June 29, 2007

New TAB Post: Let Your Apple TV in on iPhone Mania

Think the Apple TV is getting the short shrift in comparison to the seemingly unending iPhone hype? It's bad enough Steve Jobs called the set top box a hobby, but now the iPhone is being trotted out as the solution for all that ails mankind.

So, in an effort to make our Apple TV feel more welcome and part of the process, we've been watching Apple's new iPhone tutorial videos through the Apple TV, and not on our laptop. After all, who wouldn't like guides on activation for products they may not purchase on a 42-inch widescreen TV?

That's the background behind my most recent contribution to The Apple Blog, titled Let Your Apple TV in on iPhone Mania. Per agreement with them, I will not be cross-posting the piece, but instead, have provided a link. Enjoy.

June 28, 2007

TiVo Upgrade Offer Just Might Work On Me

Forget about the iPhone for a second, if possible. TiVo sent me an e-mail earlier today, practically begging me to upgrade my old Series 1 DVR with lifetime service to a new 80-hour Series 2 DVR model, for $299, taking my lifetime service contract with me. While TiVo's Series 2 model has been out for some time, and has already been lapped by the company's Series 3 boxes, the second generation boxes offer enough advantages over the first generation that I'm seriously tempted to take the plunge.

Click for full invite or visit the offer page

My wife and I just might be the cheapest TiVo customers in history. We didn't pay a dime for our 180 Gigabyte (140 hour) Series 1 box, which came to us from a friend as an extremely generous wedding present in April of 2003. Four-plus years later, the only money I've ever given TiVo was my initial lifetime service fee of less than $300, and I've never looked back or given TiVo a dime for new service or hardware, even finagling a free remote from the company's headquarters just last month.

But as we held steady with our TiVo, the company continued to innovate, adding the ability to record from multiple channels, and the ability to serve up home music and pictures through the device. Still, we were stymied by TiVo's doing away with the lifetime service option in a push toward more consistent monthly subscriber revenues. We were happy to stay with series one, thank you. Later, this was made even more solid when the Apple TV came into our lives, bringing photos and music to the screen on its own.

Today's e-mail has me thinking again. Is it worth $299 to pick up an 80-hour Series 2 device for dual channel recording and an improved form factor? It just might be. TiVo has done well by us for almost five years, and I'm beginning to think it's our turn to do well by TiVo and take the next step in this relationship. We'll keep you posted if we move forward.

Kent Newsome Calls My Comments "Fear and Loathing"

As anticipated, Kent Newsome didn't believe my concerns around viral link tagging were valid, saying he saw them as another way to help balance an uneven playing field. He writes, "For me, the (tags are) a small attempt to end run around the fact that, despite writing hard for years, I simply cannot get many of the popular bloggers to allow me into the conversation.", adding, "The blogosphere isn't a perfect place, but it's the only one we have."

For perfect transparency's sake, I had been thinking for quite some time around this issue of external hyperlink padding, and was absolutely concerned that by using Kent as the example, that he would see it as a personal attack. My thoughts around this post had been ruminating for weeks, as I saw the practice spread. But what I truly want to get across is that while I still believe the practice is bogus, that I think the onus now falls on the search engines, like Technorati and Google, to close the holes in the way they tabulate these results. Kent is a great guy and his blog has some outstanding content, which is why we've traded links and comments for months. That's not up for debate.

If there's a better example of a prominent blogger who I respect who uses this practice, I'm happy to add them to the discussion, but for now, that hasn't happened, and Kent is on whom the sword fell. Be sure to see Kent's response here: Fear and Loathing in the Blogosphere. As he and I discussed before, blogs are about conversations. So what do you think?

Technorati Needs to Stamp Out Viral Tag Spam Now

You name a statistic, and people will try to game it. You find a ranking, and people will learn how to cheat their way to the top. Online or offline, there is a push/pull relationship between those people who cheat and those people tasked with finding and exposing the cheaters. Some of the most annoying examples of this cat and mouse game today can be seen with the abuses of Technorati's "Authority" metric, which gauges how many individual blogs link to one site in a six month period.

A number of bloggers, including some otherwise-respected individuals, have engaged in a "viral tag" game that invites people to link back to them, and virtually, virally, pass it on. As with any good pyramid scheme, the guy at the top gets the best benefits, and those later to the game get less. Over the last month or so, I've seen some individual's Technorati "Authority" skyrocket, as they've moved from an arguably accurate 100-200 external links through 300, 400, 500 and beyond, catapulting them from B-List blog status to garnering a "Top 5k" badge from Technorati, even though the overwhelming majority of recent links are a fraud.

This practice, if it grows, threatens to eliminate any credibility Technorati has in this space, and will erode trust in the company and its statistics. I can see right-minded bloggers who do showcase this statistic honestly, like I do, to start removing the widget from their blogs as it loses value and becomes an object of scorn.

At the risk of ticking off or losing one of my more engaged and loyal readers, Kent Newsome of Newsome.org is one of the most high-profile showcases of this practice. As you can see in his Technorati profile, he is listed among the top 5,000 most popular blogs that Technorati scours, a diamond in the rough emerging from the tens of millions who do blog. But his count is completely bogus. (Just check out the "reactions") The Viral Tags link exchange has, like a virus, taken over his results page, spawning more and more and more sites to latch onto this sultry practice.

This started from Andy Coate's call to game the results of Google's PageRank, and was later spread by the Founders' Cafe, who is keeping tabs on those who have jumped in headfirst.

The practice of viral tags is not a case of intelligent search engine optimization, as is claimed. This is simply Web link spam aimed at artificially giving credibility where there is none. And now that Kent and others have engaged in the practice, it cannot be undone, unless Technorati, Google and others who track these sorts of things put a stop to it cold.

I'm not saying that people like Kent should be wiped out of Technorati and Google, as he actually tends to have some strong content on his blog. I like his posts and have enjoyed commenting and seeing his reactions here. But I find his move here to lack any of the "accountability" and credibility he expects from other prominent bloggers. (See: It's About Choices and Accountability) It's time to lead by example, Kent, and find a way out of this mess.

Everybody but Me Thinks I'm Getting the iPhone

I started to get the e-mails last week. From one former colleague: "R U camping out to get your iPhone? Will you be on the Apple store’s doorstep at 6 PM sharp?" and then another came. "Have U ordered your iPhone?" they asked. Then I started getting text messages. My little sister hit me up... "Are you excited about the iPhone? Getting one?" And this doesn't even take into account the many repeated questions I've received in person and on the phone.

It's as if everybody expects me to be walking out of an Apple Store on day one with an iPhone in tow. I've even had to make a standard response to the inquiries, either by saying I can wait until version two, or explaining that I really don't need a new phone all that badly, that my Blackberry works great, and doesn't cost me a dime. One person, thinking along the same lines, wrote me, saying, "I am actually holding out. It is tempting, but I bet they release a higher capacity model come Christmas time." And maybe he's right? Who knows?

It's no secret that Apple, despite all the interest in the current iPhone models, will continue to innovate. It's no secret that hard disk capacities and flash memory capacities are increasing. And it's no secret that software or firmware updates will be upcoming to the iPhone, just like they have for the iPod and Apple TV. One could arguably wait around forever for the next version of anything. Any time I make a purchase, I run the risk of finding myself left with the previous generation shortly thereafter, and there's something to be said for not having buyer's remorse for products, so long as they're working.

With that said, I'll spell it out here, and look forward to any debates in the comments. I do not, at this time, plan to buy the iPhone tomorrow or next week, or for the foreseeable near future. I am extremely intrigued by its capabilities and how it could impact not only Apple but the entire mobile phone industry, but I don't need one. I will more quickly buy a next-generation iPod before I buy the iPhone. My Blackberry is paid for by the office and comes with a company number. Buying an iPhone would require a new number, a second phone to carry, and a new rate plan from AT&T, who is nobody's favorite. I may be an Apple fan. I may have a solid track record for early adoption of the company's products. But I'm trying to let logic win out over emotion in this case, and I will let this initial wave pass me by. And if I do give in, like a fool, and buy an iPhone at any point in the next six months, please do refer back to this post and mock me. I know I would.

June 25, 2007

iPhone Guided Tour Not on iTunes

Apple is certainly doing a lot of things right in their breakneck promotion of the iPhone's release later this week. As people are already getting in line in anticipation of Cupertino's latest offering, with days to go, the company has turned over their home page to a detailed tour of the iPhone and its features.

But oddly enough, Apple hasn't found a way to get the iPhone video into iTunes. For a company usually so good about connecting each of its wares, that seems strange.

Apple's "iPhone - A Guided Tour" page offers three ways to stream the video, and one "Large" way to download the video. And that's it. Searching for "iPhone" in iTunes doesn't uncover anything of the sort.

I'd think downloading the iPhone's guided tour from iTunes would be logical. Even weirder, Apple advertises the file as 175 megabytes, yet the download actually appears to be almost twice that size, weighing in at 318 megabytes, even though Apple so very nicely wrapped it in a .zip casing to reduce file size. (See the disparity on the left)

So what's the deal? Is Apple saving bandwidth costs by not putting the iPhone tour in iTunes? It doesn't seem to make much sense.

What Should Drive TechMeme's Content?

Robert Scoble ruffled a few feathers today, when he issued his latest missive against TechMeme's direction, as he sees the blog headlines site moving away from its roots and more toward general news coverage, like Google News. Robert says the site should give higher credence to those sites which are generating discussion, arguing in summary that he with the most links wins. But with TechMeme's proprietary algorithm being somewhat of a mystery, it's interesting to consider what I would see as the ideal blog news aggregation site, and how it would change what TechMeme is today.

For the large part, TechMeme automatically senses what are the hot blog conversations of the day. The more noise, the higher on the page, with those blogs with the highest readership and external links receiving the "lead" and referring or related sites being shoehorned in their shadow. Today's biggest discussions? The continued coverage of Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, and the latest developments on Apple's iPhone. Today's news was that the devices have reached the mainland.

To be sure, both stories have tongues wagging. But Robert, looking inwardly, noted that one media site's coverage of Plaxo's new platform was rated more highly than his own dedicated coverage. Looking at referrals from Technorati, he can't figure why The Register would trump The Scobleizer. And he's got a point. If TechMeme's tracking discussions, The Register would be a related item, not the lead.

But I have other issues. It seems to me that if TechMeme wants to treat A-list bloggers equally with others generating news, then those who provide original coverage, or break the news, should be given higher credence. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten to a story before "the big guys" get it, only to be ignored. For example, last night, around 2, I posted that I thought Google Reader was down. A TechCrunch reporter, Duncan Riley, and I traded e-mail, we both visited and commented on a discussion board on the outage, and later, he wrote a story. That TechCrunch got the lead can make sense, as the site has tremendous credibility, and many external links, but not only was my note not the lead, but it didn't even get noted by TechMeme, who instead opted to carry follow-on notes from The Download Squad.

Total Technorati external links to The Download Squad? Eight. Total Technorati external links to my story? Eight. So all things being equal, I'd argue that the site which got the story first chronologically, with original reporting, should be given equal or greater value. But if, due to some mysterious rule, I'm being kicked to the curb for a lack of pre-existing popularity, that seems to conflict with what I would hope is the goal of TechMeme, to deliver the a real-time summary of what's happening now in the blogosphere, and to raise the profile of those bloggers who might not necessarily be household names. Otherwise, TechMeme isn't offering much real value.

Robert jokingly called himself an "arrogant bbbbaahhhhhsssssttttttaaaarrrrrdddddd" for calling for change, and wondering why his efforts didn't make it, and I might come off as a whiner as well, but with extra effort should come extra reward. Duncan Riley and I put in an equivalent amount of effort to find out the truth, analyze the situation and write it up. But as far as TechMeme is concerned, I'm a cipher. I can take the abuse, but I think the blogosphere as a whole would be better served to highlight original reporting from the corners of the Web that are driving value.

Google Reader Back Up By Morning

It turns out the Google Reader crew jumped into action after their alarm clocks went off this morning, restarting the service after six a.m. Pacific time, following what was an approximately eight-hour outage. There hasn't been any notice as to why the outage occured on the company's product blog, but Mihai Parparita, here and elsewhere, apologized for the outages, saying feeds should be refreshing again. And they are.

The outage came at a less-impactful time for those of us based on the West Coast of the United States, but for those in Europe, India and elsewhere, it couldn't have come at a worse time, staying down throughout the day. Google Reader's news group lit up with reports around the world of frustrated techies who couldn't get their feed fix.

It's clear the redundancy held so dear by Google's mainstream apps, like search, hasn't yet trickled down to the individual apps and lab projects. For those of us who have been early adopters and made these projects part of our daily routine, we can only hope that practice is resolved shortly. Until then, we'll keep backing up our feeds, and watch for future bumps.

New TAB Post: Why Not Integrate Safari With Finder?

One of the things I actually like about the Windows platform is the ability to type in a URL in the desktop environment rather than needing to open a Web browser. While that's a byproduct of their illegal bundling practices that aimed to kill Netscape, I occasionally would like to see similar functionality on my Mac OS X boxes.

So far, readers at The Apple Blog believe a move to integrate Safari with Finder, mimicking Microsoft's move, would be a daft one, arguing that malware and feature bloat are two things Microsoft does that Apple should not. But it's worth looking into in my opinion. I could view boomarks and search Google from the Finder, rather than jumping into Safari, and Apple has all the necessary tools.

That's the background behind my most recent contribution to The Apple Blog, titled Why Not Integrate Safari With Finder?. Per agreement with them, I will not be cross-posting the piece, but instead, have provided a link. Enjoy.

Google Reader Down Overnight?

It's not often that I go more than two hours without any new RSS feeds, even if it is in the middle of the night on the weekend. But if I were to believe that Google Reader were fully functioning, then that's what the RSS feed reader would be telling me, as two hours into my Monday, I'm still at zero feeds, and I don't have any solid proof that anything has been delivered since 10 or so Sunday.

Something is wrong. And given that it's so late, and most are asleep, it's a very quiet outage right now. Truth is, if people are saying anything about it, it sure as heck isn't hitting my RSS feeds in Google Reader... for obvious reasons.

Over the last few hours, I know there have been updates, thanks to Technorati, and my own efforts. A story I posted to Athletics Nation around midnight hasn't crossed to Google Reader, nor have my two posts here, or Tony Chung's note on opening up a new GeekWhat forum. As Tony is one of my Technorati favorites, I knew he posted, but otherwise, we've got radio silence in the blogosphere, and as they say, it's quiet... too quiet.

If I lose RSS for any extended period, I just might resort to actually visiting individual sites. And we all know that would be a real tragedy.

Confirmed: Reader is down, apparently for everyone. Google's engineers all appear to be asleep. Additional coverage here and here and here. (TechCrunch is also on the case.)

In Depeche Mode Overload and Loving It

Back in January, I noted that Apple had teamed up with Depeche Mode to offer an ultimate collection of songs through iTunes, capturing all of the band's albums, plus previously unreleased live recordings and remixes, delivering 647 songs for "only" $169.99, approximately 26 cents per track, down almost 75% from the typical 99 cent price. After six months of trying to be good, I took the plunge last week, and finally bought it. Now, I'm in Depeche Mode heaven, listening to song after song, hour after hour of some of the best music ever - trying to remember note for note, word for word, each of the songs I first held dear on long-since discarded cassette tapes over the last two decades.

Now, I'm re-acquainting myself with lesser-known excellent tracks from Depeche Mode like "Work Hard", "Dangerous", "Kaleid", "Route 66", "Oberkorn", and "Behind the Wheel", in addition to those that have gained the most airtime, like "Policy of Truth", "Personal Jesus", "People are People" and "Somebody". Like any good snob, it's the ones that didn't get the radio play that I like the best. (See my Last.FM track list for live updates)

Depeche Mode helped bridge the gap between electronic pioneers Kraftwerk and the DJs and techno artists of today like DJ Tiesto, Underworld and Chemical Brothers. Their songs, some a decade or two old, are just as good as the day they first hit vinyl. And having already approved payment for this latest splurge on my credit card, I have no regrets.

ANtics Episode 3.18: Joe Blanton, Enigma

Cross-posted to Athletics Nation...

There wasn't much to celebrate with the most recent series against the Mets. But on Saturday, Joe Blanton put up eight scoreless innings in yet another remarkable pitching effort by him this season. The only problem? The A's hitters matched him zero for zero. Why does this keep happening? We investigate...

Click to See Larger Comic

All Comics | Submit an Idea for ANtics

June 23, 2007

iBelieve iSee an iPhone iBrowsing

Next week, if rumors are true, the world will be tilted off its axis with the debut of Apple's much-anticipated iPhone. While I don't expect to be waiting outside an Apple Store or AT&T store with credit card in hand to partake in the imbibing of Apple's latest gadget, I will be watching the situation very closely. It's a rare thing for Apple to bring new life in this world and for me not to partake.

But even prior to the iPhone's being available for commercial sale, iPhone sightings are cropping up in the wild, with the occasional spy photo or Web log tracking giving their users away. In fact, tonight, this humble site was visited by a strange creature: the iPhone.

A quick look at SiteMeter for louisgray.com shows:
Operating System Macintosh MacOSX
Browser Safari 2.0 Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU like Mac OS X; en)
AppleWebKit/420 (KHTML, like Gecko)
Version/3.0 Mobile/1A543a Safari/419.3

I find the browser details fascinating. The iPhone tells Web site owners that the ISP is Apple Computer, not AT&T, that the operating system is a full fledged Mac OS X, as Steve Jobs has told us, and you even get to know the specific WebKit version underlying the Safari browser on the iPhone itself.

These days, Web authors aren't just writing for Internet Explorer and Netscape, as we were a few years ago. Now, in addition to those browsers, we need to expect our copy to hit Safari and Firefox, and a litany of new approaches to the Web, from Blackberry to generic mobile phones and now, Apple's iPhone. I expect to see iPhone browsing becoming more commonplace in the coming months. And just maybe, if I'm good, some of that will be done by me.

TrueGrit Chimes In on Blogging Evolution

Earlier this month, I wrote that the biggest blogs aren't really blogs any more, having crossed the line between personal platforms to full-fledged media powerhouses. A review on TechCrunch or GigaOM can be just as effective at getting the word out these days as a mention in more traditional business press. TrueGrit, who forecast this change in August of 2006, says that "real changes occur with popularity", and that the image of a blog "becomes an entity of its own, not always in sync with the desires and direction that the person who owns it has in mind."

That last line, for me, is especially insightful. It seems that the momentum of a blog can pull the author in a direction they hadn't anticipated. I've mentioned here that what I had intended to be a personal blog of sorts has evolved to be more technology-focused and observational on blog trends than I had guessed it would be. The evolving readership and community I've found in the year and a half of regular publishing has pushed me more toward noting insights in how I interact with technology and away from my talking about politics, for instance, or chronicling every A's game, as much fun as that can be.

In fact, TrueGrit, while effusing praise on the blog, mentions our differences in politics as a concern, when she writes, "I think I should blogroll Louis, his politics are diametrically different from mine, but his interest in specific topics and the world are touchpoints for me."

Politics, religion and even sports can serve to divide people as well as bring them together. There's no doubt, as you could likely see from some of the comments earlier this week around Michael Moore's 'Sicko', that people can get riled up around differences in opinion, but through our efforts in the blogosphere, and our shared experiences and observations, we'll be sure to find commonality. I'm glad I can have discussions with complete strangers in this way, despite our sure differences. I'm glad we can expand the conversation.

New TAB Post: Surf on the Edge with a Nighly Build

With Safari 3.0's recent introduction and new cross-platform functionality, the browser may see higher levels of scrutiny, both good and bad, from fans and hackers alike. But what few know is that Safari relies on an underlying technology called WebKit, which Apple uses as the browser engine for many of its applications that render Web content (i.e. Mail, Dashboard, etc.)

WebKit, like FireFox and other open source apps, is updated on a nightly basis, and for those who want to have the very latest features, and don't mind putting up with the occasional browser hang, there are nightly builds available.

That's the background behind my most recent contribution to The Apple Blog, titled Surf on the Edge With a WebKit Nightly Build. Per agreement with them, I will not be cross-posting the piece, but instead, have provided a link. Enjoy.

June 22, 2007

Top Eight Worst Stock Moves I Ever Made

While the NASDAQ and DOW averages have done alright for themselves in 2007, my eTrade account isn't keeping up. In fact, with almost six full months through the year, I took a look at the online brokerage and it looks like I'm not too far from where I started. This got me thinking about how I had sold my Apple stock way too early this year, and that in turn reminded me of all the missteps I've made financially over the last decade or so. I thought I'd share some of the lowlights. Why only eight and not the typical ten? Let's just say that in this case, eight is enough.

1. My Not Investing in the Google IPO.

Long story short - I had the option to participate in the Dutch auction of Google stock as the company prepared to go public. In fact, I had put in a bid for 100 shares, but seeing the price debut at $85 - $90 made me think there was only one direction for the stock to go... down. Boy was I ever wrong. A quick search in my GMail reminds me of that blunder, with messages like "We are sending this notice to everyone who obtained a bidder ID, regardless of whether you have been allocated shares of Google's Class A common stock in the offering." The $9,000 or so I could have put in at the end of 2004 would be worth more than $51,000 today.

2. Getting Fleeced by WorldCom's Lies

It wasn't just the employees of Enron, Adelphia, WorldCom and others who were hit by the financial scandals that rocked thsoe firms. Years ago, as the shine started to come off the Internet bubble, we were looking for value stocks that looked like they were a cheap buy with possible near-guaranteed returns. As one friend began to hype Worldcom's amazingly low price/earnings ratio, I bought in to the hype. In May of 2002, I started accumulating Worldcom (WCOM) with 525 shares at $2.25, and dove in headfirst with 1,160 more shares a month and a half later at $1.38, as the stock dove downward. Then the scandal hit, and we were left holding the bag. By July, my 1,685 shares of Worldcom were sold away at 20 cents apiece, getting me a loss of nearly $2,500. That money loomed much larger for me five years ago, but still sticks in my craw.

3. Getting Ownage from Vonage

In June of 2006, after publicly questioning my own sanity, I opted to play the Vonage IPO. Still hurting from my missed opportunity at the Google IPO (see above), I jumped into this longshot, which was a dead duck from day one. In a week's time, I saw my 600 shares drop from a value of nearly $10,000 to just under $7,000, costing me almost $3,000. (I already chastised myself publicly here)

4. Rack 'Em Up, Stack Up the Losses

See a trend? I think I can outsmart the market by buying low and selling high. The trick is that everybody else keeps selling, and usually what goes down, must go down some more. Earlier this year, I fell for that trap again. In the first half of this year, I bought into 500 shares of Rackable at 21.15. By the end of April, I was out entirely at 12.72 a share, and it's even lower now. My total loss? More than $4,200 by the end of April. That's worse than taxes for a mid-April surprise.

5. Burst My Bubble

In January of 2006, I thought I could buy low and sell high again by riding the hype around a small stock with shaky but potentially profitable ambitions. I purchased 6000 shares of Burst (BRST) around $2 and sold for $1.60. I thought the company might actually make some cash off its suing Apple for patent infringements, but the stock had already jumped and I lost my shirt to the tune of about $2,500 in the space of 2 days. I'd rather I lost that money playing slots in Vegas somewhere.

6. Sun Rise, Sun Set

While the total value lost here wasn't tremendous, around $1,000, it sure is embarrassing for my setting a record in bad timing. From July to September of 2002, I was accumulating Sun Microsystems stock at low, low prices, first at $4.75, and later at $3.65. But the stock was in freefall after nobody wanted "the dot in dotcom". I gave up on the stock on October 4 of 2002, selling all 655 shares at $2.50 apiece. Not only is the stock more than twice as high now, nearly five years later, but $2.50 was just about as low as it ever went. (Reference: Google Finance)

7. An Apple a Day Keeps Debt Away

At the end of April, following delays in Apple's Mac OS X Leopard operating system, and concerns around iPod sell-throughs, I thought the best thing was to get out of Apple altogether. Very publicly, I sold my 200 shares of Apple stock at $94 apiece, making about $1,600 on the deal. But if you take a look at Apple stock now, just two months later, you'll see the stock is around $124 a share. Quick math says I left $6,000 on the table. (This wasn't my first wrong guess on AAPL)

8. A Half Hour Will Cost You a Grand

On September 28, 2005, Incyte Corporation had taken a big one-day dive, from the $7 range to just under $5. Looking for the inevitable bounce, I put in for 1,500 shares, with a stop loss that would prevent me from getting too fleeced. I literally took a shower, and came back to find my sale executed at $4.25 a share. All told, I had lost $1,000+ from 6:49 a.m. to 7:12 a.m. and I hadn't even had breakfast. That's a horrible way to start the day. The stock now trades around $6.38 a share.

So that's about $20,000 in real losses and $60,000 in unrealized gains. They say you're not supposed to have buyer's remorse or seller's remorse, but I just can't help it. What are some of the worst stock trades you've ever made?

June 21, 2007

Comcast Cable Out Again - 7 Hours and Counting

For the second time in a fortnight, our Comcast Cable access to the Web and television has been completely knocked out, without any rhyme, reason, warning or apologies.

The first sign came at work, when I got an e-mail from Kristine, containing the note, "P.S. TV and (Wifi network) are down. Thank goodness for neighbors wifi." That was nearly seven hours ago, and so far as I can tell, our cable TV and Web access are still out, sending us scrapping for alternative entertainment, and new ways to get online. So far, we've determined which open WiFi networks in our apartment complex utilize Comcast, and therefore aren't working, and those that are working, and therefore, must be using an alternative vendor. The good news is that one works well enough for me to get the basic Internet readings done and let me contribute my whining here.

One line's outage has significant impact, setting off a chain of events. Our TiVo is recording gibberish. Our Apple TV isn't showing anything from YouTube or the iTunes Store. Our PowerBook isn't connecting at all, and I'm stuck on the Dell trying to eke out something resembling bandwidth. The only real technology item unaffected so far appears to be the Blackberry. With time, I'm sure Comcast's evil ways will take it down too somehow.

June 20, 2007

Our Apple TV Gets an Upgrade, With YouTube

Since the initial euphoria over getting the Apple TV set top box into our home, we haven't exactly been using it every day. While it's a great backup for missed shows that can be downloaded from iTunes, and also a fun way to play iTunes music through my TV's speakers, the inflexibility of iTunes in terms of not having movies for rent, or the ability to play .AVI files natively, has limited our use. Today, Apple debuted a new software update for the Apple TV that delivered a new source of entertainment: YouTube, directly to the Apple TV.

As I noted in my writeup for The Apple Blog (see: YouTube Comes to My Apple TV), the installation process was simple, taking about 10 minutes, and adds YouTube as a dedicated channel on the Apple TV, alongside TV Shows, Movies, Music, etc. Now, instead of looking at thumbnail-like video clips from the laptop, I can search and view this primarily amateur-created entertainment on the big 42-inch screen. As with my initial experience with the Apple TV, I expect this to be a fun amusement in the near term, and used sporadically longer term, but it is a good proof point for the coming marriage of television, entertainment and the Web.

The lines for where content is obtained are increasingly blurred, and whether it be my laptop, my iPod, the TV screen or, maybe, someday, the iPhone, I am getting a similarly increasing array of choices of how to enjoy this entertainment, either on the big screen or the little one. The YouTube deployment is also another proof point of continued closeness between Apple and Google, two of the "good guys" in technology, who haven't been sullied by decades of Microsoft-like behavior. While I don't anticipate any closer of a business relationship, like the one insinuated by New York Magazine this week, saying Google could acquire Apple, that these two are working together can only mean good things for consumers everywhere.

I can only hope that the previously rumored movie rentals from iTunes are next to debut from Apple. We'll be sitting with popcorn and remote in hand, waiting.

New TAB Post: Seeking .Mac for Windows Safari

Last night, I got out the Dell laptop from the office and decided to finally do two things: accept all Windows updates I'd been neglecting, hopefully speeding up the device, and more importantly, add Apple's recently introduced Safari 3.0 browser for the platform. After a quick download and reboot, we were using what I believe to be the best Web browser out there on a decidedly sucky platform. While the application is great, and I've already made it my default browser for Windows, I was disappointed to see I couldn't log in to my .Mac account and retrieve all my bookmarks. I hope Apple plans to soon integrate this feature into the Windows browser.

That's the background behind my most recent contribution to The Apple Blog, titled Seeking .Mac For Windows Safari. Per agreement with them, I will not be cross-posting the piece, but instead, have provided a link. Enjoy.

June 19, 2007

Bloggers Panic as Google Stops Reporting RSS Stats

Overnight, from Sunday to Monday, the number of reported RSS subscribers to my blog dropped by more than a third. Yet this isn't a true gauge of a reader exodus. Instead, it appears that Google has suddenly, without warning, turned off the company's reporting statistics to individual bloggers. As Google Reader is among the most popular RSS readers out there, this simple on-off switch is having dramatic impact on the statistics of popular bloggers everywhere, some of whom report losing thousands of readers.

My RSS Feed Subscriber Stats Take a Dive

Feedburner's user forums, where customers share experience's with the Web's most popular RSS syndication engine, shows the ensuing calamity, with headlines like the dramatic "Lost over 50 subscribers in one day???????????" and "My subscriber count dropped by more than 5,500 today!" to the more analytical "Google FeedFetcher not reporting subscribers". For bloggers to whom the number of RSS feed readers indicates a certain level of self-worth, or may even drive advertising rates, the reduced transparency by Google is possibly seen as a severe ego blow.

The Feedburner team is working to determine the source of the problem, but all signs point to Google. Earlier this year, Google made headlines by starting to report user statistics, adding to RSS populations across the board, but this now two-day outage is causing the reverse effect, as what goes up, must come down.

The problem is hardly isolated, as you can see from Google, Where Are My Readers? and Problème Feedburner - Google confirmé, surely the tip of the iceberg.

As Google continues to own more and more of my data, and John Battele and others are getting Google fatigue, and outages like the recent blip with Google Reader stay in my memory, my warm and fuzzy feelings toward the world's best search engine are certainly fading.

June 18, 2007

I've Already Seen Sicko, and You Should Too

The way that Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 was a wakeup call and turning point in the public opinion around the War on Iraq may only have been the controversial filmmaker's opening salvo on the way the American people view their way of life, and the way they trust their government and big business to tell them the truth or offer them the best option available.

Moore's follow-on, 'Sicko', which addresses the state of our healthcare industry, and compares it negatively with universal coverage seen elsewhere in the world, is incredible, a must see for anybody who pays taxes, pays for health benefits, or intends to gain medical care in this country at some point in their life. And it's already available on the Internet, if you know where to look, weeks before its planned debut in the theaters by the end of the month.

While Fahrenheit 911 was seen as starkly political, divided in red state/blue state mentalities, Sicko makes no such alignment. It follows individual American's stories as middle-class couples fight off bankruptcy due to co-pays and premiums from cancer or heart disease. We see a woman whose 18 month old baby is turned away from an out of network hospital with a 104-degree fever, only to die somewhere else. We hear the stories of volunteers who worked at Ground Zero who have come down with debilitating respiratory problems, only to be denied care.

While allusions are made to Nixon's opening up the HMO system, and Bush/Cheney's promises to support our troops and citizens ring comparatively hollow, this is not an attempt to recruit a generation of liberal Decmocrats. Instead, it is a call for change, made ever so stark by the seeming utopia found elsewhere that has me wondering why my wife and I have poured tens of thousands of dollars each of the last several years into a system that doesn't work.

What I strongly advise for you to do is find the movie online wherever you can, and watch it. Then, make sure you take yourself and as many people as you care about to the theater when it opens. Those people who choose not to see it because of what they may think of Michael Moore, or what they might think universal coverage represents, are keeping themselves as close-minded as the Flat Earth Society.

So take a few cues from Slashdot (Michael Moore's New Film Leaked To BitTorrent) and Webomatica (Watch Sicko at Google Video) and get your copy. It is bound to change the way you think about how you go to the doctor and pay your bills today. I know I'll be watching it again.

ANtics Episode 3.17: Word Association

To debut early Monday morning on Athletics Nation...

Most of the time when we think about the A's, we think of their activities on the field. But off the field, they remain a team, looking to one another to find friendships and learn just a little bit more about the rest of the players in the clubhouse. A's second baseman, Mark Ellis, guides us through a common game of word association, with the A's.

Click to See Larger Comic

All Comics | Submit an Idea for ANtics

June 17, 2007

Power Back On After 2 1/2 Hour Outage

The only thing as startling as finding the power suddenly turned off unexpectedly is the whirring back to life of all the electronics and seeing the lights come back on throughout the house in the middle of the night when power is restored.

About 2 1/2 hours after we lost power tonight, we seem to be "all systems go", though a quick Google News search and Google Blog search don't turn up any reasons for the interruption. I guess if a power grid fails and nobody was awake to notice, did it really fail?

Issues like this, where the grid that keeps us going and connected seem to not be redundant or easy to disrupt, make me more nervous than any alleged weaknesses in our security systems, as far as hackers or terrorism are concerned. We've come to rely so heavily on the modernization of our communication and information systems that hitting our power and cable seems to be the best way to go to decentralize our knowledge base.

And yes, we were already awake past 2 a.m. Our dog continues to struggle after her recent issues and has managed to keep me up thus far. We may get some sleep tonight. Regardless, we do have power, and that's a start.

Update: Palo Alto Online reports a tree fell and hit a power pole before midnight, knocking out power from Sand Hill Road to California Avenue. Of note, their story says power was restored after 3 a.m. This blog post shows it was back before then.

Power Outage In Palo Alto

Just before midnight tonight, all our lights went out here in Palo Alto, where Kristine and I are housesitting and watching over our dog, and the homeowner's dog and cat. Being a high tech Silicon Valley house, we have been stumbling about by the light of our cell phone, letting the BlackBerry guide us to matches and faux candles.

As usual, there is no known cause of yet. There has not been any inclement weather, and police sirens immediately following the outage have me thinking some car found a power pole instead of staying within the lines. But who knows?

All I know is that it's very dark, the animals are confused, and the BlackBerry is our only source of light, phone and link to the outside world. What a good device! While our laptops, cable TV and all other power sucking utilities are dead, or won't reach the Internet, the BlackBerry enables us to both see and hear.

The Blog from e-mail function from Blogger is pretty cool too, as I guess you can tell. We'll see if the lights come on sooner, rather than later.

June 16, 2007

Everybody Praises The Nintendo Wii

When the first Nintendo craze broke out, I was in elementary school, and it seemed that every kid I knew had an NES console. But we didn't. My family didn't exactly see the benefits of adding yet more reasons for us to sit in front of the television for hours on end, wearing our thumbs raw to kill the imaginary "bad guys" in the video game, rescuing the princess, or finding the hidden warp zone that would take us to the next level.

One morning, my mother, who taught one of my classes at school, asked my classmates why they thought she should buy us a Nintendo. The classmates were helpful, saying it helped hand-eye coordination, strategy, and could serve as an incentive to get chores done around the house or homework. Besides, it was fun. Eventually, she caved, letting us get a Nintendo, the caveat being that we couldn't have any games that showed actual violence against people. That meant no first-person shooters, no Mortal Kombat, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, and the like. But we were fine with the standard Super Mario Brothers, Tetris, and Metroid fare, battling against my brothers for gaming superiority.

Nearly two decades later, Nintendo's Wii is again the flagship gaming console, surprisingly thumping the much-hyped Playstation 3 and Microsoft's XBox 360. Despite not having the best graphics, and an undeniably weird controller, the Wii's quirks have drawn new people to the platform who wouldn't be there otherwise. I'm now growing used to grown men discussing the benefits of the Wii Sports game pack, and how they're actually getting real exercise from the included Tennis, Baseball and Boxing games. Instead of the more macho war simulations or Grand Theft Auto episodes, I hear people laugh about how their kids can handily thump them in tennis with a flick of the wrist, and strategize how to best project the Wii in their home, yet retain accurate hand-eye coordination.

Though I'm now in my 30s, and haven't had a game console since the first Sony Playstation while in college, the unqualified praise from multiple friends is almost enough to having me consider bringing in yet another entertainment-focused time waster into my home. I know I'd be all over the baseball game, trying to swat home runs and dive to make every outfield catch. I know I'd be finding yet another excuse to not got work done around the house or finish business tasks on deadline. And I know, that this time around, it would be my wife trying to talk me out of getting one, instead of my mother years ago.

Should I plunk down a little bit of cash, and add the Wii on top of the TiVo, Apple TV and start becoming an unknown international sports star in my own mind? Can I stay professional yet geek out on this gaming? It'd be great to learn your take or if you've picked a console to keep you entertained.

This Weekend: Oakland A's Marathon

Ahhh... the ebb and flow of being a partial season ticket holder. Owning tickets to approximately 40 Oakland A's games through the season means periods where we won't visit the Coliseum to catch a game for the better part of two weeks, followed by spurts where we are seemingly there every evening. And if I tack on any extra games with friends of coworkers, it just gets that much more crazy. This weekend, if correctly executed, I could be cheering on the A's run in the division race every day from Friday through Monday.

Last night, we saw the A's deliver a pounding to the visiting St. Louis Cardinals. After the appreciative ovation given to the team's manager Tony LaRussa, who rose to stardom during his tenure as the A's manager in the late 1980s to 1990s, the A's were out for blood. Despite falling behind early 3-0, the team showed a rare offensive surge, scoring six in the third inning, six more in the seventh inning, and two more runs in the fourth and fifth to wrap up a score more likely at a Raiders/Rams football game: 14-3. (Of course, nobody would expect Oakland to win that one)

The baseball fun continues with a 6:05 game this evening with a friend from Athletics Nation, a 1:05 game Sunday on Father's Day, and in a special treat, a group of us from the office will be back to the Coliseum on Monday night to see the A's take on the Cincinnati Reds, making it four games in four days.

Some have asked me if it ever gets boring or repetitive to see the same players at the same place from the same seats, day after day. The answer is clearly, no. While as a fan, I can get frustrated by seeing the same storylines, such as the A's not scoring enough runs or misusing the bullpen, the truth is that every game is different, and every game starts with the slate clear, and both teams have a chance to win. Even if the A's fall behind, I know that we could be on the verge of seeing a late-inning comeback or a tragic heartbreaker. I've seen both, and it's all part of being a fan.

Starting at 6 tonight, you can find us in our usual seats: Section 114, Row 28, Seats 5 and 6. Go A's!

June 13, 2007

Amateur Bloggers: Friends Give It A Try

Well below the upper crust of bloggers and outside the walled gardens of MySpace and Facebook, there are millions of smaller bloggers who use their blogs not to break news, or count RSS feeds, but instead, to chronicle their lives and offer amusing anecdotes.

While my Web intake is dominated by those discussing technology, politics and sports, there are a few friends who I've enjoyed seeing crop up. Some, I knew offline well before they went online. A pair here are keeping the personal home page alive whom I've never met but feel I know well.

Today, we share half a dozen in no particular order...

Tony Chung at http://www.geekwhat.com/
Main Topics: Music, Apple, Movies and What to do After College?
Can't Miss Post: 12:59AM, Reflection on College

Jonathan Crawford at http://web.mac.com/crawfordblog
Main Topics: Life In Israel, Baby Number Two on the Way
Can't Miss Post: Israeli Independence Day

Nicole Johnson at http://s490.blogspot.com/
Main Topics: East Bay Living, Camping, and Bad Nutrional Tips
Can't Miss Post: Stupid Hippie Company

Jeff Narduzzi at http://jeffanddarcy.blogspot.com/
Main Topics: Sports, Travel, Movies and Friends
Can't Miss Post: Bosco Heads to Santa Rosa for the Long Weekend

Farrah Walker at http://farrahspot.blogspot.com/
Main Topics: Men, Dating, Media and Celebrity
Can't Miss Post: Speaking of Betrayals

Bonnie Wren at http://bonniewren.com/
Main Topics: Games, Family, and Her Bulldog
Can't Miss Post: When Sitting Goes Wrong

My hat off to each of the above for sharing their lives with us and staying interesting enough to keep watching. More to come soon.

June 12, 2007

Why Do I Blog? An Introspective Look

This afternoon, speaking with a colleague, I was asked "Why do you blog?" It wasn't a challenge, per se, but one of curiosity. I found it easier to deliver the story of why I started than why I blog in the first place, so it probably makes sense to outline why I feel it's important for me to blog. While this issue is a common meme around the blogosphere, I've not yet taken it up.

First, it's easy to disqualify reasons why I blog.

1) I don't blog in hopes to make money, show ads or supplement my income.
2) I don't blog with specific goals in mind for number of visitors or comments.
3) I don't blog to increase my personal brand to draw attention to myself or seek employment.

But there are some main reasons why I do blog.

1) I blog to make my voice heard, join real-time conversations and enable change.
2) I blog to share my experiences and opinions for today and tomorrow.
3) I blog to share my personal passion for sports, technology, politics and media.

Contributions to how I started this blog include:

1) Having the louisgray.com domain name for almost a decade.
2) Finding that my interests outgrew my family's narrowly-focused blog and that I needed a new audience more likely to appreciate my comments and join the conversation.
3) Enjoying the technical wrangling necessary to wholly own the blog platform experience.

I blog because the world is rapidly changing right in front of us, and I want to chronicle what I am seeing and how it affects me. I blog because I believe the traditional barriers between location and time zones are being torn asunder by real-time communication and information sharing, and that my true peers who share my interests and enthusiasm are easier to reach by keyboard than by telephone. I blog because I enjoy writing, and it's good practice for any job, present and future.

I blog because I have found blogs to be the very best way to enable change and exchange ideas. The very best way to reach a software vendor or Web service provider is not to use the telephone or to e-mail support. It is to blog. If you mention them by name, or their product, they will find you. If you complain loudly enough, they will hear you. If you proclaim a product, service or activity to be the best on Earth, you can help others learn why and lead by example.

I started this blog in early 2006 because I finally had found a way to implement a blog, using the louisgray.com domain, without having to get outside of my geek comfort zone. I had started and stopped blogs in 2004 and 2005, but shut them down as I could never reach the medium and presentation I was looking for. But since starting louisgray.com and posting consistently in a big way, I have made my voice heard, for more than 800 posts, at a rate of nearly 2 per day, sometimes more, and occasionally less. I haven't seen millions of visitors or thousands of comments, but I have established a comfort zone with those I know visit often and share their opinions. I see companies open dialogue where there was none before, and I have made friends and acquaintances who I may never meet, but would love to.

I don't have ads on this site. I'm not morally opposed to ads on blogs, but I don't want them on this site. Anybody can be bought for the right price, of course, but I don't think they make sense here, and I don't like the way they would make the site look, either in appearance or in the way the site is interpreted. I don't write my posts to get them on Digg or talked about by A-List bloggers. If that does happen, it's a treat, but not the target. I don't do keyword or search engine optimization, and I don't use viral marketing methods to artificially increase my Technorati rankings.

I blog because I am an enthusiastic fan of Apple, of TiVo, of the Oakland A's and Sacramento Kings, the iPod and iTunes, a student of the evolving Web, with new approaches to software, communication, finance, business and media. I blog because I am a sponge in Silicon Valley, eager to use the latest services and learn from those who have had more experience. I blog because I want to partake in the conversations for change and for driving what is next.

I blog because I want to learn from you and talk with you. The floor is yours. Let me know. Why do you blog, and what should I do differently, in your mind?

June 11, 2007

Google Reader Feeds Restored Following Outage

Turns out the missing feeds and trends data in Google Reader will look more like a blip than a calamity, as the company rapidly responded and restored all previous data in about an hour after customers first started noticing their RSS feeds and shared link statistics had been obliterated. I went back from having only 4 feeds to 190, and my trends data shows 400 shared items in the last 30 days, not zero. This gives us incredible relief, and reduces our level of frustration which hit mid-day.

Some circles define the Web 2.0 movement as being where the Web functions as an application. Instead of photos being stored on iPhoto, they can be stored on Flickr. Instead of Outlook, e-mail is on GMail. Instead of using NetNewswire, we use Google Reader. And while the portability of data from computer to computer and browser to browser is excellent, it does raise the fear that my data is outside of my immediate reach, and therefore, subject to the security of the third party. If Google Reader has an outage, my data is lost. If my blog platform goes down, I shut up for a while. And so on.

So what should we do? The common answer seems to be: Back up your data. After today's outage, many Google Reader users rapidly backed up their OPML files, in case it happened again. But there are a ton of companies out there actually offering backup services through the Web, from Apple to Google (GDrive anyone?) and others. What if those services go down? Are you S.O.L., or will a simple user agreement bail you out when the time comes? You honestly can't be too safe, or have too many backups of your data.

I absolutely appreciate the speed in which the Google Reader team responded to today's data meltdown. They even just posted a note on their official blog about the outage, which they called "brief" and within the "response time that we strive for". But before we saw this post, we genuinely thought our data was nuked and that we would have to start over, and that feeling was uncomfortable indeed. It's amazing how reliant I've become on the Web to give me my information as fast as I can get it.

Google Reader Glitch Deletes Feeds: Blogosphere Weeps

Looks like I wasn't the only person affected by a massive bug that hit the Google Reader RSS application this afternoon. More than just my trends data being wiped out, which I noticed right away, the site now shows I only have four RSS feed subscriptions, and not my normal 189 or so. The site's been going in and out over the last half hour, and if not remedied, it will have shockwaves throughout the blogosphere, directly impacting some of the most vocal RSS advocates on the planet.

Others are also seeing the issue, starting with Brian at The Faithful Skeptic, BlueFish, who notes the major hiccup, Nathan from Nerdflood, Mike from A Geek's Point of View, Josh Kim and Rachel of the Liminal Librarian.

How do I know all these folks were affected? Google Blog search, of course. Google strikes Google, I guess.

Whatever the updates are for Google Reader, assuming they ever get the site going again, better be damn good, or a lot of vocal people are going to be very pissed.

Ack! Google Reader Update Wipes Out History

I am usually eager to embrace new updates, but when a vendor, whether a Web services provider, or a software developer, makes changes that mess with my data, it's not a good thing. This afternoon, it looks like the Google Reader team just made some updates, to enable more uniform reading of items, but with the addition came subtraction, as the update wiped out my historical data, showing which sites are most frequently updated and shared.

A very empty snapshot from Google Reader Trends this afternoon!

My Google Reader Trends page tends to be a wealth of information, acting as a blogosphere barometer for what sites are topical, and which offer new items rapidly.

Just last week, Robert Scoble posted a story on his "favorite 35 feeds for the past month", powered by Google Reader, but if he tried to do that test again, it's likely his data would be gone. I know mine is.

With Google owning more and more of my data, my present and my past, from my RSS feeds to my blog to my e-mail and news, the idea that the company could arbitrarily wipe out any part of my data without warning is very concerning. This is a nasty bug, Reader team.

WWDC: Apple Introduces Safari for Windows

WWDC and Macworld Expo come only twice a year - and that's too bad. Because twice a year, the Mac community gets all excited when Santa Jobs comes in bearing presents and we all can't wait to see what's there to unwrap. I've been following each of these keynotes for the better part of ten years now, and while some have been disappointing, the surprises outweigh the doldrums.

Today's surprise? Apple announcing that the browser wars aren't over by a long shot. After the company's success with iPod and iTunes for Windows, they're branching out by bringing the somewhat popular Safari Web browser to the forbidden platform.

Web browsing on Windows today is yucky. I noted here a while back that I actually preferred Microsoft's Internet Explorer 7 browser to Firefox for Windows, but that just goes to show how bad the offerings are over there in Redmond.

Will Safari take off on Windows the way iTunes has? I really don't know. I think the barriers to entry in the Web browser market are very big. Microsoft went to court to defend their monopoly in this space already, and many a browser has come and died in the face of the IE juggernaut. I also don't know that there's a groundswell of Windows users begging for Safari, which isn't perfect in itself.

But if I ever have to power up my Dell laptop again, you know one of the first things I'll be doing is downloading Safari for Windows and seeing if it's as fast as Steve Jobs told the WWDC crowd it was just this morning.

I'll say one thing though. Apple never gets boring.

Score Another Win for iTunes After Cable Outage

Last week's cable outage wasn't just inconvenient because I lost our WiFi connection. The sudden interruption in service rendered our TV completely inoperable as well, cutting short the episode of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" we were watching. Halfway through seeing the recorded show on our TiVo, we were met with static and a mixture of garbled video and sound.

The outage lasted for a little over an hour, wiping out the rest of the Studio 60 episode and Thursday night's show of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. In theory all channels were out at that time, but those were the ones our TiVo was watching.

Thank goodness for iTunes. Rather than being in a panic due to the show's miss, or calling somebody out of area to see if they recorded the show on VHS, this evening, I just went to the iTunes Store and downloaded the Studio 60 episode. Sure, it cost me $1.99, but that's a small price to pay for convenience, and finding out how the show ended. Given NBC's reticence to treat the show with any kind of commitment, it's likely the only time it will ever air, and we've come this far, seeing every episode, starting with the pilot.

Apple may make headlines for the crazy cool hipsters in the company's iPod ads, but iTunes is always there for me when I need it, even for little things like this. Comcast? Not so much.

ANtics Episode 3.16: Summer Surge

Cross-posted to Athletics Nation...

For some reason, the A's of the last few seasons have always saved their best efforts until after May was over. With that ugly month behind us, the team has surged forward, taking 3 of 4 from the challenging Red Sox and SWEEPING the Giants. It's a story we've seen before...

Click to See Larger Comic

All Comics | Submit an Idea for ANtics

June 10, 2007

Apple Entering Video Rental Download Market?

The Financial Times confirmed today what many of us have already suspected, that Apple is working with movie studios to finally offer video rentals from iTunes for the low, low price of $2.99 for 30 days worth of access, including the ability to watch the film via iPod or iPhone.

If this comes to bear this fall, it will be the ultimate video on demand solution, and will help the Apple TV reach its full potential. If Apple has enough relationships with leading studios to deliver an impressive on demand video library, we will be canceling our Netflix account, and will start spending our money in $2.99 increments. Forget going to the theater for $10 or more per person. We'll wait for iTunes.

More of my previous comments on Apple and the dramatic effect the company could have on the video rental market can be found in the below links.

The Apple Blog: How Will Apple Compete With “On Demand”?
louisgray.com: How Apple Could Crush Netflix Now
louisgray.com: The Apple TV Debate is Upside Down
louisgray.com: What is the True Value of an Entertainment Download?

More discussion of the Financial Times news can be found on Ars Technica, Paidcontent.org, Business 2.0, Mashable! and the Wall Street Journal.

June 09, 2007

SportsBlogs Nation Revamps Home Page

SportsBlogs Nation, which bills itself as "a network of individual blog communities run by fans, for fans and united by a common devotion to their favorite team or sports", as well as the mother ship for both Athletics Nation and Sactown Royalty, two sites where I contribute, revamped their Web site today at www.sbnation.com, in an attempt to best highlight the massive amount of new content being generated daily from the site network's legion of bloggers, who have signed up to cover everything from the major national sports to collegiate, fantasy games, soccer, golf and boxing.

Previously serving as something of an RSS feed aggregator for the network's sites, the new SBNation.com highlights featured posts, recent posts by sport, and showcases each of the network's 112 different sports blogs. That's right, 112, and growing. That's an amazing number, first of all, and if you take the time to visit a few of the sites, you'll be sure to find the quality of fanaticism of the sites' writers and their coverage to be as good as any you'll find in more traditional media.

Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos, the site's co-founder, has often said that the world of blogs was best suited for the types of topics where people can take diametrically opposing positions, such as politics, sports and religion. Anybody who has ever tried to see if a Yankees fan and a Red Sox fan could reach consensus, or asked a mixed political crowd on the benefits of gay marriage can see that. The massive growth and acceleration of new sites and users for SportsBlogs Nation has proven Markos true time and again, and today's site revamp just may make SBNation.com a destination site in the way ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports are for more casual fans.

As for me, it's been a long time since I relied on ESPN for my sports news. Truth is, I can usually find all I need to know about sports from the SportsBlogs Nation network and Ballhype. The move from mass media to fan-driven media is in full swing.

A screenshot of the new site from tonight is on the left. Click it to gain a full image, or simply visit www.sbnation.com.

Expanding the Conversation, One Link at a Time

Trying to gain the attention of the biggest, so-called "A-List" bloggers, is like raising your hand in a coliseum full of loud-mouthed spectators. Those on the field you're trying to impress either don't see you, don't want to see you, are distracted, or are well-trained to tune you out, even if you think you have something that could help.

The good news is in the blogosphere, some of the best conversations are best held down here on Planet Earth, not in the stratosphere. And once in a blue moon, if one of us comes up with an idea, it takes hold. So I thought I would note a few reactions to some of my words over the last month or so.

On Friday I said some of the biggest blogs have transcended the blogosphere, and should now be considered "new media". WinExtra agreed, asking, When Does a Blog Stop Being a Blog?. WinExtra says, "I have to agree with Louis that there is a point when successful commercialization of a brand raises you above the roots from whence you began." Kent Newsome, at Newsome.org, agrees, during one of his Evening Reading notes, where he says about big blogs, "The good ones are the new old media. The bad ones are pro sports: all about the money and the bling."

My earlier comments this week about feeling like I needed to read all my RSS feeds by midnight was noted by Piers Jones on Feed Need, who said, in a post on Getting Rid of RSS Guilt, "I can get the same thing when those unread items stack up and you feel a compelling need to try and clear them all and get to the important stuff..."

Speaking of guilt in the blog space, my notes in May about leading bloggers getting blog fatigue continues to have people thinking. On June 5th, a site called TrueGrit, in a post called Suffering Blog Fatigue also said they find times where the task of blogging just isn't fun any more. One commenter asks, why not just post less frequently when it's more important? Other previous comments on Fatigue included BizTips and Robert Scoble. Since Robert's note, his frequency has picked up quite a bit.

To join in the conversation, feel free to leave comments here, or add links to what you find interesting. Links connect us all.

June 08, 2007

The Biggest Blogs Aren't Really Blogs Any More

Though my stance is likely a controversial one, I don't believe that the most successful blogs out there are really blogs in the true sense of the word as they were originally intended. Instead, the uber-blogs, like TechCrunch, GigaOM, Engadget, Mashable, Read/WriteWeb and others, have morphed into a new phase of their lives, mimicking old world media.

While millions of people continue to create popular and less popular Web logs chronicling their thoughts, lives and activities, TechCrunch and the rest have instead turned into product announcement and release launching pads, typically lacking a personal touch or insight. They have evolved from their own mouthpieces to instead, mouthpieces for others.

Gone is the personal touch and feeling that is so embedded in the blogosphere, replaced by an air of elitism and selective news aggregation mixed with startups gleeful over a successful data point of public relations.

It's been proven that popular blogs can retain the very personal one-to-one conversational style. Great examples of this include Robert Scoble's Scobleizer, Dave Winer's Scripting.com, Steve Rubel's Micro Persuasion and Jason Calacanis. But especially over the last 12 months, you can see a divergence, as the blog powerhouses are much less about the comments and conversation, and more about them acting like media. Meanwhile, old media, primarily those covering technology, are adding interactive tools made famous through blogging, like comments, and the ubiquitous "Digg This" icons on every story. The convergence of old media and new media is happening before our eyes.

This change isn't necessarily all bad, but I strongly believe the time to refer to these new media sites as "blogs" is gone. TechCrunch, in my opinion, is no more of a blog than is Computerworld, InfoWorld or eWeek, these days. Even InfoWorld has gone solely online, ditching their print magazine equivalent. The site's historical roots are truely embedded in the blog world, but you could say the site has grown up - now with a full network of sites, and even a trade show for startups looking to use the platform as their springboard to fame.

Will all blogs that find success move away from their humble origins? Likely not. But even as we enjoy the scoops, product introductions, reviews and obituaries from TechCrunch, GigaOM and others, we should make a conscious attempt to recognize in this new world of media and the "24 second news cycle", that the landscape is rapidly changing and definitions need constant tweaking.

June 07, 2007

Comcast Cable Internet's On the Blink

Typically, when we lose Internet access at home, my first inkling is to start the finger pointing toward our Airport Extreme base station from Apple. Despite a recent upgrade, it seems we lose all connectivity for about 20-30 minutes of each evening, often at the most inopportune times. But, in a flashback reminiscent of the 2000-2002 timeframe, when this happened all the time, tonight, in our corner of Sunnyvale, it's our cable modem that's literally on the blink, denying us connectivity.

All I have to say is thank goodness for nearby neighbors with unsecured wireless basestations that don't have a password. When our home network goes down, I just go to the Airport menubar and choose one of the available networks and keep going.

But truth be told, any time one of the key cogs to the Internet gets wiped out, it has me thinking how vulnerable our information delivery systems are. Prior to the Internet's pervasive presence, we could expect TV to always be available, or in the case of power outage, it was always a smart idea to have a battery-powered radio handy, to keep updated through an emergency. Now, we have made the Internet a key player in our communication, entertainment, news and commerce. Disrupting Web access for communities, regions or on a larger scale would have dramatic effect. Forget the obvious issues of forcing geeks to go outside of their cubicles without sunblock. It actually could stall the way we operate.

I'm not saying a mere blip in Comcast's uptime is the end of the world. I obviously found a work-around. But today's virtual highways are just as important as the real ones and disruptions or snarls could slow us down in a big way.

Sadly, Maybe I'm Not An Early Adopter Anymore?

A big part of me wants to make up reasons to go out and get an Apple iPhone when it debuts June 29th. Steve Jobs' introduction of the product at Macworld San Francisco, ensuing media coverage and reviews, and the company's recently introduced four commercials touting the iPhone have got me musing ways to make my acquisition of an iPhone make sense. And I can't get there.

The iPhone has three major features: A widescreen iPod that plays music and video, a touch-oriented cell phone, and what Apple is calling a fully-featured Web browser, akin to the Safari experience on Mac OS X. But, in order, I have both a 60 Gig iPod and an iPod shuffle already for the music side, and a perfectly capable BlackBerry handset, which gets me e-mail immediately, works well for phone calls, and actually does an adequate job of surfing the Web should I need to. Best of all, I'm not paying for the BlackBerry. Work is. And the BlackBerry service is through Verizon, not AT&T, the sole wireless carrier signed up with the iPhone. So that's two major strikes against my moving to the next awesome product from Apple.

At the dawn of the decade, I probably wouldn't have let that stand in my way. I got the first generation Visor Deluxe handheld when they debuted, the first VisorPhone module that married the Palm OS with the cellphone, and later, the first black and white Treo handset. I also, as noted here before, bought the first generation iPod on the day they debuted.

But now, I'm getting more content with utilizing previous generation hardware. My iPod doesn't play video, and is the 60 Gigabyte model, not 80 Gigabytes. My Apple laptop is a PowerBook G4, not an Intel-based MacBook Pro. Our TiVo is a series one console, and we're not even signed up for high definition broadcast from our cable provider, Comcast. We don't own a video camera, my car is pushing nine years old, and didn't even come with a native CD player, let alone Sirius or XM satellite radio. Sometimes, I even go into Fry's and come out without buying anything. It's as if there's some sort of anonymous group I should be joining...

Inside, I want to spend my money with wanton disregard for budgets and needs. I want to sell recently obsoleted technology on eBay after upgrading to the newest gear. I want to have the newest products before my colleagues and friends even know they exist. But lately, I'm getting more and more content to wait out the first generation until the bugs are out of it, and see if I can get the second generation cheap. It's sad, really. How can I respect myself among my peers now that this is off my chest?

Read Your RSS Feeds By Midnight, or Google Will Mark You Tardy

The pace at which I absorb my 180+ RSS feeds is remarkably stable. On weekdays, we see approximately 550 or so items, and on weekends, about half that number, as the blogosphere cools off, allowing families to enjoy one another a bit more than the dim lighting of laptop LCD screens for a change. And just as reliably, my Google Reader Trends marks off my every view. But last night, despite my best efforts, I just didn't get to the last two hundred or so feed items before the witching hour of midnight, and it's thrown my one-day stats into disarray.

Tuesday's baseball game featuring the A's and Red Sox, well documented here already, plus the drive home, plus post-game blogging, saw me scampering to get all my RSS feed reading in before the clock rolled over from P.M. Tuesday night to A.M. Wednesday morning. I knew that if I didn't do "my homework", Google would, correctly, say I read Tuesday's feeds Wednesday, even if, more accurately, I read them late Tuesday night, just after midnight.

You can only hit "J" so many times in a five-minute period. I tried, and I didn't make it.

Note the spike at the right side, about 1 1/2 days' worth of feeds...

So, instead of a uniform Wednesday, my Google Reader trends, at least for the next thirty days, will have a dip from Tuesday, to 342, and a spike on Wednesday, up to 762 items. And while it really shouldn't matter, I feel like I've let the Google team down. It's not as if they didn't accurately retrieve and present me my feeds on time. It's 100 percent my fault. I was late, and will have to face these consequences boldly, taking full responsibility.

Google, is there some way I can do some make up work to have this black mark erased from my record? I'm embarrassed, and I don't feel that it adequately represents my efforts.