February 2010

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radiofavesThe great — to me the best radio host ever (he was real and honest and funny and groundbreaking and smart long before was the same, and I am a serious Howard fan too) — once explained his radio philosophy to me in two words:

It’s personal.

From the beginning we have regarded broadcasting as a one-to-many matter, even though the best broadcasters know they are only talking to single pairs of ears, and usually act the same way. Yet stations, programmers and producers put great store in numbers, also known as ratings. Stations, even public ones, lived and died by “The Book” — Arbitron’s regional compilations of results.

At this point something like 2.5 million Public Radio Players — radios for the iPhone — have been downloaded. To the degree that the PRP folks keep track of how much each station and program gets listened to, the results are far different than what Arbitron says. See here for the results, and see here for one big reason why.

At this point Public Radio Player (with which I have some involvent) and other ‘tuners’ for the iPhone (such as the excellent WunderRadio) are my primary radios. I use them when I’m walking, driving, or making coffee in the kitchen at home. I listen to KCLU from Thousand Oaks/Santa Barbara here in Boston, I listen to WBUR, WUMB, WERS, WEEI (Celtics basketball) and other Boston stations when I’m in California. My list of “favorites” (such as the list above, on Wunderradio) runs into the dozens, and includes programs as well as stations. Distinctions between live, podcast, on-demand (podcasts served by stations, live) and other modes are blurring.

Three things are clear to me at this point. First is that it’s very early in this next stage of what broadcasting will become. Second is that it’s more personal than ever. Third is that the time will come when we’ll shut down many (if not most or all) terrestrial transmitters.

On this last topic, a number of landmark AM stations that I grew up listening to — CBL/740 from Toronto, and CKVL/850, CBF/690 and CFCF/940 from Montreal — are all gone. The last two of those went off in January. Those were “clear channel” powerhouses, with signals you could get across the continent at night. I could even get CKVL in the daytime in New Jersey. Now: not there. But the decendents of all those stations are available on the Net, which means they’re available on smartphones with applicatons that play streams. While it’s still not easy to serve streams to thousands (much less millions) at a time, it’s also cheaper than running transmitters that suck 100,000 watts and more off the grid and take up large amounts of real estate (including open land for AM and the tops of mountains and buildings for FM). Not to mention that broadcast towers (which run up to 2000 feet in height) are hazards to aviation, bird migration and surrounding areas when they collapse, which is often.

Anyway, I’ve always thought the ratings were good for the mass-appeal stuff, but way off for stations and programs that appealed to many — but not to enough to satisfy the advertising business. Personal listening is much more idiosyncratic, but also much more interested and involved, than group listening, which actually doesn’t happen.

Therefore I expect radio, or its next evolutionary stage, to be more personal than ever — and therefore better than ever.

Bonus link: JP Rangaswami’s Death of the Download. His closing lines:

And what if the customers have given up and moved on, from the download to the stream?

It was never about owning content. It was always about listening to music.

It was never about product. It was always about service.

The customer is the scarcity. We would do well to remember that. And to keep remembering that.

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noreaster

That’s what the radar shows right now. Outside the winds range from strong to scary. The rain is steady and horizontal. The storm rotates counterclockwise. If it had an eye, it would be on Boston.

New York, as you see, is getting snow. This illustrates this winter’s weird weather pattern. Mid-Atlantic states get buried in snow and ice while New England is South Carolina. We had a couple of snowstorms this winter, but none of the big ones the states south and west of here got. Mostly we’ve had rain. Lots of it. I’m sure most of the ski areas are watching their seasons wash away.

But somehow planes are landing and taking off at Logan. No delays, it says (and shows) here. Can’t be fun in those planes, though.

By the way, Intellicast.com rocks. Highly recommended for weather freaks. Not the best UI, but great images.

[Next morning...] Clear now in Boston, but an awful time to be flying into JFK or PHL:

aviation_jfk-phl

Of the latter it says here, “Philadelphia Intl (KPHL) is currently experiencing inbound flights delayed at their origin an average of 3 hours 23 minutes due to snow and ice. (all delays).” And this new update for JFK:

John F Kennedy Intl (KJFK) is currently experiencing:

  • all inbound flights being held at their origin until friday at 09:15a EST due to snow and ice
  • inbound flights delayed at their origin an average of 5 hours 43 minutes due to snow and ice

(all delays)

All that is from FlightAware, another great site that can use some UI improvements. (Such as linkability to map sections.) Highly recommended if you want to track, say, inbound flights of persons you need to pick up at the airport.

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sunlight_repdata

Brilliant of the Sunlight Foundation to show who pays each elected speaker, in text next to them as they’re speaking at the Heath Care Summit. Dig it here, live.

Via @mathowie.

[Later...] In the interest of fairness, here’s a Democrat, and his major backers:

sunlight_repdata2

(I’ve cropped and moved the video image a bit so browsers won’t shrink the numbers too much.)

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Matterings of Perspective

CRM & VRM, Figure & Ground is a long piece I put up today over at the . It expands on Antagonyms, Social Circles and Chattering about VRM, an excellent post by Cliff Gerrish on his blog. Both frame in hopeful terms the prospects for and finding common ground.

Pew Internet‘s latest report, Future of the Internet IV (that’s the Roman numeral IV — four — not the abbreviation for intravenous, which is how my bleary eyes read it at half past midnight, after a long day of travel), is out. Sez the Overview,

A survey of nearly 900 Internet stakeholders reveals fascinating new perspectives on the way the Internet is affecting human intelligence and the ways that information is being shared and rendered.

The web-based survey gathered opinions from prominent scientists, business leaders, consultants, writers and technology developers. It is the fourth in a series of Internet expert studies conducted by the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. In this report, we cover experts’ thoughts on the following issues:

I’m one of the sources quoted, in each of the sections. The longest quote is two links up, in the end-to-end question.

Sometime later I’ll put up my complete responses to all the questions. Meanwhile, enjoy a job well done by Janna Anderson, Lee Rainie and the crew at Elon University and Pew Internet. There’s much more from (and to, if you wish to contribute) both at Imagining the Internet.

I love BBC domestic programming (such as Radio 4, which I have to dig to find on the BBC website if I’m coming in from a non-UK IP address, as I am now), and would like to pay as much for it as any UK citizen does through taxes.

Let’s say we come up with a way to do that (preferably without DRM), perhaps along the lines of EmanciPay, or perhaps though something more coercive.

Would the BBC welcome that? Or must the domestic fare remain restricted to domestic consumption for reasons other than economic ones?

Put another way, would the BBC prefer that, when nearly all radio listening and video watching becomes digital, and happens over Net connections, even visitors to the UK should be kept on the outside?

And if we techies come up with a way to bring more money to the BBC from both inside and outside the Kingdom, would they turn it down?

If not, I want to on that.

witw1
Years ago, before Flickr came into my life and provided incentives for hyper-identifying everything about every photograph, I had a brief-lived series of photographic teases called Where in the World? — or something like that. (Can’t find the links right now. Maybe later.)

So I thought I’d fire it up again for the shot above, which I took recently on a road trip. Can anybody guess what this is? Bonus points if you can say exactly where.

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olympicice

Anything look familiar about the ice crystals on NBC’s Vancouver Olympics bumper screens (some of which float behind Bob Costas’ head when he sits talking at his desk)?

You can see the originals here. They were shot at our apartment near Boston one year ago, on a morning when it was way below freezing outside, and moisture from inside the house collected in these snowy patterns, a fractal festival on the insides of our storm windows. (All of which our landlady has since replaced with fresh thermal ones, by the way — meaning I’m not going to get those shots again.)

Anyway, I was approached last Fall by NBC about using the shots for their Olympics coverage. They’d found them in my photo pile on Flickr. I said sure. There’s no money in it, but my name will run in the credits.

Meanwhile, it makes watching the show a lot more fun. And it’s a big win for Creative Commons too.

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Advertising is a bubble. If that’s a true statement, Google is a bubble too. And if that’s true, many of the goods we take for granted on the Web are at risk. Let’s run down some evidence.

Thus begins The Google Exposure, my column in the February issue of Linux Journal. Read the rest there. (And hey, feel free to subscribe.)

Bubkes, Stephen Lewis explains, is “Yiddish for beans; early-20th-century Bronx-, Brooklyn-, and Lower-East-Side-ese for very inconsequential matters.” It’s also the name of his blog at Bubkes.org — which, perhaps miraculously, is back up again.

Though not for long.

Bubkes is hosted by Userland, a company that has been bobbing belly-up for the past few months. As Dave wrote in The (safe) future of Radio and Manila, “At some point the userland.com servers will shut down. I don’t know what will be done with the domain. What I care about are the items above. If anyone has an opinion about the other stuff, I don’t know who you would call. I expect to refer to this paragraph many times in the coming weeks and months.” Among the many “items above” is Skywave, an old blog of mine that I’m glad to see kept alive in archived form (and for which I thank Dave and friends for rescuing with other former radio.userland blogs).

Bubkes.org, however, is among the “other stuff” Dave mentioned. So I’m calling on anybody who wants to help convert it from Manila to WordPress, so it can persist as a WordPress blog at the same URL. There are scripts for doing this, but we’re having trouble getting the archive in a convertible form. If any of ya’ll have some ideas, let me know.

Worst case, we move the text and graphics by hand. Those have already been saved off as HTML. But I’d like to give a less labor-intensive alternative a shot before we do that.

weathermap

The mudslides we feared in Southern California didn’t materialize when I posted about the topic on January 21st. Now they are feared again, as a new wave of winter rainstorms passes through. Some slides have already happened. More will. Count on it. (And if you’re at serious risk, really please do GTFO.)

Meanwhile, back here in Boston, a winter snowstorm is headed our way, after treating D.C., Maryland and the surrounding regions to another heavy layer of snow, atop the deepest in memory, which hasn’t had a chance to melt. (One relative there went for many hours without power, looking out on a scene where his car appeared only as a low hill in snow through which only trees and houses protruded.)  We’ve mostly been spared this winter, as have the ski areas to the north. Those will probably be spared again, since this storm is expected to do its heaviest dumping south of here. Bummer, that.

On Friday we fly back to Santa Barbara for The Kid’s winter school break. There are mudslide risks there too, though not as severe as in Los Angeles. (Our hills are mostly rock. L.A.’s are mostly dirt. Think of L.A.’s hills as sponges — because that’s what they are. Place a dry sponge on a steep incline, drip water on it, and see what happens when it fills.)

Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll miss the rain there, and get treated to some of those sunsets we’ve been missing. Hope so.

[Later...] I just got a call from my wife, awakened at 3:3oam in California by a call from the school here. A snow day has been declared. Doesn’t look like it yet, though. There are details in the clouds, like scales on a mackerel. But, as we can see from the radar, it’s coming.

[Later still...] It’s now 2:30 in the afternoon, not long before school gets out, and there has been approximately no snow at all. Just a mix of light flakes and drizzle. Good, I guess.

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In Social Media Crisis Management By This Fluid World, Jonathan MacDonald reviews his own reporting of a real-life incident in the London Underground — and what happened next, as the ripples spread. Good stuff. In the midst of his talk (slides are presented in the post) he cites my own small contribution.

Interesting how normative practices continue to improve even as variants emerge, and even as supporting technology changes, along with users and uses. For example, reporting is still reporting, whether you’re doing it by blogging or tweeting or texting or phoning or … whatever the next thing is (or things are). The basic principles are the same. There are just more, and better, means, more people in a position to use them, and more discovery and improvement in the processes. (Of course, there are more bad behaviors, but those yield learnings too.)

Some of us are old enough to remember “New Journalism“, back in the 1960s. The lenghthy retrospective at that last link is fairly academic, but what was “new” back then boiled down simply to getting real. Tom Wolfe, writing back then and in the present tense: “And all the while, quite beyond matters of technique, it enjoys an advantage so obvious, so built-in, one almost forgets what power it has’: the simple fact that the reader knows all this actually happened. The disclaimers have been erased. The screen is gone. The writer is one step closer to the absolute involvement of the reader that Henry James and James Joyce dreamed of but never achieved.”

The newest journalism is practiced in a reality that allows anybody to participate, anywhere, anytime — all together improving the old with the new. Reminds me that journalism is NEA, just like free code: Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it and Anybody can improve it.

For those who think Journalism (with a capital J) is still owned by the Old Schools, stories like Jonathan’s are a reboot in the pants.

Dats love

Sez Dave (now back in Metsland), “As the 1969 Mets undid the betrayal of NY fans by the Dodgers, the Saints give hope to a city that was betrayed in so many ways.” Exactly. And let’s not forget the betrayal of NY fans by the Giants too. Losing both was a double-whammy for me as a kid. For live major league baseball, Dodgers/Giants fans had to go to a Yankees game — and root against them. Did that a few times. It was way cool. And affordable back then too.

I believed the Saints would win. The whole run-up felt like the ’69 Mets AND the ’69 Jets in Superbowl III. Both were supposed to lose to overpowering Baltimore teams. In the case of the Jets it was the same Colts that also lost yesterday to the Saints.

The sports prophets all said that the Colts were too good. Peyton Manning was the greatest quarterback ever, yada yada. Nobody seemed to notice that the Saints had a pretty good season too. Also its own Hall of Fame quarterback. And, while everybody had some sympathy for the city of New Orleans, there was also this half-tragic, “Well, it’s too bad that the Colts will win this thing.” It was like the Colts could phone it in.

Truth is, it could have gone either way. If a Colts player was found with the ball at the bottom of that scrum after the Saints’ onside kick, the tide might have turned the Colts’ way right there. Same with that pass interception on Manning. But games have a psychological side too. The Saints had the edge there. They believed. And they performed. They were the better team and the more deserving city. And I wish I’d been in New Orleans last night.

But then, I’d been there, in that vindicated, affirming place. Twice, in ’69.

Heavy Whether

borgpond

Chris Daly posts a 1995 essay he wrote for the Atlantic, recalling almost exactly the experience I had as a kid growing up and skating on ponds in the winter. An excerpt:

When I was a boy skating on Brooks Pond, there were almost no grown-ups around. Once or twice a year, on a weekend day or a holiday, some parents might come by, with a thermos of hot cocoa. Maybe they would build a fire — which we were forbidden to do — and we would gather round.

But for the most part the pond was the domain of children. In the absence of adults, we made and enforced our own rules. We had hardly any gear – just some borrowed hockey gloves, some hand-me-down skates, maybe an elbow pad or two – so we played a clean form of hockey, with no high-sticking, no punching, and almost no checking. A single fight could ruin the whole afternoon. Indeed, as I remember it 30 years later, it was the purest form of hockey I ever saw – until I got to see the Russian national team play the game.

But before we could play, we had to check the ice. We became serious junior meteorologists, true connoisseurs of cold. We learned that the best weather for pond skating is plain, clear cold, with starry nights and no snow. (Snow not only mucks up the skating surface but also insulates the ice from the colder air above.) And we learned that moving water, even the gently flowing Mystic River, is a lot less likely to freeze than standing water. So we skated only on the pond. We learned all the weird whooping and cracking sounds that ice makes as it expands and contracts, and thus when to leave the ice.

Do kids learn these things today? I don’t know. How would they? We don’t even let them. Instead, we post signs. Ruled by lawyers, cities and towns everywhere try to eliminate their legal liability. But try as they might, they cannot eliminate the underlying risk. Liability is a social construct; risk is a natural fact. When it is cold enough, ponds freeze. No sign or fence or ordinance can change that.

In fact, by focusing on liability and not teaching our kids how to take risks, we are making their world more dangerous. When we were children, we had to learn to evaluate risks and handle them on our own. We had to learn, quite literally, to test the waters. As a result, we grew up to be more savvy about ice and ponds than any kid could be who has skated only under adult supervision on a rink.

While Chris lived in Medford, near Boston, I lived Maywood, New Jersey, which is near New York. Like Medford, Maywood was a mixed blue/white collar town. Still, it wasn’t dangerous.. Nobody worried about a kid being ‘napped. Or abused, except by bullies (which were normal hazards of life). Kids were taught early to be independent. I remember how I learned to walk to kindergarten. Mom came all the way with me on the first day. On the second, she let me walk the last block myself. Then one block less the next day. Then one block less the next day. Finally, I walked all the way myself — about half a mile. I had turned five years old only two months before.

We mostly skated at Borg’s pond, in Borg’s Woods, a private paradise under a canopy of old growth hardwood on the Maywood-Hackensack border, owned by the Borg family, which published the Bergen Record during its heyday as a truly great newspaper. The pond is still there, inside the green patch at the center of this map. Great to see from the Borg’s Woods Page (actually a site with much more) that the woods is now a preserve   Here’s a trail map that shows the pond. And here is a tour of the woods that shows the pond (I hope Eric Martindale, who maintains the site, doesn’t mind my borrowing the pond shot above), the “four oaks” that are still standing (and where we used to have club meetings), the sledding hill behind the Borg house and more. What a treat to find that it hardly looks any different now than it did fifty years ago.

We could skate on larger water bodies too. There were other lakes and reservoirs nearby. I also have fond memories of Greenwood Lake , where I lived a young adult, editing the late West Milford Argus. Ours was a former summer house (made mostly of cast-off parts) only a few feet from the shore. In the winter we skated there and in the summer we canoed up into New York (State), across the border of which the long lake lay on maps like a big stitch.

Anyway, Chris is right. On the whole we were more free. Not of restrictions. Heaven knows, parents then were much more stern and disciplinary back then. Spanking, for example, was the norm. Our freedom was from fear of what might happen as we became more independent and self-reliant.

Thinking more about it, I don’t want to idealize my childhood years. We lived in constant fear of nuclear annihilation, for example. Through much of my childhood I kept a list in my head of all the places I wanted to see before everybody was incinerated by some politician with an itchy finger. There were also racial, sexual and other forms of oppression, repression and worse.

But we were a bit closer to a natural state in some ways, I think. Or at least kids were. Outside of school, anyway.

By the way, I see that the Brooks Estate, home of Brooks Pond, is now also a nature preserve. As it happens I have also shot pictures of that place from the air. Here’s one. And here’s a shot of Spy Pond (subject of my last post).

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spypondhockey

For most of Winter in the Northeast, skating is possible only during the somewhat rare times when the ice is thick and not covered with snow or other unwelcome surface conditions. And bad skating has been the story, typically, for most of this Winter around Boston. After an earlier snow, there were some ad hoc skating rinks cleared by shoveling, but those were ruined by rains, more snow, more rains, and intermittent freezes that made a hash of the surface. But recent rains and hard freezes have formed wide paths between remaining islands of ruined snow. On most ponds there aren’t enough open spaces for real hockey games, but there’s plenty enough for skating, and for hockey practice, anyway. (A note to newbies and outsiders: nearly all lakes here are called ponds. Dunno why yet. Maybe one of ya’ll can tell me. Still a bit of a noob myself.)

Hockey practice is what I saw when I paused to take a sunset shot with my phone at Spy Pond, which I passed it late this afternoon on a long walk along the Minuteman Bikeway, which is one of my favorite walking paths (and thoroughfares — at least when it’s warm and clear enough to bike on). As it happens, Spy Pond ice has some history. There was a period, in the mid- to late-1800s, after railroads got big, but before refrigeration came along, when New England was a source for much of the world’s shipped ice. And Spy Pond itself was one of the most productive sources. This picture here…

spypond_history2

… shows ice being harvested for storage in ice houses beside the railroad which is now the Bikeway. I stood near the left edge of this scene when I took the picture at the top, and the boy and his dad playing hockey were about where at the center left, where a horse is shown pulling what looks like a man with a plow. (That last shot is from this historical display alongside the bikeway.)

The brainfather of Boston’s ice industry was Frederic Tudor, about whom I have learned a great deal from The Ice King: Frederic Tudor and His Circle. Highly recommended, if you’re into half-forgotten New England history. The book came as a bonus with membership in Mystic Seaport, a terrific maritime museum down the road on the Connecticut coast.

[Later...] The industry you see depicted above can also serve as a metaphor. For that a hat tip goes to Robin Lubbock (@RLma), New Media Director of WBUR, who pointed me to this piece by Michael Rosenblum. Nails it. (I also love Rosenblum’s Maybe monetizing is not the answer and Edward III, Crecy and Local TV Newsrooms, also via Robin.)

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