August 2009

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Just arrived at my house in Santa Barbara after a long drive down from Monterey. Most of the way I listened to live coverage of the Station Fire on KNX/1070, both through the car radio (KNX has a huge signal that covers the whole southwest at night) and online over my iPhone, which was plugged into the AUX input of the radio in my rented Ford Focus (not a bad car, by the way).

Here’s KNX’s latest story, with a map.

Here is a set of mashed-up fire maps I just created, courtesy of MODIS and the U.S. Forest Service and Google Earth.

On the Live Web

Lots of grist for (and from) the news mills there.

Among other directions, the fire is moving eastward across Mt. Wilson, which looms over Los Angeles from just north of Pasadena. Mt. Wilson is one among many points along the nearest ridge of the San Gabriel Mountains, most of which lie within the Angeles National Forest. Perhaps more significantly, it is the home to nearly all the transmitters of FM and TV stations serving the Los Angeles metro. Also Mt. Wilson Observatory.

Reports say that firefighters (two of which have died so far) are doing their best to protect the Mt. Wilson facilities, but I wonder how long they’ll stay before driving back down. The only road out to the north is the long and winding Angeles Crest Highway — which is closed and may already be burned — and Mt. Wilson Road itself, which goes west through areas colored in the map above. The LATimes says the firefighters will stay there “no matter what”.

I’ve been to Mt. Wilson a number of times, and have often shot it from the air as well. These now comprise “before” pictures of the mountain.

Here is a Bing “birds eye” view of one section of the top of Mt. Wilson. This shot shows the observatory.

This Google Map shows the parking area where I assume firefighting equipment can keep away from advancing fire.

For what little it’s worth, the five zillion channels I get on my Dish Network TV system have nothing I can find on the fire. The locals here in Santa Barbara are running network shows. CNN and HLN are covering two dead guys. CNN has Larry King interviewing Ted Kennedy, and HLN has junk news coverage of Michael Jackson’s creepy autopsy results. As a news environment, TV is a slo-mo suicide victim.

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A couple days ago I responded to a posting on an email list. What I wrote struck a few chords, so I thought I’d repeat it here, with just a few edits, and then add a few additional thoughts as well. Here goes.

Reading _____’s references to ancient electrical power science brings to mind my own technical background, most of which is now also antique. Yet that background still informs of my understanding of the world, and my curiosities about What’s Going On Now, and What We Can Do Next. In fact I suspect that it is because I know so much about old technology that I am bullish about framing What We Can Do Next on both solid modern science and maximal liberation from technically obsolete legal and technical frameworks — even though I struggle as hard as the next geek to escape those.

(Autobiographical digression begins here. If you’re not into geeky stuff, skip.)

As a kid growing up in the 1950s and early ’60s I was obsessed with electricity and radio. I studied electronics and RF transmission and reception, was a ham radio operator, and put an inordinate amount of time into studying how antennas worked and electromagnetic waves propagated. From my home in New Jersey’s blue collar suburbs, I would ride my bike down to visit the transmitters of New York AM stations in the stinky tidewaters flanking the Turnpike, Routes 46 and 17, Paterson Plank Road and the Belleville Pike. (Nobody called them “Meadowlands” until many acres of them were paved in the ’70s to support a sports complex by that name.) I loved hanging with the old guys who manned those transmitters, and who were glad to take me out on the gangways to show how readings were made, how phasing worked (sinusoidal synchronization again), how a night transmitter had to address a dummy load before somebody manually switched from day to night power levels and directional arrays. After I learned to drive, my idea of a fun trip was to visit FM and TV transmitters on the tops of buildings and mountains. (Hell, I still do that.) Thus I came to understand skywaves and groundwaves, soil and salt water conductivity, ground systems, directional arrays and the inverse square law, all in the context of practical applications that required no shortage of engineering vernacular and black art.

I also obsessed on the reception end. In spite of living within sight of nearly every New York AM transmitter (WABC’s tower was close that we could hear its audio in our kitchen toaster), I logged more than 800 AM stations on my 40s-vintage Hammarlund HQ-129x receiver, which is still in storage at my sister’s place. That’s about 8 stations per channel. I came to understand how two-hop skywave reflection off the E layer of the ionosphere favored flat land or open water midway between transmission and reception points . This, I figured, is why I got KSL from Salt Lake City so well, but WOAI from San Antonio hardly at all. (Both were “clear channel” stations in the literal sense — nothing else in North America was on their channels at night, when the ionosphere becomes reflective of signals on the AM band.) Midpoint for the latter lay within the topographical corrugations of the southern Apalachians. Many years later I found this theory supported by listening in Hawaii to AM stations from Western North America, on an ordinary car radio. I’m still not sure why I found those skywave signals fading and distorting (from multiple reflections in the very uneven ionosphere) far less than those over land. I am sure, however, that most of this hardly matters at all to current RF and digital communication science. After I moved to North Carolina, I used Sporadic E reflections to log more than 1200 FM stations, mostly from 800 to 1200 miles away, plus nearly every Channel 3 and 6 (locally, 2,4 and 5 were occupied) in that same range. All those TV signals are now off the air. (Low-band VHF TV — channels 2 to 6 — are not used for digital signals in the U.S.) My knowledge of this old stuff is now mostly of nostalgia value; but seeking it has left me with a continuing curiosity about the physical world and our infrastructural additions to it. This is why much of what looks like photography is actually research. For example, this and this. What you’re looking at there are pictures taken in service to geology and archaeology.

(End of autobiographical digression.)

Speaking of which, I am also busy lately studying the history of copyright, royalties and the music business — mostly so ProjectVRM can avoid banging into any of those. This research amounts to legal and regulatory archaeology. Three preliminary findings stand out, and I would like to share them.

First, regulatory capture is real, and nearly impossible to escape. The best you can do is keep it from spreading. Most regulations protect last week from yesterday, and are driven by the last century’s leading industries. Little if any regulatory lawmaking by established industries — especially if they feel their revenue bases threatened, clears room for future development. Rather, it prevents future development, even for the threatened parties who might need it most. Thus the bulk of conversation and debate, even among the most progressive and original participants, takes place within the bounds of still-captive markets. This is why it is nearly impossible to talk about Net-supportive infrastructure development without employing the conceptual scaffolding of telecom and cablecom. We can rationalize this, for example, by saying that demand for telephone and cable (or satellite TV) services is real and persists, but the deeper and more important fact is that it is very difficult for any of us to exit the framing of those businesses and still make sense.

Second, infrastructure is plastic. The term “infrastructure” suggests physicality of the sturdiest kind, but in fact all of it is doomed to alteration, obsolescence and replacement. Some of it (Roman roads, for example) may last for centuries, but most of it is obsolete in a matter of decades, if not sooner. Consider over-the-air (OTA) TV. It is already a fossil. Numbered channels persist as station brands; but today very few of those stations transmit on their branded analog channels, and most of them are viewed over cable or satellite connections anyway. There are no reasons other than legacy regulatory ones to maintain the fiction that TV station locality is a matter of transmitter siting and signal range. Viewing of OTA TV signals is headed fast toward zero. It doesn’t help that digital signals play hard-to-get, and that the gear required for getting it sucks rocks. Nor does it help that cable and satellite providers that have gone out of their way to exclude OTA receiving circuitry from their latest gear, mostly force subscribing to channels that used to be free. As a result ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS are now a premium pay TV package. (For an example of how screwed this is, see here.) Among the biggest fossils are thousands of TV towers, some more than 2000 feet high, maintained to continue reifying the concept of “coverage,” and to legitimize “must carry” rules for cable. After live audio stream playing on mobile devices becomes cheap and easy, watch AM and FM radio transmission fossilize in exactly the same ways. (By the way, if you want to do something green and good for the environment, lobby for taking down some of these towers, which are expensive to maintain and hazards to anything that flies. Start with this list here. Note the “UHF/VHF transmission” column. Nearly all these towers were built for analog transmission and many are already abandoned. This one, for example.)

Third, “infrastructure” is a relatively new term and vaguely understood outside arcane uses within various industries. It drifted from military to everyday use in the 1970s, and is still not a field in itself. Try looking for an authoritative reference book on the general subject of infrastructure. There isn’t one. Yet digital technology requires that we challenge the physical anchoring of infrastructure as a concept. Are bits infrastructural? How about the means for arranging and moving them? The Internet (the most widespread means for moving bits) is defined fundamentally by its suite of protocols, not by the physical media over which data travels, even though there are capacity and performance dependencies on the latter. Again, we are in captured territory here. Only in conceptual jails can we sensibly debate whether something is an “information service” or a “telecommunication service”. And yet most of us who care about the internet and infrasructure do exactly that.

That last one is big. Maybe too big. I’ve written often about how hard it is to frame our understanding of the Net. Now I’m beginning to think we should admit that the Internet itself, as concept, is too limiting, and not much less antique than telecom or “power grid”.

“The Internet” is not a thing. It’s a finger pointing in the direction of a thing that isn’t. It is the name we give to the sense of place we get when we go “on” a mesh of unseen connections to interact with other entitites. Even the term “cloud“, labeling a utility data service, betrays the vagueness of our regard toward The Net.

I’ve been on the phone a lot lately with Erik Cecil, a veteran telecom attorney who has been thinking out loud about how networks are something other than the physical paths we reduce them to. He regards network mostly in its verb form: as what we do with our freedom — to enhance our intelligence, our wealth, our productivity, and the rest of what we do as contributors to civilization. To network we need technologies that enable what we do in maximal ways.  This, he says, requires that we re-think all our public utilities — energy, water, communications, transportation, military/security and law, to name a few — within the context of networking as something we do rather than something we have. (Think also of Jonathan Zittrain’s elevation of generativity as a supportive quality of open technology and standards. As verbs here, network and generate might not be too far apart.)

The social production side of this is well covered in Yochai Benkler‘s The Wealth of Networks, but the full challenge of what Erik talks about is to re-think all infrastructure outside all old boxes, including the one we call The Internet.

As we do that, it is essential that we look to employ the innovative capacities of businesses old and new. This is a hat tip in the general direction of ISPs, and to the concerns often expressed by Richard Bennett and Brett Glass: that new Internet regulation may already be antique and unnecessary, and that small ISPs (a WISP in Brett’s case) should be the best connections of high-minded thinkers like yours truly (and others named above) to the real world where rubber meets road.

There is a bigger picture here. We can’t have only some of us painting it.

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Following Tristan LouisFauxpenness, I posted Open vs. Fauxpen at Linux Journal. Includes hat-tipping toward Dave‘s recent work on URL shortening (the latest of which is here).

It’s been a long travel day, and we’ve got an hour to go before getting unstuck here in the Denver airport, which is in Nebraska, I think. Got an early flight out of Boston, then failed to get on by standby with two flights so far. But we’re reserved on the third, and due to arrive in Santa Barbara an hour and a quarter before tomorrow.

Anyway, my normally sunny mood, even in the midst of travel woes (one should appreciate the fact that commercial aviation involves sitting in a chair moving 500 miles an hour, seven miles up), was compromised earlier this evening by an unhappy exchange with Enterprise, the rental car company. I wrote about it in Unf*cking car rental, over in the ProjectVRM blog. It concludes constructively:

So I want to take this opportunity to appeal to anybody in a responsible position anywhere in the car rental business to work together with us at on a customer-based solution to this kind of automated lameness. It can’t be done from the inside alone. That’s been tried and proven inadequate for way too long. Leave a message below or write me at dsearls at cyber dot law dot harvard dot edu.

Let’s build The Intention Economy — based on real, existing, money-in-hand intentions of real customers, rather than the broken attention-seeking and customer-screwing system we have now.

There’s the bait. We’ll see if anybody takes it.

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Imagine a “News from Lake Wobegon” without the homespun prairie jive, lasting for more than an hour every weeknight, and packed with great stories, mostly of being a normal kid from greater blue-collar Chicago. That was Jean Shepherd, who was Required Listening in New York — and the whole Northeast — from the ’50s to the ’70s. “Shep” was also a writer of books and articles, a public performer, an artist and a screenwriter best known for A Christmas Story the 1983 hit movie that has since become required showing on holiday season television.

So I’m listening right now to “A Voice in the Night: A Tribute to Jean Shepherd”, on one of the Sirius public radio channels. I can’t tell which one because the display on the receiver is too dim, and the service’s own guide is nearly clue-free. (And I wont get rid of this receiver, because it’s one of the early ones with an illegally strong FM transmitter, which I like, and because it fits in three different cradles that will fit none of the newer units. I will, with regret for losing Howard Stern, dump Sirius when my subscription runs out later this year.)

Anyway, I’m busy and would love to hear this show later on a podcast. Alas, the only listen-link on the show page goes to a RealAudio stream that requires sitting at your computer (and having a Real player). If anybody knows how to get this on a podcast, let the rest of us know. Thanks.

JOHO promo

David Weinberger‘s latest JOHO is up. He unpacks the highlights here. One among many typically quotable nuggets: Transparency brings us to reliability the way objectivity used to.


Two new posts over at the ProjectVRM blog: Testing the all-tip system, and Appreciating TipJoy. Oddly, I didn’t know until after I posted the first one that TipJoy was folding.

What Abby and Ivan Kirgin did with TipJoy was great pioneering work that we can all learn from. I know it will help what we’re doing with EmanciPay and other VRM projects.

Christopher Musico, writing in the Destination CRM Blog: “According to a new study by research firm Pear Analytics, less than one in ten tweets have any real ‘pass-along value’,as more than 40 percent of tweets are ‘pointless babble.’”

I look forward to seeing more when the whole study is published (here, Christopher says). Meanwhile it’s important to point out that nobody follows everybody (which I assume is what Pear Analytics did). Nor does everybody write for everybody. Or even anybody.

Most of the people I follow write stuff that has pass-along value. And I don’t post anything unless I think it has pass-along value as well.

What I’d like to see is a study probing that value. How many followers blog rather than re-tweet, for example? That’s what I’m doing here. So, rather than just re-tweeting thisGoodCRMQuality or Quantity: Twitter Edition, Part 2 | CRM Magazine Blog: New research finds pointless babble makes up t.. — I’m blogging about it.

Think of blogging vs. re-tweeting as digestion vs. bulemia. And I say that as a guy who tosses up plenty of chunks myself. :-)

Mostly I work like a hermit:  in an attic with two window air conditioners fighting the heat and providing an endless source of dull noise that furthers my sense of productive isolation. For the last few days of record-high temperatures, the AC units have been losing the fight. Today they’ve been winning, so I haven’t been paying any attention to the world outside.

Then, one minute ago: Boom! A crack of thunder. Sure enough, Wunderground says a storm is moving in. It doesn’t look big, but it’s bowling a strike right across Boston:


A perfect excuse to take a snack out on the back porch for a front row seat on the best of nature’s summer theatre. (One of the things I miss when I’m in Santa Barbara, though I’ve been missing Santa Barbara mightily during the heat wave here.) And sympathizing with the passengers that are surely soon delayed on approach to Logan.

[One hour later...] Well, that was a case of wishful blogging. The storm cell passed over Boston but missed most of Cambridge. I see here another small one is on the way (right now it’s over Ashland, between Hollston and Framingham), but it might be pooped out by the time it gets here.

[Next morning...] The small patch of rain never got here. In the evening I went to a barbeque in a Cambridge backyard and the place was still soaked by the rain that missed my place. This morning it’s hot all over again.

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Alan M. Dershowitz: “If it is immoral to kill an innocent fetus, how could it not be immoral to execute an innocent person?” That’s the bottom line of Dershowitz’ dissent from Antonin Scalia’s dissent in this matter here. I might dig into it if I had more time and interest, but I have neither at the moment. I will, however, respectfully request that the professor (and everybody writing about cases like this) put links in text so readers have handy citational paths back to source documents. Links are a native grace of writing on the Web, and a helpful courtesy as well. Please use them.

The best insights compound the obvious. They make so much sense that you struggle to comprehend their many implications. Such is the case with the first line, and then the first paragraph, of Kevin Kelly‘s Better than Free:

The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free.

Consider the implication of this for the concept of copyright, then ponder the pile of law that first defined it in 1790 (in the U.S.) and has expanded on it ever since.

I won’t offer an opinion about that here, but instead turn our floor over to a pair of brilliant opponents on the subject: William F. Patry and Ben Sheffner. Bill is the author of Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars and a blog by the same name, subtitled “A blog about copyright discourse”—and a copyright attorney in the employ of Google (though he is careful to add, everywhere it makes sense, that “This is a personal blog, not a Google blog”.) Ben is a “copyright/First Amendment/media/entertainment attorney and former journalist” with a long list of credentials in the sidebar of his Copyrights & Campaigns blog, subtitled “Ben Sheffner’s notes on copyright, First Amendment, media, and entertainment law, and political campaigns”. Bill and Ben have been enjoying a very civil and illuminating debate, which Bill outlines this way:

Given the reverse-chronological nature (or LIFD–Last In, First Dug) nature of both blog publishing and geology, the first post is the bottom one on that list. Start there and work upward. I guarantee you will be smarter by the time you get to the top, and hungry for more.

As a pair of bonus links, I’ll point to Edward Samuels’ The Illustrated Story of Copyright, and Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine‘s Against Intellectual Monopoly. I’ve read the first, but not the second. Basically I’m just sharing my reading list here. Again, no opinions. Yet.

Oh, one more recommendation: Adam Gopnik’s Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life. Among many of its quotable nuggets is this one: “Law is the practice of rules in a context of deals, and Lincoln believed in both.” Keep that in mind when reading all the above.

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Allan Gregory (a 3rd year law student and my summer intern at the ) and I have spent a lot of time this summer looking at the history of copyright and royalties, mostly in respect to music. What I’ve noticed in the course of this work is how much commercial interests of one kind or another (and in some cases we’re talking about a single party with a legitimate beef who had been screwed over one too many times — Victor Herbert, for example) push law and enforcement across new lines that quickly harden. The free space on the far sides of those lines ratchets downward with each advance of creators armed by the law as rights-holders. At a certain point, it disappears.

To see how extreme this can get, visit here, or, which does an amazing job making sense of the music business in the U.K., which restricts music usage far more than anything like it in the U.S. For example,

Steve Finnigan, Chief Constable in Lancashire, England seems to have gotten himself in trouble with the Performing Right Society (PRS). Apparently there’s been music playing in police stations where people can hear it, and someone at the PRS noticed that no one has paid any licensing fees for it. The PRS is responsible for collecting performance royalties on behalf of composers and publishers in the UK.

In addition to the music that allegedly plays in 34 separate police stations, they’re also being accused of allowing employees to listen to it in gyms and at office parties. They’ve even gone so far as to use unlicensed music for entertaining the public when they get put on hold while calling in.

Since Lancashire Constabulary’s head of legal services, Niamh Noone, instructed officers not to discuss what was being played with PRS representatives, the agency decided to take them to court in order to collect back royalties they believe are owed and arrange for proper licensing so that future royalties may be collected in a more timely manner.

And you thought the RIAA was prickly.

Meanwhile on the publishing front, the Associated Press has been moving is a similarly restrictive direction for some time. The organization’s latest efforts are being covered like a blanket by Zachary M. Seward at the Nieman Journalism Lab. His latest post, Who, really, is The Associated Press accusing of copyright infringement? looks in depth at what the AP has been saying and doing, both in public and in secret. The word “bellicose” stands out in its first paragraph.

It’s an outstanding series. If you care about journalism, free speech, Free Culture, fair use and other values that transcend the AP’s parochial interests, it’s required reading.

While you do, remember that the AP is primarily an association of newspapers, formed early in the Industrial Age, and very much a creature of it. They are also, like many other associations representing originators of work about which usage rights are ambiguous, in essence a big legal department: quick to litigate and slow to comprehend the larger and changing contexts in which it now finds itself. Litigators are soldiers, not peacemakers. They don’t much care for olive branches (such as the one I extended last month).

Still, they’re not entirely unfriendly. Writes Zachary,

The AP would like to encourage use of its content — even full content — under terms that might not be so different from the APIs released by The New York Times and NPR. (Then again, it might be very different. The AP thus far hasn’t said what restrictions it will attach to its APIs.) I asked Kasi for an example, and he said that a mobile developer who wanted to include the AP’s articles or videos in an iPhone application could do so, probably without paying for access. Addressing the hypothetical developer, he said, “If this becomes a runaway success, I want to be part of this kind of business arrangement with you. In the meantime, if you want to experiment, go at it.”

In other words, “soon as there’s money in it, we want a piece of it”. In fact my proposal is for exactly that. Except it won’t be on their terms. It will be on ours, as fellow participants in what Zachary calls “the web’s circulatory system”.

In that system, Fee Culture is arteriosclerotic.

Here, here, here, here, here and here.

Suspicious white man reported in minority neighborhood:

Rock legend Bob Dylan was treated like a complete unknown by police in a New Jersey shore community when a resident called to report someone wandering around the neighborhood.

Dylan was in Long Branch, about a two-hour drive south of New York City, on July 23 as part of a tour with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp that was to play at a baseball stadium in nearby Lakewood.

A 24-year-old police officer apparently was unaware of who Dylan is and asked him for identification, Long Branch business administrator Howard Woolley said Friday.

“I don’t think she was familiar with his entire body of work,” Woolley said.

I know how he feels.

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According to the latest Inciweb report, the LaBrea fire is now at close to 70,000 acres, and 10% contained. And according to the latest from Ray Ford in the Independent, the fire is “almost impossible” to contain.

Here’s the latest from MODIS, wrapped onto Google Earth, showing the fire’s advance in the direction of Santa Maria;


Note Tepusquet Peak, which stands out in the view east from Santa Maria. Here’s what the Independent said about the area in 2007:

The canyon of Tepusquet Peak is a very high risk area, Iskow said. Running down from the peak you can see very thick brush heavily covering the canyon, and it’s obvious a fire in that area could quickly lead to trouble. About 200 homes sit in the canyon or at the bottom. The area hasn’t had a fire in about 80 years, which means the brush is ripe fuel for fire.

Says Inciweb,

Structure protection crews worked in the Tepusquet and Pine Canyon areas, and along Foothill Road in Cuyama Valley. Firefighters continue to battle the blaze with all means at their disposal including the best tools, technology and equipment available. Fire behavior conditions are challenging due to a combination of extremely dense, old vegetation, bone dry fuels, and erratic winds. Tonight, firefighters will conduct burnout operations to strengthen the fireline from Rattlesnake Canyon southeast to Horse Canyon. They will hold and mop up fireline along Sierra Madre Road and the northern portion of the Treplett fuel break. They will continue fireline construction and burnout above Cuyama Valley. Structure protection will continue tonight in the Tepusquet and Pine Canyon areas, and along Foothill Road in Cuyama Valley. An evacuation order is in effect for all of Tepusquet Canyon, from Santa Maria Mesa Road to Highway 166, all of Colson and Ruiz Canyons…

If the fire reaches Tepusquet Peak itself, here are some of the facilities at risk:

During the Tea Fire in Santa Barbara, most of the stations on Gibraltar Peak were knocked off the air when their antennas were burned up. The Jesusita Fire burned the back side of the same peak, but I don’t think any stations went off that time.

Here’s KCOY on the fire in Tepesquet Canyon.

The station also has live streaming video from Tepesquet Peak. Windows Media only, however.

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I love this:


… and I hope the good (or evil, depending on your perspective) folks at don’t mind my promoting their best t-shirt yet. (If it helps, I just ordered one.)

You’ll notice that blogging isn’t in the diagram (though Despair does feature it in four other purchasable forms). I bring that up because I think there is a difference between the social media in the Venn diagram and blogging, and that difference is akin to that between weather and geology.  The former have an evanescent quality. I’m still haunted by hearing that users get a maximum number Twitter postings (tweets) before the old ones scroll off. If true, it means Twitter is a whiteboard, made to be erased after awhile. The fact that few know what the deal is, exactly, also makes my point. Not many people expect anybody, including themselves, to revisit old tweets. The four names in the diagram above are also private corporate walled gardens. Blogging itself is not. True, you can blog in a corporate walled garden, but blogging is an independent category. You can move your blog from one platform to another, archives intact. Not easy, but it can be done. More importantly, your blog is yours. That’s why I dig Dave’s Scoble, your blog still loves you post. And why in the comments I said,

FriendFeeds and Facebooks and Microsofts will come and and go. They can be bought and sold, because they’re not human. Robert is human. Companies can’t be charming and lovable. They can, sometimes, for awhile. Ben & Jerrys did. Zappos did. But they got sold. You know, like slaves.

The only publication on Earth that’s all Robert’s is his blog. That’s where his soul is, because he can’t sell it.

It was while pondering the difference between social media and blogging that I posted this tweet today:

Thanks, @dnm54 But I still feel like my posts lately have the impact of snow on water. Too wordy? Not tweety enough? Not sure.

That got some reassuring responses, several playing with the snow-and-water metaphor. That’s one I’ve used often ever since first hearing “Big Ted”, by the Incredble String Band (from their Changing Horses album), played by the great Larry Josephson on his morning show on WBAI, back in the earliest 70s. “Big Ted” was a dead horse, about which the band sang, “He’s gone like snow on the water. Good bye-eeee.”

For a long time I harbored a fantasy about writing a history of radio, titled “Snow on the Water,” because that was its self-erasing quality. It was like unrecorded conversation that way. You get meaning from it, but you don’t remember everything verbatim, for such is the nature of short-term memory. Eight seconds later you might remember what somebody said, but not exactly. Tomorrow you might remember nothing more than having talked to the person.

Now I’m thinking “snow on the water” applies to social media as well. They’re conversational in the literal sense. They’re weather within which tweets fly and fall like flakes, and disappear into the collective unconscious.

On the other hand, blogging is geology. A blog’s posts may be current and timely, and constitute one person’s contribution to conversation around a subject or two, but each post is built to last. It has a “permalink”. Over time posts accumulate like soil deposits. You can dig down through layers of time and find them. What do tweets have? Temp-o-links?

From the beginning I’ve thought of blogging as journalism in the literal sense: Blogs are journals. Yet much of traditional journalism seems to have, on the whole, not much respect for its archives on the Web. Editorial “content” scrolls behind paywalls, doesn’t keep durable URLs, or disappears completely.

Which brings me to this comment by Tom Matrullo, left under this post about advertising. It’s way too deep to leave buried there:

There is no question that advertising requires us to be in the here and now, and not in the there and then, because it seeks to influence our desires and actions. Active repression of time, history, the past is basic to most commerce and commercial speech.

But I’d go further, because this is a large and important topic. Broadcast itself as a medium tends to put the past at a distance, even when it is about the past, because it makes it into spectacle. Something we watch from our NOW, the big now of advertising and current media.

And yet further: no media are more dis-attuned to the past than news media. It is all about the next story. That one last week that was entirely wrong? Ancient history. To be current, in news-speak, is to develop a sort of targeted Alzheimer’s in a certain direction.

Maybe this is one reason why the news media — on the whole, seems to me — have embraced social media of the temporary sort while continuing to put down blogging. Yes, they’ll set up blogs for their writers, but there’s often a second-class quality to those blogs, and the blogs willl get erased after the writer leaves — or even while the writer is still there. Dan Gillmor’s blog at the San Jose Mercury-News disappeared a number of times. Now it’s gone permanently. Dan’s columns are there, if you’re willing to pay $2.95 apiece for them.

It still blows my mind that, on the Web, newspapers give away the news but charge for the olds. Why not charge for the news and give away the olds? That would be in alignment with what they do with the physical paper. People will pay a buck for today’s paper, and nothing for one three days old. In the physical world, old papers are for wrapping fish and house-breaking puppies. If papers gave every old story a true permalink, search engines would find them, could sell advertising on them, and progressively elevate the whole paper’s authority.

I think they don’t do it for two reasons. One is that they’ve always charged for access to “the morgue.” Another is that embalming old papers has always been expensive. For many decades they bound them up like books for storage in libraries. I still have three of these, each for a whole week of New York Times papers from the ’50s and ’60s. The library at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill sent them out for recycling in 1975. The whole huge pile was rescued by buddies of mine who ran the recycling operation. The newspaper and the library at the time were modernizing by putting everything on microfilm. At the “Will Newspapers Survive” forum at MIT a couple years ago, I asked the panel (which included Dan Gillmor) about why papers charge for the olds and give away the news. Ellen Foley of the Wisconsin State Joural replied,

Speaking for the nation’s regional papers, one of our biggest problems is that today’s issues are all on microfilm tomorrow, not online. It would cost more than a million dollars to digitize our archives. It’s hard for me to make this argument to our publisher, who is trying to make money and make ends meet.

It’s not in the transcript, but I recall her adding something about how storing archives on disk drives was also expensive. That didn’t sit well with the audience, which knew better.

Anyway, my point is that, on the whole news organizations don’t care much about the past. They care about the present. I think social media tend to do the same thing. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Nor am I trying to elevate blogging into the Pulitzer sphere. (But hey, why not?)  I’m just trying to get my head around What’s Going On.

Here’s my thinking for now. What I write on blogs isn’t just for the short term. I also have the long term in mind. I’m making geology, not weather. Both have their places. The more durable stuff goes here.

Bonus link.

[Later...] Joe Andrieu has a thoughtful response.

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Here we burn again

The country behind Santa Barbara is burning again. This one is the LaBrea fire, east of Santa Maria. It has grown past 36,000 acres and is 10% contained. This is far north of the fire in Santa Barbara earlier this year. Still, it’s a big one.

Here’s a mashup of MODIS data with Google Earth:


The view is toward the east. The LaBrea Fire is on the left, on the north side, and the little dots along the coast on the right are visualizations of MODIS data from the height of the Jesusita Fire earlier this year. In the foreground along the coast is Vandenberg Air Force Base, plus lots of sand dunes, advancing southeastward.

Bonus link.

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For the form of life we call business, we are at a boundary between eras. For biological forms of life, the most recent of these is the K-T boundary between the  and the Eras. The Mezozoic Era ended when Earth was struck by an object that left a crater 110 miles wide and a world-wide layer of iridium-rich crud. Below that layer lies the Age of Dinosaurs, completed. Above that layer accumulate the fossils of life forms that survived the change, and took advantage of it. Notable among these is a branch of theropod dinosaurs we call birds.

In business we have the I-I boundary: the one between the Industrial and Information ages (which Alvin Toffler first observed in The Third Wave, published in 1980).  Below that boundary we find a communications environment dominated by telecom and cablecom. Above it we find a radically different communications environment that still supports voice and video, but as just two among an endless variety of other applications. We call that environment the Internet.

At this moment in history most of us know the Internet as a tertiary service of telephone and cable companies, which still make most of their money selling telephone service and cable TV. Since those are highly regulated businesses, the Internet is subject to degrees of regulatory capture. Some of that capture is legal, but much of it is conceptual, for example when we see the Internet as a grace of telecom and cablecom — rather than as something that subsumes and obsoletes both of those Industrial Age frames.

Such is the risk with “broadband” — a term inherited by the Internet from both telecom and cablecom, and which is a subject of interest for both Congress and the FCC. In April of this year the FCC announced the development of a national broadband plan, subtitled “Seeks Public Input on Plan to Ensure Every American has Access to Broadband Capability”. In July the commission announced that Harvard’s Berkman Center would conduct “an independent review of broadband studies” to assist the FCC. Then yesterday the center put up a notice that it “is looking for a smart, effective fellow to join our broadband research team”. (This is more than close to home for me, since I am a fellow at Berkman. So I need to say that the broadband studies review is not my project — mine is this one — and that I am not speaking for the Berkman Center here, or even in my capacity as a fellow.)

The challenge here for everybody is to frame our understanding of the Net, and of research concerning the Net, in terms that are as native to the Net as possible, and not just those inherited from the Industrial Age businesses to which it presents both threats and promise — the former more obvioius than the latter. This will be very hard, because the Internet conversation is still mostly a telecom and cablecom conversation. (It’s also an entertainment industry conversation, to the degree that streaming and sharing of audio and video files are captive to regulations driven by the recording and movie industries.)

This is the case especially for legislators and regulators, too few of which are technologists. Some years ago Michael Powell, addressing folks pushing for network neutrality legislation, said that he had met with nearly every member of Congress during his tour of duty as FCC chairman, and that he could report that nearly all of them knew very little about two subjects. “One is technology, and the other is economics,” he said. “Now proceed.”

Here is what I am hoping for, as we proceed both within this study and beyond it to a greater understanding of the Internet and the new Age it brings on:

  • That “broadband” comes to mean the full scope of the Internet’s capabilities, and not just data speeds.
  • That we develop a native understanding of what the Internet really is, including the realization that what we know of it today is just an early iteration.
  • That telecom and cablecom companies not only see the writing on the wall for their old business models, but embrace other advantages of incumbency, including countless new uses and businesses that can flourish in an environment of wide-open and minimally encumbered connectivity — which they have a privileged ability to facilitate.
  • That the Net’s capacities are not only those provided from the inside out by “backbone” and other big “carriers”, but from the outside in by individuals, small and mid-size businesses (including other Internet service providers, such as WISPs) and municipalities.

That last item is important because carriers are the theropods of our time. To survive, and thrive, they need to adapt. The hardest challenge for them is to recognize that the money they leave on the shrinking Industrial Age table is peanuts next to the money that will appear on the Information Age table they are in a privileged position to help build.

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I’ve written a lot of stuff on the Web, and when I need to find some of it, Google is where I go. Lately, however, the going hasn’t been quite as good, because Google most of the time asks me if I want to spell my surname differently. For example, if I look up searls infrastructure, I get “Did you mean: Searles infrastructure“? I never used to get that. Now I do.

The former brings up 251,000 results, by the way, while the latter brings up 11,600. And the top result is a guy named Searle.

On that search, by the way, Bing does a better job. At least for me. Same with Yahoo.

[Later...] See the comments below. Looks like we got some debugging of sorts done here. And thanks to Matt and Pandu for responding, and so quickly. Well done.

In Align the interests of: 1. Users and 2. Investors., make a radical yet sensible case for users becoming investors. It’s very consistent with what we’re learning from Scoble plus FriendFeed turning into Friendfeed minus Scoble, which Dave wrote about in Scoble, your blog still loves you, and to which I added a comment that included this:

  The only publication on Earth that’s all Robert’s is his blog. That’s where his soul is, because he can’t sell it.

  …We’re back to first principles now. Users and developers, diggin’ together. Working on stuff that will survive the deaths of companies — and of bright ideas that can’t live anywhere but inside companies that own roach-motel environments that can be sold or shut down tomorrow.

The problem with living in most VC-funded company environments isn’t just that they keep us from living elsewhere (which is bad enough to begin with). It’s that the environments are like houses built to flip. The main idea isn’t to build a great house, but to sell it. It was a lesson I unpacked here in 2001:

  When the “internet economy” was still a high-speed traffic jam somewhere back in 1999, I was at a party in San Francisco. Most of the folks there were young, hip “entrepreneurs”. Lots of all-black outfits, spiky haircuts, goatees and face jewelry. I fell into conversation with one of these guys–a smart, eager young chap I’d met at other gatherings. He was on his second or third startup and eagerly evangelizing his new company’s “mission” with a stream of buzzwords.

  “What does your company do, exactly?” I asked.

  “We’re an arms merchant to the portals industry”, he replied.

  When I pressed him for more details (How are portals an industry? What kind of arms are you selling?), I got more buzzwords back. Finally, I asked a rude question. “How are sales?”

  “They’re great. We just closed our second round of financing.”

  Thus I was delivered an epiphany: every company has two markets–one for its goods and services, and one for itself–and the latter had overcome the former. We actually thought selling companies to investors was a real business model.

Dave take this another step by suggesting that any company whose first loyalty is not to its customers or users is a risky prospect. And that user ownership is a good fix. I agree.

It’s not that we have to blow up everything that came before. It’s that we need to build a new kind of enterprise: founding a People’s Software Company whose first act is to IPO and pool the financial resources of users who believe there is a gap in what Silicon Valley is providing using their old models for corporate structure.

This is definitely in alignment with what we’ve been thinking about and working on with ProjectVRM. And, as with the project Dave wants us to think about here, it’s hard to see the need if you’re looking at the world from the vendor’s side of the demand/supply relationship.

Yesterday Jim Sinur posted Escaping the Zombie Zoo with Better Customer Facing Processes, in which he writes,

  Why can’t I have my own portal that understands me and all the companies I work with and the processes that I use on some frequency? I do like online banking and my bank’s website is somewhat intuitive. Paypal is not too bad either, but why can’t I create a menu of processes I want in stead of organizing favorites? This menu remembers me and all my passwords. I can give it instructions like calculate my net worth as of a certain date and it does it for me. I can tell it to pay certain bills that coordinate with my 15th of the month income check instead of having to rely on credit cards that expire and banks that you can’t control well.

  I want a “Process of Me” where companies can allow me to customize my processes and interface.

What Jim wants is VRM — a way he can manage vendors, rather than just have them managing him. Vendors should adapt to his needs and processes, rather than the reverse, which is what he complains about earlier in his post, and that we all live through every time we have to whip out a loyalty card to interact with some vendor in a lame, exclusive and non-user-driven way.

After Jon Garfunkel replied with a pointer to ProjectVRM, Jim asked, “Which vendors are supporting this or is it a grass roots movement?”

What Dave proposes is one way to remove that distinction.

I’m a born researcher. Studying stuff is a lot of what I do, whether I’m looking out the window of an airplaine, asking a question at a meeting, browsing through the Web and correspondence, or digging through books and journals in libraries.

Most of my library work, however, isn’t in library buildings. I work on my own screen. And there, much of what I’ve been studying lately is in Google scans of books.

I appreciate that Google has done Google Books. I also find the Google Books searching and reading process difficult in much the same way that looking at microfiche is difficult. The difference is that microfiche was in its time the best that could be done, while Google Books is great technology crippled by necessary compromise.

Much of that compromise — still ongoing — is around protecting both libraries and copyright holders. Contention around that topic has been large and complicated. A couple weeks back I hung out at Alternative Approaches to Open Digital Libraries in the Shadow of the Google Book Search Settlement: An Open Workshop at Harvard Law School, and left it better informed and less settled than ever.

In the Huffington Post, Pamela Samuelson, one of the world’s top copyright authorities, has a piece titled The Audacity of the Google Book Search Settlement, that begins,

  Sorry, Kindle. The Google Book Search settlement will be, if approved, the most significant book industry development in the modern era. Exploiting an opportunity made possible by lawsuits brought by a small number of plaintiffs on one narrow issue, Google has negotiated a settlement agreement designed to give it a compulsory license to all books in copyright throughout the world forever. This settlement will transform the future of the book industry and of public access to the cultural heritage of mankind embodied in books. How audacious is that?

She adds,

  Under the settlement, the Authors Guild and AAP are tasked with creating a new collecting society, the Book Rights Registry, which is supposed to find class members, sign them up, and pay them from a revenue stream that Google intends to generate from its commercialization of these books…

  Google will pay to the Registry 63 percent of the revenues it receives from its commercialization efforts of out-of-print books. After deducing its expenses, the Registry will pay royalties to those who have registered with it. Yet, the agreement also authorizes the Registry to pay out unclaimed funds from orphan and other unregistered works to registered owners, even though they are neither the authors nor the publishers of potentially millions of books.

It gets far more icky and complicated than that. Pamela continues,

  However, much larger questions call into question whether the settlement should be approved. One is whether the Authors Guild and AAP fairly represented the interests of all authors and publishers of in-copyright books during the negotiations that led up to the settlement agreement. A second is whether going forward, they and the newly created Registry to which they will give birth will fairly represent the interests of those on whose behalf the Registry will be receiving revenues from Google. As well-intentioned as they may be, the Authors Guild and AAP have negotiated an agreement that serves the interests of the core members of their organizational constituencies, not the thousands of times larger and more diverse class of authors and publishers of books from all over the world.

In What the Google Books Settlement Agreement Says About Privacy, Eric Hellman writes,

  Google, as presently constituted, has every reason to be concerned about user privacy and guard it vigilantly; its business would be severely compromised by any perception that it intrudes on the privacy of its users. As Larry Lessig pointed out at the Berkman workshop, that doesn’t mean that the Google of the future will behave similarly. Privacy concerns should be addressed; the main question has been how and where to address them. My reading of the settlement agreement is that it may be possible to address these concerns through the agreement’s Security Standard review mechanism, through oversight of the Registry, and through state and federal laws governing library patron privacy.

There’s a story this morning on NPR about how Google is building “the prospect of a virtual super-library”. Privacy is the angle on that one too. It’s also been the angle of the EFF for a long time. They’re looking for legally binding privacy guarantees. Google thinks a copyright conflict agreement would be a “wierd” place to put those guarantees.

It is a fortuitous but odd conflation. As Todd Carpenter tweets, “I don’t dismiss privacy concerns (have disabled WhysperSync on my #kindle for privacy) There are just bigger issues at stake.” Todd runs NISO, a publishing standards organization (he is also, by small-world coincidence in this thread — since, oddly, we’ve hardly talked about it, at least so far — my son-in-law). He also blogs here.

Here’s the larger issue for me: Google is a monopoly. One example. I’m looking right now at an AR&D case study (a .pdf I can’t find on the Web at the moment) of Jerry Damson Automotive Group, which the report says is the largest automobile dealer in Alabama. Here’s an excerpt:

  So where is the Damson group’s focus, if not on local media?

  “Every minute of every day is spent thinking about the consequences of our decisions as it relates to Google.” This remarkable statement is one that more advertisers will be making as they, too, grow in their un-derstanding of the Web and how advertising works in a hyperconnected universe. Boles is far ahead of most, but others will not be far behind, for people like him are paving the way for a future generation of strategies and tactics that enable commerce. “We begin each chunk (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening) of the day with Google Analytics.”

Substitute libraries for “local media”, and you get a sense of the impact here .

Here at Harvard we have Hollis, one of the world’s largest searchable library catalogs. Maybe the largest, I dunno. But it’s a big one, and it matters. When I search through the Hollis catalog, which I do nearly every day through a search thing in my browser toolbar, many of the results are accompanied by a book cover graphic and a link that reads, “Discover more in Google Books”. That pops me out of Hollis and into Google Books itself. In other searches (through the new catalog, which is fancier), I get no mention of Google Books, but when I click on the picture of a book cover, Google Books is where I go. It’s in a different window, but still I get the impression that Google Books is part of Hollis. And that creeps me out a bit, handy as it is in some ways.

Siva Vaidhyanathan is writing a book called The Googlization of Everything: How one companyh is disrupting culture, commerce and community — and why we should worry. He spoke at the workshop as well, and has lots of deep and good things to say.

Lessig says this settlement moves books down the path of documentary films: access encumbered by a bunch of agreements, without a guarantee of future access. It is “worse that a digital bookstore.” It brings us to “an excessive permission culture” produced by “a structure of oligopolies”. A “tendency to access” but not of free access. He suggests that we are turning our culture over to tigers when they still look like kittens.

There is not an easy answer. Or set of answers. So I’ll stand right now on the questions raised at the end of this Seth Finkelstein essay in The Guardian:

  Amid all the reactions, an overall lesson should be how little can be determined by legalism, and how much remains unsettled as new technology causes shifts in markets and power. There’s some value in enemy-of-my-enemy opposition, where the interests of an advertising near-monopoly are a counterweight to a content cartel. But battles between behemoth businesses should not be mistaken for friendship to libraries, authors or public interest.

Ry Cooder singing “I’m a fool for a cigarette”: 1401 views, 4 ratings.

WritingHanna singing “Coffee Ditty“: 704 views, 101 ratings.

Hannah sounds a lot like Maria Muldaur, no?

Kevin Marks in The Flow Past Web: even better than the RealTime thing:

Much of the supposed ‘Real-Time’ web is enabled by the relaxation of realtime constraints in favour of the ‘eventually consistent’ model of data propagation. Google Wave, for example, enables simultaneous editing by relaxing the ‘one person can edit at a time’ rule in favour of reconciling simultaneous edits smoothly.

He makes some other good points, such as the changes in the flow speeds of various media types and communicating methods:

At the same time, the latency of text has been moving the other way, from newspapers’ and mail’s daily cycles, to hours for webpages, minutes for blogs down to seconds for SMS, Twitter, Facebook and other activity streams. However, as audio and video have added persistence, text hasn’t lost it – we do have the ability to review and catch up with the past of our flows, or to re-point people to older points in time, as well as marking out times in the future.

Meanwhile I still prefer the “live web”. I think that’s more how it feels, how it seems to the user. I’m a voice in the wilderness on that one, but what the hell. I’ll keep trying.

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If Twitter does everything Dave says they should do, they’d make a helpful move toward bingo on Joe Andrieu’s checklist of user-driven services. Here’s the list:

  1. Impulse from the User
  2. Control
  3. Transparency
  4. Data Portability
  5. Service Endpoint Portability
  6. Self Hosting
  7. User Generativity
  8. Improvability
  9. Self-managed Identity
  10. Duty of Care

See how you’d score ‘em.

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In the mid-1990s, when I couldn’t find anybody to publish my essays (I didn’t want to cover what I still call “vendor sports”, which eliminated most of the tech magazine market ), I followed Dave Winer‘s footsteps and published my own on the Web. One was The Web and the New Reality, written in raw HTML with formatting borrowed from Netscape’s white papers of the time, complete with all-caps H2 headlines and first letters enlarged with +3 font sizes. Funny how mannered that looks now. Like the skull-and-wings on 18th century headstones.

I stumbled over The Web and the New Reality when I went trudging through the nether pages of Google search results, hoping to find more about the disagreements between Jefferson and Franklin over patents and copyrights. I still haven’t found exactly what I was looking for (though Chapter 2 of James Boyle’s The Public Domain gets me off to an excellent start), but did pause to note in my now-ancient essay a list of prophesies that hold up pretty well, especially since the scope of some embraces futures that still aren’t here but also haven’t been disproven in the years that have already passed. It is certainly utopian, and in that mood outlines some of the ideas we expanded in The Cluetrain Manifesto four (and now fourteen) years later. Here is how it begins:

Reality 2.0

The import of the Internet is so obvious and extreme that it actually defies valuation: witness the stock market, which values Netscape so far above that company’s real assets and earnings that its P/E ratio verges on the infinite.

Whatever we’re driving toward, it is very different from anchoring certainties that have grounded us for generations, if not for the duration of our species. It seems we are on the cusp of a new and radically different reality. Let’s call it Reality 2.0.

The label has a millenial quality, and a technical one as well. If Reality 2.0 is Reality 2.000, this month we’re in Reality 1.995.12.

With only a few revisions left before Reality 2.0 arrives, we’re in a good position to start seeing what awaits. Here are just a few of the things this writer is starting to see…

  1. As more customers come into direct contact with suppliers, markets for suppliers will change from target populations to conversations.
  2. Travel, ticket, advertising and PR agencies will all find new ways to add value, or they will be subtracted from market relationships that no longer require them.
  3. Within companies, marketing communications will change from peripheral activities to core competencies.New media will flourish on the Web, and old media will learn to live with the Web and take advantage of it.
  4. Retail space will complement cyber space. Customer and technical service will change dramatically, as 800 numbers yield to URLs and hard copy documents yield to soft copy versions of the same thing… but in browsable, searchable forms.
  5. Shipping services of all kinds will bloom. So will fulfillment services. So will ticket and entertainment sales services.
  6. The web’s search engines will become the new yellow pages for the whole world. Your fingers will still do the walking, but they won’t get stained with ink. Same goes for the white pages. Also the blue ones.
  7. The scope of the first person plural will enlarge to include the whole world. “We” may mean everybody on the globe, or any coherent group that inhabits it, regardless of location. Each of us will swing from group to group like monkeys through trees.
  8. National borders will change from barricades and toll booths into speed bumps and welcome mats.
  9. The game will be over for what teacher John Taylor Gatto labels “the narcotic we call television.” Also for the industrial relic of compulsory education. Both will be as dead as the mainframe business. In other words: still trucking, but not as the anchoring norms they used to be.
  10. Big Business will become as anachronistic as Big Government, because institutional mass will lose leverage without losing inertia.Domination will fail where partnering succeeds, simply because partners with positive sums will combine to outproduce winners and losers with zero sums.
  11. Right will make might.
  12. And might will be mighty different.

The last two sections, titled How It All Adds Up and The Plus Paradigm, are the ones that see a future in which the economics of abundance plainly outperform those of scarcity.

If Paul Saffo is right when he says we overestimate in the short term and underestimate in the long, my out-there prophesies might still be safe. But in our current short run I remain impressed at how little some of our institutions — especially those of journalism — grok how abundance works.

Last week I sat on two panels at the huge 92nd Annual Convention of the Association for Education inJournalism and Mass Communication in Boston. While much of what was talked about there was clueful in the extreme, there was no shortage of top-down stuff like “corporate strategies and consumer responses” — and very little push-back against the apparent decision by many newspapers and magazines to turn like a flock of fish toward the “strategy” of locking their “content” behind paywalls. Again. They clearly aren’t following Chris Anderson’s advice or example.

On the whole Google used to ignore the paywalled stuff, because it couldn’t be indexed, but now the pubs are leaving teasers out there (or maybe Google now has ways of searching archives anyway), and the result for the reader is clunking into registration and subscription doors that are all different and all annoying — especially when one is already a subscriber to the publication in question and can’t remember the login/password required (as is the case for me with The New Yorker, among other pubs).

So the “plus paradigm” ain’t here yet. But that doesn’t stop me from trying to make it happen anyway. There are worse goals than taking care of Jefferson’s unfinished business.

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Sez the Wall Street Journal headline, No More Perks: Coffee Shops Pull the Plug on Laptop Users — They Sit for Hours and Don’t Spend Much; Getting the Bum’s Rush in the Big Apple.

Erica Alini, writes, “…in a growing number of small coffee shops, firm restrictions on laptop use have been imposed and electric outlets have been locked. The laptop backlash may predate the recession, but the recession clearly has accelerated it.” She tells stories about shops kicking customers out, among other things.

But is there really a “laptop backlash?” I’m reminded of Billy Crystal’s stories about his grandfather. Billy never knew what his grandfather sold. All he heard the old man say was, “Ve’re closed!” Telling customers to go away is an old New Yawk tradition. Is it so different at coffee shops?

I dunno. I travel a lot, use laptops in coffee shops a lot, and have never been told to leave, or even felt a hint that I’m abusing a shop’s hospitality.

Hey, if this is true, there might be a market in New York for coffee shops with plenty of wi-fi and outlets, along with space for more customers to park their tushes and get work done. Woudn’t ya think?


Mark Finnern has a great idea: Wikipedia papers. Specifically,

Every student that takes a class has to create or improve a Wikipedia page to the topic of the class. It shouldn’t be the only deliverable, but an important one.

The Wikimedia organization could help the professors with tools, that highlight the changes that a certain user has done on a page. You only pass, when the professor is satisfied with the scientific validity of the page. One could even mark the pages that went through this vetting process differently.

Instead of creating papers that end up in a drawer, you would create pages that you even feel ownership of and would make sure that they stay current and don’t get vandalized. You could even link to them on you LinkedIn profile.

It would make an enormous difference to the quality of Wikipedia year over year. One can think of wiki-how and other pages that could be improved using the same model.

There are other reasons. For example, Wikipedia has holes. Not all of these line up with classes being taught, but some might. Let’s take one example…


Wikipedia has an entry for 5-1-1, the phone number one calls in some U.S. states for road conditions. It also has an entry for 9-1-1, the number one calls in North America for emergency services. And, while it has an entry for 8-1-1, the “call before you dig” number in the U.S., it’s kinda stale. One paragraph:

All 811 services in the U.S. will end up using 611 by early 2007, as the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in March 2005 made 811 the universal number for the 71 regional services that coordinate location services for underground public utilities in the U.S.[1][dated info] Currently, each of these “call before you dig” services, has its own 800 number, and the FCC and others want to make it as easy as possible for everyone planning an excavation to call first. This safety measure not only prevents damage that interrupts telecommunications, but also the cutting of electricity, water mains, and natural gas pipes. Establishment of an abbreviated dialing number for this purpose was required by the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002.

That last link takes you to one of those “Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name” places. The “call before you dig” link redirects to Utility location. There you’ll find this paragraph:

One-call, Miss Utility, or Underground Service Alert are services that allow construction workers to contact utility companies, who will then denote where underground utilities are located via color-coding those locations. As required by law and assigned by the FCC, the 8-1-1 telephone number will soon be used for this purpose across the United States.

Well, it’s already being used. And it’s way freaking complicated, because there’s this very uneven overlap of entities — federal government, state goverenments, regional associations, and commercial entities, to name a few — that all have something to say.

For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA. Right on their front page, they tell you April is Safe Digging Month. Good to know. April of what year? Next to a blurred emblem with an 811 over a shovel (a poor version the above, which comes from the Utility Notification Center of Colorado) and a horribly blurred graphic proclaiming WE SUPPORT SAFE DIGGING MONTH, a Call Before You Dig link leads to a page that explains,

Guidance for implementing safe and effective damage prevention for underground utilities was established by the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), a national organization representing all underground utility stakeholders. Calling before you dig is the first rule to remember when conducting underground related activities, no matter what the job is. The law requires you to phone the “One-Call” center at 8-1-1 at least two days prior to conducting any form of digging activity.

No link to the Common Ground Alliance. That org (a domain squatter has its .org URL, so it’s a .com) explains that it’s “a member-driven association dedicated to ensuring public safety, environmental protection, and the integrity of services by promoting effective damage prevention practices.” Its news page mentions that, among other things, August 11 is “8-11 Day”. It has a press release template in Word format. It also has news that “MGH Hired as CGA 811 Awareness Contractor” in .pdf. Within that one finds MGH’s website URL, where one finds that the agency is @mghus, which may be the hippest thing in this whole mess.

Digging farther, one finds that there is an, which appears to be another face of the Common Ground Alliance. (If you’re interested, here are its “sponsors and ambassadors”.)

Also involved is the American Public Works Association. Apparently the APWA is the outfit behind what LAonecall (one of the zillion of these with similar names) calls “the ULCC Uniform Color Code using the ANSI standard Z53.1 Safety Colors”. APWA must have published it at one point, but you won’t find it on its website. Hey, Google doesn’t. Though it does find lots of other sites that have it. Most are local or regional governmental entities. Or utilities like, say, Panhandle Energy. Here’s the graphic:


Here in New England (all of it other than Connecticut, anyway), the public face of this is Dig Safe System, Inc., which appears to be a nonprofit association, but there’s nothing on the site that says wtf it is — though it is informative in other respects. It does say, on its index page,

What is Dig Safe ®?

State laws require anyone who digs to notify utility companies before starting, and for good reason. Digging can be dangerous and costly without knowing where underground facilities are located.

Dig Safe ystem, Inc. is a communication network, assisting excavators, contractors and property owners in complying with state law by notifying the appropriate utilities before digging. Dig Safe®, a free service, notifies member companies of proposed excavation projects. In turn, these member utilities respond to the work area and identify the location of underground facilities. Callers are given a permit number as confirmation.

Member utilities, or contracted private locators, use paint, stakes or flags to identify the location of buried facilities. Color coding is used to identify the type of underground facilities… (and the same color coding as above)

I found out all of this — and much more — while I was researching for my column in the November issue of Linux Journal, which has Infrastructure the issue’s theme. I’m leveraging my leftovers here, closing one tab after another in my browser.

I’m also interested in approximately everything, one of which is the official-looking public graffiti on the ground all over the place. These are known locally as “dig safe markings”. At least that piece of the scattered one-call/call-before-you-dig/8-1-1 branding effort has taken root, at least here.

Anyway, I’d love to see a Wikipedia entry or two that pulls all this together. Maybe I should write it, but I’m busy. Hey, I’ve done this much already. Some actual experts ought to pick up the ball and post with it.

Which brings us back to Mark’s suggestion in the first place. Have a class do it.

Hey, @mghus, since you’re in Baltimore, how about  suggesting a Wikipedia page project to The Civil & Environmental Engineering Department at UMBC?

Maybe for 8-11 Day?

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Test #2

Well, the first try at the other blog failed. Let’s see if I unscrewed what I lost at this blog. Yep. Did. Backups are a good thing to have.

Okay, just imported all my categories. That was cool too. I think I’ll stop pressing my luck now. It’s good just to have the outliner working again.

Test Post

If this appears, then I’ve got my OPML editor running again.

It does. YAAAAY.

Next step: adding editing for the ProjectVRM blog.

In Curation, meta-curation, and live Net radio, Jon Udell begins, “I’ve long been dissatisfied with how we discover and tune into Net radio”, but doesn’t complain about it. He hacks some solutions. First he swaps time for place:

I’ve just created a new mode for the elmcity calendar aggregator. Now instead of creating a geographical hub, which combines events from Eventful and Upcoming and events from a list of iCalendar feeds — all for one location — you can create a topical hub whose events are governed only by time, not by location.

Then he works on curation:

I spun up a new topical hub in the elmcity aggregator and started experimenting.

That ran into problems from sources. Still it was…

…great for personal use. But I’m looking for the Webjay of Net radio. And I think maybe elmcity topical hubs can help enable that.

So Jon leverages what Tony Karrer described in Second Calendar Curator Joins to Help with List of Free Webinars, and adds,

What Tony showed me is that you can also (optionally) think in terms of meta-curators, curators, feeds, and events. In this example, Tony is himself a curator, but he is also a meta-curator — that is, a collector of curators.

I’d love to see this model evolve in the realm of Net radio. If you want to join the experiment, just use any calendar program to keep track of some of your favorite recurring shows. (Again, it’s very helpful to use one that supports per-event timezones.) Then publish the shows as an iCalendar feed, and send me the URL. As the meta-curator of, as well as the curator of, I’ll have two options. If I like most or all of the shows you like, I can add your feed to the hub. If I only like some of the shows you like, I can cherrypick them for my feed. Either way, the aggregated results will be available as XML, as JSON, and as an iCalendar feed that can flow into calendar clients or aggregators.

Naturally there can also be other meta-curators. To become one, designate a Delicious account for the purpose, spin up your own topical hub, and tell me about it.

I really like Jon’s idea. Sometime this weekend I’ll set up what he’s talking abouthere. Or try. I’ve always found Delicious a little too labor-intensive, but then blogging in WordPress’ writing window (as I’m doing now) is a PITA too. (One of these days I’ll get my outliner working again. That’s so much easier for me.)

The new radio dial is a combination of tools and each other’s heads. Given how the Net has eliminated distance as a factor in”reception” (a rapidly antiquifying term), the new frontier is time — how we find it. Or, in radio parlance, how we tune across it to find what we want, and then listen live or off stored files, either in our own devices (podcasting) or in the cloud (on-demand).

As we develop whatever this becomes, we need to avoid the usual traps. For example, there is this tendency for developers — commercial ones, anyway — to believe that the only available paths are –

  1. Making a commodity
  2. Trapping the user

So they do the latter. That’s why we get stuff like the iTunes store, which works with only one brand of mobile devices (Apple’s), and which nearly every other phone maker now, derivatively, wants to copy. (iTunes’ radio tuner, which is nothing more than a directory, works with nothing but itself, near as I can tell. As with most of the iTunes environment, it veers far from Apple’s reputation for ease of use — in addition to being exclusive and non-interoperable.)

What Jon’s doing here is one more among many necessary steps by which control of the marketplace shifts from user-trappers to users themselves.

Speaking of which, there is plenty of user input to the new, improved, and still-improving UI on the Public Radio Player, which now finds programs as well as stations. So, for example, I’m going to be on The Conversation with Ross Reynolds today on KUOW in Seattle, taking about the new 10th Anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto. The show starts at noon (though my segment comes in a bit later). When I looked up “conversation” on the Player, I found Rick’s show in the list results, and went right there. This goes a long way beyond tuning the way it used to be. But it still has a long way to go.

We’ll get us there.

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I dunno why the New York Times appeared on my doorstep this morning, along with our usual Boston Globe (Sox lost, plus other news) — while our Wall Street Journal did not. (Was it a promo? There was no response envelope or anything. And none of the neighbors gets a paper at all, so it wasn’t a stray, I’m pretty sure.) Anyway, while I was paging through the Times over breakfast, I was thinking, “It’s good, but I’m not missing much here–” when I hit Hot Story to Has-Been: Tracking News via Cyberspace, by Patricia Cohen, on the front page of the Arts section. It’s about MediaCloud, a Berkman Center project, and features quotage from Ethan Zuckerman and Yochai Benkler


(pictured above at last year’s Berkman@10).

The home page of MediaCloud explains,

The Internet is fundamentally altering the way that news is produced and distributed, but there are few comprehensive approaches to understanding the nature of these changes. Media Cloud automatically builds an archive of news stories and blog posts from the web, applies language processing, and gives you ways to analyze and visualize the data.

This is a cool thing. It also raises the same question that is asked far too often in other contexts: Why doesn’t Google do that? Here’s the short answer: Because the money’s not there. For Google, the money is in advertising.

Plain enough, but let’s go deeper.

It’s an interesting fact that Google’s index covers the present, but not the past. When somebody updates their home page, Google doesn’t remember the old one, except in cache, which gets wiped out after a period of time. It doesn’t remember the one before that, or the one before that. If it did it might look, at least conceptually, like Apple’s Time Machine:


If Google were a time machine, you could not only see what happened in the past, but do research against it. You could search for what’s changed. Not on Google’s terms, as you can, say, with Google Trends, but on your own, with an infinite variety of queries.

I don’t know if Google archives everything. I suspect not. I think they archive search and traffic histories (or they wouldn’t be able to do stuff like this), and other metadata. (Mabye a Googler can fill us in here.)

I do know that Technorati keeps (or used to keep) an archive of all blogs (or everything with an RSS feed). This was made possible by the nature of blogging, which is part of the Live Web. It comes time-stamped, and with the assumption that past posts will accumulate in a self-archiving way. Every blog has a virtual directory path that goes domainname/year/month/day/post. Stuff on the Static Web of sites (a real estate term) were self-replacing and didn’t keep archives on the Web. Not by design, anyway.

I used to be on the Technorati advisory board and talked with the company quite a bit about what to do with those archives. I thought there should be money to be found through making them searchable in some way, but I never got anywhere with that.

If there isn’t an advertising play, or a traffic-attraction play (same thing in most cases), what’s the point? So goes the common thinking about site monetization. And Google is in the middle of that.

So this got me to thinking about research vs. advertising.

If research wants to look back through time (and usually it does), it needs data from the past. That means the past has to be kept as a source. This is what MediaCloud does. For research on news topics, it does one of the may things I had hoped Technorati would do.

Advertising cares only about the future. It wants you to buy something, or to know about something so you can act on it at some future time.

So, while research’s time scope tends to start in present and look back, advertising’s time scope tends to start in the present and look forward.

To be fair, I commend Google for all the stuff it does that is not advertising-related or -supported, and it’s plenty. And I commend Technorati for keeping archives, just in case some business model does finally show up.

But in the meantime I’m also wondering if advertising doesn’t have some influence on our sense of how much the past matters. And my preliminary response is, Yes, it does. It’s an accessory to forgetfulness. (Except, of course, to the degree it drives us to remember — through “branding” and other techniques — the name of a company or product.)

Just something to think about. And maybe research as well. If you can find the data.

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Over at the ProjectVRM blog: Dawn of the Living Infrastructure.

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… customers are so empowered that they don’t feel especially empowered. The new normal is that we expect businesses to listen to us. The companies that don’t are now perceived as Dinosaurs. — David Weinberger, from the new Introduction to 10th Anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto.

That’s from the first of eight new chapters. Since a lot of people don’t seem to know that the new Cluetrain is a lot bigger and better than the original, I thought it would be cool to start quoting some of the new stuff.


One of the reasons I liked Dish Network (to the extent anybody can like a purely commercial entertainment utility) was that their satellite receivers included an over-the-air tuner. It nicely folded your over-the-air (OTA) stations in with others in the system’s channel guide. Here’s how it looked:


Well, the week before last I discovered that our Dish receiver was having trouble seeing and using its broadband connection — and, for that matter, the phone line as well. That receiver was this one here…


… a ViP 622. Vintage 2006. Top of Dish’s line at the time. Note the round jack on the far left of the back side. That’s where your outside (or inside) over-the-air antenna plugged in. We’ll be revisiting the subject shortly.

So Dish sent a guy out. He replaced the ViP 622 with Dish’s latest (or so he said): a ViP 722. I looked it up on the Web and ran across “DISH Network’s forthcoming DVRs get detailed: hints of Sling all over“, by Darren Murph, posted May 18th 2008. Among other things it said, “The forthcoming ViP 722 will be the first HD DVR from the outfit with loads of Sling technology built in — not too shocking considering the recent acquisition. Additionally, the box is said to feature an all new interface and the ability to browse to (select) websites, double as a SlingCatcher and even handle Clip & Sling duties.”

So here it was, July 2009, and I had a ViP 722 hooked up to my nice Sony flat screen, and … no hint of anything remotely suggestive of a Sling feature. When I asked the Dish guy about it, he didn’t have a clue. Sling? What’s that? Didn’t matter anyway, because the thing couldn’t use our broadband. The guy thought it might be my firewall, but I don’t have one of those.  Just a straight Net connection, through a router and a switch in a wiring closet that works fine for every other Net-aware device hooked up to it. We tested the receiver’s connection with a laptop: 18Mb down, 4Mb up. No problems. The receiver gets an IP address from the router (and can display it), and lights blink by the ethernet jack. But… it doesn’t communicate. The Dish guy said the broadband was only used for pay-per-view, and we don’t care about that, it doesn’t much matter. But we do care about customer support. Dish has buttons and menu choices for that, but—get this—has to dial out on a phone line to get the information you want. I had thought this was just a retro feature of the old ViP 622, but when I called Dish they said no, it’s still a feature of ALL Dish receivers.

It’s 2009, and these things are still dialing out. On a land line. Amazing.

So a couple days ago my wife called me from the house (I’m back in Boston) and said that the ViP 722 was dead. Tot. Mort. We tried re-setting it, unplugging and plugging it back in. Nothing. Then yesterday Dish came out to fix the thing, found was indeed croaked, and put in a new one: a ViP 722k, Dish’s “advanced, state-of-the-art” reciever of the moment.

Well, it may be advanced in lots of ways, but it’s retarded in one that royally pisses me off: no over-the-air receiver. That jack in the back I pointed out above? Not there.  So, no longer can I plug in my roof antenna to watch over-the-air TV. To do that I’ll have to bypass the receiver and plug the antenna cable straight into the TV. (That has never worked either, because Sony makes the channel-tuning impossible to understand, much less operate. On that TV, switching between satellite and anything else, such as the DVD, is a freaking ordeal.) Oh, and I won’t be able to record over-the-air programs, either. Unless I get a second DVR that’s not Dish’s.

Okay, so I just did some looking around, and found through this video that the ViP 722K has an optional “MT2 OTA module” that gets you over-the-air TV on the ViP 722k. Here’s some more confusing shit about it. Here’s more from Here’s the product brochure (pdf). Digging in, I see it’s two ATSC (digital TV) tuners in one, with two antenna inputs, and it goes in a drawer in the back of the set. It costs $30. I don’t think the Dish installer even knew about it. He told me that the feature had been eliminated on the 722K, and that I was SOL.

Bonus bummer: The VIP 722k also features a much more complicated remote control. This reduces another long-standing advantage of Dish: remote controls so simple to use that you could operate them in the dark. Bye to that too.

So. Why did Dish subtract value like that? I can think of only two reasons. One is that approximately nobody still watches over-the-air TV. (This is true. I’m one of the very few exceptions. Color me retro.) The other is that Dish charges $5.99/month for local channels. They did that before, but now they can force the purchase. “Yes, we blew off your antenna, but now you can get the same channels over satellite for six bucks a month.” Except for us it’s not the same channels. We live in Santa Barbara, but can’t get the local over-the-air channels. Instead we watch San Diego’s. Dish doesn’t offer us those, at any price.

The final irony is that the ViP 722k can’t use our broadband or our phone line either. Nobody ever figured out that problem. That means this whole adventure was for worse than naught. We’d have been better off if with our old ViP 622. There was nothing wrong with it that isn’t still wrong with its replacements.

Later my wife shared a conversation she had with a couple other people in town who had gone through similar craziness at their homes. “What happened to TV?” one of them said. “It’s gotten so freaking complicated. I just hate it.”

What’s happening is a dying industry milking its customers. That much is clear. The rest is all snow.

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