Archive for the ‘EventTriggers’ Category

The Big 5-0

Posted: February 16, 2012 in cloud, EventTriggers, Learning

“My life is not that interesting … The work … is a fascination.” – Janis Ian

I turned fifty today.

I’m not ashamed and I’m not proud. But I sure am grateful.

And I’m an open-faced baby book. I’m vulnerable enough to be scammed by the velvet-skinned Ukrainian at the tawdry mall in Tampa. She sells me dead sea cream for my parched and soapy crows feet on the correct assumption that I look “42.” That’s her unaided answer. And it’s topped off with the credible validation that “my eyes look older.” That qualifier kicked in once she was trying to sell me the eye treatment on top of the skin lotion. I paid for one performance and she tossed in the catsup-like ointment samples with the limited time discount card.

Like I said, sure am grateful.

I can drive a mile of happiness around the same city block of my daily business. I don’t covet more stuff or more love. I don’t engender a love of stuff. I’m not hurting for novelty. And I still welcome new experience — especially ones that fight the insatiable hunger that consumes most mortals exposed to the advertising of a Western-style deity. That’s the life cut short routine based on too much salt, smoke, sucrose, sun and bodily fluids for which no tonic can chase them out or flush them down.

Leaving a lifeless body on earth means leaving a lively body of work as well. That’s where the fifty-plus birthday sizes flip the tables over on the inducements of our disease strains. Capturing the teaching of timeless lessons increases the shelf life of our outputs. More importantly, every striving towards each achievement is cheating on the indiscriminate death that looks us in the eye whether we choose to stare back or check our messages.

So hello fifty. Hello AARP discount card offers. Hello reading glasses, and lowering registers, and thinning toenails, and saturated bladders. The road home is shorter than the journey-defining ambitions that have risen to meet that road. And as I focus on the responsibility to my survival skills, I accept those birthday gifts with a vow to: (a) use them and, (b) not fixate on the sheet I’m throwing over on these changes -for-keeps.

I will maintain one version of the same story that I recount to strangers, ex-spouses, colleagues, and lasses working the kiosks of downscale malls. It is the key to a moral hygiene necessary to honor the ownership of the gift. It is not the fear of God but the light of wisdom that tells us straight:

Honesty — no matter how self-evident – is not bland.

Diplomacy — no matter how delicate — is not a foreign tongue to the trained ear.

Being accountable for one’s life experience is to gain fluency in a resurgent dialect we now call transparency. Some of us even see technology as a force for good in a network that regards control as a problem to work around.

Even in an offline state there is a lightness to the shedding of youth. This is the liberation of self-restraint. It is no more limiting to experience than buffering our impulses with forethought is a threat to self-expression. Past ages have chiseled notebooks to grapple with ashes and dust. We’ve gone digital to the cloud and immortality  is still about the ideas and the work — not the vessels who burnish them into books.

I’ve been thinking about the Occupy zones that contain the placeholders of our attentions.  There’s no point in these containers if they don’t tell a narrative or register an opinion or at least elicit a “See? Made you look” moment from billboards of competing story lines.

One point of reference on last week’s Penn State head-linings played to the taking of umbrage: institution swallows its own common decency while its own misplaced pride plays on to restive gallery. I fancied some further riffing before the story crashed (until next indicting-worthy revelations) of an Occupy Paterno movement.

Non Amateur Status

It would free academics from the hypocrisy of pretending to educate entertainment prodigies in the athletic achievement sciences. We send kids in to play kid games and then skim off the extra revenue normally targeted for agents and athletes: amateur status? Not for the for profit side of American Universities. Not even for the private side of Friar Joseph’s diploma mill.

If we deign the 21st century the place to be for Gens Z1, Z2, Z3… then why not relegate King Football and his gridiron fortress to the car repair and radiology certification track? That way our generations W, X, and Y can continue to engorge our sports bureaucracies of higher earning. We can reserve a sliver of the largesse for these crash-tested NFL rejects when they need to get a life and the ROTC is broke — which it will be with or without on-campus occupy movements.

The outrage from the cover-up played to the same script departures we’ve seen in other bastions of orthodoxy that prefers eating one’s own to turning the insiders out. Something about the value of the tribe over the letter of the law: “The news is a shocking surprise to us this week, but it was not news to Penn State,” wrote Canuck, my friend and umbrage-carrier.

I know nothing of Penn (either as State, Zoil, or ‘n Teller). But I do know that our cultural breadth of awareness is spilling out into the streets of our own Occupy Zones. Just as surely as ADD is the cost of business as usual it is equally true that all those zigzag attention bursts create a much wider awareness circle than existed in the linear world of who-knew-what-and-when insinuations. In fact our very expectations around what passive heresay and active engagement means is rife for a recall election.

Am I saying that I, cyber-citizen, am paralyzed at the neck up by too many calls to action? Maybe. But what I’m trying to hear from this argument is how to teach sound judgement in an age biased towards…

  1. passivity masquerading as open-mindedness
  2. piety passing for an accurate moral compass reading

No Country for Sanctimonious Saps

Curiously a competing narrative broke in our own email thread from the notion that there was a narrative here in the first place. It was the notion that our cultural media diets could no sooner fast for one news cycle than an army of anchor people would teleprompt us around a random sequence of disconnected events. The upshot? Feel the communion of the traveling news-givers. My pal Pondish is a former reporter and feels only alienation:

“Perhaps this will fade, but I suddenly seem all but incapable of summoning outrage about, well, nearly everything.  More to the point I find it enervating the degree amount of outrage around me.  I joked last week that I was relieved it was election day, and that I was glad we would be choosing a president and put this nasty, divisive campaign behind us.  Likewise, I’ve been unable to summon much visceral enthusiasm for Occupy Wall Street and have alienated more than a handful of people, having missed that the officially sanctioned response is, “Occupy Wall Street! Fuck Yeah!”  And honestly, the whole Penn State miasma seems to have gone over my head.  I simply don’t buy the idea that an entire university needs redemption and soul-searching (although as of today, Obama says it’s the entire nation that needs to take a deep look inside) because of someone witness a perverted act in a shower years ago.” 

The bromide continues:

“Well, sorry, but no.  The state of my soul is pretty good.  I am not culpable or complicit. And neither are you. What happened at Penn State doesn’t seem to have deeper meaning or to serve as an indictment of the broader anything.”

“We seem to have entered an age where we can no longer separate ourselves from events in the world.  What happens to one of us happens to all of us.  We leave flowers in front of the Apple store (seriously?) because Steve Jobs is dead.  We must instantly contextualize everything, find the storyline, understand What It Means.”

Dead Sea Narratives

It’s ironic that these forced narratives are happening over social networks and not broadcast networks. Everyone’s taking their media cues in the age of long tails wagging old dogs, dead tree industries, and the onset of wholesale media climate change. Are we those splintering factions or the collective beehive? A community unified if only by its disconnected nature.

No matter whose side of which story we’re inclined to believe, there’s an angle to play, a bone to pick, and an argument to be made about who wins and loses. It’s just as interesting that whether the parables address…

(1) child molestation,

(2) codes of silence,

(3) the corruptible role of money in collegiate sports, or

(4) the senility status of its many figureheads

… these models were sculpted from journalism clay. These are the tenets of universal media from biblical tabloid times. Facebook has 800 million unpaid contractors on its payrolls. That’s one script few are departing from.

As for my cronies let’s just say that a contrarian is someone who’d rather be wrong than be misled: “Don’t blame me. I voted for Nader.” I can get over the fact that Pondish won’t be bringing me flowers. It’s too late for Andy Rooney and I’m reasonably certain he laid the same argument to rest at the foot of the JFK Jr. floral parade. My soul is shifting on stable ground whether I donate a new helping of platelets to the Red Cross before Thanksgiving or after.

I’m also all but certain to resist his hair-thinning threshold of the dispassion he speaks. Still, a daily scrub of ego removal and a few trace scatterings of nihilism could keep my accounts more honest. The stories I could tell might not succumb to my own spoiler alerts or the plays I send in.

The main thing I guess is to expect nothing from our world and try to give something back in return. It’s not out of altruism or naiveté but the transcendent conceit that our lives do make a difference. What’s the catch? Our lot is to figure out what tiny speck of the world that will benefit from our most abundant virtues.

If we greet each morning with that determination can we sideline the demons in us? Or is that the cost for righting the injustices that flourish when the culture anchors our news?

Since online discussion threads appeared like those from the offline wakeup call there are signs of a signal shift — both in terms of local station policies and their infrastructures. While I don’t believe in once-in-a-hundred-years prophesies or the “perfection” of storms, I do believe a change is in the air and may well land “on” the air before the next perfect storm appears.  Here’s a response from Helen Barrington of local NPR affiliate WFCR that Marcia Yudkin shared through the list:


We, at New England Public Radio, sadly, have learned much from this storm and are actively updating and revising our approach to be ready for the next event. This was the “perfect storm,” and has challenged every service from the media to utility companies.

Sunday, we lost power at the studios on the UMass campus. WFCR’s transmitter is on Mt. Lincoln in Pelham. When the power fails (which it did), it’s often because Route 202 is impassable (with trees down), as is the road to the transmitter site itself. We have not been able to purchase a generator due to concerns about fuel storage at the site and access to that remote area where the transmitter is, in bad weather. But, we’re working on those problems…quickly and actively.

Now that we own WNNZ, we hope to purchase a generator for it (which is also thousands of dollars, a major capital expense), to become our primary broadcast source when WFCR is off. It, too, was the victim until this Wednesday afternoon, of a commercial power failure in Westfield. We’re again trying to see if we can get some grants or do some quick fundraising to get generators for both stations (though, once obtained, the weather may impede installing them until spring, but we’ll see).

And on top of that, due to the constraints of our budget, we have a small staff trying to cover this immense region. If we could have gone live all day Sunday, we would have, and we will find a way to do this in the future. We will be prepared to go live locally for as long as is necessary, to get critical information out. We will provide better service in the next storm(s), as we know there will be one or many this fall/winter.

We were trying to reach everyone we could with the web and phone info, realizing that some people may not have been able to access either (I live in Belchertown and only had cell service restored Tuesday night, as well as no landline; I still have no power). The size of the region makes this piece very complex, figuring out the best way to get info to people. But we now know – more than ever before – that the radio is the thing just about everyone can access in such situations.

All of the above led to a great many frustrations and impeded our ability to adequately serve the public. We are working on solutions.

Thanks so much for your comment and for listening.

Helen Barrington
Executive Director for Programming and Content
New England Public Radio/
Phone: 413-577-0541
Please note my new email address:

Usually when we’re caught off guard it’s because we’ve underestimated an irresistible force or resist the inevitable damages of an overdue payment. Gotta say, leaves on matchstick splits of front yard lumber debris might be the new normal or a black swan event. Either way extended power outages are no more exclusive engagements than they are failed lab experiments.

We can point our fickle time cards at the utilities. But the average flip-switcher is in the dark as much as a an irate news consumer than as an impotent ratepayer.

Goshen-based Marcia Yudkin weighed in today on the list with her assessment of the utilities as news producers. None of us were clear on how up-to-date mobile friendly our power utilities were before climate change. But most of us gave the benefit of the rounding error doubt that they would maintain the most up-to-date alerts, estimates, and outage mappings of an unfolding dilemma. Said Marcia: “Nope, not National Grid.  I used part of my precious battery time during the outage to check their website, and it was completely unhelpful.” She goes onto say that you literally need to be an obstacle to merit any direct attention by people in the know:

“The power companies were updating the local fire and police companies regularly, but the only way I found that out was to get in my car (once it was dug out) and go there and ask.”

So if your car is not disabled, your trees aren’t draped over a drooping power line, and you’re not suicidal, what’s the fastest way to get our critical fix of preventative pills for blackouts? It’s as if there were no meds for blackouts, if you ask Marcia.

Her storm intel trick or treat bag includes the following news goodies:

  1. Town-by-town information
  2. Risks and hazards, i.e. live wires, carbon monoxide poisoning
  3. Lists of stores or gas stations
  4. Bonus points: any reportings of price gouging, impassable roads, shelters, donation centers, etc.

Grid and Bear It

It wasn’t just the sketchiness of the details that carried the post storm risks well into the following week. Current state weather forecasting in the post digital age is often pre-recorded and not locally based. Forget access to cable or rabbit ears. According to Hidden-Techie Tom Kopec, off-the-air TV is literally off-the-air. Kaput. Even from the blare of my transistor most radio jocks would rattle off two or three school closings and then advise listeners to check the complete web listings of websites they had no means to access. Does that mean they read the complete lists and kill the infomercials about soiled gutters?

Darn straight it does.

This is not about the clock radio blinking 12:00, 12:00, 12:00 before fumbling for the snooze button. This is about hitting radio reset. You don’t need to be a ham hobbyist to have a personal stake in cutting through the static. This is not a business model. It’s a survival tactic. The urgency reflects what the times demand — not what the market supplies.

One feint glimmer according to Tom Kopec was FM 94.7: “It used to be WMAS. I don’t know if it still is.” Tom says they did finally go live and intermittently poured some meaningful factoids into a darkened and media-starved community.

From Charlemont Cheryl Handsaker related the bucket brigade messenging relay that was invoked by Hurricane Irene’s arrival in late August:

“… Local emergency officials (and eventually the rest of us) [were] driving the roads and passing along information ‘the old-fashioned way’ by flagging down neighbors and asking them what they knew. Combined with town emergency robo-call updates when our phone line was intermittently up was an information life-line for us. We don’t have cell service at my house so we don’t have access to the ‘smart-phone’ route.”

Tricks of Future Trades

Tonight I’ll be returning to Amherst with the fervent hope that I can catch up on several missed wash cycles. I expect the house plants will be quivering and my freezer-bound ice cream, a temperate puddle of cone chunks drowning in preservatives. With any luck all those unturned yard leaves will have unclung to the arthritic branches of brittle trunks: forced to choose between foliage and mister frostee.

They say that Peru, Mass was able to endure 32 inches of snow and continuous power — precisely because their trees were past peak. Maybe we’ll need our leaf blowers to scale our unshedded deciduous before the next climactic spasm. Maybe next year we’ll just have to rake trees the way we shovel the snow off our sagging, 19th century New England roofs. Those clinging leaves are almost as stubborn as us adopted and genuine New Englanders.

It’s easy to compare Western Mass to a backwater: (1) because commerce is rarely the reason for settling here; (2) many privileged Valley folks express our activism through supporting global causes in the developing world; and (3) because there’s an obliviousness to the outside world that includes the business of being outside. That doesn’t mean a disregard for nature. It means a lack of preparedness for dealing with it.

The regional truism: “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” would likely include a drumbeat of acuweather updates in Boston. Here, you might have to wade five hours into the work day just to find out that you left home without the right attire.

It’s time to put our fingers to the wind and get with the probable directions and velocities. Or maybe it’s past time after a calendar of unscheduled events that include earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and a week-long blackout from a white Halloween. Those costumes we sketched into the charcoal-like clouds of October would scare the daylight savings out of the solstices to come.

In my professional estimation the leading cause of long walks off short search piers is a direct but elusive info-quest:

I speak not of panning for gold but dishing for dirt.

After all, the impulse being served here sits at the table of avoidance. And that dining guest we’re trying to scratch off the guest list goes by the name of “surprise.” We do not wish for surprise to be seated at our tables. If they arrive despite our best efforts we need to be sure we can respond to the dining conversation that surprise may throw our way.

Enter — Newssift.

Newssift is a media coverage engine delivered on Nstein data mining technology and fueled and branded by the Financial Times. The sentiment analysis capabilities aren’t new. It’s been around now for about a decade and I date my own exposure back to extraction tools like Xerox Parc-bred Inxight and SRA’s NetOwl.

Full disclosure: I consulted to Cymfony back in 2001 when the sentiment teams to beat were Biz360 and Intelliseek. All were search solutions seeking a business problem they could partner into a growth segment. All came with hefty price tags and too much tinkering to package them as standard fare business intelligence applications. Also, customers don’t buy growth segments unless they’re pre-IPO shareholders. The fact my contract came up for renewal on 9/11 closes that loop.

What’s new here is that pricey is now free and this baby hums along without much help. In fact you could be out in some elliptical trance orbiting an obtuse subject and still hit pay dirt — lots to dish and even a score quantifying the negativity that sparks that take-no-surprises impulse. For example I key in one choice four letter word:


I find out that corn is not a place — imagine that, no Corn, IA zip code to be had. I also scoop up a ‘Cornelius’ and a ‘Cornwall’ in the first and last name mappings and there are no business topics. But then I eye the themes tab and pause to slurp on the corn syrup oozing from the media pile-on for HFCS (“high fructose corn syrup”). Now my contextual moorings are chomping down on the correlated clusters of people, organizations, places, and related themes that wash out in the buzz (Cousin Michael leads the HFCS people hit parade with 7 mentions).

The most gluttonous outcome for a big corn hunter though is a click-through on the 21% of the media pie carved out to be negative coverage. A quick inventory of the body counts show slackening demand for the product, lawsuits on the horizon, and bent out-of-shape nutritionists planting doubtful stories like “Are grape jelly and chocolate milk bad for kids’ brains?” In the movie version this is where the camera pans to the left and right of newspapers falling on doorsteps. Calendar pages become unhinged like the crumbling fortunes of corn empires near and far.

Newssift summation: I’m impressed with the narrative one can tell with little forethought or background knowledge on moving and complex search targets — especially the ones we don’t want to be dining on or with anytime soon.

One option for visual knowledge representation is an oft-tagged utility we’ve been using in a cloud-enabled intranet that we’re now piloting called Wordle.

Wordle is not a substitute for plot-pointing social neurons like the one referenced by Valdis Krebs on a recent SIKM discussion. But it does create visual maps that could be applied to a community of practice wiki, job postings, or any other transactional undertaking worthy of tracking. The tool will generate a tag cloud for any RSS feed you throw at it. You can then re-stage the representation as a widget in your social media of choice.

For example our business pipeline contains a list of prospects. Each company’s recent maneuvers generates a newsfeed which is then captured as a word picture.

Here’s a work-in-progress posted today called “Budget Trouble.”

This sequence is not automated. The cloud does not update — lest fees, terms, conditions and enterprise edition headaches would surely ensue.

Bravo to the developer, Jonathan Feinberg.

I’m not sure it’s a safe distance. But there’s something about the cognitive impairments of outsiders like me that can score a ringside arrangement at the main event — the end of wealth as we know it.

We feel no pain — only wonder that we have the season box all to ourselves, reclining in seats that couldn’t be scalped in markets gone by. The anxieties of looming job losses, spiraling health costs, and threadbare necessities? That’s garden variety stress. But the anxiety as a flashpoint for pain? That can only be suffered by a “player” — someone having financial self-destiny wrested away by nothing more diabolical or mysterious than uncertainty — the fear of not knowing what’s next.

Even spectators like me get that the asking price is under water. How far the mighty markdowns have fallen. How shallow the argument that market forces were meritocracies. That globalization tamed Darwinian impulses and imposed its own self-correcting cycles, capable of absorbing bubbles, and feeding new safe havens for tomorrow’s betting pools … um … I mean hedge funds.

The spectacle? It’s the late, great 2008 global meltdown. Even when the parachutes won’t open and the main attractions have long since stampeded for the exits I can’t take my gawking eyes off the stage of our sub-prime time together. So trickle-down was more convincing as a theory. So rising prosperity did not lift all boats.

And about us being in it together? It depends more on how you define who “us” is.

Certainly the panic is not based on the manufacturing arm of the treasury. This is the new century. There is no tangible or electronic material that can’t be over-supplied into distribution. Liquidity is not the problem in our most fluid circumstances. The problem is that mutual self-interest isn’t holding that liquidity like it used to. Instead we’re squirreling away our acorns in mattresses that are about to inflate even faster than the gas prices on escape routes from low elevation areas.

Speaking of evacuations how must those folks in Galveston be feeling knowing that their town was wiped off the map twice — first by Hurrican Ike and then by this great capital flight of universal distrust.

I think what fascinates and saddens the most is how this calamity was not due to natural causes, or an act of war or terrorism, or a scarcity of some precious resource. In the war room of foreseeable doom scenarios this one wouldn’t reach the radar. Menacing foreign powers are doing as poorly as us and oil at $88 / barrel doesn’t even elicit a Bronx cheer?

We are not made of sterner stuff. We cave at the instant the alarm sounds. We have no more spine than the politicians we indulge to shield us from what we need to understand: That $700 billion rescue package? That’s $700 billion we have yet to be taxed on goods and services not yet produced. But what’s another breatheless emergency on top of another cash infusion?

Here’s one stab at defining the future of certainty by a dumb, numb bystander: Until we’re as certain about the “we” as the “it” in the “we’re all in this together, we’re not getting anywhere.