Saturday, June 30, 2012

Who has heard of a Derecho?


It’s scary.  A Derecho formed mid-day in the Midwest and raced across to the MidAtlantic.  It reached here in northern VA at about 11:15 PM.  The gust front was very sudden, and blew a tree limb from a neighbor’s onto my cable line.  Power went off just before the front arrived. The heavy storm lasted maybe three or four minutes, and did not seem all that bad.  No basement flooding.  A few shingles off the top of the roof.  Maybe something hit it.

But today, it’s impossible to get in touch with Comcast.  800 number always is busy.  Agent chat session times out. And Dominion is not reporting any customers back up yet.  In this neighborhood, one set of traffic lights works, another doesn’t.

Even the local TV stations on the Internet, WJLA7 or NBC4, have little details.  Dominion Power’s own site’s numbers haven’t changed, and I can’t get the outage map to come up.  Try this link 

And the scenario could repeat today.

I’ve stayed connected with the iPad hotspot.  It dropped once, but it has worked reasonably well so far.  If the Verizon Internet connection drops, it seems that if you let it power off (and turn the hot spot off)  and then turn it all back on, it reconnects – although Windows 7 will give you a new session.

I do have a generator, thanks to an estate. It’s noisy, but so far it works.  Yes, it’s fine if others want to recharge their laptops and phones or cool off.

Be prepared.  But a vulnerable infrastructure can make individuals fail, or throw them into more interdependence.   We depend on others, who we “pay”, to do dangerous utility work in trying conditions that we couldn’t personally handle. But companies are not as well prepared as they could be. 
Storms like this happened a lot in Ohio in the summer when I was a small boy. Just about every week.  In those days, there was less that could get damaged.   In a densely populated, forested suburb they are disasters.  Why do people let trees grow so close to houses and power lines?  It’s asking for it. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Justice Roberts has a point: does the "individual mandate" set a dangerous example for other areas? What about Internet use liability?


Justice Roberts, in ruling that the Commerce Clause doesn’t authorize the federal government to buy anything from private businesses, while allowing the federal government to tax people who don’t buy “it”, may at least be making one valuable point. That is, private businesses, empowered to sell a required product, could (if not heavily regulated) discriminate against disfavored people, whereas the government would face political problems in trying to tax the same people unfavorably.  (Without regulation, at least, imagine the problems for HIV+ people given such a mandate.)

Where the idea could come back again is the idea of requiring people to have insurance for problems they could cause from personal Internet use.  These possibilities include libel or defamation, and perhaps inadvertent participation in sending malware or conceivably even child porn if their home computers are hijacked.

There are people who think that “amateurism” has gone too far and poses risks that are hard to control.  And the risks may come from users who don’t individually have a lot of experience in having to provide for others.

Libel insurance for bloggers was offered through the Media Bloggers Association in the fall of 2008; I’ve heard almost nothing about it since.  It was expensive.  The National Writers Union tried to offer it back in 2001, and ran into problems with their carrier refusing to cover webmasters who covered “controversial” material, especially gay and lesbian rights.

Property and casualty companies have dabbled with covering incidental hazards with home computer us as part of a homeowner’s policy.  Likewise, they’ve sometimes included it “umbrella” policies on auto insurance for individuals who will certify they are not “entertainers”.  But is a world where anyone can suddenly become an Internet celebrity (as in the Chris Crocker biography interviewed on my movies blog yesterday), that method certainly doesn’t sound sustainable.  More recently, around 2009, a few property companies dabbled with charging social media users more because they can become targets for thieves.

Putting all this in perspective, perhaps the country should appreciate Justice Roberts and his constructive conservatism – recognizing that requiring purchase of anything in the market could cause intractable problems for some people.   

It’s well to mention that the “conservatives” on the Court had another constructive opportunity. That is, turn down the Individual Mandate, but invite the states (not controlled under the Commerce Cause) to pass their own individually.  States, under practical political pressure to make premiums affordable for their voting constituents, would have no choice but to do so, by the end of 2013.  There’s a practical advantage: the details of the mandate could vary within each state, according to demographics and other cultural issues.  You could take advantage of “federalism”, experiment, and gain experience in a hard-to-gauge policy issue over time.

By the way, “breaking news”: The GOP wants a vote on repeal of “Obamacare” by July 11.  Unbelievable.



Update: Oct. 10, 2014   

Some perusal of more recent  web literature by property and auto insurers suggest that umbrella policies don't cover Internet speech covered in the course of business, employment, or professional pursuits.  It has to be something essentially incidental.  But the world of social media and self-publishing, often "non-commercially" or without significant monetary flow, certainly could complicate the picture.  I'll hav to look more into this.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Potomac Tech-Wire holds Seed Stage Outlook and Entrepreneurs Breakfast Round Table; interesting iPad accessory demonstrated


Today, I attended a Potomac Tech-Wire Breakfast Round Table, titled “Seed Stage Outlook 2012: Crowd Funding, Super Angles, Accelerators, and More”, at the Gannett Headquarters (USA Today newspaper) near Tysons Corner VA. The event is sponsored by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and Ross Financial Services.  The basic link is here

In past years, Fairfax County has helped sponsor a Digital Media Conference for the East Coast, usually in Tysons Corner (last year in Crystal City), during the last week of June.  This year, the event, a Mobile and Social Entertainment Summit, appears to be scheduled for New York City, June 28, link here.  

The Potomac event opened early with a full breakfast. It was followed by a Seed Stage Investor Panel, a single presentation about Kickstarter, and then an Entrepreneurial Panel.

In breakfast networking (while my smart phone sported a video image of the Washington Nationals’ Adam LaRoche and his second opposite-field homer in Colorado last night) some of us talked about the need to fine-tune privacy settings for the availability of geolocation from smart phones.  (MLB does provide a good backdrop for business.)

The “Seed Outlook” panelists were Sean Glass (Norman Biddle Venture Partners), Michael Goldstein (Endeavor DC), Jonathan Perelli (“Fortify.vc”), Thomas Weithman (CIT Gap Funds), and Paul Sherman, moderator (PTW).

Some of the major ideas were that it’s good not to need funding – if you have friends and family. You need to have details – a business plan, a prototype, and some leads on customers.   Cash requirements for seed funding have gone down in some cases.  There was also a comment that the DC area may be friendlier to investors than Wall Street, and that “the Street” sold Facebook (at the IPO) as a “retail product”; a fair price would have been $18-22, and a price of about $28 today.

The concept of “angel investors” was discussed. These entities provide investment funds with ownership interest as consideration.  There are various ratios of ownership that are common business practice.  A typical company that sponsors such investments is the "New Vantage Group", here.  (And, no, this kind of Vantage doesn't "rule the world".)

After a brief coffee break, there was a presentation by Salman on how he used Kickstarter for a pledge campaign to raise money for his iPad Touchtype.   Here is his “short film” on how his innovation works:


 There followed an Entrepreneurs Panel.  It comprised Stephanie Hay (Fast Customer), James Quigly (Canvas), Fahad Hassan (Always Prepped), Aunim Hossain (Tista Games), and Michael Mayernick (Spinakr). 

There was a general impression that most potential investors tend to be ambiguous when approached, and that entrepreneurs need to be quick and nimble in getting their ideas out: you don’t have a “brand” yet during a startup phase.

There was an audience hand-show on how many were looking for funding right now.  The percentage was small, although during breakfast the people I met were doing so and quite aggressive in their funding approaches.

The service Spinakr looks interesting:  with an embedded code snippet, it analyzes website traffic and recommends “targeted messaging”.  It’s link is here.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

No, I don't need more email addresses (even from Facebook)


Facebook is catching flack this morning for replacing the email addresses in many users’ profiles with a facebook.com email address. 

I checked mine just now  and found it had not changed.

Facebook reasons it can increase advertising revenue if it can get users to use its domain for email.

In practice, I use only my aol email (which I have had since 1994) regularly.  (Prodigy, with its clownish conetnt, lost out then, didn’t it!)    But I have to use my obscure Comcast email address to sign in to check my Comcast bill.  And a few “clients” still communicate to me through gmail. I have email addresses on my domains but don't use them.  Maybe that's a liability. 

It’s disruptive to change email addresses, and time consuming to use more than one.

Career counselors recommend a separate email for job hunting, preferably on a professional site.  I wonder how using a Facebook email would look in job searching, given Facebook’s idea of “no double lives allowed”.

Using just one email could make one more vulnerable to spam and phishing.

Facebook was also criticized for testing a “ceepy” app that allows one to find out which “Friends” are nearby in a geolocation sense. But that app has not been released.

That’s one thing about living in a trendy neighborhood of a big city, the “bumping frequency”.  I noticed that when living in New York City in the 1970s. 

The BBC story on the Facebook email trick is here


Monday, June 25, 2012

No, I don't send pre-written letters to "pols"


Sunday morning, at a local church, the pastor encouraged members and visitors to pick up a package for mailing letters to members of Congress urging (in anticipation of the upcoming debt ceiling debate, perhaps) not to balance the budget on the backs of the vulnerable.

A mash of principles come to mind.  One is that I don’t like to send letters to politicians (by email or by letter) written by others.  I really don’t think it’s effective.  I do sign online petitions (as on change.org) for some situations. And I do sign petitions at public malls and places held by real people, sometimes.
   
Both the left and right like to put words in the mouths of constituents.  Both sides are “guilty” of it.

And I probably sound uppity, but I don’t like to be recruited to other people’s specific causes.  I like to look at everything together, connect the dots, keep ‘em honest.

And I also realize that my “journalistic attitude” is symptomatic of something else, that we have become less sociable, more insistent in doing or having things our own ways, even if that means less contact with others (but maybe the contact that happens is of better quality).

As for “balancing the budget” on the backs of the poor, well, yes, the well-off should pay more taxes.  The problem is one of ideology.  The right wing can credibly argue that taking care of those people who are less “competitive” is a responsibility for extended families, not government.  But then that feeds the “family values” idea that everyone must have a generative stake in family life – and indeed now it looks like eldercare is falling on the shoulders of all, including the childless.  In the long run, this can have a profound impact on just what marriage is for.

One other brief note or reminder.  I appreciate (though I first monitor) comments that are at least remotely relevant to the posting. I don’t mind links to product or services if there’s a connection. I do reject comments that appear to be computer generated or spam (that is, have commercial links and don’t relate to the blog or the post).  Likewise, I ignore link exchange or posting requests that seem spammy (“10 reasons why….”).  It still sounds as there is a lot of financial incentive to generate links or page loads, even if the percentage of responses is very small.  I still think the idea of a penny charge per email isn’t such a bad idea. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sandusky trial reminds us of the potential sacrifice of jury duty


The Sandusky trial – this whole episode appears to be an unbelievable breakdown of trust – does at least call to mind the responsibilities of jury duty and give me pause to ponder the idea that I or anyone could be called to a difficult trial and sequestered for a long time from media.

That could be a serious matter for me, as my freelance “business” depends on connectivity. A service provider might disable or remove an account if the owner could not be reached because of sequestration (or illness, for that matter, or death, a concern for an estate), and no one had been given the power to field questions or problems in absence. With different impact, the same concerns could exist for a "conventional" social networking account. It's relevant that sequestered jury duty is not a matter of choice, as is, say, military service (although stop-loss recall is not a choice, nor would a draft be chosen "sequestration" if ever reimposed by Congress). 
  
I have thought about ways I could make my web presence more resilient should this happen with me.  I could reduce the number of blogs and go back to a model of a flat site with an “inverted list” scheme that I discussed before (June 7, 2012).

I moved back to northern Virginia toward the end of 2003, and despite voting regularly, have never received a jury summons.  My mother received one about fifteen years ago and served for one week.
    
When I lived in Texas in the 1980s, I was summoned four times, because there was a “one day, one trial” policy.  I sat on one misdemeanor (six people) jury for about three days, and was on a civil case that settled without trial once a jury was picked.

There is also the possibility of federal trial service (at the district court in Alexandria) or grand jury.  But I’ve never known someone who got a summons for either.

The chances of serving on a long, controversial trial requiring sequestration are remote – but, knock on wood. 

Update:

Media reports indicate that Sandusky was convicted on 45 of 48 counts today.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Supreme Court OK's specific, narrow regulations of broadcast content; Northern VA school district tightens rules on social media


The Supreme Court ruled today that the FCC can regulate indecent content on broadcast media more severely than other places, but must have specific, consistent rules. The Court threw out fines against Fox and ABC.  But maybe the FCC can ban broadcast airing of "wardrobe malfunctions".  (Justin Timberlake has grown up since then.)

The Supreme Court slip opinion is here.

There are many media accounts, such as this from station WJLA, (website url) link.

The ruling would lead one to believe that censorship laws in other areas (such as COPA, struck down in 2006 for overbreadth at the district level after two trips to the Supreme Court) might meet First Amendment challenges if they are tailored narrowly enough.  The recent controversy over state laws holding service providers responsible for ads involving minors could pass muster if drawn up properly.

Also, more locally, the Arlington County School Board has promulgated some rules involving employees (teachers) and social media, at least requiring any social media use in class lesson plans be approved and submitted to administrators for oversight. Arlington also forbids individual contact between teachers and students through social media, phones or email.  Apparently the District and Fairfax County are considering similar policies.  It’s not clear if this applies to substitute teachers (at least when not long-term subs).

Lisa Gartner has a story in the Washington Examiner, and reports that in the past few years over 100 teachers in Virginia have lost licenses because of inappropriate behavior online.

The rules do not restrict self-published content beyond the obvious expectations about respecting confidentiality and avoiding illegal content.  However, when I resumed subbing in Fairfax County in early 2007 (I did so for just one semester), I was told I should not mention to anyone that I even had a presence online (see July 27, 2007).

The Examiner link is here.

Monday, June 18, 2012

US, and other western governments, trying to get "troublesome" search results and even blog posts removed


CNN is reporting that Google has released a report showing a shocking frequency of requests from western governments, especially the United States itself, to censor search results and sometimes even remove blog posts, on matters embarrassing to some public officials.

The iGoogle welcome page for account holders presented a link to the story by John D. Sutter on Monday morning, link here

Google’s specific page on this Transparency Report is here and it is rather shocking.  Many to most requests from the U.S. were not honored, but a few YouTube accounts were closed apparently because of intimidating content.    Some requests from Spain were rather over-the-top.  But Google did have to comply with a court order from Germany on the removal of some sensitive content that was apparently “not credible”.

The company, on another page, discusses requests to remove search results that link to infringing content.  A lot of this content comes from Microsoft or NBC-Universal.  That page is here

It's likely that MSN's Bing and Yahoo! safe search (on Firefox) has received similar requests but hasn't reported the problem yet to the media. 

I have, perhaps on three occasions over fifteen years, removed small amounts of content from my web sites when asked to by specific individuals.  In all of these cases, the circumstances were unusual or bizarre, possibly harmful to the person involved, and not likely to recur with others.

A blogger has no way to know if a site linked is infringing.  I generally won’t embed YouTube videos that I actually think are likely to be infringing.  I prefer embeds from the sources that actually own the original material (like film distributors).  Sometimes embedded YouTube videos, while still identifying the items, will not play and display a notice that the account holder has been terminated because of repeated copyright complaints, often by copyright owners other than the company owning the material in the specific embed.  
When I find these (randomly) I remove or (usually) replace them.  Over time, some embeds on older posts, just like some links, will fail.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Internet Archive joins suit against Washington State third party liability law, says it is worded much more broadly than what applies just to ads


The Internet Achive has joined in litigation to stop Washington State’s HB 6251, with Electronic Frontier Foundation as representation, according to an EFF story here

EFF says in the article that the law is vaguely worded, to the point that a web host to a web page providing information about where a minor might be available for commerce is also at risk for criminal liability.  This goes over and above the idea of verifying the age of people actually involved in a service for an actual ad that is posted. 

Tennessee has a similar law that takes effect July 1, and New York and New Jersey are reported to be considering such laws, and it is not known right now how narrowly tailored these laws might be.

“Clear legal protections for hosts and disseminators of third party content are clear legal principles that allow free speech to flourish online”. 

Some of the issues resemble those of COPA, ruled unconstitutional in 2007. 

The state law might also contradict Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Newsy" stuff: state laws on websites serving adult ads; CISPA; ITU documents; and Righthaven's "eBay punk"


Since I’ve blogged about individual plans recently, I guess I need to play a little catchup with news.
    
Last week, on my COPA blog, I discussed litigation by Backpage against a Washington state law that would require websites offering ads for “adult services” to attempt to verify that the performers are legal adults.  This law in Washington is known as HB 6251.

There have been comments that the law contradicts Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act (limitation of downstream liability of service providers), and that it would fail for many of the same constitutional failings that brought down COPA in 2007.

One could argue, however, that this state law (and others under consideration in other legislatures) are much more narrowly tailored than would, for example, SOPA have been.  Only ads are affected.  Presumably a website could outsource the responsibility to an ad provider.  Also, websites showing (as primary sources) adult material are already required to verify ages of actors in most cases.

(Note: there are credible arguments that the Washington law is still too vague.  See the posting June 15, 2012, above, about another lawsuit by the Internet Archive.)

There has been a lot of objection to CISPA, out of concerns that law enforcement could use information for non-national-security purposes, such as copyright enforcement.  Perhaps the experience with Customs (ICE) does not sound encouraging.  CISPA, however, is no SOPA.

There are concerns about international governance, the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), and documents called WCIT-12 and TD64.  I’m not too clear as to how much this could affect small businesses and startups and will look further.

There is a bizarre development in the copyright trolling world: Righthaven “copyrights” are being auctioned on eBay.  Are we all getting punked? "A-plus-K" would be proud. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Part 2 of Strategic Planning: Non-fiction rules after all


Again, as I remember from the “world of work”, “strategic planning” is more about reviewing and planning your actual output than your ideas.  It’s like writing an “annotated bibliography” (two posts ago).  But then you constantly map out your ideas.  You have to know where you’re going to do another book.

Many visitors know that I entered self-publishing with my 1997 book “Do Ask Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back”, reprinted it (on demand) in 2000, and wrote a sequel 2002 “Do Ask Do Tell: When Liberty Is Stressed” after 9/11.  Last fall, I added an e-book “Speech Is a Fundamental Right; Being Listened to Is a Privilege”, available from links on the right side of my  “doaskdotell” home page.  It loads as PDF’s easily onto an iPad.   You can get the first two books still from Amazon or BN.  Yes, I encourage you’re getting new copies, but there are used copies (cheaper) from reseller.  Or you can contact me (look at Blogger Profile), I have some inventory.  (I don’t do credit cards myself – it’s all outsourced – because of the personal information and PCIDSS standards.)

I get calls from iUniverse about selling these, but, as I noted, it’s hard to sell “aged” non-fiction.  Things change with time, that’s all. You need new stuff.  So as part of my “project” I do plan to offer the third booklet commercially for Kindle download, this fall.  (There is also a 1998 booklet, “Our Fundamental Rights, and How We Can Reclaim Them: A Psychological Approach” I have some copies, and for a while, there was actually a pre-9/11 version of DADT II).

Until 2005, I supplemented all the content in these books with a site called “hppub.com” (an acronym for “High Productivity Publishing”), which for a time was mirrored on AOL Hometown (no longer exists, since 2008).  In 2005, I moved everything to a site called “doaskdotell.com”.  I also put some of my screenwriting experiments there, which led to the big “blow up” when I was a substitute teacher (see July 27, 2007 here). 
    
I maintained the material from the books with updates on my sites, keyed to chapters and pages or footnote numbers in the books.  So the chronology of the books, taken as a whole, provides a way to sequence and organize all of my material.  (In a sense, iUniverse marketing is right about that point, even with older books.)   I supplemented all this material with topic-specific “sidebars” (a term that used to be common in conventional newspaper sports reporting), which expanded to a “controversial issues” page and directory on the “doaskdotell” site, a number of essays on specific topics, one of which (teaching about homosexuality in public schools) was eventually published  (in 2007)in a Michigan publisher’s “Opposing Viewpoints” series (about “Teenage Sexuality”).  One essay that got a lot of quick attention was the one on filial responsibility laws.

The essays were rather like Wikipedia articles, constantly updated inline or with footnotes, but just by me.  I had long since added a collection of movie reviews, book reviews, and reviews of stage and musical concert events. 

In early 2006, I gradually replaced the use of a flat site with Blogger, on sixteen blogs, including media reviews and articles.   The main blog (this one) focuses on free speech and  Internet technology law.   Topics are provided by Blogger labels, but the external database organization remains chronological (in reverse).
What is all of this all about?  The 1997 book, as I have explained, was motivated by what I saw as a parallel between the way the debate on the gay military ban (leading to “don’t ask don’t tell”) was being conducted in 1993, and my own William and Mary expulsion some 32 year before.  Around that notion was a concentric body of ideas about a “tug of war” between individual rights and self-fulfillment, and the supposed or historic needs of the “common good”, particularly as filtered through the “nuclear family”.  The notion of “unit cohesion”, so critical to the military, also applied to larger society.  The sites and blogs would keep the coverage of all these interlinked issues coherent, with a certain personal touch, emphasizing my own observation or coverage (not available to main media) when possible.

I saw issues as connected (blobs rather than dots), to  be considered together, in isolation.  My “compendium”, even if based on my own life, seemed to provide a useful way to link issues that normally, even when researched in a normal way on sites like Wikipedia, seemed piecemeal, and that tended to invite “taking sides”  (or partisanship) and the balkanization of activism into small issues competing for money and sympathy.

Today, my biggest concern is the “sustainability” of the focus on the rights and wholeness of the individual, as opposed to the group (or family) – with particular focus on how this tension affects those who are “different” and somehow controversial.  That starts out in the area of “discrimination” and moves into areas like preserving the global technological infrastructure that has made modern individualism possible.  The debate on gay rights follows, though not precisely, this tension; and the logical connection between libertarianism and “equal rights for gays” became conspicuous in the 1990s. Indeed, in the more distant past (and in some parts of the world, even today), the issue for gays is not equality as HRC or SLDN now see it, but fighting off prohibitionism; and this now seems perplexing to a society once it embraces “personal responsibility”.  But in more localized societies surrounded by perceived or real enemies and common perils, it is understandable that people would connect the emotional world of marriage and family with a belief that families need to demand loyalty from their own “outliers”.   I certainly described all this from a certain intellectual distance or parallax in the 1990s; my own period of eldercare (and substitute teaching) made it much more personal.  One danger is that global catastrophe can bring this “tribal” situation back.

The “chapters” of the first book more or less suggest how the chronological organization works, but would need to be revised to include more recent history since 1997.  The “chapters” would run roughly like this now:  college expulsion (early to mid 60s); military service and draft (late 60s); “Second coming” (1970s); the AIDS challenge (1980s); DADT (early and mid 1990s); free speech and global communications (late 1990s to present, including COPA, SOPA, DMCA, Section 230, etc); gay marriage, eldercare, demographics, filial responsibility (same period); national security, 9/11, environment, and sustainability (same period).

The “video”, or documentary film that I plan (call it “Do Ask Do Tell: The Documentary” for now) would explore this “biggest concern” by presenting an “argument” and backing it up in a somewhat mathematical fashion that I described here in my Feb. 4 post (and more background Nov. 13, 2011).  Part of the support (or “reasons”) would come from my own life, with video or pictures of places where relevant events took place, along with interviews and possibly dramatizations (in “short film” format).  

The “argumentative” presentation would be preceded by a biographical sketch, setting up the chronological thought train through the “chapters” suggested above.

So then I would have a “non-fiction” package comprising a video-film (DVD or streaming) and books (Kindle).  With some “creative” business modeling, they could be priced as a package.

What happens, then, with my web presence and “online reputation”?  I know that there is a lot to question, to criticize.  For example, if I want to get into the “big leagues”, should I continue publishing with somebody else’s “free service”, with the risks and loss of “due process” that can ensue? Perhaps not, but the practical question is more nuanced and experiential than one might think, when this question was talked about a lot in 2008 in connection with the spam blog problem.  It is possible to imagine, for example, that I have only one blog (one hosted space), updating readers on new reviews or essays placed on a conventional site, and then cross-referenced with an “inverted list” database technique that emulates Blogger or Wordpress “label” capabilities.   This could be made technically quite simple, inexpensive and fast-to-load, and probably take me about two weeks to do in a reasonable fashion.   (For media reviews, there are actually some advantages, as the blogs have some items broken apart artificially, such as with the “disaster warnings” blog.) Another obvious question is whether older  (redundant or out-of-date) content should be removed or somehow otherwise archived.  But major essays would need to be rewritten or overhauled, maybe once a year, as they could quickly get out of date, since issues (like gay marriage or DADT) frequently change, although older history remains intact.

Of course, I know I have flouted custom and previously expected practice, even from self-published authors.  Typically, someone writes a book, and sets up a website to sell it and link to reviews, but often offers little content “for free”.   Non-fiction “public policy” books  typically become obsolete in a couple years, so some authors get into the cycle of rewriting them with updated versions.  So I, as noted before, kept the material up online with “footnote files” at first and then various other essays, and eventually “The 16 Blogs.”  So, one asks, why not require someone to buy the book first to see the updates?  I could say we all know that doesn’t fly competing in a world of “free content” – although recently some newspapers have indeed tried to reverse this reality with paywalls, with questionable success (and a few marginal papers have gotten into mass litigation – the Righthaven saga).  Frankly, in a world of online content, “cookie cutter marketing” and the “always be closing” mentality doesn’t cut it.  You have to respect your readers’ brains, or else there would be no reason to write at all.  You need critical mass with your content itself, not just short term numbers.  If your calling is “Aliens” you need to find a number of “other earths”, not just one “Gliese 581 G”.  (For the related questions about social media, listservers, and "white listing", see the entry April 8, 2012 on this blog.)

Offering “free” content does enable me (or anyone) to “make a name for myself”.  Some would say that, without “stake” or “standing” in the form of responsibility for dependents (family) and without enough income from “fame seeking” to support others, I (or anyone) would be just creating risk (for myself and others connected to me) with no increase in capital to cover it.  That was the perspective that came out of my October 2005 “incident” when substitute teaching when my supposedly “self-incriminating” screenplay short surfaced.  That comports with modern B-school thinking, that in a conglomerate of companies, every line of business must be separately profitable in the short term always.  Applied to book publishing, that would mean that every book must make money on its own, and come down when it stops.  (That’s what happens to television shows, measured by Nielsen; what about the same for the web?)  The “conservative” moral mindset is that the creative activity, when public, is supporting a family, or supporting other people.  I could answer this by saying, media is not like other business, any more than health care is.  Exposure and “fame” eventually is everything. That’s why writing anonymously (as for Wikipedia) doesn’t cut it either.  Would I like to join forces with an AC360 or a Huffington?  Yes, but (already at age 68) I would never get the opportunity until I had both the complete product and the “fame”. 

I’ve been “out there” with a lot of “free content” under my name since 1997, the time of my first publication, and been up almost all the time, with content that is quick to load and often ranks in search engines above much more complicated corporate sites  -- paying nothing for placement.  And I persisted.  I think that without my doing so, we just might not have had DADT repealed, or COPA struck down, or even the wins in Lawrence v. Texas or marriage cases.  It makes a difference when somebody “doesn’t go away”.  It “keeps them honest”.

And the emphasis in my “message” is shifting, away from discrimination (in public policy) to sustaining the infrastructure that makes globally conscious, individualistic life possible.  Everybody talks about climate change, but there are many more “inconvenient truths” where we must be proactive to protect our way of life.  As Fareed Zakaria recently pointed out, we have done so thus far, despite the many problems that sound existential.  But we must keep out guard up against many other threats, such as space weather (hardening the power grid much more than we have) and “demographic winter”.  A “guided compendium” like mine, by remaining visible, helps keep the pressure on.

To be successful as I have outlined here, I need two “things”.  First, I need the “freedom” to continue, using the model I have followed.  There can exist many points of failure, such as a breakdown in downstream liability protections for providers, insurance issues, or business model exhaustion experienced by service providers, or a total failure of infrastructure, whether from nihilistic terrorism or natural catastrophe (as huge coronal mass ejections or solar superstorms).  Without that freedom and capacity, at age 68, I hardly have much of a place in the world, I cannot become a role model out of nothing, or by being someone else's "huckster".  Second, given the “freedom”, I must be able to do the work, and master the technology (in the music scoring area, for example, there is still a challenge).

There is definitely a dark side to all this.  I am driven to a veneer of “global citizenship” in part because I do not like to be solicited to enter into personal relationships with individuals whom I cannot “value”.  On the surface, this (tendency toward upward affiliation) sounds like my libertarian-driven “right”, but it cannot be sustained well in a world where everyone must belong to a “local group”.   A value system like mine can become just as self-righteous, virtue obsessed and “exclusive” as that held by any religious fundamentalist (any faith at all).  Unbalanced and unchecked in a culture, it can eventually lead to a tendency toward fascism, just as can more conventional corruption of a familiar authoritarian power structure.  And it took a certain degree of coercion to make me look at where I could be headed.  


Saturday, June 09, 2012

English teacher in MA tells commencement students, "You are not special". Neither is Clark Kent


An English teacher , David McCullough, told a graduating high school class at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, “You are not special”.


He gave mathematical analysis to show just how many people one competes with for fame and attention.  The desire in the current generations for “fame”, enabled by the methodology of and legal protections for user-generated content on the Internet, has indeed generated some moral criticism, in the “amateurism” debate. “Everyone is just a different version of you.”

He said something like, if you think you are special, then everyone is special.   He made a metaphor of the “level playing field” on which they had their commencement.  (Major league baseball deliberately avoids a level playing field!)

On the CWTV series “Smallville”, Clark Kent (Tom Welling) used to say, “I’m different. But I’m not special.”  Remember, Clark becomes a journalist.  He has to remain objective and report the truth. 

The link for the MSNBC story, by Sevil Omer, is here.   And, by the way, I think Anderson Cooper paid his dues when he was younger.  So did Sebastian Junger.

There was a story Saturday on CNN about a teenage boy (13) whose father implored him to run through flames to warn neighbors about a wildfire in a western state.  He sustained serious, possibly disfiguring burns.  I was never willing to deal with that.  I always felt, if something happens, I'm gone.  Sacrifice and heroism couldn't prevent shame.  Somehow, that ties to the speech. 

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Part 1 of Strategic Planning (Mine, that is)


In the spring semester of 1963, when I was technically a sophomore at George Washington University, I took my “last” undergraduate English course, the “dreaded” English 4, where almost the entire grade came from one assignment, the term paper.  At GWU, one took this course after a year of literature. The term paper amounted to an exercise in "How to write a book" (nonfiction), which would figure into my life 35 years later. 

The paper could be about any reasonable topic.  One friend wrote about vampires.  I dug up a topic I had used in senior English in high school for “A-B credit”, the purported influence by post-romantic composer Gustav Mahler on twentieth century music.  This was a good time for that topic, as Leonard Bernstein was just starting to unearth man of the lesser-played Mahler “middle” symphonies.

There as a catch.  One the fourth Monday of the semester, we had to hand in an “annotated bibliography” of the planned paper.  We had to know where we were headed.  In the first three weeks of class, we had been expected to scout out all the books and periodicals we would use for research material.  In those days, that often meant visits to the main DC Library or the Library of Congress.  We had to document all our planned sources on index cards, in advance, and write-up a detailed survey of the literature we would use.  Maybe, if the term paper were on “the decline of marriage”, the collection of book reviews on my Book Reviews Blog under the label “family” would meet the requirement.

In 1963, at least, this turned out to become a daunting task. I remember staying up until 3:30 AM the night before it was due, handwriting the paper in ink at the family kitchen table.

So it is, I need to say where I am going now.

I get calls occasionally from my “publisher” (iUniverse) about marketing efforts for my two books, the most recent of which dates to 2002. I cannot aggressively market “old” non-fiction. It is useful as a reference, but I have moved on.  I want to outline what I intend to market soon, as I emerge from six years of blogging and “grassroots” reporting.

In my situation, I think a combination of several works and media is more effective, than just one work, and trying to justify that oeuvre with “numbers”.   And there is the issue of how I manage my online presence, both in the meantime and then thereafter.

My “Offering” will be partly a “musical offering”, partly film (screenplay), and partly “literary”. 

Let’s list the last first, the book.  I am into the heavy editing of a novel to be titled “Angels’ Brothers”.
            
There are two scripts.  They are the “Do Ask Do Tell” itself, and then a sci-fi tale called “Titanium”. A have a more daring third one (definitely hard “R”) called “69 Minutes to Titan”.  These all would logically lead to franchise-like sequels, which will not be offered at first.   (Really.  Would Tinseltown title a film “Do Ask Do Tell 2”, assuming the first one had worked?) 

There is music, too.  I have fairly complete manuscripts for three sonatas, and a cantata, mostly dating back to high school, college, and young adult days.   I need to get enough of this (particularly the last movement of the last sonata) entered into Sibelius so that it could be professionally performed and recorded (for the movie).

There is also a documentary video.  More about that later.

The fiction items all assume an extraterrestrial intervention by “angels” who have detected that the number of free-will souls possible on Earth is approaching a mathematically determined upper bound (which I think could exist – and I wonder if a conscious, free-will “physical entity” really can be destroyed at death at all – I think it lives somehow, maybe frozen at some moment in Time until it gets stored on the surface of a black hole).  The angels “set up shop” on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, within a convenient space-flight from Earth.

Nevertheless, the different works tell a similar story form different perpsectives.

In the DADT screenplay, a character based on me “wakes up” in a bizarre kind of confinement, which seems to be part hospital and part ashram.  He eventually learns he is in space (Titan) and will be challenged with specific tasks and rituals, that can cross time (and body ages) in “Mobius fashion”, along with other chums of his who have already been through it.  When he returns to Earth, he learns what is going to happen with “the rest of us.”  The "tasks" (and the need to "process" the cohorts) cause the "angels" to review critical episodes in "Bill's" life, to examine the mystery of what happened behind the scenes and why.  The film would comprise about 45 minutes "present time" in the ashram, about 45 minutes of "real history" flashback, and about 20 minutes of an embedded "fictitious" short story that triggered many of the past events. 

The “Titanium” screenplay has the abduction story viewed by an adventurous journalist, about 28, who has lost his pregnant finance to a “going up” but continues to philander.  His reporting, under the suspicion of the police, lead to the angelic plot and eventually a publicly undeniable UFO landing – again, with consequences.
In “Angels’ Brothers”,  a  “family man” history teacher and part-time-CIA (and ex-military) agent befriends a precocious gay college student who may just be one of the angels.  In the novel, a bizarre virus, with radioactive isotopes as elements, propagates the “contraction of souls” of those who will survive.

I used to envision an ideal novel as one where an “ordinary person” (perhaps me, perhaps a reporter) learns of a “plot” through meeting (maybe not so accidentally) a “Clark Kent” sort of character (oh, Clark became a journalist, too), and travels to an ashram for the middle, to be re-educated, to return when civilization is on the brink.  But in the novels,  I found it interesting to present the transition through the eyes of characters who discover they are part of the cause of things.  It may not be a happy ending for everyone – maybe it will become a “Revolution”).

References: April 6, Feb. 4 2012 on this blog.

Update: June 10

Seeing Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" (Movies blog, June 8) and seeing how Scott fit the pieces of his "Alien" sequence together, does raise some questions for me.

First, it's true that the DADT screenplay, through the "true" flashbacks, gives me a chance to tell the deep stories behind some personal incidents and explore their "meaning".  And the "angelic" characters in the ashram have every motive to care, because they have to wonder how they will really turn out in an world that will contract  -- so they could wonder why Bill was "selected" and what that can say about their own futures as Bill's "friends" (outside of Facebook).  I know, of course, that you can say that Earth's civilization may actually have occurred early in the game of civilizations that may follow in the Galaxy -- or they could be there already.

A more relevant point is, should there exist a sequential relationship between the Novel and the screenplays, at least the DADT screenplay?  Right now, at the end of the DADT screenplay, "Bill" is returned to Earth for a while, and discovers it's undergoing a great calamity.  For one thing, people have to do without electricity and global communications when he returns.  There's no mention in the screenplay of a "virus".  But in the book, a "virus" is the vector, bringing about the transformation at home while the "angels" land (intermittently throughout the book, and then at the end).  One way to connect them would be to suggest that there had been a power loss period before the novel starts, and show that as a backstory in Bill's writings.  Maybe the backstory is simply embedded as "Bill's screenplay".  The way it's set up now: the DADT screenplay explores the possibility of EMP (so does "Titanium"), the book explores the idea of a virus.  Two different perils.  Take your pick. 



Monday, June 04, 2012

Facebook "likes" can propagate a person's image on line -- a "publicity" as well as a "privacy" issue?


An article Friday, June 1 by Somini Sengupta in the New York Times (front page), “So much for sharing his ‘like’”,  develops an issue that could eventually lead to legal rethinking of concepts like “right of publicity” as well as privacy  -- as the use of people’s photos becomes even more unpredictable on the Internet. The link for the story is (website url) here

The specifics concern the whimsical Facebook “like” by one Nick Bergus for a facetious product (a 55-gallon barrel of personal lubricant, something you wouldn’t “take delivery of” as a “future” – the old pork belly idea).  His image wound up on an automated ad paid for by Amazon.  Apparently the “like” is treated as an endorsement (one of the components of publicity law), at least in part as buried in Facebook’s TOS.

This wouldn’t affect me now, but it might if my family situation were more sensitive (as it was well before Mother died), or if I were already making money out of fame from my books (no, I’m not making money out of it now – more on that issue later – it get calls from the “publisher” over this).

Note that Facebook's becoming a publicly traded company has no effect on privacy rights of users, as explained in this Snopes article (posted on Facebook itself by a Friend this morning), link


Saturday, June 02, 2012

"Coder" judge rules that an API is not copyrightable


Julie Samuels of Electronic Frontier Foundation reported May 31 that a federal judge has ruled that Google can use Oracle’s java application programming interface  (for its Android OS) without paying a license fee.  The court ruled that an API cannot be copyrighted, because it is more like a set of interface standards that would allow one company to “rule the world.”

The link for the story is here. The judge (William Alsup) is said to be a coder himself.  Perhaps not on the order of Mark Zuckerberg during the latter’s Harvard days.

ZDnet has a more strongly worded story, “Judge crushes Oracle’s API copyright claims like a bug”, link here

Some investors had apparently counted on the idea of an Oracle win.

Groklaw has a PDF of the opinion here

I had reported on this issue previously on May 13 on my “IT Job Market” blog. 

Check Jonah Lehrer, "You've got creativity", from AOL (no embed offered), here.   It's interesting to draw parallels between writing or letters, programming or code (or API's), and even sports.