Blog award-winner Yellow Dog is asking for a little love from his new Australian audience, hoping to get some response from Australians on how they feel about America these days.
I don't like to think of the US as one country anymore. Like the Roman empire before it fell, the US is now really at least two separate nations, geographically adjacent but culturally, economically and politically light years apart.
I'm speaking of course of the Red States and the Blue States, which couldn't be more different if there were an Atlantic Ocean in between them. I'm headed to California on business this coming January, and I know while I'm there that I see eye-to-eye with most university-educated Californians on almost any issue you can name from birth control to Kyoto Protocol or foreign policy. We eat the same, look the same, consume the same media and entertainment, want the same things for our kids, and increasingly speak the same language.
Sooner or later us enlightened citizens in the US, Australia, NZ, Canada and elsewhere should use the internet to cobble-together some kind of virtual city state that we can all belong to. We'll pay taxes into a common fund so that the virtual state can pay our various geographical states for the public infrastructure we use (even negotiating on our behalf for a better deal), we'll get ourselves a UN seat and an OPEC seat, and those geographical nations that really piss us off will find we can buy them out for more than it will cost them to go to war with us.
Wednesday, December 21
Blog award-winner Yellow Dog is asking for a little love from his new Australian audience, hoping to get some response from Australians on how they feel about America these days.
Friday, December 2
The xmas wish list continued: Oregon Scientific weather station
Originally uploaded by bigyahu.
I've got a two-storey void above the living and dining area of the new house, and I'm designating it an official zeppelin fly-over zone.
I don't care that helium is the modern chemical industry's most rapidly diminishing natural resource, I don't care that I look like a child playing with a remote control 6' zeppelin, I don't care that it costs $35, and I don't care that Alec will want to take it off me as soon as I show him how it works... I've been good, for goodness sakes!
Thursday, December 1
The ad for the position of Web Producer for Voce on Paidcontent.org goes like this:
Voce is a start-up wireless phone company, well capitalised by our industry-leading parent company...
...I've read enough already. This is the second time I've seen Voce leading with a statement along the lines of "we've raised loads of cash and we're going to spend it as fast as we can."
The first time was actually on the About Us page of their website, though thankfully that's been amended since I was there last.
Call me old-timer if you like, but back in the last web boom, none of the companies with a mission statement that led with, "we raised this much money from the following really impressive people" made it through the lean times. None of the companies that lured new employees with stories of how much money was floating around the cubicles was able to retain good staff when the going got tough. And no investor likes to see an investment boasting about how generous they've been. An investor wants to feel like they've raised just a little less than they actually need.
Anyway, call me old-timer, but when was the last time anybody got up for a lady on the bus?...(mutter, mutter...)
Wednesday, November 30
1. I am currently away from my desk, beating my head against the wall. Your message will be replied to once I have reached a level of numbness sufficient to cloud my vision to the point I am able to formulate an appropriate response to your request.
2. I am currently out at a job interview and will reply to you if I fail to get the position. Be prepared for my mood.
3. You are receiving this automatic notification because I am out of the office. If I was in, chances are you wouldn't have received anything at all.
4. I will be unable to delete all the unread, worthless emails you send me until I return from holiday on 4 April. Please be patient and your mail will be deleted in the order it was received.
5. Thank you for your email. Your credit card has been charged $5.99 for the first ten words and $1.99 for each additional word in your message.
6. The e-mail server is unable to verify your server connection and is unable to deliver this message. Please restart your computer and try sending again. (The beauty of this one is that when you return, you can see how many in-duh-viduals did this over and over).
7. Thank you for your message, which has been added to a queuing system. You are currently in 352nd place, and can expect to receive a reply in approximately 19 weeks.
8. I've run away to join a different circus.
9. I will be out of the office for the next 2 weeks for medical reasons. When I return, please refer to me as 'Margaret' instead of 'Phil.'
10. Your email is important to me. But so is global warming, third-world debt, famine relief, exercising regularly, eating properly, and flossing, and do you see me making any significant progress on those?
One month and a couple of days on from the one month anniversary of the launch of iTunes Music Store Australia and I've made the mistake of counting the number of tracks I've purchased in that time.
Holy spinning turntables batman! I've managed to buy 95 tracks in a month! Eight albums worth! $157 in only one month! I better slow down and take a moment to buy some shares in Apple.
Wonder if Apple will make a "sold X tracks in first month of iTMS Australia" announcement like they did for other international stores, or wait until the first quarterly figures are in?
Note that this has been *additive* spending, it hasn't significantly cannibalised my other online music spending (emusic.com and Amazon.) My offline retail spending is way down, of course, but it's been almost zero now for almost a year anyway.
Monday, November 28
The Australian Federal Government makes it clear that, while it opposes the death penalty, it's not prepared to miss a cricket game scheduled for the same day as the execution.
Sadly, that's entirely in-line with past governments, which have been against, for instance, human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and South Africa, but not to the point that it should stop our national teams from playing there.
And this is not a major cricket game, just the Prime Minister's XI vs the West Indies, a side that could be comfortably beaten by the federal press gallery after a heavy night on the suds on current form. Sure, the PM is the host of the game, but it's not like Australia's cricketing honour hangs (ick) on the outcome of this game. So no great loss surely for the PM if he postpones or cancels it.
In the past few weeks, we've also seen a general cabinet consensus that economic sanctions against Singapore would achieve nothing, and might risk damaging the Australian economy.
Well, is that such a bad thing? The very same Australian economy the Liberal government is claiming is at an all-time high, entirely due to its own efforts? Couldn't we afford a little pain in the back pocket to make a statement to the Singaporean government?
How much economic pain would the electorate be prepared to take in order to make it clear? How much is one Australian criminal's life worth? A million dollars? Ten million? Come on John Howard, Alexander Downer, put a dollar figure behind it and ask the people whether we're prepared to share a little economic damage.
Sunday, November 20
Entirely significant also. In a world of free/cheap bandwidth, who the hell needs to carry around a box of discs anymore? Who needs some DJ messing with the vibe? And I don't really want to listen to all my own tracks at my party, especially since my taste is slightly suspect. I'd much rather point Pandora at my speakers and set it free to get serendipitous.
In my experience, so far Pandora hasn't put a foot wrong with my own musical preferences (which are not conventional or mainstream.) In fact, I need to keep iTMS open while Pandora is running because 1 in 5 tracks is something I've never heard before that I now need to buy (if I was buying from iTMS US, I could use the links in Pandora to buy 'em direct, but AU iTMS isn't integrated.)
So, in a couple of weeks we're going to have the first of several house-warming bashes at our new house, and I'm going to hook Pandora up via iTunes and Airport Express. Let's see whether Mr D:\ and Mr J:\ can funkify da crib.
Wednesday, November 16
In a marathon six hour analyst briefing in Sydney yesterday, CEO of leading Australian blog "Why Are We Surrounded By Idiots", Mr Alan Jones, announced that the company would be changing the way it delivers latest blog posts to you via email.
"It's time we abandoned Yahoo! Groups," said Mr Jones. "It's slow, it's kludgy, it makes me approve each post, and basically, I don't work at Yahoo! anymore."
"We're also announcing the appointment of a new post email delivery provider, Feedblitz, which we believe is best positioned to take us into the 22nd century of blog community-building," he emphasised.
Current subscribers to "Why Are We Surrounded By Idiots" need to nothing other than click on the link in the email they will soon receive from Feedblitz.
In line with other major strategic initiatives announced in marathon briefings, Mr Jones also announced that the blog would be reducing staffing levels by 20% over five years.
"It just seems to be what investors demand of CEOs these days," said Jones. "With only one employee, we're unable to actually retrench anybody, but I'm actually looking forward to spending 20% less time on the blog over the next few years."
"New developments in blog technology will actually allow me to blog more productively, meaning more frequent posts, with greater wit, delivered in the blink of an eye to set-top boxes, 3G mobile phones and possibly even the fillings in your teeth."
Tuesday, November 15
Nearly fell out of my chair when I read about The Other Iraq on Bruce Sterling's blog. Sterling says maybe it's all funded by US oil companies. I say yeah, maybe, as in 'definitely maybe'. Maybe they're sucking the oil out of there and screwing the Kurds in a much more subtle and effective way than ole Saddam ever could, too.
I win the bet! Ben and I were debating whether we could let bluepulse app developers access the camera on a handset. Ben was thinking with his geek hat on about how it was impossible for a bluepulse app to break out of its Java or Symbian sandbox to address the hardware running the camera. But I was thinking like a blogger, and realise that not everything has to happen on the phone for this to work. All we need to do is let the user email their photo to a web server, like Flickr's moblogging feature, and then the bluepulse server can pick up the photo, the caption, and the mobile number it came from, and do its funky thang for the customer.
After all, why do we have a server-side 'browserless portal for mobile phones' if not to do all the tricky stuff server side? ;-)
Now, off to document this and try and get some bluepulse devheads to build something fun.
Originally uploaded by bigyahu.
Monday, November 14
Look at all the different versions of 'My Sharona' you can find and buy on iTunes Music Store (iTMS):
...that last one's worth downloading for the band's name alone!
Tuesday, November 1
Tuesday, October 25
Main reason I like my first 5 minutes with Flock: it has the nicest set of toolbar icons I've yet seen for Firefox (and yes, I am a bubblehead if that is my main reason, and yes, I am a fool to admit it in a public forum, but there you go - it's who I am.)
Friday, October 21
Not like we haven't heard rumours many times before (even stayed up all night trying to login to some AU iTunes Store server code that was left exposed) but The Australian says this time a launch date of 31 October is definitely, positively going to be announced this coming Tuesday. Sure hope so - my record label really wants to sell some music online to iPod owners!
Thursday, October 20
...they set you a monthly bandwidth limit, not a monthly storage limit. It's not about the storage. Will Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail and Google Mail wake up to that one day? I'm sure they will. USD2.00 a month for 2Gb of uploads? Great value.
Monday, October 10
Whoa! Create your own 'social application' (such as a classifieds, personals, photo sharing, tagging, news, or voting website) for free, using www.ning.com. You don't even need to know any programming to do it. More on this later when I digest this possibly momentous news myself.
Thursday, October 6
Well, it was either this or a photo of my butt, and there's nothing remarkable about my butt.
So this is not how I planned to celebrate my getting a data-enabled phone service and sending my first photos from my handset to flickr and on to my blog!
I sprained my ankle playing basketball with The MICS last night. I had thought I was over sprained ankles, having changed my training and rehab practices after a nasty series of sprains about six years ago.
This time, though, coming down from scoring a basket right under the rim, I landed on one leg, on the foot of a defender. He pulled his foot out from under me and over I went with all my weight, plus the force of the drop. Bummer!
Anyway, the point of getting a data-enabled phone service was to allow me to play with www.bluepulse.com. Why?
Well, because it's the future of the internet. No kidding. When I first started on the web in the '80s, nobody just found their own way around the web. Instead we all used nice safe walled-garden environments provided by our ISPs (in those days, Compuserve, AOL, eWorld and a few others.) Then, companies like Yahoo! and Excite taught us that we could find our own way on the web - find the stuff that worked best for us personally, not what some manager at AOL thought his customers wanted.
Well, right now, with your network operator providing you with a compulsory homepage on your cell handset, you're living in the '80s of mobile internet. And services like BluePulse will be the Yahoo!s and Excites of the second wave. Check it out, lemme know what you think.
Thursday, September 29
Someone made this remarkable assertion at an industry conference I attended:
"More than half of the world's population has no access to the internet. There are 11 nations with no internet access at all."
Don't be absurd, I thought. How do they check their email?
Meanwhile, in several African nations, all they do with their internet access is send me Nigerian bank scam spam. I'm in favour of withdrawing their internet access...
Yes, sure, let's all drag the sofa out of the lounge room away from the 100cm plasma screen, up the stairs and into the study, bring the dinner in, and sit there as a family in front of the 15" computer screen together.
Great horny toads, what are they smoking over at bigpond?
Monday, September 12
Some people just should not be allowed to submit customer reviews on Amazon.
Others should be paid to write them.
Also, family and friends, if you're reading this post, this is what I'd like to get for Christmas (as soon as it's back for sale on Amazon.)
Saturday, September 10
One of the announcements I found interesting in the Apple keynote this week, buried by the announcement of the Motorolla ROKR and iPod Nano, was that according to Apple, 30% of all new cars sold in the US in 2006 will ship with iPod connectivity either standard or an option. That's a lot of marketshare in the automotive audio market, all in a couple of years, but no more than in handheld music players, where Apple enjoys more than 70% marketshare in the US and elsewhere. It's going to happen in car audio too - it's almost unstoppable. Steve Jobs announced that Honda and Toyota would both be adding iPod connectivity in all their new models for 2005.
If I were a manufacturer of car audio systems, I'd be angling for a Motorolla-style iTunes client licensing deal as soon as Jobs' schedule has an opening. If iTunes isn't running on your auto head unit next year, you won't have much of a business in five years. Car audio manufacturers have one advantage over mobile handset manufacturers that might help - with the exception of Sony, the car audio manufacturers have never believed they are operating system magnates.
Wednesday, September 7
It's weird how Google and Yahoo! are alike in so many underlying ways. They share a lot of common IT environment DNA, and Google has poached a lot of good people from Yahoo! over the last few years (hello Katie!) but some of the similarities go much deeper still.
While working at Yahoo! we had no end of trouble with localising web pages using some internally-developed form-based admin tools. All the time, you'd go to edit the Australian English version of, say, the Terms of Service page, and then find you'd also added the same changes to all the other international English versions of Yahoo!. Or for no apparent reason, suddenly our Australian users were being shown a Privacy page that referred to Yahoo! UK & Ireland, or Canada.
The same freaky sh*t happens at Google too, so often that even though I'm not a frequent Google customer, I still see it happen about once every six months. Checking my Google AdWords program Terms and Conditions page today, I see all these references to Google Ireland mixed in, even though I'm a Google Australia customer:
Google Ireland Limited AdWords Program Terms
These Google Ireland Limited AdWords Program Terms ("Terms") are entered into by you and Google Ireland Limited ("Google") regarding the Google AdWords Program ("Program") as further described in the Program's frequently asked questions at https://adwords.google.com.au/support/bin/index.py?fulldump=1 (the "FAQs") (collectively, the "Agreement"). "You" or "you" means the party listed on the account you create and you represent you have the authority to agree to this Agreement for that party. You represent and warrant that you are authorized to act on behalf of, and bind to this Agreement, any third party for which you generate ads. You hereby agree and acknowledge:
I don't know if these very similar problems mean that Google hired someone who developed the internationalisation tools at Yahoo!, or whether there was some open-source code-sharing going on, but I can rest easy in the knowledge that if Google ever wanted to enforce these terms on me, I could show that they were invalid.
Monday, September 5
Could I ever be as thoughtless and in such poor taste as Tony Abbott? Making jokes about John Brogden's suicide attempt following sexual harassment revelations?
I don't think so, though maybe I could if I really, really tried. Nevertheless, if it's possible to do so without appearing insensitive and tasteless, I'd like to find a way to encourage the general premise that politicians who f*ck-up should commit suicide. They should certainly be marked "not for resuscitation" if they give it a really good go. We should respect their wishes, and deliver a coup de grace if we come across them during or immediately after an attempt. If you find yourself in this situation:
- First, establish whether the politician is concious. Keep in mind that conciousness is a relative state - it may be difficult to rouse some older politicians after midday even when no self-harm has been attempted, and they may have simply slipped over. Keep in mind that many National Party and Independent politicians may be rambling and incoherent as a normal state and will not require your assistance.
- Reposition the politician in the 'coma non-recovery' position. Being seated in a comfy chair in a large, airy chamber full of other politicians will have them slipping gently away in no time.
- Check the airways. If blocked, remove any items such as feet, hats, pork barrels, or classified documents that the politician may be choking on. Re-assemble them in a more air-tight manner and re-insert them, if necessary keeping the politician physically restrained until hypoxia eventually extinguishes any remaining brain cells.
- Check for blood-loss. If there is evidence of blood loss, try to speed it up with any sharp object to hand. Remember that right-wing politicians are unlikely to have any blood at all. Left-wing politicians may be proficient at appearing as if they are bleeding, when in fact they are just fine. So hack away until you're really sure they're deceased.
- Don't waste time trying to find a pulse. Chances are, there hasn't been one for quite some time.
- Some more advanced politicians, particularly cabinet ministers, prime ministers and premiers, will still be able to function normally long after they are biologically dead. You must sever the head from the body, drive a stake through the heart, and/or cremate the corpse.
I've got nothing against www.goinggone.com.au, in fact, I love that there's a place that will sell all my stuff for me on eBay. I particularly love that their office is just down the street from mine at www.homescreen.com.au, so I can take stuff in there and get it valued for free in my lunch break. I even respect their determination to do good works for various charities.
Here's my point: while I get the nice pun in calling the company "Going Gone", am I the only one who sees the potential for a subeditor to write a witty headline if the company one day hits financial troubles? As in:
- Going Gone Going Nuts
- Going Gone to see the Bank Manager
- Going Gone, Back In 10 Minutes
- Going Gone says, 'Still Going!'
- Going Gone Appoints Administrator, is Going Concern
- Going Gone Going Out Of Business
- Was Going Gone, Now Just Gone
Wednesday, August 24
I came away from the three day Immedia AMBC 2005 conference recently thinking to myself, “perhaps the answer is to skip the whole manufacturing and retail distribution malarkey, and just focus on producing and marketing music in online-only deals with artists?”
My idea would be to try to encourage independent artists who are unlikely to break even on an indie release in Australia to just release their work online thru Littoral Records. They can skip the offline altogether, or sign the rights for offline over to another label - I’m cool with that.
I still have numbers to crunch, but my hunch is that it might be significantly more profitable, albeit on much smaller volumes. And you might have to kiss your ARIA Top 20 entry goodbye as a result (hahaha).
Anyway, it’s such a good idea that Warner Music has pinched it already - how do ya like that, fer cryin’ out loud?
So maybe I’m crazy… crazy like a fox…
Tuesday, August 23
...of course, there's a competitor to yousendit.com (on the internet, there's alllllways a competitor!). www.dropload.com is very similar, although it requires you to create an account before you upload your first file. And they advertise "up to 100Mb" which is not strictly identical to yousendit's "1GB" but is probably effectively the same thing.
We've all experienced the problem of how to share large files over the internet. Don't be coy, you know what I'm talking about: the 5Mb files your email server refuses to forward; the video of a Super Bowl ad you thought was hilarious, the MP3s of the album you love, the 5 megapixel photo albums from your holiday, or the PSDs your agency needs you to review before close of business today.
Turns out there's now an answer, which goes by the name of www.yousendit.com. It's quite straightforward - upload a file of up to 1GB to yousendit.com's servers, and you'll get a URL which you can email to a friend. The file will stay online for seven days, during which time your friend can download it at their leisure (and on Australian DSL, it may take up to seven days to download 1GB!)
Send the URL in an email to a friend, or get a version that you can add to your blog or website. You can even use a secure https server for those... ahem... saucy video previews and confidential company documents you're leaking.
It's all terribly convenient, and for the time-being, entirely free. My gut says when yousendit.com finally has to derive some revenue from this, they'll try to charge uploaders per Gb, and then freak when usage plummets. Then they might try an ad-supported model, and learn (as Yahoo! and Google will probably never admit) that you can't yet pay for raw HD storage with banner ads. And then they'll either get acquired by a major player looking for a new source of registered users, or flame-out. So my advice would be to start using yousendit.com now, before the model changes and/or the company goes toes-up.
Thursday, July 28
I've bemoaned the lack of a good extensive Electronic Program Guide (EPG) in Australia and the politics behind it in previous posts. Now a UK company, Promise TV have demonstrated a prototype solution to the problem which, while obvious, is still remarkable - just bung together sufficient tuner cards and hard disk space in one device to record everything being transmitted on all channels, for the whole week!
That solves the problem of programming your device to record particular shows. You don't need an EPG so much if you know that it's all recorded there somewhere on your disk. It remains to be explained exactly how the Promise box helps you navigate through all that content, but Cory Doctorow's story mentions that all the content is indexed as its recorded.
Obviously a Promise TV box isn't going to scale economically to a 500 channel market, but in the UK, or here in Australia, where you can count all the free-to-air stations on one hand, and all the worthwhile pay TV stations on the other, this product may prove very popular. No info on pricing but UK press launch planned for August.
Having all the content stored locally raises another interesting possibility: you can't publish an extensive EPG in Australia because the networks who own the copyright won't allow it. However, if I was publishing an EPG covering the week's content stored on my Promise TV box, perhaps I own the copyright to that? And if I was to sell/share that EPG with other owners of the Promise TV box in Australia, well, maybe it's defensible? Even profitable?
More from CNet
More from BoingBoing
Friday, July 22
I've been a customer of Macquarie Bank now for a few years and it's occurred to me just now that they have one single unique advantage over their competitors:
It doesn't seem like a big deal, I know, but it makes an enormous difference to call a toll-free number to speak to someone who:
- Isn't in Mumbai
- Did finish high school
- Knows what you need; and
- Is able to do it for you immediately, without any fuss or bother, and without having to transfer you to someone else.
It shouldn't really be an exclusive point of difference, but it seems to be.
Tuesday, July 19
Hold the frickin' presses, this kind of story only comes along once a year. News Corp has announced it has acquired IntermixMedia, and according to this ABC News story it's all so Rupert Murdoch can get his hands on the hotties at www.myspace.com
"What's that? Hotties?", you say? Yes, hotties. MySpace is mostly an online community where young people come together to flirt with each other in the more overt way of young people these days.
Intermixmedia claims its whole network gets 16m US unique eyeball pairs a month, so that values these horny kids at about $48 per. Way back in when Yahoo! acquired a similar online community play - GeoCities - for similar reasons (reach, audience, online community) it paid about $4.67 billion for an audience of 19 million unique users a month. But this was at the peak of the Internet boom (we all remember how crazy valuations were back then, right?) and crucially, Yahoo! paid for GeoCities in stock, not cash!
Now consider that GeoCities was making real ad revenue at the time. The ABC story claims MySpace attracts about 8% of the total online ad market in the US, which I'm certain is complete nonsense unless we're counting ad impressions instead of ad revenue. I've been using MySpace to promote my band Karma County for about six months now and every single ad position I've seen in the network has been taken by the one advertiser, and a third-tier, small-brand, low-CPA advertiser too, if appearances are anything to go by.
Now consider the demogs of the audiences on offer. GeoCities was (still would be) unusual in that its audience was an unusually diverse set of demographics - everyone from grandparents to teens - doing all kinds of professional, personal and hobby-related stuff. MySpace is really just an 18-24 audience, with more pimples than disposable income, which makes more sense if you're a youth brand like Disney, but News Corp? OK, it owns Fox, which is a youth network, but does extending Fox's online reach really merit a billion dollar acquisition and the integration costs that follow?
If it were me, I'd be learning from the GeoCities lesson, which was that all the audience and all the revenue dried up as Yahoo! tried to bring it into the fold. The more Yahoo! tried to introduce GeoCities customers to the rest of the Y! network, the more they left in droves.
If I were Fox, I'd leave this new acquisition completely alone for five years and see if it can make its own way in the world. Start to integrate it with the rest of News too soon, and those spotty hotties, so leery of marketers trying to push brands in their face, will all leave to join some other free-to-register online flirting community, leaving Rupert holding little more than a receipt for $770m and a very clear idea of whether he's hot or not!
Thursday, June 30
In my experience, websites benefit from having a consistent editorial voice (the copy on the website reads like it's always the same person, in the same voice.) This helps the visitor identify with the "people" or company behind the website.
A consistent editorial voice can (sometimes unintentionally) polarise visitors into "I like the 'people' behind this website" and "I don't like the 'people' behind this website", but it can also be used to make the broadest possible audience feel 'at home' and comfortable, if done right.
One of my own attempts at this is the Terms and Conditions page for HomeScreen. I wanted visitors to feel comfortable about entering into a monthly credit card subscription relationship with this company they'd never heard of before; and I wanted to make it feel like HomeScreen was a company that knew how to smile.
Unfortunately, there aren't enough editorial text opportunities on HomeScreen to keep the editorial voice front-and-centre because the site is all about quickly and easily choosing DVDs to rent. There have also been many, many 'chefs' involved in this particular soup over the last three years, so the voice isn't so much consistent as verging on multiple personality disorder.
One site that does a great job of creating an open, welcoming and funny editorial voice and then keeps it consistent is www.flickr.com. This screen dump shows how Flickr has taken something dry and functional and added a little personality to the page.
Many businesses would have legal and finance people all over a page that confirmed a successful credit card transaction like this, and they would be carefully (and needlessly) removing all trace of personality and charm, lest it be used as evidence against the company one day in court proceedings.
I've seen it happen many times before - you brief a lawyer to check that one particular part of your website is OK, and once they've finished, they decide they better make sure that the rest of your website is up to the same diamond-hard legal standard. Before you know it most of your website reads like a contract, and every second word gets a superscripted asterisk or greek character, referring to a mountain of small print bigger than the copy it refers to.
Either Flickr has some cool legal and finance people (which is as likely as rain on the Moon, but is nevertheless theoretically possible) or those people don't get to run amok and surgically remove all the personality from the site. Either way it makes me love Flickr all the more.
I don't think we should run out and kill all the lawyers, by the way. Though if some way could be found to make them wear ID tags, corral them in one place, perhaps with razor wire, german shepherds and spotlights... it would primarily be for their own protection, of course...
Tuesday, June 28
Sadly, the solar sailors were unable to get their solar sail into orbit. Flaky Russian space engineering let them down and although nobody's really sure, it seems the payload and launch vehicle splashed down somewhere in the Bering Sea. Strangely, monitoring stations picked up a weak signal from it, so maybe the launch vehicle was bouyant, the satellite unfurled the sail, and the solar sail is now on a broad tack across the Bering Straight. Expect to read about eskimos reporting a mysterious metal sailing ship with a ghost crew any day now.
But the space news stays whacky: now NASA has decided to give astronauts nightmares with a voice-activated interface to their latest computer system. Why? Was a keyboard and mouse too reliable? Not scary enough? Life in space getting a little tedious without the constant threat of computer-initiated homicide? OK, my own computer has never actually tried to kill me, but getting its voice recognition software to work reliably is guaranteed to drive you insane.
Wednesday, June 22
I grew up on a steady diet of 1960s and '70s science fiction, so I can't help but be excited at the news that the world's first privately-funded solar sail project has been launched today. It certainly reads like the plot of a sci-fi novel: inspired by the widow of a visionary astronomist and thinker (Carl Sagan [we're not worthy, we're not worthy]) a group of private individuals campaigns for 20-odd years to raise the funds and support needed to send a craft powered by a solar sail into Earth orbit, in a symbolic gesture meant to inspire all of humanity to stop with the violence and the destruction and look to the stars as the next goal for humankind.
To add some further plot intrigue, they launch the payload from a freakin' decommissioned Russian nuclear submarine in the freakin' Artic circle! I mean, come on, why not launch a death ray satellite instead and hold the UN ransom for a billion dollars? [evil laugh].
Actually, it seems like a very worthy cause, and hopefully the launch and the mission will go smoothly, so all that effort counts for something. In the next few days if the satellite responds to instructions, it should begin to deploy the solar sail, at which point, if the sun, the satellite and yourself are all in alignment, you should be able to see it clearly as it zooms overhead in the night sky.
You can follow its orbit and get instructions on how to try and see it as it flies over here.
Tuesday, June 21
Had *such* a great time with the NSW Mini Club this past weekend, driving with 11-12 other Mini Cooper Ses to Walcha and back via Thunderbolts Way and the Oxley Highway, a good 500km or so.
Driving along with a line of chubby little Mini bumpers in front of you and a line of cheeky smiling Mini headlamps behind you was a blast. We got such a warm reaction from all the other cars, bikes and bystanders we passed, it was like being royalty for a weekend.
Surprisingly Mel was the only woman who drove much the whole weekend, even though most cars were owned by couples. She distinguished herself by keeping up with the fastest drivers in the twisty bits, and by equalling my own top speed (fast enough to lose our licences and then some!) on a long straight with plenty of visibility.
Wednesday, May 25
I've made the critical tactical error of dividing my available time into still tinier pieces by deciding to kick off a whole new website for one of my many side ventures, Littoral Records.
I'm trialling www.squarespace.com as a publishing platform for this, so we'll see how we go. So far, so good, but I have to wonder why they called it "squarespace" unless they really wanted to make it sound like a place for squares to hang-out. If they did, I've gone to the right place.
It's got several neato features, including:
- A 30 day free trial
- WYSIWYG inline editing
- Snap-in content modules
- Multiple contributors and account management
- Templates that don't suck
- A 30 day free trial!
Thursday, May 19
Friend and workmake Mike resigned recently to work independently, for us as well as other clients of the newly-formed development company, Grox. It's the funniest resignation letter of the year, possibly the decade.
Surry Hills Sydney
Notice of Termination Of Contract
After an appropriate period of deliberation, I have come to the decision to tender my resignation from HomeScreen Entertainment, effective April 29th, 2005. Please know that I still maintain a high level of respect for you as a manager and colleague, and I thank you sincerely for the support and assistance you have offered me in each of those roles. I have been proud to work for HomeScreen over the past year and a half; it has been a journey that has provided me an unparalleled foundation to move forward to new and exciting opportunities.
As such, I have decided to become a professional Heavy metal musician. It has always been a dream of mine to live the life of an Axe wielding riff maniac, moving from town to town in a drunken haze, spreading the evil word of Satan. Once my band of dirty long haired Satan worshipers is assembled, we shall take to the road seeking fame fortune and the chance to get laid with the choice of our many assembled groupies.
Our path may not be filled with the porcine comforts and technological marvels that HomeScreen provides, but we shall nonetheless move forward to carve a name for ourselves in the annals of the Book of Heavy Metal. Once I have learnt to play the bass that PaulG has kindly lent me i believe I will find my true calling.
Please note that I am currently accepting applications for Lead Singer, Drummer and Lead Guitar, if you are at all interested in applying. I will provide a full medical and dental plan, which will offer immediate coverage of all non self inflicted maladies related to touring such as genital herpes and crabs.
With kind regards,
Tuesday, May 17
Still a little turned-on from the thought of having sex with a life-sized Jar Jar Bonks doll, I've spent a little more time on eBay in order to suggest some other great life-sized action figure items that might spice up your sex life:
- A Superman statue carved with a chainsaw! He has no problems getting wood!
- Like 'em big, dumb and hairy? Dress him or her up in this authentic Wookie costume.
- Into the older generation, you are?
- This one is "fibre-filled, with many embellishments..." Oh, I'm getting so wet!
- I love a man in uniform
- I don't think anyone is pretending that this is anything other than a sex doll
- This listing's description even boasts of a "...large huge big horn" says it all for me
- Strictly two-dimensional, but in this case, that makes it all the more realistic
So, let's pause and reflect on what we've learned on this little excursion. I've learned that there are just too many weird "life-sized" items for sale on eBay every day - so many, it stopped being funny - maybe it's something that we should all find disturbing instead?
By the triple chins of Jabba, Chewie, get a load of the neck on George Lucas these days! He looks way too much like the offspring of an unholy union between Colonel Sanders and Boss Nass.
By the way, did you know that according to the Landover Baptist Church, you can buy a life-sized Jar Jar Binks sex doll?
"Meesah wanna takem Jar Jar now, Naboo-style, lovem long time, long time!"
Where do I get my own Jar Jar Bonks? According to those guardians of truth, justice and purity at the Church, it comes with ...four openings, and three extrusions, making it compatible for male or female pleasure! How good is that? And unlike a human female sex-doll, you don't have to pretend you're only using it to drive in the carpool lane - you only have to admit that you're a tragic Star Wars groupie (granted, only slightly less embarassing.)
I waded through 8 lengthy pages of eBay listings to find what I think is the doll in question, though I'm having a bit of trouble spotting the "openings" and "extrusions" they have in mind from the photos included in the listing. So, I've done the right thing and asked the seller a question about it:
Say, this is not the Jar Jar Binks doll that has been recommended as a sex toy, is it? If so, has it been dry-cleaned?
...I'll let you know what they say.
Friday, April 22
I haven't written for a few days because, like the rest of the world, I've been spellbound by the whacky goings-on of that eccentric religious cult, Catholicism, as it goes about choosing a new great leader.
A bunch of Cardinals locked in a room, not allowed out until they choose God's earthly spokesperson from amongst themselves? Signalling the result to the world with coloured smoke from a chimney? I mean, come on! If these guys were all wearing the same sneakers and white tee-shirts and mixing a big tub of KoolAid, you'd even think twice before calling them an orthodox religion. If they were all holed up in the same compound in Lunkhead, Texas, the FBI would have already stormed and burned-down the Vatican, and most of the cardinals would have died in a shootout with federal agents by now.
I see a lot of parallels with Tibetan Buddhism in the the papal selection process too - the transformation of the candidate from "just some Cardinal" into "infallible voice of God" over the course of a few days in a closed room. A mere mortal (granted a venerated and elite one) comes out after all that smoke and ceremony as a semi-deity with the authority to speak on behalf of God.
If anything, the Tibetans are a bit more plausible about it, choosing a young boy who isn't yet aware he's the reincarnation of some long-dead Lama. Catholics, on the other hand, believe that God (who as all-seeing, all-powerful-dude, is certainly capable of choosing and appointing his own Pope directly) is going to be OK to work with the most politically-savvy and double-dealing amongst the cardinals. Getting appointed a cardinal is somewhere between becoming a Mafia don and becoming President of the USA in terms of the kind of backing you need... and the backs you need to stab.
Anyway, once the most-Macchiavellian of the cardinals takes the chair, suddenly he goes from crusty, forgetful old greyhair in a red robe to infallible voice-of-God. With merely a change of outfit for special effects. We haven't seen anything like it since Yoda's transformation from hunched-with-a-walking-stick to triple-somersault-over-your-head-with-spinning-back-kick-and-fireballs.
I can only suppose a Pope's infallibility is strictly limited to matters of Catholic doctrine, not every day life, as otherwise you could go to the Pope for your footy tips, or lottery numbers. The mafia would have him locked in a damp cellar somewhere, fixing the odds.
I've been giving it a lot of thought and I have a new way to choose a pope once 'ole Ratty' takes the last Popemobile to the catacombs. I tested and rejected some great ideas along the way to get here too, ideas like "Choose the short shepherd's staff" and "Lets through our names on bits of paper into the tall pointy hat", and even, "Eeenie, meanie, minie mo, catechism by the toe..."
I've gone for something more up-to-date and in-tune with modern culture. And it would rate better too. I call it "Papal Idol", and like the popular "[insert country name here] Idol" it would choose a small group of talented people from massive open try-outs (we might refer to them as "mass") appoint them cardinals for a television season, and then winnow them down through a rigorous and gruelling series of musical performances until only one was left, asking the faithful to SMS in their vote each week. If God's OK with a bunch of crusty old men choosing a Pope from their midst, you have to figure He'd be awestruck with the talents and popularity of the best singing, dancing Pope, as chosen by the people.
And Catholicism having a bazillion followers, most with modern mobile phone networks, the SMS revenue from this would be stunning, even by Vatican standards.
Anyway, I'm over this pope now, he can't even think of an original stage name for himself, like "Bardot" or "N'Sync". He's clearly being managed poorly. I'm predicting it's going to be a very long thirty years, without so much as even a charting single, much less a Top 20 album.
Wednesday, April 13
According to today's Computer Daily News, the US Army's Stryker Brigade, operating in the city of Mosul, will begin using a new WiFi-enabled landmine, codename 'matrix' in June of this year. Soldiers will be able to detonate individual landmines from a laptop with a touchscreen. Sadly, I couldn't find a web reference to it anywhere.
I don't know what's weirder - WiFi mines, or that there's actually a unit of the US Army called "The Stryker Brigade" (which sounds more like a heavy metal band than a professional soldiering outfit, but from what I understand there's a high degree of cross-over between those two trades these days.)
I assume these WiFi mines will be firewall-protected against insurgents with WiFi sniffers and probes. I wonder if they'll stream music from my powerbook like an Apple Airport Express would... talk about explosive bass!
Tuesday, April 12
well, that didn't take long. yahoo! 360 is only a few weeks into its beta period. i remember when y! groups was the fastest-growing home porn publishing platform on the innernet. why, it got so big, when y! started moving them to a restricted adult category and restricting their archive size, there even proved to be a business in archiving adult-related y! groups.
now y! groups is so passe, so lacking in pastel bgcolors, but yahoo! 360 comes to the rescue. Probably less than 100k yahoo! 36o subscribers out there, but already it's got the attention of a few teen porn publishers.
and why not? yahoo! 360 has an easy memorable URL option, it's got a blog that can include images, it's got photo albums, and it's got an easy way to stay in touch with (cough cough) "friends". that's about all you need to get started in the SMEP (Small/Medium Enterprise Porn) business. yahoo! 360 is an easy and free way to attract crowds to your porn website, or to someone else's (and you collect a share of clickthru or sub revenues.)
yahoo! can try and minimize the porn by using "bad word" bots to search for shady stuff, and customer service "abuse" reps to scour the user pages and delete the bad guys/gals, but all that costs money, and so far, i don't see where yahoo! 360 is gonna earn any revenue...
if there were anybody left at yahoo! who remembered how this happened once before with yahoo! groups, perhaps this need never have happened.
or, someone in charge at yahoo! could have taken a leaf out of the book of business networking sites like linkedin.com and the way they don't let you advertise to just anybody, requiring you to be introduced to other members who have already verified your identity.
instead, now all we need is one Concerned Parents Lobby or Ban Internet Porn for Jesus campaigner to get wind of this, go rant to a journalist, and it's bad press coverage for months to cum... sorry, that should read "come".
Monday, April 4
Funny that this announcement came on the heels of Yahoo!'s decision to up Yahoo! Mail accounts to 1Gb, and Google's decision to see Yahoo! and raise it another 1Gb to offer 2Gb to its Gmail users. As even the product manager admitted in an interview, only a tiny % of customers actually need 2Gb. Suspect fewer than 10% need more than 100Mb.
But everybody gets Phished. Now it's time for Google to really get serious and add anti-viral scanning of email attachments. Yahoo! Mail has offered Norton Anti-Virus scanning of email attachments for a couple of years now, and it is very, very good, stopping both incoming and outgoing viruses.
While we're requesting improvements in Google, que diriez-vous d'ajouter des versions internationales de langue � Gmail? (OK, I got that from AltaVista.)
What's that? Add international language support to Google? You mean people use the Internet in languages other than English? Allah be praised, indeed they do. Why, there's now more than 200 million Europeans using the net alone, and many more Japanese and Chinese-language speakers, and you can bet they would prefer to do it in their native language if possible.
Yahoo! Mail has been available in 10 or so different languages for many years, while Google Mail is still only available in English (though if you're interested in helping, Google is hoping to enlist freelancers to help it make up some ground.)
Google is way behind Yahoo! when it comes to servicing an international audience. Only its search engine is available in languages other than English, and even then, it's a tiny subset of common net languages.
Yahoo! Mail's final hidden advantage over GMail is its integration with Yahoo!'s PIM services - Addressbook, Calendar, Notepad, Photos and Briefcase. They're even accessible via mobile phone (both WAP and SMS) and in some markets, also offer voice control. It's possible to access your whole life over the net with Yahoo! - it's not possible to do that with Google.
GMail may have a little more street cred, a legacy of its lengthy marketing campaign dressed up as an exclusive beta test, and a slightly slicker UI, but both are eroding fast. Where should we look next in web mail functionality? How about incorporating the cool date view slider from Flickr, which Yahoo! recently acquired. In the meantime, GMail looks much more like an 'afterthought product' than a strategic stake in the ground in the desktop wars.
Thursday, March 31
Whoops, thanks to goonker for correcting me on this one: Yahoo! did have a chief scientist while I was there - the most excellent Dr Udi Manber. Sadly, Dr Manber is not as silly a name as Dr Flake.
Goonker describes Udi as a "nice dude, uber geek". Udi now serves as CEO at A9, the search engine Amazon would rather you use.
Wednesday, March 30
Initial impressions after a short 15min drive were very favourable. This is one of the first Cooper S Cabrios in the land with the 6 speed selectronic auto box, so was dying to see how well it worked in 'manual' mode (toggles on steering wheel or snick the shift up or down). Especially because we couldnt test that before we put our money down (wasn't a demo car in the country). Good news: it rocks! Better than the manual mode in the Smart, the Pug or the Boxster, even than the Cooper S (which has had an older 5-speed selectronic up until now). Full auto ain't bad either.
Heaps of go, as per a normal Cooper S, presumably a little slower due to extra weight for stiffness.
It's alive! It's alive! Mel's beaut new car. She just picked it up this afternoon and I didn't get to see it until after sunset. Begged for a drive and got to take it out after Alec finally went to bed. Seen here at the service station to get a little light on it. Just the phonecam, sorry, will get the 4mb onto it tomorrow.
Monday, March 28
Yahoo! Research Labs
System Unavailable. Thank you for visiting the Tech Buzz Game. The game is temporarily suspended while we conduct system maintenance. Market discrepancies are presently being investigated. Trading will resume as soon as possible.
When do you know your market simulation is really accurate? When someone attempts to fraudulently manipulate it, just like a real market! Yahoo!'s a veteran of this kind of hacking - sources within the company say hackers have targeted Yahoo! Sports fantasy games on several occassions in the past, but this is much more interesting, because the Yahoo! Tech Buzz website wasn't only harmless fun for deskbound sports fans, it was an earnest attempt to predict the success of future technologies using the emerging science of articifical markets.
Yahoo! Tech Buzz is pretty serious stuff, the pet project of Dr. Gary William Flake, Yahoo!'s principal scientist, and Senior Research Scientist Dr. David Pennock (hmmm when I was at Yahoo! it never had a Chief Scientist, so this must be serious, but did they have to hire a guy called "Doctor Flake"?.) It's also a co-development with serious IT research house O'Reilly Media and Newsfutures.com, a company specialising in the 'opinion markets' software the Tech Buzz experiment uses.
For an opinionated geek like me, Tech Buzz sounded like so much fun, I would give my left mobile phone holster to play. Sign up, be assigned $10,000 in a virtual cash management account, and then buy and sell not just virtual shares in tech companies, but also in individual technologies, markets, brands, and even ideas. Think WiMax is going to be enormous? Buy big. Think Apple is going to finally win back some marketshare in PC sales? Buy again. Think on-demand movies over the internet will be a success? Hit the buy button.
More interestingly, prices in the Tech Buzz game are set by the 'buzz' - the amount of excitement about each stock you're buying and selling. Like any market, the buzz includes the volume and price of shares bought and sold. Unlike other markets, it appears to also factor in the number of people searching on these keywords in Yahoo!'s humungous daily worldwide search traffic.
The theory of opinion markets like these is that they can more accurately predict the future than reading tea leaves. The published research shows that opinion markets have accurately predicted presidential elections, Academy Award winners, and pork belly futures in the past.
In any simulation, the greater the accuracy, the better the results. With greater accuracy, however, will come some of the challenges of the reality you're trying to simulate. For instance, soldiers training in a battle combat simulator will try harder to stay 'alive' if they know they only get one 'life', but you don't get much training if you only stay 'alive' for the first five minutes. Just like the real IT markets the Tech Buzz game is modelled on, somebody's been hacking to improve their position, or the position of their employer, or just to prove it can be hacked.
Looking at it one way, it's an encouraging sign of the accuracy of the Tech Buzz simulation if someone really has successfully hacked it to improve their standing, or to make their company, brand or technology look better in this very public forum. But if your glass is half-empty, then the Yahoo! Tech Buzz game was first hacked only two weeks after it launched, and will be hacked again and again, distorting the underlying opinion market and the final results until either Doctor Flake packs up his bat and ball and goes home, or the winning technologies/brands/memes are declared as "Hacker networks" and "Linux".
Because my Apple Mac is so smart, so much of the time, when on occasion it wants to do something dumb, it's much more frustrating than it would be on a dumber machine.
For instance, I know that in a Windoze environment, the auto software update facility would forever be bugging me to download and install all sorts of crud, 90% of which would be designed to address problems I would never experience on my own Windoze config. I expect Microsoft's auto updater to be dumb, and to not really know anything about my config, so that I am forced to download crap to patch drivers video cards I don't own, for peripherals I don't need, and for software I don't use.
I expect a Microsoft auto updater to keep downloading great wads of pointless, inefficient, poorly-written cruft once a week until eventually my hard disk is too full of software updates to have any room left for my personal files. Being from Microsoft, if I delete a software update that doesn't relate to my machine, the next time the auto updater runs, I expect it to note the absent installer and download it again, even though the patch the installer adds was already applied and is still in place.
As a Microsoft product, if I uncheck a particular item in my latest payload of recommended dreck, I expect that next time the updater runs, it will forget I ever unchecked it, and recommend it for download again. And again. And again. Until I download and install it, dammit, and relinquish all free will and commonsense. For that is the price of working with the world's most common operating system.
So when all this happens to me on my Apple Mac, in OS X, I'm initially disappointed, maybe even blaming myself, thinking I've missed something that can make it all behave itself, or that Apple's just having a bad month and the auto updater will sort itself out in a week or two.
But no, this crap has been going on now since I first started running OS X, and it's haunting me still. Today the Software Update application wants me to download and install a 30Mb update to the iPod Photo software, bringing it to version 1.1, adding slideshow transitions and support for the new iPod Camera Connector for use with the iPod Photo. Which would be super-fabbo if maybe I owned an iPod Photo! Otherwise it's 30Mb (i dunno, but maybe 50Mb once unpacked and installed) of cruft I don't want to pay my ISP to download, that I don't want slowing down my computer, and that I could use to store a few more albums of music for the non-photo iPod I do own, fer chrissakes!
Come on Apple, make the Software Update application smart enough to sense what version of iPod is commonly connected to the Mac it's running on, not to mention the printers, cameras and other peripheral devices. And if a customer unticks something in the recommended downloads list, be smart enough to remember that choice and assume the customer knew what they were doing. This would not be rocket science... it would not even be diesel maintenance.
Wednesday, March 23
Now here's a product that I guarantee will change the way you drive... unless you already drive like sh*t. It's the product of the future that you didn't know you needed until you read it here first!
It's called Indipod, and well, if you've always been struggling to get to number two on the grid, well, here's your chance to do a number two on the grid.
An inflatable 'privacy bubble' encloses a portable loo in a bouncy-castle-like space where you can hermetically seal in those unpleasant odours and escape the prying eyes of passing motorists wondering what you're doing with your pants around your ankles. The Indipod holds up to "8 person days" - 8 days worth for one person, one day for eight people, or an unholy scramble for five people over three days. Fortunately, clever fluids within the Indipod, purchasable separately along with a range of other accessories, means it doesn't smell too bad when you open it up and flush the contents when you finally do make it to a plumbed toilet.
I have only three questions unanswered after perusing the website in great detail: (a) Can I watch in-car DVDs in there?; (b) If not, can I read the paper?; and (c) How aggressively can I drive before the Indipod starts sloshing back and forth back there, making my Subaru Forester sound like an aquarium shop delivery van?
The revolution will be televised, but it will start later than scheduled because 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' will run late again. You'll have set the recorder to tape it, and when you sit down to watch it later in the week, with growing horror you'll count four minutes and thirty seconds of Millionare and an ad break before it starts, meaning you'll never get to see how the revolution ended, and who won.
You'll have to wait for the weekend papers for the in-depth analysis, but that will be written assuming you watched it and saw how it ended. So much of it will make no sense to you, and the rest of it will just raise more questions than answers. But you'll be too embarassed to ask anyone about it. So you'll keep on living your life, wondering if Good or Evil triumphed in the end. And if Good triumphed, how come nothing changes? Is this as Good as it gets? Or is this a slow descent into Evil you're experiencing? A downhill grade so gentle you won't even feel the heat until the flames are higher than your head?
Sadly, it's not possible for mere mortals to kill a television network programming executive. They are undead already, even if Good triumphs.
Tuesday, March 15
Is it just me, or was the DMC DeLorean the only cool thing in the entire "Back To The Future" franchise? Who'd have thought people would still be restoring and driving them, though? Sounds like a total bomb, reminds me of the first car I ever owned, the lamentably citrus-like Leyland Marina. Oooh that car was a stinker. When it was stolen, the police interviewed me, suspicious because it was the first Marina to be stolen in the country, and this was a 20 year old car!
Tuesday, March 8
Walking past the carpark at News Limited this afternoon and managed to snaggle some photos of a new left-hand drive Mini Cooper stretch limousine being prepped for a photo shoot.
I have three exclusive photos of the Mini Cooper limo here:
I've edited together this video too. It includes a cool shot of it backing out of the carpark - it takes forever!
You might hear a clattering diesel in the background but that was a Land Rover waiting to enter the same carpark, not the Mini Cooper limo.
I want a Mini Cooper stretch limo too, but only if its a John Cooper Works stretch limo, and I'd be happy to sacrifice a little boot space for an additional engine and transmission in the rear, or I'd never make it to the church on time.
Monday, March 7
As a Greenpeace Australia member I got an email this morning urging me to support Greenpeace Japan in its campaign to stop the construction of a US military base in a coral reef area home to the endangered Japanese dugong.
I didn't know much about the Japanese dugong (I've never seen it appear the sushi or sashimi menu) but I wanted to show my support anyway because I'm generally not in favour of US military bases anywhere, for any reason. So I headed over to the website, hoping to find some endearingly cute Japanese-style enviro-action. Initially wasn't disappointed, because there's a little anime action there, with a cartoon Bush and Kanizawa getting their runway eroded every time a supporter leaves a message on the site's messageboard area, while a dugong swims around the reef below. But wait, what's that in the campaign logo? Surely that's not meant to be a dugong?
Judging by the Hello Kitty-style dugong logo for the campaign, you'd think the Japanese dugong has a head like a jellyfish, with stubby tentacles where the mouth ought to be. What's up with that? You'd think the first step in saving a species of animal would knowing what it looks like, but apparently not if you're Japanese. It's more important that it's cute, and preferrably, tentacled.
What's up with the Japanese and their tentacles anyway? Every second anime you see has a lot of tentacle action, usually popping forth from the throbbing torso of some really angry/bioenhanced/mutated/radioactive dissafected youth/scientist/evil superhero/witch/robot. Usually the tentacles go writhing across the room to pick up and throw your hero/heroine into a pile of boxes, or to imprison and constrict your heaving, gasping heroine so that she's left gasping, sweaty, and powerless... oh, wait a sec...
Turns out I'm last to figure this out as usual, but there's a whole sexual tentacle fetish thing happening that I wasn't aware of. Search on "anime tentacles" and you realise there's yet another bunch of deeply sick weirdos out there into tentacle sex. Nine inches is nowhere enough for these people, try 12 metres.
Hey, each to their own, but it leaves me with the worrying afterthought that the tentacles on the Japanese dugong icon might be the expression of deeply sublimated dugong lust somewhere in the Japanese psyche. I can see the Greenpeace Japan boss saying to his people, "OK, I know we said that in order to save the dugong we first have to learn to love the dugong, but Hideo, your wetsuit is pretty tight, and I can see that you've misunderstood me on this one."
Monday, February 28
5. (At the zoo...) Can we go and see the Oryx, Daddy?
4. Daddy, the Neanderthal kills the hairy rhino with his spear, and then he cuts his fur off with the spear, and eats his meat!
3. Opening a conversation with another three year-old with "Did you see the sabre-tooth cat chasing the mammoth?" instead of "Did you see The Incredibles"?
2. Waking up first thing in the morning with "Mummy, are the animals awake yet?"
And coming in at Number One...
1. Mummy, you and Daddy did mating to make me, didn't you?
Tuesday, February 22
Foxtel's IQ set-top box will fail to set the world on fire, but to understand why, you need to become familiar with a TLA (Three Letter Acronym), and not the one you'd first expect. While the meeja is excited because the Foxtel IQ is a "PVR" (Personal Video Recorder), the TLA that really matters for this product is actually EPG (Electronic Program Guide).
It's the lack of a decent EPG that really kills it, not the exorbitant $395 cost, $100 setup fee and monthly $5.95 service fee.
You see, buy a PVR without an EPG and you've just paid $495 upfront and $70 a year for something with only slightly more functionality than a VHS VCR ("Video Home System", "Video Cassette Recorder") which would cost you about $150, plus maybe $50 in VHS tapes.
An EPG is an online version of your newspaper's printed television guide (minus the editorial guidance on what's good and what's not.) The more shows you have to choose from, and the more channels they screen on, the more value in an EPG. No more complex timer record setup, no more keying-in a six digit G-code from the printed guide, only to find later that the program didn't start on its scheduled time. You just browse through the EPG with the cursor keys on your PVR's remote, and select a program with the touch of a button. Whether the IQ can automatically record shows featuring your favourite stars is unclear, but it's possible - in the US your TiVo will do that, as well as automatically recommend shows to you based on your viewing tastes.
While an EPG's value increases in proportion to the volume of content available, the value of a PVR is also in direct proportion to the volume and depth of content in the accompanying EPG. The reverse is also true: if your EPG sucks, your PVR may as well be a lead ingot.
You'd think, with the combined smarts of Foxtel and its owners, Telstra, PBL and News Corp on-hand, that someone at Foxtel would understand that. Maybe someone there does, but they're not in charge, because sources close to the company tell me that the IQ's EPG only covers Foxtel's pay channels and PBL's Channel Nine free-to-air schedule.
In other words, if what you want to record and watch is on the 75% of free-to-air programming that isn't on Channel Nine (and that's arguably 90% of what's actually worth watching) then you better pickup the newspaper and get ready for recorder setup the old fashioned way with the rest of us pre-digital slobs.
Why? Because the other commercial channels own the copyright to their own TV programming schedule, and they won't license the rights to HWW (used to be an acronym for Horan Wall & Walker but now it's just the publishers of the Foxtel EPG). Why won't they license the rights so we can have a decent EPG? Because Foxtel is 25% owned by PBL, owner of Channel Nine, and deadly competitor to the other channels.
No (in case you're wondering if it's just you) it doesn't make sense: here's a company (HWW) that wants to market your products - encourage people to watch your programming by giving them an easy way to navigate it and optionally record it. The easier your programming is to find, the more people are going to watch it, right? And the more people watch it, the more your advertising is worth, right? All this is sacrificed in a petty, paranoid, pointless gesture, and as a side-effect, it leaves the Foxtel IQ, Australia's first commercial PVR, a still-born waste of launch budget.
There is an Australian TV enthusiast community busy building their own PVR systems, a whole spectrum from hackers cobbling them together out of xboxes and Linux PCs through to inventors and entrepeneurs hoping to become The Next Big Thing. And the single greatest missing ingredient is a great EPG. Without a broad and deep EPG, any PVR is DOA (Dead On Arrival).
You can't publish an EPG without the permission of the networks as copyright owners, and even if you're not affiliated with a competitor, the networks fear that your work will make it possible for PVR owners to skip ads and cut ad revenue.
Maybe there's a business in publishing a paid-subscription EPG in multiple formats for a broad range of Australian PVRs - there certainly seems to be pent-up demand. But without copyright owner permission, you'd have to base your business overseas, somewhere without a FTA (Free Trade Agreement) with Australia.
Hmm... kicking back on the beach in Malaysia or Indonesia, once in a while getting up to check on the progress of a sweatshop of underpaid locals busy keying-in the TV guide section of the Australian newspapers and the Foxtel print guide? Watching the online credit card payments grow? It sounds like a great life.
Meanwhile, the IQ is cheap as an alternative to a $1000+ HD (Hard Disk) recorder, but you don't get to own the device. It remains Foxtel's property, and when you stop paying for your Foxtel subscription, your recorded content is deleted and they take the IQ back. Unlike most HD recorders, it doesn't offer a way to record your programs permanently to external media, such as a DVD-R, so you don't get to keep the programs you've recorded (which would be illegal under Australia's antediluvian copyright law, but we all flaunt that anyway).
The only glimmer of hope in the whole mess is a mysterious USB port that's reportedly hiding in the back of the Foxtel IQ. What it's for remains a mystery, but maybe it's a way for hackers to output their digital video recordings to another device, or import a decent open-source EPG... stay tuned... or not...
Monday, February 21
Napster has announced its new 'fightback' subscription model - 2 week trial, USD15 a month, and unlimited downloads. They're making as big a splash about it as they can afford, reportedly including a Superbowl TV spot. Oh, that takes me back! Remember when all you had to do to raise VC funding for a new Internet company was to book a Superbowl ad?
The company's "Do The Math" campaign shows that you can get 10,000 songs a month for your $15, and that it'd cost you $10,000 to get that on iTunes. Right, but if I only want one new album a month from Napster (my usual consumption) that's expensive, isn't it?...
Michael Walsh is right when he says it's only going to make sense to people who always want to download hundreds of new tunes every month, otherwise you're better off paying $.99 a song on iTunes Store (in countries where you can use iTunes Store, that is, not Australia.)
The bigger challenge for Napster is it's still locked-out of the iPod. Napster could be offering you unlimited songs for $2 a month and still it's #1 customer support question would be, "why can't I get my songs onto my iPod?" Talk about World's Biggest Barrier to Adoption.
Every month that Apple defends and extends its lead in portable music players, it gets more and more unassailable in the online music downloads market too. If I were Napster's backers I'd be thinking not about whether to fund Napster, but about how to broker a peace with Apple and get into iTunes Store. And if peace doesn't work, mount an anti-trust suit.
Saturday, February 19
Disclosure: being in the online DVD rental business (I'm a cofounder and employee of HomeScreen Entertainment) I have an interest in when and how the majority of Australians might enjoy digital on-demand movies to the home. That said, the claims from Telstra and Foxtel that on-demand movies are coming soon to the Australian loungeroom seem optimistic.
In the US, CinemaNow and MovieLink are streaming movies over other people's cable networks, and now cable giant SBC has disclosed it has plans for a service that sounds like it might seriously compete with Netflix and Blockbuster. But the Australian market environment is different, and not in a good way.
SBC's plan sounds like Netflix-via-cable: pay a fixed monthly surcharge on your SBC cable bill, and you can download up to three programs (movies, TV, music, whatever) at a time, keep them as long as you like, and when you download more, your earlier downloads will be automatically deleted (whether by a set-top box or your PC isn't clear.) SBC has a near monopoly in cable in many parts of the US (or at least, as close as US regulators will allow) and its coming acquisition of AT&T makes it the largest telco in the US. With that kind of monopoly power, it doesn't matter that you're not a cable movie channel or a studio - if you want to license latest-release movie rights from the studios, you can pay whatever the studios want to get them.
Why would SBC want to pay over-the-odds to get into the content business? Because, worldwide, the markets are a bit over telecommunications infrastructure players - it's a maturing, rationalising marketplace. If SBC can show that it's taking the first tentative steps into the content business, it gives investors a reason to look at SBC in a new light - as a potential player in what many believe will be the Next Big Business - digital on-demand content to the home.
Problem is, even the mighty SBC is going to have to get down on its knees and beg when it comes to licensing content for these new services.
Hollywood, which was once all about selling movie theatre tickets - one distribution channel only - learned a painful lesson from VCRs and VHS all those years ago - you have to beat new delivery channels into submission, because at worst they kill your business, and at best, they force it to traumatically and dramatically change. In the movie business, there's only two dials you can turn to materially affect your business: the dial marked "cost of production" and the dial marked "control of supply." Anyone or anything (such as a new distribution channel, like on-demand over an IP network) that threatens your exclusive access to either knob is going to enjoy your full paranoid spittle-flecked attention until you've beaten it into submission and tamed it. You can tame it, or at least control its growth, by turning the "control of supply" button way, way down - charge the new delivery channel so much for your content that its growth is slowed to a trickle.
That's why, if you'd been trying to license the rights to latest-release blockbusters to rent to people on VHS in the early days of the VCR, you would have paid through the nose, or not gotten very many blockbusters, or both. Same with pay TV, and more recently, same with DVD.
The DVD format was once feared as the death of the movie theatre industry because its digital fidelity brought a cinematic experience to the home. Instead it's become Hollywood's favourite channel because they've been able to dramatically reduce piracy (compared to VHS) and because DVD retail has become a much bigger business than anyone had forecast.
Now when the studios sit down to do deals with the companies hoping to license content for on-demand IP delivery, they're going to be reluctant to endanger not just theatre revenue, but increasingly, they'll want to protect DVD revenue. It would be very hard to prove to a studio that your on-demand service wasn't going to cannibalise the studio's DVD retail and rental revenue.
So if content will be limited and expensive to license, SBC will need to pay over the odds to get it, accept release dates well past DVD release dates, and see subscriber numbers grow much more slowly than they like. Most likely, in the early days, all of the above.
If it's going to be hard for the biggest telco in the US to pull together a killer on-demand movie network for its internet subscribers, will Telstra find it harder?
Much, much harder:
- Telstra's a phone company, half a world away from Hollywood. Talk about culture clash. It doesn't have the people or the culture and will need to buy them in. As anyone in television will tell you, television is not a technology business, it's an audience and content business. Telstra's a technology company, and so far, its attempts to attract an online audience and serve it compelling content shows that Telstra believes on-demand is a technology business. It ain't.
- You can't serve on-demand movies over a DSL network, especially not an Australian DSL network, with its overpriced and under-speed infrastructure. You need at least 1.5mb-2mbps connection speeds, all the way back to the media server and that just doesn't exist for anyone other than Telstra/Foxtel/Optus cable customers, of which there are only about 300,000 or so.
- If you're serving on-demand content over someone's DSL or cable modem it's going to be shown on their PC or Mac screen, not the big widescreen TV and surround sound system so many Australians have only just spoiled themselves with. How many people are going to sit in front of their 17" PC monitor for two hours to sit thru a blockbuster and leave the widescreen TV and DVD player idle in the living room?
- You can, of course, put a set-top box in the living room, as Foxtel does. But only for cable customers (which passes 2.5m premises maximum in Australia, if you've got a great content offering and you eventually get 30% adoption your total audience size is 750,000 households. That's a tiny market. Meanwhile, the other seven million Australian households will continue to rent DVDs.
Next time: why Foxtel's EPG isn't worth the paper it's not printed on.