July 31, 2004
Dan Gillmor's Book Release Party
Somehow managed to make it to the book release party for Dan Gillmor's new We The Media at OSAF/CreativeCommons' very cool offices in downtown San Francisco this evening.
An amazing group of attendees, including, in no particular order, Dan Gillmor, Steve Gillmor, Scott Rosenberg, Marc Hedlund, Anil Dash, Allen Noren, Marc Canter, Larry Lessig, John Markoff, Florian Brody, Kim Polese, Craig Newmark, Tim O'Reilly, Andy Hertzfeld, JD Lasica, Kevin Kelly, Fred von Lohmann, Cindy Cohn, Howard Rheingold and family, Evan Williams, Dave Sifry fresh off the plane from the Boston convention, John Markoff, Mitch Kapor, Lisa Dusseault and numerous OSAF folks, and many others whose names I'm forgetting at the moment (sorry!).
Dan signed copies of his book, which were available for purchase (proceeds going to benefit Creative Commons).
July 27, 2004
JibJab v LinspireIf there's any justice in the world, the forces of reason will prevail in this case and come down hard on this one.
If there were ever a case of genuine parody providing social commentary, it's JibJab's "This Land" cartoon. And if there were ever a case of a lengthy commercial posing as a parody (in the hopes of not paying royalties, maybe?) it's Linspire's cheesy "Light My Fire" cartoon.
July 24, 2004
Becoming a Tiger
On Thursday night I went to attend Susan McCarthy's talk and book signing at Warwick's book store in La Jolla. McCarthy (daughter of MIT/Stanford AI pioneer John McCarthy) is a biologist and science writer.
Her new book is Becoming a Tiger, a collection of essays about how baby animals learn to live in the wild.
Instead of the author's reading beginning right at 730pm as expected, there was a surprise guest, an orphan owl and its keeper, a woman from "Project Wildlife" in San Diego. She spoke for about fifteen minutes (supposed to be five, but folks kept asking questions).
Random items gleaned about this owl and owls in general:
When the Warwicks lady introduced author Susan McCarthy, she mentioned that McCarthy is a frequent contributor to Salon.com, which, the Warwicks lady mentioned, was her "favorite e-zine". She pronounced "e-zine" with a long I: ee-zIne. Never heard it pronounced that way before.
McCarthy (who has a remarkable head of multicolor hair) explained that whereas her previous book, Why Elephants Weep, was about animal emotions, her new book focuses on animal learning. From her introduction:
Learning is the ultimate combination of nature and nurture, in which a growing animal applies its powers of intelligence, curiosity, perception, and memory to the world around it, again and again, and ends up with knowledge and skills it did not have before. No newborn animal is a blank slate and no newborn animal has a complete instruction animal.
In Becoming a Tiger she provides a survey, from many different sources, of how different kinds of animals, from owls, ravens, and dolphins, to chimpanzees, bonobos, and, of course, tigers, learn from infancy in order to survive, thrive, and live to reproduce during their lifetimes.
A few random things from her talk:
Here's one passage from the book that I found very interesting:
Looking at the stories of animals learning -- and not learning, which can be even more illuminating -- I was struck by the way learning interlocks with animal feelings and personalities. Rivalry, shyness, impatience, the desire for freedom and control can be as influential in the learning process as simple brainpower.
Examples include the observations that birds learn song better if they get to push the buttons. Parrots learn better if they watch the competition, and apes learn more from watching someone else being taught than they do from being taught themselves. Animals prefer to try hard new things when no one is watching, whispering and mumbling the language skills they are mastering. You should learn language as young as possible; it may be more important to interpret the communications of others (such as alarm calls) than to learn to make communications yourself; and most animals aren't nearly as interested in communicating with us as they are with each other. When they do want to communicate, it's usually not about the curriculum we had in mind.
A shocking revelation: being tested is boring, and boring things are harder to learn. (Is it true that the smartest kids get bored the quickest?)
It's a great book. Go buy a copy.
[I wonder if McCarthy's interest in animal learning and emotion is related at all to her father's lifelong interest in machine learning and artificial intelligence? I also wonder if she's read Don Norman's book Emotional Design? Norman, who's spent a lifetime learning about learning, has lately gotten interested the mechanisms of emotion, how emotions influence our behavior, and even how adding emotions to robots will make them work better. ]
July 23, 2004
Fair, Balanced . . . and Unleaded?Good grief. This was a first. Running on vapors after the SDVG meeting, I had to stop and get gas while downtown. Found an Exxon station. Pulled in and noticed as soon as I started pumping the gas, the hard-to-read color LCD monitor switched to showing . . . FOX News.
And sure enough, what did FOX have to say? Well, TERROR ALERT: ELEVATED was on the crawl, and the reporter was hysterically reading something about a bomb aboard a Turkish cargo vessel . . .
I noticed there was no TURN THE DAMN FOX CHANNEL OFF button anywhere. You're basically forced to at least listen if not watch while pumping. Oh wait: there was a way to turn it off. Stop pumping. And then make a mental note to never go to that Exxon again.
The View from the Top?Attended the San Diego Venture Group's View From The Top breakfast panel session on Thursday morning downtown at the Hyatt Manchester Grand (or is it Grand Hyatt Manchester . . . or Manchester Grant Hyatt?). I was amazed at the turnout: hundreds of people showed up, to hear David Ryan of Mission Ventures and Steve Domenik of Sevin Rosen share their secrets from inside venture firms.
The first question from the moderator reminded me of blogger's or social-software conferences where the big theme is, "What's a blog?" or "What is social software?", as if that really had to be discussed!
What was the moderator's first question? "What is venture capital?"
Talk about a FAQ . . . Think about it. This is the San Diego Venture Group. Most of the members are VCs, or attorneys or financial advisors who work closely with VCs. And the rest of the membership is entrepreneurs like yours truly, who if they've joined SDVG prolly have been there / done that enough to know what venture capital is.
And sure enough, they spent ten minutes talking about what venture capital is and what it isn't. If this were a plumbers panel session, it'd be like asking, "what is plumbing?"
I continue to be amazed at what I hear at some of these get-togethers that hundreds of people turn out for.
Happily, it got better as it went along. I was pleased to learn that Sevin Rosen will do seed and very early stage investments (he even mentioned they've done $50k and $100k level deals... geez, that's smaller than angel level!).
Some various tidbits I heard over the course of the hour (SD = Steve Domenik, DR = Dave Ryan):
July 22, 2004
Jerry GoldsmithOne of my favorite film music composers has passed away. Love his "Planet of the Apes" soundtrack. And he pulled a miracle with "Chinatown" -- another score had been prepared for that, and with only a few days to go before release, the filmmakers decided to dump the score and they hired Jerry to come up with something essentially overnight -- which he did. And his music for "Basic Instinct" was also perfect for setting the right mood. And who can forget "Patton". His range was endless, and remains endlessly inspiring.
Come to think of it, I prolly own more Goldsmith soundtracks than any other composer save for Morricone. One of the greats. RIP, JG.
July 20, 2004
IZtunesI noticed Wired News has a story today about the resurgence of interest in Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (Bruddah IZ). The story says IZ weighed 1000 lbs when he passed away --- I'm pretty sure that is an exaggeration, although IZ was huge. For background info, read IZ's WikiPedia entry.
I originally learned about IZ in April 1996 when we visited Kauai, and the owner of the house we were renting told us about IZ. She played us some of his music and we were hooked, and went out and bought his CD's. E Ala E is one of my favorite IZ tunes.
I was fortunate to see IZ in Oct. 1996 when he made a rare concert appearance in San Rafael, CA, at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Marin County Civic Center (the buildings portrayed as an academy in the feature film GATTACA). The IZ concert was hands down the most extraordinary stage event I've ever experienced. Once all the warmup acts (and there were a bunch of them) were done, the curtains opened and sitting in the middle of the stage was this completely square shaped being (it took several moments to realize this was a human -- I simply could not recognize any features that made my brain say, "that's a human over there"). He had an oxygen tube going to his nostrils, and he never got up or moved. Only his arm moved, to strum a tiny ukelele. His voice, and his humor, were just amazing. He had incredible charisma. He owned that audience, and his enjoyment at being there and performing was palpable. I'll never forget it. After the concert, I splurged and bought a $25 baseball cap: all black, with a bright red "IZ" logo on the front. I wore that hat for years. RIP, brudda IZ...
Perhaps this iTunes-based resurgence in IZ will spread to other Hawaiian artists, such as Gabby Pahinui, to name but one of the greats.
July 16, 2004
More Fiction Becoming FactOk this is weird. Yet another made-up Denounce story has become reality. This time, it's about eBay. News circulating all over the place that eBay is getting into the Digital Downloads business.
Gee, I coulda sworn I wrote about that oh, about a year ago, in a story called "eBay Launches Music Downloading Auction Site"....
July 13, 2004
In Search of the Republican Oath, Part 2I still haven't found out who wrote the Oath originally. Out of curiosity I attended the monthly meeting of the San Diego County Republican Party last night. My hope was to understand the Republican mindset better: who attended these meetings? What were the talking points? How close to the spirit of the Oath were they? How much "liberal bashing" went on --- was it going to be like Fox News?
A Prayer and a Pledge
The meeting began with a prayer, asking God for guidance to watch over the proceedings and get Bush re-elected. Did I hear right? It sounded like the prayer ended with a mumbled "in Jesus' name" slipped in before the "Amen." Then everyone was asked to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and they all stood facing the gold-frilled flag which hung on its pole along the left end of the wall behind the podium.
Darrel Issa's in Da House!
I've never seen this clap-one-time technique used before --- I suspect it comes from sales meetings or football team pep rallies or church groups or something. Don't know. But it was very powerful and effective at getting everyone focused, in sync, and charged up. Politics is about people, after all, and people like to hear their names mentioned. Nehring was very effective at mentioning as many names as possible. I got a sense that this is a group where every member feels they belong.
The Sit Room
Nehring described the Kerry-Edwards ticket as an "axis of liberalism". Over the course of the evening, the word "liberal" was used more than "Democrat", and both were always used as a pejorative. (I continue to wonder though: much of the Oath is quite Liberal, is it not? The Quest continues....)
Invoking His Name
Reagan's name would be invoked numerous times during the evening --- always in tones of admiration and respect. Whereas Bush's name was never really mentioned in terms of admiration and respect, it seemed more like just an automatic, party-loyalty thing kicking in, as in "We're going to re-elect George W Bush" (applause) or "four more years" (applause) or "when we win in November" (applause). I didn't get a sense that this is a group especially proud of Bush or his Administration, but only because they never indicated so.
Reagan's name was mentioned about the same number of times as Barbara Boxer. Of course, in different terms. With Boxer, the phrasing was usually along the lines of "send Boxer packing" or "send Boxer back to Brooklyn". Um, this is a group of people who do not like Barbara Boxer.
Pursuing His Dream
That seemed awfully odd. Think about it. It's July. 2004. An election year. An election that will be one of the most important, maybe the most important, American presidential election in decades. California is still strongly Democratic, and will most likely give its electoral votes to Kerry in November. The Republicans in California have a huge amount of work to do. And this guy, the executive director of the Party, picks this time to go off and write a novel (called The Monaco Affair if I heard correctly)!?!?!?
Doesn't sound right. Maybe it's true, but I'm going to assume "follow dream of writing my novel" is SD Repub code for "wanted to spend time with his family" a la George Tenet.
There were numerous mentions of the fact that Holstein's replacement was going to be mentioned but I didn't catch it. Unless the guy they introduced as the new "Chief Operating Officer" of the San Diego County GOP, whose previous post was chairman of the Merced County Rep Party, was in fact the replacement. It wasn't clear.
Gimme Money (That's What I want)
Keith Carlson, who has some larger role in the California GOP, then spoke some more about finances. It was a recurring theme throughout the evening. Money. Money. Money. He said that June statistics in San Diego County showed a .4% drop in registered Democrats, while there was a 2.65% increase in Republicans. That brought a cheer to the audience. He spoke about GOP county-level financial support and how it's been increasing in the past few election seasons. While he skirted "mentioning numbers", instead indicating how many quarter-million-dollar houses you could buy, he described a dramatic rise in monies for San Diego County, from around $100k for 2000, to $750k for 2002, and already $750k with only 6 months of 2004 elapsed, and more money to come before the end of the year.
A Serious Performance
The Performance Institute guy forcefully read off (at times I thought a little too angrily read off) a list of ten recommendations (see the list here at their own site). Most of them got warm, if not loud and immediate, applause. The recommendations reminded me of the Republican Oath. The emphasis was on fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets, and cutting wasteful spending. All fairly reasonable at first glance. I was surprised to hear the ninth recommendation: "Reduce Corporate Welfare and Subsidies to Special Interests." Wouldn't such a recommendation be fightin' words to a Republican organization? I mean, the tax breaks that American corporations get are astounding. From the gathered audience there was no applause after he read that recommendation. The room was so quiet, you could hear a cricket chirp, if indeed there'd been any crickets present (I guess all San Diego crickets are liberals because I didn't hear any).
Securing the Homeland
They spoke earnestly of the many "task forces" and programs in place since 9/11 to prevent terrorist attacks in San Diego. Dumanis spoke about how the unparalleled-anywhere-in-the-world American spirit was not diminished after 9/11, and she encouraged the audience to "show it again when we re-elect George Bush". The audience applauded.
Chris Meyer of the FBI alluded to the single-clap phenomenon I mentioned earlier when he got up to speak. I guess it was a first for him as well. He quipped something about that was one more clap than he got from the Democratic Central Committee when he'd met with them.
He spent a lot of his talk expressing frustration at the alleged misinformation being printed and publicised about the PATRIOT Act. First, he said, this ignorance was coming from the secondary or lesser-known papers, but now it was happening in "reputable papers like the New York Times, LA Times, and Washington Post." Before he'd finished his sentence, the audience was howling. One person yelled out "Reputable!?" He didn't mention Fox, I noticed.
He challenged the audience to find a single example of a violation of civil liberties in the PATRIOT Act, and if anyone did, "have them call me," he said.
Tonight, July 13th, it turns out, is the monthly meeting of the San Diego Democratic Party's central committee. I was hoping to go, to compare and contrast how things work with this GOP meeting. But it's not open to the public. "It's a business meeting," I was told when I called the party headquarters in San Diego. I asked if there were any monthly all-hands meetings for Democrats or people curious about the Democratic Party in San Diego. There are none. You've got Meetups and local Clubs and that's about it.
No single-clap all-hands group sessions for the Dems I guess.
Maybe they ought to start one?
July 12, 2004
NanoshellsThe word of the day has got to be nanoshells. Fascinating science, with incredible potential in medicine.
July 09, 2004
Call Off the EnthusiasmI've been remiss in not contributing material over at BlogCritics.org, and after they were kind enough to send me a promo copy of a new CD, I figured I owed them a review. Here it is:
The floor is sticky in spots. The seats you wanted are taken, but the second best are available, so you take them and sit down. The smell of other people's popcorn is strong and unpleasant. The auditorium is still lit as more people come in and sit down.
The screen is showing advertisements, still images from a slide projector. Now it's an ad for refreshing Coca-Cola. Now it's an ad for Lenscrafters. Now it's an ad for some greasy bar-b-q restaurant. You haven't been paying attention to the music coming over the speakers --- it's that typical AMC Movie Tunes dreck. Songs that appear to be beautiful but lack any beauty or genuine feeling. Songs with a squeaky model's voice, a voice that does not do the songs justice, if the songs had any redeeming value to begin with, juxtaposed to Lenscrafters and Coca-Cola.
This is supposed to be a review of Katie Melua's new CD Call off the Search, but I'm finding it difficult to write anything positive. I did not like this CD.
In a nutshell, Kate Melua has chosen material that she has no credibility singing. These are not the tunes she's looking for. These are not the tunes people are going to find her with.
Her voice is thin and weak, all style but no substance. There's no energy, no experience, no emotion that sounds real or heartfelt. And there's the problem of her age (19): singing songs that older people can relate to, but when sung by her, sound like some slightly creepy appearance of a teenage kid on American Idol or Star Search singing the blues or some kind of subject matter that only makes sense when the singer's swung a few more times around the sun.
For instance, one song, called The Closest Thing to Crazy, she sings, "how can you treat me like a child?" Well, I can imagine a few reasons. She sings, "feeling 22, acting 17..." How about we split the difference: 19. I sound like an old coot but hell, go listen if you have to. Close your eyes. Lenscrafters.
The music is well-produced, well-recorded, don't get me wrong. It's just that the songs are tedious. The voice is completely phony, rendering the listening experience an ordeal, not a moment of joy.
But all is not lost. I have the perfect antidote to Call Off the Search: it's listening to K.D. Lang stunning performance of Crying off of her LIVE BY REQUEST album. Now there is a woman with a voice, and passion, and dramatic delivery. That is a performance that inspires awe. A performance that is so incredibly powerful, by the end you'll have to immediately play the song over again for a closer listen. You'll be wondering, did you really hear what you thought you heard? And are those tears in your eyes?
Try it. Run, go find a copy of Lang's performance. Listen closely. Turn the volume WAY UP. I guarantee you'll have completely forgotten about Melua's CD like I have.
July 08, 2004
When Fiction Becomes Fact: BitTorrenting F9/11Back on May 24th I wrote a Denounce called BitTorrent To Release Michael Moore's New Film Free of Charge --- Movie Industry Stunned By Latest Moore Move. It was not quite done as a parody, but more as a sort of report of "plausible inevitability".
The posting trigged a massive amount of traffic, more than even a Slashdotting had ever done. Many took the posting for real, and then were disappointed when they found out it wasn't, and then labeled it a "hoax", which it was never intended to be (Denounce has more disclaimers than bungee-jumping business).
It got so bad that I broke with tradition and issued a huge, red-ink disclaimer all over the Denounce page. That cut traffic in half, but it has stayed heavy since then.
Imagine my surprise when the other day Michael Moore says he's fine with Fahrenheit 9/11 being made available for free over the peer-to-peer networks.
Topping that, imagine my surprise when I visited BoingBoing this morning, and saw a posting entitled "How to BitTorrent Fahrenheit 9/11" complete with detailed instructions on exactly how to download the movie from the Internet.
I guess the only thing I'm really surprised at is that it took this long.
July 07, 2004
When They're Sixty-FourRingo turns sixty-four today, and Paul will be sixty-four in two years. Let's hope they both make eleventy-four.
July 03, 2004
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