Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fly the Unfriendly Skies

Say what you will about my desire to avoid flying, but this is not likely to turn me around any time soon:
A new survey has found that the majority of business travelers are opposed to allowing cell phone use on board aircraft, doubtless quaking at the prospect of a red-eye ruined by ring tones and chatter.

Until now, most airlines have outlawed phone use, claiming possible interference with aircraft electronics.

The ban also prevents onboard cell phones disrupting communications on the ground as they sweep through regionalized networks at high speed.

But all this is set to change from December 2006, following revisions by U.S. federal regulators.

Soon, flights will be able to carry an onboard transmitter that will link the aircraft to satellites, allowing passengers to use their mobile phones as normal.
So, come December, there will literally be absolutely nothing pleasant about flying. Sorry; count me out. I'd sooner walk.

Myth America

LiveScience has an interesting feature up this week: the best-known science myths. Some choice excerpts:
The Great Wall of China is the only manmade structure visible from space
There are several variations on this folkloric statement, and they're all quantifiably false. Astronauts can spot the Great Wall from low-Earth orbit, along with plenty of other things like the Giza pyramids and even airport runways. But they can't see the Wall from the Moon.

Humans use only 10 percent of their brains
This media darling has been around for at least a century. Fortunately, it's just not true. MRI imaging clearly demonstrates—with fancy colors no less—that humans put most of their cerebral cortex to good use, even while dozing

Water drains backwards in the Southern Hemisphere due to the Earth's rotation
Not only is the Earth's rotation too weak to affect the direction of water flowing in a drain, tests you can easily perform in a few washrooms will show that water whirlpools both ways depending on the sink's structure, not the hemisphere.

A penny dropped from the top of a tall building could kill a pedestrian
A penny isn't the most aerodynamic of weapons. A combination of its shape and wind friction means that, tossed even from the 1,250-foot Empire State Building, it would travel fast enough merely to sting an unlucky pedestrian.

The five second rule
Having an arbitrary rule justifying the consumption of food dropped on the floor within a certain time frame is convenient, especially when said food is a brownie. Unfortunately, tests (and logic) confirm that germs will stick to most foods right on contact.

Mustang Sally, Better Slow That Cellphone Down

Don't like Ford cars? Maybe you'll like their ringtones even better. From the "you-can't-make-this-s**t-up" department:
Ford is trying to curry its fans’ favor by releasing ringtones (and wallpapers) of its cars. One of which is the Ford Mustang, whose ringtones include that most American of songs, “The Star Spangled Banner.” Now, it’s not just, you know, instruments playing these songs. Nope, Ford went ahead and recorded engine and other car sounds to serve as the instruments.
It's almost hard to believe Ford is in such dire straits. Let's hope the guy who thought up this idea was one of the ones laid off.

And She Was

Ever dream you could fly like the birds--or at the very least hover a few inches above the ground? Well, the dream can be yours, all for a trip to Hammacher-Schlemmer, $17,000, and a willingness to look like an utter dork.
Hammacher Schlemmer has released the first levitating hover scooter. The Levitating Hover Scooter hovers just a few inches above the ground and travels at up to 15 MPH.

The scooter will be able to travel on any solid ground and even go up inclines. The personal hovercraft will travel up to an hour on a tank of gas.

Acceleration is handled via the throttle ond clutch on the handlebars. To increase acceleration, simply lean forward. Breaking is accomplished by turning off acceleration, and will take about twenty feet of coasting. Turning is handled via leaning left or right.
Emergency health care plan (and personal dignity) sold separately.

A Wicked Pack of [E-] Cards

Funny, I never thought the e-greeting card went away. An early proponent of e-cards was--of all people--my mother who, back in 1999/2000 (when she was on AOL) had an inordinate fondness for Blue Mountain e-cards. She went offline a couple years later (she moved and couldn't find a table she liked for her iMac--don't ask), but my sister-in-law has picked up the reins and is fond of sending Hallmark e-cards. I have to admit, the quality (both of the animation and the basic concepts) has gotten a lot better over the years. I wish I could say the same for printed greetings cards--they seem to be getting lewder and less clever, and last Christmas I didn't see the variety I remember from past years. (In fact, I came across many of the same cards I recall from the previous year.)

Again, I think printed greeting cards are one of those things that will ultimately be victims of generational changes in preferred media.

Sez the New York Times:
THE online greeting card industry is starting to make some noise again. Just ask the screaming banshee.

The highly freaked-out woman, known by millions from an animated Halloween e-card from Hallmark.com, is back, this time in a Valentine's Day revival of her hair-raising neuroses.

The character's return helps punctuate the quiet resurgence of the e-card category, which was an icon of the dot-com boom and a quick — and for some, deserving — victim of the bust. Companies are designing more heavily animated cards to circulate among high-speed Internet users, and despite the costs of creating and distributing these cards, businesses are generating profits, thanks to a healthy online ad market and a willingness among millions of consumers to pay for the cards.

Not that anyone will have to pay to hear the banshee scream: Hallmark, the behemoth of the greeting card industry, uses her as an Internet rainmaker of sorts. The company distributes all of its e-cards free, in exchange for the right to show short in-house commercials to senders and recipients.

Natalie Hartman, Hallmark.com's marketing manager, said the company had followed this approach since Blue Mountain Arts, the pioneer of free e-cards, forced most of its competitors to follow suit in the late 1990's.

Excite@Home, the ill-fated online portal and high-speed Internet service, bought Blue Mountain for $780 million in 1999, partly for its ability to give advertisers a way to reach a wide swath of the Internet audience. Excite sold Blue Mountain two years later for $35 million to American Greetings, Hallmark's chief competitor, and shortly thereafter the site began charging for subscriptions.

But Hallmark gains enough business from its cards that they are worth giving away, Ms. Hartman said. The company, which is privately held, does not disclose how much more money e-card senders and recipients spend with Hallmark, both online and off.

"But if you get customers to interact with you both online and in the stores, they're better customers," Ms. Hartman said. "We're seeing that."

Hallmark's e-card operation has also turned out to be an ad hoc business incubator. The company's e-card team dreamed up Hoops & YoYo, a pair of talking dogs whose quick popularity prompted Hallmark to create T-shirts, dolls and a Christmas CD around the characters. "It's in the midst of taking off," Ms. Hartman said.

The same can be true for the e-card unit of American Greetings. The business earlier this month announced it had reached 2.5 million subscribers, who pay $14 annually to send an unlimited number of cards, after stagnating at about 2.1 million for nearly two years.

According to Sally Babcock, the senior vice president of American Greetings' online division, the company will probably deliver three million e-cards this Valentine's Day, the peak day of the year. That's about 15 percent more than last year, she said. "After settling for more than two years, the marketplace is now increasing," she said.

Ms. Babcock attributed the growth chiefly to an improvement in the quality of the cards. "You can customize the cards more than ever," she said. "There's better animation, better music, better captions."

Of the roughly 8,000 e-cards available on the site, Ms. Babcock said 80 percent were animated, compared to 50 percent last year. By midyear, nearly 90 percent will be animated.

AmericanGreetings.com gives away a small number of those "as kind of a sampling model," she said. "But we also know some of those people won't subscribe, and we want them to stay with us."

In addition to revenues gleaned from subscriptions, the company earns money from advertisements it sells on the site and on the e-cards when they play. The company does not say how much advertising revenue it generates, but Ms. Babcock said such revenues jumped by 25 percent last year.

Of course, none of this means much if the company cannot earn a profit. American Greetings will not release figures for its e-commerce division, but Ms. Babcock said its profits were "incredibly strong," and growing.

That is a good thing for American Greetings — the greeting card industry in general is in a bit of a slump, as consumers have migrated to cheaper cards sold by Wal-Mart and other mass market retailers in recent years.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the online greeting card market is that the most popular site is not Hallmark or American Greetings, but a five-person company in Britain, JacquieLawson.com.

According to the Internet consulting firm Nielsen/NetRatings, JacquieLawson.com had 22.7 million visitors in December, more than twice its closest competitor, AmericanGreetings.com.

The business started on a whim when Ms. Lawson, an artist working for a Web site developer, created a Christmas card in 2000 and sent it to a dozen friends while she was on vacation. Ms. Lawson returned from vacation to 1,600 e-mail messages from people who had seen the card, and a company was born.

Now, JacquieLawson.com has 527,000 subscribers who pay about $8 annually to choose from among about 60 cards Ms. Lawson and a colleague have created.

Time to Go

A stern warning to anyone in publishing: even if your company is doing well financially, it doesn't mean there won't be downsizing, as the shifting media mix continues. To wit:
Time Inc. to Cut 100 More Jobs as It Focuses on Web Business

Time Inc., after eliminating 105 management jobs just before Christmas, is moving to cut about 100 more, including up to 10 at its flagship, Time magazine.

Both editorial and business-side employees are being cut at several of the company's domestic magazines. About 40 business-side employees were notified yesterday that they were losing their jobs, as were 26 editorial employees who are not in the Newspaper Guild.

Two of the titles most affected will be Time and Money magazines. But there will be cuts across the board, including at other Time Inc. brand names like Fortune, Sports Illustrated and Real Simple.

The cuts come as the company continues the reorganization it began late last year, when it sought to streamline its multilayered management structure. The current round of cuts is largely because of reallocation of resources as the company increases its online presence and consolidates some of its business functions, Ms. Bridges said. And some magazines must cut costs to bring expenses in line with revenues.

She said the cuts had less to do with any sluggishness in advertising and that, in fact, the financial picture to be reported tomorrow for Time Warner, the parent company, would be relatively bright.

"As you'll see Wednesday, we're in better shape than most," Ms. Bridges said. "But we're moving from being a magazine publishing company to a multiplatform media company, and we have to reallocate our assets. The people you need, the investments you need to make, are different if you're going to be building Web sites and making TV shows and doing wireless deals and events and partnerships."

Monday, January 30, 2006

Soft Cells

Having a senior moment? Killed too many brain cells at your last Christmas party? Not to worry. Just print some more! Check it out:
A printer that spits out ultra-fine droplets of cells instead of ink has been used to print live brain cells without causing them any apparent harm. The technique could open up the possibility of building replacement tissue cell by cell, giving doctors complete control over the tissue they graft.

The device is a variant of a conventional ink-jet printer. Instead of forcing individual droplets of ink through a needle-shaped nozzle and onto the page, the cell printer uses a powerful electric field to produce droplets just a few micrometres in diameter, far smaller than is achievable by other means.

Several research groups have shown that modified ink-jet printers can spray droplets of live cells suspended in a sustaining solution. But these devices have not been able to print droplets smaller than 20 m across, because ultra-fine nozzles are prone to blocking.

Pod People

This is not so surprising:
In its latest move to broaden its iPod and iTunes franchises, Apple Computer Inc. has introduced "iTunes U," a nationwide expansion of a service that makes course lectures and other educational materials accessible via Apple's iTunes software.
Apple's service offers universities a customized version of the iTunes software, allowing schools to post podcasts, audio books or video content on their iTunes-affiliated Web sites. The iTunes-based material will be accessible on Windows-based or Macintosh computers and transferable to portable devices, including Apple's iPods.
I remember, back in the day, that unmotivated students would take a tape recorder to class, plop it on the desk, hit Record, and then go to sleep. (Yes, they were tape recorders and not Edison wax cylinders.) Now, they can bypass the whole "getting up and going to class" part of the process.

Sour grapes on my part? Oh, probably. Still, I can't help but think that audio files have certain limitations in educational applications: they can't be easily skimmed or studied in the same way that something printed (or written and disseminated electronically) can. So a podcast is really only good as a supplement to something in written form.

I, Drunkard

Bender lives! In Asia, a new robot has been invented that is
capable of storing up to six 350ml beer cans in its little refrigerator compartment. And with a press of a button, the robot opens a can, tilts the glass, and pours you a nice cool glass of beer, with a perfect head every single time!

Super Bowls

Worried about running out of food and booze at your next Superbowl party? Research has found that if "you fear running out of snacks and ale, break out smaller bowls and tall, thin glasses." Why? Check it out:
Researchers invited 40 college graduate students to a Super Bowl party last year and served them roasted nuts and Chex Mix from one of two buffet tables.

One table had two big bowls of the snacks. The other had the same amount and type of snacks split into four small bowls.

Those who took from the large bowls ate 56 percent more than those who munched from the smaller bowls.

The difference: 142 calories.

"The size of serving bowls provide a subtle cue of how much we should eat," says Brian Wansink, a Cornell University marketing professor who led the work. "A handful of Chex Mix from a large bowl doesn't seem like enough, but one from a medium bowl seems just about right."

The study was reported last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Wansink sees a useful flip side to the tactic:

If you want your family to eat more carrots or other healthy snacks, put them in bigger bowls.

When it comes to rationing the beer, you'll need to adjust your tactics.

In a study reported last month, Wansink and colleagues found that bartenders unintentionally pour 20 to 30 percent more booze into short, squat glasses than into tall, thin ones.

"Yet, people who pour into short, wide glasses consistently believe that they pour less than those who pour into tall, narrow glasses," Wansink said.

Another test done with college students pouring their own drinks had similar results.

"People generally estimate tall glasses as holding more liquid than wide ones of the same volume," he said. "They also focus their pouring attention on the height of the liquid they are pouring and insufficiently compensate for its width."

With Friends Like These...

According to their Web site, the Print Council is "a business development alliance dedicated to promoting the greater use of print media." Last week, WhatTheyThink had a story trumpeting: "The Print Council's Expenditures Approach $1 Million." Dr. Joe, though, went into statistical overdrive and calculated that:
for every $1 achieved by the Print Council, printing volume goes down by $5000.
This is either the plot of a Mel Brooks movie or else conspiratorial forces are at work!

Meat the Press

Via Marginal Revolution, an utterly disturbing blog for those who aparently feel that their hearts are far too healthy for their own good: SuperSizedMeals.com. The 22-slice bacon sandwich is cringe-inducing.

Mac Mall

OK, you know, I love my Apple Powerbook and have been a Mac aficionado since 1985--but even I have to admit that this home setup is a bit over the top:

Friday, January 27, 2006

This is Just Wrong, Part XXVI

From the "please kill me" files: a plush bed for one's cellphone:
Perfect for your cellphones or small-sized portable media players. Plus, those adorable slippers are actually screen wipers!
Speaking of cellphones, while I was in Boston this week, I read the new Stephen King book, Cell. I liked the premise: some sort of mysterious "pulse" turns everyone who is talking on a cellphone into a violent, homicidal zombie (hmm...not sure how one can tell)--I'm not giving anything away, since this happens on the first page. Like most of King's books, the story is pretty gripping, but with his usual unpleasant characters (who are less unpleasant than usual this time around, though) and some really bad dialogue. The ending, like many of King's endings, is also woefully anticlimactic. Without really giving anything away, it seems he based the "science" of what happens on the mistaken notion that humans use only 10% of their brains, which is one of the more persistent "urban legends" out there (we use most of our brains, although it doesn't always seem like it).

Spam, Spam, Wonderful Spam

Some more goofy Sent From "names" on a few recent spam messages amused me:
Wetness O. Overcharges
Pushier R. Skunks
Genuflect O. Cutlass
Celery R. Dogfish
Institutionalized Q. Flesh
It's the middle initial that makes it comedy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Shower Showings

Oh, I don't know:
UK's Aquavision offers a line of LCD TVs specifically designed for bathrooms and showers.

The waterproof LCD TVs have a heated screen to prevent steaming up. The Bathroom TVs come with a waterproof and floating remote control - they thought about everything.

Available sizes are 10.4, 15, 17 and a 16:9 23 inch TV.

Casio has a line of portable Bathroom LCD TVs we reported about already back in 2004.

That's Cool

Want cool air in the summer but hate those ugly air conditioners? Do you swelter because of your finely honed aesthetic sense? Well, sweat no longer, with the ART COOL picture frame air conditioner:
LG Electronics today unveiled a picture-frame air conditioner as part of the ART COOL product line. The ART COOL line includes renditions of classic art pieces by famous painters such as Van Gogh and Sisley featured on the product's front panel. The picture-frame air conditioner can display your favorite image up to approximately 17-by-17 inches under its transparent front panel by simply opening the panel and replacing the image. Besides being pretty, the AC unit does other things, such as provide cool air to your environment and purify the air. Available in April 2006 in two different BTU levels 9,000 BTUs and 12,000 BTUs, with a MRSP $2,500 to $3,000.

End of an Era?

Perhaps even more upsetting than Nikon's discontinuing film cameras (for those who are disoriented by the inexorable march of technology), Matsushita, the parent company of Panasonic, has announced that it will discontinue "analog" television sets. Welcome to the digital/HD future.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Bee's Niece

I am officially an uncle:

Lucy Bee Romano was born at 11:07 a.m. on Saturday, January 21, 2006, Weight: 7 lbs., 7 oz.

And already she has movie star good looks:
Maybe it's me, but all newborn babies seem to resemble Edward G. Robinson.

Not-So-Critical Masses

I read this in the Skeptical Inquirer a month or so ago, and was a tad concerned:
Contrary to researchers' expectations, a poll of 439 college students found seniors and grad students were more likely than freshmen to believe in haunted houses, psychics, telepathy, channeling and a host of other questionable ideas.
The results are detailed in the January-February issue of the Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

The survey was modeled after a nationwide Gallup Poll in 2001 that found younger Americans far more likely to believe in the paranormal than older respondents.

The new study was done by Bryan Farha at Oklahoma City University and Gary Steward Jr. of the University of Central Oklahoma.
More significantly, the new survey reveals college is not necessarily a path to skepticism in these realms.

While 23 percent of college freshmen expressed a general belief in paranormal concepts—from astrology to communicating with the dead—31 percent of seniors did so and the figure jumped to 34 percent among graduate students.

"As people attain higher college-education levels, the likelihood of believing in paranormal dimensions increases," Farha and Steward write.

The media are likely responsible for some people's beliefs in alien abductions and other paranormal concepts, the scientists write, based on their survey of existing studies. And some people tend to selectively confirm whatever ideas might be in their heads. Even smart people might believe in something offbeat because, in part, they're good at defending whatever they believe.

In general college students checked the "Believe" box less than the general population surveyed by Gallup. But the lack of "Don't Believe" responses among college students was lower for six of the 13 categories: psychic or spiritual healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, ghosts, clairvoyance and witches. That means a higher percentage of college students put themselves in the "Not Sure" column on these topics.
This isn't entirely surprising by itself; what I found particularly interesting--in the original SI article, not mentioned in the LiveScience article--was that they cross-tabbed the respondents by area of study, and those who were studying the sciences were not significantly lower in their tendency to be "believers" than other majors. Although, ironically, the smallest number of believers were studying the fine arts (although the article admits that there were few respondents to the questionnaire who were fine arts majors).

The researchers don't make any attempt to explain why this might be--and we need to be careful not to confuse "correlation" with "causation." But I think this is just a small piece of a larger societal tendency to not place a very high emphasis on critical thinking--whether it comes to the paranormal or anything else, for that matter. And even to articles in the Skeptical Inquirer. I'm reminded of the old gag:

PERSON 1: "Did you know the word 'gullible' isn't in the dictionary?"
PERSON 2: "Really? I didn't know that."

On a side note, and in the "everyone thinks they're a comedian" category, back in the late 90s when I lived in L.A., I went to the post office to mail some letters, one of which was a subscription renewal to the Skeptical Inquirer. The postal clerk read the address and said, "Skeptical Inquirer, huh? They're probably not going to believe this is from you." Boy was I happy when online bill paying was invented.

Mood Music

Oh, I don't know:
The XPod concept is based on the idea of automating much of the interaction between the music player and its user. The XPod project introduces a "smart" music player that learns its user's preferences, emotions and activity, and tailors its music selections accordingly. The device is able to monitor a number of external variables to determine its user's levels of activity, motion and physical states to make an accurate model of the task its user is undertaking at the moment and predict the genre of music would be appropriate. The XPod is relying on its user to train the player as to what music is preferred and under what conditions.
With my luck, it would never stop playing Spike Jones.

Capital Crimes

While I use this space to comment on the media, I tend not to comment on the content of that media. That said, I do have concerns that the Washington Post has a "world columnist" who is unaware that Sydney is not the capital of Australia.
In East Asia, meanwhile, U.S. relations with Japan grow ever closer as the Japanese become increasingly concerned about China and a nuclear-armed North Korea. China's (and Malaysia's) attempt to exclude Australia from a prominent regional role at the recent East Asian summit has reinforced Sydney's desire for closer ties.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Just Plain Freakish

Sez Gizmodo:
The VoIP phones just keep on coming, and now there’s a mini-battle going on between two companies chasing after the same questionable idea—combining a mouse and a phone all in one.

Ticket to Ride

I'm telling you, the cellphone toaster isn't too far from reality.
MobilRelay has launched Mobile Box Office in the USA, a service that enables moviegoers to use mobile phones as tickets. The company says it is the first service of its kind in the United States and it is available beginning 18 January for all shows at Emagine in Canton, Mich.

Users with a WAP-enabled (Wireless Application Protocol) mobile phone and a color screen may use Mobile Box Office to browse movie listing dates and times, select and pay for any movie. To use the service, consumers navigate to mbo.com directly on their mobile phones and follow prompts to browse and buy movie tickets.

After making a show selection and secure credit card transaction, moviegoers receive an electronic, bar-coded ticket on their mobile phones, which is scanned for entry at the theater.

According to the Motion Picture Industry Association, there were more than 47 million Internet-enabled mobile phones in the U.S. in 2004, a 96 percent increase from 2003. And 24 percent of respondents to a 2004 Claria Corporation survey said that they had bought movie tickets online.

The company has a patent pending on a process for distributing bar-coded messages to mobile devices, part of the technology being used in the new service. MBO technology incorporates Wireless Universal Resource File (WURFL), the largest open source movement for mobile device compatibility.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

To Pluto and Beyond! (Well, No, Just Pluto)

It's about time:
After two days of delays, NASA's New Horizons probe launched today to the ninth planet, Pluto.
Like other recent NASA probes, New Horizon contains a CD which contains a list of people who sent in their names, some sort of cosmic hello or something like that, I'm guessing.

Idea for a science-fiction movie: an alien race intercepts an Earth probe carrying a list of earthlings' names and, as the result of some translation error (or something I have yet to work out), comes hunting the people on the list.

Guided By Voices

Dr. Joe sez (via the L.A. Times--registration required):
The new format of TV Guide is touted as a success (sales up 38%!)... until you read the last paragraph (circulation down 60%! -- rats, it really does make a difference what year you compare to, doesn't it?). The operation was a success but the patient died.... well, almost... should we really count it as a new magazine? It's nothing like the old one.
A friend of mine used to love TV Guide, but admits that she now hates it since the redesign. For those who don't know, last year, the venerable TV Guide, in trouble because TV listings can now be found for free and more easily via the Internet and even most home cable systems these days, changed their format--upping their trim size, ditching their listings, and becoming an "entertainment and lifestyle magazine" because, goodness knows, there's no competition in that market.

For many publishers, it seems to me that strategies like that (or even book publishers' thinking that the solution to sagging mass market paperback sales is to make the trim size bigger) has kind of a "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" feel to it. People are just reading fewer books. Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on.

Gemstar, the owner of TV Guide, was an early player in the once-hyped-but-now-decidedly-moribund e-book market, having marketed and sold (although "sold" is probably too optimistic a word) an e-book reading device that, quite frankly, kind of sucked. I was at a party back in late 2000 and had a conversation with an editor at Publishers Weekly (who was very pro-e-book) and he intimated that Gemstar had some kind of TV Guide/e-book/PDA convergence strategy (but then, who didn't?). I'm guessing no part of that worked out.

A Keyboard...How Quaint

Oh, I don't know:
Developed by Brit company Eleksen Ltd., it’s a 2.4-ounce Bluetooth keyboard made out of a special touch-sensitive cloth material that’s water repellent—not that you would really be wanting to use it in the rain or anything. Its electronics are tucked inside a plastic housing with an LED that shows you when it’s communicating with your PDA, cell phone, or any other Bluetooth-capable device.

The Man With the Lightbulb Head

This is way cool: who wouldn't want a floating lightbulb? I'll take that bus, and I'll even get off at the next station: how about a radio-controlled floating light bulb that you can have follow you around the house? Huh? HUH?

But, translation please:
Lightbulb uses a special bulb, inside which magnets and circuitry are hidden. Using a magnetic hall effect sensor, an electromagnet, and a [modified] PD feedback system, it floats a lightbulb stably in the air, while power is transmitted wirelessly from the base of the sculpture into the bulb. LEDs in the bulb rectify this AC power and convert it to light. The power transfer functions very similarly to how radio station tuning works and requires a well tuned matched pair of resonant windings, but allows power transmission over through the air.

What Would Martha Stewart Say?

Here's the perfect gift for the psycho in your life: the human head knife block.

Bats in the Belfry

OK, is it just me, or does this sound like the kind of strategy that would have been disproven by Wile E. Coyote?
The nation's largest generator of wind power plans to use fire to study bat habitats. FPL Energy LLC operates 43 wind farms in 15 states, including the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center in Tucker County.

The company is teaming up with an environmental engineering firm and the U.S. Forest Service's Northeastern Research Station on the conservation project.

The project involves prescribed burning in a 4,000-acre experimental forest in Tucker County. The region is home to seven species of bats, including the federally endangered Indiana bat.

Researchers hope to develop conditions to maximize the bats' use of oak tree bark and foliage as summer day roosts. Oak trees are fire resistant while others like sugar and red maples are not.

Then again, having had my bat encounters, I say go for it.

I Can Hear the Ocean

This is interesting:
Your ability to hear relies on a structure that got its start as a gill opening in fish, a new study reveals.

Humans and other land animals have special bones in their ears that are crucial to hearing. Ancient fish used similar structures to breathe underwater.

Scientists had thought the evolutionary change occurred after animals had established themselves on land, but a new look at an old fossil suggests ear development was set into motion before any creatures crawled out of the water.

What'd I Tell You

MR has the story.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

King Pong

Via Gizmodo, the ultimate in techno retro geek chic: a Pong Clock. Check it out:
[I]t functions pretty simply. The game of Pong is played until another minute has passed, then one of the paddles misses a shot, resulting in an adjustment of the score that matches the time of day.
Retro. Hm. I hate it when things I remember are now retro. Kind of like the standard grandmother's lament, "But they weren't antiques when I bought them!"

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Missing the Point

Now, is this during recording or playing back?
Lucent scientists have filed a patent application for a digital video recorder (DVR) that will detect when the user has fallen asleep—and will then turn off the DVR. As it turns out, Robert Heinlein had thought about this forty-five years ago.
This is the only way I ever get to see anything: by having my DVR keep recording even after I fall asleep on the couch.

Queen of Pain

OK, you know, if you have a dungeon in your home, I think you're pretty much asking for trouble:
A prosecutor said Tuesday that a dominatrix dismembered and disposed of the body of a client who died of a heart attack during a bondage session in her makeshift dungeon.

The Trouble With Kidneys

Again, as MR would say markets in everything:
An online casino has a piece of Capt. Kirk. Actor William Shatner has sold his kidney stone for $25,000, with the money going to a housing charity.

Up on the Roof

As Marginal Revolution would say, markets in everything: rooftop advertising for Google Maps. Via Gizmodo:
Here’s a great way to make some extra cash. Call Target immediately and tell them you have a rooftop just waiting to be painted—for just a measly $10,000 or so. You see, it looks like advertisers have realized that with Google’s online satellite pics on Google Maps, there is a completely untapped space for more eyes to see their logos. And though this (probably fake) pic is of a Target store, why not lease out your own rooftop? Or even a bald head.

The Beginning of the End

Yep, here come the giant grasshoppers. Via Marginal Revolution, an intriguing article in Slate about how the Internet--a big, sloppy, wonderfully chaotic assemblage of random crap--could ultimately be controlled by the likes of Verizon. I mean, nothing improves content like making it corporate, right? Sound terrifying? You bet:
The Internet has always been about democracy—what the geeks who designed it call "network neutrality." Data, whether e-mail, a Web page, or video, get sent as packets that are reassembled at the end of their journeys. All packets are created equal, and Internet service providers deliver them without prejudice, based on their network's speed and capacity.

Telecommunications and cable companies—let's call them telco-cable—want to change that. Verizon, Comcast, and their ilk have been lobbying Congress to transform the Internet into a two-tiered system. By tagging content, broadband providers would ensure that their own packets (or those from companies paying them protection money) get preferential treatment and reach subscribers faster than second-tier content. This would give companies like Verizon a tremendous advantage as they roll out their own television and VoIP telephone services.
As a result, telco-cable has been lobbying Congress to rewrite the Telecommunications Act of 1996. A draft of the new bill would codify "network neutrality" (which to this point has been voluntary) and forbid network service providers from blocking or otherwise sabotaging content. Usually fierce competitors, these gatekeepers can agree on one thing: They want to strike the network neutrality clause. Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and eBay want to keep it. If telco-cable wins, it will be able to set up separate tiers, forcing Google to pay up or ride in the slow lane.

At this month's Consumer Electronics Show, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg explained, "We have to make sure that they [application providers] don't sit on our network and chew up bandwidth. We need to pay for the pipe." Perhaps, but what Verizon proposes is to charge twice for broadband: first to subscribers, then to content providers. In essence, telcos and cable companies want to privatize the Internet—a model we've pretty much left behind since the days of CompuServe, Prodigy, and AOL.

If the telcos and cable companies get their way, we'll have a Balkanized Web. Content providers who can afford to pay for premium service will market superior products to consumers with fast connections. Everyone else will make do with second-class companies at second-class speeds.

The business model that this most resembles is cable television. There's one key difference, though. In the cable world, the service providers pay channels for the rights to broadcast their shows. In the system that telco-cable is proposing for the Internet, the content providers—who provide the services that make customers clamor for broadband in the first place—would have to pay for the privilege of being included.
Economist Tyler Cowan comments thusly:
In purely economic terms, the idea of charging Google or other "bandwidth hogs" does not sound outrageous. (What would the incidence of such a price hike be? Would cable connections become cheaper, or do the cable companies have too much mononpoly power?) But in public choice terms, this would bring politically-influenced pricing. Don't expect porn or blogs to get a break.
Shucks. I mean about the blogs, of course. And it gets worse:
The net would become much more corporate. The perils of regulation aside, Verizon probably would favor its own products.
The beauty of the status quo is that web sites compete on the basis of consumer surplus alone. The bandwidth costs end up as a fixed charge on net access as a whole; I suspect this hits many inelastic demanders, a'la the Ramsey rules for optimal taxation. Admittedly it may be a bad deal for the poor who cannot afford to connect, but the overall arrangement enhances the long-run "competition of ideas" feature of the net.

One second-best solution is to charge users for bandwidth per se, while not discriminating across differing uses of that bandwidth. In essence this would tax file-sharing while leaving most content decisions unaltered. Alternatively, a tiered net could lead to more Wi-Fi networks, whether at the municipal level or constructed by Google. If that is where we are headed anyway, this apparently troubling development could rebound to our collective advantage. We might end up bearing the fixed costs of the transition sooner than is optimal, but again the dynamic benefits of the new arrangement might swamp that problem.

My Mother the Car

My dear friend Colleen sent me her contributions to my "Meme of Four" post some time ago (scroll down) and came up with one of the best responses one could devise. For the "4 Vehicles I've Owned," as a (relatively) new mother, she wrote, "With the purchase of a backpack baby carrier, I have actually transformed myself into a vehicle."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Retinas, My Eye!

I was flipping around the TV last night and on CSPAN2 came across a repeat of a November lecture by Ray Kurzweil. Lots of good "future of tech" stuff (wish I could find an archived video of it on CSPAN, but it wasn't immediately obvious that there was one). At one point, Kurzweil spoke about nanotechnology as it's being applied to medical science, in particular how scientists have invented "bionic" red blood cells that are far more efficient than natural ones. For example, by increasing blood cells' efficiency at absorbing and delivering oxygen, we could all be Olympic runners (or perhaps shovel our driveways without dying) or sit at the bottom of a pool for hours.

One thing he mentioned was a tad disturbing: artificial white blood cells that can access Wi-Fi networks and download things from the Internet (I guess like specific instructions to combat certain types of diseas, etc.) Um, no...I don't want my blood downloading things from the Internet! Jeez--was I being prescient when I wrote a book about people being able to catch computer viruses?

He also mentioned the possibility of beaming television images directly onto the retina, giving us a much more immersive "home theater" environment without the need for a big screen TV. Just think: we can all watch "Skating with the Celebrities"* right on our own retinas.

*Or whatever it's called. I was told about this program--in which Z-level celebrities perform Olympic ice-skating routines with actual Olympic ice skaters--and thought it was a put-on, until I saw a commercial for it. Not for the squeamish. I'm not sure I could handle the close-ups of bloody gashes (even if they did have bionic red blood cells). I think I'll pass on that show.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Postal Going

The Washington Post ponders the fate of the Postal Service.
The structural problems facing the Postal Service are monumental. Despite a tiny uptick last year, first-class mail volume is slowly but steadily eroding as people pay more bills online, send Evites instead of printed invitations and shoot off e-mails rather than write letters. The agency also is facing massive and escalating personnel costs, especially for health care, even as it has embraced automation and reduced staffing needs. And finally, there is the federal government's attempt to change the structure of Postal Service regulation, an effort that postal officials regard as riddled with problems and with favors to private industry.
Is it too hard to envision a time when the mail isn't delivered every day but maybe only three or four times a week? (There used to be mail deliveries twice a day, in the dim and distant past.) Anything we need immediately we can get via FedEx. Which we do already.

The Post Office gets a bad rap, particularly in urban environments, but all the problems of urban Post Offices are the same problems inherent in any urban service--yes, massive crowds at lunchtime, but where in, say, New York City at lunchtime aren't there massive crowds and long waits? The USPS, I think, has done a great job of applying technology (they even had an e-mail service long before anyone had heard of the term, which died because, well, no one had heard of the term) and understanding what its real problems are: the decline of letter writing (which the phone did more to kill than anything e- related) and now electronic bill paying. In fact, you may know that in the early 2000s the USPS offered "certified e-mail" for important messages. They also offered a e-bill payment service. They just never promoted them properly.

Oh, and FYI, a common Internet hoax that occasionally makes the rounds has it that the government wants to add a surtax to e-mail and that the USPS has backed it. Sorry, strictly an urban legend.

Having a Lovely Time, Wish You Were Here

I seriously doubt that this will catch on: a digital postcard.
[T]he Snap + Send postcard...is a disposable digital camera in the shape of a postcard, take some shots, send ‘em off.
Fortunately, it's only part of an industrial design exhibit, so it doesn't really exist. Yet.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bloody Birds

Saw this headline in today's L.A. Times:
Pre-Human Child Eaten by an Eagle
What's that wacky Terrell Owens up to now?

Friday, January 13, 2006

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Sez eMarketer:
Surprisingly, although 77% of consumers report wanting to receive offers from marketers — and you would think that is exactly what marketers would want to send — only 8% reported getting them.
Not so shocking. I remember many years ago any time I ever sent in a reader service card from a magazine, I never got anything in the mail. So, hey, e-mail marketing can have the same weaknesses as print!

[No] Film at 11

Some folks find it kind of scary and strange that Nikon has announced that it will stop making most of its film cameras in favor of digital cameras. I don't find this so odd; sales of film cameras and film itself has been near moribund for half a decade (ask Kodak about that). Even professional photographers as long ago as 2000 were eagerly pursuing digital SLRs or digital scanning backs for studio cameras. Yes, you'll always have a few Luddites (or, I shoudl say, folks who cling to a older technology), but generally, the market is moving in decidedly digital directions, and has been for years. Not really news.

I don't think this is any stranger than a TV maker saying it has stopped making black-and-white televisions, or a car stereo maker saying it has stopped making 8-track players, or a stereo component maker saying it is moving away from phonographs to focus on CD players (or MP3 players). It's just the inexorable march of technology. I mean, I've never owned a Victrola and likewise I don't expect kids today or tomorrow to have ever owned a film camera.

It's funny; I was talking to Dr. Joe this afternoon and he pointed me to an online editorial which I will not mention, but it included the line "Pundits blithely predicted we'd print all photos and greeting cards on desktops. But it ain't so." No--we're just transferring them digitally and not printing them on anything at all. And if you scroll down, you'll see that an emerging product category is a Wi-Fi-enabled picture frame that will let you upload digital photos. You can even get wearable digital photo "buttons," too. Oh, and the other day Gizmodo had this:
Remember Total Recall, with good old Arnold—when he was still a moviestar? The first scene showed this real cool digital wall/mega-TV thingy I will never forget. Visiting the future zone at the ground floor of the Panasonic Center Tokyo was a flashback to that scene. In the special presentation room is a wall-size, huge screen (twice the size of a 110-inch display), and it’s a touchscreen. The images on the screen change as you touch them (it’s online, of course), and you can choose from an extensive menu of options and tools. It functions not only as a TV and PC, but also as interior decoration by changing the image from a bookshelf for the living room to a graffiti space for the kids’ room. It is supposed to appear on the market around 2010 and the price will be horrendous.
And so it goes.

Not-So-Distant Learning

Classes? We don't need no steenking classes.
Andy Steele lives just a few blocks from the campus of Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota, so commuting to class isn't the problem. But he doesn't like lectures much, isn't a morning person, and wants time during the day to restore motorcycles.

So Steele, a full-time senior business major, has been taking as many classes as he can from the South Dakota state system's online offerings.
At some schools, online courses -- originally intended for nontraditional students living far from campus -- have proved surprisingly popular with on-campus students. A recent study by South Dakota's Board of Regents found 42 percent of the students enrolled in its distance-education courses weren't so distant: they were located on campus at the university that was hosting the online course.
As someone who spent four years slogging on foot to campus through brutal Syracuse winters (or even brutal Syracuse autumns and "springs"), I'm tempted to say "suck it up and deal with it, you spoiled brats," but I suppose that would be petty of me--and make me sound like a cranky old guy (which I am). And since I haven't commuted to an office job in six years, there are many people who could probably say something similar to me. So perhaps we're even. I can agree with this, though:
[O]nline classes aren't necessarily easier. Two-thirds of schools responding to a recent survey by The Sloan Consortium agreed that it takes more discipline for students to succeed in an online course than in a face-to-face one.
I do worry about the sociological implications of generations of people who are able to do whatever they want whenever they want to. Seems like trouble brewing, but I hope I'm wrong.

Calling Publishers On the Tarpits

Folio has an interesting piece on the eroding relationship between printers and magazine publishers, as told by printing company representative. Full article is here. Some choice excerpts:
The capabilities of publisher production staff are declining.

The recession between late-2000 and mid-2002 was the first shoe, and the continuing M&A activity among publishing companies is the second. Between them, in round after round, experienced and knowledgeable production staff were among the first people sacrificed. That meant that a great deal of experience and institutional memory was lost in wave after wave.
[P]ressure to shorten printing cycle times in order to increase the window for advertising sales (we hear that it is driven by editorial concerns less than 10 percent of the time) increased as publishers were financially strapped. So what has been the result? Less experienced, untrained or poorly-trained production people. And fewer of them. What do we, as printers, experience as a result?

The quality of incoming files is getting worse. It is the rare publisher that can manage incoming files from advertisers well and reliably distill them into PDFs. We’ve been forced to preflight every PDF file we get, and only a small percentage survive preflight intact, not requiring changes to make them run reliably.

The top executives in publishing companies tend to be removed from the consequences of structural decisions they make, and the scheduling pressure they choose to put on the printer. They don’t connect the high staff turnover with the steady flow of ad errors (and makegoods) and their regular failures to meet their scheduled dates.

Advertising-sales organizations are emerging as the ultimate decision makers within publishers.
The pressure for makegoods has tripled—at least. Publishers are accepting ads in whatever format the advertiser chooses to send them. In one case, a monthly title of ours has us in contact with an average of 40 advertisers per issue, dealing with files that cannot be reliably translated into ink-on-paper. In the eyes of the ad-sales staff, any problem must be the responsibility of the printer.

We cannot even get publishers to improve when we hand them the resources. Production departments are so overworked and understaffed that even arranging to install a software tool we provide our clients free of charge to manage the layout of each issue, requires multiple scheduling attempts.

Adding insult to injury, nearly all publishing organizations are now badly under-capitalized.
The saddest casualty of the changes we’ve observed over the past five years is the decline in a partnering mindset or partnering behavior between publisher and printer. We’re fast approaching the point where we’re going to have to start watching our own backs as a first priority rather than those of our publishers, which has been our practice heretofore. But embracing clients whose behavior is cavalier at best and mercenary at worst is poor business practice, and will simply pave the path to the tarpits for us.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Suitable for Framing

Just a matter of time, really: a Wi-Fi-enabled digital picture frame.
Actually, that's not a bad idea. But $249.99? Uh, no.

No More Time

Ah, these kids, with their rock'n'roll, their hula hoops, and their fax machines. Here's an interesting technology trend that hadn't occurred to me--cellphones are helping to kill the market for wristwatches:
THE WRIST WATCH is fast going the way of the grandfather clock and the sun dial, as kids of today use their iPods and mobile phones to tell the time, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Apparently all the cool dudes and dudettes are refusing to wear their time on their wrists and are just looking at their cell phones instead.

The hacks quote watch retailers as saying that business has wound down as few want a proper time piece. Apparently the only ones that sell these days are fashion watches. But their owners use them to make a statement rather than tell the time. Dull, practical watches are apparently sitting gathering dust on the shelves.

Chuck Reardon, manager of the Time Square watch stand at Brookfield Square, said his business has suffered from what he sees as a trend of using cell phones to tell the time. Reardon said kids were buying the fashion watches like Fossil. They're doing that as a fashion statement more than anything, more than a need for a timepiece.

Otherwise people who consult their wrist for the time are "just dorks" according to the Sentinel.
Well, count me dorky.

Robo Grandma

Just what the world needs: an automated knitting machine:
It’ll knit you a scarf, some knickers, or anything it damn well pleases. Made by Tom Johnson, the knitting machine is all based off of the Lego Technic sets.
Check out the video. A bit slow; oddly, Grandma would be faster.

Games People Play

I've never made any bones about how much I hate cellphones (despite the fact that I have one in lieu of a landline) but I do try to have my fun with it. For example, I am now so thoroughly addicted to its Caller ID that I categorically refuse to answer any call that flashes "Unknown." (I will answer unfamiliar numbers, so I'm not completely antisocial.) The reason is twfold. First, every single time I have ever made the mistake of answering an "Unknown" call, it has been a telemarketer or someone similar. Every time. And since these nuisance calls come out of my Verizon Wireless minutes, I'm essentially paying to be annoyed. (Heck, I already have cable TV for that.)

In the past week, though, some Unknown caller (or their autodialer) has been more doggedly persistent than these people tend to be--three, four times a day, even on Sunday, for the past week. I thought ever-so-briefly about picking it up (I've been deeply immersed in a project this week and really don't want to be bugged by salespeople) but now it's become a kind of game: I'm curious to see how long they will keep this up. I mean, god forbid anyone should actually leave a voicemail message.

Also, in other personal wireless telephone news, since switching to VoIP for most of my business and personal calling, I've managed to save an average of $124 a month on my wireless bill.

You Brought the Birds! You're Evil! EVIL!

So, technically then, we're all descended from Tippi Hedren:
A South African anthropologist said Thursday his research into the death nearly 2 million years ago of an ape-man shows human ancestors were hunted by birds.
The Ohio State study determined that eagles would swoop down, pierce monkey skulls with their thumb-like back talons, then hover while their prey died before returning to tear at the skull. Examination of thousands of monkey remains produced a pattern of damage done by birds, including holes and ragged cuts in the shallow bones behind the eye sockets.

Berger went back to the Taung skull, and found traces of the ragged cuts behind the eye sockets. He said none of the researchers who had for decades been debating how the child died had noticed the eye socket damage before.

Berger concluded man's ancestors had to survive not just being hunted from the ground, but from the air. Such discoveries are “key to understanding why we humans today view the world they way we do,” he said.

More E-Paper News

For a good look at the Sony Reader for e-books (that uses E-Ink's electronic ink), check out LiveScience's report. I've seen the Sony Reader in person and the quality of the display would go a long way toward making a convert to e-books out of me.

VistaPrint for TV Ads?

Well, sure, why not?
A Los Angeles-based start-up launched a service Wednesday that allows companies to create television ad campaigns over the Internet for as little as $500 and as quickly as within one week. Spot Runner lets advertisers select a generic commercial from its library, personalize the ads and target customers by demographics, networks and neighborhoods.

Advertisers can buy air time on major networks, including local broadcast and cable channels like CNN and ESPN. The company was formed by Nick Grouf and David Waxman who previously founded Firefly Network and PeoplePC.
Sounds like VistaPrint for TV ads, right?

When Databases Attack II

One of the consequences of buying a house is that I have been getting many direct mail promotions congratulating me on my new home and offering me a coupon or some other small savings. I know property transfers are a matter of public record but I can't help but feel a tad creeped out by what strikes me as a faintly Orwellian practice.

My favorite though was a promotion from Bank of America that completely missed the point of targeted marketing--or in fact of knowing the contents of their own database: an offer to open a new personal checking account was addressed to "New Resident" (not my name which you would figure, if they knew enough that I moved and what my address was, it would be a simple case to add a name). What I found really funny, though, was that I already have a personal checking account at Bank of America.

The Ultimate Device Convergence

Dr. Joe forwarded a video to me which I think it's the funniest thing I've seen in a long time, though I suspect it may not be far from the truth! Check it out here. Don't worry that it's in Dutch; you don't really need the narration.

Is This Really a Good Idea?

Oh, yuck, I smell another vile buzzword coming:
CBS Broadcasting Inc. is developing a made-for-mobile-phone soap opera -- known as a mobisoap -- that is scheduled to be released in the next several months.

The serial show, tentatively titled "Hey, It's Me," will be shown daily on TV-equipped cell phones in three- to five-minute segments and will have its own writers, cast and production team.
I am writing a spin-off series called "No, Go Away!"
CBS is among a number of companies showing interest in mobile television. In recent months, the idea has gained in popularity, as carriers increase the speed of their networks and as more phones come with higher-definition screens that better simulate TVs.

Ooh, how could I possibly resist now:

Reston-based Sprint Nextel Corp. recently broadcast a Bon Jovi concert to its cell phone subscribers. It and other wireless companies also offer television or video clips in the form of reformatted live television feeds or snippets of programs that have already aired.

CBS is the second major network to produce programs specifically for cell phones. Last year, Fox Broadcasting Co. developed short "mobisodes," or mobile episodes, of a soap opera and its hit show "24" for Verizon Wireless phones to run over that company's then-new high-speed cellular network.

Google Goes Offline

Sez Ad Age:
Google, the new-media giant, now has a decidedly old-media partner: the Chicago Sun-Times.
In a quiet and small-scale experiment, Google is running classified-like ads in the pages of the Sun-Times, which so far is the only newspaper participating in the Web-search behemoth’s test.

The deal, terms of which were not disclosed, allows Google to fill what’s known as “remnant space” in the Sun-Times -- unsold space where the paper would normally run in-house ads. Google fills those spots with its own ads. The Google connection is hardly trumpeted: “Ads by Google” appears at the top of each box of ads in very small type.
The benefits for the Sun-Times are obvious: making money on previously unsold ad space, even if that money comes from the biggest player in a business that’s undercutting old-line newspapers.

“We were eager to help them shut us down,” joked Sun-Times Publisher John Cruickshank. “They’re buying ads. We like that.”

Google won’t comment on its own motivations. But one observer speculates that if the experiment pans out, Google could seek newspaper partners in other cities to bolster sales of locally oriented classifieds.

And score one for print:
A spokeswoman for Orland Park-based MPI Home Video, whose Google ad for DVD copies of the Chicago Bears “Super Bowl Shuffle” video appeared in the Sun-Times, said Google invited the company to participate free in the test because its ad, which had been on Google for the previous 15 months, had drawn a high number of hits.

The spokeswoman said sales of the DVD increased about 50% after the print ad ran, although that figure may also have been boosted by the Bears’ successful season and a larger marketing push.

“We’re very happy with the response,” she said.
I seem to recall Google doing something similar in print magazines some time last year. I don't know what ever happened with that.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

One More Red[mond] Nightmare

21st Century Schizoid Man:
King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp visited Microsoft Corp.'s campus recently to record sounds that could be used in the forthcoming version of the company's flagship Windows operating system.

A Microsoft Web site posting shows a dark, 25-minute video clip of Fripp recording ethereal sounds that, the posting says, could be used for the audio cues found in Windows.
As much as I like King Crimson (in all--or most--of its incarnations) and the music of Robert Fripp, I doubt it's a compelling reason to buy a Microsoft project. Confusion will be my epitaph indeed. maybe Fripp will consider it Easy Money.

I was curious: I could have sworn the Macintosh startup noise was created by someone famous. And it sort of was: the short-lived PowerMac startup noise from the early 1990s was played by jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan, although that wasn't the original startup noise (which is the one they still use today). The full story on the origin of all the Mac noises can be found here.

Baron Von Tollbooth

Dear EZPass,

If you post signs all along the NYS Thruway that say "EZPass can be used in any toll lane" please ensure that that is literally true.

Thank you.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Meme of Four

Think of the idea of the "meme" as the blog equivalent of the chain letter. (Via MaxSpeak.)

The idea is to come up with four items for the categories listed below. Try it yourself! It's a great way to avoid doing productive work.

Four Jobs You’ve Had

1. Assistant Editor at St. Martin's Press
2. Research Assistant to You-Know-Who
3. Managing editor of Micro Publishing News/Digital Imaging
4. Whatever it is I do now

Four Movies You Could Watch Over and Over

1. Airplane!
2. Either of the first two Godfather movies
3. Any Marx Brothers movie up to and including Night at the Opera
4. Any of the first six Star Trek movies (even numbers only)

Four Places You’ve Lived

1. Salem, NH
2. Astoria, Queens, NY
3. Torrance, CA
4. Saratoga Springs, NY

Four TV Shows You Love to Watch

1. Star Trek
2. Babylon 5
3. Arrested Development
4. Sports Night/The West Wing (i.e., anything Aaron Sorkin has written)

Four Places You’ve Been on Vacation

1. Outer Banks, North Carolina
2. Bar Harbor, Maine
3. Yellowstone National Park
4. Arizona

Four Blogs You Visit Daily

1. Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal
2. Eschaton
3. Gizmodo
4. Marginal Revolution

Four of Your Favorite Foods

1. The buffalo chicken tender sandwich at the Stadium Cafe in Saratoga
2. Sushi
3. Almost anything involving crustaceans.
4. Buffalo wings from Sal's Birdland in Syracuse

Four Places You’d Rather Be

1. Manhattan, but only as depicted in Woody Allen movies
2. That department store in the Twilight Zone episode with the mannequins that came alive
3. The Starship Enterprise
4. The Village (in The Prisoner)

Four Albums You Can’t Live Without

1. Anything by Robyn Hitchcock, but especially Globe of Frogs
2. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
3. The Kinks Village Green Preservation Society
4. Rush Moving Pictures

Four Vehicles You’ve Owned

1. An ancient Cutlass Supreme I bought extremely used in 1984 when I was a junior in high school.
2. A slightly less ancient Dodge Aspen I bought no less used in 1985 when I was a senior in high school after the Cutlass died.
3. Had no car from 1986 to 1997. (The "good old days.")
4. The Saturn I bought in 1997 and still have.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Dollars and Censor

Anyone else kinda creeped out by this?
Microsoft has shut the blog site of a well-known Chinese blogger who uses its MSN online service in China after he discussed a high-profile newspaper strike that broke out here one week ago.

The decision is the latest in a series of measures in which some of America's biggest technology companies have cooperated with the Chinese authorities to censor Web sites and curb dissent or free speech online as they seek access to China's booming Internet marketplace.

Microsoft drew criticism last summer when it was discovered that its blog tool in China was designed to filter words like "democracy" and "human rights" from blog titles.

More Offline Media News

Emarketer is showing its raw youth:
Whoever said that an old dog cannot learn new tricks had clearly not spent much time on the Internet.

According to a report from BURST! Media, online users over the age of 54 are spending more time on the Internet and less time with offline media sources.

That is good news for online news and content sites, and bad news for newspapers, whose mainstay is older readers, and broadcasters.

Although they remain the heaviest consumers of offline media, 57.9% of responding adults 55 and older told BURST! researchers that Internet sources provided "content I cannot find on television, radio, magazines or newspapers." A definite sign of changing times.

The two key reasons for preferring online media over offline were on-demand access to content and, somewhat surprisingly, the availability of more accurate information.
Is one an "old dog" at 54? If I were such an old dog (give it time), I would say "bite me."

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Stamp Act

Just a reminder: as of January 8, postal rates will be going up. The cost of a first-class stamp will be 39 cents, up from 37 cents. If you're sending any perfume-scented missives to your beloved (or even your perfume-scented AmEx bill payment), bear it in mind.

If you do everything electronically, however, there is nothing to worry about...well, at least not in terms of postage.

Prime Rib

Here's some classic news for nerds:
Researchers at a Missouri university have identified the largest known prime number, officials said Tuesday.

The team at Central Missouri State University, led by associate dean Steven Boone and mathematics professor Curtis Cooper, found it in mid-December after programming 700 computers years ago.

A prime number is a positive number divisible by only itself and 1 -- 2, 3, 5, 7 and so on.

The number that the team found is 9.1 million digits long. It is a Mersenne prime known as M30402457 -- that's 2 to the 30,402,457th power minus 1.

"We're super excited," said Boone, a chemistry professor. "We've been looking for such a number for a long time."

Lost in Space

Thanks to Netflix, I finally made it through the first season DVDs of the show Lost, which I liked rather a lot. (Appropriately, the last disc got lost in the mail, though.) The season ender was quite the cliffhanger.

Since I am impatient (and will forget what happened by the time the second season DVDs come out), I experimented with buying the second season opener via the Apple iTunes store. Only $1.99 per episode and it downloads slowly, but not too bad (it would never work on dial up). I don't have a video iPod but it plays fine through iTunes on my PowerBook and though I haven't watched the whole thing yet, the quality seems OK.

They have some other shows that look interesting--the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which is an odd choice. I've heard good things about the new Battlestar Galactica (which they also have), although I can't help but recall how godawful the original was.


Oh please oh please oh please:
No more USB cables? Is this a dream? Not if Staccato Communications has anything to do with it. The company has just announced the introduction of its Ripcord family at CES which is based on the WiMedia’s Alliance UWB common radio platform as well as the Certified Wireless USB specification. The Ripcord is simply a USB key that will wirelessly transmit from any external hard drive. Set by Maxtor, Western Digital and Seagate to be integrated into all if their next generation hard drives, computer makers will also incorporate this technology into their laptops in 2007. That means USB cables will be a thing of the past. Really. Truly.

The transfer rate is a very respectable 480 MBPS and most companies who choose to use this technology will only need an external antenna for a complete node based on Certified Wireless USB node.

The Future of Magazines?

Via Gizmodo:
We’re not big on “content” round these parts, but I just got this uber-cool link from one of the editors of Magwerk. These kids have created three online magazines with sublime Flash interfaces complete with advertisements and little Easter Egg pop-up things. The next best thing to e-paper, if you ask me.

There are three titles, PlayMusicMagazine, Probe—about gaming, and Encore, an arts title. Seriously. This is the interface of the future for print.
I've never liked the e-zine interface (like Zinio or NewsStand), but this works very well, though I dispute the contention that Aerial is Kate Bush's best album. Check 'em out here. You know, though, there will come a day, very soon, when "mimicking the look and feel of a print edition" will be a pointless exercise.

Happy New Year

Can I say that? Is there a war on New Year's I should know about?

Anyway, blogging has admittedly been light; I was away for the holiday weekend. I went skiing for the first time in 20 years on Sunday; it is rather a bullfight with gravity, isn't it?