January 2008

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It’s a huge stretch to think about society, and about business, from the perspective of the independently empowered individual. In business, and even in government, we are so accustomed to thinking about people as dependents, and to seeing their abilities in terms of what we as institutions allow, that it’s difficult to switch our perspective around — and think about companies, and organizations, existing at our grace, and building their services on what we bring to the collective table.

Until I read this piece by Adriana Lukas this morning I hadn’t fully realized how the ubiquitous use of the word content, which I’ve griped about for years (and which Adriana quotes) frames our understanding of markets, and media, in ways that place presumed control in the hands of “providers” other than ourselves. Even UGC — “User Generated Content” — is not seen as ours, but as freight for media companies to forward for their own purposes. As John Perry Barlow put it a few years back, “I didn’t start hearing about ‘content’ until the container business felt threatened”.

Media is where the madness is maintained. And that madness will persist for as long as we continue to assume that business is shipping, and that our worth is measured as freight for The Media’s container cargo business.

But rather than gripe some more, Adriana offers a useful way of framing the full worth of individuals, the creative goods they produce, and what they bring to both social and business relationships: the concept of the person as the platform:

Content is media industry term. The number of people talking about content grows every day as they assume roles that before only media could perform. With more tools and ways of distributing, photos, videos, writings, cartoons etc. are being ‘liberated’ from the channel world. Alas, often sliding into the platform and silo world. As far as I am concerned there are only two platforms – the individual user and the web.

That gives us something interesting to work with as we continue exploring how this changes everything.

Snow ‘nuf

The link behind that picture leads to a small set of shots I took with my new little inexpensive Canon pocket camera (with a name like a license plate, so I don’t remember it). Takes some getting used to, but I like it.

One of the pleasant discoveries I’ve made since moving (at least temporarily) Back East (as we, or they, say in California), is that I enjoy the winter. Nothing is prettier than New England under a fresh snow. That’s what I was trying to shoot there.

What I missed was taking some shots the day before the snows came, when the ponds were both frozen and clear. I bought some skates and went out on one of the local ponds with The Kid, who with a total of hours on skates was far better than his old man, who hadn’t been on the things in at least three decades — and hadn’t skated on a pond or a lake since his teens. So we’re talking, like, 45 years ago, give or take.

Now it’s warmed up and about all that’s left of the snow is gray glaciers of former slush along the sides of roads. Still, it’s pretty to me.

This weekend we’ll go skiing with friends up in Vermont. My first time skiing there. Looking forward to that, here at midnight in Toronto (at the moment).

That headline is the one I was going to use at first when I wrote Journalism in a world of open code and open self-education, over in . It’s a thinky piece, but that’s what can happen when journalists hang out in a place like the Berkman Center, where we did a lot of thinking out loud about journalism yesterday.

For my part, I thought about stories, and their limitations as ways to freight facts. Also of their advantages for telling truth. As my old friend the priest Sean Olaoire once said, “Some truths are so deep that only stories can tell them”. Sean is one of the world’s best story-tellers. I’m not always sure about his facts, but I also know that’s not his business.

The business of journalism is also worth thinking about. Because telling stories is what we do, and moving facts from mind to mind isn’t the whole job there. There are other purposes. I visit at least one of those in that piece too.

Life Imitates Onion

Or, Times Imitates Onion. Or so I thought when I saw the headline, Slashdot Founder Questions Crowd’s Wisdom. It’s great PR for Idle.Slashdot.org. Times sez, The new site, which is currently in testing mode, is clearly aimed at taking some audience away from weird-news-of-the-day sites like Digg and Fark.com.

In asking Are Journalism Conferences Worth It? Lisa Williams offers Bloggercon, Gnomedex and Blogher as examples of success. (I agree.) Of course she could have said “Are _________ Conferences Worth It?” without singling out journalism.

But since we’re there, lets.

I start, as is my occasional custom, with Tony Pierce, whose blog bears the legend nothing in here is true, and who is now in the employ of the Los Angeles Times. Tony’s latest investigates the vast cloud of growing nonsense and fun jive surrounding a video of the Rev. Thomas Cruise enthusing about his church. The first source in Tony’s post is I can has research papar?, which uses the adjective “epic” to describe its own mission. A sample paragraph:

  In a more semantic sense, the lulz found on 4chan and YTMND is a perfect example of pure simulacrum. There is nothing real about the lulz: it is entirely fake, yet original. It uses representations of things like pop culture icons in a totally virtual space. The map of 4chan precedes the territory it covers. The proponents of the lulz – specifically Anonymous – also embody the collective hive mind that the internet presents. One image macro may technically be the product of one person, but the idea of image macros and the contributions to internet culture are dictated by a hive collection of users. Encyclopedia Dramatica exemplifies this.

Yes. So. Tony explains,

  The well-designed online essay perfectly explained, among other things “lulz”, several Internet memes, and the roots behind the group Anonymous whose moto is “We do not forgive. We do not forget. We are legion. Because none of us are as cruel as all of us.”

  A few days after I Can Has Rezearch Papar came out Gawker found itself in possession of the now famous Tom Cruise video…

Below which Tony shares Tom’s and seven other videos, all of which together obsolete television as well as Tony obsoletes Journalism As We Knew It.

Bottom line: I want to go to a conference with Tony there. That would be good.

When “bottom-up” means “pants down”

That headline just fell out of a conversation between Dr. Weinberger and myself as way of characterizing astroturf — fake grass-roots — campaigns.

Conversation convocation

I’ll be at There’s a New Conversation, in New York, on the evening afternoon of Feb 13. Subtitled, Cluetrain Manifesto – 10 years later. Numbers aren’t really ages, of course. While Cluetrain hit the webwaves in early ’99 and the book was written that summer (to come out in January of ’00, just in time to cause the dot-com bubble crash… sorry), the conversations that eventuated in the Cluetrain instantia began in ’98, so I guess we’re cool dating the dawn from then. Via Ted Shelton and James McKee.

It, and who else?

Bill Clinton: ‘Screw It, I’m Running For President’.

Bonus link.

Andrew Sullivan on book writing vs. blogging:

  I have to say that producing a book – I have four under my belt if you count my dissertation – is a draining, soul-sapping catharsis. Part of the strain is working for a long time and not knowing if any of it will be worth it. Blogging is almost the polar opposite: almost everything you write is read and used by someone. On a simple hour-by-hour basis, blogging is harder work. But the thinking required for a book – the slow sifting and weighing of competing ideas, themes, structure, arguments – is a deeper, more painful process.

  Most of my books have clocked in at around 80,000 words. I write around half a million words a year on this blog. On a pain-per-word basis, books are harder. But at least there is a point at which they are over, at least in the writing. A blog never stops. The deadline is always with you…

Actually, Blogging is more like watering plants. Ya gotta do it often enough that they don’t die, but not so often that you drown the things.

Nice to learn via Virginia Postrel that ‘s archives are now open and linkable, liberated from incarceration behind the paywalls that were fashionable at major magazines until too many of their writers also became bloggers (or ), and the logic of openness began to prevail. (Or so my theory goes.) Note that the story at the third link is from the New York Times, which saw the same light a few months back.

Anyway, bravo. Now I’ll start subscribing to the print magazine again.

Woops! I just tried to subscribe, by clicking on the Subscribe link at The Atlantic site, went through a remarkably fast & easy process that featured opt-in (rather than opt-out) radio buttons for promotional stuff, hit the Send Order button and… bzzzt: went straight to Page Not Found. Not good.

Just tried it again with a different browser. Same result. :-(

Hope they fix that soon.

Law enfarcement

From School Cop Investigated for Porn Link on Friend’s MySpace Profile — Updated:

  as the St. Peterburg Times puts it, “kids could navigate from Officer John’s page on the social networking site to ‘Amateur Match Free Sex’ in just three clicks.”

  You’re reading correctly. Gulf Middle School resource officer John Nohejl didn’t have porn on his MySpace profile, and he didn’t link to porn. But one of the 170-odd people on his friends list, which seems mostly populated by students at his school, had a link to a legal adult site. Now the New Port Richey Police Department and the Florida attorney general’s elite cyber crimes unit are investigating him for making adult content available to underage children.

Read on. It doesn’t get better.

Public Broadcasters Opt for CC is the encouraging title for an informative and linky post by Michelle Thorne at icommons.org.

By subsuming all electronic media, and by placing every recording and playback device at zero functional distance from each other, the Net makes radio and TV transmitters obsolete the moment high-enough-bandwidth wireless connectivity becomes ubiquitous.

We’re one good UI away from the cell phone becoming a radio. (Thanks to the iPhone, it already serves as a TV.) And we’re one smart cell company away from radio- and TV-as-we-know-it from being replaced entirely — or from moving up the next step of the evolutionary ladder.

Public broadcasters know that. That’s one reason they now call themselves “public media”, a move that separates the category from its transport methods. It’s also why they’re thinking hard and long about the role their online transmissions and archives play in a world without physical borders. That’s what Michelle’s article is about.

After visiting positive moves made by a number of institutions, Michelle’s final paragraph makes clear that the challenge is only beginning to be met:

  However, despite many positive strides, creators working for public broadcasters still often find themselves at odds with their institutions’ more traditional copyright policies. In-house legal departments can be reluctant to embrace user-generated content, remixes, downloads, and third-party material, and at times, they may endorse restrictive DRM while resisting new and open media formats. As more and more publicly-funded content goes online, it is important enable and empower users, rather than leaving enriching material to digitally decay.

She could easily have put depressing links behind every one of those “howevers”. If I had more time, I’d do it myself.

Still, it’s good to see movement in a positive direction. I’ll be looking to see more when I attend the IMA‘s Public Media 08 conference in Los Angeles next month.

Now hear these

NewsGang Lives.

It’s amazing to me that Microsoft doesn’t make live.com search any easier. Take the maps side of live.com. It beats the crap out of Google Maps in at least one hugely helpful area: “bird’s eye” views — from four different direcitons.

But man, what a frustrating UI. Maybe it’s better for Windows/IE users, but if so, why? (Except for lock-in, which lost the appeal it never had, a long time ago.) It can start vague (on which line do you enter… what?)…

… and get worse from there.

For example, if I plug 42° 15′ 27″N, 71° 01′ 44″W into maps.google.com, I go straight to a real x/y place on a map. Live Maps doesn’t know what to do with it. But If I use Google Maps to help guide me to the same spot on Live Maps, switch to Bird’s eye, and look at what’s there, I see what I’m looking for — WUMB’s transmitting antenna — and find it: a two-bay thing sitting atop a castle turret next to a ball field on Reservoir Road, near Furnace Brook Country Club in Quincy. (I guess the castle is actually a kind of water tower… clever.) I can even see the antenna itself, which appears to be a two-bay affair, encapsulated in radomes to keep ice off the elements. When I look at it from all four directions (N,S,E,W), I can make out lots of details on the tower, count the notches in the cornice, count the seats in the ball field bleachers, and make out features less than a foot across. It’s amazing. Here’s the Google Maps version. Doesn’t begin to compare. I’d show you the Live Maps views, but there’s no way to link to them. Not that I can find, anyway. Is that sucky or what?

The maps come from Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. For what that’s worth, which is a lot. Looking around the VE site, it seems far too deeply linked to Windows-only stuff. That’s retro, folks. Stop it.

Maps, and Geo in General, is one place where Microsoft could open up and leapfrog Google in features and usability. Hey, why not?

[Later...] I’m looking for a way to show the birds-eye view to another person here at the Berkman Center, and I’m failing to find it. So are they. And they’re using a Windows workstation, even. So we’ve got maps.live.com flunking not just the Obviouness Test, but the Easiness Test too.

Change is in the air at WUMB is a story ran ran in the Boston Globe yesterday, about trouble the U Mass Boston radio station is having with the label for most of its programming: folk. And perhaps the programming itself. It begins:

  Money changes everything, at least for WUMB-FM (91.9). Thanks in part to a recent grant that allowed it to evaluate its mission, the public station may well drop wide-ranging music programs “Mountain Stage” and “Afropop Worldwide” by March 1. The station may even end up dumping its identification as “folk radio.”

  But in exchange, say those in charge, listeners will be getting a station that is more responsive to the community’s needs.

  The impetus for these changes is a station-renewal grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. One of five awarded in July to stations across the country, the grant of approximately $500,000 has allowed WUMB, which is based at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, to poll listeners and conduct focus groups about what the station should be as it finishes its first 25 years on air.

Hey, WUMB: poll me. I like the station. I don’t have a problem with “folk radio” — although the label does call to mind an old Martin Mull line: “Remember the Folk Music Scare of the Sixties? That fiddle and banjo crap almost caught on.”

WUMB’s music isn’t even close to “all fiddle and banjo”. It’s an artfully eclectic mix of what might better be called “traditional” or “americana”. But how do you draw a categorical line around the Subdudes, David Lindley, Shawn Colvin, Goeff Muldaur, JJ Cale, Dolly Parton, Sleepy John… except to say you can’t. You’ve gotta listen to tell.

I started listening on line (in Santa Barbara) before I got to town, and on the radio ever since I moved here in September. My car radio has a button on WUMB, and my Webio runs its streams.

Hope they don’t give me a reason to change that.

[Later...] Actually, the station’s main problem is really its signal. The transmitter puts out only 660 watts at a height of just 207 feet above average terrain. It also doesn’t come from the campus on the shores of Dorchester Bay, but rather from the corner of a golf course in Quincy, a few miles southeast of town. Its signal to the northwest (say, Cambridge and beyond) is too weak to stop “scan” on a car radio. At my house I need the hands of a safecracker to tune it in on our kitchen radio dial.

As an old radio engineering type, I know the dial is too packed with existing signals to offer much if any elbow room for moving the transmitter or raising the power or antenna height; but I’d suggest putting some of that new money toward, say, a booster transmitter on one of the downtown buildings currently shadowing the signal. Or toward buying one or more other stations around the edge of the market. I’ll bet that some of the AMs would come for a bargain. And with “HD” radio coming, some of those signals could carry music at sound qualities that are higher than the current legacy technology allows. In any case, it’s worth some study (if that isn’t happening already).

To its credit, WUMB has a bunch of other signals (actually, stations), two others of which are also on 91.9. That helps. But with money perhaps more could be done.

As for “the community”, I have some other thoughts about that, which I’ll link to here after I put them up.

[Later still...] This morning’s Guest Set features bassist John Troy, providing faves from the Pousette-Dart Band, Little Feat, NRBQ, Tower of Power, Chris Smither, Sal Baglio… Wow. Great, great radio.

Back to the Globe article…

  “There is a definite call to replace some of the syndicated programs with live shows,” says Pat Monteith, general manager of the station, which also broadcasts at 91.7 FM in Newburyport and 1170 AM in Orleans. “Some shows,” she learned, “people want more of.”

  Perhaps most startling, she said, was the reaction to the station’s ID. “Several people [said], ‘I hadn’t listened before, because I really don’t like “folk” music, but when I listen to your station I like it,’ ” Monteith explained. “Even our heaviest listeners find the word ‘folk’ very challenging.”

Hence the headline above.

Here’s a terrific post by Rex Hammock, explaining our common cause in a losing battle against the eggregious overuse of the word “content”.

There’s nothing like this in Santa Barbara.

This morning I decided to start un-following every Twitterer whose majority of tweets are crumbtrails announcing what they are doing now, but whose crumbtrailings do not intersect mine. My twiver has grown too thick with crumbs, and something must be done.

The question is, by whom? Is this a problem Twitter alone can solve? I suggest not.

What I’d like to do is set conditions that trigger following and unfollowing various Twitterers, expecially when we chance intersecting in meet space. I see two ways that can happen.

One is some kind of feature addition to Twitter and (in my case) , allowing the latter to tell the former that I’m in the region of Twitterers whose crumbtrailings might interest me.

The other is to have my own dashboard and controls, independent of Twitter, Dopplr, Facebook or any other social (or travel) webservice provider. By that dashboard I could turn the crumbtrailings of others on or off, or set conditions that turn them on or off. That dashboard would manage my relationship with Twitter and other service providers, and connections between them on my behalf. A dashboard like this would be a good example of at work.

What we want, methinks, is to give social webservice companies ways they can adapt to their users, rather than vice versa. This can only happen when users take the lead, rather than just follow.

As Joe Andrieu says, VRM is a vector, and that vector proceeds from the user.

Once we equip customers to lead vendors, the axe is pulled from our heads, and the walled garden becomes obsolete.

Feature request

Sometime yesterday I set my mobile phone to silent. Later I left it somewhere in my house. This morning I couldn’t find it, even by calling it with the cordless phone on our land line. My other mobile was meanwhile in the back of the car, being driven around by my wife. I had two appointments this morning (or thought I did… couldn’t tell for sure) both of which required phone coordination. Neither worked out. When the bus was late I tried sending an email to my first appointment, using EvDO on my laptop. But the bus came in the middle of the mail session and I had to close the lid. That crashed the laptop, which was flaky in the first place. My other laptop is semi-retired, with no replacement chosen yet. (Though I’m falling in like with the Asus Eee PC, which I met for the first time yesterday.)

Anyway, here’s what I want (besides a less forgetful brain, which I’ll never get): a cell phone silencing option that un-silences the phone after a certain number of hours, making it easier to find when you call it.

Man blogs

I like Remodeling for Geeks, subtitled code snippets for your house.

Bonus snip.

Here’s the last paragraph of a story about a trapped man who survived by eating rotting animals and blowing a whistle at wolves and coyotes:

  A hospital official said Mr Hildebrand’s injuries were not life-threatening, but the newspaper, quoting an Emergency Medical Services official, said one leg that was pinned might have to be amputated.

Via Guy Kawasaki and Truemors.com.

I went skiing with The Kid today. What mattered more, however, was that we talked about Martin Luther King, at some length, on the good Doctor’s holiday.

The Kid’s toughest question: Why was he killed? It didn’t end there. He also wanted to know why Gandhi, JFK, RFK, MLK and Benazir Bhutto were all killed. (We didn’t even bring up Jesus, Rabin, Sadat or any of countless others.) Why did people hate them so much that they wanted to kill them? Why does wanting peace attract so much violence? What is it about non-violence that makes other people violent?

I had answers, but I don’t think they were good enough, so I won’t bother sharing them, because I don’t think The Kid found them good enough either.

What I could tell him, with enough information and conviction to hold his attention and keep the good questions* coming, was that the assassination of Martin Luther King is the worst single thing that happened to our country in my lifetime. An incalculable sum of hope, optimism and progress died when Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968. It wasn’t just the anger and riots that followed. It was the absolute absence of the leadership Dr. King had provided, and without which our understanding of so many subjects — chief among them the worth and power of non-violence — was diminished. The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy two months later increased that dispair to a sum beyond measure. Almost forty years later, I don’t think we’ve healed from those wounds.

These words haunt me…

  I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

… because I know that final word will not come in my lifetime. Worse, I fear it may never come, because those that lead through unarmed truth and unconditional love are also likely to be killed for teaching both. Our species needs their leadership. But our species retains, for all its love of Love, a monstrous ability to rationalize its worst deeds. Martin Luther King knew that. And we only knew him for 39 years.

Delmore Schwartz comes to mind:

  How could I think the brief years were enough
To prove the reality of endless love?

* You know what people mean when they say “That’s a good question?” That they don’t have an answer.

That’s a question I raise and answer in the affirmative with What open code developers can teach PR, over at Linux Journal, following up on this post from several days ago. Some key points:

  Focusing on influence alone suggests that PR is just looking to expand the spin business from old media to new, and from old targets to new ones. There are other corners of the prism, other angles to come at the problems and opportunities in around conversation and relationship...

  To me the best of blogging isn’t measured by influence, popularity, traffic or the money that measurement of those bring in the from advertising. In fact, I’m not sure what makes blogging good is measurable at all. That’s because what makes makes blogging good is nothing more than being interesting, useful or both...

  What makes a snowball roll is not influence. It’s participation. Barns are not raised by neighbors in thrall of “A-list” farmers. They are raised by people who know how to build barns, and who know and work with the farmer who needs the barn. Which brings me to why I’m bringing this up here in Linux Journal.

  Software development has been going through a huge and important change over the last fifteen years, during which the bulk of it has moved out of the corporate sphere and into the social one. Today there are over 500,000 open source code bases, and that doesn’t even count ones that are essentially open but not happening inside SourceForge or other familiar venues. Those code bases have grown around use value rather than sale value – a critical distinction that Eric S. Raymond described eloquently in The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

  Most or all of those half-million development efforts are the code equivalents of barns. Some are raised by single developers. Others are raised by groups. Few are happening exclusively inside companies

  Looking for whom to influence, and how to measure that, is at best necessary but insufficient to the larger purposes of contribution and usefulness. And the hard part with both is that you can’t just measure them with money.

Hope it helps.

Doing the Big Thing

With Time Warner Cable does the right thing, David Isenberg breaks ranks with fellow net neutrality advocates by lauding Time Warner Cable’s “plan to charge more when you send or receive more Internet data”. David explains,

  If the problem is, indeed, congestion, or the related problem that a few “bandwidth hogs” are using more than their share of the network’s capacity, tiered pricing is a simple, straightforward solution.

In this statement David not far off Adam Thierer at The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog, in his post Broadband metering experiment in the works in Texas.

They’re coming from different angles, but I see light in their converging tunnels.

David:

  If you must manage congestion, then doing it explicitly is, at very least, honest. It is better than doing it (a) covertly or (b) indirectly, by injecting artificial interrupts and (c) denying you’re doing it — like Comcast currently does...

  Let’s remember that getting an offer like this right is an iterative process. We should help TWC, not kill them. As long as they don’t discriminate on the basis of specific applications or devices or app providers, and provided they don’t charge grossly unfair amounts for video levels of traffic usage, and provided they continue to upgrade their network as technology improves, what they’re doing is a good thing.

Adam:

  I already can hear Mike at TechDirt pounding away at his keyboard to post his next “bandwidth scarcity myth” essay! But even if he is right that current pipes aren’t as constrained as some fear, I don’t see why it would hurt to allow metering experiments to play out in the marketplace.

  Then again, if Mike is wrong, and we see more of a capacity crunch in coming months and years because of growing traffic burdens, then metering might offer a constructive solution. Mike is always talking about the need for companies to consider innovative new business models to complex marketplace challenges. I think metering certainly counts as one. Of course, ongoing network upgrades and expansion is also part of the answer, as Mike and others suggest. But I don’t think it’s the only part of the answer. Network expansion requires significant ongoing investment and a steady revenue stream to pay for it. So where is that money going to come from? Is it written in stone that the we have some sort of God-given right to flat rate pricing forever more? More importantly, is flat-rate really the fairest way to price access for light users? I appreciate all the old grannies out there who are essentially cross-subsidizing my bandwidth usage every time I download massive HD movies on my Xbox 360, but is that really fair to them?

The key phrase is “steady revenue stream”. Should that come only from usage? And the “triple play” of TV, internet and telephone service? True, that’s all the mainstream knows or cares about today, but how much is their knowledge blindered by limited offerings from the carriers?

I’m lucky to have Verizon’s FiOS (fiber to the home) service here, but I’d probably pay more than I’m already paying if Verizon allowed me to scale back the massive bandwidth allocated to live television (all of which I’m not watching, nearly all the time), and scale up my business here at home. But right now the pricing for home business service is prohibitively high, and not based on any obvious costs I can see. What does it cost to provide a few IP addresses? Or to provide symmetrical bandwidth? Or to unblock Port 80 so I can run a server? Hey, I’d be glad to pay based on bit traffic, whether it’s metered or not, provided I have the opportunity to run a server at all. Verizon’s (and every carrier’s) high prices for business use is an ancient telco habit that continues to prevent more business than it allows. I’d like to see Adam and other (commendably) pro-business bloggers step up and challenge their friends at the telcos and cablecos to think more creatively about what they can do to help business happen where the big bandwidth is actually there to deploy.

My own fave suggestion is for the carriers to take advantage of their existing real estate to provide offsite storage and web services that either compete with or complement Amazon’s EC2 and S3. I wrote about that almost a year ago. But maybe now the time is a bit more right.

Scarcity may or may not be a myth, but abundance is both inevitable and highly leveragable.

So the carriers face a fundamental choice. They can contribute to a tide that lifts all boats, including their own — and get all kinds of both incumbent and first-mover advantages from that. Or they can continue to play the same scarcity games that they’ve been playing for decades, and find themselves drowning in the oceans others will create instead.

There are ways to move from the latter to the former, I believe. But I also believe the former has a future that goes a lot farther than the latter.

Sez du day

As a shameless fan of the Lolcat language, the Lolcat Bible (including the Ceiling Cat Prayer) and the Lolcat blog (I Can Haz Cheezeburger?), I find myself seeking translation to Lolcat of this fine quote from Don Marti:

  Becoming a blog-friendly company by chattering on blogs is like becoming a cat person by clawing your own couch and crapping in a litter box.

Perhaps,

  Wantingz ta mak blahs purr wit sef purringz et blahs iz lak sharpeningz da sleeping playz or poopingz in da howz soil.

Feel free to add your own.

Getting younger

Says here my “real” age (57) is three years less than my chronological one (60). If you take the test, notice how the calculated age at the bottom changes if you fool around and change your answers.

The surprising difference, at least in my case, is vitamin supplements. By adjusting those from none to large amounts, I can reduce my “real age” from 57 to 55.8 by taking the test’s maximum listed doses of Vitamin E, folic acid and vitamin C, and by having 10 or more servings per week of food made from tomato paste. I already consume the recommended quantities of breakfast and fish.

Interesting, but methinks the test-makers are selling vitamins.

At Technobabble 2.0, Johnny Bentwood of Edelman posts White paper – distributed influence: quantifying the impact of social media, with a link to the .pdf of the document. The paper “is not written as a fait accompli but rather as a contribution to the conversation”, Johnny says, adding, “I welcome your thoughts and comments”. I have both, but also a bus to catch.

Meanwhile, here’s a brief one that should help: Publish the document in .html as well as .pdf. HTML is much easier to open, to quote, to source and to link to. It’s native to the Web (rather than just to printing, as is the case with .pdf). Toward Edelman’s purposes, it is also more social and influential.

Via Hugh.

Simon Collister in The death of spin has been greatly exaggerated:

  This is leads us to a potentially dangerous situation where the public (and worse the media) thinking political parties are giving the people a voice, when in fact they disenfranchising them by paying lip-service to participatory democracy.

  If this happens then traditional, hard political power hardens at the centre while the public play with digital toys that keep them entertained but no closer to (argubly even further away from) democratic engagement.

Right on.

In that post Simon sources this post by Wendy McAuliffe in Liberate Media. Among other things she says,

  …at the end of the day, you can’t place an algorithm on the way people communicate.

  Politics is one subject in particular that is becoming harder and harder to ‘control’, with so many opinions and arguments being voiced across social media networks.

  Despite the changes in media as we know it, the ability to engage with audiences effectively, and understand what grabs attention, is still the realm of PR professionals.

Some thoughts.

First, amen to the algorithm point. That’s a great clue that will help with my third point, below.

Second, politics has always been about control. So, in a different way, has democracy. Substitute democracy for politics in Wendy’s second point and I’ll agree with it.

Third, the online world has both social media and social habitats. They are different, even when they overlap. Twitter is a social medium. Facebook is a social habitat. Twitter is a new breed of Web site/service that grew out of blogging. Facebook is a walled garden: a place you have to go to be social in the ways it facilitates and permits. In this respect Facebook is AOL 2.0. By calling both “social media” we blur distinctions that are necessary for making sense of highly varied progress (or movement in less positive directions) in the online world. We need a Linnean taxonomy here. And we don’t have one. Yet. For those so inclined, that’s an assignment.

Fourth, the “audience” isn’t any more. And nobody needs to get over that fact more than PR, which wouldn’t exist without the demand for spin. What we wrote about PR in The Cluetrain Manifesto is barely less true today than it was in 1999. If PR wishes to remain relevant in an environment where networked markets get smarter faster than those that would spin them, the profession needs to define and satisfy a market for something other than spin. Good luck with that.

Haze set

There’s this great haze effect you sometimes get in the mountains of Southern California in the evening. It’s not smog, though sometimes that’s involved. It’s just enough moisture in the air, nicely layered, to give you these amazing silhouettes that look like Japanese paintings. Or something.

And that’s what I saw whille driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles last Thursday evening, right after CES, when I passed through some low mountains between Barstow and Victorville on I-15. Google Earth is woefully deficient in the mountain-naming department, so I’m not sure what these are. The near ones are close to the road. The far ones are probably in the San Gabriel Mountains, which frame the Los Angeles basin on the north, and the Mojave Desert on the south. At this point I’m on the Mojave side, facing southwest. In any case, I got some nice shots in the set behind the picture above.

And here’s the same effect, in the San Gabriels, shot from an inbound plane.

Tony wishes Moxie a Happy Birthday, recalling the July 12, 2002 party at which many L.A. bloggers, including yours truly, met. Here’s my own rundown on the event. Here are PatioPundit (Martin Devon)’s pix and commentary. Nice to see both his blog and his archives are still up. Perhaps not so nice to see he hasn’t posted since October. Nor has the party’s host, Brian Linse.

When I check the links, and names, from that party, it’s kinda sad to see some gone silent or gone altogether. Moxie and Tony are still going strong. So are Mickey Kaus, Matt Welch, Charles Johnson, Emmanuelle Richard, Bill Quick. But I’m not sure where Dawn Olsen went (that link now goes to a blog that I doubt is hers). Or Ann Salisbury. Warren Zevon, who was never a blogger but who attended the party while life was killing him, is dead.

Lot of offline talk lately about what’s happened to blogging. One friend sent an email I hope he puts up soon. Among other quotable lines is “most of the blogosphere has become a full-on commercial wankfest now”.

Not that it wasn’t then. But it was fun to hang out with a bunch of people, most of whose politics were vastly unlike my own — but whose writing was interesting and compelling and fresh and far more personal and open-ended than any op-ed page — and to believe we were beginning to make some kind of positive difference in the world. In retrospect, I don’t think any of us was making a dime on blogging at the time. For what that’s worth. If anything.

Bonus links… Competing Messages: Elections and Governance and Honesty. They both challenge. They both make you think. The Bill Hicks video on marketing in the latter is way too close to what too many of us — including yours truly in a former life — call home.

Gang up

The latest Gillmor, um, news Gangs are up. Recorded last Thursday. I participated from a spot on the floor behind a curtain somewhere in the Sands, in Las Vegas. Listen via the links at Part I and Part II.

Bonus post: Flakes on a Plane.

In CES digestion

Picturing CES, continued is my latest post at Linux Journal. It leads to a long report in the form of captions to over two hundred pictures (though far from all) shot at the show.

Understanding Apple’s product cycle.

I usually make it to Macworld for a day or two if it doesn’t conflict with CES. This year it didn’t, but I’ll miss it anyway because I’m too busy and based on the East Coast now.

So I’ll miss being gaussed by Steve Jobs’ aura. But I’m sure there will be plenty of noise around it. As that link above explains.

Go Pats. Or Jags.

We are, by geographical necessity, Patriots fans. But family is also involved, since my cousin, Andy Heck, is the offensive line coach for the Jags.

Hard to root for both the Pats and Andy at the same time. But we’ll try.

Improved listening

If you want to see how podcasting is better than radio (or a better form of radio), and why it’s more important than making money (because, among other things, you may make more money because of it than with it), then dig marketing, bananas and more, a podcast, hosted by Johnnie Moore. It’s a conversation among people who are looking beyond advertsing to whatever comes next. If anything.

You probably already know what I think — which is a lot like what Dave thinks. No surprise there, but worth repeating because it’s good to have others agree with you, even if there’s only one of them. Which there aren’t in this case. (Though there still aren’t enough, or Dave and I would stop highlighting the absurd belief that everything needs a business model — and that the only one worth considering, if you must, is advertising.)

One reason that podcasting beats radio (until we help radio catch up with podcasting by adding the same feature) is demonstrated by Johnnie’s post, which contains a pile of handy time-stamped show notes. (Didn’t Jon Udell come up with a way of making those time stamps into URLs? Wuzzit somebody else? Hmm.. Let’s ask hoosgot.)

Via Hugh.

While trying to make sense of some of what I saw out the window while flying from Los Angeles to Boston yesterday, I ran across Physical Geography of the U.S., an online summary of its subject that is so deep, interesting, well-written and well-sourced that it is hard not to keep reading it, and to follow its many links.

And it is not alone. It is one subject among seventeen at Bob Parvin’s Website, which is dedicated to literacies that range from the celestial to the household. Here they are:

Tutoring for Mastery of Reading and Writing and Arithmetic

Tutoring English Grammar and Composition

Finding and Reading eBooks

Beginning Urban Skywatching

Physical Geography of the U.S.

Economic Literacy

Global Warming and Warning

Approaching the Bible

Islam: One American’s Findings

DNA: Life’s Common Denominator

Nutrition: What should we eat?

Help for Microsoft Windows XP

Bread Machine Baking

Tips for No-Knead Bread Baked in a Pot

Links to Video Performances of Great Arias

The Home Library, an electronic home reference library

Recollections of an Old Farm Boy

I’ve had a few minutes more than the rest of you to explore all this, but what I’ve seen so far is just as engaging as the first item I found.

So, see what you think. I suggest starting with the last item.

…for a website to be as unreliable as United’s.

Imagine running airplanes with the same level of reliability.

Read on

This is the best post on politics I’ve read in a long while. It concludes,

  I’m not expecting very much from people who live “Inside the Beltway.” I don’t live there, never have, don’t even like visiting the place. To me it’s much like the arrogance of Silicon Valley. You can’t pop out every four years get us to vote for you and then go back into your nest. Politics belongs to all of us, in this country, the people are the government. We really lost our way, now it’s time to come back. It’s the change that’s happening in everything, decentralization, disintermediation. Obama speaks of a plurality, his campaign isn’t about a mere election, it’s about changing the way we do things.

  My advice to candidates going back to Dean was and is to start implementing the change you seek before the election, while you have the full attention of the electorate. Ask us to give money, not to buy ads, but to buy health insurance for 50,000 uninsured people in a particular state, so we can see how powerful we are collectively, how we can do good, starting right now. We yearn for this, to feel our muscles flex collectively, and individually to make a difference, not just in your hype, but in real terms. Hillary Clinton could have gotten up yesterday and said “There’s no time to waste. We can’t wait until January 2009 to solve the problems. Let’s start right now.”

  Maybe she won’t get elected, but getting us organized now would make it more likely.

  JFK: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

  See how that works??

My summary: It’s about relationship, not transaction. It’s about governance, not politics.

To unpack that a bit, you can divide what happens in a market — including the political one — into three categories: transaction, conversation and relationship. In too many markets — including the one for candidates — the mix of the three is warped and strained. Too many big-money contributors own the most meaningful relationships with the candidate. Too much of the conversation is insincere, preachy, hollow or otherwise bullshit. And the need for money pollutes both conversation and relationship.

Earlier in that post, Dave writes,

  What the electorate needs is to hire someone to lead us for the four years between elections. It needs someone who will ground our collective behavior in something resembling reality

In a conversation around this stage in the last presidential election, Phil Windley pointed out that democracies are about two things: elections and governance. We care disproportionately about the former, because elections make great stories, and are eay to explain with sports and war metaphors. But elections are how we hire those who run our governments. We need to care about what they’ll do in reality. Or what we’ll do in reality. The idea isn’t just to change how elections happen, but how governance works as well.

Easier said than done. But we need to do it.

Getting high

Here are the photos from the Zero-G flight I took today.

Getting real

I’ve never been a Hillary fan, mostly because it seemed that nothing she said wasn’t calculated. But when she choked up a couple days ago, for the first time I heard her get real. And likable. Last night after her victory in New Hampshire, she said “I found my voice”. There was nothing fake about it.

The Republican winner, John McCain, has always been known for his “staight talk”. I think that was the difference with voters as well.

Look up the word “voice” in The Cluetrain Manifesto. Then look up the word “compan”, to bring up both “companies” and “company”. Substitute the word “candidates” or “candidate”. Or do the same for government, or legislators, or parties.

Don’t just listen to what the candidates are saying. Or even how they say it. Listen to their voices. And bet accordingly.

Where looks are everything

Las Vegas is a crazy place. Picturing CES shows some of that. There’s more to come.

Just noticed I have 394 potos tagged lasvegas here and another 77 here.

About three years ago I wrote about what I called The Snowball Effect. It included this quotage:

  Tell ya what. I’m fifty-seven years old, and I’ve been pushing large rocks for short distances up a lot of hills, for a long time. Now, with blogging, I get to roll snowballs down hills. Some don’t go very far. But some get pretty big once they start rolling.

  See, each snowball grows as others link to the original idea, and add their own thoughts and ideas. By the time the snowball gets big enough to have some impact, it really isn’t my idea any more.

  Anyway, at this point in my life I’d rather roll snowballs than push rocks.

In Gouge out your eyes with a rusty synecdoche, Dave Snowden follows a snowball I hadn’t realized I had started rolling, here. Not sure I follow it all, yet. (Too busy now and writing this on the run.) But I’ll catch up later. Meanwhile, some fine writing (and snarking) to enjoy there.

Via Euan Semple.

See change

The Tide Shifts at CES.

I see Twitter as a River of Tweets, which are 140-character posts. The Twitter concept is Evan Williams’, Biz Stone’s and Jack Dorsey’s The river concept is Dave’s. I don’t know who named the tweet, but that’s what matters. Twitter is an easy thing to which anybody can add value.

What makes Twitter so good is that it’s lightweight and not ambitious about running your life. It’s more service than site. It’s part of the live Web, even though you can still find it in the static one.

The latest addition to the portfolio of fun hacks on Twitter (which include Dave’s Twittergram) is Politweets, which Ted Shelton says “brings out the really intriguing aspect of Twitter — the ability to tap into the pulse of some very interesting distributed event (like an election) and see what is happening”.

I’m sure there’s something on Facebook that does the same thing. But Facebook is AOL 2.0. It’s heavy and complicated and wants to run my life. So I mostly avoid it. My loss perhaps, but that’s beside the twin points of live vs. static and light vs. heavy.

Ev Williams did a nice job of explaining The Light Side in his talk at LeWeb3 last month. Here’s the video.

A standout product

Years ago at a small event the give-away schwag was an portable laptop tripod. We set it up once, couldn’t figure out how to break it down again, and put it the first of a series of storage closets. We’ve lived 9 places in 10 years, I’m sure it’s been transported between at least half of them.

Anyway, during this last trip back to Santa Barbara it occurred to me that this little stand would be ideal for my wife, who likes to use her laptop in the living room of the apartment we’re renting near Boston. So I finally figured out how to break it down and set it up again, then stuffed it in a bag that I carried here to Las Vegas, en route back East.

A few minutes ago I decided to use it here at my hotel, where, as always at hotels, the desk is uncomfortably high, and was giving me shoulder cramps.

Now I wish I had discovered this thing years ago. Yes, it’s a little shaky (it’s very light), but that’s my only quibble. Otherwise it does a great job serving as an artificial lap that stands between my knees while I sit upright in a comfortable chair. (This hotel has one of those, at least.) Since the flat part of the stand that supports the laptop is aluminum and open underneath, it makes a good heat sink and keeps the hot bottom of the laptop off my legs. And it can be adjusted not only for height but for angle as well. Pretty slick.

Even at the $99 list price, I’d say it’s worth it. And I’m betting that there are plenty of discounts out there.

In any case, the insTand may be the most useful piece of schwag I’ve received. Highly recommended.

Mike Elgan says,

  The powers that be at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHSMA) have determined that batteries are a potential fire risk. As a result, you will no longer be allowed to bring spare batteries in your checked luggage.

  Batteries actually installed inside devices are OK, and most spare batteries in your carry-on are fine, too. But carry-on batteries are now governed by a complicated new set of rules.

  You can carry batteries with 8 grams of lithium or less in them in your carry on bags. They now, however, must be carried now in plastic bags. Cell phone, PDA and other gadget batteries, plus most laptop batteries, contain less than 8 grams of lithium.

I carry lots of batteries with me. Spare laptop batteries, rechargeables, and the usual disposable kind included. And I haven’t run across any trouble so far. But I haven’t flown since January 1, when Mike published this.

Gordon Haff unpacks the rules a bit more, saying,

 

  The “two-battery limit” applies only to lithium ion batteries with more than “8 grams of equivalent lithium content, (which) is approximately 100 watt-hours.” The Reader’s Digest version is that this limit roughly corresponds to the largest notebook batteries.

  In other words, this limit shouldn’t much affect most travelers because there’s no limit on typical camera, cell phone, toy, and notebook batteries. So what is affected? Things like external notebook and professional videographer batteries. (I suspect that independent videographers will be one of the groups this new rule could inconvenience.)

  One issue is that implementing the rule in the field is basically impossible, unless the screeners are just given some rule of thumb like “no limit on notebook batteries or anything smaller.”

  Finally, I think it’s worth noting that–much fevered commentary aside–this is not some new inane security rule. It’s a response to lithium batteries being suspected as the cause in at least one cargo plane fire.

In practice, how will the TSA people know what the right size battery is? I guess we’ll see.

Anybody experience problems with this yet?

As it happens I don’t have any big spare laptop batteries with me, this time. But I do have a pile of little rechargeable ones. We’ll see how they do on Friday at LAX.

Cluetrain, the slide show.

Bonus list.

I watch little television, so I’ve felt comfortable ignoring the writers strike, which has been going on since November.

But it’s hard to escape the strike’s effects while hanging out in Southern California, where writers of movies and TV shows are essential to what they call The Industry here.

Not surprisingly, a search for a bracing perspective on the matter took me to Articulation and Activism: In Praise of Screenwriters … and “Hackwriters” Too — a post last month by my old friend and colleague Stephen Lewis at his blog Hak Pak Sak. His core points:

  The strikers’ demands focus on residuals from new and emerging distribution channels — especially the internet. Over the last decades, writers time and again missed the boat on gaining a fair share of earnings from the recycling of their work via new media, including videocassettes and DVDs. Now, they are determined not to repeat this mistake with internet distribution. All of us who who are paid job-by-job for our labor and/or creative abilities should back the strikers in whatever ways we can. The same goes for those of us who believe in the future of internet as the primary distribution channel for news, opinion, knowledge, and entertainment and who understand that media are just what the word implies, i.e. “dark fiber” and “empty pipes”, vehicles for conveying content and no more. In the end, backing the strike means willingness to pay for internet content, directly or indirectly, and to pressure those who charge for content, i.e. the owners of networks and other marketing shells, to ensure that a fair share of the life-long earnings of productions goes those who create them.

Steve has also been active in , and his post moves me to point out that VRM should, among other things, create business models that facilitate “willingness to pay” for writing and other “content” in the open marketplace where the users of that content have wide-open choices over what to pay for creative goods and how to relate to creators. Our job is to create that “how”. Hollywood won’t, and perhaps can’t. Certainly not without our help, anyway.

That “how” needs to lower the friction involved in “willingess to pay” in the direction of zero. That is, the cost in time and effort required to pay must move toward zero until the willingness to pay exceeds the same value. This challenge first faced us with Napster, and nearly all “solutions” from the supply side since then have ranged from harmful to inadequate.

The will to pay fair sums for perceived value needs to be melded with technology that facilitates 1) working relationships (on an elective basis for both supply and demand), and 2) efficient transaction. Neither can be scaffolded on the old supply-controlled systems that feel threatened by the Net. Nor can it be built on an artist-by-artist or distributor-by-distributor basis, because that will just result in countless narrowly-focused and incompatible CRM (customer relationship management) systems, such as those we see today with public broadcasting, where CRM systems restrict listeners and viewers to paying for freely available creative goods only through hundreds of different channels comprised of stations that mostly comprehend relationship only in terms of “membership”.

Nor can it be built only inside some large company’s walled garden. The most free markets will be built on the most free customers — and the most creative and resourceful suppliers and intermediators.

VRM systems need to leverage the freedom and facilitate the independence of individuals, and their ability to make their own choices. They must enable passive consumers to become active customers. It must help demand find and drive supply at least as well as supply drives and creates demand. A healthy market ecosystem with have both. Not just the latter.

The markets that arise from independent and enabled customers will be incalculably varied and large. And some of the largest potential facilitators of those markets — especially those without stakes in the old distro systems — are in an ideal position to help out here, and to break free of their own old failing or hidebound business models. (Hear that, phone companies? Retailers? Banks and credit card companies?) This is the Intention Economy I wrote about almost two years ago. We’ve made progress in that direction (especially around identity), but we still have a long way to go.

More at How VRM can help CRM get past DRM and some other links I don’t have time to find right now. Gotta pack and leave for CES in Las Vegas. [Later... here's one.]

Conversations and Relationships

We’ve got the former, and also the latter, going on in the posts and comments here and here.

Teamwork at CES

Every year I go on a pilgrimage to CES, on behalf of Linux Journal. Some examples are here, here, here and here. This year I don’t want to work solo. I’d rather to do it as a team. Or as a social network. Or as a set of overlapping social networks. Or graphs. Or whatever we’re calling them now. Toward that end I just posted Hunting Linux at CES. It lists some of the many companies that bother to mention that they’ve got a Linux story of some kind. There are many others too, I’m sure. Linux is so commonly used that I think we can use it to cast a pretty wide topical net.

What I’m thinking is that we can put together some docent tours of some of the halls, and hit not only my Linux targets, but some other fun booths, sites and events along the way. (The docent idea, by the way, is Dave’s. The Linux angle is mine.)

We have a wiki, which just got going. I’m sure we can get even more creative, and have fun in the process.

Looking forward to whatever we can do, whoever we happen to be.

I’ll be driving in the rain to Las Vegas today (it’s already 1:07am), but checking along the way. And I’ll be at the show through Thursday morning.

The (n)ever ending story

Barney Brantingham, who probably holds the record for length of service as a Santa Barbara News-Press journalist (nearly half a century), gives us The Endless Stunner: News-Press Strife Goes Way Past Overtime. The money grafs:

The refs call penalty after penalty: offside against Team McCaw: illegal procedures, ineligible receivers downfield, unsportsmanlike conduct, personal fouls, touchbacks and safeties and everything else in the rule book. Everything, that is, except blow their whistles to end the craziness.

This game has been running now for 18 months but time on the clock seems to be expanding like a Salvador Dali surrealist watch face. If this was a real football game the players would all be drawing Social Security before it ends — if it ever does. It’s like one of those 1930s marathon dances except that McCaw’s legal tapdancers never seem to get tired or slump to the floor.

The year 2006 has gone into 2007 and now 2008. Just the other day, National Labor Relations Board Judge William Kocol ruled that McCaw violated enough federal unfair labor practices to fill a whole L.A. Times sports section. Among other things, his 71-page decision ruled that McCaw must rehire eight journalists fired in retaliation for their union activities. She disregarded their “fundamental rights” as employees, Kocol said. Some people have been saying that the workers have no rights and that McCaw could do anything she wanted. She owns the paper, doesn’t she? No so, the judge ruled. Employees have a legal right under federal law to organize and it’s illegal to try to thwart them.

This was settled in the courts generations ago.

So the yellow flags have been thrown against the paper once more and once more McCaw has vowed to appeal. That’s her legal right too and she can afford it. But the handful of journalists could never have financed this battle if they hadn’t been backed by the NLRB, the Teamsters — and the law of the land. By one estimate, the Teamsters have shelled out $400,000 in the battle, and are still racking up costs without end.

Here’s the LA Times piece on the latest.

Twixtonomy

Paul Downey: I see two kinds of Twitterers emerging: Twits and Twerps.

Interesting read. Not sure if I’m either, both or neither.

Denial Retention Management defeated

Duncan Riley:

  Sony BMG will become the last of the big four record companies to offer music without the handicap of digital rights management, effectively putting the final nail into the music DRM coffin.

News via BusinessWeek.

Better than any obituary

Required reading: Andy Olmstead’s posthumous post. Also here. Follow the other links too. In the (literal) end, there’s no better writing about what couldn’t be any worse.

Why Mitt Romney is losing

Follow the podcast link here.

Heavy weather

The SFO site is down, pretty much. It says,

  www.flysfo.com is currently unavailable. Please check back soon for our full site.
  Due to current weather conditions many flights are delayed. Please contact your airline for flight status.

That’s about it.

The FAA has every airport in the the southwest (California, Nevada, Arizona) marked orange, meaning, Traffic destined to this airport is being delayed at its departure point. Check your departure airport to see if your flight may be affected.

Specifically, it says this about SFO:

  Due to WEATHER / WIND, there is a Traffic Management Program in effect for traffic arriving San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, CA (SFO). This is causing some arriving flights to be delayed an average of 2 hours and 5 minutes. To see if you may be affected, select your departure airport and check “Delays by Destination”.

Dave Sifry piped together this storm info page. Ignore the map and click on the List view (which lacks its own URL, unfortunately).

Here’s the RSS feed. Helpful stuff there, including the Red Cross Chat blog‘s Super Storm in the West post, which pionts to the Red Cross Twitter channel (which isn’t being kept up, near as I can tell), among other places. Thanks to Dave Winer for tweeting help on that one too. Among other things, for the NOAA’s NWS RSS Library.

The storm hit Santa Barbara several hours go, and is quite impressive. I’m sure nothing is flying in or out, which is meaningful to me at the moment because in the morning the whole family is due to depart, some by plane and some by car. Should be a mess either or both ways.

To understand the matter of Scoble vs. Facebook, you need to understand the matter of Neo vs. Matrix.

I explain in Dependence vs. Independence. That’s the choice. Over in Linux Journal.

[Later...] Much more in the comments below both that post and this one.

That was the sunrise on New Year’s Day here in Santa Barbara. Here’s the sunset from the same day:

Both were harbingers of sorts. As I write this we’re having the worst rain of the new year. Huge storm happening.

In CBS Video: Not In The Conversation, John Battelle writes,

  Close readers will notice a trend in 2008 here on Searchblog: I’ll be posting stuff about conversations, and in particular how companies are doing when it comes to having conversations with their key constituents.

I want to look at it from the opposite side, asking How are customers doing when it comes to having conversations with their key companies?

More to the point, how can we equip customers with better tools for communicating with their suppliers — across all those suppliers’ CRM (Customer “Relationship” Management) systems? Especially when most of those systems are designed to deflect or prevent actual human-to-human contact.

For example, I would like a dashboard — or the technology and standards that would allow anybody to build a dashboard — by which I could manage my billing relationships with all my suppliers.

Right now my bookkeeper, my wife and I are together trying to figure out what the hell a bunch of Visa bill expenses are for. Visa bills tend to have a list of transactions, most of which have little or no useful information associated with them. Usually it’s just a phone number. Call that number and you get routed into the supplier’s deflection maze or to a machine where you leave message and nothing happens. Once in awhile you actually reach somebody. But even then the mystery sometimes only deepens.

Right now my bookkeeper is on the phone with Dish Network, which for some reason is charging us for two accounts, including one at a strange address where we’ve never lived. It’s very complicated. (Later… it was just solved, and we’ll get a check from them for having collected on the account that didn’t exist.)

I have other mysteries right now involving Sirius, 1&1, T-Mobile, SixApart, Verizon, Rhapsody and AT&T. All those companies have their own billing and CRM systems. In some cases (such as Rhapsody), I just want to cancel the service but don’t know how, since I lack any kind of paperwork (physical or virtual) on the “relationship”. In other cases I want to know exactly what I’m being charged for, since the charges are at variance with my understanding of what I should be paying (which in some cases is zero).

I think what we need is something like an API. Let’s call it an VRI: Interface. Through it I could know, and see, what I’m getting from each vendor with which I “relate”. On top of that the dashboard could be built.

An interesting thing here is that I really don’t want to have a conversation of the literal kind with most of these companies, unless there’s a problem. I do want to relate with them, however. That is, I would like to request or arrange for services, pay bills and occasionally make suggestions or provide feedback. Most of that does not require wasting the time of another human being. A lot of that could be automated. I believe that automation would be easier if there were a consistent way of relating established on the customer side. That would be one set of wheels that all these different suppliers would not have to invent and re-invent over and over again, each in their own different ways. There could be standard routines for querying transaction histories, or for requesting information about current service offerings, or turning services on or off or up or down.

Whatever we do, “management” needs to go both ways. For the good of both parties.

Okay, back to making calls and doing research and wasting three people’s time…

David Ardia writes,

  In one of his last executive actions of the year, President Bush signed into law the “OPEN Government Act of 2007” on December 31, 2007. The Senate unanimously passed the reform bill earlier in December, and it passed the House of Representatives by voice vote on December 18. The Associated Press is reporting that Bush signed the bill without comment.

  As I explained in a post on the Citizen Media Law Project’s blog two weeks ago, the legislation substantially reforms the Freedom of Information Act and expands the definition of who is a “representative of the news media” under FOIA. This change would significantly benefit bloggers and non-traditional journalists by making them eligible for reduced processing and duplication fees that are available to “representatives of the news media.”…

  The full text of the OPEN Government Act of 2007 is available here. The press release announcing the President’s signing is available on the White House website.

JD Lasica adds,

  Who knew something so forward-looking could come out of this Congress and this president?

Some questions follow.

For example, will this help with existing or future shield laws?

Waste not

So my good friend Freddy Herrick is a terrific writer with a huge pile of excellent screenplays — screen novels, actually — in the queue. I’ve read some. They’re terrific and deserve production. Toward that end I’ve encouraged Freddy to go ahead and start blogging them as installments. You know, like Dickens.

Which he’s done, at California Below the Waist. His first opus there is The Final Option. The story thus far:

 

Enjoy. Or better yet, connect. Write to faherrick AT gmail.com.

We’ve been under snow in Boston for all of December; but in our case we missed the white Christmas there, opting instead to visit family and grandbaby in Baltimore, where it was a bit cold but not snowy. Christmas evening, however, we made up for that by hanging in Denver, waiting for a plane to Boise, where things were white again, and getting whiter.

The next morning, after a fabulous breakfast I wrote about on site, we hopped in the rented Subaru Forrester and headed toward Sun Valley. The roads were slick and the accidents were many, so I didn’t do any shooting until we were heading into Shoshone, and taking the Sawtooth Scenic Byway (Idaho 75) north into Sun Valley. That’s where this gallery came from, including the shot above, which was made by The Kid out a side window. Not bad.

We had fresh snow every day in Sun Valley, and even more up at Galena where I did the first cross-country skiing in my life. Beautiful place, with the best lodge food I’ve ever had. Amazingly good, especially considering the remote infrastructure-free location.

Anyway, things stayed white all the way until we were over California airspace yesterday. More pix of those after I get some sleep.