November 2008

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Fun with personalities

Keeping Linux Safe Since 1994 is my latest at Linux Journal. It’s fun with Typeanalyzer. Try it on your blog, and see what it says. Don’t be surprised if the results are different than those for yourself.

Back in September or so I blogged in favor of the $700 billion stimulus package. In those days, now so long ago, I thought, against my otherwise better judgement, that we needed to do something.

Now I don’t.

Now I think we need to let the train wreck finish happening before we “stimulate” anything. If we even bother at all.

I say that for two reasons.

First is that nobody knows wtf to do, really. If we do anything.

Second is that “doing something” is overrated. For that insight I thank this excellent piece in the Washington Post, by Shankar Vedantam. And to Russ Nelson for pointing to it.

The gist:

  The action bias, or the desire to do something rather than nothing when you have just been through a terrible experience, plays a powerful role in our lives. It influences individuals and companies, investors and leaders. You can see the action bias on display in current thinking on the housing and economic crises, in the bitter debates over the war in Iraq — even in discussions about how to fix a football team that’s a perennial loser.

  When people suffer losses and confront the possibility of even greater reverses — it doesn’t matter if you are talking about a terrorist attack or a meltdown in retirement savings — it is psychologically difficult to do nothing, to hold course. This is true even when the action you contemplate produces an outcome that leaves you demonstrably worse than you were in the first place...

  When things are going well, there is a tendency to stagnate, rather than innovate and make things even better. When things are going poorly, on the other hand, our bias is to flail.

We’re flailing, and we’re doing it with trillions of non-existent dollars. Spending them risks making them even more worthless than they already are.

What if every product category, every business, is a bubble — and some just last longer?

We know the newspaper business was a bubble. It lasted over a century, but here we are, at the end of it. Papers will still be around, for the same reason that railroads and mainframe computers are still around. But they’ll never be what they were in their golden decades.

Television will follow. That golden age is coming to an end as well. Same with radio. These will also persist, in somewhat different forms. But the golden age is over.

I’m thinking now that we’re seeing the same thing with cars.

A few days ago I took in my old Volkswagen Passat to get the water pump replaced. Turns out lots of other stuff was worn out or broken and needed fixing too. The final bill came to around $5000, which is what I paid for the thing three years ago.

For a minute I thought about getting a new car. They’re cheaper than ever, with lots of good deals, and guarantees that would relieve me of the need to pay much for upkeep. But I decided to fix the old car instead, becuase it’s good enough. Spending $5k is better than spending $20k, especially if I don’t have to borrow the difference.

The mechanic told me his business is booming. Most car owners have awakened to the fact that cars are cars, and most of what we do with them is just drive from place to place. New cars purchases are impelled mostly by advertising and fantasy. Drive a lot of rental cars and you get hip to the obvious: the differences between cars, especially fairly new ones, isn’t large. After a few years they all plateau at a certain level of partial suckage and stay that way for the duration. You forget the quiet cabin and tight handling that turned you on in the first place. You care less about its color than just being able to find it in the parking lot. You know the noise in the heater is some rocks your kid put down the vents and won’t ever get fixed.

Now, what happens if an absence of new car fantasy prevails for the duration? What if the whole automobile business has jumped the shark, and the problem isn’t just Detroit’s?

Even if it hasn’t now, the business will falter eventually. They all do. Disruptions happen. Trees do not grow to the sky. That’s Nature’s nature, in business as well as the wilderness.

Bonus link.

Required re-reading

A pause this Thanksgiving weekend to appreciate The Word Detective, which has been around forever, which is to say since 1995.

I remember The Word Dectective from way back in the Early Daze, when there were relatively few websites (say, 103 or 104, 5 or 6 of them) and it was already obvious, to their few million visitors, that The Net was not only going to change everything, but was a worldwide virtual environment that would change the existing physical one even as it changed itself.

I re-discovered The Word Detective this morning when I wanted to find the source of the saying “waiting for the other shoe to drop”. I looked it up on Google and found that The Word Detective had the closest approach to a canonical result, way back on 23 May 2001.

Being an online periodical of sorts, TWD is now produced on WordPress (View Source tells me), which is way cool, because it has always been, essentially, a bloggy kinda thing. It has a sideblog as well.

Check ‘em out. If your interests run in an etymological direction, the TWDs are worthy of bookmarks (remember those?) or better.

EOLcat

EOLcat is a palindrome.

Prodigyous

Ze says this blogger is 12. His hedge, which I second: I will say that if this is some weird viral H&M marketing scheme, I will be very angry.

Obituaries on hold

Shel Holtz lists all the techs whose reported deaths are still exaggerated. Hat tip to Zane Safrit.

Nice validation

Of The Open Source Force Behind the Obama Campaign, Joe Trippi writes,

  I’ve never read a more accurate explanation of how the Linux movement and Open Source influenced and formed the foundational thinking for the political movement that, now, has helped produce Barack Obama’s Victory.

The government crash

The amazing thing about crashes is that you can see them coming. They’re not surprises like earthquakes or meteor impacts. A sure sign of their approach is too much speculative lending, which contributes to the boom that sets up the bust. We saw it in housing in the 70s and 80s, which led to the S&L crisis, and again in the 00s. We’ve seen it over and over in tech, most famously with the dot-com crash.

Now we’re about to see the U.S. government crash, for the same reason.

According to Bloomberg (which ought to know),

  The U.S. government is prepared to provide more than $7.76 trillion on behalf of American taxpayers after guaranteeing $306 billion of Citigroup Inc. debt yesterday. The pledges, amounting to half the value of everything produced in the nation last year, are intended to rescue the financial system after the credit markets seized up 15 months ago.

  The unprecedented pledge of funds includes $3.18 trillion already tapped by financial institutions in the biggest response to an economic emergency since the New Deal of the 1930s, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The commitment dwarfs the plan approved by lawmakers, the Treasury Department’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. Federal Reserve lending last week was 1,900 times the weekly average for the three years before the crisis.

That’s trillion. With a tr.

Our debtors won’t be able to pay most of it back. Nor do we expect it to be.

And we can’t pay it back, unless we print all the money we need, or do the electronic equivalent.

Which will turn the dollar into the peso. Or worse.

What comes after that — or even during that — I hate to think about.

Or so it seems to me, on a cold Wednesday morning. Hope I’m wrong.

Meanwhile I would like to see more transparency than we’ve seen so far. Lack of it is the other story in the Bloomberg piece. Scary reading.

Hat tip to Dave for the pointer.

…that remain hidden from public view.” That’s just one phrase just uttered by , author of and speaker at lunch here at the Berkman Center.

The talk, which is a debate/q&a, is going on now (12:44pm), and being . Strong stuff. Many of the bloggers he’s talking about are in jail or worse. From the lunch brief:

  In 2007, Australian journalist, author and blogger Antony Loewenstein traveled to Egypt, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and China to investigate how the net was challenging authoritarian regimes, the role of Western multinationals such as Google in the assistance of web filtering and how misinformed we are in the West towards states considered “enemies” or “allies”.

His subject is what may be “partly true in the west, but not true in the rest of the world.” Such as the “death” or “mainstreaming” of blogging. Which remains no less revolutionary than ever. Learn how. Tune in.

What Antony just read to the group will be posted on this afternoon.

We have an IRC at #berkman on freenode. If you’re watching and want to participate, jump on.

Signs of the Places

I was early for a talk by Irving Wladawsky-Berger at Harvard Law School a couple hours ago (just one among many terrific talks that go on around here) when I got in a conversation with Victoria Stodden about localities. Both of us have lives and affections split between Cambridge and California. As the weather gets colder and more miserable here in the Northeast, long-time Californians yearn for the warmth and ease of our western homes. She spent twelve years at Stanford. I lived in the Bay Area for sixteen years (all within a couple zip codes of Stanford) and in Santa Barbara for another eight. In fact, I still live there. And here. Makes for fun comparisons.

In the midst of the conversation Victoria brought up Cities and Ambition, a piece by Paul Graham from May of this year. I brought up what Paul wrote about Silicon Valley — not in that piece (which is still terrific), but somewhere… maybe in a talk at eTech or something… about how you can get off a plane at SFO and sense an invisible generator nearby, like the one in Star Wars that sustained the ice planet Hoth. It’s the tech generator that energizes the Valley and makes it a produce tech and wealth like nowhere else.

But Victoria made the more important point, about what makes Cambridge so amazing, and why I feel just as energized here as I did in Silicon Valley when I lived there — but in a different way. Paul explains:

  I’d always imagined Berkeley would be the ideal place–that it would basically be Cambridge with good weather. But when I finally tried living there a couple years ago, it turned out not to be. The message Berkeley sends is: you should live better. Life in Berkeley is very civilized. It’s probably the place in America where someone from Northern Europe would feel most at home. But it’s not humming with ambition.

  In retrospect it shouldn’t have been surprising that a place so pleasant would attract people interested above all in quality of life. Cambridge with good weather, it turns out, is not Cambridge. The people you find in Cambridge are not there by accident. You have to make sacrifices to live there. It’s expensive and somewhat grubby, and the weather’s often bad. So the kind of people you find in Cambridge are the kind of people who want to live where the smartest people are, even if that means living in an expensive, grubby place with bad weather.

  As of this writing, Cambridge seems to be the intellectual capital of the world. I realize that seems a preposterous claim. What makes it true is that it’s more preposterous to claim about anywhere else. American universities currently seem to be the best, judging from the flow of ambitious students. And what US city has a stronger claim? New York? A fair number of smart people, but diluted by a much larger number of neanderthals in suits. The Bay Area has a lot of smart people too, but again, diluted; there are two great universities, but they’re far apart. Harvard and MIT are practically adjacent by West Coast standards, and they’re surrounded by about 20 other colleges and universities. [1]

  Cambridge as a result feels like a town whose main industry is ideas, while New York’s is finance and Silicon Valley’s is startups.

I moved to the Bay Area in 1985 from Chapel Hill, another college town. I had lived for most of the previous eleven years there and in nearby Durham. Upon arriving in the Bay Area I looked with my teenage kids at Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Palo Alto, and decided to land in the latter for two reasons: 1) my company’s office was there, and I didn’t want to commute; and 2) my kids took one look at Palo Alto High and said “This is Stanford High. We want to go here.” And it was done. (One kid went on to UC-Berkeley and the other to UC-Santa Cruz, for what that’s worth.) All due respect for Chapel Hill and Durham, Carolina and Duke — places I still love and miss — Palo Alto and the Bay Area are a whole different game. There my horizons opened in many directions, and so did my kids’. It was energizing and stimulating in the Xtreme.

Then came the opportunity to come to Cambridge.

Wow. When we were thinking about getting an apartment here, and putting the kid in a local school, David Weinberger advised thusly: “Just remember that this is the most intellectually stimulating place in the world.”

He was right. I remember one rainy day walking across the Harvard campus, between one interesting gathering and another, and saying to my wife on the phone, “It was clever of God to hide all this great stuff under such shitty weather.”

Paul again:

  One of the exhilarating things about coming back to Cambridge every spring is walking through the streets at dusk, when you can see into the houses. When you walk through Palo Alto in the evening, you see nothing but the blue glow of TVs. In Cambridge you see shelves full of promising-looking books. Palo Alto was probably much like Cambridge in 1960, but you’d never guess now that there was a university nearby. Now it’s just one of the richer neighborhoods in Silicon Valley. [2]

  A city speaks to you mostly by accident — in things you see through windows, in conversations you overhear. It’s not something you have to seek out, but something you can’t turn off. One of the occupational hazards of living in Cambridge is overhearing the conversations of people who use interrogative intonation in declarative sentences. But on average I’ll take Cambridge conversations over New York or Silicon Valley ones.

Me too. But the Silicon Valley ones are way above average, and cover topics no less interesting. Same goes for the Santa Barbara ones. (UCSB turns me on too, and that’s just of SB’s many charms.) Or the London ones. Or the Copenhagen and Amsterdam ones. No place has cornered the market on Interesting.

Nor is Cambridge the extent of it here. As I write this my ass reposes in a leather chair in a reading room at the Boston Athenaeum, where our family goes often to feast on books. (One librarian calls our twelve-year old the library’s “best reader.” Based on consumption volume alone, I wouldn’t dispute it.)

Anyway, I’m just enjoying being amazed at both Cambridge and Boston, and appreciative of my time here. And of Paul’s provocative observations. Need to chew on those a bit. Good conversational fodder there.

Rebooting everything

Things really are going from bad to worse.

Trees do not grow to the sky.

True for countries as well as companies.

Bonus exchange.

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From Chris Brogan via JP, a call to re-tweet: Sew hoping for a miracle.

Here is an earlier picture (and post about) Marielle, by her mom, the blogger Sue (aka Sew), of The Domestic Diva.

Marielle is dying, literally, for a kidney match.

Pass the word along. Somebody somewhere should be able to help.

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I just posted The Open Source Force Behind the Obama Campaign over at Linux Journal. I wrote it in August for the November issue, which would come out in time for the election. But it was too long for the magazine, and too off-topic as well. So we shelved it, and planned to put it on the website after the election.

Originally I was going to update it; but after noodling around with that for awhile, and not quite getting it the way I wanted it, I realized it was more interesting as a piece of history: a snapshot in time. So that’s what I just put up there, adding only an introduction.

In going through this process, one thing that surpised me was how much I wrote about the Dean Campaign back in ’03-04. Since the Obama Campaign was what Britt Blaser calls “Dean done right”, you could say I had started covering the Obama campaign more than four years ago.

And maybe I was unintentionally influencing it as well.

In digging around for old stuff, I ran across Gary Wolf’s How the Internet Invented Howard Dean, in the January ’04 issue of Wired. One sidebar is The Howard Dean Reading List: How a bunch of books about social networking rebooted the Democratic system. Among those six is The Cluetrain Manifesto. So perhaps by that thin thread I can claim grand-paternity to Obama’s success.

Though not as credibly as, say, David Weinberger, who actually advised the Dean campaign. David, who is quoted in the Wired piece, not only co-wrote Cluetrain, but sole-authored Small Pieces Loosely Joined, which is another book on the Howard Dean reading list.

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Four knowing and provocative posts by Steve Lewis:

 

One quotable line: States are administrative inheritances from a past age and are increasingly obsolete as clusters of interests or self-identification. Applies to countries as well.

Read on.

When I was driving up from Santa Barbara to San Francisco on Sunday, I was listening to for awhile, and caught an amazing version of “Singing the Blues“, which was a huge country-pop crossover hit for Guy Mitchell in 1956. It was casual and enthusiastic and about as “country” as it gets. Loved it, and couldn’t wait for the announcer to say who did it.

Turns out it was Paul McCartney. Here he is, singing it on YouTube.

Meanwhile, I found out by way of Wikipedia that Guy Mitchell‘s real name was Albert George Cernik, and that he was as huge in Croatia as he was in the U.S. and the U.K.

A commenter on the McCartney item also said Fretkillr did a killr version. True. Like his Ain’t Misbehavin’ too. Reminds me of Leon Redbone.

Gotta love the Internets.

According to this my geek cred is 27 out of 50. Like Alec (who scored 41), I come up short on the gaming and entertainment hacking front. I woulda done better if there were items like, “Have changed bulbs on a broadcast tower,” “Rembember Ohm’s Law,” “Built a Heathkit” or “Know what ‘millimhos’ are”. (Clue.) Except for Ohmian matters, most of the rest is obsolete knowledge or headed that way.

In VRM is Personal, I say this…

“Social” is a bubble. Trust me on this. I urge all consultants on “social ______” (fill in the blank) to make hay while the sun shines. Even as the current depression deepens, lots of companies are starting to realize that this “social” thing is hot stuff and they need to get hip to Twitter and the rest of it. (Just ask the Motrin folks.)

And it is hot. But much of that heat is relative to its absence in other areas. “Social” has sucked a lot of oxygen out of the online conversational room.

Meanwhile, here’s the challenge: make the Net personal. Make relationships personal. Equip individuals with tools of independence and engagement. That’s what VRM is about.

… and go on. Read the rest there.

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There wasn’t much to see during the redeye from Boston to Zürich and on to Amsterdam yesterday. Too bad, because the Swissair window was one of the cleanest and clearest I’ve seen yet. But I did get a nice quick series of the East Sussex coast, with its white cliffs, from Brighton to Beachy Head, along the English Channel.

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Looks like the evacuation notices have been lifted. And The Map (which is very well done) now has two pages showing the status in the area, including (near as I can tell) all 211 burned structures, nearly all of them homes.

My shots of the aftermath are here.

Hard to believe I’m in Boston now, and about to be in Zurich, then Amsterdam. See some of ya’ll there.

This makes me glad I don’t have advertising on this blog.

Collateral damage?

Ever notice how many car ads you see on the evening news? On sports broadcasts? (Between the ones for beer and “erectile dysfunction” relief — nice promotional symbiosis there.) How much of that is Detroit money? How much of that money will go away, whether or not Detroit gets bailed out? And will Asian and European car makers spend enough to take up the slack?

Just wondering.

In any case, watch for commercial broadcasting to take more hits.

This is @#$% insane.

I’m at the Lufthansa lounge in Boston’s Logan Airport, where T-Mobile provides wi-fi service, just like it provides wi-fi service in countless other places around the U.S., including (near as I can tell) most airports and airport lounges. The “welcome” page looks normal. I try to login. It doesn’t work. Then I notice that I can login as a “visitor” from T-Mobile USA. But I’m IN the @#$% USA. I pay T-Mobile $29something/month to use their @#$% service already in the U.S.A.

It’s bad enough that I have to pay $.18/minute to “roam” on T-Mobile when I’m overseas. But in the U.S.? Why? Because T-Mobile wants to shake down customers held captive by the conveniences of an airport lounge? I’m guessing. I don’t know.

Really, I don’t care if the lounge is operated by Lufthansa, and Lufthansa is a German airline, and they have their own deal with T-Mobile Deutschland, which treats this little outpost as some kind of consulate or whatever. I’m guessing that’s the reason, but I don’t know. I can only guess. What is clear is that The System is rigged to trap and shake down customers.

So I’m on with my Sprint datacard. It’s not free, but it’s also not T-Mobile. To its credit, Sprint hasn’t screwed me yet. T-Mobile has. It’s not much of a screw. Just $.18 per minute. But that’s $.18 more than I’m already willing to pay.

Let’s see. I’ve been with T-Mobile (and MobileStar before that) since MobileStar first began serving wi-fi to Starbucks customers. I forget what I paid, but let’s say it’s averaged $25/month since November 2001, or seven years. Comes to $2100.

“Life is for sharing”, T-Mobile’s slogan says.

I now plan to share less of my life, and my money, with T-Mobile.

If they want me back — and other customers like me — they’ll have to stop thinking like an old telco and start thinking like the Internet service company they’re going to become anyway.

Quote du jour

Yochai Benkler: Spectrum is not a resource. It is an engineering assumption. True.

This afternoon at 4:30 I’ll be talking (though not alone… it’s a discussion, not a lecture) at the in Cambridge (the new one with and , born in 1630-something; not the older one The topic will be The Intention Economy: What happens when free customers prove more valuable than captive ones.

Are you tired of carrying around “loyalty cards” for retailers who speak to themselves about “acquiring,” “owning” and “controlling” their “relationship” with you? — and do little more than clog your wallet and slow down checkout lines?

Are you tired of login and password hell? In the everyday world you don’t have to become a “member” of a store to shop there, or to click “accept” after not reading “agreements” that are anything but.

Wouldn’t it be cool to rent exactly the car you want (for example, one that seats six and has an AUX input for your iPhone), rather than whatever the rental car agency decides to give you?

If you answer Yes to any of those questions, you should know about VRM, for Vendor Relationship Management. It’s how we manage them at least as well as they manage us.

VRM tools are being developed right now by a community of developers and other volunteers, organized around ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center and led by Doc Searls, the originator of the VRM concept and a fellow at the center.

More here.

That same pitch would also do for the in Amsterdam on Thursday. I’ll be there too. Big thanks to Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald and friends for putting that together, even as Maarten continues to withstand medical insults in the midst.

If you’re interested in music, or in radio — especially if you’re interested in both — listen (or watch) in on Tim Westergren’s talk, going on right now. Tim founded Pandora, and is its Chief Strategist. My notes…

“We want to fix radio. And we want to fix it globally. And do it for musicians as well as listeners.”

What they’re doing is heroic, actually.

Tim just talked about Pandora’s brief experience with a subscription model. They let you listen for awhile and then began to charge — and found out listeners would find workarounds to stay in the free zone. “Systemic dishonesty”, he called it. This makes me think that VRM is systemic honesty.

“There is going to be a flight to quality,” Tim just said. Good line.

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Before:

After:

I just put up a gallery of shots I took as the sun was going down today, and the evacuation barricades were lifted — at least from some of the Tea Fire burn area.

The aerial shot above is from the excellent Live Search Maps. If you want to look around, the top shot is in this view here.

Most of my shots were after the sun went down, so they’re not the best. But they reveal some of what went on at the western edge of the fire perimeter.

Most of the houses north of Sheffield Reservoir (which is now buried beneath a park) were spared. But many along Gibraltar, El Cielito and West Mountain Road (such as the one above, a beautiful house with a view across a pool and Parma Park) were burned. It wrenched my heart to see residents visiting some of these homes. They weren’t all “mansions”, as the out-of-town media called them. Many were not even especially upscale. But most were beautiful, and all were in a beautiful setting. And they were homes. They contained the lives of their residents. Lives that will have to start over in many ways.

We know people who lost homes here. Our hearts go out to them.

One thing that amazed me was how good a job the firefighters did protecting many homes in this area. One official said it would have been reasonable to expect to lose 500 or more homes in a fire like this one.

I head back to the place our kid calls “alt.home” or “shift_home” in Boston tomorrow. Meanwhile I am appreciating every minute I’m here.

Meanwhile, here’s a thankful shout-out to the firefighters who did their best to save what they could. Which happens to be the rest of Santa Barbara.

Bonus pic: Here’s exactly the same area, after the Sycamore Canyon fire in 1977.

[Later...] I’m on a pit stop at the Starbucks Coffee & Reggae Disco in King City, where the music is so loud that people go outside to talk on their cell phones. Just did that myself.

It was weird to hit SCAN on the rental car radio and have it stop at 87.7, where KSBY/Channel 6 in San Luis Obispo was running a live press conference on the Tea Fire from Santa Barbara. I stayed with it until the signal gave out around San Ardo. Meanwhile, here’s what I picked up that matters: Homes were lost on the folowing roads:

  • Coyote Road
  • Coyote Circle
  • East Mountain Drive
  • West Mountain Drive
  • El Cielito
  • Gibraltar Road
  • Las Alturas Road
  • Orizaba Road
  • Orizaba Lane
  • Conejo Road
  • Stanwood Road
  • Sycamore Canyon Road
  • Ealand Place (not sure, but I think so)
  • Mt. Calvary Road (including the Monastery and Retreat Center)
  • Westmont Road/Circle Drive (not clear about this, but I believe so)

They said 210 structures were lost. More than 5000 homes were evacuated across a large area outside the fire perimeter, ours among them.

Only residents with government-issued IDs will be let into the main burn areas: Mountain Road, Conejo, Coyote, a few others.

Okay, hitting the road again. Next stop, SFO. Then BOS and back to work.

[Later...] I’m at SFO now. No time to say more than to look at this map, this City 2.0 summary, and these images and headlines.

Oh, and look at this. It’s the same scene after the 1977 Sycamore Fire. Some home sites have burned three times: In the 1964 Coyote Fire, the Sycamore Fire, and now the Tea Fire.

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Well, the Tea Fire has been upstaged by the Sylmar Fire. (Both links are to LA Times stories. Do LA Times stories still drift behind a paywall after a week? Not sure. If so, I’ll change them to more permanent pages later.) Here’s the latest I’ve heard from KCLU radio…

  • The official toll of burned structures is now 111, although the real number is likely higher than 150.
  • There are still small ground fires to put out along the north side of Mission Ridge Road, and that’s what’s keeping the evacuation roadblocks up.
  • The fire is officially 40% contained.
  • Officials are hoping to lift evacuation notices by the end of the day.

Noozhawk says the number may be as high as 200. Here’s more.

I’m heads-down, finishing a major writing assignment, and won’t be revisiting fire matters until later today. Meanwhile it’s clear that the Tea Fire is in the mopping-up stage, as the life-rebuilding stage has barely begun for hundreds of people here.

A friend just called and said that the barricades are still up, but the cops there also said they expected some areas to be opened within an hour. If you’re in an evacuated area, check with SB County Fire or Montecito Fire.

Other links: fire.ca.gov on Tea Fire, Edhat news, Noozhawk news, SB Independent news, City 2.0 bulletin boardHere are some pictures of the Westmont campus. Amazed it wasn’t much worse.

More later. (Including the pictures I just put up.)

[Later...] Back home. Other parts of town are still barricaded, but ours isn’t. I’m at my desk now, getting to work.

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The fire in Santa Barbara is officially called the Tea Incident, because it started near (or at) a (or the) tea house, on Mountain Road in Montecito. (Here? Ah, no, here.)

There are lots of good places to see what’s happening. One of the best is this Google Map. KEYT, Edhat, the Independent, Noozhawk and others are helpful. Inciweb has nothing so far, perhaps because the Tea Incident is not yet an official wildfire. It’s usually very helpful once it gets rolling on a fire. And the MODIS maps are great. That’s a screenshot of one, above.

It’s also a little too interesting that temperatures will be as high as 90° today (unusually hot for here) with strong winds from the northeast. Which will be bad, if any of the fire is still going. Some of it will be, but it’s clear that this is not a rolling conflagration like the Oakland fire in 1990 or the San Diego fire last year. Watching the Montecito and Santa Barbara fire chiefs and Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum in a press conference right now. The phrases “damage assessment” and “mopping up” are being used. Also “narrow window of opportunity” to contain the fire.

So right now the top thing people want to know is, Which houses have burned down? Can we be exact about what has burned? Saying “over a hundred homes” gives us a quantity of nothing.

If anybody has something exact — streets and neighborhoods, if not addresses — let us know in the comments below. Meanwhile I’ll be headed out shortly to check things out, or at least to sit at a coffee shop and hang out with concerned and/or evacuated neighbors.

[Not much later...] The County Sherrif is on now, and giving specifics. The Mount Calvary Retreat House and Monastery is completely distroyed. (A beautiful place, and a terrible loss.) Areas where many homes burned: Las Canoas, East Mountain Drive, Gibraltar Road, Scofield Park. Mostly inside a triangle between Westmont Collage, the East Riviera and St. Mary’s. (By Rattlesnake Canyon.) Over 100 homes lost, but many also saved.

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Just learned there’s a fire in Santa Barbara. Our house is not in the evacuation area (that’s Cold Springs, and some surrounding sections in Montecito and SB C ), but we’re still concerned. I’m taking public notes, before I head down there. (I’m in the Bay Area.)

I’m listening to from Los Angeles right now. “The main body of this fire is in wilderness, but there are homes below the thick black smoke… 60 mph winds… East of Mountain Drive and Cold Springs Road… the KCAL helicopter is fighting turbulence. Heavy winds.” Now they’re talking to the retired fire chief. He says the winds are high and “downcanyon” toward the ocean. “There are structures involved in this fire.” Now burning Southwest. That’s toward town. Bad.

To watch: Inciweb, MODIS western region fire maps. Also here.

Twitter Search for Santa Barbara.

If you have news sources, or news you want to share, post it in the comments below. Thanks.

[Later...] It’s 3am and I’m in Santa Barbara now, getting ready to crash at some friends’, sitting on a chair out front in the cool smoky moonlit night.

I could see the fire high on the mountain face as I drove into town, but smoke obscured it when I tried to see more from the Mesa, above downtown. The town itself, and the Riviera above it, looked normal from what I could tell, even though I know at least a couple houses within sight had already burned. Beyond that, in Montecito and beyond the back side of the Riviera, 70+ homes gone. Or so reports say.

I listened mostly to KNX on the way down. They became, in effect, a Santa Barbara station. Then, once in range, I lisened to local reports to /91.9 and /990.

I noticed that many stations on Gibraltar Peak were off the air, and learned on KTYD that their sister station KSBL/101.7 had lost its antenna to the fire. That antenna was closest to the woods, and to the source of the fire. Also gone were KQSC/88.7, KSBX/89.5, religious station translators on 89.9 and 91.5, KCLU’s translator on 102.3, and KMGQ/106.3. Still on the air were KDB/93.7 and KTYD/99.9. All those off the air are near brush on the side of the peak facing town. KDB is on the back side of the transmitter building, away from brush. The fact that it’s on the air tells me that the transmitter building survived, but that most antennas outside did not. All but KDB’s were close to the ground. KTYD is farther up the hill, and high on one of KTYD’s three towers.

Hard to imagine fire up that high, and in country so thick with flammable chapparal, not spreading and consuming the whole mountain, especially if the winds are right. But… I dunno. Meanwhile, read while I go to bed.

Terry Heaton calls Keystream‘s SmartAds “the dumbest idea I’ve heard in years”. What’s “smart” about SmartAds is that they appear in “blank” spaces in online videos. Those blue skies over the ocean? The wide green fairway of a golf course? The wall beside your sweetheart’s smile? Slap an ad in there. Same idea as billboards by highways, only worse, because it’s rationalized as a “dramatic improvement in user experience”. Robin Wauters at Techcrunch doesn’t like it either, and says so in Keystream Unveils SmartAd, Wants To Turn Watching Videos Into A Painful Experience.

It’s one thing to come up with a sucky advertising idea, but to fail so spectacularly at PR is two-fer of fatal dimensions.

One quibble with Robin, who writes, Obviously, there is a need to open the advertising spigot when it comes to Web videos, but this is not the way to do it. It’s 2008. Isn’t it time we thought past advertising, toward revenue models based on serving customers, rather than guessing at them?

Advertising even at its best is still guesswork. That’s the “pain point” we should be trying to relieve, and where ideas should show up that VCs can fund. Improving a pain in the ass doesn’t make it a kiss.

These are a few among the many salt ponds that ring the south end of San Francisco Bay. Once considered and agricultural innovation and an economic boom, the practice of “reclaiming” wild wetlands for industrial purposes is now considered ecologically awful by environmentalists, especially here on the West Coast of the U.S., which has precious few wetlands in any case. Many environmentalists have been working to get Cargill to close the ponds and return the Bay to its more natural state. Cargill hasn’t budged. In fact, <a href=”http://www.cargill.com/sf_bay/saltpond_ecosystem.htm”>Cargill has its own views</a> on the matter, plus some interesting facts about the ponds themselves.

It’s worth pointing out that the Bay is actually one of the youngest features on the California landscape, having flooded within only in the last couple thousand years, as sea levels rose. (Global warming has been happening, in fact, since the last ice age.)

I took this shot two days ago on approach to San Francisco on a flight from Boston. Here’s a set of all the photos I’ve taken of salt ponds, both here and in the desert. And here is the whole set of shots I took from coast to coast. Most were at the ends of the flight, since the sky was undercast most of the way.

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Getting past telecom

While unscrewing bad Internet policy probably isn’t top priority for the Administration-in-Waiting, it’s pretty high up there for me, and for quite a few other ‘Net obsessives out there.

In fact, I heard through the grapevine that the Obama transition team was looking for some Big Input to the Internet policy mill, due today.

A couple weeks back I floated FORWARD WITH FIBER: An Infrastructure Investment Plan for the New Administration. It’s a kind of Interstate Highway proposal, audacious in two respcts: 1) it proposes spending a few hundred billion on capacious fiber-based infrastructure that reaches everybody, or close enough; 2) It embraces rather than excludes the carriers that are already in the middle of this thing.

Regardless of what we do, we must liberate the Net (including the carriers) from telecom reguation. It’s too new, too different, and too important to be shackled by the boat-anchors of the 1934 and 1996 telecom acts — and by addenda to those acts, even if they are meant to improve existing law on behalf of the Net.

The Net needs a Declaration of Independence. John Perry Barlow’s (on the day the ’96 act passed) was inspiring in its day (and still rings true), but now we need something on which new policy can be built: policy that respects not only the freedom and openness of the Net, but of the markets that grow on the Net’s infrastructure.

Just stinking out loud

A few minutes ago I got off the phone with a friend headed into a bullshit meeting he didn’t want to attend, where he planned to listen and say as little as possible, because there was, basically, nothing to say. Still, wondering what to say if asked to offer something, I recommended, “I’m just a fly on the wall, abstaining from the shit on the floor.”

(This post began as a response to this comment by Julian Bond, in response to this post about Mad Men. When it got too long I decided to move it here.)

Smoking and drinking were standard back then. “Widespread” doesn’t cover it. They were nearly universal.

It’s easy to forget that Industry won WWII, and that the military-industrial complex crossed the whole society. All young men served in the military, either voluntarily or via the draft. Industry and its companion, Science, ruled. And — to an unhealthy degree — the former drove the latter.

Tobacco was an leading agricultural product, and cigarette manufacture was a leading industry that drove consumption through advertising so thick and ubiquitous — on TV and radio, in magazines, newspapers and on billboards — that for most people the only choice was which brand to smoke.

I remember thinking, as a child, that lighting sticks on fire and breathing the smoke was absurd and unhealthy on its face — and later being the only one of my high school friends who didn’t smoke. But I was weird. Common sense then was pro-smoking.

Drinking and driving was only a little harder to rationalize. I remember statistics that said one in twenty-five drivers at night in the U.S. were drunk.

Industry and Science also together decided, among other things, that –

  • Breast feeding was bad for babies, and “formula” was better. Thank you, Nestle.
  • Children at birth should be taken from their mothers and stored in nurseries.
  • All boys should all be circumcised at birth. So much for the Hippocratic oath: “First, do no harm.”
  • Tonsilitis” was a disease, and every severely sore throat should be treated surgically, involving removal of adenoids from the nose as well.
  • Intestinal infections were likely to be appendicitis, so the appendix had to go too.
  • Education is a manufacturing process, the purpose of which is to fill the empty vessels of childrens’ heads with curricula approved by the State.
  • Childrens’ intelligence — their most unique and human quality — was a fixed quantity (a “quotient”) that could be measured, as if by a dipstick,  with IQ tests, so herds of students  could be sorted into bell curves to better manage their progress through systems that regarded them — with the acquiescence of themselves and their parents — as “products” of their education.

I could go on. For what it’s worth, I have my appendix, but lack tonsils, adenoids, spleen and foreskin, all of which were considered “vestigial” or otherwise bad by the medical fashions at the times of their removal. My known IQ scores have a range of 80 points. If my parents hadn’t believed in me, my low IQ and standardized test scores in the 8th grade would have shunted me to a “vocational-technical” high school to learn wood shop, auto mechanics or some other “trade”. I shall always be grateful for that.

Mad Men is close to home for me in another way: I was long in the advertising business too, though a generation after Mad Men’s time, well after the “creative” revolution of the mid- to late 60s. It was one of the great periods in my life, but I’ve moved on. Similarly, I had a hard time watching the Sopranos, because I grew up in New Jersey, knew people like those, and was not entertained.

I think drugs and self-abuse are rituals of youth rationalized in their time by a sense of exemption from the due invoice we call aging. How long before fewer people are being tatooed than those having tattoos removed? I’m giving it 20 years.

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Dave Barry:

  I miss 1960. Not the part about my face turning overnight into the world’s most productive zit farm. What I miss is the way the grown-ups acted about the Kennedy-Nixon race. Like the McCain-Obama race, that was a big historic deal that aroused strong feelings in the voters. This included my parents and their friends, who were fairly evenly divided, and very passionate. They’d have these major honking arguments at their cocktail parties. But unlike today, when people wear out their upper lips sneering at those who disagree with them, the 1960s grown-ups of my memory, whoever they voted for, continued to respect each other and remain good friends.

  What was their secret? Gin. On any given Saturday night they consumed enough martinis to fuel an assault helicopter. But also they were capable of understanding a concept that we seem to have lost, which is that people who disagree with you politically are not necessarily evil or stupid. My parents and their friends took it for granted that most people were fundamentally decent and wanted the best for the country. So they argued by sincerely (if loudly) trying to persuade each other. They did not argue by calling each other names, which is pointless and childish, and which constitutes I would estimate 97 percent of what passes for political debate today.

  What I’m saying is: we, as a nation, need to drink more martinis.

I agree.

By the way, Dave Barry and I are not merely of the same generation; we were born about 20 miles apart in July 1947, were raised as Presbyterians, went to suburban New York high schools, went to Quaker colleges, registered as conscientious objectors with our draft boards, and became journalists.

By now I’ll bet I’ve heard about 40 hours of my kid reading Dave Barry out loud from the back seat of our car. Beats reading out loud from this blog, no?

Infinite play

Video Is Dominating Internet Traffic, Pushing Prices Up says the headline of a piece by Saul Hansell in the New York Times. Its first three subheads say, File sharing has been usurped by legitimate video services, The very heaviest users drive up network costs and Unlimited data plans may have a limited life.

This is the wrong framing, by the wrong mentality. We’re not far from the day when most of us are “heavy users”, and when voice telephony (which has a relatively low data rate) is just one among countless data applications. It’s already that on laptops and many handheld devices (including mobiles using the likes of Fring).

In time the bulk of radio and television listening and viewing will move from analog to digital, and from broadcast bands to broadband. Some will be live, some will be stored and forwarded. Much will be mashed. Upstream needs will match downstream needs, especially for the millions who now producing as well as consuming video. Some top-down few-to-many asymmetries will persist, but many more any-to-any uses will arise, requiring symmetrical connectivity.

There are services besides raw bandwidth that can help with this — services that assist in mash-ups, that work with customers’ social graphs, that provide actual professional services (instead of higher-priced tiers that do nothing more than punish customers for saying they’re a business … a shakedown racket that should have died along with Ma Bell). There should emerge services that answer to customer-driven choices and preferences, that help demand drive supply, that support service needs in marketplaces opened by easy connectivity and fat capacity.

Carriers need to recognize that in the long run they are privileged to be in the Internet business, rather than cursed by something that undermines their old business models. They need to break out of their “triple-play” mentality and realize that on the Net there are an infinite number of “plays’, especially if those aren’t excluded by connections optimized for television or telephony, or subordinated to those other purposes.

Three things need to happen here.

  1. First, the carriers need to realize that they are Internet companies first, and phone or cable companies second — or will be, soon enough
  2. The carriers need to welcome and partner with independent Net-savvy developers who can help them think outside their own boxes, yet make the most of their privileged positions. We’ve all known there are benefits to incumbency besides charging rents. Now it’s time to find those and start making hay. (Oh, and lining up with Hollywood for lots of subscription distro deals is neither creative nor interesting.)
  3. The Net needs to be moved outside the framework of telecom regulation, to be freed from what Bob Frankston calls The Regulatorium. The Net was unimaginable to the 1934 Telecom act, and barely grokked by the 1996 update of that act. Questions about whether the Net is an “information service” or a “telecommunication service” are wacky, retro and not helpful, unless it’s to liberate it from the telecom trap.

But they shouldn’t wait for #3.

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Yes in deed

Phil Windley: no battle plan survives contact with the enemy & no campaign survives contact with governing

Good point. In the next two months the Obama transition team needs to separate the campaign chaff from the governance wheat, the pandering from the policy. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes.

Speaking Truth to Palaver

The Onion: Nation Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social Progress. An excerpt:

  Although polls going into the final weeks of October showed Sen. Obama in the lead, it remained unclear whether the failing economy, dilapidated housing market, crumbling national infrastructure, health care crisis, energy crisis, and five-year-long disastrous war in Iraq had made the nation crappy enough to rise above 300 years of racial prejudice and make lasting change…

  Carrying a majority of the popular vote, Obama did especially well among women and young voters, who polls showed were particularly sensitive to the current climate of everything being fucked. Another contributing factor to Obama’s victory, political experts said, may have been the growing number of Americans who, faced with the complete collapse of their country, were at last able to abandon their preconceptions and cast their vote for a progressive African-American.

Quite the contrast from last January, when the Onion reported that bullshit would be the most important issue in the election. How time fries.

It finally occurs to me to turn on the TV. I’ve been listening to NPR and CNN on the laptop, with the htoel room’s flat screen blank in the corner. BBC Channel 3 is following the man we call #barackobama to the stage in Chicago.

Now Obama is speaking. We are and always will be the United States of America. With nature waving the flag behind him. Hard to blog what follows. Too choked up.

An amazing speech, as excellent as he has led us to expect. And to keep expecting.

Not a call to unite, or a command. Just an assertion spoken on coins in our pockets. e pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

0400GMT, 4am London time, seconds after the polls close on the West Coast and Hawaii (and not a vote yet reported from any of those reliably blue states) CNN calls Barack Obama the winner. On the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the NAACP, four months past the 232nd birthday of a country whose first fifteen presidents could have owned slaves, forty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, an African American is being elected President of the United States.

George Will, conservative columnist and historian from Chicago, just quoted King (I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land…) in a warm and humble voice.

His quote is from King’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech. It’s about history:

I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” — I would take my mental flight by Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there. I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality.

But I wouldn’t stop there. I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and esthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would even go by the way that the man for whom I’m named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg.

But I wouldn’t stop there. I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating president by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

But I wouldn’t stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.” Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a away that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — “We want to be free.”

And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we’re going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.

That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that He’s allowed me to be in Memphis.

I can remember, I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.

And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.

Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the salves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.

After silencing the boos, John McCain gives a concesson speech for the ages. In the end McCain — a man who has given more for his country than any presidential candidate in history — expresses the kind of grace that is the true source of honor: kindness, generosity, modesty, self-sacrifice. Country First, indeed.

He talks about promise. About how Americans never quit. He places a bookend to the history that has passed since King’s speech, given in Memphis the day before being shot dead there. King’s last paragraph begins,

… I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.

And here we are.

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I hate to sleep through history, but that’s the plan. I’m sitting here in a hotel in London at 10:20pm GMT with a connection too slow for video and barely fast enough for audio. Meaningful results won’t be coming in here until about 3am, which is when I’ll get up and try not to listen too closely while I get some overdue work done. Then at 6am I’ll join some locals and ex-pats at a pub nearby to celebrate the Obama victory.

I’m expecting by that time the U.S. media will be calling it a landslide, and then exercizing all the superlatives that come with such an unprecedented candidate, campaign, movement and promise.

And they’ll be right.

Look at the size of the crowds, the length of the lines. No ‘fence to John McCain, but he’s not making that happen. This is Something Else. This is the movie that’s real. This is the moment. The turning point.

Enjoy.

And see ya ’round the bend.

They oughta know

Fox News:

A recently released report by the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion contains a chapter entitled “Potential for Terrorist Use of Twitter,” which expresses concern over the increasing use of Twitter by political and religious groups, the AFP reported.

“Twitter has also become a social activism tool for socialists, human rights groups, communists, vegetarians, anarchists, religious communities, atheists, political enthusiasts, hacktivists and others to communicate with each other and to send messages to broader audiences,” according to the report.

“Twitter is already used by some members to post and/or support extremist ideologies and perspectives,” the Army report said.

Here’s Fox’s Tweet feed.

Hat tip to Tom Watson.

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Twthbbbbt!

This…

… is getting tiresome.

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Curseriver

Thanks to for pointing to . Go there and watch the @#$% tweets flow.

Infinite play

If you get your Internet from a cable company, or from a phone company that connects you to the world through fiber, you’ll find your Net service is the third act in what they call “triple play“: phone, cable TV and Internet. Nothing wrong with triple play. Just something limited. Triple play reduces the biggest part of the carriers’ future — the Net, to just another service. It puts blinders on imagination. There’s no limit to the number of “plays” the Net makes possible, especially for companies that already own beachfront property on the future.

So that’s what’s on the docket at Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm in London on Tuesday and Wednesday. I’ll be there (as well as elsewhere, doing other things, including overdue work). But I got a head start by posting Getting Past Telco 1.0, at Linux Journal. Check it out,

One reason I got the iPhone was that it’s GSM. Meaning it should work outside the U.S. I also thought I had a plan with AT&T that allowed that. Well, now I’m in Europe and my iPhone just says “Searching…”. Did it in Frankfurt, and does it in London.

Anybody have any clues for a fix on this?

[Later...] Fixed. See comments below, and thanks to everybody.

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I got to use my minimal Deutsch this morning: “Der Bahnhof ist Kaput.” The train is broken.

The only way to get from Terminal A to Terminal B was to go through security twice and passport control once. Then began the hunt for Gate 62, from which my connecting plane to London will depart, presumably. My ticket says that. The departure listings do not. They just say “B”. Gate 62 is identified by a hand-drawn sign. One needs to go through passport control to get to it. Right now it’s closed. Along the way I followed directions to “go downstairs” on an escalator. There were two. Neither were well-marked. I took the one on the right and realized halfway down that it went to the street. So I ran up the moving stairs, got to the top and took the other one.

That’s on top of a flight in a cramped seat in an overheated Lufthansa 747. Am I wrong or are Lufthansa’s steerage seats extra narrow? For what little it’s worth, the “entertainment” system was broken too.

Food wasn’t bad, though. Service, good. Inside the plane, anyway.

Oh, my iPhone says “Searching…” So much for a GSM phone working in Europe. Guess I needed to clear something with AT&T first. Not sure how to do that from here. Or London.

And I’m paying 18¢/minute to “roam” on the t-Mobile system to which I pay $29.99/month already. Nice.

Anyway, cheers.

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Hitting the road for a long road trip, with just a brief visit back home in Boston next Friday. I’ll be hitting…

See some of ya’ll in some of those places…