May 29, 2005

Better Than Star Wars, Worse Than Star Wars

Been to a few movies lately, and it's funny -- I hear people commenting over and over about whether the film they've just seen is better or worse than the current run of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

My own two cents:

  • Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - about the same as Star Wars, i.e., they both were big disappointments.

  • Layer Cake - way, way, WAY better than Star Wars. British crime drama. Best in years. If you like this genre, see it.

  • Imaginary Heroes - better than Star Wars if you're into Magnolia / Grand Canyon type films.

  • The Interpreter - Eh. Okay. Better-made than Star Wars but I wish Kidman could've kept her hair in check (watch carefully as the numerous dialogue scenes show her hair one way, suddenly then another, then back to the old way, then different again, as we cut back and forth between one character and her).

  • ENRON: The Smartest Guys in the Room - way better than Star Wars. Ought to be required viewing of every American citizen. Happily bereft of all the strut and attitude that so besmirches Michael Moore films.

  • KUNG FU MASTERHUSTLER - way way way WAY better than Sith. Starts off slow, has its weird parts including some gore, but the kung fu and the special effects are simply amazing. The movie gets better as it goes along. Think: Quentin Tarantino meets Jackie Chan and Bugs Bunny . . . in the Matrix.

    Posted by brian at 11:57 AM | Comments (4)
  • May 26, 2005

    The Long Tail of Tags, or, Spamming del.icio.us

    Recently I noticed a whole bunch of links to a company called Airset when searching for del.icio.us bookmarks with the "evdb" tag.

    Why would EVDB be associated with Airset, I wondered?

    Strangely, all these bookmarks had the exact same number of contributors . . . 23:

    And not only had exactly "22 other people" added the same entries in del.icio.us, but many had used the same tags: "online web calendar Treo Sunbird EVDB Blackberry mobile phone cellular".

    Most of these users, like "pilotdad3", "jimdefrisco", "paqstuff", and "edelsesto", have only added one bookmark to del.icio.us, namely, the link to Airset, along with its long tail of tags.

    One of these "22 other people" is pbhurley, who, if you Google for "hurley airset", you learn is Patrick B Hurley who works at, yes, you guessed it . . . Airset. In fact, he's their media contact according to Airset's own site.

    Hurley, who also has only contributed one bookmark to del.icio.us (at least under the pbhurley user ID), takes the cake for the ultimate Airset tag spam:

    productivity, software, tech, technology, tools, todo, free, asp, internet, 43Folders, online, web, calendar, Treo, Sunbird, EVDB, Blackberry, collaborate, collaborative,web-based, mobile phone, mobilephone, cellular cellularphone, cellphone,cell phone,PIM, address book, addressbook,contact list, to-do GTD, Getting Things Done, calendars, airena, smartphone, PDA, beta, Palm, Outlook, 43 Folders, webapp, app, shared connected , calendar,tiddlywiki, social networking, organizer, lifehack

    Some of the other userIDs appear to be Airset employees as well: "dfults" I suspect is Doug Fults; "edelsesto" I suspect is Eric Del Sesto. I'm also gonna guess that "BrianDoc" is Brian Dougherty, founder of Airset.

    Question is: will all this tag spam help or hurt Airset. We'll see.

    Posted by brian at 08:10 AM | Comments (14)

    May 22, 2005

    Steve Jobs at the D Conference

    Here are some hastily jotted-down notes from the Steve Jobs session at the WSJ "D" conference.

    WM = William Mossberg
    KS = Kara Swisher
    SJ = Steve Jobs

    (((comments shown in triple parenthesis a la Bruce Sterling)))

    WM: We're pretty sure we're the only conference with a giant D. (((Stands by this huge decorative "D" center-stage))).

    WM: You cannot do audio, video, or photograhy in the room because we want to keep those things for themselves. (((Meanwhile photographers keep coming up to everyone who's talking to others, interrupting them, asking them to move here or there, and then resume the conversation -- it's very invasive... how come they aren't paying me for the privilege?)))

    (((When Steve Jobs comes out on stage, they briefly play Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" in the background.... interesting choice)))

    KS: What have you done for us lately
    SJ: we're working on a bunch of great stuff....but I can't talk about it (((audience hisssssssssssses))). Isn't it funny a ship that leaks from the top......... (((audience laughs)))

    WM: ipods 99 to 450, $50 increments......... is this the year it all collapses?
    SJ: there are companies that have managed to hold on to prety good market shares............. we're focused on putting out the best products............ we've got some pretty good things in the lab.........

    KS: can you give us an idea.... video
    SJ: you're always fighting things that are opposed to each other.......playstation 4........ great game machine mbut not great music player because it doesn't fit in your pocket........ you have to pick one and optimize for it......... you can do video on these devices if you want to but there are things that suboptimal........... headphones are a miraculous thing............ no such thing as headphones for video................ not same experience as 50" plasma screen.
    WM: they have those huge goggles you can wear but you never get a date when you wear them

    WM: wireless.......... digital hub.........why would the internet w/ wireless.......... avoiding the need to go thru a pc or mac....... SJ: should we intergrate wireless networking into an ipod....... power........ heart of the issue......... when you're in the music store, you want a nice big screen vs a tiny little screen........... discovering and buying music on a computer and downloading it to the ipod is part of the genius of the ipod......... i don't think it's goingn to ever mean that ..........

    KS or WM asked about what it would take......
    SJ: foldable screens, goggles..........

    WM: why are you doing store on motorola.........
    SJ: Itunes player on phone............ we don't think that's whre the action is going to be......... avg price per user (APPU)..............lousy buying experience..... 2x 3x ........ it's hard to see that their customers ar ethat stupid.........

    WM: customers are paying for ringtones...........
    SJ: that's becuause the phone manuf have pretty much put their phones in walled gardens........ carriers forcing the manufacturerers............

    KS: I want an ipod phone
    SJ: it's a hard problem...... we're doing everything if you read those things [rumor sites]........
    KS: but the phone
    SJL: the problem with the phone is, as you know, apple's great successes have not been in the fortune 500........ we're not very good going through orifices to get to the end users....(((audience laughs)))......... we've never been real good at that......... apple's DNA is not great at going through orifices to reach end users............ the carriers now have gained the upper hand in terms of the power of the relat with the handset manuf, and they're telling the handset manuf what to build,......... the handset manuf are getting these big thick books saying what you're phone is gonna be........

    WM: why not form your own MVNO.......
    SJ: yeah it's um, it's not clear the endurance of those things........ it's not clear when an indiustry that there are room for a lot of hands in the till

    WM: cellphone is the big deal...........your dinner companion bill gates was quoted as saying lifespan of ipod is limited, it's all going to move to cell phone........ i know that you can put music software musiuc firmware ..... why sin't that true
    SJ: I thoroughly understand the question... (((audience laughs))).... I'm going to leaver the answer to our actions in the future..........

    KS: yahoo just announced a music subscription serviice..........
    SJ: we're not relgiious about subs service........ very few customers tell us that's what they want.......... subs service........ yahoo went out at $5 /mo if you go for a year............. music industry looks at subs like the cable industry, they want to keep raising prices......... not that many customers want to rent their music.............
    WM: I don't think your company is known as reacting to customer surveys
    SJ: ......... we have a betting pool as to when yahoo will start sraising their prices........ 5 months............

    KS: record industry.........
    SJ: grokster case......... intent.......... when we sell a song on itunes they make more money than when they sell a CD........... selling half a billion songs a year now..................the legal download business is 5%
    WM: they don't seem grateful
    SJ: the good news is that their customers are really grateful

    WM: is there anything new in ipod

    (((Jobs gets up to do a demo))) SJ: one of the fun things about itunes.......... we'll roll it out ion the next ...........Bill you have your hand up?.....(((audience laughs))).... podcasting............wayne's world for radio...........it's not just the wayne's worlds of radio, but real radio............. Pew survey done last month......... 29% of ipod users had listened to a podcast............... not subscribed but just listened............. over 8000 podcasts........ no FCC regulation cause your not using spectrum.......... tivo for radio for your ipod............ next release of itunes....... 4.9................... podcasts............ page full of podcasts right here......... subscribe to podcast............ clear channel infinity sirius NPR, all free........ newsweek, business weke, forbes, denver post, seattle post, philadelphia daily news.......... adam curry.......... daily source.......... i had to start the show 3 times cause my mac has been acting up (audience roars).......... chapters........ artwork........... all these things sync up with your ipod............. existing podcasting programs pretty crufty........... this is gonna send it into orbit............ these podcasts don't have to ...

    WM: how do people register their podcasts with the store
    (((didn't jot down answer....... but SJ said something along the lines of there will be a registration process and it'll be open and free)))

    WM: the macintosh.... market share small.....
    SJ: we try harder
    WM: halo effect on mac from the ipod........ is that bullshit or real?
    SJ: last few quarters .............. 105 stores, 100 in US........ 1 million visitors a week now............ genius bar........ in NY 100
    WM: you found a 100 geniuses in new york city?
    (((a distinct hiss from one area of the audience)))

    WM: market share for mac
    SJ: 4 now, which is good, les sinternational (((couldn't say the word percent, just the number 4)))

    WM: when do you get to 10%
    SJ: I've given up predicting...........

    WM: you have free of known successful viruses of OS X............ none spreading on Macs in real world............ you're not that big in the fortune 500............
    SJ: they can bring one at least..................
    WM: xbox......
    SJ: they wrere a great customer this year..............
    SJ: avie tevanian.......... we gave him incredible shit for that......... boy was he ahead of his time...............when people
    WM: even if they live in an orifice
    SJ:" tiger is doing phenomenally well.........
    WM: what % of user base has converted.........
    SJ: Can't say
    WM: SEC has declared this a free zone..........

    (((SJ demos))) SJ: baseball, yosemite.............. better in 3 ways..........

    SJ: eventually file system management will be an app for pros............

    WM: people will stop making folders
    SJ: consumers will have dramatically less use........... stop using the FS altogether..............
    WM: why not many previews
    SJ: most people find other things by their names...........
    SJ: dashboard.boom, boom boom
    SJ: countdown widget to a specific event

    KS: split betwene pixar and apple
    SJ: 1 day a week there physically....... Cars.........
    KS: what is going on in that business..... you said, I'll never do business when Michael Eisner is there........
    SJ: as long as you have different release windows, it's fine............ see movies a few times then buy the DVD
    KS": disaggregation of media........
    SJ: we see that with ipod........ disaggregation with radio .......... long tail in hollywood...........
    WM: what about 2 flops
    SJ: we'll take our cash and buy our stockl back I don't k .................. in animation.......... disney said we have to edit our film before we make it.......... we build our movie before we make it............ invariably what you think is gonna work crashes & burns when you see it on the reels........ only when it works on the reels, do we go animate it.......... John Lasseter: no amount of technology will turn a bad story into a good story
    KS: what is changing in the way hollywood makes movies
    SJ: eays to say harder to do, expensive to do............the appeite grows just as fast as you can feed it..........
    WM: do you use macs at pixar
    SJ: yes we use macs..........We also have PCs running linux..........it pains me to write a P.O. to DELL but I do it

    it's job security for me not to tell you so you invite me back next year

    WM: what's the deal with this suing journalists
    SJ: it turns out the law's pretty clear to this........... breaking the law trumps the first amendment........ we don't thhin satisfying the curioosity of our customers and more importantly

    KS: would you have sued the WSJ if we had done something like this
    SJ: Don't know..... maybe...... the wsj has serious thought about what they publish....... today anybody can be a journalist quote unquote........... we are in a gray area now ....... the courts will adjuicate this........

    KS: [asks question about] enron........... (((audience member: bullshit)))

    SJ: the law is already there......... I think this case could go to the supreme court............

    Q: porting OS X to other platforms
    SJ: other platforms like XBOX? (((no laughs))).......... you mean like PCs, Intel......? we think we make the best hardware in the world......... generally the macosx customer likes good hardware............ we're sticking to our program right now ........

    Q: recycling programs......... when will we see that from apple
    SJ: tons last year......

    Q: lusting after subnotebooks ........ why no subnotebook from apple.......
    SJ: i understand.......... 15% of the notebook market...............we're doing pretty well, maybe we ought to take another look at that..........

    Q: another controversy about a book..... Steve, what in ICON ............
    SJ: I hadn't already even seen it.............. our folks and their folks we had a really bad experience with them and the way they treated us was not so good.......... we just decided we didn't do business with them we didn't liek the way they treated us.............. in our 100 little stores we just didn't want to do do business Wiley anymore.

    Q: [question about his health] sj: well I'm vertical................

    Q: WMA for Ipod
    SJ: there are 2 kinds of wma -- unencrtyped wma and encrypted wma............. microsoft had the encrpt checkbox checked for wma........ open standards encoder AAC betrter than msft............ we talked to microsoft at one time about WMA.......... license terms were so onerous ..............it's interesting we don't get that request that very much

    Jason Calcanis Q: why is it nobody at apple doesn't blog
    SJ: I don't blog....... pretty time consuming thing.......... we have a lot of secret stuff going on.............

    JC: will you be able to add any podcast any rss feed.......... sell podcasts?
    SJ: zing me an email...........

    Q: tivo......... two brands she loves apple and tivo.....
    SJ: first thing let me say you married a smart woman........ a woman with great taste................ not true in our case.......... real issue surrounding this stuf........ gatekeepers/aggregators of the television experience........... comcast comes to mind............ they subsidize set top boxes......... what that has done is distrioted the marketplace............. and you don't get much traction if you can rent one or get one for free from the cable companies................

    WM: [didn't write down what his q was]
    SJ: mediacenter is a fun prod but it has not sold high volumes even by our standards (aud laughs)..........

    Well there you have it.

    Posted by brian at 11:17 PM | Comments (0)

    May 20, 2005

    Fiasco

    We went to see a matinee of Star Wars yesterday, and I'd bought 8 tickets in advance through the Fandango online ticketing service. The way it is supposed to work is, you buy your tickets online, Fandango gets its $1 per ticket markup, and you print out a piece of paper and take it with you and go to the theatre. Instead of standing in the ticket purchasing line, you're supposed to be able to walk up to the Fandango kiosk, press a few buttons and presto, your tickets spew out.

    The placement of the kiosk at the sprawling Edwards Mira Mesa megaplex in San Diego says a lot about what the theatre company thinks about Fandango. When you walk into the massive lobby, it's very easy to miss the Fandango kiosk because they have it turned around backwards. That's right: as you enter the lobby, the nondescript, unlabeled rear of the kiosk (imagine looking at the back of a video arcade game machine) stands there hiding in plain sight.

    I went up to it, and it asked me to type in a code from the printout. There was no code on my printout. Then it asked to run the same credit card through that I'd ordered online with. I ran it through. "We could not find any Will Call tickets for your card -- Please See Box Office". So I had to get in the line anyways. I noticed others who were walking up to the kiosk were also having trouble.

    I've never once been able to successfully get tickets from this kiosk. Don't think I'm gonna try anymore.

    Posted by brian at 08:54 AM | Comments (5)

    May 11, 2005

    Tiger Continues to Disappoint

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who's found the new Mail.app in MacOS X Tiger a disappointment. It's slower, it's uglier, it's less flexible, and did I mention it's slower?

    Slower: Spotlight makes everything slow. More disk activity for everything. Each incoming mail has to be saved not only in the mbox, but in this new "emlx" format. Plus, huge index files for searching. The result? Slow slow slow. Why index and create emlx files for SPAM, pray tell? Everything was working fine with SpamSieve until Tiger came along. What used to take a few seconds now can take a minute or more. If hours have gone by since the last Get Mail action, and I have a hundred or more emails coming in, Mail.app has to chug its way through each individual email, indexing, duplicating, who knows what else. This is not progress.

    Uglier: The interface was better in the previous release. The new buttons are ugly, break some well-established design principles, and sometimes don't work at all (I've twice so far encountered Mail.app with broken buttons, half-drawn, or missing buttons in the tool bar -- very buggy!)

    Less Flexible: Used to be if the user wanted the mailbox "drawer" on the right, the user could have it on the right. Not anymore. Now we are all forced to have it on the left. This is not progress.

    Bottom line, I've turned off Spotlight altogether on my machine.

    If only Qualcomm would decently fund Eudora and make it better than Mail.app, I'd switch back.

    Posted by brian at 07:30 AM | Comments (7)

    May 09, 2005

    Vonage

    They may have raised $200 million in venture capital but Vonage still stinks. I've been a customer for seven months and my recommendation is . . . avoid.*

    Why? Because it just doesn't work reliably. You can't depend on the service being there when you need it. If you don't care about reliability, then sure, I suppose Vonage is a value. But who doesn't care about reliability?

    Imagine if the plain old telephone company worked the way Vonage worked. Nobody would put up with it. Why do customers put up with Vonage's nonsense?

    A summary of my Vonage experience so far in 2005:

  • The website is terribly slow. It takes a long time to log in, and a longer time to review one's voicemail or call activity. Often, one's account pages are unavailable for access.

  • On a regular basis, the phone rings but there would be nobody there. Someimes it rings several times over the course of a few minutes, but there's never anyone there. Then later, you find out that someone important was trying to call you.

  • The more important the call, the more likely that every thirty seconds or so, the audio quality of voice of the other caller will disintegrate into garbled nonsense for about 3 seconds before returning to normal. And the more important the call, the more likely that the caller is saying the really important piece of information during those three garbled seconds.

  • Every three months or so, you find you have no phone service -- when you pick up the phone you get a beep-beep-beep-beep fast busy signal. The service gets restored after about three days of complete outage.

  • A week ago, a new problem emerged: every thirty seconds exactly, a painfully loud buzz could be heard. So loud that I would have to hold the handset away from my ear. The other caller would hear the buzz too. No matter whether I made the call or received the call, the buzz would appear every 30 seconds during the entire length of a call. One upside: the buzz was present when I called Vonage for tech support. It took two hours of multiple phone calls including multiple cell phone calls to identify the problem as having to do with the Linksys WRT54GP2 router. Weird, how Vonage can remotely control that box and you have no idea what settings they're changing. Unfortunately, this "fix" did not extend to the fax line. Plug the fax line in, and try to make a fax, and you get the buzz sound all the time -- not just every thirty seconds, but all the time. Vonage told me Thursday they would overnight me a replacement router. It never showed up on Friday.

    As I said, if you care about reliability, avoid Vonage.

    *You're probably asking yourself, why have you been a customer for seven months if they're so bad? Well, I don't plan to be a customer much longer.

    Posted by brian at 08:32 AM | Comments (1)
  • May 08, 2005

    Stuff I'm Listening To

    Fred Wilson and I are roughly the same age, therefore went to high school roughly at the same time, and I roughly agree with many of his top 50 favorite album rankings. (There are some surprises in that list. . . why folks rate, for starters, Paul Westerberg, The Replacements, The Ramones, or Black Sabbath, so highly I'll never understand.) But I find I'm listening to fairly different stuff than he is these days.

    Here's some stuff I'm listening to (besides tuning in to KCRW on a regular basis):

  • Home by Engineers. Engineers (they don't use "The" before their name) like to say they sound like nobody else. But they sound like lots of other bands. That's ok. I still like "Home".

  • Cosmic Game, the new album from Thievery Corporation.

  • Ennio Morricone Remixes, Volume 1. A mixed bag, but the good stuff is REALLY good.

  • Ken's Last Ever Radio Extravaganza - deeply weird and troubling and fascinating all rolled up into one . . . sound samples played fast, slow, sideways, backwards, upside down. KLERE is basically a weekly podcast that's been going on for over eleven years.

  • Radio David Byrne - what Byrne is listening to these days.

  • The Musical Box from Genesis' Nursery Cryme album. Timeless.

  • Midnight in Moscow - I've only ever bought a few recordings from the Apple iTunes Store, but I bought two renditions of Midnight in Moscow, a version (sounding like it's right out of the Dr Zhivago soundtrack) by the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra with Vitaly Gnutov as well as a jazzy version by Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen. I was in 7th grade when my English teacher played the Kenny Ball recording to the whole class. All the kids hated it, except me.

  • Bruckner's Symphony No. 5 in B flat major. A favorite.

  • Things We Said Today as performed by Mary McCaslin.

  • 1983 and Voodoo Child from Jimi Hendrix.

    Posted by brian at 07:35 PM | Comments (4)
  • A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy . . . Without Ship B?

    There's something terribly appropriate and unsurprising, I'm afraid to say, that the whole Golgafrinchan Ship B segment didn't make it into the Disney film version of Douglas Adams' A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

    Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in the room where that decision was made. One can only imagine the reasons . . .

    Thankfully, there's the original BBC television series from 25 years ago which is an infinitely better rendition of the book than this new Hollywood fare.

    Posted by brian at 06:35 PM | Comments (1)

    May 04, 2005

    Down Tiger! Bad! Bad!

    Installed MacOS X Tiger on Friday night and it's been nothing but trouble. It wanted 14 hours to index my disk drive. Argh! Then the first time I went into Mail.app, it said, oh, please wait while I index 75000 emails. Problem is, it's hard to index the emails while Spotlight is busy indexing the hard drive. I was attending a conference on Sunday and Monday and noticed that Tiger was incessantly causing disk access -- and when you're on the road, battery power is precious, and incessant disk activity means no battery power. Argh!

    Then tonight I connected my external Firewire drives at home for the first time. Tiger gleefully went to town, beginning to index 550GB of backup data. Arrrrgh! Make it stop!

    Only nice feature in Spotlight: if you go into System Preferences -> Spotlight -> Privacy and you indicate that there are entire disk drives you don't want it to index, it'll stop indexing them right away, even if it's in the middle of indexing them.

    One really annoying feature in Spotlight: Mail.app's Library/Mail folder is MUCH bigger (I discovered this when my normal mail backup was 3.5x normal size tonight!) because of all the Spotlight index files. Ugggggghhh!

    But then, that's only one of Mail.app's problems. There are lots of others. I see I am not alone in noticing them.

    So far I see no value in Spotlight, and I think the improvements in Mail.app are not improvements at all. The previous release was better.

    Ever since I installed Tiger, my Powerbook runs hotter. Meaning, more CPU time. Meaning, less battery time. Ugh.

    Exactly why is Tiger so great, again? I think I missed the memo.

    Posted by brian at 10:23 PM | Comments (3)
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