Sips from the Firehose

May 15

Ukrainian Journos Use Digital Tools to Fight Disinformation

Posted: under Ukraine.
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This is why it is important to teach journalists how to use social media.

My friends and colleagues in Ukraine are fighting a protracted battle in the global court of public opinion, and they are using all the digital tools and techniques that I’ve been referencing/showing off/misusing during the last seven years that I’ve been teaching and training there.  Read More

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Jun 03

Growing Pains: Daredevil Construction and the Future of Ethiopia

Posted: under Uncategorized.
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Africa’s fastest-growing economy balances between dreams of the future and the shackles of the past

For those libertarians who feel that OSHA and any and all regulations on workplace safety are the very essence of neo-Stalinism, I submit the construction industry in modern Ethiopia. Please note that the scaffolding supporting this multi-story concrete building is basically lashed-together sapling trunks, and that while the workers are all wearing hardhats, the basic safety equipment you routinely see on construction sites in the West is pretty much lacking – no safety lines, no walkie-talkies to communicate with the crane operator, no nets or wind barriers at the periphery. Feel free to apply for a gig here, fellas.

building under construction at addis ababa university

This picture was taken under the baking-hot noonday African sun. The bucketful of cement on the way up seems to arrive at irregular intervals, and sometimes much to the surprise of the workers on the roof. I saw one bucket swing a little wildly and clip a guy off his feet. A little lower and to the side, and he would have been spread across the roof like grisly human jam on unyielding toast. (Click to enlarge)

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Jan 24

A Social Media Milestone: A Crowdsourced State of the Union Address?

Posted: under Amusing Nonsense, Conspiracy Theories, Politics & New Media.
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The Teleprompter is Us

Tonight’s State of the Union address is being billed as “the most interactive political act ever.”

Well, other than the crowdsourcing that brought people to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Although, if you read through the comments sections on some of the danker political blogs, there’s certainly reason to look back on The Terror as a relatively sane & genteel epoch.

Anyway – it appears that Obama’s web team has spent the past year (or more) preparing to swing into full campaign mode.

From ReadWriteWeb:

In December 2011, I wrote in the ReadWriteWeb Predictions for 2012 that the presidential candidate with the best social media campaign would be the one to win the White House in November 2012. I also said that President Obama would likely be reelected. While social media is not the be all, end all factor in determining the results of elections, pundits will argue that it has greater weight now than it ever has. Candidates pay attention to what their Twitter followers are saying.


To a certain extent, tonight’s State Of The Union will be the biggest campaign stump speech that Obama will give all year, except for maybe the Democratic National Convention. Around the State of the Union speech, the President has built a robust social media campaign to give citizens a voice. This is how government should be run. Open. Transparent. Interactive. Go to where the people are as opposed to making them come to you.



Let’s see how that interactive thingy worked, shall we? ue

The YouTube questions were pretty much what you’d expect – a mix of the rude, the longwinded, the unanswerable and the insane.

Tell EMINEM to Put another Album out..(Name is E=Mc2)
Are you going to liglize weed?
What are your plans for a Zombie Apocalypse? Because you know, if you planned for zombies, you planned for everything.
Dear Obama, is the republican primaries as hilarious for you as it is for me?

im scared of this year. Do u think that think year that the world might end (by the simi-end of Dec. 2012) or it’s completely a myth?

mjh186, Santa Monica, CA
What are you going to do with all the police who think they are all that, just because they can do almost anything they want without getting caught doesn’t make them better. Also my friend told me a police was setting a role model of cussing a 5 grdr
Will you tell us why you passed the SOPA? Do you have anything againsy gay people? Can YOU stop making Cigars? What do people have to have in order to become the president? Is the world gonna end in 2012? PLEASE ANSWER ALL THESE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS!!
mr.president wat do u think about the immagrashin are you think about giving paper 2 those in need
123deadmau5, sunvally cal
I would love to know why marijuana not legal. It is really good for you they said on cnn News it don’t do anything to your lungs compared to people who smoke cigarettes. Also it kills Brain cancer cells and blocks heart blockages.
panterafan6969, Richmond, Virginia
Mr. President, Church’s Chicken or KFC?
train2failure, Long Beach
Why you are spending more money to grab genitles at airports, sell children, traffic weapons, drugs, eugincs depopulation…rather than allowing non corrupt technicians associated with The Venus Project to solve every human need including yours?
Mr. President, if you want my vote again this November, please answer this: WHERE IS THE CHANGE!?Minimum wage still doesn’t cover our basic necessities.A human being cannot survive on these wages with children. How are your children doing? Quite well
I’ll keep my guns, money and freedom You can keep the change you communist bastard!
Can you speak to the American people about the Fema camps ? Maybe quell some of the fear that’s spreading thru the country ?
I can has moonbase?
commanderq, Australia

The Quora questions were a helluva lot better.

Some are pretty interesting: What are the estimated costs to taxpayers of the new agencies proposed by President Obama, such as the Trade Enforcement Unit?

Others are clearly partisan: Why did Obama just rag on George W/Republicans? Was it merely because it’s an election year?

Some are just goofy: Did Jon Favreau write the 2012 State of the Union?


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Jun 19

Town Hall Meetings on Medicare and the GOP

Posted: under Politics & New Media.
Tags: ,

This is a short clip from the recent “Town Hall” type meeting that brand-new Rep. Karen Bass had with her constituents here in Cal-33. This has got to be one of the most diverse districts in California, if not the entire U.S. in these Gerrymandered times.The room was a real mix of black, white, Asian, Latino, old, young, male, female … there were even a couple of Tea Party types loudly blaming Bass in the hallway outside the room. I half expected them to act the fool during the meeting, but somehow these old white angry men wilted in the face of the loud cheering that Bass got.

Which is my one objection to the whole exercise. There was a lot of preaching to the choir here. She told the people in the room what they wanted to hear – that the GOP is planning on destroying Medicare, jobs, the economy and basically everything else. Which may have a bit of truth to it – but seems to be the kind of exaggeration and spin that seems to piss off so many of the constituents when they see it coming at them from the other side on Fox News.

The best part of the meeting was when Bass brought up one of her pet issues – foster care. She mentioned that she was working with Michelle Bachman. The room erupted in boos. But to her credit, Bass stood up there and said that despite not agreeing on just about every other fact under the sun, she and Bachman were working together on reforms to the foster care system. And that Bachman had fostered 14 kids on her own, and graduated each kid from high school, while simultaneously raising five of her own.

The room went quiet, and you saw a lot of people raising their eyebrows and looking sideways at each other.

“Respect,” muttered a guy in the row behind me.

In these polarized times, that kind of reaching across the aisle, no matter how out of the limelight the issue, is something that we need more of.

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Jun 12

Rep. Karen Bass uses QR codes at town hall meeting

Posted: under Uncategorized.
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This got written up in the Congressional Quarterly; considering that the constituents in Cal-33 overindex for mobile web use, this is a real stroke of genius. After the meeting was over, I helped at least 3 people load the QR reader software onto their phones so they could take advantage of this…


IF QR codes are starting to cross over into political messaging like this, does that mean that they’re finally going to make the jump from gimmicks on soft-drink cartons to something that’s actually useful in our daily lives? I know that they’ve done the “BoomSplat” at least two times in the last four years, since I first started studying them as part of the case study I did on mobile advertising for the NAA. Part of that is the hucksterism of some of their more ardent proponents, who have harebrained schemes like affixing QR codes to every object of note in an urban environment, all in service to the concept of providing “historical context” to the objects we encounter every day. Which sounds like a really great stoner-grade dorm room concept, but which breaks down right about the time that a muffler shop owner gives you the Louisville Slugger shampoo for slapping what looks like graffiti on his store.

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Jan 07

WikiLeaks Fallout: Draconian EULAs from Adobe, Apple, etc.

Posted: under Blogging, Conspiracy Theories.
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This is only an educated guess, but something has changed in the past month in those voluminous End User Licensing Agreements (aka EULAs aka “That dense small-font document that nobody bothers to read”), and it seems to be coming from Homeland Security.

It looked so friendly and inviting on my taskbar...

It started innocently enough when I updated my Mac software and discovered a new icon down in the taskbar. Well hello there, App Store! Wow, it appears as though you launched with more than 1,000 applications already waiting for me to play with. Everyone’s been chattering excitedly about what this will mean for apps that do more than produce gastrointestinal sounds.

Cool! Can’t wait to start partaking of the free & open marketplace for creativity, ingenuity and that childlike sense of wonder – wha? A new Terms & Services Agreement? Again?

Every few weeks, with your iTunes, you’re making me agree to some massive list of incomprehensible junk, and now you want me to agree to something ELSE? Dammit.

OK, I’ve got a few spare minutes and have been eating a high-fiber diet recently. Maybe it’s safe to scroll through and see if there’s anything particularly noxious about the rules governing how this App Store for my desktop Mac…

Good Christ, what’s this?

So the apps you’re serving up for me to use on my main computer, the one where I have the really important data stored, may just come with viruses, spyware and trojans. And in the next breath, I have to basically hold Apple harmless if they happen to sell me something that destroys my business? Hey, can car manufacturers and prescription drug companies get in on this kinda scam?

Can you imagine that? “Oh yeah, here’s your new heart medication. It may actually contain arsenic, other heavy metals or rat poison. We don’t know. We just shovel this stuff out the door. It’s on you. And if you happen to drop dead because of it, we ain’t responsible and you can’t sue us.” That’d go over well with all the people screeching about Death Panels, wouldn’t it?

But where does HomeSec come in? Read this and see if you don’t feel ghostly fingers clenching around your throat:

You agree that Apple has the right, without liability to you, to
disclose any Registration Data and/or Account information to law
enforcement authorities, government officials, and/or a third party, as
Apple believes is reasonably necessary or appropriate to enforce and/or
verify compliance with any part of this Agreement (including but not
limited to Apple’s right to cooperate with any legal process relating to
your use of the Service and/or Products, and/or a third-party claim
that your use of the Service and/or Products is unlawful and/or
infringes such third party’s rights).

OK, maybe that’s just Hollywood, the MPAA and the RIAA again … what’s this?

You also agree that you will not use these products for any purposes
prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the
development, design, manufacture, or production of nuclear, missile, or
chemical or biological weapons.


Jesus Christ.

I’m not even going to get into all the creepy spyware language in Apple’s EULA, that basically says that they are going to record everything you do while online, match it up with your GPS data and whatever kinds of interactions you make on Facebook, blogs, Twitter, e-mail, chat, etc., and then bundle all that information together and sell it to the highest bidder. Plow through it yourselves, lazybones.

Next up was having to install/upgrade Adobe Reader so I can look at pdfs of reconciled accounts from Quickbooks (part of the joys of running your own shop – gahhhh!). By this time, I’m kind of in a state. I mean, like everyone else who’s gone from the CompuServe/Prodigy days of online to today’s web, I expect a certain level of monitoring of what I do online, and know that this is the price I have to pay for free (well, other than the damn escalating high-speed Time-Warner cable bill) access to all kinds of amazing content created & curated by geniuses all over the world. Maybe I’ll look at Adobe’s EULA. I don’t really expect much other than the usual boilerplate legalese.

Well, how bad can it be, really? I mean – pdfs, right? It’s just a basic document structure for people to …

The Software may cause your Computer, without additional notice, automatically to connect to the Internet and to communicate with an Adobe website or Adobe domain for purposes that may include providing you with additional information, features, and functionality. Unless otherwise specified in Sections 14.2 through 14.6, the following provisions apply to all automatic Internet connections by the Software:
14.1.1 When the Software automatically connects to the Internet, an Internet protocol address (“IP Address”) that is associated with your current Internet connection is sent to an Adobe website;


Adobe may deliver in-product marketing to provide information about the Software and other Adobe products and Services, including but not limited to Adobe Online Services, based on certain Software and Adobe Online Services specific features including but not limited to, the version of the Software, including without limitation, platform version, version of the Software, and language. For further information about in-product marketing, please see the “help” menu in the Software;

Dude, WTF!

Your software is going to wake up in the middle of the night, dial the mothership, rat me out and then start serving ads into the middle of whatever I’m doing?

Not. Cool.

OK, is there anything about…?

…any end user who you know or have reason to know will utilize them in the design, development or production of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, or rocket systems, space launch vehicles, and sounding rockets, or unmanned air vehicle systems (each, a “Prohibited Use”), or (c) any end user who has been prohibited from participating in the U.S. export transactions by any federal agency of the U.S. government (each, a “Sanctioned Party”).

Guys. If I could use Flash Catalyst to make a space launch vehicle, I’d be kicking it James T. Kirk-style on my own moonbase right now, doncha think?

Great. Anything else?

Additional Terms of Use, the Terms of Use ( shall apply. Please note that the Adobe Privacy Policy allows tracking of website visits and it addresses in detail the topic of tracking and use of cookies, web beacons, and similar devices.

This just keeps getting better and better. So once again, you’re going to monitor what I do, turn it over to whomever you want, and somehow feel it necessary to put in a big scary paragraph about espionage and misuse of data?

Who owns your data? And I don't mean this guy...

I don’t remember all this garbage showing up in the earlier EULAs software/hardware companies crammed down our throats. Maybe I just wasn’t as observant. But it appears that someone has been having some very intense, shall be say, meetings with internet/software companies in the past month or so, with an aim towards making sure that if We The Users step out of line, there exists all manner of heavy-duty legal agreements by which to come down on our heads.  All that alarmist verbiage about nukes & nerve gas can only come from a gummint agency that’s paid to be paranoid & fearful.

And what’s been on their minds lately? Oh yeah – Mr. Assange and his cohorts peeking under their skirts. How best to head this off next time around, before any of the 500,000 or so minions with Top Secret access get frisky? Hmmm … how ’bout we make sure that the revisions to the basic document viewing and sharing software that pretty much everybody uses has “features” in it that check to see if you’re working with anything that’s been flagged as Top Secret, and then finks on you to The Man.

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Sep 30

Taiwanimation: No Longer Parody, But Actual Useful News Interpretation

Posted: under Amusing Nonsense, Online Video, Politics & New Media, Video.
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A while back, I was asked to give me take on “The Emerging Visual Language of Online Video” as part of Rosental Alves’ amazing yearly journalism conference in Austin.  I made the room laugh when I showed parody videos like the “SoulWow” and others, created by the People Formerly Known As The Audience.

Check out this interpretation of Bob Woodward’s book on Obama & Afghanistan:

My larger point (other than getting a cheap laugh, which is never to be, well, laughed at) was that the first impulse of video-makers is to take things that they know and love, and that their friends know and love, and to do their own snarky take on them. It’s what we see when little kids get their mitts on video cameras for the first time, and produce their own home movies.

It’s what Spielberg did when he was a kid and producing his own WWII epics in his backyard. My sisters, cousins & I did this back in the (mumble mumble) decade, with 8mm film, and a script based on what we had seen of ads of movies like Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (we couldn’t get into R-rated theaters in Wisconsin).

For the average user, producing a video is an inherently daring process. Any media creation is, really – but creating a video is so much harder than typing into a WordPress text window (ahem), that it ratchets up the anxiety. As any good comedian can tell you, laughter is the release of anxiety.

Creating funny, sarcastic or absurdist videos is a way to laugh at yourself, before everyone else does (again – check with comedians as to why they became class clowns – something to do with avoiding beatings from the bullies, I expect).

But now these videos are coming into their own. Before the book has really cleared out of the news cycles, already there’s a video (pretty good quality, too), interpreting it in a way that makes you pay attention.

In the attention economy … this is pure gold.

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Jan 25

The New York Times’ Take on Charles Johnson & Little Green Footballs

Posted: under Uncategorized.
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This story has been developing for some time, and has provided the usual lefty suspects with quite a delicious schadenfreude chortle or two. But now the New York Times has weighed in, and the article makes it clear that something extraordinary is happening in the blogosphere.  If nothing else, the sheer viciousness & paranoia that it’s engendered amongst the former supporters of the (formerly?) right-wing anti-jihadist blog Little Green Footballs.

To recap: Charles Johnson, the founder of the influential blog, announced last fall that he was “leaving” the right/Republican movement.  His reasons were that basically he could no longer swallow the lockstep doctrinaire cant that demanded unswerving hatred of Obama, support for Sarah Palin, denigration of minorities and anti-intellectualism.  Man, just writing that sentence sounds so wrong – but perhaps it’s emblematic of how polarized our political dialogue has become, that anyone not defining themselves by what they are against more than they are “for” by necessity straddles the lines of division drawn by the most extreme in the political wings.

Anyway – the point of this post is to call attention to a nice example of the somewhat rare MSM-created snark. Johnathan Dee, the NYT writer, mocks the inevitable screeching sure to result from the confluence of an article about Charles Johnson (“race traitor! burn him!”) done by the bete noire of the right, the New York Times:

But perhaps I am, as many suggested to me, just another liberal dupe. Perhaps I even fell for the pretense that Johnson lives in the modest home where I visited him, which bore none of the trappings his supposed sellout would suggest. The U.P.S. man who delivered packages to his door while I was there, and his truck, may have been hired for the day just to snow me; the decidedly un-Mata-Hari-like woman he introduced to me as his fiancée, who brought us water and fruit as we talked in his small home office, may have been a member of the Trilateral Commission. It would be just like a representative of the Mainstream Media to get caught believing his eyes like that.

Damn, that’s some fine stuff.

The deeper message in the article though, is starting to touch on something interesting to New Media types like myself – that the “Link Economy” has grown to a size & strength that it’s benefits and drawbacks are starting to become known & predictable. Which is about the time that a workable business model starts to really emerge – when you can posit Action A will lead to Result B, then you have a predictable model. Which big advertisers can start using to attach those nice little wads of cash to. 

The larger effects of Johnson’s break with his former political cohorts (about which more than enough has been written elsewhere, on both sides of the issue) may be that this is a starting point for independent journalists/content producers to start defining a monetization model for the blogosphere and social media sites.

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Nov 30

US Consumers = Monkeys on Crack

Posted: under Uncategorized.
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I saw this comment over at a political blog today:

We are likely to see a weak GOP and a democratic party beset by infighting. Get ready for a decade of political chaos on top of economic chaos. There is no way to take even an educated guess of what will arise from the ashes.

Which, actually, might be the best thing for this country.


The news this weekend about frenzied shoppers KILLING A MAN in their lust to … what? … save $1.50 on a Wiimote?

We have learned nothing from The Crash yet. Which means that we aren’t yet going to change our behavior. Monkey coke

It’s like operant conditioning. If you don’t give the monkey the shock, it won’t stop pushing the lever that used to deliver it hits of cocaine. Well, the government has been working overtime to try to stave off that shock. Which is all well & good – nobody likes getting high-voltage shocks – but my concern is that if we don’t in some way start changing our mindless consumerist behavior, the eventual shock is going to be much, much worse than what we’ve got coming in the next year or so, if we just stand & take our medicine.

I”m looking at the long-term effects of jamming this much cash into our economy – at last count, we’re getting up near $10 TRILLION in so-called “bailout” cash. Yeah, for the next year or so, we’re going to cushion the comedown from the last 8 (or 28, really) years of borrowing & spending like drunken sailors while not really producing anything.

The problem is that long-term, the effect of waving a magic wand to create that much cash is going to be … well, you’re familiar with supply & demand, right? When supply exceeds demand, value goes down.

So when an extra 10 trillion of the commodity known as “dollars” gets jammed into the system … what does that mean for the value of the dollar?

Buy gold, folks. Gold, silver, or arable land. I’d like to think that there’s some greater plan for doing these crazy macroeconomic borrowing policies in the short term & fixing them in the mid-term, but I just don’t see it happening yet.

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Jun 19

Obama Reaches Out on LinkedIn

Posted: under Uncategorized.
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Yet another quick hit – just checked to see how many more answers I’m getting from the LinkedIn question I posted earlier this week, and noticed that the Obama campaign today posted a question on what the best ideas are to “keep America competitive in the years ahead.”

What ideas do you have to keep America competitive in the years ahead?

In a recent speech, I proposed a new competiveness agenda centered
around education and energy, innovation and infrastructure, fair trade
and reform.

You can watch it, and read the full-text, here:

What ideas do you have to keep America competitive in the years ahead?

Smart. Very smart. These people “get it.” They are using Web 2.0 in a very inclusive, forward-thinking way; the mere fact that they’re posing such a question in a professional forum means that they are reaching out to business professionals in an unprecedented way.

Again, I’m going to have to get back to this in a later post, but it’s tying into what I call the “Help Line Mollification Effect.” You know – how you dial customer support, mashing the buttons on your phone with excessive force, blood pressure up around nuclear reactor containment sphere levels … and you yowl at the poor schlub on the other end … until he helps you out and gently leads you through the answer … and by the end of the call, after the problem is resolved, you feel like a total ass, and want to send him something from his Amazon wishlist. Or is that just me?

Look folks, a lot of the anger simmering under the surface of our society is because everyone feels that no one is listening. The fact that Obama & his people are actually reaching out to people – well, hell. That’s disarming. It breaks down the resistance – that whole “Obama is a dangerous socialist who’s going to destroy the country with his hippie/commie ways” meme that’s been festering on the internets. It kinda says, “Hey, if you’ve got a great idea on how to fix things, let’s hear it.”

Who knows? Maybe the answer is that all of us are indeed smarter than any of us, and that out of this question will arise some fantastic new strategy that will restore the U.S. to greatness.

Or a buncha Digg kids will all get together, rig the question-answering, and we’ll wind up with an army of giant killer robots that all look like Lara Croft.

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