Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Blogging policies" are called "social media policies"; rules of the road to avoid getting dooced

Now, the term employer “blogging policy” is changing to “social networking policy” or "social media policy", where it’s understood that the policy covers what a person can publish from home as well as use of work computers. Tech Republic has an excellent guide “10 Things You Should Cover in Your Social Networking Policy”, by Debra Littlejohn Shinder,  here,  as well as a sample policy: rules of the road to avoid getting dooced.

The most interesting provision may be #7, “Terms of Service”. Many social networking companies, apparently including Facebook, discourage pseudonyms or fake or multiple identities. Therefore, the proposed guidelines says, companies should not require anonymity or false names, just to prevent happenstance association. (Note: California and other states are considering laws against “e-personation” anyway. ) Companies may want to prohibit the person’s mentioning or naming their connection with the employer, however.

In fact, in practice, #5 seems like the most important (“referring to clients, customers or partners”), in addition to the “obvious” (protecting trade secrets and copyright) . That would be particularly important for consultants sent by staffing companies to client sites. I would add “other employees” to that list. One concern from some employers would be prospective: a person may feel free to talk about the job after they leave.

Practically all publishing and social networking services allow users to “whitelist” most content, that it, keep it available to only known lists of users or “friends” with “privacy settings”. I don’t see mention of that concept in the guidelines. But some employers and others would object to the idea that the person seeks the “limelight” from search engines when not competing in a normal way, with third party supervision, to “get published.”

I think that the notion of “implicit content” – that is, the “motives” for publication perceived by an audience, is a particularly sensitive issue for anyone with direct reports, or with authority to make underwriting decisions about customers or to “grade” students. (In the past, before social networking sites came along, I had written that such individuals shouldn’t blog in a free entry, searchable environment at all; that view seems to be receding. However, for management the “implicit content” issue could generate “hostile workplace” legal concerns very quickly, and inadvertently.) The free speech rights of teachers (and students) has been controversial, as they have to be balanced against possible (even if unintended) disruption of the school environment by how students perceive the content (and attribute its purpose) when they find it at home. (See Aug. 6, 2010 posting here.)

Even government agencies (for example Census) now are issuing social media policies for employees; some have pre-publication review policies as well, and these might sometimes cover personal blogs.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Social networking site apps offer ways for friends to "mute" contact; Juror gets in trouble over Facebook

So here we are, with your typical situation where someone wants your attention more than you want theirs. Or they want to see you, and you really, well, would like to skip it. Even at the friendship level. (The “it’s over” problem.)That used to be a problem in the urban gay community particularly, but now social networking site and Twitter users look for tricks more subtle than just unfriending or deleting a friend’s or follower’s link. You don’t even want the other person to know. Maybe just suspect, and get the message.


So clever twenty-something programmers, probably aided by their own personal social experience, come up with more aps. For example, on the iPhone there is Twittelator Pro. But the most sinister tool is something that comes out of GPS, if people allow their locations to be known. It’s not so much security; if someone wants to avoid you, and you’re in such-and-such disco, they don’t have to show up. Of course, that all sounds a bit self-defeating and spiteful. Ask Amy.

The Washington Post story by Michael S. Rosenwald Aug. 30 is “Pesky online friends? Firms offer online ‘mute’”, link here. I like the analogy to the disciplinary “time-out.” No thigh thorn loops, please (as with Opus Dei).
A juror in suburban Detroit faces court contempt charges for writing a speculation on Facebook that the defendant is guilty (subjunctive). The AP story is here. People have been pre-emptively disqualified from juries after voir dire because of their online content.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Baseball's "home field advantage" and "Life's" "intellectual honesty advantage"

One of the interesting things about the major leagues is that “home field advantage” really means something. Only the home team has a chance for a walk-off win, and just ask any visiting team to Boston’s Fenway Park what it’s like play on the road. (I've wondered if the rule that the visiting team bats first will ever be challenged. I think it is when suspended games are completed on the road, or a game has to be made up on the road at the end of a season.)

Other games have their version of playing at a slight disadvantage. In chess, everyone takes turns playing White and Black.

So one can say that about life. Some things that one has to deal with don’t involve one’s own aims or goals, they are set by others. This all seems to create a daisy chain.

“Real life” and intellectual honesty do seem to be at odds sometimes. Just look at this op-ed by David Brooks in the New York Times, “A Case for Mental Courage”, link here. He writes “But, in general, the culture places less emphasis on the need to struggle against one’s own mental feebleness.” And later, “There’s a seller’s market in ideologies that gives people a chance to feel victimized. There’s a rigidity to political debate. Issues like tax cuts and the size of government, which should be shaped by circumstances (often it’s good to cut taxes; sometimes it’s necessary to raise them), are now treated as inflexible tests of tribal purity.”

One can make a public career of sorting and connecting the “dots” and watching for skies that really will fall (of being a public “Chicken Little” perhaps). Then the question is, why doesn’t the speaker want to get involved in actually meeting needs before jumping on “the ideology of victimization” just to be heard from? And the answer sometimes is, it’s not easy to play on the road. And it doesn’t suit one’s pride to work for someone else’s perhaps less that intellectually pure objective than one’s own. In fact, it sounds like giving in to the humiliation of tribalism.

There's something else, too: one's own "ends" can relate to one's own worldview, which can take on a life of its own. One starts to understand that personal lives take on a public "meaning", which might affect what others get out of their own lives.  (Or get over it?)  I like to see people get what they earn or "deserve" as individuals -- but if that kind of thinking becomes an end in itself, it can take us out of individualism and freeodm toward fascism.

So, consider this: Former Naval Academy Midshipman Joseph Steffan writes (on p 143 of his 1992 Random House book "Honor Bound"), “Personal honor is an absolute-you either have honor or you do not..”[ I only give up my honor out of my own volition, even if somebody “makes” me (although it gets tougher if I lie to save a life in a hostile situation); and once I do so, I’ll never completely recover my own self! Perhaps Steffan is building on Shakespeare: “If I lose mine honor, I lose myself” ("Anthony and Cleopatra"). Honor is more than just honesty or its masculine analogue (in Rosenfels), courage. It seems to imply zero tolerance of dishonest acts by one’s peers. Integrity is an even more inclusive term or "class". Stephen Carter writes (in The Insufficiency of Honesty,” Atlantic Monthly, February, 1996, pp 74-76), “Integrity requires three steps: discovering what is right from wrong, acting on what you have discovered even at personal cost, and saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong."  (See my book review of Steffan's book, Book Review blog, Oct. 10, 2007.)

What goes around, comes around.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

"Tommy" and "John" are two first names, maybe with double entendre, dreaded by the Washington Nationals

The last year that I lived in New York, 1978, the Yankees had a sensational pennant run (the Bucky Dent home run in Boston in the last game) and chomped the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, I used to hear the phrase “the bionic arm of Tommy John”, who pitched for the Dodgers then and whose reconstructive elbow surgery was still a bit novel.

People say that teenagers are having Tommy John surgery now. I don’t think insurance will pay for it. But in the case of the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg, it seems like a case of just too much velocity in an arm, at 22, not 100% physiologically mature.

Cliff Cororan, of Inside Baseball, on CNN (and Sports Illustrated), probably has the best perspective: “What type of pitcher will Strasburg be after Tommy John surgery?”, with link here.  The record is encouraging. Some of today’s stars, like Tim Hudson of the Atlanta Braves, have come back from it. Jaime Garcia, of the Cardinals, who faced the Nats last night and beat them (I was there, and must say that the Nats did themselves in on the field and with some baserunning mistakes) is also on the list.

Technically, the medical procedure is known as “ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction”. The figure-8 tendon placement (from elsewhere in the body) adds stability and reinforcement to the joint. It’s rather like strengthening a span on a bridge.

Dr. Josh Dines and Dr. Rock Positano have a perspective in The Huffington Post, “Tommy John Surgery Epidemic?” link here.
The Associated Press has a YouTube video of Strasburg’s interview:



It was fun while it lasted. (Cynic!)

Friday, August 27, 2010

More busts over tweets and Facebook posts; CA ponders outlawing "e-personation"

Here we go again; the Huffington Post has a story about “8 tweets that got people busted” here as well as 19 Facebook posts that led to arrests. Many of the incidents happened overseas and wouldn’t happen here, but a man was arrested for tweeting a hyperbolic statement that was taken as an airport threat (an online version of the "no jokes" rule), two days before a flight was to leave, when it was discovered by security. This was seen as being like shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater.


Also Justin Bieber’s manager was fired for not tweeting!



Electronic Frontier Foundation has a story about a bill in California to forbid impersonation of anyone online, as on Facebook, Twitter, or setting up a web domain. The EFF “Deep Links” story by Corynne McSherry is ““E-Personation” Bill Could Be Used to Punish Online Critics, Undermine First Amendment Protections for Parody”has link here.  But probably the bill is motivated in large part by concerns over cyberbullying (especially in schools) and fraud or identity theft. It is certainly something that I wouldn’t do. (Do as I say, do as I do? Whatever!)  I can remember wheb cross-dressing in public was viewed as a "fraud threat".

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Web peer review mediates old paradigm of academic publishing; book club etiquette and Facebook

The Web (even as Web 1.0) is changing the way the academic world processes peer review of material that finally gets “published” in its scholarly and medical journals, according to a story by Patricia Cohen on Aug. 24 in the New York Times, front page, “Scholars test web alternative to venerable peer review,” link here. 

At issue, of course, would be the extent to which proposed contributions are placed on public, searchable sites, or whether they are kept private on Intranet-style virtual offices. We had an informal process like that in the workplace for internal documentation toward the end of my last job (at the end of 2001), although one enterprising staff member created a documentation website with javadocs.

It’s also possible that the concept would work with screenplay review, or particularly when a production company is developing a long television series and needs to stick to standards and maintain cohesion among the writers. It would seem to work with soap opera.

The article noted that the web technique is particular appropriate when analyzing new mathematical proofs (it wasn’t too long ago that topology’s “Four Color Problem” was solved at the University of Connecticut), and that the process might help academic research get to the bottom of some basic problems in physics faster.

Academic publishing seems the opposite of web publishing. “Getting published” is necessary for academic tenure, and things go through incredible amount of supervision before getting into the wild. But web review could change how the whole process of “academic reputation” works.

There's also a bit of personal history. In 1972, while I was working as a civilian employee ("mathematician") of the Washington Navy Yard, a coworker and friend wrote and got published a paper on vector spaces in Naval applications.  I helped him review it and checked all his proofs -- in paper and pencil.

Here’s another oddity. Let me introduce it by mentioning that I am reading Chandler Burr’s novel “You or Somebody Like You” (2009, Harper Collins/ECCO), where the female protagonist runs an elite book club. Well, it seems that you can get tossed out of a book club. Look at “Ask Amy” in the Washington Post today (Aug 26, 2010), here with The Case of Fanny Dashwood, with book-group camping trips. There are a lot of these things, including screenwriting and acting groups (I attended both in Minneapolis 2002-2003) that are still not strictly “social clubs.” Nevertheless, they could provide a pre-Facebook way to network. Imagine the “Sense and Sensibility” comeuppance on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Philadelphia charges "commercial" bloggers a business license fee; similar problems have occurred in other jurisdictions

On p A14, the Washington Post has a “Faster Forward” story today by Bob Pegaroro, “Philly’s blogger fee turns into blog fodder”, about a measure recently passed in Philadelphia (“The City of Brothery Love” and site of the COPA trial, was as host of the Phillies) to require bloggers who accept advertising to pay a one-tome $300 business license fee, or $50 a year. The Post link is here (this post rolls to new content) and refers to a story by Valerie Rubinsky in the Philadelphia City Paper, link here , Aug 18, 2010, title “(Death and Taxes): Pay Up: Got a blog that makes no money? The city wants $300, thank you very much”

Any blogger hosting a blog that posts even one ad and has any potential to make money would have the potential for exposure to the tax. The City sounds very belligerent in defending it.

Bloggers or webmasters who do not post ads would seem to be exempt. It’s not clear what happens with a site that has a potential to commercial sale, for example, to make a commercial film (maybe in the spirit of the upcoming “The Social Network”). Incidental “blogging” on Twitter, Myspace or Facebook probably doesn’t trigger the tax unless the social networking host comes up with a scheme to share revenue with the blogger (I think Twitter has a way to do this, according to Tory Johnson). I suppose any local tax wouldn’t be a problem with obviously “successful” blog financially, like Heather Armstrong’s “mommy blog” Dooce, or commercial operations like Huffington Post or Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish.

There have been scattered reports of problems like this in other jurisdictions. Washington DC threatened such a tax a few years ago, but only for other businesses that require other kinds of oversight.

In Arlington Virginia, at the end of 2007, the County decided to increase property taxes on property with commercial use. Some people feared that telecommuting or blogging with ads from home could cause a property tax rate to raise, but it did not. I covered this on my “Issues” blog on Nov. 28, 2007 and other linked postings. (I went to a County Board meeting just to make sure this didn’t happen, and monitored the videos of the testimony, which the County was very good about putting online.)

But it gets worse. In Chicago, Los Angeles, and some townships in New Jersey, some people have been fined in the past for writing at home without a commercial license, although a friend of mine in LA tells me that is no longer a problem there. (The New Jersey case involved a rabbi and was reported on John Stossel’s “Give me a break!) These reports surfaced when I was living in Minneapolis, and a check of local laws there found no problems, although my friends in the Libertarian Party of Minnesota there winced at the news stories.

In Virginia, many jurisdictions have personal property taxes, which technically include home computers if they are used for any trade activity; I pay these and don’t argue, but only because the actual tax is very low (I think there is a question of principle, however, and a potential for local government intrusion). In Arlington, one would have to pay a tax on blogging profits, but only after going over $10000 a year. (Technically, one is supposed to have a free business license and file an income statement in March every year, even if the income is very small.)

I think we need John Stossel’s “Give Me a Break” back on the air.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A "summer" weekday at the beaches in the Blue Hen State (and the Free State)

Well, it seems that I can reach Ocean City, MD by Route 50 in August on a weekday. As a boy, I recall the annual one week trips to Ocean City, staying in apartments near the north end of the Boardwalk, well before all the condos were built, starting in 1948, the last week of June, with another family.

In 1950 (after first grade), the trip, which always started on a Saturday, was cut short the following Wednesday when I came down with the measles.

And in 1947, we had actually started the custom with Bethany Beach, which at the time was a more “religious”, quiet place. It is still a little cleaner, more Disney-like.

Of course, in modern times I’ve gotten to know Rehoboth, which has gotten super expensive and difficult to visit on weekend days. But on a Tuesday, the “South End” of the Boardwalk, Queen Street, was deserted. For the most part, the place was populated by “families with children.”

Driving back toward Bay Bridge, I always have trouble following the signs for 404. I can wind up in a boardgame maze of named country roads without numbers. The Blue Hen State becomes something like the Fourth Dominion.

Note above the RB placard on rip currents. In the mid 1990s, a member of Adventuring, and LGBT outdoor group, drowned when caught by a rip current off Rehoboth when there was a tropical storm way offshore. Rip currents don't pull people under, they tend to pull swimmers farther out. 

Upcoming tropical storms and hurricanes this week will make rip currents a real concern.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Notorious, inglorious bloggers (I think we do some good)

Newsweek has a story this morning (on AOL), “The Most Notorious Bloggers” (who are "armed with snark"), with an illustration of scaly, reptilian hands burning as they type on a (non-ergonomic) computer keyboard. (Remember how Alfred Hitchcock used the word “notorious”?) The link is here.

There are eight bloggers discussed, the first of which is conservative “Tea Party activist” Andrew Breitbart. The problem, as far as I’m concerned, is that Breitbart intentionally manipulated the Shirley Sherrod video to take away the explanatory context for her remarks (and it’s even more shocking that the Obama administration didn’t fact check).

Another on the list is Andrew Sullivan, whose philosophy is a lot like mine (the “gay conservative”), and who in recent years has focused as much attention in anti-terror as gay rights. His “Daily Dish” appears on The Atlantic. http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/

While most of the provocative blogs deal with social and political controversy, technology has its own hotwires, such as Michael Arrington.

Most of the “controversial” bloggers have some sort of formal organization or corporate support, with heavy advertising revenues that seem to relate in some part to their willing to become “outrageous”.

What about “self-instantiated” bloggers (those with their own “constructors”)? I fall into that category. I do find that certain people wonder what my point is in “ranting” about “personal responsibility” (maybe not with as much humor as in “Southpark”), when I don’t take on the intimacies that create certain risks they way they did (e.g., “The Privilege of Being Listened To”). Therefore (and therapists have told me this in the past, after painful incidents like William and Mary in 1961), I come across as “stepping on their toes” because, well, they had stepped on mine for not measuring up to the prevailing expectations of a “competitive” and “protective” male. We’ve gone through a social change, where “morality” has become much more tied to integrity in following through on personal (private) choices, whereas in the past morality was much more about sharing collective responsibility and norms. The threat is that “sustainability” could push us back toward older “public morality”. Some people do take exception to (my) “speaking out of turn” on controversy from outside a social structure, even if the speech is abstracted and carefully considered not to be “objectionable” according to surface cultural and legal norms. Indeed, the blogosphere (and older media establishment) is filled with “organizations” and lobbyists to speak for people who are not in a position to speak for themselves, at least under their own names. And, yup, Facebook, with its “one identity” paradigm, is challenging that. Comments from individuals hit harder just because they are by definition less partisan.

So I must stand on my pedestal, or perhaps virtual soap box. The point of collecting all this information, linking it and posting it is not sadistic pleasure (of, say, bashing people who took out subprime mortgages), but to gather together everything we need to know to solve all these big problems. (I see a posting about this June 16, 2009). You can’t really make good decisions until you understand thoroughly everything that has been going on – that was the lesson of my “best history teacher” (Sept. 14, 2007).  Before I can be a good "substitute" role model, I have to finish what I started.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Search engine companies win downstream liability appeal in Argentina

In another international case involving downstream liability for “libel”, Yahoo! and Google have won a victory on appeal in Argentina.

Previously, a lower court had ordered that the companies pay damages to entertainer Virginia De Cuna and remove all search engine results from sites containing pornography and her name simultaneously.

The New York Times has a story Aug. 19 by Vinod Sreeharsa, link (website url) here . The appeals court ruled that the companies “could be held liable for defamation only if they were made aware of clearly illegal content and were negligent in removing it”. Yahoo! has since removed the entertainer’s name from all search engine results in Argentina, the first known in the world.

On Feb. 24, 2010 this blog discussed a somewhat similar case in Italy.

In the US, Section 230 probably would have protected the companies.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Facebook's places" reignites debate about GPS and personal security

Peter Shankman has a video on “How to avoid being ‘Checked in’ by your friends on Facebook’s places” from his own site.



How to avoid being "Checked in" by your friends on Facebook's Places from Peter Shankman on Vimeo.


It’s not hard to imagine the situations where this facility could be “misused” or maybe used for gumshoeing. A wife doesn’t want to find that her husband was checked into a burlesque place on his own (whether Dolly Parton could have been there or not). The same would apply to same-sex couples (except in “open relationships”). The video also covers how to make sure Facebook doesn’t make it look like you’re there when you’ve left.

It all seems pretty creepy to me. I really have no interest in knowing “where people are” at any moment. (I suppose that one could use these services if someone is late for an appointment.) Twitter also has a location service.

Today ABC GMA had a piece on GPS geotags in photos, which could also sometimes promote stalking. I posted that material on the Aug. 12 posting here.

All of this depends on one’s circumstances. I see people in discos spending more time texting than dancing.

And, of course, no, I don’t use my Blackberry or cell phone when driving (and, no, Oprah is right; I took her “no phone zone” pledge). If it rings or vibrates I have to find a place to pull over and return the call. But it’s not that hard to track where someone is on the road, apparently. The next thing is to look into how to disable that. I don’t think anyone can track the president’s Blackberry.

Picture: You can spot where I was a week ago by recognizing the scenic landmark (hint: Wild, Wonderful West Virginia, near the Eastern Continental Divide).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

OpenDNS can make web browsing faster, more reliable, and even safer

There has been some hype lately about OpenDNS, which is often implemented at the router level (as in a home wireless network), and replaces your ISP’s domain name lookup with an efficient performed by the OpenDNS service. Generally, routers (like Netgear) offer a choice between using your ISP to resolve a DNS with alternatives supplied by the router.

People use OpenDNS for faster DNS resolution, as some ISP’s have trouble reaching some sites (even major ones like CNN and Yahoo!) for some part of a business day. I have had situations where Comcast could not reach my AOL mail but Verizon wireless could.

David Pogue has a story in the Business Day section of the New York Times today (Aug. 19), “Simplifying the Lives of Web Users”, link (website url) here.

Lee Hemmer has a review “OpenDNS Review: Surf Safer and Faster with OpenDNS” on Bright Hub, May 5, 2010,  here

Today I discussed the ability of parents to whitelist or blacklist sites with OpenDNS on my COPA blog. Actually, the OpenDNS site  mentions this and displays a “Family Shield” trademark.

IPCAdministrator has this tutorial on YouTube.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Baltimore (The City of the Unbeheld) is not missing, except within Camden Yards; a note about the new TBD website

Well, today the Nationals were on the road, and I made it up to Camden Yards in Baltimore for the first time since 1994. Baltimore is not missing, except in Camden Yards, where the Birds wonder what happened to their glorious teams of the 60s and 70s (in old symmetrical Memorial Stadium). Tonight, Baltimore lost to Seattle, 4-0, to a left-hander named Luke French, whose fastball is less than 90 mph (slower than Stephen Strasburg’s chaneup), who carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning.  I saw no Nullianac selling harm or discharging energy from the ballpark to the sky, so the Orioles have themselves to blame. (The Nats got bombed in Atlanta in the late innings, 10-2.)


When you drive off Exit 52 (off 95), you encounter a sign that says “General Parking”, which puts you in an isolated area the other side of Ravens Stadium, when (with the Orioles losing) there is actually plenty of parking next to Camden Yards.

I also dropped by the favorite Biker Bar, Daniel’s, in Elkridge, which I first stumbled upon in 2005 on the way back from Philly for an “Everwood Party” at King of Prussia mall.

Yesterday (Aug. 16), I noted a story by Howard Kutz in the Washington Post about the new quasi-citizen-journalism site TBD.com, created by ABC affiliate WJLA-TV in Arlington. Apparently it welcomes submission from bloggers, mainly factual, on-the-street coverage of local issues (the protracted power failures in Pepco territory after repeated summer thunderstorms would be a good topic for openers). The link is here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Sustainability" is the biggest moral buzzword today

The Washington Times Commentary section Monday (Aug. 16) offered a synoptic letter by Frank Perley, “’Sustainable’ rules the Web; Ideas of endurance proliferate daily”, link here. The notes the millions of hits that come up on the word “sustainability” with almost any search engine. I’m sure that some of those nine million hits are on my blog postings.

The most obvious context of this word for most people now probably comes Al Gore’s litany about inconvenient truths, leading off with climate change and fossil fuel depletion, and environmental degradation (we can interpret the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in more than one way). Add to this is a collection of sudden unpredictable perils: some being man-made (terrorism), and some periodic natural catastrophes (even on planets without tool-toting life), like pandemics, supervolcanoes, asteroids, and even (according to the History Channel last week), massive solar storms (“coronal mass ejections”).

The Times piece spends some space on the population demographics issue, noting that it can lead to political unsustainability undermining democracy. We’ve seen this from the “Right” a lot lately and there is something to it. And it (in combination with longer life spans) certainly feeds into the “sustainability” of our old age systems, both public (Social Security and Medicare) and private (401(k)’s and pensions).  Another important, if speculative, concept is that childlessness may make a person less interested in "generativity" aka "sustainability". (See the Aug. 9 posting on the "parent trip" on my "Major Issues" blog.)

On the Web, what we’ve seen is rapid evolution, from self-publishing and e-commerce to social networking and connections through all kinds of micro applications; yet in time we will have to think in terms of an Internet infrastructure that, while so connected to personal opportunity, is getting perceived as a “free” utility. But what seems “free”, both to publishers and consumers, is really “paid for” largely by advertisers. So don’t complain too much about commercials. Back a few decades ago, they paid for your “free” broadcast television, especially sports events above everything else. (Remember how it used to be: most “home” major league baseball and pro football games were blacked out, and most road games played on the idiot box, allowing fans to see their heroes lose without home field advantage.)

The other big question of sustainability on the Web is covering systemic but unpredictable risk, associated with “amateurism” and reputation damage, because the “free entry” model and instant “speed of light” dissemination (yup, it wouldn’t be so quick once we have people living on Mars or Titan) eliminates pre-publication review by third parties in most cases. We’ve talked about the somewhat feeble insurance plans, and wondered if someday politicians will try to make them mandatory (just as with individual health insurance).

Sustainability is also a challenge to individualism and personal autonomy, so predicated by the absolute right to consent or not consent to addressing the emotional needs of others (that is, even consent to entering relationships where it is agreed that they will be met). In the modern secular world, morality has been narrowed to absolute accountability for the self. (Look how that led to the “pre-existing conditions” problem in health insurance, for example.) Older moral models insisted that people were accountable to their families and communities, in terms of complementarity, beyond what could be subsumed by their choices; capacity to function as part of the group had been a fundamental moral requirement. In the upcoming future, where there is some talk of localization and scaling back from globalization (which provides a curious paradox: we must accept economic interdependence in order to remain personally independent), older systems of moral thinking could make a return. History tends to repeat itself and run in cycles.

One other thing: yesterday, in my retrospect about the fantasy novel “Imajica” by Clive Barker, I should have added that one of that “English literature” modern author’s favorite concepts is “Reconciliation”: that people living in separate universes must eventually come back and live together. (I wonder if any English Lit professors have asked final exam questions about “Reconciliation”.) The “New World” provided a “Reconciliation” in the 17th Century, and the demands of “sustainability” may require people with very different cultural temperaments (such as those driven to urban exile and childlessness in the past century) may have to come back together and share responsibilities in previously unthinkable ways.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Reviewing my own manuscripts, with the inspiration of Clive Barker's "Nullianac"

I’ve started getting back to my screenplays and novel manuscript, which I now think I will call “Brothers, Too” (to distinguish it from the 2009 Lionsgate film about two brothers, one who is captured in Afghanistan), and finding myself coalescing my dream-driven plot into a real beginning, middle and end (and even what they call a “point of recognition” toward the end). I see that I had given an overview of the “threat” in the novel in an Aug 5, 2009 posting on my Books blog.

In the novel, a CIA agent who “moonlights” as a high school history teacher, came from a military background, found it wiser to move into the civilian area but still married and had the expected three kids and a largely stay-at-home wife-mother, meets a precocious college student on a secret trip, and longs for an intimate experience that he had only tasted once or twice in college and then even Army rites of passage. As the two men learn more about each other, that each learn about a common font, Bill (somewhat based on me), and a couple of older GI men, one of whom may have a supernatural origin. Gradually they learn that a right-wing plot to re-regiment society might be driven by extraterrestrial forces, prepared to use a virus (part biological, part informational, and part sub-atomic) to manipulate the souls of people and bring them together. Randy gets the intimacy and initiation he craves, as his marriage collapses, although the initiation is more than he bargained for.

I have a number of manuscripts, going back to 1981, where a character somewhat like me experiences the world “going back to the bay.” There is usually a communal purification, followed by some sort of extraterrestrial rescue of the fecund, or at least of the chosen. One 1981 manuscript got divided into seven self-sufficient stories. There is a 1985 manuscript, and another in 1988 which I actually submitted to Scott Meredith, called “Tribunal and Rapture”. In that novel, “Bill” meets his role model early and gets led from a comfortable IT existence to a commune in West Virginia, whereupon Left-Wing subversives bring about the end of the US as we know it with an amateur radiological attack (which I always thought possible) that anticipates the fears of 9/11. There was another manuscript around 1990, after I moved back to the DC area, where a paragon disappears from work and leads “Bill” to a commune (two versions of this), and where there is some redemption-in-place (right here in Arlington) at the end. Then there was another stab at “Tribunal and Rapture” for which I submitted a treatment to an agent in 2003 (I may post this later on the books blog; thinking about it). And finally I come to “Brothers, Too”; the “Smallville” series taught me that there is more narrative hook if the story is seen through the eyes of younger characters who do have their act together (like my college student above). (In “Supernatural” on CWTV, the younger brother Sam, who was to be a law student, has it much more together than Dean.)

I have a couple books on my cluttered basement work table to inspire writing. I really need to finish Chandler Burr’s “You or Somebody Life You”, because, on the “dust jacket” surface, it seems to deal with how films get greenlighted. (It’s a lot more, but that’s for later.)

My favorite coffee table reference is Clive Barker’s 1991 fantasy “Imajica”, which I see I reviewed on the Books blog March 28, 2006. I think that English professors in college would use Barker to teach creative writing, as Barker is more gifted with using active nouns and verbs metaphorically (with fewer adjectives and adverbs) that any other novelist – even Toiken. You read this, and you really believe that his other Dominions (for all practical purposes, other planets with civilizations comparable to ours, with some weird political and ultimately religious “twists”). You feel like you’ve taken that train ride through the Third Dominion, or walked the streets of Patashoqua or Yzordderrex. He coins new words, like “kesperate”, essentially an autonomous political unit or community embedded in larger society but operating somewhat separately (like the old Ninth Street Center in New York’s East Village). (The favorite image: eating an egg within a “fish within a fish within a fish” – like the Florida Marlins.

So I repost these two pictures, from Baltimore Pride in June 2010, where the young man with the hoop draws attention as if he were (an attractive ressurection of) Clive Barker’s peripatetic Nullianac, who (with a career of "selling harm" in the dominions) just tends to appear as a marker of some big transformation about to come. (I don’t know how the gams got blacked out in the smaller duskier picture taken with a disposable camera.)   Is Baltimore the “City of the Unbeheld”? (That’s Heaven, which (after the Nullianac appears on a street corner),  gets destroyed or overgrown [or washed away by cold front thunderstorms], erased along with a ragged Hapexamendios: man defeats God while bringing about the “Reconciliation” of exiled worlds – sounds like bringing gay men out or urban exile, essentially as if living on another planet, to join the “real life” world of family responsibility. Actually, Baltimore is probably more like Patashoqua. And remember, my screenplay entry into Project Greenlight 2004 was “Baltimore Is Missing” – yup, a whole city disappears into a worm hole.

I'm surprised that "Imajica" isn't a movie yet. If I were a film investor, I'd be interested. It seems like a natural for a company like "Summit Entertainment." Maybe De Caprio plays Gentle, and John Malkovitch plays Pie 'O' Pah. It's not easy to cast the Nullianac.  Actually, I'd make a model railroad based on a map of Imajica, and use CGI to put the actors into the model. (Use modern day London for the Fifth Dominion -- making the fantasy different from "Lord of the Rings" since this is present day real world.) Sounds like a premier atttraction for Landmark Theaters.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A former favorite outdoor haunt remains mountatintop-removal free

I visited an old hiking haunt of sorts today, Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia. Now it’s on Allegheny Front Mountain, literally the same ridge that the “Allegheny Mountain” tunnel caps as the highest point on the Pennsylvania Turnpike 200 miles to the north, and marks the Eastern Continenal Divide.


The Allegheny Front generally, in eastern US, marks the beginning of the area with coal seams, and theoretically this area, in the Monongahela National Forest, could be decimated by underground and strip mining and even “mountain top removal”. Fortunately, I saw no evidence of this, compared to areas 100 or so miles to the southwest.

I passed Seneca Rocks, and the Forest Service has a 12 minute film “In the Shadow of Seneca” that covers not only the sandstone ridges and sawteeth of the “Ridge and Valley Province,” but also the Allegheny region, including Dolly Sods. That area had been logged and then burned out, resulting eventually in a peaty surface with no trees. Other areas were logged so heavily that erosion led to enormous floods, leading to the establishment of the Forest Service in the 1920s.

Our dependence on a centralized power system in turn dependent on fossil fuels like coal makes us more vulnerable to total infrastructure meltdowns. Last night, the History Channel showed a film “Magnetic Storm” that documents how a gigantic solar flare (“coronal mass ejection”) could shut down the centralized power grid completely, and completely. But if power generation were localized to each home with solar and wind, such an infrastructure vulnerability to catastrophe could be eliminated.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Digital cameras and phones may put geotags in photos, disclosing people's locations unbeknownst

Consumers should be wary of whether their digital cameras and cell phone cameras are GPS-equipped and leave geotags in their photos. In some cases, photos could disclose where a person lives or is staying, or the route someone normally travels, etc.

The story by Kate Murphy appeared in the New York Times today, link here.  One reaction I have to a story like this is similar to that of the story about bump keys in 2007: as journalists report more, out of objectivity, ordinary citizens learn more about perils they could face, but crooks learn more about the mayhem they could do. And property insurance companies get nervous. (A lot of Medico cylinders got sold in late 2007 after that story broke.)

Cheaper digital cameras (which I use for these blogs) don’t leave the imprint. Cell phone or smartphone photos may, and the user may want to visit this site about disabling geotags in smartphones, here. There’s a problem that it could disable many location-based services.

People often disclose location other ways, since Twitter invites people to.

All of this may be one reason why publicly visible people – including high profile journalists – who travel overseas a lot for long periods like to live in urban settings in posh high rises these days, where good security can be provided efficiently.

In another area, child safety, companies have been developing technologies to watermark photos so that they can be filtered on the web, so location tags may be similar. It’s likely that digital cameras and phones will offer these technologies more often in the future, but relatively few people know about them, perhaps leading to security issues.

Ordinarily, visitors cannot see watermarks or geotags on images. Most people don't know that they even exist.

Here’s a link on how to disable geotags on your cell phone.

The New York Times has a somewhat related story by Charlie Savage, "Judges Divided Over Rising GPS Surveillance", Aug. 13, link here.

Update: August 20

There is a site called "I can stalk you" that explains this problem, especially with Smartphone photos, and tells you how to disable the feature, here. Again, many cheaper ordinary digital cameras do not have this feature.

Ki Mae Heussner has an article on ABC News "Tips to Turn Off Geo-Tagging on Your Cell Phone
Geo-Tags Embedded in Photos, Videos Could Give Away Private Locations, Personal Information", link here.  Many cheaper cameras offer a GPS accessory (connected wireless), such as this with Nikon (link), but I do not have one.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Baseball: Marlins figure out Strasburg, the way kids do in a playground

Last night, what happened as Stephen Strasburg returned to the mound for the Nationals was the same thing that kids all learn at recess and in sandlot and playground stickball (or softball or whiffleball), in large suburban backyards of New York City streets.

The second or third time around, you figure your opponent out.

The Florida Marlins, shut out the first time Strasburg faced them, had studied videotapes of his motion and knew how to “wait” on his fastballs, and roped a few of them.

On a playground, kids learn which other kids can field, or which ones can hit faster thrown pitches (or curves in whiffleball), or pitches with high arcs.

In chess, people learn to predict what openings their opponents will play, or how they will react to finding themselves in a position with a certain character.

In ping-pong "table tennis"), I had a smaller table (8 x 4) at home, giving advantage, but I found that I could beat some people by "keeping the ball on the table", tempting those with poor self-control into reckless slams.

But last night's MLB game was like an exercise in a kids' playground, or even kid-invented board game or computer game. Strasburg is young enough that had he been brought up in northern VA, he could have been in one of my classes when I subsitute taught. (An Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher may have been; I do remember a pitching star in an AP chemistry class, but so far he hasn't shown up to face the Nats.)

I wasn’t at Nats Park last night; I was at a speakeasy. So found this out on my Obama-like Blackberry as I was leaving. On the Metro, everybody was talking about how the Marlins had Strasburg figured out.



Second picture (above this one): Old Griffith Stadium, Washington (about 1959, when the Senators had lost 18 in a row, mostly on a "western" trip  -- that "A's Hop on Pascual, Too, 6-1" headline); and a stadium board game, played with an aluminum foil wad ball, and areas carved out on the field for base hits; kids figured this one out pretty quickly.  In backyard baseball, I definitely enjoyed "home field advantage" (and some walk-ff wins). In some backyards, including mine, over the fence was "out"; so we set up a "beer garden" home run area, requiring precision placement hitting; I got good at it.)
 
Third Picture: RFK Stadium (opened in 1962), 2005, in the new Nats first year, still used for soccer and rock concerts. Both RFK and Nationals Park are "pitcher's parks". So was old Comiskey Park in Chicago.
 



Above: there used to be a wire mesh fence in front of the "beer garden" above, for home run area, back in 1958; there was also a little fence in front of the back corner, a center field "bullpen" home run area. For grownups, the dimensions work for whiffleball.

I guess the point of all this emergency post is to help the Nats win tonight; the Marlins haven't figured out Olsen yet.  Let George Will write a column about Strasburg's rookie season.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Washington TV station has an incident involving journalistic objectivity; news anchor suspended

The requirement that professional journalists remain objective has led to an incident at station WJLA-7 (ABC) in Washington DC, as veteran anchor Doug McKelway has been suspended after a disagreement with management after he speculated during a noon report in July on connections between the oil industry and Democratic politicians. The story (by Paul Fahri) in the Washington Post Metro Section Aug. 10 is here.

McKelway had also threatened to punch a blogger, Michael Rogers, who had threatened to out closeted gay politicians who publicly oppose gay rights.

McKelway had reported made vague comments on his Facebook page, but this morning I could not find an account for him on Facebook.

News organizations have strict rules about their employees remaining objective in public. On August 2 and 3, 2008 I had reported here about strict policies at CNN about employee public comments.

Pictures: Above, Flight 93 Memorial in PA; below, MD reststop (near Hagerstown) where Malvo/Mohammed were arrested in 2002, since renovated (my pictures)

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Go carefully in "clarifying" Electronic Communications Privacy Act, when it comes to warrantless "national security" searches of ISP records

The Washington Post has an important editorial Saturday Aug. 7 about the kind of "forensic" information that the FBI can get from an ISP through a “national security letter” without a warrant. Generally, that’s limited to routing information, sender and recipient, but may include a gag order preventing disclosure of the request to the subjects. But the FBI wants to interpret the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) as allowing “electronic communication transactional record”, or email contents and perhaps browsing history, to be included, at least with more modifications to the law from Congress.

The Post urged Congress to resist such changes, and says that inquiries about content should require a warrant from a judge. The link for the editorial (“Clarifying FBI’s Electronic Reach Must Be Cautious”) is here

The Cornell Law School reference for the text of the ECPA (“Pub. L. 99-508, Oct. 21, 1986, 100 Stat. 1848, 18 U.S.C. § 2510”)“ is here.

Friday, August 06, 2010

More stories surface of people getting fired over PERSONAL social networking and blog posts

More incidents are being reported of people losing jobs for personal online activity conducted from home, particularly on Facebook.

The Huffington Post has a lead story about thirteen such incidents, several of which have to do with employees criticizing customers on Facebook after going home. The link for “Fired over Facebook: 13 Posts that got People CANNED” is here

But another case involved a teacher in Georgia for a picture of her holding wine and stating expletives (again, I had my own experience with this kind of issues, as on the July 27, 2007 post). The National Education Association has a more detailed story about teachers losing jobs over inappropriate Facebook or other online posts. Some school principals or school districts believe, on their own perhaps, that they should have “zero tolerance” for gratuitous personal posts that could compromise the teacher’s image as a “role model”, a subjective concept. That link is here; the story is "Social Networking Nightmare; Cyberspeak no evil".  The article has a discussion of the lack of due process rights for non-tenured teachers and a very narrow interpretation of their first amendment rights. The article says their speech is protected “their speech is protected only if they speak out as citizens on “matters of public concern” and their speech doesn’t disrupt the school”, quoting Pickering v. Board of Education, although other sources quote a broader interpretation of that case. The Stacey Snyder case is discussed here. A Missouri school district actually asks for applicants to show their social networking or public Internet pages on job applications. The tone of the NEA story is pretty stern. 

Again, from my own experience, I have to warn, particularly for teachers or people in sensitive jobs: You may think your post is obscure, and may believe you can justify it or rationalize it with "irony", but you may bear the risk of misinterpretation. People will look.  (In my case in 2005, I got in trouble after I told a teaching intern that I had a website at all, in response to a newspaper story about blogging and campaign finance reform, itself a very legitimate (and school-relevant, I believe) issue at the time.  There was "one posting" that had created controversy because it could be misconstrued, if someone wanted to misconstrue it!)

In another case, a firefighter was dismissed for posting a cartoon video that implied a connection with medical center where he had worked, as reported in “FireFighter Nation”, here.

Eveyln Theis reports in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that a youth prison guard in Cuyohoga County was dismissed for posting racial slurs (concerning other employees and inmates), in a story here.

Here's a good one: what happens to "don't ask don't tell" for the military in a world of Facebook and blogs?  The Pentagon will surely have to address personal online activities in rewriting its conduct rules to repeal DADT.

Again, this is certainly a story about "online reputation".  Once it's out there, it stays.

Update: Aug. 7

As if all this weren't scary enough, look again at the dangers of posting your plans and whereabouts online, at least prospectively, from this incident in Indiana:



Because of the home security system, his particular incident almost comes across as a "sting", as the stalkers got caught, and were found to have long rap sheets. But insurance companies are starting to notice.

Update: Aug. 19:

ABC has another story today about a teacher getting fired over Facebook: "Teacher Loses Job After Commenting About Students, Parents on Facebook: Massachusetts High School Teacher Asked to Resign After Posting 'Stupid' Comments on Facebook", link here.  The teacher mistakenking thought that only "Friends" could see what she posted, but she hadn't set her privacy settings properly.

The new verb meaning to "dismiss and employee over personal media content" is "to dooce", over Heather Armstrong's 2002 experience and now famous mommy site.  Put it in Webster's. Conjugate the verb in French (probably with an "r" on the end for an infinitive).

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Craigslist comes under fire for lack of scrutiny of "adult" ads; a question about misuse of Section 230?

Craigslist came under scrutiny yesterday (Aug. 3) on Anderson Cooper’s 360 program on CNN as it received questions as to how carefully it screens or monitors “adult” ads for prostitution or other dangerous activities before selling and posting them.

The report made the point that Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act still protects Craigslist from liability from indirect harm resulting from the material. However, the controversy might cause Congress to take another look at Section 230 (particularly visible in sites about bloggers’ rights posted by EFF), particularly when it comes to commercial material.

In the following video, CNN’s Amber Lyon warns “don’t try this at home.” I like the metaphor with “Wall-Mart”. Craig Newmark is interviewed near Georg Washington University, where he says he contacts law enforcement if a suspicious item is detected, but the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington says it has never been contacted.



In April 2010, PC Magazine reported that this part of Craigslist’s business will generate $36 million in 2010, story by Chloe Albanesius, link here.

Craiglist, using "Web 1.0" technology, still makes enormous profits with few employees.  There was an earlier post about Craigslist Sept. 1, 2009.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Plagiarism is still a big issue in school systems and colleges in "digital age"

On Monday, August 2, the front page of the New York Times carried a new story, by Trip Gabriel, about student plagiarism, “For students in Internet age, no shame in cut and paste”, link here. The online title is “Plagiarism lines blur for students in digital age”.

Students have gotten used to a cloud of information that seems “public” or communal and seems to belong to no one. Some believe they can lift words from Wikipedia because it doesn’t usually attribute an author.

Not true. To the “don’t ask don’t tell” entry in Wikipedia, I once authored a paragraph about the 1993 Rand Study. It has since been condensed by a subsequent editor, however; yet still another footnote for that study was added. But I did some of the original legwork.

I remember when going to middle school myself using the World Book Encyclopedia (1950) as a source, particularly on a paper “The Home Front During World War II” when I wrote about rationing. It sticks in my mind now. There were no author’s names to quote, but they could be found if one was diligent enough from initials. But we still quoted the articles in our bibliography.

In fact, students who perform (music or drama) in high school are more likely to understand that most media material has individual authors or composers whose work is to be cited and respected. Later, they are likely to learn that media originators get paid, like anyone else.

Of course, we’ve all heard a lot about piracy of music and movies, with P2P, and the RIAA and now the “US Copyright Group” mass litigation. But high school and early college students sometimes have no clue.

Blogging can be a subset if more formal writing, where authors synthesize known sources (as, in my case, about “don’t ask don’t tell”) and come to their own supportable conclusions. (Yup, it seems to me that DADT makes great term paper material in, say, college freshman English, doesn’t it.) But in an era of social networking and quick gratification, critical thinking seems to take a back seat. Also, as vigorously as Facebook insists that a person has “one identity”, many people interpret social networking as an invitation to experiment with different persona, diluting the idea of attribution of specific authorship.

Indeed, Twitter seems to exemplify the antithesis of research as we used to learn it, based on quick pulses of expression. Yet, “accomplished Twitterers” (like Ashton Kutcher) manage to make the mass of their posts into a kind of poetry.

I have learned of a couple of cases where my own material was used for plagiarism. It least, it didn’t happen in any classes where I substitute taught (as far as I know).

Cartoon above comes from US Army training maual for DADT, as reproduced in Wikipedia (here). As US government material, it is in public domain, but would still have to be attributed properly in a term paper.  Picture below is my own T-shirt; wore it to the spa yesterday without notice.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Are the days of browser dominance, fed by free user content, waning?

I read through Michael Hirschorn’s latest article about the future of the Internet with a degree of caution. It appears on p 76 of the July-August 2010 “The Atlantic”, “(The) Closing (of) the Digital Frontier”, with link here.  There’s a subtitle in the magazine “toc”, “How companies are taming the Internet’s chaos”, and a hint that Steve Jobs is involved.

His high concept is that the free entry (and free user generated content) model that drives the Internet is evolving itself out of prominence, even if attempts to regulate it (through, as I have speculated, insurance requirements, for example) would be “immoral” as well as maybe unconstitutional. Hirschon points out that companies have come through with a new ménage of “apps, smart phones, and pricing plans.”

That is to say, the era of dominance of content (text and video) viewed on a power PC with an Internet browser is coming to a natural end, and getting replaced by instantaneous, gratifying gadgetry. That mentality of replacing thoroughness of thought and research with playful curiosity and an inclination toward playful tinkering demands new skills, mostly held by the young, and reminds me of the way I.T. evolved out of the mainframe world.

But it’s also true that my own effort underwent a metamorphosis. I started out with the idea of inexpensive desktop publishing and print distribution in the 1990s as I edited my newsletter (GLIL’s “The Quill”) and wrote my political books. That morphed into offering free content in a structured fashion on the Web with ordinary browsing, a model that took off with late 90s technology (especially free search engines), but the concept of publication for its own sake got supplanted mid decade with social networking as we know it today.

The visitor might want to check out this piece by Michael Becker on Hypercrit, “On Michael Hirschorn and the future of daily print journalism” (January 8, 2009), link here.  Yes, I’m “doing it again.”