Some new ways to look at infrastructure

Nothing challenges our understanding of infrastructure better than a crisis, and we have a big one now in Houston. We do with every giant storm, of course. New York is still recovering from Sandy and New Orleans from Katrina. Reforms and adaptations always follow, as civilization learns from experience.

Look at aviation, for example. Houston is the 4th largest city in the U.S. and George Bush International Airport (aka IAH) is a major hub for United Airlines. For the last few days traffic there has been sphinctered down to emergency flights alone. You can see how this looks on FlightAware’s Miserymap:

Go there and click on the blue play button to see how flight cancellations have played over time, and how the flood in Houston has affected Dallas as well. Click on the airport’s donut to see what routes are most affected. Frequent fliers like myself rely on tools like this

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How the personal data extraction industry ends

Who Owns the Internet? — What Big Tech’s Monopoly Powers Mean for our Culture is Elizabeth Kolbert‘s review in The New Yorker of several books, one of which I’ve read: Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things—How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy.

The main takeaway for me, to both Elizabeth’s piece and Jon’s book, is making clear that Google and Facebook are at the heart of today’s personal data extraction industry, and that this industry defines (as well as supports) much of our lives online.

Our data, and data about us, is the crude that Facebook and Google extract, refine and sell to advertisers. This by itself would not be a Bad Thing if it were done with our clearly expressed (rather than implied and checked off) permission, and if we had our own valves to control personal data flows with scale across all the companies we deal Continue reading "How the personal data extraction industry ends"

Google enters its chrysalis

In The Adpocalypse: What it Means, the great Vlogbrother Hank Green issues a humorous lament on the impending demise of online advertising. So invest the next 3:54 of your life in watching that video, so you catch all his points and I don’t need to repeat them here.

Got them? Good.

Every one of Hank’s points are well-argued and make complete sense. They are also valid mostly inside the bowels of the Google beast where his video work has thrived for the duration, as well as inside the broadcast model that Google sort-of emulates. (That’s the one where “content creators” and “brands” live in some kind of partly-real and partly-imagined symbiosis.)

While I like and respect what the brothers are trying to do commercially inside the belly of the Google Beast; but I also expect them, and countless other “content creators” to get expelled after Google finishes digesting that market, and Continue reading "Google enters its chrysalis"

Open Word—The Podcasting Story

Nobody is going to own podcasting.990_large By that I mean nobody is going to trap it in a silo. Apple tried, first with its podcasting feature in iTunes, and again with its Podcasts app. Others have tried as well. None of them have succeeded, or will ever succeed, for the same reason nobody has ever owned the human voice, or ever will. (Other, of course, than their own.) Because podcasting is about the human voice. It’s humans talking to humans. Voices to ears and voices to voices—because listeners can talk too. They can speak back. And forward. Lots of ways. Podcasting is one way for markets to have conversations; but the podcast market itself can’t be bought or controlled, because it’s not a market. Or an “industry.” Instead, like the Web, email and other graces of open protocols on the open Internet, podcasting is NEA: Nobody owns it, Continue reading "Open Word—The Podcasting Story"

Being human vs. rating people

starI’ve hated rating people ever since I first encountered the practice. That was where everybody else does too: in school. Because rating people is what schools do, with tests and teachers’ evaluations. They do it because they need to sort students into castes. What’s school without a bell curve? As John Taylor Gatto put it in the Seven Lesson Schoolteacher, the job of the educator in our industrialized and compulsory education system is to teach these things, regardless of curricular aspirations or outcomes:
  1. confusion
  2. class position
  3. indifference
  4. emotional dependency
  5. intellectual dependency
  6. provisional self-esteem
  7. that you can’t hide
It’s no different in machine-run “social sharing” systems such as we get from Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. In all those systems we are asked to rate the people who share their cars and homes, and they are asked to rate us. The hidden agenda behind this practice is the same as the one Gatto describes above. Continue reading "Being human vs. rating people"

Have we passed peak phone?

2017-03-27_subwayphones I should start by admitting I shot this picture with my phone. Also that on my rectangle with the rest of these people through most of this very typical subway trip yesterday. I don’t know what they were doing, though it’s not hard to guess. In my case it was spinning through emails, texting, tweeting, checking various other apps (weather, navigation, calendar) and listening to podcasts. We shape our tools and then they shape us. That’s what Marshall McLuhan’s main point was. And then we shape society, policy and the rest of civilization. People won’t stop staring at their phones, so a Dutch town put traffic lights on the ground, Quartz reports. In less than two years, most of the phones used by people in this shot will be traded in, discarded or re-purposed as iPods or whatever. And most of us will be tethered to Apple, Google and
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Defibrillating a dead horse

esb-antenae Before we start, let me explain that ATSC 1.0 is the HDTV standard, and defines what you get from HDTV stations over the air and cable. It dates from the last millennium. Resolution currently maxes out at 1080i, which fails to take advantage even the lowest-end HDTVs sold today, which are 1080p (which is better than 1080i). Your new 4K (4x the resolution of 1080) TV or computer screen “upscales” the picture it gets over the air or cable. But actual 4k video looks better. Sources for that include satellite TV providers (DirectTV and Dish), and streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, etc.). In other words, the TV broadcast industry is to video what AM radio is to FM. (Or what both are to streaming.) This is why our new FCC chairman is stepping up for broadcasters. In FCC’s Pai Proposes ATSC 3.0 Rollout, John Eggerton Continue reading "Defibrillating a dead horse"

Exploring the business behind digital media’s invisibility cloaks

  amsterdam-streetImagine you’re on a busy city street where everybody who disagrees with you disappears. We have that city now. It’s called media—especially the social kind. You can see how this works on Wall Street Journal‘s Blue Feed, Red Feed page. Here’s a screen shot of the feed for “Hillary Clinton” (one among eight polarized topics): blue-red-wsj Both invisible to the other. We didn’t have that in the old print and broadcast worlds, and still don’t, where they persist. (For example, on news stands, or when you hit SCAN on a car radio.) But we have it in digital media. Here’s another difference: a lot of the stuff that gets shared is outright fake. There’s a lot of concern about that right now: fakenews Why? Well, there’s a business in it. More eyeballs, more advertising, more money, for more eyeballs for more advertising. And so on. Those ads are aimed
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A few words about trust

cropped-wst-logo-mainSo i was on a panel at WebScience@10 in London (@WebScienceTrust, #WebSci10), where the first question asked was, “What are two aspects of ‘trust and the Web’ that you think are most relevant/important at the moment?” My answer went something like this:::: 1) The Net is young, and the Web with it. Both were born in their current forms on 30 April 1995, when the NSFnet backed off on its forbidding commercial traffic on its pipes. This opened the whole Net to absolutely everything, exactly when the graphical Web browser became fully useful. Twenty-one years in the history of a world is nothing. We’re still just getting started here. 2) The Internet, like nature, did not come with privacy. And privacy is personal. We need to start there. We arrived naked in this new world, and — like Adam and Eve — still don’t have clothing Continue reading "A few words about trust"

The Internet deserves its proper noun

doc036cThe NYTimes says the Mandarins of language are demoting the Internet to a common noun. It is to be just “internet” from now on. Reasons:

Thomas Kent, The A.P.’s standards editor, said the change mirrored the way the word was used in dictionaries, newspapers, tech publications and everyday life.

In our view, it’s become wholly generic, like ‘electricity or the ‘telephone,’ ” he said. “It was never trademarked. It’s not based on any proper noun. The best reason for capitalizing it in the past may have been that the word was new. But at one point, I’ve heard, ‘phonograph’ was capitalized.”

But we never called electricity “the Electricity.” And “the telephone” referred to a single thing of which there billions of individual examples.

What was it about “the Internet” that made us want to capitalize it in the first place? Is usage alone reason enough Continue reading "The Internet deserves its proper noun"

The Giant Zero

The Giant Zero

The world of distance

Fort Lee is the New Jersey town where my father grew up. It’s at the west end of the George Washington Bridge, which he also helped build. At the other end is Manhattan.

Even though Fort Lee and Manhattan are only a mile apart, it has always been a toll call between the two over a landline. Even today. (Here, look it up.) That’s why, when I was growing up not far away, with the Manhattan skyline looming across the Hudson, we almost never called over there. It was “long distance,” and that cost money.

There were no area codes back then, so if you wanted to call long distance, you dialed 0 (“Oh”) for an operator. She (it was always a she) would then call the number you wanted and patch it through, often by plugging a cable between two holes in a

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Speeding on the Subway

subway-speedtest At the uptown end of the 59th Street/Columbus Circle subway platform there hangs from the ceiling a box with three disks on fat stalks, connected by thick black cables that run to something unseen in the downtown direction. Knowing a few things about radio and how it works, I saw that and thought, Hmm… That has to be a cell. I wonder whose? So I looked at my phone and saw my T-Mobile connection had five dots (that’s iPhone for bars), and said LTE as well. So I ran @Ookla‘s Speedtest app and got the results above. Pretty good, no? Sure, you’re not going to binge-watch anything there, or upload piles of pictures to some cloud, but you can at least pick up some email, look some stuff up on the Web, or otherwise tug on your e-tether to everywhere for a few minutes. Nice to have. So I’m Continue reading "Speeding on the Subway"

WMAL/630am 2.0

wmal-sites A few months back I wrote a post with a headline in the form of a question: How will WMAL-AM survive losing its transmitter? Here was my best guess at the time:
To stay on the air, WMAL will need to find replacement acreage, somewhere that allows the signals … to cross as much of the Metro area as possible, meaning it will have to be northwest of town. For that Cumulus will need to either buy land out that way, or co-site with some other station already operating there. The only two stations with transmitters out there are WTEM (“ESPN 980″) and WSPZ, both sports stations (on 980 and 570 respectively) and owned by Red Zebra Broadcasting (in which the main stakeholders are also those of the Washington Redskins)… Of those, WSPZ’s site looks like it has more room. It’s in Germantown, about 22 miles from downtown Washington, more than twice the distance from downtown Washington as WMAL’s
Continue reading "WMAL/630am 2.0"

How adtech, not ad blocking, breaks the social contract

Let’s reset our thinking to what a user’s expectations are, when operating a browser and interacting with pages and sites. In my browser, when I visit a page, I am requesting that page. I am not requesting stuff other than that page itself. This was, and remains, what the hypertext protocol (http) provides. (Protocols are ritualized manners, like handshakes, bows and smiles. They also scaffold the social contract.) Likewise, when I visit a site (same thing, but with purposes inclusive of publishing a document), I am not requesting stuff other than what that site presents to me. So, for example, when I go to, I expect the browser to display that page and its links, and nothing more. And when I go to, I expect the browser to display the index page of the site — and, if I have some kind Continue reading "How adtech, not ad blocking, breaks the social contract"

Valley Fire losses

Here is the current perimeter of the Valley Fire, according to the USGS’ GEOMAC viewer: ValleyFire 2015-09-13 at 3.10.24 PM_a As you see, no places are identified there. One in particular, however, is of extremely special interest to me: Harbin Hot Springs. It is where I met my wife and more friends than I can count. It is also one of the most lovely places on Earth, inhabited and lovingly maintained by wonderful people. I just matched up a section of the map above with Google Maps’ Earth view, and see that Harbin and its neighborhood are in the perimeter: Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 3.12.19 PM Still we’re talking about a perimeter here. Not everything within one burns. Harbin is mostly in a valley. Could be the fire jumped from ridge to ridge and missed it. But I suspect that instead we are looking at very sad news here, especially after seeing this picture here, which looks northwest
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What’s up with @TMobile in North Carolina?

Check this out: oakleaf I took that screen shot at the excellent Oakleaf restaurant in Pittsboro, NC a few days ago. Note the zero bars (or dots) of telephone service, and the very respectable (tested!) data service. To confirm what the hollow dots said, I tried to make a call. Didn’t work. This seems to be a new thing for T-Mobile in North Carolina, where I spent much of this summer — or at least in the parts of it where I visited. The company’s mobile phone coverage is pretty lousy to begin with, on the whole: great on highways and in the larger towns; but spotty when you head into the suburbs and countryside. What changed is the sudden near-disappearance of voice phone coverage in some places where it had worked before, and the improvement at the same time of data coverage. At my sister’s house, near a major Continue reading "What’s up with @TMobile in North Carolina?"

Fun with tropo

Right now every FM and TV station in Santa Barbara and San Diego can be heard in both places. Between them lays more than 200 miles of ocean across a curved earth. I’m not there right now, but I see what’s happening remotely over my TV set top box. (Thank you, SlingBox.) But, more importantly, John Harder‘s tropo map tells me so: sb-sd-tropo Tropo is tropospheric refraction of radio waves across a distance. Atmosphere has refractive properties that don’t matter most of the time. But we can see changes, for example, with mirages ahead of us above a hot road, which causes the air above to refract light at a low angle, essentially reflecting the sky, other cars and landscapes on the horizon. Something like this also happens over land and water. I see by the map above that tropo is happening in other parts of California, Nevada, Utah and
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The Giant Zero

The Giant ZeroMany years ago, Craig Burton shared the best metaphor for the Internet that I have ever heard, or seen in my head. He called it hollow sphere: a giant three-dimensional zero. He called it that because a sphere’s geometry best illustrates a system in which every end, regardless of its physical location, is functionally zero distance away from every other end. Across the nothing in the Net’s hollow sphere, every point can “see” every other point, and connect to it, as if distance were not there. And at no cost. It doesn’t matter that the Net’s base protocol, TCP/IP, is not perfect, that there are costs and latencies involved in the operation of connections and routers between end points — and that many people in the world still do not enjoy the Net’s graces. What matters is that our species’ experience of the Net, and of the world Continue reading "The Giant Zero"

We can all make TV. Now what?

meerkatLook where Meerkat andperiscopeapp Periscope point. I mean, historically. They vector toward a future where anybody anywhere can send live video out to the glowing rectangles of the world. If you’ve looked at the output of either, several things become clear about their inevitable evolutionary path:
  1. Mobile phone/data systems will get their gears stripped, in both directions. And it will get worse before it gets better.
  2. Stereo sound recording is coming. Binaural recording too. Next…
  3. 3D. Mobile devices in a generation or two will include two microphones and two cameras pointed toward the subject being broadcast. Next…
  4. VR, or virtual reality.
Since walking around like a dork holding a mobile in front of you shouldn’t be the only way to produce these videos, glasses like these are inevitable:


(That’s a placeholder design in the public domain, so it has no IP drag, other than whatever submarine patents already exist, and I am Continue reading "We can all make TV. Now what?" is a failed exercise in misdirection

The Internet is one thing. It is comprised of everything it connects. By nature it is as neutral as gravity. It favors nothing and is not partial to anything. Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, in the way Net access is provisioned, but the basic nature of the Net — as a free, open and neutral shared space in the world — is by now obvious to pretty much everybody who doesn’t have an interest in limiting it in some way. This is why Facebook’s is pure misdirection: a partial private fraction masked as a complete public whole. And also why it’s in trouble. The misdirection isn’t working. The site calls itself “a Facebook-led initiative bringing together technology leaders, non-profits and local communities to connect the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have Internet access.” But India isn’t buying it. See here, here, here, here, here, here — and every other place you’ll find piles of stories about it. (Start with the Critique section of the Wikipedia article on, and a search for They’re rejecting for one simple reason: it’s not Neutral. Naturally, Mark Zuckerberg disagrees, and explains how in this post on the matter, which went up yesterday, and I’ll respond to, piece by piece:
Over the past week in India, there has been a lot written about and net neutrality. I’d like to share my position on these topics here for everyone to see. First, I’ll share a quick story. Last year I visited Chandauli, a small village in northern India that had just been connected to the internet. In a classroom in the village, I had the chance to talk to a group of students who were learning to use the internet. It was an incredible experience to think that right there in that room might be a student with a big idea that could change the world — and now they could actually make that happen through the internet.
Those students should know the whole Net. Not just a subset of it.
The internet is one of the most powerful tools for economic and social progress. It gives people access to jobs, knowledge and opportunities. It gives voice to the voiceless in our society, and it connects people with vital resources for health and education. I believe everyone in the world deserves access to these opportunities.

Fine. Then either give them the whole thing, or call what you give them something else that’s clearly less: Facebook+, perhaps.

In many countries, however, there are big social and economic obstacles to connectivity. The internet isn’t affordable to everyone, and in many places awareness of its value remains low. Women and the poor are most likely to be excluded and further disempowered by lack of connectivity.

Don’t confuse access providers with the Internet itself. The Net itself has no cost. That’s one of the features of its inherent neutrality. As Steve Kamman explains, “Bandwidth is dirt cheap. And bog-standard… This isn’t Continue reading " is a failed exercise in misdirection"