November 30, 2003

Thanksgiving 2004?

The Democrats' vision of a Thanksgiving Photo Op for 2004:

Posted by brian at 12:50 PM | Comments (2)

Lingering Effects

NASA has an amazing photo of the dust, soot, and ash that's been blowing westward in the past week in the San Diego area. Click on the photo or here to see NASA's page. The photo was taken on Thanksgiving Day, a particularly brownish, smoggy, cough-inducing, dust-filled day in San Diego. This photo shows why.
Posted by brian at 09:02 AM

November 27, 2003

KNX 1070 Jingle: RIP

Even though I'm in the San Diego area, when I'm driving and want to tune in to the hourly news I often tune in to KNX-1070, a major AM newsradio station based in L.A.

The experience of tuning into the KNX news hasn't changed in over 15 years. A few minutes before the hour, I'll be driving along, notice what time it is, and tune to 1070 on the AM dial.

Often I'll catch the last traffic report before the commercials play after which finally the hourly CBS network news comes on. The KNX traffic reports are actually always interesting: seems every time I hear the L.A. traffic report, there's something crazy going on, like M&M's all over inteterstate 5, a big rig overturned spilling nails all over the freeway on I-10, or an alert that there's not just a couch in the fast lane of the Long Beach Freeway, but a couch that is on fire in the fast lane of the Long Beach Freeway.

So then there are the commercials leading up to the end of the hour, a quick blurb from a KNX announcer about what local news headlines will be reported right after the CBS news, and then comes the signature KNX-1070 news jingle that leads in the bing sound as the top of the hour is reached, followed by the start of the CBS news feed.

This blog posting is about the KNX-1070 news jingle, of which I wish there were an mp3 file, somewhere Out There on the net. I say I wish, because starting very recently, KNX is not playing their jingle anymore. Seems like it's been dumped. It's been changed to something menacing, downright sinister, right out of Terminator or something.

The old jingle, which I've heard for years and years, consists of a corny right-out-of-the-50s chorus of cheery men's and women's voices singing:

Kay En Exx
Ten Seh-ven-tee,
News Rayyyyy - Deeeeee -- Ohhhhhhhhhhh!

Theirs were the voices of innocence. Of high school and college pep rallies. Theirs were the voices saying, no matter how bad the news is that you're about to hear, hey, it's another beautiful day, and we love L.A.! We love it!

Even at the most bleak times, for example in the days and weeks after 9/11, the hourly pep rally of KNX's cheerleaders were there to remind listeners that it's not all bad.

I knew something was wrong, the other day, when I tuned into 1070 to hear the news, and I didn't hear the cheerleaders. No, what I heard is something I couldn't believe.

First, there's a moment of silence. Then a strange voice mumbling something, quickly followed by another voice mumbling something, followed by another, and another, and yet others. All in the span of three or four seconds, the cacophony builds until it reaches a crescendo, at which point a mechanical sound, something right out of Terminator 2, a mix of white noise and something hard to place, like a robot or machine, shushes the voices, after which there's silence for a moment. And then, a new voice. A single, man's voice.

Answers.

Followed by another pause, and then:

KNX.

Followed by yet another pause, and then:

Los Angeles.

At which point the bing chimes, the hour is reached, and the national CBS radio news begins.

What the hell is up with this new jingle? Well, wait. First of all, let's agree on something. This new "thing" is not a jingle. What exactly it is, I don't know.

Actually, I do. Obviously it is a message. A message to listeners that the company that runs KNX-1070 has changed. My immediate thought was, uh-oh, new product manager, trying to make a name for himself, gotta hire some new creative agency to come up with a new identity, and here ya go, let's try this. It's new, it's bold, we don't know what the hell it is. Well, we do. It is everything the old cheerleading squad wasn't.

Turns out, there was indeed a corporate shake-up, with the firing of KNX-1070 general manager George Nicholaw (who's been there 36 years), his job position eliminated. Here's a story on the KNX shake-up from some website called "WAG-net". And here is mention of it at a site called LAObserved. By the way, KNX is owned by Infinity Broadcasting, which in turn is owned by Viacom.

Answers. KNX. Los Angeles.

Nope. Questions. Lots of questions.

Posted by brian at 03:21 PM | Comments (3)

Michael: Your Minutes Are Up, All 15 of Them

Michael Robertson put himself in the news again, this time proposing that all of the music at MP3.com be "donated" to Brewster's Internet Archive.

A recent Michael's Minute at his software company website decried CNET's plan to shut down the MP3.com music servers and erase the files on there on December 3rd.

On the "Pho" mailing list this past week, Michael's been defending his article and decision to sell MP3.com in the first place (a deal netting him over $100 million). He claims he had to sell, that MP3 was a public company and he had a fiduciary duty to make a decision that was in the best interest of shareholders.

Let's see.

First of all, Michael's expression of support for "saving" all the indie music at MP3.com is touching, but I'm not buying it. A handy way of getting his name (and his companys' names) in the news, though. And his comparing the recent San Diego fires to the "scheduled" "fire" "to take place on December 3rd" by CNET is downright grotesque and trivializes the real loss of lives, livelihoods, and property that San Diego experienced a month ago.

As for why Robertson sold MP3.com: First, was it really his decision, or was he forced to by the board and the bankers? One would love to know. Let's say for argument's sake that it was his decision. Ok. If he hadn't sold, wouldn't the company have gone bankrupt pretty much immediately? That would be a good question for the media to ask him. Seems to me that Vivendi Universal had MP3.com right where it wanted it, at the edge of a precipice, and the decision to sell, at a fire-sale price, was the only way out of a very dire situation. Would MP3.com have been able to continue as a going concern even 30 days later, had the sale not taken place?

As for the music: How much of the "most popular" music on MP3.com was genuinely popular? In the sense of real people at their own computers really downloading and listening to it? Versus, how much of that "popularity" and download activity was faked, typically by the artists themselves, using bots or other schemes to generate tons of downloads (and pay for plays)? Only the data would tell us for sure. Trust the data. Wouldn't it be something if the data told us that in reality, MP3.com was to music as Enron was to energy?

Rather than the music, I would much rather see all of MP3.com's historical downloading and pay-for-play data be stored at Archive.org, so that an independent study could be made of what was real and what was not at MP3.com.

Posted by brian at 11:59 AM

November 26, 2003

TDS = JTS?

I try very hard to avoid television. So much of it is utter rubbish. My favorite programs are also my favorite channels. That is, CSPAN 1 and CSPAN 2. Mainly BookTV and BookNotes.

In the past year I also kind of got swept up into heading to the television at 11pm to catch Comedy Central's The Daily Show. Problem with this show is, it's not always funny. When it is funny, it is the best thing on television. When it isn't funny, it's just another Comedy Central waste of time after which you feel hustled.

Another problem -- worse, even -- is that you never know if it's going to be a new show or not. The show runs four nights a week. Each night, when the show begins, the very first thing you see is a date, and an announcer reads off the date. The rule is, if you see and hear the date, you know what you're about to watch is a new show with fresh content. If on the other hand ComedyCentral goes straight into start of the show, with The Daily Show title segment, you know it's a rerun. Reruns of The Daily Show tend to be about as funny as two-week-old comics that you already read in the old Sunday paper. Unfortunately, The Daily Show takes a lot of vacations (or has budget problems) because increasingly, they show reruns. This is not a good sign.

I'm also noticing they're featuring more Hollywood starlets or glamour models as the guest interviews for the latter half of the show. This is a major clue that the show is hurting. Anyone who watched and loved ComedyCentral's Battlebots knows that when Carmen Electra arrived on the scene, the show was soon kaput.

Lately three words come to mind when I think of the three-word phrase, "the daily show." The three words that come to mind are "jumped the shark."

When I think about whether that's true or not, that is, whether The Daily Show has jumped the shark, I think, well, if I have reached the point of wondering whether The Daily Show has jumped the shark, maybe it has indeed jumped the shark . . .

Posted by brian at 06:30 PM

November 24, 2003

Texture Mapping: First Voices, Then Faces

I've long been interested in the idea of texture mapping voices and faces. In fact I've long been convinced this is something that is coming within the next 20 years.

Let me explain by way of example.

Imagine it's 2015. The latest craze is the new Original Star Trek TV series on TV. That's right, the new original series. Meaning: Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, the whole original crew, of the original Enterprise, back as if for Year 4 of the original series.

Why not? Think about what you'd need: obviously a set of really good scripts. Ok, let's say you have that. Technically you would need to be able to create digital characters that looked, acted, moved, and spoke just like their counterpart actors from the 1960s show.

Imagine software that does texture mapping --- not just of any old textures onto 3D shapes, tools we have plenty of now ---- but faces and bodies and clothes, digitized right out of the original series episodes, and wrapped around 3D representations of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, etc. Then, take the voice recordings of these people, and apply their vocal patterns --- the characteristics of the way they speak and their vocal waveforms, and wrap them around a generic vocal reading the lines of these newfangled 2015-era Star Trek shows.

If you're still following me: imagine some teenager geek somewhere writes, produces, directs, and acts the entire series, through a powerful set of these tools. I think this is coming. And it won't just be Star Trek. It'll be The Beatles. Clint Eastwood. Mike Myers. You name it. Any popcult phenomenon. As long as we have original footage and original audio of the person, why not create a digital counterpart that can act, speak, walk, whatever, through whatever situations, stories, etc you can imagine.

So anyway, it's something I think is coming.

And then I saw this story in today's New York Times.

Seems like I might have to revise the 2015 date downward...

Posted by brian at 11:41 PM

November 23, 2003

Recent Listens

Some music I've recently discovered (having read about it online or heard it somewhere, often at KCRW) that I'm liking :

  • April March's new Triggers album. I especially like "Zero Zero". And with a name like April March, it's got to be . . . mischievous.

  • Simple Kid, "Average Man"

  • Guided by Voices', Earthquake Glue album. GbV is a long-time favorite. I was especially pleased that to see I was among such distinguished company in my recent NYT writeup --- that same day's issue had a big story about Guided by Voices. All the news that's fit to print, indeed.

  • Death Cab for Cutie's album Transatlanticism.

  • Lily Chou-Chou, "Kauhukusuru Kizu", as featured in the films Kill Bill (but, alas, not on the movie soundtrack album) and All About Lily Chou-Chou.

  • Kevin Shields: nice to hear new music from him, this time from the great Lost in Translation movie soundtrack.

Posted by brian at 08:10 PM

November 19, 2003

When Brick-n-Mortar Beats Online

So yesterday marked the release of the extended edition DVD of The Two Towers. Amazon offered it for $25.99 with free shipping, but the free shipping was promised at "3 to 5 days".

Out of curiosity, I called the local Blockbuster. "We have 12 in stock," the store clerk told me. "Price is $39.99." Amazing.

Then I called the local Target. Took forever to get through, finally got an operator who said "What department?" "DVDs." "One moment." "Electronics!" "Do you have the new extended edition DVD of The Two T--" "24.99." "In stock?" "Yes." "Thanks. Bye." Click.

I wonder how many people buy through Blockbuster.

Posted by brian at 11:23 AM

November 18, 2003

Dear Yahoo

Dear Yahoo!Movies Product Manager Team,

I like your movie listings and showtimes and use these pages regularly to find out what films are showing in town and as well as when and where they're showing. Great site, please never change it.

Oh. Wait. Please change one little thing: see, there's tiny new feature that would be very handy. It would be really cool if you would show a little (D) code or icon next to those showtimes for which the film is being presented in digital projection.

Some theatres provide this info for you, and occasionally I'll see a "DLP - Digital Projection" note associated with a particular screening within a particular theatre. But I don't have any confidence these infrequent mentions represent ALL of the theatres in my market (San Diego County) that are currently featuring films presented digitally. Maybe an orange icon or something loud and obvious would do the trick, enabling the digital showings to jump out when one does a quick scan down the page.

Perhaps if you got your bizdev folks to give a call to the digital projector companies, and have them pay you, or pay the theatres, to add this data to your movie showtime pages. After all, they want to create a market demand for these digital presentations but if the market doesn't even know about them or where they're showing, it's going to be a long hard road.

I look forward to a rapid implementation of this feature some time soon.

Your friend,
A. Moviegoer

Posted by brian at 08:57 PM | Comments (1)

November 17, 2003

TinyURL Stock Investing

BoingBoing blogged today about tinkering with TinyURL's (looks like it's Erik Olsen's original suggestion). TinyURL is a great little site I use often to scrunch an absurdly long URL into something... tiny, that I can then pass along to someone in email or in a conference posting.

TinyURL (which I love much more than competitor MakeAShorterLink.com) works by your simply entering the URL you want squished and it spits back a 4-character filename at the tinyurl.com webserver that when accessed, is redirected to the long URL you specified.

True to form, the BoingBoingers tried out their names (think about it... Mark, Cory, Xeni...) to see where they led. Very clever, those BoingBoingers.

Considering that I've already proposed a rather unusual stock investing method based on Amazon Purchase Circles (hey, Motley Fool loved it), why not try one based on TinyURLs?

After all, guess what has four letters: Nasdaq stock symbols. Need I say more?

Hey: Maybe I've discovered the great secret way to divine what stocks to buy, sell, or hold, depending on what URL the stock symbol's TinyURL points to?

First, let's set up some rules:

  • If NO TinyURL exists for a stock symbol, then don't do anything. No buy, no sell. Hold if you already own.

  • If a TinyURL exists and the web page you go to is a page with text that's generally positive, good news or a happy picture, then BUY!!!

  • If a TinyURL exists but the web page you go to is a page with text that's generally negative or whiny, controversial, or morally objectionable, or has a similarly uncouth photograph, then SELL that stock!

  • If the TinyURL exists but when TinyURL redirects, you arrive at a 404 not found, signup/registration page, or similar non-content page, HOLD (probably indefinitely!)

Ok, with these rules in place, let's have some fun.

  • AAPL -- Apple Computer. TinyURL.com/AAPL points to an AutoTrader page for a car that is no longer listed for sale. Hey, you know what that means! HOLD!

  • AMAT -- Applied Materials. TinyURL.com/AMAT points to a PDF file for "Women who shine" nominees for a Women of Distinction Awards from YMCA/YWCA. Cool! BUY!

  • AMZN -- Amazon.com. TinyURL.com/AMZN points to a no longer existing item at eBay. HOLD!

  • CSCO -- Cisco. TinyURL.com/CSCO points to a January 2001 CNN story with the headline "Ballot nightmare lingers for Palm Beach elections chief." Nightmare, eh? SELL!

  • DELL -- Dell. TinyURL.com/DELL points to, er, a website that some would find er, morally objectionable, shall we say. Don't even think of going there, just SELL, SELL, SELL!

  • EBAY -- eBay. TinyURL.com/EBAY points to a dead web page. HOLD!

  • ERTS -- Electronic Arts. TinyURL.com/ERTS points to a web discussion page on a PDA product, where the customers seem very very happy. You know what that means (sheesh, this stock can do no wrong): BUY!

  • IACI -- InterActive Corp. TinyURL.com/IACI points to a tourist photo of Plymouth Rock. Check out the angle of the photo. Now if that were a stock chart, what would you do? Of course you would . . . BUY!

  • INTC -- Intel. TinyURL.com/INTC points to a July 2003 Washington Post story about how Top Iraqi scientists deny WMD programs. SELL!

  • MSFT -- Microsoft. TinyURL.com/MSFT points to a News24.com registration page for South Africa. HOLD!

  • NFLX -- Netflix. TinyURL.com/NFLX points to an AP wire story on how power anomalies presaged the nation's worst blackout back in August. Blackouts? Uh-oh. SELL!

  • NXTL -- Nextel. TinyURL.com/NXTL points to a BMW of Canada website but the database-driven page is broken, with a big "Microsoft VBScript runtime error". Don't you just hate when that happens? SELL!

  • ORCL -- Oracle. TinyURL.com/ORCL points to a Canadian Amazon page for the import CD of Elton John's Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. Hmm, well, it does have a couple good songs on it, so. . . BUY!

  • PAYC -- Paychex. TinyURL.com/PAYC points to an order form -- a completed Jukebox Super Store order form, with personal information on it -- for an $8,995 Wurlitzer One More Time Vinyl Jukebox. Somebody oughta talk to the Juke Box Superstore. . . they have some serious security issues. SELL!

  • PETM -- PetSmart. TinyURL.com/PETM points to an Indian business newspaper story about how some telecom agency has given Indian telecom companies a "breather" to fix their tarrifs. Whew! BUY!

  • PIXR -- PIXAR. TinyURL.com/PIXR points to a big long Usenet posting about some spammer abusing net privileges. Ugh. SELL!

  • SBUX -- Starbucks. TinyURL.com/SBUX points to a very nice wedding photo of a happy couple. Mazel tov! BUY!

  • SEBL -- Siebel Systems. TinyURL.com/SEBL points to a google Directory page for dictionaries and references for kids. Cool! BUY!

  • SUNW -- Sun Microsystems. TinyURL.com/SUNW points to a Shopping.com page for Fuji Finepix cameras. Cool! BUY!

  • YHOO -- Yahoo. TinyURL.com/YHOO points. . . wait, it doesn't point to anything --- TinyURL hasn't used it yet! HOLD!

Posted by brian at 09:27 PM

Cheap Joe's postcard

It's not all "nasty reviews" here at Brianstorms. :-)

Today we got a nice little 3x5 postcard in the mail, from Cheap Joe's Art Stuff, a mail-order company my wife buys art supplies from.

Here's what their postcard said:

Living in the mountains of North Carolina its hard for us to imagine what it must be like to experience a devastating wild fire. But we want you to know how concerned we are that you might have experienced damage done by the fires that ravaged your area. If you (or someone you know) did experience a loss of art supplies (that won't be replaced by insurance) please call and talk with us. As our gift to you, we'd like to help you re-stock at no charge.
Cheap Joe and the Gang
800-227-2788

Posted by brian at 07:58 PM

November 16, 2003

New York Times

Good grief. I'm in Monday's New York Times. It's about the Tony Perkins humor piece I did here in this blog back on Nov 6th.

They even included a photo of Perkins. And he doesn't look very happy. I wonder if this will be in the print edition.

Meanwhile, I noticed that Marc Canter had some comments on the Perkins piece.

UPDATE - 7am, 18 Nov 2003:
A mini comment on one paragraph of the NYT story. Here's the paragraph:

Something about the proposition struck Brian Dear, a software entrepreneur and writer, as being a lot like Tom Sawyer's inviting the other boys to paint the fence. Mr. Dear found the posting especially galling, he said, because he has been grinding away for years on a history of the user community that grew up around Plato, an early computer network. "It just kind of rubbed me the wrong way," he said of the Perkins proposal, "and I thought, 'You know, I should denounce this.' "

Just in case anyone's wondering: in the telephone interview of Nov 13th, I explained to John Schwartz that I run a satire website called Denounce Newswire and that when I initially got Tony Perkins' email to the AlwaysOn Network members I first thought that I ought to "denounce" it, meaning, post a parody on the Denounce website. But then I thought that a line-by-line commentary would be a better method of examining Tony's letter, and such a style didn't fit the Denounce format (everything is done in press release style there) so I'd put it on Brianstorms.

Unfortunately, that explanation didn't make the NYT article, so now it sounds awfully funny: "You know, I should denounce this." I'm suddenly reminded of the Suntory commercial shooting scene in Lost in Translation... but unfortunately readers are probably not thinking, "are you sure that's all he said?"

Also, I did indeed mention my PLATO project in the interview --- I've been researching the history and significance of the PLATO system for years (grinding away!) with the goal of coming out with the first book ever on the subject. The idea that a good book covering the whole history of Google could be whipped up in weeks or months seemed absurd, and that notion ran counter to my own experience. If Tony pulls it off, fantastic. But I'm doubtful.

One other thing: I explained to Mr. Schwartz that in a way I'm doing something similar to Tony's email with my platopeople.com website: soliciting help, ideas, information, oral history from anyone and everyone. And it has worked. I can attest to the power of using a website and Google to cast a wide net to find lots of people to use as sources for the book. The difference is, I've found it takes a long time, and a lot of work to track down, interview, and transcribe. Maybe it doesn't if you have a whole army actually working on the project? We'll see, I guess.

Posted by brian at 09:48 PM

November 15, 2003

21 What?

Apple's got this QuickTime movie preview running for a new movie called 21 Grams from Focus Features. Sean Penn's in it. Benicio Del Toro's in it. Naomi Watts is in it. It's directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. The movie's supposed to be pretty good.

I really really hope so, because the preview's been driving me up the frickin' wall more each time I'm forced to sit through it. It's been showing in theatres around town seemingly before every bloody film I choose to go see.

"They say we all lose twenty-one grams at the exact moment of our death," the preview narrator's voice (sounding an awful lot like Sean Penn) creepily announces. "Everyone," he continues, "twenty-one grams. The weight of a stack of five nickels. The weight of a chocolate bar. The weight of a hummingbird."

Let's see. "A stack of five nickels." Did you know that a nickel weighs exactly what two dimes weigh? That means a stack of five nickels weighs the same as a stack of ten dimes. Now, according to the logic of the universe where Focus Features comes from, such a stack weighs twenty-one grams. They're close. A single nickel is 4.5 grams (whereas a dime is 2.25). So a stack of five very clean nickels would weigh 22.5 grams. Alright. So they're off by 1.5 grams. Here's your dramatic license back. I'll let ya off with a warning just this once.

But wait. "The weight of a chocolate bar." It'd have to be a very, very small chocolate bar. Did you know that there are 28.35 grams in one ounce? When was the last time you bought a chocolate bar that weighed less than an ounce? Who writes this stuff?

Twenty-one grams, the preview narrator goes on to tell us, is "the weight of a hummingbird." Perhaps a hummingbird from Jupiter, or a really, really obese terrestrial hummingbird that just ate six other hummingbirds, but not a plain ordinary hummingbird.

Of the 338 species and 116 genera of Trochilidae, the biological family of hummingbirds, the typical weight is 3 to 5 grams. Three grams seems to be more common. Five grams, well, that's one hummingbird that should seriously consider Atkins.

So, what hummingbird were the producers of this film thinking of when they made this preview? Certainly not Mellisuga helenae. Why, you'd need a bleeding flock of them to total twenty-one grams. They each weigh about one tenth of that. What then? Threnetes ruckeri? Come now. Perhaps Campylopterus hemileucurus, one of the largest of the hummers. Sorry, still too light by a wide margin.

Three grams, why, that's less than a penny, which is certainly less than the "stack of five nickels." Three grams, that's, that's what, about six average-sized paperclips? Three grams, that's less than a bleeding pencil, for Christ's sake.

Go ahead, find a hummingbird, stun it gently, place it on one end of a balance scale and stack ten first-class letters on the other end, and the balance will stay in the middle.

Like hell, twenty-one grams!

This movie has an awful lot of explaining to do!

Posted by brian at 10:35 AM | Comments (8)

November 14, 2003

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

Considering this is the brianstorms blog, there's sure been a dearth of brianstorming lately. Here's an idea:

There's an interesting new topic in the media conference on The WELL all about the crap, gossip, trivia, and nonsense that takes up so much of each broadcast news programming hour and subsequently fills out brains with so much useless information. Ever think about all the junk that the media passes on as "news", instead of news we could all use? Seems to me that society could really, really use a solid, no-nonsense news and information source. The antithesis of what's on television today.

I'm reminded of the line from the movie All the President's Men, where the Post editors are all meeting in a conference room, deciding what stories to run with in the next issue. One human interest story has to do with a strange phenomenon (some think a religious miracle) in the Phillipines that some think is causing unusually long rainstorms. The Ben Bradlee character decides it's not an important story. One editor disagrees, saying, "Laugh laugh, gentlemen, it'll be the only story anybody reads."

It seems that in thirty years the pendulum has swung such that the new Ben Bradlees of the world are much more interested in running the Philippine rain miracle stories and less interested in following big stories all the way through to their final conclusion or resolution.

Here's my current inventory of Things I Don't Care About Or Need To Know:

  • Celebrity Arrests
  • Celebrity Breakups
  • Celebrity Marriages
  • Celebrity Scandals
  • Celebrity Internet Videos
  • Sports
  • Sensational Court Hearings, Trials, etc.
  • Vacation Hot Spots
  • Who's a Liberal
  • Who's a Conservative
  • Who Thinks Who is a Liar/Traitor/Slanderer/etc
. . . well you get the idea.

On the other hand, here is a very short list of some of the stuff that I am interested in, stuff I think we've yet to reach resolution or conclusion on:

  • When is Saddam Hussein going to be trotted out in front of the cameras and brought to justice?
  • When is Osama bin Laden going to be trotted out in front of the cameras and brought to justice?
  • When is Ken Lay going to be trotted out in front of the cameras and brought to justice?
  • Where are the answers to all the unanswered 9/11 questions?
  • Who attended Cheney's energy policy meetings and what was discussed and decided?
  • What specific corporations, organizations, and wealthy individuals are financing all of the 2004 presidential campaigns? Names, amounts, candidates, parties. Running, regularly updated tally would be nice.
  • How safe are the food and drink products I buy and consume? Should I care?
  • What things can I do today to my home/car/office to save energy?
  • What can I do to get my dog healthier in such a way that does not require daily doses of antibiotics and other prescriptions for the rest of his life?
. . . well, you get the idea.

That 9/11 site mentioned above really is remarkable, for its depth and sheer number of unanswered questions raised. Imagine if all major news stories had sites like that, with rich timelines, enormous amounts of links and references and background information, as well as a list of yet-to-be-answered questions that could be answered by "viewers like you"? (Hmm, imagine if PBS were no longer about getting money from viewers like you, but stories, facts, and eyewitness accounts from viewers like you.)

Here's an idea. We build a social network (along the lines of Ryze, Friendster, LinkedIn, Ringo, MeetUp, etc) but for news. A network that represents who knows what, who witnessed what, who's covering what, who's there now, who used to live/work there, etc. A network of not just amateurs but professional newspeople as well. Of course, the network would have reputation management. Certainly there's a good dose of Google Answers in this idea, but it's not about individuals. The point of the site would be that it's a comprehensive clearinghouse for information about news and who are the best sources for the news. There'd also be a strong dose of Snopes in a service like I'm envisioning. Perhaps one way to implement it would be using a wiki, like wikipedia, but it'd be a newswiki, where stuff that's happening right now can be written about, but also the background info, backstory, and historical context could be made available as well. A quick search around the web finds something called newswiki and timestreams but there's not much on those pages. Surely there's some discussion about these kinds of ideas out there somewhere? Would love to hear from you if you're doing something in this space already.

This is all random brainstorming at this point, but I would love to know more about social networks for news where we can go straight to all the Salam Paxes of the world and get their versions of the story, rather than the sanitized versions we're getting through the print and broadcast networks.

By the way I love how when you type in "newswiki" as a search in Google, Google responds with "Did you mean Newsweek?" No. I precisely did not mean Newsweek. That's the whole problem.

Posted by brian at 09:09 PM | Comments (2)

The Extra

I remember when the Master and Commander casting call appeared on the San Diego Craig's List website. I thought.... hmmm... I oughta do it. In the end, I wimped out, and didn't go.

In today's San Diego Union there's a story about someone who did go to that casting call. He got picked. He's in the movie. Read the whole story here.

Posted by brian at 04:29 PM

Fire Sale

So it's finally over. RIP, MP3. It will indeed be interesting to see if Lindows and SIPhone fare any better in the long run.

Posted by brian at 06:52 AM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2003

From the 'Just Returned From Very Long South Pole Expedition' Dept.

Duh. I just made the connection this evening that Neal Pollack, who has this week announced he's stopping blogging, is in fact NOT Kevin Pollak, the actor. Up until 10 minutes ago, I thought the guy from Usual Suspects, Casino, LA Story, and Wayne's World 2, among other films, was indeed also the meretricious Dave-Barry-wannabe blatherskite much loved by the McSweeney's crowd.

Much, much slack is now being extended to Kevin Pollak.

Well, some slack. His recent movies suck, but that's another story. :-)

Posted by brian at 07:55 PM

Sign the ROTK Petition

Sign the petition and help restore seven important minutes of footage to the upcoming Return of the King movie that have apparently been removed from the theatrical release. These are all of the Saruman scenes, and Christopher Lee sounds crushed.

As of this writing there are 5054 signatures at 7:12am on 13 Nov 2003. I suspect Jackson won't even hear about it until there are 5,000,054 signatures....

Posted by brian at 07:08 AM | Comments (1)

November 12, 2003

Steve Ballmer iPod Ad

Remember the Steve Ballmer video where he's raving crazy as a monkey, dancing up and down and screaming and cheering for Microsoft at the employee meeting? Someone's taken the audio of that and made it into a hilarious iPod commercial.

Click on the image to the right to see the commercial. (Requires Flash, of course).

Posted by brian at 11:29 PM

Fact Checker: White Courtesy Phone

From the current issue of TIME, re "cool inventions," there's an article about Friendster.com, in which author Anita Hamilton says,

"There are plenty of Friendster knockoffs, such as Ryze.com, Tribe.net and Meetup.com."

That's just flat-out wrong. Ryze, for one thing, has been around since October 2001. Meetup launched in June 2002. Friendster was founded in 2002 and launched in March 2003. Tribe launched in July 2003.

If anything, Friendster is a flat-out knockoff of Ryze, which in turn owes a lot to the good ol' SixDegrees.com founded years earlier.

Where do they get these "journalists" anyway!?

UPDATE 13 Nov 2003 -- 2:42pm: After writing the above I emailed Time magazine to alert them to the error, and today I got an email from Anita Hamilton saying that the online version of the print article, which is what I saw, differed from the print version of the print article, and that what I saw had been put online in error. She said that a new version was going up to replace it. I just checked. Yup, no more mention of "knockoff". Now it says:

There are plenty of other networking sites, such as Ryze.com, Tribe.net and Meetup.com.

All's well that ends well.

Posted by brian at 07:51 AM

November 06, 2003

Help Make Tony Rich

I signed up for the AlwaysOn Network blog a while back, and occasionally visit it to read the interviews. There are some VCs who hang out there, including some, like Draper, who like to solicit ideas from the suckers who signed up for AON (including me), as if they're really going to invest in something that's pitched to them publicly in a blog.

Today I got an email from AON founder Tony Perkins. You remember Tony, the "prominent opinion leader" and "pioneering media entrepreneur" who founded Red Herring magazine, the chronicle of the greedy 1990s? The publication is defunct now, died when the bubble burst. AON is what rose from the ashes.

What follows is the email Tony sent to the AON members today, with some between-the-lines interpretation thrown in, in a pale imitation of Bruce Sterling's Viridian Notes commentary.

Date: Thu, 6 Nov 2003 14:01:57 -0800
From: google@alwayson-network.com
Reply-To: google@alwayson-network.com
To: brian@XXXXXXXX.XXX
Subject: Help AO write a book on Google

Googling Google

Hi,

I have just decided to write a book about Google. When I finished my last book, The Internet Bubble, with my brother Michael, I can remember thinking, "Damn! I'll never do that again!"

I smell money. I want you to help me make more money. Google is the way I'm going to make money.

Writing a book is a very painful experience. And frankly, the only way I can pull this off under a tight deadline (I want it out before Google goes public), is to write it with AlwaysOn members.

Writing a book is so painful, I find it easier if someone else does all the hard work. So I'm asking you, members of the AlwaysOn network, to give me all of your ideas.

As the folks who have been following AlwaysOn know, we believe that our competitive advantage is you. While John Markoff of the New York Times and David Kirkpatrick of Fortune may have bigger Rolodexes, and while they may often have better access to sources, we have thousands of members we can turn to get the real inside track. And that's who I'm counting on.

The only thing more impressive than a big bank account is a big Rolodex. But we can beat those journalists by using the power of the network. Just imagine. If every AlwaysOn member gets five friends to find something out about Google, and each of those five people get five friends, and so on, we can have 100,000 sources for this Google book! Of course, only I will get paid when it sells a mllion copies.

Before I tell you how you can help, you might wonder, Why a book on Google?

Actually, if you're an AlwaysOn member, you're not wondering at all, are you. You know full well that a book on Google that comes out right around the time of the Google IPO is a great way for an outsider to ride the Google bandwagon and cash in on what's going to be the greatest Internet party since Netscape IPO'ed back in August 1995.

First, I think Google is a great portrait of how the American dream is playing out in this century. Two Stanford students build a better mousetrap, attract top-tier VCs, recruit an incredible CEO, develop a unique business model, and help reinvent Silicon Valley all over again.

If I suck up to the Google execs now, maybe they'll grant me an interview.

This in itself is a great story, but there is much, much more.

And I'm counting on you to tell me everything.

Having reached a billion dollars in revenues, Google now sits in the sights of the most powerful and crafty competitors on the planet: Yahoo, Amazon, eBay, and the Almighty Microsoft.

Wow. A billion dollars. Drool. I wish I could have some of that. Wait. I can! With your help I can!!!

My inside sources tell me that Microsoft recently offered $10 billion to buy Google, and the boys said no way. Bankers I know say that they are looking to fetch an $18 billion IPO valuation, so who needs Microsoft, right? We will see. And that is why this book needs to be written.

Okay, so my inside sources are the same as everyone else's: Slashdot and CNET News and the New York Times and Yahoo News. But, dammit, this book needs to be written because it's going to sell really well no matter how good it is. Maybe Google will include it in the prospectus! Wouldn't that be cool! We will see.

It will also be fun to examine the forces behind Google's IPO. Did you know that Andy Bechtolsheim (Sun Microsystems co-founder) gave the Google boys a $100,000 investment before they even named the company? Just think how much money he is going to make on the deal. Did you know that the company's two primary investors, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital, still own 9% of the company? Each. It doesn't take a person smart enough to work at Google to do the math on how much these stakes are going to be worth after an $18 billion IPO.

Dammit! If ONLY I'd given $100 to Larry and Sergey back in the day, I'd be RICH next year. Can you imagine what $100 in 1997 Googlebux would be worth in 2004? Fortune beyond your imagination, that's what! God, to have 9% of the company. That is so totally awesome. Those dudes are going to be filthy rich. Wait! They're already filthy rich! Even more awesome!

As we say in the world of journalism, "This is a story that needs to be told."

As we say in Silicon Valley, "There's never enough money. Make more."

And why, you might ask, should we be the ones to write this book? Because the last time I was hanging out with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, he once again reiterated that the interview series he did with AlwaysOn was the best he'd ever done. We're the right scribes for the job.

Why should we be the ones to write this book? Because nobody else smells money sooner or hypes a tech company faster than the people who founded Red Herring. And we can make Eric and the rest of the boys look good in print. Which will be important to helping them get that $18 billion valuation. Hell, why stop at $18 billion! Let's shoot for $100 billion and break the record!

My hope, and my advice to Google, is to wait until August to go public. But given that the company has been actively talking to bankers, the IPO could be as early as January.

I'm an important player in Silicon Valley. Why, I've hung out with Eric Schmidt. I've got cred! And I still haven't washed my hand since I shook his. He trusts what I have to say. So when I give advice that Google wait until August 2004 to go public, just you watch and see. They'll wait. After all, that's what I advised. And besides, it gives me more time to get the book out the door. But if the IPO is as early as January, we'll be ready. As long as you help me write this book.

Either way, we have lots of work to do. So how about it? Watch for my regular posts, and let's make this happen.

No pain, no gain. And I want to gain. With your pain, I'll gain.

Note to members: AO members are encouraged to post their thoughts and reflections on what I write in this ongoing blog on Google. The goal is to work with AO members to write a book that gets published before Google goes public. If you have a really juicy scoop, please email it to google@alwayson-network.com. This email will only be read by me, and I promise to keep whatever you send to me in complete confidence unless you advise otherwise. Those members who either post or e-mail me inside information that I end up using in the book will be listed as contributing editors in the Acknowledgements section of the book.

In fact, if you act now, I'll include a FREE AlwaysOn t-shirt (size X SMALL, M SMALL, or SMALL) and you'll have my everlasting gratitude. Together, we can make me a boatload of money cashing in on Google's IPO!

Best,
Tony Perkins

Posted by brian at 08:44 PM | Comments (6)

GreenCine nettled

In which I finally get 'round to reviewing the GreenCine DVD rental service, something I've been meaning to do for about 15 months.

Alas, it didn't turn out to be a standard Nettle-style review. I blame Monty Python.

Posted by brian at 11:57 AM

November 05, 2003

The Matrix Revelations? Not.

Veni, vidi, denounci.

Meanwhile, enjoy The Meatrix (requires flash). Alas, it's got a political message.

Then there's The Portal (requires flash).

Posted by brian at 12:02 PM

November 04, 2003

Giving the Gift of Music

A remarkable thing is happening on The WELL right now. Two WELL users, a husband and wife who live in Cuyamaca near Julian, were traveling in Paris when the fire hit last week.

Their home burned to the ground and, except for their pets which were rescued in time, they lost everything. When they got back to California all they had was what they carried in their suitcases from the trip.

And the husband's father also lived in Cuyamaca, and his home burned down too. His profession: he owns a Julian business which makes a line of specially-designed chainsaws for fighting forest fires. The family is now living temporarily in the office of the business.

Some folks on The WELL have set up a web page where people can donate money via Paypal. And elsewhere on The WELL, people have started helping the couple rebuild their music collection by donating CDs and burning copies of CDs that the couple lost in the fire.

Which begs the question, why didn't the RIAA think of that?

Think about it: what better way to earn some much-needed goodwill than for the music industry to announce it is going to spend a million or so restoring the music collections of those who lost their music collection in the fires. Maybe not everybody would care. But I know some who would.

Even if it cost $10 million to restore the music libraries of, what, 10,000 people: wouldn't value of the positive-publicity returns far exceed that cost?

Posted by brian at 10:37 AM

Stripped Ranch

One can still smell soot and ash in Scripps Ranch.

I had to take my car out to the shop on Miramar Road here in San Diego, near where the fire destroyed so many homes in Scripps Ranch. Mechanic had to order a part, so I had to wait an hour. So I drove over to Pomerado Road, which cuts through the heart of Scripps Ranch.

The first thing you notice about Scripps Ranch is the eucalyptus trees. They're everywhere -- groves of them. It's what defines the area.

Now they're dead. And the ground is black, deep black, as far as you can see. Roads coming off Pomerado Road, up into neighborhoods, have police checkpoints (only residents can enter). In many places as I continued heading east on Pomerado, the fire had jumped the road, and scorched to blackness the hills on the left, sometimes climbing up to the neighborhoods and approaching the homes there. Every now and then I saw home, home, home, chimney, home, home, chimney, where the only thing standing where a home once was, was a chimney.

Blackness and destruction everywhere. Acres and acres of soot and char, rolling hills of blackness with dead trees. Yet, many houses and apartments and condos were spared, but these communities are surrounded by blackness on all sides. Look out the window from one of these homes and all you're bound to see is the fire's aftermath in every direction.

I saw a sign alongside Pomerado. It said "Welcome to Scripps Ranch." The sign, wooden, was intact, but the post holding up the sign was so blackened and charred, it appeared that the slightest wind would break it in two.

Strangely, the most dramatic thing I saw was not the chimneys where homes once stood (probably been oversaturated with that image from the media) but rather 50-foot, maybe 100-foot stretches of guard rail along Pomerado road, gently twisted and laying unnaturally on the ground. I was something you just don't see. At first I thought, huh? Guard rail melted? No. The guard rail was fine. Just laying on the ground, because all of the wooden posts that a guard rail is connected to had burnt to a crisp and no longer existed.

So the weight caused long stretches of guard rail to simply sag all the way to the ground.

Posted by brian at 07:57 AM

November 01, 2003

Online Reputation Systems

Esther recently invited me to review a draft of the upcoming issue of the $795-a-year Release 1.0 newsletter, which for this issue would be all about online reputation systems. I noticed the issue just went out in the mail, so it's public now.

Here's the writeup I sent back to Esther earlier this month having read the draft (some of the ideas in here made it into the published article in one form or another):

Thanks, got the file, and have read it all the way through. Excellent overview of reputation systems and good selection of examples. I fear there's not much I can add that's not already been said and said well, but here are some random thoughts that came to mind while reading:

1) eBay Another dimension to eBay's feedback forum is revealed by examining what they *don't* provide to their users. For instance:

a. Lots of users have feedbacks containing say 98% or 99% positive ratings --- not quite perfect. People see that and immediately want to zero in on the imperfections --- the 1% or 2% that were negative. It's a natural reaction to have. Maybe you want to buy from this seller, but that 2% is scaring you. Were the negatives recent? How were the issues resolved? Problem is, it's often hard to find out easily, because eBay does not let you search or sort through feedback ratings. You can't tell eBay, "show me only this user's negative feedback." This restriction is intentional on eBay's part, and a source of eternal grumblings on the community's part. All you can do is page through the feedback ratings sequentially. For buyers or sellers with hundreds or thousands of ratings, this means many many pages! One consequence: after slogging through page after page of positive ratings looking for those curious negatives, all that positivity erodes your desire to keep looking. I bet a lot of users give up. (I believe this once again relates to eBay's architectural design based on the "people are basically good" philosophy you've also noted.)

b. Seller/buyer distinction. The community told eBay it wanted to distinguish between feedback given to a user who was buying something and feedback given to a user who was selling something. The idea being, a particular eBay user may be a great buyer but a lousy seller, or the other way around. So since that data was available, it was possible to add it to the feedback pages of the site. I advocated that users ought to be able tell eBay, "only show me feedback for when this user was selling something", but the engineering powers-that-be said it was too computationally expensive to implement (an excuse I've never bought, btw). So all I was able to add was the S/B column (one of my dubious claims to fame while at eBay) but alas it's not sortable.

2) Microsoft's Netscan and parallels on The WELL Data-mining Usenet was inevitable and Microsoft's results are, imho, just about what anyone who's used conferencing and newsgroup systems for years would expect to find. For example, similar data would probably be found in The WELL community if you mined their archives.

The WELL doesn't have a reputation system for its users, but that doesn't stop its users from coming up with one. On The WELL, there's been a feature for years called "bozo filtering", what you might call a "kill file" --- if your name is in someone's ".blist", they never see your postings when they come across them in online conference postings. At some point years ago, users started making their ".blist" files readable by all --- and sure enough, someone wrote a tool to monitor all the open ".blist" files and generate statistics: who are the most bozoed users on The WELL, and which users are bozoing the most people. Whenever any user updates their publicly-readable bozo list, the updates (those names that are added or removed) are published as well. So people can see when someone falls out of favor with someone else, or vice versa. All this political activity within the community of course generates a running commentary by members of the community.

3) Some thoughts re Future Implications/Applications

a. Given the Teacher and Professor sites, I'm wondering when we'll see RateTheBoss, where current and former, gruntled and disgruntled, underlings tell all about their managers. While we're at it, where's RateTheVC? :-)

b. Conferences: Every conference strives to elicit some sort of evaluation from participants. But the data is rarely if ever shared back with the participants. Perhaps a RateTheSpeaker or RateThePanelist (RateThePundit?) service is needed. It'd be great to see what the attendee-generated reputations of speakers and panelists looked like.

c. At some point people are going to start (if they haven't already) to include online reputation summaries in their resumes, just like companies already do when they brag about their J.D. Power rating in advertisements.

d. I wouldn't be surprised if someone eventually aggregates the disparate online reputations of individuals and offers a Fair Issac-style profile rating. A summary might include that the person in question is a great eBay seller but a slow-to-respond buyer, so-so reviewer of products, excellent teacher, popular blogger. Who would value such information? What's to prevent such aggregation? What outside communities would value the reputations of individuals within other communities?

e. Workplace whuffie, performance evaluations, etc.: same sort of thing as "d" above, but internal to the enterprise. Systems giving everyone in the company the means of identifying who's the "go-to" person for any information, expertise, tight-deadline-deliverable (i.e., who are the miracle workers) etc.

4) Recommendations for Online Companies One thing I was kind of looking for but didn't get a strong sense of in the article was any strategic recommendations to current online businesses about what they ought to do regarding reputation systems. Perhaps it's beyond the scope of the article. I guess it depends on the audience. It'd also be nice to know if there are any case studies of online reputation systems that didn't work out, or backfired, or were shut down because of community reaction. I don't know of any, but I (and I bet Release 1.0 readers) would be curious to hear about such instances.

5) Link: Paul Resnick's site has a link to an interesting site, the "Reputations Research Network." http://databases.si.umich.edu/reputations Might be worthy of direct mention in the Resources section.

Posted by brian at 03:09 PM
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