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Just a few things I don’t understand:

  • Why are 90% of beauty salons named with a pun? (“Shear Energy.” “The Mane Event.”)
  • Why do real estate and insurance agents have their photos on their business cards, when it actually makes them seem less trustworthy?
  • Why do bureaucrats (and people who aspire to bureaucratism) say “at this time?” What is that supposed to mean?

What don’t you understand?

My friend Peter Levine, in an article that examines ways to look at the question of “whether President Obama is trying to do too much too fast,” mentions an analogy Bill Galston makes to Jimmy Carter’s early days in office.

In Peter’s view, those days are not at all comparable to where we are now. In making his case, Peter encapsulates the overal shift rightward that was occurring as the 70’s ended as well as I have seen anyone:

[T]he Zeitgeist was against poor old Jimmy Carter, as we can tell now that the Owl of Minerva has taken flight. Most of the industrialized countries moved substantially right after 1970. Liberals had already enacted the popular parts of the welfare state. They had consolidated prosperity for a majority of their populations, who were decreasingly generous toward the remaining poor. Keynsian policy couldn’t seem to handle stagflation. Liberal coalitions had shattered on the shoals of controversial social issues. Conservatives offered law-and-order and lower taxes, and that was a winning package. The only reason Carter was elected was that Richard Nixon had administered a deadly wound to his own party that took eight years to heal. It was hardly time for an ambitious liberal agenda.

What interests me is Peter’s perspective on that pivotal time, and the language he uses, spoken with the benefit of hindsight.

It seems evident that we are now in a similar shift, only moving the other way. When we look back, fifteen years and more later, what kind of language will we use? What tectonic factors will be relevant, and which will be just static?

That, of course, is a thought experiment and unanswerable. But it is worth thinking about, if only to gain perspective on the now.

Yesterday two things converged that really got me thinking about localism.

First, I published my analysis of Rockville Central’s reader survey. It was my first chance to see what the readers of my hyperlocal news site really thought about my volunteer work over the last eighteen months or so. It was very gratifying, and at the end I wrote: “[It is] clear that many, many of you who took the time to respond see Rockville Central as ‘yours.’ That means so much and I will always try to respect that.”

Second, I ran across a fascinating tips-from-the-trenches piece on what it’s like to take over and run a local newspaper. This piece included a great sidebar:

You Want To Buy A Weekly?

Find an owner/operator who is retiring. Don’t worry about quality. You can improve the content and revenue yourself. 

Financing was tough before the credit crunch, and it’s next to impossible now. So you may have to do an owner-financed deal or pay for this out of your own pocket. The price of a paper depends on its annual revenue, so if you’re looking for a deal, think small and rural.

Pack a lunch. You won’t have the time or the money to eat out for the first few months. (Perhaps years.)
 
Consider your business skills. You can create great journalism, but do you know how to run a circulation program and print labels? Keep track of ads and expenses? You have to take a hundred bags and bins to the post office — who will do that? 

Be humble. Readers don’t care if you won Pulitzer or interviewed governors. They care about their community, whether you make it better and whether you spell their name correctly.

Be true to yourself. This is tough. You’re running a business and you’re a valuable member of the community, but you have to uphold your core values.

All sounds very much like the advice I gave anyone thinking of starting their own community news blog!

It’s all got me thinking: Is it time to develop a real business model for Rockville Central, and embed it even further as a local institution?

Beth Kanter had a great post a while back that rounds up a number of bits and pieces of advice for nonprofits interested in using social media.

My favorite graf:

The economic crisis has changed the external environment. So, it is important to think about that as part of considering how you need to revise your goals. The tools are changing, so if you’ve settled into one way of using a particular social media tool or set of tools, don’t set yourself on automatic pilot. Are you using the social media tools most efficiently and effectively given the environment, the changes in the tools, and your goals?

What a thought . . . fine tune strategy as you go.

How often do we really do that?

There are insurgent personalities throughout media, pushing and prodding it ahead to the future. WCCO’s Jason DeRusha is one of them.

In this interview, he discusses an important aspect of what people’s relationships with institutions are becoming:

I’ve been experimenting with posting my good questions on my blog and inviting people to answer them, to share their thoughts and help me tell the story before it goes on TV. The old model is to put stuff up after it was on TV and get comments on it. But to me, that’s no good—I need people’s help before I do the story on the air.

This turns the newsanchor-viewer relationship both on its head and inside-out.

First of all, the most important person here is the viewer, who is giving material to the news reporter. (In traditional models, after the reporter has “newsgathered,” his main job is to tell people what he or she knows.)

Second of all, and more important, this model has different people involved. The news reporter and the viewer are co-creators. They both come up with what is going to count as “news.”

Read the whole interview, which is very cool. And you may want to take a peek at his blog to see how it works in practice.

Through one of my Twitter contacts, I ran across an interesting article by Jyri Engeström about why some social networks work and others don’t. It has to do with the presence — or lack — of an “object.” In this case, that means a reason to connect with others.

One example is Flickr, which has made photographs a reason to interact.

The fancy name for this is “object-centered sociality.” It provides a good way to think about what new social network applications might look like, and what might enable them.

For instance, Engeström says:

Take the notion of place, for example. Annotating places is a new practice for which there is clearly a need, but for which there is no successful service at the moment because the technology for capturing one’s location is not quite yet cheap enough, reliable enough, and easy enough to use. In other words, to get a ‘Flickr for maps‘ we first need a ‘digital camera for location.’ Approaching sociality as object-centered is to suggest that when it becomes easy to create digital instances of the object, the online services for networking on, through, and around that object will emerge too.

My new Blackberry Storm has GPS, and I would be very interested in a social networking service that uses location to identify nearby friends. But GPS is too much of a battery-suck and too few of my actual friends use it on a routine basis.

Notwithstanding that, I am definitely not alone in watching location as a possible Next Big Thing.

It is interesting to note that the article dates from 2005 — yet is still current.

These are my notes from yesterday’s Pajamas TV segment, which was live yesterday. If you check this page, you can see the video. I’m slated to be on again this Friday, October 24, at 6:00 pm Eastern.

It’s easy to pick on the Garden State of New Jersey, almost too easy. Like shooting fish in a barrel. Former Democratic state senator Wayne Bryant, who is embroiled in a corruption trial, has asked the state elections authority for permission to use his $640,000 campaign war chest for his legal bills. The authority said no and yesterday a state appeals court heard arguments on the issue.

Bryant is accused of conspiring with the dean of a medical school to steer state money to the university in return for a no-show job that would boost his pension from $36,000 to $81,000. I’m telling you, it’s like The Sopranos! Only there’s more. Stay tuned . . . .

* * * * *

Bryant is not the only New Jersey state official using campaign money to pay for corruption defense. Former state Sen. and Newark Mayor Sharpe James (D-Essex) and former Sen. Joseph Coniglio (D-Bergen) used their campaign money for their legal fights – only they didn’t ask permission first.

Coniglio used $90,000 leftover in his war chest when Feds were looking into whether he took money from Hackensack University Medical Center in return for steering money to the hospital. He was indicted on that in in February. And former mayor James spent $50,000 of campaign money for his defense against conspiracy and fraud charges. He was convicted in April and is serving 27 months in prison and had to pay a $100,000 fine.

What’s incredible is that, in fact, New Jersey’s rules are stricter than the federal election commission’s when it comes to using campaign money – on the federal level, battling corruption charges is deemed to be an expense “relating to the duties of a federal office holder.”

So there’s something to think about next time you whip out your check book to support a candidate – might this guy end up using the money to defend against being a crook?

These are my notes from my latest Pajamas TV segment, which was live yesterday. I don’t yet have a link to the Flash (free) version, but if you check this page, you can see the video as soon as they have posted the free version. (I am not sure they are going to keep on posting free versions; it is meant to be a paid service.)

I’m slated to be on again today and this Friday, October 24, at 6:00 pm Eastern.


Personal identity crisis continues. What will it take for companies to take this as seriously as they should? First, there’s a report from Georgia Tech that with cell phones getting more complicated and more connected, it turns out they are perfect targets for hackers. Just imagine a horde of cell phones being programmed to periodically dial toll numbers. They’ve even got a name: “zombie phones.”

But even more scary, officials have found small devices in European point of sale card swipe machines that send selected transaction information to Pakistan. These are the card machines you use at the grocery store — totally plain vanilla. The devices appear to be untraceable and are inserted in some made-in-China MasterCard boxes. The best way to find out if a store has been infected is to literally weigh their card swipe machines. Bad machines weigh four ounces more than good ones.

This is affecting large, chain stores, including a British unit of Wal*Mart and Tesco.

It is not isolated or off the beaten path. And it really is diabolical. The machines can be set, evidently, to just send a few transactions, say like every tenth Visa Platinum transaction, once a day. They can also get new instructions when they send their take — so their work is quite hidden. Add that up over time.

What happens to the information once it goes to Pakistan? It gets used, of course. Bank withdrawals are made, plane tickets and other merchandise get purchased. So far, the estimates are between $50 and $100 million. The motivation appears not to be a espionage, but plain old theft. Authorities are watching, though, in case there is a terrorism link, the destination being in Pakistan and all.

What can companies do? That’s a tough question and it may be one of those things where the bad guys are always one step ahead of the good guys. But the good guys can get a little more serious about this. Yes, they will say they have security experts and yes, they will say that such piracy hurts them as much as it hurts, say, Joe The Plumber. “Security is our top priority.”

Nevada has instituted new rules that companies must encrypt the information they keep. But this may not be enough. The whole data chain needs to be protected, just like the food chain.

I think I am going to start paying cash for everything I can!

These are my notes from my latest Pajamas TV segment, which was live yesterday. I don’t yet have a link to the Flash (free) version, but if you check this page, you can see the video as soon as they have posted the free version. (I am not sure they are going to keep on posting free versions; it is meant to be a paid service.)

I’m slated to be on again this Friday, Octopber 17, at 6:00 pm Eastern.

Even as he unveils a new stump speech in which he pointedly avoids personal attacks on his opponent, John McCain is getting slimed in cyberspace by a chain email that is making the rounds. This should not be a surprise; there are a number of similar emails out in the wild about Barack Obama and, more recently, Governor Sarah Palin. But this appears to be the first chain email about McCain. (There have been a few spurious emails, but they are nowhere near the level of vitriol that is aimed at Obama.)

(And see here for my friend Richard Harwood’s take on when hate wins.)

The person who appears to be the author claims that the Washington Post is working on a story about this. About a week ago, she said to expect it in about a week.

The email has the left-leaning blogosphere in a bit of a tizzy. To their credit, they are trying to fact check it.

This new email about McCain purports to be a description of one writer’s vacation encounter with the Senator in Turtle Island in Fiji, shortly before the 2000 election season. The writer says that she spent a week sharing meals and conversation with the Senator, and came away disgusted.

The McCain in the email comes across as a hilarious caricature, obsessively quoting from Faulkner night after night, referring to his adopted Bangladeshi child as a “black thing,” telling a fellow guest named Amy that she needs to lose weight, and saying that if he was in charge he would “nuke Iraq to teach them a lesson.”

Originally there was a name attached to the email, a professor at University of California Santa Cruz, but this professor has categorically denied writing the email. She says she received it and forwarded it on September 16, but not under her name.

But some left-wing bloggers have been pushing to find out who wrote the original email and the name that’s come up is Anasuya Dubey, who in 2005 was a bay-area psychology student. An Australian blogger has spoken to someone who says she is Ana and has published an email from her that claims that Michael Leahy of the Washington Post is working on a story.

Friends, I was on yesterday’s “The Whip” segment of PJTV, which is a segment where they invite their guests to talk about what the “mainstream media” is not covering, is missing, or is just not paying enough attention to. While PJTV is a subscription-based service, this link ought to take you to my segment for free (I am the second guest).

I am slated to be on PJTV on Monday and Friday next week, October 13 and October 17, at about 6pm Eastern.

Here are my notes from yesterday’s segment:

The Chinese version of Skype evidently spies on users. This was discovered by a University of Toronto researcher in relatively simple fashion — by checking out what happened when he used the f-word in a message.

(To be clear, this is a joint venture between a Chinese communications company, TOM, and Skype.)

It turns out that not only are messages being filtered, and not only are they being logged, but it was being kept on an insecure server that was easily accessed through the cyber version of guessing that someone might keep their housekey in the flowerpot.

Skype says they are very concerned about the fact that these messages were insecurely stored — which is sort of like an adulterer saying he’s sorry he got caught. As for the whole message-interception thing, they say that’s just the requirement of the Chinese government and they don’t have any say. And their past public statements about the issue have been contradictory.

This is not at all the first time there have been well-founded worries about what happens when US companies bump up against China — Google has had to promise they won’t house personal info on Chinese soil. Yahoo’s CEO had to publicly apologize to the family of someone who was jailed as a result of their disclosures to the government.

This sounds like it’s all far away — but it matters close to home too.

In the first place, the monitoring is possible not only for users of the TOM/Skype — but also domestic users who interact with the people on the Chinese system.

Secondly, it brings up the issue of what large — and rightly trusted — organizations do about their partners. This affects anyone who has ever purchased anything — point of sale data is typically handled by a contractor, for example. You might trust, say, Best Buy — but you also need to know you can trust their contractors not to lose your personal data. The untold story of the last couple of years has been the rise in inadevertent data breaches. Many millions of records have been divulged, and it’s not just because government workers accidentally take home laptops — according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, since January 2005 there have been more than 245,000,000 individual records divulged accidentally or as a result of malicious hacking.

Yes, 245 million.

I am not saying there ought to be a law — but I am saying that large companies need to get ahead of this issue. Yes it will cost money. It is money well spent.