Saying Good-bye to a Newspaper

For years, I faithfully subscribed to the Wall Street Journal. I liked the business focus. The in-depth reporting. The regular off-the-beaten-track feature stories.

I even liked the launch of the Personal Journal section a couple years back, which had more lifestyle reportage (including wine reviews, which I always enjoyed).

But this week marks the end of my customer journey with the WSJ. And it has nothing to do with the paper vs. digital transition.

Reason #1: The paper has changed. Too much. It’s been, for lack of a better term, “Murdoch-ized.” The last straw was the NY section, with all kinds of style and fashion garbage. I found that when the WSJ was in my hands, it no longer felt like a “serious” news vehicle the way it once did. The fluff invasion got to me.

Reason #2: They never could crack the nut of getting reliable, on-time delivery to my door. Whoever was in charge of morning delivery by car was so unreliable (multiple reports of poor service made no difference) that I finally insisted on getting the paper by U.S. Mail. This meant getting the paper in late afternoon – an OK compromise – but then, starting a couple months ago, suddenly daily issues began not showing up at all, or coming one or two days late. Making contact via Twitter, phone, and e-mail actually yielded personal interactions, but the bottom line is: the problem wasn’t fixed.

Delivering something on-time and on-target 70-80% of the time just doesn’t cut it.

And so, good-bye to an old friend. I still respect you. I appreciate the memories. And I”ll stay in touch on-line.

But you didn’t deliver.

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Switching off the Beacon

Facebook finally owned up to the fact that they really did a poor job implementing Beacon, a “service” that provides way too much information about your buying habits (from the Wall Street Journal; subscription may be required):

After weeks of criticism over a new advertising program that was perceived as a privacy threat, Facebook Inc. has tweaked its privacy settings and offered a public apology from its chief executive — but advertisers remain wary.

The program, which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled last month, allows Facebook to track its users’ activities, such as purchases, on third-party Web sites that partner with the social-networking site and broadcast them to the users’ friends. For instance, Facebook users could receive messages telling them that a friend had bought a sweater on Overstock.com or a movie ticket on Fandango.com. Called Beacon, the program was intended to give advertisers a way “into the conversations between people,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.

But the program raised the ire of privacy advocates and users, who said Facebook didn’t clearly explain how users could prevent information from being shared and didn’t give them a way to opt out entirely. The advocacy organization MoveOn.org Civic Action, for one, formed a group complaining about the way Beacon had been implemented. As of yesterday afternoon, the group had close to 70,000 members.

In a Facebook blog, Mr. Zuckerberg yesterday wrote, “We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it.” He added that Facebook users can now adjust their privacy settings to opt out of the Beacon program entirely…more

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At least Mr. Zuckerberg did the right thing, made a plain-spoken apology, and reacted to the concerns by making changes.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would want to broadcast this much information about themselves – but then again, I don’t “get” Twitter for the same reason…

The Lecture of a Lifetime, reprise (with complete video)

Last week on my Impactiviti blog, I wrote about a moving speech by Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon professor dying of pacreatic cancer, who delivered “the lecture of a lifetime.”

This story, which was featured by the Wall Street Journal and grew viral on the Internet, led to an explosion of attention and has deeply impacted many.

Today, the WSJ does a follow up story (below; site link is here, subscription may be required) about the aftermath. Also, at the bottom of this post, a link to the full video of his speech.

The Professor’s Manifesto; What it Meant to Readers

As a boy, Randy Pausch painted an elevator door, a submarine and mathematical formulas on his bedroom walls. His parents let him do it, encouraging his creativity.

Last week, Dr. Pausch, a computer-science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told this story in a lecture to 400 students and colleagues.

“If your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let ‘em do it,” he said. “Don’t worry about resale values.”

As I wrote last week, his talk was a riveting and rollicking journey through the lessons of his life. It was also his last lecture, since he has pancreatic cancer and expects to live for just a few months.

After he spoke, his only plans were to quietly spend whatever time he has left with his wife and three young children. He never imagined the whirlwind that would envelop him. As video clips of his speech spread across the Internet, thousands of people contacted him to say he had made a profound impact on their lives. Many were moved to tears by his words — and moved to action. Parents everywhere vowed to let their kids do what they’d like on their bedroom walls.

“I am going to go right home and let my daughter paint her wall the bright pink she has been desiring instead of the “resalable” vanilla I wanted,” Carol Castle of Spring Creek, Nev., wrote to me to forward to Dr. Pausch.

People wanted Dr. Pausch to know that his talk had inspired them to quit pitying themselves, or to move on from divorces, or to pay more attention to their families. One woman wrote that his words had given her the strength to leave an abusive relationship. And terminally ill people wrote that they would try to live their lives as the 46-year-old Dr. Pausch is living his. “I’m dying and I’m having fun,” he said in the lecture. “And I’m going to keep having fun every day, because there’s no other way to play it.”

For Don Frankenfeld of Rapid City, S.D., watching the full lecture was “the best hour I have spent in years.” Many echoed that sentiment.

ABC News, which featured Dr. Pausch on “Good Morning America,” named him its “Person of the Week.” Other media descended on him. And hundreds of bloggers world-wide wrote essays celebrating him as their new hero. Their headlines were effusive: “Best Lecture Ever,” “The Most Important Thing I’ve Ever Seen,” “Randy Pausch, Worth Every Second.”

In his lecture, Dr. Pausch had said, “Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things.” Scores of Web sites now feature those words. Some include photos of brick walls for emphasis. Meanwhile, rabbis and ministers shared his brick-wall metaphor in sermons this past weekend.

Some compared the lecture to Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man Alive” speech. Celina Levin, 15, of Marlton, N.J., told Dr. Pausch that her AP English class had been analyzing the Gehrig speech, and “I have a feeling that we’ll be analyzing your speech for years to come.” Already, the Naperville, Ill., Central High School speech team plans to have a student deliver the Pausch speech word for word in competition.

As Dr. Pausch’s fans emailed links of his speech to friends, some were sheepish about it. “I am a deeply cynical person who reminds people frequently not to send me those sappy feel-good emails,” wrote Mark Pfeifer, a technology project manager at a New York investment bank. “Randy Pausch’s lecture moved me deeply, and I intend to forward it on.”

In Miami, retiree Ronald Trazenfeld emailed the lecture to friends with a note to “stop complaining about bad service and shoddy merchandise.” He suggested they instead hug someone they love.

Near the end of his lecture, Dr. Pausch had talked about earning his Ph.D., and how his mother would kiddingly introduce him: “This is my son. He’s a doctor, but not the kind who helps people.”

It was a laugh line, but it led dozens of people to reassure Dr. Pausch: “You ARE the kind of doctor who helps people,” wrote Cheryl Davis of Oakland, Calif.

Dr. Pausch feels overwhelmed and moved that what started in a lecture hall with 400 people has now been experienced by millions. Still, he has retained his sense of humor. “There’s a limit to how many times you can read how great you are and what an inspiration you are,” he says, “but I’m not there yet.”

Carnegie Mellon has a plan to honor Dr. Pausch. As a techie with the heart of a performer, he was always a link between the arts and sciences on campus. A new computer-science building is being built, and a footbridge will connect it to the nearby arts building. The bridge will be named the Randy Pausch Memorial Footbridge.

“Based on your talk, we’re thinking of putting a brick wall on either end,” joked the university’s president, Jared Cohon, announcing the honor. He went on to say: “Randy, there will be generations of students and faculty who will not know you, but they will cross that bridge and see your name and they’ll ask those of us who did know you. And we will tell them.”

Dr. Pausch has asked Carnegie Mellon not to copyright his last lecture, and instead to leave it in the public domain. It will remain his legacy, and his footbridge, to the world.

(The complete 1.5 hour speech is here on Google Video)

The Lecture of a Lifetime

A very stirring story last week in the Wall Street Journal, about a professor giving one of his final lectures. Here is how it starts:

Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University computer-science professor, was about to give a lecture Tuesday afternoon, but before he said a word, he received a standing ovation from 400 students and colleagues.

He motioned to them to sit down. “Make me earn it,” he said.

They had come to see him give what was billed as his “last lecture.” This is a common title for talks on college campuses today. Schools such as Stanford and the University of Alabama have mounted “Last Lecture Series,” in which top professors are asked to think deeply about what matters to them and to give hypothetical final talks. For the audience, the question to be mulled is this: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance?

At Carnegie Mellon, however, Dr. Pausch’s speech was more than just an academic exercise. The 46-year-old father of three has pancreatic cancer and expects to live for just a few months. His lecture, using images on a giant screen, turned out to be a rollicking and riveting journey through the lessons of his life.

Read the whole thing, with a (brief) video link, on the Impactiviti blog

UPDATE: when you’re done reading the initial story, here is a follow-up story, including a link to the FULL video of his speech.

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