An Anti-Weblog

October 24, 2002 4:30 a.m. -- One aspect of the Internet I find fascinating is how innately organic the interface between the human user and the electrical system feels. I'm sure the roots of this organic-ness are firmly embedded in the radically decentralized nature of the web coupled with a constant human touch -- beginning with the code and reaching through the content and beyond (if some mythical "beyond" exists beyond the content )

As a freelance writer I spend an inordinate amount of time on the Internet. A great deal of my interaction is electronic -- with international clients it is pretty much mandatory in order to avoid clashes of working business hours -- with others it's simply convenient, more economical (avoiding long distance phone calls, e.g.) or both. When engaged in journalism the Internet has become my research tool of first resort, and often the only research tool necessary.

Even when somewhat idle between projects or hunting new subject matter to cover I spend most of my time online. Reading newspapers from around the world or checking out Slashdot or even hitting raw news by reading press releases at Eurekalert or PR Newswire. What I'm getting at is the bulk of my professional life, and by extension my intellectual life, is now spent electronically reading and manipulating words (rather than faxing, mailing, etc.). This anti-weblog is a perfect example.

I see the interface between myself and the net as organic because I notice it subtly changing over time. Certain patterns of searching methods or information-source surfing slowly change. Evolve almost. When I first began using the net regularly (sometime in late 1998 or so) the change I noticed was pretty much exclusively me just getting better at using Boolean searches and finding the resources that were out there, and I certainly learn things all the time about sources I'd never used before or ways to refine my searching/surfing techniques. But as my ways become a little ossified I notice the web itself changing. Things that once worked perfectly (search-wise, for example) don't work as well, but a little tweak one way or another and they are back to normal or even better than ever.

The net also feels organic through the particular lifecycle of webpages -- some go 404 never to be seen again, some never (or rarely, like this site) get updated. Some are fanatically updated. Obviously news sources and many corporate websites are updated continuously for a frenetic and ever-abundant lifecycle.

The point of this intro to my anti-weblog is the constant change in the look and feel of the Internet is fascinating to me, and not because it's unexpected. Actually a constant state of flux would be surprising only if it didn't exist. What's amazing to me, for some reason, is for all the impersonality of sitting alone in front of a screen, the net feels (*) human. An entity built in the image of its creator. The Internet may not have any real "form" or definable shape, but it definitely bears the stamp of its progenitor.

(*-- Yeah I know "feels" is a vague word choice and I'm a writer and ought to not leave the reader hanging on something that trite. I'll probably be punished by having the highest praise for this entry end up being, "it's nice." By "feels" I mean to describe that innate sense you get about something that can't be put into words, but exists nonetheless.

Like the tingle in the nape of your neck that keeps you from walking down a certain dark alley that "feels" dangerous, or better yet Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous line about pornography, "I shall not today attempt to further define pornography ... but I know it when I see it."

I'll let Justice Stewart's immortal words stand as the most appropriate definition for this particular usage of "feels." (He couldn't define pornography, but he could certainly feel it.)

And proving the efficacy of the Internet, to find the exact Stewart quote I ran a Google search for "'supreme court' definition pornography" and further refined the search to "'justice potter stewart' pornography" to get the words. Without the net I'd still be scratching my head wondering what book I might have with the quote, or contemplating a trip to the library to look it up tomorrow.

*****

November 6, 2002 6:07 p.m. -- It seems my previous feeling on the organic-ness of the net has been borne out by science. This release from the Weizmann Institute in Israel finds that genes, neurons and the Internet have some "identical organizing principles," to quote their header. Organizational patterns called "network motifs" underlie these networks and the institute has created a mathematic technique to crack the code, if you will. Check out the release -- fascinating science (especially since it supports a recently spouted idea of my own).

I think the world has become just a bit more wicky-whacky today. Midterm Election Day (yesterday) has passed and the GOP now has control over the House, Senate and the White House. This combination of control over the executive and legislative branches of government gives the Republican Party de facto control over the judicial branch as well through limited Democratic opposition to any federal appointees. I am given pause any time either of the "big two" political parties in the U.S. own such an imbalance of power. Especially with the gang in the White House right now.

I shouldn't be too surprised by the election results, though, because things are just a little off all around. We are living in a culture seemingly enamored with "reality TV", watching, among other similar programs, the ballooning and drugged ex- Playmate, Guess girl and stripper, Anna Nicole Smith, bumble through each day followed by a lawyer that ought to be brought up on legal malpractice charges on principle for allowing the circus to go on. And worse, the number one movie of its opening weekend was "Jackass: the Movie," a flick that is little more than "America's Funniest Home Videos" on PCP.

Post-9/11, President Bush has shown resoluteness, but his staff has also shown obfuscation, prevarication and political opportunism. Under Attorney General John Ashcroft, civil liberties are falling left and right, and the entire administration has shifted our global role to what I would call extreme unilateralism. We are no longer partners with any other nation in any real sense only because a partnership requires a two-way commitment. Instead we expect countries to either line up behind us or face our potential wrath. Not a friendly face to present to a world with well-financed and armed factions whose (seemingly once unfounded) view of the United States is exactly what we've become. And that view is arguably one of the root causes of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

My fear regarding the outcome of the midterm elections is the GOP will see the results as a clear mandate to hasten the war efforts against Iraq without serious debate. That Secretary of State Colin Powell's moderate and reasoned voice in the White House will be further ignored, and that the administration will continue its hypocritical (see the party line on ballistics tests on new guns) attack on civil liberties in the name of protection against domestic terrorism because it was dealt a full-house yesterday.

The war on terrorism is important, the situation in the Middle East -- and particularly Iraq -- is important and the domestic economy is vitally important. Operating in power from the House and the White House the GOP has performed fairly admirably on the first, questionably (with the jury still out) on the second and miserably on the third. The next two years will show us how well the Republicans can manage the country with control of the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

*****

November 14, 2003 7:43 p.m. -- Over half of this year's National Football League season is complete and things are weird. In today's parity-driven NFL things are always a bit strange come playoff time -- the Rams, Ravens and Patriots all came out of nowhere to win previous Super Bowls -- but this year, all is in disarray and the playoffs are still over a month and a half of football distant.

Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers? 4-5 and third in the NFC South. Runner-up Oakland Raiders? 2-7 and tied for worst record in the AFC West. Seattle leads the NFC West, Carolina leads the NFC South and Kansas City is undefeated.

Maybe the most impressive surprise is Dallas. The Bill Parcells led Cowboys are 7-2 and sit atop the NFC East by one game over the Philadelphia Eagles, the division powerhouse of late. The Boys aren't perfect, but they get the job done and boast the NFL's current number one defense. The playoffs look likely barring a complete collapse (something that Parcell's teams are not known for), and the Super Bowl isn't completely out of the question. Stranger things have happened in recent years.

It was just over a year ago around this time that BootlegSports dropped the subscription format and basically quit posting new content. I wrote a NFL draft column and helped co-develop and served as editor for the "NFL Core" section of the site. One of my final Core columns was on DirecTV's "Sunday Ticket" package, providing one of the single best products for the serious NFL fan by placing every Sunday day game at your fingertips. Recently the NFL launched another great cable/satellite product, NFL Network (channel 212 on DirecTV systems). This new channel airs old NFL Films productions, has original programming (read: more discussion and more fantasy predictions plus), broadcasts post-game press conferences and replays the "game of the week" on Wednesdays in high definition TV.

One aspect of the game that I've yet to see addressed on NFL Network is the point spread. The league continues to go to great efforts to hide the fact gambling is a driving force behind the NFL's popularity. If you doubt it just check with the sports books in Vegas and ask which sport rakes in the most money. The powers-that-be in football probably see the huge rise in fantasy football as a gift.

Through fantasy football (which is huge in its own right), entire shows and websites can be dedicated to the very elements betting men and women look for -- match-up comparisons between say a certain running back and the upcoming defense, who's hurt, or better still, who will play but is more seriously winged than anyone really thinks, or how teams stack up against each other vis--vis style and personnel. This is exactly the information a prudent bettor takes into account, and now it can be found neatly packaged in fantasy television programs, newspaper columns or website reports.

So while the league itself may be in complete turmoil with favorites faltering and new dark horses charging into the empty space, the football fan has more access, more opportunity and more options to enjoy the sport. A 24/7 television channel dedicated to the NFL? Who could've imagined even a mere fifteen years ago, although I'm sure the idea was more than a gleam in Tex Schramm's eye for many years. He'd be proud of this baby. Every NFL Sunday day game available to anyone with a DirecTV satellite system and an extra two hundred, or so, dollars. Competitive Sundays every week, lots of exposure and more information than even the most ardent fan could absorb ... the only thing left to say is, go Cowboys!

*****

December 10, 2003 2:24 a.m. -- The other shoe finally dropped. My beloved Spinner player ceased to exist and now only lives online as the "power" source for Radio@Netscape Plus. Spinner was/is a free online radio and a great service. Multiple channels of music covering more genres than you can shake a stick at. The service ran as a stand-alone application and was great during the days of dial-up Internet connection. You could run Spinner and it would keep a line "active" by requesting and receiving data packets.

Alas, AOL bought Spinner and it seemed the end was near, but the service remained relatively unscathed. The key change was a popup button at 201 songs requiring the user to click to continue play. Not a major problem, particularly for me since I'd already switched to broadband service.

Later, after AOL began attempting to rebrand its Netscape acquisition, noise was made about the Radio@Netscape Plus player replacing Spinner. But the original app still operated after the launch of the Netscape branded product. More noise was recently made about the switch and last week the shoe dropped, forcing me to begin using the Radio@Netscape Plus app. Another unnecessary download to get a similar interface and the same channels. And a 31 song limit before user input. Small, but annoying, changes.

I know I'm somewhat complaining about a free service (although I have given serious thought over time on whether I'd pay for Spinner or a similar service and came out on the affirmative side) and I've already gone on Antiblog record for the amazin', changin' Internet, but still, the whole Spinner saga is a microcosm of the tech world, and notably of AOL's, troubles.

Wired magazine ran a great piece in the November 2003 issue on the death march of AOL outlining the company's ongoing problems. AOL's subscriber figure most likely peaked in the third quarter of 2002 at around 35 million. It has consistently fallen since that time. In January 2001 the merger of AOL and Time Warner was approved, the stock began trading as "AOL" and the AOL side of the merger ran the show, so to speak, because its stock valuation (based on nothing more than hot air bandied around a boardroom) was higher than Time Warner's business filled with publications and other physical media.

The tech bust hit AOL pretty hard and in September of this year AOL/Time Warner dropped "AOL" from the name to separate the brands and switched back to the "TWX" ticker symbol. Yesterday TWX closed at $16.48 with a 52-week high of $16.98 and a low of only $9.90.

Like many companies during the boom, AOL got ahead of itself and made the common business mistake of hubris. It viewed its hold over Internet service as a given. Not unlike Microsoft underestimating the Internet, AOL completely misjudged the broadband threat and is now late in the game and scrambling. All those Net newbies who wanted the handholding provided by AOL were forced to wean themselves in order to make the early switch to DSL or cable Internet access and found the transition pretty painless.

Of course unlike Microsoft, AOL doesn't have a stranglehold product (Windows) that allows it to quickly get up to speed in the broadband game. Microsoft may have been late on the World Wide Web boat, but it got there via a jet-engined craft with a fiberglass hull. AOL has been caught staring at the broadband access train pulling out of the station wondering if its cool, tech boom scooter will be enough to keep it up to speed.

Which leads back to AOL's ill-fated Netscape acquisition. Netscape lost the browser war to Microsoft long ago (its browser tech has effectively been abandoned by AOL) and the parent company is looking for any way to parlay the brand name into a commodity. Hence the Radio@Netscape Plus player. Replacing a perfectly adequate app in Spinner, and actually making it a little worse with the 31 song re-up rather than Spinner's old 201song string.

Looking toward the future I feel a little sad because I can see a day coming where Spinner in any form is no longer out there. And I'll blame AOL when that day comes.

*****

December 30, 2003 4:32 p.m. -- Another year is drawing to a close, 2004 is almost here. The year about to pass has been filled with wonder -- the Yankees didn't win the World Series once again, the economy continued to founder (with omens of a recovery at the last moments?), Saddam Hussein was ousted in Iraq, and right in time for Xmas the Dallas Cowboys are back in the NFL playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season.

Iraq easily dominates the year-end review and the currently ongoing news. The fait accompli that was the US invasion of Iraq and sack of Baghdad began on my birthday, March 19. Military success was fairly swift as soldiers (with embedded reporters) marched across Iraq in extended lines of armament. President Bush declared the war over after a little more than a month of fighting, and for all intents the war seemed over. Except for the pesky, and deadly, guerilla resistance which continues today. Saddam Hussein himself was finally captured this month, but no "weapons of mass destruction" (WMDs in 2003 military/media/social jargon) the reason for most Americans fully supporting the war, have been found. Most likely none will be.

Right now the situation in Iraq seems to be pretty sticky. Troops are being deployed for much longer stints than originally expected and a severe lack of post-invasion planning has created a situation of near anarchy in areas of the country. Reports coming back from journalists (and the military in some cases) tell of an Iraq the US public did not expect to read about by December 31, 2003.

To complicate matters further, 2004 is a presidential election year. Bush is staring down a continuing political hot button issue in Iraq that is no longer working for him. It is working, and will continue to work, against him. Luckily for the sitting POTUS, the Democratic challenge hasn't coalesced. Howard Dean has become a fly in the primary ointment, but it's early in the game and things could rapidly change over the next 90 days.

Operation Iraqi Freedom (the official name of the conflict up until Bush's May 1 address stating, "Major combat operations have ended.") itself was historic if only by virtue of the access the press, and by extension the public, had to the front lines. Some 500-odd journalists were trained by the US military pre-war and were "embedded" with a military unit. Television journalists reported live, on camera, from the field through satellite uplinks. Journalists without camera crews reported with satellite phones. The public was treated to a month-long spectacle of live shots and sounds from an actual war zone.

Here's an excerpt from my journal during Operation Iraqi Freedom: 3/29/03, 4:56 a.m. -- "An amazing press conference from the Iraqi minister of information. This guy might be worse than Ari Fleischer. He's talking about suing the war criminal, George W. Bush."

Now with the clarity of hindsight, it's easy to see how the minister of information, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf (AKA Comical Ali, AKA Baghdad Bob), became something of a cult figure in the US with his increasingly wild statements -- such as declaring Iraq is winning the war and no US troops were in Baghdad while the cameras filming him were catching US troops and tanks in the background. But the statements were made under duress, likely the threat of his life, and the order for the statements very possibly came straight from Hussein.

As for Ari Fleischer -- the first press secretary of the Bush administration -- after a very contentious relationship with the Washington press corps, and a few wild statements during the midst of the conflict (most notably a very under-reported brain fart about using nuclear weapons, a gaffe I considered akin to Alexander Haig's, "I'm in charge here." when Reagan was shot) Fleischer announced his resignation in mid-May. The resignation became effective in July.

*****

January 8, 2008 10:05 p.m. -- R.I.P. 10/24/02 - 1/8/08. The Anti-Weblog has officially been supplanted by a real blog.