Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why We Do What We Do

Our On This Day today features the story of Roberto Clemente (click here). He had a Baseball Hall of Fame career for the Pittsburgh Pirates, highlighted by his remarkable MVP-earning heroics in the first World Series ever played at night in 1971. And he was just as solid on the social front, being active in so many causes in his native Puerto Rico, his adopted home city of Pittsburgh, and elsewhere in the world. So it was no surprise that Clemente chose to celebrate New Year's Eve in 1972 by collecting relief supplies for victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua and flying on the plane that was delivering them. Tragically, this gesture resulted in this noble figure being taken from us way too early, as the plane crashed on takeoff. My young son wears a t-shirt with Clemente's name and number on it; grown men stop him in the street with tears in their eyes as they speak admiringly of Clemente. I sent the story around to a slew of friends today; a few wrote back to say they remembered exactly where they were when they heard the news. And yet several wrote back "great article, funny, I had never heard of him." With most current articles about our top athletes decidedly negative, we need to keep alive the memory of athletes such as Roberto Clemente, who had a mission in life that did not end when he crossed home plate.

In the vein of keeping stories alive, FindingDulcinea also presents today the Ten Stories that Defined 2008.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Michael Phelps: Where's the encore ?

To the surprise of no one, Michael Phelps was named the 2008 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. Sports Illustrated has taken varied approaches to its selections. Sometimes the award is more of a "lifetime achievement award" - it goes to someone who surely was considered multiple times and wins it as a crowning achievement; Brett Favre, Cal Ripken, John Wooden and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are in this category. And then there are those who are chosen more for their impact off the playing field; 1987's "Athletes Who Care," Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King come to mind. And often, as this year, the award goes to a young athlete who does something truly extraordinary in a single year; Phelps, Dwayne Wade, Steve Cauthen, and the first winner, Roger Bannister are in this category. What is impressive is how many of the winners go on to lead impactful lives after their playing days are over. So this week, while we dutifully published yet another bio piece about Michael Phelps, we also presented articles about four former winners whose post-athletic achievements were at least as amazing as their athletic feats. Rafer Johnson was the world's greatest athlete, winning the Olympic Decathlon in Rome in 1960, but, as our article reports, he has trumped that with many decades of involvement in global youth groups. Peter Ueberroth once said "If you made a list of the ten top role models for young men in America, I don’t know who the other nine would be, but Rafer would be one of them." Then there is our article on Arthur Ashe, who helped end apartheid in South Africa; he spoke of his own life in these words: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” We also wrote about running legend Kip Keino, whose foundation has created the Kenyan long distance running dynasty but also supports a school and orphanage; and we wrote about Roger Bannister, who, not content to merely be the first human to break a four minute mile, went on to become a highly regarded neurologist. For now, Michael Phelps is known for swimming faster than any man ever has, and a 13,000 calorie a day diet. Let's hope he follows in the footsteps of these remarkable men to one day be known for so much more.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Finding Renewable Energy at Mile 13

I have written about how contagious running marathons can be, and how I improved dramatically in my fourth try by incorporating cardio boxing into my training. Now let me tell you about how an inexplicable, overwhelming surge of energy at the halfway point propelled me to my goal.

My goal was 4:24, a PR by 30 minutes. In my first three marathons, I ran the first half in about 2:17, but the 2nd half took 20-35 minutes longer, as my legs cramped badly and lost much of their function. In running parlance, I am a “Clydesdale,” a person blessed and cursed with a large frame, a head the size of Neptune and thick, dense legs. The legs would be great for pulling a hay wagon, but quizzically ask, “are you kidding me ?” when I implore them into a 21st mile.

For this race, I was very confident I could easily run the first half in under 2:04, and hoped that 2:20 would somehow be attainable for the second. It would all depend on how long into the second half I could maintain a decent pace, and how badly I would slow once my legs started to fail me.

My running partner and I ran the first three miles at a 9:17 pace, right on track. She then struggled through a race day injury. We slowed to a 9:50 pace for the next 3 miles to see if she could shrug it off, but she stopped to stretch and urged me to go ahead. I tried to revert to the faster pace, but struggled to do so, and mile after mile, another 9:50 had elapsed. My legs grew heavy, and my energy began to fade, much earlier than I had expected. As I struggled up a hill in mile 9, I began to ponder what had gone wrong, and to re-adjust my expectations. Where I hoped to glide the first half in 2:04, 2:07 had become likely, and I was much more tired than I expected. 4:30 became my Maginot line, and a tenuous one at that.

I looked down at the face of my late brother, James, on my t-shirt, and muttered “I’ll need you in the second half,” and then prepared to dodge ice on the road at the next water stop.

When I was struggling through long runs for my first marathon in 2004, I called James to encourage him through the difficult physical therapy he was enduring to learn to walk again after a stroke, caused by a staph infection. “I know it hurts,” I said, “but when it hurts the most is when it’s most important that you push on.” As I hung up the phone, I asked myself, “were you talking to him, or you ?” A few months later, I finished the marathon, and the most treasured memory of it is when James called to tell me how proud he was of me. After he passed away, I got three other brothers into running marathons, and it is a family tradition to wear James’ face on the front of our t-shirt.

I then began to push hard in Mile 10 to avoid slipping even further behind my first half goal. As I approached the halfway mark, I was thankful the split would at least be under 2:07, but I looked ruefully towards the second half.

I’ve been running for 32 years, covering an estimated 25,000 miles. Many times, a run that started badly got much better as my legs loosened up, I found a reserve I didn’t know I had, or I just got “locked in” mentally. Innumerable times I’ve experienced “runner’s high,” which is an all-encompassing, serene feeling in which you hardly feel your feet touching the ground, all pain disappears for awhile, and you feel you can fly.

But what I felt as I crossed the halfway mark was so much more than that.

It was a dramatic surge of energy, consequent confidence and other emotions, and focus. You know when the Grinch decides to return the toys to the Whos down in Whoville, instead of tossing them off a cliff ? He gains the strength of ten Grinches – plus two. It was that transformative. Or when the five o’clock Calvin asked the six o’clock Calvin to do his homework for him, so it would be done for him when it became seven o’clock ? Yes, it was as though I had handed a baton to a fresh teammate to run the second half, and all I had to do was show up at the finish to celebrate. I was startled to feel tears streaming down my face. I posited that I was exhausted from a 4 a.m. wake-up call, cold, wet, and hungry, and my emotions were on edge after a difficult few weeks. But that didn’t quite answer it. Because these were tears of joy. I suddenly knew, with ironclad certainty, that I would continue to run 9:50 miles far longer than I had ever dreamed possible, and certainly a lot longer than seemed realistic as I trudged up that hill a few miles back.

A half-mile up the road, I saw my family. My wife, who was being emailed my splits, excitedly told me how well I was doing. Even though there were 12 miles left, I declared confidently in response, “I’m going to make it, I’m going to shatter my goal.” At mile 15, my legs began to cramp, and I thought, “this is where you slow down, try to stay under 10:30.” But 15 seconds later, a voice on my other shoulder said “no, this is where you reach down, and run just as fast, even though it hurts more.” And the next three miles were my fastest of the day, other than the start of the race. As I approached mile 19, I wondered how long this burst would last. And then I realized the energy was renewable, and understood the tears.

You see, the energy emanated from the seven words I muttered to James in mile 9.

On four previous occasions, I have felt an unmistakable other-wordly intervention in my life. All four related to a loved one who faced grave physical peril. I prayed to deceased love ones, and received an overwhelming feeling of assurance that the crisis would pass, and in each case it did. Because of this, I reserve my prayers for serious situations, and never pray for personal success or material gain, and had not done so on this day. I merely advised my brother that a little company on the back 13 would be appreciated. And it had been delivered in spades.

Where the year before I was running a 12 minute pace at this stage, I glided through mile 19 in 9:45; mile 20 went in 9:55; mile 21 in 9:40. I began to feel twitches throughout my legs, and, well ahead of my goal, purposely slowed and ran the next three miles in 10:30 each. I sped back up for a triumphant final mile, finishing the race in 4:18, an improvement of 35 minutes over my all-time best, and about 12 minutes faster than I hoped to run while struggling through mile 9. As Leonardo Da Vinci once said, "Oh Lord, thou giveth us everything, at the price of an effort."

So how do I follow up a race like that ? I'm planning to run the Boston Marathon in April. And gunning for yet another 35-minute improvement.

But this time, I’ll talk to James before the start.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giants Among Us

Men like to share stories of toughness and courage. Perhaps by sharing such tales, we'll acquire the attributes exhibited in them. One oft-told story involves football Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott. Ronnie won four Super Bowls and a slew of individual honors. But he is often recalled for what he refers to as a "Paul Bunyan" tale of his allowing the tip of his pinky finger to be amputated, since rehabilitating it would have meant missing a season of football. And Lott is a laudable figure, and this is a good story of dedication and courage. But there are many stories of far greater toughness and courage that never get our attention. One came to the fore this week in the wake of the tragic death of FDNY firefighter Robert Ryan. We all should admire anyone who runs into a burning building to help others escape, but Ryan's story is more noble than most. In October 2006, Ryan stretched a hose into a burning three-story building. In the intense heat, melted plastic seriously burned the back of his head and neck. Did this end his shift ? No, he had another firefighter turn a hose on him to cool his burns, and continued to fight the fire. He then endured a year of painful rehabilitation. He was entitled to retire on full disability, and, with a painting business on the side, you might think he would have done so. But he returned to the job, and also began to help child burn victims. In a eulogy, a cousin's letter to him was read: "You didn't talk about helping people, you just did it. You didn't try to save the world, just your little corner of it." His passion for helping placed him in harm's way this week. Having worked through 9/11 and countless other tragedies, Ryan knew very well that this day may come. Yet despite having endured extensive, serious burns, and being given an opportunity to gracefully walk away from the job and be paid anyway, he continued to save the lives of strangers, while putting his own at risk. So whenever stories of noble sports legends and amputated pinkies are told, listen respectfully. And then puncture the contemplative quiet that follows by saying, "I got something even more amazing. Let me tell you about Robert Ryan."


A scholarship fund for Ryan's four children has been established; a check may be made out to Robert Ryan Children's Educational Fund and sent to: FDNY Foundation, 9 Metrotech Center, Brooklyn NY 11201.

A great number of FDNY firefighters support the work of the New York Firefighters' Burn Center Foundation, 21 Asch Loop, Bronx, New York 10475.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

There is Only the Past, Happening Over and Over Again - Now

A year ago today, I read Newsday and saw the familiar "On this Day in History" feature that you can find in almost every newspaper. It is always an uninspiring rote listing of a dozen significant events that occurred over the past 500 years. On this particular day, this lackadaisical approach troubled me, because two of the events were momentous; Kristallnacht in 1938, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I was embarrassed that I knew less about these events than I should - and puzzled why Newsday would not devote more space to conveying an understanding of these events that were so rich in historical significance. The older I get, the more interesting history becomes to me. As a college student, I remember being struck, for reasons I did not fully comprehend, by the intro to Leon Uris' Trinity, which was borrowed from Eugene O'Neill's "Moon for the Misbegotten":

"There is no present or future - only the past happening over and over again - now."

And so I wondered; what was the ultimate significance of Kristallnacht ? I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, but when was it erected, and why, and how long was it ? I did some research and learned that Kristallnacht was merely the most overt manifestation of an evil hatred that had been festering for years. I also learned that, after 2.5 million citizens had fled East Germany from 1949 to 1961, the 28-mile long Berlin Wall was erected to stop citizens of East Berlin, which was in East Germany, from fleeing to West Berlin, which was in democratic West Germany; the Berlin Wall was only one small segment of an 860-mile barrier that rendered East Germany a veritable prison. And I also learned that nearly every adviser in Ronald Reagan's cabinet implored him not to demand "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall", and he said it anyway, and it became the seminal moment of his presidency.

And so I decided that our Beyond the Headlines section would henceforth include a well-researched exposition of a significant event that occurred on this day in history. We choose our events by mining the innumerable lists on the Web; oddly, some days are quite rich in truly momentous events, while on others we're scraping the bottom. We usually avoid very recent history, as there is not much perspective to bring to these events yet. And we try to steer clear of the few events in history that are generally quite well known already.

And only today, when we published our treatment of these two events, did I realize the irony that on the same date, we commemorate the most overt manifestation of the emergence of one murderous regime and the most overt symbol of the fall of another.

User response to this feature has been very gratifying. Of the top 10 most popular articles we have created, 6 of them came from this category. We've told of Japan floating balloon bombs across the Pacific during WWII to try to set our forests on fire; of the Polish spy who gave himself up to Nazi soldiers so he could report first hand on the atrocities at Auschwitz, and explained the significance of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

findingDulcinea is a phenomenal resource for students at every level. And when it comes to history, all of us need to be students. But don't take my word for it; Eugene O'Neill said it much better than I ever could.

For our complete On This Day index, click here:

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My Vote

In the fall of 1980, I cast the first vote of my life for Ronald Reagan. He was running at a time where runaway inflation and double digit interest rates had laid waste to the economy, America had suffered embarrassment on the international stage, and our national spirit was so low that an Olympic hockey victory was the only thing we had to cheer. Reagan optimistically declared that it was "Morning in America," and that our best days were ahead of us. With Paul Volcker's stewardship, Reagan righted the economy, and he used his moral authority and the force of his personality to stare down the Soviets, roll back the Iron Curtain, and get America believing in itself again. Reagan remains my modern-day political hero, and has even recently been adopted as such by many who so reviled him during his years in office.

I admired George H.W. Bush, was sorry he never became all he could have been, and watched with great contempt when he was defeated by Bill Clinton, and again when Bob Dole lost to Clinton in 1996. I made my first ever political contribution to John McCain during the primaries in 2000, and of all the political "could have beens" in my adult life, McCain's loss of the Republican nomination to George W. Bush is the most tragic of all, an impression rendered indelibly in the late morning of 9/11, and confirmed many times since. Still, Bush, for all his many significant faults, was a better choice than either Al Gore or John Kerry for the Presidency.

So why did I cast my ballot today for Barack Obama ?

The John McCain who ran in this election is not the maverick who barnstormed across America in the Straight Talk Express in 2000. He lurched so far to the right to win his party's nomination that he can't find his way back. And the Republican Party whose support he won is not Ronald Reagan's Republican Party. Blessed with the Presidency for the past 8 years and a majority in Congress for much of that time, it has not championed fiscal conservatism, small government and effective deregulation that enables the private sector to responsibly foster growth in our economy. Today's federal government more closely resembles that of the Carter years than Reagan's. McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his Vice-Presidential running mate is mind-boggling. It smacked of mindless pandering, and evinced bad judgment. I do not want this woman a heartbeat away from the Presidency, nor the presumptive Republican nominee in 2012.

Barack Obama gives us more reasons to hope than John McCain 2008, at a time when we again need a new President who declares that America's best days are ahead of it. Yes, he is unproven, untested, and has left a lot of questions unanswered, and indeed many unasked. Many in the media have uncritically coronated him in the way they did Eliot Spitzer, whose effectiveness was compromised long before that press conference. But Obama is highly intelligent. He appears to be a rare breed whose ego is not greater than his love for this country and its people. Bill Clinton spoke endlessly from his first days of wanting to building an extraordinary legacy, but was unwilling to make the well-considered, difficult and unpopular decisions to do so. Conversely, Obama appears to be an effective consensus builder who is wise enough to surround himself with the best and brightest of this country without regard to political affiliation, including Paul Volcker, and to make difficult and unpopular decisions for the long-term future of this country. And Obama appears to be a God-fearing man whose far-left votes on abortion, and shockingly, even care of infants born alive, reflect more of a gross political calculation than an ideological belief that will send us hurtling even further down the slippery slope of that debate.

And so I bought into this hope. Despite a lot of trepidation, I believe Barack Obama will prove to be a great President, and that young people who cast their first ballot today for him, and even those who vote against him and loudly revile him during his term, will be able to look back on his tenure as fondly as I and most others do on that of Ronald Reagan.

And if I am wrong, then the Republican Party will lick its wounds, regroup, and nominate someone in 2012, not named Sarah Palin, who will rescue it from what it has become over the past 8 years and help it take back the Oval Office.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

September 11: Remember the Love

One mundane tasks for a start-up is creating company policies. Most companies take an ad hoc approach to commemorating September 11. On the first few anniversaries, many offices turned on televisions for staff to watch the ceremonies. And this seemed fitting.

But before last year’s sixth anniversary, The New York Times published an article in which many wondered if it was time to put 9/11 behind us. The sentiment was best captured by a psychologist who said, “Our society has a very low tolerance for grief—it’s exhausting and unrelenting, and we don’t want to hear about it.”

But a focus on the tragedy and grief ignores what should be the central takeaway of 9/11. Because to me, the enduring memory from 9/11 is about love.

On 9/11, we were humbled to learn that a good number of remarkable people are willing to put their lives at grave risk so that others, unknown to them, may live. As we later learned, these rescue workers were not fearless; they knew they were in grave danger. And still they went about saving the lives of people they had never met. And this takes more than courage; it takes love, and indeed there is no greater love. And many of the victims at the WTC and on Flight 93 lived for a desperate hour or more after their fate was sealed, with access to phones, and used the last precious minutes of their lives to call family and friends; all that mattered at the end of their lives was the love they created along the way.

After watching the towers fall from my office, I emerged to find New Yorkers treating one another with compassion and concern, which persisted for months. Steelworkers finished their regular jobs at 3 p.m. and marched downtown to cut the massive sheets of steel that would be the first step to a rescue and recovery operation. Other people formed a persistent mob on the West Side Highway, simply to cheer the vehicles leaving Ground Zero with workers who had put in a difficult day. Politicians spoke respectfully to one another. And Europe demonstrated its solidarity with a day of mourning, punctuated by three minutes of silence in which cars and buses stopped in the middle of highways, radio stations went quiet, and even pubs delayed opening.

As I thought about how our company should commemorate 9/11, I recalled the memorable words of firefighter Mike Moran at the Concert for New York in October 2001. Moran paid tribute to his fallen brother John and the dozens of colleagues, loved ones and neighbors he had lost. And in his most noteworthy line, he said, “They are not gone, because they are not forgotten.” And if we close our office 11 times a year for holidays, and for five half days to get a head start on these holidays, surely we could spare an hour or two to remember the love we witnessed on and after 9/11, so that those who were lost are not gone, are not forgotten?

And then last weekend I experienced the joy of Ronan Tynan in concert, singing with a children's choir. Tynan makes every song sound as though you are hearing it for the first time. As he introduced Bruce Springsteen's "Into the Fire," from the album "The Rising," which is the ultimate musical tribute to the loss experienced and gallantry witnessed on 9/11, I realized for the first time that Springsteen also beseeches us to remember the love of September 11, and the strength, faith, and hope as well, so that we may draw from it:

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your love give us love

And so our policy is set, for this year, and for as long as I run this company. From 8:46 am till 10:29 am EST, our employees will be asked to stop work and think about the remarkable manner in which so many people responded to the challenge of their lives, or the certain end of their lives, seven years ago. They can attend memorial ceremonies or watch them on television, or call or e-mail loved ones they’ve been meaning to catch up with. And I will ask them particularly to remember the 443 men and women who, as first responders, rushed to the World Trade Center and gave their lives. That’s about 14 seconds per person.

Fourteen seconds for Pat Brown. At an apartment fire long before 9/11, Brown and his crew were on the roof of a burning building, with a man desperately hanging out a window. A rope rescue was in order, but there was nothing on the roof to anchor the rope to. So they anchored the rope to Pat Brown, and as the rest of his crew strained to hold Brown in place, a firefighter was lowered to the window. Brown knew that when the desperate man was pulled from the window and his weight doubled the burden, all six of the men involved might very well plunge to the ground. But he did it anyway, and the man’s life was saved. And of course on 9/11, Pat Brown led his crew into the WTC, and was last heard from on the 35th floor.

Fourteen seconds for my friend, John Moran, who had been injured during the devastating 2001 Father’s Day fire that killed three firemen. On 9/11, John ended his shift and was getting in his car to go home, but instead literally fought his way to the WTC and shouted as he ran in, “I’m going to make a difference here today.”

And 14 seconds for Timothy Stackpole, who had suffered horrifying injuries in a fire years before, and battled with the fire department medical staff simply for the right to return to work, only to then give his life on 9/11.

Fourteen seconds for Moira Smith, a police officer who stormed into one of the towers to find the revolving doors were preventing people from fleeing quickly enough. So she shot out a giant plate glass window, allowing the lobby to empty and, with the lobby cleared, ran upstairs to guide thousands of frightened people out of the building.

Fourteen seconds for Stephen Siller, who was on his way to play golf, but hearing the news, picked up his fire gear and headed to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to enter lower Manhattan. With his truck hopelessly blocked by traffic, he ran through the mile-long tunnel on foot in full gear, and perished.

And 28 seconds for the Langone family. Peter Langone was a fireman about whom was said he "had only one speed, and that was fast forward." Thomas Langone was an officer in the police Emergency Services Unit. He collected 42 medals in 18 years and went to Oklahoma City in 1995 to help recovery efforts after the bombing there. Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma said at his funeral that Officer Langone and his colleagues "brought with them honor, courage, humor and occasionally a funny accent." Mayor Giuliani, speaking at the joint funeral, told the four children of the Langone brothers that "We owe you a great deal….it will be paid back."

For 103 minutes, we will reconnect to those we love, recall a time when all of New York, and much of the world, recognized our common humanity, and think about every one of those 443 ordinary people who did remarkable things and whom we owe a great deal.

May their love give us love.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Big Brown: His Connections, So Eager to Celebrate, Forgot their Horse

In "And Justice for All," Al Pacino plays Arthur Kirkland, a criminal defense attorney. In the climatic scene, he explains to the jury that the prosecutor "wants a win so badly today, it means so much to him, he is so carried away with the prospect of winning, that he forgot something absolutely essential to today's proceeding. He forgot his case. He forgot to bring it."

And so it was with Richard Dutrow and Michael Iavarone, trainer and principal owner of Big Brown.

When Funny Cide and Smarty Jones were preparing for their tries at history in the Belmont, their trainers spoke with cautious, pensive optimism, mixed with respectful concern. Not so with Dutrow. As soon as the Preakness was over, a triumph in the Belmont was a foregone conclusion.

Cracked hoof ? No problem.

Four days of missed training? Won't hurt him a bit.

A new, clearly talented opponent ? Has no chance.

 Thirty years since a Triple Crown ? The other trainers didn't know how to train their horses.

Iavarone held discussions with NYC officials about a ticker tape parade, mused about how hefty sales of Big Brown merchandise might be, planned a $100 million horse hedge fund and signed a sponsorship with Hooters.

Since I thought about betting Casino Drive heavily to win the Belmont, I read their comments, looking for any foundation to justify their confidence. And I found none. As I wrote on Friday, Big Brown faced some serious obstacles in this Belmont, and most of them remained obstacles even after Casino Drive was scratched. Dutrow had no plan to overcome them, and his owner was on the same joy ride.

When the gates opened up on Saturday, it was revealed that Dutrow and Iavarone wanted a win so badly they had forgotten something absolutely essential to the day's proceeding: they forgot their horse.

From my vantage point, I knew the race was over before they entered the first turn. The horse, so placidly professional in the Derby and Preakness, was very rank and his head was not in the game; after settling down a little bit, he again began to get rank as soon as the serious running started, and his rider wisely eased him. There was Dutrow in the stands, wearing a Trump hat and preparing his acceptance speech. Pressed to explain the loss, he blamed his rider for pulling the horse up. As Arthur Kirkland would say, Dutrow was out of order.

Read more about what happened to Big Brown.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

On Internet Privacy, Fend for Yourself

The Washington Post ran a story today about the FTC's review of behavioral targeting by Internet advertisers. I have followed the regulation of Internet advertising for ten years, and I believe the privacy issue is much more interesting to privacy advocates and journalists than to the average Internet user. It's not that the issue needs more publicity; thousands of articles have been written, speeches made, press conferences held, and lawsuits filed, not to mention billions of banners ads run by well-intended marketers themselves. And still, most people have little interest in the issue, and those who do care about it protect themselves with cookie-deleting or ad-blocking tools that are inexpensive and readily available. The FTC has repeatedly told Congress that it already has all the regulation it needs to protect Internet users, because deceptive practices are already illegal, and almost any egregious intrusion on your privacy can be connected to a deceptive practice.

With my good understanding of the landscape, I recommend to friends that they familiarize themselves with the information that marketers collect, and when it crosses outside their personal comfort zone, take action, which often is as simple as opting-out or adjusting browser tools. Do not rely on the government law or regulation to protect you; the landscape shifts too quickly for that ever to be effective.

For instance, when AOL released supposedly anonymous search histories to academics and journalists a few years ago, the New York Times was able to track down one of the users within hours. Someone noted that, for a heavy Internet user, your search history is essentially a record of every thought you've had for the past several years. For some people, such a history is a benefit, because they can retrieve old searches and perform them again. To others, it's creepy. And fortunately for those in the latter group, most search engines make it easy to opt-out of their collecting your search history. And some Internet Service Providers are working with marketers to track every single Web site you ever visit, and then create a targeting profile. They provide assurances that the profiles are anonymous, and carefully secured. Many people actually prefer that any ads they receive be targeted to their interests. As long as these ISPs adequately disclose their practices and enable users to opt-out (which they can do by switching ISPs, for starters), there is no need for the government to do anything more, other than to ensure there is adequate competition in the marketplace.

How do you familiarize yourself with Internet marketing practices ? FindingDulcinea's Web Guide to Internet Marketing and Privacy is a narrated guide to the best resources for understanding both off-line and online marketing practices, and how to take steps to opt-out of practices you personally are uncomfortable with.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Kentucky Derby - the Day After

With the Derby favorite prevailing, the "wise guys" who usually try to beat the favorite nurse their wounds. They were relying to much on history. Yes, no horse had won from the 20 post since 1929, but there had been only 11 Derbies with 20 horses in that time, and plenty of horses had won from far outside posts. To be sure, Big Brown had much to overcome with the post and his lack of experience, but as I wrote yesterday, while he had to "be far, far better than anyone else in the race to even be in the picture.... he just may be that much better than this mediocre field." And the field proved to be mediocre, and Big Brown far, far better. I did bet him on top in a lot of triple keys.

Unfortunately, while my top pick, Denis of Cork ran third at 27 to 1, I did not bet the filly, Eight Belles, at all. Sometimes a horse is so improbable that I would not bet on him or her even if they ran the race again in three weeks; but Eight Belles is one that, in hindsight, I should have had, due to her consistency in a field comprised largely of inconsistent, and mediocre, horses. Tragically, there will be no next time for Eight Belles, as she had to be euthanized after breaking two front ankles. NBC used bad news judgment in its coverage; it was clear to any experienced observer, of which NBC had many working the broadcast, that the horse had been euthanized immediately, and yet NBC pressed the reluctant Dr. Bramlage to explicitly say so on the air.

As with all Derbies, the large field caused some serious traffic problems. One horse I liked, Visionaire, appears to have gotten a particularly difficult trip, and I'll be giving him another chance if he makes it to the Preakness of Belmont. Big Brown certainly seems like a formidable Triple Crown candidate based on his emphatic win, but there's a reason no Derby winner has gone on to win the the next two in the past 30 years. Maintaining his form without a deep "base" of prior experience will be quite a challenge. And while it doesn't appear that any of the vanquished foes from yesterday are likely to turn the tables any time soon, there's always a few "dark horses" who show up to provide a fresh challenge. When Barbaro tragically broke down the Preakness two years ago, it obscured the fact that the winner, Bernardini, was a fresh horse who ran a remarkable race and might have won even if Barbaro ran his best race. One intriguing possibility this year is Casino Drive, a half brother to the past two Belmont Stakes winners, who plans to come from Japan for the Belmont.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Oh Danny Joy

Shaun Clancy, keeper of Foley's Pub in New York City, banned "Danny Boy" from his establishment for the next few weeks. Clancy says the song, immensely popular with Irish Americans, shouldn't be played on St. Patrick's Day because it is a depressing tale of longing and loss. I loved this story because after years of mindlessly listening to this funeral dirge on a day of celebration, Clancy lowered the boom. Imagining yet one more St. Patrick's Day of customers singing mornfully "And if you come, When all the flowers are dying, And I am dead, as dead I well may be," Clancy pre-emptively shouted "cut, cut, stop the madness, give me Star of the County Down."

Now that I've got your Irish up, why do we celebrate St. Patrick's Day at all ? Something about snakes, right ? Well there's more to it than that. St. Patrick was born in Britain in 391 AD. At the age of 16, he was kidnapped and enslaved by raiders and taken to Ireland, where he herded sheep for 6 years. Isolated from the world, he turned to daily prayer for sustenance. He eventually escaped and returned to England, where he studied religion for 15 years. He then came back to Ireland and accelerated the introduction of Christianity. A practical man, he incorporated the sun, which Irish pagans worshipped, into a Christian cross, creating what is still known today as the Celtic Cross. And why on March 17 ? Well, you see, that's the Feast Day for St. Patrick, believed to be the date of his death in 460 AD. Tired of corn beef and cabbage ? I have a recipe for Ballymaloe Irish Stew. Had enough of NYC's St. Patrick's Day parade ? Boston and Dublin are obvious alternatives, but two of the best celebrations are in Savannah, Georgia and Butte, Montana.

Am I a Hibernophile who Googled the whole day to find all this information ? No, I spent about 8 minutes on the Web Guide to St. Patrick's Day. Drop in for a visit and before you know it, you'll be the one railing against incongruent "traditions" and shouting "cut, cut, ..." at a St. Patrick's Day celebration of your own.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Almost Perfect Feedback

To start a company is to climb aboard an emotional rollercoaster. I left the office on Monday on a real high; we had spent much of the day discussing development plans, and I was exceedingly optimistic about all of them. As I rode the elevator down with a colleague, I said "today was so great that tomorrow is certain to be a downer." And it was, as we focused on all the hard work in front of us to make these plans a reality. Because of my prior experience, I've been able to adopt the Stockdale Paradox (see my earlier blog post) of confronting reality while never losing faith that we will ultimately be successful, in large part because I've assembled a truly remarkable team of talented and passionate people, and passionate people are unstoppable. And yet its still quite rewarding to receive third-party appreciation to affirm our efforts. A week ago, we published, an anthology of media coverage of the NY Giants' remarkable 2007 season. To read how the media elite emphatically wrote off the team, its defense, quarterback and head coach as hopelessly mediocre, and then celebrating the dramatic Super Bowl win is a terrific tale of redemption.

On Monday, Sports Illustrated named AlmostPerfectSeason a "hot click," and wrote "Here's one of the more amazing sites we've seen in a while." The glowing reviews have poured in steadily since:

"A great website called Almost Perfect Season serves as a time capsule of the incredible 2007-08 Giants campaign..... It is really interesting to look back at many of these articles and how down on the Giants many were early on. "

"stumbled across this amazingly comprehensive synopsis"

"This is an amazing read. If you have the time you can get lost in it for hours."

"Ah, absolutely loved it."

All of these pats on the back don't change the reality that we have a lot of hard work in front of us to make FindingDulcinea the next great Internet brand. But they do strenghten our conviction that we will ultimately triumph.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Plenty of Room at the Inn

Since the commercial Internet began to seriously take shape in the mid-1990s, pundits have been eager to declare “game over,” anoint the “winners,” and deem all subsequently launched ventures to be “too late to the party.” An August 1997 article in the San Francisco Chronicle noted that Microsoft and CNET were joining “an increasingly crowded field now dominated by Yahoo Inc., Excite Inc., InfoSeek Corp. and Lycos Inc. The new sites will also face off against a host of other search services, including Alta Vista, HotBot, WebCrawler, Inktomi, Open Text, Deja News and Magellan.” Star stock analyst Keith Benjamin is quoted saying "There's a prize for first place. There's also a prize for second place, though I don't know how big the disparity is between the prize for first and the prize for second. I don't think there's a prize for third." More than a decade later, Benjamin’s observation proved true, as the largest search engine dominates the space, and the horse running in third is desperate to combine with the one in second. But no one predicted at the time that the search leader a decade later would be Google, a company that at the time existed only in the brainwaves of a pair of college students.

It can be difficult to look at a start-up and predict its ultimate success against apparently entrenched competition. I’ll admit to discouraging a friend from buying stock in AOL in 1995, because I believed it could never overcome Prodigy’s headstart and superior backing from IBM and Sears. And I have on my bookshelf “The 100 Best Internet Stocks to Own for the Long Run,” published in 2000. Based on a quick glance, I estimate that half of them are out of business or a mere shell. And of course the fall of giants is not just an Internet phenomenon, as IBM and AT&T attest.

And yet despite the brief history of the Internet, in which “entrenched” leaders can disappear quickly and new companies can rise meteorically, most start-ups are still greeted with “you’re late to the party.” The New York Times reported today on “Women of the Web,” a venture backed by a cadre of elite women from the book publishing, journalism, advertising, television and acting professions. The CEO, Joni Evans, was a star agent and chief executive for William Morris, Simon & Schuster and Random House, and thus apparently understands what people want to read. She believes that women over 40 (and with a modicum of intelligence) are tired of being talked down to on the Internet. So she’s putting together a series of “conversations” on issues germane to these women’s lives. Readers will enjoy informal and intimate musings of gossip columnist and TV personality Liz Smith, advertising guru Mary Wells, noted author Peggy Noonan, 60 Minutes’ Leslie Stahl, as well as stars such as Lily Tomlin, Marlo Thomas and Candace Bergen. Each of these women has staying power; they have all been in the public eye for 20-40 years. The site will develop a significant, and more importantly, affluential and influential audience, eager for the opportunity to read intelligent fare and interact with these icons.

Pundits, including the Times' writer, question whether users will use it in lieu of iVillage, More and other leading women’s interest Web sites (and it is worth noting that the Times ran this piece in its "Fashion and Style" section rather than "Business"). But this site’s audience is not visiting iVillage and indeed is not heavily using the Web at all right now. A core belief behind FindingDulcinea is that a large swath of Internet users significantly under utilizes the Internet because of how difficult it is to find quality, credible content. WomenontheWeb will build this, and people will come. As writer Joan Buck told the Times, “iVillage has always puzzled me …. I love the idea but it’s like Macy’s or something.”

The one thing I’d change is the domain name (yea, I know, glass houses. We went out on a limb with “FindingDulcinea,” and 18 months later I’m still convinced it’s a long-term winner). The Times article discusses the lengthy debate the founders had over the name. Liz Smith’s suggestion of “HotVoodoo” seems like a damn fine one to me. Ms. Smith, who claims to “still write with a feather” and faxes in her posts, has a great future as a domain name consultant.

And if Liz Smith can acquire domain name savvy, then this site's audience can use the Web more if presented with content that appeals to it.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The World Pays Off on Judgment

In 1998, I became general counsel of a start-up company (24/7 Media) in a new industry (Internet advertising). I was right-hand man to CEO Dave Moore, and advised the Board.

 Like all companies caught in the "no rules" wondrous bubble, we made strategic decisions we'd like to have back. But we made good ones as well, especially when our backs were pinned to the wall during the 3 year crash, and we were one of the few survivors from our peer group.

 I used to clunkily explain my role as "when we're facing a difficult situation and Dave asks 'what should we do now,' I'm good at helping him come up with the right answer." And then I had an "Aha !."

I read an essay by Judge Joseph McLaughlin, of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and former Dean of Fordham Law School, in which he wrote that he long ago learned that "the world pays off on judgment - not brilliance, knowledge, and not experience or compassion either, though a fair portion of all of these is essential to the exercise of good judgment."

 In a single, precise word, Judge McLaughlin captured why many brilliant people fail; they have bad judgment. I vowed to use this word to focus my thinking in all future critical situations. This vow was cemented a few days later when I read a WSJ article about the sacking of a Fortune 50 CEO; a board member discussed a situation that the CEO handled very poorly, and said that the Board could forgive a mistake, but what the CEO did showed bad judgment.

Over the remainder of my long tenure at 24/7, most of the blow-ups that I witnessed at other companies could usually be pinned on bad judgment, often at companies run by young CEOs who may have lacked "experience or compassion." Facebook keeps popping up in scandal lately. It has a 23yo CEO whose prescience in a critical decision - whether to accept lucrative offers to sell the company for much less than its current value - is almost overshadowed by some colossally bad decisions that can only be ascribed to bad judgment. Now I read that he has hired a 38yo COO from Google, and plans to hire other senior executives. No doubt all of them will be brimming with brilliance and knowledge. One can only hope these qualities will be supplemented with equal measures of experience and compassion, and that this young CEO will rely on their good judgment to put an end to the parade of poor decisions that has made his job so difficult lately.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Randy, Paula and Simon Pick the President

Ryan Seacrest: Welcome to the South Carolina auditions for the 2008... American....Idol !!!!

(McCain) Hello, I'm John McCain, and I'm a big fan of Barbara Streisand.

(Paula) That was like butter !!! You're voice is a velvet fog.

(Simon) Paula, you live in a velvet fog. Mr. McCain, it's one song per contestant. And shouldn't you sing something more suitable ?

(McCain) Well I like "Barbara Ann", but my mother told me not to sing that in public any more.

(Simon) Next !

(Hillary) Hi, I'm Hillary Rodham. Clinton. Rodham Clinton. Clinton. How y'all doing this morning ? I've found my new voice.

(Randy) Where are you from ?

(Paula) Terrific, Rodman. What were you trying to say ?

(Hillary) That we need to work together to defeat big business, which is that hammer thrower, dashing the dreams of working class people all over America.

(Randy) But it looked like the face in the screen represents big business ?

(Hillary) Oh. Well let's do it again, this time I'll be the hammer girl.

(Simon) No, I don't want to hear another word from you.

(Hillary) This is a vast right wing conspiracy !!

(Seacrest) Next !!

(Obama) My name is Barack Obama, and I'd like to sing a song for you.

(Randy) Barack, that was cool, you were keeping it real. But wasn't it a little too safe ?

(Obama) That's because anything I say just gives Clinton another chance to misrepresent who I am and what I believe in.

(Paula) We can't have contestants talking smack about other contestants !

(Simon) Right, only we talk smack about contestants.

(Obama) Well actually it wasn't Mrs. Clinton. It was her husband.

(Randy) Well which one of them is the contestant ?

(Obama) Tell me when you figure that out !

(Seacrest) We have one more, but he doesn't want to sing today. He says if the two finalists are really lame, then he'll enter the contest.

(Simon) He sings now or he's out !

(Seacrest) But he says he'll spend every penny he has to win.

(Randy) We can't be bought ! The people decide !!

(Seacrest) He has a trillion pennies.

(All judges) Well maybe we can work with him.

(Seacrest) But he actually only spent $100 a vote to win his last contest.

(All judges) Who does he think we are ?

(Seacrest) I'm not going to haggle with the man for you. In our out ?

(Randy) Isn't there one person who will give us a performance we can get behind ?

(Seacrest) We do have one more guy, but he also doesn't sing. He has nice background music, and he talks about why he's the candidate for change.

(Simon) For goodness sake....

(Seacret) He's taken on the bloated establishment and won, with a "give the people what they want" mantra. His "broken windows" theory is brilliant.

(Randy) Guiliani ?

(Seacrest) No, Rudy said he'd only audition in Florida. Look, I really think you're going to be wowed by this new guy, Mack.

(Simon) He can't be any worse than the crop we've seen tonight. Send him in.

(Seacrest) Judges, your American Idol for 2008 !!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Information on the Net: Instant, and everlasting

Yesterday I blogged about the race to be first with news on the Internet.  And today I'm blogging about how news on the Internet never stops being "news."   So Internet news is produced in an instant, but has perpetual life.

Today I received an email from my sister, with a great subject header:  


This email had been widely circulated several times in the past day by sophisticated people, so I figured its story may actually be true.  And indeed it was;  a local TV news story showing that children are not awakened by conventional smoke alarms.  I can't say this surprised me; my younger brothers would have slept through a meteor crashing into our house.  But it wasn't surprise that set this email trail in motion.  It was the realization that our kids were vulnerable to something  - particularly since we use young teens as sitters - and we hadn't done anything about it.

But the story also offered hope - a prototype in early development that lets a parent record a familiar voice calmly saying "wake up, get out of bed" into a smoke alarm. And my sister wants to know when it hits the market.

An hour later, she's learning  that it is available.  Now.   Here.  And they even have a way to train your dog to respond to the smoke alarm.

How did the development of this product conclude so quickly ?  Because the "news" story is from February 2004.  And indeed the knowledge base that informed this story is at least 25 years old.

And yet a slew of intelligent, informed and caring parents was unaware of it, as they had not seen the original news report, which appeared but once, or any of several other reports that have appeared - once each - in recent years.  But they did learn it because on the Internet, news lives forever, and an email trail that starts in 2004 continues to circulate four years later, albeit without any updated information appended to it.  

At findingDulcinea, we unearth and append updates to terrific news reports and columns created over time, and gather them all in one place.   Do you wonder what happened to that spy who was controversially convicted in 1950?  We did too, and published our findings.  Those columns that point out healthcare Web sites with credible information ? We put this intelligence all in one place.    Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile barrier in the 1950s.  Was that it for him ?  Not by a longshot.   Every day, we gather credible Web sites together, update you on a "Day in History," introduce innovative people and far flung places, and string together a cogent theme from several news reports created over time.  Because no one should have to rely on outdated, unappended information.

And now I just have to figure out what I can record onto that smoke alarm that will rouse my kids from their slumber, if ever needed.  "Wake up, get out of bed," has been known to fail, even when loudly shouted repeatedly.   

I'm thinking something like, "your brother is in your room, he's stealing your stuff."  

That should work at a whisper.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Right, or Right Now ?

The Internet brings us information instantly. No longer do we have to wait till 6:00 pm, or even the whole next morning, to learn what happened today. And three networks and two daily newspapers no longer constitute our entire news universe. And each of these, in many ways, is unfortunate. More viewpoints are better than fewer, but journalistic standards are no longer uniformly high. And in the race to be first, the race to be best is less important. A writer for the Columbia Journalism review characterizes the thinking this way: "talking can be just as important as saying something." Fact checkers stand aside; anything you uncover goes in the updated version. The LA Times blog pines for the days when journalists had "hours—not minutes or seconds—to craft a story from the blast wave of facts and factoids that comes in the wake of a bombshell.” How crass has the race to be first become ? The Associated Press has written an obituary for 26-year old Britney Spears. The editor clients of AP were embarrassed they didn't have one at the ready when 39 yo Anna Nicole Smith succumbed, and they don't want to be that woefully unprepared again. Slate movie critic Dana Stevens captures the tension in writing celebrity obituaries: “The deadline is, by definition, past, and you know you've already been scooped countless times.” Celebrities dying young is not a new: see James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, John Belushi, Chris Farley, et al. What's new is the need to start talking before the body goes cold. And AP's clients will be the first to start talking by prudently planning ahead. Or so they think. As Jon Thurber, the obit editor of the LA Times, warns, "Who in the '60s . . .would have thought Keith Richards would have outlasted John Denver?"

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bounding Down the Stairs

Is Barack Obama a "speaker of genius" ? Or is it true that, "For all the hoopla about Mr. Obama's speech, traditional political rhetoric is a declining art" ? We ask these questions today, analyze several view points, and provide historical context by harkening back to a few of the finer political speeches in recent American history. Politicians today rightfully speak to the issues at the forefront of voter's minds, and in a manner they understand . As a Web publisher, I constantly struggle with the reality that our readers scan instead of reading, and that the hallmark of good communication is that it is understood.

But I do miss big speeches full of big ideas, and there should be room for them as well. John Kennedy delivered them regularly; so did Ronald Reagan. And there have not been very many since. And I hope that brilliant, memorably eloquent political speeches are not permanently in our past, but merely in a down cycle.

George Pataki read the Gettysburg Address at Ground Zero on the first anniversary of 9.11. Other elected officials read other historic addresses. And most saw it as altogether fitting and proper that they should do this. Indeed, some NY Democrats, seeing they would have no voice at the ceremony, considered marking it in their own way - by also reading the Gettysburg Address, in a television commercial.

But Robert Polner of Newsday, wrote that the"appropriation of a distant generation's tragedy strikes me as lame and uninspired"and asked why George Pataki wouldn't "offer a new Gettysburg address instead, one that he crafts himself from the heart and not from a hired speechwriter?" Andrei Cherney, a speechwriter for Al Gore, writing in the Washington Post, implored the leaders to "add to [the] fabric" of American History, not "hide under it," and said that "[f]earing a miss if they swing for the fences, they have decided to bunt." In an earlier Newsday article, Columbia History Professor Eric Foner noted that "Lincoln...did not have public opinion polls telling him what to say, and didn't worry about what would be the sound bite on the evening news.”

And maybe that's the real problem with political campaigns today. Every word is planned in advance, with an eye on the polls and the evening news. I'm not troubled when a candidate chokes up when asked about the burdens of a long campaign. I am troubled by the likelihood that it was planned the night before. When Ronald Reagan first met with Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan's team carefully planned it. Gorbachev's limousine would pull up to the Geneva chateau where they were meeting, and Reagan would stand regally at the top of the steps, letting Gorbachev look up to him. But seconds after Gorbachev's car stopped, the much-older Reagan bounded down the stairs, helped Gorbachev from the car, and slipped his hand under Gorbachev's arm to support him. A Soviet aide later said "I left like we lost the game during the first movement...We started with the wrong move." And so maybe that is what I really miss - politicians who are willing to swing for the fences, to tear up the script, and bound down the stairs.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Calling Admiral Stockdale

It was shocking when Hillary lost in Iowa, and surprising when she won in NH. Huckabee came from nowhere to win Iowa.  McCain rose from the dead to win NH.  The "ofer" record of pundits hasn't halted the 24-hour coverage of their confident predictions.   Following a college football season in the #1 and #2 teams lost with regularity and the BCS participants were decided at the last second,  the media is eager to declare the final presidential nominees in mid-January. An inveterate gambler, I'm willing to bet only on more surprises.   We haven't had a "brokered convention" in half a century.  In a year when the networks offer a steady diet of live and reality programming, who wants to see a safe, tightly scripted coronation ?  Alas, it is likely the nominees will be known after the 25-state primary on February 5.

So the only hope for election excitement is Michael Bloomberg.  Independent candidates have profoundly impacted recent elections;  Ross Perot's 19% of the popular vote may have cost GHWB a second term, and Ralph Nader siphoned critical votes from both Al Gore and John Kerry.  Neither Perot (post-withdrawal/re-entry) nor Nader had the gravitas of being the Mayor of New York with an $11 billion war chest.

At the very least, Bloomberg could win a state or two, and if he does, there is a very good chance that no candidate will win a 270 vote majority of the electoral college.   So, who wins then ?  As discussed in Beyond the Headlines today, the House would determine the winner from the three leading Electoral College vote-getters.  But if, as our story predicts is quite possible, the House reaches stalemate, then the Senate would choose an "interim" President from the Vice Presidential running mates of one of the top two vote-getters, until the first stalemate is resolved.  So yes, the 44th President of the United States could be the losing Vice Presidential candidate !  If it sounds like a complicated process, that's because it is; Chris Weigant of Huffington Post compares it, and not in a favorable way, to the instructions for Monty Python's Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

We can be sure of Supreme Court involvement and assiduous efforts by everyone to de-legitimize the process whenever it appears to be pointing in the wrong direction. If you think Hillary's loss in Iowa or McCain's win in NH was surprising, wait till you witness the inauguration as President of the United States of a person who failed in their role of enhancing the electability of someone else.

Who was the last person to lose an election as a vice presidential candidate and eventually become President ? There haven't been many memorable losing VPs in recent times.  With one notable exception.  Admiral Jim Stockdale.  Yes, he famously and clumsily opened the Vice Presidential debate in 1992 by asking "Who am I and why am I here" ?   Admiral Stockdale's performance was badly misunderstood, and he faded quickly from the public eye and died in 2005.

But he lives on through a philosophy that he developed while imprisoned in Vietnam for 7 years.  This philosophy is now well known in management circles as "The Stockdale Paradox":  "You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end - which you can never afford to lose - with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."   This sounds like a better prescription for facing our future than any of the sound bites I've heard from those atop the current polls, or their likely running mates.  Let's hope there's an Admiral Stockdale somewhere out there, waiting to emerge from the chaos.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Please Sir, I want some more

I've been molding the basic premise of findingDulcinea for three years - to help people better discover the Web. For 18 months, we've been refining the details and furiously creating content, following the original outline we created. But the joy of forging a different approach to a relatively new problem is that you get to call an audible occasionally. A moment of inspiration becomes a core part of the game plan. One of these moments came in early November, as I glanced through a newspaper and saw the familiar "On this Day in History" feature. It doesn't matter which paper, because they all handle this feature the same way - an uninspiring listing of a dozen significant events that occurred over the past 500 years. On this particular day, this lackadaisical approach troubled me, because two of the events were momentous; Kristallnacht in 1938, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I was embarrassed that I knew less about these events than I should - and puzzled why the newspaper would waste space with such a meager listing of these events that were so rich in historical significance. The older I get, the more interesting history becomes to me. As a college student, I remember being struck, for reasons I did not fully comprehend, by the intro to Leon Uris' Trinity, which was borrowed from Eugene O'Neill's "Moon for the Misbegotten": "there is no present or future - only the past happening over and over again - now."

And so I wondered; what was the ultimate significance of Kristallnacht ? I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, but when was it erected, and why, and how long was it ? If you happen across a terrific blog post such as this one, from prolific writer Ed Driscoll, you'll read a well-reasoned view that Kristallnacht ws not the "beginning" of the Holocaust, but merely one of the first overt manifestations of an evil hatred that had been festering for years. You'll also learn that, after 2.5 million citizens had fled East Germany from 1949 to 1961, the 28-mile long Berlin Wall was erected to stop citizens of East Berlin, which was in East Germany, from fleeing to West Berlin, which was in democratic West Germany; the Berlin Wall was only one small segment of an 860-mile barrier that rendered East Germany a veritable prison. And you'll also learn that nearly every adviser in Ronald Reagan's cabinet implored him not to demand "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall", and he said it anyway, and it became one of the seminal moments of his presidency.

And so I decided that our Beyond the Headlines section would henceforth include a well-researched exposition of a significant event that occurred on this day in history. We choose our events by mining the innumerable lists on the Web; oddly, some days are quite rich in truly momentous events, while on others we're scraping the bottom (such as today, when we explore the marriage of star athlete and an actress). We usually avoid very recent history, as there is not much perspective to bring to these events yet. And we try to steer clear of the few events in history that are generally quite well known already. It is becoming apparent to us that findingDulcinea is a phenomenal resource for students at every level. And when it comes to history, all of us need to be students. But don't take our word for it; Eugene O'Neill said it much better than we ever could.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Patient, Educate Thyself

Dr. Rahul K. Parish published today a provocative piece, "Is there a doctor in the Mouse," on It examines how doctors relate to patients who use the Internet to arm themselves with health information. He concludes that doctors should guide patients to high-quality web sites, both to reduce the chance that patients receive misinformation as well as to reinforce the physician's advice, as patients typically remember only about half of what a doctor tells them.

Many concerns doctors have about patient Internet research are well-founded. The Internet is rife with misinformation. Further, patients rarely know how to interpret results of studies and clinical trials that often apply only to patients fitting a narrow profile - something I learned as a lawyer advising healthcare companies, rather than as a patient.

But for doctors to "wish away" the Internet ignores inevitability and misses an opportunity. Intelligent people are going to seek health information on the Internet and try to make sense of it. And they are likely to be better and more compliant patients as a result. I imagine that nothing frustrates a doctor more than a passive patient who shows little interest in his or her care and expects the doctor alone to cure-all with magic potions and reassuring words.

But patients need to be realistic and know that Internet research is unlikely to put them on the same level as their doctor - and if they believe it does, they should find a new doctor. Doctors have years of rigorous education and training and hopefully have seen many patients with similar conditions as yours, and have support networks to consult as well.

I research to a farethewell everything a doctor tells me. I go into a visit armed with questions, observations and suggestions, and even research the answers I receive. But I trust the judgment of the doctors I have chosen, and don't try to substitute my judgment for theirs. If I serious reservations about their conclusions, I'll visit another doctor and get a second opinion. The primary reason I use the Internet to search health is, as Dr. Parish wrote, because it's easier to follow advice if you fully understand it, and the reason for it.

The FindingDulcinea Web Guide to Health
has helpful information on how to approach health research and what to do with your findings, suggests how you can improve your doctor visits, and provides annotated links to credible sources of information from physicians' groups, the federal government, and well-established medical authorities.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Man vs. Machine - It's On

A few months ago, we introduced findingDulcinea, Libarian of the Internet. It is one of several efforts characterized by the audacity to believe that the human brain can outperform an algorithm in helping users to find credible and comprehensive information on the Internet, and to add needed context that helps users make sense of it all. It's the most exciting man-machine throw-down since Kasparov battled Deep Blue a decade ago.

These “human-powered” efforts reflect a common belief that search engine queries, in many cases, do not provide satisfactory results for most users. Yes, for many simple queries, anyone can find an accurate answer from a search engine in a few seconds. And if you have many years of Internet research experience and know hundreds of varied sites you can trust and are well versed in the many ever-permutating permutations of fraudulent schemes online, and have gobs of free time to sift through search results, a good search engine will suffice in most cases. But for the vast majority of users that do not met these criteria, curated information filtered through human insight and knowledge may often prove more useful to you than a slew of barely differentiated search results.

Surveys consistently conclude that most Internet users cannot find credible and comprehensive information on the Internet. Yahoo recently published its own survey that suggested that 85% of searches fail to produce the desired information on the first try. Yahoo coined the term “search engine fatigue” to describe what ensues from the wild flailing at the search box to guess the magic words that will produce the information desired. And while many Internet users claim to be satisfied with search results, a Pew Internet survey has concluded they are “trusting and naive” and "strikingly unaware of how search engines operate and how they present their results."

Algorithms, search personalization, artificial intelligence, and the semantic web are all buzz words that describe Orwellian efforts to eliminate the need for human beings to use their own intelligence and judgment to find, critically evaluate and effectively utilize information. And most pundits give strong credence to these efforts. But human intelligence and judgment have an enviable track record that has lasted a fair bit longer than any punk algorithm. And I’ll always take the underdog with a solid track record over the neophyte riding the crest of popular wisdom.