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The personal journal of technology journalist and conference speaker Randall S. Newton.

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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Sic 'em Bears!

My kids have always suspected I was a bit looney, but my behavior Monday afternoon cinched it for them. I went absolutely nuts when the Baylor University Lady Bears mauled North Carolina and made it into the NCAA Final Four. I screamed, I yelled, I raised my bear paw and sang The Baylor Line with the fans in the crowd in Tempe. I called my daughter, a sophomore at Baylor. I generally made a fool out of myself. Even the dogs were worried about my sanity.

I am not now and have never been a Texan, but I am very proud to be a Baylor alumnus (1977, Journalism), probably more proud now than when I graduated. Not because of a winning basketball team, but because of what the university has become in the years since I graduated. Explaining would be a long story, and this post is about something much simpler. It was absolutely grand watching Baylor's intimidating defense in the low post, and the snappy ball handling around the key. To realize that national championship caliber basketball was being played in the Green and Gold was a transcendent experience. Well, OK, maybe transcendent is pushing it. Worshiping God is transcendent; watching Baylor play was magnificent and uplifting.

I think I see a dynasty in the making in the Baylor women's basketball program. By the time coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson completes five seasons as a head coach, she will be in the top five nationally for her win-loss ratio. Baylor has excellent facilities and a great academic reputation. Having thousands of Baptist missionaries/alumni worldwide scouting for talent doesn't hurt.

Given the recent tragedy regarding the men's basketball program (follow the link above for a summary), this triumph is all the more sweet. A co-worker who follows women's college basketball much closer than I do thinks Baylor's chances are pretty good. "I think that their chances are good," Melinda told me in an IM, "based strictly on the way they seem to adapt to other teams' playing styles."

Baylor plays traditional powerhouse Louisiana State on Sunday. My family will be out of town, so I'll be watching the game alone. (Not technically: Dear Sweet Grandma Mary, in the later stages of Alzheimer's Disease, will be joining me. But every 20 seconds is a new day for her, so I don't think she'll mind my looney behavior much.) If a fan goes berzerk and there's nobody there to share the moment, did the team really win?

Thinking About Hyperlinks is Subversive

To prepare for my company’s annual conference (COFES 2005: The Congress on the Future of Engineering Software), I’ve been re-reading the work of our keynote speaker, Dr. David Weinberger. He is best known as co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, a book on business activity in the age of the Internet. I rate it and Kevin Kelly’s New Rules for the New Economy as the two must-read books to come out of the dotcom era. I think they are every bit as relevant today as they were in 2000—perhaps more so, given the maturing of the technology. (Full disclosure: I slept on the floor of Kevin Kelly's houseboat basement apartment for four nights in 1985, but I would recommend his book even if I had never met him.)

Weinberger and his co-authors in The Cluetrain Manifesto didn’t collaborate on a word-by-word basis; each took responsibility for a chapter or two, and then added extra insights to each other’s chapters. Weinberger’s light shins in Chapter 5, The Hyperlinked Organization. Before I talk about Chapter 5, I need to share a bit about the book’s origins. As Weinberger writes in the Preface:

The four of us had never all met but we shared some interests and some friends. Around the turn of 1999, we found ourselves talking about two closely related issues: why the media coverage of the Web was so wrong and why most businesses have their heads shoulder-high up their butts when it came to what the Web is about. … Businesses by and large were worrying about the Web as another way to “build brand,” “move product,” and, most of all, to “gather eyeballs.” Barely a word was heard from either the media or business about why people were in fact moving onto the Web not only in astounding numbers but also with a sense of hope. Where was the discussion of the Web’s promise that’s stirring our spirit? Where was even the most meager recognition that the Web is more than an extension of business as usual?

Out of their conversations came 95 theses the four called the Cluetrain Manifesto. Thesis 7 states, “Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy”—a key theme of Weinberger’s Chapter 5.

“Conversations subvert hierarchy,” Weinberger writes. “Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. Being a human being among others subverts hierarchy.

Why is freedom of expression usually the first freedom lost when dictators or totalitarian regimes come to power? Because conversations, by nature, bypass any form of hierarchy. When people want to communicate, they want to do so directly, without need for permission or limits on the subject matter. This explains why blogs are the latest Web-based technology to not only surge in popularity, but to become a vehicle of disruption to the cultural status quo. Where once there was Matt Drudge, there are now hundreds of thousands of new—and often unconventional—sources of information. (Follow this link to a report from the BBC on how China is trying to restrict bloggers; by one estimate 62 have been sent to jail in recent months for talking about the wrong subjects.)

The mainstream media (referred to by bloggers as “MSM”) has new competition. Thousands of new “news” organizations have seemingly sprung up overnight, but these new news organizations are very different than the established MSM. They are as much about conversation as they are about news. Blogs reflect the human desire to communicate directly. Traditional media, by technological, structural necessity, has delivered news from a command-and-control hierarchy. The flat, leaderless hierarchy of the blogosphere is a subversive challenge to the pyramidal hierarchy structure of MSM.

As I write, notice of a new report from the Carnegie Foundation pops into my inbox. (The report comes from one of the many blogs I monitor with RSS technology.) “Abandoning the News” takes a close look at this subversive threat to mainstream news media. Here’s a quote:

There's a dramatic revolution taking place in the news business today and it isn't about TV anchor changes, scandals at storied newspapers or embedded reporters. The future course of the news, including the basic assumptions about how we consume news and information and make decisions in a democratic society are being altered by technology-savvy young people no longer wedded to traditional news outlets or even accessing news in traditional ways. In short, the future of the U.S. news industry is seriously threatened by the seemingly irrevocable move by young people away from traditional sources of news.

There are too many angles to this “hyperlinks are subversive” concept to explore in one blog posting. I’ll return to this theme again soon.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Another Day in Terry's Paradise

Broadcaster and talk-show host Kevin McCullough has produced a thought-provoking musical tribute to Terry Schiavo, using the Phil Collins song, "Another Day in Paradise." It mixes the song's original message of the homelessness lifestyle with sound bites from Terry's family and medical personnel who care for Mrs. Schiavo.

Friday, March 25, 2005

A New Coalition for Spiritual Human Dignity is Forming

The Bayly Brothers are using their blog to report from the scene of the Terry Schiavo death watch. In this touching post, they tell the story of father and son who come to join the vigil. The son is brain damaged. The father's love is obvious.

If I were to starve my animals, I would be hauled off to jail. Yet a judge in Florida can order that food and water be withheld from a person too weak to care for themselves.

I believe the Terry Schiavo case will prove, in the months and years ahead, to be a key point in the culture war. There are many "liberals" in America who are every bit as anguished by the turn of events in Florida as the conservatives who are being so vocal. A new coalition of spiritual human dignity is emerging from this tragedy, and this coalition will reclaim the ethical territory seized by the radical nihilist minority. It will affect "right-to-die" laws, it will affect the abortion debate, and it will help reform our collective conscience.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Baby Got Book

I love parody, satire, and otherwise turning the establishment on its ear to redirect attention to bigger truths. Follow the link to a clever parody remake of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" as "Baby Got Book."

Monday, March 21, 2005

Walking in the Spirit

Here is a wonderful short article on how a young Christian was schooled in the basics of walking in God. I could blather on, but just read Dawn' article.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Essential Rules of Performing Arts

In response to the bad acting in an independent film based on the Star Wars saga, a Slashdot poster has written up a rather good summary of how to start out in acting and other performing arts.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

RCMP Deaths Confirm Marijuana’s Strong Hand in Canada

The murder of four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers by a marijuana grower in Alberta last week is one more proof that Canada’s growing decriminalization movement is a step in the wrong direction.

Canadians refer to most marijuana farms as “grow-ops” as if they were harmless mom-and-pop operations. But the reality is that they are increasingly operated by experienced criminal gangs who sell most of their product south of the border. By trying to decriminalize marijuana in steps, Canada has succeeded in creating a new criminal class in its midst.

I have lived along the US-Canadian border most of my life, and love Canada perhaps as much as any non-citizen can love another country. I’ve been in six of its provinces, I take sides in the Edmonton vs. Calgary rivalry (I prefer Edmonton), and I routinely take visitors touring through British Columbia’s wine country (just a short drive from my house). Seeing the destructive results of a pro-pot political agenda up north grieves me deeply.

In sad homage to this turn of events, I have re-written the Canadian national anthem (a great anthem, by the way), into something more appropriate. If you don’t already know the tune, you can listen to it here.

O Cannabis!
You conquered all our land!
We rue the day we dropped our guard for thee.

THC, we see thee rise,
Paranoia strong and free!

From far and wide,
O Cannabis, we live in fear of thee!

God help us now
We’ve got the weed.

O Cannabis, our will is yours to lead.
O Cannabis, your haze is all we see!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Why Little Old Ladies Travel in Packs

My voice mail is never this funny:


Monday, March 07, 2005

A Good Ralph Rant a Day Keeps Complacency Away

Ralph Grabowski is my colleague in CAD journalism, and a friend of long standing. His popular email newsletter, UpFront eZine, is a must-read in the engineering software industry. He often uses his dry Canadian wit, aligned with a large dose of skepticism, in his blog to skewer pretentious notions and pan poorly thought-out products. Today he turns his sights on Microsoft's network-enabled bear:

"... the ultimate vision is to have the stuffed animal interact with a child, doing such things as playing games and reading stories. Because the bear is on a network, a parent could also use it to interact with a child remotely -- communicating or even taking snapshots through an embedded camera."

Now, that is a scary vision. The world's smartest scientists (as Microsoft likes to boast) think it be great to:

1. Kill off children's imaginations.
2. Make parents even more distant from their children.
3. Use stuffed animals to photograph children.

We take our children to Galinano Island off the West Coast of British Columbia, a couple of times a year. One of my daughters always remarks: "There's nothing here." [By that she means no malls, no computers, no MS Messenger, not even a telephone -- just a small cabin, trailed forests, sandstone cliffs, and debris-strewn beaches.] "So how come we have so much fun?" she wonders.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Newton's Laws of Family Life

Newton’s First Law of Family Life: The only people who know enough to raise children are too old to have them. (You can tell who they are because they are the ones so free with their advice.)

Newton’s Second Law of Family Life: Boys ripen slowly. (Dad’s addendum: Like fine wine.) (Mom’s addendum: Like an open can of tuna in the hot sun.)

Newton’s Third Law of Family Life: There is no one smarter in the world than an 11-year-old girl. (If you don’t believe me, ask one.)

Newton’s Fourth Law of Family Life: Large families always wind up having one child too many.

Newton’s Fifth Law of Family Life: Small families always wind up having one child not enough.

Newton’s Sixth Law of Family Life: The only child is a victim of his or her success.

Newton’s Seventh Law of Family Life: The collective IQ of a group of 13-year-old girls never exceeds their collective shoe sizes.

Newton’s Eighth Law of Family Life: When helping around the farm, one child has a work value of one child. Two children have a work value of one-half child. Three children are … Hey! Where are you guys?

Newton’s Ninth Law of Family Life: Long-planned romantic getaways always trigger a kid’s need to visit the emergency room right when it’s time to leave.

Newton’s Tenth Law of Family Life: The issuance of a driver’s license to a sixteen-year-old is a proven cause of mental illness.

Newton’s Eleventh Law of Family Life: Female hormonal cycles are nature’s payback for making males physically larger and stronger.

Newton’s Twelfth Law of Family Life: Leftovers in the refrigerator are unwanted until thrown away.

(to be continued)

Apple Computer vs. The First Amendment

As reported by most major media organizations (my link is to San Jose MercuryNews), today the judge in Apple Computer's lawsuit against two blog-based news sites issued a preliminary ruling in favor of Apple. As the SJMN reports:

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg refused to extend to the Web sites a protection that shields journalists from revealing the names of unidentified sources or turning over unpublished material.

Kleinberg offered no explanation for the preliminary ruling. He will hear arguments today from Apple's attorneys and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco digital rights group representing two of the three Web sites Apple subpoenaed -- Apple Insider and PowerPage.

This is a troubling development, but most likely only a temporary setback for First Amendment rights. Every new form of media in the last 200 years has gone through a similar rite of passage. Blogs (like mine) are as valid a form of "press" as the pamphlet was during the American Revolution. Citizen journalism via web logs is every bit as protected by the First Amendment as the work of the New York Times and CBS. If the current judge in the Apple Computer case doesn't recognize that, someone higher up the appeal chain will.

If Apple is upset that someone within its organization leaked confidential information, they should persue internal means to stop the leaks and to deal with the offenders. But, in attacking the college student who writes PowerPage (and others), they exhibit a sad lack of appreciation for a free press.

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