Friday, March 31, 2006

Cingular Sucks Ass

I can hardly believe how incompetent Cingular is. I am almost ready to start a site for people who hate them as much as I do. And hate is a strong word for me, because I love most everyone (except perhaps those folks who backed into our car the other night because they did not bother to look in his rear view mirror, but that is another story I will let Kristie tell). A quick Google Search yielded 492,000 results for "Cingular Sucks".

We have complained about their terrible systems pretty much since the week we signed up. They have occasionally shined, or rather one of the people in customer service did if ever so briefly. I feel sorry for those people, though I remain frustrated with them all. To have such a big corporation in charge which can not get its basic systems of operation and customer service right is incredulous, but ever so true. Cingular sucks plain and simple and I advise everyone to stay away from them at all costs.

What did they do this time? Well Kristie has been kind enough to deal with our latest billing snafus that resulted from her Treo's untimely death and resuscitation, but they forgot about me, or just screwed me after the fact. It seems that they never properly credited our account for returning the phones she bought but returned. When she dealt with this problem last month, they screwed up our plan / service bundle again. The last bill included over $400 in per minute charges, even though we had over 6,200 rollover minutes in reserve. She took care of that problem last week and was told we would get a 30 day reprieve from them taking any actions on the account while they sorted out the troubles.

WED night at midnight however, they shut off both our phones (we are on the family plan) so yesterday Kristie was on the phone with them yet again, explaining the problem to another rep. The rep supposedly corrected the problem and restored service to both our phones. Since my Treo's antenna is broken (anyone have some spare Treo 650 parts laying around?) I did not use it yesterday, but did see that I missed a call last night, which means the service was temporarily restored. Of course, I say temporarily because it is now disconnected once again and pissing me off to no end. The amount of time we have had to invest in correcting their mistakes in intolerable and I have just about had it with them - I think it is time to bite the bullet and switch to Verizon, though I really don't want to lay out all that cash for the new phone and the early termination fee (they should pay us at this point!).

Are there any Cingular folks out there who even listen to this? I suspect not - if I worked for them, I certainly would not be paying attention to the endless stream of complaints, it would probably drive me into the insane asylum. Well, now I get to wait on hold to try to clear this up once again...

UPDATE: 15July2006 - things seem a bit more stable now with regards to the billing, nothing wild lately, but you never know whats around the next bend really. I tried out some of the VCast phones and really lilked the video clip and music download, but I need a keyboard for easier texting. This one is free over at Amazon with their current incentives (will change at some point I am sure) The reviews are pretty good on it, but I have not used it more than putting it through its paces at the booth in the mall. Does anyone have any other reccomendations?

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No More BrainJams Posts Here

I have written about separating my blog posts topically for quite some time, but knowing that I was getting more reads here than there, was very reluctant to do so. This resulted in me cross posting the BrainJams content to both blogs so that I was able to get the messages out to a wider audience. This also meant that many of the searches performed for the BrainJams stuff I was writing resulted in duplicate search result entries, which was just confusing the situation instead of making it better.

Well, after one week of using the new BrainJams site hosted over at Bryght, I am satisfied that the BrainJams blog has a solid, seemingly permanent home. So I am going to finally make the move I should have done long ago and cease posting official BrainJams announcements and unconference thoughts here and focus this Blog back on Web 2.0, Knowledge Marketing, The Communications Strategy and other items of more personal interest.

Also, if things go well over the next week or so, I am going to finally move my blog over to and make the switch from Blogger to WordPress. But rather than keeping a separate personal and professional blog, I am going to keep working on Chris' Insytes all together because that is who I am. I was dreading the prospect of rebuilding my link rank all over again, but with the NOLA event coming up and looking to be pretty big, this is perhaps an opportune moment.

So if you are interested in keeping up with BrainJams, please subscribe to the feed via Feedburner or just visit the BrainJams site regularly.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

WTF - Do they think NOLA is back to NORMAL?

The fight against Municipal Wifi efforts has reached the streets of NOLA, and its not going to be pretty. I missed this piece last week, but am glad Eran over at brought this to my attention. The Telco's are understandably not happy with cities who want to offer free WiFi services which would compete for customers of their services, but are they really fighting the local government in an area where they can not even provide service to half the population?

Red Herring has an interview with Greg Meffert, the New Orleans CIO who opened up the city's WiFi mesh to all residents for free. While the telcom lobbyists fight to get it shut down, Greg vows to fight on until they throw him in jail. Now with a real taste of freedom (VOIP anyone?), there is no turning back for the city's small businesses and the returning residents who are struggling to rebuild. Internet access is proving to be a key public utility and cities who want to help bridge the digital divide are seriously considering this same sort of move all across the country.

Given the situation in New Orleans, perhaps the Oil Industry lobbyists should step in to fight for the rights of the city against the Telcoms. Or better still, maybe someone in the Bush administration can put some pressure on these folks to back off. It would be a small token of apology for the incompetence that they have demonstrated on so many levels, but it sure will go a long way toward helping the city rebuild the local economy. If the legislature stands up for the rights of the big corporations and ignore the needs of the countless small business owners that serve as the backbone of the economy, it shows how corrupt politics really are in the south. The legislature should be rewriting the laws to allow for such provisional use - the camel's nose is already in the tent. Instead they are perhaps thinking about the next elections and trying to figure out how to fund their campaigns without the contributions of BigCorp.

A good synopsis of Greg's story can be found over at Jeff Pulver's blog. I wish I had known Greg was here in San Jose at the VON conference a couple of weeks ago because I would have made it down there to talk to him. Now I will hopefully get to Skype with him in advance on the upcoming BrainJams event down there. If there is anything more we can do to help you Greg, let us know.

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BrainJams New Orleans - Big Announcement!

On Thursday May 4th we are going to bring the best of Web 2.0 to the New Orleans small business community in what could be one of the biggest Unconferences of the year. This will be a day of conversation, peer to peer learning, and developing a better understanding of how the technology community can serve the needs of this vitally important city as it comes back from the trajedy that was Katrina. Our goal is to help small businesses understand how they can make the most of blogs, social networks, tagging, wikis and other collaboration tools - but I have a feeling that much more will come of this.

In looking at the recovery efforts (and the ongoing clean-up) I have been shocked by the sheer scope of the problems down there and inspired by the resilience of those who suffered through the disaster. While there is no doubt that many in the community still need basic necessities and technology can do little to ease much of the human suffering, I really think we all need to look forward together to the potential of the new New Orleans. From my perspective, the small businesses are going to be the backbone of this revitalization, so I want to empower them with knowledge of how they can use these incredibly useful tools the industry is creating to support their efforts.

For this event, we will be applying all we have learned from our direct experience and the wisdom of other unconference organizers. While the format may be subject to change somewhat, I think that participants will really get a lot out of this structure we have put forth for the event. We hope to kickoff the day with a short introduction/keynote from a local leader to provide a better perspective on the role of small businesses and technology in the rebuilding efforts. We would really like to have Harry Anderson who has owned a couple of small businesses there for many years and is one of the clearest (and cleverest) voices of common sense we have heard coming from the region since Katrina.

The majority of the morning will be spent with our signature one-on-one knowledge networking with the group being split between small business folks and technologists. This is where you have 5 minutes to talk to the person sitting across from you about what you are passionate about and what you are working on now. After 5 minutes, a bell rings and everyone has 1 minute to move one seat to the left. The intention is to share knowledge and resources (sites, books, people etc...) with one another and to see how you might be able to help one another.

The afternoon will primarily encompass three types of activities going on at the same time.

  1. A Main "Confersation" track to serve as an introduction to the most important aspects of Web 2.0 for small business owners - blogs, collaboration tools and social networking.
  2. Open Space sessions where the participants will lead conversations on topics of their choosing which could be focused on everything from rebuilding the local tech community, to developing tools to meet the needs of the local economy to addressing social/political issues.
  3. Peer to Peer Learning, where individual experts will offer their time to share their direct expertise, teaching other individuals how to do certain tasks (like start a blog, set up a web site, use BackPack or other 'mini-lessons')
But this day in May is only the beginning of the process. We intend to build a vibrant community of technologists from around the country to provide ongoing advice and support to the local economy by engaging in genuine conversations. One of the hopes of the event is that this leads to a BarCamp/SuperHappyDevHouse sort of weekend that will build specific tools and information services for the local economy. But rather than being a couple of 'one-off' events, we hope to establish an ongoing collaboration between the six tribes (art, education, for profit, government, non-profit and technologists) that brings involvement from all across the country, and around the world. Indeed, it is our intention to donate at least 50% of any proceeds from the sponsorship revenues to go towards this cause as well as establish a separate fund that can take donations directly. Finally, we hope to inspire the people of New Orleans to embrace this new form of ad-hoc community driven collaboration and put on their own events just like WoolfCamp has done here in the Bay Area.

While we are pretty much starting from ground zero at this point in time and still need Patrons to cover the cost of the event (attendance will be free!), I have faith in our community's ability to pull this all together and make it happen in a big way (Dave Winer? Mike Arrington? you out there?). We also still need a large venue with good power and wifi as well as local technical support, peer teachers, volunteers to support local logistics and local promotion to get the right sort of people to the event, If you are interested in helping in any way, will you please contact me and join the BrainJams community to discuss how we can all contribute to this important cause.

PS - For those of you who have not been to JazzFest before, this is the perfect time to experience the soul of New Orleans that lies in the heart of this great city's music. The second weekend includes some of the best Jazz musicians in the world as well as Jimmy Buffet, Warren Haynes, The Radiators, Robert Randolph, Paul Simon, Lionel Richie and Fats Domino!

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Web 2.0 is a State of Mind

Every now and again Memeorandum points me to an exceptional post. I generally dislike the echo chamber it creates, but it is one of the better filters for the attention strapped among us. Still, I have read so many tales of woe concerning what Web 2.0 means over the past 6 months, I almost skipped this piece from Paul Boutin on Slate since it is getting so tiring.

With my silicon valley influenced perspective (and a lot of pent up frustration with some engineers I have known) I decided we should move beyond Web 2.0 and on to Web 2.1. To move away from the technology focus for the sake of the technology to put people back in the center of our lens. A couple of months ago, I was finally able to put forth a model that I could use to explain my perspective to those outside the meme - the Human Centered Web.

As I have been explaining to friends, acquaintances and anyone who will listen, Web 2.0 is like the proverbial elephant and the 3 blind men. Each one is describing a different aspect of it, each one is right in their own limited view but each one is missing the bigger picture. As with most complex ideas, people need short hand phrases to capture the essence of it, without getting into all the messy details. Of course, this causes confusion from people who can not quickly grasp the bigger picture and are being informed by only one of the perspectives. This is why I am generally OK with the use of the term, though I detest how it has been used and misused.

In his piece on Slate, Paul references three general definitions that are bantered about by different groups of people. The O'Reilly definition that focuses on participation and collaboration; the Web developers perspective on Ajax interfaces; and the opportunists play of making a company from user generated content. Hmmm. I like O'Reillys definition, but it is overly complicated to explain to lay people. The other definitions don't play well either. So what really matters to the non-technical majority of society in this discussion?

Well, I think NewsWeek got it mostly right, which is really good news. It is definitely about the collective wisdom and participation, but I think it is above all else a new era in society, a new spirit of possibility and a resurgence of optimism from which great new companies and ways of thinking are being formed. Web 2.0 is shorthand for representing this new state of mind above all else.

When we take a closer look at what constitutes its physical (or rather virtual) manifestation, there are really 3 primary elements that should be explained to the uninitiated (and AJAX is not among them).

  • The Live Web - As NewsWeek focused on Mary Hodder's quote, this is a key descriptor of one portion of this era. It references the immediacy of the ability to create and contribute in near real time to the collective wisdom and to a lesser degree certain aspects of living online.

  • The Social Web - This was an underlying element of the NewsWeek piece and referenced often through examples in the Slate piece, but it deserves to be called out separately. This references the network's awareness of our social relationships as well as the fact we are able to organize our social lives and engage one another socially.

  • The Open Web - Again, this was referenced but not called out by name. In stark contrast to the proprietary standards that marked the launch of the PC industry and the early Web days, we have established key standards in many areas that enable any person or company to create systems that easily interoperate with other systems. The Open Web is not just about published API's and open standards though, it is also the key element of the state of mind that permeates this new era. While it is not something that the majority of society will focus on, people need to understand that this means freedom from the clutches of any single corporation and lowered overall costs for whatever people want to do.

So Web 2.0 is above all else a state of mind that is based on the World Wide Web being live, open and social.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

BrainJams Clarity: The Unconference Community

Over the last few months, I have been trying to figure out what we were really going to do with BrainJams, and now I finally know.

We are going to keep it as simple as possible and build into the Web community for Unconferences. The place where you can go to find events in your local area, resources to make the events possible and a willing community of participants who want to learn from each other rather by sharing their wisdom and insights. In short, a place where people interested in Unconferences can go to share best practices and resources so that their events will be more successful.

While this may seem obvious enough to you, it was a very murky vision for me to see in the proper light. Those of you who know me through personal interaction can probably guess why this was difficult for me. I don't want to bore you with a rambling personal diatribe at this time, but this indecision stemmed from the depth of my lifelong personal struggles - continuously generating complex visions for how things could be, biting off more than I can chew, wrestling the demons of ADD, fighting off my fears of failure, suffering through the disappointment of past perceived failures and longing to be understood/embraced by a community of my peers. Simply put, my greatest gift is also my greatest weakness, and it makes seeing things simply hard for me. It also kept me asking deeper questions (can the brand work as a plural? does the word brain create the wrong impression?) and kept me striving to be perfect rather than following Nike's advice to 'just do it' instead of talking about it for so long and frustrating those around me.

So I can now finally put the other big ideas into separate buckets and focus on cultivating BrainJams to fill the people's need that remains unmet today. But I can not do it alone. I really need your help making it real.

To this end, there are many organizational tasks that need to be addressed, but more urgent is the matter of gathering, tagging and organizing resources such as venues that are available, equipment that can be borrowed and people who can help facilitate unconferences like Kaliya. We have established a basic structure within the Drupal site that we launched last week to allow for anyone to join the community and do any of the following tasks:

  • Organize your own event using our site
  • List your event for other people to discover
  • Create a site for your own group
  • Submit resources via quick blog entries (setting up tag feeds soon to also pull from Delicious and working on a resource directory Drupal module)
  • Share your thoughts on what works in which situations via personal blog entries and our collaborative guide for organizing your own Unconference
The topical focus of each Unconference is not important to what we do with BrainJams as we want to support Unconferences across the entire spectrum of thought, discussion and practice. We want to help people find out which formats work best in which situations. We want to help people get the most from bringing people together. We want to see the world made into a better place by people like you who know that Panel discussions and talking heads suck ass. We want to support peer to peer learning exchanges like the one we have proposed for One Web Day. We want to make it easier for someone with a desire to bring people together to share with each other. We want others to benefit from our mistakes, so that they can be more successful.

Wonderful things can happen when real people have real discussions with people who are different from themselves. Talking to people who are similar to you, who share the same perspective as you and hold the same beliefs as you will only reinforce the status quo within an echo chamber. So BrainJams should be about bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and holding constructive dialogue between people with opposing points of view without resorting to calling someone an asshole or behaving like trolls. I believe that if we focus on a few things we have in common with those people with whom we disagree, and respect everyone for their own uniqueness, we can come together to solve all sorts of problems. I believe this idea applies equally well to everyone involved with for profit business, non-profit endeavours, educational pursuits, technology, art and government.

But it all starts with you realizing that you have the power to make a difference and wanting to bring people together to discuss and work on whatever it is that holds your true passion. This is my passion, this is my Noble Pursuit and this is BrainJams, The Unconference Community.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Lake Tahoe Geekend FR-SUN

I really have not had as much time to promote this as I would like, but I have been trying to get a bunch of people together to go up to Lake Tahoe this weekend. I posted on Upcoming a couple weeks back and a few people are watching but have not gotten any confirmations from anyone yet, other than Ted Rheingold of Dogster, Kristie and myself. If you are interested in heading up to Lake Tahoe for some geeking out and skiing/boarding this weekend, please let me know by tomorrow, Tuesday March 28. Our house has a foosball table and high speed WiFi. Better still, there is a ton of snow. We will most likely be heading to Alpine Meadows on Saturday.

We will be going up on Friday afternoon no matter how many people are interested...