Monthly Archives: February 2009

RSS, Twitter, and Information Overload

I am not new to social media, having been in newsgroups and chat rooms since the early 90s. I’m also not new to information overload, as I’ve always been a news junkie and a voracious reader. But every once in a while, my life changes with respect to how I give and receive information, and because everyone online has been discussing the same subject recently, I was driven to self-contemplation. I’ve decided I have been on information overload and have instinctively found ways to deal with it, and I will bet you have, too. How much of the following sounds familiar?

1)I no longer feel compelled to read 1000 Google Reader posts a day. If I don’t read EVERY WORD of Andrew Sullivan, Tech Crunch, or Huffington Post, so be it. I read feeds early in the morning and late at night, or perhaps in a boring meeting, and that’s it. I subscribe to so many things that I always have more than 1000 unread items in Google Reader, and I’ve stopped caring. Every once in a while, I delete them. I read them from new to old, not from old to new like I used to. Why? Because the oldest ones will already have been replaced by some later news, typically. I feel like I’m not missing anything.

2)I also don’t sit on Tweetdeck or the Twitter site unless I have nothing better to do. Instead, I have Twhirl with about six open windows running on my desktop, either in a different space than my browser, or on my other monitor (depending on where I’m working). Although I sometimes use XMPP, I don’t read back through archived posts even though I can. When I feel like it, I say hello to peeps I haven’t seen in a while on Twitter and who roll by on their 140-character rafts . I click on links from friends of mine on Twitter whose judgment I trust or whose topics sound relevant to me. That probably replaces some of the feeds I used to read.

3) I dip my toe into conversations, but I never spend all day responding to someone who flames me. Twitter’s good for that, too –it’s really impossible to have a long conversation there. I could get lost on Friendfeed, but I limit my exposure.

4)I never buy a newspaper, although I read many excerpts from newspapers online. The better the site is, the more of it I read. I like the Wall Street Journal, the NY Times, and Businessweek. my hometown newspaper, the Arizona Republic, has a site I almost NEVER visit. I get most of my local news from TV by accident. I do think newspapers are important for some things, although breaking news seems to come more from Twitter and cable than from newsrooms of newspapers.

What’s good about newspapers? Opinion and investigative reporting. Opinion comes to me free all the time via the web. Investigative reporting I would support, as I support I pay for content in the Wall Street Journal, because it still symbolizes investigative journalism in the financial sphere to me. Perhaps Rupert Murdoch is changing that.

So newspapers in the traditional format are not sacrosanct, although news is. The old format aggregated many things now available elsewhere: classifieds, crossword puzzles, comics, sports scores, stock prices.

4) Online video has changed my TV habits. I no longer watch complete shows, or anything at the moment it is broadcast. I Tivo a lot less than I used to, because I can find the excerpt I really need to see somewhere online. TV, like Twitter and Google Reader, is a background to my life. I hardly can be said to concentrate on it either.

5)I read books on the Kindle, and have them downloaded to my iPod by I don’t buy them anymore, and I am slowly giving away my library. This despite the fact that I was a literature major and have a Ph.D. No one would call me illiterate.

My late husband, who died a scant dozen years ago, knew none of this. He would not recognize the way I live now. Am I living a richer, or a poorer intellectual life than I used to? Neither. It’s just different.

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Best. Comment on Innovation. Ever

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Blueprint for Survival, or All Meltdowns are Personal

The youngest participant in Blueprint for Survival was four months old

The youngest participant in Blueprint for Survival was four months old

Yesterday I held the first in a new series of workshops, Blueprint for Survival, that I created especially for the current climate. Unlike our usual offerings, which are for people who WANT to be entrepreneurs, this one’s for people who are forced into being entrepreneurs by layoffs and unemployment, or people who are business owners already and see their creations struggling. Kauffman, with whom we work, calls them displaced workers, but I call them inadvertent entrepreneurs.

Blueprint for Survival turned out to be as good for me as it was for the participants. During the three hours, I found that many of my assumptions about the current environment were correct: people feel totally alone facing what might be the crisis of their lives. Every participant admitted to waking up at 3 AM in a panic. Every married participant shared a story of the risk-averse spouse, freaked out by the threat of entrepreneurship or self-employment. Often the laid off are secretly glad to be starting something new, but their spouses are terrified. And just sitting in a room with others in the same situation, tossing around ideas and receiving information about some new resources, is very comforting. As always, the power is in the community.

Six people attended, including one young mother who had been laid off as she came home from the hospital with her new baby, one experienced entrepreneur who tried to expand at precisely the wrong time, one man anticipating a layoff, and one man looking for a new way to reinvent himself in mid life.. These were the most courageous: the people who were at least considering moving forward. Many people are just paralyzed, and can’t even sign up for a workshop. The are numbly searching in the debris for the remnants of their past lives.

That’s okay for a while, but at some point you have to stop doing that. Here’s what I know because of my age: this downturn is different. I’ve been through four of them, and this one is structural. Things will never be the same. Government can’t fix it, although government can make it worse sometimes. (Read Naomi Kleins The Shock Doctrine if you don’t believe me). We have to make out own way into the future.

But there are some wonderful things available to us now that were not available during the first Great Depression: online communities, free software, coworking spaces, virtual assistants.

I knew I had to do these workshops as small group sessions, because the people have to get to know each other.I can’t just fill up a room, so I limit it to 20 participants. I’m going to make a Google group for participants, too, so we can keep in touch and share resources going forward, Everyone requested that. I will add participants in future workshops to the group, and I bet this will be a powerful, if primitive, social network (might move it to another tool in the future).

I held this workshop at Gangplank, a co-working space in Chandler, Arizona. At first I thought that might be a bad location for people used to working in offices, or an out-of=the-way location for people from other parts of metro Phoenix. But the Gangplank vibe is so positive and so futuristic (meaning representative of the future of work) that I’ve decided it’s the perfect venue to illustrate where we are going.

Remember how I told you how this workshop was at least as good for me as it was for the other participants? Well, I realized that something I’ve always hated — my advancing age — turns out to be my real strength. I’ve seen it all. I have experience and wisdom to share. How delightful to find that out.


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Onward, Christian Soldiers: Get Behind the Stimulus

If you are a Christian, follow me at your own risk, because you may find your political beliefs disturbed if you are also against the stimulus and the bailout. I am going to argue that, as a Christian, you should probably agree with the bailout of  homeowners who signed up for more mortgage they can afford. Further, you should consider bailing out the banks, although not the bankers, and the auto industry, although perhaps not its management. Why? Because Christ died for our sins. He is the Redeemer. Of what? Of our debt, because it is one of our many sins (although not the Original.) I didn’t make this up.

Let me admit first that I have a crummy religious education, and have been most of my life practicing Buddhism-lite, a life philosophy but not a religion. That means I can’t argue theology convincingly, and I’m not going to.

Born a Jew, I never practiced that religion, nor any other. However, I have had a stellar literary education, and even remember some of it. Most of the literature that was taught when I was getting my education was from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Therefore, I remember the Lord’s Prayer line, “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” from my childhood. Likewise the one that says “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” These seem to me to be instructions for today’s life. I try to live by them. I have, for instance, been a Foster Mom and written a book about it.

Which brings me to Margaret Atwood’s lectures, to which @Hil121, a Twitter friend I’ve never met in person, sent me last night. I have always loved Margaret Atwood the novelist, and now I know why. Last fall, she gave a series of lectures, the combined title of which is “Payback.” They are about the philosophical and religious underpinnings of debt, and they have such compelling individual titles as “Debt as Sin,” and “Debt as Plot.” You can listen to them here, but I warn you that they require a deep background in English literature; because that’s the field in which I happen to have a Ph.D., much in them brings back things I read not once, but three times: once at Cornell, once at Columbia, and once at Syracuse, while amassing my three degrees.

I then saved these works of the Western canon on my “backup drive,” and haven’t performed a “restore” until I listened to Margaret Atwood last night.

Here are some major principles that jumped out at me from her interpretation of the canon, beginning with Welsh folk tales and traveling at least as far as James Joyce according to Atwood.

Most of them can be traced to the Old Testament, the concept of Original Sin, and the New Testament concept of Redemption.

Atwood points out that historically, borrowers and lenders have an obligation to each other. They are locked together in a contract, part of which involves memory or the tracking of debt, and redemption, the payment of debt. There is no debt without memory, so forgiveness of debt requires forgetting it. (I read recently about some millionaire who is living in his home without paying his mortgage because the bank “lost” the original of his loan contract).

In ancient folk tales, there was someone called the “sin eater,”  who symbolically consumed the sins of a dead person so the corpse could go freely into the afterlife. Later, the sin eater was replaced by The Redeemer, the Saviour, who also causes our sins to be forgiven.

These concepts evolved because debt has always been associated with sin. It is definitely sinful to go into debt; however, debt is erased by death if there is a sin eater. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” says Polonius, because  it isn’t good to be either one!

There’s also the old saying “Nothing is inevitable but death and taxes.” Why?  Because taxes were a sort of protection racket. The tax collector who takes your money is supposed to give you something back.  If you get nothing back, you don’t have to pay taxes.

We pay taxes. Surely we should get something back here, and that should be “protection,” which is also in some ways the Redemption.

Margaret Atwood points out that there is a long tradition of erasing debt, and that tradition comes from the Bible. It has been done before. And if we want the economy to start growing us out of the recession, it has to be done now.

So all the moralizing about who should be saved and who should be allowed to fail is decidedly un-Christian. No one should be allowed to fail if he confesses his sins and accepts the Redeemer. “Forgive us our debts/ as we forgive our debtors.” Isn’t that our heritage?

Just sayin’

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Last Week’s Gillmor Gang

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Last week’s GIllmor Gang was one of the best.

This episode was one of the best ever.  Let me dispense with Facebook and Twitter and move on to the really interesting part, which is how the people on the call look at the economic downturn. You’re all very smart people and you will be part of the solution, as I hope I will be.

About Facebook: Marc, it’s only fun to connect with your old high school buddies if you enjoyed high school.  For every person on Facebook that I’d like to re-connect with, there’s one I am glad I never see. Facebook creates a noisy stream and demands too much politeness from me. At least in high school I could turn my back on some of these people, but now that we are all aging and they come on to Facebook as newbies, it is cruel not to add them as friends, and I feel compelled to do it. That makes my stream way too noisy, with “regular people” (translation: people who don’t share my interests) and converts Facebook into an obligation (thanks, Jason) for me.

I much prefer Twitter. Period. Even with the number of people I follow and the number of people who follow me, I have found ways to know almost all of them and connect meaningfully with them in some way. I can learn from Twitter. I have never learned anything from Facebook, except how long some of the unhappy marriages of old friends have gone on through inertia. Ugh.

And yes, I have huge problems uploading video to Facebook, so I can’t believe it will ever be like YouTube and allow completely up-and-down loading. And why should they.  They’re doing fine as a walled garden, and each episode of opening up just creates more noise. For myself, I have begun to work in earnest with Brian Roy’s Just Signal because I feel the need for filtering more than ever. You can see JustSignal on USHealthCrisis right now.

Now to the future: it will happen.Of this I am sure.

Yes, Robert, I am now temporarily poor enough to be under water in my house. But I say temporarily because, depressing as it is, this has happened to me before. The deals I’m in WILL exit some day.  The companies haven’t changed; and they will get restructured, acquired, sold, etc. One day in the future, I will be fine, even if, as Jason so correctly points out, I’m a little shell-shocked now. We people who were “comfortable” are now uncomfortable, and we’re not angels right now.

BUT: that doesn’t mean I don’t believe, as Jason says, that innovation and the start-up economy won’t pull us out of this. It will: the unemployed will innovate, which is why I’m starting  a string of workshops to bring them together and introduce them to each other. Coming from Arizona, I have always been an expert in bootstrapping companies (no choice).

One last comment: one of the industries I play in will never come back like before, and that’s commercial real estate. There have been too many structural changes in our economy to bring it back–from e-commerce, which knocks out retail, to  social networks, which knock out office. You no longer have to bring the people to the market, or to the work. This changes many things about bricks and mortar. The next upturn will have far less commercial real estate opportunities.

We are in a period of rapid transition, brought about by the very things we have early-adopted, evangelized, and fought for. And now we’re frightened. Think how all the OTHER people feel!

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Web 2.0 Expo: Will I See You There?

I’ve always enjoyed Web 2.0 Expo, and this year they have asked me to be a blogging partner.  I have no idea what this means yet, except they’ve said if I use this code I can get a free Expo pass: “websf09tr3” . You are welcome to try it as well, since I assume it’s no secret if they told me to mention it in my blog:-) I suspect a marketing ploy, don’t you?

Oh, and they also gave me a free widget for my blog. Thanks, Tim.

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The Terrorists Have Won

I was out in the park with the dogs this morning talking to my friend Carolyn-the-Constable about the miserable state of the economy and how it affects not only both of us, but literally everyone we know. We couldn’t think of a single soul who was not affected in some way by, if nothing else, the atmosphere in the country.  And then it came to me: the terrorists have won.

Think about it for a minute.  What did the terrorists want? They wanted to punish America for its ungodlike, lavish lifestyle, and the way it was spreading its culture around the world. The terrorists thought, and still think, that we deserved to die simply because of the way we live.

So they flew their planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and they accomplished their purpose. We don’t live that way anymore. They destroyed the uniqueness of America: its optimism, its upward mobility, and its entrepreneurship. And they did it the way terrorists always do everything: by creating a climate of fear.

Into that climate walked George W. Bush, the perfect insecure dry drunk, and his sidekick Dick Cheney. Out of fear, they created two wars, one against the Taliban, and one against  God-knows-who in Iraq. We spent dollars and lives in both wars, with inconclusive results. And despite what everyone says about the American people not being asked to sacrifice, we have sacrificed a lot: our current comfort, our social contract, our futures, and those of our children. As a people, we have given our all, and the terrorists have still won, because they have frightened us.

We now have a political system polarized and stalemated by fear, and a Treasury decimated by debt. (And I mean that word almost literally. Our treasury has been cut to roughly a tenth of what it was, and we are drowning in debt) Our country is crumbling, and we can’t get up the mental energy to come together around a solution to rebuild it.

This also comes from fear. We are cowering in a corner. The Republicans are fearful that we will burden our children with debt and the stimulus won’t work. The Democrats are afraid the stimulus won’t go far enough, and will omit things like education and health care. Those of us on the sidelines are afraid the government will cease to function and NOTHING will be done.

In behavioral psychology, this used to be called “operational neurosis,” and was confined to rats on a grid who were delivered electric shocks on an intermittent, unpredictable basis.

As a country, we have lost the basic philosophical underpinnings of our existence: the social contract. And we’ve lost the basic theological underpinnings of our existence: the Golden Rule. We are all trying to save ourselves, and letting the guy next door hang. And that is how the terrorists have won.


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My Slides from BIL

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The Evils of Cloud Computing

Like everybody else, I’ve been migrating my information to the Cloud. I started with GoogleDocs, but now it’s almost ALL all there: my social graph, my online banking, my online tax filing, Facebook, Twitter, even my business bookkeeping and some of my medical data. My hard drive is pristine, except for my music and my iPhoto library. For me, it seems like such a convenience to sync everything to MobileMe that it’s been a no-brainer of a switch. Until I heard Brad Templeton, President of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, speak at BIL.

Templeton reminded me that as I had suspected, “cloud computing” began with the mainframe, which made timesharing necessary and popular, because computing time and cycles were scarce and expensive.

Timesharing gave way to the disruptive force of personal computing, and then of client/server computing. Ironically, cloud computing has brought us back to timesharing, albeit in a different format..

Facebook, Templeton says, is the best example of timesharing and its potential dangers. When you use Facebook, your information is not on your hard drive, but on Facebook’s own site. Then Facebook has these other “apps.” They sound so cool and innocent. But every time you use an app, you are granting it permission to take your information and perhaps put it in the wild. As Templeton said, “data exported is data lost.”

Templeton takes this further, believing that data in the hands of third parties does not have the protection of the 4th amendment (the right to privacy). With the exception of certain types of data, such as email and medical information, which have statutory protection, the data we transfer to the cloud stands unprotected.

Using a little hyperbole,Templeton refers to this as “Erasing the 4th Amendment,” and counsels us to at least think about what we’re doing before we rush headlong into what he visualizes as a potential mushroom cloud.

“Should we erase the Bill of Rights so casually,” Templeton asks, “when if the same data remained on your own hard drive, it WOULD be protected.” What’s the rush to get it into the cloud?

Simple. It’s too tempting to migrate and take the chance, , because you miss out on all the coolness if you don’t contribute your data.  You don’t get to participate. Facebook reverses the signup dynamic. You can sign up easily, without much barrier to entry, and without entering much information. But over time, more and more information is added, until Facebook knows everything about you! And then there are those Facebook apps — effectively another company’s web site inserted into a Facebook page, asking to get your data so it can recommend a movie for you, or find you a friend. What have we done?

We are enjoined to consider the balance between privacy and openness, and at least think when we change it. We are really shifting the balance between the public and the private as we speak.

Why does privacy matter? Because in shy people, behavior is different when you think you are being watched (Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle) There are two choices: Let the privacy people have their way, or OR, if you want privacy, you can’t use our cool new app. We need something in between.

A long web form is an impediment, but what you make easy to do you make easy to ask for. Thus, ease of use and data portability are really bugs. They make it too easy to ask for information. End-user control inhibits negotiation – you can opt out, but only out of the whole thing. You can’t negotiate which parts of the agreement you want to participate in.

So ironically, cloud computing inhibits the power of the user, even if it makes things more convenient. In the cloud, I can’t make Facebook faster by buying a faster computer,nor can
I switch away without a huge re-export of my data (data portability). Templeton refers to this as BEPSI, the Bulk Export of Your Personal and Sensitive Information. And once data is exported, it is lost.

How all this data in the cloud could be used also frightens Templeton, who says the history of humanity is a long chorus of police states punctuated by a few staccato notes of freedom. We must take care not to build the infrastructure of a police state.

Cloud computing is actually changing the world. Once we put all our data thru somebody else’s pipes, they can throw the lever toward a police state. We probably don’t want to be the inadvertent cause of that eventuality.

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The Ugandan Student I’m Helping Through College is Graduating!!!!

In this environment, I am warmed by the news that Paul, a boy I met on my trip to Africa with The Foundation for Global Leadership four years ago and agreed to sponsor for part of his college, is actually almost at the end of his schooling:

Hullo Francine,

How is the going? Amidst all the challenges you are facing most especially the financial, global crisis that has hit The United States and the world at large, let’s keep hope for with it, we know we shall overcome and be successful.

The programme for my graduation is out, it’s rather a relaxed one; it is slated on the
23rd. march.2009 the ceremony begins at exactly 10:00am local time. With the congregation taking seats and thereafter award of degrees and diplomas to different faculties and to the graduands, a few speeches from different guests, after which there shall follow prayers, after prayers, there will follow a luncheon which will be on campus, after the luncheon we shall have different gatherings with different guests and speeches to our guests where each graduand will do his privately, for each one has gotten his private visitors from all over. I will be awarded with a bachelor in philosophy, and a diploma as well.

As for the communication course which you are fully in charge as far as supporting me is concerned, I have this semester and after this term I will do the final that will commence around July means am not yet done as far as that course is concerned.

Having said that I take this very rare, yet an honored opportunity to invite you to this my graduation ceremony to come and witness what has come out of the five years of my study at the philosophy centre.

With great happiness, joy, humility yet exceedingly honored we shall be waiting for your gracing the ceremony with your attendance. I will be sending an official invitation card as well as an invitation letter to enable you attend this function.

God bless you!

With Love from Paul your son.

Wish I could attend. Or that someone could video the ceremony for me.


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