Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Warming Warning, Revisited   Leave a comment

Working in the music industry at the dawn of the 1980s I remember having mixed emotions about the state of popular music. My memory is that the best seller charts were beginning to reflect two concurrent trends.

 

     First, rhythm was more than a backbeat with disco and dance music taking an increasing share of the record-buying audience. Nothing necessarily bad about that but, frankly, A&M wasn’t a cutting edge dance/disco music label. Having ended the ‘70s with breakthroughs by artists like Supertramp and Peter Frampton, our artists tended to be more traditional pop/rock. However, in 1979 A&M Records co-founder Herb Alpert came roaring back on the charts with a huge instrumental dance hit record titled “Rise”. The tempo of “Rise” was noticeably slower than disco. Herb told us that he wanted  to “make a dance record, not a disco record.” He defined the difference as much in BPM—beats per minute—as musicality.

 

     The second trend was an influence of more synthesized recordings, many coming from the U.K. Think groups like Culture Club, Thompson Twins or Human League. Added to the evolving style of music was an obvious and open approach to fashion and sexuality. There was a more obvious use of makeup—for male and female performers—and a greater flair in wardrobe and hair. Along with a renewed influence in music, UK/European musicians (many of them with their 1970’s mullet hairstyle) brought their music and fashion to America in the ’80s.

 

     Songwriters have long incorprated social change into songs including issues of war, civil rights, and feminism. For example, there’s Pete Seeger (“Where Have All The Flowers Gone”), Bob Dylan (The Times They Are a’ Changing”), Helen Reddy (I Am Woman”) and Peter Gabriel (“Biko”). And another interesting topic was starting to rise to the consciousness of the public through the news, although not necessarily in song. To be honest, the size of the audience actually hearing this news was almost microscopic compared to the general population.
     A television listing appeared in Britain’s ITV Network’s evening programming on December 8, 1981. Scheduled to follow “Brideshead Revisited” at 9:00pm and the local news at 10:00pm was a program titled “Warming Warning”. Here’s how it was described in the newspaper listing:

 

     “A documentary about the serious effects our polluting of the atmosphere with carbon dioxide will have on the climate. Scientists are worried that at the present rate the Earth will be two degrees warmer by the middle of the next century with disastrous consequences for the polar regions. It is estimated that if the Ross Ice Shelf were to break up it could lead to an ice surge which would raise sea levels by up to twenty feet thus putting two million people, in London alone, at risk.”
     Produced in Britain by (the now defunct) Thames Television, it’s highly unlikely you or anyone you know ever saw “Warming Warning” in 1981.

 

     Most people, understandably, believe “climate change” is a recent topic, perhaps in the lexicon for 10-20 years. And millions continue to deny climate change is real, with many of those believing it’s a hoax.

 

     British journalist and writer Leo Hickman wrote about the documentary in 2017. In part he said that the broadcast of “Warming Warning” in 1981 “was among the earliest occasions—possibly the earliest—anywhere in the world where a major broadcaster aired a documentary dedicated solely to the topic of human-caused climate change. The documentary was broadcast seven years before Dr. James Hansen’s famous ‘it is already happening now’ Senate testimony in 1988, nine years before the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report was published, and 25 years before Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ was released. . . .”

 

     A decade after Dr. Hansen’s warning, and almost two decades after “Warming OCT 2019 Gen ProtestWarning” first aired in the U.K., the topic had reached the American congress. That is not to suggest United States senators were sitting around a campfire, arms locked, singing “Kumbaya”. The world was, in fact, talking about climate change and discussing the need to address the issue. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol—so named for having been adopted at a conference in Kyoto, Japan—was an international treaty which extended the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, committing signatory states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

     President Bill Clinton never got the United States Senate to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and President George W. Bush had no interest in raising the issue, much less push for ratification. While Clinton failed, in part, due to a minor distraction known as the Clinton Impeachment, Bush could easily have gotten this through the senate had he wished. But, Bush decided to allow the most conservative (i.e., anti-climate change) members of his administration to influence the GOP writ large, and by the time the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act came up for a vote in 2005, it was defeated on a bipartisan basis, 60-38. To be fair, the American government did  not stand alone. We bravely and  boldly stood with Kazakhstan; the only two nations to ignore the Kyoto Accord and formally deny Climate Change.
     By the time President Obama had secured a second term, maybe people believed the United States could now join the world in an effort to fight climate change. The new opportunity was for America to be a party to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate. President Obama committed the U.S. to joining almost 200 other nations of the world and work toward change. Obama’s good intentions—again, a treaty that was never ratified—was a casualty of the 2016 presidential election. It took the current occupant of the Oval Office less than six months to decide that America would, indeed, withdraw from the Paris Accord. And here we are.
     This past week an estimated 4 million people marched to draw attention to climate change as part of the September 2019 Climate Strike. And one can assume the estimate of 4 million is all about big cities and ignores the dozens, hundreds or even thousands of OCT 2019 Gualala Protestsmall towns and rural enclaves where people also stood for the Climate Strike. 16-year old Greta Thunberg’s dramatic call to action (and the Swedish teen’s authentic passion) were virtually impossible to dismiss. Some did, but Thunberg spoke for many. (Watch her on YouTube).

 

And on a more personal note, the Climate Strike was clearly front and center on Mendocino’s south coast. As I walked and talked with fellow climate-strikers, and with representatives of organizations, I was struck by how many of my friends and neighbors were on the green. Smiles were everywhere. This wasn’t a group of angry people. But that is not to say they aren’t serious, concerned or committed. They are. And we should be too. I live on the coast. I see the Pacific Ocean every day. You can’t live in Gualala, Sea Ranch, Anchor Bay, Point Arena, Manchester, Elk, Stewart’s Point or in any other town and not be thinking about our ocean, our planet, and climate change. I’m happy we’re aware, active, and thinking. But we need more. The world needs to seize the moment.
David Steffen
© 2019 David Steffen
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Amazing Days   Leave a comment

May 1, 2019

To paraphrase Billy Shears, “it was (almost)forty years ago today.” A band came to the Agora Theater near Cleveland in 1979, and with the luck of the draw, I happened to be there.

 

     Four years after that performance my friend Gil called me up and invited me to lunch. I was a marketing person and he was president of A&M Records (and my boss) so I immediately knew three things: Lunch would be delicious, Gil would be paying, and I would learn something. From my earliest days in the music business and having been taught a few things by a master of promotion, Augie Blume, I was always interested in learning from anyone I worked with or worked for. And that day in 1983 was one of those “holy shit” moments. In a very good way.

 

     The pace of change in recording technology was poised to accelerate in the 1980s, exciting and confounding us all at the same time. But tech didn’t matter that day. We were already accustomed to hearing what a record sounded like in the car. After all, as radio remained the primary driver of new music in the ‘80s, and commuter traffic was just beginning to feel unbearable, generations of music lovers had been trained to listen in the car. The A&M studios even had a car—actually about two-thirds of a 1960s convertible—set up inside the studio building for musicians and producers to listen to their new music while sitting in a car. (The car radio was tied directly to the adjacent studio so you could record, go out to the lobby, sit in the car and listen.)

 

     Gil drove us to the restaurant in West Hollywood but the conversation would come later. The good news, as it turns out, was that he couldn’t wait to put a tape in his cassette player. He turned to me and said, with a proverbial ‘shit eating grin’ on his face, “I’d like your opinion of this”.

 

     From the opening rimshot through the first 16 seconds (about 6-8 bars) the style suggested Gil could have been playing a song from 1962, constructed with a simple four-chord progression. But the quality of the production, the precision of the players and the voice singing the opening line confirmed that this was no 2-track golden oldie. 18 seconds into the tape the voice of Sting confirmed I was listening to a new track by Police. “It was Synchr“Every Breath You Take”, the first track I heard from the forthcoming “Synchronicity” album. Stewart Copeland, Andy Summers, and Sting would not again achieve this level of success as a group. At that moment the trajectory of their recordings had hit their zenith. We all expected future recordings from the trio but this was their real parting shot. And it was a shot heard round the world.

 

     As the playback finished Gil asked, “what do you think?”  My answer was to ask him to play it again. And he did. His next question was simply “Well?”. My thoughts went something like this. The song was musically simple, lyrically dark, and absolutely Police. It’s simplicity made it instantly familiar. As we walked into the restaurant (and having heard only one track) I couldn’t figure out if the single was simply an entree to a spectacular album, or if Police had run out of true creativity. But I knew “Every Breath You Take” was a hit. Gil smiled, agreed, and we proceeded to have lunch. On the way back I asked him about the rest of the album. He only said “Don’t worry. It’s all there.” A few days later I received my own advance cassette of the complete album. The collection of songs reinforced my opinion that this band was hitting on all cylinders.

 

     To their credit, the “Synchroncity” album was not a collection of songs in the vein of “Every Breath You Take”. They covered the Police spectrum. “Synchronicity I” (side 1, cut 1) could have been a track from an early album. It was simultaneously raw and slick. Yet “Synchronicity II” was clearly the band mixing their patented power-playing and power-vocalizing with lyrics that were not part of every day songwriting. In this case the lyrics lamented the worst parts of a white-collar or factory worker’s daily grind, i.e. regularly receiving “a humiliating kick in the crotch”. Or when the lyrics draw a comparison (through recurring passages) of being something (or someone) who ‘crawls from the slime at the bottom of a dark Scottish lach’. More imagery emerged with “crossing picket lines”, and seeing the “factory belching filth” into the air. By the end of the song the employee returns home to his cottage at the shore of the Scottish lake with a realization that it is he who rises from the slime.

 

     Consider next who is actually in control in the song “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. Sting makes references to fringe ideas and characters to make his point. No generic demon will suffice, so he calls on a name from Faust, “Mephistopheles ”. Similarly he evokes the names of sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis from Greek Mythology. The names provide perfect rhythm and mystery and can be interpreted as Sting digging deep into lyricism or trying to prove he’s an intellectual. While it can be read either way, I’d lean to the former.

 

     The tracks “Tea In The Sahara” and “Murder By Numbers” were strong signals as to where Sting’s songwriting was heading, signals borne out with the release of his first solo album “Dream Of The Blue Turtles” in 1985.

 

     The band released a total of five albums: “Outlandos d’Amour (1979); “Reggatta de Blanc” (1980); Zenyatta Mondatta (1981); “Ghost in the Machine” (1982),  and “Synchronicity” (1983). (Yes, I’m ignoring “Brimstone & Treacle”.) They didn’t say it in 1983 but it became apparent that Police, as a band, was history. A gigantic tour delighted fans around the world. There was a moment in September ’83, standing and watching the concert at Hollywood Park in Inglewood (Los Angeles) that I finally had a feel for what it might have been like to see The Beatles at Shea in 1965. Amplification and adoring fans. But it was an event.

 

     For the next year the venues filled with masses of fans, ticket prices helped maximize everyone’s profit (not a bad thing), and we (A&M Records) continued to sell hundreds of thousands, and then millions of albums (the last I heard the “Synchronicity” album sold 8 million in North America). And then, inevitably, the band’s dissolution began. It was one wildly successful artist I was involved with from first album to last. What each of them did later is important, and each found measures of critical and financial success. Forty years after the release of “Outlandos d’Amour”,  there have been many memories. But those “Synchronicity” days were truly amazing days.

 

David Steffen

© 2019 David Steffen

Exploring Renewal   Leave a comment

September 1, 2018

   I remember my first trip to California. The year was 1972, I flew in from Chicago, as I was about to begin a new career. The fabled terminal at LAX was a fraction of the size it is today. The horseshoe design of the access road was already in place, but the terminals were one level in those days (vs. today’s two and three-story buildings swallowing up departing passengers and spitting out the arrivals.) Over the dozen years I lived in Los Angeles, I occasionally drove south from Los Angeles to San Diego or north to Santa  Barbara. But any other in-state travel was of the “fly-over” variety.

A few years ago (2014) I actually drove to Los Angeles from Mendocino County (mostly on I-5) to attend a memorial service for a dear friend. That Friday night I stayed with friends in the Hollywood hills. Saturday morning we all went to the memorial—in typical L.A. fashion—in numerous separate cars. As quickly as I arrived, Saturday afternoon I found myself back in my car and headed north on I-5. Neither the drive south on Friday or the return on Saturday motivated me to consider the beauty of this state’s “agricultural engine”, that enormous food-producing region covering the central part of the Golden State.

For some reason, as summer 2018 began I felt the urge to make contact. I reached out to one of my friends from that October 2014 visit. Harold Childs has been more than a friend. Hell, we worked together for a couple of decades. The call felt good and after a couple of months of trying to find the perfect moment we finally found a weekend that would work for us both.

Leaving Mendocino County on a Friday morning (again) I headed south, this time down the coast through Jenner, across the Russian River, over to Bodega Bay (where Hitchcock’s The Birds was filmed), past Point Reyes Station, which I once described to someone (as a good thing) as a “coastal town that time sorta forgot”. I continued south through Olema and on to the Golden Gate Bridge. From there I drove past Golden Gate Park to Highway 92 and headed toward Half Moon Bay. Finally I was going to once again be enjoying the ocean views.

    Part of my motivation for this route was the wonderful news that a beautiful stretch of Highway One near Big Sur had been repaired, reopened, and ready for traffic. I should have expected that with the highway reopened, a few thousand of my closest friends would also be headed to Half Moon Bay, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel, and other points south.

     Somewhere just north of Monterey my iPhone’s GPS suggested—I guess most of these devices have learned to make suggestions to we puny humans—that I move over to Highway 101. It would be faster, and as it was now past noon, and I had hundreds of miles to go, I should get a move on.

In short order I found myself speeding down a wide-open 101, glancing left and right to take notice of the vast agricultural land I heretofore had only sped past at night or high above in a Boeing jet. It was sunny and beautiful (albeit  90+ degrees outside) and as I passed Watsonville I thought about the green vegetables and fruit often labeled as having come from this particular part of the state. When I read the highway sign that said “Soledad, 10 miles” I decided I’d had enough of the hot and dry ag-land and would head back to the coast. Once you’re past Soledad, Gonzales, Greenfield or dozens of other towns you realize there is no quick and easy route back to the coast from 101. Never mind. I still had my iPhone and even if this was miles from the coast, the drive might be worth it.

As I turned west from Greenfield, I navigated my way along a series of two-lane blacktop highways with names like Elm Road (no elms to be seen), Arroyo Seco (a dry creek it was), and Carmel Valley Road, which gave me some confidence that my general direction was west. Observing so many hard-working men in the fields, orchards, and vineyards, I was reminded (once again) how lucky I’ve been.

Some twists and turns (and perhaps 2 hours  after leaving 101) I suddenly found myself in the charming town of Carmel Valley. It’s about 15 miles from the coast and the parts of it I saw were just plain lovely. I quickly began reorienting myself from the dry roads, valleys, and hills and focused on this oasis. Clearly the real estate was well out of my league, but I had no interest in moving here anyway; and a stop after so many hours of driving seemed like a very good idea.

I turned right into the parking lot of the Corskscrew Cafe, with a sign telling me that lunch was served until 4:00pm. Glancing at my watch and seeing it was 3:30pm, the decision was easy. A glass of wine, a salad, and at 4:30pm I was back on Pacific Coast Highway. Sightseeing was becoming less and less of a motivation, as I knew I had many miles to go to get to Oxnard before midnight.

PCH became Cabrillo Highway, and I observed names and places that, had I not been so tardy driving this far, I would be stopping to take them all in. I looked up to see (in the distance) the great American cabin in the woods known colloquially as Hearst Castle at San Simeon. I waved to the ghosts and continued south traveling through towns like Harmony, Cayucos, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, and Pismo Beach. By the time I reached the outskirts of Santa Barbara I was tired but feeling like I was actually going to make it to Oxnard.

Arriving at my Air B&B I can only say that it was better than the Alkistis Hotel in Athens but not by much. (The Alkistis was $10 bucks a night in 1976 and way overpriced then). Never mind. I won’t bore you with my whiny accommodations story; perhaps another day.

    Saturday morning my friend Harold picked me up and we started our day at a local coffee spot. We then spent the next ten hours catching up. Some wine, some food, a personally guided private tour of Oxnard—did you know it was founded by Henry Oxnard, or that the Navy not only maintains a base in Oxnard (Port Hueneme, actually) but there is a museum dedicated to the amazing work of the Sea Bees. If you don’t know, it’s the name given to the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalions). ox photo (1)We had dinner at a local favorite (in Ventura, as I recall), and then another Lyft car to get us back safely. Oxnard is a nice place to live and I can see why Harold likes it. Close enough to greater Los Angeles to stay in touch with friends and family but better air, and the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

     Sunday Morning we had more coffee, said our good-byes and I was on the road again. I drove straight back to Mendocino County, taking 101 most of the way. When I got home I didn’t need anyone to remind me how much I like living up here. But I will say, reaching out was a great idea. Most importantly I renewed a friendship that I’ve treasured for 40 years. And I was reminded, along the way, what a great state California truly is. There is so much here to explore and discover, and none of us will live long enough to see it all or even half. But while you’re busy making plans, take a turn. Stop in a small town. explore a museum. Gaze at the ocean. And visit with an old friend. It’ll make you feel young again. Really.

Posted September 15, 2018 by Jazzdavid in Food, Media, Technology, Travel, Uncategorized

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. . . and then the tools shape us.   Leave a comment

August 1, 2018

     What’s in an age? It can refer to the length of time you, me, anyone has lived. It can be a particular stage in a life. Ten years ago my daughter was “college age”. When was I college age? I completed my MA as an adult (?) 15 years ago; so what age am I today? History has its own ages. Geologic time refers to the physical makeup and history of our planet. If you’re that curious, geologic time might take you back a billion years. Frankly, thinking about a billion years of history is too much for me (as in “here comes a headache”). Instead I’ve been thinking about technology as it relates to my personal ages.

     It is sometimes difficult for us to recognize that our lifetime’s journey changes our perspective about “ages”. My life during the “post-war” years specifically refers to those decades immediately following World War II. There were plenty of other wars and battles between 1945 and 2018—Afghanistan, the Balkans, Egypt/Israel, Grenada, Iraq, Korea, Kosovo, Kuwait, Syria, Vietnam—but “post war” for me is that twenty years between 1945 and the mid-1960s. Technology (as in television, transistor radios, etc.) was clearly advancing, but most people then could not fathom how the decades to follow would transform life.

     In 1979 I was working for A&M Records, Herb Alpert’s recording label (which he co-owned). That last year of the ‘70s decade was a difficult year for some parts of the music industry. A&M had some remarkable breakthroughs that year including albums by Supertramp and Herb Alpert both selling well enough to earn gold and platinum awards from the RIAA, the music industry’s keeper of the stats. There were others, to be sure, but I remember those two clearly for different reasons. Herb’s renaissance as a recording artist was jumpstarted by his hit single (and the accompanying album). “Rise” was the CoversCombined CRfirst bonafide hit digital recording of the digital age; likewise, Supertramp transformed their career, from the band everyone loved but still hadn’t sold a million of anything. Breakfast in America changed that. And both those records helped A&M Records weather the coming recession, when our government’s decision to raise interest rates and the Iranian government’s decision to restrict oil shipments helped screw up the economy.

     The Sony Walkman portable cassette player signaled another sea change in technology. Also introduced in 1979, the Walkman assured us Walkman 300px-Original_Sony_Walkman_TPS-L2that music was going to be highly portable. No longer tethered to the turntable, you could now throw a dozen cassettes in a bag and listen anywhere, anytime. Miles Copeland, who then managed the band Police, stopped in to our Hollywood offices near Christmas 1979. He was returning from a trip to Japan and was showing us the Sony Walkman he just purchased in Tokyo. We were all impressed with his new ‘toy’. And in short order CDs were also going to revolutionize the record business. No more scratchy vinyl. Now we offered our favorite artists in these indestructible shiny discs. Of course they weren’t indestructible, but we embraced these digital “records”. Cassette tapes and vinyl records seemed doomed. Cassettes are gone, and yet vinyl records are still being manufactured, but in infinitely smaller numbers.

     I remember my 1984 Audi 5000. I liked the car, but I remember it as much for its “history” as my first vehicle equipped with a cell phone, a large unit installed between the bucket seats. In less than a decade the cell phone had shrunk to a size small enough to fit easily into the palm of your hand. I had a Nokia (circa 1996) mobile that was so compact I lost it a year later on a shuttle bus somewhere between the Hertz counter and San Francisco Airport’s United Airlines terminal. In 2001 Steve Jobs delivered the first Apple iPod. Cassettes disappeared, and the days of traveling around with a bag of cassettes came to a merciful end.

     In 2007 Jobs showed the world what a singular vision (along with $150 million in development money) could deliver with the introduction of the first iPhone. Few would DS iphone_original_2007_02-100727597-orig CRdisagree with the premise that the iPhone changed everyone’s thinking. Cell phones were mundane, smart phones were the future. And the iPhone was the technology to which every other smart phone was (and is still) compared to. It wasn’t just about the device. It was also about how you used your smart phone. 

     On a walk near Union Square in San Francisco a few years ago I realized that Bluetooth wireless technology leveled the playing field between the self-absrorbed and the unconcerned. Business people who walked down busy streets talking on their smartphones without holding the phone to their ears blended with random people who simply enjoyed walking down busy streets talking to themselves.

     A half-century ago, Marshall McLuhan was widely quoted for titling a book (and telling the world that) The Medium Is The Message. According to his eldest son, Dr. Eric McLuhan, Marshall McLuhan’s publisher mistakenly titled the book The Medium Is The Massage.  When the author heard about the typo, his response was “Leave it alone! It’s great, and right on target!”. Television was the message, not the content. And television was also the massage.

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     Technology is a tool. And McLuhan knew that when he posited “We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.” Fast forward to 2018 and we don’t have to speculate on what McLuhan might say about the age of the smartphone. In his 1964 book Understanding Media, he wrote, “The medium [is the message because it is the medium] that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.” Next time you’re walking down a busy street, pay attention. Perhaps you’ll agree that my Union Square observations seem much more rational because in reality, we’re not all actually talking on our smartphones.

 

David Steffen

© David Steffen 2018

Media’s Absentee Landlords   Leave a comment

April 1, 2018

    Most people of a certain age can probably recall their discovery of the first local newspaper carrying their favorite comics. It almost doesn’t matter what those comics were, as there was something for everyone. I never read Prince Valiant. Too cheesy. I did read Blondie but felt it hit a little too close to home. Beetle Bailey. Fun. Peanuts? My ‘peeps’. Li’l Abner? Could have been one or two of my neighbors. Hi and Lois? Too vanilla. I’d follow some or all of these in glorious black and white during the week, and on Sunday, magically, we found that they had all erupted into living color. We were too young to understand that the comics had two reasons for existing. First they were entertaining. Second, they trained children (future subscribers) to get into the habit of reading the daily newspaper.

Growing up in Milwaukee we had two choices. There was the morning Milwaukee Sentinel and the evening Milwaukee Journal. I was one of those “paper boys” who got up early in the morning, picked up my bundles of Sentinels and delivered them to homes along my streets on the south side of Milwaukee. I earned more money than my days of setting pins at the local bowling alley, but after a year or so decided the little bit of income it provided wasn’t worth the effort. Besides, I was part of a 4-piece band which gave me more spending money than the paper so, hey, why not stay with rock ’n roll.

The Milwaukee Sentinel had long been a money-loser for William Randolph Hearst’s empire. Matthew J. Prigge wrote in the March 2016 Shepherd Express “Hearst hung on to the Sentinel, losing money every year, until his death in 1951. Hearst Publishing continued ownership until a strike in 1962 shut the paper down for six weeks. With Hearst Publishing prepared to fold the paper altogether, the Journal Company stepped in at the last moment and—feeling that Milwaukee needed more than one voice in its daily news—offered $3 million for the sheet.” For the next 30 years the papers continued to be published as separate entities, only to be merged into a single paper—the Journal-Sentinel—in 1994. Milwaukee wasn’t the only city to become a one-newspaper town. As the century turned, cities all over the country saw their two-newspaper towns become one newspaper towns, and many smaller cities and towns watched as their local papers shrunk, merged, or closed down altogether. Print media was becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer publishers.

Radio and television suffered a different fate. The Federal Communications Commission has long been the radio and TV regulatory arm of the federal government. For most of the post-war period (beginning in 1953), companies were allowed to own no Puppet CR (1)more than one AM, one FM, and one TV station in any one media market. Furthermore, they were limited to a maximum of seven of each nationwide. Period. The original 7-station limit was to prevent any one company from having undue influence over the American public by dominating the media, locally, regionally, or nationally. During the 1980s this restriction was seen as “heavy handed”. Under the Reagan administration the FCC saw fit to allow companies to own as many as 12 AM, 12 FM, and 12 TV stations. Got the math: companies could now control 36 broadcast outlets nationally. With a straight face and a nod to George Orwell, in 1984 the government told us that fewer companies owning more stations would “encourage media competition”. The FCC concluded that the concentration of media in fewer hands posed “no threat to the diversity of independent viewpoints in the information and entertainment markets.” The new rule included another trigger. In 1990 the FCC would further relax the broadcast ownership by any one company to, well, unlimited. A little more than a decade later alarm bells began going off. According to Deadline Hollywood, by spring 2007, “91% of the total weekday talk radio programming was conservative, and only 9% was progressive. . . .” And those numbers are more than a decade old.

Obviously media consolidation has done nothing for diversity. iHeart Media now owns 845 stations in the United States. Cumulus Media owns 500 stations. Other companies like Entercom, Cox, Clear Channel, and CBS, are approaching another 1000 stations in total. Both iHeart and Cumulus are operating in bankruptcy, and bankruptcy means there will be little interest in balanced programming or local concerns, and more interest in cutting costs. As management focuses on “efficiencies”, many of these corporate-owned radio stations will have little or no staff in the cities and towns they serve, enabling them to save money by doing away with local hosts, local news, and local weather. The “local” newscast you hear in Topeka might be coming from a voice in Chicago. And that’s on top of corporate ownership that caters to the expansion of a conservative audience mind-set. Then there’s Sinclair, the conservative broadcast business which is expanding (perhaps soon to own 200 television stations) and vying with Fox to become a kingmaker in American politics by shaping and supporting conservative opinions in the vast majority of American media markets.

This is not meant to be a sentimental look at ‘the good old days’, or an exercise in hammering large corporations. It is rather a recognition that as technology continues to evolve we need to hold precious those things that we’ve come to appreciate including the importance of local radio stations, newspapers and magazines, with local information, prepared by local people.  The adage to “Think Globally, Act Locally” has never been more appropriate.

Driverless Vehicles. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?   Leave a comment

February 1, 2018

For virtually all Americans, from Baby Boomers to Millenials to Gen-X to Gen-whatever, driving is a right of passage. Growing up we transitioned from the back seat, to the front seat, to the drivers seat. Most of us learned to drive in our parents’ car (taught by them), and at some magic moment began to “borrow” that car for our own use. Eventually we got jobs and began buying our own car, van, or motorcycle.

Those first 3-4 years of driving had their great moments—“hey babe, wanna go out tonight? I’ll pick you up in my (mother’s) car.” Obviously the word “mother’s” was lost in a cough or was left unspoken so that we could perpetuate the illusion that it was our car. Spoiler alert: our dates knew whose car we were driving. If not right away, once they sat down on those plastic seat covers, they knew. But it was usually an unspoken truth. After all, if we were going to use our parents’  car for all the purposes that God intended, i.e. necking (etc) and lugging my band equipment around town, no one was really fooled (or really cared) about whose name was on the pink slip.

By the time I moved to New York in 1990, I had already gone through 10 pink slips of my own. And I was grateful that I learned to drive in some of the most formidable training grounds on the planet: Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Detroit, Dallas, and San Francisco. And while traveling on business I even tempted fate and rented cars in Dublin, London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt. I’ve always believed it was my ability to navigate the Hollywood Freeway, The Cross-Bronx, and the Kennedy Expressways that prepared me for driving anywhere.

Honestly, I never had an accident driving in Europe. That being said, I’m certain there remains a wheel cover from a 1988 Hertz car lying in the middle of a traffic circle somewhere in Scotland. Traveling as much as I did I became more and more comfortable letting someone else do the driving. In New York City, that included becoming a near expert on the quickest way to go from Point A to Point B.

In the mid-1990s my office was on 57th and West End in Manhattan (near the Hudson River). From that vantage point I learned the best way to get to the Battery, Grand Central, upper west side, or anywhere else in the city based on two factors: the weather maxresdefaultand the time of day. Some days taking a cab was fastest, other days the subway, still other days a city bus, and believe it or not walking was an option. There were also gypsy cabs. These were drivers, usually without a hack license, using a borrowed Lincoln or Cadillac, cruising the streets looking for a fare. (That sort of entrepreneurship was illegal then and probably is still illegal.) If I was wearing a suit and a topcoat while walking, it wasn’t unusual for some enthusiastic driver in a Lincoln to make a u-turn in the middle of 57th Street during rush hour, pull up along side me and ask, “hey, you need a ride?”.

Needless to say, I’m far less adventurous now, than I was in those days. Even when we drive to San Francisco, we usually leave the car wherever we’re staying and get a Lyft car to carry us from “A” to “B”.  (I avoid Uber.*) I’ve grown to like Lyft’s service and find that it’s actually comparable or preferable to the hassle of driving, parking, and driving back. But we are, once again, moving into uncharted territory.

So now we’re being told that driverless vehicles are going to be the rage. Really. Apple, Google, Tesla, Amazon and others are well into development flyingcar_thinkstockof driverless technology. I’m not quite certain I’m going there yet. Perhaps there may soon be an application in the city, but sitting in the backseat of a driverless vehicle moving along Van Ness during rush hour is not really appealing.

Driving around Mendocino County should give all of us pause about the reality of driverless vehicles. Think about driving—strike that—riding in a driverless vehicle from Jetsons 20150324162939-jetsons-futuristic-future-cartoon-children-kids-80sJenner to Gualala; or Gualala to Elk. Hell, given the potholes, the wildlife, and the twisting and turning of our roads and highways, I doubt it’s a good idea to go driverless from Sea Ranch to Gualala.

The techies believe that driverless vehicles will be the next big thing. Near term, in rural America it’s probably more likely that driverless vehicles will do for transportation what the 8-track tape did for vinyl. (If you know what an 8-track tape is, you get it. If you don’t, ask someone ten years older for an explanation. In short, 8-tracks were awful.)sleeper

Google is experimenting and acknowledges at least one accident. Tesla, too, acknowledges at least one serious accident: a  fatal encounter. In 2016 the driver of a Tesla Model S car was killed in a road accident after its Autopilot failed to recognize an oncoming truck, as reported in the online edition of DeZeen in July 2016. “According to the Florida Highway Patrol report, the Tesla’s windscreen hit the bottom of the trailer as it passed underneath, and the car kept going, leaving the road. It continued, striking a
fence, crossing a field and passing through another fence before finally hitting a pole about 30 metres south of the road. In a statement on Tesla’s website, the company explained that the vehicle’s sensors, which help to steer the car by identifying obstructions, had failed to recognize ‘the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky’.” Oops. Sorry about that.

Having thoroughly explored a number of scientifically-based ideas about future transportation—The Jetsons, Lost In Space, Sleeper—I think I’m going to handle the driving for the foreseeable future.

David Steffen

© 2018 David Steffen

*If you’re interested in why I don’t use Uber you can search for a blogpost of mine at Jazzdavid.wordpress.com.

Posted March 18, 2018 by Jazzdavid in Government, History, Technology, Uncategorized

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Lobster, Privacy   Leave a comment

“Peekaboo. I Can See You”
December 1, 2017
     I can’t remember the moment I first tasted lobster—or “lopsta”, as I learned the correct pronunciation while living back east—but I truly enjoy it. Broiled, fried, steamed, if it’s the real deal from the coast of New England, I’m there. Unfortunately, Maine lobster is $30-$50 per pound in restaurants. (The Palm Restaurant, famous for steaks and lobsters, is reportedly currently charging $75 for a 3-pound Nova Scotian—not Maine—lobster.) Needless to say it’s been a long, long time since I had dinner, much less order lobster at the Palm; it’s simply too pricey for most of us. As an alternative to dining out, there are deals on the internet where you can order live lobsters, at a much lower price, and get them shipped to your home. But then you have more issues.
     I recall a New Years Eve get-together twenty years ago where everyone knew lobster was one of the food items for our celebration. I ordered live lobsters from Maine, shipped to our home in Connecticut. Once the carton was opened, the enthusiasm of friends and family quickly waned; they didn’t even wish to look at the living creatures. Comments were swift in coming. “You’re really going to kill them? I can’t eat him, her, them.” As for me, I looked the lobsters in the eyes, and carefully explained about the pot,Happy-lobster-cartoonREV the steam, butter, sauce, and their expected place on the table. In reality, lobsters seem to lose interest when they understood that they’re not ‘coming to dinner’, but rather ‘were to become dinner’. As I couldn’t send them back, I persevered and cooked them. No one else ate the lobster that evening.
     From a physiological standpoint, whether lobster or fried chicken, everything we intake (eat), travels along our internal highway, on its way to an eventual “outflow”. All of this brings me to something I recently read.
     It appears that lobsters (and other menu items) may need to get dressed up so that they can smile for the camera during digestion. In an article titled “FDA Approves First Digital Ingestion Tracking System Med”, the Associated Press reported that the Food and Drug Administration “has approved the first drug in the United States with a digital ingestion tracking system.” That’s right. Swallow this little pill and not only may it make you feel better or cure what ails you, but in theory your doctor or primary care provider will be able to determine the exact location of that pill. I am not making this up. The pill, or as it’s referred to by the drugmakers—the “digitally enhanced medication”—sends a message to a sensor on a wearable patch somewhere on your body. At first glance some might shrug and say, “so what, big deal.” However, given what the Russians have been doing for the past few years, it’s entirely likely that the Kremlin will be able to track my lobster dinner as it travels through me. Let’s be honest. It might also be tracked by the FBI, the NSA, or the CIA (the CIA in Langley, Virginia, not the CIA cooking schools in Hyde Park, New York, or St. Helena, California). If the Russians, or anyone else got hold of Hillary’s emails, it would seem like a small task to read the information traveling through me and stored on a patch.
     I’m one of those people who’s been reluctant to send my saliva (and $60-$100 or more)
to companies like 23 And Me to have my DNA analyzed. I’ve long maintained that I am DNA 01EXPpart-English and part-German, based on my mother’s description (with her emphasis on “English”). Besides, I’m just not that curious about my exact makeup, due to a couple of factors. First, I don’t care if the analysis shows me to be 30% English, 16% German, 21% French, 13% Martian, and 20% cheddar cheese (although my friends believe this last one is quite probable). The prospect of my DNA being analyzed, and subsequently used to evaluate, compare, contrast, and categorize me and other people into very specific groups is not compelling to me either. DNA 02EXPMore to the point, it’s my belief that these DNA-companies will in all likelihood sell and resell my DNA information to other companies or worse.
     Two billion (that’s ‘B’: billion) people, 27% of the planet use Facebook each month. And if we haven’t yet learned about Facebook’s business structure, it’s high time we did. Simply put, the more information we put on Facebook the more clicks are generated on Facebook as our friends, family, and our social and business connections check in with us. And every click, each and every piece of data, is stored in Facebook’s database, forever. You, too, add to the clicks as you check out the pages of friends, family, total strangers, and cats. Here’s a simple example. That cat video you just watched is another click captured by Facebook. While you enjoy the cat, Facebook is capturing your viewing as data to be sold and resold to advertisers, marketers, and “interested parties”. It is no coincidence that once Facebook knows that you like cats you suddenly begin receiving offers for cat sand, cat food, cat toys, cat brushes, cat clippers, cat clothes, cat beds, cat medicines, and so on.
     DNA contains the fundamental and distinctive characteristics of who we are. DNA testing services are, I believe, a variation of the Facebook model.  So just what do I believe the DNA companies will do with our information? Sell it. And if they don’t sell it, someone will gain access to it. Some people don’t care if their information, including DNA, is sold and resold, and I’m fine with that. For me, if DNA companies want my DNA, they can pay me for it. Privacy should be close to sacred. But private data is not always DNA Helixsecure. Ask Equifax. Between May and July, 2017, the Social Security numbers, birth dates, and home addresses for up to 143 million Americans were hacked. Oops. Yet, consider this little 40 word section from one DNA company’s Privacy Statement:
“As our business continues to grow and change, we might restructure, buy, or sell subsidiaries or business units. In these transactions, customer information is often one of the transferred assets, remaining subject to promises made in then prevailing privacy statements.”
     My interpretation of this could find the following chain of events: A corporation in the United States owns a DNA Company, collects a $99 fee, analyzes the DNA and sends you or me the results. They also retain the information. Forever. Twenty minutes or twenty years later, the corporation sells its DNA business to another corporation headquartered in, say, Tajikistan. The individual’s DNA will be, according to the above quote, one of the transferred assets. The buyer (new owner) will now have access to all of the DNA information collected to that point. The primary languages in Tajikistan are Tajik and Russian. Who might tap into that DNA database? Mmmmmmmm.

David Steffen

© 2017 David Steffen

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