Living on a sandbar

Last week’s storm here on Cape Cod knocked a few trees down, peeled back some shingles on the roof of the sail loft, and put a few people in the dark. It also messed up the beaches, pulling a house into the water on Nantucket, and causing at least three significant breaches, or blow-outs, in spits from Nauset (see the post below), to Nantucket’s Smith Point, to Martha’s Vineyard, where once again Chappaquiddick is an honest island.

Part of the fun of living in a world defined by sand and surf is the occasional remodeling that nature performs under the cover of a hurricane or winter gale. The islands are especially sculpted by the wind and waves, with houses dropping off of bluffs and washing out into the Atlantic, entire sand spits vanishing, and new sandbars emerging to become islands like Tuckernuck and Muskeget, perhaps some of the most unstable, undependable land in America. What one storms piles up, another washes away, and Cape Codders come out of their homes following a “good one” looking forward to a beach walk along the shore to see what was lost and what was gained.

When I was in college I was fortunate enough to take a geology course called Beach Processes and Sedimentation — a deep dive into coastal geomechanics which taught me about things like berms and littoral drifts. I was over my head half the time, especially when modeling fluid dynamics, but it is a fond memory.

My favorite piece of trivia from that course was the discovery of gastroliths at the base of Gay Head on the Vineyard, fossilized stones carried there in the stomachs of seals.

But I digress.

My major project for that class was a look at the history of the Popponesset Spit here in Cotuit and the evolution of Sampson’s Island and Dead Neck, the former pair of islands united into one at the head of Cotuit Bay. I wish I had a copy of that paper, researching it was a bear and involved a lot of time in the map collection of the Sterling Memorial Library. I was able to find this material on the NOAA historical collection, doing the research in a couple hours where it took me a couple weeks in 1979.

There’s a few things to note. Sand moves in a predictable path along a beach — this is the “littoral drift” — sand doesn’t come into a beach perpindicularly, washing straight back out, but it moves sideways, drawing from one source to deposit to another. Hence, if you look at a map of Nantucket, there is an impossibly narrow spit of land — Great Point — sticking out like an appendage. And on Cape Cod, a similar, but bigger structure exists in Provincetown. Hanging south of Chatham is Monomoy Island.

Here’s good old Wikipedia with a diagram:

This slow motion in one direction leads to some interesting beach formations and relations between neighbors. If you are fortunate enough to have the cash to live on the water (or stupid enough), you also have the cash to try to pull a King Canute and tell the tide not to eat away at your very expensive shorefront. This leads to otherwise rational masters of the universe writing impossibly large checks to coastal engineering firms for the construction of sea walls and the wonderfully named man-made structure called a “groin.”

A groin is a little jetty made out of piled up boulders that stupid beachfront owners built after the turn of the 19th century to hold the sand in place, to back it up and hold it.

Here is an aerial photograph of the phenomenon, best observed on the New Jersey shore, called the “Jetty State” by some who like to fish for striped bass from those same rock piles.

See how the sand builds up at the top of each segment of beach but gradually wastes away at the bottom? This is messing with nature’s mojo, and once one greedy person puts in a jetty, everyone “downstream” of the flow of sand will need to do the same.

Here’s what has happened in Cotuit over the years, I think this is as good a picture of what happens when mankind starts trying to stop the sea from doing what it does best.

Here is a closeup of a nautical chart from 1857 when my Great-great grandfather Thomas Chatfield was alive.

There’s a few things to point out. Where there are numbers there is ocean — those mark depths in fathoms (multiples of six feet). If you look to the top left of the numbers, there is a 5 sitting between a little tear-drop island and one like looks like a fat J. That J is Sampson’s Island. To the right of it is a long sand spit known as Dead Neck — “neck” being Cape Cod parlance for long sand spit, dead probably referring to the fact that not much could grow there. The little island to the left was called The Chicken Coop — doubtlessly because someone put their chickens out there to keep them safe from foxes and raccoons. To the west of the Coop is a little salt pond called Rushy Marsh Pond. You can see it was open to Nantucket Sound. Further south there is another “neck,” this one extending roughly south to north. That is the Popponnesset Spit.

So, study that picture. Because that’s basically what Cotuit, Mashpee and Osterville’s shoreline looked before people started messing around with groins and jetties and dredges.

Now let’s skip forward thirty years to 1889. Not a lot of change, just a little more detail.

And let’s advance to 1933 after the first wave of summer people have moved in. This was Cotuit when my father was born, before the famous hurricane of 1938.

Whoa. Big change right? Lets start at the lower left, Popponesset Beach and the spit has doubled in size and is nearly as far north as Rushy Marsh Pond. The Chicken Coop is gone. Vanished. Sampson’s Island is now part of Dead Neck, and Dead Neck has been separated by Osterville to the east by the Wianno Cut. Wow. Also note how far west Sampson’s is in relation to Bluff Point behind it. It barely protects the harbor inside from the Sound.

Now fast forward thirty years and at least four hurricanes later to 1966. The biggest change is the Popponesset Spit.

The spit has been breached but its northern end has been pushed into Rushy Marsh Pond, sealing it shut and creating an appendix-like little cove between it and Oregon Beach (named by the Army during WW II when landing craft exercises were conducted at Camp Can-Do-It in preparation for D-Day). I am eight years old. This is the Cotuit I first recall.


Above is 1972’s chart. The spit right below the word Highlands is shrinking — the cartographer has left a vestige below it — a sandbar or shoal. Sampson’s Island is no longer named, it’s all just Dead Neck, which has grown a little to the west closer to the mainland.

And here we are today. Dead Neck is almost touching Cotuit. The channel is tiny. Oregon beach shows no evidence that it was once fronted by a long neck of sand. Rushy Marsh Pond hasn’t had an influx of saltwater is probably forty years and plans are afoot to breach it to freshen its contents.

Let me point out a very interesting demonstration of the disruptive power of a groin.

See the last groin in the sequence of four? It effectively starves the beach to the north, creating a small “button-hook” effect.

Sorry to go on so long. I’m just a beach geek.

Moving beaches and strong storms always make me think of Lord Byron’s lines from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean – roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin – his control
Stops with the shore; -- upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, not does remain
A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
When for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknell’d, uncoffin’d, and unknown.

Spring sculling – OTW

OTW = on the water, shorthand in my rowing log for an outdoor scull around Grand Island. This morning was perfect — temperatures in the 60s, no wind, water like glass. So down the road I go with my boat, launch in the mud on an extremely low tide, climb aboard, get my muddy feet into the stretchers, turn on the SpeedCoach and off I go at 24 strokes per minute for 45 minutes and 9200 meters around the three bays of Cotuit, Marstons Mills and Osterville.

After three months of garage workouts, staring the grill of my car, rolling back and forth on the ergometer listening to heavy metal and electronica, a scull on smooth water in a wakening spring landscape is just the ticket. This is a rowing day — I’m off to Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester to see my daughter’s first race of the season.

Breach widens in Lower Cape barrier beach

Breaking News Updates: Breach widens in Lower Cape barrier beach

There is nothing like a northeaster to change the beach. This gap broke through on Chatham’s North Beach — cutting a few beach shacks off from the mainland. That’s Chatham village in the background. You do not want to own waterfront property in this part of the world.

Is there still life in the banner ad?

I’ve been thinking over Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick and what the implications are for the interactive advertising business. I’ve known DoubleClick since the mid90s, when they acquired Forbes.com’s first ad server provider — NetGravity — and even have used Dart, it’s primary product when I was learning online ad ops at IDG a couple years back. It sucked.

Ad servers are neither interesting nor fun to play with. Those who do play with them usually hate them, and trade tales of their quirks and bad behaviors like grizzled veterans of the war. Which is why ad ops is the most thankless job in the interactive world, yet the one with the highest stakes. Screw up an ad campaign — on the publishing side — and you can kiss the advertiser goodbye. Mis-traffic a campaign (we’re talking agency side now) — frontload the impressions, forget to daypart — and you’re going to have an irate client (if the client is paying attention, which I doubt many have).

So Google — who cracked open the concept pioneered by Bill Gross of placing ads against search results, is for all intents and purposes now the master of ad serving and targeting. Yahoo has Panama, and MSN is getting it together, and lots of nimble little mammal vendors like Quigo are providing paid search capabilities to publishers who don’t want Google to say “all your base belong to us,” but game over, when it comes to ad serving networks, Google is, as my colleague Gary Milner said in an email over the weekend a “media titan.”

The interesting thing about Google’s acquisition in my mind is not the competitive play of keeping a tired product like DoubleClick out of the competition’s hands. DoubleClick has been a creature of its private equity parent for the past few years, and there wasn’t any doubt that someone, someday would cough up the cash to take it over. So now that Google has it, what chance do DoubleClick’s competitors have? I like Atlas — Acquantive’s ad server — it is more precise than DoubleClick and tortured us at Forbes.com in terms of its precision demands when it first came on the scene in the late 90s. Quigo — great company, out of Ziff, with a very aggressive attitude about niche paid search. As the Times noted today — all the ad server alternatives got a nice share price boost thanks to Google putting a value and some attention on their market.

Funny how the unloved sideshow of interactive advertising is suddenly amplifying fears of Google dominance. I’ve seen Google’s pitch and it goes well beyond the search terms that most people associate with them. Video is now playing a stronger role in their pitch — it figures they have to do something to leverage the YouTube buy — and given the better clickthrough rates on rich media, advertisers are going to be drawn to the online 30-second spot (not pre-roll which I don’t like at all). This is great news for agencies that were worried about their TV practice — there is an avalanche of client demand headed their way for short, smart web videos to stick into big IMUs (large rectangle “interactive marketing units” — IDG-jargon)

But the banner — the lowly, punch-the-monkey, lower-my-bills piece of animated gif junk that delivers click-through rates measured in basis points — the modern equivalent of direct mail where a one percent response is considered a massive success. I’ve seen stats for a major project (I won’t name names) where the agency proudly proclaimed they served 45 million impressions on behalf of their client resulting in 62,000 visits.

That sucks. Display or banner advertising basically just contributes to clutter, places an emphasis on inflated page view numbers which no believes because no can agree on how to audit the numbers, and makes no one happy — not the poor junior designers at the agency who have to think of genius in a slot 468 pixels wide by 60 pixels tall — to the traffickers who have to pore through Comscore to find the right demographic to serve them too, to the client who knows the ROI is just going to suck, and the site that hosts the suckers who has to watch their gorgeous site design get nuked by the online equivalent of NASCAR after too many beers.

Ugh. Can you tell I don’t like banners?

Okay, but my mind changed last summer when Milner came out of a metrics review with the weird correlation that when we ran banner ads our search campaigns performed better and when we didn’t run banners our search yields declined. Hmm. Then our agency told us the same thing — run banners with search and both get an uplift. Okay. Lesson learned — reserve some component of every campaign to run in parallel with search. Not exactly rocket science, nor cause to proclaim the renaissance of display ads. But …

Search is pretty saturated. Get into a bid war over a non-brand term like “digital camera” and the cost per click gets ugly fast. It’s also dangerous to get into a “search death spiral” where you see search outperform other tactics so you starve them and allocate more to search but meanwhile that elusive thing called “Awareness” declines and the pipeline dries up.

Banners are not to brand what search is to direct marketing. Readers of this blog know I believe brand is driven by customer satisfaction and perception — not the palette and font and animated image in a blinking web ad.

What Google just did — in their infinite wisdom and good M&A sense — is insure a renaissance in banners. The space is distressed. Targeting impressions with behavioral tactics like Tacoda is still pretty sloppy, but interactive marketers are getting very left-brained and sticking the protoscope up the rear end of their campaigns and making every dollar they put in market bark fight for survival. This takes the poor publishers right out of the picture — they’re helpless. The ad is going to perform if the offer is right, the targeting is going to work if the ad server does its job, and the marketer’s site metrics is going to present the naked lunch of whether the campaign performed or not. Those that perform get renewed, refreshed and continued to optimize. Those that don’t move on — fast.

Google obviously is looking at their own analytics and saw potential for a banner revival. By taking the industry standard tool they lock the interactive agencies and media buyers deeper into their clutches, and by waving rich media opportunities like video at marketers, they offer an integrated network that is easy to buy, easy to measure, and easy to manage.

Don’t count Yahoo out yet. Disappointing earnings are not a measure of future potential, only past performance, and Yahoo has a very, very compelling brand awareness story to tell to marketers. While compared to Google like salt to pepper, Yahoo is an entirely different animal — a true content and service network. Google is search and applications. Yahoo is search and content and applications. Sure, Braun wasn’t able to turn it into an interactive tv network, but the notion of a global buy on a network with monster pageviews and great insights into their audience — makes a rich media buy combined with search and banner attractive to a marketer seeking share of voice.

But … Google is everywhere now. There’s the utility side of the business — the one the public sees and uses and depends on. But then there is the advertising business — the one that sells space and sells it from radio to print, AdSense to DoubleClick. Their achilles heel is Asia. I’ll get into the China/Japan thing in another post, I’ve bloviated to long here, killing time in a massively delayed flight to RTP.

Micro Persuasion: Open Letter: A Lesson Learned Twittering

Micro Persuasion: Open Letter: A Lesson Learned Twittering

Steve Rubel at Edelman steps in Twitter Poop. Good riddance to that joke of a service. Like I would publish my IMs to the world ….  Jim Louderback, EIC of PC Mag, calls him out for twittering that he tosses his copy of PC Mag into the trash. Oops.

“The following is an open letter to Jim Louderback, Editor-in-Chief of PC Magazine, as well as any of the several hundred employees who work for Ziff Davis Media.Dear Mr. Louderback,

Last Friday, yes Friday the 13th, I put up a post on Twitter that I wish I hadn’t. I said that I don’t read the hard copy of PC Magazine and that my free subscription goes in the trash. In a guest editorial on Strumpette you weighed whether the magazine in response should blacklist all PR pitches from Edelman, my employer, on behalf of our tech clients.”

Om launches FoundRead

Introducing FoundRead – Found+READ

Good buddy and former Forbes.com colleague Om Malik has launched — auspiciously on Friday the 13th — a new blog under the GigaOm umbrella for entrepreneurs.

“While growing our little publishing company has been a thrill-a-minute, it has also been an educational process, one that Harvard Business School can’t teach you. I have been scribbling some of my lessons, hoping to someday turn it into a book. How analog for a digital guy – quipped a friend who also was responsible for the title of my first book, Broadbandits. Why don’t you start a blog about it, after all you are good at blogging – he said.”

Erg blogging — back from Beijing baby

My last workout was a week ago — Saturday, a water workout — but I hit the gym at the Loong Palace (aka “The Lonely Palace” due to its utterly remote location and long distance from downtown Beijing) as soon as I arrived on Monday afternoon — China time — and discovered I had forgotten my running shoes, forcing me to shuffle through the library in white socks and stupid plastic shower slippers.  There I found the usual anemic exercise equipment. Rack of dumb-bells, stair-master, elliptical, stationary bike, recumbent bike, and of course

No Concept2 ergometer. The closest one was 50 km away at my step-sister’s house SE of the city, and I expect it probably is one of the few in the country save for those used by the handful of Chinese crews (which I have seen rowing on a river in the city last year).

So, since my boss was on the elliptical, I climbed onto the stairmaster and trudged away for ten minutes, switching to the bike for another ten. It is frustrating to only workout half of your body after getting the full treatment on the erg. But, breaking a sweat after the flight is a good thing, the only cure, and a necessity to, in the words of Joe Nickerson, to teach “the body is evil and must be punished.”

This morning, back on Cape Cod, I managed an brisk half-hour on the machine, my lungs burning from six days of Gobi desert dust, Beijing smog, and reprocessed United airplane air. But, it felt great and the time was decent.