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Ash tray snowbank

butt bank

Spent some time this morning wondering whether the butts in the melting snow by the A Train station at Dyckman Street migrated there from elsewhere, or if the former snowbank served as an ashtray for smoking passengers. Either way, it’s an impressive collection.

Since I’ve been maturing while my blog header has not, I’ve been thinking that soon is a good time to change it. The old headshot, or art-from-a-headshot, dates from the last Millennium, when I still wore granny glasses and had hair. And it never looked much like me in the first place. This was it:

So bear with me while I go about remodeling the 180 x 720 rectangle this WordPress theme provides for my headspace. (I’ll be playing with a number of different images, by the way; so don’t assume that any one of them is the only one, or “done.” Yet.)

The power is out and won’t be back for awhile. That’s what the guys in the hard hats tell me, down where they’re working, at the intersection where our dead-end street is born. Many trucks are gathered there, with bright night-work lights illuminating whatever went wrong with the day’s power pole replacement job. The notices they left on our doors said they’d be done by five, but now it’s eight and I’m sitting in a house lit by candles, working on the nth draft of a writing assignment, in the absence of a steady flow of electrons off the power grid. Also in the absence of connection except to the physical world alone. Connectivity = 0. My laptop is good for another four hours or so, but without a connection I lack the building materials I need for constructing the piece. So I’m writing this instead.

Some other utilities are unaffected by the power outage, of course. I have matches, and can fire up the gas stove. Water runs, cold and cold. It also drips out of the little motel-grade refrigerator upstairs, defrosting itself into towels I’ve fed under it. The freezer in the kitchen remains closed, to keep whatever is in there from thawing and requiring use in the next couple days. What I’m witnessing is a gradual breakdown that is easy to imagine accelerating fast, especially if I was coping instead with a wildfire or an earthquake.

Three interesting facts about California and the people who — like me — choose to live here:

  1. The state tree is the California redwood. What made these things evolve into groves of spires with thick bark, standing at heights beyond three hundred feet, with branches in mature specimens that commence a hundred or more feet above the ground. I say they are adapted to fire. A cross section of a mature redwood will feature black edges to rings spaced thirty, fifty, two hundred apart, all marking survival of wildfire at a single location.
  2. The state flower is the California poppy. Here is what makes poppies thrive in dry rocky soils that are poor for agriculture but rich with  freshly exposed minerals: they are adapted to earthquakes. More than any other state, except maybe Alaska, California is a product of recent earth movement. Imagine looking at the southern Appalachians in the U.S. or the Blue Mountains of Australia, two million years ago. It’s not hard: they would pretty much like they do now. If you looked at the site of the future California from anywhere two million years ago, you would recognize nothing, unless you were a geologist who knew what to look for. All of California has been raised up or ferried in by tectonic forces that have been working at full throttle for a couple hundred million years, and aren’t moving any slower today.
  3. Neither of those facts teaches caution to human beings who choose to live here. For example, the home where I write this, in Santa Barbara, has been approached, unsuccessfully, by two wildfires in recent years. The Tea Fire in November 2008 burned 210 homes and the Jesusita Fire in May 2009 burned other 80 more. The Tea Fire came straight at us, incinerating everything but rocks and soil for a mile in its path before stopping a quarter mile and ten houses short of where I’m sitting right now. (Here is my report on the aftermath.) The Coyote Fire in September 1964 burned the same area, and much more. The Sycamore Fire in 1979 came even closer, burning houses just up the street from here.

“We live in the age of full convenience,” John Updike wrote, at a time when it made sense to think copiers and fax machines marked some kind of end state.* But the lessons that matter at the moment arise from the absence of the two most essential utilities in my life, and probably yours too: the electric grid and the data network. (Yes, I can get on the Net by tethering my laptop to my mobile phone, but both use batteries that will run out, and the phone is down below 20% already anyway.) So here are three lessons that come to me, here in the dark, all of which we are sure to continue ignoring::::

  1. Civilization is thin. A veneer. Under it nature remains vast, violent and provisional. In the long run, which may end at any time for any of us, nature will prove no easier to tame than the tides. For three great perspectives on this, I highly recommend John McPhee‘s The Control of Nature. The title is taken from a plea to students, carved into sandstone over the door of a building at the University of Wyoming in Laramie: STRIVE ON — THE CONTROL OF NATVRE IS WON, NOT GIVEN. (I also recommend this blog post, by Themon The Bard, who went to UW and provides a photo.) Its chapters are “Iceland versus the volcanoes,” “Los Angeles versus the San Gabriel Mountains” and “The Army Corps of Engineers versus the Mississippi River.” The New Yorker re-ran a set piece from the third of those, right after Hurricane Katrina, which produced what New Orleans natives call “The Flood.” In it McPhee describes what would happen to New Orleans when a levee is breached. Here is the original, published years before reality certified true McPhee’s prophesy.
  2. Humanity is insane. A good working definition of psychosis is disconnection of the mind from reality. As a species we have proven ourselves nuts for the duration, as the examples above attest. Present company included. (Further proof: war, genocide.) It should be clear by now that humanity is not merely at the top of the food chain around the world, but a pestilence to everything God (or whatever) put in position to be exploited in the short term, regardless of the obvious fact that it took approximately forever to put those resources in place, and how much of it cannot be replaced. While it’s true that in the very long run (a billion years or few), the aging Sun will cook the planet anyway, we are doing our best to get the job done in the geologic present. This is why many geologists propose renaming our current epoch “Anthropocene.” Bonus question: Why do political conservatives care so little about the long-term conservation of resources that are, undeniably, in limited supply and are clearly bound for exhaustion at any consumption rate? Before categorizing me, please note that I am a registered independent, and in sympathy with economic conservatives in a number of ways (for example, I do like, appreciate and understand how the market works, and in general I favor smaller government). But on environmental issues I’m with those who give a shit. Most of them happen to be liberals (or, in the current vernacular, progressives). George Lakoff provides some answers here (and in several books). But, while I love George, and while he has probably influenced my thinking more than any other human being, it still baffles that opposing conservation of resources fails to seem oxymoronic to most avowed conservatives.
  3. The end is in sight. Somewhere I’ve kept a newspaper story that did a great job of listing all the resources our species is bound to use up, at current rates of exploitation, and how long that will take. On the list were not only the obvious “reserves,” such like oil, gas, coal and uranium, but other stuff as well: helium, lithium, platinum, thorium, tungsten, neodymium, dysprosium, niobium… stuff we use to make stuff that ranges from balloons to hard drives to hybrid car engines. Many of the heavier elements appear to have been deposited here during bombardments by asteroids several billion years ago, when the Earth has hard enough not to absorb them. Helium, one of the most abundant elements in the universe, is produced on Earth mostly by decay of radioactive elements in certain kinds of natural gas. Much of the world’s helium comes from the ground here in the U.S., where our enlightened congresspeople decided a few decades back to hand the reserves over to private industry, where “the market” would decide best how it would be used. So, naturally, we are due to run out of it within maybe a couple dozen years, and have not yet found a way to replace it. Read on.

[Later...] I wrote this three nights ago, but didn’t put it up until now because I was already way overdue on the  writing assignment I mentioned up top, and I had to deal with other pressing obligations as well. So I just went through the post, copy-edited it a bit and added some links.


* Special thanks goes to anybody who can find the original quote. I’ve used it so often on the Web that I’ve effectively spammed search results with unintended SEO. The closest thing I can find is this from Google Books, which fails to contain the searched-for nugget, but still demonstrates why Updike’s criticism earns the same high rank as his fiction.

I last visited Barcelona more than twenty years ago. Back then the Sagrada Família was already impressive, but also incomplete.  All that stood were the nativity façade and some small number (four? eight?) of the Sagrada’s eventual eighteen towers. I recall nothing of the interior, perhaps because there was none. In many ways, in fact, it resembled a ruin: something not all there.

This time was different. The church, our guide told us, was about a third complete the last time we were there, and is a bit more than two thirds complete now. Still remaining are some new towers and detail work on the exterior, a proper floor for the interior (it’s mostly temporary marble now), and the final entrance: the glory façade at the south end, or the foot of the church’s cross.

Impressive and iconic as the exterior is, the interior achieves a magnificence which, to me, exceeds not only every other church I’ve seen, but every building, period. The forest of columns, which really do resemble trees, spread above oval “knots” into branches that hold up the roof the way spread out fingers might hold up a dish from below. In fact they do far more than that: they are also made to carry the weight of the Jesus tower, which will rise to five hundred and sixty feet above the ground, ranking the Sagrada as the tallest church on Earth.

And, rather than leaves, the ceiling features beautiful pores — the navels of hyperbolas — that suggest portals toward the infinite. That’s one view, above. More can be found in this photo set. The captions aren’t right yet, but the connection at our B&B here is awful, so writing — even a blog post like this — is a bit of an ordeal. So I won’t be in a position to fix things up until I get back stateside next week. Meanwhile, enjoy a visit vicariously.

To an window-sitter accustomed to flying over the American West, Catalonia from altitude looks like Utah. On the northern horizon the Pyrenees, like the Uintahs, run east-west above a dry landscape of settled alluvium, much of it reddish as the San Rafael desert. While the shapes of the ancient towns below are clearly old world in shape and style (for example, red tile roofed), and no doubt receives a greater dousing of rain, the resemblance is still striking.

As always when flying over new places, i found myself wondering about geological provenance. And that was the reverie blown straight out of my mind when a singular landform slid into view. Shaped like the upper half of an elongated football, a half-buried zeppelin, the spine of a humpback, it was deeply eroded into bulbous hoodoo shapes, like those of Utah’s arches and goblins. Yet in a more significant way it also reminded me instantly of the equally anomalous church we were sure to visit in Barcelona, to which we were on approach: Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família, which I last visited twenty years ago, and would visit again two days hence, on New Years Day, 2014. (Here are some interior shots I took there.)

Was the landform an inspiration for the church? Digging around later, I found the answer was yes. Same goes for the cuevas of Majorca, which I gathered the instant I saw those as well, when I visited the island in 1998.

The landform is the Holy Mountain of Montserrat, which means “serrated mountain” in Catalan.

I’d say more, but Net connection at our Barcelona B&B is iffy at best. Evidence: I wrote this several days ago and am only getting it up today, 2 January. So the rest will just have to wait, probably until I’m back in the States next week.

Cities aren’t simple, especially mature ones. They are deep and complicated places that require equally deep attention to appreciate fully.  That’s what I get from Stephen Lewis‘ insights about the particulars of present and past urban scenes and characters in Sofia, New York, Istanbul and other cities he knows well. His latest post, titled  The Women’s Market, Sofia, Bulgaria: The Endurance of the 19th Century, Layers of Unwarranted Blame, and the Virtues of Slow Lenses, goes even deeper than most — accompanied, as always, by first-rate photography that speaks far more than words in any sum can tell. A sample passage:

The endurance of the 19th century

In a lifetime of working in and observing cities throughout the world, I’ve noticed that late-nineteenth century neighborhoods are amongst the last to be regenerated.  This is due in part to the resilient endurance of their economic and social functions throughout the twentieth century and into the early-twenty-first.  In such neighborhoods, cheap rents and high vacancy rates in storefront occupancy enable the provision of inexpensive goods to those whose budgets constrict their choices.  The same interstice of factors offers opportunities for marginal entrepreneurship and a shot at mobility to those who might otherwise fall outside of the economy.  The low profit-margins inherent to such entrepreneurship, however, can make for dubious goods and equally dubious practices.  Thus, shopping in the Women’s Market calls for a taste for sharp-tongued banter and a quick eye ever on the lookout for rigged scales and for good looking produce on display but underweight and damaged goods placed in one’s shopping bag.  Still, where else can one buy, for example, persimmons or grapes, albeit on the last legs of their shelf-lives, for a third of the price of elsewhere and serviceable tomatoes for even less?

To live is to change — and eventually to die. Yet cities are comprised of many lives. They are always an us and never just a me, even if we don’t get along. Who we are changes as well, and that too is a subject of Steve’s attention. For example:

Layers of unwarranted blame

There is a fine ethnic division of work and functions at the Women’s Market.  Meat, cheese, and fish  kiosks, and stands offering wild herbs and mushrooms, are run by Bulgarians. Fruit and vegetable stands and peripatetic bootleg cigarette operations are run by Roma (Gypsies).  Storefronts in adjacent streets include honey and bee keeping supply stores run by Bulgarians and rows of “Arab” shops — halal butchers, spice stores, barbers, and low-cost international telephone services — run by and catering to increasing numbers of legal and illegal immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. Many Bulgarians, their weak self esteem shakily bolstered by contempt for “others,” blame the shoddier commercial practices of this wonderfully vibrant marginal neighborhood on the presence and “inferiority” of such outsiders.

Blaming others may be among our most human of tendencies. I have often thought that the human diaspora, wandering out of Africa and across oceans and forbidding landscapes, was caused by disaffection between tribes — the dislike, subjugation or dehumanizing of others, and the construction of specious narratives that rationalize a simple urge to blame. In known history there have been countless migrations, some for opportunistic reasons, but many more simply to escape misery. (Or, in the case of slavery, in states of misery dismissed by traders who regarded their captives as mere property.)

Yet cities, perhaps alone among human institutions, invite and thrive on human diversity. What hope I have for our species I get more from living in cities than from being anywhere else, no matter how pleasant. Steve’s photos and essays don’t always give me more hope, but they always give me more understanding, which is the better deal.

Bonus postings:

 

Aunt Grace — my father’s younger sister — died yesterday at her home in Maine. She was 101 years old, and in good health until just a couple days ago. Last month, in fact, she flew to San Diego to visit one of her granddaughters.

Grace often said she wanted to live to 108, like her mom, Ethel F. (née Englert) Searls. We should all be so lucky as either one.

Talk about a good life.

Grace was a lifelong artist, best known for her ceramic Toby Mugs, which she made in the basement studio of the Apgar family home alongside Big Brook in Marlboro, New Jersey. She and Uncle Archie moved there around the turn of the ’50s, with their three kids, George, Ron and Sue. The house was first built as a mill in the early 1700s and had been through many incarnations afterwards. Archie continued to work on improving it through the rest of his life. Same went for the land, which the family also farmed for many years.

When Grace finally “retired” a few years ago, after the age of 90, she didn’t go south like so many seniors. Instead she moved to Edgecomb, Maine. There she continued to maintain a vigorous and independent life.

To help remember her, I’ve put together a couple photo sets on Flickr: one of shots throughout her life, and one of her 100th birthday party last year. The former are mostly from her own photo collection, which I’ve been scanning and posting over the last several years. Some are of Grace, some are of her relatives and friends, and some are mine that she’s commented on, as “gsapgar.” She was the last person whose approval I still craved.

I’ll miss her smarts, her humor, her hospitality, her generosity, and her loving presence in the world. She was as fine a Mom, aunt, grandma, great-grandma and friend as anybody could wish for.

We’ll all miss her.

I orient by landmarks. When I was growing up in New Jersey, the skyline of New York raked the eastern sky. To the west were the Watchung “Mountains“: hills roughly half the height of Manhattan’s ranking skyscrapers. But they gave me practice for my favorite indulgence here in Los Angeles: multi-angulating my ass in respect to seriously huge mountains.

What stands out about these things aren’t just their elevations…

  1. San Gorgonio, 11,503′*
  2. San Jacinto, 10,834
  3. San Antonio (Old Baldy), 10,068*

It’s their relief. These mothers are almost two miles high: alps above low plains and hills that slope under city and suburbs to the sea. One day when I went skiing at Mt. Baldy (same mountain as I shot above, on approach to LAX), I met guys who had gone surfing that very morning, not far away.

That’s right: skiing. In Los Angeles County.

All these mountains are crumples along a seam in the earth called the San Andreas Fault. The 40-quadrillion-ton Pacific Plate is crunching up against the also-huge North American plate at a high rate of geologic speed and force. The core rock inside these mountains is about 1.7 billion years of age, but the mountains themselves are, geologically speaking, as new and temporary as waves of surf. Note the catch basins at the base of San Antonio Canyon in the shot above. Their purpose is to catch rocks rolling off the slopes, as well as rain-saturated “debris flows”: Southern California’s version  of lava.

Speaking of which, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of John McPhee’s The Control of Nature (here’s an LA Times review), which features a long chapter titled “Los Angeles versus the San Gabriel Mountains.” That anybody would build a damn thing on or below the slopes of these virtual volcanoes speaks volumes about humanity’s capacity for denial.

Well, I was gonna drive up to the top of Mt. Wilson this morning to catch the sunrise over the layer of marine fog just over my head here in Pasadena, but I’ve got too much work to do. So I’ll just enjoy orienting toward it as I drive to Peet’s for coffee, and let ya’ll derive whatever vicarious pleasures might follow along. Cheers.

[Later...] Beautiful clouds atop the mountains all day today, with showers scattered here and there, and even a bit of snow. Tonight the snow level will be about 5000 feet, I heard. Should be pretty in the morning. Alas, I’ll be arriving at Newark then.


* The photos in Wikipedia for both are ones I shot from airplanes. They are among more than 400 now in Wikimedia Commons. I love feeding shots into the public domain, to find helpful uses such as these.

Hart Island

As Halloween approaches (and death itself, for all of us, eventually), I find myself thinking, Do zombies always have to be bad? And, What if zombies were good? And, Hey, maybe good zombies are what we call ‘angels’.

Then I find myself wondering where one would recruit armies of zombie angels (let’s call them “zangels”), besides your basic headstone-studded cemeteries. Then it comes to me: Hart Island, New York’s potters field, and home to a million or more of New York’s unclaimed dead, off the coast of The Bronx. What a great name and place for a movie starring zombie angels!

I see it opening on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty, with that familiar passage from Emma Lazarus‘ sonnet The New Collosus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The camera sweeps upward, past Liberty’s lifted lamp, to the lifting lid of a plain wooden coffin, topmost of a stack among many in a trench on Hart Island, where the City accumulates boxed bodies by the dozen before a bulldozer, operated by inmates from the Department of Corrections, mass-buries them.

Correction is the theme. The zangels, wretched refuse all, teeming on a shore forgotten by all but the forsaken living, stir awake on a holy mission: to warn the living that the gap between rich and poor is stretching to a breaking point more dangerous than any terrorist plot.*

The zangels aren’t decayed, but appear in their living form, absent the infirmities and temporal concerns that put them in the ground. And they have a plan.

First they confront the very inmates whose work on the island is burial. These they recruit to spread the word. But they do this selectively, starting with just one or two of the inmates, met by one or two of the zangels. The inmates, convinced (after first disbelieving, of course — gotta have that stage), plot next steps with the zangels, who then swim over to City Island, steal some fresh clothes off some clotheslines and head for meetings with a few of the zangels’ surviving friends, co-workers and loved ones. These too are shocked and disbelieving at first, but become disciples of the zangels, who are expert at disappearing and reappearing when necessary.

A code line — “Take liberty to Hart” — is used by the secretive but growing cohort of zangel disciples to organize meetings and start spreading the word.

Not sure what the big conflict with bad guys should be. Gotta have that too. Maybe the bad guys are Gordon Gecko types living in penthouses, working in high-floor offices, making money with work that creates wealth only for themselves. That’s a bit too Hollywood and pat, but I’m just thinking out loud right now, and need to get back to Real Work. But there are plenty of movie-making folk among readers here. I’m hoping those folks pick this up and run with it. I think it’s a hell of a good idea (puns intended).

Meanwhile, here’s a key resource that’s also the main cause:  The Hart Island Project, which seeks to de-shroud Hart Island, bring full respect to those buried there, open access to the public, and unearth and organize good records for those buried there. The project’s founder, Melinda Hunt (@hartisland), owns HartIsland.com as well as HartIsland.net and HartIsland.org. I’m sure she’d let the movie (provided it’s a good one) use HartIsland.com. (She also has a documentary on the island you can sample and buy here.)

Anyway, with Halloween front and center at the moment, I can’t think of a better way to organize and bring attention to a good cause by focusing on a Real Issue.

* Three good sources on this: Chris Hedges, writing about societal collapse and the seductions of warJoseph Stiglitz, whose latest book is The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future; and Stephen Lewis, a New York native and an authority on many relevant topics, blogging at Bubkes.com.

Now see these

40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World. In Twisted Sifter. My fave:

That’s from Deadspin.

In mass this morning only two words the priest said during the homily stuck in my mind: it’s alright.

Because they called ZZ Top to mind. Specifically, the song Legs. It beginsShe’s got legs. She knows how to use them. Then the boys sing a bunch of other stuff over this repetitive throbbing riff that sounds like it’s made by thousand-pound bees. At the end of the first verse they sum things up with this: yeah, it’s alright.

A few months back I turned my sixteen year old son on to ZZ Top, starting with Legs, and he got a huge laugh out the alright thing. It might not be deep, but it’s still cool. Meaning: it’s alright.

Here’s the original music video, just so ya’ll know what MTV looked like, back in the decade.

Bonus link.

In Bubkes, Stephen Lewis has lately been blogging with depth and insight on many topics — music, architecture, culture, infrastructure and events historic and current — in two cities with which he is intimately familiar: Istanbul and Sofia.

In Taksim Underpass: Ask Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Jane Jacobs, and Robert Moses, he writes,

By itself, the Turkish government’s plan to shunt traffic under and past Taksim Square might indeed lessen vehicular congestion, thus freeing this iconic location from dominance by motor vehicle traffic. In conjunction with the plan to replace all of Taksim Square and Gezi Park with a massive complex of shopping mall, mosque, and fantasy reconstruction of a 19th-century military barracks, however, the underpass will instead deliver more automobile traffic into the urban core, a further step toward transforming a vital, unplanned, dense, “legacy” urban agglomeration into just another suburb.

In Istanbul Conflicts From Afar: Issues and Aspersions, Headscarves and Rambo, he visits specious tales by the Turkish Prime Minister and his sympathizers, of protestors “harassing pious Muslim women and tearing off their headscarves” (among other offenses for which there is no confirming hard evidence), and compares them to equally wrong tales from the Vietnam War era. That was when “US antiwar activists were stigmatized — and crocodile tears poured forth — over reports that US soldiers returning from tours duty in Vietnam were being spit upon by opponents of the war.  Not a single person, however — neither spitter, spat upon, nor witness thereto — ever stepped forward to confirm any such attack.” In support of this he recalls an On the Media program confirming the purely propogandized nature of the claim. I just did some digging and found the program transcript. Here it is.

In Sofia, Bulgaria: From Protest to Protest to Protest, Steve visits “the Balkan blurring of what is said and what is, and what is and what could or should be” and how in Bulgaria “nothing is what is seems to be at first glance, and words, no matter how clear, often refer to alternate realities (click here for my long-ago online discourse on the wisdom and convenience of the oft-heard Bulgarian-language phrase po printsip, tr. ‘in principle‘).” His next post, Plovdiv, Bulgaria, 1997: Musicians Marching in Protest, recalls an earlier protest, again accompanied by an excellent photo.

In Istanbul: Water, Fountains, Taksim, and Infrastructural Tourism, Steve reports on joining a colleague in visiting “the layers of infrastructure — including Ottoman-era fountains — that have served Istanbul over centuries past and during its ten-fold growth in population during the twentieth.” I share with Steve a passion for what he and his colleague call “infrastructural tourism” — a practice which, he adds, “appears already to be underway, albeit searching for its own content and method, as per this report at Design Observer.” Wonderful link, that one. Go read that too.

In From the Archives: Fading Fragments of Legacy Infrastructure, he begins,

Two decades ago, I began to photograph the historic water fountains (çeșme) and water kiosks (sebil) of Istanbul.  I began, not with the grand and monumental, but with obscure and abandoned — those in backstreets, alleyways, and courtyards, functioning and non-functioning fragments of legacy urban infrastructure, overlooked by scholars,  their features surrendered to the elements, decay, and neglect. The forgotten origins and gradual disappearance of many of these structures seemed symbolic of larger urban processes of decline and abandonment — processes that are as central to the functioning and continuity of cities as are restoration and (re)development.

I’ve been doing something similar in New York and New Jersey, where I grew up. A few days ago, driving back to Manhattan from a meeting in Edgewater, New Jersey, I found myself following Google Maps’ navigation to the George Washington Bridge, turning onto Bruce Reynolds Boulevard before bearing right onto a ramp leading into the toll lanes. Paused at a light,  I saw on the right an old street sign marking the late Hoyt Avenue, and realized I was exactly where my parents lived when I was born: at 2063 Hoyt. Ninety-three years earlier, this was the view from that very same spot. (And here’s the larger photo set, with shots old and new. Credit for the old ones goes to my late father and to his little sister Grace, now 101 years old and doing fine.) I hope, when Steve next returns to New York (his home town), we can do some infrastructural touring together, cameras in hand.

Bonus link: Steve’s latest, Further to “Istanbul Conflicts From Afar:” Kudos, Mentions, and “Great Expectorations”, which cites this post as well.

The title of this post, Rebuilding the Future, is one I came up with back when I read Steve’s Taksim Underpass piece, and I wanted to post thoughts about the ironies that always surround the civic graces — especially infrastructure — that we choose to keep using (often for new purposes), or just to preserve, for generations to come. I didn’t go there, because I’ve already said enough and I’d rather that readers get into what Steve is writing and sharing. But I still kinda like the headline, so I’m letting it stand.

Hot Death from Above

Driving from New York to Boston today, I heard “Summer ‘Heat Tourists’ Sweat With Smiles In Death Valley” — a four-minute feature on NPR, aired on the 100th anniversary of the hottest temperature ever recorded outdoors on Earth, which happened in Death Valley: 134° Fahrenheit, which is around 57° Celsius. The report says Death Valley routinely draws a hearty Summer crowd of tourists from colder and damper parts of the world: Belgium and New Zealand, for example.

As it happens I was just in New Zealand and Australia, where it’s Winter now. And, on the way back, on a leg between Los Angeles and Newark, I got a nice look up Death Valley from about 40,000 feet up. So I shot it, of course. And I’ve put those shots up on Flickr. If you click on the one above, you’ll see it comes with notes identifying some of the sites in the shot. Two of the most remarkable are Dumont Dunes and the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, aka T&T. The Dunes link goes to the Wikipedia article on the dunes, which is accompanied by a shot I took a few years back from overhead, using a camera I wish I still had (a Nikon Coolpix p7000), which was much better than my Canon 5D SLR at shooting stuff below the window. (Got much better sunsets and sunrises too.) The railroad was built in 1905 and abandoned in 1940. Here are some additional links:

I first heard QR codes called “robot barf” yesterday, when JP said it. Got a good laugh out of it too, because: yeah, if a robot could barf, that’s what it would look like.

Digging back, it looks like the first source of the joke is Andy Roberts here, or Jon Mitchell here, both of whom posted on 27 October, 2011.

Kevin Marks followed in the same vein with QR Codes, bad idea or terrible idea? on 28 January 2012. There Kevin wrote, among other things, “QR Codes ignore years of research and culture on how to communicate meaning in symbolic form designed to be captured by image processing tools behind a lens. We have this technology. It is called writing.”

Both John and Kevin pointed to RobotBarf.com, an innocuous-looking Japanese site without a QR code anywhere to be seen. Its title, translated by Google in Chrome, is “Floor coatings proficient poisoning.” The subtitle is “Sister and sister floor coating proficient.” The body copy begins, “By the way, eh had fallen at the door my sister When you go home? What does this murder? The’m was about to close the door involuntarily thought such as.Voice of sister sank to the floor face willl “welcome back” I heard, I went to the front door or what ‘s also Ninen.” Thus speaks the technology we call writing.

Citing Kevin, JP asked me if there was a difference between a QR code and a link. I said yes, because the author can make a QR code mean anything, and a QR code can also have any number of authors, or documents, or you-name-it, associated with it. I didn’t have the time make more of a case than that, but now I do, so here goes.

Think of a QR code as a window to anything, rather than as a form of writing.

For example, a QR code can be window on a product to the relationship between the owner and the company that made the product — and, for that matter, with anybody else involved. That’s where Phil Windley goes in his post titled Using Products to Build Customer Relationships. Some background: Phil’s company, Kynetx, makes QR code tags and stickers called “SquareTags,” which you can attach to the things you own, and which can be programmed, by you, to say or mean anything. I wrote about this a bit in The Internet of Me and My Things. Phil unpacks his case with this:

…by and large, ecommerce sites, from the smallest to the biggest, are just glorified online catalogs not significantly different from their more mundane mail-order catalog cousins. I’ve always thought the Internet ought to allow us to do better — to really change how merchants, companies and service organizations interact and relate to people.

Our vision for SquareTag is just that: helping people and companies have better (i.e. less dysfunctional) relationships. We believe that products are natural connecting points between companies and their customers. Because SquareTag makes those products smart and gives them an online presence, SquareTag provides a powerful tool for building vendor-customer relationships.

When I speak in my blog or on stage about the Internet of My Things, I’m highlighting the natural and powerful feelings people have about their stuff. As Doc Searls says in Chapter 21 of The Intention Economy, “possession is 9/10ths of the three-year old”. Our connections with our things are primitive and deep. We spend much of our time and resources acquiring, using, managing, and disposing of things.

Because of the strong feelings people have about them, products are a natural connecting point between manufacturers, retailers, service companies, and the customer. SquareTag is designed to deepen the connection between people and things by making the interactions richer.

With SquareTag, any thing becomes a programming platform. Products become more useful, more helpful with the addition of SquareTag. As an example, SquareTag gives almost anything an online social profile

Many companies confuse “having information” about their customers with having a relationship. That might constitute customer intelligence, but it’s not a relationship. Relationships are built on common interests and an exchange of value. Both parties need to see that value or it’s not a relationship. People are more likely to resent the fact that you know things about them outside of a relationship…

Using SquareTag companies can engage in a new kind of customer relationship management that does more than store contact information and interaction history. SquareTag provides a way to establish genuine relationships that provide continuous interaction throughout the customer life-cycle. This changes “relationship management” into “relating.”

Between the elipses above, Phil goes into specific use cases and scenarios. It’s deep and fun stuff. Go read it.

Meanwhile, think of how lame it has been for QR codes, so far, to be limited mostly to (actual) robot barf on the corners of ads and on the windows of shops, leading the scanner back to something promotional put up by the company at a website. This is worse than uninteresting: it wastes everybody’s time. But let’s say my next Canon camera, maybe the forthcoming 5D Mark IV, comes with a QR code unique to that camera. If I scan it on Day 1 of owning it, I’ll get, perhaps, a greeting and a link to the owner’s manual. Then, after I put it in my personal cloud, I can add my own annotations, such as links to the photos I’ve taken with the camera, or to my own notes for Canon’s repair people, should I have to send it in for a fix. (Which I’ve done many times over the years with my various cameras.) The repair people can then scan the code and see the notes. Canon too can add updates to the code. (Remember, I can program viewing permissions in my pCloud.) And, if I ever sell the camera or give it away, my notes and Canon’s can go with it, and Canon’s CRM system can be updated with relationship information about the new owner.

Finally, in case you need one more thing to convince you that QR codes are only ugly when misused — and are sure to become beautiful once they are used in creative new ways — there is this item in Wikipedia:

The use of QR codes is free of any license. The QR code is clearly defined and published as an ISO standard.

Denso Wave owns the patent rights on QR codes, but has chosen not to exercise them.

Thank you, Denso Wave.

Dave makes a profound distinction in his post this morning titled Outliners and Word Processors. For the first time I not only grok what I already knew about outlining, but why it’s so much better as a way to write than word processing ever was.

The distinction is a bit hard to see because Word — the word processor that approximately everybody uses — has a “view” called “Outline.” That view has made lots of writers hate outlining, for a good and ironic reason: it was never about outlining, so it botched the job. Dave explains,

What they called outlining was more like outline formatting. Putting Roman numerals on the top sections, capital letters on the first level. Numbers on the second and so on.

Word is a word processor. Its primary function is writing-for-printing. The choices the designers made make it a relatively strong formatter and a weak organizer.

Design choice is the key point. Dave again:

Word is a production tool – good for annual reports, formal papers, stories, books. Fargo is an organizing tool, good for lists, project plans, narrating your work, presentations, team communication. You could organize a conference with an outliner. The slides would naturally be composed wiht an outliner.

An outliner is designed for editing structure more than it is for editing text. The text is sort of “along for the ride.” Or you could see an outliner as text-on-rails. Outliner text is always ready to move, with a single mouse gesture or keystroke. You enter text into an outliner so you can move it around, like stick-up notes on a whiteboard.

…Word processors are good at selecting words, sentences and paragraphs. Outliners select headlines and all their subs.

This makes me think that Word should have been called a “format processor” from the start. We already had text editors. Word processing was actually about how things looked. Still is. See, when you write in Word, you are in a land called “styles,” no matter what. All styles format text, in countless ways. The default, called “Normal,” comes pre-set with font, size, justification, line spacing, paragraph spacing and so on. If you make changes to it, those get added as well, until you concatenate a long list of formatting variables, which get carried forward by copy and pasting, often in bizarre ways, conditioned on whatever other style choices may or may not have already been made in another part of the text.

For a long time I wrote entirely in an outliner called MORE, which was created by Dave and friends back the 1980s. As a writer I found MORE a far better tool than Word, especially for long pieces, because its structure-first design made it easy for me to move around whole sections, and to jump from one section to another. Fargo works the same way. Take this outline, for example:

Earth

  • Geology
  • Astronomy

Air

  • Chemistry
  • Weather

Water

  • chemistry
  • bodies

Fire

  • Material
  • Temperature

Writing that in WordPress (which I’m doing now) is a chore, because all the choices are formatting ones, not outlining ones. Let’s say I want to move Water above Fire. I need to copy and paste it, and then hit the HTML tab so I can un-screw whatever happens under WordPress’ very thin covers, and the formatting elements of HTML reside.

In Fargo, I just hit hit Command-U (or Control-U on Linux or Windows computers). Everything under Fire moves up. I can do the same with the subheads, or with the paragraphs under the subheads. (I would illustrate that here if the HTML hack weren’t so arduous.)

When I was writing The Intention Economy, I wished every day that I could have written it in MORE, because it would have been so much easier than it was in Word. MORE really was text-on-rails.

At its peak, The Intention Economy was 120,000 words long. The finished book was about 80,000 words. The outline view: four main parts and twenty-seven chapters. If I had been writing it in MORE, I could have collapsed the whole book to just the top-level (the four parts), expanded just to the chapter level, and then edited text within any of those, while seeing the whole outline in collapsed form above and below. I could have moved whole chapters or subchapters forward or back, and I could have promoted or demoted parts, chapters and subchapters, again with keyboard commands. I could easily have managed writing the whole book with an ease that Word simply would not allow, except to the degree that I could master working in its awful outline view.

(To be fair, there have been improvements in Word that make something like real outlining possible. I bring this up in case you’re writing a book and need easy navigation in Word. What you want is Document Map Pane under Sidebars in the View menu. That makes an outline pane appear to the left of the text. If you are using Word’s default outline and text formatting, you can expand and collapse subheads and text, and move about your document by clicking on the heading or subheading you like. It’s a huge help, though nothing as useful as what we lost when MORE went away a few years ago.)

By the way, on the production side, MORE actually did some things that Word still doesn’t do, such as giving you the choice of putting the saved date and time in the header or footer, rather than the current date and time. This is extremely handy for matching printed drafts with saved drafts on the computer. I believe MORE did that because it came from outline designers rather than format designers. It showed respect for the need to organize, and not just to format and produce.

The assumption with Word, even today, is that you will be printing the finished thing out, rather than publishing it on the Web. While Word does have a Web Layout view, and will produce HTML, it’s the gawd-awful-worst HTML the world has ever known. (Look up Word + HTML in a search engine and you’ll find lots of links to fixes for Word’s hideous HTML.) Again, this is a design legacy from a time before the Web, and we are still forced to live with it today.

Outlining is a much better fit for writing on, and for, the Web.

Consider this old writing aphorism: What you say matters more than how you say it. Outlining respects this by giving you a way to shape and re-shape what you say. As it was originally conceived, so did HTML. Although it did markup, which was formatting, HTML was as simple as possible, leaving particulars such as fonts and sizes up to the reader’s browser, rather than up to the writer’s word processor. This has changed over the years, as HTML has become far more complex, and design along with it. Right now, for example, I’m coping with designing a couple of new WordPress blogs, and the choices I face are all between different piles of complexity. If you want to color outside the lines of whatever themes you choose — or hell, just to choose a theme you can work with — you’re going to need professional help, or to spend a lot of time learning and re-learning how to write on the Web. That’s because the choices of how you say it have totally overrun those of what you say.

By coming from what you say rather than how you say it, Fargo is both an antidote to the complexities of writing for the Web today, and a throwback to the original design graces of HTML, and of the Web itself.

So I highly recommend to serious writers that they get on board and learn outlining, as Dave and his team at SmallPicture iterate Fargo toward whatever it will end up being. Hey, it’s still new. And what better time to get on board than when you’re new to the whole thing as well.

Bonus link: Outlining solves syncing and sharing, by Chris Wolverton.

Jackson Pollock[Updated 1 December to add the addendum below. If you're new to this post, start here. If you've read it already, start down there.]

In Journalism as service: Lessons from Sandy, Jeff Jarvis says, “After Sandy, what journalists provided was mostly articles when what I wanted was specifics that those articles only summarized. Don’t give me stories. Give me lists.”

Journals aren’t going to stop giving us stories, because stories are the main attraction. But lists are the service. They are also the frontier, because journals on the whole suck at lists. That’s what we’ve been learning over and over and over again, every time something Too Big happens. (Sandy, Katrina, the Arab Spring, the financial meltdown, yada yada.) We get plenty of stories, but not enough lists. Or, not the lists we need if we’re affected by the event.

Back when Sandy was going on, I stayed in Boston and blogged it live. One of my main sources was The Weather Channel, aka TWC — on TV, more than the Net. (My “TV” was an iPad channeling our Dish Network set top box in Santa Barbara.) As I recall, TWC had two main reporters on two scenes: one in Point Pleasant, New Jersey and one at Battery Park in Manhattan. Both had lots of stories to tell and show, but as a service TWC missed approximately everything other than what happened in those two places. I say approximately because the damage being done at the time was widespread, huge, and impossible for any one news organization to cover. (And TWC actually did a pretty good job, as TV channels go.) Seen as an outline, TWC looked like this:

SANDY

  • General coverage from studios
    • TWC
    • National Hurricane Center
  • Field coverage
    • Battery Park
    • Point Pleasant

That’s far simpler than what TWC actually did at the time, of course. But I’m trying to illustrate something here: that coverage itself is an outline. Also that cover, as both noun and verb, is something no single news organization can create, or do. They all do a partial job. The whole job, especially for a massive phenomenon such as Sandy, requires many journals of many kinds.

In a way we have that with the Web. That is, if you add up all the stuff reported about Sandy — in newspapers, on radio and TV, in blogs, in tweets, on social media — you’ve got enough info-splatter to call “coverage,” but splatter isn’t what Jeff needs. Here are his specifics:

I wanted lists of what streets were closed. I wanted lists of what streets the power company was finally working on. Oh, the utility, JCP&L, gave my town, Bernards Township, lists of streets, but they were bald-faced lies (I know because my street was on that list but their crews weren’t on my street). The town and our local media outlets only passed on these lists as fact without verifying. I wanted journalists to add value to those lists, going out to verify whether there were crews working on those streets. In a word: report.

I wanted media organizations or technology platforms to enable the people who knew the facts — my fellow townspeople — to share what they knew. Someone should have created a wiki that would let anyone in town annotate those lists of streets without power and streets — if any — where power crews were working. Someone should have created a map (Google Maps would do; Ushahidi would be deluxe) that we could have annotated not only with our notes and reports of what we knew but also with pictures. I’d have loved to have seen images of every street blocked by trees, not just for the sake of empathy but also so I could figure out how to get around town … and how likely it was that we’d be getting power back and how likely it would be that buses would be able to get through the streets so schools could re-open.

But instead, we got mostly articles. For that’s what journalists do, isn’t it? We write articles. We are storytellers! But not everything should be a story. Stories aren’t always the best vehicle for conveying information, for informing the public. Sometimes lists, data bases, photos, maps, wikis, and other new tools can do a better job.

What Jeff wanted was a painting, or set of puzzle pieces that fit together into a coherent and complete painting. A good outline does that, because it has structure, coherency, and whatever level of detail you need. Instead Jeff got something out of Jackson Pollock (like the image above).

We need outlines, we get splatter. Even the stories, high-level as they often are, tend to work as just more splatter.

How do we get outlines? Here are some ways:

  1. If you’re a journal, a journalist, a reporter, a blogger… start responding to the demand Jeff lays out there, especially when a Big Story like Sandy happens. Provide lists, or at least point to them. It’s a  huge hole. Think about what others are bringing to the market’s table, and how you can work with them. You can’t do it all yourself. Nor should anybody.
  2. Listen to Dave Winer, who has been working this frontier since the early ’80s, and has given the world lots of great stuff already. (Here’s his latest in outline form.)
  3. Start looking at the world itself as a collection of outlines, and at your work as headings and subheadings within that world — even as you don’t wish to be confined to those, and won’t be, because the world is still messy.
  4. Go deeper than wikis. Wonderful as they are, wikis are very flat as outlines go. They are only one level deep. So is search, which is worse because every search is temporary and arcane to whatevever it is you search for at the moment, and whatever it is the engine is doing to personalize your search.

It’s not easy to think of the world as outlines. But seeing the plain need for lists is a good place to start.

Addendum

After reading the comments, I should make a few things clearer than I did above.

First, Jeff’s line, “Don’t give me stories, give me lists,” does not mean stories are wrong or bad or without appeal. Just that there are times when people need something else. Badly. Giving somebody a story when they need a list is a bit like giving somebody who’s fallen overboard a meal rather than a life preserver. It’s best to give both, at the right time and place. One of my points above is that no one journal, or journalist, should have to do it all. A related point I didn’t make is that pulling together lists, and linking lists together, is less thankful work than writing stories. True, writing stories isn’t always easy. But story-writing is rewarding in ways that compiling lists are not. Yet lists may save lives — or at least hassles — in ways that stories may not.

Second, seeing “the world as outlines” does not require that any one person, site or journal produce lists or outlines for anything. The totally flat and horizontal nature of hyperlinks (and, not coincidentally, wikis) makes it at least possible for everything to be within a link or few from everything else. While this linky flatness can excuse what I call “splatter” above, it also suggests a need for mindfulness toward coherency, and the absent need for anybody to do everything. As structure goes, the Web is more like scaffolding than like a building. If we see journalism as outlining, and lists as an essential part of any outline, and hyperlinks as a way of connecting multiple lists (and stories) together, we can make multiple scaffolds function together as a coherent whole, and ease the labor required, say, for piecing one’s life back together after a storm.

Third, we are dealing with a paradox here. Outlines are hierarchical, and — as David Weinberger put it so well in Cluetrain — hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. Thus one of the things that makes the Web a web also makes it a poor place for persistent structure. Yes, we can create buildings of sorts. (For example, anything with a domain name.) But all are temporary and vulnerable to future failings or repurposings. Big as Facebook is, there is nothing about the nature of its mission or corporate structure, much less of the Web beneath it, to assure the site’s permanence. (I have exactly this concern about Flickr, for example.) Built into the Web’s DNA, however, is a simple call to be useful. That too is a call of journalism. It is a more essential calling than the one to be interesting, or provocative, or award-worthy, or any of the other qualities we like to see in stories. A dictionary is poor literature, but a highly useful document. It is also a list. A bookshelf with several dictionaries on it is an outline. So is a library.

Fourth, there are many reasons that outlining hasn’t taken off as a category. Some are accidents of history. Some have to do with the way we are taught outlining in school. (Poorly, that is.) But the biggest, I’m convinced (at least for now) is that we fail in general, as a species, to see larger pictures. We fail to see them in the present moment, or in the present situation (whatever it is), and we fail to see them across time. This is why even people called “conservatives” see little reason to conserve finite resources for which there are no substitutes after they run out.

Fifth, we need new development here. My point about wikis is that they don’t cover all the ground required for outlining the world. Nothing does, or ever will. But we can do other things, and do them better. It’s still early. The Web as we know it is only seventeen years old. The future, hopefully, is a lot longer than that.

Meanwhile, a grace of a storm like Sandy is that it can make a serious journalist call out for something serious that isn’t journalism-as-usual. And that the result might be better scaffolding to hold together the temporary undertakings we call our lives.

New York at night

The conditions were what pilots call “severe clear” from Charlotte to New York on Thursday night. I made sure (paying $44 to USAirways) that I had a window seat on the left side, and had a perfect view through an imperfect window of nearly every city and town from Charlotte to New York.

Rolling by went Greensboro-High Point-Winston-Salem, Burlington-Graham, Chapel Hill and Durham, Petersburg, Richmond, Fredericksburg, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Trenton, and then, finally: New Yawk in her great sparkling self. From the air at night it does indeed appear to be what the Letterman show calls The Greatest City in the World. From altitude at night most other cities look like splats of light; but New York bristles with buildings and throbs with traffic coursing through streets and urban arteries.

Where skyscrapers in lesser cites often seem there just to show off, in New York they are natural expressions of the city’s muscularity. They have to go up.

So I shot the whole trip. Most didn’t come out. (Not the best camera, lens or window — and shooting stationary settings at f1.8 at 1/20th of a second while flying through by “light chop” at 500 miles per hour tends to produce less than ideal results.) But The City looked too good not to post. So here it is.

My son remembers what I say better than I do. One example is this:

I uttered it in some context while wheezing my way up a slope somewhere in the Reservation.

Except it wasn’t there. Also I didn’t say that. Exactly. Or alone. He tells me it came up while we were walking across after getting some hang time after Mass at the . He just told me the preceding while looking over my shoulder at what I’m writing. He also explains that the above is compressed from dialog between the two of us, at the end of which he said it should be a bumper sticker, which he later designed, sent to me and you see above.

What I recall about the exchange, incompletely (as all recall is, thanks to the graces and curses of short term memory), is that I was thinking about the imperatives of invention, and why my nature is native to Silicon Valley, which exists everywhere ideas and ambition combine and catch fire.

Started listening to Bill Clark’s amazing oldies show on WATD/95.9 on the way back from dinner this evening, and continued on the Web after getting back. Talk about deep cuts. Some of those songs I hadn’t heard in 50 years, if ever. All good stuff, familiar or not.

One tune, the name of which I missed, reminded me of two contemporary songs by young artists with roots in bed-Rock. One is Dynamo, by Si Cranstoun, who is the living incarnation of Jackie Wilson, even though he’s a young dude from the U.K. The other is North Side Gal, which you can download free at  J.D. MacPherson‘s site. Here’s J.D.’s backstory. And a review. He’s a punk veteran and former art teacher from Broken Arrow, Nebraska.  Not sure who he embodies, other than the whole of rock’s deepest geology.

Both are happy, super-upbeat songs that demand dancing. Great, great stuff.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Markets are conversations, they say. So yesterday I had one with MRoth, head of product for , the company whose service changes the other day caused a roar of negative buzz, including some from me, here.

Users were baffled by complexities where simplicities used to be. Roger Ebert lamented an “incomprehensible and catastrophic redesign” and explained in his next tweet, “I want to shorten a link, tweet it, and see how many hits and retweets it got. That’s it. Bit.ly now makes it an ordeal.”

That was my complaint as well. And it was heard. A friend with Bitly connections made one between  and me, and good conversation followed for an hour.

We spent much of that time going over work flows. Turns out Roger’s and mine are not the only kind Bitly enables, or cares about, and that’s a challenge for the company. Compiling, curating and sharing bookmarks (which they now call “bitmarks”) is as important for some users as simply shortening URLs is for others. Bitly combined the two in this re-design, and obviously ran into problems. They are now working hard to solve those.

I won’t go into the particulars MRoth shared, because I didn’t take notes and don’t remember them well enough in any case. What matters is that it’s clear to me that Bitly is reaching out, listening, and doing their best to follow up with changes. “Always make new mistakes,” Esthr says, and they’re making them as fast and well as they can.

I will share something I suggested, however, and that’s to look at the work flows around writing, and not just tweeting and other forms of “social” sharing.

We need more and better tools for writing linky text on the Web. Much as I like and appreciate what WordPress and Drupal do, I’m not fond of either as writing systems, mostly because “content management” isn’t writing, and those are content management systems first, and writing systems second.

As an art and a practice, writing is no less a product of its instruments than are music and painting. We not only need pianos, drums and brushes, but Steinways, Ludwigs and Langnickels. Microsoft doesn’t cut it. (Word produces horrible html.) Adobe had a good early Web writing tool with GoLive, but killed it in favor of Dreamweaver, which is awful. There are plenty of fine text editors, including old standbys (e.g. vi and emacs) that work in command shells. Geeky wizards can do wonders with them, but there should be many other instruments for many other kinds of artists.

Far as I know, the only writer and programmer working on a portfolio of writing and publishing instruments today is , and he’s been on the case for thirty years or more. (I believe I first met Dave at the booth at Comdex in Atlanta in 1982, when the program was available only on the Apple II). One of these days, months or years, writers and publishers are going to appreciate Dave’s pioneering work with outlining, sharing linksflowing news and other arts. I’m sure they do to some extent today (where would we all be without RSS?), but what they see is exceeded by what they don’t. Yet.

The older I get, the earlier it seems. For artist-grade writing and publishing tools, it’s clear to me that we’re at the low narrow left end of the adoption curve: not far past the beginning. That spells opportunity for lots of new development projects and companies, including Bitly.

I think the main thing standing in everybody’s way right now is the belief that writing and publishing need to be “social,” as defined by Facebook and Twitter, rather than by society as a whole, which was plenty social before those companies came along. Also plenty personal. Remember personal computing? We hardly talk about that any more, because it’s a redundancy, like personal phoning, or personal texting. But personal, as an adjective, has taken a back seat while social drives.

Here’s a distinction that might help us get back in the driver’s seat: Publishing is social, but writing is personal. The latter is no less a greenfield today than it was in 1982. The difference is that it’s now as big as the Net.

Independent commercial alternative rock radio in Boston is heading to the grave. The Boston Phoenix‘ WFNX has been sold to Clear Channel, which — says the press release — will expand its “footprint” in Boston. (Bambi vs. Godzilla comes to mind.) Boston Business Journal suggests the signal’s fate will be to carry country music or Spanish programming. But it doesn’t matter. FNX is done.  In Thanks For The Memories You’re Fired, Radio INK puts the end this way:

Independently owned WFNX has been competing in the Boston market for nearly 30 years. Until yesterday that is, when Stephen Mindich notified his staff he was selling to Clear Channel. He then fired 17 of the 21 employees. Mindich said, “Despite its celebrated history, its cutting edge programming , its tradition of breaking new music, its ardent fans among listeners and advertisers, for some time it has been difficult to sustain the station  — especially since the start of the Great Recession.”

NECN reports,

The sale also means 17 of the 21 people working at FNX were suddenly let go Wednesday. The remaining three full-timers and one part-timer will keep the station on air until the sale goes through in next couple of months.

WFNX Program Director Paul Driscoll said, “I think of it as a two month Irish wake, so we’re going to send this legendary station off the right way.”

That will mean celebrating the station’s roots and its 29 year run – one that had a hand in bringing groups like Nirvana and Pearl Jam to wider audiences.

Driscoll said, “The community, the artists that we’ve developed relationships with, the listeners, it’s more than just a spot on the FM dial.”

No doubt the change has been coming for a long time. WBCN went away (actually to an HD subchannel, which is pretty much the same thing) a couple years back after 41 years as one of the country’s landmark rock stations. FNX was always more alternative than BCN. WBOS and WAAF still fly the rock flags; but there was only one FNX, and now it’s headed out the door.

Since coming to Boston in ’06 I’ve been surprised to see FNX continuing to make it. The ratings in both March and April had dropped to nil (literally, nada). You can’t sell advertising with that.

The signal is also sub-second-tier. Licensed to Lynn as a Class A station (maximum of 3000 watts at 300 feet above average terrain), it radiates with 1700 watts at 627 feet (equivalent to 3000 watts, trading watts for height), from atop One Financial Center, but with far less power in most directions other than north:

Meanwhile, most competing Boston commercial stations are Class B: 50,000 watts at 500 feet, or the equivalent. (Most radiate with fewer watts at higher elevations, on either the Prudential Building or out at Boston’s antenna farm in Needham, where a collection of towers exceed 1000 feet in height.)

Presumably WFEX, which simulcasts WFNX from Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, will also go to Clear Channel. (See the engineering and ownership details here.)

There’s a lot of tweeting on the matter. The most poignant so far is this one from David Bernstein (@dbernstein):

Why #WFNX mattered (photo taken by @CarlyCarioli) http://pic.twitter.com/dIjOjsfT

Make that minus seven now.

[Later...] The sale price is $14.5 million.

Enticed by Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald (aka @DutchCowboy) in this tweet, I fired up Layar (an AR — Augmented Reality — browser from the company by that name, which he co-founded), and aimed it at the cover of my new book. What followed is chronicled in this Flickr set. Start here, then follow the links at the end of each caption.

It’s a fun way to see what linky stuff might be found with any image you can visit in the world. Right now its purposes are mostly commercial. But I’d love to see the technology applied to questions we might have in the much larger non-commercial world, answering questions like…

  • What kind of flower is this?
  • What breed of dog is this?
  • What’s the name of this bridge?
  • What’s the history behind this building?
  • This crystal is produced by what chemical compound?
  • Show me older photos of this same scene
  • What is the geology beneath this scene?
  • Where else can I buy this?
  • What are all the news stories about this?
  • Who made this, and what went into it?
  • Show me the standard information sharing label for this

The biggest one for me — and maybe one I could actually work on — is this:

  • What am I seeing out the window of this airplane?

Given that planes are moving, usually at speeds of hundreds of miles or kilometers per hour, this might be hard to do. But what about after the fact? I’d love it if my own captions (or better ones) to photos such as these…

… could pop up when somebody looks at them, whether on a browser, a phone or any other device.

Just one more way I keep learning that it’s still very early in whatever it is we’re making of the digital world that coexists with the physical one.

Newtown Creek

Thanks to Jeff Warren (also here) of GrassRootsMapping and  Public Laboratory, I now know — and am highly turned on by — the possibilities of mapping in the wild. That is, mapping by the 99.xxx+% of us who are not in the mapping business, and are in the best multiple positions to map the world(s) in four running dimensions.

Check Jeff’s latest post at MapKnitter for what extra good can come from the series of shots I took of New York from altitude recently, and blogged about here. Pretty damn cool.

The thought now of what can be done with my many thousands of aerial photos is both exhiliarating and daunting. Fortunately, the work won’t be just mine — or any one person’s. And that’s what’s most cool about it.

 

Hassle House poster panel

That’s what many thought when they first saw the poster for Hassle House, in Durham, North Carolina, back in ’76 or so. As soon as any of the posters went up, they disappeared, becoming instant collectors’ items. At the time, all I wanted was to hire the cartoonist who did it, so he could illustrate some of the ads I was creating for a local audio shop. That cartoonist was the polymath Ray Simone, who went on to become the creative leader of Hodskins Simone & Searls (HS&S), the advertising agency I co-founded with Ray and David Hodskins, in 1978, and which thrived in North Carolina and Silicon Valley for the next two decades.

When I put up Remembering Ray, which (among much else) expressed my wish to re-surface the Hassle House poster, Jay Cunningham said in a comment that he could scan his copy. Which he did, and the results are here. In another comment Rob Gringle gives more of the back-story than I had known at the time.

Before HS&S, David and Ray were both with a small “mutilple media studio” called Solar Plexus Enterprises, which grew out of the Duke Media Center. Also there was Helen Hudson Whiting, who was a first-rate epicure as well as the fastest and most capable typesetter I had ever known. I just looked Helen up and found this nice write-up from Duke Magazine Books:

In Helen’s Kitchen: A Philosophy of Food


By Helen Hudson Whiting. Regulator Bookshop, 2000. 241 pages. $17.95.

In the text below is this:

Helen Hudson Whiting ’75 was, among other things, a bookseller and co-owner of Durham’s Regulator Bookshop, a reader, a writer, and an amateur chef. For nineteen years, she wrote food commentaries for Triangle area publications: first for WDBS-FM’s The Guide, and then for The Independent.

In Helen’s Kitchen, organized posthumously and edited by her friends and colleagues, features an eclectic selection of these columns, as well as remembrances from people who knew Whiting and cherished her enterprising, adventurous culinary attitude and her zest for pleasure and her keen intellect.

I worked with Ray, Helen and David at Solar Plexus before we founded HS&S, and Helen continued to work alongside the new agency, doing most of our typesetting. So she became a good friend as well.

But that’s not my point here. My point is that ours was a special community, and at the beginning of many things, although we didn’t know it at the time.

At Ray’s memorial gathering in Pacifica last Sunday, Steve Tulsky made that point beautifully. He said our artsy-hippie community in Durham and Chapel Hill back then was a special group. Much was born there, in music, art, performance, writing, publishing, business, events, and other fields. The Independent, modeled by The Guide, is still going strong. So is the Regulator Bookshop. WDBS is long gone. So are WQDR and WRDU (as what they were then, anyway), which carried forward the radio torch WDBS lit when it went on in 1971. But their spirits survive in Good Radio everywhere. The Festival for the Eno, still going strong, began as the Folklife Festival, in 1976, on the country’s bicentennial. WDBS was highly involved, as the station broadcasting the many musical acts playing there. (Perhaps some old tapes still survive.)

While I was working with David, Ray and Helen at Solar Plexus in ’77, I also worked with the Psychical Research Foundation, which studied scientifically evidence for life after death, and was located at Duke University. The PRF spun off of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, led by J. B. Rhine, who launched the whole parapsychology field out of research he conducted at Duke in the 1930. Among the many decendents of that work is the Institute of Noetic Sciences, headed by Marilyn Schlitz, another member of our community back in the decade.

Here’s another weird connection. One of the central institutions of that time in Durham was the Durham Bulls single-A baseball team, which played at an old athletic field surrounded by brick tobacco warehouses. It was a special team at a special time and place. You might remember the movie about it.

Anyway, I just wanted to bring back to the foreground some of what we’ve lost or forgotten from that wonderful formative period in so many lives, and in so many ways.

Subway car interior

When I was young, New York subways were dirty, noisy and with little risk of improvement. But, even if the maps weren’t readable (as with this 1972 example), there were lots of them.

Now the subways are much nicer, on the whole, and being improved. But there is now a paucity of maps. In fact, I notice an inverse relationship between the number of maps and the number and size of ads in subways and on subway cars. Some of the cars, such as the one above, have an all-advertising decor, in addition to the usual cards in frames.

Since loud panhandlers are also common past the threshold of annoyance in subway cars, I found myself yesterday tempted to stand up and say,

“EXCUSE ME, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. I’M NOT HERE TO ASK FOR YOUR MONEY, BUT JUST TO DRAW YOUR ATTENTION TO A SHORTAGE OF SUBWAY MAPS AND AN ABUNDANCE OF ADVERTISING. THANK YOU VERY MUCH AND HAVE A GOOD DAY.”

… and then sit down. Who knows? Might help.

Today I’m in solidarity with Web publishers everywhere joining the fight against new laws that are bad for business — and everything else — on the Internet.

I made my case in If you hate big government, fight SOPA. A vigorous dialog followed in the comments under that. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Nobody who opposes Big Government and favors degregulation should favor the Stop Online Piracy Act, better known as SOPA, or H.R. 3261. It’s a big new can of worms that will cripple use of the Net, slow innovation on it, clog the courts with lawsuits, employ litigators in perpetuity and deliver copyright maximalists in the “content” business a hollow victory for the ages.

I also said this:

SOPA is a test for principle for members of Congress. If you wish to save the Internet, vote against it. If you wish to fight Big Government, vote against it. If you wish to protect friends in the “content” production and distribution business at extreme cost to every other business in the world, vote for it. If you care more about a few businesses you can name and nothing about all the rest of them — which will be whiplashed by the unintended consequences of a bill that limits what can be done on the Internet while not comprehending the Internet at all — vote for it.

This is the pro-business case. There are other cases, but I don’t see many people making the pure business one, so that’s why I took the business angle.

The best summary case I’ve read since then is this one from the EFF.

The best detailed legal case (for and against) is A close look at the Stop Online Piracy Act bill, by Jonathan @Zittrain. The original, from early December, is here.

Not finally, here are a pile of links from Zemanta:

Oh, and the U.S. Supreme Court just make it cool for any former copyright holder to pull their free’d works out of the public domain. The vote was 6-2, with Kagan recused and Breyer and Alito dissenting. Lyle Denniston in the SCOTUS blog:

In a historic ruling on Congress’s power to give authors and composers monopoly power over their creations, the Supreme Court on Tuesday broadly upheld the national legislature’s authority to withdraw works from the public domain and put them back under a copyright shield.   While the ruling at several points stressed that it was a narrow embrace of Congress’s authority simply to harmonize U.S. law with the practice of other nations, the decision’s treatment of works that had entered the public domain in the U.S. was a far more sweeping outcome.

No one, the Court said flatly, obtains any personal right under the Constitution to copy or perform a work just because it has come out from under earlier copyright protection, so no one can object if copyright is later restored.  Any legal rights that exist belong only to the author or composer, the ruling said.  If anyone wants to resume the use or performance of a work after it regains copyright, they must pay for the privilege, the decision made clear.

IMHO, the U.S. has become devoutly propertarian, even at the expense of opportunity to create fresh property from borrowed and remixed works in the public domain. One more way the public domain, and its friendliness to markets, is widely misunderstood.

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Ray SimoneRay Simone, my good friend and long-time business partner, died this morning. He was 63 years old. He is survived by his wife Gillian, his daughter Christina, and many good friends for whom he remains an inspiration and a delight.

Ray was one of the most creative people I have ever known. Though we originally shared the Creative Director title at our agency, Hodskins Simone & Searls, Ray was the Main Man. While I was a good copywriter, Ray could do it all: come up with killer campaigns, clever headlines, great design and art, tight scripts, whatever. His knowledge of art, of typography, of technologies and sciences — actually, pretty much everything — was encyclopedic. He worked his ass off, and he was great to work with as well.

We met in the mid-’70s in Durham, North Carolina, when I was still “Doctor Dave,” an occasional comic radio character for WDBS and columnist for the station’s magazine, and Ray was an artist whose equally comic work appeared in the same publication. We both circulated in the same low-rent Hippie creative-art-music-dance-weekend-party crowd surrounding Duke University. Ray was working with Hodskins Simone and Searls 1978David Hodskins and some other folks at small “multiple media” shop (decades ahead of its time) that had somehow spun out of the Duke Media Center. One day, when I called up Ray to talk about collaborating on an ad for an audio shop I was working for part-time, Ray put me on hold and told David that Doctor Dave was on the line. David told Ray to arrange a lunch. A team was born over that lunch, and in 1978 it became an advertising agency: Hodskins Simone & Searls. The photo on the right dates from that time.

By 1980 we were specializing in high tech clients up and down the East Coast, and after several years decided to open a satellite office in Silicon Valley. After winning some major West Coast

Hillbilly Jazzaccounts we moved the whole agency to Palo Alto, and by the early 90s HS&S was one of the top shops there. (Huge props to David Hodskins for his leadership through all that. David was the agency President and another truly brilliant dude.)

Twenty years after its founding,  HS&S was acquired. By then I had moved on to other work, and after awhile so had David and Ray. While I went back to journalism, Ray went back to art, teaching at Ocean Shore School in Pacifica, as well as at Brighton Preschool, which he and Gillian, his wife and soulmate, ran in the same town. He was Sting Ray to the kids there. Says Gillian, “He made story time come alive.”

He also went back to painting. But his full portfolio of accomplishments includes much, much more. For example, Ray designed covers for dozens of major country and bluegrass albums, mostly for Sugar Hill Records. Two samples, one for Vassar Clements and the other for the Red Clay Ramblers, are on the left and right. Here is a partial discography (drawn from here and other places), in alphabetical order:

Ray was himself a musician. When he was a student at what is now Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, he played keyboards in a band that traveled to gigs in a used hearse. Some of the stories he told about those days were beyond wild and very funny.

Ray designed countless t-shirts and posters, most of which were worthy of collection. Panel from Ray Simone Hassle House poster(Wish I still had some, but alas.) Old friends from Durham will fondly remember the Forklift Festival at the late Plantation (an run-down mansion on North Roxboro that should have been preserved), which sprang up as a wacky alternative to the annual Folklife Festival (now Festival for the Eno). Same goes for the Good Time Boogie, an annual gathering in Eastern North Carolina for which there was huge attendance, pass-the-hat funding and no publicity.

Ray did brilliant t-shirt designs for both. His cartoon poster for a place called Hassle House, done in the style of MAD’s Will Elder by way of Vaughn Bodé, was the first thing that turned me on to Ray. It was funny as hell, and I can still remember every panel of it. (Rob Gringle provides more background in a comment below, and also reminds us that Ray did many covers for The Guide, the monthly published by WDBS. I still have a stack of Guides somewhere.)

[Later...] Big thanks to Jay Cunningham for providing scans to the poster. That’s one panel, there on the right.

Ray was a born athlete, though he never exploited his talents beyond casually (but never maliciously) humiliating anybody who took him on at ping-pong, darts, softball or whatever. I remember one softball game where he grabbed a hard grounder bare-handed at third base, and — while falling down — threw out the runner at first base. All in one move. Like it was no big deal. It was awesome.

He took up fencing when we were still in North Carolina, and quickly won trophies.

A student of fun history, he was active for years in the Society for Creative Anachronism. In that capacity he once served “stargazy pie” at Monkeytop, the rambling Victorian urban commune where he, David Hodskins and many others lived at various times on Swift Street. (It’s now the restored E.K. Powe House.)

When Ray and Gillian (also an artist) were married at a California ranch in 1991, everybody was costumed as cowboys and cowgirls.

A devoted reader of science fiction and watcher of movies, Ray could expound with insight and authority on either subject, plus too many others to list.

Yet what matters most is that Ray was a loving guy and a first-rate friend. Back at the turn of the ’90s, when I had sworn off dating after a series of failed relationships, Ray pulled me out of my shell. As a direct result I’ve now been happily married for more than twenty years, with a wonderful teenage son. I know Ray had similar influences on others as well.

I could add much more, but I want to post this today. I’m sure other old friends will weigh in as well. Additions and corrections of course are welcome. Here are a few I failed to string among the pearls above:

      • His full name: Raymond George Simone. Most of his album credits are for Raymond Simone.
      • Simone is pronounced with three syllables and a long e: Simonē. That is, the correct Italian way.
      • He was born in Potsdam, New York, and grew up in High Point, North Carolina.
      • He had one brother, Jim, who died of throat cancer many years ago. Ray’s malady was lung cancer, no doubt an effect, as with Jim, of smoking. Ray quit many years ago, but it still caught up with him.
      • His mother, born and raised in Oklahoma, was part Cherokee. Both his parents passed in recent years.
      • He sometimes called himself The Weasel (others shortened that to “The Weez”), and drew himself in cartoons as a weasel with a mustache. For most of the early years we worked together, Ray’s signature look was long hair and a mustache, sometimes waxed at the tips.
      • Here is Ray’s Facebook page, with a self-portrait from when he was more full-bodied, a couple years back.

The photo at the top of this post is cropped from this one, shot by Gillian last Friday when David and I came to visit Ray at their home. Ray knew he didn’t have much time left, but was still in good humor. That was the day after Thanksgiving. So I’m thankful that I was in town and that these three old partners could get together one last time.

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“When I’m Sixty-Four” is 44 years old. I was 20 when it came out, in the summer of 1967,  one among thirteen perfect tracks on The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. For all the years since, I’ve thought the song began, “When I get older, losing my head…” But yesterday, on the eve of actually turning sixty-four, I watched this video animation of the song (by theClemmer) and found that Paul McCartney actually sang, “… losing my hair.”

Well, that’s true. I’m not bald yet, but the bare spot in the back and the thin zone in the front are advancing toward each other, while my face continues falling down below.

In July 2006, my old friend Tom Guild put Doc Searls explains driftwood of the land up on YouTube. It’s an improvisational comedy riff that Tom shot with his huge new shoulder-fire video camera at our friend Steve Tulsky’s house on a Marin County hillside in June, 1988. It was a reunion of sorts. Tom, Steve and I had all worked in radio together in North Carolina. I was forty at the time, and looked about half that age. When my ten-year-old kid saw it, he said “Papa, you don’t look like that.” I replied, “No, I do look like that. I don’t look like this,” pointing to my face.

Today it would be nice if I still looked like I did five years ago. The shot in the banner at the top of this blog was taken in the summer of 1999 (here’s the original), when I was fifty-two and looked half that age. The one on the right was taken last summer (the shades on my forehead masking a scalp that now reflects light), when I was a few days short of sixty-three. By then I was finally looking my age.

A couple months back I gave a talk at the Personal Democracy Forum where I was warmly introduced as one of those elders we should all listen to. That was nice, but here’s the strange part: when it comes to what I do in the world, I’m still young. Most of the people I hang and work with are half my age or less, yet I rarely notice or think about that, because it’s irrelevant. My job is changing the world, and that’s a calling that tends to involve smart, young, energetic people. The difference for a few of us is that we’ve been young a lot longer.

But I don’t have illusions about the facts of life. It’s in one’s sixties that the croak rate starts to angle north on the Y axis as age ticks east on the X. Still, I’m in no less hurry to make things happen than I ever was. I’m just more patient. That’s because one of the things I’ve learned is that now is always earlier than it seems. None of the future has happened yet, and it’s always bigger than the past.

In the New York Times, Robert Cryan and Martin Hutchison of Reuters BreakingViews suggest that Microslft sell its Bing search engine, either outright or in exchange for stock in a company that can do more with it than rank a distant #2 to Google while piling up billions per year in losses, which is what Bing is doing for Microsoft right now.

Bing is a good search engine, but it still seems derivative. Even where it leads, it seems to follow.

Take “bird’s eye views” in map searches. That is, views from a low-flying plane, rather than a from a satellite in space. Bing had it long before Google came up with the same thing, and does a better job of integrating it. Case in point: the Rialto Mercado district of Venice, which I covered (using a Google Maps image) a couple weeks ago, when I was there:

Bancogiro, Rialto Mercado, Venice

Here’s the Bing bird’s eye image of the same place:

Yet who (besides me and too few others) knows that Bing’s bird’s eye views are better? (With real street names, rather than a scattering of commercial locations?) And why hasn’t Microsoft challenged Google on this and other fronts more aggressively? I think the reason is that all Microsoft’s marketing efforts are all going into revenue production with their customers, which are advertisers, rather than users.

So here’s a suggestion for Microsoft: Don’t sell Bing. Sell Bing-based services directly to users — and fight Google where they’re weak: with personal attention and support.

Do that by making customers of users. Sell premium search (and other) services, and provide hand-holding support. Hell, I’ll pay for organic searches (that is, ones where results aren’t buried under Himilayas of SEO). Ad-driven pollution of search results is Google’s biggest problem right now, whether it knows that or not (and I’m sure it does). And, for all its virtues (there are many, most of which are non-trivial), Google remains a server-based company. It isn’t personal, and probably can’t be.

For all its faults (and there are many, also non-trivial), Microsoft has always been a personal computing company. This is a huge advantage. The future, like the past, is personal. Not just “social.” (Which, in the business sense, has come to mean advertising-supported.)

People will pay for value. They always have, and they always will. As Don Marti once said, “Information doesn’t want to be free. It wants to be $6.95.” There is a market here. People saying “Everybody expects everything to be free now” only masks the opportunity. (And, while I’m no fan of iTunes, Apple proved with it that people were willing to pay more than nothing for music, if it was easy.)

Yes, keep the free search engine up, and keep providing plenty of free services. But also remember that the free that matters most to people is freedom. That’s the ultimate secret ingredient, if you really want to get personal. “Social” from the start on the Web has never been about personal freedom. It’s been full of traps: walled gardens, coerced loyalty, isolation from personal data, stalking by robot advertising slave files… The list is a long one. So sell freedom too. Help move the World Live Web evolve from the calf-cow model to the human-human one. Of course you’ll need to make your services unique. But you can also help customers in ways nobody else (at your scale, anyway) is today: by helping them collect data for themselves, so they can decide on their own what to do with it. Make personal data portable as well as personal. Join the personal data ecosystem. Be a VRM as well as a CRM company.

Sure, selling ad-free services might undermine some of Bing’s current ad-based business model, but so what? You’re already losing $billions — and it will undermine Google’s model too. (What could be more competitive? And it’s going to happen anyway.) Go back to your roots. Get personal again. As Dave Winer often says, zig where the other guys zag. So stop being derivative. Take the lead. It’s there for the taking. Nothing could be bigger. Microsoft’s biggest successes already prove that. You can prove it again.

Saw Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold yesterday*. Brilliant work. I like the way Morgan Spurlock is both respectful and gently mocking of all points of view toward the movie’s subject: product placement in movies. That approach is why I prefer his movies to Michael Moores. Spurlock explores moral conflicts by living through them and sharing the process with his audience. Moore has a moral agenda, and grinds his axes right down to the handle. Moore also has a cruel streak, while Spurlock does not — except, perhaps, toward himself (for example with Super Size Me). Moore’s treatment of the senescent Charton Heston in Bowling for Columbine. still makes me wince.

* I started this post with the paragraph above on April 24, but didn’t finish it until now. In the meantime it just scrolled down out of sight in my outliner, below a pile of other old unposted items. I just found it, so now I’ll finish it.

The remarkable thing for me now is that The Greatest Movie Ever Sold kinda went nowhere. Walking out of the movie, I said to my wife, “This is the turning point on product placement.” But now, three months (to the day) into the future, I’m sure it’s not.

I see here that the movie grossed $629,499, as of July 17. Super Size Me, Spurlock’s hit from 2004, made almost that much on its opening day in May of that year, and passed $11.5 million in the U.S. alone by late September.

Why did Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold tank? Mixed reviews didn’t help. Nor did ruining a great title by selling it to Pom Wonderful.  (Even though the story behind that was a big part of the movie.) But I think the biggest reason is the topic itself. Nobody gives much of a shit about product placement. First, it’s beyond obvious, and has been ever since Blade Runner pioneered the practice, decades ago (for TDK, Atari, Pan Am, The Bell System and other future fatalities). Second, advertising itself is now beyond ubiquitous. Today, for example, I opened an urgent notice from the U.S. Post Office that contained (in addition to actual information) a home improvement promotion from Lowe’s. The United States Postal Service, brought to you by Lowe’s.

So yeah: we are saturated in advertising. Why would boiling frogs want to see a movie about how they’re being cooked?

I wrote A World of Producers in December 2008. At the time I was talking about camcorders and increased bandwidth demand in both directions:

And as camcorder quality goes up, more of us will be producing rather than consuming our video. More importantly, we will be co-producing that video with other people. We will be producers as well as consumers. This is already the case, but the results that appear on YouTube are purposely compressed to a low quality compared to HDTV. In time the demand for better will prevail. When that happens we’ll need upstream as well as downstream capacity.

Since then phones have largely replaced camcorders as first-option video recording devices — not only because they’re more handy and good enough quality-wise, but because iOS and Android serve well as platforms for collaborative video production, and even of distribution. One proof of this pudding is CollabraCam, described as “The world’s first multicam video production iPhone app with live editing and director-to-camera communication.”

The bandwidth problem here is no longer just with fixed-connection ISPs, but with mobile data service providers: AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange, O2 and the rest of them.

For all ISPs, there are now two big problems that should rather be seen as opportunities. One is the movement of pure-consumption video watching — television, basically — from TVs to everything else, especially mobile devices. The other is increased production from users who are now producers and not just consumers. This is the most important message to the market from CollabraCam and other developments like it.

The Cloud has a similar message. As more of our digital interactivity and data traffic move between our devices and various clouds of storage and services (especially through APIs), we’re going to need more symmetrical data traffic capacities than old-fashioned ADSL and cable systems provide. (More on this from Gigaom.)

Personally, I don’t have a problem with usage-based pricing of those capacities, so long as it —

  • isn’t biased toward consumption alone (the TV model)
  • doesn’t make whole markets go “bonk!” when the most enterprising individuals and companies run into ceilings in the form of usage caps or “bill shocks” from hockey-stick price increases at usage thesholds,
  • doesn’t bury actual pricing in “plans” that are so complicated that nobody other than the phone companies can fully understand them (and in practice are a kind of shell game, and a bet that customers just aren’t going to bother challenging the bills), and
  • doesn’t foreclose innovations and services from independent (non-phone and non-cable) ISPs, especially wireless ones.

What matters is that the video production horse has long since left Hollywood’s barn. The choice for Hollywood and its allies in the old distribution system (the same one from which we still buy Internet access and traffic capacities) is a simple one:

  1. Serve those wild horses, and let them take the lead in all the directions the market might go, or
  2. Keep trying to capture them and limiting market sizes and activities to what can be controlled in top-down ways.

My bet is that there’s more money in free markets than in captive ones. And that we — the wild horses, and the companies that understand us — will prove that in the long run.

When in Rome…

Coliseum

So we’re in Rome and I’m thinking about Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and cable cars…

When I lived in the Bay Area and hung out in San Francisco, I did like all the other locals, and stayed away from the tourist stuff. Sure, right after we arrived from North Carolina in 1985, when the kids were twelve and fifteen, we hit all required tourist to-dos, in one day, and that was about it. After that we were locals, which meant we did other things.

But this is Rome, and we can’t resist doing The Usual, and also a bit more.

“More” for me began on the way in, when I got this series of aerial photos. The Coliseum, above, is a close-up from this shot here.

More soon, I hope.

 

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OwnerIQ sez,

This video explains what they mean.

Compare those people and the way they define themselves—as products (a BMW, an iPad)—to the way Walt Whitman defined himself, just before Industry won the Industrial Revolution:

I know I am solid and sound.
To me the converging objects of the universe
perpetually flow.
All are written to me,
and I must get what the writing means.
I know I am deathless.
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept
by a carpenter’s compass,

I know that I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself
or be understood.
I see that the elementary laws never apologize.

My foothold is tenoned and mortised in granite.
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.

It is time to explain myself. Let us stand up.

I am an acme of things accomplished,
and I an encloser of things to be.
Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me.
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing,
the vapor from the nostrils of death.
I know I was even there.
I waited unseen and always.
And slept while God carried me
through the lethargic mist.
And took my time.

Long I was hugged close. Long and long.
Infinite have been the preparations for me.
Faithful and friendly the arms that have helped me.

Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing
like cheerful boatmen;
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings.
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.

Before I was born out of my mother
generations guided me.
My embryo has never been torpid.
Nothing could overlay it.
For it the nebula cohered to an orb.
The long slow strata piled to rest it on.
Vast vegetables gave it substance.
Monstrous animals transported it in their mouths
and deposited it with care.

All forces have been steadily employed
to complete and delight me.
Now I stand on this spot with my soul.

I know that I have the best of time and space.
And that I was never measured, and never will be measured.

I’m sure he owned more stuff than “a rainproof coat, good shoes and a staff cut from the wood.” But hey, maybe not. But whatever he had, what he did mattered more. Here’s what he does for each of us:

Each man and woman of you I lead upon a knoll.
My left hand hooks you about the waist,
My right hand points to landscapes and continents,
and a plain public road.

Not I, nor any one else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it for yourself.

It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born
and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.

Shoulder your duds, and I will mine,
and let us hasten forth.

If you tire, give me both burdens and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip.
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me.

Long enough have you dreamed contemptible dreams.
Now I wash the gum from your eyes.
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waited,
holding a plank by the shore.
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, and rise again,
and nod to me and shout,
and laughingly dash your hair.

I am the teacher of athletes.
He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own
proves the width of my own.
He most honors my style
who learns under it to destroy the teacher.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then. I contradict myself.
I am large. I contain multitudes.

I concentrate toward them that are nigh.
I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work
and will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me.

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me.
He complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

I submit that wild and free customers are far more potent participants in the marketplace than “consumers” of “brands.”

You know, like this:

The time has come to choose your species. If you’re just what you own, you’re veal.

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The Santa Barbara Arts Collective is looking for worthy photographs to hang in the Mayor’s office. And my friend Joe just called to suggest I submit some candidates.

In my Flickr collection I have 3,928 shots tagged “santabarbara”, and 1,017 with “Santa Barbara” in title or caption text. Tops on both lists is this one:

Gap Fire, behind the Mission

But it’s not my favorite, and it looks like the mission itself is on fire (which it wasn’t). I’m kinda partial to…

I could go on, but I’d rather leaving the chosing up to you. (If you think any of them are worthy.) Votes?

By the way, most of those shots were taken with a 5-megapixel Nikon CoolPix 5700. Not my newer (but now also old) Canon 30D or 5D cameras. None of my cameras or lenses are especially desirable, by Real Photographer standards. Someday I’ll get the gear I’d like, starting with lenses. Meanwhile, like they say, the best camera is the one you’ve got. And what you see in those collections is from what I had at the time.

Oh, and all are Creative Commons licensed just to require attribution. Feel free, because they pretty much are exactly that.

Royal pains

The Royal Wedding Not the Royal Weddingisn’t my cup of tedium, but olde blog buddies Eric and Dawn Olsen will be covering the show for The Morton Report, so I urge you to follow it there. I’ll do my best as well.

Not speaking of which, I am old enough to remember the last Royal Wedding, which happened on my birthday in 1981. What sticks most in my mind about that event is an exceptionally funny send-up of the whole thing: a book titled Not the Royal Wedding, by Sean Hardie and John Lloyd. My sister, who (I’ll let her explain) served “on the personal staff of the  Commander-in-Chief, US Naval Forces Europe as the Protocol Officer, living in a mews flat in Chelsea, working on Grosvenor Square and having the best time of my life”, brought the book back to the states, and I laughed my rocks off reading it, even though I’m sure many of the jokes sailed past me. One item that stands out is a large spread on the royal silverware, including a “bitchfork.” The price on Amazon at that last link is also pretty good: “5 used from £0.01″, it says.

MOLTENI NET WORKSAs a (literally) old basketball player, I have always hated dealing with net-less hoops. Full satisfaction for a shot well made requires a net. But nets do wear out. Schools and cities fail to replace them. So I sometimes take matters into my own hands, and replace nets personally.

This is also what Maria Molteni does, but in a far more artful and fun way.  She explains,

MOLTENi NET WORKS function simply. Participants will hand-crochet basketball nets to be installed on hoops where such are missing or damaged. I’ve created a blog and gmap to keep track of spaces where nets have been installed or have yet to be. Contributors may follow the progress of the project, reporting sightings and requests for nets in their own neighborhoods. Efforts have begun locally, and spread to additional projects such as artist Kevin Clancy’s “Portable Utopia” in Johannesburg. I aim to engage other creative enthusiasts collaborating via workshops and skill shares to fabricate nets and exchange new design ideas.

This good work is what earned MOLTENI NET WORKS an Awesome Foundation award in February from the Boston chapter, of which I am a trustee. We have never had a more deserving recipient. Here’s what Kara Brickman reports in our latest blog post:

The MOLTENi NET WORKS project is well underway with a recent exhibit at Cambridge’sMEME Gallery in Central Square that also included workshops where participants were able to hand-crochet basketball nets to be installed on bare hoops. Efforts have begun locally in Allston, MA and there are several local organizations (Boston include Artists for Humanity, Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, Design Studio for Social Intervention, and Massart’s Fibers Department) interested in putting on more workshops.

If you’d like to get pitch in, there are a few ways you can get involved.

  • Give your time and skills by attending a workshop and putting in some elbow grease making nets.
  • Kick in to the Kickstarter fund so that the MOLTENi NET WORK project can extend it’s reach across the globe…

I’ll make the party. And I can’t wait to drop some three-pointers through one of those colorful new nets.

And enjoy more of Maria’s art here.

So I’d like to find authoritative sources for two quotes. Here’s the first:

“I prefer the company of younger men. Their stories are shorter.”

No idea where I got that one. It’s too right not to be real, but I can’t a source yet. (That’s a job I’m giving ya’ll.)

The second quote I memorized instantly while reading a book, though I don’t remember which one.  (I’m guessing it was .) This is what Hughes said Parker wrote in a guest book at William Randolph Hearst‘s when the old man was still living with his consort, the actress :

“Upon my honor
I saw a madonna
standing in a niche,
above the door
of the private whore
of the world’s worst
son of a bitch”

Could be I’m one wrong about that one too. Dunno. Sources and corrections, anyone?

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“Social networks” are getting out of control. And I don’t mean their control. I mean your control and mine. Here’s an image to keep in mind while you read the rest of this post:

The calf is you or me. The cow is just one of our many social networks. Here’s how the situation looks from my browser…

  • I have 840 contacts . I won’t call them friends, though some of them are. A few are relatives, but most are neither. They’re people I’ve met or had contact with, somehow, somewhere. I also have 675 “friend requests.” If you’re on that list and want to contact me, find another way, since I avoid Facebook for all but the unavoidable (such as, say, a reunion that’s being organized by relatives).
  • I have 480 contacts , most of which I know about as well as my contacts on Facebook. I also belong to one Linkedin discussion group that I haven’t figured out how to deal with yet, mostly because I prefer my discussion groups in email, where I can sort them out into boxes of my own making. I see that Linkedin now also has updates on the Twitter model (and via Twitter). I see why they do it, but I don’t need it.
  • I have 212 contacts on Flickr (plus more through three other accounts). I don’t know and don’t follow most of those contacts, because to me Flickr is is for sharing photos with the world in organized ways. While I appreciate the groups there, I’ve organized none, and when my photos show up in some, it’s always because other people — most of which I don’t know — have put them there. I also know few if any of the people who have put more than 200 of my photos on Wikimedia Commons, a gallery of photos eligible for inclusion in Wikipedia articles. (And, in fact, most of my shots in the Commons are also in Wikipedia.) Again, this is not a social effect. Also note that in the Wikipedia case that there isn’t a business model anywhere in sight (aside from the $50/year I gladly pay for my two “pro” Flickr accounts).
  • I follow 1352 entities (most are people, some are companies or organizations) , and am followed by 13,096 others. I am sure most of us, whoever (and whatever) we are, don’t know each other. I use Twitter to find and share interesting stuff in short postings. This may be “social,” but only in a very loose sense.
  • I don’t know how many “friends” or contacts I have on Google, because I can’t find a number, or a list. My iGoogle page (which I view in just one of the four browsers I use) lists eight alphabetically before it runs out out of space at the letter N. I don’t know how to scroll down to see the rest, and I’m not much interested in trying. In any case the number is a tiny subset of lists elsewhere. For what it’s worth, I use Google’s services for many different things (docs, self-organized groups, mail de-spamming), but “social” stuff is not among them.
  • The address book on my computer lists 1162 cards, including a growing number of dead people, dead companies, and dead numbers from live companies. Yesterday I weeded the number of Verizon contact numbers down from six to one.
  • My main chat client, which spans four different contact lists and accounts (AIM-iChat, Google, Linux Journal and the Berkman Center), currently shows 35 available. I don’t know what the total number of contacts there is. Several hundred, I guess.
  • My other chat account, Skype, doesn’t integrate with those in the last paragraph and doesn’t give me a count of people online and off. I’m guessing I have about fifty contacts there.

The job of integrating all of these is mine, and I don’t bother, because the tools for doing that don’t yet exist — at least not in sufficient maturity for me to contemplate using them. Thus I am not yet what calls the point of integration for my own data. In fact I can’t be, because most of the data in these “social networks” is not mine. Functionally (if not also legally), it’s theirs. And I’m just a calf for each of them.

Of course, all these companies want to help me do everything, by leveraging the “social” data they have about me. Mostly they give me advertising that doesn’t help, but sometimes they just try to improve their meat and potatoes with “social” gravy. The latest example is Google, with “” recommendations. These augment Google’s third improvement to , through a button “to publicly give something your stamp of approval.” The idea: “Your +1′s can help friends, contacts, and others on the web find the best stuff when they search,” because “sometimes it’s easier to find exactly what you’re looking for when someone you know already found it.”

Why does Google think we want to “find the best stuff” all the time — as if all we do is shop, or something like it? Sure, they make their money with advertising, but I think the real reason is that they can’t resist the temptation to route “social” signals into everything else. Hey, it’s what the other kids are doing.

Since so much of what those kids do is invisible to us, they try to get away with all kinds of stuff. For more on what they’re doing, read The Wall Street Journal‘s What They Know series  http://wsj.com/wtk), and Joe Andrieu’s ISharedWhat Facebook login simulation site, which shows you how much personal data — yours and your friends’ — might get spilled every time you click on one of these:

They get away with it because the calf-cow system allows it. Also because the World Wide Ranch is getting really freaking huge. By some counts there are more than a billion commercial sites on the Web. Just by the sheer numbers involved, the default assumption is that most searches have commercial purposes. That’s what you’re likely to find in any case.

It’s interesting that non-advertising search results are now called “organic,” as if they were some kind of marginalized exception, of interest only to to a few obsessive purists.

Says Wikipedia, “Organic search results are listings on search engine results pages that appear because of their relevance to the search terms, as opposed to their being advertisements. In contrast, non-organic search results may include pay per click advertising.” How quaint and retro, to think that some search results should simply be relevant to search terms, without commercial prejudice by the search engine.

In respect to Google’s recent search improvements, I submit that organic searches are still what people want most, and that “social” help is marginal at best and distracting at worst.

Take yesterday morning, when I was wondering what accounts for ground conductivity. This was, admittedly, an idle distraction of the sort I wrote about later in the day, in World Wide Puddle. I mean, I didn’t really need to know what accounts for ground conductivity, especially since it’s a question I’ve had for about fifty years, and I haven’t suffered for lack of an answer. But search engines are here for a reason, so I looked again.

Google says it finds more than six million results in a search for “ground conductivity”. The top result is the FCC’s M3 maps page, which I’d expect. These maps explain why, for example, , a 5000-watt radio station on 570am in Yankton, South Dakota, has a signal that reaches from Canada to Oklahoma, while WWNC, a station on the same channel in Asheville, North Carolina, operating with the same power, covers an area only a fraction the size of WNAX’s. For a broadcast engineering junkie like me, this is catnip, but it doesn’t explain why ground conductivity varies from one region to another. I mean, why does flat ground in Long Island have almost no ground conductivity (0.5 mhos/meter) while equally flat ground around Dallas has very high ground conductivity (30 mhos/meter). Why do mountains in New England have low conductivity (2-4 mhos/meter) while mountains in coastal California have high conductivity (8-30 mhos/meter)? The M3 maps don’t say.

In the second result, Wikipedia saysGround conductivity refers to the electrical conductivity of the subsurface of the earth.” But that’s about it.

The third result, from Tom K1JJ, tells how to measure ground conductivity, but doesn’t explain the cause.

Next is a Facebook page on the subject, with a write-up lifted straight out of Wikipedia. It is recommended to me, with thumbs up, by two people I know: a nephew of mine and a fellow broadcast engineering obsessive. There is no discussion, and the page says “0 people like this”.

Two decades ago, when Compuserve hosted a large variety of excellent forums, I belonged to a broadcast engineering social network of sorts (though few of us met in real life). But today I don’t have one, even on Facebook — and the rest of my many “social networks” are no help with searches like this one.

Hmm… I just thought, “maybe Quora could provide some help. I just went there in the browser where Quora’s cookies for me are parked. It still wants me to log in, and a minute has passed while the progress thing on the bottom of the page says “Waiting for Facebook.” Okay, I’m there now, and I just put up the question, “What causes ground conductivity?”. According to Quora, I have “981 Followers, 485 Followingand “6 @Mentions” there. Will one or more of them get me an answer? Interesting experiment. We’ll see.

Whatever happens on Quora, I have no faith that my searches on Google will be improved by anybody’s “+1,” any more than my searches have been improved by “social” whatever. Here’s why: usually I’m looking for something very specific. And often what I’m looking for is not for sale.

In most cases I use Google and Bing the way I use a dictionary: to look something up. I don’t need a “recommendation” when I just want to know how to spell “mocassin”. Stand back, everybody. I think the dictionary should have it. Thank you.

I learned about Google’s “+1″ feature only this morning, on Sheila Lennon’s blog. There she quotes the same Google post about “+1″:

So how do we know which +1’s to show you? Like social search, we use many signals to identify the most useful recommendations, including things like the people you are already connected to through Google (your chat buddies and contacts, for example). Soon we may also incorporate other signals, such as your connections on sites like Twitter, to ensure your recommendations are as relevant as possible. If you want to know who you’re connected to, and how, visit the “Social Circle and Content” section of the Google Dashboard.

To get started +1’ing the stuff you like, you’ll need to create a Google profile—or if you already have one, upgrade it. You can use your profile to see all of your +1’s in one place, and delete those you no longer want to recommend. To see +1’s in your Google search results you’ll need to be logged into your Google Account.

I just clicked on the Google Dashboard link, and found I had to log in, even though I was already logged in on a different tab in the same browser. This got me into my Google Accounts page, which has a LOT of information in a lot of contexts — all provided by Google. At the top is Gmail. Slightly edited (for the privacy of others), and with links removed, it says,

Gmail
Inbox 5000 conversations
Most recent: [18] new discussions, [15] new comments… at 9:22 AM
All mail 5000 conversations
Most recent: [18] new discussions, [15] new comments… at 9:22 AM
Sent mail 70 conversations
Most recent: ____ on Mar 31, 2011
Saved drafts 46 conversations
Most recent: progress & title on Mar 9, 2011
Chat history 60 conversations
Most recent: Chat with __________ on Mar 11, 2011
Spam 17000 conversations
Most recent: Copy of a Gucci watch is what you need … at 9:40 AMTrash 60 conversationsMost recent: Re: Sharing my TEDx Talk: The Unclear Path at 11:01 PM

First, I almost never go to Gmail in a browser. In fact, few people know my actual Gmail address (which is silly and has nothing to do with my real name). All mail to me at Searls.com gets routed to my Gmail account, which I use to filter out spam. I then pick up mail there from my IMAP account, which keeps copies at the server, or “in the cloud” as we now like to say.

Second, what makes Spam or Trash “conversations”? I’ll go to my grave being known as the main guy responsible for the “markets are conversations” meme, but usage like this makes me regret it.

Following Gmail on my Accounts page are:

  • Google Video (nothing uploaded)
  • Groups (33 total, mostly inactive, and not including two I just killed off)
  • Health (1 profile, which I gave up filling out long ago)
  • iGoogle (14 gadgets, 1 tab)
  • Latitude (disabled, because I like not being tracked)
  • Product search (shopping list has two items: the most recent of which reads “Most recent: Canon EOS 30D on May 27, 2006″ — a camera I bought long ago)
  • Profile (16 “about me” items, most of which I have kept vague)
  • Reader (36 subscriptions, following 11)
  • Sidewiki (no entries)
  • Sites (1 “shared with me” that I don’t know)
  • Social Circle and Content (which says,
    Direct connections from Google chat and contacts 4 connections with content; Direct connections from links listed on your Google profile 200 connections with content; Secondary connections 1788 connections with content; and Social content 3 links — and I have no idea wtf that all means)
  • Talk (23 contacts, which settles a guess I made above)
  • Web history (most recent for Web, Images, News, Products, Video, Maps, Blogs and Books — but only with this one browser, on this one laptop)
  • YouTube (a profile, plus a paucity of stuff under uploads, history, favorites, subscription, contacts and personal messages)
  • Other products (“11 additional products are not yet available in this dashboard – Show all”)

So I just spent twenty minutes weeding through and cleaning up all that stuff. I could spend similar sums of time doing the same on Linkedin, Flickr and other services. But I would rather have my own way of keeping personal information straight with myself, and sharing it selectively and when I felt like it. That’s what VRM development going on in the Personal Data Ecosystem is about. I won’t go into all the projects, but the idea they share is that each of us, as sovereign individuals, are (as Joe says) the best points of integration for our own data. None of these social sites, no matter how well-intended they may be, can do the job, simply because nothing, and nobody, can be personal for me on my behalf. If puppets are involved, they need to be mine. Not the reverse.

At the Kynetx Impact conference two weeks ago (where much fun was had), gave an interesting talk that summarized what he said last November, in a post perfectly titled
The Third Wave of the Web Will Be Uniquely Personal. He writes about three waves. The first is “information and access” — roughly what I’ve called the “static Web.” The seond is “social.” That’s the stage we’re getting fed up with now. The third is personal:

Now that the world’s information is posted, linked, indexed and searchable, and friends are connecting, sharing, liking, and following, the quest is on to streamline the noise and give the Web another dimension – one not measured by the data, or who led you to the data, but you as an individual. The third wave of the Web, I believe, is going to be about personalization by individual based on that individual’s preferences – explicitly stated or otherwise.

The declaration of the next wave of the Web being personal is not shared universally, of course. Some say the next wave is all about mobile. Others may say the next wave is all about location. But the right approach to ‘personal’ absolutely encompasses each of these things. With our smartphones and tablets being increasingly powerful, they are practically an extension of us, and we are relying on them to discover relevant things, content, places and products for us as individuals. Similarly, our location is an ingredient of who we are – for where we are impacts our decisions, and what tips are relevant, be it for news, for restaurants, lodging, dating or anything else. So “personal” as an individual is both local and mobile.

Excellent. I especially like how smartphones and tablets are extensions of ourselves in the world. (A little more about that here.) Then he adds,

Personal As In Me.

A lot of services say they are “personal”, when in fact, most of what they do is actually social.

These services may leverage your social graph to provide personalized recommendations based on what friends or other people similar to you may like – much like television shows group people of similar demographics to guess what commercials are best suited for which episodes in which time slots. The hope may be that the more your friends like something, the more likely you are to click it or buy it. Peer pressure, you know. Meanwhile, other services say they are personal because you have specifically provided them with information about you and what you like, which goes partway to discovering your interests, but is incomplete, and possibly inaccurate, as you may want to indicate that you are something that you are not, or you may have overlooked some of your own interests in the name of rapid completion.

Beyond these initial attempts is a new wave of companies trying to crack the code of the real you. Of course, my6sense is one of those companies. Our goal is to deliver a personalized experience in all possible aspects of your life, finding the right information for you at the right time in the right context, based on you as an individual. But we are not alone. Take, for example, Hunch.com, which is talking about personalizing the Internet, and says they can build a taste profile for you, based on your own unique interests and tastes. Also, in October, Mike Arrington of TechCrunch previewed Gravity, founded by former MySpace executives. In that piece, which he headlined as “The Personalization War”, he said “I saw my own Interest Graph based only on my Facebook and Twitter streams over the last several months and it’s scary-accurate.”

Louis doesn’t go off the personal rails here. He just doesn’t quite get on, staying instead on the corporate ones:

Gravity says they will help “The right information find you. Hunch says it “Personalizes the Internet”. You’ve heard me talk about my6sense for some time – discovering your “Digital intuition”. Besides the crazy folks like us who are thinking about this constantly, there are other smart companies on the case. Start with personal recommendations from TiVo, Amazon and Netflix. Look at Google Reader Magic and Google’s Priority Inbox for Gmail. Look also at LinkedIn’s purchase of Mspoke for personal recommendations and Facebook’s splitting of the Most Recent feed and that of the News Feed.
Which makes sense: My6sense is his company. Then finally,
The continuing rapid growth of information creation and sharing, combined with pervasive connectivity, increased capability of smartphones and other mobile devices and the growth of location is all pointing us into a direction where the services on the other end have more potential to know you than those of years past, and you have the ability to be inspired by the right information in the right place more than ever before. This is a wave, one that benefits from all these mega-changes in the Web, that small companies and big ones alike are seeing. Maybe there’s another big winner in there, just like there was in the last two. Regardless, the direction is clear. Show me my Web for me.

Sorry, but no. My Web is not their Web. I’m tired of being shown. I’m tired of “experiences” that are “delivered” to me. I’m tired of bad guesswork — or any guesswork. I don’t want “scarily accurate” guesses about me and what I might want.

What I crave is independence, and better ways of engaging — ones that are mine and not just theirs. Ones that work across multiple services in consistent ways. Ones that let me change my data with all these services at once, if I want to.

I want liberation from the commercial Web’s two-decade old design flaws. I don’t care how much a company uses first person possessive pronouns on my behalf. They are not me, they do now know me, and I do not want them pretending to be me, or shoving their tentacles into my pockets, or what their robots think is my brain. Enough, already.

I spoke at Kynetx Impact the night before Louis’ talk. The visuals are on Slideshare. Here is slide 25, which illustrates the problem with the commercial Web’s long-defaulted client-server design:

Wikipedia says, “The client–server model of computing is a distributed application structure that partitions tasks or workloads between the providers of a resource or service, called servers, and service requesters, called clients.”

So, while the Net itself has an end-to-end design, in which all the ends are essentially peers, the Web (technically an application on the Net) has a submisive-dominant design in which clients submit to servers. It’s a calf-cow model. As calves, we request pages and other files from servers, usually getting cookie ingredients mixed in, so the cow can remember where we were the last time we suckled, and also give us better services. Especially advertising.

We have no choice but to agree with this system, if we want to be part of it. And, since the cows provide all the context for everything we do with them, we have onerous “agreements” in name only, such as what you see on your iPhone every time Apple makes a change to their store:

Legal folks call these “contracts of adhesion.” Sez the Free Dictionary,

A type of contract, a legally binding agreement between two parties to do a certain thing, in which one side has all the bargaining power and uses it to write the contract primarily to his or her advantage.

An example of an adhesion contract is a standardized contract form that offers goods or services to consumers on essentially a “take it or leave it” basis without giving consumers realistic opportunities to negotiate terms that would benefit their interests. When this occurs, the consumer cannot obtain the desired product or service unless he or she acquiesces to the form contract.

Here’s the thing: client-server’s calf-cow model requires this kind of thing, because the system is designed so the server-cows are in complete control. You are not free. You are captive, and dependent.

This system has substantiated a business belief that has been around ever since Industry won the industrial revolution: that a captive customer is more valuable than a free one. We’ve built systems that tendentiously affirm that belief, and the commercial Web is chief among those systems today. Correspondingly, on the customer side, we actually believe that a free market is your choice of captor. Even champions of the free market, such as The Wall Street Journal, seem to think this is okay. (Or they wouldn’t keep talking about how telecom giants — occupants of a regulatory zoo they all but own and control — comprise the “free market” at work.)

If the next wave is personal, then we have to bring our own contexts.

Think for a moment about the context of renting a wheelbarrow. If you sign an agreement for that, it’s only to put up a deposit, pay a certain amount, assume liability for whatever harms you might cause with it, and return the thing in good condition. That’s about it.

Or think about what happens when you walk into a shoe store. You don’t have to sign a damn thing. (If you’re lucky, the store won’t require that you belong to their “loyalty” program just to get a “discount” that’s nothing more than a normal price, rather than a higher price they charge to punish non-”members”.) Your context is shopping for shoes. Laws apply, of course. You aren’t allowed to steal things or act in a disturbing way. But nobody stands at the door telling you to stop and sign an agreement — least of all one with clauses (which nearly all adhesive contracts have) saying they have the right to change the terms, and they can do that whenever they please.

We won’t get rid of calf-cow systems, nor should we. They work, but they have their limits, and those become more apparent with every new calf-cow service we join. But we can work around these things, and supplement them with other systems that give us equal power on equal footings, including the ability to proffer our own terms, express our own preferences and policies, and make independent choices.

Louis Gray’s personal wave is for real, and it’s just starting. It’s also what we’ve been building through the last four years with . And it’s starting to catch on. The number and variety of VRM development projects has grown a lot lately, as has the activity level as well.

Naturally, VRM has attracted the interest of major players on the sell side of the marketplace. A month ago I spoke on stage with on stage at the Internet Advertising Bureau conference. (John’s insightful post about “digital plumage” ran in the same timeframe.) Next week I’ll speak at in San Francisco and to a meeting with and in Minneapolis. It’ll be fun.

The message I’m bringing is not about how these companies can improve the cow systems everybody has done so much to build and improve already. It’s about how buyers and sellers are no longer just cattle, and how we now need to prove something we’ve known all along: that free customers are more valuable than captive ones.

is ahead of his time again.  nailed computing as a utility, long before “the cloud” came to mean pretty much the same thing. His latest book, , explored the changes in our lives and minds caused by moving too much of both online — again before others began noticing how much the Net was starting to look like a handbasket.

Thus The Shallows comes to mind when I read Alice Gregory’s in . An excerpt:

I have the sensation, as do my friends, that to function as a proficient human, you must both “keep up” with the internet and pursue more serious, analog interests. I blog about real life; I talk about the internet. It’s so exhausting to exist on both registers, especially while holding down a job. It feels like tedious work to be merely conversationally competent. I make myself schedules, breaking down my commute to its most elemental parts and assigning each leg of my journey something different to absorb: podcast, Instapaper article, real novel of real worth, real magazine of dubious worth. I’m pretty tired by the time I get to work at 9 AM.

In-person communication feels binary to me now: subjects are either private, confessional, and soulful or frantically current, determined mostly by critical mass, interesting only in their ephemeral status. Increasingly these modes of talk seem mutually exclusive. You can pull someone aside—away from the party, onto the fire escape—and confess to a foible or you can stay inside with the group and make a joke about something everyone’s read online. “Maybe you keep the wrong company,” my mother suggests. Maybe. But I like my friends! We can sympathize with each other and feel reassured that we’re not alone in our overeager consumption, denigrated self-control, and anxiety masked as ambition.

Here’s Nick:

On the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from tap to tap. We transfer only a small jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream.

Psychologists refer to the information flowing into our working memory as our cognitive load. When the load exceeds our mind’s ability to process and store it, we’re unable to retain the information or to draw connections with other memories. We can’t translate the new material into conceptual knowledge. Our ability to learn suffers, and our understanding remains weak. That’s why the extensive brain activity that Small discovered in Web searchers may be more a cause for concern than for celebration. It points to cognitive overload.

The Internet is an interruption system. It seizes our attention only to scramble it. There’s the problem of hypertext and the many different kinds of media coming at us simultaneously. There’s also the fact that numerous studies—including one that tracked eye movement, one that surveyed people, and even one that examined the habits displayed by users of two academic databases—show that we start to read faster and less thoroughly as soon as we go online. Plus, the Internet has a hundred ways of distracting us from our onscreen reading. Most email applications check automatically for new messages every five or 10 minutes, and people routinely click the Check for New Mail button even more frequently. Office workers often glance at their inbox 30 to 40 times an hour. Since each glance breaks our concentration and burdens our working memory, the cognitive penalty can be severe.

The penalty is amplified by what brain scientists call . Every time we shift our attention, the brain has to reorient itself, further taxing our mental resources. Many studies have shown that switching between just two tasks can add substantially to our cognitive load, impeding our thinking and increasing the likelihood that we’ll overlook or misinterpret important information. On the Internet, where we generally juggle several tasks, the switching costs pile ever higher.

The Net’s ability to monitor events and send out messages and notifications automatically is, of course, one of its great strengths as a communication technology. We rely on that capability to personalize the workings of the system, to program the vast database to respond to our particular needs, interests, and desires. We want to be interrupted, because each interruption—email, tweet, instant message, RSS headline—brings us a valuable piece of information. To turn off these alerts is to risk feeling out of touch or even socially isolated. The stream of new information also plays to our natural tendency to overemphasize the immediate. We crave the new even when we know it’s trivial.

And so we ask the Internet to keep interrupting us in ever more varied ways. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the fragmentation of our attention, and the thinning of our thoughts in return for the wealth of compelling, or at least diverting, information we receive. We rarely stop to think that it might actually make more sense just to tune it all out.

Try writing about the Net and tuning it out at the same time. Clearly Nick can do that, because he’s written a bunch of books about the Net (and related matters) while the Net’s been an available distraction. Meanwhile I’ve spent most of the past year writing just one book, fighting and often losing against constant distraction. It’s very hard for me to put the blinders on and just write the thing. In the last few months what I’ve succeed in doing, while wearing the blinders and getting most of my book writing done, is participating far less in many things that I help sustain, or that sustain me, including projects I’m working on, time with my wife, kids and grandkids, and this very blog. (Lotta white spaces on the calendar to the right there.)

On the whole I’ve been dismissive of theories (including Nick’s) about how the Net changes us for the worse, mostly because my own preoccupations, including my distractions, tend to be of the intellectually nutritive sort — or so I like to believe. That is, I’m curious about all kinds of stuff, and like enlarging the sum of what I know, and how well I know it. The Net rocks for that. Still, I see the problem. I can triangulate on that problem just from own struggles plus Alice’s and Nick’s.

used to say, “Great minds discuss ideas, mediocre minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.” (Attributed, with some dispute, to Eleanor Roosevelt.) The Net feeds all three, but at the risk of dragging one’s mind from the great to the small. “What else are we doing on the internet if not asserting our rank?” Alice writes. (Would we ask the same about what we’re doing in a library?) Later she adds,

Sometimes I can almost visualize parts of myself, the ones I’m most proud of, atrophying. I wish I had an app to monitor it! I notice that my thoughts are homeopathic, that they mirror content I wish I weren’t reading. I catch myself performing hideous, futuristic gestures, like that “hilarious” moment three seconds into an intimate embrace in which I realize I’m literally rubbing my iPhone screen across his spine. Almost every day at 6 PM my Google Alert tells me that an “Alice Gregory” has died. It’s a pretty outdated name, and most of these obituaries, from family newsletters and local papers, are for octogenarians. I know I’m being tidy-minded even to feel a pang from this metaphor, but still . . .

It’s hard not to think “death drive” every time I go on the internet. Opening Safari is an actively destructive decision. I am asking that consciousness be taken away from me. Like the lost time between leaving a party drunk and materializing somehow at your front door, the internet robs you of a day you can visit recursively or even remember. You really want to know what it is about 20-somethings? It’s this: we live longer now. But we also live less. It sounds hyperbolic, it sounds morbid, it sounds dramatic, but in choosing the internet I am choosing not to be a certain sort of alive. Days seem over before they even begin, and I have nothing to show for myself other than the anxious feeling that I now know just enough to engage in conversations I don’t care about.

The internet’s most ruinous effect on literacy may not be the obliteration of long-format journalism or drops in hardcover sales; it may be the destruction of the belief that books can be talked and written about endlessly. There are fewer official reviews of novels lately, but there are infinitely more pithily captioned links on Facebook, reader-response posts on Tumblr, punny jokes on Twitter. How depressing, to have a book you just read and loved feel so suddenly passé, to feel—almost immediately—as though you no longer have any claim to your own ideas about it. I started writing this piece when the book came out at the end of July, and I started unwriting it almost immediately thereafter. Zeno’s Paradox 2.0: delete your sentences as you read their approximations elsewhere. How will future fiction work? Will details coalesce into aphorism? I wonder if instead of scribbling down in my notebook all the familiar aspects of girls I see on the street, as I used to, I’ll continue doing what I do now: snapping a picture and captioning it, in the words of Shteyngart, “so media.”

I’ll grant that we have problems here, but is literacy actually being ruined? Is long-format journalism actually obliterated? The New Yorker is as thick as ever with six to eight thousand word essays. Books still move through stores online and off. Our fourteen year old kid still reads piles of books, even as he spends more time online, watching funny YouTube videos and chatting with a friend three time zones away. Is he worse for that? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Not yet, anyway.

What I am sure about is this: Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are temporary constructions on the Web, like Worlds Fairs used to be, when we still had them. The Internet is a world where all four seasons happen at once. New sites and services are like plants that germinate, grow, bud, bloom and die, over and over. Even the big trees don’t grow to the sky. We need their fruit, their shade, their wood and the humus to which they return. Do we need the other crap that comes along with it those stages? Maybe not, but we go for it anyway.

Last Tuesday gave an excellent Berkman Lunch talk titled Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity and Self-Branding in Web 2.0. The summary:

In the mid-2000s, journalists and businesspeople heralded “Web 2.0” technologies such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook as signs of a new participatory era that would democratize journalism, entertainment, and politics. By the decade’s end, this idealism had been replaced by a gold-rush mentality focusing on status and promotion. While the rhetoric of Web 2.0 as democratic and revolutionary persists, I will contend that a primary use of social media is to boost user status and popularity, maintaining hierarchy rather than diminishing it. This talk focuses on three status-seeking techniques that emerged with social media: micro-celebrity, self-branding, and life-streaming. I examine interactions between social media and social life in the San Francisco “tech scene” to show that Web 2.0 has become a key aspect of social hierarchy in technologically mediated communities.

I’ve been in and out of that scene since 1985, and I know personally a large percentage of Alice’s sources. One of them, , provided Alice with some terrific insights about how the status system works. Tara also punched out of that system not long ago, moving to Montreal and starting a company. She has also been very active in the development community, for which I am very grateful. She’s on a helluva ride.

Listening to the two Alices,  comes to mind:

A Route of Evanescence,
With a revolving Wheel –
A Resonance of Emerald
A Rush of Cochineal –
And every Blossom on the Bush
Adjusts it’s tumbled Head –
The Mail from Tunis – probably,
An easy Morning’s Ride –

Speaking of which, here’s Bill Hicks on life’s ride:

The World is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real, because that’s how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round, and it has thrills and chills and is very brightly colored, and it’s very loud. And it’s fun, for a while.

Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they’ve begun to question, ‘Is this real, or is this just a ride?’, and other people have remembered, and they’ve come back to us and they say ‘Hey, don’t worry. Don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.’ and we KILL THOSE PEOPLE.

“Shut him up! We have alot invested in this ride! SHUT HIM UP! Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.”

It’s just a ride.

But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that. You ever noticed that? And let the demons run amok. But it doesn’t matter, because … It’s just a ride.

And we can change it anytime we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. A choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear wants you to put bigger locks on your door, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead see all of us as one.

(Watch the video. It’s better.)

Social media, social networking — all of it — is just practice. It’s just scaffolding for the roller coaster we keep re-building, riding on, falling off, and re-building. That’s what we’ve been making and re-making of civilization, especially since Industry won the Industrial revolution. (That’s why we needed world’s fairs,  to show off how Industry was doing.)

You go back before that and, on the whole, life didn’t change much, anywhere. Most of our ancestors, for most of the Holocene, lived short, miserable lives that were little different than those of generations prior or hence.

Back in the ’70s I lived in a little community called Oxbow, north of Chapel Hill. My house was one off whats now called Wild Primrose Lane, in this map here. In those days the bare area in the center of that map was a farm that was plowed fresh every spring. One day while we were walking there, I picked up a six-inch spear point that looked like this one from the (one county over):

(Hmm… I’ve been wondering what happened to the one I found. Could this be it? The more I look at it, the more I think so.) Anyway, I brought it to friends in the anthropology department at UNC — associates of the great Joffre Coe — who told me it was a Guilford point, from the Middle Archaic period, which ran from 6000 to 3000 B.C. (The original color was gray, as you can see from the chipped parts. The surface color comes from what’s called patination.)

What fascinates me about this date range, which is similar to the range for other kinds of points everywhere in the world, is how little technology changed over such a long period of time. Generation after generation made the same kinds of stone tools, the same way, for thousands of years. Today we change everything we make, pretty much constantly. There was no operating among the Guilford people, or anywhere, in 5000 B.C. Today Moore sometimes seems slow.

I don’t have a conclusion here, other than to say that maybe Nick and both Alices are right, and the Net is not so ideal as some of us (me especially) tend to think it is. But I also think the Net is something we make, and not just something that makes us.

Clearly, we could do a better job. We have the tools, and we can make many more.

 

Real reading

Garrison Keillor on books:

I happen to love the sensual experience of walking into a bookstore and examining the wares, picking up books, smelling them, admiring the covers, reading the first page or two. In 15 minutes, I can always find at least five books that really deeply interest me. I can’t do that online. It just doesn’t excite my viscera the way physical books do. This is a learned pleasure going back to when I was 10 and rode my bike downtown and walked into the reading rooms of the Minneapolis Public Library. It’s not a pleasure I can transfer to a digital image on a screen, just as I can’t get as excited about a picture of a naked woman as I do about one who is walking across the floor toward me.

A few days ago at The Coop on Harvard Square a book that deeply interested me was Garrison’s latest, titled simply Good Poems. So I bought it. From his introduction:

I looked at a truckload of poems to find the few thousand I’ve read on the radio, and it’s an education. First of all, most poems aren’t memorable, in fact, they make no impression at all. Sorry, but it’s true. There are brave blurbs on the back cover (“writes with a lyrical luminosity that reconceptualizes experience with cognitive beauty”) but you open up the goods and they’re like condoms on the beach, evidence that somebody was here once and had an experience but not of great interest to the passerby.

Speaking of memorable, a lookup on Google of Keillor and “condoms on the beach” brings up 70 results, including this one, which spared me the need to transcribe the above from the book. The Web is a handy thing. And so is Good Poems.

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This week the Bay Area loses two of its radio landmarks. On 102.1fm, , which has been broadcasting classical music since 1946, will be replaced by a simulcast of (“K-FOX”), a classic rock station in San Jose. And on 90.3 fm, KUSF, which has been one of the most active and community-involved free-form college radio stations in history, has gone silent. When the signal on 90.3 comes back on the air, it will carry the KDFC call letters and classical music programming. Meanwhile the old KUSF will continue in some form online. The new KDFC will also broadcast on 89.9, which is the former home of , a station licensed to .

This graphic, combined from three coverage maps at Radio-Locator.com, shows the before-and-after situation. One red line is KDFC’s old primary coverage area on 102.1. The other two are its new primary coverage areas on 90.3 and 89.9:

(More about signals below at *)

Since the 90.3 signal is tiny, and the 89.9 signal is far away, KDFC will be losing a great deal of coverage. Neither of the new signals serves the Peninsula, the South Bay or the East Bay beyond Berkely and Oakland. KUSF needs to start over online. On the FM band, it’s dead.

What happened was a three-way deal between , the and the . Entercom is the one of the largest owners of broadcast properties in the country, and an aggressive buyer of broadcast properties. So is USC, which has expanded its classical network from in Los Angeles to five stations spread from Morro Bay to Palm Springs. USF, like many universities, held a broadcast license that had monetary value on the open market while producing no income for the university itself.

According to Radio Ink and other sources, here’s how the deal went down:

  1. USF sold the 90.3 frequency to USC for $3.8 million.
  2. USC also bought KNDL for $2.8 million.
  3. Entercom, which owns KDFC, bought KUFX from the Clear Channel Aloha Trust, and will simulcast KUFX (still as “K-FOX”) over KDFC’s old 102.1 facility. Entercom will also give KDFC’s call letters and record collection to “A new San Francisco-based nonprofit.”

The press releases:

While it’s nice that KDFC has stayed alive, its move to much weaker signals is a far bigger loss for Bay Area classical music listeners than losses suffered by listeners when New York’s WQXR and Boston’s WCRB made similar moves. WQXR stayed on the air with a smaller signal from the same antenna, and WCRB moved to a same-size transmitter a couple dozen miles from the center of town, but most listeners could still get the stations. KDFC’s new facilities only cover a fraction of the population reached by the old signal. Essentially the new station covers San Francisco, and that’s it. More about coverage below*.

KDFC’s listenership is not small. The raw numbers are actually outstanding. According to Radio-Info.com (which leverages Arbitron), KDFC had 632,000 listeners in the most recent ratings period (December 2010), a notch above news-talk leader KGO (624,100). KDFC’s 3.2 average quarter hour (AQH) share was tied for #8 in the market, one notch above “sports giant” KNBR, which scored a 2.8. (KGO was #1 overall for most of the last six decades, and KNBR is an AM powerhouse that covers at least half of California by day and the whole West at night.) In fact, KDFC had better overall numbers than any other Entercom station in the Bay Area.

The problem for Entercom was the format. It’s hard to sell advertising for classical music stations, which have less inventory to offer (sports, news and popular music stations carry many more minutes of advertising per hour), and serve an older audience as well.

Judging from the KDFC statement on its website The Classical Public Radio Network () will hold the license, even though it closed down a few years ago, sort of. It also says,

The new KDFC has already begun to look for new signals to offer reception in the South Bay and the entire Bay Area for our around-the-clock classical programming.

We are happy to let you know Dianne Nicolini, Hoyt Smith, Rik Malone, and Ray White will continue as your on-air hosts, and KDFC’s partnerships with the Bay Area arts and culture community will continue to grow and thrive.

KDFC is the last major commercial classical station in America to make the transition to public radio. This move ensures that classical radio is sustainable for our community into the future. Since 1947, Bay Area classical fans have shown their passionate support for KDFC. Now more than ever, we’re grateful for that support as we begin the new era of Classical KDFC. Comments can be made to  comments at myclassical.org, or by phoning 415-546-8710. If you’d like to send a check as a Founder for the Future of KDFC, please send a check to:

The Classical Public Radio Network, 201 Third Street, 12th floor, San Francisco, CA 94103.

It’s signed by Bill Leuth, Vice President, KDFC. Bill and the other names he mentions are Bay Area classical radio institutions as well.

As for KUSF, maybe going online will be a form of liberation. As signals go, 90.3 barely covered San Francisco. The Internet covers the world. And Internet radio is growing fast. Aribitron now includes online streams in its ratings, which it wouldn’t do that if those streams were not signifiant. In San Francisco, KNBR’s stream had more than 50,000 listeners in November. In Los Angeles, KROQ’s stream had 67,900 listeners in December. Many more people every day are listening to radio on phones and other portable devices. Even Howard Stern, when he renewed with Sirius in December, said the future of satellite listening isn’t over satellite — it’s over the Internet. (Which Jeff Jarvis and I both told him, back when he was still making up his mind. Latelr Howard kindly gave a hat tip to Jeff on the air.)

And hey, KDFC can benefit from the same thing.

Here’s more from The Bay Citizen and the San Francisco Chronicle. And a rescue mission report at SF Weekly… And here’s the audio from a KQED Forum program on the matter. It says that KUSF is slated to become “an online-only training station for students.] Here’s a San Francisco Chronicle story on a gathering at USF at which “almost 500 backers” of KUSF came to confront Stephen A. Privett, the University President. The part that matters:

Privett said he made the decision because the station, dominated by outside volunteers, “was of minimal benefit to my students.”

“This was not a crass business decision about dollars,” Privett said. “This was about ensuring our programs involve our students. … Our primary mission is to our students, it is not to the community at large.”

Privett said some of the $3.75 million would be used to fund the student-led online station, with the rest going to other unspecified educational projects.

Well, “student-led” suggests that the community might still be involved.

For frequent updates follow @KUSF. and at SaveKUSF on Facebook. Feelings are not weak on this matter. KUSF is much loved by its community.

On January 20, I put up a new post suggesting that the KUSF community go for 87.7fm. I think it’s available.

It also amazes me (it’s still January 20) that this post and the next one have not yet received a single comment. Meanwhile my earlier post about Flickr now has 86 comments, and even the highly arcane Geology by Plane has 6. Could it be that the total number of people who care just isn’t that large? Not saying this is a bad thing, just that it’s an isolated one. So far 3,384 people say they like SaveKUSF on Facebook. But liking and doing are way different. As I suggest here, the best bet for doing isn’t trying to make a university turn down $3.8 million for something they clearly wish to unload. It’s to start something new.

* Signal stuff, for the technical:

In a more perfect world, where my many passions and obligations would be jobbed out to team of scattered clones, one of me would be in Santa Barbara, at the Super Santa Barbara exhibition on Net Neutrality at 653 Paseo Nuevo where a reception will take place 6:30pm-9pm on Thursday (that’s today) January 6th.

In my stead will be friends, most notably Joe Andrieu — who will give a talk on Net Neutrality with a Q&A — and Warren Schultheis of City2.0, who organized the event and the exhibition, which will run Jan 7th – Jan 23rd. Tues-Sun 12pm -5pm.

In their page on Net Neutrality, there’s a link to this piece I wrote for Linux Journal in 2006. It holds up pretty well, actually.

Again, wish I could be there. But if you are, please come by. There are many arguments to be had on the topic — art to appreciate as well (such as the Julia Ford item above). But the fact that matters most for Santa Barbara is that the city is still under-served by its sources of Internet connectivity. That alone should give everybody plenty to talk about.

Bonus link.

When I was walking to school in the second grade, I found myself behind a group of older kids, arguing about what subjects they hated most. The consensus was geography. At the time I didn’t know what geography was, but I became determined to find out. When I did, two things happened. First, I realized that I loved geography (and along with it, geology). Second, I learned that popularity of anything often meant nothing. And I’ve been passionate about geography ever since.

But not just for myself. Instead I’m interested in feeding scholarship wihin subjects that interest me. For both geography and geology I do that mostly through photography. Toward that end, here are a few recent sets I’ve posted, or updated:

Meanwhile, close to 200 of my shots are now in Wikimedia Commons. Big thanks to the Wikipedians who have put them there. I can’t begin to count how many Wikipedia articles many of these illustrate. currently accompanies eighteen different articles in fourteen different languages.

While we’re on the subject of , I’ll commend to you the new book Good Faith Collaboration by , a fellow at this year. His first chapter is online.

You may notice that most of my links to subjects, both in my online writings and in my photo captions, go to Wikipedia entries. Sometimes people ask me why. One reason is that Wikipedia is the closest we have come, so far, to a source that is both canonical and durable, even if each entry changes constantly, and some are subject to extreme disagreement. Wikipedia is, like the , a set of . Another reason is that Wikipedia is guided by the ideal of a neutral point of view (NPOV). This, Joseph says, “ensures that we can join the scattered pieces of what we think we know and good faith facilitates the actual practice of fitting them together.”

The nature of the Net is to encourage scatterings such as mine, as well as good faith about what might be done with them.

This morning, while freezing my way down 8th Avenue to Piccolo on 40th to pick up a couple of cappuccinos, I paused outside the to admire its stark modern lobby as delivered the latest storm news from Los Angeles through my phone’s earbuds. In the midst of reports of fallen rocks, traffic accidents and fears of mudslides, KNX said an actor had been seriously injured during last night’s latest preview performance of Spider-Man, on Broadway, three short blocks from my very ass.

This wasn’t the show’s first injury. In fact, the show had already earned “Troubled” as its adjectival first name.

So, after I got back to our hotel room, we brought up the Times’ website on our iPad (the paper’s own application crashes) and read Actor Injured in Fall During ‘Spider-Man’ Performance, by reporters Dave Itzkoff and Hamilton Boardman. Also contributing to the story were —

  • actress Natalie Mendoza, “who plays the spider-goddess Arachne” and “wrote on her Twitter feed: ‘Please pray with me for my friend Chris, my superhero who quietly inspires me everyday with his spirit. A light in my heart went dim tonight.’” The story adds, “She appeared to be referring to her fellow cast member Christopher Tierney, who is an aerialist and ensemble member in the musical. Bellevue Hospital Center confirmed that on Monday night it had received a patient by that name.”
  • Steven Tartick, an audience member. “‘You heard screams,’ Mr. Tartick said. ‘You heard a woman screaming and sobbing.’
  • An unnamed “New York Times reader” who shot a video of the accident, which ran along with the story. (That’s my own screenshot on the right.)
  • Audience members Scott Smith and Matthew Smith
  • Brian Lynch, an audience member who “described the scene at the Foxwoods Theater on his Twitter feed, writing: ‘Stopped short near end. Someone took nasty fall. Screaming. 911 called. No idea what happened, kicked audience out.’ He added: ‘No joke. No explanation. MJ and Spidey took what seemed to be a planned fall into the stage pit. Then we heard MJ screaming.’”
  • Eyewitness Christine Bord, who “described events outside the theater in a blog post on her Web site, onlocationvacations.com, and “In a telephone interview,” said “two ambulances and a fire truck were already waiting outside the theater when most audience members exited. The actor was quickly brought out on a stretcher, wrapped in protective gear and wearing a neck brace. He acknowledged the crowd which clapped for him before an ambulance took him away.”
  • A New York Times reader who supplied a photo “showing a ‘Spider-Man’ actor being transported to an ambulance outside the Foxwoods Theater.”

The story concludes,

The “Spider-Man” musical has faced several setbacks during its preview period, with one of its actresses suffering a concussion and two actors who were injured by a sling-shot technique meant to propel them across the stage. On Friday it was announced that “Spider-Man” was delaying its official opening by four weeks to Feb. 7 so that creative changes could be made to the show.

A press representative for “Spider-Man” said in an email message: “An actor sustained an injury at tonight’s performance of ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.’ He fell several feet from a platform approximately seven minutes before the end of the performance, and the show was stopped. All signs were good as he was taken to the hospital for observation. We will have more news shortly.”

The comments are a snarky icing on the story’s cake, some calling to mind the late and very great Mystery Science Theory 3000:

“Will a vending machine be selling insurance if the audience cares to purchase any?”"There is a reason why this stuff is done with CGI.”

“Didn’t I just read this story?”

“Not so amazing now, are you, Spidey?”

“Dude, this show is getting better all the time! I gotta get me a ticket before it gets shut down.”

“Whoever gave the video to the Times should be commended. That is one brutal fall. If the actor’s neck isn’t broken he’s lucky. We all understand that in today’s world the investments of a group of millionaires in a Broadway show are more important than actors lives but it’s time for the grownups to step in and shut this nonsense down. Look, of course it is sad when someone is injured, but this is the price you have to pay if you want to create great theater. Everyone knows that great theater is about launching people across stages using slingshots. It is what Ibsen did, it is what Shakespeare did, it is what made Sondheim famous. To all the haters posting here, how do you expect to be enlightened at the theater if you can’t see shows that launch actors into the air using slingshots? Mark my words, in one hundred years High School’s will require their students to read Hamlet and to construct slingshots with which to launch each other. That obviously justifies these injuries.”

We live in liminal times, on the blurred boundary between What Was and What Will Be. The formalities of Reporting as Usual, which the Times has epitomized for more than a century, are What Was. What Will Be is Version 2.o of The Press, which will mash up stories (among other news provisioning units) from many sources, which will be credited, linked, and kept current in as close to Real Time as humanly and technically possible.

On Rebooting the News yesterday, @Jay Rosen revisited his excellent distinction between The Press and The Media. Here’s my compression of it: The Press is where we get capital-J Journalism at its best—that is, through goods that truly inform us. The Media is an advertising business.

Nice to see the former keeping up with the Times. And vice versa.

And I do hope that Chris Tierney and the show both recover.

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So my friend Joe tells me to check out a book called Where Good Ideas Come From. I look it up on Google and click on the top result, an Amazon one for Steven Johnson’s book by that title. That goes to an Amazon page for the book, with links and pitches to various other books I might also want. One is Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surpus. Another is Ian Morris’s Why The West Rules — For Now. Another is for Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants. I already have Kevn’s book, but would like to buy the other three, in a bunch.

So I go to put them all in my cart. But I can’t—far as I know, anyway. Not on that page, because it turns out this search result is intended mostly (or entirely… hard to tell) for Kindle users. I don’t have a Kindle and prefer to buy actual paper books. So I search again, within Books this time, on the Amazon site. This brings up a page for Stephen Johnson’s book, and a grouping of books “Frequently Bought Together” that has Kevin’s and Clay’s books and a way to pay for all three at once (for $50.57).

But I don’t want Kevin’s book this time, and I’m missing Ian Morris’s book. Can I put together a different “Price for all three” that includes the books I do want this time around? Well, I have to find Ian’s book. It’s not in “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”—at least not on that page. I eventually find it on page 3 (of 20) in a horizontal scroll to the right of the original five. But how to combine them? I dunno, and decide just to do it the aging-fashioned way: by putting all three individually in my basket.

Back in 1996 this seemed miraculous. Now it seems like a chore.

I would love it if Amazon gave me a simple search result, for the book I want, and then let me optionally add all the other stuff that right now is aggressive guesswork about what I might want.

Or maybe there’s already a way of doing that. Is there?

I’ve been so heads-down working on a book, and prepping  for this this week’s workshop, that I haven’t blogged anything in a while. Normally blogging is a steam valve for my work, but tweeting does more of that now. (Which is too bad, because tweets are snow on the water. Or at least it seems that way when I go back looking for what somebody said.) So the blog(s) get neglected.

Anyway, I want to share my affection for two new books that blowing my mind, page after page. One is Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants. The other is Lewis Hyde’s Common as Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership. Both authors worked for years on these books, and it shows in the depth of their scholarship and the polish of their prose.

Both are not merely important, but essential. Kevin’s breaks new ground in all directions one must travel to understand what technology is, and its relationship with human nature and work. Lewis does a complete re-think of “intellectual property,” and in the process re-grounds our understanding in an abundance of history — too much of which has been long (and selectively) forgotten. I can’t find a review of What Technology Wants yet, so I’ll link to what Craig Burton said here a while ago. Common as Air got a huge thumbs-up from Robert Darnton this past Sunday in The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review. Go read it. I’m getting back to work.


While walking around Paris for the last month, I’ve been fascinated by the highly fossiliferous limestone that comprises so many of its iconic structures. At one point I thought, Hmm… The City of Light is built with materials of death. I had no idea how much farther that thought would take me.

Without abundant death we wouldn’t have asphalt, concrete, marble, travertine, chert, oil, coal or countless other graces of civilization. Still, there seemed to be an unusual abundance of limestone in use here, and I wondered where it came from. Naturally, from my 21st century perspective, I assumed that all the stone had been quarried in some other place: hills outside of town, perhaps. (Lutetian limestone, it’s called, and it’s a relatively new rock: only only a few dozen million years old. Younger than dinosaurs. It’s also known as “Paris stone”, and has become quite the fashion item lately.) What I hadn’t figured was that nearly all of this building stone, for many centuries, was extracted from beneath Paris itself.

I didn’t learn that fact until we visited the Catacombes a couple days ago.

The Catacombes are bone banks called ossuaries. They occupy abandoned quarries beneath Paris and contain the remains of more than six million people. Many of the deceased are surely the same men (and women? probably) who carved out the quarries, mostly in the first several centuries of the last millennium. It must have been quite a project, since they withdrew enough rock to assemble Notre Dame, thousands of other churches large and small, bridges, city walls and homes — and left beneath the streets of Paris more than 300 kilometers (100 miles) of tunnels, including rooms and vaults that together comprise a vast man-made cave system. Top to bottom, a vertical cross-section of Paris looks like this:

  • Surface — streets, buildings, parks
  • Metro tunnels
  • Sewers
  • Quarries

Fossils are bones of stone, I explained to my kid. And limestones are stones of bone. Here in the Catacombes, down hallways that go on and on and on and on, the bones of dead Parisians are stacked into walls, with an artistry that makes one wonder what was going on in the heads of the masons. The walls facing the halls and passing visitors are built mostly with femurs and skulls. The femurs are stacked and interlocked, with the knee knuckles outward, course after course forming a pattern like stitches in a cloth. These are interrupted by horizontal lines of skulls, and usually topped with a final row: a crowning course of human heads. Here and there some arm bones might be used, but femurs and skulls were clearly the preferable building material. Behind these walls behind lie the rest of the bones: remains of remains.

The masons were priests. The bones were gathered from the city’s cemeteries, which had become rotten with an abundance of corpses as the end of the 18th century approached. That’s when it was decided to move the bones down into deeper graves. The quarries were empty, so the bones came down. The whole project went in stages, running from the late 1700s to the middle 1800s. The priests, whose jobs already required exceptional respect for the dead, were conscripted for the work.

The pictures in my collection (such as the one above) aren’t the best I’ve taken. Most of the light was provided by dim illumination in the catacombes itself, or by cell phones. If you wish to know more (and I recommend it), here are a pile of fascinating links:

Since one walks through the tunnels in the company of others, it is less creepy than you might think. After a while, endless aisles of bones also tend to make the bones themselves ordinary. Yet one wonders: Is this skull Robespierre’s? Danton’s? Both lost their heads at the guillotine, but down here all heads are equally ordinary and anonymous, fully respected, but still just building material.

A lesson: different as we all are in life, we are remarkably identical in death. Skulls tend to all look the same. So do other bones. One can say, These were babies once. Then laughing children. They grew up, learned about life, and lived long enough to produce more babies and get work done. And what they’ve left is no different than what everybody else leaves.

What makes us animals is that we eat other living things. (We need their carbon.) We live on things that lived. And we build with them too. Death supplies us. In turn, we supply as well. And all our turns will come.

What makes us different is who and what we are, and what we do, when we’re alive. Life is for the living. And so, it turns out, is death.

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Purple Reign Ends

Prince, to the Mirror:

“The internet’s completely over. I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.

“The internet’s like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good.

“They just fill your head with numbers and that can’t be good for you.”

Dr. Weinberger responds:

Breaking News: The Internet Declares Prince to be Completely Over

Now we can party like it’s 2010.

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Branding has jumped the shark. The meme is stale. Worn out. Post-peak. If branding were a show on Fox, it would be cancelled next week.

I can witness this trend by watching links going to three posts I made last month:

The latest to point this direction is People Aren’t Brands, by one of these guys here (I see no byline) in UKSN, the UK Sports Network. After pointing generously to the second of the posts above, they say,

In the current business world, brands aren’t human beings. They should be, and any social media practitioner worth her salt will be working damn hard with their clients to try and make them more so, but as it stands they are companies, corporate vehicles which are not set up to deal with human error…the kind we are all susceptible to, especially some high profile celebs.

Well, all due respect (and UKSN deserve plenty), brands aren’t people. True, it’s good to humanize companies, turn them inside out, tear down the walls of Fort Business, and otherwise cut out the pro forma BS that tends more commonly to bottle up a company’s humanity than to celebrate and leverage it. But doing that isn’t branding. It’s just good sense.

True, branding is a helpful way to align a company’s distinctions with its identity, or to make it more attractive, memorable and stuff like that. But it matters far less than a well-earned reputation. Consider these statements:

  • Nike has a reputation for making good shoes.
  • Apple has a reputation for making artful technology.
  • Toyota has a reputation for making reliable cars.

Now let’s re-phrase those using the word “brand” instead of “reputation.”

  • The Nike brand makes good shoes
  • Apple is the brand for artful technology.
  • Toyota is the reliable car brand.

Two points there. First, it’s hard to re-phrase reputation as brand, no matter how you put it. Second, branding is not positioning. By that I mean it would be easier to make positioning statements about any of those companies than to make a branding statement.

That’s because brands are nothing but statements. At best they are a well-known and trusted badge, name or both. At worst they’re a paint job, a claim, a rationalization or an aspiration. Branding can help a reputation, but it can’t make one. Real work does that. Accomplishment over time does that.

Consider for a moment the value of Toyota’s reputation as a maker of reliable cars. This reputation was earned over at least five decades. Millions of people have had good experiences with reliable Toyota cars and trucks. That reputation has kept Toyota’s head above water through the trials of the last year, when an endless string of bad news stories about sudden acceleration and other faults have been streaming through the news media. In the tug between bad news and good reputation, branding was a no-show.

Judged by the standards of real branding companies (such as Procter & Gamble, which invented and named the practice), Toyota’s branding work has been mediocre at best. It has created cars with confusing names (Corolla, Corona, Carina, Celica, Crown, Cresta, Cressida) and weird hard-to-pronounce names (Camry, Yaris), and has produced relatively little memorable advertising, considering the size of the company and the quality of its cars. Worse, those Toyotathon ads by local dealers, which ran until the Daily Show’s Toyotathon of Death segment buried them for good, were among the most persistent and annoying pitches of all time. In fact, Toyota dealers in general had relatively bad reputations. The one thing Toyota did well was make reliable cars. Toyota’s reputation persists because it was earned, not just claimed.

Branding is jumping the shark now because, on the whole, the Net favors reality over bullshit. Saying stuff may get more attention than doing stuff, at least in the short run. But doing stuff is what makes the world work.

The hard thing for social media folks is that they’re still working the Saying Stuff beat while  Doing Stuff is what matters most. Getting companies to do different stuff, or to do the same stuff differently, is hard. Getting companies to do either of those things for long enough to earn a reputation for it is harder still.

But, good luck with that.

Meanwhile here’s how UKSN (in its People Aren’t Brands post) advises companies aligning with sports figures:

Corporates need to let go of the term ‘brand’ and all the connotations it brings when they are working with celebrities. When they hire the celeb, they think that person is now representative of the brand…something which humans can’t do! They can be themselves and if the company is comfortable with whom they are and what they stand for as a human being…then there is value to be derived by association. Expecting the person to fit into the perceived brand of a company is a recipe for (potential) disaster.

All good advice. What makes branding especially difficult in the sports world is that celebrity itself, and the fashions surrounding it, are part of the game. Sports figures endorse, and are endorsed by, “corporates,” and both benefit from each other. This morning I heard that money offered by teams shouldn’t have that much influence on which team LeBron James signs up with next (so long as they’re all within a few million dollars of each other), because he’ll make far more from his corporate affiliations. This is a set of considerations where UKSN knows far more than I do, and where branding of the old P&G sort still matters a great deal.

Sports is a special case. So are fashion and celebrity, and how all three of those overlap.

In most of society, however — including most of the business world — who you are and what you do matter more than how you look and how famous you become. Because who you are and what you do are what make the world a better place. And not just something to talk about.

[Late addition...] Tom Ford with Tina Brown on marketing and branding. Great clip.

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Until her Supreme Court nomination turned Elena Kagan into big-time news fodder, there was not an abundance of great pictures of her to be found on the Web. Among the better ones to be found were a couple I had posted on Flickr a couple years ago, when she was still Dean of Harvard Law School. Here’s one. Here’s another.

The second of those (cropped a bit) was put up on Wikimedia Commons, and for awhile accompanied her Wikipedia entry, and continues to be used in a number of places.

Both shots have a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 license, meaning anybody can use it, and should also give me credit for having shot it. And both shots have appeared since then in many publications. Some, like Wikipedia, do a good job of following the license. Some, for example Outside the Beltway — in this piece stirring the shit about Ms. Kagan while accusing CBS and other news organizations of bad journalistic practices — do not.

None of that is troubling, or even very interesting. Instead what prompts this post is a comment under one of the two photos, from an entity called TEA PARTY LEADER. It’s a diatribe that verges on hate speech, but (in my amateur judgment) doesn’t quite cross the line. The question for me, when I saw the comment, was Should I kill it?

My photo pile on Flickr isn’t a public space. It welcomes comments to the degree that it simply allows them. It has no rules (of my own or defaulted by Flickr) regarding comments, beyond the ability Flickr provides for editing or deleting them.

I asked fellow Berkman Fellows list for their thoughts, and those went both ways. Some said the space is mine to manage, and if somebody is rudely spamming the premises I should feel free to delete their icky work. Others said doing so indeed would violate free speech principles, even if I would be within my rights in doing so. I was also probed with questions about whether I would delete the comment if its positions were more agreeable to me — though with manners just as rude.

I’ve been inclined from the start toward leaving it up, and that’s where I’m staying. But in the meantime I thought I’d pass along the same questions.

What would you do, and why?

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There is an ad running during the NCAA basketball playoffs that’s so creepy and surreal that I decided to take some screen shots of it, as a kind of public service to the company spending money on it.

The scene is a guy’s hairy armpit. (Do they have armpit models? Guess so.) As if this weren’t icky enough, all of a sudden a rectangle of flesh drops down, opening a grave, right there, in his sparse forest of hair. It’s like watching that eyeball get sliced in Un chien andalou. Creepy as shit. And you wonder, where did the missing block of pit go?  Is it down by the rib cage somewhere? Packed around his rotator cuff? Or is he hollow? And why no blood?

Then this white triangular thing rises out of the same hole.

You wonder, what the fuck is that? before seeing that Oh, okay, it’s a Matterhorn. But it’s not like the real thing. It’s more like a toy Matterhorn, with a little Swiss Chalet at its base, flanked by a few trees, looking like a snow-globe scene, without the globe and the snow.

By the time it’s over you’ve witnessed two awful things you don’t want happening to your body: Having your armpit turned into a deep hole — and then having it replaced by a piece of broken kitsch. It’s so disturbing that you don’t even notice, much less remember, the name of the advertiser.

Not my cup of meat. Or whatever that dude is made of.

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Wide Water Rafting

I’m no yacht freak, but I this is one of the most amazing boats I’ve ever seen:

The concept is a “moving island.” It’s name is dimensional: 58×38. That’s in meters.

From Why-Yachts.com.

Hat tip to Dion Neutra.

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Correction

Roundabout dogs:

Consider your taste made.

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After visiting the Titan Missle Museum in Arizona, Matt Blaze wrote, How did we keep from blowing ourselves up for all those years?

Good question.

Take a listen the next time you hear somebody say “Good question.” It means they don’t have the answer. Maybe it also means the best questions are unanswerable.

But maybe we also need to keep asking them anyway, for exactly that reason. This was a lesson I got a long time ago, and reported in 2005, in this post here:

About ten years ago I took a few days off to chill in silence at the New Camaldoli Monastery in Big Sur. One of the values the White Monks of the monastery share with Quakers in Sunday meeting is confinement of speech to that which “improves on the silence”. (Or, in the case of the monks, fails to insult the contemplative virtues of silence.) It was there that I had an amazing conversation with Father John Powell, who told me that any strictly literalist interpretation of Christ’s teachings “insulted the mystery” toward which those teachings pointed — and which it was the purpose of contemplative living to explore. “Christ spoke in paradox”, he said. Also metaphor, which itself is thick with paradox. Jesus knew, Father Powell said, that we understand one thing best in terms of another which (paradoxically) is literally different yet meaningfully similar.

For example, George Lakoff explains that we understand time in terms of money (we “save”, “waste” and “spend” it) and life in terms of travel (we “arrive”, “depart”, “fall off the wagon” or “get stuck in a rut”). For what it’s worth, George is Jewish. Like Jesus.

The greatest mystery of life, Father Powell explained, isn’t death. It’s life. “Life is exceptional”, he said. For all the fecundity of nature, it is surrounded by death. Far as we can tell, everything we see when we look to the heavens is dead as a gravestone. Yet it inspires the living. “Life”, he said, sounding like an old rabbi, “is the mystery”.

I was a kid in the fifties, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were busy not talking to each other while planting thousands of nuclear-tipped ICBMs  in the ground, pointed at each other’s countries. They were also sending thousands of additional warheads to sea in nuclear submarines. Every warhead was ready obliterate whole cities in enemy territory. Our house was five miles from Manhattan. We had frequent air raid drills, and learned how to “duck and cover” in the likely event of sudden incineration. Like many other kids in those days, I wished to enjoy as much of life as I could before World War III, which would last only a few hours, after which some other species would need to take over.

I was no math whiz; but I was an authority on adults and their failings. I could look at the number of missles involved, guess at all the things that could go wrong, and make a pretty good bet that something, sooner or later, would. I wasn’t sure we would die, but I was sure the chances were close to even.

In his new book The Dead Hand, Washington Post reporter David E. Hoffman explains exactly how close we came:

At 12:15 A.M., Petrov was startled. Across the top of the room was a thin, silent panel. Most of the time no one even noticed it. But suddenly it lit up, in red letters: LAUNCH.

A siren wailed. On the big map with the North Pole, a light at one of the American missile bases was illuminated. Everyone was riveted to the map. The electronic panels showed a missile launch. The board said “high reliability.” This had never happened before. The operators at the consoles on the main oor jumped up, out of their chairs. They turned and looked up at Petrov, behind the glass. He was the commander on duty. He stood, too, so they could see him. He started to give orders. He wasn’t sure what was happening. He ordered them to sit down and start checking the system. He had to know whether this was real, or a glitch. The full check would take ten minutes, but if this was a real missile attack, they could not wait ten minutes to nd out. Was the satellite holding steady? Was the computer functioning properly?…

The phone was still in his hand, the duty ofcer still on the line, when Petrov was jolted again, two minutes later.

The panel ashed: another missile launched! Then a third, a fourth and a fth. Now, the system had gone into overdrive. The additional signals had triggered a new warning. The red letters on the panel began to ash MISSILE ATTACK, and an electronic blip was sent automatically to the higher levels of the military. Petrov was frightened. His legs felt paralyzed. He had to think fast…

Petrov made a decision. He knew the system had glitches in the past; there was no visual sighting of a missile through the telescope; the satellites were in the correct position. There was nothing from the radar stations to verify an incoming missile, although it was probably too early for the radars to see anything.

He told the duty ofcer again: this is a false alarm.

The message went up the chain.

How many other events were there like that? On both sides?

I think there lurks in human nature a death wish — for others, even more than for ourselves. We rationalize nothing better, or with more effect, than killing each other. Especially the other. Fill in the blank. The other tribe, the other country, the other culture, the other religion, whatever.  “I’ve seen the future,” Leonard Cohen sings. “It is murder.” (You can read the lyrics here, but I like the video version.)

Yet we also don’t. The answer to Matt’s question — How did we keep from blowing ourselves up for all those years? —is lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov, and others like him, unnamed. Petrov had the brains and the balls to say “No” to doing the crazy thing that only looked sane because a big institution was doing it.

We’re still crazy. You and I may not be, but we are.

War is a force that gives us meaning, Chris Hedges says. You can read his book by that title, (required reading from a highly decorated and deeply insightful former war correspondent). You can also watch the lecture he gave on the topic at UCSB in 2004. The mystery will be diminished by his answer, but not solved.

Still, every dose of sanity helps.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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matterhorn_by_moonlight

There are mountains, and there is the Matterhorn. It’s all a matter of sculpture and presentation. Great art, great framing.

The Matterhorn is ice sculpture. It was carved by ice out of rock pushed to the sky by a collision between Italy and Europe that’s still going on. The ice was as high as the mountain, or higher, and the carved off parts are scattered all over the Alps and its alluvial fans, discarded by water and wind when the ice cap melted, only a few millennia before the Pyramids showed up. Go back to when the ice was at high tide, and the Alps looked like the near-buried parts of Greenland do today. (See here, here and here.)

The shot above was what the Matterhorn looked like by moonlight on our way back to the hotel tonight. There’s hardly a thing on Earth more impressive than that.

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Egging on

Nice piece in the Baltimore Sun (front page of the Arts section, above the fold) about The Crystal Egg, a new production we’ll be seeing this weekend. Written and directed by Colette Searls. More here.

@robpatrob (Robert Paterson) asks (responding to this tweet and this post) “Why would GBH line up against BUR? Why have a war between 2 Pub stations in same city?” (In this tweet and this one, Dan Kennedy asks pretty much the same thing.)

The short answer is, Because it wouldn’t be a war. Boston is the world’s largest college town. There are already a pile of home-grown radio-ready program-filling goods here, if one bothers to dig and develop. The standard NPR line-up could also use a challenge from other producers. WGBH is already doing that in the mornings by putting The Takeaway up against Morning Edition. That succeeds for me because now I have more choices. I can jump back and forth between those two (which I do, and Howard Stern as well).

The longer answer is that it gives GBH a start on the inevitable replacement of signal-based radio by multiple streams and podcast line-ups. WGBH has an exemplary record as a producer of televsion programming, but it’s not setting the pace in other media, including radio. The story is apparent in the first four paragraphs of its About page (which is sure to change):

WGBH is PBS’s single largest producer of content for television (prime-time and children’s programs) and the Web. Some of your favorite series and websites — Nova, Masterpiece, Frontline, Antiques Roadshow, Curious George, Arthur, and The Victory Garden, to name a few — are produced here in our Boston studios.

WGBH also is a major supplier of programs heard nationally on public radio, including The World. And we’re a pioneer in educational multimedia and in media access technologies for people with hearing or vision loss.

Our community ties run deep. We’re a local public broadcaster serving southern New England, with 11 public television services and three public radio services — and productions (from Greater Boston to Jazz with Eric in the Evening) that reflect the issues and cultural riches of our region. We’re a member station of PBS and an affiliate of both NPR and PRI.

In today’s fast-changing media landscape, we’re making sure you can find our content when and where you choose — on TV, radio, the Web, podcasts, vodcasts, streaming audio and video, iPhone applications, groundbreaking teaching tools, and more. Our reach and impact keep growing.

Note the order: TV first, radio second, the rest of it third. But where WGBH needs to lead in the future is with #3: that last paragraph. Look at WGBH’s annual report. It’s very TV-heavy. Compare its radio productions to those of Chicago Public Radio or WNYC. Very strong in classical music (now moving over to WCRB, at least on the air), and okay-but-not-great in other stuff.

Public TV has already become a ghetto of geezers and kids, while the audience between those extrmes is diffusing across cable TV and other media. An increasingly negligible sum of people watch over-the-air (OTA) TV. Here WGBH lost out too. It’s old signal on Channel 2 was huge, reaching more households than any other in New England. Now it’s just another UHF digital signal — like its own WGBX/44, with no special advantages. Public radio is in better shape, for now, because its band isn’t the ever-growing accordion file that cable TV has become; and because most of it still lives in a regulated protectorate at the bottom fifth of the FM band. It also helps public radio that the rest of both the FM and the AM bands suck so royally. (Only sports and political talk are holding their own. Music programming is losing to file sharing and iPods. All-news stations are yielding to iPhone programs that offer better news, weather and traffic reporting. In Boston WBZ is still a landmark news station, but it has to worry a bit with WGBH going in the same direction.)

So the timing is right. WGBH needs to start sinking new wells into the aquifer of smart, talented and original people and organizations here in the Boston area — and taking the lead in producing great new programming with what they find. I’ll put in another plug for Chris Lydon‘s Open Source, which is currently available only in podcast/Web form. And there is much more, including Cambridge-based PRX‘s enormous portfolio of goods.  (Disclosure: my work with the Berkman Center is partially funded through PRX — and those folks, like Chris, are good friends.)

In the long run what will matter are sources, listeners, and the finite amount of time the latter can devote to the former. Not old-fashioned signals.

P.S. to Dan Kennedy’s tweeted question, “Is there another city in the country where two big-time public radio stations go head-to-head on news? Can’t think of one.” Here are a few (though I’d broaden the answer beyond “news,” since WBUR isn’t just that):

All with qualifications, of course. In some cases you can add in Pacifica (which, even though my hero Larry Josephson once called it a “foghorn for political correctness,” qualifies as competition). Still, my point is that there is room for more than one mostly-talk (or news) public radio station in most well-populated regions. Even in Boston, where WBUR has been king of the hill for many years. Hey, other things being equal (and they never are), the biggest signal still tends to win. And in Boston, WGBH has a bigger signal than WBUR: almost 100,000 watts vs. 12,000 watts. WBUR radiates from a higher elevaiton, but its signal is directional. On AM that means it’s stronger than the listed power in some directions and weaker in others; but on FM it means no more than the listed power in some directions and weaker in others. See the FCC’s relative field polar plot to see how WBUR’s signal is dented in every direction other than a stretch from just west of North to Southeast. In other words, toward all but about a third of its coverage area. To sum up, WGBH has a much punchier signal. I’m sure the GBH people also have this in mind when they think about how they’ll compete with BUR.

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boreray

Painted Cave. Lava Falls Trail. Uinkaret Volcanic Field. Nat Friedman. Denver International Airport. Sarah Lacy. Rainsford Island. Dorney Lake. David Boies. A peak above a glacier. Rim of the World Highway. Elena Kagan. Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Lake Havasu. Berneray, North Uist. Spectacle Island. San Gorgonio Mountain. River Nith. Paul Trevithick. Dumont Dunes. Tunitas Creek. Steve Gillmor. Boreray, North Uist. Guido van Rossum. Nunavut Shadows. Bristol Dry Lake. Brunswick Nuclear Generating Station.

All shots I’ve taken. All put in Wikimedia Commons, and (in nearly all cases above) in Wikipedia, by persons other than myself.

All I did was post them on Flickr, label and tag them well, so they could be found and used, via the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license.

That’s just some of them, by the way. Lots more where they came from. One hundred and five, so far.

There’s something new on the FM dial in Boston. You might think of it as a kind of urban renewal. Grass roots, up through the pavement. (There’s a pun in there, but you need to read on to get it.)

You might say that fresh radio moved in where stale TV moved out.

Here’s some background. When TV in the U.S. finally went all-digital several months back (June 12, to be precise), one wide hunk of spectrum, from 54 to 88Mhz—where channels 2 through 6 used to be—turned into “white space“. In other words, empty. For most of us this doesn’t matter except in one little spot at the very bottom of the FM dial: 87.7 FM. It’s the first click on nearly every FM radio, yet the FCC licensed no FM stations there, because that notch belonged to TV channel 6 audio. From January 1963 until June 2009, you could hear Channel 6 (WLNE-TV) at that spot on the dial, across much of Southern New England, including the Boston metro. When analog television shut down in June, WLNE moved to Channel 49 with its digital signal. After that, 87.7 was white space too. (Some more background here.)

In a few cases (New York and Los Angeles, for example), somebody would get a license (New York, Los Angeles) to operate a low power analog Channel 6 TV station, leave the picture off and just broadcast the audio, creating a virtual FM station that most listeners didn’t know was licensed as picture-less TV. (LPTV stations are exempt from the digital requirement.) That was pretty clever, but it was also pretty rare. For the most part, 87.7 was all-hiss, meaning it was open for anybody to put up anything, legal or not.

Such as here in Boston. It was a matter of time before somebody put up a pirate signal on 87.7. That happened this week when “Hot 97 Boston,” an urban-formatted Internet station, appeared there. Hot 97 is also known as WPOT, according to this thread here.

I checked here and here to see if it’s legal (on FM), and can find no evidence. But it does sound like a real station. If you’re into urban radio with a local Boston flavor (also with no ads), check it out. The signal isn’t big, but it’s not bad, either. And it’s worldwide on the Net.

[Two days later...] I figured by now the Boston Globe and/or the Boston Phoenix would pick up on this story. So I just tweeted a bulletin. Let’s see what happens.

[Later still...] Dean Landsman reminded me that Brian R. Ballou of the Globe had a report on TOUCH-FM in June 2008. TOUCH is another pirate that appears from its website still to be active, at least on the Web (though at the moment I can’t get it on either FM or the station’s “click here/listen now” link). [And later again (October 13) ...] TOUCH-FM is still on the air. It’s pretty obliterated by other signals here in Cambridge, but I got it well enough to follow this morning in the car when I drove to Boston and back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Suspicious white man reported in minority neighborhood:

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

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

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

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

I know how he feels.

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I love this:

despair_socialmedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus link.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

michaeljackson_search1

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

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

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

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

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

Live is better.

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

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

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column

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not surprisingly this followed, on the same post:

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

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

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cluetrain-poster2

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

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

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

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

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

– is All A Capella, on WERS/88.9 in Boston. Listen here. Or on the Public Radio Tuner. Or on WERS own iPhone app. Or iTunes (it’s in the list called “Public”). They just started tweeting too: @allacappella889. The performances are just freaking astonishing. You’d think they were playing instruments. And harmonies tight enough to make Manhattan Transfer envious. Awesome shit. Dig. Really.

I’ve blogged about WERS before. My mind hasn’t changed. I can’t stress too strongly how good this station is. You may not like everything on there. (It would be odd if you did.) But the quality is always good, and the goods always original.

There are original stations out there too, of course. KPIG, Radio Paradise, WIOZ, KGSR…  the list goes on. I’d continue, but I have to drive.

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WebTV webtvwas way ahead of its time and exactly backwards. The idea was to put the Web on TV. In the prevailing media framework of the time, this made complete sense. TV had been around since the Forties, and nearly everybody devoted many hours of their daily lives to it. The Web was brand new then. And, since the Web used a tube like TV did, it only made sense to make the Web work on TV, rather than vice versa.

Microsoft bought WebTV for $.425 billion in April 1997. It was the most Microsoft had ever spent on an acquisition, and a stunning sum to spend on what was clearly a speculative play. But Microsoft clearly thought it was skating to where the puck was going.

Not long after that I heard from Dave Feinleib, an executive at Microsoft. Dave wanted to know if I would be interested in writing a chapter for a book he was putting together on the convergence of the Web and television. What brought him to my door was that I was the only writer he found who claimed the Web would eat TV, rather than vice versa. Everybody else was saying that history was going the other way — including Microsoft itself, with its enormous bet.

Dave was an outstanding editor, and did a great job pulling his book together. Originally he wanted it to be published by somebody other than Microsoft, but that didn’t work out. If I’m not mistaken (and Dave, if you’re out there somewhere, correct me), his choices of title also didn’t make it. The title finally chosen was a kiss of death: The Inside Story of Interactive TV and (in much larger type) WebTV for Windows. (Cool: You can still get it at Amazon, so death in this case is only slightly exaggerated.)

It was a good book, and an important historic document. At least for me. Much of what I later contributed to The Cluetrain Manifesto I prototyped in my chapter of Dave’s book. My title was “The Message Is Not the Medium.”

Amazingly, I just found a draft of the chapter, which I assumed had been long gone in an old disk crash or something. Begging the indulgence of Dave and Microsoft, I’ll quote from it wholesale. Remember that this was written in 1998, at the very height of the dot-com bubble.

About the conversational nature of markets:

So what we have here are two metaphors for a marketplace: 1) a battlefield; and 2) a conversation. Which is the better metaphor for the Web market? One is zero-sum and the other is positive-sum. One is physical and the other is virtual. One uses OR logic, and the other uses AND logic.

It’s no contest. The conversation metaphor describes a world exploding with positive new sums. The battlefield metaphor insults that world by denying those sums. It works fine when we’re talking about battles for shelf space in grocery stores; but when we’re talking about the Web, battlefield metaphors ignore the most important developments.

There are two other advantages to the conversation metaphor. First, it works as a synonym. Substitute the word “conversation” for  “market” and this fact becomes clear. The bookselling conversation and the bookselling market are the same. Second, conversations are the fundamental connections human beings make with each other. We may love or hate one another, but unless we’re in conversation, not much happens between us. Societies grow around conversations. That includes the business societies we call markets…

About the Web as a marketplace:

Today the Web remains an extraordinarily useful way to publish, archive, research and connect all kinds of information. No medium better serves curious or inventive minds.

While commerce may not have been the first priority of the Web’s prime movers, their medium has quickly proven to be the most commercial medium ever created. It invites every business in the Yellow Pages either to sell on the Web or to support their existing business by using the Web to publish useful information and invite dialog with customers and other involved parties. In fact, by serving as both an ultimate yellow page directory and an endless spread of real estate for stores and businesses, the Web demonstrates extreme synergy between the publishing and retailing metaphors, along with their underlying conceptual systems.

So, in simple terms, the Web efficiently serves two fundamental human needs:

1.    The need to know; and
2.    The need to buy.

While it also serves as a fine way to ship messages to eyeballs, we should pause to observe that the message market is a conversation that takes place entirely on the supply side of TV’s shipping system. In the advertising market, media sell space or time to companies that advertise. Not to consumers. The consumers get messages for free, whether they want them or not.

What happens when consumers can speak back — not just to the media, but to the companies who pay for the media? In the past we never faced that question. Now we do. And the Web will answer with a new division of labor between advertising and the rest of commerce. That division will further expose the limits of both the advertising and entertainment metaphors.

On Sales vs. Advertsing, and how the Web does more for the former than the latter:

“Advertising is what you do when you can’t go see somebody. That’s all  it is.” — Fairfax Cone

Fairfax “Fax” Cone founded one of the world’s top advertising agencies, Foote, Cone & Belding, and ran it for forty years. A no-nonsense guy from Chicago, Cone knew exactly what advertising was and wasn’t about. With this simple definition — what you do when you can’t go see somebody — he drew a clear line between advertising and sales. Today, thirty years after he retired, we can draw the same line between TV and the Web, and divide the labors accordingly.

On one side we have television, the best medium ever created for advertising. On the other side we have the Web, the best medium ever created for sales.

The Web, like the telephone, is a much better tool for sales than for promotion. It’s what you do when you can go see somebody: a way to inform customers and for them to inform you. The range of benefits is incalculable. You can learn from each other, confer in groups, have visually informed phone conversations, or sell directly with no sales people at all.

In other words, you can do business. All kinds of business. As with the phone, it’s hard to imagine any business you can’t do, or can’t help do, with the Web.

So we have a choice. See or be seen: see with the Web, or be seen on TV. Talk with people or talk at them. Converse with them, or send them messages.

Once we divide these labors, advertising on the Web will make no more sense than advertising on the phone does today. It will be just as unwelcome, just as intrusive, just as rude and just as useless.

The Web will call forth — from both vendors and customers — a new kind of marketing: one that seeks to enlarge the conversations we call business, not to assault potential customers with messages they don’t want. This will expose Web advertising — and most other advertising — as the spam it is, and invite the development of something that serves supply without insulting demand, and establishes market conversations equally needed by both.

This new marketing conversation will embrace what Rob McDaniel  calls a “divine awful truth”  — a truth whose veracity is exceeded only by its deniability. When that truth becomes clear, we will recognize most advertising as an ugly art form  that only dumb funding can justify, and damn it for the sin of unwelcome supply in the absence of demand.

That truth is this: There is no demand for messages. And there never was.

In fact, most advertising has negative demand, especially on TV. It actually subtracts value. To get an idea just how negative TV advertising is, imagine what would happen if the mute buttons on remote controls delivered we-don’t-want-to-hear-this messages back to advertisers. When that feedback finally gets through, the $180+ billion/year advertising market will fall like a bad soufflé.

It will fall because the Web will bring two developments advertising has never seen before, and has always feared:  1) direct feedback; and 2) accountability. These will expose another divine awful truth: most advertising doesn’t work.

In the safety of absent alternatives, advertising people have always admitted as much. There’s an old expression in the business that goes, “I know half my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.” (And let’s face it, “half” is exceedingly generous.)

With the Web, you can know. Add the Web to TV, and you can measure waste on the tube too.

Use the Web wisely, and you don’t have to settle for any waste at all.

About advertising’s fatal flaw:

Television is two businesses: 1) an entertainment delivery service; and 2) an advertising delivery service. They involve two very different conversations. The first is huge and includes everybody. The second is narrow and only includes advertisers and broadcasters.

TV’s entertainment producers are program sources such as production companies, network entertainment divisions, and the programming sides of TV stations. These are also the vendors of the programs they produce. Their customers and distributors are the networks and TV stations, who give away the product for free to their consumers, the viewers.

In TV’s advertising business, the advertising is produced by the advertisers themselves, or by their agencies. But in this market conversation, advertisers paly the customer role. They buy time from the networks and the stations, which serve as both vendors and distributors. Again, viewers consume the product for free.

In the past, the difference between these conversations didn’t matter much, because consumers were not part of TV’s money-for-goods market conversation.  Instead, consumers were part of the conversation around the product TV gives away: programming.

In the economics of television, however, programming is just bait. It’s very attractive bait, of course; but it’s on the cost side of the balance sheet, not the revenue side. TV’s $45+ billion revenues come from advertising, not programming. And the sources of programming make most of their money from their customers: networks, syndicators and stations. Not from viewers.

Broadcasters, however, are accustomed to believing that their audience is deeply involved in their business, and often speak of demographics (e.g. men 25-54) as “markets.” But there is no market conversation here, because the relationship — such as it is — is restricted to terms set by what the supply side requires, which are ratings numbers and impersonal information such as demographic breakouts and lifestyle characterizations. This may be useful information, but it lacks the authenticity of real market demand, expressed in hard cash. In fact, very few viewers are engaged in conversations with the stations and networks they watch. It’s a one-way, one-to-many distribution system. TV’s consumers are important only in aggregate, not as individuals. They are many, not one. And, as Reese Jones told us earlier, there is no such thing as a many-to-one conversation. At best there is only a perception of one. Big difference.

So, without a cash voice, audience members can only consume. Their role is to take the bait. If the advertisements work, of course, they’ll take the hook as well. But the advertising business is still a conversation that does not include its consumers..

So we get supply without demand, which isn’t a bad definition of advertising.

Now let’s look at the Web.

Here, the customer and consumer are the same. He or she can buy the advertisers’ goods directly from the advertiser, and enjoy two-way one-to-one market conversations that don’t involve the intervention either of TV as a medium or of one-way messages intended as bait. He or she can also buy entertainment directly from program sources, which in this relationship vend as well as produce. The distribution role of TV stations and networks is unnecessary, or at least peripheral. In other words, the Web disintermediates TV, plus other media.

So the real threat to TV isn’t just that the Web makes advertising accountable. It’s that it makes business more efficient. In fact the Web serves as both a medium for business and as a necessary accessory to it, much like the telephone. No medium since the telephone does a better job of getting vendors and customers together, and of fostering the word-of-mouth that even advertisers admit is the best advertising.

The Web is an unprecedented clue-exchange system. And when companies get enough clues about how poorly their advertising actually works, they’ll drop it like a bad transmission, or change it so much we can’t call it advertising any more.

We may have a blood bath. Killing ad budgets is a snap. Advertising is protected by no government agencies, and encouraged by no tax incentives. It’s just an expense, a line item, overhead. You can waste it with a phone call and almost nobody will get fired, aside from a few marketing communications (“marcom”) types and their expensive ad agencies.

About TV’s fatal flaw:

Few would argue that TV is a good thing. Hand-wringing over TV’s awfulness is a huge nonbusiness. TV Free America counts four thousand studies of TV’s effects on children. The TVFA also says 49% of Americans think they watch too much TV, and 73% of American parents think they should limit their kid’s TV watching.

And, as the tobacco industry will tell you, smoking is an “adult custom” and “a simple matter of personal choice.”

Then let’s admit it: TV is a drug. So why do we take it when we clearly know it’s bad for our brains?

Six reasons: 1) because it’s free; 2) because it’s everywhere; 3) because it’s narcotic; 4) because we enjoy it; 5) because it’s the one thing we can all talk about without getting too personal; and 6) because it’s been with us for half a century.

Television isn’t just part of our culture; it is our culture. As Howard Beale tells his audience, “You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube.” And we do business like the tube, too. It’s standard.

Howard Beale had it right: television is a tube. Let’s look at it one more time, from our point of view.

What we see is a one-way freight forwarding system, from producers to consumers. Networks and stations “put out,” “send out” and “deliver” programs through “channels” on “signals” that an “audience” of “viewers” “receive,” or “get” through this “tube.” We “consume” those products by “watching” them, often intending to “vege out” in the process.

Note that this activity is bovine at best, vegetative at worst and narcotic in any case. To put it mildly, there is no room in this metaphor for interactivity. And let’s face it, when most people watch TV, the only thing they want to interact with is the refrigerator.

Metaphorically speaking, it doesn’t matter that TV contains plenty of engaging and stimulating content, any more than it matters that life in many ways isn’t a journey. TV is a tube. It goes from them to us. We just sit here and consume it like fish in a tank, staring at glass.

Of course we’re not really like that. We’re conscious when we watch TV.

Well, of course we are. So are lots of people. But that’s not how the concept works, and its not what the system values. TV’s delivery-system metaphors reduce viewing to an effect — a noise at the end of the trough. And they reduce programming to container cargo. “Content,” for example, is a tubular noun that comes straight out of the TV conversation. What retailers would demean their goods with such a value-subtracting label?   Does Macy’s sell “content?” With TV, the label is accurate. The product is value-free, since consumers don’t pay a damn thing for it.

There is a positive side to the entertainment conversation, of course. Writers, producers, directors and stars all put out “shows” to entertain an “audience.” Here the underlying metaphor is theater. By this conceptual metaphor, TV is a stage.  But the negotiable market value of this conversation is provided entirely by its customers: the TV stations and networks. The audience, however, pays nothing for the product. Its customers use it as advertising bait. This isolates the show-biz conversation and its value. You might say that TV actually subtracts value from its own product, by giving it away.

And, the story of TV’s death foretold:

In the long run (which may not be very long), the Web conversation will win for the simple reason that it supports and nurtures direct conversations, and therefore grows business at a much faster rate. It also has conceptual metaphors that do a better job of supporting commerce.

Drugs have their uses. But it’s better to bet on the nurtured market than on the drugged one.

Trees don’t grow to the sky. TV’s $45 billion business may be the biggest redwood in the advertising forest, but in a few more years we’ll be counting its rings. “Propaganda ends where dialog begins,” Jacques Ellul says.

The Web is about dialog. The fact that it supports entertainment, and does a great job of it, does nothing to change that fact. What the Web brings to the entertainment business (and every business), for the first time, is dialog like nobody has ever seen before. Now everybody can get into the entertainment conversation. Or the conversations that comprise any other market you can name. Embracing that is the safest bet in the world. Betting on the old illusion machine, however popular it may be at the moment, is risky to say the least…

TV is just chewing gum for the eyes. — Fred Allen

This may look like a long shot, but I’m going to bet that the first fifty years of TV will be the only fifty years. We’ll look back on it the way we now look back on radio’s golden age. It was something communal and friendly that brought the family together. It was a way we could be silent together. Something of complete unimportance we could all talk about.

And, to be fair, TV has always had a very high quantity of Good Stuff. But it also had a much higher quantity of drugs. Fred Allen was being kind when he called it “chewing gum for the eyes.” It was much worse. It made us stupid. It started us on real drugs like cannabis and cocaine. It taught us that guns solve problems and that violence is ordinary. It disconnected us from our families and communities and plugged us into a system that treated us as a product to be fattened and led around blind, like cattle.

Convergence between the Web and TV is inevitable. But it will happen on the terms of the metaphors that make sense of it, such as publishing and retailing. There is plenty of room in these metaphors — especially retailing — for ordering and shipping entertainment freight. The Web is a perfect way to enable the direct-demand market for video goods that the television industry was never equipped to provide, because it could never embrace the concept. They were in the eyeballs-for-advertisers business. Their job was to give away entertainment, not to charge for it.

So what will we get? Gum on the computer screen, or choice on the tube?

It’ll be no contest, especially when the form starts funding itself.

Bet on Web/TV, not TV/Web.

Looking back on all that, I wince at how hyperbolic some of it was (like, there really is some demand for some messages), but I’m still pleased with what I got right, which is that the Web eats TV. Which brings me to the precipitating post, YouTube is Huge and About to Get Even Bigger, by Jennifer Van Grove in Mashable. Sez Jennifer,

According to YouTube, the hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute has been growing astronomically since mid-2007, when it was just a measly six hours per minute. Then, in “January of this year, it became 15 hours of video uploaded every minute, the equivalent of Hollywood releasing over 86,000 new full-length movies into theaters each week.”

Now, just a few months later and we’ve hit the 20 hour per minute milestone, which means that for every second in time about 33 minutes of video make it to YouTube, and that for any given day 28,800 hours of video are uploaded in total…

Even though YouTube (YouTube reviews) is seeing such massive upload numbers, and we think that speaks to the strength of their community, they still have monetization challenges that are only exacerbated by the rising bandwidth costs required to support such an enormous load. Bandwidth costs are already proving to be the bane of YouTube’s existence, possibly resulting in $470 million in loses for this year alone.

So while YouTube’s outwardly celebrating that we’re dumping 20 hours of video on their servers every minute, we think they should count their blessings with a little more realism since, based on previous patterns, this number, along with bandwidth costs, will only continue to rise.

“Rise” is too weak a verb. What we have here is something of an artesian flood, a continent of blooming volcanoes.

In the old top-down world of broadcasting, all we had were a few thousand big transmitters, each with limited reach, stretched and widened by cable and satellite TV. (Remember that what we call “cable” began as CATV: Community Antenna TeleVision.) It is over these legacy systems, plus the upgraded phone system, that most of us are connected to the Internet today.

In the legacy TV world, transmitters are obsolete to the verge of pointlessness. So are “channels.” So are the “networks” that are now just distributors for TV shows. All that matters is “content,” as they say. And that’s moving online, huge-time.

Tomorrow’s shows  won’t be coming only from big-time program producers.  We’ll be getting them from each other as well. We already see that with YouTube, but in relatively low-def resolutions. Still, it’s a start. At the end of the next growth stage we’ll be producing out own damn shows, and at resolutions higher than cable can bear. So will the incumbent producers, of course, but they won’t be taking the lead in pushing for wider bandwidth. That’s an easy call because they’re not taking the lead right now, and they should be. Instead they’ve left it up to us: the “viewers” who are now becoming producers and reproducers.

Already you can get a camcorder that will shoot 1080p video for well under a $grand. That’s more resolution than you’ll get from cable or satellite, with a few pay-per-view exceptions. Combine the sphinctered nature of cable and satellite TV bandwidth with the carriers’ need to compete by carrying more and more channels, and what you get is stuff that’s “HD” in name only. While the resolution might be 720p or 1080i, the amount of actual data carried on each channel is minimal or worse, resulting in skies that look plaid and skin that looks damaged. All of whch means that the best thing you can see — today — on your new 1080p screen comes from your new 1080p camcorder. (Unless you pay bux deluxe for a Blu-Ray player, which not many of us are doing.) So: how long before ordinary folks are producing their own high-def movies, in large numbers? How long before that pounds out the walls of pipes all over the place?

Even if that takes awhile, we have to face facts. We’re going to need the bandwidth. Storage and processing we’ve got covered, because that’s at the edges, where there’s not much standing in the way of growth and enterprise. In the middle we’ve got a world wide bandwidth challenge.

The phone and cable companies can’t give it to us — at least not the way they’re currently set up. Even the best of the carrier breed — Verizon FiOS, which I’m using right now, and appreciating a great deal — is set up as a top-grade cable TV system that also delivers Internet. Not as a fat data pipe between any two points, which is what we’ll need.

Pause for a moment and recall this scene from the movie “Jaws”. “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” Roy Scheider says.

TV on the Net is the shark in this story. The Quinn role is being played by the carriers right now. They need to be smarter than what we’ve seen so far. So do the rest of us.

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chicago_skyline

Just posted this series of shots taken while flying into Chicago at dawn in early April

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Pano of Harvard Yard

We are severely into Pano. It’s an amazing free (woops, $2.99) app for the iPhone that lets you take panoramic shots — first by helping you line up one shot after another, and second by stitching them together remarkably well. The above is the first of two shot at Harvard’s Old Yard. I made small mistakes on both, but so what. They’re a load of fun, and not bad, considering.

Check these out.

Jan Lewis gave me my first solo work in Silicon Valley: writing stuff for her monthly newsletter. This was in the fall of 1985. Jan was an industry analyst at the time, with a solo practice. I met her at Comdex, where she was offering free foot massages to weary conventioneers in a suite on the top floor of the space-themed Landmark Hotel, which has since been replaced by a parking lot.

Jan was sharp and funny and appreciative of good writing, which was about all I had to offer back then. I helped her on the side while I prospected for my North Carolina based advertising agency, which was brand new in the Valley and looking for action.

We got plenty of action not long after that, and Jan moved on to other things, including her original passion, which was music. She was a vocalist and poly-instrumentalist with a number of bands. It was Jan who turned me on to KFAT, KHIP and KPIG, which were (and are) serial incarnations of the same crew, and the same mutant approach to music that one jock at KPIG called “mutant cowboy rock & roll.”

Anyway, Jan has a fun YouTube video up. It’s called Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Bankers. Fun stuff. (And love the hat.)

Bonus Link: Jan with the Remington Riders, performing I’m a YouTube Junkie. Dig it. In fact, dig all the Remington Riders’ pieces on YouTube.

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A tip of the asshat

I’m trying not to blog. I really am. Everything I’ve blogged today is finished leftovers or mooshed-together debris thrown off by Actual Work. But not this post here. This is one I have to put up because I can’t help pointing to this post by Chris Locke — cuz it’s good and it made me laugh. Best line:

“Hobgoblins are the consistency of silly putty.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yeah, Chris had some nice things to say about me in there too. But Chris does not kiss ass. But he might make you laugh yours off.

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First, a big thanks to all the folks at Yahoo who ran down and helped fix the problem behind the post below. Turns out I had two IDs, one for Yahoo and one for Flickr, and that the two were never joined, or merged, or whatever it is. They still aren’t, but it’s cool. The only one I care about (at least at this point) is the Flickr one. I still don’t understand what went wrong, exactly, but at least now I know for sure what the logins and passwords are, for both accounts.

So I just celebrated by uploading some shots of the Channel Islands, which I took two days ago, en route from LAX to SFO. I have a huge backlog of shots to upload, but I’m too busy these days to keep up. But this is a nice batch, and labeling and tagging everything didn’t take too long.

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Looking forward to Media Logging across many devices and media types. Thinking about this while digging KKFI out of Kansas City. Currently I’m listening over my laptop, but I just added it to my favorites on the WunderRadio tuner (found it by a search there). Other faves are Radio Paradise, KPIG (which is playing the excellent”Lord, Don’t Move That Mountain” by Angela Strehli), KGSR (playing David Bowie’s Fame), WBJB, WERS, WBGO, Cruisin’ Oldies, WUMB, WMBR, KRCL, KUAT, KVMR, Whole Wheat Radio, Missing are WBCR-lp (from Great Barrington, deep in the Berkshires, currently playing the Dead’s Tennessee Jed) and Power106 from Jamaica. Still, a pretty amazing list.

Also digging the tweeter nowplayingon. Is he or she using the Yes thingie to get those 21,525 updates, so far? Not sure.

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garanti-obamaStephen Lewis has an excellent post from Istanbul on the occasion of President Obama’s visit to Turkey, which was completed this morning.

Steve explains, “Yes, that’s Garanti with an ‘i’ and not a double-’e', as in Garanti Bank, one of the largest banks in Turkey.  For the last two months Garanti Bank has mounted these advertisements on billboards throughout Istanbul — with text offering low interest loans set below an image looking convincingly like Barak Obama and printed in a very Islamic green.  Actually, the face is that of a local actor and Obama look-alike.  The choice of an Obama-like image for the ads might imply a guarantee of stability in a time of instability and a recognition of vox populi rather than the very real and desperate need of the US economy for low-interest capital.”

More of Steve’s thoughtful postings at his alterblog, Hak Pak Sak.

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We were driving somewhere the other day when the kid asked if he could play around with the iPhone for awhile. Among the podcasts I subscribe to is The Best of YouTube — although, as with most of the too-many podcasts I subscribe to, I hardly ever watch it.

I wasn’t paying much attention to what the kid was doing until I heard the unmistakable sound of a country farmer from piedmont North Carolina. My kid was mostly amazed that this farmer could do with a sling-shot what most people can’t do with a rifle: hit nearly anything, whether it was moving or holding still. I was just trying to guess where this guy was from. The announcer was from somewhere in the region, I figured. Probably Greensboro. But the farmer had to be from somewhere, maybe, south of there.

I had the kid re-play the piece, called “Sling Shot Man” (that’s on Best of YouTube; on YouTube itself the full title starts with “Carolina Camera:”). Turns out the farmer lives “past a one-lane bridge on a dirt road south of Asheboro”. In Greensboro — at least when I went to college there in the ’60s — that town was pronounced, (as by this feature’s announcer), “Ashburra”. Locally it was “Aishburra”. Announcers suppressing their local accents would say “Grainssburra”, with elongated s’s and r’s. Otherwise they’d just say “Grainsbura”.

Which leads me to Bob Oakes, the morning host on WBUR here in Boston. The way he pronounces his surname “aOkes” (with a tiny long a in front) and calls NPR’s early show “Mo-ar-ning Edition” sounds Southern to me. According to his bio at that last link, Bob has been around New England for quite a while. But I’m willing to bet he’s from pretty far south of here. I’ll write to him and ask. (Hi, Bob!)

By the way, NPR’s Karl Kassell is from Goldsboro, though you’d never know from hearing him talk.

Oh, and you can hear (and see) a much younger me talk in piedmont dialect on this YouTube video here.

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A capella wonderful

Whatever else you’re doing, tune right now to WERS. If you’re not in Boston, here’s the online stream. The show is All Acapella, and it’s freaking amazing. There is so much outstanding a capella music being made right now, by college students alone. Stevie Wonder’s “As” is playing now, sung by the Stanford University Everyday People. Before that was “Some Kind Of Wonderful” by UMass Amherst Doo Wop Shop. Just great, great music and performances that are flat-out astonishing. Talk about good Web integration: here’s the current playlist

What’s On Now

Current Show: All A Cappella
Most Recent Songs: (View Full Playlist)
4:05 pm “As” by Stanford University Everyday People
CARA 2000
4:03 pm “Some Kind Of Wonderful” by UMass Amherst Doo Wop Shop
Black Friday
3:58 pm “Every LittleThing She Does Is Magic” by Washington University Mosaic Whispers
Defrosted
3:55 pm “Elenor Rigby” by Tonic Sol Fa
Style

And that’s on top of a Backwoods show I heard this morning on WMBR. Not much Web integration, but still a great station.

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As seen off TV

Check out this video. I make a damn fool of myself about halfway into the thing.

Digging KGSR

Until I hit SCAN on the little radio I carry with me on trips, I had forgotten how much I enjoyed KGSR/107.1 the last time I was here at SXSW. They’ve added some power since then (up from 39kw to 49kw), but their stream still plays hard-to-get. There appears to be no .mp3 stream coming from the station (so forget using it on iPhones*), and one can only listen live in the browser, with a pop-up window that doesn’t work (at least for me).

They do note that they are in “HD”, which is audible only on a few expensive radios that almost nobody has, since the radio industry decided that HD needed to be a proprietary play, coming to the world only by grace of a company called Ibiquity. I could get started, but it’s not worth it. (Go here and click on “buy a radio” and see what happens.)

Anyway, if you’re in town, give it a spin. As I said three years ago here, great radio lives.

*[Later...] Thanks to Rod K, I am now listening to KGSR on my iPhone. WunderGround Radio did cost $5.99, and it took me awhile to find where in the app’s vast directory tree the radio listings were stored, but once I got there I was very impressed. And quite surprised that one can listen to a Windows Media stream. I sit corrected on that.

I still wish KGSR also had an .mp3 stream, but it’s still good to be able to hear them in any case.

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So I shot a bunch of pictures of Niagara Falls from 35,000 above, on a trip last week from San Francisco to Boston. Click on the pic for the whole set.

Interesting to think that the falls are only about ten thousand years old. A blink in geologic time.

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Flying out of SFO yesterday morning, I had a great seat for shooting: on the left side of the plane, away from the sun, facing The City on departure. I got several hundred shots crossing the country, more of which will go up on Flickr over time. Meanwhile, I’ve uploaded a set of San Francisco alone. Here ya go.

So our Verizon FiOS home bill has been about $160/month. We were looking to chop that down a bit when I called Verizon this morning.

To put it as simply as possible, it’s complicated.

What I care about most is keeping the 20/20Mbps down/up Internet service. That’s $69.99/mo.

What I don’t care about is POTS, or Plain Old Telephone Service. So I canceled that. We use cell phones, and we’ll find another way to fax, as rarely as we do that.

That leaves TV.

What we still call TV isn’t what it used to be: channels on a dial. They are digital program sources that are organized by “channels”, but that’s a legacy convenience. A few are available over the air, as DTV signals. Those are…

  • WGBH-DT (still called Channel 2, actually on Channel 19). It also has an SD (standard definition) version. These are called 2-1 and 2-2, or WGBG-DT1 and WGBH-DT2. Affiliated with PBS.
  • WBZ-DT (still called Channel 4, actually on Channel 30). Affiliated with CBS.
  • WCVB-DT (Still called Channel 5, actually on Channel 20). Affliiated with ABC.
  • WHDH-HD (still called Channel 7, actually on Channel 40). Also called 7-1, It has a second channel on 7-2 called This TV. It’s SD. Affiliated with NBC.
  • WFXT-DT (still called 25, actually on Channel 31). Affiliated with Fox.
  • WSBK-DT (still called 38, actually on Channel 39). Independent. Owned by CBS.
  • WGBX-DT (still called 44, actually on Channel 43). Four SD channels, labeled 44-1 through 44-2. Called WGBX, World, Create and Kids. Affiliated with PBS.
  • WYDN-DT (still called 48, actually on Channel 47) with a directional signal). The picture is SD. Affiliated with Daystar. Evangelical Christian.
  • WLVI-DT (still called 56, actually on Channel 42 with a directional signal). Affiliated with CW.
  • WMFP-DT (still called 62, actually on Channel 18 with a directional signal). Labeled 61-1 and 62-2. The second is currently dark. Affiliated with Gems TV. Home shopping.
  • WBPX (still called 68, actually on Channel 32, with a directional signal). It’s four channels in one, all SD: WBPX Digital Television, Qubo, Eye on Life and Worship. Identified on the tuner as 68-1, 2, 3 and 4. Affiliated with ION Television.

For what it’s worth, I get all those on my laptop with a little adapter. Meaning that I don’t need cable for them. They’re free. They cost $0.00.

Okay, so Verizon offers two channel lineups in our region: Essentials for $47.99/mo. and Extreme HD for… I can’t find it now. $57.99/mo, I think. Essentials has the about same minimun channel line-up I get for free over the air. Extreme HD has what you want if you watch in HD: all the main cable and sports non-premium channels. Add DVR rental (for which one has no choice) for $12.99 and I’m at $140 or so, if I want the Extreme HD.

TV now is an HD deal. If you want TV, you want HD, because that’s the new screen you’ve got, even if you’re watching on a laptop.

The problem is, HDTV costs you. Unless you want the minimal legacy lineup of local over the air channels.

Anyway, here’s what I want: a la carte. Across the board. I’m glad to do Pay Per View for everything.

And right now I’m thinking hard about cancelling the Extreme HD I just ordered. We like the sports and the movies, but we can go to a bar for the former and get the rest from Netflix or something.

Meanwhile, kudos to Verizon for providing fiber, and the 20/20 connection. Here’s another message: I’d gladly pay more for even more speed. Especially upstream.

[Later...] Now I’m looking at the Verizon Massachusetts channel lineup and it seems like the only thing extra I get with Extreme HD is some sports channels. Is that right? Sports-wise, all I care about are NESN, ESPN, TNT and other Usual Suspects.

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Window blobs

Form the inside of a de-iced plane, it looks like they poured clear syrup all over it. Or so I was reminded when waiting to take off from O’Hare on Saturday night after a snowstorm. What I found, when I tried to shoot pictures through this rippled ooze, was some fun photographic effects. The shot above is one example among many.

Lights outside were optically exploded into large spongy-looking blobs that resembled models of the universe, cooled meteorites, series of vertebrae, asteroids from old video games…

Anyway, I shot a lot of them.

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The Bank of America and Sun Trust buildings, both called \

Last week I got some nice aerial photos of Atlanta and its surroundings, shooting from a restaurant rather than a plane. Most of the ones in the set above were taken from the revolving Sun Dial restaurant atop the 73-story Westin Peachtree hotel where I stayed. Some were taken from my room on the 54th floor. Above are the Bank of America and Sun Trust buildings, both called “Plazas” — as is the Westin Peachtree, atop which I took this shot.

Here are some shots of a storm as well, shot from a suite on the 67th floor. One sample:

On the left is 191 Peachtree. On the right is the Georgia Pacific building. While there I marveled at the storm coverage on TV. I might put up some of that later.

There was a tornado warning in the midst of all that. This mattered to our hotel, because one last March hit the hotel directly and took out many windows — though no occupants.

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Manual transmission

Here at the IMA convention, the band just played. Just two songs. First was an excellent Foggy Mountain Breakdown, followed by an equally excellent vocal (familiar, but don’t know the title), featuring Yvonne. She and the other three members, all on acoustic instruments, are here. Anyway, check ‘em out. They’re outstanding.

It’s not like this in Atlanta, but it was like this in Boston a few days ago. So, another photo set of ice on storm windows.

And another.

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Gotcha!

Barack Snowbama.

Another.

Via JY.

Reading David Armano from Marcus Brown.

Wicked, but funny.

Wish I could embed videos here, but I haven’t mastered that yet.

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Yes

This review was helpful to me.

Hat tip.

Updike at rest

John Updike was a writer of astonishing gifts, discipline and scope. The sum of his work — novels, essays, poetry, criticism — is enormous. Besides his sixty-one books (including 23 novels), for more han half a century he was a reliably frequent byline in The New Yorker. Sourcing the magazine, USA today says Updike contributed “862 pieces, including 154 poems, 170 short stories and 327 book reviews.” His latest book, The Widows of Eastwick, came out last October in hardcover and still graces tables by the front doors of bookstores. I’ve picked it up and read parts of it several times, declining to buy it because I’d rather read its prequel, The Witches of Eastwick, first. I’ll guess I’ve read at least half of his novels, but neither of those two.

I picked Widows up again last night while paying a visit to Kepler’s Bookstore with JP Rangaswami (a book lover of the first water) and Martin Geddes. As usual with books in stores, I opened to several sections at random, just to sample the writing. And, as always with Updike, I could hardly stop, no matter where I turned. His descriptive precision, the forward motion of his dialogue, the troubled yet charming depth of his characters — blew my mind, and made me grateful that he was with us so long. And yet I’m also pissed that he’s gone at just seventy-six years old, and in apparent full vitality before a lung cancer diagnosis in November.

He died in a hospice, not far from where we live in Massacusetts. Both these facts bothered me. A hospice is so anticlimactic, so plotless. (Did he write in those last two months? Did he record his thoughts in full knowledge that he was due to expire soon? He must have. I cannot believe otherwise. He wrote too well and long about death.) And I had always wanted to meet him.

How odd that lung cancer is what got him. The assumption, naturally, is that he was a lifelong smoker, like so many in his generation, especially writers. The picture in his Wikipedia entry, from 1955, when he was twenty-three years old, shows a skinny kid with a thoughtful expression, sitting on a bench, a burned-down cigarette between the fingers of his left hand. In Self Consciousness, a memoir published in 1989, he recalls with amazement that he had been a smoker as a young man, and how he barely remembered what that was like.

And yet he could describe anything, regardless of whether not he had experienced it first-hand. In The Coup and Brazil, he inhabited the minds of casually murderous protagonists utterly unlike himself — or most readers — with a veracity bright as daylight.

Most of Updike’s characters had strong libidos, or so it seems in retrospect. Of all his sexual passages, one line stands out: “Masturbation! Thou saving grace note upon the baffled chord of self.” From A Month of Sundays. (I got that quote here. I remembered it as “… thou grace note on the tortured chord of self.” Not sure which is right.)

The depth of his understanding probed constantly and sometimes creepily toward the absolute. Look at the opening of The Widows of Eastwick. The first paragraph ends with “Wicked methods make weak products. Satan counterfeits creation, yes, but with inferior goods.” And then continues, “Alexandra, the oldest in age, the broadest in body, and the nearest in character to normal, generous-spirited humanity, was the first to become a widow. Her instinct, as with so many a wife suddenly liberated into solitude, was to travel — as if the world at large, by way of flimsy boarding cards and tedious airport delays and the faint but undeniable risk of flight in a time of rising fuel costs, airline bankruptcy, suicidal terrorists, and accumulating metal fatigue, could be compelled to yield the fruitful aggravation of having a mate.”

Strunk and White advise us to put the emphatic words at the ends of sentences, and to make “every word tell.”

Goods. Mate.

Omit needless words, they also advise. “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

Ah, but Shakespeare was no hack, and Rembrandt was no cartoonist. If the machine does complex work, you build a complex machine. Updike, trained originally as an artist, did that. His books, his stories, his paragraphs, were all machines of precision and force. And yet they were not machines. They were, and remain, living things.

I only have two literary heroes, both Johns. Updike is one. McPhee is another. Both are, or were, about the same age. And fixtures at The New Yorker. I hope to read the rest of both before I rest myself. I’ve read eighteen of McPhee’s twenty-nine books, including all the most recent ten.

As with Updike, I read McPhee partly for the joy of running great writing through my mind, and partly because I always feel improved and enlarged by it.

It’s a small thing, but I still hold a small hope of one day meeting McPhee. Meeting Updike will have to wait, hopefully for as long as possible.

Here’s a collection of brief posts about Updike by other writers, at The New Yorker. Great stuff.

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Comment du jour

I dunno if this is a spam or not, but I got a chuckle out of it, so I let it fly.

Quotes du jour

“If you just want to write and not re-write, blog.” That was uttered by Anne Thompson, deputy editor of Variety, moderating a panel of screenwriters at the . Another: “What’s the point of living but to love one another?” That’s from Andrew Stanton, who wrote Wall-E. Both quotes from a report by George, who was there. By dark coincidence, Anne has been laid off. Will she continue to blog at Variety? What will happen to her blog archives there? Just wondering.

Filling out this

yielded this:

Barack Obama’s Inauguration Speech
My fellow Americans, today is a fibrous day. You have shown the world that “hope” is not just another word for “chair”, and that “change” is not only something we can believe in again, but something we can actually annihilate.

Today we celebrate, but let there be no mistake – America faces unavoidable and level challenges like never before. Our economy is spiffy. Americans can barely afford their mortgages, let alone have enough money left over for monsters. Our healthcare system is plapulous. If your ulvula is sick and you don’t have insurance, you might as well call a sheet-metal worker. And America’s image overseas is tarnished like a trocar newspaper. But pressing together we can right this ship, and set a course for Kansas.

Finally, I must thank my sideways family, my flatulent campaign volunteers, but most of all, I want to thank munchkins for making this historic occasion possible. Of course, I must also thank you, President Bush, for years of drooling the American people. Without your flaccid efforts, none of this would have been possible.

Post your brilliant speech in our community message forum and it might get featured on Atom.com.

Your flappage may vary.

Hat tip to Adriana Lukas.

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Peelings

The Onion on the Inauguration:

Funny shit.

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I don’t have a sweet tooth. Most candies don’t tempt me unless I’m very hungry, and then I know I won’t be satisfied anyway.

My weakness is spice. Petty much anything with black pepper, chili, garlic and stuff like that… love it.

But every once in awhile a candy comes along that I can’t get enough of. Such is the case with Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Almonds. Made with Belgian chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt and turbinado sugar, the label explains.

I’m on my third box of the things in less than two weeks, which is pretty fast for me, as candy goes.

Turns out there are reviews out there. Candyblog gives the nuts a mixed review:

  They smell woodsy, a little astringent. I expected them to be messy like the cocoa rolled version of chocolate covered nuts, but these were mercifully neat, only bearing a scuffed appearance but not powdery residue.

  Without the waxy glaze on the outside, the flavor and melt of the chocolate was readily accessible — and the chocolate was tasty and smooth.

  The deep crunch of the nuts were balanced with the high pitched staccato interruptions of the salt and sugar crystals. Not knowing if that little nugget was going to be sweet or salty was kind of fun. But some nuts were extremely salty, to the point where the neighbors and I made faces from time to time. But it wasn’t so bad that we didn’t keep eating them.

  I think I’ll probably stick to the plain ones from now on, the Russian Roulette is just to stressful, or if I need an additional salty pop, I’ll go for Sconza’s Toffee Almonds.

ChocolateRatings pans them. Definitely not a winner, it says.

Both complain that some of the nuts aren’t crunchy enough. I wonder if both critics got the same bad batch. All the ones I’ve had are plenty crunchy.

Anyway, I like ‘em.

Changes at Whitehouse.gov are the top item on Techmeme.

My tweets watching The Event:

Say Amen.
search isn’t working too well at http://whitehouse.gov
This may be the greatest speech ever given about the United States.
“We are willing to extend a hand if you will unclench your fist.” What is this form of homiletics called? “This, then that…”
“the lines of tribe will soon dissolve…” whoa.
“We reject as false the distinction between our safety and our ideals.” Another great one-liner.
“the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.” Well put. Hope it’s even partly true.
Wow. Check out http://whitehouse.gov. Change has come. Here’s the blog: http://tinyurl.com/6tdmhy
World’s greatest orator flubs the oath. O well. It’s cool. Roberts didn’t look like a teleprompter, I guess.
My attorney, to my right, says “It’s the end of an error.”
We’ll all remember where we were for this. The place is Together.
Those people have faith. Which he called “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” In this case, next 8 years.
The view up the mall… Stunning.

Not sure if that beats blogging it, but it sure was easier.

And I’m still glowing, three hours later.

[Later...] Apparently I topped the retweet radar list for a moment there. And Twitter itself peaked without pique.

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Eight years’ differences

In the Atlantic. Tweeted by Werner Vogels.

Good, tight story of what happened on . In the International Herald Tribune.

By the way, somewhere in this weekend’s Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor sings a delightful tribute to the crew of flight 1549. Heard it live yesterday. The show is running again today on many public stations. Public Radio Fan has times and stations. If you have an iPhone, catch it on your free Public Radio Tuner.

Speaking of which, our first planned VRM feature for the tuner is a “listen log”, to answer “What was that?” questions and to provide fun data that’s yours (not anybody else’s) to do with what you wish.

If you have other features you’d like, on this tuner or on future ones (not just on the iPhone — that’s just where you’ll see it first), let us know.

Becauses

JP Rangaswami: There’s a big Because Effect coming along in music. Artists are going to make more money because of music rather than with music, although they will continue to make money with music.

The path to that may just start here.

Stephen Lewis was wise to turn down the opportunity to participate in a Ponzi scheme in a time and place where the downside of failure was absolute. The lesson:

  Fast-forward a decade to 2005, Bulgaria is about to enter the European Union and bank and insurance moguls whose memories are the only remaining links to the identities of initial depositors and investors are being shot wholesale in gangland-style slayings. On a wintry Sunday, I join a friend for an early morning hike part-way around the base of Vitosha mountain, just outside of Sofia. At the town of Bistritsa we leave the hiking path in search of a restaurant serving tripe soup and grappa (shkembe chorba and rakiya to afficionados). As we enter Bistritsa we pass a neighborhood of immense homes worthy of present day Las Vegas or 1970s American television soap operas about the scandalous lives of California rich. On the gated entrance way of every third or fourth such mansion are posted Necrologs — paper fliers announcing or commemorating the deaths — of the home’s owner. Most of the deceased seem relatively young and few likely to have died from natural causes. My hiking companion, a retired journalist explains … some of the deceased are businessmen, some are gangland heavies and “narco-millionaires,” and others are “credit-millionaires” i.e people who had borrowed large sums of money from banks on behalf of others and made fortunes on commissions for doing so.

This is one in a series of thoughtful posts that combine Steve’s wide travels and deep cultural understands with his photography. While some are timely, all are timeless. Samples here, here, here and here.

So now my dream app is ready on the iPhone. It’s just the beginning of What It Will Be, but it’s highly useful. If you have an iPhone, go there and check it out. It’s free.

As you see here, I’m involved, through the Berkman Center, which is collaborating with , which is working under a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (). Major props go to the PRX developers, who have been working very very hard on this thing. Some of the most diligent heads-down programming I’ve seen.

An interesting thing. In the old days, when an app came out, in any form, on nearly any platform, there was this assumption that it was a Done Thing, and should be critiqued on those grounds. Not the case here. This is a work in progress, and the process is open. In the long run, we should see much more opened up as well.

Paranthetically, I think right now we’re looking at some cognitive dissonance between the Static Web and the Live Web, when the latter seems to look like the former. You have a website, or an app. These seem to be static things, even when they’re live. An app like the Public Radio Tuner is more of a live than a static thing. But it’s easy, as a user, to relate to it as a static thing. Because at any one time it does have more static qualities than live ones. Imagine a house you can remodel easily and often, and at low cost and inconvenience. That’s kind of what we have here. A cross between product and process — that looks the former even when it’s doing the latter. Anyway…

Though this grant is for an iTunes app, work is sure to go on to other platforms as well — such as Android. So, rather than criticize this app for coming out first on the iPhone, please provide feedback and guidance for next steps beyond this first effort (and join me in giving the developers a high five for delivering a functional app in a remarkably short time). And in the reviews section at iTunes, provide honest and constructive reviews. At this stage I’m sure they’ll be good. (Some of the bad reviews were on the very first version released, which has since been replaced.)

To VRM followers and community members, VRM is very much on the agenda, and we’re thinking and working hard on what the VRM pieces of this will be, and how they’ll work. This may be the first piece of work where VRM components appear, and we want to do them right. Also bear in mind that this is the first step on a long, interesting and fruitful path. Or many paths. Interest and guidance is welcome there too.

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Since I’m an aviation freak, I’m also a weather freak. I remember committing to getting my first color TV, back in the mid-70s, because I wanted to see color radar, which at that time was carried by only one TV station we could get from Chapel Hill: WFMY/Channel 2 in Greensboro. These days TV stations get their radar from elsewhere, and have mothballed their old radar facilities. (Here’s one mothballed TV radar tower, at the WLNE/Channel 6 transmitter, which is istself doomed to get mothballed after the nationwide February 17 switchover to digital TV — marking the end of TV’s Mainframe Era.)

Online I’ve been a devoted watcher of both Weather.com and Weather Underground. Both those last two links go to local (Cambridge, MA) maps. They’re good, but they don’t quite match Intellicast, source of the map above. Play around witht the pan & zoom, the animation and the rest of it. It’s a nice distraction from weather as ugly as we’re getting right now here: sleet and then rain atop enough snow to cancel school today,.

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That might be an overstatement, but it’s how we felt yesterday after four days of efforts to surmount canceled and delayed flights finallydelivered us back to Boston: our alt.home sweet home.

So we went out to breakfast at a new place for us: the plainly named Neighborhood Restaurant & Bakery, in Somerville.

My wife and I are both foodies of sorts (she more than I, since she has been in the restaurant biz and is an excellent cook), and we couldn’t remember a better breakfast place, anywhere. Sure, there are excellent spreads at four-star hotels, and some favorite places to chow down egg and pancake variants (the Cajun Kitchen and Shoreline Grill are two in Santa Barbara), but nothing better than the NR&B. Even Johnny D’s Jazz Brunch, also excellent, and also in Somerville.

My wife had a Portuguese special with perfectly cooked linguica (homemade? not sure. but outstanding), while I had an omelette also with linguica and other ingredients, plus crab and cod cakes, all outstanding. I’m an egg freak, and I like them soft. That means I like runny yolks in my fried and poached eggs, wet scrambles and omelettes that aren’t browned and hard. I looked around at other omelettes in being served in the tiny restaurant, and all of them were perfectly soft and un-browned. The kid had crepes crusted with something, and filled with large fresh strawberries and blackberries, among other things. It was perfect too.

They start you off, regardless, with fresh fruit or cream of wheat sprinkled with cinnamon. We opted for the latter. Great stuff. I even grabbed a few bites of the kid’s, which he didn’t finish, after it was cold. I called it “desert”. It was that good. I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice to say it’s worth the trip, even if you don’t live around here.

Nova or lens flare?

I’ve been shooting stars and planets the last few nights (see here and here), as the Moon passes by Mercury, Jupiter and Venus. It’s the kind of thing obsessives do, when they combine devotions to astronomy and photography. Anyway, I thought it would be fun to identify a few of the stars in the neighborhood Venus was visiting, when I found a star where none should be.

Take a look at the two photos above. The original one on the right is here. On that one I note names and other data for all the main stars in the shot other than the bright blue one near the middle. It’s not on any start chart I’ve consulted. Sooo… what is it?

My fantasy was a nova of some kind. But I doubt that’s it. Judging from the color alone, I’d say it’s a lens flare. Meanwhile it was fun doing detective work with The Kid.

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But is it food?

That was what my wife asked about a nice gift that was also comprised of an unfamiliar substance in a circular tin container that had arrived at the house recently. Our kid still described the contents’ appearance as “Silly Putty with nuts in it.”

Tasted better than that. Pretty good, actually.

Picture These

So I’m here in the Bolt Bus from Boston to New York. There’s wi-fi on board, and power outlets in the backs of most seats. But the wi-fi is slow, so I’m on a Sprint EvDO card. Getting about 1Mb down and .6Mb up. Not bad.

Anyway, I’ve recently uploaded a pile of photo sets to Flickr, where my inventory of photos is now approaching 26,000. Here is a list of just a few sets, mostly shot from airplanes and other moving vehicles:

Wow. It’s snowing now. Hard. We’re still in Connecticut, approaching the Westchester border. The Weather.com map is quite colorful:

Hm. Not taking. Guess I need a separate post for it.

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Stephen Lewis has made a decades-long study of both the charms and absurdities of national and ethnic legacies. His most recent essay on the matter, Apple’s iTunes, NPR, Barriers to Giving, and the “Appliancing” of National Boundaries, unpacks the growing distance between the ideals of the Internet and the realities of dysfunctional nationalisms, and the failures of the former to transcend the latter.
He begins by describing his frustrations at trying to obtain podcasts of This American Life while overseas:

As it does with its iPhone, Apple “appliances” its services to geopolitical strictures inherited from the pre-Internet age and to a jingoistic concept of national identity quite contrary to the expansive spirit of This American Life and to the “worldwide” as in Worldwide Web. Podcasts of This American Life are available for purchase and download via iTunes only from IP addresses within the boundaries of the United States. Also, even within the US, Apple does not accept for payment credit cards issued by overseas banks. Last, even when listeners from within the US attempts a purchase a credit card issued by a US bank, Apple will not sell them podcasts if their iTunes Stores accounts were originally registered from abroad.

By jigsawing its services to fit national boundaries, Apple fragments the efficacy and global scope of the internet and denies NPR broader listenership, international impact, and potential revenues. By outsourcing exclusive sales of podcasts of the This American Life to Apple’s iTunes Store, NPR denies the benefits and insights of listenership and the pleasure of contributing to the support of Public Radio to Americans living and working abroad, not to mention citizens of all other countries.

Meanwhile, you can hear This American Life for free over the Net on hundreds of streams from the U.S. based public radio stations to which NPR wholesales the program for the stations to sell to listeners (who contribute on a voluntary basis), making the restrictions even more strange. Steve continues:

The Internet — in its role as prime infrastructure for the formation of community and conveyance of the information, entertainment, knowledge and transactions — is intangible and without physical location.  However, the infrastructure that supports it is quite physical, an ad hoc non-purpose-built amalgam of fiber, copper, and wireless  strung together, enabled, and animated by protocols.  By resting on a “borrowed” infrastructure, the Internet has inherited the “gatekeepers” that own and control, charge for, and regulate these legacy elements – telecom operators and service providers, cable TV companies, governmental authorities, etc.).  Such organizations still carve up the world according geopolitical entities and borders defined between the late-eighteenth century and the mid-twentieth and gerrymander services and access accordingly.  Apparently, so does Apple.  Apple’s method of “appliancing” country-by-country reinforces anachronistic borders and undermines the potential of the internet to transcend past divisions.

Steve also spends a lot of time in Turkey, a country where his own blog (the one I’m quoting here) gets blocked along with every other blog bearing the .wordpress domain name. Lately YouTube and Blogger have also been blocked. (For more on who blocks what, visit the Open Internet Initiative.)

These sites and services are easy for governments to block because they’re clustered and silo’d. Yet on the Internet these clusters and silos, once big enough, take on the character of countries. In this New York Times piece, Tim Wu says. “To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king”. Talk about retro.

Steve continues,

This has turned Google, a private company with no accountability to any constituency, into a negotiating partner of national governments whose laws or policies do not  reflect or respect the ethical stance claimed in Google’s own slogan.  Thus, Google now functions on a diplomatic level with the ability and clout to forge country-by-country compromises affecting internet activity and the free flow of information and opinion, Turkey’s YouTube and Blogger ban not least among them.

Well, Google does have accountability to its customers, most of which are advertisers. Which makes the whole thing even more complicated.

Meanwhile the promise of the Net continues to be undermined not only by wacky forms of counterproductive protectionism, but by our own faith in “clouds” that can often act more like solids than gasses.

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Utilities in deed

Change.gov is the main place where the President-in-Waiting takes advice from the public. One item there is MPAA’s Key International Trade Issues, detailed in this .pdf. You can’t search or copy the content of that file because it’s a graphic. I guess the MPAA decided it would rather not post the text somewhere.

Alas, Change.gov doesn’t let you link to individual comments, so you’ll just have to hunt or scroll down to find the one by “skywriter”, who says,

I like the public utility analogy. The DEA can’t shut down a person’s electricity because they ‘suspect’ a person is growing pot in a back room of their house, nor can they shut off their water, why should a ‘non-governmental agency’ (No, MPAA, you are not a government agency no matter how much you like to think so) push for an ISP to cut off a person’s internet because you ‘suspect’ they might be doing bad things with their connection? Treat internet access like a utility, I say.

One goal of Net Neutrality, Wikipedia currenty says, is “A neutral broadband network is one that is free of restrictions on content…” By that angle alone the MPAA’s is a bad idea. Hard enough just to get the Net to people and keep it running for the good of everybody. Let’s not turn the Net into TV (which is censored… try saying “fuck” over U.S. airwaves), or worse — into a branch of Hollywood. Least of all by legislation.

There’s a good chance that the best picture you can put on your HD screen doesn’t come from your cable or satellite TV company, but from your new HD camcorder. As time and markets march on, that chance will only get larger. That’s because the there is a trade-off between the number of channels carried and the quality of each channel. That quality compression shows up as “artifacts” in the picture itself. Gradations of shading and color, such as in a blue or gray sky, turn to a mosaic of blocks. (In this shot, I show how grass on a football field has pimples.) Carriers compete more by the number of channels they carry than by the quality of each channel.(There are exceptions to this, but on the whole that’s what we’ve got.) Meanwhile your camcorder quality only goes up.

And as camcorder quality goes up, more of us will be producing rather than consuming our video. More importantly, we will be co-producing that video with other people. We will be producers as well as consumers. This is already the case, but the results that appear on YouTube are purposely compressed to a low quality compared to HDTV. In time the demand for better will prevail. When that happens we’ll need upstream as well as downstream capacity.

So here’s a piece in Broadband Reports that shows how carriers can be out of touch with the future, even as they increase the capacities of their offerings. An excerpt:

In upgraded markets, Comcast is not only upgrading existing speed tiers ($42.95 “Performance” 6Mbps/1Mbps and $52.95 “Performance Plus” 8Mbps/2Mbps tiers became 12Mbps/2Mbps and 16Mbps/2Mbps), but is adding two new tiers to the mix ($62.95 “Ultra” 22Mbps/5Mbps and the aforementioned $139.95 “Extreme 50″ 50Mbps/10Mbps).

One recurring theme we’ve seen in our forums is that the new speeds have many users downgrading. In both forum threads and polls, many customers on Comcast’s 16Mbps/2Mbps tier say they’re downgrading to their 12Mbps/2Mbps tier — apparently because they don’t think an additional 4Mbps downstream is worth $10. Customers used to be willing to pay the additional $10 for double the upstream speed, but there’s no longer an upstream difference between the tiers.

That last line is the kicker. Comcast apparently still thinks that downstream is all that really matters. It isn’t. For anybody producing a lot of photography or video, upstream not only matters more, but supports activities where the user can see the difference.

In fact there isn’t a lot of perceived difference between 12Mbps and 16Mbps on the downstream side. Either is fast enough for a YouTube video. But on the upstream side, you can see the difference. In my case, that difference appears in the progress bars for pictures I upload to Flickr.

A few months ago I upgraded my Verizon FiOS service from 20/5Mbps to 20/20Mbps. The difference was obvious as soon as it went in. The difference will be a lot more obvious to a lot more people once those people start sharing, mashing up and co-producing higher-definition videos.

Just watch.

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Quotes du jour

“Do we settle with the scumbag or make lawyers rich?” – a friend who has been probing this question.

And “If it has to go through legal, it isn’t a conversation.” From Justine at BrainsOnFire. Via John Moore, via Valdis Krebs.

Going from San Francisco

Got some nice shots of San Francisco and Marin on Sunday, as we flew off to Chicago on the first leg of the trip home from Thanksgiving in California. Actually, my kid shot most of them, since he had the window seat. Shot some other stuff too, which I’ll put up later.

Mount Tamalpias (better known as Mt. Tam) looms in the background, and Mt. Beacon in front of it.

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My son found the perfect way to interrupt my absolute concentration on work this evening: by pointing out that the Moon, Venus and Jupiter were forming a jewel-box of an arrangement in the evening sky. And sure enough, they were. So I took a bunch of shots, of which I kept the two that comprise this set here.

If you’re in the West, somewhere amidst the Pacific or the Far East this evening, you’ll see it too.

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Required re-reading

A pause this Thanksgiving weekend to appreciate The Word Detective, which has been around forever, which is to say since 1995.

I remember The Word Dectective from way back in the Early Daze, when there were relatively few websites (say, 103 or 104, 5 or 6 of them) and it was already obvious, to their few million visitors, that The Net was not only going to change everything, but was a worldwide virtual environment that would change the existing physical one even as it changed itself.

I re-discovered The Word Detective this morning when I wanted to find the source of the saying “waiting for the other shoe to drop”. I looked it up on Google and found that The Word Detective had the closest approach to a canonical result, way back on 23 May 2001.

Being an online periodical of sorts, TWD is now produced on WordPress (View Source tells me), which is way cool, because it has always been, essentially, a bloggy kinda thing. It has a sideblog as well.

Check ‘em out. If your interests run in an etymological direction, the TWDs are worthy of bookmarks (remember those?) or better.

Prodigyous

Ze says this blogger is 12. His hedge, which I second: I will say that if this is some weird viral H&M marketing scheme, I will be very angry.

When I was driving up from Santa Barbara to San Francisco on Sunday, I was listening to for awhile, and caught an amazing version of “Singing the Blues“, which was a huge country-pop crossover hit for Guy Mitchell in 1956. It was casual and enthusiastic and about as “country” as it gets. Loved it, and couldn’t wait for the announcer to say who did it.

Turns out it was Paul McCartney. Here he is, singing it on YouTube.

Meanwhile, I found out by way of Wikipedia that Guy Mitchell‘s real name was Albert George Cernik, and that he was as huge in Croatia as he was in the U.S. and the U.K.

A commenter on the McCartney item also said Fretkillr did a killr version. True. Like his Ain’t Misbehavin’ too. Reminds me of Leon Redbone.

Gotta love the Internets.

If you’re interested in music, or in radio — especially if you’re interested in both — listen (or watch) in on Tim Westergren’s talk, going on right now. Tim founded Pandora, and is its Chief Strategist. My notes…

“We want to fix radio. And we want to fix it globally. And do it for musicians as well as listeners.”

What they’re doing is heroic, actually.

Tim just talked about Pandora’s brief experience with a subscription model. They let you listen for awhile and then began to charge — and found out listeners would find workarounds to stay in the free zone. “Systemic dishonesty”, he called it. This makes me think that VRM is systemic honesty.

“There is going to be a flight to quality,” Tim just said. Good line.

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These are a few among the many salt ponds that ring the south end of San Francisco Bay. Once considered and agricultural innovation and an economic boom, the practice of “reclaiming” wild wetlands for industrial purposes is now considered ecologically awful by environmentalists, especially here on the West Coast of the U.S., which has precious few wetlands in any case. Many environmentalists have been working to get Cargill to close the ponds and return the Bay to its more natural state. Cargill hasn’t budged. In fact, <a href=”http://www.cargill.com/sf_bay/saltpond_ecosystem.htm”>Cargill has its own views</a> on the matter, plus some interesting facts about the ponds themselves.

It’s worth pointing out that the Bay is actually one of the youngest features on the California landscape, having flooded within only in the last couple thousand years, as sea levels rose. (Global warming has been happening, in fact, since the last ice age.)

I took this shot two days ago on approach to San Francisco on a flight from Boston. Here’s a set of all the photos I’ve taken of salt ponds, both here and in the desert. And here is the whole set of shots I took from coast to coast. Most were at the ends of the flight, since the sky was undercast most of the way.

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Dave Barry:

  I miss 1960. Not the part about my face turning overnight into the world’s most productive zit farm. What I miss is the way the grown-ups acted about the Kennedy-Nixon race. Like the McCain-Obama race, that was a big historic deal that aroused strong feelings in the voters. This included my parents and their friends, who were fairly evenly divided, and very passionate. They’d have these major honking arguments at their cocktail parties. But unlike today, when people wear out their upper lips sneering at those who disagree with them, the 1960s grown-ups of my memory, whoever they voted for, continued to respect each other and remain good friends.

  What was their secret? Gin. On any given Saturday night they consumed enough martinis to fuel an assault helicopter. But also they were capable of understanding a concept that we seem to have lost, which is that people who disagree with you politically are not necessarily evil or stupid. My parents and their friends took it for granted that most people were fundamentally decent and wanted the best for the country. So they argued by sincerely (if loudly) trying to persuade each other. They did not argue by calling each other names, which is pointless and childish, and which constitutes I would estimate 97 percent of what passes for political debate today.

  What I’m saying is: we, as a nation, need to drink more martinis.

I agree.

By the way, Dave Barry and I are not merely of the same generation; we were born about 20 miles apart in July 1947, were raised as Presbyterians, went to suburban New York high schools, went to Quaker colleges, registered as conscientious objectors with our draft boards, and became journalists.

By now I’ll bet I’ve heard about 40 hours of my kid reading Dave Barry out loud from the back seat of our car. Beats reading out loud from this blog, no?

Speaking Truth to Palaver

The Onion: Nation Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social Progress. An excerpt:

  Although polls going into the final weeks of October showed Sen. Obama in the lead, it remained unclear whether the failing economy, dilapidated housing market, crumbling national infrastructure, health care crisis, energy crisis, and five-year-long disastrous war in Iraq had made the nation crappy enough to rise above 300 years of racial prejudice and make lasting change…

  Carrying a majority of the popular vote, Obama did especially well among women and young voters, who polls showed were particularly sensitive to the current climate of everything being fucked. Another contributing factor to Obama’s victory, political experts said, may have been the growing number of Americans who, faced with the complete collapse of their country, were at last able to abandon their preconceptions and cast their vote for a progressive African-American.

Quite the contrast from last January, when the Onion reported that bullshit would be the most important issue in the election. How time fries.

Curseriver

Thanks to for pointing to . Go there and watch the @#$% tweets flow.

Paper margins

You’d think, from the looks of the endorsement picture, that Barack Obama is gonna sell a lot more newspapers over the next four years. Whether or not, the picture’s not pretty for John McCain, who has clearly lost his “base”:

Be sure to scroll down. Lots of wonky grist for obsessive mills in there.

Hat tip to Andrew Leyden.

Steve Lewis writes, Obama’s “Homeostasis”: It must be the Roedjak! — a deep and wonderful detour from the usual punditry about a candidate’s temperament, informed by Steve’s years working in Indonesia, as well as his exposure to many countries and cultures unfamiliar to most Americans. I hope Steve doesn’t mind my lifting most of his post to repeat here. Dig:

So far, Obama’s seeming detachment has been exploited by his opponents as proof that “we don’t know who he his” or as a sign of his supposed smugness and intellectual superiority.  And, for, quite a number of Democrats Obama’s politeness and fixed smile are an unsettling suggestion of a lack of the politically requisite instinct to go for the jugular.  I would suggest something quite different and far more positive … namely, that Obama knows how to eat Roedjak.

Roedjak is an Indonesian fruit salad, slices of not yet fully ripened tropical fruits served with a sauce of sweet thick soy ketjap, tamarind paste, crushed chili papers, and a dash of dried dessicated shrimp.  Roedjak’s harmonic fusion of superficially contradictory tastes is more than culinary.  Roedjak restores equilibrium even while exciting the senses.  Preparing and eating Roedjak is a tonic during moments of personal emotional turmoil; domestic disagreements and work conflicts are calmed by sharing Roedjak when tensions to escalate. On the symbolic level, Roedjak embodies all that is positive of the values and social mores of southeast Asia.

Political commentators — other than those Republican cranks who have accused Obama of having attended fundementalist Muslim Koranic schools — have overlooked the “Indonesian” facet of the Democratic presidential candidate, his formative years on the island of Java, and his being a member of a family with Indonesian connections as well as Kansan and Kenyan ones.

In Java, outward emotional evenness and display of respect are inherent to the workings of families and of villages.  Frontal confrontations are avoided and adversaries are given room to retreat.  Such stances are central to the the stylized conventions of Java’s traditional complexly hierarchical society and to the realities of domestic, social, and political life on an overpopulated agrarian island and in crowded mega-cities such as Jakarta.

On the surface, Java is devoutly Muslim but Javanese Islam rests on older strata of Hindu and Buddhist culture.  The characters of the Buddha and of the heroes of the Bhagavad Gita still resonate as strongly as those of the Prophet Mohammed and Ali.  In Java, one learns that displays of restraint are incumbent on leaders and are signs of strength in people at all levels of society.

And so, for the sake of the US and the world, I’d rather see the American presidency in the hands of a Roedjak eater than a heart-beat away from the rule of an eater of mooseburgers.  Join me for a mango, anyone?

I dunno if Roedjak explains Obama, but I do like getting an interesting new angle on an exceptional man.

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Rock onward

Thanks to Richard Sambrook for turning me on to The Story of the Guitar, from the . You might get some of it on BBC One and Four, which are carrying the series on the air and the BBC iPlayer. The easier sampler is a set of videos, all Good Stuff.

The Oral Office

Palin as President is like some kind of weird interactive oval office advent calendar from a parallel polyverse. Click on anything and get surprised by some palinism, in Sarahs voice, explaining. Sort of. Have fun.

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Guest-hosting Saturday Night Live.

Might make up for her running mate’s chickening out on David Letterman.

It’s hard to feel shitty when the Steve Miller Band is playing Jet Airliner in the middle of your head. Or smart, either — at least in my case.

Jeebus, all these decades I’ve been thinking the chorus was

  Big old jet had a light on
Don’t carry me too far away
Oh oh oh big old jet had a light on
‘Cuz it’s here that I’ve got to stay.

Turns out “had a light on” is “airliner”. Well, duh. Of course. That’s the freaking title. But phonetically, Steve is singing “biggo jed adda line oh”. I say this with confidence because I just replayed it about ten times to make sure. That’s the audible, as they say in football.

Who knows what the hell Steve’s saying, anyway? Well, some of us do, and to explain, we have the Internet. For example, The Joker begins,

  Some people call me the space cowboy, yeah
Some call me the gangster of love
Some people call me maurice
Cause I speak of the pompitous of love

Or is that pomitus? Hell, The Pompatus of Love is a whole movie devoted to the question. The Straight Dope sez that “pompatus” (that’s how it sounds) actually goes way back:

  Speculation about “pompatus” was a recurring motif in the script for The Pompatus of Love. While the movie was in postproduction Cryer heard about “The Letter.” During a TV interview he said that the song had been written and sung by a member of the Medallions named Vernon Green. Green, still very much alive, was dozing in front of the tube when the mention of his name caught his attention. He immediately contacted Cryer.

  Green had never heard “The Joker.” Cryer says that when he played it for Green “he laughed his ass off.” Green’s story:

  “You have to remember, I was a very lonely guy at the time. I was only 14 years old, I had just run away from home, and I walked with crutches,” Green told Cryer. He scraped by singing songs on the streets of Watts.

  One song was “The Letter,” Green’s attempt to conjure up his dream woman. The mystery words, J.K. ascertained after talking with Green, were “puppetutes” and “pizmotality.” (Green wasn’t much for writing things down, so the spellings are approximate.)

  “Pizmotality described words of such secrecy that they could only be spoken to the one you loved,” Green told Cryer. And puppetutes? “A term I coined to mean a secret paper-doll fantasy figure [thus puppet], who would be my everything and bear my children.” Not real PC, but look, it was 1954.

Anyway, I’ve had a bad cold the last few days, and right now I’m sitting on the couch with a fever, trying to think and write while a vacuum cleaner roars in the next room. But now I’ve also got these Etymotic ER6i earphones jacked deep into my head, muting the noise and substituting ol’ Steve, singing about getting on “that 707″ — a plane nobody outside of Iran still flies. And it’s getting me high, just from the driving energy of the song.

Beats thinking about death, which comes easy when you’re 61 with a fever, a gut, and a history of exercise that consists mostly of getting dressed. But music helps. Music is the best evidence of immortality that we have.

Music is life. And vice versa. Listening to three-decade old Steve Miller on good earphones is life transfusion.

So is listening to an even older song: The Doors’ When the Music’s Over, from Strange Days, a brilliant, beautiful piece of work. To me Strange Days ranks among a handful of perfect albums, first song to last.

Which is When the Music’s Over, of course.

  When the music is your special friend,
dance on fire as it intends.
Music is your only friend,
until the end.

Strange Days came out in late ’67. I bought it in the summer of ’68 after Ken Rathyen, a guy on my ice cream route (he was a lifeguard at PV Beach in Pompton Plains, NJ) told me to get it. “Every song is a gem,” he said. He was right. (Kenny, if you’re out there, Yo!)

That fall I shared an apartment in an old house on Spring Garden Street in Greensboro, near Tate Street. Next door was a big Victorian, already boarded up. On Halloween night, a bunch of turned off all the lights and listened to Strange Days. After When the Music’s Over was over, we were deep in a creepy Halloween mood, and decided it would be fun to break into the “haunted house” next door. So we got a flashlight out, sneaked over, and found a way in.

There was no furniture, just empty rooms, with a coating of dust on everything… except for the footprints on the stairs. They were barefoot and small for an adult. We followed them up to the second floor, where they stopped. No other footprints went down.

Feeling creeped out, we pressed on, exploring this big old house. Still, other than the footprints, there was nothing.

Then we found the door to the attic. It was narrow, and opened to a narrow staircase. At the top was a camped room where there were a few items of furniture and some boxes. In one box was a diary by a girl who had lived there. She reported daily on what she saw out the window at the front of the attic, looking down on Spring Garden Street. She also gave weekly summaries of her favorite TV show, Whirlybirds, which last ran in 1960.

One name that appeared often in the diary was Jan Speas, who lived next door. I wondered if this was the same Jan Speas who taught creative writing at Guilford College, where I was a Senior at the time. (Jan, whose maiden name was Jan Cox and wrote as Jan Cox Speas, was best known as a writer of historical romances. More here.)

So we took the diary with us, and I brought it to Jan. Yes, Jan said, she remembered the girl well. They were good friends, and the diary was touching because the girl had later died.

Three years later Jan died too, of an unexpected heart attack. She was 46.

In August, 2004, ‘s Piedmont Bloggers Conference was held in the same exact spot as the condemned houses: the one I lived in, the haunted Victorian next door, and Jan Speas’ house on the other side of that one. I wrote about it here, and told the same creepy story here (but it doesn’t come up now, which is why I’m repeating myself).

But I’m still here. Dancing on fire. And getting back to real work, now that the vacuum cleaner is off.

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Is there anything more phallic than a skyskraper? Other than, like, the Real Thing?

Anyway, Sky News reports plans in Dubai to build a skyscraper more than 1km in height. A kilometer is 3281 feet or so. That’s a lot taller than the .818 km (2,684 ft) Burj Dubai, currently around 707m high, and the record-holder.

The builder is Nakheel, he same outfit that makes palm-shaped islands and such. The site at that link has annoying music and nothing about The Plan, but I’m sure it’ll show up.

They say it’ll take ten years to build. Those of us who watched the World Trade Center go up (from ’65-74) recall a similar time frame.

You don’t have to wonder what The Point is. That’s what they’re building.

In September I took two flights across the country that featured lots of clear views of the sights below. I think I took 700+ pictures on each of them.

I’ve been posting them to Flickr in slow motion, trying to minimize the labors involved in tagging and captioning them. It helps that many of these sights I’ve seen before, so I could just copy and paste from one shot to another.

This set is of Comb Ridge, in southeastern Utah. Other sets I put together, all in Utah and Arizona, are of Goosenecks, Lake Powell and Navajo Mountain.

Funny thing, when I went to look up Navajo Mountain on Wikipedia, I saw that one of the pictures there bore a strong resemblance to one of my own because that’s exactly what it is.

I’ve been reading John McPhee’s Giving Good Weight, the title essay of his book by the same name. That last link (to McPhee’s own site) calls it “a story of farmers selling their produce in the Greenmarkets of New York City as told by a journalist who went to work for an upstate farmer, and — in Harlem, in Brooklyn — turned into a salesman of peppers. greenmarketplace in New York.” It was written in the mid-seventies, now more than thirty years ago, but half a dozen years after I worked for a fresh and frozen produce wholesaler at Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, and more still since I drove an ice cream truck in the summers out to the anomalous and amazing Pine Island, out beyond the New York exurbs. Two generations later, McPhee’s prose is still so strong I can smell the setting as if I were there this afternoon:

West of the suburbs, thirty and more miles from Manhattan, the New Jersey-New York border terrain is precipitous and glaciated and — across a considerable area — innocent of high-speed roads. Minor roads run north and south, flanking the walls of hogback ridges — Pochuck Mountain, Bearfort Mountain, Wawahanda Mountain — but the only route that travels westward with any suggestion of efficiency is the Appalachian Trail. The landscape is remarkably similar to Vermont’s: small clearings, striated outcropings, bouldery fields; rail fences under hard maples; angular roads, not well marked, with wooden signs; wild junipers signaling, as they do, penurious soil; unfenced cemeteries on treeless hillsides; conflagrationary colors in the autumn woods. Moving along such scenes, climbing, descending, losing the way and turning back — remarking how similar to rural New England all this is — one sooner or later tops a rise where the comparison in an instant blinks out. Some distance below, and reaching as far as the eye can conveniently see, is a surface perfectly flat, and not merely flat but also level, and not only level but black as carbon. There are half a dozen such phenomena in this region, each as startling to come upon as the last. Across their smooth expanses, distant hills look like shorelines, the edges of obsidian lakes. The black surfaces were, indeed, once fluid and blue –lakes that stood for many centuries where north-flowing streams were blocked by this or that digital terminus of the retreating Laurentide glacier. Streamborne silt and black organic muck gradually replaced the water… The surface of the mucklands (as they are called) is not altogether firm. It will support a five-inch globe onion. For that matter, it will support a tractor — but it is not nearly dense enough to hold up a house. There are only a few sheds on the wide flats. People live on “islands,” once and present islands, knobs that break through the black surface just as they did when it was blue. Pine island, New York, is a town in a black-dirt sea — the largest and most productive muckland of them all. Maple Island, Merritts Island, Big Island, Black Walnut Island are spaced across it as well, and their clustered houses resemble small European farming communities. The fields surrounding them seem European too, for the acreages of black dirt are ruled off in small, familial segments, like vineyards in Valencia or the Cote d’Or. NO fences, no hedgerows interrupt the vista or separate one farmer form another. Plots abut. The vegetables that come out of this rich organic soil are in their way as special as wines: tall celeries, moist beets, iceberg lettuce as crip as new money, soft Boston salad lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots — and, above all, onions. What the beluga is to caviar the muckland is to onions.”

Such sweet insult to both my own style — all short paragraphs, like advertising copy — and worthies such as Kurt Vonegut, whose central piece of writing advice was to avoid semicolons.

Anyway, I got to McPhee after reading Transportation, SUV’s, Jingoism … and Chickens, Stephen Lewis‘ latest. Steve, a native of the Lower East Side and more recently of the People’s Republic of Brooklyn, is my New Yawk docent, both on site and on blog.

So, sez Steve, “I came across this article which links the rise and fall of America’s petrol-guzzling, pollution-spewing “Sport Utility Vehicles” not to fluctuations in the prices of motor fuel but to Detroit auto makers’ decades-long successful but ultimately backfiring exploitation of a US backlash against European tariffs on … American chickens!”

Sez the article,

It started in 1961 with chicken. Trying to stop a surge of chicken imports into Germany, the European Common Market bowed to the European poultry lobby and almost tripled the tariff on frozen chicken from the United States. Washington, of course, struck back. In 1963, it raised tariffs on a range of European products: brandy to hit the French; dextrine, a food and glue component, to hit the Dutch.
To target Germany, the Johnson administration imposed a 25 percent tariff on light-truck imports, a barrier that fell on Volkswagen, which exported vans to the United States. “Why should we be the scapegoats in the chicken war?” lamented Heinz Nordoff, Volkswagen’s chief executive at the time.
The chicken war ended, but the tariff survived. It explains a lot about why Detroit chose to stake its future on S.U.V.’s...
Years of cheap gas (unleaded didn’t breach $2 a gallon until 2004) helped a lot — as did government tax breaks and looser rules on fuel efficiency and tailpipe emissions. Perhaps most important, Washington used the chicken tariff to wall off the light-truck market, giving American automakers a protected and profitable niche to exploit...
The downside of this is evident today. Light trucks account for 57 percent of sales at General Motors; 62 percent of Ford’s; 72 percent of Chrysler’s. It’s not a good place to be with gas at $3.50 a gallon.

Reminds me of the textile industry a couple decades ago, when import quotas were imposed on other countries to protect businesses at home that were long gone. The other countries’ governments then sold those quotas to highest bidders, with these artificial costs passed on by foreign manufactuers to American intermediaries and customers. Maybe that’s still going on. Probably is. Dunno.

Maybe one or more of the rest of ya’ll can tell me.

Of course we’ll see more unintended consequences of forgotten policies in the next administration as well. Stay tuned for those.

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I feel safer already

FakeSarahPalin.

Fewer degrees of separation

Stephen Lewis latest, New York Women: Self-Vetting, My Aunt Estelle, and Haikus for Sale, visits the locus and origins of his firmly grounded sensibilities — for example, our distinctly New York senses of humor and our mutual stubbornly-held convictions that work involves heavy-lifting and adding of value rather than flim-flam, image building, and manipulation.

The first comment says the post “flows as naturally as anything I’ve read”. Agreed. The second is my reminder to us both that there’s still another connection, through Nathalie Goldman’s Writing Down the Bones.

Thank you, Ze

Digging this collection of videos that make you feel better.

Sold American!

BuyMyShitpile.com. I like this one.

What knew?

I love , by by G. Nolst Trenite’ a.k.a. “Charivarius”, it says at that link. And I thank , sitting next to me in the speaker room at Blog World Expo, for turning me onto something fun and old that I’m amazed not to have run into before. Speaking of which, I just turned her on to BuzzPhraser, one of the Web’s oldest still-functioning instruments of linguistic fun.

.

Canon has unveiled the 5D Mark II SLR. Whoa: 21.1 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor; ISO range from 100-6400, and expandable to 25600 (that is, shooting under appoximately no light); 1080p HD video shooting with live view on the back (3″ across), HDMI and USB connectivity…

Also welcome: a sensor-cleaning system (my 30D is constantly plagued with sensor dust).

$2700 or so.

No price yet from Amazon, but you can pre-order it.

Les Misbarack.

Credits where due

Here’s more reason I still love blogging. Not only did I find the telling graphic above, but discovered its source, GraphJam, via Tom McMahon, Chris Blattman, Scarlet Lion and Jillian C. York — in that order. That is, Tm credited Chris, who credited Scarlet, who credited Jillian, who credited GraphJam.

Some bloggers don’t credit their sources; but the good ones — who blog to exercise and share their curious hearts and minds, and not just to make a few bucks off SEO or whatever — do. So here’s a high five to every blogger who keeps doing what made blogging worthwhile in the first place.

Bonus fact.

I grew up in New Jersey, which I think of as “New England without the universities”. There are many places in New Jersey with beauty equal to, say, New Hampshire’s. But New Jersey never had the same ethos of preservation, the same not-quite-a-mythology that explains why Norman Rockwell and his sentiments fit New England like a shoe while to the rest of the country they remain a maudlin approximation of bygone times elsewhere.

I transferred my state citizenship from New Jersey to North Carolina in early 1974, when I left our small rented house on Route 94 in Yellow Frame, out in Sussex County, the beautiful northernmost county of the state. Back then Sussex County had more cows than people, and featured fall colors and pastoral scenes worthy of calendars and post cards. Best of all it shared the with Pennsylvania. The shores of the river were settled first by the Indians and later by the , descendents of which continued to farm the islands and lowlands alongside the river, right up to the point in the 1970s when the United States government, with help from both states, condemned the land, including perfectly good towns such as Dingman’s Ferry, and let it all fall to ruin while fighting and failing to build the unnecessary. It was, and remains, a disgrace.

Can you imagine the feds, or Vermont and New Hampshire, doing the same to the ? Of course not. We’re talking about New England here.

The difference was brought home to me this past weekend when we picked up The Kid from camp in Vermont and took our time heading back to Boston. We visited Middlebury, Waterbury (including the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream headquarters), the Rock of Ages Quarry near Barre, and various towns along the Connecticut River before having some okay Thai food in Keene. New England is truly a beautiful region, even with almost no available hotel rooms.

Much of that was recorded photographically. Here’s the set. Here’s the slide show.

Nice to know New England is there. Less nice to know that much of the same beauty has long since been paved or otherwise profaned in other states. (Of course, I also realize that much has been lost in New England as well. Just less of it than elsewhere.)

The shot above is of the Congregational Church in Middlebury, Vermont. I shot a series of photos of the church, most with white and grey clouds boiling up in the sky beyond. I wasn’t sure which was best (which is why I kept them all), but I am sure that several are better than the one the church uses for its own website.

I also did some experimental shooting with this brick building in downtown Middlebury, which is about as nice a little college town as you’re gonna find anywhere. The best of those shots, by the way, were taken not with my Canon 30D SLR, but with a little Canon Powershot SD850is. Partly that’s because the little camera likes to yield more vibrant colors than the big one; and partly it’s because the big one wasn’t fixed right and read the light wrong.

Anyway, I’m back out in California, where I am now a citizen, even though most of the next year will be spent back at the Berkman Center in Cambridge.

Harvard blogs were “having a massage”, the message said yesterday. Today I’m looking at a new WordPress dashboard/UI, and puzzling my way around it. Categories and Tags are now separate things. Tagging is comma separated, rather than space separated, as it has long been with Flickr, where one puts names such as in quotes if one wishes to tag them. I’d rather add the rel=”tag” element to the link. Never have been a fan of listing tags at the bottoms of posts.

Uploading and posting pictures (or, as WP has it, “Add media”) doesn’t work yet. I have at least two I want to share, but no rush.

Anyway, figuring it out.

Meanwhile, over in I’ve posted It sucks because it’s good: a defense of Jakob Nielsen‘s stalwart and sensible usability principles against the scorn of those whose sense of design owes more to ancient print sensibilities than to Web nativity.

Dave Barry is back, covering the Olympics.

Greater radio

Nice to learn that Joe Frank, one of the greatest radio artists of all time, is back. In a way. You can listen in a browser to .wma selections from albums he sells. It would be nice for Joe to make those available as .mp3s as podcasts.

Maybe when we get this put together we can find a new way for him to make money with his art.

New daze

We’ve been having a lot of thunderstorms this summer in Boston. On Sunday we followed the last ones out of town, veering west after departing from Logan, while the clouds puffed off to the east. The dawn weather was dreary at ground level, but quite pretty, as clouds go, from altitude. So here’s a set of pictures I shot on the way out of town.

Most of the rest of the trip was cloudy, wasting a perfectly okay window with no obstructions. But I still got nearly 200 shots. I’ll be putting the rest of those up soon.

I’m in Mystic Seaport with family, looking at boats and learning history. It’s a great place that I remember well, even though I’m pretty sure the last time I came here was in the 5th grade, which would have been a little more than 50 years ago. Most of the antique boats currently on display here are younger than that. Perspective.

Anyway, earlier today I dropped my main camera, a Canon EOS 30D, and it no longer takes accurate light readings. It works, but I have to use another camera to read light, or guess at exposures and use trial-and-error. So I need to send it in for repairs. Any recommendations on that? The unit is long since out of warranty.

By the way, the shot above was taken not with the 30D, but with a little PowerShot SD 850IS, through one lens of my polarized sunglasses. The lens of the camera is small enough to do that. Other shots in that same series were taken with the 30D, but lacked the polarizing filter. They are much sharper and less grainy, but also less colorful.

I should be adding many more before the weekend is out, even with the 30D limping along.

Getting around

I shot some Puffins the other day, from an old lobster boat piloted by my cousin George, who is a local on Maine’s Muscongus Bay. We skirted just past the surf surrounding Eastern Egg Rock, from which puffins disappeared in the 1800s after settlers ate all their eggs. The birds have been re-established there with great help from Project Puffin and the Audubon Society. There was a nice story in the Boston Globe yesterday about puffin restoration at the small, rocky island. I was there a few days earlier, and I’ve got the pictures. Fun combo.

Puffins are smallish birds with large colorful bills. Except when they’re laying eggs or fresh from hatching between hard rocks, they spend their whole lives on the open sea. The Globe story mentions one bird that’s 35 years old. That’s a long time on Earth for a sea creature that lives mostly on or above the surface.

Anyway, travel. I do a lot of it, along with plenty of photography. For those and related reasons I am on the board of PlanetEye, a new company that just launched on the Web. Check ‘em out. Give’m feedback, too. They have a link for it, and I know they listen.

Who new?

Digging Baby Name Guesser. Says here, “It’s a girl! Based on popular usage, it is 4.373 times more common for Doc to be a girl’s name.” Hm. I can think of Rivers, Holliday, Watson and the Dwarf. But not one girl. Yet.

Check the results for Festus.

Hat tip to Leonard Lin.

Polar Xtreme

J. Dana Hrubes has been reporting on his work and life at the North and South Pole for the last few years, but I just discovered his site this morning via the 12 July Aurora Gallery at SpaceWeather.com.

Here’s his report on 2007-2008. Here is the June page, with some amazing pictures of the aurora australis in the midst of stars. Plus this paragraph:

  June is the month when we celebrate the midwinter solstice. It means that we have lived through 3 months without the sun and there are 3 months until sunrise on September 21st. As for me, I get sad when the sun starts to rise because it means that the magic of walking miles each day to work and back under the beautiful skies of the South Pole will be over. But for now, we still have plenty of darkness left and the two coldest months are just beginning, July and August. I hope to beat my record low of -110.7 F (almost -80 C) which was in early August, 2005. I personally would like to experience -118 F and break the all time record since records at the Pole began in 1957. That also happens to be the temperature that carbon dioxide freezes at this altitude (over 10,000 ft equivalent). By the way, these are actual static temperatures, not any of that wind chill nonsense. Even at temperatures below -100 F, we still hike out to the telescope every day. I haven’t missed one day at South Pole Telescope since I got here on December 8, 2007.

His weather widget says it’s -89°F right now, or -65°C. Still, good to be there, if only vicariously.

Last laff

Nobody parodies TV news better than The Onion. They’re just wicked.

Anyway, just caught Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency on a podcast here on the plane (still boarding), and laughed so hard I just had to pass it along. It’s almost up there with this one, which still wins for truthiness.

Okay, they’re making me turn this off. See ya on the East Side.

Click on the above to dig one of the best photosets I’ve shot in a while. I was driving to a Radio Shack to pick up a volt-ohm meter, so we could monitor the browning out of electrical service, when I saw the sun setting through the smoke from the fire, and knew instantly that I could get a good angle on that through the Mission in silhouette. So I turned the corner, and sure enough. Got it.

Any blogger or news service that wants to use any of those shots should feel free to grab any of them. Give me photo credit if you like, but it’s not necessary. Just here to help.

(tag: sbgapfire. Hashtag: #sbgapfire)

I’m not a car nut — I could never afford to be, lacking both the money and the time — but I do enjoy and appreciate them as works of arts, science, culture and plain necessity. So, about a month ago the kid and I joined Britt Blaser at the Concours d’Elegance in Newport Harbor, looking at an amazing collection of antique cars and motorcycles, all restored or preserved to a level of perfection you hardly find in new cars off the production line.

We also got to hang with new friends from Iconic Motors, who are making a very hot little sports car designed and made entirely in the U.S., mostly by small manufacturers of obsessively perfected goods. Took a lot of pictures of both, which you’ll find by following the links under the photos.

I discovered JazzFM91 on a recent trip to Toronto, and keep going back. It’s sooo good. Right now Danny Marks is talking to … who is it? dunno, just tuned in. (Later… it’s Terry Gilespie.) But the subject is John Lee Hooker.

The music that follows reminds me of the time John Lee gave one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. It was in St. Joseph’s Church in Durham, I’d guess around 1980. I was in front pew on the right. John Lee walked in with an orange suit and his guitar, said “Stand up!” to the audience, and all obeyed. There was no way to sit for the rest of the service. It was just amazing. Just remembered I wrote about this, and a funny JLH story, back in ’01.

Here’s JazzFM91′s stream.

Hallelujah

There’s a light at the end of the digestive tunnel. (Sorry, can’t resist.) Four bowls of broth, two teas, a bit of jello, four glasses of water and an Italian ice have all made it past my pancreas, now once again the cooperative beast it was for close to 61 years before it revolted a week ago, dropping me into a trough of pain and inconvenience.

In the morning I get my first solid food, then start careful eating habits for the duration. If my pancreas agrees, I’m outa here by noon.

Which brings me to this comment by my buddy Chip, pointing to Leonard Cohen performing his song Hallelujah on German television, I’d guess in the mid-80s. (Cohen wrote the song in ’84.) It blew my mind. Cohen is a transcendant poet and songwriter, but also a performer of such unusual calm and grace that I’m stunned by how well his schtick works, even in a hokey TV stage setting.

And these lyrics just give me chills:

  There’s a blaze of light in every word.
It doesn’t matter which you heard.
The holy or the broken Hallelujah.

  I did my best, it wasn’t much.
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch.
I told the truth. I didn’t come to fool ya.
And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand before the lord of song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

“Hallelujah” has been covered out the wazoo. It’s the Pachelbel Canon of poetic ballads. On YouTube alone, you’ll find outstanding covers by the quartet of Kurt Nilsen, Espen Lind, Askil Holm and Alejandro Fuentes, the Shrek soundtrack, Allison Crowe, Sheryl Crowe, Damien Lieth, Rufus Wainwright, Bon Jovi, Amanda Jenssen, k.d. lang, k.d. lang (again), The OC, Jeff Buckley (many from him) John Cale

I’ve listened to all of them, some several times, and still I like Cohen’s the best, maybe because his is the only one with the lines I quoted above.

Among my resolutions for life after Liberation is to sustain my love of music, rekindled here in the hospital. It’s not hard, that love. We all have it. Maybe that’s why I like the opening stanza of “Hallelujah”, as everybody sings it. Dig.

Bonus song. Another.

Bear with me while I rehabilitate with radio. If that doesn’t do it for ya, tune out now. It’s cool.

Gotta say that I’ve been learning to love WMBR/88.1, MIT’s student station, on Saturday mornings. Been listening for the last half hour or so to Doug Gesler’s excellent “Lost Highway”: Country music for folks without boots, a hat or a lasso… Doug just did a nice job reviewing the last set, while talking over two of the best instrumentals ever recorded, without identifying those, mostly because he uses it as is background fill. But it gives me an excuse to fill in the blanks. Both were from Mike Auldridge, who plays the loveliest dobro you’ll ever hear. The first tune was “This Aint Grass”, and the second was “8 more miles to Louisville” from his amazing Blues & Bluegrass album, now available as part of a 2-album compilation called Dobro.

I’d guess it was in ’74 or ’75 that I was sitting with my neighbor and buddy John Curry, listening to WDBS, the station I worked for at the time, when a song called “Bottom Dollar” came on, and stopped both John and I cold. I called the station, found out it was by Mike Auldridge, the dobro player with the Seldom Scene, a great DC-area bluegrass band. So we both went out and bought a copy of the album. I’ve loved his music ever since.

Great to catch up on his website, too. The style is pure gray-background 1995, and has html an amateur can actually read. More importantly, it has a wonderful sampling of .mp3s from various highly worthy albums. Plus introductions to Mike’s nothing-else-like-it Resophonic guitars. Beautiful things. Check it out. Take your time.

Still no food, by the way. It’s past 9am. Isn’t that a little late for a hospital to be delivering breakfast? Anyway, the listening continues.

Rise & Boogie

Two of the greatest songs ever recorded are both called “Pride & Joy”. Marvin Gaye did the first. Stevie Ray Vaughan did the second. That’s what I’m listening to right now on Radio Paradise.

Wish the “food” would come. I’m so ready to boogie outa here. (Not really, but that’s how I feel.)

WERS rolls

Finally ready to listen to a little radio. I gotta say that it’s pretty freaking hard to beat WERS. “Music for the independent mind.” Yes indeed. I’m not familiar with most of the music they play, but I like a helluva lot, especially since I’m sure I’m 3x the age of many of its programmers and listeners.

Right now it’s Yo La Tengo with “Take Care”. Take care not to hurt yourself. Be ready to ask for help. Thanks for that. Right now it helps. Before that it was Thao with “Bag of Hammers”. David Bowie’s outstanding “THV 15” ran before that. Was that Dr. John on piano? Before that Coldplay with “Speed of Sound”. Now it’s Gnarls Barkley: “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul”. They’ve been playing that one a few times. Deservedly. And now, for geezers like me, Van Morrison with “Caravan“. Radio. Turn it up. So you know. Radio. Takes me back. Keeps me up. From the Moodance album. 1970. Also The Last Waltz. Gives me chills. Progressive rock stations loved to play that song, mostly because it spoke from original dream of radio. What it was, and what it will be again, better than ever. Thanks to WERS for holding the flame high.

Man, this goes on. Now it’s Leonard Cohen with So Long, Marianne”. Another perfect oldie. Followed by Cat Power, “Aretha, Sing One For Me”.

[At this point I got a call from Steve Gillmor, and we recorded a brief impromptu podcast. I'm fading now, and heading for bed. Night, all.]

Just wondering

How many gallons of drool does the average baseball club spit in the course of a game?

Yes, you can vote in the Ugliest Dog Contest.

Even though no pooch will ever out-ugly the late and still great Sam, (above) whom we first vetted here.

I didn’t really know Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald before this last week, except by emails and a delightful interview he did with me at in December. But I fell in love with the guy after he and his associates brought me to Amsterdam to talk at Mobile Monday and do a couple consulting gigs there (which he set up for me). Besides being a smart guy and a great host, Maarten is just a good dude and a true mensch. Gracious, caring, upbeat and much more. You can see it in these two photosets from MoMo. Maarten, his family and whole social network made my visit to Amsterdam a joy from start to finish. It’s a great city anyway, but it’s lucky to be graced with folks as good as this whole bunch.

On Wednesday, the day I flew home, Maarten went to the doctor to check out a coughing problem. Turns out he had a tumor, bigger than his heart, right in front of it. Since then he’s not been far from my own heart, as well as my mind.

I wasn’t going to write about it, because I didn’t know how private Maarten wanted to be. But it turns out he’s both tweeting and blogging what he calls his new journey. So is his wife, Lori. So we’re together with him on this thing. Such is the nature of what Twitter calls following.

He’ll find out more about the tumor tomorrow. I’m praying hard it’ll just be an oddball thing they can cut out and be done with.

You fly enough and they bump you up to Business Class whether you want it or not. That’s how United Airlines works, and for most passengers that’s not a bad thing. In my case I often don’t want it because it means giving up a window seat I’ve carefully chosen back in what we used to call Coach.

But that’s what happened last Wednesday, when I flew from Amsterdam to Chicago. I got bumped to an aisle seat in the Business Section. Worse, nearly everybody with a window seat closed their shades. For viewing we might as well have been in the cargo hold.

The “air show” system that displays flight progress on a map was also down, although a couple times I was able to tell where I was with my GPS, which (amazingly) was able to pick up the 4+ satellites required to to quadrangulate our location 38,000 feet over the Earth.

So I knew when we got to Greenland — my favorite place to shoot from on high . I asked my seatmate, who had the window, if she’d mind if I took some pictures of the land below. She said okay, we opened her shade, and that’s how I got these shots here.

The conditions were less than ideal. It’s never good to shoot out the sunny side of a plane in any case, because the direct light illuminates all the scratches, debris depositions and other imperfections in the windows, which are optically awful to begin with. This window was average or worse in those respects, and on this day Greenland was also hazy, with lots of clouds amidst the mountains. Still, I got some decent shots — enough, at least, to slake my thirst for geographic and geological spectacle and knowledge-building.

I took more shots a bit later, after we crossed the white expanse of Greenland’s middle (at just above the 63rd parallel, which is just 3 degrees south of the Arctic Circle), but need to work instead. Meanwhile, if any Flickr freaks want to help me name some of the mountains, glaciers and other features I shot in that series (or any of the others), please do. I found a few details on Google Earth and filled them in.

The caption for the above reads,

The water body is a glacial bay called Norrivig. Behind it is an island in the midst of which is “Azimuthbjerg” lat=63.4333333, lon=-41.6666667. Here is NotSoGreen on the same area, which also points to this Jason Sloan photo on Flickr. This is all in the Tunu or East Greenland, one of four large Greenland counties, or administrative districts. East Greenland is known natively as Ostgrönland. The glacier or gletcher emptying into Norrivig Bay is Thrym. The mouintain beyond is Hvidbjørn Bjerg, at
N 63° 31′ 0” W 41° 49′ 0”, or 63.51667 / -41.81667, with GeoNameId : 3423410.

Hope that helps the curious find out more.

If you’re interested in Greenland — and I would highly recommend it, because it’s not only beautiful but melting — check out NotSoGreen. Wonderful service.

Buy George

So we walked into the Boston public library this evening at 6:15 to return some books, and encountered a serendipitous bonus: A sign in the lobby said that George Lakoff was speaking upstairs at 6:30. So we intercepted George a few minutes later, sat in on a great talk (his sixth of the day), and then I enjoyed a long dinner with George and Andrew Dunn, a recent Harvard Law grad doing work on human rights. The whole thing was pure coincidence and lots of fun. I’ve been meaning for a long time to talk to George about Framing the Net, among other things — and here I didn’t need to go to Berkeley or try to sync our two complex schedules.

We covered much ground in the conversation, and I learned a great deal that I’d love to write down if it weren’t 1:08 in the morning and my wrist wasn’t killing me (where it was stabbed for an IV they used during an MRI earlier in the day). So that’ll have to wait.

Meanwhile, George’s new book is out. I already had it on order and look forward to reading it.

While recovering from a pulmonary embolism, more cautions were raised about various things that come up as one gets older. So I went in for an MRI today. Dunno the results yet. I’m a born optimist, so I’m defaulting in that direction.

Then a few minutes ago I heard that a friend half my age has a tumor the size of a fist in his chest. We’ll find out soon the nature of that as well.

Kinda brings up some perspective. Life, a priest once told me, is a miraculous exception. Death is standard. “To be or not to be” may have been a question for Hamlet, but “not to be” is a final fact for us all. If nothing else gets us, aging is still the fatal disease we all share. Mine is more advanced than most, though my elders are still sufficiently numerous to buoy my optimism.

On the way to Frankfurt the other day I watched The Bucket List. It’s the story of a couple older guys finding joy and bringing it to each other before they die. The “bucket list” is of stuff one wants to do before they die.

I don’t think so much of what I want to get done as what I want to get started. Puts a much better spin on “finished.”

This is mostly true:

This one is my fave.

There is no business I wish more that I had thought of than Despair.com. Just freaking brilliant. And humbling.

Remembering Catherine Burns

My grandmother, who was born in 1882 and died in 1990, came from sturdy Irish and German stock. It’s a combination that yields what I like to call “very organized party people”. She lived longer than her sisters, but not by a huge sum. The other three all lived into their 80s and 90s.

Grandma was the third of four daughters whose parents were Henry Roman Englert and Catherine Trainor. Catherine died in her thirties, so I assume that when this picture was taken, the girls were without a mother — although grandma often spoke fondly of her Aunt Mag, Catherine’s sister. I still remember lessons handed down from Aunt Mag. Such as, “You’ve got it in your hand. Put it away.”

Catherine Trainor Englert was the daughter of Thomas Trainor and (as I recall) Catherine McLaughlin. Thomas emigrated from Ireland in 1825 at age 15 and worked as an indentured servant to Catherine McLaughlin’s dad in Boston, learning the carriage trade. After marrying Catherine he moved to New York, living at a farm in Harlem while running a successful carriage business on Lower Broadway, where the World Trade Center later stood and fell. The Trainors had two daughters and at least two sons. As I recall one of them fought in the Civil War and died of injuries not long after the war was over. As the family story goes, the son arrived home on Christmas in a box.

Henry Englert was the son of Christian Englert and Jacobina Rung, who emigrated from the Alsace region of Germany in the mid 1800s. Henry was the head of the Steel & Copper Plate Engraver’s Union in New York City. The family’s home was at 742 E. 142nd Street in the Bronx. Grandma described the site as a paradise for the girls growing up.

Grandma was third of the four girls. Fourth was Florence, with whom Grandma stayed closest all their lives. Grandma Married George Washington Searls and had three children. The middle of those was my father. His older sister was Ethel and his younger was Grace. Florence married John Jackson “Jack” Dwyer, and had three children: William, Catherine and Jack Junior. William died at 19, a tragedy that was still fresh many decades later when I was growing up. Catherine married Donald Burns and had two sons, Martin and Kevin. Jack Junior had many kids with his wife Ruth. This all added up to more cousins and second cousins than I can count.

From the late 1940s into the early 1960s, our extended family maintained three adjacent properties on the edge of the New Jersey pine barrens. In one, called “Bayberry” lived Grandma and Aunt Ethel — Grandma’s oldest daughter and my father’s older sister. Ethel was a successful businesswoman, running a Newark office of the Prudential Insurance company. As I recall she held the highest position of any woman in the company, which says a lot about glass ceilings in those days. In another lived Aunt Florence and Uncle Jack. In the third lived us. We were summer inhabitants, while Grandma and Aunt Florence became year round somewhere in the middle of the Fifties.

This post, written in summer of 2003, gives a good sense of what a wonderful place and time that was. I still remember vividly Aunt Florence and Uncle Jack’s 50th wedding anniverary, on June 8, 1960. (The photo series from that day begins here.) Now even the kids pictured in that post and those pictures are getting old. All but a few from our parents generation passed on years ago. Notable exceptions have been my aunt Grace and Catherine Burns, the mid-born among Florence and Jack’s three kids, and the third Catherine in four generations.

Grace will be 96 next month, and is doing fine living up in Maine. Yesterday, however, came news that Catherine had passed on Sunday. She was 94.

While I haven’t seen Catherine in many years, I’ve kept up a warm correspondence with her son Martin (pictured with the cat in that last link — a cat that he recalls scratching him while we were posing for Uncle Jack, who set up a large view camera on a sawhorse).

Catherine did an amazing job over several decades studying the genealogy of her family’s roots, and adjacent ones (such as the Searls) as well. Nearly all the photos in this collection are from her archives. Her studies informed many of the notes in the captions as well.

I’ll try to make it up to Portsmouth this evening for the visitation announced in Catherine’s obituary.  Meanwhile, it is moving to look back through her early life in this series here. It shows how the children and adults we were and become stay alive in us, and in our loved ones.

Love is life. To give it is to live it, and vice versa. I thank Aunt Catherine for giving us so much for so long.

Click on the above for a nice series of shots I took while flying out of Chicago in the evening, looking east toward the skyline with the sun behind me in the west. Early on is a nice series of the Bensenville Yard, one of the most impressive, and busy, rail yards in the world.

Here’s the slide show.

Shot this series of pictures, mostly of islands in Boston Harbor, while ascending to the skies out of Logan on Sunday, en route to San Francisco. The one above is Rainsford Island. (And my shot is a lot prettier than the one at that last link, on Wikipedia. They can use it if they like.)

Like many islands and hills in the Boston area, Rainsford is a drumlin or two. Given its shape, I’d call it Fish Island.

Got a lot more pictures from that trip, but they’ll have to wait. Meanwhile, here’s a slide show from the last cross-country trip.

Andy Carvin & NPR crew get kicked out of a public place for taking pictures with a weird (but way cool) camera.

Very nice to discover, via many excellent comments on a Flikr fotoset, that the Minuteman Bikeway has a blog.

Here’s the beginning. Good story.

Here’s the link, and here’s the text:

Additionally, we have awarded two special prizes for the initiatives we considered groundbreaking. The VRM project lead by Doc Searls is from our point of view a very innovative approach to bring the concept of user-centric identity to customer management. During the VRM Unconference 2008 this topic has been intensively discussed for the first time in Europe. The second special prize goes to open source projects Higgins and Bandit, which we consider the most important open source initiatives in the field of Identity Management.

And here’s Bart Stevens’ blog post with photographic proof as well.

Big thanks to Joerg, Martin and all the folks at Kuppinger Cole for hosting and for welcoming all the participants from the VRM crew to EIC2008.

We have many more events coming up. In addition to regularly (and irregularly) scheduled ones in the U.K and elsewhere in Europe (need to get everything on the wiki), we have the VRM sessions at the next IIW, plus the first VRMW (VRM Workshop, unless we come up with a better name for it) at Harvard on 9-10 July. Mark your calendars.

Jump! tonight

After brunch at yesterday, we caught the — a rope jumping team of high schoolers from Torrington, CT — putting on an amazing demonstration of skill and enthusiasm, outside the Davis stop on the Red Line in Somerville. Turned out they were there to help promote , a movie showing that afternoon, and this evening, right next door at the Somerville Theater, as part of Boston’s .

I’m trying to put up one of the short videos I shot with my little Canon still camera, and it hasn’t appeared yet. Check here to see it it’s showed up. Meanwhile, here are a couple of Forbes Flyers’ own from their collection on YouTube.

So, after going to a museum at MIT for about an hour or so, we returned and caught the movie, and with it an enthusiasm both for the sport and the Xtremely Fine Job that Helen Wood Scheer, Scott B. Morgan and crew did putting the movie together. It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen, on any subject.

It’s showing again tonight at 7:30, and next in San Francisco (Wednesday), Santa Cruz and Charleston. Check this page for details. Also the Jump! movie blog.

At , this time for more than a few minutes. Observations…

I can’t post a question using the question tool.

I’m at a panel on fame, and I don’t know any of the panelists. (They are, in fact, moot of 4chan, Randall Munroe, and Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics. They are arranged according to size: moot, Randall, Ryan.)

I am >2x the age of 90% of the people here. I may be 2x the age of ANY of the people here. (Not true, but it seems that way.) Worse, I’m dressed to “go out” to some place nice later, so it’s like I’m in costume.

A sport here: being first finding the too-few power outlets. (That’s the headline reference, btw. Figger it out.)

Neo-Cantabrigian observation: MIT does wi-fi right, while Harvard does power outlets right. At MIT, it’s a snap to get out on the Net through the wi-fi cloud, but there are too few power outlets, and some of them have no power. At Harvard, there are power outlets for everybody in all the classrooms (at least at the Law School, to which most of my experience is so far confined), and getting out on the Net requires a blood sample. From your computer.)

Great question from the floor… “At what time have you been most afraid of what you’ve created?” Answer: “Right now.” At which point Anonymous Thinker — a guy dressed in a suit and a fedora with a black stocking pulled over his head — just made a bunch of noise from the back of the room. Near as I can tell. I’m in the mid-front, and can’t turn my head that far. Still, funny.

Best question on the Question Tool: “SUDO MAKE NEW QUESTION.” Top vote-getter: “What is your zombie defence plan?”

Unrelated but depressing: The lobby for US-style copyrights in Canada has gone into overdrive, recruiting a powerful Member of Parliament and turning public forums on copyright into one-sided love-fests for restrictive copyright regimes that criminalize everyday Canadians.

I don’t have the whole fotoset up yet, but it’ll be here.

Randall just called blogs a “four letter word”. Blogs are very outre here.

To get (and stay) in shape, I’ve been spending more time off-grid. Less blogging and twittering, more time communing with nature. Some of that time I’m not indulging my curiousities. Or at least I’m resisting them. No electronics, for example. It was on one of those walks that I became curious about the story of infrastructure, past and present. What were these metal plates doing in the ground? Why were they there? Why were there so many of them? What were their different purposes? Which ones were remnants of services or companies no longer in existence? Which ones had found new uses? Why do so many carry the signatures of companies and utilities long dead?

I started on the Minuteman Bikeway, which passes close to our home not far from Harvard, where I’m headquartered these days. With a minimal slope, it’s perfect for active but low-stress strolling or biking. And it connects a lot of interesting historic sites. At one end is the Alewife “T” stop on the Red Line subway. At the other is something in Belmont I haven’t reached yet, because I usually go only as far as Lexington. Most of the stretch runs through Arlington, which combines the former villages of West Cambridge and Menotony. This is roughly the path along which the British soldiers retreated from Lexington on April 19, 1775, losing men (mostly boys, actually) and killing colonials of many ages. Thus started the Revolutionary War.

The Middlesex Central Railroad was born in 1846 and died in 1982. Part of it was better known as the Lexington and West Cambridge Railroad. It began as a vein of commerce, carrying goods from mills and ponds along its path. The Earth was colder in the early days of the railroad, and the winters were longer. Ice cut from Spy Pond was shipped all over the world from docks in Boston. This past winter the pond was thick enough to support skating for about three days.

But I’ve become more interested in the infrastructure story. So, over the last couple weeks, as Spring breaks out along the trail, I’ve been shooting pictures, mostly of stuff on the ground, before it gets haired over with vegetation, in faith that patterns will start making sense to me. I’ve also shot a lot around Cambridge, Boston and other places, but haven’t put those up yet. Right now I’m adding descriptions to the photos in this set here.

This is part of a long-term project, methinks. We’ll see how it goes. If you’re interested in following the same threads, tell me in the comments below.

Clicking on the picture above will take you on a slideshow tour of the Grand Canyon, shot from the right side of an LAX-bound 757 that departed from Boston. I have no idea what movie was showing at the time; though I do know I refused, as I usually do, to close my windowshade to reduce ambient light on the ancient crappy ceiling-mounted TV screens. The scene outside upstaged the movie in any case, as it has been doing for the last several million years, as the Kaibab Plateau has pushed its dome upward and the Colorado has stayed roughly where it had been since the many millions of years before that, when it wandered lazily across a flat plain.

As ranking canyons go, the Grand Canyon is almost too grand. It’s freaking huge. From the air I find it far more dramatic to peer down into its narrower regions, such as the one above, which is early in the Colorado’s course through the canyon. The series follows the canyon from east to west, from not far below Glen Canyon dam and the Vermillion Cliffs area to Vulcan’s Throne and Lava Falls, where relatively recent flows have slopped their blackness down across the canyon’s iconic layer-cake strata.

What is most amazing to me about this corner of The West is that it was obviously placid through so many time stretches across the last almost two billion years. The West is painted with the colors of long periods of relative quiet, as sands and silts and gravel and cobbles were deposited by braided rivers and transgressing seas.

All of the Grand Canyon’s strata were laid down before the age of dinosaurs. Younger layers such as those comprising the Vermillion Cliffs to the East, the Grand Staircase upstream in the Glenn Canyon area, in Canyonlands, Arches, and most of Utah’s most colorful layer-cake displays — Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef, Cedar Breaks, San Rafael Reef and Swell — are comprised of younger rock eroded off the top of the Kaibab Plateau.

Some of the shots were taken with my Canon 30d, and others with my tiny PowerShot 850. which does a better job of shooting straight down through the window. Its smaller lens distorts less through the plane’s multiple layers of bad glass and plastic windows. And the display on the back lets me shoot without looking through an eyepiece. It’s not perfect, but not bad, either.

I still miss my Nikon Coolpix 5700, which took lots of great pictures out plane windows, and was frankly much better at that job than the Canon, mostly because the Coolpix’ objective lens was smaller (again, better for looking at angles through the terrible optics of plane windows), and partly because the camera’s flip-out viewer allowed me to hold the camera to the window at angles I could not put my face, but where I could still see and frame the view.

Here’s a slide show compiled from shots from a left side window (6A) of a United 737 flying from Dulles to Logan. Featured are Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Jersey’s refinery districts, New York and BostonProvidence. Even from half a dozen miles up and more than that away, you can see the bright lights of Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards, where the Yankees and Orioles were playing that evening. Also the Verazano-Narrows and George Washington bridges, along with many others draped across the black waters below.

In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop, headlines the New York Times. “They work long hours, often to exhaustion. Many are paid by the piece — not garments, but blog posts. This is the digital-era sweatshop”, it begins. It’s about blogging for bucks. Marc Orchant and Russell Shaw, both of whom died recently, and Om Malik, who recently survived a heart attack, serve as instructive examples of “toiling under great physical and emotional stress created by the around-the-clock Internet economy that demands a constant stream of news and comment”.

Mike Arrington “says he has gained 30 pounds in the last three years, developed a severe sleeping disorder and turned his home into an office for him and four employees. ‘At some point, I’ll have a nervous breakdown and be admitted to the hospital, or something else will happen…This is not sustainable’.”

The piece goes on:

One of the most competitive categories is blogs about technology developments and news. They are in a vicious 24-hour competition to break company news, reveal new products and expose corporate gaffes.

To the victor go the ego points, and, potentially, the advertising. Bloggers for such sites are often paid for each post, though some are paid based on how many people read their material. They build that audience through scoops or volume or both.

Since this system does not feature the ‘chinese wall’ between editorial and advertising that has long been a fixture of principled mainstream journalism — or rather because writing, publishing and advertising are much more intimately mashed up in this new system than it was in the old one — I suggest a distinction here: one between blogging and flogging.

I brought that up on The Gang on Friday and got as nowhere as I did when I put up the post at the last link. So far it has no comments at all.

Still, I think distinctions matter. There is a difference in kind between writing to produce understanding and writing to produce money, even when they overlap. There are matters of purpose to consider, and how one drives (or even corrupts) the other.

Two additional points.

One is about chilling out. Blogging doesn’t need to be a race. Really.

The other is about scoops. They’re overrated. Winning in too many cases is a badge of self-satisfaction one pins on oneself. I submit that’s true even if Memeorandum or Digg pins it on you first. In the larger scheme of things, even if the larger scheme is making money, it doesn’t matter as much as it might seem at the time.

What really matters is … Well, you decide.

Before crashing in bed at 3am, I heard the last (third) movement of what may be my favorite piece of music: Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. It was an amazing version, subtle and silky-smooth, yet highly emphatic. The phrasing verged on speech. Turns out it was Anne-Sophie Mutter with the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert Von Karajan. I’m not surprised, being a Von Karajan fan. I’m exceptionally fond of his 1963 recordings of the nine Beethoven symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic. (I have two sets in vinyl and one on CD.)

Anyway, I just went looking for the recording, and here it is on YouTube. Sounds a bit more allegro than what I just heard on the radio, but I’m sleepy and not sure. It’s giving me chills, again. There just isn’t a more beautiful piece of music. Nice. Check it out.

Overheard lawyers talking: “It’s easier to pass the bar if …”

I’ve always liked cars. Never owned a great one, unless you count an ’85 Camry that ran forever with the fewest possible repairs. I did have a hand in my wife’s purchase of a ’92 Infiniti Q45a — a fabulous piece of work, sadly dulled by the maker in subsequent models. It was sadly repair-prone and finally croaked somewhere north of 200k miles, when the active suspension gave out. Still, for quite a few years it was an exceedingly pleasing car to drive.

These days my aging eyes and slower reflexes caution me against car fantasies that would be too pricey in any case. But I still harbor wishes for a car market not dominated by inefficient manufacturers of cookie-cutter vehicles, but rather populated by an infinite variety of designs that combine the best of invention, engineering, light manufacture and customer input on design — a value constellation rather than a value chain.

One such maker is Iconic Motors. The brightest star in its constellation is Claudio Ballard, an inventor whose obsession with automotive perfection is matched by his commitment to small, high-quality U.S. manufacturers. Together they’re producing the GTR:

Its a beautiful thing, and so hot it’s scary. It packs more than 800 horses in body that barely outweighs a Miata. It will rocket you past 200 miles per hour, and carve around curves on a suspension that’s as close to Formula One as you’ll find off a speedway.

They’re only producing a hundred of them in their first run. They are also interested in input as well as interest from fellow enthusiasts. This is the open source part of the story, and one of the big reasons I’m interested in it. (Besides having gotten to know Claudio over the past few months.) To get that ball rolling they’re hosting a reception at 7pm tomorrow night at the New York Auto Show. Wish I could be there, but I can’t.

They don’t have a link up yet, but will soon. I’ll add it here, soon as they do.

Got some nice pictures of the Cornwall Coast, while still ascending out of Heathrow en route to Washington and Boston.

The shot above is of Padstow Bay, with Trebetherick and the Polzeaths on the right, above Padstow and Daymer Bays. (The latter is the lower, or southern, one.)

Interesting to see how the surf hits the Polzeaths at full force. Some pretty big waves there. You can also see the corduroy surface of the ocean, as the waves advance from a swell coming in from the west.



Often as I fly over eastern Canada, I’ve somehow always missed Newfoundland. It has always been nighttime, or clouded under, or too far from the plane’s route. Well, not this last time. When I flew from London to Boston via Washington (LHR-IAD-BOS) on the first day of March, I could see on the plane’s map that we were headed straight over the southeastern corner Newfoundland — the Avalon Peninsula, where St. John’s lies next to the easternmost point on mainland North America. Then, as we approached, the plane veered slightly left, toward the south, and we missed St. John’s by fifty miles or more. But it was a clear day, so I got a few shots of St. John’s anyway, and then much better shots as we flew just south of the southern capes.

I got some nice shots of Trepassy Bay, Biscay Bay and St. Mary’s bay, all on the “Irish Loop” of Highway 10. The towns along and near the loop — Portugal Cove South, Trepassy, St. Shotts — are fishing villages more akin to settlements. So far I’ve found surprisingly little about them on the Web, most of which I’ve put into links in captions under some of the pictures. Maybe some of ya’ll can fill me in.

NewsGang up

Friday’s NewsGang, with Dennis Haarsager, Stephen Hill (of Hearts of Space), host and yours truly, is up. It was long (1:25) but very good. Here’s the MP3.

The main topic was Dennis’ new job as iCEO of . I was on a panel with Dennis just a few weeks ago. He’s a great guy, very sharp, extremely aware of the challenges, and much more.

He even seemed to agree with the ten prophesies and one fond wish that I presented during our panel. (That talk was a compression of this post here.) It won’t be easy for him, but I’m extremely encouraged with the prospects.

In my last post I quoted some Doors lyrics. Uncharacteristically, I did not do any linking.

I didn’t link to The Doors’ site because it’s full of Flash and other crap that is not only at stylistic variance from the spare and artful nature of The Doors’ work, but likely to either annoy you or crash something. (My Linux box can’t see or hear the Flash stuff, my Windows box wants to download all kinds of stuff and then fails with it anyway, and my Mac just flat-out crashes on it. I don’t recall any other site recently that actually brings down a computer. But that’s what The Doors site did in this case.)

I didn’t link to any lyrics pages because all of them, far as I can tell, bury what the reader wants — just the lyrics, please — inside walls of advertising. Go do a phrase/keyword search for “When the music’s over” and “doors”, on Google. Click on the top results and you’ll find that every one has a pop-up window, plus lots of other advertising jive. Of course, you can block those in your browser; but still, pop-up windows suck. They break the Web’s social contract, which says (among other things) that the publisher should not abuse the reader’s intentions. Nobody goes to a page saying “I want a pop-up window”.

These lyrics pages exist for a good (though bad) reason: most artists don’t publish their own lyrics. People want to see lyrics, however, so the advertising baiters publish the lyrics anyway. Copyright be damned.

So my advice to artists such as The Doors is to publish their own lyrics, in ways that respect the music and their own artistry — as well as the readers’ good will and good intentions.

And while they’re at it, quit making the sites so damn fancy and complicated. Quit burying text inside graphics (where the type can’t scale up and down). Make the pages into blogs that are live and written, rather than static and built. It’s cheaper, too.

I say this, by the way, as a fan of the Doors since the band was new. At one time or another I’ve bought every album, both in vinyl and CD form. I’d love it if the band (or whoever constitutes them now) would just give us a nice simple site that’s easy on readers and their browsers.

Yesterday we went to visit the De Cordova Museum in Concord Lincoln, where we were looking forward to seeing the museum’s iconic pink pig sculpture along with other exhibits in the museum and its Sculpture Park.

Rounding a curve on the road through the park heading into the museum, we were shocked and saddened to see that a tree from the center of a nearby grove had fallen squarely across the pig, smashing it right in the middle. No expert could have dropped the tree more squarely. It was amazing that, given 360 possible compass degrees that the tree might have fallen, it picked exactly this one.

Later we learned that the tree had fallen just that morning, no doubt because its rooting had been weakened by gound saturated with rain over the past few days.

Then this morning I was surprised to find no mention of the news in blog or the Boston Globe. So I just started uploading a bunch of pictures taken with my pocket camera. The lighting wasn’t good, but there are plenty of shots for anybody to use, should they like, up here at Flickr. If you’re a journalist of any kind, feel free to take and use them.

More about the pig. It is a work of Gail Simpson and Aristotle Georgiades of Actual Size Artworks. Its title is Trojan Piggybank, and it is on loan from the artists. From the writeup two links back:

Originally exhibited in the 2004 Navy Pier Walk: The Chicago International Sculpture Exhibition, Trojan Piggybank comes to DeCordova Museum’s Sculpture Park with a playful warning from its collaborative team of artists, Gail Simpson and Aristotle Georgiades, who caution, “Sometimes things are not what they appear to be.”

From a distance, the large pink wood piggybank appears friendly. A closer look reveals military camouflage colors painted around the snout, suggesting a recent wallow in filth, while imparting an additional and foreboding meaning. The artists intend this familiar military pattern to represent the greed associated with our ever-expanding military industrial complex. This visual stratagem is furthered by grates protecting Trojan Piggybank‘s eyes, and a hatch door on the underbelly hinting at hidden invaders inside. A large silver coin waits at the ready in the piggybank’s slot. As Simpson and Georgiades observe, “The pleasures of consumer culture are accompanied by less desirable social consequences. When we impose one way of life onto another, the bad goes along with the good. The playful piggybank has a hidden agenda.”

No wonder our first thought was that the tree across the pig was itself a sculpture, or an improvisation on the original.

Well, in a way it was, no?

Film on paper

Sorry I won’t be in Santa Barbara to see the premiere of the documentary Citizen McCaw this Friday. The film’s subject is Wendy McCaw and her “war” to keep her paper, the Santa Barbara News-Press, independent of everything but herself (as best I can put it this morning, anyway). There will be a DVD on sale pretty soon. Here’s the trailer. And here’s an FAQ.

The flight from Heathrow to Dulles took more than nine hours, which was long enough to watch parts of seven different movies three times. Since one of those movies was No Country for Old Men, none of the other movies stood a chance. By the time we arrived, I had become a student of the movie. I just hope it isn’t in my dreams tonight.

The central figure, Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem, is a psycopathic killer who personifies death and chance in unequal measure. It’s a landmark performance. Every performance in the film is strong, but none of the characters stand out like Chigurh’s.

His motives? His quarry is money, but that’s just a point on a path. There is no doubt that he will get the money, and that people will die along the way. But death itself has no motive. It is merely inevitable. Like Anton Chigurh. The Terminator, the Alien, the guy DiNiro played in Cape Fear… all the relentless bad guys we’ve known… don’t compare easily with Chigurh. Because all the others could be, and were, defeated.

Death can’t be defeated. In Chigurh, it could only be wounded, because he is death in human form. But he is still death.

Which is on my mind more as I get older. The old men in the movie — Tommy Lee Jones and cohorts of his generation — are barely older than me, if they’re older at all.

Being older, if not yet “old”, requires increased acquaintance with the certainty that Your Time Will Come.

I plan to procrastinate. For some things that’s a helpful skill.

Meanwhile, a highly recommended movie.

I just discovered that is also useful for astronomy. You go under View and click on Switch to Sky. Suddenly your screen is a planetarium. It’s not quite the equal yet of KStars, Starry Night or Carinasoft’s Voyager (the three programs I know best), but it’s not bad for a start, and with call-outs that integrate well with the Web.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, I’m wondering if there’s an easy one-click way to copy lat/lon from an x/y location on the Earth. Or to copy the geotag.

Another question… Is there an easy way to make Google Earth display the names of mountains and rivers? Seems the only way is by angling down with the tilt slider (the horizontal one above the compass tool), to an elevation barely above that of the mountain — and then using your mouse, keyboard, or that joysticky whatever-that-is in the middle of the compass, to fly like a plane toward the mountain’s crest, hoping that at some point the name of the mountain will appear in blue above it. Any of you geo-hackers know a better way? Hope there is one.

And one more… Is there a way to use normal, non-3D fonts?

Oh, and these questions don’t just apply to Google Earth.

My main purpose is to geotag pictures I put up here. No way to label them all, since there are around 18,000 of them. But I’d like to label a few, at least. Easily.

Looking grand

That’s a shot of the Lava Falls section of the Grand Canyon. It’s one of my favorite scenes: of lava from the Uinkaret Lava Field slopping down into the canyon over the north rim. Atop Lava Falls itself is Vulcan’s Throne, a volcanic vent about 73,000 years old.

This may seem old, but the lava is among the newest features of the Grand Canyon. The Kaibab Limestone over which the lava flowed was laid down in early Permian time, around 290 million years ago. All the rocks below are older, on down to the Vishnu group at the bottom of the canyon, around 1.7 billion years ancient.

That set is one of many that came out of my most recent trip out west by plane. I’m in London now, and still getting them up.

My old friend Steve Lewis and I fell out of touch for almost a quarter century after college, leading almost entirely different lives in different parts of the world. We diverged on graduation in 1969, after having both been philosophy majors. I went on to careers in journalism, retailing, frozen produce wholesaling, ice cream truck driving and radio, among too many others to mention. Steve stayed on an academic track, leveraging Fulbright scholarships and other graces into research and work that had him become fluent in a number of languages and rich in knowledge and experience about countless arcane aspects of history and cuture in the far corners of Europe.

But one thing we had in common: we both also labored in the fields of marketing communications when we weren’t doing other things we enjoyed more.

In his latest Hak Pak Sak blog post, Steve revisits a number of remarkable texts, including a Flemish novel whose lead protagonist’s work recalls some of our own. He describes it this way:

  The Journal, Boorman boasts, has print runs in the millions despite its paid circulation of zero and a full-time staff of nobody. In fact, the publication is an archetypal promotional magazine. Customers can place glowing written and visual portraits of their companies and products in the journal merely by committing themselves to purchasing tens or hundreds of thousands or even millions of copies of off-prints which they pay for in cash or in kind.

An interesting commentary on what’s a little too true about way too much of what at least two of us have had to do for a living.

Ze bones

Skull a day.

Fractal footprints

The interesting thing to me about the footprints above, aside from their nature as photography fodder, is that they resemble the layout of the two intersecting paths at Winthrop Park, where I took the shot.

You can see the paths on Google Maps if you look for the intersection of JFK and Mt. Auburn in downtown Cambridge — one block south of Harvard Square (which isn’t), or you can hope that clicking on the “Link to this page” link for the park itself will work; but for some reason Google Maps (on this laptop, at least, in two different browsers) shows you the park while it’s loading, then jumps to another part of Cambridge. It’s 2:33am, however, and I’m not going to try to debug whatever I might be doing to cause that.

In any case, the pidgeon prints drew a map of the park paths.

The park is also Wintrop Square. Unlike most squares in Boston, it actually has corners that are right angles. It was the city’s original marketplace, and therefore dates, as does the city, from 1630. It was called Newtowne then. It became Cambridge eight years later.

Change is in the air at WUMB is a story ran ran in the Boston Globe yesterday, about trouble the U Mass Boston radio station is having with the label for most of its programming: folk. And perhaps the programming itself. It begins:

  Money changes everything, at least for WUMB-FM (91.9). Thanks in part to a recent grant that allowed it to evaluate its mission, the public station may well drop wide-ranging music programs “Mountain Stage” and “Afropop Worldwide” by March 1. The station may even end up dumping its identification as “folk radio.”

  But in exchange, say those in charge, listeners will be getting a station that is more responsive to the community’s needs.

  The impetus for these changes is a station-renewal grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. One of five awarded in July to stations across the country, the grant of approximately $500,000 has allowed WUMB, which is based at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, to poll listeners and conduct focus groups about what the station should be as it finishes its first 25 years on air.

Hey, WUMB: poll me. I like the station. I don’t have a problem with “folk radio” — although the label does call to mind an old Martin Mull line: “Remember the Folk Music Scare of the Sixties? That fiddle and banjo crap almost caught on.”

WUMB’s music isn’t even close to “all fiddle and banjo”. It’s an artfully eclectic mix of what might better be called “traditional” or “americana”. But how do you draw a categorical line around the Subdudes, David Lindley, Shawn Colvin, Goeff Muldaur, JJ Cale, Dolly Parton, Sleepy John… except to say you can’t. You’ve gotta listen to tell.

I started listening on line (in Santa Barbara) before I got to town, and on the radio ever since I moved here in September. My car radio has a button on WUMB, and my Webio runs its streams.

Hope they don’t give me a reason to change that.

[Later...] Actually, the station’s main problem is really its signal. The transmitter puts out only 660 watts at a height of just 207 feet above average terrain. It also doesn’t come from the campus on the shores of Dorchester Bay, but rather from the corner of a golf course in Quincy, a few miles southeast of town. Its signal to the northwest (say, Cambridge and beyond) is too weak to stop “scan” on a car radio. At my house I need the hands of a safecracker to tune it in on our kitchen radio dial.

As an old radio engineering type, I know the dial is too packed with existing signals to offer much if any elbow room for moving the transmitter or raising the power or antenna height; but I’d suggest putting some of that new money toward, say, a booster transmitter on one of the downtown buildings currently shadowing the signal. Or toward buying one or more other stations around the edge of the market. I’ll bet that some of the AMs would come for a bargain. And with “HD” radio coming, some of those signals could carry music at sound qualities that are higher than the current legacy technology allows. In any case, it’s worth some study (if that isn’t happening already).

To its credit, WUMB has a bunch of other signals (actually, stations), two others of which are also on 91.9. That helps. But with money perhaps more could be done.

As for “the community”, I have some other thoughts about that, which I’ll link to here after I put them up.

[Later still...] This morning’s Guest Set features bassist John Troy, providing faves from the Pousette-Dart Band, Little Feat, NRBQ, Tower of Power, Chris Smither, Sal Baglio… Wow. Great, great radio.

Back to the Globe article…

  “There is a definite call to replace some of the syndicated programs with live shows,” says Pat Monteith, general manager of the station, which also broadcasts at 91.7 FM in Newburyport and 1170 AM in Orleans. “Some shows,” she learned, “people want more of.”

  Perhaps most startling, she said, was the reaction to the station’s ID. “Several people [said], ‘I hadn’t listened before, because I really don’t like “folk” music, but when I listen to your station I like it,’ ” Monteith explained. “Even our heaviest listeners find the word ‘folk’ very challenging.”

Hence the headline above.

Man blogs

I like Remodeling for Geeks, subtitled code snippets for your house.

Bonus snip.

Sez du day

As a shameless fan of the Lolcat language, the Lolcat Bible (including the Ceiling Cat Prayer) and the Lolcat blog (I Can Haz Cheezeburger?), I find myself seeking translation to Lolcat of this fine quote from Don Marti:

  Becoming a blog-friendly company by chattering on blogs is like becoming a cat person by clawing your own couch and crapping in a litter box.

Perhaps,

  Wantingz ta mak blahs purr wit sef purringz et blahs iz lak sharpeningz da sleeping playz or poopingz in da howz soil.

Feel free to add your own.

Haze set

There’s this great haze effect you sometimes get in the mountains of Southern California in the evening. It’s not smog, though sometimes that’s involved. It’s just enough moisture in the air, nicely layered, to give you these amazing silhouettes that look like Japanese paintings. Or something.

And that’s what I saw whille driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles last Thursday evening, right after CES, when I passed through some low mountains between Barstow and Victorville on I-15. Google Earth is woefully deficient in the mountain-naming department, so I’m not sure what these are. The near ones are close to the road. The far ones are probably in the San Gabriel Mountains, which frame the Los Angeles basin on the north, and the Mojave Desert on the south. At this point I’m on the Mojave side, facing southwest. In any case, I got some nice shots in the set behind the picture above.

And here’s the same effect, in the San Gabriels, shot from an inbound plane.

Gang up

The latest Gillmor, um, news Gangs are up. Recorded last Thursday. I participated from a spot on the floor behind a curtain somewhere in the Sands, in Las Vegas. Listen via the links at Part I and Part II.

Bonus post: Flakes on a Plane.

While trying to make sense of some of what I saw out the window while flying from Los Angeles to Boston yesterday, I ran across Physical Geography of the U.S., an online summary of its subject that is so deep, interesting, well-written and well-sourced that it is hard not to keep reading it, and to follow its many links.

And it is not alone. It is one subject among seventeen at Bob Parvin’s Website, which is dedicated to literacies that range from the celestial to the household. Here they are:

Tutoring for Mastery of Reading and Writing and Arithmetic

Tutoring English Grammar and Composition

Finding and Reading eBooks

Beginning Urban Skywatching

Physical Geography of the U.S.

Economic Literacy

Global Warming and Warning

Approaching the Bible

Islam: One American’s Findings

DNA: Life’s Common Denominator

Nutrition: What should we eat?

Help for Microsoft Windows XP

Bread Machine Baking

Tips for No-Knead Bread Baked in a Pot

Links to Video Performances of Great Arias

The Home Library, an electronic home reference library

Recollections of an Old Farm Boy

I’ve had a few minutes more than the rest of you to explore all this, but what I’ve seen so far is just as engaging as the first item I found.

So, see what you think. I suggest starting with the last item.

Where looks are everything

Las Vegas is a crazy place. Picturing CES shows some of that. There’s more to come.

Just noticed I have 394 potos tagged lasvegas here and another 77 here.

A standout product

Years ago at a small event the give-away schwag was an portable laptop tripod. We set it up once, couldn’t figure out how to break it down again, and put it the first of a series of storage closets. We’ve lived 9 places in 10 years, I’m sure it’s been transported between at least half of them.

Anyway, during this last trip back to Santa Barbara it occurred to me that this little stand would be ideal for my wife, who likes to use her laptop in the living room of the apartment we’re renting near Boston. So I finally figured out how to break it down and set it up again, then stuffed it in a bag that I carried here to Las Vegas, en route back East.

A few minutes ago I decided to use it here at my hotel, where, as always at hotels, the desk is uncomfortably high, and was giving me shoulder cramps.

Now I wish I had discovered this thing years ago. Yes, it’s a little shaky (it’s very light), but that’s my only quibble. Otherwise it does a great job serving as an artificial lap that stands between my knees while I sit upright in a comfortable chair. (This hotel has one of those, at least.) Since the flat part of the stand that supports the laptop is aluminum and open underneath, it makes a good heat sink and keeps the hot bottom of the laptop off my legs. And it can be adjusted not only for height but for angle as well. Pretty slick.

Even at the $99 list price, I’d say it’s worth it. And I’m betting that there are plenty of discounts out there.

In any case, the insTand may be the most useful piece of schwag I’ve received. Highly recommended.

Cluetrain, the slide show.

Bonus list.

I watch little television, so I’ve felt comfortable ignoring the writers strike, which has been going on since November.

But it’s hard to escape the strike’s effects while hanging out in Southern California, where writers of movies and TV shows are essential to what they call The Industry here.

Not surprisingly, a search for a bracing perspective on the matter took me to Articulation and Activism: In Praise of Screenwriters … and “Hackwriters” Too — a post last month by my old friend and colleague Stephen Lewis at his blog Hak Pak Sak. His core points:

  The strikers’ demands focus on residuals from new and emerging distribution channels — especially the internet. Over the last decades, writers time and again missed the boat on gaining a fair share of earnings from the recycling of their work via new media, including videocassettes and DVDs. Now, they are determined not to repeat this mistake with internet distribution. All of us who who are paid job-by-job for our labor and/or creative abilities should back the strikers in whatever ways we can. The same goes for those of us who believe in the future of internet as the primary distribution channel for news, opinion, knowledge, and entertainment and who understand that media are just what the word implies, i.e. “dark fiber” and “empty pipes”, vehicles for conveying content and no more. In the end, backing the strike means willingness to pay for internet content, directly or indirectly, and to pressure those who charge for content, i.e. the owners of networks and other marketing shells, to ensure that a fair share of the life-long earnings of productions goes those who create them.

Steve has also been active in , and his post moves me to point out that VRM should, among other things, create business models that facilitate “willingness to pay” for writing and other “content” in the open marketplace where the users of that content have wide-open choices over what to pay for creative goods and how to relate to creators. Our job is to create that “how”. Hollywood won’t, and perhaps can’t. Certainly not without our help, anyway.

That “how” needs to lower the friction involved in “willingess to pay” in the direction of zero. That is, the cost in time and effort required to pay must move toward zero until the willingness to pay exceeds the same value. This challenge first faced us with Napster, and nearly all “solutions” from the supply side since then have ranged from harmful to inadequate.

The will to pay fair sums for perceived value needs to be melded with technology that facilitates 1) working relationships (on an elective basis for both supply and demand), and 2) efficient transaction. Neither can be scaffolded on the old supply-controlled systems that feel threatened by the Net. Nor can it be built on an artist-by-artist or distributor-by-distributor basis, because that will just result in countless narrowly-focused and incompatible CRM (customer relationship management) systems, such as those we see today with public broadcasting, where CRM systems restrict listeners and viewers to paying for freely available creative goods only through hundreds of different channels comprised of stations that mostly comprehend relationship only in terms of “membership”.

Nor can it be built only inside some large company’s walled garden. The most free markets will be built on the most free customers — and the most creative and resourceful suppliers and intermediators.

VRM systems need to leverage the freedom and facilitate the independence of individuals, and their ability to make their own choices. They must enable passive consumers to become active customers. It must help demand find and drive supply at least as well as supply drives and creates demand. A healthy market ecosystem with have both. Not just the latter.

The markets that arise from independent and enabled customers will be incalculably varied and large. And some of the largest potential facilitators of those markets — especially those without stakes in the old distro systems — are in an ideal position to help out here, and to break free of their own old failing or hidebound business models. (Hear that, phone companies? Retailers? Banks and credit card companies?) This is the Intention Economy I wrote about almost two years ago. We’ve made progress in that direction (especially around identity), but we still have a long way to go.

More at How VRM can help CRM get past DRM and some other links I don’t have time to find right now. Gotta pack and leave for CES in Las Vegas. [Later... here's one.]

Twixtonomy

Paul Downey: I see two kinds of Twitterers emerging: Twits and Twerps.

Interesting read. Not sure if I’m either, both or neither.

Waste not

So my good friend Freddy Herrick is a terrific writer with a huge pile of excellent screenplays — screen novels, actually — in the queue. I’ve read some. They’re terrific and deserve production. Toward that end I’ve encouraged Freddy to go ahead and start blogging them as installments. You know, like Dickens.

Which he’s done, at California Below the Waist. His first opus there is The Final Option. The story thus far:

 

Enjoy. Or better yet, connect. Write to faherrick AT gmail.com.

We’ve been under snow in Boston for all of December; but in our case we missed the white Christmas there, opting instead to visit family and grandbaby in Baltimore, where it was a bit cold but not snowy. Christmas evening, however, we made up for that by hanging in Denver, waiting for a plane to Boise, where things were white again, and getting whiter.

The next morning, after a fabulous breakfast I wrote about on site, we hopped in the rented Subaru Forrester and headed toward Sun Valley. The roads were slick and the accidents were many, so I didn’t do any shooting until we were heading into Shoshone, and taking the Sawtooth Scenic Byway (Idaho 75) north into Sun Valley. That’s where this gallery came from, including the shot above, which was made by The Kid out a side window. Not bad.

We had fresh snow every day in Sun Valley, and even more up at Galena where I did the first cross-country skiing in my life. Beautiful place, with the best lodge food I’ve ever had. Amazingly good, especially considering the remote infrastructure-free location.

Anyway, things stayed white all the way until we were over California airspace yesterday. More pix of those after I get some sleep.

Losing our best

Bruce Steinberg was my best reader, one of my best email correspondents, and one of the best friends I’ve never met in the flesh. We always talked about getting together, but never made it work.

This morning I received an email with news that Bruce passed away yesterday after a brief illness. He was 64.

I just put up a post about Bruce, over at Linux Journal.

If you knew Bruce, or have some links to add to the short list I put up there, please add them to the comments under that post, or send me pointers to blog posts of your own.

Cliff Baldridge.

The self-described “Multi-Award Winning Super-Producer and Director” has just put out a press release that begins,

  SANTA BARBARA, Calif. & LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Santa Barbara Arts TV today announced that they have formed a content and advertising partnership with YouTube, now allowing the YouTube community to engage, interact and monetize the Exclusive, A-List Social Media Content on The Santa Barbara Arts TV YouTube Brand Channel at http://www.youtube.com/SBARTSTV.

A few (among many) money grafs down is this pair:

  Santa Barbara Arts TV content is now monetized through our YouTube Partner Channel via Google AdSense Video Units and The Google AdSense YouTube Video Units Player. Santa Barbara Arts TV Content is now listed in the AdSense Content Providers Area as Santa Barbara Arts and AdSense publishers are currently monetizing our content.

  Google AdSense Video Units enable AdSense publishers to display relevant, targeted video content within a customized, embedded player that’s ad-supported. Google is working with select YouTube content partners including Santa Barbara Arts TV to supply the video content. AdSense Video Units Program is available in the US and will roll-out to the UK, Ireland, Canada and new countries where video units are available allowing the enabling and enriching of websites and blogs with relevant video content while enabling Webmasters and Bloggers to earn extra revenue from the relevant, non-intrusive ads that accompany the videos.

As if this weren’t scammy (and spammy) enough, there’s THE OFFICIAL SANTABARBARAARTSTV.com YOUTUBE PARTNER CHANNEL itself. It contains this subtle message from Cliff:

  WE ARE ADSENSE ENABLED!!! WEBMASTERS AND BLOGGERS MAKE MONEY THROUGH YOUTUBE AND GOOGLE ADSENSE…SPEAK THE TRUTH AND HELP PEOPLE AND CHARITIES AND KARMA WILL LOOK OUT FOR YOU..RESIST NEGATIVITY..SHOW COMPASSION TO THE MISGUIDED…LIVE YOUR DREAMS…DO NOT MISUSE PEOPLE…BE LOVE BE LOVED…WEBMASTERS AND BLOGGERS MAKE MONEY THROUGH YOUTUBE AND GOOGLE ADSENSE AND THIS PROGRAM IS NOW AVAILABLE IN AMERICA AND SOON TO ROLL OUT IN OTHER COUNTRIES IN A STAGGERED ROLLOUT AND THE PUBLIC CAN NOW MAKE MONEY FROM OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL THROUGH GOOGLE ADSENSE WELCOME TO THE YOUTUBE MONEY CASHCOW REVOLUTION: SANTA BARBARA ARTS IS ONE OF THE HUNDRED COVETED ORIGINAL YOUTUBE PARTNERS WHO IS CURRENTLY ADSENSE YOUTUBE VIDEO UNITS ENABLED.

  MEANING PEOPLE, CHARITIES, WEBMASTERS, BLOGGERS, WEBSITE CREATORS CAN ALL MAKE MONEY NOW, THIS IS AN ECONOMIC REVOLUTION. COURTESY OF YOUTUBE.

  THE SECRET THE SECRET OF ATTRACTION IT IS NO SECRET IT IS A GIFT WE GIVE AND WE GET! POSITIVE KARMA

  NAMASTE

Cliff seems to be a happy guy who enjoys what he’s doing, so … what the hell.

Via Edhat.

[later...] Cliff, clearly a good-natured guy, posted a response here.

Drifter snow

Best Christmas music video. Drifters. Circa 1955, as I recall. That’s Clyde McPhatter behind the white reindeer’s lip-sync. And Bill Pinkney as Santa. Or vice versa. Bonus Elvis link.

An idea that needs to snowball

Nothing is more likely to get me to come to the Berkshires in coldest winter than the chance to help build and coat Freezing Man.

Quote du jour

When it comes to controversy, after abortion, nothing beats guns and kids. — Rick Segal

I only met Floyd Westerman once, at Max Gail‘s house in Malibu. I didn’t know at the time that Floyd was a celebrity. Actually, I’m not sure if Floyd was a celebrity or not. I figure a celebrity is somebody whose name I know or whose face is instantly recognizable to me. Floyd’s wasn’t, even though I’d seen him in perhaps dozens of movies, usually playing either an Indian or the Indian. He was in The Doors, Dances With Wolves, Northern Exposure and L.A. Law, to name two examples each from the big and small screen. In fact, I didn’t know, until I read his obituary in the Boston Globe today, that he was also a singer, songwriter and musician who had also performed with Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson and Don Henley, among many others.

Mostly I remember him as a thoroughly good man who helped guide me through a tough patch in my life

He and some friends, including Max, were holding a sweat in a small dome lodge at Max’s house. I had never participated in a sweat before, and wasn’t eager to this time, since it combined my only two phobias: claustro and extreme heat. Sticking it out was very hard — so hard that I had to leave for awhile. But Floyd invited me back for a final round of hot rocks and steam, and to talk about what was in my heart.

I did, and Floyd’s guidance in response was warm, humane and deeply helpful. It truly turned me around and I’ll always appreciate it.

New found ice

Speaking of ice and snow, that picture above is one in a series of shots I took out the window of the galley in the 777 yesterday as it passed into Canadian airspace after hours crossing nothing but the vast North Atlantic. This is the Labrador coastof the province now known as Newfoundland and Labrador. The patterns made by the icy water flowing past small islands along the coast was beautiful and fascinating. Look here and here to see the larger scope, and how some play between moving seas and moving winds creates these broad flow patterns that almost appear to have been made by a rake or a broom.

CDG bad

When it was built, Charles de Gaulle Airport‘s Terminal 1, with Paul Andreu‘s concrete-and-tubing reactor core styling (which inspired one of many famous scenes from Apple’s landmark 1984 ad) was an avante garde sensation. Now it’s a dump.

It was already getting old by the time I travelled frequently to it in the mid-90s. Near as I can tell, it has been unimproved since. (Though there is plenty of construction elsewhere at CDG.)

I gave myself the opportunity to visit this challenge when I dumbly thought Flight 0915 was at 9:15am, rather than at noon, as my itinerary would have told me if I had bothered to read it more carefully. Since there’s still some kind of strike on, and I was advised to leave early and avoid traffic, I arrived without incident at 6:30am, just in time to wait another two hours for United to open its counters. I killed that time looking for food and a comfortable place to sit. Turns out the food is in the basement level, where the decor is about as warm and contemporary as a sepulchre. I found a couple places serving petit dejeuner, but I’d had way too many croissants and the like over the last three days, so I opted instead for McDonalds, since I actually kinda like their sausage and egg McMuffins (and even though

The sign at McD’s said the place opened at 6:30. I stood there and waited until it finally oepned around 7:15 I’d guess. After chowing at a tiny table in a hallside dining area, I went upstairs to wait for United to open. The only seats there are these metal chairs with little holes punche in them. Standing and walking around with luggage were both more comfortable.

After inspecting the holes in the walls and the cracked tile on the floor I headed for the elevator and immediatley got stuck in it. Not sure what was broken, other than the electronics of the elevator and its absent floor moulding, which made it possible to see the concrete sides of the shaft. I got in, punched the button for the ground (departures) floor, the door closed and nothing happened. Then I hit the door open symbol, and still nothing happened. Much button pushing finally got some action, and I watched the shaft slide by as the elevator slowly rose to its destination, at which the doors, reluctantly, opened.

Anyway, now I’m in United’s Red Carpet Club here, which is actually much nicer than all the RC clubs in the U.S., other than the one at SFO’s International Terminal, which is still fresh.

Can’t wait to get back, which won’t happen until almost tomorrow, since United cancelled my connecting flight from Dulles to Logan, and I have to take a later one, cooling my heels first at another RC club , surely, at Dulles. See ya there.

Meanwhile, dig a few pictures from .

[4:08p, EST] Arrived at Dulles. There’s a big snowstorm in the Northeast and all the Boston flights are being cancelled. The question with mine is whether A) United can get a plane to make the trip; and B) Logan can keep the runway clear enough. Or so the people behind the counter say.

Ahead of me in one of the lines was a guy who complained mightily to the kind woman behind the counter about how United’s airbus planes flying to Denver are inadequate, overbooked, and so on. He wanted her to write down his complaint to give to her “superiors”. When my turn came, I told her, sincerely, that she had no “superiors”, and that I was sorry she had to endure this jerk.

It’s standard to complain about air travel, but in fact it’s just about freaking miraculous that anybody, much less companies as vast, damaged and bureaucratic as United, can ship people and cargo in metal tubes weighing hundreds or thousands of tons, powered by large tanks of combustible materials, at near-supersonic speeds at altitudes exceeding Everest’s, though many all kinds of weather — and do it constantly all around the world, 24/7/365, and actually make it boring in the process.

Heading shortly to Logan for a pair of Lufthansa flights that will land me in Paris by dawn tomorrow there. (Still yesterday, here, which is still today… reminds me of the old Bob & Ray soap opera parody: Today is Yesterday Tomorrow.) The cause is LeWeb3., where I’ll speak on Wednesday and listen the rest of the time. See ya there, if not sooner.

[Later...] Arrived in Frankfurt. Actually the time given above referred to the first leg, just completed. The Paris flight out of here is at 0840. Meanwhile I’m paying 18¢/minute for “roaming” on T-Mobile’s network, for which I already pay $29/month. I learned on the last trip that there are many T-Mobiles, and my deal is with just the U.S. one. Still, if your many carriers force customers to pay for “roaming” between them, at least give your carriers different names. Maybe D-Mobile and B-Mobile and U-Mobile. Meanwhile, paying this fee makes them all all F-Mobile to me.

Where would we be without OCD?

Thanks to LaughingSquid for pointage to 100 Quotes From 100 Movies Counting Down From 100.

Product (re)placement