November 2007

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Intermailnum

For those attempting to reach me at my searls.com email address, that server is getting replaced and should be up later today, along with the rest of searls.com.

[Later...] Stuff is up, but still being sorted out. Please hold until the next agent becomes available.

The Whittier Daily News says the La Mirada planning commission has recommended approval of KFI’s request to rebuild the station’s tower, which was knocked down by a small airplane in 2004. For old radio freaks like me, this is interesting. KFI’s signal is as big as they get in the U.S. Like lots of other big AM stations, KFI is 50,ooo watts. Unlike most big stations, it sits on a relatively “clear” channel (one where there aren’t others sharing the channel), has a low dial position, a non-directional signal, and radiates from a single tower just under half a wavelength high (175.4 degrees; half is 180 degrees). Thanks to all those advantages, KFI’s daytime signal reached from Mexico to Fresno and Las Vegas, while standing like a skyscraper on the dial in Los Angeles, its home city. At night KFI reached across the whole U.S., thanks to the reflective qualities of the ionosphere.

The approved replacement tower would be shorter: 648 feet. I see in the KFI’s construction permit that the tower will be sectionalized (divided into more than one radiating section) and “top loaded”, giving it the electrical equivalent of a half-wavelength tower. Technically, it would be 181.4 degrees. The old one was 175.7. The predicted signal would be “RMS Theoretical: 374.98 mV/meter (per kW) or 2651.51 mV/meter at 50 k”, which is identical to the old tower.
The nearby Fullerton Airport wants KFI to build the tower at 500 feet or less. From the story:

“It’s not a matter of if another aircraft will run into the antenna, it is only a matter of when another aircraft will run into it,” said Rod Probst, airport manager.

But Commissioner David De Boer said two accidents isn’t that bad.

“You can only imagine the air traffic,” De Boer said. “When you’ve only had two collisions that’s pretty good odds.”

Probst contends the tower shouldn’t be higher than 500 feet, but KFI officials say that won’t give them the power they need.

Greg Ashlock, acting general manager of KFI, said a 684-foot-tall antenna is needed to allow it to increase its signal and meet its responsibility to provide emergency information.

Without the tower, KFI’s signal – now using a 204-foot-tall auxiliary tower on the same property – only goes out to 11.2 million people, Ashlock said. With it, it would go out to 16.2 million people.

“We’re one of a handful of stations designated as civil defense stations,” he said.

Back during the height of the Cold War, in the 50s and early 60s, all radios were marked with a two little triangles in circles, at 640 and 1240 on the dial, indicating that these were the dial postitions to which citizens must tune in the event of a dire emergency, such as a nuclear attack. This was the CONELRAD system. With CONELRAD, all stations in the country would suddenly switch their transmitters to 640 or 1240 and broadcast the same emergency information — or no audio — at low power, confusing any incoming missles that might be listening to one big AM station, such as KFI.

I gather KFI is still grandfathered as a big daddy civil defense station. Makes sense, because it’s the biggest signal around.

As for the danger posed by a full-size tower, KFI’s  had been standing there for 57 years before a plane hit it. I think it might even predate the Fullerton airport.

As for the actual effect of the tower loss on KFI’s signal, the station’s ratings numbers have been unaffected, as I recall, even though it’s broadcasting from a much shorter tower in the same location. It’s still a big signal.

As a kid I used to listen to KFI at night in New Jersey. That’s how clear channels worked in those days. They really were clear. I could turn my transistor radio so it would null out a competing signal from Cuba, and there KFI would be… weak, but quite audible. That’s no longer possible. The FCC has gradually allowed more and more signals on all the old clear channels, and the AM radio dial at night is a mess.

Now with the Internet, radio happens through podcasts, cell phones, laptops and other devices., making traditional radio more and more antique. This is especially so with AM (or MW elsewhere) — a band that has been all but abandoned in some other parts of the world.

But for old farts like me, it’s a sentimental thing. Also, cars still come with AM receivers, and that’s still where all the ball games are. So I’m guessing AM will still outlive me.

Twitter is paying my rent, Marshall Kirkpatrick says. Specifically,

I don’t mean they’ve hired me as a consultant, though I would love that, I mean Twitter is great for news discovery. Read on for my thoughts on how you can use Twitter more effectively, but keep in mind that communication has its own inherent value – I swear that’s what I like best about Twitter!

How is it paying my rent though? Earlier this week I was remarking (on Twitter) about how many of my recent story leads came from Twitter. I counted and at that time 5 of my last 11 stories were based on news I learned first from my friends on Twitter. It was amazing.

This is a perfect example of a because effect, which is what happens when you make more money because of something than with something. We first talked about this back at Bloggercon 3. Some retrospective on that here and here.

But gradually it’s going to dawn on people that not everything needs a “business model”. And that far more money is made because of the Net, blogging, Linux, IM, and even businesses such as cellular telephony, than is made with any of those things.

So I was flying from Boston to Atlanta by way of Chicago, heading south across Illinois roughly on a vector that took me along Interstate 57. I had enjoyed getting looks at varioius intersections and landmarks (Chicagoland Speedway, Argonne National Laboratory) west of Chicago, the Canal Corridor (with the Illinois and Michigan Canal) and the Illinois River on either side of Joliet, the Kankakee River, and then the countryside along the way to Champaign-Urbana, when I spotted a fire on the main street of a town along the way.

I had meant to do the detective work of figuring out which town it was, and to get some photos to the local paper, but got caught up in work.

Then this morning I decided I needed to nail this one down, and sure enough, the town was Paxton, and the fire was in its historic Magestic Theater. Here’s the story from the News-Gazette. Here’s the “before” picture of Downtown Paxton, from Wikipedia. I believe the Magestic Theater is there on the left. Not sure, though.

Uncov reminds me of @man.

@man in 1990-something…

Guess what? We already have all the things we want. As soon as we’re ready for something new, we get it — for free. Why? Because the traditional consumer/producer relationship doesn’t exist on the Internet. Don’t you think that if we really wanted the things you think we want, we would have already developed them some time in the past 20 years for free? Free! Free! It’s so much fun to be able to use that word you hate. Take your margins with you and stick to trying to shove ads onto PBS and NPR.

You almost certainly think of the Internet as an audience of some type–perhaps somewhat captive. If you actually had even the faintest glimmering of what reality on the net is like, you’d realize that the real unit of currency isn’t dollars, data, or digicash. It’s reputation and respect. Think about how that impacts your corporate strategy. Think about how you’d feel if a guy sat down at your lunch table one afternoon when you were interviewing an applicant for a vice-president’s position and tried to sell the two of you a car, and wouldn’t go away. Believe it or not, what you want to do with the Internet is very similar. Just as you have a reasonable expectation of privacy and respect when you’re at a table for two in a public place, so too do the users of the Internet have a reasonable expectation of privacy and respect. When you think of the Internet, don’t think of Mack trucks full of widgets destined for distributorships, whizzing by countless billboards. Think of a table for two.

If you don’t understand right now, don’t worry. You’ll learn it the hard way. We’ll be there to help you learn, you filthy corporate guttersnipes.

Uncov:

Is It Legal?

Who gives a shit? I don’t see no po-lice around. Free beatz, dude!

There is a little bit of ass-hattery going on behind the scenes, though. The site was started by a guy who is only noteworthy by virtue of being the son of Jef Raskin, the human-computer interaction guy who started the Macintosh project at Apple.

Now, the authors of Songza are the type of people who beat off furiously to user interfaces. UI is cute and all, but if the product doesn’t deliver, then what you’ve got left is Web 2.0. I’ll admit it, when it comes to user interface, any attempt I make will be at least a magnitude 6.2 fail. I couldn’t give less of a shit about Songza’s UI, but it plays music for free. For this, I declare win.

Also had to wince at —

…If you are a PPP blogger, the only people who take offense to what you do are sitting in a coffee shop in San Francisco, sipping a latte, typing on their MacBook that’s covered in stickers that boast the name of indie rock bands; stickers that said hipster probably bought in a hipster starter kit of some sort, having never actually seen any of the bands in question.

Wonder what @man’s doing now…

Very interesting demo of how Facebook Beacon works. Never mind (or go ahead, mind) that it’s at moveon.org.

Note at that second link how Facebook addresses advertisers and not users, in the second person voice. Enable your customers to share the actions they take on your website with their Facebook friends.

An interesting recursive circularity there: Facebook’s users are its customers’ customers.

Via Jonathan Trenn, via Chris Abraham.

Remembering…

Microsith. Gluetrain. Titanic Deck Chair Rearrangement Corporation.

I’m at the weekly luncheon series at Berkman, which will be webcast live. Today’s speaker is Michael Anti (Zhao Jing), a Nieman Fellow here at Harvard, and a journalism researcher with the New York Times’ Beijing bureau. More here. An excerpt:

Michael will address the question: what is the result when decentralized and democratized Internet meets the central and undemocratic government with almost free and huge market?

The Chinese blogosphere in the web 2.0 wave has different stories to tell. Internet has given Chinese people more freedom and chances, however, it has also given the ruling party more confidence to avoid the democracy. Michael will explain what the motives of blogging are in China in this context.

I’m the one in the tie-died shirt to Michael’s left. See you (or see us) here.

[Later...] David Weinberger took great notes. Ethan Zuckerman too.

Live from a later meeting… Ethan just said Michael’s talk was “the best thing that happened in this room in the last six months”. I agree. What Michael said was a real why-opener. In a number of ways. What he said about blogging alone was strong shit.

So many comments, so little time. I have to run to a bus in the rain shortly. So I’ll respond to just one: Don Dodge’s.

Yes, it’s true that “consumers sometimes forget the bargain they made in exchange for the free services”.

But it’s also true that almost nobody reads Facebook’s “Terms of Service“, much less anybody else’s. Not long ago I posted about the terms for Verizon and AT&T services. Each was over 10,000 words long and boiled down to “We can cut you off at any time for any reason we like and you have no recourse.”

All these ToSes are asymmetrical to a degree that verges on slavery. What’s the point of even looking at them? If we want the services, we do the deal. If the service is free, all the better. That these bargains are faustain has been known for the duration.

Do we have to continue to make them? The answer is yes, as long as we deal with the devil from a position of near-absolute weakness.

That weakness was more than learned — it was institutionalized — in the Industrial Age. That was a long period of business history during which we came to think that markets are all about What Big Companies Do, and that a “free” market is “Your choice of walled garden”. I wrote about this in Go from Hell, back in September. Here’s the section that pertains most to the Facebook Matter at hand:

Alvin Toffler explored this irony in The Third Wave, published in 1980, where he said:

  (The Industrial Age) violently split apart two aspects of our lives that had always been one… production and consumption… In so doing, it drove a giant invisible wedge into our economy, our psyches … it ripped apart the underlying unity of society, creating a way of life filled with economic tension.

I wrote about that split, that tension, in Listen up, back in 1998 — eighteen years after The Third Wave and nine years before now.

David Weinberger and I also wrote about it a year later, in this chapter of Cluetrain. We called it “The Axe in Our Heads”:

  Ironically, many of us spend our days wielding axes ourselves. In our private lives we defend ourselves from the marketing messages out to get us, our defenses made stronger for having spent the day at work trying to drive axes into our customers’ heads. We do both because the axe is already there, the metaphorical embodiment of that wedge Toffler wrote about — the one that divides our jobs from our lives. On the supply side is the producer; on the demand side is the consumer. In the caste system of industry, it is bad form for the two to exchange more than pleasantries.
  Thus the system is quietly maintained, and our silence goes unnoticed beneath the noise of marketing-as-usual. No exchange between seller and buyer, no banter, no conversation. And hold the handshakes.
  When you have the combined weight of two hundred years of history and a trillion-dollar tide of marketing pressing down on the axe in your head, you can bet it’s wedged in there pretty good. What’s remarkable is that now there’s a force potent enough to actually start loosening it.
  Here’s the voice of a spokesperson from the world of TV itself, Howard Beale, the anchorman in Paddy Chayefsky’s Network who announced that he would commit suicide because “I just ran out of bullshit.” Of course, he had to go insane before he could at last utter this truth and pull the axe from his own head.

We’re all still Howard Beales today. We haven’t run out of bullshit, and there’s no less cause for anger than there was when Network, The Third Wave and Cluetrain each came out. The Information Age is here, but its future is not just (as William Gibson put it) unevenly distributed. Large parts of it aren’t here at all. The largest of those is actual empowerment of customers — in ways that are native to customers, rather than privileges granted by vendors. The difference is huge.

That’s why yelling doesn’t work. What we need instead is to make tools that work for us, and not just for them. We need to invent tools that give each of us independence from vendor control, and better ways of telling vendors what we want, when we want it, and how we want to relate — on our terms and not just on theirs. As Neo said to the Architect, “The problem is choice”. That problem will be with us as long as that axe is in our heads.

Thank Facebook for starting to pull that axe out. As Dan Blank shows, and Jason Calacanis says,

All of this comes up because Facebook has done three things that are at once extremely innovative, extremely rude, extremely helpful, and extremely disconcerting:

1. They are collecting and republishing user data on a level not before seen by users.

2. They are allowing advertisers to use this data to reach these users.

3. They are not giving this information–information that has put their value at $15 billion–back to their users.

Depending on who you are, or what your goals are at a particular time, you might find extreme pleasure or discomfort in each of these.

What matters is the first point. (Forgive me, but the others are red herrings, even if you’re an entrepreneur hoping to make money on the advertising gravy train.) Facebook crossed a line here. They lured us into a vast stockyard, and then began to monetize us in ways that violated our quaint notion that we are not in fact cattle.

Treating users of free services like cattle is as old as TV, radio and billboards. It may be as old as people painting in caves with charcoal and spit. The difference now isn’t in Facebook’s manners, which are no different than those of NBC or the New York Times. The difference isn’t even that this time it’s personal. That’s been a holy grail for advertising since the beginning as well. Facebook is reaching for a golden ring here, and I’m inclined to forgive them for doing that.

The main difference is that we’re not powerless any more. That was the core message of this line from Cluetrain:

If we want our reach to truly exceed Facebook’s grasp, we can’t just tell Facebook to stop grasping. We have do deals on our terms and not just theirs. We have to have real relationships and not just systems on the sell side built only to “manage” us, mostly by minimizing human contact.

Perhaps most of all, we need to come up with systems that help demand find supply, rather than just ones that help supply find (or “create”) demand. That means we need alternatives to the outmoded and inefficient system of guesswork we call advertising.

That doesn’t mean we make advertising go away. But it does mean that we find new paths between demand and supply. and it does mean that find ways to get unwanted advertising out of our face.

[Later...] Alan Patrick sees a tipping point.

So I’ve been reading Dave Winer, Ethan Zuckerman, Jeff Jarvis, David Wienberger and Wendy Seltzer, all of whom have problems with what Facebook is doing with its members’ data.

Dave in particular is looking for action:

There are thorny issues here, but we want these companies to give up control of our information, and we don’t want them to be overly scared of public opinion as they do it.

And this is hardly the most important giving up of control. Most important, I want them to give me control of my data.

 created a petition for us to sign. It reads, “Facebook must respect my privacy. They should not tell my friends what I buy on other sites–or let companies use my name to endorse their products–without my explicit permission.”

At this point the voice of Jim Morrison rises from my subconscious, announcing the opening stanza from Soft Parade in the homiletic voice of a preacher from a pulpit:

When I was back there in seminary school
There was a person there
Who put forth the proposition
That you can petition the Lord with prayer
Petition the lord with prayer
Petition the lord with prayer
You cannot petition the lord with prayer!

Morrison screams that last line, in manner later perfected by the also-late Sam Kinison. My own version: Stop petitioning Facebook and Google to solve our problems for us. They’re not creating those problems alone. We’re been allowing them to create those problems in the first place, and we’ve been doing that for too long. Time to come up with some new rules of engagement — ones that work for us as well as them.

Dave, Scott Rafer and others rightly call on MoveOn.org to get back to its original mission and stay out of tech territory. But MoveOn has something right in its last four words: without my explicit permission. Question: How do we exercise that permission? By what protocols? What tools? What policies? What agreements?

Dave provides the answer:

So before we overly politicize the leading edge of technology, let’s get together on what actually does and doesn’t serve the user’s interest.

I want Netflix and Yahoo to give me an XML version of my movie ratings, for me to decide what to do with. I’ve been asking for this for a couple of years, I still don’t have it. This is information I created. I want to keep a copy. I want to make sure that Netflix knows about all my Yahoo ratings and vice versa. I’d like to give a copy to Facebook (assuming they agree to not disclose it) and maybe to Amazon, so they can recommend products I might want to purchase (again keeping it to themselves). I want to begin a negotiation with various vendors, where I give them something of value, and they give me back something of value. Permalink to this paragraph

The leaders of Silicon Valley begrudgingly gave up their view of us as couch potatoes, now they think of us as generators of content they can put ads on (and pay us nothing). We still need to work on that respect thing.

The boldface in the first paragraph is mine. Because that’s what we need to do. It’s not enough to petition the likes of Facebook to give us our data. We need to create the rules by which our data can be used. When we sign on as “members” of some company’s “social network”, they need to sign our terms as well. From the start.

For too long we’ve lived with “relationship management” that’s asymmetrical and one-way. Creating the grounds for symmetrical relationships cannot be the job of Facebook, Google, Microsoft or any big company. They can’t do it, and they won’t. We can’t petition those lords with prayer, blogs, or anything else. (Well, we can, but it won’t be enough.)

We need to create our own new rules — ones that protect our privacy while making us better members of the social and business systems we create together. I say “better” because that’s what we’re bound to be when we cease being eyeballs and start acting like whole human beings.

This very topic, by the way, is at the heart of VRM.

By the way, a great place to start doing the work Dave calls for here is the Internet Identity Workshop in Mountain View, the week after next. These workshops are among the most constructive (un)conferences I’ve ever been to, and I’m not just saying that because I’m one of the organizers. Good work always happens there, in three days of serious barn-raising.

Look forward to seeing some of ya’ll there.

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