June 2009

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Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people. — Eleanor Roosevelt Somebody

I wish to discuss an idea here. It’s an idea about celebrity, and it follows an event that has become a black hole in nearly all media: the death of Michael Jackson.

According to Don Norman, a black hole topic is one that is essentially undiscussable: “Drop the subject into the middle of a room and it sucks everybody into a useless place from which no light can escape.”

Michael Jackson was more than a celebrity. He was a first-rank contributor to pop music and pop culture. He was also far more weird than anybody else at the same rank, changing his face so radically that he no longer appeared to belong to his original race and gender. This fact alone made his death at 50 unsurprising yet very interesting.

Most of us can’t help falling into conversational black holes. But we can help getting sucked into celebrity obsession.

Unless, of course, we’re making money at it. This is the path down which People Magazine went when it morphed from a spun-off section of Time Magazine into a tabloid. More recently Huffington Post has done the same thing. But that’s the supply side. What about demand?

I submit that obsessing about celebrity is unhealthy for the single reason that it is also unproductive. Celebrity is to mentality as smoking is to food. (I originally wrote “chewing gum” there, but I think smoking is the better analogy.) It is an unhealthy waste of time. And time is a measure of life. We are born with an unknown sum of time, and have to spend all of it. “Saving” time is a rhetorical trick. So is “losing” it. Our lives are spent, one end to the other. What matters most is how we choose to spend it.

The Net maximizes the endlessness of choice about how we spend our time. It also maximizes many kinds of productiveness. Nearly all the code we are using, right now, to do stuff on the Net, was written by many collaborators across many distances. Some were obsessing about what they were producing. Others were just working away. Either way, they chose to be productive. To contribute. To work on what works.

The Net itself is an idea so protean and varied that there is little agreement about what it actually is. Yet it is endlessly improvable, as are the goods and services it supports.

This improvable millieu presents us with choices that become more stark as the millieu itself grows. We can make useful contributions — preferably in ways nobody else can. Or we can coast.

Obsessing about celebrity is a form of coasting. And I suggest that we’ll see a growing distance between coasting and producing.

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Major props to Cox for cranking up my speeds to 18Mb/s downstream and 4Mb/s upstream. That totally rocks.

I’m getting that speed now. Here’s what Cox’s local diagnostic tool says:

TCP/Web100 Network Diagnostic Tool v5.4.12
click START to begin
Connected to: speedtest.sbcox.net  –  Using IPv4 address
Checking for Middleboxes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Done
checking for firewalls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Done
running 10s outbound test (client-to-server [C2S]) . . . . . 3.79Mb/s
running 10s inbound test (server-to-client [S2C]) . . . . . . 18.04Mb/s
The slowest link in the end-to-end path is a 10 Mbps Ethernet subnet
Information: Other network traffic is congesting the link

That won’t last. The connection will degrade again, or go down completely. Here we go:

Connected to: speedtest.sbcox.net  –  Using IPv4 address
Checking for Middleboxes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Done
checking for firewalls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Done
running 10s outbound test (client-to-server [C2S]) . . . . . 738.0kb/s
running 10s inbound test (server-to-client [S2C]) . . . . . . 15.09Mb/s
Your Workstation is connected to a Cable/DSL modem
Information: Other network traffic is congesting the link
[C2S]: Packet queuing detected

Here’s a ping test to Google.com:

PING google.com ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=246 time=368.432 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=246 time=77.353 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=247 time=323.272 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=3 ttl=246 time=343.178 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=4 ttl=247 time=366.341 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=5 ttl=246 time=385.083 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=6 ttl=246 time=406.209 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=7 ttl=246 time=434.731 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=8 ttl=246 time=444.653 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=9 ttl=247 time=474.976 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=10 ttl=247 time=472.244 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=11 ttl=246 time=488.023 ms

No packet loss on that one. Not so on the next, to UCSB, which is so close I can see it from here:

PING ucsb.edu ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=52 time=407.920 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=52 time=427.506 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=52 time=441.176 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=3 ttl=52 time=456.073 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=4 ttl=52 time=237.366 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=5 ttl=52 time=262.868 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=6 ttl=52 time=287.270 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=7 ttl=52 time=307.931 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=8 ttl=52 time=327.951 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=9 ttl=52 time=352.974 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=10 ttl=52 time=376.636 ms
ç64 bytes from icmp_seq=11 ttl=52 time=395.893 ms
— ucsb.edu ping statistics —
13 packets transmitted, 12 packets received, 7% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 237.366/356.797/456.073/69.322 ms

That’s low to UCSB, by the way. I just checked again, and got 9% and 25% packet loss. At one point (when the guy was here this afternoon), it hit 57%.

Here’s a traceroute to UCSB:

traceroute to ucsb.edu (, 64 hops max, 40 byte packets
1 (  0.687 ms  0.282 ms  0.250 ms
2  ip68-6-40-1.sb.sd.cox.net (  349.599 ms  379.786 ms  387.580 ms
3 (  387.466 ms  400.991 ms  404.500 ms
4 (  415.578 ms  153.695 ms  9.473 ms
5  paltbbrj01-ge600.0.r2.pt.cox.net (  16.965 ms  18.286 ms  15.639 ms
6  te4-1–4032.tr01-lsanca01.transitrail.ne… (  19.936 ms  24.520 ms  20.952 ms
7  calren46-cust.lsanca01.transitrail.net (  26.700 ms  24.166 ms  30.651 ms
8  dc-lax-core2–lax-peer1-ge.cenic.net (  44.268 ms  98.114 ms  200.339 ms
9  dc-lax-agg2–lax-core2-ge.cenic.net (  254.442 ms  277.958 ms  273.309 ms
10  dc-ucsb–dc-lax-dc2.cenic.net (  281.735 ms  313.441 ms  306.825 ms
11  r2–r1–1.commserv.ucsb.edu (  315.500 ms  327.080 ms  344.177 ms
12 (  346.396 ms  367.244 ms  357.468 ms
13  * * *

As for modem function, I see this for upstream:

Cable Modem Upstream
Upstream Lock : Locked
Upstream Channel ID : 11
Upstream Frequency : 23600000 Hz
Upstream Modulation : QAM16
Upstream Symbol Rate : 2560 Ksym/sec
Upstream transmit Power Level : 38.5 dBmV
Upstream Mini-Slot Size : 2

… and this for downstream:

Cable Modem Downstream
Downstream Lock : Locked
Downstream Channel Id : 1
Downstream Frequency : 651000000 Hz
Downstream Modulation : QAM256
Downstream Symbol Rate : 5360.537 Ksym/sec
Downstream Interleave Depth : taps32Increment4
Downstream Receive Power Level : 5.4 dBmV
Downstream SNR : 38.7 dB

The symptoms are what they were when I first blogged the problem on June 21, and again when I posted a follow-up on June 24. That was when the Cox service guy tightened everything up and all seemed well … until he left. When I called to report the problem not solved Cox said they would send a “senior technician” on Friday. A guy came today. The problems were exactly as we see above. He said he would have to come back with a “senior technician” (or whatever they call them — I might be a bit off on the title), which this dude clearly wasn’t. He wanted the two of them to come a week from next Wednesday. We’re gone next week anyway, but I got him to commit to a week from Monday. That’s July 6, in the morning. The problem has been with us at least since the 18th, when I arrived here from Boston.

This evening we got a call from a Cox survey robot, following up on the failed service visit this afternoon. My wife took the call. After she indicated our dissatisfaction with the visit (by pressing the appropriate numbers in answer to a series of questions), the robot said we should hold to talk to a human. Then it wanted our ten-digit Cox account number. My wife didn’t know it, so the robot said the call couldn’t be completed. And that was that.

I doubt another visit from anybody will solve the problem, because I don’t think the problem is here. I think it’s in Cox’s system. I think that’s what the traceroute shows.

But I don’t know.

I do know that this is inexcusably bad customer service.

For Cox, in case they’re reading this…

  • I am connected directly to the cable modem. No routers, firewalls or other things between my laptop and the modem.
  • I have rebooted the modem about a hundred times. I have re-started my computers. In fact I have tested the link with three different laptops. Same results. Re-booting sometimes helps, sometimes not.
  • Please quit trying to fix this only at my end of the network. The network includes far more than me and my cable modem.
  • Please make it easier to reach technically knowledgeable human beings.
  • Make your chat system useful. At one point the chat person gave me Linksys’ number to call.
  • Thanks for your time and attention.

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This twitter post, from @KNX1070 four minutes ago, says Michael Jackson is dead. Google News‘ latest, from Fox, says he’s being rushed to the hospital. Here’s the latest Google search, as of 3:42pm Pacific:


A snapshot in time, already changed. (FWIW, the KNX item came up the first time I searched, but not this time. The System That Isn’t, isn’t perfect.) The Twitter results up top are courtesy of a Greasemonkey script.

It is here that we see manifest the split between the Live Web and the Static Web.

I’ve been writing and talking about this split since my son Allen first mentioned the term in 2003.* He saw the World Live Web then as an absence, as unstarted business. Google searched the Static Web of sites and domains that were architected, designed and built like real estate projects. The Live Web would be more alive and human. In it machines wouldn’t answer your questions now. People would.

Now the Live Web is here, big-time. Or, as current parlance would have it, real-time.

I still prefer “live”. Can you imagine if NBC had called its top weekend show “Saturday Night Real-Time”? Or if they announced, “Real time, from New York..”?

Live is better.

If Michael Jackson were still with us, I’m sure he’d agree.

* Here’s the same link: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q… . I’m not sure why, but WordPress isn’t letting me get that link in there. I post the html, find no links in the results, and then when editing find the linked term flanked by partial the letter “a” in angle brackets, sans the slash that closes a link. Not sure what’s up with that. Maybe my tortuously broken connection. Anyway, I have more to add, but won’t bother. Plenty of other reading on the Web anyway. Rock on.

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The idea was to take some down time in Santa Barbara and get work done in my own nice office, with my nice comfortable chair, surrounded by space and time, with soft sea breezes blowing through.

Instead it’s been tech crash city since I got here last Thursday. (Except for getting out to the Live Oak Festival. That rocked. Also, trees, dirt and great music tend not to crash.)

First a system upgrade hosed a beloved old mail program. So far I can’t get the archives to migrate anywhere. I can still get email addressed to my searls.com and Gmail accounts, but not to my Harvard.edu account. I can send from Gmail. But balls are being dropped and lost all over the place.

Next my Internet connection through Cox got flaky. Mostly it’s bad. Details in my last post. A Cox repair guy finally came today. And, as Russ predicted, tightened everything up, tested it out, and all was fine. Dig this: I didn’t know that service had improved to 18Mb/s downstream and close to 4Mb/s upstream. It was right up there when he left, along with two-digit ping times to everything.

That was then. Soon as he left, we were back to bad. We’re at 3-digit ping times and packet losses. One other discovery: my 8-port Netgear Firewall/Router/Hub/Switch (I forget the name, which cannot be remembered — it demonstrates the opposite of branding) has Issues too. It introduces latencies and packet losses of its own when it’s in the loop. It’s out right now, not that it makes any difference. I’m back using my Sprint data card.

When I called Cox to get them to come back and finish the job, they said they’d send a senior tech on Friday afternoon. That’s two days from now. Then, in the middle of a tech support call with Apple, a Cox robot made an automated survey call. I couldn’t talk and hung up on it.

If you want to reach me, text or call. Or use a Twitter DM. Meanwhile, I’m going to take a shower and go for a long walk. Or vice versa.

Hope everybody’s enjoying Reboot. I really miss being there.

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Starting a few days ago, nothing outside my house on the Net has been closer than about 300 miliseconds. Even UCSB.edu, which I can see from here, is usually no more than 30 ms away on a ping test. Here’s the latest:

PING ucsb.edu ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=52 time=357.023 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=52 time=369.475 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=52 time=389.372 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=3 ttl=52 time=414.025 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=4 ttl=52 time=428.384 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=5 ttl=52 time=28.120 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=6 ttl=52 time=164.643 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=7 ttl=52 time=292.241 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=8 ttl=52 time=332.866 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=9 ttl=52 time=330.573 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=10 ttl=52 time=369.385 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=11 ttl=52 time=375.593 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=12 ttl=52 time=405.028 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=13 ttl=52 time=413.990 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=14 ttl=52 time=437.124 ms

It’s been this way for days. I can’t get a human at Cox, our carrier, so I thought I’d ask the tech folks among ya’ll for a little diagnostic help.

Here is a traceroute:

traceroute to ucsb.edu (, 64 hops max, 40 byte packets
1  ip68-6-68-81.sb.sd.cox.net (  5.828 ms  3.061 ms  2.840 ms
2  ip68-6-68-1.sb.sd.cox.net (  324.824 ms  352.686 ms  358.682 ms
3 (  359.635 ms  369.743 ms  372.376 ms
4 (  386.039 ms  389.809 ms  415.532 ms
5  paltbbrj01-ge600.0.r2.pt.cox.net (  430.554 ms  447.079 ms  423.461 ms
6  te4-1–4032.tr01-lsanca01.transitrail.ne… (  464.229 ms  453.908 ms  423.090 ms
7  calren46-cust.lsanca01.transitrail.net (  206.217 ms  251.298 ms  261.263 ms
8  dc-lax-core1–lax-peer1-ge.cenic.net (  264.824 ms  284.859 ms  285.808 ms
9  dc-lax-agg2–lax-core1-ge.cenic.net (  289.834 ms  307.450 ms  313.997 ms
10  dc-ucsb–dc-lax-dc2.cenic.net (  323.183 ms  331.668 ms  345.606 ms
11  r2–r1–1.commserv.ucsb.edu (  340.756 ms  377.695 ms  375.946 ms
12 (  365.500 ms  397.311 ms  393.919 ms

Looks to me like the problem shows up at the second hop. Any guesses as to what that is? Yes, I’ve rebooted the cable modem, many times. No difference.

I’m talking now over my Sprint data card. EVDO over the cell system. Latencies run around 70-90 ms. So the problem is clearly one with Cox, methinks.

I’m only home from the Live Oak Festival for a shower, so I’ll leaving again in a few minutes and won’t get around to dealing with this (or anything) until tomorrow. Just wanted to get the question out there to the LazyWeb in the meantime. If the problem really is Cox’s, I’d like to know what to tell them when I go down to their office. No use calling on the phone. Too many robots.

Happy solstice, everybody. And thanks!

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For reasons I don’t have time to trouble-shoot, there is too much latency between my house and Cox, my Internet provider here in Santa Barbara.

On top of that, re-setting my SMTP (outbound email) to smtp.west.cox.net, which has always worked in the past, doesn’t work this time. So mail isn’t going out. I don’t have time to trouble-shoot that either, because I’m already late for the Live Oak Festival, where we already have a tent set up. I’m just back at the house picking up some stuff.

See ya’ll Monday.

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Hard to tell from the looks of these, but they’re columns in front of the Park Plaza Hotel in London. The rest of my London shots from last week are here.

Apple has the best taste in the world. It also has the tightest sphincter. This isn’t much of a problem as long as they keep it in their pants, for example by scaring employees away from saying anything about anything that has even the slightest chance of bringing down the Wrath of Steve or his factota. (How many bloggers does Apple have?)  But they drop trow every time they squeeze down—you know, like China—on an iPhone application they think might be “objectionable”.

I see by Jack Schofield that they’ve done it again, but this time they pissed off (or on) the wrong candidate: an app (from Exact Magic) that flows RSS feeds form the EFF. Sez Corynne McSherry in an EFF post, “… this morning Apple rejected the app. Why? Because it claims EFF’s content runs afoul of the iTune’s App Store’s policy against ‘objectionable’ content. Apparently, Apple objects to a blog post that linked to a ‘Downfall‘ parody video created by EFF Board Chairman Brad Templeton.”

Brad’s a funny guy. (He created rec.humor.funny back in the Net’s precambrian age.) He has also forgotten more about the Internet than most of us will ever learn. Check out The Internet: What is it really for? It was accurate and prophetic out the wazoo. Brad wrote it 1994, while Apple was busy failing to ape AOL with a walled garden called eWorld.

Apple’s App Store is an eWorld that succeeded. A nice big walled garden. Problem is, censorship isn’t good gardening. It is, says Corynne, “not just anti-competitive, discriminatory, censorial, and arbitrary, but downright absurd.” Or, as my very tasteful wife puts it, unattractive.

Also kinda prickly, if you pick on a porcupine like the EFF. Hence, to contine with Corynne’s post,

iPhone owners who don’t want Apple playing the role of language police for their software should have the freedom to go elsewhere. This is precisely why EFF has asked the Copyright Office to grant an exemption to the DMCA for jailbreaking iPhones. It’s none of Apple’s business if I want an app on my phone that lets me read EFF’s RSS feed, use Sling Player over 3G, or read the Kama Sutra.

Not surprisingly this followed, on the same post:

UPDATE: Apparently, Apple has changed its mind and has now approved the EFF Updates app. This despite the fact that the very same material is still linked in various EFF posts (including this one!). Just one more example of the arbitrary nature of Apple’s app approval process.

There’s a limit to how long (much less well, or poorly) Apple can keep sphinctering App Store choices. I’m betting it’ll stop when the iPhone gets serious competition from equally appealing phones that can run applications that come from anywhere, rather than just from some controlling BigCo’s walled garden.

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I think this may be the first time I’m listed first on anything alphabetical. The S in my surname usually puts me near the back of the aphabetical bus; but with Weinberger and Zittrain’s help, I’m listed first. Cool. I also love the early-60s design and typeface.

That title “So How’s Utopia Working Out For Ya?” was my joke response to David Weinberger’s musing out loud about titles. But, like the Cluetrain name, it quickly seemed right and stuck. Felicitous joking aside (but not out of reach), the topic is also a serious one.

Anyway, the event above, subject of posters tacked and taped around the neighborhood by now (or so I assume, having been out of town the last week) has more than 180 people signed up for it so far.

If you can’t be there and want to attend and participate anyway, you can witness the webcast, jump on the IRC (#berkman), tweet amongst yourselves (#cluetrain) or do whatever works best for ya’ll. See ya Tuesday evening.

Bonus logroll: JP Rangaswami (who contributes a chapter to the new Cluetrain edition) on Hugh McCloud‘s new book Ignore Everybody, which is outstanding. Really. I’m not kidding. Great stuff.

I fly United Airlines with a frequency sufficient to earn me 1K status. That stands for more than 100,000 miles per year. I’ve had that status for at least the last three years, and was an Premier Exeutive (next status down) for years before that. United belongs to the Star Alliance, which includes a bunch of other airlines, including Swiss, the airline I am flying today.

So here’s what skeeves me. I can’t pick a seat on Swiss, no matter how far ahead of the flight I book. It’s just not available to non-Swiss flyers. As a non-Swiss flyer (as I understand it, and by now I have spoken to half a dozen or more people), I have to get whatever seat I can at the gate.

Now, I realize that sitting in a chair at 35000 feet and zooming through the sky is a recent and still rare privilege, so maybe I shouldn’t complain. But what’s the point of having flying privileges, and an “alliance,” if there are no privileges for “partner” airlines other than supplying them bodies to fill the seats?

One plus: they have a nice lounge here at Heathrow. See ya in Zurich. Then Boston.

Check out two very provocative Baltimore Weather Examiner pieces by : Air France 447 electrical problems and the South Atlantic Anomaly and Air France 447 mystery, LOST, and The Bermuda Triangle. The latter is not as goofy as its headline suggests. Tony is a degreed meteorologist and his unpacking of weather arcana, especially in his short slide shows, provokes much thought. Some of the visuals also give me added respect for the pilots, advanced avionics and careful air traffic control in regions where thunderstorms are a daily occurrence — such as in South Florida, where plenty of planes take off and land constantly. Flying there requires navigating around dangerous hazards that can grow and move at explosive speeds. Anyway, check it out.

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wasn’t the biggest nonfiction book to come along in early 2000. That would be . I never read that, but I did read what was probably the second-biggest: ‘s . Like Cheese, Tipping is about change. Unpacking one chapter in the book, Malcolm writes, “I think that word of mouth is something created by three very rare and special psychological types, whom I call Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.” It was no accident that at least three of Cluetrain’s four authors combined all three of those types. I also think that those characteristics are not so rare among effective folks in the tech world. Many come to mind: Kevin Kelly, Stuart Brand, Dave Winer, Chris Anderson, Jerry Michalski, Esther Dyson, Tim O’Reilly, Steve Gillmor, Kevins Marks and Werbach, Craig Burton, Clay Shirky, Bruce Sterling… the list, as I think  about it, is quite long. You can drive word of mouth with fewer than all three of those natures, of course. And success in an industry depends on people who are good at many other things. It’s just interesting to me that there are so many in the tech world who are good at those three — and are so confident that they can get things moving.

All this comes to mind when I read ‘s post. It tells the story of how his own life tipped a series of times: when he connected (at some effort) with Chris Locke after Cluetrain came out, when he connected with and the Blogger folks (that’s the same Ev now behind Twitter), when I connected him with Andre Durand of Ping Identity (where Eric was the first employee), and when he helped start , which led to : Eric’s own conference (he does too).

In his post Eric thanks us. And here I’ll thank Eric too, for connecting me to more people, and good stuff, than I can begin to list.

With the 10th anniversary edition of  Cluetrain coming out, I thought I’d try to keep up with postings that mention “Cluetrain” — through four five Live Web* search engines: BlogPulse, Google BlogSearch, Technorati, FreindFeed Search and Twitter Search. I’ve got all four feeding into an aggregator.

As of 3:33pm EDST, BlogPulse finds 20 posts so far in the month of June. Google Blogsearch finds 22. Technorati is currently down.  Twitter Search finds 28 in the last day (I didn’t go back any farther there.) Not sure I want to make this a more formal research effort. I just thought it was worth vetting a bit about how I’m following stuff.

[Later...] Thanks to Chris Heath for suggesting I add FriendFeed Search. There I just gave up counting at 50 postings.

* I much prefer “live” to “real time”, mostly because my son Allen came up with the “Live Web” line way back in 2003, and correctly observed that the Web of sites was essentially a static one, and that the World Live Web would branch off of it. The language alone is a give-away. The Static Web is full of real estate language: sites, domains and locations that you architect, design and build. While the Live Web is one with feeds where you write, post, update, syndicate and now also tweet and re-tweet. To me the differences between static and live are much clearer than those between ______ (find a word) and real time.

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cluetraincoverTen years ago The Cluetrain Manifesto was a website that had been up for a couple of months — long enough to create a stir and get its four authors a book deal. By early June we had begun work on the book, which would wrap in August and come out in January. So at the moment we’re past the website’s anniversary and shy of the book’s.

cover187-cluetrain-10th-0465018653That’s close enough for 10th Anniversary Edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto, which will hit the streets this month. The new book, which arrived at my house yesterday, is the same as the original (we didn’t change a word). but with the addition of a new introduction by David Weinberger, four new chapters by each of the four authors (Chris Locke and Rick Levine, in addition to Dr. Weinberger and myself), and one each by Dan Gillmor, Jake McKee and JP Rangaswami.

A lot has happened in the last decade. A lot hasn’t happened too. To reflect on both, the Berkman Center will host a conversation called Cluetrain at 10: So How’s Utopia Working Out for Ya? at Harvard Law School.

David Weinberger and I will be joined by Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard Law professor and author of The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It. “JZ” was a student at HLS when he co-founded the Berkman Center eleven years ago. David and I are both fellows at the center as well. The three of us will talk for a bit and then the rest of it will be open to the floor, both in the room and out on the IRC (and other backchannels), since the conversation will be webcast as well. It starts at 6:00 pm East Coast time.

Meet/meat space is the Austin East Classroom of Austin Hall at Harvard Law School. It’s free and open to everybody. Since it’s a classroom and expected to fill up, an RSVP is requested. To do that, go here.

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They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Gordon Lightfoot, from “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”

A storm on Lake Superior drowned the Edmund Fitzgerald. From the way it looks now, a storm over the Atlantic destroyed Air France Flight 447 earlier this week.

A book and a movie nailed the “perfect storm” meme in our heads, and I suppose the label might apply here. Flight 447 was crossing through a region known to weather professionals as the intertropical convergence zone. Storms rise quickly there, and concentrate in a band that runs around the Earth like a broad equator of roiling clouds. While lines of thunderstorms familiar to those of us in temperate zones can run for hundreds of miles along a weather front, these intertropical mothers are different in several senses, not the least of which is that it’s harder to avoid getting tossed around while weaving through them in an airplane — especially in the middle of the night over the middle of an ocean. This is due partly to the widespread and rapid-forming nature of the storms themselves, and partly to the absence of navigation guidance from the ground.

There isn’t any ground underneath. The nearest radar is far beyond the horizon. And, in some cases, such as Flight 447′s, guidance from the air is also lacking. According to that first link (a Bloomberg piece by John Hughes), less than one flight per hour takes the route flown by Flight 447, which was last heard from at 2:14am, local time, over the Atlantic appoximately midway between South America and Africa.

That also puts it over the broad Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a mountain range that runs like a baseball seam between tectonic plates. It’s mountainous down there. Go to 3° 34′ 39.72″ N, 30° 22′ 27.84″ W (3.5777, -30.3744) on Google Earth, drop about 12,500 feet below the surface, and you would see approximately this –


– if it were not also the blacker than the darkest night down there. Good luck finding the flight data and voice recorders. Or anything else that doesn’t float.

My guess is that our best guesses will narrow to some combination of known facts. Chief among these is that the plane was passing through a region of big thunderstorms that had also shown up quickly. I’m guessing that the pilots did their best to avoid the worst of what they could see with their instruments, and failed. Here is a summary of final messages from the plane.

Whether the plane broke up at altitude (we know it depressurized) or went out of control and crashed intact, the terminal moments of the flight must have been frightening beyond description for those on board.

I’m a frequent flyer who loves aviation. I’ve flown enough to be jaded and calm. But thunderstorms still creep me out. One pilot friend told me a few days ago that the last thing you want to do is go through a “hole” between two thunderheads, because turbulence there can be even worse than inside the clouds themselves. When you see thunderheads building, the expansion itself is a kind of wind, and so is what happens to the air pushed aside as the head builds its visible parts.

One wonders if any decisions will be made, based on what we learn from the crash of Flight 447. Will similar Airbus planes be given a new caution? An upgrade to avionics or reporting methods? A new procedural guide for times when scary storms suddenly materialize? Dunno yet. We’ll see.
I’ll be flying back and forth to London next week. I’m looking forward to the flight as well as the work — as I always do. But, like many travelers, I’ll not be quite as calm about the weather.

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When we went looking for an apartment here a couple years ago, we had two primary considerations in addition to the usual ones: walking distance from a Red Line subway stop, and fiber-based Internet access. The latter is easy to spot if you know what to look for, starting with too many wires on the poles. After that you look for large loops among the wires. That means the wiring contains glass, which breaks if the loops are too small. The apartment we chose has other charms, but for me the best one is a choice between three high speed Internet services: Comcast, Verizon FiOS and RCN. Although Comcast comes via coaxial cable, it’s a HFC (hybrid fiber-coax) system, and competes fairly well against fiber all the way to the home. That’s what Verizon FiOS and RCN provide.


We chose Verizon FiOS, which gives us 20Mb symmetrical service for about $60/month. The 25 feet between the Optical Network Terminal box and my router is ironically provided by old Comcast cable TV co-ax. (Hey, if Comcast wants my business, they can beat Verizon’s offering.)

My point is that we live where we do because there is competition among Internet service providers. While I think competition could be a lot better than it is, each of those three companies still offer far more than what you’ll find pretty much everywhere in the U.S. where there is little or no competition at all.

The playing field in the skies above sidewalks is not pretty. Poles draped with six kinds of wiring (in our case electrical, phone, cable, cable, fiber, fiber — I just counted) are not attractive. At the point the poles become ugly beyond endurance, I expect that the homeowners will pay to bury the services. By the grace of local regulators, all they’ll bury will be electrical service and bundles of conduit, mostly for fiber. And they won’t bury them deep, because fiber isn’t bothered by proximity to electrical currents. In the old days (which is still today in most fiber-less places), minimum separations are required between electrical, cable and phone wiring — the latter two being copper. In Santa Barbara (our perma-home), service trenching has to be the depth of a grave to maintain those separations. There’s no fiber yet offered in Santa Barbara. At our house there the only carrier to provide “high” speed is the cable company, and it’s a fraction of what we get over fiber here near Boston.

All this comes to mind after reading D.C. Court Upholds Ban on MDU Contracts: FCC prevents new exclusive contracts and nullifies existing ones, by John Eggerton in Broadcasting & Cable.  It begins, “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Monday upheld an FCC decision banning exclusive contracts between cable companies and the owners of apartments and other multiple-dwelling units (MDU).”

The rest of the piece is framed by the long-standing antipathy between cable and telephone companies (cable lost this one), each as providers of cable TV. For example,

Not surprisingly, Verizon praised the decision. It also saw it as a win for larger issues of access to programming:

“This ruling is a big win for millions of consumers living in apartments and condominiums who want nothing more than to enjoy the full benefits of video competition,” said Michael Glover, Verizon senior VP, deputy general counsel, in a statement. “In upholding the ban on new and existing exclusive access deals, the Court’s decision also confirms the FCC’s authority to address other barriers to more meaningful competitive choice and video competition, such as the cable companies’ refusal to provide competitors with access to regional sports programming.”

Which makes sense at a time in history when TV viewing still comprises a larger wad of demand than Internet use. This will change as more and more production, distribution and consumption moves to the Internet, and as demand increases for more Internet access by more different kinds of devices — especially mobile ones.

Already a growing percentage of my own Internet use, especially on the road, uses cellular connectivity rather than wi-fi (thanks to high charges for crappy connectivity at most hotels). Sprint is my mobile Internet provider. They have my business because they do a better job of getting me what I want: an “air card” that works on Linux and Mac laptops, and not just on Windows ones). Verizon wanted to charge me for my air card (Sprint’s was free with the deal, which was also cheaper), and AT&T’s gear messed up my laptops and didn’t work very well anyway.

In both cases — home and road — there is competition.

While I can think of many reforms I’d like to see around Internet connectivity (among citizens, regulators and regulatees), anything that fosters competition in the meantime is a Good Thing.

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