The Lighter Side of ‘Fake News’

There's nothing more serious to me than the fight against misinformation.

Innocent journalists are going to jail for doing their job. Elections and democracy itself are being compromised. The very notion of “Trust” is under attack, and it seems like the attackers are winning.

This needs to get fixed.

Serious people need to have solemn and clear-headed conversations and work very hard to fix what's been broken on our watch.

But do we have to take ourselves seriously every moment we are at work?

I sure hope not.

So, with this post, I begin what I hope will be a series of posts taking a look at the lighter side of fake news.

Today’s installment:

The World Cup of Information Warfare?

Inspired by an interview from Alex Stamos with CNN:

 

Nobody knows more about this than Alex, and he’s highly respected. (And I personally find it a bummer that he’s out of the trenches and is now an academic.)

But it got me thinking: Are the U.S. Elections really the World Cup of  Information Warfare?

I mean, he is talking very specifically about the U.S. Elections, and the US didn’t even get into the last actual World Cup. Americans are famously blasé about soccer, so making that analogy here may actually minimize what a big deal misinformation is. 

So, with all due respect to Alex, here’s a better breakdown:

Misinfo Category Sports Analogy Reason
U.S. Election Misinformation Super Bowl While it seems like there is actual competition, at least recently there really isn't. Everyone knows the team coached by Bill Belichick will win, and that he will cheat.

Similarly, everyone knows that the Russians cheated in trying to influence the U.S. elections. But in this case because of their influence, the one person who might stop the cheating is now in charge, so nothing will happen.
U.S. Election Hacking World Series of Poker This is different than misinformation, this is actually trying to manipulate votes. Anyone can get in, anyone can win.
Spammy “News” Olympics Much as with Olympic teams made up of people without much of an actual connection to the country they compete for, there are spammy operators all over the world pretending to be from somewhere else.

And there are so many different forms of competition that nobody can keep them all straight.

And just as we all know about, say Michael Phelps or the time that Google News showed a story about how Las Vegas Shooter Was a Rachel Maddow Fan, most of these competitors toil in obscurity. (Bonus: Just as with the actual Olympics, we know the Russians will cheat.)
People Claiming
“Fake News”
WWE  People who believe a politician who claims that stories he doesn't like are “fake” are the same people who believe Pro Wrestling is not fake. (By the way, it is not fake to report that Donald Trump is in the WWE Hall of Fame.)

  Trump-wrestlemania

 

 


Why I will keep a low profile during Misinfocon in Washington DC

I am really looking forward to Misinfocon in Washington DC. I am.

In part that's because I'm very interested in the topic of misinformation. (Currently that's the most common word I've seen used to avoid having to say “fake news” and perpetuating a phrase that the current occupant of the White House uses as an epithet to describe “news.”)

This is something I study a lot in my role as the founder of the Certified Content Coalition, a project of innovation suite from CableLabs.

But the real reason I’m looking forward to the conference is that I want to redeem myself after the last Misinfocon in Kyiv.

Why do I need to redeem myself?

Well, it's a little embarrassing, but in the spirit of transparency, bla bla bla, here goes:

An American in Kyiv

This was my first Misinfocon, and so I didn't know much of what to expect. I did read that it was a hackathon, and I've seen, participated in, and judged those many times in the startup world, so I was familiar with the format.

I just had never seen one outside of the world of startups. How would that work in the world of trying to root out bad actors trying to weaponize content for political gain? I was excited to find out.

Especially in Kyiv. I had to give credit to the organizers for taking this conference right to what could be considered Ground Zero in the fake news world. On the plane on the way over I had watched Winter on Fire at the recommendation of a friend who had been there. Kyiv is an amazing city. More on that in a bit.

The speakers that started off the day were excellent, and I learned a ton from people like Yevhen Fedchenko, a co-founder of StopFake.org and Veronika Víchová from Kremlin Watch.

Veronika gets special props for her Twitter picture:

Facts and chocolate

I understood going in that the problems were complex, and saw some of that first hand at the kick-off meeting for the Journalism Trust Initiative from Reporters Without Borders the week before.

But the speakers and many of the attendees helped me understand what was going on even a bit more.

After the first day of the conference, I fell asleep quickly, exhausted by the busy day, the Ukrainian beer, and the jet lag.

The next day brings what you might think of as a play in three acts:

Act I: Our Protagonist Goes On A Journey

I woke up very early the next day, and one story dominated the news.

At first, I thought maybe my VPN was busted because one of the top stories I was getting on Google News was from Kyiv, but it turns out that it was just a top global story, and it happened to be a quick Uber ride away from where the conference was happening.

Guradian-Babchenko Dead

Holy Crap!

This caused me to go into full freak-out for a bunch of reasons.

  1. Holy crap!
  2. It happened really close to where I was.
  3. My wife and son were at home, and might get this news, not sure. I didn't know if I should call and tell them I'm fine, alerting them to the fact that fake news fighters are being gunned down right down the street from where I was fighting fake news. Or if I shouldn't call.
  4. Holy crap!
  5. Misinfocon was all about figuring this information warfare, and here's a guy literally on the front lines of that war who became a casualty.
  6. So close.
  7. Holy crap!
  8. What does it mean to be fighting fake news if we can't even keep reporters alive?

I immediately shot off a note to the conference organizers. Dwight Knell made a nice mention of him to open the day, and then we kept going.

But wait, I kept thinking, is this it? Shouldn't we be doing more?

Once we broke into working groups -- and I'm not proud of this -- I pretty much hijacked the agenda of our group. We were supposed to be coming up with ideas of how to fight fake news. We did that, but all in the context of this one death.

Now, I should have been more circumspect. I mean, this was not the first journalist killed. Indeed, there were at least 65 just last year.

And while killing journalists is horrific, it’s not really central to the issues of misinformation. At least it hadn't been. That changed, as we will see.

None of that mattered. I was the excitable American, and Something Must Be Done. THIS SHALL NOT STAND!

I thought, anyway.

Act II, Our Protagonist Leads A (Small) Uprising

The format for the “hack” part of Day 2 was that we broke up into three groups. Building on the work that had been done the previous day, we were supposed to come up with some real, tangible solutions. The rules were that we were to come up with ideas with no concerns about budget or approvals. Just assume that we can get all that, and go to town.

So we did.

I went to our group and made an impassioned plea. The death of this journalist — right here in the city where we were meeting — could not go without note.

So fired up, I was, that the group all got into the action.

Misinfocon_305

Here I am, in the early stages of making an arse of myself. (Photo courtesy Misinfocon.)

 

We came up with a whole plan. I had the brilliant idea that we should make a statue of the fallen journalist, and put it right in the central square of Kyiv. 

Some of the others in the group suggested that we maybe do something that would actually honor journalism, not just this guy. It's so good this was a group project, and not an individual one, or I really would have looked like a moron.

So we came up with a whole list of things, starting with the statue, but then moving very quickly past that to ideas that would make a difference.

  1. A statue in Maidan, the central area of Kyiv made so famous in the winter of 2014 when protesters took over the square. More than 100 died, but the protests eventually led to the ouster of  the Kremlin-installed president, Viktor Yanukovich, who remains in exile in Russia to this day.
  2. Matching statues in major capitals around the world to highlight the importance of journalists and the fact that so many are killed.
  3. An endowment to pay for some number of journalists to report from war-torn areas. With the changing economics for newsrooms, very few news publishers pay to send reporters into the most dangerous regions, even when those are the exact regions that most need the cleansing power of sunshine from an audience paying attention to the facts.
  4. Along with paying the journalists, paying for extensive security for them, and for their families back home.
  5. This one was grim, but was a great idea that came from one of the local participants: Life Insurance for the reporter. The family needs to carry on if the worst happens, and if they don't have to carry on in poverty, it will certainly help. Any children left behind won't need to worry about a roof over their heads, and will be able to afford to go to college.
  6. I don't know if we were channeling Warren Zevon, but it seemed like we were thinking Send Lawyers, Guns and Money. The next item was to set up lawyers to help these journalists navigate the legal minefields while they are in the literal minefields.

I then went on to a crowdsourcing platform and found a guy who turned a photo of Arakady into something that looked like a statue.

The freelancer tried it a couple of ways, one of them with a green hue that was supposed to look a bit like the green of the Statue of Liberty. Another one of the participants from Kyiv nixed that one. It was news to me, but a well known local story is of the Little Green Men — soldiers who tried to be known as the “Polite People” were actually Russian soldiers wearing green uniforms with no insignia. Putin thought he could get away with denying that they were Russian soldiers, and in some ways he did.

Anyway, no green Arkady.

We finally decided on one that just looked like marble, and we'd put an orange safety vest on the statue. Then we'd place it in the central square. We used a tourist picture I'd snapped on my first night Kyiv, and with that, we had our presentation.

Arkady statue

I then was hoping someone else would go on stage and present, but they all looked at me to do it, and so I did.

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 2.37.40 PM

 I then had to leave to get to the airport to fly to Lisbon, via Frankfurt. About as far of a trip as you can make without leaving Europe. (Most people in Ukraine really wants to be part of the EU, and Putin wants Ukraine to be part of Russia, hence the conflict.)

Because the first leg of the flight was a bit late, I had to run through the massive Frankfurt airport, I was basically out of communication with the outside world for about six hours.

What a six hours that was for the world of Fake News.

Act III: Our Protagonist Learns His Lesson

My plan was that as soon as I was safe in Lisbon, I was going to call home to let my family know that I was safe.

But by then, well, the only thing that was in danger was my reputation.

You’ve certainly heard the news: The brave journalist was not, in fact, dead. The blood seen near his body was pigs blood. The story is that this journalist was involved in a plot to fake his own death did so to help authorities find those who really did want him dead.

I've read all kinds of stories about this, including one that came out just before I sat down to write this, and I still don’t really know what's going on.

One thing that clearly did happen is that the killing of journalists is now firmly in the territory of misinformation. Right after Arkady Babchenko showed up at the press conference about his own death, Russians said that they were shocked, SHOCKED, that people would accuse them of killing journalists, and this one wasn't even dead. Maybe some of the other dead journalists aren't really even dead.

image from cdn.newsapi.com.au

What have I done?, Babchenko seems to be thinking. Created a mess, is the answer. (Photo from news.com.au)

 

It's hard these days to say that Kremlin agitprop has a point, but in this case, well, they weren't wrong.

This is something pointed out in a story I read the next morning in my Lisbon hotel room from the New York Times that quoted a tweet from Christophe Deloire about how dangerous this was for journalism.

Then I walked over to the Global Editors Network conference and the first two people I saw were Christophe Deloire and Olaf Steenfadt from Reporters Without Borders. 

I couldn't believe that they were quoted in the New York Times, and they couldn't believe that I'd been in Kyiv for the whole outré episode.

We agreed that we may never know exactly what happened, but we do know they'll be talking about it in journalism schools for the next 50 years.

Lesson learned?

I did learn three things, however.

  1. Misinfocon is a great conference. I don't know what will happen there in D.C. exactly — that’s the beauty of a hackathon. But if the one in Kyiv is any kind of guide, it will have all the right people in the right place and something magical may just come out of it.
  2. It might be better if I just keep quiet for this one. If I lead a team it may produce a result that won't be judged well in the light of history.
  3. Slow down and listen. Let me explain that one a bit more:

While we were in a bit of a break at the last event, one of the participants who was from Kyiv told me about their most famous poet, Taras Shevchenko.

I was in such a hurry to Do Something, that I thought it was quaint and possibly a bit annoying that someone would be talking to me about someone who’d been dead for 150-odd years. I’m trying to be a better listener, though, so I pulled up his Wikipedia page while I was talking to her, and then promptly forgot all about it.

A couple of weeks later, when I was finally closing all the tabs from that trip, I found that page. 

Here's the last part of a poem that apparently just about everyone in Ukraine knows:

Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants' blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.

 

Oh bury me, then rise ye up.

The woman who told me about this poet didn’t know that Arkady Babchenko — at just about that exact moment in a room a mile or so from where we were sitting — was figuratively “rising up.” 

But something about this whole thing compelled her to share that with me, and now I share it with you.

Freedom of the press is under assault right now, but a lot of us our fighting back. We are all working on different pieces of it, but we are all a lot like a family... as Taras Shevchenko might say, the family of the free.

That family is gathering Monday, and I am so glad that I'll be there for this family meeting.

But if something big happens in the news on Monday night, I won’t say a word about it on Tuesday.

Not. One. Word.

 


Who the hell is Scott Yates?????

First, why this post?

I've been kind of off the radar of social media lately, and this blog has been quiet, even by the not-so-staggering standards of years past.

It's because I'm working on a new project. Can't talk about it just yet, but soon you won't be able to get me to shut up.

Once that project becomes public, my profile on the interwebs may grow a bit, and there may be some people who have the question I posed in the title of this post:

Who the hell is Scott Yates????

In the spirit of always making it easy for the reader, I offer this post as an answer to that question.

One warning: If you come here thinking that you will find proof that I'm a proto-communist, or a quasi-fascist, or whatever, you will likely be disappointed.

I approach politics and life with a single point of reference, and that is that I like to solve problems. That approach has meant I've spent time as policy wonk for a conservative Republican, and as volunteer for the homeless, public television, immigrants, and other traditionally liberal redoubts. 

If you are looking for a box to put me in, it will be a weird-ass box.

Early days

I grew up in Denver happy and basically well-adjusted, given that my mother was a licensed social worker, and read all the books about how to raise well-adjusted kids. She was a liberal dating back to the days when she and her father cried together when JFK died.

I attended CU-Boulder, but dropped out. No scandal there. I wish there was. I wish I could have a story like Steve Wozniak, who reportedly was asked to leave after he hacked into the Regents computer system. Mostly I just didn't know what I was doing, so I left, and spent some time as a live-in volunteer at a Catholic Worker house in community with the homeless, and my best friend, who was doing the same thing for much more intentional reasons.

Then I decamped for New York to attend NYU, and work in the publishing capitol of the world. I had a great time there where I was a columnist for the school paper, and I got internships at New York Newsday and SPY Magazine. I got to meet living heroes of mine in person, like the time I got to meet Nat Hentoff when spoke at the original Catholic Worker House. I loved every second I was in New York.

80s-esque

The author, pictured in the 1980s, at least 10 years after that style of mustache had gone out of style.

 

Then I travelled some, saw some of the world, and then returned to my home state of Colorado and took my first job as a cub reporter at the Durango Herald. That was followed by an ill-advised cup of coffee at the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American. I then returned to Colorado and worked at Loveland Reporter-Herald, my second "P.M." paper. (That's what old newspaper hands call an afternoon paper, printed after noon and delivered by high school kids on bikes. That's where I learned to write fast, and why I get approving nods from journalists who've been around.)

I then moved to a weekly paper in my hometown of Denver best known at the time for all the futon advertisements: Westword. It's now better known for marijuana advertising.

You can look at some of the stories I wrote on the Westword site, I think that was the first place to publish my stories on the web. If you want to look for a slant to what I wrote for the papers before that, well, good luck with that. Mostly it was school board stories, so...

After Westword I essentially got out of journalism. I did some work at a health food magazine, but much of that was helping them transition to the Web. Then one day I got a call from Governor Bill Owens. He was a conservative, and he wanted some help with writing, and a few other jobs, including running a conservative think tank for him. He never asked for my party affiliation, just asked if I'd work for him. I did, happily and productively, for years and he remains a friend to this day.

I'm not actually sure what my affiliation was. In those days you had to register with one party to vote in the primary, and because I lived in Denver I probably registered as a Democrat so I'd have some interesting primaries to vote in. Republican primaries in Denver are something like gatherings of non-alcoholic beer fans: Lonely and kind of pointless.

I was conservative, though. I remember my mother wondering where she'd gone wrong when I told her I wanted to vote for Bill Armstrong, and even put a bumper sticker for him on my Datsun.

These days I'm like George Will: a homeless Republican. The party left me while I was standing there, advocating for conservative values like the rule of law, and a stable and limited government.

Startup Life

It didn't take a lot of foresight to realize that there wasn't a great future in journalism, as much as I loved it.

I enjoyed the people in the newsrooms, and the culture, and the problem-solving that came with trying to figure out how to distill complex problems into understandable stories that would hold a readers' interest for 900 words. I really did love all that, but I also started getting frustrated writing about problems and not solving them.

It was one day, stuck in traffic, that I realized I could to some small degree actually solve traffic problems with information.

Kids, ask your parents about the days before iPhones and Google Maps when you couldn't pull a super computer out of your pocket and find out what traffic was like. In those days, we'd all just finish work, go get in a car, and get stuck in traffic without knowing how bad it was really going to be. Ten minutes after we were into the drive and already stuck in traffic, you could hear a guy in a helicopter tell you how screwed you were, which was... not awesome.

So I started a company that let people know about traffic before they got stuck in it: MyTrafficNews.com. In those days, companies like mine weren't called "startups." It was called a "dot-com." I got a patent on that, and eventually sold the company to traffic.com, which later got bought by NavTeq, which was bought by Nokia, which was bought by Microsoft. Food chain in action.

I then started another company that eventually became BillTrack50, and is delighting clients to this day, helping them keep track of legislation. The original company, however, ended up in a lawsuit against some of its investors. I signed a thing saying that I can't say what happened with that suit, which is an obtuse way of saying that I won, but not in court. The original court filings are public, and you can go and get those and read them (I hired a lawyer who was a pretty good writer). But I signed an agreement saying that I would not continue to publish them on the internet as I had been, so sorry for the hassle there.

I then wrote a book called The Future of Water, and then started another company, BlogMutt. You can read lots about that all over this blog, and the BlogMutt blog.

Then in 2016 I decided to hire someone to replace myself. The new CEO and I were together at a trade show in Boston when the election happened.

I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do after that, but I wrote a post about what I wanted to do, and at the top of the list was to be an Entrepreneur in Residence. It's good to announce to the world what you want to do, because that's exactly what happened, with the most amazing research facility you've never heard of: CableLabs.

I love the concept of an Entrepreneur in Residence because it allows a person to really think broadly about problems and solutions. That's where I came up with this idea that I'll be announcing very soon, I hope.

 

So, that's it. That's my story. Feel free to dig in and see if you can find something more embarrassing than a picture of me with a cheesy Village People-esque mustache, though it's hard to imagine anything more horrifying than that.


Everything bad is Bill Clinton's Fault. Except for Man-Buns.

I challenge you to find fault with any the following:

  1. If the #metoo movement would have been around, Bill Clinton wouldn't have survived being governor of Arkansas, let alone survive a Democratic primary for President.
  2. Bill Clinton's abuse of Monica Lewinsky was horrifying.
  3. It was so horrifying, that a respected reporter was completely correct to try to report it. 
  4. The true story of what Bill Clinton did to Lewinsky was killed by Newsweek editors.
  5. The killed story made its way to what was then an obscure website called the Drudge Report.
  6. The Drudge Report became one of the top sites on the internet after that.
  7. As it grew it sent huge amounts of traffic to a site called Breitbart, making it a huge success.
  8. One of Breitbart's founders was Steve Bannon.
  9. At Breitbard, Bannon worked with investor Robert Mercer.
  10. Mercer funded Cambridge Analytica, which also hired Bannon.
  11. Cambridge Analytica, Bannon, and Mercer were key players in getting Donald Trump elected.

Is there any fault in any of that progression? Any of those facts?

Now, a logical conclusion is that without that set of facts, maybe we wouldn't have Cambridge Analytica and Steve Bannon would still be a third-rate movie producer, and maybe a few thousand voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania would not have voted for Trump.

Unlike the numbered facts above, it's debatable. 

Bill Clinton didn't just create a world where Trump could beat his wife, he created a world where it was Trump, and not someone else, would challenge his wife. "How do we maximize Trump?" was a memo that actually circulated in the Clinton campaign, according to an inside account.

What's not debatable is that Bill Clinton sowed the seeds that made things bad for Hillary, Monica, and women in general.

He also made things bad for immigrants, way before Trump figured out how to make that an issue.

But Bill Clinton made things good for friends like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and Donald Trump.

 

image from i.dailymail.co.uk

So, while we can't blame Bill Clinton for man-buns, just about everything else that's really bad right now can be traced back to him.


Trump Watergate Timeline Comparison - Separated at Birth?

After reading a tweet from Kurt Andersen (without a doubt the smartest and best boss I ever had) I got thinking more about the timeline of Watergate and our current president.

I worked for Kurt at the old Spy Magazine. I'd like to think that this is the sort of thing that Spy would have done. (The headline is an homage to a regular feature in Spy, Separated at Birth?)

If I had all day, I'd do more of a Spy thing, and ask the design team to make this look better, and ask the photo research team to come up with some amazing photos that draw connections, etc. But in the spirit of DONE, here it is.

I hope this is helpful to people all over the political spectrum.

  • For people that want Trump gone tomorrow, this shows pretty clearly that as of July we were really only about half done with the process. There's a long way to go.
  • For people that are tired of the drip-drip-drip, perhaps this will show why it almost has to happen that way.
  • For supporters of President Trump who are currently comforted by the fact that he's still in office despite what you perceive to be relentless media attacks, you won't find comfort, exactly, but with luck you'll see that those on the other side politically are not delusional about Trump, and that the sweep of history is not on Trump's side.

OK, here's the highlights, with lots of help from this page, this Watergate timeline and this Trump/Russia timeline:

 

Nixon/Watergate Trump/Russia
1972 2016
June 17     Burglars break into the DNC headquarters at Watergate June 9    Don Jr., Manafort and Kushner meet with Russian government official promising damaging info about Clinton. Trump tweets later that day for the first time about "33,000 emails."
June 20    Washington Post reports connection between burglary and Hunt July 18    Washington Post reports Trump wants GOP to go soft on Russia
Sept. 15   Hunt, Liddy and burglars indicted Oct. 7    DHS and DNI announce that Russia is interfering in election
Nov. 7      Nixon reelected  Nov. 8    Trump elected
1973 2017
Jan. 8    Burglary trial begins Jan. 4    Mike Flynn reports that he is under investigation
Jan. 11  Hunt pleads guilty Jan. 6    CIA, FBI and NSA report that Putin ordered a campaign to influence the election
Jan. 15    Other burglars plead guilty Jan. 10  Sessions tells congress that he “did not have communications” with the Russians
Jan. 20    Nixon inauguration Jan. 20    Trump inauguration
Jan. 30    Liddy convicted Jan. 30    Trump fires Yates
Feb. 28    FBI director tells congress that Dean had “probably lied” to FBI. Feb. 28    Trump staff instructed to preserve any Russia-related communications because of investigation
March 17 McCord refutes previous denial that he was working for the White House March 17 Page refutes previous denial that he never met with Kislyak
April 27    FBI Director Gray resigns April 5    Nunes recuses himself
April 30    Ehrlichman, Haldeman resign, Dean fired. April 11   Comey tells Rosenstein about “serious concern about the way in which the president is interacting, especially with the FBI”
May 17    Senate Watergate Committee begins hearings May 9    Trump fires Comey

May 19
    Cox appointed as special prosecutor

May 17  Mueller appointed special counsel
June 3    Dean testifies that he discussed the cover-up with Nixon at least 35 times June 8    Comey testifies to Senate Intelligence Committee, worried about president lying, says he hopes there are tapes
July 13    13 months after Watergate burglary, New York Times reports on Oval Office tapes of phone calls and meetings July 8    13 months after meeting of Don Jr., Manafort and Kushner with person they believe to be Russian government official, New York Times reports on that meeting

Oct. 20    "Saturday Night Massacre" firing of special prosecutor.

Oct. 30    "Manafort Monday" Manafort, Gates arrested. Special Prosecutor's office also unseals previous indictment and plea deal with Papadopoulos

Oct. 19 John Dean enters guilty plea after cooperating with prosecutors. 

Dec. 1 Mike Flynn enters guilty plea after cooperating with prosecutors.

Nov. 17    "I am not a crook" speech

Nearly Every Day Trump tweets something saying Russia investigation is phony.

Dec. 7  White House can't explain 18-minute gap in tapes.

Dec. 11 White House can't explain 18-day period that Mike Flynn wasn't fired.

1974

2018

March 1    Nixon named as "unindicted co-conspirator" along with the "Watergate Seven"

 

April 16    Special prosecutor subpoenas tapes

 

May 9    Impeachment hearings begin

 

June 27    House passes Articles of Impeachment 

 

Aug. 9    Nixon resigns from office

 

One last note:

One of the young staffers working on Watergate for the House Judiciary Committee was Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Watergate-hillary

We may not have learned all the lessons we needed to learn from Watergate, but perhaps there's a young staffer working behind the scenes right now who will one day run for president, and if she doesn't come to fame as the wife of a guy who was once impeached himself... and if the election isn't tampered with... maybe she'll even win.


“Up and to the right” -- Three Steps to Consistent Growth

 

There's a scene early in Groundhog Day when the host where Bill Murray's character is staying says something about the weather to him, and he launches into a whole meteorological discussion that he would do on TV, and the person just stares at him. Then he says:

Did you want to talk about the weather or were you just making chitchat?

"Chit Chat," she says, awkwardly for both of them.

 

"Up and to the right"

When you are a CEO, and someone asks you how things are going at your company, you never are sure if they are just making chit-chat, or if they are really interested in the metrics of your business.

I suppose I could have asked which one it was, but taking the lesson from that scene, I always thought that would seem awkward, so I always just said: “Up and to the right!”

I guess I could have just said “Up!” given that we’re all marching at the same pace to the right on the spreadsheet of life, but “Up and to the right” seemed more conversational and worked for both sets of people asking. At least I thought it did.

Groundhog-day

When someone was actually asking about the health of the business, they were always glad to hear "up and to the right."

Anyone who’s been around business for any length of time knows that to have 20 positive quarters in a row is hard. Really hard.

And so it was. It was the one thing I thought about more than any other: How to make sure we would grow, and keep on growing. All. The. Time.

And grow we did.

After five years of leading a company that grew every single quarter, I decided to step away, and now BlogMutt has a new CEO.

 

It's still all about growth

So, what am I doing now?

I'm still thinking about growth, all the time. 

Also, I'm very glad that I thought about how I want to grow in my own life, and that I wrote it down and published it.

The top thing on my list was to be an Entrepreneur in Residence. A guy I know saw that, and one thing lead to another and now I'm happy to say that I am a version of an EIR at CableLabs/UpRamp. It's an amazing opportunity, and I'm learning a ton and feel like I'm contributing to the world of cable and broadband in some meaningful ways, helping an established industry think about growth.

(My biggest contribution for CableLabs is not getting to define once and for all exactly what is a startup... but it's up there!)

I'm also doing a couple of other things that I'll write about more later, including helping a great friend grow a business that could actually put a dent in the opioid crisis.

I'm also mentoring some new startups, and have a few other projects going, including one where I'm analyzing some data for my pals at BlogMutt. (REALLY interesting findings percolating there, and I'll share them here, of course, once that's ready to go.)

In addition to that, I've also started doing some executive coaching for CEOs who are trying to grow faster and do more with the hours that they have.

Out of that coaching work has come a new opportunity: Helping launch a new kind of adventure. What I love about it is that it allows me to pay very particular attention to top-line growth.

 

Steps to Consistent Growth

The idea is simple: While techniques for growth are pretty well established, it can be difficult for operating CEOs to focus on those techniques every day. Once the realities of daily operations set in, it's quite difficult to have the foresight, focus, and courage to ignore what's going on in the business on a daily basis, and do what needs to be done for growing the company in the future.

There's an analogous situation in the public arena that I wrote about recently. In short: The future has no lobbyist. The status quo does have a lobbyist, and so things typically remain the same.

It's the same thing even in small companies. Employees are focused on the tasks at hand, but there's nobody who has the job of representing the unknown future.

Well, if that's your job, and you know that you aren't at your maximum and the organization you lead is not growing as much as it could, I might have an answer for you.

The answer is the 10X Growth Club.

(That's what we're calling it for the moment. Not sure if the name will stick.)

You can read much more about it on the site, but in short we are going to make sure that everyone involved is going to do three things:

  1. Set really aggressive, specific, structured goals for growth in a business for 18 months from now, basically by the end of 2018. We will work with you to find the right goals specific to your business.
  2. In a structured way, read the best thinking on growth, and apply it rigorously.
  3. As a group of peers with a lead facilitator, keep each other accountable to reach our individual goals. (This will be much different than other peer groups you may know about. See the site for more on that.)

So, there you have it: Three steps to consistent growth.

You may be thinking that you are already doing your own version of that, and maybe you are, but are you getting the results you think are possible?

Do you see a clear path to 20 positive quarters in a row? How about four?

If not, maybe you'll want to join us Thursday night.

If you aren't in Denver, or if you don't want to join a club, any club, (I get that, but would tell you to get over yourself) or if you are reading this too late... Just follow those three steps on your own, including getting into a group of peers with a leader who's been through those battles. 

Join us?

If you are in a spot where you'd like to see more consistent growth, I hope you'll consider joining us on the evening of Thursday, July 13th. Write to me to get an invite link.

If you know someone who is leading an organization, and wants to grow, I hope you'll send this post or the 10X site to that person.

Thanks very much in advance.


Up and to the right,
I remain,

-Scott Yates


What Comes Next?

Last year I decided to step down as CEO of BlogMutt. While I'm still founder and board chairman, I'm no longer involved day-to-day.

What comes next?

Sunrise-scott-yates


Well, I'm now realizing that I'm not interested in starting another company, not at the moment. I don't mind hard work, but creating another startup from scratch right now just feels… lonely.

However, there's a problem: I don't play golf. 

I don't ski.

I don't want to train for a marathon, a triathlon, a decathlon or even the Butt-Numb-Athon.

In short, I gotta get back in the game. I wanna be in it, solving problems, making customers happy, bringing new approaches to sticky problems.

A bunch of friends asked me what I want to do when I announced I was leaving, and I didn't really have a good answer. After a bit of a break, and thinking about it for a while, I finally have one, so this post is essentially the answer to that question.

Here's three scenarios of what might make sense:

 

Scenario One: Entrepreneur In Residence

Let's say you are in an established company. Maybe a growth-stage tech company, maybe a media operation. Maybe even a non-profit that's got a good track record.

Things are going well enough for you, but you realize that the world is changing fast, and you have a sneaking suspicion that you aren't really keeping up. What you'd like is for someone to come into your operation and do a few things without upsetting the apple cart too much. 

What kind of things?

  • Talk to the team, see what entrepreneurial ideas are lurking around, but aren't getting any daylight.
  • Launch a new low-impact initiative, maybe a podcast or something that everyone thinks is a good idea, but it never seems to get done.
  • Evaluate other new ideas, see if there's any traction.

The concept of an Entrepreneur In Residence is catching on at places like Target, Cisco, AARP, and even the federal government.

Typically an EIR just comes in for a defined time, usually one year. After that you'll have a much better sense of the future, and you'll have a program in place if you want to bring in another fresh set of eyes a year from now.

 

Scenario Two: New Product Leader

Let's say you have a new product idea, but your current team is busy with the current product. You've got some indication that this new product could do well, but you need to know how well it will integrate with what you do now, and you need to figure out what you don't know about actually launching this thing.

You want someone to come in who won't freak everybody out, but will also move the concept forward, and fast. That I can do.

 

Scenario Three: CEO Transition

I just ran a process to gently ease a CEO out of his position, run a search that he liked, and then found a great new CEO who is now kicking ass.

It's true, I was the first CEO in question there, but I have to say that I really did a good job at that.

Do you know a CEO who is, perhaps, a bit restless? Or perhaps that CEO just is no longer a good fit for what the company needs? And that CEO knows it, but just doesn't know how to let go?

I can help. I can help the CEO really look at the situation without a lot of emotional baggage. I can give hope to that person to see what the world might be like having moved on? And I can run a search to find the perfect new candidate, and then make sure that new CEO gets going in the right direction.

It would be hard, if not impossible, for someone who hasn't been in those CEO shoes to have that conversation. There are a lot of recruiters out there, but this is something entirely different. I've been there. I can empathize, strategize, and then move things forward for the person, and for the company.

 

Scenario Four: ??????

I realize that what will actually happen may be a bit different from what I plan on happening. Always works that way, right?

But if you are someone, or if you know someone, who might be interested in talking to me about one of these scenarios, or something entirely different, be in touch

Thanks.


BlogMutt News: Scott Yates Stepping Down as CEO

(This post originally appeared here.)

As of today, I'm going to be stepping down from day-to-day leadership of BlogMutt.

This news is big for me because I love everything about the company: the staff, the writers, the customers. Even the goofy name. BlogMutt is an exceptional operation.

So, why leave?

Scott-first-blogmutt-office

Well, we all have our strengths, and it's clear to me that my strengths are more in starting things... in creating something out of nothing. That and working out of 100-square-foot offices on a desk of a piece of plywood, like in the picture of me above in BlogMutt's very first office.

What BlogMutt needs now is someone who is good at:

1. Operations. Managing everything from sales to health insurance to product.

2. Growth. Understanding how to reach into new markets, reach new audiences, and build great partnerships.

For the short term, I'll be spending most of my time looking for someone to do that.

We need someone who can manage KPIs, EBITDA, CLV, etc. and not get MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over). I'm not that kind of CEO. As much as I love BlogMutt, I am just not that person.

Together with Wade Green—BlogMutt's other founder and technology head (who is staying on)—I'm now looking for that person, someone who can move us forward on all that management stuff, but also someone who can understand the magic we've created here.

20140108_154157.jpg

Me, Courtney & Wade in the world's shakiest selfie, in BlogMutt's second office.

Qualities of this individual include:

  • Someone who is delighted to help small agencies be able to compete with much larger agencies because they have the power of BlogMutt behind them.
  • Someone who is moved to tears, as I am, by our writers. I spoke about them here, and we’ve shared some of the stories on our blog here, here, here, here, here, or really just about anywhere on our blog.
  • Someone who loves loves loves small businesses and understands the battle they face is almost always time, and how much BlogMutt can help them.
  • And someone who recognizes that the greatest assemblage of talent in any one office anywhere in the great state of Colorado is found on the second floor of an otherwise-boring building behind the PDQ gas station and convenience store in south Boulder, BlogMutt's fourth office.

 

Do you know that person? If so, please be in touch. See below for more.

BlogMutt-staff.jpg

(Most of) the aforementioned assemblage of talent, complete with my
wrangling of the mascot mutt, Buddy, in front of BlogMutt's third office.

What comes next?

So, with BlogMutt getting some new management, what's next for me?

Well, you'll still see me around plenty. I'll still be on the board of BlogMutt, and will come by the office with my mutt, and hang around in the writer forum. I may even write a post or two, like I did in the earliest days. I'll probably still do public appearances, like the one I'm doing about man vs. machine at Denver Startup Week.

scott_speech_outsourced_blog_writing.png

Speaking from the heart, at Sum and Substance in July 2016.

I'll continue to do the #TechTuesday spots on 9News.

I’ll keep mentoring at TechStars and elsewhere.

I have a book idea.

I'll also be spending more time on my plan to fix Daylight Saving Time.

And I may be starting something new. What would that be, you ask?

Well, six or seven years ago I was fascinated by "crowdsourcing" in the loosest possible sense of the word. After a lot of conversations came the world’s best crowdsourced blog writing service, BlogMutt. Now I'm interested in "food." I read stuff like this about our broken food system and I find myself interested. Or maybe I'm just hungry.

In other words, it's time for me to sit under my own vine and fig tree. I’m no George Washington, but I am inspired by what he did, stepping down. That really had never happened before. And now we all get to live in a world where "no one can make us afraid."

And like Washington, I’ll be able to show the world that I can step down and the company will thrive because BlogMutt is so strong.

I’ve been lucky to have grown up in that world that Washington envisioned.

Really, I’ve been lucky my whole life. I had a great childhood, and I have a great family now.

I was lucky enough to work as a reporter and writer for years in New York City and all over Colorado.

And in a world where most startups fail, I’ve been lucky enough to create three of them that have all succeeded.

Thanks for joining me on this journey.

And by the way, before I can do any of the new stuff, I need to know that BlogMutt is in good hands. So if you know of someone who might be a good fit for the CEO job at BlogMutt, please contact me at CEO [at] blogmutt.com. That won't be my email much longer, so write soon.


Jackson vs. Hamilton: Which one should we dump from US Currency? [Infographic]


The current controversy over putting a woman on the $10 bill — instead of the $20 — is helpful because it sheds a bright light on the powerful history, and all it represents today.

But history can be hard, so to help make it easier here's a helpful infographic. Feel free to share, embed, print, post, and then share some more. Let's bring history home, and ensure that no injustice is done in the paper we carry in our pockets every day.

Jackson v Hamilton

The full PDF for your full use is here.

For more reading, I recommend Ron Chernow's essay, and that you make plans to go see Hamilton on Broadway.


It was the best of times, it was… Screw it. Dickens can eat my shorts

I could easily come up with a list of the top 10 days of my life. And… if I had to... I could also come up with the worst 10, too.

But never — ever — have I had a day that would compete to be on both lists.

Until today.

Here's the story:

In addition to my work as a CEO and my regular family life, there have been two main things that have occupied my attention over the last year: Daylight Saving Time and Alexander Hamilton.

I've written at great length about DST. I haven't written as much about Hamilton.

My fascination grew in tandem with my son. Several years ago we watched this video. If you haven't seen it, or even if you have, here it is again:

 

My son actually memorized that whole rap, and last summer when we were touring around Philly and New York City he performed it several times.

One of those times he performed it was for the National Park Ranger who was the leading Hamilton expert in Philly. It was from him that we learned about some Hamilton events happening in New York City, and it was there we learned about the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, and went on a walking tour of Hamilton sites. We attended a fascinating lecture about Hamilton, one pointing out how he was absolutely the most important founding father after Washington himself. We attended a dramatic reading of the letters between Hamilton and Burr at the Hamilton Grange.

Then we visited Hamilton's grave on the anniversary of the day of his death. It was all my son could do to keep from correcting the tour guides who kept mangling the facts of his death, and never even mentioned that they were standing above his remains on the very day he died. They all made the same lame joke about New Jersey, and then moved on.

After that I picked up the book that inspired Miranda, Chernow's overwhelmingly compelling biography.

And so when Lin-Manuel Miranda announced that the play about Hamilton would be opening at the Public Theater, we snapped up two tickets on a night when the cast would be answering questions after the play (my son loves that stuff) and when he would only miss one day of school. We got a great deal on some tickets on Southwest, and planned to have a geek-out father-son fun trip to see the play about the "Ten dollar Founding Father without a father."

Then the play opened, and the reviews started coming in. They weren't just good, they were stupendous, they wore out the thesaurus. I don't typically even like theater and I really don't like musicals, but these reviews were so good that I got crazy excited.

Then the celebrities started showing up. It started slowly, with actors who were well known and highly respected. John Lithgow was the first one I noticed.

Then the celebrities kept getting bigger and bigger. The Clintons went last week, but the one that impressed me most was Weird Al Yankovik, who declared it a "Work of Genius."

B_C4ZW2XAAEh3Hm

A guy who clearly is a genius doesn't toss words like that around lightly.

So our excitement was off the charts, even before we knew that Paul McCartney went to see the play the night before we were scheduled to go.

B_TrzzeWoAET0YX

We woke up to reports of bad weather, but we figured it would be OK. We're from Colorado, a little cold and snow is no big deal.

Then the flight was delayed a half hour, then an hour.

Then — just after clearing security and walking on the cool bridge at Denver International Airport (the only structure in the world that a 747 can taxi under) with the Native American music playing — I got the text. Flight Cancelled.

We didn't know it at the time, but there was a very good reason why.

B_WM7UYW8AAOv0Q-2

We scrambled around at the airport, trying to figure out if there was some way to go to some other nearby airport, but to no avail. 

There would be no trip.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 5.47.31 AM

So then there was the matter of the tickets. We came up with a plan to try to find someone else who had tickets for some future performance, and would be willing to trade with us. Through the magic of social media… Maybe?

Even Lin-Manuel Miranda himself retweeted my plea. Stand-up guy.

But it didn't work. We did have some offers to buy the tickets, and given that they are getting scalped for more than $1,800 a pop, and there are still none available, it's no wonder.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 9.22.48 PM

Luckily we have some great friends in New York who were able to get through the muck to see the show. As I'm writing this I haven't heard any reports yet, but I expect they will be glowing. Which is great, it really is.

Still, it hurts. Still sitting in my suitcase is my copy of the Chernow biography of Hamilton that inspired Miranda. I was going to bring it on the off chance that Chernow might be there the same night as our tickets. 

He was.

So painful… And yet...

This is also one of the greatest days of my life. You see, on this day an idea I had for a way to fix it so we won't have to change our clocks back and forth twice per year actually got introduced into a state legislature. The text I wrote is now part of the legislative process.

Put another way, I had an idea that started at the dinner table with my family, and that idea became an official draft resolution being considered by the legislature of one of the 50 US States, and it will be real in other states soon.

I'll be writing much more about that over on the Time blog, but suffice it to say that this is the very first real step in growing that idea into a reality.

So, is this one of the greatest days of my life, or one of the worst?

I know what Alexander Hamilton would call a day with stunning highs and lows and a production of a couple of thousand words of prose.

He'd call it "Thursday."

Remember, this is a guy who had stunning public victories.

  • As a teenager he wrote more persuasively than anyone about why the colonies should revolt against Britain.
  • He became Washington's indispensable chief of staff.
  • He lead troops to a decisive and yet honorable victory during the war, one of the few battles the Revolutionary troops actually won without help from the French.
  • He was the only founding father that didn't own slaves and worked harder than any other to ban slavery.
  • Nearly single-handedly pushed for the Constitutional Convention, and then lobbied harder than anyone to get the U.S. Constitution passed, something that was not at all a sure thing at the time.
  • Decided that it would help if the new federal government had a working guideline, so pushed for the creation of the Federalist Papers and wrote a huge majority of them himself.
  • Again nearly on his own, he pushed for a strong central government and forcefully but respectfully put down the Whiskey Rebellion.
  • Founded the Federal Bank, the Coast Guard, a college set up to embrace the Native Americans, and the New York Post.

And crushing personal losses:

  • He was alone with his mother when she died a horrible death.
  • The cousin who became his caretaker committed suicide.
  • The ship that brought him to America caught fire and was nearly lost at sea.
  • He saw the slave-trade up close.
  • He was lured into a America's first tawdry political sex scandal.
  • His oldest son died in a duel defending his father's honor.
  • And then with the same pistol that killed his son, he was shot down by repugnant little man in a duel over nothing.

Perhaps most impressive to me given my not-exactly-staggering literary output is that Hamilton would regularly crank out a few thousand words in a day, and he did it with a quill and ink.

I may not have gotten to see the play, but I got the message. The Hamilton play is probably the best thing to happen to hip-hop since the Sugar Hill Gang, the best thing to happen to theater since West Side Story, and the best thing to happen to American history since Schoolhouse Rock.

But Hamilton's story is not a feel-good story. It's not designed to make you happy to sit back and watch.

It's a call to action.

As it says on the poster for the play: Who gets to tell your story?

Hamilton-play

Embedded in that question is the larger question: What is the story of your life going to be? The play Hamilton (I'm figuring) and more to the point the man who was Alexander Hamilton challenge all of us to do more. We are not meant to watch, but to jump in with great vigor.

So instead of moping about not getting to come to New York, you can see me on HuffPo Live Friday morning (via a hangout instead of in person, alas) trying to take a stand and then later today you'll see me and my son down at the state capitol doing our best to advocate as best we can for a better world.

I hope Hamilton would approve.


Why Star Wars is Going to Make the World Awesome. Again.

One year from right now on Dec. 18, 2015, I'm going to either be in line, or in a theater watching the new Star Wars movie.

It might easy to think that this is just a movie. It's not.

I think that it's going to be a harbinger of a great new era.

Why? Well, the last time Star Wars started, the world just got better. You couldn't really buy a computer in 1976, but in 1977 the Apple II, the Atari 2600, and the Comodore PET went on sale.

Also in 1977 the Space Shuttle began test flights, the first phone calls were carried on a fiber optic cable. The the first  TCP/IP pings went through on what they called then the ARPAnet in November of that year, the same day as the first flight of the Concorde from New York City.

Also, I turned 12 that year. I was born in January of 1965, the first month after the Baby Boom so I was technically a member of what would later be known as Gen X. The Boomers dominated in 1977, but it was the Xers who made the world suck less over the next 30 years. Then we got the Millennials (don't get me started) but the group of kids actually born after the year 1999 seem to be showing the same understated but significant progress of Gen X.

We don't know what technological marvels will be released in 2015, but we do now have a whole generation of kids who don't know the magic of anticipation of a good Star Wars movie. The last time a generation grew up with Star Wars, the whole world became almost magical, as if it was guided by some all-powerful force.

Need more proof? 

Consider:

Category19772015
Funk that Star Wars got us out of

Watergate, Vietnam

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 8.46.23 AM

Great Recession, Afghanistan
Crappy dystopian scifi we don't have to pay attention to any more

Logan's Run

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 9.52.38 AM

Hunger Games

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 9.56.10 AM

Scary disease that was going to kill us all

Swine Flu

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 4.47.14 PM

Ebola

Notable cars before Pinto, Pacer

Aztec, Cadilac ATS

Notable cars after Porsche 928, BMW 7 series

???

Protesters that faded away Yippies

Occupy (Fill in the blank)

Hobbit version not as good as the book released the year before.   Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 10.02.25 AM

five armies 

May the force be with you. 


Time for a Time Change?

This blog post is going to change your life more than any other opinion piece or news article you’ll read this week.

That’s right… With this one post I’m going to improve your life dramatically for a couple of weeks each year. I’ll improve your morning drive on a handful of days that would otherwise be horrible. This post may even save your life.

And to top it off this post may just give you hope in the U.S. system of government.

Big talk, I know, but I can back it up.

First, some background:

I’ve always been annoyed by the mandate to change all of our clocks twice per year. I’m groggy on that spring Monday morning when the government takes away an hour of sleep over the weekend and the alarm clock suddenly makes no sense in the inky pre-dawn darkness.

In the fall — when suddenly I’m going home from work in the dark — I fall into a funk that can last for weeks.

So I sit at the dinner table and complain, complain, complain.

One night at the dinner table, my wife, who’d recently read A Complaint Free World, challenged me. “Why don’t you do something about it?”

I replied: “I’ve made several very pointed Facebook posts!”

She was not impressed.

And now I’ve read the book, too, and have to concede that she was right. I felt so strongly, however, that I didn’t want to just stop complaining; I wanted to do something.

History

So, I started doing some research. Turns out there’s not a lot of good research, something that’s surprising. Certainly we wouldn’t upset so many lives so dramatically twice per year without having great research as to why we are doing that? You’d be shocked. There's very little, and it's very weak.

The origins of switching the clock seem to date to Ben Franklin. Now… We owe a great deal to Ben — the concept of the library, the fire department, the hospital, and so much more. And he had a legendary sense of humor.

And therein lies what may have been one of the great practical jokes of all time.

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 8.17.34 AM
Is Ben smiling about the greatest practical joke of all time?


Franklin was certainly joking when he suggested that a way to increase productivity by changing the clocks around for the seasons.

Think about it. Daylight Savings does kind of seem like an elaborate practical joke you might play on freshman in a particularly cruel dorm. Imagine if someone moved your alarm by one hour a couple of times a year... Think about how mad you’d be. Or imagine that you tried that as a joke on your spouse. I know if I tried that as a joke on my wife there’s a good chance I’d wake up the next day in the ICU.

(By the way, did you know that they kept Franklin off a key committee drafting the Declaration of Independence because they were afraid he’d sneak in some jokes that they wouldn’t recognize? It’s true.)

The version of Daylight Saving (not “savings”) Time that we all recognize has its roots in WWI. After the war Daylight Saving was abandoned on a federal level, but then it was picked back up in WWII, and has been with us in essentially the same form ever since.

The thinking during WWII was that people needed to do whatever they could to save fuel and other resources so they could be used during the war. Admirable, to be sure, but remember the decision was made by the same government that thought “Internment Camps” would be a good idea for Japanese Americans. Great scientists built The Bomb. No science went into the thinking about Daylight Saving Time, just propaganda.

After the war states were left to decide for themselves when they wanted it to be 6 p.m. relative to the sun setting and there was a patchwork of different time zones from state to state, and even within some states. This created plenty of confusion, so the feds clamped down in 1966.

Science

After researching the roots I started looking at the science regarding the clock changing. All of it is negative.

  • The U.S. Department of Energy issued a report that says sticking with Daylight Saving Time year round would save approximately one half of one percent of electricity used every day during the winter. Now, while 0.5 percent might not seem like much, you may not know that all the solar panels create just 0.25 percent of the total power generated in the U.S. Just leaving our clocks alone in the fall instead of reverting to Standard Time will save double the amount of non-renewable electricity than all solar power creates every single day from November to March. That’s a lot, and nobody has to install anything.

  • Productivity goes down, not up.

  • There is no conclusive research showing school children are at more risk waiting for school buses on rural roads, though this is the most emotional argument brought up against the idea. What is clear is that farm children are much more likely to die because of accidents with farm machinery than any traffic accident, with a bus involved or otherwise.

  • I've been asking people why we have Daylight Saving Time, and nearly all say that it has something to do with farming. It turns out that farmers were traditionally against the clock changing. They just got a bad rap about that.
  • The opportunity cost is huge.

  • Traffic fatalities go up when we change the clocks in the spring. A lot.

It gets worse.

Hundreds — perhaps thousands — of extra people die from heart attacks on the mornings after the clock changes. Force-changing when we wake up is one of the things sleep and heart experts say is the worst thing we can do for ourselves.

Many of those of us who are lucky enough to survive the time change wish we hadn't.

The jolt is much worse than, for instance, traveling one time zone away because in that time zone the sun is coming up at a time that's more consistent with your wake-up time. Also you have external clues that you are in a different place. The Daylight Saving clock-changing is a radical and rude interjection into the most sacred of inner-sanctums: your bedroom.

A common epithet hurled at politicians is that they should stay out of our collective bedrooms. Of course, they are really talking about activities that could happen in any room of the house. The alarm clock really is in the bedroom and politicians should indeed get out and leave our alarm clocks alone!

I ran a traffic information service for five years, and the Monday mornings after both the spring and fall time changes were very good for business, and very bad for traffic. Groggy, incoherent and mad-at-someone-but-not-quite-sure-who drivers make for accidents galore.

Formation of a Plan

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Are we on a path to end the clock-changing madness?


After researching it I started talking to friends, all of whom hate the clock changing, but they are always too groggy on the days when they are the most mad to really do anything about it.

(One note, I am advocating that most states switch permanently to “Daylight Saving” time, but some states may want to switch time zones when everyone fixes their clock and stops all the switching around. Arizona, for instance, needs to have business operate as much in the cool hours as possible in the summer, so it should stay put. The only organized group that wants more Standard time are the traditional broadcasters, who like it when it’s dark earlier so you’ll watch more prime time TV. But this is a fight not about which time construct is the best for which state, but about just picking one and not changing the clocks twice a year.)

So, research done, I came up with the beginnings of a plan to end the clock changing.

At first blush, I thought there was no hope. It seems like what's needed is an Act of Congress, and I know that for a guy like me to have a hope of getting Congress to do something would make Don Quixote look like conservative banker. Congress can’t get anything done even when they all agree on something. There’s a reason that Congress has an approval rating lower than Communism.

“Pro” is the opposite of “con” — my son points out — so “Congress” must be the opposite of “Progress.” Indeed.

My son actually provided me with a part of the solution. I've watched for years as some motivated school group goes to its state legislature and asks to get a some caterpillar, rock or whatever named the official state caterpillar, rock or whatever. Everyone thinks they are getting a lesson in government. Now, I'm not opposed to states having official caterpillars, but I'm not crazy about giving the youth of today false hope about how easy it is to get laws passed.

It is possible, though, to pass new laws and those school kids have one thing right: It is much more possible to get things done at the state level than in D.C.

But Daylight Saving Time is a federal issue, right?

At one level, yes. The Department of Transportation has ruled that no more states can do what Hawaii and Arizona have done, and switch to one time and stick to it year-round.

We live in a republic, however. We have a 10th Amendment that says that states can do what they want. The Feds have lots of ways of controlling the states, but this plan takes that into account. And the DOT even has a structure in place for states to opt out of clock-changing.

The Plan

Here's the plan: I'm proposing that every state legislature passes a bill that says that it will stop changing clocks twice per year and just stick with Daylight Saving Time all year long.

The part of the plan that will help it get passed is that the elimination of the clock-changing will only take effect if at least 31 states pass the same bill. The number is really 33, or two thirds of all states, but Arizona and Hawaii are already on the list. I picked the number of 33 states because that's how many it takes to pass a constitutinonal amendment. I know this is not a constitutional issue, but it seems like a good standard.

Why do it that way?

Well, I think that state legislators don't really mind change, they just don't want to stick out as the odd-balls. Did you ever do business with someone in Arizona or Hawaii? If so, you probably expressed some frustration that it's hard to keep track of the number of hours difference from them to you because it keeps changing. (If you said something to them, they undoubtedly responded that it is you that's doing all the changing around. They do have a point.)

That's the rub. I don't think any legislator wants to be first in line to make his or her state the only one in the time zone that stops changing the clocks twice a year, no matter how many potential voters are saved from heart attacks and traffic deaths. Using the same notion, no legislator wants to be the one who is blocking the tide of progress if all the other states are doing it.

So, with a proposal like this — where legislators are voting that they don't want to be first, but they don't want to be last — they'll be happy to vote yes.

They'll be especially happy if they are doing so at the request of school children. I mentioned my son earlier, and he's played into this plan. His class will be studying government this year. They might even get it in their head to go to the legislature and propose a state caterpillar or whatever. My suggestion is that instead they go and ask for something that will really make the world they are growing up into a better place by asking a legislator to carry this bill.

And because schools love interdisciplinary bla bla bla, they could mix in some science and math, too. I can envision many great experiments, starting with:

  • How does a family’s energy use change?,

  • What are the computational abilities in students on the day after the clock-change?

  • What is the tardiness rates after the change?

All of that science, I'm guessing, will lead to the inescapable conclusion that changing the clocks twice per year is a folly that should be dispensed with before its 100th anniversary coming in about four years.

If students and families work together and we start going to legislators this fall, we could get 33 states to pass a bill when they all convene in January. If we can get 33 this year then the switch to Daylight Saving Time in the spring of 2015 will be the last ever. Imagine!

If it takes us another year to get enough states on board, well, we'll still be able to make the final change in the spring of 2016.

And if we can do that, we the people in the 50 U.S. States will be able to tell the federal government that the people have indeed spoken, and whatever bureaucratic powers that they may want to use to block us should instead be brought to bear to pave the way to a smooth no-clock-changing future.

This really could work.

I recently visited the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. It's a magical place, and does a great job of showing that our country and our constitution has always struggled, and always endured. The current miasma that is the U.S. Congress can sap the patriotism from even the most earnest student. Maybe being a part of a real change can give our youth some hope, and that's all we really need to ensure a bright future.

A couple of important notes:

  • This was my idea, but like all great ideas I wasn't the only one to have it. I looked on BillTrack50 (full disclosure: I’m a shareholder of that company) and found that a state legislator in Missouri had a similar idea. Good for him! The bill didn’t pass, but it didn’t have the power of America’s school children behind it. I talked to him, and he's on board with this new push.

  • This idea of ending the clock-changing needs a name. I'm terrible at naming things. Have a great name suggestion? Send it to the page I’ve set up here.

  • On that page will also be a blog where we can showcase great science projects and efforts to get this thing passed, in addition to model legislative language that school children can take to their legislators.

I’m busy running a content writing service and being a father and husband, so I don’t have time to do everything needed for this revolution. It will take contributions of time and effort from many people. If you want to end the clock-changing madness, don’t wait for an OK from me. Just go do whatever it is you want to do. Once you’ve done whatever it is, take a picture, share it on social media, etc. and let me know and I’ll post it on the yet-to-be-named site.

Or if you really want to get involved, I've set up an end-the-clock-changing project board. If you'd like to volunteer to lobby, do PR or just manage the efforts for your state, we need you.

It's time.

 

This is the original version of a piece that ended up being rewritten entirely and ended up as the  edited piece now on CNN.com


Brad Feld Patent Office? Most indubitably!

I've been following Brad Feld's observations about the patent system for years now. I find myself mostly agreeing with him, even though I filed for and was awarded a patent for my first company, back in the day.

I've thought about starting Patent Holders Against Patents, but I'm a bit busy with BlogMutt these days. Also, I don't want to be known as the PHAP guy. 

PHAP PHAP PHAP.

But then I saw my chance to do my part. A US Senator, Michael Bennet, went on the interwebs to try to collect opinions about what name should grace the new US Patent Office in Denver. Now, I actually think this new office is a good thing. The Patent system needs smart people working inside of it, and we have lots of smart folks here in Colorado.

(By the way, patents do have their place, especially in our history. Lincoln said that a patent system was a big part of what helped the union win the Civil War. His theory was that inventors wanted to develop new technology for the side where they thought they could make money from their inventions.) 

(And for a nexus of presidents and patents trivia, the first one to name the only US President to hold a patent gets a coffee from me. Just put the name in the comments below, and be as honest as you can about if you googled it or not.)

But the idea of naming the building for Brad makes sense for lots of reasons.

  • Colorado has a rich history of ironic naming. Remember that the Alferd Packer grill was originally an epithet because the food tasted a bit too... familiar. Now there's a bust of the "man-eatin' sonofabitch" in the foyer, making him look positively regal.
  • Come to think of it, Feld has a certain resemblance to Packer. Brad feld and alferd packer
  • Feld himself has his own rich history of getting his name in places where much deep thinking is done.
  • The idea of naming a Patent office after a patent opponent would be much like our nation's history of naming airports after people who died in airplane crashes -- though I'm pretty sure that Denver International Airport is not named for John Denver.
  • This whole thing reminds me of the song Gonna Put My Face on a Nuclear Bomb, but I'm not sure why.
  • And most importantly: It may prompt some kind of actual discussion about how the Patent system should evolve.

Now, I'm not crazy. There's zero chance this will actually happen. I think the Feds will be too timid to even name it after Nikola Tesla, even though Colorado played a critical part in the science behind every single act of plugging a cord into a wall to get electricity to a device.

The fact that Tesla feuded with Edison should help his case, but probably won't. The fact that he was probably gay, well, that could go either way. AC/DC. The fact that the coolest entrepreneur on the planet these days recognized his genius when naming his car company will probably hurt, as GM, et. al. seem to use the government to thwart actual competition.

Pueblo native David Packer would be a good choice, except that it pisses me off that I have to pay more per ounce for ink than I do for 30-year-old Scotch.

Woz would be another great choice, but it seems unlikely after his ignominious exit from the University of Colorado. (The story I heard, which may be apocryphal, is that he hacked the regents computer system so when the workers came in one Monday morning all the printers had run out of paper exhausted from printing expletives all weekend.)

So, in the great spirit of the internets, I encourage you to do the needful: vote for Brad Feld's name to be inscribed on the USPTO office in Denver, Colorado.

 

 


Shameless self-promotion

This blog is typically an erudite repository of the most profound thoughts... or something.

Right now I just want to put a post up with some links to cool things going on in the world of Scott Yates, partially for self-promotion and partially so all the links are in one spot.

First, the business writing service I co-founded was selected to appear at VCIR. When you see the list of presenting companies, well, it's quite an honor indeed.

Second, I made my second appearance on 9News, the best station in Denver forever.

Blogmutt-9news

The first appearance went well, also, but now it seems like a thing so I wanted to post this here to let you know that if you have a tech startup, do feel free to contact me using the contact info on this blog to suggest other companies that I should take a look at on 9News.

Thanks!


Flap your arms time

Bath7

When we dream, if we flap our arms, we fly away. That's a uesfull thing to remember so that if you experience something, and you aren't sure that it is really happening -- or if it's a dream -- you can just flap your arms. If you don't fly away, it really is happening.

I've been flapping my arms a lot lately. 

It started during the college football game to determine the national champions. There were two different stories that required flapping of arms. The first is well-chronicled, the Notre Dame player who's dead girlfriend turned out to be fictional. That story didn't make sense for so many people because everyone knows that football players can get whatever girl they want, right?

That leads us to the second story from that same game. A tee-vee announcer, trying to fill time in a lopsided game, said that the girlfriend of the wining side's quarterback was attractive, and that if you want to get the pretty girls it helps to be a great football player.

His logic was unassailable, and yet he became a national joke, had to apologize, and may well retire after this "incident."

I was reminded of a conversation I had with my son once a couple of years back. He asked me why they still had a king and queen in the Netherlands. I told him that I just didn't know.  He said that maybe it was so that girls would like the country more.

Pretty good theory, I thought.

Look, we don't have a monarchy in this country, but clearly we need something to fill that void. Why do you think the girlfriend of the football player was "crowned" Miss Alabama and wears a tiara? Why do you think Alabama was "crowned" as the national champions? The announcer was simply stating the obvious, making clear what everyone with eyeballs was thinking.

And for that he was excoriated? Time to flap my arms. Not flying.

 

Remember Ron Paul? The guy who ran a bill every year he was in congress to get the US out of the United Nations? He's the guy who used a groundswell of support and money (most of it via RonPaul.com) to run for president, and poll at a remarkably high percentage, only to be cynically closed out of the Republican party, which seems intent on making as many self-destructive decisions as possible. That's not flap-your-arms stuff, that's politics.

No, the news that grabbed my attention is that Ron Paul, now retired, has discovered that the internet is important, and he wants to control the domain RonPaul.com. Who does control it? People who liked him when he ran for president, but don't like him enough to just give him the domain. They want to sell it to him for a healthy price. What does Ron Paul do? Files a grievance with... wait for it... The United Nations.

Flap flap flap. Still here.

 

Todd Helton -- who pretty much won the lottery of life as a franchise baseball player -- got busted for a DUI. My sister is a flight attendant, and she got to work a Rockies flight once. She said the players were all a little grab-handy and suggestive, but the one total gentleman and great guy was Todd Helton, so he gets a lot of leeway in my book. Still, why was Todd going out driving at 2:30 a.m. to a qwicky mart? To buy lottery tickets.

Flap flap flap. Flap flap flap. Still here.

 

Those who've been keeping up on the news understand that the US Government really can kill whomever it wants whenever and wherever it wants. The current drone debate makes that clear, and yet somehow President Obama gets a pass on that one. 

The more I read about laws that make it illegal for anyone to "exceed authorized access" to a computer, it's clear that if some prosecutor somewhere wants an Aaron Swartz or a Bradley Manning locked up or dead, they can do so with impunity.

So it doesn't surprise me too much when the government decides to arrest and charge anyone, really. Recently then they arrested a 67-year-old guy who likes to grow his hair long. Why? For suggesting that some followers of his should go and cut the hair of other people who like to grow their hair long. Fifteen years he got for that. I'm not saying I'm a fan, but 15 years? Not one drop of blood spilled, and he gets what for him is a life sentence?

The guy's name: Mullet.

Flap flap flap.

 

Swartz, by the way, died facing charges that he was taking theses available at major university libraries and making them available to others. He didn't do any hacking to do that, he just used a regular log-in.

Some actual hacker broke into the email account of a former president. That hacker hasn't been caught, that we know of, He may well be dead by now for all we know. But we do see via his work that President Bush, (43) -- the one accused of water-boarding governmental detainees -- has taken up painting and created two self-portraits, both of them while bathing.

Flap flap flap. Flapflapflapflapflapflapflapflapflapflapflapflap.

 

Still here. Amazing.

Shower6