No static at all…

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Some people get a worried look in their eye when I talk about the media needing to practice more "advocacy journalism." I realized today that I’m using the wrong term: What I mean is "community ombudsmanship."

Here’s an example: A perfectly servicable story about the fact that the speaker buzz caused by interference from Dallas City Council Members’ BlackBerries is causing consternation at meetings. And that’s as far as it goes.

But a three-minute Google search produces the solution, or at least a likely one: Tin foil wrapped around the speaker cords.

I’m not saying that the popular press should be advocating a liberal, conservative or any other political agenda. But when we see something broken, as has happened with response to Hurricane Katrina, and even the pre-warnings on the early dangers to New Orleans, we can and should offer a solution rather than just telling stories about the problem. And then we should provide an environment for our community to provide more information and alternative solutions.

UPDATE: James Jones of the city’s communication office is on the ball. He explains why foil alone won’t work, and the avenues he’s pursuing. Fascinating, if technical stuff (and no, I didn’t solicit the dig at newspaper space limitations):

Thanks for the info and
the link.  After reading thru the various comments, it looks like we here at the
City are not alone.  I haven’t read the article in the paper yet, but my guess
is that it contains only about one tenth of what we discussed (due to space
limitations).  In our case, the RF energy from the BlackBerry is being conducted
into the microphone assembly (the pickup and preamp are all one unit and
shielded) thru either the mic cable or the mute switch leads.  In either case,
it ends up encountering some type of non-linear device (like a transistor or
integrated circuit) that demodulates it into a form of raw data stream.  This
data stream is amplified by an internal preamplifier and passed on to the main
mic amplifier and then on into the audio system. I am still looking at ways to
reduce the RF signal getting into the microphone (in this case, wrapping the
mics in aluminum foil isn’t practical, but it gives me an approach to look at.
Presently, the best solution is to move the BlackBerry away from the mic (radio
signal energy decreases as the inverse of the square of the distance change;
hence 2 times as far away yields 1/4th as much energy in the mic). I
have noticed that some cell phones do not cause this interference no matter how
close they are. It seems to be a mix of transmit power, antenna style,
modulation scheme (BlackBerrys use CDMA), data rate and operating frequency
(around 1.8 GigaHertz). 

I have noticed that
BlackBerrys as well as many “flip phones” will interfere with computer speakers,
VOIP and ISDN digital phones and some analog phones, some guitar amps,
inexpensive clock radios and numerous smaller inexpensive consumer audio
devices. However, I haven’t seen them react with CRTs as was noted on the
website.  I have seen more powerful 2-way radios (walkie-talkie type units)
cause image modulation and scan relocations.

The value of trust

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Never trust a man who says, "Trust me."
— Blaze Starr’s mamma

Thinking back on Jay Small’s discussion on user expectations, it occurs to me that part of the problem with doing cool stuff on news sites is that we confuse users because we (as an industry) have trained them to expect a crappy user experience. So when they get something cool — particularly if it is incrementally cool, as opposed to a complete re-imagining — it confuses them.

This concept was drummed home for me this week in a different context. I got a Blackberry 7100 smartphone to replace my SonyEricsson marginallysentient phone. (It’s already surpassing my IPod as my favorite gadget.) One of the 7100’s best features is its word-recognition software that makes typing a breeze, despite it’s small, doubled-up QWERTY keyboard.

But for the first few days, it was awful– not because of its design or funcionality, but because I didn’t trust it. I’ve been trained to expect that typing on a phone is a pain, and that word-recognition rarely works well. It was only when I got frustrated with my type-scroll-delete fumbling and decided to let the software do its thing that it started working, and I became a passionate user.

I think that’s one of the big problems for media in the early phase of Web 2.0. A few years ago we rushed online and started doing things that technology and usership didn’t support. Now it’s starting to, and our users don’t know what to make of it.

When that phase passes, and we as an industry (re)gain our customers’ trust — that’s when things will really get interesting.

By the way, for any of you BlackBerry blog-readers out there: Best add-on imaginable for the BB is Berry Bloglines. Exactly what it sounds like, and uses your existing Bloglines account. And it’s free.

As the spam turns

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It’s a good thing that I turned on comment and trackback moderation, as this blog has been carpetbombed with spam over the past few days– Last count is a couple hundred.

I was gearing up for a good rant when I noticed one particular spammer (identified by the same message over and over, despite different IP’s) — his arsenal of aliases was entirely drawn from Guiding Light characters of the mid-eighties.

Spammers are scum. But this one gets style points.

And yes, I watched Guiding Light with my mom in the eighties. What was I going to do? Read?

Right now, it could go either way

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Several friends have sent me this piece from The (Not Dallas) Observer about the explosion of open media and government and Big Media efforts to wall it in:

Within 10 years, there
will be no distinction between software companies, phone networks,
search engines, movie studios and internet service providers. There
will just be Web plc. To experience it, you will have to pay…

…And that is the
problem for the current generation of web citizens. They are neither
the aristocrats, nor the foot soldiers of the net. They are simply its
conscience and they will scream and shout as the web is carved up and
sold off. Jamie McCoy has few illusions about the current era of great
web equality: ‘As soon as someone finds a way to really make a lot of
money out of blogging, that will kill it,’ he says.

everyone is pessimistic. In fact, a lot of long-term web users are
utopian about the future. All the hyperbole that was first draped
around the web has proved inadequate. In the way it transforms and
accelerates the communication of ideas between individuals and
societies, it is about as big as the invention of the alphabet. And it
is free. But for how long? The machinery of government and big business
is only just beginning to understand the scale of the web. The culture
of common purpose that prevails today is a product of neglect as much
as design. The real gold rush has barely begun. To experience the
sharing culture of the blogosphere today is like living in a commune
built on an oil field. One day, the diggers will move in.

is the last generation that will remember the analogue world and feel
the difference between the two realms. For the next generation of
digital natives, the web will be a slick, commercial machine. It will
be just as big as the world we currently live in and it will be just as
ruthless and as corrupt.

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