Thursday, May 18, 2006

Banking on a Vacation

For regular readers of this blog (both of you), I will be on holiday from May 19 to May 29, and will have absolutely no Internet access and, ergo, no blogging. Consider yourselves lucky! I will be gazing at the ocean on the Outer Banks of North Carolina--and the first person who mentions the printing industry to me while I'm away will get a live crab shoved in them.

I will leave you with one last item before heading out:

Robot Holocaust XI: Death From On High

Here it comes--a deadly whirl of scything blades!
a remote-controlled flying reconnaissance robot, as demonstrated by an AirRobot employee during the first European Robotik Fair (ELROB) in Hammelburg, Germany.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Robot Holocaust X--Elder Hostile

Headline of the day:
Robots eyed for elder care, bomb disposal
Let's hope the robots don't become confused...

"I Think It Would Be Fun to Run a Newspaper"

If you've got some spare cash in your pocket, you might want to consider buying a brace of Philadelphia newspapers:
Groups interested in submitting bids for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News face a Tuesday deadline to make their offers, according to a person familiar with the process.

McClatchy Co. agreed in March to pay $4.5 billion in cash and stock to acquire San Jose, Calif.-based Knight Ridder Inc., the parent company of the Inquirer and Daily News. The deal gave Sacramento, Calif.-based McClatchy 32 additional newspapers, but the company said it would sell 12 of them, mostly because they are in slower growing markets. The exception was the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press, which is being sold because of antitrust concerns.

Groups interested in buying the Philadelphia papers must submit their bids to Sacramento, Calif.-based McClatchy by Tuesday

Just So Much Hot Air

I've blogged about this before, but the idiotic idea of buying canned oxygen is starting to catch on even further:
Japanese convenience store operator Seven-Eleven Japan has breathed fresh air into its product lineup by announcing it will add cans of oxygen to its shelves.
The firm said it would make an entry into the rapidly expanding oxygen market and begin selling cans of oxygen on May 24.

Oxygen has emerged as a popular new product and sparked the creation of city "oxygen bars" that provide oxygen for customers to breathe in.
I wonder if they allow smoking in oxygen bars...

Dropping Calls

Nokia has seen the future of the cellphone and it is not a phone:
Harry Santamäki vows to take a sip of cod liver oil from the bottle on his desk if he ever utters the word phone.

That's odd, considering Santamäki works at Nokia, the largest mobile phone maker in the world.

"We are forbidden to call them phones," said the vice president of multimedia strategy and business development. Instead, they're "multimedia computers."

The decree reveals Nokia's vision of the cellphone future, one in which one device will manage your information, communication and entertainment needs — a single remote control of sorts for your electronic life.
I'd start chugging that cod liver oil, pal. I don't want my phone to run my life. All I want is to be able to make a phone call, which my crappy Verizon Wireless/Motorola cellphone refuses to do if the weather gets even remotely cloudy. So far, the only reliable phone I have ever encountered is my aunt's old wall-mounted rotary dial one from the 1960s (which she still has and which works perfectly). I have yet to use a phone--land or cell--that is an improvement on it.

Toys in the Attic

This is just wrong:
Fisher-Price Real Electronics for Preschoolers
We can't wait for you and your child to check out our real digital camera and digital music player designed exclusively for preschoolers. You'll be able to try them out right here through interactive demos, so stop back soon. But while you're here, keep reading to find out what makes them so exciting for kids as young as 3!
This is almost as bad as the toy store in Astoria, Queens, that in the early 90s had a little toy "My First Fax Machine" in the window--why wait until adulthood to turn your son or daughter into a joyless prole?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Print's Charming

Folio has a good editorial this month:
Why does it seem so hard for some publishers to understand the concept of magazine media as a brand-based business? Where print is a strong component, but only one of several.

At the Western Publications Association Conference last month, I sat in on the half-day Executive Management Workshop (which FOLIO: sponsored). One of the attendees challenged a speaker, saying that the additional work of an e-mail newsletter, or a Web site, means in effect, that you’re the publisher of not one but two magazines, or three—with all the production, marketing and staffing implications.

The next day, I was involved in a discussion with my luncheon tablemates about selling e-media. What struck me is that there is still a view that separate sales staffs ought to exist for print and e-media sales.

Later that evening, at the Maggie Awards reception, a publisher was describing his very successful e-media initiatives, but said at a prior company, the rep firm he was using complained that the publisher was “giving him too much stuff to sell.” To which the publisher artfully replied, “But you haven’t even made budget.”

People, this is really straightforward: Your readers are seeking and receiving information in many channels. You marginalize yourself if you think your business is print publishing.
In "The Right Way To Do Brand Extensions", publishing analyst Dan Aks argues for a rigorous model for developing brand extensions. He says, in part: “The goal is a shift from a magazine orientation into a ubiquitous, targeted, reader and advertiser-centric media enterprise. Why? First you have to accept there’s a problem. In the case of magazine publishers, the problem is we’re in a declining business.”

Those are pretty strong words. So why is it that in a survey of b-to-b publishing executives, 42 percent of our respondents receive no revenue from online media and 53 percent receive no revenue from events? Why is this so hard?

Cruel Shoes

This is just wrong:
Last year, adidas introduced the first running shoe to feature a computerized motor in the sole with the adidas 1. The computer is designed to sense the amount of cushioning a person needs with each step, depending on weight, surface and pace, and adjust the shoe accordingly. Since then, the sneaker has been upgraded, and the company has launched a new adidas 1 basketball shoe.
Computerized shoes?! Bringing new meaning to the term "rebooting."

But wait: it gets goofier:
European sneaker maker Puma is also following the technology trail. The Chapora sneaker from the company's Nuala collection, created for yoga enthusiasts, contains magnets in its soles for spiritual balance and holistic benefits.
Uh huh. And if one had metallic feet, that would mean something.


This is just weird:
Portable Dipstick to Measure Caffeine

...llamas and camels... both called camelids by scientists, are among the few whose immune systems produce antibodies that are not destroyed by hot coffee. We did not look into who figured that out or why.

Anyway, the researchers injected proteins linked to caffeine into the five beasts to elicit an immune response. The animals produced antibodies in their blood that were reactive to caffeine. Then in the lab, these antibodies were found to accurately indicate the amount of caffeine in hot coffee and also cold cola.

More work needs to be done to move the technique from the lab, via caffeine dipsticks. But that's the goal.
I guess that means it won't be long before I can stop taking my llama out to coffee shops.

Speaking of llamas, and who wouldn't want to speak of llamas, as pack animals they are not very strong and as a result, today's llama farms only allow small children to ride them. This fact also played a crucial role in the history of pre-Columbian cultures in South America--see Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. However, some time ago, Marginal Revolution featured a photo of a carving that purportedly showed how an adult Incan/Andea would ride a llama, by distributing their weight along the animal's back:
By the way, I would not recommend riding the Dalai Lama in this fashion.

Space Shot

Maybe it's just me, but this sounds like the kind of approach to space travel that would have been disproven by Wile E. Coyote:
Giant Slingshot: New Way to Space?

All space projects get into orbit pretty much the same way – by burning lots of rocket fuel, a spaceship powers itself past the sky. But what if there was a different approach? What if we could throw something so hard, it would wind up in space? At NASA's behest, Ed Schmidt and Mark Bundy of the Army Research Lab are looking at ways of firing projectiles into orbit.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Hark, The Herald's Angels Sing

We'll ignore for the moment that it's a crappy paper, but:
Herald faces array of options to keep Boston a two-paper town
On Monday, the Herald published a front-page message from Purcell in which the publisher declared, "The Boston Herald is here to stay."

The message followed the Herald's announcement that its parent, Herald Media, is selling its chain of suburban papers to an Illinois-based publisher.

GateHouse Media announced Monday it has agreed to buy substantially all the assets of two newspaper groups in a deal shifting ownership of many suburban Boston papers out of Massachusetts. GateHouse will acquire four dailies, 92 non-dailies and 25 specialty publications from a Herald Media subsidiary. Herald Media will lose revenue from the lucrative suburban papers, but gain cash from the sale to support the Herald.
The Boston Herald ownership's decision to sell off suburban newspapers leaves the metropolitan daily to chart a financial course on its own at a time of declining newspaper circulation and fewer U.S. cities with two dailies.

To survive against The Boston Globe in a city with a big appetite for news, the feisty Herald must continue to emphasize local coverage, reach out to younger readers and strike a different editorial tone than its larger rival, observers say.

But some outsiders say the Herald also may have to consider radical changes, including switching to free distribution or even abandoning newsprint a few years from now in favor of online-only distribution.

"What I would do is make the Herald a 21st Century tabloid newspaper-slash-information source, and put a lot of my focus online," said Tobe Berkovitz, associate dean of Boston University's College of Communication.

Berkovitz said such a move would address the importance of younger, Web-savvy readers to advertisers, and the high rate of Internet use in the Boston area.

Herald Publisher Patrick J. Purcell has said he's open to considering possible free print distribution for his tabloid paper, which sells for 50 cents apiece at newsstands.

While free distribution can draw advertisers looking for a wider audience, it's difficult to offset the loss of revenue from newsstand and subscription sales, said John Morton, of Morton Research Inc., which follows the news industry.

"It is, however, a new strategy that second newspapers in major metro markets can try, because all the other strategies to keep plugging away and relying on paid circulation haven't worked," Morton said.

The Herald's emphasis on shorter stories and local news could help win over readers who don't want the Globe's longer pieces, more serious tone and greater attention to national and international coverage, Morton said.

"Having differentiation is helpful for the second paper, but unfortunately it doesn't always make the difference," Morton said. "History is telling us that most markets can only support one metro daily newspaper."

Say It Don't Spray It

Here's a question. I have this can of Raid Wasp & Hornet Killer. Please help me resolve these two statements printed on the can:
Harmful if inhaled
Natural Clove Scent
Norman, coordinate!

Whiz Kids

Dr. Joe sent me this link this morning:
Credit card sized Urine powered Battery

Researchers in Singapore have developed a credit card sized urine powered battery. The battery is made of a layer of filter paper steeped in copper chloride sandwiched between strips of magnesium and copper, then laminated in plastic. When a drop of urine is placed on the plastic, the urine soaks through the paper providing the necessary conditions to generate electricity. The magnesium acts as the battery's anode, shedding its electrons, while the copper chloride acts as the cathode, gathering them up. A drop of urine generate 1.5 volts of power equivalent of a AA battery. The energy generated by the battery keeps a digital wristwatch or a scientific calculator going.
I can think of no resource more renewable...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Dive for Your Memory

One of the best bands you've probably never heard of was Australia's Go-Betweens. Led by Grant McLennan and Robert Forster--perhaps the best songwriting team since Lennon and McCartney (well, OK, at least since Difford and Tilbrook)--between 1981 and 1988, they released six great albums before disbanding in 1989. They reformed in 2000 and last year had released one of their best records (Oceans Apart). Which made it all the more sad to read this morning that Grant McLennan mysteriously died in his sleep last weekend. While you've probably never heard the classic Go-Betweens songs "Cattle and Cane" (voted best Austalian song of all time), "Spring Rain," "Love Goes On!" "Streets of Your Town" and many other fine tracks, fans of the show 24 may be interested to know that the firm McLennan-Forster was named for the duo. Time to put on 16 Lovers Lane...

Torrents of Bits

Hey, and it's not just TV shows, either:
Warner Bros. to Make Films Available via Internet

Ideally, once a particular movie has been "seeded" on the system, Warner Bros. estimates a download could take as little as 10 minutes. TV shows could take even less time to download because the files are much smaller.

Warner Bros will become the first major studio to distribute its films and TV shows over the Internet using peer-to-peer technology developed by BitTorrent, the home of a popular tool for trading pirated copies of movies.

The companies did not specify a date but said the service will be offered starting this summer. Pricing is also undetermined, although individual TV shows could be priced as low as US$1 and movies will be sold for about the price of buying a DVD, BitTorrent said.

Game On

The migration of TV to the Internet continues:
Fox will make available for $1.99 its big hit 24 along with Prison Break, The Shield and Firefly, among others from its numerous cable networks. The NBA will be making available full games and its post game analysis shows, such as Inside the NBA on TNT for this year’s playoffs within 24 hours of the games’ conclusions for $1.99 each. There’s also a $9 team replay package that contains highlights of your favorite team’s performance throughout the year. The NBA had made its content available on Google Video, but was only compatible with Windows. Now Mac users can join in on the fun of watching sports long after the game’s completion.

Paper Late

And so it goes:
Newspaper Circulation Falls as Web Readership Creeps Up

Newspaper circulation has been in general decline for years as many people, particularly young adults, turn to other media outlets including cable TV and the Internet for news and information. Also, tougher rules on telemarketing have forced newspapers to find other ways to attract new readers.

Daily circulation fell 2.5 percent at U.S. newspapers in the six-month period ending in March, according to data released Monday, reflecting the industry's ongoing struggle to retain paying customers amid competition fro the Internet and other media outlets

The Newspaper Association of America, analyzing data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, also reported that Sunday circulation fell 3.1 percent at the 610 newspapers reporting those figures. The 2.5 percent decline in average paid weekday circulation was based on data from 770 newspapers reporting to the Audit Bureau.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Saucy Jack

Here is a really neat kitchen gadget, great for those who prepare foods for people with different "hotness" tolerances: the adjustable hot sauce bottle:
The sauce is sold in a special 7.1 oz container that allows you to vary the spiciness of the sauce by turning the cap. The pump spray cap mixes the sauce from the two compartments of the bottle in different proportions. You can have a sauce that is barely spicy to one that is very zesty.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Robot Holocaust VIII--Wage-ing War

A paper called "Economic Growth Given Machine Intelligence" is thus abstracted:
A simple exogenous growth model gives conservative estimates of the economic implications of machine intelligence. Machines complement human labor when they become more productive at the jobs they perform, but machines also substitute for human labor by taking over human jobs. At first, expensive hardware and software does only the few jobs where computers have the strongest advantage over humans. Eventually, computers do most jobs. At first, complementary effects dominate, and human wages rise with computer productivity. But eventually substitution can dominate, making wages fall as fast as computer prices now do. An intelligence population explosion makes per-intelligence consumption fall this fast, while economic growth rates rise by an order of magnitude or more. These results are
robust to automating incrementally, and to distinguishing hardware, software, and human capital from other forms of capital.
In other words, the paper argues, robots will compete with unskilled human workers. Wait until they start marching in the streets! However, economist Tyler Cowan at Marginal Revolution disagrees:
Since the Industrial Revolution, there have been numerous predictions of falling real wages due to the advent of machines. But across any thirty-year time horizon (some would say fifteen-year, but not I) real wages have risen and in the long run they have skyrocketed. The marginal return to capital has not gone up much if at all.

Even if we have really, really good robots (I still think Deckard was a replicant), they won't substitute for all forms of unskilled labor. Maybe they can drive a car, but will they fluff your pillow? The remaining poor will fill jobs robots cannot handle, own small bits of capital, or live off of charity and transfers. Don't forget, we are talking about a ridiculously wealthy and scientifically advanced world. A small capital investment might carry you through the rest of your life. Plus if robots will be so good, can't they help the rest of us learn some skills or acquire some capital?

We will see a "cost disease" for services which cannot be handed over to robots, but so what? Low productivity sectors may take up an increasing share of the economy in real terms, but again this is most of all a symptom of plenty.

The robots also have to compete against technologically augmented humans, whom I suspect will be the real force of the future. Complex biology is hard to master, so let nature handle that and just purchase the mechanical add-ons, no?

So I don't worry about the special features of robot economies. It is simply fears of Malthusian overpopulation but with metal rather than flesh. The difference is that there is a more obvious profit incentive to produce lots of robots, since they can be owned for profit. But modern technology would have pushed up wages even if we had not seen the falling birthrates as of late.

The Right to Bear Arms

The Teddy Bear Gun capitalizes on a cutesy trend in Japan where wedding guests throw teddy bears at wedding receptions instead of rice or bouquets.

If teddy bear throwing sounds like a lot of work to you, here it’s made easy with a simple touch of a button. Pull the trigger and the tiny plush bear is catapulted into the air, and once airborne, it’ll float safely to back to earth thanks to its tiny parachute.

I think I'll wait for the Barney Bazooka.

It Was a Very Goodyear

Who, I ask, who could resist a giant video blimp?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Robot Holocaust Part VII--the Crushinator

Yep, we're boned:
Researchers unveiled today a unique unmanned military vehicle prototype that combines mobility, payload-carrying capacity, and ruggedness to aid troops in combat.

The "Crusher" is a 6.5-ton vehicle made of high-strength aluminum tubes and titanium nodes protected by a steel skid plate that can absorb shocks from impacts with rocks and other objects.

The vehicle navigates on its own through tough terrain and overcomes obstacles such as ditches and boulders. It can also carry more than 8,000 pounds in payload and armor.
Kind of reminds me of The Crushinator from Futurama:

Drive-In Saturday

Miss the golden age of the drive-in? Or are you too young to recall the heyday of the drive-in? Well, those days can be recaptured (or captured to begin with, depending) with the MobMov project:
A "mobile movie" or mobmov for short, is quite simply a drive-in that drives-in. Participating in a mobmov is very similar to attending a drive-in from the days of old, except now the projector is located inside and powered by a car, and the audio is piped in stereo over the FM band to the attendees’ cars. As a mobmov driver, you assemble the kit, decide on the movies, and announce your showings to friends and the community at large. Then everyone assembles in a dark place with a big wall, and you watch a movie. It’s a new technological twist to a nostalgic idea.

Ad Nauseam

If you like video games (I confess I haven't played a video game since I was in high school), prepare for an ad assault. Sez BusinessWeek:
Yankee Group, a market research outfit, states that video games are the next frontier for advertisers, and projects that the real-time online video game industry's ad sales will reach $732 million by 2010. Yankee estimates that in 2005, advertisers spent about $56 million placing ads in video games, a 65% year-over-year rise.

"I believe the proliferation of advertising across new media is a plus for advertising agencies," Peters says of companies in his coverage universe, which includes Interpublic Group (IPG; 3 STARS), Omnicom (OMC; 3 STARS), and WPP Group (WPPGY; 4 STARS).

Peters says that while tech companies may benefit over the longer term from placing ads in software, "it is still the ad agencies that will be trusted by clients to tell them whether or not advertising in video games is more effective in reaching their target audience." He believes that's a big difference between the ad agencies and tech companies, such as Microsoft.
But wait, there's more:
Apple Computer is planning to introduce ads into the iTunes music store, according to a report Monday by Advertising Age.

The ads will be limited, at least at first, to a small area of the iTunes screen and will only be seen when streaming a podcast on a PC, according to the report. But it's not hard to envision ads spreading to other parts of iTunes as users grudgingly grow accustomed to the pitches. Satellite radio, once touted as ad-free, is increasingly filled with ads as the satellite companies struggle to make money, although that isn't a problem for Apple.

Some podcasts available on iTunes have radio-style ads that appear before or during the content, but this would mark the debut of a visual ad. The millions of users on iTunes are a nice market for potential advertisers, who are also thinking about how to reach consumers who bypass traditional advertising with things such as the TiVo service.

Guten Blog

Like audiences these days, the idea of "online advertising" is becoming ever more fragmented. Sez eMarketer:
According to the "Blog, Podcast and RSS Advertising Outlook," from PQ Media, combined spending on the three new advertising channels rose by 198% in 2005 to a total of $20.4 million. Spending is expected to grow by another 145% in 2006 to reach nearly $50 million.

Blog, podcast and RSS advertising are being driven by some of the same factors boosting the growth of the overall alternative media sector: continued audience fragmentation, the perceived ineffectiveness of traditional advertising, and the elusive but coveted 18-to-34-year-old demographic," said Patrick Quinn, president of PQ Media. "[They] have demonstrated an ability to reach younger demographics as well as influentials."

Looking at the component parts, PQ Media reports that blog advertising totaled $16.6 million in 2005, 81% of the total spent on the three alternatives. Podcast advertising reached a total of $3.1 million in 2005, according to the report, with RSS advertising, non-existent until mid-2005, generating $650,000 during the year.

Looking ahead, PQ Media estimates that podcast advertising will be a larger market than blog advertising by 2010, when the blog segment will comprise only 39.7%, or $300.4 million, of overall expenditures. Podcasting, projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 154.4%, is predicted to reach a total of $327.0 million in 2010. These numbers are closely in line with eMarketer's own projections, which recently put total spending on podcast advertising at a total of $300 million by 2010.

The pro-podcast viewpoint is backed up by an American Association of Advertising Agency poll conducted late last year that found that marketing executives anticipate spending more on podcast than blog advertising in the future.

Jose, Can You See?

I'm amused by the controversy surrounding the Spanish-language version of "The Star-Spangled Banner." But then such things have always caused controversy:
In 1944, a version of the anthem reharmonized and orchestrated by Stravinsky (a dutifully patriotic act by the Russian emigre composer) got banned in Boston. Stravinsky's modernist retouchings ran afoul of Massachusetts law, and after the first performance, which left the audience "stunned into bewildered silence," Boston cops showed up at a later concert to make sure he didn't repeat the offense.

"Let him change it just once and we'll grab him," a Capt. Thomas Harvey told a Boston newspaper. According to musicologist Michael Steinberg, at some point Boston cops seized the music.
Stravinsky was into atonal (12-tone) music at the time, so it's hard not to sympathize with the Boston cops, if only on an aesthetic level. Others have expressed revulsion at Jimi Hendrix's electric guitar rendition.

Still, you can't beat the 1943 Yiddish translation of "The Star-Spangled Banner," by Dr. Abraham Asen ("the foremost Yiddish adapter of English poetry"), and proudly presented in commemoration of the one hundred anniversary of the death of Francis Scott Key:
O'zog, kenstu sehn, wen bagin licht dervacht,
Vos mir hoben bagrist in farnachtigen glihen?
Die shtreifen un shtern, durch shreklicher nacht,
Oif festung zich hoiben galant un zich tsein?
Yeder blitz fun rocket, yeder knal fun kanon,
Hot bawizen durch nacht: az mir halten die Fohn!
O, zog, tzi der "Star Spangled Banner" flatert in roim,
Ueber land fun die freie, fun brave die heim!
And lest we forget, Key adapted the music of "The Star-Spangled Banner" from an English drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven."
Ye sons of ANACREON, then, join Hand in Hand;
Preserve Unanimity, Friendship, and Love!
'Tis your's to support what's so happily plann'd;
You've the Sanction of Gods, and the FIAT of Jove.
While thus we agree
Our Toast let it be.
May our club flourish happy, united and free!
And long may the Sons of ANACREON intwine
The Myrtle of VENUS with BACCUS'S Vine.

Other translations can be found here.

I Won't Stand for This

Airbus is taking its name far too literally: they have proposed a "standing" approach to airplane seating. I know, back when I used to fly, I thought that airplane seats were way too comfortable, and I felt guiltily decadent sitting in them. It's good to know that some day I can return to flying and not have to worry about feeling like some Gilded Age poseur.

There is a Bob Newhart routine from 1960 (on The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back! album) called "The Grace L. Ferguson Airline (and Storm Door Co.)" which chronicles a flight on a "no frills" airline--so "no frills" that they removed the seats and replaced them with those straps they have on the subway. I have often stolen that joke (usually when talking about Southwest Airlines) but it seems like it's the next logical step in the (d)evolution of air travel. Hmm...allowing cellphones to be used on planes and having to stand the whole way--yeah, I'm real eager to get back on a plane.