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Scrabulous, Game Six

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I don’t do much on Facebook, but I’ve become addicted to playing Scrabulous, an online version of Scrabble. I have been over the last few months, battling through a best-of-seven series against Shel Israel, co-author with Robert Scoble, of Naked Conversations, who I’ve known since I wrote the series of stories on Jambo for Forbes. We’re now into our sixth game: I’m leading three games to two, and as of this writing am ahead by 31 points. Here’s a link to the game. Shel blogged about our match when it was only two or three games old here.

Written by ahess247

December 23rd, 2007 at 3:06 pm

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Rebuilding The Archives, And Thoughts On PR

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Yes, I know I practically never write anything here these days, but it’s not as I haven’t been busy. I’ve been, among other things, rebuilding my Web clips file, and so far I’ve got three quarters of 2007 done, after which I’ll go back and do similar pages for 2006, 2005, and then the FDC years (2000 to mid-2005) all following the same format. After that I’ll go through the years at EN, IW, NCN, and if time and resources allow, digitize the stuff from before that. (No small feat, that.)

But so far this year, and not counting anything from the first quarter, I’ve written 63 stories, 14 Byte columns, five magazine stories and recorded 40 videos (not counting the one I shot today). Look for yourself:

Second Quarter

Third Quarter

Fourth Quarter to date

Of course none of this reflects what I really spend most of my day doing: Deflecting PR pitches from industry neophytes who haven’t done their research into what I cover, but figure since I cover “technology” that I’ll naturally be interested in their client. They’re the ones who clearly haven’t read any of my recent stories because for some reason they don’t think its necessary because my name is on some list their boss has given them and as such they’re expected to call me, but not smart enough to speak up and say “Hey boss, I don’t think this is Arik’s cup of tea.” Yes, they’re the same ones who are audibly irritated when I tell them I’ve never 1) heard of their client, and 2) have no use a meeting as there’s zero chance I’ll ever write about them and 3) try to find some “angle” that they think will keep me interested, all the while running up the bill they’ll submit to their clients. And yes, I’ll admit: I can sometimes be quite harsh in my rejections, and think nothing of hanging up on an unprepared PR flunkie mid-pitch. It isn’t pleasant, but I have a lot to do, and limited time.

In any event, the above scenario should be less frequent as I finish the build-out of the archives. Even the laziest of PR professionals can Google my name, click on the first link (or third; it varies) and navigate to the “clips” section, and find an itemized list showing what I’ve written recently, and for that matter, in the distant past. Or at least that’s the idea. So ever so slowly, I’ll get these pages built, if only to give the flacks a crutch, and maybe spare myself some unnecessary phone calls.

Written by ahess247

December 18th, 2007 at 10:32 pm

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Seems A Good Day To Play The Blues

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I got your blues right here. How’s about a heaping helping of Hooker?

Just for the weekend, I’ve created “Serves You Right To Suffer Radio.”

Tune in here. It should work in iTunes.

Update: No it didn’t work. See above.

Written by ahess247

August 25th, 2007 at 1:40 pm

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Summer Reading report

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Got back from the annual trip south this week, and spent a good deal of the time reading, and when not doing that, acquiring more stuff to read. We stayed first at The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. More on the trip and maybe some pictures later.

But there sitting by the Relaxation Pool (where the lifeguards actually enforce a rule requiring patrons to speak quietly and to forgo using wireless phones) I worked my way through the second half of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. It’s an utterly fascinating, if dense read. Essentially what Tuchman does is tell the story of Europe during a period where the entire continent was, putting it lightly, down on its luck. Starting with a climate change now known as The Little Ice Age which had begun in or about the year 1250, the weather began to cool and agriculture became problematic. This followed a period of unusually warm weather which had been favorable to farming and so had encouraged a period of population growth. With less food to go around, life became harder for average people, who were generally shackled by the rules of the feudal system. Against that backdrop came The Black Death which killed some 20 million people in Europe, and some 75 million worldwide. The population of England is thought to have dropped from 7 million to 2 million by 1400.

And if the plague didn’t kill you, war might. England and France began what we now call The Hundred Years’ War which actually lasted 116 years. Meanwhile other wars minor wars were fought in Italy, in the territory now known as Switzerland, and in Spain.

And if war didn’t get you, then marauding gangs of out-of-work mercenaries might. These “free companies” were generally made up of men who had been employed in the private armies assembled to fight in the various campaigns. But when the fighting would pause, they instead sack whatever village or town happened to be nearby.

And if that weren’t enough, there were various political upheavals, a papal schism (two competing claimants to the throne of St. Peter, one in Rome, one in Avignon), and more than few popular revolts, such as the Jacquerie in France.

Tuchman tells the story largely through the eyes of one person, Enguerrand de Coucy who was an important French nobleman, and sire of a domain in northern France called Coucy now in the department of Aisne in the regions of Picardie (See some fabulous pictures of the original castle at Coucy, or rather what’s left of it, here.) His mother was a Habsburg — a fact which later caused him to lead an ill-advised war to claim some Austrian land he thought should be his — and his first wife was English. In fact she was, Isabella, the daughter of the King of England, and he met her while serving five years as a voluntary hostage in English custody on the orders of the King of France. (Long story.) Through this marriage he became in addition to a titled French Sire, also an English Earl, and as such was in the unique position of owing allegiance to both kings. Given that the two countries were engaged in an epic war, it was, shall we day, a little awkward.

With all this trouble brewing, no one in Europe gave much thought to the problem of the Turkish invasions. What we now call The Ottoman Empire was on its initial rise at this point, and its eyes were set on Eastern Europe. Western Europe didn’t give much thought to it, though every King went to great lengths to talk about how important the idea of “crusade against the infidel” — that is against Islam — was to them, they rarely did much about it. Enguerrand was twice involved in rare occasions when one king or another decided launch a crusade, first in Tunisia, and then later in Hungary, where he was ultimately taken prisoner at the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396.

The story of any century is always a complicated one and sorting out the many moving parts into a coherent narrative is no small feat. Tuchman spent seven chapters building a foundation and setting the stage so that the life of Enguerrand and his place in the many events that shaped his time can be placed within the massively complex context. The modern reader can’t help but find it challenging to keep track of the many crowned heads and ever-changing alliances and loyalties, deals, betrayals, claims and counter-claims as well as all the realms, territories and fiefdoms. The idea of nationalism — a shared cultural identity — was a new one that hadn’t yet taken hold in France and Italy, but England was already English. As such there is no such thing as a national army in this time period, and for every royal act that on its face seems to make sense and which is enacted for the “good of the people,” there are 10 or 20 such acts that are carried out for the good of the king taking the action and his many nobles seeking his favor and offering money, material and other such things necessary to carry out the war of the moment. A present-day reader’s head can’t help but ache at the neglect of the common people and the sheer idiocy of fighting endless wars amid such economic and social instability.

Tuchman tells a compelling, if disturbing and downright depressing tale of a miserable time and the people who couldn’t — or wouldn’t — do anything to make it any better.

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July 21st, 2007 at 9:06 pm

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California Dreamin’

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Here’s the view from the hotel room at the Desert Springs Resort in Palm Desert, Calif. The weather, temperatures in the 70s, certainly compares favorably with that of New York today though it should be noted that New York’s winter, thus far has been relatively balmy and notable for it shirt-sleeved temperatures well into January.

Arrived in Palm Desert Sunday after a weekend in Los Angeles, my first trip to that other cultural capital of the world, and I have to say I like LA, especially Beverly Hills. Having had two breakfasts there, I can honestly say I think that Nate’n Al is the very best diner/coffee shop/deli in all America and nothing less than a national treasure. Never mind Spago, or Trader Vic’s, if you haven’t eaten at Nate’n Al, you haven’t eaten in Beverly Hills. End of story.

Also visited Mann’s Chinese Theater (originally Grauman’s) in Hollywood, and snapped this detail of Leonard Nimoy’s hand print with my phone.

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January 29th, 2007 at 9:24 pm

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