Monday, February 27, 2006

The Stars are Falling

Jeepers, this has been a rough weekend for old 60s/70s TV actors: first Don Knotts, then Darren McGavin ("Kolchak!"), and now Dennis Weaver ("McCloud!"). The wallpaper of my childhood continues to peel and fall off the wall.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Classic Headline

I have no comment on this story, other than to say that any headline that includes the phrase "Mutant Chicken" will get my attention.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Tying One On

Forced to wear the monkey suit at work? Have to sport the old designer noose? That doesn't mean you have to eschew your cool gadgets.
The tie has a special loop that keeps all those wires in check, and it looks like you could run the wires up behind your tie and underneath the collar of your shirt, discreetly poking out the back on their way to your earbuds.

Push! Push! Push!

And now from the "files of the blindingly obvious":
Most U.S. workers say they feel rushed on the job, but they are getting less accomplished than a decade ago, according to newly released research.

Workers completed two-thirds of their work in an average day last year, down from about three-quarters in a 1994 study, according to research conducted for Day-Timers, an East Texas, Pennsylvania-based maker of organizational products.

The biggest culprit is the technology that was supposed to make work quicker and easier, experts say.

"Technology has sped everything up and, by speeding everything up, it's slowed everything down, paradoxically," said John Challenger, chief executive of Chicago-based outplacement consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

"We never concentrate on one task anymore," Challenger said. "You take a little chip out of it, and then you're on to the next thing. It's harder to feel like you're accomplishing something."

Unlike a decade ago, U.S. workers are bombarded with e-mail, computer messages, cell phone calls, voicemails and the like, research showed.

The average time spent on a computer at work was almost 16 hours a week last year, compared with 9.5 hours a decade ago, according to the Day-Timer research released this week.

Belgian Waffles

How cool is this:
Belgian newspaper to become first 'paperless' daily
By Daniela Schroeder Feb 8, 2006, 11:04 GMT

Antwerp - Spending hours reading the papers may be an ideal pastime on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

But what if your newspaper updated itself during the day? What if the pictures moved and the interviews could be listened to?

In Belgium, this is coming true - at least for a three-month trial period. The Antwerp-based daily De Tijd will soon become the world's first newspaper to publish a digital version on so-called 'electronic paper'.

Instead of buying your daily paper, from April 2006, 200 subscribers will be able to start the day by connecting a portable electronic device supplied by De Tijd to the internet and start downloading their daily paper. Updates will be automatic during the day, if subscribers have access to wireless technology.

The electronic newspaper costs an astronomical 400 euros - but those who sign up for the experiment are not being charged. The assumption is, however, that costs will come down when the electronic daily goes into mass production.

'If the testing period proves successful, we will draw up a business model based on the analysis,' the project manager Peter Bruynseels told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Media experts at Belgian universities will then analyze readers' evaluations.

The Belgian experiment reflects the newspaper's fight for survival in a world of increasing competition, declining circulation and rising newsprint costs.

De Tijd is providing readers with a portable device that holds a paper-thin screen the size of a newspaper page, filled with millions of black and white microcapsules.

When an electrical current with data is sent through the screen, these microcapsules form letters that are as sharp as regular newspaper print.

The electronic 'ink' has 16 levels of grey. When readers flip to the next page or choose a specific article, the particles scramble and rearrange.

The pliable screens do not flicker and can therefore be read either indoors or outdoors.

E Ink Corporation, a spinoff of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has developed the technology. The Dutch company iRex Technologies used the method for building a portable electronic reading device.

De Tijd will appear on several screens. 'One shows the complete page as in the printed paper, the second lists only the headlines and the third displays the single article,' Bruynseels said.

The display is the size of two laptops, but needs 100 times less energy than a normal laptop screen. Based on an average use of three hours a day, the battery runs for more than a week.

A storage space of 244 mega bytes is sufficient for filing one month of newspapers, plus 30 books, as well as office documents in different formats.

Bruynseels says there will also be savings because no paper is being used. Newspapers such as The Times or the Wall Street Journal can go through 200,000 tons of newsprint per year.

E Ink is currently working on adding some colour to the flexible black-and-white screen. Video and sound features are at most 10 years off, said chief executive Russell J. Wilcox.

Using a special marker, readers can write comments on articles and scribble their notes on the screen.

In addition, touching an interactive advertisement will direct the reader to the advertiser's website.

De Tijd is also thinking about publishing advertisement corresponding to the time of the day, Bruynseels said. Coffee and cereals in the morning, beer and snacks in the evening.

Other tools include extra buttons for financial news which steer a reader to in-depth information on the latest stock exchange rates. The e-paper also memorizes readers' criteria when searching for a job, an apartment or Mr/Ms Perfect.

Waxing Waning

If this doesn't sound like a Monty Python sketch waiting to happen, I don't know what does:
The stars at one of central London's well-known tourist attractions will go dark for good this July. Madame Tussauds waxworks, the owner of the London Planetarium, has decided to close the facility as the company shifts its focus from science education to entertainment. The planetarium (renamed the Auditorium) will soon replace its shows with programs about celebrities.
And I thought we were the only country eager to breed entire generations of science illiterates.
Still, I suppose it's only a temporary loss:
The Royal Observatory's new, state-of-the-art 120-seat planetarium in Greenwich Park, about 30 minutes from downtown London by boat or rail, is currently under construction and won't be completed until early 2007. "The only other planetarium of any size within striking distance of London," says Scagell, "is the South Downs Planetarium near Chichester on the South Coast, about 60 miles from the capital, which is certainly not readily accessible unless you happen to be in the area."

The Sky is Falling

Oh, crap:
Sky Publishing Completes Sale to New Track Media LLC

Sky & Telescope magazine becomes cornerstone
of newly formed media company

Sky Publishing Corporation, the privately held publisher of astronomy periodicals and books, announced today that it has completed the sale of its business to New Track Media LLC, an entity formed in the fall of 2005 by Stephen J. Kent and Boston Ventures. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Sky Publishing Corp. was founded in 1941 by Charles A. Federer Jr. and Helen Spence Federer, the original editors of Sky & Telescope magazine. Sky & Telescope is the world's most respected astronomy magazine, serving amateur astronomers around the globe. In addition to Sky & Telescope and, the company publishes Night Sky magazine (a bimonthly for beginners with a Web site at, two annuals (Beautiful Universe and SkyWatch), as well as books, star atlases, posters, prints, globes, and other fine astronomy products. For New Track Media, which is based in Cincinnati, Sky represents its first transaction in a broader plan that calls for building a portfolio of consumer enthusiast properties, not all science-related, and largely through acquisition.
Scientific American bemoans this development:
As if the gutting of NASA's science programs weren't enough, astronomy aficionados have just taken another gunshot in the chest: Sky & Telescope magazine has been sold and, although the announcement doesn't mention it, a quarter of the staff has been laid off.

Sky & Tel is an institution -- the closest thing astronomy has to a magazine of record. I've known staffers there for over a decade and can say that, on topics ranging from DIY telescope building to Mars landers, they have a depth of knowledge and experience which simply can't be beat. They're the sort of people who'll go to an evening lecture and then stay up half the night writing about it, and rewriting, and rewriting -- until they find the best way to explain the subject to the interested layperson. People subscribe to the magazine their whole lives; they are not mere consumers but members of a community. I hope the survivors of this purge can keep things going. The world would be a much poorer place without it.

I don't know the details of Sky & Tel's travails, but presumably declining advertising revenues have something to do with it. Magazines in general, and science magazines in particular, also have to struggle with the tragedy of the Internet commons. Sky & Tel, like us, puts material on the web for free, which undermines our own business. None of us gets rich working at a magazine; we do it because we love science and want to help others understand it, too. How long that will last, if nobody can make a living at it, is unclear.

Going to Disneyworld

Oh, these Mickey Mouse operations:
The Walt Disney Company, an icon of mainstream America, will move against the grain of conventional business strategy this spring when it stops distributing a catalog that has filled the mailboxes of tens of millions of households for the last decade, and instead embarks on a Web-only initiative.
The move bucks a trend that has practically become gospel in online commerce in the past several years — namely, that retailers who sell through the combined channels of catalogs, Web sites and physical stores engender more customer loyalty and bigger profits than those that do not.

Many online retailers lack the means to open traditional stores, so this so-called multichannel approach has been beyond their reach. But they still have the photos, call centers and warehouses needed to put together a decent catalog operation.

Why catalogs? Simple, executives say: they're pretty. Unlike most other advertising media, catalogs are something customers want to cozy up with on the couch and browse, sans mouse. Partly on the strength of that idea, companies like RedEnvelope,, Amazon and eBay, among many others, have gotten behind the concept and distributed catalogs in recent years.

But useful as they may be, Mr. Gainer said, catalogs were simply not ringing the registers as loudly. Disney spent $18 million to mail 30 million catalogs last year — half of them sent in the holiday season. The holiday mailing went to similar groups as the previous year's did, yet Disney had a 45 percent drop in phone orders. The number of customers who responded to e-mail and other online marketing messages, meanwhile, skyrocketed.
They seem to miss the essential point of multichannel marketing, which is that different channels drive others. For example, they seem to assume that print catalogs only stimulated phone orders. Print catalogs can--and, in my case at least, often do--drive Web ordering, too.


This is an old story, but I just read about it yesterday. And it has to be the stupidest thing I have ever heard:
British composer Mike Batt found himself the subject of a plagiarism action for including the song, "A One Minute Silence," on an album for his classical rock band The Planets.

He was accused of copying it from a work by the late American composer John Cage, whose 1952 composition "4'33"" was totally silent.

On Monday, Batt settled the matter out of court by paying an undisclosed six-figure sum to the John Cage Trust.
Yes, that's right: silence is apparently copywritable. Good grief. Says Batt, in his own defense:
"Mine is a much better silent piece. I have been able to say in one minute what Cage could only say in four minutes and 33 seconds."
It's a madhouse! A madhouse!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Attention Web Printers

Have rolls of paper going to waste in your shops? Why not use them entertain the kiddies:

Here’s a chair from Charlotte Friis Design Studio that’s made out of drawing paper rolled up like a pair of toilet rolls, and as a child uses paper, it’s scrolled from the back roll to the front one on which the child sits. As the child uses more paper, the chair gets taller and taller, conceivably getting larger as the little tyke grows taller.

The Well-Tempurred Clavier?

Here's a novel idea for all you music lovers--if not you cat lovers: the cat piano.
The cat piano was the work of a German scholar over 350 years ago. Athanasius Kircher designed the cat piano and documented it in the Musurgia Universalis in 1650. The piano was designed to raise the spirits of an Italian prince who was too stressed out. The musician would select cats whose voices were at different pitches then arrange them in the pens accordingly. The piano delivered sharp pokes into the tails of the cats.
Not that I would ever endorse such a thing as cruel as this--but you have to admit, it is kind of funny.

A Worm in the Apple

The technology press has been abuzz about what is being perceived as a spate of viruses targeting the Macintosh platform. After all, it makes for a good story, especially given how smug us Mac folks can be when it comes to being seemingly impervious to viruses (which is why I am happy that Apple has such low market share!). A Wired columnist describes his debate with a a fellow editor about this:
Mac security-threat stories are annoying, [said one of our editors], because they play off misconceptions -- held with a fervor bordering on the religious -- that the Mac platform is inherently more secure than Windows. Not so, he insisted. Microsoft has done some stupid things that exposed its customers to unnecessary risks compared to Mac users. But all systems are theoretically vulnerable, so it's inevitable that the Mac citadel will eventually be breached.

The Mac has had no viruses to date, he said, primarily because of its small market share. It's got a superior track record compared to Windows, but it's not invulnerable; rather, no one has bothered to spend much time trying to attack it. Now that hackers are taking more notice, life will get harder for Mac owners. He suggested I tackle this "wake up call" in this column.

Naturally, I agreed. "You're right," I said. "The Mac is sure to become a target now it is becoming more popular, and by definition, no system is 100 percent secure."
The smuggest of smug Mac users is right: the platform is more secure, and these new security threats are no more threatening tha[n] a paraplegic kitten.

The Leap-A malware was a poorly-programmed Trojan horse that relied on "social engineering," or trickery to perform its nasty function. There's a simple way to protect against this kind of threat -- common sense -- and in testament to this, a lot of people didn't fall for it.
A joke that went around our office back in the late 90s (when Apple was in very rough shape) was "you know you're working on an unpopular platform when hackers won't even bother to write viruses for it." Times have changed--but not all that much.

I must make one correction, which is that there are no Mac viruses. Perhaps not in recent memory, but back in 1998, when I was at Micro Publishing News, Mac computers (particularly in the graphic arts) were hit by the "Autostart worms," a set of related viruses that were transmitted by inserting an infected Zip disk or CD into an unprotected Mac. They exploited a flaw in the QuickTime Autostart feature that automatically launched certain applications upon insertion (which was always annoying to begin with) and could cause some nasty problems--including file deletion. Some commercial printers and prepress shops we used at the time told us they had lost a lot of files thanks to these worms. Since I was our de facto IT person at the time (only because no one else wanted to do it) I had to run out to Comp USA and pick up Virex and ultimately found that about half our computers were infected. Ever since then, I have tried to remain ever-vigilant, and not fall into the Mac-smugness trap.

It's true, though, that the new strain(s) of Mac viruses depend on user error to cause trouble--but then so do the majority of Windows viruses.

Monday, February 20, 2006


A Wired editor rails against the dying of the light:
It doesn't matter whether you're reading your local rag, surfing the net or trying to make heads or tails of someone's inane blog -- the quality bar is set lower than ever, which is saying a lot considering it was never set very high to begin with.

But I'll save the critical examination of my profession for another column. Today, I want to talk about one of the byproducts of all this mediocrity. Today I want to talk about the all-out assault on the English language and the role technology plays in that unprovoked and dastardly attack. I especially want to talk about the ways dumbing down the language is not only seen as acceptable, but is tacitly encouraged as the status quo.

Any number of my acquaintances excuse the bad writing and atrocious punctuation that proliferates in e-mail by saying, in essence, "Well, at least people are writing again." Horse droppings. People have never stopped writing, although it's reaching a point where you wish a lot of them would.

The very nature of e-mail (which, along with first cousins IM and text messaging, is an undeniably handy means of chatting) encourages sloppy "penmanship," as it were. Its speed and informality sing a siren song of incompetent communication, a virtual hooker beckoning to the drunken sailor as he staggers along the wharf.

But it's not enough to simply vomit out of your fingers. It's important to say what you mean clearly, correctly and well. It's important to maintain high standards. It's important to think before you write.
I can sympathize but, to quote Elvis Costello, "I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused."

The Internet age is certainly taking its toll on the English language (although, I hasten to add, it's taking a toll on the version of the English language I/we grew up with--I'll explain what I mean by that in a minute). Perhaps I'm more picayune than most--I agonize over spelling and punctuation (and capitalization, though everyone else be shiftless) even in Instant Messaging, but, hey, I was an English major and spelling and grammar are the only skills I have! Please don't take them away from me! But I can get sloppy, and if you read this blog I'm sure you'll find a few typos or instances of "creative" sentence construction.

There is an interesting historical comment to be made here, in that it was the advent of printing (in particular, the installation of the first printing press in England by William Caxton in 1476) that more or less standardized the English language in the first place. If new media are undoing what print started--well, insert your own Ludditish comments here.

What we need to be aware of is that English is unique in that it is a living language that really has no codified standards unlike, say, French, in which there is a central academy that constantly monitors the language and decides if and how the language can change. English is constantly changing and evolving--read a book written in the mid-20th century and see if the language matches that of today's books. Then try one from the 19th century, or the 18th century. Then try Shakespeare. (Who, by the way, is estimated by scholars to have coined--that is, made up--more than 2,000 words, many of which have become commonly used "official" English words.) (Here's one for the Eats, Shoots & Leaves fans: even Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence got the "its" and "it's" business confused and inconsistent. So all this is nothing new and is no reflection of basic intellect.) This is why English is such a notoriously difficult language to learn--and I applaud any foreigner who has made the attempt.* Also remember, until the 18th or even 19th century, English was considered a second-rate language anyway--it was a "vulgar" tongue used by the unwashed masses; for serious writers, Latin was the tongue of choice.

One of my favorite writers, Bill Bryson, has a brace of books on the history of the English language (The Mother Tongue and Made in America) that should be required reading for anyone who thinks that English has a carved-in-stone set of spelling and grammar standards.

And let's not forget that people have been making these same complaints about "sloppy" English for decades.

Obviously, we do need some standards in writing and speaking, but for a very prosaic reason: language is about communication. If we're all making up our own language, what does that do to our ability to communicate with others? At the same time, if the language does continue to evolve, and younger people are driving that evolution (as they inevitably are), and they all understand each other, what does that do to those who stubbornly refuse to evolve with it, and their ability to communicate? I understand very few of the abbreviations used in "texting" and Instant Messaging, typically because I find them an abomination--but this means that I don't always get what people are saying to me. Am I shooting myself in the foot with this attitude? Probably. But I'm seeing my own IM behavior evolve--I've even started using those infernal smileys, beginning my long slide to hell.

Language will continue to evolve--as it always has. Those of us who stubbornly cling to some idealized past are just doing ourselves a disservice. Besides, it's better to be amused than disgusted.

Now to carefully proofread this post!

*A couple of years ago, I was sitting in the Albany train station, and a heavily accented Amtrak employee made an announcement about an incoming train. A few seats away, one of those xenophobic types grunted, "If you're gonna live here, why don't you learn the language." Well, actually, the guy had learned the language (and quite well, as far as I could tell), he just had an accent. I was doing the New York Times Crossword Puzzle at the time, and I was tempted to hand it to Mr. Xenophobe and have him finish it for me, seeing as he was apparently Noah Webster. But I valued my life, so I didn't.

Fillet of Soul

Via Marginal Revolution and their "markets in everything": rent your soul for $25. I swear I'm not making this up. It's as easy as 1-2:
Step 1: Describe your soul….the more info you give, the better chance you have at renting it.

Step 2: We put your soul up for rent in the surrounding spaces. If someone rents it, we’ll send you the $25 at the PayPal address you supplied. It really is THAT simple! Don’t worry, according to the rental terms, your soul will automatically be yours again after three months, then you can rent it again, or keep it for eternity.
Which of course begs the question: what does someone do with a rented soul? And can there really be a flat rate for souls? Shouldn't some be worth more than others?


OK, yes, but:
A Letcher County woman suffered a horrible injury early Thursday when her arm was severed in a car crash on the Mountain Parkway in Clark County.

Jacqueline Dotson and her six-year-old daughter had to be cut out of their vehicle after the accident in which Dotson veered into the median and over-corrected, rolling her truck over the guardrail and landing upside down after flipping several times.

Several people stopped to help, and it turns out, the good samaritans may very well have saved Dotson's life. Sheila Vice, a nurse's aide, and an off-duty EMT from another county stopped to help, and put a tourniquet on Dotson's arm to stop the bleeding. Her arm was found near the accident still clutching a cell phone.
[Heavy sigh.] Do I even need to say it?

The Man with the Power

Update on the power situation: I returned home from Syracuse Sunday at about 3:00 and the power was back and all pipes were intact. Whew!

I had called NiMo (sorry, National Grid) before leaving for home and I knew things were better because I had no trouble getting a live human.

The other good news was that SU beat Louisville 79-66. (It was turning--and may yet still turn--into one of those basketball seasons that make me want to go to grad school just to find another alma mater to root for.)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

I Need Power!

Greetings from Syracuse, NY.

On Friday, February 17, a massive windstorm blew through upstate New York and at noon, my power went out. And stayed out. And continued to stay out. National Grid (formerly Niagara Mohawk) said more than 205,000 customers had been affected and that for those in the Saratoga region, power would probably not be restored until Saturday night, possibly even Sunday night. Oy.

So I took a trip into town in the afternoon and the damage was extensive. Route 50 (the main thoroughfare from my house to town) was closed becuse trees had come down, requiring my taking a circuitous (and heavily congested) route. (In the State Park, a park worker was killed when a pine tree fell and crushed the cab of the truck he was sitting in.) No traffic lights were working. The only businesses in town that had any power were the ones that had their own generators--which was basically Price Chopper and Lowe's and that's it. Traffic was a nightmare but, to everyone's credit, they behaved courteously (though are are always a few self-important dickweeds in a hurry.) Last night, a friend came over and, hearing there was power in Clifton Park, we headed down there to find food.

Naturally, no power means no heat, and as Friday night went on I watched the thermostat in the house fall. When I got up this morning, it was 45 degrees in the house. Happily, this was the weekend that we had tickets to a Syracuse basketball game--because, given that temps were supposed to be in the single digits tonight, I did not relish the thought of another heatless night.

So hopefully the power will be back when I return Sunday afternoon, and that my pipes will not have frozen and burst.

According to the meteorologists, the fierce wind was the result of the balmy, spring-like weather we had last week colliding head on with an Arctic cold front swooping in. Or, as they kept saying on the radio, this was our payment for the nice weather.

And you know (Mr. Radio Station Programmer), it would be nice to be able to turn on the local news radio station and actually hear news about what is going on in the area and not Rush Limbaugh droning about whatever idiocy he usually drones on about.

All this is to say, I may be hard to reach for the next couple of days.

However, score one for "offline media." Nothing else may have worked, but printed books worked fine, and I got to spend a pleasant afternoon yesterday reading.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Whine and Cheese

Dr. Joe waxes wroth (and don't think Roth is happy about it) about the PIA/GATF response to:
the proposal by the SEC to allow companies to distribute and conduct business electronically, and not print all of those annoying proxies, reports, etc. that come to clutter my and others mail
the PIA/GATF response being:
Printing annual reports and proxy materials accounts for a huge volume of work produced by our industry, which employs more than 1.2 million workers nationwide. As an industry, we are concerned not only about the negative impacts this proposed rule could have on the jobs associated with printing, but with the harm it could bring to our vendors and suppliers as well.
Would you like a little cheese with that whine? Sez the Doctor:
Our industry sounds like a barrier to progress, protecting decidedly outmoded means of commuications [sic], when it actually needs a good swift kick in the behind. We're already being referred to as "offline media" and reference to us as "legacy media" has been common in recent years. I'd rather be putting out a story about how our companies are already on top of this issue. After all, EDGAR, the electronic reporting service of the SEC has been around for about 20 years. Why do I suspect that FedEx/Kinkos might already be salivating at the prospect of being an approved outlet for ondemand SEC documents?
What should they have said instead?
"PIA/GATF members have invested heavily in the latest, most innovative ondemand printing technologies that SEC-reporting companies and investment intermediaries can use in the many circumstances where hard copy is needed and preferred. We are working with the SEC and the Postal Service to ensure that any barriers to prompt acceptance, production, and delivery of financial documents are eliminated so that companies and shareholders can benefit from the speed of modern communications, the reduced costs that companies can re-invest in core operations, and the enhanced function of an informed investor marketplace. We want to be sure that PIA/GATF member companies have the latest information they need to participate in this critical aspect of shareholder rights and protections."
Coulda woulda shoulda.

I Bet It Was No Boating Accident

Peter Benchley, whose novel "Jaws" made millions think twice about stepping into the water even as the author himself became an advocate for the conservation of sharks, has died at age 65, his widow said Sunday.

Orwell That Ends Well

This is a little creepy, but I suspect it's going to be the future:
An Ohio company has embedded silicon chips in two of its employees - the first known case in which US workers have been “tagged” electronically as a way of identifying them.

Hats Off to Harper

Could this represent a (if not the) future of book publishing?
HarperCollins is trying out a new model for selling books: the publishing division of News Corp. made the entire text of a new business book available free on the Web.

Go It Alone! The Secret to Building a Successful Business on Your Own, by Bruce Judson, can be found at the author’s Web site,

In an additional departure from the bookselling norm, the title is also an advertising vehicle, with different ads appearing on every one of its more than 200 Web pages. Ad revenue will ultimately be shared between the author and the publisher.
Ah, but wait:
Visitors to the site are also urged to buy a copy of the book by clicking on a link to

The question is: will people choose to read books this way, or will they want to print it out and read a hard copy (that's probably not going to be cheaper than buying the book, but it does solve the "I want it now" nature of on-demand delivery of content)? Or will they just use this as a sort of "Look Inside" way of evaluating a book before buying it?

If I had to guess (and, well, I supposed I have to), the "Look Inside" approach will be the first, but my suspicion is that, as time goes on, people will just skim online books and not read them in their entirety anyway. This of course presupposes that publishers will be doing more of this kind of thing--and I just don't see that happening.

Then again, HarperCollins' approach isn't a million miles removed from what we all use the Web for anyway--we're just talking about longer documents, but when read in short bursts, comes back to everyday Web access. After all, what difference does it make if I go to and read the top story(ies) every day or go to a book's Web site and read a chapter a day? It's the same basic thing. As for the idea of "saving a copy" for later use/reference, sure I can print it (or buy it), but more likely I'll link to it on this blog--with my own "marginal notes" added (now you see the method to my madness!).

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I think the whole relationship that we as a culture have with books is changing. This isn't just due to the Internet; radio, movies, and TV created whole generations of people who just don't read books (or don't read that many of them), and now the Internet, VOD, and other new media are just exacerbating that. And when you look at how younger people (and even older people these days) multitask--well, books are a hard medium to multitask with. At least magazine content is in smaller chunks that more easily lend themselves to being interrupted when an IM comes through or while watching TV, or listing to an iPod...or whatever else is going on at the same time. My suspicion is that we're going to start seeing books become more snippet-like--or written/presented/produced in a way that lends itself to integration in a multitasked media environment. Of course, if e-paper-based e-books take off, that will make them interactive, which will only make the integration that much easier.

The Only Flame [War] In Town

Sez Wired:
According to recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, I've only a 50-50 chance of ascertaining the tone of any e-mail message. The study also shows that people think they've correctly interpreted the tone of e-mails they receive 90 percent of the time.

"That's how flame wars get started," says psychologist Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago, who conducted the research with Justin Kruger of New York University. "People in our study were convinced they've accurately understood the tone of an e-mail message when in fact their odds are no better than chance," says Epley.
"People often think the tone or emotion in their messages is obvious because they 'hear' the tone they intend in their head as they write," Epley explains.

At the same time, those reading messages unconsciously interpret them based on their current mood, stereotypes and expectations. Despite this, the research subjects thought they accurately interpreted the messages nine out of 10 times.
I think there is a larger point here, too, which is that as a culture we are transitioning back to being writing-based, after a century of us being primarily oral--or telephone--based. After all, we're used to using tone of voice (both broad and subtle), facial expressions, body language, and other clues to help us interpret what someone says to us. With e-mail and Instant Messaging, we don't have that, especially when we're communicating with someone we don't know very well. Thus, there is the tendency to "fill in" that missing information with our own--often with dangerous consequences.

And one big reason we don't always correctly interpret the tone of what's written to us is that very often the person doing the writing hasn't done a good job of giving us any clues to that interpretation (yes, I curse those infernal smileys, but I grudgingly admit that I find them helpful--both in reading and writing notes, especially via Instant Messaging, and especially for someone overly enamored of sarcasm). People laugh at me for laboring over e-mail missives (and especially Instant Messages--which for me are often anything but "instant") but I like to think that the care in composition I try to put in helps avoid misunderstandings (and thus flame wars). This isn't always the case, I've found, but I do try.
E-mail and IM have proven to be invaluable--both professionally and personally--for effortlessly keeping in touch with people (especially for someone who is not a telephone junkie like myself) and of course for faciliating quick, dashed-off missives. Unfortunately, that dashed-off-ness sometimes leads to trouble.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Electric Aunt Jemima tackles one of the most pressing scientific questions of the day: can you swim faster in water than in syrup?
the answer's no. Scientists have filled a swimming pool with a syrupy mixture and proved it.
Quod erat demonstrandum, baby.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Bee Seeing You

The niece Lucy Bee is now three weeks old. Some new pix:
Lucy vs. cat:
Don't know what this is, but I hasten to add I didn't get it for her (wish I had, though)!
Brother Robert and daughter:

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Sign of the Times

Hey: newspaper publishing news that sounds pretty good:
The New York Times Co. said Wednesday that January advertising revenues for its business units rose 3%, while total revenue increased 3% as well, compared with January 2005.
That's not too ba--...Oh, wait:
However, excluding, which the Times acquired in March 2005, ad revenue decreased 0.3% while total revenue increased 0.7%.

Ad revenue for the New York Times Media Group, which includes the flagship New York Times, decreased 0.8%....
Oops. And the kicker:
The Internet continues to generate solid gains for the company, with ad revenue up 22%, with strong growth in display and classified advertising. Ad revenue for skyrocketed 124% in January, due to strong growth in cost-per-click advertising.

Tooth or Consequences

Speaking of silly (or perhaps sadistic) things, doesn't this seem like something out of Marathon Man?
Fluorinex Active has come up with a device that uses an electrical current to help keep cavities away. Using 6-9 volts of electricity, the fluoride-based gel that sits in the tray of the gadget is ionized, then forms a protective layer over your teeth that should last for 5 whole years.
As an added bonus, if you wear it while sitting in your backyard on a summer night, you'll zap all the mosquitoes in the area, too.

Tripping Over the Light Fantastic

Via Dr. Joe, the silliest thing I've seen in a long time: USB slippers! You know: to keep your feet warm.

I can see me now: I've got my slippers hooked up to my computer, the doorbell rings, I unthinkingly leap up to answer it...wham! A trip either to the emergency room and/or the Apple Store's repair center.

I think I'll wait for Bluetooth slippers.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pay Phones

Oh, I don't know...
At the Demo '06 conference here on Wednesday, two companies presented services that they positioned as ways to handle secure payments while on the go without physical credit cards, cash or checks.

The first, Portland, Ore.-based PayWi, demonstrated how its service can let people pay for just about anything with their mobile phones.

The idea, explained PayWi CEO Dave Barram, is that consumers would sign up online, provide their personal and payment information, and then be able to use their account from anywhere, at any time, to settle a bill.
Another company presenting here, Pay By Touch also asserts that physical credit cards are obsolete.

Its service, which it said is deployed at two of the five largest American grocery chains, lets consumers pay for purchases by simply touching a finger scanner and entering a PIN.

Like with PayWi, the idea is that people sign up ahead of time and provide the necessary personal and financial information.

Then, they use a finger scanner at home or work to submit their fingerprint to the system.
I suspect that pay-by-cellphone (or something like it) will be the way things go. As for Pay By Touch--can I choose which finger to use?

Uh, Oh...

If "offline media" weren't bad enough, now print is being called "legacy media"! Some food for thought at the Publishing 2.0 blog on "Shifting the Economic Center of Gravity in Media." Two fundamental problems are addressed:
1. You are print publisher whose audience is rapidly shifting to the online version of your publication, but your print/online ad revenue mix does not reflect your print/online audience mix. Your advertisers are still paying more for your print advertising on a CPM basis, despite your delivering more media value online in terms of both audience and accountability. Your online advertising is more profitable, but only because it gets content “for free” from your print editorial operation.

How do you shift the center of gravity online without upsetting the apple cart?

2. You are a cable network watching the emergence of on-demand digital video. Your business is built around advertising, which depends on controlling the distirbution channel, and on content fees, which is based on cable TV bundling. You realize that you can likely reach more people with your content by making it available digitally and on-demand.

If you give up control of distribution, will your content fees make up for the loss of ad revenue? Or can you figure out how to bundle advertising with your distributed content?

They Call me MISTER PIB

Since I'm lazy, I'll let Dr. Joe adjust for inflation, but sez Folio:
Advertising revenue for consumer magazines was relatively flat in January, according to the latest report from the Publishers Information Bureau. Ad pages, however, dipped 1.9 percent compared to the same month in 2005.
And things continue to go well for TV Guide:
TV Guide, however, celebrated its first January not digest-sized with just over $13 million in PIB revenue (down over $23 million from January 2005) on 75.27 ad pages—some 130 less than the 206 it opened with last year.

Landscape Portrait

Via Folio, AOL prez sez:
“All e-media content will be available on-demand in five years.”

AOL Media President Michael Kelly...surveyed the digital media landscape coming off a particularly busy year for AOL in 2005—one that included a transition from a subscription-based model to a free one, AOL’s $25 million buy of Weblogs Inc., and Google’s purchase of a $1 billion stake in AOL. He broadly outlined the future of online advertising and factors driving its growth—like search and consumer-generated content. Kelly pointed to the popularity of,, craigslist and AOL’s Instant Messenger as powerful examples of consumer-produced content.

“It’s a little frightening,” Kelly said of “It’s also very cool.” Craiglist’s 19 employees, he said, are generating $25 million in revenue by creating a “powerful emotional” connection to its users, something magazine publishers have in print, but in large part have yet to figure out online.

Kelly said that online video-on-demand has revolutionized the way marketers—and content producers—look at the Web. AOL’s partnership with last year’s Live Aid Concert, he said, generated 90,000,000 VOD viewings after the concert. That type of scale “makes your brain hurt a little bit.”

Drive In Saturday

OK, you may think you have the widest wide-screen TV, but get ready for ridiculous-size TVs:
an inflatable home theater screen that’s 20 feet wide and 12 feet tall. The centerpiece of this set is the VersaStretch screen, which has an inflatable frame with a powerful blower that will let you set it up within five minutes, complete with ropes to secure it should a strong wind pick up during your feature presentation. Plus, it supports both rear- or front-projection.

Now available on eBay for $11,995, there are four of these systems available, and include not only that unique screen, but an HDTV projector and a self-powered sound system with a pair of 300-watt speakers along with a 400-watt subwoofer.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Related to the topic of e-paper is that of flexible displays (e-paper is essentially a flexible display). Several technologies are being developed to do different things with e-paper, but OLED (organic light emitting diode) is one technology that has the potential to add rich media capabilities (like video and animation). (One other big e-paper technology--E-Ink--is strictly a mechanical process that doesn't easily lend itself to the fast refresh rate required by video.)

Anyway, Gizmodo today has an item from the Fifth Annual Flexible Displays and Microelectronics Conference (yes, there actually is such a thing---wish I had known about it). There was a
prototype of a full color active matrix OLED display from Universal Display Corporation. The display is 4-inches diagonal, .04-inches thick and .2 ounces, and runs full motion video using metal foil, which the company says helps thermal and mechanical durability.

And it rolls up. Neat.
Check out the image at the link--it does indeed roll up into a pen-like object.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Not Getting With the Program

This blog post is right on the money: network execs see that The Office is the number one iTunes TV show download and then decide to schedule their Thursday night lineup around it. Um...hello? It's a popular download because the show's fans don't care about time slots. In fact, the reason I have been downloading episodes of Lost is because I can't remember when or what channel it's on and, besides, I'd much rather watch it when I feel like watching it, not when whatever network it's on tells me to watch it.

That said, there are limitations (at least at the moment) to downloading TV shows: the compression rate needed to make digital video downloadable really compromises image quality. Even on my 15-inch Powerbook, Lost doesn't look that great (lots of pixellation) and if I ever got a wide screen TV I'd hate to think how it would look if I hooked my Powerbook up to it.

But this is where DVDs come in. I recently installed a surround sound speaker system and with all the sci-fi shows/movies I like, I find that the DVD versions really take advantage of it. It would be hard (at least at the moment) to replicate this way cool experience with downloads.

Oscar, Oscar, Oscar

For you statistical nerds out there, someone has taken a statistical approach to predicting the Oscar winners this year. I don't entirely understand it, but here is the basic idea:
How easy is it to predict the winners? That's the question that decision scientist Iain Pardoe of the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon tackles in the current issue of Chance. He focuses on predicting the winners of the four major awards—picture, director, actor in a leading role, and actress in a leading role—from those nominated each year.

"Although many in the media (as well as movie-loving members of the public) make their own annual predictions," Pardoe notes, "it appears that very few researchers have conducted a formal statistical analysis for this purpose."

A wide variety of factors could serve as predictors, including other Oscar category nominations, previous nominations and wins, and other (earlier) movie awards. To tease out which ones are most significant and create a model for making predictions, Pardoe turned to a technique known as discrete choice modeling.

In a discrete choice model, an outcome is the result of several decisions—a sequence of choices—made among a finite set of alternatives by individuals in the population under consideration. The probabilities are calculated using a so-called multinomial logit model.

The Oscars have been awarded every year since 1928. Pardoe used data from years up to 1938 to make predictions for 1939, then cumulative data for each succeeding year.
If you're interested, check out the link. I'm actually ahead of the game this year: I've actually seen two of the movies that have been nominated for Best Picture (usually I see none): Good Night and Good Luck (highly recommended) and Brokeback Mountain (zzzzzz). Shameless plug: if you're in the Albany/Saratoga area and want to come to a good party, the Saratoga Film Forum (of which I am a Board member) is hosting its annual Oscar Night Gala. More info here.

A Toast to...Toast!

Oh, I don't know:
The Radical Six Part Toaster rotates and heats the toast in single compartments. The compartments lift from the main assembly and swing open to allow toast to keep warm and crisp on its hot plates. The toaster is ideal for homeowners that are inspired by contemporary touches in their living space, making an inspiring centrepiece to the dinner table.

Shop Till Your Robot Drops

Sez Gizmodo:
NTT Communications is teaming with Tmsuk to test a RFID-controlled shopping assistant robot at a mall in Fukuoka. Basically the robot reads millions of RFID tags that are embedded into the floor of the mall, collecting information about everything in the shops. It works by having the shopper select a store/product destination, the robot will then direct the shopper to said store and then provide information about the store and its myriad contents. The robot also has a safe lock-box for valuables.
I actually think this is a pretty good idea...Lowe's (or Home Depot) and your average supermarket could use something like that--actual humans are hard to come by, and it's not always easy to find things. But here's an even better idea--robotic shopping carts (the image I have is Robby the Robot driving that cart in Forbidden Planet) that can easily lead you to where items are, as well as tote them around for you. Of course, there is always the worrisome thought of giving robots unfettered access to nail guns should a robot holocaust break out. Maybe I've been getting too into the new Battlestar Galactica series, but look what happened with the Cylons. It could happen here....

Let It Bee

Lucy Bee turned 2 weeks old on Saturday. Here she is, avec bee.

Let the Backlash Begin

This was fast:
America Online's plan to start charging businesses to send commercial e-mail messages is creating an uproar among some marketers, according to a published report.

Some marketers argue AOL's certified e-mail system, which would charge advertisers $2 to $3 per 1,000 messages, is a form of e-mail taxation, USA Today said.

According to the newspaper, AOL is teaming up with technology firm Goodmail Systems to offer a certified e-mail system in a bid to reduce spam.


Everyone associated with the advertising and marketing industry is weighing in on last night's Superbowl--or, more specifically, the commercials. After all, the game (like most Superbowls) pretty much sucked (and what was up with the officiating?). Ad industry guru Bob Garfield offers his critiques at Ad Age. I'm with him in being slightly appalled at Kermit the Frog whoring for Ford, but then again when people start questioning the ethics of sock puppets, perhaps it's time for the van to come.

I always enjoy watching the Superbowl with a crowd; last year, I was in a crowded sports bar and everyone talked during the game itself, but got real quiet when the commercials came on. This year, I was at a party at a friend's house, and we all watched the commercials, but not with rapt attention. I was less appalled by them this year than last year; happily they were a bit less scatological and generally upsetting. (Very violent, though. As CG effects get cheaper and easier to produce, it's easier to integrate cartoon violence with live action--which is more disturbing than cartoon violence that is obviously a cartoon.)

We all agreed, though, that the tagline "brown and bubbly" doesn't exactly make Diet Pepsi appealing (the phrase reminded me of sewage). There was one disturbing commercial about a "nude sheep" that reminded someone at the party of Brokeback Mountain (I didn't fall asleep during the commercial, so I didn't make the connection).

There weren't any ads that I particularly liked, and I maybe chuckled slightly at one or two. Then again, I'm probably not the target audience for a sports broadcast anyway. (And no commercial, however clever, will ever change my opinion that Bud Lite is anything but vile, tasteless swill.)

What I suppose I find most upsetting (and this is true of commercials in general) is that they all seem to feature really stupid or really selfish people. There is just this cynical harshness to commercials these days--perhaps it's reflective of how increasingly sociopathic we're all becoming. (Advertising doesn't have to be this way--I remember a campaign from the 70s where you were encouraged to buy more than one of something and share it with others.)

The party started to break up after halftime, which is when I left (and when I got home only had the game on in the background as I talked to a friend on the phone so wasn't paying much attention). As for the Rolling Stones...I've never been much of a Stones fan, but my sense is if you're 62 (Mick Jagger's age) and you still can't get no satisfaction, perhaps it's time to just cut your losses and stop trying. It seemed like a poor choice for a halftime show--I think something Motown-related (they were in Detroit, after all) would have been more appropriate.

Bottle Battles

"This battle with the bottle is nothing so novel" (Elvis Costello):
[M]any consumers associate bottled water with healthy living.

More fool us.

''Bottled water is not guaranteed to be any healthier than tap water. In fact, roughly 40 percent of bottled water begins as tap water; often the only difference is added minerals that have no marked health benefit,'' [environmental think tank the Earth Policy Institute (EPI)] said.
To be sure, many municipal water systems have run afoul of government water quality standards--driving up demand for bottled water as a result. But according to the study, ''in a number of places, including Europe and the United States, there are more regulations governing the quality of tap water than bottled water.''

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets more stringent quality standards for tap water than does the Food and Drug Administration for the bottled stuff, it added.
Funny--everyone was screaning bloody murder when gas prices went up last summer, but:
At up to $2.50 per liter ($10 per gallon), bottled water costs more than gasoline in the United States.
I never buy bottled water; never have. I don't have any complaints about my tap water (and who can tell the difference when it's been run through a coffeemaker?) and a simple Brita water filtration pitcher does a fairly good job (to the extent that I can even tell) of addressing whatever meager purity concerns I have. And from what I've read elswhere (as mentioned in the current article), there is no guarantee that bottled water is any "purer," so it seems like a needless expense to me. Besides, if people get accustomed to the idea of paying through the nose for something as basic as water, what will happen when companies start selling bottled air? Then we'll really start paying through the nose, as it were.

People who have concerns about their tap water should put more effort into getting public utilities to address the problem. After all:
Tap water comes to us through an energy-efficient infrastructure whereas bottled water must be transported long distances--and nearly one-fourth of it across national borders--by boat, train, airplane, and truck.
More fossil fuels are used in packaging the water. Most water bottles are made with polyethylene terephthalate, a plastic derived from crude oil. ''Making bottles to meet Americans' demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel some 100,000 U.S. cars for a year,'' Arnold said.

Worldwide, some 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year.

Once it has been emptied, the bottle must be dumped. According to the Container Recycling Institute, 86 percent of plastic water bottles used in the United States become garbage or litter.

The Secret Storm

I could have told you this, but only after convening a committee to discuss it:
Time and again research has shown that people think of more new ideas on their own than they do in a group. The false belief that people are more creative in groups has been dubbed by psychologists the ‘illusion of group of productivity”. But why does this illusion persist?

Bernard Nijstad and colleagues at the University of Amsterdam argue it’s because when we’re in a group, other people are talking, the pressure isn’t always on us and so we’re less aware of all the times that we fail to think of a new idea. By contrast, when we’re working alone and we can’t think of anything, there’s no avoiding the fact that we’re failing...

The researchers said “We suggest that working in a group may lead to a sense of continuous activity. This may provide group members with the idea that they are productive, because they feel that the group as a whole is making progress, even if they themselves are not contributing”.

Other possible reasons for why people think they work better in groups include ‘memory confusion’, the idea that after working in groups people subsequently mistake other people’s ideas for the own, and ‘social comparison’, the idea that in groups people are able to see how difficult everyone else has found it to come up with ideas too.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Bringing Home the Bacon

If you scroll down, at some point I posted about how medical scientists have developed the ability to produce brain cells on an inkjet printer. For my money, here's something even better: the ability to "print" bacon on an inkjet printer. I swear I'm not making this up. From Livescience:
Ink-jet printing has come a long way; we used to use it for what was called "hard copy." Soon, you will be able to use a modified ink-jet printer to make yourself some breakfast.

Tissue engineers like Vladimir Mironov of the Medical University of South Carolina, and Thomas Boland of Clemson University, have been printing biomaterials with modified ink-jet printers.

The cartridges are washed out and refilled with suspensions of living cells; the software that controls the characteristics of the ink is reprogrammed and you're good to go. Boland and Mironov use layers of "thermo-reversable" gel to build up three-dimensional structures like tubes—capillaries, to use the medical term. When the tiny droplets, or clumps, of cells came together closely, they fused; the gel can be easily removed, leaving a tube of tissue.

Just as printers contain inks of different colors, so tissue printers could contain different cell types to create complex structures.

Now, it seems to me that a tube or complex living organ is a pretty complicated structure. Why not practice with a simpler, more two-dimensional form of muscle tissue—like bacon, for instance? Nothing like fresh bacon.

Artificially cultivated meat is a USDA-certified science-fictional idea. In his slightly creepy 1969 novel Whipping Star, science fiction phenomenon Frank Herbert wrote about pseudoflesh, meat protein that was produced apart from an animal:

"Where would they get a real steer?"
"There are some around for story props in the various entertainment media, that sort of thing. A few of the outback planets where they haven't the technology for pseudoflesh still raise cattle for food."
(Read more about Frank Herbert's pseudoflesh)

Take a look at Cultured Meat Straight From The Vat for yet another promising technology. See also Replacement organs hot off the press.

Angel's Shareware?

Well, this is certainly appropriate: someone built a PC inside a whiskey bottle.
Ironic, though: usually it's the PC user who ends up inside a whiskey bottle.

ISPs Go Postal

Saw this one coming. Sez the New York Times:
Companies will soon have to buy the electronic equivalent of a postage stamp if they want to be certain that their e-mail will be delivered to many of their customers.

America Online and Yahoo, two of the world's largest providers of e-mail accounts, are about to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to messages from companies that pay from 1/4 of a cent to a penny each to have them delivered. The senders must promise to contact only people who have agreed to receive their messages, or risk being blocked entirely.

The Internet companies say that this will help them identify legitimate mail and cut down on junk e-mail, identity-theft scams and other scourges that plague users of their services. They also stand to earn millions of dollars a year from the system if it is widely adopted.
On the face of it, it's hard to really complain too much about this--the postal analogy is quite apt: if you don't want to pay a lot to send something, you can send it an el cheapo way and pray that it arrives. Companies eagerly started using the much more expensive FedEx in the 80s (or maybe even the 70s--it's all a blur at this point) when something "absolutely, positively had to get there overnight." What I find troubling, though, is that this can lead in dangerous directions; the great thing about the Internet is the idea of "data-neutrality" and once big companies can control what data is sent and to whom, then the party's over and it'll be time to go offline.

In the end, though, I guess it's just a shame that all the hackers and spammers and other fracking morons out there in cyberspace had to ruin a great thing for the rest of us. If there is a hell, let's hope its fires await them.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Robbery, Assault, and Batteries

Duracell has announced a band new product launch. Check it out:
Duracell is coming out with a product called PowerPix, which is simply a disposable digital camera battery that it says will let you take up to twice as many images as ordinary alkaline batteries. Using NiOx texhnology [sic], a Nickel Oxy Hydroxide formulation, it will specifically be marketed for digital cameras and found in AA and AAA sizes.
Hooray--in the age of rechargeable batteries, Duracell has reinvented the disposable battery! Ain't technology grand?

Parallel Universes

As someone who cannot parallel park to save his life (heck, I'm bad enough at perpendicular parking), I'm cautiously intrigued by a new idea from Siemens:
What is a bigger problem than finding a parking space, squezzing [sic] your car in that tiny space without leaving your paint on the other car. This may seem straight from a Sci-Fi movie but a technology being developed by Siemens VDO called "Park Mate" not only finds you parking space, but automatically parks your car too. Sensors automatically measure a row of parked cars and alert the driver when there is space large enough for your car. Then a chime is played asking the driver to stop and then the Park Mate takes control over the car. It steers the car itself into the small gap and parks.
Oh, I don't know.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Think digital workflows and PDF (etc.) are streamlining the publishing process? As technologies per se, they are, but, according to Folio, it's turning out to be a zero sum game:
Despite the influx of technologies that should make magazine workflow easier, the process of producing a magazine and bringing together all the components—editing, advertising, art—and sending it in a workable file to the printer is getting no less difficult or complicated. With stricter budgets causing many staffs to shrink, offline freelancers are relied upon more than ever before and that creates a less watchful eye over the workflow process.

Taking Issue With the Web

Open wide the floodgates. Sez Folio:
If this week is any indication, it seems publishers are beginning to move past talking about the Web in 2006 to actually producing stuff to talk about. New online product announcements—from Ziff Davis, Penton, Inc. and New York, among others—ranged from core to cosmetic, but the fault-lines along which publishers are moving are utterly clear.

Earlier this week, Ziff Davis launched, a site targeting entrepreneurs, owners and technology professionals at small businesses. The company is designing the site with all of e-media’s bells and whistles: “SMBcasts, live interactive Web-based seminars on new technology and products; a weekly email newsletter, constant updates via RSS feed, and podcasts and video offerings are planned.”

On Tuesday, Penton Media launched CFO-targeted, tapping into the buzzed-about online vertical search market.

Also Tuesday, New York relaunched its five-year-old website—the former URL-brand-confused—at, promising “more original content to be phased in throughout 2006, a more navigable design, and expanded search and listings capabilities.”

“My goal is for to have a strong relationship to the printed magazine, but it will not be identical,” said New York editor-in-chief Adam Moss of the launch, echoing a publishing sentiment as redundant as it is appropriate.

Mansueto Ventures' Inc. rolled out a redesigned site on Wednesday that had been in the works for months, the company said. A redesign for Fast Company’s site is also slated.

The Hourglass Has No More Grains of Sand

The Germans have invented a digital hourglass. But why?
The hourglass is set by holding it in both hands and tilting it in a up to 45° angle. One hour of sleep is represented by one LED (which, at night, makes it possible to either read or estimate the time left to stay in bed). Once it stands on a surface in a 90° (or 270°) angle, it is activated. It also has a 5 minute snooze function, which is activated by simply turning it upside down once the alarm goes off. To turn off the hourglass, it has to be put down horizontally - it rolls onto its display then (because of the batteries’ position) and goes into stand-by.
As I understand it (and I don't), the goal is to focus on the total amount of sleep you get, and not on what time you wake up (although I would think the two would be inextricably related). Still, I think I'd be too obsessed with figuring out how the hourglass worked to get any sleep.

Someday My Prints Will Come

Anyone who wants to get really depressed should head on over to Dr. Joe's blog and check out December's printing shipments data. A highlight (or lowlight, if you will):
the Internet age has devastated the most important quarter of the print business' year. December 2005 printing shipments were down -9.3%. The...year started to deteriorate beginning in June. Month by month the fourth quarter just got worse. What does it mean? It looks like next year will be about $5 billion less commercial printing.

Chain Lighting

Do you love your Wi-Fi-enabled digital picture frame, but wish it were more portable? Well, then, try the Digital Photo Keychain:
a one-square-inch box that has a small backlit screen and displays images of your choice. Its 512Kb of flash memory is more than enough for photos, as long as they are in jpeg. It also includes a rechargeable lithium battery.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

What Hath God Wrought?

When's the last time anyone sent a telegram, anyway?
Effective January 27, 2006, Western Union will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging services. We regret any inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you for your loyal patronage. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact a customer service representative."

The decline of telegram use goes back at least to the 1980s, when long-distance telephone service became cheap enough to offer a viable alternative in many if not most cases. Faxes didn't help. Email could be counted as the final nail in the coffin.

Western Union has not failed. It long ago refocused its main business to make money transfers for consumers and businesses. Revenues are now $3 billion annually. It's now called Western Union Financial Services, Inc. and is a subsidiary of First Data Corp.