Blogmutt is everywhere!

Blogmutt - button only
This is the blog for my personal life, but because my personal life these days is pretty much all Blogmutt all the time (with the support and encouragement of my wonderful wife and super son) I'm going to share some news about the best blog writing service on four paws!

The first is that Blogmutt will be presenting at the Angel Capital Summit this coming Thursday. If you happen to be in Denver and are interested in coming by, please let me know. It should be plenty of fun. I'll be talking up Blogmutt, of course, but also the Founder Institute, which is gearing up for a fabulous third session in Denver this summer. It should be just as good as the first one, or the second one.

That pitch from Blogmutt will come on the heels of a flurry of activity on our profile on Angel.co, where Blogmutt was a "trending topic."

But I'm writing today mainly to put in one place three guest posts published recently in three different places.

All three are part of our thus-far relatively low key way of getting the word out about Blogmutt, and it seems to be working. We continue to grow about 10-15 percent per month in paying customers, in part because our current customers seem to stick with us month after month.

The first of the three was a blog post that was inspired by a tweet about the difference between social media tactics and social media strategy. The basic premise is that there's a difference between landscape architecture and good lawn mowing, and similarly there's a difference between social media strategy and social media execution.

It wasn’t that long ago that it was kind of a thing if you hired a lawn service. “Oh! Look at Mr. Fancy Pants, too busy to mow his own lawn!” That thinking is now as widespread as eating TV dinners while watching Dallas. People get help with their lawn because they’d rather spend their precious time with their family instead of cursing at the lawnmower.

Now you’ll notice, most people don’t yank out their grass and put in plastic, as noted above, they just hire someone who’s good at mowing grass, they pay them a fair price, and call it done.

I loved writing that if only because it allowed me to link to a post that I refer to every couple of weeks, the Cult of Done. Love it.

The second post was the culmination of months of back-and-forth, but that turned out OK. When I first proposed a guest post for the Startup America Partnership it was still hosted on a long and unwieldy domain. They switched to the slick: s.co, and then the Blogmutt post appeared. In that one I got to practice a little bit of contained schizophrenia, urging startups to "Go it alone!" and "Do NOT go it alone!" Thanks so much to the Startup America team for including that blog post.

The third post was truly satisfying in one key way. We keep talking about the power of crowdsourcing, so we got to sing the praises of crowdsourcing right on Crowdsourcing.org. The way this was more satisfying than the others was that we got to practice what we preach and the leading writer (using our internal point system) at Blogmutt wrote this story for us. Here's a clip from the post, written by the amazing Ruth Bremer:

As a writer in the Blogmutt crowd — or “pack,” as we like to say around here — I win too. The crowdsourcing model provides a unique opportunity to do something I enjoy and improve my skills without giving up flexibility. I just don’t have room in my life for a bunch of tight deadlines and external pressure. Blogmutt gives me the chance to gain paid writing experience on my own schedule.

With a wide variety of clients to choose from, I get to learn and write about all sorts of interesting topics — but since I’m part of a crowd, I know that if I can’t come up with something for a particular client one week, another writer will step up to do it. I can also take time off without giving it a second thought. I write only as much as I want, but as it turns out, that’s quite a lot. My biggest problem now is carving out time to write more blog posts. Because the other “win” about writing for Blogmutt is that it’s just really, really fun.

When I tell non-writers that the writers really enjoy Blogmutt, the response is sometimes disbelief. But I am a writer and if I wasn't so darn busy running a company, I'd really enjoy working in just the environment that Ruth describes.

I enjoy writing, but I'm also really enjoying creating a place where writers get to just write and do nothing else, and where customers can get blogging done! 

Speaking of "done."


Who said this?

Take a look at this quote: 

"They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do. Government ... shouldn't get involved in cultural issues, you know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional ________s view the world, and I think most ______s understand that individuals can't go it alone, that there is no such society that I'm aware of where we've had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture."

I cut a little for this experiment (full quote is here), but what word did I leave a blank for? You could make a strong case that you could put the world "liberal" in there both times and imagine many Republicans making this statement.

Turns out that it was Rick Santorum who said this about the Barry Goldwater-style conservatives.

I post this only to make two points:

  1. Wonks like Shawn Mitchell are right that if Santorum is the nominee Obama will probably win all 50 states, and,
  2. Liberals have way more in common with a Santorum than they would ever admit.

I know we are coming into a season of high pique, but my goal for me in this year is to really try to find common ground and say as many positive things as possible about those inside and outside of politics, and the amazing thing is that I don't think it will really be that hard.


How to deal with mean people: use their brains against them

This morning I read this great post from James Altrucher in which he describes dealing with crappy people. 

He's entertaining, as always, but also struck a chord with me because I got into it recently on an internet forum. Some people said some crappy, wrong, mean things about my new baby, Blogmutt. I let them get to me. James describes exactly what happened to me:

I got into the mud and played with pigs.

As I mentioned in the article, “How to Deal with Crappy People” and “The Crappy People FAQ”when you get into the mud with pigs, you get dirty and the pigs get happy.

So I got very dirty. What does that mean? Did I really get mud on me?

No, I got a ton of bad energy on me. All over the Internet people spew their negativity. I want to be positive. You can’t be positive if you are around negative people all the time.

But I also realized something even more interesting about the way that I made the mean people act crappy. I pretty much told them to do it. Here's how:

I started off this particular forum saying something like, "You may hate this idea, but let's talk about it." It's an idea I have to admit that I completely stole that from Scott Adams, the Dilbert guy, when he wrote about ways to tax the rich. That technique works really well in person, or in the pages of the Wall St. Journal if written by a fabulously witty guy.

It does not work well on the internet because it basically invites people to hate the idea and the one who presented the idea.

So in my particular case the internet commenters took that as an invitation, and started attacking. I got into the mud and started defending. Mud everywhere. Ugly.

I then took what I thought was a good healthy step back, and said that the forum was degrading in a way that was much like the scene from West Wing when Josh Lyman gets attacked.

 

I pointed out that the clip makes the people on the internet look bad, but it made Josh look even worse, and so I apologized for my part in the debate going downhill, and thought that after that brilliant move the folks on this forum would realize their own modest mistakes and we could elevate the conversation.

Notsomuch.

Instead the worst offenders on that particular forum started acting MORE like the "mumu-wearing Parliament-chain-smoking leader" and tried to enact more control and make everyone more riled up.

The really amazing thing was that I still didn't learn the lesson. 

I kept mucking about in the mud. I tried to walk away, disengage some, and I did, but it kept bubbling up and after a couple of weeks, in a weak moment, I went in and described the mud-slingers as acting like Charlie Sheen. I said that they had gone completely round the bend, and then declared themselves "Winning!"

I don't know why I thought that would help. It didn't. It only made them act that much more bizarre.

Charlie-Sheens-Personal-Style-Its-Winning

Then, finally, I figured it out, and it kills me that I didn't figure it out earlier.

I was telling them what to do.

I was implanting instructions for how to behave into their brains, and didn't even know that I was doing it.

I should have, and here's why:

In a previous life, I was a writer and then for a time I was a writing consultant. Also, I've been fascinated by the modern advances in understanding how the brain works.

Those two things came together when I would use a part of the two-day intensive class that I taught about writing, and talk about the idea of anchoring.

In short, it's absurdly easy to get someone to latch on to a concept. You just have to implant it, and it's not all that hard to do it.

Jonah Lehrer's book How We Decide has this example: Take any group of people and divide them in half. Give half a piece of paper that says, "About how many people live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin? Just for reference, the population of Chicago is about 3 million." Then give the other half a piece of paper that says, "About how many people live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin? Just for reference, the population of Green Bay is about 100,000."

You can use those exact words. I just copied that off the handout that I used when I did this with a conference room full of people.

What happens is that the Chicago group will have an answer that averages around 1 million, and the Green Bay group will have an answer that averages around 300,000. (Correct answer, by the way, is about 600,000.)

This really works. It's shocking. It works even if you ask people immediately before if they think it will work on them and they answer no.

(By the way, I even did this for a group of employees of the US Census Bureau -- in the headquarters building in Suitland, Maryland -- with the exact same results I got everywhere else I tried it.)

So now my trick with internet forums is very simple. "Thanks for your insightful opinions!" 

And if you'd like to comment on this post, well, you can't. Sorry. I just don't have time to engage "the internet" here, but you are welcome to make some insightful opinions on Twitter or Facebook or whatever. I'm sure they will add a positive contribution to the conversation.

(See what I did there?)


The Zeitgeist of 2011

Have you seen the great Google Zeitgeist? It's a remarkable look at the trends in search over the previous year.

Why is it called the "Zeitgeist"? Because it's a great word that sums up the somewhat subtle notion that is more encompassing than "trends" and more lithe than "analytics."

I'm convinced, however, that Google would call that page, "Google aggregation of billions of queries people typed into Google search using data from multiple sources, including Insights for Search and internal data tools" and not Google Zeitgeist if not for one man: Kurt Andersen.

Andersen has been capturing the Zeitgeist better than anyone for the last 25 years or so, most famously in Spy Magazine as he did here.

He has done so again recently when Time tapped him to write about the Person of the Year, the Protester

It's a great story, I recommend purchasing the magazine if you can still find it, or reading it in the "reader" function on Safari to minimize all the junk that Time throws up to make it hard to read. 

The story is informative without being dull, global yet personal. It perfectly encapsulates the zeitgeist, and because it's written by Andersen, even encapsulates the word.

So 2011 was unlike any year since 1968 — but more consequential because more protesters have more skin in the game. Their protests weren't part of a countercultural pageant, as in '68, and rapidly morphed into full-fledged rebellions, bringing down regimes and immediately changing the course of history. It was, in other words, unlike anything in any of our lifetimes, probably unlike any year since 1848, when one street protest in Paris blossomed into a three-day revolution that turned a monarchy into a republican democracy and then — within weeks, thanks in part to new technologies (telegraphy, railroads, rotary printing presses) — inspired an unstoppable cascade of protest and insurrection in Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Milan, Venice and dozens of other places across Europe, as well as a huge peaceful demonstration of democratic solidarity in New York that marched down Broadway and occupied a public park a few blocks north of Wall Street. How perfect that the German word Zeitgeist was transplanted into English in that unprecedented, uncanny year of insurrection.

So really, stop whatever you are doing and go read the story.


Time-&-Labor-Saving Device

Digital-calculatorThe business I founded with Wade Green, Blogmutt, is going very well. We have customers who like what they are getting, the writers like writing... It's all just going well.

So well that there's lots for me to do, and I seem to not have time to blog as much as I'd like. This was a real problem for Blogmutt, which is founded on the idea that blogging is important for business. Luckily we had a solution: Blogmutt! The Blogmutt writers are now doing a great job of writing posts about Blogmutt. (If that doesn't make any sense, click here.)

But we say right in our FAQ that Blogmutt is not for everyone. Blogmutt can't be called on to write posts for blogs that are personal... Like this one.

So it's up to me.

I thought that perhaps there'd be a way that I could write more posts if I had something to help me save time, and that prompted me to remember the passage I'm going to insert below. I'd link to it, but it seems to exist nowhere on the internet because book publishers still haven't figured out what the internet really is.

The passage is from the Tom Wolfe book In Our Time, which Amazon shows -- improbably -- as being available as a new book. It was published in 1980, and is Wolfe's collection of words and drawings about the 1970s. It's dated now in references, of course, but the writing holds up remarkably well.

Someone somewhere will write about how the iPad is the 2010s version of the digital calculator. Until then, here's Wolfe:

The Digital Calculator
This marvelous machine was the 1970s' most notable contribution to the impressive list of time-and-labor-saving devices that have made it possible for Americans, since the Second World War, to waste time in job lots and get less and less done--with sleekness and precision of style. The time you can waste (I speak from experience) going chuk chuk, chuk on your calculator and watching the little numbers go dancing across the black window--all the while feeling that you are living life at top speed--is breathtaking. Earlier additions to the list: the direct-dial long-distance telephone, the Xerox machine, the in-office computer, the jet airliner (not to mention the Concorde). The jet airliner, for example, encourages you to drop everything, hop on a plane, and go to Los Angeles, or wherever, at a moment's notice. Later on you can't understand how the better part of a week got shot. In light of my own not exactly staggering literary output, I have become interested in the life of Blazac. I am convinced that the reason this genius was so productive--he published at least sixty books between the ages of thirty and fifty-one--was that he enjoyed no time- or labor-saving aids whatsoever, not even a typewriter. He dropped nothing and went nowhere on a moment's notice, not even to Maisons-Laffitte, which was twelve miles from Paris. He didn't ring up anybody in Brittany, much less London. He either wrote a note by hand or said the hell with it. There is a time-&-labor-saving device.

By the way, I recommend, for full effect, that you read it again out loud, your voice rising with each line, until by the end you are shouting and pounding your fist on the table.

There!


Management (and other) lessons from the movies

The best scene in Moneyball is not in the trailers, is not available (yet) online, and isn't even in the first version of the screenplay or the book.

But it's the scene that years from now will be shown in management classes and will inspire generations of those who try new things.

Sports movies are often described as motivational, usually because there's some stirring speech given by a coach before the player goes out and does something miraculous. That's great… I've loved plenty of those movies, but they don't hold much intrinsic value because most of us are not the kind of freaks of nature that can see a round ball hurling toward us at 90 MPH and use a round bat to hit the ball real far the other way, even if we do get a motivational speech just before.

The best single scene for management types from any movie before Moneyball, I think, is this one:

 



So what's the scene in Moneyball that ranks right up there with that one from Apollo 13? It's near the end, when Billy Beane is talking to the owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry.

That scene is not on YouTube, and isn't in the original script, as I mentioned, so I don't have the exact quotes here. I do know that it's not just fiction, however, because Henry reportedly told the screenwriters about the scene later, and Beane agreed that it was a better recollection of what was said. 

In it's essence, Henry says that what Beane has done is nothing short of revolutionizing the game. He knows the numbers cold. Beane knows them, too, of course, but says that "baseball" doesn't like it. 

Henry's response is the pinnacle of the movie, "The first one through the wall always gets bloody." He says that what Beane is doing is bringing real change and people who are comfortable with the way things have been are naturally going to resist the change. 

It's an important lesson for me. I'm co-founder of a company that's disruptive. It won't get as much attention, but it could end up having more of a direct positive effect on the lives of more people. I mean, if the As beat the Sox or the Sox beat the As, it doesn't give writers something new and meaningful to do. Blogmutt does.

Luckily for me the Blogmutt customers like what we are doing and the writers like doing the writing. There are some writers who are comfortable with the way things are right now in the world, however, and are resisting the changes coming. I think that comes out in subtle ways by the very writers who are covering our blog writing service. It seems we get more love from a Robot Dinosaur than from some writers.

I hope that I learn both sides of the lesson, that I'm one who's comfortable creating some discomfort. And on the flip side, I hope that I'm not one who tries to "bloody" the first one through the wall, no matter what that wall is.

I mean, my background is in writing, and I could easily be one who casts stones at guys trying to build a business that relies on writers without paying them nearly as much as a reporter at the New York Times makes. If I were still writing full time I hope I would be able to recognize that Blogmutt is creating a new market for writing, that the customers of Blogmutt are not the kinds of businesses that have ever hired writers before. I hope I'd see that in an era when there are only rotten opportunities for writers to get legitimate writing work, Blogmutt is a hugely positive big-picture change for writers everywhere.

And so I need to watch myself that I'm not critical of other new ideas just because they are new.

Here's one, for instance: Scientists want to release genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild. The modification? That the mosquitoes will produce offspring that will self-destruct.

My first reaction is that self-destructing organisms released into the wild is a stunningly bad idea.

But maybe I'm just being one of those critics, one of those who only wants to put up walls in front of something new.

On second thought, however… no. This is a post about learning lessons from movies, and I've seen enough movies where experiments like this go haywire to know that genetically modified self-destructing organisms are just a bad bad bad idea.

Just the thought of that is too much. The only antidote?

 

A bit of sweet music from Moneyball. One minute and seven seconds that can just about break your heart. Sort of like baseball itself.


Are we done now?

All day yesterday I had this poem going through my head:

REMEMBER me when I am gone away.

  Gone far away into the silent land;

  When you can no more hold me by the hand, 

Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.  

Remember me when no more day by day,

You tell me of our future that you plann'd: 

  Only remember me; you understand

It will be late to counsel then or pray.

Yet if you should forget me for a while 

  And afterwards remember, do not grieve:

  For if the darkness and corruption leave  

  A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,  

Better by far you should forget and smile  

  Than that you should remember and be sad.

 


Deleted TechCrunch post by Paul Carr

With all due fear of violating terms of whatever, bla bla bla, I hereby present the post that appeared ever so briefly on TechCrunch at http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/08/not-leaving-quietly/

Screen shot 2011-09-08 at 7.30.27 PM

If someone tells me to take this down, I probably will because I'm a wimp, but for now here it is. It had a byline of -- who else -- Paul Carr.

 

UPDATE: now it appears to be working, so I'll be editing this post shortly, but in case it goes down again, here's the original post:

NEW UPDATE: It still appears to be up, but someone wrote to me and said thanks for posting because it was down for them.

LAST UPDATE: OK, I'm pretty sure it's working, but I've gotten a couple of other notes of thanks for doing this so I'll just leave it up until someone tells me that I'm doing something wrong. For sure you should try to click the regular link so that Paul and TechCrunch get all the credit, etc. This is the post as it appeared in my RSS feed:

 

by Paul Carr

Oh boy. At this point, even the shit-show is becoming a shit-show. According to Dan Primack at Fortune, Mike Arrington has been fired by AOL. My inbox is full of emails from journalists, friends and total strangers — all asking if I can explain what’s going on. The vast majority of those correspondents are clearly hoping for a mass walk-out of writers if Mike is really gone. The Atlantic is already predicting what might happen post-walkout.

Meantime, Mike has gone to ground — presumably somewhere in his fortified Seattle compound — although with apparently as little idea as any of us what the final outcome will be. Primack’s story says it’s a fait accompli, while others say the situation is “still developing”. I spoke to a senior staffer at TCHQ yesterday who told me “No-one knows anything. It’s bizarre. Surreal.”

Rather than replying to a billion emails, or appearing on Bloomberg, or talking to PBS or Tweeting somethingthreatening-but-ambiguous; here’s my position. And it’s basically unchanged from where I was last week.

TechCrunch lives or dies on its editorial independence. Right now, that means TechCrunch — in the person of its founding editor — must be allowed to pick its next Editor In Chief. Arianna Huffington has made clear that she wants Mike gone and TechCrunch to be assimilated into Huffington Post, under her direct control. That means whoever she might pick as “editor” will be little more than an avatar for her; a cardboard cut-out installed to do her bidding. That’s so ridiculously unacceptable a situation that the idea makes me feel physically sick. It will be the death of TechCrunch and everything we’ve all worked for these past years.

Sure, the brand will live on — and as long as we keep writing about cool apps we’ll probably still get amazing traffic. But traffic and a famous domain name is not why I — or most of the TechCrunch staff and editors I’ve spoken to in the past few days — came to work here. As Fred Wilson wrote earlier today: “TechCrunch also has a voice, a swagger, a “fuck you” attitude that comes from Mike… They need to keep the remaining team, the voice, and that attitude if they want to remain at the top of the world of tech media.” Damn fucking right.

Presumably, given how much TechCrunch and AOL both have riding on the success of next week’s Disrupt conference, an announcement as to TechCrunch’s future leadership must be imminent. I’m not going to speak for the other members of the team, but my own position is clear: unless Mike Arrington appoints his own successor, guaranteeing that TechCrunch retains its editorial independence, I’m gone. Done. Out of the door.

Ceding control to the Huffington Post will be the death of everything — the voice, the swagger, the “fuck you” attitude — that makes TechCrunch great; and I’m not going to stay around to watch that happen.

Ok, glad to have cleared that up. Now I’m going for lunch.


The TechCrunch Also Rises

I've loved reading TechCrunch for the last few years. Just loved it. It's had a vibrancy and a visceral sort of honesty that's made it something you just couldn't take your eyes off of.

And I also soaked it in because I knew the magic couldn't last.

I know, I've been there.

Paris-1920sNot everyone gets to have a chance to live in a Paris-in-the-20s kind of time. If it's real, the myth of it becomes larger than life. Hell, there are now college courses about the original one. The people who were in it revelled in it, but they were so young that they didn't know that it couldn't last. They went on to great fame, but there was always that looking back.

That thing that happened, though, really was positive for the world, not just for those who sat at that table drinking coffee. Without Paris in the 20s, readers of novels in English would have remained stuck with nothing to read but Edith Wharton novels about struggles with upper crust society conventions. Without that group of writers, literature would have been one long run of masterpiece theatre. Gag.

I'm not sure if there was another such moment until the 1960s at the New York Herald Tribune, which is where Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, Charles Portis, Nat Hentoff, Gloria Steinem, Langston Hughes, Nora Ephron and others who would go on to remake journalism all got their start. Of course, the Herald Tribune couldn't last. I wonder if part of the reason readers liked it so much then was that they knew they were watching a bright-burning flame that can not be sustained.

It pales, of course, but my chance at mythological Paris in the 20s was SPY Magazine in the 1980s. I was young, so I didn't really fully appreciate how great of a thing I was in the middle of. I only realized it later, constantly wondering why I didn't have editors as erudite as Kurt Andersen, or larger than life like Graydon Carter. Why didn't I have publishers as forward thinking as Tom Phillips, or coworkers as talented as... OK, if I start naming all the names this post will grow too long.

SPY in those days, just as with the others, really did make the world better. Nearly everyone who worked there has gone on to do great things in journalism, television, media and more. TV shows like the Simpsons and the Daily Show have had SPY staffers making it better. Before blogs, it wasn't easy to make fun of Donald Trump or tell the story behind the story with Big Journalism. Now it happens all the time. Part of that is the technology, but part of it, I think, is the ice that was broken by SPY. Just like with Paris in the 20s, and the Herald Tribune, SPY made the world better, but just couldn't last.

And so now it is with TechCrunch, which is now without a doubt the zeitgeist leader of blogs and tech journalism. Was, anyway. The moment is now gone.

Just because of momentum, TechCrunch will certainly keep publishing, but the fire has now died out. I had hope that the magic might stick around after AOL gobbled up TechCrunch, but the events of the last couple days make it clear that's just not going to happen. 

Paul Carr certainly saw this coming. His post about the events is pure Paul. It's clear. It shows what went on behind the scenes. It's brilliantly written. And I can't help but read it and think that Paul knows better than anyone that the gig is up.

I expect we'll see great things from the TechCrunch gang for many years to come, and I expect journalism will never be the same because of what TechCrunch did. Journalism and the internet will be better, but the next thing won't be some TechCrunch competitor nipping around right now, it will be something really amazing that nobody really saw coming until suddenly it will be gone, too.

I'll be looking for it, though. Change comes faster these days, so maybe it won't be too far off.

Thanks for the great times, TechCrunch. You've earned your spot in history.


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.


CRM Pipeline for Beta List Tracking

This blog is not for my usual followers (Hi, Mom!). This is just the handiest place to put this tool. This will only be useful for startup companies with a beta invite list. I looked around a lot and none of the Customer Relationship Management tools work for what I needed, which is to track the people who've signed up to be early "beta" customers or users of a new product.

(In my case that's Blogmutt.)

So, in true start-up fashion, I built one. Here it is:

 

Feel free to use this and download it here. The rub is that you can't just save a copy and then start using it, you have to download it as Excel and then upload it back into Google Docs. (I suppose you could just use it in Excel, but... Ewww.) If someone knows a way to get around that with Google Docs, let me know.

I have to give major props here to the team at BetaLi.st. They are the ones who did the heavy lifting of making it possible for anyone to quickly launch an excellent beta list signup tool. My spreadsheet is just a way of taking the results of that and turning it into a CRM pipeline. If Salesforce.com didn't suck so much, and one of the promising new entries in the world of online CRM would add this feature -- I'm looking at you, Capsule -- I wouldn't have had to do this, but here we are. Luckily, in this crazy world, just about anyone can suddenly become a niche CRM venture.

So, feel free to use this, and if you feel compelled by the universe and decorum to give some credit, give it to Blogmutt, the best blog writing service on four legs. Woof!


A Pull Carr TechCrunch Homage Loosely Related to Blogmutt

Blogmutt (the company I'm starting with longtime partner Wade Green) has studiously avoided seeking too much attention just yet. With no PR effort at all we currently have more beta test customers than we can handle, and more sign up every day for our closed invite list.

Foundershowcase Soon, though, we're going to be getting some coverage, as I'll be on stage at the Founder Showcase. Reporters signed up to be there, and the organizers had to change venues to accommodate demand from them and others, so it's going to be hard to keep Blogmutt a secret.

I don't know if we'll win. We did get more votes than any of the 63 companies that applied, so based on that alone we might even be the favorites. (That's bad luck, now that I think about it. This is an underdog kind of crowd. Luckily, we are a company named for a mutt, so the underdog-lovers will want to at least sniff our butt.) [Insert panting noise here.]

No matter what happens, there's likely to be some coverage, and I was a reporter long enough to know that the more I try to manage the coverage, the more I'll be frustrated with how the coverage comes out. Indeed if I had a PR person right now I'm quite sure they would insist that I not run this blog post, which is part of the perverse pleasure I'm getting from writing it.

I can't help but think about coverage, though. The reality for Blogmutt is that the best place for coverage would be the Costco Magazine. But we have a ways to go until we are ready for that, so for now I just daydream.

I read TechCrunch every day, and have for years (thought not as closely as this computer!) Anyway, I think a story there would be fun.  I thought about trying to make that happen, for instance, by issuing a press release with an embargo, just so TechCrunch would break all the PR rules and run with it anyway. 

Meh. 

I thought about hosting a secret dinner in San Francisco and making it clear that everyone from TechCrunch was barred from the meeting.

Better. But still "meh."

Blogmutt is based on the idea of writing, so for fun I decided to write up a story as if it appeared on TechCrunch written by one of the writers. But which one? I considered Sarah Lacy, but it would be perverse for me to sprinkle in references to the baby in my belly and international travel. I considered MG, but I couldn't figure out how to work in enough Apple fanboy references, or somehow rant (justifiably) about cable and SMS fees. Jason, Erick, AlexiaLeena and the others are better known for the content of what they dig up then the way they write it.

So that left only one choice: Paul Carr. He's such a distinctive writer, and yet the challenge here is that he so rarely does stories about new companies. Even Arrington, flush with cash after his sale and six years later, writes more here's-a-new-company stories then Paul.

Paul's specialty is writing… well, stories like this, complete with periods on the outside of the quotation marks:

 

NSFW: Why You're a Duffer if You Write for Blogmutt (And Why I'll Tell So Many People To Do It Anyway)

By Fake Paul Carr

I love writing books, it's my favourite activity, but it comes with a sidecar of baggage that I never know what to do with. Amoung these is the inevitable questions from aspiring writers wanting to know what they should do to become a writer just like me.

(I am indeed a writer and you can tell because I sprinkle everything I write with completely whorish announcements such as this: The Upgrade is now available here in the UK, or here with free worldwide shipping.)

The part I love about writing is the sitting in a hotel room at three a.m. composing words about me living my life. It's a tad self-obsessed, yes, but it's what I am.

So imagine that, say, I meet a woman whilst flying or attending some function. She's a decent enough sort, perhaps she did quite well in college meaning both that she did a right proper job with her class work in English Literature, and that she met a spectacular bloke who had the misfortune of being exceptionally skilled at something highly valued in the workplace. I'm thinking something financial that is completely lost on me, or perhaps something making it possible for Exxon/Shell/Whatever to make 0.000001 shillings more per barrel of oil, thus making this bloke so much money that his wife really shouldn't work, and instead should have the job of making sure that their lovely offspring shall never know a moment of want.

Now the children of this woman are, let's say, 8 and 10. This woman is right busy with all the things that you might expect, but she's got an eye on the fact that her job essentially expires about a decade hence and she -- the bright shining star on her campus not so long ago -- will be left without much of a purpose whilst still in possession of a majority of her faculties.

Have that woman fixed in your mind. OK, now imagine that woman asks me what she should do to become a writer just like me. My only answer and the thing that I like as not might say makes me sound like a complete wanker: "I suggest that you leave your husband and children and do nothing but write all day every day for years. It's the only way you might be able to become a writer of any substance whatsoever".

You can see why it is that I try to avoid these conversations. 

Paul-bosom I'd so much more fancy signing the buxom cleavage of an adoring admirer and then retire to my hotel for more writing and perhaps a bit of watching weirdly anachronistic perks on the telly. 

But really, back to that woman. Consider her other options. She could spend the odd bits of time that she has writing a blog for herself. Along with the unwashed masses she'll drop pebbles into the ocean of words out there and cause not a ripple.

She could also consider writing for one of the content farms. This would be far worse, in my view. Her work would get reviewed by the mouth-breathers who aren't talented enough to get a proper journalism job. She might actually write something worthwhile, but the sods who work for the farm will reject it because that's their chance to do what soul-crushing editors have done through the ages. They have a bizarre job in the first place, reviewing writing that's written on the odd hope that someone searching for the 2,472,834th most searched-for phrase on the 'net will click the story written to appear just for that phrase. Dante's circles can't quite imagine something so horid.

Blogmutt-150 So now comes onto the scene this Blogmutt, with the particularly American fascination for animals. (Did the founders name it that hoping to get invited to the party thrown each year by SurveyMonkey and attended by TheBlogFrog, MailChimp, SeatHound and the rest?)

Blogmutt, which debuts in less than a fortnight at the Founder Showcase, is doing something so insidiously evil that I find myself with a kind of fond admiration. What's so evil? They are offering to that woman a chance to write blog posts and get paid not much, but an amount that is agreed to ahead of time and seems fair all around. That's not the evil bit, I don't give a jot if she wants to write blog posts because she happens to be a competent writer and the blokes who run the business with a blog can't string two words together, which appears to be the point of the whole endeavour.

No, the evil bit is that Blogmutt plans on rewarding the writers with badges, awards and the kind of digital ephemera served with such brutal efficiency by Zynga and the others. Writers are so firmly entrenched at the bottom of any normal social circle that, in general, we latch obsessively onto any dollops of affirmation that might slip our way. Now matter how derivative, or dull, any praise for our writing is cause for an immediate hit of the refresh button in a way that would make any heroin dealer recoil in horror. That's the fucking evil part of Blogmutt's plan. They are supplying crack to an army of pierced urban swots in hoodies. Fucking evil, that.

And yet it's exactly what I'll tell any callow aspiring writer who dares ask me for advice on becoming a real writer. I'll be the one hooking them up with their first dime bag, and from there I'll just hope they stay home writing away, waiting for another hit. I'll feel so superior to them in every way.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to refresh my Amazon page to check for any new customer reviews.

[Anyone interested in actual information about Blogmutt can check out the Frequently Barked Questions, our blog, sign up for the beta on our home page, or feel free to contact us for more.]


What's the right length for a blog post?

I've been fascinated for years by the concept of form when it comes to works that appear creative.

Like all callow reporters fresh from J-school, I had a mind to upset the applecart and write in totally new ways.

That didn't last long.

I started using some of the standard forms of journalism early on for two reasons.

One is that I read The New Journalism and then basically everything else that Tom Wolfe ever wrote. I've written in this space about how Facebook is like the newest form of New Journalism, but this was something different. My writing took on the forms of journalism that had gone on before me because it worked. Wolfe was the first to point out that the "new" journalism was really the exact same writing of Dickens and many others.

The second reason I started using the forms of journalism was that I discovered they were forms for a reason, and the way in which words get written can follow a form, and still sing. What matters most is that the content is compelling, and then after that the words must just do the job of getting the compelling bits into the craniums of the readers.

For example?

No less than Bob Woodward recently wrote a tic-tock, a story that is not breaking news, but goes back to recount an event in chronological order. Publishers turn to this kind of story quite often when the news isn't new, but is so compelling that they want to run the story again a few days later. It may contain some new tidbits, but it's really not news. In the chronological style, however, it clicks right along like a clock. But how to end such a story? Well, you need a "kicker," a quote that's so delicious, so authentic, and so encapsulating that you want to make sure every reader sees it.

When I'm consulting on communication topics, I always tell people that documents, paragraphs and sentences all have two strong spots: the beginning and the end. The start of a story is crucial for sure, but the kicker can help you walk away with real understanding.

Bob Woodward knows better than to screw around with that form, so at the end of his tic-tock on the Osama bin Laden story he ends with a quote from President Obama. "We donated a $60 million helicopter to this operation. Could we not afford to buy a tape measure?"

Yes. Just so.

There are plenty of other forms. The form of a story reporting on scientific discoveries gets used all the time, primarily because the people doing the writing have no freaking clue what it is they are writing about, so they fall back on the standard ways. That's what makes this satire so spot-on.

Sports stories have their own form, so much so that a couple of clever coders came up with a way to generate an AP-style baseball story just by entering the box score of a game

There's a form to good screenplays, too. I wrote here about movies that seem like they are all over the map and yet when looked at up close they indeed follow classic forms of three-act screenplays. Following a form does not mean giving up on creativity.

The other reason, by the way, that writers use forms is time. I remember struggling, on deadline, with a late-night crime story when working on the late, great New York Newsday. Someone came over to ask how it was going (maybe Peg Tyre?) and said, "Look, this is a cop story. First graf: What happened. Second graf: Where's the body. Third graf: Your best quote. Then just fill in details and quotes until you get to nine inches. 

(Translation: graf=paragraph. inches=column inches in the paper. It never really works out to measure it that way because the columns always changed, so basically an "inch" was about 30 words. Also, there's always a body in the crime story. It's either in "fair condition" or "recovering at home" or "awaiting toxicology reports" etc.)

Why all this about forms for me right now?

Two reasons.

One is that I'm currently raising investment for my newest business, Blogmutt. When I put together a deck for my first business, MyTrafficNews, I wanted to break the mold and do something really different. With the second business I pushed some boundaries, but mostly stuck to the script. With this one, I'm following the form. I've seen a few different forms, including this one that's a MadLib for the one-sentence description, and this one for the overall slide deck. Garage.com says I should have 10 slides, I have 10 slides.

I'm coaching some companies right now that are headed to the Colorado Capitol Conference, and mostly I just tell them the same thing: Be creative, but be creative within the form of a slide deck that follows the form of a pitch deck. And I also tell them to just cut words.

The second reason I'm thinking about forms is also blogmutt. We will be asking a crowd of writers to come up with blog posts for small and niche business blogs. The pay won't be fantastic, but it should rival or exceed what spec writing jobs on the internet pay. It will certainly exceed what most bloggers make on most blogs -- that is: zero. I'm expecting that we'll have quite a few writers who perhaps studied English in college but have never been able to write professionally, and they just want to make some extra money for scrapbooking, fantasy baseball, or maybe to pay bills if they do really well. We'll be helping those writers to understand the form of a classic blog post. Some writers who want to work with blogmutt may want to try some fancy stuff and alter the very form of a typical blog post.

They can do that, but just not for Blogmutt. That's why even though I'm writing lots of posts for the Blogmutt blog these days, those posts in general follow the form of a helpful blog post.

It's only over here, on sco.tt, that I babble on about everything from Bob Woodward to a slide deck. This is my personal blog, and that's just what this is all about.

So, the answer to the question, "What's the right length for a blog post?" is that it's exactly long enough to do what you want the post to do. What do you want your posts to do?

What did this post do? Several things, even though there's not much form here…

Sorry about that, but thanks for reading anyway!


Closing the book on The Future of Water

Last night was the book signing event for The Future of Water. Below is a version of the remarks I prepared. What I actually said was somewhat close to this, just without the links.

Scott-at-dpcWhen I tell people that I wrote a book called The Future of Water, they usually say, “Meh. [pause] Sounds dry.” 

[Insert groan]

What people actually say is some expression of concern, wondering just how bad things will be.

I have to say that I actually came away from the process of researching that book a bit more optimistic than when I started doing the research. Why?

Part of the reason is the nature of water itself. The water the dinosaurs drank is the same water we drink today. The water where life started is still here. The water we use today is the same water that fish crawled out of long, long ago.

And the amount of water in the world is the same, too. Fossil fuels get burned and are gone forever. Water remains.

There might be a little less on earth, as the space station has some floating around, though it’s now getting reused in the now-famous urine-recycling machine, a technology that may be coming to your home.

Another part of my reason for optimism is certainly technology. I had a vague idea before I started, for instance, that desalination is basically no option at all, given the huge amount of fossil fuels needed. But I learned about some solar-powered and some wave-powered technologies and one other technology that uses a kind of ionization that may fundamentally change that equation.

I wrote about those, and other changes that aren’t technical, but are new, including changes in governmental agreements like the kind we are just now learning about with Denver Water and the West Slope.

New technologies and new, local, cooperative efforts are the future of water.

So I'm optimistic because of the nature of water, because of new technologies, but also because of people.

People like those of you here tonight who work in the world of water. You know, for instance, that if we don't replace 100-year-old pipes that they will burst and people will be without water. Little by little I think that you are doing a better job of communicating that and people are starting to listen. You all know that uninterrupted green grass surrounding every home west of the Missouri River is an absolutely unsustainable dream. Slowly that word is getting out. You all know that rooftop rain collection and home grey-water recycling are not harebrained schemes but are part of the inevitable arc of water history.

What is scary? China is scary.

China's built a dam so massive that the water inside is so voluminous, that it's actually lengthened the time it takes for the earth to rotate on its axis, so if it seems like days are getting longer you can blame the Chinese for that. (It's actually only a handful of milliseconds, but still.)

It's also created some local earthquakes as the weight of the water has flooded hundreds of cities and towns, 6000-year-old archeological sites and some of China's most beautiful countryside. Seventy five million people live in the floodplain of this dam; they all live downstream of a dam that has created its own earthquakes.

Turns out that Chinese Premier Hu Jintao was a hydrology student, and his first job was in a dam-building conglomerate.

The World Bank doesn't lend money for dams any more -- there's just no way to justify them environmentally, or economically. China, however, is building dams on its own in Africa and South America.

China is also building dams in China that have already begun to choke off the Mekong Delta. The Vietnamese war was bad for the environment, with the Agent Orange and everything, but nothing comes close to the devastation we'll see in Vietnam and other countries in the region if China builds all the dams it's now planning.

And the dam China hasn't announced, but some reporters have confirmed, is the one that would block the flow of a river that flows from Tibet into India. It’s one of the only decent sources of water that India has. One report is that China might use a nuclear bomb to blow up the area in the Himalayas to hold the water from that dam.

The people from Boulder want a free Tibet, but it’s important to understand why China wants Tibet. It’s not because of the little prayer flags or the monks. It wants the water.

India isn’t going to give up all that water without a fight in an area that's still disputed as to which country it's in. China and India fought one war, and India won't give up all that water without a fight. That’s scary.

In spite of all that, I do remain optimistic. America has its problems, but we have freedom and with freedom -- in general -- we take on the responsibility to leave the earth a bit better than how we found it.

Consider Denver. This amazing city was a dusty desert not that long ago, just a junction of two streams that were bone dry for half the year. Now it’s an amazing and great city built in part because of how we’ve harnessed water.

Denver has great wealth, but also serious pockets of poverty. Even so, the poorest person in Denver can get drinking water from a tap and feed it to a child without fears of water-born illness. That’s not true in most of the rest of the world. Indeed the tap water in the poorest part of Denver is better than in a fancy hotel in the biggest 10 cities in the world

But the water is safe and reliably delivered here in Denver, and all over America. That’s remarkable when you think about it. Because of those of you who are in the water industry, that amazing fact is true every single day of the year.

I think eventually the rest of the world will get closer to that reality by following the example you all are setting.

So, thank you for what you do. Thanks to AWWA for hiring me to write this book, and thank you for taking care of water.

51fDLwo+SoL._AA90_
I’d like to say a few more words of thanks here.

First is to my wife, Kathy Yates. After I turned in the manuscript for the book, Kathy and I went to a book signing by Steven Johnson, and during the Q and A he said that he really enjoyed writing. He said that he had many writer friends who complain about writing, and he told his wife that he should get some credit for the fact that he wasn't a big complainer when writing.

She said, "No. You don't."

We went up after, and my wife told him, "Tell your wife you deserve more credit. My husband just finished writing a book, and he was a total grouch the whole time and sent me and our son to California for the last two weeks of the writing."

Truth is, I was more than a grouch, I was also unable to have many conversations without muttering something about water or word counts. My wife encouraged me when needed and tolerated me when I was intolerable, and for that I thank her.

Many family members and good friends came for the reading, and I will be buying each of them a beer or other beverage of their choice, as long as it's not bottled water!

The room was packed, so I'm certainly missing many, but I do want to mention a few people in particular who attended, including Dominic Dezzutti of Channel 12, Patti Thorn, my former books section editor, and Rebecca Cantwell, my former night-desk editor, both from the Rocky Mountain News (sigh). Also in line to grab books I saw sustainability-issues lobbyist Whit Allen, Colorado's car guy Tim Jackson, and Jeff Laws, though it's not that hard to get Jeff to come by the bar at the Denver Press Club.

Two of my fellow graduates from the Founder Institute also came, including Matt Ryan and Oza Klanjsek, who not only came, but took the photo you see above and brought her kids. I told her that if we don't bring our kids to bars, who will? 

Also, I'd like to thanks Google Docs (never had to worry which was the current version) and a new search engine called DuckDuckGo that had great results even though the whole thing is built by one guy.

So, thanks much to everyone, and with this post I'm closing the cover on this book.


Big Day for The Future of Water and for BlogMutt

Today is the official publication day for the book I wrote for the American Water Works Association and Steve Maxwell: The Future of Water.

Today is also the day we are starting a poll to help us find a new logo for the company I founded with Wade Green: BlogMutt.

Amazon almost ruined the whole thing!

It turns out that a disturbingly large part of my life is tied up with Amazon right now. I don't make a percentage of sales for the book, so I'm not super obsessed with checking sales stats on Amazon, but I've made a living as a writer or writing consultant for a long time, so being on Amazon is a big deal for me.

Amazon.com was actually fine. I was only worried about it because Amazon Web Services went down yesterday. I knew that because of the other big part of my life today: BlogMutt. We are super early in the process of launching BlogMutt, so early that we only really have a couple of things right now, including a logo that Wade and I designed, and a beta sign-up form.

Because the internet is cool, we didn't have to make our own sign-up form, we let the inventive team at betali.st do it. Because that team didn't want to have to provision their own server and go through all those headaches, they signed up for Amazon Web Services. We are also developing in part on a site called "heroku" and that site, too, went down. (It's up today, with a promise of being "rock solid.")

A zillion newish web companies use Amazon's cloud, lured in by Amazon's message. In short, Amazon says that it got so good at cloud computing running Amazon.com that it wants to sell that ability. Small companies can tell themselves that they are getting the same kind of reliability that Amazon has for itself.

It turns out that while all animals are equal, some animals are a bit more equal. The cloud that Amazon sells to others is not quite as equal as the cloud it uses to sell stuff.

For me, if I had to choose, I would have rather seen my own book site unavailable on the date the book goes on sale and be able to keep going with BlogMutt. That way maybe people would wait on buying the book until they can do so in person at the Denver Press Club on May 5. That way I'd get to see those people and say thanks. Today is the publication day, what's sometimes known as "The calm before the calm."

(As a small side-note: I'm surprised that nobody in the dead tree press or even a blog that I can find have pointed out that the cloud problem hurt the cloud customers, but not Amazon.com itself. It was my first question, and I wasn't alone. Brad Feld asked, and so far I'm the only one who answered. One other even smaller side note... Whenever there's a widespread internet outage, Skynet jokes are sure to follow, especially when it happens on Judgement Day. I was relieved when Quora did not come back from its Amazon-induced nap to ask only one question: "Where is Sarah Connor?")

The good news is that the internet seems to have worked through it's funk. Also, it's Good Friday, the middle of Passover, the day after Skynet did not attack us and Earth Day. It's also the day that Alfalfa's reopens in Boulder, so now you can get this song stuck in your head the way it's been stuck in my head all day:

"Alfalfa's" by Leftover Salmon by fullpedal

So it seems like a good of a day as any to launch our logo survey for BlogMutt.

We will launch the site itself soon enough, but for the logo I need your help. Our logo has served us well in our nascent stages. We made this one ourselves using a picture of the Yates family dog, Professor Beuregard Thibodeaux Tagalong "Buddy" Yates the 122nd. (Quinn, now 7, thought the "122nd" made his name sound better.) Anyway, the logo now is cute, but we need something more professional that will look good on coffee mugs and other tchotchkes, as well as on a smart phone, etc. So take a quick look here and let me know what you think:

(If there is no graphic with a bunch of logos above these words, there's some glitch. Click here to take the poll, it's one page with eight choices.)

Thank you very much for taking that poll, and thanks for reading. Spring is here!


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.

 


Scott Yates year-end wrapup

A quick post with some odds and ends for an end to an odd year...

  • With Steve Maxwell, I finished writing the manuscript for The Future of Water, which will be published in the Spring by the American Water Works Association. Look for much more on that here, and let me know if you want to come to the party!
  • I'm a huge fan of Brad Feld. He's a hugely successful founder, and now investor. I've been a successful founder, but haven't yet got to start investing in other companies. Someday soon, I hope. He often blogs about all the books he reads, and now he's teaching himself a programming language. Sometimes I wonder how he does it all, and then I remember that in addition to just being smart, he doesn't have kids. That difference became stark for me because right while he's learning Python, I'm learning a programming language, too. It's just that I'm learning NXT, the language that programs the LEGO Mindstorms robots.
  • The robot was a gift from my son, who asked me a day later if he could have the robot if I died. I wasn't sure how I should respond to that. Anyway, if I die in some suspicious way, make sure my son has a rock-solid alibi.
  • I had a rough go of it getting the software working, and had my first rotten experience with Lego. Turns out I had a bad disc and the software isn't available online (I know, right!?!?) so I took just the disc to the store to swap it. They told me I needed to come back with the whole set. So I schlep out there a second time with the whole set, and they give me -- you guessed it -- just the disc. Anyway, if you have any hints about learning that NXT language, let me know.
  • One last note related to my son... He's been enjoying his club house most of this winter. Only now, when it's below 10 degrees outside, is it too cold. It doesn't have a front door, so, we'll probably head over to the best place in Denver for used doors, Bud's Warehouse. If you haven't been to Bud's you should check it out. Amazing place, a great story, and one of the true gems of Denver.
  • Second Saturday Science, my attempt to have a fun activity for the family with some learning thrown in, is still on ice. It was lots of fun, and the gang at the Wash Park Whole Foods was very helpful, but I just ran out of time. If you have questions or interest in that, just let me know. The funniest thing about doing that for me was this: Friends of mine could never keep straight what Saturday of the month we had the event. The lesson I learned is that even if you put a message in the very name of your venture, the message may not get through.
  • I'll be waiting once again for the Denver Public Schools calendar for next school year to get approved by the board. Until then, the current calendar has all the weird and wacky days off provided in a format that is useable. This is the No. 1 way that people find this blog through Google: looking for the DPS calendar.
  • I've started doing some consulting and training about writing through the Murawski Group. It's been a real honor to work with this group, especially the namesake Tom Murawski. Tom's been improving writing for thousands of people all over the world for years now, but he still delights in clear writing. I'm proud of my small part in encouraging Tom to enter a poetry contest put on by the National Punctuation Day website, and he won! Here's his delicious haiku:

Time to eat Grandma!
Save her with a comma, or
She's yours to savor.

  • One last note: With my longtime collaborator Wade Green, I'm exploring a business that will help small businesses create the blog content that they need in this Googly world. If you have, or know of, a small business that has a blog and would be willing to let us run some tests, contact me directly. Thanks.

If you are a friend, and somehow you didn't get the Yates Family Christmas Card by email, the fault is entirely mine. Please contact me so I can get you on that list.

And to friends now and friends yet to be, here's my wish for you and yours to have a wonderful 2011.


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.


Movies that play with your mind

I went looking for this list, and couldn't find it, so I decided that I needed to make it. Here are what I see as the best movies that play with your mind and an overall sense of reality while you are watching them.

Why Time Bandits?

I'm including it without going down the rabbit warren of time-traveling movies. How? Easy. The plot of Time Bandits marched forward in one straight line. The things that happened each night to the main character indeed happened all through history, but it never changed the movie's timeline. See the difference? Remember the last Star Trek movie? Answer me this: By the end, did Kirk know his father? You can't really answer, can you? That's because the timeline of the main characters got tinkered with. That's why those movies in general don't fit on this list because the movies on my list play with reality without violating the time-space continuum.

Not included because I say they violated rules of the movies on that list:

  • Fight Club
  • The Usual Suspects
  • Mulholland Drive
  • Donnie Darko

What each of those movies did was violate the rules of the accepted movie-going experience. For instance in The Usual Suspects, the movie presented flashbacks that were not flashbacks, but were instead creations of the main character. As inventive as all the others on the first list were, they never violated the rules that we that movie watchers have come to rely on through the years.

Memento, for example, didn't violate any rules of the movies, it just fiddled with the structure of the timeline of the plot in a clever way. Memento was of course written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the man behind Inception. He said that he first had the idea for Inception while working on Memento, and that makes sense given how Memento both respected and tinkered with the rules of film at the same time.

(Notable for not being on the list is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I left it off for this reason: It just wasn't a very good movie. It's important to have some emotional connection to the characters. Without that, it doesn't matter how clever a movie is.)

As I mentioned, I was inspired to get this list onto the internet because I couldn't believe it didn't exist before, but two other things motivated me as well.

First was Roger Ebert's review of Inception. "'Inception' does a difficult thing. It is wholly original, cut from new cloth, and yet structured with action movie basics so it feels like it makes more sense than (quite possibly) it does. ... Christopher Nolan reinvented 'Batman." This time he isn't reinventing anything. Yet few directors will attempt to recycle 'Inception.' I think when Nolan left the labyrinth, he threw away the map."

I agree with Ebert that it will be impossible to recycle Inception, but I'm hoping that Hollywood will allow others who want to write totally original screenplays and then get them made into movies. If the genre of films that are truly creative grows, that's a good thing.

The second post that inspired this one comes from Johan Lehrer, who combined my overall fascination with neuroscience with my admiration for Inception. Lehrer points out that from the brain's perspective, there's just not much difference between dreaming and watching a movie, and that's part of what makes that movie and all great movies so effective. I think that's true of all the movies on the first list.

Taken together, both of those posts get me hoping that a whole new generation of filmmakers get inspired to create movies that take advantage of how much the ball has been moved forward with Inception.

That's it.

 

Oh, one more thing, having nothing to do with anything, but I couldn't resist.

Consider these pictures in this order:

1.

Images
2.
MV5BMjAyMzI1NjU3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjAzMTU2._V1._SX347_SY450_
3.
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And now:
1.
104828-young_leo
2. 
Leonardo-dicaprio-ellen-page-inception-01
3.
?????
Those of you that had teenage crushes crushed... Sorry.

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!


Denver Public Schools (DPS) Calendar 2010-2011 changes... Again

OK, the DPS School Board has approved another set of changes to the calendar.

I know some of you are readers of this blog for the DPS Calendar alone. The PDF from DPS isn't very user-friendly, so now I'm in my second or maybe third year of making one that works for families using any of the digital tools.

So, the changes are here. The biggest news is that there are no more of the "Late Start" or "Early Release" days. Also the winter break grew by another day. In all, the calendar is much less confusing than it had been before, but that 4-day weekend in the middle of September will be here before you know it so make sure it's in your calendar!

Just so it's clear: This is the work of one parent only, just doing my part for the digital world. If you have any suggestions or comments or whatever, please contact me.


The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010: Politics and Water don't mix

A few liberal writers have been critical of President Obama because his speech about the BP oil disaster was weak. I find myself agreeing with even more liberal friends of mine who posted on Facebook (so I won't link to them) that they thought that criticism unfair.

The mainstream media writers seemed to think that unlike the president's speech on race in Philadelphia, the speech about the oil spill didn't do anything to fix the problem. 

That's just dumb. Racial issues are issues of perception and attitude, and a great speech can help elevate everyone's perceptions and attitudes. The oil spill disaster is one of engineering and physics. No speech is going to fix that.

So, while I agree with my really liberal friends, I also find myself agreeing with conservative friends like Greg Walcher, who writes about how many of the solutions that really could help in the Gulf of Mexico are all illegal

And my perspective on the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? Well, because of my book I see everything through water-colored glasses right now. I'm working on the chapter about what desalination will look like in the future, and so I've been looking at the volume of water in the oceans.

Bottom line: there's a lot.

The Gulf of Mexico is only the ninth biggest body of water in the world. The Pacific Ocean holds 283 times the volume of water in the Gulf, and still, the Gulf of Mexico is big. It's so big that even using the worst estimates for how much oil is gushing out every day, and even assuming they won't get it fixed until mid-August, the total amount of oil will add up to somewhere between a quarter and a half of one part per billion of the volume of water in the Gulf.

Now, I don't want to minimize the spill. The oil is a huge problem for all kinds of reasons, but it's mostly a problem on the surface (where most of the oil rises) and along the shores. In terms of contaminating the volume of water in the Gulf, it will add up to an amount that is way lower than the allowable amount of arsenic in drinking water. A drop in a bucket is HUGE compared to the amount of oil in the Gulf.

And as for the future of desalination of water... You'll just have to wait for the book!

--

Icon By the way, totally changing topics here, but I've been doing a bunch of the research for the book using a new search engine, DuckDuckGo. Google is googly in lots of googleliciuos ways, but I've really enjoyed the clean results pages and summary results that come up on search results pages while trying to learn about the Future of Water. 

(I am not getting paid for the link, but I do want to spread the news, which is why I used a link that the DuckDuckGo guy set up.)


Hannah's Story

Those of you who have known me for some time probably have heard me talk about my niece Hannah. I typically don't share a lot of personal stuff on this blog, even though Hannah is one of a huge number of amazing relatives, but I wanted to share this story for one reason: The Children's Hospital of Denver is an amazing place.

Hannah has recently been selected as an "ambassador" for Children's. Among other things that means that my sister will occasionally give a short speech at events for the hospital. She shared that speech with me, and now with her permission I'm sharing it here:


Hannah's story, as told by her mom

My story started out in the totally normal way: I had all the usual amazement of my huge belly during a normal nine months of pregnancy. Childbirth was amazing and magical for me, but totally routine by hospital standards.


Hannah's first nine months were delightful. I still remember that during that time the most troubling medical condition I was worried about was that she stuck her tongue out so much. I actually thought I would ask the doctor about that a few months later during her one-year checkup.


We never had that checkup. By the time Hannah turned one she had a raft of doctors, and her tongue was not an issue for any of them.


It all started one January day. We were going to a lunch date, and Hannah fell asleep during the long drive, something I was happy about because it was part of her regular nap routine. As recommended by everyone, she was in a rear-facing car seat. 


Then something went wrong with my car. It had always been a reliable car, so I was pretty annoyed that I had to pull over. Looking back, I will always be thankful that the car did break down, and I wonder if someone upstairs caused the car trouble, because when I got out, what I saw made my heart sink. She had thrown up, and her eyes were rolling back into her head. Her head was swaying back and forth in a totally unnatural way.  I knew immediately that something was wrong.  Really wrong.


Hannah woke up some but still wasn't herself. A friend drove us up to Hannah’s pediatrician.  After a couple of hours, he sent us to a nearby hospital.


Before we went for that drive, Hannah was a normal, active, nine-month-old. Now she was barely able to stay awake. 


The hospital did everything they could think of to help my baby:  MRI, Cat scan, Spinal Tap, Oxygen, IV, Blood draws, ect… But nothing seemed to work and she seemed to be getting worse, not better. At this point Hannah was near the point of going into coma.  She had blue lips and black circles under her eyes. With nothing else they could do, the hospital ordered us an ambulance and sent Hannah to Children’s Hospital of Denver.

 

It was late at night. We got settled in the NICU (neonatal intentensive care unit). Then a couple of hours later I noticed someone in a uniform watching Hannah closely.  All of a sudden all the lights came on bright.  Around 10 people in uniforms surrounded Hannah’s bed while a nurse took me to the side and said that my baby wasn’t breathing on her own.  She told me that they were going to stick a tube down her throat.  The tube would be hooked to a ventilator which was a machine that would push air in and out for Hannah. Hannah went back to sleep, but I could barely hold her hand for all the equipment around her.

 

The next day, Hannah became a little more responsive.  With this energy she did what all kids in that situation do, she kept trying to rip the tubing out of her mouth.  The tubing that was keeping her alive.  The nurses explained to me that they had to tie Hannah’s hands to the bed posts to keep this from happening. So then I could only hold her hand as she looked up at me, trying to understand why she was in such misery. I fought to hold back tears in front of her.


Then began a parade of specialists. Every day or so a Neurologist, or an Oncologist, or a Hematologist would come in, examine her, ask me questions, and order tests. Then we would wait for the results of the tests. Every time the results came back negative. She didn't have something that could be cured with surgery or pills, but she still just wasn't breathing enough.


During this time, I never left the hospital.  I was by Hannah’s side, or sleeping in the mother’s room in the hospital. Family members and friends came, and we cried many tears in the visitors rooms, and then I would go back and hold Hannah's hand and try to smile, read books, and make things seem as normal as possible for a girl tied down to a bed with massive amounts of tubes and wires everywhere, and strange lights and alarms all around.


After everything else had been ruled out, Hannah's attending doctor in the NICU, Dr. Moroney, had THE talk with us.  He said that he spent some time at home on his day off and might have finally found what was causing Hannah's breathing troubles.  He figured out that she had a rare disease called Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (CCHS). It is sometimes called Ondine's Curse, named after an ancient myth about a curse in which the subject can only breath while awake. If the person goes to sleep, they die.


Dr. Maroney explained that in his research he found this disease was so rare that there were about 400 people in the world who had it. Some needed a ventilator to help them breath at night, others 24/7. There was no cure, he told us. Hannah would need a tracheotomy, and a ventilator, and she will likely need a ventilator for the rest of her life. He said that this would be a life long marathon for us, not a sprint.

 

This was certainly bad news, but in some ways I was also relieved. I know knew what the path was to "normal" for Hannah, and I wanted to get on that path. I wanted the surgery to cut a hole in Hannah's throat as soon as possible, and I wanted to move on.


The Children's Hospital worked hard and got Hannah an appointment that Friday.  Some of you may know the pain you go through when your baby is wheeled into surgery.  Although putting in a trach is a very easy surgery, the clock ticking and tickling and ticking is almost unbearable. 


Hannah made it through with flying colors and by the next day, Hannah was visibly coming back to life.  She started looking and seeing me again.  She started moving her legs, tracking people and actually smiling. She seemed so happy not to have a tube stuck down her throat anymore.

 

At the time, my baby had so much tubing connected to her that it was hard to hug her.  But on the next day, Sunday, our nurse, Laurie, took the time (and I mean time) to get Hannah situated enough to let me hold her for the first time in weeks.  It was one of the greatest moments of my life.

 

Then we were moved to a recovery room. Before we had witnessed the brilliance of Children's Hospital in keeping Hannah alive, diagnosing her rare condition, and laying out a plan to get home. In the recovery room, however, we started enjoying the magnificence of Children’s Hospital.  Almost every day Hannah would get a present from the volunteer department.  Sometimes it would be a huge stuffed animal.  Sometimes it would be a box of crayons and a coloring book.  The hospital had game rooms where Hannah and I could go and play games, or play with playdough.  Once a clown came in to visit.  Once a cheerleader came in to give Hannah a necklace.  The magic of the Children’s made the next few weeks survivable.

 

Those few weeks were filled with specialists, each training all of Hannah's family how to care for our baby with this new reality.  We had lessons on mechanical gear that would keep Hannah alive.  We had swallow tests, function tests, ventilator tests, CO2 tests.  We had the most incredible, amazing, gifted, caring staff in the world that worked with us and with Hannah, and taught us how to take care of our daughter.  We had a lot of high tech gear, but we always felt confident with the support of the hospital and especially for us the pulmonary department. 

 

As the years have progressed, the pulmonary, ENT and the sleep lab doctors and nurses have become, at timesas important as our family. I would do anything to support the hospital and the people who gave my daughter back her life.


Now Hannah is a healthy, intelligent, lovely, gifted and amazing girl. She still has a trach, but it's now attached with a string that looks a little like pearls. We girls do love to accessorize. She still needs some extra care, of course, but she can actually hook up her vent herself each night, and we talk with Children's Hospital Staff all the time about how to help her develop and grow into her full potential. I'm confident she will grow into a bigger and better version of the wonderful girl she is now.


One time not too long ago, I asked an expectant mom if she was having a boy or a girl. She said she didn't know, and wasn't planning on finding out. She said she'll be happy as long as the baby is healthy. I thought -- but didn't say -- that it will be OK even if the baby isn't healthy. It's not easy, but you can still be very, very happy. I know I am, and I know Hannah is, too.


And just so you know, Hannah still sticks her tongue out a lot, and I never did ask the doctor about that.


TechCrunch Meetup in Denver

As of this morning at 8, nobody had volunteered to be the TechCrunch meetup organizer for Denver for the big fifth anniversary party. So I raised my hand.

I've been reading for most of those five years, and admire what Mike Arrington has done a lot.

And it's not exactly hard to get me to go to a bar on a Friday afternoon. I mean, I've posted on my permanent Scott Yates contact page that the best way to reach me on Friday Happy Hour is to go to the Pub on Pearl.

So, if you read this, I hope you can stop by starting around 5. But in honor of Arrington, let's not shake hands.


Google TV Backlash coming in 5...4...3...

It was just a year ago that Google announced Google Wave. The anticipation about the product was huge, as there was this promise that somehow Communication was going to be Better.

I certainly bought into that, and even started covering Google Wave. Then it came out in a limited way, and the buzz built up to a fever pitch. Then people started using it and the backlash began. Now it's fashionable to publicly mock Wave.

As for me, I'm still hopeful that Wave will improve communications a great deal. The more we think about how broken much of our communication is today, the more solutions built in or around or similar to Wave will make all kinds of sense.

I see a similar pattern coming down the path with Google TV. Right now the interest is red-hot among the tech folks. The TV people will be paying close attention. In the fall it will build up among consumers and then after the Google TV from Sony comes out... the Backlash. The price will be too high, the interface wobbly, the search results will be troubled. (Indeed, that even happened during the demo, as in the picture below from TechCrunch. MILF? Really?)

Googletvyoutubesearch
 

And just like with Wave, next year at the I/O conference, or perhaps even earlier, there will be some modifications announced. There will be even more openness. Little by little and then big step by big step, developers around the world will begin to figure out solutions that make sense on Google TV. 

So, there you have it: A handy guide to the next 12 months of the hype cycle.


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.


All Signs Point to the Fact that I am a Traffic Nerd

The first step to, I'm told, is to admit that you have a problem.

My name is Scott -- ("Hi, Scott!") -- and I'm a traffic sign nerd.

Last night the incomparable Tim Jackson tipped me to this amazing story of a guy who took it upon himself to fix an Interstate Highway sign in Southern California, specifically in Pasadena. The sign lacked what one guy saw as an obvious bit of information, so he decided to do a bit of performance art and fix the sign himself.

Sign-new
 

I actually knew that sign. My wife's family is in Pasadena, and I've driven under that sign many times, and I remember thinking that it didn't seem like it followed Federal Interstate Highway sign standards. I never said anything, thinking California maybe had its own rules. I also didn't want her family to think I was a total traffic nerd. 

Now the truth is out: The sign was non-conforming!!!!

Ahem.

Anyway, even though CalTrans knew about the citizen's modification, they didn't do anything about it because they knew that his fix made the sign better. When they finally fixed the sign themselves, they essentially incorporated his modification.

That guy had guts.

I was able to get one sign changed on the Interstate Highway system back in 2004, but I did it the old-fashioned way: lobbying Colorado's DOT to do the work for me.

At the time, I was operating MyTrafficNews, and a bunch of readers wrote in to tell me that a new and nearly constant traffic jam we were reporting about was not the fault of traffic, it was the fault of a sign. The story was that at the end of one highway a new sign gave people a choice of going north or south, but the sign telling people to exit on the right was to the left of the sign telling people to exit to the left. The result was drivers trying to merge suddenly at the last second when the realized they were in the wrong lane.

We took pictures and made a big stink. We submitted the pictures to "This is broken," then a great service of user-experience expert Mark Hurst.

CDOT, to their credit, had a crew fix the sign within a week or so of our campaign.

We had lots of fun with signs at MyTrafficNews. When a truck hit one of those Variable Message Signs, leaving it dangling and threatening -- as we wrote at the time -- to turn a Pontiac into a pancake, we jumped to action. First, we did our best to alert people, as the sign that was designed to help traffic instead made traffic horrible for half the city for an entire day. ("Don't these signs take a Hippocratic oath?" we wrote at the time.)

Then, we wondered what the sign would say if it could make its own message on that day. In haiku.

All signs looking down
Gridlock is all around me
I must blame myself

You see, I really am a traffic sign nerd. 

So my question is, what's the second step?


Welcome to the tt neighborhood, Twee.tt!

The unusual domain (sco.tt) of this blog gets as much attention as any of the content. When I first got it more than four years ago, I was wandering in the wilderness to some degree.

Then when Matt Mullenweg (the Wordpress guy) signed up for ma.tt, it made the neighborhood feel a bit more inhabited.

The domain had another great day when the incomparable Adeo Ressi praised it. (I wonder if that's a part of why he decided to open a version of the Founder Institute in Denver? Probably not, but a guy can dream.)

Anyway, now the couple of modest dwellings here in the land of .tt learned today that we are getting a new high-rise: Twitter is going to use twee.tt.

The story has only speculation, and the whole notion of URL shorteners is a weird one that I think we will look back on like we look back on "baud rate" now. Somehow I think the internet will figure out a way to eliminate the need for those soon enough.

But for now, it's a new bit of fun attention being paid to our little corner of the internet. 

Should I bring them a fruit basket?


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!


Techstars AND Founder Institute! This is going to be a great summer in Colorado

Update: Brad Feld/Jim Franklin just linked to this post, so I thought it might be a good idea to include an update. I'm now a Founder Institute graduate, and I've seen many TechStars company up close, and I agree with Brad/Jim that they are both great programs, and it's worth checking them both out. Note that the deadlines are for last year, they are different this year. Other than that, this guide is still helpful, I hope. -Scott

 

Colorado is going to have a great summer; the weather will be awesome and there are lots of great chances to hear music, hike, etc. That's always been the case.

What's new is that there will be two startup accelerators (we don't call them incubators any more.) The big kid on the block is TechStars, which has a track record that is getting up into the Harlem Globetrotter realm for win percentage. The program has done so well that it has expanded, but the Boulder program is the bedrock. Anyone interested in the tech scene in Colorado can tell you the energy and enthusiasm from the companies working in "The Bunker" is infectious.

I'm also now excited about another entrant, the Founder Institute, which was founded by legendary starup guy Adeo Ressi, who started TheFunded, a pretty disruptive (in a good way) site in the VC world. Adeo started that after a string of successful exits.

He's also landed a big name to be the lead mentor for the Denver version of Founder Institute, Jon Nordmark of eBags fame.

Now, if I think TechStars is so great, why did I apply to the Founder Institute?

Well, the answer lies in one of the items in the grid below. I'm busy enough with my other projects that it would be hard for me to get to Boulder every day for three months. Also, I don't really have an idea that fits into the TechStars motif, and I also don't have a co-founder. Most of the TechStars teams are just that: teams.

So I will be be attending the classes, and I have a new business idea that may fit perfectly into the Founder Institute system, but Adeo keeps saying that with Founder Institute it's really all about the Founder, and not about the idea. I've heard David Cohen say similar things about TechStars, but the application does ask several questions about the business plan, market, and the like. Even if the plan changes during TechStars, it's clear most of those accepted go in with a plan. I'll be going into Founder Institute with just the vague outline of a business idea.

There are other accelerators around the country, and they are getting plenty of attention, but I can't think of a better place to be than Colorado in the summertime.

Bottom line, Colorado is going to be an amazing place to start a company this year. If you want to be part of it, now is the time to check it out. No matter what your situation, there's an accelerator ready and waiting for you here. You just need to apply!

Colorado New Technology Accelerators

A Comparison Chart

Name Founder Institute TechStars
Founded in San Francisco/Silicon Valley; 2009 Boulder; 2007
Now also in Seattle, LA, San Diego, NY, DC, Singapore and Paris Boston, Seattle
Colorado application due April 25, 2010 March 22, 2010
Cost of application $50 None
Application Personality/Aptitude test, LinkedIn profile Background, business concept
Team application? Allowed, but not needed Generally needed for acceptance
Economics You pay $600, and contribute 3.5 percent equity of your company into a pool that is owned by all founders and mentors in your class You receive $6,000 per founder (up to 3), and you contribute 6 percent common / founder equity of your company to TechStars
Full-time in program Not required, many keep their "day job" Immersive, full-time for three months
Time Commitment One night a week, plus extra work on your own, for four months Yes
Companies in each session 10-45 10
Percent women historically About 25 About 10
Average Age About 37 About 27
"Big Names" Jon Nordmark for Colo., Adeo Ressi of The Funded started it David Cohen started it, with involvement and support from Brad Feld
Acceptance based on Aptitude test, strength of founder; idea not part of application Combined strength of company idea and team
Mentors Only successful startup CEOs Successful startup CEOs, VCs, lawyers and others
Also included Free or super-reduced legal and other services from 40 partners Office space in "The Bunker" in Boulder, some legal and other services

No Second Saturday Science this month

We've had a ton of fun at the Second Saturday Science events over the last six months, and I've learned a great deal.

For a variety of reasons, however, we'll be taking a break from the events at the Wash Park store. With luck, we'll be back soon with a big announcement. Until then, stay tuned!


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!


Those who don't watch West Wing are doomed to repeat it?

Maybe this will become an ongoing series of life just being better on the show the West Wing as opposed to the real world of the West Wing. Here's my first entry on pardoning turkeys.

This one is more subtle, but watch at about 4 minutes into this video. With the polite tone that is befitting the setting, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen delivered a stunning rebuke of a question posed by a senator.



Here's the better version. The sound quality is rotten, but it's the only one I could find on YouTube:




"The problem is that's what they were saying about me 50 years ago. It would disrupt the unit. You know what? It did disrupt the unit. The unit got over it. The unit changed."

If only Fitzwallace could have been there to smack down the senators.


Denver Public Schools (DPS) Calendar update

I just finished updating the DPS calendar for next school year.

This year they actually released it at a reasonable time, and didn't wait until well into February (after most summer camps require a deposit) to let us know when school would start.

I do this each year for myself, not wanting to refer to the ridiculously obtuse official calendar. (Do green-and-black checkerboards mean early release and blue octagons mean assessment day, or is it the other way around?) Last year I figured it could help a lot of other parents, so that's why I post it here on my blog. If there's something I can do to make it more useful, please let me know.


Unemployment Rate For You

I seem to be in a mood to attack the New York Times today...

A million people have been linking to this gee-whiz graphic about the unemployment rate.

I don't think that's actually useful. I think all it does is make people feel better or worse about themselves while killing a couple minutes looking at some eye candy.

So, here, for you, with the help of the always talented Peter Jones, is a guide that is actually useful, and will not kill a bunch of your time today:

What is the unemployment rate for you?


New York Times Makes Up a Traffic.com Scandal

A story in today's Times about Traffic.com would have me outraged, if I didn't know there was more to the story.

The story, "U.S. System for Tracking Traffic Flow Is Faulted" makes the case that somehow Traffic.com rigged the system and got a huge pile of government money, and then wasted it all.

(Full disclosure, I sold MyTrafficNews to Traffic.com in 2006, but I no longer have any involvement with that company. I was a traffic nerd before I started MyTrafficNews, however, and I still am, having just written at length comparing traffic services.)

The story cherry picks some bits from a forthcoming government report, but that report isn't available so we have to trust that the Times did a good job of analyzing it. I haven't seen the report either, but I'm guessing it won't be nearly as dramatic as the Times makes it sound.

The heart of the controversy is that Traffic.com secured a deal with the government that it would get federal money to install traffic sensors, and then share the data. Without this deal, there would be hundreds of congested miles of highways in metro areas all over the country that would never get speed sensors. That's the big picture, and something that is easily overlooked.

Now the way Traffic.com set up the deal, it gets to use a small portion of that data first, but share nearly all of it all the time. Here's my recollection of how that worked in the real world: Traffic.com would instal a sensor and then share speed data that would show red-yellow-green on the traffic flow to everyone, including any local government and even the Traffic.com competitors. Traffic.com would keep for itself and its partners the exact speed data in exchange for putting in the sensors. My memory is that the federal money paid for some, but not all, of the cost, so Traffic.com was putting in the rest.

The bottom line for me is that the whole world got new data that it didn't have before. That's a good thing.

It's the kind of data you see right now on Google Maps -- the color coding is all you really need to know if a highway is rotten.

But because Traffic.com had some competitors, jealous that they didn't have whatever it took to put that deal together first, they howled like stuck pigs. They were doing that when I was involved, and it looks to me like they are still doing it, which is how that hit-piece ended up in the Times.

That hatchet job, by the way, doesn't even mention the fact that expansion of the program has already been stopped. I learned that only by doing a quick search this morning, but the program was shelved nearly two years ago. So why this manufactured scandal in today's paper? Good question.

Now, Traffic.com is not blameless, but you certainly can't blame the people there for implementing a program that was approved by Congress, and running it in the way that Congress directed.

I wish the people at Traffic.com were doing a better job of singing the praises of this program, which is a huge win for people who want to know about traffic jams before they get stuck in them. Somehow now the Times has turned that into a bad thing.

As I said, I haven't talked to anyone at Traffic.com for a while, but if I did talk to them I would tell them that they should have spoken to that reporter, and told him that this program is providing great data, is working, and will continue to make more information available to more people than was available before. It's doing its job for the taxpayers, the people implementing it are being fairly paid, and the congressional mandate is being fulfilled. This is a government program that is working. 

Why is that a scandal?


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:


The Mark Cuban Effect at DefragCon

The DefragCon kicks off in an hour, but the pre-conference get-together was plenty interesting.

I've been to a number of tech conferences, but somehow some of the dynamics always surprise me, especially what I think of as the Mark Cuban effect.

Cuban, of course, is the brash and bold entrepreneur who built up an early "dot-com" and sold it to Yahoo at the absolute peak of the market before the tech crash in 2000.

Now he's involved in all kinds of stuff, but is best known for owning a basketball team. The name of the team, the Mavericks, matches his personality perfectly.

Cuban is known in tech circles for having contrarian viewpoints, and issuing them as loudly as he can. For instance he railed against the Google acquisition of YouTube.

He's certainly earned the right to do that.

Now, I don't want to pick on DefragCon, which is actually much better than some of the other tech conferences, but it is still full of people who just love to do a "Cuban." They make loud, bold pronouncements about why an idea will absolutely not work, how it's been done before, or why some competitor will demolish the idea before it can get any traction, etc.

I ran into lots of those people when I was founding, then running, a web-based business dealing in traffic information. If I would have listened to them I never would have started the business, and I certainly never would have sold it to Traffic.com. 

Heck, I may not have even bothered to wake up most mornings. 

Yesterday I talked to a couple of entrepreneurs who spent good money to come to the conference to learn and try to connect with others, and almost upon walking in the door they got the full "Cuban" from people who have never built, let alone sold, a company. (I actually had two experiences like that just in one day. The other was at the practice session for the upcoming Angel Capital Summit. More on that next week.)

I'm not saying that every idea walking around is great, and a little pushback is always a good idea. But for the next two days at Defrag I'll be attempting to tunnel through some of the bravado and find the great stories of new ideas, and bring them to you on Examiner.com or on sco.tt. I may not get to all of them right away, but I will try to report on many of them.

If you have a great story to tell (not just a press release announcing with great fanfare that version 3.2 of your whatever has just been released) look for me and let me hear it.


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!


Best Length for a YouTube video

I'm not sure why, but I'm crazy busy these days, so when someone sends me a link to a video, I very rarely even open it, and if I do close it if the length on the video is longer than about two minutes.

Here are two that broke that rule, however. I just got hooked on them, and could not stop watching them until the end. Both of them, I think, are just marvelous, and keep me optimistic.


and

So, the best length for a video? The length needed to tell the story properly.


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.


Douthat's Ignoble Nobel Blunder

I try not to comment about the New York Times, but for some reason I tripped across this story from Ross Douthat with the unfortunate headline: Heckuva Job, Barack. The first thing any conservative needs to know is that comparing President Obama to the guy who so badly mishandled hurricane recovery in New Orleans is only going to set your argument back.

Maybe some liberal copy editor slipped that headline past him.

Douthat based a his whole column on the notion that President Obama should have somehow managed to reject the Nobel.

Now I understand that the president is very powerful, but if he could swing largely symbolic European things his way he would have convinced the IOC to bring the Olympics to Chicago.

The Nobel is even less substantial, and I'm sure there's no way that he could have talked his way out of it.

One of my favorite books is from Richard Feynman, the physicist who's work spanned from Einstein to the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. 

IN that book, he wrote that he wished he could have gotten out of accepting the Nobel, but learned there was no way to do it.

(He wrote about that here, but the preview is missing the page that talks specifically about how he wanted to reject the prize. He discussed the idea of that with a reporter, and that reporter explained to him (in a phone call just after he learned he got the prize at 3:30 a.m.) that it would be a bigger deal to reject it than to get it. So he accepted the prize and spent much of the rest of his life making elaborate plans so that nobody would ever know that a Nobel-winner was going to be making a speech about physics.)

The Nobel prize has made it harder for the president to get his agenda done in the US, and anyone who knows 10 cents worth of domestic politics would have predicted that. The Nobel committee may be great at picking out really good books that I won't be reading, but they only have about a nickel's worth of sense about politics in the US.


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.


Drudge Goes Down an Ugly Path

OK, I've gone on and on about Drudge, but it needs to be said: The guy has turned almost pathologically against President Obama.

Drudge-chicago

Nobody anywhere was connecting that Chicago crime -- which by big-city standards was really only notable because of the nearby cameras, to the effort to bring the Olympics to Chicago.

Nobody but Drudge.

Now, Drudge has been out in front on stories before, and then quickly gets followed by lots of other media outlets. The guy had a nose for big stories.

But now he's just getting mean, connecting dots that just aren't there.

Maybe he knows, as some smart guys do, that getting the Olympics in Obama's adopted home town could be huge for the Democratic party. And if he does know that, maybe he wants to prevent that from happening.

I had a hunch that Drudge was losing it earlier in the summer. Check out this screen grab:

Drudge-michelle-miracle-grow

Somehow he's trying to make the case that you can't possibly grow lettuce in three months. That's the kind of thinking that comes from someone who used to be the night manager of a convenience store.

But I still read Drudge, and I still keep the DrudgeWidget on my blog. What Drudge needs to hear, however, is that he's in danger of becoming the worst thing of all in the web world: Boring.