Vol. 2 No. 11

July, 2003



iToon on Telecom Taxes

F.C.C.: For Consolidated Control

New! Bends & Trends

Sims Matrix Unloaded

iToon on .Bombshell

End Notes

A Dog's life with an Attitude. DOGLEG




Independence. What does it mean today?

Want to live one's own life from intrusions or interference of others.

Want to be able to afford the normal creature comforts of one's peers.

Want to be able to control one's own destiny, i.e. career.

Can technology help us reach those independence principles?

Telemarketing telephone solicitations, auto-dialing phone message machines, junk mail, and email spam; datamining and selling your selling patterns, credit card purchases, personal information to cross market financial services.

Buyers are squeezing their suppliers to bring down the costs of goods to hit certain consumer price points, so suppliers are using technology to reduce staff, workers or outsource contracts overseas where materials or labor is cheaper. A laid off worker cannot afford a new car, even at zero percent financing.

There is a glut of techno-geeks from the Y2K boom that have been torpedoed during the stock market-capital spending bust of 2001. Companies are staying put with the machines, software and limited support staffs. If you are a limbo programmer, what is the next killer app that everyone needs right now?

Its a red, white and blue month. Red is the bloodshed. The bloodletting of large service corporation business enterprises has not stopped; unemployment is still rising but the numbers do not fully reflect the long term unemployed (more than a year). White is the diploma, the bachelor's or master's degree, that was supposed to open doors. Now, there are a 1000 like candidates for every job. Blue is for the blues, the malaise of depression for those who have lost their independence in a long recession.

If you look at red, white and blue as a rainbow with a pot of gold at the end, that is part of the American experience. Opportunity to recreate oneself in changing times. Other countries fall apart when massive change occurs-- see, Iraq, for example. American history is full of busted entrepreneurs who rebound by discovering the next Big Thing. Who would have thought years ago that a taco would be on par with a cheeseburger for lunch fare? Who would have thought that a book about mystic magic like Harry Potter would keep bookstores open past midnight, and sell a million copies overnight? Independence is not tied to the next state lottery ticket, but finding your own personal next Big Thing.

But there is a trap. A client thinks his email should be replied to instantly. Your boss drops email bombs time-stamped at 2 a.m. for a 9:00 a.m. meeting. Cell phone connections are getting more fragmented so it takes two calls to complete one thought. Files get compressed, lost and error coded by wayward Internet service provider servers. We are growing more dependent on an unseen and rarely understood digital medium as a basic career tool. It is leading to the assumption of self-absorption. Me first. Everyone wants everything now. The human brain cannot keep up to the instantaneous reply demand of another's human psyche. Technology at times is not making us free, but creating a mass of digital slaves who are hooked on nanosecond gadget communications. People do not have to think anymore before speaking because it is the reaction speed and not the thought that counts.

So for Independence Day, one should examine their digital life and see how free one has become in the last decade. How many telemarket calls over the holiday weekend? How many spam emails when you went back to work? How many boss/client/colleague cell phone calls during off-hours? How many long winded voice mail messages beg to be erased before ending?


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FCC: For Consolidated Control

The Federal Communications Commission recently ruled that media companies can expand their stranglehold on local markets by not divesting cross-media properties and adding more stations to concentrate regional marketshares.

The Associated Press quoted FCC Chairman Michael Powell as saying the FCC achieved its goal of "building modern rules that take proper account of the explosion of new media outlets for news, information and entertainment." However, critics and the Congress were immediately up in arms about the rule changes.

Under the new rules, a single company can now own TV stations that reach 45 percent of U.S. households instead of 35 percent. However, the FCC retained a formula that discounts viewers of UHF stations, so the overall effect of the change would permit a network to reach as much as 90 percent of the nation's television audience. The FCC ended a ban on joint ownership of a newspaper and a broadcast station in the same city. Restrictions in markets with nine or more TV stations were eliminated, while smaller markets would face some limits. "Cross-ownership" still would be barred in markets with three or fewer TV stations. The FCC also eased rules governing local TV ownership so one company can own two television stations in more markets and three stations in the largest cities such as New York and Los Angeles. The single biggest benefactor of this rule change is the Tribune Company because under the old rules it would have had to divested conflicting television properties in LA from its Times-Mirror acquisition. The FCC retained the eight local radio ownership limit, which permits a company to own up to eight stations in the largest cities. The commission retained the dual-network ownership prohibition, which prevents a merger of any of the top four national networks.

The major networks wanted all prohibitions eliminated, while smaller broadcasters said easing restrictions would allow the networks to buy up stations and take away local control of programming. If radio is any guide, the small local stations are in trouble. On February 8, 1996 President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. As a direct result of this Act, the radio industry experienced unprecedented consolidation after the 40-station ownership restriction was lifted. Clear Channel Communications now owns 1200 stations, in all 50 states, with access to more than 110 million listeners every week. Viacom's Infinity radio network holds more than 180 radio stations in 41 markets. Its holdings are concentrated in the 50 largest radio markets in the United States. Some radio empires own three, four or five FM stations in one market, mostly managed from a central office located outside local control. Those radio empires cut the acquisition costs by programming national syndicated shows, and in turn, charge national advertising rates to certain advertisers. The national radio megachains have diluted the quality of radio to the point that people are tempted to PAY for radio programming through services like XM Satellite Radio.

The alleged reason for the drastic change was that current restrictions hindered media companies' ability to grow and compete in a market changed by cable TV, satellite broadcasts and the Internet But the real problem with that argument is that the major media companies OWN or dominate the cable TV, satellite programming and the Internet pay entertainment-news sites. Rather than squelching diverse viewpoints and local control in news and entertainment, the companies say, freedom from old restrictions will allow them to provide better news coverage in more communities. In practice, the purchase of a second news channel in a local market means the consolidation of the two stations news departments into one. The broadcast networks also said that the changes would help keep “free TV” alive by helping them compete with pay services for quality programming. But those networks control several cable channels. They send their programs into virtual reruns on cable, cutting the per showing cost, and increasing the corporate bottom line. The incestuous relationship between broadcast media giants, the cable partners and broadband providers means less free market risk in diverse programming, but the corporate mudslick of copycat, cheap programming like the glut of reality based television series.

Chairman Powell cited the Internet as the greatest positive influence in the decision to totally relax broadcaster restrictions. However, he failed to grasp the control the media companies have on the distribution of web news and information. Who owns CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News, the Wall St. Journal On-line? Does he actually believe that solo operators like Matt Drudge are the compelling reason media companies need to have ownership restrictions lifted because the Drudge Report is driving them into unprofitability? That is an absurd notion. In addition, if the Internet is such a valuable public service to lessen the requirement of the public trust on giant broadcast corporations, why did Powell disregard the thousands of email comments against the rules changes that ran at about 99 per cent AGAINST the action he voted in favor of. If he did not listen to the 99 per cent of the general public voicing their concerns, who was he listening to (one of the media giant's consolidated radio stations?)

A local independent broadcaster will become a relic, or a dinosaur in a few short years. A milquetoast malaise of programming is sure to be generated from the movie studio vaults that broadcast conglomerates own outright. Cable television will into the UHF channels of the 1970s, the doghouse of second and third run made-for-television movies and failed network pilots devoid of any public affairs or news programming.

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Good God. Al Gore wants to create a liberal cable news slash radio talk network. He wants to drown out the alleged conservative talk media and FoxNews. He does not think the national media is liberal enough? Has he not seen the Clinton News Network?

Restumbled across a specialized viewer, MrSID when trying to open a large, countywide aerial photograph. The client said I needed this special viewer, and luckily the folks at lizardtech have a good support site to cross platform a viewer to the Mac. Kudos.

cyberbarf eStore

T-shirts, Caps, Mugs. Check for Specials!


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Sims Matrix Unloaded

There has been a growing trend of bizarre behavior. In the past decade, there has been a dramatic decrease in the national level of “common sense.”

This spring there was a rash of bad teen activities in the Chicago metropolitan area. The largest national media story was the videotaped powder puff football beatings. But there were also a number of massive teen vandalism stories. A “friend” would stop by a classmate's house to party. The problem was that the classmate and his or her family were not at home. The friend and his party mob would ransack the house of booze, and then destroy the interior contents like a tornado. A stunned family returns to the carnage a week later. This criminality repeated in quick succession to distant communities. But the question, Why?, was never answered in the post-event news stories. The motivational factor remains a mystery.

This unsettled vandalism laid dormant until a news story pooped up in the technology features pages. The Sims Online is an extremely popular game. A person builds an on-line game identity, and sets off into virtual reality to find fame, happiness, wealth and mindless hours of entertainment. It is not supposed to be real; but mimic reality. It is friendly interactivity with fellow gamers that is being sold with your monthly subscription fee.

But a few twisted creative minds tried to find the limits of Sim environment to modern situations including life and death. A Sim is a highly dependent being that must be cared for in order to survive. Childlike. Someone found that if you leave one alone to his own limited devices, or put into a situation of dangerous situations like burning stoves, you could kill off your Sim quickly. The element of homicide was put into the game sphere. So much for the Utopian principles imbedded in the creator's mind.

A single gameplayer's blow up of his own Sim is one thing, but the alliance of other gamers to other antisocial behavior was more disturbing to the Sim creator. As reported in the Internet press, several gamers banded together to help “police” their Simworld. But once they got together, they became corrupted with power. They have turned into a cyberversion of the Sopranos. They hack into other player accounts to steal property or Simeolas, the game currency. But a favorite intimidation tool/group activity is the mob storming into another player's home. They can't kill off another player, per se, but they get great joy at totally trashing that player's home.

One plus one equals two. Could it be that simple? That middle class teens with computer access have played the Sim mob house party trashing game but got bored with it to set out into the real world to recreate it with their own hands?

We know that culture does influence teen behavior. That is why millions are spent on television commercials to educate teens on what is cool, fashionable, rebellious and acceptable to fit in. Acceptance. Challenging boundaries. What are the cool celebrities doing? How low can a hip hugger go on J. Lo?

So it could be a reach. But there is another disturbing trend on the other end of the legal swingset. Local governments have started a municipal feeding frenzy with the use of eminent domain to redevelopment their towns. Constitutionally, a government cannot condemn your property without it being used for “public purposes.” However, government units have been threatening condemnation or taking property from citizens in order to turn the land over to private developers to build new high rise/high density structures. The Institute of Justice, a libertarian public interest group, is appalled by this trend. Even after state Supreme Court decisions holding that governments cannot condemn property then turn it over to private developers, the local units continue push on their own development agendas.

The abuse of Tax Increment Financing Districts (TIF) is the engine fueling a local city council reckless behavior. TIFs were created to clean up polluted brownstones and blighted areas. In exchange for a property tax freeze for other taxing agencies (like school districts), the increased accessed property taxes flow back to the city to repay bonds for development improvements. Developers like the plan because the city forces parcels together which they could not acquire easily from the property owners themselves. However, school districts are starting to realize that they are not receiving any increased property valuation (i.e. tax revenue) from these developments.

Why don't local city councilmen just follow the law? Part of the problem, is that these politicians are trying to keep up with the Jones', the adjacent town that is building downtown high rises in suburbia. (If people wanted to live in crowded rowhouses of Wrigleyville, they would move to Lakeview, right?) Also, these politicians like the power associated with their decisions. They are no longer merely generalists, who mark a city boundary map into zones of commercial, residential and industrial, and then let market forces determine what to build. These politicians are demanding approval authority of every project, including the color of the brick on the front wall.

Politicians are opinionated. They have found that their opinions now have godlike thunderbolts in development discussions. They are using public funds to reshape their community in their own vision, whether or not it is economically feasible. Developers don't care; the public money subsidizes project costs, and the tax burden will fall on the end users anyway. It is like pyramid scheme without building an actual pyramid.

Where does that godlike behavior come from? Well, the marketing materials for Sim City equate the game player as a godlike figure who can plan, layout, build, terraform, change and destroy by disasters his own city creations.

Can a politician be as shallow to be influenced by American culture to improve his or her own importance in her community? Absolutely.

Now, we should not blame a game maker for the current ills of society. These are merely games. I have played these simulation games, but never had the impulse desire to break into a neighbor's house and trash it, or go to the town center to start bulldozing any structure that needs a fresh coat of paint. An individual must be accountable for his or her own actions. But in current, gameshow-style televised legal proceedings, accountability is not the issue. Blaming others is. However, it is not unforeseen to see a huge yellow warning label on the box covers in future editions WARNING: THIS IS MERELY A GAME. THIS IS NOT REALITY. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RECREATE IN YOUR OWN MEASLY MORTAL WORLD.


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Star Spangled End Notes

Quick takes on some other facets of the Internet:

What is more American than apple pie? Elections. The Democratic Party candidates had a two day Internet primary last month. Howard Dean, the media dark horse candidate, won with 44% of the vote. That was surprising. But was more surprising was the fact that less than 300,000 people actually voted in this Internet primary. The primary poll was open 24 hours with easy access (but apparently at some time the host server got overloaded). I wonder if the inventor of the Internet, Al Gore, participated, or still prefers hanging chads to mouse clicks. He was probably too busy trying to figure out what G5 and IBM means at the last Mac developer's conference. The techno-hard core candidate staffs probably voted often in this early straw poll, but still, with Internet access universal, there should have been more voting than this measly number. But then again, it is only 2003--- more than 18 months before the next presidential election.

I call it “push advertising.” It is where a company tries to push the public into another mode by the use of a tease. Movie trailers are an old school example. With the Buick Classic golf tournament, mega-promoter Tiger Woods had television commercial trailers during the golf telecast. It directed the viewer to the Buick website to view the TigerTrap--- an Internet commercial/candid camera for a new SUV starring Tiger as the pro who turns up on the tee (leaving his wedge on the par 3 hole) then asks the stunned foursome to play a quick nearest to the pin contest. What is more American than the golfer's dream to play with a superstar like Tiger. I went to to watch the TigerTrap---it was pretty funny, and the office staff looked over my shoulder and thought it was pretty funny, too. It was a good promotion; the commercials on TV teased enough to get one to log into the Internet site to watch the game unwind. But it also gets consumers to Buick's informational site, one click away from checking out the specs on that new SUV. Very clever.


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