Sports

You are currently browsing the archive for the Sports category.

Some thoughts on the Celtics-Nets trade

I love watching basketball. Loved playing it too, back in the Millennium. I grew up a Knicks fan. In my North Carolina years (’65-’85) I was a fan first of Guilford College (my alma mater), then of the ACC’s Big Four (Carolina, Duke, State and Wake). I have many family connections to Wake, lived in Chapel Hill, worked at Duke, and loved the way Norm Sloan and Jim Valvano coached State. When I moved to California in ’85 I became a Golden State Warriors fan, and for several years had shares of season tickets. They were good years too. (e.g. Run TMC.) After moving to Santa Barbara I got into the Clippers a bit, but mostly followed the game itself. Then, when I got the Berkman gig in ’06, I became a Celtics fan. More about that after the next paragraph.

I’m no better a judge of teams and their management than the next fan, and possibly worse. Like, when Mike Krzyzewski replaced the much-loved Bill Foster at Duke, I said “there’s nothing about that guy that a blow-dry and a sense of humor wouldn’t cure.” (For that to make any sense, you had to be there.) Anyway, it became something of a meme, which was mean and unfair, as well as wrong. Coach K’s job at that time was re-building a team that wasn’t playing much better than .500 ball. He never smiled and seemed to spend whole games doing nothing but snapping at officials. Who knew he was building the most solid and productive program in all of college basketball? Or that he would become the winningest college coach of all time? Not me.

The Celtics under Doc Rivers were easy to like, especially after they put together the Big Three: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. They won a championship in ’08 and came close twice after that. Garnett and Pierce were, respectively, the heart and soul of the team. It was a bummer to lose Ray Allen to the Heat in ’11, but the team stayed strong, and got another solid outside shooter with Jason Terry. If they hadn’t lost Rajon Rondo to an injury this season, they might have made a run at the championship. But it was clear, after getting wiped out by the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs this year, that the Celtics had to re-build. The only question was how. The answer came a few days ago, when GM Danny Ainge traded Doc Rivers to the Clippers for a first-round draft pick, and then sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to the Nets for three more first round picks and a collection of second-string players. Now the Celtics have nothing but promise, and the Clippers and Nets are richer by far. How does this make sense?

In sports media the decision by Celtics GM Danny Ainge gets a lot of bad reviews, because he seems to have given up a lot of something (including their heart and soul) for a literal nothing — at least until they draft well, in future years. But Danny had no choice. He had to rebuild with what he had, which was trade bait. If he continued to ride his old horses into the ground, he would have had nothing to deal with. So he got the most he could while they were still valuable. As for Doc Rivers, who can blame him for not wanting to coach a losing team through the rest of his contract? I don’t envy whoever gets the Celtics coaching job; but I do like Danny’s chances of building a good new team, especially if Rajon Rando is a capable leader. Remember this: basketball players keep getting better and better. There will be no bad players among Danny’s draft picks.

The Nets look good for now. With Pierce, Garnett, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams they have the best starting five in the game. Yes, Pierce and Garnett are both old and bound to run out of gas, but they’re still all-stars, and make the Nets a solid franchise. Jason Kidd as a coach is an unknown, but I suspect he’ll mix well with the new talent, who are guys he knows well and respects. You can bet Jason Kidd counseled Brooklyn GM Billy King on trading for the three Celtics players. Billy clearly wants to make the boldest possible moves for at least the next year. Which won’t be easy. Not only are the Heat still the best team in the league (and champs the last two seasons), but — with the Bulls, Pacers and Knicks — the East is still the strongest division in the game. And Brooklyn is now a marquee franchise, up there with the Knicks in New York and the Lakers and Clippers in Los Angeles. Great players from lesser cities will want to play there. This will help after Garnett and Pierce are gone in a year or two.

So, hanging as much as I do in New York and Boston, I expect watching basketball in both will be plenty of fun this next year.

As for the Clippers, they got a great coach. I’ll miss Doc, but I wish him luck.

Bonus link.

 

Interested in the NBA all-star game? Go to the latter (at that link) and you’ll see a panel for AllStarBallot.NBA.com. Go there and you’ll find Step 1:

Sign in or create an account as an NBA.com All-Access member.

SIGN IN TO VOTE

CREATE AN ACCOUNT

Click the second link and you’ll find a pop-over form with lots of personal stuff to type in to boxes, followed by this:

   

By clicking the Sign Me Up to Vote button, (1) you acknowledge that we may communicate with you at the email address you have supplied regarding your membership benefits and that we reserve the right to change membership terms, benefits and access at our sole discretion and (2) you accept and agree to our Terms of Useand our updated Privacy Policy..

Yo, NBA. Let me talk a little trash here.

First, creating an account is fine, even if it’s very 1995.

Second, don’t pre-check something to make opt-out look like opt-in. That move doesn’t sell anything to my defense.

Third, you’re not scoring shit with that small print. Yeah, I know it’s the usual stuff. I don’t care. It gives me nothing but junk mail and exposure to stuff I don’t want, including stuff I don’t even know I don’t want until it happens and I may not even be able to tell it happened because you let it happen. Enough of that crap.

You want to crowd-source all-star voting by fans? Let them come up with their own system. This one is as old-fashioned and broken as the no-dunk rule.

Apple TV (whatever it ends up being called) will kill cable. It will also give TV new life in a new form.

manhole coverIt won’t kill the cable companies, which will still carry data to your house, and which will still get a cut of the content action, somehow. But the division between cable content and other forms you pay for will be exposed for the arbitrary thing it is, in an interactive world defined by the protocols of the Internet, rather than by the protocols of television. It will also contain whatever deals Apple does for content distribution.

These deals will be motivated by a shared sense that Something Must Be Done, and by knowing that Apple will make TV look and work better than anybody else ever could. The carriers have seen this movie before, and they’d rather have a part in it than outside of it. For a view of the latter, witness the fallen giants called Sony and Nokia. (A friend who worked with the latter called them “a tree laying on the ground,” adding “They put out leaves every year. But that doesn’t mean they’re standing up.”)

I don’t know anything about Apple’s plans. But I know a lot about Apple, as do most of us. Here are the operative facts as they now stand (or at least as I see them):

  1. Apple likes to blow up categories that are stuck. They did it with PCs, laptops, printers, mp3 players, smartphones, music distribution and retailing. To name a few.
  2. TV display today is stuck in 1993. That’s when the ATSC (which defined HDTV standards) settled on the 16:9 format, with 1080 pixels (then called “lines”) of vertical resolution, and with picture clarity and sound quality contained within the data carrying capacity of a TV channel 6MHz wide. This is why all “Full HD” screens remain stuck at 1080 pixels high, no matter how physically large those screens might be. It’s also why more and more stand-alone computer screens are now 1920 x 1080. They’re made for TV. Would Steve Jobs settle for that? No way.
  3. Want a window into the future where Apple makes a TV screen that’s prettier than all others sold? Look no farther than what Apple says about the new iPad‘s resolution:
  4. Cable, satellite and over-the-air channels are still stuck at 6MHz of bandwidth (in the original spectrum-based meaning of that word). They’re also stuck with a need to maximize the number of channels within a finite overall bandwidth. This has resulted in lowered image quality on most channels, even though the images are still, technically, “HD”. That’s another limitation that surely vexed Steve.
  5. The TV set makers (Sony, Visio, Samsung, Panasonic, all of them) have made operating a simple thing woefully complicated, with controls (especially remotes) that defy comprehension. The set-top-box makers have all been nearly as bad for the duration. Same goes for the makers of VCR, DVD, PVR and other media players. Home audio-video system makers too. It’s a freaking mess, and has been since the ’80s.
  6. Steve at AllThingsD on 2 June 2010: “The only way that’s ever going to change is if you can really go back to square one and tear up the set-top-box and redesign it from scratch with a consistent UI, withall these different functions, and get it to the consumer in a way they are willing to pay for. We decided, what product do you want most? A better tv or a better phone? A better TV or a tablet? … The TV will lose until there is a viable go-to-market strategy. That’s the fundamental problem.” He also called Apple TV (as it then stood) a “hobby”, for that reason. But Apple is bigger now, and has far more market reach and clout. In some categories it’s nearly a monopoly already, with at least as much leverage as Microsoft ever had. And you know that Apple hasn’t been idle here.
  7. Steve Jobs was the largest stockholder in Disney. He’s gone, but the leverage isn’t. Disney owns ABC and ESPN.
  8. The main thing that keeps cable in charge of TV content is not the carriers, but ESPN, which represents up to 40% of your cable bill, whether you like sports or not. ESPN isn’t going to bypass cable — they’ve got that distribution system locked in, and vice versa. The whole pro sports system, right down to those overpaid athletes in baseball and the NBA, depend on TV revenues, which in turn rest on advertising to eyeballs over a system made to hold those eyeballs still in real time. “There are a lot of entrenched interests,” says Peter Kafka in this On the Media segment. The only thing that will de-entrench them is serious leverage from somebody who can make go-to-market, UI, quality, and money-flow work. Can Apple do that without Steve? Maybe not. But it’s still the way to bet.

Cable folks have a term for video distribution on the net Net. They call it “over the top“. Of them, that is, and their old piped content system.

That’s actually what many — perhaps most — viewers would prefer: an à la carte choice of “content” (as we have now all come to say). Clearly the end state is one in which you’ll pay for some stuff while other stuff is free. Some of it will be live, and some of it recorded. That much won’t be different. The cable companies will also still make money for keeping you plugged in. That is, you’ll pay for data in any case. You’ll just pay more for some content. Much of that content will be what we now pay for on cable: HBO, ESPN and the rest. We’ll just do away with the whole bottom/top thing because there will be no need for a bottom other than a pipe to carry the content. We might still call some  sources “channels”; and surfing through those might still have a TV-like UI. But only if Apple decides to stick with the convention. Which they won’t, if they come up with a better way to organize things, and make selections easy to make and pay for.

This is why the non-persuasiveness of Take My Money, HBO doesn’t matter. Not in the long run. The ghost of Steve is out there, waiting. You’ll be watching TV his way. Count on it.

We’ll still call it TV, because we’ll still have big screens by that name in our living rooms. But what we watch and listen to won’t be contained by standards set in 1993, or by carriers and other “stakeholders” who never could think outside the box.

Of course, I could be wrong. But no more wrong than the system we have now.

Bonus link.

Another.

I enjoyed watching the Kentucky-Kansas NCAA Championship game last night, but not nearly as much as I have earlier finals, such as the Butler-Duke game two years ago. That game was in doubt even during the final second, when Gordon Hayward came inches away from winning it for Butler with a 45-foot shot released microseconds before the buzzer.

Here’s the difference. Duke-Butler was a college basketball game. The stars were college players, most of which might have had NBA fantasies, but only four of which were drafted: Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Lance Thomas and Kyle Singler. Three still play in the NBA. Singler plays in Europe. Of the NBA players, only Hayward is a starter. [Later... see corrections in the comments below.]

The Kansas-Kentucky final was a pro game. By that I mean that the game showcased a lot of future NBA talent. “What I’m hoping is there’s six first-rounders on this team.” Kentucky coach John Calipari told the LA Times. “We were the first program to have five, let’s have six.” On the Kansas side, there’s Thomas Robinson for sure. Others likely to be drafted, when available, are Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson. Another way of looking at it: Kansas-Kentucky was a college-pro game. Kansas was the college team, and Kentucky was the pro team.

But still, all the perennial high-seed college teams — including Kansas — have become showcases for NBA-bound talent. UNC, which many (including President Obama) expected to win it all this year, just saw three of their starters declare for the NBA draft. Last year’s top draft pick was Kyrie Irving, who played less than one year for Duke (he was injured some of the time). Austin Rivers, a freshman star at Duke this year, has also just declared for the NBA draft.

Part of me wants to believe that every great team takes years to assemble, even given the yearly attrition of talented underclassmen and graduating seniors. Yet the Kentucky team that won the championship this year was a very tight, well-coached and utterly unselfish team. They played some of the best team defense I’ve ever seen. I’d bet that John Calipari could put together an all-freshman team and get more than 30 wins in a season. Of course talent is required, but so is coaching, and a program that’s geared for one-and-done players prepping for their NBA careers by putting in a year at Kentucky. Even though most of those players won’t last, even if they do get drafted.

The 2012 Early Entry List at NBAdraft.net tells a story by itself. A handful of the the 107 players listed there will make it in the NBA. And that makes the unspoken sub-story of the tournament even more poignant. The Onion, as usual, surfaces those stories, with Totally Predictable Ending To Wild NCAA Tournament Prepares Student-Athletes For The Rest Of Their Miserable, Ho-Hum Lives and Nation Abuzz With Prospect Of 18-Year-Old Boys Having Their Dreams Crushed.

Which means that the NIT is now the only true college tournament, because — being comprised of teams that couldn’t make the NCAA playoff cut — they feature few future NBA players. Stanford won this year, and none of its players are on NBAdraft.net‘s list.

I’m not wringing my hands over this. Only pointing out a fact that just became clearer.

The Knicks just beat the Pacers, 102 to 88, in Indiana. Jeremy Lin had 19 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. He only had two turnovers — his one problem stat.  But that problem will end, because Jeremy Lin is a learner. That’s the second reason why he won’t be relegated to the bench from whence he came only six weeks ago. The first reason is that he’s clearly way better than the average NBA point guard, and better than many other starters as well. A lot of other teams would very much like to have Jeremy Lin starting for them.

Many in the media had written off Jeremy Lin after the Knicks hit the skid that ended with Mike D’Antoni’s resignation as head coach. But Jeremy has participated in the Knicks’ three straight wins since then, as a starter. I listened to the fourth quarter of this game, and he was the Main Man down the stretch, grabbing rebounds, getting steals, distributing the ball, drawing fouls, and hitting four straight free throws without a miss.

Not many people have visited the possibility that Jeremy Lin went undrafted because he wasn’t this good then. He got this good by playing against better competition, and learning every step of the way.

Look at his stats across four years at Harvard. When he arrived, recalled a Harvard coach, he was physically the weakest player on the team. Lin fixed that, and he’s still fixing it. All his stats went up, for the most part steadily. Yet most weren’t as high as he’s achieving now as a starting pro in the NBA.

Some players are already great in high school. A lot of those stay great through their few years in college, and a relative few make it in the NBA. And many of those are done growing as players, once they get there. They become like chess pieces. You know what they’re good for, and use them for that.

But others are on trajectories that start later and grow in a more linear way. Hall-of-Famer Hakeem Olajuwon didn’t play basketball until he was fifteen, the same age at which Michael Jordan didn’t make the cut for his high school varsity team. Both men improved steadily through college and in the NBA. The main difference with Jeremy Lin is that he improved later.

My wife’s business partner, who was a mentor twenty years her senior, was one of the smartest people I ever met. And one of the wisest as well. When I asked her why she wanted to go into business with my wife, she said, “because I could teach her what she didn’t know, and she already knew what I couldn’t teach.”

I think the same thing applies to the best athletes. They are talented, but teachable. They can learn what they don’t know, and improve what don’t do well enough yet.

Jeremy Lin is that kind of player. Unless he gets injured, he’ll be fine. And so will team he plays with, if they’re ready to catch the ball.

When this is done, Linsanity will mean Lin sanity.

Check the Arbitron radio listening ratings for Washington DC. You have to go waaaay down the list before you find a single AM station that isn’t also simulcast on FM. But then, if you go to the bottom of the list, you’ll also find a clump of Internet streams of local radio stations.

You’ll see the same pattern at other cities on this list from Radio-Info.com. FM on top, AM below, and streams at the bottom.

Together these paint an interesting picture. At the top, Innovators, at the bottom, Dilemma. (Some context, if the distinction isn’t obvious.)

Note that Pandora, Spotify, SiriusXM and other radio-like streaming services are not listed. Nor are podcasts or anything else one might listen to, including stuff on one’s smartphone, ‘pod or ‘pad. If they were, they’d be way up that list. According to Pandora CEO Joseph Kennedy (in this Radio INK piece),

…we have transitioned from being a small to medium sized radio station in every market in the U.S. to one of the largest radio stations in every market in the country. Based on the growth we continue to see, we anticipate that by the end of this year, we will be larger than the largest FM or AM radio station in most markets in U.S. As a consequence, our relevance to buyers of traditional radio advertising in skyrocketing. We have already begun to see the early benefits of this dramatic change. Our audio advertising more than doubled to more than $100 million in fiscal 2012.

Back when I was in the biz, public radio was a similar form of dark matter in the ratings. If you added up all the stations’ shares, they came 10-13% short of 100%. If one went to Arbitron’s headquarters in Beltsville, Maryland (as many of us did) to look at the “diaries” of surveyed listeners, you’d find that most of the missing numbers were from noncommercial stations. Today those are listed, and the biggest are usually at or near the top of the ratings.

But today’s dark matter includes a variety of radio-like and non-radio listening choices, including podcasts, satellite radio, and what the industry calls “pure-play streamers” and “on-demand music services.” Together all of these are putting a huge squeeze on radio as we knew it. AM is still around, and will last longest in places where it’s still the best way to listen, especially in cars. In flat prairie states with high ground conductivity, an AM station’s signal can spread over enormous areas. For example, here is the daytime coverage map from Radio-Locator.com for 5000-watt WNAX/570am in Yankton, South Dakota:

WNAX Daytime coverage

And here’s the one for 50000-watt WBAP/820 in Dallas-Fort Worth:

WBAP coverage

No FM station can achieve the same range, and much of that flat rural territory isn’t covered by cellular systems, a primary distribution system for the data streams that comprise Internet radio.

True, satellite radio covers the whole country, but there are no local or regional radio stations on SiriusXM, the only company in the satellite radio business. To some degree rural places are also served by AM radio at night, when signals bounce off the ionosphere, and a few big stations — especially those on “clear” channels — can be heard reliably up to several thousand miles away. (Listen to good car radio at night in Hawaii and you’ll still hear many AM stations from North America.) But, starting in 1980, “clears” were only protected to 750 miles from their transmitters, and many new stations came on the air to fill in “holes” that really weren’t. As a result AM listening at night is a noisy mess on nearly every channel, once you move outside any local station’s immediate coverage area on the ground.

Even in Dallas-Fort Worth, where WBAP is the biggest signal in town (reaching from Kansas to the Gulf of Mexico, as you see above), WBAP is pretty far down in the ratings. (Copyright restrictions prevent direct quoting of ratings numbers, but at least we can link to them.) Same for KLIF and KRLD, two other AM powerhouses with coverage comparable to WBAP’s. News and sports, the last two staple offerings on the AM band, have also been migrating to FM. Many large AM news and sports stations in major metro areas now simulcast on FM, and some sound like they’re about to abandon their AM facilities entirely.WEEI in Boston no longer even mentions the fact that they’re on 850 on the AM dial. Their biggest competitor, WBZ-FM (“The Sports Hub”) is FM-only.

But while FM is finally beating AM, its ratings today look like AM’s back in the 1950s. FM wasn’t taken seriously by the radio industry then, even though it sounded much better, and also came in stereo. Today the over-the-air radio industry knows it is mightily threatened (as well as augmented, in some cases) by streaming and other listening choices. It also knows it’s not going to go away as long as over-the-air radio can be received in large areas where data streams cannot. It’s an open question, however, whether broadcasters will want to continue spending many thousands of dollars every month on transmitters of signals that can no longer be justified financially.

One big question for radio is the same one that faces TV. That is, What will ESPN do?

ESPN is the Giant Kahuna that’s keeping millions of listeners on AM and FM radio, and viewers on cable and satellite, that would leave if the same content were streamed directly over the Net.

Right now ESPN appears to be fine with distributing its programming through cable and local radio. But at some point ESPN is likely to go direct and avoid the old distribution methods — especially if listeners and viewers would rather have it that way.

On cable ESPN’s problem will be that the distribution will still largely be through cable and phone companies that will wish to be paid for the carriage. That’s a two-sided model that applies now only for TV and satellite radio, but not for anything traveling over the Net, which the cable folks call “Over The Top,” or OTT. (I’m guessing that ESPN already pays for that, in a limited way, through Akamai, Level 3, Limelight and other Content Distribution Networks, or CDNs, which serve a role you might call, in broadcast terms, of local transmitters. Some cable companies, I am sure, do the same. It’s a complicated situation.) If, say, Comcast and Verizon start offering mobile Internet services that are just Facebook, Google+, Twitter and ESPN, they will have kept ESPN from going OTT, and brought Facebook, Google+ and Twitter into the bottom. And, in the process, we will have moved a long way toward the “fully licensed world” I warned about, two posts back. (Interesting that ESPN and others want Arbitron to do “cross-platform measurement”, even as it continues to help make the case for AM and FM radio.)

Regardless of how that goes, AM and FM are stuck in a tunnel, facing the headlights of a content distribution train that they need to embrace before it’s too late.

The Jeremy Lin story

Why Jeremy Lin suddenly such hot stuff?

Last night I listened to sports radio from ESPN, WFAN in New York, KNBR in San Francisco, and WEEI in Boston, as well as to KOVO here in Provo, Utah (where I’m hanging this week). One of the talkers put it best, saying something like this: “Let’s face it. There is no other story right now. Jeremy Lin is all we can talk about, because he’s too damned interesting.”

Tonight the saga continued. Jeremy Lin scored 27 points with 12 assists (and 8 turnovers) as the Knicks beat the Raptors in Toronto on a 3-point shot by — of course — Jeremy Lin. Also this: he made the winning shot with half a second on the clock. And that was after tying the game up a few seconds earlier with a drive to the basket in heavy traffic, drawing a foul, and making that shot too. That’s two three-point plays in a row. Great stuff. Legendary, considering that he’s done this kind of thing night after night, though a career that’s just six games long, so far.

So let’s pause to look at what makes a story — especially one so irresistible as this one:

  1. A character. That is, a protagonist. Somebody you can identify with, because they’re interesting and unique. Ideally, they aren’t from Central Casting. And they have flaws as well as positive qualities.
  2. A problem. That is, a challenge or a struggle that keeps you interested. (Turning the page, coming back for the next episode, whatever.)
  3. Movement toward a resolution. That is, the clear sense that this is all going somewhere, no matter how bad things might be now, or how complicated the plot lines thicken and braid.

Jeremy Lin scores big on all three. Like all of us, he’s not typical. In his case, especially for basketball. He’s 6’3, but that’s about average for a point guard. He’s also skinny, not bulging with muscles, not covered in tatoos. He’s also Chinese, in the ethnic sense, though he’s an American kid who grew up in Palo Alto. You don’t find many Chinese (or even Asian) players in the NBA, or even at the college level. He’s also a devout Christian who is quick to thank God, though not so quick as Tim Tebow.

He also has a problem: until just a few games ago, he couldn’t get much respect.

While he was named Player of the Year by many for leading Paly High to the state championship as a Senior, and was first team all-state in California that same year, he wasn’t recruited by any major schools, or even many minor ones. He ended up going to Harvard, which doesn’t give athletic scholarships and where he played four solid years of ball before graduating with a degree in economics and a 3.1 GPA. He was first team all-Ivy, and got kudos from many coaches, including Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun (on whose team he dropped 30 points and grabbed 9 boards), but went undrafted by the NBA. After excelling in an NBA summer league, he found his way to the end of the bench for the Golden State Warriors, his home team growing up. They cut him. Then he surfaced at the Houston Rockets. They cut him too. Then the New York Knicks picked him up off waivers from Houston. They were ready to cut him too, but needed help from deep in the bench after their two starting stars couldn’t play.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the rest is history. Lin played only 55 minutes in the Knicks’ prior 23 games, most of which the team lost. Then he came off the bench in a game on February 4 — remember, this is just ten days ago — and scored 25 points with 5 boards and 7 assists. The Knicks won. The Knicks have gone undefeated since then, with Lin as their point guard. He’s scored more than 20 points in all of those games, and hit the winning shot in two of them. He also out-scored Kobe Bryant, with 38 points, in a game against the Lakers.

So it’s a triumphant story, but it’s not over. What keeps us tuned in and turning the pages is that we don’t know what will happen next. Is he really that good? Can he keep it up? If the answers to either of those questions is yes, how many other Jeremy Lins are out there, unrecognized?

We don’t know, and that keeps us interested too.

In my case, I’m interested in Jeremy Lin as a character because both my older kids went to Paly High when we lived in Palo Alto. My son and I probably played basketball on some of the same courts Jeremy played on later. I also watched Jeremy play when he was at Harvard. I remember one game where it was clear that Jeremy was the best player on the floor. But the next night we went to a Celtics game and couldn’t help comparing the two games. The difference was extreme. I couldn’t imagine any of the players I saw at the Harvard game playing in the NBA, Jeremy Lin included.

But here he is. I’ve watched some of his games, and it’s clear that he’s a solid point guard without a lot of flash, reminding me of Steve Nash, Derek Fisher and John Stockton in their primes. Good penetrator. Good shooter. Great at sharing the ball and running the floor. But I think there’s more going on than talent and style. Basketball, like all sports, is a head game. Skill isn’t enough. You’ve got to have your head straight. Wilt Chamberlain, one of the greatest players of all time, and the only one ever to score 100 points in a game (when there were no 3-point shots, not that he would have taken any), was a notoriously bad foul shooter. Yet in practice, I’ve read, Wilt was terrific at foul-shooting. He just choked in games.

What I’m saying is that Jeremy Lin is a head-case in the positive sense: he’s broken through into a zone where his head is level and his emotions are positive. He believes in himself, and he believes in his team. He has the poise of a player who has been a starter for ten years. The other players he makes look good include Bill Walker, Landry Fields, Jared Jeffries and Steve Novak, none of whom are big stars.

Can’t help loving it. The story is too good not to.

[Later...] Well, the Knicks played two more games since I wrote the above, winning one and losing the other. Jeremy Lin scored 10 points with 13 assists in the first, and 25 points with 5 assists and 4 steals in the second. Alas, he also had nine turnovers in that one. Protecting the ball is a weakness of his — and now he’s not overlooked by opposing defenses. Still, you can’t win them all. He’s clearly a solid NBA player on a team that was tanking without him and now has strong shot at making the playoffs.

So I want to add two more points to the ones I made above.

One is that Lin’s ethnicity, while it adds spice to his story, has nothing to do with his qualities as a basketball player. On this issue lots of commentators are quite wrong. Says Walt Frazier in this USA Today story, ”This league is dominated by African Americans. What are the odds of an Asian guy coming on and having this impact? It’s amazing. It’s inexplicable.” No, it’s not. The chance is very small that the next NBA player coming through a door will be Asian, but the NBA has hundreds of players spread across 30 teams. It should be no surprise that an Asian guy would show up every once in awhile, especially if he’s an American who grew up playing excellent high school and college ball, as Jeremy Lin did. And his impact has everything to do with his skills as a player and nothing to do with his name or his looks. The only influence those had (I say, in the past tense) was on talent scouting. A big reason he escaped notice was that he didn’t look like a typical basketball player. This is now a mistake that scouts are less likely to make. (By the way, Lin’s agent is black, and Lin has a great sense of humor about his unique non-basketball qualities. I mean, you’ve gotta see this video.)

The other is that Lin has clearly worked on his game. By that I mean he is not the player we saw at Paly High, at Harvard, or even in games for the Golden State Warriors or the Houston Rockets. He has improved. Practicing with NBA players has made him a better player. Also, at the Knicks, he has been learning a new offense under Coach Mike D’Antoni. Remember how well D’Antoni did in Phoenix with Steve Nash at guard? That’s why the Knicks recruited D’Antoni. Turns out Lin is a lot like Nash: a smart non-egotistical high-energy player who runs the floor at high speed, can navigate through traffic, looks to pass before he shoots, and plays tough defense that forces a lot of turnovers. That’s why other players like to have him on the floor. The coach too.

Some links from Zemanta:

Can’t lose, in a way

I grew up in New Jersey and New York, rooting for the Giants. (And, in the Namath era, the Jets too.)

Then, after 20 years in North Carolina (mostly as a college basketball fan), I lived in the Bay Area for 25 years, and rooted for the 49ers there. One daughter lives in the Bay Area, and most of my wife’s huge family lives in the Bay Area, and most of them are hard-core for the Niners. We were out there a week ago and got some great hang time watching the Niners beat the Saints.

However, I’ve worked and lived in New England for five and a half years now, and have been rooting for the Patriots here. Our fourth kid lives here too and pulls for the Pats.

One of our kids lives in Baltimore, along with both of our grandkids. Another kid lives in Maryland too. That’s our Ravens connection.

So I won’t mind too much if the Ravens beat the Pats. Very close game so far.

But I do want the Pats to win. Niners too. We’ll see how it goes.

[Later...] Pats won, on a heartbreaking field goal miss by the Ravens. Feel bad for that kicker. Also for the whole Ravens team, which I thought played better than the Pats. Would have been a good overtime game.

Now the Niners are up by seven in the rain. A Niners-Pats game would be terrific. Hope it happens.

[Later still...] Giants take it in overtime, off a Niners fumble. A hard way for the Harbaugh brothers to lose: on late errors, after well-played games.

Pats-Giants will be a good game. I’m picking in the Pats, but it’s hard not to respect the Giants after the run they’ve had late in the season. Wow.

 

 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And enjoy more of Maria’s art here.

Fuel for denial

Got together with four members of my kid’s 8th grade basketball team and their coach (another dad, much younger and better than me) this afternoon for a shoot-around. I was too wasted to play in the real game (I did sub briefly, and scored one lay-up), but we finished up with a game of P-I-G (a shorter version of H-O-R-S-E), which I joined, since I didn’t think it would take much effort. Amazingly, I won. Not sure why I was hitting a high percentage of shots. Some of the old touch came back, I guess. Felt good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, good luck with that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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 that Jack Jensen died yesterday, at age 71. I knew Jack a bit when I was a student at Guilford College in the late ’60s. (Class of ’69, to be precise.) Jack wasn’t much older than the rest of us then. When I was a freshman, Jack was a 26-year old assistant basketball coach under Jerry Steele. My involvement with athletics then consisted of running the scoreboard for the football team (sitting next to Carl Scheer, who did the play-by-play for the radio) and playing pick-up basketball in the college’s only gym when the team wasn’t practicing. After Jerry left (the year after I graduated), Jack took over as head coach. In 1973 he did what Jerry came close to doing: winning the NAIA national tournament, with a team that included World B. Free (who then went by his given name, Lloyd) and M.L. Carr. I remember what Jack said about the victory to Sports Illustrated at the time. While not verbatim, it was basically this: “We give the ball to Lloyd.” No BS about it.

Jack went on to coach Guilford basketball for 29 years, and was still coaching the golf team — which he led to three national titles — when he died, after returning from a golf tournament

From the email sent out by the college:

The most decorated coach in Guilford’s history, Jack was enshrined in the NAIA, North Carolina, Guilford County, Guilford College and Wake Forest University Sports Halls of Fame, as well as the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame. He was only the second person to coach two different sports to NAIA national titles. In 2009, Guilford‚s main basketball floor in the Ragan-Brown Field House was renamed Jack Jensen Court.

From Allen Johnson of the Greensboro News & Record: “He richly deserves the title legend.”

By all accounts he was an even better guy than the ace I remember. My best to his family, friends, and the thousands of others who knew him better than I did.

[Later...] More about Jack’s death (of a heart attack, on the phone, at the wheel of his car — but with no others hurt), funeral plans and more, here, here, here, here and here.

Tags: ,

Seems like all my favorite college hoops teams are playing in tournaments.

Harvard’s Crimson go up against Appalachian State tonight in the CIT.

UCSB’s Gauchos are the 15th seed in the NCAA Men’s Midwest bracket, a checkbox win for #2 seed Ohio State on Friday night.

The Quakers of my alma mater, , are back in the Final Four of the NCAA’s Division III, after polishing off . They take on Friday afternoon. Have a bunch of friends with Williams connections too.

My long-time fave Division I team, , is the top seed in the NCAA South bracket. They play a team whose jerseys say ARPB, before facing the winner of the game. My daughter and a bunch of neices and nephews are grads, so I’ll be rooting for them, should they survive.

I was Knicks fan growing up, but I didn’t follow basketball much until I went to Guilford in 1965. North Carolina is basketball country in any case, and somehow I got into playing it as well there. Nothing serious, just pick-up intramural ball. My whole game was shooting long-range bombers, and I lacked all the other skills (dribbling, passing) one expects to go with that one. But at least I wasn’t taken last when teams were chosen, which for me was exceptionally positive feedback.

As it happened Guilford also had damn fine basketball teams the whole time I was there. They were often ranked #1 in the NAIA, and in ’68 (a year they lost in the finals to Oshkosh State) they graduated three players into the NBA. The best of those was Bob Kauffman, the #3 pick in the draft that year. Bob went on to become a 3-time All-Star, and then the head coach and general manager of the Detroit Pistons. He completed that career by making the mistake of giving Dick Vitale the head coaching job. In 1975 Guilford won the NAIA tournament with a team that included World B. Free and M.L. Carr.

My Division I sympathies were originally with Wake Forest (also in the NCAAs) since my entire coterie of North Carolina relatives were affiliated in one way or another with the school. When I moved to Chapel Hill after college, however, I became a Carolina fan. I still am. (Wake too.) But my overriding affection for Duke was born at the first pre-season game of the 1977-78 season. That was when freshmen Kenny Dennard and Gene Banks joined Jim Spanarkel, Mike Gminski and Johny Harrell to turn a has-been team into what would become the powerhouse it has been ever since.

But I didn’t know that then. I was working on the Duke campus in the Fall of ’77 at the time, and was invited to that game (against ) by David Hodskins, who would become my business partner for most of the following two decades. David was a Duke grad with season tickets to games at the very intense Cameron Indoor Stadium. I was his date for many of those games over many years, and couldn’t help getting into the team.

While Duke had good years during ‘ tenure as coach back in the 1960s, it had been nowhere for most the decade that followed. In those days, as the UCLA dynasty (the biggest ever, never to be repeated), NC State, Maryland and Carolina were the cream of the ACC. Duke joined that elite with what John Feinstein (another Duke grad) called : the 1977-78 crew I saw play that pre-season game. Now people say, “How can you like an overdog like Duke?” Sorry, can’t help it. My experience as a Duke fan also prepped me for following Tommy Amaker, now the coach here at Harvard. (Tommy also played high school ball at Wilbert Tucker Woodson High School in Virginia, where one of his teammates was my cousin Andy Heck, a multi-sport athlete who went on to co-captain the Notre Dame football team that won the national championship in 1988, before going on to an eleven-year career as an NFL player. He’s now the offensive line coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.)

Speaking of overdogs, I’m also a Boston Celtics fan these days too, for roughly the same reason: I’m local here. And I like the team. Celtics coach Doc Rivers and I have a common friend in , who is a hard-core Duke fan too — as well as a former college hoops player. Buzz got into Duke when he went to law school there. (I still like the Knicks, though. And the Golden State Warriors. David Hodskins and I had season tickets to the Warriors back in the days of Run TMC.)

Wish I could say I expect Duke to win it all. Hope they do, but I just picked Kansas. Or maybe it was Kentucky. (The Kid just went downstairs to check.) Okay, it’s Kentucky. Whatever, it’ll be fun to follow. I see that CBS has the games on-demand over the Net. Count me in for that. We got nothing but Net here. (Hey, it’s the future of what used to be television. I just hope that single purpose — pumping “content” — doesn’t turn the Net into TV 2.0.)

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.

Tags: , , , , ,

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).

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.)

Tags: , , , ,

rotenboden_sleds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

matterhorn-gornergrat_pano

The shot above is a pano taken by The Kid with my iPhone, which isn’t good for much else here in Switzerland. (Click here or on the shot to see the original, including larger sizes.) On the left is the Matterhorn, which may be the most impressive mountain on Earth. It’s hard to imagine more glorious ski slopes than those surrounding Zermatt, all of which either face the Matterhorn or occupy its flanks.

Skiing was good on the upper runs, but icy on the lower ones. The four inches of fresh powder yesterday, plus fresh artificial snow in places, was a big help. But the heavy rains on Christmas day are still preserved in a layer of ice.

Near the end of the day, the kid and I took a wrong turn and had to navigate our way down runs that were a bit advanced, at least for me. (I’m an intermediate skier at best.) I fell more times than I bothered to count, though not on the steepest sections. I think I just wore out. So we’re taking a day or two off from skiing and doing less strenuous things.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Whitman wins

I am the teacher of atheletes.

He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own proves the width of my own.

He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher.

Walt Whitman

That’s what came to mind when I heard that Denver beat New England today. Rookie Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, just 34 and a former offensive coordinator under New England’s Bill Belichick, beat the old man.

Glad I was working and didn’t see either this loss or the Red Sox one. At least the Pats come back to play next week. The Sox are gone until next year.

I like sports, and I enjoy sports talk radio. That’s one reason I have five car radio buttons set on stations carrying games or sports talk: four on AM (WRKO/680, WEEI/850, WAMG/890, WZZN/1510) and one on FM (WBZ-FM/98.5). The other is that sports talk is about 50% advertising, so I like to punch around.

But I wasn’t surprised to read ESPN Radio’s Boston affiliate set to sign off, by Chad Finn in the Boston Globe. It begins, “ESPN Radio’s Boston affiliate, WAMG-AM 890, will go off the air Monday after four years plagued by a weak signal and limited local programming.” In fact, “weak” doesn’t cover it. By day WAMG’s 25,000-watt signal covers the Boston metro pretty well. But at night the station drops to 6,000 watts and a pattern that excludes the whole north side of the metro. The map at that last link doesn’t show how much like a headlight that pattern really is.

Yet that’s not the worst of it. WAMG was able to “drop in” to the market from nowhere in 2005, thanks to a change in FCC rules that protected what were once called (literally) “clear channel” stations. Because signals on the AM band bounce off the ionosphere at night, powerful ones can be heard up to thousands of miles away. Since there were then only 106 channels (every 10KHz from 540 to 1600KHz), a handful were granted “clear channel” status, making them the only stations on those channels at night. Thanks to this rule, I could hear KFI/640 from Los Angeles in New Jersey and WBZ/1030 from Boston in Palo Alto. Here’s the whole list of “clears” as they stood when their status still held.

Since long-distance listening had mostly gone away by the late 1970s, the FCC in 1980 reduced protection for the old “clears” to 750 miles from their transmitters. WLS/890 in Chicago was one of those clears. So you might say that WAMG appeared through a new loophole. Problem was, WLS had not gone away. It often still reached Boston quite well at night, pounding WAMG’s already-weak signal.

This last week I was down in the South portion of Cape Cod, where WAMG puts no signal at all. As a result I could hear WLS quite well on a portable radio, along with other Chicago giants.

The Globe story suggests that WAMG will probably go dark. Given the coverage realities, that might not be the worst thing.

A thought. WAMG is licensed to Dedham, not Boston. It might not be the worst thing for Clear Channel (the name of the company that owns WAMG and a zillion other stations) to sell the licesnse to somebody in the Dedham community, who could cut the power back (to save electricity) and just try to serve the local community itself. Provided, of course, that local radio of the AM sort (which has changed little since the 1920s) still makes sense.

[Later...] Following up on 10 October 2009, WAMG has been off the air for several weeks.

Heard this morning on WNYC that the New York Times has unloaded its remaining broadcasting asset, which consists of the channel and facilities of WQXR, which has been a classical music landmark for as long as it’s been around. (One way or another, since 1929. Wikipedia tells the long story well.) The story on WNYC’s website says WQXR will become “part of” WNYC. I assume that means it will become non-commercial.

According to Bloomberg, the deal goes like this:

  • “Univision will pay Times Co. $33.5 million to swap broadcasting licenses and shift its WCAA broadcast to 96.3 FM from 105.9 FM, which will become WQXR… WCAA will get 96.3 FM’s stronger signal.”
  • WNYC will pay Times Co. $11.5 million for 105.9 FM’s license and equipment and the WQXR call letters.”

WQXR was for a long time an AM/FM operation. The AM was on 1560, with a 50,000 watt signal out of a four-tower facility in Maspeth, Queens. The FM was for many years atop the Chanin Building, where it still maintains an auxilliary antenna. I have shots of the old and new antennas here and here. In 2007 the Times Co. unloaded its AM station, then (and still) called WQEW, to Walt Disney Co. for $40 million. It’s now Radio Disney, a kids’ station.

Since the 60s WQXR has shared a master antenna atop the Empire State Building with most of New York’s other FMs. This was their status in 1967. Wikipedia has a good rundown of what’s up there today. Scott Fybush also has a comprehensive report from 2003.

An open question is whether WQXR will remain a beacon on the dial. While other signals on the Empire State Building master antennas run 5000 to 6000 watts, the one on 105.9 is just 610 watts. According to WQXR’s  Web site, the station and has an audience of nearly 800,000 weekly listeners. How many of those will lose the signal? Coverage maps from radio-locator.com for 96.3 and 105.9 are here and here.

For the fully obsessed, here is a current rundown of everything on FM hanging off the Empire State Building, or within 1km of it.

Meanwhile, says here WBCN in Boston, a progressive rock radio landmark, is also getting yanked. You’ll still hear it on the Web, or if you are among the appoximately five owners of an “HD” radio receiver and close enough to WBCN’s transmiter on Boston’s Prudential Building in the Back Bay. Meanwhile Boston will get more of the usual: talk sports and “Hot AC” music. (To me “Hot AC” always sounded like an climate control oxymoron, while “adult contemporary” sounded like a euphemism for pornographic furniture.)

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the conversational nature of markets:

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

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

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

About the Web as a marketplace:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About advertising’s fatal flaw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now let’s look at the Web.

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

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

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

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

About TV’s fatal flaw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, the story of TV’s death foretold:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bet on Web/TV, not TV/Web.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: , , ,

Got these shots of St. Louis and the convergence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers while flying to Austin by way of Chicago two Fridays ago. You can see the Gateway Arch, right of center, Busch Stadium, the Edward Jones Dome, the City Museum, and lots of barge traffic on the river.

I actually didn’t see much of St. Louis. My window seat didn’t have well-placed windows, and I couldn’t see downward in any case. But my little Canon Powershot 850 could look for me. So I held it against one of the windows, angled it downward, and shot away, checking from time to time on the back of the camera to see if my shots were accurate. Didn’t do too poorly, considering.

What I want is a small camera like this one that can shoot RAW without taking forever to do it. (As was the case with my old and much missed Nikon Coolpix 5700, which also featured a flip-out viewer, making shots like this much easier.) The PS 850 has no RAW mode, and its processing is rather thick with artifacts. Still, fun to use.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

That leaves TV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: , , , , , ,

On not skiing

Shows here in EdHat that there’s snow on Mount Baldy. That means there’s skiing in Los Angeles. Or close enough. Mt. Baldy is the highest point in the San Gabriel Mountains, which overlook Los Angeles from the North. Imagine a 10,064 mountain on Staten Island and you get the picture.

Skiing on Mt. Baldy is a trip. Mainly, a short one. Ignoring traffic (which you can do if you leave early enough), you can be there in under an hour from most of the L.A. basin. On a clear day you can see it from nearly anywhere there too. Its the big snow-capped one.

Here’s a photo set that gathers a few of my shots of Baldy, both from the ground and from airplanes.

And here’s a post I put up after a day of not-very-good skiing there. The snow wasn’t too bad, considering. The main problem was rookie snowboarders who crashed into the kid and I when they weren’t sitting on their butts like a bunch of traffic cones. From that post…

Rules for snowboarding on Mt. Baldy:

1. Fall on your ass.
2. Sit on your ass, for as long as possible.
3. Wait for your friends to come and fall on their asses next to your ass.
4. Sit on your ass with your friends on their asses, for as long as possilbe.
5. Do all this in the middle of a trail. The narrower the trail, the better.
6. If possible, fall on your ass in the path of somebody else.
7. Have no skills. Other than falling on your ass.
8. When actually snowboarding, run into people.
9. When running into people, fall on your ass again.
10. Bonus: get the people you run into to fall on their asses too.

Anyway, the kid is skiing this weekend in the Sierras somewhere, while I work in Atlanta. That’ll be fun too, but not quite the same.

Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve always liked cars. Never owned a great one, unless you count an ’85 Camry that ran forever with the fewest possible repairs. I did have a hand in my wife’s purchase of a ’92 Infiniti Q45a — a fabulous piece of work, sadly dulled by the maker in subsequent models. It was sadly repair-prone and finally croaked somewhere north of 200k miles, when the active suspension gave out. Still, for quite a few years it was an exceedingly pleasing car to drive.

These days my aging eyes and slower reflexes caution me against car fantasies that would be too pricey in any case. But I still harbor wishes for a car market not dominated by inefficient manufacturers of cookie-cutter vehicles, but rather populated by an infinite variety of designs that combine the best of invention, engineering, light manufacture and customer input on design — a value constellation rather than a value chain.

One such maker is Iconic Motors. The brightest star in its constellation is Claudio Ballard, an inventor whose obsession with automotive perfection is matched by his commitment to small, high-quality U.S. manufacturers. Together they’re producing the GTR:

Its a beautiful thing, and so hot it’s scary. It packs more than 800 horses in body that barely outweighs a Miata. It will rocket you past 200 miles per hour, and carve around curves on a suspension that’s as close to Formula One as you’ll find off a speedway.

They’re only producing a hundred of them in their first run. They are also interested in input as well as interest from fellow enthusiasts. This is the open source part of the story, and one of the big reasons I’m interested in it. (Besides having gotten to know Claudio over the past few months.) To get that ball rolling they’re hosting a reception at 7pm tomorrow night at the New York Auto Show. Wish I could be there, but I can’t.

They don’t have a link up yet, but will soon. I’ll add it here, soon as they do.

Got some nice pictures of the Cornwall Coast, while still ascending out of Heathrow en route to Washington and Boston.

The shot above is of Padstow Bay, with Trebetherick and the Polzeaths on the right, above Padstow and Daymer Bays. (The latter is the lower, or southern, one.)

Interesting to see how the surf hits the Polzeaths at full force. Some pretty big waves there. You can also see the corduroy surface of the ocean, as the waves advance from a swell coming in from the west.

My sister Jan put up a nice photo series of our Aunt Grace Apgar, flying with our cousin Mark Crissman. Grace is 95 and doesn’t look or act a day over… hell, pick a number. Make it a low one.

Her mom lived to 107, and Grace is in better shape at 95 than Grandma was at the same age.

Hoping here that some of those long-lasting genes got distributed in my old bones too.

A couple years ago a former high U.S. govenrment official — one whose job required meeting with nearly every member of Congress — made the best argument I have yet heard against any regulation of the Net. Or of anything technical. Though not veratim, this is essentially what he said: I can tell you that there are two things nearly every congressperson does not understand. One is economics. The other is technology. Now proceed.

That line comes to mind when I read House vote on illegal images sweeps in Wi-Fi, Web sites, by Declan McCullagh in CNet. It begins,

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill saying that anyone offering an open Wi-Fi connection to the public must report illegal images including “obscene” cartoons and drawings–or face fines of up to $300,000.

That broad definition would cover individuals, coffee shops, libraries, hotels, and even some government agencies that provide Wi-Fi. It also sweeps in social-networking sites, domain name registrars, Internet service providers, and e-mail service providers such as Hotmail and Gmail, and it may require that the complete contents of the user’s account be retained for subsequent police inspection.

In a follow-up post which includes an email dialog between Declan and one of the bill’s defenders, Declan added,

So what exactly does the SAFE Act do? It doesn’t mandate ongoing network surveillance. What it does require is that anyone providing Internet access who learns about the transmission or storage of information about illegal image must (a) register their name, mailing address, phone number, and fax number with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s “CyberTipline” and (b) “make a report” to the CyberTipline that (c) must include any information about the person or Internet address behind the suspect activity and (d) the illegal images themselves. (Note that some reporting requirements already apply to Internet access providers under current law.)

The definition of which images qualify as illegal is expansive. It includes obvious child pornography, meaning photographs and videos of children being molested. It also includes photographs of fully clothed minors in unlawfully “lascivious” poses, and certain obscene visual depictions including a “drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting.”

So, would this be obscene to a Phillies fan? How about a Mets fan? Can we even tell if the subject is a minor? It’s not like you can count the rings.

By the way, I’m looking for hard data on how much Net traffic, including search requests, is for junk, porn or both. I’ve heard many different numbers, including some that say the percentage of porn search requests alone is north of 70%. But I dunno.

For a sample, however, watch the scroll at weblogs.com. Then imagine how much filtering you have to do if you’re Technorati or Google Blogsearch.