Now is the August of our Discontent

I invite you to sit back and relax as you read this post, probably the only one you'll read all summer that ties together the U.S. economy, Richard III, New York tabloids, neuroscience, venture capital and crowdsourcing.

OK, not just this summer. Ever.

I just won't have time to do that in a few sentences, however. Pascal-like I only have time to write about this at length.

So grab a cold drink, prop up your feet, and join me if you like.

The kernel of this post started with a simple Facebook post after a lovely evening of corn on the cob, ice cream on the deck, and relaxing with the family:

Scott Yates fb post


 Just a lovely summer evening out there. Seems to happen every August: life seems so wonderful within the family and the world goes nusto -- the stock market goes screwy, some youths somewhere go all nuts (London's turn this year) and politicians become especially unsavory. I wish summer could last longer for us, but the world could use a good rain shower and some adult supervision.

I got a big response to that, which got me thinking -- using the parlance of the day -- that I might "unpack" that notion a bit here.

Let's start with the one everyone knows about, the stock market.

First, the NY Post put it best, the stock market was going up and down like a hooker's drawers.

New-York-Post-Cover-1312990193

What's going on with the market? I have no idea, but I have a hunch, however, that part of the problem is that all the grownups on Wall Street are on vacation, and a bunch of kids got a little carried away with themselves.

If that's the case, wouldn't we have seen this kind of thing happen in August before? Probably, and it turns out that's exactly what has happened. (Read this hilarious post about that.)

Of course, the market was also wacky because of the uncertainty created by the debt-ceiling shenanigans. My old boss, Kurt Andersen, is exactly right when he says that our politics these days is suffering from some kind of autoimmune disorder where the body mistakenly attacks itself.

All of those August events led some notable folks to start talking about something very much on my mind these days, investments in startup companies. I won't link to those posts, because I'm going to slam them now by pointing out simply that it's always easy to forecast doom.

What I didn't read anywhere was this: If the stock market sucks as a place to keep money, wouldn't that help startups and other alternative investments? I mean, only those with tinfoil hats are suggesting that you should take all your money out of the markets and put it in gold. You'd have to be exceptionally bad at math to keep it in a bank. Wouldn't all that money do better investing in something that actually has a chance to grow? Not to get preachy, but they'd be also be able to invest in the one thing that everyone says is the best way to create new jobs. I understand there's more risk, but with risk comes...

Ahh nevermind. Let's move on.

The good news for startups is that smart investors understand that market fluctuations are materially irrelevant to what they do. George Zachary made the case very clearly in a single tweet

No matter what happens with public markets, my CRV partners & I will still be actively funding early stage founders pursuing the bold.

Adeo Ressi made the case, properly I think, that this is actually a time when we should have some cautious optimism. Brad Feld and Seth Levine of the Foundry group both made essentially the same case as Zachary and Ressi, but they did it in their own inimitable style, Brad saying "ignore the dow" and Seth with a long, reasoned post full of words like "numerator" and "capital efficiency."

The bottom line for all of them was the same bottom line I got reading about why love is the opposite of underwear: Do what you love so much that it doesn't get boring, and have grit about sticking with it. VCs and neuroscientists agree!

And so does the writer of this excellent story: "A Few Thousand Reasons to Be Optimistic."

Now, I know you are on the edge of your seat, wondering what all this has to do with Richard III. 

The prognosticators who came out and said that the market volatility signaled the end of all investments in startups were, I think, essentially emulating Shakespeare in saying: "Now is the winter of our discontent." (One of them, whom I still respect a great deal, actually said "winter is coming.")

What they didn't do, however, was read the next line.

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York

You see that? What Richard is saying there is that the winter is now made into a glorious summer by the son (sun).

The doom-and-gloomers are missing that. They want you to believe that things will be bad bad bad.

This is something that was not lost, by the way, on Steinbeck when he wrote The Winter of our Discontent. That book centers on a man who worked hard, had strong ethics, but then let his ethics slip so that he could make a buck and get ahead. It was a cautionary tale that we've seen played out in everything from Glengarry Glen Ross and Bonfire of the Vanities through Gordon Gekko and right up to The Social Network.

Some people learn from these kinds of stories what not to do, and some learn the upside down lesson that if they cheat, if they worry about superficial gains, if they wear a hoody and tell people that a billion dollars is cool, that somehow they will get ahead. Those people might for a while, too, but for the world winter is a good thing because that hoody just isn't enough to get you through a winter.

Here's how this became concrete for me just yesterday.

Just by way of background, I'm the CEO of a startup that uses a crowd of writers to help businesses do the blogging that they don't have the time or ability to do themselves. We sometimes get criticized because we don't pay writers very much. As a former journalist, author and writing instructor, this pains me. I want writers to do well. I understand that for many aspiring writers, there are just no good opportunities to write professionally.

Blogmutt now has paying customers and a crowd of writers working for them. I sent a note congratulating one of the writers yesterday because in a single day she wrote awesome posts for four different customers ranging from a super high tech website to a local boutique retail store. She's never been a paid writer before, but she is now. She wrote back and told me that she would like to donate the money she's earned to Water for People.

I really just about cried. Why? First because it's such a great idea and it will be so wonderful to be able to help out some deserving non-profits. But I was also moved to tears because it confirmed what we've been saying all along: that there is a group of very talented writers out there who would love an opportunity to write something real, something that will be helpful to real people, and get a foot in the door of writing professionally.

I have to admit that I've perhaps spent a bit too much of the last few months getting too close to the world of the kid in the hoody talking about how a billion dollars is cool. I participated in a kind of beauty pageant for startups, I "took meetings" and I talked about valuations for Blogmutt with some pretty exuberant numbers given that at that point we didn't have any customers.

We are still technically fundraising. We are still taking those meetings and we certainly would love to have some more money in the bank. We'd also love to have the connection to real leaders in our world that comes in an unparalleled way with a real investment. But now that we have customers we are realizing firsthand the truism that the best kind of investment is a customer paying for something that provides value. We have those customers now, and we have freelance writers who enjoy writing for those customers.

Our plan is that the warmth radiating from delighted customers and writers will make a glorious summer out of whatever winter comes our way.

A glorious summer. Not the August zaniness, just the ice cream gloriouisness.

Mmmmmmm. Ice cream.


Next to the bottom for most people, this "penultimate" sighting is at the top for me

"Hi. My name is Scott, and I'm a language geek."

"Hi, Scott!"

I fully admit that I'm a language geek. I really try not to be a jerk about it, instead just expressing joy in the times that language is used well.

"Penultimate" is a word that I most often see or hear misused, usually to mean something like "the most ultimate." There's also an iPad app by that name, which appears to be something related to a "pen."

The actual definition, of course, is much more pedestrian: "Next to the last."

So my geeky grammarian heart was filled with joy when I saw this:

Penultimate

Thank you, Google. You made my day.


Stalking the Billion-Footed Facebook Beast

How big is Facebook?

A movie about Facebook is a huge hit, may win an Oscar™, and even so there are more people who spend time on the actual Facebook every day than the total number of people who have ever seen the movie.

What's going on?

I've got one theory that is enough different from the many others I've looked at that I thought I might try it out here. It's a theory that doesn't have much to do with the film, but one scene in the film gets to what I'm on to. It's the scene where the Napster guy has just "hooked up" with a Stanford student. He goes to use her computer and finds TheFacebook.com. He asks her what it is and she tells him, and says that she is "totally addicted." Why?

To understand this theory of why Facebook is so gripping and so absorbing for half a billion people, I need to take you backwards, though an analysis of something that I've been thinking about since I moved to New York City in the late 1980s and started reading Tom Wolfe. By reading, I mean devouring. I read everything I could find. In those days that meant trudging down to the library and photocopying old magazine articles.

So, there I was in New York when Harper's published Wolfe's essay "Stalking the Billion-footed Beast." It caused quite the stir in certain circles, but for me it was like an instruction manual. There he was laying out exactly how young journalists -- That was me! -- could go out and write the "Right Stuff."

That article is brilliant, and still reads as fresh for me today as it did then, sitting in the J-school lobby a half-block from Washington Square. It's all online now, so go read it if you have a moment.

After that, I went back to my microscopic apartment and read again his introduction to The New Journalism. In that essay he made crystal clear the instructions of how to write journalism that could read like a novel. He laid our four specific steps at some length. He then revisited those four steps in much shorter form in an essay 30 years later, referring to his style of New Journalism as a "naturalistic novel." This appeared in his book Hooking Up.:

Four specific devices give the naturalistic novel its "gripping," "absorbing" quality: 

(1) scene-by-scene construction, i.e., telling the story by moving from scene to scene rather than by resorting to sheer historical narrative; 

(2) the liberal use of realistic dialogue, which reveals character in the most immediate way and resonates more profoundly with the reader than any form of description; 

(3) interior point of view, i.e., putting the reader inside the head of a character and having him view the scene through his eyes; and 

(4) the notation of status details, the cues that tell people how they rank in the human pecking order, how they are doing in the struggle to maintain or improve their position in life or in an immediate situation, everything from clothing and furniture to accents, modes of treating superiors or inferiors, subtle gestures that show respect or disrespect -- "dissing," to use a marvelous new piece of late-twentieth-century slang -- the entire complex of signals that tell the human beast whether it is succeeding or failing and has or hasn't warded off that enemy of happiness that is more powerful than death: humiliation.

In The New Journalism he wrote that of the four, the last was the least understood, but the most important.

OK, I've gone on for a while now, and you may recall that way back yonder at the beginning of this post you thought that I was going to be writing about Facebook. So..........................

Why do people enjoy reading Facebook? What is it that is so "gripping" and "absorbing"? ::::::: Hey! Where have we seen those words? Just up at the top of Wolfe's set of four devices used by those who understand the importance of realism.

This, right here, is my "aha!" moment. Reading Facebook is like reading Tom Wolfe! Or Dickens!!! Maybe even Steinbeck or Balzac or any of the others who grasped this power.(!) 

Really?

I'm not actually sure, but let's take a look:

1. Scene-by-scene construction.

Unlike so many of the people who play with words and produce books or even films that bounce all around in some attempt to be clever, there's no way that Facebook posts can be anything other than linear. (Yes, I understand that Facebook has instituted some algorithm to organize posts by order of "importance" if you've been away for a while, but even part of that algorithm is time, and from any particular friend -- or, character, if you will -- the updates are always chronological.) Facebook's home page is, essentially, one scene after another.

2. Realistic dialogue.

 Why has the "OH" become so common as to deserve it's own acronymous treatment? Because it sets the scene in two letters and lets the reader get right to the absolute best stuff... the quote. Anyone who's worked as a reporter understands that best way to get someone to read a part of a story is to put that bit in quotes. Everyone innately understand this, which is why, I think, so many non-writers are so prone to put things in quotation marks as a way of saying, "This is important! Read this!" That is why the "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks will never run out of material.

3. Interior point of view.

Posts on the social media sites have become the essence of an interior monologue. Why do people post that they can't believe they ate all those pancakes for breakfast? Is it because they really think that others will be entertained? Probably not. I think it's that they just think they are interesting people, and that the essence of their interior monologue is worthy of posting, even if it's to an audience of less than a dozen. It's what any close reader of Wolfe understands right away as the logical evolution of the people of the "Me" Decade (Wolfe's description of the 1970s), which was never so much about selfishness as it was about an identification of the self as something unique and worthy of having thoughts that should get documentation and dissemination. That's at the heart of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, up to and including, if it must be said, sco.tt.

4. Status details.

This may be the hardest to capture, and yet in one way is the easiest because of one simple fact: What is the window called that we post our little datums to in Facebook? That's right! "Status." 

This is at the heart of why I think these social networks have been so successful. What they've allowed each of us to do is participate in an ongoing novel of epic proportions (Five hundred million times two is, mathematically, the first actual billion-footed beast, in the case of Facebook.) In this novel are characters with dialogue, one scene following another, interior monologue, and people who occupy certain ranks within the human pecking order. 

You don't even have to be part of that novel at all. You can just enjoy watching as some of the more enjoyable characters report to you things that they said, or that they heard in scenes that are involving because you know the characters so well. A great Facebook post might be about the kind of food served at some event. You can't taste that food. Why would the writer write about it and why is it fun to read it? Because it's a great status detail. If the hosts serve food that is exceptionally good, the writer is letting you know that they essentially exceeded the expectations of the status of that moment. That's the kind of detail you would find in, say, Dickens, with descriptions of either the gruel for Oliver Twist, or, for instance, a "jolly round of beef, ham of the first magnitude and sundry towers of buttered Yorkshire cake" for some of the dandies.

Similarly, do you have other "friends" who are just entertaining? They work or go to school or hang out in circles you have no interest in whatsoever, but they report about that circle with such aplomb, humor or with such a deft touch that you just enjoy hearing the reports and you think about them and look forward to the next time they let you know what's going on.

That's why we have so many friends on Facebook that are not the kind of friends you could call on to help you move a couch.

The great part is that you get to create this novel, in part. You hear about "friends" that are funny or interesting and, almost always, you can add them to your ongoing novel. And if a character becomes a bore, with one click you can "hide" that person and suddenly your novel is so much richer by comparison.

Now, are you a part of this novel? I think it's likely. This post is certainly long enough already, so I'll save for another post the way that we write our own novels, but here's one part of how I think we do take part in the novel just by reading. It goes like this:

Do you have "Friends" or people that you "Follow" because you have some aspiration to a social strata that they inhabit? (You don't have to answer out loud, so it's OK to be truthful.)

Fix one person in your mind for whom you think this might be the case. You know that you can't just go to that person and say, "I admire you and think I would enjoy life a bit more if I worked/partied/vacationed/hung out in a similar place, read the things that you read, wore the clothes that you wore, etc., and so I'd like to watch all those things about you, and -- when appropriate -- emulate them to that end." You just wouldn't do that in real life but I'm going to guess that you do that every time you catch up on Facebook. It's not that you rush to the store and buy a blue T-shirt if someone you admire posts a picture in one, but it might influence what you wear just a little the next time you go out to some similar event, even if that person will not be there. 

Think of it just in the micro-environment of Facebook. If a person you knew in high school talks with idolatry about, say, American Idol, and a person that occupies a social circle you aspire to mocks the proliferation of American Idol posts, you will be unlikely to post about watching the show, even if you did and even if you have something really clever to say. You may be the first to say on the 'net that, strictly as an example that J.Lo's hair looks like it came straight out of 1976. You won't, however, because you don't want to be one of the people mocked by the person you admire, even if you suspect that person hid you long, long ago.

Those tiny, but telling, status updates............................ Those are the exact thing Wolfe was writing about.

OK, enough. More on the cognitive psychology of Facebook next time.

 


Wikileaks Shows Generational Divide (And a Startup Lesson)

The whole Wikileaks event is fascinating on so many levels. There's been ton's of great coverage. I've read lots of it, but there's one thing that hasn't really been said: This seems like essentially a generational issue, yet another sign that the world is changing fast and the Hey-man-let's-change-the-world Boomers are the ones standing in the way of history.

Let me explain.

For all the hand-wringing, the actual upshot of the leaks has been... zilch. No covert operatives have been frogmarched down the streets of Moscow or Beijing. No foreign secretaries have been sacked.

(In the funniest tweet I've seen in a long time, my old Spy Magazine colleague Nell Scovell said: "WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange thinks Hillary Clinton should resign. Does he know NOTHING about the Clintons???")

Clinton, of course, will not resign and neither will anyone else. If anyone was harmed even a little, all the governments and journalists so outraged about the leaks would point to that harm as an example of why the leaks are so dangerous. They've got nothing.

The only reason they are so upset is that they like keeping their little secrets. It makes them feel important. So far, however, the leaks show that the government of Russia is corrupt (Say it aint so!) and in most cases that diplomats have done a pretty good job. If all this stuff hadn't been leaked information, this "news" would be classified as "not news."

How is all this related to startups? I recently saw a presentation from one of the best startup guys working these days: Eric Ries. Ries is an advocate of taking the absolute minimum product that you can create and putting it on the web so you can see if and how people will use it. Then you learn your lessons, iterate quickly and keep moving. Someone asked him how it was possible to do this without alerting your competition to what it is you are doing.

Reis' answer was spot-on. In essence, he said that your competition is just busy trying to do whatever it is they are doing, and really won't be paying much attention to what a startup is trying to do in the same space. He said that you could actually take all the code you've written and send it to your closest competitor, and the chances are that they really wouldn't know what to do with it. So don't worry about them, Ries said, worry about your biggest challenge, which is to just do a good job of figuring out what your customers want and providing it to them.

So it is with all these "secrets" that are now out. They are only secret because of the legacy of the positions the people hold who are doing the communicating.

That's why I say this is a generational issue. People over 45 or so have this assumption that all communication is private. Gen Xers and younger -- the people who regularly post on the 'net where they are eating lunch -- understand that all communication is essentially public.

The reason there's been so much handwringing among the older parts of the media is that they liked the world back in the day when they, and they alone, would get to see all the private stuff and publicize it when they felt that it was interesting. The gatekeepers are just not that useful any more. What's useful is a search engine that allows anyone interested to find what they are looking for.

For those of you keeping score at home, gatekeepers are the Boomers, and search engines are from Gen X.

The person who allegedly provided all those cables to Wikileaks? A kid. The one calling for that kid to be executed? A presidential candidate, a boomer, who cloaks himself in Christianity. (Hypocrisy infects all generations, but its most friendly host is the Baby Boomer.)

So just remember these two things: First, if you really want something to be private, don't put it on the 'net. Second, ask yourself why you want it to be private. Chances are that if you try to keep it private, it will just make really boring stuff that much more sensational.


I refudiate Sarah Palin!

I am not a prescriptionist. I embrace a living language as much as any modern lexicographer.

I'm also not a hater. When George W. Bush had nary a friend in the world, I still wanted him to do well because I wanted the country to do well.

And when he coined the word "Misunderestimate" I went along. The word filled a hole in the language, and was a clever mash-up. It also sort of summed up his presidency.

Now comes Sarah Palin.

In a tweet, she called on her tweeps to "refudiate" something. 

Several things...

First: To her credit, it's clear that she types her own tweets. That's good. 

(The alternate thought, that she has someone so inept with language working for her as a writer, is simply too horrible to imagine.)

Second: She saw it was a mistake and pulled the offense to the language. Good for her.

Third: She compounded the error in the worst way possible, tweeting this:

"Refudiate," "misunderestimate," "wee-wee'd up." English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!

OK, just to be clear: "Refudiate" may have started life as a malaprop, just as with misunderestimate, but it will die there. It's not a new concept and it doesn't have any kind of clear meaning the way that misunderestimate does. 

Misunderestimate is clear from the word itself. Does "refudiate" mean to refuse to repudiate, or to repudiate more? I suppose it might creep into the language incorrectly (see irregardless, penultimate, etc.), but I don't think it will. At least I hope not.

"Repudiate" is a fine word. As with all strong verbs, it carries any sentence smartly. "Refudiate" is risible. 

Palin's worst offense against language, however, is her invocation of Shakespeare. You can almost see the little hamster wheel spinning in Palin's head here: She learned -- during one of her brief interludes at one of her sundry institutions of higher learning -- that the Bard coined many of the words he wrote. She hung on to that little factoid for a moment just such as this. 

I can just... see her... sitting in the back of class... twirling her hair while languorously doodling strings of made-up words on the construction-paper cover of Introduction to English Literature. She hears that Shakespeare invented words and then spends the rest of the class thinking about how she is just like him but she is trapped in the cruel world of academia -- until a squirrel went by outside the window.

What she missed in that class is that there was no dictionary to consult for Shakespeare. The language had no guide then. If he wanted to write about a character who was something less pernicious than "cheap" he needed to invent "frugal."

So, I say that we repudiate "refudiate" except in one very narrow sense: If we find a person using the language improperly, and then claiming the mantle of Shakespeare in becoming a faux-neologist, I say that we rise up and refudiate that person in the strongest terms possible.

Sarah Palin, I refudiate you!


Elena Kagan is gay. Or she isn't. Big media is, however, dead for sure.

Members of the Supreme Court are the pinnacle celebrities of the legal geek world. As Kobe Bryant is to sports geeks, Steve Jobs or (but not "and") Bill Gates are to computer geeks, as Justin Bieber is to millions (so I read, anyway), the nine members of the high court are big celebrities.

So it makes sense that lots of people are interested in them.

I remember when John Roberts was nominated to the court, I read a bunch of the stories about him. They all had an "info box" or a "sidebar" that listed the highlights of his work history, his education, and his family, which included information about his wife and his two adopted kids.

I did the same reading about Elena Kagan. The stories were similar, both had lots of details showing how brilliant they are, bla bla bla. The one difference is that there was no "Family" section of the info box for Kagan. New York Times. Washington Post. ABC. Nothing.

It's as if everyone in the big media is all saying at the same time, "Move along. Move along. Nothing to see here. Move along."

To learn more, I turned away from the big media to a gay man, a Brit, and a thoughtful commentator, Andrew Sullivan. He has a number of posts on the topic, one of the most interesting, I thought, showed that a relatively new technological tool from (who else?) Google makes it clear that lots of people are interested, and are making their interest known by searching.

Here's my screen grab from this morning:

Google-kagan-gay
Clearly I'm not the only one who wants to know.

If Big Media had done it's job of just reporting, rather than trying to keep information out of stories and hope that we don't notice, I'm sure those Google suggested searches would look much different.

Look, it's not that I hope she is gay or isn't gay. The reality is that I don't care that much, except that I care about the people on the high court; I want to know what sort of people they are. I can find out all kinds of details about what kind of music she likes (opera), what her nickname was when she was a clerk (shorty), how she dressed for her high school yearbook photo (in judicial robes with a gavel), etc., but I'm not allowed to know if she's gay or straight?

This post isn't about her, it's about Big Media, what my old professor Jay Rosen calls the "Church of the Savvy."

Indeed just this morning he pointed me to the best long story I've read in a while by the always excellent James Fallows. It's about the future of news as being shaped by Google

The quote that fits this best is here:

“Usually, you see essentially the same approach taken by a thousand publications at the same time. Once something has been observed, nearly everyone says approximately the same thing.”

That's from a guy who's been watching Google News since the start, and he is absolutely right. I used to be part of that church. I did well, but I always bristled about the idea of knowing something and not being able to get it into the paper, and so I had some mighty fights with editors, and eventually left journalism and started my own business where I could put everything I knew out there.

(By the way, continuing my ongoing series on how rotten Gibbs is as press secretary, he has completely flubbed the White House response. He screwed this up, as he has with so many other issues, because he sees himself as one of the new high priests of the Church of the Savvy, and can't quite figure out how to recognize that the world is changing. His boss does, but in this case I think both President Obama and Kagan herself have erred in trying to keep it all in the closet, so that does put Gibbs in a tricky spot, but one that he could have worked out of more gracefully than he did here.)

The story will only grow and grow, not because it's fueled by haters on the right -- which is whom Gibbs blames -- or anyone else with an agenda. It will be fueled by people bristling at information being kept from them. Those Google suggested words are generated by a computer analyzing millions of searches. There's no conspiracy, vast or otherwise, driving what people all over the world type in their search engine windows.

Luckily for me and for all readers the walls are tumbling down, and it is possible to find other sources of news that are not in the Church of the Savvy.


Obama, health care, parents, and Field of Dreams

I'm a big fan of politics, and of movies, and I often think about politics in terms of what makes for a good plot.

The health care bill makes for a great plot. (Lots and lots of others will argue about if it's good policy, I won't do that here.)

First you have the whole political back story, the failure of Hillarycare. Now HRC is nowhere to be seen near HCR. Even a trip that she planned for the President had to be scrubbed so that he could push health care reform to home base.

But that's a minor backstory compared to the personal one: I really get the feeling that this fight was deeply personal for the president.

President Obama speaks about his health care victory. Image from Reuters

Consider these words from his book:

My thoughts turned to my mother and her final days, after cancer had spread through her body and it was clear that there was no coming back. She had admitted to me during the course of her illness that she was not ready to die; the suddenness of it all had taken her by surprise, as if the physical world she loved so much had turned on her, betrayed her. And although she fought valiantly, endured the pain and chemotherapy with grace and good humor to the very end, more than once I saw fear flash across her eyes. More than fear of pain or fear of the unknown, it was the sheer loneliness of death that frightened her, I think.

Clearly this was emotionally charged stuff, and while it's possible to get angry at cancer, cancer itself doesn't make a very good bad guy. Insurance companies make excellent bad guys. Here's what he said during the campaign in Dayton, Ohio, October 9, 2008:

This issue is personal for me. My mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 53, and I'll never forget how she spent the final months of her life lying in a hospital bed, fighting with her insurance company because they claimed that her cancer was a pre-existing condition and didn't want to pay for treatment. If I am president, I will make sure those insurance companies can never do that again.

Think about that as you look at that picture above. To whom is his gaze rising?

He hasn't mentioned his mother in the speeches from recent days that I've seen, but I can see her looking at him in everything that he is doing, using the tools that movies have to pull off such things. And him looking back.

Consider this passage taken from his remarks the day before the final vote: "Every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself." Sure, we all have good hopes for ourselves, but nobody has higher hopes for us than our mothers. I think President Obama swore to fight back against those who dashed the hopes of his mother and made her suffer with such indignity. And he did.

Look, I'm not saying this was a giant Oedipal play, or that President Obama has an unhealthy grudge. Remember, the best movies become great when the hero does something that saves the world AND rescues the girl or saves his family at the same time.

There are dozens of examples, but Field of Dreams comes to mind for me. Remember watching that for the first time? You had no idea that Ray Kinsella was saving his relationship with his dad until it suddenly became clear that of course he was saving his relationship with his dad, and saving the reputation of Shoeless Joe and, by the way, Following Your Dreams, Farming and America's Love Affair With Baseball to boot. 

Remember? Remember near the end when Shoeless Joe tells Ray, "If you build it, he..." nodding toward the catcher "...will come." Ray stands up, and says, "Oh, my God" and tells his wife that it is his father. You can see the lump rising in his throat. (I felt it rising in my own throat, I still do just writing about it.)

Ray then says a line that baseball fans can all appreciate for its profundity, even though he is so choked up he can barely whisper it: "Say it ain't so, Joe."

Joe responds, "I'm afraid it is, kid." Ray then quotes one of the lines from the corn that moved him to build the field, "Ease his pain" and begins to understand that it wasn't Joe's pain, but his father's pain. Joe then says, sounding a lot like The Voice in the final command from the field, "Go the distance."

Then the clip below picks up, but the part that's most related to President Obama is above. 

He went the distance, and eased her pain.

What a movie!


The Future of the Future

A few months ago I wrote about some of what I was up to. It helps in a few ways to do that, I think, so here's the latest.

The two biggest bits of news are that I am writing a book, and I've been accepted to the Founder Institute.

First the book...

The American Water Works Association has been wanting to do a book for while that looks forward to all the changes coming over the next few decades in the world of water. So, the people there created a team of Steve Maxwell and me. Steve knows the water business inside and out, and AWWA is not just an association of water providers, it really is the authoritative resource on safe water. I bring to the team my skills at making complicated topics accessible.

One thing I know for sure already: The way we think about water will be changing -- radically -- over the next 30-50 years. You probably don't really think about water much right now. Most people don't. The ways that we've handled water over the last 50 years, however, just won't work over the next 50, and that's why so many radical changes are coming.

I'll work hard to make sure this will not be a depressing book, but it should be eye-opening.

So watch this space for an announcement about when you'll be able to pick up your own copy of The Future of Water. If all goes well, it should hit bookshelves this fall.

Next, the Founder Institute...

The institute is sort of like the awesome TechStars, or a few others, but instead of asking participants to to quit whatever they are doing and subsist on pizza and Red Bull for six months, it allows people to keep their day jobs while a new company gets rolling.

They are launching a Denver version, and I've been accepted as a founder. (I'm guessing I'll be older than the average student, and have founded two companies already, but I like the concept of this school so I will be participating gladly. I look at it a bit like continuing education, with a bunch of great potential side benefits depending on the kind of company I decide to start.)

I'm sure I'll have much more to report about that in the months to come.

In addition to those two big things, I'm also fiddling around with some other concepts:

  • I'm working with an excellent Denver web design shop on an idea that has the potential to substantially improve the employer-employee relationship around the world. Can't say more now, but it could be revolutionary, and a great thing for workers and manager everywhere. Stay tuned.
  • I created an easy to use Applicant Tracking System. A lot of businesses just get flooded with resumes when they post a job, and they don't have a way to handle all of the applications. Many of them just use a spreadsheet. So, I invented a quick and easy way to keep track of all the applications. I've never created a page and tried to have it ad supported, so this is my small experiment with that.
  • I may have a small but explosively cool new application emerging in time for Earth Day. That one will be fun.

There are a few other projects in the works. By my next report three months from now, I'll tell you all about them!


What to Call This Decade? My vote: The Naughties

I've been saying for more than ten years now that we need to all agree on what to call this decade that is so rapidly coming to a close.

When I say that, I've been getting a response, most recently from the esteemed Jesse Sheidlower, that we've gotten through the last 10 years without a name, and so there's no need to coin one now.

I disagree! Starting next month is when we will need it most! 

I don't think we need it when we are in it, because we can just say, for example, "I don't really like the most recent music from Hootie and the Blowfish, I like what they released in the 90s." 

Now let's say that band releases a much better set of songs in the next decade. (It could happen.)

How will we say, "I liked the recent songs, and the stuff from the '90s, but not the songs from the ____s."?

My vote is to take the word used commonly by Brits, the "noughties" and give it a proper American spelling, and call it the "Naughties."

This will give a little hint about so much of the naughtiness that went on. (Insert your own scandal here.)


The naughties are (almost) dead! Long live the naughties!


Won't I get a reputation for being soft on turkeys?

I think President Obama gave some nice remarks, and delivered his laugh lines well, and was cute with his daughters. For all the blather, it's clear that the president is a truly decent guy.

And his remarks about how Thanksgiving started during the depths of the Civil War really resonate in this year, with so many people struggling and so many troops overseas. He just put it all in perspective.

But there's really no better turkey-pardoning bit of drama than this one:


Stay-at-home dad

It's true, I'm essentially a stay-at-home dad, and what's weird is how busy I am. Most of the things I'm doing are open to the public, at least on-line, so join me for any or all of it. I know you are busy, too, but it's like they say, "If you need a job done, give it to a busy person."

Here's what I'm up to:

  • Getting ready for the second installment of Second Saturday Science.

    The first was a big hit, check out the photos on the site for more. We're expecting a similar crowd of kids for this month's event, so we will not be in the community room this time, we'll be right out in the cafe area. If you have kids from around 6 to around 12, c'mon by. It's a lot of fun.

  • Doing some coaching for TheBlogFrog in advance of the Angel Capital Summit.

    This is a great new company doing something that is great now, and will get even better.

    Remember how comments on blogs looked about the same for years, and how they didn't really interact with people in the modern, socially connected world? Then IntenseDebate came along and made the comments make more sense, and connected the commenters to their real-world profile, etc.

    Well, you know how forums on blogs have looked the same for years, and how they don't really interact with people in the modern, socially connected world?

    You catch on quick! You guessed it, the BlogFrog team has developed an easy way for bloggers to plug a fantastic forum into any blog, and maybe even make a little extra money on it in the process. They've already gotten some great traction with that most discerning of internet groups: the Mommy Bloggers. Keep an eye on BlogFrog, I know I will.

  • Attending and reporting on Defrag Con 2009.

    It's been a while since I was a full-time reporter, but I've been attending a few events lately for this blog, but also for my Examiner reports on New Technology and on Google Wave. It's something that's quite comfortable for me to do: walking up and asking questions, and trying to write something coherent about it.

    The difference these days is that with the Internet as cool as it is, you can actually create things instead of just writing about them. Case in point is that just last week I wrote about how Wave could be integrated into a conference, and today I contacted the chief Defrag Confrencista to ask permission, he said yes, and a few minutes later I had launched the DefragCon Wave. (You need to already be in Wave to see that. Sorry.)

    Wave is still in its infancy, but it's fun to try it out. If you are on Wave, be sure to contact me in that brave new world. My username is "scodtt" (like Sco.tt with a "d" for the dot.)


  • Helping Bud's Warehouse with a new site.

    You can click the link now, but wait until you see the new one, it will be much better. Really the best way to keep up with Bud's until the change is to check their Twitter account. This in some ways is the best twitter account I follow because the information they get about new merchandise is so handy, if I happen to be looking for what they get in.

  • Lastly, but bestly, I'm spending time being a husband and a father. Kathy is busy keeping the world safe for arts in education, so I end up picking up a lot more of the time with our son, but that's just getting to be more and more fun every day.

So, if I'm not as in touch, or I'm not keeping my Facebook page quite as up-to-date, now you'll know why. 

Do keep in touch with me, however, especially if there's something I can do for you. These days we all need to count on our friends more than ever.

Thanks for reading!


Must Pop Topics! (Or, Why I Can Write Lots About Google Wave, and Not Much About the Rest of the World)

There's a game I just discovered from the excellent game collection over at Good Experience called Must Pop Words.

The idea is that a bunch of letters in balls float down to the bottom of a window, and you have to type words from those letters. At first they float slowly, and then they speed up. If you get to 50 balls, you lose. As Mark Hurst describes it, it's a combination of Tetris and Boggle.

The interesting thing is that I do much better when there are only a few balls, around seven or so. Once I get up to 35 or more balls it gets really hard. You would think it would be the opposite because there are geometrically more words that would be available with 35 letters.

I just finished reading How We Decide, the excellent book that draws in all the latest in neuroscience to help understand how the brain works, especially when it comes to making decisions.

One of the experiments that the author reviewed had to do with choosing a car. I don't have it in front of me, so I'm probably going to butcher this, but I think it went like this: 

Some subjects were asked to pick the best car, and they were given four variables for each of four cars. Some of them were asked to study the grid, and then announce what they thought was the best car. Some others were distracted after studying the list, and then were asked in the midst of distraction for the best choice, just using "gut instinct." 

The group that was not distracted picked the best car based on the four variables. Makes sense.

Then, a different group was asked to study a list of four cars, but for this group there were 16 variables. Again one part of this group was asked to study the list and then without distraction they were asked to announce their pick of the best car. The other part of this group was distracted, and then had to pick using a "gut instinct." Here the results flipped. The ones who got to study picked wrong; it's just impossible to keep 16x4 things in the rational part of your head all at the same time.

The emotional part of your brain -- the one that makes the "gut instinct" kind of decisions -- can keep track in some way so the people in this section way more often picked the car that had the largest number of better variables.

Picking a car, however, is way different from trying to form a word. Our emotional brain can make good decisions, but it can't pick words out of letters. I think that is why I stumble in that game when I have more good choices.

Now, why am I writing about this game?

Because it's interesting, to be sure, but also because of something I've been experiencing this week.

In my spare time I'm writing for Examiner.com. I started with one topic: New Technology. Then I wrote so many articles in that section about Google Wave, that with the help and encouragement of an old friend over at Examiner.com, I ended up starting a whole section devoted to Google Wave News.

Writing about Google Wave I have been unusually prolific, especially since I do most of my writing before breakfast.

But about "New Technology" my production has slipped. A lot.

I think it's because it's like the ball thing. With Wave there is plenty to write about, but really the choices are somewhat limited for a newfangled kind of a communication tool that's been used by, maybe, 0.000001 percent of the world's population.

"New Technology" just has so many possibilities, it's nearly impossible to choose with a rational brain. So, I'll do my best, but the best decisions may be the emotional ones and not the rational ones.


Greatest Day of Sco.tt's Life!

I'm spending much of the day at the DemoGala event in downtown Denver. I'll be reporting on it for the Examiner soon enough, but I first have to say that this is the greatest day in the life of Sco.tt.

No, not my life, my domain's life. 

You see, I have a card with the domain on it, and that's it. The picture you see above is the whole image on the card. Kind of a minimalist thing that I thought was kind of cool. Turns out that for most people... not so much. They just look at it, and then look at me. Some people are genuinely annoyed.

But not the people at this all-technical event today. They all love it.

The best reaction so far came from the incomparable Adeo Ressi. He's the guy behind two of the great ideas of the last few years: TheFunded and the Founder Institute. He and I have communicated about another potential project a few times, but today was the first time we'd met in person. When he had to go off to speak, he asked for my card. I handed it to him and he said it was the greatest card he'd ever seen. "This makes it worth the trip to Denver!"

Then he went to speak and I went off to a different session hosted by Examiner COO Dave Schafer. Why? Because I said I would, and because Schafer and I long ago toiled side-by-side at an actual newspaper printed on real paper. It was actually an excellent panel with Matt Cohen of OneSpot, Boulder and BDNT's own Robert Reich from OneRiot and the very impressive Lisa Stone of BlogHer. (I'm a sucker for journalists turned entrepreneurs.)

Anyway, one of my spies (I have them everywhere!) told me that Adeo held up my card during his speech, and said it was great, and then he called me a jack-ass because I didn't come to his speech.

To be called a jack-ass by Ressi. Man, if that's not awesome I don't know what is.


The Smell of the Press Room

As a former Rocky reporter and book reviewer, I was brokenhearted about the Rocky closing. I haven't been able to blog about it, so sad is the news.


I attended the wake, and the hardest part was talking to people who came up to me, knowing that I've made a living -- more or less -- online for the last half-dozen or so years, and they looked to me for hope that they will be able to do the same. I don't know what my own future holds, so...

They still have their heads held high, though, and they should. They produced an amazing product under the most difficult of circumstances.

And now today comes news of the next domino falling: They are closing the press at the Coloradoan. This is also horrible news.

It won't quiet the voice of the newsroom up there, but the 48 people losing their job were, I'm sure, doing as good of job at their jobs as the 250 or so people who were putting out the Rocky every day. They aren't as familiar to us, but they had respectable jobs doing honest work.

(Old fogey alert!) This saddens me especially because of my first regular journalism job at the Durango Herald. It was an afternoon paper then, and every day I would get to work early, read the official police blotter and turn it into the one we put in the paper and then write up whatever other stories were going on that day. We had to have all the words on the page so it could be pasted up by hand by 11:45 a.m. If we missed that, dozens of paper boys would be delivering the paper after dark, so we never missed it.

After gathering around the front page and the back page of the front section as the layout guy calmly finished his job with all of us yelling about the indignity of an editor moving a comma, or whatever, we reporters would mosey off for lunch. By the time we got back the presses were rolling, and I'd go watch every day, and grab a freshly printed paper and just breathe in the smell of it and flip through the pages.

At first, it was a thrill seeing my story on the front page, but that faded fast.

After that, it was just the joy of seeing something that actually got printed. The guys in the press room cared about the quality of the product, and it was an honor working side-by-side with them. We had different jobs, but we had the same goal every day: making something real.

We don't make much in this country any more. We buy a lot of plastic crap made by underage workers in countries that we just can't understand. Newspapers were one thing that we still physically produced.

We still do, barely. Now it's all done overnight in far away places and the papers are so thin that they can print, for example, the Denver Post, the Boulder Camera and the Fort Collins Coloradoan all on the same night on the same press. 

My son will probably never understand what it means to work someplace where people actually make something. Too bad, because for my couple of years in Durango, I was a part of making something, and I got to see the whole process from reporting the news to seeing it delivered in the course of a day, and it happened every single weekday.

And I loved it so much.

Goodbye, press room. You will be missed.

Screaming for a Joke

Sometimes you trip over a story, and it just screams out to get a joke written about it.

Like this one:


Prehistoric fish pioneered sex

Sex has been a fact of life for at least 380 million years, longer than previously thought. Internal fertilization was widespread among prehistoric fish living on ancient tropical coral reefs in the Devonian period, research published in the journal Nature on Wednesday showed.


So, if I was Conan O'Lenoman, I think I might use this:

Scientists today announced that all jawed vertebrates had sex much earlier than previously believed. That's right, it was 380 million years ago that animals with mouths were having sex. They found the key piece of evidence in the back of Larry King's dressing room.


Autumnal Equinox

I love the start of fall, and the start of spring, for plenty of reasons, but one fun astronomical reason especially.


The northern hemisphere tilts toward the sun in the summer, and away in the winter. That's why VP candidates and penguins have such long days in the summer, and such long nights in the winter.

But what's interesting to me are the Equinoxes. Think about it, the equator is pointing straight at the sun, so the whole world has essentially the same length of day. Billions of people, hundreds of countries, all kinds of different climates, and yet for a couple of days we all have a day and a night that is just about the same with equal parts day and night.

I don't have any moral to this story, I just think that's cool.

The Naughties

Just now catching up to The Stuff of Thought, the third of Steven Pinker's books looking at the brain and the way they work. Awesome stuff. It's amazing how much great research is being done on the brain, and yet how much remains completely unknown. If you ever meet a neurologist at a party, ask them why we need to sleep just to watch them stammer a bit before asking you where the bathroom is.

Pinker's work is great, and this isn't really related to the mind, but the thing that caught my eye is that Pinker asked a question that I've been asking for at least 10 years now: What are we going to call this decade that we are now 4/5ths done with?

No one yet knows what to call it. The zeroes? The aughts? The nought-noughts? The naughties?

I've been arguing for the last one since the last millennium, but it just hasn't caught on. Those crappy radio stations that are trying to hoodwink 47-year-olds into believing that they are still hip still say, "Playing the best of the 80s, the 90s and today!" The reality is that "today" means Norah Jones from an album that is now six years old, and then they quickly they get back to playing Synchronicity or some other music that seemed so cool back when you were playing it on the cassette player in your Tercel.

But what do we call this decade? As we all know, the 60's didn't really start until '65 or so, maybe even '68, and they ended in... '74? When Nixon resigned? It took the 80s a while to get rolling. The Tech-crash in April of 2000 luckily came only four months after the 90s, helping to punctuate that decade.

The naughties, I would submit, overlapped the 90s a bit, and started with the day Bill Clinton said, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

When will the decade end? Given that the Clintons seem incapable of letting go of our attention... well... it could be a long long long decade of naughtiness.


Air Apparent

I've been reading lots and lots and lots of commentary about the new Mac Air, and they always seem to go along the theme of, "I don't want to like it, and it has all these issues, but I somehow can't help myself and now I'm so happy."

Apple has this amazing ability to infuse people with the opposite of buyer's remorse.

The funniest write-up, as so often is the case, comes from Guy Kawasaki, the title pretty much sums it up: Into Thin Air: How I Spent $5,000 on Air and Made Fifty-Year Old Women Swoon

The thing that has gotten almost no write-up, however, is Apple's new "One to One" service. Most people that write about technology on the Interwebs love hardware, especially the latest, skinniest, most powerful, whatever. I love all that stuff, too, but for this post I'm trying to look at the bigger picture.

Most folks actually don't care about technology. Most folks just use the IT department in their corporation to provide them the tools they need to do their job, even if they grumble about it.

Of course, the world is changing fast, and the number of people who work for big organizations continues to drop. We are becoming a free-agent nation.

What Apple has figured out is that free agents want an IT department, too. And what they want is not just some kind of service plan to fix the hardware if it breaks, what they want is someone who will show them how to use the tools to do the stuff they want to do. But nobody likes paying by the hour for that.

So, the really genius thing that Apple has done is said, "OK, we'll be your full service IT staff for $99 a year. You can use us as often as you like, just make an appointment."

Of course, then people are coming into the stores more often, buying more stuff, etc., but I think the genius of this product from Apple is that the company has decided it wants to be the single-source IT vendor to the Free-Agent Nation. Brilliant.


Mmmmm. Fast Food

I should make a category called "I love the Internet."

Beefcheddar


Beefcheddar1

A guy in West Virginia has taken it on himself to compare the fast food photos from ads, and the food itself.

Really funny, go look for sure. (Also funny is the Alli Side Effects page.)

The best part of the internet, though, is that he has some Google ad blocks on his fast food page, and because of the keywords, some of the same outfits lampooned on that page are helping to sponsor the lampooner.

Ahhh. The Internet and America. I love 'em.


200 years hence

By way of Rod Dreher I just read, well... skimmed, a post about what from our post-1950 culture will survive 200 years from now.

It's an interesting intellectual idea, but the guy that Rod linked to droned on forever and nominated a bunch of stuff that sounds like some sort of weird Currents State of the Arts Review 100-level class at a private college somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

There really is only one answer to that question: Tom Wolfe. He is much derided now, just as Charles Dickens was much derided in his day, but no one person illustrates what our society is going through more clearly than Wolfe. I'm already looking forward to his book about Miami, and schoolchildren who bio-download that work just after Tale of Two Cities in the year 2208 will enjoy it, too.


Starbucks Refuses to Give Coffee to People With Only One Kidney!!!!!

Remember back in those carefree days of the Internet when you would get an email from an aunt or someone warning you about the dangers of having a drink at a hotel bar because you'll wake up with a kidney missing? And you would smile knowing that it was just one of those fake things that someone writes up because they enjoy seeing things they dream up spread around the world.

Then you found Snopes, and you knew that the same Internet that brought you the hoax could also be the end of the hoax emails.

Well, what happens when the hoaxes become true?

The racket involved illegally removing kidneys from poor labourers and transplanting them to rich recipients, many of them from foreign countries, for huge sums of money.

In most cases, the victims were paid paltry sums and many did not even know that one of their kidneys had been taken away.

Around 600 kidney transplants were reportedly performed in the last nine years.

There's no mention of drinking something in a hotel bar, but still.

Maybe Mikey really did die from eating Pop Rocks and drinking a Coke!

Oh, here's the Starbuck's item, in case the headline confused you.


One morning with my morning newspaper

That papers are dying is one of those facts that gets lamented on endlessly here on the Interwebs. I won't go into all that here, except to say that I'm doing my part to keep the printed paper alive. I read the Rocky Mountain News every morning, typically with my 4-year-old son in my lap, trying to keep the tradition alive.

Today was great, because there was a story about a probe nearing Mercury. Space is very big with the 4-year-olds.

Today's Rocky was also terrific for some ground-breaking layout. For 102 years, more or less, the schedule for the National Western Stock Show has been printed in an unintelligible mass of type. Tradition is everything with the Stock Show. The Rocky broke that up by doing a great spread with one column for each day, and events broken up by Horse Events, Rodeos, etc. It was great.

But then in the same section, just below the helpful rundown of all the Children's events, were two ads for "Topless Bullriding" and some other "adult" event. I had to turn the page fast -- 4-year-olds are fast with the questions.

I know that newspaper staffs have been cut to the bone marrow, but doesn't anyone check to see if ads are around appropriate editorial content anymore?

One other short item that can't be overlooked:

Garyhart
John Enslin, a terrific guy and great reporter and baseball fan, wrote a story about the opening of the new Obama office in Colorado. Gary Hart spoke. Here's an excerpt:

But what clinched his support, Hart said, was when a supporter of an Obama opponent said they "we're going to throw the kitchen sink at him."

"Everybody in this room is probably too young to remember that I ran for president," he said, drawing applause. "I had a breakthrough in New Hampshire and then they threw the kitchen sink at me."

Ummm. As I recall, Gary Hart challenged reporters to investigate him after persistent questions of his womanizing in DC, often with pal Warren Beatty. (See the politics section of this wikipedia page, which has the quote about how Warren wanted Gary's life, and Gary wanted Warren's.)

Hart told reporters that they would be bored.

Hard to say if they were bored. Watching a certain kind of film that will trip up spam sensors is boring, too. But nobody was throwing any kitchen sinks, unless you classify your own hypocrisy as a sink, kitchen or otherwise.

I'm starting to sound like an old prude, ranting about adult ads next to kids listings, and an aging statesman trying to whitewash his own sordid history. You'll have to decide for yourself it's it prudishness or enlightened commentary incorporating journalism analysis and catching the political hypocrites.

Yeah... That's it. The second one.


Learning

Two interesting posts from two kings of blogging that are only related in my mind around the theme of learning.

First is Fred Wilson, a VC writing about "scar tissue." He read about Hillary talking about her scar tissue from all the battles she's lost, and he relates that to the world of investing, saying essentially that he prefers investing in people who have failed at some venture in the past -- as long as they learned the lessons they needed to learn from the experience.

And then Mike Arrington wrote an amazingly thoughtful post about companies that failed in the last bubble. I will not do the post justice by trying to summarize, but essentially Arrington points out a fascinating dichotomy. On the one hand those who learned lessons in the last bubble may be too timid to try really new things now. On the other side is that people may make easily avoidable mistakes by not learning from what happened. Great innovation, however, only comes from bold actions.

Clearly there's no perfect answer.

One thing is clear, though: None of us can change who we are and where we have been. If you lived through the last crash, or if you didn't, you still need to do something every day.

It's possible to learn from the mistakes of others, and it's also possible to have made mistakes and not learn anything and go forward making them over and over.

I recently read something that's just stuck with me: Really successful people are different in that they've failed more because they've tried so many more things.


What passes for humor in retail

A thousand years ago I used to enjoy shopping at Abercrombie and Fitch. I loved that they had books mixed in with the shirts, and I really liked that they had almost no selection at all. I only had to decided if I wanted a blue button down, or a white button down. It was a delightful shopping experience.

I don't know what happened, I abandoned them when they abandoned the books. I've read about the kind of stuff that they try to pass off as humorous pranks designed to get publicity, and they always do get publicity but at the cost of degrading the culture as much as possible. And of course they use what can only be described as soft-core gay pornography to somehow convince not-very-bright young women to spend 30 or 40 bucks for a shirt that looks as if it came from the thrift store.

Which is why the Improv Everywhere Shirtless Stunt is so genius. A&F somehow thinks that they have this knowing wink at popular culture, and -- like so many bad comics -- they equate being crass and offensive with being funny. By embracing the whole shirtless thing and extending it to it's logical conclusion, the Improv guys laid bare the hypocrisy. Bravo!


Who butters her toast?

Here's a weird one on several levels:

In a story about airline delays, there's some information about how private jets are causing some of the problem, and there's no system of prioritizing landings based on schedules, it's just first-come-first-served, as it has been since the dawn of air travel.

A few sensible folks are talking about changing that, and allowing a full 777 to land before some private jet with one or two passengers.

In this story, which I found from the IHT, a woman is quoted as saying that the rules should not be changed. And while there may be some logistical or other concerns that would make sense, this woman instead decides to insult every person not taking a corporate jet for business.

"On a business flight, you might have people going to Wall Street from companies who are creating jobs and generating billions of dollars in commerce," Brown said. "People on a commercial flight might be going on vacation or going to New York to go to the theater."

OK, that's just horrendously bad on so many levels.

But the paper made that worse because they identified Ms. Brown as working both for the FAA (in the 11th paragraph) and for an industry group for private jets (in the 16th paragraph).

It makes it hard for me to be outraged for the bad PR, or the shocking lack of sensitivity to the taxpayers from someone in the government.

I guess I'll be outraged at both, and at the generally dismal state of editing in the mainstream media.


What's missing from this picture? A Hula Hoop?

One of my goals is that I will not be one of those bloggers who eats the New York Times for breakfast and then after chewing on the ponderous cud for a few moments, I deem to release droplets of the regurgitate here on my very own blog.

There are way too many people doing that.

In fact, I don't even typically scan through the Times any more, though I do have the corrections page bookmarked, and sometimes read that for grins.

But someone sent me a story this morning, knowing my history in the traffic business. The story reports -- this may shock some of you -- high technology is changing the way traffic gets reported.

The reason someone thought I'd like to see this is that I was in the traffic business for five years. I built a company called MyTrafficNews, and sold it to Traffic.com last year. The "news" in the Times is six or seven years old.

Now I'm contractually not able to be in the traffic business, but I don't need to be. Traffic.com, now a part of NavTeq, is doing a great job.

But that's not why I wanted to write about that story; there are two things that jumped out at me. First is that the story never mentioned Traffic.com. It's like they did a story about how great "Search Engines" are, but they never mention Google. That's just weird.

The second is this quote:

“Let’s say, just for discussion’s sake, a car goes off the Brooklyn Bridge here and into the water,” he said, pointing to a live image on a monitor. “I’m on the air. I can see that instantaneously. And I’m saying it as I see it.”

“To get that on the network” of pagers and cellphones, he added, “that has to be inputted into a terminal. It takes time to write that up, and for the equipment to process it and get it to you.”

After a motorist has that information in hand, there is the challenge of reading it off of a miniature screen while driving.

“I think,” Mr. Tauriello said with an audible swagger, “I’m a little bit faster on the trigger.”

One of the reasons that I did so well as a completely self-financed standalone company for five years -- playing in the arena with giant corporations running radio stations -- was the kind of attitude shown in that quote. Even now I get the feeling that these radio people think of the Internet as something like the Hula Hoop, another fad they saw come and go.

Also clear from that quote is the essential disconnect of the radio traffic reporter. You can feel in what he is saying that he wants a car to go off the Brooklyn Bridge, and he wants to watch it happen. Leaving aside the idea that he could single-handedly see everything in the NYC metro area, it's clear his goals just are the exact opposite of all of his listeners.


Let's Make a Deal

So, the conservatives on the court decided that free speech really should be free when it comes to politics, but that it isn't free when you are a student and you are saying something the school doesn't like.

The liberals are holding a view that would seem to illustrate why big cities like liberals and everywhere else is getting more conservative. What the liberals said in those two rulings is that students should be able to publicly advocate drug use or anything else they want, anywhere they want to, including on school grounds. But people or groups with money should not be able to speak about politics in public.

Teens can say anything anywhere, but a group of people can't get together and comment on politics.

The liberal position in this case is just so much gobbledygook, so full of convoluted language that even the AP had a hard time finding a good quote.

The other side, however, is much easier to make clear because it is just easier to boil things down to their essence and then choose what is obviously right:

"Discussion of issues cannot be suppressed simply because the issues also may be pertinent in an election. Where the First Amendment is implicated, the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor."

I really wonder, though, if Roberts couldn't have achieved a unanimous vote on both.

Look, I know this is a stretch, and it shows my Libertarian bent, but what if Roberts said to Souter, "David, really, if you really think kids should be able to say anything anywhere, I don't like it and my wife will kill me because I have small kids, but I could handle all that and vote with you because a bunch of potheads aren't going to get anyone else to smoke dope with some nonsense signs anyway. Also the schools have plenty of ways of keeping those punks in line. I'll suck it up and vote with you on that if you will embrace the spirit of free speech that you advocate for in that case, and apply it to the political speech case and vote with the majority. This way you get half of what you want, rather than being zero for two."

I know vote trading is wrong, illegal, etc., but with a couple of unanimous or at least near-unanimous decisions the court could really let everyone know that this is still America, and we really do have free speech.


Blub

The first blog post... so full of portent. Full of something, anyway.

I'm really most interested in this being the hub of my online life, so I think of it more like a blog/hub, or a "blub."

But what to do for the first post?

Luckily, there's Lucky Cow.

Luc070530