March 2008

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Quote du jour

Cable is not a monopoly. You can choose from any cable company you want in America, just by moving your house. — Brad Templeton, at F2C

Follow Freedom

Freedom to Connect, where I am now, is streaming live.

Before crashing in bed at 3am, I heard the last (third) movement of what may be my favorite piece of music: Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. It was an amazing version, subtle and silky-smooth, yet highly emphatic. The phrasing verged on speech. Turns out it was Anne-Sophie Mutter with the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert Von Karajan. I’m not surprised, being a Von Karajan fan. I’m exceptionally fond of his 1963 recordings of the nine Beethoven symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic. (I have two sets in vinyl and one on CD.)

Anyway, I just went looking for the recording, and here it is on YouTube. Sounds a bit more allegro than what I just heard on the radio, but I’m sleepy and not sure. It’s giving me chills, again. There just isn’t a more beautiful piece of music. Nice. Check it out.

Case in disappoint

After a delayed plane that got to Dulles around midnight, a car rental agency that took most of an hour to get me a car that worked, a long drive to D.C., and three tries at getting a hotel room with a door that would open (with an equal number os schleps up and down the elevator with all three of my bags), I’m finally in my room. Now jacked in to the hotel ethernet, I’m watching Flickr upload photos at a rate of one every few seconds. The measured bandwidth is 7.05Mbps down and 1.53Mbps up. The hotel, a Ramada Limited, is beat to crap and in a scary neighborhood. (The reception counter is behind bulletproof glass, and business is transacted through one of those bowls under the botttom edge.) But the Internet is free. And it works real well.

Which, once again, makes my case.

The only reason to close state geography data is to protect a few existing monopoly businesses.

Making that data available to the public is a good idea in any case. But the big pro-business reason is that it makes countless businesses possible. Remember the world without GPS? The world with it is better. For countless businesses, as well as ordinary citizens. Geodata should be a rising tide that lifts all boats.

When pro-business means pro-monopoly, something is wrong.

Thanks to Tara for the pointer.

I upload a lot of photos. It’s almost always an ordeal unless I’m at home or work. That’s because I get fast upload speeds in both places. At home I have a fiber connection to the Net with 20Mb symmetrical service — a rare and good thing. I don’t know the upstream speed at work, but it’s plenty fast enough and it always works.

When I hit the road, though, it’s aarg all the way.

Most hotels have crappy service. There are some exceptions among the expensive hotels. The Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles seemed pretty good a few days ago. But before that, neither the University of Redlands nor the Hilton in Loma Linda was worth a damn. The problem at Redlands was all kinds of blocked stuff: ping, ssh and IM protocols all seemed to be blocked, when anybody could get on at all. The Hilton was just slow and lame. Most of the low- to mid-price hotels in which I tend to stay are good for browsing, email and not much more.

Generally speaking, the cheap hotels with free connectivity are okay.

Anyway, I’m at Logan Airport in Boston now, waiting for a late plane, paying $4.95 for “roaming” on MassPort’s system as a t-Mobile customer, for which I’m already paying $29 or so per month. Last time I flew, a few days ago, T-Mobile’s system didn’t work at LAX. Since I’m also without my EvDO service right now, there’s no way to bypass MassPort here at Logan.

Right now I’m watching Flickr’s in-browser uploading system fail on photo after photo. Of the eight shots it has tried to upload so far, only two have made it. The rest turned red. A few seconds ago I gave up on them.

A speedtest now says my download speed is 4.4Mbps, and uploads are just 109kbps.

The problem here is that the Net is seen by too many hotels and airports as a way to make money rather than a way to keep customers happy. That’s because it’s seen as a private business rather than as a public utility. It would be better for everybody if we admitted that it’s the latter, even when private businesses provide access to it.

Yes, it has costs. So do electricity, water, waste collection and road maintenance, and neither airports nor hotels charge for those. They lump the costs with something else.

Thing is, the Net is not a steady scarcity, such as parking. Nor is it simple. But making it gratis removes the billing complexities that are one of its main costs and a frequent cause of failure.

So here’s a message to the aviation and hospitality industries: You’re not in the pay toilet business. Quit trying to turn the Internet into one.

And here’s a plea to the marketplace: Somebody come up with a Net connection business for airports and hotels that’s all about installing a simple and symmetrical utility that’s easy to maintain and keeps users happy.

Take it from somebody who lost at least one whole blog entirely from the consequences not upgrading WordPress: Upgrading your installation or patch is essential. So read this from Ian Kallen.

Also what he added by IM yesterday:

  What’s happening is: spammers are taking over blogs, posting link farm links on them, obscuring their human visibility with CSS tricks but the links are still visible to crawlers…

  All wordpress users that haven’t patched or upgraded to v2.3.3 are vulnerable.

  WordPress does not auto-update security fixes.

  …Any help you can provide getting the word out would be a mitzvah

I added the last link. :-)

Taking notes on the Media Re:public gathering here in Los Angeles.

“Its not clear to me that one unit of increase in media equals one unit of increase in democracy” — Ernest Wilson, of the USC Annenberg School of Communications.

Arianna Huffington: “Bloggers suffer from compulsive disclosure disorder, and journalists suffer from attention deficit disorder.” (Damn, I’m both, though one is — mostly — under control.) Quoted by Richard Sambrook, currently on stage. Might have that a bit off. Also, “The DNA of big media is absolutely hard-wired to the one-to-many model.” He continuers, UGC is “way too narrowly defined”. And “this kind of participation is still a minority sport”. Great line: “The notion that you need a business model for accountability is an interesting one.”

“YouTube, I understand, is about to go live”. That’ll be fun.

“Personalization has overpromised and underdelivered for fifteen years. But I think it’s about to happen.” And “Web 3.0 … the data driven Web… is about to break hard upon us.”

“Reinvent a social purpose for media that resonates with the public”: A challenge to the room.

EthanZ to Richard: Do you believe citizens can shape the agenda? Rather than you guys choose first and (and then the audience reacts)? He advises “really sophisticated media monitoring”; but of the blogosphere, and not just other traditional media.

Susan Mernit on reconnecting media with social purpose… We only see two kinds of coverage: events that happen, and events that people make (e.g. civic leaders).

Much more (than what I’ve written here) from David Weinberger and Ethan Zuckerman.

Roberto Suro, USC Annenberg: We conflate journalism as a business enterprise with journalism as a social actor.

David Weinberger, speaking, being deep and funny as usual: We spend most of our time online trying to figure out what we came in to do… Every tag is a front page. Every tag is a bookshelf.

DW: In an age of abundance of good, the struggle is over metadata. And, I have trouble applying the ‘commodification’ term to everything here, because it suggests that all things have equal value. Or low value.

Tag: .

School of Journalism Marketing and Stuff

Back last Fall, when news came that the Medill School of Journalism was thinking about changing its name (and in fact had already dropped “of Journalism” from its website index page), I wrote a post saying, basically, that this was wrong as well as dumb. In fact, I thought it was so wrong, and so lacking in support, that it would die on the vine.

Well, apparently not. Eric Zorn reports in the Chicago Tribune that the idea is not only alive, but wrong as ever. Names “reportedly under consideration” (by a secretive committee) include “The Medill School of —

 
  • Journalism
  • Journalism and Integrated Marketing Communications
  • Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications
  • News Media and Integrated Marketing Communications
  • Audience and Consumer Information
  • Media Arts and Sciences
  • Information and Influence

In The Future of News, Steve Boriss writes,

  More than most, I am sympathetic to scrapping the word “journalism,” which has come to be associated with a failing model that only its practitioners still believe delivers objective, verified truths. But do we really want to combine news gathering with sales and entertainment disciplines like marketing, media, and persuasion? And, isn’t the public tired of journalism insisting it is providing pure “information,” and in fact showing increased interest in a more helpful and stimulating combination of fact and opinion?

  The right answer must be too simple for j-school eggheads — the “Medill School of News.” By news, I mean “new information about a subject of common interest that is shared within a community.” Everything from as small as news of family and friends, which is now being served by Facebook and MySpace, to as large as news of our universe. Not just news of government, but also news of the private sector, our neighborhoods, our vocations, and our avocations. The public no longer believes in “journalism.” But renaming it “news” is a change they can believe in.

I almost like “School of News”. And I agree that it’s wacky to combine news (or journalism, or both) with “entertainment disciplines” (though I wouldn’t cal them that. I even agree that “the public no longer believes…” but I’m not sure it’s journalism that they doubt.

As it happens I’m sitting in the Annenberg School for Communication, where Media Re:public is about to begin. On the wall of the vast lobby are six big flat-screen TVs, four in the middle with news channels, one on the right with ESPN and one on the left with CNN. Sound comes from the last two. Nobody is watching. Yet at our table we can’t ignore the CNN one, which is blabbing behind our heads, which are turned away. For most of the last hour CNN has been obsessing on the murder of a Rutgers student in front of her toddler son. I’ve heard “stabbed multiple times” so many times that my inner Mona Shaw wants to take a hammer to the screen. I can’t find the story on the CNN.com index page, but maybe I’m not looking hard enough. In any case, I’m sure that what they’re pushing out the tube is news yet not journalism.

And I think I’d rather have Medill teach the latter. No matter what they call the place.

The Kurse of KFI

I just learned that KFI’s new tower went down while it was going up. This was the long-awaited replacement for the tower that was knocked down in 2004. Here’s what I wrote about it back then. It was delayed by local opposition to reconstruction, and the tower was a compromise design. (Here’s a story from the Orange County Register.)

When I used to listen to KFI at night in New Jersey as a radio-obsessed kid, I was hearing the signal from the old tower, which was installed in 1947. (As was I.) Back then the site was in an open field in La Mirada, CA, near the border of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Later I-5 ran nearby. Now it’s in the midst of office buildings and parking. It’s lucky nobody was seriously hurt. (There was one minor injury.)

I try not to care about this kind of stuff, because my concerns these days are with the leading rather than the trailing edge of technology. But what the hell. I know too much about it not to be interested.

[Later...] Mary Lu has a nice long report.

Comms hell

Here at the Westin in Los Angeles, connectivity is pretty good — about a megabit in each direction. (For a fee, of course.) But the last two days, at the Hilton in Loma Linda and the University of Redlands, were terrible. I’m not sure if it was just because they blocked stuff (as was the case with Redlands), or because the system was bad (as was the case with the Hilton), but I’ve come to the conclusion that two things cause these kinds of problems in general. One is charging for something that ought to be free. The other is subtracting value from something that doesn’t need it and only pisses off users.

In the long run it makes as much sense for hotels to charge for Internet as it does to charge for television. (Yes, they used to do that too. There were coin-operated TVs.) Or for using the toilet. But it’s a business because they know they need Internet service now, and because doing it themselves is too complicated. So they hire these outside outfits to do it for them. (In the case of the Hilton it was iBahn.) And too many of them just don’t do a good job.

Yet we saw in Loma Linda how easy it is to bring fiber to homes, and for anybody to hook by fiber to anybody. The cabling and conduit are progressing upwards in convenience and downward in price, to a point where it will be as easy to put in fiber as it is to install a drip irrigation system. What makes the Interent complicated is that it comes to most places as a secondary service to telephony and television. Yet it doesn’t have to be, and in the long run it won’t be.

More than a year ago I suggested to folks from Frontline that they put out their shows on BitTorrent, serving as the Alpha Seed. I’m pretty sure Dave Winer (at the same conference) said the same thing. Maybe I got the idea (like so many others) from Dave.

I also remember thinking, if not saying, that BitTorrent distro was inevitable. The economics of transmission map nicely to the sociology of the show. The market is a conversation among seeds. This is radically different from the transmitter-based system we have now.

So now comes news from Michael O’Connor Clarke that the CBC is quietly releasing one of their most popular shows on BitTorrent. And that it’s DRM free. As it ought to be.

Read the whole post. Follow the links. There lies the future.

Here in the U.S. the new challenge is for the entities we call stations to find roles and relevancies other than distribution of network shows.

The only answer, I believe, is the “One Fond Hope” I appended to the Ten Prophesies I uttered on a public media panel (and in this post at Linux Journal) exactly one year after delivering the BitTorrent distro advice to the Frontline folks (and to the rest of public media folks attending my closing talk there).

The idea is outlined here.

CBC can go with BitTorrent because they’re not defined as just a collection of stations. That is, they have stations, and they produce and distribute; but they are not tied to any one band or medium for distribution. When AM radio became too retro, they went about dumping it (including CBL/740, on which I used to listen to stories late at night when I was a kid growing up in New Jersey).

It’s different here in the U.S., where stations run the show. Literally. They still can, but they’ll have to become far more involved with their local and regional communities — which need no longer be defined by the reach of signals from transmitters. Because the new transmitters, in many cases, will be the listeners and viewers.

Bonus link.

Another.

Another.

Overheard lawyers talking: “It’s easier to pass the bar if …”

SOTWAWWLITB?

The word is . Stands for The End Of The World As We Know It. Just heard it for the first time.

Hmmm… How about ? That’s for Start Of The World As We Would Like It To Be.

So I have this new laptop that won’t take my old EvDO card, which I long been using to get on the Net over Verizon’s system. It has it’s own phone number and account, but it treats the cell system as a big wi-fi network, effectively. I use it anywhere in I can’t get on by wire or ‘fi here in the U.S. Which is a lot of places. Not cheap: $60 per month. But worth it.

So I need a new card.

To get one, I went to a Verizon store yesterday afternoon here in Loma Linda, CA. A new card, they told me, was $280. Too much, I said. So, after several calls to somebody over the phone, the young man behind the counter said he could “help me out” by discounting the price of a new card if I agreed to extend my cell phone contract another two years. (It’s due to run out in July.)

I didn’t want to do that. So I asked what it cost to cancel the account. The answer was $170. It runs to September.

So the choice is to pay $170 to cancel or pay $300 until the contract runs out. Pretty sucky.

Never mind that I’ve been a Verizon customer for many years, with a FiOS connection in Boston and a landline connection in Santa Barbara, in addition to the cell phone and the EvDO accounts.

I’m really looking forward to fixing this lopsided system.

Scaffolding the future

Had a long and deep conversation with Ryan Janssen last week, which he blogged here. I think it’s the first time that somebody has taken a biographical angle on understanding where I’m coming from on various topics, and it’s been interesting to continue the conversation with Ryan trough several copy edits on personal historical items.

What’s made it especially interesting is that Ryan really works at understanding what he’s interested in. Lately he’s been diving deep into user-centric identity systems (Intro, parts 1, 2 and 3): Open ID, identity cards (parts 1, 2), XRI/XDI, iNames (parts 1, 2, 3 and 4), each from a “tomorrow’s internet” angle. He’s not at it to get his opinion out there, or to advance his personal “brand”. He really wants to engage and learn.

My favorite of Steven Covey’s Seven habits of highly effective people is number 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. Come to think of it, Ryan is practicing all of them. To me what he’s doing with identity — publicly scaffolding his own understanding of a subject, as part of a collective barn-raising — is blogging at its best.

Eight hours ago I was on the ground in Boston. Now I’m in a hotel room overlooking the an intersection in San Bernardino. It took five hours flat to get from Boston to L.A., and the balance to pick up a rental car and laze my way back eastward to the hotel, to set myself up in the room, post a reply to a comment over at Linux Journal, take a call, and start writing this.

The whole way west I looked out the window. It was smooth and mostly clear from coast to coast. Since I flew United, I could listen to cockpit chatter on Channel 9, and groove on how routinized aviation has turned the miraculous into the mundane. I’ve flown this route many times, almost always shooting pictures (some of them quite good, actually). Every flight I learn more, and use more of what I’ve learned about the land below.

I know when Lake Huron, Comb Ridge, Cane Valley, the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley are coming up. I know how geologically new they all are, in spite of the ages of the rock that comprises them.

It boggles me that they always tell passengers to lower their window shades so others can watch some movie, when outside the window is a movie our ancestors would have paid limbs to see.

Anyway, I just don’t want to take life’s graces for granted. And flying, for me at least, is a big one.

Betting on Free

I’m at Logan, moments from take-off for Los Angeles, so I won’t elaborate on Leveraging Free, my latest post at Linux Journal. Read and follow the links there for much more.

See ya on the far coast…

Forrest Sawyer gave a killer talk at The Future of Multi-Media Digital News & Cultural Networks, which was put on at UCSB last year by the Carsey-Wolf Center.

I took part as well, on a panel that followed Forrest’s talk, speaking as a fellow with the Center for Information Technology and Society there. The pull-quote: We have seen the failure of the traditional media to live up to their responsibilities of oversight and challenging the government. And, …those who have not yet come to feel ashamed, will feel ashamed.

I enjoyed meeting and getting to hang with Forrest that day. He was a good and friendly guy, and not the least bit vain. So I’m not surprised to find that, a few months after this event, he was credited with “acts of heroism” following a helicopter crash in which he was also injured. Initially, everyone thought they were dead, including executives at the Travel Channel, that last story said.

Paleowebic

I’ve been trying lately to look up stuff online that happened before the Web. It’s like looking for fossils in atmosphere. And the paleowebic tools are pretty sucky. Take for example the San Jose Mercury News archive search. I happen to know there was a story in the business section of the paper in June 1986, about Hodskins Simone & Searls, the advertising agency in which I was a partner for many years. If I look up hodskins, nothing comes up. If I search from 1985 to 2008, three items come up, none relevant. (Well, one might be, but to find out I have to create an “archive account”, specifying a payment method, before proceeding. Kind of a high-friction system.)

It’s not that I want to pay nothing for putting the Mercury to the trouble of providing a service that costs their servers more than nothing. But the complete absence of a widespread and easy to use system for perusing archival material from multiple sources is one that I’d like to help the market solve.

I do have ideas. Stay tuned.

Not just talk

Was just pointed to The Age of Conversation. Not sure I’m in it (don’t think I am, anyway). But hey, I’m glad to see others roll a snowball I helped start.

Next up: The Age of Relationship.

Paperpassity

That’s my sniglet for the tendency of a printer to pass extra sheets through without printing on them.

Ross Rader is riding against cancer across Canada, and is looking for help. Specifically, While I would totally appreciate your financial support, that’s not the purpose of this post. The real reason I’m dusting off the blog is because we are looking for a chief blogger/podcaster/vidcaster type of person to come with us on the trip…Essentially, we need someone that can own all aspects of the online activity while we are riding – this means daily blog posts, interviews with riders, celebs, politicians and other luminaries along the way, spearheading our relationship with the blogosphere, helping us get some better traction with our facebook initiatives and that sort of thing.

Bloggers aren’t all. While I’m at it, we’re also looking for experienced bike mechanics and a few other types of volunteers. If you think you’d like to pitch in to make a difference, be sure to let me know and I’ll put you in touch with the right people.

Follow that link and this one for more.

Copping in

Carter F. Smith: To Protect and to Twitter. Two examples.

Who new?

Surprised I hadn’t seen this movie, which is right out of Cluetrain and comes from Microsoft, of all peoples. Thanks to Keith Hopper for turning me on to it.

Says here the Wall Street Journal, long a fee-to-see site, is now secretly free: …in many cases, the method is drop-dead simple; in some cases, it requires the Firefox browser and add-on software. But in all cases, it’s completely legal, and in fact it’s hard to see how the Journal could object to it at all.

I subscribe to the print Journal, and will continue to do that.

I’ve generally avoided going behind the Journal’s paywall, or even visiting the journal’s website, for several reasons:

  1. I never remember my login/password. Nor does Firefox or any other browser I use. Worse, they remember the wrong thing, so I get “We Don’t Recognize Your User Name or Password”, which annoys me too much to screw with.
  2. I don’t want to get any kind of add-on software to do anything that ought to be free and routine. Especially when Firefox is slow and flaky enough to begin with. I mean, right now, on a brand new laptop, Firefox is sucking up to 48.8% of my cpu, just sitting there with no tabs open. (And yes, I am using 3.0b4. It’s better than the non-beta 3.x was, but also won’t run most of the add-ons I used to have.)
  3. Too many links take me to “The Page You Requested Is Available Only to Subscribers”, which pisses me off, since I am a fucking subscriber.
  4. The front page is, in the modern tradition of too many news sites, crowded beyond endurance.

So, Rupert, hurry up with the free version, but for real this time. Your paying subscribers will thank you.

Andrew Sullivan: What I Got Wrong About Iraq. A sample:

  I recall very clearly one night before the war began. I made myself write down the reasons for and against the war and realized that if there were question marks on both sides, the deciding factor for me in the end was that I could never be ashamed of removing someone as evil as Saddam from power. I became enamored of my own morality and this single moral act. And he was a monster, as we discovered. But what I failed to grasp is that war is also a monster, and that unless one weighs all the possibly evil consequences of an abstractly moral act, one hasn’t really engaged in anything much but self-righteousness. I saw war’s unknowable consequences far too glibly.

At its best, war is a lesser evil. I said that in 2002, and got quoted by Glenn Reynolds as well. It was all part of a larger discussion that involved Nick Denton, Dave Winer and others.

Still, I hesitate to say that ‘we’ were right and ‘they’ were wrong. There is too much we don’t know and can’t ever know. We can’t go back and conduct a controlled study of futures, one with and one without the Iraq war.

The side I still feel most comfortable taking is the one against war itself. That it’s a lesser evil doesn’t make it good.

Some times we have no choice. That clearly was the case for WWII. Most times we do have a choice. Iraq was one of those. And we made the wrong one.

But knowing that now doesn’t help show a path of right choices toward ending the war, ending terror, ending hatred and distrust of The Other.

Still, failure teaches. It gives lessons.

Andrew Sullivan again:

  When I heard the usual complaints from the left about how we had no right to intervene, how Bush was the real terrorist, how war was always wrong, my trained ears heard the same cries that I had heard in the 1980s. So I saw the opposition to the war as another example of a faulty Vietnam Syndrome, associated it with the far left, or boomer nostalgia, and was revolted by the anti-war marches I saw in Washington. I became much too concerned with fighting that old internal ideological battle, and failed to think freshly or realistically about what the consequences of intervention could be. I allowed myself to be distracted by an ideological battle when what was required was clear-eyed prudence.

There is a generational battle of sorts going on here too. Andrew is post-boomer. So is Marc Andreessen, who gave this as one of his reasons for supporting Barack Obama:

  Most of the Boomers I know are still fixated on the 1960′s in one way or another — generally in how they think about social change, politics, and the government.

  It’s very clear when interacting with Senator Obama that he’s totally focused on the world as it has existed since after the 1960′s — as am I, and as is practically everyone I know who’s younger than 50.

Today we have a boomer president who is one of those who did not learn any lessons from America’s failure in Vietnam: how we entered the war on delusional and trumped-up premises, how our conventional means lost to the unconventional ones, how we failed to understand the culture and language of the war’s theater, how millions died for no good reason, how the nature of a vast and bureaucratized national security apparatus is too devoid of imagination to do anything on this scale without failing.

That void still exists. If General Petreus and his strategy succeed in Iraq (and we’re a long way from finding out), it will be due to imagination and resourcefulness that are devalued by practice in any large bureaucracy.

Recognizing this does not require having lived through the Sixties, or being obsessed with that time. It does require some perspective. In regards to Iraq, we finally have some of that.

I’ve always liked cars. Never owned a great one, unless you count an ’85 Camry that ran forever with the fewest possible repairs. I did have a hand in my wife’s purchase of a ’92 Infiniti Q45a — a fabulous piece of work, sadly dulled by the maker in subsequent models. It was sadly repair-prone and finally croaked somewhere north of 200k miles, when the active suspension gave out. Still, for quite a few years it was an exceedingly pleasing car to drive.

These days my aging eyes and slower reflexes caution me against car fantasies that would be too pricey in any case. But I still harbor wishes for a car market not dominated by inefficient manufacturers of cookie-cutter vehicles, but rather populated by an infinite variety of designs that combine the best of invention, engineering, light manufacture and customer input on design — a value constellation rather than a value chain.

One such maker is Iconic Motors. The brightest star in its constellation is Claudio Ballard, an inventor whose obsession with automotive perfection is matched by his commitment to small, high-quality U.S. manufacturers. Together they’re producing the GTR:

Its a beautiful thing, and so hot it’s scary. It packs more than 800 horses in body that barely outweighs a Miata. It will rocket you past 200 miles per hour, and carve around curves on a suspension that’s as close to Formula One as you’ll find off a speedway.

They’re only producing a hundred of them in their first run. They are also interested in input as well as interest from fellow enthusiasts. This is the open source part of the story, and one of the big reasons I’m interested in it. (Besides having gotten to know Claudio over the past few months.) To get that ball rolling they’re hosting a reception at 7pm tomorrow night at the New York Auto Show. Wish I could be there, but I can’t.

They don’t have a link up yet, but will soon. I’ll add it here, soon as they do.

Tonight here at Harvard, Lisa Stone, founder of BlogHer, is speaking on What Women Want: How Candidates and Companies Hurt and Help Themselves with Women Today. Can’t wait. In fact, I’ll be introducing her. It’s put on by the Berkman Center as part of the Berkman @ 10 series.

Hope some of ya’ll can make it. It’s timely and important, and (unrelated to either of those qualities) I may be blogging a bit of it here as well.

(For those who don’t get the headline, it’s a play off the title of this movie.)

Some lines form her talk…

  Please stop marketing to women, and start talking with women.

  Don’t separate women out as moms, or singles, or a monolithic bloc…

In respect to the presidential political campaigns, Blogher members are saying “Don’t just put up a site… come talk to us.” The unwillingness of all three major campaigns to engage in dialog with Blogher’s rather huge constituency is a theme of Lisa’s talk.

Listening to some of the successes of Blogher, I’m impressed. Lisa was just asked a tough question by a pro journalist about employees with benefits, and Lisa said Blogher has 23 of them, in addition to editors paid to blog, and revenue sharing with contributors… That’s in addition to 11 million “uniques” per month.

Advice for startups, from Caterina Fake: people first, terms second, valuation third.

Facebook thinks I’m fat:

In fact, I am. Not not a lot, but more than I would be if I weren’t a desk potato who ate what he wanted and doesn’t exercise enough. But how do they know that? And why would I want to be reminded of it?

My main disappointment with living in Boston this winter is the crappy snow. I think we’ve had only one or two snows this winter that were not what they ephemistically call “wintry mix”: snow mixed with or changing to rain. This morning we had another nice little snow, about half an inch, that has since been washed out almost completely by rain. What started pretty turned into a completely yucky day.

Still, we had a great time. Guests came. We dyed eggs. Had a great dinner. And I cloned the old dying laptop onto a new one that so far seems to work fine.

Clue shipping

Says here at Amazon that Cluetrain is …

 
  • #13,139 in Books
  • #33 in Web Marketing
  • #34 in Theory
  • and
  • #43 in E-Commerce

  I kinda like the Theory thing, not sure about the other two. But hey, for a book that old, it’s not bad.

Got some nice pictures of the Cornwall Coast, while still ascending out of Heathrow en route to Washington and Boston.

The shot above is of Padstow Bay, with Trebetherick and the Polzeaths on the right, above Padstow and Daymer Bays. (The latter is the lower, or southern, one.)

Interesting to see how the surf hits the Polzeaths at full force. Some pretty big waves there. You can also see the corduroy surface of the ocean, as the waves advance from a swell coming in from the west.



Often as I fly over eastern Canada, I’ve somehow always missed Newfoundland. It has always been nighttime, or clouded under, or too far from the plane’s route. Well, not this last time. When I flew from London to Boston via Washington (LHR-IAD-BOS) on the first day of March, I could see on the plane’s map that we were headed straight over the southeastern corner Newfoundland — the Avalon Peninsula, where St. John’s lies next to the easternmost point on mainland North America. Then, as we approached, the plane veered slightly left, toward the south, and we missed St. John’s by fifty miles or more. But it was a clear day, so I got a few shots of St. John’s anyway, and then much better shots as we flew just south of the southern capes.

I got some nice shots of Trepassy Bay, Biscay Bay and St. Mary’s bay, all on the “Irish Loop” of Highway 10. The towns along and near the loop — Portugal Cove South, Trepassy, St. Shotts — are fishing villages more akin to settlements. So far I’ve found surprisingly little about them on the Web, most of which I’ve put into links in captions under some of the pictures. Maybe some of ya’ll can fill me in.

Subtractvertising

If you’re going to be in the advertising business, either as a site or as a service that puts ads on sites, at least make sure that the damn server gets the ads on the pages.

Now that our home is served by a Verizon FiOS connection that gives us 20Mb both upstream and down (and a big high five to Verizon for being the first in symmetry as well as speed), it’s getting easier to tell where the bottlenecks occur. And it’s usually not in the pipes. It’s in the ad servers.

Right now this topozone page (one that shows WUMB’s transmitter location on a top map) is holding back on text (specifically, lat/lon info) while the browser says “Transferring data from ad.thewheelof.com…” It’s been a few minutes, and I doubt that the data is coming.

Most sites with ads do a good job. Here’s Weather.com for 02138. Loads fast enough.

But I’ll bet the time that it takes to serve advertising is a tie-breaker for many sites. I still think Technorati is a better live Web search service than Google Blogsearch, but it takes time, even on a fast connection, to serve up all those display ads on Technorati (which bears an income production burden that Google Blogsearch presumably lacks). To see how much faster Technorati is without the display ads, here’s the same search at s.technorati.com.

Here’s a bet. As more people get faster connections, tolerance for time- and space-sucking advertising is going to go down.

And eventually the advertising-pays-for-everything bubble will pop.

The R word again

The question at AlwaysOn: Is Facebook Growing Up? I dunno. And mostly I don’t care. I hope so, anyway. Meanwhile, much of the text under that question is some quoted stuff I said elsewhere that somehow relates. A sample:

  On the customer side, once individuals become equipped with tools of independence and engagement, nature’s course will become even more strange — not just for big companies, but for economists who are accustomed to regarding markets as environments where all that matters is what vendors do, and that the only thing they do that matters is compete for “consumers”, who value price above all.

  But even the economists will come to realize that, eventually, relationship matters most. This will take time.

Conversations about markets

Alan Mitchell has nicely surfaced some of the conversation that’s been going on amidst the development community. Not conclusive, but good stuff.

NewsGang up

Friday’s NewsGang, with Dennis Haarsager, Stephen Hill (of Hearts of Space), host and yours truly, is up. It was long (1:25) but very good. Here’s the MP3.

The main topic was Dennis’ new job as iCEO of . I was on a panel with Dennis just a few weeks ago. He’s a great guy, very sharp, extremely aware of the challenges, and much more.

He even seemed to agree with the ten prophesies and one fond wish that I presented during our panel. (That talk was a compression of this post here.) It won’t be easy for him, but I’m extremely encouraged with the prospects.

Whydentity

Ryan Janssen has been doing a remarkable job of following and making sense of various user-centric identity systems. If that’s your cup of curioiusity as well, check ‘em out.

Perspective

You are here.

If it’s not yourself, it won’t work

Who is in charge of your privacy?

News

Steve Gillmor has a new blog, with NewsGang, at eWeek.

Not sure I linked to his last post at the last blog, but I’m doing it now. We’re talking about it on NewsGang, even as we blog.

I’ll be on a podcast later today with Dennis Haarsager, who was already a blogger before he was suddenly told last week to fill the CEO shoes that had just been vacated at .

As it happens Dennis and I were both on the “Technology and Trends: What’s Around the Bend” session at IMA 2008 several weeks ago.

Here are the slides from my brief talk at that panel. Here’s Dennis’ latest post, going over his new job and the challenges facing public broadcasting. His money paragraph:

  So this isn’t a battle between the content layer and the emerging media part of the distribution layer any more than it’s a battle between the content layer and transmitters. People now have and are making a wide variety of choices in how they get programming. We must make it easy for them to access it. If we make it a contest between layers, our users will lose and ultimately so will we.

Agreed. Earlier Dennis says online distribution is coming on much faster than broadcasting did in its developing years. That’s key. Today BitTorrent is a transmitter. An iTouch is a radio. In most urban and suburban locaitons, your favorite programs and stations will both be easier to tune on a hand-held with a wi-fi or a cell connection than on a car radio with a tuner. Producers and listeners will be closer than ever, and stations will face steeper challenges than ever to remain relevant participants in local and regional culture, and not remain distributors of national programming.

Lots of comments below that post, by the way. Check ‘em out.

Cluetrainings

Here are the slides from the Cluetrain @ 10 talk I gave at There’s a New Conversation, in New York last month. I don’t do slides as speakers’ notes, so they tend to explain themselves. Click here to start. Here a video of the talk. (Also mentioned in Clueship, below. This is more grist for the comment mill there.)

Profitsy

Not content to just make the future, sometimes also predicts it. Congrats to the big guy for winning $2k with his forecast.

Happy 95th, Mom

This morning, as I began my walk to the train, I realized that it had been 5 years since Mom‘s 90th birthday party, which was an excellent event, and one she very much wanted to have happen, because she felt it was an important milestone and possibly her last. Which it was. She died several months later, felled by a stroke following minor surgery that went wrong. But she was awake and lucid nearly right up to the end of a good and very full life.

Somewhere around here I have pictures and even a video from that party. I’ll try to hunt them down and get them up on Flickr and YouTube. Meanwhile, it’s good to stay in position to keep spreading the abundance of love she gave for nine tenths of a century.

Clueship

So I came up with this noun: clueship. Meaning the ability to give or get clues. It’s one name for two conversational assets: having something new to say, and having a willingness to listen to new things other people are saying.

Although conversation is a purely human activity, what we meant by “markets are conversations” in The Cluetrain Manifesto was broader than that. We wanted to recall markets as what they were to begin with: places where people gathered to do business and make culture. There conversation was anchored in people talking to each other, but was also something larger than that. It was demand and supply speaking to, and hearing, each other.

Now let’s move forward to the present, now almost ten years since Chris Locke, David Weinberger and I began the conversation that became Cluetrain. To start, check out Josh Bernoff’s long and thoughtful post, Corporate social technology strategy, Purists, and Corporatists — why companies CAN participate. As two poles (one purist, one corporatist), Josh points to Shel Israel’s Can Brands be Social? Jeremiah Owyang, who poses The 3 “Impossible” Conversations for Corporations. Shel later chafes at Josh’s characterization. To get ahead of ourselves a bit, Shel says,

  Josh calls me out, pointing to a post I had up in December and seems to think that I am in his “purist camp,” a camp that he characterizes as being anti-corporate, and personified by Doc Searls, co-author of Cluetrain and one of the pioneer thinkers of what has evolved into social media. He implies that we purists somehow oppose corporate objectives, which seems to me to reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of what I have been writing about these last several years.

I’m mostly in agreement with Shel here, but I would rather not be credited with much that has led to “social media”. Not my topic, basically.

Anyway, Josh and I both spoke at There’s a New Conversation, in New York a few weeks ago. Josh’s talk isn’t up yet. Hope it will be, because it was good, and is chock full of data as well as insights. Mine is — though it’s missing the best part (as I recall, anyway), which is the Q&A at the end. (Another talk there — and an especially good one — is Jake McKee’s “How LEGO caught the Cluetrain” — watch TheConversationGroup for more stuff along these lines.)

I’d like to respond to all this stuff, but I don’t have the time. Meanwhile, I’d like to qualify what I’m a “purist” about. In a word, individuals. Customers. My point of view, and my interest, are primarily anchored there. As I said in that talk, the main reason Cluetrain succeeded was that it stood foursquare on the side of customers, and not of companies. As I said in that talk, Jakob Nielsen observed that the Cluetrain authors had defected from marketing and taken sides with markets against marketing-as-usual.

But now marketers are looking at markets as conversations, and as places where they can relate to customers, on terms, and in ways, that work for both. Seems to me that Josh, Jeremiah and Charlene (all of whom work for Forrester) are helping with that: to build clueship on both sides.

Or am I wrong there?

In my last post I quoted some Doors lyrics. Uncharacteristically, I did not do any linking.

I didn’t link to The Doors’ site because it’s full of Flash and other crap that is not only at stylistic variance from the spare and artful nature of The Doors’ work, but likely to either annoy you or crash something. (My Linux box can’t see or hear the Flash stuff, my Windows box wants to download all kinds of stuff and then fails with it anyway, and my Mac just flat-out crashes on it. I don’t recall any other site recently that actually brings down a computer. But that’s what The Doors site did in this case.)

I didn’t link to any lyrics pages because all of them, far as I can tell, bury what the reader wants — just the lyrics, please — inside walls of advertising. Go do a phrase/keyword search for “When the music’s over” and “doors”, on Google. Click on the top results and you’ll find that every one has a pop-up window, plus lots of other advertising jive. Of course, you can block those in your browser; but still, pop-up windows suck. They break the Web’s social contract, which says (among other things) that the publisher should not abuse the reader’s intentions. Nobody goes to a page saying “I want a pop-up window”.

These lyrics pages exist for a good (though bad) reason: most artists don’t publish their own lyrics. People want to see lyrics, however, so the advertising baiters publish the lyrics anyway. Copyright be damned.

So my advice to artists such as The Doors is to publish their own lyrics, in ways that respect the music and their own artistry — as well as the readers’ good will and good intentions.

And while they’re at it, quit making the sites so damn fancy and complicated. Quit burying text inside graphics (where the type can’t scale up and down). Make the pages into blogs that are live and written, rather than static and built. It’s cheaper, too.

I say this, by the way, as a fan of the Doors since the band was new. At one time or another I’ve bought every album, both in vinyl and CD form. I’d love it if the band (or whoever constitutes them now) would just give us a nice simple site that’s easy on readers and their browsers.

The music that comes to mind is When the Music’s Over, by The Doors. These lines especially:

  What have they done to the Earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her.
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn and
Tied her with fences and
Dragged her down
.

(Warning: be careful what you click on.)

I suppose there are more charitable ways to view how human beings have gouged and stained the Earth. Charitable toward humans, anyway.

The older I get, the more I view the human contribution to geology — that is, toward the Earth itself — as catastrophic. That is, a moment of difference recorded in the fullness of time.

Most of your large geological features are catastrophic in nature. The Himilayas are mostly sea floor pushed northward by the prow of India, which broke away from Africa a few dozen million years ago, plowed across the ocean and smashed hard into the side of Asia — an event that’s still in progress. (The east coast of Madagascar and the Malabar coast of India are two straight lines that used to touch.) As John McPhee likes to remind us, all of geology can be encapsulated in a single fact: that the summit of Mount Everest is marine limestone

And no one fact about human habitation of the Earth sums our contribution more than amount of dead matter we have burned for energy — and will continue to burn until it’s gone. Never mind the elemental materials — the ores of copper, iron, uranium and other solids in the periodic table. Mining and burning of oil and coal will do. At best these materials — which took many millions of years to make, and which won’t be renewed for millions more, if ever — will be gone in a few hundred years, tops. Most of us don’t care because we won’t be here. And we care no more about our nameless descendents than we do about our nameless ancestors. We hardly care that burning fossil fuels is melting the ice caps and raising the seas. Humans on the whole don’t seem to be built for that form of contemplation. What we are built for is plunder. We do that out the wazoo, and we rationalize every bit of it, from burning rain forests to emptying mountains and prairies of coal.

After taking thousands of pictures out the windows of airplanes, it is clear to me that our species is pestilential, and that we’ll continue to exploit the Earth until it can stand no more, and collapse will follow. This event will also be recorded as a momentary discontinuity in the long saga of Earth’s history — one that went for billions of years without us around, and will surely continue for billions more, until the Sun burns out and the larger cycles continue spinning.

Of course, we can attempt to educate ourselves, and I salute the good folks who try. One is Patrick Gregston, who says here that we should watch this video here. Do that. It’s one among many wake-up calls we’ll all be getting in our short lifetimes.

Odds are, however, that most of us will keep hitting “snooze”.

Live and kicking

Nice to read by Phil Windley that Kathy Sierra is back in the game.

Nice plug

Having fun with PicLens. It’s a free (as in beer) FireFox plug-in. Check it out.

Yesterday we went to visit the De Cordova Museum in Concord Lincoln, where we were looking forward to seeing the museum’s iconic pink pig sculpture along with other exhibits in the museum and its Sculpture Park.

Rounding a curve on the road through the park heading into the museum, we were shocked and saddened to see that a tree from the center of a nearby grove had fallen squarely across the pig, smashing it right in the middle. No expert could have dropped the tree more squarely. It was amazing that, given 360 possible compass degrees that the tree might have fallen, it picked exactly this one.

Later we learned that the tree had fallen just that morning, no doubt because its rooting had been weakened by gound saturated with rain over the past few days.

Then this morning I was surprised to find no mention of the news in blog or the Boston Globe. So I just started uploading a bunch of pictures taken with my pocket camera. The lighting wasn’t good, but there are plenty of shots for anybody to use, should they like, up here at Flickr. If you’re a journalist of any kind, feel free to take and use them.

More about the pig. It is a work of Gail Simpson and Aristotle Georgiades of Actual Size Artworks. Its title is Trojan Piggybank, and it is on loan from the artists. From the writeup two links back:

Originally exhibited in the 2004 Navy Pier Walk: The Chicago International Sculpture Exhibition, Trojan Piggybank comes to DeCordova Museum’s Sculpture Park with a playful warning from its collaborative team of artists, Gail Simpson and Aristotle Georgiades, who caution, “Sometimes things are not what they appear to be.”

From a distance, the large pink wood piggybank appears friendly. A closer look reveals military camouflage colors painted around the snout, suggesting a recent wallow in filth, while imparting an additional and foreboding meaning. The artists intend this familiar military pattern to represent the greed associated with our ever-expanding military industrial complex. This visual stratagem is furthered by grates protecting Trojan Piggybank‘s eyes, and a hatch door on the underbelly hinting at hidden invaders inside. A large silver coin waits at the ready in the piggybank’s slot. As Simpson and Georgiades observe, “The pleasures of consumer culture are accompanied by less desirable social consequences. When we impose one way of life onto another, the bad goes along with the good. The playful piggybank has a hidden agenda.”

No wonder our first thought was that the tree across the pig was itself a sculpture, or an improvisation on the original.

Well, in a way it was, no?

Here’s an interview with B.L. Ochman, in which she asks me how (roughly speaking) I drink from the Niagra of information in which all online writers stand. Reading it this morning, I see it gives the impression that 1) I have some kind of formal or routinized approach, and 2) that I no longer look at RSS search engines and feed readers. Neither is true.

Much of the time I’m reactive. Such as this morning. A few minutes ago I got up, walked up to the attic where my “office” is, sat down at the laptop, and decided to start by closing some of the too-many tabs that are open in Firefox. I got to the one with B.L.’s interview and decided to post this pointer. Now, being my digressive self, I’m writing something more about it.

The tab was opened in the first place by my feed reader, when I clicked on the feed I’ve had for years of a keyword search for my name. I look at that feed once every few days or weeks. There are also feeds of searches for Linux, Linux Journal, VRM, tiddlywiki, Berkman, Berkman Center, Bob Frankston, net neutrality, public radio and public media. At the moment. These change, depending on what I’m writing about. The older feeds are from Technorati, and the newer ones are from either s.technorati.com or from . Even though I still consider Google Blogsearch inferior to Technorati in the sum of stuff it finds — and even though GB lacks some of the useful stuff Technorati provides, such as the trend graph and the ability to search for tags — it’s simple, has no diaplay advertising to slow it down, and let’s me create an RSS feed in one click. Same with s.technorati.com.

Anyway, I just weeded my reader. I do that every month or two. I also added a Cluetrain search feed, because there seems to have been more commentary going on about Cluetrain these last few months. Perhaps oddly, I don’t think I’ve ever subscribed to a Cluetrain search before.

I also react to email, which is still a torrent, even though nearly all my spam problem has been cleared up by running mail to my Searls.com address through the Gmail laundry. So far this morning I’ve avoided it. Same goes for IM, or IMs. I have three of those: Jabber, AIM and Skype, and dozens of contacts combined. If I fire it up, I’ll be hearing from somebody by one of them in a matter of seconds, so I leave it off more than I used to. Not good, because often there are people (co-workers, family members) who need to get in touch with me right now.

For that, of course, there is still the phone. My not-very-trusty old Treo 700p still serves that purpose, until the Verizon contract runs out this summer and I get something that works on GSM, so I can take it overseas as well. (I also have a GSM mobile I use only overseas, but would rather have one phone than two.) I’ve also lately become appreciative of SMS texting. I call this my “bat phone” mode. Works great except in the subway. Hard to tell somebody downtown that you’re going to be late when there’s no signal.

Anyway, my actual work is mostly proactive. In that mode I use Google so much that I don’t even think about it. I also use Google’s and Yahoo’s image search engines. It’s weird that Google’s seems systematically to exclude Flickr images, while Yahoo’s promotes them. Example, searches for “chilterns” in Google’s and Yahoo’s image search engines. Be nice to combine both somehow.

Anyway, time to go back downstairs, make coffee, have breakfast and otherwise enjoy a mostly-offline Sunday with the family.

Emerson said, If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years how man would marvel and stare.

There are corollaries. When the miraculous becomes mundane, people complain about it. Think about air travel. And, When the awful becomes common, people tend to ignore it.

The latter is the risk for Santa Barbara in respect to its landmark newspaper, the . To put the SBNP in perspective, both the paper and the city’s offices overlook De La Guerra Plaza in the middle of town. The paper’s building is larger and far more pretty and imposing. And, of course, it’s currently trying to bully the city about how the plaza is improved. The paper’s hostility to the mayor and other elected officials is a matter of editorial policy. And that’s far from the whole of it.

The proprietress of the paper is Wendy McCaw, who may be setting new records for litigious obstinacy by a newspaper owner. The “meltown” of the paper is now moving on two years in age, and progresses toward closure on an asymptotic curve: one with a long tail of decay akin to the half-life of Strontium 90 — one that constantly approaches but never arrives at a conclusion.

I’m not in Santa Barbara enough these days to sense how inured folks are to the awfulness of a civic landmark going through a screaming divorce from its constituency while still cohabitating with it. But I do fear for the town becoming a bit too accepting of an unpleasant situation that shows too few signs of ending.

That fear was allayed by the release of Citizen McCaw, and by reading this comment by John Quimby about its premiere. But, as they say, constant vigilance is a price of anything worth keeping.

Look for more amidst stuff tagged or .

No, they’re not.

Are “welcome screens” actually welcome? By anybody?

In this comment to this post, John Quimby writes,

The people “vetting” our election haven’t been “vetted” themselves.

Try this thought on for size…

The reporters we knew and admired when we were young were educated in journalism and many of them served in the Army covering WWII. They invented broadcast news and had combat experience with average American soldiers all over the world. That experience gave them a keen sense of official BS and they weren’t afraid of the risks it took to get the story and send some truth home. They felt they owed it to the humble people they served to get it right. They knew how to tell a story.

See where I’m going?

While you’re following John’s thoughts about storytellers and stories (and please do: it’s a good thread), a few thoughts about the nature of the latter, and what any journalist, regardless of reputation and talent, will have a hard time telling.

In this post about journalism, I wrote,

The basic job of newspaper reporters is to write stories. In simplest terms, stories are interesting arrangements of facts. What makes stories interesting are: 1) protagonists (persons, groups, teams, “issues” or causes); 2) a struggle, problem or conflict of some sort; and 3) movement forward (hopefully, by not necessarily, toward a conclusion). Whether or not you agree with that formulation, what cannot be denied is the imperative. Stories are made to be interesting. It is not just coincidental that this is a purpose they share with advertising.

The story in WWII (John’s example, above) was a simple one. There were good guys (us, the Allies) and bad guys (the Axis powers). Countless war stories — good ones — came out of WWII. Those stories — along with stories about The Depression that preceded The War — were the prevailing narratives around dinner tables for kids growing up in the Fifties, when broadcast journalism was maturing under the influence of Fred Friendly, Edward R. Murrow and other exemplars. Wars won by everybody working together, and suffering through hardships, as happened with WWII, had many positive effects on the country and its citizens. Our fathers’ experiences in “the service” (as they called it then) during WWII made instant friends of countless strangers who had similar experiences. People meeting for the first time, regardless of class and race differences, often found common bonds in the ritual of exchanging data about membership and service in various military branches, divisions, boats, and battle fronts.

Our parents’ sacrifices gave them great moral authority — and of a kind that none of the succeeding generations would achieve again. Tom Brokaw was right to call our parents The Greatest Generation. They rose to the challenge, but they were also cast in the role.

Same with journalistic veterans of the same war.

Not only have we lost that whole generation of WWII journalists, plus many (or most) of the best of those that followed as well. Meanwhile, there is more journalism than ever, and much of it is good. Just harder to find, or to follow, in the midst of so much other stuff. Many more needles, much bigger haystack.

But the bigger problem is the lack of a single narrative, much less a heroic one. Worse, there is a narrative that needs to be woven, yet has few if any weavers, because it is not a happy one. That narrative is the inevitable decline of Pax Americana, and of our country’s ability to lead the world in the manner to which it has becomed accustomed, and which is proving ever more delusional.

This new narrative is required not only because the U.S.’s percentages of the global economy and populations are shrinking, and not only because its recent president(s) had foreign policy failures, but because what’s “super” about U.S. superpower — a near-limitless ability to make high-technology war, backed by a fighting force of finite size with few allies — is an anachronism. And it would still be an anachronism if most of the world didn’t already consider our approach to foreign relations tragic and absurd.

I’m not sure the people of any Great Nation are ever ready to face the fact that the height of their military and economic powers has passed. Or that the leadership they most need to assert is no longer only a military and economic one. But I am sure that we need leadership — journalistic as well as political — that is anchored in our true and enduring strengths as a people and as a polity.

The U.S. still stands best, and most credibly, for essential values the rest of the world desperately needs to respect: freedom, liberty, democracy, suffrage of women and minorities, and rule of law, to name just a few. The high value we place on eduction, on caring for others, on self-sacrifice, on economic well-being, on the worth of individuals, on respect for land and resources — the list goes on — are also ready-built platforms for leadership in the world.

I don’t know how to frame that new leadership narrative, much less express it. The best advice I’ve seen so far comes from George Lakoff and The Rockridge Institute; but we’re in a partisan season, and they’re naturally taking sides, lately on behalf of Barack Obama.

I believe Obama is in the best position to craft this new narrative, that his aspriational rhetoric has the best chance of transcending the partisan boundaries that divide us. But right now each remaining candidate’s focus is on beating each other rather than facing the challenge of changing our role in the world.

Obama and his people need to fight for the next nine months, and it’s likely that his rhetoric, no matter how well-expressed, will be mocked for its emptiness and the lack of track in his relatively short career. That mockery will get air time becaus we won’t be able to get out of sports and war journalism — and politics — until the election is over.

That’s when Then What? begins. I’m hoping the new president is good at telling the new story that needs to be told. But I’m not holding my breath. (Or my blather, or you wouldn’t be reading this.)

Life in the Vast Lane — What lives past the Web 2.0 bubble is my EOF essay in the February Linux Journal. One sample:

  In the long run, there’s going to be a lot more money in helping demand find supply than in helping supply find (or create) demand — simply because the efficiencies involved in helping money-in-hand find places to go exceed the guesswork that defines advertising at its core. That even goes for Google, which introduced the radical notion of accountability, but still involves mountains of wasted placements (by countless Linux servers pushing gazillions of tiny text ads into the margins of blogs and search results). I’m not saying that advertising ends, by the way, just that its fate is to become part of an informational ecosystem that supports the buying intentions of customers at least as well as it supports the selling intentions of vendors.

The challenge, of course, is to build out the latter.

Jarrett Interaction Design, from Mix 08:

  Microsoft views advertising as the key to the web ecosystem economics. And most of their examples are traditional, print-style advertising (banner ads with video, etc.). Much of their investment in these technologies is to drive the advertising business. Seems diametrically opposed to the ClueTrain Manifesto and marketing as conversation. Hugh Macleod, where are you?

Cluetrain, the course.

Lakoff hits it out of the park is Dave‘s latest, and has a podcast that’s required listening. George Lakoff is the best thinker and scientist that the Democrats have right now — or ever. He has been ever since ’96, when he came out with Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know that Liberals Don’t (later subtitled How Liberals and Conservatives Think). Even if you don’t swing with George’s politics, or his conclusions, his thinking is lucid and provocative, and good for your mind. It is also extraordinarily useful to the Obama campaign at this piont in time. I hope somebody there is listening.

That said, it was interesting to find, when I spoke today to women I know, that so many of them went Yessss to Hillary’s victories yesterday. On the basis of that too-small sample — and what they told me — I draw the provisional conclusion that Hillary’s appeal is broader than Obama partisans have been willing to face. And that, if Obama doesn’t take George’s advice, he’ll be Hillary’s VP candidate.

After that, McCain wins anyway.

It depresses me that Hillary won the states that mattered yesterday, even though the delegate contest is far from decided. If she becomes the Democratic nominee, she’ll lose to McCain, even if Obama is her VP choice.

It’s only gonna get uglier as the Democratic convention approaches. For all of Obama’s high-road smarts and strategizing, there is no overstating the ability of the Democrats to shoot themselves in their feet, and settle on a doomed candidate come convention time. The ghosts of McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry — and even Gore and Carter — loom large. Obama can win, mostly because he has so many positives and he isn’t hated by Republicans. Hillary can’t.

So then the only question that remains is who McCain will choose as his VP candidate. Because, as of this morning, McCain and that guy (it won’t be a woman) will likely be our next two presidents.

So, not to worry

The Onion: Nation’s Presidential Assassins Still Undecided.

What do plastic, wood, limestone, travertine, marble, asphalt, oil, coal, stalactites, peat, stalagmites, cotton, wool, chert, cement, nearly all food and most of our electric service have in common? They are all products of death.

Even the world’s banded iron formations, which date from two to three billion years in age, are generally thought to be products of life’s first bloom in ancient oceans, which precipitated ferric ooze from irons which had saturated the seas from our world’s most formative times. As John McPhee put it in Annals of the Former World, “The earth would not go through that experience twice.” (See a longer quote here.)

Death produces building and burning materials in an abundance that seems limitless, at least from standpoint of humans in the here and now. In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, Nansen G. Saleri says The World Has Plenty of Oil. “As a matter of context, the globe has consumed only one out of a grand total of 12 to 16 trillion barrels underground”, he says, concluding,

  The world is not running out of oil anytime soon. A gradual transitioning on the global scale away from a fossil-based energy system may in fact happen during the 21st century. The root causes, however, will most likely have less to do with lack of supplies and far more with superior alternatives. The overused observation that “the Stone Age did not end due to a lack of stones” may in fact find its match.

  The solutions to global energy needs require an intelligent integration of environmental, geopolitical and technical perspectives each with its own subsets of complexity. On one of these — the oil supply component — the news is positive. Sufficient liquid crude supplies do exist to sustain production rates at or near 100 million barrels per day almost to the end of this century.

  Technology matters. The benefits of scientific advancement observable in the production of better mobile phones, TVs and life-extending pharmaceuticals will not, somehow, bypass the extraction of usable oil resources. To argue otherwise distracts from a focused debate on what the correct energy-policy priorities should be, both for the United States and the world community at large.

Thanks to technology, the .8 trillion tons of coal in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin now contribute 40% of the coal used in U.S. power plants. About half the nation’s electricity is produced by these plants, at rates that can consume a 1.5 mile long train of coal in just 8 hours. In Uncommon Carriers, McPhee says Powder River coal at current rates will last about 200 years.

Well, then what? Will more technology help out? Surely. But at some point we must take a long view that recognizes the earth’s resources as rare stuff that nature takes millions of years to produce, and in many cases does that only once, or we find ourselves in a pickle that even technology can’t solve.

As I fly in my window seat from place to place, especially on routes that take me over arctic, near-arctic and formerly arctic locations, I see more and more of what geologists call The Picture — a four-dimensional portfolio of scenes from current and former worlds. In the arc of seashores that include Long Island, Block Island, Martha’s Vinyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod, I see a ridge of debris scraped off half a continent and dropped at its terminus by the vast lobe of an ice cap that began its retreat only 15,000 years ago — only a few moments before the geologic present. At that time the Great Lakes were still in the future, their basins covered by ice that did not depart from their northern edges until about 7,000 years ago, or 5,000 B.C. Most of Canada was still under ice while civilization was born in the middle east and the first calendars got going. Fly over that region often enough and the lakes start to look like puddles of melted ice. Which is exactly what they are. Same with most of the ponds around Boston. Rewind a few thousand years and those ponds are holes under hills of ice.

As Canada thaws, one can see human activity spark and spread across barren lands, as more resources are raided from the exposed earth. While this is obviously and necessarily industrious from a strictly human perspective, one can also easily see from an extra-human perspective that our species is flat-out pestilential. We treat nature’s goods as “products” or “resources” that are free for the taking. And free they are. But each at some point becomes scarce, then rare to the verge of absence. We may have nothing to do with the elimination of many. All species come and go, after all. But on this planet, from its own one-eyed perspective, our species clearly takes far more than it gives, and with little regard for the consequences. We know, as Whitman put it, the amplitude of time. And we assume in its fullness that all will work out.

I’ve always been both an optimist and a realist. I’m an optimist for at least the short run, by which I mean the next few dozen years. But I’m a pessimist for our civilization — or even our species. All civilizations fall. None believes, at its height, that theirs will fall. But every one does. Same goes for species, all of which are nature’s experiments. Why should we be any different?

Adjacent Social Objects is the latest idea from Rajesh Setty. ASOs (my initialism, not his) are objects that are not directly related to your product or service but are close. He explains,

  Our own example is a site called All About Steak (which is a site that’s all about steak – recipes, grilling tips etc.) which was built in partnership with Kansas City Steaks. All About Steak is an adjacent social object for Kansas City Steaks. You can’t make people talk about steaks but may be people will talk about a discovery engine for steaks?

The concept of a “social object” is explained by Seth Godin in this interview sourced by Rajesh. Although the first source appears to be Hugh MacLeod. (Later: Was just told it’s Jyri Engestrom.)

Learned about Silobreaker yesterday from Yochai. It’s an interesting new search engine. Lots of stuff to dive down into. It’s very flashy (in both senses of the word) and clever. And it’s a mind candy store for those who, like myself, combine an appetite for information with easy distractability and a suckerness for visual presentations.

For example, check out Silobreaker’s Network search results for Yochai Benkler. Or choose any topic you like. If it lets you.

My main complaint about it, so far, is one I have for pretty much everything that thinks it knows what I want when it doesn’t. From Kristofer Mansson, Silobreaker CEO, on the company blog:

  …information overload will still be a problem and users will continue to ask for quicker and better ways of finding more relevant search results than what traditional search engines have been offering so far. Silobreaker was developed to meet exactly such growing user demand and the service brings meaning to news content through sense-making analytics and graphical search results.

  Ultimately, it’s the value and relevance of the search result that matter and our goal is very simple; to deliver insight as a service.

Here’s the thing. Most of the time I want to find my way to exactly what I want, and arrive at my own insights, thank you. What I need for that are tools that let me filter and drill down any way I like.

My problem from the beginning with all search engines is that they’re not tool-makers. While I want a box of tools with which I can make what I want, they’re like a construction company that constantly makes things for me, guessing at what I might want in the end.

For example, let’s say I want to find nothing but references to Yochai Benkler in blogs written in 2005. Google’s Advanced Search will let me narrow results through eight stretches of time going back to the last year. Not what I want. Google Blogsearch will let me do that, but only for blogs. (I dunno, but maybe it can only be done for blogs.)

My point is that I want search engines to act more like databases and less like AI. But we’ve been having these things doing educated guesswork for so long that we can hardly imagine anything else. In that respect Silobreaker is a welcome alternative.

What do the rest of ya’ll think about it?

What he said

Marc Andreessen as a good rundown on Barack Obama, based on a 1.5 hour conversation with Obama before the campaign began. I like what Marc says about leadership:

  We asked him directly, “how concerned should we be that you haven’t had meaningful experience as an executive — as a manager and leader of people?

  He said, watch how I run my campaign — you’ll see my leadership skills in action.

  At the time, I wasn’t sure what to make of his answer — political campaigns are often very messy and chaotic, with a lot of turnover and flux; what conclusions could we possibly draw from one of those?

  Well, as any political expert will tell you, it turns out that the Obama campaign has been one of the best organized and executed presidential campaigns in memory. Even Obama’s opponents concede that his campaign has been disciplined, methodical, and effective across the full spectrum of activities required to win — and with a minimum of the negative campaigning and attack ads that normally characterize a race like this, and with almost no staff turnover. By almost any measure, the Obama campaign has simply out-executed both the Clinton and McCain campaigns.

  This speaks well to the Senator’s ability to run a campaign, but speaks even more to his ability to recruit and manage a top-notch group of campaign professionals and volunteers — another key leadership characteristic. When you compare this to the awe-inspiring discord, infighting, and staff turnover within both the Clinton and McCain campaigns up to this point — well, let’s just say it’s a very interesting data point.

I have my doubts about Obama’s chances against McCain (though I still think those chances are good); but I’m quite sure he’ll finish wiping up Hillary tomorrow.

Film on paper

Sorry I won’t be in Santa Barbara to see the premiere of the documentary Citizen McCaw this Friday. The film’s subject is Wendy McCaw and her “war” to keep her paper, the Santa Barbara News-Press, independent of everything but herself (as best I can put it this morning, anyway). There will be a DVD on sale pretty soon. Here’s the trailer. And here’s an FAQ.

The flight from Heathrow to Dulles took more than nine hours, which was long enough to watch parts of seven different movies three times. Since one of those movies was No Country for Old Men, none of the other movies stood a chance. By the time we arrived, I had become a student of the movie. I just hope it isn’t in my dreams tonight.

The central figure, Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem, is a psycopathic killer who personifies death and chance in unequal measure. It’s a landmark performance. Every performance in the film is strong, but none of the characters stand out like Chigurh’s.

His motives? His quarry is money, but that’s just a point on a path. There is no doubt that he will get the money, and that people will die along the way. But death itself has no motive. It is merely inevitable. Like Anton Chigurh. The Terminator, the Alien, the guy DiNiro played in Cape Fear… all the relentless bad guys we’ve known… don’t compare easily with Chigurh. Because all the others could be, and were, defeated.

Death can’t be defeated. In Chigurh, it could only be wounded, because he is death in human form. But he is still death.

Which is on my mind more as I get older. The old men in the movie — Tommy Lee Jones and cohorts of his generation — are barely older than me, if they’re older at all.

Being older, if not yet “old”, requires increased acquaintance with the certainty that Your Time Will Come.

I plan to procrastinate. For some things that’s a helpful skill.

Meanwhile, a highly recommended movie.

In the shortest and most famous speech in U.S. history, Abraham Lincoln summarized our democracy as one “of the people, by the people, for the people”.

In the Internet age, we have the means to make that democracy work better than ever, to gather and exercize our power to participate — not just by voting, but by engaging directly with our local, regional, state and national systems of governance.

That’s what Britt Blaser is talking about here:

  I’m a big Obama booster, but I don’t think any President can lead a “sea-change in the way we produce and distribute political power in this country”, because of the Mutually Assured Destruction built into the system. But he might inspire US to build US 2.0 as Dave Winer and Doc Searls have been urging, an upgrade to USOS, the United States Operating System…
  Governance sites. Lots of sites.
  Indeed, we’re like Neo in the Matrix, needin lots of guns. But guns won’t help us. We need lots of by-the-people hyperlocal governance sites. We need them everywhere to aggregate and impose the locals’ interests on their representatives and senators. No one’s gonna build them for us, and there’s no f/x department to surround us with racks and racks of political firepower. So it’s up to US.

He’s working on exactly that kind of equipment, by the way. Stay tuned for more.