July 31, 2005

Partial Press Release

On Jul 31, 2005, at 14:49, someone with the email address pat@universalbuzz.com wrote:

Hey, what’s up, this is Pat from Universal Buzz. We're a multimedia communication channel responsible for making sure that the best entertainment related news gets to the most influential sites on the web. I’ve got a press release about [a TV show] that might provide you with some interesting content for your site.

A show featuring real life footage of [plural noun] in San Diego!

Press Release: “The Original Reality Series of Television”

[TV show name] in San Diego airs [date and time] on [cable channel]. Sometimes serious, sometimes funny, always exciting. By taking cameras into real-life [plural noun] situation, [TV show name] changed TV forever. The result is a provocative, gritty and unfiltered look at society and the people who [verb] to [verb] the [noun]. Each episode travels to a different city for an up-close and personal look at [plural noun] and the critical role they play in [compound noun]. Nominated four times for an Emmy Award, [TV show name] offers a whole new perspective on the world of [noun]. [TV show name] airs on [cable TV channel] Monday-Saturday@ [time].

End of Press Release.

I thought that visitors to your site might want to know about this, so feel free to post this press release as a news item. Also, let me know if you're interested in more materials, like [cable TV channel] or [tv show name] logo/graphics. Please get back to me whenever you get a chance and let me know if you decide to mention this on your site, or if you’d like me to send you more materials. Thank you so much for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon!

Take care,

[Cable TV Channel slogan]

Pat Inclema
Press Release Purveyor
Universal Buzz
169 Saint Paul Street
Rochester, NY 14604
Office: 585.232.5890
Fax: 585.232.5896

What. So I slightly edited it. :-) Do they really expect me to blog for them for free?

Posted by brian at 04:18 PM | Comments (4)

July 27, 2005

How Tags Happened at Technorati -- Pesky Historical Addendum Edition

Derek Powazek has a nice article up, called How Tags Happened at Technorati.

I noticed it doesn't mention two external factors that, as far as I recall from speaking with Dave Sifry back in February, contributed to Technorati's race to get tag support added to the service.

First external factor was Adam Mathes' seminal article Folksonomies - Cooperative Classification and Communication Through Shared Metadata which appeared and was quickly and widely talked about in the blogosphere all right around the end of December 2004.

I read the article and on January 2, 2005 posted a little ditty in this blog, called Taggle, which turned out to be one of the highest-traffic-generating posts I've ever made in the history of this blog.

Dave had told me that these two external factors helped highten the sense of urgency for Technorati to support tag search.

And now, as Paul Harvey might say, you know the rest of the story.

At least until someone comes along and corrects it further :-)

Posted by brian at 01:56 PM | Comments (2)

July 24, 2005

The Wrong Demographic

Lately I've noticed how uninterested I am in the advertisements that fill the pages of magazines I subscribe to. I study everything in a magazine: I want to know what this magazine is about, what kind of market it's trying to sell to, how it's positioning itself.

Take WIRED. I subscribe. But I'm not being reached by the advertisers. Let's open the latest issue and see.

  • Inner cover, double-page ad: "Citi. Live Richly." An ad about identity theft solutions. Whatever.

  • Next two pages: Dark ad showing some shiny but dark Infiniti car. Feh.

  • Next two pages: New Zealand ad (I like!) with bicyclists in the way of the photo. Bleh.

  • Next two pages. Somethingorother from Chevron. Yawn.

  • Next page: weird fashion ad or Vodka, who knows (Chopin Potato Vodka?). Whatever.

  • Next page: Double-page ad from Sun. Someting about sharing. Skip.

  • Next page: double-page ad from Hitachi ("Inspire the Next"? Was something lost in translation?). Blah.

  • Next page: Acura car. Whatever.

  • Next page: Microsoft Windows XP. No thanks.

  • Next page: UPS. You're the boss. Competing with FedEx Kinkos. Fine. I don't want to go to either. I want them to come to me.

  • Next page: Emmy Awards. Architectural digest sometingorother. Huh?

  • Next page: full page Verizon ad with some guitarist. Ad copy barely readable.

  • Next page: Microsoft and Wired. An event! Cool! Oh, wait. It's already passed.

  • Next page: Rackspace. Okay, good to keep an eye on them.

  • Next page: Ah, the first of the watch ads. Back in 1999-2000, Wired had so many watch ads it's was like, what is this, a watch magazine? Ever notice almost all watch ads show the same time on their watches? 10 minutes after 10.

  • Next page: double page ad for a Land Rover speeding through a downtown city. Just what the world needs.

  • Next page: Bikini babe ad for some kind of Vodka. Who drinks this stuff?

  • Next page: CDW ad depicting an unhappy office worker, head in hand, frowning at his PC. Maybe if he bought a Mac...?

  • Next page: Adobe Acrobat ad featuring a photo of a hippo. A good analogy, considering how bloated Adobe's acrobat reader app has become. I use Preview.app.

  • Next page: GE 3-sided fold-out ad to position itself as eco-friendly. Um, right. I've not forgotten what they did to the Hudson.

  • Next page: full page ad for Audi S4. Good grief, Audi, you've ruined the grille.

  • Next page: feels like an insert, perhaps aimed just at me in San Diego? An ad whose copy begins: "how do you turn four million tons of glass, steel, concrete and brick into pure poetry?" In other words, buy a condo in this hideous new tower going up in San Diego. Swell.

  • Backside of condo ad: a Breitling watch ad. Time: 10:09.

  • Next page: TIAA-CREF ad. Completely irrelevant to me.

  • Next page: Two-page spread showing this badass new Dodge Charger car. I will not buy one. I do not want one.

  • Next page: Full page ad for the New Yorker Festival. Cool, an event! One I would love to go to! If only!

  • Page 52-53: Lexus ad. I don't want a GS430. Not enough legroom.

  • Page 59: Microsoft Windows XP. Yikes. Not gonna happen.

  • Page 60: Toyota ad. No thank you.

  • Page 67: Mitsubishi car ad. Do. Not. Care.

  • Pages 68-70: Double page ad for Creative something or other. Kudos for designing an ad that so feels like WIRED editorial, they had to put "Advertisement" at the top of the page. But still, not interested.

    Well, you get the point. One ad in the first 70 pages is relevant. As for the rest of the magazine, more booze, more watches, more cars. Not want any of it.

    Now, Business 2.0 is even worse. More booze, more cars, more watches and crap. No thank you.

    Posted by brian at 04:14 PM | Comments (2)
  • Car Talk Credits

    Came across on this page recently. I've always enjoyed the "Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe" credits at the end of NPR's Car Talk, but never realized there's such a treasure-trove of bad puns available at their website. A few samples:

    Children's Menu AdviserBea Ferrone
    Complaint Line OperatorXavier Breath
    Conspiracy TheoristNadia Belimi
    Director of Roadway ResurfacingSylvia Pottholi
    Museum GuideDesdamona Lisa
    Russian ChauffeurPicov Andropov
    Staff BouncerEuripedes Ibrakauface
    Swedish AttorneyBjorn Liar
    Urgent Response CoordinatorCandace Waite

    Posted by brian at 02:35 PM | Comments (3)

    July 21, 2005

    Doom and Destruction: Watch Free!

    Anyone else notice the somewhat awkward new promos going on at CNN.com's home page? Headlines are now often labeled "watch free":

    What happened to a plain "Video" link? Not enough hype? Did user testing data reveal that more people click on "Watch free" than "Video" or "Watch"?

    Posted by brian at 08:33 AM | Comments (1)

    July 20, 2005

    EVMapper - a new EVDB/GoogleMaps mashup

    Chris Goad at Map Bureau sent us an email mentioning he'd built this really cool mashup of EVDB's API and the Google API, called "EVMapper".

    Check it out!

    By the way, Map Bureau does some amazing stuff with maps. Be sure to explore the rest of their site as well.

    Posted by brian at 01:38 PM | Comments (0)

    July 16, 2005

    An Evening with Christopher Hitchens

    Book signings are so unpredictable. Sometimes nobody shows up, sometimes everybody shows up. If you want to get a seat, you have to get there early. I arrived at the ramshackle D.G. Wills Books shop on Girard Avenue about fifteen minutes before the 7:00pm start of the program. There were already people seated in rows of white folding chairs out on the sidewalk outside the shop. Like hell I was going to sit outside the store to hear the author speak. I went inside. Most of the white folding chairs were empty, each with a sign marking "RESERVED".

    So very La Jolla.

    The D.G. Wills shop is a strange place: all the trappings of a dingy old bookstore encrusted with aging photographs, fading letters, and a variety of rusting curios on the walls and hanging from the ceilings. But a half-dozen visits there over the years leave me to think it's more private bar than bookstore. Every time I've shown up, the same group of failed Hemingways have been there, either working on getting drunk or working on staying drunk, yakking about sports or telling crude jokes or some-such. Just drinking and shooting the breeze.

    I wondered if tonight would be any different.

    I found a seat in the far back down a narrow corridor between two stacks of bookshelves. The seat had no RESERVED sign. I sat down. The sun's full strength was beaming straight into my eyes. No wonder nobody wanted to sit here. I would put up with it. The sun would go down soon.

    Behind me I heard that distinctive accent: Christopher Hitchens was in the house. I turned around and there he was, at the far end of the long hallway, standing with D.G. Wills and one or two others. Hitchens wanted a drink. "There's Pepsi, there's Diet Coke," Wills said to Hitchens. Some indistinct mumbling followed, and then Wills bounded down the narrow pathway towards me, squeezing by. He dashed for the front of the store where he grabbed a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label and two glasses. A quick turn around and in a flash he was dashing back to Hitchens.

    The drinking had begun.

    More people arrived, mostly to sit in the reserved seats. Wills ran back up to the front. "We still have a few minutes before we start," he said. Hitchens, he added, was in the back, "talking about the Russian Revolution, having a cigarette and a whiskey." From somewhere at the store counter came strains of Strauss' Blue Danube.

    Minutes went by. People chatted quietly. Wills went to the microphone, test, test, and said, "He's having another cigarette."

    I studied the books around me. MC Escher, A life. The Life of Henry Moore. Life with Picasso. Irving Stone's Lust for Life. Fehrlinghetti: Life Studies, Life Stories. Vincent Van Gogh: A life.

    The sun's rays revealed how dusty the air in the store was: thick with particles, floating and whirling as people moved here and there. Hitchens is infamous for smoking in non-smoking environments. Dust, smoke, alcohol, old books, older wooden floors: the very opposite of your run-of-the-mill Barnes and Noble.

    Wills was back at the microphone, detailing Hitchens preferences for smoke and liquor. "Rothmans Blue King Canadian cigarettes and Johnny Walker Black Label," he said." "Black and blue is your mnemonic."

    7:08pm. "Well, I think we're about ready to go." The phone rings. I study more of the books around me. Auguste Rodin, Renoir, Gilbert Stuart. I want to read all of them. While drinking Johnny Walker Black Label. Would that be the life?

    "I think we're ready. 7:13. Not too bad," Wills said into the mike.

    Hitchens appeared, behind Wills who was still at the mike. Hitchens wore a blue long-sleeve and bluejeans. He carries a potbelly you don't see on television. Years of sitting at a keyboard, writing and drinking, perhaps.

    Wills gazed around the room. "I see at least one theologian in the audience," Wills said. "There's one in every fucking town," Hitchens said.

    Wills read a long introductory speech about Hitchens. I was intrigued that Hitchens' new book, Thomas Jefferson: Author of America, was dedicated to none other than Brian Lamb, CEO of C-SPAN and main interviewer for BookTV, one of my favorite TV programs. I noticed there was a BookTV bag hanging on the wall behind the store counter. The convention schwag of book geeks.

    Hitchens went before the microphone. Willis began sipping from a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. A Hitchens associate, an old man wearing a loud aloha shirt, sat down in the rocking chair in front of me. He helped himself to the pepsi and whiskey. I had to watch where my feet were lest he crush my toes with the rocker.

    I know I'm not the only one drawn to the sound of a British accent. There's something about it, particularly when it comes from someone with so fierce a mind as Hitchens. You don't have to agree with him, but he has a force, a charisma that demands attention. The man simply seethes with anger and contempt. Brilliant, learned, from time to time slipping into French or Latin during the evening, well-read. This is a man deeply bitter about humanity's ignorance of its own history.

    He had no notes. His talk was brief, but he promised he wouldn't leave until everyone had had a chance to ask a question. Hitchens would stay at the microphone for more than three hours. What follows is a rough summary of some of the many areas he spoke on.

    On the Enlightenment. Once you figured out there was no god, and that man was on his own, you could begin to be enlightened, he said. "The Enlightenment is where religion ends, and civilisation begins, approximately."

    I could see Wills had gone outside, and was standing with some of his drinking buddies, ones I've seen at the store before. Wills held a full bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label in his hand. He held it to his mouth and swallowed several major gulps. He handed it to the guy next to him who proceeded to do the same thing. I was impressed. I took a picture. The black area on the right is Hitchens' back.

    "In the election of 1796, you had the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science running against the president of the American Association of Arts and Letters. Things have shriveled up a bit since then." The audience laughed.

    On political correctness: he recounted the recent story about a Berkeley community who had voted to rename the Jefferson Elementary School to be Sequoia Elementary School. Hitchens spoke about how he was trying not to get upset about it. I was reminded of the Elvis Costello line, "Oh, I used to be disgusted / Now I try to be amused".

    Hitchens on Lincoln and Darwin: "Abramham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day." He wasn't sure if there was anything to that, but, he added, "I would say that Darwin was the greater emancipator."

    Hitchens on Mother Theresa: "A fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud" who thought it was important that humans suffered poverty and disease. The only way to end poverty, Hitchens said, was "if you give women control over their rate of reproduction". "Religion is the enemy," he said at one point. "Faith is not a virtue, but if it was, it would be overrated."

    Every now and then Hitchens poured more Johnny Walker into his coffee mug. He had a great supply of beverages before him:

    On Hilary Clinton: He considered her candidacy for the 2008 election inevitable. "What else can the Democrats do?" He thought highly of John Edwards, but felt Edwards lacked a certian political ruthlessness; he entered politics for the right reasons, he said, but he doubted Edwards had the ability to "go for the jugular."

    On Europe's future: "there's a big difference between the American and European models. The US gets the best high-skilled labor. With Europe, thye come up against entrenched craft unions."

    An hour or two had gone by, and Hitchens was chain-smoking. I was thinking about second hand smoke. At one point he coughed whle attempting to speak. "If you don't smoke, you really should take it up," he said. He waited a moment, and added, "before it's too late!" Big laugh from the audience.

    Someone asked him if he wanted to be loved. He said he once told an interviewer he didn't want to be loved, but he now realized that was hogwash. "Of course I want to be loved," he said. "I just don't need to be liked," he added.

    As the evening wore on, Wills continued to alternate between the whiskey and the Pabst Blue Ribbon. Every now and then he would let out a loud belch. The audience would look at him, and he'd smile, as if to say, "What? You got a problem with that?"

    On George W. Bush: "This is what I don't understand. He gave up bourbon for Jesus?" Another line: "This is the irony of history. The success of Bush's foreign policy depends on the success of secularism."

    I asked him to comment on the state of the press in the U.S., and what his thoughts were on the rise of blogs and so-called "citizen journalism".

    "I became a journalist," he replied, "because I didn't want to rely on the press for information." He added that he didn't watch TV "at all". And yes, he said, "from bloggers and their allies I get what I need to know."

    More on religion: "I'm a secularist, an atheist, and I don't believe any of it."

    On Lenin, he cited three accomplishments: 1) "He destroyed Russian aristocracy for all time;" 2), "He punished those who started the first world war;" 3) "He completely smashed the Russian Orthodox Church. It's a fantastic thing to have done."

    On North Korea: He said he swore he wouldn't write about parallels with Orwell's 1984 after visiting North Korea, but he found he couldn't resist. "It's much worse," he said. Words "can't possibly evoke" how bad it is there, he said. "The worst life ... in human history." He described it as a slave state, where the people are owned from dawn to dusk. He complained that there were no petitions signed by American actors and intellectuals decrying North Korea.

    On the American Left: "The American Left only wants a quiet life."

    On U.S. foreign policy: "We must make best friends with India," he said. "They are our friends. India is the great potential ally, but we don't have a single statesman who understands it."

    On Westminster Abbey: "They should reorient the Abbey to show children and schoolteachers the poets" and not the tombs of royalty.

    On China's policy of a single child per family: "In a few years, the words brother and sister will be gone from the language."

    On today's youth: "The hell with the young. May they get old, may they get real. The young are scum." It used to be, he said, that each year when he teaches his class at the New School in New York, he could count on everyone in the class having read some of the canon of great books -- Twain, Fitzgerald. Now, he says, nobody's read them, and they don't even know what era Twain or Fitzgerald wrote in. "The Columbians, the Cubans, the Vietnamese students know," he added. But the American students don't read and don't spell.

    One woman late in the evening asked a simple question: "What drives you?"

    Hitchens' reply: "Hate."

    The woman had a follow-up question. "Is there any hope?"

    Hitchens: "No, not really."

    He added that if you begin with pessimism, "you can really cheer up," but if you start as an optimist, you're doomed.

    Question: Why was he planning on becoming a U.S. citizen?
    Hitchens: "As an act of solidarity."

    Question: What fiction is he reading these days?
    Hitchens: Just finished Rushdie's new novel about Kashmir. "It's not going to be a clash of civilisations," he added, "but a clash about civilisation."

    Somehow the subject of Robert Ludlum came up. What if Ludlum had given the titles to Shakespeare's work? He recalled a discussion he'd once had with someone who had a ready list of Ludlumesque titles. Titles included (I may have transcribed these poorly): The Dolomite Deforestation, The Kerchief Implication, The Capulet Capitulation, etc.

    On Marx and Engels: "Marx and Engels' greatest writing was on the U.S. Civil War." He lamented that most Americans had no idea of this and schools didn't teach it.

    On Gore Vidal: he was saddened by what he viewed as a great drop in the quality of Vidal's writing and thinking. He utterly dismissed Vidal's conspiracy theories.

    On hanging out with Hunter S. Thompson: yes, he'd done that. Went target shooting at 4am using high-velocity weapons. For Thompson, the target bottles would have to be empty. "Don't trust anyone who drinks Chivas Regal," he said. "It's a fake Scotch," adding that "it's what CIA men give each other for Christmas." As for Hunter's recent suicide: Hunter was "crucially bored," he said. "Boredom is a physical threat to some people." Hunter hadn't written anything good in ten years. He was all dried up, burned out, full of alienation and anomie. "If that ever happens to me, call me and tell me and I promise I would shoot myself," he declared, with utter seriousness.

    Hitchens ended the evening with a long quotation from what Auden's poem September 1, 1939, which he considered "the greatest poem ever written on American soil." (Upon hearing this, Wills, who was by this time seemed noticeably buzzed from the liquor and beer, promptly stated out loud, "Shit! I've gotta read it!"). Total book geek.

    Here are the final lines of that poem:

    Defenseless under the night
    Our world in stupor lies;
    Yet, dotted everywhere,
    Ironic points of light
    Flash out wherever the Just
    Exchange their messages:
    May I, composed like them
    Of Eros and of dust,
    Beleaguered by the same
    Negation and despair,
    Show an affirming flame.

    "Show an affirming flame," he said again, his last command to the audience. Everyone stood and applauded, and the book-signing began. It was 10:22pm. I took a couple more pictures and left.

    Posted by brian at 12:31 PM | Comments (5)

    July 15, 2005

    $3 a gallon at the pump

    Gas is now at $3 (or higher) a gallon for 91 octane in La Jolla.

    Filling up the tank now costs over $41...

    Posted by brian at 01:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    July 02, 2005

    A Vonage-Free Work Environment

    Been a while since I've blogged. One thing I've been meaning to blog about is ending Vonage service.

    The experience was about what I expected, with one pleasant surprise.

    On June 6th, I called Vonage to tell them I wanted to cancel. Got put on hold. Finally got someone on the line. "What is the reason" she asked. "The service has been unreliable at best, and I cannot afford to spend 3 hours to 3 days every quarter diagnosing Vonage problems." "Ok let me connect you with the account management group," she said. On hold again. Long wait listening to noisy music. "Thank you for calling Sales, this is Alex how can I help you?" a voice says (amid what was one of the most impressively loud cacophonies of call center voices in the background: imagine a room the size of a football field filled with telemarketers yakking on the phone). Tells me he's gonna give me a ticket number, and says someone from the "cancellation department" will be getting back in touch with me. Total call time 11 minutes.

    By June 15th I'd never heard back from Vonage (no surprise there). Funny thing is, maybe they tried to call, but my phone never rang. Or their message wasn't saved in voicemail. After all, it would have been a Vonage phone number they'd have been calling, and anything's possible. I call Vonage again at 8:29am. "Thank you for your loyalty as a customer," the recorded announcement begins. Yeah, right. I get someone on the line, give them my ticket number. Now they need to "verify information". I give them some information to verify. I pass that test. Then they ask me, "Why are you cancelling" and I give the same reasons I gave last time. "Sir if you don't mind holding please thank you -- CLICK" and she puts me on hold. Loud rock and roll music and Vonage voiceovers about being part of the revolution. I so do NOT want to be a part of the Vonage "revolution". Finally get another rep on the phone, who says I am about to receive an email confirmation of the cancellation of service. And of course, this new rep couldn't resist asking me AGAIN what my reason was for cancelling. "Your account is completely null at this point," the rep tells me. I was expecting to be charged a $39.95 cancellation fee --- I'd heard that this was the way Vonage punished customers who ended their service. No cancellation fee for me. I didn't ask them, they didn't bring it up. Done at 8:40. Another 11 minutes.

    Now, flash back to May. I'd called SBC, the Phone Company, and told them I wanted phone service. I found I had to explain to them slowly and carefully that I was using Vonage (which they didn't seem to have heard of). They could not understand the concept of Voice over IP. They connected me to the "WinBack" department -- I guess SBC has a program sort of like Apple's famous "Switch" gimmick for former PC users. So SBC was winning me back, except, I was never an SBC customer before. Oh well. Anyway, it took about 45 minutes to an hour to place an order for two business lines, gen-yoo-ine POTS lines, for the office. Then they had to get me on the line with some independent organization who drilled me with a series of questions (which they recorded) about whether I was authorized to get these lines and change service and move the phone numbers from Vonage to SBC, yadda yadda.

    Long story short, the office now has old-skool SBC telephone lines. We don't use no stinking internets. And guess what. Stuff works. Phone rings when someone calls. Voicemail works. I no longer worry about what business calls I am completely missing because of Vonage.

    It's fun not being a part of that particular revolution.

    Posted by brian at 12:46 PM | Comments (4)
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