Who the hell is Scott Yates?????

First, why this post?

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

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

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

Who the hell is Scott Yates????

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

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

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

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

Early days

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

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

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

80s-esque

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Startup Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

I challenge you to find fault with any the following:

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

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

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

Unlike the numbered facts above, it's debatable. 

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

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

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

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

 

image from i.dailymail.co.uk

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


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

 

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

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

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

 

"Up and to the right"

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

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

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

Groundhog-day

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

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

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

And grow we did.

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

 

It's still all about growth

So, what am I doing now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Steps to Consistent Growth

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

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

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

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

The answer is the 10X Growth Club.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join us?

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

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

Thanks very much in advance.


Up and to the right,
I remain,

-Scott Yates


What Comes Next?

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

What comes next?

Sunrise-scott-yates


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

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

I don't ski.

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

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

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

Here's three scenarios of what might make sense:

 

Scenario One: Entrepreneur In Residence

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

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

What kind of things?

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

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

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

 

Scenario Two: New Product Leader

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

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

 

Scenario Three: CEO Transition

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

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

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

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

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

 

Scenario Four: ??????

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

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

Thanks.


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


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

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

Jackson v Hamilton

The full PDF for your full use is here.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need more proof? 

Consider:

Category19772015
Funk that Star Wars got us out of

Watergate, Vietnam

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 8.46.23 AM

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

Logan's Run

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 9.52.38 AM

Hunger Games

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 9.56.10 AM

Scary disease that was going to kill us all

Swine Flu

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 4.47.14 PM

Ebola

Notable cars before Pinto, Pacer

Aztec, Cadilac ATS

Notable cars after Porsche 928, BMW 7 series

???

Protesters that faded away Yippies

Occupy (Fill in the blank)

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

five armies 

May the force be with you. 


Brad Feld Patent Office? Most indubitably!

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

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

PHAP PHAP PHAP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


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.

 


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.


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.

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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.


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.
G2282_photo29

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

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.)


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


No, Scott Baio is not a Gen Xer

I disagree completely with this guy's assertion that the Original Gen Xers actually started being born in 1954.

Poppycock.

If he had started in 1961, the year that Barack Obama, Douglas Rushkoff, Chris Anderson and Douglas Coupland were born, then he might have had a case. I mean Coupland literally wrote the book on Generation X.

But in the same year were born 

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus -- famous only because of the completely boomer-centric Seinfeld 
  • George Stephanopoulos -- famous because of one of the first Boomer president, the appropriately narcissistic Bill Clinton
  • Meg Ryan
  • Randy Jackson and 
  • child stars Scott Baio and Ralph Macchio. 
That is not a group of Xers by any stretch.


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

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


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

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

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

God save the Queen.

Unemployment is Helping Apple?

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

Here's why:

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

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

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

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

Drudge, Hypochondria, and the President

I'm convinced that Drudge is a total hypochondriac. He's got about 20 stories about the swine flu up right now.


Not that there's anything wrong with that, but he is leaning a bit too far in the panic direction.

On the other side is TechCrunch, which has a story up, saying that "panic" is being spread over the web

I disagree. I think these types of flu are a bit scary, and with the federal government now working on it, it's a legitimate news story.

(I bet we find, eventually, that like the last big scare of the bird flu, that this is not just some random thing, that there is a big-picture story that caused this. It turns out the avian flu was caused by chicken farmers in China giving Tamiflu and other antivirals to their chickens. It didn't work, surprise surprise, but what did happen is that they helped create a flu bug that did not get better when you took Tamiflu. This is something I learned about from a doctor because it hurt me directly: I got the flu and couldn't take Tamiflu to get better.)

The thing that worries, me, however, is that Drudge has such animus toward Obama.

I don't know if there's anything to the story that Obama met and shook hands with a man in Mexico City who died the next day from the swine flu, but I do know that if it happened to President Bush that Drudge would have had that story front and center.

Gay Marriage, Marijuana, and the march of time...

Several quick odds and ends before my next post, which will be a big and very positive review of The Unlikely Disciple...

  • Two excellent posts in a row from the FiveThirtyEight guys, showing how gay marriage and marijuana are on an almost inevitable march toward legalization. Those guys nailed it during the election, and they are still finding their footing now with no election to talk about, but with those two posts I expect to learn a lot from them in the coming years.
  • In the marijuana post, it points out -- without comment -- that my generation (X) smoked less pot than either the boomers or the millennials. Doesn't really surprise me... even at NYU in the 80s, I saw very little pot smoking. Maybe I just ran with a nerdier crowd. I'm not advocating for or against legalization here, but I will say that I think smoking pot in general is somewhat narcissistic, which is why it makes so much sense that both the boomers and the millennials toke up. 
  • My post from April Fool's Day was, mostly, a joke. I am not crowdsourceing my life. I have to say, however, the idea was posted as a joke but the more I thought about it the more it grew on me. I guess I want it both ways: I don't want to do it right now, but I do want to be thought of as the first person to ever crowdsource his own life. Hmmmmm.
  • Baseball is back. Ahhhhhhhhh.

This game may last forever!

We are in day three of what might just be the last baseball game of the year.

I just did a blog search, and I can't believe I'm the first person to make this connection: This game might go on for months, just like that great game in the Iowa Baseball Confederacy

In that book, the game went on for 2,000 innings.

This game between the amazing Rays and the Phillies may not go on for that long, but it's so delicious that there's a game that seems to be saying to the world that we don't quite want summer to be over.

It certainly feels that way here in Denver right now, it's been one of the most amazing falls ever, with blue skies and warm temps every day. Just like baseball, it's the summer that nobody wants to end.

I'm glad it will end, though, and that we'll have winter. It sharpens the senses, makes us feel our fragility.

Of course, the other great thing about this crazy World Series game is the great writing about it. There have been plenty of great columns, but for me this one stands out.
Pulling on their last World Series breath, watching their brilliant season circle the dugout drain with expectorated sunflower shells and Skoal drool, and falling obediently to postseason force Cole Hamels, the Tampa Bay Rays had a single hope:

Havoc.

Skies had to open. Gods had to roar. Pitching staffs had to be blown into confusion. Third base had to become lake-front property.

The Philadelphia Phillies had to be knocked off what had been a downhill run since the series moved north. And not just the Phillies. The whole series.

Something, you know, apocalyptic.

Then Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena got hits in the same inning.

And that wasn’t even it.

It rolled in on winds cold and sure. It rose up over Citizens Bank Park, over the neon Liberty Bell, over giddy, expectant fans covered in red hoodies and trash bags.

Dressed in swirling curtains of rain, cloaked in a howling northwest breeze, it stopped the World Series at 80 minutes before midnight, the middle of the sixth inning, Game 5.

Havoc.
Ahhhhh. Love it.

Cure Cancer with the Internet

OK, now that the election is essentially over we can get back to using the Internet for worthwhile stuff, like trying to cure cancer.


I'm not joking. Right now there's a guy who has perhaps hours to live and there's a drug that may help him, but the company that makes the drug isn't releasing it for use on that one person.


(OK, the whole election isn't over, it's just boring. Except if you are one of those who want to "Say Yes On 50"  Yech. I hope not!)

Drudge let's me down a second time

The first time Drudge let me down, I figured he just had a bad source. He announced to the world that Evan Bayh would be Obama's Veep.


This time, though, he's really shooting himself in the foot.

Comeback Through headlines and pictures, he's trying to create the illusion that McCain is making a big comeback. He's not

(And remember, I like Drudge. With a friend, I invented the Drudge Widget!)

There's also some noise that he may or may not come out with a big new plan to help the economy.

The problem is that McCain is in a trap that Obama has laid down. He did this with the Clintons, which was masterful. Now he's done it with McCain without even breaking a sweat.

The trap? He's made the case that McCain is "erratic." So, now if McCain sticks to his same (losing) strategy he'll lose, and if he tries to make a big change, well, he'll just be more erratic. McCain really may never know what hit him.

I'm certainly glad to see, by the way, that McCain has started in small ways to tamp down some of the anger out there. I've been banned from talking on this blog about anything that could be perceived as a threat by anyone against any potential new president. I'm not allowed to talk about it, but let's just say that I'm really really glad that McCain is saying that Obama is a good, decent, family man and a citizen.

Hey, speaking of family man, I think all those people that are so afraid of Obama are mostly older, and they have a lot of fear about the economy, and just change in general. Change is scary! All of those who are scared should look to none other than the heartthrob of Wasilla, Levi Johnston. There's a guy who should be scared. He's a high school drop-out with a pregnant girlfriend, and a mother-in-law-to-be who is a lifelong NRA member and has a lot of guns and may, in fact, be crazy. (She certainly is delusional.)

But is he afraid? Doesn't sound like it to me:

"We're up for it. I'm excited to have my first kid. It's going to be a lot of hard work but we can handle it."...


What about Johnston's politics?

The young man said he wasn't an expert on politics by any stretch. Asked about Barack Obama, he replied: "I don't know anything about him. He seems like a good guy. I like him."


Sure, he says he will be voting for the Republicans. I would be to, if I was him; having the Palins several thousand miles away probably sounds like a good idea!


Sco.tt TV is On The Air

For those of you who just can't get enough sco.tt goodness on this blog, there are now some ways to catch up on the Tee-Vee.


As Chief Strategist for the Vote No On Amendment 50, I've taped a few interviews and discussions about why Amendment 50 would be such a bad idea for Colorado. Starting tonight, September 25, at 9 p.m. MDT on Comcast channel 25 or on DirectTV channel 681, the Altitude network will be airing a series on all the ballot initiatives. I don't know what order they will do them in, I'm hoping it's just numeric so that we will be on earlier. That show should be rebroadcast a couple of times.

Then on Monday, September 29, I'll be on Channel 12, the PBS station, at 8:30 p.m. MDT. That one may be on the internet after, and if so it will be posted on the Amendment 50 blog.

I've also been interviewed by the local Fox outlet, and have one set with the Channel 7, but I don't yet know when those will be on the air. If you see it, let me know how bad my hair looks. There have also been some great print interviews, and the Denver Post just endorsed the idea of Colorado saying No to Amendment 50, so with barely a week of volunteering for the side of truth and justice, I'm feeling pretty good about our progress!

OK, the self promotion is getting a little thick around here...

I got this email today

I can never tell if these are legitimate. This one seems like it might be real.


Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a
transfer of funds of great magnitude.
I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had
crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion
dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most
profitable to you.
I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my
replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may
know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the
1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.
This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds
as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names
of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family
lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person
who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.
Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account
numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to
wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for
this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with
detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the
funds.
Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson


Eureka!

One of the worst parts about the loss of Tim Russert is that I just couldn't imagine someone else taking over the seat on Sunday mornings.


Well, finally I can imagine someone. Check this out:

A long time ago Bob Costas had a show on after Letterman when Letterman was after Johnny Carson, and then after Conan O'Brien. The show was SO good. He sat down and talked to one person for a half hour. It was late night, so there weren't a lot of politicians, but Costas' preparation was amazing. The people interviewed seemed just delighted by questions that they really had never heard before.

What was great about Russert, and does Costas have those traits? 

Fair? Check.

Does great research? Check.

The right combination of gravitas and lack of self-seriousness? Check.

An ability to question the Conventional Wisdom? Check.

I like the idea, so it probably won't happen. Maybe Costas couldn't take the pay cut, or maybe Sports wouldn't let him go, but he could still take the time off to work the Olympics.

Look, a guy can dream...


Hyper-Bowl!

I shouldn't pick on this poor guy. Lord knows that there have been plenty of times that I've only seen a word, never heard it pronounced, and didn't know how to pronounce it.

Nah, I should make fun of him. When that happens to me if I don't know is I ask someone the correct pronunciation, or look it up. I did this recently with "inchoate." I did that just so I'd use it properly in conversation; I think if I was going to speak on a video available on the World Wide Web I'd really check out any word I wasn't sure of.

So, you don't have to watch all this video, which is otherwise essentially information-free infotainment, but do watch up to the pretty boy try to use the word "hyperbole" at about 1:01 in.

Maybe this guy needs to turn this into a thing -- the day after the Superbowl host a HyperBowl giving out awards for those able to generate the most hype out of a campaign with some obvious exaggerations.


Air Apparent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mmmmm. Fast Food

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

Beefcheddar


Beefcheddar1

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

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

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

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


Little Goebbels?

So, someone from Team Clinton said Obama's use of a picture of a middle class family was just as outrageous as the image of Nazis in Skokie, Ill.

Ummm. Middle class families - Nazis. Nice work. A key advisor on the all-important health care issue becomes as irrelevant as some lurker in the message boards of a site. He becomes the essence of Godwin's Law.

It brought to mind for me Colorado's own Ward Churchill, who managed to get himself fired from a tenured job because he called the 9/11 victims "Little Eichmanns."

Here comes a theory you won't read about anywhere else...

I think the reason that Ward Churchill created such a fuss, and got fired, is that he called those victims "Little Eichmanns" and not just Nazis. If he had done that, he would have fallen into Godwin's Law and been ignored.

What's the difference? Specificity.

In the excellent book Made to Stick, the authors point out that specificity is important to making ideas that "stick."

Calling someone a Nazi, as Godwin's Law illustrates, has become so generic as to become nearly meaningless. "Little Eichmanns" was sticky.


Lobbyists acting within the law?!?!? Stop the presses!

USA Today makes a big splash about how how lobbyists are spending money on legislators.

Despite a strict new ban on gifts to lawmakers, lobbyists routinely use these prime locations to legally wine and dine members of Congress while helping them to raise money, campaign records show. The lawmakers get a venue that is often free or low-cost, a short jaunt from the Capitol. The lobbyists get precious uninterrupted moments with lawmakers — the sort of money-fueled proximity the new lobbying law was designed to curtail. The public seldom learns what happens there because the law doesn't always require fundraising details to be reported.

I had to put the emphasis on the word legally. The paper had to throw that in there because what they are doing is legal. The emphasis of the story is that something pernicious is going on. It's an old journalism trick, when you want to make something look bad, you throw in a lot of "Real Estate records show that..."

I know it is fashionable to bash the lobbyists, especially in an election year, but Congress does make laws that have an impact on businesses, and so it's OK with me if all the hardware stores in the country pitch in a few bucks to hire someone to represent their views in Washington so that their business doesn't get creamed.

Of course, the people in congress know that the laws they pass have a real impact. After all, they wrote the "lobby reform" that allows the money to be spent in the way it now is, in spite of what they may have said about it during some press conference. I don't think they are quite as shocked as USA Today wants all of us to be that money is still being spent on lobbying.


Positive Identification

Mike Arrington wrote today about a new thingamajig that makes one of the zillion social networks work better with your email inbox. He says your inbox is "not only the 'original' Internet social network, it's going to be the backbone of social networking going forward."

There are indeed a bunch of social networks, as Brad Feld wrote about a couple of days ago. He said his "head hurts" trying to think about how to coordinate one person between all those networks.

There are non-digital world examples of this kind of problem that people have faced forever. Our family faces it every year at Christmas Card time. We have a spreadsheet from when we got married that we try to update, coordinating that with email contact directories, letters sent during the year, etc. It's interesting that some people exist only in the Christmas Card list, others there and digitally in an in-box, but not on a social network.

The reason I bring all of this up is this: Yes, the whole space is complicated and yes, it's hard to keep it all straight. But I think this is all good news, really good news.

In the old days, people could use their company directory and maybe a church or school directory, plus an address book that rarely changed, to keep track of everyone in their lives. Now it's harder to keep track of everyone, but we are in contact with that many more people. Life is more complicated and interconnected, but how much richer and more well informed we are because of our direct exposure -- even if it is digitally -- to so many more people!

While it may seem like a chore keeping track of all those people across all those directories, it's a blessing indeed that you have all of those people around you in the first place.

So, no more whining!


One morning with my morning newspaper

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

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

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

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

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

One other short item that can't be overlooked:

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

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

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

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

Hart told reporters that they would be bored.

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

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

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