February 2008

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JP Rangaswami points me to The Life Cycle of a Blog Post, by Frank Rose, in Wired. It features a large interactive (I guess flash) graphic that places even the icky stuff (such as spam blogs, or splogs) inside the ‘system. I haven’t looked too much at it because I get annoyed by its interactivity. (What’s wrong with one big graphic file I can scroll around?) Still, interesting. When I have time to look at the whole thing with more patience than I have now, I might have more to say about it.

Meanwhile Wired’s Chris Anderson writes,

  Today it’s digital technologies, not electricity, that have become too cheap to meter. It took decades to shake off the assumption that computing was supposed to be rationed for the few, and we’re only now starting to liberate bandwidth and storage from the same poverty of imagination. But a generation raised on the free Web is coming of age, and they will find entirely new ways to embrace waste, transforming the world in the process. Because free is what you want — and free, increasingly, is what you’re going to get.

All good stuff; but missing, or put in different terms, is the because effect — making money because of something rather than with it. I make zero money with blogging. (No advertising. Love that.) But I make more than zero because of blogging. Not enough to make me rich, but enough to make me valuable. And far more than I would make with advertising alone.

And the value I create isn’t just for me. I see what I do here as a positive contribution to the world: open prose that’s like open code: simply useful. Or, in other terms, NEA: something Nobody owns, Everybody can use and Anybody can improve.

At its best, anyway. Some of what I write, I’m sure, is useless. But most of the time I’m at least trying to do something helpful. I think all the best bloggers, like the best programmers, the best builders, the best Wikipedia contributors, all try to do that. Whether they sell it or not.

Telco 2.0 visits the same subject with The Two-Sided Business Model.

Trendwatching has been into the Free Thing as well. Their detailed and interesting post on the matter is Free Love.

We’d hardly yearn for Net Neutrality laws if Comcast and other carriers truly understood that the Net is more than an interactive TV channel with troublesome users.

Unfortunately there are technical as well as busines and political reasons why they fail to grok the Net. A big one is DOCSIS, which is the standard framework inside which cable companies funnel Net traffic. DOCSIS all but requires that they think of the Net as just another TV channel. Because that’s how DOCSIS frames the Net. It’s something delivered over analog channels inside a coaxial cable. Carriers can “bond” channels to widen the bandwidth, but they’re still dealing with radio waves going down a coaxial pipe on one or more channels and back up on others. Asymmetry is built in, simply because the return upstream path is, by design, on lower frequency channels with less carrying capacity. It’s also useless to debate with a cable comapny the need (or lack of it) for QoS (Quality of Service), because QoS has been part of DOCSIS since 1999.

Fiber deployments have different capabilities and restrictions, although most of those are modeled on cable TV, for good business reasons. Verizon’s fiber (FiOS) system, for example, is not designed primarily for Internet users, but for couch potatoes. Those tubers are abundant and low-hanging (or ground-dwelling) fruit.

One can’t blame carriers for going after easy pickings; but one can blame them for wearing blinders toward the massive opportunities that appear when they deliver wide-open bandwidth on which nearly anything can run… and to discover their first-mover advantages there.

But, thanks to these ancient frames, the Net is seen by the carriers (and the FCC) as tertiary to their primary and secondary services: telephony and television, or vice versa. That’s why it’s still just gravy on your phone or cable bill.

Bonus link.

I just discovered that is also useful for astronomy. You go under View and click on Switch to Sky. Suddenly your screen is a planetarium. It’s not quite the equal yet of KStars, Starry Night or Carinasoft’s Voyager (the three programs I know best), but it’s not bad for a start, and with call-outs that integrate well with the Web.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, I’m wondering if there’s an easy one-click way to copy lat/lon from an x/y location on the Earth. Or to copy the geotag.

Another question… Is there an easy way to make Google Earth display the names of mountains and rivers? Seems the only way is by angling down with the tilt slider (the horizontal one above the compass tool), to an elevation barely above that of the mountain — and then using your mouse, keyboard, or that joysticky whatever-that-is in the middle of the compass, to fly like a plane toward the mountain’s crest, hoping that at some point the name of the mountain will appear in blue above it. Any of you geo-hackers know a better way? Hope there is one.

And one more… Is there a way to use normal, non-3D fonts?

Oh, and these questions don’t just apply to Google Earth.

My main purpose is to geotag pictures I put up here. No way to label them all, since there are around 18,000 of them. But I’d like to label a few, at least. Easily.

Lie like an astrorug

From Portfolio.com:

  Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury said that the company paid some people to arrive early and hold places in the queue for local Comcast employees who wanted to attend the hearing.

  Some of those placeholders, however, did more than wait in line: They filled many of the seats at the meeting, according to eyewitnesses. As a result, scores of Comcast critics and other members of the public were denied entry because the room filled up well before the beginning of the hearing.

  Khoury said that the company didn’t intend to block anyone from attending the hearing. “Comcast informed our local employees about the hearing and invited them to attend,” she said. “Some employees did attend, along with many members of the general public.”

It was clear to many who attended that the carriers packed the room at yesterday’s FCC Hearing. How lame are employees who can’t show up early enough to get a seat? How lame is a company that pays people to warm seats for lame employees? About as lame as a company that can’t defend its methods of selectively subtracting value from its Internet service. Tag:

Honk

People have been asking if my voice is back. Thanks, it is, mostly. But sleeping is hard for some reason. Too much good stuff going on, and to think about. And some of me is still on Pacific Time, while here it’s GMT.

Trying once more…

Buzz on buzz

Buzz Bruggeman, to Kevin O’Keefe:

  It’s very difficult for me to imagine today that a successful lawyer would not have an active blog. It’s sort of like imagining that they wouldn’t have business cards, or imagining that they wouldn’t have their number in a phone book — it’s a way to discover them, a way to understand a lot about them, a way to reach out to them. And [it] provides an easy way to comment on what they write, to make the conversation even richer. Blogs are a lot about conversations. If there’s no conversation, it’s difficult for a potential client to get their head around who you are, what you’re doing and how you think.

Looking grand

That’s a shot of the Lava Falls section of the Grand Canyon. It’s one of my favorite scenes: of lava from the Uinkaret Lava Field slopping down into the canyon over the north rim. Atop Lava Falls itself is Vulcan’s Throne, a volcanic vent about 73,000 years old.

This may seem old, but the lava is among the newest features of the Grand Canyon. The Kaibab Limestone over which the lava flowed was laid down in early Permian time, around 290 million years ago. All the rocks below are older, on down to the Vishnu group at the bottom of the canyon, around 1.7 billion years ancient.

That set is one of many that came out of my most recent trip out west by plane. I’m in London now, and still getting them up.

Oh well

Larry Lessig: After lots of thinking and advice, I have decided it does not make sense for the Change Congress movement for me to a run for Congress in CA12. He is still out, of course, to Change Congress.

So here’s the concept: the end-to-end nature of the Internet is not about “access for consumers”. It’s about creating a in which all of us are at zero functional distance from each other — or close enough. That’s why I can listen in on the hearing right now from London, and IM and IRC with people all over the world. Right now, in real-enough time.

The Internet is the universal communications utility that connects us all. As a utility it will, in the long run, come to resemble roads and water systems — in the sense that all of us can connect to it, and to each other over it. The questions that matter most are the ones with answers that get us to this end state.

Right now they’re talking about competition. Two years ago at F2C, former FCC Chairman Michael Powell said that, as a former antitrust lawyer, he favored the “rule of threes” — that is, you tend to get productive compeitition when there are at least three competitors in a marketplace.

We have that at our home near Cambridge. We have Verizon FiOS, RCN and Comcast, all on the poles. The first two bring fiber to the home, and the third has a hybrid fiber coax (HFC) system, that brings coax to the home. Near as I can tell, the only one of those three bothering to compete for the Internet customer is Verizon, although its offering is hardly optimized. No “20 up, 20 down”, as I just heard somebody brag about in the ‘cast. (Was that Tom Tauke from Verizon? Think so.) We get 20 down, 5 up. Right now, if I want non-crippled service (one where I can run a server, for example, with my own IP addresses), I have to pay “business” rates, which are, in the phone company tradition, and without respect to whatever the actual costs are, a multiple of what I pay as a household — a consumer.

All three are going after TV customers primarily — trying to horn into each other’s cable TV business — and treating Internet as gravy on TV and phone service. That makes sense for providers of all three services, on a national basis, but not at the local level, where there is enormous room for innovation and real competition.

Message to Verizon and the rest: the Internet is not about “consumer choice”. We produce as well as consume. We need to be able to run our own servers. We need to be able to exercize supply as well as demand. We need symmetricality, not just neutrality.

It is essential not to frame the Net in FCC terms, or even in communications policy and law terms, which date back to the 1934 act, and beyond that to railroads. Or at least not those alone. The Net is a place, not just a shipping system for “content”, to which “the consumer” should have “access”.

Lot of back and forth about whether or not Comcast blocked BitTorrent. FWIW, I think that::: a) Comcast is still mostly right about the best efforts it makes, but is still weaseling a little bit; b) Comcast’s opponents are looking to paint its kettle black; and c) Talking about it soaks up too much time that would be better spent debating other subjects.

Tag: .

I really really really wish I was back in Cambridge right now, where for sure I’d be in the Ames Courtroom, taking part in the hearing where all five FCC commisioners are participating.

I could do the same, to some degree, from here in my stuffy London hotel room, if the FCC’s #@$%& Real audio stream wasn’t hosed. “The server has reached its capacity and can serve no more streams”, it says. Try later.

[Later...] Amazingly, at the Nth try, it now works. More in the next post.

Shootings


Getting this one up quickly from my seat in a London-bound 777 before taking off. It’s a set of shots heading westbound from Comb Ridge to Monument Valley in southern Utah during the trip west I’m ending now. The shot above is of Red Lake, a dry lake in the midst of an only slightly less rutilant desert south of Comb Ridge, the town of Bluff, and the San Juan River. The colorful parts of Utah are among my favorite places on Earth. Even though I haven’t been to most of them.

Someday I’d love to take a rafting trip down the San Juan River, through Goosenecks, which are also featured in this series.

The whole trip is here — a long series of shots running from Boston to Los Angeles. I don’t have all of them up yet. All my connections have been too slow. Maybe I’ll finish them in London. We’ll see. In any case, it was the clearest view I’ve had coast-to-coast in many trips.

The Grand Canyon series is pretty good too.

Free speechlessness

I’ve never had laryngitis before, but I do now. I can hardly say a thing. I wanted to make some calls while driving from Santa Barbara to LAX, but ended up giving my voice a rest, which so far hasn’t worked. It was almost impossible to make myself undersood to the United and TSA personnel at the counter and security. Very strange for a talker to have one’s voice reduced to a choice of whisper or honk. Here’s hoping it works by the time I get to London tomorrow.

Heard a piece on NPR this morning in which Brooks Jackson, director of , said Hillary Clinton was correct when she said (in much stronger language) that an Obama flyer was misleading. FactCheck goes on to say,

  We’ve also previously criticized Clinton for sending a mailer that twisted Obama’s words and gave a false picture of his proposals on Social Security, home foreclosures and energy.
  We leave it to our readers to decide whether they should be “outraged” or not, and at whom.

The subject of the flyer was NAFTA, and the candidates’ positions on it. Says FactCheck,

  We take no position here on whether NAFTA is a boon to the economy or a detriment, and note only that there are plenty of arguments on both sides. We do judge that the Obama campaign is wrong to quote Hillary as using words she never uttered, and has produced little evidence that she ever had strong praise of any sort for NAFTA’s economic benefits.

Earlier they characterize her position on NAFTA as “ambivalent”. I can see that. Even “free” trade is really freaking complicated, with trade-offs all over the place, and unintended consequences out the wazoo. Of course politicians need to take strong positions to make matters simple for voters (and themselves). But if there’s one thing that’s become clear in this election season, it’s that we’ve reached a tipping point in the voters’ distaste for lying and smearing.

All three remaining major presidential candidates continue to experiment with it. What they’ll find is that it works less and less.

The lesson: If you’re going to “go negative”, at least tell the truth. As Harry Truman put it, “I never gave them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell”.

And don’t think we can’t tell the difference. If you try to fool some of the people some of the time, you’re only making a fool of your own damn self.

People ask why I don’t blog as much as I used to. One answer is that I write as much, but I just don’t do as much of it here. I’ve been blogging more at Linux Journal, in addition to writing for the magazine. (The March issue just arrived. In it are eight pieces of mine: five with a byline and three without.) I write much more in comments here than I did at the blog’s old site, mostly because the design here is a bit more comment-friendly. And there are other places I’m writing, such as the ProjectVRM blog (which we need to fix so that others can write there too… that’s a ball that’s still in my court). Another answer is that I’m on the phone a lot more. Not sure why that is, aside from the need to keep up with the community (which is growing in several directions at once). But it’s hard to write and talk at the same time.

In any case, It’s All Good. It’s jut not all here. Not that it ever was, actually.

So now I’m home in Santa Barbara for the last full day before I’m back on the road (actually, in the air and various subways), first to London for this next week, and then back at my other home in Boston for at least two weeks that should be blessedly free of travel.

Meanwhile, here’s a linkpile, most of which I’ll insult by commenting on them insufficiently.

AOL leaves DC. From critical mass to criticized mess:

  Senior executives looked around the region for talent, but found mostly engineers familiar with business software programming and government contracting, not cutting-edge Web applications. Dozens of creative, technical, sales and operating AOL employees decamped to Silicon Valley, New York and Boston, in search of more promising opportunities.

  “If you worked at AOL after 2002, what would you have learned at AOL that you couldn’t have learned at other places?” said Mark Walsh, an early AOL executive who is an active local investor. “What you learned was how to downsize.”

Sorry I’ll miss Clay Shirky’s visit to Berkman on Thursday and the FCC hearing (with all five commissioners) on Monday. Bad week to be gone, but good for much VRM stuff happening in the U.K.

Jay Deragon asks, Is `The Cluetrain leaving The Station? I’d say the clues have arrived, but are unevenly distributed. Carter F. Smith gets plenty, and asks, If traditional marketing won’t work in The Relationship Economy, what will?

By the way, I’ll be live with Jay on Where is my Customer? The Impact of Social Media on Selling, on Thursday.

Already available is this LinuxWorld podcast with Don Marti. In it I cast doubt on the default assumption that advertising is going to pay for everything. It ain’t.

2008 Web Trend Map.

Mary Hodder: I’ve never seen coverage with Doc or David or Loic in fashion. Via this NYTimes piece.

Joe Andrieu: Figure it out for the individual user first, then find ways to use technology to scale efficient solutions. Averages need not be applied. Monolithic approaches to marketing and product development need not apply. Micro-focus at a mega scale.

Higgins 1.0 is out.

I got quoted by Marshall Kirkpatrick from a NewsGang ‘logue, saying Google is vulnerable in search. Others disagreed. Read the comments. The main thing I’d add is that Google needs competition. Search services that zig where Google zags. Not enough of that yet.

That’s the question Tim Olson of KQED just asked me here at Public Media 2008. Given that there are countless open code bases laying around in the world, I’d say the answer is yes. But I don’t know, and the Net connection here is so slow that finding out is too big a chore. So I asked Tim if he’d like me to ask the rest of ya’ll, and he said yes. So here we are. He’ll be watching the space below for answers. (Note to selves: Miro guys are here. They might know.)

I saw the end of the Debate last night on CNN, and fell asleep on the hotel room bed while Anderson Cooper and his coterie of opinionators blabbed about how both contestants performed. When I woke up a few minutes ago, seven hours later, it was still going on. I switched over to ESPN and saw another bunch of opinionators doing the same thing, only the subject was basketball. Only the content was different. The format was the same. So were the metaphors. Sports and war.

Yet what I saw, when Hillary said — with grace and apparent sincerity — that it was “an honor” to be running against Barack Obama, and that “Whatever happens, we’re going to be fine”, was the beginning of a concession. It was hedged, for sure. She clearly still wants to win Ohio and Texas. But the writing is on the wall, and it says Barack Obama is not only going to be the Democratic candidate, but the next President of the United States as well.

The change won’t just be symbolic. It will be substantive. One thing that’s so appealing about Obama is that his candidacy subordinates race, subordinates the differences that have divided us for so long. It doesn’t trivialize them, but it does put them in the category of Stuff We Can Move Past, because we have work to do.

I think Dave’s analysis is correct. And he’s right to call the challenge United States 2.0. Maybe we can see our way to something wonderful, instead of a continued struggle. For Dave that’s a new Democratic government. I’m looking for a government that’s energized around facing three very different but overlapping problems.

First, that the U.S. is no longer the only superpower — and that superpower itself will no longer be defined by military might of the conventional sort. War will be different. Might will be different. Ending our worst problems in Iraq will only be the start of it. We need a new relationship with the rest of the world, and better models for understanding the problems there. (I suggest that Barack consult Thomas. P.M. Barnett for help with that.)

Second, that the U.S. must restore both its moral and technical stature, both of which have slipped badly in the last few years.

Third, that seas will rise as ice continues to melt in the Earth’s polar regions, and that this requires far more than “fighting global warming”. If we wish to avoid famine, war over shrinking lands and a global ecological breakdown, we need to think decades and even centuries ahead. Our species has never done that. Instead it has eaten the planet’s resources like a plague of locusts. That will have to change, or nature’s human experiment will fail.

All three require leadership of a sort we have not seen since Reagan. I hope Barack Obama is up for it. Because it’s going to be a very hard job.

Quote du jour

Amazingly, Adobe seems to have entirely missed the fact that the reason that the Flash video format has taken off is that it’s so fluid, versatile and remixable — not because they sucked up to some Hollysaurs and crippled their technology. – Cory Doctorow

I love “Hollysaurs”.

Uncoverage

Not sure whether or not it’s a local thing, but Verizon’s cell service seems to be especially lame lately — at least for me. Riding home to Santa Barbara yesterday on the Pacific Coast Highway, there seemed to be more than the usual dropouts. Here in the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles (on Olive), I’m getting one bar on the Treo 700p, and the service is marginal at best. (Now, in another meeting room, it’s none. “No service” it says.) I’d say it was my phone, except that my EvDO service, which uses a card working as a phone in the laptop, is outright dead. It was dead in West Covina yesterday too. Just a red light and no connection at all. The guy next to me saw me looking at my dead phone. “Verizon?” he said. “Yeah,” I replied. He shook his head.

Meanwhile, the hotel has no room Internet, because something went down and they’re waiting for something else to be “flown in” or something. Between flaky WiFi in the conference spaces, no Internet of any kind in the rooms, and EvDO that doesn’t work, I’m not getting much done online. So if you’re expecting something, bear with me.

[Later...] On an upper floor of the Omni, facing Olive and the Disney Hall, I’m getting five bars and a green light on the EvDO card. Speed, 940kbps down, 118kbps up. Much better. Alas, I have to go to dinner and stuff, so I still won’t get anything done. But at least I’ll sleep tonight. Last night I drove to Santa Barbara and back this morning, and the total was about 5 hours on the road, flanking 3 hours of sleep.

Quote du jour

The best blogs are easily the equal of the best opinion columnists at the New York Times. – Jimmy Wales, a few minutes ago at Public Media 2008.

Later: Software patents are a really bad idea.

The future, from 1 to 10

I’ll be on a panel later today at Public Media 2008 in Los Angeles. The subject is Technology and Trends: What’s Around the Bend? I got started answering that question with this list at Linux Journal.

More Lessig

is where Larry Lessig is anchoring vectors toward both running for Congress and changing it in any case.

Searches: Google, Yahoo, Google Blogsearch, Technorati.

Bonus link: Some gentle pushback (or push-somewhere, sort-of) from Gabe Wachob.

Can KRCL be saved?

I discovered in January of last year when I was driving from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas. It was a Sunday morning, and the music was some kind of Native American fusion mix that I couldn’t turn off. I love radio like that: radio that surprises me, radio that’s unlike anything anywhere else except in the sense that it’s good, radio produced by real people sharing original work that challenges and engages listeners.

I was amazed that KRCL existed, and in Salt Lake City of all places, and with a big signal too: as big as any other in that part of the West. It was the kind of station I expected to find in artsy-liberal enclaves such as Santa Cruz or Austin or Madison. But here it was, serving up fun and challenging stuff for one of the most Republican states in the nation.

I have KRCL’s stream programmed into our Sonos system at our home in Santa Barbara, where I listen from time to time. But since we spend most of our time around Cambridge these days, and our lives are full of Other Stuff, I haven’t listened much in awhile.

So now here I am at the Public Media Conference in Los Angeles, where I just heard that KRCL is going through big changes. Specifically, I was pointed to Dead Air: KRCL is getting a corporate makeover. Is community radio done for? by Ted McDonough in the SL Weekly, which has a follow-up story in KRCL Update [Focus Group Hell] — Get Ready for Baby Boom Radio. Of course, what’s happened is that KRCL isn’t making its fundraising goals, and has a shrinking measured audience. Between focus groups, consultants and other deliberations, a decision has been made to make KRCL into, well, something else. Here’s how Ted McDonough puts it:

  The station started 28 years ago by anti-war protesters, hippies and counterculture activists was now replacing all of its weekday volunteer DJs with three paid radio professionals.
  The change, to take place in two months, appears to be part of a plan hatched by managers and directors to turn KRCL into the best music station in Utah. But then, many think it already is the state’s best music station. And the planned changes raise a larger question:
  If DJs are paid professionals; if they are told what to play; if programming is the result of consultants, market surveys and focus groups of listeners watched from behind one-way glass—is it still community radio?
  “The station as we know it is going away,” says Alison Einerson, a KRCL drive-time volunteer who will soon be off the air.

Now, it could be that KRCL is simply dealing with a fact of life that will become a fact of death for many stations everywhere: listeners have many more choices of (what we now generically call) content, including goods they store and produce for themselves — or for listeners of their own. Certainly that’s involved.

But we still live in a world where all new and old cars come with AM/FM radios, and radio listening on the whole is still strong, and where the flywheels of habit and technology maintain the relevance of advantages stations like KRCL still have — such as a core of listeners, volunteers, relationships and a powerful mountaintop transmitter.

The thing that consultants and focus groups are unlikely to tell you, and that in fact cannot be changed, is where something comes from. In the case of KRCL, that something is hippies and war protesters and music mavens. There’s nothing wrong with KRCL making moves to better serve its community, or from doing what it does better. But there is something wrong with changing what the station is. According to the second SLWeekly story, that’s exactly the plan:

  The consultant’s bottom line: KRCL should play a mix of “heritage rock” and “modern adult contemporary.” In the future, the difference between KRCL and the oldies station will be that KRCL will play the B sides.
  Dominowski said the sound would be like (all together now) WXPN in Philadelphia. That just happens to be the direction station management was hinting at more than one year before the consultant ever set foot in Salt Lake City.

I don’t know where things stand now. The Salt Lake Tribune ran Listeners give KRCL managers an earful for cutting volunteers on February 10. That story makes clear at least two of the problems:

  Although the Salt Lake Valley’s population has grown by nearly half a million people over the past decade, KRCL’s listenership – roughly 35,000 people – declined slightly over the same period, said Roberts, the board chairman. Roberts blames recent technology, such as Internet and satellite radio, that makes it easier for today’s listeners to find the fringe music heard on KRCL.
  The station may have been able to weather the loss of the CPB funds, Maldonado said. But the CPB also negotiates complex music-licensing agreements for KRCL – an invaluable service for a noncommercial station with seven full-time staffers, she said. So last year the station applied for and received an additional $195,000 grant from the CPB. Under the conditions of the grant, KRCL agreed to hire the three DJs, including a music director.

The first thing is, “fringe music” isn’t just a pile of stuff on hard drives. It’s stuff that grows and spreads when connoisseurs share it with others. KRCL should face that challenge by doing a better job, not by abandoning the mission.

The second thing is, the deal with the CPB is turning out to be a bad one (that I suspect is bad even from the CPB’s perspective) — for the simple reason that compliance with the CPB’s requirements are killing the station.

Or maybe not. The Trib piece closes with this:

  Although some listeners are skeptical, Ryan Tronier, KRCL’s program director, believes the station’s musical palette won’t sound much different from how it does now.
  “We’re still going to be playing music you’re not hearing on the commercial end of the dial. It’ll be more than just putting your iPod on ‘random.’ It’ll be a cohesive mix of many genres,” he said. “We’re still going to be the best radio station in town – we’re just going to have more people listening.”

Here’s my own closing thought about that: If I wrote this blog for the largest possible audience, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

CRM well done, by CR

I’ve been a Consumer Reports reader and subscriber since the 1960s. And things have always been good between us, until this past few months, after changing my delivery address from my home in California to my apartment near Boston.

So, a few minutes ago, I went on the ConsumerReports.org website, to check out my account info and see what’s up. Turns out the address change in September failed, and somehow got turned into an old-old Santa Barbara address. So I changed it to the Massachusetts address, and went on to try to get some back issues. Then the system told me there was a problem with my address and looped me back into the Account Setup form, where I discovered that the street address took, but the city did not, so I had a new street address and an old city address. There was no way to tell this unless I went back and looked. So, the system was a bit busted. Fortunately, they do provide a number for calling in. And, even though it’s a holiday, a human being answered the phone immediately after I punched a number on a promting menu — and just the first of those, instead of one after a long series. The human, a native speaker of English, found that indeed the system had a problem, and corrected it all, even getting me all the available back issues, and reporting the problem to the magazine’s technical folks.

Consumer reports also provides a way to report problems by email inside their site, including plenty of room to explain things. I did that too.

All this is good, and worthy of kudos. Others should take notice.

Here’s hoping they’ll be up for welcoming VRM to match their CRM. Sure hope so.

… or is the GOP just buying stuff from Google and bragging about it?

Marc Canter wondered the former with Is Google being played like a violin, which he wrote after reading this press release from GOPConvention2008.com. From the release:

  As Official Innovation Provider, Google Inc. will enhance the GOP’s online presence with new applications, search tools, and interactive video. In addition, Google will help generate buzz and excitement in advance of the convention through its proven online marketing techniques.

  and…

  “As more Americans go online to learn about elections, we’re pleased to work with the Republican National Convention to give citizens around the world easy access to convention information and new ways to engage in the event,” said David Drummond, Google’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer.

  “This year, YouTube will bring a new dimension to this landmark event by enabling GOP visitors to share their unique experiences with the world through the power of online video,” said Chad Hurley, YouTube co-founder. “We look forward to working with the convention committee and watching the action unfold.”

This would be pure PR jive and nothing more if the release were restricted to the first paragraph. But when two high-level Google Execs, including its Chief Legal Officer, provide sales blurbs to just one side (so far) of a partisan political battlefield, expect Serious Questions to follow.

To help answer those questions, some context.

First, Nick Carr’s new book, The Big Switch, makes clear at least one strong trend in computing that is being led by Google (along with Amazon, Yahoo and others): Cheap, utility-supplied computing will ultimately change society as profoundly as cheap electricity did. No, personal computing won’t go away, but much of what we need, from storage to applications and raw compute power, will be available (and increasingly relied upon) as utility services. As utilities, these are going to be as free from prejudice about usage as are electricity, gas, water and waste treatment. (That is, not totally free, but sensibly so.) Looking at what the GOP says it will do with Google utilities, I’d say that’s the case here.

Second, it’s important to study how utility providers such as Google engage with large customers (and whole countries) that some find objectionable. For a view on that, check out the recent talk by the dissident Chinese journalist Michael Anti at the Berkman Center. Ethan Zuckerman has a long and helpful write-up. So does David Weinberger. From the latter:

  Q: (colin) Anything that international companies can do?

  A: If Congress banned Google from doing business with China, what would happen to gmail? If Microsoft left China, what about Messenger? For Congress, it’s easy to be black and white. But the Chinese people depend on these tools to communicate about freedom and rights. The real cost is Chinese freedom. (Yahoo is different. It’s “a real bad thing.” It “didn’t do any good to China.”) The Chinese authorities want to embrace the Internet, to be part of the international community, not like North Korea. So we should encourage them to do more with the Internet and to continue to say that the Internet is good. The outside world should encourage as well as blame the Chinese government. The Chinese people don’t like blame and don”t like being told what to do.

Somewhere in there (not sure it got on the podcast) Michael said that Google had great leverage through a single simple fact: most people working for the Chinese government use Gmail. Leverage isn’t always something that is actively used. In fact, in many (perhaps most) cases it doesn’t need to be brought up at all. It’s simply a fact that must be recognized.

Whether one likes or dislikes Google’s engagement with China, or the GOP, at least it’s engaged. For some things it may be in a better position to make a positive difference than if it were not engaged.

As for Yahoo, Michael said that the company had completely lost face in China. Never mind that, as this TechCrunch post puts it, Yahoo owns only 40% of Yahoo China. And that Yahoo may have “been made a scapegoat for the flaws of US foreign policy”. The fact remains that Yahoo, according to the International Herald Tribune, “provided information that helped Chinese state security officials convict a Chinese journalist for leaking state secrets to a foreign Web site…”

There is no doubt that Google has been far more successful than Yahoo in dealing with China. Is it just because Google has a “don’t be evil” imperative and Yahoo does not? I don’t think so. Rather I think that Google has been smart and resourceful in ways that Yahoo has not. Specifically, Google has stayed true to its roots as a tech company with specific and easily understood guiding principles. Yahoo had those too, and for longer than Google. But Yahoo broke faith with those principles, and lost its integrity, when it decided to become an entertainment company and hired Terry Semel as its CEO. In doing so Yahoo ceased being a flagpole and instead became a flag — one that soon will be flying from somebody else’s pole.

Quotes du jour

I believe the unbroken web is the source of creativity, something that belongs to all of humankind…
I believe the arts belong to everyone and that artists should be revered in culture. They are not, especially in a world run by anti-creative, left-brained bean counters. I’m not sure it’ll ever be any different, and for me personally, that’s okay. For no bean counter will ever experience the rush that is touching the unbroken web. That, my friends, is a form of currency more costly than gold.
Terry Heaton

The cowards among us never started, and the weaklings died on the road. — Niles Searls, a forty-niner and later 14th Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. Found via Hank Searls in his book Blood Song. Best quote from Hank: The adverb is the enemy of the verb.

In The end of DAB is nowhere near nigh?, Russell Parsons says,

  …this morning’s announcement from GCap’s that it is closing two digital-only stations, Planet Rock and TheJazz, and selling its stake in national commercial digital radio operator Digital One to Arqiva, strikes a rather more portentous tone.

  With the UK’s largest commercial radio company running to the hills, branding DAB as “not economically viable”, where does that leave the suddenly maligned format? An experiment which is proving burdensome and expensive when set against internet radio or a misunderstood medium that is growing in popularity quarter on quarter?

The key phrase in that last paragraph is the one I bold-faced. This is the first time I’ve seen Internet radio treated with the respect due what will surely be the winning approach in the long run.

Meanwhile, PORS (my new initialism for Plain Old Radio Service: AM/MW, FM, shortwave) is growing ever more anachronistic — and so are efforts either to A) give it with a digital gloss (as do the IBOC digital enhancements to AM and FM, which have made listening worse on old radios while reaching too damn few new ones), or B) replace it with something new developed decades ago (such as DAB), while still sounding like regular old radio stations (while listeners are moving by the millions to iPods and other alternatives over which they are the ones in control).

Everyone’s time is scarce. On the whole, less and less of it will be spent listening to radios as we knew them. Even if the signals they get are called “digital”.

Probably not.

But worth waiting anyway.

isn’t running for the late Tom Lantoscongressional seat. But that doesn’t mean we can’t push him.

Which is what’s going on through the Draft Lessig for Congress blog and Facebook group.

Google has 99 results as of 2:37pm (Pacific) today. Google Blogsearch has 13. Technorati has 14. Here’s the graph:

The Facebook group has 576 members. Quite a start.

Let’s see how it goes.

For Larry’s sake, I hate wishing this on him. For the country’s sake, I love that we’re doing it.

Remember how Dave says Ask not what the Net can do for you, ask what you can do for the Net.

Nobody is better for the Net, and for the Country, than Larry.

My old friend Steve Lewis and I fell out of touch for almost a quarter century after college, leading almost entirely different lives in different parts of the world. We diverged on graduation in 1969, after having both been philosophy majors. I went on to careers in journalism, retailing, frozen produce wholesaling, ice cream truck driving and radio, among too many others to mention. Steve stayed on an academic track, leveraging Fulbright scholarships and other graces into research and work that had him become fluent in a number of languages and rich in knowledge and experience about countless arcane aspects of history and cuture in the far corners of Europe.

But one thing we had in common: we both also labored in the fields of marketing communications when we weren’t doing other things we enjoyed more.

In his latest Hak Pak Sak blog post, Steve revisits a number of remarkable texts, including a Flemish novel whose lead protagonist’s work recalls some of our own. He describes it this way:

  The Journal, Boorman boasts, has print runs in the millions despite its paid circulation of zero and a full-time staff of nobody. In fact, the publication is an archetypal promotional magazine. Customers can place glowing written and visual portraits of their companies and products in the journal merely by committing themselves to purchasing tens or hundreds of thousands or even millions of copies of off-prints which they pay for in cash or in kind.

An interesting commentary on what’s a little too true about way too much of what at least two of us have had to do for a living.

UnAmerican Airline

Two days ago Jake McKee gave an amazing talk at There’s a New Conversation in New York. He came all the way from Dallas to share some of the great work he and his cohorts had done at the Lego Company, inspired in part by .

I didn’t get the whole backstory on the trip until I read this in his blog today.

The short of it is that American Airlines not only decided not to waive the opportunity to soak Jake an extra $359 for moving his departure from New York one day ahead to make his grandma’s funeral, but gave him this peevish, passive-aggressive policy-über-alles response: “American reviewed the policy a few years back and decided that since funeral homes, doctors, and clothiers don’t discount their rates, we shouldn’t either.”

Wow. What a shitty thing to say to a bereaved customer. Not to mention dumb and irrelevant.

Jake concludes,

  When I told Irving, the supervisor, that I’d been a loyal customer for years and that I felt that the “fare difference” (i.e. we charge more for certain times of the day for the exact same overhead) should be waived if for nothing else than because it was the best way American could return the loyalty I’d shown them over the years he said:

  “I’m not here to argue with you, sir.”

  And I’m not here to argue with you either, American. In fact, I’m not here to fly with you, defend you, or support you. Not only have I lost interested in maintaining our quasi-relationship, I’ll now actively work to find alternatives to using you. (Hard to do when you live in Dallas, but absolutely not impossible). I’ll encourage others to think twice about using you. All because you were more interested in potentially getting an extra $359.

  Bravo.

  You stuck to your principles, now it’s my turn.

And a sincere Bravo to Jake as well.

I love Gmail for one thing: it launders spam out of mail going to my searls.com address. I have things set up so Gmail picks it up from my server, and I pick it up from Gmail. Last I checked, there were over 22,000 spams in Gmail’s spam box. And the last I went through ten pages (50 each) of those, there were no false finds.

But lately I haven’t been getting mail to Searls.com. Didn’t know what it was, but my wife just figured it out and provided helpful tech support. I needed to go into Settings in my Gmail account, then to Accounts, then down to Get mail from other accounts, and see when my mail was last picked up. Turns out it was 9 February. Here’s what the Fetch History said…

Now it says this:

So, some questions that maybe some of ya’ll can answer…

  1. Why did Gmail choke on the “timed out” message from my mail server, and not go back again?
  2. Why was it checking my server every several minutes before, and only every hour or so now?
  3. Can I make it speed up somehow? If so, where are those controls?

Here’s hoping my own conundrum may be helpful to others as well. No idea.

It is one helluva spam filter, I gotta say.

You too tube

Yes we can.

No you can’t.

Remembering Tom Lantos

Andrew McLaughlin has an excellent tribute to my late former congresman, Tom Lantos. A sample:

  During Committee meetings, he made a deep impression on me as a forceful orator, a sharp questioner, and a committed defender of due process and the rule of law. On the handful of occasions when I accompanied senior staffers to brief him on an investigation or upcoming hearing, I witnessed a different side of him — warm and gentlemanly, curious, incisive, skeptical. Flowing from his experience as a young Hungarian Jew who survived the Holocaust by escaping from Nazi labor camps to a Budapest safe house protected by Raoul Wallenberg, Congressman Lantos’s life’s work was aimed at securing human rights and civil liberties for the oppressed and disenfranchised, both at home and abroad. In pursuit of that cause, he followed his conscience, full stop. He demanded that institutions with power over individuals — governments, armies, corporations — act not only out of crude self-interest, but true to a higher moral calling to protect the rights and interests of the people they affect.

Quite a guy.

So far I’ve had mostly nice things to say about the Obama campaign. So here’s my first dig: the index page. Hey, what if you don’t want to give them your email address and zip code? What if you don’t like the suggestion that the only way to Learn More is by giving that information to them? What if you want to go straight to the website itself, which surely must include more than just this family-foto welcome page?

You can, if you click the “skip signup” button, which is in type so barely visible that I missed it the first few times I went to the site, even though I’d clicked on it before.

While we’re at it, Dave points out here that the contributions mechanism could use some improvement too.

Cavalcade o’ Clues


So it’s coming up on tomorrow, when we’ll be revisiting Cluetrain at There’s a New Conversation, at SAP’s place on Morton Street in New York. Some topics I expect we’ll discuss…

  • wtf did we mean, if anything, with ‘markets are conversations’?
  • wtf did we mean (and who were we talking to) when we said “we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it”? And how are we dealing?
  • What’s better since Cluetrain went up? What’s worse?
  • What’s unfinished, or unbegun?
  • To what extents has cluetrain been co-opted? Or just opted?
  • Is social networking part of it? For that matter, is social networking either?

I’ll add to those as The Time approaches. Feel free to add yours in the comments below.

And see some of ya there.

We should have known the gig was going to be up when Hillary’s handlers made “conversation” a buzztheme of her campaign early on. Wrote Todd Ziegler (at that last link),

  The tagline “Let the Conversation Begin” is plastered all over her site and she begins her annoucement video with this quote: “I’m not just starting a campaign, I’m beginning a conversation.”

Guess that’s over. The word “conversation” no longer appears on the Hillary campaign site.

Now (via Chip Hoagland) comes Frank Rich, giving Hill a huge thumbs-down in The New York Times. One sample:

  For a campaign that began with tightly monitored Web “chats” and then planted questions at its earlier town-hall meetings, a Bush-style pseudo-event like the Hallmark special is nothing new, of course. What’s remarkable is that instead of learning from these mistakes, Mrs. Clinton’s handlers keep doubling down.

  Less than two weeks ago she was airlifted into her own, less effective version of “Mission Accomplished.: Instead of declaring faux victory in Iraq, she starred in a made-for-television rally declaring faux victory in a Florida primary that was held in defiance of party rules, involved no campaigning and awarded no delegates. As Andrea Mitchell of NBC News said, it was “the Potemkin village of victory celebrations.”

  The Hallmark show, enacted on an anachronistic studio set that looked like a deliberate throwback to the good old days of 1992, was equally desperate. If the point was to generate donations or excitement, the effect was the reverse. A campaign operative, speaking on MSNBC, claimed that 250,000 viewers had seen an online incarnation of the event in addition to “who knows how many” Hallmark channel viewers. Who knows, indeed? What we do know is that by then the “Yes We Can: Obama video fronted by the hip-hop vocalist will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas had been averaging roughly a million YouTube views a day. (Cost to the Obama campaign: zero.)

  Two days after her town-hall extravaganza, Mrs. Clinton revealed the $5 million loan she had made to her own campaign to survive a month in which the Obama operation had raised $32 million to her $13.5 million. That poignant confession led to a spike in contributions that Mr. Obama also topped.

It gets worse. Concludes Rich,

  A race-tinged brawl at the convention, some nine weeks before Election Day, will not be a Hallmark moment. As Mr. Wilkins reiterated to me last week, it will be a flashback to the Democratic civil war of 1968, a suicide for the party no matter which victor ends up holding the rancid spoils.

Elsewhere in the Times, Stanley Fish writes about the Clinton-haters (and -hating), familiar to anybody who hits SCAN on an AM car radio. I’m not sure what it is that makes folks on the right loathe (rather than merely dislike) the Clintons, Hillary especially. And I hold nothing against her myself. But it’s … interesting … to watch Democrats slow-roast one of their own leaders. After all (or during all) Frank Rich isn’t flaming from the right. Rich is a leftie.

What surprises — and even saddens — me a bit is that Hillary has been so non-savvy about the Net. If this were 2000, or 2004, she’d have a good excuse. But it’s 2008. Obviously her campaign team doesn’t get it, while Obama’s does. How much difference would it have made if her team’s savviness were the equal of Obama’s? A lot, I think.

Ze bones

Skull a day.

Musical seats

Steve Lewis on musicians as presidents. For me, a musician in the White House would be no less unthinkable than an aging B-movie actor as president or a one-tine professional body-builder as governor of California. In contemporary Russia, even former chess grandmasters entertain political careers. Musicianship, like other endeavors, can generate requisite empathy and responsibility.

An interesting post that continues his one on Jordan for President.

That’s a thought raised by The Volunteer Economy.

The Shopping Cart Index

When I added John Robb’s Brave New War to my Amazon shopping cart, I was greeted by a new (for me) set of Important Messages at the top, telling me how much each item in my cart had gone up or down in price since I placed them there. Three have decreased in price. Five have increased. Not drawing conclusions from that, but I am drawing.

As with basketball

Mark Pesce notes,

  Jimbo has learned, through experience, that the “minor” language versions of Wikipedia (languages with less than 10 million native speakers), need at least five steady contributors to become self-sustaining. In the many wikis Jimbo oversees through his commercial arm, Wikia, he’s noted the same phenomenon time and again. Five people mark the tipping point between a hobby and a nascent hyperintelligence.

George Bush and John McCain say The Surge is working. But how? Here’s John Robb’s explanation. If you’re impatient, go straight to the last short paragraph.

  The Sunni Tribal Awakening (rather than “the surge”) has radically slowed violence in Iraq by bringing it back to the levels of activity seen in 2005. That’s a good thing, but the Awakening has been wrongly attributed to a new (resurrected) counter-insurgency doctrine (COIN). Here’s why. The main objective of United States COIN doctrine is to enhance/extend the sovereignty and legitimacy of the host nation. Everything that is done is slaved to this top level goal. Unfortunately, the development of legitimacy is a long and slow process that takes decades of effort (if it can be accomplished at all). In contrast, everything about the Tribal Awakening is diametrically opposed to this. It arms and trains militias and groups that aren’t loyal to the host nation and thereby diminishes the host nation’s legitimacy by undercutting its monopoly on violence and its control over sovereign territory.

  What did happen with the Awakening, and the speed of the transition should be a clue to this, is that the US military opportunistically embraced the insurgency (in a move akin to IBMs embrace of open source development in the 90′s). This embrace showered autonomy, weapons, money ($300 per month x 60,000 participants), protection (from Shiite militias and the Iraqi government), and training on insurgent groups. By doing so, it replaced the ISI (Islamic State of Iraq, an al Qaeda affiliate) as the leading participant in the insurgency. The only “cost” to these insurgent groups, which were under extreme pressure from Shiite militias due to overreaching by the ISI, was to sacrifice the ISI. They rapidly complied.

  Where this goes from here is problematic since (and I say this to get you thinking and not to shock you) the US is now leading both the insurgency and the counter-insurgency in Iraq.

John will be speaking, along with Thomas P.M. Barnett (another among the other most provocative thinkers and bloggers on strategic military affairs), on Principles for Winning the Peace, at Austin-Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, this coming Thursday, Valentine’s Day.

Aggregaphobia

Who likes being categorized, unless the category flatters them in a way that agrees with their soul’s sense of who and what they are?

Woody Allen famously said* (in the great Annie Hall), “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member”. I see that statement (do they get any more ironic than that?) as a twisted corollary to Category Error Discomfort (let’s call it CED), which is what we sometimes feel under labels others give us, even when the label isn’t wrong.

My earliest CED came in First Grade, when I was put in the slow reading group, because I couldn’t stand reading out loud. After that I lived with the syndrome — thanks to no achievments at all (or worse, the opposite) in academics, sports and dating — until I was a senior in high school. That was when I put on my suit and tie, walked down the street to the dorm of the prettiest girl in the neighboring college, and successfully asked her out. (It didn’t go anywhere, but it didn’t matter. I was now qualified — among other things — as a breeder, which I began to prove only four years later.)

As Dr. Weinberger writes, Everything Is Miscellaneous. I don’t know if he treats the exceptionality in every human’s nature as something equally so (I don’t have his book around here to check against, though I should), but I believe Everybody is Miscellaneous as well. (A phrase that so far comes up with zero on Google… surprising.) Except for that, we wouldn’t have CED.

Anyway, as “social media” (a too-inclusive kinda non-miscellaneous label) , and a zillion groups aggregate (clot?) all over the place, we are faced not just with too many “friends”, but too many choices of virtual clubhouses and too many labels laid by others on who and what we are, might be, and ought to belong to. Kinda brings out the CED in all of us.

So that’s what I was feeling last night, still with a mild fever and lacking sleep, when I blogged a peevish reaction to being labeled and grouped among “” at Guy Kawasaki‘s new site.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except toward exceptionality: that which in each of us is unlike anyone else. And that isn’t just ego. It goes deeper than that, to who and what we are — to our soul.

What we call integrity is more than just consistency, or what geologists call competence when they talk about sturdy rock. It’s an anchor in our own souls.

I don’t know how to make that relevant in the social storm currently raging over Web X.x. Perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps it’s in territory so personal that only Whitman can make sense of it.

So I guess we just keep walking on our clay feet, just because it’s the only way to get around.

* As Dr. Weinberger points out below, Woody was actually quoting Groucho Marx.

Fractal footprints

The interesting thing to me about the footprints above, aside from their nature as photography fodder, is that they resemble the layout of the two intersecting paths at Winthrop Park, where I took the shot.

You can see the paths on Google Maps if you look for the intersection of JFK and Mt. Auburn in downtown Cambridge — one block south of Harvard Square (which isn’t), or you can hope that clicking on the “Link to this page” link for the park itself will work; but for some reason Google Maps (on this laptop, at least, in two different browsers) shows you the park while it’s loading, then jumps to another part of Cambridge. It’s 2:33am, however, and I’m not going to try to debug whatever I might be doing to cause that.

In any case, the pidgeon prints drew a map of the park paths.

The park is also Wintrop Square. Unlike most squares in Boston, it actually has corners that are right angles. It was the city’s original marketplace, and therefore dates, as does the city, from 1630. It was called Newtowne then. It became Cambridge eight years later.

In Can Mrs. Clinton lose?, Peggy Noonan writes,

  We know she is smart. Is she wise? If it comes to it, down the road, can she give a nice speech, thank her supporters, wish Barack Obama well, and vow to campaign for him?

  It either gets very ugly now, or we will see unanticipated–and I suspect professionally saving–grace.

  I ruminate in this way because something is happening. Mrs. Clinton is losing this thing. It’s not one big primary, it’s a rolling loss, a daily one, an inch-by-inch deflation. The trends and indices are not in her favor. She is having trouble raising big money, she’s funding her campaign with her own wealth, her moral standing within her own party and among her own followers has been dragged down, and the legacy of Clintonism tarnished by what Bill Clinton did in South Carolina. Unfavorable primaries lie ahead. She doesn’t have the excitement, the great whoosh of feeling that accompanies a winning campaign. The guy from Chicago who was unknown a year ago continues to gain purchase, to move forward. For a soft little innocent, he’s played a tough and knowing inside/outside game.

  The day she admitted she’d written herself a check for $5 million, Obama’s people crowed they’d just raised $3 million. But then his staff is happy. They’re all getting paid.

  Political professionals are leery of saying, publicly, that she is losing, because they said it before New Hampshire and turned out to be wrong. Some of them signaled their personal weariness with Clintonism at that time, and fear now, as they report, to look as if they are carrying an agenda. One part of the Clinton mystique maintains: Deep down journalists think she’s a political Rasputin who will not be dispatched.

She concludes,

  The biggest problem for the Republicans will be that no matter what they say that is not issue oriented–”He’s too young, he’s never run anything, he’s not fully baked”–the mainstream media will tag them as dealing in racial overtones, or undertones. You can bet on this. Go to the bank on it.

  The Democrats continue not to recognize what they have in this guy. Believe me, Republican professionals know. They can tell.

I don’t know. Obama hasn’t had an embarrasing blow-up yet, as most campaigns eventually do. He’s not perfect. It’s going to happen.

And on the bus last week here near Boston, I overheard a lively political discussion among acquaintances that was all about the comfort they felt with Hillary, and even their affection for her. I’m reluctant to dismiss that.

But my gut says Peggy’s right. And I think it has to do with the matter of “change”. It’s hard to say “change” is what you’re about when you’re proposing a series of four presidents with just two surnames between them.

One thing I didn’t expect to see, going into this election, was how absolutely smart Hillary is, and how much she knows about pretty much everything that comes her way. I’ve never been a fan; but I’ve been truly impressed by her.

But it *is* time for a change. We all know that. Most of us want it. And there’s just one candidate that actually represents it, and is likely to make it happen.

Before I got pointed to this post by Steve Hodson, I hadn’t seen this post by Brian Solis, pointing to egos.alltop.com (“We’ve got egos covered”), which features my blog among others on the “egos” list. Alltop, a creation of Guy Kawasaki, describes its purpose this way:

We help you explore your passions by collecting stories from “all the top” sites on the web. We’ve grouped these collections — “aggregations” — into individual Alltop sites based on topics such as celebrity gossip, fashion, gaming, sports, politics, automobiles, and Macintosh. At each Alltop site, we display the latest five stories from thirty or more sites on a single page — we call this “single-page aggregation.”

In his headline Steve, who calls himself “a cranky old fart wandering the internet causing mayhem as he goes” (a self-characterization I can identify with, at least chronologically), calls Alltop’s egos page “yet another powder puff for the A-Listers”.

I’ve given up fighting the A-list label. But I’m glad to start fighting the egotist one. Even against a guy as I like and respect as much as I do Guy.

It’s a simple thing. I don’t blog for my ego, any more than I write emails or talk on the phone or do any of my daily work for the same reason. I blog to point at and comment on topics I think might be interesting, or that my readers might find interesting, and I’ve been doing pretty much exactly that, for roughly the same modest sum of readers (ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand a day), since 1999. There’s nothing sticky, commercial or especially self-serving about it — not even any advertising to distract or annoy the reader.

Writing about tech news is my day job. I do that mostly at Linux Journal. I don’t know any egotists over there, but they could use a little powdering just the same. The team there has worked hard over the last few months to make it a much better place to go for news and commentary on matters directly or peripherally related to the operating system that serves up most of what you see on the Web, plus a growing number of portable devices, movies, and much more.

So, Guy and Company: if you want to put my blog on one of your lists, I’m flattered. But if you insist on labeling me an ego, I’ll insist that you take me off.

TechTuesday near Boston

I’m thinking of making it to Tech Tuesday: Gadgets & Gathering, next Tuesday, February 12, at Skellig Irish Pub in Waltham. Might be a long shot, since I’m on a flight to New York for XXX the next morning at 6am. But it’s a monthly thing. If you live around here, check out Dan Bricklin’s writeup on the event.

[later...] Woops, can’t make it. There’s a event that evening. Next month I’ll make it. Meanwhile, looks like fun. Check it out.

Advice du jour

Dave: Turn Yahoo into The RSS Powerhouse in every way. Build all new systems around RSS. If it isn’t RSS it doesn’t fly.

… ask what you can do for NOLA.

Starting with a BarCamp. Specifically, BarCampNOLA, where it says,

  In addition to connecting digital folks, sharing what we know and what we’re working on, maybe we can pick a team project to do as well.

  I’d like to find a struggling small business we could help immediately with a new site or enhanced Web services. Spend a weekend cranking as a team and launch the thing at the end of the weekend. We can get help from our friends everywhere with regard to code, design, ideas. Brains, we have them at the ready.

  Date: February 16th and 17th, 2008

  Where: Voodoo Ventures offices, 757 St. Charles Avenue, Suite 301

The singular first person there is Brian Oberkirch.

Fun with trends

britney, ledger. obama, clinton. mccain, romney, huckabee. Roll your own.

Security at all costs

New Operation to Put Heavily Armed Officers in Subways, the headline says. It begins,

  In the first counterterrorism strategy of its kind in the nation, roving teams of New York City police officers armed with automatic rifles and accompanied by bomb-sniffing dogs will patrol the city’s subway system daily, beginning next month, officials said on Friday.

  Under a tactical plan called Operation Torch, the officers will board trains and patrol platforms, focusing on sites like Pennsylvania Station, Herald Square, Columbus Circle, Rockefeller Center and Times Square in Manhattan, and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

  Officials said the operation would begin in March.

  Financing for the program will be funneled to the Police Department and will come from a pool of up to $30 million taken from $153.2 million in new federal transit grants to the state.

Are these “federal transit grants” meant to scare the bejesus out of ordinary citizens? Or could the money be put to better use, such as improving the subway experience in ways other than fright?

Why garb New York’s finest with the favorite fashion accessory of terrorists themselves?

Via Bruce Schneier.

Lets tawk

There’s a New Conversation is happening next week in New Yawk (my home skyline, though I’m from Jersey… you know, where New Yawk teams play). Wednesday, 1PM at the SAP Customer Center, 95 Morton Street. It costs money, but less than some cheap seats at professional ball games.

It’s a Cluetrain follow-up. Occasioned by the fact that it’s coming up on ten years since David Weinberger, Chris Locke, Rick Levine and I started the conversation that ended up as the website and a book that still sells well.

Odd that Cluetrain is now marketing canon in many circles — and that “conversation marketing” is hot stuff — yet so much of the execution is no less bullshit than what we ranted against back at the turn of the Millennium.

What will we talk about? As they say where I grew up, Hey, you tell me. And the rest of us. I have ideas, but let’s start with yours. Put ‘em in the comments below.

Lessig on Obama

Check out Larry Lessig‘s video on why he supports Barack Obama. It is, as always, thoughtful, persuasive, and masterfully done.

Here’s the text. It’s strong stuff. But the video is stronger. It’s not a speech. It’s the video equivalent of a visit your home, your psyche. And your heart. Watch and listen.

Listen out

Voices Without Votes, from Global Voices and Reuters. Very interesting stuff.

Obamarama

I’m a registered Independent, which means I can’t vote in today’s primary in California. Other states allow Independents to vote in party primaries, but alas, not my state.*

For what it’s worth, I’ve mostly been a none-of-the-above voter for a long time. I’ve voted for Green, Libertarian and other third party candidates in various contests. Mostly that’s because, after being raised Republican and voting mostly Democratic in the 60s and 70s, I got fed up with politics-as-sports (with just two teams) by the 1980s.

I don’t think I ever voted for Bill Clinton, or for his Republican opponents. My votes for Gore and Kerry were not for either of those men, but against George W. Bush, for what are now obvious reasons. Though I’ve always been attracted to outsiders, rebels and underdogs, I never would have voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, and not just because he was a spoiler (and a huge one, it turned out). While I loved Ralph’s early work as a consumer advocate, his ceaselessly one-sided rap got on my nerves by the time he ran for president.

And it’s still one-sidedness that gets to me. That’s why I like Barack Obama. I believe him when he says he wants to get past the politics of division and destruction. He is, by all accounts, a good and smart man who wants to return politics to dialog rather than the partisan yelling that comprises too much of TV commentary and talk radio.

And there’s something more. To many in my generation, Obama reminds us of what we liked best about John and Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. They gave us hope. (And got themselves killed for it, which raises the same worries about Mr. Obama.)

He is, significantly, the first Democrat running for president that I hear some Republicans actually liking. Maybe that’s because he’s the first candidate of either party whose politics transcends the partisan hatred that’s been with us ever since the Vietnam war.

Zephyr Teachout put it this way in Huffington Post:

  I support Obama — proudly — because he has that difficult to describe, but not difficult to discern, quality of character. He showed it when he persistently pushed through legislation requiring videotaped confessions in Illinois — his graceful, non-triumphalist response to legislative success has then allowed Illinois cops to be evangelists for the process elsewhere. He showed it when, as the guest of the Kenyan government two years ago, he publicly urged his hosts to grapple with corruption and ethnic division.

  Flowing from this strength, his demands on us, as citizens, are genuine demands, not genuflections. When Clinton says that its “all about you,” she means that she will work tirelessly to take care of us (which I believe she would, or pursue what she believed was the best path). When Obama says its “all about you,” he means that unless we find that 5% of citizen leadership in our own communities, unless we organize to oppose kleptocratic and ogopolistic and environmentally ruinous behavior, we cannot transform this country, and, moreover, we cannot hold our heads high as true, self-governing, citizens.

Meanwhile, on the right, Andrew Sullivan puts it this way in The Atlantic:

  …the fundamental point of his candidacy is that it is happening now. In politics, timing matters. And the most persuasive case for Obama has less to do with him than with the moment he is meeting. The moment has been a long time coming, and it is the result of a confluence of events, from one traumatizing war in Southeast Asia to another in the most fractious country in the Middle East. The legacy is a cultural climate that stultifies our politics and corrupts our discourse.

  Obama’s candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one. Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America — finally — past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us…

  At its best, the Obama candidacy is about ending a war — not so much the war in Iraq, which now has a momentum that will propel the occupation into the next decade — but the war within America that has prevailed since Vietnam and that shows dangerous signs of intensifying, a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most. It is a war about war — and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama — and Obama alone — offers the possibility of a truce.

  At a time when America’s estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind’s spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a bridge between these worlds may be indispensable.

  We may in fact have finally found that bridge to the 21st century that Bill Clinton told us about. Its name is Obama.

I agree.

Bonus link from Steve Lewis, who also likes Louis Jordan.

* Apparently, there are workarounds. I didn’t find out about these until it was too late. I have to vote by absentee ballot from Massachusetts, and my form here doesn’t give me that option. But if you’re an independent voter going to a polling place in California, you just have to request a party ballot when you go in.

Yes, it has one.

Yahoo’s openness asset.

Also sprach Gabriele

I took three years of Deutsch in high school, but I gave them all back when I was done. Still, I do recall enough to gather that Gabriele Fischer put Das Cluetrain Manifest to good use in her latest editorial in brandeins Online, titled Gesprächs-Angebote.

Via Nicole Simon.

Patent de/reform

First thing we do is kill all the inventors is a post on pending patent reform that Britt Blaser posted last year; but seems especially appropriate to re-visit as new law comes closer to being made.

Too often, as we focus on clashes between titans (witness the current writing about Microsoft maybe buying Yahoo so it can battle Google — while God knows what the other consequences will be), the little guys get lost in the shuffle or stomped underfoot. Or worse, one big guy with big connections in Washington gets to stomp on a little guy by having friends in Congress add little-guy-stomping language into a bill. That’s what’s at issue here, Britt’s saying.

What happens if Microsoft buys Yahoo?

Robert Niles in OJR:

  News publishers like to point to television, free news online, English literacy rates and slew of other reasons to explain their readership losses. But the contempt that newspapers show for their readers by burying their editorial content beneath their remaining advertising surely is not helping keep readers around.

He goes on,

  Everyday I check the website of the Pasadena Star-News. And every day, the front section of the website’s homepage is obscured by a pop-up widget urging me to take a survey about the site’s new design. Click the red “X” in the corner to close the widget window, and the op-up appears every time you return to the page. (If you click the button decling to take the survey, the window disappears for the remainder of your session.)

  If I register with the LA Times website, the Times insists on spamming me with commercial e-mails for products about which I do not care. If I opt-out of the e-mails, the Times cancels my website registration. (Which is why I don’t have a Times website registration anymore…

  And let’s not forget the slew of pop-up, pop-under and screen take-over ads that accompany any visit to more newspaper websites than I am any longer able to count.

When we’re in Santa Barbara we get the LA Times, and I agree with Robert’s complaints. And I’ve been advising papers to get the clues for a long time too. This time, however, Robert offers a new clue that I really like:

  if news organizations are proud of their news content, why do so many insist on hiding it?

  Readers owe you nothing. They have no responsibility as citizens to read your reporting, and no responsibility as consumers to look at your ads. The have the right, and ability, to go about their lives without ever once glancing at your publication.

  If you want people to read your publication, you then need to do whatever is necessary to make them want to read it.

  That means leading with your best shot.

Lots more there. Read the whole thing.

Via the Head Lemur.

We planned to leave this afternoon to go skiing in Vermont tomorrow. Here’s the current Winter Storm Watch for Smugglers Notch:

  ..WINTER STORM WARNING NOW IN EFFECT FROM 9 AM THIS MORNING TO 5 AM EST SATURDAY…

  THE WINTER STORM WARNING IS NOW IN EFFECT FROM 9 AM THIS MORNING TO 5 AM EST SATURDAY FOR CENTRAL AND NORTHERN VERMONT…AND NORTHERN NEW YORK.

  SNOW WILL DEVELOP ACROSS NORTHERN NEW YORK BY MID MORNING AND ACROSS CENTRAL AND NORTHERN VERMONT LATE THIS MORNING INTO EARLY THIS AFTERNOON. SNOW WILL RAPIDLY CHANGE TO A MIX OF SLEET AND FREEZING RAIN FROM SOUTH TO NORTH THIS AFTERNOON RESULTING IN WIDESPREAD ICY CONDITIONS AND TREACHEROUS TRAVEL CONDITIONS THIS AFTERNOON AND TONIGHT. PRECIPITATION WILL END AS SNOW SHOWERS VERY LATE TONIGHT.

  TOTAL SNOW AND SLEET ACCUMULATIONS WILL GENERALLY RANGE FROM 2 TO 5 INCHES…AND SHOULD BE HIGHEST ALONG THE INTERNATIONAL BORDER. HOWEVER… ICE ACCUMULATIONS WILL ALSO BE SIGNIFICANT ACROSS CENTRAL AND NORTHERN VERMONT AS WELL AS NORTHERN NEW YORK. ICE ACCUMULATION OF A QUARTER TO HALF INCH IS EXPECTED BY MIDNIGHT TONIGHT.

  THE WEIGHT OF THE ICE WILL BE SUFFICIENT TO BRING DOWN SOME WIRES AND TREE LIMBS…RESULTING IN ISOLATED TO SCATTERED POWER OUTAGES BEGINNING THIS EVENING. UNTREATED ROADS WILL BE EXTREMELY HAZARDOUS ACROSS THE NORTH COUNTRY FOR THE EVENING COMMUTE AND THROUGHOUT TONIGHT. SLEET AND FREEZING RAIN WILL END AS SNOW SHOWERS LATE TONIGHT INTO EARLY SATURDAY MORNING.

  IF THE POWER FAILS AND YOU MUST USE AN ALTERNATE MEANS TO STAY WARM…USE APPROPRIATE FIRE SAFEGUARDS. BE SURE THERE IS ADEQUATE VENTILATION SINCE CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING IS A REAL DANGER.

  THIS IS AN EXTREMELY HAZARDOUS WINTER STORM! WITH VERY COLD GROUND TEMPERATURES…ICE ACCUMULATION ON ROADWAYS WILL BE RAPID AND SIGNIFICANT THIS AFTERNOON RESULTING IN LITTLE OR NO TIRE TRACTION ON ANY UNTREATED ROAD SURFACES. TRAVEL IS NOT RECOMMENDED THIS AFTERNOON AND TONIGHT.

We really wanna go. And I’ll bet the skiing tomorrow will be good. But… durn. Guess I’m leaning against it. :-(

Some assignments for Social Graph Foo Camp is my latest at Linux Jounal. The camp starts today. Some bottom lines…

  Social systems are as old as humanity, and among the most complex and subtle topics of human existence. To call a Twitter following or a Friend list on Facebook a “social network” is a simplification and a distortion. Same goes for the social graph, so far.

  It’s early in the path of progress here. We have much to learn as well as much to do.

  …And by Monday I hope to see a new Social Graph entry on Wikipedia: one that any civilian, and not just geeks, will understand.