Friends

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I don’t want to explain why we’re bivouac’d at a friend’s house in San Marino. What matters, for the purpose of this post, is that we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the Covid-19 pandemic.

But hey, it’s a nice house in a nice town. My only complaint is that there’s nothing resembling an office desk or chair here. I’ve coped by collecting my ass and my electronics within an arrangement of mostly antique furniture. That’s what you see in the screenshot above. (From my most recent Floss Weekly podcast.) The rest of the house looks kinda like the set of Knives Out.

I start with this setting because a friend asked me to write my own version of what Francine @Hardaway published today in Releasing My Former Life. (It’s a good piece. Go read it. I also thank Francine for turning me on to #Clubhouse. It is reportedly invite-only and apparently website-less, but I’m hoping she or a reader can get me one. Or two.)

So, what to report?

Well, in pre-pandemic times my wife and I were on the road at least a third of the time, so we’re used to operating out of hotel rooms, conference spaces and seats by the gates of departing flights at airports. So living in places other than home is not odd for us. It is odd to go around wearing masks in public while keeping our distance, as if everyone had just farted; but we hardly go out at all. We provision the kitchen here with runs to Trader Joe’s or Costco on days when they open early for geezers, and that only happens every couple weeks or so. Also, this region isn’t one of those in denial of the pandemic. People here tend to have Fauci-compliant public health practices.

In the early mornings or late evenings, when it’s not 95° outside, I do venture out for walks of 2-3 miles or more in the neighborhood. The roads are wide here, and the pedestrian traffic is light, so I leave the mask off most of the time. There are also lots of amazing trees and gardens, so I’ll pause to admire those and post occasional photos of interesting stuff on Instagram. (This kind of thing, by the way, comprises almost my entire experience of Instagram.)

While paying work has taken a hit, I remain overcommitted to all the obligations I had before the pandemic arrived, plus a couple new ones, such as the Floss Weekly podcast. It bothers me that I’m not as efficient or as effective in that work as I’d like, but being bothered about it isn’t the same as being depressed or anxious. It just kinda sucks.

Other stuff…

  1. Dorothy Parker said (or is said to have said) that she preferred the company of younger men “because their stories are shorter.” I am mindful of that. I also know it’s way too easy to talk about infirmities that accumulate, lengthen and get more complicated with age. So I avoid writing, thinking or talking about being old, even though it keeps me up at night, mostly because I have to pee.
  2. I’m optimistic about the long-run future, though the short run will surely get worse before it gets better. (Bad things happen when people die at wartime rates and large hunks of the economy are turned off.) I could say more about that, but I won’t, because—
  3. There is far more than enough political writing and talk. Sure, I fantasize about speaking up, because I do think I have some useful things to say. I just don’t expect what I say to make a bit of difference. The noise level is so high right now, and the effect level of any given tweet or post is so low, that I’m disinclined to say much. Add that to what I said here in 2014 and here two months ago, and you’ll see why I’d mostly rather work on other stuff.

The main thing for me right now is Customer Commons. If it succeeds, it will be the most leveraged thing I’ve ever done, meaning the best for the world. If you’re interested in helping, drop me an email. First name at last name dot com. Thanks.

 

 

I want to point to three great posts.

First is Larry Lessig‘s Podcasting and the Slow Democracy Movement. A pull quote:

The architecture of the podcast is the precise antidote for the flaws of the present. It is deep where now is shallow. It is insulated from ads where now is completely vulnerable. It is a chance for thinking and reflection; it has an attention span an order of magnitude greater than the Tweet. It is an opportunity for serious (and playful) engagement. It is healthy eating for a brain-scape that now gorges on fast food.

If 2016 was the Twitter election — fast food, empty calorie content driving blood pressure but little thinking — then 2020 must be the podcast election — nutrient-rich, from every political perspective. Not sound bites driven by algorithms, but reflective and engaged humans doing what humans still do best: thinking with empathy about ideals that could make us better — as humans, not ad-generating machines.

There is hope here. We need to feed it.

I found that through a Radio Open Source email pointing to the show’s latest podcast, The New Normal. I haven’t heard that one yet; but I am eager to, because I suspect the “new normal” may be neither. And, as I might not with Twitter, I am foregoing judgement until I do hear it. The host is also Chris Lydon, a friend whose podcast pionering owes to collaboration with Dave Winer, who invented the form of RSS used by nearly all the world’s podcasters, and who wrote my third recommended post, Working Together, in 2019. That one is addressed to Chris and everyone else bringing tools and material to the barns we’re raising together. The title says it all, but read it anyway.

Work is how we feed the hope Larry talks about.

 

docdaveMy given name is David. Family members still call me that. Everybody else calls me Doc. Since people often ask me where that nickname came from, and since apparently I haven’t answered it anywhere I can now find online, here’s the story.

Thousands of years ago, in the mid-1970s, I worked at a little radio station owned by Duke University called WDBS. (A nice history of the station survives, in instant-loading 1st generation html, here. I also give big hat tip to Bob Chapman for talking Duke into buying the station in 1971, when he was still a student there.)

As signals went, WDBS was a shrub in grove of redwoods: strong in Duke’s corner of Durham, a bit weak in Chapel Hill, and barely audible in Raleigh—the three corners of North Carolina’s Research Triangle. (One of those redwoods, WRAL, was audible, their slogan bragged, “from Hatteras to Hickory,” which is about 320 miles as the crow flies.)

As a commercial station, WDBS had to sell advertising. This proved so difficult that we made up ads for stuff that didn’t exist. That, in addition to selling ads, was my job. The announcer’s name I used for many of the ads, plus other humorous features, was Doctor Dave. It wasn’t a name I chose. Bob Conroy did that. I also had a humorous column under the same name for the station’s monthly arts guide, with the image above at the top of the page. That one was created by Ray Simone.

Ray and David Hodskins, another WDBS listener, later approached me with the idea of starting an ad agency, which we did: Hodskins Simone & Searls. Since we already had a David, everybody at the agency called me Doctor Dave, which quickly abbreviated to Doc. Since my social network in business far exceeded all my other ones, the name stuck. And there you have it.

stethoasclepiusEconomically speaking, the American healthcare system is not built for patients, because patients aren’t the ones paying for it directly. Insurance companies are.

See, health care in the U.S. is mostly a B2B insurance business. It is only B2C when insurance doesn’t cover expenses to the patient. And even then, insurance still pays for it when patients don’t.

The history of the U.S. health care industry is one essentially of regulatory capture by the insurance industry, which today is a vast interlocked cabal of insurance companies and kieretsus of hardware, software and service providers.

And, because this system is mostly disconnected from the controlling effects of direct accountability to patients (which we might have had if the system had been B2C), costs and inefficiencies within the system have grown out of control. To say the least of it.

It is therefore a mistake to assume that patient involvement in the system is “consumerism” in either of its common meanings: 1) acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts, or 2) The protection or promotion of the interests of consumers.

We tend to make this mistake whenever we conflate customers and consumers. We do this most commonly in businesses that offer B2C services paid for in a B2B way—as we have in the insurance business called healthcare. The split between the two is real, but treated as if it is not. Thus we have companies going on about how much they care about their consumers, users or patients, who they say have a “choice,” when in fact they have little or none.

Thus it is a mistake to assume that patients have any direct economic influence over what they get from health care providers whose primary customers are insurance companies. It really doesn’t matter is the care is provisioned through an “integrated clinical practice” (Mayo Clinic) “integrated managed care consortium” (e.g. Kaiser Permanente), “healthcare delivery system” (e.g. Cone Health), “managed healthcare group” (UnitedHealth, Anthem, Aetna), a “federation” of the same (Blue Cross Blue Shield) or a plain old “health insurance company” (Humana), the business is almost entirely upstream of the point where care is provided: inside the insurance business that gets paid to fund the whole mess.

The main exceptions in this system are Medicare and Medicaid, which are basically government-run insurance businesses.

Companies with internal splits between their customers and consumers tend to be blind to what its consumers actually want or need — or can bring to the market’s table on their own — because money comes from somewhere else. It’s conflationary shell game, making it easy to think and say the consumer is actually a customer, or like a customer, when they’re not, because all the economic action is taking place elsewhere.

I’ve seen this for decades in commercial broadcasting, and with publishers whose primary customers are advertisers rather than those who “consume” what is now called “content” (as if it were nothing more than container cargo), even if those consumers in some cases (such as with newspapers and magazines) are paying subscribers. The primary customers are still advertisers and their agents.

I’m seeing it today in the cabal of perpetrators and beneficiaries of the four dimensional shell game that online advertising has become. This is why its members, all B2B businesses, miss the clear signal “users,” “consumers” and “the audience” are sending with ad blocking and tracking protection.

The only way we can begin to fix the U.S. healthcare system is by making patients as powerful and engaging as they would be if they were full-fledged customers of the care they receive, rather than mere consumers of services. And this can only begin with better ways for each of us to take control of our own health care data (which is valuable to those services), and how it is used by services mostly paid for by others.

The best approach I have seen so far to this challenge is HIE of One, a project of two MDs, Adrian Gropper and Michael Chen. HIE stands for Health Information Exchange, which Adrian and Michael describe as “a patient-centered health record based on the FHIR and HEART interoperability standards.”

Here is the main reason I like its chances: it is based on open source code already in development. This means many developers can step in and help raise its barn, for all of us.

If you’re a developer, and you care about the health of your self, your friends and family, and the human species, I highly recommend stepping up and stepping in. I can’t think of any #VRM project with more leverage on the good of the world—as well as one country’s most essential yet fucked-up service economy.

4-1-06 detroit & ccs 005 web

Once, in the early ’80s, on a trip from Durham to some beach in North Carolina, we stopped to use the toilets at a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere. In the stall where I sat was a long conversation, in writing, between two squatters debating some major issue of the time. Think of the best back-and-forth you’ve ever read in a comment thread and you’ll get a rough picture of what this was like.

So I sat there, becoming engrossed and amazed at the high quality of the dialog — and the unlikelihood of it happening where it was.

Until I got to the bottom. There, ending the conversation, were the penultimate and ultimate summaries, posed as a question and answer:

Q: Why do people feel compelled to settle their differences on bathroom walls?

A. Because you suck my dick.

That story became legendary in our family and social network, to such a degree that my then-teenage daughter and her girlfriends developed a convention of saying “Because you suck my dick” whenever an argument went on too long and wasn’t going anywhere. This was roughly the same as dropping a cow: a way to end a conversation with an absurdity.

The whole thing came back to me when I read Pro-Trump Chalk Messages Cause Conflicts on College Campuses in the NYTimes today. The story it suggests is that this kind of thing regresses toward a mean that is simply mean. Or stupid. For example,

Wesleyan University issued a moratorium in 2003, after members of the faculty complained that they were being written about in sexually explicit chalk messages.

So I’m thinking we need a name for this, or at least an initialism. So I suggest BYSMD.

You’re welcome.

 

 

 

davy1

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
— Mahatma Gandhi

I’m not sure if Gandhi actually said that. Somebody did. My best human chance of finding who said it — or at least of gaining a learned enlargement on the lesson — would have been David Sallis. “Big Davy” didn’t know everything, but he came closer than anybody else I know, and he was a living exemplar of Gandhi’s advice.

Davy’s answer would have been knowing, clever and enlarged by a joke, a wild story or both. Alas, I can’t ask him, because he died last Friday of a stroke he suffered a few days earlier. He was just 56, and is survived by his wife Margaret and daughter Rosie —

mararet-and-rosie

— both of whom he adored absolutely — and by countless friends and colleagues who remain shocked and saddened by his passing.

I caught a telling example of how much Davy knew when he was visiting in Santa Barbara for the first time a couple years ago, and we took a long walk downtown. Observing the distinctive typeface of the city’s street signs, he described in depth its origin and design elements. I don’t remember what he said, except that the typeface, like the town, was of regional Spanish provenance. Now when I look online, all I can find about the typeface is that it’s called “Mission,” and lives in no standard font library. Whether or not Davy knew more than the rest of the world on the subject, it was totally in character that he might.

Davy didn’t like it when I told other people he was a maths genius. A stickler for accuracy, he said he was taught by some real ones, at Imperial College and elsewhere. But while he might not have been their equal, he was wickedly smart on the topic. One evening I saw that demonstrated at a bar in Silicon Valley. Davy was sitting at a table with another maths whiz, talking about how to solve some particularly vexing problem. Pausing in the midst of the conversation, Davy folded a napkin several ways at various angles and pushed it across the table to the other guy, who said “That’s it!” and looked back at Davy in amazement. Davy returned a look of agreement with one raised eyebrow and a wry smile. It was an expression that at once said both that he had won and this was all in fun — and “Isn’t it great that we’re both learning something here?” Here’s a photo I shot of the scene:

davy2

Davy was also a lover and player of music. Here he is on a guitar he brought to our house on a visit:

davy3

Davy’s tastes were wildly eclectic and refined. That guitar is an Erlewine headless Lazer — the same one played by Johnny Winter. At the time it was on its way to joining Davy’s extensive collection of vintage saxophones and guitars of every kind, any of which he might pick up and wail away on at a moment’s notice. He could hold forth on Bach and punk with equal authority, and had forgotten more about Frank Zappa than all but a few will ever know.  Here he is with our friend Robert Spensley (another fabulous musician), in their Zappa shirts:

davy-robbie

Davy became instant friends with my wife and I when we met in London in May 2013, at a lunch with a handful of colleagues at Visa Europe, which employed his consulting services for many years. It was Davy who brought VRM (subject of my work with the Berkman Center) to the company’s attention, and who had been the main instigator of the gathering.

Suspecting that we might be among the few who would know a world-changing business and technical hack when we saw one, he shared with us plans for Qredo, an architecture for sending and sharing data securely and privately between parties who could also, if they chose, connect anonymously — and then selectively disclose more information as purposes required. Qredo eventually became a startup, and I served through its formative months on the company board, visiting often to Richmond, Davy’s beloved home town. Here he is, describing how Qredo fit into some VRM contexts :

davy-whiteboard

Yet what I love and remember best about Davy was how much fun he was as a companion — at work on Qredo, in conversation at pubs and in other convivial settings, on walks in Richmond and around London, and over countless meals in places both fun and fine. To all those occasions Davy brought the most irrepressible inner child I have ever known in an adult human being. Here is a small collection of shots that show our boy at work and play:

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 2.00.49 PM

Since he left I haven’t gone ten minutes without lamenting how much his absence lessens the world. The one solace I find is knowing how much larger he made the world when he was with us.

For those able to attend, a ceremony and burial will be held on Monday, 30 November, 11 AM at Richmond Cemetery.

Here is the current perimeter of the Valley Fire, according to the USGS’ GEOMAC viewer:

ValleyFire 2015-09-13 at 3.10.24 PM_a

As you see, no places are identified there. One in particular, however, is of extremely special interest to me: Harbin Hot Springs. That’s where I met my wife and made more friends than I can count. It is, or was,  one of the most lovely places on Earth, inhabited and lovingly maintained by wonderful people.

I just matched up a section of the map above with Google Maps’ Earth view, and see that Harbin and its neighborhood are in the perimeter:

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 3.12.19 PM

After seeing this picture here, which looks northwest from downtown Middletown…

COyGRRHVAAEwC4w… I suspected the worse.

And now comes news that Harbin is “pretty much destroyed.” Damn.

Other places in the perimeter — or so it appears to me (please don’t take this as gospel):

  • Outer edges of Middletown and Hidden Valley Lake communities
  • Parts of Whispering Pines, Cobb, Holbergs and Glenbrook
  • Areas adjacent to McCreary Lake and Detert Reservoir

Watch here for official information about the fire.

 

This was me in the summer of ’53, between Kindergarten and 1st Grade, probably in July, the month I turned six years old:

1953_07_paradiseI’m the one with the beer.

And this was me in 1st Grade, Mrs. Heath’s class:

Grade_1I’m in the last row by the aisle with my back against the wall, looking lost, which I was.

Some kids are good at school. I sucked at it until my junior year in college. That was when I finally grokked a rule: Find what the teachers want, and give them more than that. When I shared this insight with my wife, she said “I figured that out in the third grade.” She remembered sitting in class at her Catholic grade school, watching the nun go on about something, pointing her pencil at the nun and saying to her eight-year-old self, “I can work with this.” Which she did, earning top grades and blowing through UCLA in just three years before going on to a brilliant career in business.

Don’t get me wrong. I learned a lot in school — probably just as much as the other kids, and maybe more than most because I read a lot and was curious about approximately everything (which is still the case). I also enjoyed hanging with friends and doing what kids did. But I hated the schooling itself: the seven lessons teachers were paid to deliver

  1. Confusion
  2. Class position
  3. Indifference
  4. Emotional dependency
  5. Intellectual dependency
  6. Provisional self-esteem
  7. Submission to authority

But Summer was paradise.

One big credit for that goes to Grandma Searls, whose birthday is today. She’s top left in the first photo, which was shot at her house in the woods in what’s now Brick, New Jersey. (Back then it was still in the Pine Barrens — a more delightful region than the name suggests.) If Grandma was still around, she’d be 132 years old. (She died in 1990 at nearly 108.) She was our family matriarch, without the regalities, and one of the world’s most loving and welcoming people. Gatherings like the one above were constant and wonderful, all summer long.

I also want to give a big hat tip to Nancy Gurney, one of the other faces in the back of the room in the second photo. Nancy has put together this Bogota High School site for our graduating class: 1965. I didn’t go to Bogota, but I did go to Maywood elementary and junior high schools, which fed into Bogota High back in those days. When I look back at the old photos on the site (of which the second above is one), only fun memories come back.

That line came to me a few minutes ago, as I looked and read through the latest photographic blog posts by Stephen Lewis in his blog, Bubkes). This one…

Stephen Lewis photo… titled Farmyard, Grandmother, Chicken, and Ovid in Exile, is accompanied by richly detailed text, including this:

The courtyard in the photo no longer exists; it and and the vegetable garden were uprooted several years ago.  in their place: a summer-time restaurant surrounded by neatly planted flowerbeds and a tall antenna tower of a mobile telephony company resting on a broad concrete footing.  The grandmother still lives on the plot, however, and tends the little that remains of her garden.  She is in her late-eighties now and, at day’s end, often sits on the raised curb of the newly paved road next to her former farmyard in expectation of passersby…

Nothing is permanent, but in this case the more durable feature is the grandmother and her friendly face — the face of the place, while she lasts.

Also arresting is Corn Stalks, a Plateau, the Black Sea, and the Horizon:

dscf0268

It’s a place that calls to mind face in its verb form. A synonym might be to meet, or to confront. We face a challenge, an opportunity, a problem, success, failure, or the world. Things face us as well, but not always directly. Three of the four things in the photo are mostly hidden by the first, but far more vast and open. Also flat. Horizons may feature mountains, but they are horizontal: flat and wide.

We are walking and running animals that work best in the horizontal. Our eyes shift more easily to left and right than to up and down. Our stereoscopic vision and hearing also locate best in the horizontal spread from one here to many theres.

Our species dispersed from Africa toward gone horizons, mostly along coasts long since drowned by melting ice caps. The Black Sea has changed greatly in spread and shape throughout human history, and may have reached its present height in a deluge through the Dardanelles and Bosporus seaways.

The view on the path in the photo is framed between the vertical blinders of dry corn stalks at the edges of fields of unseen vastness. (Corn fields have always been both beautiful and a tiny bit creepy to me, ever since I got a bit lost when wandering as a kid into a cornfield somewhere, with no clear direction out other than the sound of distant voices.)

Between the last paragraph and this one, Stephen posted another photo, titled Shabla, Bulgaria: Seawards and Kitchenwards, taken on the shore of the Black Sea:

shabla-bulgaria-seawards-and-kitchenwards

The subject is mostly boats and ramps. In the foreground are stairs and wood railings, two of the many literal and figurative framings, none quite horizontal, in a vertical photo with dimensions we call “portrait.” On the face of this Bulgarian shore, one ear is the sea itself. All the ramps face land and sea. To them the camera is an unseen visitor from another dimension.

While seeing and hearing are mostly horizontal (our ears as well as our eyes are aligned with the horizon), eating is vertical: food is something we “eat up” and “get down.” So is nutrition: we “raise” crops and cattle.”

In Stephen’s photos, things have faces too. Some are literal, such as in Guns of August, Books of August: The Iconography of a Gravestone in Prague:

ww-i-grave-prague-copy-2 The photo puts in contrast the irony of cemetery “monuments” (as gravestones are now called), commemorating stuff nobody alive remembers, for an audience a living performer might round to zero. Under the subhead The Emotions of the Living; the Passivity of the Dead, Stephen writes,

The photo above, taken in the immense cemetery in the late-19th/early-20th century residential quarter of Vinohrady, portrays a gravestone tableau of life’s emotionized figures that reveals the ways that those in the comfort and safety of the home-front consciously or unconsciously sanitized, rationalized, and ennobled the senseless carnage of World War I.

Last month I visited the graves of relatives three generations and more ahead of mine, at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, and reported on that visit in Lives of the Dead. While some graves at Woodlawn yearned toward the kind of extravagance Stephen found in Vinohrady, my late kinfolk leaned in the opposite direction, marking little or nothing of who they planted there. To my knowledge, I was the first to surface (at those last two links) twenty Englerts, Knoebels and others whose faces in death are carpets of mowed grass.

And who knows how long anything will last on the Web? My old blog, on which I wrote from 1999-2007, survives by the grace of a friend, and its blogroll is a near-cemetery of rotting links.

Every thing faces a future for as long as we grace it with expectation of use, appreciation or some other goodness. Why else save anything?

So I’m glad Stephen keeps putting these photos up, and enlarging them so well with prose. Here’s a list of other photos in his series, posted since the last time I last blogged his series:

It’s a wonderful gallery. Enjoy.

I only met Robin Williams once, at a trade show, back in ’03 or so. I was walking across the floor when I ran into my old friend Tom Rielly. Tom grabbed my arm and said, “Come here. I want you to meet somebody.” He pulled me though a small crowd to the guy in the middle. It was Robin. I almost said, “Hey, you look like Robin Williams, only shorter,” but I didn’t. Tom said to Robin, “This is Doc. He’s like, the number five blogger in the world.” I said, “No, I’m more like number twenty,” then added, “but most of the others are duplicates.” Then Robin said something about being at the show to collect swag (he had two bags’ full at that point). So we exchanged quips about going on a swag hunt, and how most of it is crap — or something like that. I don’t remember. Mostly I just recall what a thrill it was to play joke jazz with the greatest master of all time. Which Robin was, hands down.

To me he wasn’t just the greatest comedian ever, and the greatest comic actor as well. He was the best improv comic. (For a sample, check out what he improvised for the Genie role in the movie Aladdin, starting at about 6:36 here.) If I hadn’t taken a couple of turns toward sanity, that’s what I would have done too. (I’ve done stand-up a few times; and though it always well, I repressed—or sublimated—the urge to stick with it.) Still, Robin was a model for me. His fearlessness and versatility cleared the way for countless others to take the same risks, and to flex muscles they didn’t even know they had.

But enough about me, and about comedy. As Tom Rielly says, this is a day of tears. And of loss forever.

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