• Bad Times Spur Entrepreneurship, But There's a Catch

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    The recession is leading lots of out-of-work folks to try new things, reports the Times:

    Economists say that when the economy takes a dive, it is common for people to turn to their inner entrepreneur to try to make their own work. But they say that it takes months for that mentality to sink in, and that this is about the time in the economic cycle when it really starts to happen – when the formerly employed realize that traditional job searches are not working, and that they are running out of time and money.

    Mark V. Cannice, executive director of the entrepreneurship program at the University of San Francisco, calls the phenomenon "forced entrepreneurship."

    "If there is a silver lining, the large-scale downsizing from major companies will release a lot of new entrepreneurial talent and ideas – scientists, engineers, business folks now looking to do other things," Mr. Cannice said. "It's a Darwinian unleashing of talent into the entrepreneurial ecosystem."

    That's great. Except for one thing, which the article completely misses: You won't find too many people in their middle ages or older in this category. Why? Because they can't get health insurance. America's health-care system makes it all but impossible for an older worker to try something new.

    Even younger startup owners who are relatively healthy and have insurance are just a half-step from disaster. The insurance industry is in the business of not paying claims whenever possible, after all, and health insurers are working hardest to find ways not to cover people who might get sick even as they deny as many claims as possible from people who've been paying premiums.

    The day we have national health care is the day that we unleash a wave of entrepreneurship the likes of which we've never seen before. That's one of the best reasons for moving toward such a system.

  • When Do We Start Calling Years 'Twenty-Somethings'?

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    21st century hotel dg09.jpgOn an NPR newscast the other day, a reporter pronounced the year 2012 as "two-thousand-twelve" while someone he interviewed called it "twenty-twelve." I'd have gone for the latter, but the different choices made me wonder when we're going to give up what we've been doing this entire decade, clumsily calling everything "two thousand something," and move to the style we used during most if not all of the last century.

    I'm going with the twenties starting next year: twenty-ten, twenty-eleven and so on. YMMV.

    There hasn't been much consistency in this area, as far as I can tell. Did anyone pronounce 1907 as anything but nineteen-oh-seven? Did anyone actually say nineteen-hundred-seven? (I'd wager a (UPDATE) week's day's pay — the money goes to charity if I lose — that nobody used one-thousand-nine-hundred-seven.)

    Wait, it gets more complicated. We have to think about the names we use for centuries, too. The 20th Century was also the nineteen-hundreds. But in the 21st Century, are we in the two-thousands? That sounds off, but the twenty-hundreds sounds totally wrong.

    Am I spelling these years wrong, too? Should there be hyphens between the numbers? Calling the grammar police.

    No big deal. Still, it's pleasant to contemplate a benign problem for once.

    (Flickr poto by hyperspace328)

  • Space Junk's Threat

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    We're heading into scary territory with space garbage. The AP reports on Space station's close call with junk: More to come:

    The near-hit of space junk Thursday was a warning shot fired across the bow of the international space station, experts said.

    There's likely more to come in the future. With less than an hour's notice, the three astronauts were told they'd have to seek shelter in a Russian capsule parked at the space station in case a speeding piece of space junk hit Thursday.

    If it hit and they were in the main part of the station, they'd have only 10 minutes of safety, Mission Control told them. A hole in the space station could mean loss of air, loss of pressure and eventual loss of life.

    What freaks out people who believe we need to get off this planet — for exploration and ultimately survival of our species –is this possibility: If enough of these things collide with each other and then create more junk, the planet could be eventually surrounded by a ring of debris that makes any space travel impossible.

    The big Space Cleanup needs to start, pronto. But how?

  • Tabloid TV Goes After Bailout Babies

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    Tabloid journalism is often worse than none at all. But now, the NY Times reports, the media business' bottom feeders are going after the corporate sleazeballs who blew up the economy.

    The tabloid media, of course, have always peered into the excesses of the rich and famous with a mix of puritan disapproval and voyeurism. But these outlets and other news organizations are now recording troubling uses of taxpayer money at country clubs, private airports and glamorous retreats and, in so doing, explicitly tapping into a fierce populist anger at corporate America, and even pressuring Congress to hold companies accountable.

    TMZ, a Web site better known for unflattering paparazzi shots of Britney Spears and Rihanna, drove mainstream coverage and Congressional outrage with a blog post late last month that exclaimed, "Bailout Bank Blows Millions Partying in L.A." The site reported that Northern Trust, a bank that received $1.6 billion in taxpayer money, had hosted hundreds of clients and employees at a golf tournament and a series of parties in Southern California. "Your tax dollars, hard at work," the site wrote.

    Northern Trust never sought the bailout funds, but agreed to take them last fall at the behest of the government. Regardless, the photos of Tiffany gift bags and the grainy video clips of Chicago and Sheryl Crow performing for the group angered readers –as well as Congressional Democrats, who demanded in a letter that Northern Trust repay what the company "frittered away on these lavish events." The bank said it would do so "as quickly as prudently possible," news that earned four exclamation points from TMZ.

  • Amazon Misusing DMCA to Block Non-Amazon Book Buying for Kindle?

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    In the this-sucks-if-true category, we hear from mobileread:

    As some of you may already know, this week we received a DMCA take-down notice from Amazon requesting the removal of the tool kindlepid.py and instructions associated with it. Although we never hosted this tool (contrary to their claim), nor believe that this tool is used to remove technological measures (contrary to their claim), we decided, due to the vagueness of the DMCA law and our intention to remain in good relation with Amazon, to voluntarily follow their request and remove links and detailed instructions related to it.

    I'm a (small) shareholder in Amazon. I own a Kindle. I question my decisions when I hear about stuff like this.

    Oh, and by the way: Click here for lots of search links to the file that has Amazon in such a frenzy.

    via Slashdot)

  • Newspapers' Depressing Internal Lingo

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    BoingBoing reader Marissa Frayer writes:

    Perhaps print journalism foreshadowed its fledgling future long ago with its morbid jargon. Morgue. Gutter. Beat. Deadline. Dummy. Kill. Widow. Orphan. Are journalists all being strung along like dummies, beaten and downtrodden by deadlines, desperately clutching our clips and killed ideas, en route to a future in the gutter, as we abandon our readers? Or are we just headed for the morgue where the only organization left standing will be widowed Gray Lady?

    I'm not entirely serious–just thought it was curious that our profession employs some awfully depressing jargon. I once spent the better part of the day in my company's morgue. It was the only place I could find silence and space to spread out and concentrate on the demands of a 280-page dummy. Needless the say the irony was not lost on me.

  • Madoff to Jail; Hope He's First of Many

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    Madoff perp walk dg09.pngSo Bernard Madoff is heading to prison, most likely for the rest of his life. Will it be hard time or a low-security lockup for rich felons? (Photo thumbnail via the Times of London)

    Whatever. A bad guy, but only of the many we should hope will end up in jail in the next several years — especially members of the Wall Street gang that stole billions and tanked the global economy. How much real investigating will be done of their crimes? How much justice will we see?

    Madoff confessed his frauds. The bankers said, "We demand hundreds of billions more, some of which we'll keep as bonuses, or we'll guarantee a global depression."

    Who's worse?

  • Legalizing Drugs: The Least Bad Answer

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    The Obama administration has named the latest of America's "drug czars" — the person who heads the War on (Some) Drugs, a futile, expensive and supremely hypocritical campaign that has caused vastly more damage, in America and around the globe, than the problems it aims to fix. No one denies that drug misuse and addiction are often horrific to individuals and their families; what almost no one wants to ask, however, is whether legalization (or at least decriminalization) would have cumulatively less-bad effects. Perhaps the Warriors against (some) drugs — almost all of whom, no doubt, are users of other drugs — know that the weight of the evidence would not support their side.

    Journalists, who are supposed to critically examine orthodoxy, have been especially cowardly. They won't go near the issue except at the edges, notably when voters in state after state approve "medical marijuana" in the clear realization that the drug-banning forces are cruelly indifferent to some kinds of human suffering that often can be alleviated with a well-filled water pipe.

    One traditional journalism organization has been consistently asking the right questions, for several decades now. And the current issue of the Economist again treads confidently and logically where its peers won't begin to venture in this editorial, which begins:

    A hundred years ago a group of foreign diplomats gathered in Shanghai for the first-ever international effort to ban trade in a narcotic drug. On February 26th 1909 they agreed to set up the International Opium Commission–just a few decades after Britain had fought a war with China to assert its right to peddle the stuff. Many other bans of mood-altering drugs have followed. In 1998 the UN General Assembly committed member countries to achieving a "drug-free world" and to "eliminating or significantly reducing" the production of opium, cocaine and cannabis by 2008.

    That is the kind of promise politicians love to make. It assuages the sense of moral panic that has been the handmaiden of prohibition for a century. It is intended to reassure the parents of teenagers across the world. Yet it is a hugely irresponsible promise, because it cannot be fulfilled.

    Next week ministers from around the world gather in Vienna to set international drug policy for the next decade. Like first-world-war generals, many will claim that all that is needed is more of the same. In fact the war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless. That is why The Economist continues to believe that the least bad policy is to legalise drugs.

  • Searching for an Honest Bank

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    Late last year, just before Bank of America closed a deal to buy a failing Merrill Lynch, the BoA's executives signed off on $4 billion in bonus payments to Merrill Lynch executives and senior employees. This, after we taxpayers had poured more than $45 billion into saving these incompetent and/or corrupt people from their financial follies.

    Merrill and BoA have done their best to stonewall the public from learning any details about this sleaze, including some very suspicious timing. And these bonuses were only a relatively small portion of the overall shower of cash that rained on people in an industry that did more to ruin our economy than any crew since the 1920s.

    One of my projects keeps its money at Bank of America. I want to move the money to a bank that behaves more honorably. This isn't just a moral issue, but also a financial one. An institution that behaves the way BoA has done in this situation, among many others, can't be trusted.

    It's not just a business account that I want to put in an institution that I have more reason to trust. I'm also looking for such a place to put my own personal accounts, which are currently at Citibank, an institution with less-than-zero credibility at this point.

    I'm looking for ideas on a) what constitutes an honest bank; and b, if such an entity exists, what specific services (such as electronic transfers and bill payments) are bottom-line requirements.

    Thoughts? Suggestions?

  • Media Cloud: Watching Media Flow

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    MediaCloudThe Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society's new Media Cloud

    is a system that lets you see the flow of the media. The Internet is fundamentally altering the way that news is produced and distributed, but there are few comprehensive approaches to understanding the nature of these changes. Media Cloud automatically builds an archive of news stories and blog posts from the web, applies language processing, and gives you ways to analyze and visualize the data. The system is still in early development, but we invite you to explore our current data and suggest research ideas. This is an open-source project, and we will be releasing all of the code soon. You can read more background on the project or just get started below.

    (Note: I'm a Berkman Fellow, but I'd highlight this even if I wasn't. This is an important project for helping us understand what's going on in media.)

  • NBC Stars Whimper About Jon Stewart's Skewering of CNBC

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    The poor widdle babies at NBC are soooo unhappy with Jon Stewart's skewering of CNBC's stock-market boosterism and stupid behavior. If you haven't seen it watch this first and then come back:

    Josh Marshall's team at Talking Points Memo, calling NBC's Jim Cramer and Joe Scarborough "the two whiniest grown men on television," pulled together the NBC stars' on-air complaints today. A few fair points peek out from the forest of rants, but the TV personalities' thin skins are remarkable given how much crap they dish out to others all the time.

  • New Primer to Help Businesses Build in Customer Privacy Protection

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    The ACLU of Northern California has put out a primer, Privacy and Free Speech: It's Good for Business, (1.5 MB pdf) to "help companies avoid privacy and free speech mistakes that can lead to negative press, government investigations and fines, costly lawsuits, and loss of customers and business partners."

    Among other sections, this primer will help businesses:
    ACLU Privacy primer  * Keep users informed about privacy policies and new services so customer surprise doesn't lead to front-page horror stories.

       * Secure customer information by creating forward-thinking policies about data collection, retention, and disclosure.

       * Stand up for free speech rights so customers don't let their mouse clicks to a competitor do the talking.

    By making privacy and free speech a priority as new ventures and products are being developed, companies can save time and money by protecting customer rights while bolstering the bottom line.

    An HTML version is in the works, I'm told.

  • NY Times and 'Serious' Journalism

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    I pick on the New York Times a lot for its flubs, not because I hate the paper or because I own some nearly worthless shares in the company. I do it because the journalism done there still matters.

    Over the weekend and yesterday we saw examples of the organization's better and lesser sides. Let's start with the good stuff:


  • When It All Falls Apart

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    Like lots of folks these days I find myself speculating about whether we're heading into something worse than a bad recession, such as the kind of calamity that tests civilization. I've suspected this before.

    Back in my younger days I played music for a living. We were based in Vermont, a collection of folks who mostly saw the world as a place where music and the good life surrounding it were an end in themselves. While I subscribed to this philosophy for the most part, I was also the band member who read newspapers, and the one who had to handle details like bookings and getting paid. 

    The real world intruded enough, therefore, to occasionally be as worrisome as fun; and I had a pessimistic side in any case. At one point, gloomier than usual about humanity's future, I wrote a song about how people like us would (or wouldn't) get along when the apocalypse happened, something I feared might be imminent. It wasn't, then, but I'm wondering again.

    The song was called "When It All Falls Apart," and the lyrics went like this:

    What will you do when it all falls apart?
    Have you made your plans?
    What will you be when it all falls apart?

    There won't be any plumbers. 
    There'll be no politicians.
    Be no civil engineers.
    Be no musicians.
    There'll just be the farmers and the thieves.
    And what do you know about the land?

    What will you do when it all falls apart?

    What will you be?

    The song was on an album called "Road Apple," after the name of a band that lasted in one form or another for about seven years. Doug McClaran, who played piano, was the other main member of the band during that time. Besides Doug, who died way too young, this recording features Robin Batteau on violin, Tommy Steele on alto sax, Al Zanzler on baritone sax, Skeeter Camera on drums and Will Patton on bass. My brother Steve produced it, and you can listen to it here:

  • Slate: How to Annoy Your Audience

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    So I just stopped by Slate, a (quite good) traditional magazine that is owned by the Washington Post Co. and happens to live on the Web, and here's what the top of the home page looked like — a giant ad covering the actual article links:


    It took me a bit of searching to discover the "close ad" link at the lower left. I don't mind ads, but this is ridiculous.

  • Yes (Carl) Scan

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    In his worthy campaign — dubbed Yes We Scan! — to become America's public printer, or head of the Government Printing Office, Carl Malamud will take to the Twitter-waves at noon (Pacific Time) today to give a mini-speech of tweets about his plans. Then he's off to Washington to make more waves of the political sort.

    Follow the Twitter campaign here.

    There's a whimsical element to all this. But Carl is the real deal, and his idea is not only sensible but important.

    Go for it, @carlmalamud —

  • Saving Newspapers, Part MMIX: Collude and Conspire

    Dan Gillmor is a BoingBoing guest-blogger.

    So we're down to naked collusion?

    That's the proposal from the NY Times' David Carr this morning, in his latest column about the crumbling business of newspapers, who begins:

    Back when I was a young media reporter fueled by indignation and suspicion, I often pictured the dark overlords of the newspaper industry gathering at a secret location to collude over cigars and Cognac, deciding how to set prices and the news agenda at the same time.

    It probably never happened, but now that I fear for the future of the world that they made, I'm hoping that meeting takes place. I'll even buy the cigars.

    Boiling it down, Carr suggests these once-powerful news barons a) start charging online readers for the journalism; b) stop letting Google and other aggregators link to their work without some kind of financial arrangement in place; c) raise online advertising prices; and d) toss out a quaint law, the "Newspaper Protection Act of 1970," which let competing local newspapers combine business operations while keeping separate editorial staffs.

    The holes in Carr's plan are, of course, huge. Among them: Some media companies would say thanks but no thanks, on the principle that their long-term prospects wouldn't be enhanced by virtually disappearing from public view. Then there's the non-trivial issue of whether Congress would pass a new law — almost certainly a necessity for such an arrangement — giving the industry the right to do what it would scream bloody murder if any other industry attempted. (Then again, the Newspaper Protection Act of 1970 was a flagrantly anti-competitive law that made a mockery of editorial writers' pronouncements in favor of free markets, not to mention their organizations' willingness to exercise actual free speech.)

    Meanwhile, the CEO of Guardian Media Group's ContentNext (publisher of the excellent PaidContent and other properties) penned a few suggestions last week about how Silicon Valley and its culture could help in "Bring on the Techies" — with this notable line:

    There are various ways that newspapers and Silicon Valley companies can work together to preserve graphical advertising rates, create scarcity and ensure that the age-old way of supporting content survives.

    "Create scarcity?" Spoken like a CEO, who's really talking, just like Carr, about collusion.

    PaidContent exists because it emerged in a world where there was little or no barrier to entry, a world of abundance. Creating scarcity is the process, in part, of erecting new barriers. No thanks.

    Silicon Valley does have plenty to offer, but if the plan is to invent ways to stifle the world of information abundance, it's crazy — and wrong. (I know, that's not the aim. But it would be one effect.)

    The issue is not saving newspapers. The issue is, among other things, seeing that good journalism survives. It's also about making sure that people who "consume" media demand better than they've been getting, by persuading them to become activists in the way they consume. I'll be talking more about all of this in upcoming posts.

  • Opting Out of Verizon's New Data Sharing Policy

    Dan Gillmor is a guest blogger at BoingBoing.

    If you're a Verizon Wireless customer and care about your privacy, David Weinberger has news:

    VerizonWireless logo

    A small legalistic pamphlet from Verizon arrived today telling me that I have 45 days to opt out of "agreeing" to let Verizon share Customer Proprietary Network Information, i.e., "information created by virtue of your relationship with Verizon Wireless," including "services purchased (including specific calls you make and receive," billing info, technical info and location info. They promise to only share this with "affiliates, agents and parent companies." It will definitely not be shared with "unrelated third parties" … unless, perhaps that third party pays Verizon to become an affiliate, whatever the heck "affiliate " means.

    There's an opt-out, but it took him some doing to find it, including a call to customer service. And as he says, accurately, "The whole thing sucks."

    UPDATE: The BB Gadgets crew has detailed instructions on how to opt out. 

    Does any other wireless company have this kind of privacy-invading policy?


  • On Being a BoingBoing Guest Blogger

    Dan Gillmor is a guest blogger at BoingBoing.

    I'm jazzed to be here! Thanks to Mark and the BB crew for the invite.

    As a former journalist-for-pay who gives public talks about the changing nature of media, I'm often asked an excellent question about serendipity. Are we losing it?

    The question comes up in the context of, well, context in the way journalism — especially in daily newspapers — is presented. Here's what I mean: Look at the front page of the New York Times. You're likely to see a story about a topic you didn't know you cared about until you saw it.

    This is one of the genuine values of editors at institutions like the Times. They make sure we're in a position to learn about something they consider important or interesting, or simply worth the reading. The juxtaposition of the "didn't know we cared until we read it" story with the day's more obvious news is serendipity for those of us who want to be reasonably well informed and enjoy being surprised.

    On the Web, where we often go looking for things we already know we want to read or watch of hear, serendipity is something we have to find for yourself. And for me, one of the places I've always found it is here on BoingBoing, where I find myself in amazed, amused and everything but apathetic as I scroll down the page each day to see what the crew has come up with now. This has made me a BB fan, verging on addict.

    So to be invited to guest-blog here is a joy. My plan: Add some serendipity. 

    Naturally, I'll post about the future of media and information, including a new project I'm starting in the next few days, but I'll also be indulging my own tendency to head off on tangents. Sometimes they're relevant to my work, often not. I'll do my best, at any rate, to make sure they aren't boring.

    UPDATE: As I'll have to do periodically here, a disclosure: I own a small amount of New York Times Co. stock, which is worth way, way, way less than what I paid for it.