Open Source Arson Investigation

3 10 2009

The story that follows is long and a bit convoluted, but it’s necessary to understand the situation and my reasoning behind releasing the images herein.

On August 29, I decided to go shoot some breaking-news images of the Station Fire, a massive wildfire conflagration which continues to burn as I write this in early October. I spent a significant amount of that day inside the forest shooting. The forest was closed to the public and I was admitted as media – told I was “on my own” which was just fine with me. Late in the afternoon, as I was making my way back out, I came across a rather eerie looking scene at a turnout a few miles from the forest boundary. It just looked and felt weird – the fire hoses sitting there in a box (apparently staging by the firefighters), the gnarly blackened trees, etc. So I pulled in and took a couple photos of the site.

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Ink Time

7 09 2009

Briefing: The Moment [Time]The Hollywood sign shot has been everywhere.  It’s been really exciting.  Thank you to all of you who saw it in your papers (Fargo! Tulsa! Edmonton! DC! London! Holy Moly!) and wrote to me.  I feel really lucky this past week.

I was at the newsstand today to check the fresh Newsweek, because they finally ran the story on the John Hancock Tower for which they had licensed a couple of my shots.  My shots didn’t make the final cut, so that was a disappointment.

But, knowing that TIME had featured my Hollywood sign shot in their weekly gallery online, I figured – just in case – I’d peek at their print edition.  I dropped Newsweek, picked up its shelf-neighbor, TIME – and there was my baby, jumpin’ off the page!  I was psyched.

[Apologize for the quality of the scan; the paper is so thin that it is hard to scan it well.]



Gauging TechCrunch’s Moral Fiber In One Sentence

15 07 2009

The study of microexpressions has long been fascinating to me.  If you’re really paying attention, you can learn a great deal about a person in fleeting, unguarded moments.  I think this is true about language as well.  In written and spoken conversation, passing remarks – let’s call them “microprose” – can often give a far more realistic depiction of what’s really going on than what is presented as the main course.  This is, of course, because they are less thought out – and thus less guarded – than the rest of it.

When Arrington posted his rant back in December about how TechCrunch was no longer going to honor embargoes, I stayed out of that fray.  I did that for many reasons: mostly because I think they have every right to refuse to honor embargoes, partially because I didn’t really care enough, and also because the issue was already getting a lot more treatment than it deserved.  But at the time, one little piece of it stood out to me:

“We’ll happily agree to whatever you ask of us, and then we’ll just do whatever we feel like right after that.”

I remember being troubled by that.  It’s one thing to say you won’t honor embargoes and NDAs.  It’s quite another to say you will agree to them and then break them.  The former describes someone doing what they feel is best for their business in an increasingly competitive space; the latter describes someone running a serious ethical deficit.

Last night the news broke that Arrington is in receipt of several hundred confidential Twitter documents forwarded to him by a hacker who broke into some of the company’s email accounts.  I won’t get into it all here; it’s being covered ad nauseam by the usual suspects.  Last night, Arrington publicly feigned moral contemplation about an “ethical line” he didn’t want to cross, then closed the same article with “more posts coming soon.”  Bring me the vomit bag.

I would conservatively estimate that the feedback loop of mutual-Web2.0-masturbation that goes on with Arrington and the toadys immediately around him might evacuate 40% of the oxygen from the social media ecosphere.  And that’s fine; jerk each other off all you want – it’s America.  But when you decide to participate on the buy side of a market for the fruits of criminal labor, I object – and I hope your readers do, too.



Is Real Time Next? [Clue: Yes]

2 05 2009

The man who made gMail says real-time conversation is next.

“So, here’s a summary. The father of the best web email program on the planet believes that a real-time streaming interface for simplified aggregation of conversation and content from all around the web is going to join the handful of tools we use regularly, like email, IM and blogging.”



Greenwald Calls Out Some Hypocrisy

26 04 2009

David Broder and the media’s culpability.



The Blackberry Killer?

18 04 2009

Most of you have already heard about this so-called “Craigslist Killer.”  This labeling is the worst type of media laziness and it perpetuates the fear of information technology that our society still can’t seem to shake.  Fear of new things is, itself, nothing new.  But our ability to rapidly disseminate and amplify that fear certainly is.  A couple of years ago – when this same kind of panic had reached new heights with Chris Hansen’s MySpace hysteria – I told Tom Zeller at the New York Times basically the same thing I’m going to say now.  At around the same time, Andrew Kantor at USA Today smartly called out our fear of everything tech – cameras, Lite-Brites, and things with “batteries and wires.”

So, I find myself (not) wondering:

If he drove a Toyota, would we be calling him “The Toyota Killer”?
If he wore Nike sneakers, would we be calling him “The Nike Killer?”

The shooting incident happened at the Marriott – why isn’t he “The Marriott Killer?”

And I’m sorry to belabor this, but I noticed the suspect appears to use a Blackberry cell phone – so why aren’t we calling him “The Blackberry Killer?”

Because we’re much more comfortable with cars, sneakers, hotels, and even cell phones (however fancy they may be.)

But online communities still scare us; we don’t get them.  They’re still weird, new, foreign, or somehow sinister to most people.  So we draw an association that does not exist.  And in doing so, we irresponsibly do damage to a brand.



Where Am I? Crossing The Streams, Baby!

6 04 2009

I’m still curating a lifestream over at FriendFeed; most of the stuff I want to share with you is over there.  As I said last summer, it’s a lot easier to do than blogging and it enables me to share lots of interesting stuff with you – along with a quick comment or brief discussion – without the “work” of writing a cogent, thoughtful, formatted article about each one.  And you don’t have to sign up to see people’s feeds.  But you might want to, because then you can comment, discuss, and share stuff with me (and the rest of us over there.)  A short refresher: FriendFeed lets you to funnel all your social media stuff (your Twitter updates, your Facebook status, your flickR photos, your blog, LiveJournal, Amazon wish lists, etc. etc.) – through one single stream that everyone can see, comment upon, share, and enjoy.  It’s great.

The Cosmic Tap will continue to be my personal outlet, so don’t unsubscribe and don’t go away.  It’s just slowing down because FF lets me to do most of the things that motivated me to blog in the first place.  I also am now contributing to the Huffington Post, so the newsy stuff is likely to end up there.

FriendFeed is growing rapidly and getting better by the day.  Today, they launched a new feature which enables truly real-time streaming.  See cNet’s coverage of the redesign.  Many people will like this – but many will find real-time overwhelming (and you don’t have to turn it on.)  Also: there are plenty of filters to help you manage the “flow” in case you end up with too many friends, feeds, etc.  But it does rock.  Give it a shot.



My HuffPo Drug Policy Piece

16 02 2009

Please check out the drug policy article I did for The Huffington Post.  And if you like it: by all means, pass it on!



Be The Change – Don’t Be The Ass

25 01 2009

I found this new video very disturbing:

Britney Spears was [rightly] excoriated for saying “I think we should just support our President in everything he does.” I expect to hear at least as much criticism of this stupidity – which brings Oval Office hero-worshiping to a new and nauseous level.

I totally agree with the “be the change” concept – nothing new (although still very rare).

But Ashton Kutcher (not the world’s brightest sociopolitical bulb) and Demi Moore pledge to be “servants” to President Obama. What the fuck are they talking about? Kutcher is the same moron who recently referred to President Bush as our “commander”.  Is he channeling jungsturm or something?

Who are these people?

And how many of them do you think could actually sit down and engage in a substantive, nuanced conversation about the important issues they’re pledging about?  Two, three, maybe?

This new Harpo Productions video feels right out of a 1930s propaganda machine. I truly sympathize with President Obama – a human facing inhuman expectations. He will have a very hard time living up to the high-style, breathless absurdity of fluff like this.

Hey idiots: pledge loyalty to ideals, or goals, or foundational principles that stir your heart and soul. Respect others, hope for the best for them, empower them, agree and disagree with them, but don’t worship them.  Pledging to be a “servant” to a single person is called a cult.

Hollywood needs political cluefulness, not a new branch of Scientology.

Here’s my pledge: I pledge to fight against blind, unquestioning loyalty of any kind. It’s what got us into the mess we’re in – and it’s certainly not going to get us out.



Pacific Park Must Clarify Their Photography Policy

18 01 2009

Before I get into this story I want to set the psychographic stage, because I’ve been through this enough now to know what kind of conversations these controversies stir up.

My 2007 incident in San Antonio [see An Accidental Interview With Lieutenant Phil Dreyer] – which was much scarier and more flagrant than the one I’m writing about today – made me realize how out-of-fashion standing up for your rights has become, and also how much it opens you up to criticism for being a troublemaker (and more).

People like Thomas Hawk and Carlos Miller have famously faced this as well. The assumption (often verbalized) is that we’re belligerent, in-your-face assholes who go to places sticking our cameras (and our laminated, marked-up copies of the First Amendment) in people’s faces, looking and hoping for a fight. Sorry, but that’s just not true.  I absolutely hate these confrontations and just want to make my  pictures and be left alone.  For instance, I had a terribly embarrassing and awkward police / photography incident at LAX a few months back and decided not to write about it because of the rather sensational issues it would raise.   So trust me, I am not in this for the fight.

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