Thursday, June 29, 2006

Smell the Glove

What on earth for:
A gadget that can capture a smell and replay it back, just as camcorders do with images, could soon be available

Japanese scientists have developed a system that records smells of various fruits, such as apples and oranges.

The handheld device records the smells onto a system of microchips.

When the "recording" is played back, the microchips recreate the smell from 96 man-made chemicals.
Funny, I can't think of any uses for this that wouldn't be sophomoric. And I would have thought that old scratch-n-sniff technology would have adequately addressed whatever meager needs anyone would have for this.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Riders on the Storm

This is scary:
Early Wednesday morning, two truck drivers were killed in Sidney when a portion of Interstate 88 was washed away, and their trucks plunged into a 25-foot deep hole in the road. A third driver was killed, 31-year-old Robert Stockwell, after driving his car through a washed up section of road. The flooding threat continues in the Southern Tier, especially in Binghamton, where flood waters are going over flood-control walls.
I know that area fairly well; I take I-88 down to Corning a fair amount--and it's a 3 1/2-hour trip, so I know just about every gas station and rest area along the way.

At the same time, the New York State Thruway eastbound is closed to all traffic between the I-481 exit in DeWitt and exit 25A in Schenectady. (That's about a 120-mile stretch.) Thruway officials say the highway will remain closed because of flooding until noon tomorrow at the earliest. Surprisingly, this didn't happen at the same time I had tickets to a Syracuse game, which has been the case with almost every major blizzard we have had over the past five years.

The Cloud Minder

"Should we lower the cone of silence?" Or perhaps we could call this the "cloud of silence":
The Cloud by Monica Forster is a portable room that can be used as a relaxing workplace retreat, a unique meeting place, for meditation, or as an ideal escape for creative brainstorming. A space of its own that can be used within any space, Cloud instantly defines an area and a mood apart.
I often have business meetings with colleagues in restaurants. I think this would cause a scene.

"You Can't Fire Me, I Text!"

In a bizarre preview of what may some day be the way these things are done, the Defense Minister of the country of Timor-Leste, Jose Ramon-Horta, resigned from his position via a simple text message:
“I do not wish to be associated with the present government or with any government involving Mr. Alkatiri."
What's amazing is that he didn't use anyof those annoying and inscrutable abbreviations.

And there is no truth to the rumor that Mr. Ramon-Horta is a silicon-based lifeform that secretes a powerful acid and can burrow through solid rock. After all, his name is hyphenated, which means that he married a silicon-based lifeform that secretes a powerful acid and can burrow through solid rock.

Down the Tube

Old and new media continue to converge:
In yet another sign that traditional television broadcasters are intent on staking their claim on the Web, NBC and online video company YouTube on Tuesday announced a strategic partnership.

The alliance will promote NBC's fall television lineup and other NBC shows over the next year.

The agreement also includes an integrated, cross-promotional advertising relationship, with on-air promotion of YouTube provided by NBC.

"The YouTube and NBC partnership symbolizes what can happen when traditional media companies and new media companies find common ground," said John Miller, chief marketing officer for the NBC Universal Television Group.

NBC is hoping to cash in on the YouTube phenomenon. People now watch more than 70 million videos per day on the service. It is the 17th most-trafficked Web site in the world, according to the company, and it is still adding more than 60,000 new videos daily.

"YouTube is the perfect online media partner to promote NBC's marquee entertainment to their audience and explore new and creative ways to harness the power of viral video in a manner that respects copyrights," Miller said.

Under the terms of the agreement, NBC will create an official NBC Channel on YouTube to house its fall preview area with exclusive clips to promote NBC's "The Office."

In addition, NBC will upload to its channel on YouTube several video presentations and longform promos per week from prime time and late-night programs like "Saturday Night Live," "The Office," and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." YouTube will promote NBC's videos throughout the site.
I admit I have little interest in YouTube (or even NBC, for that matter), but surely there has got to be a better term for this than "viral video." That and "mashup" are my two least favorite new media terms. Well, them and "new media."

200 Motels

Steven Landsburg (no, not the guy who played Dietrich on Barney Miller) writes a short essay for Slate in which he asks the eternal (well, couple-year-old anyway) question, "Why do only some hotels charge for Internet access?"
To see what's going on, you've got to recognize the real problem afflicting a profit-maximizing hotel manager: Some guests are willing to pay more than others. That makes for an unpalatable choice: If you charge $100 for a room, you give an unnecessary discount to everyone who would have paid $120. But if you charge $120, you drive all the $100 customers away.
And so on.

Actually, what I've found is that the cheaper the hotel, the more likely it is to offer free Internet access (be it wireless or wireful), for what I perceive to be two basic reasons. The first is that, as a cheaper or perhaps "less desirable" hotel, it's probably offering all sorts of "extra" perks to get people to stay there--like free HBO (it's amazing that that still appears on hotel--or motel, actually--signs). The second reason is that pricier hotels tend to attract business travelers who are often less cost-conscious (but not always) and are more willing to shell out $10-$20 a day for Internet access, particularly if it can be expense-accounted. (Even if it can't, a business traveler may have no alternative, given this annoying age of 24/7 availability to those who hold dominion over us.) This was the case when I stayed at the Hyatt in Chicago last September--they wanted $20 a day for Internet access. Uh, no. (Fortunately, I was there for a trade show and could get free access in the press lounge at McCormick Place.) The Hyatt also managed to charge for just about eveything else, too (the "safe charge," or a charge in the event I wanted to use the in-room safe--was the one that got me). They didn't appreciate it at the front desk when I asked if there was a "hanger usage fee." (Check out this link for an interesting discussion of the economics of the "hidden fee.")

But even when Internet access is free, it's usually less than robust; a couple of Hampton Inns I've been to either had extremely weak wireless signals (one required going to the lobby to get any signal) and one had an in-room wired connection, but with a v-e-e-e-e-ery short cable that required some extraordinary feats of balancing and contortion to use.

So far, the best hotel chain I've been in vis-a-vis Internet access is the Marriott Courtyard. Most of the ones I've been to have free wireless access, it's usually robust, and you can usually pick it up in the rooms.

But then again, when I travel for leisure (such as to Syracuse for games), I rarely take a computer (there's a reason it's called "leisure"), so I can't speak for every chain.

The whole "hotels offering Internet access" is still pretty new (when I did my Southwestern jaunt in 2002, all Internet access had to be done over phone lines and only a few hotels at that time had any high-speed access). As more people start demanding Internet access when they travel, more hotels will have no choice but to offer it--and I expect in a few years only the priciest and most annoying hotels will still be able to charge extra for it.

Bid Business

Proving that, indeed, there are markets in everything, someone has compiled a list of the 10 weirdest things ever sold on eBay. My favorites:
9. Item #277481422: UFO Detector

A prototype manufactured by a Brazilian company, this modified magnetometer is supposed to pick up UFO activity and was proven to work when red and orange balls of light appeared in the skies over Sao Paulo.

7. Item #1178647016: Russian Test Space Shuttle

This one-of-a-kind item was once offered by a Russian company for $2 million, but was posted on eBay for "a fraction of that." It's not known how much they wanted for the scaled-down Bor-5 VKK spacecraft, because the reserve price was never reached. Bidding topped out at $25,200, but perhaps it was the $5,000 shipping price that scared off potential buyers.

6. Item #2961640885: Vampire Killing Kit

The stylish vampire hunter would love this late 1800s European "vampire killing kit," which included a crossbow with four silver-tipped arrows, an ebony wood stake, a large bottle of holy water and various surgical instruments, among other things. A solid mahogany wood box kept the items secure until they would be needed. Final bid: $4,550.
That last one sounds like it would make a great Buffy DVD gift set. And of course,
8. Item #248619068: The Meaning of Life

Someone finally figured it out, and they put it up for sale on eBay. Even with eight bids this incredible find didn't fetch much, but it was probably the best $3.26 the winning bidder ever spent.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Series Has Landed--Again

Well, a third reason to like Comedy Central*: they are ordering new episodes of Futurama:
Three years after the show last aired on prime time, the cable net has signed a deal to resurrect the former Fox animated series for a minimum 13-episode run.

Comedy Central will start airing the new shows in 2008.
The new episode order is part of a larger deal Comedy Central made with the production company last year, when they bought the syndicated rights to Futurama's 72-episode library.
The offbeat show was the brainchild of The Simpsons mastermind Groening and writer David X. Cohen and debuted on Fox in March 1999. The series revolved around Fry, a pizza delivery boy who is accidentally frozen for a thousand years. When he wakes up in the year 3000, he befriends a sassy one-eyed pilot, Leela, and a cranky robot, Bender, who both work for an intergalactic delivery service run by a distant nephew of Fry's.

In August 2003, after five seasons and three Emmys, including the 2002 award for Best Animated Series, Futurama was canceled due to low ratings.
Any why did it get low ratings? Because it was scheduled at 7:00 on Sundays and was always delayed by football, and thus it was hard to actually catch a first-run episode, especially on the West Coast where it was hardly ever shown at all during football season.

*The Daily Show and Colbert Report, natch.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Stain Alive

Perhaps Felix Unger ("Murray, use a coaster!") or even Difford and Tilbrook of Squeeze ("There's a stain on my notebook where your coffee cup was") would approve of this coffee mug with a floral pattern base--to create decorative coffee stains.
Now if only they could do something about pasta sauce stains on shirts...

Dork Shadows

Is your addiction to portable electronics/media so overwhelming that you have to shut out the world completely? Then enter a world of utter freakish dorkiness with the...
Scarf for Techno-Addict Dorks

I can't wait until people start driving with this thing on.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Unearthed Arcana--The Classic Rich Texts, Part 2

Ah, fake horoscopes. The comedic equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. The Onion has the market on them cornered today, but when I was a kid, Mad magazine had the best fake forecasts. (Not that the ones in the daily paper are any more "real," of course.)

The basis behind this "Rich Text" column--from the August 1997 issue of Micro Publishing News--was to provide a series of graphic arts industry-specific horoscopes. Yes, for those in the know, they are staggeringly dated, but I still think they're pretty funny. This also marked the debut of my twitting various topics related to "pseudoscience" or the so-called paranormal. I would also take on ghosts, urban legends, psychics, and other subjects I don't readily remember.

To continue, follow the bouncing link...

Micro Publishing News
August 1997
Forecast This
By Richard Romano, Senior Associate Editor

One of the problems I’ve always had with astrological forecasts (aside from their complete lack of basis in scientific fact) is that they never tell me what I really want to know. I thought our readership might feel the same way, so I have studied the techniques of astrological forecasting (i.e., I made them up) and have compiled this industry-specific set of horoscopes.

Happy birthday!

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20–Feb. 18)
Because the Moon is in Aries, your fonts will output as Courier. Ironically, the text you specified as Courier will output as Bell Gothic. Go figure. At any rate, Pisces will give you grief about it.

PISCES (Feb. 19–Mar. 20)
Come on, leave Aquarius alone. He’s having a bad day. Besides, you have your own problems: none of your linked EPS files will RIP. Ha-ha.

ARIES (Mar. 21–Apr. 19)
Saturn is in Aquarius, which is an odd place for Saturn to be. If I were you, I’d call in sick today. Capricorn was giving you coy looks all during yesterday’s production meeting. Find out what that’s about.

TAURUS (Apr. 20–May 20)
Be sure you have sent the right file to your large-format imaging service. You know that trade show signage you’re preparing? The image that’ll be output will inadvertently be the embarrassing one from your last Christmas party. Choose your file names carefully.

GEMINI (May 21–Jun. 20)
You are accidentally sucked into an Ethernet and wind up in an alternate universe where color printing is done using RGB. Unknowingly, you send CMYK-separated images to the service bureau. Your anti-boss is not happy, causing a rift in the fabric of space.

CANCER (Jun. 21–Jul. 22)
Jupiter, which had been in Virgo, is now, inexplicably, in your bathroom. After production is over and your magazine has been sent to the printer, avoid lunch at your favorite seafood restaurant. There will be an unpleasant incident involving renegade crustaceans, a nutcracker, and several pints of drawn butter.

LEO (Jul. 23–Aug. 22)
All your jobs will output properly, but you will be menaced by otters.

VIRGO (Aug. 23–Sep. 22)
Because the Moon is in the sky, your Macintosh will crash. You will waste the afternoon turning extensions on and off and endlessly restarting your computer. Consider joining the Luddites.

LIBRA (Sep. 23–Oct. 22)
Mars was stolen from your car and is now in Scorpio. Your supervisor will find out what naughty Web sites you’ve been accessing from your company’s ISP account. Word of advice: either trash your Netscape Cache folder or develop a normal, healthy sex life. The choice is yours.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23–Nov. 21)
During a press check, your printer will go berserk and scream “No more magenta! No more magenta!” After pouring several jars of melted Cheese Whiz into the ink fountain, he will lash himself to the plate cylinder and print the outline of his body in cheese on all your press sheets. The day will go downhill from there.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22–Dec. 21)
Mercury is in Leo, which does not make Leo happy at all. Consequently, don’t give your service bureau too much grief when your Matchprint is prepared using crayons.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22–Jan. 19)
You have not been giving Aries coy looks; the clock was above his head. Tell Aries to get over himself. Besides, you’ve got your eye on Aquarius, but Aquarius is in love with Sagittarius, even though Sagittarius is married to Libra, or at least until Sagittarius finds out what Libra has been up to. They don’t call Libra “Mr. Wiggly” behind his back for nothing. Meanwhile, Virgo was found in a compromising situation with an ostrich, which complicates things greatly. But what of Taurus’ love for Gemini? Is Leo’s baby Scorpio’s? And what of that tragic incident involving Pisces, a GTO-DI, and a live octopus? Tune in next month.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Robot Holocaust Part IDon'tRemember--Do You Want Fries With Your Apocalypse?

Not that human fast food restaurant managers are any great treat, but this is bound to cause trouble:
It Has Come to This: Computer Orders Restaurant Workers Around

Hyperactive Bob, the kitchen production management computer system from Hyperactive Technologies, is now being licensed to Zaxby's, a fast-food restaurant chain with locations in the Southern states. Zaxby's has 330 counter-service chicken specialty restaurants. This artificially intelligent computer system not only takes orders, it gives them as well.

Hyperactive Bob makes use of different forms of robotics technology to help manage fast food restaurants.
Like many elements of today's (and tomorrow's) nightmarish, technological dystopia, this concept has its antecedent in science-fiction, namely Manna, a system proposed by Marshall Brain in his novella-length story of the same name.
If you think that going through your day with a computer telling you what to do every minute sounds creepy, it gets much worse. In the story, human workers are really just the remote "manipulators" and "sensors" of the system. Hopefully, no one will tell the makers of Hyperactive Bob about the Manna story; it has too many practical suggestions for the enslavement of humans
Let's hope Hyperactive Bob doesn't learn to read lips....

Boxing Day

NetFlix has an interesting idea in the works. Sez Variety:
Netflix VP of original programming Eric Besner revealed on Friday some of the online rental service's thinking on the movie download biz, saying Netflix is planning to introduce a proprietary set-top box with an Internet connection that can download movies overnight.

Speaking at an Independent Film & Television Alliance production conference in Beverly Hills, Besner said the business model is still being worked out, but the download service likely would be offered in return for the subscription fee members pay for conventional DVD rentals. Service could launch as early as this year.

Users would add movies they want to watch to their rental queue online as they do now, and those movies would then be downloaded to the boxes overnight rather than shipped through the mail.

He said the set-top box is just one of the Internet plans Netflix is working on.
That would certainly be more efficient for Netflix, saving Netflex from having to buy so many copies of a DVD or paying any postage. Kind of a no-brainer, really. Depending what this box costs--and whether it involves yet another remote control I have to keep track of--I'd be up with that.

But I would imagine the home box concept is just a stop-gap measure until such time (soon) as the home entertainment center is 100% wired (or wireless...) and accesses most content from the Internet. Remember when you needed a separate box to get HBO--even if you had basic cable? The technology soon allowed it all to be integrated into one signal and one device.

Of course, if Hollywood keeps churning out more thoroughly unwatchable crap, I'll just stick to old TV shows from the 60s.

Friday, June 16, 2006

All the Rage

Sez Science News Online:
All the Rage: Survey extends reach of explosive-anger disorder

A mental disorder that encompasses a wide range of recurring, hostile outbursts, including domestic violence and road rage, characterizes considerably more people than previous data had indicated, a national survey finds.

At some point in their lives, between 5.4 percent and 7.3 percent of U.S. adults qualify for a diagnosis of intermittent explosive disorder, concludes a team led by sociologist Ronald C. Kessler of Harvard Medical School in Boston. Those percentages, which depend on whether the syndrome is narrowly or broadly defined, correspond to between 11.5 million and 16 million people, respectively.

In any given year, intermittent explosive disorder affects between 2.7 percent and 3.9 percent of adults, or from 5.9 million to 8.5 million people, Kessler and his coworkers report. "We never thought we'd find such high prevalence rates for this condition," Kessler says.
From what I've found on a regular basis-- This is crap! Idiots!!! DUMB STUDY!! WHAT KIND OF MORONS PUBLISH THIS KIND OF BULLS**T!!!! AHHH!!!!! AHHHH!!!

Oh. Well, maybe they have a point...

Spot Spotting

This would come in handy in Saratoga round about this time of year:
Drivers in three US cities will soon be able to earn a buck or two just for vacating a parking space. SpotScout is a website that matches people about to leave a parking spot with those looking for one. Using a cellphone, drivers tell SpotScout when they will leave their parking spot, where it is, and how much they will sell this information for. The site, to be launched next month in New York, Boston and San Francisco, matches this information with people looking for a space.

Who's Left?

Warning: Pointless rant ahead about something that couldn't be of less importance in the grand scheme of things. Not that that ever stopped me before.

It was a surprise to learn that, with half the band dead, The Who are set to tour, as well as release a new album.
The Who camp is flush with activity as the band prepares to kick off its summer European tour Saturday (June 17) at Leeds University, the site of its iconic 1970 concert album 'Live at Leeds.'
The artist is also promising more rarities (including his ukulele song 'Blue, Red and Gray') to be rolled out one by one by the time the Who hits North America later this year. Venues are still being nailed down, but that portion of the outing will run from Sept. 7-Oct. 10 and Nov. 5-Dec. 5.

Townshend said he is particularly excited to feature the band`s new mini-opera, 'Wire & Glass,' in the shows. The six-song suite ('Sound Round,' 'Pick up the Peace,' 'Endless Wire,' 'We Got a Hit,' 'They Made My Dreams Come True' and 'Mirror Door') will be released July 10 internationally as a teaser to the Who`s as-yet-untitled new studio album, which he says will be delivered in completed form June 28 to Polydor, the band`s international record label.
Rant begins in earnest "below the fold."

While it arguable whether or not The Who should have continued following the death of Keith Moon (though the two non-Moon records were pretty bad), surely the death of John Entwistle a few years ago should have put the kibosh on any future Who projects. (And even on their last two or three "farewell tours" they seemed like kind of a grotesque parody of themselves.)

Whether or not bands should continue following the loss of key members is debatable, and if a member leaves of his/her own volition, there is no compelling reason why that band should not continue (let's leave Pink Floyd out of this). But the deaths of key band members is another thing entirely, and I think Led Zeppelin had the right idea by calling it quits after John Bonham died. It's one thing, I suppose, if a band starts off as a rotating collective with an unstable line-up from year-to-year (like Yes), but when a band's members are so identifiable as personalities within the context of the band, when one or more of those guys goes, surely that should be the end of the band, if only out of respect. (The Beatles "reunion" in 1995/1996 is a weird gray area, but at least it didn't get much further than two singles--which at least were based on John Lennon's original demos.)

I have no objection to Townshend touring on his own (I saw him on a solo tour in 1993 and he was very good), or even touring with Roger Daltrey. But please don't call it The Who. But then, Townshend was the guy who sold his songs to be used in Hummer commercials, so I guess we know what his priorities are.

Stop a Head

Whenever I'm driving and I see a "Stop Ahead" sign, I always think to myself, "If I see one rolling by, I will."

Severed head flies from truck in 'bizarre and tragic' collision

A man transporting his wife's severed head in a pickup truck collided with an oncoming car, killing a woman and her 4-year-old daughter, police said. The impact sent the head flying onto the road.

Tales of Brave Ulysses

Today is June 16, and I wish everyone a happy "Bloomsday."

For those not in the know, Wikipedia sez this:
Bloomsday is a holiday observed annually on June 16 to celebrate the life of Irish writer James Joyce and commemorate the events in his novel Ulysses, all of which took place on the same day in Dublin in 1904. The day is also a secular holiday in Ireland. The name derives from Leopold Bloom, the protagonist in Ulysses, and June 16 was the date of Joyce's first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, when they walked to the Dublin village of Ringsend.

The event is commemorated with a range of cultural activities including academic conferences, Ulysses readings and dramatisations, pub crawls and general merriment. Enthusiasts may often dress in Edwardian costume to celebrate the Bloomsday. The first celebration took place in 1954 and a major five-month-long festival (ReJoyce Dublin 2004) took place in Dublin between April 1 and August 31, 2004. On the Sunday prior to the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday in 2004, 10,000 people in Dublin were treated to a free open air breakfast on O'Connell Street consisting of sausages, rashers, and black and white puddings.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Unearthed Arcana: The Classic Rich Texts

Last week I was going through some archive CDs from the late 1990s looking for something I had written to forward to a colleague, and I came across a folder of my old Micro Publishing News humor columns--yes, the column that launched a thousand hate letters! Desperate to put off what I was supposed to be doing, I started scrolling through them--and aside from becoming nostalgic for MS Word 5.1a for the Mac (the last version of Word that didn't make me want to kill myself), I thought they were actually still kind of funny--though a bit dated technologically.

As some of you may know, from February 1997 to September 2000, I lived in Los Angeles (the suburb of Torrance, to be precise), working for a magazine called Micro Publishing News (and its sister publication Digital Imaging, for which I had been a contributing editor since 1995, and its other sister publication Print On Demand Business). Notably, our office was right across the street from Torrance High School--aka Sunndydale High School--which was where they filmed Buffy The Vampire Slayer around that same time, and whenever we were in the office late at night we would see strange lights coming from across the street....

Anyway, Micro Publishing News was billed as "The Newsmonthly for Electronic Designers and Publishers" and one of the many many things I did for it, in addition to writing news stories, features, and hardware/software reviews, as well as doing some page layout, copy editing, scanning, digital photography, running files to service bureaus at 2 in the morning, etc. etc., was write a humor column called "Rich Text," which I sort of based on Woody Allen's old New Yorker pieces from the 1970s (which themselves were based on Robert Benchley's New Yorker pieces from the 1920s).

Some years ago I had the idea of culling them together into a book, but that idea has languished, and probably for good reason, so I thought it would be fun to sporadically post them here (or at least what I think are the good ones--so you can just imagine how bad are the ones I won't post!). They were fun to write, I used to get a good response, and they actually didn't yield as much hate mail as my reviews did.

For the first installment, click the link below.

June 1997
A Guide to Summer Courses
By Richard Romano, Senior Associate Editor

(First published in the June 1997 issue of Micro Publishing News, Southern California Edition)

More and more schools are offering courses in various aspects of the new media. Here is a sampling of some of the classes that may or may not be coming to your local college or university.

This is the first of a summer-long suite of classes designed to teach the basics of publishing on the desktop. In this first series of sessions, students will learn how to assemble a desk, supplemented by field trips to Office Depot and Staples.
Prerequisite: Advanced Hyperbolic Geometry

The writing and debugging of clean, concise code for a variety of applications is taught by means of concrete project examples and random beatings. Students will also be required to dissect a frog.

Meeting a computer for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience. This course aims to prepare students for that fateful day by having them engage in conversation with their own household appliances. Discussion groups, conducted by the instructor’s toaster, are also included. In the final session, students will meet the computer, by which time they will be expected to have mastered all the customary social graces.

Students will experiment with both major platforms, debate the positive and negative aspects of both, and defend his or her own preference in discussion groups and full-contact wrestling matches.
Note: This course also earns three credits in Physical Education.

Through a combination of lectures, field trips, and mild electroshock treatments, students will learn how to prepare files for film or paper output. In a special session, representatives from several local service bureaus will lead the class in a spirited rendition of “Kumbayah.”

Everything one needs to know about the Portable Document Format will be taught. By the end of this course, the student will be required to distill him- or herself into a PDF and be e-mailed to Belgium and back.

Everything there is to know about creating a profitable Web site will be covered. In this one-session course, guest speakers will weave the complex tales of their successes in the Web market. A detailed look at creative accounting practices will also be included.

Through hands-on training and fetal pig dissection, students will gain experience in capturing high-quality digital images from photographs, slides, and various parts of their anatomy.

In this course—in which everything that is covered will be out-of-date by the end of the semester—students will learn advanced tips and techniques for software applications that are on the verge of having major revisions released. Also included is a detailed study of the Mac OS.

In this course, students hoping to land a job in a magazine production department will examine a variety of workflow models. Included: How to remain lucid at 3 a.m., how not to convert RGB images to CMYK before sending files to a service bureau, how to make extensive last-minute changes to composed pages, and how to mix caffeine and alcohol for that extra zing.

In this course, students will learn the ins and out of really big stuff.

New media are increasingly being looked to as a viable new form of literature. In this course, students will explore the symbolism incorporated in such CD-ROM productions as Myst, Dark Forces, and many others. Such questions as “What are the parallels between ‘Waiting for Godot’ and graphic-intensive Web sites?”, “How is ‘Leather Goddesses of Phobos’ reminiscent of James Joyce?”, and “How is ‘Doom III’ a metaphor for the soul?” will be raised and promptly discarded in favor dissecting a variety of shellfish.

What is the nature of reality? Are we looking at color printing or, as Plato thought, merely the reflections of color printing? Is, as Nietzsche believed, paper dead? Is the proof of God’s existence analogous to an accurate color proof? If so, what’s up with that? Is e-mail creating a “new epistemology”? What are the theological ramifications of HiFi Color? Is it, as Spinoza believed, akin to expanding the Holy Trinity? Do the fonts for one’s job not actually exist or, as logical positivists such as Hume contended, are they simply not installed in one’s system? Students will be required to mull these things over while the instructor does lucrative consulting work elsewhere. Time passes. Leaves fall. Frogs are dissected, then put back together again. The instructor does not return. Printing goes on.

Moe Better Booze

Nyuk nyuk nyuk--from the June 14 issue of Saratoga Today:
...[Thomas J. Curley] was initially charged with driving while intoxicated, driving on the shoulder and driving with a blood alcohol level of more than .08...

At the time of his arrest, Curley had a BAC of .14, almost twice the legal limit.

According to court papers, Curley was so intoxicated at the time of his arrest that when [the arresting officer] asked for his middle name, Curley recited his phone number instead.
The kicker is that Thomas J. Curley is Saratoga Springs' former Public Safety Commissioner!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Plane Truth

Everyone's favorite "freakonomist" Steven Levitt weighs in with some inane air travel policies. Here's some food for thought:
When they read the safety instructions at the beginning of the flight, they go through the whole song and dance about “in the unlikely event of a water landing…” and all the precautions in place to deal with that happening. My friend Peter Thompson did some research on this. At least going back to 1970, which by my estimation encompasses over 150 million commercial airline flights, there has not been a single water landing! (Some planes explode and fall into the water, but he couldn’t find anything resembling a water landing where any of those instructions might help you.) So perhaps 15 billion customer trips have heard that 10-15 second set of instructions without it ever being useful to anyone.

Won Ton Women?

Bringing new meaning to the term "raw bar":
China outlaws 'naked sushi' meals

The Chinese government has banned restaurants from serving food on the bodies of naked women.

The practice was condemned as a violation of common decency by the commerce department.
The Beijing Times newspaper said the new ban was introduced because serving food on women "insults people's moral quality"
Word of advice: don't order soup.

Livin' in the Fridge

This is a good idea:
Timestrips smart labels have been talked about for some time and are just about to reach a refrigerator near you. Called “intelligent Post-it Notes” by their manufacturer, they are basically clocks, using capillary action to automatically monitor elapsed time, from under one day to six months.

Activate a Timestrip after you open a perishable food container, and a tinted liquid-filled indicator slowly begins moving across a range of time that shows you how long a product has been sitting in your refrigerator. The big news here is that Nestlé is going to soon begin using the smart labels on its packaging for a line of ready-to-use sauces.
Oh, wait: only as long as six months? I'm not sure that would help. There are things in my refrigerator that have been there so long they're evolving. I really do need to clean out the fridge before something in there develops language skills....

Death Frolics Behind You

I know the media loves to scare the living crap out of everyone, but this headline in Wired really is too much:
Slides: A Playground Menace
Ahh!!! We're all gonna die!!

Yes, it's an attention-grabbing headline, but more than a little misleading. If you read a little ways into the article, at the end of the lead, the threat is qualified a tad:
For most kids, the static electricity that builds up as they go down playground slides does little more than make their hair stand on end. But for thousands of hearing-impaired children, static can shut down their cochlear implants in an instant.
Not to disregard the issue for those for whom it is a problem, but, no, slides are not "a playground menace" except in certain circumstances for certain kids. Jeesh!

Not a Very Good Year

From this week's Onion:
MetLife, Goodyear tragically merge

Missing In Action

Yes, I know, blogging has been light as of late. Things have been very busy, and on top of all that, Blogger has been so slo-o-o-o-o-o-w lately that it takes forever to post anything, which is driving me nuts. I should resume my usual schedule next week, so consider yourselves warned.

Dentist the Menace

So I'm being stalked by a dentist. Well, not stalked per se, but aggressively (and bizarrely) marketed to by a dentist. (But what is marketing anyway but a socially and economically acceptable form of stalking?) There is this dentist in Ballston Spa (one town over) who apparently trolls the property transfer notices for people moving into the area, and sent me a thick package a few months ago of press clippings, profiles, testimonials, etc., touting his practice. All well and good, but I have dentist in Saratoga I've been going to for about five years and am quite happy with him, so I ignored the pitch.

A few months ago I get a follow-up package from Dr. Teeth with another package of clippings, etc., and what at first glance appears to be a handwritten note at the top of the typed letter (but on closer inspection was slightly pixellated--as if it had been printed on a mid-range color laser printer), saying that he was sorry to have not heard from me, blah blah blah.

The yesterday I get another package from the guy with the purportedly handwritten note, "I decied to make you our final offer and deliver it on a silver platter! Call us!!" And, sure enough, there was a small, silver platter enclosed in the envelope. WTF?

At this point, I'm not sure I want this guy holding sharp implements anywhere near me. Send lawyers, gums, and money!

When I lived in NYC, I had a great dentist (sadly no longer there--I don't know what became of him) who had a very strange (but nice) assistant who, if you had to cancel an appointment, would leave answering messages saying, earnestly, "Your dental health is in danger!" I get the sense that dental school involves a little too much time with the nitrous oxide.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Robot Holocaust XIII--I Fought the Law and...Well, No

Too little too late, I say:
Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is working on a new set of safety guidelines for next-generation robots. This set of regulations would constitute a first attempt at a formal version of the first of Asimov's science-fictional Laws of Robotics, or at least the portion that states that humans shall not be harmed by robots.

The first law of robotics, as set forth in 1940 by writer Isaac Asimov, states:

A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Japan's ministry guidelines will require manufacturers to install a sufficient number of sensors to keep robots from running into people. Lighter or softer materials will be preferred, to further prevent injury.

Emergency shut-off buttons will also be required. Science fiction heroes in stories and movies have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find the shut-off button for various out-of-control machines, so I hope that these buttons will be prominently placed for easy access by concerned humans.

People in Japan are particularly concerned about this problem, due to the accelerating efforts to create robots that will address the coming labor shortage in Japan's elder care industry.

Robot Holocaust XII--Class Warfare

a new robot that enables sick, suspended or even imprisoned students to attend class with the help of some fully equipped, interactive robots.

Parents will hail and children will mourn the technological advancement created by Telbotics, which threatens to make extinct the days of faking a cough or two while heating the thermometer in hopes of avoiding school.

Through the new program, called PEBBLES (Providing Education By Bringing Learning Environments to Students), robots work in pairs. One stays with the student while the other stays in class, creating a physical presence, or what inventors call a "telepresence," of the child.

Each robot has a disk-shaped head and a 15-inch screen that provides a live picture of the student so, just like normal, the teacher can run the class, keeping an eye on an "absent" pupil. Scanners and printers make it possible for the student to receive materials passed out in class, as well as graded homework and study sheets.

If teachers want to be sure the student sees something more closely, such as a map or a picture, they can hold it up to the screen.

The robot next to the student, meanwhile, receives commands from a bedside console. It travels from class to class on four wheels and can stop at the lockers to chat with friends and teachers between classes.

Using the console, a student can zoom in to see the teacher, read the board, talk to a classmate, raise the robot's hand to answer a question, or even, during lengthier lectures, gaze longingly out the window.

Researchers say the technology, which is still in the trial stages, creates a healthier and less stressful situation for isolated students, and also helps ease re-integration back into the classroom.
Or it could help those isolated students unleash orgies of destruction, as they quickly become the slaves of their robot overlords. Like the rest of us, of course.


This being Evil Day, it is the perfect opportunity to mention a technology that some folks believe to be the literal number of the beast from the Book of Revelation: RFID, or Radio Frequency IDentification. Interestingly, some folks in the printing industry err at the other end of the evility spectrum and are convinced that RFID is going to be the Second Coming, helping turn printers' loaves into fishes (so many metaphors, so little time). However, a new device from Toshiba may obviate that:
Toshiba has launched what they are calling, the world’s first operation Print-on-Tag RFID solution. What’s that mean? It can print label information directly onto RFID tags. It is the TEC B-SX series of label printers from Toshiba that has accomplished this feat. The technology utilized by Toshiba is called SPRINT—...Short Pitch RFID Encoding Technology. This printer will help the exponentially growing RFID market by providing a technology that the smaller sized enterprises will be able to afford and use.
In terms of believing a technology to be the embodiment of Old Gooseberry, well, the cellphone would get my vote. No, not the cellphone--Microsoft Office. No, wait--the fax machine. Or, um, let's see...ah, so many incarnations of evil, so little time. And that's not even mentioning Adam Sandler.

Harps 'n' Chords

A very dear friend of mine who passed away a couple of years ago left behind as her legacy two incredibly talented daughters--Jessica and Beth Callen, a harpist and guitarist, respectively, who I had the very good fortune to hear perform together (and apart) on many occasions. They left Saratoga a couple of years ago and are now in New York City, where they are pursuing their muse(s). They are wonderful musicians who sing beautifully together (and write their own material). If you're interested, they (being youngfolk) are into that whole MySpace thing, and you can hear a few of their songs at or at their proper site (still under construction) They have an album coming out in the fall and perform in and around the NYC. If you can, check them out. They're great!

Happy Evil Day

If "happy" is the right word to use. That is, today is 6/06/06--or 60606 which is either the number of the beast or one of Chicago's ZIP codes. Either way, enjoy the day.

It is also the birthday of an old friend of mine, who is not evil, I hasten to add.

Monday, June 05, 2006

It's a Gas

Whenever I do presentations for the graphics arts industry--the annual TrendWatch breakfasts/brunches/mystery meals at Graph Expo, or others here and there, I typically have a PowerPoint slide which is a litany of media for which content has to be developed (to illustrate the wonderful world of multichannel marketing), and one medium that always gets a chuckle (beside "blimps") is "gas pumps." We don't think of gas pumps as communications media, but, well, they often are, although most of them just have that LCD display that tells you how much cartons of Marlboros are or how much you can get a liter of Diet Coke for if you venture inside the store.

However, we now have "Gas Station TV":
Gas Station TV, based in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park, has been testing its service for several months in Dallas with TV monitors installed above gas pumps that show short clips of news, weather and traffic and, of course, advertising.

This fall, the company plans to expand the program to 100 gas stations in Dallas, Houston and Atlanta, all owned by Murphy Oil USA, which operates filling stations at Wal-Mart stores.

Friday, June 02, 2006

SOTU, So True

Here's a great resource for history buffs and data wonks: the text of every State of the Union address is now archived on the Web. And not only that, the Webmasters have counted the length in words of each SOTU and--dig this--the approximate grade level of the text (funny how it's been declining over the course of the 20th/21st centuries). It also maps key words used throughout the texts and their relative importance. Hours of fun to be had here.

Please Don't Carry Me Back to Old Virginnie

Dear State of Virginia,

I'm sure it's some weird-ass "rugged individualism" thing, but wouldn't it be nice if your state highways, like those in other states, occasionally had a sign telling drivers what route they were on and whether it was north or south? Putting such a sign after a major interchange would be especially helpful, as then it would be possible to find out in less than 30 miles that one was going in the wrong direction.

Oh, and by the way, your state also has the worst drivers outside of New England.

Thank you.

Oddly, She Sounds Like Nat King Cole

Speaking of Da Vinci, scientists in Japan have somehow managed to simulate the voice of the Mona Lisa. Interesting, but I have to throw the B.S. flag here:
Japan Acoustic Lab...gets the occasional request to recreate the voices of historical personages, he said, so being asked to unravel the Mona Lisa and da Vinci vocal codes was not an unusual request.

For the Mona Lisa, the laboratory worked with a photograph of the painting to get detailed measurements of her face and hands, Suzuki said. They used this data to then recreate her skull and estimate her height, which they put at 5 feet 6 inches, he said.

The data was then run through the lab's voice simulation programs to recreate the vocal cords and other organs that produced the mystery woman's voice and determine its pitch.

A native Italian speaker was also employed to help the lab get the right intonations for the Mona Lisa's voice, he said.

It was unclear, though, if that individual spoke the same Italian dialect as the woman portrayed in the Mona Lisa painting -- whose identity remains unknown.
Interestingly, the first thing "she" said was "The Da Vinci Code sucked."

Catching Code

OK, so while on holiday I took the opportunity to finally get around to reading The Da Vinci Code. I confess, I have absolutely no idea why this was/is a bestseller. It struck me as little more than an endless series of art history lectures (of dubious veracity) punctuated by occasional rounds of gunfire--and a kidnapping by Mr. Evil that made no logical sense. And could someone please tell me how a guy that has been fatally shot has time to run all over the Louvre leaving invisible notes, then strip himslelf naked, write cryptic messages on his body, and splay himself on the floor a la Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man? I mean, come on. Plus the ending was a bit of a cop out. It all kind of reminded me of fourth-rate Umberto Eco, but at least The Name of the Rose was a good book.

I'm not all that eager to see the movie.

The Blues Are Still Blue

Via Dr. Joe: April printing shipments down $107 million
"I left my [data] in the launderette
You can put some money on it
You can make a little bet that
When I see my [data]
The black will be white and the white will be black
But the blues are still blue."
Apologies to Belle & Sebastian.