And Now, Lili Von Schtup's Number

Glenn Davis is tired of the Web, as reported in today's New York Times. My eponymous colleague is the guy who started Cool Site of the Day at Infi.Net, later taken over by other people when he went to try to inculcate good design standards and practices.

The article notes Glenn's malaise and talks to some other 1994 veterans who can't find anything worth looking at or doing. Some relevant statistics are trotted out about how users are spending less time, on average, and finding less oomph than they used to.

Here's one pioneer, who started coding HTML in May 1994 and has barely passed a single day since without writing some, who isn't tired of the Web or the Net! Look, I'm a textbook case of a Net guy. I started one of the very first Web development firms in June 1994. I joined Amazon.com for six months in October 1996. I left and started writing articles and books on Web design, marketing, and development. I put together conferences on Internet marketing and advertising and design that attracted thousands of people. I built a site that leverages search engines, data, and bookstores (isbn.nu), and generates a steady cash flow from just sitting there and smiling.

And I still wake up every day, and find new and interesting, thought-provoking ideas, concepts, and sites. Maybe that's the difference: I'm less interested in form now that everything more or less works most of the time. OS X and Windows XP saved me hundreds of hours in the last six months of rebooting, reinstalling, and system messing. The latest browsers work mostly correctly on most Web sites, so I don't have to play games to view content. My Web design tools, like GoLive, Photoshop, and LiveMotion, are mature, and work in their very latest releases without futzing.

In other words, I can get my work done with much less concern about the failings of tools than the actual work itself after many long years.

So now I focus on content: I read. I write. I exchange email with fascinating people. I synthesize and produce. The Web has turned back into its roots as tools for writing and collaborating abound, the latest wave of the Web. The Web is now more important again as a textual medium because the graphical stuff is fixed and works and we expect it. We're now in the next Golden Age.

Malaise? Hardly.

Ruh-Neb

The Oscars last night feature a mercifully brief taped appearance by Roberto Benigni who said that he was so poor as a kid that he had to watch Ben-Hur outside through the back of a large screen, so he grew up thinking it was called Ruh-Neb. (He also called it a "scream" instead of "screen" and then slipped and pronounced "flabbergasted" entirely correctly; he's not fooling anyone with his Italian accent shtick any more.)</p.

I mention this in passing because a writer in the midwest turned out a brilliant piece on blogging, which takes as its device the chronological mechanism of blogging itself. Nice chunks of interesting ideas in it. It also reveals the weakness of blogging: the sound bite, the random thought, the lack of cohesive analysis that results from spending hours or weeks to produce a few hundred or thousand choice words.

I Want My DTV

Or, radio waves killed video's star. Michael Powell, the FCC chairman, said at PC Forum today (see Dan Gillmor's account; scroll to bottom) that the FCC knows that digital television (DTV) won't be here by 2006, which previous chairman Kennard has been saying for years now.

The problem is one of reallocation: we have no comprehensive spectrum management policy in the U.S., only a sham of one in which Congress and the president can directly affect what radio waves are owned or given to whom.

DTV is a weird case: TV makers are much, much more interested in creating a market for high-definition televisions (HDTV) than anyone else has seemed to be. Broadcasters became interested when they pushed through an arrangement by which they would be loaned extra frequencies for the transition from NTSC (on channels 2 to the upper 70s) until the DTV revolution was over.

Effectively, broadcasters are now sitting on tens of billions of dollars of free bandwidth while consumers show little or no interest in overpriced television sets. Nobody initially bothered to ask cable companies about how they would handle these signals, either, nor whether digital converters would work with NTSC TV sets. A couple of years ago, one firm (with an axe to grind) demonstrated how broadcast DTV signals might not penetrate buildings with enough intensity to provide the benefits of digital clarity.

Part of the plot, not insidious, behind the DTV transition was to focus the spectrum use of television on the sub-channel-50 level, and sell off the unused higher frequencies (UHF) to new services, as well as reallocate bandwidth from other ranges where the sweet spot of penetration (needed for things like Wi-Fi and cell phones) aren't as important.

Parts of the government and Congress would like to massively reassign military and government use of frequencies in those sweet spots, but the incumbents are fighting for a lot of good reasons (for once), including decreased military preparedness and the massive, multi-double-digit cost of migration.

And this migration is, of course, predicated on a formula: DTV adoption in geographically assigned areas must exceed a certain amount before the FCC can declare the transition in that area complete. In the interim, they have pushed old UHF stations off the very top of the range over the last few years.

3G is tied up in the same mess: the government can't free enough frequency in the right place (much less harmonized with Europe's frequency decisions) and this is frustrating the CTIA (cell industry trade group), the Europeans, and other folks.

Bottom line: it's already too late.

New technologies like ultra-wideband (UWB) broadcast may, in fact, save us from ourselves by using spectrum in fashions that overlay without (we hope) interferring. The current approach has led us into a indecipherable, untrackable quagmire in which no contiguous ranges are available as we open up in the actual future of wireless digital communication.

Battle for Eyeballs

Let's say that in a few years, a unique form of telepresence becomes practical in which implants or worn optical devices allow signals from the optical nerve to be transmitted digitally or recorded so that others can watch live or on playback what you see. The auditory nerve would also be tapped. This combination would offer a direct sensory relationship allowing a true sense of being there. It might also cause some nausea.

By simple extension, what happens when the recording person puts on an album, flips on the radio, walks past an advertisement, watches a movie, reads a book, or hums to themselves a Bee Gees song? Their implant seizes up, lights flash, a banner scrolls across your eyeballs, Content Suppressed Due to Compliance with the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA).

This isn't science fiction. This is near-term reality taken to its logical and necessary extension. Our very fields of vision could be censored - and let's be clear that this is censorship, as the government is regulating the suppression of media in a venue, regardless of whether this is at the behest of the artist, an industry, or other interests.

Who owns my field of vision? Congress is about to codify that I don't in more ways than one. Michael Fraase writes a remarkable and thorough analysis. Copyright is too valuable a resource to be held in perpetuity in the hands of corporations.

Michael focuses on both the consumer and producer side of the equation, explaining Europe's moral rights in creative works. U.S. law is converging on making it very easy for media copyright owners to restrict a creator's ability to make an honest dollar from their work. Most creative types (include yours truly) don't make fortunes; they make livings. The current law and upcoming changes simply make that harder and harder.

____ _____ said something today that I'll be quoting til my deathbed: Knight-Ridder and its inventions are the overhead we tolerate to find out what Dan [Gillmor] thinks. The structure exists to support the talent. Dan is the talent.. When you boil down all the crud about packaging, repackaging, synergy, and overhead, the bottom line is a guy or gal with a pen, a piano or computer keyboard, a brush, an instrument, a chisel, a voice.

You've Lost Mail!

The Wall Street Journal writes: In a humbling reversal, AOL Time Warner Inc. is retreating from a top-level directive that required the divisions of the old Time Warner to convert to an e-mail system based on AOL software and run by America Online's giant public server computers in Virginia.

I'd heard this already from folks in the belly of the beast, often after I called to find out why they hadn't responded to email. The article notes that some executives claim that two percent of their email was being lost, large attachments wouldn't go through, and sending messages to too many people caused the system to ban them as spammers.

See, there are lessons to learn from eating your own dog food, although the version that staffers were using was slightly different than the standard AOL. But it isn't POP or IMAP compatible.

I recall back in 1996, Adobe Systems was still using cc:Mail and an Internet gateway. After wrestling several emails back and forth with an editor at Adobe Magazine, I finally managed to get an attachment through the horrible system. Shortly after that, the company switched to Eudora and POP, and probably saved themselves tens of millions of dollars in lost labor and system admin costs (not to mention licensing if they used even-then open-source POP programs).

About eight months later, I get email from the editor dated eight months earlier! I forward it to him and the system folks look at it; they can't figure out where it got lodged in the system, but it was finally coughed up. (You know, like those routine newspaper stories: Man Gets Letter from Dead Brother Mailed in 1956. They clean up the old P.O. mail sorter and gott knows what shakes loose.)

LOC Units

From Reuters in the NY Times: Bell Labs said that, in a demonstration, it sent a massive 2.56 terabits of data per second over a distance of 2,500 miles, the equivalent of sending the contents of 2,560,000 novels every second across the United States.

Which novel? Berlin Alexanderplatz or Pale Fire? There are only a few novels I would like to read 2,560,000 times per second.

C'mon troubled journalists, how about something real instead of these increasingly specious examples? 2.56 terabits is about 25 terabytes or 25,000 Gb. A DVD movie fits on a 5 Gb format disk. So saying 5,000 feature-length DVD quality movies per second has more of an impact, and you can visualize it. (Also the 2.56 Tb figure doesn't discuss framing and error-correction, only raw bandwidth, so I'd be curious what the real throughput is.)

Will You Still Love Me When I'm 34?

I stopped being a pup today: I am 34. Can I still be the youngster as I approach what was formerly known as middle-aged? I don't feel any older than 15 years ago, although I'm somewhat more mature. I still giggle, laugh, tell jokes, do strange things. But I also get interviewed for Time magazine supplements and write for the New York Times as a freelancer. And I think 20 years olds Way Too Young For Their Own Good. And their music Sounds Like Noise to Me. Bring out that good old band, R.E.M.!

CAPITAL IDEA

World's stupidest defendant or lunatic? You decide. An eBay hacker in court yesterday, self-defended himself into the ground: Heckenkamp challenged the indictment against him on the grounds that it spells his name, Jerome T. Heckenkamp, in all capital letters, while he spells it with the first letter capitalized, and subsequent letters in lower case. This sounds ridiculous, but is apparently one of those wacky legal offshoots from people who believe that reality is malleable to their wishes.

Just as with some recent tax avoiders, these legal theologians believe that things they assert can be true just by wishing. The tax dodgers, with the help of some former IRS agents, state that tax law is actually a fake, and that only money paid by foreign corporations is taxable. What makes this funny is that they accept the jurisdiction of U.S. law in one area (tax law is invalid so can't be enforced) but reject it in another (the courts interpretation of tax law along with the actual law states you have to pay taxes). The courts have started fining and jailing people for even mentioning this tax scheme when they've been told not to.

The whole notion of tax avoidance makes me crazy. I see all these people who don't want to pay taxes as the least patriotic, least American folks out there. I am happy to pay taxes. I'd rather pay less, of course, but I know that at least a substantial portion of my tax money pays for the police, fire department, national defense, roads, medical support, etc. I don't like how all my tax money is spent, which means that as a voting American, I can use my vote, and as someone subject and beneficiary of the First Amendment, I can use my voice to change policies.

I'm not so naive as to believe that a single voice and vote can change the world, but I have felt more strongly after September 11 that my opinions aren't just my own. I look at the savvy college kids today using the market's own power to throw their weight behind better working conditions for folks around the world and think, the world may be slowly becoming a better place in spite of itself. September 11 reaffirmed my faith in mankind in the aftermath, and seemed just one more death throe of ego-driven terrorism divorced from true faith, and repudiated by folks of all ideologies.