Friday, April 01, 2005

"400 Windmills" begins today

jasonpettus posted a photo:


Just a reminder that today is the start date of "400 Windmills," a new online literary project of which I am a contributor. 400 Windmills is an attempt by a group of people around the world to read the classic Cervantes novel Don Quixote, on occasion of its 400th anniversary, and to build a group critical analysis of the book at one central website. You can click here and here to see my first two posts (concerning chapters 1 through 5 of Book 1), or here to go to the website's front page. Hope to see you there!

Moore's Law turns 40

April 19 will mark the 40th anniversary of Moore's Law, one of the major scientific theories that has guided the computer industry. CNET has an excellent article up right now, explaining everything you never knew about the theory - how it was formulated, who originally published it, various experts' opinions on when they think Moore's Law will stop being relevant, etc. It's a fantastic read, for any fellow techies who are interested in such things. Oh, and a quote from the article, for those who are confused:

"Forty years ago, Electronics Magazine asked Intel co-founder Gordon Moore to write an article summarizing the state of the electronics industry. The article outlined what became known as Moore's Law, the observation that the number of transistors... on a chip can be doubled [every two years]."

Look at all them Sin City links!

Excited about the new Robert Rodriguez/Frank Miller adaptation of Miller's comic-book series Sin City, opening today? So is literary blog - they've gathered up almost a dozen interesting links concerning the movie into one giant entry today, including various reviews of the movie, coverage of the movie's NYC premiere, interviews with the cast, an 11-minute online featurette, and various articles covering the tech issues involved. Let the clicking begin!

Priest is podcasting from the Vatican

Here's one of the more interesting pieces of news about podcasting I've ever heard: Father Roderick Vonhoegen, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Utrecht (the Netherlands), is at the Vatican right now, and is creating podcasts on what's going on there for the general public. It's apparently part of a regular blog he maintains, called Catholic Insider. I had a difficult time interacting with the site on my Palm Treo, but the banner graphic is fantastic - it's a parody of iPod ads, but this time with the black figure having not only white headphones but a white collar as well. Of course, I would expect no less from a priest who lives in Amsterdam. (Thanks to Neville Hobson of "NevOn" for pointing this out.)

Make your own eight-foot-wide Nintendo joystick

From the "So Cool It Simply Must Be Mentioned" file: A cable show on the G4 network called Attack of the Show recently built a eight-foot-wide, fully-functioning game controller for Nintendo systems. The good news - it only cost US$400. The better news - they've included complete instructions online for building your own! (Thanks to Gizmodo for pointing this out; their entry also includes a photo of the controller.)

Here's why we should never worry about government internet regulation

From USA Today: A government report on the internet, mandated by Congress seven years ago, was finally published this week. I was going to make a smartass comment about this, and of the utterly futile nature of a bureaucracy thinking it can regulate something like the internet, but then realized - why bother?

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Compete the only way you can - by listening to your customers

Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends reports today on an interesting experiment that happpened in Cleveland (Ohio) last week; basically, a number of bloggers made a city-wide tour one day, visiting every coffeehouse in the area that offers free WiFi access to its customers. (A reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer followed along; here's his article on the "tour," for anyone who'd like to read more.) Here's the interesting thing, though - of all the coffeehouses visited that day, only one (Pantera) was owned by a chain or franchise; all other franchised coffeehouses in Cleveland charge their customers money to get online.

Let's face facts - as a small-business owner, you have absolutely no chance of competing against chains when it comes to price, quantity, selection or any of another half-dozen issues that come with owning a business. One of the only advantages you have over chains, in fact, is the very fact that you're small, and that you can keep your ear much closer to the ground when it comes to what your customers want. This was Ms. Campbell's point as well, that these independent coffeehouses all offer free WiFi because their customers have said that they want free WiFi, and have demonstrated that they will patronize independent coffeehouses with free WiFi over the chains. Any small-business owner who isn't listening carefully to what their customers are saying, and providing what it is that they want, is basically ignoring the one and only true advantage they have over a soulless multinational corporation. I urge all small-business owners to keep this in mind, the next time one of their customers says, "You know what would be cool? If you had..." (Thanks to Jeff Cornwall at "The Entrepreneurial Mind" for pointing this out.)

Cry the beloved exit strategy

As any small-business owner knows (or people like me who are in the start-up process), one of the many crucial aspects to be worked out with your company is what's called an "exit strategy" - that is, how you as the owner plan to leave the company when the time is right (for example, when you've decided to retire) without the company falling apart as a result. As I'm already learning, though, such a strategy is not an easy one to formulate, and can be full of all kinds of perils. Take the saga of Politics & Prose, for example, a higly popular independent bookstore in Washington DC, whose travails were recently covered in the Wall Street Journal's; even though the owners had a plan they thought was foolproof (a serious investor with lots of cash, an agreement with him over how the place should be run, a gentle four-year integration plan), the store still nearly experienced a full staff revolt, for reasons that hadn't even occured to them when originally devising the strategy (for example: that the quirkiness, overeducation and anti-authoritarianism that made the employees such good staff members would also bite them on the ass when it came time to bring in a new owner).

There are certain advantages of small businesses over large ones, obviously - passionate loyalty from your employees, a sense of ownership when none legally exists, a "cult of personality" built around the company's owner. All of these things, though, can quickly become liabilities to small-business owners as well, and not just when it comes to an exit strategy. I've said it before and I'll say it again - opening a small business is an infinitely more complex process than I think most people will ever realize. (Thanks to Jeff Cornwall at "The Entreprenuerial Mind" for pointing this out; his entry also contains some really great advice for formulating an exit strategy.)

Thanks, Steve Rubel!

So why do I like marketing expert and internet rockstar Steve Rubel so much? Here's why...

A couple of days ago Mr. Rubel announced that he had gotten one of the coveted original invitations to join Yahoo 360, a new social-networking service started by that company, and that he had 99 invitations that he can send to others, in case anyone was interested. Now, I know that Mr. Rubel's blog is insanely popular, and that he was probably going to be flooded with emails for invitation requests. But I thought what the hell, and wrote to him anyway - and he sent me one of the invites not even twelve hours later! So, looks like I'm the newest member of Yahoo 360, although I won't be able to actually do anything with it until I can afford to go to an internet cafe and actually tool around with it on a desktop computer, which sadly isn't going to be for awhile because I'm so damn broke right now.

There's a topic I talk about a lot, both here and at main journal, about how the most futuristic tech advances in the world are still profoundly shaped by surprisingly old-fashioned topics. This is yet another example - sure, part of why Mr. Rubel's blog is so popular is that he always has such good information, but an equal part of it is that he's simply a nice guy, always has a pleasant tone in his entries, and does things like sending Yahoo 360 invites to complete strangers. This is what Dave Winer doesn't get, I think, when he complains about how no one in the high-tech industry will let him be a part of their little club; Mr. Winer may have a lot of technical prowess, but his personality is just so grating sometimes that a lot of people in the industry simply don't want him around. How you act, how you say things, is just as important as what you're saying, when it comes to an online project being popular or not; I urge all bloggers to contemplate the subject themselves, and to realize that there's a direct connection between the two.

Sent from my cellphone, which is buggy - please CC your response to , to ensure that I get it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Marketing expert Seth Godin has an excellent post up right now, examining his recent stay at a Westin Hotel and the infuriating nature of the "scripts" employees are required to follow when interacting with a customer. The post reminds me of something I think about a lot, which is the sad, depressing experience I always have whenever I eat at a fast-food restaurant, and how this directly relates to the script their employees are required to follow. You know what I'm talking about, right? There you are in line, and your teller is just finishing up interacting with one of her co-workers, laughing at a small joke or whatever, acting just like a human would normally act around another human. But then the teller gets done, turns to you, and immediately gets this blank, zombie-like pall on her face, as she mechanically drones to you in a monotone voice:


This happens almost every single time I eat at a fast-food place, and it's just so damn depressing; it's an immediate, unavoidable reminder not only of how little these companies care about their employees, not only how much these employees hate their jobs, but also how guilty I should feel for eating at a fast-food place to begin with. And I've always found it ironic that I would get such a sad, depressing feeling from something that was originally designed to be friendly and encouraging. I mean, seriously, has any customer in the history of time ever felt genuinely appreciated by a company, after receiving one of these automated, zombie-like script deliveries from one of their employees? Sadly, it's always going to be this way, as long as the rift continues between those who write the scripts (i.e. a bunch of middle-class, suburban white guys sitting around an office) and those who have to actually deliver them (i.e. the underpaid, overworked slave labor otherwise known as the service industry). And even more sadly, there's absolutely no chance of this rift actually being closed, meaning that employee scripts are always going to remain the sad, depressing experiences they currently are. I wish more companies would take the time to think about this subject, and how their supposedly warm and friendly employee scripts are in actuality having the exact opposite effect on customers than was intended.

Sent from my cellphone, which is buggy - please CC your response to , to ensure that I get it.

Street art for your cellphone - too bad it's going to fail

The New York Times has an article this week about Wooster Collective, an artistic organization based out of New York, who are offering downloads of images by graffiti- and other street artists for mobile devices. And as much as I hate to be critical of any group trying to get money into artists' hands, there are a number of details with this project that really bother me:

1. The group is charging US$2.00 per 160 x 160 pixel image. Has anyone actually demonstrated at this point that people will pay that kind of money for a 160 x 160 pixel image? I mean, besides porn? Why not simply give away the images and get a sponsor to pay for it? In my opinion, the actual dissemination of the work is what could profoundly help the artists the most, not the paltry money that comes from selling such images.

2. Speaking of paltry money, the artists themselves only get 11 percent of all money generated from their images - not even the 15 percent most artists get in, say, the publishing industry, which already is so low it should be a crime. Even more disturbing, the founders of the project freely admit that a whopping 77 percent of all revenue generated goes towards overhead costs. How could it possibly be that this website is having to pay $1.44 every time someone downloads an image there? Jesus, you could print paper postcards for a fraction of that cost.

3. Marc Schiller, the guy who started and runs the project, also freely admits that he's never actually tried the service himself. And how can you possibly run a tech-heavy project when you've never actually used the tech involved?

Like I said, I hate to dump on artistic organizations at this blog, because there's already way too many people out there dumping on artists as it is. But man, talk about a blown opportunity; run the right way, such a project could profoundly get the word about various artists out to a much wider audience than before, but this particular incarnation has absolutely no chance of this at all. Hey, Wooster Collective - when people make fun of artists' inability to understand basic business issues, they're talking about you.

Listen to your iPod through your hotel's alarm clock

The Hilton hotel chain is doing something interesting; they're installing new clocks in all their rooms that have a line-in feature, allowing you to plug your iPod into it and listen to your music. Now if they'd just provide free hookers as well, I'd be all set. (Thanks as always to Gizmodo for pointing this out.)

Track your packages via RSS

Straight from the horse's mouth (i.e.'s staff blog), one of the coolest tech announcements I've heard in a long time: Bloglines members can now track upcoming deliveries from UPS, FedEx and the US Postal System via RSS feeds. Ah, what a marvelous modern age in which we live!

Make your own Converse commercial, win 10,000 bucks

Converse has this really interesting project going on right now, encouraging customers to make their own amateur 25-second commercials for the iconic shoe. Far from being merely a vanity project, however, there are actual rewards to be had as well; participants have a chance of winning $10,000, if their commercial is chosen as a favorite, along with the opportunity to have their video nationally distributed on television as an actual commercial.

Customers making ads...hmm. This is cool enough when it comes to a big soulless corporation like Converse; could you even imagine the possiblities if a cool, forward-thinking small business took on such a project? (Thanks to PSFK for pointing this out.)

Barack Obama starts blog

How cool is this? Illinois senator Barack Obama (you may remember him as "that guy who got all that press at the Democratic National Convention") has started a blog. There's only two entries at it at this point, but both were written by Mr. Obama himself; it'll be interesting, I think, to follow the blog and see if he continues penning entries, or eventually hands it off to an aide. (Thanks to for pointing this out.)

James Madison papers now online

A short item, but a cool one, from the New York Times: The US Library of Congress announced this week that their James Madison collection is now digitized and available online for free downloading. The collection includes over 12,000 documents, including Thomas Jefferson's complete notes from the 1776 Continental Congress. Check it out yourself here.

New smartass airline-industry blog

There's a new blog out there called In Flight, which aims to be the Gawker of airline industry news. I just checked it out myself a few minutes ago, and it seems promising - among its first entries include instructions on scamming free first-class upgrades, and how you can tell the age of JetBlue planes by how stupidly they've been named. ("True Blue" - old plane; "Here's Looking at Blue, Kid" - new plane.) Fellow backpacking travelers might be interested in checking it out. (Thanks to Gridskipper for pointing this out.)

Monday, March 28, 2005

Help! RSS feed not working!

So, it's been five days since any of my posts have been delivered via RSS, despite updating almost every day. And with Blogger being a free service, of course, I don't have a clue where to turn to for help (besides the 'help' pages, of course, which as usual were no help at all). Anyone else ever have this problem with a Blogger-sponsored page? Does anyone know how to fix it? This morning I deleted the oldest entry to not make it to the feed, hoping that it was simply a catalyst problem (i.e. that one particular entry was causing problems for all the subsequent entries), but that didn't work - my feed republished to my Bloglines account as expected, but still only reposted the entries before the deleted one, not the new ones after. Anyway, any advice anyone might have would be greatly appreciated.

Google: Now available in Klingon

No, not a snarky prank - Google really can be navigated now via Klingon instructions. Insert your own smartass joke about redshirts here. (Thanks to Molly Case at "Sexy Fandom" for pointing this out.)

'Cause Springfield really is the best damn town in the whole world!

Okay, New York Times, let's see if I'm hearing what you're saying correctly: What's going to save television advertising are commercials that don't say, "Hey, buy our hamburgers!" but rather, "Hey, Schaumburg, buy our hamburgers!" Er...uh, yeah, okay. You keep going right ahead and thinking that.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Carnegie makes museum renovation transparent

Transparency in the physical world, as reported by USA Today: the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh is about to do a major renovation of their Dinosaur Hall (housing the world's third largest collection of original bones), eventually tripling the size of exhibition space, allowing the fossils to be rehung in the more dynamic positions archeologists in the 1970s discovered dinosaurs actually had (with their tails in the air, for example, instead of dragging the ground). But, instead of closing off the wing while they dismantle the current structures, the museum is making it a public exhibition, and inviting people in for a close-up look at the packing and eventual unpacking of the actual bones. Said Bill DeWalt, director of the museum: "We are combining the two things kids of any age love: construction and dinosaurs." Amen!

Atari cartridge USB drive

From the "So Cool It Simply Must Be Mentioned" file: Convert an Atari game cartridge into a portable USB drive. Ah, USB drives - hipster fashion accessories of the future? (Thanks, Gizmodo!)

Siemens takes beta-testing public

Here's an interesting development - European electronics company Siemens is apparently recruiting customers to beta-test a new line of phones, and to report their trials via public blog, so that everyone else can see how the new phones are working as well. Siemens will apparently collect the comments via aggregator to use on improving the final product; beta-testers apparently get a free one when they're released, to thank them for being part of the trial. There seems to be some confusion, however, over just who's eligible to take part (Europeans versus Americans, current customers versus new ones); the Aperto weblog has the latest. (Thanks to Gizmodo for originally bringing this to my attention.)

Tagging enfolded into business blogging application

Here's an interesting new product: DataBlogging, a standalone corporate blogging solution that's designed to be used as an intranet (i.e. for company viewing only). Reger, the company that owns it, has in effect taken two very simple ideas and married them in this ingenious way - employees write blog entries as usual, but then also have a series of tags associated with each entry, with the tags having the ability to be modified. So, for example, if a team of lawyers all work with one client, each lawyer would make a blog entry about their latest meeting with the client, and what was discussed. But then that entry would also have a tag called "BillableHours," for example, which the blogger would change for each entry to reflect that particular meeting. And then not only would readers of the blog see this info with each entry, and not only could you search by tag (to find out what's happened at all the long, major meetings, for example), but you could also assign an RSS feed right to the tag itself, and have the results sent to, say, the accounting department, who could create client bills based on the tags. Like I said, it's nothing profound on its own - it's just the narrative power of blogs married to the statistical power of number sets. I've just never heard of anyone actually marrying the two before, and I think it's a potentially very powerful idea for a business-oriented, internal system. (Thanks to Dave Winer for pointing this out.)

Ad agency starts artist-in-residence program

Ad agency Leo Burnett launched an "Artist in Residence" program this week, where they basically hire actual indie-rock bands to come to the offices and help the agency better figure out how to incorporate music into their commercials. Their first hire? Why, none other than Collective Soul.

It begs a question, of course: When is someone going to hire me to be a damn artist in residence for an ad agency? Smartass observations about poets and slackers, now for sale! (Thanks to AdPulp for bringing this to my attention.)

Graffiti hyperlinks in the physical world

How's this for a wacky project?

1. You're on a streetcorner. You take a picture of yourself at it with your cellphone camera.

2. You email the picture to ''

3. You take a piece of blue chalk and write 'jason was here' on the streetcorner, and underline it.

4. Someone else comes along who knows about Grafedia. They see your tag, and IM 'jasonwashere' to Grafedia.

5. They get sent the picture you took of yourself on the streetcorner.

Pointless? Perhaps. Cool? Oh yes, how so! The creation of an interactive-telecommunications graduate student named John Geraci, is no less than an attempt to take the power of hyperlinks and apply them to the physical world. Don't want to create site-specific content? No problem - create a poem as a post, for example, then use a blue marker to tag an underlined "jasonpoem" in bathroom stalls around the city. Make a little video about yourself as a post, then tag a blue, underlined "aboutjason" on your forehead at the next hipster party you attend. The possibilities are endless! And the coolest thing is that no special setup or membership is involved; just pick any word, send an email to that word, and assuming no one else has used it already, that email becomes your post, along with any media files you've attached. Anyone else who writes to this address, then, gets your post returned to them. Anyway, keep an eye out for underlined blue text in the future - Grafedia has already caught on in New York, San Francisco, Germany and Argentina, so who knows where it'll get popular next. (Thanks to Wired News for pointing this out.)

People still stealing music - just doing it offline now

From CNET: Use of peer-swapping music networks on the web is down, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. But, swapping music from iPod to iPod, or from iPod to outside computer, is way up. I'm just waiting for the following to become the hot new trend on college campuses (and it will, believe me): Mac Minis turned into roving "music pirate ships." The concept is real simple - turn a Mac Mini into one big port and hard drive for iTunes, along with a small screen and mouse, as well as the third-party software that lets you override Apple's anti-piracy tags on their MP3s. Bring it with you to a party, and instruct partygoers to bring their loaded-up iPods as well. At the beginning of the party, each person takes turn plugging their iPod into the Mini and uploading the contents of their player. When that's done, the Mini owner sorts it all in iTunes; then everyone takes turns plugging up again, and picking what new music off the master list they want uploaded back to their device.

For $200 apiece, four or five guys could put such a setup together, along with a kick-ass high-end storage device - and then take it to every party they go to, cumulatively amassing an overwhelming amount of music, distributing it to hundreds (and thousands if you count the second wave of trading among the partygoers), all offline so that neither the RIAA nor their campus gets even a whiff of it. Like I said, this is coming, sooner rather than later; those undergraduates are a smart bunch, and love nothing more than pissing off The Establishment.

Huh - maybe Yahoo not so evil after all

Item: Yahoo starts special section of their search engine this week, just for work published under a Creative Commons license. (See this post by Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons, for more.)

Item: Yahoo invites bloggers to their physical campus this week to test out Yahoo 360, their soon-to-be-released social networking tool. Plus they forgo a non-disclosure agreement, meaning that the bloggers are free to write about the experience at their blogs. (See this post by Danah Boyd for more.)

Item: Yahoo overhauls their mobile interface this week, making it much more useful than it was before.

Item: Yahoo quadruples the amount of memory available for email accounts this week, bringing them fully up to Gmail competitive standards (one gigabyte, in other words).

Item: Yahoo announces this week that they're seeking to buy back up to 7 percent of their stock from outside investors.

I admit, when I first heard that Yahoo had bought, a favorite site of mine, my heart sank like a stone. "Great," I thought, "yet one more cool website out there that's going to be virtually useless come a year from now, after a major corporation gets done screwing around with it." All these changes at Yahoo this week, however, makes me think that maybe they've actually learned something that Microsoft still hasn't; namely, that Google is a much bigger threat to both of them than either has really wanted to admit up to this point. More specifically, it seems that Google has been a welcome wake-up call for Yahoo, and has made them realize that they need to get back more on the stick, when it comes to simple customer happiness. It makes me feel a little more optimstic about Flickr now, and the hope that Yahoo won't completely screw up everything that made Flickr cool to begin with. (Granted, they will screw about half of it up - they are Yahoo, after all.)