March 31, 2004
Spring Break... In the Arctic CircleInstead of heading for the warm beaches, a group of MIT students headed for Alaska in an effort to learn about drilling for oil in Alaska. The trip's over now, but the blog of the trip is interesting reading. Here's another student's journal of the trip.
Posted by brian at 06:09 PM
Your Research Dollars At Work: UCSD Study on Dogs & OwnersUnionTribune is running story today about a UCSD study that shows that yes, there does seem to be something to the old notion that dog owners often resemble their dogs.
Considering my dog looks like an albino Spock wearing a black eye patch, I'm not so sure the study pertains to me.
Posted by brian at 03:39 PM
March 30, 2004
Back from Bay AreaWhirlwind 2-day trip to SF Bay Area to meet various folks. Amazed that I was able to drive from Sunnyvale to Berkeley in 55 minutes during Monday morning rush hour. (I thought it'd take 2-3hrs)
Managed to sneak in a first-time visit to Amoeba between meetings. Wow. That's the kind of record store you could go broke in!
Posted by brian at 03:52 PM
March 25, 2004
Surfing Fundrace.orgFundrace.org's Neighbor Search is fascinating and a bit scary: it lists the name, address, occupation, employer, political campaign contribution amount, and campaign contribution recipient in a multi-page list.
I'm intrigued that so many La Jolla realtors, whose names I readily recognize given their prominent advertisements in the weekly local La Jolla newspapers, are Bush supporters:
There are a few real estate people listed for non-Bush campaigns, but the vast majority are for Bush. Why?
Want to know who the VCs and CEOs of Silicon Valley support? It's all there, just search using a Silicon Valley zip code and start reading page after page of data. Lots of Democratic support, and the occasional surprise (Carol Bartz, CEO of Autodesk, and Meg Whitman, CEO of eBay: both big Bush supporters!? Say it ain't so!)
March 23, 2004
The World Live WebDave Sifry talks about Technorati tracking the "world live web". He also calls it a "search engine for conversations".
Glaser's Question to Jobs[PC Forum] Rob Glaser on Steve Jobs, Apple, and the proprietary iPod (where only tunes bought from iTunes Music Store can be loaded onto the iPod): "What the heck is going on? I bought an iPod and I can only shop in one store? What is this, the Soviet Union!??"
Posted by brian at 08:11 AM
March 22, 2004
MetacartaOne of the startups debuting here at PC Forum is Metacarta, which helps you find all documents that mention a certain place.
While they're focusing on enterprise customers (and three-letter agencies no doubt), it occurs to me that one of the interesting potential applications is with Amazon's "Search Inside the Book" capability. With Metacarta's tool, that suggests Amazon could let you do queries such as:
That's just a sampling of ideas that I think would enhance Amazon as well as give Metacarta a flashship customer.
Jeff Bezos is here at this conference. I suggested to John Frank, Metacarta's CEO, last night at dinner that he hook up with Jeff Bezos and talk...
UPDATE: I'm told that John Frank has indeed hooked up with Bezos. Let's see if something happens!
Posted by brian at 02:28 PM
March 21, 2004
PC Forum 2004Live, from PC Forum 2004 conference brought to you by
Posted by brian at 03:24 PM
March 19, 2004
GarageBand MusicInteresting listening to all the music being created by users of Apple's Garageband software. The MacJams actually has some pretty good indie music.
Then there's a cover version of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" that sounds incredibly like Neil, but it's actually Matt Knutson, a graphic designer in Juneau, Alaska. (Catch this fast: MacJams prohibits cover versions of tunes, and this one will no doubt be removed at some point).
Posted by brian at 11:47 AM
March 15, 2004
Germs, Germs EverywhereOver on Slashdot there's a link to a BBC story on germs on desk and work surfaces that's guaranteed to make you squirm.
While it comes as no surprise to me that desktop surfaces, keyboards, mice, and phones are, in the BBC's words, "bacteria cafeterias," I've always wondered more about conference room tables.
I remember at places like MP3.com and eBay, where conference rooms would be booked from 8am to 8pm some days, one meeting after another, and by the end of the day the surfaces would be downright sticky. Think about all the working lunches you've had in a conference room. If a desktop has 29,000 germs per squre inch, imagine how many germs live on the typical office conference room table, that's been used by dozens of groups of people, some with colds, some with less-than-perfect hygeine habits, all day long.
It's no wonder people come down with colds and worse when they work in office environments...
Posted by brian at 09:38 PM
March 14, 2004
What Happens When You Get Chris Rock's Old Cellphone NumberAmusing story from someone named Laura (who runs the Laura's NYC Tales site), on what happened when her new cellphone was assigned to Chris Rock's old number...
Posted by brian at 09:18 PM
March 13, 2004
PhotoThere's an almost Escher-esque quality to this photo at the Antipixel blog. I love these kinds of photos: messes with your sense of perspective. And notice the stick figure!
Posted by brian at 10:40 PM
March 10, 2004
What The Market Will Bear: The NASCARization of Movies
For years that's been my definition of the typical movie theater in the United States. Looks like the time has come to change that definition, but not for the better.
Twelve years ago, my wife and I went to Paris on a business trip. We were very jetlagged from the long flight and after a long walk around parts of the city, we decided to catch a movie. We found a huge cinema on the Champs d'Elysees that must've had 2500 seats. The lights dimmed. The commercials began. These were major productions, some lasting several minutes. And at the end, the ad revealed what product (Shell gas, Coca-Cola, whatever) you were supposed to buy. We marveled at how many ads there were. The movie didn't start for nearly thirty minutes after the lights dimmed. It was a first for us: we'd never had this kind of movie experience before back in the States, despite the fact that we were frequent moviegoers.
Just recently on CBS's 60 Minutes TV program, Andy Rooney had a segment on what he called Those Maddening Movie Ads. From his essay:
There ought to be a law that a movie theater has to say exactly what time the show starts. If we want advertising, we'll stay home and watch it for free on television.
(I can sympathize with Andy. However I'm not sure such a law would work, since there'd be no seats left if you showed up 24 minutes past "show time".)
The AMC Experience
I made the mistake of going last night to the local AMC to see Starsky & Hutch (awful movie, imho: Aykroyd & Hanks' Dragnet -- even Police Academy -- is brilliant filmmaking in comparison). But the thing I marveled at the most in this AMC filmgoing experience was the ads.
Not one. Not two. Not three. Not four. Not five. Not six. But seven commercial advertisements after the lights dimmed. Or was it eight . . .
I thought about Andy Rooney's essay while I dealt with the commercials shown on the screen, and thought, "what the market will bear...". Theory goes that in a free-market economy, merchants try all kinds of things to make money and if they're successful, they discover what the market's willing to put up with and what they're not willing to put up with, and the merchants then pursue profit strategies focused on what the market will put up with.
Question: why do we, the market, put up with these ads? Like Rooney says, "At least on television, you get to watch network shows free in exchange for being advertised at. None of us like it, but it's a deal we accept. You get 60 Minutes for nothing, but you have to watch 15 minutes of advertising."
I paid $9 to see Starsky & Hutch. I didn't pay $9 to see Starsky & Hutch and over a half-dozen commercials.
Rooney asks, "Don't they understand that's what we go to a movie to get away from - commercials?"
I don't think most people go to movies to get away from commercials. I fear that most people don't know the difference anymore between what's a commercial and what isn't. (Have you noticed how ads are popping up during television shows?)
Next time you go to a movie theatre, look around and study what people are wearing. Study what you are wearing. How many items of clothing do you see that have corporate logos and slogans on them? From our Nike shoes to our Major League Baseball hat: we are walking commercials already, just less brazen than the logo-saturated uniforms NASCAR drivers wear. At least for now.
Oh yeah: I just remembered. The very first thing they showed when the lights dimmed down was one of those respectcopyrights.org propoganda pieces run by the MPAA. Got me thinking: when are the copyright holders going to start respecting consumers? It's no wonder people are copying music and movies for free. At least they don't have to watch the ads!
One more thing. This blog was brought to you by Google AdSense.
UPDATE 2pm PST 10 March 2004:
Surfing through AMC Theatres' corporate pages is enlightening. Some items:
AMC's NCN subsidiary is the firm responsible for the commercials one sees before the movies. Be sure to read this page. Hell, here it is in full:
And be sure read their Annual Reports, where you'll learn such goodies as:
"The AMC BRAND is the embodiment of our commitment to guest satisfaction."
"The AMC brand is a single and uniform retail brand. The AMC brand is recognized by consumers in the marketplace as the embodiment of our commitment to guest satisfaction and our continuing invitation for moviegoers to 'Experience the Difference' at AMC."
There's only one problem: it is this very difference (commercial ads, brazen monetization, overpriced concessions) that one must endure at AMC that makes AMC stand out. Where is the value? Is this "difference" something the company really wants to be proud of?
March 08, 2004
Stewart Brand Future UnclearPoor Stewart Brand. If you glanced at today's Washington Post, you might think his future was unclear . . . Stewart, may your future be long!
(Thanks to ernie and tnf for the idea)
Mike Godwin notes that Google News searches for "Stewart Brand" yield numerous headlines with the double meaning. For instance:
Posted by brian at 10:13 AM
March 05, 2004
Media SpinInteresting media spin going on right now.
MARTHA STEWART CONVINCTED ON ALL COUNTS, the headlines are blaring across the world.
But, it's not all counts.
Just the other day, the most severe "count", the securities-fraud charge, was dropped by U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum. Had Stewart been convincted of that charge, she faced up to ten years in prison.
What remains is, what, a relative slap on the wrist?
AudiobooksI'm either getting older or wiser.
It used to be that when I heard folks praise the wonders of audiobooks, I thought, eh, old foagies, driving their Winnebago through the hills of Wyoming to the accompaniment of a narrated Danielle Steele novel, the hiss of the cassette tape and the flatness of the audio recording making it sound like an AM radio station playing an archived 1940s radio show.
What's worse, audiobooks are expensive. The one I'm listening to now costs $97 from Amazon (see below). Thankfully, I didn't have to buy it. I checked it out from the library. Amazing what one finds in a library if you snoop around enough.
But I've found audiobooks aren't at all what I thought they were: something only for old foagies. I've discovered over the past year that there is a reason why people rave about audiobooks, especially listening to audiobooks while driving the crowded freeways. A well-narrated audiobook magically transports the driver away into other times, distant lands, different circumstances.
Freeways in Southern California are binary: you either speed as fast as you can, or you barely move. There doesn't seem to be an in-between. But when listening to an audiobook, the experience of concrete sameness flying by (or crawling by, enabling one to study the skidmarks, the bits of radiator, fender, grille, antenna, seat cushion, wiper blade, exploded tires, and hubcaps that adorn the edge of the fast lane) is transformed. Driving to and from L.A. is normally an annoyance, an exasperating experience, like the pain of a dental drill or waiting in a long queue with sore feet and nothing to do. It requires intense alertness lest one drive right into the back of the car or truck in front. And yet it is stupefyingly dull and time-wasting.
A great audiobook changes everything. I find I no longer care about the traffic, the hassle of stop and go. While I'm physically in the car on the freeway, at the same time I am physically in the other place, awaiting the next sentence, my imagination replenished with new ideas and vistas every minute.
That's the experience I get with Paul Theroux travel books. I'm in the middle of the twelve-cassette, unabridged audiobook edition of Theroux's The Old Patagonian Express, vividly brought to life by narrator Norman Dietz, who after only a short listen makes you convinced he is indeed the curmudgeonly Theroux, sneering at one backwater town after another. Dietz inhabits each character Theroux encounters so fully, you forget you're listening to one narrator: it's like an old-time radio show. Hmm.
Theroux's not everyone's cup of tea. He suits me just fine: his travel tales are engaging, witty (if sometimes acidic), and thoroughly fascinating. What a contrast to the scatterbrained, ADD-ridden blogosphere. Sometimes I think bloggers (myself included) are like crows, gathering and hording into heaps all things shiny.
Audiobooks on iTunes
March 03, 2004
Gimme Cookies, Not KooksA month or so ago, our next-door neighbors rang the doorbell. A mother and her daughter were there to see if we wanted to buy Girl Scout cookies. Well, of course! One lorna doons box and one of the new double-chocolate chip boxes (regret: didn't buy a thin mints box -- should've! should've!)
Last Friday, the cookies arrived. :-)
By Monday, the cookies were gone. :-(
Which got me thinking: if the goal of the Girl Scout cookies program is to raise money for the Girl Scouts organization, then how come they don't sell them more than once annually?
I would think they would more than double their sales if all they did was, about a week or two after delivering the cookies to customers, go back to the same customers and ask 'em if they want more. In fact, have some boxes handy when you ring the doorbell.
I know that if I could get another box or two or three, I would. It's the only time I buy cookies, and while I realize they're perfectly bad for you health-wise, dammit, they're yummy! And who cares what the kooks say.
CorkFrom the "hmm, never knew that" department . . . some interesting tidbits about cork.
Posted by brian at 01:08 PM
Radio Vox PopuliLearned about this over at waxy.org:
Radio Vox Populi --- a text-to-speech server that "reads" entries from blogs all over the world. It's very eerie! Check it out.
Posted by brian at 10:44 AM
March 02, 2004
Gas Prices RisingThis isn't the first time I've blogged about rising gas prices. Eleven months ago I was ranting about how bad things were here in San Diego. Now, they're worse:
Noticed the Union 76 station I occasionally go to was charging $2.60/gal for gas. So I went out of my way to find a cheaper station. Found one for $2.49 and filled up there. It's now costing me over $35 to pay for a tank of gas for my 4-dr 1995-model car (that requires 91-octane). (I tell ya, a Prius is looking awfully tempting right about now. If only HyperCar would get their act together....)
There's an interesting website that's collecting gas prices around the country. It's called GasPriceWatch.com. Check it out.
Not surprisingly, it says the most expensive (87 octane) fuel is in the San Diego area (Chula Vista to be exact): $2.32/gal. Actually I think they're wrong about that. It's more expensive here in La Jolla.
It's amazing to see how "cheap" it is elsewhere in the country.
One more thing the media do not report accurately on. All I hear is an average price, or the highest price being something much much lower than $2.60.
Did I Vote?I went to the polling place. I used a Diebold machine.
But I have no idea if I actually voted nor do I know if my vote actually was counted.
The happy-go-lucky local San Diego TV news reported tonight very nonchalantly that roughly 25% of the voting machines DIDN'T WORK when the polls opened this morning. Why? DIEBOLD and MICROSOFT WINDOWS SOFTWARE PROBLEMS.
Me? Scream? Yes!
The county of San Diego paid $30-some-odd million to Diebold for the voting machine contract. 25% of them didn't work this morning. Lots of disruptions in people being able to vote.
I was not happy when they gave me a sticker that didn't just say "I VOTED", but it said "I VOTED TOUCH SCREEN". I did not "vote touch screen." I never voted for it, and I didn't want it. I used it, but I resented the implication that I was supporting it.
But more specifically, It's Not The Touch-Screen That Is the Problem. I didn't mind the touch-screen terminal. Kinda reminded me of PLATO. Only took 'em 31 years, but who's counting.
The problem is that the San Diego Elections people have been very carefully spinning (and the local media has been happily repeating the spin) that this is all about "touch screens" and that "some people aren't happy with the touch screens" and that "for the most part people found them easy to use".
THIS IS NOT ABOUT TOUCH SCREENS.
It's very much about what happens to your vote *after* it is processed by the touch screen terminal. Where does it go? What machines does it pass through? What evidence is there that my vote was even counted? I took my little card out of the Diebold machine when I was done voting, stood in the center of the neighbor's garage polling place, waved the card around to all the polling people, none of whom seemed to care. Finally got someone's attention, and she took the card. I have no idea what she did with it. I did not see her run the card through a reader or other machine, and she gave me nothing but the sticker.
Also, I was never asked to show ID today. I could've been anybody. I found that surprising.
When I was about to leave, I asked the lady who gave me the sticker, "So, there's no physical proof that I actually voted today. All there is is this digital card. No paper trail. Nothing in case a recall is needed."
She looked at me, tired, no energy to deal with the issue.
"You've probably heard this comment all day today," I said.
She smiled and shook her head yes. Then she said, "Supposedly in 2006 they'll be introducing a paper hardcopy to the system so that there will be a record of the ballots."
"Conveniently two years after the 2004 presidential election."
"Yes," she said, shaking her head in resignation, "very conveniently."
From Haircuts to OrkutsAnil Dash presents his Hair Theory of organizing groups of people.
The things one comes across in blogs...
Posted by brian at 01:32 PM
March 01, 2004
Aplus Gets an FWow, got my first unsolicited telemarketing call (not counting the local political calls) in ages earlier today, from a woman who identified herself as being with "A Plus dot net" (www.aplus.net). She said she noticed I'd registered a domain (and she told me the domain name I'd registered) and then told me that her company offers all kinds of web services and would I be interested and what plans did I have for my domain.
This got me thinking:
One, the number she called is on the Federal "Do-Not-Call" list. Wasn't this a violation of that law? I'm pretty sure it was. Perhaps Ivan Vachovsky, president of Aplus.net, can explain why it wasn't. (I've emailed him to find out.)
Two, it struck me as odd that Aplus.net would know that I had registered a domain less than 48 hours ago -- on Saturday in fact. I mean, I'm sure the data gets into the WHOIS database pretty fast, but doesn't ICANN and/or Verisign have strict rules about companies selling to contacts listed in the WHOIS database? I coulda sworn I read that somewhere. Oh yeah. Here it is (just run a WHOIS command):
Ivan, care to explain?
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