January 2010

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In response to Dave‘s Reading tea leaves in advance of Apple’s announcements, I added this comment:

Steve loves to uncork constipated categories with the world’s slickest laxative. So I’m guessing this new box will expand Apple’s retail shelf space to include newspapers, journals and books as well as sound recordings, movies and TV shows. It will be the best showcase “content” ever had, and will be a wholly owned proprietary channel. A year from now, half the people on planes will be watching these things.

It would be cool if it also helped any of us to become movie producers, and to share and mash up our own HD creations. But I think Steve is more interested in hacking Hollywood (entertainment) and New York (publishing).

I’ve thought for years that Apple’s real enemy is Sony. Or vice versa. But Sony got lame, becoming a Hollywood company with an equipment maker on the side. So think instead of the old Sony — the inventive one that owned the high-gloss/high-margin end of the entertainment gear business, the Sony of Walkmen and Trinitrons. That’s the vacuum Apple’s filling. Only, unlike Sony, Apple won’t have 50,000 SKUs to throw like spaghetti at the market’s wall. They’ll have the fewest number of SKUs possible. And will continue to invent or expand whole new categories with each.

And there will be something missing to piss people off too. Maybe it’ll be absent ports (like you said). Maybe it’s no multi-tasking, or skimpy memory, or bad battery life, or an unholy deal with some “partner.”

Whatever it is, the verities persist. Meaning items 1 through 6 from this 1997 document still apply:

http://www.scripting.com/davenet/stories/DocSea…

At that last link I wrote,

These things I can guarantee about whatever Apple makes from this point forward:

  1. It will be original.
  2. It will be innovative.
  3. It will be exclusive.
  4. It will be expensive.
  5. It’s aesthetics will be impeccable.
  6. The influence of developers, even influential developers like you, will be minimal. The influence of customers and users will be held in even higher contempt.

So now the iPad has been announced, Steve has left the building, and the commentariat is weighing in.

The absence of multi-tasking might be the biggest bummer. (Makes me wonder if mono-tasking is a Jobsian “feature”, kinda like the one-button mouse.) Adam Frucci of Gizmodo lists mono-tasking among eight things that suck” about the iPad, including no cameras, no HDMI out, no Flash, 3×4 (rather than wide) screen and a “Big, Ugly Bezel”. (That last one is off base, methinks. You need the wide bezel so you can hold the device without your hot fingertips doing wrong things with the touchscreen.)

Elswehere at Gizmodo, Joel Johnson says “PCs will be around as expert devices for the long haul, but it’s clear that Apple, coasting on the deserved success of the iPhone, sees simple, closed internet devices as the future of computing. (Or at the very least, portable computing.) And for the average consumer, it could be.”

The Engadgeteers mostly panned it. Unimaginative… underwhelming… one of Apple’s biggest misses.

MG Sigler at Techcrunch says, “The thing is beautiful and fast. Really fast. If you’ll excuse my hyperbole, it felt like I was holding the future. But is it a must-have?” Then answers,

Most people won’t yet, but as long as Apple has its base that will buy and use the iPad, they have plenty of time for either themselves or third-party developers to create the killer uses that make the iPad a must-have product for a broader range of people. We already saw that happen with the App Store and the iPhone/iPod touch. And at $499 (for the low-end version), there will be no shortage of people willing to splurge on the device just to see what all the fuss is about. They’ll get hooked too.

That’s getting close, but it’s not quite there.

First, the base Apple wants is consumers. Literally. We’re talking newspaper and magazine readers, buyers and users of cameras and camcorders, and (especially) TV and movie watchers. To some degree these people produce (mostly home video and photos), but to a greater degree they are still potatoes that metablolize “content”. This thing is priced like a television, with many improvements on the original. Call it Apple’s Trinitron. They are, like I said, after Sony’s abandoned position here, without the burden of a zillion SKUs.

Second, there will be a mountain of apps for this thing, and more than a few killer ones.

What depressed me, though I expected it, was the big pile of what are clearly verticalized Apple apps, which I am sure enjoy privileged positions in the iPad’s app portfolio, no matter how big that gets. It’s full of customer lock-in. I’m a photographer, and the only use for iPhoto I have is getting shots off the iPhone. Apple’s calendar on the iPhone and computer (iCal) is, while useful, still lame. Maybe it’ll be better on the iPad, but I doubt it. And the hugely sphinctered iTunes/Store system also remains irritating, though I understand why Apple does it.

What you have to appreciate, even admire, is how well Apple plays the vertical game. It’s really amazing.

What you also have to appreciate is how much we also need the horizontal one. The iPad needs an open alternative, soon. There should be for the iPad what Google’s Nexus One is for the iPhone.

I got a ride home tonight from Bob Frankston, who was guided by a Nexus One, serving as a better GPS than my dashboard’s Garmin. Earlier in the evening Bob used the Nexus One to do a bunch of other stuff the iPhone doesn’t do as well, if at all. More importantly, he didn’t need to get his apps only from Google’s (or anybody’s) “store”. And if somebody else wants to make a better Android phone than this one, they can. And Google, I’m sure, hopes they do. That’s because Google is playing a horizontal game here, broadening the new market that Apple pioneered with its highly vertical iPhone.

So a big lesson here is that the market’s ecosystem includes both the vertical silos and the horizontal landscapes on which those silos stand, and where all kinds of other things can grow. Joel may be right that “the average consumer” will have no trouble being locked inside Apple’s silo of “simple, closed Internet devices”. But there are plenty of other people who are neither average nor content with that prospect. There are also plenty of developers who prefer independence to dependence, and a free market to a captive one.

Captivity has its charms, and an argument can be made that tech categories are best pioneered by companies like Apple and Sony, which succeed both by inventing new stuff that primes the pump of demand, and by locking both developers and customers inside their silos. But truly free markets are not restricted to choices among silos, no matter how cushy the accomodations may be. Nor are they restricted to the non-choice of just one silo, as is currently the case with the iPad. Free markets are wide open spaces where anybody can make — and buy — anything.

There’s more to fear from heights than widths.

Bonus link: Dave weighs in. This is just a jumbo Oreo cookie.

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Hospitality story

We tested Santa Barbara before moving there, by taking a small apartment near the beach. The apartment was at the uphill (northwest) end of Burton Circle, on Natoma (a paved tangent of Burton’s circle), on the second floor of the keystone-shaped building in the center of this map here. At the time we had no idea that we had plunked ourselves at a kind of Ground Zero of the city’s history.

The first clue came under the apartment across the street. The place was for sale, so we went over to take a look during an open house or something. Our tour paused in the basement laundry room, next to which was an open crawl space floored by loose sand. When I ran my hands through the sand, my skin was blackened by ash. This was a familiar experience for me, since I grew up spending summers in New Jersey’s pine barrens, a sandy expanse of pitch pine and scrub oak that had burned so often since the Pleistocene that the top layer of sand was tinted gray with ash. So I said to the real estate agent, “there’s been a fire here.”

“Oh yes,” he replied. “A huge one. This was the site of the Potter Hotel. It burned down in the Twenties.”

When I dug into local history, I found that our apartment not only sat across the circular driveway of the grand hotel’s entrance but at the crest of Burton Mound, which had been the very center of the Chumash settlement displaced by the Spanish after serving as the closest thing to a native city for perhaps thousands of years before.

All this comes to mind again reading historian Neal Graffy’s excellent article in Edhat on the Potter Hotel and the city that grew up around it. Continue reading there.

[Later...] Note to selves: the Potter Hotel deserves a Wikipedia entry. Let’s make one.

Passive Assistance

saltpond_smFour more of my aerial photos now illustrate their subjects in Wikipedia: Nebraska National Forest and the nearby town of , both in the region; and and Salina (a micro algae that colors salt ponds, such as those on the left), both in the Bay Area.

There are now 120 of my shots in Wikimedia Commons. I put none of them there. I just tag shots aggressively and describe them the best I can (and have time for), and let nature take its course. In these cases nature was PDTillman. Hats off to him.

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Anybody who refuses to leave a mudslide evacuation area needs to watch this video:

It’s a live recording of the slide that killed ten people in LaConchita, California, on January 10, 2005. We know people who knew people who were killed in that slide. The story of the Wallet family is especially tragic. Jimmy Wallet was walking back from a corner store with some ice cream for his family when the mudslide in the video above destroyed his house before his eyes, burying his wife and three little daughters. Only he and his teenage daughter, who was out with friends, lived. Six others also died.

And this wasn’t  an especially big slide — or the first to strike that little community. Here’s one from five years earlier. That killed people too.

I’ve been listening to KNX, which has been reporting on the heavy weather in Southern California, and I’m amazed to hear that a large percentage (40%, I think the reporter said) of evacuees are waiting it out.

Here’s the deal, folks: mudslides are inevitable. If you live below a steep hill or mountain slope in a part of Southern California that’s getting heavy rain, and you’re under an evacuation order, get out. Right now (5:45pm Pacific), Acton. La Crescenta, La Cañada-Flintridge, Glendale, Tujunga Foothill and Sierra Madre all have a total of nearly 2000 homes under evacuation order. (So says the official speaking at a news conference on KNX right now.)

Yesterday I shared some of what John McPhee wrote in The Control of Nature about a mudslide (in Glendale — in the same area under evacuation orders now. Here is the whole passage, courtesy of  this page on Los Angeles provided by United States Geological Survey:

In Los Angeles versus the San Gabriel Mountains, it is not always clear which side is losing. For example, the Genofiles, Bob and Jackie, can claim to have lost and won. They live on an acre of ground so high that they look across their pool and past the trunks of big pines at an aerial view over Glendale and across Los Angeles to the Pacific bays. The setting, in cool dry air, is serene and Mediterranean. It has not been everlastingly serene.

On a February night some years ago, the Genofiles were awakened by a crash of thunder — lightning striking the mountain front. Ordinarily, in their quiet neighborhood, only the creek beside them was likely to make much sound, dropping steeply out of Shields Canyon on its way to the Los Angeles River. The creek, like every component of all the river systems across the city from mountains to ocean, had not been left to nature. Its banks were concrete. Its bed was concrete. When boulders were running there, they sounded like a rolling freight. On a night like this, the boulders should have been running. The creek should have been a torrent. its unnatural sound was unnaturally absent. There was, and had been, a lot of rain.

The Genofiles had two teen-age children, whose rooms were on the uphill side of the one-story house. The window in Scott’s room looked straight up Pine Cone Road, a cul-de-sac, which, with hundreds like it, defined the northern limit of the city, the confrontation of the urban and the wild. Los Angeles is overmatched on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by very high mountains. With respect to these principal boundaries, Los Angeles is done sprawling. The San Gabriels, in their state of tectonic youth, are rising as rapidly as any range on Earth. Their loose inimical slopes flout the tolerance of the angle of repose. Rising straight up out of the megalopolis, they stand ten thousand feet above the nearby sea, and they are not kidding with this city. Shedding, spalling, self-destructing, they are disintegrating at a rate that is also among the fastest in the world. The phalanxed communities of Los Angeles have pushed themselves hard against these mountains, an aggression that requires a deep defense budget to contend with the results. Kimberlee Genofile called to her mother, who joined her in Scott’s room as they looked up the street. From its high turnaround, Pine Cone Road plunges downhill like a ski run, bending left and then right and then left and then right in steep christiania turns for half a mile above a three-hundred-foot straight-away that aims directly at the Genofiles’ house. Not far below the turnaround, Shields Creek passes under the street, and there a kink in its concrete profile had been plugged by a six-foot boulder. Hence the silence of the creek. The water was not spreading over the street. It descended in heavy sheets. As the young Genofiles and their mother glimpsed it in the all but total darkness, the scene was suddenly illuminated by a blue electrical flash. In the blue light they saw a massive blackness, moving. It was not a landslide, not a mudslide, not a rock avalanche; nor by any means was it the front of a conventional flood. In Jackie’s words, “It was just one big black thing coming at us, rolling, rolling with a lot of water in front of it, pushing the water, this big black thing. It was just one big black hill coming toward us.”

In geology, it would be known as a debris flow. Debris flows amass in stream valleys and more or less resemble fresh concrete. They consist of water mixed with a good deal of solid material, most of which is above sand size. Some of it is Chevrolet size. Boulders bigger than cars ride long distances in debris flows. Boulders grouped like fish eggs pour downhill in debris flows. The dark material coming toward the Genofiles was not only full of boulders; it was so full of automobiles it was like bread dough mixed with raisins. On its way down Pine Cone Road, it plucked up cars from driveways and the street. When it crashed into the Genofiles’ house, the shattering of safety glass made terrific explosive sounds. A door burst open. Mud and boulders poured into the hall. We’re going to go, Jackie thought. Oh, my God, what a hell of a way for the four of us to die together.

The parents’ bedroom was on the far side of the house. Bob Genofile was in there kicking through white satin draperies at the paneled glass, smashing it to provide an outlet for water, when the three others ran in to join him. The walls of the house neither moved nor shook. As a general contractor, Bob had built dams, department stores, hospitals, six schools, seven churches, and this house. It was made of concrete block with steel reinforcement, 16 inches on center. His wife had said it was stronger than any dam in California. His crew had called it “the fort.” In those days, 20 years before, the Genofiles’ acre was close by the edge of the mountain brush, but a developer had come along since then and knocked down thousands of trees and put Pine Cone Road up the slope. Now Bob Genofile was thinking, I hope the roof holds. I hope the roof is strong enough to hold. Debris was flowing over it. He told Scott to shut the bedroom door. No sooner was the door closed that it was battered down and fell into the room. Mud, rock, water poured in. It pushed everybody against the far wall. “Jump on the bed,” Bob said. The bed began to rise. Kneeling on it — on a gold velvet spread — they could soon press their palms against the ceiling. The bed also moved toward the glass wall. The two teen-agers got off, to try to control the motion, and were pinned between the bed’s brass railing and the wall. Boulders went up against the railing, pressed it into their legs, and held them fast. Bob dived into the muck to try to move the boulders, but he failed. The debris flow, entering through windows as well as doors, continued to rise. Escape was still possible for the parents but not for the children. The parents looked at each other and did not stir. Each reached for and held one of the children. Their mother felt suddenly resigned, sure that her son and daughter would die and she and her husband would quickly follow. The house became buried to the eaves. Boulders sat on the roof. Thirteen automobiles were packed around the building, including five in the pool. A din of rocks kept banging against them. The stuck horn of a buried car was blaring. The family in the darkness in their fixed tableau watched one another by the light of a directional signal, endlessly blinking. The house had filled up in six minutes, and the mud stopped rising near the children’s chins.”

Note that these flows don’t happen only when it’s still raining. Here’s one that happened along the Hayward Fault, in Fremont, that I remember watching from across the South Bay when we lived in Emerald Hills, California, in the late Nineties. It moved slowly and didn’t take out any houses; but it almost did, and was dramatic to watch. It wasn’t raining at the time. The mountainside was saturated with water from earlier rains, and chose its own time to give.

In terms of Geology, California is new. If you were to run a short video of the last few hundred thousand years in Southern California, you’d see a riot of mountains forming, sliding sideways and collapsing. If you were to do the same for the mountains of Arkansas or North Carolina, you’d see almost nothing happening.

Living anywhere is a game of russian roulette with nature: a bet that grand geologic or weather events will not occur within our brief lifespans. In communities like La Conchita, and others placed below dirt sure to move, there are many more bullets in the chambers.

But denial is a powerful force. When I first moved to Santa Barbara, and drove past La Conchita on Highway 1, I was astounded that anybody would chance to build there, because big landslides had obviously happened already, and more were sure to come. Since the mudslide of 2005, many people continue to live in La Conchita, and insist that the county “fix” the mountain above them — even though geologists have studied the region closely and said this:

The 1995 and 2005 landslides in the 200-m high sea cliff above the community of La Conchita, California, are known to be part of a reactivated Holocene prehistoric landslide. We propose that the prehistoric Holocene slide is part of a much larger, several hundred million cubic meter late Pleistocene slide complex composed of upper slumps and lower flows, informally termed as the Rincon Mountain megaslide.

On the positive side, rain on SoCal’s low elevations in winter means snow on the high peaks. If the air clears, Los Angeles will be flanked by white alps. I guarantee great skiing on Mt. Baldy when this thing is over. Provided there isn’t a debris flow blocking the road going up there.

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John McPhee is the best nonfiction writer alive. My opinion, of course. But I happen to be right. Nobody describes anything better. No writer does a better job of digging into subjects most would find dull (rocks, pine barrens, river levees, minor species of fish) and making them not only interesting but relevant. Sometimes extremely so.

Take what he wrote in The Control of Nature about the Mississippi river, describing, among much else, what would happen to New Orleans when a levee failed. Which, ineviably, one would. In a chapter titled Achafalaya, McPhee handicapped the Army Corps of Engineers against the Mississippi. That was in 1987. The New Yorker ran it again in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina gave McPhee’s words the ring of phophesy.

Another chapter in The Control of Nature is “Los Angeles vs. The San Gabriel Mountains.” That one has special relevance today, when torrential rain on mountains denuded by fires brings the threat of mud slides — a term that doesn’t describe what really happens. McPhee:

  In the blue light they saw a massive blackness, moving. It was not a landslide, not a mudslide, not a rock avalanche; nor by any means was it the front of a conventional flood. In Jackie’s words, “It was just one big black thing coming at us, rolling, rolling with a lot of water in front of it, pushing the water, this big black thing. It was just one big black hill coming toward us.”

  In geology, it would be known as a debris flow. Debris flows amass in stream valleys and more or less resemble fresh concrete. They consist of water mixed with a good deal of solid material, most of which is above sand size. Some of it is Chevrolet size. Boulders bigger than cars ride long distances in debris flows. Boulders grouped like fish eggs pour downhill in debris flows. The dark material coming toward the Genofiles was not only full of boulders; it was so full of automobiles it was like bread dough mixed with raisins. On its way down Pine Cone Road, it plucked up cars from driveways and the street.

Geologists call mountain-building “orogeny.” In his Pulitzer-winning book on geology, Annals of the Former World, McPhee explains, “in the fight between orogeny and erosion, erosion always wins.” Fires side with erosion. Rain does too, especially when teamed with fires.

It is important to understand, if you live on or under their slopes, that the mountains of Southern California are brand new and not all well built. There are volcanoes that grow slower than some of these mountains, and come down slower too. Many of the canyons and ravines in the San Gabriels — the Big Tujunga, the Pacoima — are flanked by dirt whose angles of repose nearly exceed the temporary frictions that hold the land in place. Water-soaked dirt can weigh more than rock, and will seek a level lower than its own. Burn off the desert chapparal that carpets the slopes, and debris flows become certain once the rain soaks in.

So that’s not just what to watch for in the current heavy weather. It’s what to expect.

rotenboden_sleds

I grew up on our town’s best hill for sledding. After a good snowfall, the town would sometimes block the steet so kids from all over could ride down the hill. The top was steep, but there was a long flat straight-away at the bottom. We used to compete to see who went fastest, and who coasted farthest.

But this was in Maywood, New Jersey, a small hunk of suburb that was closer to Manhattan than parts of Queens. And, this being where it was, Winter weather was not always snow. In fact, most of the time forecasts were the dreaded “snow, mixed with and changing to rain.” Now they call this “wintry mix.”

We also have weather radar now, showing densities of rain and snow. My own favorite is Intellicast, which produced this image here:

As you see most of Boston was under the pink “mixed” yesterday morning. It started with rain in the wee hours, changed to snow, and then a mix of snow, rain and sleet until the storm passed after sunrise. The result is a layer of white slush atop an ugly uneven mostly-worn-out half-thawed and re-frozen snow from the last storm, which was around two weeks ago.  What we’ve got now is not stuff you’d want to sled on, much less drive. So I stayed in most of the day.

I know they got about a foot of snow up in the ski areas of southern Vermont and New Hampshire. Maine too, I guess. Wish I could go there today, but duties call and the kid’s in school. If we’re lucky we’ll get another storm just before the weekend.

As for sledding, when we were in Zermatt after Christmas, I became fascinated by the kinds of sleds they use in Switzerland, shot in the pic at the top. They looked nothing like the American sleds I grew up with, the most popular of which were Flexible Flyers. I see here — and on hills around Boston, anyway — that the Flexible Flyer has passed out of fashion. In fact, I see few steerable sleds at all. Mostly just plastic shells that go where they will.

Samuel Leeds Allen, inventor of the Flexible Flyer (the world’s first steerable sled) has his own Wikipedia entry at that last link. But alas, the Flexible Flyer itself does not. (Where are your obsessives when you need them?)

Wow, I just discovered that I took a movie of sledding from the the top of the run alongside the ski slopes of Gornergrat, facing the Matterhorn, starting at the Rotenboden/Rifflesee rail stop, and added a link to it behind the still frame I lifed from it and put at the top of this post. It shows pretty well how the local sleds look and work there. Most of the crowd noise you hear there is Italian. In fact Italy is not far away. The Matterhorn, aka Monte Cervino, is half-Italian.

Looking at the white slush outside, I wish we were still there.

By the way, it’s snowing outside now. Rain is expected later.

Why is Steve Jobs taller than Eric Schmidt in this picture? 0114_mz_cover

I’ve met both guys, and I’m sure Eric is taller than Steve. But maybe I’m wrong.

I’m having trouble (must be my night for that) finding believable height information on either of them. (WikiAnswers says Steve is 6’2″, which seems high to me. Still can’t find anything on Eric.)

The reason I bring this up is that photographs and illustrations tell their own stories.

Ever notice how photos in sports stories always show the winner making a great move or looking happy and the loser making a lame move or looking all dejected? The story is often more complicated than that, but this is how default journalistic story-telling goes. You match the photo to the story. It’s an illustration. A picture to match the thousand words.

This  picture, on the cover of this week’s issue of BusinessWeek, shows several things at once: how Apple currently has more stature than Google in the phone business. How these two former colleagues (Eric was for years on Apple’s board) are now competitors. Maybe there’s some back to back stuff.

Anyway, it’s a story. Vendor sports, of course.

Just saying. Maybe there’s some fodder here for Jay & Dave at NYU.

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One of the things that drives me nuts about stories on the Web is absent links to first sources.

Two examples: this piece by Nate anderson in Ars Technica and this one by Greg Sandoval in BX.BusinessWeek Cnet.* Both report on briefs filed by the MPAA and the RIAA with the FCC. Both quote from the briefs, but neither links to those briefs. Why? Were the available only on paper? I dunno, but I suspect not. (Later… Eric Bangeman says in comments below that the Ars piece had links from the start. These are, as Brian Hayashi also notes below, at the end of the piece, under “Further reading”. I didn’t see them. My apologies for missing them, and for bringing Ars in on this rant. Eric also pointed out that Greg’s piece was published by Cnet. My error in missing that too, even though that’s a bit more excusable.*)

I’ve tried finding the originals, and can’t. The FCC has a pile of search tools, including an advanced one that allows searching for exact phrases. But when I search phrases quoted by those article’s authors, nothing comes up. And when I search Google and Bing for the same, I get nothing but those two articles and others quoting them.

Could be these filings were at the FCC’s OpenInternet.gov, which seems to have no search facility (that I can find, anyway). The agency’s IdeaScale might be the place. It does have  a search facility, but when I try to dig down there — for example by looking for the phrase “protected against theft and unauthorized”, I can’t find anything. Not the phrase, not the RIAA, not the MPAA.

I like Ars. I like BX. I like Cnet.I also like Nate‘s and Greg‘s writing. I’m just tired of having to re-dig what’s already been dug, such as I had to do — and failed — when I put together the last piece I put up. (Where, by the way, I quoted Nate at length.) This isn’t about them. It’s about everybody writing on the Web.

Consider this a gentle request to journalists of all kinds: Help the rest of us out here. Give us links to your sources. Makes life a lot easier for everybody.

Thanks.

[Later...] @connectme (Brian Hayashi) came through with the MPAA filing after I posted a request on Twitter. Also with the RIAA one. Brian also noted that links are now in the Ars piece. I now see them, down in “Further reading” at the bottom. Were there there from the start and I missed them? (Yes, Eric Bangeman says, in his comment below.) If so, my apologies. (I’d still rather see the links in the text than at the bottom.)

Thanks, Brian! Thanks, Eric.

* This is an error I’ll own (like all the others above), but it brings up another gripe about which I suspect little can be done: publishers republishing stuff in ways that makes original publishers unclear. Below is a windowshot of Greg’s piece that shows the problem. Cnet.com is way down near the right end of the URL: out of sight in this case. The BX banner appears to be an ad. But the favicon in the location bar also says BX. I suppose this is “branding” at work, but at a certain point, which we’ve passed here, it gets crazy.

bx_mistake

The Cinternet is Donnie Hao Dong’s name for the Chinese Internet. Donnie studies and teaches law in China and is also a fellow here at Harvard’s Berkman Center. As Donnie sees (and draws) it, the Cinternet is an increasingly restricted subset of the real thing:

map[19]

He calls this drawing a “map of encirclement.” That last noun has a special meaning he explains this way:

“The Wars of (anti-)Encirclement Compaign” were a series battles between China Communist Party and the KMT‘s Nanjing Gorvernment in 1930s. At the time the CCP established a government in south-central China (mostly in Jiang Xi Province). The KMT’s army tried five times to attack and encircle the territory of CCP’s regime. And The CCP’s Red Army was almost defeated in the Fifth Encirclement War in 1934. The Long March followed the war and rescued CCP and its army.

Encirclement is more than censorship. It’s a war strategy, and China has been at war with the Internet from the start.

But while China’s war is conscious, efforts by other countries to encircle the Net are not. To see what I mean by that, read Rebecca MacKinnon‘s Are China’s demands for Internet ‘self-discipline’ spreading to the West? Her short answer is yes. Her long answer is covered in these paragprahs:

To operate in China, Google’s local search engine, Google.cn, had to meet these “self-discipline” requirements. When users typed words or phrases for sensitive subjects into the box and clicked “search,” Google.cn was responsible for making sure that the results didn’t include forbidden content.

It’s much easier to force intermediary communications and Internet companies such as Google to police themselves and their users than the alternatives: sending cops after everybody who attempts a risque or politically sensitive search, getting parents and teachers to do their jobs, or chasing down the origin of every offending link. Or re-considering the logic and purpose of your entire system.

Intermediary liability enables the Chinese authorities to minimize the number of people they need to put in jail in order to stay in power and to maximize their control over what the Chinese people know and don’t know.

In its bombshell announcement on Jan. 12, Google cited massive cyber attacks against the Gmail accounts of human rights activists as the most urgent reason for re-evaluating its presence in China. However, the Chinese government’s demands for ever-increasing levels of censorship contributed to a toxic and unsustainable business environment.

Remember that phrase: intermediary liability. It’s a form of encirclement. Rebecca again:

Meanwhile in the Western democratic world, the idea of strengthening intermediary liability is becoming increasingly popular in government agencies and parliaments. From France to Italy to the United Kingdom, the idea of holding carriers and services liable for what their customers do is seen as the cheapest and easiest solution to the law enforcement and social problems that have gotten tougher in the digital age — from child porn to copyright protection to cyber-bullying and libel.

I’m not equating Western democracy with Chinese authoritarianism — that would be ludicrous. However, I am concerned about the direction we’re taking without considering the full global context of free expression and censorship.

The Obama administration is negotiating a trade agreement with 34 other countries — the text of which it refuses to make public, citing national security concerns — that according to leaked reports would include increased liability for content hosting companies and service providers. The goal is to combat the global piracy of movies and music.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t fight crime or enforce the law. Of course we should, assuming that the laws reflect the consent of the governed. But let’s make sure that we don’t throw the baby of democracy and free speech out with the bathwater, as we do the necessary work of adjusting legal systems and economies to the Internet age.

Next, What Big Content wants from net neutrality (hint: protection), by Nate Anderson in Ars Technica. According to Nate, more than ten thousand comments were filed on the subject of net neutrality with the FCC, and among these were some from the RIAA and the MPAA. These, he said, “argued that the FCC should encourage ISPs to adopt ‘graduated response’ rules aimed at reducing online copyright infringement”, and that they “also reveal a content-centric view of the world in which Americans will not ‘obtain the true benefits that broadband can provide’ unless ‘copyrighted content [is] protected against theft and unauthorized online distribution’”. He continues,

What could graduated response possibly have to do with network neutrality? The movie and music businesses have seized on language in the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that refuses to extend “neutrality” to “unlawful content.” The gist of the MPAA and RIAA briefs is that network neutrality’s final rules must allow for—and in fact should encourage—ISPs to take an active anti-infringement role as part of “reasonable network management.”

Not that the word “infringement” is much in evidence here; both briefs prefer “theft.” The RIAA’s document calls copyright infringement “digital piracy—or better, digital theft,” and then notes that US Supreme Court Justice Breyer said in the Grokster case that online copyright infringement was “garden variety theft.”

To stop that theft, the MPAA and RIAA want to make sure that any new FCC rules allow ISPs to act on their behalf. Copyright owners can certainly act without voluntary ISP assistance, as the RIAA’s lengthy lawsuit campaign against file-swappers showed, but both groups seem to admit that this approach has now been hauled out behind the barn and shot.

According to the RIAA, “Without ISP participation, it is extremely difficult to develop an effective prevention approach.” MPAA says that it can’t tackle the problem alone and it needs “broadband Internet access service providers to cooperate in combating combat theft.”

“No industry can, or should be expected to, compete against free-by-theft distribution of its own products,” the brief adds.

“We thus urge the Commission to adopt rules that not only allow ISPs to address online theft, but actively encourage their efforts to do so,” says the RIAA.

And that’s how we get the American Cinternet. Don’t encircle it yourself. Get the feds to make ISPs into liable intermediaries forced to practice “self discipline” the Chinese way: a “graduated response” that encircles the Net, reducing it to something less: a spigot of filtered “content” that Hollywood approves. Television 2.0, coming up.

Maybe somebody can draw us the Content-o-net.

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How’s this for coincidence: I’m sitting here readingcover-small Cory Doctorow‘s book Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, copyright and the Future of the Future when I pause to check Twitter for a message I’m expecting, and see a tweet pointing to Cory’s review in BoingBoing of the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto. Small karras.

Of course, he nails it:

Cluetrain influenced an entire generation of net-heads (as generations are reckoned in what we called “Internet time” back in the paleolithic era), for better and for worse. Better: entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, and accidental entrepreneurs who discovered that talking with people in the normal, recognizable, human voice was both possible and superior to the old third-person/passive-voice corporatespeak. Worse: the floodtide of marketing jerks who mouthed “Markets are conversations” even as they infiltrated blogs and other social spaces with badly disguised corporate communications beamed in from marcom central.

Yep.

The long gist:

First things first: the original, core material stands up remarkably well. Depressingly, the best-weathered stuff is that which describes all the ways that big companies get the net wrong. They’re still making the same mistakes. Some of the more optimistic material dated a little faster. There’s a lesson in there: it’s easier to predict stupidity than cleverness.

The supplementary material is very good as well. The original authors take a very hard look at their original material and do a great job of explaining what went wrong, what went right, and where it’s likely to go now. I was especially taken with Chris Locke’s “Obedient Poodles for God and Country,” a scathing critique of the market itself, asking big questions that the first Manifesto dared not raise — strangely, I was least taken by Locke’s original piece in the Manifesto, which says something about Locke, or me, or both. Searls’s new piece has an inspiring — if utopian — look at how business might yet reorganize itself on humane principles using the net; and Weinberger’s philosophical look at the threats facing the net and analysis of the utopian, realist and distopian views on the net’s future play against one another is an instant classic.

The afterwords by the new contributors are likewise extremely engaging stuff, as you might expect. McKee is extremely blunt in recounting the mistakes Lego made with the net early on, and the story of how they turned things around is a true inspiration. Gillmor’s ideas on the net and news and media are a neat and concise and compelling version of his extremely important message. Rangaswami’s piece is characteristic of his deadpan, mischievous boardroom subversion, and has to be read to be believed.

As updates go, Cluetrain 2.0 is a very fine effort. If you didn’t read the first edition, this is your chance. If you did read the first edition, it’s time to go back to the source material again. You’ll be glad you did.

So, in the best spirit of logrolling, I suggest you do the same with Content. Hardly a page goes by when my brain doesn’t hiss Yesss!! Here, for example, with the closing lines of a 2006 piece for Forbes titled “Giving it Away“:

There has never been a time when more people were reading more words by more authors. The Internet is a literary world of written words. What a fine thing that is for writers.

Indeed. If you had told me in 1980 that thirty years hence anybody could write whatever they pleased, with ease, and publish it through a worldwide system that nobody owned, everybody could use and anybody could improve… and that this writing could be read on phones or lightweight personal displays, anywhere in the world, at little cost, by anybody… and that far more money would be made because of this new system than any company would make with it (including the phone and cable TV companies whose wiring this new system employed)… I’d call that a utopia. Especially if you also told me that I’d become a familiar writer in this new space, starting after the age of fifty.

I’d also want to fight to keep it open and free. Which is why I second what John Perry Barlow says in his forward to Content:

Had it been left to the stewardship of the usual suspects, there would scarcely be a word or a note online that you didn’t have to pay to experience. There would be increasingly little free speech or any consequence, since free speech is not something anyone can own.

Fortunately there were countervailing forces of all sorts, beginning with the wise folks who designed the Internet in the first place. Then there was something called the Electronic Frontier Foundation which I co-founded, along with Mitch Kapor and John Gilmore, back in 1990. Dedicated to the free exchange of useful information in cyberspace, it seemed at times that I had been right in suggesting then that practically every institution of the Industrial Period would try to crush, or at least own, the Internet. That’s a lot of lawyers to have stacked against your cause.

But we had Cory Doctorow.

Had nature not provided us with a Cory Doctorow when we needed one, it would have been necessary for us to invent a time machine and go into the future to fetch another like him. That would be about the only place I can imagine finding such a creature. Cory, as you will learn from his various rants “contained” herein was perfectly suited to the task of subduing the dinosaurs of content.

He’s a little like the guerilla plumber Tuttle in the movie Brazil. Armed with a utility belt of improbable gizmos, a wildly over-clocked mind, a keyboard he uses like a verbal machine gun, and, best of all, a dark sense of humor, he’d go forth against massive industrial forces and return grinning, if a little beat up.

Indeed, many of the essays collected under this dubious title are not only memoirs of his various campaigns but are themselves the very weapons he used in them.

And this is the thing. Cory not only fights knaves, but shares his sharpened weapons with the rest of us. For years I’ve looked to Cory to serve as our Alpha Sense-Maker whenever some big dumb .com, .org or .gov makes a hostile and clueless move against the rest of us. Take a chapter called “Facebook’s Faceplant“, which I recall as “How Your Creepy Ex-Co-Workers Will Kill Facebook” in the November 26, 2007 edition of InformationWeek. This came out right after Facebook made public its much-anticipated monetization plans, which nobody liked but which Cory contextualized best:

Facebook is no paragon of virtue. It bears the hallmarks of the kind of pump-and-dump service that sees us as sticky, monetizable eyeballs in need of pimping. The clue is in the steady stream of emails you get from Facebook: “So-and-so has sent you a message.” Yeah, what is it? Facebook isn’t telling — you have to visit Facebook to find out, generate a banner impression, and read and write your messages using the halt-and-lame Facebook interface, which lags even end-of-lifed email clients like Eudora for composing, reading, filtering, archiving and searching. Emails from Facebook aren’t helpful messages, they’re eyeball bait, intended to send you off to the Facebook site, only to discover that Fred wrote “Hi again!” on your “wall.” Like other “social” apps (cough eVite cough), Facebook has all the social graces of a nose-picking, hyperactive six-year-old, standing at the threshold of your attention and chanting, “I know something, I know something, I know something, won’t tell you what it is!”

If there was any doubt about Facebook’s lack of qualification to displace the Internet with a benevolent dictatorship/walled garden, it was removed when Facebook unveiled its new advertising campaign. Now, Facebook will allow its advertisers use the profile pictures of Facebook users to advertise their products, without permission or compensation. Even if you’re the kind of person who likes the sound of a “benevolent dictatorship,” this clearly isn’t one.

The short version of what followed is that Facebook grew up. The emails I get forwarded from Facebook today are now full text, and the company has long since dropped its creepy advertising plan. WIPO, the RIAA and the U.S. Congress are less likely to get the clues, of course. But at least we still have Cory sharpening them, for all of us.

It takes time to make the best future. That’s why the original subtitle for this blog, back when it started in the fall of 1999 (thanks to the kind insistence and assistance of Dave Winer), is also the title of this post.

Last month The Kid and I went to the top of the Empire State Building on the kind of day pilots describe as “severe clear.” I put some of the shots up here, and just added a bunch more here, to share with fellow broadcast engineering and infrastructure obsessives, some of whom might like to help identify some of the stuff I shot.

Most of these shots were made looking upward from the 86th floor deck, or outward from the 102nd floor. Most visitors only go to the 86th floor, where you can walk outside, and where the view is good enough. It costs an extra $15 per person to go up to the 102nd floor, which is small, but much less crowded. From there you can see but one item of broadcast interest, and it’s so close you could touch it if the windows opened. This is the old Alford master FM antenna system: 32 fat T-shaped things, sixteen above the windows and sixteen below, all angled at 45°.

From the 1960s to the 1980s (and maybe later, I’m not sure yet), these objects radiated the signals of nearly every FM station in New York. They’re still active, as backup antennas for quite a few stations. The new master antennas (there are three of them) occupy space in the tower above, which was vacated by VHF-TV antennas (channels 2-13) when TV stations gradually moved to the World Trade Center after it was completed in 1975.

When the twin towers went down on 9/11/2001, only Channel 2 (WCBS-TV) still had an auxiliary antenna on the Empire State Building. The top antenna on the ESB’s mast appears to be a Channel 2 antenna, still. In any case, it is no longer in use, or usable, since the FCC evicted VHF TV stations from their old frequencies as part of last year’s transition to digital transmission. Most of those stations now radiate on UHF channels. (All the stations continue to use their old channel numbers, even though few of them actually operate on those channels.) Two of those stations — WABC-TV and WPIX-TV — have construction permits to move back to their old channels (7 and 11, respectively).

That transition has resulted in a lot of new stuff coming onto the Empire State Building, a lot of old stuff going away, and a lot of relics still up there, waiting to come down or just left there because it’s too much trouble to bother right now. Or so I assume.

For some perspective, here is an archival photo of WQXR’s original transmitting antenna, atop the Chanin Building, with the Empire State Building in the background. The old antenna, not used in many years, is still up there. Meanwhile the Empire State building’s crown has morphed from a clean knob to a spire bristling with antennae.

Calling the Fat Tail

I think I’ve figured out a lot of what’s up there, and have made notes on some of the photos. But I might be wrong about some, or many. In any case, a lot of mysteries remain. That’s why I’m appealing to what I call the “fat tail” for help.

The “fat tail” is the part of the long tail that likes to write and edit Wikipedia entries. These are dedicated obsessives of the sort who, for example, compile lists of the tallest structures in the world, plus the many other lists and sub-lists linked to from that last item.

Tower freaks, I’m talking about. I’m one of them, but just a small potato compared to the great , who reports on a different tower site every week. Among the many sites he has visited, the Empire State Building has been featured twice:  January 2001 and November 2003. Maybe this volunteer effort will help Scott and his readers keep up with progress at the ESB.

This Flickr set, by the way, is not at my home pile, but rather at a new one created for a group of folks studying infrastructure at Harvard’s Berkman Center, where I’m a fellow. I should add that I am also studying the same topic (specifically the overlap between Internet and infrastructure) as a fellow with the Center for Information Technology and Society at UCSB.

Infrastructure is more of a subject than a field. I unpack that distinction a bit here. My old pal and fellow student of the topic, , visits the topic here.

Getting back to the Empire State Building, what’s most interesting to me about the infrastructure of broadcasting, at least here in the U.S., is that it is being gradually absorbed into the mobile data system, which is still captive to the mobile phone system, but won’t be forever. For New York’s FM stations, the old-fashioned way to get range is to put antennas in the highest possible places, and radiate signals sucking thousands of watts off the grid. The new-fashioned way is to put a stream on the Net. Right now I can’t get any of these stations in Boston on an FM radio. In fact, it’s a struggle even to get them anywhere beyond the visible horizons of the pictures I took on the empire State Building. But they come in just fine on my phone and my computer.

What “wins” in the long run? And what will we do with all these antennas atop the Empire State Building when it’s over? Turn the top into what King Kong climbed? Or what it was designed to be in the first place?

Infrastructure is plastic. It changes. It’s solid, yet replaceable. It needs to learn, to adapt. (Those are just a few of the lessons we’re picking up.)

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I posted a lot today, but nothing matters more — or has been more on the front of my mind — than Haiti. What hell that such an already troubled country should be hit by an earthquake so bad, and so close to its most dense population centers.

So, as I try to get my head around the situation, here’s a list of links, in the order that I visit them:

I’ll add more as time goes on.

Also please read the comments below. The three (so far) from Andrew Leyden are excellent.

I just posted this essay to IdeaScale at OpenInternet.gov, in advance of the Open Internet Workshop at MIT this afternoon. (You can vote it up or down there, along with other essays.)  I thought I’d put it here too. — Doc


The Internet is free and open infrastructure that provides almost unlimited support for free speech, free enterprise and free assembly. Nothing in human history, with the possible exception of movable type — has done more to encourage all those freedoms. We need to be very careful about how we regulate it, especially since it bears only superficial resemblances to the many well-regulated forms of infrastructure it alters or subsumes.

Take radio and TV, for example. Spectrum — the original “bandwidth” — is scarce. You need a license to broadcast, and can only do so over limited distances. There are also restrictions on what you can say. Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1464, prohibits “any obscene, indecent or profane language by means of radio communication.” Courts have upheld the prohibition.

Yet, as broadcasters and the “content industry” embrace the Net as a “medium,” there is a natural temptation by Congress and the FCC to regulate it as one. In fact, this has been going on since the dawn of the browser. The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act (DPRSA) came along in 1995. The No Electronic Theft Act followed in 1997. And — most importantly — there was (and still is) Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998.

Thanks to the DMCA, Internet radio got off to a long and very slow start, and is still severely restricted. Online stations face payment requirements to music copyright holders are much higher than those for broadcasters — so high that making serious money by webcasting music is nearly impossible. There are also tight restrictions on what music can be played, when, and how often. Music on podcasts is essentially prohibited, because podcasters need to “clear rights” for every piece of copyrighted music they play. That’s why, except for “podsafe” music, podcasting today is almost all talk.

There is also a risk that we will regulate the Net as a form of telephony or television, because most of us are sold Internet service as gravy on top of our telephone or cable TV service — as the third act in a “triple play.” Needless to say, phone and cable companies would like to press whatever advantages they have with Congress, the FCC and other regulatory bodies.

It doesn’t help that most of us barely know what the Internet actually is. Look up “The Internet is” on Google and see what happens: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q… There is little consensus to be found. Worse, there are huge conflicts between different ways of conceiving the Net, and talking about it.

For example, when we say the Net consists of “sites,” with “domains” and “locations” that we “architect,” “design,” “build” and “visit,” we are saying the Internet is a place. (Where, presumably, you can have free speech, enterprise and assembly.)

But if we say the Net is a “medium” for the “distribution” of “content” to “consumers,” we’re talking about something more like broadcasting or the shipping industry, where those kinds of freedoms are more restricted.

These two ways of seeing the Net are both true, both real, and both commonly used, to the degree that we mix their metaphors constantly. They also suggest two very different regulatory approaches.

Right now most of us think about regulation in terms of the latter. That is, we want to regulate the Net as a shipping system for content. This makes sense because most of us still go on the Net through connections supplied by phone or cable companies. We also do lots of “downloading” and “uploading” — and both are shipping terms.

Yet voice and video are just two among countless applications that can run on the Net — and there are no limits on the number and variety of those applications. Nor should there be.

So, what’s the right approach?

We need to start by recognizing that the Net is infrastructure, in the sense that it is a real thing that we can build on, and depend on. It is also public in the sense that nobody owns it and everybody can use it. We need to recognize that the Net is defined mostly by a collection of protocols for moving data — and most of those protocols are open to improvement by anybody. These protocols may be limited in some ways by the wired or wireless connections over which they run, but they are nor reducible to those connections. You can run Internet protocols over barbed wire if you like.

This is a very different kind of infrastructure than anything civilization has ever seen before, or attempted to regulate. It’s not “hard” infrastructure, like we have with roads, bridges, water and waste treatment plants. Yet it’s solid. We can build on it.

In thinking about regulation, we need to maximize ways that the Net can be improved and minimize ways it can be throttled or shut down. This means we need to respect the good stuff every player brings to the table, and to keep narrow but powerful interests from control our common agenda. That agenda is to keep the Net free, open and supportive of everybody.

Specifically, we need to thank the cable and phone companies for doing the good work they’ve already done, and to encourage them to keep increasing data speeds while also not favoring their own “content” subsidiaries and partners. We also need to encourage them to stop working to shut down alternatives to their duopolies (which they have a long history of doing at both the state and federal levels).

We also need to thank and support the small operators — the ISPs and Wireless ISPs (WISPs) — who should be able to keep building out connections and offering services without needing to hire lawyers so they can fight monopolists (or duopolists) as well as state and federal regulators.

And we need to be able to build out our own Internet connections, in our homes and neighborhoods — especially if our local Internet service providers don’t provide what we need.

We can only do all this if we start by recognizing the Net as a place rather than just another medium — a place that nobody owns, everybody can use and anybody can improve.

Doc Searls
Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Harvard University

[Later...] A bonus link from Tristan Louis, on how to file a comment with the FCC.

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Check this out here. It will also be streamed live at OpenInternet.gov. Submit questions via Twitter via #OiBOS.

The site is run by the FCC. Next to the title it says, in the Google tradition, Beta.

The “Contribute Your Ideas” section is amazing. You can contribute ideas or vote standing ideas up or down. Very interesting reading in all of them.

If you care about the Internet, this is a good venue for putting your mind where your mouth is.

Because the Internet is still free for both.

Amazon Purgatory

My problems with Amazon.com aren’t as bad as they were for Jeff Jarvis when he coined Dell Hell. But I’m not happy. And I’d like to help. Hence the headline above. Also this post.

I have always liked Amazon. I’m sure they’re still among the best at what they pioneered fifteen years ago. But they don’t do it as well as they used to, and I think it’s because they’re doing too much.

By that I don’t mean they’re selling too many things (which might be the case, but I doubt it). I mean that they’re selling too hard, and in too many ways. Their site is garbaged up with too much noise, too much irrelevancy, too much promotional BS, too much “personalization” that flunks the Turing test, every time. You know that’s machine intelligence you’re dealing with. Nothing human there.

Here’s a photo set on Flickr that chronicles my current problem with Amazon. I wouldn’t have said “current” yesterday because I thought the problems were over. But today some packages arrived from Amazon (following the order documented in that photo set), and they included two copies of one book and three copies of another, where I wanted only one of each. Turns out the order was correct. But how did I arrive at ordering multiple copies of books? And how did I miss the mistake when I reviewed the order before it went out?

I don’t know yet, and in some ways I don’t want to know.

What I do know is that dealing with Amazon used to be a model of ease. Now it’s a pain in the ass.

And that’s not good for either one of us.

It’s so odd to look at the list of radio station ratings for Raleigh-Durham. When I left in ’85 I was out of radio, but still deeply into it, and I could tell you something about every signal you could pick up there. Now I know squat. So many of the stations have changed owners, call letters, cities of license, transmitter locations and formats that the dial (another thing that no longer exists, really) there is all but unrecognizable to me.

Yet that change is nothing compared to the move of everything on radio and TV to the Net.

Most of my radio listening today is on computers and phones. Even in my car, driving around Boston, I’m listening to KCLU from Santa Barbara, WUNC from Chapel Hill, High Plains Public Radio, WWOZ from New Orleans, KGSR from Austin, Radio Paradise, Radio Deliro…

The “system” isn’t one. It’s all very ad hoc and not very reliable. Nobody yet has the right formula to reconcile their own costs and programming with the barely-known users and usages out there. How many streams should they support? Should they stream at 128kb and be audible only over ethernet and good “broadband” land connecitons? Should they stream in lo-fi at 24kb or 32kb so they stay audible on iPhones over 3G connections after those go away and the connection drops down to GPRS? (That’s my recommendation, generally.) Should they have multiple streams? (I also recommend that.) For radio on the Net (which also includes podcasting and on-demand), there isn’t enough common usage yet, much less common wisdom about how to serve it on the supply side. It’s like AM radio in 1924. The difference is that much more of it is outside regulatory control. The rules that matter are copyright more than engineering. Ever notice how little popular (or even known) music is on podcast? Thank the DMCA for that one.

In other words, it’s late for radio as we knew it, and early for radio as we’ll know it.

For most of radio’s history, at least in the U.S., ratings “books” ignored noncommercial stations. Commercial radio shares never added up to 100%. Usually the total was around 87%, give or take. In the market where I spent the most years caring about this stuff — Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, back in the late ’70s and early ’80s (when Dean Landsman was also operating and becoming far more expert than I) — everybody knew that in Chapel Hill had serious numbers. But you couldn’t tell unless you went to Beltsville, Maryland, where Arbitron kept the “diaries” on which listening estimates were based. (In radio one often heard disgruntled managers of stations with unsatisfactory ratings saying “I’m going to Beltsville. I gotta see those diaries.”)

Well, times have changed. You can see noncommercial ratings now. Radio-Info.com is one service. Radio Research Consortium is another. I’ve known about the latter for awhile, but I’m new to the former.

Looking at the December ratings for Los Angeles, has a 2.2 share, which is quite good, especially since the station is just 600 watts (atop Mt. Wilson, where most of the other FMs are, some with over 100,000 watts). Classical has a 2.5. KCRW has a 1.0. (Perspective: the top station, KOST, has a 5.5. And many commercial stations are below both those non-comms. News landmark KFWB has an 0.7. Pacifica’s 110kw KPFK, considered the biggest signal in the whole country, has an 0.2.)

In New York, -FM has a 1.9, WNYC-AM has an 0.8. Freshly noncommercial classical (on a new channel with a weaker signal) has a 1.8. (We’ve had a thread going for months here about that change.) Jazz has an 0.5. (“Party 87.7), which is actually a low-power TV station on old analog channel 6, with audio on 87.7fm, gets an 0.2, but they’ve had as much as an 0.8, which is pretty good for a weak signal below the FM band from the top of the CITI building in Queens, rather than some higher place, such as the Empire State Building. The great music station (broadcasting a directional signal — mostly away from the city — from Fordham in the Bronx, but with boosters coming on all over the place) also gets an 0.2.

In San Francisco, is #4 in the market with a 4.8. (They also have the biggest FM signal, with 110,000 watts coming off Mt. San Bruno.) The big news there is that is tied for #1 with . Both have a 5.8, as both had the month before. KGO has been #1 since the Eisenhower administration. Classical has a 3.4. Jazz has an 0.7 (good for a signal that’s basically just the Peninsula and parts of the East Bay). Little , from the San Francisco Unified School District, gets an 0.3.

Here in Boston, has a 4.5. So you can understand why , with a bigger signal and just an 0.9 rating, decided finally to compete head-to-head as a news & talk NPR-based station. Also why they bought , the classical station with the edge-of-town signal. ‘CRB has a 2.9. , another great music station (but with a secondary signal in the market) had an 0.7. All-folk (with a signal mostly for the south side of town) had an 0.3. Harvard’s WHRB (with a directional signal) got an 0.2).

, my (#213) home market, was last ranked in Fall of ’09. Classical KDB got a 4.2. It’s still commercial, though owned by a nonprofit. I don’t see any noncommercials listed, alas. I’d really like to see how well the new is doing there. Same for its FM, which is a 4-watt translator that does pretty well, considering..

Same goes for Sussex, the then-rural New Jersey market where I got my start in the earliest ’70s, on , a little station on a mountain overlooking Franklin and Hamburg. Back then WSUS was just 360 watts. Now it’s a whopping 590 watts. But it kicks butt in the ratings: down to 13.8 after peaking in the last period at 15.0. Those are very high numbers. I don’t see any noncommercials here either.

Nor do I see any for Raleigh/Durham on Radio-Info, though I’m sure WUNC, WCPE, WSHA and WNCU all do well. Radio Research Consortium is also opaque on the matter.

Continued in the next post.

Markets are Headlocks

Where Markets are Not Conversations is my latest post over at the ProjectVRM blog. It was inspired by the “experience” of taking a fun little personality test at SignalPatterns, followed by SP’s refusal to share the results unless I submitted to a personal data shakedown.

Bottom lines:

  1. I’d rather track myself than have somebody else track me, thank you very much.
  2. This kind of marketing is about as conversational as a prison PA system — and calling any of it “social” makes it not one syllable less so.

There’s a lot to talk about here. Or there. Meanwhile, I’m off to see Avatar a second time with my son, this time in IMAX 3D. Have a fun weekend, kids.

Heard cherry“Cherry Pie”, by Skip & Flip, this morning on the radio while taking The Kid to school. I remembered that Skip & Flip had another hit, “It was I”, and that one of the two singers also had a later hit as a member of another group. What was it? I wondered. The Kid wanted to know. So did I.

But we’re talking about old stuff here. Those two hits were from 1960 and 1959, when I was 13 (like my kid, the oldies lover, is now) and 12. Whatever else they did was moldly too. Still, I used to know. Or, I still knew, but didn’t remember, which is just as bad. Shit like this happens when your archives fill up and spill all over the brain pan.

Anyway, I went to the links above, and to Wikipedia, where I found that the two were Skip Batlin and Gary S. Paxton, the former of which has been dead since 2003 and the latter of which had quite the subsequent career, including the item I didn’t remember: that he was with the Hollywood Argyles, which had a hit with “Alley Oop” which reached #1 in the summer of 1961. (Though in New York, where most of my radio came from at the time, Top 40 stations — WABC, WINS and WMCA — played a version by Dante & the Evergreens. Hey, I remember that, anyway.)

Seems Paxton did a lot more, too. For example, producing “Monster Mash”, by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, and playing with The Byrds, New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Flying Burrito Brothers.

But the strongest stuff is at his website. His all-caps testimony page is packed with interesting stuff. Such as,

RIGHT AFTER I TURNED 18 – I HAD TO REGISTER FOR THE DRAFT. ONE DAY WHEN I WAS SITTING IN A RESTAURANT A WOMAN WALKED UP TO ME AND SAID, “MAY I TALK WITH YOU I’M YOUR MOTHER! … I WAS IN TOTAL SHOCK – I HAD NEVER BEEN TOLD I WAS ADOPTED … I WAS ‘VERY CONFUSED. IN THE SAME TIME FRAME MY FIRST RECORD “IT WAS I BY SKIP AND FLIP WAS OUT …. 1 WENT TO NEW YORK, DID TV SHOWS AND TOURS WITH THE GREAT ALAN FREED (WHO NAMED) ROCK & ROLL AND THE DICK CLARK TOURS … INSTANT STARDOM …
TOO MUCH TOO FAST AFTER BEING SO-O-O POOR FOR SO-O-O LONG.
WE THEN CUT “CHERRY PIE” IT WAS A MILLION SELLER … I WENT TO HOLLYWOOD IN 1959 AND THERE I CUT “ALLEY-OOP” IT WAS A MULTI-MILLION SELLER. .. I WAS PART OF THE SUNSET STRIP HIPPIE MOVEMENT – THE SEA WITCH – THE WHISKEY A-GO-GO ETC. A YEAR OR SO LATER I PRODUCED “MONSTER MASH” – A MILLION SELLER – 3 TIMES – 1962-1967-1974 … 1 CUT MANY MILLION SELLERS WITH TOMMY ROE AND THE ASSOCIATION, PAUL REVERE AND THE RAIDERS, MANY JAZZ ARTISTS INCL1JDING THE FOUR FRESHMAN AND VARIOUS JAZZ STARS.
MY MOTHER TOLD ME SHE WAS 1/2 NATIVE AMERICAN-KICKAPOO INDIAN AND 1/2 SCOTCH AND THAT MY FATHER WAS 1/2 JEWISH AND 1/2 RED-HEADED IRISHMAN – SO. THAT MAKES ME AN lNJU. I DID A LOT OF SOCIAL WORK WITH THE YAKKI INDIANS IN THE PlUTE MOUNTAINS … 1 MOVED TO BAKERSFIELD, CALIFORNIA – HAD A LAKE MARINA HOTEL & CABINS IN THE MOUNTAINS

Then he moved to Nashville and found Jesus. This came in handy:

IN 1980 TWO MEN WERE HIRED TO MURDER ME OVER A CONTRACT DISPUTE .. THEY BEAT MY HEAD IN WITH A PIPE – - BROKE BOTH OF MY SHOULDERS – SHOT ME THREE TIMES WITH A .38 WHILE I CONTINUED TO YELL” IN THE NAME OF J E S U S YOU CAN’T KILL ME!” WHILE I WAS DOWN SICK – MY STUDIO PARTNER EMBEZZLED ME OUT OF A 1/2 MILLION DOLLARS – THE FDIC FORCED ME THROUGH INVOLUNTARY BANKRUPTCY AND TOOK ALL OF MY ROYALTIES FOR 10 YEARS – THEN THE IRS BILLED ME FOR $432,000.00 FOR THE MONEY THE FDIC TOOK. I THEN GOT BLEEDING ULCERS, LOST 80% OF MY BLOOD – STARTED HAVING A STROKE – I WAS RUSHED TO BAPTIST HOSPITAL, I WAS GIVEN 8 BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS -THEY GAVE ME HEP C IN THE BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS FROM 1990 ON. MY WIFE, VICKI SUE HELPED ME MOVE TO BRANSON n~ 1999 – WE GOT MARRIED ON VALENTINES DAY – 2002 – I’VE WRITTEN WELL OVER 2,000 SONGS – OVER 600 RECORDED – ABOUT 150 OF THEM HITS IN ONE WAY OR THE OTHER.

As Neo put it in The Matrix, Whoa.

Don’t forget

Reuters: Cellphones may protect brain from Alzheimer’s. Specifically,

  After long-term exposure to electromagnetic waves such as those used in cell phones, mice genetically altered to develop Alzheimer’s performed as well on memory and thinking skill tests as healthy mice, the researchers wrote in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Your species may vary.

Back in the late ’70s I worked for awhile at the Psychical Research Foundation (whoa, it still exists), which lived in a couple of old houses — now long gone — on the campus of . The PRF was spun off of what was then called the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, or the Institute for Parapsychnology, and since re-branded as the Rhine Research Center. All of it began with Duke botanist J.B. Rhine’s work toward understanding what he called extrasensory perception, or ESP. This work eventually veered outside Duke’s comfort zone, so it spun out in such a way that it was at Duke but not of it.

The PRF’s work had to do with academic study of the possibility of life after death. Far as I know it never found much evidence, but it was fun helping them try, and even more fun writing about it, which was my job there.

In the midst of that work, I produced a fake research paper, as a joke, put a big pile of copies in the midst of other papers offered at a psychical research convention (yes, they had those, and they were quite serious), and waited for nature to take its course.

The paper was called “Psi Burn,” and claimed that psychical research itself caused fun forms of harm. (Psi is a catch-all term for paranormal powers) I wish I had one in front of me, but I don’t. Omni 1978_12 - DecemberI do remember that the sources included titles such as “Twenty cases suggestive of intoxication” (or maybe it was “Twenty copies suggestive of reproduction”), “A second report on Mrs. Veeble’s smart dog,” and “A wave theory of death.” Somehow (I think Martin Gardner of Scientific American was involved) the paper found its way into the hands of James Randi (aka “The Amazing Randi”), then a famous opponent of parapsychology in its many forms. Randi loved the piece, and caused it to come to the attention of the science fiction writer Ben Bova, who was then on his way to becoming an editor at a new magazine called OMNI. Bova wanted “Psi Burn” for an early issue, and offered to pay me good money ($800, which was 4x my rent at the time). I accepted, and my very brief career as a contributor to OMNI began.

A second humorous piece followed. It was about how NASA budget cuts forced the agency to confine its explorations to the third planet from the Sun, and to job out the rocketry to custom van builders. The only line I remember from it was, “The presence of yeast in the atmosphere suggested not only the presence of life, but of food and drink as well.” After that I got very ambitious about my writing career and hired an agent who managed to get me nothing (shot down by Saturday Night Live, National Lampoon and others) while also screwing my relationship with OMNI. The money that paid for my work at the PRF also ran out, and I decided to pursue a remunerative and relatively stable opportunity: co-founding a new advertising agency where I would be creative director. That agency (Hodskins Simone & Searls) took off and eventually moved to Silicon Valley where it did quite well. That agency work launched me into the tech world, where I still live.

Anyway, all this comes back after reading In 2010, We Will Live on the Moon: Remembering the giddy futurism of Omni magazine, by By Paul Collins, in . “…with equal parts sci-fi, feature reporting, and meaty interviews with Freeman Dyson and Edward O. Wilson, Omni‘s arrival every month was a sort of peak nerd experience,” he writes. Indeed, it was — on the supply as well as the demand side.

What’s weird, looking back on OMNI‘s ambitious fantasies (robots, space travel), is that the less flashy stuff is what really happened. Collins:

It was in a 1981 Omni piece that William Gibson coined the word “cyberspace,” while the provoking lede “For this I spent two thousand dollars? To kill imaginary Martians?” exhorted Omni-readers to go online in 1983–where, they predicted, everything from entire libraries to consumer product reviews would soon migrate. A year later, the magazine ran one of the earliest accounts of telecommuting with Doug Garr’s “Home Is Where the Work Is,” which might have also marked the first appearance of this deathless standby of modern reportage: “I went to work in my pajamas.”

I’m not in my PJs now, because I don’t have any. But it’s 2:30 in the afternoon in the attic warren where I write on the Net through a 20Mb symmetrical fiber optic cable, and where I’m finally about to take today’s morning shower. Close enough to utopia, if you ask me.

[Later...] Hey, does anybody know if any of the old OMNI stuff is up on the Web anywhere? I haven’t been able to find any. When I’m back at the house in California next month I’ll see if I can find those two issues, scan them and put my pieces up on the Web. If not, no loss. But it’ll be fun to try.

And thanks to Brian Benz’ comment below, I found omnimagonline.com, including the above copy of the cover of the December 1978 issue with my “Psi Burn” piece.

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First, read Dave‘s The Mother of all Business Models. The money grafs:

Want to get a message to Dave while he’s on the BART riding under SF? $5. Want to get a message to him while he’s walking the tradeshow at CES? That costs more.

If you’re important enough you shouldn’t even pay to use the mobile device. They’re going to make so much money from your attention. If you’re really important, thinking Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Mike Arrington, they should pay you — a LOT — to use their device. Wow.

That got me excited. That’s what they have to be thinking at Google. And why not Twitter. Trying to think of a title for this post, I came up with The Mother of All Business Models. This is as far as I can see. A new economy. Nobodies pay, but important people are paid to use your brand cell phone/mobile device. I’m sure that’s the future. Might be horrible but we’re already almost there.

This is great stuff: a whole new frame for the sell side.

Now let’s look at the buy side, and how to keep the sellers from being horrible moms. What do we want there? Or what should we want there, if we knew we had the power, independent of advertisers and their media? I mean native power here: power that each of us has — not by grace of some company or government agency, and not limited to a company’s “platform”, which is almost always the floor of a silo or the lawn of a walled garden (and worth less or nothing outside of it).

We already have some of that power, thanks to protocols, formats and code that (essentially) nobody owns, everybody can use and anybody can improve. One of the most widespread of those, thanks to Dave, is RSS — Really Simple Syndication. Look up RSS on Google. You get 3,210,000,000 results, as of today. Much of that huge number owes to RSS’s nature as essential builing material for the Web that anybody can use, easily.

RSS is easy to make yours, personally, as your tool. Thanks to RSS (atop the Web’s and the Net’s other supportive standards, formats and protocols) anybody can produce, edit, update and syndicate pretty much whatever they like. You don’t have to go to Google or Twitter or Facebook. That independence is key, and has been there from the start, as a founding premise.

Now, what else can we create, to help assert our sides of commercial interactions and relationships — which is the central concern of the VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) community? In the Markets Are Relationships chapter of the 10th Anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto, I wrote this about the purposes of VRM efforts:

  1. Provide tools for individuals to manage relationships with organizations. These tools are personal. That is, they belong to the individual in the sense that they are under the individual’s control. They can also be social, in the sense that they can connect with others and support group formation and action. But they need to be personal first.
  2. Make individuals the collection centers for their own data, so that transaction histories, health records, membership details, service contracts, and other forms of personal data are no longer scattered throughout a forest of silos.
  3. Give individuals the ability to share data selectively, without disclosing more personal information than the individual allows.
  4. Give individuals the ability to control how their data is used by others, and for how long. At the individual’s discretion, this may include agreements requiring others to delete the individual’s data when the relationship ends.
  5. Give individuals the ability to assert their own terms of service, reducing or eliminating the need for organization-written terms of service that nobody reads and everybody has to “accept” anyway.
  6. Give individuals means for expressing demand in the open market, outside any organizational silo, without disclosing any unnecessary personal information.
  7. Make individuals platforms for business by opening the market to many kinds of third party services that serve buyers as well as sellers.
  8. Base relationship-managing tools on open standards, open APIs (application program interfaces), and open code. This will support a rising tide of activity that will lift an infinite variety of business boats, plus other social goods.
  9. The Intention Economy.

All these will also give rise to:

The latter is the title of the following section of the chapter, where I  explain that advertising is a bubble, and “so is the rest of the ‘attention economy’ that includes promotion, public relations, direct marketing, and other ways of pushing messages through media.” I then explain,

The attention economy will crash for three reasons. First, it has always been detached from the larger economy where actual goods and services are sold to actual customers. Second, it has always been inefficient and wasteful, flaws that could be rationalized only by the absence of anything better. Third, a better system will come along in which demand drives supply at least as well as supply drives demand. In other words, when the “intention economy” outperforms the attention economy.

Some context:

The attention economy will not go away. There will still be a need for vendors to promote their offerings. But that promotion will have a new context: the ability of customers to communicate what they need and want—and to maintain or terminate relationships. Thus the R in CRM will cease to be a euphemism. This will happen when we have standard protocols for all three forms of market activity: transaction, conversation, and relationship.

Transaction we already have. Conversation we are only beginning to develop. (Email, text messaging, and other standard and open protocols help here, but they are still just early steps—even in in 2009, ten years after we said “markets are conversations” in The Cluetrain Manifesto.) Relationship is the wild frontier. Closed “social” environments like MySpace and Facebook are good places to experiment with some of what we’ll need, but as of today they’re still silos. Think of them as AOL 2.0.

Now, what do we need to create The Intention Economy? (That link goes to a piece by that name written almost four years ago.) What’s already there, like RSS and its relatives, that we can put to use? What new protocols, formats, tools and code do we need to create?

Improving selling is a good thing. Improving buying is a better thing. And improving how buyers and sellers relate is better than both. Those last two are what VRM is about. (And the last one is what CRM has always been about, though it hasn’t had any reciprocating system on the buy side, which is what VRM will provide.)

If you want to see some of what we’re up to, or to contribute to it, here’s the wiki. And here’s the list.

Meanwhile, I’m working on a book titled The Intention Economy: What Happens When Customers Get Real Power. If you’re interested in pointing me to helpful scholorship, research and stories for the book, feel free to weigh in with those too.

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