Horse Camping

Years ago, when I was Fiona’s age, our family would gather up tents, sleeping bags, flashlights, all the kids and everything else that was needed for a family vacation to go camping in the woods. We would usually drive in our old blue Dodge van to some state campground on the seashore and spend the week sleeping in tents and swimming in the ocean. Sure, there were bugs, and sunburns, and the occasional meal that somehow ended up with some sand in it. There were probably other complications that my parents kept well hidden from us kids, but all in all, it was the sort of idyllic experiences that inspired poets.

Kim’s family didn’t camp, so her idyllic childhood memories revolve around riding. When she was young, she would get on her horse and explore the riding trails of Connecticut. This was often done with friends from Pony Club and she grew up sleeping near her horse during those wonderful childhood experiences.

This weekend, we had the opportunity to mix these two experiences into something new for us and wonderful for Fiona. The folks at the barn where Fiona is riding go horse camping as often each summer as they can fit it in.

They invited us to join them this weekend, so I put the carrier on top of our little Toyota Prius and loaded the car with our tent, sleeping bags, clothes, food, and Fiona and our chocolate Labrador Barley. We headed off into the quiet corner of Connecticut, the wooded northeastern part of the state where woods and horses abound. I was concerned as I drove up. It seemed like the perfect weekend to go camping. Would the campground be full? The Department of Environmental Protection says “The Lost Silvermine Horse Camp reserves 22 campsites for people and their horses. The facilities are basic – campers are responsible for cleaning sites and carrying out all trash.“

Turning off the state highway to a paved road and then along a few unpaved roads, we eventually reached the horse camp. The sign advised that the area was for horse camping only. Soon we saw the horse trailers and our friends and their horses. To our surprise there were only four horse trailers there. Two of the trailers were our friends. One trailer was some other friends of our friends, and the fourth was someone we didn’t know. We parked at a small site that had about enough space for our car and our tent, and was right across the dirt road from our friends and their horses.

The weekend, with assorted trail rides and shared meals and trips to an ice cold swimming hole surpassed the idyllic memories of my childhood. Sunday afternoon a couple horse drawn wagons passed through the campground with a group of young riders on horseback amidst the wagons. As Fiona waved back surrounded by a group of Jack Russell terriers, I couldn’t help but wonder if we looked like modern day gypsies to these visitors.

Yet there was one dark cloud on the horizon. Our friends have been camping in this primitive campground for a decade. They have encouraged friends to come, but too many people cannot abide the bugs of camping, or the lack of an electrical hookups and modern plumbing.

Some people seem to think that this pristine campground is too wonderful to keep pristine and they want to begin a large scale renovation of the camp, trying to replicate larger camps in other states “and eventually create a campground suitable for large scale camping that would encourage tourism to the area and increased use on the trails, including having the space to which to host Competitive and Endurance events.”

We wondered how people in the quiet corner of Connecticut would feel about this potential influx, the demands on the local communities to improve roads and offer increased law enforcement. We wondered about the environmental impact of such a large project, yet mostly, we were just sad. We talked about major league sports where the cheap bleacher seats where regular folks could sit and watch a lazy summer afternoon ball game had been replaced by the sky boxes for corporate executives and worried if similar gentrification was coming to the beloved basic horse camp.

The lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s song “Big Yellow Taxi” came to mind.

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
Put ‘em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ‘em

So, Fiona got her first trail ride at a pristine primitive horse camp in the woods of the quiet northeast corner of Connecticut. Hopefully, she will get a few more chances to enjoy the natural surroundings before it goes upscale. In addition, we will keep our eyes open for other horse camps just in case this one gets destroyed.

Horse Camp

Horse Camp, originally uploaded by Aldon.

Green leaves against a blue sky at the lost silver mine horse camp in Connecticut Memorial Day weekend 2008

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Crossing the Chasm without Jumping the Shark

The recent issues around Twitter have led me to ponder how companies can cross the chasm as their product appeal grows from the innovators and early adopters to bring in the early majority without jumping the shark.

There are many different issues to explore here, but given that it is Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, and I should really be getting on the road for a camping trip, I’ll try to have a brief exploration of the issues here, and then, perhaps, explore them in more detail later on.

To me, the interesting topic to explore is how the growth affects the dynamics of the company, both with the management of the company, and the larger group of stakeholders.

#cfp08 A Human Face and Due Process Online

If I were to summarize the ‘Activism and Education Using Social Networks’ track at Computers, Freedom and Privacy yesterday, I would boil it down to putting a human face on advocacy organizations and seeking due process online. What was most interesting was that during the discussions, I watched these processes happen online.

Eric spoke about the new ACLU Blog, “because freedom can’t blog itself”. He spoke about the difficulties in working out the policies of what could get written by whom for the blog. He noted the contrast between traditional advertising, expensive, glossy, and not reaching the younger generation, and online content. He noted that sites like Facebook, MySpace and Flickr are not all that fancy in their graphical design, yet it is the user generated content and the first person perspective that is so compelling. As he spoke about this, he brought up the ACLU’s Flickr page, which to my surprise, included a picture of a good friend of mine. I quickly posted a link to the Flickr photo on my friend’s wall in Facebook. Ah yes, the power of the personal.

We broke into hands on sessions and I spoke with many different people. A neighbor, who is active in town politics and works for Yale was there and I spent some time talking with her. A friend of one of the conference organizers from Tribe was there and we talked a little bit. I showed a few people Second Life and talked about the role of Second Life in disability rights advocacy.

This led me to a fascinating discussion with Dr. Linda D. Misek-Falkoff from the United Nations and the Center for Cross-Cultural Understanding. She spoke about RatifyNow.Org, a website to support the global grassroots efforts to ratify the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She has a wonderful set of videos of people in the U.N. talking about the convention. She also understood the importance of putting a human face on large organizations. She took a quick video of me saying hello to ambassadors and activists fighting for the rights of persons with disabilities.

The afternoon led to a brainstorming session where the topic of social network service providers failing to provide adequate due process was discussed. In particular, Facebooks tendency to ban people automatically because they try to send too many messages, add too many friends, or similar activities. A friend of mine was recently banned this way, and has gotten nothing but automated responses to his requests. A few of us are talking about setting up a group to address this issue.

As this discussion was going on, I received a Twitter from Andy Carvin about Ariel Waldman’s blog post about Twitter refusing to uphold its Terms of Service. Specifically, the post centered around Twitter failing to deal with harassment issues.

At a previous session at CFP there were some great discussions around the issue of cyber-harassment and it will be a topic of one of this morning’s sessions. Around an hour later, a bug report was reported on GetSatisfaction and the blog post got Dugg. The next hour saw the article make the front page of Digg and an hour later Jason Goldman of Twitter responded,

Twitter does not get involved in these disputes between users over issues of content except in limited circumstances. Twitter is a provider of information, not a mediator. Specific physical threats, certain legal obligations, privacy breaches of specific types of information (e.g. SSN, credit cards), and misleading impersonation are some cases where we may become involved and potentially terminate an account.

This only added fuel to the fire. Evan Williams of Twitter twittered.

Note: Before joining a mob, you might want to check if everything they're saying/assuming is true.

This too, fueled anger at Twitter, already under lots of criticism for its spate of recent outages. It is worth noting that 12 other people noted on GetSatisfaction that they have the same problem, almost as many people as work for Twitter.

About three hours after this, Biz Stone, stepped in and said

The fact that so many of us can have differing opinions without having even reviewed the content we're discussing highlights the difficulty of this issue. In fact, Twitter recognizes that it is not skilled at judging content disputes between individuals. Determining the line between update and insult is not something that Twitter nor a crowd would do well.

All of this returns back to the issue of due process. The fact that so many people are so concerned about this highlights the importance of the issue. Biz states, “Twitter is a communication utility, not a mediator of content.” This harkens back to the issues of Section 230 and communications utilities not being liable for content.

Yet it misses a very important point. Twitter, like Facebook and Second Life, which have also have similar issues, is not just a communication utility. All of them are communities. They are communities dependent on privately run communication utilities. These communities lack recourse to any sort of due process.

Biz’s comment about determining the line between update an insult not being something that either Twitter nor a crowd could do well seems ill advised to me. Someone needs to make that determination. Twitter can try to do it. Twitter can encourage the crowd, the community, to join in the effort to determine the line. If that doesn’t happen, the line is likely to be repeatedly brought to the courts and to legislatures to be decided. Either that, or the community will simply move to some other communications utility which provides better recourse to due process. None of those options seem particularly good for Twitter.

The activism panel at Computers, Freedom and Privacy spent time struggling with putting a human face on organizations and in seeking due process in online communities. The ACLU seems to understand these issues very well. Let us hope that corporations like Twitter, Facebook, and Linden Lab makes some progress on this topic as well.

#cfp08 Why not?

"There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?" This famous quote of Robert Kennedy paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw sets the tone for this mornings sessions at Computers, Freedom and Privacy.

The plenary panel will be discussing "an inter-networked communication infrastructure that could facilitate the creation of a modern surveillance society". It sounds like a fascinating panel, and looking at things, I am sure people are bound to ask the question, Why? There are plenty of explanations, which I hope will get explored.

A parallel track is Activism and Education Using Social Networks. It looks like a small turnout of people, many of whom I already know and are already very active online. Yet this is the dreaming of things that never were and asking why not.

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