October 29, 2003

San Diego Fire

If my math is correct, 9.1% of San Diego County has been burned by the Cedar fire. San Diego County is 4,261 square miles -- approximately the same size as the state of Connecticut.

Just another way of realizing how huge this fire is.

Posted by brian at 05:06 PM

October 25, 2003

Apple MacOS X Panthermania

If Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's Daily Show covered tech events, he'd probably have this to say about this evening's Apple insanity:

"If your local shopping mall has an Apple Store, you may have noticed huge lines tonight as Apple launched its Panther upgrade to its MacOS X operating system. Hundreds of people mobbed each Apple Store nationwide in an effort to buy the $129 upgrade and take advantage of 10% discounts on any other merchandise including new Mac hardware.

The good news for Apple, of course, is the incredible turnout. People standing in lines for hours all over the country, just to get a software upgrade! Something on the order of 1000 people per store battled long lines in order to make their purchases after 8pm local time. Apple CEO Steve Jobs must be very pround of the brilliant marketing campaign, dragging Mac users out to a computer store on a Friday night to stand in long lines to get software. Simply amazing!

The bad news, of course, is that --- reflecting the 2% market share Apple commands in the U.S. personal computer arena --- 98% of MacOSX users nationwide are now upgraded to Panther, and the stores will return to their usual so-quiet-you-can-hear-a-mouse-click emptiness tomorrow morning."

Just think: I must've seen every Mac user in San Diego County tonight. That's great, and it's pathetic at the same time. :-)

One thing I thought was a weird choice at the Apple Store in San Diego last night was the background music in the store: they were playing Steely Dan's "Everything Must Go" CD.

Now, I love this album immensely, but, have you listened to the lyrics!?

It's high time for a walk on the real side
Let's admit the bastards beat us
I move to dissolve the corporation
In a pool of margaritas
So let's switch off all the lights
And light up all the Luckies
Crankin' up the afterglow
'Cause we're goin' out of business
Everything must go

Talk about your major pain and suffering
Now our self-esteem is shattered
Show the world our mighty hidey-ho face
As we go sliding down the ladder
It was sweet up at the top
'Til that ill wind started blowing
Now it's cozy down below
'Cause we're goin' out of business
Everything must go

Maybe not the most inssspppiiiirrrring choice for store background music if you think about it . . .

Well, my G4 PowerBook is now running Panther. It is fast. The new features are good. The upgrade was worth it.

Posted by brian at 01:10 AM

October 23, 2003

Plunderphonic idea for iTunes' Audiobooks

Apple's iTunes Music Store is a great place to get high-quality sound samples. All 400,000 songs are available in 30-second previews. Great stuff.

But what really interests me, as an untapped artistic opportunity, is Apple's new collection of 5,000 audiobooks, radio interviews (Fresh Air, Science Friday, Car Talk, etc) and comedies. The sound samples in this section of Apple's music store are 90 seconds long, and there are 5,000 of them! That's like 125 hours' worth of spoken word material to plunder!

Imagine the possibilities for samples. Setting aside the copyright clearance issues: I'm strictly thinking of the artistic possibilities for sampling this huge spoken word archive, and inserting snippets of clips into new musical compositions. Remember you read it here first when some big publication publishes an article about it.

Posted by brian at 12:04 PM

Finally! Searching INSIDE books

Ok this is cool. Amazon's introduced a new feature, Search Inside the Book, which I'm immediately finding incredibly useful. I'm discovering all kinds of books that make reference to information of interest to my own book research.

This feature will drive new sales at Amazon, no doubt. But I'm not sure the feature, which I'm going to be using like crazy, is going to cause me to buy additional books from Amazon. I suspect my Amazon purchase rate will stay the same. For me, the tool will be useful as a research tool pointing me to sources that I can then go find at a library, used book store, or at ISBN.nu.

UPDATE: Here's a good overview of Amazon's new service, by Gary Wolf in WIRED News.

2nd UPDATE: Some additional thoughts. For someone like me, who's doign a huge amount of research, the ability to do full-text searches through hundreds of thousands of books is a dream come true. Best thing to happen on the web since Google opened up the Usenet archive.

But I'm wondering: won't there be publishers or authors will object to this new service? For instance: I can now go do a search, get say 80 results back, and surf through the results (can take hours) capturing the images of the actual pages of the books within the results. Amazon was nice enough to let you page forward one or two pages beyond the "hit" page. So all you need to do is do another search, for a phrase that happens two pages ahead, and the result will be the next several pages.... and so on. It is now possible to basically read the whole book without buying it.

I notice that Amazon requires users to be logged in, in order to use the new search service. That means they can easily track, and record, exactly what you're searching for, and, more importantly, which full-screen pages of the book you're drilling down to actually view. Will heavy users of the service be receiving scary emails from Amazon warning them about their over-use of the service? Or, will Amazon start charging users a fee for the privilege?

UPDATE #3: This is too big a deal. Decided to write more about it. See new article at Nettle, my other blog: http://www.nettle.com/archives/000062.html.

Posted by brian at 08:14 AM | Comments (0)

Hate vs Trust

Scoble writes about How to Hate Microsoft. He's a Microsoft employee.

Me, I do not HATE Microsoft. But I do not TRUST Microsoft.

For me, when it comes to Microsoft, TRUST is and always has been the issue. Not hate.

Why is trust the issue? The company's track record makes it untrustworthy.

  • The company's products are not secure. Microsoft has admitted this time and time again. Yet it doesn't seem to be able to do anything about it. More viruses, exploits, holes, trojan horses, etc. are identified all the time.

  • My own experience as a user of Microsoft products led me to conclude I cannot trust the company. Too many bugs, too many holes, too much bloat, and too frequent losses of data.

  • My own experience as an independent software vendor competing for the same customers as Microsoft led me to conclude I could not trust the company. I haven't forgotten what they pulled with Blackbird.

  • The way Microsoft conducted itself in the US DOJ trials led me to conclude Microsoft was untrustworthy.

It's not about hate at all, imho. It's all about trust. Microsoft brings whole new meaning to the term "anti-trust".

One other thing: Scoble says,

Don't worry, we can take it. We want to have an operating system that's beyond reproach when it ships.

This is a big chance Microsoft is taking. We're bringing customers directly into our design process. We're giving our community members extreme power. We're giving the press an unparralleled look at how an operating system is designed and developed. Many of our executives are now reading RSS newsfeeds of blogs. I'll point at the best of the "I hate Longhorn" blogs and I'm sending the feedback I see directly to the product teams (plus, you won't believe who's reading the blogs lately).

First, Microsoft is over 25 years old. I am glad to hear it's finally "bringing customers directly into the design process." Question is, why haven't they done so before? How can you have a "design process" that doesn't involve customers?

Second, as to the comment about the "unparalleled look" at how operating systems are designed and developed, I only have one word: Linux.

Posted by brian at 07:41 AM | Comments (0)

October 22, 2003

Google, Goofle

Google's added something to their homepage. Always an attention-grabber, that! The new feature? A running tally of searches you've done, along with a "spectrum" graphic complete with a little pointer indicating how far along the scale you are.

What's the point? I don't quite get it. I also notice that all you have to do is press ENTER (don't even bother entering a search term), then click the Google logo to return to the home page, press ENTER again, click home, ENTER, home, ENTER, home, etc., etc. Okay. Done. Um, now what? And why does the count stop at 100?

How did this "feature" get released? What's the strategy? What possible use could it be to users? One possible consequence of introducing this "feature": reminding people about Google's use of cookies. Some people won't want to be reminded. Just watch.

Posted by brian at 11:33 AM | Comments (1)

October 18, 2003

Interconnected Pictures

Two very different uses of a similar zooming technique:



The second one, Scott McCloud's new comic, makes the zoom feature the central focus of the comic --- and the central focus of the user experience. You literally click on the center of a comic image and the next frame zooms in, as if you're walking forward into the comic.

The first one is merely a series of Polaroid photos, each containing the previous photo in it. Too bad the UI for this person's website doesn't incorporate the same sort of "click the image to go to the next one".

Posted by brian at 07:44 PM | Comments (0)

October 16, 2003

BoingBoing publicity

Jason Scott (the guy doing the massive BBS Documentary and the guy behind textfiles.com) mentions my PLATO book project in a column called "Five Things Worth Looking Into on the homepage of BoingBoing. Scroll down on the right-hand side of that page to see this:

PLATO. It doesn't stand for anything, although they tried to back-tack some acronyms on it. To some, it's the first BBS. At the very least, it's an impressive technological feat, allowing a thousand users to connect to the same computer space, starting back in the late 1960's. You can trace Lotus Notes, Castle Wolfenstein, Tradewars, Hack, and a bunch of other concepts to this system. Brian Dear has absolutely, unequivocably risen as the Mack Daddy of PLATO knowledge, and is working on what will probably be the best book that will ever be written on the subject.

Actually, PLATO stands for "Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations" and did from the very beginning. It's a myth that they "tacked on" a meaning for the acronym at a later date. At least, by June 1960 there are documents from the Coordinated Sciences Laboratory that show the full meaning of the acronym was already in use.

Posted by brian at 12:50 PM | Comments (1)

October 14, 2003

Computer History Museum

While on my trip to Foo Camp, I stopped by the Computer History Museum to see the new building and exhibits. My main goal was to determine if, now that CHM had settled into its expansive (and expensive) new facility, they'd managed to do anything about their PLATO problem. For the answer, go read the story here.

Posted by brian at 12:09 PM | Comments (0)

Mobile Game ideas

One of the sessions at Foo Camp was on Mobile Gaming. Participants were invited to suggest ideas for multiplayer mobile games. There were some really interesting suggestions. Here are two I proposed:

1. The Game game
Remember the Michael Douglas movie The Game? Well, imagine it's now a multiplayer game using mobile devices. Imagine it's a more organized version of flash mobbing. Imagine CRS exists, and you go to their website, provide your mobile contact info, sign their agreement indicating you volunteer for future Games.

At some point, you get a message on your cell phone or other mobile device. It might tell you something like, "Appear at The Red Lobster restaurant at 123 Main Street at 8:19pm tonight. Walk up to this person (photo included), make sure he has your full attention, and then say these words exactly: 'They're here. They know. Don't go back to your table. Get in the cab outside immediately.'" and then walk away and don't turn back." That would be it. Then maybe weeks or months later you get another CRS request to do another task. It's like flash mobbing only on individuals. Of course, who's to say if in the end the game is on you the volunteer? Creepy just thinking about it!

2. Ghostbusters Mobile Game:
Think of the original Ghostbusters movie. Imagine a game that required GPS-sensitive mobile devices that had a decent graphical display. The way the game works is you and the other players are given an "assignment" (along the lines of a "quest" in a DND game) to go to a certain building, say, a library. You all show up, and then you wander the aisles of the library looking for the "ghosts". When you reach a certain point, your mobile device shrieks that the ghost is right in front of you, and you and your teammates have to try to capture it. (Unlike "hits" in a dungeon game where the object is to kill the monster, in this game the object would be to capture the monster.) If one of you is successful, then that player's mobile device would indicate ghost captured. You would then have to take the ghost to some other location in town where you can "dispose" of it --- and you get points for capturing it, and everyone else in the game learns what you caught. And when you "dispose" of it at the ghost disposal centre, there are high-res displays showing exactly what the ghost looks like. Then you're all given another "assignment" and the game continues.

You can easily expand the idea beyond Ghostbusters, that's just an analogy to help explain the idea. What I like about games like this is that they harken back to earlier computer games where imagination was a key element to the game.

UPDATE 16 Oct 2003: I remembered some more things that I suggested at this conference session. Just for completion's sake:

  • What about games in public events like NFL games or other stadium/arena events? For example, instant coordination of a fancy "wave" or other crowd formation based on what your mobile device tells you to do (stand, sit, wave hands, yell something, etc.)

  • Along the same lines.... type in and send song suggestions via mobile device, so the band will come out and play what the majority of audience wants (of course this might result in Freebird!)

Also, here's a link to a blog wherein Mike Liebhold served as scribe, jotting down notes while the session was on. (Unfortunately that site lacks permalinks, so as this link ages, look for that site's October 13, 2003 entry).

Posted by brian at 09:41 AM | Comments (0)

October 11, 2003

foo camp

I'm in Sebastopol, California at Tim O'Reilly's weekend Foo Camp. Interesting group of people here.

It's nice to finally meet Doc and Dave and Scoble and Larry and Scott and another Scott among lots and lots of others. And it's been years since I've seen Stewart and Kevin.

Most interesting session so far: Bernie Krause's lecture on recording environmental sounds outdoors, and his analysis of biophony (the cooperative symphony of sounds that animals and plants make), geophony (the sounds of nature, i.e., wind, falling rocks, etc.), and anthrophony (the racket humans and human-made machines make).

More details (and maybe some photos) later.

Posted by brian at 09:45 AM | Comments (0)

October 08, 2003

Not with a bang, but a whimper...

Michael's Minutes will not doubt be looked at by future digital archaeologists as the inscriptions of a late-20th-century Ozymandias...

Day the music died at MP3.com

By Robert Jaques Posted: 06/10/2003 at 23:01 GMT

Yesterday was almost the day the music died for MP3.com after the firm forgot to renew its domain name, documents received by The Register claim.

According to Steve Cox, a musician who promotes his music by posting it on the site - part of the mighty Vivendi Universal empire - only his quick-witted action re-registering the expired site saved MP3.com from a long and deafening silence.


Full story available here: http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/6/33249.htm

Meanwhile, check out Alexa's view of MP3.com usage patterns over the past two years. The graph is the daily ranking within Alexa's top traffic sites. It's currently #894. The glory days are over:

Posted by brian at 09:39 AM | Comments (0)

October 04, 2003

Stunning Story on Arnold

This is not a political blog, and I'm not going to start writing political stuff in here. But this Greg Palast story on secret deals between Arnold Schwartzenegger and Enron's Ken Lay is so stunning (if accurate), I simply had to provide a link to it.

Update -- 04 Oct 2003 -- Like everything, someone else had the story first. Here's the Utne Reader article from August 2003 on Arnold's Enron connection.

The unfortunate thing is, it's not odd or usual that the major media's silent on this story. If they know it's bogus, shouldn't they say so? If they know it's for real, shouldn't they say so as well?

Posted by brian at 01:20 AM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2003

Nettle vs ACLU Part 2

Been busy book-writing lately, so not much new here. I did manage to post Part Two of my Nettle vs ACLU story over at the Nettle blog.

Posted by brian at 01:22 PM | Comments (0)
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