Monday, July 16, 2007

Assessment 1: What Projects Would I Lead?

On July 10, 2007 I reached that “when I’m 64” milestone in that song in “The World According to Garp.” In this “Assessment1” entry I want to lay down a few areas where, when I go back to work more steadily, I think I can offer leadership. Some of them may sound like pie in the sky, but I’m to put it down anyway. Let’s see what happens.

First, an “Idea Zero.” As a “young senior” one idea that strikes me is that most people “in the general public” don’t correlate all that is going around them particularly well. They hear what they want to hear and blot out the rest.

A couple months ago, a Sunday School teacher (herself a minister) said that once in a while she takes a “news fast.” Various surveys indicate that high school students don’t follow current events or news very well, until history and social studies teachers assign it as homework.. People tend to let “professionals” or “organizations” or “lobbyists” do their thinking and talking for them, so our democracy often remains a battle between special interests. Yes, I know this is conservative talk-show stuff. But I think that, as an article of citizenship, one needs to know, before having needs met by a change in public policy, what the effects could be on others. People need to learn to "connect the dots" themselves and not depend on social hierarchies (the authority of religion or teachers or families, once they are adults) for their own perceptions of issues.

Along these lines, I still think some public town halls around the country would be a good thing. And not just presidential debates in 2008. These could be citizenship debates, around the idea of a “Bill of Rights 2” and a “Bill of Responsibilities,” the latter concept comporting with recent public concerns over the idea of mandatory national service (the "everyone serves" notion). These could be Apprentice-style events. At least one of them should happen in Willamsburg. Yes, I would love to set one of them up. That is my Idea 0.

Idea 1:

Get “The Movie” made. My main domain ( is obviously catchy and sounds like the name of a potential movie franchise. (Hate to say it, but there could be a II, III, etc. Once a book or movie is made in a series, the name of the franchise can be trademarked, just like “Harry Potter”. ) It makes sense as the name of an indie film production company, for movies that hit the social issues hard. (There some of these already, though, like 2929 and Participant.) Yes, I would welcome Al Gore’s using it for Inconvenient Truth II (except that “Inconvenient Truth” is already a good buzzword). I would hate to see doaskdotell become a franchise for suburban mall comedy: "Chuck and Buck" makes sense, but not "Chuck and Larry."

I do have some screenplays and treatments online that demonstrate some approaches to the material. For legal and other reasons, I have removed and modified some material in what is available online, and there are several other treatments that are not being shown. But an underlying theme is how individual freedom runs into demands for community and family interdependence. All of this developed in concentric fashion starting with the way I tackled the military gay ban and “don’t ask don’t tell” in the early 1990s, based partly on my own earlier experiences, when Bill Clinton tried to lift the ban.

I’ve found that stories told from the point of view of a younger, likeable character are more likely to appeal to audiences. We know this from current Hollywood experience (Smallville, Everwood, Harry Potter, Supernatural, The O.C., Kyle XY, The 4400, even Queer as Folk). A character like me always appears (sometimes in flashbacks or layered fashion) and may sometimes seem portrayed in an apparently negative light (since some of this is online, this once created a serious problem when I was substitute teaching – why do people take things so “personally”?) But I think movies and literary items should explore “truth” and this includes the risks and dangers people in nebulous life circumstances face – and not simply manipulate public emotions.

So let’s go on and get real now.

Idea 2:

Develop “The Knowledge Management Project” – to develop and implement a software application that enables students (high school, college and anyone else interested) to study the cross-relationships among political issues, to track arguments and opinions back to incidents that support or dispute these opinions, and then track the incidents back to fact-checked sources, and provide the ability to purchase original sources online. It is sort of like combining search engines, Wikipedia, and Amazon together. With the online encyclopedia in the knowledge management world, it is important to distinguish facts from opinions, and to support facts with sources. (There are complications: opinions might be correlated in what Wikipedia calls portals.)

To see how this might work, think about the health care debate (one side of which is shown in Michael Moore’s movie “Sicko”). We never seem to get the facts right on, for example, the waiting list issue in countries with single payer systems. Incidents could be documented and tracked to sources and published on a database and accessed with an Internet application set up properly, and available to the public. Of course, a lot of lobbying firms make their money from the confusion by selling pieces of information. What we need is to bring it all together.

It’s easy to imagine more controversial datasets. For example, we could track back to sources information on how well kids raised in same-sex couple households do. Or we could develop information on whether states are enforcing filial responsibility laws (it’s almost inevitable that they will). Or whether people are getting fired or losing job offers when employers find their blogs or social networking profiles (or comments made online by others).

Idea 3:

Okay, the ambition level comes down. But I’ll say that I spent six years working in systems in the credit reporting industry in the 1980s, and, given the issue of “consumer identity protection” constantly in the media, it seems ridiculous that the best advice is to shred junk mail at home, and disguise your identity online. I think a lot can be done to develop systems to help credit grantors do better due diligence with consumer identity (including the USPS NCOA system) and in the way the credit industry (and even law enforcement) identifies people. Social security number is no longer “enough”. Just think about rudimentary concepts about “instances” in object oriented programming.

Idea 4:

Specialized analysis of other critical problems. One of these concerns long-term care insurance, where I can see there is a lot of research to do (in conjunction with my recently stated concerns over filial responsibility laws).

Another would be the myriad of potential downstream liability issues that emerge from the growth of user generated content on the Internet, some of them in the nebulous “implicit content” area (the “bong hits 4 Jesus” case is an example), which has become much more difficult to grasp than “simple” questions about censorship (as with COPA). I would be very interested in projects that address unexplored areas in the confluence of technology and legal exposure, and this includes recent controversies over employers checking social networking sites.

Idea 5:

I do go to a lot of film festivals, and I’ve found that filmmakers sometimes don’t know the names of the players, distributors, production companies, etc., especially those from overseas. One director even asked me if I could set up a meeting. So I wonder about becoming an agent. Becoming the “third party” for screenplay submissions, or with literary submissions. This sounds like a tempting idea.


What about conventional IT? I’ve been out of the loop for five years in conventional mainframe programming. Yes, if the demand continues to increase, I could go back to work as an individual contributor. People could ask me, “why didn’t you advance” and that’s probably a topic for my IT Job Market blog (see the profile). In order to take a publicly visible leadership or supervisory position within a consulting firm (one where the firm would want me to represent them and probably accept “reputation management”) I would need to complete a substantial assignment as an independent W-2 contractor first.

Another idea that I have discussed on the IT jobs blog is becoming an IT recruiter. But I do not have the contacts to start a recruiting business and pay the access fees to the big sites (like Dice) against competition that has much more scale. I would have to work as an “individual contributor” recruiter first.

Since I have become an amateur citizen journalist with these blogs, books and sites, could I become a real journalist and follow all the rules of the formal press? At 64, I don't know. But I would give it a shot if I could generate the opportunity.

In general, selling someone else’s products or services when I had no real part in developing them – at least tracking down prospects for that in a public manner – is not part of my plans. I talked about that July 10 on the “Billretires” blog. More will come soon.

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