March 31, 2005

The Invasion of the Monarchs, er, Painted Ladies

(see update below)

Today is an amazing, beautiful day in La Jolla. It's also magical -- something I've never before seen in the ~17 years of living here.

Waves and waves of Monarch butterflies everywhere you look. A proverbial blizzard of them, fluttering up and down and here and there seemingly randomly but all headed in a certain northeastern direction.

They're coming from the west -- the ocean. It is weird!

I was on the UCSD campus today and they were everywhere there too.

If I had the time I'd go investigate where they're all headed. Somewhere in Southern California there must be fields literally carpeted with Monarchs. It would make for some great Flickr photos.

Ironically, Google News has a link to a story out of Mexico today saying Monarchs are in danger in Mexico.

UPDATE & CORRECTION -- they're "Painted Lady" butterflies, often misunderstood by chumps like me to be Monarchs. MonarchWatch set me straight:

The butterflies that you are seeing are actually painted ladies (Vanesa cardui). They are often confused with monarchs but are a bit smaller and have different markings. They migrate, too, but on a much smaller scale (shorter distances) than monarchs; their migration coincides with weather in the fall and spring. During wet springs, like this one, they can be seen in great numbers. As you know, a group of them headed north is a spectacular sight! You can read more in the articles below.

http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/Stories/0,1413,206~22097~2784356,00.html
Wet weather creates ideal conditions for swarms of migrating ...

Pasadena Star-News - Pasadena,CA,USA ... Painted ladies look sort of like small monarch butterflies, and they travel in caravans that fly about 10 feet above ground. The ...

http://www.dailynews.com/Stories/0,1413,200~20954~2784570,00.htm>Butterflies invading the Valley Los Angeles Daily News - Los Angeles,CA,USA
... the orange, black and white-spotted painted lady butterflies are determinedly ... Visually similar but smaller than the more familiar monarch butterfly, the ...

Painted lady butterflies migrate through North County
North County Times - Escondido,CA,USA
... The butterflies have similar coloring as monarch butterflies, but they are smaller and flap their wings continually when they fly.

http://www.ocregister.com/ocr/2005/03/26/sections/breaking_news/article_458443.php
Swarms of Painted Ladies migrate through OC OCRegister (subscription) - Orange County,CA,USA ... in the deserts, that caused butterflies' host plants to grow faster and heavier than usual, said David F. Marriott, director of the Monarch Project butterfly ...

Sincerely,
--
Monarch Watch

Here's the scoop from the San Diego Union Tribune:
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20050401-9999-2m1ladies.html

Posted by brian at 03:52 PM | Comments (3)

March 29, 2005

EVDB Beta Live

We opened the servers tonight, and it took only seconds for people to stream in. Funny how that works. Lots of bugs being found, lots of bugs being fixed.

I find I'm in an interesting state that's a mixture of exhaustion from days of little sleep, elation from just the thrill of seeing real people try out the system, gratitude from the really helpful strangers who are emailing us tonight with bug reports, and contemplation about all the work we have ahead of us. It's also a very palpable sense of transition, from the past, from what we can now call the "pre-launch" phase, to this present public exposure phase.

Now the fun begins. Well, after a few hours of sleep.

Major tasks for the rest of the week: pushing onwards with bug fixes, better documentation, more content, more business development activity . . . and also a lot of listening, learning, and managing expectations.

One thing I hadn't anticipated: having to fend off the sudden arrival of vendors who want to sell me this and that and the other thing. Eeeeek! They're everywhere! Got no time for you! Nor interest! Thank you very much!

Posted by brian at 08:41 PM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2005

EVDB Funding News

Company's first press release issued today:

EVDB, Inc. Closes Series A Round of Financing

A huge milestone in the life of this little startup. We have a huge pipeline of projects, features, and functionality we want to offer to the world. We now have some funding, thanks to a team of fantastic and supportive investors, to make them possible.

Onwards!

Oh yeah, did I mention we're hiring?

Posted by brian at 01:40 PM | Comments (3)

March 27, 2005

I'd Buy Music from Online Music Stores, If Only . . .

Try http://www.allofmp3.com
Posted by brian at 09:59 AM | Comments (1)

March 16, 2005

EVDB to Premiere at PC Forum

I'm thrilled to announce that my startup company EVDB, Inc. will be premiering its new EVDB service at PC Forum in Scottsdale, AZ on Monday March 21st. EVDB is one of the "debutante" companies at the conference. I'll be showing what we've been working on for the past umpteen months. EVDB stands for "Events and Venues Database". I'll have more details next week here and at the EVDB website.

In the meantime -- we're hiring! Know Linux? Apache? Perl? PHP? PostgreSQL/MySQL? CSS, XHTML, XML, RSS, Atom? Shipped lots of working code? We'd love to hear from you.

Posted by brian at 09:39 AM | Comments (4)

March 14, 2005

Sponsored Tags

In a hallway conversation with Joshua Schacter today at ETech, we spoke about del.icio.us and advertising and how it might be done on the site, and I suggested an idea that I really like but I don't think he was too hot on: literal "ad words" -- brand links -- sponsored tags.

One thing Google AdWords has successfully shown is that the web didn't need graphical banner ads in order to deliver effective advertising that people really responded to. Just look at Google's revenues.

What Google proved is you could reduce an ad down to a few words, and a simple link.

What I think del.icio.us should prove is that you can reduce an ad down to a single word and the ad'll still work. I'm thinking brand names as links. Sponsored tags. Whatever you want to call them.

Say you're browing links related to photography. Imagine if there were a list of links, just simple hyperlinks, in some offset box that said "Sponsored Tags", say underneath the "related tags" box:

Prediction: we're going to see this within the next three months on the web. Maybe not on del.icio.us, but on other sites for sure. (Who knows, maybe it's there already.)

Posted by brian at 10:40 PM | Comments (2)

March 13, 2005

The Long Trail

Unless you've been on safari for the past six months you've probably heard about Chris Anderson's Long Tail article that appeared in WIRED in October 2004. There's been much news about the subsequent book deal, the speaking engagements, the Long Tail blog . . . suffice to say, the Long Tail is now Big Business.

I'm not writing about the Long Tail. Right now, on the eve of the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference here in San Diego, I am thinking about the Long Trail. It's something I mentioned to Paul Kedrosky the other day, who then went and penned this. That got me thinking, ok, I should finally spent some time and post this Long Trail notion that's been stewing for a long time.

"Remix" is the theme of the conference. "Remix your hardware", "Remix your software", "Remix your web" . . . so beckon the animated slogans on the O'Reilly Conference site.

The thing about remixing is that it makes something new out of something old. The act of remixing itself is nothing new. Remixing even in media is nothing new. Remixing in music in particular. Maybe Larry Lessig only found out about remixes in the past few years, but mash-ups, remixes, all that stuff has been around for decades. The path hewn by the pioneers of remixing goes way back. It's a long trail.

[Come to think of it, the image at the top of this article is a blatant remix of the original Long Tail image that appeared in the WIRED article.]

So much of what we think is new is not. In computing technology, this is painfully true. Particularly if you were around and actually used the old technology (say, the PLATO system). Speaking of PLATO . . . seeing Ray Ozzie now reporting to Bill Gates . . . now there is a long trail story if there ever was one. Ray started out on PLATO in the 1970s, went on to build Lotus Symphony and then Lotus Notes, then built Groove . . . now absorbed by Redmond.

Jon Udell posting on Screencasting, as if it is the newest cool thing . . . old hat in the computer-based training world. A world, by the way, that has gone through many a relabel over the past 40 years: programmed instruction > computer-assisted instruction > computer-based education > computer-based learning > web-based training > e-learning. Same old thing, really.

Bloggers calling XMLHTTPRequest the rise of "Web 3.0" . . . . been there, done that. I'm glad to see websites using this new technology . . . as we head further into the future, we're finally catching up with the past (client/server applications, X-Window, anything pre-web that didn't have this pesky document-based architecture).

The Long Trail is about the unevenly-distributed future. Stuff that's coming on your radar today came on someone else's radar days, or weeks, or months, or years, or decades, ago. Stuff being presented at the ETech conference next week is for the most part remixes of work done over the past years to decades. This isn't necessarily bad, but it is interesting when the conference is called "Emerging Technology".

When Does Technolgy "Emerge?"
If we use the Long Trail graph, we might say that at some point on the far right, the technology is starting to "emerge" -- starting to be used by a significant number of people or organizations, but not yet a substantial number. Perhaps it's technology that is in the process of crossing the chasm. Perhaps that is what makes it notable.

But it's clearly not the only criterion considered by O'Reilly & Associates for its event lineup. There's a distinct rock-star syndrome going on with O'Reilly conferences that is a bit disappointing to me. So many of the scheduled speakers are former speakers, re-hashing, remixing old speeches that keep them busy on the lecture and blog circuit for months or years at a time.

I wish this weren't the case with the ETech conference. I wish there were a lot more unknowns speaking at the conference, about technology that's not yet on my radar. That is what I would find valuable. I suspect that the vast majority of attendees to ETech are people already, if not intimately, familiar with most of the topics and technologies being discussed the conference. There will be a lot of familiar faces there, which is nice. I wish none of them were speaking though. I wish all of the speakers had never spoken before at ETech or any other O'Reilly conference. In fact if I had my way, I'd say the deal with speaking at ETech is that you can't have spoken there before, at least on the same subject, but even then, probably not. I wish ETech were more like DEMO -- not similar in the way it does its frantic six-minute pitch sessions from seventy-odd unknown startup companies. But in the fact that most of the speakers are unknowns, presenting new things, different things, (often remixed things).

I go to a conference to learn. I want to go to ETech to find out what's new that I don't already know. Thanks to blogs and a saturation of news and technology websites, I know a lot of what's going on. But I know there are still tons of things I've not yet heard about. I wish ETech would be the place where these new things, finally emerging into the mainstream, get some limelight.

Remixed Mousetraps
Google wasn't the first search engine. Legends abound of how so many VC firms decided not to fund Google as there were too many search engines around already. But Google had a new approach, some very firm beliefs about design, simplicity, and user focus, and the service found a market and great success.

My own startup company is building what we too hope is a better mousetrap. It's a mousetrap like other mousetraps, which have been around forever. Others before us have built what they had hoped were better mousetraps. We've studied what they did, we've contemplated why they failed. Market timing, the availability of free software and cheap hardware, the wide adoption of protocols and standards . . . all kinds of factors suggest the market might be ready for a new mousetrap. We'll see.

Everything You Need Already Exists
There is a great old episode called "Arena" from the original Star Trek series, in which Captain Kirk is stolen right off the bridge of the Enterprise and deposited on a bleak planet of rocks, mountains, and precipices (strangely resembling San Bernadino, but I digress). He finds he's not alone: The Gorn, a reptilian alien captain of an enemy spaceship, is also there. They've both been put there by an alien race called The Metrons who wanted to see the two captains duke it out, building their own weapons out of available materials found scattered around the planet. At one point Kirk reads into his persnal log machine (blog?):

an abundance of mineral deposits-- but no weapons in the conventional sense. Still, I need to find one. Bare-handed... against the Gorn... I have no chance. . . .

A large deposit of diamonds on the surface-- perhaps the hardest substance known in the universe, beautifully crystallized and pointed, but too small to be useful as a weapon. An incredible fortune in stones... yet I would trade them all for a hand phaser, or a good solid club. Yet the Metrons said there would be weapons... if I could find them. Where?

The Metrons permit the crew of the Enterprise to watch the contest between Kirk and The Gorn down on the planet. At one point, Spock figures out what Kirk is doing, while Bones gets frustrated:

Spock: Fascinating. Good. Good. He knows, Doctor. He has reasoned it out.

[Gorn Snarls]

Spock: Yes. Yes.

McCoy: What is it, Spock?

Spock: An invention, Doctor. First potassium nitrate, and now if he can find some sulfur... and a charcoal deposit or ordinary coal...

McCoy: What's he doing?

Spock: Diamonds-- the hardest known substance. Impelled by sufficient force, they would make formidable projectiles.

McCoy: What force?

Spock: Recall your basic chemistry, Doctor. Gunpowder.

An abundance of mineral deposits . . . He has reasoned it out . . . That always intrigued me about this show, the notion of available materials, and has kept with me for years since. Look around today on the web and you will find all the tools you need to build whatever you need. That's what I discovered was the case when thinking about EVDB back in 2002 . . . all the building blocks already existed, each built somewhere along the Long Trail of technology, but just needed to be put together in a new way.

Ironically, we're building what we hope is a better mousetrap to address the issues brought up in Anderson's Long Tail, at least one market instance of it.

More news coming as we prepare to announce the new company in the coming weeks.

Posted by brian at 12:32 PM | Comments (7)

March 12, 2005

Dead Pixels and The Stages of Grief

There are few things worse than the death of CinemaDisplay pixels. I'm reminded of Kubler-Ross:

  • The first stage is denial
    Upon discovering the dead pixel, the CinemaDisplay owner reacts with a shocked, "No, not my CinemaDisplay." According to Dr.Kubler-Ross, this is a healthy stage (as long as the CinemaDisplay owner doesn't wipe, scrape, squeegee, or otherwise smush the dead pixel too hard and in the process make matters much worse), and permits the CinemaDisplay owner to develop other defenses.

  • Next comes anger or resentment
    "Why me?" is the question asked now. "Why my CinemaDisplay?" Blame, directed against the CinemaDisplay's Taiwanese LCD manufacturer, against Apple for contracting with such a manufacturer, against Steve Jobs just on general principles, against FedEx for probably dropping the box during transport . . . all of these are often part of this stage. This outcry should be accepted, unjudged.

  • The third stage is bargaining
    "Ok, my CinemaDisplay, but-" . . . "Maybe I can sell it on eBay and the buyer won't notice . . ." This Dr. Kubler-Ross calls a period of temporary truce.

  • The fourth stage is depression
    Now the CinemaDisplay owner is faced with the reality that the dead pixel is staring back at you, immovable, unshakable, no matter what application or animation or other window you open on the desktop -- the dead pixel will not go away. The CinemaDisplay owner gives up trying to nudge the dead pixel back into functionality. The acknowledgement that the pixel is indeed dead and not a tiny bit of food, dust, or sneeze-blast, brings on depression.

  • Finally comes acceptance:
    A time of facing pixel death calmly. There will be days when the CinemaDisplay owner will forget the dead pixel. These will be the good days. There will be days when the CinemaDisplay owner rediscovers the dead pixel all over again, thus beginning the cycle of grief all over again. These will be the bad days.

Posted by brian at 02:44 PM | Comments (3)

March 09, 2005

Bay Area Spam Network

I'm a member of the Bay Area Startup Network (even though I'm based 450 miles south of the Bay Area) which puts on some great events for startup companies looking for financing. I've met some great VCs this way, and every meeting I've gone to has been worthwhile.

BASN has a mailing list which I'm a member of. This mailing list has had some problems lately, and it's driving the BASN members mad.

Seems the configuration settings for the server that runs the list are broken, or the server is broken, or something. Each time an outbound mailing list message bounces because of out-of-the-office notices from one of the BASN members, the bounced message then gets sent to each BASN member. People then respond to the list saying "stop sending me these emails" and these too get sent to the whole list. Someone then follows up with a "yeah, enough already" and that too gets sent to the list. The echo chamber is getting so bad people are threatening litigation:

  • Fix your friggin' e-mail system, I only have limited room for e-mails!!!!!!

  • SHUT OFF YOUR AUTO MAIL/SERVER/WHATEVER!!!! I AM BEING INUNDATED WITH YOUR STUFF AND DON'T WANT ANY OF IT.  PERIOD...!! THIS IS NUTS.....

  • Ditto! I have requested on numerous occasions to be removed from this list. If I receive one more e-mail from basn, I am going to refer this matter to a lawyer!
    -- Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

  • whatever the hell this stuff is, stop sending it!!!!!

  • take this address off your mailing list. we are getting full mailboxes from repeat e-mails. please fix this. it's been going on for a long time.

  • You still have a problem.  I do not want anymore emails from basn.  Thank you.

  • You still have a major problem. I am getting 20 autoreplys from various senders. Remove my name. You have a virus.

Methinks BASN ought to consider using a different mailing list service. The organization risks alienating its entire membership if something isn't done soon.

 

Posted by brian at 03:24 PM | Comments (0)

The AIGA Debate

I used to be a member of the AIGA, currently the subject of debate in this long thread at Airbag.

Finally left the organization because I couldn't in good conscience continue being a member of a group that polluted so much. The AIGA seems to think it is its mission in life to cut down as many trees as possible, form them into as many different heavy-stock paper objects as possible, come up with slogans and pictures and designs that are as artsy and "designed with a capital D" as possible and print them on these heavy-stock paper objects, and then mail out as many of them as possible in as excessively-overdone mailing parcels as possible to every member as frequently as possible.

You want design inspiration? Go to a multiplex theatre and study the movie posters. Which ones work and why? Grab a copy of the Wall Street Journal and study. Go to an Apple store and stand in the very center and slowly turn around 360 degrees and observe.. Go study Braun products at the local department store. Spend three hours surfing through 300 blogs. The design's out there. We don't need AIGA.

Posted by brian at 08:51 AM | Comments (1)

Corporate Hate Sites

Forbes has an article out this week about the top websites for venting about bad corporations.

Talk about "markets as conversations" . . .

It's going to be interesting to see over the next couple of years how the local sites like JudysBook.com and InsiderPages.com deal with really harsh critiques of local merchants, mechanics, doctors, bookkeepers, etc.

Posted by brian at 08:24 AM | Comments (0)

March 03, 2005

Wists

At first I thought for sure that Wists was Elmer Fudd's way of saying Lists. I'm not sure I quite get the name, but I get the idea: a more visual bookmark-sharing service than del.icio.us (which has its own naming challenges).

At first glance, I can't say I'm going to switch from Del.icio.us to Wists. I like the fact that Del.icio.us is text-based. I am able to scan a lot of information super quickly and it's a dream for finding something interesting in seconds. I find that with Wists, I have to look at all the pictures, then read the underlying text anyway to make a decision on whether this is interesting or not. I can't trust the picture to be worth my while.

So, I'll stick with Del.icio.us but study how and why people adopt Wists.

Posted by brian at 03:21 PM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2005

Focus Ads

About time this idea saw some action: Weblogs, Inc. has introduced what it calls Focus Ads, which lets the user community comment on the companies that run ads on the site.

I proposed this exact same idea at MP3.com in 1999 -- you'd have a little "comment" button underneath all 468x60 ad banners and you could comment, vote/review, or just read everyone else's comments. I also proposed that there be an "ad map" on the site -- think of it as a "site map" that listed all the advertisers, and from there you could comment on or review others' comments on any of those companies.

Never got the execs to buy in on the idea, but I always hoped it'd get tried out somewhere.

Will be interested to see how this takes off. I suspect lots of sites will start doing this. I hope Endgadget didn't patent it.

Posted by brian at 05:20 PM | Comments (4)

Too Busy to Post

It's awful, I'm so busy right now I haven't had a second to touch the blog. Hope to have some time soon.

In the meantime, RIP Jef Raskin. I had the pleasure of meeting him on a number of occasions at conferences over the years, and at one point he gave me a copy of The Humane Interface which is a great book.

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