Frontline: News War (Episode 3)

In this episode we discover the economics that drive the so-called ‘News Business’. Apparently up until 1968-69 the networks ran their news divisions in the public interest as dictated by the FCC. Everything changed when CBS with Don Hewitt at the helm created “60 Minutes”, which turned a profit for the news division. It was all downhill from there. Personally I kind of like ’60 Minutes’ as both an investigative news show and as entertainment. The proof that things had changed was when the Loews Corp knuckled under pressure from the ‘Cigarette Industry’ and buried the Jeffrey Weigand whistle-blowing expose on the research done on the effects of cigarettes and the correlation with cancer. I wrote once in an ironic way (probably ripped off of another article I read at the time) that this time Dan Rather’s vaunted eye of CBS blinked. That was proof that ’60 Minutes’ was not like other news programs. It had financial interests to protect.

And whither the old grey newspapers? When public ownership became all the rage and stockholders drove decisions at the newspapers, things took a turn for the worse. The financial obligation a publicly traded company has to its stockholders and the profit margins required outweigh any public interest the newspaper may serve. Knight-Ridder was profiled in its takeover of the L.A. Times and the what followed as the profit margin shot up to 20% year over year. Every quarter attempts were made to show stockholders that management was actively involved and that profits would stay high. Which requires constant publicly visible attempts to cut costs. This is the merry-go-round every company suffers from, and in the era before publicly traded Newspapers, was unnecessary. Families owned newspaper operations in the prior age, and didn’t require 20% profit margins year over year. And therefore, newspapers didn’t have to go through a quarterly charade of cutting costs to maintain profits and growth.

The measure of success for the public interest oriented newspapers and broadcasters are the St. Petersburg Times and National Public Radio. St. Pete is run as a non-profit trust and they are able to be profitable, but are not required to maintain year over year profits and growth in the range of 20% profit and 1% growth each year. As a result the St. Petersburg Times is the most popular newspaper in ALL of Florida, central and otherwise. The only thing I remember coming from the St. Petersburg Times is Dave Barry’s humor column. In retrospect, it makes sense that Barry would have found a comfortable home at this newspaper. The other measure of success is any news organization that is able to keep reporters permanently stationed in Baghdad since before the invasion began. As it stands today National Public Radio can count itself in the same league as N.Y.Times, AP, Reuters, etc. Very few organizations outside the newswires are able to bear the cost of reporting daily from Baghdad. And now NPR is counted as the most trusted broadcast news reporting organization in the U.S. with 26million listeners. Thank God someone is doing something right. Let’s hope private ownership and private trusts can reverse the trend of poorly managed publicly traded media companies.

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I inform people against their will

Borrowed from the podcast of “This American Life” #326. Full attribution is a good thing. Mystery Hunt @ MIT. New Puzzles keep coming. There are no instructions but there is an answer. However in real life, outside of MIT, most problems don’t have an answer. Thirteen and half straight hours, 30 straight hours. Dave tells the story of his time at Hallmark in Kansas City, MO. He moved from humor to serious and couldn’t figure out why he was told not to use so many allusions in his day to day speech. “Ooooh, that’s the problem. I inform people against their will.” The thing that makes you annoying in the regular world is not annoying here. Some people have talents that require the right context in which to shine. Truer words were never spoken, thankyou Lisa Pollock.

Frontline: News War (Episode 2)

The subtitle to this whole episode should be Caged Heat: Reporters in Jail

Reporters are more and more being coerced into revealing sources for the stories they file at their respective newspapers and networks. Two reporters at the San Francisco Chronicle broke a story about the steroid scandal at BALCO (Bay Area Lab Coop), a vitamin shop down by San Francisco Airport. Well, in the reporting of what happened a lot of names were stricken from the public record, in the indictment from the Grand Jury. And this is where things go terribly wrong. The Bush Administration has taken the stance that ANY amount of information that leaks out of Grand Jury proceeding meets the ‘exigent’ circumstances as stated in the rules regarding subpeona’s for reporter’s sources on a story. The government is supposed to exhaust all other means of determining the source of the leak before they turn to forcing the reporter to name his/her sources. This according to interviews done with Justice Department employees is completely up to the interpretation of whomever has been appointed to whichever position at Justice. From political appointees to the full-timers they ultimately hire, THOSE are the folks that make the determination of ‘exigent’ circumstances. It should come as no surprise that any other group of individuals still under the title of “Department of Justice” could come to a much different conclusion. One administration determines that 18 subpeonas must be issued, the next administration never submits subpeaonas, and guess who pays the price of those stupid subpeona cases? You and me ladies an gentlemen. The vendettas being carried out against the press are costing you and me hard earned tax dollars.

Now I agree with most of the legal arguments that state Grand Jury testimony is not an indictment. You are not guilty just because you’re called to testify at a Grandy Jury proceeding. And therefore you wouldn’t ever be suspected of being a criminal because the proceedings are SECRET. It’s nobody’s business but you and the court. Under different circumstances, sometimes the Court decides the proceedings no longer are secret. Sometimes and individual decides their testimony is no longer secret. Sometimes information comes out. In the BALCO case, the court record of testimony made it out of the Court’s hands, and that’s whent he crime was committed. I personally come down on the side of following the rules of a Grand Jury proceeding. Best not to infringe on someone’s rights even if it may ‘resonate’ as the reporters of the Chronicle say over and over again. Resonance is by no means a justification for breaking a law. Next time, try to exhaust every means you can to get the same information. Don’t quote the Court Record. At the same time, why is the Justice Department being used as a blunt instrument to generally threaten the Press at large. Makes no sense to me. There’s a lot of blame to go around. Two wrongs (the reporters and the Justice Dept.) will not make this right.

Frontline: News War (Episode 1)

Judy Miller says she was only as good as her sources. That her sources mis-informed her, that she trusted them too much, trusted they wouldn’t mislead the the President. Knight-Ridder stood up as Clark Hoyt wrote that ‘nothing’ had changed in Iraq. They were no bigger threat now than they were 10-15 years ago. Eventually the Washington Post catches on and Walter Pincus writes that Iraq may have no WMD, that it was all wishful thinking on Saddam Hussein’s part. By the Summer of 2003 it was too late. It was obvious there was no WMD. Then Joe Wilson stood up, and recounted his role in the mess. The Vice Pres. wanted Niger followed-up on so the CIA sends Joe Wilson to follow-up. There was no link to Niger, nothing to substantiate the claim. So Joe Wilson steps forward to let people know that Bush 43 administration was stone-walling. The CIA took the fall for the Niger claim, saying they let that fact go in when they hadn’t meant to. Then they smeared Wilson’s wife, to punish him for his dissent. In doing so they may have broken some laws regarding classified information. So the Justice department has to go through the list of 11 point checklist, to determine whether a prosecution is in order.

WMD’s still weren’t found. Democrats in the Capitol wanted a special prosecutor, and John Ashcroft will step aside to let Patrick Fitzgerald investigate and prosecute. Matthew Cooper was told by Karl Rove that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent and may have authorized the Joe Wilson trip to Niger. The government depended on the journalists to keep the sources, the leakers identity secret and out of the articles. This is no Mark Felt, the third man at the FBI guidng Bob Woodward, it was the elite political advisor of the President who was performing damage control by leaking smears against Joe Wilson. Because the journalists wouldn’t reveal confidential sources, Scott Fitzgerald had to use a funny tactic that didn’t require the reporters to reveal sources, but they could still provide a deposition to the Grand Jury.

The Branzburg case went to the Supreme Court (many years ago) and stated there was no ‘confidentiality’ when it came to reporter and confidential sources, when a crime may be committed by the sources. What is the essential route that reporters have to investigate things for the public: “confidential sources”–William Safire. James Goodale was working at the NYTimes as the legal counsel to the paper. He moved to make sure every state had court cases that ruled in favor of confidentiality, and the reporter’s privilege of not having to reveal sources under subpeona. Judy Miller and Matt Cooper were being strong-armed by Patrick Fitzgerald, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Branzburg stands, there is no protection of journalists from a Grand Jury seeking testimony concerning confidential sources used in a story.

Then things get worse. Judy Miller goes to jail because she will not testify, and won’t give up her notes. Some speculated that she was trying to cover her inaccurate reporting on WMDs in the NYTimes. Then Bob Woodward discovered that he had learned it first from Richard Armitage the Deputy Secretary of State under Colin Powell. Bob Novak had also found this out from Richard Armitage. The whole thing, the brou-ha-ha at its core is hinged on Richard Armitage. Poor guy, probably didn’t know how much he had affected  if not initiated this whole mess.

Stack Based Computers

Stack based computers will be the next scripted podcast for Carpetbomberz Inc.

If you don’t know what a stack-based computer is, do a Google search and apart from the Wikipedia entries on it, there’s some interesting ACM papers. For embedded CPUs that need hard real-time performance, it’s the only way to go. But what about general purpose stack-based machines? Well a company that we know so little about today, once showed the whole world the superior technology contained in the stack-based architecture. Burroughs released the B5000 mainframe back in 1963. And with that machine a number of big firsts were accomplished in the Computer industry. The first computer designed based on the software requirements for the machine. First OS written in a high level language ( version of ALGOL). The architecture still exists today in the Unisys architecture called, ClearPath. It’s definitely lasted a while.

The architect of the B5000 would eventually leave Burroughs to become a faculty member at the Computer Science Dept. at the University of Utah. And that became a hot bed for a lot of advances in Computer Graphics as it turns out. It’s amazing that the University of Utah was such a vibrant community, the way we think of Stanford U. in the early 1980’s.

I still haven’t really scripted the whole program yet. I may just launch into despite my ignorance and see what I come up with. Still I find stack-based computers endlessly fascinating.

Podcast addendum – Bomb Run 021

After posting the show and listening to it some thoughts occured to me. Stuff I would have included if it wasn’t boring or made the show go too long would have included:

References to the history of  Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research

References to Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert’s book: Perceptrons

The role of AI Research in missile defense planning/budgets

The re-invigoration of AI Research with the missile defense program under Reagan et. al.

These topics will stay off the podcast until I get through the first round of scripted podcasts. An art professor of mine once said, “Where do you come up with all these stories?” And I looked at her, smiled a big dumb grin and said, “Oh this?! I got a million of ’em.”  So don’t be surprised if we revisit the MIT AI Lab and it’s history and contributions to the computer industry and society in general.

Bomb Run – 021 Show Notes

 Bomb Run - 021 episode art

  • Lisp Machines – The Best Computer Ever!
    • From the wikipedia article on Symbolics and LMI
    • LISt Processing Language (LISP)
      • John McCarthy created it for Artificial Intelligence research
        • Developed on an IBM 704 mainframe eventually was ported
      • Very resource intensive
      • Slowed shared machines to a crawl, making research very expensive in clock cycles
      • Slow performance led to the idea of a dedicated machine for LISP
    • The Dedicated LISP machine ’73
      • Tom Knight and Richard Greenblatt create CONS
        • Hardwired to run basic LISP operations, speeding things up because they were in hardware not software
      • CONS is further refined and becomes CADR
        • Eventually 25 machines of this design are built and sold around MIT and outside MIT
      • Russ Noftsker steps in when it’s obvious there’s a market for LISP
    • Symbolics – February ’79
      • Russ Noftsker & the largest contingent of AI hackers leave
      • Most successful of the Lisp Machine companies
      • Most innovative designs (higher performance, graphics division)
      • Dedicated graphics were adopted by Hollywood led to further use of graphics in movies
    • Lisp Machines Inc. (LMI) – October ’79
      • Richard Greenblatt
      • Smallest contingent of the AI Lab hackers followed
      • Orders were provided through Control Data Corp project trying to do AI research
    • Richard Stallman – GNU Project
      • Richard and Marvin Minsky were the only staff left after the parting of the ways
      • Saw the culture get killed by the forming of the Lisp Machine
      • GNU project formed as a response to decimation of MIT hacker ranks
  • I’ll only end up frustrated

    Chili bowlI’m sad to announce that the three stores I tried had no 3.5 quart enameled cast iron pots from Le Creuset. I tried. I even stopped off at a the local special cooking store to see what they had in stock. They had a baby 2quart pot and a 2.5 quart pot (full reactive style cast iron). So I decided, “To hell with it, I’m just going to make the recipe using a pot I already have. So I did it! I had ingredients I had been collecting since Dec. 6th when I thought I would have to cook for my wife after her stay in the hospital. Boy am I glad I waited and waited. First, I found the ultimate recipe last weekend. Then, I waited until I found the ultimate chili pot. But in waiting I gave myself enough time to purchase the last ingredients (mostly dried and ground spices). And speaking of spices, I’ve never used more spices than in the America’s Test Kitchen chili recipe. A quarter cup of chili powder, a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper, all make for the darkest, richest, most flavorful chili you have ever had. I’m leaving out the rest of the spices because I don’t want to be sued by anyone. But let me tell you it is a winner. I’ve just added another easy dish to my repertoire. I may still shell out the money for a Le Creuset dutch oven, but I’m going to be back at my birthday asking for the the very pot I didn’t buy last week.

    America’s Test Kitchen Chili Recipe

    Le Creuset 7-1/4 quart French Oven
    The best pot for cooking chili - Le Creuset

    I want to thank the fellow who put the recipe out from the America’s Test Kitchen cookbookInside America’s Test Kitchen (Thanx to Clay Irving @ panix.com)

    I was very curious when I found ATK had a recipe for Chili. I watch the PBS show they have under the name of America’s Test Kitchen. I have only tried one recipe in the past, a chocolate chip cookie recipe for a crispy, harder cookie. It wound up not working out for me. But I have great hopes for this Chili recipe. Now the next hard step was discovering that neither my wife nor I own a non-reactive cast iron Dutch Oven. That’s right we were completely passed by the Le Creuset revolution (Vive la revolution). I had seen this item in various forms on other cooking shows but the lesson never sank in. Lidia’s Kitchen for example used the Dutch Oven for her osso bucco. It makes total sense. But trying to find a store that carries the 3.5 quart Le Creuset French Oven is almost impossible. But we may have a specialty store near our house that will have it in stock.

    Finally, a minor contribution

    One of my favorite passtimes is to listen to a podcast called the Dawn and Drew Show. And let me tell you when you join their message board you begin the understand the value of Listener Generated Content. Adam Curry has benefited from this too with his podcast Daily Source Code. I’ve sent a few emails at different times to Adam, one of which got a mention on his show. Sometimes, I fall so far behind in listening to the shows I don’t feel I can make a legitimate contribution. I’ve been doing a lot better recently keeping up with Dawn and Drew episodes so I threw together this little ditty in Photoshop:Peanuts Dawn and Drew

    Hopefully, the next step would be a good phone line comment about something happening recently in one of the episodes. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Little steps, little baby steps.