Slower, Older, Worse!

Walt Mossberg has a pretty funny line in his review (on his free site) of the new SonicBlue Rio Riot player: But I have seen the iPod, and so the Riot looks and works like a larger, slower, predecessor product, when in fact it has just gone on sale this week, nearly four months after the iPod. He goes on to praise a few of the Riot's features, which at $399 hits the same price point as the iPod: it has a 20 Gb drive (like a similarly price Nomad Jukebox), works on Macs and Windows, and has a big screen which is uses.

But Mossberg prefers the iPod. It still tinier. It uses the fast FireWire interface. It synchronizes with a PC-based list of tunes. And it's simpler to use.

It's Flow Important

Irrespective of my earlier post in which I said Dan Perkins isn't a journalist, per se, he did make a good point in the NY Times article he was quoted in about blogging: the fact is that blogging itself may or may not be important or useful for the individual qua individual, but it's what ____ _____ calls the flow -- the array of other pages driving traffic to your post -- that makes a blog serve a purpose outside of personal satisfaction.

After a year and a half of blogging, I've started to get both a reputation among colleagues and to get article assignments because of this and my Wi-Fi/802.11b blog. The consistent output of words flows outwards; links flow inwards; I become more Google-ized; I become more credible.

I can see why cartoonists would be and are embracing this. (See not only Perkins's site, but also The Norm, in which the cartoonist is blogging in his character's persona; and my personal favorite, Chris Baldwin's Bruno.) A cartoonist can pick up an several hundred to several thousand dollars per year when they are added by a single paper. An extra few thousand to tens of thousands of readers could be the momentum that convinces someone to write their newspaper or vote in a cartoon contest for new strips to replace Spiderman (the world slowest moving strip: Monday, Spidey wakes up; Friday, he's brushing his teeth).

Bruno's creator, Chris, has scraped together an interesting living through dedicated fans who buy his self-published books, commission artwork, loan him money via Bruno Bonds (repayable with interest) to fund the books, and otherwise buoy his spirits while he creates his masterwork.

I was exchanging email with the creator of Foxtrot, Bill Amend, the other day after I noticed that dub dub dub foxtrot dot com displayed this message: Bill Amend has decided to take FoxTrot.com offline. This was fascinating, because when I interviewed Bill in late 1998 for an article on the Internet's effect on cartoonists, he was excited about the possibilities, but reluctant to get too interactive with his readers. He's in a lot of papers, and it could be risky to open up the floodgates. (The creator of Frank and Ernest, that cheery inoffensive goofy strip that everyone seems to carry - it's sweet - gets hundreds and hundreds of emails.)

Bill's new site is on his own at Mac.com. It's much more personal. He puts his email address up. It's homey. It's like the Web pages of yore. But it's his voice, not his syndicate's. When I asked him why he moved to his own home, he said that the syndicate just can't do things because they're fun. He thought he'd better interact with his loyal fans and give them what they wanted. Now that's the real voice of the Net, isn't it?

Where We Dump

John Markoff has a superb story in this morning's New York Times about how the U.S. and other countries are dumping all of our old electronics in China and other less-New-Economy-oriented countries where workers with no safety equipment disassemble toxic or dangerous components, and dispose of parts in such a way that it leaches into groundsoil and the water supply. (I had heard a couple of years ago that China was going to ban what are called end-of-line shipments, in which dead computers are simply offloaded to them.)

More coverage: the report Markoff covered was issued by BAN (Basel Action Network), a Seattle-based group that seeks to enforce implementation of an accord reached in Basel, Switzerland, for limiting the export of toxic materials from a group of industrialized nations to countries outside their purview. Stories also appeared in today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer (cover story), Seattle Times (front of Local News), and Tacoma News-Tribune (cover story). For more stories, follow this link to n Alltheweb.com news source search on the topic.

The San Jose Mercury News's story notes at the end: Hewlett-Packard will pick up your unwanted computer equipment -- whether it's made by HP or not -- and recycle it in the United States for a nominal fee. Functioning computers are donated to charities, while others are refurbished and resold. Those that can't be salvaged are recycled properly without adding to landfills. For details, go to www.hp.com/go/recycle.

Who was it who said that the computer revolution was a clean revolution? Just ask the folks in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, too, who have seen billions of gallons of typically potable water used and discarded, often polluted until recent years, in the process of making silicon and other components. Yes, in a state with perpetual water crises and cyclical droughts, they have a water-intensive industry. It would be like putting papermaking plants in the desert. (They probably do that, too.)

King County, the county in which Seattle is located, is a national leader on the topic of recycling computer and electronic components, as the county and city and whole Northwest have been in reclaiming our sordid outputs into useful inputs. The county has a special project called the Computer Recovery Project. Launched as a test in October 2000 as a public/private partnership before banning computer monitors from our dumps, the CRP was wildly successful.

Monitors can be disassembled, and the lead glass of the tubes smelted to extract the lead and the glass. Only a few plants can perform this task, so the cost is relatively high to transport these heavy monitors cross-country to Pennsylvania. The coordinator of the program told me that it's unlikely new smelters will open because of the industry's transition to LCD displays, which do not require lead in their construction.

Last week, over President's Day weekend, Staples ran a free promotion nationwide: bring in old, dying, or dead equipment and get some coupons. They'd give you a trade-in on working, newer equipment, and a coupon for $20 off $100 or more in purchases that weekend for dead devices. We dug up a couple hundred pounds or more of useless stuff: two monitors that wouldn't stay on, a dead computer (dead power supply, stripped out memory and hard drive), old printers long gone. I believe that Staples collected million of pounds of gear nationwide. They had pulled in maybe half a ton the day we went in at that one store, which was the morning of President's Day itself.

We Blog - No, Really, WE BLOG

Another ass-backwards story on blogging, now in the New York Times. Bob Tedeschi is no Luddite, nor is he unfamiliar with Internet culture. He knows technology. So I ask how he wound up with a Ecommerce story on blogging which opens with a recital of the statistics and then a practically open dismissal of blogging's future (damning through faint praise, I guess) before addressing the business side.

Further, his choice of a journalism figure blogging away on their own dime wasn't Doc Searls, Paul Andrews, Dan Gillmor, J.D. Lasica, Jim Romenesko, Deborah Branscum (or even yours truly), but Dan Perkins, a cartoonist who does This Modern World. I like the cartoon and Dan is a political thinker. But he's no journalist: he's an essayist and advocate. He doesn't write reportage. Joe Bob says, blog fu.

I don't mean to trot out the usual suspects every time someone mentions blogging and journalism, but we have some folks who are doing the real deal: reporting on their site, writing analysis, interviewing people, creating something bigger than synthesis involving new facts. Commentary is good and interesting, but it isn't Big J or little j journalism. (Journalism's tradition only spans to the late 1800s, if that, in its current form; commentary stretches thousands and thousands of years.) But another way: journalism is asking other people why things work the way they do, and trying to ask enough people to paint a picture of the truth; commentary is asking yourself.

Of course, in the way of these things, the central part of the article was quite solid, showing quantitative and qualitative interest, and the development of business-oriented blogging. Tedeschi missed mentioning that Pyra (Blogger.com) had a strategic investment from Trellix, which has a business software business. I found that omission odd, especially since Trellix leads us to Dan Bricklin, a business-software pioneer.

Mother of All Atheists

Dave Weinberger made me happy with this observation today about hearing Richard Dawkins speak at the TED conference: It genuinely irks me that he recklessly conflates all religions as if they all reject science, all insist on blind faith, and all appeal only to the weak-minded. Deepak Chopra followed up by suggesting Dawkins was a fundamentalist and a bigot, and, Dave notes: He then spent his twenty minutes trying to erase science's distinction between observed and observer, using indeterminacy and quantum leaps as his proof points.

Atheists who treat atheism as a religion irk me, too. I used to be arrogant enough to think that I could sort out all of reality through my own filter. Growing older has presented me with more insolvable propositions that have opened my mind into understanding that there is no possible way to understand all of reality, nor dismiss the beliefs of billions of people. I've also started to appreciate that every single person's expression of religious belief or spirituality is different than everyone else's, dogmatic theologians and zealots aside. Even the strictest observer has their own thoughts and spin; dogma tries to deny these differences.

Confluence on Ice

A few dates into our acquaintance back in 1997, my fiancee and I discovered that her father and my parents had grown up at roughly the same time in Poughkeepsie, New York (local Native Amer dialect for little mud huts on the river, apparently). Her family, Quaker and Presby; mine, Jewish. Her father grew up more on the farm side of things; mine in the township outside the urban area.

We found another good intersection on Wednesday. Jim Shea, Jr., went to high school in West Hartford, Conn., with Lynn, and she knew him somewhat, and even skied with him once. Jim's father and grandfather competed in the Olympics as well; his grandfather was killed by a drunk driver just a few weeks before the game.

While watching coverage of the gold-medal-winning runs of Jim Jr., they mentioned his grandfather had been a gold-medal-winning speedskater in 1932. As mentioned earlier in this blog, my grandfather's cousin Irv Jaffe, was also a multiple medal skater. Turns out, they were teammates. In fact, they're both mentioned in the book, Frozen in Time.

Exceed the Need to Speed

Last July, a New Haven car rental company made headlines because it used a monitoring service in its cars to charge renters $150 every time they exceeded 79 mph for more than two minutes. A man who was charged $150 twice complained, and the state, rather than point to the contract he signed to use the rental car that apparently mentioned this proviso, defended his right to speed.

Okay, so perhaps the company didn't disclose enough, but some reports made it clear that the fee for speeding was displayed in large type and required initialing. The State of Connecticut just found the firm violated the Unfair Trade Practices Act, and told them to stop and refund fees. (Oddly, the stories last July indicated the same thing, but the state must have needed to go through a formal process that just ended.)

Because there were competitors in the market, I thought it was perfectly legitimate for the company to state its terms, ask people to behave reasonably, and monitor their behavior. They were a private company, for chrissakes, not the government. And you consented to the monitoring and the fines (at least in some versions).

Around the time the news story broke on this, cartoonist Tom Tomorrow produced one of his This Modern World panels on the subjects. I wrote Tom (actually Dan Perkins) about the issue and how it was hardly in the same league as government monitoring because it was voluntary and there were other options. He wrote back that he was stunned that anyone would defend the company, but he saw where I was coming from even though he disagreed. We both agreed that New Haven is full of people trying to rip you off, as I can testify from five years of living there (Dan lived there at one point, too).

Of course, the hilarious side story to Acme Rent-a-Car (their real name) was that it turned out that many national and regional rental car agencies are monitoring cars all the time through a variety of services. So far, these companies have used this for good: locked your rental car keys in the car? Great, they can send a signal and remotely unlock it. Car stolen? They can find it. Shouldn't that bother people, too? No, it's not the government. Then tell me again what's wrong with Acme's policy. (Oh, yeah, they tried to justify it on the basis of expense: wear and tear. So why can hotels charge $150 if you smoke in a non-smoking room even if it costs them $5 to clean it? Not that I want smokers to have that right.)

Alternate Worlds in AP's Google Coverage

Doc Searls writes on AP's misfire on Google's ad announcement: I covered this for the NY Times (see the link in Doc's story), and it was interesting to see the rollout of the news. Because the AP is picked up by so many papers, their mischaracterization of what exactly was involved in the pay-for-position change cascaded across the country's breakfast table. Interestingly, Google response was, in part, to email Doc Searls and ____ ______. Google gets the chain of credibility.

ReplayTV 4000 flaws (but I still love it)

Our ReplayTV 4080 started showing ads a couple days ago when the display is paused. Yup, ads. Riocentral: story and play your entire music collection. An ad from the parent company. Bad idea, dudes! This is viral marketing; how many of us see this and then want to tell our friends to go out and buy a unit?

My complaints about the unit:

1. Doesn't have a display to quickly show what's currently recording. (Hack: exit all programs and use Channel Up or Down, and it switches to the currently recording channel.)

2. Doesn't offer an extended list of conflict resolution when you have many programs that want to be recorded at once.

3. Doesn't have a simple, record this program once option.

4. Doesn't merge multiple programs with the same description.

5. Must delete programs individually; you can't tag programs and then hit delete. Tedious.

6. Can't review a list of upcoming scheduled recording.

7. It lacks a preference observation algorithm so it doesn't record on its own.

8. The distinction between guaranteed programs and not guaranteed ones is strange. If you guarantee a program, it's always recorded, but not always. It's unclear what limits unguaranteed programs.

9. No button to move a day ahead in the program schedule, which can span two weeks.

10. The low-res mode which gives you 80 hours needs to be improved. I hope they develop better algorithms (or 200 Gb hard drives become cheap).