BBC to Cut 1,000 Jobs as License Revenue Falls Short

[Note:  This item comes from friend Bob Frankston.  DLH]

BBC to Cut 1,000 Jobs as License Revenue Falls Short
Jul 2 2015

LONDON — The BBC said Thursday that it was cutting 1,000 jobs to help plug a budget gap of 150 million pounds caused by a larger decline than expected in the number of households owning televisions, as viewers increasingly choose to watch content free online.

The BBC is financed in part by a license fee system in which every British household with a television pays £145.50, or about $230, a year to the BBC. That helps generate about £3.7 billion for the corporation. Television owners 75 or older are exempt.

The BBC said viewers were increasingly using their hand-held devices or going online to catch up on missed programs, suggesting that the BBC needed to update its business model for the digital age by extending the license fee to include digital services.

The BBC director general, Tony Hall, was quoted by the BBC News website as saying that more than one million fewer people had a television set than had been forecast by the corporation in 2011, creating the shortfall.

He said the organization faced a “difficult choice” because of the challenging economic environment, the BBC reported.

“We’ve already significantly cut the costs of running the BBC, but in times of very tough choices we need to focus on what really matters — delivering outstanding programs and content for all our audiences,” he said in a statement.

The reduction, which amounts to about 5 percent of BBC’s work force, comes as media companies across the globe, including The New York Times Company, are grappling with how to increase revenue and compel viewers or readers to pay for content.

At the BBC, Lord Hall said the cost-cutting drive would include the elimination of senior management roles and the streamlining of staff in marketing, communication and human resources. The cuts should generate savings of £50 million, he said.


Privacy Is Personal

[Note:  This item comes from friend Judi Clark.  DLH]

Privacy Is Personal
By Doc Searls
Jul 2 2015

Try to nail two boards together with your bare hands.

Can’t be done. You need a hammer. But the power is not the hammer’s. It’s yours, because the hammer is your tool. As a tool, it becomes part of you. That’s what tools do: they enlarge your capacity for action and effect. 

That capacity is called agency. To have agency is to operate with effect in the world. The range of that effect expands with the number and quality of our tools, and our expertise in using them.

This range is called scale, and it operates at two levels. The first is personal. The best tools work for many purposes in many places. The hammer I use in Wellington, New Zealand (where I am now) works the same everywhere in the world I want to hammer nails through boards. The second is social. Hammers are familiar tools that lots of people everywhere can use lots of different ways.

Organizations want scale too. Every new company these days talks about “scaling up.” But personal scale is different. It’s about expanding our capacities outward, beyond our bodies. We get scale as drivers when we speak about “my engine” and “my wheels,” because our senses extend through the whole car. And we get scale socially by being many drivers of many cars on roads everywhere. 

Now back to the two boards. Say one is the Net, and the other is a company you want to connect with through the Net. Your main hammer is a browser. What’s your nail?

Well, there’s the company’s website, which has a login system, a page where you can manage your account with them, and maybe a phone number or a chat thing so you can talk to a company agent. But none of those  are yours. Those are tools that give the company scale, not you.

Worse, every company has its own tools for nailing you to their system. And those are different too, for every company. Even if two companies use the same back-end CRM (customer relationship management) systems (e.g. Salesforce’s or Oracle’s), they use those services in different ways. So, as a customer, you need to deal with those companies separately, inside their systems. So, while their tools scale across may customers, yours don’t scale across many companies. And the problem gets worse with every new company you deal with, because all of them require separate, silo’d “relationships”.

To illustrate the difference between your agency and theirs, imagine telling every company you deal with that you have changed your address. Or your phone number. Or your last name. In one move. You can’t, any more than you can push a nail through a board with your bare hands. Instead you have to go to every company’s website, one at a time, log in, and go through their gauntlet of requirements.

Now look at the same challenge from a company side. If it wants to tell every one of its customers about their new name, address or phone number, they can do that in one move. Because they have tools for that. You don’t. Not yet. And not as long as you are the client and they are the server. Every server is a castle and every client is a serf.

This kind of scale asymmetry has been with us ever since industry won the Industrial Revolution. That victory brought mass manufacture and mass marketing — both are kinds of scale — to business. Henry Ford: “Any color you want, as long as it’s black.” Likewise with one sided “agreements” that companies impose on every customer and user.

In 1943, Friedrich Kessler, a law professor at Columbia, observed that  freedom of contract, a feature of civilization for centuries (if not millennia), was abandoned by big business in the Industrial Age, for the sake of scale:


Greece Over the Brink

[Note:  This item comes from friend Ed DeWath.  DLH]

Greece Over the Brink
By Paul Krugman
Jun 29 2015

It has been obvious for some time that the creation of the euro was a terrible mistake. Europe never had the preconditions for a successful single currency — above all, the kind of fiscal and banking union that, for example, ensures that when a housing bubble in Florida bursts, Washington automatically protects seniors against any threat to their medical care or their bank deposits.

Leaving a currency union is, however, a much harder and more frightening decision than never entering in the first place, and until now even the Continent’s most troubled economies have repeatedly stepped back from the brink. Again and again, governments have submitted to creditors’ demands for harsh austerity, while the European Central Bank has managed to contain market panic.

But the situation in Greece has now reached what looks like a point of no return. Banks are temporarily closed and the government has imposed capital controls — limits on the movement of funds out of the country. It seems highly likely that the government will soon have to start paying pensions and wages in scrip, in effect creating a parallel currency. And next week the country will hold a referendum on whether to accept the demands of the “troika” — the institutions representing creditor interests — for yet more austerity.

Greece should vote “no,” and the Greek government should be ready, if necessary, to leave the euro.

To understand why I say this, you need to realize that most — not all, but most — of what you’ve heard about Greek profligacy and irresponsibility is false. Yes, the Greek government was spending beyond its means in the late 2000s. But since then it has repeatedly slashed spending and raised taxes. Government employment has fallen more than 25 percent, and pensions (which were indeed much too generous) have been cut sharply. If you add up all the austerity measures, they have been more than enough to eliminate the original deficit and turn it into a large surplus.

So why didn’t this happen? Because the Greek economy collapsed, largely as a result of those very austerity measures, dragging revenues down with it.

And this collapse, in turn, had a lot to do with the euro, which trapped Greece in an economic straitjacket. Cases of successful austerity, in which countries rein in deficits without bringing on a depression, typically involve large currency devaluations that make their exports more competitive. This is what happened, for example, in Canada in the 1990s, and to an important extent it’s what happened in Iceland more recently. But Greece, without its own currency, didn’t have that option.


Take control of the media with this media and news literacy course

[Note:  This item comes from friend Robert Berger.  DLH]

Take control of the media with this media and news literacy course
We’re in an age of information overload, and too much of what we watch, hear and read is mistaken, deceitful or even dangerous. Yet you and I can take control and make media serve us — all of us — by being active consumers and participants. Here’s how.
Jun 30 2015

This was the theme of my last book, Mediactive (here’s Cory’s super-kind review; blush…), and it’s at the heart of my online teaching and much of my recent writing.

So it was logical to extend the mission — and next week (July 6) we’re launching a “massive open online course” (MOOC) on media/news literacy in the digital age. It’s called “MediaLIT: Overcoming Information Overload.”

That overload, in this media-saturated age, is leading to all kinds of good and not-so-good outcomes. Having vast amounts of information about just about anything means we can learn more–a lot more–about almost anything. That’s the most exciting part of what’s happening.

But all that information also means, as the jawdropping CNN “ISIS flag” debacle demonstrates, that we have to be a LOT more careful about what we believe. To use guest lecturer Howard Rheingold’s framing, we have to employ “crap detection” in a big way these days.

People like Howard have helped us take the course beyond the standard lecture-readings-quiz format. We have words of wisdom, in a collection of videos, from some experts in the media and media-literacy fields, in addition to just plain experts in subject areas who deal with the media on a regular basis.

Here’s a taste–snippets from the videos we’ll be using in the course–of their wisdom. Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales:


Cameron reaffirms there will be no “safe spaces” from UK government snooping

Cameron reaffirms there will be no “safe spaces” from UK government snooping
But how exactly does the UK government intend to do that? Watch out, encryption.
By Glyn Moody

Jul 1 2015


The UK’s prime minister, David Cameron, has re-iterated that the UK government does not intend to “leave a safe space—a new means of communication—for terrorists to communicate with each other.” This confirms remarks he made earlier this year about encryption, when he said: “The question is are we going to allow a means of communications which it simply isn’t possible to read. My answer to that question is: no, we must not.”

David Cameron was replying in the House of Commons on Monday to a question from the Conservative MP David Bellingham, who asked him whether he agreed that the “time has come for companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to accept and understand that their current privacy policies are completely unsustainable?” To which Cameron replied: “we must look at all the new media being produced and ensure that, in every case, we are able, in extremis and on the signature of a warrant, to get to the bottom of what is going on.”

Although Cameron’s intentions may be clear, how he intends to implement them is not. Speaking on Monday, Cameron said: “We are urging social media companies to work with us and help us deal with terrorism.” Is this just a matter of putting pressure on Google and Facebook to hand over user information more readily, or does he expect them to proactively police what is posted on their services?

And what does he intend to do about encrypted communications where companies can’t hand over keys, or where there is no company involved, as with GnuPG, the open source implementation of the OpenPGP encryption system?

Since the UK government has said that re-introducing the “Snooper’s Charter” is one of its priorities, details should soon emerge. On Monday, Cameron said the issue of “safe spaces” will “come in front of the House,” presumably meaning the new Bill. Given Cameron’s latest comments, there seems little hope the proposed legislation will be proportionate: even though he claimed “Britain is not a state that is trying to search through everybody’s emails and invade their privacy,” he nonetheless evidently wants the capability to snoop on everything UK citizens are up to online. The key issue is now whether the proposals will be realistic about what can and can’t be done when dealing with modern encrypted communications.

Leap second causes Internet hiccup, particularly in Brazil

Leap second causes Internet hiccup, particularly in Brazil
By Jeremy Kirk
Jun 30 2015

The addition of a leap second to world clocks on Wednesday caused some networks to crash although most quickly recovered.

Some 2,000 networks stopped working just after midnight Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), said Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis with Dyn, a company studies global Internet traffic flows.

Nearly 50 percent of those networks were in Brazil, which may indicate that ISPs use a common type of router that may not have been prepared for the leap second, he said.

Most of the networks quickly recovered, which may have required just a reboot of a router, Madory said.

The Internet’s global routing table, a distributed database of networks and how they connect, contains more than 500,000 networks, so the problems affected less than a half a percent, Madory said.

Just after midnight, the number of changes to the global routing table spiked to as much as 800,000 per 30 seconds, according to Dyn. Changes to connections between networks are announced by providers using BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) and propagate across the Internet to other providers.

Madory said it’s not unheard of to see a flurry of new BGP announcements around those levels, but the timing around the leap second and 2,000 networks going offline “can’t be a coincidence.”

A leap second is added every few years to keep UTC synched with solar time. The difference between the two widens due to the slowing of the earth’s rotation. Since 1971, 26 leap seconds have been added to clocks.


Paired With AI and VR, Google Earth Will Change the Planet

Paired With AI and VR, Google Earth Will Change the Planet
By Cade Metz
Jun 29 2015

The James Reserve is a place where the natural meets the digital. 

Part of the San Jacinto mountain range in Southern California, the James is a nature reserve that covers nearly 30 acres. It’s closed to the public. It’s off the grid. Vehicles aren’t allowed. But Sean Askay calls it “one of the most heavily instrumented places in the US.” Robots on high-tension cables drop climate sensors into this high-altitude forest. Bird’s nests include automated cameras and their own sensors. Overseen by the University of California, Riverside, the reserve doubles as a research field station for biologists, academics, and commercial scientists.

In 2005, as a master’s student at the university, Askay took the experiment further still, using Google Earth to create a visual interface for all those cameras and sensors. “Basically, I built a virtual representation of the entire reserve,” he says. “You could ‘fly in’ and look at live video feeds or temperature graphs from inside a bird box.”

Somewhere along the way, the project caught the eye of Google’s Vint Cerf, a founding father of the Internet, and in 2007, Askay moved to Mountain View, California, home to Google headquarters. There, he joined the team that ran Google Earth, a sweeping software service that blends satellite photos and other images to create a digital window onto our planet (and other celestial bodies). Since joining the company, the 36-year-old has used the tool to build maps of war casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. He put the service on the International Space Station, so astronauts could better understand where they were. Working alongside Buzz Aldrin, he built a digital tour of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Now, as Google Earth celebrates its 10th anniversary, Askay is taking over the entire project—as lead engineer—following the departure of founder Brian McClendon. He takes over at a time when the service is poised to evolve into a far more powerful research tool, an enormous echo of his work at the James Reserve. When it debuted in 2005, Google Earth was a wonderfully intriguing novelty. From your personal computer, you could zoom in on the roof of your house or get a bird’s eye view of the park where you made out with your first girlfriend. But it proved to be more than just a party trick. And with the rapid rise of two other digital technologies—neural networks and virtual reality—the possibilities will only expand.

A Visit to Prague

Neural networks—vast networks of machines that mimic the web of neurons in the human brain—can scour Google Earth in search of deforestation. They can track agricultural crops across the globe in an effort to identify future food shortages. They can examine the world’s oil tankers in an effort to predict gas prices. And it so happens that Google runs one of the most advanced neural networking operations in the world. For Google Earth, Askay says, “machine learning is the next frontier.”

According to Askay’s boss, Rebecca Moore, the company is already using neural networks to examine Google’s vast trove of satellite imagery. “We have the Google Brain,” she says, referring to the central neural networking operation Google has built inside the company, “and we’re doing some experiments.” That’s news. But it’s not that surprising. Two startups—Orbital Insight and Descartes Labs—are already doing much the same thing.

Meanwhile, virtual reality—as exhibited by headsets like Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard—is bringing a new level of fidelity and, indeed, realism to the kind of immersive digital experience offered by Google Earth. Today, using satellite imagery and street-level photos, Askay and Google are already building 3-D models of real-life places like Prague that you can visit from your desktop PC (see video at top). But in the near future, this experience will move into Oculus-like headsets, which can make you feel like you’re really there.

“We have so much interesting stuff,” Askay says of Google Earth’s massive collection of images. “How amazing would it be to experience Google Earth in that environment?”