Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Card Sharks

A business card is now no longer a small paper rectangle with contact info, but rather a disposable multimedia device that can store up to 1 GB of audio or video.
The rCard is the size of a credit card (3.5 inches by 2 inches) and just over a tenth of an inch thick. It has its own navigation button and viewing screen and supports AVI, MPEG, MP3, WAV, Flash and Quicktime files. The battery can last for up to four continuous hours of use.
I like the idea: now I don't even have to go to meetings anymore; I can just send my card. This may be useful if only to answer the question one inevitably asks when one finds a business card in one's desk: "Who was this guy again?"

Ah, but wait 'til e-paper business cards hit the streets. Woo hoo!

Mobile Silliness

If you thought people on Segways looked dorky, check out this thing that Toyota came up with.

By the way, I will never forgive Segway for their spelling--now people think the word "segue" is spelled "segway." Grrr.

The Future Ain't What It Used to Be

Wired has some top trends for 2006. I disagree with almost all of them.

"We've done 20 years of adding functionality, and 99 percent of that functionality isn't needed," Pearson said. "There will be an enormous market over the next several years for really simple stuff."
If this were the case, Microsoft Word would be as streamlined as it was a decade ago (and even then it wasn't very). And people love their camera phones (there's no accounting for taste). And seeing how many Blackberries and Treos I saw at a recent conference in NYC, folks like the idea of not having to schlep a lot of devices around with them.
How about mapping programs that show us whether anyone we'd like to see is nearby.
R.I.P. combustion engine
I don't envision this happening for at least a generation--if at all. Once the current gas crisis (if anyone even thinks of it as such anynore) ebbs, it's back to the SUVs. Yes, the 1970s gas crisis (which was much worse than what we're experiencing now) ended the age of the Lincoln Continental and those huge 1970s cars and brought about the compact car craze, but a decade after that it was huge hulking vehicles again. We all have very short memories.
Futurists have been warning about our over-consumptive, pollution- and nonbiodegradable-waste-generating ways for decades. Lately, those warnings are getting more strident
Nah, it'll take some horrible crisis to change anyone's behaviors and I suspect any changes will be short-lived.

At Last! A Laptop for Marlon Brando

Good grief:
Samsung has already shown its upcoming 19-inch laptop to CNET Reviews. The product is expected to ship later this year. Dell, a major partner of Samsung, could easily adopt the large screen format for its high-end XPS laptops. And, LG Philips is also touting its 20-inch LCD displays for laptops.
I would hesitate at calling these things "laptop" (or actually using them as laptops) unless you never want to be able to conceive or bear childen.

Department of Internet Irony

Got this e-mail message last night:
I'm unable to get an Internet connection to send report to you.
Will try again in the morning.
Think about it...

Long Time No Blog

As I was in the process of moving, I was in "e-mail blackout mode" as Internet access existed at the old location but not at the new, until Monday. I am now wired (soon to be wireless) and ready to start blogging again.

Consider yourselves warned.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Consider yourselves lucky: I am in the process of moving this week and will be light on blogging (or so I say now). Between Thursday and Monday, e-mail access will be sporadic, as Time-Warner insists I can't be entrusted to plug in my own cable modem without parental supervision. I guess I'll have to cruise around my new neighborhood and see if anyone has an unsecured wireless network...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Walking and Talking

From the "Why Would Anyone Think Of That?" file:
Researchers at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland have developed a prototype of a cell phone that uses motion sensors to record a user's walking pattern of movement, or gait. The device then periodically checks to see that it is still in the possession of its legitimate owner, by measuring the current stride and comparing it against that stored in its memory.
Some limitations, tho':
wearing high heels, suffering an injury foot and, especially, having a few drinks, are activities likely to set the device off by accident. "You would need to either turn it off before you start drinking or make sure you remember your password"
And if you wear high heels, suffer a foot injury, and have a few drinks all at the same time, the thing may just explode.

Steroid Use and Home Run Hitting

I'm not a baseball fan (but the way college football is developing this season I may decide to become one) but I came across this article from an economist that aims to demonstrate that steroid use by baseball players has not improved home run hitting. In fact:
there have been no fundamental changes in home run hitting in MLB for over 40 years.

Delivery Failure

Return Path, an e-mail marketing firm, has been tracking the deliverability statistics of opt-in e-mail blasts for several years and the numbers just don't seem to improve hugely:
Top ISPs and web-based email providers did not deliver 21 percent of permission-based emails to consumers’ inboxes during the first half of 2005, according to a new Return Path email deliverability study. In 2004, 22 percent of permission-based email was not delivered to consumers’ inboxes.
Remember: this isn't spam we're talking about, but e-mail subscriptions that people have deliberately signed up for.

Score 1 for print. Say what you want about the Post Office, but print direct mail gets delivered more than 99% of the time.

Ooh, Scary, Very Scary

...as Count Floyd would say.

I can't wait until our alarmist media gets their chops on this one (story from Ad Age): an alarmist new book touting all the scary consequences of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification, tiny electronic chips embedded in packaging and other wholesale and retail items to be used primarily for inventory management). That's right, folks: another thing to be Really Really Scared Of, for no real reason--even the title is needlessly Orwellian: Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID. Honestly: does anyone think that companies have nothing better to do that track people's every movement? Think about the logistics of handling that much data. How on earth could that ever be useful? As for the government, well, they have a hard enough time tracking a big-ass hurricane approaching the Gulf States.

So what evidence does the author give for the impending Big Brother scenario?
Despite assurances that it has no current plans to track consumer behavior with RFID, P&G filed for a 2001 patent titled “Systems and Methods for Tracking Consumers in a Store Environment,” the book says.
The key words, I suppose, would be "in a store environment." Hmm. A technology for tracking consumers in a store. How terrifying. You mean store managers might actually know where in the store I am? Good! It's hard enough attracting sales help as it is.

I admit I have not read the book (I probably should but I really don't want to) but I have been following the development of RFID a bit and it doesn't sound to me like the chips are powerful enough to do all the nasty things the author asserts. Yes, some have anticipated some modest consumer-tracking applications, but it mostly has to do with inventory managenment and theft prevention, and nothing more extreme than what retailers already do with loyalty programs and discount cards. And I honestly have no real objection to Price Chopper knowing how often I buy ketchup. In fact, I wish stores did a better job of tracking my purchases--it might ensure that the things I want to buy are actually in stock. (Best Buy, for example, has the uncanny ability to determine exactly what it is that I am looking for and go to extreme lengths to ensure that they don't have it.)

But wait--we get to the end of the story:
A second edition of her book due in January links RFID to the “mark of the beast” in the Book of Revelations.
Seriously. OK, so much for credibility. (Reading the user comments on Amazon, the book's fans seem to be Apocalypse fans and the usual crowd that has the date of the Rapture on their wall calendars. Well.)

There are always downsides and unintended consequences to any technology, but lunatic books like this really don't do anyone a service. Whenever we see books or news stories touting all sorts of doomsday scenarios, there are a few things we need to immediately ask: Does the author have an agenda? Do the author's claims make sense from a technological standpoint? Do the author's claims make logical sense?

Yes, there are things out there to be scared (or at least dubious) of. But let's not blow things out of proportion--like the news story I once saw with the headline "Salad: The Silent Killer." If I may quote a Rush lyric, "The things that we fear are a weapon to be used against us."

Friday, October 14, 2005

Saw This One Coming

But then, who couldn't? CNN again:
Podcasting is on the verge of setting off a video revolution and users of Apple's new video iPod can expect a deluge of outspoken commentary, religious sermons and pornography.

Better, Faster, Ruder

From CNN:
A slippage in manners is obvious to many Americans. Nearly 70 percent questioned in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll said people are ruder than they were 20 or 30 years ago. The trend is noticed in large and small places alike, although more urban people -- 74 percent -- report bad manners, then do people in rural areas, 67 percent.
Sienkiewicz, whose job requires hours in a car, said she tries to avoid rush-hour traffic because of drivers with a me-first attitude. The most common complaint about rudeness in the poll was aggressive or reckless driving, with 91 percent citing it as the most frequent discourtesy.
I heartily concur. I think our techno-society, with it's "whatever-we-want-whenver-we-want-it," is making us a nation of obnoxious spoiled brats. And don't even get me started on the driving thing; even in the eight years that I've been driving, I've seen courtesy go wa-a-a-ay down, to the point where no one even bothers staying in their own lane anymore (even when they're not on cellphones).

If people get any worse I suppose I can take some comfort in the fact that at least thanks to the Internet I don't have to leave the house all that much anymore.

Take That!

For those who are always at a loss for what to say when called on in meetings, try the Biblical Curse Generator.
Harken, thou wayward winebibber, for you will be whipped with a thousand scorpions!

When Databases Attack

Got a very weird Amazon promotion, the likes of which I hadn't seen in a few years:
We've noticed that customers who have purchased Farscape - Season 4, Collection 2 also purchased The L Word - The Complete Second Season on DVD. For this reason, you might like to know that The L Word - The Complete Second Season will be released on October 25, 2005 on DVD.
Let's compare and contrast:

American astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) is flung through a wormhole and comes out in the midst of an interstellar prison escape on the other side of the universe. When the galactic cops (called "Peacekeepers") mark him as the new public enemy number one, Crichton is forced to ally himself with the convicts: hulking warrior D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), blue-skinned priest Zhaan (Virginia Hey), fugitive peacekeeper Aeryn (Claudia Black), exiled king Rygel (Jonathan Hardy), and Pilot, the giant insectlike nerve center of their living ship, Moya.
The L Word (which, I admit, I've never heard of):
Set in the chic world of Los Angeles, this humor-laced dramatic series explores the lives of a group of lesbians, their friends, family and neighbors. The series takes a smart, sexy and fun look at the hopes, dreams and lives of these people as they deal with things like career struggles, relationships and the pressures of tying [sic] to start a family.
Granted, L.A. is another planet entirely, but still...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Now I know what to get the niece/nephew when s/he arrives. Only $12.99 from Amazon. Hours of fun! Almost as good as the toystore on 31st St. in Queens that always had, in the window, a little Fisher-Price toy called "My First Fax Machine." Creating the joyless proles of tomorrow!

Saturday, October 08, 2005


That's it; I'm going to grad school just so I can have a new alma mater to root for:
Syracuse University's feeble offense is relocating rock bottom for a football program in grim freefall.

The University of Connecticut shoved the Orange down a deepening hole with a 26-7 Big East Conference victory at rainy Rentschler Field on Friday night.

The defeat dropped Syracuse to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the Big East. The Orange has lost three straight and six of its last eight going back to last season.

Way to Go, Brazil!

"Brazil fights oil prices with alcohol"

Oh, wait...

Drivers are fighting rising gasoline prices by buying "flex" or "flexible fuel" cars that slurp more alcohol.

Alcohol made from sugar cane is becoming the fuel of choice in Brazil, and other countries - so much so that global sugar prices hit a seven-year high this week.
Great, so now sugar is going up. Lovely.

Get David McCallum On the Phone*

Would that we could all be mutants. Via Marginal Revolution, an Indian boy was born with six fingers on each hand, six toes one foot, and seven toes on the other foot. Full story here. The image below was apparently not Photoshopped; imagine how fast he can type! (And imagine how much work U.S. companies can outsource to him....) He can probably do base 12 math with no problem, too. His parents must have a heck of a time keeping him in shoes, I'll bet.
*David McCallum starred in "The Sixth Finger" episode of the original Outer Limits, in which he was forcibly evolved millions of years into mankind's future. He had six fingers on each hand, a giant head, pointed ears, and a snooty disposition.

Friday, October 07, 2005

What--Not the Theme From Flipper?

So apparently dolphins can be taught how to sing:
Scientists have taught dolphins to combine both rhythm and vocalisations to produce music, resulting in an extremely high-pitched, short version of the Batman theme song.
Well, it's probably better than anything on the radio these days.

Abridge Over Troubled Waters

Americans may be getting larger, but books are getting thinner, at least according to this USA Today article:
With its snazzy new "Great Ideas" series released this month, Penguin Books hopes to provide an economical remedy for time-pressed readers in search of intellectual sustenance.

Each of the paperbacks costs $8.95 and offers readers a sampling of the world's great non-fiction. For example, the Gibbon book is a slim 92-page selection called The Christians and the Fall of Rome. It presents Gibbon as sort of an intellectual tapas to be savored in one sitting.
Maybe I've been reading too many Adobe press releases, but this sounds like it could be marketed as Gibbon Elements. My favorite bit:
Because "we want readers to be able to get close to the text," the books do not have introductions or prefaces, Penguin publisher Kathryn Court says. "It's daunting. There are so many books and so little time."
Um...yeah, but the point of reading a book is not to read bits of it. The point of reading a book is to read a book, n'est-ce pas? Besides, Cliff's and Monarch Notes (do they still exist?) are a better cop out anyway, at least back when I was in high school.*

Granted, Gibbon is not everyone's cup of tea, but I think this idea is just a taste of things to come. People (usually silly people) wonder if e-books will kill off printed books (or p-books), but I don't think so. I think books will still be savored in print form by (a decreasing number of) people who really like books (at least for a few generations). What will ultimately kill off printed books is an increased trend away from reading books at all. I think the trend in reading in the long haul will be toward shorter and shorter documents--the contents of a Web page (or a blog post), or whatever electronic medium will replace the current computer screen.

*It just occurred to me that it's entirely conceivable that the next trend in "books" could very well be the PowerPoint presentation. I can see it now: "the Great Books of the World in PowerPoint format." Bulleted slides take you through the world's greatest literature. Hmm...this gives me an idea... What's scary, though, is that there probably already is such a thing, akin to the hysterically funny Gettysburg Address PowerPoint.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Yet Another Reason to Avoid Spam

Ever been tempted to invest in the "gre@t st0ck t!ps" you receive via spam? Neither have I, but if you've ever been morbidly curious as to how much you could actually lose, SpamStockTracker has done the work so you don't have to. The premise:

On May 5th, 2005 (05/05/05 spooky!) I set out to determine just how much money I could lose by trusting SPAM.

What if I purchased 1000 shares of stock from EVERY stock tip mentioned in a SPAM email? Could we all really be missing out on a great opportunity?

Of course, I don't have the money to actually waste on an experiment like this. I made this little web site to keep track of the value of those stocks... without my actually purchasing anything.
How much has he hypothetically lost? click here to find out...

I Know the Feeling

A cautionary tale for those who are fond of all-you-can-eat buffets:
A 13-foot Burmese python recently burst after it apparently tried to swallow a live, six-foot alligator whole, authorities said.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Rich Media, Rich Response

Sez DoubleClick, via a new study:

RICH MEDIA, INCLUDING FLASH AND streaming ads, have a greater effect on advertisers' brand metrics than JPEG and GIF ads, according to a DoubleClick report released this week. DoubleClick considers rich media to be Web ad units based on technologies that are more complex than GIF and JPEG and simple animation.

The paper, "Evolution of Rich Media Advertising," cited a recent Dynamic Logic study in which ad awareness increased 9 percentage points for rich media above the control group, compared with a 7.5 percentage point jump for GIF and JPEG ads. Also, aided brand awareness for the RM ads rose 4 percentage points, compared with 3.3 points for the JPEG and GIF ads.

Dry-Clean Only, No Doubt

The New Scientist's patent office reporter finds this patent pending: a keyboard embdedded into a jacket sleeve.

In the not-too-distant future when you see someone impatiently tapping their sleeve while waiting for a flight , they might in fact be writing a letter of complaint to the airline company.

German electronics company Infineon Technologies reckons the main reason wearable computers have yet to take off is that there is no simple way to use a keyboard for text entry. The solution, according to Infineon, is to fit a keyboard into a jacket during manufacture.

The garment can be woven from ordinary cloth. The arm of the jacket is then interlaced with a criss-cross of thin insulated wires, with the insulation etched away at spots corresponding to the keys of a keyboard layout. When a low voltage is fed through the wires, touching the pads bridges the wires underneath, turning the sleeve into a keyboard.

To protect the keyboard from wear-and-tear and washing, the overall area is sealed with insulating polymer. The woven wires would be connected directly to the rest of the electronics, which would either be embedded in the lining of the coat or carried somewhere on the body.

WiMax on the Horizon

A "souped up" version of WiFi is on the verge of taking over the world, sez Business Week.

Demand [for WiFi] is soaring, thanks to faster, cheaper, and more reliable technology, and to open standards that let tech giants like Intel (INTC ) bundle Wi-Fi radios into mass-market computers. The number of Wi-Fi users is expected to soar 57% this year, to 118 million worldwide, according to Pyramid Research. Not bad for a technology that's only a few years old.
It's amazing how quickly we get spoiled by WiFi. It's reached the point where I get annoyed if I check into a hotel that doesn't have it (or charges through the nose for it). So bad has my jones for WiFi become that last week when my car was being worked on, I asked naively if the Saturn service center had WiFi in its waiting room (I can't believe I actually asked that question with a straight face!) and then proceeded to discover that I was in the only place in the universe (Central Avenue in Albany) without a Starbucks nearby.

Who will deliver universal WiFi hotspots (Google?) and how they are delivered is still up for grabs, but the biggest driver of increased WiFi (or WiMax) hotspots will simply be the increasing expectation that they will exist.

What if You Have a St. Bernard?

You know, whenever I go driving, I can never find a place to store my dachshund. The clever folks at Honda have it covered, apparently.

(Thanks to Audrey for the freakish link.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

What Have I Done?

Well, it's official: I bought a house. Closed a scant 45 minutes ago. Let the carnage begin!

Quantum Computing

Hoo boy. Scientists have trapped a pulse of laser light and can map information onto it, setting us up for a style of computing--called quantum computing--based on principles that maybe two people in the world understand (kind of like Windows, come to think of it...). The first company that names its computing system "Schrodinger's Cat" is going to get neutered.

Office Acrobatics

OK, so MS says the new version of Office will natively allow users to save documents as PDFs (without needing the colossally flaky PDFMaker plug-in). Yeah, I'll bet that will work flawlessly.

Georgia On My...Mind

Georgia-Pacific is cutting jobs, and it's odd which product lines are affected because you'd think, that there are certain, um, applications for paper that will never go away.

Lamp Unto My Feet, Apparently

Well, this--slippers with headlights--is either a good idea, or just plain silly. You be the judge.

Dr. Demento?

Sez the BBC:

Exercising for half an hour at least twice a week during midlife can significantly cut a person's risk of dementia later, say researchers.

People in their late 40s and early 50s who do this could reduce their risk of dementia by about 50%, according to a study reported in Lancet Neurology.
Of course, it does nothing for those of us who are demented now.

No No NO!

Oh, good: more mutually incompatible DVD formats on the horizon.

[T]he six major studios were evenly split between the Blu-ray technology backed by Sony Corp. and HD DVD supported by Toshiba Corp.

Both formats deliver movies in sharp high-definition and can store more data than traditional DVDs, which will allow them to offer interactive features such as games.

But the formats are incompatible and will force consumers to choose one over the other, a potentially costly decision if one format ultimately wins in the marketplace, the case when VHS defeated Betamax for home video in the 1980s.

Sorry--I made the transition to from vinyl to CD, and from VHS to DVD. I'm done transitioning to new formats. Until movie studios offer upgrade pricing, I'll pass.

Our Expanding Universe

According to the New York Times, last summer's discovery of a 10th planet (named Xena, after TV's warrior princess--sorry, I've never actually seen the show, but don't call me Xenaphobic) and last week's discovery that Xena had a moon (named Gabrielle, after Xena's sidekick, apparently), the question "what the heck is a planet?" rages again. Some may recall the debate back in 1998 or so when the powers that rule the heavens (or so it would seem) wanted to demote Pluto from "planet" to "Kuiper Belt object" or the more poetic (at least to me...) "trans-Neptunian object." Although, if you ever take the tour of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ (where Pluto was discovered), they're having none of it. To their mind, Pluto may as well be Jupiter.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Bad Words

One buzzphrase I would like to see wished into the cornfield: "viral marketing." I have nothing in particular against the phenomenon it refers to but surely we can come up with a better term for it than that.

Disneyland Goes to Us

Sez WSJ:

Robert Iger, who takes over today as Walt Disney Co.'s chief executive, is shaking up the Magic Kingdom by pushing a mandate for the digital age: Consumers must be able to use Disney content whenever and wherever they want it.

Mr. Iger is talking about selling episodes of ABC hits such as "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" online like songs. He is roiling the movie-theater industry by publicly floating the idea of releasing movies in cinemas and on DVD at the same time. He is negotiating with telecom companies about ways to deliver entertainment over cellphones.

Google Takes on the Telecoms

Now that WSJ.com is back, I can read the article that was forwarded to me. And the plot thickens:

Internet companies are making an aggressive and unprecedented push into services traditionally offered by phone and cable companies -- threatening to upend the business of transmitting voice and data.

Google Inc. unveiled the latest such effort Friday with a proposal to provide free, wireless high-speed Internet access in the city of San Francisco. The service would allow users to bypass fee-based connections of cable and local phone companies in favor of wireless links.

Users could log on through computers and email, surf the Web, download music or do anything else they can do with a traditional Internet connection -- including, potentially, make phone calls with voice-over IP, or VOIP, technology.
But wait, there's more:
More troubling for telecoms, it would bring their industry an entirely different business model. Google generates nearly all its revenue, which totaled $3.2 billion last year, from the small advertisements it shows alongside search results and other Web content.

By offering consumers free service, Google could pressure traditional providers to slash fees for Internet access, a growing source of telecom revenue -- when they don't have Google's advertising revenue to make up the difference, and have large, extensive networks for transmitting voice and data to maintain.

Google's proposal to use wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi, technology would cost far less than a traditional network. It also would give Google a direct pipeline into consumers' homes -- long the big edge for telephone and cable companies.
I am curious, though: Google's whole model is advertising-based. Indeed, both Google and Yahoo!--among others--can offer free maps, free searches, free VoIP, free this, free that, because it's all advertiser-supported. But is that truly sustainable? What happens to all our connectivity if the model collapses?

Video To Go

Oh, I don't know:

TV service on the go is being touted as the next big moneymaker for mobile phone operators
I do have mixed feelings about the idea of video on cellphones. I do like the idea of portable video players, especially while traveling. (Kind of like map laptop computer, on which I watch DVDs while on the road.) However, a cellphone is a pretty lousy medium for watching video. And I can see where this is going: the same dips**ts who cluelessly walk or drive while yakking will now be cluelessly walking or driving while watching TV. Not wild about this idea, speaking as someone who occasionally leaves the house and has unpleasant encounters with these people.

Score 1 For Print


Notice to Readers:
Full access to The Wall Street Journal Online is unavailable due to technical difficulties. Please see the What's News column for highlights of the top news of the day. We apologize for the inconvenience
I never got that error message in a print edition. Although, to be fair, I have had the print equivalent, I guess you could call it: newspaper subscriptions in which, at times papers weren't delivered; got stolen (in NYC, natch); ended up, I later discovered, on my roof; or, in the case of one exceptionally skilled L.A. Times delivery person, under my car at the exact point where it was unreachable from any direction without starting and moving the car.

Still, once I've actually had the paper in hand, nothing has ever stood in the way of my ability to read it (barring some Burgess Meredith/"Time Enough at Last" eyeglasses problem).

@ Large

CNet today mentions alternative terms for the "@" symbol that has become ubiquitous in our lives. This seems like as good a time as any to repeat a little history of the symbol I compiled for an e-letter a couple years ago:

Ever wonder where the “@” sign came from? It’s been a standard character on computer keyboards (and before that typewriters) practically since day one, and it’s a ubiquitous symbol these days, but it dates from the days of monk-based communication—in Medieval manuscript copying, “@” was how monks abbreviated the word “ad” which is Latin for “at.”

However, “@” as we know it technically comes not from Latin but Spanish.
In the 15th century, the symbol “@” began to be used an abbreviation of the word “arroba,” which is a Spanish and Portuguese unit of measure (equivalent to 25.37 pounds in Mexico and 32.38 pounds in Brazil) used in trade. The sign “@” itself soon came to become associated not with the weight of shipments but with billing and invoicing—“3 goats @ $5.00,” where it remained for centuries. As a result, it was for many people an arcane symbol that was merely the shift of the “2” key.

Until 1971. Bolt Beranek and Newman was a company hired by the U.S. Department of Defense to build the first Internet (then called ARPANET). One of the team members was a computer engineer named Ray Tomlinson, and in 1971 he invented the ability to send electronic messages from one computer to another. Naturally, messages needed to be addressed in some way so that the file transfer system knew where to send them. Tomlinson chose the “@” symbol to refer to what user was “at” which computer. The first e-mail message ever sent? The decidedly prosaic “QWERTYUIOP,” which was sent from a computer over the ARPANET to the computer sitting right next to it.

E-mail wouldn’t become ubiquitous until more than 20 years later.
Interestingly, one of the first organizations to grok the idea of e-mail was, seemingly ironically, the U.S. Postal Service. In the 1970s, the Post Office had created a system called E-Com, which was a network of 25 sites around the country among which electronic messages could be transmitted. Letters could be “e-mailed” (or “E-Commed,” you could probably say) from one site to another, where they could be printed on what was considered at the time to be high-speed laser printers. Once received and printed, a message could then be delivered as first class mail to the ultimate recipient.

But it was not to be. The telephone and telegraph companies freaked out about the idea of the Post Office becoming their competition, so they ran to the FCC, who, post haste (as it were), barred the Postal Service from getting into the electronic message business. As a kludge, the Post Office tried “snail mailing” magnetic tapes from site-to-site, but that was far less compelling. And that was the end of E-Com.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


I don't get ESPN2, which is where today's Syracuse-Florida State game is being televised. I did notice that you can watch games over the Internet via a kind of pay-per-view system but, alas, I tried and got this error message:

We have detected that your system is not currently equipped to use ESPN Motion. A Mac OS X version is in development, but for now, if you would like to use ESPN Motion, you must be using a PC with Windows 98 or better.

Interesting wording: "Windows 98 or better." I have a Mac; it is better. Growl. Oh, well, at least the game is on the radio. Then again, maybe I don't want to see this game...

I STAND CORRECTED: the game is actually on ABC, not ESPN2. But I was right: I don't want to see it...

E-Mail Notice

I am switching Web hosts this weekend, which will affect (or, hopefully not affect adversely) all e-mail sent to my richtextandgraphics.com domain address(es) and, of course, my Web site at www.richtextandgraphics.com. There shouldn't be any interruptions of service (but, well, you know), but if anyone notices any e-mail bouncing on Monday, please let me know. My spam magnet--I mean, my Roadrunner address--rromano2@nycap.rr.com is still active and unaffected.

Hmm...suddenly, this blog is serving a constructive purpose...

They Called Him MISTER Tharp

I don't know how many of the folks reading this (if any) knew of Rick Tharp, an award-winning San Francisco-based graphic designer. In the late 1990s, we were always covering his firm Tharp Did It! in the Northern California Edition of Micro Publishing News, and we used to chuckle because Rick always insisted (with tongue-in-cheek, I later learned) on being referred to as "Mister Tharp." I met him once at a party in San Francisco in 1998 or so; this was about the time that the first batch of redesigned $20 bills were coming out and we were commenting about the redesign--I joked that the new money looked like it was the result of a font substitution (for those not in the know, this is what happens when the device printing something doesn't have the fonts that the designer used--a common problem in digital prepress). This amused him greatly and for several weeks afterward he tried to enlist my help in starting a rumor in the trade press that the new money was actually the result of a major production error at the Bureau of Printing & Engraving (it didn't work). We kept in touch for a short time afterward, but although I didn't know him well, I always remember him as a funny guy (and at the time I thought he looked like Frank Zappa, which is always a plus in my book). It hit me very weirdly, then, when I read this morning in Graphic Design: USA that, last summer, he apparently jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. Very sad; he was extremely talented. A full bio here.