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, 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, 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 the Techno-Frontier
(An editorial for the AltaVista MarketSpace webzine, 1997-98)