The name says “Disasters R Us”

CNN.com – Brown to start emergency planning consulting business – Nov 24, 2005:

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown, heavily criticized for his agency’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina, is starting a disaster preparedness consulting firm to help clients avoid the sort of errors that cost him his job.

“If I can help people focus on preparedness, how to be better prepared in their homes and better prepared in their businesses — because that goes straight to the bottom line — then I hope I can help the country in some way,”

Brown’s got some things to learn about how to build “Brand Me.” Maybe the business is really about gaining government contracts, eh?

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How I got a key to my house after five years

I’ve lived in an unlocked house since 2000, but I got a key last night and the doors are locked. Here’s what happened.

On Saturday night, my wife went out to the mall to reserve a copy of a new album she wanted (System of a Down’s Hypnotize—my wife rocks). She went to Sam Goody, where there’s a guy who really knows his music. The next day, an idiot angry at his girlfriend and, by extension, the world, opened fire on people in the mall, using the Sam Goody and its employees as a hideout complete with hostages until he gave up after three-and-a-half hours.

Tacoma, Washington, is a strange place to live, because this kind of shit happens. A few years ago, it was some Special Forces guys in a running gun battle with gang members on the South Hill. The DC sniper came from Tacoma. I remember Ted Bundy’s brother being called out of a drafting class in high school—he just sort of appeared from nowhere, having hidden like a ghost until that moment, when the intercom called for him—he had to go to the office to learn that his brother had been captured by the police for, I think, the last time. In Tacoma, everyone seems to know someone touched by a maniac. But I’d kept the doors at home unlocked.

My wife recently lost a friend to domestic violence, when another alienated boyfriend set the friend on fire while she slept. A week ago, she went out to the garage at night and interrupted two people rifling through my car. A few weeks ago, a serial rapist’s path ran through the area. I have a brother-in-law who steals prescription drugs from the house, too. Ever since my mother-in-law moved in a couple years back, the doors get locked a lot more, but I’ve managed to live without a key, coming and going with the assumption that the doors will open when I get home.

So, last night when my wife went out to get the CD at Sam Goody’s, I went along. Two guys were selling crack in the parking lot, ten paces from the substantially increased yet still indifferent security services at the mall entrance. Inside the mall, there was the mobile phone storelet (one of those mid-mall stands) where the guy started shooting. The Disney Store’s windows, which had been shot out, were replaced. The place was largely deserted. And Sam Goody’s was open.

It was strange how much of the story I’d absorbed from the news and radio. I could trace the steps the gunman took and, based on his apparent unwillingness to shoot people he actually spoke to (he turned away from the guy who offered him a free phone to start shooting and never pointed the gun at his hostages) judge that he wasn’t schizophrenic and detached from his moral reality, just stupidly angry.

The girl at the counter was uneasy when asked about the store having reopened, she’d been one of the hostages. There was an awkward exchange about the fact that everyone was okay—Kiera is preternaturally friendly and makes friends everywhere, so she was checking on the guy who gives her music recommendations (the Joe Hudson who called the Associated Press)—and the girl apologized for not having called about the CD coming in (“We’ve been kind of busy,” she said with something between a smile and tearfulness).

I started to play the XBox 360 demo near the counter, but turned it off when I realized it was making gunfire noises identical to those that had actually happened there a few days before. It made me feel a little sick. There was much relief exchanged in a few moments, and we left. Kiera wants never to go to the mall again.

On the way home, we stopped at Lowe’s and got four copies of the key to the house. The doors are locked now, because it makes my family feel safe. I feel lonelier.

News gathering in transition

MediaPost Publications – Papers Turn In Worst Print Ad Quarter Yet, Online Fuels ’05 Growth – 11/23/2005:

THE GOOD NEWS ACCORDING TO official newspaper industry estimates released Tuesday is that ad spending climbed 2.4 percent in the third quarter. The bad news for the still primarily print medium is that print ad sales rose just 1.6 percent, while sales for online editions soared 26.7 percent. The third quarter’s modest gain is the medium’s worst advertising performance in what has been a decidedly negative year for most papers. In addition to slackening ad demand, major publishers have had to contend with rising costs, declining circulation and several rounds of job cuts at major papers.

However, the silver lining comes from newspapers’ online properties, which will continue to grow its share of newspaper revenues. Online readership is growing at a healthy pace, and more and more advertisers will shift their budgets online in pursuit of greater targeting and reporting capabilities.

Following up on the “newspapers are dying” noise of a few weeks back, the newspapers may not deliver so much paper anymore, but they are in a position to be solid players in local news. The problem will be costs, which no publisher is comfortable undertaking to win readers’ confidence (since only ads bring in the Real Money, as far as publishers are concerned), which is why local citizen journalist networks are likely to ignite the local news scene. The papers will have all these salespeople seeking new inventories—and the CJ sites will have it. The exit strategy for all those citizen journalism companies, however, will be a return to the news organizations through acquisition. That’s when we’ll see if the spirit of citizen journalism will survive the assault of mammon.

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Filling the Crap Gap

MediaPost Publications – CBS Seeks Video Search, On-Demand Deals – 11/23/2005:

On the heels of a report that CBS is in talks with Google for video search and on-demand video deals–and others including DirecTV for on-demand video–now comes word that

CBS is also in talks about expanding its deal with Comcast. “We are talking with our affiliates right now,” said a CBS spokesman.

On November 8, CBS and Comcast made a deal that enabled viewers to buy some CBS shows for 99 cents through Comcast’s on-demand service. Those shows include commercials.

CBS’ Chairman Les Moonves said CBS shows would be available only in those Comcast markets where CBS affiliates are owned by CBS Corp., and where Comcast systems existed.

The beautiful irony of broadcast network television is that, unlike pay TV, it needs reach to make its advertising business work. Yet, here we see CBS balancing its affiliate relationships with the opportunity to provide VOD through Comcast systems. What happens to the affiliates when the company goes with Google to search and sell downloads of shows? Does anyone really expect people will pay for gameshows, for example? No, they’ll exist on product placement fees.

The upshot is that a lot of the redundant crap that fills the network and affiliate airwaves will vanish from the scene. Both sides of that distribution equation will be seeking new programming to fill the “Crap Gap,” meaning that, like the 1950s when television was new and programming just invented at the local and national levels independently, a huge opportunity for producers will open up. In the 1950s, every region had a clown who introduced cartoons, something like that will return (though I don’t think this means a new career for J.P. Patches and Brakeman Bill, the Seattle-area renditions of this kind of programming).

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Process matters, it really does

Process matters:

In fact, meticulously defined and managed processes continue to be a powerful source of competitive advantage for many companies. Look at Toyota, for instance. Its highly engineered manufacturing processes not only give it superior productivity but also provide a platform for constant learning and improvement. The formal structure, which is anything but democratic, spurs both efficiency and innovation – productive innovation – simultaneously. Structured, well-thought-out processes are also essential to most knowledge work, from product development to financial analysis to software engineering to sales and marketing. And the more complex the effort, the greater the need for clear processes. Far from making business less effective and agile, the increasing attention to process has increased effectiveness and agility.

If Mayfield had narrowed his argument, focusing on the way knowledge workers collaborate in certain situations, rather than on business processes in general, he would have been much more compelling. The simple group-forming and information-sharing software tools now being introduced and refined will often provide greater flexibility and effectiveness than more complex “knowledge management” systems. But even in these cases, processes aren’t going away; they’re just changing. There can’t be organization without process.

I’m with Nicholas Carr on this one, despite my close friendship with Ross Mayfield and being on the Socialtext board of advisors. I’d been thinking a lot about Ross’ posting on The End of Process, and Carr summarizes my concerns about the idea that business organizations are entering a “post-process” era.

Looking back at my comments about the value of process in newsgathering, where I made the point that we have to have processes that account for the weaknesses of participants (in the case of journalism, it’s the tendency to be subjective and biased that is checked by an effective editorial process) I find it hard to imagine what an “organization” without process could look like. After all, we enter into relationships based on a set of expectations—a process for fulfilling those expectations—not simply on trust. Carr’s assertion that if Ross had narrowed his argument he would have made a more effective point is correct. I can imagine organizations that define themselves through emergent processes, but not an organization without processes.

In talking about applications of technology to democratic goals, too, there has been a persistent subtext in technical discussions that suggests process is irrelevant (which could just be reflective of a techno-anarchism, but I am not an anarchist). However, it’s impossible to engineer process out of democratic deliberation, because there must be an agreed upon set of rules—in the United States, it’s the Constitution—for coming to a collective decision (whether simple or super majority) about policy. Tools need to be flexible in order to accommodate new processes if we’re going to achieve “emergent” systems for social action; tools engineered to defeat process undermine the participants’ agreements.

Wiki is an excellent foundation for exploring new relationships through the information we seek to share. Likewise, it is a great foundation for working out what processes a group might apply to achieving its goals. But there is always process, we simply don’t accept process for process’ sake anymore, which is a Very Good Thing.

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Check me on this: No AdSense, no spam

I dropped the Google AdSense ads from my blog on Thursday. What can I say, the $3.50 or so I make each month just isn’t worthwhile for all the real estate I gave Google to advertise itself on my pages.

Since that time, I haven’t received any spam comments. It dropped from hundreds a day to none, zero, nada.

Now, it may be a coincidence, but good golly, dropping AdSense has saved me a lot more time than the ad revenue ever would have paid for.

Does anyone have similar or contradictory experience to share? Am I just imagining this?

UPDATE: I’m prepared to conclude it was a coincidence, as I am under a new wave of spam comments. Seems the robots were on a break.

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Young writers: A job to apply for….

TPM Media LLC | Announcement:

TPM Media LLC, publisher of Talkingpointsmemo.com and TPMCafe.com) is looking for two enterprising and energetic journalists to staff a new blog focused on wall-to-wall coverage of corruption, self-dealing and betrayals of the public trust in today’s Washington.

With a format and style similar to Talkingpointsmemo.com, the two reporter-bloggers will break stories with original reporting, in addition to digging into public records and published reports to bring together the context, impact and significance of evolving stories covered only episodically in the daily press.

Both jobs offer the opportunity to be involved at the forefront of a new kind of journalism, combining original reporting with the free-wheeling tone, style and accessibility of blogs.

Applicants must be able to write well and write fast, as well as have a knack for distilling complex stories into clear and meticulously factual prose. Journalism experience is a big plus. A deep familiarity with the world of blogging and national politics are both a necessity.

This is the kind of dream posting I’d have been looking for as a young writer, so don’t pass it by. At my “advanced” age, I don’t want to move to Washington or New York, but if there is a cooler job listing on the Internet today, I’d be surprised.

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Have my RSS talk to your RSS

Microsoft’s new RSS twist:

RSS feeds are streams of data commonly used by people to receive news and information. But what about using them for two-way sharing of information? Microsoft offered up that concept today in what it calls Simple Sharing Extensions, or SSE. The FAQ explains:

For example, SSE could be used to share your work calendar with your spouse. If your calendar were published to an SSE feed, changes to your work calendar could be replicated to your spouse’s calendar, and vice versa. As a result, your spouse could see your work schedule and add new appointments, such as a parent-teacher meeting at the school, or a doctor’s appointment.

Very slick implementation of RSS. Apparently, based on Ray Ozzie’s comments, the SSE system facilitates collaborative interaction by taking some old Notes concepts (tie-breaking which version of data is most current, for example), XML-ifies them, and making subscriptions bi-directional to ensure that further updates are propagated to all participants in a group. Dave Winer likes the idea.

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We will not go quietly into that dark night

The Washington Monthly:

Today, two of the Denver Three, with assistance from the ACLU, are taking the next logical step. They’re taking the matter to court.White House event staffers unlawfully removed two Denver residents from a town hall discussion with President Bush because of an anti-war bumper sticker on their car, charged the American Civil Liberties Union in a federal lawsuit filed today.

“The government should not be in the business of silencing Americans who are perceived to be critical of certain policy decisions,” said ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Chris Hansen, who is the lead counsel in this case. “The president should be willing to be in the same room with people who might disagree with him, especially at a public, taxpayer-funded town hall.”

It’s a lawsuit that could raise a variety of interesting, and potentially damaging, questions for the Bush White House.

For example, does the White House have a formal policy for evicting law-abiding ticket-holders from public events? Who gives directions to event staffers about their responsibilities? How are people working at these events recruited and trained? Are they specifically told to engage in viewpoint discrimination? Does the White House encourage this approach?

I’ll be sending my $100 donation to the ACLU. You can, too. Remember, America and liberty are for everyone, not just those pre-screened by the Bush Administration.

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