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Hollywood Park Racetrack, 1938

Hollywood Park Racetrack, 1938

Hollywood Park Racetrack is gone. In its place is SoFi Stadium, the 77,000-seat home of Los Angeles’ two pro football teams and much else, including the 6,000-seat YouTube Theater. There’s also more to come in the surrounding vastness of Hollywood Park, named after the racetrack. Wikipedia says the park—

consists of over 8.5 million square feet (790,000 m2) that will be used for office space and condominiums, a 12-screen Cinepolis movie theaterballrooms, outdoor spaces for community programming, retail, a fitness center, a luxury hotel, a brewery, up-scale restaurants and an open-air shopping and entertainment complex.

The picture above (via this Martin Turnbull story) is an aerial view of the racetrack in 1938, shortly after it opened. Note the parking lot: immense and almost completely filled with cars. Perhaps this was the day Seabiscuit won his inaugural Gold Cup. Whether or not, few alive today remember when only baseball was more popular than horse racing in the U.S.

What interests me about this change is that I’ve enjoyed a bird’s-eye view of it, while approaching Los Angeles International Airport on commercial passenger planes. I’ve also photographed that change over the course of seventeen years, through those same windows. Between 2005 and 2022, I shot many dozens of photos of the racetrack site (along with the adjacent Hollywood Park Casino) from its last working days as a racetrack to the completion of SoFi Stadium (with the casino’s relocation to a corner of what had been the Racetrack’s parking lot).

In this album on Flickr are 91 photos of that change. Here I tell the story on one page. We’ll start in January 2005:

At this time the racetrack was long past its prime but still functioning along with the casino. (Look closely and you’ll see the word CASINO in red on the roof of the nearest grandstand. The casino itself is the gray building to its left.) In the distance, you can see the skyline of the West Wilshire region and the Hollywood Hills, topped by the HOLLYWOOD sign. (Hollywood Park is actually in Inglewood.)

This same year, Churchill Downs Incorporated sold the track to the Bay Meadows Land Company, owned by Stockbridge Capital Group, for $260 million in cash. This was good for the private capital business, but doom for the track. Bay Meadows, an equally famous racetrack just south of San Francisco, was also doomed.

This shot was taken seven months later, this time looking south:

Note the fountains in the ponds and the pavilion for members and special guests. Also, notice the separate grandstand for the Casino. The cars in the lots are almost certainly extras for LAX’s car rental companies, leasing unused parking spaces. But you can still see in the racetrack what (it says here) was “once described as too beautiful for words.”

The next photo is from April 2007:

Everything still appears operative. You can even see horses practicing on the dirt track. Also note The Forum across the street on the north side. Now the Kia Forum, its roof at various times also bore Great Western and Chase brand images. It was built in 1966 and is still going strong. During its prime, the Lakers in their Showtime era played there. (The team moved downtown to Staples Center in 1999.)

Next is this view, three months later in July 2007, looking south from the north side:

Note the stables between the racetrack and the practice track on the left. Also, note how the inner track, which had turned from dark brown to blue in prior photos, is now a light brown. It will later be green as well.

(Studying this a bit, I’ve learned that good horse race tracks are very deep flat-topped trenches filled with layers of special dirt that require constant grooming, much of which is devoted to making sure the surface is to some degree wet. In arid Los Angeles, this is a steep requirement. For more on how this works, this Wired story will help.)

Two months later, in September 2007, this view looking north takes in most of the Hollywood Park property, plus The Forum, Inglewood Cemetery, Baldwin Hills (beyond the cemetery and to the left or west):

The Hollywood Hills, with its white sign, is below the clouds, in the top middle, and the downtown Los Angeles skyline is in the top right.

Here on the Hollywood Park property, the casino will be rebuilt on the near edge of the property, along South Stadium Drive.

Here, a few months later, in February 2008, the inner track is once again blue:

This time take note of the empty areas of the parking lot, and how some regions are partitioned off. Ahead we’ll see these spaces variously occupied.

A few seconds after the shot above, I took this shot of the casino and club grounds:

The next shot comes a year and a half later, in September 2009:

Here the inner track has returned to green grass. In the far corner of the parking lot, across from The Forum, a partitioned section has activity involving at least six tents, plus other structures.

Almost three years passed before I got another view, in May 2102, this time looking south from the north side:

Here we get a nice view of the stables and the practice track. On the far side of both is a shopping center anchored by Home Depot and Target. (The white roofs are left and right.) Look in the coming shots at how those will change. Also, note the keystone-shaped fencing inside the practice track.

Here is the same scene one month later, in June 2012:

The keystone shape in the practice track is oddly green now, watered while the rest of the ground inside the track is not. A few seconds later I shot this:

Here the main change is the black-on-orange Belfair logo on the roof of the main grandstand. The paint job is new, but in fact, the racetrack became the Betfair Hollywood Park back in March, of this year.

In December begins California’s short rainy season, which we see here in my last view of the racetrack in 2012:

It’s a bit hard to see that the main track is the outer one in dark brown. We also see that the inner track, which had been blue and then green, is now brown: dirt instead of grass. This is my last view before the racetrack got its death sentence. Wikipedia:

On May 9, 2013 in a letter to employees, Hollywood Park president F. Jack Liebau announced that the track would be closing at the end of their fall racing season in 2013. In the letter, Liebau stated that the 260 acres on which the track sits “now simply has a higher and better use”, and that “in the absence of a favorable change in racing’s business model, the ultimate development of the Hollywood property was inevitable”. It was expected that the track would be demolished and replaced by housing units, park land and an entertainment complex, while the casino would be renovated.

My next pass over the property was on June 16, 2013:

The racetrack here is still verdant and irrigated, as you can see from the sprays onto the inner track, which is grass again. The last race here would come six months later, and demolition would begin shortly after that.

One year later, in June 2014, we can see the practice track and the stables absent of any use or care, condemned:

Farther west we see the casino is still operative, with cars in the parking lot:

Racing is done, but some of the ponds are still filled.

Three months later, in September 2014, demolition has begun:

Half the stables are gone, and the whole racetrack area has been bulldozed flat. Two things to note here. First is the row of red trees on the slope at the near end of the track. I believe these are red maples, which turn color in Fall even this far away from their native range. They were a nice touch. Second is the pond at the far end of the track. This is where they will start to dig a vast bowl—a crater—that will become the playing field inside the new SoFi Stadium.

Two months later, in November 2014, all the stables are completely gone, and there is a road across a dirt pile that bridges the old outer track:

This shot looks northeast toward the downtown Los Angeles skyline, and you can see the Hollywood sign on the dark ridge at the left edge of the frame, below a bit of the plane’s wing. The blur at the bottom, across the parking lot, is from the plane’s engine exhaust. (One reason I prefer my windows forward of the wing.)

This next shot is another two months later, in January 2015:

The casino is still happening, but the grandstand is ready for demolition and the racetrack area is getting prepared for SoFi.

One month after that, in February 2015, we see how winter rains have turned some untouched areas green:

Only two of the red trees remain (or so it appears), and the grandstands are still there, along with an operative casino.

This next shot is eight months later, in October, 2015:

Now the grandstand is gone. It was demolished in May. Here is a KNBC/4 report on that, with a video. And here is a longer hand-held amateur video that also gets the whole thing with stereo sound. New construction is also happening on the left, next to the old casino. This is for the new casino and its parking garage.

The next shot is almost a year later, in September, 2016:

It was a gloomy and overcast day, but you can see the biggest changes starting to take shape. The new casino and its parking garage are all but done, digging of the crater that will become the SoFi stadium has started, and landscaping is also starting to take shape, with hills of dirt in the middle of what had been the racetrack.

Ten months later, in July 2017, the SoFi crater is dug, structural pieces are starting to stand up, the new casino is operating and the old casino is gone:

Here is a close-up of work in and around the SoFi crater, shot a few seconds earlier:

The cranes in the pale gray area stand where a pond will go in. It will be called Rivers Lake.

This shot a few seconds later shows the whole west end of what will become the Hollywood Park complex:

The area in the foreground will become a retail center. The buildings on the left (west) side of the site are temporary ones for the construction project. On the right is the one completed permanent structure: the casino and its parking garage. Buildings on the left or west edge are temporary ones for the construction project.

Three months later, in January 2018, I flew over the site at night and got this one good shot (at 1/40th of a second moving at 200+mph):

Now they’re working day and night raising the SoFi structure in the crater. I share this to show how fast this work is going. You can see progress in this photo taken one month later, in February 2018, again at night:

More than a year went by before I passed over again. That was in August 2019. Here is my first shot on that pass:

Here you SoFi’s superstructure is mostly framed up, and some of the seating is put in place. Here is a wider view shot two seconds later, after I zoomed out a bit:

In both photos you see the word FORUM on The Forum’s roof. (It had previously said “Great Western” and “Chase.” It is now the Kia Forum.) You can also see the two ponds in full shape. The left one will be called Rivers Lake. The right one will pour into it over a waterfall. Cranes on the left stand in the outline of what will become an eight-story office building.

Three months later, in November 2019, the outside surfaces of the stadium are about halfway up:

We also see Rivers Lake lined, with its gray slopes and white bottom.

After this the Covid pandemic hit. I didn’t travel by air (or much at all) for almost two years, and most sporting events were canceled or delayed. So the next time I passed over the site in a position to shoot it was April 2022, when SoFi Stadium was fully operational, and the area around it mostly complete:

Here we see the shopping center in the foreground, now with the Target store showing its logo to the sky. The old practice track and stables have been replaced by parking. A few seconds later I zoomed in on the completed stadium:

We see Rivers Lake, the office building, and its parking structure are also done, as are the parking lots around the stadium. You can also see “SoFi Stadium” in raised lettering on the roof.

And that completes the series, for now.

There are a total of thirty-one photos above. All the links in the photos above will take you to a larger collection. Those in turn are a fraction among the hundreds I shot of the site. And those hundreds are among many thousands I’ve shot of ground and sky from passenger planes. So far I’ve posted over 42,000 photos tagged aerial or windowseat in my two Flickr accounts:

Hundreds of those photos have also found their ways into Wikipedia, because I license nearly all my photos online to encourage cost-free re-use. So, when people with an interest in a topic search for usable pictures they’d like to see in Wikipedia, they often find some of mine and park them at Wikimedia Commons, which is Wikipedia’s library of available images. Of the hundreds you’ll find there in a search for “aerial” plus my name, one is the top photo in the Wikipedia article on Hollywood Park Racetrack. I didn’t put it there or in Wikimedia Commons. Randos did.

My purpose in putting up this post is to encourage documentation of many things: infrastructure changes, geological formations, and any other subject that tends to get overlooked. In other words, to be useful.

A friend yesterday said, “as soon as something becomes infrastructure, it becomes uninteresting.” But not unimportant. That’s one reason I hope readers will amplify or correct what I’ve written here. Blogging is good for that.

For the curious, the cameras I used (which Flickr will tell you if you go there), were:

  1. Nikon Coolpix E5700 with a built-in zoom (2005)
  2. Canon 30D with an 18-200 Tamron zoom (2005-2009)
  3. Canon 5D with Canon 24-70mm, 24-85mm, and EF24-105mm f/4L zooms (2012-2015)
  4. Canon 5D Mark III with the same EF24-105mm f/4L zoom (2016-2019)
  5. Sony a7R with a Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS zoom (2022)

I’m not a big spender, and photography is a sideline for me, so I tend to buy used gear and rent the good stuff. On that list, the only items I bought new were the Nikon Coolpix and the two 24-105 zooms. The Canon 5D cameras were workhorses, and so was the 24-105 f4L Canon zoom. The Sony a7R was an outgrown but loved gift from a friend, a fine art photographer who had moved on to newer (and also loved) Sony gear. Experience with that camera (which has since died) led me this June to buy a new Sony a7iv, which is a marvel. Though it has a few fewer pixels than the a7R, it still has 33 million of them, which is enough for most purposes. Like the a7R, it’s mirrorless, so what you see in the viewfinder or the display on the back is what you get. It also has a fully articulated rear display, which is great for shooting out the plane windows I can’t put my face in (and there are many of those). It’s like a periscope. So expect to see more and better shots from planes soon.

And, again, give me corrections and improvements on anything I’ve posted here.


Passwords are hell.

Worse, to make your hundreds of passwords safe as possible, they should be nearly impossible for others to discover—and for you to remember.

Unless you’re a wizard, this all but requires using a password manager.†

Think about how hard that job is. First, it’s impossible for developers of password managers to do everything right:

  • Most of their customers and users need to have logins and passwords for hundreds of sites and services on the Web and elsewhere in the networked world
  • Every one of those sites and services has its own gauntlet of methods for registering logins and passwords, and for remembering and changing them
  • Every one of those sites and services has its own unique user interfaces, each with its own peculiarities
  • All of those UIs change, sometimes often.

Keeping up with that mess while also keeping personal data safe from both user error and determined bad actors, is about as tall as an order can get. And then you have to do all that work for each of the millions of customers you’ll need if you’re going to make the kind of money required to keep abreast of those problems and providing the solutions required.

So here’s the thing: the best we can do with passwords is the best that password managers can do. That’s your horizon right there.

Unless we can get past logins and passwords somehow.

And I don’t think we can. Not in the client-server ecosystem that the Web has become, and that industry never stopped being, since long before the Internet came along. That’s the real hell. Passwords are just a symptom.

We need to work around it. That’s my work now. Stay tuned here, here, and here for more on that.

† We need to fix that Wikipedia page.

The Web is a haystack.

This isn’t what Tim Berners-Lee had in mind when he invented the Web. Nor is it what Jerry Yang and David Filo had in mind when they invented Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web, which later became Yahoo. Jerry and David’s model for the Web was a library, and Yahoo was to be the first catalog for it. This made sense, given the prevailing conceptual frames for the Web at the time: real estate and publishing.

Both of those are still with us today. We frame the Web as real estate when we speak of “sites” with “locations” in “domains” with “addresses” you can “visit” and “browse”—then shift to publishing when we speak of “files” and “pages,” that we “author,” “edit,” “post,” “publish,” “syndicate” and store in “folders” within a “directory.” Both frames suggest durability, if not permanence. Again, kind of like a library.

But once we added personal movement (“surf,” “browse”) and a vehicle for it (the browser), the Web became a World Wide Free-for-all. Literally. Anyone could publish, change and remove whatever they pleased, whenever they pleased. The same went for organizations of every kind, all over the world. And everyone with a browser could find their way to and through all of those spaces and places, and enjoy whatever “content” publishers chose to put there. Thus the Web grew into billions of sites, pages, images, databases, videos, and other stuff, with most of it changing constantly.

The result was a heaving heap of fuck-all.*

How big is it? According to WorldWebSize.comGoogle currently indexes about 41 billion pages, and Bing about 9 billion. They also peaked together at about 68 billion pages in late 2019. The Web is surely larger than that, but that’s the practical limit because search engines are the practical way to find pieces of straw in that thing. Will the haystack be less of one when approached by other search engines, such as the new ad-less (subscription-funded) Neeva? Nope. Search engines do not give the Web a card catalog. They certify its nature as a haystack.

So that’s one practical limit. There are others, but they’re hard to see when the level of optionality on the Web is almost indescribably vast. But we can see a few limits by asking some questions:

  1. Why do you always have to accept websites’ terms? And why do you have no record of your own of what you accepted, or when‚ or anything?
  2. Why do you have no way to proffer your own terms, to which websites can agree?
  3. Why did Do Not Track, which was never more than a polite request not to be tracked off a website, get no respect from 99.x% of the world’s websites? And how the hell did Do Not Track turn into the Tracking Preference Expression at the W2C, where the standard never did get fully baked?
  4. Why, after Do Not Track failed, did hundreds of millions—or perhaps billions—of people start blocking ads, tracking or both, on the Web, amounting to the biggest boycott in world history? And then why did the advertising world, including nearly all advertisers, their agents, and their dependents in publishing, treat this as a problem rather than a clear and gigantic message from the marketplace?
  5. Why are the choices presented to you by websites called your choices, when all those choices are provided by them? And why don’t you give them choices?
  6. Why would Apple’s way of making you private on your phone be to “Ask App Not to Track,” rather than “Tell App Not to Track,” or “Prevent App From Tracking You“?
  7. Why does the GDPR call people “data subjects” rather than people, or human beings, and then assign the roles “data controller” and “data processor” only to other parties? (Yes, it does say a “data controller” can be a “natural person,” but more as a technicality than as a call for the development of agency on behalf of that person.)
  8. Why are nearly all of the billion results in a search for GDPR+compliance about how companies can obey the letter of that law while violating its spirit by continuing to track people through the giant loophole you see in every cookie notice?
  9. Why does the CCPA give you the right to ask to have back personal data others have gathered about you on the Web, rather than forbid its collection in the first place? (Imagine a law that assumes that all farmers’ horses are gone from their barns, but gives those farmers a right to demand horses back from those who took them. It’s kinda like that.)
  10. Why, 22 years after The Cluetrain Manifesto said, we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it. —is that statement (one I helped write!) still not true?
  11. Why, 9 years after Harvard Business Review Press published The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge, has that not happened? (Really, what are you in charge of in the marketplace that isn’t inside companies’ silos and platforms?)
  12. And, to sum up all the above, why does “free market” on the Web mean your choice of captor?

It’s easy to blame the cookie, which Lou Montulli invented in 1994 as a way for sites to remember their visitors by planting reminder files—cookies—in visitors’ browsers. Cookies also gave visitors a way to remember where they were when they last visited. For sites that require logins, cookies take care of that as well.

What matters, however, is not the cookie. What matters is why the cookie was necessary in the first place: the Web’s architecture. It’s called client-server, and is represented graphically like this:

client-server model

This architecture was born in the era of centralized mainframes, which “users” accessed through client devices called “dumb terminals”:

On the Web, as it was in the old mainframe world, we clients—mere users—are as subordinate to servers as are calves to cows:

(In fact I’ve been told that client-server was originally a euphemism for “slave-master.” Whether true or not, it makes sense.)

In the client-server paradigm, our agency—our ability to act with effect in the world—is restricted to what servers allow or provide for us. Our choices are what they provide. We are independent only to the degree that we can also be clients to other servers. In this paradigm, a free market is “your choice of captor.”

Want privacy? You have to ask for it. And, if you go to the trouble of doing that—which you have to do separately with every site and service you encounter (each a mainframe of its own)—your client doesn’t keep a record of what you “agreed” to. The server does. Good luck finding whatever it is the server or its third parties remember about that agreement.

Want to control how your data (or data about you) gets processed by the servers of the world? Good luck with that too. Again, Europe’s GDPR says “natural persons” are just “data subjects,” while “data controllers” and “data processors” are roles reserved for servers.

Want a shopping cart of your own to take from site to site? My wife asked for that in 1995. It’s still barely thinkable in 2021. Want a dashboard for your life where you can gather all your expenses, investments, property records, health information, calendars, contacts, and other personal information? She asked for that too, and we still don’t have it, except to the degree that large server operators (e.g. Google, Apple, Microsoft) give us pieces of it, hosted in their clouds, and rigged to keep you captive to their systems.

That’s why we don’t yet have an Internet of Things (IoT), but rather an Apple of Things, a Google of Things, and an Amazon of Things.

Is it possible to do stuff on the Web that isn’t client-server? Perhaps some techies among us can provide examples, but practically speaking, here’s what matters: If it’s not thinkable by the owners of the servers we depend on, it doesn’t get made.

From our position at the bottom of the Web’s haystack, it’s hard to imagine there might be a world where it’s possible for us to have full agency: to not be just users of clients enslaved to as many servers as we deal with every day.

But that world exists. It’s called the Internet, And it can support a helluva lot more than the Web—with many ways to interact other than those possible in through client-server alone.

Digital technology as we know it has only been around for a few decades, and the Internet for maybe half that time. Mobile computers that run apps and presume connectivity everywhere have only been with us for a decade or less. And all of those will be with us for many decades, centuries, or millennia to come. We are not going to stop living digital lives, any more than we are going to stop speaking, writing, or using mathematics. Digital technology and the Internet are granted wishes that won’t go back into the genie’s bottle.

Credit where due: the Web is excellent, but not boundlessly so. It has limits. Thanks to the client-server model, full personal agency is not a grace of life on the Web. Not until we have servers or agents of our own. (Yes, we could have our own servers back in Web1 days—my own Web and email servers lived under my desk and had their own static IP addresses from roughly 1995 until 2003—and a few alpha geeks still do. But since then we’ve mostly needed to live as digital serfs, by the graces of corporate overlords.)

So now it’s time to think and build outside the haystack.

Models for that do exist, and some have been around for a long time. Email is one example. While you can look at your email on the Web, or use a Web-based email service (such as Gmail), email itself is independent of those. My own email has been at servers in my home, on racks elsewhere, and in a hired cloud. I can move it anywhere I want. You can move yours as well, because the services we hire to host our personal email are substitutable. That’s just one way we can enjoy full agency on the Internet.

Some work toward the next Web, or beyond it, is happening at places such as DWeb Camp and Unfinished. My own work is happening right now in three overlapping places:

  1. ProjectVRM, which I started as a fellow of the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard in 2006, and which is graciously still hosted (with this blog) by the Center there. Our mailing list currently has more than 550 members. We also meet twice a year with the Internet Identity Workshop, which I co-founded, and still co-organize, with Kaliya Young and Phil Windley, in 2005). Immodestly speaking, IIW is the most leveraged conference I know.
  2. Customer Commons, where we are currently working on building out what’s called the Byway. Go there and follow along as we work to toward better answers to the questions above than you’ll get from inside the haystack. Customer Commons is a 501(c)3 nonprofit spun out of ProjectVRM.
  3. The Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University, where Joyce (my wife and fellow founder and board member of Customer Commons) and I are both visiting scholars. It is in that capacity that we are working on the Byway and leading a salon series titled Beyond the Web. Go to that link and sign up to attend. I look forward to seeing and talking with you there.

[Later…] More on the Web as a haystack is in FILE NOT FOUND: A generation that grew up with Google is forcing professors to rethink their lesson plans, by Monica Chin (@mcsquared96) in The Verge, and Students don’t know what files and folders are, professors say, by Jody MacGregor in PC Gamer, which sources Monica’s report.

*I originally had “heaving haystack of fuck-all” here, but some remember it as the more alliterative “heaving heap of fuck-all.” So I decided to swap them. If comments actually worked here†, I’d ask for a vote. But feel free to write me instead, at my first name at my last name dot com.

†Now they do. Thanks for your patience, everybody.


Have you ever wondered why you have to consent to terms required by the websites of the world, rather than the other way around? Or why you have no record of what you have accepted or agreed to?

Blame the cookie.

Have you wondered why you have no more privacy on the Web than what other parties grant you (which is none at all), and that you can only opt in or out of choices that others provide—while the only controls you have over your privacy are to skulk around like a criminal (thank you, Edward Snowden and Russell Brand, for that analogy) or to stay offline completely?

Blame the cookie.

And have you paused to wonder why Europe’s GDPR regards you as a mere “data subject” while assuming that the only parties qualified to be “data controllers” and “data processors” are the sites and services of the world, leaving you with little more agency than those sites and services allow, or provide you?

Blame the cookie.

Or why California’s CCPA regards you as a mere “consumer” (not a producer, much less a complete human being), and only gives you the right to ask the sites and services of the world to give back data they have gathered about you, or not to “sell” that personal data, whatever the hell that means?

Blame the cookie.

There are more examples, but you get the point: this situation has become so established that it’s hard to imagine any other way for the Web to operate.

Now here’s another point: it didn’t have to be that way.

The World Wide Web that Tim Berners-Lee invented didn’t have cookies. It also didn’t have websites. It had pages one could publish or read, at any distance across the Internet.

This original Web was simple and peer-to-peer. It was meant to be personal as well, meaning an individual could publish with a server or read with a browser. One could also write pages easily with an HTML editor, which was also easy to invent and deploy.

It should help to recall that the Apache Web server, which has published most of the world’s Web pages across most the time the Web has been around, was meant originally to work as a personal server. That’s because the original design assumption was that anyone, from individuals to large enterprises, could have a server of their own, and publish whatever they wanted on it. The same went for people reading pages on the Web.

Back in the 90s my own website,, ran on a box under my desk. It could do that because, even though my connection was just dial-up speed, it was on full time over its own static IP address, which I easily rented from my ISP. In fact, that I had sixteen of those addresses, so I could operate another server in my office for storing and transferring articles and columns I wrote to Linux Journal. Every night a cron utility would push what I wrote to the magazine itself. Both servers ran Apache. And none of this was especially geeky. (I’m not a programmer and the only code I know is Morse.)

My point here is that the Web back then was still peer-to-peer and welcoming to individuals who wished to operate at full agency. It even stayed that way through the Age of Blogs in the early ’00s.

But gradually a poison disabled personal agency. That poison was the cookie.

Technically a cookie is a token—a string of text—left by one computer program with another, to help the two remember each other. These are used for many purposes in computing.

But computing for the Web got a special kind of cookie called the HTTP cookie. This, Wikipedia says (at that link)

…is a small piece of data stored on the user‘s computer by the web browser while browsing a website. Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to remember stateful information (such as items added in the shopping cart in an online store) or to record the user’s browsing activity (including clicking particular buttons, logging in, or recording which pages were visited in the past). They can also be used to remember pieces of information that the user previously entered into form fields, such as names, addresses, passwords, and payment card numbers.

It also says,

Cookies perform essential functions in the modern web. Perhaps most importantly, authentication cookies are the most common method used by web servers to know whether the user is logged in or not, and which account they are logged in with.

This, however, was not the original idea, which Lou Montulli came up with in 1994. Lou’s idea was just for a server to remember the last state of a browser’s interaction with it. But that one move—a server putting a cookie inside every visiting browser—crossed a privacy threshold: a personal boundary that should have been clear from the start but was not.

Once that boundary was crossed, and the number and variety of cookies increased, a snowball started rolling, and whatever chance we had to protect our privacy behind that boundary, was lost.

Today that snowball is so large that nearly all personal agency on the Web happens within the separate silos of every website, and compromised by whatever countless cookies and other tracking methods are used to keep track of, and to follow, the individual.

This is why most of the great stuff you can do on the Web is by grace of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, WordPress and countless others, including those third parties.

Bruce Schneier calls this a feudal system:

Some of us have pledged our allegiance to Google: We have Gmail accounts, we use Google Calendar and Google Docs, and we have Android phones. Others have pledged allegiance to Apple: We have Macintosh laptops, iPhones, and iPads; and we let iCloud automatically synchronize and back up everything. Still others of us let Microsoft do it all. Or we buy our music and e-books from Amazon, which keeps records of what we own and allows downloading to a Kindle, computer, or phone. Some of us have pretty much abandoned e-mail altogether … for Facebook.

These vendors are becoming our feudal lords, and we are becoming their vassals.

Bruce wrote that in 2012, about the time we invested hope in Do Not Track, which was designed as a polite request one could turn on in a browser, and servers could obey.

Alas, the tracking-based online advertising business and its dependents in publishing dismissed Do Not Track with contempt.

Starting in 2013, we serfs fought back, by the hundreds of millions, blocking ads and tracking: the biggest boycott in world history. This, however, did nothing to stop what Shoshana Zuboff calls Surveillance Capitalism and Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger call Re-engineering Humanity.

Today our poisoned minds can hardly imagine having native capacities of our own that can operate at scale across all the world’s websites and services. To have that ability would also be at odds with the methods and imperatives of personally targeted advertising, which requires cookies and other tracking methods. One of those imperatives is making money: $Trillions of it.

The business itself (aka adtech) is extremely complex and deeply corrupt: filled with fraud, botnets and malwareMost of the money spent on adtech also goes to intermediaries and not to the media you (as they like to say) consume. It’s a freaking fecosystem, and every participant’s dependence on it is extreme.

Take, for example, Vizio TVs. As Samuel Axon puts it in Ars TechnicaVizio TV buyers are becoming the product Vizio sells, not just its customers Vizio’s ads, streaming, and data business grew 133 percent year over year.

Without cookies and the cookie-like trackers by which Vizio and its third parties can target customers directly, that business wouldn’t be there.

As a measure of how far this poisoning has gone, dig this: FouAnalyticsPageXray says the Ars Technica story above comes to your browser with all this spyware you don’t ask for or expect when you click on that link:

Adserver Requests: 786
Tracking Requests: 532
Other Requests: 112

I’m also betting that nobody reporting for a Condé Nast publication will touch that third rail, which I have been challenging journalists to do in 139 posts, essays, columns and articles, starting in 2008.

(Please prove me wrong, @SamuelAxon—or any reporter other than Farhad Manjoo, who so far is the only journalist from a major publication I know to have bitten the robotic hand that feeds them. I also note that the hand in his case is The New York Times‘, and that it has backed off a great deal in the amount of tracking it does. Hats off for that.)

At this stage of the Web’s moral devolution, it is nearly impossible to think outside the cookie-based fecosystem. If it was, we would get back the agency we lost, and the regulations we’re writing would respect and encourage that agency as well.

But that’s not happening, in spite of all the positive privacy moves Apple, Brave, Mozilla, Consumer Reports, the EFF and others are making.

My hat’s off to all of them, but let’s face it: the poisoning is too far advanced. After fighting it for more than 22 years (dating from publishing The Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999), I’m moving on.

To here.

The Los Angeles in your head is a Neutra house. You’ve seen many of them in movies, and some of them in many movies. Some of those are now gone, alas, as is the architect and preservationist who also designed, or helped design, many of the buildings that bear his surname. Dion Neutra died last week, at 93 years of work more than of age. Here is a Google search for his obituary, which brings up a great many entries.

Dion was a good man and a good friend. Here he is in our Santa Barbara back yard a few years ago:

If you read Dion’s obituaries (of which the longest and best is the LA Times’), you’ll learn much about his life, work and legacy. But I know some things that don’t quite make it through those channels, so I’ll fill in a couple of those details.

One is that Dion was a peripatetic correspondent, mostly by email, especially via his White Light newsletter, which he sent out on a schedule that rounded to always. “White Light” meant healing energy, which was directed by Dion and his readers toward friends who might need some. There were many other topics in their midst (he could hold forth at great length on you-name-it), but health was perhaps the biggest one. Over the last few months, Dion’s letter increasingly reported on his own decline (which seemed radically at odds with his high lifelong energy level, which was invested in a great deal of golf, among other physical activities), but always also about what others were up to. The last words of his last letter, on October 24, were “Lots of love to everybody. Bye!”

The other is that Dion was eager to jump on the Internet, starting in the last millennium. I know this because I was the guy he asked for help putting up his first website. Which I did, at a domain name I also helped him acquire. Here is the first capture of it, by the Internet Archive, 21 years and 1 day ago. I remember arguing with Dion about making the whole site a constant appeal to save one Neutra building or another, but that turned out to be his main work, from that point onward. He failed in some efforts, but succeeded in others. Thanks to that work, Neutra architecture and all it stands for live on.

Lots of love to you and what you’ve done for us all, old friend.

In a press release, Amazon explained why it backed out of its plan to open a new headquarters in New York City:

For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term. While polls show that 70% of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City.

So, even if the economics were good, the politics were bad.

The hmm for me is why not New Jersey? Given the enormous economic and political overhead of operating in New York, I’m wondering why Amazon didn’t consider New Jersey first. Or if it’s thinking about it now.

New Jersey is cheaper and (so I gather) friendlier, at least tax-wise. It also has the country’s largest port (one that used to be in New York, bristling Manhattan’s shoreline with piers and wharves, making look like a giant paramecium) and is a massive warehousing and freight forwarding hub. In fact Amazon already has a bunch of facilities there (perhaps including its own little port on Arthur Kill). I believe there are also many more places to build on the New Jersey side. (The photo above, shot on approach to Newark Airport, looks at New York across some of those build-able areas.)

And maybe that’s the plan anyway, without the fanfare.

As it happens, I’m in the midst of reading Robert Caro‘s The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. (Which is massive. There’s a nice summary in The Guardian here.) This helps me appreciate the power of urban planning, and how thoughtful and steel-boned opposition to some of it can be fully useful. One example of that is Jane Jacobs’ thwarting of Moses’ plan to run a freeway through Greeenwich Village. He had earlier done the same through The Bronx, with the Cross Bronx Expressway. While that road today is an essential stretch of the northeast transport corridor, at the time it was fully destructive to urban life in that part of the city—and in many ways still is.

So I try to see both sides of an issue such as this. What’s constructive and what’s destructive in urban planning are always hard to pull apart.

For an example close to home, I often wonder if it’s good that Fort Lee is now almost nothing but high-rises? This is the town my grandfather helped build (he was the head carpenter for D.W. Griffith when Fort Lee was the first Hollywood), where my father grew up climbing the Palisades for fun, and where he later put his skills to work as cable rigger, helping build the George Washington Bridge. The Victorian house Grandpa built for his family on Hoyt Avenue, and where my family lived when I was born, stood about as close to a giant new glass box called The Modern as I am from the kitchen in the apartment I’m writing this, a few blocks away from The Bridge on the other side of the Hudson. It’s paved now, by a road called Bruce Reynolds Boulevard. Remember Bridgegate? That happened right where our family home stood, in a pleasant neighborhood of which nothing remains.

Was the disappearance of that ‘hood a bad thing? Not by now, long after the neighborhood was erased and nearly everyone who lived has died or has long since moved on. Thousands more live there now than ever did when it was a grid of nice homes on quiet, tree-lined streets.

All urban developments are omelettes made of broken eggs. If you’re an egg, you’ve got reason to complain. If you’re a cook, you’d better make a damn fine omelette.


Emanuele Orazio Fenzi, better known as Francesco Franceschi (1843-1924), was an Italian horticulturist responsible for vastly increasing the botanical variety of Santa Barbara (introducing more than 900 species). He was also for awhile the primary landowner on the Riviera, a loaf-shaped hill overlooking the city’s downtown. Most of that hill is now covered with houses, but a large part that isn’t is what remains of the Franceschi estate: 18 acres called Franceschi Park, featuring a crumbling mansion and the bust above, carved into the top of a boulder on the property.

The city doesn’t have much to say about Franceschi, with a website devoted to the park that goes one paragraph deep. This makes sense, because the state of neglect in the park is extreme. I won’t go into details, because they’re well presented all these stories:

Wikipedia, at the top link above, goes deep too. So does this 2002 Pacific Horticulture story, which suggests with this photo—


—that the bust above isn’t a bad likeness.

But that boulder and Franceschi’s head are going to be shards on the road soon if the city, or somebody, doesn’t save it. Simply put, the ground under it is giving way. Take a look. Here’s the bust, on its boulder, a few feet above the ground that has fallen down to Mission Ridge Road below:


And here you can see the failing slope, and the rubble that has fallen from within it onto the road:


I shot that a couple days ago, in a break between this winter’s record breaking rainstorms. And here’s a closer look at the slo-mo landslide happening immediately below the sculpture:

fail3Saving Franceschi’s bust is surely an easier job than saving his house. What I’m hoping here is that publishing this blog post will stir up some interest.

doc036cThe NYTimes says the Mandarins of language are demoting the Internet to a common noun. It is to be just “internet” from now on. Reasons:

Thomas Kent, The A.P.’s standards editor, said the change mirrored the way the word was used in dictionaries, newspapers, tech publications and everyday life.

In our view, it’s become wholly generic, like ‘electricity or the ‘telephone,’ ” he said. “It was never trademarked. It’s not based on any proper noun. The best reason for capitalizing it in the past may have been that the word was new. But at one point, I’ve heard, ‘phonograph’ was capitalized.”

But we never called electricity “the Electricity.” And “the telephone” referred to a single thing of which there billions of individual examples.

What was it about “the Internet” that made us want to capitalize it in the first place? Is usage alone reason enough to stop respecting that?

Some of my tech friends say the “Internet” we’ve had for all these years is just one prototype: the first and best-known of many other possible ones.

All due respect, but: bah.

There is only one Internet just like there is only one Universe. There are other examples of neither.

Formalizing the lower-case “internet,” for whatever reason, dismisses what’s transcendent and singular about the Internet we have: a whole that is more, and other, than a sum of parts.

I know it looks like the Net is devolving into many separate systems, isolated and silo’d to some degree. We see that with messaging, for example. Hundreds of different ones, most of them incompatible, on purpose. We have specialized mobile systems that provide variously open vs. sphinctered access (such as T-Mobile’s “binge” allowance for some content sources but not others), zero-rated not-quite-internets (such as Facebook’s Free Basics) and countries such as China, where many domains and uses are locked out.

Some questions…

Would we enjoy a common network by any name today if the Internet had been lower-case from the start?

Would makers or operators of any of the parts that comprise the Internet’s whole feel any fealty to what at least ought to be the common properties of that whole? Or would they have made sure that their parts only got along, at most, with partners’ parts? Would the first considerations by those operators not have been billing and tariffs agreed to by national regulators?

Hell, would the four of us have written The Cluetrain Manifesto? Would David Weinberger and I have written World of Ends or New Clues if the Internet had lacked upper-case qualities?

Would the world experience absent distance and cost across a The Giant Zero in its midst were it not for the Internet’s founding design, which left out billing proprietary routing on purpose?

Would we have anything resembling the Internet of today if designing and building it had been left up to phone and cable companies? Or to governments (even respecting the roles government activities did play in creating the Net we do have)?

I think the answer to all of those would be no.

In The Compuserve of Things, Phil Windley begins, “On the Net today we face a choice between freedom and captivity, independence and dependence. How we build the Internet of Things has far-reaching consequences for the humans who will use—or be used by—it. Will we push forward, connecting things using forests of silos that are reminiscent the online services of the 1980’s, or will we learn the lessons of the Internet and build a true Internet of Things?”

Would he, or anybody, ask such questions, or aspire to such purposes, were it not for the respect many of us pay to the upper-cased-ness of “the Internet?”

How does demoting Internet from proper to common noun not risk (or perhaps even assure) its continued devolution to a collection of closed and isolated parts that lack properties (e.g. openness and commonality) possessed only by the whole?

I don’t know. But I think these kinds of questions are important to ask, now that the keepers of usage standards have demoted what the Net’s creators made — and ignore why they made it.

If you care at all about this, please dig‘s Locking the Web open: a Call for a Distributed Web, Brewster Kahle’s post by the same title, covering more ground, and the Decentralized Web Summit, taking place on June 8-9. (I’ll be there in spirit. Alas, I have other commitments on the East Coast.)

reader-publisher-advertiser-safeadsTake a look at any ad, for anything, online.

Do you know whether or not it’s meant for you personally — meaning that you’ve been tracked somehow, and that tracking has been used to aim the ad at you? Chances are you don’t, and that’s a problem.

Sometimes the tracking is obvious, especially with retargeted ads. (Those are the shoes or hats or fishing poles that follow you to sites B, C and D after you looked at something like them at site A.) But most of the time it’s not.

Being followed around the Web is not among the things most of us want when we visit a website. Nor is it what we expect from most advertising.

Yet much of today’s advertising online comes with privacy-invading tracking files that slows page loads, drives up data use on our mobile devices and sometimes carries a bonus payload of malware.

So we block ads — in droves so large that ad blocking now comprises the largest boycott of anything in human history.

Reduced to a hashtag, what we say with our ad blockers is #NoAds. But even AdBlock Plus (the top ad blocker and the most popular* add-on overall), whitelists what its community calls “acceptable ads” by default.

So there is some market acceptance, if not demand, for some advertising. Specifically, Adblock Plus’s Acceptable Ads Manifesto whitelists ads that:

  1. are not annoying.
  2. do not disrupt or distort the page content we’re trying to read.
  3. are transparent with us about being an ad.
  4. are effective without shouting at us.
  5. are appropriate to the site that we are on.

Those are all fine, but none of them yet draws a line between what you, or anybody, knows is safe, and what isn’t.

In Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff, I draw that line between ads aimed at populations and ads aimed at you (because you’re being tracked). Here’s one way of illustrating the difference:


As Don Marti puts it in Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful, #SafeAds carry a signal that personally targeted ads do not. For one thing, they don’t carry the burden of requiring that every ad perform in some way, preferably with an action by you. He explains,

Richard E. Kihlstrom and Michael H. Riordan explained the signaling logic behind advertising in a 1984 paper.

When a firm signals by advertising, it demonstrates to consumers that its production costs and the demand for its product are such that advertising costs can be recovered. In order for advertising to be an effective signal, high-quality firms must be able to recover advertising costs while low-quality firms cannot.

Kevin Simler writes, in Ads Don’t Work that Way,

Knowing (or sensing) how much money a company has thrown down for an ad campaign helps consumers distinguish between big, stable companies and smaller, struggling ones, or between products with a lot of internal support (from their parent companies) and products without such support. And this, in turn, gives the consumer confidence that the product is likely to be around for a while and to be well-supported. This is critical for complex products like software, electronics, and cars, which require ongoing support and maintenance, as well as for anything that requires a big ecosystem (e.g. Xbox).

In my wheat & chaff post, I said,

Let’s fix the problem ourselves, by working with the browser and ad and tracking blockers to create simple means for labeling the wheat and restricting our advertising diet to it.

So this is my concrete suggestion: label every ad not aimed by tracking with the hashtag “#SafeAd.”

It shouldn’t be hard. The adtech industry has AdChoices, a complicated program that supposedly puts you “in control of your Internet experience with interest-based advertising—ads that are intended for you, based on what you do online.”

Credit where due: at least it shows that advertisers are willing to label their ads. A #SafeAd hashtag (and/or some simple code that speaks to ad and tracking blockers) would do the same thing, with less overhead, with a nice clear signal that users can appreciate.

#SafeAds is the only trail I know beyond the pure-prophylaxis #NoAds signal that ad blocking sends to publishers and advertisers today. So let’s blaze it.

* That’s for Firefox. I can’t find an equivalent list for other browsers. Help with that is welcome.


One of the things that fascinates me about Prague are the skewers atop the spires of its many iconic buildings, each of which pierces a shiny ball. It’s a great look.

I am sure there’s a reason for those things, other than the look itself.

I am also sure there is a word for the ball. The skewer too.

I know it’s not spire, because that labels any conical or tapered point on the roof of a building. Prague is said to be the city of a hundred, or a thousand, spires. Most of those have these balls too, and I’ve become obsessed, while I’m here, with finding out what the hell they’re called.

I’m sure more than a few people out there on the lazyweb know. So tell me.

Thank you.