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Dec 1

Review of Robert Scoble and Shel Israel’s Age of Context

In the iconic climax of the 1976 Academy Award winning film, Network, CEO Arthur Jensen captivates the “Mad Prophet of the Airwaves,” Howard Beale, with a powerful sermon in a darkened boardroom calculated to enlist Beale’s assistance to win favorable public opinion about an important business deal that was getting gummed up by meddling politicians in Washington. 

"Why me?" the awestruck Beale asks his new master. 

imageBecause you’re on social media, dummy.

"Because you’re on television, dummy," is Jensen’s flat reply. "60 million people watch you every night of the week, Monday through Friday."

Robert Scoble may not be reaching sixty million nightly viewers, but this modern mad prophet of the intertubes, who seemingly can’t be photographed anymore without a networked computer wrapped about his head, has amassed enough influence with the right audiences to have been anointed by Silicon Valley to preach the gospel of the First Coming of the “Age of Context,” which is about to be, we are told in Scoble’s new book of the same name, inevitably and unapologetically unleashed upon the world.

Riding the ever thinning line between journalism and corporate cock sucking, Scoble and public relations practitioner, Shel Israel, have teamed up to write “Age of Context” to evangelize about the benefits of living in a completely networked world. The Age of Context, in case you hadn’t heard yet, is a Brave New World where information is constantly and effortlessly collected from you and me and then magically sold back to us at just the right time without us having to ask.

Wallets in every Silicon Valley venture capitalist boardroom are throbbing at the prospect of mounting this new cash cow. They know there are truckloads of money to be made collecting, transmitting, storing, analyzing, repackaging and reselling data on just about every facet of your life. No dummies, they are also keenly aware that they are driving their cash laden trucks directly over regulatory and public relation minefields. They are on a mission is to minimize public blowback, warm people up to the idea plugging in and avoid regulations they might view as detrimental to their business plans.

So they’ve turned to Scoble end Israel to help sell their bill of goods. They tell us in unflinchingly optimistic, breathless terms how wonderful our lives will be once the technology is adopted. Employing this so-called “contextual technology” will improve your health, thwart crime, cure diseases, transform entire economies, and even tackle that pesky problem of making advertisements a desirable intrusion into your life. Chapter after chapter catalogs a list of companies and technologists who are working behind the scenes to bring us that much closer to an Arthur Jensen-like vision of a world where “all necessities [are] provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.”

It’s not until the last chapter that Scoble and Israel focus on the very messy implications over the collection and sharing of data about the most intimate parts of our lives. Interestingly, they lead the last chapter off with a statement saying they didn’t even intend to address the potential pitfalls of the technology. They must have eventually figured out, correctly, that any book that ignored the controversial nature of the technology wouldn’t be taken seriously. But there is still an obvious giveaway that “Age of Context” is little more than a tool to help tech companies open new markets and smooth the way for their wares. The giveaway is that government regulation is not even mentioned as a possible solution to any of the problems. In fact, Scoble and Israel paint the government as untrustworthy by mentioning the recent revelations about NSA surveillance practices. And a search of the entire book reveals that the word “regulation” is mentioned only three times and then only obliquely in reference to driverless cars.

So what, then, is the solution to the rats nest of issues? Like good, upstanding corporate shills, Scoble and Israel posit that the free market will take care of that problem by punishing untrustworthy companies. Of course, this “solution” neatly sidesteps the issue of the damage untrustworthy companies will do. And what about the trustworthy companies who later decide more money can be made selling the trust they have garnered down the river?

So my advice to any reader of “Age of Context” is to take the book for what it is, a piece of corporate propaganda. The book is the collective vision of CEOs who have found a couple of willing mouthpieces in Scoble and Israel to help them deliver a message. To their credit, the very first part of the book lists the corporate sponsors who apparently financed the two author’s eight month effort to write the book. Rackspace, Scoble’s corporate employer, is an unabashed cheerleader for the cloud computing revolution they hope will fatten their bottom line.

Perhaps the real genius of the book is how the Silicon Valley visionaries are managing to get people to pay to read their propaganda by passing it off as a serious piece of journalism. No one said these tech executives weren’t smart. But I’m sure glad I waited until they decided to put the book on sale for 99 cents before buying it.

Apr 8

On the Allen v. Arrington Drama

I’m completely fascinated by the accusations leveled against Michael Arrington by his former girlfriend, Jenn Allen. According to Allen, Arrington was physically and emotionally abusive and raped her friend.

In the end, there are only two possibilities:

1) Michael Arrington is a bullying rapist or
2) Jenn Allen is lying.

One of these two people is psychologically broken in a significant way. Which one is it? Is it the chubby, hard-driving, millionaire power-broker or his ex-girlfriend and struggling entrepreneur with stunning good looks?

Arrington has lawyered up and I’m sure Jenn Allen is doing the same. At this point, it’s very possible this will devolve into a very ugly public mudslinging between the two parties.

But guilty or innocent, I see Arrington as having two possible strategies at this point.

The first is to attempt to publicly discredit Allen and paint her as psychopathic, emotionally unstable woman out to destroy his career. This will open him up to charges of misogyny and “attacking the victim” which will only add fuel to his reputation as a chauvinist asshole. I don’t see how he gets out of this with his reputation unscathed unless he completely undermines Allen’s trustworthiness in the court of public opinion.

Arrington’s other strategy is to heap lawsuits upon her and threaten to ruin her financially until she crumbles and cries “uncle.” Once she does, the two parties will come to some private, financial settlement and quietly bring the matter to a close.

Whatever strategy Arrington dishes out, Allen is in for a very difficult and emotional period. Even if she is telling the truth, her life will be upended and her sanity put to the test, making her public accusal of Arrington nothing short of heroic. For her sake, I hope she can produce some pretty strong evidence otherwise she’s probably not going to come out of a fight with Arrington still standing.

If Allen is lying, Arrington will probably have no problem demonstrating it. Anyone who would manufacture false accusations against Arrington like this out of thin air is by definition crazy. And if Allen is, in fact, something straight out of the movie “Fatal Attraction,” I’m sure Arrington has plenty of email correspondence from her to back that up. And I don’t think he would hesitate to drag those out.

But however this all shakes out, the stage is set for a lot of drama. Will we see a bully get unmasked and destroyed by a determined woman against all odds? Or will a picture emerge of woman so twisted and distorted that she’s willing to risk her own professional career to take down her former lover?

Stay tuned…

Why I hate Twitter

The kind of tweets like the one below are just so too damn painful to read. Too many links, too much crazy punctuation, too many hash tags, too many hat tips, too many abbreviations and all with not much context.

Then once you do finally sort out what’s significant and click on the content it turns out to not be of that great of interest to you anyway. Compound this problem by a hundred more tweets to ingest at a sitting and Twitter just becomes a tedious, burdensome slog for nothing.

Feb 8

#vine is just like watching the acid trip in Easy Rider

Jan 1

Letting It Hang Out: Going Hyper Social

What would happen if we just started letting ourselves all hang out on the Internet? And I mean really, really let ourselves hang out. I’m not talking about tweeting where you are or what you had for breakfast or updating your LinkedIn or Facebook profile. No, I mean going full bore. I mean rolling over first thing in the morning, grabbing your phone off the nightstand and making a video about what’s on your mind at that moment and then immediately posting it on YouTube. I’m talking about blogging your most intimate thoughts without caring what other people thought, letting the world see parts of you only your closest friends or your spouse gets to see. I mean literally documenting your life in front of the entire world, warts and all. I mean going hyper social.

We have already seen some experiments with hyper socialism. We had the JennyCam way back in the 90s. Jennifer Ringley set up a webcam in her apartment and left it on 24/7. And we had Justin.TV a few years ago which was a mobile version of JennyCam. This was some guy named Justin strapped a camera to his head and hooked it up to a cell phone and broadcasting his adventures trying to raise money for his startup venture. And there’s lots of YouTubers out there now that make random videos of themselves. But now that we have LTE-connected, high quality computers in our pockets, things will go to the next level. More people are going to be able to start getting more intimate with their audiences and in far more interesting ways. And with wearable computers just around the corner, the day is soon coming when we’ll all be able to lifecast with ease.

But it isn’t just technology that’s going to kick hyper socialism into high gear. Being hyper social requires a different attitude about your relationship to society. To be truly hyper social, you will need to be willing to share just about everything about yourself in public.

Oprah Winfrey and Phil Donahue helped to usher in this new era of public openness. If you had a dramatic, deeply personal story, Oprah and Phil would get you on their show so you could tell it. Before Oprah and Phil, you had no way to really share your thoughts with others unless you were lucky enough to land a book deal. Then, of course, came the reality tv shows like the “Real World” which spawned “Big Brother” and the hundreds of other shows where people willingly put themselves and their personalities in the public spotlight even if it was grossly unflattering to them. 

The desire to peer into the private lives of others is very compelling for most of us. And the more we see other people sharing themselves, the more likely we are to share. Many of those who ridiculed Facebook 5 years ago are now probably some of it’s biggest users. We feel better when we share our lives with others, too. But there is still a very large fear of getting judged unfavorably by others. And so we stage our Facebook posts and Twitter accounts to place ourselves in a flattering light amongst our peers. We still put on our best clothes for social media Sunday.

But that is beginning to change. On the whole, we are growing less fearful of what others think of us. We also see our culture placing emphasis on “being real.” You have to be very careful not to show signs of phoniness or pretension in your thoughts or deeds. Going hyper social consciously drops all the pretense out of your social media posts. It’s about letting people watching you make the sausage of your day to day life and being OK with that.

The first brave souls that go hyper social won’t have it easy. This is, after all, still a very judgmental world and they’ll be ridiculed as attention seekers and losers. But they won’t care. They can’t care or else they wouldn’t do it in the first place. Their biggest concern will be to make sure they are presenting a true and accurate representation of themselves. For them, hyper socialism will be a form of expression, an art, and an outlet. This kind of expression will no doubt pose severe challenges for the participants. They might have to worry about stalkers or endure painful changes to their existing relationships. But they will do it nonetheless because they will feel compelled to do it. They wouldn’t want it any other way and they will feel that it is the best and purest way to communicate with others. 

Hyper social people may not even have particularly interesting lives. That won’t matter because they are more interested in documenting than storytelling. And they won’t care about the size of their audience and they won’t try to provoke a reaction from them by staging performances. To this end, they would leave out the truly gratuitous stuff. They wouldn’t show themselves having sex or showering, for example. But just about every other aspect of their lives would be made available for public consumption and inspection.

I have to wonder if it’s possible, over time, for this kind of sharing to become mainstream. Will our urge to share ourselves eventually overcome the fear of sharing ourselves with others? I can’t help but think that such a world would be a much better place, a place where everyone was accepted for who they were and could be free of the fear of being judged.

The Ultimate Letterpress Strategy Guide

I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time playing the highly addictive Letterpress word game on my iPhone. I’d estimate I’ve racked up close to 1,000 games over the past few weeks. I’d say I win 19 out of 20 games I play. I can lose to players who play an excellent positional games and have an uncanny knack for playing just the right word at the right time. I will also lose to players who aren’t as good as me when I get sloppy and don’t follow the advice you are about to read below.

OK, so with my credentials out of the way, let’s cover the terminology I’m going to be using for the strategy guide. Don’t skip over this section! Get familiar with the terms here because knowing them will go a long way to thinking more clearly about Letterpress strategy.

Neutral tiles: tiles that have not yet been used by either player (the colorless tiles)

Captured tiles: the light colored tiles that are not protector tiles (see below for a definition of protector tiles)

Locked tiles: the dark colored tiles

Domain: this word is used to describe all the locked tiles under a player’s control. This is an important concept. This strategy guide is built on the idea that you need to expand your domain as much as possible while simultaneously limiting the size of your opponent’s domain. 

To truly understand what it means to always look to expand your domain, watch this replay of a picture perfect Letterpress game.

When looking at the replay, notice how the dark colored tiles relentlessly take over the board until the opponent is almost completely out of options.

Untouchables: these are the locked tiles in your domain that are surrounded by other locked tiles. It will take a lot of work for your opponent to take these tiles from you so you want to create as many untouchables in your domain as possible.

Protector tiles: these are the light-colored tiles adjacent to the locked tiles. These are the “border” tiles of your domain.

High value tiles: these are tiles that will be played frequently throughout the game. These tiles have letters that occur frequently in the English language (r, s, t, l, n, a, e, i, o, u, y) or are part of a commonly used prefixes or letter combinations (ing, ed, tion, ly, zz, ck)

Battleground tiles: these are the tiles constantly under attack that are key to keeping your domain or your opponent’s domain strong. 

And now with the formalities out of the way, lets get to the good stuff. 

Opening game tips
The opening portion of a game is very brief, perhaps the first 4 plays of the game. The opening game ends once you’ve locked in your first few tiles and established a domain. Getting your domain established early is absolutely crucial to helping ensure you have a successful middle game.

Watch the first few turns of this replay at for an example of the following opening game tips in action.

1. Determine where the high value tiles are. It took me a while to figure out that I should take the value of tiles into consideration but it’s extremely important.  

So take your time and study the board before looking for a word to play. Look for the following patterns:

  • most of the vowels are on side or part of the board
  • there’s only one instance of a frequently used letter along the edge of the board (only one “r” or “e” or “s,” for example)
  • very few vowels
  • clumping of other high value tiles

It isn’t always obvious which tiles are high value. For example, even though the letter “z” isn’t used much in the English language, having two of them on the board opens up a considerably more words. As you play more, you’ll figure out which tiles and tile combinations are high value ones. 

2. Do everything you can to build your domain with the high value tiles you’ve identified. If you can lock these high value tiles in early in the game you will have to work much less during the middle game.

3. Start building your domain right away. I can tell when an opponent doesn’t know what they are doing when their first move isn’t trying to build their domain with locked tiles. That said, it’s usually a better strategy to capture tiles near high value tiles than to lock in low value tiles. Then hopefully on your next turn you can lock in the high value tiles. See tip #7 below for more on this.

4. The best word isn’t necessarily the longest word. A 6 letter word that locks down two tiles is probably a better play than a 10 letter word that only locks down one tile and uses tiles scattered all over the board. To a large degree, Letterpress is a game of quality over quantity. 

5. If the other player goes first and establishes a domain with high value tiles, attack their domain immediately. Weaken their position by using your opponent’s protector tiles as much as possible. Do whatever you can to prevent them from establishing their domain. Be relentless about this and hopefully you can get the momentum going back your way so you can start building your domain. 

6. Don’t worry too much about your opponent’s captured tiles. It’s your opponent’s protector tiles that you need to worry about. So don’t feel compelled to use as many of your opponent’s captured tiles as possible. Instead, focus on building your domain and getting high value tiles into it. 

7. Capture tiles near high value tiles. It isn’t going to be possible to lock or capture high value tiles right away but you can plan for the future by capturing tiles near high value ones with an eye to locking them in later. 

8. Build your domain from the edges or corners first. Locked tiles on the edges and corners are easier to defend because they have fewer protector tiles. Corner tiles have only 2 protector tiles and edge tiles have 3. Tiles in the middle of the board require 4 protector tiles and are much more vulnerable to attack. 

9. Try to find words that build your domain and weaken your opponent’s domain. Hunt for every opportunity to play the protector tiles and neutral tiles near your opponent’s domain and lock in more tiles into your domain so they will be unable to use them.

Middle game
The middle game is the longest part of the game and where most of the action happens. 

This replay contains a good example of a typical middle game. Notice how the opponent puts up a fight but is eventually defeated by a superior strategy for building a domain.

1. Expand your domain. Do this by turning neutral tiles into protector tiles, protector tiles into locked tiles, and locked tiles into untouchables. Be relentless about this and you can enjoy the sadistic feeling of slowly choking your opponent out—in a friendly, competitive way, of course. :)

2. Continue to undermine your opponent. Play their protector tiles as much as possible and get high value tiles into your domain so your opponent will be unable to score points with them.

3. Look for words that do a little bit of everything. The best words are those that undermine your opponent’s position, build your own domain, and capture neutral tiles that will eventually become part of your domain. 

4. Be careful not to get too focused on defending your domain. Often times you and your opponent will go back and forth playing the battleground tiles. You can get so single-minded over battling over these key tiles that you forget to look for opportunities to expand your domain. Before you know it, your opponent has greatly weakened your position and strengthened their own.

You can always tell when you are falling into this trap when you are playing the same tiles over and over. When this happens, start looking for ways to go on the offense.

5. Be patient. Don’t jump on the first good word you find. There is almost always a better play somewhere on the board. This is probably the best piece of advice I can give but the hardest to follow. If your heart skips a beat after finding a really good word, look harder for a really great word and very frequently you will be glad you did. This is what separates the decent players from the really good players.

6. Remember to always check for different forms of the same word. Always look to see if you can slap an “s” or an “ed” on the end or a “un” on the front and see if Letterpress accepts it. I’ve turned many games around by playing a different form of a word my opponent forgot to check for. This is kind of obvious but no strategy guide would be complete without it. 

7. Experiment with the tiles on the board. First select some battleground  tiles and randomly move them around. Then slowly add in other letters from the rest of the board. Many times, a word ideas will jump out at you just from playing around with the order of the letters.  

8. Avoid playing your own tiles. This is another no brainier but before playing one of your own tiles, carefully double check to see if the same letter exists on a tile that is not yours. 

9. Consider whether a playing neutral tiles is a better strategy than playing an unlocked tile owned by your opponent. Quite frequently, it’s better to play neutral tiles that will help you build your domain rather than focusing on playing tiles owned by your opponent. This is especially true if your opponent’s position is weak. The more tiles you control, the more likely you will be able to lock them into your domain later.

10. Low value tiles like “v,” “z,” “x” and “q” make excellent protector tiles. If your position on the board is strong, go out of your way to play short words that use these low value tiles if they can be used to protect your locked tiles. This will further strengthen your position even more because your opponent will likely be unable to use these low value tiles.

11. Avoid playing locked tiles as much as possible. Don’t play a 10 letter word that uses 6 locked tiles to expand your domain when a 4 letter word using one locked expand your domain just as effectively. Keep the longer word in your memory banks, though, in case the tiles become unlocked.

Tip #6 often overrides this tip, however. You almost always will want to play the longer form of a word even if it means playing locked tiles.

12. Play tiles that are closer to your domain than tiles that are farther. The tiles that are close to your domain will do you far more good in helping you expand it.

13. Don’t pay too much attention to the score. Figuring out how to quickly build your domain and keeping the other opponents domain weak is your first priority. The score is merely a reflection of how well you are doing. It’s easy to fall into the trap that you have to keep create as large a lead as possible on each and every play. But capturing tiles for the sake of building up a high score and neglecting to build your domain your own will come back to bite you.

14. Experiment and try different words and watch the score change to see which play is stronger. This tip sounds like it contradicts the last tip, but it doesn’t as long as you are trying to play your tiles in a way that builds your domain.

15. Double check each tile in your word before hitting submit. If you have a choice between two tiles that have the same letter, be sure you are using the one that gives you the stronger position and/or does the most damage to your opponent. I’ve lost many great positions because I was careless and used a tile I already owned when I could have been playing a tile that scored points and strengthened my position.

16. Protector tiles that are lined up in the same row or column, as opposed to a stair step formation, are better. That’s because if a protector tile that is in a straight row with the other protector tiles is played by your opponent, you are only making one of your locked tiles vulnerable to capture on the next turn instead of two.

This is kind of a minor tip so don’t try to kill yourself trying to get your protector tiles neatly lined up in a row. But if you have a choice, line up your protector tiles.

17. Watch out for the blitz. What I mean by this is that, sometime during the early stages of the middle game, your opponent might play a really long word that captures a lot of tiles and uses up a good share of the neutral tiles unexpectedly. You might find your suddenly down by a score of 14 to 6. This can be scary at first but it’s usually a big mistake by your opponent because they have spent no time building their domain and so there are lots of high value tiles available for you to recapture. At this point, you should do everything you can to find a word to use up the remaining neutral tiles and win game.

End game
You can tell when you’ve entered the end game when there are just a few low value, neutral tiles left on the board. Unless you have a commanding lead, you have to be very careful in the end game because it’s easy to make a bad mistake and lose even if you’ve done a good job building your domain in through the middle game. This is especially true if you are playing a skilled opponent.

1. First, always look for a way to end the game using all the last remaining neutral tiles. This seems obvious but I guarantee you will lose a game because you failed to follow this tip. What can happen is that you get so focused on building your domain up that you miss the obvious win and then your opponent plays it on the next turn. Ouch!

Here’s an example of a game lost because this tip was not followed. My opponent played the word “mankies” and I completely forgot to try to end the game.

2. Get to know the quirky words. These are words like “jivy,” “qis,” “qin,” “qins,” “xerox,” “zex,” “sexing,” and “faqir.” Lots of games are closed out with these kinds of words. There are Scrabble guides that list these kind of quirky words and you should commit them to memory. These words often sometimes help you in the middle game, too.

There’s a computer program designed to teach you these words. I haven’t tried it myself but I plan to. Here’s the link: http://zyzzyva.net/

3. Keep your domain is as big as possible. You always have to guard against your opponent playing a word on their next turn that uses up the remaining neutral tiles and capturing enough of your tiles to win the game. So the more tiles you have locked up in your domain, the smaller the chance of them finding a winning word will be.

4. As a general rule, look to keep your score at least 17 or above after you finish your turn. This is a pretty comfortable lead but it can still be erased if you’re not careful and you weren’t able to build up a particularly strong domain.

And remember, having a score of 17 is not a hard and fast rule. When there’s only a handful of low value tiles left in play, a score of 15 or 16 might be fine. On the other other hand, having a score of 18 or 19 might not be safe if your domain is weak and there’s lots of high value tiles left to play on the board.

5. Before hitting the submit button on your next word, try to find word combinations your opponent might play after you submit your word that would allow them to win. For example, let’s say you are considering playing the word “vox” which would bring your score to 15, if played. Before hitting submit, study the board closely and make sure there’s no chance your opponent can play a word that uses all the remaining neutral tiles plus at least 3 of your light colored tiles, which would bring your score down to 12 or below, handing you a loss.

6. Look for an opportunity to go in for the kill. If you’ve built up your domain well enough, there may come a point in the game where you can pretty much stop worrying about building it and turn your attention to playing the neutral tiles to bring the game to a quick close. Be careful, though. Don’t let your guard down too much lest your opponent finds an incredible word that lays all your hard work to waste.

digg:

A group of America’s top tech, media, and entertainment figures have thrown their support behind New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s call for immediate action against gun violence by signing a petition demanding a plan.

digg:

A group of America’s top tech, media, and entertainment figures have thrown their support behind New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s call for immediate action against gun violence by signing a petition demanding a plan.

Let’s Not Forget Who the Real Bullies in Michigan Are

Update, 3:41pm: Some people believe the video linked to below was staged.

Update, 3:54pm: I don’t think this was staged. 

Predictably, right wing lap dogs are very busy on Twitter today labeling union protestors as “thugs,” “mobs,” and “goons.” The idea, of course, is to deflect attention away from the injustice being perpetrated on them and paint unionists as irrational bullies. As I write this, the right-wing propagandists over at Americans for Prosperity (AFP) are feverishly retweeting a video showing union supporters that use the word “fuck” and proceed to pull down a tent that supposedly belonged to AFP.

Well, guess what? When you threaten millions of people economically, things tend to get a little overheated. America itself was born from the crucible of a violent revolution started because colonists felt they were getting the shaft from the governing overlords. What the protestors in Michigan are doing is not only a natural reaction to an unprovoked attacked, it’s downright American.

Furthermore, people don’t take to the streets because they are bullies; they take to the streets because they are largely powerless and are ready to try anything to put a stop the bullshit being inflicted upon them by the people who do have power. And, yes, when you get a lot of pissed off people in the streets, sometimes a little hell breaks loose.

And so, to all my right wing friends out there, I deliver a special warning near and dear to your own hearts: DON’T TREAD ON US!

Nov 9

Romney’s Get Out the Vote Operation was a Disaster

The Romney campaign’s attempt at a high tech GOTV operation was a disaster according to a volunteer. http://www.businessinsider.com/romney-project-orca-disaster-2012-11

Nov 2
I shut out my opponent in #letterpress and I don’t cheat.

I shut out my opponent in #letterpress and I don’t cheat.