American Greatness: Steve Jobs & The American Legacy

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

I’ll admit it: I cried when I heard Steve Jobs died.

No, Steve Jobs is not related to me. Nor did he appear to me some warm, fuzzy humane figure, though he appeared to be a good friend. It’s none of that that moved me.

I cried because I feel greatness died, in its prime and it’s a rare and beautiful thing to behold. The products Steve Jobs created were borne of a spectacular mind and singular ability to make his imagination manifest.

Because his creations were so transcendent, so empowering, so elegant, useful and beautiful, he became rich. It was a result, not a cause. The love came first.

Love always comes first. Well, love and hard work and singular vision.

Think of those who have done well in the marketplace: Henry Ford, Sam Walton, Bill Gates, Jonas Salk. Ultimately, their innovations benefitted people.

Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Sam Walton: “I have always been driven to buck the system, to innovate, to take things beyond where they’ve been.”

Bill Gates: “We are not even close to finishing the basic dream of what the PC can be.”

Jonas Salk: “Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.”

Anyway, it’s not wrong to recognize greatness. It’s right to mourn its passing.

America is still a place of amazing ideas and innovation. Right now, someone is toiling away with artificial intelligence (we’re very close to creating nearly “conscious” robots). Right now, someone is toiling away unravelling a cure for cancer. Right now, someone is imagining how to make teleportation possible (hey, an invisibility cloak already exists, don’t laugh).

The thought of all these innovations and a future that I cannot even imagine (who ever imagined an iPod?) gives me hope.

I sit here and type on my Mac i7, listening to music through iTunes (don’t have to buy the whole crappy album!), with my iPhone sitting next to me. My kids are fighting over my iPad. My blogging is made infinitely easier with my whisper-light, purse-carried MacBook Air. I love elegance, beauty and the minds that imagine what I cannot.

I’m sorry to see Steve Jobs passing. He represents all that is good about America. He was adopted. He wasn’t rich. His smarts carried him to college and beyond. His imagination and hard work created a future that no one else could see.

America will produce more innovators. No one will be like Steve Jobs. He said it best:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Only a unique individual vision can innovate like this. Group think and doing what’s been done has never changed the world. America needs more rugged individualists, more people with more unique vision. She has them. Now, to let them have the room to do what they do best.



Is Google Evil? Part II: Search Neutrality

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Google skates the edge. Persistently, relentlessly invading our lives. We want Google. We need Google.

Then, they go and do something like Buzz and we feel violated. They cow-tow to the Chinese government and allow censorship to the Chinese people. Or strangely, no matter how you enter “Islam” into Google, you won’t get negative word associations.

Recently, Financial Times asked if Google was an evil monopoly (for what it’s worth, I think the FT.com website forcing me to look at their stupid front page, instead of the exact article I want is evil).

Google has also been dinged for how they choose their news stories.

Now, come questions about their search metrics. While people worry about Net neutrality–the ability of internet providers to block, turn off or shut down the connection to the internet–a bigger concern is the search engines to cut off connectivity within the internet.

Lack of search neutrality is a more insidious and potentially pernicious problem…a person doesn’t know what he’s missing. This is the chief problem with newspapers and TV news, alike. It’s not lying, per se. It’s shading and eliminating important news and facts. Google also has the potential to do this same sort of thing.

Google can also be manipulated and if the aims match their own, politically, little is done to stop it.

Here’s the problem:

He diagnoses the problem as follows:

given the emphasis on secrecy in the search engine business model, no one can verify that such rankings have not been manipulated or that subtler biases in favor of search engines’ partners are not being worked into the search algorithm…

If search engines are to be accountable at all, if their interest is to be balanced against those of the various other claimants involved in search-related disputes, and if social values are to be given any weight, some governmental
agent should be able to peer into the black box of search and determine whether or not illegitimate manipulation has occurred.

But what about editorial discretion? Why should Google be forced to change its PageRank algorithms any more than The New York Times should be forced to change how it decides which stories to run? Moreover, why should Google be forced to disclose how this process works? Assigning a government monitor to sit in on meetings of the Times‘ editorial board “to detect bias” would clearly impinge on their editorial discretion. Similarly, I don’t see why forcing a Yahoo!, Microsoft or any other search engine to disclose their equivalent processes for ranking search results should pass constitutional muster.

To me, the safe thing, is to assume that the rankings are manipulated. The alternative is taking the word of a company who won’t share their data…which is their choice.

Sure Google won this court case:

A federal judge this week granted Google’s motion to dismiss a suit that alleged the company manipulated search results in its powerful Web index.

U.S. District Court Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange on Tuesday denied a motion for a preliminary injunction brought by SearchKing, an Oklahoma City-based Web hosting and advertising network that claimed Google unfairly removed links to its site and those of its partners from the index, causing financial losses. The judge dismissed the case on the grounds that Google’s formula for calculating the popularity of a Web page, or “PageRank,” constitutes opinions protected by the First Amendment.

All that means is Google may or may not manipulate it…ala the New York Times.

For me, I’d make sure to search using all search engines. There is no question, though, that Google has the ability to ruin a business, if they desire.

Even more so than Net Neutrality, you’d think that computer users would worry about Search Neutrality. But Google serves leftist masters so the press doesn’t care so much. More than that, though, is that internet users [including this one] despise market interference.

A better browser will be invented and take Google out, if they’re evil enough. The problem, though, is that this is a tough kind of evil to nail down.



Armano: You Are The Media. Do You Trust You? Me: Trust Is Topical

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

David Armano a Twitter friend (we’ve never met, but I value his perspective and suspect I’d like him in person) has a must-read piece about trust in the media. And since we are all media now, who do we trust? His whole piece is worth reading, so please go look at the research, and then come back here for my thoughts.

It’s simple, really. We trust those who we respect, but we respect different people depending on the circumstances.

So, when I ask an opinion about guns on Twitter, I listen to the recommendations given by former military, current CHL instructors who are police chiefs. I could listen to my brother, and I do, he has some valuable insight, but I more heavily weight the expert.

The same is true for nearly every topic. I have a friend who I call when I have a economics questions. I have a friend who knows everything about Texas tax policy. Then there’s the local blogger who knows every dirty nook and cranny of Houston politics.

My brain doesn’t have enough room for all this information. It doesn’t need to have it. I have trusted advisers everywhere who can help me.

When it comes to social media growth, development and research, I trust David Armano. His advice and information over the time I’ve been on Twitter has been solid. Had he flaked out at some point, I’d discard his advice. So far, he’s still reliable.

There are an infinite number of “experts” who are regular people just like me but who have expertise in a slice of information. They become my friends. I value their perspective even more.

Or not. There are some people I don’t particularly like, but they have extraordinary insight in an area and I respect that.

With social media, who qualifies as an expert is fluid. People can observe another’s intellectual implosion online and a once-valued expert becomes a former expert in short order.

Where my opinion conflicts with David’s perspective is this: I may have a couple thousand friends on Facebook and Twitter (which I do) but I won’t trust them just because they give me an opinion. Human interaction is far more nuanced than that.

Just one example: I asked my followers on Twitter to recommend a cake company in Washington, D.C. Five people recommended the same place. But one of my friends recommended that place plus a place that was even better that was near her home. In addition, she said she’d help me pick up the cake. So I Googled both cake shops, called both cake shops, got stellar service from the out-of-the-way place and called in assistance from my friend.

Did I trust all the recommendations? Yes. Absolutely. But I also made my purchase decision based on intangibles and finally, the old business stand-by–customer service.

Social media is a tricky thing to study. It’s not like Google, where every metric can be broken down. It’s more human, more fickle, but the data a user gathers can be infinitely more helpful and accurate. I choose Twitter and Facebook over Google every day. Or rather, I get their recommendations and then Google the filtered information.

I trust my friends. I also verify. And an “expert” is all in the eye of the beholder.



Podcast: David Almacy Refutes Obama White House Claims About Government Website

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

David Almacy now of Edleman Public Relations as Senior Vice President for Digital Affairs and formerly White House Internet and E Communications Office Director of Media Affairs for President Bush, spoke with me about the White House’s claim that the website the Obama team received was archaic and out-of-date. This simply was not true. As part of the “smoothest transition in history”, President Bush had a brand new website ready for whichever new administration took office.

Evidently, it wasn’t good enough for the Obama team and they used more taxpayer money to recreate another website even though the website was new in January, 2009. David says at his personal blog Capital Gig:

Many stories have reported that President Obama’s team inherited an “old proprietary CMS which has been used by WhiteHouse.gov since the Bush Administration” built and executed by GDIT. However, that isn’t true. As I mentioned earlier, President Bush’s website, CMS Tool and all, was taken offline at 12:00 PM ET on January 20, 2009, President Obama’s Inauguration Day, and ultimately sent to NARA.

President George W. Bush is the first digital president, meaning that he is the first to have his entire presidency captured online via WhiteHouse.gov in the form of transcripts, photos, video and audio. However, Web 2.0 and social media was just gearing up around the time I left the White House in May 2007.

Clearly, the campaign had a huge impact on the growth of the Internet through social media and rapid programming advancements (WordPress 2.8.5 is now available already? I just upgraded to 2.8.4 two weeks ago!) but many of the tools that are being used today either weren’t available to us or hadn’t been tested or matured to the point that we could utilize them effectively within the E-Gov guidelines, privacy policies, security procedures and budgetary limitations that often presented challenges.

My bigger question as a taxpayer is how much did all this new-fangled stuff the President came up with cost? This administration acts as though they’re spending their own money. It seems that they forget that taxpayers have to pay for all their tech indulgences. But then, their tech solutions don’t feel like government solutions. They feel like Obama solutions–that is, the purpose to help put Obama in a good light not connect people with the office of the Presidency.

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Comparing iPhones To Lefty Socialists

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

I must be a paradox: I’m a free-market capitalist and I love the iPhone. From Weissthaupt at Townhall:

Essentially the iPhone is safe from the Droid because most iPhone users are liberals. They are people who WANT a Mommy and Daddy watching over them. iPhone developers must navigate a Byzantine approval process that is so bad, that some even stoop to using Microsoft’s .NET to get things done. Apple tests and approves every application offered on the iPhone to make sure they all play nice together. This of course ensures the phone will deliver the beautiful and slick user experience Apple has decided its users will have. The iPhone is a good example of the “one-size-fits all” top-down mentality of liberals. If you want a different experience from what your masters thinks you SHOULD have and SHOULD want, you are just SOL. The lowercase “i” in iPhone doesn’t occur by accident. The individual just isn’t as important, and the “Phone” takes precedence. Many iPhone and Mac users come near to worshipping Apple and their products, going so far as to genuflect when they turn on a Apple device, ensure they face San Jose 3 times a day to give thanks for their iLife and to pray for the saving of the pagans who do not yet have one.

In contrast, Verizon’s Droid in Particular, and the Android OS in general are created for a different set of users who are interested in an I-Phone rather than a iPhone. They are interested in a “MY LIFE”, rather than an iLife. Open Development is a form of freedom that comes with its own attendant problems: some applications might conflict, the interface will be bit rough around the edges, and you have to look out for and solve these difficulties yourself. I-Phone users will sit down and write applications that fit them, break the new ground they want to explore , and they don’t need nor want a Master approving what they can and can’t do.

Wait just a minute.

There is a fallacy that people who are for free markets don’t want some sort of order. The mistake that the Microsoft and Android makers of the world, and for that matter, some libertarian types make, is that most people would prefer an unordered environment to a hyper-ordered environment.

That is simply not true. People want freedom within order.

The economy cannot flow when anarchy abounds. Exhibit “A”: Detroit. Or any war-zone for that matter. Too often, my PC was a war zone. It crashed. It spluttered. It had freedom to customize. But all I wanted it to do was stay stable so I could do my poopy word processing and multi-media stuff.

Apple, and now the iPhone met that desire while also giving flexibility. It’s not that someone cannot innovate on the iPhone, it’s that they must do so within the laws of the land. So, sadly for some, no porn Apps. Well, the Android will have them. The Android will also have all the weird bugs and viruses that come from this unprotected, aka “open,” platform. Like the PC, it will end up a war zone.

Will there be more innovation? Time will tell.

The lesson the conservatives and libertarians should take from the iPhone is that people want a user-friendly experience with enough flexibility to make it their own. That is, they don’t want to be inhibited by chaos. They also don’t want to be inhibited by over-regulation.

If people believe that Apple is getting too tyrannical, they’ll stop buying the iPhone. They’ll buy the Droid and Apple will have to respond and become more flexible or go out of business.

The iPhone metaphor failed from the beginning.



Standards of Decorum: Real World & Internet Version

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

87% of Houstonians polled say that politicians should be held to a higher standard when it comes to rhetorical decorum. Turns out that Rahm Emmanuel has a potty-mouth and Joe Biden routinely says “f*ck”.

And then there is the internet. I have passed along “adult” language tweets. When I write on Twitter, I assume a more adult audience. That is, while I don’t want to be foul, sometimes language can be…flowery. That has lost me followers here and there who are averse to a little salt. One expressed shock and said that I wasn’t kid-friendly. Why are kids following my Twitter stream? Personally, I don’t think kids should watch the nightly news. It gives such a false and skewed perspective on the world…no bad words necessary.

This is what one blogger at Suburban Oblivion said about a chiding mom:

I received a message on a social media site recently asking that I tone down the language on my blog. Seems she feels what I write is not fit for young eyes.

Hey please watch the profanity i have young kids in my family that are on facebook and are on my page and i dislike being chewed out by there mothers and fathers for profanity on my page.

thanks for understanding, B

First I started to laugh. I have NEVER claimed what I write is child-friendly. Given the number of times a day I use the word ‘fuck’ on Twitter alone, I think it’s pretty clear I will never hit less than an ‘R’ rating. My humor is for adults, not children, clearly.

Then she follows with this:

As a parent, it is your job to keep your children from reading adult content on the internet.

As a parent, it is your job to not visit sites containing said adult content if you cannot keep those children from hanging over your shoulder and reading.

As a writer, it is not my job to censor myself so you don’t have to do your job (see above).

Seriously people..grow the fuck up and parent your kids, and quit expecting everyone on the internet to change their way of doing things just so you don’t have to.

So, I’m wondering. Is there two different standards? I’m pretty much the same in the real world as I am online. Every once in a while I’ll say ass or shit at home and get a scolding from my kids. Same thing happens online.

And while everyone is kvetching about naughty words, I think it’s important to have some perspective. This is an example of real nasty language. Bad words might be offensive to some, but what should really bother people is disgusting lies, obfuscation, and purposeful disseminating of disinformation.



Podcast: Dr. Palimisano: “The Public Option Is Not Dead”..And How Young Is Too Young? Kids & Technology

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Dr. Donald Palmisano, former President of the American Medical Association and Director of The Coalition To Protect Patients Rights joined me and discussed the Health Care legislation, the AMA’s support of it and much more. It is a must listen.

In the second half, I discuss kids and technology with my producer Mike Williams (who has two grown daughters) and Tabitha Hale who is from Generation Y. I just got my 10 year old a cell phone. Lots of people think that’s a very bad idea.

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Multitasking Is Evil?

Monday, September 28th, 2009

When I finally get down to business, interruptions infuriate me. I like to work and be completely focused on the task at hand and finish it and be done. Motherhood has thwarted me over and over. Motherhood is non-stop interruptions. But so is working online from home.

I’m writing and BAM! an IM. I’m IMing and BAM! and email. Basically, working on line from home, though better than being in a cubicle, can be just as frustrating. I’ll interrupt myself with a YouTube clip or a Twitter check or a Facebook update or an email to do. I have online ADD and it can make me crazy. Does it make me evil, too?

Bruce Weinstein, PhD, the EthicsGuy from Business Week says yes.

But then a funny thing happened: I noticed that the more things I could do with ease on my computer, the harder it was to focus on any one activity. My natural inclination to jump from one thing to another prematurely was now aided and abetted by technology—the very thing that was supposed to be helping me. Then, after the PDA and cell phone became a part of my daily life, I found myself, like millions of others, faced with even more interruptions, and it became increasingly difficult to concentrate. The technological advances that once seemed so liberating had become oppressive.

I came to realize that multitasking isn’t something to be proud of. In fact, it’s unethical, and good managers won’t do it themselves and will not require it of those they manage.

Here’s why multitasking is unethical.

When you multitask, you’re doing a lot of work, but you’re not doing most (or any) of it well. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that people who fired off e-mails while talking on the phone and watching YouTube videos did each activity less well than those who focused on one thing at a time. Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! (Ballantine, 2006), puts it this way: “Multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we’re simultaneously tasking, but we’re really not. It’s like playing tennis with three balls.”

A friend of mine complained because when I IM’d I might be doing something else, too. “You’re not paying attention and you’re not doing anything very well.” When I’d write an incoherent sentence that was unrelated to the conversation, she’d complain. My brother and sister roll their eyes and say, “There she goes again” when I lose interest and start doing something else.

My multitasking is not only counter-productive, it’s rude. Holy cow! Multitasking is evil!

So how can I stop this? How can I ignore the Twitter updates, the IM ping, the email whoosh, the phone call, the text alert? I might miss something!

My solution is vicious deadlines. Deadlines freak me out and the potential of dropping a responsibility scares me. As for human relationships, I’m trying to be more focused and present when I engage. My attention span is so short….

Anyway, I think Bruce has a point. Multitasking–having too many things going simultaneously–means that nothing gets ones full attention. This is a problem. Something worth doing, is worth giving full energy to.

Technology can solve problems, but it has created some, too. The ability to have so many things going has made it so people pay less attention to things that matter most–usually that’s the people in their lives.



It’s A Dangerous World In Here

Friday, August 28th, 2009

The internet ain’t no place for the innocent. It’s the wild west around these parts, with infrastructure still being built and social feedback loops yet to fully developed. There is little policing, few laws. At times, it can feel like an ominous town, with bad guys sizing you up from under their ten-gallon hat–just waiting for a moment of weakness.

Bad guys don’t have to be quick on the draw on the internet. They can be stupid, unemployed ner-do-wells with nothing better to do than sit around and hassle people. In fact, a big part of the discourse online is just that. People with too much time on their hands hassling people who actually work and produce something.

I have written before that the internet is a place to share information, not hide it, and I wanted to illustrate that with some examples:

First, the not-so-anonymous blogger. There are many bloggers out there who don a nom de plume to hide their identity. America has a very long history regarding pseudonyms. And many people use them online for professional reasons–they have a job or profession where it wouldn’t do to have their opinion known. But online anonymity is an illusion. A determined person or P.I. can find a persons true identity fairly easily.

Example 1: Congressional staffer boinking Congressmen and writing about it.
Example 2: Hacker terrorizing others. (He’s a professional, mind you, and STILL got caught.)
Example 3: All the anonymous asshats cyber stalking Governor Palin.

In all cases, the bloggers were smart. They knew the internet and they were exposed. Word to the wise. If you’re going to be anonymous, know that a controversial topic will likely uncover you.

Second, social media as a weapon. The above folks were using blogs rather destructively, but some anonymous bloggers are constructive and deserve anonymity. Still, it doesn’t take much to uncover someone. People can also use social media to destroy.

Danny Glover recounts how a not-so-sweet mommy blogger stomped her cyber feet:

Extortion has found its way into the blogosphere — and all for a pair of Crocs. A greedy “mommy blogger” at the recent BlogHer conference threatened to write something bad about the maker of Crocs if its representative didn’t find her a free pair of the comfy sandals.

No doubt about it, that’s low. As I see it, there would have been nothing wrong with said mommy blogger bemoaning her missed opportunity to get good swag at the conference. But threatening to go negative as a way to get a gift she clearly didn’t deserve is completely unethical.

The same is true for anyone who uses social media as a weapon. The blogosphere is an effective check against bad customer service, but customers who abuse it are as bad, or worse, than the companies who mistreat them.

It is as easy as a couple clicks to ruin a person’s reputation–or try to. While the vile creatures who spread false rumors and invective about Sarah Palin are now outed and exposed for frauds, Andrew Sullivan continues on his merry way after being as salacious and evil as his online equivalent Perez Hilton. Cruel language can be devastatingly effective as both of these rumor mongers have proven.

Finally, the internet world connects directly to the real world. It is the real world. The notion that there is a separation is an illusion. People assume that those online are somehow more trustworthy–or, that they’re so far away that even if they are kinda bad, they’re harmless. That is not true. Consider this:

U.K. insurance company, Legal & General, took a survey of 2,092 users of social networking Web sites. Almost four out of ten (38 percent) of those who use social media at places like Twitter or Facebook post their vacation plans. Potential burglars could find this information valuable in seeking targets of crime.

The report titled “The Digital Criminal,” said that criminals could obtain vital, personal information from online users of social media.

It is nigh to impossible to hide my own activities. Someone in my family inevitably gives it away. You’re in Michigan?! Where? Or, in the case of my Australia trip, my family didn’t have to write, tweet, Facebook or say anything. I live-tweeted the whole trip. Still, I try to not give away my activities–exact location. I try to have a house sitter. Those sorts of things to mitigate against the dangers.

The internet should be interacted with rationally. It isn’t a magical place. There are people on the ends of the intertubes. They can be bad, good and as mixed as a real life person can be. They are real live people. Even anonymously. Even remotely.



Twitter: Do It

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Many of you still don’t see the point of Twitter. This is why I Twitter: Imagine you could gather 200 of the smartest people in a room and they had access to areas of expertise you had no time or hope of gathering. Those people would sift through information and bring up the best stuff for you to know so you don’t have to do the grunt work. You don’t even have to use Google.

Twitter is like a human search engine. It’s opt in, which means you’re only hassled as much as you want to be and by whom you want to be hassled. Instead of computer metrics, you choose the brains who sift the information. And even more than that, you can become friends with the people sharing that information. It’s not just an information exchange, though it can be just that, it’s a social exchange of people pre-selected for interests that sync with yours.

Twitter: It’s time to do it. Here’s how:

Twitter (Released July 2009):
http://business.twitter.com/twitter101/

Mashable (Released Aug 2009):
http://mashable.com/guidebook/twitter/

DAG (Released Sept 2008, Revised + Expanded June 2009):
http://twitter101guide.com

Start with DAG, first. That’s David All and he’s a conservative consultant in D.C.