The subject of signatures came up the other day, and I thought about the best signature I had ever seen: one that was better—to me—than John Hancock's.
It was the signature of George F.R. Buletza, who was the principal of Maywood Junior High School, of Maywood, New Jersey, when I served time there (1959-1962). So I looked him up, doubting he would still be alive. That guess was correct; but he had a good run, passing at age 92 in 2009. Here's his obituary.
So far I can't find samples of his signature online, but I have found something else that's cool: he last (and long) lived in Charlotte, Michigan, county seat of Eaton County, both of which were pioneered by the Searls family in the early 1800s. See here and here. From the former: "The Searls brothers were experts with the broadaxe and hewed boards (leaving no score marks) for many houses."
I also remember Mr. Buletza as a good guy. Not only in general, but to one of his worst students: me. Among other good things, he blessed my parents' decision not to send me on to our town's public high school, but instead to pursue academic correction at a boarding school somewhere. Which they did.
If any of Mr. Buletza's relatives or friends are reading this, I send my warm regards to them, and my belated thanks to him.
(The photo is of Eaton County Courthouse. My Junior High was (and still is) in Maywood Avenue School.)
"Life is a loaf," my friend Britt Blaser (@brittb) says. "Some loaves have a lot of slices. Some just a few. But every life is a loaf." He first told me that when we both had many fewer slices than we do now.
As a veteran wartime aviator, Britt has also come closer to having his loaf baked than I have. I mean, literally. As he tells it in Fire Flight at Katum, "Everything went pretty much according to plan until one day when the wing started burning off." Among his conclusions is this gem: "Five strong young sphincter muscles acting in unison on seat cushions CAN keep a C-130 in the air one minute longer than it has a right to fly."
Here's the thing about life's loaf slices: the more there are, the thinner they get. Every year seems a little bit shorter. Because for each of us, it is. That's why every retrospective on our current passing year seems a little less meaningful, a little more trivial, a little less adequate a way to tell of stuff that matters.
I no more wrote than read that book which is
The self I am, half-hidden as it is
From one and all who see within a kiss
The lounging formless blackness of an abyss.
How could I think the brief years were enough
To prove the reality of endless love?
Delmore's loaf was nineteen short of my own count so far. But he's saying stuff there that matters fully. Such as that years are brief and love is endless.
Here's another: At every moment we are all almost finished and barely started.
And there you have three reasons why robots will never replace us.
Not next year. Not ever.
It appears to be well researched , and I assume it's accurate. It's also a story, and stories have a format: character(s) + problem(s) + movement. If something important doesn't fit that format, it doesn't get reported. Or if it does, it's probably a "mego" (for My Eyes Glaze Over)*.
Facebook is the main character in this one. Says so right in the headline: "Here’s How Facebook’s Local News Algorithm Change Led To The Worst Riots Paris Has Seen In 50 Years."
I think the main problem here is much deeper than Facebook, but has no character, so it's a mego to write about. If anyone is interested in hearing more about that, let me know. Maybe we can make that a story after all.
Bonus link: The Story Isn't the Whole Story.
* Thank you, Bill Safire.
4) The word "cluetrain" is more or less constantly mentioned on Twitter: https://twitter.com/search?q=cluetrain
5) A search in Google books https://www.google.com/search?tbm=bks&q=cluetrain brings up more than 13,000 results, almost nineteen years after the original was published.
6) A search in Google Scholar https://scholar.google.com/scholar?en&q=cluetrain brings up more than 4,000 results.
7) A dig through old emails just turned up the earliest evidence (at least to me) of Cluetrain's inception: a draft of a joint JOHO (David Weinberger's email list) and EGR (Chris Locke's list) posting, vetted for input by yours truly. This was when the three of us were first sharing the co-thinkings that became Cluetrain in early 1999. That email is dated 30 October 1998, meaning that more than two decades have passed since this thing started.
I've posted this, then set a headline and updated...
And now I'll set an image. Should be jelly beans.
Now I'll try to write a headline and post an image in the prior post.
Headline worked. It's Broken Dish.
Now the image: a broken dish with HBO as the shard.
That worked too. Nice.
Dish Network is in the midst of a dispute with HBO, so HBO and Cinemax are gone from the service. There is nothing about this on the index page of the website, nor have I received a single text or email on the matter.
So, when I went to the Dish website to start digging around, and found nothing, I hit the feedback tab, where it said this...
Some of our best ideas come from our customers - and we would like to hear yours. If you would like the ability for us to respond, please provide your email address.
If you have a question about your current DISH service, please contact us.
I wrote this in reply:
All I want to know is if there is hope for HBO and Cinemax returning. There should be information about that on the Website and in emailings and/or textings to subscribers. I have not received a single email on the matter, and there is nothing on the front page of the website. That's simply wrong. Thanks.
Our only choice for HBO now is to subscribe directly for $14.99/month.
Our only choice for old-fashioned TV is Dish. Two reasons.
One is that our set top box has to be in a cabinet, and for that we need an radio (RF) remote rather than an infrared (IR) one you point at the box. Our local cable provider, Cox, doesn't support that. I think DirectTV does now, but there's still the other reason..
Most of our TV watching isn't here at home in Santa Barbara. It's on the road over a laptop or the AppleTV in our New York apartment, using DishAnywhere, which is a server in our Dish box here. It works amazingly well.
Meanwhile, what we have is one more example of the bundled entertainment economy (cable/satellite) breaking into shards in the larger and increasingly fractured subscription economy.
The next question is When will we reach Peak Subscription?
As if life isn't hard enough for radio in an increasingly digital world, along comes GM, sort-of floating the prospect of tracking drivers and hitting them with personalized advertising, just like the digital kids do in the commercial online world. Or so suggests Why Did GM Track Radio Listening Habits of 90,000 Drivers? in RadioInk. It begins with this:
It’s all about the data. Last week at The Radio Show in Orlando, a lot of time was dedicated to data and what radio stations can do with it to generate more revenue. General Motors has gotten into the data collection business and the automotive giant is using radio as a way to collect it
GM conducted a three-month test using in-car Wi-Fi, tracking the habits of drivers. The goal was to explore whether there’s a relationship between what drivers listen to and what they buy. A GM spokesman also tells The Detroit Free Press that the data from this study could also help GM develop a better way to measure radio listenership, something advertisers would love to get their hands on, so they could target their ads.
My response in the comments below:
It's not "all about the data." It's about preserving the sweetly private experience radio has always given the drivers and passengers in cars. GM is nuts to sacrifice that for the unholy grail of "relevant" and "interest based" advertising aimed by spyware hidden in dashboards
The biggest advantage of radio advertising over the kind people hate on their computers and mobile devices is that radio's advertising is NOT personalized and NOT based on tracking people like marked animals. By not doing that, radio is perfect for making and sustaining brands.
Perhaps a $trillion or more has been spent so far on tracking-based advertising, and not one single brand known to the world has been made by it. That's because tracking-based advertising isn't really advertising. It's digital junk mail, operating on the same moral and economic model as spam.
Countless brands have been made by radio advertising. I may never get insurance from Geico, but I sure as hell know "fifteen minutes will save you fifteen percent" with them. I know Geico, Progressive and ZipRecruiter bring me the sports shows I like. I also can't help appreciating that brands are sponsors.
Tracking-based advertising isn't interested in sponsorship. Its interested in using whatever opportunity it can to get personal with consumers, wherever they happen to be. Most of the money spent also goes to intermediaries, not the station or program itself. That's another way brand advertising is more efficient.
Ad blocking took off in the digital world, becoming the biggest boycott in human history (1.7 billion worldwide at last count), exactly when the tracking-based advertising business (led by the IAB—the Interactive Advertising Bureau, its trade association) decided not just to ignore polite Do Not Track requests, but to mock and dismiss those requests with a smear campaign against its main advocate: Mozilla and its Firefox browser. (Details here.)
Please, radio: be proud of your advantages over pure digital advertising media: that you're perfect for brands, sponsorship, and listeners who appreciate what both make possible.
In this Radio Ink piece, a guy calls for completely lifting ownership limits for radio stations. Here's my comment under that:
I can already see a future Onion headline: "Sirius, Murdoch Buy the Rest of Radio."
Substitute other names if you like. Amazon, Apple and Google are all possibilities.
Even if that doesn't happen, the big clue to the future will be what's on dashboard infotainment system screens. Bear in mind that there's already more radio on phones than on any radio dial, and that most new cars come with a cell connection and a satellite antenna. The old whip antenna, which is still the best way to receive AM and FM signals, has been replaced by inferior substitutes embedded in windows. AM is already gone from electric cars such as the Tesla. In time, the land on which most AM transmitters sit will be worth more on the real estate market than their stations will be in the broadcast one—if that isn't the case already.
The real trend is from analog to digital. But don't think of Google and Amazon as models for the digital world. They're the trilobites of digital's Cambrian explosion. (See https://www.theonion.com/evolution-going-great-reports-trilobite-1819571228.) Bet instead on people. Those have already mounted the biggest boycott in human history—against the kind of spying-based advertising Google and Amazon specialize in.
Perhaps radio's last advantage in advertising is that it *doesn't* spy on people. Meaning radio may be the last medium where listeners still have privacy. More on all that here: http://j.mp/adbwars.
At the Mass we attended a couple weeks ago, the priest opened his homily by asking the congregation to close their eyes and think about one meal they especially enjoyed with friends or family. It doesn't matter what his point was, because he made the mistake of getting his first answers from children, who deflected him totally.
It started when a boy of about seven raised his hand. The priest walked over. "And what was your favorite meal?" he asked
"Jesus body!" said the boy.
The congregation laughed, and muttering followed.
"Nobody's getting anything past that kid," said one.
"Yum!" said another.
"That's, um, a good answer," said the priest, but not the one I was looking for."
He turned back to the congregation. "What I want is for you to remember one meal you've had with other people that stands out in some positive way."
A little boy eagerly waved his hand from a pew on the other side. The priest pointed to the boy and walked over. "How old are you?"
"Four!" said the boy.
"What's your answer?
"Jelly beans!" the boy yelled.
Guy in the congregation, sotto voce: "Beats a communion wafer."
A back-and forth followed.
"Did Jesus break jelly beans at the last supper?"
"He didn't serve hard little discs."
"What's actually in those?"
"C'mon. It's unleavened bread."
"That's not bread."
"What is it? Hammered flour?"
The priest went on to make some point involving his own childhood and pizza.
"If Jesus had the last supper today, it would be pizza," whispered a guy.
"Makes sense. Got its own blood," said another.
"Come on, shoosh."
"Not a bad idea. The host could be tiny pizzas."
So the lesson of the homily was about kids. Including the grown-up ones.
In the summer of 1968 I made great money every day selling ice cream from an ice cream truck I drove in suburban New Jersey towns. (In fact, that's how I paid for my junior and senior years at Guilford college.)
All the way, every day, I would listen to a Sony radio I hung from the pulled-out (and always empty) ash tray in the dashboard. My taste in music was all over many maps: classical, rock, folk, bluegrass, whatever. And at night on the way home I'd listen to WBAI/99.5fm, which was then a boundless source of anti-war sentiments, live performances, cultural everything, and fully interesting and engaging personalities.
One of those was Julius Lester, who had just published Look out, Whitey, Black Power Gon' Get Your Mama. And one night, on my way home, Julius commanded his listeners to pull over, stop their cars, open their windows, and revel in the best song ever written about its title: Respect, sung by Aretha Franklin. And the best performance as well.*
My car at the time was my parents' yellow 1966 Volvo 122s. The radio was a Blaupunkt. The speaker was under the rear window. The back of the speaker was open into the trunk of the car. So I pulled over, turned the radio up all the way, opened the trunk, sat on the back bumper and listened to the Queen of Soul pickle my own in the brine of perfection.
Because that's what it was: perfection.
News came she died today. Julius, I just found out, died in January. Two perfect souls, still in position to pickle our own in what only they could give us.
* Aretha played piano on that recording, and was backed by her sisters, now also deceased.
On one of the social networks, a friend wrote something sensible that came down to these points:
1. Maybe VRM has it wrong about customers, because—
a. People just click through the tracking permission request boxes, meaning
b. They don't value their data highly enough, and
c. They're not feeling the pain of their poor decisions enough.
2. Companies buy tracking-backed adtech because it converts better than un-targeted advertising.
3. People seem contentment with news sources that support their strongly held views (confirmation bias).
4. In respect to #s 2 and 3, personalization is seen by people as preferable to the lack of it.
I replied, I hope just as sensibly,
Nobody wants to be followed like a tracked animal. Nobody wants a zillion logins and passwords. Nobody wants a different "experience," controlled by the other party, at every commercial website. And adtech works like slavery worked for slave owners. Like smoking worked for tobacco companies and retailers. Like alcoholism works for bars.
The simple fact is that tracking people without their invitation, express permission or a court order is flat out wrong. And there are endless studies that show most people make what they know is a shitty compromise with The System when they "accept" terms that quite simply fuck them. One example: The Tradeoff Fallacy: How Marketers are Misrepresenting American Consumers and Opening Them Up to Exploiitation, by Annenberg/Penn in 2015. TRUSTe had a long and good series of studies in the UK and the US showing 90% of people online felt their privacy was compromised and wanted something better.
Acquiescence is not the same as demand. People put up with shit when shit is all there is to put up with, and shit is the system we have.
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wemeantdemocracy/253341820
The great boat called terrestrial radio is sinking, yet listening is doing better than ever, because the lifeboats are actually larger than the broadcast bands ever were. Here's the inventory:
1) Computers (using browsers) and mobile devices (using apps);
2) Car entertainment systems, now being fed cellular and satellite signals that work over far larger geographies than AM/FM ever could; and
3) Smart speakers, which can carry everything car entertainment systems can, but with a much easier user interface, once they’re set up.
The choices of programs, music, personalities and other interest-grabbing “content” (as the marketers like to call it) on these devices so far exceeds what’s on the broadcast bands that the game for those bands could hardly be more over, even though, well... the bands play on.
What we listen to on those bands are still called stations. Which of those will survive on these new devices and listening methods?
I think the branded stations—the ones listeners feel most connected to in their lives—will survive. The rest will go down.
There are simply too many stations on the air in the U.S., with too few formats still left, and too many other ways to listen than AM/FM stations can possibly provide.
And the radio business has already botched two forms of what could have been life support for stations.
One is RDS, which lets a car radio carry a station from one signal to another over large geographies, and which the U.S. rejected in the ’90s in favor of a crippled replica called RDBS.
Another is DAB (digital audio broadcasting), which would have been a much better way for stations to move to digital than HD Radio, which is too proprietary, too hard for listeners to figure out, too poorly implemented in the radios that have it, hated by too many engineers, and a failure-in-progress in the marketplace.
But even DAB has problems of its own, mostly thanks to its geographical and technical boundaries, placed by different implementations in different countries.
What DAB has done, however, is obsolesce AM and FM radios wherever those countries make it the only choice left for radio listening. And there are more of those all the time. The US won’t be one of them. But then, it hardly matters. The Internet is the new broadcast band. Its coverage is worldwide, and there's no limit to what you can do on it.
I'm unsubscribing to all emails that might be tracking me. So far I've unsubscribed from dozens, I'd guess.
The latest is @ShellyPalmer's list. It's not personal. I'm unsubscribing from every list that might be spying on me, and I can't tell which are, which aren't, or (if they are), how. Because there's nothing in the cruft that follows a link that tells me anything about the purposes of that cruft.
In my unsubscribe note to Shelly's list, which I posted under "Other (fill in reason below)," I wrote, "I like the list (and Shelly personally), but I'm also zero-basing all my email subscriptions. I'll re-subscribe to lists I like that don't track me personally. Unfortunately, I can't tell the difference yet. (Are you listening, MailChimp?) So, to clarify, I don't mind if this link ( https://shellypalmer.us3.list-manage.com/track/click?u=c45bf0ae5539b15b901766ddd&id=e8d435f600&e=eab3b67a56 ) tells Shelly "a reader clicked on this" but do mind if it says "Doc Searls clicked on this." Is there a way to tell the difference? Either way, let me know: [email address]. Thanks! Bonus link (so you know where I come from on this): http://j.mp/adbwars ."
By the way, I only noticed Shelly's email service is MailChimp's because the unsubscribe page's favicon was theirs.
[Two days Later, and no word yet from either MailChimp or Shelly.]
To compete with Netflix and other rivals, TV networks are cutting down on commercial interruptions. But as Ad Age's Jeanine Poggi writes in a deep-dive on the topic, the economics of that are "daunting." And exactly how much extra should advertisers be paying for ads in a less cluttered environment?
I just posted a response in AdAge to the second link:
Here's the hard thing: there is no demand by people on the receiving end for ads, and many more ways to avoid ads in our digital age.
Netflix's success owes both to content (they have more than anybody) and to the absence of advertising. For viewers, absence of ads is a giant relief after seventy years of suffering annoying time-sucks between what people tune in to watch.
Yes, there are still program types—notably live sports, talk and breaking news���that tend to hold people still for ads, but even there the growing range of choices support avoidance. For listening to what used to be radio, a sports fan can jump between almost too many channels to count on SiriusXM (http://satelliteradiousa.com/channels/sports.html), and do the same among sports stations on a phone app such as TuneIn Radio, or on their smart speaker from Amazon or Google—in addition to choices left on old-fashioned terrestrial radio and cable/satellite TV.
For long-form listening, they can also go to podcasts and hit that little circular arrow to jump forward fifteen seconds at a time to get through the ads—if there is advertising at all. Adtech—the spyware-aimed advertising that caused the GDPR (look it up) in Europe, is also a fail, especially for branding. (After a $trillion spent, not one brand known to the world has been made by it.)
So here is an existential question: is the Ad Age (literally) ending ? I asked that two years ago http://bit.ly/adsg0die and so far the answer is no. Still...
Then I ran out of space. Fortunately I've said plenty already, here.
Back around the turn of the millennium, there was a great talk on an @LinuxJournal Geek Cruise, given by a guy named Paul Kunz (here, thanks to @ValaAfshar), about how the Net, or at least the Web, actually took off. Here’s a piece about Paul, and that talk, that I just found on an old Stanford site. Alas, his talk has since disappeared from the Web and isn't in Archive.org.
What’s missing from the account at that link (which thankfully survives) is what Paul said about how high energy physicists were the primary actors in spreading the Web outward from CERN, starting with SLAC, and where Paul was one of those scientists. When Tim Berners-Lee's NeXT machine first made a Web connection outside of CERN, the story went, it was to Paul's NeXT machine at SLAC in California.
Specifically, the physicists in Europe (Tim himself? I don't recall) went to their national phone companies (called PTTs there—the equivalents of what Ma Bell was before the U.S. feds broke her up) and said they wanted to exchange high-energy physics documents with each other, and would it be cool if they used this new HTTP protocol over this other protocol called TCP/IP.
Without knowing the implications, the phone companies said yes. And here we are.
In other words (I'm talking now, not Paul), the phone companies accepted into their midst a Trojan Horse with the whole digital world inside. They did that because they didn’t see that these protocols connected everything digital without restriction and at no cost, obviating their billing-the-shit-out-of-everything business models.
The coup was complete after graphical browsers appeared and the only “backbone” within the Internet (of many nets using the TCP/IP protocol) that specifically forbid commercial activity (in its Acceptable Use Policy)—NSFNet in the U.S.—stood down on 30 April 1995. After that the digital life we enjoy today went through a Cambrian Explosion.
The phone companies, it turned out, were glad to have that explosion, because they still found much to bill. But they couldn’t see any of it at the time because they were blinded by what was overly familiar to them. And the physicists didn’t know what they offered was a Trojan Horse. It was just a nice convenience for them that out to be good for everyone.
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.