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August 31, 2006

ANtics Comics Highlighted on Plasq Site

I got a pleasant surprise late this evening, when I visited plasq.com, the creators of Comic Life, the software program I use to create the ANtics comics each week. After having traded e-mails with the company's marketing manager about a month or so ago, he had elected to promote the ANtics on the site's user gallery, as an example of how customers were benefitting from Comic Life.

http://plasq.com/comiclife/gallery/

The gallery features a "thumbnail" image of one comic, which when clicked, pops into the browser and shows the comic in full-screen mode, with a "Next" button to take you through 18 selected ANtics episodes. The final page links back to my own gallery on the louisgray.com site.

I'm pleased in a very nerdy way. (It's the only way I know)

Listening to ''Saints & Sinners - Pushin Too'', by Bedrock (Play Count: 4)

Wal-Mart Trying To Stop Apple Movie Store

You've no doubt seen how Apple has reinvented itself beyond being a computer-focused company to one that also is best represented by iPod and iTunes. The iPod/iTunes brand has really become the dominant player in the online music and MP3 player market, beating Sony, Dell and a host of also-rans.

Now that rumblings are out there saying Apple will add movies to its iTunes store, Wal-Mart is trying to use its own market power to stop it before it gets started. BusinessWeek says that Wal-Mart, who represents 40% of the $17 billion DVD market, is threatening publishers, saying that if they post their titles on iTunes, Wal-Mart simply won't carry them.

BusinessWeek: Wal-Mart and Apple Battle for Turf

Part of this is because Wal-Mart is also planning an online film service, and they don't want to support companies that work with the competition. Part of it also is that they are afraid Apple will win in online movies the way they won in online music, and that they will set the rules for costs, etc. Current rumors have the store debuting in mid-September with new films at $14.99 to own, and older films at $9.99. Disney and Lions Gate Films have signed up, with more studios to come, no doubt.

With that said - should Wal-Mart act this way, or is it acting like a monopolist? What's your feeling?

Listening to ''Get Up on It Like This'', by The Chemical Brothers (Play Count: 5)

August 30, 2006

Online Window Shopping: A New Car!

It's often said that one of the biggest concerns any e-commerce Web site has is that too many people are filling shopping carts, and then abandoning them before the sale is complete. While some point to slow page loads, or difficulty in page navigation, I'd argue the Web is a fantastic way to go window shopping, both to compare prices, and to fantasize spending money we may not have anyway.

I, for one, have been caught every once and again with my cart fully loaded at the Apple store, working to see if add all the bells and whistles to the newest laptop or desktop, just how expensive I can make the darn thing.

Assuming I had all the cash I would need, I thought I'd present you with my new car - the one I keep thinking I'm going to get someday, if money fell out of the sky, yet somehow didn't lead to inflation or a devaluation of the currency. (Tough economics there!) On BMW's Web site, you can design your own vehicle - coupe, convertible, sedan or SUV, and even get pricing terms. I present to you my new 333-horsepower 2006 BMW M3 Convertible, with all the options.



The above includes:

* Mystic Blue Metallic exterior
* Dark blue top
* Gray Leather with Shadow Trim
* Heated front seats
* On-Board Navigation System
* Adjustable lumbar seats
* AM/FM stereo/CD with MP3 capability, 10 speakers
* Harman Kardon Premium Sound System
* Floor Mats

All this, and more, for a mere $62,000. Now, would I ever really by a BMW online? Probably not. And if I had so much disposable income at hand as to consider really buying a top-of-the-line BMW, would that be the wisest choice to spend all my cash? Probably not - but who cares? It's online window shopping, with no car salesmen!

More fanciful shopping lists sure to come soon...

Listening to ''Live at Aria Montreal'', by Dj Tiesto (Play Count: 1)

Asypta: Acela - Amtrak Speeds Ahead

Not just companies get the honor of joining the Asypta fold. Sometimes, the most ordinary-looking and most ordinary-sounding firms will debut products or subsidiaries that follow the Asypta guidelines, as Amtrak did in 1999 when they debuted their new line of high-speed trains, dubbed nothing else but... "Acela". Though clearly derived from the root word "Accel", Amtrak followed the mantra many companies do during the process of naming, throwing an "A" at the end for good measure. And try as they might, Amtrak made an attempt to explain just what "Acela" stood for anyway.

From the March 9, 1999 announcement:

"Acela is more than just a name for Amtrak's new high speed trains, Acela is a brand representing a whole new way of doing business," according to Amtrak President George D. Warrington. "A combination of acceleration and excellence, Acela means high speed and high quality - we are changing the journey for every customer on every train with faster trip times, comfortable amenities and highly personalized service."

In an era of commuter jets, carpool lanes, and telecommuting, it's no wonder that Amtrak had to do something to juice passenger statistics on trains - more-commonly associated with the 19th century than the 20th or today. While other countries have lapped the US in their ability to roll out highest-speed transportation, including "bullet trains", Amtrak and its new Acela line has seen very limited success. As Wikipedia states, "Technical difficulties have led to a joke about Acela standing for "Amtrak Customers Extremely Late Again" trains."

Now there's a fantastic acronym we can get behind.

It's always interesting to see when a company does such a poor job of naming itself and identifying the name with the brand that consumers go out of their way to apply their own definitions. Acela clearly falls in that category.

For going through the process of announcing a new name that fully meets the Asypta criteria, and introducing confusion into the marketplace, Acela is the second entry to the hall of fame!

Overall Asypta-Meter Score: 10.0

Listening to ''Miami Sunset 2005'', by DJ Irish (Play Count: 1)

August 29, 2006

Google CEO Joins Apple Board - So What?

The somewhat-stunning after-hours news today was that Google CEO Eric Schmidt has joined Apple's board of directors, joining former Vice President and would-be world supreme leader Al Gore, and the CEOs of Intuit, J. Crew and Genentech. Fresh off of the news that Google was introducing new applications that could be co-branded for business' domain, the expectation is that Apple and Google have teamed up in a joint fight against the Redmond behemoth, Microsoft. But what's not seen is that the usual direct impact a board member has on the company's products is very slim indeed.

One need only look as far as Apple to see this. When Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, a close friend of Steve Jobs, was on the board, the Macintosh did not make much headway in running Oracle's business suite, and Intuit hasn't exactly wowed anybody with their support for Macintosh in the last decade or so. While we can dream of further collaboration between the two companies, beyond a Google search bar embedded in Safari, and $1.75 iPod wrappers with the Google logo, this doesn't guarantee a streamlined plethora of joint product announcements - so don't hold your breath for a Mac OS X version of Google Desktop, Google-branded Mac Minis and X Serves, or the debut of GTunes, powered by iTunes.

At least... that's my expectation. A board of directors' role is to ensure the company is growing smoothly and that all activities are above board, from compensation to product roadmaps - not to sit in a dark room and merge business lines.

But this of course won't thwart speculation. TechCrunch writes, "Could close collaboration between online giant Google and Apple hardware pose the most viable threat yet to Microsoft’s long held personal computing leadership? It certainly seems possible.", while Om Malik somehow finds a dark corner in his soul to poo-poo the relationship, saying this "portends potential headaches not just for Microsoft, but for anyone with digital media ambitions." Right. As if with one swoop, iPod and iTunes are going to get that much more market share in the face of Zune and other challengers because some guy gets to visit the Cupertino campus every two months.

What it does do is further validate Apple's rise to prominence in a once-skeptical Silicon Valley. I know Google spends millions every quarter in new Apple equipment for employees, and at some point, those MacBook-carrying Webheads are going to want the latest and greatest Google gear to go. I hope that some of the speculation comes true and can prove me wrong.

Listening to ''Under One (JK Walker Remix)'', by Todd Tobias (Play Count: 6)

Asypta: Altria is a Smoking Gun

The Asypta model is somewhat flexible. If you look at Altria, you have a slight variation - extending to A consonant, vowel, A, but the phonetics of the word are the same, as the "ria" sounds like "riya", which maintains the Asypta rule verbatim.

With that said, Philip Morris' choice to rebrand as Altria in January 2003 is a classic example of selecting a name without any meaning and plugging into what I term the Asypta name generator. As widely reported, the company, which owns a wide variety of cigarette brands, ranging from Marlboro to Benson & Hedges and Virginia Slims, was looking to divorce itself from its life-long relationship with tobacco, and instead, highlight a healthier, more anomalous self.

From the press release on January 27, 2003, the company opted to change its name to Altria Group, Inc. As they said in the release, "The Altria name and logo powerfully express these enduring qualities: its drive toward excellence, its companies' focus on building brands, its passion for success, its openness to innovation, its commitment to its communities and societies, and its focus on its people."

And just how do they do that? If you look at the Altria logo, It's a 5 by 5 pixelated square made of many colors. A 25-grid square, symbolizing nothing. The word Altria doesn't demonstrate quality or excellence or success or innovation, unless you believe it does. Just like when the tobacco companies had you believe that "Nicotine is not addictive", this too has to be taken at face value, when there is in fact, no value.

More about Altria can be found on the company's "Who We Are" page, where they say "By changing its name, Altria Group has clarified its identity as what it is: a parent company to both tobacco and food companies that manage some of the world’s most successful brands." Gotcha.

For fitting the criteria set out in the rules of Asypta, and further befuddling corporate identity, we give Altria a near-perfect score. They just miss the hall of fame, due to a lacking consonant before the second A. Sorry, guys.

Overall Asypta-Meter Score: 9.5

Listening to ''Silent Words - Chiller Twists'', by Jan Johnston (Play Count: 25)

August 28, 2006

Web Office: OfficeCube: What Might Have Been

Speaking of OfficeCube, my curiosity got the best of me - to see if there was any hint out there on the Web as to what our plans at 3Cube were, and only through Google's cache can we get anywhere to discuss OfficeCube itself, though some of our media coverage from the early part of the decade remain up for only the most ardent of communications application service provider afficionados.

As we find in a press release from early 2000, we had announced, "PhoneCube and FaxCube are the first two members of 3Cube's growing family of online office services soon to be combined in one office portal called "OfficeCube," an entire suite of integrated virtual office productivity solutions to be announced in the first half of 2000."

Those were exciting times. Unfortunately, as we know, the best products don't always make the best businesses, and though I still believe in those early products' features, functionality and promise, the customer traction was never there.

For more on the 3Cube story, here are some obscure gems:

InformationWeek: Innovation (October 2000)
TMCNet: FaxCube and PhoneCube review (January 2001)

Listening to ''Live @ DI.fm'', by DJ Irish (Play Count: 1)

August 27, 2006

Google Launches First Salvo Against MS Office

Six years ago, while at 3Cube, we had huge expectations for moving software to the Web. Following some success with our fax over Internet product, FaxCube, and our phone conferencing and Web meeting solution, PhoneCube, we had plans to debut something by the name of "OfficeCube", which in theory, would let customers not only hold real-time chats and full desktop sharing, across OS platforms, but would give you an online vault where you could create, edit and save documents or presentations. This vision of the Web office was but a gleam in our eye in 2000, and for a variety of reasons, we never quite made it. Six years later, we still see the business world tied to software - and most of those are tied to Microsoft Office, despite challenges from Apple, Sun and now, Google.

Google started out as a search company, aiming to gain access to all the world's information, quickly and easily. But the company has branched out into a variety of Web applications, from Gmail for E-mail to Google Talk for instant messaging, Google Desktop for local search, Google Earth for mapping and much, much more. This week, Google takes it all a step further with the debut of enterprise-targeted applications that would be branded by third-party companies, but provided by Google. That way, you could keep your company.com domain but leave all the grunt work to Google's servers and staff. Sounds good, right?

Much of the conversations in the last several years were that in order to unseat Microsoft Office, a competitor needed to build clones of those apps that made Office what it is - Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook. But now, people recognize that the new office has a lot more to it - with a very real focus on real-time interactive communication, regardless of location. Google's debut includes the aforementioned Gmail and Google Talk, but also Google Calendar and Google Page Creator - which hopefully bears absolutely zero resemblance to Microsoft's horrid Front Page for WYSIWYG Web design.

As a consumer, we can't help but root for anything that enables more choice, and more variety, especially as it takes advantage of new technologies. I can't say that Google's will be the winner, or that we'll be adopting it soon. Google has no equal as a search engine, without doubt, but for me, GMail is a second-class address, on par with all the other free e-mail addresses I've accrued over the last decade, and the rest of the apps are just for fun. The only one I'm truly waiting with baited breath for is Google Desktop for Mac OS X, if they ever get there. Interestingly, despite Google's failings there, leading blogger Robert Scoble writes that Google is even further ahead in Mac support than Microsoft with some of its tools saying, "They (Microsoft) are gonna get their ass kicked in this space because of their lack of attention to the Macintosh."

As you can expect, anything Google does gains plenty of attention. You can see further discussions of the launch at SiliconBeat, Searchblog, and InformationWeek.

To check out the solutions for yourself, go to https://www.google.com/a/.

Listening to ''Escape Velocity 007", by DJ Irish (Play Count: 1)

ANtics Episode 2.26: A's Fun and Games

The A's are a young team - there's no doubt about it. But part of the team's allure to fans is their kiddish behavior, their smiles and laughter, and some have given the team's attitude and camaraderie a great deal of credit for their success. The pictures prove it - as we find our men in green and gold simply acting like kids. Explains why I feel so old when I see their birthdates on the DiamondVision.


Click to See Larger Comic

2005 Comics | 2006 Comics

Kendall Leads A's In Statistical Anomalies

Cross-posted at Athletics Nation...

I have to admit that for me, there was some anxiety around Jason Kendall smacking a home run earlier this season. That's not what we really what we expected, for in our mind, he fulfilled the role of "slap hitter with no home runs and many GIDPs", just as the Red Sox once filled the role of "the team who gets to the playoffs only to lose in heart-breaking fashion". As a baseball fan for nearly all my life, once you button-hole a player or a team in a spot, you expect them to stay there, and when they break the mold, you have to check your bearings and make sure all the other things you held true have not changed. But Jason has surprised a lot of us here beyond his solitary dinger, which still looks like a fluke.

As OaklandAthletics.com points out today, nobody has been swinging hotter lumber in these last few weeks than our gritty catcher.

In fact, in yesterday's win against the Rangers, Kendall had three hits, and both drove in and scored a run. And as the leadoff hitter, Kendall has done, all season, what you want a leadoff hitter to do - take pitches, get on base, and threaten to steal. In the leadoff position this year, Kendall is batting .304. But there's more!
Did you know...

* Kendall is batting .329 with runners on base in 2006?
* Kendall is batting .343 on the road in 2006?
* Kendall is fifth in the American league in BB/K at 1.03?
* Kendall is tied for the A's lead in steals?
* Kendall has more doubles (19) than Chavez (18) or Swisher (17)?

And if you somehow got the impression that Kendall hits a lot of ground balls, you wouldn't be alone in that thought. In fact, Kendall is also fifth in the American League in ground ball vs. fly balls, at 2.05. Lest you think that's a statistic for a slap hitter, other leading batters in this stat include Derek Jeter (#1), Pudge Rodriguez (#4), and Miguel Tejada (#6). That's right, Jason Kendall is ahead of Tejada in a number of batting categories!

I'm not saying I think the A's would be world-beaters if they featured Kendall in spots 1-9 in the batting order, but I don't cringe as often as I used to when he comes up to the plate with a mouthful of chaw,  his helmet slumped low on his eyes, and choking up on the bat, because in 2006, Kendall has been a major part of why the A's have forged their Western Division lead, and why after the All-Star break, the team has been practically unstoppable. We hope that this version of Jason Kendall is the one we get to keep.

Listening to ''Enervate (Original Mix)'', by Paul Oakenfold (Play Count: 6)

August 26, 2006

Will Second Half of '06 Be Huge for Apple?

Although the most die hard of Mac fans were less than enthusiastic about the lack of product introductions at the recently-concluded Worldwide Developers Conference, the media continues to be abuzz about how Steve Jobs and others promised to take on Microsoft's Windows Vista directly, as the operating system release continues to be more about delays, unfulfilled promises and bugs than about real benefits for customers. While we didn't see an update iPod, or an iTunes Movie Store, everybody got the message that Apple, with Mac OS X, is delivering an operating system today that is already well ahead of Redmond's empty promises, while Leopard, coming soon, will take the Mac maker that much further into the lead.

Newsfactor, in a piece titled, "Can the Mac Counter Windows Vista?", says that the real operating system wars are not behind us, but instead are yet to come, and that with Leopard, Apple intends to "present a direct challenge to industry behemoth Microsoft". With the move to Intel processors, and the adoption of the ability to run Windows on the newest Macintoshes, Apple has eliminated any price differences once expected between Macs and PCs, while also pushing their strong television campaign comparing Macs vs. PCs. (Get A Mac archive)

An analyst from Forrester Research mentions in the article, "In many ways, Apple doesn't have to respond to Vista's specific functionality, since Apple is already ahead of it."

But that doesn't stop others from speculating Apple's next moves. Even as other companies make announcements around downloading full-length feature films to PCs, Apple has remained quiet. But nobody expects the company to sit still and let this market pass them by, as they continue to build out their music empire. The Investor's Business Daily says that it's expected Apple would bridge the gap between the Internet and television by introducing both an online movie store, and a set-top box, similar to today's Mac Mini, which would play the films on your television.

In fact, an independent survey stated that "many respondents who were interested in an Apple set-top box showed no interest in set-tops from other companies," meaning the Apple brand, behind the power of the iPod, has come a long way.

While we're huge TiVo fans, we don't see it as the end-all, be-all of options. If Apple could somehow debut a single device to act both as a movie conduit from the Internet to the television, and as our personal video recorder, we would have to give it significant consideration, and I don't imagine we would be the only ones to do so.

If Apple even debuts half of what people expect - a new iPod, a new cell phone, a new set top box, and powers past Vista with Leopard, the next six to twelve months will be very interesting in Cupertino. That's why we're long Apple (AAPL) shares.

Listening to ''Fifteenth Letter of the Alphabet'', by O (Play Count: 6)

IKEA is a Zoo

When I moved to Belmont just after graduating from UC Berkeley in 1999, I certainly didn't have a whole lot of furniture, having been a starving student, so I started over from scratch - buying a new desk, a new bookcase, and a new dresser, assembling each at the apartment, after somehow squeezing them into my small car, and lugging them up three flights of stairs. While the desk didn't follow me along to my next two moves, the dresser and bookshelf did, so they've given me about 7 years of good service - at least until my dresser began to fall apart, making the morning's search for socks just that much more memorable each day.

After a few weeks of going into the other room to get my things out of each drawer individually, my wife and I set out to a number of different stores on the peninsula to see if we could find a good-quality solution for something less than what we pay each month on our mortgage. At our first stop, one of the more-promising dressers was $650, while others were $999 or above, and some peaked at $1,500. Our next two stops weren't much better. In fact, one store didn't have much below $2,000, which seemed a little steep for something I couldn't live in, drive around or surf the Web on. That left IKEA as one last stop. I was skeptical, knowing the low-price leader is often the high-crap leader, and it was certain to be a not-so-exciting experience.

After making our way through a series of parking garages, we entered the IKEA maze as hamsters in a Habitrail, missing only the sawdust and an exercise wheel. Packed in like sardines into narrow walkways, with arrows telling us which way to go, we darted past bunkbeds and stoves or dining sets, past housewares and beanbag chairs, to find anything that resembled a dresser - and to our surprise, we did find some options after all. They weren't nearly the quality of the previous stores, but the prices, in the range of $149 to $249, were significantly less. And as my wife has now mentally committed to our purchasing flat-screen TVs for the house, that's where any of our available money should go, not just a glorified wooden box for shirts, socks and pants.

Though we chose a good dresser, we didn't much feel like dragging it out of the store, packing it in the car, and taking it up the stairs today. But we marked it down, and will try IKEA's catalog or online store, and make someone else do the grunt work. But I am not so sure I want to step inside an IKEA again - to be pushed through like schools of fish among the masses, in a claustrophobic mess of wood, bright paint and screaming kids. I'd rather throw my things in cardboard boxes than do that.

Listening to ''Envio - Time to Say Goodbye'', by Armin Van Buuren (Play Count: 3)

August 25, 2006

Why I Didn't End Up a Journalist

At the end of my high school days, and throughout college, I was sure I was going to end up a reporter. I didn't know just what I thought I'd be covering, and at times my whims floated from covering baseball to becoming a technology reporter. While attending UC Berkeley, I covered a number of beats for the Daily Californian, including crime, the UC Regents and city council, and majored in Mass Communications, as well as Political Science. So what happened?

The Internet happened, and the Internet changed everything.

Alongside my writing efforts at the Daily Cal, I was also the paper's Online Editor, and helped the Web site grow from its earliest stages from 1996 to 1998. The site lives on today, but in a much different state, of course. But working on the site and seeing how Web journalism was rapidly extinguishing the one-time glory of newspapers, I no longer was wowed by the idea of being an ink-stained wretch toiling away for the San Jose Mercury News or MacWorld, as I believed the medium had to make a dramatic change to stay relevant.

After my time at the Daily Cal, I derived two versions of the resume - one for becoming a reporter, and a second, for becoming a Webmaster. In 1998, you can only guess which one gained a lot of interest, even for a student without a degree (yet), and which one didn't. By October of 1998, a month and a half into my senior year at UC Berkeley, I was commuting over the Bay Bridge to Burlingame every day working at an Internet startup, and the dreams of being a reporter were being replaced instead with the hopes of helping  a new company grow. Now, instead of calling companies and people to hear their side of things, I was on the other side - able to make news and not just follow it. Meanwhile, news media on the Internet has grown dramatically, eclipsing the one time leadership of traditional papers.

One gets the feeling that traditional papers are still very leery about the Internet. They are very afraid that their one-time cash cow, classified ads, is going away, replaced by CraigsList and eBay. And by the time their stories are published, the news cycle has already left them in the dust. So you are seeing an increased emphasis on newspapers' online reporters to get the story out early and continue updating it, if simply to keep pace with more nimble outlets. I read the San Francisco Chronicle and Mercury News online, but primarily to keep updated on the A's more than anything else. Especially in the Silicon Valley, technology news doesn't go their way first, and circulations are getting hammered.

An interesting discussion on that subject can be found in The Economist today, in a piece titled "More Media, Less News". As they write, "Newspapers are making progress with the internet, but most are still too timid, defensive or high-minded." Simply put, if they don't find a way to compete with blogs and Digg and news aggregators, they're toast. I'm glad I went the way I did, even if it meant changing the dream, just a little bit.

Listening to ''Nautical Bodies (Original Mix)'', by Paul Oakenfold (Play Count: 8)

Avaya Receives 10 on Asypta-Meter

Avaya is a classic example of a company built out of the "Asypta" school of naming. A, consonant, vowel, consonant, A. Avaya was spun off from Lucent at the end of 2000, and during the era of dot-com frenzy, the company didn't define exactly what it did very well.

From the company's spin-off press release in June of 2000, Lucent's president and CEO, Don Peterson said, ""We chose a name that would set us apart and capture what we're doing with the company - focusing on communications solutions for business customers. Avaya sounds open and fluid-reflecting a company that's open-minded and that provides seamless, effortless interconnections among people and businesses."

Source: Lucent

But what does that mean? Open, Fluid? Open-Minded? Sounds like some nice words to explain "Don't Know Exactly".

The Daily Telegraph, in a piece from December of 2005, ties into that very issue - company names that don't really stand for squat. They partially blamed Landor Associates, a San Francisco design group, for the name, and many others like it.

"If you ever wondered where those bizarre unpronounceable company names come from, look to the Landor crew. Avolar, Midea, Avaya, Spherion, Onity, Lucent. And Lucent's rival, Agilient. You know, like Lucent - but agile! Nice. Soon lots of big branding companies were picking up briefs and now our world is littered with Arrivas, Aptivas, Achievas and Avandas."

Source: Igor International

For fitting the stern criteria set out in the rules of Asypta, Avaya scores a 10.0 and is the first inductee to the Asypta hall of fame!

August 24, 2006

Evening Notes: August 24, 2006

More in an irregularly occurring series...

It's odd how even in what could be considered a small wave of bad publicity, some companies wait out the storm and somehow come out unscathed. After yesterday's $100 million lawsuit settlement with Creative Technologies, Apple followed on today with news that they - like Dell - have issued a recall for more than 1 million laptop batteries which may catch fire. It's highly possible the PowerBook I've got is in the listed serial numbers eligible for replacement... but even with both of those announcements, Apple stock didn't take any kind of hit. In fact, Apple (AAPL) rose less than one percent on the day, even with the news. For what it's worth, my most-recent investment in Apple is doing fairly well, up 24 percent. I had sold some of my holdings for a loss, because I could use it to drag down my total income at tax time by the end of the year.

Of interest to those who follow Apple closely, as I do, an unlikely foe has beaten them to the punch for an online movie store - AOL. The would-be owners of Time Warner (oops!) announced today that for  a mere $10 to $20, customers could download full-length films, with no option to rent. Sounds steep.

Earlier this month, I mentioned how Topix.net's newly-introduced one year news archive search tool could bring huge benefits to companies and PR agencies. Apparently, my feelings are not just mine alone. Steve Rubel, who works for Edelman PR, said Topix "doesn't get the attention it probably deserves", and delves further into the site, to help track companies or individuals and use advanced search features.

The A's have an off day this evening, which means activity on Athletics Nation should be significantly lower than normal - as I, as well as many others, are probably taking the day off as well. For a good fix on AL West baseball, you can check out the LA Angels site at Halos Heaven or the much funnier Seattle Mariners blog at Lookout Landing. Also, be sure to catch Blez' input on why ESPN has lost all relevance for him and many west coast sports fans. The worldwide sports leader is a mockery of its old self these days.

Listening to ''Forever Today'', by DJ Tiesto (Play Count: 14)

Update: Money Transfer Still In Limbo

The Players: Wells Fargo Bank, eTrade, and Bank of America

(Follow on to "Give Me My Money. Now.")

For those keeping score at home, the financial issues between eTrade and Wells Fargo still have not sorted themselves out. In a highly wired world, it seems the only "instant" way to send cash is to use PayPal - and I don't know anybody who has yet managed to tie their stock brokerage into the online payment eBay subsidiary.

To recap:

* On Thursday at noon, I sold half of my Apple stock holdings in eTrade, both to diversify, and to raise needed cash.

* Friday, Saturday and Sunday went by. No sign of my cash in eTrade being available to transfer out of eTrade.

* Monday night, after checking throughout the day, the money became available, and I immediately set up to transfer $5k to Wells Fargo.

* Tuesday and Wednesday... nothing. Now that it's early Thursday morning, the money is no longer in eTrade, and certainly is not at Wells Fargo yet, let alone ready to be spent or written out in a check to my wife. (One potential recipient)

Are you telling me that with some of the most online-savvy brokers, it takes a whole week to sell stock, and transfer the proceeds from one account to another? Color me unimpressed.

Listening to ''Summer Sun (Ibiza Mix)'', by 4 Strings (Play Count: 8)

August 23, 2006

Unfettered Internet Access at Work: Required

I have often made the comment that there are a few essentials to life. Food, water, sleep and high-speed Internet. I don't even want to go see the family or go on trips if I'm out of range of the Blackberry. I even type out e-mails or check sports scores while I'm driving, as anytime instant access to information plays such a key role in what I do - for a living, for my hobbies, and as a consumer. So when I hear that some companies still expect people to spend eight or so hours of the day without access to the Web, or only a minimal subset of it, it's enough to make me want to form a union for these oppressed souls, being stuck by "the man".

Surprisingly, today brought news that Microsoft is advocating employers to release the bonds of Internet inequality, because they're finding young jobseekers especially are turned away from companies that don't get it. As Anne Kirah, Microsoft Senior Design Anthropologist (whatever that is) says, "These kids are saying: forget it! I don’t want to work with you. I don’t want to work at a place where I can’t be freely online during the day."

Now, I'm not advocating that workers of the world should unite behind poorly-designed MySpace pages, streaming MP3s and emoticon-filled chatfests on AOL instant messenger, but as we move more and more of our communications, business and information to the Web, you may as well tell employees not to read or eat while punched in on the clock. Companies will be differentiated through their ability to offer full access to the Internet - not so much as a perk, but as a core element that defines the work experience.

"Okay... so the job pays $9.95 an hour? Does it have benefits? A T-1 line? Cool."

Kirah even went so far as to say that taking a mobile phone away from a teenage girl is tantamount to child abuse. We certainly aren't interested in seeing a new wave of harassment claims from the Net deprived now, do we?

Listening to ''Watching Windows'', by Roni Size (Play Count: 3)

Apple Can't Win Them All, But Vista Still Buggy

Today, after the conclusion of regular stock-trading hours, Apple announced that it had settled five outstanding lawsuits from Creative Technologies surrounding the company's iPod interface, to the tune of $100 millon. Creative had been awarded a patent for an iPod-like interface last year, and immediately filed suit against Apple, in an obvious attempt to extract money from the high-flying computer and gadget maker. As the iPod has marched along, destroying everything in its path, including Dell and Sony, Creative has seen their market share stagnate, despite a valiant attempt to compete. Now, instead of revenue, the company gets cash the old-fashioned new fashioned way - through the courts.

But don't let that make you think Apple is rolling over, a loser on all counts. While they clearly didn't win this round, it clears the way for continued iPod development and announcements, and sweeps that nasty thing under the rug. Meanwhile, as Apple continues to draw accolades for its upcoming Leopard release, its Redmond foe, Microsoft is taking a beating for what some have called "the buggiest OS I've seen this late in development." And that's not some Mac fanboy or jaded MS developer making noise. That particular comment came from analyst Joe Wilcox of Jupiter Research, a firm which tends to be pretty straight-forward with its analysis.

Windows Vista is hardly seeing feature creep, as many operating systems do as they near shipment. Instead it's seeing feature droop, as highly-anticipated functionality has been eliminated in an effort to ship. But was has shipped is full of  bugs, that even the most ardent of Microsoft veterans won't stand. Analysts say the system is the most bug-ridden of any release from the company in more than a decade, and given Redmond's track record, that's truly saying something indeed.

Listening to ''Mind of the Wonderful'', by Blank & Jones (Play Count: 7)

August 22, 2006

iPod Juggernaut Claims Dell As Latest Victim

Today, multiple reports noted that Dell has withdrawn all mention of their MP3 player lineup from the company's store and site. Originally having launched the Dell DJ years ago to take on Apple's iPod, Dell retrenched behind the flash-based Dell Ditty, competing with Apple's incredibly popular iPod Shuffle offering. But it seems that they have admitted defeat and are walking away from the market altogether, removing yet another competitor from Apple's way.

But it certainly can't be as simple as that.

It's my expectation that Dell will heavily promote Microsoft's "coming zune" Zune MP3 player, either through offering it at cutthroat prices on their site, or in bundling to consumers looking for desktops and laptops. There really are only three potential scenarios:

1) Dell admits Apple has won (25% probability)
2) Dell will soon be branding the iPod themselves (5% probability)
3) Microsoft is the company's new MP3 partner (70% probability)

It will all get very interesting soon, as Microsoft threatens to muck up yet another market with their half-baked me-too offerings. They've done it before, and it won't stop them this time around either. Dell, unfortunately, may be an all-too willing partner in the war on the side of mediocrity.

Listening to ''Dirtbox'', by Dave Clarke (Play Count: 6)

A Third NorCal NBA Team? San Jose Says Yes

Cross-posted at Sactown Royalty...

A few weeks ago, we talked about "Kings Country", the theoretical make-believe border between where Kings fans ended and Warriors fans began, etc. But now, there are rumblings of some trying to bring an NBA team to San Jose, to share the HP Pavilion with the Sharks, which would make northern California a three-team region - taking it a step further than every other professional sport, including MLB and the NFL, who are comfortable with their Oakland and San Francisco representatives.

In today's San Jose Mercury News, a piece titled, NBA team still on S.J. agenda, says that an investment group recently courted (no pun intended) the Seattle Supersonics in an attempt to bring them to Silicon Valley. Now, arena owners are openly discussing the need to make accomodations, in the event an NBA squad were brought to the South Bay.

"If you're not prepared and if something were to come up, you're really in trouble,'' said Greg Jamison, SVSE's chief executive officer. ``We want to be prepared in the event that possibly an NBA team becomes available.''

As you can expect, even the rumblings of potential sneakers on the hardwood has got San Jose's northern neighbors just a little peeved.

"I am not in the business of telling cities how to do their business,'' Warriors President Robert Rowell said Monday. ``However, I am sure there are better ways they can spend the taxpayers' dollar than on this project.''

Is Northern California strong enough to support the two teams it already has in professional hoops, let alone three? Are these Silicon Valley financial overlords enjoying recreational pharmaceuticals? And would the Kings be as impacted as the Warriors by the San Jose Motherboards? Your thoughts...

Listening to ''The DJ - In the Mix'', by ATB (Play Count: 13)

August 21, 2006

Evening Tech Notes: August 21, 2006

In the "yet another iPod competitor" category, Sandisk debuted devices that scale all the way through eight gigabytes - double that of the iPod Nano, with a similar style to and price of the Nano, giving Apple what some have termed its most formidable competition in years, since the iPod's having grabbed more than three quarters of the MP3 player market. Oddly, after decades of being trumped by Microsoft's inferior software and hardware, Apple has the shoe on the other foot when it comes to the iPod, as even if they were to be trumped on technology (and there's no indication that's happened here), their immense market share and momentum will make it very difficult for competitors to make inroads. In fact, Wired News says that iTunes has become such a dominant entity in the music business that even the initial holdout bands will have to make their music available.

In fact, in the face of competition from online sales, such as iTunes, Tower Records announced today that it is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection amid declining sales.

Interestingly, some media pundits, including GigaOm, are saying that Apple has such interest in the music and video space that they are suggesting the Cupertino company make a play for online video site YouTube. Although I don't see it happening, Apple is one company who could potentially strike a deal for the $1 billion-valued Web 2.0 giant. However, Apple does not have a history of purchasing content sites. The company's middle of the road .Mac services were all home grown, and acquisitions have tilted more to the software arena.

Lastly, there was considerable fallout at AOL after the company inadvertently leaked thousands of search queries from users in a massive violation of privacy - as discussed earlier in "Privacy On the Web Is Gone". The online services company reacted swiftly by forcing the resignation of AOL's chief technology officer and other minions who had a part in making the breach happen. As Good Morning Silicon Valley writes, imagine how that would look on the resume... "Reason for leaving last job: Violated the privacy of 600,000 company customers". Ouch. (More)

Listening to ''Aphrodesiac'', by Nu Mood Orchestra (Play Count: 7)

A's Win 12-10 After Being Down by 8 Runs

A typical 2006 A's game is one where the winning team claims victory by benefit of sharp pitching and defense, so a slugfest like tonight's game in Toronto, where both teams tallied double digits on the scoreboard, is highly atypical. What made the game even more atypical was the way that the A's fell behind early to the tune of 8-0, and rallied back for the win, matching the franchise's biggest comeback of all time, achieved only once before.

Though at the office when the game started, I periodically checked in on the score early, only to find our heros on the short end of an early deficit, first 3-0, and later 8-0. On Athletics Nation, loyal posters were committing faux suicide and claimed the game was over. Usually, it would be, but tonight was one for the record books. In the top of the 3rd, the A's got to starting pitcher Ted Lilly, and banged him up to the tune of 7 runs, knocking him out. In fact, the knockouts didn't end there. In front of the TV cameras, Lilly had words with the manager, and news services are now saying the two exchanged blows, drawing blood. That can't be good for team morale.

But the A's were the ones with punch the rest of the way. On the back of a 4-5 night by Jason Kendall, three hits by Eric Chavez, and home runs by Bobby Kielty, Milton Bradley, and Jay Payton, the team most known for its light offense didn't let up until they had pulled off the unimaginable. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why they play baseball, and why every game goes nine innings. It ain't over until they say it's over. And after it's all done, the A's still have a five game lead in the division, and look like they have a strong chance to make the playoffs. We've already purchased our tickets, and are looking forward to it, especially after this night to remember.

Listening to ''People'', by Paul Van Dyk (Play Count: 4)

Microsoft LiveSpaces? Empty Spaces

There's been a bit of discussion on the blogosphere over the last few days about Microsoft's claim that their Microsoft LiveSpaces service is the most popular blogging service in the world, if one tracks it by the total number of bloggers. But if that is so, how come I have yet to see any useful sites on Microsoft Live? Why are all of the most-popular sites powered by WordPress or TypePad, or for those consumer-level folks among us, by Blogger?

(For what it's worth, I'm sticking with RapidWeaver)

Robert Scoble goes head to head with one of the Microsoft Live drones, after doing some investigation and seeing that all of the blogs he found on Microsoft Live were absolutely devoid of content. No big surprise there.

Regardless of the statistics, it is hard to believe that Microsoft is first, nimble enough to make the kind of transition needed to truthfully move from an OS and software suite company to an Internet leader, and secondly, that they can obtain the trust of the end user community, as others have. MySpace and Facebook and other success stories were organically grown, not manipulated, as MSN and Live are. The fact Google bought Blogger shows they knew to ask out the prettiest girl at the dance, not to build her out of spare parts.

Listening to ''Damaged (Ford's Trancendental Radio Edit)'', by Plummet (Play Count: 7)

August 20, 2006

Give Me My Money. Now.

The Players: Wells Fargo Bank, eTrade, and Bank of America

The Hypothesis: I should be able to get my own money when I want, as fast as I want, to do whatever I want.

The Reality: Although each of these institutions offers Web-based transfers, and in the case of eTrade, stock purchases and sales, I don't really get access to my own earned money immediately, despite the fact it's mine. While they have made it relatively simple to move money from one institution to another, and have even gone so far as to make it without charge (that's good!), I find myself consistently frustrated that I can't get to my own cash, in the event I need it.

I have been a loyal Wells Fargo customer since 1998, and opened an eTrade account during the online stock boom in the 1999-2000 timeframe. My wife, a loyal Bank of America customer herself, was acquired following months-long negotiations involving multiple parties. While we've so far avoided getting a joint checking account, something that may change soon, it is common for me to need to write her checks to cover outstanding items, or to spot her on excess spending. And every once in a while, what she needs exceeds the cash I have on hand, meaning I need to draw from the till at eTrade to make ends meet.

One easy way would be to transfer to her Bank of America account directly from eTrade, but we've learned that can take 4-5 business days, and lots of waiting around to figure out if it's really happened yet. The same is true if I transfer from eTrade to Wells Fargo, but the onus would then be on me to wait - more accepted, obviously. I could write her a check, and post-date it, but that'd be silly.

And there's one more option - move all my banking to eTrade. After all, they do say they offer competitive savings rates. But that's not happening any time soon.

Until then, we still have two major issues:

1. I can't figure out why I first can't send my money from eTrade to Bank of America or Wells Fargo immediately.

2. Why doesn't money I gain from selling stock on eTrade become immediately available, either for reinvestment or for transferring?

This Wednesday, I sold half my Apple holdings, to diversify and to gain cash. But the money hasn't appeared available to transfer to either Bank of America (her) or Wells Fargo (me), several days later. Foolishness. It's not as if eTrade is going to bounce a check if they send me my money. Last I checked, they were doing fairly well. And as a strong customer for both them and Wells Fargo for several years, one would think that the skids would be greased a bit for simple transactions like buying, selling and transferring. They're basic. But instead, I need to deplete my savings to give my wife the money she needs, and then wait a week or so, optimistically, to get my own money out of eTrade and into Wells Fargo to refill the money pit. It's real simple - make a change. Give me my money. Now.

Listening to ''That's Life'', by Paul Van Dyk (Play Count: 6)

Saturday Sees Six Hours of Driving

Let me first apologize for the lack of non-ANtics updates to the site of late. Schedules haven't been all that forgiving. Yesterday alone saw us spending "quality time" in the car to the tune of six hours or so, and we didn't arrive home until after 2 a.m. Needless to say, until they've perfected the technologies of voice-to-text blogging while driving and can upload while I'm behind the wheel, you're going to see gaps.

Earlier this week, one of my best friends and colleagues had the sad news that her father had passed away after a long battle with cancer. With his services in Stockton, we first drove up to my parents' home in Sacramento, to drop off our beagle, and then turned right back around to Stockton for the service. After the service, we returned to Sacramento, and then had the trip back to the Bay Area to take us through the late hours. With 2 hours 20 minutes to Sacramento, and an hour between Stockton and Sacramento each way, you can see how the time added up.

But it was all well worth it.

My colleague's father lived to a ripe old age of 91, and shared some of the same passions we do - including a love for A's baseball. The well-decorated ceremony included a floral arrangement in the shape of an A's baseball, with an A's logo, and we were even asked to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the service, which otherwise closely followed Buddhist traditions. The man, who passed on his love for the game to his daughter, had held season tickets behind home plate for more than 20 years, had managed youth baseball leagues, and once, many decades ago, had played against Joe DiMaggio, in semi-pro baseball. Though I only met him a few times, it was clear he loved his baseball, and his family. The service's program had his smiling face on the front, wearing an A's cap - of course.

Aside from the baseball elements, the service itself was beautiful - honoring the Buddhist traditions and ceremony, full of incense and Japanese song. We were very lucky to have the opportunity to share in that, and we hope he knows how much we appreciate the contributions of his family.

Following the service's conclusion, we headed north to my own family, ostensibly to pick up our dog, who languished without us for a few hours. We spent the evening with yet more food (I was full from the reception after the service), and played plenty of cards, as we tend to do when we get together. After several rounds of Uno, a family staple, we played hearts until I lost. I lost because I took too many risks, and never shot the moon, but we still had fun, and didn't mind driving the midnight hours back to the Bay Area, only to start off our Sunday routine hours later.

Listening to ''Engreossing Moments'', by ATB (Play Count: 3)