Friday, August 31, 2007

Functional magnetic resonance imaging: a new lie detector test?


“This company gives lie detector tests.” I recall hearing a coworker say that wound 1982 after six months or so at Chilton Corporation in Dallas, where someone had been fired for tampering with credit reports. In fact, during my six years there in the 80s, I never heard about the polygraph being used, although I had heard that it had been used in the 70s.

Since the polygraph is not admissible in court in criminal cases, I had wondered about the ethics of using it at all in employment. Yet the government uses it with employees with high level top secret security clearances, in cases where there is no need to presume “innocence.” I’ve always perceived it as a bit intrusive, to see cuffs put on someone’s body.

Companies started using other kinds of “lie detection” such as voice stress analysis, or just multiple choice personality tests. In 2003 I took AT&T’s personality test at home and did not get past it, which barred me from applying again for six months. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) uses a personality test for security screeners. Outplacement companies (like Right Management) use them to help classify client occupational aptitudes and interests, with a division of personalities into various categories labeled by color on a kind of Norton Chart. Some of the better known tests are Myers Briggs and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, as discussed here.

On Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007 ABC “Good Morning America” presented a report on functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) presenting an MRI device from a company called “No Lie MRI”, “New Truth Verification Technology.” A reporter went through the MRI, which showed elevated blood flow in certain areas of the brain when she lied. It does not appear that any contrast dyes are injected or that any sort of body invasion takes place (unlike a some lie detection scenes in the shows “Smallville” and “Kyle XY”). The company seems to be looking for investors and more locations.

This reminds one of other medical tests with mind-reading potentials, such as pupilometrics (as in the 1974 film “The Parallax View”) or plethysmography.

It’s all too easy to imagine abuses of this technology, for example, to check sexual orientation of those entering or in the military.

A good blog on the ethics of this new technology is here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Aug. 30, 1997: A personal anniversary, and a new period of my life


Ten years ago today, Saturday, Aug. 30, 1997, I left Arlington VA for Minneapolis and started a new part of my life with a corporate transfer. I had a corporate-paid apartment move from high rise apartment (in Annandale) to another (the famous Churchill in downtown Minneapolis, right across First Street from the main post office, two blocks from the Mississippi River but on a high bluff).

I took three days for the drive, my new 1997 green Escort packed, with my Erols Windows 95 computer (that’s what we used then) in the back, packed carefully. In fact, the move went well: everything worked when I got there. I would spend the first night with a relative in Ohio, and Saturday morning (Aug. 31, six hours behind Europe time) learn from her neighbors in a building elevator what had just happened in Paris to Princess Diana. The second night I would spend myself in a suburb of Chicago. Monday morning, Labor Day, I got stopped in suburban Chicago by a cop for going about 45 on a divided highway when the marked speed was 30. He saw the copy of my authored “Do Ask Do Tell” book in the back with the “coffin” picture of me, and let me go.

The next period in my life would be one of expansion. I would give two lectures on my book through local Libertarian Party of Minnesota connections, one at Hamline University in St Paul (in February 1998), an event that would be taped and shown on local Minneapolis cable television, with numerous coworkers seeing it. The other would come later at the University of Minnesota. This would be a great time, even with my mishap on January 6, 1998 when I would fall in a convenience store and suffer an acetabular hip fracture. Because of leading edge surgery and an employer health plan that did work when all was said and done, I would recover quickly and not miss a day of work after I returned in three weeks.

Having just published a book myself, I would notice a lot of attention to the whole subject of writing and publishing, with attention in the media to Kitty Kelly for her books on the Royal Family. I would meet another self-published author, Vince Flynn, whose novel "Term Limits" from his own "Cloak and Dagger Press" was creating a local media sensation in the Twin Cities.

The notorious Minnesota winters would not be anywhere as bad as expected. The coldest it ever got was -23 F when I was in the hospital in 1998; in fact, most winters it got below zero only two or three times and there were many mild winter days in the 30s and 40s. Sometimes, even in the winter, there was little snow cover. It was not a whole lot different from northern Va. (there are days when it is warmer in Minneapolis than in Washington DC). The northern latitudes are definitely warming faster.

Over time, a lot would change. I would move back to Virginia in August 2003 for family reasons. The Minneapolis bridge over I-35W that collapsed on Aug. 1, 2007 was one mile SE of my apartment. I had crossed it many times. But as that 1968 song says, “those were the days, my friend.” But they did end.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Facebook in the news on several fronts


Facebook is in the news with several developments. Various sources report that Facebook is developing the target marketing concept (actually inherited from the way credit reporting companies did with promotions in the 1980s) by forming groups of advertisers that are good fits for its culture (Apple, MasterCard) and matching them to subscribers. The story is “Facebook to Offer New Ad Options”, by Kevin Newcomb of Clickz, here:

Advertising has long supported the “free content” model for broadcast television, and developing it to match user-generated content is an evolving business concept, as bloggers continue to use it.

Facebook is also in the news with a story by Juan Carlos Perez, “Facebook Cracks Down on Developer Spam: Facebook is now taking steps to prevent some third party applications from engaging in ‘inappropriate actions’", Aug. 28, 2007, here: This came from a Facebook Developers Blog entry by Dave Morin, “Change is Coming,” here:, with a discussion of Profile Boxes. Apparently developers were encouraging profilers to showing icons to visitors encouraging them to add new applications.

There is something disingenuous about they way Facebook presents itself to the entire public, though. If you go to the facebook.com home page now, you see, on the right side, “Everyone Can Use Facebook” before the green SingUp button. But if you read the terms of service, you see that a subscriber must be enrolled in high school or college (as well as be at least 13). Facebook is well known for “whitelisting” and for keeping the universe of possible visitors limited, in order to protect privacy, and originally it was more active in this area than Myspace.

“Facebook grows up” provided the cover story for the Aug 20 issue of Newsweek, and a story about how college student Mark Zuckerberg dreamed of a new way for stuents to connect, with the link at MSNBC here: “Facebook” would become a verb, a leading edge of Web 2.0, sounding more like a verb and easier to “conjugate” than “Myspace.”

Monday, August 27, 2007

Online reputation alerts -- and a call for "best practices"


“They” – the online reputation gurus – tell everyone to check their names in search engines – several of them. Now my situation is a bit unusual. My legal name is one thing; my middle initial generates a nickname “Bill” that I kind of use as a pen name. Furthermore, I have an Eastern European last name (Bohemian) with an unusual spelling. I do have relatives in the Midwest (such as Kansas, where there is a basketball player with my last name) but probably won’t be confused with many people.

If I Google my full legal name, I get one page of references. If I use the customary name with middle initial, I get eight. With “Bill” I get twelve. The count increases if you search for “omitted” references. That shows a lot self-promoting activity and controversy, mostly in activist matters involving free speech and (cause celebre in the 90s) the “don’t ask don’t tell” issue.

What does this mean for my “reputation”? I guess it is in the eyes of the beholder. But, as I’ve noted in earlier posts, there are certainly issues for some employers. It’s not as critical for me since I “retired” and have some income. I wouldn’t have done this if I were in my thirties. Say, I were to use my twelve years of information technology in the life insurance business and go out and become an agent. Isn’t that logical, to go out and sell it? Isn’t that what many retired people are expected to do? Then I have to live the life and become a “member of the community.” Were a customer to look me up, depending on his or her own social background, some of my candor might be a bit jarring. The same thing would be true if I became a public school teacher.

I’ve thought about this kind of problem for a number of years, and in earlier times I have even said that managers and people paid to speak for others or make decisions about others should not speak for themselves on their own in a “free entry” mode of totally public blogs, sites and profiles. They are, after all, being paid to represent the interests of others in a public manner. Wouldn't employers want to discourage people from putting forth their own personal world-view this way through a free entry mechanism, diluting the effect of their official capacity to represent the organization?

But wait a minute? If you hide in plain sight, people will wonder who you are. The very fact that the Internet and blogs exist will, in a sense, “out” everyone. If I apply for a job just as an individual contributor in information technology (my thirty years war career) won’t employers want to find me on message boards discussing the latest java programming techniques? You find that with a lot of younger IT techies, and you find it with teenagers: a lot of curiosity about gadgetry for its own sake, and a certain superficiality. (I am reminded of the coworker who impressed everyone with the offering of a Linux operating system for a 386 style machine on one 1.44 IBM-formatted floppy.)

We just haven’t decided what to believe about “online reputation” because our culture doesn’t quite get what to make of the notion. Some families and employers look at it as an extension of conversation and dress (sartorial tastes). I remember an EDS memo back from 1972 giving the employee dress code – very strict and prudish in those days [in the 50s IBM actually checked men for garters], that reasoned that customers don’t understand computers so they need the reassurance of well-dressed professionals. Today, that could translate into needing to find comfort if they look up their favorite consultant online. True, something you shouldn’t say in the workplace (because of hostile workplace and harassment concerns) you probably shouldn’t post, at least with inappropriate vocabulary, online either, even at home from your own computer on your own blog. And if you wouldn’t want to be seen drunk in public, you probably shouldn’t post a YouTube video (or let anyone else do so) of your behavior if you do go overboard.

The issues are far more subtle than that, however. The fact that certain subject matter would concern me certainly tells a visitor something about my personality. In fact, I am willing to present myself, not only with candor, but in a manner that seems, on the surface, to be self-deprecating, in order to make a political point (resentment over superficial social ideas of the “male role” as “protector” for example). In one case, I created a furor with a screenplay fiction short that I posted in which I presented a character too much like me as the bad guy, speaking hypothetically. Some people thought it was crazy to do that, because of what others will think. At least make the protagonist different (female, straight, etc). (That’s the whole “Touching” case issue that I discussed in detail on this blog July 27).

I would even go further in may case, and say that to some people, my publication of this mass of material on the Internet reflects, not just introversion, but maybe hostility to accepting the presence of other people and bonding with them. People with "real responsibilities" don't do this; they have to be focused on narrow interpretations of their interests. So isn't it a bit "rude"? Maybe. But in my early 50s I made a decision that "knowledge management" -- with a particular emphasis on "connecting the dots" (something our leadership doesn't do well in a bureaucracy and that families somethings think they can't afford to do) would be my second career. There can hardly be a turning back. Yes, it all started with "don't ask don't tell." It was time to tell.

It seems that employers have a new tool, besides personality tests and voice tests: the search engine. But it’s obvious that the people who built the Internet never really intended that it be used as a tool to measure social conformity. Furthermore, there are obvious problems with erroneous information. Someone with a common name will have many other people to be confused with. People do post derogatory comments and videos about others, on profiles, blogs and message boards. And people act pretty silly on a lot of message boards. No one, until a couple of years ago, imagined these as a job screening hazard.

Recently, on a Sunday morning Today show, experts told consumers to check their names frequently on search engines for misinformation posted by others, and also indicated that major search engines have services called “alerts” to inform them by email when their names (whether for them or like-named individuals) get indexed. This sounds a bit like paranoia.

It is true, though, the Internet (sites, blogs, profiles, message boards, listservers) is a lot more than “conversation”. Until fifteen or so years ago, the practical logistical difficulty of finding print in libraries or on microfilm tended to mean that comments tended to die. So did verbal comments in “conversation”, even though some of us can tell stories with unpleasant reoccurrences of the “long memories” of others (myself included). Now they can stay indexed by search engines, open to the public in any home in the world with an Internet connection, for years or decades.

It’s only relatively recently that the legal community has started to recognize that this is an unexplored area that the law, in its current state, is uncertain about. The “Touching” problem certainly fits in to this uncertainty. But what should be clear that profiles and blogs involve publication (the software vendors and ISP’s, in all of their encouragement of self-expression, call it just that), which is, in practice, a bit more than just conversation (even the name of the famous 1974 movie), or something that you practice in a foreign language class. In fact, even in the law, the term “publication” can have multiple meanings, which adds to the confusion.

The human resources world, as should the college and grad school admissions world, should hone in on what is reasonable and ethical use of gumshoeing of people on the Internet, where much information is wrong, perhaps self-posted for purposes of irony, or even about the wrong person. This is certainly a call for “best practices.”

Picture: Can a 1940s vacuum cleaner “clean up my digital dirt”?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Texas Rangers pound Orioles 30-3 in game of 50s Backyard Baseball: boyhood lessons


Holy Cow, a baseball game in which the winner scores 30 runs. Last night, the bottom-feeding Texas Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles 30-3 in the first game of a twi-night doubleheader, probably played not even in the best of light for hitting. They went on to take two and add to the humiliation with a 9-7 win in the nightcap. The game was played in Camden Yards, and the Rangers were the visitors.

Sports reporters say that no major league team had scored more than 30 runs in a game since 1897. I believe that in the 1950s the Chicago White Sox beat the Kansas City Athletics 29-6 (at home in old Comiskey Park). .

In fact, Baltimore led 3-0 after three innings in that first game, and 16 of the runs came in the 8th and 9th. Had the game occurred in Texas, the score would have been “just” 24-6 because of the home team “x” in the box line score.

I lived in Dallas in the 1980s, when the Rangers were mediocre in that pre-Ballpark-in-Arlington days. 1986 was the one good year, and that year, the Rangers, down 11-6, beat the Baltimore Orioles in old symmetrical Memorial Stadium 13-11 with eight and ninth inning rallies, a game that would mark a three year slide for the Birds.

Is this sandlot baseball? Is it like the stick ball in New York City streets?

The game reminds me of the Backyard Baseball League here in the 1950s that us kids founded. In those days, yards were big enough to make softball (and especially whiffleball) feasible. We played two or three to a team and had a force play at the plate, which not everyone understood. We had an individual “league” with the rules rigged to keep the scores reasonable. For example, “over the fence” was out in most yards and areas, but you could hit a home run by looping the ball into a wicket-bounded garden in front of the fence (a “blast” of maybe 90 feet), or if the ball ricocheted back into the yard off the wall or roof of the next house (in some yards). (You also had to loop the ball around a poplar tree in our yard; the kids learned the word “interference”; a wild pitch into the next yard also gave the batter a run.) Physically behind the other boys and slightly older, I made up the rules. It was brains over brawn, just as in the Richard Connell story “The Most Dangerous Game.” I designed the rules so that the scores would be reasonable, more or less like major league scores. I also designed them so that I could win at home, which I usually did, and the other kids resented the fact that the “underdog” boy (me) could win that way. (One of the boys would die in Vietnam, whereas I would be “sheltered” by deferments and a protected MOS when I went.) The most lopsided loss I ever had was 31-4 (a 27 run margin, just like in the Orioles game) and that was “on the road.” The most lopsided loss at home was 17-1 (sounds like the Nat's 15-1 loss to the Tigers this year at RFK). Most of the home games would up like 3-2 or 4-3. At least one of those other yards has been carved up by modern home expansion. 1958 was “The Year of the Backyard League” and the Washington Senators lost the last 13 games of the year scoring almost no runs (September was always real bad); in 1959 they would lose 18 in a row, including all the games on a “western trip”. (In those days, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and Kansas City were the “West” and Washington, Baltimore, New York and Boston were the “East”. Baseball had just come to the West Coast that year with the Giants and Dodgers. Expansion would soon come.

The other game that I took up was chess, and in my best days I got up almost to 2000 USCF. Since starting writing in the 1990s, I have had almost no time for tournament chess, and could not be “competitive” now. But chess got to be a bit like baseball. The events on the 64-square board imitated the moral dilemmas of life. A player’s “team” was his opening repertoire (in the pre-Internet era keeping up with books and magazines was a challenge). I liked openings that were theoretically defendable or justifiable (because that fit my notion of ethics) but that led to sharp, tactical complications. I recall well the controversies of the Sicilian Yugoslav Dragon, or the Winawer French Poisoned Pawn. And I remember how the "moral values" of openings and middle games translated into the Endgame and "opposition" and sometimes zugzwang.

I look forward to the Nat's new stadium next year, even if it displaced by favorite club (The Velvet Nations). What an irony if I wind up working some day in one of the new office buildings in the waterfront area and going to “businessman’s special” matinee games, or living in one of the condos. It could happen.

The boyhood experiments make me wonder about the sacrosanct rules of MLB. Will the visiting team always bat first? (What happens when there is a rainout and the makeup game is played in the "visiting team's" city in September? Does someone know? If so please comment.) (P.S. On Aug. 24, the Nats committed the worst of sins, blowing a four run lead in the bottom of the ninth at Colorado. In 2005, the blew a five run lead this way in San Diego. In June 1961, the "new" Senators blew a 12-5 lead with two outs and a man on first in the bottom of the ninth in Boston.)

I've thought that pro football could use even more rules changes, such as a way to score one point: if you down a punt or kickoff in the end zone, it is one point. (You could have a football final score of 1-0, now mathematically impossible.) That would be rare, but would lead more safeties, fumbles leading to touchdowns, etc. It would make things even more interesting.

Is there a moral to all of this? Maybe. I think it can be found in Connell’s famous story.

Picture: Old Griffith Stadium at a game with the Yankees; a toy model stadium made as a board game around 1957.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Blogs should archive content by category: a good way to help visitors navigate issues


As I’ve noted before, one of my greatest interests is in developing web-based methods of help users navigate through the social and political issues and understand them with more objectivity.

One tool that I have noticed on some blogs is a technique called “tags and categories” which enables the blogger to archive work by subject matter.

One good example of this technique is illustrated by the Chinaview blog. Again, I’m pointing this out for the technique, not to take sides on controversies over China. For example, look at this link on activists, or this one on “Boycott Beijing Olympics". It appears that the tag and category archiving works in both contexts.

Another great example of the power of this technique is to be found on gaypatriot.net, which calls itself “The Internet home for the American gay conservative”. I talked about the homocon issue with respect to myself on this blog in early January. On a posting intended to talk about Internet systems, I’m not trying to sell the point, but accept the fact that the subject matter fits in with most people’s ideas of “modern pluralistic democratic capitalism” (whether American, European, or Asian), social and political systems where at some point the individual transcends the family or group. After all, that’s what debate and free speech rest on. On the lower left side of the home page of that blog, you can see many categories of archives (even “global warming”) and you can, by navigating the archive, understand the relationship of any of these issues to the underlying experience of a “gay conservative.” It’s worthy of note that the Human Rights Campaign also has a geographic cross-reference tool to keep track of all GLBT issues state-by-state here:

Wordpress apparently offers this on its free blogs (Wordpress.com) and it also offers publishing software (Wordpress.org) that has more features but that runs only on a domain that the web author sets up (and equates to the content with address records).

On Blogger (originally Push Button Publishing), there is a tremendous array of these same features, with a lot of discussion on Blogger Help of site feeds and syndication, as well as automated advertising. But I am unable to find discussion of archiving by category.

Both sites discuss spam blogs (and spam in blogs); Wordpress suggests Askimet. Companies are fighting this by requiring heuristic verification (a human eye) to prevent automatic generation of posts.

What I have done so far is maintain multiple blogs, which amount to separate “categories” manually. The visitor can find the other blogs by looking at the Profile link on the blog (usually presented in reverse chronological order of when they were updated), although a visitor probably needs to be aware enough of how Blogger works to think of looking for it. This is a good concept to teach in community college or adult education IT classes.

As for syndication, I am interested in it, but would want to restrict it to material that is narrower and more factual – say, court opinions and legislation that affect Internet speech. Readers need to be told when there is a new bill or opinion, they don’t necessarily need to be told about the latest personal opinion on gay marriage. In fact, given statistics, I can tell that many readers can find opinions very well by themselves.

One other piece of all of this: blogs often give references to news stories, which themselves often archive or disappear. Some newspapers have started pseudo-blocking deep links by sending them to the home page. This is simply dumb. What we need is a more efficient, Amazon-like integrated system for newspapers (and their reporters – just ask the National Writers Union) to receive credit card payment from visitors who want to read original, fact-checked material once archived.

Update: April 11, 2008

I find that the "labels for this post" in Blogger gives much of the same functionality as "categories" in Wordpress. I don't see an option on the template or settings screens to display the categories in Blogger, but I've seen other blogspot blogs now that have them. I'm wondering if that is a function of the template chosen, and that I am using older templates. I've put categories on many entries on this blog. If the user clicks on the label at the bottom of the posts, the visitor will see all the postings on that blog with the same label.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Wikipedia open-source editors now not so anonymous


Recently, widespread media reports have noted that Wikipedia is often edited by employees of corporations or organizations seeking to “correct” information about them, but probably trying to improve the public spin.

There now exists a forensic website that can ferret (by IP address tracing, essentially) the anonymous sources of Wikipedia edits, “List anonymous Wikipedia edits from interesting organizations,” here: It was developed by an Indiana University graduate student, Virgil Griffith. (Gr is the TLD for Greece.)

Most corporations have policies against editing external sites or personal blogging with corporate computers, at least without management approval. But apparently some companies have quietly used Wikipedia’s open nature to perfect their “online reputation.”

As noted earlier on this blog (Aug. 6), Wikipedia (after all, defending its pursuit of Truth) has instituted policies against “self promotion” and “conflict of interest.” But these have become more visible only recently, as Wikipedia has needed to protect itself from academic criticism.

The New York Times story on Sunday, Aug. 19, p A1 print, is by Katie Hafner, “Lifting Corporate Fingerprints from Editing of Wikipedia,” here: (will require registration and may require purchase). ABC News has a story “Anonymous Editing: Wikipedia Can Track Authors: Programmer Says Some Try to Manipulate Entries,” Monday Aug. 20, here (“Good Morning America” story). Apparently, the CIA and some politicians have also edited Wikipedia surreptitiously.

As I’ve noted before, my own “libertarianesque” concept of a new worldwide utility site (based on Goethe's "eternal feminine" goal of Truth) is one that allows entry of both opinions and facts, clearly identifies and links and navigates among them, clear identifies sources, rates sources as to fact-checking, and provides links to (credit card) payment mechanisms to publishers or news services that want to charge for their work.

On Wed. Aug 22 The Washington Times, on p A16 print, ran a humorous editorial "Wicked Wikis" on these findings. Nothing is quite as it looks.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Are we on a financial precipice?


On Monday, Oct. 19, 1987, I took a flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco, and when a friend picked me up at the airport, he pulled over on the shoulder of a feeder interstate and said, “The stock market crashed today.”

We all know now that the 1987 crash was an aberration, a technical failure where programmed trading, governed by 80s technology, took over as part of portfolio insurance. On Aug. 31, 1998, a coworker came to my cubicle and said, “the stock market crashed today” and then the percentage was much less, although the numerical drop was about the same, as the Russian and Asian financial crisis developed. Walter Russell Mead wrote a famous piece about that in the October 1998 issue of Esquire, as noted in Robert Hahnel’s book “Panic Rules! Everything You Need to Know About the Global Economy” (1999) (check Amazon).

Much worse has happened since. I saw a company that I worked for lose 20% in one day in 1999 just because of some misconstrued off-hand remarks in a shareholder meeting about reinsurance.

Edward Chancellor has an article “How Depressing: Look Out: This Crunch Is Serious”, with a yellow diamond sign with a down arrow, in the Outlook section of The Washington Post today, Aug. 19, 2007, p B1 print, here.
He doesn't see the Fed's action Friday Aug 16 as more than a quick fix.

He refers to a Breaking Reviews website for news on the very latest trends.

Nelson D. Schwartz and Vikas Bajaj have an article on page A1 of The New York Times, today, p A1, “Credit Time Bomb Ticked, But Few Heard: How Missed Signals Contributed to Mortgage Meltdown”

The articles talk about hedge funds and bond funds for subprime loans, but the underlying issues are the behaviors of consumers. For a couple years, unbelievably, lenders have given out zero-down-payment loans with no questions asked, not even a job. That sounds like schizophrenic behavior in a post 9/11 world where you wonder if the person moving in next door could attract harm.

The mandate for personal home ownership is a result of complex interaction of many social factors, some of them having to do with the way the individual has modified the original idea of the male provider and protector of the family. Extreme capitalism, noted by David Callahan (“The Cheating Culture”) may result as a certain kind of expression of hyper-individualism. Yet, male competitive behaviors continue, resulting in behavior on Wall Street that seems more appropriate in Las Vegas (where they don’t allow card counting if they catch it). Home ownership has also been driven by racial factors, by the idea of getting rich quick, and the tenuous situations of many rental tenants, who get driven out by conversions, often regarded as “second class citizens” compared to “homeowners” who may be laden with ballooning debt in order to provide home ownership for their “families”. Some of it doesn’t make rational sense, as I discussed back in 1999 in this enclosure. It's easy for a lot of aggressive "families" and individuals to wind up in foreclosure with deficiency debts, a horrible situation that I recall from the real estate crash in Texas at the end of the 1980s. Long memories are necessary. Yep, I know there are entrepreneurs who will follow sheriffs and visit court house steps to flip foreclosures. Not for me.

Ultimately economic stability depends on the ability of the global economy to create real wealth and raising living standards, issues challenges by uneven demographics, global warming, declining oil production, and so on – and political instability (the haves and have nots). This is what really matters.

As for Monday morning, Yahoo! represents Wall Street as expecting maybe another Fed fix, as it awaits housing data. (Story.) Everybody says you have to buy real estate to get rich. Donald Trump did, but don't believe it. What goes up can come down, no matter what it is.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pruning the teen brain and pre-teen brain: specifically, mine




Back in the 1940s and 50s my family took a one week vacation every summer to Ocean City. Those were the days before the Bay Bridge when you took a ferry across the Chesapeake Bay and couldn’t see the Kent Island shore from the other side at ground level. It was fun. We stayed with another family in apartments one block from the beach.

In the summer of 1950, I got the measles there. We cut short the trip can came home after four days. I had finished first grade. Measles is a dangerous infection that now is prevented by mandatory vaccination. It can leave subtle central nervous system damage.

I did well in school in first and second grades with few problems. I remember the math drills in second grade, memorizing the multiplication tables. Teaching grade school, drilling kids, must be exhausting work.

By the third grade, something was “wrong.” I did not get along with the teacher, and I seemed to be falling behind physically, unable to compete with other boys on the playground. For a while if affected me academically, as on one Weekly Reader test I got the lowest grade in the class. I seemed a bit unfocused, dyslexic, and had trouble with attention, and tended to interrupt in class and demand attention.

But something else was going on. By February of 1952, I became aware of an interest in music, which I cannot explain. We bought a Kimball piano. I started lessons with a private teacher who gave lessons and ran a Wednesday class in the basement of her nearby Arlington home. About the time I started the music lessons, the problems with reading and dyslexia seemed to turn around quickly, and by fifth grade, at least, I had a reputation as a good student, which I progressively would become in middle school and especially high school. The music obviously made a difference. In time, it would expand. I would subscribe to the Sherwood Musical School course from Chicago, play in recitals and rated festivals, and the idea of a career was under serious consideration. I would develop a music memory and be able to recognize most major classical works by one excerpt. I cannot explain this. The music memory would expand in the 60s and conductors like Leonard Bernstein would expand the standard repertoire to include all of Mahler and Carl Nielsen, and other post-romantic and early modern composers would develop followings.

We hear a lot about the “teen brain” and the process of “pruning” that starts in adolescence and leads to the young adult personality with its specialized capabilities that will define the adult productive life. For some people, the “pruning” probably starts earlier. That leads to exceptional maturity in some areas (look at the focus of some teen actors and performers) and sometimes deficits in others. In my case, the measles might have done some subtle damage, limiting my ability to handle everything. The music lessons enable the intellect to develop but caused other physical and social abilities (eventually including the inclination to court and pamper women) normally expected of boys to be “crowded out” or “laid off” because there was not room for them and they were perceived by my developing brain as not needed. Sometimes the pattern seems related to milder forms of autism, like Asperger syndrome, where the child or teen (often a boy) is introverted and able to stimulate himself mentally and rejects unnecessary and distracting social pressures to respond to others.

This comes to take on a moral aspect. My father was very concerned about this and tried to force me to do normal chores, not just adequately for the actual practical situation, but with mechanical perfection. Father was actually a workshop hobbyist and enjoyed doing mechanical chores and restorations around the house, including working on cars. He saw getting me to do these things as mandatory socialization, that I should not count on the world allowing me to live the way I wanted to or have the music career I wanted. That’s an understandable attitude from a generation that went through the Depression and World Wars. I think he saw this as a prerequisite for being able to develop an interest in women, and marry and have children (I am an only child) in order to respected as a man in society. This mindset gets back to a sense of duty and acceptance of external adversity and order that earlier generations did not question the way activists have since the 1960s. One gives up expressing one’s deepest talents and gifts in order to conform to the moral demands of others to “pay one’s dues” and be able to share commitment and sacrifice. Parents, when demanding that "different" children conform to their direction in detail, seem to be trying to channel their children into emotional loyalty and conformity as a prerequisite for being able to "do their own thing" later.

By the late 1950s, with the Cold War, it was becoming apparent that “geeks” were going to be valuable, and society started to deal with the fact that it needed to tolerate, even encourage, those who were different. Indeed, its survival might depend on them. This became horribly difficult with all of the social issues that would erupt: civil rights, desegregation, the draft, the unfairness of draft deferments, and then the corruption underneath the Vietnam war itself, and corruption within the White House. Individualism started to look like a good thing. Yet, I was discouraged (by the threat of unfavorable draft treatment) to follow music and to enter science and math instead, which I did. Of course, from other postings (Nov. 28) readers know about what happened at William and Mary in 1961.

The Warner Brothers show Everwood presented a teenage boy piano prodigy (Ephram, played powerfully by Canadian actor Gregory Smith) who is on track to go to Julliard and loses the opportunity in an episode where he tries to prove himself “a man.” I lost the opportunity more or less for the opposite reasons, and that it a bit of an irony.

I suppose my genetic background did include some unusual gifts, but because I did not compete well in "manly" pursuits, I came to believe, in my "overly rational" teen brain, that it did not make sense for me to "compete" to have a wife and family. It made more sense to live in a specialized, aesthetic emotional world that turned physics inside out, like a pineapple upside-down cake. That's the way pruning works. It means that some genes are lost forever. I sometimes wonder, at least in a personal context, if avoiding conception more profound but subtle moral implications as terminating a life once it is conceived. Or did Griswold v. Connecticut settle that in 1962? Whatever the moral thinking, the most profoundly intimate parts of one's life do have implications for the futures of others.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

P2P RIAA and MPAA: redux


This is a good time to review the P2P problem again, as the concerns persist. I wrote about it on March 30.

I notice here at Electronic Frontier Foundation’s link “File Sharing: It’s Music to our Ears” It has a proposal for a new business model: Voluntary Collective Licensing of music, here. Artists could elect not to join but might not be effective in collecting royalties. It’s possible to imagine this for the movies and other media, and it is unclear if more established artists believe they would get their just due from downstream (given that there have been comparable squabbles – like in the National Writers Union -- about what happens when print goes online). Another idea would be Ad Revenue sharing. Another idea could be Individual Compulsory Licenses.

EFF also has a disturbing record of “MPAA” against “The People” here: Along these lines, we’ve noted in the movies blog that theater chains have sporadically started prosecuting moviegoers for camcording inside theaters. The movie studios have a particular grippe with BitTorrent.

EFF has a file of best practices for home users, “How To Not Get Sued for File Sharing (And Other Ideas to Avoid Being Treated Like a Criminal)”. They recommend either disabling sharing features of a home P2P application (and that would interfere with an artist sharing his or her own movies or music), or inspecting the “Shared Folder” and ensuring that there are no potentially infringing files, or even files with names similar to infringing files that might cause false litigation.

It’s a good idea to read carefully the criticisms of the 2003 RIAA “amnesty offer”.

A serious problem has been lawsuits filed against innocent parties, including one who did not own a computer. There is a gray area with parents and their kids. In many cases defendants have settled (for a few thousand dollars) because the cost of defending themselves could be more. An important case was Capitol v. Foster. It’s important that average home owners, not publishing or distributing anything, could get caught up in this if they have a P2P application and they are mistakenly identified, or they allow others (like roommates) to use their computers (a scenario that happens on campuses).

Of course, bloggers have to follow copyright law, and can get into serious trouble over this, or other issues: link. The Creative Commons license is an important concept. Deep linking (without framing) is becoming understood as acceptable, even if some old-line companies don’t like to see bloggers do it to them because of the “impression” it creates. It does not appear (as far as I can tell from what I can find on this) to violate copyright law to link to infringing material unless the blogger does so in bad faith – knowing that the material is infringing and intending to encourage infringement. There have been many videos on YouTube removed recently because of copyright infringement or other potential objections (the Van Gogh film “Submission”) but linking to them does not appear to cause a problem normally. The site will tell the visitor if a video has been removed. Films actually owned by companies or television stations (including overseas) must be purchased and licensed properly for distribution (usually to domestic distribution companies associated with studios) before third parties can post them on the Internet. YouTube has tightened its terms of service and will ban permanently parties who deliberately violate copyright law.

Music companies and motion picture studios have difficulty adjusting their business models to technology, which can give individual techies (like Shawn Fanning of Napster) the ability to overturn their practices with little capital. This was true with the VCR in the early 1980s. Some of the problem could be competition from legal, but low overhead artists (the “turf problem”) which DMCA can interfere with; but the actual threat to jobs from low-cost competition is essentially trivial (low cost competitors start new companies and are likely to create more jobs than they “destroy”), where the threat from piracy is quite significant. Likewise, “networked journalism” is seen by some unions and papers as a threat to the jobs of established journalists, while other papers go with the flow and start using it.

I have, in other postings, suggested that new databases and web applications could join the functionality of Wikipedia and similar sites with Amazon / BN and news organizations (AP, Reuters, UPI, etc), and provide a more efficient means for consumers to locate leading edge information and statistics (as on the health care debate), with a commons method of (with credit cards) paying original publishers and fact-checking sources, enlarging upon what Amazon already has.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Dems last night: it shouldn't matter how people are "born"


Last night, six of the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates gave a rousing debate (“Invisible Vote 08: A Presidential Forum”) on the Logo network from Los Angeles. Some observers were not that pleased when Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, seemed to waffle when asked to comment on whether sexual orientation is “chosen.” He indicated that it is not the right or relevant question, and I agree. The blogger link is here.

There’s not much question that biological elements (and “brain wiring”), whether genetic or congenital, have something to do with eventual adult erotic and emotional attachments.

Now here is where it gets tough, close to offensive. Many behaviors or conditions with adverse medical or social consequences are likely to have a biological basis. Some of them (obesity) occur more often in some groups than others for historical reasons (such as in native Americans who suddenly start eating a “western” diet). Today (August 10, 2007) ABC “Good Morning America” had a controversial report on employers’ “fining” employees for not maintaining physical fitness or body mass index (something like it actually happens in a scene in the film “Oceans 13” where a casino cocktail waitress is fired). I suppose people could be charged more premiums for being pregnant, or for testing HIV positive (that was a real threat in the 80s) or all kinds of other things. That is a very slippery slope, as Tori Johnson and Chris Cuomo acknowledged. A couple years ago Weyco and a few other companies started firing people for off-duty cigarette smoking. There are various questions about how much of this is lawful.

In the workplace, as pointed out, some employees “pay” for the “problems” of others. That’s a fact of life. Risks are shared. That’s why we have insurance. Some risks are related to personal “choices” and others are not. It is very hard to draw the line. In health insurance the concept is called “moral hazard,” an idea that seems offensive to some. All of this is an important background for our notion of moral values.

I’m not defending this practice of some employers here. I’m recognizing but not advocating the desire of insurance companies to minimize risk – but it sets up troubling questions in many areas (auto insurance companies often charge single men more). In health insurance, the public is entitled to good information (which it really still does not have) as to how well a single payer system really works in other countries like Canada or Britain. All of this can be on the table. And no one can object to making accommodations to those with needs, especially when the accommodations make people productive.

All that said, the main point with all of these issues that, in a free society, individuals still have to own ultimate personal responsibility for their own “issues.” It’s their own personal karma. Sometimes it is shared in a filial manner. It’s still important to resolve things that are harmful, even if they have a genetic or biological explanation. With sexual orientation, it seems that focusing on "biology" almost acquiesces to a presumption of harm or at least emotional evasiveness, by trying to define another class of people, when instead we can focus on rights and responsibilities.

So that’s what Bill Richardson must have meant by evading the question of “choice”. He knows how easy it is go down the wrong path and make a Dr. Laura gaffe. (He admitted to making another one in Spanish himself.) What matters is the individual rights of the person for his own adult intimate life, and the responsibility that goes with the rights. That’s where the moral debate still is. It also needs to be noted that what some people mean by claiming some things to be immutable is (beyond claiming that people should become another suspect class) that they should not become the subject of social disapproval, discrimination, or even personal emotional distancing at all.

What strikes me is, whatever the explanation, I did not perform one function that is obviously indispensable for continuing civilization: procreation. That’s an objective fact. I did not develop an emotional openness necessary for it. I disdained the pampering and the gratuitous intimacy and deference to gender norms and “complementarity”. Perhaps there was not enough capacity in my brain, or just too many circuit logic conflicts, to accommodate musical talent, intellect, make competitiveness, and the emotions that go along with courting the opposite sex all at in the same region; and this gets to take on a “moral dimension” inasmuch as others supply things that I depend on. As far as not having children to feel proud of, I take full responsibility. But the difficult thing is that I realize that it is much easier to share family responsibility for others if you do have children. And it's much easier to take responsibility for others (even protectively) in our culture (especially given our legal system) if you can fall in love with an adult member of the opposite sex first. That's just the reality of it, and relates to the attempt to own up and "do something about it." And I see how some of my personality characteristics affect my ability to function in situations of forced intimacy, where one may, even though not fully one’s own terms, have to participate in defending the freedom of others. (All that said, I actually served in the Army 1968-1970 without incident). My demeanor may affect my ability to serve as a role model for other people’s children if that were to be expected. How much of this “it takes a village” responsibility is mine to share? How much is to be expected? It seems like a relevant moral question. I hardly think that a Victorian or feudal system where marriage is expected or nearly required for full citizenship and moral equality is good for society now; people really should marry for love first, right? There seems to be a bit of an impasse.

I can say it would be much easier for me to “pay my dues” if the law gave me full equality – the right to serve in the military (a theoretical but moot point given my age), fully equal rights for marriage and adoption (a responsibility that in practice I would hardly be prepared for given thirty years of “urban exile.”) But I do understand the psychological basis of many people for the objection. Many people, committed to lifelong monogamous marriage with children, feel that the demands of fidelity and intimacy are too much unless they own a public monopoly on sexuality and are somewhat privileged by it. Gay children, they feel, do not given them the emotional payback (grandchildren) that they had counted on, and public gay culture disrupts their focus and seems to be playing umpire with them rather than participating. The outside media-saturated culture just provides too many distractions from "real life". Yet, this is a question of personal responsibility, too. Ultimately, people “choose” to get married and have children. The trouble is, too many people believe that they have to.

There is, perhaps, an even more subtle meaning to "immutability." Since gay men tend not to experience the interpersonal emotions that married couples develop in the procreation and parenting process but "benefit" from being raised, they may seem ungrateful for not being more respectful for their parents' perception of intimacy, something that they themselves do not experience but can know only intellectually, because of biological wiring or the way they are "born." This leads to profound ethical questions. (Is that why John Edwards had at one time said he was not comfortable around "these people"? Because of how "we" can make him question himself? He seems on board now.)

But, well, political candidates are not willing to say these things, at least not in public. Only bloggers do.

Important story on NBC Today on "reputation defense", blogger here.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Fair Game for tests, and for blogs -- usually


Once, in eleventh grade English, the teacher said, “Anything covered in class is fair game for tests.”

Again, it’s necessary to reiterate a few points about blogs, mine at least. One is that any subject is “fair game.” No topic, by itself, is off limits as subject matter for a blog if somehow it connects to an important liberty-related (like First Amendment) issue. Some readers know that last week a man in Los Angeles was subject to a civil restraining order because of his blogs, but the best information is that this went way beyond just a subject as an intellectual matter. Anyone does have a legitimate right to argue publicly for a change in laws through political or judicial processes, including age of consent laws. That particular person apparently went way beyond “argument.” Yes, presenting one’s interests in certain contexts with certain specificity goes beyond community standards. (Link).

Why get into so many things? I covered that before, how I started with the “gays in the military” problem and found the arguments getting into basic areas about the sharing of burdens – external, and internal, like family responsibility – and the inability of many people committed in marriages to tolerate cultural distraction or competition from others with different personal values. That gets to cover practically everything in politics. Anything can get to be a threat to freedom. (Even the idea of the restraining order, above.)

And, yes, it goes on the unrestricted Internet, for the search engines, for anyone 12000 miles away to see. For some people, that can present some issues. For example, as often noted, employers, at least for some jobs.

One issue that comes to mind is confidentiality. I stated my own confidentiality policy on May 14 on another blog, here. That still holds. Again, I will not take a job to “expose” a company (I did resign from one job in 2003 when I discovered illegality. That’s right, quit immediately.) Of course, I respect business confidences and trade secrets (and some laws, like HIPAA, have real teeth in enforcing confidentiality). Normally, I don’t expect the humdrum customer details in the workplace to be of any concern to my political beliefs, and I avoid employers where I think something the employer does could expose me to a risk like that. (That’s “conflict of interest”.) My arguments do touch so many areas that I can imagine some concerns. A health insurance company, for example, could view “in-network discounts” as of political interest to someone as verbally aggressive (on the Net) as me.

Another issue is objectivity. Normally, I am not able to go to work for some entity just to represent that entity’s point of view and restrict myself in public to their position. Objectivity requires completeness, not baby talk to win converts. (I remember that 11th grade history teacher who took points off on his essay tests for missing any pro or con argument for anything that he asked about. I’m not sure if he was training activists or journalists.) For example, many GLBT organizations emphasize that gayness is biologically immutable, and that leads to simple arguments. But it is much more correct and shows much more integrity to talk about the “fundamental rights” and “shared responsibilities” and go through all the painful existential stuff.

That also means that I don’t avoid something just because merely talking about it could endanger my “reputation” with a guilt-by-association logic (which sometimes spreads to other people). I won’t allow another company to manage my online “reputation.”

I remember a certain paradox with the Ninth Street Center in New York in the 1970s: the books by Paul Rosenfels and the content of the talk groups were an "open secret" and yet nobody it except those who wanted to see it. During those pre-Internet days, people who went there tended to live with a low profile. With globalization of communication, suddenly new ideas and the people connected to them become "viral." Yet, there has often existed a culture of "secret knowledge," as within the cultural fraternities (the Masons, the Rosicrucians, etc). The idea seems to be breaking down today.

It is possible that, in advancing the goals that I have discussed earlier (basically improving “journalism” by enabling visitors to connect the dots on their own without leaving authorities to do it for them) that, if someone is paying the dime, I could have to remove material. I might even have to remove everything. But I won’t have a profile just to let someone else misrepresent or package me for their purposes. I’m 64, and that’s just too old for appearances.

Update: Aug 20, 2007


Should IT consultants blog on their own with their own domain names? I've taken some pretty hard stands on the past that there are serious ethical limits, but here is one piece from Tech Republic, "Should consultants blog?" by Chip Camden. His answer is definitely, Yes. You may need registration to view this. Link is this.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Parents check their kids' roommates' Facebook and Myspace profiles


Today, Aug. 8, 2007, Washington DC’s NBC4 station had a report at 4 PM that parents of college freshmen (usually legal adults and 18 or older) have been checking Facebook (and presumably Myspace and other profiles and blogs) of roommates assigned by colleges for their kids. In some cases they have been requesting that universities change roommate assignments because of what they find – including race, religion, and sexual orientation. Colleges are often reluctant to make changes of this kind – especially for race or (in public colleges) religion. Colleges, as widely reported in the media, have looked at student applicant Internet activity and profiles (even Facebook, profiles that are supposed to be whitelisted) before admitting students, but some colleges and graduate schools are now reporting second thoughts about the ethics of the practice.

The USA Today story is by Heather Collura, "Facebook Pages Concern Parents of College Freshmen," at this link.

Northwestern University sociology professor Charles Moskos, who helped author “don’t ask don’t tell” for gays in the military in 1993, but who now has second thoughts about it (while advocating the return to the draft – See “Now Do You Believe We Need a Draft, The Washington Monthly, Nov. 2001, with Paul Glastris, here: ) speaks about colleges now being willing to assign straight and gay roommates together. See Anne Tauneneck, “All That He Can Be” at the Northwestern Magazine site, here:

On the November 28, 2006 entry of this blog I discuss my William and Mary experience in 1961. I lived at home and went to George Washington and graduated 1962-1966. At the University of Kansas in graduate school I lived in Room 907 in McCollum Hall (on top of “Mt. Oread”) all four semesters, and accepted the random assignments of roommates. Toward the end, the University would assign another graduate student when asked. My last semester, Fall 1967, I had a good friend as a roommate (from western Kansas) who shared my liking for Ayn Rand and objectivism. There was plenty of intellectual resistance in our discussions to the Vietnam era draft and the idea of an "obligation" to offer one's life for others.

Update: ABC "Good Morning America" on Aug. 15, 2007 had an update story. One parent printed out forty pages of a child's roommate's Facebook profile and marched into the college. Schools, however, insist that much of this is discrimination and that part of college is learning to live with differences. Some profiles do have pictures convey negative "impressions" or "reputations" in terms of drinking, messiness, immodesty, etc. Remember that Facebook profiles are whitelisted within the edu community and are not supposed to be accessed by the general public without some sort of permission. Even so, some employers want to see them.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Filial Responsibility Laws: An issue to watch carefully


In July, I did some detailed factual research on a creeping issue, filial responsibility laws. These are laws on the books in about 28 states that enable states to require solvent adult children to help pay for medical and nursing home bills of parents who are otherwise indigent and who might depend on Medicaid or other public assistance. They are derived from English “poor laws” of the 17th Century.

I looked at the laws in ten states, and posted the findings, with links to the laws, here: particularly on July 12 and July 7, 2007. But I’d like to make a few high level points today on my main blog, which seems to be visited more often. I have an older detailed discussion here:

(1) These laws apply even when a parent has not given assets away to an adult child to qualify for Medicaid. That situation is discussed by the media much more often, and states and the federal government (for its shares) has increased the “lookback” period recently to prevent “abuse” by parents and adult children of inheritance. The lookback concept itself seems like reasonable, ethical and sensible public policy and does not create social controversy, although financial planners pay close attention to it when advising clients with eldercare issues.

(2) Laws vary in significant details. A few states, like South Dakota and Iowa, apparently extend filial responsibility to more distant relatives (that can include grandparents or siblings). Some states, like Virginia, limit the “liability period” to, say, sixty months. Pennsylvania, in 2005, quietly moved its filial responsibility laws from its welfare code to its family support code, to make it parallel to spousal and child support, apparently to make a “political statement” about “family values”. Nearly all states make exceptions where a parent had deserted a minor child.

(3) In many states these laws have never been enforced (other than in the lookback context, above). In a few others there has been sporadic attempts at enforcement, which sometimes fail in court, and which might also fail if the adult children are out-of-state. However, in the past five years or so, conservative websites and papers have occasionally called for their enforcement, both on “moral” grounds but mainly to help reduce public spending on Medicaid, which some conservatives claim adult children could pay for as much as one third of. Demographics (people living longer while infirm, Alzheimer’s, other disabilities, and middle class white people having fewer kids) can make the problem more acute.

(4) Ethical and legal arguments for or against these laws seem speculative. To many people, it seems “intuitive” or “self-evident” that adult children have a moral obligation to provide their parents with “payback.” To others, blood loyalty is itself a primary virtue. But normally, in the law, family support has been based on the idea that a voluntary act (marriage, or sexual intercourse leading to procreation, or adoption) created the legal support obligation. Filial responsibility would exist without a voluntary act (creating a “contract”). Of course, there are other involuntary responsibilities (income taxes, or even school taxes to which the childless also contribute today without much controversy).

(5) It should be obvious that, in many families, filial responsibility laws could be enforced in such a way as to have a severe impact on childless adults and on LGBT people. They could be construed as sending a (religious) “message” that openness to procreation is an “obligation,” as a rebuke of deliberate childlessness by some heterosexually married couples and of course GLBT people. They could encourage people to have children who otherwise wouldn’t (providing some answer to the demographic problem) but they could also discourage having children in certain cases.

(6) Major media outlets have slept on this issue, as has the LGBT press. There could be a fear that bringing it up would lead to more harassment enforcement attempts in some states.

(7) It’s clear that some people believe in the “village” concept of family responsibility and that everyone should share it, childed or not. But if so, it makes sense to embrace gay marriage and gay adoption as a way of sharing family responsibility. The problem, as we know, then quickly becomes “dilution” of the honored position of marital (heterosexual) sexual intercourse, which others must “subsidize”. This quickly comes back to becoming an emotional issue. It could even lead to the re-evolution of ideas like "blood libel" or "family defamation."

Monday, August 06, 2007

Wikipedia "no original research" policy; Bloggers talk of organizing


Once again, there have been more comments recently that Wikipeida is cracking down and insisting of maintaining a level of professionalism and credentialism in its articles. This is certainly understandable, as the academic and media world have criticized its model for lack of “credibility” and often do not allow it to be used as a primary source.

Three of the most important policies seem to be the “no original research” requirement, the “neutral point of view” and “conflict of interest.” The “no original research” means that one cannot present previously unpublished (or only self-published) findings about something until they have been given professional credibility by an established third party. It is possible to publish “brand new” material that one has developed if there is some independent confirmation of it available from another source.

Wikipedia is also obviously sensitive to “self-promotion,” and does not allow the publication of new ideas on its sites without separate corroboration.

Wikipedia has depended on volunteer efforts, and the tightening of standards (which have actually been there for a long time but have more recently attracted attention) could make it harder to get people to continue contributing without compensation. I have signed up as a register user. I’ve thought about adding some more factual sources to the materials on “don’t ask don’t tell”. I’ve also thought about originating an article on filial responsibility laws. However, it would take considerable effort to keep such an article within strictly factual guidelines researched in a conventional academic way, and the importance of the articles in a practical sense might be lost. I have to weigh what I can do with my time.

There are a couple of other points here. Wikipedia obviously does not want to see “original speculation” and I can understand that this does not belong in an encyclopedia or a standard library reference. When we wrote term papers in high school and college, we sometimes used these references (in the print world), but quickly had to go beyond them and use interlibrary loans to get obscure materials that developed the importance of some topic or entity. Living in the DC area (back in the 50s and 60s), I sometimes even went to the Library of Congress for high school literature term papers. In a college English term paper assignment at George Washington University in 1963, we had to start by writing an “annotated bibliography” that explained in laborious detail how we would do the research. That’s a good thing to have to do as an emerging adult at age 19. That is a bit like a “business plan” in the real world.

Speculation, or imagination, however, is part of the process of “connecting the dots” – or foreseeing what severe problems are likely to occur in the future if a problem is not addressed. Syndicated columnists do it all the time. So do bloggers now. For issues like global warming, pandemics, terrorism, and now filial responsibility laws and even gay marriage and gays in the military, original speculation is an entirely appropriate and necessary part of public debate. It just doesn’t live well in an encyclopedia.

There is a related problem – the credibility of blogosphere content as a whole. We’ve read a lot of criticisms recently about “amateurism” as a whole (as with the book by Andrew Keen, “The Cult of the Amateur”). Without going into too much detail to rehash what has been said before, it’s easy to imagine measures that could be taken, in terms of time limits or financial results, to discourage “amateurism” and this does worry me. But -- that's a speculation -- mine.

That's why in other postings I've argued that the wiki concept be expanded, to have a forum for letting users enter "speculations" and link them to incidents and original sources, with software to organize the speculations around issues. This, implemented well, could become a respected concept.

Along these lines, it’s interesting to note an article today on page 19 print of the DC Examiner on Monday August 6, 2007 by Ashley M. Heher in Chicago, “Bloggers debate forming union for collective bargaining powers,” with a variety of proposals that could include the ability to buy group health insurance, as well as get “press credentials”. They could work with the National Writers Union, it would seem, although that organization has to deal with its cultural rift between “professional” writers (who take paid assignments to convey the messages of others) and “amateurs” who often write what they want to say.

There is an underlying social battle, here, over how people disseminate and obtain information about new areas, and especially how they learn to think critically about novel issues. In the past, people depended on their familial and business hierarchies for their “accepted” information, in a way that tied information to the sexual functions in the family. That all broke up with the explosion of information technology, which reached the home desktop in the 1990s. This does not sit well with everyone.

Again, since this posting is itself "speculative", it doesn't belong on Wikipedia!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Wired story on WGA and residuals income for writers


Nancy Miller has an interesting new article in the August 2007 issue of Wired about the long-standing dispute in the writers’ world about electronic and Internet republishing royalties and residuals. On P 29, with a picture of an old manual Pica typewriter with mostly missing keys, it is called “Hollywood’s Massive Rewrite: Downloads: Video-on demand! The writers want a cut.”

They always have. Now, as a WGA contract expires on Halloween, there are new concerns about iPod, mobile, UGC’s, all sorts of things. There are suggestions that writers go for the Google model or sharing ad revenue – at the professional level – when their content (including, often, trailers from movies for which they wrote shooting scripts) is viewed.

A few years ago, there were may complaints from the NWU that major publications were not sharing royalties when professionally written articles were posted on the web. The free market, of course, asks: why can’t writers’ get additional royalties as part of their contract. Well, it is right that they maintain that they can, just as do directors, actors, and other artists. The marketplace ought to tend to level itself without intervention.

Of course, there have been strikes and disputes like this before, even in the 80s when the VCR was introduced. These cycles go on and on. Some leading writers are already approaching production companies for downloaded compensation. Already, some directors do this, too, with independent films that they really want to make (particularly to chase the Repub’s out of office).

There is, too, the issue of “competition” from newer writers and artists, trying to nudge their way in with new business models incorporating user generated content. This is probably not as frightful as it sounds. Many of the issues regarding residuals involve "professional" writers who are writing content for others, not expressing their own ideas.

Note: Important blogger story about California "civil restraining order" case, here.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Companies need social networking sites to recruit specialized talent


Monday July 30, 2007 Bob Weinstein published a syndicated article “New Age Networking: The Power of Social Networks” in the Recruitment Section (a Monday feature) of The Washington Times, p D4 in print. He talked about how HR recruiters are needing to become savvy with Web 2.0 concepts in order to find their companies the very specialized talent that some of them need to compete.

That means that companies have entered the social networking world. It’s useful to go to ERE (recruiting intelligence) and specifically the article by Kevin Wheeler, “A Sourcing Network on Steroids, the way it was, the way it will be.” He gets into a discussion of a specialized “recruiting social networking site,” Itzbig, to massage and match very targeted job search and recruiting needs. It seems that other companies are interested in offering corporate social networking, even NBC Universal.

A couple of points come to mind. One is that needs have become very specialized, particularly in IT, which is why some people (like security pros) are in such extreme demand for six-figure jobs while others are marginalized. Microcultures evolve, whose populations are fanatical about what they do, but then things “on the Outside” change and the people, formerly in demand, are next to become passé.

Another point is that many jobs, especially in sales (outside of retail), such as insurance of financial services, involve social connections and social “reputation.” Companies imagine or fear now that proper online social networking skills are essential to building businesses, which could morph into personal fiefdoms. Companies like Nielsen reportedly are rating the effectiveness of sites and profiles in getting hits and potential business contact.

This certainly puts a spin of the viewing of profiles of job applicants, as it has been reported in the past two years or so. Many sites (most of all Facebook, but more recently Myspace) have been adding in the capability to restrict the access to profiles (“whitelisting”) for personal and family security (especially for minors -- as now rapidly becoming legally necessary, sometimes for females). Yet companies often want to see relatively restricted profiles from job applicants. It's not just global search engine exposure to potential customers that "worries" them. They seem to think that popularity is important. In sales, sometimes it is.

I’m concerned about the “maturity” with which we look at online reputations, which now vary from “friend counts” to concerns over webcam videos of the last ping pong prawns at a fraternity party. I’m afraid that the value of the Internet – the democratization of speech and debate and taking some of this back from the major media outlets and giving it to individuals – could be lost in concerns over new norms of online social conformity.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Aug. 1 1997 was the first day I had a web domain




August 1, the beginning to the dog days of the year before the year starts winding down, marks another major anniversary for me. On Aug. 1, 1997, ten years ago (one decade exactly) I owned my own domain name for the first time. It was called hppub.com, as an acronym for High Productivity Publishing, the entity that I set up to publish my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book (see entry for July 11). A friend in the workplace was already running a webhosting company, virtualnetspace.com. He was using rack space from another provider in Maryland. The history of hppub can be traced on the Internet Archive.

I had actually had a book proposal for my “gay conservative’s opus” on an web server as early as the end of March, 1996, hosted by a company in Ontario, CA called IBB. (A copy of the file is here.) It cost about $195 for six months and it took them a week or two to put anything up. AOL had put up home.aol.com which at the time allowed personal publishing of images but only one text file. Around October 1996 AOL launched personal publisher “hometown AOL” which was a convenient repository for updates to the book. Then my friend informed me that web hosting to the public Internet was now cheap. I could have my own domain with essentially unlimited text space for $100 a year. He also introduced me to Ipswitch WS-FTP.

On Ju;y 31, 1998 I upload the texts of the six chapters of my first book for browsing, since I knew they would get into search engines and many more people would find them. That set up my involvement with COPA..

I set up doaskdotell.com at the end of 1999, because I wanted to make the name plausible for a movie (there is plenty more about that on the other blogs). On Aug. 1 2005 I abandoned using the name hppub because I was no longer running an operating “publishing company” and moved everything to doaskdotell.com and the blogs.

There is also the experiemental billboushka.com and the “professional” johnwboushka.com .

More discussion of the domain names is here.