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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You Can’t Stop the Signal, Mal.

I like Twitter.

I didn’t think I would.

Really, when people first started telling me about Twitter I thought it just sounded stupid.

One Hundred and forty character “micro blogging?”  Yeah.  I thought the name described it perfectly, a bunch of little birds chirping back and forth. 

I’ve got enough noise in my life, I sure as hell don’t need any more background chatter.

I mean seriously, I don’t really like people in the first place. I’m not a social person (Really, Jim? We would never have guessed that.  See? That’s what I’m talking about, that kind of sarcasm will not get you invited to dinner). Anything with the phrase “social networking” in the title turns me right off.  I like my peace and I’m not afraid of silence. People irritate me. Noise irritates me. The soap opera crap most people talk about doesn’t interest me in the slightest. I don’t care what people are doing, or who said what, or what some dumbassed pop star did, or who said what as long as they leave me alone. I’m the guy who doesn’t slow down to gawk at accidents, because I just don’t care. (Oh hell, I’ll stop to help if I’m needed, but if I see blue and red lights I figure the cops got things under control and it’s none of my business. Seriously, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have that printed on my gravestone. Well either that or, “Move along, Dickhead” which I think is a pretty fitting epitaph)

But I digress.

Back to Twitter: I especially don’t need to see posts from the bathroom about bowel movements or from the kitchen about the wonders of baloney sandwich construction or any of the other endless personal minutia of the lives of people I don’t know and couldn’t possibly care less about.

When the most famous post on Twitter is “OK, poop is coming out” I figured me and Twitter got nothing the other one needs.

Twitter seemed like something kids did. Wandering down the street with their hair hanging in their eyes, furiously clicking away at those little texting phones until they fell into an open manhole or got weeded out of the gene pool when they drifted into traffic.

Twitter held no interest for me whatsoever.

Or so I thought.

But people kept talking about it.

Things were happening over there.

It made me curious, I wondered if I was wrong. I mean, I’m hip, Daddy-O, I’m cool, I’m not a N00b, I know the cake is a big fat lie – maybe I should be on this Tweeter thing because it’s an emerging technology and if I don’t get onboard my brain will shrivel up and I’ll be left behind with the fading remnants of the Bush Administration.

Hell, even Sarah Palin is on Twitter. Maybe I was missing something?

Then there was Flight 1549, and I went back to being pretty sure Twitter was just as stupid as it sounded.  You remember Flight 1549? The US Airways jet that belly-flopped into the Hudson after plowing through a flock of birds and losing all power? Passengers were sending tweets from inside the sinking plane as they were scrambling to get off.  How stupid is that, seriously? If some dipshit is blocking the emergency exit while she taps out a tweet to friends (OMFG! We just crashed! We’re in the RIVER! I hope they don’t lose my luggage!) they’re going to find her dead body at the bottom of the Hudson with her Blackberry jammed about a foot up her colon.  I mean, who risks their life, who risks my life, to send a tweet to a handful of “friends” and ten dozen pornbots? Stooooopid.

Except, maybe not. 

See, suddenly people with smartphones were sending data from on scene. In real time. Hundreds of times faster than any News organization could get on site.  People were alive (and honestly, how often does that happen in a major airplane crash?) and the whole world knew about it instantly without waiting for the press conferences.  There were amazing pictures appearing on the web and little lines of text – connecting people to the event all over the world in real-time.

My job used to be information - the collection and analysis and management and manipulation and weaponization of information – suddenly, in that second, I saw smartphones and tools like Twitter and Plurk and twitpix and Flicr and other social networking sites as near real-time sensors.  Spread across the globe in a vast loose network.

I started paying closer attention.

Turns out there were actual sensors, like those of the USGS, plugged into Twitter. And real time twitter feeds from varied instrumentation and cameras and dozens of other things.

I started seeing hits here on Stonekettle Station that back-linked to Twitter. Sometimes swarms of them (is “swarm” the right word? Maybe I should have said “flock?”  Seriously what’s a group of Twitterers called? I’m such a N00b).  Sometimes huge swarms of them.  I had one day were I got over a thousand unique hits for something I said here – that got my attention. I wanted to know what people were saying about me.

So I set up a Twitter account.

And found that I was right – both ways.

Twitter is filled with silly, inane chatter (and yes, I am currently contributing to it. Thanks for pointing that out. Dinner. Invitation. Yours. Not likely).  People do tweet about bowel movements and baloney sandwiches and stupid silly nonsense.  It’s entirely possible that this kind of soybean filler makes up 90% of the traffic on the network.

But then there are things like Iran.

People were sending pictures and words and impressions and eyewitness accounts from the streets of Iran, from the middle of riots and protests and clouds of tear gas.  Real-time data from inside one of the most secretive countries in the world.  They’re still doing it.  As an intelligence analyst, I would have killed for information feeds like that.  Amazing.  And I’m not the only one who thought so, the State Department asked Twitter to postpone its routine maintenance down cycle in order to ensure Iranians had access to the outside world.

Like any technology, especially communications technology, Twitter is a two edged sword – you have to be careful. There are no filters between the transmitter and the receivers – i.e. while Twitter allows for the almost instantaneous dissemination of information, that information is limited and only a piece of the picture and there is absolutely no guarantee that the information is nonbiased or correct or or complete or even real. There’s a reason that cops and intelligence folks put little stock in eye-witness reports, most people are not reliable witnesses.  Twitter spreads rumors and hysteria like wildfire – and this can have devastating effects by propagating false information and then reinforcing and mutating it over and over. 

This rapid spread of information is having a debilitating effect on traditional news organizations – and this trend is only a subset of the overall effect of the Internet and rapid communications technology, such as blogging, is having on Newspapers and Broadcast News.  In an effort to just keep up, those organizations have almost completely dismantled their traditional fact checking and editorial functions.  Few news organizations still adhere to the Edward R. Murrow ideal.  The once vaunted CNN is a perfect example, once the epitome of integrity in reporting, CNN nowadays is fronted by the likes of Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace and their daily news line up is little more than topical fluff, rumor mongering, and hysteria.  CNN isn’t alone, the behemoths of journalism are in serious danger of going extinct. They simply can’t compete. What they fail to realize is that they shouldn’t even try.  Their strength lies elsewhere, in integrity, in in-depth investigation, in accuracy above all else – and as the buck stops here wall when it comes to those rapidly spreading rumors and falsehoods of the internet.  By lowing themselves to the level of bloggers and tweeters and social networkers they’ve given up their credibility – and the public increasingly sees them as no better and no different and in many cases far less reliable than the average blogger or tweeter. 

The sad thing is that they just can’t seem to grasp that, and as a result many of them are dying off.

On the other hand, Twitter can be an absolutely vital guide to information you would otherwise miss – and a guide to accurate and timely information. I follow the feeds for the Alaska Volcano Warning center – if Mount Redoubt or any of the other half dozen active volcanoes within range of my house here in Palmer, Alaska blows, I’ll know almost immediately via real-time sensors and the USGS twitter feed to my phone – and I’ll have time to take the appropriate action before the ashfall reaches us. 

Which brings up an interesting dichotomy: the Twitter Haves, and the Twitter Have Nots.

I’m much more likely to survive a catastrophic natural event than those who don’t subscribe to the USGS/AVO Twitter feed – because they don’t care, or don’t have access, or don’t have Twitter accounts.  It’s the difference between living next to the tornado warning siren and being deaf.  Push this far enough, allow the rest of the information infrastructure to atrophy, and real-time social networking becomes a survival characteristic.

Another example: yesterday I saw a Twitter notification from the White House, requesting that small business owners weigh in on health care reform. Yes, that’s right, the President was asking Americans, specifically small business people, to help his administration design the Universal Healthcare program.  Those with Twitter feeds are a hell of a lot more likely to be involved than those without.  There may come a time when your franchise requires such social networking connections. Those without might become the Gypsies of the Information Age.

Things like Twitter are changing the world and America in far less tangible ways. 

In a case that has the potential to impact 1st Amendment Rights, a property management company is suing one of their tenants for expressing her dissatisfaction on Twitter with one of their housing units in Chicago.  It’s not that they’re disputing the woman’s claims, that mold was growing on the walls of her apartment, it’s that they feel saying so to twenty friends online harms their reputation – so they’re suing her for defamation in an attempt to specifically limit what anyone can say about them in any public forum.  Without Twitter this woman’s complaint would have been limited to a few friends and acquaintances, with Twitter she speaks to the entire world – and has in this case, the company’s actions turned this minor issue into a top trending topic on Twitter and as a result they’ve basically hung themselves on their own petard.  People coming to Chicago in search of apartments would do well to avoid this landlord, and they are – which is the crux of the company’s complaint.  I suspect the company will lose, I also suspect this is only the beginning of such cases, but it begs the question – if a tenet can’t complain about her landlord online, can she protest in front of the building? Can she complain to her handful of friends. What are the limits of free speech and the number of people she is allowed to reach, where does that line fall in between zero and the entire global online population? The case very much has the potential to effect bloggers like me.

Twitter can be fun. 

Those folks we admire, actors for example, are sometimes as interesting on Twitter as they are in our movies and TV shows.  More so in many cases. It’s not surprising I guess, they’re entertainers, and Twitter provides them with a personal and direct connection to their audience.  Brent Spiner, of Star Trek fame, is a prolific tweeter, running improvised story arcs and strangely entertaining and amusing and often bizarre glimpses into his incredibly creative mind.  Some people simply don’t get it. They’re not amused, they expect to follow Commander Data, the Next Generation Android, and instead they get Spiner, clown, philosopher, jokester, and raconteur. 

And of course, Twitter connects us to friends

And yes, sometimes it does connect us to the minutia of their lives.

But that’s what friendship is about, isn’t it? We share the details of our lives, we trade jokes and stories and things we know that others will find interesting. We live vicariously through each other, scattered across the globe and even out into space.  Twitter in many cases has humanized the Internet, for both good and bad and mostly something in the middle.

The medium is changing people, changing how they see the world and each other. Breaking down barriers and opening doors into parts of the world many of us have never seen. Like inside of Iran.

It’s been fun watching it evolve over the last couple of months.

I wonder where it will go.

 


Note: I continue to resist Facebook with all my strength. I do not have time for Farmtown. I do not.

67 comments:

  1. I think I've fixed most of the typos. I really need to step away from the computer for a bit before I post - then come back and proof read.

    Hmmm, maybe I should twitter about that?

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  2. I think you've hit nicely on most of the things that make Twitter effective: the chitchat with friends; the rapid dissemination of news; the entertainment provided by famous people and the many Twitter-fiction feeds. It's like Real Life, but instantaneous.

    And too, the attempt to say something eloquent or witty or true in 140 characters is an addictive challenge.

    I've lured quite a few people to your site via Twitter, you know. :)

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  3. I've lured quite a few people to your site via Twitter, you know.

    I noticed. This pleases me.

    Personally, my standing goal is the perfect tweet, 140 characters exactly. I average about two of those a day. The other tweets suffer in comparison.

    Hey, speaking of things, Question: What do you folks like in a twitter client? I use Twitterberry on my phone, and Twirl on my desktop. I'm becoming less and less thrilled with Twirl. I don't much like TweetDeck, but I feel that way about most adobe products. What else? What do you guys use?

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  4. I don't use nothin! I don't tweet. Uh-uh! But I farm like nobody's business.

    BRB -- gotta poop now.

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  5. Think it'll get around to folks being able to vote via a tweet? Or maybe written orders some places instead of a garbled radio message? Or elected leaders taking realtime polls?

    The inanities of most of it don't interest me, and I'd like to reiterate your paragraph "I like my peace... leave me alone." here. I can't yet imagine using it to send out things about my own life, but can definitely see using it to 'stay tuned' to certain things. I'll have to see what happens when my new BlackBerry shows up. (Turns out I was slated to get one at work and I don't have to swap my KRZR - see how the world works?)

    It's fantastic how the people of Iran have used it to shed light on their situation, and shows how bad it must be over there for 'they' to try and stop the signal...

    Cause, you know -
    "They can never stop the signal."

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  6. I've been considering getting onto Twitter. You've offered a few more reasons to consider, Thanks, Jim! (Or maybe not, heh....)

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  7. Oh, Eric, do get on Twitter! You'll be entertained by Jim and me sniping at each other like siblings (which we haven't done in a while - you're slacking in the mean big brother department, Jim) or by my witty bon mots.

    To wit:

    1) "Matisse tries to throw up on bed. I try to stop him. Result: undigested food on bed, floor & BF's shirt. Also, big ouchy gash on BFs foot."

    2) "BTW, Matisse is one of my cats. I do not have a regurgitating dead artist in my apartment."

    Come, Eric, come over to the Twit side...

    (Huh. Didn't quite come out the way I thought it would...)

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  8. Also, Jim, I am in LURVE with Brent Spiner's Twitter Tales. I'm also enjoying the Twitter feeds of John Larroquette and Nathan Fillion. Larroquette is stupid smart and Fillion is stupid funny.

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  9. I haven't found a twitter client I actually like yet. I want threading, tags, and tweetree.com's ability to bring in linked stuff. Hm. Does Google make a twitter client yet?

    Having thought about it a bit more while walking home in the rain, I think twitter's great appeal is that it's predigested internet. (This is not necessarily bad.) If you follow a selection of people and news sources, you can get friends' updates, celebrity gossip, news, important events, and links to things you might like and not otherwise encounter. The internet is incomprehensibly huge, and twitter has the capability of putting together an interesting subset selected just for you (more or less), and all in convenient short packages.

    This does also reinforce the tendency to only see things that you agree with, but the internet is already quite good at that.

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  10. I don't know how much Eric would enjoy it, but twitter was made for Nathan.

    For the full effect and to truly get the whole twitter benefit you really need a smartphone.

    Phiala, that's what I meant when I said Twitter has humanized the internet, for better and for worse. Twitter is a very human interaction.

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  11. I use TweetDeck - it's better than anything else I've tried. And I do not own and don't need no smart phone, and don't see how it would make Twittering better in any way.

    I haven't done much myself recently, as I'm way behind on some projects.

    And yeah, I think Nathan and Twitter are made for each other.

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  12. Still uncertain about twitter because I don't have enough time for the blogs as it is.

    And resist Facebook, Jim. The second person to friend me was my former fiancee, the woman who left me back in the dark ages of my soul.

    So resist, I tell you. You never know who is just waiting to friend you.

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  13. Vince, it's not whether you need a smartphone, Vince, it's whether or not you deserve one.

    Well, Vince, do you?

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  14. Thanks for the heads up, Steve, I'll stay off Facebook, I sure don't want your ex-girl friend coming after me...

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  15. Sigh. I'm thinking about a smartphone. Might be time to join the current century, whatever it is.

    Not because I want to talk to people - I loathe calling people on the phone - but because it's the closest thing to a Google brain implant I can get. Hot and cold running data make a synthesist's brain quiver with joy. Now if there were a smartphone I could run some data-mangling tools on...

    And yes, Twitter too. But I think GPS and mapping is a bigger draw.

    Facebook? I have an account. but never look at it. Never caught the bug on that one. There's just too much stupid meme-crap.

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  16. My phone is about as stupid as a phone can get and still be able to make a phone call.

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  17. My phone is about as stupid as a phone can get and still be able to make a phone call.

    Sounds like an operator issue. What? ;)

    Phiala, I'm loving the hell out of this Blackberry Curve. I doubt you could do much data manipulation on it, but it'll do GPS and mapping and a whole shitload of other things. I did a review on it the other day.

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  18. The smartphone I have already--indeed, I only finally got a cellphone when it was time to replace my PDA and I figured I might as well join the rest of the world phone-wise while I was doing so.

    The main point at the time was e-books, which is ironic now because I don't actually read very many anymore. Meanwhile, I've found myself relying on the cell (something I sort of considered an add-on to the rest of the smartphone's features when I was buying it, if that makes any sense) enough to consider dropping my landline.

    Question remains, of course: do I want to become a twit, now that Carol Elaine has put it that way...?

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  19. Eric, it's not like it costs you anything. The other side of it is that you don't actually have to twitter, you could just use your account to follow the feeds. A lot of people do that, and never say anything at all.

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  20. Eric, you really want to Twitter. It's fun and it's silly, and it's good for taking a short break while at work, without getting sucked in the way one can with blogs.

    Plus, there is lots of trollopy fun on Twitter.

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  21. And yes, Twitter and Nathan ARE made for each other.

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  22. I've just signed up for twitter.

    May God Have Mercy Upon My Soul.

    user: markensley

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  23. Jim, I'll twitter when you get on Facebook. :-D

    I already spend enough time in front of the computer, and Twitter will only increase it. Although there is the lure of Jim and Carol sniping at each other...

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  24. Nathan's Facebook status updates are indeed quite entertaining when he makes them - and if they were separated out from all the quizzes and memes, it would be even better. I vote in favor of Nathan getting on Twitter.

    I use Twhirl when I'm at home and the website when I'm at work. But I don't feel compelled to be plugged in 24/7, either. I just check once in a while (usually when I've thought of something to say).

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  25. Well, I don't have a cell phone, I'm not on facebook, so I don't twit...or tweet, whatever. It apparently makes people stoopid.

    Of course, there was one of many situations on the elevator today. Young twitter got on in the lobby, never looked up at the two of us already on the car. Just hit the button for his floor.

    Now, bear in mind my office is on the 33rd floor of a high rise, the other lady is also a legal assistant who was going to one of the 3 floors above mine. Hey, some days we get the express to the top, some days it's a local!

    Twit-for-brainz doesn't budge while the first two people get out on their respective floors. Nice Turner-Cartoon Network people, they have larger than life sized Clone Wars characters on their lobby walls, the Force is alive and well in our building (Yoda it is, protected we are).

    Then the door opens on another floor. Us ladies look at each other. TFB still hasn't moved. Then the doors start to close and just as they get about an inch apart he suddenly springs into action, stops the doors and leaps out of the elevator.

    The two us look at each other again, laugh and both say something about he should at least pay attention to where he's going. Complete with eyeroll.

    Now, I frequently get crashed into by these crackberry heads, tweeting or whatever. As I'm short, it means their hands & phones/crackberrys are in my face. Literally. They never apologize, say excuse me, nothing. Like I was in the way, not that they're too stupid to look where they're going!

    I've decided, when someone gets in my face, I'm swatting them away. If something in their hands just happens to hit the floor, tough. Learn some manners, trust me, you are not that freaking important.

    Better yet, if we're on an upper floor and the phone not only hits the floor but drops into the crack to the shaft...GOAL!!! Wonder how many points I'd get in elevator hockey??

    More to the point, I've told my boss next time he's giving me instructions for a project and stops in mid-word to check his crackberry, I'm snatching it out of his hands and keeping it until we're done with the business.

    As for facebook and linked in... I had a cyberstalking incident about a year ago where someone from my past found me through one of the few sites that had my name on it. Although we were close many years ago, the message I got was quite disturbing, they obviously need professional help. So I'm a little hesitant to have my name out there just yet. Maybe at some point.

    OK, I'll get down off my soapbox.

    Wil Wheaton sez don't be a dick.

    I say don't be a twit.
    Your momma taught you manners, use them!!

    WendyB_09

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  26. So, proper twitiquette then, is what you're saying?

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  27. I resent all of this pressure for me to become one of the hordes of twitternauts. Don’t forget, I’ve been called long winded before. I don’

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  28. …t think I could take the pressure of trying to limit myself to 140 characters.

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  29. I've been resisting Twitter for months, though I did urge my husband to get an account (thegreenbuilder) to share information about stuff he loves. The thing that's got me rethinking my resistance is that whole "raw, real-time information" angle -- after Moldova, then Iran, I'm seriously considering signing up just to follow news "as it happens."

    I'm no intelligence analyst, but it seems to be that the key is not relying on one Tweet for accuracy, or even ten. But twenty? A hundred? There comes a point when you can start to abstract truth from hype if you can get enough of a base to draw from. Twitter seems like it would prove or disprove that pet theory of mine pretty sweetly.

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  30. Songstress:

    The key to accurate intelligence analysis is twofold:

    1) you never depend on single source anything, sensors, monitoring, human sources, intercept, news, or twitters. Everything must be checked against everything. The very first rule of intelligence is this: The are no, repeat, no definites. We work in terms of probabilities always. If we are absolutely positive about something and our confidence in the information is high - we say that it is "probable." Anything else is "possible." Period. You forget this at your own peril - an example would be Iraq. The folks that briefed the White House talked in terms of knowns. We KNOW that the Iraqis were buying uranium. We KNOW with 100% certainty that there are weapons of mass destruction and Saddam is just itching to use them. That will always bite you in the ass. It is your duty to brief the commander properly and in realistic terms regarding what you know. Never ever tell him what he wants to hear, only tell him what the data says. Period.

    2) Understand the limitations of your systems, i.e. see what the data is telling you, not what you want it to tell you. Twittering from Iraq tells you what? Does it give you tactical data? Actionable intelligence? Something you can drop a bomb on? Or does it tell you non-tactical data? Like the mood of the populous. Using Iraq again as an example: remember that bit about the population cheering us in the streets and rushing to support us in our drive to Baghdad? Remember how that worked out? Seems Rumsfeld and his posse of leach-like assclowns figured that one just a little wrong. Twitter from inside Iran tells a different story, there is active resistance. People are pissed. But how many? Really? Enough to topple a totalitarian government with all the weapons and no compulsion about using them? You have to understand the limits of what you're seeing. The twitter feeds told us something, something we didn't know, but it's important to understand just how limited that information is. You must devise a method for checking it to make sure it's real and not faked (either as a deliberate deception operation, or because the people sending the information are deluded due to hysteria or rumors or misinformation) , you must devise metrics to determine how far and deep it goes, and you must look for ways to exploit it to its fullest potential (forgive me if I'm just a little vague here).


    But the bottom line is this, you are correct, taken as whole, as a gestalt, the errors tend to average out if you have enough data and the assets to analyze it, and the training and discipline to analyze it correctly and understand what the data is telling you.

    Then, of course, comes the really hard part - getting the politicians to listen, understand, not fuck it up, not try to use it for their own gain, and not blab about it on the six o clock news to make themselves look important and thereby make all your work null and void and jeopardize the lives of men on the ground yet again.

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  31. One of the most interesting comment sets I've seen here. Still think I'll avoid twitter though.

    I do have a cell phone, it is turned off as I don't need to make a phone call. The instructions say it will text and take photos, wouldn't know from me.

    I will be looking for people on facebook however. I've reconnected with people I haven't seen or heard from in almost 40 years. Of course I could say that of the web in general.

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  32. OK, you converted me. I commute daily into the most high-profile terrorist target in the world outside of Israel, so I plugged in to the CDC, USGS, FEMA, BreakingNewsNY, and the NYPD (strangely enough FDNY is behind the curve).

    I am not tweeting, though. Not unless I get off my ass and mail you that package. :D

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  33. Hmmm, the commuting in a target area concept may get me to sign up as well. Will think seriously about it.

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  34. JIm, you forgot to mention that the twittering from Iran is coming from a self selected group (which can skew the reports). (not that I think this is happening to a great extent, given the video documentation as well)

    Also, there is a function of "group think" (which is actually better than "mob think") which given the large sample of feeds coming in, the average or mean of their experiences tends to be more accurate of the situation than 2 or 3 specialized sources (see experiments on group think concerning consensus of observed data - such as the jelly bean jar).

    How soon do you think the organized pranksters of the world will begin their attacks on the cultural zeitgeist by making acts of "performance hoax" (such as the "We have the winning lottery ticket" and calling a news conference) using twitter?

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  35. Wendy, people who use Twitter or Blackberrys in the manner you describe would be inconsiderate assholes regardless their use of modern technology.

    Some of us are responsible Tweeters (or Twits). I admit that I have sent tweets/texts while walking the public streets or getting on an elevator, but I look around at my surroundings, I look up very often to make sure I don't fall in an open manhole or mow down some poor schlub. If I get in the elevator while finishing up a tweet/text, I acknowledge my fellow riders - even if it's just with a smile and a head nod - and I pay attention to my destination while I finish my typed thoughts.

    Maybe it's because I'm a frequent pedestrian in a huge city, but I nearly always keep an ear and an eye on my surroundings. Using Twitter isn't going to change that.

    Also, I don't use my full name for most of my online experiences. My last name is quite rare and I have had a stalker in the past (though not through the internet), so I have no desire for people to track me down if I don't want them to. Sometimes I'm still tracked down (for instance, my first ever date in high school is now a very dear friend, thanks to him stumbling on my blog), but it's very rarely.

    I can't wait until October, when I'll be eligible to get a new phone. I soooo want a smartphone. Looking at the Samsung Behold or Memoir, but I remain open to other options.

    neurondoc, Jim and I haven't sniped on Twitter in a long time. Which I guess means he's an even meaner "big brother" than I thought he was.

    Stop looking at me, Jim! I'm going to tell on you!

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  36. Wendy, people who use Twitter or Blackberrys in the manner you describe would be inconsiderate assholes regardless their use of modern technology.

    Some of us are responsible Tweeters (or Twits). I admit that I have sent tweets/texts while walking the public streets or getting on an elevator, but I look around at my surroundings, I look up very often to make sure I don't fall in an open manhole or mow down some poor schlub. If I get in the elevator while finishing up a tweet/text, I acknowledge my fellow riders - even if it's just with a smile and a head nod - and I pay attention to my destination while I finish my typed thoughts.

    Maybe it's because I'm a frequent pedestrian in a huge city, but I nearly always keep an ear and an eye on my surroundings. Using Twitter isn't going to change that.

    Also, I don't use my full name for most of my online experiences. My last name is quite rare and I have had a stalker in the past (though not through the internet), so I have no desire for people to track me down if I don't want them to. Sometimes I'm still tracked down (for instance, my first ever date in high school is now a very dear friend, thanks to him stumbling on my blog), but it's very rarely.

    I can't wait until October, when I'll be eligible to get a new phone. I soooo want a smartphone. Looking at the Samsung Behold or Memoir, but I remain open to other options.

    neurondoc, Jim and I haven't sniped on Twitter in a long time. Which I guess means he's an even meaner "big brother" than I thought he was.

    Stop looking at me, Jim! I'm going to tell on you!

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  37. Crap. I double posted.

    Well, I'm a brat. What do you expect?

    (Sorry, Jim.)

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  38. Steve, I think that's part of the "But how many? Really?" Jim alluded to. A lot of it isn't just relevant to intel work, but to common sense and rational skepticism in general: who's telling you this? Are you sure? Why? Going back to Jim's example of Iraq's WMDs, part of the problem there was that there absolutely was evidence that backed up the Cheney/Rumsfeld position, but the credibility of that evidence wasn't tested because of political considerations (and, conversely, evidence that challenged the desired narrative was simply ignored without consideration of its credibility). As it turned out, much of the evidence for the Cheney/Rumsfeld position was not credible, indeed some of it (e.g. the Nigerian yellowcake documents) was evidently forged.

    (I'm always reminded of a classic Simpson moment that's on point for this sort of thing. Attorney Lionel Hutz is fumbling through a case and the judge, irately, finally interrupts him to ask if he has any evidence at all. Hutz hesitates, then replies, "Well, Your Honor, we have hearsay and conjecture... those are kinds of evidence....")

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  39. Steve, I could go on for hours about this, but you are correct.

    Intelligence data is biased. Always. Whether it's because of how the sensors are designed, or the limitations of bandwidth, or the human factor, or perception issues - data is always biased.

    The trick is to recognize that, and allow for it in the analysis.

    Then ask the vital question, what if?

    This is the critical failure of Iraq. The idiots in charges knew what they wanted to hear, so they went looking for it and disregarded everything that didn't directly support their foregone conclusion. And the Intelligence community, who had forgotten their mission when the Cold War ended and suddenly thought that Intelligence was a policy function instead of a support function, accommodated them. Nobody asked themselves, what if? What if we're wrong? Do we have a plan for that? What if Saddam doesn't have WMD's? What if the people don't rally to our standard? What if there is an insurgency? What happens after the war? What happens if we can't get out? What if we win?

    the first rule of doctrine is this: No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. Ever. You have to plan for that.

    No intel data set is without bias, you have to recognize and plan for that. You have to devise methods to deal with the bias, you have to test and seek supporting information. When you fail to do these things, you get Iraq.

    Additionally you need to understand that intelligence/IW results fall into two categories: Quantitative and Qualitative.

    Quantitative are those things we can directly measure with a known degrees of accuracy. This is not just things like number of tanks or ships or men, for example. These are also the results of military action - If you're receiving hostile fire from a known position, and you initiate counter battery fire, and the hostile incoming ceases and does not return and you see explosions and smoke on the horizon, you can with a high degree of certainty determine that you got the bastard. You can measure the results directly.

    Qualitative on the other hand, are those things you can only infer from adversary action, there is no direct way to measure this. An example would be the Yellow Cake issue. A single source says Saddam is buying Nigerian uranium - from that you deduce that Saddam is making Nukular WMDs. You have no other data, the conclusion that the WMDs exist is solely a qualitative assessment based on non-measurable data.

    Now at this point, if you have to go with the assessment, you make Goddamned sure that you explain in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS that this is nothing more than a wild assed guess on your part and that you could very well be wrong. The Commander then decides if the possible gains out weigh the probable risks in proceeding. However, if you've got time, you now seek supporting quantitative data. Things you can measure. Confirmed shipments of pitchblend ore. Specific ships that carried it. Dates, invoices, bills of lading. Centrifuges, scientists, radiation counts, facilities, high level waste and dump sites, weapons facilities, and even other qualitative data. AND you specifically look for things that do NOT support your conclusion and then analyze each of those. Given enough time and resources and permissions you might even devise tests - say like attempting to sell uranium to the bad guys.

    It is very much like the scientific method if done correctly.

    The Bush administration did none of that. They determined the end state they wanted, and the Intelligence community gave it to them. Then they declared war.

    This is why having a creationist in the White House is so fucking dangerous. This is EXACTLY how these people think. The intelligence that led us into Iraq is exactly the same as how creationists see the world, they start with the end state and then work backward cherry picking what they want to support it.

    It is a failure of intellect.

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  40. First a general agreeing-type statement: There are rude and stupid people in this world. Cell phones and social networking gave them another way to act out their disagreeable tendencies but only in rare cases did they actually cause those tendencies.

    Second, Jim:

    We KNOW with 100% certainty that there are weapons of mass destruction and Saddam is just itching to use them. That will always bite you in the ass.

    The infamous "slam dunk" analogy comes to mind here. Thank you for reminding me of this because it also goes back to another point you alluded to pretty strongly -- all this stuff is just information, and information in and of itself is meaning-free. We as humans have to derive and/or assign the meaning to it. Therein lies the rub, because there is only a tiny fractional percentage of the populace that can remove themselves, their egos, and their agendas out of the way long enough to interpret date, to assign any kind of real meaning to raw information.

    The ramp up to the Iraq war demonstrated all this in a way that's impossible to ignore -- and I think in the end it's why Twitter, YouTube and services like them will end up with some real value. They can get that raw data to that tiny fractional percentage I was talking about -- or even someone like me -- and maybe they can do something useful with it.* Which leads us to what you described as "the really hard part: "getting the politicians to listen, understand, not fuck it up, not try to use it for their own gain, and not blab about it on the six o clock news to make themselves look important and thereby make all your work null and void and jeopardize the lives of men on the ground yet again."

    Yeah. What you said.

    Third: I published my comment here and signed up for a Twitter account. Between the two of us, we convinced me. ;)

    * - I am highly unlikely to do anything useful with said interpretations, I just like to see if I can derive patterns from raw data.

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  41. Oh and btw -- my husband uses Ubertwitter on his Blackberry and it seems to be the best of the bunch for his purposes. I'm still trying clients out, so I have no other useful data to contribute.

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  42. For a discussion about a blog that only allows single sentence messages, that was really long.

    ...but good stuff.

    Twitter is one of those things that can be really useful or a real time suck, depending on how you use it.

    So far I have not had the time to harness its full power to promote my books or podcast, because of the time required to keep up with blogging and tweeting and whatnot. But soon...yes soon...I will be rambling one line at a time...

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  43. Well, Basil, since I follow you, you need to be more entertaining damn it.

    Say, when is your next book coming out? Because I love your writing and I'm looking forward to it.

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  44. Well thanks Jim. As far as the next book I am in initial draft as we speak. Working Title: "Cold Summer". This one is the sequel to my last two combining the main characters from both (Mojo Johnson from 65 Below and Mike Farris from Faithful Warrior).

    When it is far enough along I plan to give away the free podcast audio version on my website just like my other books.

    Once it is ready, if you'd be willing and have the time to be a beta reader I'd love to have a fresh set of eyes review it.

    Quick Synopsis:
    Mike and Hilde Farris come to Alaska for a honeymoon photo safari lead by Mike's old USMC buddy Mojo Johnson. Trooper Lonnie Johnson witnesses a fatal car accident and Hilde, an FBI analyst, recognizes the face of a known terrorist in the crowd in the TV news coverage of the accident. Their romantic vacation turns into a race against death as the Sons of the Sword plot something massive against the newly opened Alaska Gas Pipeline.

    Anyway...I guess they call that shameless self promotion or something...but there ya go. That, to answer your question is where I am on my next book.

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  45. So, proper twitiquette then, is what you're saying?

    Yes. Just like when the shift to email as a method of business communication really took hold a dozen or so years ago and we started teaching netiquette. I've got a 1-hour class I still teach occassionally that still blows people away even today, and these are professionals that use email in their daily course of business.

    Of course, I was amused/concerned to hear of the rise in ER visits for texting related injuries. Again, these are the Twit-for-Brainz people that can't be bothered to look up and see the door or curb they'll impact on their next step and crash or fall. To say nothing of the laws now on the books in several Georgia cities for cell phone and texting while driving offenses.

    WendyB_09

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  46. People who tweet or text while driving are idiots!

    sent from Blackberry handheld device

    GPS location: Marsh 3 meters north of Glenn Highway

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  47. Jesus, Basil, stop that.

    My head is killing me and that comment made me laugh so hard I thought my left eye was going to pop completely out of my head.

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  48. Ah haaa! There it is! The "tomorrow" post that my simple response to the Blackberry caused you to think about! I was waiting. I couldn't see how my post brought on the paperwork reduction or the Birther rant. But now I see!

    Very intereting post, Jim. But I don't need that Twit stuff. I don't need to know about hijackers at Logan Airport, or fake "bomb" LED signs being "planted" all over Boston, or weather coming North out of the Atlantic. Those things don't affect me. Oh, wait, yeah, they do.

    So how do we manage the amount of information that rapid communication and the Internet throws at us? How do we keep from getting buried with the minutia but let the big stuff through? Do I have to carry a Blackberry 24/7? Do I have to give it the capability of waking me up?

    As to the group form of twitterers, how about "an aristocracy?" Coined with help from Monty Python, of course.

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  49. How to keep up with twitter.

    Twitter v.3.9.00342 (aka Brain-Twit) includes a nano-bot cerebreal implant placed in the brain via the nostrils. Once embedded in the frontal lobe of the brain it will enable one to receive Twitter messages as thoughts rather than simple text.

    Everyone with an account will get one...it was in the terms of agreement everyone click "Accept" on.

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  50. So how do we manage the amount of information that rapid communication and the Internet throws at us? How do we keep from getting buried with the minutia but let the big stuff through? Do I have to carry a Blackberry 24/7? Do I have to give it the capability of waking me up?

    Well, short of Basil's nasal implant, the short answer is yes. Eventually, to be fully franchised in the Information Age, you are going to have to carry a smartphone and you are going to have to learn to manage the data and the feeds and filters.

    Just as being fully franchised in America today means owning a TV and driving a car and increasingly having internet access, a cell phone, and computer skills. For a lot of people these things really are no longer optional. Yes yes YES, there are of course exceptions, but those exceptions almost always have some substitute, access to convenient public transportation instead of a car, internet access at work instead of at home, some form of public data feed instead of TV, and etc. Those folks who completely eschew TV and transport and cell phones and etc and live off the grid are not fully franchised in America - and most of them don't want to be.

    Hell, even homeless people often have cell phones nowadays - here in a Alaska there's a program to provide low cost phones to homeless Vets with text/email feeds that give them notice of jobs, VA domiciliary availabilities, and clinic and counseling openings.

    Sooner, rather than later, you are going to HAVE to have realtime, instantaneous access to the web.

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  51. Okay, okay, I'll get a smartphone. *grumble* Tho I have a netbook, and that actually fills somewhat the same niche in my life, plus that of a TV and a laptop. If it had connectivity everywhere, it would probably be sufficient.

    And really, even Amish people have cell phones. Cell phones don't interfere with life in the way that having an installed phone in your house would, so they've become very popular, and now substitute conveniently for the neighborhood phone booth.

    Oh, gotta go. New tweets just came in!

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  52. I shall NOT get a Smart Phone. I spend 90% of my waking hours in front of two computers, so I really don't see the need, quite frankly.

    Plus I like to be contrary to Jim to encourage the idea that he's not my sock-puppet.

    I didn't think I'd like Twitter, either, but I do use it occasionally. I have to admit I use Facebook more.

    And Jim, how is it that Beastly is my "friend" on FB and you're not? That's fucked up, dude.

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  53. Janiece, actually the smart phone has gotten me away from the computer.

    Like now, I'm out in the shop typing this on the Blackberry.

    Over the last week I'd say the smartphone has saved me at least two hours a day and increased my connectivity instead of decreasing it. I can't imagine how I've lived without it.

    As to Beastly, I just got off the phone with him. One of the things we talked about was Facebook and the dangers therein with regards to the people who find you through it. I've got people in my past that I do NOT want contact with. And don't want to make it any easier for them to find me.

    I'm not ruling out a Facebook account, but at this point I'm not looking for one either.

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  54. I dunno. I don't have internet access at home (can't rightly afford it now), and I'm pretty sure getting a smart phone would require comparable costs.

    I do notice that my productivity is inversely proportional to my lack of access at home (work doesn't count; when at home, I tend to surf and ignore my other ).

    Twitter's advantages appear to be made moot with Google reader (I subscribe to most of the same feeds Jim mentions), which I imagine works as well on a smart phone's smaller screen (or does it?).

    However. Eventually, my ACS phone will die, mostly because the battery will die and it will be cheaper to pay Apple for an iPhone rather than obtain a new cell battery (it's already cheaper).

    I've been asking questions and researching the possibility of getting an iPhone (if for no other reason than I need to replace my Newton sometime--I still use it for some light spreadsheeting and as a VT100 terminal to connect to my SGIs).

    Still. I don't know. For certain, I won't be able to act on my research until I get back from SVP.

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  55. I do notice that my productivity is inversely proportional to my lack of access at home (work doesn't count; when at home, I tend to surf and ignore my other ).

    Ah, to finish that thought: ignore my other obligations when at home

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  56. Well, see, Scott, that's the beauty of a Smartphone, it allows you to ignore your obligations anywhere.


    I'm with ACS as well - they've got an excellent deal on the Blackberry at the moment. But you're right, the data service associated with it is directly comparable to cable/DSL access. Almost exactly the same, in fact.

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  57. That's the beauty of technology. We can look busy while being lazy. Except of course, now that the technology is all over the place and most people know the truth, us IT folks have lost our cover.

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  58. Jim, even with a migraine, you can still belt out bon mots. My hat's off to you.

    (Whenever I get migraines--down to two or so a month--I become absolutely catatonic.)

    I should also look at the Blackberry, since it does appear to have an emulator or two for it. Does the Blackberry have separate tab, escape, and control keys on the keyboard?

    And that new phone thing from Palm.

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  59. Basil, that is my art form, and I'm positively expert at it.

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  60. I've been an IT guy for more than fifteen years, so you know I've learned a few tricks.

    Like the one where a tech puts on a phone headset and pretends to be on a teleconference in order to avoid talking to users and...

    wait...did I just say that outloud?

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  61. Regarding Facebook: there must be millions of people named "James Wright" out there, which would make you pretty hard to find if the searcher doesn't know anything else about you. The account can be set up to be completely cryptic, with no public info about you at all, not even a picture.

    Also, you could just reject their friend requests...

    (Why no, this isn't a precursor to talking you into playing Farm Town ... >.>)

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  62. Janiece, at some point I don't think you'll have a choice: the iPhone, for all its faults, probably points the direction of the cell phone's future. They'll all be smartphones in a few years. Probably. I've been wrong before.

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  63. Yeah. I don't use a photo (there's loads of people I knew in high school I've no interest in ever hearing from again), and in spite of having a distinctive last name, I can always ignore their friendship requests.

    Also, it takes a while at first, but I've been suppressing the output of every single quiz anyone else does. Even the games. (Especially the games.)

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  64. Jim, even with a migraine, you can still belt out bon mots. My hat's off to you.

    Scott, days like today the only thing that keeps me going is a sense of humor. It's either that or go out the the shop and drill holes in my head to let the pressure out.

    _________________________

    Maybe I'll sign up for Facebook, using the advice you guys have given. Seriously though, the people I'd want to contact me probably wouldn't and those whom I hope to never hear from again would probably be all over me. I signed up on the TogetherWeServed Website, a social networking site for veterans, and every dipshit I couldn't stand from the Navy "shipmated" me. Most have drifted away now, since I rarely ever visit the site anymore. I don't want a repeat of that on Facebook. Again, let me think about it - when my brain actually starts working again.

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  65. Twitter is far less of a time suck than Facebook.

    Re Facebook, simply don't respond to friend requests of people you don't care about. If you lock down your privacy settings, that should help as well.

    After all, it's not like you have a unique last name. :)

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  66. Re Facebook, simply don't respond to friend requests of people you don't care about. If you lock down your privacy settings, that should help as well.

    After all, it's not like you have a unique last name.


    Yeah, but you'd know how to find me, wouldn't you? And that sort of defeats the purpose.





    Bawahahahah.

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  67. Jim,

    No matter how you try to hide, I will ALWAYS find you.










    Shop Kat likes me and will always tell on you.

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