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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.

You can’t sled on slush

I grew up on Woodland Avenue in Maywood, New Jersey, a few miles west of where I am now in New York City. Flexible flyerThe street was unremarkable, except when it snowed. Then the town would often block it off, so kids could sled on it. It wasn’t a big hill — just an ideal one for sledding: steep at the top, with a long glide path. With a good start you could ride your Flexible Flyer down past Garden, Cole and Elm Streets, all the way to Cole’s Brook. On the other side of that was Borg’s Woods, which was then owned by the Borg Family. They had a steep back yard behind their house on Summit Avenue in Hackensack, and kindly encouraged neighborhood kids to sled there.

So snow was a big deal for us, and still is for me. I love it. Alas, too often Winter forecasts in New York went like this: “Snow, changing to rain.”

Well, that’s what happened today in New York. We had a beautiful snowy day before it turned into rain and worse. For the last hour or so we’ve also had lightning, thunder and hail. The result is thick white slop, atop the frozen and half-thawed mess left over from the last storm. Here is how it looks right now at Weather.com:

I am sure there are kids in Maywood (and all over the East Coast) who wish the snow didn’t turn to slush today. My inner kid knows how they feel. (I’m also hoping my grandkids in Baltimore fared better. They got a bunch of snow today too — I think with less rain.

(By the way, our original Flexible Flyer looked just like the one above, only a bit longer. It could seat three or four kids. And nobody ever wore helmets.)

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.

Fort Lee has been in the news lately. Seems traffic access to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee was sphinctered for political purposes, at the spot marked “B” on this map here:

The spot marked “A” is the site of my first home: 2063 Hoyt Avenue. Here’s how it looked in 1920:

My grandfather, George W. Searls, built it in 1900 or so. He and grandma, Ethel F. (née Englert) Searls, raised thee children there: Ethel M. Searls, born in 1905, Allen H. Searls (my father), born in 1908, and Grace (née Searls) Apgar, born in 1912. Grandpa died in 1935, but Grandma and Aunt Ethel lived here until 1955, when I was eight years old.

It was in a fine old neighborhood of similar mansard-roofed homes, most of which were built before the George Washington Bridge showed up and became the town’s landmark feature. Pop, who grew up climbing the Palisades and had no fear of heights, helped build the bridge, mostly by rigging cables.

Not long after finding a place to stay in New York in Fall of 2012, my wife and I took a walk across the bridge to visit the old neighborhood. I knew the old house was gone, the land under it paved over by Bruce Reynolds Boulevard. What I didn’t expect was finding that the entire neighborhood had been erased. See the brown area on the map above, between the highway and Main Street? That was it. Palisade Avenue, behind Hoyt, is now a house-less strip of rotting pavement flanked and veined by wild grass. The only animal life we spotted was a large groundhog that ran to an old storm drain when we approached.

Little of the Fort Lee I knew as a kid is still there. The only familiar sights on Main Street are City Hall and the old fire station. Dig this: City Hall also shows up in the background of this shot of Mom with my cousin Paul and I, when we were both a few months old, in April 1948. This street too has been obliterated: replaced by stores and parking lots, with no trace of its old self.

When I was a kid in the ’50s, my grandparents’ generation — all born in the second half of the 19th Century — was still going strong. One relative I remember well was great-aunt Eva Quackenbush, Grandpa Searls’ older sister. Here she is with Mom, and the baby me. Eva was born in 1853, and was twelve years old when President Lincoln was shot — and event she talked about. She visited often from her home in St. Louis, and died just a few days short of 100 years old, in 1953. Living long is a Searls family trait. Grandma made it to 107 and Aunt Grace to 101 (she passed just last month, fun and lucid to the end).

So to me the world before cars, electricity and other modern graces was a familiar one, because I heard so many stories about it. Grandma grew up in The Bronx, at 742 East 142nd Street, when it looked like this:

Today, according to Google’s StreetView, it looks like this:

The red A marks 732. On the left, behind that wall, is a “towed car” lot. It sits atop a mound of rubble that was once “old Lincoln Hospital”:

According to the Wikipedia article on Lincoln Hospital, “In 1895, after more than half a century of occupying various sites in Manhattan, the Board of Trustees purchased a large lot in the South Bronx—then a semi-rural area of the city—at the corner of 141st Street and Southern Boulevard.” This is a morning view, lit from the southeast, looking north across 141st Street. Grandma’s place was on the back side of the hospital. Amazing to think that this scene came and went between the two shots above it.

Grandma’s father, Henry Roman Englert, was the head of the Steel and Copper Plate Engravers Union in the city. His trade was also destroyed by industrial progress, but was an art in its time. Here he is, as a sharp young man with a waxed mustache:

Henry was a fastidious dude who, on arriving home from work, would summon his four daughters to appear and stand in a row. He would then run his white glove over some horizontal surface and wipe it on a white shoulder of a daughter’s dress, expecting no dust to leave a mark on either glove or girl. Or so the story went. Henry was the son of German immigrants: Christian Englert and Jacobina Rung, both of Alsace, now part of France. They were brewers, and had a tavern on the east side of Manhattan on 110th Street. Jacobina was a Third Order Carmelite nun, and was buried in its brown robes. Both were born in 1825. Christian died in 1886 while picking hops in Utica. Jacobina died in 1904.

Grandma met Grandpa in 1903, when she was twenty and he was forty. She was working as a cleaning woman in the Fort Lee boarding house where Grandpa lived while he worked as a carpenter. One day she saw him laying asleep, and bent down to kiss him. He woke, reached up, and kissed her back. Romance commenced.

Grandma didn’t like to admit having done cleaning work, insisting always that she was “lace curtain Irish,” to distinguish her family from “shanty Irish.” When ethnic matters came up in conversation over dinner, she would often say “All for the Irish stand up,” and everybody would rise. In fact she was only half Irish. Her mother, Catherine “Kitty” Trainor, died in her thirties. Henry later married an Italian woman and produced more progeny, only one of which was ever mentioned by Grandma. That was Harry, who died at age five. The largest framed photograph in Grandma’s house was one of Harry, looking up and holding a toy.

Kitty’s dad was Thomas Trainor, who came over from Ireland in 1825 at age 15 to escape England’s harsh penal laws. (He shipped out of Letterkenny with an uncle, but the Trainors were from south of there. Trainor was anglicized from the Gaelic Tréinfhir, meaning “strong man.”) Thomas worked as an indentured servant in the carriage trade, and married Catherine McLaughlin, the daughter of his boss. Thomas then prospered in the same business, building and fixing carriages at his shop at the south end of Broadway. His two daughters were Kitty and “Aunt Mag” Meyer, whom Grandma often quoted. The line I best remember is, “You’ve got it in your hand. Now put it away.” Mag taught Grandma how to walk quietly while large numbers of other people in the house were sleeping. Grandma passed the same advice to her grandkids, including me: “Walk on the balls of your feet, toes first.” The Trainors also had a son, who ran away to fight in the Civil War. When the war ended and the boy didn’t come home, Thomas went down to Washington and found his son in a hospital there, recovering from a wound. The doctors said the boy would be home by Christmas. And, when Christmas came, the boy indeed arrived, in a coffin. Or so the story went.

An interesting fact about Fort Lee: it was the original Hollywood. The Searls family, like most of the town, was involved. Grandpa was D.W. Griffith’s head carpenter, building film sets such as this one here. Here he is (bottom right) with his crew. Here’s a link for the Fort Lee Film Commission, featuring samples of the silent movies made there. Among the extras are family members. Lillian Gish and Lon Chaney both boarded upstairs at 2063 Hoyt. So did the dad of the late Elliot Richardson, a cabinet member in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Time flies, and so do people, places and memories. My parents’ generation is now gone, and family members of my own generation are starting to move on. I can count ten places I used to live that are now gone as well, including my high school. Kevin Kelly told me a couple years ago that none of us, even the famous, will be remembered in a thousand years. I’m sure he’s right.

But I still feel the urge to pour as much as I can of what I know into the public domain, which is what you’re witnessing now, if you’re still with me at the bottom of a long post. I believe it helps to see what was, as well as what is.

For example, this view up Hoyt Avenue from the site of the old Searls place, in 2012, is now filled with a high-rise that is almost complete. The little bridge-less town where my grandparents met and my father and his sisters grew up is now a henge of high-rises. Fort Lee itself is now also known as Fort Lee Koreatown. In this constantly shifting urban context the current scandal seems a drop in the bucket of time.

 

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.

So I just got this email from Pandora:

This is an #AAF: an Automated Assumption Fail. I love music, and Pandora; but what Pandora’s telling me here doesn’t square with my experience of using it. I mean, what is “that Lorde song”? Who are are the Royals? Maybe I do like them, but I don’t recognize them at the moment.

The reason these are mysteries to me is that I’m not the only person using my Pandora account. Listening to my Pandora songs happens on many devices in many places. And, while I’m the one doing most (but not all) of the listening on my many browsers, computers and hand-held devices, in our house I’m just one listener among many indulging our Sonos system. Those others include  house guests at our parties and other gatherings, plus our teenage son. I would love to show you the wackily eclectic list of “my” Pandora channels, but I can’t, because I’m in Spain, where Pandora is blocked. When I go to Pandora.com, I get redirected to http://www.pandora.com/restricted, where (for me, at the moment) it says this:

Dear Pandora Visitor,

We are deeply, deeply sorry to say that due to licensing constraints, we can no longer allow access to Pandora for listeners located outside of the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. We will continue to work diligently to realize the vision of a truly global Pandora, but for the time being we are required to restrict its use. We are very sad to have to do this, but there is no other alternative.

We believe that you are in Spain [snip]. If you believe we have made a mistake, we apologize and ask that you please email us.

If you have been using Pandora, we will keep a record of your existing stations and bookmarked artists and songs, so that when we are able to launch in your country, they will be waiting for you.

We will be notifying listeners as licensing agreements are established in individual countries. If you would like to be notified by email when Pandora is available in your country, please enter your email address below. The pace of global licensing is hard to predict, but we have the ultimate goal of being able to offer our service everywhere.

We share your disappointment and greatly appreciate your understanding.

Sincerely,

Tim Westergen

Tim Westergren
Founder

Enter your email address and we will let you know when Pandora is available in your country:

I should pause here to say that I love what Tim has done with Pandora. I’ve been a fan and a follower of Pandora since its beginning, and I enjoyed the privilege of introducing Tim when he spoke at a Berkman Center gathering a few years back. I also believe there are a great many things Pandora is doing right, or it wouldn’t be so successful. (And it is a huge success.)

But one thing it’s doing wrong here, or at least poorly, is assuming two things here that are not the case. One is that I’m at home in Spain, when in fact I’m a traveling American. The other is that those 130 thumbs were all mine.In fact I don’t do the thumbs-up/down thing very much, usually because Pandora assumes that I don’t like the tune in question — when in fact I usually don’t want to hear that very tune at that very time. Also, I don’t like being told that I won’t hear that tune again for another month, or whatever it is that Pandora says… I’m not in a position to check right now.)

I also assume that there is a lot of #AAF in the absurd and counterproductive licensing restraints Tim talks about in his letter to blocked visitors. Really, it’s crazy that I can listen to all the music on SiriusXM, Apple’s iTunes, websites and countless mobile apps — including TuneIn, AOL, Public Radio Player, Stitcher, rdio, iheartradio, and Wunderadio — while Pandora is blocked. Why would Spain pick on Pandora and not the rest of them? Just because it’s popular? I dunno.

And, speaking of #AAF, when I go to Google to do research, its robot brain assumes I’m Spanish, even when I’m logged in to Google as my 100% American self. When I check less fancy and presumptuous search engines, such as DuckDuckGo and StartPage, I still have to do too much digging, because the engines assume I’m searching for something other than the question of why Spain blocks Pandora. So I’ll leave it up to the rest of you (or the fullness of time) to complete that work.

Let’s be clear: #AAF is not the fault of Pandora, Google or any other outfit needing to scale its dealings with many different people. It’s the fault of the industrial model that has been defaulted ever since industry won the Industrial Revolution and mass manufacture and marketing was required for scale.

It is also unavoidable in an all-silo marketplace, which is what the Web, with its calf-cow architecture, has become. In this architecture, every outfit maintains its own relationship silo, each of which bears the full burden of dealing with thousands or millions of different human beings in scalable templated ways. This problem cannot be solved by #YAS — Yet Another Silo — of any kind.

The only cure for #AAF is independent personal control of relationships. This is what #VRMVendor Relationship Management — is about. Maybe somebody here (or some combination there) is working on it. Whether they are or not, it’s inevitable, for three reasons:

  1. We are all different, even if we are easily templated by others. This absolute individuation is a base-level human condition.
  2. We live in a fully networked world, in which each of us is our own node.
  3. The only way we can truly relate, as complete and independent human beings, with full agency, is from our own silos, within which reside the means to relate directly with every other entity we engage. Think about it: our bodies are silos.

That #3 point is the development challenge for the 21st century. The tech sector has been working since 1995 on empowering the vendor side of the marketplace, helping companies, sites and services get their own scale, every one of them with its own silo — together compounding inconvenience won the personal side. Thus every “solution” on the vendor side complicates the problem.

This is a problem that can only be addressed on the individual side. Personal computing and networking create the base conditions for solving the problem, but we need more. We need universal engagement tools for individuals. That category is a $0 trillion greenfield that’s wide open and ready for exploiting, right now.

Look at it this way. We got personal computing in the 80s, personal networking in the 90s, and both together in hand-held form in the ’00s. Now it’s time for personal clouds. (And if not that, something like it.)

Remember: personal computing was an oxymoron before it took off in the ’80s. Networking was entirely an organizational grace before the Internet came along. Likewise with clouds. Right now almost the entire cloud conversation is corporate: B2B. So is the “big data” conversation. Today’s prevailing jive about both are sure signs that they’ll become just as personal as computing and networking.

When clouds do become personal, they will also be private. By that I mean we will control our own private places, spaces, relationships and interactivity in the networked world. (Those will also be programmable, e.g. with KRL.) Once we have personal clouds, based on standards that work for all of us, we will be able to relate in our own ways with everybody and everything else.

Imagine, for example, being able to actually know a company, and have them know you. That way, when you show up as yourself (and there can be no doubt it’s you), you won’t need logins and passwords. (Remember, those are record-keeping namespace burdens on the organizational side today, and huge pains in the ass for those organizations — as well as for you and me.)

Think about being able to change your address or surname for every entity you relate with, in one move. This is only possible if you are a free and autonomous actor in the world, operating with full agency, and not just as a separate administrated entity in hundreds of different organizations’ databases. Your identity (and your ability to identify yourselves and to interact with others) will be sovereign in the sense of having independent authority. (Yes, you will always also be social. But not just as an administrated identity within corporate silos such as Facebook’s and Twitter’s.)

I believe it’s exactly in this direction that Fred Wilson was headed in his talk at Le Web (which I visited a few days ago), and where Bruce Schneier, Eben Moglen (separately and together) and other freedom-lovers are also headed as well.

It is toward that long vector that I bring up #AAF as a problem. Meanwhile, let’s not burden the Pandoras and Googles of the world with solving it. They can’t. We can only solve it for ourselves — and then, as a consequence, for them.

Finally, thanks to @TimWestergren and @Pandora for providing modest evidence of a problem for all of us — and a path toward solving it.

 

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:

 

In Google sets out future for Maps — Lays down gauntlet to Nokia with plans for personalized, context-aware and ‘emotional’ maps in future, in Rethink Wireless, Caroline Gabriel begins this way:

Google may be feeling the heat from an unlikely source, Nokia, at least in its critical Maps business. The search giant has put location awareness at the heart of its business model, but Nokia has overtaken it in several respects with its cloud-based Here offering – based on the acquisition of Navteq in 2007 – and has also licensed its mapping platform to some powerful partners such as Microsoft, Amazon and a range of car makers.

Google is promising dramatic changes to its own maps to help fend off the Nokia/Microsoft alliance and also, in the Android segment at least, the challenge from Amazon to a Google-centric experience.

As usual with stories like this, the issue is framed in terms of vendor sports: big companies doing battle over some market category. Lost, also as usual, is what the individual user, or customer, might actually want.

That’s what I’m here for.

So let me start by saying I don’t want a “Google-centric experience,” whatever that is. Nor do I want Google’s (or anybody’s) Matrix-like approach to satisfying what its robotic systems think I might need. Here’s how Caroline explains that ambition:

Bernhard Seefeld, product management director for Google Maps, told the GigaOM Roadmap conference this week that future software will “build a whole new map for every context and every person”, incorporating all kinds of information about the individual and updating this constantly. He added: “It’s a specific map nobody has seen before, and it’s just there for that moment to visualize the data.”

Pushing a major theme at Google this year, Seefeld talks about applications creating emotional connections for users – “emotional maps that reflect our real life connections and peek into the future and possibly travel there”. This will involve context-aware maps that combine location and personal data, some of that taken from other Google apps, particularly its Google Now personal digital assistant – mainly seen as a response to Apple Siri, but in fact far broader in scope, and with a powerful artificial intelligence engine.

Context-aware is fine, provided I provide the context, and the context is as simple as, for example, “I am here” and “I want to go to this other place.” I don’t want guesswork about my emotions, or anything else that isn’t on the vector of what I alone know and want. Paper maps didn’t do that, and the best electronic ones shouldn’t either — not beyond what still feels as hard and useful as paper maps always did.

See, maps are fact-based descriptions of the world. Their first and most essential context is that world, and not the person seeking facts about that world. Yes, map makers have always made speculative assumptions about what a map reader might like to know. But those assumptions have always been about populations of readers: drivers, aviators, hikers, bike riders, sailors, geologists, etc. That they don’t get personal is a feature, not a bug.

A brief story that should tell you a bit about me and maps.

In October 1987, on the way back to Palo Alto after visiting my daughter at UC-Irvine, my son and I noticed it was an unusually clear day. So we decided to drive to the top of Mt. Wilson, overlooking Los Angeles. On the way we stopped at a fast food place and ate our burgers while I studied various AAA maps of Southern California and its cities. When we arrived at the top, and stood there overlooking a vista that stretched from the San Bernardino mountains to the Channel Islands, four guys from New Jersey in plaid pants, fresh from golfing somewhere, asked me to point out landmarks below, since I already was doing that for my son. The dialog went something like this:

“Where’s the Rose Bowl?”

“Over there on the right is Verdugo Mountain. See that green stretch below? In there is the Rose Bowl.”

“Oh yeah.”

“On the other side of Verdogo is the San Fernando Valley. South of that are the Hollywood Hills.”

“Is that where the Hollywood sign is?”

“Yes, on the south side, facing Hollywood. Mulholland Drive runs down the spine of the hills on the far side of the Sepulveda Pass, where the 405 passes through. The Malibu Hills are beyond that. You can see the buildings downtown to the left of that. Long Beach and San Pedro, Los Angeles’ port cities, are to the left of the Palos Verdes peninsula, which are the hills over there. You can see Santa Catalina Island off beyond that.”

“Where was the Whittier Earthquake?”

“Over there in the Puente Hills. See that low ridge?”

“Yeah. Wow. How long have you lived here?”

“I don’t. This is only my second trip through. I live up north.”

“Where are you from?”

“New Jersey, like you.”

“How do you know so much about all this around here?”

“I study maps.”

Of which I have many, now mostly mothballed in drawers. Maps collection on my iphoneI have topo maps from the U.S. Geological Survey, sectional charts from the FAA, maps atlases from the Ordnance Survey in the U.K., and many more. When I fly in planes, I follow the scene below on my laptop using Garmin Road Trip (an app that is sorely in need of an update, btw.) That’s how I can identify, literally on the fly, what I see out the window and later detail in my aerial photo collections on Flickr.

So, having presented those credentials, I rate Google’s Maps mobile app at the top of the current list. Google’s search is great, but substitutable. So are many other fine Google services. But I have become highly dependent on Google’s Maps app because nothing else comes close for providing fully useful facts-on-the-ground. Here are a few:

  • Transit options, and arrival times. Here in New York one quickly becomes dependent on them, and they are right a remarkable percentage of the time, given how uneven subway service tends to be. Hell, even in Santa Barbara, which is far from the center of the public transportation world, Google’s Maps app is able to tell me, to the minute, when the busses will arrive at a given stop. It’s freaking amazing at it.
  • Route options. Even while I’m on one route, two others are still available.
  • Re-routing around traffic. It doesn’t always work right, but when it does, it can be a huge time/hassle saver.
  • Timeliness. It couldn’t be more now, and a living embodiment of the Live Web at work.

I also like Here, from Nokia. (As you can see from my collection of maps apps, above. Note the second dot at the bottom, indicating that there’s a second page of them.) I also have enormous respect NAVTEQ, which Nokia bought a few years back. NAVTEQ has been at the map game a lot longer than Google, and is at the heart of Here. But so far Here hasn’t been as useful to me as Google Maps. For example, if I want to get from where I am now to the meeting at NYU I’ll be going to shortly, Google Maps gives me three options with clear walking and riding directions. Here gives me one route, and I can’t figure how to get the directions for taking it. (Both are on my iPhone, btw.)

So here is a message for both of them, and for everybody else in the mapping game: Don’t subordinate pure mapping functions to a lot of “emotional” and other guesswork-based variables that advertisers want more than map readers do.

This might also help: I’m willing to pay for the maps, and services around them. Not just to avoid advertising, but to make those services accountable to me, as a customer, and not as a mere “user.”

As advertising gets more and more personal, and more creepy in the process — without any direct accountability to the persons being “delivered” a “personalized experience” — a market for paid services is bound to emerge. I’ll enjoy being in the front of it.

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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.

A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization. — Samuel Johnson

Hart Island

Visitors to New York’s Orchard Beach (at the top of the photo above) probably don’t know that the low wooded island offshore will, at the current rate, contain a million buried human bodies, if it doesn’t already.

The site is Hart Island (aka Hart’s Island), and it is New York’s Potter’s Field: where the city’s “unclaimed and indigent” dead are buried by inmates of the Department of Corrections, which also controls the island. Visitors are not welcome.

I knew nothing about Hart Island until I found myself looking at the picture I shot of the place, above, while seeking information about something else. Though bleak, the stories of the place are fascinating — and, it seemed to me, far too important to leave as far out on the margins of consciousness as they are of the City. So I compiled a list in a Fargo outline, which I’ve arranged below.

One item I’ll pull out of the list to start with is The Hart Island Project, by Melinda Hunt (@hartisland) and a team of collaborators. Melinda has been leading a steady effort to open up the island to visitors and to humanize and modernize the records kept of persons buried there. Her constituency includes all who reside in what we might call the Mass Grave of the Barely-Known Outcasts — and too few of the living, so far. So dig:

In fact Hart Island is New York’s ninth Potter’s Field. Writes Melinda Hunt,

A few of these early potters fields remain in the public domain as smaller parcels of land now known as Madison Square Park (1794), Washington Square Park (1797), Bryant Park and the Public Library (1823). Except for the last potter’s field in Manhattan, located at the current Waldorf Astoria Hotel (1836), no records exist of the bodies being moved elsewhere. At all other sites, parks were created after the cemeteries, parade grounds, and the reservoir closed. Once the city expanded beyond 50th Street, the East River became a more convenient route for transporting the bodies. Potter’s fields opened briefly on Randalls Island (1843) and Wards Island (1846) before moving much further out to Hart Island.

It’s a haunting history. Another excerpt:

  The burial records show an ever-changing pool of immigrants, diseases and disabilities administered to by a range of institutions. It remains too mixed and varied to become the darling of any special interest group. Genealogists that I have spoken with claim that most families with immigrant roots in New York City probably have lost relatives buried on Hart Island. As one recently told me: “People come to me hoping to discover ‘nobility’ in their ancestry, but the missing people usually turn out to have had alcohol problems or mental illness and were buried in Potter’s Field.”

In New York City, the combined nine potter’s fields have close to one million burials. An immense amount of history is associated with these places. Yet, there is almost no academic or institutional interest in the public cemeteries. Most of the writing about Hart Island takes the form of journalism documenting specific events. Distinctive in these accounts is the unanswered question of why such a place continues to exist. Most other American cities cremate the unclaimed and unwanted. If burials are provided they are in more accessible places. Chicago has a potter’s field with mass graves as part of a private cemetery. New York City offers burial assistance to families who organize an application. Nonetheless, the burials continue to number two to three thousand a year. Even with the twenty-five year time limit, the northern 45 acres of Hart Island named Cemetery Hill is full. Current burials have moved to the shallow grounds south of the workhouses.

New York City has a long-standing policy of respecting diverse religious practices. Many religions do not permit cremation. Until recently Catholics buried on Hart Island were placed in separate “consecrated ground.” In 1913, “baby trenches” were separated from “adult trenches.” Starting in 1935, “catholic babies” had separate trenches from “regular babies.”

Incredible care and expense goes into conducting the burials. In 1990 the cost of flowers, tools, heavy equipment, parts to repair equipment, general maintenance equipment, fuel and inmate labor, at thirty-five cents per hour, drove the cost of each burial to $346. In addition, the city provides for free exhumation if family members claim a body within seven years of burial.

During the first fifty years of Hart Island burials, “unclaimed” people were buried in single graves. Only the “unwanted” whose relatives assigned them to a public burial were in mass graves. Today, all bodies are carefully organized into a grid. The ends of trenches are marked by a number pressed into a concrete block. Re-excavations require locating the designated body within this numbered scheme.

Perhaps it is the abstraction of human lives into trench numbers and statistics that is most disturbing about the potter’s field. I was impressed by the fact that the burial records from the nineteenth century contain full names, causes of death and countries of origin. In this century the names of babies up until 1940 are strictly female; each child’s identity is linked exclusively to the mother. She is the person forever associated with the potter’s field. After 1940, only surnames are listed. By 1955, the causes of death for children are uniformly listed as “confidential.” By 1970, the category “cause of death” is left blank. That the island is prohibitively difficult to visit adds another level of removal.

Then there is this, from Thomas Badhe, in a Common Place essay,” The Common Dust of Potter’s Field: New York City and its bodies politic, 1800-1860″:

The first Potter’s Field burial ground in New York City was located at the site of what would become the militia parade ground and city park at Washington Square. On this nine-and-a-half-acre plot, at the city’s pastoral northern edge, lay the densely packed corpses of about 125,000 “strangers,” many of whom had died during two separate yellow-fever epidemics between 1795 and 1803. Not surprisingly, local residents who had fled crowded lower Manhattan for country estates in the region came to find in Potter’s Field an intense nuisance. Whatever sympathy anyone had for the anonymous dead did not supersede wealthy New Yorkers’ sense of entitlement when it came to their comfortable insulation from the city’s darker side. In a letter to the Common Council, they wrote, “From the rapid Increase of Building that is daily taking place both in the suburbs of the City and the Grounds surrounding the field alluded to, it is certain that in the course of a few years the aforementioned field will be drawn within a precinct of the City.” Within the first two decades of the nineteenth century, their prediction had been realized, and the Potter’s Field began a lengthy series of migrations in a vain effort to stay a step ahead of the city’s relentless growth.

In 1823, the city moved Potter’s Field to an empty lot at the corner of Forty-ninth Street and Fourth Avenue—what would then have been the far northern reaches of the metropolis. This place served as the Potter’s Field until the 1840s when, as the city grew northward, it was relocated once again to Randall’s Island in the East River. Cast off the Island of Manhattan like so many family farms, Potter’s Field would no longer clash with the New Yorkers’ Victorian sensibilities or inhibit the Manhattan real-estate boom.

Just south of Randall’s Island, separated by a treacherous, narrow channel known as Little Hell’s Gate, was Ward’s Island, the site of another Potter’s Field in the mid-1850s. Both Randall’s and Ward’s Islands already housed other city institutions for the indigent, including the Emigrant Refuge and Hospital, the State Inebriate Asylum, the juvenile branch of the Almshouse Department, and the headquarters for the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents. As one guide to New York and its benevolent institutions observed, “multitudes of persons went from the dram-shop to the police-station, and from the police courts to the Workhouse from whence, after a short stay, they returned to the dram shop . . . until they at length died on their hands as paupers or criminals, and were laid in the Potter’s Field.” For most of New York’s institutionalized underclass, there was literally a direct path from the door of the asylum or workhouse to the Potter’s Field.

Relocating the city’s cemetery from Manhattan’s urban grid to an island in the East River did not put an end to the city’s problem with the indigent dead. In 1849, the Daily Tribune reported on the political and legal wrangling between the governors of the Almshouse and the Common Council (the nineteenth-century name for the City Council), the former seeking to wrest authority over Potter’s Field from the latter. The governors cited the poor management of the paupers’ burial ground, which the Tribune referred to as “that den of abominations,” as evidence that the Common Council was unable to manage the Potter’s Field. “We do sincerely trust somebody will shoulder the responsibility of the Potter’s Field,” the Tribune pleaded, “and rid the Island of the abomination before the advent of another warm and perhaps an epidemic season.”

The Common Council and the Governors of the Almshouse traded letters, pleas, and vitriol for the better part of a decade. In May of 1851, the Governors warned the Common Council that, “the land now appropriated [for the Potter’s Field] is now nearly full, and the small space left for further interment (which now average upwards of one hundred per week), renders prompt action necessary.” Four years later, it was still unclear who had control over the Potter’s Field, and conditions were worsening. By this time, there were two burial grounds for paupers: the primary site on Randall’s Island and a smaller one on Ward’s Island to the south. The Board of Governors proposed to expand the Ward’s Island site in 1854, and the Times supported the proposition, suggesting that “it is time that the remains of paupers were interred in some quarter better fitted for their last resting-place than the one now used on Randall’s Island.” In their reports to the Board of Health and the Common Council, the Governors of the Almshouse urged that, “humanity, a due regard for the living, and a sense of proper respect for the dead” be part of any effort “to remedy the existing and impending evils.”

In the meantime, the disinterment of bodies at the old site on Fourth Avenue aroused its own controversy. In 1851, a plan was adopted by the Common Council to expand Forty-ninth Street through the old Potter’s Field, which required the disinterment of thousands of bodies. This project stretched on for nearly the entire decade, accompanied by foot-dragging and corrupt contractors. Commenting on the enormity of the project, the Times reported in the spring of 1853 that “the City Authorities are cutting a street through the old Potter’s Field . . . where so many victims of the Cholera were hurriedly interred in 1832. The coffins were then, in many instances, stacked one upon another; and now, in digging through the hill, the remains of twenty coffins may be seen thus piled together.”

As with the active Potter’s Field, the old paupers’ burial ground aroused no small amount of controversy. In the summer of 1858, the Timesagain reported on the work, claiming that “within three weeks past about 3,000 skeletons have been exhumed from the old Potter’s Field . . . and removed to Ward’s Island.” The winter of 1858-59 passed without any further exhumation, and “meantime the thin layer of earth which covered some hundred half-decayed coffins has fallen away, and . . . crowds of urchins assemble there daily and play with the bones of the dead; troops of hungry dogs prowl about the grounds and carry off skulls and detached parts of human bodies.”

Many of the old potter’s fields became parks. Washington Square is said to have twenty thousand bodies beneath it. Yet today it seems no more haunted than is Paris by its Catacombes, which I visited and wrote about three years ago, and which contains a population of dead that outnumber the city’s live citizens. The real haunting, I believe, is within our culture and its institutions. On that I’ll give Thomas Badhe the last words:

Having strolled through the rural cemeteries, we can better appreciate why the piles of moldering coffins exposed to the public in the 1850s caused New Yorkers to question their city’s claims to “civilization.” But the Potter’s Field was not only the antithesis of the rural-cemetery ideal (as well as a failure of municipal administration); it was also a site of spiritual death, obliterated social identity, and the graveyard of vice. If, as one proponent of rural cemeteries claimed in 1831, “the grave hath a voice of eloquence,” the Potter’s Field spoke in a dark chorus about the failures of democracy and civilization, the stark and messy exigencies of urban inequality, and thousands of individual lives wrecked on the shores of the great metropolis.

In this comment and this one under my last post, Ian Falconer brings up a bunch of interesting points, some of which are summarized by these paragraphs from his first comment…

Here in the UK most people over 40 will remember placing calls via a human operator. A real life person who had a direct interaction with both caller and receiver when reversing the call charges. In smaller towns and villages this meant that the operator knew who was phoning who, when and often, given their overarching view, could assume why.

This was socially accepted as the operators were usually local and subject to the same social norms as the friends and neighbors they ‘surveilled’.

But they were also employees of the GPO (General Post Office) with a national security obligation and had a direct reporting route into the national security apparatus, so that, if they felt that something fishy was afoot (especially in times of war), they were assumed to be both reliable and honest witnesses.

No-one assumed secrecy in an operator-mediated system. They assumed discretion on the part of the operator.

Is an ISP any different just because the data is package-based rather than analogue ? It conducts all the same functions as the old operator.

The shift from public ownership to private and from land-lines to mobile has not changed the underlying model of presumed access (as far as teleco users are concerned) and assumed responsibility (on the part of the national security apparatus). And though both are now legally defined under the license terms of privatised telecos, few of the UK’s public know how their comms systems actually work, so often assume a similar design ethos to the US, where constitutionally defined rights are a starting point for systems organisation.

That British Telecom evolved from the GPO is no accident, but neither is it necessarily a designed progression intend on increased surveillance.

… and these from his second:

Against most evidence US Congress doesn’t set UK law. The EU & UK governments do that. And against most evidence the US doesn’t set global social norms. So while I’m not saying Brits explicitly like spies and respect code breakers, there is a history here that forms a backdrop to the national mind set and it looks towards Bletchley Park, Alan Turing & James Bond rather than The Stasi, Senator McCarthey or Hoover’s G-Men.

The time and place to look for a failure of oversight is the sale of rights to spectrum access but a global technological fix for a perceived lack of communicational security, especially a US-led one, seems unlikely. The righteous indignation with respect to Huwei hardware looks like a starting point rather than an end point right now.

To me these events and discoveries more likely to work to fragment the rough and ready constellation of networks into national gardens once more. This would force comms through regulated conduits making in-out surveillance even easier and I tentatively suggest that in the legislation of whatever-comes-next those carrying out oversight do a better job, if legally-enshrined privacy is their aim.

I am somewhat familiar with the UK, having spent a number of years consulting BT. I have also spent a lot of time in the EU, mostly studying and collaborating with VRM developers, a large percentage of which are located in the UK and France.

Here in the U.S. many of us (me included) still had “party lines” and required operator assistance for long-distance calls as recently as the mid-’70s. With party lines phone connections were shared by as many as six other homes, and people could listen in on each other easily. Operators could listen to anything, any time. Thus, as Ian says, discretion rather than secrecy was assumed.

And discretion is The Thing. As it was with the old phone system it also was with spying, which every government does, and we have always assumed was going on — much of it outside the laws that apply to the rest of us — and hopefully for some greater good. Thus whatever we end up with on the Internet will rest on a system of manners and not just of laws and technologies.

Ideally law, technology and manners work in harmony and support each other. What we have had so far, in the era that began with personal computing and grew to include the Internet and smart mobile devices, has been a disharmonious cacophony caused by technology development and adoption with little regard for the incumbent systems of manners and law. And it is still early in the evolution of all three toward working harmony such as we have long experienced in the physical world.

Of those three, however, manners matter most. It seems no accident, to me at least, that the Internet is defined by protocols, which are nothing more than mannerly agreements between network operators and among the human and organizational operators of the network’s billions of end points.

Security of the telco-like centralized locked-down sort was never in the DNA of the Internet Protocol, which is one reason why it never would have been invented by the very companies and governments through whose local, national and international networks the Internet connects us all.

So it should be no surprise, aside from all the privacy concerns currently on the front burner of popular consciousness, that telcos, cablecos, national governments and institutions such as the ITU have busied themselves with stuffing the Internet, in pieces, back inside the regulatory, billing and nationally bordered bottles from which it more or less escaped, at first un-noticed, in the 1980s and early 1990s.

J.P. Rangaswami, when he was at BT, famously noted that a telco’s main competency was not communications but billing. It still is. China’s censored national subset of the world wide Internet is for many countries a model rather than an aberration. And the drift of Net usage to cellular mobile devices and networks has re-acclaimated users to isolated operation within national borders (lest they suffer “bill shock” when they “roam” outside their country) — something the landline-based Internet overcame by design.

All these things play into our evolution toward privacy in the virtual world that is recognizably similar to what we have long experienced in the physical one.

National mind sets are important, because those embody manners too. Public surveillance is far more present, and trusted, in the U.K. than in the U.S. I also sense a more elevated (and perhaps evolved) comprehension of privacy (as, for example, “the right to be left alone”) in Europe than in the U.S. I am often reminded, in Europe, of the consequences of detailed records being kept of citizens’ ethnicities when WWII broke out. Memories of WWII are much different in the U.S. We lost many soldiers in that war, and took in many refugees. But it was not fought on our soil.

There is also in Europe a strong sense that business and government should operate in symbiosis. Here in the U.S., business and government are now posed in popular consciousness (especially on the political and religious right) as opposing forces.

But all these things are just factors of our time. What matters most is that the whole world will need to come to new terms with the three things I listed in my earlier Thoughts on Privacy post: 1) ubiquitous computing power, 2) ubiquitous Internet access, and 3) the unlimited ability to observe, copy and store data. All these capacities are new to human experience, and we have hardly begun to deal with what they mean for civilization.

I suspect that only the generation that has grown up connected — those under, say, the age of 25 — begin to fully comprehend what these new states of being are all about. I’ve been young for a long time (I’m 66 now), but the best I can do is observe in wonder those people who (in Bob Frankston‘s words) assume connectivity as a natural state of being. My 16-year old son feels this state, in his bones, to a degree neither I nor my 40-something kids don’t. To us elders, connectivity is an exceptional grace rather than a natural state.

Manners among the connected young, however, have barely evolved past the reptile stage. In Report: Every Potential 2040 President Already Unelectable Due To Facebook, The Onion was not fully joking (it never is) when it said “A troubling report finds that by 2040 every presidential candidate will be unelectable to political office due to their embarrassing Facebook posts.”

I just hope that the laws we are making today (protecting yesterday from last Thursday, as all new laws tend to do) will be improved by new generations made wiser by their experiences with technologies made ubiquitous by their elders.

Cool

Personal data and independence

  • The Independent Purchase Decision Support Test, by Adrian Gropper, M.D. Pull quote: “ What I need is an Agent that’s independent of my ‘provider’ institution EHR and communicates with that EHR using the Stage 2 guidelines without any interference from the EHR vendor or the ‘provider’. It’s my choice who gets the Direct messages, it’s my choice if I want to ask my doctor about the alternatives and it’s my doctor’s choice to open up or ignore the Direct messages I send.” (EHR is Electronic Health Record.)
  • Your data is your interface. By Jarno Mikael Koponen in Pando Daily. Pull quote: “Before solving the ‘Big Data’ we should figure out the ‘small’ personal part. Algorithms alone can’t make me whole. Different services need my continuous contribution to understand who I really am and what I want. And I believe that apps and services that openly share their data to provide me a better user experience are not far off.”
  • Jarno is also the father of Futureful (@futureful) which Zak Stone of Co.Exist (in Fast Company) in says “hopes to bring serendipitous browsing back to the web experience by providing a design-heavy platform for content discovery.” Just downloaded it.

Media

  • The rebirth of OMNI — and its vibe. Subhead: Glenn Fleishman on the imminent reboot of the legendary science and science fiction magazine. In BoingBoing. Two bonus links on the OMNI topic:
  • Jeff Bezos buys the Washington Post. This is either wonderful for journalism or horrifying. By Sarah Lacy in Pando Daily. Pull quote: “John Doerr…described an entrepreneur with uncommon focus and discipline around what the customer wants. I guess the future of the Post will ride on who Bezos sees as ‘the customer’ and what’s in his best interest.”
  • Donald Graham’s Choice, by David Remmick in The New Yorker.
  • Here’s Why I Think Jeff Bezos Bought The Washington Post. By Henry Blodget in Business Insider. Pull-quote:
    • First, I’d guess that Jeff Bezos thinks that owning the Washington Post will be fun, interesting, and cool. And my guess is that, if that is all it ever turns out to be, Jeff Bezos will be fine with that. This is a man who invests in rockets and atomic clocks, after all. He doesn’t necessarily make these investments for the money. Or bragging rights. Or strategic synergies.
    • Second, I’d guess that Jeff Bezos thinks that there are some similarities between the digital news business and his business (ecommerce) that no one in the news business has really capitalized on yet.
  • The Natives Are Feckless: Part One Of Three. By Bob Garfield in MediaPost. Pull-quotage:
    • Well done, media institutions. You have whored yourselves to a hustler. Your good name, such that it remains, is diminished accordingly, along with your trustworthiness, integrity and any serious claim to be serving the public. Indeed, by bending over for commercially motivated third parties who masquerade as bona fide editorial contributors, you evince almost as little respect for the public as you do for yourself.
    • There’s your native advertising for you. There’s the revenue savior being embraced by Forbes, the Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Business Insider and each week more and more of the publishing world.
    • According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, sponsored content of various kinds was a $1.56 billion category in 2012 and growing fast.
  • Future of TV might not include TV. By Shalini Ramachandran and Martin Peers in The Wall Street Journal. It begins, “Predicting that transmission of TV will move to the Internet eventually, Cablevision Systems Corp Chief Executive James Dolan says ‘there could come a day’ when his company stops offering television service, making broadband its primary offering.” And wow:
    • In a 90-minute interview on Friday, the usually media-shy 58-year-old executive also talked about his marriage, his relationship with his father Chuck and his after-hours role as a singer and songwriter. He said his rock band, JD & the Straight Shot, toured with the Eagles last month.
    • Mr. Dolan said that on the rare occasions he watches TV, it is often with his young children, who prefer to watch online video service Netflix, using Cablevision broadband.
    • He added that the cable-TV industry is in a ‘bubble’ with its emphasis on packages of channels that people are required to pay for, predicting it will mature ‘badly’ as young people opt to watch online video rather than pay for traditional TV services.
  • Making TVs smart: why Google and Netflix want to reinvent the remote control. By Janko Roettgers in Gigaom.
  • Hulu, HBO, Pandora coming to Chromecast. By Steve Smith in MediaPost. Pull-quote: “A battle over content clearly is brewing between Google and Apple. Apple TV has recently expanded its offerings of content providers to include HBO Go, Sky TV, ESPN and others. The two companies are pursuing different delivery models as they try to edge their way onto the TV. Apple TV is a set-top box with apps, while Chromecast relies on apps that are present on mobile devices to which the dongle connects.”
  • Setting TV Free. By yours truly in Linux Journal.

Tech

Retail

Legal

Handbaskets to hell

Route 66A year ago I entered the final demographic. So far, so good.

@Deanland texted earlier, asking if I had a new affinity with WFAN, the New Yawk radio station that radiates at 660 on what used to be the AM “dial.” Back when range mattered, WFAN was still called WNBC, and its status as a “clear channel” station was non-trivial. At night clear channel stations could be heard up to thousands of miles away on a good radio. Other stations went off the air to clear the way for these beacons of raw 50,000-watt power. As a kid I listened to KFI from Los Angeles in the wee hours and in California I sometimes got WBZ from Boston. Now even “clears” like WFAN are protected only to 750 miles away, which means any or all of these stations also on 660 splatter over each other. Reminds me of a fake ad I did once back when I was at WSUS: All the world’s most beautiful music, all at once. We overdubbed everything we could onto one track.

Funny, a few months back my 16-year old son asked what the point of “range” was with radio. He’s a digital native who is used to being zero distance from everybody else on the Net, including every broadcaster.

He made his point when we were driving from Boston to New York on a Sunday afternoon last month, listening to the only radio show he actually cares about: All A Capella on WERS. While WERS is one of Boston’s smaller stations, it has a good signal out to the west, so we got it nearly to Worcester. Then, when it went away, the kid pulled out the family iPad, which has a Net connection over the cell system, got WERS’ stream going, and we listened to the end of the show, somewhere in Connecticut, with the iPad jacked into the car radio, sounding great.

Meanwhile here I am with a giant pile of trivia in my brain about how AM and FM broadcasting works. It’s like knowing about steam engines.

But mostly I keep living in the future. That’s why I’m jazzed that both VRM and personal cloud development is rocking away, in many places. Following developments took me on three trips to Europe in May and June, plus two to California and one to New Zealand and Australia. Lots of great stuff going on. It’s beyond awesome to have the opportunity to help move so much good stuff forward.

Speaking of distance, the metaphor I like best, for the birthday at hand, is “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.” Composed in the ’40s by Bobby Troup, the jazz composer and actor, it has been covered by approximately everybody in the years since. The Nelson Riddle sound track for the TV show Route 66 was evocative in the extreme: one of the best road tunes ever written and performed. In addition to that one I have ten other versions:

  • Erich Kunzel
  • John Mayer
  • Chuck Berry
  • Nat King Cole
  • The Cramps
  • The Surfaris
  • Oscar Peterson & Manhattan Transfer
  • Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby
  • Manhattan Transfer
  • Asleep at the Wheel

My faves are the last two. I’ll also put in a vote for Danny Gatton‘s Cruisin’ Deuces, which runs Nelson Riddle’s beat and muted trumpet through a rockabilly template of Danny’s own, and just kicks it.

Anyway, my birthday is happy, so far. Thanks for all the good wishes coming in.

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:

West Fork Fire

On my way back to New York from Sydney on Wednesday, while flying east over the San Juan National Forest and the Rio Grande National Forest in southern Colorado, I shot what at first I though was a controlled burn, but later realized was the West Fork Fire. I knew it was a big one when I watched the smoke fan out to the east, starting with the San Luis Valley, where some of it pooled over the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and against the Sagre de Cristo Mountains. (Here are pictures of those in clearer conditions.)

But it went far beyond there, coloring the skies over Kansas and beyond. (More when I put up the rest of the photos from the trip.) Here is a story on the fire’s visibility from space. And here’s a link to a search for “West Fork Fire”.

flightawaremapYesterday we were in Melbourne. Then we flew to Sydney, got some sleep, and caught flights to Auckland, Los Angeles and Newark.

Except, we’re not in Newark. A storm there delayed things, and we’re on the ground getting re-fueled at Dulles, near D.C. This kind of thing happens with aviation and weather. That planes fly at all is a kind of miracle. That flying has become as mundane as bus travel — and far safer — would also be miraculous if it weren’t so routine. Except for times like this.

See the line of red dots over there on the right? Those are the airports with delays caused by storms that were beautiful to watch as our eastbound United 757 flew past them to the south. I got some pictures, but they aren’t very good.

Now, here on the ground, I’m watching Flightaware and Intellicast to see what’s up with aviation and weather. Flightaware is an amazing site. If you have any interest in aviation, or just need to know what’s currently screwed up with air travel, it’s the best of its breed. Intellicast has great maps, which project into the future while also running through the recent past. Right now I see by Flightaware’s map below that flights are getting in and out of Newark as the current storm (the green blotch) passes.

I also see by Intellicast that the line of storms I observed south of the Great Lakes and across Pennsylvania will arrive in New York in a few hours. So our window of opportunity isn’t large there.

It would be nice if Intellicast has links to maps, but they don’t, or I’d link to the one for New York. The good thing about Intellicast is that it is somewhat less crufty with promotional jive than Weather.com and some other weather sites.

Another passenger is grumbling about United’s flight operations. “Worst in the business,” he says. I don’t agree. After well over a million miles with United, I have no evidence that their flight operations is anything other than fine. And, given the size of the fleet they manage, that’s a compliment.

And hey, while I’d love to be in New York now, I’d rather be safe than any of the many kinds of sorry I can imagine.

Postscript: We got to Newark eventually, and then took another few hours to await a bus and a delayed subway before arriving at our place around 7:30am. This was close to 40 hours after departing Sydney. Got a little sleep, and now we’re ready to go again. :-)

Springing in Paris

Parc de la Villette

That’s the Parc de la Villette, also variously known as Parc La Villette, Parc Villette, or just Villette, here in Paris. I shot it two days ago, when we got here and the weather was clear. It got cloudy and wet after that. But it looks like things will clear up for:::::

OuiShareFest

From the About page:

The first major European event dedicated to the collaborative economy.

This three-day festival will bring together a global community of entrepreneurs, designers, makers, economists, investors, politicians and citizens to build a collaborative future.
Paris, May 2-3-4, 2013.

Not just another business conference.

Co-designed with its community, OuiShare Fest will feature a wide range of hands-on activities and great live music.
Day 1-2 will gather 500 professionals and public officials.
Day 3 will be free and open to the public.

Can’t wait.

I’ll be speaking there on Friday morning at 9:30. The title: Markets are Relationships. I’ll be there for most of the rest of the show too. Great line-up of topics, speakers and attendees. After that, it’s Silicon Valley for IIW.

See ya theres.

 

artifacty HD[Later (7 April)... The issue has been resolved, at least for now. We never did figure out what caused the poor video resolution in this case, but it looks better now. Still, it seems that compression artifacts are a mix of feature and bug for both cable and satellite television. One of these weeks or months I'll study it in more depth. My plan now is just to enjoy watching the national championship game tomorrow night, between Louisville and Michigan.]

What teams are playing here? Can you read the school names? Recognize any faces?  Is that a crowd in the stands or a vegetable garden? Is the floor made of wood or ice?

You should be able to tell at least some of those things on an HD picture from a broadcast network. But it ain’t easy. Not any more. At least not for me.

Used to be I could tell, at least on Dish Network, which is one reason I got it for our house in Santa Barbara. I compared Dish’s picture on HD channels with those of Cox, our cable company, and it was no contest. DirectTV was about the equal, but had a more complicated remote control and cost a bit more. So we went with Dish. Now I can’t imagine Cox — or anybody — delivering a worse HD picture.

The picture isn’t bad just on CBS, or just during games like this one. It sucks on pretty much all the HD channels. The quality varies, but generally speaking it has gone down hill since we first got our Sony Bravia 1080p “Full HD” screen in 2006. It was the top of the line model then and I suppose still looks good, even though it’s hard to tell, since Dish is our only TV source.

Over-the-air (OTA) TV looks better when we can get it; but hardly perfect. Here’s what the Rose Bowl looked like from KGTV in San Diego when I shot photos of it on New Years Day of 2007. Same screen. You can see some compression artifacts in this close-up here and this one here; but neither is as bad as what we see now. (Since I shot those, KGTV and the CBS affiliate in San Diego, KFMB, moved down from the UHF to the VHF band, so my UHF antenna no longer gets them. Other San Diego stations with UHF signals still come in sometimes and look much better than anything from Dish.)

So why does the picture look so bad? My assumption is that Dish, to compete with cable and DirectTV, maximizes the number of channels it carries by compressing away the image quality of each. But I could be wrong, so I invite readers (and Dish as well) to give me the real skinny on what’s up with this.

And, because I’m guessing some of you will ask: No, this isn’t standard-def that I’m mistaking for high-def. This really is the HD stream from the station.

[Later...] I heard right away from @Dish_Answers. That was quick. We’ll see how it goes.

Echo Cliffs

I say that because I didn’t find those entries when I went looking for them yesterday, when I was putting up and annotating this photo set here.

If I get a chance later I’ll put some links here.

[Later...] And now there is a Wikipedia entry, thanks to Phllip Stewart, @pmsyyz, who improves Wikipedia as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Pmsyy. I just made a few additional edits myself as well.

One day, back around 15,000 BCE, half a mountain in Southern California broke loose and slid out onto what’s now the Mojave desert. The resulting landform is called the Blackhawk Slide. Here it is:

It’s that ripple-covered lobe on the bottom right. According to Robert Sharp’s Geology Underfoot in Southern California, it didn’t just flow off the mountain, as would happen with a typical landslide. It actually slid intact, like a toboggan, four and a half miles, on a slope of only two to three degrees. It could not have traveled so far, and have remained so intact (with rock layers preserved, in order, top to bottom), if it had merely flowed.

Geologists can tell it slid because it didn’t just heap at the base of the mountain from which it detached. Instead it soared, at low altitude, four and a half miles, on the flat, on a cushion of air, out across the desert, before plopping down.

To get some perspective on this, here are two facts to consider. First, we’re talking about ten billion cubic feet of detached mountain face here. Second, in order to travel that far out onto the desert, shattered but essentially in one piece, it had to glide on a cushion of air, at speeds up to 270 miles per hour. Or so goes the theory.

One wonders if humans were there to see it happen. Ancestors of native Americans were already on the continent by then, thanks to the last glacial maximum, which still had several thousand more years to go. There may have been some ice on the mountains themselves, and perhaps that helped weaken the rock, which was already raised to the sky by pressures on the San Andreas Fault, which lies on the back side of the San Bernardino Mountains, a couple dozen miles from here.

I came along a bit late, but was glad to get my first chance to gander at the slide, the day after Thanksgiving, on a United flight from San Jose to Houston. I was shooting against the sun, and it was a bit hazy, but I was still able to get a good look, and this photo set too.

Additional links:

On the way back from a concert in Brooklyn yesterday we shared the subway with a well-known filmmaker. He’s one of those people who look ordinary enough to blend in with the rest of us, which is lucky for him. Still, he’s not anonymous. We know his name. We’ve seen his movies. We also did our best not to pay him special attention. That is, to let him have the form of privacy we call anonymity. Even if he is hardly anonymous.

I thought it was cool that he took the subway rather than a taxi. There was a woman with him, obviously a friend. They had an energetic conversation. His voice also was familiar. She got off one stop before he did, a couple stops later.

Our home base since ’01 has been Santa Barbara. If you hang out on State Street in Santa Barbara, or on Coast Village or Valley Road in Montecito, you’re bound to run into celebrities fairly often, since lots of them live there. The correct and courteous thing to do is ignore them: to pretend, as best you can, that they have not made the Faustian trade of anonymity for fame. I’ve known a few celebs in my time and without exception they’ve found being known to everybody mostly a drag.

This stuff is close to my mind these days because privacy is a Big Issue. See, online we are all celebrities to the advertising personalizers. That’s why sites plant cookies and tracking beacons in our browsers to follow us around like invisible paparazzi. Fixing it won’t be easy; but we will fix it, sooner or later. Simple courtesy demands it. And it is on simple courtesies that civilization stands.

[4 December: I got a call from Verizon and an answer. For that, skip down to *here.]

We have a new apartment in Manhattan. Washington Heights. Verizon FiOS is here. FiOS trucks roam the streets. They set up little tables in front of apartments where FiOS is now available, to sign customers up. My wife talked to a guy at one of those recently, and he told us Verizon would bring FiOS to any apartment building where a majority of tenants welcomed it, provided the fiber is in the street. Our street has it, but we can’t get through to Verizon by the usual means (website, phone number). Checking with those is a dead end. They say it’s not available. But I want to know for sure, either way. Because I’ll bet I can sell a majority of tenants on going with FiOS. I know FiOS, because I’ve been a customer near Boston since 2007. So can somebody from Verizon please contact me? Either here or through @dsearls. Thanks.

* Had a good talk with a Verizon rep who called me today (4 December). Here’s what she said:

  1. FiOS is not ready on our street yet, but it will be.
  2. When it is, building owners will be notified, both by mail and in person if possible. So alert the building owner to this eventuality, if the owner is not you.
  3. Meanwhile also go on the website and navigate to where you can request service. Even if they say it’s not available now, the request will be remembered when the service actually rolls out.
  4. Right now Verizon has stopped pushing or building out any new services while existing ones are down or damaged due to Sandy. Since there was a lot of damage, and many customers affected, the company’s first priority is restoring that service. This will take awhile. No telling how long yet.
  5. When the Sandy restoration job is complete, the company will go back to expanding services to both new and existing customers.

So I’ll call Time Warner tomorrow. Meanwhile, maybe the information above will help you too.

Tags: , , , , ,

WMVY is mvyradioa delightful music station on Martha’s Vineyard, with a great history, that I always enjoy tuning in when I head down that way to visit friends in Falmouth or Woods Hole. Alas, like so many other good small radio stations, it’s is going off the air. The station’s signal on 92.7fm has been sold to WBUR, one of Boston’s two big public radio stations. (WGBH is the other.)

Here’s WBUR’s press release, issued early this morning. The gist:

The sale of the 92.7 FM signal paves the way for WBUR to reach listeners on Martha’s Vineyard and most of Cape Cod and Nantucket, as well as the Massachusetts ‘SouthCoast’ including New Bedford, Fall River, Falmouth, Westport and Marion. WMVY, known on air and online as mvyradio, plans to create a non-profit, commercial-free business model going forward.

WBUR will now have all these signals:

  1. WBUR-FM/90.9 in Boston. (Coverage Map.)
  2. WBUR-AM/1240 in West Yarmouth (Coverage Map.)
  3. WSDH-FM/91.5 in Sandwich (Coverage Map.)
  4. WCCT-FM/903 in Harwich  (Coverage Map.)
  5. WMVY-FM/92.7 in Tisbury (Coverage Map.)

WMVY will remain on the Web. If you go to their website, a brief message directs you to this page, where an all-text message says,

This is real. We must evolve. Or face extinction.

By early 2013, mvyradio will either become a non-commerical, listener-supported operation or go silent. It’s that urgent and that simple.

For almost 30 years, mvyradio has broadcast on 92.7FM, bringing the Cape, Islands and Southcoast an eclectic mix of music and a spirit deeply rooted in our surroundings. It’s also been a fixture on listeners’ home computers, smart phones, tablets and internet radios.

Despite a devoted listenership, mvyradio has not been solvent.

We’ve been fortunate. Aritaur Communications has covered our losses, but that is no longer feasible.

As a result, Aritaur has sold the 92.7FM frequency to WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station. Once approved by the FCC in early 2013, WBUR will be heard on 92.7FM.

This is both an opportunity and a pretty gigantic challenge.

First, the opportunity. Only the FM signal has been sold to WBUR. Aritaur is contributing mvyradio’s programming, online content, equipment and staff to the non-profit Friends of mvyradio. So, the core is there.

That means mvyradio, as you know it — all the music, personalities, shows and web content — can live on as a non-commercial, internet public radio station.

That’s the opportunity. The future. Commercial-free.

Now the challenge. We need — the Friends of mvyradio needs — to raise $600,000 in pledges by the end of January.

Yes, that’s an enormous lift. But, one well worth making to keep an independent radio gem like mvyradio on the air.

Do you want mvyradio to live on? Or will it die like so many other independent broadcast treasures?

Please click through to the pledge page and help save mvyradio.

It goes on, but that’s the pitch.

Now let’s say you live on the Cape and like noncommercial radio. In addition to WBUR and mvyradio, you also have WCAI, the Cape And Islands station. Located in Woods Hole, it broadcasts from Martha’s Vineyard on 90.1fm, plus over WZAI/94.3 in Brewster and WNAN/91.1 in Nantucket. While WCAI is “a service of WGBH,” it operates independently, and is very much a regional station. Its only drawback is its dinky home station signal, which radiates from the same tower as WMVY. While WMVY is 300o watts, horizontal and vertical, at 315 feet above average terrain (height matters at least as much as power), WCAI is 1300 watts at 249 feet.It also radiates only in the vertical plane, and at full power only to the north, toward Woods Hole. In other directions it’s as little as 234 watts. (You can see the directional pattern here and the coverage here.) WCAI does have a construction permit for 12500 watts at 241 feet, from a different tower in the same location. That signal is directional too, but the dent is smaller and only toward the northeast, where the notch in its null is still 5087 watts. WZAI and WNAN are also good-size signals.

Then there is noncommercial classical WNCK in Nantucket, with these translators on Cape Cod:

  1. W230AW-FM/93.9 in Centerville (Coverage Map.)
  2. W246BA-FM/100.7 in Harwich Port (Coverage Map.)

WNCK carries WGBH’s classical programming from WCRB. It wants funding too.

That’s a lot of radio mouths for listeners to feed. I’m curious to see how it all sorts out, with WBUR horning in on WCAI’s home turf, and with mvyradio going Internet-only. As a “statutory webcaster,” mvyradio’s music royalty rates might be a bit higher at first. (See here.) In any case, they’ll have serious costs. They’ll also be competing with every other webcaster in the world.

This is a liminal time for radio, as the bulk of usage gradually tilts between over-the-air and over-the-Net. In the long run, the latter will outperform the former, just as FM outperformed AM back when the difference began to fully matter.

Coverage via the Net is worldwide: basically, anywhere with a good mobile data connection. Right now navigating one’s way to a stream is still complicated. Even good “tuners” on phones, such as TuneIn, can be frustrating to use. And without the old “dial” positions or “channels,” stations can be hard to find. And then there’s the whole matter of data charges by mobile phone companies, “caps” on usage and the rest of it. But we’ll work that out in time.

Meanwhile, check out the ratings (from Radio-Info.com) for the top markets. Look closely at Washington, D.C. (where I’m headed on Amtrak while I write this). WAMU a public station, has the top position with an 8.7 share. By radio standards, that’s just huge. And it’s ahead of all-news WTOP, which is the top-billing station in the whole country. Then scan down to the low-rated stations. WAMU’s stream gets an 0.3 share. That’s tied with several AM stations and 3 times the share of bottom-rated WFED, Federal News Radio, which transmits from WTOP’s original 50,000-watt powerhouse transmitter on 1500am. That’s a harbinger if I ever saw one.

Curious to know if any readers are following this, and how they weigh in on the changes. I can’t help writing about it, because I know the field — so well, in fact, that I can see whole parts of it going away.

Take a look at these screenshots of maps on my iPhone 4, running iOS 6:

maps

On the left, maps.google.com, made mobile. On the right, Apple’s new Maps app, which comes with iOS 6. The location in both cases is Harvard Square, not far from where I am right now.

Note how the Apple app not only lacks the Harvard Square T stop (essential information for any map of this type), but traffic information as well. (Not to mention a bunch of other stuff, such as landmarks and street names. (Neither is perfect at the last two, but Google is way better.)

This is beyond inexcusable, especially now that it’s going on two months since Tim Cook apologized for Apple’s Maps fail and promised improvements. How hard can it be, just to add essential subway info? Very, apparently.

I go a bit deeper in this response to this post by Dave a few hours ago. To sum it up, I think only two things will save Apple’s bacon with maps. One is that Nokia/Navteq, Google and others provide maps on iOS that are better than Apple’s, saving Apple the trouble of doing it all. The other is crowd-sourcing the required data, simply because Apple by itself can’t replicate the effort both Google and Nokia/Navteq have put into what they’ve already got. But with the rest of us, Apple can actually do better. It’ll take a sex change for them to un-close their approach to mapping. But they’ll leapfrog the competition in the process, and win loyalty as well.

[Later...] Here is a screenshot that helps enlarge some points I make below in response to Droidkin’s comment:

apple credits and feeback

Note how dim, dark and hidden the small print is here. “Data from TomTom, others” goes to this list of credits. Also “Report a Problem” is simplex, not duplex, far as I know. You can tell them something but it’s like dropping a pebble into the ocean. Who knows what happens to it?

Strays Amid Rome Set Off a Culture Clash says The New York Times. On one side, archaeologists who wish to save ruins from occupation by cats. On the other side, the cats’ lovers, including tourists who marvel more at the abundance of serene kittehs, lounging atop walls and columns than at the historic site itself:  a place called Largo di Torre Argentina, or just “Argentina” to the locals.

It looks like Rome’s exposed basement, excavated down to one floor below street level. The broken-down walls and columns of Argentina contain no less than four Republican Roman temples and a corner of Pompey’s Theatre, beside which Julius Caesar was assassinated — perhaps within this very space. The whole thing lies within the Campus Martius, of which the main surviving structure is the nearby Pantheon.

I was there with the family two summers ago, and shot some kitteh pictures. To help anybody who wants pix for their own kitteh-vs-whomever stories, I’ve put those shots in a photo set here. All are Creative Commons licensed for attribution only (the least restrictive license available on Flickr).

Hurricane flag

7:30am Tuesday morning: I can tell the storm is over by tuning in to the Weather Channel and finding it back to the normally heavy load of ads, program promotions and breathless sensationalism. So I’ll turn ya’ll back over to your irregularly scheduled programs. Rock on.

11:14pm The Weather Channel just said 4.1 million homes are without power now. The numbers bounce around. For a good list of outages, check with Edward Vielmetti’s blog.

11:07pm Bitly stats for this page  http://hvrd.me/YerGzj). Interesting: 442 clicks, 30 shares. Below, two comments other than my only one. Life in the vast lane, I guess. FWIW, I can’t see stats for this site, and generally don’t care about them; but I put some work into this post and the list over at Trunk Line, so some feedback is helpful.

10:48pm When you look up “Sandy” on Bing images, shouldn’t you see at least one hurricane picture? Instead, a sea of pretty faces. Here’s Sandy + hurricane. Credit where due: I can figure a way to shorten the tracking cruft out of the URL with Bing. Not so with Google’s Sandy search, which looks like … well, I killed it, because it f’d up this page royally. Please, Google, have mercy. Make the search URL’s sensible again.

10:42pm Glad I stayed in Boston, with power running and a solid Verizon FiOS fiber connection (25mbps upstream and down), right through the storm. Looks like the New York place is powerless right now, and the Verizon DSL connection there is awful even in good weather. Got lots of stuff to do here too, through Thursday.

9:54pm TV stations with live streams online:

In a city-by-city rundown, Hartford wins with four stations, Washington and New York is second with three each, Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia come in third with one station each, and Providence loses, with no live stations online at all. (Thanks for the corrections, which I keep adding.)

All the CBSlocal.com stations have “listen live.” C’mon, guys. You’re TV stations.

Some TV stations, e.g. WFXT in Boston, have pages so complicated that they don’t load (again, for me). On the whole, everybody’s site is waaay too complicated. At times like this they need three things:

  1. Live video
  2. Rivers of news
  3. Links to files of stories already run

Better yet, they should just have an emergency page they bring up for crises, since it’s obviously too hard for many of them to tweak their complicated (often crap-filled) CMSes (Content Management Systems) to become truly useful when real news hits the fan.

9:50pm When you go to bed tonight in #Sandy territory, take the good advice of Ready.gov, with one additional point I picked up in California for earthquake prep: have shoes nearby, and upside down, so they don’t take glass if any breaks nearby.

9:46pm What’s the ad load right now on the Weather Channel? Usually it seems like it has more ads than programming. Clearly there is less advertising now. How much less? Are the advertisers paying more? Anybody know the answers?

9:37pm A moment of calm. Rain slowing. intellicast map

The current weather map, via Intellicast, on the right. Note the snow and ice in West Virginia. Eye-less, #Sandy is currently spinning around the juncture of Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. BTW, this is Intellicast’s “old” map, which I like better.

9:29pm A friend runs outage totals from many sources:

  • Total out 3,0639,62:
  • Maine 65,817
  • New Hampshire 120,687
  • Vermont 14,482
  • Massachusetts 378,034
  • Connecticut 254643
  • New York 836,931
  • New Jersey 929,507
  • Pennsylvania
  • Delaware
  • Maryland 279,396
  • Virginia 118,766
  • DC 16,608
  • West Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio 49,091
  • Michigan
  • Illinois

With so many blank TBDs, the numbers must be higher.

9:18pm Please, radio stations, stop streaming in highly proprietary formats (e.g. Silverlight and Windows Media) that require annoying user installs (which won’t work on some platforms, e.g. Linux). Right now I’d like to listen to WOND in Atlantic City, but it wants me to get Silverlight. Not happening.

9:12 Via @WhoaNancyLynn, boardwalklooks like the Boardwalk is without boards in Atlantic City. Bonus link from Philly.com.

9:06 Water covering the runway at LaGuardia, says the Weather Channel. (Which I’m still watching here in Boston over our Dish TV connection in Santa Barbara. Amazing how solid it has been.)

8:54 Added newspapers to the list of sources at Trunk Line.

8:49 Courant: More than 500,000 without power in Connecticut. Boston Globe: 350,ooo out in Mass. Weather Channel: “More than 3 million without power.” Kind of amazed our house isn’t among those. Winds have been just as big in gusts as the microburst from last summer, which caused this damage here. One big difference: leaves. Fall was post-peak to begin with, and remaining color has mostly been blown away. In the summer, trees weren’t ready to give up their leaves, and many got blown over or torn up.

8:03 Just heard Con Edison has shut down the power in lower Manhattan. Con Ed outage map“Completely dark down toward Wall Street.” No specific reports on the Con Ed site. But here’s an outage map (on the right).

7:56 Listening to WCAI (Cape and Islands radio), on which I hear locals saying that things aren’t as bad as had been expected.

7:54 The Christian Science Monitor has a story on the sinking of the Bounty off Cape Hatteras. Two crew are still missing. What was it doing out in that storm? The story says they left Connecticut last week for Florida and was in touch with the National Hurricane Center; but Sandy was already on the radar then, wasn’t it? Maybe not. Dunno. In any case, bad timing.

7:38 Heard a loud pop across the street, followed by a flickering orange light between the houses, and reflected on the windows. Wondering if a fire had started I went out in the wind and rain, found it was nothing and got thoroughly soaked — and almost hit by a car. This is a quiet street that should have no traffic under the conditions, but there it was. Fortunately, we spotted each other just in time.

7:33 Curious: what’s up with JFK, LGA,EWR, BOS. If the seas rise enough, some runways may be under water. But… haven’t heard anything yet.

7:31 Water continues to rise, etc. Yet… Not seeing or hearing about any Big Disasters. The Weather Channel is reporting lots of storm surge levels, all-time records… but no unusual damage reports yet.  Their reporters are still standing on dunes, walking on sea-walls. In a real big-time storm surge, they’d be long gone, along with geology and structures. You can almost hear a bit of disappointment for lack of devastation to show. “We still have hours and hours and hours left…” Translation: “and time to fill.”

7:28 @TWCbreaking: “The water level at the Battery in #NYC has reached 11.25 feet, surpassing the all-time record of 11.2 feet set in 1821.#Sandy

7:25 Big winds, long ping times over my FiOS connection.

7:21 List of mainstream live media covering #Sandy.

7:17 I wonder if the main effects of #Sandy will be like #Irene‘s: while most of the media attention was on the coast, Vermont was quietly destroyed.

7:12pm The Weather Channel just said that #Sandy has lost her (or is it his?) hurricane status, and is now just a “superstorm.” I also notice that Crane 9 quit reporting winds at 4pm. :-( Meanwhile Huffpo says on Twitter than #Sandy has it down.

6:41pm Here’s a “before” shot of the crane on 57th Street that’s now broken. (@DaveWiner has a closer shot here.) I took it on 27 August. Between staying in hotels (e.g. the Salisbury, twice), going to meetings, shopping and other stuff, I’ve gone back and forth in front of this construction site more times than I can count. So, naturally, I shot some pictures of it. Fun fodder: the OUT and IN liquid concrete vats that the crane hauled up and down for many months. These shots are Creative Commons licensed for attribution only, so feel free to re-use them.

6:22pm Just heard on the Weather Channel that up to 10 million people may be without power soon. This “will take a big bite out of retail in November.”

5:59pm Dark now. Just in time for the biggest winds yet. Whoa. House is shaking. Tree pieces flying by.

5:46pm More evidence that station-based radio is declining: the great WBZ, which still carries three of the most august call letters in radio history, is http://cbsboston.com on the Web and @cbsboston on Twitter. Same goes for CBS stations in Washington, New York and elsewhere. Clear Channel meanwhile is blurring all its station brands behind iHeartRadio.

5:43pm @WNYC reports that many of New York’s major bridges are soon to close. Earlier I heard on WBZ that toll booths are abandoned, so feel free to ride through without paying if you’re busy disobeying advice to stay off the roads.

5:22pm Five “creative newsjacks” of #Sandy by “savvy marketers”. At Hubspot. Explanation: “Newsjacking is the practice of capitalizing on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing efforts. The term was popularized thanks to David Meerman Scott’s book Newsjacking.” All are, in the larger scheme, trivial, if not in bad taste. For that, nothing beats The Onion:

5:12pm Crane 9 in New Jersey (see the graphic below) now reports steady winds of 46mph from the northeast with peak gusts of 63mph.

4:45pm I have some “before” shots of the crane that broke on 57th Street. I’ll put those up soon.

4:40pm Right now we have the highest winds since a microburst in July took out hundreds of trees in a matter of seconds across East Arlington, Mass. Here’s a photo tour of the damage that I took at the time. In fact I have a lot more shots that I haven’t put up yet. I might do that when I get a break.

4:38pm A gust just peeled back some siding on the house across the street. Watched some pieces of trees across the street break off and fall.  The trees taking it hardest are the ones with leaves, which increases the wind loading. Interesting to see how the red maples give up their colored leaves while the black oaks do not. Same with the silver and norway maples. The leaves on those seem to resist detachment.

2:55pm Given the direction of the storm, it will continue longer in New England than elsewhere, even though the hit is not direct.

2:52pm Just heard a crane on W. 57th Street went down. That’s the site next to the Salisbury Hotel, I believe. Across from the Russian Tea Room.

2:45pm Now it’s getting scary here near Boston. Very high wind gusts, shaking the house, along with heavy rain. Check out the increasing peak winds at Crane 9 at the New York Container Terminal in New Jersey, on the right.

2:21pm Thinking about fluid dynamics and looking at a map of the New Jersey and Long Island coasts, which in two dimensions comprise a funnel, with Raritan Bay and New York Harbor at the narrow end. High tide will hit about 8pm tonight there. Given the direction of the storm, and the concentrating effects of the coastlines toward their convergence point, I would be very surprised if this doesn’t put some or all of the following under at least some water:

  • All three major airports: JFK, LaGuardia and Newark.
  • The New York Container Terminal.
  • The tower bases of New York’s AM radio stations. Most of them transmit from the New Jersey Meadows, because AM transmission works best on the most conductive ground, which is salt water. On AM, the whole tower radiates. That’s why a station with its base under water won’t stay on the air. At risk: WMCA/570, WSNR/620,  WOR/710, WNYC-AM/820,  WINS/1010, WEPN/1050, WBBR/1130, WLIB/1190, WADO/1280 and several others farther up the band. WFAN/660 and WCBS/880 share a tower on High Island in Long Island Sound by City Island, and I think are far enough above sea level. WMCA and WNYC share a three-tower rig standing in water next to Belleville Pike by the  New Jersey Turnpike and will be the first at risk.
  • [Later... According to this story, WINS was knocked off the air.]
  • [Later still... Scott Fybush's Northeast Radio Watch says WMCA and WNYC were knocked offAnd the WNYC site says it was knocked off too. He has a long list of silenced stations there.]

Funnel #2, right where the eye will hit: Delaware Bay. Watch out Philly/Camden/Wilmington.

Funnel #3, Massachusetts Bay and Boston Harbor.

1:03pm: I forgot to bring a portable radio, so I got a new little “travel radio” for $39.95 from Radio Shack, along with some re-chargeable batteries. After charging them overnight, I put the batteries in, and… nada. The clock comes on at 12:00, but nothing else happens. None of the buttons change anything. The time just advances forward from the imaginary noon. So, it’s useless. Oh well. I have other radios plugged into the wall. But if the power goes out, so do they.

12:48pm: In a crisis like #Sandy, one of the great failures of public television is exposed: there is almost no live local coverage of anything, despite a boundless abundance of presumably willing helpers in the Long Tail. Public TV’s connection with What’s Actually Happening is astoundingly low, and ironic given its name. Scheduled programs throb through the calendar with metronomic precision. About the only times they ever go live is during pledge breaks, which always give the impression of being the main form of programming. If they were as good at actual journalism as they are at asking for money*, they would kick ass. I’ve included local public stations in my list here. None of them are go-to sites for the public. I just scanned through them, and here’s the rundown:

  • Maryland Public Television displays no evidence that a hurricane is going on.
  • WHYY Philadelphia-Wilmington: Pointage to Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane, which ran from 10-Noon today. The top Special Announcement is “Visit NewsWorks.org or follow @NewsWorksWHYY on Twitter for continuing coverage of Hurricane Sandy.”
  • WNET in New York is itself almost inert. But it does have links to its three broadcast outlet pages. thirteen.org in Metro Focus has a scary visual of likely flooding in New York, last updated at 7:38pm Sunday. WLIW, another of its stations, has the same pointage. That’s about it. Its NJTV site is a bit more current. They post this: “Committed to serving Garden State residents during what is predicted to be an exceptional storm in Hurricane Sandy, NJTV will provide updates throughout the day plus Gov. Chris Christie’s next press conference. Monday night, join Managing Editor Mike Schneider for full storm analysis during live NJ Today broadcasts at 6 pm, 7:30 and 11 pm. Residents can also expect ongoing weather-related news updates on the network’s Facebook andTwitter sites. NJTV is also planning a joint broadcast with WNET’s MetroFocus news program on Tuesday night at 9:30 pm, to assess the effect of the storm on the Tri-State area.” Can’t wait.
  • WETA in Washington, D.C. has exactly nothing. WHUT appears to be down.
  • CPBN, the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, has nothing.
  • WGBH in Boston points to a show about the great hurricane of ’38. Almost helpful, that.

* See Jan Hooks’ legendary Tammy Jean show on the old Tush program, which ran on Ted Turner’s original cable station back at the turn of the ’80s. It was a perfect parody of a low-end religious program that seemed to exist only for seeking money, which viewers were told to put in the “money font”: a fish bowl on a pedestal. Watch here, starting around 2:50 into the show. Bonus show, with the pitch point arriving about five minutes in.

12:43pm: Normally I’d be headed this afternoon to Jay Rosen‘s Studio 20 journalism class at NYU. But after NYU announced its closures yesterday,  I decided to stay here in Boston and report on what some corners of journalism are up to, as Sandy hits New York. To help with that, I’ve put up a roster of what I’m calling “infrastructural” sources, on Trunk Line, a blog that Christian Sandvig and I set up at the Berkman Center, and which is coming in handy right now. I have websites, feeds, radio and TV stations. Haven’t added newspapers yet. Stay tuned.

12:38pm: A Weather Channel reporter on the beach in Point Pleasant, New Jersey just said, live, “We’ve been told to get out of the shot. Sorry. Gotta cut it off.”

12:28pm: Getting our first strong wind gusts here, from the north. The fall colors, which were right at peak on our street, just flew past my window here in the attic.

12:19pm: We have no TV here at the Boston place. Normally I carry an EyeTV Hybrid thingie to watch over-the-air TV on a laptop, but the thingie is at our New York place (yes, we’re there too; just not now). But we have Dish Network back home in Santa Barbara, so that’s what I’m watching, over our iPad here in Boston, thanks to the Slingbox on the Dish set top box. (Which is actually in a hall cabinet, since “sets” these days don’t have tops. They have edges, none of which supports a box.) Consider the route here. TWC distributes to Dish over a 50,ooo mile round trip to a satellite. Then Dish sends the signal to Santa Barbara over another round trip through a satellite just as far away. Then I’m watching 3000 miles away over a wireless connection at our place in Boston. Credits en route go to Cox for the cable connection in Santa Barbara, and to Verizon FiOS for the connection here. This will work until the power goes out here.

12:12pm: Finally heard somebody on the Weather Channel mention that there is a full moon today, which means maximized tide swings. Here’s the tide chart for the Battery, at the lower end of Manhattan.

11:20am Weather Channel gets all ominous, sez InsideTV at Entertainment Weekly.

11:18a: Slate is on top of Frankenstorm coverage in the papers.

11:05am: Radio stations should list their stream URLs as clearly as they list their dial positions. None do. Some have many steams but not enough links. WNYC, for example, has a nice help page, but the links to the streams are buried in a pop-up menu titled “other formats” (than the “Listen Now” pop-up page).

11:00am: How New Nersey Broadcasters Have Prepared for Sandy, at RadioINK. It begins,

New Jersey Broadcasters Association President and CEO Paul Rotella tells Radio Ink stations in his state have been preparing for Hurricane Sandy since Friday. “This is a perfect example of how only  local radio and TV can provide the critical information our audiences need to know in times of emergency. Sure, you can get a “big picture” overview from some media sources, but our citizens need to know much more detailed and salient information that only local broadcasters can provide.”

No links. Anybody have evidence of that yet? I’m listening to WKXW, aka New Jersey 101.5, After a lot of ads, they have lots of weather-related closings, followed by live talk, where they’re talking about other media at the moment.

10:56am: I’ve put up a fairly comprehensive list of infrastructure-grade Sandy information sources over on the Trunk Line blog. Much of what I’ll write about here will come from checking over there. Note that all the TV and radio stations from DC to Boston carrying live (or nearly live) coverage are listed, plus a number of live streams from stations providing them.

NOAA has Sandy headed straight at New Jersey and Delaware. The Weather Channel has a prettier map:

I was going to go to New York today, but decided to stay around Cambridge instead. All the media are making dire sounds, and there is lots of stocking up going on. Home Depot, Costco, all the grocery stores have had packed parking lots all day. Schools are closed all over the East Coast. New York City is shutting down the subways and Mayor Bloomberg has advised everybody to stay inside. Huge storm surges are expected.

I’m a natural event freak, so I’m on the case, but also need some sleep, in the calm before The Storm. More in a few hours.

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.

I want to drive on the Web, but instead I’m being driven. All of us are. And that’s a problem.

It’s not for lack of trying on the part of websites and services such as search engines. But they don’t make cars. They make stores and utilities that try to be personal, but aren’t, and never can be.

Take, for example, the matter of location. The Internet has no location, and that’s one of its graces. But sites and services want to serve, so many notice what IP address you appear to be arriving from. Then they customize their page for you, based on that location. While that might sound innocent enough, and well-intended, it also fails to know one’s true intentions, which matter far more to each of us than whatever a website guesses about us, especially if the guessing is wrong.

Last week I happened to be in New York when a friend in Toronto and I were both looking up the same thing on Google while we talked over Skype. We were unable to see the same thing, or anything close, on Google, because the engine insisted on giving us both localized results, which neither of us wanted. We could change our locations, but not to no location at all. In other words, it wouldn’t let us drive. We could only be driven.

Right now I’m in Paris, and cannot get Google to let me look at Google.com (presumably google.us), Google.uk or Google.anywhere other than France. At least not on its Web page. (If I use the location bar as a place to search, it gives me google.com results, for some non-obvious reason.)

After reading Larry Magid’s latest in Huffpo, about the iPhone 5, which says this…

Gazelle.com is paying $240 for an iPhone 4s in good condition, which is $41 more than the cost of a subsidized iPhone 5. If you buy a new iPhone from Sprint they’ll buy back your iPhone 4s for $235. Trouble is, if you bought a 4s it’s probably still under contract. Sprint is paying $125 for an 8 GB iPhone 4 and Gazelle is paying $145 for a 16 GB iPhone 4 which means that it you can get the $199 upgrade price, your out of pocket could be as little as $54.

… I wondered what BestBuy might give me for my 16GB iPhone 4. But when I go to http://bestbuy.com, the company gives me a page in French. I guess that’s okay, but it’s still annoying. (So is seeing that I can’t get a trade-in price without visiting a store.)

Back in the search world, I’ve been looking for a prepaid wireless internet access strategy to get data at sane prices in the next few countries I visit. A search for “prepaid wireless internet access” on google.fr gets me lots of ads in French, some of which might be more interesting if I knew French as well as I know English, but I doubt it. The “I’m feeling lucky” result is a faux-useful SEO-elevated page with the same title as the search query. The rest of the first page results are useless as well. (I did eventually find a useful site for my UK visit the week after next, but I’ll save that for another post.)

To describe what the Web has become, two metaphors come to mind.

The first is a train system that mostly runs between commercial destinations. In a surreal way, you are transported from one destination to another near-instantly (or at the speed of a page loading ads and cookies along with whatever it was you went there for), and are trapped at every destination in a cabin with a view only of what the destination wants you to see. The cabin is co-occupied by dozens or hundreds of conductors at any given time, all competing for your attention and telling you something they hope will make you buy something or visit other sites. In the parlance of professionals on the supply side of this system, what you get here is an “experience” that they “deliver.” To an increasing degree this experience is personalized, and for every person it’s different. If you looked at pants a few sites back, you might see ads for pants, or whatever it is that the system thinks you might want to buy, whether you’re in a buying mood or not at the time. (And most of the time you’re not, but they don’t care about that.)

Google once aspired to give us access to “all the world’s information”, which suggests a library. But the library-building job is now up to Archive.org. Instead, Google now personalizes the living shit out of its search results. One reason, of course, is to give us better search results. But the other is to maximize the likelihood that we’ll click on an ad. But neither is served well by whatever it is that Google thinks it knows about us. Nor will it ever be, so long as we are driven, rather than driving.

I think what’s happened in recent years is that users searching for stuff have been stampeded by sellers searching for users. I know Googlers will bristle at that characterization, but that’s what it appears to have become, way too much of the time.

But that’s not the main problem. The main problem is that browsers are antique vehicles.

See, we need to drive, and browsers aren’t cars. They’re shopping carts that shape-shift with every site we visit. They are optimized for being inside websites, not for driving outside them, or between them. In fact, we can hardly imagine the Net or the Web as a space that’s larger than the sites in it. But we need to do that if we’re going to start designing means of self-transport that transcend the limitations of browsing and browsers.

Think about what it means to drive.  The cabin, steering wheel, pedals, controls, engine, tires and chassis of a car are all controlled by you. The world through which you move is outside, not inside. Even in malls, you park outside the stores. The stores do not intrude inside your personal space. Driving is no less personal and no less masterfully yours when you ride a bike or a motorcycle, or pilot a plane. Those are all personal vehicles too. A browser should have been like one of those, and that was kind of the idea back in the early days when we talked about “surfing” and the “information highway.” But it didn’t turn out that way. Instead browsers became shopping carts that get fresh skins at every website.

We need a new vehicle. One that’s ours.

The smartphone would be ideal if it wasn’t also a phone. But that’s what it is. With few exceptions, we rent smartphones from phone companies and equipment makers, which collude to sentence us to “plans” that last for two years at a run.

I had some hope for Android., but that hope is fading now. Although supporting general purpose hardware and software was one of Google’s basic ideas behind Android, that’s not how it’s turning out. Android in most cases is an embedded operating system on a special purpose device. In the most familiar U.S. cases (AT&T’s, Sprint’s, T-Mobile’s and Verizon’s) the most special purpose of that device is locking you to a plan and soaking you for some quantity of minutes, texts and GB of data, whether you use the full amounts or not, and then punishing you for going over. They play an asymmetrical knowledge game with you, where they can monitor your every move, and all your usage, while you can barely do the same, if at all.

So we have a long way to go before mobile phones become the equivalent of a car, a bicycle, a motorcycle or a small plane. I don’t think there is an evolutionary path to the Net’s equivalent of a car that starts with a smartphone. Unless it’s not a phone first and a computing/communication device second.

The personal computing and communications revolution is thirty years old now, if we date it from the first IBM PC.  And right now we’re stuck, mostly because we think having the Web “personalized” is the same thing as having a personal vehicle. And because we think having a smartphone makes us independent. Neither is true. That’s why we won’t make progress past those problems until we start thinking and inventing outside their old boxes.

racing shopping cartYesterday my 15-year-old son and I made brief stop at the Micro Center in Cambridge, looking at what it might take (and cost) to build a Linux/Windows desktop computer from the ground up—something that had been an interest of his for the last couple of years. (Mine too, actually.) The answer, price-wise (at least there), was more than we wanted to spend, so we decided to stop looking and head out.

But there were plenty of distractions in the store, so I paused at a few counters, tables and bins to examine stuff like cheap ($2.99) optical mice, flat-screen monitors (mine are old and fading), and various kinds of outboard drives. (Two of mine crapped out last week, and our first stop of the day had been dropping them off at a repair shop.)

As it happens we were on our way back from a hike in the Blue Hills Reservation, where the kid’s patience had already been stretched by my tendency to pause to munch and reminisce at every huckleberry patch (I grew up spending summers among them), plus a half-hour stop at the observatory and science center at the crest of Blue Hill itself. So he was glad when we finally walked out of the store, and, presumably, to the car and then home.

But there was a Trader Joe’s in the same lot, and I wanted to make a quick stop there to pick up a few supplies. The kid groaned.

“I promise to shop like a man,” I said. “Fast as I can.” Then I began to sing that rhyme to the tune of the Four Season’s “Walk Like a Man.” Shop like a man, fast as you can. Shop like a man, my son…

He replied, “The true man shops without stopping.”

It then took us less than two minutes to get what we wanted (yogurt for smoothies, peppermint tea, a couple other things), check out and leave. The kid calls this “speed shopping.” Also “powering through” a store. Rob Becker, whose Defending the Caveman is a required theater experience (go as a couple—it’ll help), puts it this way in an interview:

Q: What does the title of your show refer to?

A: The show is about an average guy’s response to all the anger that is coming at him. It goes back to the beginning of time. The image of the caveman is that of a guy bopping a woman on the head and dragging her back to his cave. But no serious anthropologist believes that. The caveman thought women were magical. But the caveman, to me, became a symbol of man being misunderstood.

Q: What were our primitive roles, and what effect do they have on our behavior today?

A: Men were hunters; women were gatherers. The hunter locks in on one thing, which is why guys have a narrow focus, whether it’s watching TV, reading the newspaper or driving. They block everything else out because, as hunters, they had to focus on the rear end of an animal. On the other hand, women, as gatherers, had to take in the whole landscape. Their field of vision is wider.

Q: How do these differences manifest themselves in a shopping mall?

A: The hunter tracks one thing. If I need a shirt, I go and kill a shirt with my credit card and drag it home. The gatherer doesn’t know what she’s going for because she doesn’t know what’s going to be ripe or in bloom. She’s open to the environment. When I go shopping with my wife, I keep bugging her about what she’s looking for, and she says, “Don’t bother me; I’ll know it when I see it.”

Q: Do men and women respond differently to an empty bowl of potato chips?

A: Women cooperate, men negotiate. If six women are sitting around a bowl and it gets low, they all get up and go to the kitchen as a pack. And while they’re there, they’ll make more dip. With six guys, it’s completely different. One guy will say, “It’s my house; I’m not going to refill it.” Another will say, “Yeah, but I bought ‘em.” Another will say, “But we used my car.” I’ve seen it come down to their using a tape measure so the guy closest to the kitchen had to go.

The italics are mine. The kid’s too.

Tags:

Okay, my foursquare experiment is over. I won, briefly…

4sq… and, about 24 hours later (the second screenshot) I was back in the pack somewhere.

So now I’m done playing the leaderboard game. I’d like to say it was fun, and maybe it was, in the same way a hamster in a cage has fun running in its wheel. (Hey, there’s a little hamster in all of us. Ever tried to “win” in traffic? Same game.)

The experiment was to see what it would take to reach #1 on the leaderboard, if only for a minute. The answer was a lot of work. For each check-in I needed to:

  1. Wake up the phone
  2. Find foursquare (for me it’s not on the front page of apps)
  3. Tap the app
  4. Dismiss the “Rate foursquare” pop-over window
  5. Tap on the green “Check In” button
  6. Wait (sometimes for many seconds) while it loads its list of best guesses and actual locations
  7. Click on the location on the list (or type it in, if it’s not there)
  8. Click on the green “Check In Here” button
  9. Take a picture and/or write something in the “What are you up to?” window
  10. Click on the green “Check In” button, again.

And to do that a lot. For example, at Harvard Square a few days ago, I checked in at the Harvard Coop, Radio Shack, Peets Coffee, the Cemetery, Cambridge Common and the Square itself. For just those six places we’re talking about 60 pokes on the phone. (Okay, some of the time I start at #5. But it’s still a lot of pokes.)

To make sure I had the poke count right, I just did it again, here at the Berkman Center. Now my phone says, “Okay. We’ve got you @ Berkman Center for Internet & Society. You’ve been here 45 times.”

Actually, I’ve been here hundreds of times. I only checked in forty-five of those times. The difference matters. What foursquare says in that statement is, If you haven’t checked in on foursquare, you haven’t really been there. Which is delusional. But then, delusion is part of the game. Being mayor of the 77 bus (which I have been, a number of times) confers no real-world advantages to me at all. I even showed a driver once that I was mayor of the bus. She looked at my phone, then at me, like I was a nut case. (And, from her perspective, I surely was.) Being the mayor of some food joint might win you a discount or a freebie if the establishment is so inclined. But in most cases the establishment knows squat about foursquare. Or, if it does know something, squat might be what it does.

That was my surreal experience after checking in at a Brookstone at Logan Airport last October. I coudn’t miss the large placard there…

… and asked the kid at the cash register what the “special” would be. He replied, ”Oh, that’s just a promotion.” At the other end of the flight, while transferring between concourses in Dallas-Fort Worth, I saw this ad on the tram:

On my way to the next plane I checked into as many places as I could, and found no “great deals.” (Here is my whole mini-saga of foursquare screenshots.)

But, credit where due. An American Express promo that I ran across a number of times at SXSW in Austin earlier this year provided $10 off purchases every place it ran, which was more than a few. (Screenshots start here.) We also recently got a free upgrade from Fox, the car rental company, by checking in with foursquare. And I agree with Jon Mitchell of RWW, in What Is the Point of… Foursquare?, that the service has one big plus:

Isn’t Foursquare just for spamming Twitter and Facebook with what Geoloqi’s Amber Case calls “geoloquacious” noise about your trip to the grocery store? It can be, and for too many users, it is.

But turn all that off. Forget the annoying badges and mayorships, too. There’s one useful thing at which Foursquare is very, very good: recommendations.

So I’ll keep it going for that, and for notifying friends on foursquare that I’m in town, and am interested in getting together. (This has worked exactly once, by the way, with the ever-alert Steve Gillmor.)

But still, you might ask, why have I bothered all this time?

Well, I started using foursquare because I like new stuff and I’ve always been fascinated by the Quantified Self (QS) thing, especially around self-tracking, which I thought might also have a VRM benefits, somewhere down the line. I’m also a born geographer with a near absolute sense of where I am. Even when I’m flying in the stratosphere, I like to know where I am and where I’ve been, especially if photography is also involved. Alas, you can’t get online in the air with most planes. But I’ve still kept up with foursquare on the ground, patiently waiting for it to evolve past the hamster-wheel stage.

But the strange thing is, foursquare hasn’t evolved much at all, given the 3+ years they’ve been around. The UI was no bargain to begin with, and still isn’t. For example, you shouldn’t need to check in always in real time. There should be a setup that keeps track of where you’ve been, without the special effort on your part. If there are specials or whatever, provide alerts for those, on an opt-in basis.

But evolution is planned, in a big way. Foursquare Joins the Coupon Craze, a story by Spencer E. Ante last week in The Wall Street Journal, begins with this:

Foursquare doesn’t want to be another popular—but unprofitable—social network. Its new plan to make money? Personalized coupons.

The company, which lets users alert their friends to their location by “checking in” via smartphone from coffee shops, bars and other locations, revealed for the first time that it plans to let merchants buy special placement for promotions of personalized local offers in July in a redesigned version of its app. All users will be able to see the specials, but must check into the venue to redeem them.

“We are building software that’s able to drive new customers and repeat visitors to local businesses,” said Foursquare co-founder and Chief Executive Dennis Crowley.

This tells me my job with foursquare is to be “driven” like a calf into a local business. Of course, this has been the assumption from the start. But I had hoped that somewhere along the way foursquare could also evolve into a true QS app, yielding lat-lon and other helpful information for those (like me) who care about that kind of thing. (And, to be fair, maybe that kind of thing actually is available, through the foursquare API. I saw a Singly app once that suggested as much.) Hey, I would pay for an app that kept track of where I’ve been and what I’ve done, and made  that data available to me in ways I can use.

Meanwhile, there is one big piece of learning that I don’t think anybody has their head fully wrapped around, and that’s the willingness of people to go to all this work, starting with installing the app in the first place.

Back in the early days of ProjectVRM, it was taken as fact amongst developers that anything requiring a user install was problematic. Now most of us have phones with dozens or hundreds of apps or browser extensions that we’ve installed ourselves. Of course Apple and the browser makers have made that kind of thing easier, but that’s not my point. My point is that the conventional wisdom of today could be old-hat a year from now. We can cite example after example of people doing things which, in the past, it was said they were unlikely to do.

Music was a huge part of my life when I was growing up. It’s still big, but not the same. My life today does not have a soundtrack. As a kid my life was accompanied by music from start to finish. At that finish was another start, as a grown-up. From that point forward, music was less of a soundtrack and more of a break from conversations and silence, and a devotion of its own. The transition was not a sharp one, but rather a growing independence from music radio. Accompanying me the whole way, though I hardly knew it, was Carole King.

She was the composer behind dozens of songs I still hum or sing along to. She wrote or co-wrote 118 Billboard top 100 songs, between 1955 and 1999.  Though I always enjoyed her music and appreciated her talent, I hadn’t thought much about why they were appealing before listening this morning to this Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross (who, it turns out, was a neighbor of Carole’s when they were both growing up in Brooklyn). When I heard that some old videos of Carole had leaked out on YouTube, I went there and was blown away by this performance of Chains, a hit she and Jerry Goffin wrote for the Cookies, which was then Little Eva‘s back-up group.

What you see on that video is pure fun. The song is a simple one, almost a throw-away. But the energy is amazing. Watching and listening to that performance, it’s hard not to fall in love with her. The Carole King I got to know through Tapestry, and other mature works, was more seasoned and complete. But what I see here is something I also realized I knew all along: that her work was also play.

I’m also sold on her memoir, A Natural Woman. Looking forward to checking it out.

Amazon is now shipping my new book, The Intention Economy. Yes, the Kindle version too. They even have the first chapter available for free. You can “look inside” as well.

Thanks to Amazon’s search, you can even find stuff that’s not in the index, such as the acknowledgements. Those include a lot of people, including everybody who has ever been active on the ProjectVRM list.

The book isn’t for me. It’s for customers. All customers, that is. Not just the ones buying the book. The first paragraph of the Introduction explains,

This book stands with the customer. This is out of necessity, not sympathy. Over the coming years customers will be emancipated from systems built to control them. They will become free and independent actors in the marketplace, equipped to tell vendors what they want, how they want it, where and when—even how much they’d like to pay—outside of any vendor’s system of customer control. Customers will be able to form and break relationships with vendors, on customers’ own terms, and not just on the take-it-or-leave-it terms that have been pro forma since Industry won the Industrial Revolution.

That’s what the VRM development community has been working toward since I launched ProjectVRM at the Berkman Center in 2006. Now that community is getting kinda large. Here at the European Identity and Cloud Conference (#EIC12) in Munich, I have met or learned about a bunch of VRM developers I hadn’t known  before. Pretty soon I won’t be able to keep up, and that’s a good thing.

The book has four main parts:

  1. Customer Captivity
  2. The Networked Marketplace
  3. The Liberated Customer
  4. The Liberated Vendor

In a way it follows up on work begun with The Cluetrain Manifesto. The subtitle there was The End of Business as Usual. The subhead for The Intention Economy is When Customers Take Charge. Hey, when one thing ends, another must begin. This is it.

We’re not there yet. If The Intention Economy speeds things up, it will do its job.

 

 

 

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.

On my way back from SXSW a couple weeks ago, I got some terrific shots of many things, including portions of Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky (including mountaintop mining), Virginia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Trenton and Providence.

Most of those aren’t uploaded yet, but I just put up the best of the bunch: this series of New York, with adjacent parts of New Jersey. The day wasn’t quite as clear as the pictures suggest, so I enhanced them a bit. But I love the detailed view they provide of what the David Letterman Show calls “the greatest city in the world.” It will always be home for me. Even though I’m from the Jersey side of “the rivva,” I was born, and grew up, closer to midtown than parts of all the other boroughs.

Read here about Raditaz, which I hadn’t heard about before. It’s a competitor to Pandora. Some differences: unlmited skips, no ads, geo-location.

I started out by setting up three “stations,” based on three artists: Lowell George, Seldom Scene and Mike Auldridge. I’m on the Mike Auldridge station now, and guess what comes up? Dig:

Mike Auldridge 8-string swing

Not just a great Mike Auldridge album cut, but a cover by Ray Simone, my late good friend and business partner, about whom I wrote this yesterday and this last month. It’s like seeing a friendly ghost.

Anyway, some first impressions and thoughts…

  • Need an Android and iPad app [Later... See the top comment below, with better information than I had when I first wrote this.]
  • Would like integration with creative terrestrial stations like KEXP, KCRW, WMBR, WFUV, et. al. (I other words, FM still cuts it. Think symbiosis, not just competition)
  • Would like opportunity for comments with skips, thumbs up and thumbs down. A skip isn’t always a dislike, or a preference. Sometimes it’s just curiousity at work.
  • The Twitter link works well. Give us a short URL for the current song.
  • Need more genres and decades. How about the ’50s?
  • Idea: Let listeners add their own audio — to be their own DJs — for some of the tunes. Make the ability a paid premium service
  • Work with the VRM development community on EmanciPay. Hey, some of us might like to pay more per play than SoundExchange wants. If you’re interested, DM me at @dsearls or dsearls at cyber dot law dot harvard dot edu.
  • Add a back button.
  • Make one’s whole listening history available as personal data one can copy off and use on their own.
  • RadioInk has quotage from the CEO, Tom Brophy, from this week’s launch announcement. I’d like to find that from a link at Raditaz.com.
  • Says here, “when you create a new station, your station is automatically assigned geographical coordinates so other users can find your station in our map view or when browsed on our explore page.” That’s cool, but what if my head or heart aren’t really where I am when I create a station? I do like exploring the map, though. Listening right now to Johnny Cash from Cleveland, while I’m in Boston.
  • Integrate with Sonos.

Gotta go. But that’s a start.

 

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.

Among friends and relatives there is an unusual concentration of birthdays in November. For example, the 12th, 13th and 14th are birthdays of my wife, my daughter (plus Chris Locke and JP Rangaswami) and my grandmother, respectively.

That’s Grandma Searls, on the left. Born in 1882, she would have been 129 years old today. She died in 1990, just short of 108. Her daughter Grace Apgar, my aunt, will be 100 next June.

I like this picture of Grandma, because that’s how I remember her best. The shot was taken in Ju;y, 1953. Grandma was 70 at the time.

It’s a close-up from this group shot, at her little summer place back in the woods of South Jersey. Our little summer place was at the other end of a winding path through the blueberries. The third point of our summer home triangle was Aunt Florence and Uncle Jack Dwyer‘s place. Paths led from both of the other houses to that one. Aunt Florence was Grandma’s younger sister. Uncle Jack took the picture with one of those large-format bellows cameras. I’m the curly-headed kid in the front row with the beer. I turned six at the end of July, the month this was shot.

Grandma was the third of the four Englert Sisters, all of whom were also in fine health then (and lived many more years as well). Here they are as kids, with their dad, Henry Roman Englert, then head of the Steel & Copperplate Engravers Union in New York. Here they are again, that same summer of ’53, at the beach.

Grandma grew up at 732 E. 142nd Street in The Bronx, which looked like this in 1885 and is today a parking lot. The house where Grandma raised three kids in Fort Lee, New Jersey, at 2063 Hoyt Avenue, is also gone. In fact, the whole street is wiped out. Too close to the George Washington Bridge, which my father helped build, as a cable rigger. All three of our summer places are gone too, replaced by a bank and a shopping center.

But what lives is the love. Grandma was one of the most loving people I’ve ever known. Pop told me she was a tough mom when he was growing up, but for us grandkids she was a saint. She loved kids totally, always welcomed and fed us, loved to read us stories (in her warm Bronx accent) and tuck us into bed when we spent the night (which was always a treat). She never had a critical word to say, and was always full of encouragement and support.

This is all strong in my mind right now as my own two grandkids sleep upstairs in their house here in Baltimore, where I’ve been visiting.

Grandparenting is different than parenting. Even these many years later, Grandma is still teaching me that.

So I’m writing about financialization. Kevin Phillips‘ prophetic book on the subject, Bad Money, is open on my desk. (He published it in early 2007, in advance of The Crash.) But it doesn’t contain the definitional quote that I need. So I turn to Wikipedia. There, in the Financialization entry, we are treated to this quote:

Financialization may be defined as: “the increasing dominance of the finance industry in the sum total of economic activity, of financial controllers in the management of corporations, of financial assets among total assets, of marketised securities and particularly equities among financial assets, of the stock market as a market for corporate control in determining corporate strategies, and of fluctuations in the stock market as a determinant of business cycles” (Dore 2002)

Nice, but there is no citation for Dore; just some “further reading”:

Dore, R (2000). Stock Market Capitalism: Welfare Capitalism: Japan and Germany vs. the Anglo-Saxons. Oxford: Oxford University PressISBN 0-19-924061-2.

So I go look that up, find it on Amazon, and look inside. I choose to search for “determinant,” a fairly rare word, and get five results. None are what’s quoted in Wikipedia. But, since Ronald Dore is a scholar, I figure he must have written that definition somewhere. But when I go to look, the results are a cascade of Wikipedia citations. Not the original Dore.

This drives me just as nuts as I get when I go to look up, say, a geographical feature and get pages of commercial businesses associated with the feature, but not the feature itself. Google Maps is one offender here. Look up “Comb Ridge”, and you get this: http://g.co/maps/syspr. (Here are my own many shots of Comb Ridge.) The difference in this case is that I can still find Comb Ridge, while the provenance of the original Dore quote remains a mystery to me.

And, since I want to finish my book today, I’m not going to fool around any more with it. I’ll find some other definition. Still, I need to gripe a bit. Sloppy citing is a curse that keeps on cursing. Or causing it, anyway.

Rochester, Vermont

My favorite town in Vermont is Rochester. I like to stop there going both ways while driving my kid to summer camp, which means I do that up to four times per summer. It’s one of those postcard-perfect places, rich in history, gracing a lush valley along the White River, deep in the Green Mountains, with a park and a bandstand, pretty white churches and charm to the brim.

My last stop there was on August 20, when I shot the picture above in the front yard of Sandy’s Books & Bakery, after having lunch in the Rochester Cafe across the street. Not shown are the 200+ cyclists (motor and pedal) who had just come through town on the Last Mile Ride to raise funds for the Gifford Medical Center‘s end-of-life care.

After Hurricane Irene came through, one might have wondered if Rochester itself might need the Center’s services. Rochester was one of more than a dozen Vermont towns that were isolated when all its main roads were washed out. This series of photos from The Republican tells just part of the story. The town’s website is devoted entirely to The Situation. Here’s a copy-and-paste of its main text:

Relief For Rochester

Among the town’s losses was a large section of Woodlawn Cemetery, much of which was carved away when a gentle brook turned into a hydraulic mine. Reports Mark Davis of Valley News,

Rochester also suffered a different kind of nightmare. A gentle downtown brook swelled into a torrent and ripped through Woodlawn Cemetery, unearthing about 25 caskets and strewing their remains throughout downtown.

Many of the graves were about 30 years old, and none of the burials was recent.Yesterday, those remains were still outside, covered by blue tarps.

Scattered bones on both sides of Route 100 were marked by small red flags.

“We can’t do anything for these poor people except pick it up,” said Randolph resident Tom Harty, a former state trooper and funeral home director who is leading the effort to recover the remains.

It was more than 48 hours before officials in Rochester — which was cut off from surrounding towns until Tuesday — could turn their attention to the problem: For a time, an open casket lay in the middle of Route 100, the town’s main thoroughfare, the remains plainly visible.

I found that article, like so much else about Vermont, on VPR News, one of Vermont Public Radio‘s many services. When the going gets tough, the tough use radio. During and after natural disasters, radio is the go-to medium. And no radio service covers or serves Vermont better than VPR. The station has five full-size stations covering most of the state, with gaps filled in by five more low-power translators. (VPR also has six classical stations, with their own six translators.) When I drive around the state it’s the single radio source I can get pretty much everywhere. I doubt any other station or network comes close. Ground conductivity in Vermont is extremely low, so AM waves don’t go far, and there aren’t any big stations in Vermont on AM anyway. And no FM station is bigger, or has as many signals, as VPR.

One big reason VPR does so much, so well, is that it serves its customers, which are its listeners. That’s Marketing 101, but it’s also unique to noncommercial radio in the U.S. Commercial radio’s customers are its advertisers.

VPR’s services only begin with what it does on the air. Reporting is boffo too. Here’s VPR’s report on Rochester last Thursday, in several audio forms, as well as by transcription on that Web page. They use the Web exceptionally well, including a thick stream of tweets at @vprnet.

I don’t doubt there are many other media doing great jobs in Vermont. And at the local level I’m sure some stations, papers and online media do as good a job as VPR does state-wide.

But VPR is the one I follow elsewhere as well as in Vermont, and I want to do is make sure it gets the high five it deserves. If you have others (or corrections to the above), tell me in the comments below.

Some additional links:

Got an interesting email from sister Jan, retired Commander with the U.S. Navy, who was stationed in Newport when hit in 1991. With her permission, here it is:

It was almost exactly 20 years ago that I rode out the direct hit Bob made on Newport.  As I recall, Bob had flirted with the entire East Coast, waving at Miami to Cape May while eluding the weathermen who wanted the story in their backyard.  When it turned ENE away from  NJ and the I-95 corridor the story died out.  That was on Friday evening.  The Weather Channel, and Cable, were still young; so if the networks didn’t see a story, most of us didn’t hear the story because to them  there was no story.

Sunday afternoon, as I was getting ready to leave Mom in Providence, we heard on the radio that Bob was coming back toward NE, and Cape Cod looked like it might be in the cross-hairs.  By the 6 PM news, we were in the larger target area, and the run on supplies had started.  Since I lived in a huge 150-year-old mansion (at the highest point in town) I told everyone to come on over, and we’d ride it out there.  By 5 AM monday, we knew that Block Island, the Narragansett Bay and Newport would probably be at ground zero.

Funny, the day of Bob was downright weird.  The storm was tight — there wasn’t a breath of wind at 9 AM. We were stressed waiting, but around noon we were hearing that Block Island was probably going to get a direct hit, and so would we.  And boy, did we ever.  All my New Jersey memories of hurricanes were that they came at night.  But because Bob came through in the middle of the day, I think the experience was very memorable, and a lot more impressive and nerve-wracking. As I remember …

  • 21 people and a cocker spaniel at my place, eating everything in our cumulative kitchens that might spoil.  Wired from adrenaline and drinking gallons of coffee.
  • When the eye went over, everyone, including the dog, fell asleep for at least 5 minutes.  It was the flower fields outside Oz all over again. Pressure change, we were told. Happened to a lot of folks. But talk about weird.
  • We watched the 15′ of top of a pine tree zip down Old Beach Rd. like a cruise missile at an altitude of 20′ max.
  • We watched  the huge 100+ yr. flowering chestnuts whipping in the wind, flinging their spiky nuts like mini-balls all over the place. Some were later found embedded in the stucco of the house.  (Later in the fall, the tops of those trees were celebrating a false spring while the lower part were fully autumn.
  • After the eye went by (came in directly over the house — we saw blue — the storm petered out quickly and we went out to walk around.  There wasn’t a spot of pavement to see – everything was covered in leaves and limbs and debris.
  • No power, of course, but the outage was everywhere.  Restoration was in an ever decreasing circle and my place was last. Eight days after the storm, the radio said all power was restored with the exception of the Rhode Island Ave/Old Beach Rd. intersection.  That was me.
  • They had to use snowplows in some cases to clear the streets and for the rest of Aug and Sept the streets of Newport were like country lanes — lovely packed leaf and twig crush for a roadbed.
  • The collected debris was piled in the parking lot on the beach at the bottom of Memorial Boulevard, and it was about 20′ high and 40′ wide, running the full 1000′ length of the lot.  After waiting for what seemed like weeks for the right off-shore winds, they started the burning and it seemed to go on forever.
  • Someone forgot to cash in, so we never saw an I Survived Bob tee shirt.

Could be Newport will be in the cross-hairs again with . That’s what one model currently predicts, but the others all vector in west of there. (Here’s a current map.)

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@marklittlenews (mark little) tweets,

Soaked to the skin but awed beyond words by explosive lightning storm that just engulfed Manhattan #Kapow

So I looked at the map and saw that there’s a line of strong thunderstorms in a line from New York to Washington. Quite a show. Of JFK, Flightaware says,

John F Kennedy Intl (KJFK) is currently experiencing:

  • departure delays of 2 hours 31 minutes to 2 hours 45 minutes (and increasing) due to weather
  • inbound flights delayed at their origin an average of 1 hour 12 minutes due to wind
  • all inbound flights being held at their origin until friday at 08:30p EDT due to thunderstorms

Similar reports at Newark (KEWR), LaGuardia (KLGA), Washington/Baltimore’s Reagan (KDCA), Dulles (KIAD) and kBWI. Philadelphia (KPHL) too.

I’m just hoping it clears up for my early morning drive to and from northern Vermont from Boston. Should be cool: it’s a cold front, after all.

Storm over Boston

So here’s the storm happening right now over Boston:

Also watching lightning strikes on Lightning Finder, as well as out my window, before I go outside for a better view.

Check out FlightAware‘s view of KBOS (Logan airport) flight activity map:

flightaware-kbos

You can see flights avoiding the storm as it approaches the airport, which is just above the “BO” in KBOS.

It’s just a summer thunderstorm. Nothing exceptional. It’s just fun to watch it online in all these places as well as from a chair on my front porch.

… And now, a few minutes later,  the sun is out and we have rainbows in Cambridge. Meanwhile, flights are taking off from Logan, while inbound flights circle in the sky to the east:

By the way, also at FlightAware, there’s this notice: “Boston Logan Intl (KBOS) is currently experiencing inbound flights delayed at their origin an average of 1 hour 33 minutes due to thunderstorms.” So if you’re coming here for the weekend, good luck.

 

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I just learned from Dan Kelly that Bruce Elving passed away last month. Details are thin, but here’s a short list of links:

Bruce Elving, Ph.D.Bruce and I were frequent correspondents for many years, starting the early ’70s, when Bruce began publishing his FM Atlas, an authoritative compilation of technical details for every FM station in the U.S. — and an essential handbook for everyone who loved to listen to far-away FM radio stations. Those people are called DXers, and I was one of them.

From my homes in New Jersey and North Carolina, I logged many hundreds of FM and TV stations whose signals skipped off the ionosphere’s sporadic E layer. If you’ve ever been surprised to hear on your FM radio a station from halfway across the country, you were DXing.

For DXers, catching far-away stations is kind of like fishing. You don’t want to catch just the easy ones. That’s one reason FM and TV DXing was more fun than AM and shortwave DXing (at least for some of us). AM and shortwave depend on the ionosphere for distant coverage as a matter of course. Back before the AM band became a crowded mess, “clear channel” stations like WSM in Nashville and KSL in Salt Lake City could be heard all across the continent at night, because there was nothing else on their frequencies. WSM’s Grand Ole Opry, heard every night on radios in rural areas throughout The South, literally made country music. (I listened in New Jersey, carefully turning my radio to “null out” interference from New York’s WNBC, now WFAN, which was right next to WSM on the dial.)

In its heyday (or heydecade), DXing on FM was about hooking relatively rare and slightly exotic fish. The best months to fish were in late spring and summer, when warm calm summer mornings would bring tropospheric (or “tropo”) conditions, in which FM and VHF-TV signals would travel greater distances than their normal line-of-sight propagation provided. Thus my home in Chapel Hill, NC was often treated to signals from hundreds of miles away. I recall days when I’d pick up WDUQ from the Pittsburgh on 90.5 with the antenna pointed north, then spin the antenna west to get WETS from Johnson City, Tennessee on 89.5, then spin just north of east to get WTGM (now WHRV) from Hampton Roads, Virginia, on the same channel.

Tropo is cool, but the best FM fishing is in sporadic-E “skip.” This happens when the E-layer becomes slightly refractive of VHF frequencies, bending them down at an angle of just a few degrees, so that the signals “skip” to distances of 800-1200 miles. This also tended to happen most often in late spring and summer months, usually in the late afternoon and evening. Thanks to sporadic-E, we would watch Channel 3 TV stations from Louisiana, Texas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Cuba and various places in Canada. But, more often, I would also carefully log FM stations I identified in Bruce Elving’s FM Atlas. From 1974 to 1985 (after which I lived in California), I logged more than 800 FM stations, most of which came from more than 800 miles away. Bruce said he’d logged more than 2000 from his home in Duluth, Minnesota. I’m sure that’s a record that will stand for the duration. (Bear in mind that there were only about 10,000 FM signals in the U.S. at the time.)

We’re talking about obsession here.

For Bruce, FM was a cause, forever the underdog, even after it became an overdog with his help. See, up until the early ’60s, FM was the secondary radio band in the U.S. The sound was better, but most cars didn’t have FM bands, and most cheap radios didn’t either. Transistor radios, which were the iPods of the ’50s and ’60s, were mostly AM-only. Bruce championed FM, and his newsletter, FMedia, was a tireless advocate of FM, long after FM pretty much won the fight with AM, and then the Internet had begun to win the fight with both.

I remember telling Bruce that he needed to go digital with PCs, and then take advantage of the Net, and he eventually did, to some degree. But he was still pasting up FM Atlas the old-fashioned way (far as I know) well into the ’90s.

I pretty much quit DXing when I came to Silicon Valley in ’85, though I kept up with Bruce for another decade or so after that. Learning about his passing, I regret that we didn’t stay in closer touch. Though we never met in person, I considered him a good friend, and I enjoyed supporting his work.

With Bruce gone, an era passes. TV DXing was effectively killed when the U.S. digital transition moved nearly every signal off VHF and onto UHF (which skips off the sky too rarely to matter). The FM band is now as crowded as the AM band became, making DXing harder than ever. Programming is also dull and homogenous, compared to the Olde Days. And the Internet obsoletes a key motivation for DXing, which is being able to receive and learn interesting things from distant signals. A core virtue of the Internet is its virtual erasure of distance. Anybody can hear or watch streams from pretty much anywhere, any time, over any connection faster than dial-up. The stream also tends to stay where it is, and sound pretty good.

What remains, at least for me, is an understanding of geography and regional qualities that is deep and abiding. This began when I was a kid, sitting up late at night, listening to far-away stations on the headphones of my Hammarlund HQ-129X (hooked up to a 40-meter ham radio dipole in the back yard), with a map spread out on my desk, and encyclopedia volumes opened to whatever city or state a station happened to come from. It grew when I was a young adult, curious about what was happening in Newfoundland, Bermuda, Texas, Winnepeg, or other sources of FM and TV signals I happened to be getting on my KLH Model 18 tuner or whatever old black-and-white TV set I was using at the time.

When it was over, and other technical matters fascinated me more, I’d gained a great education. And no professor had more influence on that education than Bruce Elving, Ph.D.

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Last week we spent a lot of time here, in Venice:

Bancogiro, Rialto Mercado, Venice

The triangular marble plaza on the edge of the Grand Canal of Venice is known informally as Bancogiro, once one of Italy’s landmark banks, and now the name of an osteria there. The plaza is part of Rialto Mercado, the marketplace where Marco Polo was based and prospered when he wasn’t out opening trade routes to the east. It’s also where Shakespeare set The Merchant of Venice, and where Luca Pacioli studied double entry bookkeeping, which he described in Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalità (Venice 1494), one of the first textbooks written in the vernacular (rather than Latin), and an early success story of the printing press.

Here’s a photo set of the place.

Here’s a 360° view. (While it’s called “Fondamenta de la Preson,” that’s just the cockeyed white building in the map above — a former womens prison — in the corner of the plaza.)

Note that Google Maps tells us little about the location, but plenty about the commercial establishments there. When I go for a less fancy view, the problem gets worse:

Bancogiro, Rialto Mercado, Venice

In that pull-down menu (where it says “Traffic”) I can turn on webcams, photos and other stuff from the Long Tail; but there’s no way to turn on labels for the Grand Canal, the Bancogiro plaza, the Rialto Mercado vaporetto (water bus) stop, the Rialto Mercado itself, the Fondamenta de la Preson (women’s prison, labeled, sort of, in the upper view but not the lower), or even the @#$% street names. The only non-commercial item on the map is the Arciconfraternita Di San Cristoforo E Della Misericordia, which is an organization more than a place.

(My wife just said “You know those hotel maps they give away, that only show hotels? It’s like that, only worse. The hotel maps at least give you some street names.”)

For example, try to find information about the Bancogiro: that is, about the original historic bank, rather than the osteria or the other commercial places with that name. (Here’s one lookup.) For awhile I thought the best information I could find on the Web was text from the restaurant menu, which I posted here. That says the bank was founded in 1157. But this scholarly document says 1617. Another seems to agree. But both are buried under commercial links.

The problem here is that the Web has become commercialized at the cost of other needs of use. And Google itself is leading the way — to the point where it is beginning to fail in its mission to “organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

This is understandable, and easily rationalized. Google is a commercial enterprise. It makes money by selling advertising, and placing commercial information in settings like the ones above. This has been good in many ways, and funds many free services. But it has subordinated purely useful purposes, such as finding the name of a street, a canal, or a bus stop.

There are (at least) two central problems here for Google and other giants like it. One is that we’re not always buying something, or looking only for commercial information. The other is that advertising should not be the only business model for the likes of Google, and all who depend on it are at risk while it remains so.

One missing piece is a direct market for useful information. Toward that end I’ll put this out there: I am willing to pay for at least some of the information I want. I don’t expect all information to be free. I don’t think the fact that information is easily copied and re-used means information “wants” to be free. In other words, I think there is a market here. And I don’t think the lack of one is proof that one can’t be built.

What we need first isn’t better offerings from Google, but better signaling from the demand side of the marketplace. That’s what I’m try to do right now, by signaling my willingness to pay something for information that nobody is currently selling at any price. We need to work on systems that make both signaling and paying possible — on the buyer’s terms, and not just the seller’s.

This is a big part of what VRM, or Vendor Relationship Management is about. Development is going on here. EmanciPay, for example, should be of interest to anybody who would like to see less money left on the market’s table.

Bonus link.

 

That was shot (and enjoyed) here, at Banco Giro, a triangular plaza by the old marketplace. This was roughly where The Merchant of Venice was set, where Marco Polo did his business and where Luca Pacioli learned about and then shared with the world the essentials of double-entry bookkeeping — in a form that hardly changed over the centuries that followed. Think of it as Ground Zero for trade and commerce in the Western World.

We visited caves in Slovenia today, as well as Trieste, courtesy of Paolo and Monica Valdemarin. Alas, I lost my card reader, hence no photos, yet. Tomorrow, the Dolomites.

Since writing What if Flickr fails? six months ago, my photography has dropped way off. I still shoot, but not as much. And I don’t upload as much to Flickr as I used to.

It’s not one thing, but in a way it comes down to that.

First, I’ve been writing a book, which I’ve never done before, and which takes a lot of time. When I have a choice of what to do, the book comes ahead of anything that’s not also top priority. Sorting, improving and uploading photos was never top priority, but it used to be closer than it is now.

Second, my old camera, a Canon 30D, has been upstaged by my new camera, a well-used and equally old Canon 5D. The 5D is a much better camera. The look, feel and UI are nearly identical. Alas, both are crapping out. The 30D was pretty much worn out anyway, and no longer reads light properly. Now the 5D has begun to fail in shutter (Tv) or aperature (Av) priority (or, in Canon parlance, value) modes. It still works in other modes, but shooting is trickier. In any case, I’m due for a new camera. Or, more likely, a new old one, such as another used 5D.

Third, all my old lenses for the 30D suck on the 5D, because they aren’t designed for full-frame sensors. They vignette on the edges, even at narrow aperatures. For many shots this doesn’t matter (or adds an interesting effect); but lack of lenses also discourages shooting.

Fourth, all my wish list lenses…

 

… are north of $1k apiece. For now that’s an indulgence. So, I’m coping on my current trip (in Italy) with the 5D and compensating for the failings of both the camera and the lenses.

If I’d had more time before this trip I would have rented a lens or two. (Here’s LensRentals.com’s price list for the first of the lenses listed above. A lot cheaper than a new lens. Right now I’m really regretting not doing that.)

But what it comes down to is what I want to do with the results. While I like Flickr as a place to post large numbers of shots that I’d like to see in the public domain (CC licensed for the most permissive use, which is why there are now 231 of them on Wikimedia Commons), I’d rather post the shots I care most about on my own server, in my own ways. For example, I’d love to do photo esssays like the ones Tony Pierce used to do, but without the heavy html work. (And if there’s an easy way, tell me.)

So, what I’m dealing with is a lack of tools. Which is cool. Shooting pictures is just one thing I do. Other things matter more. Especially, right now, that book.

Air travel has taught us to hate flying, and that’s a huge bummer, because flying is just freaking amazing.

Yesterday I flew from Rome to Brussels, in a window seat on the right side of the plane. I knew if we were lucky, we’d see the Alps, as well as other geographic and geological wonders. We were, and a few of us did. But most passengers, even with window seats, saw nothing. They ignored the spectacle sliding by under the window.

Back when I was in the third grade, I remember hanging out with older kids who argued about what subjects they hated most. They came to an agreement around geography. I saw that as herd mentality, and decided right there to become interested in what they hated, and the result has continuously informed my life.

That’s why I expected to see the Matterhorn and the Pennine Alps yesterday, and got the nice series of shots you’ll see as a slide show if you click on the picture above. I’d seen the Matterhorn from the ground as well, and that helped. But what helped most was remaining curious about geography and geology, and loving to fly. I didn’t let school teach me to hate those subjects way back when, just like I don’t let air travel teach me to hate flying.

I see that Boeing has gone to the trouble, with the new 787 Dreamliner, to give windows and views more respect that we’re accustomed to getting from airlines. I also see that United, with which I have flown close to a million miles, will soon be flying a bunch of 787s. United catches a lot of flak for being an imperfect airline, but my experience with them is nearly 100% positive, and I love the fact that they share air traffic audio with passengers, and is the only airline to do so. They woudn’t if they didn’t love flying too.

So here is an appeal to United, as the 787 launch dates approach: Get in touch with me. If you’d like to make flying lovable again for everybody, I’d like to help.

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.

Ford River Rouge plant

Got my first good clear look at Detroit and Windsor from altitude on a recent trip back from somewhere. Here’s a series of shots. What impressed me most, amidst all that flat snow-dusted spread of city streets, a patch of grids on the flatland of Michigan and Ontario, flanking the Detroit River and its islands, was what looked like a dark smudge. Looking at it more closely, and matching it up with Reality, I discovered that this was Ford’s famous River Rouge Complex in the city of Dearborn.

Says Wikipedia,

The Rouge measures 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide by 1 mile (1.6 km) long, including 93 buildings with nearly 16 million square feet (1.5 km²) of factory floor space. With its own docks in the dredged Rouge River, 100 miles (160 km) of interior railroad track, its own electricity plant, and ore processing, the titanic Rouge was able to turn raw materials into running vehicles within this single complex, a prime example of vertical-integration production. Over 100,000 workers were employed there in the 1930s.

As an inveterate infrastructure freak, I would love to see this thing sometime.

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.

That’s my Idea For a Better Internet. Here’s what I entered in the form at http://bit.ly/i4bicfp:

Define the Internet.

There is not yet an agreed-upon definition. Bell-heads think it’s a “network of networks,” all owned by private or public entities that each need to protect their investments and interests. Net-heads (that’s us) think it’s a collection of protocols and general characteristics that transcend physical infrastructure and parochial interests. If you disagree with either of the last two sentences, you demonstrate the problem, and why so many arguments about, say, “net neutrality,” go nowhere.

The idea is to assign defining the Internet to students in different disciplines: linguistics, urban planning, computer science, law, business, engineering, etc. Then bring them together to discuss and reconcile their results, with the purpose of informing arguments about policy, business, and infrastructure development. The result will be better policy, better business and better deployments. Or, as per instructions, “a better place for everyone.”

There should be fun research possibilities in the midst of that as well.

It’s a Berkman project, but I applied in my capacity as a CITS fellow at UCSB. I’ll be back in Santa Barbara for the next week, and the focus of my work there for the duration has been Internet and Infrastructure. (And, if all goes as planned, the subject the book after the one I’m writing now.)

So we’ll see where it goes. Even if it’s nowhere, it’s still a good idea, because there are huge disagreements about what the Internet is, and that’s holding us back.

I gave Why Internet & Infrastructure Need to be Fields of Study as my background link. It’s in sore need of copy editing, but it gets the points across.

Today’s the deadline. Midnight Pacific. If you’ve got a good idea, submit it soon.

After your taxes, of course. (Richard, below, points out that Monday is the actual Tax Day.)

I know Chicago well — from the air. I’ve flown in and out of O’Hare countless times, always enjoying the view from my window seat. I’ve also flown over Chicago a lot, en routes from cities east and west. And I’ve shot a lot of pictures, which I usually used to put up on Flickr; but I’ve slacked off since concentrating on a book and getting the willies about Flickr’s own survival.

I’ve also studied its roads, its infrastructure, usually by looking at the pictures I’ve taken and studying their subjects. Examples here, here and here.

Yet I’ve spent very little time in the town itself. Back in the early ’90s, when I consulted the late Zenith Data Systems, Bruce Fryer once took me downtown to show me around. Linda Hayes (also with ZDS at the time) once took me on a tour of the Lake View area. And I think I went to exactly one trade show at McCormick Place (the white thing near the bottom of the shot above). That’s about it.

So I’d like to fix that, one of these years. Meanwhile, I thought it worth sharing the latest fly-by, en route from Salt Lake City to Boston by way of Phoenix. Click on the shot above for the whole series.

What started as plain old Web search has now been marginalized as “organic”. That’s because the plain old Web — the one Tim Berners-Lee created as a way to hyperlink documents — has become commercialized to such an extent that the about the only “organic” result reliably rising to first-page status is Wikipedia.

Let’s say your interest in “granite” and “Vermont” is geological, rather than commercial. The first page of Google results won’t help much if your interest goes beyond visiting a headstone mineSame goes for Bing. I notice this change because it’s becoming harder and harder for me to do casual research on geology (or most other topics that interest me) on the Web.

Yesterday Vivek Wadhwa tweeted a perfect line: “Google is paying content farms to pollute the web”. This is true, yet the problem is bigger than that. The Web is changing from a world wide library with some commercial content to a world wide mall with intellectually interesting publications buried under it, in virtual catacombs. Google’s mission of “organizing all the world’s information” is still satisfied. The problem is that most of that information — at least on the Web — is about selling something. The percentage of websites that are Web stores goes up and up. SEO only makes the problem worse.

The Berkman Center has a project that should encourage thinking about solving this problem, along with many others. Specifically,

The Berkman Center and Stanford Law School are pleased to announce a new initiative in which we invite the world to submit their ‘Ideas for a Better Internet.’ We are seeking out brief proposals from anyone with ideas as to how to improve the Internet. Students at Harvard and Stanford will work through early next year to implement the ideas selected. Interested parties should submit their ideas at http://bit.ly/i4bicfp by Friday, April 15. Please spread the word far and wide, and follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Ideas4BetterNet.

So get your ideas in by Tax Day.

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.

 

Revisiting Austin radio

One of the things I’ve always liked about is listening to Austin radio while I’m in town. I remember discovering KGSR on my first visit in 2006, and there are always new surprises. Here’s what I blogged back then:

Great radio lives

at /107.1 in Austin. Entertainment Weekly called it “an only-in-Austin blend of alt-country, hippie jams, singer-songwriters, and lots of Willie Nelson, of course.” (Sorry, no link.) It doesn’t seem to have the non-stop funky personality of KPIG, but the music is in the same league. They don’t play anything I don’t like, or anything I’m very familiar with, which is an amazing combination.
Wow, they just played Hot Tuna, Willie Nelson (“Shotgun Willie”, an early one, from an album by the same name I’ve long since lost), Stevie Ray Vaughan (I have all his stuff, I thought, but this one wasn’t familiar to me), a new Bonnie Raitt. Creedence (“Midnight Special”). Now they’re playing a local artist; missed the name, but awfully good.
They’re not the biggest station in town: 39,000 watts at about 500 feet, from a tower 16 miles southeast of Austin, near Bastrop, the station’s actual city of license. But they put a city-grade signal over Austin. Does the job.
Says here they’re tied for #9 in all listeners 12+, but I’ll be they’re strong in demographics that matter to advertisers. Hope they are, anyway, so they live.

On this latest trip to Austin (I was there from Thursday to Monday, March 10-14), I was worried at first when I found KGSR missing on 107.1, replaced by a Spanish station. But I quickly discovered that KGSR had moved to 93.3, and a much bigger signal. (This wasn’t KGSR’s first move. It’s long history is explained in Wikipedia.) Other new and old radio finds were:

  • the variously eclectic (and very locally-focused) and , sharing time on 91.7, and on 88.7;
  • classical on 89.5;
  • alternative (101x) on 101.5;
  • landmark news/public/music on 90.5; and
  • old-fashioned “beautiful music” (aka “easy listening”) over on 91.3.

Back to KGSR. I didn’t hear them bragging, but what they have now is the biggest FM signal in town. (now KLZT) was 49,000 watts at 499 feet above average terrain. is 100,000 watts at 1927 feet above average terrain — only 73 feet below the legal maximum height of 2000 feet. With more than twice the power and nearly four times the height (both matter on FM), the coverage area is much bigger. Other stations in the market equal KGSR’s power, but none radiate from the same height. (There are coverage maps at both those last two links.)

Another fun find is that KUT kicks butt in the ratings. Check this out. KUT is tops in Austin in January with a 9.3 share of 12+ listening. Far as I know there are no other public stations in the country that come out #1 in the ratings, over and over, which KUT appears to be doing. KGSR is pretty far back, with a 2.3. KMFA gets a 2.4. KROX gets a 3.3. KNCT gets a 1.8. KOOP gets an 0.2. KAZI and KVRX are no-shows. KLZT, the Mexican music station that now radiates from KGSR’s old transmitter, gets a 5.3. It’s also cool to see five streams listed in the ratings, which is impressive just at the factual level.

What sent me to the ratings was this September 2009 piece in the Austin Post by , about KGSR’s move to 93.3. Writes Jim, “According to Arbitron, the #1 Radio station is KLBJ AM, broadcasting news and information, recently in the news for its decision to reinstate the Todd and Don Show.  The show had been cancelled earlier this year after Don Pryor used the slur “wetback” repeated for about an hour on the air with no management stepping in to stop it.  The station is still #1 with a 7.1 rating.  The #2 station is breezy KKMJ FM.”

Used to be Arbitron didn’t publish noncommercial numbers (and I’m guessing they didn’t when Jim wrote that piece), but now they do, at least through http://radio-info.com. If you’re reading this, Jim, go here: http://www.radio-info.com/markets/austin . Lots of interesting Austin radio story fodder in that list.

For most of my life all I knew about Austin radio was that KLBJ’s story was tied up with its former owner, Lady Bird Johnson, and her husband Lyndon Baines Johnson, the former President. Writes the KLBJ history page, “In December 1942, a buyer, armed with limited capital, a dream, a journalism degree from the University of Texas, and no broadcasting experience, became the new licensee – Lady Bird Johnson.” But there’s more to that story. Here’s Wikipedia:

In January-February 1943, Ladybird Johnson spent $17,500 of her inheritance to purchase ,[3] an Austin radio station that was in debt. She bought the radio station from a three-man partnership which included a future and a future , .

She served as President of the company, LBJ Holding Co., and her husband negotiated an agreement with the CBS radio network. Lady Bird decided to expand by buying a television station in 1952 despite Lyndon’s objections, reminding him that she could do as she wished with her inheritance.[6] The station, KTBC-TV/7 (then affiliated with CBS as well), would make the Johnsons millionaires as Austin’s monopoly VHF franchise.[27] Over the years, journalists have written about how Lyndon used his influence in the Senate to influence the Federal Communications Commission into granting the monopoly license, which was in Lady Bird’s name.[28][29]

Eventually, Johnson’s initial $41,000 investment turned into more than $150 million for the LBJ Holding Company.[30] Johnson remained involved with the company until she was in her 80s.[6] She was the first president’s wife to become a millionaire in her own right.[3]

That squares with my own recollection of the story, from  back when I was involved in broadcasting, in the 1970s.

KLBJ is on 590 on the AM dial, radiating 5000 watts by day and 1000 by night. The night signal is also directional, with dents (“nulls”) to the north and the southeast. From my window seat on the flight out to Houston, I spotted KLBJ’s four-tower transmitter , and got this series of pix, which I’ve posted at the Infrastructure collection on Flickr.

By day, KLBJ’s primary coverage area stretches from Waco to San Antonio, 90 miles in opposite directions. Secondary coverage includes Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. Fringe coverage reaches across most of Texas and into Oklahoma to the north and Mexico to the south. And that’s with just 5000 watts, or 1/10th the legal limit. The reason is ground conductivity. Texas has some of the best in the country. (Here’s a station in Atlanta on the same channel with more than twice the power. And it basically covers North Georgia and that’s it.)

Here’s Jim McNabb on what has happened to KLBJ since he served as news director there 35 years ago: that it’s become another mostly-right-wing foghorn. (Here’s a schedule.) The same can be said about countless other news/talk stations, of course.

Back on FM, the most anomalous station I heard was also the most anachronistic: , out of in Killeen. Its format is “beautiful music,” or what we once called “.” This was the “mood music” often disparaged as “elevator music” or “music on hold” back in the decades. I didn’t miss it when it went away, but it did kinda give me the warm fuzzies to hear it again. Sadly, the station doesn’t stream, or you could sample it.

Anyway, I just wanted to dump my thoughts on Austin radio before moving on to other matters, also involving broadcasting.

I’ve been fairly quiet on the developments in Egypt, preferring to let others do the blogging, especially when they know far more than I do. (Ethan Zuckerman, for example.) But I’ve been involved in many conversations, because it’s damned interesting, what’s going on. One of those conversations is with my sister Jan, by email. She’s a retired Commander with the U.S. Navy, and a veteran at international matters as well, having served as an exchange officer with the British Royal Navy and as a protocol officer with the U.S. one.

I liked an email she sent this morning well enough to ask her if it was cool to share it. She said yes, and here it is:

I can’t help but believe that at least half the educated and aware (not always the same thing, is it?)  population of the world isn’t digesting yesterday’s outcome without thinking of their own government.  I liked Tom Friedman’s line in his latest column Postcard From a Free Egypt – NYTimes.com Hello, Tripoli, Cairo calling. I can feel his optimism and I have it, too.

I don’t think this is going to be nasty to watch; I have been beyond impressed with the control the protestors have displayed in this process, and I just realized why:  Facebook may have gotten them into the Square, but it was Twitter that kept them in hand.  This was not the protest of the bullhorn, of the warping of direction by misinterpretation caused by passing the word along because the word was universally available in one shot! The age of reiteration is over.  Now is the age of the direct thought going out to all ears vs the age old chain of mouth to ear to mouth to ear….  That is the power of Twitter.

So the message and the method stayed true.  No one went off the rails, the whole thing was non-violent in intent and in execution. And – the hitherto unimaginable – the youth stayed true to that.  Youth, who we associate with hooliganism in sports and overheated loyalty to their current cultural idols, they kept their eye firmly on the long-view.  They led their elders – the professionals who had lived under the thumb and threats of a tyrant, the educated who were stifled and stilled by fear, the political who were passively waiting.  The youth led, because they had a unity of purpose that was tightly held — or in this case twittered.

Today I am stunned, and smiling, and … wondering.  Do our politicians realize that we, too, have an enormous disenfranchised population?  That we have a large, youth-filled population who feel they have few options or opportunities? That we have an underclass in living in a poverty that should be unimaginable in a first-world country?  That we have an eager and interested population that feels its voice cannot be heard by our government over the cacophony of corporate interests?

And this is not the voice of the Tea Party.  I think it will become glaringly obvious  that the Tea Party was a just a segment of the frustrated, found to be useful to and thereby fueled and funding by special interests, enlarged by bored and lazy media and will eventually be fragmented by electoral fulfillment.  The population I’m thinking of has not been heard from yet.  The Administration may think that Organizing for America gives them a voice, but it hasn’t, because it is too one-way.  It is a fund-raising, message passing tool of the administration.

The voice heard in the square in Cairo and in the streets of Egypt did not rise up overnight or out of thin air.  That voice that has been unheard because it was a voice shouting in a vacuum.  But a vacuum cannot exist in cyberspace. Traditionally in revolutions the key is to take over the one-to-many vehicles of mass communication, radio and TV.  But this time they were not taken over, they were ignored.  They weren’t needed because it was the masses that were communicating.

So now we are in a new age, an age of leadership and governments being held accountable to the voice of the governed.  And in this new age I am optimistic for Egypt as well as other oppressed people.  I hope every autocrat and dictator is hearing footsteps in the dark.  And I hope our government is paying close attention — people have voices and, no matter how disenfranchised, they have just learned a new way to make them heard.

Bonus link.

[Later...] While this post has met with a fair amount of approval here and in the Twitterverse, Doug Skogland has some pushback.

Perhaps linking to this piece by Nicholas Kristof will help.

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.

The above, in order (1,2,3) is what I went through this morning when I searched for “emancipay” on Twitter.

Not knocking Twitter here. I am knocking the fact that we haven’t come up with the open Internet-based (rather than silo-based) way of microblogging.

Yet.

But that’s what I’m hanging out in New York talking to folks about today. That’s a tease. Stay tuned.

[Later...] Okay, tease over. I was on Rebooting the News. I’d say and link more, but the connectivity situation here at the hotel is sub-minimal. Maybe tomorrow.

We’ll start with four essential posts on the Wikileaks matter.

First is Iran and the Bomb, by Hedrik Hertzberg, It’s this week’s Talk of the Town in The New Yorker. Here’s the pull quote:

Perhaps the two biggest secrets that the WikiLeaks leaks leaked are that the private face of American foreign policy looks pretty much like its public face and that the officials who carry it out do a pretty good job.

Second is Clay Shirky‘s Wikileaks and the Long Haul. His bottom lines (or, paragraphs):

The key, though, is that democracies have a process for creating such restrictions, and as a citizen it sickens me to see the US trying to take shortcuts. The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us “You went after Wikileaks’ domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don’t like the site. If that’s the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.”

Over the long haul, we will need new checks and balances for newly increased transparency — Wikileaks shouldn’t be able to operate as a law unto itself anymore than the US should be able to. In the short haul, though, Wikileaks is our Amsterdam. Whatever restrictions we eventually end up enacting, we need to keep Wikileaks alive today, while we work through the process democracies always go through to react to change. If it’s OK for a democracy to just decide to run someone off the internet for doing something they wouldn’t prosecute a newspaper for doing, the idea of an internet that further democratizes the public sphere will have taken a mortal blow.

Third is Hackers Give Web Companies a Test of Free Speech, in the New York Times. It’s about secretive hackers attacking MasterCard, Visa and Paypal, and doing so in what we might call a “social” way. Sez the Times, “To organize their efforts, the hackers have turned to sites like Facebook and Twitter. That has drawn these Web giants into the fray and created a precarious situation for them.” The pull-grafs:

Some internet experts say the situation highlights the complexities of free speech issues on the Internet, as grassroots Web companies evolve and take central control over what their users can make public. Clay Shirky, who studies the Internet and teaches at New York University, said that although the Web is the new public sphere, it is actually “a corporate sphere that tolerates public speech.”

Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, “Any Internet user who cares about free speech or has a controversial or unpopular message should be concerned about the fact that intermediaries might not let them express it.”

She added, “Your free speech rights are only as strong as the weakest intermediary.”

Fourth is Dave Winer‘s Are we starting a full-out war on the Internet? His post pivots from Wikileaks to a larger issue: the Net itself:

I watch my friends root for the attackers and think this is the way wars always begin. The “fighting the good fight” spirit. Let’s go over there and show them who we are. Let’s make a symbolic statement. By the time the war is underway, we won’t remember any of that. We will wonder how we could have been so naive to think that war was something wonderful or glorious. People don’t necessarily think of wars being fought on the net and over the net, but new technology comes to war all the time, and one side often doesn’t understand…

…the Internet no longer has to fight for a right to exist. The people want it. But what kind of Internet we get, and what kind of government we get, those two things are now very deeply intertwined, and absolutely not decided. And how our financial system functions, that’s going to be what the war is fought over, if we can’t avoid having a war — which we should, if we can.

Let’s go back to Clay’s characterization of the Web as a corporate sphere that tolerates public speech. This is true, and in a way that goes far deeper than the current popularity of Twitter, Facebook and other “social” sites and services. It goes to the Domain Name System, or DNS.

You don’t own domain names. You rent them. You do this through a domain name registrar. Most of these are commercial entities. These sit in a domain name space that is hierarchical in nature and structure. This is why it is possible for governments and well-placed companies to cut off Wikileaks from every Web location other than wikileaks.ch, in Switzerland, which is characteristically neutral on the matter. It’s also why, even with COICA (the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act) still in its larval stage, Homeland Security can kill off websites for alleged copyright infringement without showing probable cause, issuing a warrant, or anything else so traditionally procedural. (Here’s one example.)

The Web and the DNS are also organized on the client-server model. In addition to putting site owners at the mercy of greater powers in the hierarchy, this puts users — you and me — at the mercy of the site owners. Think about this every time you don’t read the terms of an “agreement” you submit to. The pro formalities of these conform to the submissive/dominant relationship between clients and servers. These agreements, known as contracts of adhesion, nail down the submissive party while leaving the dominant party free to change the terms. Such is the law of the Web’s jungle: a system in which site owners control the rules of engagement, and provide the means as well. This is why you have to carry around a janitor’s keyring of separate logins and passwords for every different site and service with which you do business. The shortcuts provided by Twitter and Facebook are handy, but can also mask high degrees of exposure — especially in the Facebook case. (See I Shared What? for schooling on this.) Think about why “privacy policy” appears in nearly a billion sites, with the quotes, and in three and a quarter billion sites without the quotes.

So, why don’t you have your own policy? Why can’t you be as trustworthy on the Web as you are walking into any store off the street? The reason is that you have no status on the Web itself beyond the minima implied by the term “user.” Whatever status you experience is what’s granted by site owners. You are the client. Your position is submissive. The dominant party is in charge, and there are a billion-plus of those.

I don’t propose fixing either DNS or the client-server model. I do propose, however, that we work on new models that don’t put us in submissive roles. For one example, see “How is your idea new?” under our Knight News Challenge entry. (And, if you like it, give it a good rating.) There are others as well. David Siegel wrote a whole book on one. Kynetx has another. (They’re complementary.) I could go on (and I invite others to do exactly that).

The Wikileaks mess was made on the Web, and less so the Net. These things are different. More to the point, we are netizens and not just webizens. The war for the Net is a separate one, and it is being faught in many places. From some of those places, little if any news escapes. (For example, did you know that your city in Texas you can’t do what Chatanooga’s doing in Tennessee?) Others places, such as Washington, are beyond fubar.

I’ll have more to say about that war in another post soon. Meanwhile, it might help to read an oldie but (very) goodie: Retired Texas Judge Steve Russell’s reaction to the late Communications Decency Act.

My great uncle Jack Dwyer worked in the shipping and steamship business through the first half of the last century. He also took a lot of pictures, including my favorite family photo of all time. (I’m the kid with the beer.) I was going through a bunch of these on Flickr yesterday, when I noticed the name of a ship launched in Biloxi, in 1919. It was the Elizabeth Ruth. Look closely and you can see the ship is wooden. In fact it was one of the last of the masted schooners on which Biloxi specialized.

Thanks to Google Books and the Library of the University of Michigan, we have an account of the Elizabeth Ruth’s launch, in March 1917, in Volume 35 of The Rudder, edited by Thomas Fleming Day (in a day when using full names was still as current as sails on ships). Writes Day, “The Mississippi Shipping Corporation, at Biloxi, put out Elizabeth Ruth, of the Schooner type, one of the prettiest little vessels ever built in the United States, of 1400 tons cargo capacity.”

So I wondered whatever happened to the Elizabeth Ruth. And I quickly found out. From Papers Past, we have this account:

Sez the About page:

Papers Past contains more than one million pages of digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals. The collection covers the years 1839 to 1945 and includes 61 publications from all regions of New Zealand.

New Zealand. I just love that. Here I am, wanting to know what may have happened to a minor ship, built and launched from a minor port on one continent ninety-two years ago — that I have just learned about from a book scanned in Michigan and probably not cracked open in the library stacks there except to get scanned — and I get the answer from a scanned strip of equally old print, kindly curated by  archivists half a world away.

That just rocks. Hats off to librarians, archivists and their technical facilitators everywhere, doing the good work of opening up history and letting the world have at it.

Bonus link. Another.

So , the Chatanooga power (and now high speed Internet) utility, is now offering Internet speeds up up to 1Gbps over fiber optic connections to homes. (A U.S. record, far as I know.) If you ignore EPB “triple play” offerings of TV and telephony alongside Internet connectivity and just go for the Internet connection, your prices are these (I’ve rounded up from the posted prices):

  • $58 for 30Mbps
  • $70 for 50Mbps
  • $140 for 100Mbps and $350 for 1Gbps.

Let’s assume you get one or more IP addresses with this, and no blocked ports. In other words, a full native Internet connection. Answer these:

  • Does that make you think about moving there?
  • If not, would you get it if you lived in Chatanooga?
  • And if your answer to that is yes, how would you recommend EPB improve its offering, either in its deployment or its characterization in marketing?

Just wondering.

Igor vs. Bermuda

Hurricane Igor

It’s a safe bet that most people don’t know where Bermuda is. Here’s the answer: In the middle of the ocean, close to nothing. It’s not like the Bahamas, or the islands of the Caribbean, which are arranged in chains, or near to a continent. Instead Bermuda pokes above the Atlantic eight hundred fifty miles straight east of Charleston and the same distance south of Halifax. Its nearest neighbor is Cape Hatteras, still close to seven hundred miles away. So there is no land nearby to protect Bermuda, or to which its residents can run for safety.

Bermuda is also tiny, with a land mass is 20.6 square miles. That’s about 4.5 miles square. You could fit two Bermudas in one San Francisco, with room to spare. Its highest point is Town Hill, at about 250 feet above sea level.

Hurricanes usually circle around Bermuda, attacking Caribbean islands or land along the the Gulf or the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. But Hurricane Igor is different. Hurricane Igor is aimed for Bermuda. (Here’s a great looping animation from the National Hurricane Center, showing Igor’s path. And here’s another, with layers you can turn on and off.)

Since what remains of U.S. mainstream media generally don’t give a shit about the rest of the world — especially when the subject is hurricanes (see this Onion story for more on that) — Bermuda remains downgraded as an Area of Interest. Until, of course, it’s obliterated. You know, like Haiti or New Orleans.

But Bermuda is still there, and it does have media, including tweeters and bloggers. (Well, it’s kinda short on bloggers. Look up Bermuda bloggers on Google or Bing and the top results are pretty depressing. At least there’s Global Voices: Bermuda, where I just learned about Bermuda Blog. And there are others I’m sure to hear about, soon as this is posted.)

There’s the Bermua Sun (@BDASun), The Royal Gazette, BermudaNews (@bermudanews.com), Bermuda Online, .bm emergency tweeters (@edenrichardson, @BermudaDCoffice, @smexpress, @Blonde_In_Bda, @CollieBuddz, @FairmontHam, @JImCantore, @letonnerre @shaeyd @jessicanrowe, @amonteleone, @piecesofsleep…) And, of course, everything that shows up in a search for #bermuda, #igor or both.

I can’t find a single radio or TV station in Bermuda that streams on the Web, other than ZBMradio, which doesn’t seem to be working (at that link, which goes to the stream). But here are the Twitter search results for streaming bermuda.

The last major hurricane to strike Bermuda was Fabian, in 2003. That one killed eight and caused $355 million (2010 USD) in damage. Not bad, considering peak sustained winds of 145mph. (See Roland’s comment, below.)

Meanwhile, heres the action plan, via the BDA Sun. I’ll add more below as news comes in.

Ten years ago this month, I gave the opening keynote for the International Retail Conference of the Gottlieb Duttweiler Instutut, in Lucerne, Switzerland. The venue was the amazing Culture and Congress Centre, which had opened just two years earlier. Designed by the architect Jean Nouvel and esteemed for its acoustics, it was the most flattering jewell box into which the stone of my rough self has ever been placed as a speaker. My warm up act was a symphony orchestra. While they played I whispered to my wife, “Not one of those musicians has played a wrong note in years. How many seconds will pass before I flub a line?”

Less than ten, it turned out. But somehow that relaxed me, and the rest of the talk went without a hitch, even though many in the audience were wearing headphones, so they could hear me translated to another language, and their reactions (some nodding, some laughing, some shaking their heads) came several seconds after I said whatever it was they were reacting to. It was weird.

I had mostly forgotten the talk, and wasn’t even sure I had put it up online anywhere. But in fact I had, right here.  Since that’s inside a site that’s not indexed by search engines (my choice, so far back that I’ve only recently re-discovered that fact, explaining why nothing there ever shows up), and I don’t plan on fixing it soon (I’ve got other stuff there I really would rather not get indexed), I’ve decided to post the whole thing here in the blog. As one might expect, it was right about some things, wrong about others, set in a context that has long since changed, addressed to an audience that has mostly moved on, and with arcana that may in some cases no longer make sense. Yet I think it still says some worthwhile things that invite probing and discussion. So here goes:

Why Markets Will Once Again Consist of People
(and why this is good news for Retailing)

This speech was given on the Gala Evening/50th Anniversary Celebration of the Gottlieb Dutteiler Institute, in the Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern – Konzertsaal, Lucerne, Switzerland.

The subheads were put there mostly to make it easy for me to keep my extemporizing close to the text, and to make live translation a little bit easier.

25 September, 2000

By Doc Searls


Opening

People ask me why The Cluetrain Manifesto has 95 Theses. The reason is that Martin Luther did our market testing for us. It seemed to work for him, so we figured it would work for us.

But lately I’ve been wondering why he chose 95. I think the answer is that he was really a retailer at heart.

I figure he had 100 theses, but then decided more people would buy it if he knocked off 5 theses and offered 95 as a discount. It was kind of a sale price. Worked pretty well.

The priest

Speaking of priests, I have a friend, an Irish priest who for many years did missionary work in East Africa. After he read The Cluetrain Manifesto, he called me up and said “I love your book. Especially that first thesis: markets are conversations. It’s brilliant.”

I was the original author of that thesis, so this was fun to hear. But the brilliance he praised was his, not mine.

Village market story

This became clear when he told me the story of a visiting friend he once took to a traditional African village market. His friend wanted to buy a rug displayed in one of the merchant’s stalls. With the priest serving as an interpreter, the customer asked for the price. When merchant responded, the customer said, “That’s too much,” and began to walk away.

The priest then explained to his friend that he had insulted the merchant. So they turned around and went back. The customer then indicated that he wanted to go ahead and buy the rug for the stated price. Now the merchant became upset.

The priest now told to his friend that he had insulted the merchant twice – first by refusing to discuss the value of the rug, and second by offering to pay full price. The customer was completely confused. Clearly he didn’t know how to buy a rug in this town.

Then the priest said to his friend, “What do you think the rug is worth?” The friend responded with a number, and a conversation between the three parties followed.

After a while the customer arrived at both an education about the rug and a price everybody agreed was fair.

The point: markets really are conversations

Now this, the priest told me, is an example of how markets really are conversations. In traditional markets like this one, the only way for a seller and a buyer to discover the true value of the seller’s goods is together – by talking about them and coming to an agreement.

In other words, all value is discovered inside a conversation.

This is why the idea of a fixed price set by a merchant is as silly as talking to oneself. It makes no sense. In traditional markets like this one, conversation starts with the merchant’s asking price. It doesn’t end there.

Tech exec conversation

A few days later I shared this story with a group of government technology executives. After my talk, one guy came up to me and offered another insight. He said that here in the industrial world we do negotiate prices, but only for the most expensive goods and services, such as automobiles, houses and large service contracts.

Then he added another observation. We can only negotiate when there’s a balance of power between supply and demand – when neither side has enough advantage to name the price and end the conversation.

We don’t have that situation in mass markets, including the retail world that is familiar to all of us. In that environment, the supply side has been in control for a very long time.

Learning more about prices

So I began to wonder: when did the idea of fixed prices, set by the supply side, take root and became standard?

Sure enough, in another conversation, I learned that the price tag was invented in the late 1800s in Philadelphia. The inventor was John Wanamaker, the man who opened the first department store in the U.S.

History of retailing

This increased my interest in the history of retailing. Since then I have learned that department stores were pioneers in the use of all kinds of technologies, including –

  • telegraph
  • electric lights
  • telephones
  • radio

Retailing was also the first industry to provide employee benefits, such as health care and paid vacation time.

It was also the first industry to take orders by telephone and to offer customer refunds.

In fact, the whole concept of “customer service” comes from the retailing industry.

Adding value to the conversation idea

You see, what’s happening here – for me, and for all these people I talked to – is that we all added meaning to this one idea – that markets are conversations.

What is it about this idea that attracts so much interest? Why does it make people think about the deeper ways that markets really work?

Finding the answers is a discovery process – something that we do together, as I’ve just shown.

I want to continue that process here, tonight.

The four clues

To start, I will share four insights – let’s call them clues – that have come out of conversations we’ve had since The Cluetrain Manifesto came out in January. I choose these because I think each is especially relevant to retailing.

The first clue is that metaphors matter. If conversation is the best metaphor for markets, what’s wrong with the other ones, and why?

The second clue is that the companies we least expected to get our clues are the ones that seem to be doing the most with them. This is a very relevant surprise.

The third clue is that the Internet, like a real market, is a place, not just a medium.

The fourth clue is that there really is not a new economy. Instead there is a new dynamic in the investment economy, where a river of money flowing from venture capitalists into new companies. This is extremely distracting, and I’ll tell you why.

Finally I will talk about how all four of these clues bring us to the subject of this speech: that markets consist of people – and why this is good news for retailing.

Language warning

A brief warning. I am going to be talking about language here. Unfortunately, I am fluent only in English.

  • Ich habe drei Jahren auf Deutch im Shule lehrt, aber… I took two of them twice – and I gave them all back when I was done.
  • I have worked in France, but not long enough to learn any more French than it takes to apologize for mangling that beautiful language. Pardon moi pour vous derenger. Je nes comprend pas le Francais.
  • I also know a tiny bit of Spanish – though far less than my own three-year-old son.

So forgive my lack of multilingual skills.

I trust that what I tell you will still be relevant, not because technology is forcing far too much English into better languages, but because all expression arises from unconscious sources. And those sources are what I’m here to talk about.

Clue #1

My first clue is that metaphors matter.

In English we have an expression: “in terms of.” In fact, we are always speaking in terms of one metaphor or another. Metaphors supply the words we use when we talk about a subject. When we speak in terms of a metaphor, we bring in a box of words from that metaphor, and speak in terms we find in that box.

To demonstrate what I mean, I’ll start by asking a question about life. When we talk about life, what metaphor do we talk in terms of? In other words, what box of words do we use when we talk about life? Again, the answer is not obvious, because it’s almost totally unconscious.

In a word, the answer is travel. When we think and speak about life, we are inside a big box of travel words.

Birth is arrival. Death is departure. Choices are crossroads. Goals are horizons. Careers are paths. Ambitious people move ahead, or move into the fast lane. Lazy people fall behind. Confused people get lost in the woods. Drunkards fall off the wagon. Saintly people follow the straight and narrow path. Sinners stray.

The travel metaphor – this concept that life is a journey –is so deep, so common, so unconscious and so powerful that we almost never think about it. Yet it is nearly impossible to speak about life without using our handy box of travel words.

One more example. Let’s look at the main metaphor for time, which is money. We budget, spend, waste, lose, gain and invest time. We literally think of time in terms of money.

Metaphors for business

Now: let’s look at business. What’s our favorite metaphor for business? What do we think about business in terms of?

There’s war, of course. And sports. We speak of other companies in our business as competitors. We battle them for territory that we try to penetrate, defend, capture, dominate or control. But war and sports are obvious metaphors – we are conscious of them. What’s the biggest unconscious metaphor for business?

In a word, shipping. We often think and speak about business in shipping terms. We call our goods content that we package and move through a distribution system that we also call a channel.

We often talk about delivering products and services that we address to consumers or end users. Both those consumers and end users are positioned at the far ends of the shipping system we call business.

Marketing also uses shipping language when it talks about addressing, sending and delivering messages through media which are also conceived and described in transport terms.

How long have we been talking about business in shipping terms?

The age of industry

The answer is about 200 years – ever since Industry won the Industrial Revolution.

Starting about two hundred years ago, when we began to build the great textile, mining, manufacturing and transportation industries, we also built an enormous distance between production on one hand and consumption on the other.

We spanned this distance with “value chains,” most of which fanned out from a small number of producers to a large number of consumers. And we began to use that label – consumers – for the first time.

Every business had a place somewhere along one of these chains, where it would “add value” to goods the way parts are added to a car on an assembly line.

This distance between production and consumption – and the power enjoyed by producers over consumers – made it easy to think of markets not as places full of real human beings, but as distant abstractions.

Abstractions for markets

Today, two hundred years after the Industrial Revolution, we use the term “market” to mean five completely different kinds of things, none of which derive from what markets were in the first place. Lets go over the list –

1) Markets are product categories. We speak of automobiles, cosmetics and home electronics as “markets.”

2) Markets are geographical areas such as Stuttgart, Philadelphia and China. It’s amazing to me that in the U.S. we can talk about “penetrating” the Chinese “market.” As if we were throwing spears at a map, rather than selling goods to a quarter of the world’s population.

3) Markets are demographic populations. Men, 25-44. Middle-class women. Volvo drivers. Wine conoisseurs. We call each of these “markets” too.

4) Market is a synonym for demand. This is what we mean when we say there is a “market” for Italian wines, parabolic skis, or impolite books like The Cluetrain Manifesto.

5) Market is also a verb we use to label the pushing of goods from supply to demand. This verb “market” is the root word for the noun marketing. Not surprisingly, marketing is concerned almost entirely with the first four abstractions I just talked about

Ancient markets

Now let’s go back and look at the original meaning of markets.

The first markets were places in the middle of town. People gathered in the marketplace to make culture and do business. These places were the hearts of their cultures. Civilization began in the marketplace. Philosophy, mathematics and democracy are all Greek words born in the agora – the Greek marketplace.

In markets like the agora, all the economic relationships we know so well – supply and demand, production and consumption, vendor and customer – were a handshake apart. In these market places, people who sold goods usually also made them.

Names

In fact, people were often named after what they made, or sold. Many of our surnames are fossil remnants of the roles our ancestors played in their marketplaces. Names like Smith, Hunter, Shoemaker, Farmer, Weaver, Tanner, Butcher…. Lehrer, Jäger, Weber, Schuhmacher, Drucker, Händler… Fermier, Marchand.

The noun “market” – which differs little in German, French, Italian and Spanish – derives from the Latin word mercere, which means to buy. In the Roman marketplace, there were no “consumers,” only customers, who came there to shop. Even today in America we call malls “shopping centers.” Not “selling centers.”

Restoring the handshake

In The Cluetrain Manifesto we said the Industrial Age was a long interruption in our understanding of markets as places where people gather to sell their goods, to shop, to talk, and to enjoy public culture.

The Internet ends that interruption by putting everybody within one handshake of everybody else. First sources and final customers are now one mouse click apart.

The Internet restores an even balance of power between supply and demand.

Consumers are customers again. They are people with names, faces, tastes and rich personal histories.

Retailers have known this since Day One, but many companies farther back in the old value chains are beginning to witness this for the first time.

Smart markets

What they witness is markets – conversations – that are becoming smarter and more powerful by informing themselves. And those markets consist of everybody who wants to contribute to the conversation..

Clue #2

This brings me to our second clue. What kinds of companies want to talk about the issues Cluetrain brought up?

Would it be the dot-com start-ups, which were supposed to be changing the world, and putting these big old industrial companies out of business?

No, it was the big old industrial companies. Those were the ones looking hardest for clues. Companies with names like Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Omnicom, Johnson & Johnson, Citicorp, Conoco, Rohm & Haas, Prudential, IBM and Migros.

The Coke example

Recently I’ve been talking with an executive with Coca-Cola who has the unlikely title of Chief Innovation Officer. In fact, the two of us were recently scheduled to serve on a panel where he would explain how Cluetrain is transforming his company.

Before this event was scheduled, I didn’t know Coca-Cola was subject to any kind of outside influence. They seemed to be more a force of nature than a company in the usual sense. The formula for Coke seemed to be on the periodic table of elements.

Why could the #1 brand in the entire world find guidance in a book that attacks the whole concept of branding?

I found that the answer is simple: Coca-Cola knows it can’t tell customers what they want any more.

However, Coca-Cola also knows it has a long-standing relationship with its customers – because it has led the conversation about soft drinks for more than one hundred years. That’s an advantage.

Procter & Gamble

Not long after the Cluetrain book came out, one of my co-authors, David Weinberger, got a call from Procter & Gamble. They wanted him to talk about Cluetrain with them at their headquarters in Cincinnati.

We were amazed. Procter & Gamble was the company that invented branding – a concept it borrowed from the cattle industry more than seventy years ago.

It quickly became clear that P&G was at least starting to get the clues. They knew branding wasn’t what it used to be. They knew this was no longer a world where one company could put one kind of soap in seven different boxes and sing about the difference.

Today, just four months later, P&G has a new CEO and – at least in some cases – an approach to rolling out new products that starts with the Internet.

We see this with a new hair styling product called Physique. In the past, Procter & Gamble might have spent 90% of its new product promotion budget on television advertising. For Physique they’re spending 30% on TV and the rest on the Web. The Web site says “Welcome to the Physique Stylezone: select your country. Underneath that it says, in French, choisessez votre pays. It’s an international campaign.

In the United States alone, more than half a million people (nearly all women) have signed up – on the Web – for free samples and membership in the Physique Club.

The campaign was developed by Saatchi & Saatchi, a global advertising agency headed by Kevin Roberts – a gentleman from New Zealand. Recently Mr. Roberts bragged about Physique’s results. He said, “The average time people spend on the Web site is 11 minutes… We’ve got the consumers. We’re talking to them, they’re talking to us.”

The retailing advantage

So here we have two of the top marketing companies in the world – Coke and Procter & Gamble – that are not only discovering that markets how conversations, but putting that idea to use, perhaps for the first time.

This is easier said than done. Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, has a Net-based internal campaign called “destroy your business.” It isn’t much of an exaggeration. These are fundamental changes.

But some businesses will have less to destroy than others, because they already know what it means to be in conversation with their customers.

This is why I believe that the industry with the biggest conversational advantage is retailing. For retailers, customers are real. There is a limit to how much a retailer can treat a customer as an abstraction. For a retailer, a customer is more than a consumer, a seat, an eyeball, or an end user. Customers are real people.

As retailers, we know customers by name. They shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants, trust us with their credit cards and return to shop again because they know who we are too. In fact, they probably know us better than we know them.

This is no small matter. This is a huge advantage. But what is the relevance of the Internet to that advantage.

This brings me to my third clue

Clue #3

The Internet, like a market, is a place, not just a medium. We go to it, not just through it.

When the Internet came along, it was easy to see it as yet another mass medium – as a vehicle (there’s another shipping term) for delivering messages to consumers.

Mulitple metaphpors

Like a newspaper, the Web has pages that we write or author or publish.

Like telephone directories, which are also publications, it gives us ways to look up stores, services, and each other.

Like radio and television we can “deliver content” in the form of audio and video files and streams.

Sometimes we also use theatrical metaphors at the same time. That’s what Web page designers do when they talk about delivering an experience to an audience.

Places

Now let’s look at this the other way around. To us – to people sitting at their computers – the Internet is more like the telephone than any other medium.

Like the telephone, the Internet is profoundly personal. When we are on the phone, we are in a personal, private space, which is why telephones are a lousy medium for commercial messages.

The messages we want on the Net aren’t the ones that “deliver an experience.” They are the ones that come by email, from people we know.

In other words, what matters most is what we hear from each other. What matters most is conversation.

Even our Web pages have a private, personal quality about them. That’s why we call our main pages “home.”

Home is a place.

By that same metaphor, we also speak about that place as a site that we put up on the Net and call a location. We also call that location an address.

The virtues

Now: who built this place? It’s interesting that the Net was not built by or for business. It was built by computer programmers, who did it not just for themselves, but for all of us. A perfect example is the World Wide Web, which was invented here in Switzerland by Tim Berners-Lee: an Englishman who had little interest in business at all.

What was it that made this place so appealing? What were the core virtues that these programmers built into the Net when they created it. There were three:

  1. Nobody owns it
  2. Everybody can use it
  3. Anybody can improve it

You won’t hear those virtues advertised by any of the big technology suppliers. If it were up to them, the Net would never have happened. All of them would have wanted to own it, to restrict access to it, and to improve it only by themselves.

But it didn’t happen that way. Because nobody owns it, everybody can use it, and anybody can improve it, the Net is much like a commons, a plaza, a town square, for the whole world.

This is our world. We have help from the technology suppliers, but they cannot command the way we build it out.

Back in 1955, Gottlieb Duttweiler said “What is happening is the higher valuation of the man in the street as a power in business life, and more, important, as a human being.

By more than forty years, he anticipated a remarkable development:

The most important market place in the history of civilization is designed to value the man on the street. The individual human being.

The new world

One of the greatest thinkers on the subject of the Internet is my friend Craig Burton, who was responsible for much of the success enjoyed by a networking company called Novell, in the 80s. Craig Burton’s thinking has always been many years ahead of his time.

Recently he described the Internet as a sphere, like a bubble, that constantly expands as more people are added to it.

In fact, he suggests we think of the Net as a bubble comprised entirely of people, all looking inward and all visible to each other across the empty space in the middle.

At the speed of light, the distance between any two points – any two people – is zero. And it’s true: in practical terms, it takes me no longer to send an email to Prague than to a co-worker in the next room. A Web page in Milan usually comes up just as fast in my browser as one from Miami, Singapore, or an office down the street.

Craig Burton says the Internet is the first world we have created entirely on our own, as a species. In fact, he believes that the Net is the biggest social, cultural and scientific transformation since the Renaissance, and that it is just beginning.

In this new world, our most fundamental resource is each other – and the conversations by which together we know more than we can know alone.

Clue #4

The fourth clue is that there is no “new” economy. There is only a well-funded distraction from the real economy, which is the economy of conversation we call the marketplace – an economy that has been with us for thousands of years.

To illustrate the problem, let me tell you one final story.

Not long ago I was at a party in San Francisco. There I talked with a young man who was already a veteran of several start-ups. When I asked him what his new company did, he said “we’re an arms merchant to the portals industry.” I had no idea what he meant.

But he answered every one of my questions with more buzzwords. They were “networking eyeball paradigms,” “portalizing B2B solutions,” “scaling strategic synergies” and so on. Finally I asked a rude question: how are sales?

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

Two kinds of markets

Suddenly it became clear to me that every company has two kinds of markets: one for its goods and services and one for itself. In other words, it is in two conversations: one with its community of customers, and the other with its community of investors.

In Silicon Valley, we have confused the second one with the first. We have made a “new” economy out of selling huge promises to investors, rather than goods and services to customers.

The best wisdom on this subject comes from Stewart Brand, who says form follows funding.

One reason nobody owns the Net is that it was originally funded by governments and universities. But this is not a well-funded story.

The best-funded story is the one being told by every company whose category begins with an E or whose name ends in a.com or .co.

Nearly every one of those companies was funded by venture capital.

Now, venture capital is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a very good thing. But it is also a very influential and distracting thing, which is why I want to talk about it.

Looking at size

Let’s look at the size of this distraction.

Last year venture capitalists invested around fourteen billion dollars in Silicon Valley alone. This year they are headed toward investing twice that much. The amount of money we’re talking about here is staggering. I have been told that more than half the countries in the world have a smaller gross domestic product.

This money continues to flow like a river. Even when demand for dot-com stocks began to falter early this year, this money river continued to flow through new dot-com start-ups – not only in Silicon Valley, but around the world. Last week Bertelsmann set up a billion-dollar venture capital fund.

Burning money

Where is this money going?

Much of it goes into building staffs, offices and developing technology. But a huge percentage of it goes into marketing, mostly through advertising in every media you can name.

This both attracts and funds enormous amounts of media attention. Magazine displays in the U.S. are being crushed under the weight of fat new business publications. Their very existence testifies to a “new” economy at work. It’s a lot of smoke, suggesting a very big fire.

But what’s burning is money. We don’t have a new economy here. We have a flood of combustible money – a kind of petrol – that is made to be burned.

Dot-com start-ups are very different kinds of businesses from the ones we’ve been building for thousands of years. They don’t have “overhead” or “expenses” in the usual sense. They have “burn rates.” And burn is exactly the term that they use. In this economy – if you can call it that – spending is a good thing. Burning is a good thing.

Perspective

But again, it’s a distracting thing, because most of the time it talks about itself. For a long time, it also disparaged traditional businesses.

So: how can we keep from being distracted by these huge fires and all their smoke?

With some perspective.

The new conversation – about burning money and huge payoffs when these companies go public – is only a few years old.

The old conversation – about vendors and customers selling and buying goods and services – is as old as civilization itself.

In fact, it is civilization.

And we are not in civilization just for the money.

This is what we are learning from companies like Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Nortel Networks and. The surprise – and it shouldn’t be one – is that people don’t work at these companies just for the money.

I am amazed at how many people I meet at these companies are not interested in getting rich at dot-com start-ups. Instead they are looking deeply at why they want to work where they do.

I believe we are finding that these companies have souls. They have human purposes that transcend mere economics. These purposes have little to do with short-term opportunities, and nothing to do with cashing out or starting another business.

I believe retailing has more soul than of any other industry. I say this because retailing is deeply involved in culture itself: the culture of the marketplace. Retailing was here for thousands of years before the industrial age. And it will be here for thousands of years afterwards.

Retailers are not just here to sell. They are here to serve.

Gottlieb Duttweiler said, “The constant will to serve has something irresistible about it – conveying mysterious powers over one’s fellow human beings and making interrelationships visible which would otherwise remain hidden.”

He would have loved the Internet.

Conclusion

Clearly, he loved people. Because he also said, “Whoever forgets that people are the dominating factor in business and politics and thinks only in old-style dollars and francs has got his calculation wrong.”

Herr Duttweiler had it right. Retailing is about people. Markets are about people. The Internet is about people.

For Herr Duttweiler, it took extraordinary insight and courage to state this principle so simply when there was no Internet, deep in that long interruption we call the Industrial Age.

What he said was no less true then than it is today. But today a new age has begun: one that belongs to Herr Duttweiler’s dominating factor: people. Now customers and retailers together can finally agree that this is our world, these are our markets, and we are going to make them together – for ourselves, and for each other.

What can we do to improve this new world that nobody owns, everybody can use, and anybody can improve?’

I look forward to hearing the answer – from you.

Thank you very much.

Last week I flew back and forth from Boston to Reno by way of Phoenix. Both PHX-RNO legs took me past parts of Nevada I hadn’t had a good look at before. One item stood out: a dry lake that looked, literally, like a town had been built on it and blown up. In fact, this was the case. The lake was Frenchman Lake, on Frechman Flat, a valley in a part of the desert known as the Nevada Test Site. The town was nicknamed “Doom Town,” and it was built to see what would happen to it in an atomic blast. Here’s a video that shows the results.

In fact more than a dozen blasts rocked the Doom Town area, starting with Able, in 1951 — the first at the Test Site.

This shot shows Yucca Lake and Yucca Flat, which has many dozens of subsidence craters where underground blasts have gone off. This Google Maps view shows the same from above. All the blasts look like rows of dimples in the desert. But some are hundreds of feet across. Before reading about underground nuclear testing, I had thought that all the tests were deep enough to avoid surface effects.

This shot looks across the Test Site to Area 51. Amazing place. Some of what they say about it may even be true. By the way, that shot was taken (I just checked) from almost 100 miles away. I used a Canon 5D and a zoom telephoto lens set to 200mm.

It’s bad enough that signage toward Boston Logan’s economy parking lot has never been ideal. It’s a lot worse now that they’ve killed off that lot, changed almost none of the original signage, and opened a new lot that’s actually more convenient, but there’s no way to know that until you give up looking for the old one, which is now a construction site.

There is a sign that says “Economy Lot,” but nothing else that looks like Logan signage. There is a big sign that says “SEE AGENT,” but it’s not clear that the sign is for people parking, since the road also serves a lot of industrial facilities. Blinding construction lights make it hard to tell that a small booth is in fact the agent. There somebody hands you a sheet of paper with instructions for following little temporary signs that just say “P.” The agent also says “It’s across from the gas station.” This would have been good information in the first place.

The lot itself was beyond full this morning (at 4:45am), with drivers inventing parking spaces where there are none marked. If you’re flying from Logan, consider avoiding the whole thing.

This has been a public service announcement from a citizen flyer.

[Later...] On the plane now. It’s delayed. “We have a problem with one of the little computers here…” Normally I’m on United, which is a large, predictable very average airline. This time I’m on US Airways, which changed its name from USAir after they realized that stood for Unfortunately Still Allegheny In Reality. Its slogan should be “That’ll cost ya.” Luggage, changing seats, little bits of food, all extra. Oxygen too, perhaps.

My connection to Reno is one hour after I land in Phoenix. So far we’re a half hour late departing, with no sign that we’re going to leave soon. On a flight this long they can make up some time, but … I dunno. We’ll see.

Switching aircrafts. Arg.

[One flight later...] Got to Phoenix too late. Booked on a later plane. Sitting in a lounge now, working. Could be worse. Next stops: Reno, then a car to Techonomy. Looking forward to it.

From roughly 1996 to 1999, my always-on Net connection at home was a wireless one, through Ricochet. Throughput in both directions was faster than dial-up, and always-on. Customer support was good too. As it happened, both homes I lived in then were atop hills on the San Francisco Peninsula, with panoramic views of the whole Bay Area. I remember when I called once from our home in San Carlos, the tech support guy said, “We can see you on 99 nodes.” At the time it turned out that I was mostly getting on via a node in St. Helena, about 60 miles away.

In retrospect, Ricochet was way ahead of its time. It used mesh networking, spread spectrum, low-power license-free channels, and other forms of network coolness. It failed, like so much else, by being gassed up and deflated in the dot-com boom and bust. But what it negotiated with the cities and with private residents for node sites still impresses me. They had a good thing going, and now it’s long gone.

Immigrants and Crime: Time for a Sensible Debate is a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Francis Fukuyama with the subhead, The gardeners and maids who cross the border illegally are very different from the tattooed Salvatrucha gang member who lives by extortion and drug-dealing.

Here’s the gist:

There is indeed a huge problem of crime originating in Latin America and spilling into the United States. This is almost wholly driven by the enormous demand for drugs from the U.S. There are many things we can and should do to mitigate this problem, but it will persist as long as that demand remains high.

But the problem of gangs and drug violence should not be confounded with the behavior of the vast majority of illegal immigrants to the U.S., who by and large are seeking the same thing that every immigrant to America has wanted since the time of the Mayflower: to better their condition and that of their families. They are not criminals in the sense of people who make a living by breaking the law. They would be happy to live legally, but they come from societies in which legal rules were never quite extended to them. They are therefore better described as “informal” rather than “illegal.”

Understanding this distinction requires knowing something about the social order in Latin America or, for that matter, in many other developing countries. These societies are often characterized by sharp class distinctions between a relatively small, well-educated elite and a much broader and poorer population.

Note how this re-framings the problem.

Fukuyama goes on to unpack what he means by “informal”:

The rule of law exists in places like Mexico, Colombia and El Salvador; the problem is that access to the legal system tends to be a privilege of the well-to-do. The vast majority of illegal immigrants to the U.S. come from poor rural areas, or shantytowns in large cities, where the state — in the form of courts, government agencies and the like — is often absent. Registering a small business, or seeking help from the police, or negotiating a contract requires money, time and political influence that the poor do not possess. In many Latin American countries, as much as 70%-80% of the population lives and works in the informal sector.

The lack of legal access does not make everyone in these regions criminals. It simply means that they get by as best they can through informal institutions they themselves create. The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has written extensively about the lack of formal property rights, not just in his own country but throughout the developing world. The poor do not hold legal title to their homes, despite having lived in them for years, because of the insuperable barriers the system throws up to formal registration. So they squat in their homes, constantly insecure and unable to use their property as collateral.

The poor are entrepreneurial and form businesses like restaurants and bus companies, but they are unlicensed and don’t conform to official safety rules. They and everyone else would be much better off if they could be brought into the formal legal system, but it is a dysfunctional political system that prevents that from happening.

This is a beautiful linguistic hack, right out of the George Lakoff rulebook. Fukuyama pays respect to bedrock concepts of conservative thinking: rule of law, property rights, entrepreneurship, self-reliance… and disdain for dysfunctional political systems. But he also borrows another rightward concept — formal (a cousin to law), and pulls all wannabe law-abiding imigrants into that frame, but as informal. Subtract the in and your problem is solved.

This artful play by Fukuhama is especially interesting to me, because I think we have been having the wrong debates about the Internet and how to improve it. Carriers vs. Neutralists only amps up the politics. Hand-wringing about lack of rural broadband only plays on the left. The idea of re-classifying the Net as a breed of telecom is a clever regulatory hack by the FCC, but it has shifted debate back into lobby politics, which the agency’s friends and enemies of the moment — Google and the carriers — are good at playing. Jonathan Zittrain’s arguments favoring generativity are good ones, and he’s right that hope lies with users; but the pro-business case isn’t quite there.

I want to make that case. This piece by Francis Fukuyama is a good model for How It’s Done.

Now what I want to see is if his strategy works. If we’re talking about “informal immigrants” in a year, the answer will be yes.

Bonus link.

From June 13 to July 21, I lived in France. This was the longest I had been out of the country, ever. And, while I loved just about everything about being there, what I’m liking best at the moment is what I failed to take back with me: about ten pounds of fat.

I still wiegh too much. My Withings scale, which produced the graph above, says I’m still carrying around about fifty pounds of fat, with a body mass index of 28.3.

I weighed about 140 when I got out of high school, and about 150 when I got out of college. I gained slowly after that. Except for a couple of diets (McDougal and Atkins), each of which knocked off about 25 pounds, my weight went steadily up. So, on the advice of tweets from @bobmetcalfe, I got the Withings, and started just paying attention. I began on March 26 at 196.2 pounds. I didn’t do much to change my eating habits, though, and I pretty much stayed even. Then, before heading to France, I started purposely eating a bit less. Going without. That’s where you see the decline to 192.1 before we left.

What was different about France? Here ya go:

  1. No breakfast. Usually one of us went to the corner bakery for a baguette, and I’d have a hunk of that, and not always with butter.
  2. Not much lunch either. We’d eat one sometimes, but we were usually too busy.
  3. Great dinners, late at night, by U.S. standards. Peak dinner time in France is 9pm. For the most part we were on what we called “Icelandic Time.” We’d dine late, catch up with the East and West Coasts on our computers after we got back, turn in about 1-2am, and sleep late. The dinners, of course, were full of fat and carbs, but on the whole were just good food. And without the default American obligation to engorge one’s self.
  4. Experimentation. The best tasting anything I had there was rongnon* d’agneau: lamb testicles. My wife talked me into them, at a restaurant that specialized in offal.
  5. Wine. My body doesn’t like alcohol much, though I do enjoy drinking it. But in France I had wine with most of my meals. Not sure what difference that made, but it was a difference in behavior.
  6. No crap food. We ate no chips, no soft drinks (except for the occasional Orangina), no dips. No burgers from McDonalds. No milk shakes. Not much that’s “processed,” as they say, far as I know.
  7. Lots of cheese. France is fromage as much as it is vin.
  8. Walking. Even though we took public transportation to most of the places we went, we also walked a lot — probably several miles per day.
  9. Sweating. Air conditioning isn’t valued or practiced much, at least in the older parts of Paris. And certainly not in the Metro or the RER, the two main underground trains there. Our apartment there also didn’t have it, though it stayed relatively cool with its thick stone walls (the structure dates from the 1600s) and shade. And it was quite hot most of the time I was there.

After we got back, we went shopping. On the list went lots of fruit and off of it went breakfast sausage and other former staples, mostly of the crap food variety. My appetite for them is gone, at least for now. Meanwhile, I like getting into pants I outgrew last year. Next steps: getting into the pants from two years ago, then five years ago…

* This is how I remember it, though I’m told that rognons are kidneys. Maybe somebody can correct me. I know the menu did not say testicules, which is the literal translation. By whatever name, they were lamb nuts.


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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If you want to get the most out of your Verizon FiOS (fiber to the home) Internet connection, here are your top two tiers:

FiOS tiers

I have the one on the left, and that’s what I’m paying for it. The service is rock-solid and reliable. So is support, as rarely as I’ve needed it.

But when I go to work, my upstream speeds are higher — up to 100 Mbps. I get more done. And I’m not the only techie who appreciates high upstream speeds. Boston is the world’s biggest college town, and full of other industries (pharma, big science, finance) that are staffed by professionals that could use the speed too.

But Verizon does this weird thing with the next tier up: they cut back the upstream speed from 25 Mbps to 20 Mbps. At double the price. WTF is that all about? When I ordered the 25 Mbps tier several months ago, the guy on the phone told me the reason was “just marketing.” He also said “We could give you 100Mbps tomorrow and blow everybody else out of the water.”

So why not?

Oddly, all of FiOS’ “Triple Play” (Internet + TV + phone) bundles here have relatively low Internet speeds, compared to the two tiers above. If the Net is your main interest, you might be better off without the TV and the phone. (In fact, we had the other two “plays” we got FiOS originally, and dumped them later, mostly because  we hardly used them.) If you view more bundles, your best speeds are still just 25/25Mbps.

My request (and advice — and companies do pay me for this stuff) to Verizon is to do two things:

  1. Come up with a sensible offering — one that doesn’t subtract upstream value at twice the price.
  2. Try localizing a bit. Boston isn’t Red Bank. (And no offense to that town or other FiOS service areas.) See what happens when you super-serve a region with an offering that makes sense for it.

Maybe Verizon is doing that, sort of, with its business offerings. But getting to the actual offerings requires many clicks and filling out forms. Where I finally arrived in my latest hunt was a page with this set of choices:

First, this is much better than what I remember about my last look at FiOS business deals.

Second, that 35/35 offering is attractive.

Third, once again, we have an upstream speed drop when you go to the highest tier.

Fourth, the “static” offering is poorly explained. What this means is a real IP address, rather than one dynamically assigned by the router. This is real Internet stuff, so the customer can, say, run a server. (The copy does say “host websites.”) But, unless I’m missing it, nowhere does it say how many IP addresses the customer gets. For customers who care about this stuff, that’s the first question that will come up.

Fifth, the examples are poor. Here are some of the things that serious professional customers might care about:

  1. Offsite storage or backup
  2. Virtual computing in the cloud, such as with Amazon’s EC2
  3. Running servers in a co-lo or some other heavy-lifting environment
  4. Remote rendering, such as RenderCore

Verizon (or any ISP) could offer any of those services locally themselves, taking advantage of low latencies. In fact, in some cases that can be a huge advantage, and therefore a selling point.

Again, the service I’ve had all along with FiOS (going on three years now) has been solid and good — so good, in fact, that I miss it a lot when I’m gone. (Such as with this example here.) I just want it to be better. Hope this helps.

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The California is serpentine (correct name, serpentinite), which comes in many varieties, some which contain asbestos, which doesn’t get dangerous unless you grind it up and spread it into the air. Just sitting there, as it does through much of California and in other parts of the world, serpentine is mostly a greenish grace on the landscape.

Serpentine’s provenance is also remarkable (at least to geology types like me). It’s formed deep in the planet’s crust, under the spreading centers of oceans, where sea water penetrates mantle rock and, under great heat and pressure, lends lustrous colors and textures to what would otherwise become the plain old peridodite.

Anyway, have found a friend in , who is working to dump serpentine as the state rock. You know, like it matters. (Only 27 states bother having a state rock.) Read more in Burrito Justice and in the many posts that come up when you search for. Or you can skip all that and go to ‘s Speak Up for Serpentine at .

Here’s the opposing (anti-serpentine) view.

My home state, (also that of my nonfictionist hero, ) has no state rock, mineral or gem. How about asphalt, rhinestone and dirt? Just trying to help.

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paris in the rain I don’t think I’ve ever loved Paris in the rain more than I do right now. It’s 6:40am, and I’ve been up since 5am, when I got tired of failing to sleep on sweat-soaked sheets. Last night was one more to endure in the heat wave that has been with us for nearly the whole month we’ve been here.

There’s no AC in our little apartment, as there isn’t in the Paris Metro, the RER (the other main underground train), most apartments, and most restaurants. One of our favorite restaurants has only been making salads and other cold food arrangements, because the heat in the kitchen is unbearable for the staff.

But about 20 minutes ago a thunderstorm rolled through. Bright blue flashes blink down the two shafts that comprise our view (one is a small courtyard behind a library, the other is floored by the back work areas of two restaurants), thunder rolls, and rain plinks on surfaces above and below.

The wind is cool and a huge relief. I’m keeping the windows open (they’re the size of doors and swing open the same way), and covering the sills with towels. Hope it stays cool after the storm blows over. That will make working on a hot laptop a little easier.

I’ve been wondering why AC is so rare here, and I think the attitude is about the same as the one that non-tropical Southern U.S. cities have toward snow-removal equipment. The irony is that it does get hot in Paris, and it does snow in Greensboro and Richmond.

Anyway, the storm is fading now, and I’m going to try sleeping again.

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I have an Android phone: a Nexus One, straight from Google. It arrived independent of any phone company deals, which I thought would make it easy to use with whatever carrier I engaged when I got to France, where I would be spending the next five weeks.

We arrived in Paris on Sunday the 13th of June. On Monday we went to some phone stores and got SIMs for the three phones we brought with us. The other two were a Nokia E71 and a Nokia N900 (which is really a handheld computer, but will take a SIM and work as a phone). The E71 took a pre-paid SIM from SFR, and the N900 took one from Orange. Both worked fine. The Android was more complicated, because I wanted data working on it. We didn’t do data deals for the other two — at least not this time around — but I like the Nexus One and thought it would be cool to have one phone that would let us surf the Web, use maps, have fun with Layar and other neat stuff.

So I paid 40€ to Orange (which I had been told had the best deals) for a SIM and a plan that included telephony and 450Mb of data. It never worked. In fact, the phone part only worked for a short time. After a few days I started getting messages saying I needed to “recharge” the account with fresh money because I was out.

Looking for clues about what was going on, I went to four different Orange stores, plus other stores that work with Orange, and never got a clear reason why the thing failed, beyond “you must have used too much data.” At the fouth store, last weekend in Strasbourg, a nice young guy who spoke good English (a help since my French is worse than minimal) told me that the only sensible way to do data was to buy a long-term plan. Otherwise, “just don’t use data.” Why? “It’s too expensive.” What’s the price? He couldn’t tell me.

So I put another 35€ on the phone, so at least we could use telephony.Meanwhile I had long since turned off any setting on the phone that looked like it used data.

That worked briefly. Within another few hours the phone could only take calls but not make them. This time there were not any messages about recharging.

Now I’m in the UK, where I read that Orange claims to have the best coverage. And, indeed, my iPhone says Orange has a good signal. The iPhone — my main phone in the U.S. — works fine here, but calls are expensive, which is why I like to have a local phone of some kind. The Android works on wi-fi, but can’t seem to do telephony at all. When I call a number, I get a beep and the whole phone function pops off, returning the phone to a no-app-running state. When I call the number I get told in French to leave a message.

Since we have a 3G iPad arriving at the place in France one of these days (it was held up by French customs and other mix-ups), I was also interested in a data plan for that one. Turns out that the relatively simple plan that Apple has with AT&T in the U.S. is matched by a similar one with Orange. Unfortunately, I also need to take out a French bank account and produce other forms of documentation, before I can get the deal. So I won’t bother.

At this point, frankly, I’m kinda beyond caring. I don’t know why the phone companies want to make life so damn hard for customers — as well as for themselves. My current theory is that they’re all Enrons of a sort: outfits that make their offerings so complicated that only they can understand them — and even they aren’t that good at it.

So I just keep using my American iPhone, fortified with a $20-something/month add-on data plan that gives me 20Mb/month of data to fudge with. I use it in emergencies, like when I need to find my way from a tube stop to an address. I set usage to zero at the start of the month and see where I am. So far in June I’ve used 2.5Mb. But I’m still afraid to use more here on the last day of the month. Hey, why take chances?

Hitting the road, or actually the canal. Or a canal, somewhere east of Paris, in France. For a week.

The plan was to have some kind of data connectivity either through our new Android Nexus One or our new iPad 3G. Alas, five days of trying have failed to get the Android to work as more than a generic phone. (In spite of very competent and generous help from at least one techie better than moi.) My sub-minimal French is sure to blame, but the perversities of Orange (our mobile telephony provider here), and of mobile phone “plans” in general deserve some blame as well. Hell, maybe the Android too, but I doubt it. It seems quite fine.

Meanwhile the new iPad is in the purgatory of a customs warehouse. It has cleared, but there is no good estimate about when it will be delivered, and we have been advised not to push it. We won’t be here in Paris anyway, so I won’t worry about it until I find it still hasn’t come by next weekend.

So, what the hell. I’ll just use the whole thing as an excuse for a long-overdue data diet.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with David Siegel’s Open Letter to Steve Ballmer. Should be a good conversation-starter.

So this is what it takes to shake me out of my blogging torpor: a message on my phone with the short form of what the National Weather Service says here:

Tornado Watch

Central Middlesex County, Southeast Middlesex, Northwest Middlesex County (Massachusetts)

TORNADO WATCH OUTLINE UPDATE FOR WT 263
NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER NORMAN OK
145 PM EDT SAT JUN 5 2010
TORNADO WATCH 263 IS IN EFFECT UNTIL 1000 PM EDT FOR THE
FOLLOWING LOCATIONS
MAC005-009-011-013-015-017-021-023-025-027-060200-
/O.NEW.KWNS.TO.A.0263.100605T1745Z-100606T0200Z/
MA
.    MASSACHUSETTS COUNTIES INCLUDED ARE
BRISTOL              ESSEX               FRANKLIN
HAMPDEN              HAMPSHIRE           MIDDLESEX
NORFOLK              PLYMOUTH            SUFFOLK
WORCESTER

Click here or on the screenshot above and you’ll get to Intellicast.com, which has excellent moving visualizations of storms in progress, among much else. What you’ll see above is rain (and worse, perhaps) advancing on the Boston area, where I happen to be right now.

We tend to associate tornadoes with flat midwestern and prairie states, but they happen often enough elsewhere. The difference in eastern and southern states is that they funnel clouds are often hard to see, thanks to the prevalence of trees. I recall one that rolled through Durham, North Carolina when I lived there in the late ’70s. The wind and the rain were so strong that I didn’t realize how close one tornado came to the spot where I was at the time (a little store off the main boulevard to Chapel Hill on Hope Valley Road). After it cleared we saw ripped up trees and an overturned Cadillac just down the road.

It always bothered me that there were no storm cellars in North Carolina. A few old fallout shelters here and there, but nothing like the space where Dorothy’s family dove into the ground in the Wizard of Oz. But here in Massachusetts they believe in basements. We have one here, in fact, three floors down. But the view is better here in the attic, so I think I’ll stay for a bit.

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Here is a well-done write-up of what I said in an interview by Lee Rainie yesterday here at FutureWeb in Raleigh. Having a fun time.

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Last July I explained Why WQXR is better off as a public radio station. One hundred and twelve comments followed, the last posted in January of this year. Far as I know, that’s a record for this blog.

Background: when WQXR, which had been New York City’s landmark classical music station since the Roosevelt Hoover administration, was sold by the New York Times to WNYC, it went through two huge changes. First, it went up the dial from 96.3 to 105.9, while dropping to about 1/10th the wattage of its old signal. Second, it changed from a commercial station to a noncommercial one. Those opposed to the moves predicted failure on both accounts.

Instead, WQXR is a success. It’s ratings briefly tanked during the transition last October, then bounced back to their old levels:

Since then WQXR has run neck-and-neck with its parent’s main station, WNYC-FM (which has a signal identical to the old WQXR, coming from the same master antenna on the Empire State Building):

(Source for both: Radio-Info.com. Click on the images for details.)

Those three columns are for January, February and March of this year. The February number, 834,400, was reportedly tops in all of public radio. That’s what Elizabeth Jensen wrote in yesterday’s Classical Music’s Comeback, on Public Radio, in the New York Times. She says WQXR is a financial as well as a ratings success, and typical of successful transitions by other classical stations from commercial to noncommercial business models, in some cases with lesser signals as well.

So, all ends well that starts well.

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Dissing Vulcan

Phoebe Kilgour, a Dickinson College junior, said the trip taught her about how a country prepares for a natural phenomenon. “I learned that something that seemed insignificant at the time, like a volcano erupting, can have a huge impact on local travel,” she said, “especially when you’re stuck on an island.”

That’s the last paragraph of a PennLive.com article titled Dickinson College students leave Iceland after being delayed by volcanic eruption.

Hat tip to @dankennedy_nu.

I’ll be giving a talk by the title above, at 4pm in the conference room of the Berkman Center, 23 Everett Street in Cambridge. The occasion is the regular bi-weekly meeting of our Infrastructure Group — an informal collection of folks interested in the topic. The group was gathered by Christian Sandvig, an authority on the topic. (Christian gave a great talk last week in the Berkman luncheon series. Check it out.)

Infrastructure has long been a focus of my work as a fellow with the Center for Information Technology & Society at UCSB, although at this stage I’m still more of an observer of the topic than an authority on it. You’ll find lots of photos tagged with “infrastructure” in my Flickr stream (now more than 34,000 shots long), plus more at the Berkman Infrastructure Group’s own Flickr site. I’ll be leveraging some of those, and putting what I’ve gathered into the helpful contextprovided by Stewart Brand‘s great book, How Buildings Learn — What happens after they’re built (which was later made into a BBC series you can watch on Google Video).

Look forward to seeing some of ya’ll there.

March Madness for me this year was a double treat. First, my team, the Duke Blue Devils, won the championship. (Though my heart went out to Butler, which came within inches of winning at the buzzer on a half-court shot.) Second, I got to follow the Devils, and North Carolina Basketball in general, on . I did this over on my iPhone. I listened in my pocket as I cooked in the kitchen, rode on my bike, and walked to the bus and the train. I dug and in the mornings, the PackMan in the afternoon, and hyper-local features such as the Duke Basketball show from the Washington Duke Inn, on Duke’s campus).

I loved hearing old familiars like , and Duke play-by-play announcer , who started as a sales guy at WDNC in 1975, not long after I left that same job. In those days WDNC was a struggling Top 40 station, still owned by the Durham Herald-Sun newspapers, still with studios in the paper’s building, and still carrying CBS news (its lone connection to a glorious past). Since then WDNC has bounced through a number of formats, and currently thrives in the overlap of , and empires. Its FM counterpart is WCMC/99.9, which didn’t exist when I left town in 1985. Currently known as “620 The Buzz” (the FM is “The Fan”), it was until recently The Bull. (In fact, if you go to http://wdnc.com, it re-directs to http://www.620thebull.com/, which is a blank page. Somebody needs to get a second re-direct going there.)

A confession. Not long after Bob Harris took over play-by-play for Duke games, he often had Mike Krzyzewski, then Duke’s rookie basketball coach, as a guest. I wasn’t a fan of Coach K. His predecessor, Bill Foster, was gregarious, emotional and easy for fans to love, Krzyzewski seemed cold and a bit nasty. He rarely smiled and had coaching style that appeared to consisted entirely of barking at officials. I once said of him, “There’s nothing about that guy that a blow-dry and a sense of humor wouldn’t cure.” While it wasn’t quite a nickname for Coach K, it stuck, and I heard it repeated often. Today, of course, Krzyzewski is an institution, and much loved by everybody who knows him, especially his players.

Anyway, the most interesting irony to me, as I listen to WDNC here in Cambridge, Mass, is that it has long been the custom in radio to obsess about signals and coverage — since you can’t listen to what you can’t get. Among souls who still do this I know few who are more devoted, even still, than I am. (The very best is Scott Fybush, by the way. I love his site visits.)

As a kid growing up in New Jersey I would ride my bike down to visit the transmitters of New York’s AM stations, whose towers bristled from swamps on the flanks of the Hackensack river: WABC, WINS, WMGM/WHN, WOV/WADO, WMCA, WNEW, WHOM…

I’d talk with the guys who manned the transmitters (they were always guys, and they were often old), logging readings and walking out to the towers to make sure all was well. I became a ham radio operator around that time, and continued to fancy myself something of an engineer, though technically I wasn’t. Still, I jumped at the opportunity to take shifts maintaining WDNC’s transmitter as a side job when I worked there. The whole plant was about the same age as me (at the time, 27), and spread across about ten acres at the end of a dirt road on the northwest side of town. It was 5000 watts by day and 1000 watts by night, with directional patterns produced by its three towers. The shot above is from Bing’s excellent “bird’s eye” view of the site. (Why doesn’t Microsoft make more of this? Google has nothing like it, and it totally rocks.) And it’s much nicer now than it was then. At that time the fields had turned to high brush, and I needed to ride a lawnmower out to the towers on a bumpy path, so I wouldn’t get ticks. (One could pick up — I’m not kidding, hundreds of ticks by walking out there.)

What fascinated me most about the facility was the engineering files, which included details on the transmission patterns and coverage maps showing how waves interacted with conductive ground to produce signal intensities that didn’t look as much like the signal pattern as one might expect. AM coverage depends on ground conductivity. In North Carolina (and the East in general) the ground conductivity is poor; but at the bottom end of the AM dial the waves are longer and travel farther along the ground in any case. WDNC was at 620, so its signal was many times the size of a signal at the top end of the dial with the same wattage.

Now I can go online and see WDNC’s daytime pattern here and its nighttime pattern here — both at . I can see the coverage they produce at . Here’s a mash-up of patterns (left) and coverage (right):

Which is all well and cool. Playing with this stuff is catnip for me. But it’s also meaningless, once radio moves off AM and FM and onto the Net, where in the long run it makes much more sense.

What we’re dealing with, in the images I show here, is exceedingly antique stuff. The basics of AM broadcast engineering were set in the 1920s and 1930s. FM dates from the 1940s and 1950s. Recent improvements to both (through IBOC — In Band On Channel) are largely proprietary, and uptake on the receiving end borders on pathetic. None of the technologies employed are interactive, much less Net-native. They soak billions of watts off the world’s power grids. AM stations occupy large areas of real estate. FM and TV stations use frequencies that require high elevations, provided by tall towers, buildings or mountains, offering hazards to aviation and bird migration. Not to mention that lots of the biggest towers tend to fall down. In 1989 a pair of 2000-foot TV/FM towers near Raleigh (serving the same areas outlined above) collapsed in the same ice storm.

Three problems stand in the way of building out radio on the Net.

First is the mobile phone system that carries it. When I listen to WDNC on my iPhone, I don’t care how much data I use. AT&T has no data limit for the iPhone or the iPad. Other carriers need to have similar deals. To my knowledge they don’t — at least not in the U.S. (Sprint used to, and after my problems with Sprint last year I doubt I’ll use its system much for media again son.) Still, even AT&T regards subordinates mobile data to mobile telephony. This gets more retro every day. In the long run, we’ll have a mobile data system that includes mobile telephony but is not defined by it (and its infuriating billing systems). These also need to be better integrated with wi-fi from all sources (and not just the carriers’ own). These days most wi-fi access points are “secure,” making them useless as part of a larger system. But that can change.

Second is revising the rules restricting music streamed and podcast over the Net. Copyright law, especially as established by the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, screwed the hell out of music broadcasting and podcasting. Today we have some of the former and little of the latter (except for “podsafe” music, which includes approximately nothing that’s been popular over the last 80 years). Fixing this won’t be easy, but it needs to be done.

Third is revising the means by which stations make money, and rules about where advertising can be carried. For the former we need a much better system for listeners to pay broadcasters on a voluntary basis, for both commercial and noncommercial stations. (This is why at ProjectVRM we are working on EmanciPay, for example.) For advertising, there are currently restrictions on much national advertising, which is why the majority of ads I hear on WDNC (and other commercial stations that do streaming) are public service announcements from the Ad Council. Listening to these, over and over and over and over, accelerates the listeners own aging process.

Networks and stations also need to realize that more and more online listeners aren’t tuning in to Web pages. They’re tuning directly to streams using applications on mobile devices. The folks on WDNC do a good job of using Twitter, Facebook and other familiar “social media,” but they don’t seem to have a clue that it’s a heck of a lot easier to listen to mobile radio on something that’s actually like a radio — namely a smartphone — than on a computer. Search for “radio” in Apple’s app store and you’ll get hundreds of results. The Public Radio Player, there on the left, has had over 2.5 million downloads so far. Hopefully the iPad will help. Check out Pandora’s latest.

Anyway, a big thanks to the folks at WDNC/TheBuzz for a great season of Duke, Carolina and ACC basketball coverage — especially for a listener stuck here in New England, where pro sports dominate. (Not that I don’t love those too. I just need my college basketball fix.) Props to @TZarzour and @WRALsportsFan too.

I just learned by Eric Martindale’s comment to my Borg’s Woods post in February that the March 13 storm knocked down many of the trees in the old growth urban forest that was our neighborhood playground when I was a kid. For more here’s a post in the NJUrbanForest blog, and here are some pictures as well.

Storms are as much a part of nature as old growth forests, even when the former reduces the latter. Sad to read, however, that mosquito abatement has involved the draining of the woods’ pond, where generations of kids learned to skate in a beautiful setting.

For perspective perhaps it is helpful to note that the boggy parts of Borg’s Woods are among the few vernal remnants of glacial Lake Hackensack, which pooled over most of the Hackensack River watershed when the last ice age began to end around 15,000 years ago. The lake lasted several millennia, then drained around 11,500 years ago, when the terminal moraine near Perth Amboy broke. Back then the sea was still far outside the current borders of New York and New Jersey. Only when the rest of the ice cap melted did the oceans reach their current level — which, as we know, is still rising.

Four years and one day ago, we took a trip aboard a sailboat captained by our friend John Pfarr (who a few days later would later sail the same vessel to Hawaii, the South Seas and back — the dude is a serious sailor). Our modest destination was the string of oil platforms that rise above the coastal waters off Santa Barbara. These are now familiar landmarks, and are regarded with both loathing and affection, the latter especially by he sea (most obviously seal) life that abounds on the platforms’ pylons and girders, above and below the waterline.

As always, I took a lot of photos, one of which now also graces the poster for Oil + Water: The Case of Santa Barbara and Southern California, which will take place April 8 – 10, 2010 in the McCune Conference Room, 6020 HSSB, at UCSB. Specifically,

This conference will explore the ways in which oil and water have created and transformed the history and culture of Santa Barbara and Southern California. Topics will include the Santa Barbara oil spill; the impact of oil on Hollywood; agriculture and marine life; the Owens River Valley; the Salton Sea; cars and car culture; and environmental histories and their lessons.

Important stuff, and highly recommended.

Earlier this year the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University conducted research toward The Future of the Internet IV, the latest in their survey series, which began with Future of the Internet I – 2004. This latest report includes guided input from subjects such as myself (a “thoughtful analyst,” they kindly said) on subjects pertaining to the Net’s future. We were asked to choose between alternative outcomes — “tension pairs” — and to explain our views. Here’s the whole list:

  1. Will Google make us stupid?
  2. Will we live in the cloud or the desktop?
  3. Will social relations get better?
  4. Will the state of reading and writing be improved?
  5. Will those in GenY share as much information about themselves as they age?
  6. Will our relationship to key institutions change?
  7. Will online anonymity still be prevalent?
  8. Will the Semantic Web have an impact?
  9. Are the next takeoff technologies evident now?
  10. Will the Internet still be dominated by the end-to-end principle?

The results were published here at Pew and Elon’s Imagining the Internet site. Here’s the .pdf.

My own views are more than well represented in the 2010 report. One of my responses (to the last question) was even published in full. Still, I thought it would be worth sharing my full responses to all the questions. That’s why I’m posting them here.

Each question is followed by two statements — the “tension pair” — and in some cases by additional instruction. I’ve italicized those.

[Note... Much text here has been changed to .html from .pdf and .doc forms, and extracting all the old formatting jive has been kind of arduous. Bear with me while I finish that job, later today. (And some .html conventions don't work here in WordPress, so that's a hassle too.)]


1. Will Google make us smart or stupid?

1 By 2020, people’s use of the Internet has enhanced human intelligence; as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information, they become smarter and make better choices. Nicholas Carr was wrong: Google does not make us stupid (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google).

2 By 2020, people’s use of the Internet has not enhanced human intelligence and it could even be lowering the IQs of most people who use it a lot. Nicholas Carr was right: Google makes us stupid.

1a. Please explain your choice and share your view of the Internet’s influence on the future of human intelligence in 2020 – what is likely to stay the same and what will be different in the way human intellect evolves?


Though I like and respect Nick Carr a great deal, my answer to the title question in his famous essay in The Atlantic — “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” — is no. Nothing that informs us makes us stupid.

Nick says, “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” Besides finding that a little hard to believe (I know Nick to be a deep diver, still), there is nothing about Google, or the Net, to keep anyone from diving — and to depths that were not reachable before the Net came along. Also, compare using the Net to TV viewing. There is clearly a massive move to the former from the latter. And this move, at the very least, requires being less of a potato.

But that’s all a separate matter from Google itself. There is no guarantee that Google will be around, or in the same form, in the year 2020.

First, there are natural limits to any form of bigness, and Google is no exception to those. Trees do not grow to the sky.

Second, nearly all of Google’s income is from advertising. There are two problems with this. One is that improving a pain in the ass does not make it a kiss — and advertising is, on the whole, still a pain in the user’s ass. The other is that advertising is a system of guesswork, which by nature makes it both speculative and inefficient. Google has greatly reduced both those variables, and made advertising accountable for the first time: advertisers pay only for click-throughs. Still, for every click-through there are hundreds or thousands of “impressions” that waste server cycles, bandwidth, pixels, rods and cones. The cure for this inefficiency can’t come from the sell side. It must come from the demand side. When customers have means for advertising their wants and needs (e.g. “I need a stroller for twins in downtown Boston in the next two hours. Who’s coming through and how”) — and to do this securely and out in the open marketplace (meaning not just in the walled gardens of Amazons and eBays) — much of advertising’s speculation and guesswork will be obsoleted. Look at it this way: we need means for demand to drive supply at least as well as supply drives demand. By 2020 we’ll have that. (Especially if we succeed at work we’re doing through ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center.) Google is well positioned to help with that shift. But it’s an open question whether or not they’ll get behind it.

Third, search itself is at risk. For the last fifteen years we have needed search because Web grew has lacked a directory other than DNS (which only deals with what comes between the // and the /.) Google has succeeded because it has proven especially good at helping users find needles in the Web’s vast haystack. But what happens if the Web ceases to be a haystack? What if the Web gets a real directory, like LANs had back in the 80s — or something like one? The UNIX file paths we call URLs (e.g. http://domain.org/folder/folder/file.htm…) presume a directory structure. This alone suggests that a solution to the haystack problem will eventually be found. When it is, search then will be more of a database lookup than the colossally complex thing it is today (requiring vast data centers that suck huge amounts of power off the grid, as Google constantly memorizes every damn thing it can find in the entire Web). Google is in the best position to lead the transition from the haystack Web to the directory-enabled one. But Google may remain married to the haystack model, just as the phone companies of today are still married to charging for minutes and cable companies are married to charging for channels — even though both concepts are fossils in an all-digital world.


2. Will we live in the cloud or on the desktop?

1 By 2020, most people won’t do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Instead, they will work in Internet-based applications, like Google Docs, and in applications run from smartphones. Aspiring application developers will sign up to develop for smart-phone vendors and companies that provide Internet-based applications, because most innovative work will be done in that domain, instead of designing applications that run on a PC operating system.

2 By 2020, most people will still do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Internet-based applications like Google Docs and applications run from smartphones will have some functionality, but the most innovative and important applications will run on (and spring from) a PC operating system. Aspiring application designers will write mostly for PCs.

Please explain your choice and share your view about how major programs and applications will be designed, how they will function, and the role of cloud computing by 2020.

The answer is both.

Resources and functions will operate where they make the most sense. As bandwidth goes up, and barriers to usage (such as high “roaming” charges for data use outside a carrier’s home turf) go down, and Bob Frankston’s “ambient connectivity” establishes itself, our files and processing power will locate themselves where they work best — and where we, as individuals, have the most control over them.

Since we are mobile animals by nature, it makes sense for us to connect with the world primarily through hand-held devices, rather than the ones that sit on our desks and laps. But these larger devices will not go away. We need large screens for much of our work, and we need at least some local storage for when we go off-grid, or need fast connections to large numbers of big files, or wish to keep matters private through physical disconnection.

Clouds are to personal data what banks are to personal money. They provide secure storage, and are in the best positions to perform certain intermediary and back-end services, such as hosting applications and storing data. This latter use has an importance that will only become more critical as each of us accumulates personal data by the terabyte. If your home drives crash or get stolen, or your house burns down, your data can still be recovered if you’ve backed it up in the cloud.

But most home users (at least in the U.S. and other under-developed countries) are still stuck at the far ends of asymmetrical connections with low upstream data rates, designed at a time when carriers thought the Net would mostly be a new system for distributing TV and other forms of “content.” Thus backing up terabytes of data online ranges from difficult to impossible.

This is why any serious consideration of cloud computing — especially over the long term — needs to take connectivity into account. Clouds are only as useful as connections permit. And right now the big cloud utilities (notably Google and Amazon) are way ahead of the carriers at imagining how connected computing needs to grow. For most carriers the Internet is still just the third act in a “triple play,” a tertiary service behind telephony and television. Worse, the mobile carriers show little evidence that they understand the need to morph from phone companies to data companies — even with Apple’s iPhone success screaming “this is the future” at them.

A core ideal for all Internet devices is what Jonathan Zittrain (in his book The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It) calls generativity, which is maximized encouragement of innovation in both hardware and software. Today generativity in mobile devices varies a great deal. The iPhone, for example, is highly generative for software, but not for hardware (only Apple makes iPhones). And even the iPhone’s software market is sphinctered by Apple’s requirement that every app pass to market only through Apple’s “store,” which operates only through Apple’s iTunes, which runs only on Macs and PCs (no Linux or other OSes). On top of all that is Apple’s restrictive partnerships with AT&T (in the U.S.) and Rogers (in Canada). While AT&T allows unlimited data usage on the iPhone, Rogers still has a 6Gb limit.

Bottom line: Handhelds will no smarter than the systems built to contain them. The market will open widest — and devices will get smartest — when anybody can make a smartphone (or any other mobile device), and use it on any network they please, without worrying about data usage limits or getting hit with $1000+ bills because they forgot to turn off “push notifications” or “location services” when they roamed out of their primary carrier’s network footprint. In other words, the future will be brightest when mobile systems get Net-native.


3. Will social relations get better?

1 In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the Internet has mostly been a negative force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future.

2 In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the Internet has mostly been a positive force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future.

3a. Please explain your choice and share your view of the Internet’s influence on the future of human relationships in 2020 — what is likely to stay the same and what will be different in human and community relations?

Craig Burton describes the Net as a hollow sphere — a three-dimensional zero — comprised entirely of ends separated by an absence of distance in the middle. With a hollow sphere, every point is visible to every other point. Your screen and my keyboard have no distance between them. This is a vivid way to illustrate the Net’s “end-to-end” architecture and how we perceive it, even as we also respect the complex electronics and natural latencies involved in the movement of bits from point to point anywhere on the planet. It also helps make sense of the Net’s distance-free social space.

As the “live” or “real-time” aspects of the net evolve, opportunities to engage personally and socially are highly magnified beyond all the systems that came before. This cannot help but increase our abilities not only to connect with each other, but to understand each other. I don’t see how this hurts the world, and I can imagine countless ways it can make the world better.

Right now my own family is scattered between Boston, California, Baltimore and other places. Yet through email, voice, IM, SMS and other means we are in frequent touch, and able to help each other in many ways. The same goes for my connections with friends and co-workers.

We should also hope that the Net makes us more connected, more social, more engaged and involved with each other. The human diaspora, from one tribe in Africa to thousands of scattered tribes — and now countries — throughout the world, was driven to a high degree by misunderstandings and disagreements between groups. Hatred and distrust between groups have caused countless wars and suffering beyond measure. Anything that helps us bridge our differences and increase understanding is a good thing.

Clearly the Internet already does that.


4. Will the state of reading and writing be improved?

1 By 2020, it will be clear that the Internet has enhanced and improved reading, writing, and the rendering of knowledge.

2 By 2020, it will be clear that the Internet has diminished and endangered reading, writing, and the intelligent rendering of knowledge.

4a. Please explain your choice and share your view of the Internet’s influence on the future of knowledge-sharing in 2020, especially when it comes to reading and writing and other displays of information – what is likely to stay the same and what will be different? What do you think is the future of books?

It is already clear in 2010 that the Net has greatly enhanced reading, writing, and knowledge held — and shared — by human beings. More people are reading and writing, and in more ways, for more readers and other writers, than ever before. And the sum of all of it goes up every day.

I’m sixty-two years old, and have been a journalist since my teens. My byline has appeared in dozens of publications, and the sum of my writing runs — I can only guess — into millions of words. Today very little of what I wrote and published before 1995 is available outside of libraries, and a lot of it isn’t even there.

For example, in the Seventies and early Eighties I wrote regularly for an excellent little magazine called The Sun. (It’s still around, at http://thesunmagazine.org) But, not wanting to carry my huge collection of Suns from one house to another (I’ve lived in 9 places over the last ten years), I gave my entire collection (including rare early issues) to an otherwise excellent public library, and they lost or ditched it. Few items from those early issues are online. My own copies are buried in boxes in a garage, three thousand miles from where I live now. So are dozens of boxes of photos and photo albums. (I was also a newspaper photographer in the early days, and have never abandoned the practice.)

On the other hand, most of what I’ve written since the Web came along is still online. And most of that work — including 34,000 photographs on Flickr — is syndicated trough RSS (Really SimpleSyndication) or its derivatives. So is the work of millions of other people. If that work is interesting in some way, it tends to get inbound links, increasing its discoverability through search engines and its usefulness in general. The term syndication was once applied only to professional purposes. Now everybody can do it.

Look up RSS on Google. Today it brings in more than three billion results. Is it possible that this has decreased the quality and sum of reading, writing and human knowledge? No way.


5. Will the willingness of Generation Y / Millennials to share information change as they age?

1 By 2020, members of Generation Y (today’s “digital natives”) will continue to be ambient broadcasters who disclose a great deal of personal information in order to stay connected and take advantage of social, economic, and political opportunities. Even as they mature, have families, and take on more significant responsibilities, their enthusiasm for widespread information sharing will carry forward.

2 By 2020, members of Generation Y (today’s “digital natives”) will have “grown out” of much of their use of social networks, multiplayer online games and other time-consuming, transparency-engendering online tools. As they age and find new interests and commitments, their enthusiasm for widespread information sharing will abate.

5a. Please explain your choice and share your view of the Internet’s influence on the future of human lifestyles in 2020 – what is likely to stay the same and what will be different? Will the values and practices that characterize today’s
younger Internet users change over time?

Widespread information sharing is not a generational issue. It’s a technological one. Our means for controlling access to data, or its use — or even for asserting our “ownership” of it — are very primitive. (Logins and passwords alone are clunky as hell, extremely annoying, and will be seen a decade hence as a form of friction we were glad to eliminate.)

It’s still early. The Net and the Web as we know them have only been around for about fifteen years. Right now we’re still in the early stages of the Net’s Cambrian explosion. By that metaphor Google is a trilobyte. We have much left to work out.

For example, take “terms of use.” Sellers have them. Users do not — at least not ones that theycontrol. Wouldn’t it be good if you could tell Facebook or Twitter (or any other company using your data) that these are the terms on which they will do business with you, that these are the ways you will share data with them, that these are the ways this data can be used, and that this is what will happen if they break faith with you? Trust me: user-controlled terms of use are coming. (Work is going on right now on this very subject at Harvard’s Berkman Center, both at its Law Lab and ProjectVRM.)

Two current technical developments, “self-tracking” and “personal informatics,” are examples of ways that power is shifting from organizations to individuals — for the simple reason that individuals are the best points of integration for
their own data, and the best points of origination for what gets done with that data.

Digital natives will eventually become fully empowered by themselves, not by the organizations to which they belong, or the services they use. When that happens, they’ll probably be more careful and responsible than earlier generations, for the simpler reason that they will have the tools.


6. Will our relationship to institutions change?

1 By 2020, innovative forms of online cooperation will result in significantly more efficient and responsive governments, businesses, non-profits, and othe mainstream institutions.

2 By 2020, governments, businesses, non-profits and other mainstream institutions will primarily retain familiar 20th century models for conduct of relationships with citizens and consumers online and offline.

6a. Please explain your choice and share your view of the Internet’s influence upon the future of institutional relationships with their patrons and customers between now and 2020. We are eager to hear what you think of how social, political, and commercial endeavors will form and the way people will cooperate in the future.

Online cooperation will only increase. The means are already there, and will only become more numerous and functional. Institutions that adapt to the Net’s cooperation-encouraging technologies and functions will succeed. Those that don’t will have a hard time.

Having it hardest right now are media institutions, for the simple reason that the Internet subsumes their functions, while also giving to everybody the ability to communicate with everybody else, at little cost, and often with little or no intermediating system other than the Net itself.

Bob Garfield, a columnist for AdAge and a host of NPR’s “On The Media,” says the media have entered what he calls (in his book by the same title) The Chaos Scenario. In his introduction Garfield says he should have called the book “Listenomics,” because listening is the first requirement of survival for every industry that lives on digital bits — a sum that rounds to approximately every industry, period.

So, even where the shapes of institution persist, their internal functions must be ready to listen, and to participate in the market’s conversations, even when those take place outside the institution’s own frameworks.


7. Will online anonymity still be prevalent?

1 By 2020, the identification ID systems used online are tighter and more formal – fingerprints or DNA-scans or retina scans. The use of these systems is the gateway to most of the Internet-enabled activity that users are able to perform such as shopping, communicating, creating content, and browsing. Anonymous online activity is sharply curtailed.

2 By 2020, Internet users can do a lot of normal online activities anonymously even though the identification systems used on the Internet have been applied to a wider range of activities. It is still relatively easy for Internet users to
create content, communicate, and browse without publicly disclosing who they are.

7a. Please explain your choice and share your view about the future of anonymous activity
online by the year 2020

In the offline world, anonymity is the baseline. Unless burdened by celebrity, we are essentially anonymous when we wander through stores, drive down the road, or sit in the audience of a theater. We become less anonymous when we enter into conversation or transact business. Even there, however, social protocols do not require that we become any more identifiable than required for the level of interaction. Our “identity” might be “the woman in the plaid skirt,” “the tall guy who was in here this morning,? or “one of our students.”

We still lack means by which an individual can selectively and gracefully shift from fully to partially anonymous, and from unidentified to identified — yet in ways that can be controlled and minimized (or maximized) as much as the individual (and others with which he or she interacts) permit. In fact, we’re a long way off.

The main reason is that most of the “identity systems” we know put control on the side of sellers, governments, and other institutions, and not with the individual. In time systems that give users control will be developed. These will be native to users and not provided only by large organizations (such as Microsoft, Google or the government).

A number of development communities have been working on this challenge since early in the last decade, and eventually they will succeed. Hopefully this will be by 2020, but I figured we’d have it done by 2010, and it seems like we’ve barely started.


8. Will the Semantic Web have an impact?

By 2020, the Semantic Web envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee and his allies will have been achieved to a significant degree and have clearly made a difference to the average Internet users.

2 By 2020, the Semantic Web envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee will not be as fully effective as its creators hoped and average users will not have noticed much of a difference.

8a. Please explain your choice and share your view of the likelihood that the Semantic Web will have been implemented by 2020 and be a force for good in Internet users?

Tim’s World Wide Web was a very simple and usable idea that relied on very simple and usable new standards (e.g. HTML and HTTP), which were big reason why the Web succeeded. The Semantic Web is a very complex idea, and one that requires a lot of things to go right before it works. Or so it seems.

Tim Berners-Lee introduced the Semantic Web Roadmap (http://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/Semantic.html) in September 1998. Since then more than eleven years have passed. Some Semantic Web technologies have taken root: RDFa, for example, and microformats. But the concept itself has energized a relatively small number of people, and there is no “killer” tech or use yet.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Invention is the mother of necessity. The Semantic Web will take off when somebody invents something we all find we need. Maybe that something will be built out of some combination of code and protocols already laying around — either within the existing Semantic Web portfolio, or from some parallel effort such as XDI. Or maybe it will come out of the blue.

By whatever means, the ideals of the Semantic Web — a web based on meaning (semantics) rather than syntax (the Web’s current model) — will still drive development. And we’ll be a decade farther along in 2020 than we are in 2010.


9. Are the next takeoff technologies evident now?

1 The hot gadgets and applications that will capture the imagination of users in 2020 are pretty evident today and will not take many of today’s savviest innovators by surprise.

2 The hot gadgets and applications that will capture the imagination of users in 2020 will often come “out of the blue” and not have been anticipated by many of today’s savviest innovators.

9a. Please explain your choice and share your view of its implications for the future. What do you think will be the hot gadgets, applications, technology tools in 2020?

“The blue” is the environment out of which most future innovation will come. And that blue is the Net.

Nearly every digital invention today was created by collaboration over the Net, between people working in different parts of the world. The ability to collaborate over distances, often in real time (or close to it), using devices that improve constantly, over connections that only get fatter and faster, guarantees that the number and variety of inventions will only go up. More imaginations will be captured more ways, more often. Products will be improved, and replaced, more often than ever, and in more ways than ever.

The hottest gadgets in 2020 will certainly involve extending one’s senses and one’s body. In fact, this has been the case for all inventions since humans first made stone tools and painted the walls of caves. That’s because humans are characterized not only by their intelligence and their ability to speak, but by their capacity to extend their senses, and their abilities, through their tools and technologies. Michael Polanyi, a scientist and philosopher, called this indwelling. It is through indwelling that the carpenter’s tool becomes an extension of his arm, and he has the power to pound nails through wood. It is also through indwelling that an instrument becomes an extension of the musician’s mouth and hands.

There is a reason why a pilot refers to “my wings” and “my tail,” or a driver to “my wheels” and “my engine.” By indwelling, the pilot’s senses extend outside herself to the whole plane, and the driver’s to his whole car.

The computers and smart phones of today are to some degree extensions of ourselves, but not to the extent that a hammer extends a carpenter, a car enlarges a driver or a plane enlarges a pilot. Something other than a computer or a smart phone will do that. Hopefully this will happen by 2020. If not, it will eventually.


10. Will the Internet still be dominated by the end-to-end principle?

1 In the years between now and 2020, the Internet will mostly remain a technology based on the end-to-end principle that was envisioned by the Internet’s founders. Most disagreements over the way information flows online will be resolved in favor of a minimum number of restrictions over the information available online and the methods by which people access it.

2 In the years between now and 2020, the Internet will mostly become a technology where intermediary institutions that control the architecture and significant amounts of content will be successful in gaining the right to manage information and the method by which people access and share it.

10a. Please explain your choice, note organizations you expect to be most likely to influence the future of the Internet and share your view of the effects of this between now and 2020.

There will always be a struggle to reconcile the Net’s end-to-end principle with the need for companies and technologies operating between those ends to innovate and make money. This tension will produce more progress than either the principle by itself or the narrow interests of network operators and other entities working between the Net’s countless ends.

Today these interests are seen as opposed — mostly because incumbent network operators want to protect businesses they see threatened by the Net’s end-to-end nature, which cares not a bit about who makes money or how. But in the future they will be seen as symbiotic, because both the principle and networks operating within it will be seen as essential infrastructure. So will what each of does to the help raise and renovate the Net’s vast barn.

The term infrastructure has traditionally been applied mostly to the public variety: roads, bridges, electrical systems, water systems, waste treatment and so on. But this tradition only goes back to the Seventies. Look up infrastructure in a dictionary from the 1960s or earlier and you won’t find it (except in the OED). Today are still no institutes or academic departments devoted to infrastructure. It’s a subject in many fields, yet not a field in itself.

But we do generally understand what infrastructure is. It’s something solid and common we can build on. It’s geology humans make for themselves.

Digital technology, and the Internet in particular, provide an interesting challenge for understanding infrastructure, because we rely on it, yet it is not solid in any physical sense. It is like physical structures, but not itself physical. We go on the Net, as if it were a road or a plane. We build on it too. Yet it is not a thing.

Inspired by Craig Burton’s description of the Net as a hollow sphere — a three-dimensional zero comprised entirely of ends
— David Weinberger and I wrote World of Ends in 2003 (http://worldofends.com). The purpose was to make the Net more understandable, especially to companies (such as phone and cable carriers) that had been misunderstanding it. Lots of people agreed with us, but none of those people ran the kinds of companies we addressed.

But, to be fair, most people still don’t understand the Net. Look up “The Internet is” on Google (with the quotes). After you get past the top entry (Wikipedia’s), here’s what they say:

  1. a Series of Tubes
  2. terrible
  3. really big
  4. for porn
  5. shit
  6. good
  7. wrong
  8. killing storytelling
  9. dead
  10. serious business
  11. for everyone
  12. underrated
  13. infected
  14. about to die
  15. broken
  16. Christmas all the time
  17. altering our brains
  18. changing health care
  19. laughing at NBC
  20. changing the way we watch TV
  21. changing the scientific method
  22. dead and boring
  23. not shit
  24. made of kittens
  25. alive and well
  26. blessed
  27. almost full
  28. distracting
  29. a brain
  30. cloudy

Do the same on Twitter, and you’ll get results just as confusing. At this moment (your search will vary; this is the Live Web here), the top results are:

  1. a weird, WEIRD place
  2. full of feel good lectures
  3. the Best Place to get best notebook computer deals
  4. Made of Cats
  5. Down
  6. For porn
  7. one of the best and worst things at the same time
  8. so small
  9. going slow
  10. not my friend at the moment
  11. blocked
  12. letting me down
  13. going off at 12
  14. not working
  15. magic
  16. still debatable
  17. like a jungle
  18. eleven years old
  19. worsening by the day
  20. extremely variable
  21. full of odd but exciting people
  22. becoming the Googlenet
  23. fixed
  24. forever
  25. a battlefield
  26. a great network for helping others around the world
  27. more than a global pornography network
  28. slow
  29. making you go nuts
  30. so much faster bc im like the only 1 on it

(I took out the duplicates. There were many involving cats and porn.)

Part of the problem is that we understand the Net in very different and conflicting ways. For example, when we say the Net consists of “sites,” with “domains” and “locations” that we “architect,” “design,” “build” and “visit,”we are saying the Internet is a place. It’s real estate. But if we say the Net is a “medium” for the “distribution” of “content” to “consumers” who “download” it, we’re saying the Net is a shipping system. These metaphors are very different. They yield different approaches to business and lawmaking, to
name just two areas of conflict.

Bob Frankston, co-inventor (with Dan Bricklin) of spreadsheet software (Visicalc) and one of the fathers of home networking, says the end-state of the Net’s current development is ambient connectivity, which “gives us access to the oceans of copper, fiber and radios that surround us.” Within those are what Frankston calls a “sea of bits” to which all of us contribute. To help clarify the anti-scarce nature of bits, he explains, “Bits aren’t really like kernels of corn. They are more like words. You may run out of red paint but you don’t run out of the color red.”

Much has been written about the “economics of abundance,” but we have barely begun to understand what that means or what can be done with it. The threats are much easier to perceive than the opportunities. Google is one notable exception to that. Asked at a Harvard meeting to explain the company’s strategy of moving into businesses where it expects to make no money directly for the services it offers, a Google executive explained that the company looked for “second and third order effects.”

JP Rangaswami, Chief Scientist for BT (disclosure: I consult BT) describes these as “because effects.” You make money because of something rather than with it. Google makes money because of search, and because of Gmail. Not with them. Not directly.

Yet money can still be made with goods and services — even totally commodified ones. Amazon makes money with back-end Web services such as EC2 (computing) and S3 (data storage). Phone, cable and other carriers can make money with “dumb pipes” too. They are also in perfect positions to offer low-latency services directly to their many customers at homes and in businesses. All the carriers need to do is realize that there are benefits to incumbency other than charging monopoly rents.

The biggest danger for the Net and its use comes not from carriers, but from copyright absolutists in what we have recently come to call the “content” industry. For example, in the U.S. the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act), passed in 1998, was built to protect the interests of copyright holders and served as a model for similar lawmaking in other countries. What it did was little to protect the industries that lobbied its passing, while at the same time hurting or preventing a variety of other industries. Most notable (at least for me) was the embryonic Internet radio industry, which was just starting to take off when the DMCA came along. The saga that followed is woefully complex, and the story is far from over, but the result in the meantime is a still-infant industry that suffers many more restrictions in respect to “content” than over-the-air radio stations. Usage fees for music are much higher than those faced by broadcasters — so high that making serious money by webcasting music is nearly impossible. There are also tight restrictions on what music can be played, when, and how often. Music on podcasts is also essentially prohibited, because podcasters need to “clear rights” for every piece of copyrighted music they play. That’s why, except for “podsafe” music, podcasting today is almost all talk.

I’ll give the last words here to Cory Doctorow, who publishes them freely in his new book Content:

… there is an information economy. You don’t even need a computer to participate. My barber, an avowed technophobe who rebuilds antique motorcycles and doesn’t own a PC, benefited from the information economy when I found him by googling for barbershops in my neighborhood.

Teachers benefit from the information economy when they share lesson plans with their colleagues around the world by email. Doctors benefit from the information economy when they move their patient files to efficient digital formats. Insurance companies benefit from the information economy through better access to fresh data used in the preparation of actuarial tables. Marinas benefit from the information economy when office-slaves look up the weekend’s weather online and decide to skip out on Friday for a weekend’s sailing. Families of migrant workers benefit from the information economy when their sons and daughters wire cash home from a convenience store Western Union terminal.

This stuff generates wealth for those who practice it. It enriches the country and improves our lives.

And it can peacefully co-exist with movies, music and microcode, but not if Hollywood gets to call the shots. Where IT managers are expected to police their networks and systems for unauthorized copying — no matter what that does to productivity — they cannot co-exist. Where our operating systems are rendered inoperable by “copy protection,” they cannot co-exist. Where our educational institutions are turned into conscript enforcers for the record industry, they cannot co-exist.

The information economy is all around us. The countries that embrace it will emerge as global economic superpowers. The countries that stubbornly hold to the simplistic idea that the information economy is about selling information will end up at the bottom of the pile.


But all that is just me (and my sources, such as Cory). There are 894 others compiled by the project, and I invite you to visit those there.

I’ll also put in a plug for FutureWeb in Raleigh, April 28-30, where I look forward to seeing many old friends and relatives as well. (I lived in North Carolina for most of the 20 years from 1965-1985, and miss it still.) Hope to see some of ya’ll there.

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Some encouraging words here about Verizon’s expected 4G data rates:

After testing in the Boston and Seattle areas, the provider estimates that a real connection on a populated network should average between 5Mbps to 12Mbps in download rates and between 2Mbps to 5Mbps for uploads. Actual, achievable peak speeds in these areas float between 40-50Mbps downstream and 20-25Mbps upstream.The speed is significantly less than the theoretical 100Mbps promised by Long Term Evolution (LTE), the chosen standard, but would still give Verizon one of the fastest cellular networks in North America.

No mention of metering or data caps, of course.

Remember, these are phone companies. They love to meter stuff. Its what they know. They can hardly imagine anything else. They are billing machines with networks attached.

In addition to the metering problems Brett Glass details here, there is the simple question of whether carriers can meter data at all. Data ain’t minutes. And metering discourages both usage and countless businesses other than the phone companies’ own. I have long believed that phone and cable companies will see far more business for themselves if they open up their networks to possibilities other than those optimized for the relocation of television from air to pipes.

Data capping is problematic too. How can the customer tell how close they are to a cap? And how much does fearing overage discourage legitimate uses? And what about the accounting? My own problems with Sprint on this topic don’t give me any confidence that the carriers know how gracefully to impose data usage caps.

There’s a lot of wool in current advertising on these topics too. During the Academy Awards last night, Comcast had a great ad for Xfinity, its new high-speed service, promoted entirely as an entertainment pump. By which I mean that it was an impressive piece of promotion. But there was no mention of upstream speeds (downstream teaser: 100Mb/s). Or other limitations. Or how they might favor NBC (should they buy it) over other content sources. (Which, of course, they will.)

Sprint‘s CEO was in an another ad, promoting the company’s “unlimited text, unlimited Web and unlimited calling…” Right. Says right here in a link-proof pop-up titled “Important 4G coverage and plan information”, that 4G is unlimited, but 3G (what most customers, including I, still have) is limited to “5GB/300MB off-network roaming per month.” They do list “select cities” where 4G is available. Here’s Raleigh. I didn’t find New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Boston on the list. I recall Amarillo. Can’t find it now, and the navigation irritates me too much to look.

Anyway, I worry that what we’ll get is phone and cable company sausage in Internet casing. And that, on the political side, the carriers will succeed in their campaign to clothe themselves as the “free market” fighting “government takeovers” while working the old regulatory capture game, to keep everybody else from playing.

So five, ten years from now, all the rest of the independent ISPs and WISPs will be gone. So will backbone players other than carriers and Google.  We’ll be gaga about our ability to watch pay-per-view on our fourth-generation iPads with 3-d glasses. And we won’t miss the countless new and improved businesses that never happened because they were essentially outlawed by regulators and their captors.

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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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spinning_stormI’ve done much of my weather-watching this Winter using MyWeather, an iPhone app that not only combines satellite and radar views, but shows the motions of both, together.

What has amazed me, through much of the heavy weather that the Middle Atlantic states have had in recent weeks, is how smoothly cyclonic the precipitating weather has been.

For most of February’s last week, a huge  weather system revolved, around one stationary point: New York City. Like a big Lazy Susan it carried snow down from Canada , across the Great Lakes and through Upstate New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, the Virginias, Maryland and New Jersey — and rain from the Atlantic across New England, where some of it fell as snow, some of the time, inland.

So, while record snows fell from DC to NY, here in Boston we mostly got wet, with one day of high winds.

It was also interesting to watch the storm as it went out to sea and organized itself even more convincingly in the shape of a hurricane, complete with something of an eye. I could see it still rotating around, far out to sea, late last night, spinning rain across the Maritimes and down into coastal New England.

Now we have another weather system coming through. It looks like the tail end of the last one, and is forming its own little cyclone right now, off the coast of Virginia.

I just wish Spring would hurry up.

It will, of course. Just not here.

noreaster

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

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

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

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

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

aviation_jfk-phl

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

John F Kennedy Intl (KJFK) is currently experiencing:

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

(all delays)

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

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

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

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

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

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

If not, I want to on that.

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

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

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olympicice

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

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

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

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

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weathermap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dats love

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

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

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

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

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

Heavy Whether

borgpond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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spypondhockey

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

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

spypond_history2

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

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

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

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Hospitality story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passive Assistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll add more as time goes on.

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

newyear_zermatt_fireworks

It’s almost 3am in Zermatt, which turns into one huge party town for New Years. First we rode in from a nice day in Lausanne on a train packed with rowdy party-goers. Then we found Zermatt turned into one wild-ass place. Fireworks — big ones — were set off from everywhere all over the town, and up on the steep mountain sides. It looked and sounded like a war was going on. The fireworks started before midnight, became a solid cacphony when the cellphones (not very evenly) struck midnight, and went on, solid, for at least an hour more. Meanwhile, on the ground, we were soaked, repeatedly, by shaken bottles of champagne squirted everywhere. Another one was dropped and exploded like a grenade at my feet. I’m surprised I wasn’t cut by it. Bottles, butts and debris are everywhere. Hate the be the ones cleaning the mess up in the morning.

The shot above was looking straight up from in front of the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof. Guys set off these boxes of fireworks, only a few feet from the crowd of spectators. Very different from the more cautious U.S. stafety procedures.

That’s the full moon on the right, by the way. Earlier it was partially eclipsed. That’s about as full as it gets.

Tomorrow is our last full day here. Looking forward to another day in the mountains. Meanwhile it’s still yesterday if you live in the Americas. Welcome to the New Year, everybody.

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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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So I just followed this tweet by Chris Messina to Mike Arrington‘s The End of Hand Crafted Content. The tweet-bite: “The rise of fast food content is upon us, and it’s going to get ugly.” Meaning that FFC “will surely, over time, destroy the mom and pop operations that hand craft their content today. It’s the rise of cheap, disposable content on a mass scale, force fed to us by the portals and search engines.”

Just as an aside, I’ve been hand-crafting (actually just typing) my “content” for about twenty years now, and I haven’t been destroyed by a damn thing. I kinda don’t think FFC is going to shut down serious writers (no matter where and how they write) any more than McDonald’s killed the market for serious chefs.

Mike explains, “On one end you have AOL and their Toyota Strategy of building thousand of niche content sites via the work of cast-offs from old media. That leads to a whole lot of really, really crappy content being highlighted right on the massive AOL home page… On the other end you have Demand Media and companies like it. See Wired’s ‘Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model‘… They push SEO juice to this content, which is made as quickly and cheaply as possible, and pray for traffic. It works like a charm, apparently.” By “works” I suppose Mike means that they make money.

His penultimate point:

My advice to readers is just this — get ready for it, because you’ll be reading McDonalds five times a day in the near future. My advice to content creators is more subtle. Figure out an even more disruptive way to win, or die. Or just give up on making money doing what you do. If you write for passion, not dollars, you’ll still have fun. Even if everything you write is immediately ripped off without attribution, and the search engines don’t give you the attention they used to. You may have to continue your hobby in the evening and get a real job, of course.

Good advice. In my own case, I sometimes make money writing, but usually I don’t. I do get paid well for my counsel (and my speaking), mostly because of what I’ve been writing in places like this. SEO for me is linking and crediting generously. That works like a charm, too. And I have fun doing what I trust is good work in the world. That has SEO qualities as well. (None of it is a hobby, though. At least I don’t think of it that way. And if I don’t, it isn’t.)

Mike concludes, “Forget fair and unfair, right and wrong. This is simply happening. The disruptors are getting disrupted, and everyone has to adapt to it or face the consequences. Hand crafted content is dead. Long live fast food content, it’s here to stay.”

Well, no. Nothing with real real value is dead, so long as it can be found on the Web and there are links to it. Humans are the ones with hands. Not intermediaries. Not AOL, or TechCrunch, or HuffPo, or Google or the New York Freaking Times. The Net is the means to our ends, not The Media, whether they be new disruptors or old disruptees. The Net and the Web liberate individuals. They welcome intermediators, but they do not require them. Even in cases were we start with intermediation — and get to use really good ones — what matters most is what each of us as individuals bring to the Net’s table. Not the freight system that helps us bring it there, no matter how established or disruptive that system is.

The title of this post plays off the 1971 poem/song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, by Gil Scott-Heron. The passage that stands out for me is this one:

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The lyrics were not addressed to me, a white guy from the suburbs, but they spoke to me all the same. Especially that last line.

We still seem to think that progress on the Net is the work of “brands” creating and disrupting and doing other cool stuff. Those may help, but what matters most is what each of us does better than anybody or anything else. The term “content” insults the nature of that work. And of its sources.

The revolution that matters — the one that will not be intermediated — is the one that puts each of us in the driver’s seat, rather than in the back of the bus. Or on a bus at all.

stpaul_paternoster
So I’ve been out and about London the 2-3 days. Had a great time. Beautiful city in Christmas season, even (or perhaps especially) in the rain. Not much connectivity, or time to connect, actually. The above is one of the few pix I took, before breakfast with JP Rangaswami this (or yesterday, depending) morning. Shot it with a little pocket camera. Not bad, considering. Moon over a spire of St. Paul’s Cathedral from Paternoster Square, one of my haunts there. I leave in a few hours for DC, then Boston. See ya’ll stateside.

I was gonna tweet this, but Twitter’s down again. #LeWeb, I guess.

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Catching up

I’m back in Boston after a great few days in Utah at the Kynetx Impact conference, where VRM and related stuff was brought up and discussed at length. It was an inaugural effort by Kynetx, which has what I think is a novel and profound take on the future of the Web.

The only bad thing that happened on the trip was a crash on my laptop that trashed my email and some other files. One result is that much of the email sent to my Berkman address  cyber.law.harvard.edu) since late Monday was lost. (Glad I back up almost constantly here at home. I do offsite as well, but lacked the connectivity speed during the trip to fix the problem.)

So if you sent me any email that mattered during that time, please send it again. Thanks.

[Note: Jump to the bottom first, to see how this went... and may keep going.]

So I called SuperShuttle to book a ride to the airport in Denver. The first thing the robot voice said was that I could also book this on the Web. So I thought, cool, I’ll do that. It’ll probably go faster, and I can copy the confirmation information directly onto my calendar.

No luck there. I had to register, and the registration never went through. I’d fill out the form, click to make it go, and my browser window would say, “https://www.supershuttle.com/Membership.aspx?content=AccountSettings”, completed 29 of 31 items… and then raise the __ of __ items gradually over time until it said no more and I wasn’t registered. It just sat there with a completed form that had no use. It also annoyed me that I had to opt out of their promotional email newsletter.

So I called their 800 number again. The following isn’t far from verbatim. I’ve done my best to preserve the surreality of it.

Hello SuperShuttle.
I’d like a ride to the airport.
What would you like?
I’d like a ride to the airport here in Denver. I’m in the Hyatt Regency downtown.
Which airport are you flying from?
Denver International. DEN.
When does your plane depart?
Eight twelve AM. It’s a United flight.
Where will you be coming from?
The Hyatt Regency.
What is the address?
650 15th Street in Denver.
Which airline will you be flying?
United.
What is your hotel’s address?
650 15th Street. In Denver. Colorado.
When is your flight time?
Eight twelve AM.
What is your airline?
United.
Your pick-up time is 5:30am.
Can you make it 5:00am? I like to be early.
5:00am. Will you be paying by credit card?
Yes.
What kind of card?
Visa.
What is your card number?

I gave her my number. Slowly. She got it wrong. I corrected it. She asked for my expiration date. She said the card was expired. I said no, the expiration date was in 2011. She finally gave up on the card, and went back to completing the rest of the surreal dialogue.

What is your name?
David Searls. S E A R L S.
S E R L E S?
No, S E A R L S. Like PEARLS, only with an S instead of a P.
S E A R L E S?
No, just S E A R L S.
S E A R L … S?
Yes.
Okay. Here is your confirmation number…
Thanks.
Your pick-up time is 5:30.
I thought we said 5:00am.
Your pick-up time is 5:30.
Can we make it earlier?
Your pick up time is 5:15am.
Five-fifteen.
Five-fifteen.
Okay, thank you.
I am sorry, sir, but our equipment isn’t working well. That’s why I’m having trouble.
Sorry to hear that. Thanks for your help.
Thank you. Good bye.
Bye.

There’s gotta be a better way.

[Later...] And there is. I just got a call from SuperShuttle’s Senior VP of Global Marketing, looking to debug what went wrong here. It was a helpful conversation for both of us. Naturally, I suggested he take a look at what we’re doing with ProjectVRM. Once it’s ready for prime time, what VRM developers are doing can help improve what’s happening on the CRM side of markets such as SuperShuttle’s.

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saltpond

Before the salt in evaporating sea water turns white, it goes through stages of color that range from jade green to brick red, with variations of orange, yellow and other colors. From above the salt ponds around San Francisco Bay look like giant panes of stained glass. The shot above is from my latest set, shot on approach to SFO last week.

Here’s another series.

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Three days ago Jonathan MacDonald witnessed an altercation in the London Underground at the Holborn Station, between — as Jonathan reports it — a uniformed Underground staffer an elderly man whose arm had just been released from doors that had closed on it while he was leaving.  The staffer was loud and rude, while the passenger was calm and gentlemanly. Jonathan also recorded the last of the event on video — and blogged the event, video and all.

Next blog post:

Fast forward 24 hours and the story has run as the leader on Sky, BBC, LBC, ITN (see sample news coverage here) and on the front page of the Evening Standard. This followed thousands of Tweets and Re-Tweets (including the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, getting involved), 65,000 video views yesterday alone on YouTube and hundreds of comments on this and many other blogs. Plus, the guard has been suspended and is under investigation.

All I did was see something that shouldn’t be tolerated and used the ammunition we have in our hands – video/blogs/network.

I blog almost every day so this wasn’t any different. The content of this one seemed to grab attention though, and it was this attention that made things spiral. Hence, the main reason this story has flown is due to what happened on camera. We must remember that. It’s not me. I didn’t ‘invent the story’. I just blogged, like I do, and the Twitterverse powered the rest. Although charming to be the focus of the viral activity – I actually had the smallest part.

In that post Jonathan shows, with photos, how the story was played by the mainstream media. His summary:

The Twitterers, Bloggers and commentators were the only people who played this right. The stories were shared and eventually the press picked it up.

What we need is for Industry to learn the key techniques of Involvism that the Twitterers, Bloggers and commentators already implement.

So far there are seventy comments, including pros and cons about what Jonathan (jMac there) did, and his replies.

Most interesting to me about this are the stories being told, because those have always been the stock-in-trade of journalism, especially in newspapers. As I put it here,

The basic job of newspaper reporters is to write stories. In simplest terms, stories are interesting arrangements of facts. What makes stories interesting are: 1) protagonists (persons, groups, teams, “issues” or causes); 2) a struggle, problem or conflict of some sort; and 3) movement forward (hopefully, by not necessarily, toward a conclusion). Whether or not you agree with that formulation, what cannot be denied is the imperative.

Jonathan did his best as a witness. He also had a story to show and tell: the abuse of a passenger. That’s what he reported. As it happened, Jonathan caught the name (Ian) and the face of the Underground staffer, but only the back of the passenger (a man with gray hair in a business jacket carrying a leather bag). There are other stories to be told, of course. Read them in Jonathan’s comment thread

In the old media world, freedom of speech belonged to companies that bought ink by the barrel. In the new media world, it belongs to everybody with a cell phone or a keyboard. Get used to it. Or, as Jonathan did, put it to use.

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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.

JeffersonDependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition. — Thomas Jefferson

gettingpersonal

Near the start of his Institutional Corruption talk the other day, Larry Lessig sourced the quote above, from Thomas Jefferson. Larry was making a point: that the Framers were interested in personal independence, and not just that of a former colony. The Framers operated, however, in advance of the Industrial Revolution, which was won by Industry and lost by the rest of us — or at least by some of the roles we play in the marketplace.

Such as our roles as customers. While being customers gives us choices among products and services, many of the companies behind those products and services make us dependent on them, in ways we would not prefer if we had a choice. For a measure of how little choice we have, ask yourself how many times you’ve clicked “accept” to “Terms of Service” that typically give all advantages to the seller. Or look the number of cookies stored in your browser.

Well, the tide is turning. We’re finally starting to see a few tools that give users control over how data is collected and used. We’re working on some of those in the VRM community. And they’re a subject of discussion at

vroomboston2009_smaller

at 9:30am on Tuesday, at Harvard Law School, starting with the panel in the title graphic above. You can register here. Even if you show up only for the panel, it’ll help us know how many will be there.

There’s lots more about it at Civilizing the Personal Data Frontier, over at the ProjectVRM blog. Hope to see you there.

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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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I’m on the East Coast for the rest of the current fire season in California. Which is cool, literally. I miss Santa Barbara, but not the fear of destruction (which I generally don’t have there, but I need my rationalizations). Speaking of which, here’s The Mania of Owning Things, my EOF column for August 2009 issue of Linux Journal. I wrote it during the Jesusita Fire, the second fire-bullet we dodged this year.

The column title refers to the last line of this bit of Whitman:

I think I could turn and live awhile with the animals.
They are so placid and self-contained.
I stand and look at them sometimes half the day long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition.
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins.
Not one is dissatisfied.
Not one is demented with the mania of owning things.

(For some reason most of those lines didn’t make it into the published piece. So, when you look at it, bear in mind that the top text is part of Whitman and none of me.) Some exerpts (from me, not Whitman):

Ambition and industry in the face of inevitable destruction is the job of life…

I believe in ownership—not for economic reasons, but because possession is 9/10ths of the three-year-old. We are all still toddlers in more ways than we’d like to admit—especially when it comes to possessions.

We are grabby animals. We like to own stuff—or at least control it. Where would a three-year-old be without the first-person possessive pronoun? No response is more human than “Mine!” And yet possessions are also burdens. I have a friend whose childhood home was burned twice by the same nutcase. He’s one of the sanest people I know. I can’t say it’s because he has been relieved of archives and other non-negotiables, but it makes a kind of sense to me. I have tons of that stuff, and I’ve thought lately about what it would mean if suddenly they were all cremated. Would that really be all bad? What I’d miss most are old photos that haven’t been scanned and writing that hasn’t been digitized in some way. But is my digital stuff all that safe either?…

I’ve just started backing (it) up “in the cloud”. But how safe is that? Or secure? Companies are temporary. Servers are temporary. Hell, everything is temporary.

When I was young, I acknowledged death as part of the cycle of life. Now I think it’s the other way around. Life is part of the cycle of death. Life generates fuel for death. It’s a carbon-based refinery for lots of interesting and helpful stuff.

Think about it. Marble. Limestone. Travertine. Oil. Gas. Coal. Wood. Linoleum. Cement. Paint. Plastics. Paper. Asphalt. Textiles. Medicines. Even the heat used to smelt iron and shape glass comes mostly from burning fossil fuel. The moon has abundant aluminum ores. But how would you produce the heat required for extraction, or do anything without the combustive assistance of oxygen? Ninety-eight percent of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere is produced by plants. Most of the sources are now dead, their energies devoted to post-living purposes.

The Internet grows by an odd noospheric process: duplication. In “Better Than Free”, Kevin Kelly makes an observation so profound and obvious that you can’t shake it once it sinks in: “The Internet is a copy machine.” As a result, the Net is turning into what Bob Frankston calls a “sea of bits”. This too is an ecosystem of sorts. Is it, like Earth’s ecosystem, a way that death makes use of life? I wonder about that too.

Anyway, the rest is here.

manicouagan

Above is the best (or the widest) shot I could get of Lake Manicouagan, which is the largest visible impact crater on Earth. Only three (or maybe four) are larger and none are visible.

The Manicouagan impact event happened about 214 million years ago, give or take. That was 14 million years before the end of the Triassic, which was first of the three “dinosaur ages” of the Mesozoic, an era that came to an end with the Chicxulub impact. Coming that far in advance the Manicouagan event  may not have been to blame for a mass extinction, but it wouldn’t have been pleasant.

There are better photos in the series, but it was a hazy day and the one above does the best job of showing the crater’s edges.

I’ve been wanting to see (and shoot) Manicouagan for many years, but routes and weather had never obliged before. This time they did, which was cool.

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bypassbridge

The shot above, made on Sunday out the window of a plane on approach to Las Vegas, comes three and a half years after this shot, which I took from the ground at Hoover Dam. Here’s a whole set of the fly-by. Not much of the dam shows. The Colorado River gorge is easier to see.

Two things stand out for me in this scene. One is the remarkable engineering involved in building the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, better known as the Hoover Dam Bypass. The other is that, from altitude — far more than from the ground — you can see the volcanic nature and origin of the rock supporting both the bridge and hte dam. I’ve been looking around for source docs online that detail the provenance of this rock, which needs to be of a competence sufficient to anchor one of the world’s biggest dams, while also supporting a bridge over a gorge. As I recall from the visit, it’s rhyolite. But, not sure. Looks like it. Maybe Arizona Geology can fill us in.

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My postings last week on the Station Fire (below) brought an invitation from Dave to contribute something along the same lines for InBerkeley. I did, and the title is The Next Berkeley Fire. Since fire is one of the two big dangers of living in this corner of paradise, I visited the subject of earthquakes as well (for which I just added a missing graphic — trust me, it’s scary)

Meanwhile, today I return to Boston for another school year. Still packing and working on writing assignments right now, so expect continued light blogging. See ya on the East Side.

stony

Above is the latest (as of this morning) MODIS satellite map (on Google Earth) of Station Fire spottings in the Angeles National Forest north of the Los Angeles basin. Near the center I’ve marked the Stony Ridge Observatory. While less familiar than the famous Mt. Wilson Observatory (and little known outside its own circles), Stony Ridge has a long history and is much loved as well as relied-upon.

This story in the LA Times raised concerns that Stony Ridge might be lost, but the latest word on the observatory’s own site, as well as the map above, suggest that it has been spared. I wonder to what degree this is because firefighters worked to save it, or that the fire simply avoided it. In any case it looks like a hole in the donut of surrounding fire—and that most of the fire spreading currently is away from populated areas.

Here are some aftermath shots of Mt. Wilson.

Here’s my whole Angeles Fire series on Flickr.

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redwoods

Why do mature redwood trees have trunks that rise two hundred feet before branches commence, live for centuries and have bark that’s a foot thick? Because they are adapted to fire.

zaca

Why does the silver-green chaparral that covers California’s hills and mountains burn so easily? Because it’s supposed to.

calpoppies

Why, other than its color, is the California Poppy such an appropriate flower for the Golden State? Because it is adapted to both fire and earthquakes. Says Wikipedia, “It grows well in disturbed areas and often recolonizes after fires”.

Of course, so do we. That’s why it’s not weird to find humans colonizing hillsides and other “disturbed areas” of California. Case in point: I am writing this in a house sited on an former landslide, not far from the perimeters of two wildfires that claimed hundreds of other houses in the past few months.

Every spot on Earth is temporary, but California is a special example. As permanence goes, California is a house of cards.

For example, take a look at some of the animations here, prepared by geologists at UCSB. Watch as a sheet of crust the size of a continent gets shoved under the western edge of North America. Debris that piled up in the trench where that happened is what we now call the Bay Area. Submerged crust that melted, rose and hardened under North America — and was just recently exposed — we now call the Sierras. Take a look at the last 20 million years of Southern California history. It’s a wreck that’s still going on. One section of that wreck is a bend along the boundary between plates of crust. Mountains pile up along that bend, like snow in front of a plow. The biggest of these ranges we call the San Gabriels. Those are on fire right now. Add up all the Southern California wildfires over the last twenty years and you’ll get a territory exceeding that of several smaller states.

My point is perspective. The human one is so brief that it can hardly take in the full scope of What’s Going On, or what our lives contribute to it. In a geological context, what we contribute are carbon and fossils. We do that by dying. Other planets have geologies as well, but none have marble, limestone, coal or oil. Those are all produced by dead plants and animals. It would be hard to make heat on Mars because — as far as we know — there is no dead stuff to burn.

Humans love to make structures and produce heat, which means we have an unusually strong appetite for dead stuff. Even cement and steel require dead stuff in their making.

If you fly a lot, as I do, you start to notice black lines on the landscape. These are coal trains that move like ant trails from mines in the West to power plants all over the country. The largest of these mines are in Wyoming, more than 50% of which has coal to burn. This coal consists of dead stuff that has been buried for dozens of millions of years, and took at least as long to form. In Uncommon Carriers, John McPhee says the largest power plant in Georgia, Plant Sherer, “burns nearly thirteen hundred coal trains a year—two thousand miles of coal cars, twelve million tons of the bedrock of Wyoming.”

Nothing wrong with that, of course, unless you’re not human.

From any scope wider than our own, we are a pestilential species. Since the human diaspora began spreading out of Africa only a few thousand generations ago, we have chewed our way through land and species at a rate without equal in the history of the Earth, which began 4.567 billion years ago, or more than a third of the way back to the start of the Universe. We are distinguished by our intelligence, our powers of speech and expression, our ability to use tools and to build things, our ability to learn and teach, and our diversity (no two of us, even twins, are exactly alike). There are 6.781 billion of us now. Few of us will live more than a hundred years, and fewer still will have more than a few decades to contribute more than carbon to the world.

Among the many recent developments in civilization, two stand out. One is a widespread realization that the effects of human activity on the planet are non-trivial. The other is a growing ability to connect with each other and communicate over any distance at very little cost. What will we do with this knowledge, and the ability to share it? Will we follow the model of civilizations that waste the places where they live? Or will we prove to be creatures who can change their nature and stop doing that?

The former is the way to bet. The latter is the way to go.

Bonus read: John McPhee’s The Control of Nature. A third of it is called “Los Angeles vs. The San Gabriel Mountains.” While it is mostly about “debris flows” — slow motion landslides — that happen during winter rains, the important part for today’s discussion involves a primary condition for those flows: mountain slopes denuded of vegetation by fires. This means you can count on many mudslides this coming winter.

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mtwilsonfire1

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

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

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

On the Live Web

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stormtrack

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus link.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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nick_givotovsky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PING google.com (74.125.67.100): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 74.125.67.100: icmp_seq=2 ttl=56 time=101.462 ms
^C
— google.com ping statistics —
9 packets transmitted, 1 packets received, 88% packet loss

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

We’ve had the problem  since June 17.

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

dsearls2$ ping harvard.edu
PING harvard.edu (128.103.60.28): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=0 ttl=235 time=1395.515 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=1 ttl=235 time=750.396 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=2 ttl=235 time=295.272 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=3 ttl=235 time=823.698 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=4 ttl=235 time=1404.692 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=5 ttl=235 time=1360.761 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=6 ttl=235 time=803.610 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=7 ttl=235 time=446.081 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=8 ttl=235 time=554.643 ms
64 bytes from 128.103.60.28: icmp_seq=9 ttl=235 time=425.423 ms
^C
— harvard.edu ping statistics —
12 packets transmitted, 10 packets received, 16% packet loss

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

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

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

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

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

dsearls2$ ping google.com
PING google.com (74.125.127.100): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=0 ttl=45 time=110.803 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=1 ttl=45 time=164.317 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=2 ttl=45 time=204.076 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=3 ttl=45 time=259.795 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=4 ttl=45 time=397.490 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=5 ttl=45 time=581.123 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=6 ttl=45 time=506.292 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=7 ttl=45 time=128.939 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=8 ttl=45 time=328.000 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=9 ttl=45 time=160.761 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=10 ttl=45 time=176.398 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=11 ttl=45 time=187.511 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=12 ttl=45 time=188.291 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=13 ttl=45 time=347.966 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=14 ttl=45 time=285.017 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=15 ttl=45 time=389.641 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=16 ttl=45 time=399.993 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=17 ttl=45 time=113.803 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=18 ttl=45 time=153.111 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=19 ttl=45 time=147.549 ms
64 bytes from 74.125.127.100: icmp_seq=20 ttl=45 time=198.597 ms
^C
— google.com ping statistics —
21 packets transmitted, 21 packets received, 0% packet loss

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

ping 68.6.66.1
PING 68.6.66.1 (68.6.66.1): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=0 ttl=239 time=676.134 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=1 ttl=239 time=263.575 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=2 ttl=239 time=429.944 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=3 ttl=239 time=470.586 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=4 ttl=239 time=473.553 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=5 ttl=239 time=416.172 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=6 ttl=239 time=489.699 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=7 ttl=239 time=471.640 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=8 ttl=239 time=349.825 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=9 ttl=239 time=588.051 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=10 ttl=239 time=606.703 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=11 ttl=239 time=573.560 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=12 ttl=239 time=454.920 ms
64 bytes from 68.6.66.1: icmp_seq=13 ttl=239 time=259.428 ms
^C
— 68.6.66.1 ping statistics —
14 packets transmitted, 14 packets received, 0% packet loss

And here is a traceroute to the same gateway:

traceroute to 68.6.66.1 (68.6.66.1), 64 hops max, 40 byte packets
1  10.0.2.1 (10.0.2.1)  2.376 ms  0.699 ms  0.711 ms
2  68.28.49.69 (68.28.49.69)  109.610 ms  78.637 ms  73.791 ms
3  68.28.49.91 (68.28.49.91)  84.093 ms  161.432 ms  84.844 ms
4  68.28.51.54 (68.28.51.54)  187.814 ms  166.084 ms  181.780 ms
5  68.28.55.1 (68.28.55.1)  126.050 ms  100.136 ms  239.987 ms
6  68.28.55.16 (68.28.55.16)  80.512 ms  147.347 ms  373.152 ms
7  68.28.53.69 (68.28.53.69)  121.593 ms  265.198 ms  323.666 ms
8  sl-gw10-bur-1-0-0.sprintlink.net (144.223.255.17)  331.535 ms  346.841 ms  279.394 ms
9  sl-bb20-bur-10-0-0.sprintlink.net (144.232.0.66)  397.594 ms  542.053 ms  546.655 ms
10  sl-crs1-ana-0-1-3-1.sprintlink.net (144.232.24.231)  986.040 ms  451.456 ms  630.898 ms
11  sl-st21-la-0-0-0.sprintlink.net (144.232.20.206)  726.689 ms  452.451 ms  235.828 ms
12  144.232.18.198 (144.232.18.198)  194.067 ms  295.496 ms  99.809 ms
13  64.209.108.70 (64.209.108.70)  262.008 ms  93.663 ms  114.594 ms
14  68.1.2.127 (68.1.2.127)  145.956 ms  123.435 ms  345.784 ms
15  ip68-6-66-1.sb.sd.cox.net (68.6.66.1)  346.696 ms  654.332 ms  406.933 ms

Draw (or re-draw) your own conclusions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The idea was to take some down time in Santa Barbara and get work done in my own nice office, with my nice comfortable chair, surrounded by space and time, with soft sea breezes blowing through.

Instead it’s been tech crash city since I got here last Thursday. (Except for getting out to the Live Oak Festival. That rocked. Also, trees, dirt and great music tend not to crash.)

First a system upgrade hosed a beloved old mail program. So far I can’t get the archives to migrate anywhere. I can still get email addressed to my searls.com and Gmail accounts, but not to my Harvard.edu account. I can send from Gmail. But balls are being dropped and lost all over the place.

Next my Internet connection through Cox got flaky. Mostly it’s bad. Details in my last post. A Cox repair guy finally came today. And, as Russ predicted, tightened everything up, tested it out, and all was fine. Dig this: I didn’t know that service had improved to 18Mb/s downstream and close to 4Mb/s upstream. It was right up there when he left, along with two-digit ping times to everything.

That was then. Soon as he left, we were back to bad. We’re at 3-digit ping times and packet losses. One other discovery: my 8-port Netgear Firewall/Router/Hub/Switch (I forget the name, which cannot be remembered — it demonstrates the opposite of branding) has Issues too. It introduces latencies and packet losses of its own when it’s in the loop. It’s out right now, not that it makes any difference. I’m back using my Sprint data card.

When I called Cox to get them to come back and finish the job, they said they’d send a senior tech on Friday afternoon. That’s two days from now. Then, in the middle of a tech support call with Apple, a Cox robot made an automated survey call. I couldn’t talk and hung up on it.

If you want to reach me, text or call. Or use a Twitter DM. Meanwhile, I’m going to take a shower and go for a long walk. Or vice versa.

Hope everybody’s enjoying Reboot. I really miss being there.

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When we went looking for an apartment here a couple years ago, we had two primary considerations in addition to the usual ones: walking distance from a Red Line subway stop, and fiber-based Internet access. The latter is easy to spot if you know what to look for, starting with too many wires on the poles. After that you look for large loops among the wires. That means the wiring contains glass, which breaks if the loops are too small. The apartment we chose has other charms, but for me the best one is a choice between three high speed Internet services: Comcast, Verizon FiOS and RCN. Although Comcast comes via coaxial cable, it’s a HFC (hybrid fiber-coax) system, and competes fairly well against fiber all the way to the home. That’s what Verizon FiOS and RCN provide.

fiber

We chose Verizon FiOS, which gives us 20Mb symmetrical service for about $60/month. The 25 feet between the Optical Network Terminal box and my router is ironically provided by old Comcast cable TV co-ax. (Hey, if Comcast wants my business, they can beat Verizon’s offering.)

My point is that we live where we do because there is competition among Internet service providers. While I think competition could be a lot better than it is, each of those three companies still offer far more than what you’ll find pretty much everywhere in the U.S. where there is little or no competition at all.

The playing field in the skies above sidewalks is not pretty. Poles draped with six kinds of wiring (in our case electrical, phone, cable, cable, fiber, fiber — I just counted) are not attractive. At the point the poles become ugly beyond endurance, I expect that the homeowners will pay to bury the services. By the grace of local regulators, all they’ll bury will be electrical service and bundles of conduit, mostly for fiber. And they won’t bury them deep, because fiber isn’t bothered by proximity to electrical currents. In the old days (which is still today in most fiber-less places), minimum separations are required between electrical, cable and phone wiring — the latter two being copper. In Santa Barbara (our perma-home), service trenching has to be the depth of a grave to maintain those separations. There’s no fiber yet offered in Santa Barbara. At our house there the only carrier to provide “high” speed is the cable company, and it’s a fraction of what we get over fiber here near Boston.

All this comes to mind after reading D.C. Court Upholds Ban on MDU Contracts: FCC prevents new exclusive contracts and nullifies existing ones, by John Eggerton in Broadcasting & Cable.  It begins, “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Monday upheld an FCC decision banning exclusive contracts between cable companies and the owners of apartments and other multiple-dwelling units (MDU).”

The rest of the piece is framed by the long-standing antipathy between cable and telephone companies (cable lost this one), each as providers of cable TV. For example,

Not surprisingly, Verizon praised the decision. It also saw it as a win for larger issues of access to programming:

“This ruling is a big win for millions of consumers living in apartments and condominiums who want nothing more than to enjoy the full benefits of video competition,” said Michael Glover, Verizon senior VP, deputy general counsel, in a statement. “In upholding the ban on new and existing exclusive access deals, the Court’s decision also confirms the FCC’s authority to address other barriers to more meaningful competitive choice and video competition, such as the cable companies’ refusal to provide competitors with access to regional sports programming.”

Which makes sense at a time in history when TV viewing still comprises a larger wad of demand than Internet use. This will change as more and more production, distribution and consumption moves to the Internet, and as demand increases for more Internet access by more different kinds of devices — especially mobile ones.

Already a growing percentage of my own Internet use, especially on the road, uses cellular connectivity rather than wi-fi (thanks to high charges for crappy connectivity at most hotels). Sprint is my mobile Internet provider. They have my business because they do a better job of getting me what I want: an “air card” that works on Linux and Mac laptops, and not just on Windows ones). Verizon wanted to charge me for my air card (Sprint’s was free with the deal, which was also cheaper), and AT&T’s gear messed up my laptops and didn’t work very well anyway.

In both cases — home and road — there is competition.

While I can think of many reforms I’d like to see around Internet connectivity (among citizens, regulators and regulatees), anything that fosters competition in the meantime is a Good Thing.

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– 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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On the same flight that started with The Cities in darkness and ended with Chicago at sunrise, my flight glided over Madison, Wisconsin, which I shot in the dawn’s early light. The shot above leads to the whole series. I need to go back and correct the botched tags on many of them. Meanwhile, locals can fill me in on what I got right and wrong.

One of these years I’d like to actually visit Madison, on the ground. Meanwhile, this will have to do.

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As a kid I screwed up in many ways, but none of those ways excluded a central lesson good parents start teaching as soon as kids are capable of conversation: responsibility. The word always sounds reproachful and corrective to a kid, but it matters. It says you can be depended upon to do what is expected of you — and a bit more. Civilization itself depends on that.

The Responsibility Lesson comes to mind as I read this post by Candy Beauchamp. The stand-out section:

Many of you may know that Tom just got his degree from the University of Phoenix. He went there for 3 years and finished his last class in late April. He ended up with 3.67 GPA in Business Marketing. Not too shabby. We are very proud of him and have been eagerly awaiting actually receiving his degree….

Apparently, there’s a problem. From what we can piece together, Wells Fargo – as part of the bail out – sold his student loan to the Department of Education. This means they basically stopped his loan, but didn’t tell him or anyone else. This means that the school is looking at Tom wanting him to pay them, they are basically holding his degree for ransom.

This is inexcusible.

The story goes on, and the lessons Candy and Tom take from the experience are all good ones. What’s remains screwed up, and in need of deeper understanding, is the institutionalization of responsibility-shifting, with hardly any tracks left in the sand. This is what happened in with what Kevin Phillips calls the “financialization” of the economy. When you’re one shell in a giant shell game, it’s not hard to see what’s going on; but it’s easy to ignore the whole thing, because the system is all about moving problems, long after it stops being about moving opportunities. We’re still in the problem-moving stage of This Thing, this financial mess. That’s what Wells Fargo reportedly did in this case. Others too.

Responsibility isn’t about who’s to blame. It’s about who can act, and what they can do.

My optimistic take is that we’ll wake up and smell more than blame cooking. We’ll smell the need to take responsibility for the debts and assets that we’ve taken on. And not just in the financial sector.

Or so it seems to me on a Saturday in New York. Beautiful outside. See ya later.

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Where most of my earlier shots in this series were of fire detection and spread across time, the one above (and in the larger linked shot, on Flickr) is of “fire radiative power”. If you look at the whole set, you can get an idea of both intensity and spread across time. Again, these are from MODIS, which is an instrument system on satellites passing more than 700km overhead. Still, it finds stuff, and dates it. That’s why this next shot is very encouraging:

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It will sure spread some more, but we can see the end coming. Here’s the whole photo set.

And here’s the latest update on exactly what burned (addresses and all) from Matt Kettmann (Contact), Sam Kornell , Chris Meagher (Contact), Ben Preston (Contact), Ethan Stewart (Contact) of the Independent.

They also issue a caution:

The bad news is that the fire still threatens parts of Goleta to the west, the Painted Cave community to the north, and, to the east, parts of Santa Barbara and Montecito, where the evacuation order was just extended once again.

Those Indy folks did — and are still doing — an outstanding job, deserving of whatever rewards are coming their way. Great work by everybody else reporting on the fire as well. Kudos all around.

And great work, of course, by the firefighters. They saved the city. If you’ve ever seen a fire this big and threatening (for example, Oakland, which I did see, and which took out more than 3500 homes), you know how hard it is to stop. Around 80 homes were lost in this one. It could have been many more. If Cheltenham, or the Riviera, had gone up, and the sundowner winds kept blowing, it’s not hard to imagine losing the whole city, since the rain of flaming debris would have caused a true firestorm. From the same Indy report:

“The firefighters must have sat in every single backyard and held it off. The fire reached literally the backyards of every single one of them, but I didn’t see a single house burned up there.”

The mountains won’t be as pretty for a couple of years. But the city will also be safer. That’s the upside. 2:54pm Pacific

Here is a great map that shows all three fires in the last year, as well as good information about the ongoing Jesusita Fire.

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(Scroll to the bottom for my latest. Not the latest, just mine.)

The shot above looks west from the eastern flank of the Jesusita fire, above Montecito.  The overlays are MODIS (the dots and squares) and GEOMAC (the red line). I think the GEOMAC data is older, but I’m not sure. Both were downloaded at about 4:42am, Pacific time. The newest detections are red and the oldest are yellow. They are from instruments on satellites and may or may not indicate major fire activity. One during the Tea Fire suggested that the fire had spread far down into the Riviera district and toward town. When I checked the spot, it turned out to have been a fire in part of a small isolated oak tree. No fire had spread to or from there.

Still, the data do show changes in the fire’s approximate perimeter over time. Step through this photoset and you can see how the fire has gone over the past few days.

Sean Trek has a way of seeing MODIS with radiative power.

It looks to me now like the next challenge, after saving lives and homes, is keeping the fire from burning for many more days or weeks across the back country. The trick here is to let the fire take nature’s course while also keeping it away from civilization. It is a significant fact that California’s state tree (the Coast Redwood) and state flower (the California Poppy) are both adapted to fire. One might also make the case that the latter is adapted to earthquakes.

I don’t doubt that if any of the three most recent fires — Gap, Tea and Jesusita — had hit fifty years ago, much of Santa Barbara would have been cremated by this morning. Since we are among more than 30,000 current evacuees, that might  have included our house too. Firefighting and team coordination have vastly improved just since the 1990 Painted Cave Fire, when more than 600 homes were lost. Experience from that fire led to many of the improvements that saved homes this past week. (For a history of Santa Barbara’s wildfires, go to Santa Barbara Outdoors, and read the remarkable series that starts here. It covers the eight fires between 1955 and 1990.)

Life everywhere is a losing game with death. We just hope that the substantive things we do and build will outlive us. In much of California, the chance that our homes will outlive us is smaller than most other places. Some homes lost in the Tea Fire had replaced homes on the same property that had burned in 1964 Coyote Fire and again in the 1977 Sycamore Fire. Among disasters that might befall homes in California, only earthquakes are more certain to occur, and in more places. Hence the higher insurance costs.

But still the graces of living here are exceptionally high. Mild, sunny weather. Clean air. Beautiful mountains and beaches. Wonderful people. Excellent university. So we do.

And every day we should thank the heroic work required of the firefighters who keep the worst of nature at bay. Posted 5:38am, Pacfic.

Meanwhile, I’m glad to see the subtitle in Gretchen Miller’s report in the Independent, Fires Burn In Canyon Near Painted Cave: Favorable Weather Conditions Keep Fire Under Control. From around 10pm last night. 6:20am

The LA Times has a story on the fire, dated 10:28pm last night.

Last night on KCLU before going to sleep I heard that the Gane House at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden was destroyed. This confirms it. 6:28am

A news conference is scheduled for 8am. Just heard that on KNX, which has done an excellent job covering the fire.

Okay, the press conference just ended. KCLU, KNX and KTYD (and, presumably, some or all of its four sister stations) all carried it. KCLU bailed before it was over. So did KNX, though they stuck it out a bit longer. Only KTYD stayed until the end. (Bravo for them.)

The news that matters is that the fire is “contained” along the northern border of Santa Barbara. Thus spake SB Fire Chief Andrew DeMizio (who always starts by spelling his name). He was glad to see “that black line” on the new Incident map. Contained does not mean put out. He had another word for that, but I forget what it was.

The language is interesting. A fire is an “indicent”. Police, fire, Red Cross and other personnel are “assets”. Lifting an evacuation order is “repopulation”. My kid just said, “I thought ‘repopulation’ was what you got after the first population has died”.

Inexcusable, if true: No questions about locations still apparently threatened. (Could be that somebody asked and I didn’t hear it.) Specifically, the only two communities up in the Santa Ynez Mountains, overlooking the city: Painted Cave and Flores Flat. I gathered from the Indy story mentioned above that Painted Cave was okay. But the only way I knew that Flores Flat survived was from a little human interest feature that KNX has been running over and over again: comments by a woman who gave advice about what to take and what to leave behind. She said she had resigned herself to losing her home in Flores Flat, but was surprised to find it had survived. Frankly, I’m amazed that Flores Flat is okay. I’ll bet the firefighters gave special attention to that one. Maybe one of the places where the DC-10 laid down some of its 12000+ gallons of fire retardant was between Flores Flat and the fire.

Flores Flat is far up Gibraltar Road, between Gibraltar Peak (where many of Santa Barbara’s FM stations radiate from, including KCLU and KTYD) and the site farther up the mountain face where hang gliders and paragliders launch toward the city when the winds are right.  From the looks of the map and overlays above, the fire movement was eastward away from Gibraltar, and up and over the crest of the ridge near Montecito Peak to the east and LaCumbre Peak to the west.

The Tea Fire surely created a fire break as well. It burned much of Gibraltar road, and up the face of Gibraltar Peak, where it roasted the antennas of KCLU and many of the other stations there. KTYD and its AM sister KTMS are located a few hundred feet above and behind there, so they survived.  To the west of there are some of the main power lines that supply the city. As I recall those lines are draped quite high, and I suppose survived the fire as it approached Gibraltar road this time. Other high power lines coming into the Goleta side of town were hurt in the Gap Fire last summer, knocking out power for much of the city at the time.

The weather is much better now. Cooler, and moist, with marine layer fog moving in off the Pacific Ocean to the south. Vari0us officials cautioned that this could change, and in fact it probably will. Typical late Spring and Summer weather is early morning fog, burning off as the day goes on. Whether hot “sundowner” winds return is still an open question, but various weather sources suggest that won’t happen. On the other hand, if the fire gets into Paradise Valley on the north side of the ridge, the story might be different. The climate there tends to be much hotter and dryer than on the Santa Barbara side of the mountains. 8:50am

We have friends in Worchester who were going to Santa Barbara to see Katy Perry’s last show, in her home town. That last link is from Noozhawk, which I’ve neglected to follow more closely. The reason is that Santa Barbara is being repopulated with a raft of new and improved media sources growing like a ring of redwood sprouts where a mighty tree has fallen. That tree is the Santa Barbara News-Press, a once fine newspaper that was (and remains) in a much better position to survive than papers in other cities that are owned by stressed public companies or private individuals with shallower pockets. The story of the News-Press’s meltdown is not yet the stuff of legend, only because it’s still going on. Kind of like a fallen tree with a few intact roots, staying alive, but barely. For more on that, just look up Wendy McCaw on Google. Or read Craig Smith. It’s his main beat. A sample:

A major fire in town didn’t stop the Santa Barbara News-Press from doing business as usual. In this case, “business as usual,” meant laying people off.

This time, the unlucky employee was Jued Martinez. He was a digital image technician for the paper, the “go-to-guy for Photoshop issues,” as he put it, working in the camera (pre-press) department for many 15 years.

He announced his own layoff via Twitter around 1:40 Thursday afternoon by saying, “Wow! I’m available for Design work now. Just got laid off from the SBNP. Feel a little better now, not worrying about it.”

To witness how retro and self-destructive the News-Press is, go to their Jesusita Fire Coverage page. Click on a story. Say, this one. You get one sentence. Then you’re told to long in. Subscribers only. Hell, even when we were subscribers, we couldn’t get in there. I’m sure it all disappears or scrolls behind a paywall after a few days in any case. Gone like snow on the water.

Except as a source of fodder about itself, the News-Press plays a self-minimized role in the local news ecology. For getting news on the fire, that includes:

  1. Twitter search for Jesustiafire or Jesusita (@latimesfires uses this search)
  2. Google News search for Jesusita (most recent)
  3. The Independent
  4. Edhat
  5. Noozhawk
  6. City2
  7. KNX
  8. KTYD
  9. KCLU
  10. KCSB

With the radio stations, I mean their streams, not their sites.

I’ll add others later (including stream addresses). Gotta go. Here’s a photo pool in the meantime. 9:33am

And here’s one last photo, courtesy of the only commenter so far on this post:

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Thanks, nathan. 10:19am

They’re “repopulating” at last. The worst is over. 10:48am

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The shot above, a screen capture of a Google Earth view, with a .kml overlay from MODIS, shows the first fire detections (that I’ve seen at least), south of Foothill/Cathedral Oaks and west of 154. It also shows the first detections across the spine of the Santa Ynez Mountains. 3:02am. (All times Pacific.)

These detections do not mean fire spreading. During the Tea Fire, there were many detections that didn’t spread, at some distance from the fire itself. Still, this map gives a good visualization  of the growing fire perimeter. 3:03am

KEYT/3′s 3:00am video report. 3:04am

Far as I know, only KTYD is covering the fire live right now, at 3:10am. All the talk is about evacuations. Nothing about homes burning. KTYD’s four sister stations are also carrying the same audio. Click on “Listen Live” on the website. 3:13am

The latest from the Independent:

The fire is only a few hundred yards from Foothill in the San Roque area, but doesn’t appear to be burning any houses at the moment thanks to the firefighters concerted effort to hold Foothill Road.

Firefighters extinguished a small spot fire at Steven’s Park and trying to save homes at Canyon Acres off Ontare. One structure is already burning there; firefighters requested three to four extra engines to protect approximately 12 houses. 3:28am

Collected Independent coverage. 3:28am Copied from a byline: Ray Ford, Matt Kettmann, Chris Meagher, Ben Preston, Nick Welsh. These guys are doing a great job. Near as I can tell, the Indy is the only news organization with reporters working the fire around the clock. Outstanding work.

Hats off to Edhat as well. There are 328 comments so far to Ed’s latest report. 5:32am

From among the Edhat comments, this collection of GOES-10 satellite photos. Interesting to see where the smoke goes. 5:35am

John Wiley has lots of photos. 5:41am

I listened to the first three or four speakers in the 8am press conference, and then made the good chap I had an appointment with wait while we both listened to see if anybody would say what listeners most wanted to hear: what homes were lost, and what homes were most in danger. I hate to be critical of people doing heroic and much appreciated work, especially when it is quite true — as these speakers said — that many more homes were saved than lost, and at great risk and effort. I’ll just say it was frustrating not to get specifics about homes. Maybe they came around to it eventually. I don’t know. Eventually I had to turn off the radio (actually an iPhone tuned to KTYD) and get on with my meeting.

On the positive side, dig what Matt Kettmann (Contact), Sam Kornell , Ben Preston (Contact), Ethan Stewart (Contact) of the Independent wrote in Assessing What’s Burned: Damage Report, Updated Friday:

Although the task can be difficult in a wildfire zone — especially one with as many twists, turns, and long driveways as the foothills of Santa Barbara — The Independent’s reporters are trying their hardest to deliver what everyone who’s evacuated wants to know: the addresses of homes that have not survived the Jesusita Fire.

And deliver they do. First, the disclaimer:

We are fully aware that mistakes in this sort of reporting could be horrible for homeowners who get the wrong information, so we’ve strived for the utmost accuracy. Furthermore, based on responses we’ve already received during this fire and others, we believe that this public service is one of our most valuable roles as a media entity, and hope you find the information useful.

As of 1:30 p.m. on Friday, the following is what The Indy’s team of reporters has been able to put together.

Then the list, with very careful qualification. Excellent stuff. If the Indy doesn’t get an award for its fire coverage, there is no justice in Officialized Journalism.

Here is a recent Google Earth shot with a MODIS overlay of fire spottings by satellite. Note the difference between this one and the shot at the top from early this morning:

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The nearest red spot is above San Jose Creek in the canyon above Patterson Ave, near some orchards or vineyards. This is in or below the area burned by the Gap Fire in July of last year. Perhaps more scary is the set of new red squares advancing northwest toward Painted Cave, which is on the left edge of this shot. Here’s a better view:

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The last big fire in Santa Barbara — and the biggest ever in terms of home loss — was the Painted Cave Fire of 1990. More than 600 homes were lost. But none in Painted Cave itself. The fire started near there, but advanced straight down toward the sea. Many of the houses you see on this picture between the 101 and 154 symbols on this shot were burned in that fire. 5:09pm

There’s a press conference going on. I’m listening on KNX/1070. Also KCLU/1340/102.3. The KCLU stream (which is what I’m now listening to, here in Boston) is here. 5:14pm.

30,500 are evacuated. (That includes us, by the way. We’re kind of extremely evacuated, staying about 3,000 miles away.) “There will be no re-population tonight.” Shelter is available. Room left at the Multi-Activities Center at UCSB. Find it off Mesa. “A supurb evacuation center.” Special needs folks should go to the Thunderdome on the campus. KCLU is summarizing now. KNX continues to carry the audio of the conference. Surprising since KNX is a Los Angeles news station that covers all of SoCal, and needs to run advertising every few minutes. So they’re eating that income. KCLU is back to its regular NPR program. 5:22pm

Inciweb has a Jesusita Fire incident page now. For earlier fires, Inciweb has been the canonical (if unofficial) source of data. KNX just directed listeners looking for non-Santa Barbara news to KFWB, its sister station in Los Angeles. KNX has a strong signal in Santa Barbara. KFWB has none and is much more local to L.A. itself. 8:27pm

They’ve been using “multiple arial assets” including a DC-10 that can deliver large payloads.5:32

Getting close to posting addresses and other “assessments”. “Confident we’re moving towards” posting those. In the next two days. Close to 2500 personnel. More than 200 fire engines. Massive mutual aid program. 5:33pm

Can somebody ask about Painted Cave? 5:34pm

Pictures from Mercury Press. 5:40pm

Ray Ford has another excellent piece in the Independent. To answer a commenter, below, Cocopah was okay. Ray names names on other streets as well. 7:31pm

Here is a view toward MODIS fire findings. I’ve added Gap and Tea Fire perimeters as well. When this thing is over, we’ll have a charred mountain face, but not a bad fire break. For a short while, anyway. 7:38p

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Okay, that’s enough pictures for your browser to suffer. I’m heading for bed. It’s 10:39 here and I need to be up early. 7:39pm

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I’ll post the rest of today’s observations here. Times are Pacific.

The LA Times has an excellent set of 53 photos that start here. 10:32am

Twitter search for #jesusita or #jesusitafire.

Listening to KTYD, where they’re reviewing the news conference I missed. (Hey, business goes on.) Lots of cooperation. All businesses on State Street are open. Free coffee for firefighters. They’re talking about Peets on Upper State Street, which is my main caffeine source when I’m in town. Lots of numbers about helicopters and planes. (They don’t know what kinds of planes do the dropping. They’re P3 Orions.) 1300 acres burned. 13000 people evacuated. Another 13000 warned. 26,000 total. 177 engines. 8 injuries. 3 burned, 1 smoke inhalation. 1700 personnel.

Talking to a firefighter, and his boss. Some concern about swirling winds, and the ability of the fixed wing airplanes to make drops. Six type two, other type ones. Helicopters, that is. (What are those?) 10:41am.

Interesting piece on wildfires in Wikipedia.

Why does Inciweb have nothing on the Jesusita fire? 10:53am

The Independent has an excellent and detailed report, including street addresses of some burned homes. Losses on Las Canoas, Montrose, Tunnel, Holly, Palomino.  Another here from Matt Kettman. Here is the paper’s Jesusita Fire page. Look through the whole list. It’s long and it’s good. 11:15am

The News-Press has some good photos. Will they scroll behind a paywall later? 11:17am

Just posted this map with notes in the Flickr pile. 11:35am

Here’s the latest from the Independent. Great report, as usual. 7:40pm

Just added the above map, with a link to this one, which has notes. 7:45pm

Spoke to two families, among our best friends in town. Both are leaving. Smoke is thick and shrouding the city. Ash falling everywhere. Flames appear to be moving west down toward 154 and threaten the houses south of that path. That’s above  Foothill west of Lauro Reservoir…  North Ontare (where there was action yesterday). Northridge. Barger Canyon Road. LaVista. All those head up canyons or ridges toward the mountains. San Antonio Creek and Canyon. 9:00pm

Listening back and forth between KTYD and KCLU. Good stuff from both. A caller to KTYD confirms that the fire has not jumped Highway 154. 9:04pm

John Palmintieri is calling in to KCLU. John is a local reporting workhorse, long a veteran on KEYT-TV and other stations. When we moved to Santa Barbara in ’01, he was the morning guy on the late local news station, KEYT/1250. KCLU has filled some of that gap, since buying the signal at 1340am. John says that the land burning now is mostly grassland, which burns quickly and dramatically, but isn’t as dangerous because it doesn’t drop embers at a distance. 9:18pm

An unconfirmed report on KTYD of the fire jumping west over 154. That area is now also under mandatory evacuation orders. West of 154, north of Cathedral Oaks. To Old San Marcos Road. This was an area evacuated for the Gap Fire as well. North of this was the large area burned by the Gap Fire, not long ago. 9:39pm

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The above shows the situation, somehat. It’s a MODIS overlay on a Google Earth terrain view looking north from over downtown Santa Barbara. Go to that shot and mouse over for more.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that at least some hot spots have spread into the back country, above the city. But if those fires are still big, and the winds come strong toward town, we’ll be in very high danger.

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With all due respect to the good jobs that most of the legacy media are doing, their coverage could be much, much better if they paid respect to those listening and watching online, which includes their smart phones. What they need are plain hard facts, rather than the vague, boiled-down or sensationalized stuff that was News As Usual for the duration. Here are a few clues that should help:

  1. Make your audio easy to get. If you stream audio, do it in .mp3 and link to the actual IP address or URL of your stream. Don’t force users to open a “player” in a window. Many of us are listening online with other programs or on phones with sofware tuners. I’m listening to KNX right now using WunderRadio on the iPhone. I listen to KCLU on there too. (They’re not yet on the Public Radio Tuner, alas) Also feel free to use lower bandwidths. 24Kbps or 32Kbps deliver good-enough audio and make it to listeners who aren’t on wi-fi or 3G cell signals. The online equivalent of a 50,000-watt “flamethrower” (yes, they called them that) is a low-bandwidth .mp3 stream.
  2. Remember how many people are listening on hand-helds. Over 1.6 million copies of the Public Radio Tuner alone have been downloaded so far. Cell phones are the new radios. (They’ll be the new TVs soon. Count on it.) And they are much easier for listeners to “tune” than websites that hide means for listening. Which brings me to…
  3. Uncomplicate your damn websites. Without exception, legacy media have websites that are far too complicated and jam-packed with visual noise, including promotions of junk that is highly uninteresting to visitors looking for hard facts about their homes and neighborhoods. Look at Craigslist. Its “design” fails to qualify for the noun. Yet it succeeds because it’s it’s in simple HTML that loads instantly. It also confines itself to facts, and is easy to figure out. In other words, it is 100% helpful. Not 90% promotional.
  4. If you read emails on the air, or take phone calls, put your email addresses and phone numbers in places where they can be found on your websites, and say them on the air. KTYD last night kept reading emails from people, but I couldn’t find an email address.
  5. Remember you’re not alone. Your tweet stream is not the only one, or even the main one. Neither is your audio or video stream. The people who matter most — the ones listening, reading and viewing with the most interest — aren’t just paying attention to you. They’re jumping around looking for best sources. They’ll be watching Twitter search expecially closely. They don’t need you to boil down the story, or just to show one thing and say how awful it is. Let them do the boiling, and do your best to get them the ingredients they need.
  6. If you’re running Incident Command or otherwise in charge of Official Communications, set up your own live stream for your press conferences. That’s because police and fire chiefs, plus communications directors, tend to drone on in Officialese and that causes radio stations to drop the feed, summarize and move on. In the most recent of these (the one Saturday morning, May 9), KCLU and KNX both bailed, summarized and went to their usual programming. Only KTYD stayed for the whole thing (and kudos to them). In fact, I’d suggest setting up your own blog and Twitter accounts.
  7. For TV stations with helicopters on the scene, several key points:
  • Carry a map or a GPS and use it. KSBY’s reporter and pilot (and/or cameraman) seemed to have no idea where they were. (Wouldn’t they have a GPS that could tell them?) The streets are not hard to identify. Tell us what the hell streets they are. “This is Lauro Canyon Reservoir. The fire we’re seeing is north of it on Holly.” Not just “Look at this house that’s burning out of control in the foothills.”
  • Don’t just report on the flames. Tell us more about what else is happening. Where are they dropping water and retardant? Where are the power lines down? What escape routes are being used?
  • If you’re running a live feed, remember that everything you’re saying is going out there. I don’t know if we were hearing the pilot or the cameraman, or both. But most of what they talked about was getting interesting shots, not reporting good information for viewers for whom these guys were the only source of information about what’s actually happening on the ground where they live, or where their friends and neighbors live. Several times the guy talked about one large house that appeared to be getting an unusually high level of protection, saying “That must be the mayor’s house.” Well, we know where the mayor lives, and it’s not a fancy house in the hills. The firefighters were defending that house for a good reason: because it was defensible. When they are forced to make choices, they’ll always go for the high percentage shot.

I really hope, if KSBY folks read this, that they don’t react by shutting off the live feed from their helicopter. Even though the talk was about going to the Elephant Bar and other irrelevancies, it was far more real and interesting than anything the reporter said. I’m guessing that the pilot was not an employee of the station. Even if that’s the case, it doesn’t matter. What matters is getting hard about real stuff out there. Not just a few sound and sight bites for news breaks.

On a big plus side, KSBY is set up already (at 7:13am) to carry the official news conference at 9am here. I remember listening to one of the key news conferences after the Tea Fire on KSBY while driving up to San Francisco from Santa Barbara, last November. KSBY is on Channel 6. The audio for Channel 6 is on 87.7 FM. After June 12, no TV stations will remain on lowband VHF, which include Channels 2 to 6. They will all be broadcasting digitally on other (mostly UHF) channels. Even if they’re still branded with their old channel numbers. All the more reason to recognize that we’re all just tributaries of vast digital rivers pouring the Live Web into the Static Web sea.

No tweets on #jesusitafire OR #santabarbara OR roque OR jesusita in the past three hours. That’s because it’s 5:45am in Santa Barbara right now. Not because nothing is happening. Check this scary image, from 3:25am.

I’m listening to KCLU. They did  good job last night. So did KTYD/99.9, the audio of which was substitued for the usual programing on sister stations KTMS/990 and KIST/1490.

Now it’s 6am, and KCLU only reports that three Ventura County firefighters were injured, some seriously. KTYD is taking a break from music programming to talk about what’s happening. Mostly it’s school closing.

KNX, at 6:05 has a reporter “live from the fire line.” Another at the fire command center. A story about a guy on Palomino Road (where some of our closest friends live) who did something with bush reduction that saved his house and those of neighbors. Doing correct pronunciations, too. “San Row-kee”. “La Coom-bra”. Well done.

Among the local TV stations yesterday, KSBY was the most helpful, because they had a helicopter parked a few hundred feet above the Foothill/San Roque intersection, looking for good video in the burning residential areas, that appeared to run west to east from upper San Roque/Santa Terasita to Tunnel Road. The shots I put up here were mostly from KSBY’s copter.

(Not quite oddly, KSBY is a San Luis Obispo station. SLO is a long drive over and around several mountain ranges. Over the air, KSBY’s signal is already weak where it’s walled off by the Santa Ynez mountains. But it doesn’t matter because almost nobody watches over the air TV in Santa Barbara anyway. There’s only one local English-speaking station (KEYT). If you want more TV, you get cable or satellite. KSBY is a cable station in SB.)

6:15am Pacific. KNX has a guy from Spyglass Ridge, who says all the houses on Holly Road burned, while Spyglass Ridge was spared. The fire jumped over his whole neighborhood. When a fire “jumps” it is usually by dropping burning “debris” at a distance from the fire itself. A the vertical winds in a fire can be high enough to lift burning shingles, bark, hunks of fences and whole flaming bushes, high into the sky, and drop them, still burning, up to half a mile or more away. The Oakland fire in 1991 leaped from Hiller Highlands across Temescal Lake, and two highways — 13 and 24 — to set the Piedmont district on fire. Well over 3000 homes burned in that one. It was easily the most amazing thing I have ever seen. At the height of the fire, a home was blowing up, literally exploding, every four seconds. We had friends who lost houses in that one, and not even the chimneys were standing. The heat at the center of the fire was several times that required for cremation. Cars were reduced to puddles of metal and glass. Once a fire like that gets going, “fighting” it is an optimistic verb.

This is the risk in Santa Barbara. The Cheltenham area, shown on the near side of the smoke in this shot here, is very much like Hiller Highlands and the Upper Broadway sections of Oakland, which burned in that ’91 fire. It’s a neighborhood of closely spaced homes on narrow winding roads, packed with beautiful yet highly flammable forests and landscaping. In other words, the kind of place that can go almost at once, and fast. Santa Barbara’s Riviera district is also like that. So is Barker Hill. And so were some of the regions burned by the Tea Fire.

As of right now, 6:25am, the winds are still calm. But the fire is 0% contained, and burning away on the face of the Santa Ynez mountain range that rises like a wall behind the city to nearly 4000 feet (at La Cumbre Peak). The woods here are dense with what they call “fuel”, and can be an abundant source of burning debris if the winds shift back south toward the civilization and the sea. High winds are expected later today.

So how can we keep up with news?

First, there’s Twitter. At 6:29am, the latest tweet on this search is from 3 hours ago and says

zbasset: #jesusitafire Has anyone been outside to do a visual this morning? How does it look? about 3 hours ago from web

This is actually helpful. So are any other tweets with actual reports, or links to useful information. Most of them are. Kudos to the tweeters.

It’s remarkable to see how far we’ve come since @nateritter started @sandiegofire in 2007. That showed what Twitter can do. In Santa Barbara it did much more in the Gap Fire and the Tea Fire. But now it’s mainstream. Every radio and TV station that wants to play in the clue flow has a Twitter account. The problem is, most of them are clueless in other ways, mostly because they still don’t realize that they are no longer the only lighthouses on the coast. There is an emerging ecosystem of news now, and it’s one in which everybody pariticipates. The result looks and sounds more like a trading floor than a newspaper or a radio or TV dial.

Speaking of which here’s a good list of local radio stations in Santa Barbara.

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jesusita_google_modis

We’re in Boston, watching neighborhoods near our own in Santa Barbara, burning as the Jesusita Fire spreads south out of the mountains and into town. KSBY is running a live feed from a helicopter here. The audio is on constantly, so you can hear the pilot talking with the studio when reporters aren’t.

Here are some screen captures and Google Earth views, enhanced by MODIS satellite overlays. MODIS detects heat on the ground from a satellite that passes overhead a few times per day. One of those is above. The MODIS information is from early this afternoon. No new ones have been posted since then, and it’s now 7:50pm. The fire has spread into the middle left part of the shot above. If you go here and mouse over the picture, you’ll see the area that has been burning. The fires are in patches.

Here’s a google map with lots of helpful info.

KCLU radio is running constant coverage. Listen here. Good that they fired up a good new signal on 1340am. Lots of listeners calling in right now. [Later... KTYD is now running nonstop coverage.]

Much of the town is under evacuation orders, including areas that run all the way down to State Street, which is the main drag through the middle of town. Our home is in one of the mandatory evacuation zones. We’re highly evacuated, yet wishing we were there.

The winds are clearly from the west, moving straight east, toward Mission Canyon. In the path is the Cheltenham Road area, which is hill covered with lots of foliage and lots of houses. This is an area very much like the Oakland Hills, where I watched more than 3000 homes burn in 1991.

The last house that burned on TV is west of San Roque Road and Lauro Canyon Reservoir (which appears in some of the footage). I think it’s on Santa Terasita Road, off North Ontare. I’m taking some screen shots and trying to match them with the terrain view on Google Earth. I’ll put those shots up too.

One structure I see burning appears to be on the north side of E. Alamar Avenue, behind the Cheltenham neighborhood. Not sure, though.

I’d say this is surreal, but it’s all too real, and familiar. And scary as shit.

Okay, flames on San Roque Road, above the reservoir. Spyglass Ridge Road. Maybe Palomino Road. It would be nice if the reporter or the pilot would identify the roads they’re looking at. Instead they’re talking about hitting the Elephant Bar after they land.

I also notice that the winds have stopped. There appears to be a lull. The smoke is moving in the vertical direction. This is very good. Hope it lasts.

8:13pm Pacific. Here’s a Twitter stream on the fire. Props to KCSB for that one.

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Tristan Louis asks, Is ownershp passe? Or, from his first paragraph, “…our ownership society seems to be started a slide towards a new mode of being: a rental society.” He uses the examples of Netflix, Apple, Kindle and build vs. buy vs. rent choices at the enterprise level, and suggests, “The change in our relationship to media forces us to reassess the value of the physical good.” Except for books, most media are either disposable or self-disposing.

Good points. Got me thinking…

The concept of ownership is embedded in human nature, for the simple reason that we are grabby animals. Our hands are built for grasping. Most languages have a possessive case. “Mine!” (in whatever language) is one of the first words a toddler learns. Possession is 9/10ths of the three-year-old — especially if you try to take something away from the kid.

Yet all possession is temporary, because life is temporary, and our conditions are temporary. Even the things we love change. The physical appeal of our mates changes. Our little sweet babies grow into big hairy adults.

Could it be that the evanescent nature of the Net is in greater alignment with the temporal nature of life than the physical world we also inhabit? Think about it. Do you really “own” your domain name? Or do you rent it? Do you really own your data, or any of the identities you use? You may be able to hide your data, or encrypt it so only you and trusted others can make sense of it. But how valuable is your data in a world that operates as one big copy machine? The words I write here are not mine alone. They are available to everybody with a Net connection. If they repeat what I’ve written, does that make my words theirs? Or is there something in the nature of words that is also beyond the scope of possession — even given that possession as a quality can have great value? (If, however, a temporary one.)

The older I get the less I wish to hold on to anything, other than what is truly worthwhile to hold. (If “holding” is even what I’m doing.) What matters most, it seems to me, is neither possession nor control, but responsibility. There are things only I can, and must, do. I have an unknown budget of time to do it in. Time is something we can only spend, even when we talk about “saving” it. We are born with an unknown sum of it, and we spend it at a uniform rate until it’s gone. We just don’t know what that rate is. We do know we have 100% of what remains.

Today, here on the Net, we have a new world of our own making that is very different than the one our inner three-year-olds know too well. The concept of possession inside a system that works by copying is an odd one to apply. The concept of distance-free connecting is another. At a functional level the Net puts us all at approximately zero distance from everybody else. More than a World of Ends, the Net is a World of Beginnings. Every word we say, every key we stroke, every gesture we commit, is the beginning of something — even as we do those things at the ends of a network comprised of countless other ends.

My grandfather, George W. Searls,  was a carpenter in Fort Lee, New Jersey in the early days of silent movies, when Fort Lee was the first Hollywood. (Lon Chaney was a good friend of his, and lived for awhile in one of the family’s upstairs apartments.) Among other things, Grandpa built movie sets. Here is a picture of one. It appears to be a ballroom with a stage at one end. This is how they did movies back then: on stages. They shot there because theater was what they knew. They did theater on film.

I think we’re still at that stage (no pun intended) with the Internet. We’re doing old media stuff in this new place that’s not really a medium at all. It’s a strange new disembodied environment that doesn’t make full sense to our embodied selves, because bodies aren’t there. I think the Net will only make sense, eventually, to our disembodied selves. These are the selves that require bodies but are not reducible to them. Possession gives us something to do with our bodies. But not with our souls.

The work of life is doing, not having. Even if having is what you’re doing, it’s the doing that matters. Life is process, not product. That process is one of contribution, I think. We want to leave the world with more than it had when we entered it. And with goods that are beyond measure or price. Goods which, like time, we can only give.

With the Net we have invented an excellent place to do that.

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New England is full of ruins. Woods everywhere are veined with stone walls, relics of an agrarian age that ended when the industrial one began. Shipping canals, which were thick with horse-drawn cargo when the Thoreau brothers rowed past them up the Concord & Merrimack Rivers, were abandoned once railroads did the same job better. Mills along canals and rivers have long since been torn down or turned into museums, stores or condos. Bypassed by cars and trucks on highways, old railroad beds have lost their easements or turned into bike trails.

So now what happens to radio and TV — two more old industries with landmarks on landscapes? I visited the subject to some degree over in Linux Journal yesterday, with What if they gave a DTV transition and nobody came? Here I want to go farther, and look at an industry we know is going to die — and to start doing it well before the end arrives.

AM radio, which operates on such low frequencies that signals are radiated by entire broadcast towers, are built as single or multi-tower “arrays” sitting on buried conductors: “ground systems” that can take up more space in soil than their towers occupy in the air above. Most of these facilities were built between the 20s and 80s. Since then scarce land and environmental restrictions have slowed their spread. I would add that available frequencies are also scarce, but that hasn’t stopped the FCC from easing rules, over and over, turning the band at night (when signals bounce off the sky to reach hundreds of miles from their transmitters) into wall-to-wall hash.

FM radio has only been around in a serious way since the 1950s. Operating on a VHF band, where the antennas themselves don’t need to be large (as they do on AM), FM does best when radiated from altitude, meaning the tops of mountains, buildings and high towers. Some of the latter grow to the legal limit of 2000 feet.

With its VHF and UHF signals, television also requires transmission from altitude. When you see a very high tower standing on landscape, or a bristle of short towers atop mountains and skyscrapers, you’re looking at sources of TV, FM or both. A huge percentage of the world’s tallest masts (a category that includes buildings and towers) stand in the U.S., and many are the full 2000-foot height. Most were built for TV stations. (Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of these. Also of tower collapses — a remarkably long list.)

The first set of these to go the way of ship canals is low-band VHF TV. That is, channels 2-6. After June 12, no antenna broadcasting on those channels in the U.S. will continue to operate. Most high-band VHF TV channels — ones operating on channels 7-13 — will also be abandoned, though a few will continue to transmit digital signals. All stations that formerly occupied channels 2-6 will move to a UHF channel (14 to 50).

Old analog TV transmitters are mostly worthless and can’t be re-purposed. (Here’s an excellent piece on that subject, from The Current.)

What I’m wondering about are the towers. The Current’s story suggests that they’re too expensive to take down (not worth enough in scrap), and that most will be re-purposed in any case.

I don’t think so.

It might be easy enough to re-purpose a few former Channel 2 or Channel 4 towers. But what happens when AM and FM transmission is obsoleted by webcasting? This hasn’t happened yet. There are many architectural and UI challenges, plus the added legal burden of copyright restrictions, which are much tougher on music broadcast on the Web than on the air (at least in the U.S.) But the end will come. The brightest writing on the wall right now is the Public Radio Tuner, a project of CPB and several public radio organizations. Last I heard (disclosure: I’m involved in the project), downloads of the free tuner for iPhone were past 1.6 million. This and other tuners, on the iPhone and other portable devices, will account for more and more listening, especially as more cell phone data plans take the ceilings off data consumption — as AT&T has already done for the iPhone.

Some have suggested that TV and FM towers can be re-purposed for cellular use, and to some degree that’s true. But cellular coverage requires many sites at low elevations, rather than a few at high elevations. As one Cisco guy told me, “they might be able to lease out the bottom 200 feet” of a tower.

Still, ends always come, and The End is in sight for over-the-air radio as well as TV. Then what?

Bonus linkage: Scott Fybush‘s amazing series of visits to broadcast towers, over many years; and a few of my own photos of transmitting sites, many shot from altitude. Also the blog and tweets of George Clark, both of which led to this digression.

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