November 2006

"Customers who bought this item also bought…"

by Joey deVilla on November 29, 2006

Who knew that recommendation engines could be funny? This made me laugh out loud.

Go to the Philips Norelco BG2020 Men's Bodygroom page at Amazon.com and take a look at the “Customers who bought this item also bought” section:

Screenshot of Amazon.com showing what customer who bought the Philips Men's Bodygroom also bought, one of which is 'Brokeback Mountain'.
Click the image to see a larger version.

(Thanks to Miss Fipi Lele for the link.)

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Road Warror Reading

by Joey deVilla on November 29, 2006

'Busy Airport' photo by 'superlocal' (see http://www.flickr.com/photos/superlocal/273964362/).
Busy Airport by 'superlocal'. Click the image to see the original on Flickr.

There are a couple of articles that those of us who travel often (I fly about once every 6 weeks, and I assume that George flies as often, if not more) might find interesting:

First: The Socket Seekers is a New York Times article that looks at the half of the airport computing equation that isn't wifi: electrical outlets. I was surprised to read that some airports are actually adding outlets to meet the demand of travellers with laptops, mobile phones, iPods and other devices that need charging; I was always under the impression that they went out of their way to discourage the use of their electrical outlets.

The article offers some advice that's already well-known to regular fliers that casual fliers might not know: when looking for power, think like the custodial staff. They've got to plug in their vacuum cleaners and floor polishers somewhere. To this, I also add: look for things that rely on wall current, such as vending machines and internet kiosks. I don't recommend unplugging those machines to juice your laptop, but sockets often come in sets of two, and one just might be available. I also travel with an extension cord that lets three people share an outlet and pack a spare PowerBook battery.

Also: Why Isn't Internet Access Free for Travellers? Frank Gruber asks the question on his blog, and the comments seem to be split between “I wish internet access was free in hotels and airports too” and “It's called capitalism, Frank.” I think 'net access works better as a free amenity to attract customers rather than as a profit center.

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The Duke of URL

by Joey deVilla on November 28, 2006

Okay, I'm tooting my own horn here, but a number of people have found it useful enough that I thought it was worthy of mention in this blog.

Duke of URL is a little application that I put together that spits out up to 100 available domain names based on a word or phrase that you provide. The Duke spits out .com domain names by default, but you can also have him give you .net, .org, .info and .biz domains if you prefer.

The Duke is written in PHP (PHP 5, but it's compatible with PHP 4) and makes use of Tucows' OpenSRS API for provisioning and managing domain names. I wrote it to showcase the NAME SUGGEST API call that was recently added to OpenSRS and to demonstrate one possible use. Over the next few weeks, I plan to post the code along with explanatory notes as well as upgrade the Duke to some other possible applications, including mash-ups.

As I mentioned earlier, the Duke generates domain names that are also available. I was under the impression that most of the word-combination domains were taken, but so far the Duke has always been able to provide 100 domain suggestions for every word or phrase I've tried. As usual, there's a lot of junk in the results, but there have also been gems that would have me reaching for my credit card if I were more of a domain speculator. (Maybe I should do that.)

Give it a try!

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Me and Tim, We're Tight, I Swear!

by Joey deVilla on November 28, 2006

It's always great when the author of one of the blogs you read daily writes back in the comments. In this case, it was Kathy Sierra, author of the excellent blog Creating Passionate Users, who responded to yesterday's article titled “Web 2.0″ and the Great Grunge Hoax, which in turn was a response to her article, Why Web 2.0 is more than a buzzword.

I'd like to thank Kathy for taking the article (and especially my parody of the excellent graphs that are her stock in trade) in the spirit in which it was intended. It's always tricky using smart-assery in one's writing style while not becoming a techno-vulgarian. I'm also glad she noticed that I can disagree with her without “losing faith in humanity” like Dare Obasanjo did.

In her comment, Kathy writes:

But I disagree (obviously and strongly) with your comparison between the grunge hoax and my post. People have all sorts of notions about why Tim talks about Web 2.0… but the worst characterizations always seems to be from people who don't actually *know* Tim as a personal friend.

I wonder how many people would feel the same way if they knew and trusted Tim as a human being. That doesn't preclude some of his friends from saying to him, “d00d…the concept is sound, but teh whole version number thing was lame.”

I do understand Kathy's concerns about animosity towards Tim. The recent kerfuffle over the Web 2.0 service mark has been the source of friction between Tim and a number of geeks. There's the strange observation in Paul Graham's piece on Web 2.0:

Even Tim O'Reilly was wearing a suit, a sight so alien I couldn't parse it at first. I saw him walk by and said to one of the O'Reilly people “that guy looks just like Tim.”

“Oh, that's Tim. He bought a suit.”

Coming from the DemoCamp brain trust, a bunch of nerds who are also snappy dressers often seen in blazers and dress shirts, Graham's aside about Tim's suits feels like a desperate grab in order to add to a list of his faults. “Look! He's well dressed! NOT…ONE…OF…US!”

I bear no ill will towards Tim. It's been a while since we “swung on the flippity flop”, but we do get along:

I met him at a Peer-to-Peer software meeting at Microsoft in early 2001, and he invited me to play accordion at the closing keynote of the first O'Reilly Peer-to-Peer conference, the con that eventually morphed into ETCon and then ETech.

Simply put: we cool, we cool.

My beef with “Web 2.0″ is that on the buzzword-jargon spectrum, it falls closer to the buzzword side. As George wrote in his comment:

Web 2.0 is carries so much water for so many terms, it's basically meaningless. It's the opposite of what jargon should be. Perhaps it most closely resembles the stuff that crosses over from being jargon and turns into poorly-understood mainstream language that newly-minted MBAs use (think “risk management” or “value add”).

And that's the point I was trying to make: not that the term “Web 2.0″ was a hoax being pulled on us by Tim and company, but that it's got a slight whiff of fakeness to it. Just as the made-up “harsh realm” found a real use, “Web 2.0″ is promotional term that got clumsily repurposed into a technical one.

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"Web 2.0" and the Great Grunge Hoax

by Joey deVilla on November 27, 2006

The Great Grunge Hoax

George and I were DJs at campus pubs and writers at the campus
humor/satire/libel paper at our beloved alma mater during the heyday
of grunge, so we remember the media prank that later got dubbed
“The Great Grunge Hoax”
.

The hoax was the creation of Sub Pop Records publicist Megan
Jasper, in response to a call from a New York Times
reporter, who asked for a list of “grunge terms”. You must
remember that this was 1992, around the time when Generation X
was both a buzzword and a bestseller, movies for “twentynothings”
like Slacker, Singles and Reality
Bites
were all the rage and grunge was the scene's soundtrack.

(We really lived the grunge thing — we were even in a grunge band
named “Volume”. I like to think we weren't half bad.)

Megan knew an opportunity when she saw one, so she simply made up
a list of terms that while completely made up, sounded plausible to
the reporter on the phone. The list was dutifully reproduced in the
New York Times, which led to it being dutifully copied
by many other publications eager to get a Gen X story.

Here's what the Times version looked like:

“Harsh Realm”

The list had a few obvious clunkers that anyone under 30 would've
been able to instantly spot as fake: wack slacks for old ripped jeans,
cob nobbler and lamestain for “loser”, and my favorite,
swinging on the flippity flop for “hanging out”. That last one seemed
to be a challenge by Megan; it's almost as if she was daring the Times
reporter to figure out that it was a hoax.

The list had to be plausible-sounding, so some of Jasper's coinages
could've been actual slang of the time. Fuzz for “sweater”, plats for
“platform shoes” and kickers for heavy Doc marten-style boots were
three of her creations that should have been adopted.

My favourite one of these accidentally good creations
was harsh realm — a term that was supposed to be synonymous
with “bummer”. The term was good enough to be appropriated by a comic book creators
James D. Hudnall and Andrew Paquette, who used it as a title for their comic about
a virtual reality simulation gone awry. X-Files creator Chris Carter
thought that the title and concept were so good that he lifted both for his ill-fated
Harsh Realm TV series
.

Your Point Being…?

I think of the term “Web 2.0″ as being like Megan Jasper's better
coinages such as “harsh : it may have been originally made-up nonsense, but it
turned out to be good enough to find some real use.

According to Paul Graham's Web 2.0 essay, the term was coined
during a brainstorming session between O'Reilly and Medialive International,
a company in the tradeshow/conference racket. He wrote:

O'Reilly wanted to organize a conference about the web, and they were wondering
what to call it.

I don't think there was any deliberate plan to suggest there was a new version of
the web. They just wanted to make the point that the web mattered again. It was a
kind of semantic deficit spending: they knew new things were coming, and the “2.0″
referred to whatever those might turn out to be.

Simply put, “Web 2.0″ is the new “Harsh Realm”.

2006 is the New 1992

It pained me to read the latest entry in Kathy Sierra's otherwise excellent blog,
Creating Passionate Users
. In it, she states that “Web 2.0″ is
more than just a buzzword, it's jargon, and there's a difference. I think
that Dare Obasanjo hit the nail on the head when he called her on that statement:

On the one hand Kathy argues that jargon allows us to communicate more efficiently
then in the same breath points out that “Web 2.0″ wraps many different and ill-defined
concepts together. That seems pretty contradictory to me. How is it communicating more
efficiently if I say “Web 2.0″ to Bob and he thinks AJAX and widgets while Jane thinks
I'm talking about social networking and tagging while I actually meant RSS and open APIs?
We may be communicating with less words but since we are guaranteed to have a
miscommunication, this efficiency in words exchanged is small compared to the amount
of time we waste talking past each other.

I've made my peace with the idea that “Web 2.0″ is here to stay and that it
is such a wide umbrella term that it is effectively meaningless other than a catch
all to describe Web trends have become popular over the past two years. However
that doesn't make it worthy of being elevated to “professional jargon” unless your
profession is slinging bullshit to VCs or trying to wade through which bullshit
knockoffs of YouTube and del.icio.us you want to be investing in.

By retrofitting some legitimacy onto the term, Kathy has effectively made
herself the New York Times to Tim O'Reilly's Megan Jasper in this
modern version of the Great Grunge Hoax. Let's hope that we techies and tech businesspeople –
as the Chris Carters in this scenario — have projects that fare better than
Harsh Realm.

Of course, I cannot resist closing this article without my parody of Kathy's graph technique:


With sincerest apologies to Kathy Sierra, with whom I normally agree.

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I'm trying to imagine what it must be like to compete with Apple's digital music business. Say you're some muckety-muck with Napster, or in charge of Zune for Microsoft. You just had a nice, long Thanksgiving, giving thanks for either surviving another year in the very long shadow of the iPod and iTunes, or patting yourself on the back for releasing your 1.0 music player and serivce, perhaps even looking at your "Black Friday" sell-through numbers and thinking, "Hey, not bad."

And then Fortune magazine reports that Apple's on the verge of an exclusive deal to sell the Beatles catalog.

Click on the iTunes music store and punch in "Beatles" under artist search. More than 50 albums will pop up, including Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Play the Beatles, but none are the real deal. Fans wishing to download the actual Fab Four in MP3 format have to search peer-to-peer sites like Limewire for unlicensed songs they can listen to free.

But that may be about to change. While details remain to be worked out, Fortune has learned that iTunes is close to a deal to bring the Beatles catalog online. Apple Computer (Charts) is said to be angling to become the exclusive online music store for the Beatles for a limited window of time. Other music stores, such as Microsoft's (Charts) MSN and Rhapsody, have courted the Beatles over the years to no avail, but it appears Apple is close to getting first dibs on the band's hits

Also being discussed is whether the band would be willing to take two steps at the same time and endorse the iPod by allowing its music to be used in a commercial. Another scenario making the rounds is the prospect of the Beatles following U2's example with a branded iPod. "If the Beatles were in an iPod ad, that would be humongous," this [music industry] executive [apprised of the talks] said.

Just a little post-holiday reminder of what it means to live in an iPod World.

Despite decades of legal wrangling (including a couple of expensive trips to court), Apple Corps (ie, the Beatles) would still rather work with Apple Computer than cut deals with the runners-up. Such is the breadth of the iPod/iTunes/iTunes Store reach across the digital music landscape, that it would be foolish to cut an exclusive deal with someone else.

As others have pointed out, neither Dylan nor U2 seemed to feel that having their music features in iPod commercials was beneath them, and since the Beatles are among the few bands who see real money come from their music sales, they've got every incentive to help Apple sell, sell, sell those tracks.

Not everyone sees the wisdom in an exclusive tie-up between Apple and the Beatles. Take Blake "CrunchGear" Robinson:

[I]t seems Apple is currently hammering out the exclusivity term that will secure the Beatles on iTunes for an undisclosed period of time. Seems like a foolish move on behalf of Beatles management though. The Beatles should be released simultaneously onto all mediums, not exclusively onto one.

Interesting point. It stands to reason that the Beatles would sell more if they were available everywhere from day one. My response? Exclusivity probably gets the Beatles upfront money from Apple they might not otherwise get with an open release across all the online music stores. Furthermore, there are probably complications to negotiating royalty deals for those services, like Rhapsody, offering subscription plans as well as per-track downloads—Apple's model is probably quite a bit more straightforward. The Beatles are probably calculating that Apple's marketing chops are a cut above everybody's, even if Microsoft has equally deep pockets. The Beatles +  iPod is a meeting of icons (the same way that Nike +  iPod works), but The Beatles + Zune…well…

Ultimately, any exclusivity would be time-limited. Apple benefits from their exclusive window for Beatles songs, and the Beatles get cash, cachet, and access to roughly 80% of the digital music-buying world. Once the exclusivity lapses, I can't imagine that the remaining 20% of the customers out there that would be inclined to buy Beatles tracks online would decline to do so, just because the music was iPod/iTunes-only for a few months. In other words, I can't see how the Beatles really lose, even with an exclusive deal.

Also, I have a minor nitpick with the CruchGear post: it mocks how David Pogue disdained the Zune Marketplace quirk of letting users search for (and find) albums from artists it doesn't sell (like, say, the Beatles), while claiming the iTunes Store does the same thing, saying "I guess when Apple does it it’s not a ham-handed concealment, but rather a clever lifestyle alternative for Mac fanboys to rally behind."

I'll rise to the Mac fanboy bait, Blake. Open iTunes and search for "the Beatles." Your results will include the same All Music Guide bio you'll get from the Zune Marketplace, but it won't include links to any albums you can't buy. Zune Marketplace, on the other hand, has links to a large, but non-digitally-existent, Beatles catalog among the 95 albums in their search results. Perhaps it's not a big deal, but I know I'd expect to be able to buy the things I find through an online music store's search function.

And, just to give you some idea of the pain we're willing to endure over here at Global Nerdy just so we can bring you these tasty morsels, the Zune software I opened to run this stupid, nitpicky test uses around 100MB more memory than iTunes 7 on Windows. It out-bloats Firefox.

Actually, it out-memory-hogs Firefox and iTunes combined, and those apps were written by third parties.

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Andy Ihnatko's Scathing Zune Review

by Joey deVilla on November 27, 2006

If the Zune's disastrous non-feature on CNN was its death knell, then Andy Ihnatko's review in the Chicago Sun-Times was its corpse being exhumed and defiled.

The first two paragraphs are pretty damning and tell you everything you need to know about the review:

Yes, Microsoft's new Zune digital music player is just plain dreadful. I've spent a week setting this thing up and using it, and the overall experience is about as pleasant as having an airbag deploy in your face.

“Avoid,” is my general message. The Zune is a square wheel, a product that's so absurd and so obviously immune to success that it evokes something akin to a sense of pity.

The installation process for Andy's Zune was actually worse than my experiences installing Release Candidate 1 of Microsoft Vista. All I had to do was reboot and deal with the loss of data that I'd hoped to keep (I made backups before installing, as one should); Andy had to delve a little deeper into the machine by manually creating and installing a .DLL file. This is something that I'd be loath to do, and I was a Windows developer in an earlier life! However, that's what the Zune tech support page recommends when the installer fails. As Andy puts it: “Is this really what parents want to be doing at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning?”

The rest of the review is essentially a laundry list of the Zune's failings, both technological and philosophical:

  • Not compatible with Windows Media Player.
  • Not compatible with PlysForSure tunes; you have to buy them again at their online store, Zune Marketplace.
  • You have to buy songs using the XBox Live-inspired point system, and some songs cost more than others.
  • Part of the proceeds from the sale of every Zune goes to the music industry, because they assume as an MP3 player owner, you're a no-good thief.
  • The WiFi feature can only share tunes, and those last for only three days or three plays, whichever comes first.

Our recommendation for the Zune as a Christmas gift: you could give it to someone you hate, but you could also leave a paper bag full of manure at that person's doorstep and set it on fire. The effect is the same, and you'll save money.

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