Saturday, December 22, 2007

"Christmas Time Is Here" - the sweetly sad blues version

'Tis the season…

Every year at this time I make sure to dig out my all-time favorite Christmas album (okay, I'll admit it, along with Bing's), and it's mostly because of this one irreplaceable song.

If there's such a thing as a plaintive, yearning Christmas blues, this would be it: one that, while fully acknowledging the joyful, sweet, soulful nature of the real Christmas, and not what it's become (you retailers will have to excuse the rest of us for wishing it could be another way), sadly asks, why isn't it that way all year?

It's the late pianist Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack for "A Charlie Brown Christmas," performed by him and his trio for the original animated special from 1965. Here are the lyrics; and even better, the entire album (including the equally poignant instrumental version of the song,) can be heard as free streams on Download.com Music, courtesy of the publisher, Concord Music Group.

"Christmas Time Is Here"
(Written by Vince Guaraldi and Lee Mendelson)

Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call, their favorite time of year

Snowflakes in the air, carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes, of love and dreams to share

Sleigh bells in the air, beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside, and joyful memories there

Christmas time is here, we'll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see, such spirit through the year
Oh, that we could always see, such spirit through the year...

(The story behind "A Charlie Brown Christmas," on Wikipedia.)

~ ~ ~

As a musician friend recently pointed out, there was so much more to Vince Guaraldi than just his inspired Peanuts soundtracks. He had a touch for the almost painfully beautiful, as with his instrumental, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," the 1963 Grammy winner of Best Instrumental Jazz Composition. That was from the album "Jazz Impression of Black Orpheus," Guaraldi's version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's haunting soundtrack score.

~ ~ ~

On a lighter note, and speaking of Bing's classic (sort of), an old friend just sent this tune along...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Predators In The Televised Bushes (Tracing Back To Root Causes)

We tend to think of ourselves as "highly evolved," but while our mental world and all the technology we cook up with it has certainly evolved very speedily over the last, say, 100 to 150 years, our body and the back of our brain is still far behind. I think this fact goes a long way towards explaining how confused we are as a species, mostly clumsily crashing our way through life on this planet...

One day, watching some poor band of musicians trying in vain to compete with a couple of television screens just off to the side, I was once again troubled by the fact that I seemed unable to ignore the (stoopit) TVs. My gaze repeatedly switched to the screens, and away from the performance of the real, living, breathing bioforms that I was trying to watch.

Finally, it occurred to me that the reason we are virtually unable to ignore a flickering television, our eyes drawn to it unwillingly again and again, is due to the part of our brain, still very much active, that is always on the alert for any activity in our peripheral vision -- because it might be a wild animal in the brush, measuring us up for a snack.

So I was mightily interested when I came across the same thought applied to a different sense, in, ironically, a blog on a subject that almost could not be more contemporary or "highly evolved," that of digital musicmaking.

The post in Create Digital Music is titled, "Windows Sound Glitches Explained, Plus Glitches and the Fight-or-Flight Response" (11/2/07, by Peter Kirn).

"Your ears and mind are incredibly sensitive to tiny details of sound. Result: if your operating system can’t keep up with sound output for any reason, you’ll get a noticeable “glitch” in the sound — and that’s a big deal. "Microsoft has a great post on their Vista Team Blog today from Steve Ball --

'My colleague on the Windows Sound team, Larry Osterman, also pointed out to me recently that humans are actually “hard-wired” to be disturbed by audio glitches. In an exchange about this topic, Larry observed that audio glitches are more obvious than video glitches because the ear’s tuned to notice high frequency transients — his visceral example of this idea is an image of a stick snapping in the woods behind you as an audio event that wakes you up before a bear wanders into your path.'"
So, it's not that we are so dreadfully unfocused and ADD -- although we most certainly are -- it's more because the base of our brain is still executing a seldom-needed Primary Directive. Unless you live in a big, dirty city, in which case it's just doin' its equally contemporary job.
(Photo on Flickr by Edgar Thissen)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Where Do Great Ideas Come From?

(Extracts of a couple of my recent posts in The Heart of Innovation, the weblog I manage for Idea Champions, the "culture of innovation" training/consultancy.)

"In Your Dreams"


Well, there it is again.

I've discovered an amazing, arts-centered television channel, Ovation TV. They screen an impressive array of high quality programming on music, film, dance, painting, etc., the artists and their processes (quite a lot of it being BBC productions from the late 90's, interestingly enough).

It was specifically a trio of programs on music hosted by the legendary producer of the Beatles, George Martin, that gave me the jolt to write this. Together they're titled, "The Rhythm of Life," one lengthy show each on Rhythm, Melody, and Harmony. For those who love music, these programs are an unparalleled feast, with Martin listening to friends from Stevie Wonder to Michael Tilson Thomas playing and talking about the marvels and mystery of music.

In the one on melody, he talks with Paul McCartney about "Yesterday," Paul's greatest hit... Martin asked his old partner McCartney how he came up with that famous melody; and Paul simply said, "I dreamt it." He explained that he woke up from a dream, with that melody playing itself in his imagination.

One of the projects I've been working on here this year, and among the most inspiring and energizing, has been editing the updated version of the workbook for one of Idea Champions' most fundamental courses, the Creative Thinking Training, "Banking on Innovation" (in the process of rebirth as "Freeing The Genie").

One segment (adapted into this article, "AHA! Great Moments in Creativity,") dealt all of the breakthroughs in art, science and technology that came as unexpected gifts to the practitioner, who would later be credited with their discovery. It turns out that the ideas for many great inventions came to the "inventors" in their dreams.

[more]
===

"Where do Great Ideas come from?"

Ever notice how many times the biggest, most successful ideas come from closely imitating some principle at work in nature?

I've kept one particular book around for years both because it contained a statement that really rang my chimes, and it's full of beautiful, striking imagery. The book is, "Bridges, a history of the world's most famous and important spans," by Judith Dupre (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 1997).


And its memorable, "Whoomp, (ta-ta, ta,) there it is," declaration:

"Bridges are based on one or more of three basic structures that are derived from forms found in nature: the beam, from a log fallen across a stream; the arch, from natural rock formations, and the suspension, from a hanging vine."
So there it is, again: a human "invention" that turns out to be fundamentally "derived from forms found in nature."

[more - with a later comment from the author of the book ]

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"High Tech/High Touch"- Naisbitt Nailed IT Long Ago

The Boston Globe's Maura Welch mentions an unexpectedly earthy item by Nicholas Carr (a former editor of Harvard Business Review, who naturally has also been published all over the place), "about a new study that says Americans are having less sex and spending less time with friends in order to stay online longer. … He predicts a counter-movement is on the way and advises marketers to look for 'the digitivity dropouts,' who make disconnectivity the next big thing."

Commenters in his blog were all over Carr for this scandalous claim; a sample remark was, "I don't buy it. There's too much utility in the Net for people to drop off."

But for me it quickly brought to mind the prescient expression of the famed "futurist" John Naisbitt, who first floated the idea of "high tech/high touch" in his 1982 book, MegaTrends, and found that it gained enough traction over the years to turn into a full volume of its own in '99.

So I couldn't resist dropping a comment on the subject in Carr's far-ranging blog. In the cause of saving myself some keystrokes so I can get outside while it's still nice, I wrote that it reminded me of Naisbitt's phrase, which is proving to be one of those rare examples of a "futurist" who actually got it right.

It's an important reminder that the more wired and gadgetized our world becomes, the more effort we need to make to plant our feet in the physical "real world." (The real Real World, that is, not one of the pretend "reality show" worlds.)

Naisbitt wrote,

“In a High Tech world with an increasing search for balance, High Touch will be the key…"

(He refers to) "a mountain of evidence implicating technology in relentlessly accelerating our lives, and stirring profound yearnings for a more emotionally satisfying existence."
Now, do any of us really require "a mountain of evidence" anymore to prove that being wired 24/7 is simply a very unnerving experience? I think we've all got one of those nervous mountains in our own back yard -- those of us who are lucky enough to have a back yard of our own. (City dwellers, please substitute whichever room your computer and/or "media center" sits in.)

Related, here:
Interface or Face To Face?
Posts referencing the Globe's Business Filter

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Two short bits of interesting thinking, one for each side

...of your brain.

First, one for the Listen For It side:

The other day I got back in contact with an old friend (and former employer, in fact), someone I knew as a near-total gearhead, but who these days is blogging quite amusingly at the eponymous Brent Noorda's Blog (with it's concise tagline of, "Anything sufficiently vague shall always ring true"). We were talking about favorite music in our exchange of mail, and he related this:

"We were in Africa (mostly Burkina Faso) last year, and ran across a guy who was a Yes fan and had lived quite a while in remote regions, where he played much of his music collection. He said that their 'Tales from Topographic Oceans' was the favorite music of the locals, who would say something like,"

"Play that one with the sounds that go all over the place for a long time."

Its famous cover art by Roger Dean

===
Then, one for the Make It Happen side:

A widely quoted statement attributed to Charles Roberts Buxton (1823-1871), an English brewer, philanthropist, writer and Member of Parliament.
"You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it."
(Like, for example, becoming a member of Parliament, creating classic albums with exquisite cover art and lengthy sounds that go all over, or putting together totally unrelated pairs of blog posts.)

Paying the price of iMpatience

On all these stories of the outrage of the first buyers of the iPhone over the recent price cuts -- oh, puh-lease!


In case you spent the last week in a wireless cold-spot, it was reported all over the Web that Apple cut the price of the $600 iPhone by $200 (with the Holidayshopping Season coming up), and early adopters went ballistic. So Apple offered existing users a $100 credit -- in any Apple Store.

This along with the news that they'd beat their sales forecasts for this next evolutionary step in Gadgetdom, with that phenomenal ultra-touch-sensitive interface. “One million iPhones in 74 days—it took almost two years to achieve this milestone with iPod,” said Steve Jobs, their CEO (Chief Embodiment & Oracle).
Oddly enough, I couldn't find any word on Apple's site about that coupon offer -- so I found Job's Sept. 6 letter "To all iPhone customers" through a Web-wide search. There he explains, "Details are still being worked out and will be posted on Apple's website next week."

But my point is this:

"Early adopters" should be observant enough to understand that they're paying for the privilege of being the first one on their block with the new toy. They don't call it "the bleeding edge" for nothing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

"Love Is A No-Brainer"

Here, certainly, is the most off-topic entry yet for this humble weblog -- it's an axiom that occurred to me almost a year ago, and its accuracy has just recently been brought home to me again, even though it needed no further proof. (Of course there's a story behind it... which you'll be glad to learn I'm not going to share. In the immortal words of Stan Lee in Marvel Comics, " 'Nuff said!")

I love this phrase, though, because it's a highly useful reminder to us all, and contains the required multi-level meaning. We all understand the popular term "no-brainer" to indicate an obvious choice; but this goes that extra step further to explain that where love is concerned, your brain is not involved.

Remember this point; it might come in handy some day. ; - )

Friday, September 07, 2007

What I'm learning about blogging

(Or perhaps it's more accurate to say, what opinions I'm finding I've developed about it:)

The following ideas started life as a prospective style note to my bloggy brothers at Idea Champions' "Heart of Innovation," on which I'm happily toiling these days, after Mitch Ditkoff, the company's President-for-Life and our Captain Kirk (unless he's prefer Picard), e-mailed the other writers this admonition about a particular topic:

"We can revisit this idea a number of times on the blog. Don't need to nail it all in one posting."
I happen to think this is a Mighty Principle where webloggery is concerned, and wanted to spill about it briefly. As I said, of course, it's just my own BFO (Big Fat Opinion).

At this point in time, 'blogs are more of a minimalist art form, like e-mail. People surfing the web and spilling onto your page momentarily want to be fed a tasty but bite-sized bit, and if they like it they'll hang out for awhile and sample your other menu items.

Not very hungry just now? Put another way, then, it's not the book or even a chapter, it's the dust jacket copy. The accumulation of passing comments eventually winds up as a complete statement, whether by ear, in print, or online. All of your points will be made, in time -- patience is still sometimes a virtue, even in these hyper-driven times.

It is excellent to have an Extended Entry capability (The Heart of Innovation is produced with Movable Type; Blogger, here, hasn't evolved to that point yet). Extended Entry, aka "MORE," means you can go into some real depth, while offering just a maybe five-six paragraph opening bit that expresses your complete thought.

If you have enough to say, it can become a series of posts on a given topic. The next stage of development is that any topic can evolve into an article. But in general, when blogging, Cut To The Chase -- everybody's real busy these days.

Team Blogging
It's really just out-and-out, major Fun to be working on a blog with a team of like-minded (and -spirited) writers, and on such an intrinsically exciting topic. "Innovation," after all is really based on open-mindedness, awareness, whatever you call that elusive quality of really being present and paying attention to Life, as it is happening.

And the synergy -- I'm really enjoying the different styles and levels employed by each of the writers. For me, every new entry is a different version of "Wow!" This can't help but get you up for your own next offering.

Mitch, for instance, is the jazz musician, the sax player blowing these wild and crazy licks that make you sit up in your seat and go, "Yeah!" (Very Kerouac, here in the 50th anniversary year of "On The Road.")

The rest of us, Val Vadeboncoeur, Tim Moore, Farrell Reynolds and I, so far seem to be more into various degrees of working through the lines of reasoning, carefully link-annotating a wide range of reference points, in pursuit of the Comprehensive Statement. So a big part of my role has been to keep exhorting the troops to stay in touch with that modern feeling that Less Is More.
(You'll notice, if you read this far, that my theory far exceeds my practice. But we soldier on, trying to follow our own advice. And ain't that the way it so often is? But damn, do I wish Blogger had that-there extended entry thang.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Great Ideas Dept.: Build at RR Stations; Auerbach as manager

(My recent posts in The Heart of Innovation; I notice there happens to be one each from New York and Boston.)

"Building 'Living Space' around Railroad Stations" (August 21)

"Imagine that at each major stop along the Long Island Rail Road, communities of housing, dining and shopping were built above existing parking lots. Parking garages would be underneath the new buildings.

"Given the location, generally within walking distance of an existing shopping area, residents would have little need for a car. A railroad station would no longer be a stop along a route, but a destination in itself. Even better, each of these hubs would be connected along the main arteries of the line." John Patrick Winberry, in Newsday.


"How the great Celtics teams won: by Keeping It Simple" (August 10)

With the supercharged Celts in the news, we go back some for Bob Cousy's view of Red Auerbach's managerial style. "Red wasn't worried about X's and O's. He seldom is. His approach is to go to the heart of the problem and try to solve it."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Half of all media will be created by consumers?

The Boston Globe's "Business Filter" recently ran an item on the (perhaps slightly self-serving) prediction of an ambitious podcaster that soon, "50% of all media consumed will be created by other consumers."

Naaaaah! IMHO, I just don't believe that most people have enough of the time and skill necessary to create stuff that's good enough to interest anyone beyond their family and friends. It takes a Huge amount of the former and a pretty fair amount of the latter to produce something that might appeal to any meaningful chunk of the Public, doesn't it?

The Filter's Maura Welch printed another ratio a while back that sounded a lot more accurate, which, to roughly paraphrase -- meaning, if I remember correctly -- was that out of 100 websurfers, one creates content, nine comment or add to it somehow, and the other 90 watch. (Hunting around for this link, which was a good one...)

Just look at any message board, a mature technology that should be trusted to show long-term behavior, that shows the ratio of messengers to lurkers, or the number of replies to a topic vs. the number of views. This may be the bottom of the ladder content-wise, but the root is usually a good place to start looking at something. (Yes, ladders have roots, too, so there's nothing wrong with that metaphor.)

I got involved in a discussion somewhere recently that showed 5 entries to over 1000 views of that topic. And that's in a medium where it's possible to create and post a message real quick-like, not like the development time required for anything more evolved, like videos, blogs, etc.

(Of course, I'll admit I still have some trouble relating to the term "podcasting" -- to me, "pods" first reminds me of what the Body Snatchers invaded in. And this is no laughing matter: look what they did to poor Donald Sutherland!)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Gehry, Bricklin, Prototyping; & "Repurposing Content"

The idea of recycling material, if you think about it, is as old as the human habit of telling stories. So I'm hoping that's a good enough explanation for why I'm basically republishing this post I wrote recently for the Heart of Innovation. : - )

That's the new blog I've been managing and writing in for Idea Champions, and frankly my attention has been primarily there lately, which is how it should be. So I'll be cross-posting bits that seem appropriate here, after giving them a week or some decent interlude from their original publication.

Frank Gehry's Designing By Prototype

Columnist Dale Dauten wrote recently about some of the insights on creative thinking gained from observing the revolutionary architect in "The Sketches of Frank Gehry," Director Sydney Pollack's first documentary, new on DVD. "We get to learn how a genius works," he writes.
"Frank Gehry is the architect who did the curving, soaring metal walls of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, as well as Disney Hall in Los Angeles. He is the one who lets us walk into 'out of the box.'

"During his early Gehry spent his time hanging out with artists rather than fellow architects.

"He works by taking sheets of heavy paper and making models out of them. Not blocks, not wood or Styrofoam, but paper. When one of the models becomes an idea worth pursuing, it goes through an evolution, a series of models of increasing sophistication."

Dauten, taking the dare, as it were, starts creatively cross-referencing:
"If we wanted to apply his style to, say, working on a new sales presentation, we wouldn't use other sales presentations for ideas, we'd use novels or plays, movies, paintings . . . maybe even, I don't know, zoos, or airports. And not just one, but dozens. Some would become rough models, several going at once."
"Inside the brain of a genius lies lessons on generating & implementing ideas" by Dale Dauten, 5/6/07. (Gehry's "Dancing Building" in Prague. Uploaded on Flickr by astilly.)

Rapid Prototyping, Dan Bricklin, & "Serious Play"

This reminded me of another recent read on the power of creating with the method of "rapid prototyping," from Dan Bricklin's blog. Bricklin is of course the co-inventor of the electronic spreadsheet, VisiCalc (the original Excel, and the first "killer app" on what were then "personal computers"), among other programming breakthroughs in simplification.

(Continued...)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Delivering A Bouncing Baby Blog

I've recently had the ideal, exciting opportunity to manage a blog into existence for a company that I've been working with for a number of years. Talk about learning experiences, and on the more engaging end of the spectrum…

Idea Champions trains and consults on innovation, teamwork, etc., for companies like, GE, AT&T, and numerous other impressively-acronymed firms, and they'd wanted to start blogging for some time. But when your plate is too full some good food's bound to fall off, and then you usually wait until that dish is served again at a future meal.

Knowing they needed a little extra energy focused on a blog to get it over the top, I suggested I could author some pieces, but more importantly, spend regular time travelling the related roads of the blogosphere and Web to leave that all-important trail of linked breadcrumbs. Instead, they hired me to drive its creation and launch, too, and last week "The Heart of Innovation" had its debut.

Man, have I ever learned a lot -- both adding to what I'd already learned about blogging, and naturally, scads more. Software, especially in the interconnected world of online software, is practically infinite in its possibilities. So, especially with a new submedium like this, you wind up feeling like you're starting from scratch every single day.

Then there's the Team Startup factor: when five authors, including the company President, and a Web design-and-hosting firm are involved, you know it's going to take some time to get everyone on the same, frequently updated page.

Meanwhile, in my own little post factory here, it's inevitable that I'll talk more on a couple topics, and much to my delight because they're old favorites. The only difference is that now I have a further Legitimate Business Reason to write about the harnessing the practical power of innovation/ creativity/ ideation, and to write about writing, and publishing, via the always new "pushdown stack" of web-logging.

Related, here:
Planting Seeds of Synergy

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Voice & Videocams of the People

Having recently carped about the limitations of user-generated content, I gotta give it up for the phenomenon of all those Real People asking the Democratic candidates their questions in the "CNN/YouTube debates" the other night. (That YouTube link is to a page with the entire debate, clip by clip, featuring tiny, animated thumbnails of the questioners, and the candidates full-frame; and some might say, full of it in general.)

It was exciting, and you got the feeling that this is what democracy was really supposed to be about. If you missed it, the candidates were asked to raise their hands only once, unlike previous rounds where they were set up to look like schoolchildren.

Jon Stewart was complaining last night that the answers were the same old pablum, but I thought it looked like the too-many, too-soon candidates reacted differently than they do to the usual Respected TV Journalist. After all, the RTJ delivers his questons with this tremendous gravitas, his mighty brow furrowed, and, being human, the candidates respond in kind. (I’ll yield to the temptation to say Monkey See, Monkey Do, but I’m scratching my side as I do. After all, this is how humans learn.)

So, yes, this was a genuine Voice (and grainy image) of the People, and will probably set the mark for televised debates from here on. But my point’s never been that there’s anything wrong with giving us commoners a direct voice; it’s simply that you can’t build a website just with free content.

Note that the user-generated debate still had the Gatekeeper: CNN picked which of the thousands of video questions submitted actually got on the air (or rather, on the cable). It’s a good thing, too – can you imagine what kinds of amazing incomprehensibilities would have been heard if they’d picked the questions at random? Kind of like the variety of comments one finds in unmoderated forums.

And, of course, they also had 360 degrees of Anderson Cooper repeating, “Time… time,” all night, attempting to corral the gathering winds of the Looking Presidentials. Now there’s a tough job.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Small-time Internet radio granted reprieve @ 11th hour

Hopefully the imminent wiping out of small-time Internet radio will be avoided: while Sunday (7/15) is the deadine, with the emphasis on the “dead” part, for payments under the new and preposterous rates, Wired reports Thursday night that SoundExchange told Congress they “will not enforce the new royalty rates.”

“Webcasters will stay online, as new rates are hammered out,” Eliot Van Buskirk writes, while concluding the “news qualifies as a reprieve, but internet radio won't be truly saved until negotiations result in a workable royalty rate.”
Earlier (with the RAIN newsletter quoting the Hollywood Reporter), the House Commerce Committee formally called on the webcast and recording industries to meet “to discuss a settlement “that would provide Internet radio operators with a workable alternative to the proposed CRB rates scheduled to go into effect Sunday,” July 15th. Encouragingly, the Reporter reports that “the Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over the Internet.”

RAIN credits Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Commerce Committee's Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee. He “actively voiced concerns in Congress regarding the CRB's disastrous effects on the webcast industry,” calling Copyright Review Board’s damning decision “"a body blow to many nascent Internet radio broadcasters.”

I know from having lived in the Boston area for the last 10 years that Ed Markey is a Good Guy, a genuine champion for fairness and people’s rights. He’s been crusading for privacy rights for a long time, which is pretty forward-thinking.


Isn’t it unfortunate that these kinds of concerns seem “forward” thinking? Those are just the kind of conditions that you need laws for, you see; so this makes him a good “lawmaker.”

Ed Markey has “global warming” in his meta-tags, for cryin' out loud, and a YouTube video of him applauding “the expected passage of legislation that will make the most sweeping safety and regulatory changes to the Food and Drug Administration in years,” including a bill he helped write “to establish public databases of clinical trials and their results.” Need I say more?

Let’s hope he can work something out that’ll allow Web radio’s Lone Rangers, duos and other small partnerships a level playing field and a fair shot at a loyal following.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Valuing Trees, In Dollars and Sense

Appreciating the value of trees is not something I’m generally moved to assign a dollar value to.
This being mid-summer in New York’s verdant mid-Hudson valley, it’s usually because I’m looking for some shade, or just enjoying the wonderful effect on the human nervous system of the subtle sights and sounds when they interact with the wind.

So it was a pleasant surprise to see this post in the Boston Globe’s Business Filter, where that blog’s evergreen Maura Welch pointed to an Economist story, "Green Gold," on this particular branch of cost/benefit analysis.

“Following the trend of putting the 'eco' into economics,” she writes, “New York mayor Michael Bloomberg recently did a tree census. The value of the city's nearly 600,000 trees? $122 million.”
Hizzoner the Mayor arrived at that number by adding up estimates for filtering pollution, saving on air conditioning, stemming storm-water run-off, and even for “aesthetic benefits” (which I think would be expressed more convincingly by my proposed "nervous system relief quotient," above. In order to get that one to fly, though, I should really acronymize it, i.e., as "the NSRQ"… but I won’t).

More “shady” numbers are offered in The Economist’s story: a sign spotted at a University of Texas construction site announces,
“The replacement value of this oak tree is $90,000.” The Economist writes, “The trees in American backyards may be worth far more than the cars in the front drive,” and that, “the Forest Service values the urban canopy in all of America at $14.3 billion.”
They summarize the value of these price-per-leaf exercises with, “By claiming that every $1 put into New York's trees returns $5.60 in benefits, (Bloomberg) may find it easier to galvanise New Yorkers to plant more and chop down fewer.”

You know, if that’s what it takes to get people to understand the truly incalculable worth of trees, then by all means, fire up that spreadsheet!

===
Ironically, I saw this Associated Press story on the same day, in the same "paper" (since this was online Globe) --
Man disguised as tree robs bank

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP), 7/8/07 --A weekend bank robbery involved multiple branches -- of the leafy variety.

According to police, a man with tree branches duct-taped to his head and torso walked into a Citizens Bank just as it opened Saturday morning and demanded cash from a teller. Police said the disguise was the most bizarre they'd ever seen.

"He really went out on a limb," Sgt. Ernie Goodno said Sunday.
Related, here:
15 Houseplants Can Reduce Indoor Pollution


The "Greenest" Cities

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Limitations of "Free" Content

So much of what you read about businesses and sites in the brave new world of Web 2.0/social media, etc., is about how great it is to get the faceless (or even the Facebooked) millions to create all your content for free. Here in this corner, though, it is still considered to be true that "you get what you pay for."

I was blog-surfing this morning and came across a small example -- a very small one -- of the drawbacks of purely user-generated content: in this case, the lack of simple proofreading, which brings down the perceived level of quality of the writing. That may not sound like any kind of big deal, but the point is it's one of those elements that gives your readers wings -- inducing them to fly away from your site.

The overall point here is that user-generated content requires an editorial layer, to make sure your featured material has a reasonably consistent level of quality.

I wrote the author in question, in this case in the blog of the Social Media Club, which otherwise seems to be a pretty smart commentator on the scene. The post was a live-blogged report from last Friday at the Supernova conference in San Francisco, where it is claimed a set of movers and shakers joined "a provocative new program to debate the future of the connected world."

I'm going to save* (see the comments) myself some time by pasting in here the related comment I made to them. To wit:

As a perfect illustration of this quote of Andrew Keen's in the piece:
>> “it is the job of mainstream media to find raw talent and polish it up”

...you might want to go back and do a copy edit of your live-blogged post. As of this writing, strange, misshapen artifacts lurk within, such as, "ologarchy," "acknolwedges," and "deomcratization."

Obviously just slips of the finger and still recognizable words, but just a couple of those have the power to distract a reader enough to lure them into taking off. It causes the reader to subconsciously question the intelligence of the author, blowing the equivalent of the theatrical "willing suspension of disbelief." (Not that I'm entertaining such judgmental thoughts, mind you -- since why else would I take the time to write you about it?)

Here's the main point: user-generated content is not free, because you've got to have editorial oversight, and that still means humans who are hopefully(!) being paid a living wage to make the user's stuff Ready For Primetime.

This is a significant but underreported issue with building social media based sites.

(That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Interface or Face To Face?

A long, slow wave of understanding has been coming on to me lately, in defiance of the conventional wisdom that the world has moved online. It’s a hunch that my own focus has to be on meeting, being engaged and working with people face to face -- even, and maybe especially, where the subject is the Internet or tech applications in general.

I love the Internet as the meta-tool, and as an evolving art form. It’s the printing press, the mailbox, the soapbox, the radio station, the portfolio, the demo, the business card you can open up and look inside, the jukebox, the movie theatre… I’ve been infatuated with computers and software for over 20 years, and still get that charge of enthusiasm from what they enable me to do.

But the real world is still like the whole grain: it's only full, complete and really works right when all the naturally occurring parts are there. In communicating with people, that includes tone of voice, touch, body language, hundreds of facial muscles that each convey meaning, scent, and there'll probably even turn out to be some other subtle facility that science will chance across in due time.
Web videoconferencing, etc., hasn't changed this, and media truly never will. (Although, as now, lots of people won't know or care about the difference.)

Not that this concept negates the value of the Web; it only puts it in its proper place, which is the printing press, the mailbox, the soapbox, the radio station…

The point is, that with this awesome Swiss Army knife of a tool being utilized to the fullest, there’s still an essential place for meeting and talking with people “in person” -- looking them in the eye, listening to and responding to what they say, on the spot. All in the service of being able to get a gut-level impression of the people, still the most reliable indicator when deciding if you want to work with them.

One meeting is worth a thousand e-mails.

(Okay, or a hundred Webcam video conferences.)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The peaceful, Human-powered lawn mower

Just in time for Spring: here’s one for the “appropriate tech” and “common sense” categories, specifically for the owners of “lawns”:

If you’re concerned about potentially catastrophic, globally-local climate change and your input to it, or if you’d just like a more peaceful “lawn solution” with the added benefit of light, invigorating exercise in the fresh air and sunlight (Nature’s own anti-depressants), consider the hand-powered mower.

I thought this would be the perfect time to say a few words in its praise, do a quickie search on it, and pop a couple relevant links in here for your mowing pleasure.

Search results for “hand powered mowers(Google)
The persons at People Powered Machines have models by two or three different makers, comparison charts and all that. They say the new models are lightweight and easy to push, not like your grandfather’s models, and the simplest is well under $200. They're even upfront enough to admit this is a smaller-acreage solution, recommended "for lawns of 8000 square feet or less."

A list there makes for a strong array of selling points:

"What you can hear while mowing with a Reel Mower :"
  • birds
  • your children playing alongside you
  • conversation
  • phone ring
  • phone not ring
  • music
  • books on tape
  • your children fighting inside the house (ok, so the power mower might have it on ths one)
  • your neighbors dinner party which you are not interrupting
  • the ice cream truck!
(From ‘Why we only carry reel mowers’ on peoplepoweredmachines.com)
===
Related, on Rosswriting.com/FunPart :

It's a Loud, Loud World
Where the essayist asks why our space-age technology can’t deliver ‘’no-sweat, no-motor’ tools,‘ described as, ‘professional, hand-powered gardening tools that were so finally machined that they matched or bettered their fuel-driven counterparts? ’

Monday, April 30, 2007

Ernie Johnson wins another Emmy

Congratulations to Ernie Johnson, a real stand-up guy who, we just heard (on the teevee), has won another Emmy award, along with the whole TNT NBA halftime show. As we have previously noted, here is another example of when Nice Guys Finish First.

They've got some hard-working young fella filling in for him in the studio tonight with Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley (from left to right,) since Ernie's in New York getting the statue, and the veterans are not exactly making it easy on the kid. Hang in there, though, buddy -- I'd be intimidated, but you're doing jes' fine.

Related here:

TNT's NBA broadcast focuses on New Orleans today

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Even The Young 'Get' Focus, It Turns Out

Finally, reassuring proof that even the currently reigning young generation, people in their twenties, understand the value of focus. All we ever hear is how in-the-moment and up-to-the-minute and always On and utterly distracted they all are, their attention flitting from one soundbite to the next and don’t stop but shop til they drop. But there are some encouraging signs that, of course, there's more to them.

Tracy McGrady, one of the two all-stars on the Houston Rockets, is 27 and a phenomenal player. He told the TV sideline reporter that in preparation for this first game of the playoffs, he’d turned everything Off.

No e-mail, no Blackberry, no texting, no phone calls, no ticket requests. His wife handled everything. He just wanted to completely focus on the game.

(In the game, he caught fire in the second half and the Rockets won; last night he had 31 points and 10 rebounds, and they won again. The picture's from NBA.com's story.)

Then there’s that great commercial where a video game version of a famous driver suddenly barks at the two kids on a couch playing the game, “C’mon, ya think I got where I am playing video games!?”

Okay, that's just one 20-something and one commercial; but the individual in question is an icon, and the other is a commercial on television -- in other words, practically scripture. So there’s some reason to hope.

And let’s hope so, because nothing of value is ever produced without someone willing to buckle down and focus on what's required to get it done. Sooner or later, the smart ones in every generation figure that out.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Crackberry Down!

Regarding last week’s post questioning the readiness of the Internet and it’s related ecosystems for Web-only applications:

I thought the 12-hour Blackberry outage Tuesday night illustrated my point in a perfect and timely fashion, although I’ll concede that its users/fans/chattels may find it difficult to find any redeeming qualities in the blackout. Blackberry users had comments (in the Reuters article in eWeek) like, “"I felt like my left arm had been amputated," and the story says that “one Wall Street analyst said she kept hitting her BlackBerry's version of a ‘refresh’ button in disbelief that the system could fail.”

It's looking like I won’t be able to resist quoting a criminal defense lawyer in New York named Charles Ross (though no relation), who said the outage left him feeling "vulnerable and uncomfortable," and that is caused him to miss breakfast! (Okay, “a breakfast appointment.” It only sounded like these people were being denied basic sustenance.)

Now it turns out that all it took was an insufficiently tested routine system upgrade (“to provide better optimization of the system's cache," according to RIM. Appropriate, perhaps, since that upgrade's sure to cost them some extra cash). That’s great – I’m sure if it was an all out criminal-hacker assault, they would have handled it much better.

So, now how do we feel about depending on the Web for even more of our most basic applications? Let me hasten to note that Web apps are a great idea in theory, and probably an inevitable evolution, but that we are (i.e., the Internet is) just not ready for it yet.

RIM explains its BlackBerry outage
Cascading software and system problems caused interruption”
April 20, 2007

A Night Without 'CrackBerry': Curse or Blessing?”
Reuters, by Franklin Paul, via eWeek - April 18
Related, here:
"Baaack it up!" * (Before the Botnets get it) 1/15/07

(...which featured this quote from a Carnegie Mellon computer scientist:
‘The war to make the Internet safe was lost long ago, and we need to figure out what to do now.”)
"A Working Simple System" - John Gall

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Web-based apps vs. Verizon customer service

Lots of updated buzz recently on the newly dubbed “Webtop,” claimed to be the natural evolutionary successor to the electronic “desktop.” (In quotes because, remember, the original "desktop" is the one that your computer now covers.)

Google, Microsoft and many others imagine that you’d rather use a word processor running on their server farms than one installed on your own, once-“personal” computer. But as of this point in history, the highly touted promise of web-based applications just sounds like a Really Bad Idea (RBI).

(Excuse the interruption, but I’m informed that, especially since it’s the first week of the baseball season, we need to find another HTA -- High Tech Acronym -- for that.)
Think you’re dependent on an Internet connection now? What if you’ve got a thought that you want to get down right away, or a string of numbers you want to add up? Better lay in a supply of pens and yellow pads. If your thinking is as connected to words on paper/screens as mine is, you’re surely going to need them. We're just not there yet, or even very close.

Why, just take the recent case of injured blogger (and NBA hoop artist) Gilbert Arenas, who recently wrote about the hardships of being on the bench during his team’s stretch run to the playoffs. "I think the worst part was that my Internet connection wasn't acting right, so my video game session wasn't working. It kept kicking me offline. So, when you're injured, and video games [are] your life and you can't play, it just makes the injury that much worse."

This guy is a jillionaire, but he was as helpless as you or I when his Internet connection was down. What if he needed to do something important?

But let’s move on to more serious examples. Exhibit B: As it happens, this provides me with the perfect opportunity to rant about… I mean, comment, with oodles of cool, rational objectivity, on the truly dreadful state of Verizon’s DSL customer service.

In my recurring sideline as an indie tech support troubleshooter, I’ve had the delightful chance to spend hours on the phone with Verizon’s woefully under-trained and otherwise unprepared customer service people. And I mean sometimes hours per customer.

It is simply a nightmare. And I want to make it plain that I don’t blame the individual support reps; I’m sure they’re very bright people. Nor do I consider it a reflection on the country these folks are obviously sitting in, in the middle of the night on the other side of the world.

But it really does appear that Verizon, like other solely cost-conscious companies, is trying to do way too much too fast, following the custom of the software industry of working out all the bugs on the general population. One customer was given the most astonishing array of conflicting answers in a series of phone calls that you couldn’t believe they could possibly be from the same company. But sadly, they were.

Then there’s the language problem. I had one conversation where I explained the problem over and over, as clearly and slowly as I could (a no-connection error message dialog that would not go away, interpreting the Cancel button as meaning, “Try again!”), whereupon the support lady’s repeated response was, “Okay, can you explain what problem you are having?”

It was over a half an hour, what with on-hold time and all, before she decided the error message was coming from another department’s turf, and transferred me to someone else. That next rep was a very competent, clever person – her name was Rita, who I believe was sitting in Mexico – who I spent another hour on the line with, as she talked me through a series of command-line exercises.

When we were done, an hour and a half later, all was good – until the next time I rebooted, whereupon the exact same problem reappeared.

The New York Times’ David Pogue recently reprinted a surrealistic transcribed conversation from a Dell customer support call to that same country that I don’t want to blame, but where the people speak a version of English that most Americans find pretty much inscrutable. (That single post attracted 153 "yeah, me too, dammit!" comments.)

I really do feel sorry for those people, because for them this surely must qualify as the High-Paying Job From Hell. Because even when they probably only receive the same dollars per hour as someone starting at Borders Books in the U.S., (where, last I heard, they generously offer the minimum wage,) apparently that’s a lot of money over there. But imagine what they say about us when they’re released from their cube-farm stalls in the morning.

These travesties all come from companies that make their decisions based solely on the short term cost. But they are seriously failing to consider the Total Cost of (customer) Ownership. If the cable companies came up with a competitively priced offering, Verizon would be out of broadband contention in very short order, and deservedly so.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Time Out (for a good laugh)

(Okay, it may be a bit out of context for a tech/media/business 'blog, but this was just too good not to share, and easily linkable to boot.)
From funnytimes.com, "America's ad-free cartoon and humor newspaper," where they unfortunately don't give any further info on the artist; but the name looks like "horacek."

...but this is the Internet, isn't it?, and sure enough a quick search reveals that indeed the artist's name is Judy Horacek, she's Australian, and here's her own site.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Web apps: Are manageable expectations possible?

The people over at Virtual Ubiquity, an early-stage startup hard at work on a Web word processor, are demonstrating their baby at the Web Innovators Group event tonight, and I found their new blog while browsing the various presenters’ sites.

They say they’re “building the first real word processor for the web,” and as a longtime, fulltime user, trainer and envelope-pusher with such software, I had to leave them a comment on it. Never one to pass up a chance to “repurpose” some “content,” I thought I’d just quickly copy my comment here.

What got me going was this, from their blog (the product’s named Buzzword) --

“The development of a real word-processor - whether on the web or on a desktop - is obviously a much bigger task than just deploying a simple rich text editor. Buzzword goes beyond the basic rich formatting available in HTML or AJAX word-processors - we’re doing real-time pagination and layout, so that you will always know what your document will look like when printed. The result is what we think this is the first WYSIWYG word-processor on the web.
So I offered --
Good luck, and remember to deal sternly with Creeping Featureitis. Given that word processing has been widely used for 20 years means there are multimillions of what the clothing store Syms never fails to call “educated consumers.”

And each one of them (I’ll be as guilty as anybody, I’m sure,) will expect all their particular favorite functions to be there, and with the same keyboard shortcuts, too! When you consider how many hundreds of commands have been out there in WP, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Obviously, the biggest job will be deciding what Not to put in.

~~~
Although this is wicked-late notice, considering that it starts in four hours, the Web Innovators Group get-together is always quite the hot ticket; hosted by David Beisel of Masthead Venture Partners, it's even free. It's at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge at 6:30 (dir's).

I wouldn't even bring it up now if it wasn't for the fact that David generally puts one on every other month, so look for the next around May.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

'The Internet Can't Handle Full-blown TV'

(Ed. Note: This is old "news" -- now backdated over a month! -- but it's stuck in the back of the mind as being one of the issues of larger import heard in the intervening time.)

The top man for TV technology with Google, which acquired YouTube last year, told a European cable group that the Internet was not designed for TV. Companies working on putting broadcast quality TV shows and movies through the Internet were told to rethink their plans.

"'The Web infrastructure, and even Google's (infrastructure) doesn't scale. It's not going to offer the quality of service that consumers expect,' Vincent Dureau, Google's head of TV technology, said at the Cable Europe Congress."
Because (to put it in a few nutshells that I gathered from the article):
"The data involved in one hour of video can equal the total in one year's worth of emails. ISPs are already investing heavily every year just to keep up. YouTube et al may bring the global network to its knees."

("One cable boss in Belgium said it was 'the best news of the day' to hear that Google could not scale for video.")
So, it's looking like we should expect the no-longer "coming" but very much happening TV-Internet convergence to ride on the rails of cable television for the near future, not on just the Internet as is. It'll be a blend, certainly, but with cable companies carrying a lot more of the load than you usually hear. Until the telcos invest heavily enough in fiber optic, that is, at which point all bets are again off.

And, of course, cable's particular capability for this job won't become apparent until worsening response time on the Net starts scoring prominently on the society wide Pain-In-The-Neck Register. Because it does seem, unfortunately, the little ever happens without things first going wrong in dramatic ways.

Google and cable firms warn of risks from Web TV
By Lucas van Grinsven, Reuters, Wed. Feb 7, 2007

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Starbucks Hears the Music

Naturally, there’s no shortage of opinions that Starbucks has waded in over its head in the wrong pond by starting a record label.

From the AP story (3/13):
“Now, rather than basically lending the Starbucks brand to an album, the Los Angeles-based Hear Music label will sign its own artists and sell records through Starbucks stores and other retailers.”
Makes perfect sense to me: not only has sophisticated music been an essential ingredient in their presentation from the start, but they’ve been pushing individual artists and recordings in their stores for years, and, it’s always seemed, very successfully. (They're quoted as claiming music to be only 1% of their business.)

Of course it’s in character for them: the first part of their name, the leadoff sound, has always been "Star." And success in the music biz has always been about stars and hits – the money’s made with them, which supports the rest of the bets you place in constant search for winners.

Hear Music says they won’t build in any advantage over other retailers in distribution or prices. Music stores had better start serving top-drawer coffee, though: the coffeeshops put their product in front of 44 million customers per week. This should certainly expand their role as another Oprah.

(Thank goodness they seemed to have leveled off from the frenzy of store openings of years past – one of the funniest bits I ever saw in the Onion was about a Starbucks that opened in the restroom of an existing Starbucks. And it is true that a drive down Harvard Ave in Boston, for example, will make you feel like Bill Murray’s Groundhogged newsman. Sure smells good, though.)

Starbucks Launches Record Label
By CURT WOODWARD, AP, 3/13/07
Related, here:
Brick and mortar e-music & bookstores (2/12/07)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Payola settlement with Big Radio to boost indie artists

Ironically, on the same day as the bad news for smalltime music webcasters, the news that the FCC is going to force the four major radio broadcasters to play more indie labels and local artists, plus fine the broadcasting co.'s a few mil each.

Well, aah'll be! Never thought I'd see the day. It's not quite the Berlin Wall being torn down, but a bit similar in spirit.

The broadcasting companies involved are CBS Radio, Clear Channel, Entercom, and Citadel.

FCC Settles Payola Case with Giant Radio Firms
broadcast on NPR's All Things Considered, March 5, 2007, by Neda Ulaby
This being National Public Radio, you can also listen to the story, which I heard on my "terrestrial radio" (on WNYE) while driving to Kingston, NY, to meet with a couple companies.

The New York Times' article (by Jeff Leeds) makes the point that it was New York now-Governer Eliot Spitzer who got the ball rolling when he was Attorney General, which, along with his other taking on of the Bigs, got him his new job. The confessed Payolists are now paying "to resolve claims that they accepted cash and other incentives in exchange for playing songs," that they were "auctioning off the airwaves."

(See? They still are called "the airwaves.")

Monday, March 05, 2007

U.S. Copyright Royalty Board deep-6's music Webcasts?

from Wired yesterday, Sunday 3/4. Extracted, tinkered-with quotes (because it's more fun to take the extra step,) of the article in their Listening Post blogcolumn:

The U.S. Copyright Royalty Board (the who?) announced new royalty rates for webcasts, effective from 2006 to 2010. The board apparently simply endorsed the RIAA's proposal, which would force webcasters to pay for each song streamed to each user, estimated at over a penny an hour for each pair of receiving ears.

The Radio and Internet Newsletter (RAIN)'s math indicates the rate would render Internet radio unsustainable, or at the very least, more ad-laden than terrestrial radio(!) -- and that's before the songwriters' licenses are figured in. Even tiny sites would owe the minimum of $500 per channel per year...

Webcasters have a 15-day period to ask the CRB to rehear arguments.

http://blog.wired.com/music/2007/03/us_copyright_ro.html
Here, hear! Easy prediction: besides pulling the plug on smalltime and amateur webcasters, ciao to Web streams of so-called "terrestrial radio" (again, quite a misnomer since you don't stick a radio antenna in the ground; they transmit through what used to be called "the airwaves"). There was a period some years back when some similarly bone-headed ruling made many radio stations decide to take down their Web streams, which then went back up when whoever changed their mind.

"...more ad-laden than terrestrial radio"? Is that even possible? I can't listen to much commercial radio for its oversaturation of ads, a disproportional amount being loud rude ones.

But what'll happen to all those neat stations in iTunes?

Wired's article even has a picture of said Board being sworn in; starting today they'll be sworn at.

Update on the Webcast royalty decision

RAIN (the Radio And Internet Newsletter) quoted in the Wired article says the most successful medium-sized webcaster, Radio Paradise, would owe over 125% of total income. They and the littler guys are toast.

They figure AOL radio would owe $20 million for 2006 -- not only is it retroactive, but increases in each of the five years the ruling will cover.

But -- big surprise -- Clear Channel and the other bigs get off the hook with manageable dues, due to a wrinkle in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, the infamous DMCA. (Folklore has it that there were some politics involved).

from the RAIN newsletter
(...Because here in America-As-Texas, we like everything BIG. And only big.)

===
The Radio Paradise people started a very passionate Save Internet Radio site, apparently over the weekend.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Al Gore, crusader (& comedian, even!)

(The rare post containing any political content whatsoever)
I missed Al Gore's Oscar acceptance speech for "An Inconvenient Truth," with his remarks appropriately addressed not just to the glitterati and their adorers, or even just the country, but also to "people all over the world," that we must tackle the crisis of our critically deteriorating environment.

I know from having lived many years in some of the most international cities in our country (NY, Miami, now even Boston), and having received quite an earful from many people born somewhere else, that the rest of the world pretty much considers Americans to be completely concentrated on ourselves, to the exclusion of caring about anyone else. So, nice touch, Mr. Gore.

Contrast this with the current V.P.'s incredible statement this past week that "there's no consensus" that human factors are melting the North Pole(!). Wow; now there's some truly superior powers of denial, hm?
All I saw of the "women's Super Bowl" (as it's known in marketing,) besides the performances of the nominated songs was Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio's turn, with their clever bit on, "Are you sure you don't have anything to announce tonight?" Well done. Without belaboring the point too much here, could we not use an otherwise qualified President who isn't afraid to show a little sense of humor? (Or is that just too much to ask in these rancorous times?)

(Reuters version, in two parts:)
"Gore takes center stage at Oscars"
"With Gore's goading, Hollywood goes green at Oscars"

The rare Prediction
While on the subject on Al Gore and what seems like next month's Presidential election (just this once, because politics is not our thing), I'm ready to predict that whoever's nominated for the Democratic ticket will not be someone who has already declared.

The current candidates will be out there as targets for too long, and after they've either run out of steam or been run out of town on a rail, some still relatively untarnished "statesman" (make that "statesperson") will step in to take it. The last one standing, you might say.

This election is reminding me of the way they start Christmas sales the day after Halloween -- hey, that's just too damn early! C'mon, you're spoiling the party.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Invited to do a testimonial for WGBH

I’m very pleased to report being invited to visit Boston’s NPR station, WGBH 89.7 fm, to be interviewed for a testimonial. This is a result of a post in here, Classical Radio Lives To Tell The Tale, from earlier in the winter.

That one was to spread the word on the relocation of the other Boston-area station that plays classical music, WCRB (now at 99.5), at which time I felt happily obliged to mention WGBH.

Why are these stations important? Because, in short, (Western) classical music contains an abundance of qualities which otherwise seem to be in decline in our culture these days, like intelligence and soothing beauty.

To shamelessly quote from November’s entry, these two stations provide “the only consistently quieter, more relaxed sound that’s always available on the public airwaves around here. Concerned about road rage? As thousands of monitored plants from dozens of studies will tell you, classical music is soothing, calming, gently supportive, and all those similar qualities so frighteningly missing from Storrow Drive, Route 128, et al, for at least six hours each weekday.” (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)

Related, here:
Classical Music Lives To Tell The Tale

Monday, February 12, 2007

Brick and mortar e-music & bookstores

I’ve sometimes conducted my web surfing and electronic communications from an independent bookstore, Lord help them, but I feel guilty about it because I never buy anything besides coffee and a pastry.

The last time I moved, I’d accumulated far too many shelves and boxes’ worth of volumes to deal with, and I got to the point of deciding half of them had to go. Either they got read by then or didn’t, but I wasn’t going to move them again, except to the bins in back of the library.

The mad magazine and newspaper reading I used to do (and the Mad Magazine reading, too,) has also been replaced by making the rounds of numerous favored sites, and then a large number of the sites the first ones point me to, work up a lather, repeat as necessary.

There’s so much to read there, such linkical overabundance, you feel as if you never have time for more than a taste of it all. Why buy more of it on paper, which you'll then have to carry back out your door?

So what’s a indie bookstore owner to do? Being so cybernetic, I naturally turned to the idea of suggesting they adapt to, you might say “co-opt,” the competition, that being the electronic distribution of “content.” (Ick -- can’t stand that word, but it is so damnably accurate and convenient, if empty and bland; in fact, the term itself is devoid of content.)
I just had my first encounter a couple weeks back with a Starbucks/Hear Music store in Miami Beach, one of seven in the country, begun in mid 2005. I bought my sister a new Jeff Beck album with singer Imogen Heap and carried it out, which was pretty good considering that they didn’t have it in stock. But they did, of course – in the database.

A resident Starbuckian introduced me to the system, where we just did a search for the album and poured it into a CD, I handed over about 13 bucks and walked out with the disc. They said it was full audio, not MP3s, and it comes in a generic though classy case, with a tiny, maybe 1” square cutout of the album cover.

Imagine, as if CDs weren’t already small-enough canvasses for the once-glorious medium of album cover art. But it’s still pretty cool to combine the vast storage of digital choices with the ability to walk out of a store with something new in your hand. One hopes a little more generous helping of the visuals could be worked out with the rights holders.

The bookstore business is essentially about selling information organized into ideas and products for consumption. How about making the store a destination where people can lounge around in the contemporary fashion, wirelessly connected, sipping on downloads and highly customized digital offerings?

What can a store offer that a downloader can't get at home, at least in the same way?
• wide-angle viewing of visual media
• a (semi-)professionally produced product, for show and tell with their friends
• community
• coffee (not their same old grind,) and snacks

Thursday, February 08, 2007

"18 inventors picked to join Hall of Fame"

(From the story by Natasha T. Metzler, AP - here in BusinessWeek:)

"Inventors of the MRI, the Ethernet, the LP record and a popular weedkiller are among 18 people picked for induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (founded by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office and the National Council of Intellectual Property Law Associations).

"The 2007 class of inductees, announced Thursday, join luminaries such as Thomas Edison, Velcro inventor George de Mestral and Charles Goodyear, developer of vulcanized rubber..."

I can certainly relate to the LP record, the Ethernet standard, and the packet switch, another inductee, and acknowledge that magic combination of Vision and Make-It-Happenitude of their inventors (respectively, the late Peter C. Goldmark, Bob Metcalfe, Paul Baran).

But, tragically mindful of the TCI (Total Cost of Inventions), the mention of weedkiller reminds me, once again, I hope they’re also paying attention to technologies that clean house and pick up after other, messy technologies.

The other question I had regarding these Hall Of Fame selections was, why didn't they list the inductees' lifetime batting averages?

(Magazine cover: "Build Your Own Television Receiver," from 1928.)

NYC to ban PEDs outdoors?

New York City continues to make news, now with the proposed ban on pedestrian use of Portable Electronic Devices (PED – and you may have heard that HTA* here first).

A New York State Senator who shall remain mercifully nameless has proposed a ban on not just the headline-grabbing Podthing but on the whole Boysenberry/ cell phone/ video game/ palm-sized-home-theater gestault. It will be against the law to appear to be in a state of "iPod oblivion" while on a public thoroughfare.

General opinion goes well beyond mere disapproval, tending towards the slightly incredulous. At the end of this article by India’s Techtree.com, a commenter in California put it succinctly: “You can't fix stupid.”

Some predictable smirks in the headlines for a caper like this --

Lawmaker wants to outlaw street grooves said Earthtimes.org, stating the law will be for “fining pedestrians caught grooving to MP3 players while crossing the street.”

Move's afoot in NY to force iPod pedestrians to unplug
- Seattle Times, WA, where a a civil-liberties attorney suggests we also go ahead with ticketing people when they don’t look both ways before crossing.
(That's not a bad idea to consider, from all the angles, since the approaching saturation point of video surveillance, with software monitoring, will actually make that do-able.)

I mean, we did survive the Sony Walkman (or… did we, really?), an early, now-extinct species that once stalked the earth in great numbers. It bore a startling resemblance to a Pod, except that it was manually fed and the earbuds were inside-out.

It brings to mind a favorite quote of Opus (the Penguin, of course, Berke Breathed's subconscious voice): “Go away, you lawyers! Whatever happened to personal responsibility?”
( * - "High Tech Acronym," of course. And the PED thing is just a wisecrack, alright?)

But while e-jaywalking laws seem a stretch, the sense-saturating potency of all the devices we’re expected to carry around does create a situation that'll have to be dealt with. The story in Australian IT, discussing the two pedestrians who died after walking in front of moving vehicles, cites the fact that, “in one case bystanders screamed ‘watch out’ to no avail.”

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Releasing the spiders, & letting Boston off the hook

Technorati Profile
(They have you save a post with the above link for signup confirmation; finally decided to join and get in the swim of it all, after having been weblogging for almost a year now.)

Hey, don't blame me for the spiders in the title -- that's what the button in Technorati says. Being in a town that just had a 2-million-dollar cow over boxes with flashing lights under bridges, one can't be too careful with what you say these days.

Listen, while we're at it, go easy on Boston over this one, alright?, despite the fact the same promotion went off without any fuss in all the other major U.S. cities. Remember that two of the planes of September 11th took off from Logan airport, and that we get these LNG supertankers in Boston Harbor, and that makes you kinda nervous.

Just as when I was obligated to wait on line last week to then hurriedly disrobe and empty my pockets to get on a flight, we've got to be ready and willing to put up with all the hassle that comes from erring on the side of caution. (Why, they even took away my aloe vera gel -- I was unwittingly carrying more then three ounces.)

In my case, I had a small reward: at the Newark airport, I turned around to find none other than Bill Russell standing behind me(!) It was 6:30 am, and he plainly was not ready to start talking to anyone, so I just told him, "Mr. Russell, it's an honor."

No sooner had the words left my mouth than someone from the airline came up to escort him around the interrogation line, which I thought was only appropriate for such an accomplished and principled gentleman.

Excerpts from his 2001 book, "Russell Rules : 11 Lessons on Leadership from the Twentieth Century's Greatest Winner"

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Endless Vistas... of confusion

Having been at this tech thing for a goodly amount of time, I've had this policy (and learned survival skill) for almost as long: Never Buy The 1.0 Version Of Anything.

So it's been with a complete lack of surprise that I've been watching the news of Microsoft's introduction of Windows 05 (which drifted to 06... no, make that '07). IDG's Computerworld, which has been around since only the giant Mainframus Rex roamed the earth, put it succinctly (Jan. 25):
"Wait! Don't buy Windows Vista! Microsoft's new OS is the best Windows ever. But don't buy it!"

They've updated that story since (Feb. 2, by Mike Elgan,) with the amusing headline, "Windows Vista: The 'Huh?' starts now; Microsoft is confusing everyone with its new OS..." The story explains that no one knows for sure what you'll have to do to upgrade from XP: "Microsoft created this confusion by failing to tell anyone what the proof requirement would be for using an Upgrade version of Vista. Meanwhile, the Upgrade versions are poison."

Then there's the fact that MS has introduced Vista in "10 -- count 'em, 10 -- versions. Instead of giving us a simple new upgrade path to the future, they instead gave us a homework assignment."

But wait, there's more! The first "service pack" from Microsoft -- aka, bug fixes -- won't be available until late in the year. Major peripheral vendors aren't ready yet for the new operating system. (Also, attention iPod Nation, Apple is warning everyone not to upgrade to Vista yet if you want your iTunes to work, at least until the next version of iTunes "in the next few weeks.")

The Why's and How's
It's like this: software companies only make real money when they ship a major new version. It's sad but true, but most often software that's shipped (by just about everybody, and I'd love to know who this isn't true of,) is still in the beta stage, and the companies depend on the unpaid labor of all the eager-beaver early adopters, and innocent newbies, to debug their software for them.

Generally, by the time the second update is available, that application is ready for primetime. But not before.

Vista has been delayed over a year (and retailers were dismayed, to put it mildly, when it wasn't ready as promised for their biggest season, the holidays), so just as with the famous release of Windows 95 so many years ago, with 3000 known bugs, MS pushed this release out the door before they had to start to consider closing theirs.

Related, on Rosswriting.com:Scouting the Techno-Frontier
(An editorial for the AltaVista MarketSpace webzine, 1997-98)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Engineers Rule -- Again?

I could not resist a quick comment on a 1/16 article in Wired on "How Yahoo Blew It" (via the Boston Globe's Business Filter).

The article concludes, "At Yahoo, the marketers rule, and at Google the engineers rule. And for that, Yahoo is finally paying the price."

As a former Digital employee, I found this highly ironic: being an engineering-driven company was exactly what was usually blamed for DEC going down, down, and finally out.

"And the seasons, they go round and round...", in Joni's words.

Is quoting a lyricist too cheesy? Okay, then, how about Sir Isaac Newton, the inventor of gravity? As Newton's Second Law of Psychics states, "What goes around, comes around."
(...Excuse me, I'm getting a call from the Editor; just continue reading, and I'll get back to you with whatever little copy edits he might have. "What is it now? Can't you see I'm busy!?")
(Back to the serious part --)
Last summer, I went to a groundbreaking at Gordon College where Ken Olsen was being honored by naming their new science building after him. I got close enough to watch as a steady stream of his former employees came up to express their heartfelt appreciations to him, and got to see the flash in his eyes. So only then, since he was gone from Digital by the time I worked there, I felt like I got to see who Ken Olsen really was.

But I sure got to hear a lot about him from the old DEC people who were still there, and the story was told that when he came into the company cafeteria, he'd pass by all the execs and go have lunch with... the engineers.

That stuff about Google people getting a day a week to work on their own projects? That's exactly what was going on at Digital in its heyday, and it all came from Ken.


Ken Olsen, in 1972
(from DECedOut.org, a site by and for loyalists)