May 31, 2004

Cicadas

The cicadas were in full force when we packed up the car and drove across the country, from Maryland to California, arriving in La Jolla, 17 years ago in 1987.

Seventeen years earlier, I remember the arrival of cicadas as well. It was 1970, near the end of the school year in May, and the cicadas were in full force. I remember one of my school teachers, Dick Drescher, ate some of the brown shells cicada grubs shed, to impress (and gross out) me and my classmates. Drescher was quite a character. Other claims to fame were that he was able to shake his necktie up and down just by controlling his Adam's apple. Once he kcked 62-yard field goal with a K2 football. The ball flew past the goal post and across the street. It probably would have been a 80-yard kick if he'd wanted it to be. (Drescher had around that time tried out for the Washington Redskins at least once, but hadn't made the final cut.)

The Washington Post, demonstrating that they have an awful lot of time on their hands, has prepared a full cicada guide to answer everything you've ever wanted to know about cicadas.

In case that's not enough, here is a collection of field recordings (in MP3 format) of cicadas in all their glory. Ah, brings back memories...

Posted by brian at 05:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 29, 2004

Nettle Takes On Meetup

Over in my Nettle blog (remember that?), I just posted a review of my very first Meetup.

Posted by brian at 04:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

WHOA! I FEEL GOOOOOOD

AND I KNEW THAT I WOOOOOUUULLLD . . . .

The dog and I go for a hike this morning up a steep hill, with a spectacular view. Just as I took a picture of him, he let out this terrific yawn. Here's the panorama view, haphazardly stitched together from a dozen Treo snapshots:

Posted by brian at 03:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 27, 2004

A Month of Reruns?

After two weeks or so of Daily Show reruns, I decided I was curious enough to know when new programs would resume airing, so I contacted Comedy Central directly. Here is the response. I hope this is a typo.

 
   ------------------------------------------------------------------
   From: "Viewer Services @ Comedy Central"
         
   Subject: RE: Daily Show reruns: Why so frequent?
   Date: Thu, 27 May 2004 16:09:31 -0400
 
   Dear Brian,
 
   New episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart will begin June 28, 
   2004 at 11pm. All times are Eastern and Pacific Time Zone.
 
   Thanks for watching Comedy Central!
 
   Sincerely,
   Comedy Central Viewer Services
   -------------------------------------------------------------------
 

I replied requesting verification that they meant MAY not JUNE, but Viacom bounces replies to that comedycentral.com email address.

Anybody know anyone at The Daily Show?

Posted by brian at 04:07 PM | Comments (1)

May 26, 2004

Where Have All The Users Gone?

One of my favorite tools for studying trends on the web is Alexa's traffic anlaysis tool. (From that link, select a "site info" for one of the sites listed on that page, and then click on the "see traffic details" link on the subsequent page and you'll see what I'm talking about.)

From time to time I take a look up various sites within Alexa's tool to see how things are doing. I was astonished to see what the trends are in the past six months, for many of the sites I visit.

In a word, the trend is down.

Part of my astonishment is due to the fact that traffic on my own websites, including this one, has trended downwards exactly as the graphs below show for much larger sites. I was not expecting to see a similar pattern between my humble little sites and monsters like eBay, Amazon, DELL, Expedia, and AOL. But yet, there it is.

Now remember: Alexa's graphs capture how the rank, within Alexa's own lists, of popular websites changes over time. The business goal, of course, for any web business is higher and higher traffic, month over month. That ought to translate into higher and higher rankings within Alexa, one would think.

Here are some companies I checked out (warning -- 490x2055 image ahead):

See a pattern? I do. The Alexa rankings for many name-brand websites are way, way down. And going down more. Even eBay! Amazon! AOL!

But it's not all doom. Some sites, including some international ones, and some of the social networks, are trending upwards:

So what are the possible explanations?

I have a few, but bear in mind they are total guesses, and I await word from Bruce Gilliat of Alexa for some enlightenment:

  • A changing of the guard? Maybe international sites are finally eating into what has traditionally been an American game. Maybe Social Networks like Orkut and Friendster really are catching on, and eating up online time that used to be spent elsewhere?

  • A change in ranking formula? Perhaps Alexa tweaked its algorithm or ranking formula sometime in January 2004, and ever since, things have been different?

  • Less usage overall? Maybe with all the craziness going on in the world, people are spending more time offline instead of surfing the web? (Or maybe SPAM is sending people away from their computers?)

  • Alexa user behavior change? Maybe the behavior of typical Alexa Toolbar users has changed since January? Maybe Alexa shipped a new version of the toolbar and it has affected trends?

Whatever the cause, this downward trend was unexpected by me. But I feel less bad now about my downward Google AdSense revenues (coincidence? they've gone down ever since January as well).

I welcome your thoughts and theories in the comments below.


UPDATE: As I was typing the above blog entry, Bruce Gilliat of Alexa forwarded my inquiry on to Geoff Mack, a product manager at the company, who has this to say (having not seen this blog entry yet):

Hi Brian,

Bruce Gilliat forwarded your e-mail to me.

We here at Alexa have been watching the same trend for the last several years: International sites moving up in the rankings and other very popular US sites slowly dropping.

Like you, we were initially surprised by this trend. Recently we've read several research reports and news stories indicating that global web usage is outstripping US web usage: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Asian_Economy/EL25Dk01.html

The growth in web usage among non-us nations, particularly Asian countries, is real. What is most surprising is that the Alexa Toolbar is popular in these countries, even though we have made no effort to internationalize our service.

If you would like to see if traffic to your list of sites is actually dropping, I would recommend looking at Alexa's Reach per Million stat on the traffic detail page.

I did a quick check on some of the sites on your list and found many had actually been losing users. But, keep in mind that web traffic is seasonal. It is normal to see a drop in web usage in the Summer.

Best of luck to you with your blog. Send me a link to the post. I would be very interested to read it. And feel free to contact me if I can provide any insight.

Geoff Mack
Product Manager
Alexa Internet

Posted by brian at 03:37 PM | Comments (16)

6,589 Words To Ponder

Al Gore's 5/26/2004 speech. Worth reading. All 6,589 words of it.

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

May 25, 2004

Countdown to $3

Prices still creeping up here in La Jolla. Only 20 more cents before we hit $3/gallon for 91 octane fuel.

GasPriceWatch.com reports the highest price in the country is at $2.96 (for regular unleaded) and $3.16 (for high-octane unleaded) at "High Sierra Petroleum" in El Portal, CA. Prolly ought to change their name to "High Priced Petroluem" but then again, I suspect many more stations (including La Jolla's) will hit the $3 mark in time.

Posted by brian at 12:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 24, 2004

Cosby on Line 1

Journalist gets a message that Bill Cosby is calling in an hour to respond to an article he's written. Sure enough, Cosby calls. And of course, the journalist writes about the hour-long conversation.

Posted by brian at 08:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 23, 2004

Ken's Last Ever Radio Extravaganza

What I'm listening to lately: Ken's Last Ever Radio Extravaganza, billed as "live improvised sound experiment", a radio show that airs on KOOP in Austin, TX but thanks to the wonder of the Internet, the archives of the show are available at the link above.

Fascinating sound collages. Spoken word, repurposed music, rearranged music, you name it.

I love the fact that, despite the show's name, Ken's Last Ever Radio Extravaganza has been running for ten years.

Posted by brian at 06:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 21, 2004

Jumbo Jets for Jumbo Fires

What has four engines and 24,000 gallons of tank space for fighting fires? An Evergreen International Aviation specially-outfitted 747 firefighting machine, of course. That's two hundred thousand pounds of water. Question is, can a 747 maneuver like one of the smaller tankers, and not break up in flight from the sheer stress of G forces?

Here's a San Diego Union-Tribune story on the plane.

Here are some videos Evergreen's offering showing the plane in action (Windows Media Player required).

Posted by brian at 04:39 PM

May 20, 2004

Sterling Commentary

Bruce Sterling came to town last night, to do a lecture and book signing at Mysterious Galaxy on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. This is the same store that Michael Gruber did a signing at back in 2003, and also covered here in the blog.

I got there a few minutes early, but discovered some others had gotten there a few minutes earlier still. Two older geeky guys were having a conversation among the books, that went something like this:

Red Stapler #1: Oh, the most I ever paid for a box was a Gateway system for $3800.

Red Stapler #2: I got one of the early laser printers back in oh, 1984.

Red Stapler #1: I paid $425 for a printer back in the day, it was the first printer I ever bought. Dot matrix. That printer is still running . . .

Bruce S. finally wandered into the store around 6:45, looking a little tired. Last time I was at a Bruce book signing was years ago, at Hunters Books in La Jolla, when he and William Gibson co-signed books for their Difference Engine book.

The store shopkeepers chit-chatted with Bruce and when they did, Red Stapler #1 began talking as if he was part of the conversation, answering questions and interjecting his own comments as if Bruce was listening. He wasn't, and never acknowledged the guy's existence. Red Stapler #1 went and sat down.

I got up, went over, and said hello.

"Hi Bruce, I'm 'brian' on The WELL." (For those who don't know, Bruce is "bruces" on The WELL.)

"Hi, Brian-on-the-well." He said it as if pronouncing "Stratford-upon-Avon." Very droll.

He didn't know me from Adam. I guess I was Red Stapler #3.

I told him I remembered the time I met him back at the old Hunter's Bookstore in La Jolla, back in.. oh...

"Nineteen ninety-one!" the Mysterious Galaxy shopkeeper shouted out from behind the counter. Shit, I thought, everybody's a geek in this store.

"The line was incredibly long, weaving throughout the store," I said. "And at one point, you stood up and announced your hand and wrist were tired from signing books, so you just got up and said you were going to take a half-hour break before going back to table to continue signing."

His facial expression indicated either he didn't remember it, or he didn't want to remember it. He responded blaming Gibson, it must have been Gibson. (It wasn't.)

I told him I was here to blog the event.

"You're blogging it. Well, I'm gonna blog your blog," he said, in a manner I imagine Mark Twain or W.C. Fields might have.

He mentioned he had to get up early tomorrow morning to catch a 6:30am flight to Seattle. He wasn't happy about that.

His voice hadn't changed. Still the same mixture of Marvin the Depressed Robot, an Austin version of The Dude, and Matthew McConaughey's character David Wooderson from Dazed and Confused.

I went and sat down behind two Red Staplers. They were having a discussion about the uses of hexadecimal code.

My chair was right along the wall, lined with the Bookshelf of Honor: all the books in the shelf were signed first editions. In other words, books the bookstore had left over from crappy turnouts from previous author signings. There were a bunch of copies of Neal Stephenson's The Confusion. A Gregory Benford title was there. Lots of sci-fi. Lots of mystery writers too (who reads all this crap, I wonder?). There's a reason the store is called Mysterious Galaxy, after all.

There wasn't anything for Bruce to drink. The storekeeper offered to go to McDonald's next door and get a soda. At first Bruce resisted ("I'm gonna run on pure charisma!" he announced) but finally said fine. The storekeeper announced, "I'm about to go over to McDonald's. Wish me luck!" and off he went.

And so the talk began. Bruce talked half into his hand, upon which his head rested. He spoke about how he stumbled into doing a "techno-thriller", which is how he describes his latest work, The Zenith Angle. He was doing a bunch of nonfiction, including a WIRED piece, and found himself interviewing policy wonks and defense contractors in D.C. "I'm old enough now that when I go and talk to federal officials, they're younger than me" and so he's less of a threat, he said. He marvelled at how intertwined the military-industrial complex has become: "the door at the Pentagon is revolving at the speed of sound." "Everybody's implicated," he said. "From Maine, to Kansas, to San Diego. Everybody's on the take. We're so into major military power that we can fund our fantasies."

The shopkeeper came back from the McDonald's. He plopped a huge, 64-oz Super-Sized cup of soda on the table besides Bruce. (I guess the guy hasn't seen the movie SuperSize Me). Bruce never drank from the soda.

He mentioned how some of the minor characters in the book are named after some of the real-life people who helped him with some of the technical and policy matters.

He described The Zenith Angle as a techno-thriller "where the technician is the hero." Q becomes Bond, in other words.

Interspersed with his profundities of techno-thrillers, military power, and science fiction, Bruce had little jibes at the Bush Administration. He's not a fan. "The Bush Administration came into office with their minds made up," he says, and nothing anyone says, including folks like Richard Clarke, will alter their mindsets.

He'd met Clarke while doing research. "Computer security worldwide is a shambles, a mess," he said. The speed with which viruses can attack on the Net now is so incredible ("It's like watching ants eat an elephant!") there's no human way to type in code fast enough to fix the holes. He described our current approach to security as "patch and pray."

Several things pop up repeatedly when Bruce speaks. One, he'll remind you every now and then that he's old now, thank you very much. Two, the name Gibson. It's as if he's haunted by everything Gibson does. I suspect deep down The Zenith Angle is Sterling's answer to Gibson's Pattern Recognition.

Bruce spent a lot of time distinguishing between techno-thrillers and science fiction. Science fiction, he said, is about "cognitive estrangement . . . it wants to blow your mind". Techno-thrillers are about sex, sadism, and snobbery, like James Bond. "Bond has gizmos the others don't."

Things you'll never find in a James Bond novel, he said, included a) Q handing Bond an instruction manual, and b) any woman turning down James Bond's advances ("Sorry, James, I have an STD...")

"I'm a sci-fi antiquarian," Bruce muttered at one point, announcing with pride that he had just penned the entry for "science fiction" in the next edition of Encyclopedia Britannica.

He then mentioned that a bunch of gamers in the Pacific Northwest (who always have more money than sense, he quipped) were trying once again to resurrect Amazing Science Fiction magazine, and would he please write a 2000-word story on the subject of Resurrection? "I was commissioned!" he told us. And then he read the whole story, right from the screen of his white Apple iBook computer. "This'll take about twenty minutes," he said. It felt like thirty, but I wasn't watching the clock. It was watching me.

Bruce smiles when he reads from his writing. He loves his words. He delights in words. The earring on his right ear and his graying hair both glistened under the bright store lights, as he rambled on, delivering thick gobs of wordstew to a rapt audience. Rapt or napped, I'm not sure.

I didn't think his story, called The Spider's Amazement, was very good. It was a mishmash of themes from THX 1138, The Twilight Zone, Planet of the Apes, and The Time Machine, all of which are better stories. He'd been commissioned, though!

When he was done, he began talking about random things again, like a blogger boingboinging from one subject to another at the podium. At one point Red Stapler #1 must have somehow gotten the cue that it was time to speak up, and he did, once again as if Bruce even acknowledged his existence let alone heard him, which if he did, he didn't let on.

One delightful bit of wisdom from Bruce: "You can write great science fiction about forks." I don't know about forks, but I've heard some good stuff about spoons. Oh wait. There is no spoon . . .

I liked his view on post-humanism. In a super-evolved post-human world, we'll have people with 10x the strength of an average man, and some people with 250 IQs. But they'll still be jocks and geeks, he said, and, as we've all learned from high school, post-humanism doesn't mean they're going to be 10x as nice...

Another Sterlingism: "I don't think you have to be correct to be an interesting thinker." That ought to be translated into Latin and made into the motto hanging over every blog home page on the Web (including Bruce's).

During the Q&A session, someone asked him what is he reading?

He delighted in responding with thick, harsh-sounding foreign-language names like "Victor Palevin", "Dubravka Ugresic", "Italo Calvino", and a bunch of other names I couldn't write down fast enough. "Mostly weird foreigners," he summarized. He also mentioned a Chilean author and his interest in the "McOndo writers" movement.

The subject of age came up again: "I need to be reading guys half my age," he said regretfully. Unfortunately, he added, he has "more fun reading about guys half my age."

He expressed admiration for Doctorow and Stross, calling them "overclocker characters" and "the Great White Hope." He mentioned that they were Canadian and English. "SF in America sucks," he said. "We have no idea what we want." He confessed he spends more time reading email from Doctorow, or "boing boing dot net", than he does Doctorow's novels.

And older woman in the front row asked him if he'd ever thought of writing stories for children. She loved his voice, his use of words. Ever thought about writing for children say, aged eight to twelve?

He looked at her with a look right out of W.C. Fields' playbook. "No," was his reply.

Then he spoke about his own writing: Sometimes, he said, "it's too sing-songy, too Swinburneian." Sometimes, he admitted, one "becomes lulled by the melody of your own blithering."

Bruce may have been lulled, the audience may have been lulled, but the Mysterious Galaxy storekeepers were not. They all had frowns. Bruce was going too long. It was well after eight p.m., and the book signing hadn't even begun yet. Eventually Bruce got the message and that was that. Two lines formed, one to buy books, one to sign books already bought.

I went home.

Posted by brian at 09:36 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 19, 2004

UpAgainst.com

Idea for new Internet business: UpAgainst.com (hey, the domain's available, incredibly, at least as of this writing).

You'd register for the service, fill out a detailed form specifying any new proposed project, initiative, or business venture, and it comes back with a detailed listing of all the things you're going to come up against.

For instance, trying to raise angel money for an Internet venture in San Diego? With UpAgainst.com, you'd find out beforehand that the angels you intend to speak with don't know or recognize any of the technical terms, names of competitors, or names of potential strategic partners (all of these things household terms to anyone in Silicon Valley) that you keep mentioning in your pitches, which means that you're prolly simply wasting your time talking to them.

Want to embark on a new project that's kinda risky? Punch in all the data into UpAgainst.com, and it spits back a detailed report of all the things you need to take into account before you get started on the project.

Thinking of running in the next local election? Tell UpAgainst.com the story, and it'll come back with a list of who you'll be up against, where their money's coming from, and what the key issues are that they're going to bring up to damage your candidacy.

Yep, I think UpAgainst.com would serve a very useful function. I'd pay to use it. :-)


I attended a "Meet the Angels" session at UCSD Connect yesterday. Interesting experience.

The first thing the LCD projector showed on the screen, when the speaker fired up his notebook computer:

Warning: battery is critically low
Hit F1 to continue

An appropriate warning for money-hungry entrepreneurs . . .

First came an intro from the president of the San Diego Tech Coast Angels group. His first statement: he joked that his organization had just changed their name, and they were now known as "Masochists Anonymous". "Raising money is a bitch," he added. He talked about how angels fund a lot more startups than VCs do. As for VCs, he had this to say: "They've grown up, they've gotten snotty, they've gotten rich." He claimed that a new startup has a one- to two-tenths of a percent chance of getting funded by a VC. That sounds about right.

There was then a half-hour schmooze period to meet and greet those in the audience. The audience was mostly entrepreneurs, each wearing a name tag (black text on a white background) with a red, green, or yellow sticker attached. Red signalled you were associated with "high tech". Green meant "life sciences". Yellow meant "general". Problem was, TCA Members had the same name-tag scheme. Black text on white background, with a red, green, or yellow dot. The only thing that distinguished them from the entrepreneurs was the text that said "TCA Member" instead of company name. (In past schmooze sessions with VCs, I've seen a better and simpler design: Red means you're an entrepreneur seeking money; Green means you're a VC with money to invest. Makes it a heck of a lot easier to track down the money people.)

I met a couple of folks during the meet and greet, but they were all entrepreneurs. One guy, Oliver Robins, is the CEO of an interesting startup in Carlsbad called eFilm Market Online, which is attempting to become an eBay-style marketplace for filmmakers trying to find distributors and buyers worldwide for their films. Ha! I thought, having just finished Peter Biskind's Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film. It's an interesting gambit, but that industry is absolutely brutual. I asked Robins, "Ever read Down and Dirty?" He'd not. I asked him if Miramax had gotten on his radar yet. He told me that eFilm's attorney used to be Senior Counsel at Miramax. "Scott Greenstein!?" I asked. "No," he said, and mentioned someone else's name I didn't recognize.

Another entrepreneur was going around demonstrating his medical product, some samples of which he'd brought with him. Suffice to say, the medical product demonstration was rather sensational. Imagine a condom three feet long. The guy opens one end of this polywhatever rubber thing, sticks his hand in, and keeps running his whole arm down it until the rubber thing is up to his armpit. Anyone who saw it, entrepreneur or angel alike, had to laugh. Seriously, it's for some sort of emergency trauma care thing for limbs that need to be kept airtight and waterproof, and can be applied to the affected limb instantly. But the demo reminds one of that scene from The Naked Gun.

Another entrepreneur was there from something called the "Children's Education Network". He told me about some other local organization that I ought to explore because there might be better odds of getting funding. He asked for a business card and told me he'd email me the info. Well, he did, late last night. He sent me a spam (why people use Comic Sans as a font and expect to be taken seriously, I don't know) about some organization called "IBI Global". Never heard of them before. Prolly a reason for that. Turns out he's affiliated with them. Why, you can even watch a 15-minute video featuring the same guy, talking about how wonderful the organization is yadda yadda yadda. Think: Anthony Robbins for entrepreneurs and CEOs. *Bleah* . . . I sent him back an email declining the invitation, citing a strict rule I have: Always run for the hills when presented with an offer formatted with lots of centered text.

Finally, another entrepreneur, Michel Dedina, told me about his new dot-com venture. He handed me a business card and the company name was eXXXXXXXXXXX.com. I'm not gonna mention the actual name here, because I went and checked and he hasn't even gotten the domain yet. It's still available. Um, Michel, it's only $8.95 to register it at Godaddy... might wanna spring for it before someone grabs it.

Tim Rueth, another Tech Coast Angels member, then gave a talk for newbie entrepreneurs. If you've been there, and done that, sitting through a newbie talk is like sitting through the flight attendants' lecture on the safety features of the aircraft. I suppose it's necessary, but if you've heard it once, you've heard it a million times.

As soon as he started talking, I immediately recognized the voice. But . . . whose voice was it . . . hmm . . . so familiar . . . but . . . I simply couldn't place it. And then, after about 5 minutes, it occurred to me: his voice sounded like what I imagine a young Don Norman's voice would sound like. It was eerie.

Some data regarding Tech Coast Angels dealflow:

Number of ventures pre-screened in the past year: 377

Number invited back to give the powerpoint presentation: 143

Number that actually got funded: 26 (6.8%)

Number funded so far in 2004: 12

Typical value of the investment: 250k - 750k

Expected ROI after 3-5 years: 10x to 30x

One thing he did that turned out to be a big boo-boo: he wrote all over this long whiteboard using a permanent magic marker. Rule #264 for Presenters: always check the marker before writing. If there's a tear-sheet easel situated anywhere near the whiteboard, ASSUME that the marker you've picked up is actually a permanent-ink marker intended for paper surfaces, not whiteboards....

In the end, I prolly would have had better luck pitching UpAgainst.com to these angels than my actual business. Or, worst case, pitching a new design for a dual-ink magic marker that senses what surface you're about to write on, and delivers the appropriate ink . . . hey! That's an idea!

Posted by brian at 11:35 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 18, 2004

Commencement Lectures, Daily Show style

The full text of Jon Stewart's commencement speech at the College of William and Mary.

Posted by brian at 10:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Trekkie Interior Design

Good grief. Some folks do tend to go a wee bit overboard with the Trek stuff, aye they do.

Here's someone who's decked out their apartment in Trek motif. Click on the image at the right to go see a photo album of shots taken in this bizarre apartment.

Posted by brian at 09:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

As Goes La Jolla, So Goes The Nation

Gas prices, today at lunchtime, on Pearl Street in La Jolla:

Posted by brian at 02:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 17, 2004

The Agronomist

Is it absurd to think one might gain even the slightest additional perspective on the Iraq situation by watching a documentary about the life and times of Jean Leopold Dominique of Haiti? Let alone a whole lot of perspective on Haiti? Not to mention some much-needed perspective on democracy, be it in Haiti, Iraq, the U.S., or elsewhere?

Actually, it turns out it is not absurd. Go see the movie and see for yourself.

Here's an interesting article by filmmaker Jonathan Demme about his film, The Agronomist. For San Diego readers, it's playing right now, for a week only, at the Ken Cinema.

Here's a set of links to reviews of the film to learn more about it. But see the film first, and read the reviews after.

Powerful, fascinating film.

Posted by brian at 10:08 PM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2004

Stock Purchase Circles... Revisited

Back in March 2003, I blogged about a hypothetical stock portfolio, where the buy/sell/hold decisions were based on the nature of a given company's Amazon Purchase Circles

It's been a good year for the Brianstorms Amazon Purchase Circles Portfolio:

This is now (5/13/2004):
That was then (3/8/2003): Price Today: % Change: Comments
Abbott Laboratories (ABT), $35.45 : Three out of the top ten books are Harry Potter books. The rest are manager how-to's and my-life-sucks-what-do-I-do kinds of books. Not a single advanced pharmaceutical science molecular chemistry biotech thingamajig techie book in the list. SELL. $41.00 +16% Amazon no longer seems to be tracking purchase circles for Abbott Labs. As for the company, HOLD
Amazon.com (AMZN), $22.97 : Busted! Dreaming about mountain hiking in the Pacific Northwest, or reading Poems, or reading about Babies or books on Happiness. Nobody's readin' up on the business or the next-generation technology! SELL. $43.61 +90% Whew, I blew it with AMZN. Last 14 months have been fantastic for the company. As for the Purchase Circles, Amazon employees are dreaming less, and focused more on technical stuff. There's one novel in the top ten now, but it's mostly tech books or books about Amazon itself. BUY
Apple Computer (AAPL), $14.53 : It's changed over the years. Used to be mainly biographies about Steve Jobs and the founding of Apple (employees no doubt trying to find out how much of the Story of Steve is for real). Now it's how-to books on how to use Apple products. Nothing in the way of new product development or hardcore techie references. Dudes, it's time to READ DIFFERENT. Get back to basics and learn yer advanced C++ and DCS tactical databases. Your stockholders will be grateful. In the meantime, HOLD. $27.19 +87% Reading less Steve stuff, more Apple and technical stuff. But an interesting rise in political books, including Bushwhacked and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. I guess Apple is Kerry-land this November! HOLD
Autodesk, Inc. (ADSK), $14.10 : Lots of marketing books -- the standard texts, like Crossing the Chasm and Inside the Tornado. Hey, it can't hurt. Maybe it'll help their stock, currently at 14.10. Let's check back in a few quarters and see if reading those books helped their bottom line or not. HOLD. $35.41 +151% Autodesk is daydreaming, and thinking about politics. (Liars is the #1 ADSK book). None of the top five books have anything to do with technology or marketing. I guess when your stock goes up 151% you can afford to daydream... SELL
Boeing (BA), $25.84 : I'll forgive the Camping in Washington book considering the rest of the list is roll-up-the-sleeves-and-get-to-work stuff on everything you'd want Boeing employees to be thinking about. STRONG BUY. $43.62 +69% Wherefore art though, Boeing? We've gone from mostly-business and technical books, to daydream city: the #1 book is about . . . weight loss? Plus baseball books, Bushwhacked, a book on Scrabble (!?), a murder mystery, a self-help book on relationships... Ok so your stock went up 69%... I don't think it's going to do that again in the next year. But maybe if everybody loses weight something good will come of it. HOLD
Cisco (CSCO), $13.24 : The good news? Lots and lots of advanced nerdy Cisco techie books. The bad news? They're buying too many books on the history of Cisco! Dudes, this is the Apple trap, stop reading your own mythology and focus on the needs of the current customers, not past glories. HOLD. $21.76 +64% Way to go CISCO. All ten books are hardcore technology or business. BUY BUY BUY
Earthlink Corp (ELNK), $5.10 : The last thing they're thinking about is work. Top book: "Single No More: How and Where to Meet Your Perfect Mate". Second is "Jack and Jill" by James Patterson. The rest of the list is equally all over the place. Anybody been watching Earthlink stock lately? SELL. $9.51 +86% Daydreamers galore. Novels and the novel novelists who wrote them. Not a serious book on the lot. I don't care if the stock still goes up. SELL.
Electronic Arts (ERTS), $54.15 : Strictly business. Books about game design and game development dominate their list. And guess what. Their stock chart is appropriately impressive. Keep up the good work, gang. STRONG BUY. $50.72
(or 101.44 pre-split)
+87% ERTS is a creative, imaginative company so it's no doubt they read all kinds of stuff there. Nothing to indicate ERTS is gonna stop its march up the hill. ACCUMULATE
Enron Corporation (ENRNQ.PK), $0.049 : Busy reading books about options, futures, and derivatives trading. Looks like they're back to work trying to learn a thing or two. No books on bail bonds or defense attorneys, surprisingly. AVOID $0.04 -18% Whatever happened to Kenneth Lay, anyway? AVOID
The Gap (GPS), $13.73 : This one's a toughie, a nontechnical, retailer. So what kinds of books should they be reading? Probably books about trends, fashions, pop culture perhaps? There are some of those in The Gap's list, but too many novels and leisure-time books for my taste. HOLD. $22.16 +61% Fashionable books for a fashionable company. HOLD
Intuit Corp (INTU), $47.74 : Not one, not two, but three books in their top ten list, three books on Six Sigma!. Four books on UI design and usability. Couple books on Intuit products. But the #1 book is about crime stoppers. What's up with that? Until I figure that one out, HOLD. $43.08 -10% Intuit employees are buying a lot less serious books these days. I love the fact that the #9 book at Intuit is Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money -- That The Poort and Middle Class Do Not!. HOLD
Microsoft Corp (MSFT), $23.56 : Eeeesssssiiiinnntttt thaaat eeeenterrrresssteeeeng. The number one book, costing $85.60, is Yookoso! An Invitation to Contemporary Japanese (Student Edition + Listening Comprehension Audio Cassette). So like is MSFT moving to Japan or something? Or acquiring someone big in Japan? Hmm. Like Apple and Cisco, there's too many books here on Microsoft the company itself. Stop believing the hype and get to work innovating on new stuff. HOLD. $26.10 +11% All technical or Microsoft-related titles. Just watch: the stock's gonna go up 25% or more in the next 12 months. Which means, BUY.
Qualcomm (QCOM), $35.18 : Busted! Daydreaming about everything but work. What's their number-one book? Pat Welsh's Southern California Gardening: A Month-to-Month Guide. Then there's books on how to get the most out of your stock options. And on and on. Normally, they'd get credit for buying a book called Getting Things Done but the rest of the list is just too scatter-brained. SELL. $64.67 +84% Diets, self-help, Lies -- nothing in there about technology and staying focused on work. And yet their stock goes up 84%. Can it still go up? Given the wireless boom, yes it can, goofy books or not. HOLD
SBC Communications (SBC), $20.49 : So what's on the minds of the phone company employees? How to Bamboozle the CLECs? How to Annoy Your Customers? No! Surprisingly, they're mainly buying technical books, telecom and javabeans and cisco this and that. There's a little bit of Harry Potter and Who Moved My Cheese but their list is dominated by work references. A hopeful sign. ACCUMULATE. $24.68 +20% Like Abbott Labs, SBC no longer seems to have anything listed in its Purchase Circles. What are they hiding? HOLD
Symantec Corp (SYMC), $43.54 : All techie books. Interestingly, the #2 book is After The Merger. Hmmmmm. Someone buying Symantec, or is Symantec buying someone? Hmmm. All those techie books are paying off. BUY. $47.89
(or pre-split $95.78)
+120% Phooey. SYMC too no longer has purchase circle info. But given the virus wave we're going through, it ought to keep SYMC busy over the next year. ACCUMULATE
3M Corp (MMM), $124.50 : Good grief! Eight out of the ten books listed are about Six Sigma! They're even buying the Six Sigma Pocket Guide! Major Six Sigma Company here. Who knows, maybe it's working. We'll see. ACCUMULATE. $84.51 (or 169.02 pre-split) +36% Good grief! How far down we've come in a year. Wither Six Sigma? More like Sick Sigma now. (Speaking of which... check this out.) Self help, novels, Lies, Dude, Where's My Country?.... 3M ain't what it used to be. SELL
Verio, Inc. (owned by NTT; then $17.63) : Acquired by NTT in Japan a while back, but Verio's purchase circle list was just too great to not mention here. #1 book in the list: How the Internet Works. #2 book: How Compuers Work. While there are some techie books in there, my eyes glazed over when I saw Nancy Reagan's I Love You, Ronnie in the list, and I stopped looking. SELL. $22.84 +30% Politics, novels, self-help... daydream city. SELL.
Wachovia Corp (WB), $35.11 : You know it's bad for a bank stock (for any stock, really) when the first book is Who Moved My Cheese and the second book is Harry Potter. After that, it's all your standard self-help/biz book fluff. You sure you want Wachovia to watch ovuh ya money? SELL. $45.59 +30% Another company whose Purchase Circles are now missing at Amazon. Oh well. It looks like Wachovia has indeed been watchin ovuh yuh money. HOLD

Posted by brian at 04:49 PM | Comments (1)

The Pitch

Just back from a whirlwind 2-day trip to Silicon Valley to meet with a bunch of folks about the startup. Concluded the trip with a "meet the VC" type event at 730am this morning in Palo Alto.

The session was held in an office building at the Palo Alto Square complex, which includes what used to be a Landmark Theatres cinema I used to frequent back in the day (now it's called CineArts). I noticed when pulling in to the parking lot, the movie sign out along El Camino Real announced the following two movies were showing:

Ha! That pretty much sums it up in terms of money-hungry visionary entrepreneurs meeting with venture capitalists...

Posted by brian at 01:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 10, 2004

A Laughing Matter?

Greg Palast spoke last night at an event in San Diego.

For a book author, this had to qualify as a dream author lecture and book signing: a packed auditorium (the First Unitarial Universalist Church in Hillcrest) with 500 very sympathetic people. Boomers mostly, I'd say: mostly gray hair, aged somewhere in the 40's - 70's.

This was my first visit to a Unitarian Church. The one in Hillcrest is a beautiful, simple building inside, bereft of any religious symbols. There were hymnals in the pews. I scanned the titles of some of the hymns:

  • Children of the Goddess, The
  • From our Roots in Transylvania
  • Gaia Round
  • I Have a Dream
  • Bend Towards Justice
  • Blessed Be
  • Celebrate Diversity
  • Daughters of the Goddess, The
  • Come and Take My Hand in Friendship
  • From a Place of Isolation
  • Come From the Dark, Lovely Night
  • From Our Many Lives and Wanderings
  • Gathering Song
  • Laudate, Laudate, Laudate Omnis
  • May the Road Rise to Meet You
  • Our Cherished Faith
  • Streams of Life That Ebb and Flow
  • The Bells of Equality Ring Over The Land
  • The Inherent Worth of All
  • The Works of Women
  • There's a Spirit, Movin' Within Me
  • Tiny Beginnings are Hid From Our Sight
  • Touch the Earth, Reach the Sky!
  • We Gather With Our Differences
  • What Would Happen if The World Could See
  • Where Are We to Go For Answers
  • Yah, Yah, Yes I am

And I glanced at the opening lines to Where Are We to Go for Answers:

Where do we go for answers
When our life seems bleak and bare?
Times of pain and times of conflict
Beckon us to feel despair

Yep, I'd say the hymns pretty much summed up the thoughts and concerns of the audience and the speaker. You couldn't have picked a more suitable venue for this lecture.

Palast bills himself, and this event billed him, as "the last true outlaw journalist." I would place the emphasis more on true outlaw than on outlaw journalist. "I was almost on NBC this morning," he quipped at one point. "They cancelled me when I was getting in the car..." He says this as if this is a routine event each day. The Rodney Dangerfield of news.

A sampling of quotes:

  • On Iraq: "We might not have gone in for oil, but we sure as heck aren't leavin' without it."

  • On Saudi Arabia: "We can't follow the money".

  • On Michael Moore's upcoming new film: "We'll get it out there, Michael Moore's film too, if we have to do hand puppets in the basement."

  • On 9/11: "On 9/11 we in America were the victims of a terrorist attack. On 9/12 we all became suspects."

  • On efforts by Republicans to block counting of black voters' ballots: "We have an apartheid voting system. In 1965 we gave black people the right to vote but not the right to have their ballots counted."

I feel uneasy about Palast. I want him to be a voice of a genuine professional investigative reporter, finding Woodward-and-Bernstein-style scoops that nobody else dares uncover. It's clear that people long to know where to go for answers. What Would Happen if the World Could See might as well be Palast's theme song.

But I have my reservations about his effectiveness. Palast comes across, in person as well as in his columns, more as an opinionated commentator, not a journalist. He's cynical, and so is his audience. In fact, the wisecrack-and-laugh ping-pong match between him and his audience last night reminded me of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. I do not think that is a good thing to be reminded of, when considering the seriousness of the subjects at hand.

When, I wonder, will the Left, the progressives, the Democrats, the non-Republicans, get off their asses and stop being amused by what they see and what they hear, and do something, if they feel so strongly that the current government is leading the country in the wrong direction?

I think Palast does his cause -- and he made it clear his cause is the same cause as the group that organized this lecture -- a disservice with his complacent, droll, ironic pose. Sure, it's easy to marvel and stand aghast at the spectacle of misdeeds, misdirection, and mistakes going on in Washington, but wouldn't it be better to simply present the facts instead of wisecracks and opinions interspersed with facts? Doesn't such a presentation style only weaken the power of the facts?

I continue to wonder if some folks have gone a bit overboard when they hear about, say, the latest White House news, and rather than think about it and contemplate the ramifications, look forward instead to the Daily Show and SNL satirical presentations of the news.

Frogs, slowly boiling?

Posted by brian at 08:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Above-$40 Gas Tank

Hit a first today, for my 10-yr-old car: the first time it cost me more than $39.99 for a tank of gasoline. Price per gallon: $2.639. Total gallons: 15.624. Total price: $41.23.

So much for this "national average" of $1.93.

I can only imagine what all those SUV drivers in San Diego must be paying.

I guess the next milestone is $50? No way. Next milestone is a Prius or a Schwinn.

Posted by brian at 07:46 PM

Doesn't Linspire Confidence

Lindows, Inc. is no Anacott Steel, and there's nothing about it that Blue Horshoe should love.

One can assume that the Union-Tribune won't touch the story with a ten-foot pole. One can only hope the more important WSJ will.

Posted by brian at 09:38 AM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2004

Mac of Magnesia

Internal disk drive getting full? Running out of space? Time to turn to DeLocalizer, which will hunt down and remove all those foreign-language support files tucked away in the nooks and crannies of your MacOS X operating system.

After I downloaded and installed it (it's free), I noticed the program said to expect up to 200MB worth of files to be removed, and it might take 15 minutes to do so.

We were running out to a Chinese restaurant so I left the program running.

Here's what I saw when I got back tonight:

A wee bit more than the expected 200MB. My guess: the MacOS X Developer Kit had a lot of localization stuff in it.


Speaking of Chinese Restaurants . . .
Here's the fortune I got in the fortune cookie:

Now, how does one parse that?

Posted by brian at 11:46 PM | Comments (0)

May 08, 2004

The Starbucks Stop Sign

There's a Starbucks on La Jolla Boulevard in the Birdrock area of La Jolla. It's situated at a very busy 4-way-stop intersection. "Very busy," that is, during the hours of 4-6pm on weekdays.

There are tables and chairs on the sidewalk outside the store, and from this vantage point, customers have a direct view at the flow of people and vehicles on La Jolla Boulevard.

Problem is, it's not a pleasant experience. Why? Because drivers tend to be very aggressive, often not even stopping for the stop sign. The worst offenders? Bicyclists. I'd say virtually all bicyclists who approach the stop sign never stop at all, in fact most maintain their speed and don't even look to see if there are cars coming. They just whiz on through, as if they're in the middle of the Tour de France or something. It just boggles my mind.

It didn't take long for there to be an accident, a fender-bender, a Miata driven by a woman talking on her cellphone, bumping into the rear of a Honda in front of her.

Both cars pulled off to the side street, the Miata woman continuing to talk on the phone the whole time. This did not amuse the Honda driver, who got out and went to the Miata woman and yelled, "GET OFF YOUR $%&%@ TELEPHONE! YOU JUST HIT MY $!&*# CAR!". The Miata woman eventually got out of her car, but she just kept talking into her phone. They argued for a few minutes, and I suppose exchanged drivers licenses and other information because the two cars were there for about a half hour before leaving.

What was interesting was not only did perhaps a half-dozen Starbucks customers witness the entire accident, but neither driver ever bothered to come over to ask the witnesses for information. I guess the Miata driver admitted fault and there was no need for witnesses. Also interesting was the emergence of miniature digital cameras everywhere. Besides my Treo capturing the thing moments after it happened, at least two other people on the sidewalk whipped out little digital cameras and took pictures.

Welcome to the 21st century.

Meanwhile, cars and bikes continued to whiz right through the intersection, or, stop, and then aggressively enter the intersection even when the right-of-way car was still trying to get through the intersection, causing a chaotic revving-their-engines, ready-to-rumble momentary standoff in the middle of the intersection.

If only the police would just camp out at this intersection between the hours of 4 and 6pm on weekdays, we might end the San Diego city budget problems within a few months. Just think of the windfall from traffic fines.

Which reminds me. You know, come to think of it, ever since the Yum-Yum Donut store burned to the ground, one block from here.... Where are the cops, anyway? Why don't they enforce the traffic laws here?

Posted by brian at 11:58 AM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2004

HOWARD DEAN CONTRIBUTES $2000 TO BUSH CAMPAIGN

Yes, it's true. Not accurate, but true. See, there's a Howard M. Dean, of Hinsdale, Illinois, who according to fundrace.org (which reports all hard-money contributions from U.S. citizens, as per Federal Election Commision requirements) contributed $2,000 to the Bush campaign.

In fact a lot of Deans have given money to Bush.

But guess what!

BUSHES DONATE $8,200 TO KERRY CAMPAIGN

Yes indeed, a whole lot of Bushes have given to John Kerry's campaign. A whole lot of Bushes have given to Bush as well.

But wait! There's more!

RUMSFELD GIVES $500 TO KERRY CAMPAIGN

Yes, that's right, retired physician John Rumsfeld has given $500 to the Kerry campaign. :-)

But wait! Stop the presses!

CHENEYS DONATE $4,899 TO KERRY CAMPAIGN

Yes, that's right, a bunch o' Cheneys have donated to Kerry. Then again, a bunch o' Cheneys have donated to Bush as well.

And who would have thought this:

RICHARD CLARKE GIVES $1,000 TO BUSH CAMPAIGN

Yes, it's true, Richard Clarke, of Pensacola, Florida, supports George W. Bush.

There you have it. Wonders never cease.

Posted by brian at 07:04 PM | Comments (0)

Morphases

There's a New York Times article today on a free Mr. Potato Head-style morphing tool called Morphases that lets you mess around with random faces. Like this: (click on the image to go to morphases.com)


A complete waste of time, but amusing for about 68 seconds.

Posted by brian at 03:18 PM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2004

Watching Hawks

MIT has enabled a "Hawk Cam" live video feed of a hawk's nest high up in a tree outside a campus building. The feed is high-bandwidth and requires a RealPlayer but if you can handle it, check it out (220kbps realvideo link).

I find it strangely appropriate that I sit here writing business plans and startup-related stuff while glancing over every now and then to see how the baby hawk chicks are doing. (One is very active; the other is much less so.)

Heard about this on MetaFilter. Here's the full Metafilter thread with related links and comments.

While we're on the subject, here's an EagleCam showing nesting eagles. (Thanks, aud!)

UPDATE: 12noon PST. The hawk mama arrives, and damn if those chicks didn't hop up and stand at attention immediately. She's feeding them bits of caught prey:

Posted by brian at 11:35 AM | Comments (0)

May 04, 2004

You Want Liver Failure With That?

Great interview in the May 2nd New York Times about the new movie Super Size Me about the guy who spent 30 days eating only supersized McDonald's meals, nearly dying in the process.

The movie's coming to San Diego soon (5/14) to Landmark Hillcrest (here's a Landmark web page about the movie)... can't wait to see it.

Posted by brian at 09:07 AM | Comments (1)

May 03, 2004

Fun with White House Search Results, Part II

I decided to revisit a blog entry I'd made back in March 2003, to see how things had changed or stayed the same with regard to search results at the White House website. First, a summary of some notable changes:

  • "Iraq" is up 532.5%, not surprisingly

  • "peace", on the other hand, is down 84%

  • Strangely, so is "war"! (-84%)

  • "Idiot" was up 100%.

  • "Religion" dropped by 94%, "faith" dropped by 88%, but "God" is up by 47%.

  • "Cats" and "dogs" were both down over 83%. Still nothing for "goldfish"

  • "Domestic" dropped by 83%, but "foriegn" rose by 56%

  • It wasn't a good year for "truth": down 83%

  • However, it was a great year for "lie", up 67%

  • And it was an awesome year for "fear", up 121%

  • The White House website mentions "Democrat" a lot less now (-86%), but "Republican" mentions grew a respectable 33%

  • Hmm: "bribes" were up a staggering 600% since March 2003

  • And yet, "money" dropped 91%, and "special interests" dropped 97%.

  • Mentions of "Israel" were down 86%, but mentions of "Texas" were up 83%.

  • It wasn't a good year for "sex", which dropped 93%, while "drugs" rose 84%.

  • Unfortunately, "rock and roll" dropped 100%.

  • I didn't collect data on these terms in 2003, but I find it interesting that as of today the White House website mentions the term "oil" only 58 times, but mentions "hydrogen" 86 times.

  • Also, in 2004 there are more mentions of "Arnold Schwartzenegger" than there are of "Condoleezza Rice" at the White House website.

  • If you're looking for information on, or simply mention of, the term "United Nations", don't bother searching at the White House website. You'll find zero (0) results.

  • I post this on a record-breaking hot-as-hell day here in La Jolla, but I know better than going to the White House website for information on "global warming" because the number of search results I'll get for that phrase is zero.

And now, the raw data comparing 2003 to 2004, followed by a list of new findings for 2004:

                           2003   2004 
                          -----  -----  
iraq.....................   480   2556
bin Laden................   233    355
enron....................    56     66
halliburton..............    12     28

pollution................   205    310
crime....................   515    888
homeland security........  1090   6893

axis of evil.............    38     47
patriotism...............   109    123
flag.....................   309    417
peace....................  1571    258
freedom..................  1682   3252
economy..................  1683   3287
war......................  2028    327

brilliant................    50     77
intelligent..............    39     80
stupid...................     5      0
dumb.....................     1      0
idiot....................     0      5

evil.....................   524    633
worship..................   251    313
prayer...................   358    497
faith....................   960    115
religion.................   321     18
god......................   800   1173

goldfish.................     0      0
cats.....................    73     12
dogs.....................   156     11

terrorist................  1435   2765
unemployment.............   357    610

domestic.................   746    127
foreign..................  1691   2645

truth....................   347    121
lie......................   594    991

global terror............    62      8
global warming...........     0      0

environment..............  1045   1601
taxes....................  1510   2356
business.................  1953    205

republican...............   829   1109
democrat.................   641     88

liberal..................    42     86
conservative.............   135     20

dove.....................     5      5
hawk.....................    51      8

woman's right to choose..     0      0

bribes...................     3     18
campaign finance reform..     9     44
kickbacks................    10     13
quid pro quo.............    13     18
special interests........    89      3
gifts....................   395     54
incentives...............   591   1273
votes....................   856   1388
money....................  1341    127
   
                           2003   2004 
                          -----  -----
england..................   133    258
egypt....................   139     18
italy....................   165     29
saudi arabia.............   190     39
iran.....................   212    482
germany..................   239    434
france...................   287     96
japan....................   302     51
korea....................   322    681
canada...................   352    498
india....................   381    462
israel...................   392     53
china....................   507    756
russia...................   566    102
mexico...................   636   1051
texas....................  1130   2063

fear.....................   429   949
worry....................   492   869

pretzel..................     9    12 
alcohol..................   163   314
  
baseball.................   152    284
football.................    87    143
soccer...................    37      7 
golf.....................    32     48
basketball...............    32      3
hockey...................    17     28 

sex......................    44      3
drugs....................  1060   1954
rock and roll............     2      0

springsteen..............     0      0
stereolab................     0      0
beatles..................     1      1
madonna..................     2      2
michael jackson..........     3      2
britney spears...........    23     22
yo la tengo..............   152    317
rolling stones...........   380    828
who......................  3962   7444
guided by voices.........  9798  13386

amazon...................     2      3
ebay.....................     5      0
yahoo....................    12      1
microsoft................    23      1
apple....................    46    134

blog.....................     0      0
earthlink................     1      1
aol......................    21    113
web......................   417     38
internet.................   382    882
the well................. 13185  17668
New 2004 searches (didn't do them in 2003):

kill.....................     84
killed...................     84
wounded..................    198

innocent.................     52
guilty...................     11
deception................    194
secret...................    535
secrecy..................     81

citizen..................   3401
consumer.................   1196

bible....................      3
torah....................      0
koran....................      0

jesus....................     45
christ...................     10
christian................    188
muslim...................    385
jew......................      0
jewish...................    149
minister.................   1566  
rabbi....................     26
imam.....................     38

church...................    495
state....................    915

men......................   2375
women....................    159

abortion.................    165
marriage.................    572
gay marriage.............      0
divorce..................      3

diebold..................      0
rigged...................      0

middle east..............   1234
midwest...................    86

9-11......................    20
9/11......................    19
september 11th............  1388

tobbaco...................     6
smoking...................   180

education.................  3167
social security...........  1012
welfare...................    58
surveillance..............   252
intelligence..............  1628
monitoring................  1158

prosperity................   751

diplomatic................   116
military..................   235

united nations............     0

mission accomplished......     0

honor.....................  2489
courage...................   719
honesty...................     9
integrity.................    33
ethical...................     4
ethics....................   196

guns......................   186
violence..................   985


rape rooms..............      40
torture.................      30

democracy...............      97

alcohol...................   314
party.....................  2075
awol......................     4

arnold schwarzenegger.....    28
condoleezza rice..........    25

richard clarke............     5
valerie plame.............     5
joe wilson................    13
paul o'neill..............    57

secretary of state........  1091
vice president............   618
secretary of defense......   591

preserve..................    58
protect...................   649
defend....................  1335
constitution..............  1320
bill of rights............   187

NRA.......................    15
ACLU......................     0

gas......................     53
oil......................     58
hydrogen.................     86
nuclear..................   1177

cbs.....................      83
fox news................      25
cnn.....................      10
abc.....................       9
nbc.....................       3
msnbc...................       1

national guard..........     310
reservist...............      92
contractor..............       7
mercenary...............       1
Posted by brian at 11:48 AM | Comments (5)

May 02, 2004

Google-Free Zone

Here's my pledge. After this post, no more blog posts about Google until after all the IPO noise is out of the way.

There's plenty enough chatter about the IPO (what Perkins' AlwaysOn Network calls "the blessed event" -- please, gag me with a spoon) going on everywhere else.

I hereby officially declare this blog to be a Google-Free Zone until I say it isn't.

Posted by brian at 10:20 AM | Comments (1)

May 01, 2004

Hangin' With The Experts

So April 30th finally arrived, and April 30th meant the Stereolab concert at the Belly Up in Solana Beach.

I called the place around 6pm to get details on showtimes and lines. A woman answered the phone.

"Well," she said, "doors open at 8:15, and so if you want a table you need to be there when the doors open."

"What time will the line form before the doors open?"

"Well, there's nobody out there right now, but there are usually clusters of . . . experts . . . who start arriving probably a half an hour before then."

"Experts!" Not fans, not groupies, but experts. Of course! It made so much sense. When we'd driven up to Los Angeles a few weeks ago, to see The High Llamas at the Troubadour, we got in line early, and now that I look back on it, yes, the people in line were experts. They knew the title of every song, they'd seen the band play many times, they could recount details both amazing and mundane. That was our first time seeing The High Llamas live, and this was our first time seeing Stereolab live.

It turns out that a lot of Stereolab "experts" smoke. A lot. Seemed like everyone in front and everyone behind was chainsmoking for the half-hour before the doors opened. Didn't they hear the news?

While I stood there breathing in all the smoke, I thought, hmm, too bad there isn't a separate line for smokers here: perhaps a cordoned-off, plexiglass-enclosed corridor along the sidewalk, where smokers can smoke to their hearts' content as long as they stay inside. Their tickets would cost more, of course, for the fees to run the ventilation and filtration systems that get rid of all that smoke.

A band named Mice Parade opened for Stereolab. "It's a silly name," one bandmember announced during a break between songs, "but there it is." Mice Parade came across to me as a jam band: post-melody, post-chords, very repetitive, reminiscent of Philip Glass doing Stereolab covers, on an off night. Highly percussive, with the vibraphone player ridiculously front and center stage, looming over everyone else (the two guitarists sitting in chairs, and the female vocalist in the vibe-player's shadow most of the evening). This was one of those bands that lacked a bass guitarist, and that plus the generally shrill mix coming out of the loudspeakers made their tunes kind of harsh to listen to. Oddly, even when the female vocalist took lead duty singing, her voice was kept low in the mix, making it nearly inaudible. Another first for a warm-up act, at least in my experience: a long, drawn-out drum solo. They really didn't have much to offer. I wasn't impressed with Mice Parade.

Stereolab were fantastic. I wish they would've played more songs! It was great to hear them live. Many of the seven players switched between different instruments for different songs, often playing multiple instruments at the same time (horn and keyboards!). The lead singer, Laetitia Sadier, often played a trombone or a Moog synthesizer in addition to her vocals.

My only complaint with Stereolab's wonderful performance was the same complaint I continue to hold for Coldplay: one of the most essential ingredients to both bands' songs is the backing vocals. Yet, live, neither band apparently offers any backing support to the lead singer, who's out there all alone. I know, in Stereolab's case, they lost their second female vocalist, Mary Hansen, when she died in an accident in late 2002. But still: Stereolab's music is so much richer with rich multiple layers of vocals; without it, it's just not the same.

Brian Wilson understands this, and his touring act is rich with accompanying vocals (can you imagine one lone singer trying to do justice to Beach Boys songs?). Stereolab's music is no different: the vocals complete the tunes. I wish they'd have had a couple of background singers onstage to fill out the sound.

One final thing: what is it with bands lately? My statistical sample is tiny (two concerts), but both The High Llamas and Stereolab both barely cracked a smile the whole evening. Is this the result of Southern California being at the end of a long tour that started in the East? I don't know. It would have been nice to see Laetitia and the other performers smile and show they're having as much fun as the audience once in a while. Why else bother performing?

Posted by brian at 06:29 PM | Comments (0)
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