29 May 2008

The Dangers of Blunt Force

If you are interested in the complex issues of ownership, IP rights and enforcement mechanisms, this detailed saga about the recent DDoS attack at Rev3 is a gripping read.

My hope is that incidents like this will prove to be so obviously ludicrous (and, quite frankly, illegal) that it will act as a watershed moment, like the Sony Rootkit did for music, and force visual media producers to wake up and start addressing their "problem" as an opportunity.

23 May 2008

Your Life Online and Your Privacy

Interesting, two different accounts this week of young women who are, by any reasonable measure, micro-celebs online and the unfortunate backlash that can entail

Emily Gould, formerly of Gawker overshares about the negative consequences of oversharing and then hooking up with another oversharer and Ariel Waldman attacks Twitter for allowing ongoing, unspecified harassment.

So, now that we are all celebrities in our own niche, where is the line between regular person online and legitimate public target?

Another Tool for My External Extended Brain

Now, I used the singular Tool, but there are actually two tools - Delicious Library and Media Man. But they are really the same tool, nearly identical. Some have argued that Media Man is a total ripoff of Delicious Library, but, that's what happens when you refuse to build your tool on Windows - someone else will do it instead.

Both tools catalog your media library - books, music, movies, etc and cross-reference with Amazon for full details. Especially cool is using your webcam as a barcode scanner to avoid the tedium of data entry. Sadly, they don't quite reach my dream of being able to index and search actual content, but I suspect that's a pipe dream for now, anyway, given the IP dustup over Google Books. So, realistically speaking, pretty awesome.

Now if only it would integrate with my Evernote... :-)

22 May 2008

Ditch the Wii and Check Out Maya

Bored of Wii Fit after only a week? Then check out Amazon marketplace or eBay to pick up a copy of Yourself Fitness instead. Sadly, these are the only places to pick up the title (for PC, Xbox and Playstation) because the company appears to have fallen to a pretty rocky position since a 2004 lawsuit and the supposed follow-up game for 360/PS3 is always "just around the corner." But the business woes of ResponDesign are in no way reflected in the quality of the game.

The center of Yourself Fitness is your "personal trainer" Maya. She's sternly encouraging, not too mush of a cheerleader nor too much of a drill sergeant. The program requires you to complete a fairly basic fitness evaluation first, to set the initial difficulty levels in each area - cardio, upper body, lower body, core and flexibility. After that, it uses more complex logic to make things easier or harder on you, based on your mood and your response to previous workouts. Additionally, you make a commitment to work out a certain number of times per week and Maya keeps track, giving you a guilt trip when you skip out too often. You also have regular fitness evaluations to track your progress. And, like all video games, the more you play and progress, the more you unlock - in this case music selections and workout locations, not to mention the new moves that are added as you become more comfortable with the old ones.

I like this game because, first and foremost, it's pretty hard to skip. I can always find an excuse not to hit the gym, but this is right there, in my house. Better yet, it's hooked up to my TV, so if tempted to blow it off I can taunt myself into it ("sure, you have time to watch that repeat of Reaper, but not to just do your workout?"). I also see results, which is more important to me than anything else. When I finish a workout, I am sweaty and I often have sore muscles the next day. After using the cardio training focus for 2 weeks, I saw a measurable drop in both my resting and active heart rate, which I can even notice as I walk home from the T.

My only real complaints are that I can't use my own music and that there's no guidance regarding hand weight size or when it's time to move up a pound or two.

21 May 2008

Is Evite a Necessary Evil?

I'm starting to think there will never be an evite killer. Yeah, Evite is ugly - surpassed only by most MySpace pages, it's bloated, you have to become a member to use it and you always get stuck looking at those stupid Red Envelope ads after you reply. But is there anything better out there? So far, I've been stymied by the sparseness of mobaganda and my friends still hate me for the Renkoo spam they get from my one invitation on that service years ago. And a perusal of the other evite alternatives just appears to be lipstick on a pig.

20 May 2008

Yes, Sweetie is a Medium Deal

I've been mulling the whole "sweetie" incident over the past few days and I've come to the conclusion it's kind of a big deal. Not a feeding frenzy Big Deal or a campaign-derailing Big Deal, but a good teaching moment. I think Broadsheet nailed it:

Someone could call a professional woman "sweetie" and mean it in an avuncular, affectionate, non-harming way -- the way Barack Obama no doubt meant to deploy it. But just because a word is not meant as an offense, does not mean that it isn't diminishing, paternalistic and disrespectful.

I have no doubt that Obama will do good things for working families and the working poor (who are disproportionately women), and this in no way diminishes that. Policies and ideology are more important, in terms of choosing a candidate, than personal quirks and imperfections. But, just like I correct anyone who says, "That's gay," in my presence, the point should be made that perpetuating even unconscious sexism ought to be avoided.

16 May 2008

Best Book I've Read This Year

My new intellectual crush has got to be Jonah Lehrer, author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist. The book provides a sweeping multi-disciplinary look at modern artists (visual, literature, even food) and how their art anticipated truths that would later be discovered by science or, in some cases, expressed a more whole truth than science is currently capable of. It sounds ambitious and difficult, but it's actually quite an easy read.

The reason I enjoyed the book so much is that this is the sort of cross-referenced education I wish we could all receive in school. I hated that, though taken in the same year, my American Lit course did not keep pace with my American History class, so that I lacked the full context in which these novels were created. In fact, history class, itself was a mess of silos. In World History, we marched forward in time through the traditional "western" history track of Greece to Rome to Renaissance to Reformation to America. Our textbook ignored the rich history of the Byzantine Empire in favor of the bleak Dark Ages and frequently had to circle back to suddenly explain things like "Who are these Ottomans?" and "What's been going on over in Japan all this time?"

But beyond the sheer pleasure of reading a book crafted by a mind knowledgeable enough to divine these previously overlooked connections, I also enjoyed reading it as a call to arms to bring science and humanities together. Lehrer doesn't state this goal until the final chapter, though he talked it up while promoting the book, including the On Point appearance that inspired me to go out and buy it. And it isn't a hard conclusion to come to on your own. As you read through the book and see how scientific advancements of the day inspired Middlemarch or how modern visual art inspired writers to seek the same abstractions in literature, it's not a far leap to wonder how much more quickly science could have arrived at the same conclusions, if only it were open to the influence of art.

I will admit that the Virgina Woolf chapter on the Emergent Self, the Ghost in our Machine, made me a bit uncomfortable. It's the first example where science has not yet proved the "truth" in the art, unless you count the possibility that science has proved that it can not prove that the Self (or soul or whatever you choose to call it, yourself) has a physical neurological correlate because it hasn't got one. But this is just an example of the whole point of the book. My discomfort arises because I was brought up to believe that if science can't prove it, it must not be real and this is exactly the attitude that closes the door on true cross-disciplinary collaboration. And maybe, as Lehrer points out in the Coda chapter, there are some things that science will never be able to help us know.

14 May 2008

Grr Grr Grr, Another PR Guy Trying to Co-opt Feminism

As sick as I am of all the clearly biased anti-Hilary media coverage that wrote her off over and over, even as she won and won big (and now cheers with glee at her "downfall"), I am more upset at some PR guy writing an editorial that uses feminism as just another pawn in the political game.

The argument is not a new one - that if you are a feminist you must vote for Clinton. However, it's usually coming earnestly from the moths of our aunts and mothers, who lived through an age where feminism was defined as "The personal is political." Here, it's being cynically employed by a PR guy, and more strongly attacking Obama supporters than I have seen much of anywhere else.

There are a lot of arguments that support both sides of this issue. And I think that, for this older generation of feminists, the current election sits squarely in the center of their experience watching an entire generation subvert, co-opt (and also positively transform) what it means to be a feminist and how one expresses it. To them, not voting for Hilary is just as bad as saying The Pussycat Dolls are feminist icons.

In my opinion, these women are right and also very wrong. Viewed solely through the lens of the single cause of women's equality, they are dead on. Women today often do take the great advancements made by our foremothers for granted (isn't that part of the goal?) but here's one goal that has yet to be attained, so we should all work together to get there. However, that ignores both the wider historical and social forces at play in this election and the more detailed nuances of the specific players in the race.

Intelligent voters can't ignore the Clinton legacy - both positive and negative, or the fact that Obama is also a historical candidate from a minority group. Our standing in the world is greatly diminished, we are fighting losing wars on two fronts, we are at an ideological crossroads and in an economic downturn. It's up to each individual to weigh these factors, along with their personal ideals, and take advantage of their right to vote (thanks, Universal Suffrage!) to make their own choices. It's not up to some man to tell all women how to think and how to act, and invoke feminism while he's at it.

13 May 2008

My Dream Media Configuration is Nigh

Not too long ago, I told some friends that I envisioned television of the future as being more directly consumer-driven. Networks & cable would continue on for two reasons, but would not be the main viewing medium. The first reason to keep old-school television going is that most people don't like change. I know many people who have purchased TiVos for their parents, only to watch them use the minimal feature set that would be mostly analogous to a VCR. The second reason for TV to stick around in its current form is to provide a good combination of randomness and authority. There's a lot of content already out on YouTube, Veoh, FunnyOrDie, iTunes and so on, but a lot of it is BAD. Or it's great, but it's not really a series with things like long term plotting or character development. So I want some kind of gating function, some source that says "Yeah, we thought this was good enough to throw our money and our name behind."

But I don't want to watch TV on cable anymore. Even lovely, beautify digital HD cable. I want to buy my shows directly. It eliminates commercials, it eliminates (or augments) inaccurate Nielsen ratings (well, once networks take downloading seriously), and it should allow for the same long-tail phenomenon seen on Netflix to give indie and critical hits a fighting chance of surviving.

Now, you may be saying "iTunes does that, already, silly" and this is true, but I am a) just generally opposed to iTunes for their stupid DRM and b) I want to veg on my couch while I watch TV, not sit at my desk. The answer to my prayers was inside my TiVo for a long time now - hello, Amazon Unbox!

I had only been using Unbox on my TiVo for the freebies and extras, since I was already paying Comcast to bring me TV and Netflix to bring me movies. But a series of events led me to use Unbox to watch the first season of "Heroes" and the last few episodes of "How I Met Your Mother" and I am sold. Even SD shows look great. It does feel weird to go through the fade out/fade in with no commercials (hey, maybe it's the beginning of modernist abstract TV!) and I do miss the approximately 10% of commercials that are actually good. But, hey, I can always go to my Mom's house for that.

12 May 2008

Local Flavor?

Because I listen to the radio all morning while I get ready for work, I have been repeatedly subjected to a horrifying series of ads for Colombo Yogurt's Name Your Colombo contest. They are far worse than the generic "Hey We Know Your Market!" type ads that Citibank put out when they came to town (and which BoA quickly and shrewdly made fun of in their own campaign). Why? Well, because where Citi was bland and generic, Colombo is specific and insulting. The three I have heard so far are:

An annoying man who mentions signifiers of upper class standing, such as a house on the Cape and a sports car, yet has a decidedly down-market accent and is so gauche as to call all of his friends on the way down to say "Hey, we're going to the Cape." No mention of how long he got stuck on Rt 3 in that shiny little sports car.

An annoying woman, who has a stereotypical Southie accent, but tells us she's from Southie in case you missed it. She has to deal with that darn unpredictable spring weather in Boston, so she goes out in shorts and a parka, then calls her friend to say she's invented the "sharka" then repeats this made-up word over and over for full accented effect. I guess they had to come up with a made-up word to best highlight the accent because you can't say "wicked retahded."

Finally, an annoying woman who talks about how bad the other drivers are in the rotary on the Arborway in JP. Okay, yeah, that one's true.

But, seriously, did they hire an angry Yankees fan to write these spots? The best regionalized spots show knowledge and affection for the region they skewer - the Boston.com "This Isn't Boston" series or the Dunkin Donuts ad featuring Curt Schilling a few years back. All these ads show to me is a superficial understanding and a lot of contempt.

Even more perplexing? For the contest itself, you are supposed to suggest a new New England-themed name - relating to Connecticut, Massachusetts or New York! Last time I checked, there were six NE states and New York was not one.

09 May 2008

Do I Want Evernote?

I often tell people I am waiting for Google Brain to come to the market. I want all my objects RFID-tagged so I can find them; I want to be able to scan the ISBN of every book I read and make it full-text searchable and tagged so I can go back and find that great point that was made... uh... somewhere while I was reading on the T on Tuesday; and well, I'd just like the real world to be as helpful and responsive as my digital life is.

One of only two products I have ever heard of coming close to this is Evernote. The other is some project by a guy at Microsoft, and since Google Brain does not yet exist, I can't seem to track the info down. But the last time I looked at Evernote, I wasn't sure it was what I was looking for (well, okay, nothing that exists is really what I am looking for). I think it was, in part, because I had yet to discover how comfortable I was relying on GPS to tell me the nearest Dunkin Donuts or letting Google Maps be my lazy addressbook. I was reminded of Evernote's existence again recently by Salon, but the review didn't really inspire technolust. I mean, woo hoo, pictures of wine lables, so?

And then, today, I needed Evernote. At work, I realized I needed to call in a perscription refill, but did not have the Rx number is on the label at my home. If only I had taken a snap of this with Evernote when I first got the perscription, I'd be all set now. Serendipidously, Marc Hustvedt posted a review of the new version of Evernote today, stamping it "up to snuff."

Of course, my specific example raises the obvious concern with any service of this nature - privacy. After all, what's more personal than a medication? It did give me pause, but I have generally surrendered willingly into the All Your Data Are Belong to Google world, as long as I see some ROI.

07 May 2008

Emergence and Adpoption

I've been contemplating Ray's comment on Twitter emergence - the idea that we are defining how to use it as we use it. Take Facebook, which began as a digital analog to the classic frat boy's "menu" and has now become a strong targeted advertising platform beyond the reach of Google, after looping around the cul-de-sac of becoming "the new Desktop" (so far, it turns out most Facebook apps are pretty silly). Twitter has gone through an even more impressive growth, evolving- from "What Are You Doing?" in 140 characters or less to a marketing tool, conference and event live microblogging, friendsourcing, even getting out of jail.

Now, this is great if mavens truly are super early adopters who ultimately reflect the needs of the greater group. And that model works for goods that have a long design, manufacture and feedback process and consumers who do not expect a high level of customization. But what happens if early adopters create a usage model that isn't useful for anyone else, essentially creating a ghetto of Twitterati and a majority public who find the tool useless?

The reason I have been thinking about emergence and adoption through this lens lately is due to a recent finding that, although Hungarians are increasingly net-savvy, there are very few Hungarian bloggers. Is this because Hungarians are still behind in terms of web tool adoption, because they are so far ahead they have already outgrown blogging, or is it because blog culture developed without them and has gelled in a form that isn't relevant to Hungarians?

Why should we care about Hungarian bloggers? you ask. Well, because they are in a unique position of having been held back from the steady progress of technology experiences in the US and Western Europe, then rapidly dropped into it. Until recently, due to various economic and logistical reasons, internet in the home was very very uncommon so the hungarian web still partied like it was 1999. I could just as easily have looked at web users in India calling email obsolete, I just happen to be more familiar with the Magyars. I know that when the Iron Curtain came down they stayed far behind in fashion for almost a decade, but jumped ahead of Americans in terms of mobile phone and PDA adoption.

So, which is it with blogging? To find out, I tracked a common word ("megyek" which means "I am going" so ought to be used frequently in tweets) on Twitter, then checked out these folks' profiles to see who they are following and being followed by. And guess what? The Hungarians love the Twitter. It makes sense - they don't need to tweet in english or use an english-based GUI to do so, they can do it all from their handhelds, which they are already highly comfortable with. Blogging isn't merely passe, it's just not that useful to a hungarian.

So, what does that mean for us? I think the lesson is that it's important to push beyond early adopters while a new tool or technology is in its adolescence. This gives the average user some structure to start from, but room to still influence what it will become as it matures, ensuring it isn't just a cool, shiny toy.

05 May 2008

College may be Expensive, but it's Still Valuable

On this week's edition of Radio Boston, the topic was the (un)affordability of college. Many good points were raised, but one guest said a few things that really raised my hackles (unfortunately, I came in in the middle and didn't catch who it was).

First, he practically called a college degree irrelevant, citing the fact that so many Fortune 500 CEOs either never graduated from or never even attended college or university. This is such a misleading use of statistics. Sure, these exceptional men had the ambition and vision and intelligence to make tremendous successes of themselves without the aid of formal eductaion. However, this does not apply to most of us. Most people who do not attend or graduate from college earn about $30,000 a year, while Bachelors holders average around $50,000. And though a remarkably high percentage of these high-powered businessmen did not attain a college degree, a remarkably low percentage of those without a college education ever reach anywhere close to such heights of success.

Someone piped up about what a shame it was that trade school education was in decline, and I think this is another case entirely and often does hold more value than a liberal arts or university degree.

The second statement he made that I think is a lie, doing a disservice to a lot of young people, is that it doesn't matter if you attend a "name brand" school, that's just marketing hype. As the adage goes, it's not where you go, but what you do when you get there. Well, sort of. I think this is important to keep in mind in terms of gracefully accepting what you can't change, but it's only true to a point. Again, exceptional people will excell no matter what, but elite colleges provide students with so much more than academics. Alumni networks alone can make a world of difference, not to mention all the enhanced extracurricular activities a fat endowment can provide.

This may come out sounding like a fairly elitist post, but it really isn't. I realize that the economy is only getting worse and only a very small portion of the population (many, thanks to the advanatage of a family name and an elite prep school training) are fortunate enough to be able to attend the top schools. I think being realistic is important. However, I think it's also important to continue to push people to get as much of the best education they can. Both these statements come from a kernel of truth and the desire to soften a sometimes harsh reality. But it seemed to me that, in this context, these statments (especially taken together) are mutating into some sort of common wisdom that higher education is no longer important. That is outright false and harmful.

01 May 2008

My Twitter Resistance.. and why it may be at an end

Ever since attending the Boston KM Forum's event KM 2.0: Real of Hype? I've been thinking quite a bit about my resistance to certain new technologies, specifically Twitter. Most of the attendees whose background was more in modern, applied KM than old-school theoretical praised Twitter over and over. But it still wasn't enough to convince me.

First, I don't have a critical mass of friends on Twitter. I think I have one. Meanwhile, most of my friends and acquaintances are on Facebook, so I can use that (for now) as my passive "keeping in touch" mechanism.

Second, I'm not sure who I would opt to follow and I think it would be a not-so-small blow to my ego that there's no real reason for anyone to follow me professionally. Clearly, I am already intellectually aware of this information, but the tangible evidence is just not something I want to sign up for at this point.

But then I read this great post - Claim Your Brand Name Or Suffer (linked via KM Forum attendee Doug Cornelius' blog) - and it has given me plenty of motivation. After all, I've already ceded the top billion or so Google search results for my name to Middle East expert Amy Hawthorne. Why let her have my Twitter presence (*gasp* maybe she already does!)?

And I'm sure after about a week, I'll wonder why I ever thought Twitter wouldn't be useful. After all, I only jumped ship from Yahoo to GMail because I got in during the first few waves and secured my good name. Now, I have relegated Yahoo to my "spam account" and curse its clunkiness and non-Googleness every time I log in to clean it up.