Most of the kids I see these days aren't playing with real toys. They're playing with glowing rectangles.
I know that's not the only thing that killed Toys R Us. Amazon was another reason. So was a massive debt load.
But so too, I think, was the lost charm of the small Main Street toy store. Soon as real toys adapted to the Big Box habitat, they became dinosaurs.
Or so it felt to me the first time I took my now middle-aged kids to a Toys R Us. Hated it.
So I'm shedding no tears.
Some weekend evening, drive to the hilly end of Manhattan: Hudson and Washington Heights, Inwood, Fort George. Take one of the bridges across the Harlem River to Morris, University, Fordham or Kingsbridge Heights. Head down University Ave to Highbridge, Mt. Eden. Go out to Tremont through Mt. Hope. Explore the Pelhams, the West, East and South Bronx. Take another bridge or two to the outer regions of Queens, and work your way down to the less hip sections of Brooklyn.
All along the way, keep hitting SCAN on your car radio. Most of what you'll hear that's not in Obvious English will be pirates. In any one spot, such as were I live in a part of Manhattan the locals call Washington Depths (down along Broadway north of 181st), you'll hear not just one or two pirates, but dozens. On your whole trip you might hear a hundred or more. Some you'll hear for miles on your journey. I once listened to a pirate on 89.7fm all the way to JFK Airport and back. For most of the trip, it destroyed reception of adjacent WKCR/89.9.
All these stations serve either the obsessions of their operators or communities licensed broadcasters don't serve or abandoned long ago. I suspect in most cases it's both.
This phenomenon needs to be understood, and cannot be reduced to the "piracy" label alone. It's too big for that.
From what I can tell, few outside the phenomenon understand what's going on. Not the industry, not lawmakers, and especially not the mainstream media.
In fact, most of the coverage I've read is what I've written about every two years or so: https://blogs.harvard.edu/doc/2013/09/13/pirate-radio-lives-big-time-in-new-york/ https://blogs.harvard.edu/doc/2015/06/18/the-untold-pirate-radio-story-in-new-york/ and https://blogs.harvard.edu/doc/2017/11/29/pirate/ .
So, since you might be asking, here's why I think it's a Thing:
1) It's cheap. Do this search and see how easy it is to put out a pirate FM signal: https://www.google.com/search?q=fm+transmitters . For a studio, use your iPad. For an antenna, run some cable TV co-ax to a 30-inch whip antenna on your building's roof.
2) New York's licensed FMs are weak, by design. All are Class B (50kw/150m max), and there are no high-power grandfathers. To get above the city's concrete canyons, most of New York's Class Bs radiate only 6kw from the master antenna near the top of the Empire State Building, 413 meters above the ground there. Soon there will be six other structures higher than that in Manhattan.
2) A signal from midtown reaching a low floor at the north end of Broadway in Manhattan will pass through, around and over a hundred-plus blocks of other buildings and terrain to get there—and will sound like crap. (Perhaps oddly, listening in HD helps a lot, if the signal is still there.) This leaves lots of room for hyper-local pirates to step in, especially in the hilly places I named above.
3) Nearly all the pirates are in Spanish or some other language (or English dialect). Being into Hispanic Radio, you guys should care about this. If you do, come visit. I'll show you around.
4) It's social. This matters a lot.
Anybody up for actually covering this thing? Just wondering.
BTW, this comment seems to have failed moderation, at least so far, at RadioInk.
Last night I was in conversation with a collection of strong women who were discussing the #MeToo movement. The sense of it was in alignment with what Camille Paglia says in this interview here.
If you just want to scan it, ignore the Hugh Hefner stuff. It's kinda interesting, but off the MeToo topic, which shows up here:
So we're now in a period of sexual boredom and inertia, complaint and dissatisfaction, which is one of the main reasons young men have gone over to pornography. Porn has become a necessary escape by the sexual imagination from the banality of our everyday lives, where the sexes are now routinely mixed in the workplace.
With the sexes so bored with each other, all that's left are these feminist witch-hunts. That's where the energy is! And meanwhile, men are shrinking. I see men turning away from women and simply being content with the world of fantasy because women have become too thin-skinned, resentful and high-maintenance.
And American women don't know what they want any longer. In general, French women — the educated, middle-class French women, I mean — seem to have a feminine composure, a distinct sense of themselves as women, which I think women in America have gradually lost as they have won job equality in our high-pressure career system.
Just sharing. Much to chew over (or eschew) there.
I've now read Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury twice, and have seen nothing in the news since the book went to bed (last November) that has me doubting what's in it. Even if not a single thing in it is factually accurate, all of it rings true.
See, what Michael wrote is a portrait, not a photograph. And it's an artful one, since Michael is a helluva good writer. He's also the best media critic we've got. And Trump is, above all, a media character. So are, or were, all the many characters who surrounded Trump in the book's story of the administration's first eleven months. Now only three of those characters are left: Kellyanne Conway, John Kelly and the dual entity Steve Bannon calls Jarvanka.
Jared Kushner is under the bus now. Will Ivanka follow? I dunno. What matters more is that the country and its media—of all sizes—have normalized around Trump. Like or hate him, Trump is running things, just by tweeting constantly, saying and doing wild shit, thrilling his base and freaking the rest of us out.
It's a way that was, and remains, very much to the liking of Steve Bannon, who is the lead character in Michael's book. (And, I gather, the leading source for the book as well.)
Bannon is also the real Russia, because Trump wouldn't have won without him. Though exiled from the White House and Breitbart, Bannon remains hugely smart about the world, and is worth reading and listening to, whether one agrees with him or not. If you're up for that, dig this GQ interview.
Long ago a high school friend wanted to connect through Classmates.com. We fell out of touch, but Classmates did not. It kept spamming me with stuff about my long-dead high school until I got it, somehow, to stop.
Now I just got a mail from Classmates.com tempting me to know more about a classmate of mine from "Calabasas Academy Calabasas, CA Attended ’95-’99." Classmates' marketing robot calls me Jim and has a mailbox for me (see the image to the right) containing three promotional emails from itself.
My high school was at the other end of the country, and I graduated in 1965.
I also just checked, and I'm not even sure Calabasas Academy exists. (There is an all-female academy of dance, but no Academy.)
I only bring this up to highlight for the zillionth time how much marketing robots suck at guessing not only what people might want, but even who they are and what they've done in the world, even when the person being guessed at is fully exposed online.
This morning's music: best of Skip & Flip. It's not a big catalog. Or good. Just interesting.
Skip was Clyde Battin, and Flip was Gary S. Paxton, both of whom enjoyed long careers in more notable bands, doing more notable work, with longer hair and less formal clothes. (Skip and Flip were the names of dogs one of them owned.)
Though best known for "Cherry Pie" and "It was I," the Skip & Flip recording that stands out for me is "Fancy Nancy," a dumb novelty song from 1959 that deservedly got only to #71 on the US Billboard chart. Call it up on your music-summoning app of choice, and listen with headphones. You'll hear how primitive recording studio art was before they could mix channels. (Actually, they could before then, but here they chose not to.) So you get vocals on the left, all other instruments on the right, and nothing in the middle.
Listen for the electric rockabilly guitar bridge with riffs and licks that would become familiar in the decade that followed. One of those later works that stands out for me is Lonnie Mack's instrumental version of Chuck Berry's "Memphis, Tennessee" (though the hit version was by Johnny Rivers). Just titled "Memphis," it charted in the summer of 1963. A landmark work.
From that last link, "According to musicologist Richard T. Pinnell, Mack's upbeat, fast-paced take on electric blues-guitar in "Memphis" was unprecedented in the history of rock guitar soloing to that point, producing a tune that was both "rhythmically and melodically full of fire" and "one of the milestones of early rock and roll guitar". Well, not quite unprecedented, unless that was Lonnie on that Skip & Flip session.
Alas, all but Johnny Rivers are now gone.
I hang a lot at the north end of Manhattan, where pirate radio on FM is so thick on the dial that many legit New York signals (WBGO 88.3, WNYU/89.1, WKCR/89.9, WFUV/90.7, WNYE/91.5, WEPN/98.7, WBAI/99.5, WFAN/101.9 and WQXR/105.9) are nearly unlistenable at least some of the time, thanks to pirates on adjacent channels.
Since nearly all of the pirates speak in Spanish or some Caribbean English dialect, and to mainstream media downtown the outer boroughs (including "upstate Manhattan") might as well be Canada, the topic is approximately never covered. Except by me, every couple years or so:
And, in the midst,
I see the day, not long from now, when some museum will replicate the radio listening experience with genuine OTA (over the air) radios of various vintages, over which one can listen to in-house low power AM and FM transmitters, simulating what listening to radio sounded like in, say, 1935 (serials, soap operas), 1959 (rock and roll), 1973 (disco), 1982 (album rock), 1996 (rap, hip-hop) and 2018 ("and on your smart speaker").
But not 2025. Because by then much of what used to be radio will have moved to streams and podcasts over the Net, satellite and DAB in Europe and elsewhere. (DRM—Digital Radio Mondiale—is a technology in which a few old stalwarts continue to invest hope, but there is none, save what little shows up here, last updated in 2016. Coulda been a contenda, but: nah.)
That last link is but one page among many at Ydun’s Medium Wave Info news page, where over-the-air radio, worldwide, can be seen going down, down, down, up a little, down... well not quite yet, but yeah, down...
In Facebook appears Russia’s biggest useful idiot in Vladimir Putin’s bold war, Samuel Scott examines the full-text Mueller indictments, calls it "a perfect example of a well-executed digital marketing campaign," and adds many other useful observations. For example,
As a character in a 2017 episode of the US satirical cartoon South Park stated, Zuckerberg created a platform that provides a monetary incentive for people -- or governments -- to spread misinformation.
The Facebook founder seems to have been so obsessed with creating a global, self-service direct marketing platform that he never thought about how social media would influence global politics as well as human relationships and society as a whole.
Almost all he suggests I agree with. The problem is, Facebook can't be fixed. It's the world's biggest Humpty, and it's already down.
The archival Web—the one you see through the protocol HTTP—will soon be condemned, cordoned off behind Google's police tape, labeled "insecure" on every current Chrome browser.
For some perspective on this, imagine if suddenly all the national parks in the world became forbidden zones because nature created them before they could only be seen through crypto eyeglasses.
Every legacy website, nearly all of which were created with no malice, commit no fraud and distribute no malware, will become haunted houses: still there, but too scary for most people to visit.
It's easy to imagine, and Google wants you to imagine it.
What will happen to calls on HTTPS sites that go out to HTTP sources, for example of images? That's what we have with the image you see on that post. That image lives on http://searls.com, an old server that sits in a rack somewhere in Dallas. One of these days I may get around to updating everything there to an https address, and then going back to posts like this one and re-composing the linkage.
But probably not, because I'm too busy doing other stuff.
Most legacy blog sites—ones created long before HTTPS became a thing—will just sit there forever behind Google's police tape. I hope my old one, http://doc.weblogs.com, stays up. I have countless links pointing into it since I stopped writing there in 2007. But many visitors driving Chrome browsers will be scared off because it's labeled "insecure."
Yes, people can still go under the police tape. The old houses that stay up will still be open in some cases. But the original Web will cut off, starved of traffic, left to die as one big old ghost town. And that's a damned shame. Literally.
Disney is looking to create an OTT ESPN channel, @AlexWeprin writes in @MediaPost. (For those not hip to broadcast jive, OTT means Over The Top of cable. In other words, on-Net but not on-cable. Examples: YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon.) Here is my comment below that piece (the only one so far):
I'm a sports fan, and ESPN is the only reason I haven't cut the cord on cable. And I'm sure that's typical of millions of other sports fans.
But this new OTT thing doesn't interest me. It reads too much like a side show. Who are the stars, the personalities? Where's Stehpen A? Wingo and Golic? SVP? Betcha they're not on this thing, or ESPN would be talking them up.
At some point Disney and ESPN face the fact that OTT is the new bottom, and the world of video viewing will finally become what the Internet wanted it to be from the start: fully unbundled, any-to-any, at trivial connection costs, with some content free and other content costing money.
That covers the subscription side of things. Advertising will be harder, because the simple fact is that people have always hated ads (except, of course, on the Super Bowl, an irrelevant exception).
Today it is easy to skip over and around ads on streams and podcasts, so the only place left where people suffer live ads is on live sports broadcasts. But even there many people wait an hour to start watching and skip forward past the ads, expertly. (Time out? Two clicks on the —> button, :30 each. Major break? Four or eight clicks.)
Some of us now listen to ESPN radio only on podcasts, because the spot breaks are shorter it's easy to skip over them.
My point: the only final incentive alignment that will work is the one in which ads are minimized or eliminated. This has huge implications for the sizes and influences of sports broadcasters, and finally for the sizes of pro player salaries, most of which derive their heft from all those ads.
Best to start preparing now for the day of reckoning when what's obvious for viewers and listeners dawns on the supply side of the marketplace.
FiveThirtyEight was never a fit at ESPN, and wasn't at the NYTimes either. The difference now is that ESPN is stressed, and that's the bigger factor.
Cable/satellite TV, which ESPN is propping up through bundling, is also fracturing and moving to subscription/ad-free models. ESPN might be the last to go that route, and when it does other Disney properties will probably have done the same—and the biggest loser, long-term, will be sports talent, which have been overpaid downstream by brand advertising to captive cable/satellite viewers (which include those watching on other screens using their cable/satellite logins).
When the whole mess becomes pay-per-service and/or pay-per-view, we'll have a whole new market with greatly flattened costs and incomes on the supply side.
We've already passed peak subscription. ESPN will surely be among the winners in the new game of musical chairs for who wins viewers' time and money, because appetites for sports won't go away; but how ESPN wins will be the main question in the meantime.
As for FiveThirtyEight, I always thought it made the most sense as a standalone entity. If it had stayed that way and grown on its own, it might by now have become an alpha brand that owned other brands. Instead it's a depreciated asset for sale by a stressed owner. Kinda sad, but not surprising.
I want to start by making this much clear: my wife is the smartest person I know. She's especially smart about business, and has done quite well at it.
This morning, while we were working in the kitchen and listening to news about how Michelle Williams was paid 1/1000th what Mark Wahlberg got for doing the same thing, on the same movie, she had this idea: "Here's a great way to equalize pay in a company and save money as well: start paying men no more than what women get for doing the same job."
Reminded me how, not long after I met her, she said "I'm not interested in equality with men. Why deal down?" (Yes, she was joking. Still, a memorable utterance.)
Just thought I'd share that.
(This expands on my comment under “Alexa” Battles “Home” at CES. Radio Should be Watching. in Radio Ink.)
Station identification for ESPN radio shows now include the ESPN app. For NPR stations, it's now "your local station or your smart speaker." So it's clear that radio is moving from over the air to over the Net, and what we (soon) used to call "coverage" is no longer limited by range over geography, but by access over Internet devices.
That's one upside.
Another upside is that radio can now be interactive, meaning the listeners can do the talking as well. They can also sing back, sing along, join in with their own instruments, record streams and create mixes to distribute or share back. Those are all within the technical horizon of smart speakers today.
The downside is that smart speakers, so far, are a form of premium subscription cable radio, and what you can get is limited by what Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Sonos or some other company facilitates. And much or all of that facilitation is in those companies' "clouds," rather than on your own independent device. Worse, those systems are closed and proprietary, meaning they don't get along well with each other, on purpose. That's so you get trapped inside those companies' "silos" or "walled gardens." Worse than that, you have levels of privacy—at least with some of them—that are hardly above zero. (Apple is an exception here, or at least tries to be.)
Another interesting effect of smart speakers (and satellite speakers in, for example, Sonos and Bose systems) is the end of stereo sound outside the headphone, car and home theater environments. Today only audiophiles still care deeply about the science and art of stereo music through speakers.
In Facebook CEO Vows To Rid Social Network Of Bad Info, Actors, @mp_gavin says Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook post promising "To cleanse his social network of trolls, purveyors of false and misleading information, and other bad actors" is "his most ambitious pledge yet."
See, what we're talking about here is trying to fix just one kind of awfulness produced by the world's most consequential algorithm—one designed to allow anybody on earth, at any budget level, to micro-target ads at highly characterized human beings, using up to millions of different combinations of targeting characteristics (including ones provided by parties outside Facebook, such as Cambridge Analytica, which have deep psychological profiles of millions of Facebook members)—by giving actual human beings (not just fancy machine systems doing AI, ML and other cool hot tech stuff) what The Wall Street Journal calls "The Worst Job in Technology: Staring at Human Depravity to Keep It Off Facebook."
This is not only ironic in the extreme (in case you missed it in my too-wordy paragraph above, we have humans fixing the unavoidable errors of machines meant to understand humans), but also impossible to pull off.
Facebook's message-aiming system (good for fake news as well as ads) is too complex, too massive (Facebook has many data centers, each the size of a Walmart or few), too difficult and expensive to rebuild, and too good at what it does. It would be like turning a cruise ship into an aircraft carrier.
And, to a creepy degree, both the ads and prejudice-stoking postings actually work well enough—at least for the people and organizations placing them. That it works for bad guys as well as good guys—and is bad for culture and democracy—is a feature, not a bug. Again, it was designed to do exactly what it does.
You know Goethe's (or hell, Disney's) story of The Sorceror's Apprentice? Look it up. It'll help. Because Mark Zuckerberg is both the the sorcerer and the apprentice. The difference with Zuck is that he doesn't have all the mastery that's in the sorcerer's job description. He can't control the spirits released by machines designed to violate personal privacy, produce echo chambers, and to rationalize both by pointing at how popular it all is with the billions who serve as human targets for messages (while saying as little as possible about the $billions that bad acting makes for the company).
Switching metaphors, Facebook is Humpty-Dumpty, and it's already on the ground. None of King Mark's horses (e.g. better algorithms) or men (and women, doing icky jobs) can put it together again.
Look at what's happening for Zuck in terms of grief stages: denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance.
At first he denied that the problem was there—even as fraudulent and misleading ads ran right next to the post where he did the denying. I suppose he went through the anger stage in private. Now he's at the bargaining stage, betting that humans with awful jobs can halt the rising tide of outrage and embarrassment.
He's not alone. In How to Fix Facebook—Before It Fixes Us, Roger McNamee, an investor and old friend of Zuckerberg's, deeply examines What Went Wrong, and teams up with ethicist Tristan Harris to produce an eight-point prescription for fixing Facebook, and all the awful shit it's doing to us.
It won't work, because it can't.
John Battelle explains why in two pieces published in his magazine NewCo Shift. The first, which went up last September, is Lost Context: How Did We End Up Here? The second, published today, is Facebook Can't Be Fixed. As his subhead explains, "Facebook’s fundamental problem is not foreign interference, spam bots, trolls, or fame mongers. It’s the company’s core business model, and abandoning it is not an option." That nicely compresses my main point here.
The best thing all of us can do, both for ourselves and for Facebook, is face both what it has become and how terminal it is.
The best thing for Zuck to do is get the hell out, let it finish failing, and start over with something new and better, based on what he and others have learned from the experience. (Which tends to be the best teacher. And hell, he's still young.) It should help him—and all of us—to know that all companies fail; they just fail faster in Silicon Valley.
Google has the same problem, by the way, but is more aware of it, more diversified, founded on far better intentions (e.g. that nice stuff about gathering and sharing all the world's knowledge) and therefore more likely to survive, at least for awhile.
It helps to remember that all companies have souls born of founding purposes. And there's a helluva big difference between a search engine meant to find "all the world's knowledge" and one meant to find hot girls on a college campus.
Yet what matters far more than Facebook and Google is that we all live digital lives now, on a network that puts us all a functional distance apart of zero. (When we're connected, that is. The distance apart when we're not is infinite).
This is new to human experience.
What we know about digital life so far is largely contained within what we've retrieved from the analog ones that preceded it. To wit,
Marshall McLuhan says all technologies are extensions of ourselves. Hammers, pens, binoculars, cars and computers all give us ways to do what we can't do with our brains and bodies alone. What I just listed are early rudiments of what will surely come.
It helps to recognize that we are still going through early stages in our new Digital Age. Everything we know about digital life, so far, is contained within prototypes such as Facebook's and Google's. And all of those prototypes are just projects. If you don't doubt it, look at your computer and your phone. Both are either new or to some degree already obsolete. Hell, even the new ones are old. Nothing will feel older a year from now than today's latest Samsung and Apple mobile thingies.
It isn't turtles all the way down, it's scaffolding.
So let's at least try to look below what big companies, Trump and other dancing figures in the digital world are doing, and try to look at the floor they're dancing on—and the ground under it. That ground is new and unlike anything that precedes it in human experience. Nothing matters more than at least trying to understand it.
AdAge just published DISH NETWORK CAN NOW MEASURE ALL ITS ADDRESSABLE ADS NO MATTER WHERE THEY AIR, by Jeannine Poggi (@jpoggi) It ends, "Dish Network began selling ads for Sling TV in programmatic auctions last summer. And in the fall it allowed marketers to buy addressable ads across Dish and Sling TV in a single buy."
"Addressible" suggests personal. So does "programmatic auctions," since those tend to match ads with people carrying spyware injected into their apps and browsers.
Will Dish or Comscore anonymize the Dish customers these ads target? Will personal or household data about Dish customers be shared by Dish or Comscore with advertisers or other third parties?
If I find out either is the case, I'll ditch my Dish account instantly. And I'll do it with great regret, because I like Dish very much and have been a loyal customer since they were Echostar.
One of advertising's charms is that it's not personal. Personalizing an ad turns it into direct marketing, which is a different species—and one hated by consumers even more than advertising. That's why we call direct marketing's most familiar form "junk mail."
The advertising business is now so drunk on the kool-aid of personalization and data-driven-everything-at-all-costs that it has lost track of what made branding work in the first place.
After perhaps a $trillion or more has been spent on personalized "adtech," can anyone name a single brand known to the world that has been made by it?
Targeting ads on TV should be done by program, network and location. Fine-tuning beyond that risks getting creepy. And aiming it with harvested personal data is an affront to personal privacy and morally wrong on its face.
So please tell us if Dish and Comscore are doing that. We customers need to know.
I hope Jeannine and AdAge follow up on that.
It is essential on the receiving end to know when and how ads get personal—and to have ways of turning off the spying that aims them.
Making that happen is the bigger story here. And it can't be more important, because it is only by obeying the wishes of its consumers that advertising will save the soul it sold to the devil of spying-based adtech.
Taking a moment early in our new year to highlight two future stories about the Thomas Fire.
First is that the largest wildfire in recorded California history certianly involved enough large and harrowing scenes, and enough heroism, to warrant telling in a movie—especially since it involved what I assume was (and to a small degree remains) the largest firefighting effort ever mounted as well: over 8500 firefighters, from every state west of the Mississippi, and close to 1000 fire trucks and many aircraft, bulldozers and other vehicles, plus miles of fire hoses draped all over a very rough landscape. The story should be about how those firefighters, saved Ojai, Mussel Shoals, La Conchita, Oak View, Much of Dulah, Mira Monte, Wheeler Springs, Santa Paula, Filmore, Carpinteria, Montecito and finally Santa Barbara—after losing enough homes and businesses to comprise a whole town, mostly in Ventura, when the fire began.
Second is that Santa Barbara especially took a huge business hit this holiday season. After the most common sign in the windows of retail establishments was "for lease," the town got smoked out before half its people were evacuated, its parades and other events canceled and visitors headed elsewhere. Thus the "retail apocalypse" became something like the real thing. This is an important business story, and it won't end soon.
It's 11:50pm here in New York (8:50pm in Santa Barbara), and KEYT is mostly showing best-of video from daylight fire fighting (punctuated by some cool live coverage of the night-flying helicopters).
Good time to sleep. See you in a few hours. If you want to keep up with the #ThomasFire, go to the top link above.
The #ThomasFire is now burning in spots inside the Santa Barbara city limits, most obviously in Parma Park, which is a rural park on the north side of Stanwood Drive/Highway 192. But there are still no reports of structures lost. Clearly many more are being saved. (Scroll to the bottom of this post for updates.)
I've put up a set of screen shots at http://bit.ly/thmsfr . The last of these is a map (also above) showing just the last six hours of VIIRS satellite fire-spotting. Plotted on Google Earth, they show active fire in roughly these places:
Note that VIIRS is a satellite that scans the whole Earth, pole to pole and doesn't pass over any one spot more than once per (I think) 24 hours. So this is not current. But it is kinda specific, and I'm not seeing this data unpacked elsewhere. So I'm sharing it here.
6:03pm: Capt. Zaniboni wants people to go to bed feeling optimistic. There are lots of firefighters, and equipment, dealing with the fire effectively, and the wind is slowing down. It can be gusty, but he feels good about it.
8:11pm: Water-dropping helicopters piloted with the aid of night vision headgear are being deployed against the fire. KEYT is covering that, and has night vision of its own. Again, go here for live coverage.
The #ThomasFire is now the third largest in California history, in terms of acreage. It has a good chance of overtaking the #CedarFire, which was near San Diego a few years ago.
The data connection to the Dish system at our house has now sphinctered down to a trickle. But I can still watch KEYT's live coverage here.
A new fire has started near Los Alamos, a small town in the Santa Ynez Valley. One passes through it on Highway 101 approaching Santa Maria from the south.
The live VIIRS and MODIS fire data is way behind, I am sure because the two satellites doing the detection haven't passed over recently.
KEYT is working to confirm that flights in and out of Santa Barbara's airport (SBA) are canceled. United's are suspended for sure.
101 is now re-opened both ways at Sea Cliff.
I now need to take a shower and head out to Newark airport to pick up our kid, coming back from college for the Holidays. The timing is good (for me at least): it's clear that KEYT is now kinda filling time with chat. This is not a bad thing. Reassuring, in fact.
Santa Barbara Sherrif Commander Kelly Moore just explained on KEYT that "the back side of the Riviera" is the main #ThomasFire fighting area right now. The fire is crossing Mountain Road, in the direction of Coast Village Road and Salinas Street, west to Sycamore Canyon. In this area are the viscinities of Westmont College, Eucalyptus Hill, Cold Spring School, Parma Park... the list goes on. If you're a local, you know where I'm talking about.
11:38am: KEYT reports a slackening of the wind. Smoke is now flowing upward, rather than across the landscape. That means some aircraft can get in. The sound of some choppers can be heard. Planes are seen far overhead. Flight is restricted right now in that area, so any aircraft that can be seen have official reasons for being there.
The current main fire fight is on East Mountain Drive between Oak Creek and Cedar Creek. There are "structure protection" engines in the 300 block of East Mountain Drive in Montecito, which the fire chief Capt. Dave Zaniboni calls the "urban interface."
11:55am: Talking to KEYT's John Palmenteri, Capt. Zaniboni says has had no reports of structures burned. Without looking at the Captian, I would take his voice to be Governor Jerry Brown's. They're close to identical.
I think the wind drop is a turning point. They can get aircraft in there, and the burned areas are now fire breaks. Still, the weather forecast is for high winds tonight in the direction of Santa Barbara.
The picture is from 10:39am, when the winds were toward the south, and the #ThomasFire was vectored toward Santa Barbara, and everything you see was under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders. Mandatory areas were all in the uphill areas. Our own house is somewhere in that picture. Since this shot the wind has moved more toward the east.
If you're in the Santa Barbara area and have any #ThomasFire concerns that require official attention, call 211 or 805-681-5542. Note that the former is for Q&A and has had trouble, KEYT says.
There is an evacuation center at the UCSB rec center.
KEYT is open sourcing its audio for any radio station to use. KTMS/990am, KTYD/99.9fm, KSBL/101.7gm and KIST/107.7fm are all carrying KEYT's audio right now, the station says. All have the same owner, and similar looking websites. KTMS and KTYD both broadcast from Gibraltar Peak, while both KIST and KSBL are on West Camino Cielo, which is west of 154 on the far side of town from the fire. KSBL also has a construction permit to radiate from 20 miles offshore on Santa Cruz Island.
During the Ventura phase of the Thomas Fire, when all the main hills and mountains on the north and west side of town burned, most of the FM stations that broadcast from high places there were at least temporarily knocked off the air. Last I listened, on Thursday, some were still gone. In Santa Barbara, most FM stations radiate from Gibraltar Peak, which is a high point along Gibraltar Road, leading up to East Camino Cielo on the Santa Ynez mountain ridge behind town. Gibraltar Peak was in both the Tea Fire and Jesusita Fire burn areas.
A friend just called from Buellton, in the Santa Ynez Valley (the wine district that starred in the movie Sideways) reporting many fire trucks coming and going, as fire fighters catch some sleep at the local hotels there.
"Flames are now overtaking the #TeaGarden..." says KEYT (10:19am PST). and you can see it live. Winds are too strong for aircraft to fly in with water or retardant.
The winds appear to have shifted toward the east-southeast, and no longer toward the south, which means toward Montecito more than Santa Barbara.
KEYT earlier reported that Corey Iverson, the firefighter from San Diego who perished in the Thomas Fire above Filmore (the east flank of the fire, more than 40 miles from the action in Montecito), succumbed of "thermal injuries" and "smoke inhalation," during a backfire exercise that turned on his crew. That's according to the autopsy report.
We are now watching at least one structure (I think an out building near the Tea Garden) burn on live TV. Again, I'm watching this on our home Dish Network TV box, which we can see over the Net via Dish Anywhere. Very handy.
I have now received a text from the Emergency Preparedness Office (I think it's called), and just now an automated phone call as well. (I pressed 1 to confirm receipt.)
KEYT, on "TV Hill" they call it—actually the east end of the Mesa—is in a perfect vantage for watching Santa Barbara, Montecito, the Santa Ynez Mountains and the "front country" that is now on fire.
Road closures: Northbound 101 near Turnpike (on the west side of town), gasoline from an overturned tanker truck had to be cleared somehow, and the road repaved (!), so that's still closed. So is 154, and a partial on 101 near Sea Cliff to facilitate evacuation of Santa Barbara toward Los Angeles. "Southbound" 101 (actually eastbound, on the South Coast) is open there to maximize evacuation. Only La Conchita (local Sea Cliff) residents are allowed northbound toward Santa Barbara. Otherwise it's closed to allow emergency vehicles maximum easement toward the fire area.
With way over 8000 fire fighting personnel on the Thomas Fire, this may be the biggest deployment against a fire. Dunno though.
I'm reporting on this from our apartment in New York, while working the Web and watching the KEYT/KCOY/KKFX app on my iPhone and on my iPad over the Dish Anywhere app, which gives us a way to watch our home Dish Network TV system. On that I'm currently watching KEYT's over-the-air (Channel 3) broadcast. This will work as long as the house has power and an Internet connection. As of 9:15pm Pacific Time, it still is.
9:32am PST: Most of Santa Barbara is now under either voluntary or mandatory evacuation. This includes all the Riviera and downtown.
I'll post this now, and date/time this and subsequent posts in the titles.
When our New York apartment building developed a mouse problem, they brought in an exterminator (or pest control, or abatement, or whatever they call those services now) to take care of things. The company put out sticky sheets of cardboard all around the perimeters of our rooms, plus little boxes of poison. A crew would come back from time to time and check on these things, all of which did exactly nothing other than cost the landlord money.
So I went to a nearby hardware store, bought some old fashioned mouse traps, which ought to be called mouse killers, because that's what they are. Mounted on a small piece of wood is a rectangular bar on strong spring, which cocked has the power to whap down on a mouse and fold it in two. The trap snaps when the bait moves and releases the bar holding the kill-bark cocked. Those worked. We knew the mice were gone when none were left to touch the bait and get snap-folded in two.
Here at our Santa Barbara place, we've had a similar problem lately, with rats. Or, a rat. Every night around 12:30am, it would make loud noises in the space under our bathroom cabinet. We don't know what path it took to get in there, because it appears to be completely sealed from all times; but it apparently comes and goes because it also feasts on tomatoes in our kitchen pantry. So this time I got a rat trap, which is a big brother of the mouse trap. It's by the same Victor brand that's been making these things since the 19th Century. I baited it with some Trader Joe's no-salt organic crunchy peanut butter and put it on the floor of our pantry. Sure enough, around midnight a loud SNAP! echoed through the house. I went to the pantry, and there was our rat, folded in two.
I've got another trap set now, so we'll see if our late rat had companions. I kinda don't think so, because the noise in the bathroom cabinet was also gone last night. But we'll see.
Compared with the fires, which are now snowing the cremains of Ventura County all over our house and yard—and scaring the shit out of the whole South Coast—the rat is a small thing. But an old fashioned trap does beat the more expensive options, and that's cool.
Tennyson called now—the present moment—"an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move."
We tend not to see far through that arch. Hunter-gatherers still, we are built to walk, run, grab and build through a range of anticipations that run from microseconds to years in the future, with nearly all our attention on what's in the very next stage of now.
So we miss the big breakdowns that take a lot longer than now to happen. We also mistake persistence for success.
And such is the state of radio: a topic I can't help obsessing about, because it was so much a part of my life for so long. I like to think we'll miss it when it's gone, but I suspect not.
Here's one interesting fact: there is far more variety on the only (and therefore the monopoly) provider of satellite radio in the U.S. than you'll find anywhere in the country on terrestrial radio bands. Not in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago or San Francisco. Those places all have some innovative radio stations, but not the buffet of formats featured by SiriusXM.
Anyway, those are a few ruminations while I try to remember a few radio websites maintained by individuals far more obsessive than I. A list:
BTW, that image at the top is from this Wikipedia entry on Bambergers, the department store. WOR, still a landmark New York station, started atop that store in Newark. In those days they thought transmitters belonged on buildings, and achieved electrical height with "clothesline" and "bedspring" antennae suspended between towers. Those were arch-like, which serves as a metaphorical coincidence here; but have long since been replaced by free-standing or guy'd towers. WORs three stand in the Meadowlands outside Newark near the west spur of the New Jersey Turnpike. It's the third site since the one on the store. For those who dig this kind of history, it's hard to beat REBUILDING A LEGEND: REBUILDING WOR RADIO FROM THE TIP OF THE MIC TO THE TOP OF THE TOWER, by Thomas R. Ray, III CPBE. Other interesting bits are here, here (that's deceased transmitter #3) and here (the transition from #3 to #4). To me #2 was the best. If you want to know why, ask.
There is so much I'm not saying, because I need to focus. Just letting ya'll know.
See, on a couch I'm more of a monkey than a potato: too hyper to sit still for long periods of time. Even movie theaters make me antsy.
True, I am a desk potato. But at least I can type when I'm there, such as now. In front of a TV, the most I type is a search string. I do that into a bluetooth keyboard for the TV, the Dish receiver or the Apple TV box. (For that I have a cool cheap bluetooth keyboard that has three sets of settings: one for each device. Nice.)
Okay, all that said, here's where I am on the Hot List:
Gore, murder and gross sex are no fun for me, so Game of Thrones turned me off in the first episode (two beheadings, multiple dismemberments, one undead child and another pushed out a window after he witnessed doggie-style incest).
I’m saving The Wire for my next hospital visit, if I ever have one.
Mad Men bored my ass off after two episodes. Or maybe fewer. I forget.
The Sopranos was too close to home. (I'm from New Jersey and knew some of those people. Not fun.)
I liked West Wing a bit, back in the decade, but I only co-watched it with my mother and sister when they were visiting addicts to it. (Mom, as a former Alaskan, loved Northern Exposure.)
Tried and failed to get into Battlestar Galactica.
Liked Six Feet Under a bit. Saw maybe five episodes, which is a lot for me. The last one was perfect.
Tried Handmaid’s Tale on the flights to and from London last week. Fell asleep on the outbound and got bored on the return and punched out.
Black Mirror left me wanting the much shorter and punchier Twilight Zone again. (I binge-watched that show… damn: sixty years ago.)
The only modern show I’ve binge-watched is Silicon Valley, and I’m not even sure it’s good. It's just familiar, meaning I've seen nearly all of it before, in the real Silicon Valley.
My wife got into Downton Abbey on a plane and wants to see the rest of it. at some point. She’s also into The Collection on PBS, which is about the fashion business in Paris, where she is right now. It’s current with weekly episodes, so not binge-able yet.
That's about it. Main thing is that a show needs to upstage news and sports, which is about 90% of what our TVs get used for, and even then not very often. (More when guests visit than when we're home alone.)
Companies, like every life form, tend not to last forever. Or even for more than a few dozen years.
Even durable ones, like Hewlett-Packard, live by splitting into multiple companies or becoming different entities than they were in the first place.
Sure, HP may still be around as a legal entity that makes money in a bunch of ways; but how much if any of that company still draws from artesian well of good sense that was Bill and Dave's HP Way? How much is Apple still about what drove the Steves to create it? How much is Google still doing what Larry and Sergey wanted to make in the first place? At most the answers are "some, but not enough."
Projects have purposes bounded by completion. As with life forms, they are made to live and do good things and participate in the world, but also to be done. It is no accident that founders of venture-backed companies have to plan from the start for an exit.
Thought: how is going public not a return of a company's substance to nature? By not throwing their people and property into the public domain they stay alive, walking dead, like zombies.
Yah, that sounds harsh, but think about it: how little do most stockholders care about a company beyond what shares of it sell for on stock markets? And how little does that one thing matter to what a company actually does? Nothing could be farther from the founding missions of Bill, Dave, Steve, Steve, Larry and Sergey.
There is something brain-deficient about the fiction that a company works only for its stockholders, or to throw off profit like a burning house throws off heat. (Let's throw another bedroom in here, Charles. Need to keep this thing going.)
I know I'm being way too simplistic here, and maybe outright wrong; but I'm just thinking out loud and jet-lagged on a Saturday morning, happy to be home and unable to keep things out of my head that might be worth talking about.
What I know for sure is that every purpose is temporary. Thus seeing everything as a project seems more sensible than all rationalizations toward boundless persistence across time. Everything ends. That's purpose too.
We're no different. When we're moving fast toward our purposes, it's not much help to watch for an exit. But eventually we take one. Or vice versa.
If you like yogurt, especially plain yogurt—you know: the Real Thing, full of fat (none of that 0% shit)—you need to get yourself some kefir cheese.
It's actually yogurt*, but thicker: so thick you can stand a spoon in it. Not dense enough to to be called cheese, but it is anyway.
And tasty. O so tasty.
The kind pictured on the right is the latest we picked up, this time at a Costco in Oxnard, California. Our local Costco near Santa Barbara doesn't have it. But there is hope. The container is the one above, from Karoun Dairies, which says it's sold in several other stores around here. One of those stores has been gone for years, so I'll make inquiries before I go running around. (I'm also about to leave for a packed week in the UK, so it'll be after that.)
We got turned onto kefir cheese by a Russian deli near our place in New York. They sell several varieties of it, from several sources. Some are called labne, or labneh, two Eastern Mediterranean nouns, either instead of kefir cheese, or along with kefir cheese, as does the Karoun we just finished. The traditional labne I've known (mostly through a Lebanese family in L.A. I'm close with) is not as thick as kefir cheese, but is otherwise similar.
Whatever. Get some. Even if you don't like yogurt, get some. It is so damn good.
* I know, because I've used it as starter for homemade yogurt.
The problem with "cloud" isn't its meaning, which is roughly "where offsite storage and computing happens." The problem is that the tech industry uses "cloud" to blur where stuff actually is and where it is happening. It's a sleight-of-noun trick that causes far more harm than good. It bloats cognitive overhead, wastes time and forecloses countless opportunities.
Let's start with time. Exhibit A: Apple's iCloud.
It isn't just that Apple has blurred what the hell iCloud is and what it's for, but that the company has a fully annoying way of putting stuff in iCloud that used to be on one's device or devices. It does this on the incorrect assumption that it is unhelpful for the individual to know where computing takes place and files get stored.
After Apple did that to me during an iOS upgrade to my phone last month, I spent hours talking to AppleCare, trying to figure out what the fuck happened and how to fix it. Never mind why, because the damage was already done. The main problem was trying to figure out how to get the music back on my phone, so I could listen again when I go offline, which I do a lot. For example, in subways, on boats, on planes, in countries where cloud use is spinctered, or driving around the middle of Wyoming.
Apple has also done its ironic best to both popularize podcasting and to make listening to podcasts as hard as possible. The worst thing it has done, of course, is locate podcasts in iCloud, while making it nearly impossible to figure out where the hell one's podcasts are.
All this blurring also masks loss of autonomy and agency, and increased dependency on what amount to feudal overlords. It's getting to the point where, if you're not a hacker with a full suite of tools and skills for remaining independent in the connected world, you are in a state of at least partial slavery.
I'd write more, but I gotta go deal with shit before I fly again to elsewhere. Hopefully I'll be able to listen to music and podcasts along the way.
I put up about 20 years' worth of headshots.
Maybe the reason political divisions haven't been this deep since the '60s and Vietnam is that now, like then, one side is simply wrong. Back then supporting the Vietnam war was a huge mistake. Now supporting Trump is exactly the same.
Twitter didn't kill the First Amendment, as Tim Wu says here, but it sure didn't help.
The Swarm Project looks interesting.
Here in Santa Barbara La Casa de la Raza now has its own FM station: KZAA/96.5. It's just 100 watts from the .org's headquarters in town. But it covers the city itself, which is the idea. Not much about it on the website, but there is a Facebook page too.
Always good to re-read Andrew Oldlyzko's Network Neutrality, Search Neutrality, and the Never-ending Conflict between Efficiency and Fairness in Markets. Andrew rocks at this stuff. I see some potential overlap between where Andrew goes and where Michael Elling has been for some time too: "If network A has 1 million users and network B has 1000 users, the value of network B to network A is up to 2000x greater with terminating settlement than with just bill and keep, or no settlement. Therefore it is in A’s interest to 'fund' B’s network via a terminating settlement to capture and retain that increased value. This is also known as the network effect or Metcalfe's law."
Adam Gopnik: "What we should fear is not a deep state but a state robbed of its depth."
Study: Fake News Threatens Audience Trust In Digital Pubs, by Sara Guaglione (@SPGuaglione) in MediaPost, correctly laments exactly the point its headline makes. Yet stories like this, good as they are, also misdirect attention from another story that's closer to home: how "content marketing" pays publishers to undermine trust in themselves.*
For example, in my email subscription to Google News for articles about ad blocking, the big G sent me to this piece of non-news in The Drum: Header bidding is the future of publisher income says Sovrn’s chief marketing officer. The smaller print says Sponsored by: Sovrn. The CMO has Manafort smile. Not good.
Then there's AdAge's "data driven TV" story. I just noticed some small print that says it's from "publishing partner" AT&T AdWorks. The byline says "By Rick Welday, President, AT&T AdWorks."
So let's look at the collateral damage here, both to the reputations of publishers who run this kind of shit, and to journalism itself.
To me as a reader, the two items above cost The Drum and AdAge my trust and respect for them. (Slightly less so for The New Yorker, which runs one clearly marked "Paid Post" in its daily emailings. I get why they do it—for the money—but those two words make sure I won't read it.)
As for journalism, there's my personal experience. For example, in this post yesterday I said I want big-name publishers who can afford to pay journalists to do exactly that. In a perfectly tweeted response, @dmarti tells publishers, "When you don't pay, you get "how and why you should buy stuff from http://example.com " by #contentMarketers at http://example.com."
Now I'm wondering if The Drum and AdAge pay free-lancers at all. I'll bet they don't, because that's the clear message a publisher sends with every (literally) fake news piece some content marketer pays a publisher to post.
*To Sara Guaglione's and MediaPost's great credit, their latest is Domino Opens Office Sponsored By Brands. (Disambiguation: Domino is a magazine about interior decor. Domino's delivers pizza.) Pull-quote:
The new office is not just a stylish workplace for Domino’s employees. CRO Beth Brenner told PD the space also acts as a studio for the magazine's content and can highlight their brand partners. A “large paid deal” with Bosch, for example, is behind the appliances in Domino’s kitchen, which are also featured in an online series, Brenner said.
Maybe my headline should have been Souls For Sale.
This morning an editor with a big-name magazine asked me by email if I would write an op-ed for it. When I asked what they paid, he replied, "We can’t pay for content unfortunately," adding, "We’ve actually found someone else to write this in the meantime, so let’s stand down. Hopefully next time!"
There won't be a next time. First, I refuse to contribute free labor to a magazine with a brand as august (or so I assumed) as this one. Second, I don't write "content." The reason is illustrated in the graphic here. (The full-size original accompanied How True Advertising Can Save Journalism From Drowning in a Sea of Content.)
I gather the magazine is also funded entirely by adtech, since Privacy Badger detects an unusually high number of trackers on its index page alone: 81.
The free work I'm glad to do is saving publishing. I want to do that by bringing the incentives of readers, writers, publishers and sponsors into alignment. More about all that in this series here.
Scott Adams tweets his endorsement of the cryptocurrency movement. Here's his post. I find his pro-Trump stuff fascinating and insufferable at the same time (for reasons that require more time and braining than I'm willing to commit right now). This, however, is different. Not sure how, but it is. By the way, this is his girlfriend. Just sharing facts here. You can't have opinions about facts. (For thus spake Prof. Peter Schickele on this album, which I still have somewhere.)
Nikon is closing a plant for making entry level cameras: a market 90% eaten by smartphones.
Joi Ito on resisting reduction. He goes deep: "In order to effectively respond to the significant scientific challenges of our times, I believe we must view the world as many interconnected, complex, self-adaptive systems across scales and dimensions that are unknowable and largely inseparable from the observer and the designer. In other words, we are participants in multiple evolutionary systems with different fitness landscapes at different scales, from our microbes to our individual identities to society and our species. Individuals themselves are systems composed of systems of systems, such as the cells in our bodies that behave more like system-level designers than we do." Very good stuff. Dig it.
Now that Walmart will be tracking me for the purposes of selling adtech trained on my ass by Walmart's own crosshairs, the chances I'll ever shop there are verging toward zero.
Superteams aren't, it seems. The Cavaliers lost at home, bigly, to the Knicks last night. The Patriots yesterday were a few dumb moves and bad calls away from losing at home to the Chargers. The Warriors lost at home for the second time in a young season, this time to the Pistons.