After reading a tweet from Kurt Andersen (without a doubt the smartest and best boss I ever had) I got thinking more about the timeline of Watergate and our current president.
I worked for Kurt at the old Spy Magazine. I'd like to think that this is the sort of thing that Spy would have done. (The headline is an homage to a regular feature in Spy, Separated at Birth?)
If I had all day, I'd do more of a Spy thing, and ask the design team to make this look better, and ask the photo research team to come up with some amazing photos that draw connections, etc. But in the spirit of DONE, here it is.
I hope this is helpful to people all over the political spectrum.
For people that want Trump gone tomorrow, this shows pretty clearly that as of July we were really only about half done with the process. There's a long way to go.
For people that are tired of the drip-drip-drip, perhaps this will show why it almost has to happen that way.
For supporters of President Trump who are currently comforted by the fact that he's still in office despite what you perceive to be relentless media attacks, you won't find comfort, exactly, but with luck you'll see that those on the other side politically are not delusional about Trump, and that the sweep of history is not on Trump's side.
June 17 Burglars break into the DNC headquarters at Watergate
June 9 Don Jr., Manafort and Kushner meet with Russian government official promising damaging info about Clinton. Trump tweets later that day for the first time about "33,000 emails."
June 20 Washington Post reports connection between burglary and Hunt
July 18Washington Post reports Trump wants GOP to go soft on Russia
Sept. 15 Hunt, Liddy and burglars indicted
Oct. 7 DHS and DNI announce that Russia is interfering in election
Nov. 7 Nixon reelected
Nov. 8 Trump elected
Jan. 8 Burglary trial begins
Jan. 4 Mike Flynn reports that he is under investigation
Jan. 11 Hunt pleads guilty
Jan. 6 CIA, FBI and NSA report that Putin ordered a campaign to influence the election
Jan. 15 Other burglars plead guilty
Jan. 10 Sessions tells congress that he “did not have communications” with the Russians
Jan. 20 Nixon inauguration
Jan. 20 Trump inauguration
Jan. 30 Liddy convicted
Jan. 30 Trump fires Yates
Feb. 28 FBI director tells congress that Dean had “probably lied” to FBI.
Feb. 28 Trump staff instructed to preserve any Russia-related communications because of investigation
March 17 McCord refutes previous denial that he was working for the White House
March 17 Page refutes previous denial that he never met with Kislyak
April 27 FBI Director Gray resigns
April 5 Nunes recuses himself
April 30 Ehrlichman, Haldeman resign, Dean fired.
April 11 Comey tells Rosenstein about “serious concern about the way in which the president is interacting, especially with the FBI”
May 17 Senate Watergate Committee begins hearings
May 9 Trump fires Comey
May 19 Cox appointed as special prosecutor
May 17 Mueller appointed special counsel
June 3 Dean testifies that he discussed the cover-up with Nixon at least 35 times
June 8 Comey testifies to Senate Intelligence Committee, worried about president lying, says he hopes there are tapes
July 13 13 months after Watergate burglary, New York Times reports on Oval Office tapes of phone calls and meetings
July 8 13 months after meeting of Don Jr., Manafort and Kushner with person they believe to be Russian government official, New York Times reports on that meeting
Oct. 20 "Saturday Night Massacre" firing of special prosecutor.
Oct. 30"Manafort Monday" Manafort, Gates arrested. Special Prosecutor's office also unseals previous indictment and plea deal with Papadopoulos
Oct. 19 John Dean enters guilty plea after cooperating with prosecutors.
Dec. 1 Mike Flynn enters guilty plea after cooperating with prosecutors.
Nov. 17 "I am not a crook" speech
Nearly Every Day Trump tweets something saying Russia investigation is phony.
Dec. 7 White House can't explain 18-minute gap in tapes.
Dec. 11 White House can't explain 18-day period that Mike Flynn wasn't fired.
March 1 Nixon named as "unindicted co-conspirator" along with the "Watergate Seven"
April 16 Special prosecutor subpoenas tapes
May 9 Impeachment hearings begin
June 27 House passes Articles of Impeachment
Aug. 9 Nixon resigns from office
One last note:
One of the young staffers working on Watergate for the House Judiciary Committee was Hillary Rodham Clinton.
We may not have learned all the lessons we needed to learn from Watergate, but perhaps there's a young staffer working behind the scenes right now who will one day run for president, and if she doesn't come to fame as the wife of a guy who was once impeached himself... and if the election isn't tampered with... maybe she'll even win.
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.
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.
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.
(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:
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.
In a structured way, read the best thinking on growth, and apply it rigorously.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As of today, I'm going to be stepping down from day-to-day leadership of BlogMutt.
This news is big for me because I love everything about the company: the staff, the writers, the customers. Even the goofy name. BlogMutt is an exceptional operation.
So, why leave?
Well, we all have our strengths, and it's clear to me that my strengths are more in starting things... in creating something out of nothing. That and working out of 100-square-foot offices on a desk of a piece of plywood, like in the picture of me above in BlogMutt's very first office.
What BlogMutt needs now is someone who is good at:
1. Operations. Managing everything from sales to health insurance to product.
2. Growth. Understanding how to reach into new markets, reach new audiences, and build great partnerships.
For the short term, I'll be spending most of my time looking for someone to do that.
We need someone who can manage KPIs, EBITDA, CLV, etc. and not get MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over). I'm not that kind of CEO. As much as I love BlogMutt, I am just not that person.
Together with Wade Green—BlogMutt's other founder and technology head (who is staying on)—I'm now looking for that person, someone who can move us forward on all that management stuff, but also someone who can understand the magic we've created here.
Me, Courtney & Wade in the world's shakiest selfie, in BlogMutt's second office.
Qualities of this individual include:
Someone who is delighted to help small agencies be able to compete with much larger agencies because they have the power of BlogMutt behind them.
Someone who is moved to tears, as I am, by our writers. I spoke about them here, and we’ve shared some of the stories on our blog here, here, here, here, here, or really just about anywhere on our blog.
Someone who loves loves loves small businesses and understands the battle they face is almost always time, and how much BlogMutt can help them.
And someone who recognizes that the greatest assemblage of talent in any one office anywhere in the great state of Colorado is found on the second floor of an otherwise-boring building behind the PDQ gas station and convenience store in south Boulder, BlogMutt's fourth office.
Do you know that person? If so, please be in touch. See below for more.
(Most of) the aforementioned assemblage of talent, complete with my wrangling of the mascot mutt, Buddy, in front of BlogMutt's third office.
What comes next?
So, with BlogMutt getting some new management, what's next for me?
And I may be starting something new. What would that be, you ask?
Well, six or seven years ago I was fascinated by "crowdsourcing" in the loosest possible sense of the word. After a lot of conversations came the world’s best crowdsourced blog writing service, BlogMutt. Now I'm interested in "food." I read stuff like this about our broken food system and I find myself interested. Or maybe I'm just hungry.
In other words, it's time for me to sit under my own vine and fig tree. I’m no George Washington, but I am inspired by what he did, stepping down. That really had never happened before. And now we all get to live in a world where "no one can make us afraid."
And like Washington, I’ll be able to show the world that I can step down and the company will thrive because BlogMutt is so strong.
I’ve been lucky to have grown up in that world that Washington envisioned.
Really, I’ve been lucky my whole life. I had a great childhood, and I have a great family now.
I was lucky enough to work as a reporter and writer for years in New York City and all over Colorado.
And in a world where most startups fail, I’ve been lucky enough to create three of them that have all succeeded.
Thanks for joining me on this journey.
And by the way, before I can do any of the new stuff, I need to know that BlogMutt is in good hands. So if you know of someone who might be a good fit for the CEO job at BlogMutt, please contact me at CEO [at] blogmutt.com. That won't be my email much longer, so write soon.
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.
My fascination grew in tandem with my son. Several years ago we watched this video. If you haven't seen it, or even if you have, here it is again:
My son actually memorized that whole rap, and last summer when we were touring around Philly and New York City he performed it several times.
One of those times he performed it was for the National Park Ranger who was the leading Hamilton expert in Philly. It was from him that we learned about some Hamilton events happening in New York City, and it was there we learned about the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, and went on a walking tour of Hamilton sites. We attended a fascinating lecture about Hamilton, one pointing out how he was absolutely the most important founding father after Washington himself. We attended a dramatic reading of the letters between Hamilton and Burr at the Hamilton Grange.
Then we visited Hamilton's grave on the anniversary of the day of his death. It was all my son could do to keep from correcting the tour guides who kept mangling the facts of his death, and never even mentioned that they were standing above his remains on the very day he died. They all made the same lame joke about New Jersey, and then moved on.
And so when Lin-Manuel Miranda announced that the play about Hamilton would be opening at the Public Theater, we snapped up two tickets on a night when the cast would be answering questions after the play (my son loves that stuff) and when he would only miss one day of school. We got a great deal on some tickets on Southwest, and planned to have a geek-out father-son fun trip to see the play about the "Ten dollar Founding Father without a father."
Then the play opened, and the reviews started coming in. They weren't just good, they were stupendous, they wore out the thesaurus. I don't typically even like theater and I really don't like musicals, but these reviews were so good that I got crazy excited.
Then the celebrities started showing up. It started slowly, with actors who were well known and highly respected. John Lithgow was the first one I noticed.
Then the celebrities kept getting bigger and bigger. The Clintons went last week, but the one that impressed me most was Weird Al Yankovik, who declared it a "Work of Genius."
A guy who clearly is a genius doesn't toss words like that around lightly.
So our excitement was off the charts, even before we knew that Paul McCartney went to see the play the night before we were scheduled to go.
We woke up to reports of bad weather, but we figured it would be OK. We're from Colorado, a little cold and snow is no big deal.
Then the flight was delayed a half hour, then an hour.
Then — just after clearing security and walking on the cool bridge at Denver International Airport (the only structure in the world that a 747 can taxi under) with the Native American music playing — I got the text. Flight Cancelled.
We scrambled around at the airport, trying to figure out if there was some way to go to some other nearby airport, but to no avail.
There would be no trip.
So then there was the matter of the tickets. We came up with a plan to try to find someone else who had tickets for some future performance, and would be willing to trade with us. Through the magic of social media… Maybe?
Even Lin-Manuel Miranda himself retweeted my plea. Stand-up guy.
But it didn't work. We did have some offers to buy the tickets, and given that they are getting scalped for more than $1,800 a pop, and there are still none available, it's no wonder.
Luckily we have some great friends in New York who were able to get through the muck to see the show. As I'm writing this I haven't heard any reports yet, but I expect they will be glowing. Which is great, it really is.
Still, it hurts. Still sitting in my suitcase is my copy of the Chernow biography of Hamilton that inspired Miranda. I was going to bring it on the off chance that Chernow might be there the same night as our tickets.
This is also one of the greatest days of my life. You see, on this day an idea I had for a way to fix it so we won't have to change our clocks back and forth twice per year actually got introduced into a state legislature. The text I wrote is now part of the legislative process.
Put another way, I had an idea that started at the dinner table with my family, and that idea became an official draft resolution being considered by the legislature of one of the 50 US States, and it will be real in other states soon.
I'll be writing much more about that over on the Time blog, but suffice it to say that this is the very first real step in growing that idea into a reality.
So, is this one of the greatest days of my life, or one of the worst?
I know what Alexander Hamilton would call a day with stunning highs and lows and a production of a couple of thousand words of prose.
He'd call it "Thursday."
Remember, this is a guy who had stunning public victories.
As a teenager he wrote more persuasively than anyone about why the colonies should revolt against Britain.
He became Washington's indispensable chief of staff.
He lead troops to a decisive and yet honorable victory during the war, one of the few battles the Revolutionary troops actually won without help from the French.
He was the only founding father that didn't own slaves and worked harder than any other to ban slavery.
Nearly single-handedly pushed for the Constitutional Convention, and then lobbied harder than anyone to get the U.S. Constitution passed, something that was not at all a sure thing at the time.
Decided that it would help if the new federal government had a working guideline, so pushed for the creation of the Federalist Papers and wrote a huge majority of them himself.
Again nearly on his own, he pushed for a strong central government and forcefully but respectfully put down the Whiskey Rebellion.
Founded the Federal Bank, the Coast Guard, a college set up to embrace the Native Americans, and the New York Post.
And crushing personal losses:
He was alone with his mother when she died a horrible death.
The cousin who became his caretaker committed suicide.
The ship that brought him to America caught fire and was nearly lost at sea.
He saw the slave-trade up close.
He was lured into a America's first tawdry political sex scandal.
His oldest son died in a duel defending his father's honor.
And then with the same pistol that killed his son, he was shot down by repugnant little man in a duel over nothing.
Perhaps most impressive to me given my not-exactly-staggering literary output is that Hamilton would regularly crank out a few thousand words in a day, and he did it with a quill and ink.
I may not have gotten to see the play, but I got the message. The Hamilton play is probably the best thing to happen to hip-hop since the Sugar Hill Gang, the best thing to happen to theater since West Side Story, and the best thing to happen to American history since Schoolhouse Rock.
But Hamilton's story is not a feel-good story. It's not designed to make you happy to sit back and watch.
It's a call to action.
As it says on the poster for the play: Who gets to tell your story?
Embedded in that question is the larger question: What is the story of your life going to be? The play Hamilton (I'm figuring) and more to the point the man who was Alexander Hamilton challenge all of us to do more. We are not meant to watch, but to jump in with great vigor.
So instead of moping about not getting to come to New York, you can see me on HuffPo Live Friday morning (via a hangout instead of in person, alas) trying to take a stand and then later today you'll see me and my son down at the state capitol doing our best to advocate as best we can for a better world.
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?
Funk that Star Wars got us out of
Great Recession, Afghanistan
Crappy dystopian scifi we don't have to pay attention to any more
Scary disease that was going to kill us all
Notable cars before
Aztec, Cadilac ATS
Notable cars after
Porsche 928, BMW 7 series
Protesters that faded away
Occupy (Fill in the blank)
Hobbit version not as good as the book released the year before.
This blog post is going to change your life more than any other opinion piece or news article you’ll read this week.
That’s right… With this one post I’m going to improve your life dramatically for a couple of weeks each year. I’ll improve your morning drive on a handful of days that would otherwise be horrible. This post may even save your life.
And to top it off this post may just give you hope in the U.S. system of government.
Big talk, I know, but I can back it up.
First, some background:
I’ve always been annoyed by the mandate to change all of our clocks twice per year. I’m groggy on that spring Monday morning when the government takes away an hour of sleep over the weekend and the alarm clock suddenly makes no sense in the inky pre-dawn darkness.
In the fall — when suddenly I’m going home from work in the dark — I fall into a funk that can last for weeks.
So I sit at the dinner table and complain, complain, complain.
One night at the dinner table, my wife, who’d recently read A Complaint Free World, challenged me. “Why don’t you do something about it?”
I replied: “I’ve made several very pointed Facebook posts!”
She was not impressed.
And now I’ve read the book, too, and have to concede that she was right. I felt so strongly, however, that I didn’t want to just stop complaining; I wanted to do something.
So, I started doing some research. Turns out there’s not a lot of good research, something that’s surprising. Certainly we wouldn’t upset so many lives so dramatically twice per year without having great research as to why we are doing that? You’d be shocked. There's very little, and it's very weak.
The origins of switching the clock seem to date to Ben Franklin. Now… We owe a great deal to Ben — the concept of the library, the fire department, the hospital, and so much more. And he had a legendary sense of humor.
And therein lies what may have been one of the great practical jokes of all time.
Is Ben smiling about the greatest practical joke of all time?
Franklin was certainly joking when he suggested that a way to increase productivity by changing the clocks around for the seasons.
Think about it. Daylight Savings does kind of seem like an elaborate practical joke you might play on freshman in a particularly cruel dorm. Imagine if someone moved your alarm by one hour a couple of times a year... Think about how mad you’d be. Or imagine that you tried that as a joke on your spouse. I know if I tried that as a joke on my wife there’s a good chance I’d wake up the next day in the ICU.
(By the way, did you know that they kept Franklin off a key committee drafting the Declaration of Independence because they were afraid he’d sneak in some jokes that they wouldn’t recognize? It’s true.)
The version of Daylight Saving (not “savings”) Time that we all recognize has its roots in WWI. After the war Daylight Saving was abandoned on a federal level, but then it was picked back up in WWII, and has been with us in essentially the same form ever since.
The thinking during WWII was that people needed to do whatever they could to save fuel and other resources so they could be used during the war. Admirable, to be sure, but remember the decision was made by the same government that thought “Internment Camps” would be a good idea for Japanese Americans. Great scientists built The Bomb. No science went into the thinking about Daylight Saving Time, just propaganda.
After the war states were left to decide for themselves when they wanted it to be 6 p.m. relative to the sun setting and there was a patchwork of different time zones from state to state, and even within some states. This created plenty of confusion, so the feds clamped down in 1966.
After researching the roots I started looking at the science regarding the clock changing. All of it is negative.
The U.S. Department of Energy issued a report that says sticking with Daylight Saving Time year round would save approximately one half of one percent of electricity used every day during the winter. Now, while 0.5 percent might not seem like much, you may not know that all the solar panels create just 0.25 percent of the total power generated in the U.S. Just leaving our clocks alone in the fall instead of reverting to Standard Time will save double the amount of non-renewable electricity than all solar power creates every single day from November to March. That’s a lot, and nobody has to install anything.
There is no conclusive research showing school children are at more risk waiting for school buses on rural roads, though this is the most emotional argument brought up against the idea. What is clear is that farm children are much more likely to die because of accidents with farm machinery than any traffic accident, with a bus involved or otherwise.
I've been asking people why we have Daylight Saving Time, and nearly all say that it has something to do with farming. It turns out that farmers were traditionally against the clock changing. They just got a bad rap about that.
Many of those of us who are lucky enough to survive the time change wish we hadn't.
The jolt is much worse than, for instance, traveling one time zone away because in that time zone the sun is coming up at a time that's more consistent with your wake-up time. Also you have external clues that you are in a different place. The Daylight Saving clock-changing is a radical and rude interjection into the most sacred of inner-sanctums: your bedroom.
A common epithet hurled at politicians is that they should stay out of our collective bedrooms. Of course, they are really talking about activities that could happen in any room of the house. The alarm clock really is in the bedroom and politicians should indeed get out and leave our alarm clocks alone!
I ran a traffic information service for five years, and the Monday mornings after both the spring and fall time changes were very good for business, and very bad for traffic. Groggy, incoherent and mad-at-someone-but-not-quite-sure-who drivers make for accidents galore.
Formation of a Plan
Are we on a path to end the clock-changing madness?
After researching it I started talking to friends, all of whom hate the clock changing, but they are always too groggy on the days when they are the most mad to really do anything about it.
(One note, I am advocating that most states switch permanently to “Daylight Saving” time, but some states may want to switch time zones when everyone fixes their clock and stops all the switching around. Arizona, for instance, needs to have business operate as much in the cool hours as possible in the summer, so it should stay put. The only organized group that wants more Standard time are the traditional broadcasters, who like it when it’s dark earlier so you’ll watch more prime time TV. But this is a fight not about which time construct is the best for which state, but about just picking one and not changing the clocks twice a year.)
So, research done, I came up with the beginnings of a plan to end the clock changing.
At first blush, I thought there was no hope. It seems like what's needed is an Act of Congress, and I know that for a guy like me to have a hope of getting Congress to do something would make Don Quixote look like conservative banker. Congress can’t get anything done even when they all agree on something. There’s a reason that Congress has an approval rating lower than Communism.
“Pro” is the opposite of “con” — my son points out — so “Congress” must be the opposite of “Progress.” Indeed.
My son actually provided me with a part of the solution. I've watched for years as some motivated school group goes to its state legislature and asks to get a some caterpillar, rock or whatever named the official state caterpillar, rock or whatever. Everyone thinks they are getting a lesson in government. Now, I'm not opposed to states having official caterpillars, but I'm not crazy about giving the youth of today false hope about how easy it is to get laws passed.
It is possible, though, to pass new laws and those school kids have one thing right: It is much more possible to get things done at the state level than in D.C.
But Daylight Saving Time is a federal issue, right?
At one level, yes. The Department of Transportation has ruled that no more states can do what Hawaii and Arizona have done, and switch to one time and stick to it year-round.
We live in a republic, however. We have a 10th Amendment that says that states can do what they want. The Feds have lots of ways of controlling the states, but this plan takes that into account. And the DOT even has a structure in place for states to opt out of clock-changing.
Here's the plan: I'm proposing that every state legislature passes a bill that says that it will stop changing clocks twice per year and just stick with Daylight Saving Time all year long.
The part of the plan that will help it get passed is that the elimination of the clock-changing will only take effect if at least 31 states pass the same bill. The number is really 33, or two thirds of all states, but Arizona and Hawaii are already on the list. I picked the number of 33 states because that's how many it takes to pass a constitutinonal amendment. I know this is not a constitutional issue, but it seems like a good standard.
Why do it that way?
Well, I think that state legislators don't really mind change, they just don't want to stick out as the odd-balls. Did you ever do business with someone in Arizona or Hawaii? If so, you probably expressed some frustration that it's hard to keep track of the number of hours difference from them to you because it keeps changing. (If you said something to them, they undoubtedly responded that it is you that's doing all the changing around. They do have a point.)
That's the rub. I don't think any legislator wants to be first in line to make his or her state the only one in the time zone that stops changing the clocks twice a year, no matter how many potential voters are saved from heart attacks and traffic deaths. Using the same notion, no legislator wants to be the one who is blocking the tide of progress if all the other states are doing it.
So, with a proposal like this — where legislators are voting that they don't want to be first, but they don't want to be last — they'll be happy to vote yes.
They'll be especially happy if they are doing so at the request of school children. I mentioned my son earlier, and he's played into this plan. His class will be studying government this year. They might even get it in their head to go to the legislature and propose a state caterpillar or whatever. My suggestion is that instead they go and ask for something that will really make the world they are growing up into a better place by asking a legislator to carry this bill.
And because schools love interdisciplinary bla bla bla, they could mix in some science and math, too. I can envision many great experiments, starting with:
How does a family’s energy use change?,
What are the computational abilities in students on the day after the clock-change?
What is the tardiness rates after the change?
All of that science, I'm guessing, will lead to the inescapable conclusion that changing the clocks twice per year is a folly that should be dispensed with before its 100th anniversary coming in about four years.
If students and families work together and we start going to legislators this fall, we could get 33 states to pass a bill when they all convene in January. If we can get 33 this year then the switch to Daylight Saving Time in the spring of 2015 will be the last ever. Imagine!
If it takes us another year to get enough states on board, well, we'll still be able to make the final change in the spring of 2016.
And if we can do that, we the people in the 50 U.S. States will be able to tell the federal government that the people have indeed spoken, and whatever bureaucratic powers that they may want to use to block us should instead be brought to bear to pave the way to a smooth no-clock-changing future.
This really could work.
I recently visited the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. It's a magical place, and does a great job of showing that our country and our constitution has always struggled, and always endured. The current miasma that is the U.S. Congress can sap the patriotism from even the most earnest student. Maybe being a part of a real change can give our youth some hope, and that's all we really need to ensure a bright future.
A couple of important notes:
This was my idea, but like all great ideas I wasn't the only one to have it. I looked on BillTrack50 (full disclosure: I’m a shareholder of that company) and found that a state legislator in Missouri had a similar idea. Good for him! The bill didn’t pass, but it didn’t have the power of America’s school children behind it. I talked to him, and he's on board with this new push.
This idea of ending the clock-changing needs a name. I'm terrible at naming things. Have a great name suggestion? Send it to the page I’ve set up here.
On that page will also be a blog where we can showcase great science projects and efforts to get this thing passed, in addition to model legislative language that school children can take to their legislators.
I’m busy running a content writing service and being a father and husband, so I don’t have time to do everything needed for this revolution. It will take contributions of time and effort from many people. If you want to end the clock-changing madness, don’t wait for an OK from me. Just go do whatever it is you want to do. Once you’ve done whatever it is, take a picture, share it on social media, etc. and let me know and I’ll post it on the yet-to-be-named site.
Or if you really want to get involved, I've set up an end-the-clock-changing project board. If you'd like to volunteer to lobby, do PR or just manage the efforts for your state, we need you.
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.
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.)
The first appearance went well, also, but now it seems like a thing so I wanted to post this here to let you know that if you have a tech startup, do feel free to contact me using the contact info on this blog to suggest other companies that I should take a look at on 9News.
When we dream, if we flap our arms, we fly away. That's a uesfull thing to remember so that if you experience something, and you aren't sure that it is really happening -- or if it's a dream -- you can just flap your arms. If you don't fly away, it really is happening.
I've been flapping my arms a lot lately.
It started during the college football game to determine the national champions. There were two different stories that required flapping of arms. The first is well-chronicled, the Notre Dame player who's dead girlfriend turned out to be fictional. That story didn't make sense for so many people because everyone knows that football players can get whatever girl they want, right?
That leads us to the second story from that same game. A tee-vee announcer, trying to fill time in a lopsided game, said that the girlfriend of the wining side's quarterback was attractive, and that if you want to get the pretty girls it helps to be a great football player.
His logic was unassailable, and yet he became a national joke, had to apologize, and may well retire after this "incident."
I was reminded of a conversation I had with my son once a couple of years back. He asked me why they still had a king and queen in the Netherlands. I told him that I just didn't know. He said that maybe it was so that girls would like the country more.
Pretty good theory, I thought.
Look, we don't have a monarchy in this country, but clearly we need something to fill that void. Why do you think the girlfriend of the football player was "crowned" Miss Alabama and wears a tiara? Why do you think Alabama was "crowned" as the national champions? The announcer was simply stating the obvious, making clear what everyone with eyeballs was thinking.
And for that he was excoriated? Time to flap my arms. Not flying.
Remember Ron Paul? The guy who ran a bill every year he was in congress to get the US out of the United Nations? He's the guy who used a groundswell of support and money (most of it via RonPaul.com) to run for president, and poll at a remarkably high percentage, only to be cynically closed out of the Republican party, which seems intent on making as many self-destructive decisions as possible. That's not flap-your-arms stuff, that's politics.
No, the news that grabbed my attention is that Ron Paul, now retired, has discovered that the internet is important, and he wants to control the domain RonPaul.com. Who does control it? People who liked him when he ran for president, but don't like him enough to just give him the domain. They want to sell it to him for a healthy price. What does Ron Paul do? Files a grievance with... wait for it... The United Nations.
Flap flap flap. Still here.
Todd Helton -- who pretty much won the lottery of life as a franchise baseball player -- got busted for a DUI. My sister is a flight attendant, and she got to work a Rockies flight once. She said the players were all a little grab-handy and suggestive, but the one total gentleman and great guy was Todd Helton, so he gets a lot of leeway in my book. Still, why was Todd going out driving at 2:30 a.m. to a qwicky mart? To buy lottery tickets.
Flap flap flap. Flap flap flap. Still here.
Those who've been keeping up on the news understand that the US Government really can kill whomever it wants whenever and wherever it wants. The current drone debate makes that clear, and yet somehow President Obama gets a pass on that one.
The more I read about laws that make it illegal for anyone to "exceed authorized access" to a computer, it's clear that if some prosecutor somewhere wants an Aaron Swartz or a Bradley Manning locked up or dead, they can do so with impunity.
So it doesn't surprise me too much when the government decides to arrest and charge anyone, really. Recently then they arrested a 67-year-old guy who likes to grow his hair long. Why? For suggesting that some followers of his should go and cut the hair of other people who like to grow their hair long. Fifteen years he got for that. I'm not saying I'm a fan, but 15 years? Not one drop of blood spilled, and he gets what for him is a life sentence?
Swartz, by the way, died facing charges that he was taking theses available at major university libraries and making them available to others. He didn't do any hacking to do that, he just used a regular log-in.
Some actual hacker broke into the email account of a former president. That hacker hasn't been caught, that we know of, He may well be dead by now for all we know. But we do see via his work that President Bush, (43) -- the one accused of water-boarding governmental detainees -- has taken up painting and created two self-portraits, both of them while bathing.
This blog has been fairly dead for the last few months, but I do think about it nearly every day. It's just that my main job -- ironically at a business blogging service -- has been so busy of late. That's a good thing, but it's also meant some things have had to slip.
You can see plenty of me over there, and you can see me around in Boulder, where BlogMutt's Offices are found in the old Daily Camera building, or in Denver, where I live and try to participate in startup events, such as Denver Startup Week.
If you don't believe me, watch the first 20 seconds of this video:
I also didn't want to write too much here because I wanted the post below to stay at the top of the page. It's become something of a touchstone. I just don't think there's enough written about the lack of work ethic of a huge demographic swath, so I like the fact that the post below was front and center. It prompted some Millennials to write in telling me that I'm full of it, and a couple of others to promise to become productive BlogMutt writers. They haven't, of course. It's just like them to complain and then not do any actual work.
One curious thing happens when I don't blog much: I get more inquiries wondering if I'd be willing to sell this domain. Maybe I should, I mean, I'm not nearly active as others in this neighborhood.
But I do still like it, and it will be hard to get me to part with it.
Anyway, for my regular readers, thanks, keep in touch, and have a very happy new year!
I've tried extending opportunities to these Millennials. I dish it up for them, and all they have to do is a little bit of work and…
Disappointment. Every time.
A little background: I run a blog writing service. We write blogs for businesses. Those businesses are run by people who are just too busy to write their own blog posts.
I thought when I started this that we'd have two great sources of freelance writers to help do that writing: stay-at-home moms and recent grads. The moms, I figured, have a spare hour every now and again and they are smart and some of them are good writers. They just lack an opportunity to write for pay. Zillions of them write for no pay on their own blogs, and that's all fine, but in general those are only read by the people they are already friends with.
That part has worked out very well. Many of our best writers are busy moms who make time for Blogmutt customers.
The other category is college kids, or recent college grads. They, right now, are either working at a coffee shop, or not working at all and either way living in their parents' basements.
I've been there. When I graduated the economy sucked and journalism jobs were hard to find, but you could always find work somewhere and I ended up at the Durango Herald and had some of the best times of my life.
While the Herald is still there, the reality is that the entry-level jobs for writers are far fewer percentage-wise than they have been in generations. I know there's lots of writing being done, but my job at the Herald was "Staff Writer." How many jobs with that title are out there today? Not many.
So I figured that these young Americans would be interested in writing work. Our pay is right in line with the industry, and it would be a lot better than spending all day asking people if they want room for cream. Maybe they could even make enough to move out of their parents' house, get a place of their own.
I really did try to reach out. I would get myself an invitation to go speak to college students anywhere I could, and recently got what I thought would be a perfect invitation to a class specifically designed to help graduating seniors from what for now is still known as the J-school to find work after they graduate.
I then talked to them about the big idea in that video, that the most important thing is to work hard, to produce a body of work and to work regularly. As I looked around the room, I got a bunch of blank stares.
So I used the standard technique for engaging an audience, I started asking them questions. "Do any of you have anything lined up for after you graduate?"
After an uncomfortable silence, one of them asked, "You mean… a job?"
"I don't want to put boundaries on it," I said. "A job, an internship. Going into the Peace Corps. Anything in the works for after you graduate in a couple of months?"
More awkward silence.
I then pointed to one of them. "How about you?"
"Well, I hear there's lots of jobs in San Francisco, but my parents keep telling me that I'll get free room and board if I move back home to Minnesota."
So, out of this class of 35 people -- people who went to college to study writing, need experience in writing, and don't have anything at all lined up -- guess how many of them signed up to be writers? One. One guy was brave enough to apply. I put him into the system straight away. After a week he wrote one post. One. The writing was fine, the customer liked it. Nothing glamorous. The posts we write at Blogmutt remind me of the "briefs" I wrote every day when I worked at the Durango Herald. Nothing groundbreaking, just work.
But work, it appears, is not what Millennials do. I'm not alone in discovering this, by the way. I've had this conversation recently with a lawyer, a CPA, a cell phone exec, and others. They all say the same thing: I asked a new associate to do something recently and they told me "no." They told me they had volleyball or something. When I was their age I never said no.
This connected an important thread for me. I live by Wash Park and every weekday evening I see zillions of people in their 20s hanging out playing volleyball, drinking, having a grand old time. I've often wondered why there didn't use to be so many people hanging out in the park, especially people in their 20s. When this lawyer friend told me that about the associate who left work to play volleyball, it suddenly became clear: It used to be that young people worked. There was a time we were called "Yuppies" and that was short for Young Urban Professionals. There's nothing professional about the Millennials, so the term has just faded away.
Look, I don't have anything against volleyball. You want to be a professional volleyball player, that's great. Play all the time. If you want to be a writer you should be writing.
Now… I don't want to be scrooge. It's great that people can have some fun with friends, but you get good at the things you do. Read Malcolm Gladwell. If you spend a lot of time hanging out with friends doing nothing, that's what you'll get good at.
I don't totally blame Millennials. It was your parents who gave you a trophy for finishing fifth out of six teams in your soccer league. They are the ones who came to school every couple of days dropping hints about how brilliant you were. They were the ones who helicoptered over you. They are the ones who offer you free room and board if you move back home.
I was talking about this with a friend recently and heard about an office where parents regularly show up with their children to demand more for their children. This was not a middle or high school, or even a college office. This was the graduate job counseling office of a law school. These kids earn a law degree and still they have their mommies and daddies come with them to demand more from school because they deserve it because they are special! Is it the kids' fault for bringing those parents along, or is it the parents fault for going? Hey, there's plenty of blame to go around.
It was your parents who voted for Baby Boomer presidents (Clinton and GWB) who were just like them and those turned out to be the two worst presidents we've had since…
Yes, that's an interesting question. Since… I think, a similar pair in Wilson and Harding. Those were the ones, along with people of their generation, who were so self-absorbed and incompetent that they led us into the stupid first World War, left a screwed up Europe and eventually led us into the Great Depression. You know who got us out of the Great Depression and saved us from tyranny around the world? Well, now we call them the Greatest Generation. They don't like that title much. You know how they did all they did? There are still a few of them around, and they'll tell you if you ask them. They won't say they saved the world. What they will tell you is that all they did was work and work hard and work all the time and then work some more.
They did such a good job that they built America into this amazing powerhouse that could put a man on the moon, build the world's biggest and strongest middle class, survive Vietnam and Watergate. The only thing that they didn't do a great job on… was raising kids. Most of those kids were OK, but some of them were the classic Baby Boomers, the ones who wanted to take over because they had better hair. The classic Baby Boomers, I would say were Clinton and George W. Bush. And just like Wilson and Harding they were so self-absorbed and incompetent that they wrecked the economy and got us into another crappy war: the War on Terror. (Not taking anything away from the supremely awesome troops.)
Now before you say Clinton was not bad because the economy did so well while he was president, and we had peace, may I point out that he had many chances to get Bin Laden, and missed them all. He had a chance to stop the Enrons of the world, and didn't. The economy grew, but much of that growth was fueled by people cheating, and it was headed downhill at a pretty good clip when he was wrapping up.
But it sure did seem like things were going well with the economy for a while there under Clinton... so much so that your parents thought they wouldn't really have to work that hard, and that's a value that you picked up on. It turns out that the most important formative years of childhood that most affect your attitudes about money come when you are about 10-11 years old.
Do the math. If you are 24 right now it means that you were 10-11 in 1999, right when the economy was the most frothy. You "learned" that if you just have a good business plan -- Pet Food On The Internet! -- you could make a zillion dollars.
Well, you learned wrong. What you learned is the stuff that screwed us up. Luckily it's not going to get too bad. We're not going to let it. Who are we? We're Generation X, and we are a lot like the X Men. There aren't as many of us as there are of you, but we can do these amazing things that you simply can't do.
First thing we did was elect a non-Boomer president. Politics aside, that last election was between a borderline Gen Xer and a borderline member of the Greatest Generation. Both parties rejected the classic Boomers who were the early favorites.
Can you imagine if that election had been between Boomers John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani? <shudder>
Once the primaries were over, those that read about McCain learned that he's all Boomer in his views about how special he is because… well, you know, because he is. For me, the 2008 election was less about politics than it was about generations.
Boomers were all intent on replacing "The Man" with themselves because they really know how to change the world because they trust their gut. Xers ignore "The Man" and just go out and change the world. This is well laid out in the excellent X Saves the World, really the only book I've seen that lays out the case for how Gen X is quietly keeping the whole nation from a giant suck-fest that it would be if the Boomers and their Millennial offspring were left in charge.
The Boomers sure aren't going to save the world, for as much as they talk about it. It's us, we're going to save it by just showing up and working hard every day.
And as for you Millennials, well, Stop Whining! We're sick of you telling us about how you need to find your work meaningful. We're sick of you telling us about how you want balance. We're sick of you telling us that you can't work Thursday after 4 p.m. because you have your Ironic Polo Club. We're sick of you working somewhere for six weeks and then asking when you will be taking over as management. We're sick of it all.
And you know what we can't wait for? One point in time. That point will come when you realize that you are expendable. Right now you think that you should have all the things that come with hard work, and you should have them because you've always had them. (Soccer trophies!) You just don't want to do the work.
But here's the rude awakening that's coming: The next generation. Our kids. My son comes downstairs every morning and finds me working, and he often falls asleep to the sound of my typing. He's started two businesses, and he's 8. We sit and watch Shark Tank together and he has a dead-on sense of which businesses will get an offer, and which will not. He has dreams about my current business, Blogmutt, in which he's solving business problems.
That's right. In his sleep he's better than you are awake.
And he's not alone. An 11-year-old relative of mine recently asked me if I was sad about Whitney Houston, "Because she's from the 1900s, like you."
Pause, and take that in for a moment. "The. 1900s. … Like. You."
She's not from the 1900s, she's from this century. She'll see you, born the 1980s or 90s as being essentially the same as the Xers born in the 60s and 70s. We'll all be lumped in together, and so you know how she'll judge us?
By our work.
Have you invented Google? No. Then get back to work!
Now, sure, you will say that Millennials can work. Look at Instagram. Yes. Let's do. Those are not whiney kids, those are people who are smart and work hard. They said it themselves: They saw the "wantrepreneurs" all around them going to parties, hanging out around incubators playing video games, reading every story on TechCrunch and commenting on all the stories about how stupid an idea was and how unworthy it was of TechCrunch coverage. What were the Instagram guys doing while the Millennials sat around talking about changing the world? They were working. Solving problems. Focussing not on themselves but on their users.
Now, you may be asking how I can write such incendiary things. Three reasons:
First, I'm not worried about any Millennials reading this. If it's longer than a tweet, they can't handle reading it anyway and so they didn't make it this far. If they did read this far it's probably because they are one of the exceptions that are so amazing in part because they stand out so dramatically. Millennials like the "boys" pictured above working 14-hour days on an organic vegetable farm, or writers like Téa Obreht who taught herself English by watching bootlegged Disney movies and wrote every day for as long as she can remember. There are even a few entrepreneurs who show promise.
Second, Even if they did read this far they aren't able to do anything about it. It's like that scene from Bull Durham where Kevin Costner challenges the hot young pitcher to throw the ball right at his chest. The pitcher says he'll kill him, but Costner knows the guy won't come close. He doesn't, either.
Lastly, Let's say there's one Millennial out there who's read this far, is outraged at what I say, and decides that he or she needs to prove me wrong, so that person goes to sign up as a Blogmutt writer and writes 100s of great posts for dozens of different Blogmutt clients.
This is the blog for my personal life, but because my personal life these days is pretty much all Blogmutt all the time (with the support and encouragement of my wonderful wife and super son) I'm going to share some news about the best blog writing service on four paws!
The first is that Blogmutt will be presenting at the Angel Capital Summit this coming Thursday. If you happen to be in Denver and are interested in coming by, please let me know. It should be plenty of fun. I'll be talking up Blogmutt, of course, but also the Founder Institute, which is gearing up for a fabulous third session in Denver this summer. It should be just as good as the first one, or the second one.
That pitch from Blogmutt will come on the heels of a flurry of activity on our profile on Angel.co, where Blogmutt was a "trending topic."
But I'm writing today mainly to put in one place three guest posts published recently in three different places.
All three are part of our thus-far relatively low key way of getting the word out about Blogmutt, and it seems to be working. We continue to grow about 10-15 percent per month in paying customers, in part because our current customers seem to stick with us month after month.
The first of the three was a blog post that was inspired by a tweet about the difference between social media tactics and social media strategy. The basic premise is that there's a difference between landscape architecture and good lawn mowing, and similarly there's a difference between social media strategy and social media execution.
It wasn’t that long ago that it was kind of a thing if you hired a lawn service. “Oh! Look at Mr. Fancy Pants, too busy to mow his own lawn!” That thinking is now as widespread as eating TV dinners while watching Dallas. People get help with their lawn because they’d rather spend their precious time with their family instead of cursing at the lawnmower.
Now you’ll notice, most people don’t yank out their grass and put in plastic, as noted above, they just hire someone who’s good at mowing grass, they pay them a fair price, and call it done.
I loved writing that if only because it allowed me to link to a post that I refer to every couple of weeks, the Cult of Done. Love it.
The second post was the culmination of months of back-and-forth, but that turned out OK. When I first proposed a guest post for the Startup America Partnership it was still hosted on a long and unwieldy domain. They switched to the slick: s.co, and then the Blogmutt post appeared. In that one I got to practice a little bit of contained schizophrenia, urging startups to "Go it alone!" and "Do NOT go it alone!" Thanks so much to the Startup America team for including that blog post.
The third post was truly satisfying in one key way. We keep talking about the power of crowdsourcing, so we got to sing the praises of crowdsourcing right on Crowdsourcing.org. The way this was more satisfying than the others was that we got to practice what we preach and the leading writer (using our internal point system) at Blogmutt wrote this story for us. Here's a clip from the post, written by the amazing Ruth Bremer:
As a writer in the Blogmutt crowd — or “pack,” as we like to say around here — I win too. The crowdsourcing model provides a unique opportunity to do something I enjoy and improve my skills without giving up flexibility. I just don’t have room in my life for a bunch of tight deadlines and external pressure. Blogmutt gives me the chance to gain paid writing experience on my own schedule.
With a wide variety of clients to choose from, I get to learn and write about all sorts of interesting topics — but since I’m part of a crowd, I know that if I can’t come up with something for a particular client one week, another writer will step up to do it. I can also take time off without giving it a second thought. I write only as much as I want, but as it turns out, that’s quite a lot. My biggest problem now is carving out time to write more blog posts. Because the other “win” about writing for Blogmutt is that it’s just really, really fun.
When I tell non-writers that the writers really enjoy Blogmutt, the response is sometimes disbelief. But I am a writer and if I wasn't so darn busy running a company, I'd really enjoy working in just the environment that Ruth describes.
I enjoy writing, but I'm also really enjoying creating a place where writers get to just write and do nothing else, and where customers can get blogging done!
"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:
Wonks like Shawn Mitchell are right that if Santorum is the nominee Obama will probably win all 50 states, and,
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
If someone tells me to take this down, I probably will because I'm a wimp, but for now here it is. It had a byline of -- who else -- Paul Carr.
UPDATE: now it appears to be working, so I'll be editing this post shortly, but in case it goes down again, here's the original post:
NEW UPDATE: It still appears to be up, but someone wrote to me and said thanks for posting because it was down for them.
LAST UPDATE: OK, I'm pretty sure it's working, but I've gotten a couple of other notes of thanks for doing this so I'll just leave it up until someone tells me that I'm doing something wrong. For sure you should try to click the regular link so that Paul and TechCrunch get all the credit, etc. This is the post as it appeared in my RSS feed:
by Paul Carr
Oh boy. At this point, even the shit-show is becoming a shit-show. According to Dan Primack at Fortune, Mike Arrington has been fired by AOL. My inbox is full of emails from journalists, friends and total strangers — all asking if I can explain what’s going on. The vast majority of those correspondents are clearly hoping for a mass walk-out of writers if Mike is really gone. The Atlantic is already predicting what might happen post-walkout.
Meantime, Mike has gone to ground — presumably somewhere in his fortified Seattle compound — although with apparently as little idea as any of us what the final outcome will be. Primack’s story says it’s a fait accompli, while others say the situation is “still developing”. I spoke to a senior staffer at TCHQ yesterday who told me “No-one knows anything. It’s bizarre. Surreal.”
TechCrunch lives or dies on its editorial independence. Right now, that means TechCrunch — in the person of its founding editor — must be allowed to pick its next Editor In Chief. Arianna Huffington has made clear that she wants Mike gone and TechCrunch to be assimilated into Huffington Post, under her direct control. That means whoever she might pick as “editor” will be little more than an avatar for her; a cardboard cut-out installed to do her bidding. That’s so ridiculously unacceptable a situation that the idea makes me feel physically sick. It will be the death of TechCrunch and everything we’ve all worked for these past years.
Sure, the brand will live on — and as long as we keep writing about cool apps we’ll probably still get amazing traffic. But traffic and a famous domain name is not why I — or most of the TechCrunch staff and editors I’ve spoken to in the past few days — came to work here. As Fred Wilson wrote earlier today: “TechCrunch also has a voice, a swagger, a “fuck you” attitude that comes from Mike… They need to keep the remaining team, the voice, and that attitude if they want to remain at the top of the world of tech media.” Damn fucking right.
Presumably, given how much TechCrunch and AOL both have riding on the success of next week’s Disrupt conference, an announcement as to TechCrunch’s future leadership must be imminent. I’m not going to speak for the other members of the team, but my own position is clear: unless Mike Arrington appoints his own successor, guaranteeing that TechCrunch retains its editorial independence, I’m gone. Done. Out of the door.
Ceding control to the Huffington Post will be the death of everything — the voice, the swagger, the “fuck you” attitude — that makes TechCrunch great; and I’m not going to stay around to watch that happen.
Ok, glad to have cleared that up. Now I’m going for lunch.
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.
Not 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 theeventsof 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.
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:
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.
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.)
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!
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.")
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.
This blog is not for my usual followers (Hi, Mom!). This is just the handiest place to put this tool. This will only be useful for startup companies with a beta invite list. I looked around a lot and none of the Customer Relationship Management tools work for what I needed, which is to track the people who've signed up to be early "beta" customers or users of a new product.
So, in true start-up fashion, I built one. Here it is:
Feel free to use this and download it here. The rub is that you can't just save a copy and then start using it, you have to download it as Excel and then upload it back into Google Docs. (I suppose you could just use it in Excel, but... Ewww.) If someone knows a way to get around that with Google Docs, let me know.
I have to give major props here to the team at BetaLi.st. They are the ones who did the heavy lifting of making it possible for anyone to quickly launch an excellent beta list signup tool. My spreadsheet is just a way of taking the results of that and turning it into a CRM pipeline. If Salesforce.com didn't suck so much, and one of the promising new entries in the world of online CRM would add this feature -- I'm looking at you, Capsule -- I wouldn't have had to do this, but here we are. Luckily, in this crazy world, just about anyone can suddenly become a niche CRM venture.
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.
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.
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, Alexia, Leena 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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…
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.
When I tell people that I wrote a book called The Future of Water, they usually say, “Meh. [pause] Sounds dry.”
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.
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.
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.
Today is the official publication day for the book I wrote for the American Water Works Association and Steve Maxwell: The Future of Water.
Today is also the day we are starting a poll to help us find a new logo for the company I founded with Wade Green: BlogMutt.
Amazon almost ruined the whole thing!
It turns out that a disturbingly large part of my life is tied up with Amazon right now. I don't make a percentage of sales for the book, so I'm not super obsessed with checking sales stats on Amazon, but I've made a living as a writer or writing consultant for a long time, so being on Amazon is a big deal for me.
Amazon.com was actually fine. I was only worried about it because Amazon Web Services went down yesterday. I knew that because of the other big part of my life today: BlogMutt. We are super early in the process of launching BlogMutt, so early that we only really have a couple of things right now, including a logo that Wade and I designed, and a beta sign-up form.
Because the internet is cool, we didn't have to make our own sign-up form, we let the inventive team at betali.st do it. Because that team didn't want to have to provision their own server and go through all those headaches, they signed up for Amazon Web Services. We are also developing in part on a site called "heroku" and that site, too, went down. (It's up today, with a promise of being "rock solid.")
A zillion newish web companies use Amazon's cloud, lured in by Amazon's message. In short, Amazon says that it got so good at cloud computing running Amazon.com that it wants to sell that ability. Small companies can tell themselves that they are getting the same kind of reliability that Amazon has for itself.
It turns out that while all animals are equal, some animals are a bit more equal. The cloud that Amazon sells to others is not quite as equal as the cloud it uses to sell stuff.
For me, if I had to choose, I would have rather seen my own book site unavailable on the date the book goes on sale and be able to keep going with BlogMutt. That way maybe people would wait on buying the book until they can do so in person at the Denver Press Club on May 5. That way I'd get to see those people and say thanks. Today is the publication day, what's sometimes known as "The calm before the calm."
(As a small side-note: I'm surprised that nobody in the dead tree press or even a blog that I can find have pointed out that the cloud problem hurt the cloud customers, but not Amazon.com itself. It was my first question, and I wasn't alone. Brad Feld asked, and so far I'm the only one who answered. One other even smaller side note... Whenever there's a widespread internet outage, Skynet jokes are sure to follow, especially when it happens on Judgement Day. I was relieved when Quora did not come back from its Amazon-induced nap to ask only one question: "Where is Sarah Connor?")
The good news is that the internet seems to have worked through it's funk. Also, it's Good Friday, the middle of Passover, the day after Skynet did not attack us and Earth Day. It's also the day that Alfalfa's reopens in Boulder, so now you can get this song stuck in your head the way it's been stuck in my head all day:
So it seems like a good of a day as any to launch our logo survey for BlogMutt.
We will launch the site itself soon enough, but for the logo I need your help. Our logo has served us well in our nascent stages. We made this one ourselves using a picture of the Yates family dog, Professor Beuregard Thibodeaux Tagalong "Buddy" Yates the 122nd. (Quinn, now 7, thought the "122nd" made his name sound better.) Anyway, the logo now is cute, but we need something more professional that will look good on coffee mugs and other tchotchkes, as well as on a smart phone, etc. So take a quick look here and let me know what you think:
(If there is no graphic with a bunch of logos above these words, there's some glitch. Click here to take the poll, it's one page with eight choices.)
Thank you very much for taking that poll, and thanks for reading. Spring is here!
I fully admit that I'm a language geek. I really try not to be a jerk about it, instead just expressing joy in the times that language is used well.
"Penultimate" is a word that I most often see or hear misused, usually to mean something like "the most ultimate." There's also an iPad app by that name, which appears to be something related to a "pen."
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.(!)
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.
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.
The whole Wikileaks event is fascinating on so many levels. There's been ton's of great coverage. I've read lots of it, but there's one thing that hasn't really been said: This seems like essentially a generational issue, yet another sign that the world is changing fast and the Hey-man-let's-change-the-world Boomers are the ones standing in the way of history.
Let me explain.
For all the hand-wringing, the actual upshot of the leaks has been... zilch. No covert operatives have been frogmarched down the streets of Moscow or Beijing. No foreign secretaries have been sacked.
(In the funniest tweet I've seen in a long time, my old Spy Magazine colleague Nell Scovell said: "WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange thinks Hillary Clinton should resign. Does he know NOTHING about the Clintons???")
Clinton, of course, will not resign and neither will anyone else. If anyone was harmed even a little, all the governments and journalists so outraged about the leaks would point to that harm as an example of why the leaks are so dangerous. They've got nothing.
The only reason they are so upset is that they like keeping their little secrets. It makes them feel important. So far, however, the leaks show that the government of Russia is corrupt (Say it aint so!) and in most cases that diplomats have done a pretty good job. If all this stuff hadn't been leaked information, this "news" would be classified as "not news."
How is all this related to startups? I recently saw a presentation from one of the best startup guys working these days: Eric Ries. Ries is an advocate of taking the absolute minimum product that you can create and putting it on the web so you can see if and how people will use it. Then you learn your lessons, iterate quickly and keep moving. Someone asked him how it was possible to do this without alerting your competition to what it is you are doing.
Reis' answer was spot-on. In essence, he said that your competition is just busy trying to do whatever it is they are doing, and really won't be paying much attention to what a startup is trying to do in the same space. He said that you could actually take all the code you've written and send it to your closest competitor, and the chances are that they really wouldn't know what to do with it. So don't worry about them, Ries said, worry about your biggest challenge, which is to just do a good job of figuring out what your customers want and providing it to them.
So it is with all these "secrets" that are now out. They are only secret because of the legacy of the positions the people hold who are doing the communicating.
That's why I say this is a generational issue. People over 45 or so have this assumption that all communication is private. Gen Xers and younger -- the people who regularly post on the 'net where they are eating lunch -- understand that all communication is essentially public.
The reason there's been so much handwringing among the older parts of the media is that they liked the world back in the day when they, and they alone, would get to see all the private stuff and publicize it when they felt that it was interesting. The gatekeepers are just not that useful any more. What's useful is a search engine that allows anyone interested to find what they are looking for.
For those of you keeping score at home, gatekeepers are the Boomers, and search engines are from Gen X.
The person who allegedly provided all those cables to Wikileaks? A kid. The one calling for that kid to be executed? A presidential candidate, a boomer, who cloaks himself in Christianity. (Hypocrisy infects all generations, but its most friendly host is the Baby Boomer.)
So just remember these two things: First, if you really want something to be private, don't put it on the 'net. Second, ask yourself why you want it to be private. Chances are that if you try to keep it private, it will just make really boring stuff that much more sensational.
I 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.
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:
The Usual Suspects
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.
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.
Oh, one more thing, having nothing to do with anything, but I couldn't resist.
Consider these pictures in this order:
Those of you that had teenage crushes crushed... Sorry.
I am not a prescriptionist. I embrace a living language as much as any modern lexicographer.
I'm also not a hater. When George W. Bush had nary a friend in the world, I still wanted him to do well because I wanted the country to do well.
And when he coined the word "Misunderestimate" I went along. The word filled a hole in the language, and was a clever mash-up. It also sort of summed up his presidency.
Now comes Sarah Palin.
In a tweet, she called on her tweeps to "refudiate" something.
First: To her credit, it's clear that she types her own tweets. That's good.
(The alternate thought, that she has someone so inept with language working for her as a writer, is simply too horrible to imagine.)
Second: She saw it was a mistake and pulled the offense to the language. Good for her.
Third: She compounded the error in the worst way possible, tweeting this:
"Refudiate," "misunderestimate," "wee-wee'd up." English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!
OK, just to be clear: "Refudiate" may have started life as a malaprop, just as with misunderestimate, but it will die there. It's not a new concept and it doesn't have any kind of clear meaning the way that misunderestimate does.
Misunderestimate is clear from the word itself. Does "refudiate" mean to refuse to repudiate, or to repudiate more? I suppose it might creep into the language incorrectly (see irregardless, penultimate, etc.), but I don't think it will. At least I hope not.
"Repudiate" is a fine word. As with all strong verbs, it carries any sentence smartly. "Refudiate" is risible.
Palin's worst offense against language, however, is her invocation of Shakespeare. You can almost see the little hamster wheel spinning in Palin's head here: She learned -- during one of her brief interludes at one of her sundry institutions of higher learning -- that the Bard coined many of the words he wrote. She hung on to that little factoid for a moment just such as this.
I can just... see her... sitting in the back of class... twirling her hair while languorously doodling strings of made-up words on the construction-paper cover of Introduction to English Literature. She hears that Shakespeare invented words and then spends the rest of the class thinking about how she is just like him but she is trapped in the cruel world of academia -- until a squirrel went by outside the window.
What she missed in that class is that there was no dictionary to consult for Shakespeare. The language had no guide then. If he wanted to write about a character who was something less pernicious than "cheap" he needed to invent "frugal."
So, I say that we repudiate "refudiate" except in one very narrow sense: If we find a person using the language improperly, and then claiming the mantle of Shakespeare in becoming a faux-neologist, I say that we rise up and refudiate that person in the strongest terms possible.
OK, the DPS School Board has approved another set of changes to the calendar.
I know some of you are readers of this blog for the DPS Calendar alone. The PDF from DPS isn't very user-friendly, so now I'm in my second or maybe third year of making one that works for families using any of the digital tools.
So, the changes are here. The biggest news is that there are no more of the "Late Start" or "Early Release" days. Also the winter break grew by another day. In all, the calendar is much less confusing than it had been before, but that 4-day weekend in the middle of September will be here before you know it so make sure it's in your calendar!
Just so it's clear: This is the work of one parent only, just doing my part for the digital world. If you have any suggestions or comments or whatever, please contact me.
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.
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!
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.)
Those of you who have known me for some time probably have heard me talk about my niece Hannah. I typically don't share a lot of personal stuff on this blog, even though Hannah is one of a huge number of amazing relatives, but I wanted to share this story for one reason: The Children's Hospital of Denver is an amazing place.
Hannah has recently been selected as an "ambassador" for Children's. Among other things that means that my sister will occasionally give a short speech at events for the hospital. She shared that speech with me, and now with her permission I'm sharing it here:
Hannah's story, as told by her mom
My story started out in the totally normal way: I had all the usual amazement of my huge belly during a normal nine months of pregnancy. Childbirth was amazing and magical for me, but totally routine by hospital standards.
Hannah's first nine months were delightful. I still remember that during that time the most troubling medical condition I was worried about was that she stuck her tongue out so much. I actually thought I would ask the doctor about that a few months later during her one-year checkup.
We never had that checkup. By the time Hannah turned one she had a raft of doctors, and her tongue was not an issue for any of them.
It all started one January day. We were going to a lunch date, and Hannah fell asleep during the long drive, something I was happy about because it was part of her regular nap routine. As recommended by everyone, she was in a rear-facing car seat.
Then something went wrong with my car. It had always been a reliable car, so I was pretty annoyed that I had to pull over. Looking back, I will always be thankful that the car did break down, and I wonder if someone upstairs caused the car trouble, because when I got out, what I saw made my heart sink. She had thrown up, and her eyes were rolling back into her head. Her head was swaying back and forth in a totally unnatural way. I knew immediately that something was wrong. Really wrong.
Hannah woke up some but still wasn't herself. A friend drove us up to Hannah’s pediatrician. After a couple of hours, he sent us to a nearby hospital.
Before we went for that drive, Hannah was a normal, active, nine-month-old. Now she was barely able to stay awake.
The hospital did everything they could think of to help my baby: MRI, Cat scan, Spinal Tap, Oxygen, IV, Blood draws, ect… But nothing seemed to work and she seemed to be getting worse, not better. At this point Hannah was near the point of going into a coma. She had blue lips and black circles under her eyes. With nothing else they could do, the hospital ordered us an ambulance and sent Hannah to Children’s Hospital of Denver.
It was late at night. We got settled in the NICU (neonatal intentensive care unit). Then a couple of hours later I noticed someone in a uniform watching Hannah closely. All of a sudden all the lights came on bright. Around 10 people in uniforms surrounded Hannah’s bed while a nurse took me to the side and said that my baby wasn’t breathing on her own. She told me that they were going to stick a tube down herthroat. The tube would be hooked to a ventilator which was a machine that would push air in and out for Hannah. Hannah went back to sleep, but I could barely hold her hand for all the equipment around her.
The next day, Hannah became a little more responsive. With this energy she did what all kids in that situation do, she kept trying to rip the tubing out of her mouth. The tubing that was keeping her alive. The nurses explained to me that they had to tie Hannah’s hands to the bed posts to keep this from happening. So then I could only hold her hand as she looked up at me, trying to understand why she was in such misery. I fought to hold back tears in front of her.
Then began a parade of specialists. Every day or so a Neurologist, or an Oncologist, or a Hematologist would come in, examine her, ask me questions, and order tests. Then we would wait for the results of the tests. Every time the results came back negative. She didn't have something that could be cured with surgery or pills, but she still just wasn't breathing enough.
During this time, I never left the hospital. I was by Hannah’s side, or sleeping in the mother’s room in the hospital. Family members and friends came, and we cried many tears in the visitors rooms, and then I would go back and hold Hannah's hand and try to smile, read books, and make things seem as normal as possible for a girl tied down to a bed with massive amounts of tubes and wires everywhere, and strange lights and alarms all around.
After everything else had been ruled out, Hannah's attending doctor in the NICU, Dr.Moroney, had THE talk with us. He said that he spent some time at home on his day off and might have finally found what was causing Hannah's breathing troubles. He figured out that she had a rare disease called Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (CCHS). It is sometimes called Ondine's Curse, named after an ancient myth about a curse in which the subject can only breath while awake. If the person goes to sleep, they die.
Dr. Maroney explained that in his research he found this disease was so rare that there were about 400 people in the world who had it. Some needed a ventilator to help them breath at night, others 24/7. There was no cure, he told us. Hannah would need a tracheotomy, and a ventilator, and she will likely need a ventilator for the rest of her life. He said that this would be a life long marathon for us, not a sprint.
This was certainly bad news, but in some ways I was also relieved. I know knew what the path was to "normal" for Hannah, and I wanted to get on that path. I wanted the surgery to cut a hole in Hannah's throat as soon as possible, and I wanted to move on.
The Children's Hospital worked hard and got Hannah an appointment that Friday. Some of you may know the pain you go through when your baby is wheeled into surgery. Although putting in a trach is a very easy surgery, the clock ticking and tickling and ticking is almost unbearable.
Hannah made it through with flying colors and by the next day, Hannah was visibly coming back to life. She started looking and seeing me again. She started moving her legs, tracking people and actually smiling. She seemed so happy not to have a tube stuck down her throat anymore.
At the time, my baby had so much tubing connected to her that it was hard to hug her. But on the next day, Sunday, our nurse, Laurie, took the time (and I mean time) to get Hannah situated enough to let me hold her for the first time in weeks. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.
Then we were moved to a recovery room. Before we had witnessed the brilliance of Children's Hospital in keeping Hannah alive, diagnosing her rare condition, and laying out a plan to get home. In the recovery room, however, we started enjoying the magnificence of Children’s Hospital. Almost every day Hannah would get a present from the volunteer department. Sometimes it would be a huge stuffed animal. Sometimes it would be a box of crayons and a coloring book. The hospital had game rooms where Hannah and I could go and play games, or play with playdough. Once a clown came in to visit.Once a cheerleader came in to give Hannah a necklace. The magic of the Children’s made the next few weekssurvivable.
Those few weeks were filled with specialists, each training all of Hannah's family how to care for our baby with this new reality. We had lessons on mechanical gear that would keep Hannah alive. We had swallow tests, function tests, ventilator tests, CO2 tests. We had the most incredible, amazing, gifted, caring staff in the world that worked with us and with Hannah, and taught us howto take care of our daughter. We had a lot ofhigh tech gear, but we always felt confident with the support of the hospital and especially for us the pulmonary department.
As the years have progressed, the pulmonary, ENT and the sleep lab doctors and nurses have become, at times, as important as our family. I would do anything to support the hospital and the people who gave my daughter back her life.
Now Hannah is a healthy, intelligent, lovely, gifted and amazing girl. She still has a trach, but it's now attached with a string that looks a little like pearls. We girls do love to accessorize. She still needs some extra care, of course, but she can actually hook up her vent herself each night, and we talk with Children's Hospital Staff all the time about how to help her develop and grow into her full potential. I'm confident she will grow into a bigger and better version of the wonderful girl she is now.
One time not too long ago, I asked an expectant mom if she was having a boy or a girl. She said she didn't know, and wasn't planning on finding out. She said she'll be happy as long as the baby is healthy. I thought -- but didn't say -- that it will be OK even if the baby isn't healthy. It's not easy, but you can still be very, very happy. I know I am, and I know Hannah is, too.
And just so you know, Hannah still sticks her tongue out a lot, and I never did ask the doctor about that.
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.
It was just a year ago that Google announced Google Wave. The anticipation about the product was huge, as there was this promise that somehow Communication was going to be Better.
I certainly bought into that, and even started covering Google Wave. Then it came out in a limited way, and the buzz built up to a fever pitch. Then people started using it and the backlash began. Now it's fashionable to publicly mock Wave.
As for me, I'm still hopeful that Wave will improve communications a great deal. The more we think about how broken much of our communication is today, the more solutions built in or around or similar to Wave will make all kinds of sense.
I see a similar pattern coming down the path with Google TV. Right now the interest is red-hot among the tech folks. The TV people will be paying close attention. In the fall it will build up among consumers and then after the Google TV from Sony comes out... the Backlash. The price will be too high, the interface wobbly, the search results will be troubled. (Indeed, that even happened during the demo, as in the picture below from TechCrunch. MILF? Really?)
And just like with Wave, next year at the I/O conference, or perhaps even earlier, there will be some modifications announced. There will be even more openness. Little by little and then big step by big step, developers around the world will begin to figure out solutions that make sense on Google TV.
So, there you have it: A handy guide to the next 12 months of the hype cycle.
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:
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."
“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.
I actually knew that sign. My wife's family is in Pasadena, and I've driven under that sign many times, and I remember thinking that it didn't seem like it followed Federal Interstate Highway sign standards. I never said anything, thinking California maybe had its own rules. I also didn't want her family to think I was a total traffic nerd.
Now the truth is out: The sign was non-conforming!!!!
Anyway, even though CalTrans knew about the citizen's modification, they didn't do anything about it because they knew that his fix made the sign better. When they finally fixed the sign themselves, they essentially incorporated his modification.
That guy had guts.
I was able to get one sign changed on the Interstate Highway system back in 2004, but I did it the old-fashioned way: lobbying Colorado's DOT to do the work for me.
At the time, I was operating MyTrafficNews, and a bunch of readers wrote in to tell me that a new and nearly constant traffic jam we were reporting about was not the fault of traffic, it was the fault of a sign. The story was that at the end of one highway a new sign gave people a choice of going north or south, but the sign telling people to exit on the right was to the left of the sign telling people to exit to the left. The result was drivers trying to merge suddenly at the last second when the realized they were in the wrong lane.
CDOT, to their credit, had a crew fix the sign within a week or so of our campaign.
We had lots of fun with signs at MyTrafficNews. When a truck hit one of those Variable Message Signs, leaving it dangling and threatening -- as we wrote at the time -- to turn a Pontiac into a pancake, we jumped to action. First, we did our best to alert people, as the sign that was designed to help traffic instead made traffic horrible for half the city for an entire day. ("Don't these signs take a Hippocratic oath?" we wrote at the time.)
Then, we wondered what the sign would say if it could make its own message on that day. In haiku.
All signs looking down Gridlock is all around me I must blame myself
The story has only speculation, and the whole notion of URL shorteners is a weird one that I think we will look back on like we look back on "baud rate" now. Somehow I think the internet will figure out a way to eliminate the need for those soon enough.
But for now, it's a new bit of fun attention being paid to our little corner of the internet.
I'm a big fan of politics, and of movies, and I often think about politics in terms of what makes for a good plot.
The health care bill makes for a great plot. (Lots and lots of others will argue about if it's good policy, I won't do that here.)
First you have the whole political back story, the failure of Hillarycare. Now HRC is nowhere to be seen near HCR. Even a trip that she planned for the President had to be scrubbed so that he could push health care reform to home base.
But that's a minor backstory compared to the personal one: I really get the feeling that this fight was deeply personal for the president.
My thoughts turned to my mother and her final days, after cancer had spread through her body and it was clear that there was no coming back. She had admitted to me during the course of her illness that she was not ready to die; the suddenness of it all had taken her by surprise, as if the physical world she loved so much had turned on her, betrayed her. And although she fought valiantly, endured the pain and chemotherapy with grace and good humor to the very end, more than once I saw fear flash across her eyes. More than fear of pain or fear of the unknown, it was the sheer loneliness of death that frightened her, I think.
Clearly this was emotionally charged stuff, and while it's possible to get angry at cancer, cancer itself doesn't make a very good bad guy. Insurance companies make excellent bad guys. Here's what he said during the campaign in Dayton, Ohio, October 9, 2008:
This issue is personal for me. My mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 53, and I'll never forget how she spent the final months of her life lying in a hospital bed, fighting with her insurance company because they claimed that her cancer was a pre-existing condition and didn't want to pay for treatment. If I am president, I will make sure those insurance companies can never do that again.
Think about that as you look at that picture above. To whom is his gaze rising?
He hasn't mentioned his mother in the speeches from recent days that I've seen, but I can see her looking at him in everything that he is doing, using the tools that movies have to pull off such things. And him looking back.
Consider this passage taken from his remarks the day before the final vote: "Every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself." Sure, we all have good hopes for ourselves, but nobody has higher hopes for us than our mothers. I think President Obama swore to fight back against those who dashed the hopes of his mother and made her suffer with such indignity. And he did.
Look, I'm not saying this was a giant Oedipal play, or that President Obama has an unhealthy grudge. Remember, the best movies become great when the hero does something that saves the world AND rescues the girl or saves his family at the same time.
There are dozens of examples, but Field of Dreams comes to mind for me. Remember watching that for the first time? You had no idea that Ray Kinsella was saving his relationship with his dad until it suddenly became clear that of course he was saving his relationship with his dad, and saving the reputation of Shoeless Joe and, by the way, Following Your Dreams, Farming and America's Love Affair With Baseball to boot.
Remember? Remember near the end when Shoeless Joe tells Ray, "If you build it, he..." nodding toward the catcher "...will come." Ray stands up, and says, "Oh, my God" and tells his wife that it is his father. You can see the lump rising in his throat. (I felt it rising in my own throat, I still do just writing about it.)
Ray then says a line that baseball fans can all appreciate for its profundity, even though he is so choked up he can barely whisper it: "Say it ain't so, Joe."
Joe responds, "I'm afraid it is, kid." Ray then quotes one of the lines from the corn that moved him to build the field, "Ease his pain" and begins to understand that it wasn't Joe's pain, but his father's pain. Joe then says, sounding a lot like The Voice in the final command from the field, "Go the distance."
Then the clip below picks up, but the part that's most related to President Obama is above.
Update: Brad Feld/Jim Franklin just linked to this post, so I thought it might be a good idea to include an update. I'm now a Founder Institute graduate, and I've seen many TechStars company up close, and I agree with Brad/Jim that they are both great programs, and it's worth checking them both out. Note that the deadlines are for last year, they are different this year. Other than that, this guide is still helpful, I hope. -Scott
Colorado is going to have a great summer; the weather will be awesome and there are lots of great chances to hear music, hike, etc. That's always been the case.
What's new is that there will be two startup accelerators (we don't call them incubators any more.) The big kid on the block is TechStars, which has a track record that is getting up into the Harlem Globetrotter realm for win percentage. The program has done so well that it has expanded, but the Boulder program is the bedrock. Anyone interested in the tech scene in Colorado can tell you the energy and enthusiasm from the companies working in "The Bunker" is infectious.
I'm also now excited about another entrant, the Founder Institute, which was founded by legendary starup guy Adeo Ressi, who started TheFunded, a pretty disruptive (in a good way) site in the VC world. Adeo started that after a string of successful exits.
He's also landed a big name to be the lead mentor for the Denver version of Founder Institute, Jon Nordmark of eBags fame.
Well, the answer lies in one of the items in the grid below. I'm busy enough with my other projects that it would be hard for me to get to Boulder every day for three months. Also, I don't really have an idea that fits into the TechStars motif, and I also don't have a co-founder. Most of the TechStars teams are just that: teams.
So I will be be attending the classes, and I have a new business idea that may fit perfectly into the Founder Institute system, but Adeo keeps saying that with Founder Institute it's really all about the Founder, and not about the idea. I've heard David Cohen say similar things about TechStars, but the application does ask several questions about the business plan, market, and the like. Even if the plan changes during TechStars, it's clear most of those accepted go in with a plan. I'll be going into Founder Institute with just the vague outline of a business idea.
There are other accelerators around the country, and they are getting plenty of attention, but I can't think of a better place to be than Colorado in the summertime.
Bottom line, Colorado is going to be an amazing place to start a company this year. If you want to be part of it, now is the time to check it out. No matter what your situation, there's an accelerator ready and waiting for you here. You just need to apply!
The two biggest bits of news are that I am writing a book, and I've been accepted to the Founder Institute.
First the book...
The American Water Works Association has been wanting to do a book for while that looks forward to all the changes coming over the next few decades in the world of water. So, the people there created a team of Steve Maxwell and me. Steve knows the water business inside and out, and AWWA is not just an association of water providers, it really is the authoritative resource on safe water. I bring to the team my skills at making complicated topics accessible.
One thing I know for sure already: The way we think about water will be changing -- radically -- over the next 30-50 years. You probably don't really think about water much right now. Most people don't. The ways that we've handled water over the last 50 years, however, just won't work over the next 50, and that's why so many radical changes are coming.
I'll work hard to make sure this will not be a depressing book, but it should be eye-opening.
So watch this space for an announcement about when you'll be able to pick up your own copy of The Future of Water. If all goes well, it should hit bookshelves this fall.
The institute is sort of like the awesome TechStars, or a few others, but
instead of asking participants to to quit whatever they are doing and
subsist on pizza and Red Bull for six months, it allows people to keep
their day jobs while a new company gets rolling.
They are launching a Denver version, and I've been accepted as a
founder. (I'm guessing I'll be older than the average student, and have founded two
companies already, but I like the concept of this school so I will be
participating gladly. I look at it a bit like continuing education, with a bunch of great potential side benefits depending on the kind of company I decide to start.)
I'm sure I'll have much more to report about that in the months to come.
In addition to those two big things, I'm also fiddling around with some other concepts:
I'm working with an excellent Denver web design shop on an idea that has the potential to substantially improve the employer-employee relationship around the world. Can't say more now, but it could be revolutionary, and a great thing for workers and manager everywhere. Stay tuned.
I created an easy to use Applicant Tracking System. A lot of businesses just get flooded with resumes when they post a job, and they don't have a way to handle all of the applications. Many of them just use a spreadsheet. So, I invented a quick and easy way to keep track of all the applications. I've never created a page and tried to have it ad supported, so this is my small experiment with that.
I may have a small but explosively cool new application emerging in time for Earth Day. That one will be fun.
There are a few other projects in the works. By my next report three months from now, I'll tell you all about them!
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.
I just finished updating the DPS calendar for next school year.
This year they actually released it at a reasonable time, and didn't wait until well into February (after most summer camps require a deposit) to let us know when school would start.
I do this each year for myself, not wanting to refer to the ridiculously obtuse official calendar. (Do green-and-black checkerboards mean early release and blue octagons mean assessment day, or is it the other way around?) Last year I figured it could help a lot of other parents, so that's why I post it here on my blog. If there's something I can do to make it more useful, please let me know.