Thursday, July 20, 2006

Picture, If You Will

Colleagues of mine are always (well, okay, once in a very long while) looking for pictures of me--for what nefarious purpose, I dare not speculate. But since I was bitten by a bat a couple of years ago, I no longer register on film or CCD sensor arrays, so providing one is out of the question. However, I did come across this picture of myself at my old job at Micro Publishing News, where I used to test computer graphics hardware and software:
So anyone who wants to add my picture to your list of associates, here it is. It's a few years old but I haven't changed much.

Nice Knocker

Who could resist this?
Motion activated plastic hand hangs from a ring, and "knocks" on your door when activated. So much better than a doorbell!
Thank goodness it's plastic. It's been my experience that actual flesh starts to smell after a very short period of time, and it's a pain shooing all those flies away. Replacing the arm every couple of days can be quite time-consuming, though it does help thin out the neighborhood.

Tastes Great, Less Filling

Sez Business Week:
It's something amazing to ponder as you broil in beach traffic this weekend. Gasoline keeps getting more expensive, but Americans keep buying more of it. They bought 10% more gasoline in the first half of 2006 than in the first half of 2000 even though the price at the pump rose 75%. It isn't just essential trips, either—leisure travel remains strong. Gasoline consumption during the week of the Fourth of July holiday this summer was 2% higher than a year ago.
OK, I have a confession to make. I have been guzzling gas for the past two weeks. It's counterintuitive, I know, but on a hot day, a nice tall glas of gasoline is quite refreshing. One must be careful not to sit out in the hot sun afterward, but with the proper precautions, it can be delightful. I never go anywhere without a Thermos full of unleaded. (Also counterintitively, I find the Ultra Premium is too heavy, rather like a stout or porter; the Standard Unleaded drinks more like a lager or pilsener. The middle one between Standard and Premium is too bitter for my tastes.)

One does need to be careful in other ways, too. The Mobil station at Broadway and Lincoln Ave. frequently has to shoo me away when I insist in sipping it directly from the pump.

To keep the symmetry in the universe intact, I did try filling my car with lemonade, but there is a clause in the Lemon Law that implicitly outlaws it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ad Infinitum

Via eMarketer:
According to the new "Alternative Advertising & Marketing Outlook 2006" report from PQ Media, US spending on alternative media strategies was up 16.4% in the first half of 2006 to reach an estimated $53.37 billion.

Furthermore, PQ Media estimates that spending on alternative media will accelerate in the second half of 2006, as segments like branded entertainment marketing and entertainment advertising generate higher growth. In fact, the firm estimates that overall alternative media spending will grow by 18.5% to $115.77 billion for full-year 2006.

The double-digit growth in 2006 follows a strong 2005, when total alternative media spending rose 18.8% to $97.66 billion.
Clicking through the link provides a thick broth of numbers, a veritable chowder of data.

When we think about media spending--and even alternative media spending--we need to remember that we are really only talking about Earth-based marketing. Extending outside the solar system, we find a much wider variety of marketing and advertising strategies. For example, a little birdie told me that there is a race of aliens living on a planet in the constellation of Pisces whose strongest marketing growth is to be found in advertising on the walls of the stomach. There is a compelling reason for this, of course, since the primary medium of communication for these aliens has been the X-ray. Since their planet rotates at 3/4 the speed of light, life is very tense, so the native inhabitants have evolved a means of communication using perforations of the stomach lining to spell out a kind of Morse code (though far more nuanced). (It is also a fact that market research questionnaires inevitably find that "being flung into the inky blackness of infinite space" is a top challenge among businesses on this planet.)

This is a vast improvement over what little birdies usually tell me, which is "Hand over the worms or I'll peck out your eyes."

Advertising inside the body may seem unusual to you, but there have been experiments with similar approaches here on Earth. Back in the 1980s, there was an ad agency (whose name I cannot recall) who experimented with advertising on the bodies of live salmon. This is not as abribrary as it may seem, as their primary target markets were grizzly bears and Ian Anderson. Alas, the culture changed, Ian Anderson got out of the salmon farming business, and the bears were convinced by PETA to eat vegetables. Then another group convinced the bears to eat fruits rather than vegetables, until finally the bears went on a hunger strike, more out of confusion than anything, and then had a large meeting where they decided that the best idea yet was to simply eat humans and solve several problems simultaneously. But I digress...

The idea of salmon-based advertising was ahead of its time. It has come to my attention that the next big movement in marketing will be to market to wildlife. It is no surprise to anyone that humans are becoming more and more resistant to advertising messages, so agencies have decided to go in search of greener pastures, so to speak, and have begun developing ad campaigns targeted at animals. TV ads have for years been targeted to household pets (you didn't think those things were meant to appeal to thinking humans, did you?) so going after wild animals is really only the next logical step. The strategy--inspired by the original salmon-based advertising idea--is to target ads at particular species by advertising on the bodies of those animals' primary prey. Herbivores present some interesting, but not entirely insoluble, problems. As for those species that eat insects, large-format equipment manufacturers will soon see the next big market to be micro-format printing.

It's easy to see the flaw in the plan, which is the (so far) lack of consumer spending by wild animals. But have no fear. I received an e-mail recently from a mountain lion I know in Southern California. (We met one evening several years ago when I went into the Santa Monica Mountains dressed as an Impala; I've found that rather than buy a car, it's far more cost effective to simply dress up as one. It takes longer to get up to highway speed, but the gas savings are substantial.) Anyway, this mountain lion told me that he had recently received a credit card offer. Now that the credit card companies have themselves started targeting other species, we're off to the races.

Which just goes to show you that we have yet to plumb the depths of alternative advertising.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Hybrid Over Troubled Waters

OK, that headline is a reach...

Every couple of years, I get the urge to buy a new car, an urge which thus far I have been able to stave off. However, as my current car will turn 10 years old in February (and the idea of acceleration is becoming a distant memory), it's looking more and more like this is a bullet I'll be biting before long.

The latest issue of Consumer Reports has their evaluation of the new Toyota Camrys, and both the hybrid and non-hybrid version were top picks (along with the new Honda Accord). My mother has had Camrys for at least the past 20 years or so (not the same one) and I've driven them on occasion and liked how they drive (to the extent that I like to drive, which isn't much*). (Is it my imagination, or do all manufacturers' cars look the same these days? I honestly can't tell a Toyota from a Honda from a Ford. I don't recall that always being the case.)

I like the idea of a hybrid, but I wanted to "run some numbers" and see what the economics of it actually were.

The sticker price of the hybrid version of the Camry is $5,400 more than that of the non-hybrid. The gas mileage of the hybrid is 34 miles per gallon (mpg), while that of the non-hybrid is 24 mpg. I figure I drive on average about 300 miles a month (excluding trips to Syracuse, Corning, Boston, etc.) and, based on gas costing $3.00 a gallon, my average spending on gas with the hybrid would be $26.47, vs. $37.50 for the non-hybrid. This would be a savings of $11.03 each month and, at that rate, would take 490 months--41 years--for the hybrid to pay for itself. Now, I know I hold on to cars for a while, but that's long even for me. If I were to double the average number of miles I drive per month (one round trip to Syracuse is 300 miles) it would still take 20 years for the gas savings to equal the price difference of the two cars. If I wanted the hybrid to pay for itself in under three years, gas would have to climb to $50 a gallon or I would have to drive on average 5,000 miles a month--but then I'd be spending more than $400 per month on gas--and probably close to every waking moment driving!

Of course, there are reasons other than pure economics to prefer a hybrid. So the jury is still out. Or maybe I'll wait a few more years until my Saturn more closely resembles that car from The Blues Brothers.

*Actually, I do like to drive, but only when there is no traffic, like out in Arizona, central California, or at certain points on the trek down to the Outer Banks (or on the Thruway at 2 a.m.). Driving is actually a lot of fun when there aren't other people around tailgating, ignoring lane divisions, yakking on a cellphone and being a menace to navigation, etc. But increase the population density to more than, like, three cars every 10 miles, and few things are more miserable. I don't expect I am alone in this.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Knirps for Moisture

This is pretty freakish, on a variety of levels:
Cupid's Double Umbrella

However much you're 'into' someone, there's nothing more irritating than having to share your umbrella. Yes it seems intimate and cosy, but let's be honest, it just doesn't work. Either they're so short that your head's in the spokes and they still get wet, or they're so tall that you're way below the height where you get any protection at all - and of course you both end up with one very wet shoulder each. Then again if you both have an umbrella you simply can't walk abreast, if you try, you inevitably end up ducking and diving around a tree, making way for glowering passers by, clinking spokes with the other umbrellas and putting your conversation on hold until you reach dry land. Oh the social pitfalls of umbrella etiquette!
Question, though: How does it close?

The Brave Little Toaster

Y'know, the carnage that ensues whenever I make toast is just unimaginable. Flesh and blood everywhere. My kitchen becomes a charnel-house. But I'm certainly glad that there are people working on the problem:
This toaster is new innovative concept based on simplicity of control. Non-conventional concept focused on way how not to touch the toast immediately after baking because it is quite hot. I was thinking how to take it out without needing to use your hand. Use some tongs to take it requires another tool for more and you can lose it. Better way is to have all you need together so I came out this flipping system. So with this, emptying toaster becomes easy by flipping.

Rock You Like a Hurricane

Here's a headline you don't see every day:
Making Radioactive Scorpion Venom Therapy Safe
Say what?
Health physicists are establishing safe procedures for a promising experimental brain-cancer therapy which uses radioactive scorpion venom. The venom of the yellow Israeli scorpion preferentially attaches to the cells of a type of essentially incurable brain cancers known as gliomas. This preference can be exploited to killing brain cancer cells non-invasively.
Not so unusual, I guess, when you consider the benefits that radioactive spider venom can apparently have...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

We Are All Together

So I noticed that they are releasing a special 30th Anniversary edition of the 1977 movie Sibyl on DVD. Appropriately, it's a multi-disc set. I wonder if they're releasing it in multiple DVD formats simultaneously...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Shine On You Crazy Diamond

Syd Barrett, founder of Pink Floyd, dies
Syd Barrett, the troubled genius who co-founded Pink Floyd but spent his last years in reclusive anonymity, has died, a spokeswoman for the band said Tuesday. He was 60.
Barrett co-founded Pink Floyd in 1965 with Roger Waters and wrote many of the band's early songs. The group's jazz-infused rock made them darlings of the London psychedelic scene, and the 1967 album "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" — largely written by Barrett — was a commercial and critical hit.

Barrett's behavior grew increasingly erratic, and he left the group in 1968. He spent much of the rest of his life living quietly in his hometown of Cambridge, England.

The band spokeswoman said a small, private funeral would be held.
UPDATE: Rolling Stone has a nice tribute, including a 1971 interview with Barrett.
Syd Barrett, the original frontman of Pink Floyd who wrote much of their early material, died July 7th in Cambridge, England, from complications related to diabetes. He was sixty.

Born Roger Keith Barrett in Cambridge, the son of a renowned pathologist, Barrett changed his name to Syd at age fifteen in honor of local drummer Sid Barrett. In 1965 he joined up with bassist Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Richard Wright in a new band Barrett dubbed Pink Floyd -- in honor of blues artists Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Barrett quickly became the group's primary songwriter and guitarist, composing their breakthrough singles "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play."

Monday, July 10, 2006

Top of the Pops

Curious to know what the number one song in the U.K. was on the day you were born? Neither was I, but I found out anyway, thanks to this handy database at I'm not wild about the top single (Scott McKenzie - "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)") but I can certainly get on board with the top album (Beatles - "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band").

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Manual Transmission

Speaking of advertising and marketing, at what point did user manuals devolve into little more than marketing brochures? I just bought a BlackBerry via Nextel, and it came with three different user "guides" ("features-at-a-glance," "quick tips to get started," and "user guide") all of which had essentially the same text in them, and all of which had little more than highly excited prose about all the wonderful, phantasmagorical things I can do with my BlackBerry, but few actual details on how one specifically does them. Thus, getting the bloody thing functioning required a trip to the Nextel sales office, two long conversations with tech support (you know, if the manual had said that I have to go to the Nextel Web site and set up a BlackBerry e-mail account first, then there would have been no problem), and a great deal of trial and error. Look, I like puzzles as much as the next guy, but really. Would it have killed them to explain how one adjusts the volume of the ringer in the user guide?

On the plus side, once I figured it out, I actually do like the BlackBerry. I found a freeware app that lets me sync my Mac's Address Book with the BlackBerry so I don't need to manually enter phone numbers, names, and e-mail addresses. The Nextel signal is stronger in the house than the Verizon Wireless one (which isn't saying much), and I do like the ability to check e-mail from the phone rather than lug the laptop around. My only gripe with the e-mail is that there appears to be no way to set it to manual. That is, it automatically transfers messages from my e-mail accounts whether I want it to or not, which I don't always want it to do. There may be a way to change this, but, well, you know the user "guide" has nothing to say on this subject. All it says is, "Check your e-mail accounts from your BlackBerry device!!!!"

With any luck, this device won't be plummeting down the stairs any time soon...

You Vill Vatch Zee Ads!

I am again reminded of A Clockwork Orange:
ABC is talking about employing a technology that would prevent DVR owners from doing what they presumably bought the device for: skipping commercials.

If Mike Shaw, ABC president of advertising sales, gets his way, cable companies would force us to watch ads. "I would love it if the MSOs (multi-system operators), during the deployment of the new DVRs they're putting out there, would disable the fast-forward (button)."
Look, I appreciate the fact that our entire economy is based on annoying people (i.e., advertising), but, come on. These are supposed to be enabling technologies.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


This is pretty freakish. But maybe God is not a Metallica fan:
Jason Bunch was listening to Metallica on his iPod while mowing the lawn outside his Castle Rock home Sunday afternoon when lightning hit him.
Bunch's ears were burned on the inside, and he's lost some hearing, mostly on the right side. His hair was singed.

His face, chest, hands and right leg have freckle-size welts on them as if buckshot had come from inside his body out.

The wounds follow the line of his iPod, from his ears down his right side to his hip, where he was carrying the device. The iPod has a hole in the back, and the earbuds dissolved into green threads.

Bunch and his mother believe the iPod acted as an antenna, drawing the lightning to him. There were tall pine trees nearby that didn't get hit.

But lightning and weather experts say that's probably not the case.

"There is no scientific evidence to show that lightning is 'attracted' to items like an iPod. However, if someone wearing earbuds is struck, current may travel along the wires into the ears," said Gregory Stewart of the Denver-based Lightning Reference Center. "There are documented cases of lightning traveling through wired telephones and killing the users. "

The Dark Side of Multitasking

What--not talking on a cellphone, too?

In Search of Search

Sez eMarketer:
When Universal McCann announced its latest 2006 ad spending projections at the end of June, two revisions from the firm's December 2005 estimates stood out. While US total media spending in 2005 increased by only 2.8% (in contrast to the earlier 4.6% figure), Internet ad spending in 2006 is now expected to soar by 25% (in contrast to the previous 10% prediction).

With those growth rates moving in two different directions, the picture is clear: more and more ad dollars are moving from traditional media to the Internet. Take national cable TV. In Universal's initial projection for this year, the expectation was for 7.0% growth; now that's at a more realistic 4.5% gain. Similarly, local radio ad spending growth estimates fell from 4.0% to no gain.
There is nothing wrong with amending ad spending projections. All researchers revise as new information becomes available. What's striking about Universal's 25% growth rate for the online space is how it does not include paid search ad spending—the giant that contributes a 40%-plus slice to the entire Internet pie.

Paid search is growing even faster than most other online ad vehicles. When you look at how Google's US advertising revenue (minus traffic acquisition costs, to eliminate double-counting) in Q1 2006 grew by 84% compared to last year's Q1, it appears that even Universal's revised 25% gain might be conservative. And Yahoo!, the bellwether of Internet advertising with its combined search and branding strengths, grew revenues by 35% in Q1.


Oh, give me a break:
When "say," "they" and "weigh" rhyme, but "bomb," "comb" and "tomb" don't, wuudn't it maek mor sens to spel wurdz the wae thae sound?

Those in favor of simplified spelling say children would learn faster and illiteracy rates would drop. Opponents say a new system would make spelling even more confusing.

Eether wae, the consept has yet to capcher th publix imajinaeshun.

It's been 100 years since Andrew Carnegie helped create the Simplified Spelling Board to promote a retooling of written English and President Theodore Roosevelt tried to force the government to use simplified spelling in its publications. But advocates aren't giving up.

They even picket the national spelling bee finals, held every year in Washington, costumed as bumble bees and hoisting signs that say "Enuf is enuf but enough is too much" or "I'm thru with through."
So, basically, people are too stupid and/or lazy to bother to learn their own language? Funny, I bet these are the same people who bitch about foreigners not learning English. You know, math is hard, too. All that remembering stuff. Let's just make everything equal 5. Wouldn't that be so much easier? Heck, let's not even bother with education; let's just lower all the goalposts and be done with it. That way, everyone can go back to watching American Idol or playing video games and not have to worry about, you know, learning things.

Seriously, though, let's think about this. Say we completely revise English and start teaching kids how to spell using these new rules. There's still a whole heck of a lot of "legacy" spelling left in the world--like every book that has ever been published in English. How will kids brought up with new rules of spelling read them? (Try reading The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English and you'll get a sense of what the situation is going to be.) How will they communicate with older people (like me)? And if we're simply creating rules of spelling based on how words sound, how do we deal with regional accents? Do we spell everything the way New Englanders talk? The way Brooklynites tawk? Or what?

Actually, it occurs to me that with all this instant and text messaging shorthand (most of which I can't understand), we're halfway there already. k?

The English language is as complicated to learn because it's a language that has evolved organically. That is, unlike French, there is no controlling authority that regulates what words can be added, how they should be constructed, etc. English evolved strictly through how people spoke and wrote it over the centuries. (For a highly entertaining history of the English language, and the American version of it, I recommend Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue and Made in America.) In some ways, it actually has become simpler. And do we really want to emulate the French?

When people bemoan illiteracy rates, the first response should not be, "Oh, let's make it easier to learn English." That's kind of going about it the wrong way; reducing illiteracy is important because the key to functioning in today's society is being able to communicate with others. If we change the rules of English solely to reduce this number, then we're ultimately going to make it harder for people to communicate with people who have been brought up with the old way. It's bad enough, in this age of e-mail and IM, that people type so poorly or quickly that I have no idea what half the things people write to me mean, I really don't want them to suddenly start writing to me in a different version of English!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"Everytime I Phone You, I Just Want to Put You Down"

Speaking of phones, my 70-year-old aunt to this day has had the same wall-mounted, rotary-dial bakelite phone since the 1960s--and it has yet to be beat for voice quality and reliability. Funny how all the developments in telephony since (from cordless phones to mobile phones) have only made sound quality and reliability worse. (The only advantage--and it's a dubious one at that--of current phones is their portability.) I figure a few more advances in telephone technology and it will be completely unusable.

Soft Cell

If anyone reading this (if anyone is reading this) is in the Saratoga area, I just want to put in a plug for Saratoga Business Machines, located on Geyser Road just over the Milton town line. They sell and service a wide variety of, well, business machines (copiers, printers, computers, etc.). They're an authorized Xerox service center and whenever I need supplies or repairs for my Xerox Tektronix Phaser printer, that's where I go, and they're great to deal with.

More importantly, though, they are also a Nextel sales center and today I, um, had a cellphone problem (lousy or non-existent Verizon Wireless reception in the house, a fit of pique, a set of wooden stairs, Newton's laws of can guess the rest). Needing a new phone anyway, I went up to investigate switching plans, explained my problem (I converted my landline to a cell number several years ago and have since dispensed with a landline, relying solely on my cellphone and VoIP, but since moving to the new house last fall, indoor cell reception has gotten progressively worse, to the point where accessing voicemail became a challenge which triggered off the aforementioned fit of pique), and, after some good-natured ribbing about the condition of my present cellphone, they let me borrow one of theirs (and without reluctance, oddly enough...) to take home and test out in the house. Amazingly, it got a fairly strong signal. I went back and they did a good job of walking me through all the plans and product offerings. (OK, I may regret this, but I decided to splurge on a CrackBerry....)

They were very helpful and very friendly and I wouldn't hesitate to go there again should I need to--although I hope I don't need to (in the same way that, no matter how much you may like your doctor or car mechanic, you really don't look forward to having to see them).

When Databases Attack 3

Dear Customer,
We've noticed that customers who have purchased The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 1 also purchased The La Scala Opera Collection / Adriana Lecouvreur, Lucia di Lammermoor, Cosi fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, Lo Frate 'Nnamorato, La Fanciulla del West, La Donna del Lago, William Tell, Attila, I Due Foscari, I Vespri Siciliani on DVD. For this reason, you might like to know that The La Scala Opera Collection / Adriana Lecouvreur, Lucia di Lammermoor, Cosi fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, Lo Frate 'Nnamorato, La Fanciulla del West, La Donna del Lago, William Tell, Attila, I Due Foscari, I Vespri Siciliani will be released on July 25, 2006 on DVD. You can pre-order yours at a savings of 31% by following the link below.