Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Gag Me

Once again, The Onion is on top of things:
RIAA Bans Telling Friends About Songs

LOS ANGELES—The Recording Industry Association of America announced Tuesday that it will be taking legal action against anyone discovered telling friends, acquaintances, or associates about new songs, artists, or albums. "We are merely exercising our right to defend our intellectual properties from unauthorized peer-to-peer notification of the existence of copyrighted material," a press release signed by RIAA anti-piracy director Brad Buckles read. "We will aggressively prosecute those individuals who attempt to pirate our property by generating 'buzz' about any proprietary music, movies, or software, or enjoy same in the company of anyone other than themselves." RIAA attorneys said they were also looking into the legality of word-of-mouth "favorites-sharing" sites, such as coffee shops, universities, and living rooms.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Since I no longer live within walking distance of a video store (or anything, really) and given how much I hate driving--and how psychotic and intensely unpleasant other drivers are quickly becoming--I have started experimenting with NetFlix (they have a free two-week trial). I resisted them for a while because I rent so few movies that a flat monthly rate didn't seem to be cost effective. And yet, now that I prefer to watch TV shows as DVDs, it does make sense to rent multi-disc sets. Current movies look pretty unwatchable, but they have an immense collection of classics and obscure foreign films. At $9.95 a month (unlimited rentals per month, but you can only rent one at a time, which is fine--there are other plans that let you rent more at a time), that's not bad. And I can get a movie delivered the day after I order it. So far it's working well.

Now if only an Internet grocer would deliver here...

No! Go Away!

Just weeks after Apple proved the viability of its iPod video player, Walt Disney Studios and media giant Clear Channel announced plans to begin advertising movies and other content over video-enabled portable devices.
Yet another reason I'll avoid the Video iPod.

Since the advent of the iPod, I had felt that a video version was inevitable, even though I really can't say that I have any great desire for one. I mean, an audio iPod is one thing; it replaced my Walkman and five boxes of cassette tapes. But as enamored as I was with my Walkman back in the day (especially when commuting on the NYC subway), I never wanted a Sony Watchman (remember that?). Why? Maybe it's my lousy eyesight, but I don't really want to watch TV or movies on a teeny tiny screen. I'd much sooner get a widescreen TV than a Video iPod.

Just Say No

Inevitable, I suppose:
Despite aggressive law enforcement efforts, however, experts say cybercrime is growing at a rampant pace; a pace that rivals drug trafficking.

Cybercrime includes such illegal activities as child pornography, stock manipulation, software piracy, and extortion -- and security experts expect those activities to multiply as technology becomes more pervasive in developing countries.

"Last year was the first year that proceeds from cyber crime were greater than proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs, and that was, I believe, over US$105 billion," Valerie McNiven, who advises the U.S. Treasury on cybercrime, told Reuters recently. "Cybercrime is moving at such a high speed that law enforcement cannot catch up with it."

The Old College Try

This I found interesting:
Even as the commercial press is hammered by shrinking profits, layoffs and falling circulation, college newspapers are thriving. Today's premier college dailies—big, colorful and aggressive—are often indistinguishable from professional broadsheets, and the resemblance goes beyond the front page. The UCLA Daily Bruin's offices, with more than 100 top-of-the-line Apple workstations, rival those of a medium-size professional paper. The Indiana Daily Student has an annual payroll of $380,000. The Harvard Crimson recently spent $400,000 on color presses and design consultants.
While professional papers are losing readers, an estimated 95 percent of college students still read the campus paper.
I suspect the success of college papers has to do with the fact that college papers are usually free (at least they were when I was in college) and are something to stare at while waiting for class to start. They also tended to have coupons for pizza.


Finally, an approach to cable TV I've dreamt about for years:
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is expected to suggest that cable companies could best serve their customers by allowing them to subscribe to individual channels instead of packages of several stations, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
There are maybe five channels I watch (to the extent that I watch any of them for any length of time) and the rest are utterly useless to me. The Golf Channel? Home Shopping Network? The Style Channel? Fox News? I'd be happy to make them go away.

Of course, if cable networks persist with the vile habit of obscuring programs I'm watching with giant, animated graphics promoting shows I wouldn't watch in a million years (I hate watching poker even more than I do playing it, for example), I may just skip all cable channels entirely.

Death By Snippet

I've been saying for a couple years now that the printed book won't be killed by any specific type of electronic device, but rather by ever-shorter attention spans that will make book-length material unpalatable to an ever-increasing percentage of the population. And it appears the L.A. Times is with me.
One memorable freshman sagely informed me that people shouldn't be reading entire volumes these days anyway. He had learned from a high school teacher that book authors (presumably fiction excepted) pad their core ideas to make money and that anything worth writing could be expressed in an article of 20 or 30 pages, tops.

Has written culture recently taken a nose drive? These are the students who grew up on Spark Notes, the popular study guides. Many of this generation are aliterate — they know how to read but don't choose to. And abridgment of texts is now taken to extremes, with episodes from micro-novels being sent as text messages on cell phones.

To be fair, my own era had CliffsNotes, not to mention Reader's Digest Condensed Books. We also relied on introductions and secondary sources when we were too busy (or too lazy) to work through primary texts.

But today's college crowd has a tool we did not: the search engine. Want to learn tap dancing in Austin? Lessons are just a few clicks away. So are the words spoken by the White Rabbit in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" or every reference to dogs in "The Canterbury Tales." Between Microsoft Word's "find" function, Project Gutenberg, Amazon's "Search Inside" feature and Google Print, seeking out precise fragments of information has become child's play.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

One Singular Sensation

There has been much talk--someplace, I'm sure--about what has been called the "Singularity." Ray Kurzweil's latest--The Singularity Is Near, for example, discusses it, and it is becoming the big topic in contemporary science-fiction. What is the "Singularity"? It's supposedly a real thing, referring to the point at which technological advance happens so fast that even the near future cannot be predicted with any accuracy. (This is actually a great relief to those of us who write forcasts of our various industries and worry about being wrong.) More specifically, it can be defined as:
A future event in which technological progress and societal change accelerate due to the advent of superhuman intelligence, changing our environment beyond the ability of pre-Singularity humans to comprehend or reliably predict. This event is named by analogy with the breakdown of modern physics knowledge near the gravitational singularity of a black hole.
Basically, once we develop thinking machines that can replicate themselves, that's the ballgame. Many experts (to the extent that there can be any) feel that the Singularity will arive sometime in the 2030s. So watch out.

There are many SF authors writing about post-Singularity life, and reading Charles Stross's Singularity Sky makes "traditional" SF (Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, even Philip K. Dick, my favorite) seem downright quaint. It makes one almost nostalgic for the future of the past. Or, as Yogi Berra once said, "The future ain't what it used to be."

I came across an interesting year-old article in Popular Science about the convergence (there's that word again!) between SF and reality.

New TV Format

Once again, The Onion has its finger on the pulse on American culture, and envisions the evolution of television:
The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-1 Monday to require electronics manufacturers to make all television sets ADHD-compatible within two years.

To adhere to the guidelines, every program, with the exception of The Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi Show, will have to be sped up to meet the new standard frame rate of 120 frames per second.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin characterized the move as "a natural, forward-thinking response to the changing needs of the average American viewer."

"In the media-saturated climate of the modern age, few have the time and energy to sit still for an entire episode of King Of Queens," Martin said. "Although the FCC will leave it up to the television networks to make the necessary programming changes, we are recommending, in accordance with the ADHDTV standard, that all shows be no more than six minutes in length, and that they contain jarring and unpredictable camera cuts to shiny props and detailed background sets."

"We're also advising that intra-episode recaps occur every 45 seconds," he added.

The ruling represents a growing shift toward ADHDTV, a television format designed to meet the needs of an increasingly inattentive and hyperactive audience. The tuner includes a built-in device that automatically changes channels after three minutes of uninterrupted single-station viewing, as well as a picture-in-picture-in-picture-in-picture option.

According to Sony, the leading manufacturer of the ADHD-compatible sets, the new technology will allow viewers to play up to three simultaneous video games while watching television.

Toast is the Most

Via Dr. Joe, here is the silliest thing I've seen in a while (at least since seeing the refrigerator with a built-in TV): a toaster with a built-in FM radio. Granted, it would be perfect when an oldies station does a "best of Bread" marathon, but really. What would have made this the quintessential artifact of utter contemporary silliness would have been either a built-in cellphone and/or Wi-Fi compatibility.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Instant Tunes

Apple Computer's iTunes music store now sells more music than Tower Records or Borders, according to analyst firm the NPD Group.


I've been relying heavily on Skype for Internet telephony, but Dr. Joe introduced me to a new VoIP service called The Gizmo Project. Like Skype, calls are free to other Gizmo users, and there is also a call out and call in service. Per-call costs are about one cent or so cheaper than Skype. The only drawback to Gizmo's call-in service is that they do not have any available 518 areas codes yet. Not that that should make even the slightest bit of difference, but some of us are territorial when it comes to our area codes. (In L.A., area codes are status symbols, which is colossally silly.)

I also like Gizmo's ability to record calls, which is useful when conducting interviews. There is also a link to Google Maps so you can automatically map the two parties on the line (which alternates between kind of creepy and kind of helpful when setting up meetings). Also, when someone leaves you a voicemail, an e-mail is sent that has a link to the audio file.

As always, the weak link is my crappy Logitech USB headset, but I think I'll ditch that in favor of my standard Mac external microphone and iPod earphones, which seem more reliable.

The Little Silver Screen

Coming to a desktop near you:
Movielink, a joint venture of five Hollywood studios to offer movies over the Internet, has signed a deal with Twentieth Century Fox, allowing it to offer movies from all major studios for the first time.
Official site is here. Ah, the drawback:
Movielink® System Requirements
.High-speed Internet access
.Windows 2000 or XP
.Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher
.Available only in the U.S.
I.e., no Mac version.

The Thin Boo Line

What kind of marketing is cheered and which is jeered? Or, in other words, what is deemed "acceptable" and what isn't? eMarketer tells us:
A recent survey fielded by Harris Interactive and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), found that general consumers, business executives and congressional staffers are more likely to trust traditional marketing methods over non-traditional or newer techniques.

A majority of respondents within each group felt traditional marketing methods — such as paid advertising, corporate sponsorships and paid spokespeople — were acceptable practices. Newer marketing practices, such as paying private citizens to promote products, Internet pop-up and ads in text messages, were viewed as less acceptable.
I fully expect this to change in the coming years.

Speaking of "boo," slightly off-topic, but related, is that sports sponsorhsip has gotten completely out of control. Many years ago, I thought it silly when companies started sponsoring football kickoffs (what--if they couldn't get a sponsor there wouldn't be one?) but now there is seemingly no aspect of professional or even collegiate sports that is not sponsored by someone.

To wit: I made the mistake of watching the Notre Dame-Syracuse game on Saturday (don't even ask, but if you were going to sponsor that game, Prozac would have been the obvious choice) and Silly Thing #1 was that some company (I think one of the beer companies but I don't remember) sponsored that yellow first down line they superimpose on the field. Silly Thing #2 was that Charles Schwab sponsored a conversation between the two announcers. Yes, it was called the "Charles Schwab Conversation." I am not making that up. Goofy idea, but there is the kernel of a good idea there. If I had the money to sponsor some aspect of a football or basketball game, I'd pay to have the announcers stop talking. I'd call it the "Romano Blissful Silence."

The Truth Is Out There

Here's something interesting (or so I say): the thesis that the Internet killed off UFO mania.
[I]n recent years, interest in the UFO phenomenon has withered. Oh, the websites are still up, the odd UFO picture is still taken, and the usual hardcore UFO advocates make the same tired arguments about the same tired cases, but the thrill is gone. What happened? Why did the saucers crash?

The Internet showed this particular emperor to be lacking in clothes. If UFOs and alien visitations were genuine, tangible, objective realities, the Internet would be an unstoppable force for detecting them. How long could the vast government conspiracy last, when intrepid UFO investigators could post their prized pictures on the Internet seconds after taking them? How could the Men in Black shut down every website devoted to scans of secret government UFO documents? How could marauding alien kidnappers remain hidden in a nation with millions of webcams?

Just as our technology for finding and understanding UFOs improved dramatically, the manifestations of UFOs dwindled away. Despite forty-plus years of alleged alien abductions, not one scrap of physical evidence supports the claim that mysterious visitors are conducting unholy experiments on hapless victims. The technology for sophisticated photograph analysis can be found in every PC in America, and yet, oddly, recent UFO pictures are rare. Cell phones and instant messaging could summon throngs of people to witness a paranormal event, and yet such paranormal events don't seem to happen very often these days. For an allegedly real phenomenon, UFOs sure do a good job of acting like the imaginary friend of the true believers. How strange, that they should disappear just as we develop the ability to see them clearly. Or perhaps it isn't so strange.
The same fate may await the "ghost"phenomenon. There is no shortage of "ghost" shows on TV--everytime I turn on the Travel Channel there is another show about haunted hotels. (Word of advice: never use TV shows like Unsolved Mysteries or The World's Most Haunted Restaurants as a dining guide. As we've found out, usually the only scary thing about them is the food.) So obviously, interest in ghosts must be very high. And yet, with camera phones, video recorders, instant and text messaging, etc., so widespread, we have yet to see an actual, compelling "ghost" captured live. Even those shows where people spend nights in purportedly haunted houses never actually reveal anything beyond a few creaks and some ominous shadows (and that woman on that one show who always has to have her language bleeped). Funny--as with UFOs, there were much "better" ghost pictures taken before portable imaging and photography were so widespread. Funny, that.

Goin' Mobile

I must be the kiss of death for any media (or even commercial) endeavor. Every TV show I like gets cancelled. Every movie I like is a flop. Every consumer product I like is discontinued. It's a good thing I'm not an architecture buff--every building I like would probably collapse.

Now my favorite technology magazine--Mobile--has ceased publication. It's a shame; it was a great magazine, written by extremely tech-savvy people who had a great sense of humor. It was one of those few publications that was highly educational yet fun to read. It was the kind of magazine I would have liked to work for (and in fact what--back in the day--I had wanted Digital Imaging to have become before Satan and his minions intervened). They had changed their name from Mobile PC a year ago and always seemed to be noodling with departments and "focus", which was probably a sign that something was wrong. It's a very crowded field--both in print and on the Web--and I had read all its competitors and I thought it was the best. Shows you what I know. I shall miss it.

No Reply At All

Sez today's Ad Age daily e-letter:
Despite pouring records amounts of money into direct mail campaigns over the last three years, the financial services industry has been experiencing steadily declining response rates from that effort, according to a report by the Direct Marketing Association.
The response rate for some recent lead-generating direct mail campaigns monitored by the DMA was just 1.43%, according to the association’s 2005 Response Rate Report conducted earlier this year, down from 2.09% last year and 2.48% in 2003. For direct-order mail --which solicits or closes a sale -- the response rate was even lower, 0.69% in 2005. That compares to 3.5% in 2004 and 1.15% in 2003.

Direct mail represents nearly 20% of financial services companies’ direct marketing spending, according to the DMA.

The yearly comparisons aren’t exact -- for example, the DMA only this year started lumping insurance companies with other financial services marketers, and sampling groups change -- but the downward decline is directionally accurate, said Ann Zeller, VP-information and special projects for the DMA. The trade group surveyed 23 lead-generating campaigns and 18 direct-order campaigns.

Consider, for example, credit cards. Marketers shipped out 5.23 billion credit-card offers in 2004, up nearly 1 billion from 2003, according to researcher Synovate -- and saw the response rate drop to 0.4% from 0.6% in 2003. As recently as 1998, the response rate was as high as 1.2%.

Yet credit-card marketers sent out a record 1.4 billion offers in the first quarter -- only to get a record low response rate of 0.4%, according to Synovate.
I don't think this is much of a surprise. The explanation given is "clutter"--we get so many credit card solicitations (I get about three or four a week, on average and they go right into the shredder) that we're just sick of them. And since most people have a credit card already, there is little point to switch to another one, unless there is a decent offer, such as, say, accruing airline mileage or those hotel points.

The industry thinks that better targeting is the solution (hear that, variable-data printing buffs) and that may be part of it. But one has to remember that all the targeted marketing in the world won't help unless there is a compelling offer. Plus, identity theft fears may be making people a leery of these things. I'd be curious to see data that track the sales of paper shredders with credit card direct mail volumes.

Lost in Translation

I confess I've never seen the TV show Lost (I may have to rent the first season DVD some day) but there is an interesting "horizontal marketing" strategy associated with it:
THIS SEASON, the TV drama "Lost" will make pop culture history when it becomes the first show ever to have a character write a book in the real world. Hyperion (a division of Disney, which owns ABC, which airs "Lost") plans to release "Bad Twin," a mystery novel credited to one Gary Troup, who, the publisher informs us, was a passenger on "Oceanic Flight 815, which was lost in flight from Sydney, Australia, to Los Angeles in September 2004."

Although that air disaster is the genesis point of "Lost," the event from which the entire series unfolds, Troup is hardly a central figure in the action — in fact, he's not a living presence at all. He died in the plane crash, leaving behind the manuscript of his private-eye story, which will be found in the wreckage during an episode this spring. The discovery of this manuscript will magically overlap with the novel's release date.
The LA Times book editor, overdosing on tweed and indignation perhaps, is not amused:
This is how a show like "Lost" wants to operate — framing its viewers as a community and itself as the centerpiece of a shared point of view. There's nothing inherently wrong with that; in fact, it illustrates the nature of fanhood, the way our affinities help us find purchase, a sense of identity in the world. At the same time, there's something creepy about the nudge-nudge, wink-wink insistence that "Bad Twin" was found instead of manufactured, and it goes beyond the idea of writing as a commodity, a gimmick, a ploy.

In fact, the marketing of the novel suggests something far more insidious — that we, the audience, exist not only to be manipulated but to participate in our manipulation by seeing it as cool. This is the kind of thing that literature has traditionally stood against.
Oh, come now. Sure, it's probably going to be a bad book, but it sounds like some harmless fun for fans of the show. Will a fictional author get a fictional royalty check? (As someone who has his share of things like Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise stashed away among the relics of my youth, how can I complain?) And, hey, if it gets people to buy a book, how can that be a bad thing?

Writing and literature have always been about marketing and making a buck (sometimes that's literally true!) from one's writing, and any writer who tells you otherwise is either lying or is a fool. Dickens wrote for money, as did Shakespeare (i.e., by writing and staging successful plays) and every other "classic" author. I find nothing wrong with this; I think that being able to make a living doing what you are good at and like doing is probably the best thing there is. Not that this "fictionally authored novel" is going to rank up there with Dickens and Shakespeare, but the principle is the same. The real trick is not to shun marketing and the unusual idea of actually selling one's work, but how to be financially successful and good simultaneously. What we should be getting indignant about is that really good books are rarely successful and thus book publishers seldom publish them--or worse, rarely market them when they do.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

That Sinking Feeling

Shucks, I thought everything in the movies was true. Next you're going to tell me that giant, irradiated lizards can't destroy Tokyo.
IT IS a staple scene of B-movies and Westerns: the cowboy stumbles into a patch of quicksand and is sucked under until only his stetson remains on top, or sinks up to his neck until hauled out by his sidekick.

Both scenarios have now been proved to fly in the face of physics. Research has shown that it is impossible for people to sink into quicksand much beyond the waist — but it is equally impossible to pull someone out once they are stuck.

Any attempt to drag a person out with a horse or truck would put them in much greater danger than leaving them be: the forces involved would tear them apart. To pull a person’s foot out would require as much force as it takes to lift a family car, and the body would give way before the sand relinquished its grip.

I Think We're In Kansas

What--did they move the Patent Office to Kansas:
The U.S. patent office has reportedly granted a patent for an anti-gravity device -- breaking its rule to reject inventions that defy the laws of physics.

The journal Nature said patent 6,960,975 was granted Nov. 1 to Boris Volfson of Huntington, Ind., for a space vehicle propelled by a superconducting shield that alters the curvature of space-time outside the craft in a way that counteracts gravity.

One of the main theoretical arguments against anti-gravity is that it implies the availability of unlimited energy.

"If you design an anti-gravity machine, you've got a perpetual-motion machine," Robert Park of the American Physical Society told Nature.

Park said the action shows patent examiners are being duped by false science.

Don't Tip a Cow, Man

Growing up in Cow Hampshire, I was familiar with the idea of cow tipping, but never knew anyone who actually did it. And now I know why: it's not physically possible:
Margo Lillie, a doctor of zoology at the University of British Columbia, and her student Tracy Boechler have conducted a study on the physics of cow-tipping.

Ms Boechler, now a trainee forensics analyst for the Royal Canadian Mounted Corps, concluded in her initial report that a cow standing with its legs straight would require five people to exert the required force to bowl it over.

A cow of 1.45 metres in height pushed at an angle of 23.4 degrees relative to the ground would require 2,910 Newtons of force, equivalent to 4.43 people, she wrote.

Dr Lillie, Ms Boechler’s supervisor, revised the calculations so that two people could exert the required amount of force to tip a static cow, but only if it did not react.

“The static physics of the issue say . . . two people might be able to tip a cow,” she said. “But the cow would have to be tipped quickly — the cow’s centre of mass would have to be pushed over its hoof before the cow could react.”

Newton’s second law of motion, force equals mass multiplied by acceleration, shows that the high acceleration necessary to tip the cow would require a higher force. “Biology also complicates the issue here because the faster the [human] muscles have to contract, the lower the force they can produce. But I suspect that even if a dynamic physics model suggests cow tipping is possible, the biology ultimately gets in the way: a cow is simply not a rigid, unresponding body.”

Another problem is that cows, unlike horses, do not sleep on their feet — they doze. Ms Boechler said that cows are easily disturbed. “I have personally heard of people trying but failing because they are either using too few people or being too loud."

Bad News for Paranoids

Think a tin-foil hat will protect you from outer space/government transmissions? Think again. Someone has actually done the experiment.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Business 2.0 compiles the "coolest" gifts one can give this Christmas season. Apparently, they use a defintion of "cool" with which I am not familiar.

The suggestions range from the legitimately cool:
Sony LibriƩ EBR-1000

This is the future of print. Currently available only in Japan, Sony's LibriƩ is a next-generation e-book reader with a high-resolution electronic-ink display that's supposed to look great in bright sunlight.
to the dorky:

I'm on the road at least two weeks a month, and as an avid sports fan, it kills me to miss out when my favorite teams play. Few hotels offer DirecTV's NBA League Pass, so even though I'm a League Pass subscriber, I'm usually out of luck.

If I had a slingbox, I could watch what's on my home TV from my broadband-connected laptop by streaming a compressed video feed over the Internet. There's even a virtual remote control to let me change the channel at home from anyplace on the planet. I'd never miss an L.A. Clippers game again.
to the just plain terrifying:

Tops on my list is the Nabaztag, a Wi-Fi-enabled toy rabbit from France that changes color and moves its ears to provide real-time information about weather, traffic, stock price movements or incoming e-mail.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Radio Skype

The plot thickens:
More than 3,000 RadioShack locations nationwide on Monday will begin offering the Skype Starter Kit, which includes the software that enables a customer to use Skype's free computer-to-computer telephone service, a headset and 30 minutes of Skype's premium service, with which a user can call a landline or cell phone, company executives said.

But Do You Have to Tip It?

Really unfortunate name, but I do wonder if one can get one of these for the home:

Robot Bartender Pours, Listens
The T-Rot thinking robot will make its public debut at the APEC forum underway now in Busan, Korea. T-Rot is shown below tending bar at the Robot Cafe, pouring a drink for Kim Mun-Sang, director of the Ministry of Science and Technology Robot taskforce).

T-Rot has two cameras which help it recognize both people and objects -- like bottles, glasses and refrigerators -- and see their position in three dimensions. It also has the capability of listening to customers and responding with appropriate conversational comments.

Yes, This is Just Wrong, But Pretty Funny

Romeo & Juliet, told through emoticons.


I've avoided blogging about the brouhaha over Google's plans to scan books and make snippets of them available on the Web, primarily because I haven't had the opportunity to read up on all the issues involved. On a gut-level basis, I think that it's going to happen anyway--either by Google or someone else--so obstinately impeding the entire process is going to be a waste of time, time that could be better spent devising ways of fixing potential problems so that it's a win-win situation. Look at the music industry: they dilly dallied with lawsuits and saber-rattling and all we ended up with was Sony's rootkits and the proliferation of file-swappede MP3s anyway. Meanwhile, Apple came up with a good idea and, lo and behold, it's working.

But back to Google...what I think is interesting is that Google is now getting permission from publishers to scan books. Funny, I didn't even catch this, but sci-fi author Charles Stross makes a good point:
...[I]t seems to me that The Authors Guild are absolutely right to bring a lawsuit against Google over this project -- because a critical aspect of the publishing world is being damaged by Google's ignorance.

Which is this:

Publishers do not generally own copyright over the books they publish -- authors own copyright, and license publishers to make certain uses of their work, with strings attached.

I can't emphasize this strongly enough; in talking about getting permission to index the books from publishers, Google is talking to the wrong people.

Let me give you a concrete example. I'm a relatively recently published author, and my book contracts all discuss electronic reproduction rights. However, none of my book contracts discuss the issue of the rights to index the book and publish the index for use by third parties. Arguably, this is a separate contractual right and one that is not implicitly granted to any publishers simply by their having obtained a license to publish the work in its entirety as an ebook.
Moreover, the rights to publish an authors' books may well revert to the author if the publisher stops using them to make money. If, for example, a book goes out of print (that is, the publisher runs out of copies and decides not to reprint it), or if sales fall below a certain number, the author can notify the publisher that they are terminating the contract, at which point the publisher stops being allowed to publish the book and the author can take it to another publisher or publish it for themself.

By asking publishers to grant them a right that the publisher is not entitled to grant Google is laying itself open to lawsuits for copyright violation by authors. Google is also systematically undermining the rights of authors to exercise control over how their copyrighted works are published.

I, personally, think the Google print index is a great idea, and I'd really like it to succeed. However, it would be counter-productive to say the least were Google to contribute to the reduction of authors -- the folks who write the books -- to the status of producers of work for hire.
Stross is absolutely right, of course. He goes on to mention an initiative called COCOA, or the Copyright Owners Control of Access:
The idea is that a database can be established which will permit publishers to specify their default preferences for online republication services such as Google print, or Amazon's search inside, and which will also allow authors to issue overriding instructions for all, or some, of their works.
There are good points and bad aspects of the COCOA approach, but the point is that it is a step toward solving actual problems rather than just saying "technology bad" and sending out phalanxes of lawyers to browbeat folks into submission.

The [Lack of] Paper Chase

I came across an interesting statistic in that Business Week article (see below) that I had to investigate ("Legitimate e-mail will drop to 8% this year, down from 12% last year, according to Redwood City [Calif.] e-mail filtering outfit Postini Inc."). That stat was from a whitepaper released in February 2005. The Postini site has real-time monitoring of the messages the company processes for clients and the current stats show that spam accounts for 69.2% of e-mail messages sent--basically, only 3 out of 10 e-mail messages are "legitimate." I concur. (And is it just me or does "Postini" sound like an Italian breakfast cereal?)

It's funny--at ad:tech last week everyone was droning on and on about how wonderful and rosy e-mail marketing is and while I don't disagree (I occasionally get things I actually am interested in--curse you, Borders and your e-mailed coupons!), but I can't help wonder how much of a future e-mail has, especially if things like wikis and IM become even more popular. Of course, everyone is now discussing how to develop marketing programs for these "new" new media (the first company that sends a promotion to my cellphone will find itself burned to the ground), and viruses can now be transmitted via Instant Messaging. And, of course, there is also spam for IM (called SPIM--I'm not making that up)--so it may eventually become a case of six of one, half dozen of another. Who knows? We may end up creating new communications media just to escape from older virus- and spam-infected media.

It reminds me, in a way, of a scene from one of my favorite books of all time (Italo Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler) in which a character is walking past a row of houses and, as he passes one house, a phone inside rings. He steps up his pace, and as he passes the next house, a phone inside it rings. He runs down the street, and as he passes each house, a phone inside rings--and he realizes: he is being chased by telephone! So we may all end up being chased by spam, running from one medium to the next. Maybe we should return to writing and mailing physical letters. Wouldn't it be scary to write a letter, mail it to someone, and, when they open it, suddenly all this crap falls out of the envelope?

Y'know, whenever I get to sitting and thinking about the future, all I come back to is just how annoying it's going to be.

Third Class Mail

Sez Business Week:
E-mail at Dresdner [a European investment bank] is beginning to fade as the collaboration tool of choice. Instead, workers there, as well as at places like Walt Disney, Eastman Kodak, Yahoo!, and even the U.S. military, are ditching e-mail in favor of other software tools that function as real-time virtual workspaces. Among them: private workplace wikis (searchable, archivable sites that allow a dedicated group of people to comment on and edit one another's work in real time); blogs (chronicles of thoughts and interests); Instant Messenger (which enables users to see who is online and thus chat with them immediately rather than send an e-mail and wait for a response); RSS (really simple syndication, which lets people subscribe to the information they need); and more elaborate forms of groupware such as Microsoft Corp.'s SharePoint, which allows workers to create Web sites for teams' use on projects.
I have to admit, I was dragged kicking and screaming into Instant Messaging, but I confess it does make project collaboration more efficient than e-mail (which is lethargic for asking a simple question) or even the telephone (which I find intrusive and also kind of lethargic, especially as I always get voicemail whenever I call someone). And I confess I am starting touse it more for keeping in touch with people on a non-business level.

Talkin' 'Bout Their Generation

These kids today. I have seen the future, and it sounds terrifying. Meet "the millennials."
"Millennials" is one term sociologists use to designate those youths raised in the sensory-inundated environment of digital technology and mass media at the millennium. Unlike Gen X, which referred generally to people born in the 1960s and 1970s, this generation has yet to carry a name popularized by mainstream culture. Also known as "Echo Boomers," as the children of Baby Boomers, millennials were born from the 1980s on.
Members of this generation are thought to be adept with computers, creative with technology and, above all, are highly skilled at multitasking in a world where always-on connections are assumed. Their everyday lives are often characterized by immediate communication, via instant messenger, cellular conversations or text messaging. No member of this generation, it can be assumed, would ever wait on a street corner for a late friend.

The changing ways that members of this generation can learn, communicate and entertain themselves are a primary reason behind the viral popularity of socially oriented technologies such as blogs, wikis, tagging and instant messaging. Children who were born when Netscape Communications went public are now 10 years old and have been raised on a steady diet of digital technologies that have fundamentally shaped their notions of literacy, intelligence, friendship and even the anxious adolescent process of learning who they are.

For their grandparents, the bicycle was a symbol of childhood independence. Today, for many kids and young adults, it is the Internet.

"It consumes my life," said Andrea Thomas, a senior at Miami University. "If I'm not texting my friends over the cell phone, I have my laptop with me and I'm IM'ing them. Or I'm doing research on Google. Honestly, the only reason any one of my college friends use the library is for group meetings."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

This, Too, Is Just Wrong

Granted, I hate "texting" to begin with (and the fact that the word "text" has become a verb), but this is just vile:
Project reduces classic works to text messages

"Romeo, Romeo -- wher4 Rt thou Romeo?"

It could be the future of Shakespeare.

Dot mobile, a British mobile phone service aimed at students, says it plans to condense classic works of literature into SMS text messages. The company claims the service will be a valuable resource for studying for exams.

Academic purists will be horrified. Hamlet's famous query, "To be or not to be, that is the question," becomes "2b? Nt2b? ???"

John Milton's epic poem "Paradise Lost" begins "devl kikd outa hevn coz jelus of jesus&strts war." ("The devil is kicked out of heaven because he is jealous of Jesus and starts a war.")
Look, if you can't be bothered reading classic literature (or anything) the way it was meant to be read, then just don't.

Finally--A Compelling Top 10 List

You can keep your "Greatest TV Moments" or your "10 Sexiest Men," but for my money (even though it's free), a really compelling Top 10 list is LiveScience's "Top 10 Useless Limbs and Vestigial Organs."

This is Just Wrong

Reaching beyond the grave, and "The Twilight Zone," to hype one of its hits for this month's ratings "sweep," NBC has enlisted the late Rod Serling to introduce a 3-D episode of its supernatural drama "Medium."
I've only heard of "Medium" through articles in The Skeptical Inquirer, because:
The drama is based on the experiences of real-life forensic psychic Allison DuBois, played by Arquette, who helps police solve crimes through her ability to commune with the dead.
"Real-life forensic psychic." So I'm guessing the show involves the "psychic" not actually solving any crimes, just like the "real-life" counterparts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

To Mars, Alice!

Sez Wired:
Inside a chamber about the size of a small fridge in Greenville, Indiana, scientists are taking the first steps toward creating human settlements on Mars.

The chamber, called the Martian Environment Simulator, was put together by scientific engineering company SHOT and NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts. Scientists are using it to determine how to grow plants in greenhouses on other planets, and hope it will eventually aid people living and working on Mars, as well as provide insight to the evolution of planetary life.
Terraforming, it's called. If anyone is even remotely interested, the process (and politics) of Martian terraforming was explored in great (at times laborious) detail in Kim Stanley Robinson's great early 1990s "Mars trilogy" of sci-fi novels--Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. They're weighty tomes, and Robinson can get a bit bogged down in technical jargon and minutiae, but it's a dynamite series.

To the Moon, Alice!

Gotta love it when a real estate scheme is shut down on charges of "profiteering and lunacy." I wonder if the pun was intentional, since the real estate in question was on the Moon. Said the company in question (which is a Chinese company): "There is not a law or regulation in China that prohibits the selling of land on the moon." A fair point, perhaps....

It Was Murder--And I Can Prove It (But Only Online)

I confess I've never watched "CSI: Miami" (I used to watch the original "CSI" every once in a while but haven't seen it in a few years--it always struck me as basically "Quincy" only really disgusting and without the saving grace of Jack Klugman) but this seems like the way things are headed, entertainmentwise:
Fans watching "CSI: Miami" on Monday will learn a secret destined to affect a major plotline in CBS' hit drama series. But it will not be broadcast -- the pivotal development will be shown only on

Do You Sudoku?

Maybe I'm behind the times, but I had never heard of "sudoku" until literally one week ago when Judy R. showed me a book of sudoku puzzles. (To the uninitiated like me, sudoku--sort of Japanese for "only single numbers allowed"--is a type of number puzzle in which you enter digits in a grid so that they add up evenly in all directions.) Funny, in the week since, I have suddenly seen sudoku everywhere. New York Times Crossword editor Will Shortz has an essay about sudoku here.

Is this a new thing? I seem to remember these types of puzzles (I think they were called "magic squares") back when I worked for You Know Who and readers would send them in all the time. I could never do them, being somewhat innumerate at the time (I was--and am--far better at crossword puzzles and other word games). Maybe it's time to revisit this sudoku thing.

Sudoku should not be confused with the word "soduku," which is a bacterial disease, and a type of Rat Bite Fever. (And Rat Bite Fever should not be confused with Cat Scratch Fever.)

Please Kill Me

Curious how much caffeine it would take to kill you? Well, check out this handy Death By Caffeine calculator (organized by beverage) and find out. I found out that 114.28 cups of coffee would do me in (hmm...better turn the coffeemaker off). It would also take 361.62 cans of Coke, 204.75 cups of tea, 223.36 cans of Mountain Dew, and/or 390.00 bottles of Snapple Lemon Tea.

It's not just liquids, either. How many Kit Kat bars would be my very real limit? 2,047.50. How many Hershey's Kisses would be the kiss of death? 12,285.00.

There are hours of fun to be had here.

Paper Late

Study: Online newspapers flourish
By Dinesh C. Sharma

Story last modified Tue Nov 15 09:14:00 PST 2005

Circulation of daily print newspapers may be declining, but Web sites of top newspapers are going strong, according to a new study.

Newspaper Web sites have grown 11 percent year over year to 39.3 million visitors. That increase surpasses the growth in number of total active Internet users, which grew 3 percent, according to data released Tuesday by research firm Nielsen/NetRatings.

Furthermore, almost one out of four U.S. Internet users reads online versions of newspapers, the study said.

Nearly 22 percent of newspaper readers prefer online sources, while 7 percent divide their time between print and online. The majority of readers, 71 percent, still prefer print newspapers, Nielsen/NetRatings said.

Among online newspapers surveyed, was the top site, with 11.4 million visitors in October 2005. The paper recently reported that subscribers for its fee-based site have reached 270,000 since its introduction less than two months ago. and came in at No. 2 and No. 3 with 10.4 million and 8.1 million visitors, respectively. and rounded out the top five with 3.9 million visitors each.

"The growth among newspaper Web sites demonstrates that these entities offer unique incentives to visitors," Gerry Davison, senior media analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings, said in a statement.

"Most, if not all of the top newspaper sites offer interactivity such as blogs, podcasts and streaming video and audio. These interactive features, combined with Internet users' thirst for up-to-date information, make newspaper Web sites an increasingly appealing choice for news."

Growth in online newspaper readership comes at the expense of of print editions. The Audit Bureau of Circulations last week reported that newspaper circulation fell 2.6 percent among the top 20 largest newspapers in the U.S. in the six months that ended in September. That's a larger drop than in any comparable six-month period since 1991.

Now With the Great Taste of Fish

For beverage connoisseurs tired of turkey-and-gravy or green-beans-and-casserole-flavored sodas, there's a new choice being offered this year by specialty U.S. soda manufacturer Jones Soda Co.: salmon.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Talk About Multitasking!

Clever strategem or yet another cellphone-obsessed looney? You decide:
These days it seems that some people just can't go anywhere or do anything without a cell phone in their ear

In northern Virginia the police say they're looking for a woman who's been holding up banks while chatting on her phone.

"This is the first time that I can recall where we've had a crime committed while the person was using a cell phone," Loudoun County sheriff's spokesman Kraig Troxell told The Washington Post in a story published today. "The question would be whether anyone is on the other end of the line or not."

Free Virus With Every CD

Thanks, Sony:
A controversial copy-protection program that automatically installs when some Sony BMG audio CDs are played on personal computers is now being exploited by malicious software that takes advantage of the antipiracy technology's ability to hide files.

The Trojan horse programs — three have so far been identified by antivirus companies — are named so as to trigger the cloaking feature of Sony's XCP2 antipiracy technology. By piggybacking on that function, the malicious programs can enter undetected, security experts said Thursday.
What does Sony say? Well, on NPR, an executive said, “Most people, I think, don’t even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?” The Electronic Frontier Foundation has more informtion and a list of CDs that use this copy protection scheme at (Whew! I've never heard of 99% of the people on that list.) Y'know, we never had this problem with vinyl records...

Uh Oh: I Smell Spam

This is interesting:
It may sound nuts today, but a San Diego company called Nethercomm is developing a way to use ultra wideband wireless signals to transmit data at broadband speeds through natural-gas pipes. The company claims its technology will be able to offer 100 megabits per second to every home, which is more than enough to provide voice, video and high-speed Internet access.
How will this work?
Nethercomm is adapting ultra wideband radio transmitters and receivers to send wireless signals through the natural-gas pipe at the same time the pipe is delivering gas fuel. Ultra wideband, or UWB, is a developing communication technology that delivers very high-speed network data rates, but at higher power levels it can interfere with other wireless signals.
You have to be careful when sending or receiving flamemail. Ah, but there's one small catch:
These claims have yet to be tested. Nethercomm has no working products and has not tried the technology in the field.
Aside from that, it sounds great! But, nah, I think before this ever takes off, we're likely to see some kind of BPL (no, not Boston Public Library, but rather Broadband over Power Lines), which has at least been implemented in Japan and a few other countries. Not that it's not without its problems, of course (its use of radio waves can interfere with fire, police, and other radio systems).

Now, if they could deliver broadband access via the plumbing, that would be the best solution. You could literally flush spam away.

Where Are the Scalpers When You Need Them?

Truly, the hardest seats to get.
Former Beatle Paul McCartney is planning to broadcast live into space from a U.S. concert to two astronauts circling the globe.

Tiny Envelopes

Hollywood loves giving itself awards:
The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, best known for handing out the Daytime Emmy Awards, is expected to announce on Tuesday that it has created an award category to recognize original video content for computers, cellphones and other hand-held devices, like the video iPod and PlayStation Portable.
What's next, the Awards for Programming on a Medium Not Yet Invented?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street?

The Guardian says:
Former Financial Times editor Andrew Gowers has poured scorn on newspapers, claiming they will become as obsolete in the future as vinyl records.
Why would he say this? Oh:
Mr Gowers...left the newspaper last week following a dispute with the Pearson chief executive....Mr Gowers, who was editor of the Financial Times for four years, refused to explain what "strategic differences" led to his departure from Pearson.

Mr Gowers went on to accuse "at least half of what used to be called Fleet St" being in denial about the impact of the internet.
The thing is, I don't really disagree with him, but there are less bitchy ways of expressing this. One quote jumped out at me, though:
"The future lies with the internet, and those newspapers that survive will be those that produce truly original content and learn fastest how to translate it into the all-encompassing, all-singing, all-dancing new medium of the web."
"New medium"? Uh, buddy, the Web is a decade old. But he misses the point. What will really put the nail in the coffin for printed newspapers is when, thanks to ubiquitous Wi-Fi, Web-based content becomes as portable as print and, if/when e-paper takes off, you have a portable electronic device that has the same basic form factor of a printed newspaper (for those who want that), but can display current information accessed wirelessly.

And this is not because we're becoming a gizmo-obsessed culture (although we are), but rather because by the time a newspaper is printed, what's in it is largely old news (except for features), and in today's--and especially tomorrow's--world, we need/want information/content immediately.

Now, what may very well happen is that someone may leverage the power of digital, on-demand printing, so that "newsstands" become kiosks that download the latest news and print a newspaper one at a time, as needed. This isn't science-fiction; many books are printed this way.

I say this all as someone who always used to either read or subscribe to a daily newspaper (the Boston Globe when I lived at home, the Daily Orange when I was at Syracuse, the New York Times when I lived in New York, the L.A. Times when I lived in L.A., and the Albany Times-Union when I moved to Saratoga. I occasionally picked up the Saratogian, but the typos drive me crazy, and there was one week a couple years ago when every issue was plagued with font substitutions (I could make a newspaper Courier joke but I doubt anyone would get it). Now, I very rarely get a print newspaper; I check out a whole slew of national/international news sites and blogs and the (lame) Web sites of the Times Union and Saratogian for what meager local news they decide to post. It's just more convenient to check out or Yahoo News, and the news is fresher and more current. The only vestige of my previous subscriptions is that I still subscribe to the New York Times Crossword Puzzle--oh, and which I print.

I Think, Therefore IM

Ah, these kids today, with their rock and roll, their hula hoops, and their fax machines:
Instant messaging is emerging as a favorite communication tool among teenagers and young adults, with a good number of them sending more IMs than e-mails, a new survey says.
Nearly 66 percent of 13- to 21-year-olds say they send more IMs than e-mails, compared with 49 percent last year, according to an America Online-commissioned study of instant messaging trends.

Overall, 38 percent of users say they send as many or more IMs than e-mails.

One-fourth of users would like to see entertainment content within IM, while 20 percent want to make phone calls from their messaging service. Already, 33 percent of users send mobile IMs from their cell phones at least once a week. Another 12 percent say they would be interested in an IM-based VoIP service that could replace their primary household phone line, the survey said.

The study is based on a poll of more than 4,000 users, conducted in partnership with Opinion Research Corporation during the last week of September. About 80 million people in the U.S. regularly use IM, AOL said, quoting data from ComScore Media Metrix.

IM is getting popular at work as well, with 58 percent of people using it to communicate with colleagues; 49 percent for getting answers and making business decisions. And some are also using it to deal with clients or "to avoid a difficult in-person conversation." A majority of users at work, 77 percent, feel instant messaging has had a positive effect on their work lives. About 13 percent say they have their IM screen name printed on their business card.

"Instant messaging is a part of everyday life, with more and more people using their IM service as a starting point for all communications," Chamath Palihapitiya, vice president of AIM and ICQ at America Online, said in a statement. "Usage is spiking, and not just among teens. Parents, grandparents and professionals are all using instant messaging to stay in touch and enhance their day-to-day communications."

"No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Quit!"

Sounds like an updated version of the Stephen King story "Quitters Inc.":
Quit smoking with lasers?
A smoking cessation center in Wuhan, China, is using laser beams to treat smokers' physiologic dependency on nicotine.

New News

The plot thickens:
Microsoft is teaming with The Associated Press to offer an advertising-supported online video news network in the first quarter of 2006, the companies announced yesterday.

Microsoft will supply the technology, video player and advertising support to the network, while AP's broadcast division will provide the video, which will feature about 50 different stories per day. AP, the world's oldest and largest newsgathering organization, originally announced plans to develop the venture after a board meeting in July.

Good Resource

In addition to the Publishers Information Bureau, I came across a service called Magazine Health Watch, which tracks consumer and B-to-B magazine advertising, updated daily.

Hearst So Good has a good interview with the director of editorial operations for Hearst magazines, discussing, among other things, the insourcing of prepress work. Funny, we were doing that at Micro Publishing News eight years ago.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Perfect for That Billy Barty Film Festival

Or perhaps The Terror of Tiny Town.

The 22nd annual Flat Information Displays conference in San Francisco this week showcased the latest advancements in LCD, plasma and projection technology. Among those on hand was video display maker eMagin, which has created microdisplays smaller than a quarter to power stereovision goggles for viewing movies, games and other content in 3D.

This is a Reach

I've never liked those "greatest moments" countdowns that cable channels love to run, but even sillier is the Webby Awards' "10 Web moments that changed the world." Can the Web be said to really have "moments"? I mean, you can make the argument that "a great TV moment" is something that can exist (at least in the past) because you had lots of people all tuned in at one time, watching something more or less live, like the Moon landing, the M*A*S*H final episode, or the premiere episode of Manimal. You know, some event that bonds us all together in some transient facsimile of a community, and thus these "great moments" become communal events. But the Web doesn't operate like that (and TV may not operate like that for much longer either); it's a serial medium in which people access it piecemeal at random times.

Anyway, the list really is a set of colossal reaches. The dot-com boom and bust? Can something that took place over six years really be considered a "moment"? "September 11th"? "Millions of Americans Turn to the Internet for Information About the Tragedies." Millions more turned to TV and even newspapers. So what? "Asian Tsunami"--"Citizens Journalists Are the First on the Scene to Document the Tsunami." Huh?

And if these are truly the greatest Web moments, then I'm getting offline now and moving to the Unabomber's cabin.

When in Rome...

Don't be mean to goldfish:
[T]he plight of the little goldfish is especially harsh. The tiny creatures are scooped into plastic bags and awarded at carnivals and fairs. They are confined to bowls where they can do nothing but swim around and around. Some (it has been claimed) go blind.

No more. The municipal government of Rome has entered waters where few city halls dare tread. Under a new ordinance, the city's goldfish are entitled to a proper, full-sized aquarium, and they can no longer be given out as contest prizes.

The rules were drafted by the city of Rome's Office for Animal Rights. The 59-point statute ordering better treatment for all pets, from cats and dogs to birds and lizards, was approved by the City Council last month and will go into effect today.
I really don't want to know how they're going to enforce this. And, yes, PETA has such a thing called the "Fish Empathy Project." I'm sure it's well-meaning, but it sounds a tad silly, doesn't it? They were also the ones who tried to get the town of Fishkill, NY, to change their name, not realizing that "kill" is actually the Dutch word for "creek."

Mind you, it's not that I have any propensity for abusing or harming animals; after all, one should have respect and empathy for all living things (the hornets in the front bushes are on their own, however). Still, I'd like to see more efforts to prevent cruelty to other humans. Once we can get that figured out, then we can worry about the animals.

Looking for Humans in All the Wrong Places

It's funny: everyone has a cellphone and is so obsessed with being reachable anywhere and everywhere they go, and whenever they go there, and yet I can't remember the last time I called someone--anyone, cell or landline--and didn't get voice mail. It's a paradox: everyone is obessed with being reachable and yet by constantly being on the phone they make themselves even more unreachable to everyone trying to call them. So it sounds like cellphones don't really solve the problem everything thinks they're solving.

I don't really know what that all means, but it was just something that occurred to me when I read on Dr. Joe's blog about a Web site for those sick of voice mail hell: "Find a Human," which compiles detailed instructions for getting a human being at a variety of different companies, organized by industry. Most impressive is the listing for; it once took me 45 minutes of Googling to even get a phone number for Amazon.


Or "Just Plain Freakish," from the Japan International Cycle Show.


Male mice may serenade prospective mates at pitches about two octaves higher than the shrillest sounds audible to people.
Ah, so that explains why female mice get aroused when I play my old Rush albums.

Funny Business

This is interesting:
Women and men are often perceived as having differences in their senses of humour but, until now, there had been no neurological evidence for such suspicions. The new brain scanning study showed that although men and women tended to agree on which of the single-panel cartoons they were shown were funny, they processed the humour differently in their brains.
[M]en and women shared many similarities: they mostly found the same cartoons funny or unfunny; they activated the same semantic and language processing regions of the brain; and the response times for finding a cartoon funny was the same.

However, they were surprised to find differences in the part of the brain known as the reward centre. The nucleus accumbens, part of the mesolimbic reward centre, is a dopamine-rich area that is most strongly activated when a reward – in this case, a funny joke – is unexpected.

The team discovered that when women found a cartoon funny, their reward centre was more active than for men, suggesting the females’ expectation of being amused was lower. But when men found a cartoon unfunny, they showed de-activation in their reward centre, suggesting disappointment.

Azim suggests the differences may be the result of the genders having different ways of processing emotional information, and that better understanding of these differences could provide insight into mental illnesses that affect one gender more than the other, such as depression.
But what's keeping neurologists from that all-important "Three Stooges" study?

Silent But Deadly

Insert own joke here.
The traditional way the army delivers orders to soldiers is by shouting at them. But researchers at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles think the US Army Research Office should consider an alternative – coded smells.

These can be delivered silently, in the dark and when loud noise is drowning out speech. Furthermore, says the USCLA patent, the immediate reaction to a smell is emotional, rather than rational, so an odour trigger may encourage people to carry out orders without question.

Pictures filed with the patent show how the researchers used a collar, like a gun belt, which hangs round a soldier’s neck. The collar has a dozen cartridges, each containing a wick soaked in smelly liquid, a valve and a small propeller fan. Remote radio signals open selected valves and kick fans into life.

A soldier could be trained to associate specific actions with unmistakable odours. This would allow the smells to be used to jog memory – if you smell this, do that.

The system could also make training more realistic, with soldiers getting whiffs of desert dust, sea water or mud that are synchronised with audio and visual cues. The collar is close to the wearer's nose, so the effect is immediate, and rapidly fades when the valve is closed.

The same technology can be used to enhance audio-visual entertainment, the patent suggests. Smellivision, anyone?

Lead Astray

I knew eating a lot of chocolate could make you gain weight, but I thought it was due to calories. But, no:
Chocolates are among the more lead-contaminated foods. A new study has probed the source of chocolate's lead and concludes it's not the cocoa bean.
Even after completion of the study, however, the major source remains unidentified, notes study leader Charley W. Rankin of the University of California, Santa Cruz. That's too bad, the environmental chemist says, because since it's nevertheless obvious that most of chocolate's lead isn't from cocoa beans when they're picked, the contaminant should be easy to eliminate—once scientists pin down at what stage of chocolate production it originates.

How serious is the lead problem? "I'm not going to suggest that you curb your chocolate consumption," says Rankin. For most people, he says, the amount of lead in even the more-tainted chocolates isn't high enough to cause health problems. However, he worries, for young children or elderly individuals living with lead-tainted pipes or paint, eating lots of chocolate could aggravate health risks by offering an unnecessary additional source of the metal.

Most other people, he says, can take heart in the many research studies suggesting that the constituents of chocolate offer a host of health benefits. Indeed, Rankin concludes, unless taken in excess, "chocolate may actually be pretty good for you."

Gunn Control

Uh, oh. I sense an impending family emergency:
Amtrak's board called a meeting for Wednesday and plans to fire President David Gunn.

Auto Autos

The optimistically named 12th Annual World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems has some glimpses of the future of driving (or, at the least, parking):
cars are communicating with each other, parallel parking themselves and employing automatic, radar-based braking.
I like the automatic parallel parking idea; my parallel parking is decidedly non-Euclidean.
Another technology, which may take a few more years to fully deploy, is vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Using the upcoming 802.11p wireless standard, General Motors equipped two cars with wireless transponders that broadcast various pieces of information such as speed and braking status to nearby cars. When one car brakes in front of another, even one down the road and out of sight, a small icon on the dashboard of the trailing vehicle indicates a stopped automobile up ahead.
In New York City, they are going to implement communication technology that automatically transmits profanity from car-to-car. When one car cuts another off, a dashboard light in the shape of an extended middle finger illuminates.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Convergence Diverges

Spent the day at ad:tech in NYC today, a 10-year-old trade show/seminar/expo/human anthill dedicated to the latest trends and technologies in advertising, marketing, and media. I sat in on only two sessions (including the future of media) and prowled the show floor(s)--the number of Search Marketing companies has got to have hit critical mass by now. As I was looking through the show guide and reading about all the sessions held during the three days of the show, not a single mention was made of print. Granted, the focus of the show is "digital media marketing," but one of the big themes is also convergence and multichannel marketing (and print is a channel), and yet the only mention made of print was in a session on e-mail marketing in which e-mail marketers can use postcard mailings to get people to update their e-mail addresses (apparently in one case this reduced the number of bouncebacks from 19% to 1.4%). And even then it wasn't called "print" but rather "offline marketing."

Funny thing, though: in printing industry shows and other commentary, customized, personalized, and variable-data printing is supposedly gaining such huge traction among advertisers and marketers, and yet the premier show dedicated to the advertising and marketing industry had absolutely nothing to say about it. The big topics in the industry now are e-mail marketing, search marketing, and metrics--codifying new ways of measuring ad hits (yep, electronic ads).

There was a ton of info in the Future of Media session and I'll blog about that in the coming days. So consider yourself warned.

For lunch, I had a corned beef sandwich the size of a throw pillow at the Stage Deli. I feel like that python that burst after eating that alligator (which I blogged about a month or so ago).

Autoresponder Madness

Is there any reason why an e-mail server would allow someone to enable two different autoresponders simultaneously?

Christmas is Coming

Don't know what to get that special someone for Christmas? Have an extra fifty grand burning a hole in your pocket? Why not try a talking, life-size Robby the Robot, co-star of the 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet, only $49,999 from Hammacher-Schlemmer. For an extra $1,000, they'll even throw in the secrets of the Krell (monsters of the id sold separately).

Monday, November 07, 2005

Even More Convergence

Business Week Online has a whole special section devoted to the emerging "broadband television." I haven't been through it all yet, but it provides a nice foretaste of what we can look forward to (or dread, as the case may be) in the coming years as television undergoes the most dramatic makeover in its history.

Let the Convergence Begin

Yahoo Inc. and TiVo Inc. are teaming up to blend some of their services, a move that further fades the lines between offices and living rooms, TVs and PCs.

Under a partnership announced Monday, the two will collaborate to offer Yahoo's Internet-based content and services through TiVo's digital video recording devices.

Users of Yahoo's TV page will be able to click on a record-to-TiVo button directly from a television program listing to remotely schedule recordings.

And in the coming months, possibly before the end of the year, Yahoo's traffic and weather content, as well as its users' photos will be viewable on televisions via TiVo's broadband service and easy-to-use screen menu.

Venus Envy

Europe's Venus Express spacecraft blasts off this week, and will rendezvous with our nearest planetary neighbour next year to study it from orbit.

The mission aims to shed light on an enduring mystery about this world: how a planet so similar to our own in size, mass, and composition has evolved so differently over the last 4.6 billion years.
Say what you want about NASA, but they sure know how to name things. Apollo, Gemini, Mercury, Voyager, Viking. I would have thought that Europe would have had more of a touch of the poetic and grand about them. But "Venus Express?" It sounds like a subway line. And I can't take the express; I have to take the "Venus Local" so I can get off at 49th Street.

"I'm a Naughty Boy!"

After having worked with Forrester Research on a project, I think I know who their founder was...

Beep Beep

From today's
Within about two years, the first car able to autonomously drive on freeways will be a reality, predicts Sebastian Thrun, Stanford University's guru of robotic cars and the winner of the Pentagon's Grand Challenge race in October.

At one time, futurists envisioned massive networks of computers running society, but they missed foreseeing the personal computer and the Internet. The ability of individual cars to drive themselves without an intelligent highway network may represent the same conceptual mistake.

The Grand Challenge results this year were a real breakthrough, demonstrating that individual cars could successfully use satellite guidance, artificial vision and complex software to navigate around obstacles, away from ruts and through tunnels.
The car, named Stanley, was equipped with a global positioning system, a series of laser range finders and a video camera, all connected to a computer that made decisions about how to navigate the course.
No doubt a human driver could have beaten the car's time, because people can still handle a steering wheel more adeptly than a computer can. But perhaps not for much longer. For decades, the best chess players could beat computers, but no more.
Nonetheless, Thrun hopes that within two years his team will be able to build a car capable of autonomously navigating a moderately crowded freeway in the Bay Area.

Stability control systems and adaptive cruise control systems already show that car computers can make critical decisions.

But complex tasks such as merging onto a freeway or making left turns in traffic are significant challenges, Thrun admits.

If they ever do get on the road, such cars could transform society. Imagine a commute where you were free to work, read or perform other useful activities as your car drove you to work. [emphasis added]
Wait--people do that already!

I like the idea of a robotic car, being much more sanguine about artifical intelligence than natural stupidity, but given how flaky computers can be, I'm not sure I trust them to drive millions of cars. Sure, computers successfully fly jet planes--but they're extremely sophisticated and far more reliable than anything that would be cost-effective to mass produce for automobiles.

Besides, with my luck I think the end result would be more like the 1977 movie The Car.

Extra Extra

This is not good news for the newspaper industry--which has been beset with little more than bad news for quite some time:
Average weekday circulation at U.S. newspapers fell 2.6 percent during the six month-period ending in September in the latest sign of trouble in the newspaper business, an industry group reported Monday.

Sunday circulation also fell 3.1 percent at newspapers reporting to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, according to an analysis of the data by the Newspaper Association of America.

The declines from the same period a year ago show an acceleration of a years-long trend of falling circulation at daily newspapers as more people, especially young adults, turn to the Internet for news and as newspapers cut back on less profitable circulation.
It's not all the Internet. Newspaper circulation actually peaked back in 1988--and it's been nothing but downhill ever since. Blame the one-two punch of cable news and the Internet, combined with generational changes in how people get news and other content. Expect circulation numbers toget even worse.

Oh, and I meant to blog about this last week, but was swamped with Project From Hell:

Newspaper Ad Circulars Find Their Way Online
Gannett, one of the nation's biggest newspaper publishers, said it would introduce a new service on its newspaper Web sites next month that displays banner ads that readers can expand into a virtual version of the weekly local circulars so familiar to offline newspaper readers.

Industry executives said the service, called PaperBoy, devised by a unit of Gannett called PointRoll, would give national advertisers a way to reach online readers in local markets with promotions tied to neighborhood stores.

Newspapers are trying to protecting their turf from Google, Yahoo and other Internet companies that have moved more aggressively to serve local information and ads to readers.
This isn't that surprising. Even Clipper Magazine and those Val-Pac coupons that come in the mail have URLs that drive coupon clippers online to get even more coupons. And I'm told the venerable Entertainment book has an online component, too.

It must be a sign of getting older: I have actually started clipping coupons from those Val-Pac mailings. My problem, though, is that they come addressed to "Smart Shopper" and it took me a while to stop writing "Addressee Unknown" on them and putting them back in the mailbox.

Floored by Electronic Displays

Oh, the jokes one could make:
Technology firm Intellimat has patented a computer mat less than an inch thick that will turn retailers’ floors into yet another space for brands to advertise.
A floormat computer display. A nice idea for the office. Hmm. I just stepped in something unpleasant. Let me open Microsoft Word...

Seriously, though, in the past (even the present), floor graphics were a hot application for large-format printing, and now--like other types of signage--there is increased competition from electronic alternatives. Wait until vehicle graphics go electronic; I guess that day will see the end of my dreams for a drive-through large-format printer.

Radio, Radio

Uh huh:

Terrestrial broadcasters insist they’re not nervous about satellite radio’s 7 million subscribers, but they’ve successfully stalled Arbitron’s plan to add satellite and online radio listening to its diary measurement system.

Arbitron was originally scheduled to instruct its diary keepers to record their satellite and online radio listening in the fall 2005 book. Instead, Arbitron now plans a 25-market test of the process in February and will delay full implementation until summer 2006, at the earliest.
Arbitron said the change is a response to the concerns of the National Association of Broadcasters’ Local Radio Audience Measurement Committee and the Arbitron Radio Advisory Council.
In 2003, I was tapped by Arbitron to keep a radio-listening diary for a week and aside from the occasional SU game radio broadcast, the only listening I recorded were a few Internet radio stations (I don't know if I was supposed to list them, but no one came and frog-marched me into the street for doing so).

Actively preventing companies from developing metrics for new media (or even new media derivatives of old media like new firms of "radio") seems like a really short-sighted, almost Sgt. Schultz-like approach ("I know nothink!"). I expect this will come back and bite broadcasters in the butt. (Arbitron has already developed a means of measuring podcast listenership--I'd love to see that data.)

It's funny; every few months (when I occasionally make the mistake of answering a call that reads "Unknown" on my caller ID) I get a call from some research company that wants to survey me about my radio listenership. I always tell them before beginning that I do not listen to terrestrial radio, preferring Internet radio. They thank me, and hang up. While I'm thankful for this, it also seems really short-sighted. Granted, these are just hired script-reading interviewers and not the constructors of the survey, but I think it would be immensely useful to those developing these surveys to ask questions about the extent to which--and why--certain respondents may not listen to terrestrial radio. Of course, this presumes that the survey commissioners have any real interest in finding out these things.

Fowl Threats

With hysteria over the avian flu on the rise, KFC has sprung into action:
Amid rising fears of a bird flu pandemic, Kentucky Fried Chicken is preparing a consumer education plan to reassure customers that it’s safe to eat chicken.
In particular, I like the idea of a Tamiflu dipping sauce.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Saw This One a Mile Away

Purveyors of porn and entrepreneurs who spied a niche when Apple Computer Inc. unveiled its video-playing iPod are proving that sex even sells in tiny packages — especially when it is portable.

One online social network of amateur pinup girls said it logged 500,000 downloads of the sexy "featurettes" — three- to five-minute video clips — in the first 24 hours targeting the new iPod-toting crowd.

Sticky Wickets

Two headlines on Yahoo! News stood out this morning:

Man glued to toilet seat, sues store

Jury Rules Against Woman in Genital Gluing

Is there an epidemic of gluing going on? Will it be long before we see proposed bans on SuperGlue?

The Swarm

So I come home from Syracuse last weekend (yet another loss--don't even get me started; apparently you can't spell "suck" without "SU") and I find the front of the house teeming with ladybugs. Now, my life has been a never-ending battle with creatures of all kinds, be they ants, bats, etc., but ladybugs have never usually bugged me (as it were). While I acknowledge that ladybugs are "helpful" insects in that they feed on other insects that are considered pests (notably aphids), and that they are completely harmless to humans, I still have a hard time with swarms of things.

So what was up with the ladybugs? I went to the Internet and found out that at this time of year, ladybugs (or ladybirds, as they have more historically been called) seek out warm places in which to hibernate for the winter and as a result attach themsleves to the warm sides of houses and seek entry (happily, they have yet to find it).

I also wondered if the swarm was what the flock of bluejays in the from yard were frenziedly feeding on (yes, it's like bloody "Wild Kingdom" around here) but I had forgotten that the bright red coloration of ladybugs is asosematic, which means that they are colored in such a way as to announce to potential predators that they are poisonous if eaten. (This is a common warning system in the animal kingdom--most notably among frogs--and is a rather clever bit of evolution; after all, it's a good idea to tell a creature that you're poisonous since it does an organism no good whatsoever if the animal that eats it later dies.) Ladybugs are not poisonous, but some species have evolved asosematic coloration to fool would-be eaters. (This differs, I would imagine, from asosemitic coloration, whereby species evade predation by dressing as rabbis.)

The suggestion was made to me the other night that I could collect the ladybugs and sell them to gardeners; after all, you can buy ladybugs commercially to put in your garden and get rid of aphids or other pests. (Apparently, you are supposed to spray them with Coke so their wings get all syrupy and sticky and they can't fly away, which sounds a tad cruel to me.) However, not all ladybug species eat aphids (there are more than a dozen species of ladybug, all of which eat different things--some actually eat mold and mildew) so I'd have to make sure that the ones I've got eat the right pests. I'm not sure how I would so that; maybe have menus printed up with a variety of insects on them, distribute them to the swarm, and see which they order.

One particular species of ladybug had its origins in China and some rumors have had it that they were brought to the U.S. in an attempt to de-pest a particular area--and, just as is inevitably the case when people try this, the ladybugs eventually became the pest. However, entomologists have disputed this story and are of the opinion that the ladybugs simply came over as most things do--on boats, planes, etc.

And that's everything you ever wanted to know about ladybugs.

So what were the bluejays feeding on? I still don't know exactly, but I did discover yesterday, hidden in the bushes in the front of the house, a hornet's nest the size of a beach ball. Fortunately, at this time of the year, hornets' nests die out and the dead bugs within are left to be eaten by birds. Which may explain what the jays were doing.

Y'know, I'm suddenly nostalgic for New York City...

Google vs. Wal-Mart

Ah, like the great battles of old--Greeks vs. Trojans, Allies vs. Axis, Godzilla vs. Megalon--Wal-Mart finds itself eyeing Google warily, sez today's NYT:
The worry is that by making information available everywhere, Google might soon be able to tell Wal-Mart shoppers if better bargains are available nearby.
Well, duh. This is one of the best things about e-commerce, the ability to comparison shop very easily (in addition to not having to go anywhere).

Of course, it's not just Wal-Mart:
As Google increasingly becomes the starting point for finding information and buying products and services, companies that even a year ago did not see themselves as competing with Google are beginning to view the company with some angst - mixed with admiration.

Google's recent moves have stirred concern in industries from book publishing to telecommunications. Businesses already feeling the Google effect include advertising, software and the news media. Apart from retailing, Google's disruptive presence may soon be felt in real estate and auto sales.
Google, the reigning giant of Web search, could extend its economic reach in the next few years as more people get high-speed Internet service and cellphones become full-fledged search tools, according to analysts. And ever-smarter software, they say, will cull and organize larger and larger digital storehouses of news, images, real estate listings and traffic reports, delivering results that are more like the advice of a trusted human expert.
One bit of related info from this story:
Search engines, combined with other technologies, have the potential to drive comparison shopping down to the shelf-by-shelf level. Cellphone makers, for example, are looking at the concept of a "shopping phone" with a camera that can read product bar codes. The phone could connect to databases and search services and, aided by satellite technology, reveal that the flat-screen TV model in front of you is $200 cheaper at a store five miles away.
A nice idea (and I'm certain something like it will happen), but I have my doubts that stores will allow their customers to easily access this kind of information.