July 2009

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It helps to recognize that the is exactly what its name denotes: an association of presses. Specifically, newspapers. Fifteen hundred of them. Needless to say, newspapers are having a hard time. (Hell, I gave them some, myself, yesterday.) So we might cut them a little slack for getting kinda testy and paranoid.

Reading the AP’s paranoid jive brings to mind Jim Clark on stage at the first (only?) Netscape conference. Asked by an audience member why he said stuff about Microsoft that might have a “polarizing effect”, Jim rose out of his chair and yelled at the questioner, “THEY’RE TRYING TO KILL US. THAT HAS A POLARIZING EFFECT!” I sometimes think that’s the way the AP feels toward bloggers. Hey, when you’re being eaten alive, everything looks like a pirhana.

But last week the AP, probably without intending it, did something cool. You can read about it in “Associated Press to build news registry to protect content“, a press release that manages to half-conceal some constructive open source possibilities within a pile of prose that seems mostly to be about locking down content and tracking down violators of AP usage policies. Ars Technica unpacks some of the possibilities. Good piece.

Over in Linux Journal I just posted AP Launches Open Source Ascribenation Project, in which I look at how the AP’s “tracking and tagging” technology, which is open source, can help lay the foundations for a journalistic world where everybody gets credit for what they contribute to the greater sphere of news and comment — and can get paid for it too, easily — if readers feel like doing that.

The process of giving credit where due we call , and the system by which readers (or listeners, or viewers) choose to pay for it we call .

Regardless of what we call it, that’s where we’re going to end up. The system that began when the AP was formed in 1846 isn’t going to go away, but it will have to adapt. And adopt. It’s good to see it doing the latter. The former will be harder. But it has to be done.

I’d say more here, but I already said it over there.

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Seems I with , , , , , and about 1/365th of the world’s population. I also , “the first general-purpose electronic computer“, and I were fired up the very same day in 1947 — ENIAC at Aberdeen Proving Grounds and I at in Jersey City. ENIAC worked until its plug was pulled in 1955. I still feel like I’ve just been plugged in. (Guess ENIAC was a pessimist.)

My birthday present to myself will be getting lots of work done.

Bonus link.

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“Saving newspapers” is beginning to look like saving caterpillars. Or worse, like caterpillars saving themselves. That’s was the message I got from Rick Edmonds’ API Report to Exec Summit: Paid Content Is the Future for News Web Sites, in Poynter, back in early June. In The Nichepaper Manifesto Umair Haque points toward a possible future butterfly stage for newspapers. Sez Umair,  “Nichepapers aren’t a new product, service, or business model. They are a new institution.”

He gives examples: Talking Points Memo. Huffington Post. Perez Hilton. Business Insider. He’s careful to say that these may not be the first or the best but are “avenues that radical innovators are already exploring to reconceive news for the 21st century.”

These, however, are limited as news sites, and not the best models of future nichepapers. Yes, they’re interesting and in some cases valuable sources of information; but they all also have axes to grind. In this sense they’re more like the old model (papers always had axes too) than the new one(s).

To help think about where news is going, let’s talk about one cause of serious news: wildfires. In Southern California we have lots of wildfires. They flare up quickly, then threaten to wipe out dozens, hundreds or thousands of homes, and too often do exactly that. Look up San Diego Fire, Day Fire, Gap Fire, Tea Fire, Jesusita Fire. The results paint a mosaic, or perhaps even a pointillist, picture of news sourced, reported, and re-reported by many different people, organizations and means. These are each portraits of an emerging ecosystem within  which newspapers must adapt of die.

Umair says, “In the 21st century, it’s time, again for newspapers to learn how to profit with stakeholders — instead of extracting profits from them. The 21st century’s great challenge isn’t selling the same old “product” better: it’s learning to make radically better stuff in the first place.”

Exactly. And that “making” will be as radically different as crawling and flying.

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[Later, on 1 October 2009... This matter has been resolved. The charge for going over has been dropped, the service restored and good will along with it. Thanks to both @sprintcares and the chat person at My Sprint.]

So I just got a “courtesy call” from Sprint, a company I’ve been talking up for a couple years because I’ve had nothing but positive experience with my Sprint EvDO data card.

Well, that’s over. The call was to inform me that I’d gone over the 5Gb monthly usage limit for my data card, to the tune of 10,241,704.22kb, for which I was to be charged $500, on top of my $59.99 (plus $1.24 tax) monthly charge.

I didn’t know about the 5Gb limit. (In fact, I believed Sprint had an unlimited data plan, which is one reason I used them.) Kent German in CNET explains why in Sprint to limit data usaga on Everything plans. He begins,

When is unlimited not unlimited? Apparently when it comes from Sprint. Though the carrier has been very active about touting its new “simply everything” plan, which includes unlimited mobile Internet and messaging, it plans to place a cap on monthly data usage next month. Sprint will limit its simply everything customers to 5GB of data usage per month, plus 300MB per month for off-network data roaming.

A Sprint representative told BetaNews that the cap is needed to ensure a great customer experience.

O ya. By “great” they must mean bill size. Kent continues,

“The use of voice and data roaming by a small minority of customers is generating a disproportionately large level of operating expense for the company,” the representative said. “This limit is well within the range of what a typical customer would normally use each month.”…

BetaNews said Sprint began notifying customers in monthly bills that were mailed this week. The change will go into effect 30 days after customers receive the note. Also, the carrier said it will call customers next month to make sure they’re aware of the changes.

Well, I don’t read my bills. They go to my bookkeeper, who pays them and tosses whatever BS comes along inside the envelopes. I also don’t have a Sprint phone, or phone number. Maybe that’s why I never got that call.

Why did I go over? Possibly because I had little or no reliable landline (cable) Internet connectivity at my house in Santa Barbara for weeks after I got back there in June. I wrote about that here, here, here, here and here. So I used my Sprint datacard a lot. In fact it was something of a life-saver.

Earth to Sprint: that “small minority of customers” is the future of your company. You should invest in them, and in your relationships with them.

The Sprint person on the “courtesy call” knocked $350 off the bill. That was because she was ready to “work” with me on the matter. I asked her how she arrived at that number. She said she couldn’t say.

I hope they work zero in to their future calculations. Because that’s what they’re getting from me as soon as I find a better deal elsewhere.

I’m not sure how to price the good will they’ve lost. In fact, I’m not sure that has a price.

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In the month since it hit the streets (at least here in the U.S.), I’ve been surprised at how little those who like Cluetrain know about the new, 10th anniversary edition of the book. Many assume that it’s a fancy new edition of the same old thing. That’s true to the degree that it comes with a hard cover and a nice design. But there are also five new chapters by the four original authors, plus three additional chapters: one each by Dan Gillmor, Jake McKee and JP Rangaswami. In other words, it’s a lot thicker and more substantial than the original.

So yeah, I’m promoting it a bit. I’ve done approximately none of that, and it deserves any plug it gets. A lot of good work went into it.

The shot above is from a Berkman YouTube video of a Cluetrain discussion at Harvard Law School, led by Jonathan Zittrain, and featuring Dr. Weinberger and myself.

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In his comment to my last post about the sale of WQXR to WNYC (and in his own blog post here), Sean Reiser makes an important point:

One of the unique things about the QXR was it’s relationship with the Times. The Times owned QXR before the FCC regulations prohibiting newspapers ownership of a radio station were enacted. Because of this relationship, QXR’s newsroom was located in the NY Times building and news gathering resources were shared. In a precursor to newspaper reporters doing podcasts, Times columnists and arts reporters would often appear on the air doing segments.

It’s true. The Times selling WQXR seems a bit like the New Yorker dropping poetry, or GE (née RCA) closing the Rainbow Room. (Which has already happened… how many times?) To cultured veteran New Yorkers, the Times selling WQXR seems more like a partial lobotomy than a heavy heirloom being thrown off a sinking ship.

For much of the history of both, great newspapers owned great radio stations. The Times had WQXR. The Chicago Tribune had (and still has) WGN (yes, “World’s Greatest Newspaper”). The Washington Post had WTOP. (In fact, the Post got back into the radio game with Washington Post Radio, on WTOP’s legacy 50,000-watt signal at 1500 AM. That lasted from 2006-2008.). Trust me, the list is long.

The problem is, both newspapers and radio stations are suffering. Most newspapers are partially (or, in a few cases — such as this one — totally) lobotomized versions of their former selves. Commercial radio’s golden age passed decades ago. WQXR, its beloved classical format, and its staff, have been on life support for years. Most other cities have lost their legacy commercial classical stations (e.g. WFMR in Milwaukee), or lucked out to various degrees when the call letters and formats were saved by moving to lesser signals, sometimes on the market’s outskirts (e.g. WCRB in Boston). In most of the best cases classical formats were saved by moving to noncommercial channels and becomimg public radio stations. In Los Angeles, KUSC took over for KFAC (grabbing the latter’s record library) and KOGO/K-Mozart. In Raleigh, WCPE took over for WUNC and WDBS. In Washington, WETA took over for WGMS. Not all of these moves were pretty, but all of them kept classical music alive on their cities’ FM bands.

In some cases, however, “saved’ is an understatement. KUSC, for example, has a bigger signal footprint and far more to offer, than KFAC and its commercial successors did. In addition to a first-rate signal in Los Angeles, KUSC is carried on full-size stations in Palm Springs, Thousand Oaks, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo — giving it stong coverage of more population than any other station in Los Angeles, including the city’s substantial AM stations. KUSC also runs HD programs on the same channels, has an excellent live stream on the Web, and is highly involved in Southern California’s cultural life.

I bring that up because the substantial advantages of public radio over commercial radio — especially for classical music — are largely ignored amidst all the hand-wringing (thick with completely wrong assumptions) by those who lament the loss  — or threatened loss — of a cultural landmark such as WQXR. So I thought I’d list some of the advantages of public radio in the classical music game.

  1. No commercials. Sure, public radio has its pitches for funding, but those tend to be during fund drives rather than between every music set.
  2. More room for coverage growth. The rules for signals in the noncommercial end of the band (from 88 to 92) are far more flexible than those in the commercial band. And noncommercial signals in the commercial band (such as WQXR’s new one at 105.9) can much more easily be augmented by translators at the fringes of their coverage areas — and beyond. Commercial stations can only use translators within their coverage areas. Noncommercial stations can stick them anywhere in the whole country. If WNYC wants to be aggressive about it, you might end up hearing WQXR in Maine and Montana. (And you can bet it’ll be on the Public Radio Player, meaning you can get it wherever there’s a cell signal.)
  3. Life in a buyer’s market. Noncommercial radio stations are taking advantage of bargain prices for commercial stations. That’s what KUSC did when it bought what’s now KESC on 99.7FM in San Luis Obispo. It’s what KCLU did when it bought 1340AM in Santa Barbara.
  4. Creative and resourceful engineering. While commercial radio continues to cheap out while advertising revenues slump away, noncommercial radio is pioneering all over the place. They’re doing it with HD Radio, with webcasting (including multiple streams for many stations), with boosters and translators, with RDS — to name just a few. This is why I have no doubt that WNYC will expand WQXR’s reach even if they can’t crank up the power on the Empire State Building transmitter.
  5. Direct Listener Involvement. Commercial radio has had a huge disadvantage for the duration: its customers and its consumers are different populations. As businesses, commercial radio stations are primarily accountable to advertisers, not to listeners. Public radio is directly accoutable to its listeners, because those are also its customers. As public stations make greater use of the Web, and of the growing roster of tools available for listener engagement (including tools on the listeners’ side, such as those we are developing at ProjectVRM), this advantage over commercial radio will only grow. This means WQXR’s listeners have more more opportunity to contribute positively to the station’s growth than they ever had when it was a commercial station. (Or if, like WCRB, it lived on as a lesser commercial station.) So, if you’re a loyal WQXR listener, send a few bucks to WNYC. Tell them thanks for saving the station, and tell them what you’d like them to do with the station as well.

I could add more points (and maybe I will later), but that should suffice for now. I need to crash and then get up early for a quick round trip to northern Vermont this morning. Meanwhile, hope that helps.

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The kid goes to bed every night lately while treating himself to a classical piece on his bedroom stereo. Tonight, our last (a bonus, thanks to a plane that didn’t fly) in Santa Barbara before returning to Boston tomorrow, he played one of his favorites: The Planets, by Gustav Holst. Noting that Holst only set music to seven of the planets…

  1. Mars, the Bringer of War
  2. Venus, the Bringer of Peace
  3. Mercury, the Winged Messenger
  4. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
  5. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
  6. Uranus, the Magician
  7. Neptune, the Mystic

… he wondered what ours might be called. “Earth, the Bringer of __ ?”

“Lunch,” I suggested.

A debate followed, at the end of which we agreed that 8. Earth, the Bringer of Lunch was clearly the winner.

A bit of levity. Now sleep. Then another school year back in Cambridge. See ya there.

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From Z to A

I understand Zappos selling out to Amazon (even the Amazon logo, which leads from A to Z, makes sense of it) but the news still depresses me. Zappos is a cause as well as a brand. That cause is relationship. As Wikipedia (currently) puts it,

Zappos uses a loyalty business model and relationship marketing. The primary sources of the company’s rapid growth have been repeat customers and numerous word of mouth recommendations.[4][5] In 2005, the chairman reported that 60% of customers were repeat buyers.[5]

Think about the word “company.” At Dictionary.com, the noun is said to mean these things:

  1. a number of individuals assembled or associated together; group of people.
  2. a guest or guests: We’re having company for dinner.
  3. an assemblage of persons for social purposes.
  4. companionship; fellowship; association: I always enjoy her company.
  5. one’s usual companions: I don’t like the company he keeps.
  6. society collectively.
  7. a number of persons united or incorporated for joint action, esp. for business: a publishing company; a dance company.
  8. (initial capital letter) the members of a firm not specifically named in the firm’s title: George Higgins and Company.

And that’s before we get down to military, governmental and other meanings.

Note that the business meanings start at #7. Note the convivial qualities of all the numbered meanings. Zappos has that convivial nature, more than any other big company retailing clothing online. You get the sense that you can relate to these people, because they seem to have a reason for being that goes beyond being the cheapest and most convenient means for choosing goods, paying for them, and having them shipped to you. That’s Amazon’s business. It’s different.

So I’m sure there is synergy there. But synergy alone does not a great acquisition make.

I wonder, now that (as the press release says) “Amazon will provide Zappos employees with $40 million in cash and restricted stock units” — in addition to whatever stockholding Zappos employees get in the form of Amazon stock (the sum of all shareholders and options is 10 million Amazon shares) — if Zappos’ soul and mission will survive the acquisition.

I also wonder what kind of hit the whole subject of relationship, which is so highly potentiated (read: absent, though it shouldn’t be), will take.

Tony Hsieh’s letter to employees (about 100 of them, it says) is reassuring, as is the Jeff Bezos video.

Hope it works out.

[Later...] Alexander Haislip has a financial angle on the deal.

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When I read that an impact had been spotted on Jupiter, I figured it was somewhere other than the equator, which would be a bulls-eye. Even Shoemaker-Levy, a huge comet broken into a string of pieces, slammed like a series of machine gun bullets into Jupiter near its south pole.

But this one was bigger. See above. And read the story. That black hole in the side of Jupiter is nearly as big as our whole planet. [Woops, not quite. DFR points out in a comment below that the black spot is certainly a moon shadow. Jupiter has four big ones, they do make shadows like that, they are all on the planet’s equator, they’re all a good deal smaller than the Earth (being moons), and I should have known better. Anyway…

And nobody saw it coming.

One good thing is that Jupiter is kind of a crap sweeper, gliding around the inside edge of the outer solar system with a nice big gravitational field, sucking up debris that might otherwise clobber one of your inner planets, such as ours.

By the way, that bright point of light in the eastern sky these evenings is Jupiter. The smaller points of light on either side of it and close by are its moons. The clear-eyed can make them out on a dark night. And they’re quite obvious through good telescopes.

Oh, by the way, there’s a total solar eclipse happening right now in Asia. The NASA server with cool info seems to be hosed. So do some other sites I’ve checked (not that my connection is good right now… we’re back to high latencies again). But Shadow & Substance is on the scene and covering it live. Lots of fun stuff there.

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Edward Rosten and I have been having an interesting dialog in the comment section of my last post, which was mostly about WNYC buying WQXR from the New York Times (which has owned it forever) for $11.5 million — and moving QXR’s classical programming up New York’s FM dial from 96.3 to 105.9, where the maximum transmission wattage is far less than allowed on the old frequency.

There has been much hand-wringing and prognosticating over the whole thing. What Would You Do With the New WQXR? is a post on the NYTimes site that is followed by a great many comments. Says Edward, “Post #58, I can assure you, is representative of ‘input’ from people who’ve given ANY thought to how the proposed changes will play out. (‘Power to the people’ has yielded to ‘power to the 24/7 classical music station, whatever its name!’)”

So here’s a summary of my own thinking about why this was a good move by WNYC.

  1. $11.5 million is a bargain for any FM signal radiating from the center of Manhattan, even in these depressed economic times.
  2. There will be a 24/7 classical station in New York called WQXR. It will continue to play much, if not most, of the music its current audience likes. It will also employ some of the same people and air some of the same programs. Doing even a subset of this is to buck the tide that is drowning classical stations everywhere in the U.S.
  3. The signal on 105.9 will pack less punch than the old one on 96.3. The new one is 610 watts while the old one was 6000 watts, from the same antenna on the Empire State Building. The difference, however, is smaller than the wattage would indicate. On FM, height matters more than wattage, and those are the same. And signal strength increases as the square root of the wattage. This means that the new signal will be about a third the power of the old one, rather than one tenth. Either way, it’s still plenty of signal for the boroughs, southern Westchester, Jersey counties bordering the Hudson, and Nassau County. Not bad, considering.
  4. WQXR will now be a noncommercial station owned by the top public station in the top metro market in the country. There are many upsides here that are not available to commercial stations — least of all one owned by a struggling newspaper. These include…
  5. No commercials, beyond the usual noncommercial radio pitches for listener support. For an example of an alternative outcome — having a legacy station and its call letters shunted to a secondary signal while remaining commercial — check out WCRB, Boston’s equivalent of WQXR. The Wikipedia entrty provides copious (and depressing) background. What they don’t say is that WCRB plays lots of commercials, in spite of a commercial free sections of its schedule. (I’d suggest checking out WCRB’s live stream, but they’ve discontinued it.)
  6. The opportunity for listeners to support the station directly, and involve themselves in the station’s missions. In the past one could support WQXR only by buying a car or a mattress from an advertiser. Now you can put some money where your ears are.
  7. WQXR can use translators to enlarge its signal, and bring it to places outside its local coverage area. Translators are low power stations radiating the same audio on a different channel from the original signal. WQXR currently has translators on 96.7 in Asbury Park and 103.7 in Poughkeepsie. Now here’s the cool deal: While commercial stations can only use translators to fill in holes in their home coverage areas, noncommercial stations can put translators anywhere they please. Of course, these have to be on unoccupied channels, and most channels are occupied in most places. There are two ways WNYC can go here. One is to buy up, swap or otherwise deal for existing translators. (There is lots of horse-trading going on in any case between public broadcasters and religious ones. The latter have been much more resourceful about maximizing coverage and spreading translators everywhere.) The other is to find open spots where translators can be wedged in. Anywhere in the country.
  8. The Internet is a wide-open frontier. I listen to WNYC’s classical stream (also carried on the air over the station’s HD service on FM) here in Santa Barbara. I also listen to many other stations (including a dozen or more classical ones) here as well. I use either my iPhone or our home Sonos system. Those are my radios, and they sound fine. There are no limits to the number of Internet channels WNYC/WQXR can choose to put out there. For models of station/stream proliferation (and brand extension) see what KCRW and Minnesota Public Radio do. This multi-million-dollar move by WNYC serves notice that it plans to be one of the country’s public super-stations.

I could go on, but you get the point. The opportunities for WQXR as a WNYC property are far wider than the New York Times would dream of contemplating. I advise loyal listeners of both stations to get behind the effort with cash and helpful input, rather than complaints about signal differences and what WNYC might do with WQXR. Hey, WQXR will be a public station soon. That should give you more influence than ever before.

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Heard this morning on WNYC that the New York Times has unloaded its remaining broadcasting asset, which consists of the channel and facilities of WQXR, which has been a classical music landmark for as long as it’s been around. (One way or another, since 1929. Wikipedia tells the long story well.) The story on WNYC’s website says WQXR will become “part of” WNYC. I assume that means it will become non-commercial.

According to Bloomberg, the deal goes like this:

  • “Univision will pay Times Co. $33.5 million to swap broadcasting licenses and shift its WCAA broadcast to 96.3 FM from 105.9 FM, which will become WQXR… WCAA will get 96.3 FM’s stronger signal.”
  • WNYC will pay Times Co. $11.5 million for 105.9 FM’s license and equipment and the WQXR call letters.”

WQXR was for a long time an AM/FM operation. The AM was on 1560, with a 50,000 watt signal out of a four-tower facility in Maspeth, Queens. The FM was for many years atop the Chanin Building, where it still maintains an auxilliary antenna. I have shots of the old and new antennas here and here. In 2007 the Times Co. unloaded its AM station, then (and still) called WQEW, to Walt Disney Co. for $40 million. It’s now Radio Disney, a kids’ station.

Since the 60s WQXR has shared a master antenna atop the Empire State Building with most of New York’s other FMs. This was their status in 1967. Wikipedia has a good rundown of what’s up there today. Scott Fybush also has a comprehensive report from 2003.

An open question is whether WQXR will remain a beacon on the dial. While other signals on the Empire State Building master antennas run 5000 to 6000 watts, the one on 105.9 is just 610 watts. According to WQXR’s  Web site, the station and has an audience of nearly 800,000 weekly listeners. How many of those will lose the signal? Coverage maps from radio-locator.com for 96.3 and 105.9 are here and here.

For the fully obsessed, here is a current rundown of everything on FM hanging off the Empire State Building, or within 1km of it.

Meanwhile, says here WBCN in Boston, a progressive rock radio landmark, is also getting yanked. You’ll still hear it on the Web, or if you are among the appoximately five owners of an “HD” radio receiver and close enough to WBCN’s transmiter on Boston’s Prudential Building in the Back Bay. Meanwhile Boston will get more of the usual: talk sports and “Hot AC” music. (To me “Hot AC” always sounded like an climate control oxymoron, while “adult contemporary” sounded like a euphemism for pornographic furniture.)

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How Teenagers Consume Media: the report that shook the City carries approximately no news for anybody who watches the changing tastes and habits of teenagers. What makes it special is that it was authored by a fifteen-year old intern at Morgan Stanley in London, and then published by the company.

It says teens like big TVs, dislike intrusive advertising, find a fun side to viral marketing, blow off Twitter, ignore all but the free tabloid newspapers, watch anime on YouTube and so on.

All these are momentary arrangements of patterns on the surface of a growing ocean of bits. (For why it grows, see Kevin Kelly.) What’s most productive to contemplate, I think, is how we will learn to thrive in a vast and growing bit-commons whilst (to borrow a favorite preposition of this teen) trying to make money in the midst.

Which brings me to Chris Anderson‘s new book, Free: the Future of a Radical Price. Malcolm Gladwell dissed it in The New Yorker, while Seth Godin said Malcolm is Wrong and Virginia Postrel gives it a mixed review in The New York Times. But I’m holding off for the simple reason that I haven’t finished reading it. When I do finish, what I’ll write won’t be a review, but something more along the lines of what I wrote in Linux Journal (here’s Part I and Part II, totaling more than 10,000 words) as a follow-on to Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat. Stay tuned for that. As with those last two items, it’ll go in Linux Journal.

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The Cox Cure

Had a nice long talk yesterday morning with Cox’s top tech guy here in Santa Barbara, and work continued on the poles and wires outside my house, according to a note left on my door by a field tech supervisor.

The service has now been up, without failing (far as I know) since then. Most of the day I was out having a great time with my kid and one of his buddies from Back East, as they say here.

It’s nice to have it working, and getting serious attention to a problem that was around for far too long. Hopefully it’s fixed now. We’ll see.

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I’ve left two messages with the very nice senior tech guy who came out on Monday and confirmed the problem without solving it. Another guy came yesterday when the problem wasn’t happening, and gave me the number of the senior guy to call.

Anyway, no response so far. Meanwhile, the usual: hjigh ping times and traceroutes that show the big latency starting at the first hop: inside Cox’s network.

A smart tech friend, suggests we just replace the cable modem and its power supply. Can’t hurt. Of course, that’s Cox’s gear and their job, and they’re awol, still.

Meanwhile, the quanity of work not getting done is huge.

If I had a choice of carriers, I’d switch in a heartbeat, but I don’t. Verizon is the only alternative, and my house is too far from a central office to get competitive data speeds. So, not much leverage there.

Another friend suggests calling the CEO’s office. If I don’t hear back from the senior tech guy today, I’ll try that in the morning.

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I remember talking to Nick Givotovsky the first time at an early Internet Identity Workshop, when he pulled me aside to share some ideas, and immediately stripped my gears. The guy was as smart as they come, and articulate to an extreme equaled by few. I had to stop him every few sentences to get him to dumb it down a bit, or at least to let me catch up. Many conversations followed, in many settings. Every encounter with Nick was engaging and mind-sharpening.

We became friends — or as close as people get when they’re mutually engaged in a number of projects, and enjoy each other’s company, as well as each other’s minds and hearts. I called him “Nicky G.”

Best I can recall, Nick came to nearly every IIW, plus workshops on VRM, networking and much more. He always contributed, always brought a warm smile and good sense of humor. He was serious, but didn’t take himself too seriously. A rare combination. Also notable was Nick’s mode of engagement. He was always original, often challenging, but never hostile or obstructive. And his mind was always open, always curious, always ready to step up and participate.

As I recall, the last I saw Nick was at the IIW this past May. He left a bit early to get back to his farm in Cornwall, Connecticut. I remember him talking about this old tractor he had, and how much he enjoyed operating it. He died this last Friday after falling off (what I assume is) that tractor. More of the story is here and here. (I share those links there for the record, but they are not pleasant reading.)

Nick’s last post on one of the many lists in which he participated told the story of his older brother’s death. “I think he did it astonishingly ‘right’, if such a thing can be said of dying,” Nick wrote.

Alas, Nick died wrong. And way too young. He was just 44. He leaves his wife and two kids. Plus many shocked and saddened friends.

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To their credit, fixing my problem has become a higher priority with Cox. A senior guy came out today, confirmed the problem (intermittent high latencies and packet losses), made some changes that adjusted voltages at the modem, and found by tracing the coax from our house to the new pole behind it that the guys who installed the pole nearly severed the coax when they did it. So he replaced that part of the line and brought the whole pole situation up closer to spec… for a few minutes.

Alas, the problem is still there. The engineer from Cox duplicated the problem on his own laptop, so he told me the ball is still in Cox’s court.

At its worst the problem is so bad, in fact, that this was as far as I got with my last ping test:

PING google.com ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=56 time=101.462 ms
— google.com ping statistics —
9 packets transmitted, 1 packets received, 88% packet loss

The guy from Cox said my plight had been escalated, and has the attention of higher-up engineers there. He also said they’d come out to continue trouble-shooting the problem. “Probably by Thursday.”

We’ve had the problem  since June 17.

Meanwhile, I’m connecting to the Net and posting this through my Sprint datacard, just like I did last week in Maryland. Same results: good connections, adequate speeds and awful latencies:

dsearls2$ ping harvard.edu
PING harvard.edu ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=235 time=1395.515 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=235 time=750.396 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=235 time=295.272 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=3 ttl=235 time=823.698 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=4 ttl=235 time=1404.692 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=5 ttl=235 time=1360.761 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=6 ttl=235 time=803.610 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=7 ttl=235 time=446.081 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=8 ttl=235 time=554.643 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=9 ttl=235 time=425.423 ms
— harvard.edu ping statistics —
12 packets transmitted, 10 packets received, 16% packet loss

For work such as this blog post, which seems to require lots of dialog between my browser and WordPress at the server, the latencies are exasperating, because there’s so much dialog between server and client. I watch the browser status bar say “Connecting to blogs.law.harvard.edu…”, “Waiting for blogs.law.harvard.edu…” and “Transferring from blogs.law.harvard.edu…” over and over and over for a minute or more, every time I click on a button (such as “save draft” or “publish”).

So don’t expect to read much here until we finally get over this hump. Which has been in front of me since 17 June. Meanwhile I’m hoping to get back to editing in .opml soon, which should make things faster.

But I’ll need real connectivity soon, and I can only get that from Cox. (Don’t tell me about Verizon. They’re great back at my place in Boston, where I have FiOS; but here in Santa Barbara I’m too far from their central office to get more than mimimal-speed ADSL.)

The good thing is, Cox knows the problem is one they still have to solve, and they seem serious about fixing it. Eventually.

Meanwhile, for interested Cox folks, here’s how pings to Google currently go:

dsearls2$ ping google.com
PING google.com ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=45 time=110.803 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=45 time=164.317 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=45 time=204.076 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=3 ttl=45 time=259.795 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=4 ttl=45 time=397.490 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=5 ttl=45 time=581.123 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=6 ttl=45 time=506.292 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=7 ttl=45 time=128.939 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=8 ttl=45 time=328.000 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=9 ttl=45 time=160.761 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=10 ttl=45 time=176.398 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=11 ttl=45 time=187.511 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=12 ttl=45 time=188.291 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=13 ttl=45 time=347.966 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=14 ttl=45 time=285.017 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=15 ttl=45 time=389.641 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=16 ttl=45 time=399.993 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=17 ttl=45 time=113.803 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=18 ttl=45 time=153.111 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=19 ttl=45 time=147.549 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=20 ttl=45 time=198.597 ms
— google.com ping statistics —
21 packets transmitted, 21 packets received, 0% packet loss

And here’s how they go to the nearest Cox gateway:

PING ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=239 time=676.134 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=239 time=263.575 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=239 time=429.944 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=3 ttl=239 time=470.586 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=4 ttl=239 time=473.553 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=5 ttl=239 time=416.172 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=6 ttl=239 time=489.699 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=7 ttl=239 time=471.640 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=8 ttl=239 time=349.825 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=9 ttl=239 time=588.051 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=10 ttl=239 time=606.703 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=11 ttl=239 time=573.560 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=12 ttl=239 time=454.920 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=13 ttl=239 time=259.428 ms
— ping statistics —
14 packets transmitted, 14 packets received, 0% packet loss

And here is a traceroute to the same gateway:

traceroute to (, 64 hops max, 40 byte packets
1 (  2.376 ms  0.699 ms  0.711 ms
2 (  109.610 ms  78.637 ms  73.791 ms
3 (  84.093 ms  161.432 ms  84.844 ms
4 (  187.814 ms  166.084 ms  181.780 ms
5 (  126.050 ms  100.136 ms  239.987 ms
6 (  80.512 ms  147.347 ms  373.152 ms
7 (  121.593 ms  265.198 ms  323.666 ms
8  sl-gw10-bur-1-0-0.sprintlink.net (  331.535 ms  346.841 ms  279.394 ms
9  sl-bb20-bur-10-0-0.sprintlink.net (  397.594 ms  542.053 ms  546.655 ms
10  sl-crs1-ana-0-1-3-1.sprintlink.net (  986.040 ms  451.456 ms  630.898 ms
11  sl-st21-la-0-0-0.sprintlink.net (  726.689 ms  452.451 ms  235.828 ms
12 (  194.067 ms  295.496 ms  99.809 ms
13 (  262.008 ms  93.663 ms  114.594 ms
14 (  145.956 ms  123.435 ms  345.784 ms
15  ip68-6-66-1.sb.sd.cox.net (  346.696 ms  654.332 ms  406.933 ms

Draw (or re-draw) your own conclusions.

Maybe somebody out there in geekland can see the problem and help offer a solution. Thanks.

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Funny… Thanks to a quote in a caption (“We play the hands of cards life gives us. And the worst hands can make us the best players.” from this blog post here) — sans quotation marks — Mahalo thinks this Flickr picture by Oftana Media is one of me.

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Forget financial markets for a minute, and think about the directions money moves in retail markets. While much of it moves up and down the supply chains, the first source is customers. The money that matters most is what customers spend on goods and services.

Now here’s the question. Where is there more money to be made — in helping supply find demand or in helping demand find supply? Substitute “drive” for “find” and you come to the same place, for the same reason: customers are the ones spending the money.

For the life of the commercial Web, most of those looking to make money there have looked to make it the former way: by helping supply find or drive demand. That’s what marketing has always been about, and advertising in particular. Advertising, last I looked, was about a $trillion business. Now ask yourself: Wouldn’t there be more money to be made in helping the demand side find and drive supply?

Simply put, that’s what VRM is about. It’s also what Cluetrain was about ten years ago. It wasn’t about better ways for the supply side to make money. It wasn’t about doing better marketing. It was about giving full respect to the human beings from whom the Web’s and the Net’s biggest values derive. When Cluetrain (actually Chris Locke) said “we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.“, it wasn’t saying “Here’s how you market to us.” It was saying “Our new power to deal in this new marketplace exceeds your old powers to drive, lock in, or otherwise control us.” When Cluetrain said “The sky is open to the stars”, it wasn’t issuing utopian palaver. It was speaking of a marketplace of buyers and sellers whose choices were wide open on both sides. [Later... Chris Locke, who wrote that line (and those that followed), offers a correction (and expansion) below.]

On Cluetrain’s 10th anniversary, we have hardly begun to explore the possibilities of truly free and open markets on the Internet. They are still inevitable, because supporting those markets is intrinsic to the Net’s essentially generative design. Lock down users, or lock one in and others out, and you compromise the wealth the Net can create for you. Simple as that.

And that wealth starts with customers.

This is also what How Facebook Could Create a Revolution, Do Good, and Make Billions, by Bernard Lunn in ReadWriteWeb, is about.

I just wrote a brief response in Gain of Facebook, on the ProjectVRM blog.

No time for more. Not because it’s the Fourth of July, but because I’m in a connectivity hole (with latencies and packet losses that start at 1+ second and 15% packet losses and go up from there), but because I’m at my daughter’s wedding, and I need to get ready. Cheers.

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One of the best things about living in (or just following) Santa Barbara is reading Nick Welsh’s Angry Poodle Barbeque column each week in the Independent — one of the best free newsweeklies anywhere. This week’s column, El Corazón del Perro, is a classic. One sample:

For those of us without the heart to pursue our own dream, or even the imagination to have one, Jackson provides cold reassurance. If someone so rich, so famous, and so hugely adored could wind up so agonizingly wretched, maybe the moral of the story is that one’s bliss was never meant to be followed.

This, however, isn’t just another knock on the late Jacko. It’s a column about afterdeath effects in Santa Barbara County, which was home to Jackson through his Neverland years:

This past Tuesday, a coterie of key county executives from law enforcement, public works, fire protection, public health, planning, emergency response, and communications spent the better part of the day shuttling from one emergency meeting to the next, trying to figure out what was real and what to do about it. No less than five employees of the Sheriff’s Department spent their day fielding calls from media outlets around the world. Associated Press dispatched a reporter to stake out the County Administration Building all day. By 7 p.m., Tuesday, no actual communication had taken place between county government and the Jackson camp. Instead, Sheriff’s officials relied upon contacts they have with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for whatever vague rumors and rumblings they could get. Somehow through this opaque and osmotic chain of communication, county officials are hoping to persuade the Jackson clan to call it off, if in fact it was they who started something in the first place.

Some in the Sheriff’s Department expressed confidence that the whole thing has been an exceptionally expensive and elaborate fire drill. Personally, I like the idea that the whole thing is a big fake-out, an angry practical joke on the county that prosecuted Jackson. When Paul McCartney’s former wife, Linda McCartney, died several years ago, I remember how rumors were strategically planted that she died in Santa Barbara County. In fact, she did not. The County Coroner complained he spent so much time fielding media calls that he couldn’t get any work done. Cadavers, he said, were piling up in his coolers like firewood. Ultimately, we would discover the whole thing was an elaborate dodge so that the McCartney clan could grieve unmolested by the paparazzi. But not before Santa Barbarans — ever willing to embrace the rich and famous, even if they never lived here — held a solemn and tearful candlelight vigil at the County Courthouse’s Sunken Gardens.

Some of the worries in the piece are stale now (a Neverland funeral appears unlikely), but it’s still a good read.

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