Feedback

I don’t recall many of my college successes with great clarity, but I do recall my few failures. Two in particular stand out: both D’s on short papers because “the assignment was not addressed.”

One was for a course on art in New York City, where we were to pick a work that moved us, say why, and discuss the work. We were not limited to the visual arts — the course covered architecture as well as paintings in museums — but I apparently stretched the definition of art a bit too far, and wrote of a surprising cornfield in the front yard of a house in The Bronx.

The other was for a course on communications technologies, where we were to discuss an emerging technology and its current and potential effects on society. I wrote on how credit cards and networked point-of-sale magnetic stripe readers enabled the elimination of people from the purchase of gasoline and, by extension, the elimination of clerks in general. This was in 1991 or so, and most credit transactions still involved imprints in triplicate on carbon paper. By 2001, full-service gasoline stations were no longer an option (except where required by law), and staff had been reduced to a sole employee whose only purpose in life was to check identification for cigarette and alcohol sales. And nearly all retail stores were experimenting with self-checkout lanes. Not sure how this didn’t satisfy the assignment.

I wonder if I were able to revisit those pieces today I would agree with the professors. Because I’d like to point out that I was right.

Intrusion

There are times when I get myself in trouble because I minimize the details, and see only the Big Picture. One of those days was when one of our clients complained that his customers were complaining that his site didn’t work. He couldn’t figure out why and asked for help. Turned out that an advertisement originating from the third-party ad server was injecting HTML that caused his page to not render. It could have been worse. It could have been pr0n.

He bought service from us, we hosted the ad server, the ad agency sold inventory, and no one in the supply chain knew where the advertisements came from or who what they contained, or could predict what advertisements would show on which site. Now why would anyone let some anonymous fourth-party alter their work? Why would we make that possible?

Oh, we have to do that. We need the money from the advertisers.

::facepalm::

the creation of the modern web

XKCD may be talking about the current brouhaha in social media, but it’s always been exactly the way advertising works.

Now

The iPhone crouches at the corner of my chair, well within reach. The iMac sits on the altar in the living room, but I can worship from afar by picking up the iPhone. The god of distractions is generous this way: it does not care what use you have for it, only what use it has for you.

Poetry rests in the little spaces between distractions. It waits in the silence for brief attention, patient, burdock along the trail.


There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money, all of it.

Your heart is beating, isn’t it?
You’re not in chains, are you?

There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.

— Mary Oliver, “Moments,” Felicity (2016)

All These Many Voices

We, all of us, have something to say. So many of us found a voice writing on the web, broadcasting on YouTube, or talking through a podcast, not to make money or sell something–though some do start with that thought–but because we must.

Year over year, there are more songs, more musicians, more books, more authors, more movies, more actors, both absolutely and as a percentage of the total population.

Are fewer making a living from it? Fewer “capturing the value” of it?

The value is in the sharing. We humans are a talkative species of chattering, gregarious simians.

Connectivity

Respect for others’ time is difficult when you cannot see them. The telephone interrupts dinner, church, conversations. The burden of ignoring the interruption placed on the recipient no matter how respectful the caller intended to be. Social cues are missing.

The same for e-mail, or instant messaging, or the apps on that phone in our pocket.

The things that connect us disconnect us.

Member Since 1994

One does not simply passively consume the Internet–though small children with YouTube on auto-play might. It is not broadcast, or even interactive, television: the Internet is a many-pronged communications platform, a universe of ends. Its killer application was e-mail (and USENET and IRC and FTP and gopher and) then the World Wide Web. The web took off, not because of streaming music or video, but because anyone could share anything with anyone else. The utility of each of these tools–news, mail, chat, bulletin boards, blogs–was degraded by spam, aggressive advertising, untrustworthy and undesirable content. By undesirable I don’t mean in a general sense, as one might mean in talking about pornography and its effect on society, but in the particular: individual recipients did not want it.

But we keep using these tools because we are gregarious, social animals who want to connect with each other.

I would share books and articles with friends and family even before the Internet. Look at this: I read this thing you would like. I did the same online, sending links to others in chat and e-mail, sometimes with comments, then later sharing with and connecting to a wider world by posting to my website, frequently, with Radio Userland and syndicating with RSS and Atom. Those early blogging days were heady, just as the early online chat, news, and e-mail days were. Everyone knew everyone else. There were scaling issues, and personality conflicts, and tools changed. And comment spam and trolls became a problem. Is the FOAF application of RDF still a thing? The Semantic Web?

And then there was Facebook.

Facebook was not the first social network, but it was the one my IRL friends and family joined. Facebook offered a way to reconnect with people I hadn’t yet found online and, more particularly, opened a path to conversation with them. We could share things we thought interesting and discuss them.

A lot of the utility of Facebook was driven by the desolation elsewhere on the web, which had become a desert filled with blipverts, billboards, and trolls desperately grasping for you and your attention–and still is if you travel without an ad blocker. The usefulness of Facebook has diminished over time, but the same basic draw is still there: my friends, the people I know and to whom I want to stay connected.

It’s the same reason I have a phone.

Some have called relationships on Facebook a facade of a community. That depends on how you use it. It can be either. It is an attempt to reproduce something we miss: A village, a neighborhood, a college, a pub. A great Third Place.

Can it be if the host is a Ferengi, and you are not his customers?

The Customer Perspective

There’s too much wrong with the FCC — in all its various political, technical, and regulatory aspects — to get into arguments on the line. However, I’d like to point out one small piece of anecdata from Number Two Daughter’s iPhone 6. From the customer’s perspective, Internet access providers are common carriers.

Number Two Daughter (15) has service with Cricket (a subsidiary of AT&T) and pays $30/mo. for cellular service with a 2GB/mo. soft cap on data usage. It’s a soft cap because after using 2GB, the transfer rate is throttled. A hard cap prevents usage.

She primarily uses the phone to chat with friends, watch movies, and keep up to the minute with BTS. Most of that activity happens here at home, so in the best of all possible worlds she’d be using our domestic Internet connection provided by Frontier Communications rather than the LTE connection provided by AT&T. However, there’s a mechanical difficulty with either the antenna or the wifi chip in her phone, so she doesn’t connect to the 802.11n network.

YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video, nor even BTS, are not the top consumers of bandwidth; they are slightly more than bumps on the long tail. Apple Music and Spotify and Pandora don’t even register. iMessages and SMS chats are miniscule pinpricks. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are so 5th grade; only toddlers use those.

Snapchat was. And the month isn’t over yet.

The internet is NOT television. And no one wants “content.” They never have. They want a connection with other people.

Reach out, and touch someone.

Pictures of It Didn’t Happen

Twitter and smartphones have changed the art of citation on the Internet. It’s not enough to quote something and to link. A picture must also be included of the source with the quoted text highlighted. (Then the link and attribution are forgotten.) Perhaps this practice arose because the sources are easily deleted or altered. But everything digital is malleable. Pictures can be fabricated.

This is not a tweet by Donald J. Trump.

The question arises, what can we trust? Photographs, of the non-digital variety, have been the subject of manipulation since the invention of the medium, whether for monetary fraud, such as spirit photography, or for political, like the memory hole. Some news organizations, such as the Associated Press, adopted strict usage practices around photo manipulation to ensure trustworthiness. Other publications are less concerned about objectivity in the pursuit of their art. We made the distinction: is this a representational work with a claim to objectivity? Or is it art, potentially with a claim to so-called truth? What helps guide us now?

TED Radio Hour talked the other day about our understanding of memory and new techniques for altering it. We’ve known our experience is plastic for some time: lawyers lead the witness. But these medical techniques of memory alteration are the premise of Philip K. Dick‘s 1966 short story, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” frequently remembered as the motion picture Total Recall (1990), and pose a quandary: Should we? What is real if we can remember a fictitious vacation on Mars? No wonder some people think Apollo 11 landed in Arizona.

Funny how the Big Questions of Life have indefinite answers, if any. What is Real? What is Illusion? What is True? The same questions troubling us long ago bother us today. Is there anything there outside of our senses? Our sight grows old and dim. Our memory lies. We forget. Perhaps the Ancient Greek word for truth is intentionally precise: not forgotten.

What’s to be believed? Our dementiaThe treachery of images?

You’re Dead. Stop Kicking Me.

Interactive Television has always failed, and will always fail.

A lesson from the early days of telephony is significant. Early on it was thought that telephony would provide a subscriber with a way to listen to opera in the convenience of his own living room. And while that was sold for a while, it turns out that humans are social animals, and that the profit lies in enabling communication, not in delivering content. We want to talk to each other.

The ONLY reason that television has been around so long is that the cost of communicating with video was beyond the reach of all of us.

That is no longer the case.

Television as we’ve known it is dead. But like a chicken with its head cut off, it’s still running around.

Hasta la Vista, Baby

We’re cancelling DirecTV service.

It’s been about a year since purchasing the HDTV and the associated DirecTV package. Meanwhile, our viewing of “normal” television fare has been steadily declining. We hardly ever watch anything live: we have other things to do with our time. And more often than not, the children are selecting shows from Netflix, YouTube, or the producer themselves, instead of from the previously recorded episodes of Sesame Street, Jake and the (cute little) Never Land Pirates, Little Bear, Wizards of Waverly Place, or whatnot.

In the interest of completeness, I’ve compiled a list of what we normally watch with any regularity, and where it can be found now that we’ve cut the downlink. The challenge now will be getting some of them off the Internet and on the big screen. Apple TV, perhaps? Boxee?

Did I mention it’s cheaper when you’re not paying for the umpteen channels of shit on the TV you don’t watch? People don’t care about “channels.” They care about shows.

Why Do I Use Facebook?

It’s quite simple, really.

I use Facebook because I know people who use Facebook.

  1. If I say something witty, they can read it, and comment, or laugh silently to themselves, which I imagine is more often the case.
  2. If they say something witty, I can read it, and laugh; if they say something stupid, I can read it, and correct them. (Note: someone is wrong on the Internet.)
  3. The comments I do receive are from people I know, not spambots.

That last item is the only reason I’m feeding posts on my website into Facebook.

I’m not averse to sharing some information publicly. I am, however, wary of something that pretends to be intimate and personal — a few friends gathered together at a bar — and yet is not.

Parrots

The differences between American media and the BBC World Service in treatment of the financial situation with the automotive industry, or anything really, are just striking. I’ve been listening to WNYC on my drive to the office, so hear NPR‘s Morning Edition, followed by Marketplace Morning Report and then the BBC World Service Newshour. I noticed earlier in the year — after NPR had a short discussion with Barney Frank where they asked him no questions, and he told them no lies — that the interviews on the BBC had more of the nature of a debate. Two guests of presumed opposing viewpoints are invited to discuss the issue of the day, and the host engages with them in a somewhat antagonistic fashion. If a claim is made, he asks for support of the claim.

This tool of the British government is less like a brain-dead parrot than our ostensibly independent media. What purpose does it serve for the media to regurgitate the latest press release?

DirecTiVo, your return can not be too soon

Our DirecTiVo was dying. Every now and again, frequently at times, it stopped, hung. Maybe it waiting on a bad block on disk. Maybe it was just the heat. But the only option offered by DirecTV was a replacement with their dreaded DVR.

My first impression was positive. The guide responded quickly. The on-screen display is unobtrusive.

But on closer inspection, this was designed by a committee of retarded monkeys with no sense for how the ability to control the television changes how we use it.

The remote is cluttered. Do I really need three power buttons?

Why are you starting from sleep at the Game Lobby? I have never willingly selected that, so don’t even bother showing it to me.

Speaking of sleep, what’s the deal with the screen saver? Trying to keep my cathode ray tube from burning in the Game Lobby?

But now that I have a chance to sit down and completely reprogram all of the shows I’ve chosen to record over the past eight years when there is absolutely no reason why I should have to do that, I wonder WHY THE FUCK DirecTV can’t make a searchable version of the TV guide so that I can find the shows I want to record you fucking incompetent pieces of shit.

How about making one that displays the show that’s actually playing on my TV?

This is why all efforts at interactive television have failed miserably.

Pointless Distinctions: barriers to entry to Real Journalism

Journalists can obtain a copy of this publication via the Password-protected Web site for accredited journalists or from the OECD’s Media Relations Division (tel. + 33 1 45 24 97 00).

Non-journalists can download the raw data underlying each indicator and find out how to obtain a copy of this publication here.

For further information, journalists are invited to contact Simon Chapple (tel. + 33 1 45 24 85 45) in the OECD’s Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Directorate.

Have to keep those filters in place. We certainly wouldn’t want the people to see what kind of analysis is being done without the unbiased intervention of the media.

What Benefit are Wire Services in a Well-Connected World?

As a former employee of The Associated Press, it’s been somewhat embarrassing to watch their plodding attempts to control data which has already escaped from their control. I recall some discussions with graphics and photo editors in 1996 or so about the feasibility of preventing unauthorized copying of images, while still allowing authorized copies. We were in the business of distributing the news, after all. The discussion eventually shifted to watermarking in order to identify material from the A.P.

(While you can make copies extremely expensive to produce, that itself is expensive — and thus not feasible for most. In case anyone is still wondering, not only is it not feasible to prevent copies, it’s not possible.)

The Associated Press began in the cooperation of several publishers in the task of quickly delivering news dispatches from the Mexican War:

an 1846 arrangement whereby Mexican war reports arriving at Mobile, Ala., by boat were rushed by special pony express to Montgomery, then 700 miles by U.S. mail stagecoach to the southern terminus of the telegraph near Richmond, Va. That express gave the [New York] Sun an edge of 24 hours or more on papers using the regular mail.

But Moses Yale Beach relinquished that advantage by inviting other New York publishers to join the Sun in a cooperative venture. Five papers joined in the agreement: the Sun, the Journal of Commerce, the Courier and Enquirer, the Herald and the Express.

….

Moses Yale Beach’s decision to share news with rivals was “neither altruistic nor cost-driven,” but recognized that “nothing could compete with the telegraph for speed, and all newspapers, rich or poor, would now be on a par,” historian Menahem Blondheim [author of News Over the Wires: the telegraph and the flow of public information in America, 1844-1897] said. [emphasis mine]

There are two aspects to the A.P.: gathering the news, and distributing it. The gathering of news involves the collection and analysis of data as well as the direct observation of events. For example, election returns are publicly available, but broadly distributed, disjointed, and officially slow. After the news is gathered, it is distributed. News gathering can be done by everybody, but there’s some sifting to be done to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is distributing the news that is most disrupted by the Internet.

When you can go directly to the source, what need is there for someone to bring the news to you?

The advantage of wire services has been time. The speedy delivery of information to a third-party, whether television, radio, or print, who can then bring it to you. That advantage is lost when the whole world is connected.

When you can find out now, why wait until tomorrow?

The Internet shortens time and shrinks space. And in that environment, any business that relies on the scarcity of either must find some other means to survive.

It is not that the cooperative did not recognize the threat and the promise of the Internet. Many of us there did. But like many long-lived organizations, there’s an institutional bias in favor of the status quo. How would A.P. serve its member organizations if it adapted to the changed environment?

Now it seems that the Associated Press will fill the role for newspapers that the R.I.A.A. and the M.P.A.A. have for their respective industries. I do not wish them luck.

Recommendations

John Battelle made some comment about Facebook and Twitter that Rick Klau shared in Google Reader the other day, and which I’m too lazy to find the link to at the moment, but the gist of which was that sites are starting to see Facebook drive as much traffic as search engines — that is, Google — do. There’s a different quality to the traffic because of its origin.

  • Traffic referred by a search engine indicates that someone was looking for something.
  • Traffic referred by Twitter or Facebook (or /. or Google Reader or ….) is recommended by someone.

I suppose this is obvious, but I like to state the obvious.

Supposing that I want more intelligent comments here than the spam I get, then my site should be more visible to the networked communities of readers using Facebook and Twitter so that word can get around. But I should still write more interesting stuff that’s worth sharing.

Not Enough Time

We’ve been very busy with work over the past month, preparing for a release this past weekend, and so parts of my normal routine have slipped away, such as grooming and eating dinner with my family. One might almost think that I work for a start-up in which I have a great personal stake. Anyway, I now have a pile of newspapers on my desk. I will likely read the comics and editorials, then dispose of the rest. While I have a certain fondness for reading the news on paper, it’s become almost pointless.

What keeps the local paper relevant is local news, of which it does not have enough.

Navel Gazing

For one of her classes last year, D. wrote a paper which analyzes an effect of the self-absorption of the media, in response to one of the unfounded assertions in the class’s text, that the rise of the Internet and “thousands” of cable channels had fragmented society. She asked, “Do Our Unlimited Choices Limit Our Shared Experiences?” Her expectation was that the text would be correct. It wasn’t. We’ve been led to believe that everybody watched the popular shows, and really only a small fraction of the population did.

I find this topic fascinating, and eagerly assisted with research and editing. My experience of “pop culture” was somewhat isolated, by choice and by my parents, so I felt out of place in the Big World at college. I wonder how many people there were familiar with all of the things they’d said they were, and how many were poseurs.

(Meanwhile, I’m seriously considering stopping our DirecTV subscription and removing the television, but do not yet have the support of other members of the household. Maybe we can compromise and keep Netflix.)