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June 2009
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Irony Alert: Bezos Apologizes for Big Brother-like Removal of 1984

The word "irony" is so often misused that it's almost refreshing when it is used properly.


Sure enough, the opportunity presents itself beautifully when Amazon removed the book 1984 from Kindles through a secret back door that most people didn't know existed. They thought that when you bought a book, well, that you owned it, just like with a book printed on paper. Not so.

So the moment comes, but unfortunately the US press didn't jump on the chance to call the situation ironic. Maybe they never read the book?

The British press, as we might expect, was all over the irony angle.

God save the Queen.

Unemployment is Helping Apple?

There's been a ton of analysis of why it is Apple is doing so well in the middle of the rotten economy, but there's one bit I haven't seen anywhere: Unemployment is helping Apple. A lot.

Here's why:

Just among close friends, I know a couple people who have been laid off. When they go, they have to turn in their corporate-mandated Blackberry. 

They have gotten used to having a smartphone, however, so they use a bit of their severance and go shopping for a new phone. They head to an Apple store. They may know full well that AT&T is a Big, Steaming Heap of Failure, but they also realize that if they are going to be unemployed, or turn into consultants, or whatever, that at least they don't want to hate their phone.

So, they get a phone that makes them smile. There's only one phone that does that.

I don't think that accounts for all of the 5.2 million iPhones Apple sold in the quarter, but I bet it was a lot of them.

When is it OK to Lie?

Never. It's never OK to tell a lie.

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But I do think I've found one situation where it would be awfully tempting.

Gawker has the inside scoop on how members of the White House Press Corps were all totally willing to give up on what they do -- reporting -- just to get a ticket to watch fireworks at the White House.

Here is what the email from the White House to about 30 of the White House press corps read:

"You are being invited to attend this event as a guest. Blogging, Twittering or otherwise reporting on this event is not permitted. If you feel that you cannot agree to abide by these ground rules, please don't claim a ticket."

Every single one of them agreed to this rule.

Now here's the thing: I have immense respect for President Obama, and for his desire to keep his family out of the media spotlight. If I was invited, I would certainly not report that Malia spilled mustard on her shirt, or whatever.

But I absolutely would report about the other reporters there, what the general talk was, etc. I would just spill it all as if I was anywhere else in my life. Everybody else is reporting on everything else, how is this somehow different?

Why not lie, take the ticket, then report away?

I'm reminded of two analogous situations. 

First, of course, is Sharon Stone, saying, "What are you going to do? Arrest me for smoking?"

Second is Mike Arrington, who runs TechCrunch, announcing that he will agree to all embargoes (when PR companies give you the news early but insist you don't run with it until an agreed-on time) but then he will break that agreement and run the news whenever he damn well feels like it.

Now I realize that by taking the ticket and the reporting on the fireworks party I would be urinating in the punch bowl, and then the press office might decide not to invite any media to the private affairs. Well, that's OK with me, too. If the Obamas want private family time, they can do it without 30 reporters hanging around. If they want to make the reporters feel special, they are just going to have to find some other way to do it.

The world is changing, and those 30 people just aren't as special as they used to be. The White House Press Office needs to figure that out.



Don't Name That Trend... Be The Trend!

I've seen three different "Blegs" from people casting about for a new name for three different big picture phenomena.


(As they taught me in my magazine writing class back in the day, three makes a trend!)

One is looking for a name for the movement toward more technology and openness in government. This is a topic I'm endlessly fascinated with, but I don't think it will ever have a name because this is just the march of history.

A second is looking for a name for the flow of status updates that come in through Twitter, Facebook, and all the rest. This one may get a name, but I'm not sure what it will be. All the ones suggested, even by me, pretty much stink. 

I think this is becoming a real issue. People are really grappling with how to deal with this stream. It took a long time for people to deal with e-mail, and now people just don't know how to deal with a flow of blogs, status updates, tweets and all of it.

It helps me to think of that stream as my "published lifestream." My private stream is, of course, email and phone calls, but my published stream is the collection of published status reports that I want to read, and then there is the stream of what I publish both here on this blog, on my twitter account and my Facebook page.

In my mind the solution uses RSS, which right now works just the way I want it to work for blogs, but doesn't work for the others and even though the difference between a Facebook status update and a blog entry is one that is very difficult to explain because they are essentially the same thing at heart.

There are no good solutions for ways to deal with that stream. Even turning tweets into an RSS feed just doesn't work yet. There's much more to say on this, but I'll save it so I don't get too far off topic.

The third (and therefore trend-making) trend looking for a name is the hunt for a name for the Denver-Boulder high-tech scene. This one absolutely positively will fail, and here's why: The Silicon Valley needed a name because it didn't really have any name before. It was, and is, really, the suburbs of Oakland, which is the original place where there was no there there. The Silicon Valley is the outskirts of the place with nothing there. 

There's absolutely nothing interesting about the Silicon Valley outside of the fact that a whole bunch of revolutionary high-tech companies have done very well there. It's amazing for that one aspect, and completely free of any other attributes that make for an interesting society.

Denver is an actual place. There IS a there there. Same goes for Boulder. Coming up with a name for one aspect of a place that is interesting on it's own won't work because people are already familiar with Denver and Colorado, and do not need a new moniker to help understand it. 

And, by the way, having a name for one aspect of the economy here also won't do anything to make it super-dooper-fabulous, as I have a hunch some of the boosters are hoping.

All three attempts at naming, however, I think come from something of a Baby Boomer mindset. It's important for people who were part of "The Summer of Love" or "Watergate" or "Getting Fat and Lazy and Moving to the Suburbs" to name things to show to the world how different they are, how much they really are "Changing the World, Man."

As Jeff Gordinier points out in his excellent: X Saves the World, it's Boomers that really want to label how they are changing the world. It's the Gen-X crowd that first of all eschews the Gen-X label, and then eschews any other labels before going out and actually changing the world.

I don't know if you noticed, but the people behind the aforementioned revolutionary changes in governing and in publishing of status details are not the ones trying to put a name on it. They are too busy doing what they do.

Good for them! Long live the Name-Free Trend!

Fourth of July Duds

OK, I know this is sacrilege, but I just don't get why fireworks are so popular.


When I see that the economy forced the cancellation of a bunch of shows, well, I have trouble getting upset about it.

It's not that I don't like fireworks, it's just that I can't see why everyone else does like them.

I mean, they are kind of cool from the perspective of fire and explosions and pretty colors, etc. And nobody has more love for our country than me of the history of the Declaration of Independence, the patriots at Fort McHenry, and all of the others before that and since.

But after that... meh.

I mean, even the most boring baseball game still has its unknowns, its surprise endings, its character development.

Fireworks have no narrative arc, no plot twists, nothing.

Last evening we went to the fireworks Rockies game, and got discounted tickets because they had an obstructed view of the fireworks. During the singing of the National Anthem, the crews cleverly shot off one firework that exploded just as we all sung "Bombs bursting in air."

That was perfect. I enjoyed the fireworks as a form of punctuation.

So when my son said he wanted to go home after we sang the song about the peanuts and cracker jacks, I said, "You bet, I think we've seen enough fireworks already this evening."

Maybe even Jefferson had a bit too much time on his hands?

I'm a big fan of Jefferson, I enjoy reading the Declaration of Independence every year. It's hard to imagine writing anything that could have such an influence on the world, and still be so easy to read and enjoyable.


But after the US was independent, and after Jefferson became president, I get the feeling that if he had solitaire on his computer, he might have been playing that some.

He didn't, so instead he invented ciphers, one of which didn't get cracked until this week. Amazing.