Last night, I re-watched this great video of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey explaining the value of literally sketching out what his famous creation would look like before he began engineering it.
The video link, from the blog of venture capitalist (and Twitter investor) Fred Wilson, isn’t new. But it’s just one of those gems I keep coming back to on the Web, especially since I began work with a few friends on the startup Roscoe Labs recently.
I’ve already drawn up some early designs for our mobile news app. When the actual build-out is done, I’ll be elated if it has a fraction of the success of Jack’s projects.
Am I the only one who reads the Washington Post’s blockbuster story today on the U.S. intelligence system’s bloat as a protracted description of an IT issue?
The lede reads like a hypothetical problem you might have to answer on a job application at Google. (Emphasis mine in the quote below.) Unfortunately, the situation is frighteningly real, not hypothetical at all:
The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.
The unspoken subtext here — and throughout the rest of the Post’s excellent coverage, as far as I can tell– is that the information in question does seem to be knowable, even if no one actually does know it at this point. It’s just waiting to be extracted from the otherwise screwed-up intelligence apparatus.
As the government attempts to solve this problem — and there will be a lot of pressure following the Post’s series to do that — maybe the feds don’t want to add Google or other tech companies to their already bloated list of contractors. But as agencies are filling vacant positions, as elected officials are calling witnesses and seeking advice in more informal ways, maybe they could focus a little more on former tech employees or entrepreneurs who have made big enough fortunes that they can devote some time to public service. You know, listen to them the way Washington normally defers to ex-Goldman Sachs employees, as if they have a whit of experience building things that solve problems for the public good.
Love these old-school phone booths at the New York Public Library’s main branch.
The stream of columns and essays coming out today from people who knew George Steinbrenner includes impressions from one of his superiors and one of his most junior employees. It’s telling that both seem to end up with a fairly consistent picture of him as a bombastic guy who had a kind-hearted side as well.
Oh, yeah, there some funny stuff from his lawyer too, recounted via Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. Seems the real-life George Steinbrenner was unaware well into the 1990s regarding who George Costanza was.
Even as a Mets fan, I’m saddened to hear of George Steinbrenner’s passing today.
When I started watching baseball in the ’80s, it was one of the rare periods when the Mets were not only winning more games than the Yankees, they were by far more popular in New Yorkers’ hearts. Being a kid, I thought things were always like this.
A couple of decades and five Yankee world titles later, I know that, no, that’s not the case. It was just a brief exception to the norm, enabled by Steinbrenner’s missteps running his own team, leading to the longest drought of championships in Yankee history. Scroll down to the second section of this chronology to see what I’m talking about. Or, for a shorthand tutorial, check out this famous Seinfeld gag, with Larry David overdubbing his hilarious impersonation of Steinbrenner. The dialog is based on a very real — and very disastrous — trade for the Yankees.
By the mid-90s, the team under Steinbrenner had banished these sort of mistakes. They put together a stretch of four titles between 1996 and 2000 that will be difficult for any baseball team to duplicate now that the league has a much more complicated — and perilous — playoff tournament. Then they added one more last year, fittingly, in the last Series that Steinbrenner would live to see.
Ironically, the playing style of Reggie Jackson — one of the players Steinbrenner famously feuded with — may be the best metaphor for Steinbrenner’s accomplishments as an executive. Reggie racked up a ton of strikeouts, but he also hit more home runs than all but a dozen of the thousands of men who have ever played major-league baseball.
Ultimately, all people really remember is the home runs, and so they put Reggie in the Hall of Fame. First ballot, in fact. Wasn’t even a question. I’m sure the voters will do the same for Steinbrenner at some point.
As you might expect, former Miami Herald humor columnist Dave Barry’s recent interview with the public-radio show Marketplace included some gallows humor about the newspaper industry’s demise. But there was also a streak of seriousness from a Pulitzer winner who truly loves reporting (and managed the exceedingly rare feat of becoming rich and famous while doing his distinctive brand of it).
At one point in the interview, he says: “I don’t think newspapers will survive. The goal now is to figure out a way for journalism to survive.” That’s an important distinction that’s been made by others, but it can never be repeated often enough, or acted upon with too much urgency, as far as I’m concerned.
Barry also jokes about a causal relationship between the end of his regular column about five years ago and the start of the newspaper industry’s worst struggles. While that’s obviously hyperbole, online distribution of Barry’s column has been used by others as a handy example to illustrate how newspapers botched their online strategies beginning at the earliest stages of the Internet’s emergence.
My friend and Roscoe Labs collaborator Lawrence Patrick just called my attention to a recent Associated Press story with some startling factoids about U.S. television audiences.
On Wednesday, the AP’s David Bauder wrote:
Americans avoided television in historic levels over the past week.
CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox together had the smallest number of prime-time viewers last week in two decades of record-keeping, the Nielsen Co. said. Given the dominance of the big broadcasters before then, you’d probably have to go back to the early days of television to find such a collective shrug.
The first week of July tends to be among the slowest weeks of the year in television, anyway, with families more engaged in barbecues and fireworks. The problem was magnified this year because July Fourth came on Sunday, largely knocking out one of a typical week’s biggest viewing nights.
Together, the four networks averaged 18.9 million viewers last week, Nielsen said. During the season, “American Idol” alone usually gets a bigger audience than that.
With my curiosity piqued after reading Bauder’s full story, I looked around a bit for more info and came across a couple of handy lists posted on the blog TVbytheNumbers with the full weekly Nielsen top-25 rundown, including one breakdown covering all viewership ages and one for the key 18-49 demographic.
One of the things that really jumps off the screen from both the full AP story and the blog is the strength of the Spanish-language networks, especially in the 18-49 demographic. Though we’re not quite there yet, it looks like we’re quickly headed for the day when more Americans are watching telenovelas than 60 Minutes.
I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest basketball fan in the world. Baseball is my thing, really. So, I could use a little help today understanding a few of the criticisms circulating on the Internet about LeBron James’s move to Miami. Let’s run through them, shall we?
•Miami is a bad choice for LeBron because he’ll be second fiddle to Dwyane Wade, just as Scottie Pippen was to Michael Jordan. Remember that? Remember how the Bulls won six championships and Pippen put up stats that got him into the Hall of Fame? Apparently, this is a fate worse than death.
This analogy also seems a bit creaky to me considering that, in the Miami version of the story, most people think James will be the most talented player on the team. This wasn’t the case with Pippen on the Bulls. Hence, the better comparison is probably to Alex Rodriguez joining the Yankees at a time when Derek Jeter was already the established star who had led the team to a few titles. Again, that seemed to work out just fine for everyone involved.
•The Heat’s formation of a “super team” may be the result of a gentleman’s agreement among the several star players. This is somehow evil. Wade was already on the Heat going into this offseason and re-signed with the team. Now all-stars James and Chris Bosh have signed as free agents as well from other NBA franchises.
Since all three of these guys were on the Olympic Dream Team, there’s been some speculation that they may have all spoken beforehand about joining a single team once they had leeway to do so. In a June 30 column, Slate’s Josh Levin said that forming such a line-up on the Heat would be a “bad idea” because the string of championships that would likely result would be “the emptiest titles in NBA history.” We’ll see that theory put to the test now.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never been a sportswriter whose full-time job is to over-intellectualize people wearing funny clothes and playing games, but I tend to focus on two particular aspects of this situation: (1) Free agency is exactly that. The players get to do what they want. It’s been a part of all the major U.S. sports leagues for a few decades now, so maybe we should all just get used to it. (2) The players want to win.
By that standard, I don’t really get the sore feelings today everywhere except Miami. I can certainly understand the disappointment at not getting a big talent for your favorite team. I can see where the ESPN special was a bit over the top. But some of the personalized anti-James vitriol, like this statement put out by the Cleveland Cavaliers owner, just seems way out of line to me.
As a counterpoint, I leave you with this classic rant by ex-New York Jets coach Herman Edwards. This is the voice of reason speaking, as far as I’m concerned:
For the record, Clay Shirky says in his latest book Cognitive Surplus that he hates being described as an Internet “guru,” though a lot of other people find that term to be a useful shorthand description of him. To be more detailed about it, he’s an influential professor, consultant, and author whose 2008 book Here Comes Everybody quickly became essential reading for anyone who truly wants to understand social networking.
The earlier book obviously had a lot of relevance to anyone who cares about the future of journalism. Hoping for similar insights, I picked up the recently released Cognitive Surplus, which deals with online collaboration by people using their free time.
I’m happy to report, there are a lot of gems in this one too. Among them, this:
The bundle of concepts tied to the word media is unraveling. We need a new conception for the word, one that dispenses with connotations of “something produced by professionals for consumption by amateurs.”
Here’s mine: media is the connective tissue of society.
Media is how you know when and where your friend’s birthday party is. Media is how you know what’s happening in Tehran, who’s in charge in Tegucigalpa, or the price of tea in China. Media is how you know what your colleague named her baby. Media is how you know why Kierkegaard disagreed with Hegel. Media is how you know about anything more than ten yards away.
I’m not sure this definition is perfect, but it’s one of the best attempts I’ve seen. What do you think?
I’d like to thank everyone who’s tweeted or emailed me their good wishes this week as I depart the Wall Street Journal to co-found Roscoe Labs. I’m trying to get back to everyone personally, but it may take a couple more days.
In the meantime, a coupla goodies:
While cleaning out my desk this week, I came across my old press credentials for the Chicago financial exchanges. I covered these guys on the first beat I had at the Journal, so this really conjured some real nostalgia for me.
Speaking of the commodities beat, I also left behind some souvenirs from it…
Finally, I’m just in a mood to dig up this great commercial from back in the day (though the product was crappy). I think you’ll get my point…