link also performs. Over time this will bring back enormous benefits through increased visits, higher respect, more authority and the rest of it.
  4. Start following, and linking to, local bloggers and even competing papers (such as the local arts weeklies). You’re not the only game in town anymore, and haven’t been for some time. Instead you’re the biggest fish in your pond’s ecosystem. Learn to get along and support each other, and everybody will benefit.
  5. Start looking toward the best of those bloggers as potential stringers. Or at least as partners in shared job of informing the community about What’s Going On and What Matters Around Here. The blogosphere is thick with obsessives who write (often with more authority than anybody inside the paper) on topics like water quality, politics, road improvement, historical preservation, performing artisty and a zillion other topics. These people, these writers, are potentially huge resources for you. They are not competitors. The whole “bloggers vs. journalism” thing is a red herring, and a rotten one at that. There’s a symbiosis that needs to happen, and it’s barely beginning. Get in front of it, and everybody will benefit.
  6. Start looking to citizen journalists (CJs) for coverage of hot breaking local news topics — such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires and so on. There are plenty of people with digital cameras, camcorders, cell phones and other devices that can prove mighty handy for following stories up close and personally. Great example: what Sig Solares and his crew did during Katrina.
  7. Stop calling everything “content”. It’s a bullshit word that the dot-commers started using back in the ’90s as a wrapper for everything that could be digitized and put online. It’s handy, but it masks and insults the true natures* of writing, journalism, photography, and the rest of what we still, blessedly (if adjectivally) call “editorial”. Your job is journalism, not container cargo.
  8. Uncomplicate your webistes. I can’t find a single newspaper that doesn’t have a slow-loading, hard-to-navigate, crapped-up home page. These things are aversive, confusing and often useless beyond endurance. Simplify the damn things. Quit trying to “drive traffic” into a maze where every link leads to another route through of the same mess. You have readers trying to learn something, not cars looking for places to park. And please, get rid of those lame registration systems. Quit trying to wring dollars out of every click. I guarantee you’ll sell more advertising to more advertisers reaching more readers if you take down the barricades and (again) link outward more. And you’ll save all kinds of time and hassle.
  9. Get hip to the Live Web. That’s the one with verbs such as write, read, update, post, author, subscribe, syndicate, feed and link. This is the part of the Web that’s growing on top of the old Static Web of nouns such as site, address, location, traffic, architecure and construction. Nothing wrong with any of those static nouns (or their verb forms). They’re the foundation, the bedrock. They are necessary but insufficient for what’s needed on the Live Web, which is where your paper needs to live and grow and become more valuable to its communities (as well as Wall Street).
  Lemme unpack that a bit. The Static Web is what holds still long enough for Google and Yahoo to send out spiders to the entire universe and index what they find. The Live Web is is what’s happening right now. It’s dynamic. (Thank you, Virginia.) It includes all the stuff that’s syndicated through RSS and searched by Google Blogsearch, IceRocket and Technorati. What I post here, and what others post about this post, will be found and indexed by Live Web search engines in a matter of minutes. For those who subscribe to feeds of this blog, and of other blogs, the notification is truly live. Your daily paper has pages, not sites. The difference is not “just semantic”. It’s fundamental. It’s how you reclaim, and assert, your souls in the connected world. It’s also how you shed dead conceptual weight, get light and nimble, and show Wall Street how you’re not just ahead of the curve, but laying pavement beyond everybody else’s horizon. It’s how your leverage the advantages of history, of incumbency, and of already being in a going business. (The hard part will be raising your paper’s heartbeat from once a day to once a second. But you can do it. Your own heart sets a good example.)
  10. Publish Rivers of News for readers who use Blackberries or Treos or Nokia 770s, or other handheld Web browsers. Your current home page, and all your editorial pages, are torture to read with those things. See the example Dave Winer provides with a from the NY Times. See what David Sifry did for the Day Fire here in California. Don’t try to monetize it right away. Trust me, you’ll make a lot more money — and get a lot more respect from Wall Street — because you’ve got news rivers, than you’ll make with those rivers.
  * One more…
  11. Remember the higher purpose behind the most informative writing — and therefore behind newspapers as well. To review,
  I don’t think of my what I do here as production of “information” that others “consume”. Nor do I think of it as “one-to-many” or “many-to-many”. I thnk of it as writing that will hopefully inform readers.
  Informing is not the same as “delivering information”. Inform is derived from the verb to form. When you inform me, you form me. You enlarge that which makes me most human: what I know. I am, to some degree, authored by you.
  What we call “authority” is the right we give others to author us, to enlarge us.
  The human need to increase what we know, and to help each other do the same, is what the Net at its best is all about. Yeah, it’s about other things. But it needs to be respected as an accessory to our humanity. And terms like “social media”, forgive me, don’t do that. (At least not for me.

Speaking of news rivers, David Sifry has just created one for the Zaca Fire. Much appreciated.

Blandwidth

The graphic on the left is from a Vonage test of the connection at a friend’s house near Boston. Comcast cable is her provider. The test was on her computer, which is connected directly to the cable modem. I thought that test result was exceedingly lopsided and Old Skool in respect to upstream performance, so I conducted a different test on the same connection with the same computer. The result: 11958Kbps down and 358Kbps up.

Comcast can do better than that. I suspect the only reason they’re not is because they’d need to “bind” some number of channels that would otherwise carry television. Whatever’s going on, it’s clear that the Net is just gravy on TV. Feh.

One disappointment of my Canon 30D camera is that the colors, while almost clinically accurate, are not as rich as they were on my old Nikon Coolpix 5700. The Coolpix is now a five-year-old model, with only 5 megapixels and no switchable lenses or anything. Yet it took some outstanding shots. The one above was taken at SBA, the Santa Barbara Airport, through a chain link fence. Shots in that series are still among my faves.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department has put out a Red Flag Alert:

As of 2:00 pm, August 13, 2007, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, in conjunction with other fire agencies in the county, has declared a county-wide “RED FLAG ALERT”. This alert will be in effect until 9:00 pm on August 15th, 2007, when it will be reassessed. This “RED FLAG ALERT” is being declared based on the change in weather conditions towards a warmer period coupled with low relative humidities and predicted Sundowner winds in the South coast Area.

Inciweb says the alert is “a reminder to local residents to be fire safe”.

Well, the main problem for the whole South Coast is actually the high degree of fire safety that has actually been sustained for a record length of time. Our last big wild fire was Painted Cave, in 1990 — seventeen years ago. Going back in time, fires were five, six, two, six, five, one and nine years earlier.

That means we’ve been lulled into a degree of lassitude about the likelihood of wildfires. Yes, fire prevention, fighting and supresion have all improved. but the fact remains that Santa Barbara is sandwiched between the sea and mountains, literally, of what firefighters call “fuel”. If a fire comes down the mountain, pushed by “sundowner” or Santa Ana winds, we’re going to see dozens, hundreds or thousands of homes burned within hours.

I was witness to the Oakland fire of 1990, which killed 26 people and burned over 3000 homes in a matter of hours. At one point houses were exploding at a rate of one every four seconds. We had friends who lost both homes and neighbots there. I also toured the area not long afterward as a board member of a local Red Cross chapter. It was a life-changing experience. I saw cars melted to metal puddles. Home sites where even chimneys were gone, their bricks and rocks exploded by heat exceeding that of steel mill blast furnaces.

To help us understand what all of us face but relatively few of us have experienced, I’ll point to an excellent series on Santa Barbara Wildfires at Santa Barbara Outdoors. Here’s the list, with links to each:

SANTA BARBARA WILDFIRES

I said here that we need a full-service public radio station to do what our existing public and commercial stations do not appear to be in a position to do, should an Oakland-grade fire come down the mountains and into town.

That will take awhile to make happen. Meanwhile, what will we do to inform ourselves if a fire like that comes next week, next month or even next year?

I have some thoughts about that, which I’ve been getting ready to publish in a post at Linux Journal. Look for that on Thursday, after I’m back in town. (I’ve been in Boston and Baltimore for the past several weeks.)

Tags: , , .

Quote du jour

Brian Solis on Deleting Users, Audience, and Messages from PR and Social Media:

Attention PR and practicing Social Media professionals, step away from using “messages” to target “users” and “audience.” They are no longer filling the theaters, stadiums, and auditoriums to hear from marketers… 

please, don’t call them “users” or your target “audience,” because they are also the people formerly known as the audience.

Hard to believe it’s more than nine years since I wrote this.

Nice to make

RickMahn’s Top 10 blogs.

We do our part

The Boston Globe says Outside.in says Boston is the bloggiest place in the country. Dr. Weinberger gets quoted.

A reader writes,

I just did a search on Flickr for “Doc”  and got “Would you like to try a search for photos about bashful, dopey, grumpy, happy or sleepy instead?”

I failed to reproduce the effect, but still, it’s funny. Not that it matters, but I was “Sleepy” in junior high school. With good cause. Except for Bashful, I’ve been all the dwarves.

Personalizing our own health care

Let’s say you have to go to the hospital, and among your problems is an inability to use  your writing hand. What do you do when they hand you a clipboard and tell you to fill out your relevant health care history?

That and other questions are partly answered in Health Care Relationship Management, over at the ProjectVRM blog.

Old look, new feel

With help from the excellent Danny Silverman, here in the Berkman geek cave, the old “Colonel Sanders” banner is now at the top of the new blog.

Seems pretty good to me. What do ya’ll think?

Crafts in the can

That’s toilet paper origami, found via the Junkyard Sports Community. Bonus kick: Flashlight art.

Mashing is believing

Two casual photos I’ve taken of Baltimore have made their way into the Schmap guide for the city.

Quote du jour

JP Rangaswami: When you don’t focus on the user, the user gets shafted.

That’s when the antecedent of you is a developer or a company that needs, by mission, to focus on users.

Such may not be the case, however, for deep infrastructure developers. This is why with Linux, for example, we draw a sharp distinction between kernel space and user space.

What happens in user space depends on what happens in kernel space, but user space doesn’t run development in kernel space. More about that here and here.

Prophesies

In the VRM blog: In Web 3.0, the best wall-less gardens will win.

Here’s another: Love is the ultimate lock-in.

Earn and respect your customers’ love, and the rest is gravy. Including the kind you can put in the bank.

One of the things I like best about digital photography is seeing results and learning from them immediately. In shots like the one above, for example, I could see that the time exposure actually worked, even from an airplane flying at hundreds of miles an hour. I not only see what I got right away, but I know exactly what settings produced the exposure, and I don’t have to waste a roll of film and a pile of prints to see the result.

Shots like these also fool the photo processing systems too. Those systems often think night shots like these are underexposed and compensate by overexposing them in the printing process. To get the shot above to work with film, I’d probably need to bring the negative back in with specific instructions to enlarge it properly.

It’s also interesting for me to see, often months after I’ve posted them, which pictures people remark upon or call favorites. The one above, for example, I shot on June 6 of last year. Since then it has been called a favorite by five different people, all at different times, including once a few hours ago, which is how it returned to my attention.

The shots of mine that others call favorites are often not my own favorites. Yet the fact that others have “favorited” these is interesting and rewarding to me. It’s also taught me not to edit too heavily. Better to throw a pile of stuff up there than to post only those shots I consider most worthy.

Also, how people relate to photographs differs from one online photo service to another. For example, Tabblo (born in Cambridge, MA) supplements Flickr pefectly as a place to assemble photos into montages or “tabblos” that can, if you like, be printed in a variety of forms. (Disclosure: I’ve consulted Tabblo in the past.) Thanks to mashable web services, I can flow my Flickr sets into tabblos. It’s interesting to me that this tabblo has had 14 comments (two by me, in response to others), including two favorites (not by me), out of just 90 views. Meanwhile the original photo set on Flickr has had 2 comments out of 244 views. For the Tabblo set that’s more than 10x the rate of commenting on way less than half of the viewing of the same set on Flickr.

What would be my own favorites, among either photos or sets or tabblos? I’ll post a few here over the coming days or weeks, to see if any of the rest of ya’ll agree.

The power went off when the storm came through yesterday afternoon (see the post below). I heard it happen first when I was driving through Baltimore, watching the storm gather, listening to WEAA/88.9 on the radio. Faint hints of lightning blinked in the sky. On one of the brighter blinks, the station’s audio went out. The signal was still there, broadcasting silence; but the audio was gone. A few minutes later, back at the house, I was working on my laptop when the lights blinked a couple of times then went dark … and stayed that way until 5:30 this morning. Of course the air conditioning went out too. So did the fridge, and the washer, and everything else. The baby (my new first grandchild) was oblivious to the discomfort of the adults, still dealing with a hot day and night — and also a wet one, as waves of rain came and went. Over 4000 Marylandians were without power from BGE, which said it would be back up at 5:30, then 9:30, then 11:00. All of which were wrong, it turned out.

Anyway, I’m at a coffee shop this morning, where the wi-fi is free but slow. I did manage to upload some pix of the Grand Canyon, however, shot a few weeks ago from the same flight from LHR to LAX on which I toured southern Greenland. A sample:

Closer to home, firefighters have held the southern flank of the Zaca Fire. Although they’ve got a lot of fighting left to do, it looks like Santa Barbara is safer than it looked a day or two ago.

I’m in one of the yellow areas in the dopper radar map above. My wife and kid are in a rental car in a dark red area, driving into BWI for a flight home that I suspect may be delayed. Meanwhile power is out at my daughter’s family’s house. I’m sitting in a chair on the front porch, enjoying the thunderstorm, connected to the Net by EvDO on the cell system. It’s an old neighborhood, so the yard and road are shaded by large old oak, maple and elm trees. The rain drips twice in front of the porch, once from the sky onto the house and trees, and once from the leaves onto the ground. I don’t see much lightning, but the thunder is a low, almost constant rumble, tumbling across the sky, as if vast boulders were rolling around on an invisble metal ceiling. Tire treads from cars rolling by make long kissing sounds on wet pavement. These too have doppler effects, rising in tone on approach and dropping as they depart. There is an urgency to driving I don’t share here on the porch. We are in two different Newtonian states: bodies in motion and bodies at rest. Observation by drivers is mandatory, but only through narrow cones of relevance, one constantly oncoming, the other receding in rear-view mirrors. Observation by trees and porch-sitters is optional. Which makes this post an indulgence.

I have Linux Journal work to do. That’s fun too, watching from afar what’s happening at Linux World Expo in San Francisco. The Net too is a natural environment: a true public marketplace of the ancient type — a noisy place where people gather to do business and make culture. Yet even as we enlarge this place more every day, it seems we understand it less. The Net, for all its finite and fully revealed complexities, is no less mysterious the rest of Creation. Life is nothing if not extravagant and original and mysterious at its original core — on the Net no less than ground soaked by rain.

Recently at Harvard we had a meeting where the subject of the Internet as a “public good” was discussed. For all the excellent thought and conversation we shared, it seemed to me we failed, unavoidably to grip a fundamental question from which all answers must be gounded. Namely, What is the Net?

We have knowledge of this no less than we have knowledge of life. We know it, we experience it, yet we cannot explain the origins of its origins, which are neither chicken nor egg. Whitman writes,

The press of my foot to the earth
springs a hundred affections.
They scorn the best I can do to relate them.

These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands.
They are not original with me.
If they are not yours as much as mine
they are nothing or next to nothing.
If they do not enclose everything they are next to nothing.
If they are not the riddle and the undying of the riddle
they are nothing.
If they are not just as close as they are distant
they are nothing.

This is the grass that grows
wherever the land is and the water is.
This is the common air that bathes the globe.

Is the Net no less a globe than the one on which we walk? I wonder.

We made the Net. We are its gods. Yet our voices are not those of burning bushes. They are the buzz of the public marketplace. Is this place — where you and I are now — any less holy, or even primeval, than a forest floor? I suggest it isn’t, because at its core is a fecund nothingness: a zero-distance void between you and I and each of us who choose to connect on it. The working distance between you and I right now is less than between myself and the family inside this house — a fact that slightly bothers me. Yet, when I shut the lid on this laptop, the distance between you and I will return to the finite: no less close than that between readers and the authors of books. Now the proximal is returned to advantage: I will step inside a door to visit a baby just a few days old: a full self where a year ago there was none. When he becomes conscious of his own original mysteries, what will he see?

Here’s what Whitman saw:

Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me.
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing,
the vapor from the nostrils of death.
I know I was even there.
I waited unseen and always.
And slept while God carried me
through the lethargic mist.
And took my time.

Long I was hugged close. Long and long.
Infinite have been the preparations for me.
Faithful and friendly the arms that have helped me.

Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing
like cheerful boatmen;
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings.
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.

Before I was born out of my mother
generations guided me.
My embryo has never been torpid.
Nothing could overlay it.
For it the nebula cohered to an orb.
The long slow strata piled to rest it on.
Vast vegetables gave it substance.
Monstrous animals transported it in their mouths
and deposited it with care.

All forces have been steadily employed
to complete and delight me.
Now I stand on this spot with my soul.

I know that I have the best of time and space.
And that I was never measured, and never will be measured.

I tramp a perpetual journey.
My signs are a rainproof coat, good shoes
and a staff cut from the wood.

Each man and woman of you I lead upon a knoll.
My left hand hooks you about the waist,
My right hand points to landscapes and continents,
and a plain public road.

Not I, nor any one else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it for yourself.

It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born
and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.

Shoulder your duds, and I will mine,
and let us hasten forth.

Humans are traveling animals. More than upright walkers, we are runners. I have read that a healthy young adult, or a small pack of them, can run almost indefinitely, and surely exhausted many a meal. The human diaspora spread out of Africa like a stain across everywhere on water and land, all in in the span of a few dozen millennia. Now our shouldered duds are laptops and cell phones, and no longer just staffs cut from wood. Is this bad? I suggest it is no less natural. We are less “digital natives” than beings that extend their senses and powers by making tools and then making things from those tools that further extend their senses and powers. By powers of indwelling our vehicles become extensions of our greater selves. It is not for lack of fact that drivers speak of “my fender” and fliers speak of “my wings”. We are skilled at being far more than our fleshy sleves. And we lean toward movement, always hastening down the public road.

Whitman concludes,

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me.
He complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me.
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any
on the shadowed wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the desk.

I depart as air.
I shake my white locks at the runaway sun.
I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt and grow
from the grass I love.
If you want me again look for me under your boot soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean.
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless.
And filtre and fiber your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged.
Missing me one place search another
I stop some where waiting for you.

Here, for example. Wherever this is.

Terry Heaton, TV consultant extraordinaire, writes:

I just moved into a house, and the nice fellow from Verizon came yesterday and installed FIOS, which is the new 800-pound gorilla in this whole TV/Internet thing. Everything’s available on-demand. There’s a button you push that shrinks the screen and reveals real time weather and traffic information, provided by some distant company (why not a local media company?).

Everything is IP-driven, so the system is two-way without a phone line. Viewing metrics won’t be based on panels or algorithms or statistical analysis or any formula-based guesswork.

If you can do it online, you can do it on your TV. Widget development has just begun. The thing is absolutely amazing, and Verizon makes everything customer-friendly. (BTW, My internet is lightning fast, although not up to what’s advertised.) I mean, I hate to sound like a commercial, but you cannot imagine the difference until you have it. I’ve been writing about Fiber To The Home (FTTH) for years, and it lives up to its potential.

I have never been more convinced that the business model of television is at serious risk and that broadcasters who continue to believe that their real competition is the guy across town (see Steve’s excellent piece below) are on a one-way path to the tar pits. It is not a time for same-old, same-old, and reaching for revenue in a multi-platform delivery paradigm alone is not going to produce enough revenue growth to offset losses to our incumbent businesses.

Local information is rapidly becoming commoditized, and that’s our core competency. You can’t scale a content business in such an environment; the economics have to come from elsewhere. This is path two of our Simulpath™ strategy for local media.

He also points to Jeff Jarvis, responding to this report, which says online advertising will be bigger than newspaper advertising by 2011:

The report also says that our total media usage is declining, though what’s interesting to me is that part of this, they say, comes from efficiency and that’s an important concept in the morphing of media: The internet exposes the inefficiencies of old media for both “consumers” and advertisers. The internet makes direct connections. Note also in the report that we are taking in less ad-supported media because there is more media without ads and also, again, because we can connect directly to information around advertising.

The vector here is not toward more advertising online. It’s toward less advertising overall, and a less “mediated” world.

This is a world where The Media will only be part of the mediated picture. Consumers will always be legion, but with producers and intermediaries becoming legion as well, what makes the rest of the picture? The short answer is anything. This should be good for the economy, as well as civilization, even as it threatens every institution that ever called itself “media”.

What inflates the Web 2.0 bubble is not the technologies and practices it encompasses, but the belief by businesses old and new that advertising will sustain everybody as a “business model” (a term which, along with “content”, became buzzvogue during the Web 1.0 bubble). Free money is a huge reality distortion field, but that’s how too much business looks right now from downstream in the tidal flow of advertising money from many old media to one big new one.

But, to mix metaphors, trees do not grow to the sky.

Advertising has always been woefully inefficient. Improving targeting and making advertising accountable by counting click-throughs does not solve the problem that advertising has always been an exercise in guesswork. At some point the guessing ends — not by absolute improvements in targeting, but by the creation of new methods by which demand finds supply. These methods will be anchored in better tools for customers, and better means for sellers and intermediaries to satisfy demand by connecting to better-equipped customers.

The Net revolution has always been about radically improving the connections between demand and supply, and about equipping profusions on both sides of the relationship — while reducing intermediary costs and frictions in the direction of zero.

As a term for describing this development, “commoditization” is a misleading failure. Roles are changing far more than “content” — a term which itself misleads by reducing the informing of people to deliverable commodities. People still need to inform other people. More ways to do that will emerge. There will be business models there. Supply and demand will find each other. We need to figure out how to make new and better money with new and better roles. Advertising will still be part of that picture, but it won’t fund the whole thing.

Friends have been turning me on to Zaca Fire perimeter pictures. Here’s one:

GeoMac is another.

This too.

That’s in additon to news such as this and this and this.

Ray Ford at the Independent added this, with lots of maps and detailed coverage.

Ray Ford has an excellent piece in the Independent on the .

The good news:

  With today’s morning fog — almost a misty drizzle — Paradise, Rosario Park and Camino Cielo residents can rest assured that the danger is over for them.

The bad news:

  By day’s end the fire had crossed almost the entire length of Buckhorn Road from Little Pine to Big Pine Mountain — more than a ten-mile section — causing the fire to expand dramatically into the Dick Smith Wilderness and, more ominously, towards Santa Barbara. What had been a relatively narrow fire confined to the deep interior of the backcountry now has more than twenty miles of uncontrolled fire line that now has multiple heads, with each posing its own threat.

  The Zaca Fire has not only moved into an entirely new phase, there is a potential for major fire growth, loss of huge chunks of habitat and a serious threat to the South Coast.

This map from the NewsPress shows the expanded fire perimeter. Not sure how it matches up with the Independent’s report. The official maps are at InciWeb, which is down as I write this.

It’s frustrating to follow this from the other side of the country. I’m listening right now to “The Baron” Ron Herron on AM 1290, the News-Press station. There’s a link to the stream on the NewsPress home page. Even live coverage is locked behind a subscriber paywall, however. And the station itself has no webpage, which is inexcusable for a news station.

KTMS is back to being “AM 990″. I guess they’re still also on 1490 and have decided not to sell off the 990 signal. But there’s nothing live on the site. No streams. Dennis Miller (yes, that one) is on right now. He’s actually a good morning man. You can subscribe to the show for $49.95/year. Podcasts are free, it appears. Dennis lives in Montecito, the thoroughly wooded town that comprises the East End of Santa Barbara.

Now The Barron is reading news from this morning’s paper. This has been the routine since AM 1290 went on the air a couple years ago. The news station itself has no apparent news staff. The station just ran CNN news, and is now running BBC World Service. Not exactly Local Stuff.

It’s going on a month since I wrote Lighting a fire for public radio in Santa Barbara. Nothing much has changed since then, other than the urgency.

I won’t be back in town until after the 15th. If we still have a house, and a town, it would be good to meet and talk about the possibilities. A number of people have written me with support for getting the ball rolling. If you want to add to that number, say so in the comments below, or send an email to (my first hame)@(my last name).com.

In the last two weeks we’ve had three unpleasant car rental experiences, each of which is an angle on what’s been screwed up for way to long with that whole category.

Read more about it at the ProjectVRM blog.

Laugh tracking

rec.humor.funny is 20 years old today. Brad Templeton calls it the world’s oldest blog. My own vote goes to Poor Richard’s Almanack, which did for print what blogs did for pixels. Come to think of it, PRA could be funny too.

Back to natures

Living in coastal California can dull one’s Eastern edge, forged in the heat of summer, sharpened by abrasive seasons, the recurrent swelters and chills of true summers and winters.

I’ve always been, as my old business partner David Hodskins correctly put it, comfort-imperative. Maybe that’s one reason I stayed so long on the California coast after David took our company there from North Carolilna for good business reasons: there was only one Silicon Valley, and that’s where we belonged. Temperate conditions certainly helped draw me to Santa Barbara, although I would have gone and stayed anywhere my wife liked.

Once my work life moved to the Net, I could live anywhere with a good connection. For a combination of that and perfect weather Santa Barbara was far more suitable than anywhere else. The dream home we left in Woodside had “IDSL” that was barely better than dial-up, though it did come with sixteen IP addresses and no port blockages — a grace I still miss. Connectivity was much better in Santa Barbara, although it’s better elsewhere now.

For the last couple weeks we’ve been getting ready for a year or more in Boston, where I’ll base myself at the Berkman Center, and where we’ll be within driving and short-range flying distance to Baltimore, where half our kids and our only grandchild live — he was born here four days ago. That’s why I’m in Baltimore right now, sitting on the front porch of that kid’s house at 2am, listening to crickets loud as factory noise while swatting insects away from the light of my laptop screen. It’s 78° outside, weather.com says. But it also says the humidity is 90%, a number Santa Barbara hasn’t experienced since the Pleistocene. It’s been hot every day we’ve been in Boston and Baltimore. The forecast for today is for 98°. Nothing new there, for Baltimore or for me.

I was born and raised in New Jersey and New York, in homes and schools with no air conditioning. By the time my parents finally put a room AC in their house, I was off to boarding school, where there was none. When I went to college in North Carolina, there wasn’t any there, either. None of the family cars had working AC when I was growing up. Nor did any of the cars I owned, from the time I grew up until I bought my first and only new car, a 1985 Toyota Camry. I turned 38 in that model year. Except for one double-wide in the woods north of Chapel Hill, none of my homes in North Carolina had AC, either. We just stuck fans in the windows, and everywhere else we could.

Our summer place in South Jersey not only had no AC when my father and uncle built it, but had no electricity or indoor plumbing either. Those came later, but never any AC. The living area of our home in the pine woods was a kitchen with a big round oak table and walls comprised of salvaged screen windows with hinged glass ones on the outside. My job every morning was to go out and open the glass ones, if they weren’t open already to let the air through.

The forest was a canopy of pine and scrub oak, with a floor of blueberries and huckleberries, which tasted sweeter than any you ever bought in a store. The berry bushes were perfect cover for hide-and seek, and the trees were perfect for building elevated child housing and hanging hammocks in clearings. My aunt and grandmother lived at the other end of a winding trail through the woods, every foot of which I still remember like it was yesterday. A second trail branched off to my great aunt and uncle’s house. Summers were filled with visiting relatives and daily drives to the beach, where we kids would play in the sand and surf while the adults fished or sat under beach umbrellas.

There was no sunblock in those days, just “suntan lotion” that made you smell sweet and look sweaty. We rarely put it on. Instead we just browned in the sun.

On the way home we’d stop at a roadside farm market and pick up tomatoes and corn picked fresh from the fields. I’ll die believing no species of fruit or vegetable tastes better than fresh New Jersey corn or tomatoes. We had a table with a porcelain top, outside our kitchen, where we’d shuck corn after we got home. Inside Mom chopped tomatoes into chunks to marinate in olive oil with garlic and other spices. Odd that my memories of dinner involve no meat other than the steamed clams or boiled crabs (caught by ourselves, in Barnegat Bay), served in abundance when large numbers of guests came over, which was pretty often.

It’s funny to think, as I sit here fresh into my sixties, that none of my memories of those summers involves weather-related discomfort. Yes, we knew it was hot, but it hardly made more sense to note heat than the recurrence of light and dark. Weather worth noting usually involved rain: summer thunderstorms or the edges of stray hurricanes, late in the season.

So I’m thinking that now, in the middle of a summer night on a Baltimore porch, soaked in sweat, that I’m getting my edge back. If you’re not actually burning or freezing, heat and cold are just sensations. You can call them discomfort if you like, but they’re a small price to pay for experiencing nature’s cyclic perfections.

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[Later...] Cool write-up at the Berkman Center on the moves here, with nice credits to Dave for his help.

Getting real

The New York Times says Fake Steve Jobs is really Dan Lyons, a writer for Forbes. Remember Attack of the Blogs, from a Forbes in Fall of 2005? That was Dan’s. He interviewed me for that piece, which was quite controversial at the time. I had been warned that Dan was out to “get” me in some way, but that didn’t happen and my interactions with him have all been friendly. He also has a sense of humor. From his latest:

One bright side is that at least I was busted by the Times and not Valleywag. I really, really enjoyed seeing those guys keep guessing wrong. For six months Dr. Evil and Mr. Bigglesworth put their big brains together and couldn’t come up with the answer. Guy from the Times did it in a week.

As teapot tempests go, quite entertaining.

To feel some of the heat, check out this Groklaw piece, with 176 comments so far.

I’m in Baltimore for about a week, enjoying good times with family. And with the city. In spite of all the publicity by Poe, Mencken, Levinson, Waters, and a pile of fine sports teams, Baltimore remains one of the most overlooked cities in the world — a singular center of shipping, education, industry, medicine, science, history, government, art, sports fanaticism and other signs of advanced civilization. All those virtues make for fun exploration, too. Which I’ve done every time I’ve come here.

Of course, I’ve shot pictures. Click on the one above (from Fort McHenry) for all 244 shots I’ve tagged “Baltimore”. In addition to photosets here, here and here, it includes shots from the sky — such as this one, taken at night from high overhead on a flight from Los Angeles to Boston.

Sometime in the last couple of days I was at a hospital (don’t worry) that offered free wi-fi. Like many free wi-fi services, it required saying yes to something on a “welcome” page before allowing me to move along to the page my browser had requested.Now I’m elsewhere, but the page — Google — won’t come up. Instead the browser substitutes this URL: https://wireless.lifebridgehealth.org/lo… . I can edit the URL to remove all but the google part, but the browser automatically fills in the rest of the unwanted lifebridgehealth.org text.

How do I get rid of that? Anybody know? The browser is Firefox 2.0.0.6.

Trouble in Paradise

The Zaca Fire has burned southeast through the Los Padres National Forest, and straight toward Santa Barbara. This report says the fire can be seen from Paradise Valley now, and is advancing in that direction. Paradise Valley is being evacuated, and 154 — the main road from Santa Barbara northwest through the Santa Ynez Valley — is closed.

Paradise Valley is not misnamed. It’s one of the most beautiful places in California, and therefore the world. Here are the Flickr shots I have tagged with ParadiseValley.

If the fire crosses Paradise Valley, the next line of defense for Santa Barbara is the top of the Santa Ynez ridge, along East Camino Cielo. If that fails, and the wind is blowing hard toward town, it will be hard to avoid disaster.
Here’s hoping the fighters succeed in containing the fire.

Growing forums

Exploring the Harvard Weblogs environment, I just ran across a question from Phillip Greenspun about his Solar Magnitude Forum. The subject is dear to my mind, along with aviation and photography, two more of Phillip’s deep interests. The bottom line: This would be a good Computer Science master’s degree project. If you are interested in our help, please contact us via email.

In Linux Journal: What would you do with fat fiber? An excerpt:

  …it’s clear that there’s room for real differentiation here. I would think there’s a huge opportunity for one of them to break loose and offer exactly what Bob, a helluva good customer (he co-invented the spreadsheet and helped home networking happen), is asking for. They could offer simple IP connectivity. I’d understand something less than all-you-can-eat (there can still be tragedies of the commons, even with fiber); but hell, let us eat something more than telephone, television and third-banana Internet service crippled to make room for the other two.
  I have no beef with all of them offering television. That’s low-hanging fruit, and bread and butter for as long as customers remain addicted to tubes (and now, flat panels with digital pictures compressed to the point where every solid color looks plaid). But why exclude better Internet service? That’s not just the freaking future, guys. It’s the freaking present, and has so much possibility it’s hard to imagine it all. Why not partner with Google or Amazon for offsite backup services? Why not offer business services in the form of data warehousing, server farming and mirroring, and who knows what else?

So I’m asking for Linux Journal readers to volunteer some ideas. If you have some too, put them there.

Dave explains more of what’s going on with the old blog.

People have been asking why I didn’t just keep trucking on the path I was on. There are several answers, but they all come down to dead ends that could easily be seen.

Ideally I’d blog at searls.com, a domain I own. I have a blog there, at http://doc.searls.com. Like this, it’s a WordPress blog. I started it when I thought I’d be a podcaster. The thing quickly got overrun with comment spam, and I had trouble figuring out how to administrate WordPress. At this piont it’s moribund. To make things work again I’ll need to install a newer version of WordPress — something that’s beyond the scope of my interest and ability (I’m less technical than you might think). And the techie who installed the first version isn’t available except on an occasional basis.

Since I’m a Berkman fellow at Harvard, and the blogs here are well-supported, and they’ll continue to be supported after my fellowship is over — and since Harvard has been around since 1636 — it seemed like a good choice.

Right now I’m busy with summer and family matters (good ones), but in a week or few I’ll get the rest of the kinks worked out. I don’t plan to keep the generic template, but instead to bring back the general look and feel of the old blog. Not sure I’ll use the same old picture of myself, though. I haven’t looked like that in a long time. (Though I might if I started wearing glasses again and shaved back everything but the mustache. There’s still al decade of wear & tear between that picture and reality.) I also plan to add a buncha stuff in the sidebar(s). We’ll see. Recommendations welcome.

By the way, I’ll also keep blogging at Linux Journal, where I’ve been an editor for far longer than I’ve been a blogger. As for IT Garage, a sister blog of Linux Journal, I’m not sure. It was meant as a community blog, and didn’t work out that way. Recommendations welcome there, too.

Fiber sales maze

So I’m taking an apartment for the next year, near Cambridge, Mass. As it happens, there is an abundance of fiber (ftth) and copper to homes there, including ours. The three competing suppliers are Verizon FiOS, RCL and Comcast.

For the customer interested only in maximal Internet service (such as yours truly), rather than a “triple play” including phone and television, the offerings are confusing to the verge of opacity.

Here’s Comcast‘s come-on:

Get on the fast track…fast. With Comcast High-Speed Internet, surf the web at lightning speed – up to 4x faster than 1.5 Mbps DSL, 7x faster than 768K DSL and 100x faster than 56K Dial-up. And now with PowerBoost[trademark], our fast connection gets even faster, with an extra burst of speed up to 12 Mbps when you’re downloading large files like videos and games. Plus, stay safe from nasty viruses and spam, and keep your kids safe online with advanced security protection from McAfee®, included free with service. Experience amazing broadband features, like free Video Mail, Rhapsody® Radio PLUS, Disney kids’ activities and The Fan[trademark] Video Player- which allows you to click-and-play video clips. You’re sure to say “Whoah!” Just select the plan that suits your needs and add it to your cart. Happy shopping!

…. followed by four plans, the best of which (Internet-wise) is “High-Speed Internet for Non-Comcast Cable Customers”, which offers no details beyond the above, until you click on “See all features”. There you find Or, for just $10 more per month, you can enjoy our top-speed connection, 8 Mbps/768 Kbps, and enjoy download speeds up to 142 times faster than 56K dial-up and four times as fast as 1.5Mbps DSL. It’s so unbelievably fast, you’ll wonder how you ever surfed the Web without it. Our 8Mbps/768Kbps service is also ideal for gamers. You’ll get the Comcast Game Invasion package, which includes free membership to the IGN Founder’s Club, a $119 annual value.

So their top speed is 8 Mbps/768 Kbps. That’s for $67.95. I see by the other offers that the monthly fee is about $50 for TV customers.

No doubt the medium is copper co-ax, though they don’t say that.

As a non-TV customer of Cox Cable in Santa Barbara I’m paying $60 for 10 Mbps/1Mpbs. The downstream isn’t provisioned yet, so I’m getting about 6/1. Still, what I want most is the upstream speed, plus the least possible crippling of pure Internet service. With Cox, all the crippling I get are port 80 (web server) and port 25 (outbound mail) blockages, plus no IP addresses. I have to buy a business account for that, but at much higher prices. Not worth it.

Next is RCN. Here the delivery is via fiber. Speeds are “Up to 1.5Mbps, 5Mbps, 10Mbps or 20Mbps* download speeds”. Nothing about upload. To find out what they offered on the upload side, I stopped by the RCN office on Massachusetts Avenue. After about a five minute dialog the customer service agent revealed that the best they can do is 2Mbps on the upstream side. Nothing on the site gives a price. Just a number to call. In their office the agent told me the price is $50. She knew nothing about port blockages, but she did know they offered no business services and nothing faster than 2Mb upstream. The capacity of fiber, of course, is a thousand times that or more.

After qualifying my address with Verizon FiOS and finding that I qualify, I read this in the fine print:

FiOS Internet limited time promotional offer expires 8/18/2007 and is applicable to customers who order the Verizon FiOS Internet 5/2 Mbps , 10/2 Mbps, 15/2Mbps or the 20/5Mbps speed package with an annual plan ONLINE. Customer will receive Target gift card 10 to 12 weeks after FiOS installation. One gift award per household. First month free with bill credit. Monthly rate of $29.99 applies to months 2-7. Monthly rate of $39.99 applies to months 8-12. $99 early termination fee. Rate increases after first year. $19.99 activation charge. Additional charges, taxes and terms apply. Service availability, speed and uninterrupted service not guaranteed.

That’s just one paragraph among five at the bottom of the page.

Still, Verizon appears to be the best of the three, simply because it provides 5Mbps upstream. But at what cost otherwise? What are the restricitons on use? In one paragraph it says Acceptance of Verizon Online Terms of Service is required. What are those?

With technology this advanced, why hide the serious benefits in a cloud of crap?

I’d write more, but I’m waiting for a plane. See ya on the far side.

Welcome pilgrims

I’ve been wanting for awhile to start blogging anew on WordPress. That’s what they use here at the Berkman Center, where I’m going on my second year as a fellow. Dave, a Berkman alum, suggested I start blogging here, and helped set me up using the same outliner I’ve been using on my old blog. All seems well, so far.

Stay tuned for more.

First post

Now is the time for all good men to come to the birthday party.

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