Why Johnny Can’t Fly

Sun Microsystem’s Employee No. 5 John Gilmore strolled to the Southwest Airlines counter at Oakland Airport one day and presented his ticket.

The gate agent asked for his ID.

Gilmore asked her “Why?”

It is the law, was her reply.

Gilmore asked to see the law.

Nobody could produce a copy. To date, nobody has.

This story by Dennis Roddy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, presents to us how one man is fighting for the freedom to come and go as we please without the interference from Big Brother.

“I will show a passport to travel internationally. I’m not willing to show a passport to travel in my own country,” Gilmore said.

At the heart of Gilmore’s stubbornness is the worry about the thin line between safety and tyranny.

“Are they just basically saying we just can’t travel without identity papers? If that’s true, then I’d rather see us go through a real debate that says we want to introduce required identity papers in our society rather than trying to legislate it through the back door through regulations that say there’s not any other way to get around,” Gilmore said. “Basically what they want is a show of obedience.”

MORE.

Restoring dignity the Grameen way

My biggest gripe against certain western quarters is the inability to understand the needs of the poorest of the poor out here in Asia.

They throw money and technology in our direction in the misguided belief that what works for them, will work for us.

They blunder at every turn in coming up with real-world solutions for those who badly need help.

One standout example is the revival of the idea of cheap PCs for the masses, in the cloistered, well-heated stratospheres of Davos, no less, which seems so ludicrous on the face of it when millions still do not have access to electricity.

These so-called visionaries need to be switched on to people like Muhammad Yunus. The founder of Grameen Bank, empathizing for famine victims around him, had an epiphany and decided to loan 42 people US$27. That was in 1976.

His idea was that if they had a social contract to repay the debt, they would treat the transaction as a business deal, rather than handing over money to a grubby moneylender they despised.

His first lendee was a woman who made bamboo stools, but couldn’t raise the 25 cents to buy the raw materials. Forced to borrow that sum from the bamboo supplier, she was subject to his prices and made a paltry two pennies from the finished products.

“I wanted to give money to people like this woman so that they would be free from the moneylenders to sell their product at the price which the markets gave them,” said Yunus.

He went to the banks and stood as guarantor to the “un-creditworthy” and all his borrowers paid him back. That spread the idea like wildfire from village to village, and the Grameen Bank was born.

The bank has now given out US$5 billion to 4 million people, 96 percent of them women. He even roped in beggars to take loans and become door-to-door salesmen of cookies, candies and toys. It gave them “self confidence”, he says.

Yunus didn’t shirk on technology either. Instead of PCs, he came up with the idea of giving the poor cellphones and started Grameen Phone. He gave women loans to buy them and re-sell calls. The women never saw a cellphone in their life, but took the challenge on and now 100,000 Bangladeshi women have become one-person mobile public phone offices.

Read the rest of the compelling interview of this inspiring micro-credit pioneer, entitled “Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the World’s Poorest Citizens”, by NBR’s Linda O’Bryon at the World Health Congress in Washington, D.C.

Podcasting 101

Finally an article in Wired on Podcasting that I can actually figure out with step-by-step instructions at the end on how to make one.

The gist: HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN PODCAST
1. Plug a USB headset with earphone and microphone into your computer.
2. Install the free Audacity MP3 recorder for Windows, Mac, or Linux.
3. Make a recording, then save it as an MP3 file.
4. Upload the MP3 file to your Web site or blog.
5. Download iPodder from iPodder.org
6. Create an RSS feed on your site.
7. Add a hyperlink for the show to an RSS feed on a Web server.

Walah!

Home sweet silo

The sky is falling. Time to take cover. In an age when Fear and Constant Vigilance is the order of the day, it does not seem strange that some Americans have gone underground, deep underground.

NWFusion had a story about how couple, Charlene and Don Zwonitzer, has reclaimed a 1960s-era Atlas E Missile Silo and made it home. Yes, you read right, that’s silo as in place to store and launch nuclear Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles.

The Zwonitzers not only live in one, they are now planning to fill their 15,000 sq ft bunker with racks of computers to “provide a safe digital haven for everyone from Fortune 500 companies to family businesses looking to secure their data as part of disaster-recovery or business-continuity plans.”

[It sounds familiar. My friend Dinesh, who unfortunately has discontinued his blog once pointed me to a Wired story about plans by a company called HavenCo to turn Sealand, a military fortress six miles off the shores of Britain, into a similar "safe data haven". I wonder how they are doing.]

Missile silos were built back in the 1960s to house nuclear ICBMs, such as Atlas-E, Atlas-F, and Titan 1 and could withstand the very nuclear attack they propagated. Now decommissioned, they have become intriguing real estate properties. One site even sells them as “castles of the 20th century” from a US$85,000 Titan II site in Arkansas ["Silo imploded and entire facility buried. Uncover a piece of history; a great adventure."] to a US$1.45m Titan I site in Denver ["Very rare - 1 of only 18 built. Massive 45,000+ sq ft of underground floor-space"].

Don Zwonitzer calls their place an “epitome of physical security”. It should be with its two-foot-thick cement walls and ceilings constructed with 139,000 cubic yards of reinforced concrete and 27,840 tons of structural steel.

His place is secured with a nine-foot barbed-wire-topped compound fence and steel blast doors and is “far away from major metropolitan populations and military targets.”

The bunker, commissioned in 1962 and shuttered in 1965, has been a labor of love for the couple, who purchased it from a salvage company for $40,000 in 1996. In 2002, their daughter Janelle rode into the missile bay in a horse-drawn carriage and was married in front of 100 guests.

NW Fusion found out that “cyber access to the place is abundant as the nearby Sprint SONET ring can provide 72 strands of fiber, allowing anything from OC-3 to OC-192 connections or even a direct link to the ring.”

MORE.

You can see how another silo dream house looks here and read another story here or here.

Another opinion: Newspapers are boring!

Following up on yesterday’s opinion that papers are struggling PJStar.com columnist Phil Luciano theorizes:

“… everyday newspapers are boring. That’s why people don’t read them as much anymore.

“Publishers are in denial about this. They say people are too busy to read newspapers. I say people are too busy to read boring newspapers.

“Newspapers once heaved and gasped and screamed with the intensity of the cities and people they covered.

“Not anymore. Today’s reporters are dullards.

“They have college degrees. They’re book smart. That’s good.

“But they treat reporting like a cubicle-dweller at IBM. They wait for news to happen: an agenda out of City Hall or news release over the fax.

Forgiving Hunter S. Thompson his advocacy of drugs and penchant for hyperbole, Luciano says what the suicide writer had was “an eye for detail and clarity – both often missing in newspapers.”

As I tell students, Thompson at the core was a reporter. He actually went out and talked to people – interesting people.

He wrestled the weirdness around him and shoved insight down the reader’s throat. In “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72,” he cuts through political poppycock:

‘There is no way to grasp what a shallow, contemptible and hopelessly dishonest old hack Hubert Humphrey is until you’ve followed him around for a while.’

“…in Hell’s Angels Thompson jumps into the same rumbling seat of the man-beasts in the outlaw motorcycle world:

” ‘With the throttle screwed on, there is only the barest margin, and no room at all for mistakes. … And that’s when the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms. You can barely see at a hundred; the tears blow back so fast that they vaporize before they get to your ears.’

“You don’t see such picturesque penetration anymore.”

Luciano says it wouldn’t hurt if reporters these days:

“…get out of the office – endure a little smoke and stink and underbelly, be it a City Hall back room or low-rent bar room.

“Reporters could take you readers along for an eyeful and earful of vivid candor. You might like the change.

As Thompson once said, ‘I have a theory that the truth is never told during the nine-to-five hours.’

Link from Romenesko.

"Print is dead, get over it"

…or so says Sports Illustrated President John Squires at conference in Toronto in November, 2004. This coming from the guy who makes more money from the Swimsuit Print Edition, than any content he’s giving away free online.

In 1999, I wrote a piece entitled “When old media meets new” for CNET, questioning
how local media was keeping up with the sweeping changes in the news delivery business.

On Feb 20th, 2005, in the Washington Post article “Hard News: Daily Papers Face Unprecedented Competition”, quoting Squires, writer Frank Ahrens suggests that, quote:

“The venerable newspaper is in trouble. Under sustained assault from cable television, the Internet, all-news radio and lifestyles so cram-packed they leave little time for the daily paper, the industry is struggling to remake itself.

“Papers are conducting exhaustive surveys to find out what readers want. They are launching new sections, beefing up Web sites and spinning off free community papers and commuter giveaways in hopes of widening their audience. They even are trying to change the very language of the industry, asking advertisers and investors to dwell less on ‘circulation’ — how many papers are sold — and more on ‘readership,’ or the number of people exposed to a paper’s journalism wherever it appears, in print, on the Web or over the air.”

Ahrens cited Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr suggesting “it’s the bulk thing” that is the reason people aren’t buying papers anymore. On Sundays, The Post’s 12 1/2-by-11-inch newspaper can weigh as much as seven pounds.

But, he points out, there’s still a huge revenue gap between Washingtonpost.com and its parent paper:

AD REV: Jan-Sep, 2004, The Post: US$433 million.
AD REV: Jan-Sep, 2004, Washingtonpost.com: US$45 million.

Quote: “The good news for newspaper websites is that, after the 2001 dot-com crash, Internet advertising is roaring back, exceeding previous highs.

“Total Internet ad spending in the first six months of 2004 was 40 percent higher than in the comparable period in 2003, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

“The sobering news? Internet advertising still accounts for only about 3 percent of total ad spending each year.”

Comment: certainly given the tragedy of banners and inflated and unproven value of AdWord click-thrus, one wonders how anyone can pronounce that print is dead?

Yes, circulation and print advertising may be eroding, but is readership? Why for instance isn’t “readership” from the blogging community and other online readers via phone, PDA or other means considered a “reader” but evaluated by the vague term “pageview”. The metrics just aren’t in place.

Digitization places pressure on delivery mechanisms. That is the crux of it. And papers will lose out to digitally delivered information that is near-free or faster and more efficient, like what eBay and Craigslist do to classifieds.

Media conglomerates aren’t stupid. They “follow the money”, just like all smart business people do. Some got terribly burnt when they believed all the previous hype that print is dead, and failed miserably at ambitious web ventures.

The second wave of madness seems to be drawing near.

Cracking up

Somedays you just want a laugh or two:

“The Gates” by artists Jean-Claude and Christo were 7,500, 16-foot-tall structures arrayed along 23 miles of footpaths throughout the New York Central Park. It required more than 1 million square feet of vinyl and 5,300 tons of steel, at a cost (borne exclusively by the artists) of US$20 million.

“The Crackers” by parody profiteers Jane and Chris were 36 crackers, peanut butter or cheese, spanning nearly 23 inches along a footbridge in said same park. It required 26 minutes to set up and cost US$2.50 and was also borne exclusively by the artists with ulterior motive: “buy our t-shirts, tote bags, bibs, mugs and coasters here!”

A 19-year-old named Gary Brolsma sits in his New Jersey home and creates a video of himself lip-synching to the techno beat of a Romanian pop song and starts viral craziness on net called the “Numa Numa Dance” — faster than you can say: “Macarena anyone?” MORE.

Google links to video: Here.

“Carly, you’re fired!”

“Here’s US$45 million to go away.”

The payout for the hatchet woman of Hewlett-Packard Co is in the form of stock options and US$21m severance pay on top of her regular salary and cash bonuses after five years at the company.

America likes rewarding failures.

In the winter of our dis-content with dotcoms, during 2001 and 2002, CEOs who left their posts received an average severance of US$16.5million, according to a study conducted by Paul Hodgson, senior research associate at The Corporate Library. [Note: Recently ousted PeopleSoft CEO Craig Conway made US$16m and fit the average perfectly.]

In addition to the actual figures, Hodgson also discovered that most CEO employment contracts state that failure to perform is not grounds for termination “for cause”, meaning that unless a chief commits an actual crime, they are entitled to their full severance package.

Freakingnews.com holds Photoshop contest and see what they come up with here.

A new buzz in tech?

The heady days of tech for me was between 1998-2001. Everything you could dream of could happen. And the geek ruled the earth.

The skepticism that swept in like a tsunami after the dotcom fallout ended all that. Many websites just blipped of the net. Left with pinkslips, worthless shares and post-traumatic stock disorders, we tumbled from euphoric middle age to dysfunctional cold storage.

But now there seems to be new buzz. Perhaps it was the Google Juggernaut that brought this all on. Perhaps it’s just blogging-mania and gadget-frenzy. Perhaps it’s the sizable mergers and acquisitions. Maybe it’s the emergence of the wireless masses and acceleration of broadband. Need I say that dirty word again “convergence”.

Let’s re-cap:

1. Microsoft re-enters browser war, bolsters anti-virus/search flanks

Why would the No 1 software-maker upgrade a free browser when it all but won the war? Surely, the alternatives, Mozilla, Firefox, Opera, Safari,etc are just too niche to make a difference. I suspect if Google goes the way of Netscape and starts giving away a “gbrowser” there-in lies the real threat. An adword-ready free browser with a Gig of gmail, RSS reader, desktop search, tabbed browsing, anti-popup, anti-spyware, anti-phishing, taggable, bloggable, voice-enabled and super-customizable should set some alarm bells off at Redmond. But the real war starts when Google unfurls an OS, something Netscape failed to get to in time. That strikes at the core of the Gatesian Empire. No way is MS going to let that cookie crumble.

2. M & As are on the march
SBC buys AT & T. Verizon buys MCI. IBM hives off its PC biz. Oracle raids Peoplesoft.

Microsoft buys Sybari. Juniper buys Netscreen. Cisco buys Linksys.

NYT buys About.com. Ask Jeeves buys Bloglines. eBay buys into Craigslist. Six Apart buys LiveJournal. WSJ buys Marketwatch. Washington Post buys Slate.

The landgrab is on. The momentum is just building. But to what ends?

3. VCs are getting cocky again
The amount of venture money raised by U.S. firms in 2004 increased to $17.6 billion, up 67 percent compared with 2003, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

There seems to be pent-up demand. Has the dotcom mania returned? Have the dreaded technopreneurs re-emerged from their foxholes?

What’s the hot new deal? Nanotech, Fuelcells, Blogging, Social Software, VoIP, anything out of India or China?

Biotech was so 90s. And already some have declared the death of WiFi and even WiMax and that signs of the apocalypse are here. There doesn’t seem to be a Google Junior on the horizon.

Fred Hickey, editor of The High-Tech Strategist newsletter in Nashua, N.H., sums it up best.

The crucial number for those analysts in awe of Google was its advertising revenue, up 122 percent from the previous year’s fourth quarter. The bulk of that is from Google’s AdWords program, in which it lets advertisers bid on key words–”asbestos” for lawyers, say–with the highest bidders having their ads appear whenever someone performs Web searches using those words. The bidding can run from 5 cents to $100 a click, according to Google.

“Basically what we’re seeing is a temporary land rush going on where legal firms are paying something like $35 a click for words they see as valuable,” Hickey said. “Whether that’s economical or not, we don’t know. But I suspect it’s not because I hear lawyers say it’s not worth it at that price.

“What happens when Microsoft is ready to really push its search engine?” Hickey asked. “It’s basic supply and demand. When supply increases, prices fall.”

To Hickey, the result will be 1999 all over again. “Everyone was crazy over banner ads,” he said. “Banner ads, banner ads, banner ads. But guess what? It turns out banner ads weren’t worth as much as people thought, and the result was that companies like Yahoo saw their share prices fall by 70 or 80 percent.”

Blogs fall off Google’s Pagerank

Google has tweaked its algorithm again and this time it’s bad news for blogs. Spotted this at Fables of the Reconstruction.

“…blogs are only an important phenomenon (important other than for the intrinsic satisfaction of writing) to the extent that search engines prioritize blogs. There are, by my estimate, only about 500,000 people who actively search out political and current events blogs. That number is not likely to grow much; all of the people who are likely to take an active interest have had a chance to join us by now. While not nothing, such a number is quite small in cultural terms. What makes blogging potentially culturally relevant is being indexed by search engines. Until today, if you googled any topic of current interest, the first page of results included blogs. That made blogs relevant to general internet users, but much more importantly, it made blogs vital for journalists researching stories. The prominent placement of blogs in google search results meant that bloggers, rightly or wrongly, were paid attention to. It also meant that blogs occupied valuable internet real estate that attracts advertising revenue.

“Take search engines away, and the entire enterprise dries up. No google hits, no blogs. It’s that simple.

“As I said, we’ll see how this shakes out.”

Indeed, I think the news of the demise of blogs is grossly exaggerated. Blogs will always have some following on the web, no matter how niche, and a continued role in disseminating and critiquing news, no matter what comes along, or whether or not search engines ignore them.

Top 8 excuses for using cellphone while driving

Malaysian police issued summons to 47,247 people in 2004 for using their cellphones, sans a hands-free kit, while driving, according to The Star. Here are the most common excuses:

1. “My boss called. I do not want to lose my job.”

2. “I was telling the caller to call back.”

3. “My family member is very sick.”

4. “I forgot my hands-free kit.”

5. “I was about to put on my hands-free kit.”

6. “I was only holding the mobile phone.”

7. “I was using my battery-operated shaver.”

8. “I was digging my ear with the antenna.”

Yes, the last one creeped me out as well. Ughh. In New York, this driver found a more valid reason.

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