Monthly Archives: August 2007

Busy Day for Bloggers: Larry Craig and MSNBC

OMG, what a day for the blogosphere. I usually don’t write about things like this, but I have just heard the tape of Larry Craig’s arrest on MSNBC. The Minneapolis airport police released it. Why on earth was that necessary? Whose interests are really served?

As the anchorwoman said, there’s a big “ick factor” here. It’s definitely TMI for the average Idaho voter. The tape recounts the minute details of how Larry Craig tapped the policeman on the foot and reached down to “pick up a piece of toilet paper” from the floor (would you do that in a public bathroom?) The officer is relentless, and Craig is pathetic. In Idaho, I’m sure they have already made up their minds.

I think this is a case of media going too far. I’ve been accused of sympathizing with perpetrators before, because I tend to see the complexity of human beings, and I have to do it again now. Not to defend Craig, but at least to tell the media to call off the dogs. So what if the guy is gay? That’s his own business. And even if he committed a misdemeanor by soliciting sex in a public restroom, let him take those consequences privately, both at home and in the Senate.

To me the real issue is lying, both to himself and to others. Clearly, Craig has “work” to do, as therapists would say. He has lied, the lies have come out and now he should just go home and do the work, without his relatives having to hear the tape of an arrest he was obviously trying to keep from them.

I was married to a gay man, a man who tried very hard to be straight, and finally left me for another man, to whom he is still married. My former husband (not the doctor who died, but the one before him) agonized about his responsibilities to his wife and family, and finally left because he knew he was tempted to have gay sex and didn’t want to run the risk of infecting me during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. This was honest and open, characteristic of our entire relationship.

Clearly, this is not the way Larry Craig lives. But I wonder what my former husband would have done if some policeman had released a tape like this. He probably would have committed suicide. We need to get our voyeuristic, politically charged eyes off this man. The police did not have to release the tape to be proven “right;” the man already pled guilty. MSNBC didn’t have to play the tape over and over, the way it is now doing. And quite frankly, I shouldn’t be listening and neither should you.

What is with our society that we are so consumed by schadenfreude? I’ve just finished listening to the Owen Wilson suicide attempt saga, and now I get to hear this. Blech. Where’s the real news.

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The Future of Search

For the past few days, ever since I saw Scoble’s videos on the future of Google, Mahalo, and Facebook, I have been thinking about why Scoble is RIGHT about social-graph based search. In fact, I even got on his channel and made a video trying to represent my own views. I won’t link to it because I don’t think I did a very good job. I think I am more of a writer.

So here goes. I just had breakfast with a man who is getting a Ph.D in organizational psychology and trying to see if he can compare organizations to living systems. Living systems, he says, naturally gather the resources they need to survive. I suspect organizations do not always do that, although when run correctly they could. But I also suspect social networks do. Social networks, human beings, and organizations are very similar.

That’s because we are all living systems.

Now my Ph D. is in communications, not organizational psychology. But it doesn’t take rocket science to notice that high school kids form cliques, which become fraternities, which become professional organizations, which become gym friends, which become tennis teams, which become business partnerships. which become groups of co-investors, etc.

Human beings would always rather do business with friends than strangers. My late friend Sri Sidharan, up to the moment of his death, was studying trust networks and how to monetize them. I think Sri is talking through me when I tell you that Robert may be wrong about some of the details, but right about the principle of who will win in search and why.

With tears in my eyes I quote from Infinisri Resources:
At the tail end of Sri’s career with Intel, he served as the Chief Architect for Knowledge Management. This included heavily technology driven KM such as portals and knowledge bases along with community development in the form of a multitude of Communities of Practice. In developing over 35 communities one thing stood out. First these were the “easy ones” – communities of specialists who shared interest and sharing knowledge enhanced their own. Second, when he attempted to form cross-disciplinary communities for knowledge sharing – the issue was hardly that of “hoarding knowledge” made popular in various KM conferences – it was the opposite – marketing would not trust engineering, engineering would not trust technical support and so forth. So Trust within and among organizations became a topic of great interest. Upon leaving Intel, Sri got busy studying the role of trust in organizations.

The first summer he spent in Menlo Park, he developed a friendship with Prof Syed Shariq who agreed to form TrustNet whose primary activity at that time was a weekly gathering of interested individuals to discuss and enhance each other’s knowledge of trust. An invited lecture at NASA the next year, where Sri spoke about “trust in sociotechnical systems” confirmed that interest was great in the topic. Back in Phoenix, Sri set out to interview more than half dozen leaders of corporations and began synthesizing a novel framework for trust assessment and re-alignment of the organization. Out of this came a book Leadership, Strategy and Trust and a corporate workshop on Trust in and among organizations.

Unfortunately, Sri died of malaria last year after coming home from a trip to Ghana, and his work came to an abrupt halt. So I can’t call him and ask him what he thinks of Facebook, or who he thinks will win the search wars. He would certainly have had a theory.

But I think there is much to study here, and much to learn about why a social network will win out over a mere algorithm for search. Robert has found it intuitively. Now people with different skill sets should take these insights further, refine them and put them to use.

I would much rather ask my Facebook friends to recommend a doctor in San Francisco than just do a Google search. Or even a Mahalo search, although I do think Jason is trying to build a trust network, and let’s just see if it’s possible.

In a long life I have learned not to write things off too quickly.

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Facebook, Twitter, and me…

From time to time people ask me why I spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter, and indeed, why I blog. “Does it make you any money?”, they ask. “Isn’t it a waste of time?” they ask. “Isn’t it just for kids?”

Lately the MSM have been asking similar questions, in more depth. The Washington Post had a story about unmanageable networks of Facebook friends with whom you really don’t have much in common.

So I felt compelled to say what social networks and social media have done for me.

I was first attracted to social networking ten years ago, when my husband Gerry died of cancer. Alone in a house that had been his, haunted by memories, I couldn’t sleep. So I went on the newly emerging Internet and searched for a support group. I found Widownet.

For a year, I took solace in chatting with other people who had also lost spouses. They were there in the middle of the night, and they always answered me back with good advice.

After a year, I moved on. I never met any of them in person, nor did I need to. But when I was doing research for this post, I searched for it and it is still there. Since 1995.

From then on, I began reaching out. I joined a mailing list of geeks from the Bay Area and followed the dot-com bust through their eyes. They welcomed me without knowing a thing about me but what I posted to the list.

I wrote a weekly email to friends, which is still in existence and has 2000 readers. I get comments on that email list from all over the world, and I’ve met wonderful people through it. Some I have met in person, and some I have not. But if I need something, I can usually “put it out there” and someone will respond to my need, especially when I needed jobs or cars for foster kids, or advice. I joined LinkedIn, and put up my profile.

When blogging came along, I started the blog. The blog opened the circle wider, and I met more new and wonderful people online. Along the way, I tried and dismissed several other online groups and solutions, like Myspace and Friendster, that didn’t seem to do much for me.

Then I bought a home in Half Moon Bay, California, a town in which I knew no one except my daughter.

I sat in the local bars for a while, and felt stupid. After all, I wasn’t looking for a date or a mate, and everyone in a bar is drunk.

But this year, when I came up to California for the summer, Twitter was already on my radar, and so was Facebook.

Through them, I have met hundreds of terrific new people, with all of whom I have something in common — my love of new technology and my willingness to take risk. I have no doubt that if I needed to find a doctor, an apartment, or any other resource in California, I could ask my network and get an answer from a dozen smart people. I am so sorry to be leaving this week, because I feel I am part of a much larger community. From it, I’ve learned which events are a waste of time and which will teach me something. And I’ve learned that I can now move anywhere and plug into a social network to feel at home.

Does all this take time? Sure, it takes some. But so does maintaining a f2f social network. And I can be away from Phoenix for three months and still keep in touch with all my friends back home, too. It’s an investment. You make it for personal reasons, or for business reasons. And if you are clear about the reasons, social media works for you.

It even works for business if you choose the tools wisely and be clear about your goals.

Unmanageable group of friends? Not on your life. In many ways, these are the “best” friends I’ve ever had.

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Chris Brogan’s Podcast about Tools for Social Media

Thanks to Chris Brogan for this wonderful podcast about social media tools. He is correct about when to use Facebook and Twitter, and when to use blogs and podcasts.

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What Barack Obama Should Do

Thoughts on a Sunday

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Michael Vick and All of Us

I don’t know why I feel compelled to write about Michael Vick and his woes. I live with two dogs that I love. I don’t watch football. I’m not black, and I don’t gamble. And yet I feel as if I want to defend this young man whose life we, as a society, have ruined. He didn’t ruin it. We did.

Michael Vick is 27 years old. That’s younger than my own children, and the same age as my adult foster kids. From experience parenting, step-parenting, and foster parenting, I can tell you that he is not fully an adult. He probably still has that powerful sense of feeling immortal common to teen-age boys. Moreover, he was “discovered” when he was much younger. Who knows what kind of coaching he was given. What kind of steroids. What kind of advice. Probably he was recruited and treated like a piece of meat. Trained to be aggressive. Trained to have an “I can get this done” attitude. At school, probably given the football hero’s pass on his studies. Probably never took philosophy or morality.

His brain? Partially still that of an adolescent. Until he’s at least 30.

Now he’s in the NFL. He is paid big bucks to appear once a week. He’s a role model. He’s endorsed by Nike. (I’m guessing here) He has some friends and relatives he wants to hang and chill with. They are left over from his “old” life before he was a public figure. He likes them. They do drugs and kill animals.

No one has ever told him it was “wrong” to kill an animal. He lives in a rural part of the country. People kill deer, and shoot ducks. Dick Cheney, the Vice President, goes hunting and shoots a guy in the face. Dog? Deer? Duck? Dick?

Quite frankly, I can’t even spend time imaging how those dogs felt before they were executed. Probably like the greyhounds used to feel when they were killed after they couldn’t race. I have a strong empathy for dogs. Their entire lives consist of trying to figure out what the master wants and giving it to him.

But my empathy for people is even greater. We changed the rules on Michael Vick without telling him.
“Oh,” we say, “you can make money playing in a game where people charge into each other, knock each other to the ground, and leave each other battered and bruised once a week. This game is so violent that long-time players often find they have neurological deficits from repeated concussions. They walk off the gridiron with arthritis, too. We admire you for being willing to bang up your body and those of other humans.”

We think you are a man if you kill CERTAIN kinds of animals. But in the unwritten, hypocritical moral sphere that is contemporary America, you will go to prison for killing dogs. We are Americans. We can kill Iraqis and even other Americans. Slaughter cows, pigs, and chickens. But Fluppy the Puppy? Let’s overcrowd the prisons more with you.

Will you learn why what you did was wrong in prison? Will someone sort out the ambiguities and paradoxes of morality with you? Can you spell hypocrisy?

You poor child. You must feel now like the dogs you executed. If you only KNEW what we wanted, you would have tried harder to please us.

If I had been your mother, you would have never stepped on a football field and set in motion this chain of events. Period.

.

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Real Estate Gets More Real(istic)

For the past five years, I’ve been supporting my startup habit by buying and selling real estate. Some time in 2006 I decided all that was over, and got out of all my stuff except some land in Texas and the house I live in. I think I was very lucky, because I found a seat before the music stopped. That’s because

But a lot of friends of mine are reluctant to give up, and keep saying things like “Phoenix keeps growing. People keep coming here,” or “There’s a fundamental undersupply of housing in the Bay Area, so we will be okay.”

Well yes, in the long term all of that is true.

But if you are asking for my advice about what to do right now, especially if you are investing, I would say “sit on your hands and stockpile cash.”

Here’s the problem with this current real estate cycle: yes, there is excess inventory. Ordinarily, that would be a good time to buy. However, several things are happening:
1)3-year adjustable mortgages will all adjust this year from 2005(high point of the last cycle), leading to more foreclosures, leading to more inventory
2)this leads to FEAR on the part of banks and mortgage banks.
3)this leads to a credit crunch
4)The lack of liquidity doesn’t allow anyone to leverage anything
5)Real estate is only a good investment because of leverage.

Everyone “in the know” knows this, and CNBC is wildly talking about it. The government will do its best to straighten it out before the next election cycle, but they may not be able to do it. Timing is bad.

This week’s WSJ had some good articles that were analyzed by my friend Barry Ritholz, a respected authority on the financial markets who writes a blog called “The Big Picture. I’d subscribe to his blog for a while if I were you, and also the Housing Doom Blog.

Problem is, anything that happens in America affects every other market now, because the universe is global. Deutschebank was bailed out this week by the American Fed. I have been around long enough to know that these collapses occur little by little, and that you can’t predict them. I hate to keep bringing up the end of the 80s, but when the S&Ls collapsed everything followed them until real estate fell to less than fifty cents on the dollar. And that’s when the buying opportunity occurred. That hasn’t happened yet.

There is a year of sitting it out ahead of us before it will be good to do the contrarian thing. During the next year, it will be quite difficult to get a mortgage or a loan.

What’s the current play? My friends with big money seem to be starting small banks That way they will be able to lend before everyone else and grab good market opportunities. Myself, I am going to be a founder of a 4-state community bank that favors entrepreneurs.

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