Saturday, April 09, 2005

Marriott welcomes bloggers - well, thank God for that

Courtyard by Marriott has a new ad running in BusinessWeek, exclaiming how their facilities are extremely blogger-friendly (i.e. they have WiFi - astounding!), and welcoming such bloggers as appreciated customers. Finally, I can go back to sleeping well at night, knowing that bloggers are welcomed at Marriott! (Thanks to Steve Rubel for pointing this out; his entry also has a .jpg of the ad in question.)

Who Is Concierge X?

Well, he's a blogger, we know that for sure. He claims to be a concierge at a major five-star hotel in Europe, one that he's not going to name. He's definitely the author of some really entertaining, sometimes shocking tales of what it's like to be a concierge at a major five-star European hotel. Believe him? Not believe him? Hey, at least the stories are great. (Thanks to Gridskipper for pointing this out.)

Big Media joins fight against Apple's Constitution-trampling

I guess finally realizing what the long-term effects of Apple's recent lawsuit against rumorbloggers might be, such large media organizations as the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times recently filed a brief in a federal appeals court, arguing that the put-upon bloggers had every right to publish the reports they did, even if the information in the reports were illegally obtained. Between this and the growing amount of papers offering citizen-journalist blogs at their sites, maybe the journalism industry really is waking up and finally noticing all the changes going on around them. (Thanks to Threadwatch for pointing this out.)

New blog reprints interesting Google Satellite images

A new blog just started called Google Sightseeing, and all it's doing is reprinting interesting things found in Google's new satellite-photo service - St. Louis' Gateway Arch, Mount Rushmore, a graveyard for old jumbo jets, etc. Be warned - this can easily become the most addictive blog of your entire subscription list. (Thanks to Jeff Veen for pointing this out.)

(Oh, and this reminds me of a blog entry I read the other day at someone else's website, and I wish I had saved it so I could specifically refer to it. One of that blogger's readers had rightly pointed out that free satellite images on the web are nothing new at all, and was wondering why everyone was going so crazy about it now that Google was offering them too. This blogger, whose name I can't remember now, rightly pointed out himself that an invention's success with the general public rarely has anything to do with the actual invention - it's all about who comes up with the first easy, powerful way to interact with that invention. That's why people are going so crazy over Google's new satellite-image service, because it's so incredibly easy to use, versus the clunky interface that many of these previous services had. [Seriously, I can remember one a couple of years ago I came across, that required you to know the actual longitude and latitude of the location you were hoping to see.] This, frankly, is why America is so well-known as the land of invention, even though most of the inventions we're credited for discovering were actually invented by Europeans; we're great here in the US at innovation, or coming up with actual cool things to do with these inventions, which frequently gets confused by the general public with the actual process of inventing.)

Can litbloggers be as influential as paper-based reviewers?

That's the question being asked by the Lit Blog Co-op (LBC), a collection of twenty litbloggers (so far, at least) who have decided to come together for a new experiment. The idea is that the members of the LBC will collectively choose a recently-published book four times a year that they feel deserves to get more attention than the mainstream media is giving it; these twenty litbloggers, then, will each write reviews of the book at their own sites, post entries about the book's history and themes, conduct interviews with the book's author, and in general just try to convince as many people as possible to go out and actually buy the book.

You might be tempted at first to question their decision to only choose paper-based books for the project, but keep in mind their goal - to respond to the mainstream media's recent criticism that litblogging is a passing fad, and that litbloggers ultimately have nothing worthwhile to say, or else they'd be paper-based reviewers as well. The LBC's hope is to prove such critics wrong, and to show that litbloggers can have just as profound an influence on the mainstream publishing industry as any paper-based review publication - and unfortunately, in the age we live in, the "mainstream publishing industry" can be directly replaced by the term "paper-based publishing industry." Anyway, it's a great project, and I fully plan on purchasing the books being recommended myself; I highly recommend that others become readers as well, and especially those who believe in the power of online literary conversations. (Thanks to Scott Esposito, one of the LBC's contributors, for pointing this out.)

Channel 7 is moving to State Street, too

A couple of days ago I posted an entry about Chicago's local CBS affiliate (WBBM, channel 2) and their recent decision to move their entire operations to the Loop's State Street, including one glass-walled studio overlooking Daley Plaza, and another opening onto the sidewalk. Well, little did I know that Chicago's local ABC affiliate (WLS, channel 7), is also moving their entire operations to State Street, and is also going to have a glass-walled studio that opens onto the sidewalk. Wow, it'll be like a little Times Square in downtown Chicago! A sad, pathetic little Times Square, with Janet Davies filing her one millionth report for 190 North on how attending the Blue Man Group counts as a l8

Transparency at the Holy See

From CNET: First the Vatican moves the pope's body to St. Peter's in the middle of the day, in public view, something they've never done in the past. Then they fully televise the funeral, both on television and the internet, including cameras in little hidden positions that normally have never seen the light of public day. And now the Vatican has actually translated the pope's Polish-language Will, and has made it available as a free downloadable PDF file at their website.

What is going on at the Vatican these days, man? What happened to those tight-lipped, incense-burning peacocks I remember from my youth, who used to not even bother telling the general public about a pope's death until a couple of days after the fact? I guess the modern business practice of transparency is hitting everybody these days, even two-thousand-year-old religious institutions.

Physical mixing board for Mac "GarageBand" software

Pretty cool: A German tech company called M-Audio has released what they've named the iControl - a physical mixing board that exactly matches the onscreen one of the popular Apple software "GarageBand," even down to the fake wood trim. And even better, no special software is needed for the mixer itself; just plug it in and it automatically detects your GarageBand software, and immediately starts interacting with it. Expect it to retail for about $200 in the US when it finally goes on sale here. (Thanks to Gizmodo for pointing this out.)

Friday, April 08, 2005


funwithshaving02, originally uploaded by jasonpettus.

I decided to shave off my beard recently, and to have some fun while doing so. This is part 2 of the series, "Self-Portrait As Victorian-Age Magician."

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Interactive seating charts for airplanes

Anyone who's ever taken a nine-hour flight can tell you just how profoundly one's happiness on such a flight is influenced, based on which particular seat you get assigned for that flight. Enter SeatGuru, a site which provides seating charts for major airlines and their various craft, as well as rollover capabilities giving you detailed information on each and every ass-holding space on that plane. Did you know, for example, that 13 rows out of 27 of American Airlines' Economy Section of its Boeing 757s have their own electrical outlets? Wanna make sure you're in one of those 13 rows on your next flight? Check out SeatGuru before making your reservation. (Many thanks to the magazine Business 2.0's online blog for pointing this out.)

The Anti-Starbucks Locator Your guide to American independent coffeehouses, searchable by zip code. For those who are curious, a search on my zip code brought back 27 entries, including literally every single independent coffeehouse I could think of within four neighborhoods of my building. Yowza! (Thanks to Gapers Block for pointing this out.)

Japan: "Man on moon in twenty years"

From USA Today: The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (or JAXA) unveiled its latest plans this week, which calls for manned trips to the moon as little as twenty years from now. The most interesting part, I think, is that this is only a means to an even more ambitious end - Japan wants to start sending people to the moon so that they can have a permanent base there, and make sending people to Mars a much easier proposition. Hmm, hmm, hmm.

Channel 2 moving to State Street

Interesting news for Chicago citizens, straight from the horse's mouth: Local CBS affiliate WBBM (channel 2) has just inked a deal to move their entire operations to 108 N State Street, the vacant lot currently filled by Gallery 37 in the summer and laying barren the other three seasons a year. The facilities will include a glass-walled studio overlooking Daley Plaza (where the Picasso sculpture is, for tourists who are confused), as well as one that opens onto the sidewalk for their wacky morning show. The building is also going to house a brand-new CTA station, featuring express trains back and forth between the Loop and both Midway and O'Hare airports.

Say what you want about Mayor Daley, but I'll give him this - ten years ago he was bitching incessantly about how no one goes to State Street anymore, and now ten years later he's given us all kinds of reasons to go to State Street. Between the architectural overhaul, the new Art Institute dorm, the major businesses that have been lured away from the Magnificant Mile (including Old Navy and Borders), the new "theatre district" on the north end, the new zoning law that now lets people live in the Loop for the first time in Chicago history, and now this announcement about WBBM, Daley has proven that he's willing to put his money where his mouth is, a fact which I think should be commended.

Treasure trove of Kahlo objects discovered

From the Associated Press: Four years after the death of famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in 1954, her husband Diego Rivera turned their home into a public museum of her work and life. Now, in the first-ever exploration of the private spaces of the house/museum, researchers have stumbled across a treasure trove of unseen objects, including dozens of traditional Mexican dresses featured in Kahlo's paintings, original photographs by Kahlo's father, and a pair of earrings designed by Picasso, given to Kahlo as a gift. Museum officials expect to have the material sorted and ready to be seen by the public roughly a year from now.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Point out cool things, win prizes

Trend-watching marketing firm PSFK wants to know of the things in your city you come across that you think are cool and cutting-edge - clothing, events, bands, anything you think is ahead of its time and worth more attention. They want to know so much, in fact, that they've started a photo-sharing contest, and will be giving out prizes each month to the photos their celebrity judges find the coolest of them all. Participants are encouraged to post photos of any subject, or to specifically submit to that month's theme (cool jeans this month, for example); all the details are at their site, although be forewarned that you will need a free Flickr account to participate. (And for disclosure's sake, I should mention that Piers Fawkes, one of PSFK's founders, is an acquaintance of mine; this doesn't change the fact, though, that I think the contest is cool too.)

The New York Times is watching you

Well, okay, so it's not actually the New York Times, but there is a new site out there called The Annotated New York Times that really is tracking all the blog posts being written around the world that reference NYT articles. It's pretty fascinating, I admit, and you can easily find yourself losing track of timĀ°

Victory for customers: Man allowed to talk s**t about company online by name

From the Associated Press: A man who was unhappy with his hair-transplant treatment decided to go on the web and complain about it - and he named his complaint site, a direct reference to the company in question. The company sued him for trademark infringement, of course, but here's the great news: since the site wasn't created to make a profit, to confuse customers, or to point customers to rival companies, a federal court has ruled that the URL can stand as is.

Huzzah for free speech! Man, it's about time a court in the US actually supported the Bill of Rights - it's been, what, five years now since our Constitution was actually supported by the court system? Watch out, you scum-sucking lowlifes at ComEd - you're next.

Esposito on the need for litblogs

Scott Esposito of "Conversational Reading" has an excellent entry up right now, responding to recent charges from the mainstream media that book-review blogs are basically a passing fad, and can't possibly do as good a job of reviewing books that professional publications do. His post covers a number of different issues which I won't try to cover here, but here I think is one of his most important points - that there are lots and lots and lots of people out there desperately seeking intelligent, entertaining critical analysis of literature, even if it might not be enough to cover the ever-rising costs of a traditional paper publication. He's basically arguing the "long tail" theory of marketing, and is quite correct to do so; that as professional publications continue chasing the "short tail" more and more (that is, that small group of customers who all buy the same bestsellers), and as newspaper book-review sections become more and more obsessed with mystery novels and children's books, the slack obviously needs to be picked up by someone, for all those hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy all those other thousands of books that aren't on the bestseller list.

Don't believe him? Just look at McSweeney's. There are hundreds of thousands of people who tune into that website on a daily basis, almost in a religious way; don't you think all these people are equally excited about reading informed, entertaining critical analysis of literature as well? Sure, Esposito argues, the skyrocketing cost of paper and distribution may prevent a traditional lit-review publication from being a money-maker anymore, but that doesn't mean its readers no longer exist; it simply means that the traditional means of reaching them is no longer economically valid, and that other alternatives should be sought. It is, he argues, the reason litblogs really should be considered a new, valid addition to the literary world, and not simply a passing fad, an argument with which I have a hard time disagreeing. I encourage all literary lovers to spend some time contemplating the subject as well.

The most exclusive hotel in history

Those like me who have been following Popewatch '05 will already know of this curious news - that this upcoming Conclave, the process by which the cardinals lock themselves into the Vatican and elect a new pope, will be the first one in history where the cardinals will have actual hotel suites in which to stay, instead of the ascetic cells where they have traditionally slept during the interrum. Never one to be scooped on a good hotel story, Gridskipper has put up an entry about the facility, including its total cost ($20 million) and its various amenities (such as marble floors and on-call confessional service). Man, talk about scoring the ultimate lodging for the upcoming funeral!

Yahoo 360 - my review

So, I finally had some spare money this week, and was able to get on a computer at an internet cafe and get my new Yahoo 360 page set up (and thanks again to Steve Rubel for sending it to me in the first place). And here's the surprising news - I actually find it powerful, useful, and easy to navigate, and think that will be of enormous benefit to those who already use Yahoo on a regular basis.

There's a simple trick, in fact, to understanding the power of Yahoo 360, and I'm surprised that no other reviewer I've yet read has mentioned this - that at its heart, its most useful element is that it takes all those damn Yahoo things you've been signing up for over the years (Yahoo Photos, Yahoo Groups, Yahoo News, Yahoo Local, MyYahoo, Yahoo Music - man, the list just goes on and on) and places them all on one centrally-located page. Now, granted, you still actually go to these different sections of the website to change the content of any particular section; what your 360 account does (and why Yahoo has never offered this before is completely beyond me) is simply keep track of what's going on with all of your various services, and produce a little synopsis at your 360 home page regarding the latest changes concerning all of them.

Frankly, this is going to be incredibly nice for all of us who have done various things primarily through Yahoo over the years, and something that Yahoo should've done years ago. Let's say you're like me, for example, and that most of the online discussion groups you belong to are hosted by Yahoo; but unlike me, for example, maybe your primary email account is through Yahoo, or maybe you use Yahoo's instant-messengering service a lot, or maybe you're using Yahoo Photo to host your pictures. As you already know, before you would have to hop from to to to check them all, and to see what the latest has been from each mini-service; what 360 does, though, is simply let you have one central page, that displays the latest two or three items from each of these mini-services simultaneously. Plus the page can be made public (as I've done with mine, for example), which serves as a sort of uber-user's page for those who are curious - not just your photo, age and astrological sign, but a list of all your discussion groups, thumbnails of your photo collection, the latest entries from your blog, even the latest reviews you've submitted to Yahoo Local.

Obviously one of Yahoo's big goals with 360 is to tap into social networking in a much more profound way - and to base it off a feature that already exists, this central Yahoo ID you own, off which all your mini-services are associated. The backbone has been there all this time - Yahoo has already known that it's the same "jasonpettuschicago" joining that Treo discussion group as the "jasonpettuschicago" who just posted a good review of Holiday Club Uptown, and who also likes to have the television listings delivered to his news page. 360, then, is simply a way to turn that backbone into an exoskeleton, and to let us as customers have access to it as much as Yahoo has had in the past. So, you might look up Holiday Uptown in Yahoo Search yourself one night, because your friends want you to meet them there, and you end up seeing my review of it on the Yahoo Local page, and like what I had to say. With one click of a button, then, you can hop right over to my profile, see some discussion groups I belong to that you may be interested in joining yourself, read more of my Yahoo Local reviews and get tips on other cool hipster places in the neighborhood, or read my Yahoo-sponsored blog (a new feature - more below), become a fan, and subscribe to its RSS feed. And if you had a 360 account yourself, you could add me to your "friends" list, another new feature. And then if I add a new "blast" to my page (yet another new feature - think of it like an SMS), like "I'm going to Holiday tonight, if anyone wants to join me," then as my friend you will have this "blast" delivered to your own account, and you could jump up and come over to Holiday for a drink with me.

Ultimately, of course, 360 is going to sink or swim by the same criterion that every other social networking system in time has - by just how many people actually end up using it. It's nice, though, to see that Yahoo has actually gotten things right, and has made it extremely easy for those who want to actually use the social networking tools as a way to socially network. I could see this becoming extremely popular among teens, for example - it combines both the power and breadth of Yahoo with the sorta underground hipster immediacy of something like (i.e. "I'm at the club right this minute! Come have a drink with me, anyone on my list who's close!"). I could also see this being of enormous benefit to those who are already using a plethora of different Yahoo services, and are sick of having to go to separate pages to check the statuses of each. And I love the fact that it's hooked into Yahoo Local, where even my comments about area businesses are connected with everything else about me Yahoo-related; it means that other Yahoo members will be finding me now not only from shared interests but even from shared geographical location. It makes me want to run over to Yahoo Local and start submitting a bunch more reviews, just so more and more people will find my 360 page. Which, of course, is exactly what Yahoo wants me to do, because the more original amateur content there is at Yahoo Local, the better they can compete against Google Local. Smart, Yahoo, smart!

And like mentioned, Yahoo has started a blog-hosting service as part of 360 as well, which is what's gotten everyone in the blogosphere so interested. And,'s a blog-hosting service. What can I say? Not quite as powerful as Blogger or Typepad, but semi-customizable, with an easy interface, and which produces its own automatic RSS feed. It's a blog-hosting service, all right? It's not something to switch over to, if you're already on one of the aforementioned services, but certainly something new blogizens might want to consider, especially those who are already heavily using other Yahoo services, or those like me who are primarily meaning for their blog to be read via RSS (that is, who don't care much what their actual web page looks like).

Monday, April 04, 2005

The age-old question: Art versus story in comics

Both Scott Esposito of Conversational Reading and Jessa Crispin of Bookslut have entries up right now, examining the relationship between visual art and narrative storytelling in comic books, and especially in the case of Frank Miller's Sin City series (which, unless you've been living under a rock, you know was recently made into a movie). This is an age-old debate that's been going on in the comics world, frankly, one that doesn't necessarily have a "correct" answer. I'm a big fan, for example, of Sin City, and actually own most of the original comics off which the movie is based. But I'll be the first to admit that, as a literary project, it's horrifically bad - the dialogue is laughably corny, the characters little more than cardboard cutouts. But in the specific case of Sin City, that was actually Miller's point - his entire desire was to create a project that was visually stunning, and purposely didn't want something like a complex story to hamper that enjoyment.

There are certain comics out there I can't stand (like 100 Bullets, for example), despite gorgeous artwork, because the writing itself is so inane. There are certain comics I love for their storylines (like Watchmen), despite the artwork producing not much more than an indifferent "eh" from me. There are certain comics which pretty much lack a storyline at all, but I love anyway because the visuals are just so damn entertaining. ("We are Milk and Cheese! We hate you!!!!!!") And then there are those rare projects - the Sandmans, the Optic Nerves, the Eightballs - where everything magically comes together, and we're treated to a story that is as much a delight to read as it is a delight to look at. This schism is always going to exist, because of the dual nature of comics - much like poetry slams, the creators have to be good at two different pursuits in order to be a true success, pursuits that sometimes are at complete odds with each other. It's something you either learn to live with as a comics reader, or something that drives you away from comics for good - there's not much of a middle ground, unfortunately.

Authors creating online commercials

Wired magazine reports today on an interesting growing trend - authors making commercials for their books, then releasing them online. Hey, and why not? Movie trailers, for example, have become much more popular online in the last couple of years than they have in actual theatres, and that same potential exists for every creative medium out there. The article unfortunately focuses on a number of commercial companies that will produce such multimedia files for authors for an exorberant fee; but really, though, any author with a still camera, video camera, or a working knowledge of Flash could easily do one themselves for no cost at all. Or, just do what I've done over the years - find fans of your work who are already tech experts, and have them do it for you!

Computers that can read your thoughts

USA Today has this great article up right now, examining the latest breakthoughs in computers that can respond to human thoughts (and the unique electrical signals such thoughts produce). The article's fascinating enough on its own, but this paragraph especially gave me pause:

"Eventually, paralyzed people might even wear lightweight mechanical arms and legs that fit over their own limbs and would enable them to walk and reach for things, says Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University, who calls such devices 'wearable robots.'"

Finally, my lifelong dream of becoming a Borg moves one step closer to reality! Resistance is futile! You will be assimilated!

Ah, the delicious irony of mobile evangelizers

Nick Wilson of the always-excellent Threadwatch has a new post up right now, pointing users to a series of articles around the web on how to make your site more mobile-friendly. The irony? Half the articles he points to won't open in my mobile device! For all of you on desktops, though, I'm sure the articles are full of good information. Er, I think.

Group to produce $100 laptops for third-world countries

From the Associated Press: Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT Media Lab, has started a new project, attempting to build laptops that cost $100 in parts, for use by millions of children in third-world countries. The computers would come not only with built-in WiFi access, but also a hand crank for using in villages that lack electricity.

It reminds me of a question I've asked here before: What are you doing with your old computers? That ten-year-old Dell collecting dust in your basement may no longer be powerful enough to run Doom 3 - but believe me, it's more than powerful enough for a local kid to type his homework assignments, check his email, and visit 95 percent of all websites in existence. If like me you are alarmed by the growing class divide between those in this country who have access to information and those who don't, I urge you to get out that old computer and donate it to a local charity, one that reformats these computers and hands them out to families who need them. Your help can and does make a profound difference.