Saturday, July 23

Leisure & Pleasure & What Happens Next

Lawrence Lessig on Hayek and the prediction markets:

Here's the but: The prediction markets apparently did very badly with the Supreme Court nomination. Roberts was way behind for a long time on, and during the Clement cascade, Clement started to dominate everyone else. (Also Rehnquist was strongly predicted to resign; investors got that one wrong too.) Can we develop a general account of when prediction markets will work well, and when they won't? (And if so, should we eventually test that account in a prediction market?).

Good question! I've been futzing with YALE to learn how people actually propose to do this. Have a piece coming out on the subject. But I will be in Brazil, on vacation.

In fact, I am sitting here waiting for the appointed hour for the car service to arrive and start us off toward Sao Paulo. To take the computer or not? I finally decided that even on a desert beach with no WiMax in range, I might want to futz with all this crazy junk on my machine ... or tap out, who knows, the opening sentence of my great American novel on the wiki I have running on LAMP on localhost. Current favorite: Confluence. Hey, if it's good enough for the World Bank, it's good enough for me! Other financial users:

  1. # Citigroup
  2. ABN Amro
  3. Aon
  4. BNP Paribas
  5. Deutsche Bank
  6. Suncorp Metway
  7. First NZ Capital
  8. Friends Provident
  9. HSBC

Could make a good story.

Boy, what a year. My job got really stressful there for a while, so I need a rest. Neuza misses her tropical homeland, while I am militating for changing the weirdly engineered and astonishingly dangerous electric showerhead in our funky barn of a house in the Vila Madelena. I'll be blogging photos and adventure updates on my personal blog project and trying to ignore America and securities industry operations and technology for a while. I probably won't, though: I'll probably get up every morning as usual, open my "open-source Bloomberg box" in Firefox, and make my usual notes in my TagTiddlyWiki on a stick ... you can take the gringo out of gringoland but you can't take the gringoland out of the gringo ... Above, our friend Rosalia in her triumphant revival tour of the seminal Brazilian all-girl punk band As Mercen�rias, which made big news all over, even in the Brazilian Wikipedia ...

Wednesday, July 20

Convergence: A Paradigm Case

This press release that comes through Finextra illustrates Plato's view that all things tend to reveal their true natures in the fullness of time:
Japan's Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank is introducing slot machine-style games to its ATMs which will give customers the chance to win back bank fees or around $10 in cash. The fruit machine-style games will run as customers wait for the cash machines to process transactions. Customers can play the games by hitting a stop button on the ATM screen. Cardholders that hit a triple seven will have their after hours ATM fee - Y105 (around $1) refunded. If a set of 'gold' or 'super gold' pictures line up on the slot game, the customer wins Y1000 (nine dollars) which can be collected from a branch counter at a later date. The chance of getting three sevens is about one in 10, while customers have a one-in-500 chance of winning the cash prize. The bank says the games will not be available during regular business hours when cash withdrawal from ATMs is free of charge.

Combining a brokerage account, regular banking, and gambling on one terminal--add lottery ticket vending and you could stick one in every Brooklyn bodega. In time, it would become regarded as a kind of god or oracle, like the flying head in Zardoz.

Saturday, July 16

Subi o morro e me arrependo de tudo

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Bassam Khalaf was paid to help keep U.S. air travel safe as a baggage screener. His alter ego, the Arabic Assassin, rapped about flying a plane into a building. The Transportation Security Administration could not reconcile the two and fired him last week, saying his free speech rights as an aspiring rap singer did not extend to his right to check luggage at Houston Intercontinental Airport. 'I was one of the ones screening the bags thoroughly,' Khalaf said on Friday. 'I wouldn't let a bomb get on a plane.' He also was the self-proclaimed 'Arabic Assassin,' who didn't do songs about love but preferred to sing about killing, raping and blowing things up. Or, from the same song, 'my name is Bassam, a one-man band, I came from sand, affiliated with the Taliban.' Khalaf, a Houston native of Palestinian descent, said the incendiary lyrics about rape, murder and mass attacks were meant only to get attention and help get his first album, 'Terror Alert,' a distribution deal. Instead, the TSA fired Khalaf, 21, after six months on the job and gave his name to other federal agencies for investigation, spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said. 'There is a certain level of integrity employees are asked to maintain,' she said. 'He's been tasked with protecting the very people he's talking about harming.' 'We wonder what the public would think if we didn't fire him,' she said. Khalaf believes his Arab-American ethnicity played a role in the firing, but McCauley said that was not true. Khalaf said publicity about his controversial rapping had brought lots of phone calls from both admirers and detractors, but none from record distributors. He also admitted to being a little worried about his future employment possibilities now that word is out about his music. 'I better make it (as a rapper) now because there ain't no turning back,'"

Another failed attempt at irony in the post-ironic age declared immediately after 9-11. I'm kind of even not amused a little myself. His literary defense might be that he's read a lot of Browning and was just enacting a dramatic monologue along the lines of Fra Lippo Lippi.

Neuza wrote a blog entry recently about a celebrated case in Rio de Janeiro in which the daughter of a police official started loving up a drug lord from the favelas. The girl in question actually left a comment on the Mina's blog, saying, "Subi o morro sim e nao me arrependo de nada." "I went up the hill and I don't regret a thing." The favelas of Rio are built on the hillsides, the best neighborhoods nestle down in the valleys and on the tidal plain.

There was a famous book by Caco Barcellos, "The Godfather of Santa Marta," about Marcinho VP, a commander of the quadrilha in that favela, in which the charismatic drug guerilla starts seeing a hot bohemian babe from the flatlands and thinks about going straight, only to go out in the end in a Cagneyesque blaze of gory glory. True story. The guy talks about how disoriented he feels when he descends into the normal city grid, having spent his whole short life in the tangle of improvised arrangements up on the hill. The morro and the condominium live side by side in Rio de Janeiro.

Blogging is huge in Brazil like you wouldn't believe. And none of this nonsense about the "blogging industry" and self-appointed blog pundits like Jeff Jarvis flacking for it on TV. Much less talk about alternative media, much more actually doing it. Probably has something to do with the high rate of unemployment among journalists and other very smart people, whom the Estado de S. Paulo has dubbed "The New Poor." When the smart people start slipping into the grey and black economies (at least 40 percent of GDP in Brazil), the informalidade starts turning into more of a smart mob. And just wait til those cheap Chinese PCs start arriving.

Neuza is doing really well, has a whole book of short stories ready to go, says she is writing her first New York themed story. I've been a bit under the weather myself lately and undergoing a battery of humiliating and distasteful medical probes and pricks worthy of a UFO kidnapping story. But the situation at work--without telling tales out of school--is much more encouraging than just a short time ago. I can actually afford to draw down on my quota of sick days. Not that I haven't been sitting here on the couch doing work-related activity. Writing a tech case study this week.

Next week, we go up the hill to Brazil. We celebrate Nona's 90th, I get to party with my groovy bros-in-law, we register our marriage so I can get permanent resident status (just in case, you understand, and for our plans several years down the road). Then it's off to Pernambuco and then Minas Gerais. Planning to come back loaded with books, cordeis, the early work of Chico Buarque, a couple cases of Espirito de Minas, the finest cachaca known to man, perhaps even a viola caipira to plunk on.

Our dreams keep us alive.

Sunday, July 10

The Economics of Bitter Medicine

In We're Not in Watergate Anymore, Frank Rich lowers the boom on the infotainment economy:
At Time, Norman Pearlstine -- a member of the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists, no less -- described his decision to turn over Matt Cooper's files to the feds as his own, made on the merits and without consulting any higher-ups at Time Warner. That's no doubt the truth, but a corporate mentality needn't be imposed by direct fiat; it's a virus that metastasizes in the bureaucratic bloodstream. I doubt anyone at Time Warner ever orders an editor to promote a schlocky Warner Brothers movie either. (Entertainment Weekly did two covers in one month on "The Matrix Reloaded.")

Time Warner seems to have far too much money on the table in Washington to exercise absolute editorial freedom when covering the government; at this moment it's awaiting an F.C.C. review of its joint acquisition (with Comcast) of the bankrupt cable company Adelphia. 'Is this a journalistic company or an entertainment company?' David Halberstam asked after the Pearlstine decision. We have the answer now. What high-level source would risk talking to Time about governmental corruption after this cave-in? What top investigative reporter would choose to work there?

Pearlstine's explanations (follow the link above) are not as craven as you're given to think, but I am coming around to Frank's point of view. I mean, in our little world of B2B publishing, much maligned, the same value proposition holds true: You need to tell your readers what they need to know, not what they want to hear and not want they want to read and believe about themselves. Without getting into stuff we're working on, even we at our little rag have an interest in whether the government's regulatory actions make sense, whether they're transparent, whether they do what they're supposed to do. We have to be able to say what people in business are too afraid to say, if we find it to be true: This program for combatting, oh, I don't know, bearer bond forgery in the service of international white slavery, is a complete JOKE. The same goes for covering the foul-ups of companies that might be both readers and advertisers. It's not about raking muck, it's about saying "Look what happened when Generic LLC crossed the line and let some bozos do whatever the hell they wanted so long as they were adding to the bottom line. We think you might want to avoid doing the same thing."

Infotainment figures that people would rather have their comfortable assumptions massaged. Journalism is a bet that people would rather know the facts, ugly and upsetting as they might be. Integrity is value added and is the result of some pretty intensive QA processes, so we figure you will want to pay for it for that reason. Maybe this is even more true in the B2B field: It may be true that you will never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the general public, but that's gotta be less true of people in business, even if there are some vivid examples of people at the top (Ken Lay) who seem stupider than most. People devote their lives to their jobs and really believe what they are doing is valuable, and they will go to the press if they think the shareholders are getting screwed or they are getting pressured to ship an inferior widget and call it ice cream. Some folks will come to you with an agenda, so you have to be careful, but on the whole, you are looking to present the facts as completely as possible.

The equivalent to the "infotainment" plague in our little niche industry is what some call "business porn." High-falutin claims for technology platforms that play up to the fantasies of people in power of achieving the competitive edge or the secure enterprise IT infrastructure with the push of a button, for example. Those people need as much reality as they can get, and the fact is that most of them, despite the spectacular exceptions, have evolved BS detectors. You better make sure that there's no whiff of bovine excrement about your brand or you're screwed. Business porn is alluring and you can deploy it to good effect in the short term, saleswise, but the long view says building the value franchise depends on staying out of that game. Case in point, IMHO: the WSJ editorial pages. That ideological flavor will go out of fashion someday and people will remember and wonder whether the newsroom wasn't tainted by those who turned over the megaphone to propagandists.

I don't believe it is, but IMHO, you're better off sticking to the pragmatic point of view. In the best of all possible worlds, business is about doing and producing useful things that people appreciate enough that they will pay for it. That earns you money that allows you to live comfortably so you can focus entirely on your work, reward the people who backed your idea, and go on producing more and better useful stuff that helps people out.

Forget whether global capitalism is the spawn of Satan or the bringer of the kingdom of heaven. That's all theological wankery. It's all about basic human relations: If I make you happy, you will reward me. So who's doing a good job at that? Who's not? Why?

To answer those questions, you need to get people to talk frankly about their work, and they sometimes have to skirt the internal message control mechanisms to do it. Like the time the CIO of this major online brokerage told me, "You know, unfortunately, retail investment still is pretty much the same as gambling." It was off the record, but it was great to be able to relate to the guy on that level and talk turkey about building real trust with customers as part of a business plan.

So we have the same concerns as the hotshots serving that vague but noble abstraction, the "public interest." The yuppie scum that read us are part of that public, after all, and you know, I personally see more and more areas where ordinary people might see eye to eye with the much-maligned corporate lobbies in certain respects. If there's one thing the CEO and the welfare mother could commiserate about while stuck in an elevator together, it's that the damn gummint wastes a ton of money and doesn't give you very good service in return. Both of them have to fill out piles of pointless forms and wait forever to get the simplest thing done.

Getting past all the press releases and bombast, there actually is something more than just self-serving yada yada in the old saw that "excessive regulation prevents us from creating jobs." I always think back to this film we saw in Anthro when I was doing a few credits at the U. of Utah back in the 1980s: "Ongka's Big Moka, about a tribal economy based on intertribal competitive gift-giving among economic rainmakers called "big men."

The moka is held finally. In it, 600 pigs, $10,000 Australian dollars, 12 cassowaries, 8 cows and a motorbike are given. The truck has been brought back, washed and decorated with flowers and is 'given' again in the moka. In his speech at the moka, Ongka says, "Now that I have given you these things, I have won . . . I have knocked you down by giving so much."

In headhunter land, this kind of ritual commerce keeps the peace and makes life interesting and mythically and dramatically rich. It's a good case study for the PR people, and you actually see it in advertising a lot these days: "Our products benefit the world," "We're so successful we could open-source our code. Our competitors are too chicken to, afraid their margins are too thin. What a buncha losers!" You hear it on the other side, too: "The U.S. is stingy with Africa," "the U.S. produces all the hydrocarbon emissions but won't pay to abate the problem." It's "let them eat cake" all over again: the most notorious PR gaffe in history. And look how at that enterprise's shares fared in the market of public opinion.

Boy, did I digress! Moral of the story: Our profession is plagued by cynicism. The folks at Time just added to the epidemic by appearing to err on the wrong side of an apparent conflict of interest. My personal feeling is that they're gonna pay for that. I'd cancel my subscription to Time, but I got the thing for free somehow, so I guess I'll just have to carry on not reading the increasingly infotainment-laden piece of junk.

Goo Wrangler Extraordinaire

My newest hero: Paul Conley and his last-angry-man "blog for those who toil in the most specialized, and perhaps the least glamorous, area in the press -- trade journalism."
Paul Conley entered journalism at the age of six. Too young to be hired as a paper boy, he convinced a neighborhood teenager to subcontract his route. Since then, Paul has continued to rewrite the rules of the profession as a reporter, editor, bureau chief, producer and executive.

Paul has held senior positions at Knight-Ridder, CNN, Primedia and Bloomberg. He serves on the professional advisory boards of College Media Advisers, the national group that works with student journalists, and Northwest Missouri State University?s Mass Communications program.

Paul takes what he has learned in 'big media" and shares it with journalism students and teachers as well as with the editorial staffs of trade magazines, B2B newsletters and similar publications.

Not many people around "managing content" who actually used to produce the undifferentiated goo.

Saturday, July 9

Album Cover for the Focas Loucas

Perfect album cover. Too bad the Foca can't sing worth a darn! She knows all the lyrics, though. And boy can she dance.

Gigi the Dollmaker

Gigim 042 quarteto2
Originally uploaded by Colin Brayton.
Our friend Gigi Manfrinato is a starving artist celebrated for her life-sized caricatures and installations. She's been invited to exhibit and work in Paris! She's hesitating, though. We HAVE to talk her into it.

Quatro de Hoolio

Originally uploaded by Colin Brayton.
Best photo I've taken in a long time. Never thought I would show a knack for anything remotely artistic. Three cheers for robotic, point-n-click digicams!

Around the Corner

Originally uploaded by Colin Brayton.
The community improvement office opens up across the street from the site of the neighborhood's last drive-by fatality ....

Profile of a Man with a Red Schnozzola

Me as seen in my one of my less well-groomed incarnations. Hi, Mom!

Comendo Uvas na Chuva

No one ever believes me when I tell them that there's a lot of vestigial Celtic culture in the Iberian Peninsula--heck, no one even remembers the Visigoths anymore, so how are they gonna recall mysterious naked warriors painted blue?--so I call to witness the Associa��o Gaita de Foles: The Bagpipe Association of Portugal. Best professional association since the International Trombone Association, of which I was once a proud member.

"Eating grapes in the rain": It's a song by the Brazilian group Karnak, which I have loaded up on the blast box. Also giving a listen to Ry Cooder's new album about Chavez Ravine. I like it. I like just about any record with Flaco Jimenez on it.

It's nice to be having a life this weekend. Ivan the Terrible had one of his patented birthday bashes in that dicey Bushwick HQ of his last night. He's even convinced that foxy Tricia of his to move in with him. It's amazing: the last of the mobile, hostile, agile lizardmen, domesticated at last. We talked a lot to a nice Irish woman named Suzy who came with Dave from the punk band, I brought caipirinha fixings--you can get Ypioca here now, which is not bad stuff, although the export product always seems to be of inferior quality--and pisco, to contribute a South American note to the proceedings. Turns out the Trish has lived in Santiago where my bro-in-law lives.

Weariness really catching up with me, but at least I have come down from high-strung nerves to lassitude in the last week. We wound up pushing out a pretty good issue, and our new publisher is meeting with us next week. Without telling tales out of school, the very fact that he wants to trocar uma ideia com a gente is a sign that things are getting better. I can almost imagine normalcy at certain moments. Oh, well, I knew this job would be an adventure. I'm writing a couple of things in the next week or so, which is something I have wanted to do.

The marital partner is off to Coney Island to bronze herself, leaving me in the sack with a Vargas Llosa novel and a bunch of magazines to catch up on, though I passed the day mostly snoozing.

Going to some kind of fancy dinner next week, also a private tasting at Monkey Woman Catering LLC.

The London attacks were upsetting. We had to convert a comment built around twitting the Limeys for getting the Olympics instead of us into an expression of solidarity without adding more than 20 words. We did a good live news blast on what the financial houses and exchanges were doing in terms of their business continuity plans, but one guy thought the headline was really tasteless: "London Burning: The City Copes." I was thinking of the Edward Murrow reports from the Blitz, I think--and also possibly the Clash song--so I don't feel too guilty. Hey, just nice to know subscribers are out there reading our stuff! I found out recently that our content goes out over a lot of the financial newswires. Nobody ever told me that before. Is that embarrassing or what?

Oh, well, back to the sofa. I'm obsessed with Eclipse and Java Business Process Management at the moment. I figure if you are going to write clearly and concisely about a technology for non-geeks, you should try it out.

Over and out.

Tuesday, July 5

Fresh Triumphs and Tragedies of Pseudo-Science

New Survey Finds Millions Of Americans Living With Tooth Pain
UNIONDALE, N.Y., July 5 /PRNewswire/ -- According to a recent survey* conducted by Harris Interactive for new Orajel(R) Advanced Tooth Desensitizer, nearly half of all American adults (46 percent) have experiencedsensitive teeth in the past five years. Of these sufferers, almost half either did nothing about their sensitive teeth or were not satisfied with their treatment options. ... "So many people live with tooth sensitivity," says Chris Kammer, D.D.S., dental expert in private practice in Madison, Wisconsin, and founding member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD). "I find that many people don't like using sensitive teeth toothpastes because of the bad taste and the length of time it takes to actually feel some results." According to the survey, tooth sensitivity has changed the lives of 55 percent of people suffering from dental sensitivity, and in fact, 41 percent admitted to actually having changed the way they ate or drank (e.g., using a straw, eating only on one side of their mouth, etc.) in order to live pain-free.

"Teeth sensitivity is more than just an annoyance -- it can have life-disrupting consequences for many people," says Kammer.

So much human misery. Hey, I've got one for you: NEW SURVEY SHOWS NEARLY ALL SENTIENT AMERICANS SUBJECT TO MOST INTRACTABLE CONDITION OF ALL: THE HUMAN CONDITION." I can think of so many things I did today in an effort to live pain-free. Most didn't work, but hey, if it makes you feel better, go 'head, knock yourself out. See below.

We had quite a nice 4th of July bike trek with the Monkey Woman to Coney Island, skirting the waterfront from Owl Point Park to the fun zone. Here's a sample of the photographic take (the rest to be posted up to Flickr:

Back to work on the information pipeline today, feeling a little more rested. Allowed myself half an hour to talk to some rocket-scientists with the tape recorder on, they gave some good quote, I think I have a decent angle on this one. Their really impressive proof-of-concept: n-dimensional analysis for market research. Seriously, they really zip through bazillions of consumer choices to produce an amazing statistical composite of our way of life. I love this stuff. I guess I'm a geekster.

Saturday, July 2

Civilization, I Bid You ... Good Day

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting can be a little shrill at times. Case in point, an item about a recent broadcast by the venerable talk show host Paul Harvey, in which he declared as follows:
"We didn't come this far because we're made of sugar candy. Once upon a time, we elbowed our way onto and across this continent by giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans. That was biological warfare. And we used every other weapon we could get our hands on to grab this land from whomever. "And we grew prosperous. And yes, we greased the skids with the sweat of slaves. So it goes with most great nation-states, which--feeling guilty about their savage pasts--eventually civilize themselves out of business and wind up invaded and ultimately dominated by the lean, hungry up-and-coming who are not made of sugar candy."

Comment the bicho grilos at FAIR:

Harvey's evident approval of slavery, genocide and nuclear and biological warfare would seem to put him at odds with Disney's family-friendly image. The media conglomerate syndicates Harvey to more than 1,000 radio stations, where he reaches an estimated 18 million listeners. Disney recently signed a 10-year, $100 million contract with the 86-year-old Harvey. In 2004, Disney forbid its Miramax subsidiary to distribute Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11, even though Miramax was the principal investor in the film. A Disney executive told the New York Times (5/5/04) that it was declining to distribute the film because, in the paper's words, "Disney caters to families of all political stripes and believes Mr. Moore's film...could alienate many." One wonders whether Disney executives are worried about alienating families who oppose slavery, nuclear war and Native American genocide.

I don't necessarily see an endorsement of these historical facts by Mr. Harvey. You certainly can't fault him for inaccurate reporting. We did do that. I need more context, this could well be more of a jeremiad than a call to jihad. Or perhaps Fair is right and he wants us to find the iron in our souls once more. And Disney does seem to have something to answer for, and I say that as someone who didn't care that much for Mike's blockbuster. See also Microsoft's contribution of censorware to aid and abet China government censorship of Web logs.

Homage to the Crazy Brazilian I Married

My patient, loving wife, who has suffered so much from the work schedule of her crazy Protestant-ethic workaholic hubbie, which requires nearly 24-7 attention, is a total babe sprung to life from the pages of R. Crumb and a certain genre of Brazilian popular film from the 1970s.I feel sorry for you for not being married to her, ya poor bastard. The retired bicha grilo and punkette has a new book of short stories ready, including the near-novella length "In the Garden of Ceres," so she'll be hitting up the publishing houses. Can't afford an agent yet, published her last book without one. I've got her reading how-to books on novels and I do believe she has one brewing. When she's famous and has films made of her stories, I'll stay home and feed the cat while she's out doing the Brazilian version of the Letterman show and signing translated editions in Berlin. Oba oba oba, foca louca querida!

Connotea: Folksonomy Sweeps the Web

Connotea is a "free online reference management service for scientists." It's neat.

I once swore that I would sign up to use every social networking and collaborative workspace widget that came along. The phenomenon has now outstripped my capacity to keep up with it. But this is a great idea, lead me straight to this case study from a librarian at Lucent: "Making libraries more delicious: Social bookmarking in the enterprise."

I've even beta-testing a site a friend is developing and ostensibly getting Amazon gift certificates out of the deal! Could be a career plan B: picky usability tester.