World’s oldest man, WWI veteran dies

I wrote about the last American WWI veteran, Frank Buckles, in a post last year. When you read about these men you can’t help but realize that our modern world really is pretty young. Modern transportation, communications, energy, and of course high tech are all inventions of the 20th century; it must be extraordinary to have been witness to so many of those inventions.

Born June 6, 1896, during the reign of Queen Victoria, Allingham would later recall sitting on his grandfather’s shoulders waving a flag for King Edward VII’s coronation in 1902. Transportation was horse drawn, coal was the primary fuel, street lighting was gas and in the financial heart of London, there was same-day mail delivery.

[From World’s oldest man, WWI veteran dies – Yahoo! News]

Cloud Computing and the Morning After

I just read a very interesting op-ed about the opportunities and hazards of cloud computing and it resonated with me on several levels.

Some are in plain view. If you entrust your data to others, they can let you down or outright betray you. For example, if your favorite music is rented or authorized from an online subscription service rather than freely in your custody as a compact disc or an MP3 file on your hard drive, you can lose your music if you fall behind on your payments — or if the vendor goes bankrupt or loses interest in the service. Last week Amazon apparently conveyed a publisher’s change-of-heart to owners of its Kindle e-book reader: some purchasers of Orwell’s “1984” found it removed from their devices, with nothing to show for their purchase other than a refund. (Orwell would be amused.)

Worse, data stored online has less privacy protection both in practice and under the law. A hacker recently guessed the password to the personal e-mail account of a Twitter employee, and was thus able to extract the employee’s Google password. That in turn compromised a trove of Twitter’s corporate documents stored too conveniently in the cloud. Before, the bad guys usually needed to get their hands on people’s computers to see their secrets; in today’s cloud all you need is a password.

Thanks in part to the Patriot Act, the federal government has been able to demand some details of your online activities from service providers — and not to tell you about it. There have been thousands of such requests lodged since the law was passed, and the F.B.I.’s own audits have shown that there can be plenty of overreach — perhaps wholly inadvertent — in requests like these.

[From Op-Ed Contributor – Lost in the Cloud –]

In recent weeks we have seen the downside of relying on third party hosted application services and having devices tethered to a remote service provider, but these recent incidents are really nothing new. Apple has over the years faced some pretty intense criticism for the control they exert over iTunes and the lengths to which they will go to restrict access by third parties, whether it be the restrictive DRM on iTunes content or their continued skirmishes with iPhone jailbreakers.

The recent case of Amazon deleting books their customers purchased that they were not authorized to sell is particularly egregious and despite their mea culpa and promise to never do it again, consumers are right to be concerned about intrusions onto their personal property by remote service providers. It is something I am increasingly concerned about, not because of bad intentions but simply because this new frontier is increasingly hostile to something that forms the very foundation of the American way of life, property rights.

Imagine the consequences if Best Buy broke into your home to search for pirated DVDs that you were playing on a device you purchased from them, these consequences would be criminal and beyond debate. Now imagine what would happen if Amazon deleted ebooks that were not authorized for digital distribution and hacked onto a Kindle (because you can’t get Kindle content legitimately anywhere but Amazon, indeed their DRM scheme is proprietary) or Apple deleted songs that were not downloaded from iTunes or Google cancelled your Gmail account because of a terms of service violation and didn’t give you your email? What would happen… bubkus because the only consequence would be public outcry and some bad PR.

Meanwhile, the Federal government wants to be a repository for my personal medical records, while also aspiring to be my insurance providers, several states are considering a vehicle tax tied to actual mileage that would be recorded through an in-vehicle transmitter, California is pushing to mandate pay-as-you-go insurance and registration fees which would again rely on forced transmitting of miles driven, and utilities are mandating smart-grid meters for electricity and gas usage that monitor in real time what you are consuming.

All of this is more than a little unsettling and while we are seeing tremendous innovations I can’t help but feel that we are getting ahead of our ability to adjust our regulatory and law enforcement framework to deal with the universal issue of my data, who can see it, and under what protocols. The privacy pendulum has in recent years swung wide in one direction as consumers increasingly express little concern about companies having our data and accessing our devices, the question remains whether that pendulum will swing back violently in the other direction or simply adjust periodically.

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“Almost All” Will be Charging for Content?

First of all, the Financial Times is a true gem of a news organization and they have a really smart team of folks working on the digital side. Bottom line, I have a ton of respect for that team. There is much good insight and advice found in this interview however it is obscured by this one soundbite.

The Financial Times editor, Lionel Barber, has predicted that “almost all” news organisations will be charging for online content within a year.

[From Financial Times editor says most news websites will charge within a year | Media |]

Barber goes on to say that the big impediment is a payment mechanism (he didn’t say a micropayment system but that is pretty much what he is referring to). Sorry, the problem isn’t that people can’t pay by the article but rather that they have not demonstrated any interest or intent in a pay by the article scheme. I might do it for financial news but it’s a big maybe because it’s more likely that I’ll step up to a subscription and there simply isn’t a lot of elasticity in subscription rates and when the advertising component continue to suck wind there is little good news in the financial pictures these groups can expect.

Insofar as “almost all” news organizations doing it… well that only works if indeed almost all do it and do it pretty much in a coordinated fashion otherwise it’s a classic prisoner’s dilemma game. Why would one news group turn on a payment scheme when a competitor featuring the same content could continue offering it for free?

The odds of all the major news organizations coordinating such a move is nil because we all know these guys couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery, at least not so when it comes to monetizing their digital experience. Something has to change in online news but a pay by the article scheme simply isn’t the answer that will bring relief to a battered industry.

Twitter, er Google, Hacked

Twitter makes sure that they throw in the obligatory “this ain’t about Google Apps” disclaimer when actually it pretty much is.

This attack had nothing to do with any vulnerability in Google Apps which we continue to use.

[From Twitter Blog: Twitter, Even More Open Than We Wanted]

If Twitter were using something other than a public cloud for their documents and messaging, well it would have been a hell of a lot more difficult for someone to login with a password retrieved via the recovery feature in Gmail.

I’ll still use Gmail and hope I never have to use Exchange again but let’s not pretend that the ease by which the Twitter document heist was accomplished had nothing to do with the vulnerability of a publicly accessible hosted services. Better passwords, routinely changing them, and not making forgotten password questions easy to defeat would all help… but then again Exchange administrators can force those things on users rather than relying on users to be self-regulating.

Blackbox Republic

200907141930.jpg My friend Sam Lawrence unveiled his latest project, Blackbox Republic on the world today. Billed as an online relationship market for the sex positive community, the site features event planning, commerce, and mobile features on top of a general social networking platform.

I will admit that when Sam first pinged me about this I thought it was an elaborate prank… “a social network for the ‘sex positive‘ community?” what my first reaction followed quickly by “is it a porn thing?” and then “okay this must be a prank and I’d better play along so as not to give him the satisfaction of punking me”. It is, it’s not, and it definitely isn’t a prank and the reason why I am telling this story is to get it out in the open because I am sure that I was not alone in my reaction nor will Sam not have to answer those questions going forward.

There are two independent threads that recently converged for me that explain why I am so intrigued by what Sam is doing. I joined the board of SpectrumDNA largely because of my belief in the white label social network for affinity groups, PlanetTagger. Jim Banister, the CEO and inspirational founder, and I had a bunch of conversations about the concept of social nicheworking as a compliment to what Facebook, Myspace and the other generalized network are doing. Let me be clear, social nicheworking is not the opposite of social networking, it’s just a more specialized variant that offers tremendous value to affinity groups, and this is what Sam is doing with Blackbox Republic. Facebook Connect comes to mind as legitimate evidence supporting the notion that these two ends of the spectrum compliment each other rather than compete.

Look around you, think about your own life… outside of family and professional interests we all have passions that we pursue. In the pursuit of these hobbies and interests we often align ourselves with other people who are like us, mostly for sharing purposes but also, in many cases, to provide economic support, whether in the form of actual commerce or events. It’s not news to anyone that tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of message forums have popped up on the web to support these groups and up until recently they have taken the form of message boards.

Where message boards stop social networks begin, not because of the much talked about social graph but because, very simply, we want to connect not just with people but people like us. Community sponsors, whether in the form of actual economic sponsors like media entities or organizers like the folks who put on Burning Man, want to have a community that enriches the experience rather than tries to shoehorn it into a grab bag of features with limited branding opportunity and no content programming capabilities.

This gets to the second epiphany that I had recently, a conversation with Kevin Marks about overlapping public spaces. Who we are in our woodworking community is the same person we are in the Indian motorcycle community and that is the same person we are in our kindergarten parents community, yet the experience in each of these communities is fundamentally different even if some of the participants overlap. At it’s core, we want to belong to publics of our peers but in each community instance we define our peers differently while defining ourselves the same.

Social nicheworking is at it’s core about overlapping public spaces and a rich community experience as a function of the community participants having a lot of control over how the community behaves, both technically and socially. While you may disregard Blackbox as some kooky sex community thing, the underlying concepts that Sam is tapping are exceptionally powerful and will define the next generation of social networking experiences that emerge more broadly across the industry of providers doing this stuff and more importantly among the communities embracing them. The community platforms will be at the core of go to market strategies for brand advertisers and service providers who want to tap into the economic potential that every affinity group possesses, and technology providers are going to have to provide services that are intrinsically connected with content, whether syndicated or user generated.

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Better password inputs, iPhone style. Please, please, please, let’s stop pretending that password masks do anything to improve security. They don’t, we know it, and yet we continue to blindly adhere to a user experience that is overwhelmingly negative for people.

How the AP fails to get search and SEO (again). Danny takes apart the AP for their lame attempts at being relevant online, pointing out that they really have no one to blame but themselves.

Danny also wrote a really kick ass post on who the real time search players are and how they are different.

The time has come to regulate SEO and search engine marketing. Basically this is a call to regulate Google and it’s not without merit, although I am generally a fan of limited regulation under the belief that it basically doesn’t work and ultimately only serves to increase the cost of doing business. In this case it is clear that Google, which has an undisputed leadership position in search, requires more competition but also must be restrained in the way they interact with their customers. While government regulation will likely have minimal real impact, the threat of it and a groundswell of support for it will most certainly have an impact on Google.

Breaking News Online… how a 19 year old is shaking up what it means to be in the news business.

The unemployment data paints a far gloomier picture of the economy than the Obama administration is admitting publicly.

This 1,500 frame per second video from a Formula One race is frickin mind blowing.

Connecting Google Reader shared items to Twitter.

Clay Shirky on shared public spaces and a next generation patronage model for journalism. If you are interested in online media this is a must read.

Life in Taxopolis, how Mayor Bloomberg’s “luxury product” became unaffordable.

How California’s budget fiasco is being complicated by confusion over what the budget numbers actually are… when the people that are supposed to know how much money is coming and going can’t even figure it out, maybe we have a bigger problem than a big deficit.

and closely related, how the tech boom terminated California’s economy.

Businesses can learn a thing or two from Walmart about how they promote their availability on twitter.

Great blog post on how nonprofits can take advantage of twitter and by “nonprofits” I mean the intentional kind and not the startup variety.

FastPencil, an interesting new self-publishing service for writing and producing books.

50 “noise free” Twitter tips and links in marketing, SEO, design, and writing. Quite a good list.

Learning the art of listening… something we can all improve ourselves on.

Education Reform

There is a lot of talk in California right now about how the budget crisis will affect education investments, and I write investments very deliberately because education spending is a form of investment that is supposed to yield future returns. It’s evident that we’ll have to deal with the budget hole by cutting education spending rather dramatically, in fact it is absolutely unavoidable because education spending is about 50% of the state budget and when you include all of the other initiative mandated spending, the state government controls less than 20% of the actual budget… with a $26b hole in the budget the state could cut every dollar spent on things not mandated by voters and there would still be a deficit.

Okay, so we’re going to have a less generously funded school system, a system that already competes for last place in the country in terms of educational quality. There is also the reality that we will dramatically reduce our funding for community colleges and at the same time raise fees, a reality for the California State University system and the University of California system.

While we are going through this fiscal realignment is it not also appropriate to ask what we are getting out of our education system? K-12 is a basket case and parents with economic means opt out of the system while those on lower income tiers are effectively denied something every child deserves, a quality education.

Community colleges are long held up as filling a gap in the higher education system but is the outcome valuable for the students, not to mention the taxpayers who fund the system? California’s state university system ($3.5 billion from the state) is on par with other state university systems and the UC system ($18.5 billion from the state) is world class, on par with private institutions considered the best in the world.

Here’s a proposal to consider which would address all of the issues on the table:

1) Blow up and recreate K-12 education. There is no evidence to support the notion that pre-K (Headstart) does anything for children beyond providing state funded day care, so eliminate it and refocus K-12 on accomplishing primary and secondary education and chunking 9-12 grades to two years of traditional high school and 2 years of college prep.

2) Eliminate the community college system. An AA degree is worthless in the real world, and if the 2 years of college prep courses in what is now high school do their job, students will be ready to move to a 4 year university.

3) Expand the CSU system.

4) Establish a vocational training system. Not every young person is going to be an accountant, lawyer, or computer programmer. In addition to mechanical, building trades, and healthcare professionals, the state would greatly benefit from a vocational system that trains young people for careers in restaurant and food service, environmental vocations, and transportation, among many others.

5) Privatize the UC system. The $18b that would be saved could be devoted to #3 and #4, with enough left over to fund a financial aide system for qualifying state resident students. The UC system has proven that it can compete with other private institutions, let’s allow them to fully compete with the private institutions by removing the feigned outrage over executive salaries and fee increases. If we have an expectation that the UC system should remain world class, then unleash it from the shackles of political oversight.

Dog Blogging

My dog is pathetic, seriously pathetic, but this is definitely evidence that he is not at all too happy about having more babies in the house.


The Flawed Argument that Tech is Too Cheap to Meter

Vinnie raises two very good points about Moore’s Law and consumer vs. enterprise scale, all in response to Chris Anderson’s contention that the tech industry preoccupies itself with managing scarcity when it should be taking advantage of an abundance of capacity and encouraging waste.

I want to pick on Moore’s Law for a minute, which is relevant because Anderson devotes a significant amount of his foundational argument to it. Moore’s Law is one of a great many axioms that gets bastardized to fit any argument and in the process the originating thesis is discarded for convenience. Metcalfe’s Law and Gilder’s Law are similarly applied to things they never we intended for… I guess the only true law is that every industry sector believes they are deserving on their own grand unifying theory that can be used to justify continued capital expenditures.

I don’t consider myself an expert on semiconductor manufacturing but I do know enough about it to understand that Moore’s Law focuses on the cost of manufacturing as a consequence of fitting more on to a single chip which results in greater density on a wafer which then results in greater yield because wafers are round and flaws typically concentrate around the perimeter which as a declines as a percentage of total volume as the wafer grows in size and/or achieves higher density. The declining consumer cost was not a result of chip density but the manufacturing unit cost decline experienced through increased yields.

Unfortunately for those that attempt to apply Moore’s Law for their own purposes, there is a second law that Moore observed that the R&D and manufacturing capital expenditures are enormous for each new node on the curve, rising exponentially for each new generation of fab. This helps explain why the semiconductor industry hemorrhages money when operating at anything less than 100% of capacity.

There is something quite relevant in Moore’s second law that counteracts Anderson’s free theory… because we all know that nothing is free and services that are free to the consumer are simply cost shifted to another constituency. Like semiconductors, in order to Anderson’s free theories to apply the producer has to be able to sustain massive volumes as near 100% of capacity utilization in order to justify the increasing capital expenditures required for each new generation of service.