Addressing (Unintended) Disrespect in your Professional Community.

From Scientific American Doing Good Science Blog by Janet D. Stemwedel

It is profoundly disheartening to take yourself to be accepted by your professional community, valued for the skills and ideas you bring to the table, only to discover that this is not how your presumptive colleagues actually see you. You would think that other journalists should be the ones most likely to appreciate the value of using new technologies to tell compelling stories. What a disappointment to find that their focus gets stuck on the surface. Who can tell whether the work has value if the hair of the journalist is shiny?

Read more here.


A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip

Gabrielle Giffords A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip

These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.

. . .

I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.

More . . .

New Atheist Bigotry?

From The Guardian: “Sam Harris, the New Atheists, and anti-Muslim animus” by Glenn Greenwald @ggreenwald

Two columns have been published in the past week harshly criticizing the so-called “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens: this one by Nathan Lean in Salon, and this one by Murtaza Hussain in Al Jazeera. The crux of those columns is that these advocates have increasingly embraced a toxic form of anti-Muslim bigotry masquerading as rational atheism. Yesterday, I posted a tweet to Hussain’s article without comment except to highlight what I called a “very revealing quote” flagged by Hussain, one in which Harris opined that “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.”

More here.

Benevolent Sexism

Melanie Tannenbaum in Scientific American‘s PsySociety blog notes that “benevolent sexism” is a real thing that happens when something presented as a positive is still emphasizing the sex of the person, rather than their work.

 If we’re talking up the importance of work-life balance and familial roles for women but we’re not also mentioning those things about men, that’s a problem. If a woman’s accomplishments must be accompanied by a reassurance that she really was “a good Mom,” but a man’s accomplishments are allowed to stand on their own, that’s a problem. And lest you think that I only care about women, let’s not act like this doesn’t have a real and dangerous impact on men, too. If a man spends years of his life as a doting father and caring husband, yet his strong devotion to his family is not considered an important fact for his obituary because he’s male…then yes, that’s also a big problem.

The entire article is well worth reading The Problem When Sexism Just Sounds So Darn Friendly…

Jaron Lanier on Online Identity and the Cloud

Computer scientist and author of the book Who Owns the Future (May, 2013) Jaron Lanier argues that unless we change our attitudes towards technology and each other, whoever has the biggest CPU and largest network will own all markets. Instead, he proposes micropayments for knowledge and skills, and suggests that cloud computing makes owning our own data and ID crucial:

if you rely on a private concern like a Facebook or a Google to own your personal identity in the world for you, it makes you particularly vulnerable. Primarily because companies die over time, and they also go through periods of corruption and dysfunction. So we cannot have [so called] too-big-to-fail-digital companies. People must have some self-determination, and some social mobility, independently of whether some company is failing or not. Otherwise you cannot have an authentic market, and you cannot have real capitalism.

You can read the rest of the interview with Jaron Lanier at The Spectator.

James Whittaker, Google and Innovating Evil

James Whittaker was a director of engineering at Google. He wrote a nifty book about How Google Tests Software. I briefly was a consultant on a short-term part of a project, and met him, while I was still a grad student. He was smart, funny, and completely understood my objections to some of the internal Google jargon.

Whittaker has recently left Google, and has written an interesting essay about “Why I Left Google” which you should read in its entirety, but I was struck by this:

The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

There’s more; I especially was struck by Whittaker’s observation that

Under Eric Schmidt ads were always in the background. Google was run like an innovation factory, empowering employees to be entrepreneurial through founder’s awards, peer bonuses and 20% time. . . . In such an environment you don’t have to be part of some executive’s inner circle to succeed. You don’t have to get lucky and land on a sexy project to have a great career. Anyone with ideas or the skills to contribute could get involved.

He notes that:

It turns out that there was one place where the Google innovation machine faltered and that one place mattered a lot: competing with Facebook. Informal efforts produced a couple of antisocial dogs in Wave and Buzz. Orkut never caught on outside Brazil. Like the proverbial hare confident enough in its lead to risk a brief nap, Google awoke from its social dreaming to find its front runner status in ads threatened.

And that meant Google had to be “social”:

Larry Page himself assumed command to right this wrong. Social became state-owned, a corporate mandate called Google+. It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn’t enough. Search had to be social. Android had to be social. You Tube, once joyous in their independence, had to be … well, you get the point. Even worse was that innovation had to be social. Ideas that failed to put Google+ at the center of the universe were a distraction.

And that meant, Google Reader was sacrificed on the G+ altar (interestingly, the announcement was made on March 13, the same day Whittaker explained his reasons for leaving Google).

The official reason for killing Google Reader was

There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.

This is, of course, exceedingly, err, disingenuous. Note, by the way, that Google Reader first managed to screw over early RSS developers by making Google Reader ubiquitous. Then, they followed that tactical strike by making it easy to share items whose RSS feed you subscribed to, with others.

Google removed sharing from Google Reader around the time they started really pushing G+ (October of 2012). But not before Google encouraged developers to use the robust Google Reader API for apps; which meant an awful lot of desktop apps, smart phone apps, and tablets apps functioning as news readers relying on the Google Reader API for a “feed.” So while they may be somewhat lacking in the number of users using Google Reader on the Web (where they can insert ads, natch), there are many thousands of users using their Google Reader feed an app (that doesn’t have Google ads).

While lots of us are upset about the untimely demise of Google Reader and looking for alternatives to Google Reader (I use Reeder on iOS, but loved NetNewsWire on my Mac, and like lots of other former Google Reader users, I am now using Feedly while I figure what to do), Google today announced Google Keep.

Google Keep is a cloud-based data storage tool, an expansion of Google Drive.

With Keep you can quickly jot ideas down when you think of them and even include checklists and photos to keep track of what’s important to you. Your notes are safely stored in Google Drive and synced to all your devices so you can always have them at hand.

Or, at least, for certain Android values of “at hand.

In other words, Google looked at Evernote, and said, “Let’s steal their idea, and screw them over,” metaphorically speaking.

Sorta like they did with News readers and Google Reader. And I’m not the only one seeing usurption, thwarting, and then killing as a Google pattern (hey, remember Google Notebook?).

At this point, after Google Notebook and Google Reader, how long should I expect Google Keep to last (and, by the way, while we’re contemplating the negligible value of Google+,

So how long do you think they’ll keep Google Keep, before they employ mines and take it down (metaphorically speaking) ?

So, yeah, I’m going to buy a year’s subscription to Evernote Premium as soon as I can. I use Evernote every day, for research, for recipes, for notes and for collaborating, on my Mac, on the Web, and on all my iOS devices.

The DOJ, Apple, Five Publishers and Amazon

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple and five of the “big six” publishers (Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Pearson, Penguin, and Macmillan). The DOJ suit asserts that the publishers— with Apple’s collaboration—colluded to raise ebook prices and force Amazon to adopt the “agency model” in which publishers set their own prices and Apple takes a 30 percent cut from each sale via Apple’s iBooks ebook store.

Three of the publishers—Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Harper Collins— settled. Macmillan and Penguin opted to fight the suit. Random House, the sixth of the “big six” publishers did not enter into an agreement with Apple to abide by the “agency model” in 2010 with the debut of the iBook store and iPad, did begin selling ebooks via the iBook store in 2011, after the release of the iPad 2, but is not named in the suit, but with the merger between Penguin/Pearson and Random House, Random House agreed to abide by Penguin’s decision to settle.

There are, in addition, at least 17 states whose attorney generals have sued Apple and the five publishers, as well as an on-going consumer class action suit. Apple is still scheduled for a June 2013 trial. I suspect that too will change. With the merger of Penguin/Pearson and Random, reducing the Big Six to the Bigger 5, Macmillan CEO John Sargent has reluctantly agreed to settle with the DOJ.

I think Sargent did the right thing for his employees and authors, but I applaud his ethics and courage. Amazon is the winner, readers, writers, and publishing professionals? Not so much.

For those interested in the underlying issues, including the production and control of ebooks and ebook pricing I’ve created Amazon, The DOJ, Publishers, and Readers: A Timeline.

Here are some of the background articles you should read.

The DOJ’s “Competitive Impact Statement

Niley Patel on the complaint.

Charlie Stross on the case, monopoly, monosphony and Amazon:

For AMZN, the big six insistence on DRM on ebooks was a windfall: it made the huge investment in the Kindle platform worthwhile, and by 2010 Amazon had come close to an 85% market share in the ebook sector (which was growing at a dizzying compound rate of 100-200% per annum, albeit from a small base). And now we get to 2012, and ebooks are likely to hit 40% of total publishing sales by the end of this year, and are on the way to 60% within five years (per Tim Hely Hutchinson, CEO of Hachette UK). In five years, we’ve gone from <1% to >40%. That’s disruption for you!

More Charlie:

It doesn’t matter whether Macmillan wins the price-fixing lawsuit bought by the Department of Justice. The point is, the big six publishers’ Plan B for fighting the emerging Amazon monopsony has failed (insofar as it has been painted as a price-fixing ring, whether or not it was one in fact). This means that they need a Plan C. And the only viable Plan C, for breaking Amazon’s death-grip on the consumers, is to break DRM.